When a Newspaper Publishes an Unsolvable Puzzle

When a newspaper publishes an unsolvable Challenger puzzle

Sudoku puzzles have only one solution. And then directly above an easy-level Sudoku puzzle my local newspaper also published another grid-like math puzzle. "Try to beat today's challenge time..." the instructions begin.

"The Challenger," they call it.....

But I'm here to tell you this puzzle has no unique solution. (And how I wasted two hours of my life figuring that out...)

Here's what happened: They left out a line of the instructions!

While the challenge is relatively simple — which numbers will add up to the given totals? — when the puzzle is syndicated newspapers are supposed to warn readers that there's multiple solutions, and that unlike Sudoku, there's not only one unique solution, but multiple ones. If you're thinking "This could be a 9 or an 8...." — you're right! Everyone's a winner today! Just start scribbling in numbers! And you'd be a fool to try to keep narrowing them down by, say, using your math and logic skills.

A fool like me...

Challenge Time

"Challenge Time," it says below my own local newspaper's instructions. "10 minutes and 12 seconds!" (Yes, they actually even specified how many additional seconds, after the 10-minute mark, you'd be needing to solve "The Challenger"...) And you can re-read the newspaper's instructions all you want, but you'll never find anything warning you off the impossible task of identifying a unique solution. In fact, turn the page and there's even one (and only one) "Puzzle Answer" provided. Implying, of course, that there is only one answer, and that you could somehow magically derive it, from your diligence and hard work, persistence and perseverance...


San Francisco passes off Challenger (with multiple solutions) as having a single answer on Puzzle Answers page (resized) If you're looking for a unique solution, you can only win when you...stop looking and finally give up.

The lesson here, boys and girls: hard work is a futile and pointless time sink which ultimately ends in failure.

Up to 190 Solutions

"So don't ever trust your local newspaper," I told myself. "These are the same people who think Marmaduke is funny...."

In fact, my only kind words today are for the stranger on the internet who relieved me of my burden after I'd given up in discouragement and searched the web for "How do you solve a Challenger puzzle."

Somewhere out there on the great wide internet is Dr. Robert J. Lopez, an award-winning former mathematics professor at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. Fondly the emeritus professor describes how he'd assembled a computer program to explore the mathematics of "Challenger" puzzles. "The puzzle shown above has eight solutions," the professor writes at one point.

"I was amazed to discover that in a sequence of 500 puzzles, one puzzle had 190 solutions...."

Dr Robert J Lopez from Indiana via MaplePrimes site

Hell, more than half the puzzles he'd tested had at least twenty possible solutions. Nearly a quarter of the puzzles he'd tested had more than 40 solutions. (Over 120 puzzles!) The professor even came up with creative ways to illustrate just how many different solutions there can be for a single puzzle.

Histiogram of data showing the frequency of multiple solutions in newspaper Challenger puzzle by Dr Robert J Lopez from Indiana via MaplePrimes site

After hours of beating my head against the wall — trying to find a single solution which didn't exist — I'd found this kindly online math professor explaining casually that "Unlike Sudoku, the puzzle can have multiple solutions." And he adds that this fact "is explicitly stated below the directions, copyrighted by King Features Syndicate, Inc., that appear in my local newspaper." Gee, that would've saved me a lot of time — if my own newspaper hadn't left that out!

And of course, when you think about it, it's so obvious that there's multiple solutions. Because you could always get a second solution just by adding one to the second box's number and subtracting one from the number next to it — and then also subtracting one from the number at the bottom of the second column, while adding one to the number next to it. This is true for pretty much every puzzle combination (except when there's two nines, say, so you can't simply increase a digit by one.)

Judging by the professor's table, there's more than one solution for 97.2% of the puzzles!

Nightmare Fuel

Two hours. Yep, that's me. "Other people solve this, so why can't I?" I kept telling myself. For two hours...

"Apparently some people even find that unique solution in just 10 minutes and 12 seconds! Heck, it's in a newspaper! These puzzles get solved by bored retirees while they're sipping their tea!"

Yes, I'm probably too invested in my puzzle-solving ability. Growing up I'd always solved the Junior Jumble in my hometown newspaper. Now I can unravel anagrams just by looking at them, amazing my friends by shouting out words, one after the other... Imagining their amazement, I once even solved a Sudoku puzzle without using a pencil, doing the whole thing in my head. (I stared at the grid, and forced myself to keep re-identifying the numbers again and again until I'd completed a whole nine-number square, and then moved on to the next one...) Cryptoquizzes. Crossword puzzles. Those new-fangled Tic-Tac Logic puzzles. I've beaten them all...

But there's a trust. Your local newspaper is a part of your life — and so are those little puzzles on the funnies page. Maybe I felt like I was participating somehow in the larger community, like competing in a bar-room trivia contest. Maybe it's the secret national pastime — the local newspaper puzzle.

So what happens when they give you a puzzle that you just can't solve. Worse than that; that you can't even start! Two hours later, and not a single square filled in... Has the world gone mad? Is my mind rapidly deteriorating?

I had bad dreams. You know the one where you haven't studied for a test? But for me, the bad dream went on and on... So I failed that test. I had to drop out of college. I lived in a cheap apartment. I stole to survive...

There's a life lesson to be learned here, but I'm not sure what is. (Beyond "hard work is a futile and pointless time sink which ultimately ends in failure....") Maybe it's "Men wait too long before asking for help." Or "Don't ever let anyone tell you that there's only one way to solve a problem."

Perhaps it's "Seek help for your obsessiveness." Or "Find better uses for your spare time."

Or maybe the real lesson is that we truly do love those little puzzles in the newspaper.

And that they ought to honor and respect that love — by always providing the complete instructions.

What’s Behind The Coronavirus Lab Origin Hoax?

"One way we still win this election is by turning it into a referendum on China," one Trump campaign advisor bluntly admitted this week to the Los Angeles Times.

That's why Trump keeps calling it "the China virus." (He actually crossed out "coronavirus" in one speech and wrote in "China virus" in its place.) It's why he's created a 60-second montage of clips about China which CNN says "takes Biden remarks grossly out of context to twist their meaning." But it's also why hard-right Republicans keep pushing a discredited conspiracy theory that the virus somehow escaped from a government-run lab. (Don't blame bats, blame the Chinese!)

41-year-old senator Tom Cotton spreads untrue rumor on Fox News
41-year-old senator spreads untrue rumor on Fox News
Rush Limbaugh, Steve Bannon and even a 41-year-old Republican senator appearing on Fox & Friends all started with a smear about the coronavirus being a top secret bioengineered chemical weapon — which then escaped from the lab anyways, because the Chinese are not only diabolical military geniuses but also stupid and reckless. This yarn was a great way to scapegoat a new set of foreigners — until scientists proved that the coronavirus was not bioengineered.

But were you expecting Republicans to humbly admit they were wrong and apologize? No, they just re-packaged their lie and tried again. Okay, so the virus wasn't bioengineered — but maybe it escaped from a lab anyways. Yeah, that's the ticket. So their new theory is the Chinese aren't diabolically malicious and stupid and reckless. They're just stupid and reckless.

For this election instead of blaming Mexican rapists and drug lords, Trump will blame reckless Chinese lab workers.

Two academics studying online disinformation write in the Washington Post that Russia has been actively boosting this "fearmongering theory about the origins of the virus all over Twitter and social media. (This week the same theory turned up again in the Russia government's propaganda/pretend news site "Russia Today," which true to form cited a well-known tabloid newspaper as its source.)

So how do real scientists react when you bring them a Republican theory that the virus might've escaped from a lab? Thomas Gallagher, a virus expert and professor at Loyola University of Chicago, recently gave an emphatic rebuttal to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Blaming the virus on Chinese lab workers "would be utterly defenseless, truly unhelpful, and extremely inappropriate."

A former NPR writer and editor also eviscerated the rumor for an article at Vox. They actually tracked down the head of one of America's own level-4 national biosafety labs, who for six years had worked with the Chinese team at the Wuhan lab. His response? "I can tell you that lab in Wuhan is equivalent to any lab here in the U.S. and Europe."

So does he really believe the virus originated in the Wuhan market instead? In a word, yes. "The linkage back to the market is pretty realistic, and consistent with what we saw with SARS. It's a perfectly plausible and logical explanation: The virus exists in nature and, jumping hosts, finds that it like humans just fine..."

CNN asked more scientists — and seems to have gotten pretty much the same answer. Vincent Racaniello, a microbiology professor at Columbia University, believes the escaped-from-a-lab theory "has no credibility." And CNN also talked to Dr. Simon Anthony, a professor at the public health grad school of Columbia University and a key member of PREDICT, a federally funded global program investigating viruses in animal hosts with pandemic potential. His response? "It all feels far-fetched... There's certainly no evidence to support that theory."

The Washington Post also asked Vipin Narang, an associate political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a background in chemical engineering. And Narang also derided the scenario as "highly unlikely."

"We don't have any evidence for that. It's a skip in logic..."

Hell, even the 41-year-old Republican senator pushing this theory "acknowledged there is no evidence that the disease originated at the lab," the Post reports.

"Instead, he suggested it's necessary to ask Chinese authorities about the possibility, fanning the embers of a conspiracy theory that has been repeatedly debunked by experts."

But to be fair to the senator, a senior writer at Snopes.com writer blames the confusion on "a pretend journal" that first pushed out this theory. Gullible people online apparently mistook a URL with "research" in its name for an actual scientific journal, he explains on Snopes.com. "A February 2020 document erroneously described by several media outlets as a 'scientific study' provides the supposedly science-based evidence of a virus escaping from a lab. This paper, such as it is, merely highlights the close distance between the seafood market and the labs and falsely claimed to have identified instances in which viral agents had escaped from Wuhan biological laboratories in the past...

"[T]his paper — which was first posted on and later deleted from the academic social networking website ResearchGate — adds nothing but misinformation to the debate regarding the origins of the novel coronavirus and is not a real scientific study."

But he was more blunt on Twitter when the same far-right conspiracies theories made another appearance in a misguided opinion piece in the Washington Post. "Holy fuck...! This article repeats several aggressive falsehoods!" But this has nothing to do with facts. When a conspiracy theory won't die, it's because the far right fanatics, Russian trolls, Rush Limbaugh fans and the generally misinformed are determined to keep it alive. Remember, "One way we still win this election is by turning it into a referendum on China," a Trump campaign advisor told the Los Angeles Times this week.

If this conspiracy keeps coming back, it's because political operatives want it to.

Amazon’s Secret Bad Erotic Video Auteur

One star review - Awful

It all started in a desert. In a vast landscape with weird buttes and ancient Indian petroglyphs, a friend described a strange film-maker (and local legend) with his own weird story about selling videos on Amazon.com. Will Chase is a deejay, an artist, a Burning Man devotee and a former schoolteacher with a DUI. And yet somehow he found himself filming a surreal series of intentionally meaningless videos called "Bikini Hot Tub Girls."

It's not what you think...

The madness first began on a long night in 2012, when two "no-budget" Boise filmmakers discussed the difficulties of getting their films distributed. "Jokingly we said that we should just do pornography and make lots of cash!" Chase told me sadly. "But we should do really bad porn. The world's worst porn..." Remembering that night, years later, Chase said simply "A seed had been planted in my head..."

But the final push came that Christmas, when Chase learned one of Netflix's most popular videos was just footage of a burning log. Seething, scheming, his mind wandered back to that last good laugh. And besides, Amazon.com had already instituted a strict ban on pornography in their online video store.

So they would actually be the perfect market for "the world's worst porn..."

KoyaanisqatsiAs a serious film-maker, Chase was aware of film's like Koyaanisqatsi and the concept of "ambient video" — so that's how he approached his new project. "Part of the set-up was to draw a distinction between near-nudity and pornography," he confides. If nothing else, it could become the kind of story that you'd later tell your friends at the bar. There was no money involved of any kind — at least, not upfront. But Chase offered to share 10% of whatever money the videos would ultimately end up making with the women who appeared in his films.

And once the camera started rolling, the women he filmed "could do whatever they wanted — so long as they didn't do anything to sexualize the content. "

Finding models was "just a matter of connecting with some of my more confident Facebook connections, and them recruiting some of their friends, etc." In fact, the hardest part was explaining to other wannabe porn actresses that no, it really wasn't that kind of a movie. "I'm pretty sure they didn't get the joke," Chase remembers. But all of the models he eventually used fully grokked his ridiculous gag.

"Some merely sat in the tub. Some played to the camera. You get the idea..."

Chase says now that the experiment also has implications for the future of society. "Either I'll not make any money off this and the culture of Western Civilization has not completely fallen through the basement, or; I'll get rich and Western Civilization is doomed...

So what happened? "As of this typing, Western Civ is doing okay, but we're not squeaky-clean, either."

The videos eventually did make their way into Amazon's Instant Video store. ("One bikini. One Hot Tub. One Girl," read the description on Chase's first "bad porn" video on Amazon. "The perfect ambient film for your next party!") But there was never any advertising. Instead Will left his fortunes solely to the whims of random Amazon searches. And in a lucky happenstance, when you searched Amazon's video store for "hot tub," Will's videos original occupied five of the top 10 slots. For a while three of them were even in the top 20 results for bikini videos (just above "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.")

And the punchline to Chase's prank was provided by outraged consumers who took the time to type out their dissatisfaction with his "Bikini Hot Tub" video offerings.

"This was very very boring. She just sat on the edge of the hot tub most of the time and text with the cell phone."

"I was very disappointed... All the film does is shows a girl getting into a hot tub while she drinks and checks her cell phone..."

"waste of time, seriously, a waste of time."
One viewer even titled their review "One Star" — adding just two words in the review itself: "Stupid pointless". ("Verified Purchase!" Amazon reminds you, also asking: "Was this review helpful to you?")

The review below it is titled "Two Stars," with the review itself consisting of just one word: "boring." ("1 of 1 people found the following review helpful," says Amazon — calling this their most helpful critical review.) The longest review was 11 words, with a title complaining that the video is "A Tease."

"The start was promising, but later it was just a disappointment."

Chase acknowledges that "between you and me and the chair, I get some enjoyment out of these idiots. But the funniest words of all may be "Runtime: 31 minutes." And the video's page on Amazon leads down a rabbit hole of other strange quasi-erotic videos that are also skirting the line of Amazon's Terms of Service. "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought... Massage with Christina and Amber... Natural and Nude Yoga Techniques... Sex n Yoga..." Amazon even recommended another low-quality production called "Orgies and the Meaning of Life..."

Orgies and the meaning of life

"Not great," complained one reviewer on Amazon. "I never should have let my husband pick a movie..."

My favorite review came in response to Will's 2013 magnum opus, "Bikini Hot Tub Girls - Angela." It begins with the words "Super-duper, mega, ultra rip-off."

"This is a video of a woman in a hot tub, like in an apartment complex, with her bathing suit on. That is it. Nothing more than described. She doesn't say a word. She doesn't act in desirable ways. She just sits in silence and watches things off camera...

ZERO stars if possible - however, they deserve one star for getting me to pay for it.

Joke's on me."

But Will's learned some very interesting lessons about the nature of Amazon. It's lead him into a strange world where the competing videos are even stranger. (For a while "Bikini Swamp Girl Massacre" was even free for subscribers to Amazon Prime.) And one of Will's models — who calls herself Jin N Tonic — now has an erotic Kindle ebook of her own. Interestingly, when Jin N Tonic was a high school student, Chase was actually one of her teachers. ("Awkward, I know," Chase says sheepishly.)

Jin n Tonic ebook

The last time I checked there was just one review of "Bikini Hot Tub Girls - Episode Eight: Jin N Tonic," but it went into a surprising amount of detail into why he awarded the film exactly two stars. It concluded with the words "If the producer and amazon had to give me a nickel every time I was disappointed while watching this film, I'd have 39.7 nickels."

But surprisingly, there was then even some discussion about his review — in the form of two comments.

"So, to review: There was a girl in a bikini in a hot tub, right? "

"There sure was. "

This definitely proves a point, but I'm not exactly sure what.

Will also remembers the day when one of his models didn't show up — and, well, the show must go on. So Chase himself climbed into the hot tub — along with his cameraman — and released the resulting footage as "Naked Hot Tub Guys: Roundfellas."

"There are no customer reviews yet," Amazon points out helpfully...four years after the video was uploaded.

Naked Hot Tub Guys - Episode 1 - Roundfellas

There's even a sequel. Naked Hot Tub Guys: Roundfellas2.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. "Hello," began a fateful email Will received from Amazon in October -- after over two years of trolling their customers.

"During a quality assurance review, we found that the titles listed below violate the Amazon Video Direct Content Policy Guidelines as they contain content that does not meet our customer content quality expectations."

Will pushed back. "Exactly what specific Poor Customer Experience issues are the titles having...?" he inquired. Why were his videos good enough to sell for two years -- but suddenly not got enough to continue selling? "Please advise..." Will ended his email.

And then Amazon lowered the boom.

"We reserve the right to determine what content provides a poor customer experience. We’re unable to elaborate further on specific details..."

So it was the end of the road for Bikini Hot Tub Girls - Kim, as well as Bikini Hot Tub Girls – Katie, and even Naked Hot Tub Guys: Roundfellas2. All 10 videos in the budding BHTG franchise were removed from Amazon's Instant Video store.

Though Amazon is still selling the DVD versions.

And they're still attracting really terrible reviews...

After I'd heard the whole story, I had to try watching one of Will's "bad porn" videos myself. I went with "Bikini Hot Tub Girls #2 - Katie." And I'll admit that at some point I did ask, am I having a moment where it's so bad it's good? There's something relaxing about the absence of dialogue, or plot — it's refreshing that it isn't beating me over the head with special effects. Now Katie's sitting on the edge of the hot tub, drinking water. There's something haughty about it — like it's a big fuck-you to the male gaze.

And after watching it, I laughed when Amazon sent me their standard follow-up e-mail.

Subject: How many stars would you give 'Bikini Hot Tub Girls - Katie'?

There's a rather stunning surprise plot twist at the 12-minute mark. You'll never guess what it is. A naked man walks in, and....hands Katie another glass of beer. There's a black circle censoring his private parts, and he instantly turns around and exits the way he came in. Katie turns towards the camera, lowers her glasses with a slight smirk, and then — goes back to drinking her beer.

"Yup, that was my naked ass giving Katie a brewski," Chase tells me. (He points me again to Naked Hot Tub Guys - Episode 1: Roundfellas" — available only on DVD, printed on demand, for $15... "Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #685,257 in Movies & TV... Be the first to review this item.")

But Bikini Hot Tub Girls #2 - Katie isn't the worst movie I've ever sat through. (That would still be Gigli...) There's no pretense, no overwhelming musical soundtrack, and certainly no violence or gore. (Or, really, any action of any kind...) It's almost like a parody of the whole online media world. I want to call it a surrealist project. Or am I just being one more chump?

I feel kind of sorry for the bikini hot tub girls - condemned by society's obsession with beauty to be trapped alone and silent In an empty hot tub. Their purgatory is this endless half hour. While a naked man brings drinks.

"My head was sort of in and out during shooting," Katie told me later in an email interview. (Although she acknowledges that "Part of the time I just sat there thinking 'this rocks.'") But yeah, she was also aware of the strange undercurrents that they were playing with.

"It was a project that really did make me think quite a bit about objectifying people and the intense focus our society seems to have on sex... I like the finished product... I can't say I look back and regret it. It was a fun way to kill an afternoon and I still think the idea is amusing."

So maybe it was a kind of weird solidarity that made me watch it all the way to the end. (Katie steps out of the hot tub, grabs her water glass, and walks away.) The camera lingers on her as she recedes, and then the film ends, with a title card thanking the brewery who provided a keg. It makes me think I'd like to see someone do a movie about Will's life. Unemployed Idaho schoolteacher, filming "Bikini Hot Tub Girls" — a hometown hero getting support from at least one local business.

Now all that's left is the legend...

Will has actually watched people at a party when someone's slipped his movie onto their TV. One by one, their eyes start to gravitate to the footage of the woman sitting alone in the hot tub. She's just sitting there — what is this thing? What can possibly be about to happen next? It's like something Andy Kaufman would do — an experimental film with no plot or resolution whatsoever.

Will has a theory that part of his audience was overseas — maybe in religious countries "with serious taboos against porn and nudity... there's a good chance I've accidentally tapped into a niche market." But there's no way to know for sure.

But if so, it's kind of inspiring that for one weird moment, they were watching a blonde American woman relaxing in a Boise hot tub — and that somehow, it became its own little cultural earthquake. I asked Chase if he been trying to penalize people who are looking for pornography, and he joked that "If I happen to be 'punishing' porn-seekers, I'm good with that."

And besides, "Amazon is the worst place in the world to search for porn..."

Mark Zuckerberg Is A Hypocrite

Fake ads on Mark Zuckerberg post

"We take misinformation seriously," Facebook's CEO posted Saturday. Right next to two very obvious pieces of misinformation...

Note the lying advertisers to the right of his status update? (No, Hugh Hefner isn't dead, and no, Tiger Woods hasn't left the PGA forever.) Those ads don't even lead to news stories. The first one leads to a site selling cures for erectile dysfunction, and the second leads to a site selling testosterone booster.

But there's something even worse about these two advertisers. Both of their web sites are designed to look like actual news sites. Clicking on the "HUGE HEFF ENDS HIS LIFE" link, for example, leads to this.

Fake Fox News site

That story also isn't true. (It doesn't even match the headline on the ad...) But more importantly, that web site isn't Fox News. It's a quick knock-off that's intentionally designed to con people who don't notice that it's got an entirely different URL.

And the other advertiser on Zuckerberg's post is using the same trick — this time, pretending to be ESPN.

Fake Tiger Woods suspended site

It's the same old con. That story's not true — and that site's not ESPN.

So remember these screenshots the next time you see Mark Zuckerberg claiming that Facebook is cracking down on fake news.

He can't even keep it off of his own Facebook page. So how's he going to keep it off of yours?

Are Girl Scout Cookies Healthy?

No. But this is going to be a really short article
without some additional context...

Those cute little girls selling cookies around your neighbor are delivering junk-food snacks that are astonishingly unhealthy. ( Just four Samoas have 50% of your recommended saturated fat intake for the day... ) To be fair, the Girl Scouts do offer a healthier choice -- the Cranberry Citrus Crisp, which is their one cookie with absolutely no saturated fat whatsoever. Unfortunately, it's not being sold by most of the troops (with many offering just the six most popular cookies). And apparently half the troops in America get their cookies from a bakery which isn't even offering it.

Wait, you're still thinking about buying some delicious cookies, aren't you? Okay, then here's some neat trivia. In 2012, that Samoa -- also called a "Caramel deLite" -- was their second most-popular cookie (representing 19% of all cookie sales). But the Thin Mint was still their most popular cookie, representing 25% of all cookie sales. Other popular cookies included the Tagalong/Peanut Butter Patty (13%), the Do-si-do/Peanut Butter Sandwich (11%) and the Shortbread/Trefoils (9%). Together, just these five cookies accounted for 77% of all cookies sold.

All this information comes from the official FAQ for Girl Scout Cookies, which helpfully points out that you can even buy ice cream with Girl Scout cookies in it. And surprisingly, it's actually more healthy than the cookies themselves. An entire half cup of ice cream -- even the "Girl Scout Cookies Samoas" flavor from Breyers -- contains less fat and less sugar than four actual Samoa cookies! It's even got less sodium and fewer carbohydrates -- so the message is clear. If you want to fight childhood obesity, feed your children Girl Scout Cookie ice cream instead of actual Girl Scout cookies!

I mean, seriously. Here's how much of your "recommended daily allowance" of saturated fat will get gobbled up by just four Girl Scout cookies...

Caramel deLites (Samoas)50%
Tagalongs 50%
Thanks-A-Lot 44%
Peanut Butter Patties 40%
Lemonades 40%
Thin Mints 25%
Chocolate Chip Shortbread23%
Thank U Berry Munch 20%
Dulce de Leche 18%
Peanut Butter Sandwich 17%
Do-si-dos 13.3%
Trefoils 10.4%
Shortbread 10%
Savannah Smiles 6.4%
Cranberry Citrus Crisps 0%

And presumably this nutritional information is for adults, meaning a four-cookie serving would be even less healthy for your kids.

But what's really stunning is the way their nutritional information is being presented. For example, in 2011, the Los Angeles Times (citing The Chicago Tribune), made this startling allegation.
The Girl Scouts, on their honor, pledge that the top-selling cookies have no trans-fats.

But they do...

The Samoas, Thin Mints, and Tagalongs seem to be exploiting what's basically a loophole in the food-labeling rules of the FDA, according to the Tribune. If a product's serving size contains less than half a gram of trans-fats, they're allowed to report that as zero percent. So instead of calculating the amount of the dangerous substance in a standard four-cookie serving, for those cookies the calculation is instead performed on a smaller two-cookie serving size. Magically, the dangerous trans fats disappear...and it also results in the apperance of less fat, sugar, and other unhealthy ingredients.

To be fair, the Girl Scouts do acknowledge this trick on their web site -- sort of. They write honestly that "Selected varieties can claim 100% trans fat–free status," from which you can infer that yes, there are still trans fats in the other cookies. (They even put the phrase "zero trans fat per serving" in quotation marks, calling attention to the fact that it's more of a figure of speech...) According to the Tribune, the offending ingredient with the trans fat is partially-hydrogenated oil -- and to this day, you can still see it on the ingredient list for at least five different girl scout cookies.

     Thin Mints
     Samoas/Caramel deLites
     Tagalongs/Peanut Butter Patties

This becomes more significant when you remember that in just 2007, the Girl Scouts sold over 200 million boxes of cookies. (And the first three cookies on that list accounted for 57% of all cookies sold in 2012.) Maybe it's a good thing that in 2009, the Girl Scouts actually reduced the number of cookies included in each box of Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos and Tagalongs.

Because while they may be tasty, that doesn't mean that they're healthy!

ObamaCare: Day One

ObamaCare HealthCare site glitches on its first day

A funny thing happened when I went to sign up for ObamaCare this morning. I couldn't! The official site at HealthCare.gov just referred me over to California's web site for their own Health Exchange. And it was so overloaded with traffic that it was impossible to sign up!

Apparently it didn't take a government shutdown to end Obamacare, because ObamaCare imploded all by itself — at least for today — just because so many different people wanted it. (I guess the lesson is that to overwhelm a government-funded health insurance exchange — it takes a village.) I'm actually relieved that I'm not the only one who's having a problem. Today it was my state's web site that's sick!

In fact, Google News is already showing stories about web sites being overloaded on the first day of ObamaCare in Maryland, Texas, Illinois, and Indiana. "The opening of state- and federal-run insurance marketplaces Tuesday saw a combination of huge interest and balky technology," reported USA Today, "that led to a series of glitches, delays and even crashes that marred the first hours of the centerpiece of President Obama's health law..." Within minutes, the stock market had tanked and — no, wait. Actually, the stock market was up today. Neither the government shutdown nor the launch of ObamaCare deterred investors who remained bullish on America, oblivious to the inability of a few state-run web sites to handle an unexpectedly high number of visitors.

They all have another 19 weeks to sign up for the insurance anyways — which also won't actually go into effect until January 1st. The deadline is December 15th if you want your insurance to be active on January 1st, and March 31st if you want your ObamaCare to be effective in 2014. But millions of Americans apparently didn't want to wait for either of those sign-up deadlines — they wanted to sign up on the program's very first day. "There were five times more users in the marketplace this morning than have ever been on Medicare.gov at one time," President Obama announced from the White House's Rose Garden, adding "That gives you a sense of how important this is to millions of Americans around the country." Later in the week, it was even revealed that at one point, 250,000 differently people were simultaneously trying to access the web site, and that within its first four days, the site had been accessed by a whopping 8.1 million people

"And that's a good thing," the President argued Tuesday about the throngs who wanted to access these online exchanges for health insurance. Citing a demand "that exceeds anything that we had expected," he promised they'd be speeding up the web sites soon, and compared the glitches to the problems Apple had releasing their iOS 7 operating system. "Within days they found a glitch — so they fixed it.

"I don't remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or Ipads, or threatening to shut down company if they didn't. That's not how we do things in America. We don't actively root for failure. We get to work, we make things happen, we make 'em better.

"We keep going."

Even if Microsoft does try to copy our look and feel...

You can watch video of President Obama's press conference at CBS's site — if you're willing to sit through a dog food commercial first. But in the end I'm guessing that it doesn't really matter what any politician (or any dog) says about the health insurance exchanges, simply because America is already more polarized than any time in the last 70 years... So liberals voters will still be cheering. ("Yeah! ObamaCare is so popular, they can't keep up with the overwhelming demand!") And conservative voters will probably point to this as vindicating all their early warnings about the program. ("It looks like the government can't even run a freaking web site. So how can we trust them to administer a complex health insurance system...?!")
UPDATE: Sunday, October 6th. Originally this article ended on a discouraged note. ("It's going to be a while before I can get cheap government-sponsored healthcare, like the happy Asian couple on the ObamaCare web site...")

But I feel like it's important to add this update. 24 hours later, I went back to California's health exchange site — and it was running just fine, and I was able to log in and purchase insurance on the health exchange after all. And because I qualified for a government subsidy, the health insurance was over $1,500 a year cheaper than what I'm currently paying for health insurance. And it's going to cover a lot more of my medical bills.

Plus, the site made it easier to shop for health insurance. I had something like 19 choices, and they were sorted automatically with the cheapest ones first. The site was even able to calculate my monthly premiums automatically based on my own unique answers to how many prescriptions and doctor visits I thought I'd be needing each year — something I never got when I purchased healthcare from my employer. And I'm not the only one giving the site a positive review. USA Today made essentially the same point, arguing that what most people "don't know is how cheap the insurance is," and noting that a single 40-year-old non-smoker could easily save over $2,000 a year. And they also applauded the site for being easy and simple to use. So for me, the bottom line is I'm getting better coverage at a cheaper cost — and that signing up for it was surprisingly easy. So yes, while there were some glitches on Day One of ObamaCare...

Day Two was terrific!

Public Radio’s Enormous Typo

This weekend I visited the web site for Marketplace Morning Report. It's a business news program often broadcast on public radio stations during NPR's Morning Edition and other shows. But Saturday, I noticed one enormous typo in this transcript of last Monday's interview with their Washington bureau chief, John Dimsdale.

Hobson: All right, what about the federal highway funding bill — this is the transportation bill. It's been debated back and forth but still no agreement on it, and I guess the fucking could come to a halt at the end of the month if they don't come up with a solution?

Dimsdale: That's right.

Gee, I hope not!

Click here for a screenshot. It apparently stayed up on their site for seven days before someone finally noticed the mistake Sunday afternoon and took it down. (I was always pretty sure that it was the funding that could come to a halt at the end of the month...) And according to the site's social media icons, the link has been shared exactly once on Twitter, while being completely ignored on Facebook and on Google Plus. Though it seems like there'd be a lot to say...

So let me help get things started. "The fucking could come to a halt at the end of the month, people! Don't you realize what this means?!!"

Maybe their transcriber was inserting some political commentary — that the funding of highway construction bills has a negative effect on the electorate which is equivalent to having your Congressman come to your house and then fuck you. But don't worry, because the fucking could come to a halt at the end of the month. Er, did we really need a Washington Bureau Chief to explain that to us?

The rest of the article talked about the Congressmen's "short-term extensions." I pray to god that that doesn't mean what I think it means...

Maybe it's "Surrealism News Week" over at American Public Radio. Maybe the transcriber's mind wandered to that big argument he'd had last night with his girlfriend. Or maybe the transcriber just really hates taxpayer-funded highway projects. Did Marketplace Morning Report inadvertently hire the Tea Party transcription service?

Besides Marketplace Morning Report, American Public Radio also distributes Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. Er, I just hope they're not using the same transcribers. The good news is, on Friday the highway bill eventually did make it through Congress, and it saved millions of American jobs, if you believe what the Democrats are telling you. But I think that's really overlooking what's the true significance of this bill's passage.

The fucking didn't come to a halt at the end of the month.

See Also:
California's Nastiest Campaign Ads
Secrets of Al Franken
20 Strangest Reactions to Obama's Election
The Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ever

Resurrecting Reznor’s ’90s Discovery – Mondo Vanilli (an Interview)

Let's see if I've got this straight...

Once upon a time, there were some bizarre mid-80s songs riffing on the Beatles — something about the 20th anniversary of the summer of love. They fell into the glow surrounding Mondo 2000 magazine, and in a deconstructive burst of creativity, became a flexible vinyl record inside the printed magazine. Almost. But then the same creative team decided to do "something disrespectful and different " to the industrial and acid house music of the mid-90s's — and then somehow, Trent Reznor gets involved. (At the mansion where Charles Manson murdered Sharon Tate — but that's another story.)

Reznor's label ultimately signed "Mondo Vanilli", but then refused to release their first (and only) album, I.O.U. Babe. Nearly 20 years later that lost album suddenly re-surfaced on the web, crashed all the servers, and then continued falling through time. The whole album is now finally available for downloading for just 50 cents at BandCamp.com (which also offers a full preview), and re-visiting it all now is like an alternate history of the '90s. R.U. Sirius's original band "The Merry Tweeksters" gets reincarnated into "Mondo Vanilli" while resurrecting some lyrics from Sirius's forgotten '80s band "The Party Dogs" — and also in the mind-bending mix were a performance artist named Sim1 3Arm with some cool music composed by Scrappi DuChamp (and a crazy music theory professor lurking somewhere in the background).

But the band hoped to pioneered what every '90s visionary would later prescribe — virtual reality. Mondo Vanilli's shows dispensed with the cliched self-indulgent ritual of an actual performance, and instead inadvertently preserved what the "Unheard Music" blog called "A lost artifact from the heady cyberdaze of the 1990s Bay Area." And in another web miracle, the voices behind this virtual phenomenon have impossibly become real again. Just as mysteriously, R.U. Sirius materialized before me, and began explaining what it all means.

10 Zen Monkeys: You were eyeing a six-album deal with Reznor's label at one point. Was that as exciting as it sounds?

RU SIRIUS: Suddenly, we were confronted with the idea of a serious major rock career.  Would I be the first mildly overweight, weird-looking lead singer to launch into rock stardom at 41 years old?  Anything seemed possible.  On the other hand, the contract locked us in to a record company for a long time and it looked ugly.   So anything also seemed impossible.

10Z: But you were also looking at touring nationally as a breakthrough performance art "phenomenon".  So what kind of cyber-fame visions were sparkling in your eyes?

RU: We were asked about touring.  I don't believe there had ever been a touring rock band that eschewed ordinary performance in an absolute sense.  Maybe The Residents, but they were sort of more outside traditional rock, musically.  We began to daydream about something on a Robert Wilson scale and sent along a proposal for the theatrical presentation to the record company, which I'm sure scared the crap out of them.  

If I remember, we also suggested that rather than tour like a band, we would tour like a theater group.   So we could do a few weeks in San Francisco and a few weeks in NYC...  that sort of thing.  There was no context for any of this within the usual and very inflexible routines involved in promoting a new rock band. I'm sure it would have made more sense just to give in and get a bunch of supporting musicians together and just do an ordinary theatrical rock show with some non-ordinary lip sync-ish type elements in which the band completely disappears from stage for periods in favor of something else.

10Z: So ultimately you'd use virtual reality to become virtual stars?

RU: As far as cyber-fame visions and all that, it was all so experimental and seat-of-the-pants making it up as we went along that it was hard to really envision it all, but our agent was pretty experienced and thought we were going to be successful.  And we were being asked to think about music videos, a conventional and popular medium that I think we could have used to great advantage.  Some people thought Thanx! would be a hit.  I may have been a one hit wonder... which, if you've ever had DMT, is all you need.

10Z: So will this music ever finally be released as a CD?

RU: As a matter of fact, a CD is going to be available in about a month, and if people drop me a line I'll put them on a list for it. (To this address: Sirioso @ Yahoo . com ).

10Z: Is Mondo Vanilli's music even more relevant today? Or if I said that, would you accuse me of just being polite?

RU: Conceptually, Mondo Vanilli might be less relevant in the sense that you've already had something like the Gorillaz… also Milli Vanilli has faded somewhat as a historical sign post and one of them committed suicide. Also, there's more hostility now towards the sort of reflexive irony and postmodernism that we were playing around with then. I don't think I would choose to do Mondo Vanilli now. I mean, I'll do it right now if there's a demand for it, but it's not something I would come up with today.

And some of the lyrics are dated. "President Groovy lobs another bomb / I'm gonna help Prince make a CD ROM / Sitting in the dark with my modem and my gun / We're gonna stay in tonight Rosey and make that data highway run."

Actually, there's a funny story behind the Prince and the CD ROM line. One of his "people" — a middle aged, very straight and uptight looking white dude with an attaché case, as a matter of fact — came up to Mondo 2000 to learn what he could about this whole "cyberculture" thing, because Prince wanted to make a CD ROM. This was after I'd already quit the magazine, but I happened to go up to the house that day to hang out and discovered this meeting would occur. It turned out that Madonna's people had been around just a few days earlier to get cyber hip.

Meanwhile, this was a particularly desultory period around Mondo. There was a super-weird vibe around. So the guy (who shall remain nameless, but let's call him Jasper) who was the point man for organizing this meeting with Prince's representative was drunk. And I remember sitting there with the rep after he'd shown up in the living room of this second Mondo house that had been established down the street from the original… and there were maybe a couple of other Mondo people who had come by for the meeting, but nobody came in to speak to the guy… they all went upstairs, and there were slamming doors and slurry words and weird noises emanating from above. And I just sat there in front of this poor guy just sort of smirking.

I think maybe after about a half hour, people came into the room and "Jasper" introduced himself and there was this sort of meandering and pointless conversation. It was pretty hilarious. I didn't say a fucking word the whole time.

Anyway, back to Mondo Vanilli… people seem to like the music more now than they did then. I think there might be two reasons for that. For one, people were much more purist about their genre identities back then… and we were all over the place. I actually thought I was being original when I described us as genre benders. It actually seemed like a real challenge to some types of subcultural conformity. Now, pretty much everybody's eclectic, probably because of this tremendous access to all sorts of music.

Secondly, people expected a certain thing from me back in 1993 or '94. It would either be a musical hacker manifesto or it would be groovy raver positivism, but it would have something to do with how they thought about Mondo 2000. And this album was off on a weird angle, lyrically and musically. I used to tell myself that it was a great album but it wasn't a match to anything that anybody wanted. I think that was probably true. It was an orphaned act of creativity.

10Z: You told one interviewer that most of the audience seemed to hate your experimental live shows. Some guy described one particularly amazing performance (in the comments on an article at Boing Boing about IOU Babe). He wrote:
I don't know if it was a Mondo Vanilli performance, since Sirius was the only name/face I recognized, but it was a trio of him, another man, and a woman, so chances are good.

… I think the second guy was singing, or yelling, or something, but it's a blur compared to what I vividly remember: R.U. Sirius sitting in a crib, clad only in a diaper, smearing chocolate 'poop' all over himself and crying for his mama. 'Mama,' meanwhile, had removed her pants and was plucking hardboiled eggs out of an Easter basket, inserting them into her vagina, and then 'laying' them on a plate outside the crib.

I witnessed this in silent awe, standing no more than 5 feet away from the players in this narrow little shotgun-apartment gallery with maybe 15 other young confused hipsters, for 20 or 30 minutes. When things looked like they were about to take a turn towards 'audience participation,' however, I quietly but willfully made a beeline for the exit.

It HAD to have been a prank performance, a spoof on the grand folly of bad performance art, because otherwise, if it was sincere, it was the wankiest pile of poo I've ever witnessed. But at least it gave me a great ' And that's when I realized I was truly in San Francisco' story.

So… do you remember that?

RU: Yes. It was Sim1's "Send Me To Paradise" performance at Art Attack. It wasn't an official Mondo Vanilli show. We didn't use Mondo Vanilli music, but we were all involved. Actually, the crib — which had spikes pointed inward — was on one side of the space, near the window, and Sim1 was several yards away in front of most of the audience, so she wasn't actually "laying eggs" in front of me. I don't remember much audience participation. I do remember that guys came close to Sim1 after awhile and started doing something… maybe fondling the eggs!

Sim1's performances were always funny… and that was their intention, other than the presentation of a sort of series of tableaus. It was like viewing a series of surrealist paintings, most of them involving sexuality or excrement.

Her crib remained in the Art Attack gallery window for a while and caused some protest from socially responsible types.

10Z: What other performances did you guys do that caused trouble?

RU: I think there were some bits of trouble that I've forgotten, but I don't remember much specifically. David Pescovitz (from Boing Boing) told me that a woman he knew was so offended by Sim1's part of a Mondo Vanilli performance at Café Du Nord that she kicked over a can of paint. I don't remember that happening, but I remember that this really valuable lambskin coat with a fur collar that used to make me look rich and dignified (which I bought for only $80 at a girlfriend's insistence. She kept on whispering to me that it was worth like $800) got soaked with white paint when I was moving stuff off the stage after the show. That single act might have wrecked my potential life as an elegantly wasted entrepreneur, now that I think about it.

We did a performance titled "Eat Cake" at the new age Whole Life Expo that went over like a lead balloon. I don't think anybody liked that one!

10Z: Will these stories be part of the MONDO 2000 History Project… and how is that going?

RU: Absolutely. I'm sure there are some funny stories that other people can fill in. The History Project is going pretty well. I think I can complete it within the two years deadline I set for it. I recently had a breakthrough regarding how to write my own memory fragments… Basically, if I give each memory fragment a colorful title, it inspires me to tell the story as a story and to have fun with the language. I just figured that out a couple of weeks ago.

10Z: Why do you think Trent Reznor wanted to sign you guys to his record label and why do you think you never heard from him after the whole thing crashed?

RU: Well, I should mention that he'd taken shrooms at the party so that might have entered into his good feelings about our demo tape and promotional package. The promo package was pretty audacious and absurdist. He might have been swayed by the affected arrogance and the real disrespect for record industry conventions. And it was a good demo tape! It had versions of Thanx!, Love is the Product, and Wraparound World on it. It was good shit.

He was still excited about us after the psilocybin wore off.

Who's to say what happened after, aside from the situation with Interscope, which I don't blame him for. Maybe he didn't really get the album, as a whole. We heard he liked some of it. He also went into a well-publicized… ahem… downward spiral around that time. And we did make merciless fun of him for a few years after it all happened. He may have seen the "Keane painting" that Scrappi made of him, which we had online. Sad big-eyed Trent, with the text "Take a walk down lonely street" on it. We were pretty mean! (Laughter)

10Z: You're a pretty big Reznor fan, aren't you?

RU: I'm a medium-sized Reznor fan. I really loved Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. But to me, all the stuff since then seems like more of the same. I know that fans and critics all say, "Oh, he's changed so much," but I don't see it. Scrappi used to say that he should show some real flexibility and do an album that's totally pop. I think he could do a great one. That would be really interesting.

10Z: Is there anything about your dealings with Nothing Records that you would add to your previous interview on Unheard Music?

RU:Yeah, the weirdest thing was what happened after the record was completed and the Nothing management suggested that we should have a manager. So after we approached a few people we knew who turned out to not be available, we asked the record label for advice. And they put us in touch with Olga Girard, who was the ex-wife of Trent's road manager, Gerry Gerard! She was managing Monster Magnet at the time, and maybe a few other bands... I don't remember. But she went to L.A. for a couple of weeks, and it was either right after or during the time when we were let go by Nothing Records.

And when she returned, naturally we were hoping she could use her influence and do some battle for us. And she told us something had happened in L.A. that made her decide to quit the music industry entirely. She wouldn't say what happened, but she said it didn't have anything to do with us. And she did quit the music industry, totally, and wouldn't really communicate with us at all. A total paranoid breakdown. Maybe the Illuminati got to her! They're tryin' to keep R.U. Sirius down, man!

10Z: Isn't it weird how the actual music industry has changed so much (with people downloading individual songs from iTunes, listening alone on their iPods...)

RU: It is all very strange. Is this what we wrought? I like the idea of an album. A song like "Free From Head" probably doesn't have much resonance unless you're listening to "IOU Babe" in its entirety. I mean, it has a nice jazzy feel, but what the fuck is it? If you're listening to the whole thing though, it's an important part of the atmospherics and the gender dialectics.

But I think there are a lot of generous open-minded people out there now who will listen to an album as an album if you tell them that's your intention. I remember maybe about 10 years ago, Lou Reed was ridiculed for telling people that his latest album release should be listened to as an album and not just scavenged for songs. I think more people are much more willing to be appreciative of what someone is trying to do now. The knee jerk snarkiness of generation X has been modulated a bit... no thanx to Mondo Vanilli, of course!

10Z: What would've happened if Mondo Vanilli had gone on American Idol? (Or America's Got Talent...)

RU: Many televisions would have bullet holes in them.

10Z: Are you surprised that downloads of the 20-year-old album have exceeded the bandwidth capacity at the web site that had been hosting their big comeback?

RU: It was a shocker when the release on BandCamp went onto Boing Boing and we discovered that we couldn't give everybody the free copy we'd promised. Now we're used to it and growing fond of the 50 cents apiece. Hmmm, 50 cents. Maybe "Get Sick or High Crying" should be the name of the Mondo Vanilli comeback album.

10Z: How do you feel looking back on it now...

RU: Nauseous.

No, actually Mondo Vanilli was a lot of fun. There was a whole lotta laughing going on. I do think I should've been a rock star. I'll just say that flat out, even though it's both a cliché and a bit of a taboo within countercultural circles. I think it fits my personality.

I think the world would have gotten more from me, in the long run, if I could have been even more self indulgent!

See Also:
Meeting Trent Reznor on X at the Sharon Tate Horror House
Hear Mondo Vanilli on BandCamp
The Mondo 2000 History Project
Introducing the Mondo 2000 History Project

Sir Mix-A-Lot Re-Mixed: “Baby Got Back” for the Holidays

"Oh my god, Becky. Look how much you ate over Thanksgiving!"

I'm determined to start a new holiday tradition, celebrating what's either the tackiest rap video ever, or an important cultural touchstone. (VH1 ranked "Baby Got Back" as the sixth-greatest song of the 1990s and one of the 20 best hip hop songs of all time...) Now as an obese America tromps from one holiday eating binge to the next, I've started looking back on this 1992 song as our secret national anthem to gluttony.

And at this special time of year, YouTube has finally supplied the answer to the question: Who else likes big butts — and they can't deny?

It turns out that it isn't just Sir Mix-A-Lot...

1. Jonathan Coulton's Juicy Double

It was 13 years after Sir Mix-a-Lot's song went to #1 on the singles chart and earned its infamous Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance. But absolutely no one expected that its next stop was this gentle easy-listening version created by singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton. "In the proud tradition of many white Americans who came before me," Coulton joked on his blog, "I hereby steal and white-ify this thick and juicy piece of black culture."

The song's massive popularity surprised even Coulton, giving a boost to his young indie song-writing career. He'd never actually met the famous rap artist (though he warned readers that Sir Mix-a-Lot "is not an actual knight.") But five years later, some unholy DJ synched up Coulton's gentle acoustic-guitar and vocals to Sir Mix-a-Lot's original video, creating what is quite possibly the most disturbing music video ever.

2. Richard Cheese Stays and Plays

His band is called "Lounge Against the Machine," and he proudly tells Jimmy Kimmel that he turns popular songs into...crap. But in 2006, Richard Cheese created his own stunning swing version of "Baby Got Back," mimicking the stylings of a big band vocalist — albeit one who's "beggin' for a piece of that bubble."

In this jaw-dropping live performance, he follows it with an equally inappropriate version of Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus.

3. Burger King Says Here's My Scandal

Just when you thought it couldn't get any stupider — or any whiter — the Burger King delivers his own demented butt-related rap, dedicating it to Sponge Bob Squarepants. ("When a sponge walks in, four corners in his pants like he got phone-book implants, the crowd shouts...") It was 2009 when the fast food franchise icon launched this attempt at a viral online video, begging desperately for that "WTF" reaction, but stopping just short of the absolutely perverted.

"I wanna get with ya," the corporate icon raps, " 'cause you're making me richer."

4. The Groom Wants to Get With Ya...

A newly-married couple performs their traditional first dance together — but their wedding planner apparently wasn't satisfied with the song "Unchained Melody". 45 seconds later, their guests were in for a shock, though the couple had apparently been rehearsing for days. And since that fateful night in 2007, their two-minute dance floor extravaganza has been watched more than 13 million times in its various incarnations on YouTube.

"Aw snap that was HOT!" opined one critic on YouTube. "He was all like boom And she was all like pow..."

5. A Word to the Thick Soul Sisters at Walmart

"Attention shoppers, you're in for a special treat..." Somewhere a teenaged wiseguy has cracked into the intercom system at Walmart, and he's using it to announce to all the shoppers that "I like big butts, and I can't deny..."

He gets through about 13 seconds before he's cut off by an irate clerk — but the glorious video shows his utterly pointless attempt to return for a second chorus. And through the miracle of the internet, instead of annoying just a handful of customers at WalMart, he ends up getting watched by nearly 3 million viewers on YouTube.

Of course, they're also watching 90 seconds of his humiliating escort straight to the Walmart parking lot. And for what, asks a passerby? "For likin' big butts."

Yes, there have been many other versions of this song. (In fact, it actually formed the basis for a whole episode of Friends.) One rebellious animator created his own naughty dance video using "American Girl" dolls, and someone's even dreamed up their own Gilbert and Sullivan version.

There's also an anime version, one with violent zombie-killing footage, and there's even a bible version called Baby Got Book. But only the curly-haired prankster from "FatVids" dared to leave the safety of the internet, and to speak Sir Mix-a-lot's magical but forbidden words in public. And in one final conversation with Walmart's security guard, he breaks this song's appeal down into its essence.

"You think it's funny what you did?"


California’s Nastiest Campaign Ads

Across America, it's been one of the nastiest elections ever — but California is on the cutting-edge. It's the one state where Democrats might actually win one of the toughest media wars ever, meaning TV viewers are seeing some of the roughest ads.

And often, your best weapon is your opponent's own words...

1. The Bondage and Leather Festival

When he was mayor, Gavin Newson "wasted tax dollars organizing a bondage and leather festival," according to this ad. (Though to be fair, that city was San Francisco...) While ostensibly complaining about the costs, Republican Abel Maldonado is really pressing the "extreme values" button, saying his opponent "wants to do for California what he did for San Francisco." (And ultimately the ad ends with an announcer complaining about Newsom's "extreme whether-you-like-it-or-not values".) It's the race for Lieutenant Governor, and in a traditionally Democratic state, Maldonado is trying the "kitchen sink" approach — lobbing a hodgepodge of attacks hoping something sticks.

The ad also cites $15,000 of taxpayer money spent "having police drive his car to Montana for his wedding," while a second Maldonado ad tries an entirely different approach — like an episode of "Law and Order." The "Fatal Negligence" ad opens with gunshots and a siren, then announces that while Newsom was mayor, "San Francisco refused to turn dangerous illegal criminals over to authorities for deportation... It took a triple murder for mayor Gavin Newsom to admit San Francisco's Sanctuary City policies were a misguided and costly mistake." Using the same logic as the notorious Willie Horton ad, the announcer argues that Newsom's policies "Let 185 dangerous illegal immigrants go free. One of them — a gang member and convicted felon — is now charged with murdering a father and two of his sons."

The Newsom campaign fought back with a lighter ad, broadcasting their own list of Maldonado's equally damning offenses using a wacky animation of a demented politician which, if nothing else would make an excellent series for the Cartoon Network.

2. Yes, I Will Double-Dip

One political analyst called this ad "a game-changer." In an extremely tight race to be Calfornia's attorney general, two candidates braced for an October 5 debate at the U.C. Davis School of Law. But then Republican Steve Cooley was asked how he'd handle his post-election finances. Did Cooley also plan to collect a pension for his work as Los Angeles County's District Attorney, effectively "double-dipping"?

"Yes I do," Cooley answers emphatically. And then there's an awkward pause...

"I earned it," he blurts out. "I definitely earned, uh, whatever pension rights I have, uh, and I will certainly rely upon that, uh, to uh, supplement the very low — incredibly low — salary that's paid to the state attorney general." (Although what's not aired is the original response of his opponent, Democrat Kamala Harris. "Go for it, Steve. You've earned it, there's no question.")

Sensing an opportunity, the Harris campaign rushed a video clip of her opponent into a TV ad, which hit the airwaves just weeks before the election. Cooley had inadvertently created an instant attack ad. All that it needed was ominous music.

Along with the words "$150,000 isn't enough?" just as Cooley says the words "very low — incredibly low — salary..."

3. The Great California Mash-up

One advantage of the instant attack ad" is it avoids extra (and expensive) production. For example, this ad is sort of a mash-up, using most of Jerry Brown's original "positive" ad — with a clip from a positive ad by his opponent. Democrat Brown splices in an apparent endorsement from the former CEO of eBay, Meg Whitman — who just happens to be his opponent in the race.

"You know, 30 years ago, anything was possible in this state," Whitman says, before the ad reminds viewers that 30 years ago, the state's governor was Jerry Brown. ("I mean, it's why I came to California so many years ago," Whitman says at the end of the ad.)

Jerry Brown was California's governor from 1975 to 1983, starting his term at the age of 36. (He was following in the footsteps of his father, Pat Brown, who became California's governor in 1959, defeating Richard Nixon to win re-election in 1962, and then then losing in 1966 to Ronald Reagan.) Now at the age of 74, Brown seeks a comeback against a tough opponent who's tapped her personal fortune to fund a non-stop television blitz. Meg Whitman's spent over $142 million of her own money, making this by far the most expensive election ever in California's history.

California's second most-expensive election was the $80 million spent in 2002 when Democrat Gray Davis defeated Republican Bill Simon in 2002 — before Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Eight years later, in the race to be his successor, the Whitman campaign has spent a total of more than $162 million, only to find that Brown is still heavily favored. Whitman's campaign was already hurt by stories that she employed an illegal alien — while campaigning on a promise to "hold employers accountable" for hiring documented workers. But last week the Washington Post calls Brown's new mash-up ad "devastating."

But ironically, Jerry Brown himself also turns up in one of the Republican ads attacking fellow Democrat Gavin Newsom.

4. Crushing, Destroying, and Killing

In early October, Carly Fiorina coordinated with the National Republican Senatorial Committee for an extremely stark campaign ad attacking Barbara Boxer. Filmed in black and white, it cites "Trillions in reckless, wasteful spending..." tying Boxer to perceived sins of Washington today — not just "destroying small business," but also "crushing hopes." (Using another strong verb, the ad reports that the established Washington regime isn't just reducing the number of jobs, but actually "killing" them.)

There's always been lots of venom for liberal Senators, but Boxer seems to draw an extra helping of scatter-shot rage. (One photograph in an earlier ad — titled "Crushed" — actually cites the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.) And for web audiences the Republican Senate Committee even created a special ad citing Boxer's "Decades of epic fail" (pointing viewers to a Boxer-bashing site called CallMeMaam.com). It identifies her first as a "political operative" in the 1960s, then a county supervisor in the 1970s, eventually contrasting her with unpopular Democrat politicians like Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton.

Because unlike them, Boxer is still in Washington, seeking a fourth six-year term.

Polls show Boxer may win her race, but the ad wasn't a total waste. With a few changes, the Republican Senate Committee also created an almost identical ad citing "decades of epic fail" for Democrat Harry Reid.

5. Aloha

There was times it was considered one of the closest Congressional races in the country. Four-term incumbent Dan Lungren had actually raised less money than his challenger — for 15 consecutive months — giving Democrats a rare chance to takeover a Republican seat. And that was before a police officer pulled over Lungren while he was talking on his cellphone — during a radio call-in show. ("Can you hang up the phone, sir...?")

The next week his challenger, Ami Bera, showed up at Lungren's office with a special gift — a hands-free cellphone unit. But it all played into the theme they'd already decided on: that Lungren was an arrogant Washington insider. "Our Congressman was one of the first to find a loophole around ethics laws," this ad announces, "so Washington lobbyists could send him off first class to a party in Hawaii." (It taps footage of Lungren applying suntan lotion to his back, plus an ABC News interview where a smiling Lungren explains, "We do a lot of business around pools.")

The footage even captures a cheerful pique in Lungren's voice when he adds, "Do I look like I would go to Pittsburgh in January?" Then the ad invites voters to wallow in their indignation at LoopholeLungren.com — where there's a much-longer video. But in both cases, the message is unmistakable. "My congressman went to Hawaii, and all I got was a campaign ad where his opponents get to wear Hawaiian shirts."

This race follows the pattern of the Democrat using a lighter ad while the Republican goes for the jugular. In this case, Lungren argues Nancy Pelosi reflects the "liberal ideas of San Francisco," then calls newcomer Ami Bera "a Pelosi clone," and then fills his ad with unflattering pictures of Nancy Pelosi.

Lungren seems to be making a direct appeal to the Tea Party, especially in another ad where he warns that "friends, neighbors, people I don't even know, are concerned about losing their freedom — and I haven't heard that word used as often in my lifetime... For whatever reason, they voted for something new, but did not vote for this madness. And I'd like to make sure that the madness does not continue."

California may not be the best state to make that pitch — but maybe it tells us something about the election of 2010. Yes, now Democrats and Republicans often seem to live in two different universes — seeing entirely different facts, or drawing the opposite conclusions. And this was always going to be an unusual election, with the Tea Party energizing some Republican campaigns and the aftermath of a major Supreme Court decision about the financing of campaign ads.

But in theory, the fairest ads still attack a candidate on their actual record. In practice, however California viewers got ads which cherry-picked only the most damning soundbites — almost invariably blowing them out of proportion. The end result is an election where all the candidates seem to be hitting past each other at some horrific, unidentified bogeyman.

And yet on election day, one of those bogeymen is actually going to win.

See Also:
The 5 Nastiest Campaign Ads of 2006
Secrets of Al Franken
20 Strangest Reactions to Obama's Election
5 More Nasty 2006 Campaign Ads
The Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ever

Transhumanist Salvation or Judgment Day?

We're starting to brush up against real robots, real nanotech, and maybe even the first real artificial intelligence. But will emerging technologies destroy humankind — or will humankind be saved by an emerging transhumanism?

And which answer is more liberating?

If anybody knows, it's R.U. Sirius. The former editor in chief at Mondo 2000 (and a Timothy Leary expert) has teamed up with "Better Humans LLC." They're producing a new transhumanist magazine called h+. (And R.U. is also one of the head monkeys at 10 Zen Monkeys.) But can he answer this ultimate question? Terminator Salvation played with questions about where technology ends and humanity begins.

But what will we do when we're confronting the same questions in real life?

10 Zen Monkeys: Isn't this whole idea of real transhumanism kind of scary?

RU SIRIUS: Everything's scary. Human beings weren't born to be wild so much as we were born to be scared, starting on a savanna in Africa as hunter-gatherers watching out for lions and tigers and bears (oh my... Okay, maybe just lions), subjected to the random cruelties of a Darwinian planet. I would say that the transhumanist project is probably an attempt to use human ingenuity to make living in this situation as not scary as possible, and in some theories, to actually change the situation, to create a post-Darwinian era.

Of course, that — in itself — is scary. Our favorite narratives — our favorite movies and stories and comics tend to involve humans being altered by our own technologies to dramatically bad ends. Most of those stories are silly in the particular, but the broader fear of unintended consequences or the use of advanced technologies by intentionally destructive people isn't silly.

For instance, we explored the very rapid development of robotic technologies for warfare during the web site's Terminator Week. That's viscerally scary. Logically it can also mean less civilian casualties, less harm to soldiers, and so on. And on the other hand, it can also mean less hesitation to use violence against others, or a possibly objectionable system of total control in which revolution is permanently rendered impossible. And on the other hand... I can do the "on the one hand and on the other hand" until the Singularity or at least until the Mayan apocalypse of 2012.

But seriously, what really scares the crap out of me is that we might not make radical technological problem-solving breakthroughs — that we might stop, or that the technologies might fall short of their promises. What scares me is the idea of a 6 billion-strong species finding itself with diminishing hopes, resource scarcities, insoluble deadly pandemics, and global depression based on the delusions of abstract capital flow resulting in increases in violence and suffering and territoriality and xenophobia.

10Z: But how does transhumanism resolve these problems? How does a bunch of rich people living longer solve any of this?

RU: Let's take this one at a time. The technological paradigm that has grown out of transhumanist or radical technological progressive circles that I'm most fond of is NBIC. Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno. The promise of nanotechnology — which has become much more tangible just in the last few months (thanks to developments we recently covered on our site) — is basic control over the structure of matter. This should eventually solve most of our scarcity problems, with the possible exception of physical space. (And there are ways we might deal with that, but I'm trying to keep it short.)

Nanotechnology, of course, has enormous potentials in terms of health as does biotechnology. People can find these details just about anywhere so I won't go into it. Anyway, sickness is perhaps our greatest source of misery and our greatest resource sink... particularly if you contrast sickness not just with the absence of disease but with the possibilities of maintaining a high level of vitality.

Then... information technology allows us to organize the data for distributed problem solving and — to a great degree — democratizes it. (More eyes and more brains on the problem, working with and through more intelligent machines.) IT is at the heart of all the breakthroughs and potential breakthroughs in nano and bio — and all this is leaving aside the further out projections of hyper-intelligent AIs.

You know, getting back to what's scary, I agree with Vernor Vinge that the greatest existential threat is still nuclear warfare. But next in line is the possibility of a major plague... a rapidly spreading pandemic. And already we can see that the tools for dealing with that come down to intelligent systems and biotech. There's biotech medical solutions using intelligent systems married to global mapping and communications and organized distribution. Human behavior has a role too, of course... but not as much as romantics might wish.

Which perhaps brings us to cogno — getting control and better use out of the brain for greater intelligence, greater happiness, less misery... hell, maybe even cheaper thrills! Why not? A lot of our problems are self-created... or they're created by particularly unstable or irrational people. As a veteran of the psychedelic culture, the potentials and problems of cognition are a particular area of fascination for me — and also as a nonconformist who is suspicious of the tendency of society to be hostile towards what we might call creative madness. So I do have some ambiguities, but it's just a huge area of intrigue as far as I'm concerned.

Now, all of this is just the prosaic stuff, without imagining Singularities, or say hyperintelligent humans who aren't needy... happily living on converted urine and nutrient pills while entertaining one and other in ever-complexifying virtual spaces. Lots of energy savings there, Bubb.

10Z: President Obama is reconstituting his bio-ethics panel. Just how high are the stakes, in the here and now, regarding U.S. political policy governing future research?

RU: You know, I think the bioconservatives who dominated Bush's bio-ethics panel and opposed stem cell research were just pissing in the wind... but that stuff can hit you in the face. Really though, I think that the discourse in opposition to embryonic stem cells will some day be seen as every bit as absurd as Monty Python's "every sperm is sacred."

More broadly, I don't think the stakes are very high because I don't think you can get the federal government today to be terribly functional... and I'm not a knee-jerk anti-government guy at the level of economics or investment in research. I just think there's a certain all-American "can't do" thing going on there and there's no effective strategy for changing it.

Sometimes I think that the people who really control America — the corporate oligarchs and finance kleptocrats, the national security apparatus and so forth — realize that the Titanic has already hit the iceberg. And laughing up their sleeves they said, "Quick! Put that charismatic black guy behind the wheel!"

10Z: I'm surprised to hear that you're not a knee-jerk anti-government sort of guy. I read that you were an anarchist.

RU: I've read that too. I have an anarchistic streak, but I can't even begin to believe in it. I do think that being an anarchist is an excellent choice though, because it's never going to be tried by any large group on a highly populated planet with advanced technology. So you never have to witness or experience the consequences of your belief system being enacted. It will remain forever romantic.

On the whole, though... I should try to be diplomatic. Let's just say that anarchists and pure libertarians are the most anti-authoritarian, and I like to be anti-authoritarian. It would be more convenient and more consistent to believe, but I don't think ideologies work in the real world.

10Z: Let's get back to those ambiguities you mentioned. That seems like a rare trait in the community represented by h+ magazine.

RU: Hardly. But I'm probably more richly ambiguous than most other human beings. My only ideology is uncertainty. Although you'll see it if you explore transhumanist-oriented discussion groups and blogs like Michael Anissimov's Accelerating Future or the writings of Nick Bostrom ad infinitum. They're rife with complexity and argumentation, and concern about existential threats, inequalities in the distribution of positive results from scientific achievement, and on and on. The reality is there's a rich and varied discourse within the techno-progressive movement just as there is between the progressives and the bio-conservatives.

10Z: It's hard to see where longevity and immortality fits into your vision of social responsibility.

RU: First of all, I emphasized problem solving to respond to your question about fear. And in essence my answer was I'm more afraid of standing still or going backwards than I am of moving forward. But man... and woman... cannot live by social responsibility alone. (We don't go around now asking people to die so we can spare resources or whatever.)

And I think that our humor columnist Joe Quirk had the best response to people who are against hyper-longevity... holy crap! These people want me to die!

Can we allow people to be the owners and operators of their own experiences and decide for themselves how to answer the Shakespearian question — to be or not to be? I think it's doable. There's a very substantive discussion from Ramez Naam in our first issue about why hyper-longevity should not create big resource problems. It has to do with demographics and the tendencies of educated, comfortable people to make less kids, and a fairly high percentage of inevitable deaths even if we cure aging and most illnesses.

10Z: But won't this exacerbate already extreme class distinctions? Won't we have a wealthy race of immortals and then everybody else?

RU: That's plausible, but very unlikely. And it always surprises me that that's the first thing you usually hear, since a great portion of the human species already has access to universal health care. Even left to the market, the investment that's being made in this should eventually lead to a need to sell to a large consumer market. In our first issue, we have a chart that shows billionaires who are investing in revolutionary science projects... and a few of them are investing in longevity. Well, they're going to want to take their product to market and get a big consumer share. John Sperling isn't going to be sitting in some mountain retreat rubbing his hands together and saying, "Foolish mortals, I shall use this only for myself and my beautiful blonde cyborg bride Britney!" That's the movie version, not the reality.

The reality is actually sort of comical — the wealthy are the early adapters of new technologies, but those new technologies usually don't work very well at first... they tend to fuck up. Now, I think you can imagine that as a potential movie that can satisfy everybody's need for schadenfreude.

10Z: Francis Fukuyama wrote some critiques of the transhumanist vision. In one essay he writes: "Modifying any one of our key characteristics inevitably entails modifying a complex, interlinked package of traits, and we will never be able to anticipate the ultimate outcome." How would you respond?

RU: This gets us to the cover story on so-called designer babies in the current Summer Edition of h+ magazine. There's hugely intriguing and potentially controversial issues about enhancement in this edition. And that's not only around parents pre-selecting traits for their children, but there's also a portrait of Andy Miah in the issue. He's a British professor who — for all intents and purposes — is pro-sports doping.

Before I go into this, I want to take a bit of a detour. When I wake up in the morning and start working on h+, I'm not thinking "How can I spread propaganda for the glories of transhumanism?" or anything like that. I'm thinking: "How can I do a totally cool-ass website and magazine with the transhumanist idea and sensibility at the center of it." That's my charge, and I'm approaching it as a craftsman. So I'm looking at this first as a magazine writer and editor — I want it to be accessible, exciting and fun, and I want it to look great. I want it to ride along the boundary between being a pro-transhumanist magazine and being more of a balanced and very hip generalist geek culture magazine. That, for me, is the sweet spot in this, and I think, along with other contributors, we've pretty much nailed it.

So I'm first of all an editor and writer. And secondly, I'm a curious editor and writer. This isn't necessarily all good or all bad. It's interesting. And that's how I'd hope and expect most readers would approach it.

And there's one more thing coming in a very distant third. In the context of an overarching commitment to my philosophy of uncertainty — or meta-agnosticism — I'm an advocate of the radical technological vision. I've thought long and hard about politics — and about consciousness unassisted by radical technology — and I've concluded that radical technology is the only bet that has a chance of winning not just a sufferable but a generally positive and enjoyable human future. But I'm not a stoical defender of the cause or anything like that.

So what Fukuyama proposes is interesting — that altering a few alleles to create some characteristics could iterate into monstrous or unhappy consequences further down the road. And I think that the general consensus among geneticists is that this is very unlikely with the small kinds of changes that are being discussed now (for example, selections of eye and hair color). Beyond that point, I say... let the arguments rage on! One of the assumptions among advocates is that by the time we're able to make significant incursions into germ line engineering (to affect people's intelligence or make them more or less aggressive or sexier or whatever), we'll have significantly advanced measurement and predictive tools...plus, a really good understanding of what we're doing.

And there's another argument: we change stuff all the time in the "natural" evolution of human beings — and we reap both positive and negative consequences. But generally we gain more than we lose by proceeding with technological advances. There's this idea called the "proactionary principle" which came from Max More, one of the originators of transhumanism. He basically argues that we measure the potential negative consequences of a technology, but we also need to measure the negative consequences of not developing a technology. What do we lose by its absence?

Anyway, I sort of want to punt — in the specific — on the issue around choosing traits for babies. I prefer to acknowledge that it's a controversial area, but I'm excited to present the articles that are favorable towards these activities and hope they generate lots of interest and discussion.

10Z: Before I let you go, let me ask you about the politics of h+ magazine and the transhumanist movement. Ronald Bailey, who writes for the libertarian magazine Reason, criticized another transhumanist — James Hughes — who apparently advocates democratic socialism. Where do you come down on all this, and what are the politics of h+?

RU: First of all, the magazine has no explicit politics. Having said that, I think we have an implicit politic that both Ron Bailey and James Hughes agree with. It's the idea that human beings have a right to a high degree of autonomy over their minds and bodies, and that the trend towards transhuman technologies makes those rights all the more important and poignant. So human beings would have the right not just to choose their sexual preferences, or to control their birth processes, or as consenting adults to take whatever substances they like, or to eat what they like. We would also have the right to control and change our biologies, to self-enhance, to alter our bodies through surgery and on and on. So let me be oh-so-diplomatic, by emphasizing our points of agreement.

I'll give a bit of my own perspective in terms of the great late second millennium debate that puts an unfettered market at one end of the spectrum and communism at the other end of the spectrum; that puts competition on one end of the spectrum and cooperation at the other end; that puts decentralization at one of the spectrum and centralization on the other end of the spectrum. I'd have to say I'm horribly centrist. I'm dead center. It's not a mainstream centrism, but without going into a long explication, I'm almost embarrassingly moderate.

But while I think these arguments are still lively and vital today — and I have my own cheers and jeers over each day's political issues — from a near-futurist transhumanist perspective, the debate seems really tired. For about a decade I've been arguing that the future I see emerging is witnessed by the open source culture, Wikipedia, and file sharing. And in another decade or two the dominant economic mode will not be the market or socialism or the mixed economy that we actually have pretty much everywhere — it will be voluntary collaboration. And yes, that's kind of an anarchist view... but I'm saying it will become the dominant mode, not the only mode. (The market and the state will continue to be factors.) I hear Kevin Kelly just figured this out. :)... although his use of loaded words like socialism and collectivism are somewhat unfortunate.

People sometimes wonder how wealth will get distributed in a future economy that will likely require close to 0% human participation and that still presumably requires people to hustle themselves up some proof of value. But I think there's a good chance that an advanced "file-sharing" culture hooked up to advanced production nanotechnology will render the question moot.

Free lunch for everybody!

See Also:
Latest issue of h+ magazine
Read the first issue
R.U. Sirius on "Terminator/Robot Week"
"Is the Future Cancelled?" Spring 2009 Edition
HPlus Magazine's main site
R.U. Sirius's editor's blog

‘How I Sued a Craigslist Sex Troll’

It's been nearly three years, but one victim has finally successfully sued an infamous Craigslist prankster who published the private emails received in response to a fake sex ad.

Now for the first time, the court's "John Doe" has agreed to tell his own side of the story. "The message is in the fact that a lawsuit is indeed possible based on privacy issues," says the victim, "and those considering similar behavior as Fortuny are advised to consider that fact."

In September of 2006, Jason Fortuny posted a personal ad on Craigslist pretending to be a woman seeking kinky sex — and then published sexy pictures and complete emails he received, including any names and phone numbers, from over 150 men. "[T]he chorus of blog posts saying 'someone ought to sue him' gave me some satisfaction to being able to do just that," says Doe, "on behalf of those who wished for justice in this matter."

"IT IS HEREBY ORDERED AND ADJUDGED," wrote Judge Joan B. Gottschall 30 months later — handing down $74,252.56 in legal fines to Fortuny. Three law firm associates had spent 129.2 hours (at $175 per hour) litigating his 2006 Craigslist prank, plus another 35 hours by the main attorney billed at $275 per hour. As part of the judge's award, Fortuny will have to pay all their legal fees — a total of $32,365.50 — and he'll even end up paying the extra costs accrued because he avoided their process servers.

"I hope that it demonstrates that claims (and attorneys) do exist that enable victims to pursue those who commit wrongful acts," says the victim's lawyer, Charles Mudd.

Jason Fortuny
"Whenever I questioned 'why bother doing this', I just re-read the posts where Fortuny was taunting the victims who begged him to remove their information," says victim John Doe, "and that renewed my resolve." In the end, Fortuny's stubbornness is what led them to court. "He publicly demonstrated his unwillingness to negotiate with others, so I knew that only a hardball response would be effective and that direct contact with him would be a waste of time and tip him off to my plans."

Ironically, Fortuny was only fined $5,000 for "public disclosure of private facts" and "intrusion upon seclusion." The remaining bulk of the award — $35,001 — was for violating the plaintiff's copyright. "The Copyright Act provides for statutory damages from $750 to $35,000 per infringed work," says Mudd, but those damages "can exceed $35,000 up to an amount of $150,000 per infringed work where the conduct was willful." This means that ultimately, it was Fortuny's own "willful" conduct that increased the price he'd eventually have to pay, Mudd argues. "In general, Mr. Fortuny could have limited the amount of damages under the Copyright Act and could have significantly reduced the amount of attorney's fees throughout the course of this matter.

"He chose not to do so."

Judgment Day

Fortuny initially argued that the suit against him was "abusing the intent of copyright law, stretching the common law terms of privacy, using unverified e-mail as alternative process, and side stepping personal jurisdiction." Last summer Fortuny wrote an eight-page letter informing the judge that "I do not have the resources for legal proceedings in another state, much less the exorbitant attorney fees for a Federal copyright case." But John Doe's lawyer points out that Fortuny didn't have to appear in person, and seemed genuinely surprised by the lackluster fight that Fortuny put up.

Judge Gottschall rejected Fortuny's only other response — a "motion to dismiss" — writing that "It appears that the defendant filed the documents in the wrong courthouse." (The court's rules also required a "notice of service" which Fortuny failed to provide.) By the time Fortuny's motion reached the right court, Judge Gottschall had already entered a default judgment against him. "My firm and the Plaintiff provided Fortuny every opportunity to vacate the default," says attorney Mudd, but after several months with no response, the case had moved forward.

"The foregoing being said, I would have welcomed the opportunity to address the claims on the merits."

Fortuny's victim acknowledges that "The judge's verdict was just a formality based on the rules. Fortuny lost this on procedural grounds." But there's still a lesson in his legal experience...

Fortuny's prank became a symbol for unapologetic online "griefing," and last August, the New York Times wrote Fortuny "might be the closest thing this movement of anonymous provocateurs has to a spokesman." Fortuny told the Times he knew two victims had lost their jobs over his prank. "Am I the bad guy?" Fortuny asked rhetorically in the interview. "Am I the big horrible person who shattered someone’s life with some information? No! This is life. Welcome to life. Everyone goes through it. I’ve been through horrible stuff, too."

A Seattle newscast reported one man responded with a picture
exposing himself in his cubicle where he worked — Microsoft —
adding "That man got fired."

But John Doe was determined to fight back.

The Victim's Story

On that day in 2006, Doe was alerted to his sexy picture being published online — first via an anonymous tip-off, and then helpful pointers from two of his friends, according to documents filed in the case. He'd quickly deleted his photo from the Wiki-like page at Encyclopedia Dramatica — only to see it re-appearing there later (and with future deletions disabled). "Through legal counsel, Plaintiff requested that Encyclopedia Dramatica remove Plaintiff's Private Response, Copyrighted Photograph and personal email address from the Fortuny Experiment," reads the case filing.

It adds that Encyclopedia Dramatica complied with Plaintiff's request, but then Jason Fortuny himself grabbed the picture, and re-published it on his own site. It was then that the angry victim sent Fortuny a DMCA notice, arguing that the photograph was copyrighted.

"I initially sought to protect my privacy and leave it at that," Doe told us this week. "Fortuny opposed my actions to remove my personal information, and so I was left with no choice but to take additional legal action against him."

One internet rumor says the plaintiff must've luckily had a friend who was a lawyer, but that's not true, says Doe's attorney. "Neither I nor anyone at my firm knew of or communicated with the Plaintiff prior to the Craigslist Experiment." But he adds that "The case was well researched and on solid legal footing, and we had every reason to expect a favorable ruling on merit."

Fortuny's prank may have struck 149 other victims, but John Doe was different. "I had the personal resources and was at liberty to risk additional publicity," Doe says, "unlike apparently all the other victims. Fortuny miscalculated in that regard as he assumed no one could either afford the legal costs nor take the personal risk to oppose him.

"This was a miscalculation that was perhaps not clear to him until a long time after I began the process."

Doe's photo was removed — temporarily — but by the end of the month, the photo was back on Fortuny's site yet again, along with the text of the original sexy email message. Fortuny had filed a counter-notification disputing the copyrighted status of the photo. "The counter notification basically says 'you're a liar liar pants on fire'," Fortuny explained on his blog, "and adds that if you don't respond within 14 days, I get to put my shit back up."

The incident occurred back in September of 2006, and the first summons to Fortuny was issued 18 months later — over a year ago, in February of 2008. "For personal reasons I let some time pass before pulling the trigger on the lawsuit," the victim says, and even then it took more than four months before the executed summons was finally returned. "We had advised Fortuny that we reserved the right to take this up again at our convenience, and I suppose he mistook that for a bluff." The lawsuit acknowledged that after nearly two years, the photo and email were still displayed on Fortuny's site.

And to this day, nearly 100 of the original photos, remain online at Encyclopedia Dramatica. (Caution: link is not safe for work.)

This wasn't Fortuny's first brush with the courts. One of our readers contacted us with a list of Fortuny's other past legal skirmishes — including three municipal court citations for "no driver's license on person" in 1999, 2001, and 2002, as well as a 2004 citation for driving without proof of insurance. But looking at the judge's decision today, Doe sees a larger message. "Beyond the goal of protecting my own privacy, there was a broader 'civic' aspect to this case," he notes, "which was motivating for me and of particular note motivating for my attorney. Fortuny maliciously harmed a lot of people by his actions, and he made the point of bragging about how he was toying with the efforts of those who attempted to deal with him directly.

"It was sad to watch this happen, and it furthered my resolve to act as the 'adult on the playground' and respond to this bully on behalf of all his victims in spirit anyway."

But there's another lesson in the incident — and ironically, it comes from the Craigslist sex troll himself — via the lawyer who prosecuted the case against him. "I believe Fortuny himself sent the message for users of the Internet through the Craigslist Experiment — beware what you read online," says Charles Mudd, "and think several times before communicating personal information through electronic mail to anyone.

"Especially someone you have never met."

See Also:
20 Funniest Reactions to the Fortuny Verdict
Jason Fortuny Responds to Lawsuit
Jason Fortuny Speaks
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
Good Griefers: Fortuny v. Crook
In the Company of Jerkoffs

20 Funniest Reactions to the Jason Fortuny Verdict

His blog at RFJason.com disappeared, and one anonymous Livejournal comment claims that "he hasn't made contact with anyone for weeks. Even his accomplices don't know what's going on." (Though his personal blog at LiveJournal is still up — with its old tagline "Getting away with everything you can only dream of.")

But now that a judge ordered Jason Fortuny to pay $74,252.56 in various legal fines —what's the internet's final verdict? Was Fortuny's Craigslist prank instructive, malicious — or a little bit of both?

Here's the 20 funniest reactions.


"Why do I hear Aretha singing 'Dancin in the streets'? ;-) Honestly this should be declared an international holiday or something."

      — Livejournal blogger Mrs-Ralph


"trolls are getting sued now? what is the world coming to"

      — Livejournal user Kassichu


"This is what happens when you don't put out like you imply you will."

      — Livejournal user Demure


"I love when reality collides with LiveJournal. It's like a super nova exploding."

      — Livejournal user Katastrophic


"Don't worry about lawsuits. They won't happen."

      — Jason Fortuny, October, 2006


"If he was a TRULY great troll, he would have done it all anonymously. As it is, he's pretty much in the same position as those dudes who sent him pics... ...consequences got back to him. That's life."

      — Livejournal user Yhanthlei


"Well, it's not like the plaintiff won on the merits of the case, if that makes you feel better. He only won because the troll didn't show up to some meetings. Happens all the time in civil court."

      — Livejournal user Nandexdame


"A legal 'appearance' does not mean that Fortuny had to physically appear in Court initially. Rather, he had to properly file the appropriate documents in the correct court.

"Mr. Fortuny failed to do so."

      — Charles Mudd, the lawyer in the successful lawsuit


"If you are 13 or older you should expect naked explicit pictures of your ass to show up on the internet. this is 2009 America, after all."

      — A possibly-sarcastic commenter responding to Dan Savage


"i'm going to send nude pics of myself to an anonymous ad on craigslist what could possibly go wrong."

      — Livejournal user Kassichu


"It's like a stupidity contest, except the winner gets to pay ~$75k."

      — Livejournal user Derumi


"You don't have to feel sorry for him to recognize that the law is on his side here. Fortuny behaved wrongfully, and now he's suffering the consequences."

      — Magicgospelman


"Let's hug."

      — Livejournal user Girlvinyl


"The amount seems a high and random but really 'I did it for the lulz' shouldn't be a valid reason for fucking with someones life. I kind of wonder if there would have been a difference reaction if the guy had targeted a different group [than] male doms."

      — Livejournal user Muilti-factedg


"I take it back. You might get sued if you do a Craigslist Experiment..."

      —Jason Fortuny on his blog last summer


1. Trolls being sued is ridiculous
2. That doesn't make this any less funny

      — Livejournal user Layiliyal


"Contrary to what some people here want to believe, the Internet is not a lawless libertarian wonderland where you can do whatever the fuck you want without legal consequences. ....If you do these things with the goal of fucking with people, you shouldn't be surprised when they fight back."

      — Livejournal user Magicgospelman


"Can you blame him?"
"Not really."

      — Jason Fortuny
         responding to a TV news interviewer last summer.

See Also:
How I Sued a Craigslist Sex Troll
Jason Fortuny Responds to Lawsuit
Jason Fortuny Speaks
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
Good Griefers: Fortuny v. Crook
In the Company of Jerkoffs

Researcher Finds Bad Sex Information Online

There's a problem with sexual information from the top medical web sites.

It's wrong.

"Even widely trusted sites like WebMD are not that accurate when it comes to adolescent reproductive health," says Dr. Sophia Yen, a Stanford University Med School instructor in Adolescent Medicine. She conducted an online review last summer and concluded many of the web sites weren't just incomplete — they were often wrong, wrong, wrong.

For example, weight gain isn't a side effect of birth control pills — but 60% of the reviewed sites claimed that it was. (And three sites even claimed, incorrectly, that IUDs should only be used by women who had already had children.) In fact, 40% of the web sites actually contradicted the guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on PAP exams, mistakenly recommending the tests every time women change sexual partners or as soon as they turn 18. "Extra Pap exams are an unnecessary stress and expense, and a barrier to getting birth control," Yen says — since some teenagers may postpone birth control if they mistakenly believe it will first require a Pap exam.

With undergraduate researcher Alisha Tolani, Yen reported her results in March to the annual meeting of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, concluding that web sites "don't always incorporate changes to policy or to clinical recommendations that have occurred within the past five years." Between July and August, Yen's team performed a detailed assessment of the sexual health information online, a process she describes in an online video. "We did a Google search for phrases such as birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, emergency contraception, and IUDs, and looked at which web sites were the top 10 to 15 that came up on each of these topics." They cross-checked their list against Alexa's reports of U.S.-based traffic — but were still disappointed by the information they discovered. For example, "about half of the Web sites, including such highly trafficked destinations as Wikipedia and Mayoclinic.com, failed to provide accurate, complete information about emergency contraception," according to the study announcement by Stanford's School of Medicine.

Emergency contraception has been available over-the-counter since 2006 for people over 18, but 29% of the web sites Yen checked failed to mention this fact. She discovered 16 of the 34 sites correctly stated this information, but then failed to mention that in nine states it's also available over-the-counter without any age restrictions. And Yen also faults 10 of the 34 sites for failing to correct a common misconception — that emergency contraception is identical to the RU-486 abortion pill.

Stanford Researcher Sophia Yen
And it's not just teenagers that misunderstand the information. Yen cites one study which determined that 45% of newspapers confused emergency contraception (which prevents pregnancy from occurring) with RU-486, a pill which triggers an abortion after pregnancy occurs. Possibly because of this, 31% of teenagers now wrongly believe that emergency contraception induces an abortion, according to studies cited by Yen — while another 35% of adolescents have never even heard of emergency contraception.

And Yen found that many web sites also failed to include the latest guidelines from the World Health Organization about Plan B emergency contraception. (The group recommends that the pills be taken as soon as possible after sex, adding that the latest they can be effective is five days after intercourse.)

Yen's interest stems from her work as a pediatrics instructor at Stanford's medical school, and as a specialist in adolescent medicine at the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. In fact, the hospital's chief of adolescent medicine added a statement to the announcement. "Making the transition between childhood and adulthood can be tough on teenagers," said Neville Golden, MD, noting that teenagers have many questions about sexual health. "That's why Dr. Yen's research is so important.

"She has demonstrated that there is a tremendous amount of misinformation on the Web."

But do adolescents get their sex information the web? Yes. Yen cites two studies by the PEW research center plus a 2003 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which determined that approximately 25% of teens acquire "some or a lot" of their sexual health information from the internet.

And though more than half of teenagers mistakenly thought they were immune to herpes if they were only kissing, this wasn't addressed by 69% of the web sites studied. (Only nine of 29 pages about STDs explained that herpes could be transmitted through kissing.) It's just one more example of ways health sites are failing their teenaged readers. "No studies have investigated the extent to which these myths exist and are perpetuated on the internet," Yen argues in her findings, adding that in the last five years, "several notable changes to policy and clinical recommendations have occurred."

Yen recommends that teenagers see a physician who specializes in adolescent medicine, and seek web sites reviewed by similar specialists (like the web sites associated with academic medical centers). She recommends Go Ask Alice, a question-and-answer service from Columbia University, the Center for Young Women's Health by the Children's Hospital Boston, TeensHealth by KidsHealth.org, and Planned Parenthood's Teen Wire. And she also recommends the book Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Ultimately, she suggests web sites "should consider more frequent reviews by health practitioners to contain accurate information consistent with such changes." She also has some advice for doctors — "be aware of myths on 'reputable health websites' and actively debunk them in clinical settings." And finally, she has some advice for teenagers.

"Be cautious about finding sexual health answers on the Web."

See Also:
Top Six Inaccurate Sex Facts on the Web
The D.C. Madam Speaks
Sex Expert Susie Bright Lets It All Out

Top Six Inaccurate Sex Facts on the Web

Dr. Sophia Yen, a Stanford University Medical School instructor, believes the following six medical facts about sex are the ones most often overlooked or reported incorrectly by medical sites on the web.

1. Emergency Contraception is available over the counter.
In most states that's for women over the age of 18, but by early May of 2009, that age will drop to 17. And in nine states, it's already available without any age restrictions.

New Hampshire
New Mexico

2. Emergency contraception doesn't cause an abortion.
It's not RU-486 — it's a way to prevent pregnancy from occurring.

3. IUDS are safe for adolescents

4. Birth control pills won't make you gain weight.
"You know, maybe one in a thousand may gain weight," says Dr. Yen, but in general the research shows people do not gain weight on birth control pills."

5. PAP smears aren't necessary until women turn 21.
Or until three years after women become sexually active. (Unless they're HIV-positive or have a suppressed immune system.)

6. Herpes can be transmitted by kissing.

Click here for our article about the study

Bush’s Last Day: 10 Ways America Celebrated

"For 15 minutes, America turned its gaze from the guy who landed the plane in the river to the guy who landed the country in the ditch," joked Jimmy Kimmel — adding that “White House decorators are busy right now peeling the glow-in-the-dark stars off the ceiling in the presidential bedroom.”

Back in Texas, George Bush told a crowd Tuesday that "when I get home tonight and look in the mirror, I'm not going to regret what I see — except maybe some gray hair." But many Americans reacted differently to the Bush presidency, observing the end of his eight-year term with some anger, some humor — and a lot of all-American creativity.

1. Calls for Arrest

At the President's last appearance, the L.A. Times reported, crowds responded with anger. "Just as demonstrators clogged the barricades to protest his court-mediated victory in the 2000 election, so the disenchanted lined Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday to express their dismay..."
On the drive to Capitol Hill, the current and future presidents passed protesters carrying signs reading "Arrest Bush." When Bush entered the grandstand with the band playing "Hail to the Chief" for the last time, the crowd below began singing a different refrain: "Hey, Hey, Good-bye."

One man waved his shoe.

And finally, when Bush's helicopter lifted off from the east front of the Capitol, cheers rose from the crowd and throng stretching down the National Mall.

The Times noted that while Bush is famous for being thick-skinned, "as the morning wore on, his smile appeared to grow more strained..."

2. Signing Off

Some pranksters went even further. Down a two-mile stretch of San Francisco, they changed all the street signs identifying Bush Street to...Obama Street. "The entire street was covered end to end," one of the pranksters told us — adding that the media mistakenly thought they'd missed a few intersections becuase "locals were actually taking them down the next morning as souvenirs!"

Tuesday's prank reminded one area watcher of an even harsher prank eight years ago. "When Bush was first elected all the BUSH street signs were changed to say PUPPET." But one newspaper noted San Francisco voters had rejected the ultimate prank — a city measure that would've renamed a sewage treatment plant after former President Bush.

3. The Onion Gets It Right

The Onion had run a prophetic headline back in January of 2001, mocking President Bush with a fake quote. "Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over." Monday blogger Teresa Hayden collected every Bush-related story from The Onion — nearly 400 of them — arguing that "Other histories of the Bush years will doubtless be more factual, but none will ever be truer."

The Onion kept tweaking the president throughout his eight-year presidency. There's Bush "horrified to learn Presidential salary," and later, "U.S. Takes Out Debt Consolidation Loan." But many of the headlines focus on the war in Iraq.
Bush Won't Stop Asking Cheney If We Can Invade Yet

Bush Thought War Would Be Over By Now

Bush Subconsciously Sizes Up Spain For Invasion

Bush Asks Congress For $30 Billion To Help Fight War On Criticism

Rumsfeld Only One Who Can Change Toner In White House Printer

"[I]n this moment before a changing world overwrites our memories of the era," the blogger writes, "let us pause to salute our constant companion of those years..."

4. Heckling CNN

Oakland's Parkway theatre announced they'd broadcast a feed from CNN on their movie screens Tuesday, including Bush's final departure and Obama's swearing-in. By 7 a.m., nearly 400 people had formed a massive line outside the theatre, and many had to be turned away. Extra chairs were set up in the theatre's aisles, and the huge liberal crowd booed the Republicans as they appeared on the screen — Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle — and later heckled Bush's departure. And as the former president finally stepped onto a helicopter to fly away from the capitol, one heckler suggested an alternate flight plan.

"Send him to Guantanamo!"

Also watching were 5,000 schoolchildren at a community center in Harlem. "It hurt my ears. That's how crazy it got," reported NPR's Robert Smith. But as Bush ceded his presidency to Obama, "Some didn't seem to catch the finer points of presidential transitions," NRP reports. "...about five minutes into Obama's speech, the attention of the younger kids started to drift.

"They threw paper at each other and used their American flags as swords."

5. The Last "Great Moment"

David Letterman assembled a final four-minute montage of Bush's greatest goofs, celebrating the end of a recurring feature on the late-night comedy show: "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches."

"[W]e have to unload what was a tremendous rich heavy-laden vein of comedy for us," Letterman told his audience nostalgically. For over four minutes, the gaffes keep coming, and towards the end, they get even weirder. There's the thrown shoe, the dropped dog — and the infamous moment when Bush's speech was accompanied by a continually-yawning boy in a red baseball cap.

6. Jenna's Last Ride

Jenna Bush and her twin sister Barbara were more famous for partying than for public service — but they observed the transition with a letter left behind for President Obama's daughters. They remembered when their father's father was sworn in — "being seven, we didn't quite understand the gravity of the position our Grandfather was committing to" — but much of their letter seems like it was ghost-written by a Republican spinmeister. ("Our Dad, who read to us nightly...is our father, not the sketch in a paper or part of a skit on TV.") And instead of writing "Eight years go by so fast," the catty Bush twins wrote to the daughters of Obama that "Four years goes by so fast..."

7. Battle of the Presidential Speeches

The site SpeechWars.com created a special exhibit including Bush's own inaugural addresses in 2001 and 2005 — along with those of every president that preceded him. "See how often US presidents have said certain words in their inaugural addresses," the site promised — and it ultimately uncovered two forbidden words which Bush and his predecessors had never spoken in any of the 56 pervious inaugural addresses — but which Barack Obama did.

"Non-believers" and "Muslims."

But Bush's first inauguration speech from 2001 is still shouting out from Google's cache, reminding web surfers how Dubya promised to reform social security — and to "confront weapons of mass destruction." And blogger Andrew Sullivan remembered a Saturday Night Live sketch at the same time which presciently predicted that President Bush would eventually tell the American people that "we had that war thing happen." In the skit, Bush hold up a map showing the Atlantic ocean flooding Louisiana (with the flooding continuing all the way up to Minnesota...) Unfortunately, according to the skit's "glimpse of our future," this alternate reality would be even worse because Vice President Dick Cheney is involved in a hunting accident — where he's killed by President Bush.

8. Perverts Say Goodbye

At a rowdy San Francisco Event called "Bye Bye Bush," San Francisco writer Thomas Roche debuted a new 34-page "gonzo sci-fi cryptozoological horror" story involving evil fish, the Bigfoot monster, and the mayor of a small town in Alaska (and her husband Todd). "I was asked repeatedly to write some political smut," Roche explains, "for a Sarah Palin porn site, for an election reading, and finally for an inauguration-themed reading..."

A half dozen local writers read their short fiction as part of the "Perverts Put Out" series, but Roche came up with a "gonzo Lovecraftian science fiction horror story" in which several Alaska tourists and some unsuspecting environmentalists wander into the dark and mysterious backwoods, and confront — no, no, it's too horrible to describe. "Fairly creepy sexual description..." Roche warns at the top of the story. "Not intended for readers under 18."

"I read an extremely abbreviated version of this story in a room full of weird sexual deviants, and people seemed to like it."

9. Free the White House

"Here's a small and nerdy measure of the huge change in the executive branch," wrote blogger Jason Kottke. The White House's web site had more than 2400 restrictions for search engines — preventing web-crawling spiders from accessing entire directories, photo essays, and the text of certain speeches.

Geeks argued about whether this represented a moving break from the past — or simply an artifact of web coding. But one thing's clear — George W. Bush won't be leaving any more policy statements on the site.

In Texas Tuesday, George Bush joked that his wife Laura "was excited about me mowing the lawn and taking out the trash — it's my new domestic agenda."

10. Losing Facebook

In the last year of Bush's presidency, a Facebook group rose to over 1,000,000 members. The name of the group? "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike George Bush!"

But now many members are commemorating Bush's departure with a final Facebook ritual. Over 190,858 messages appeared on its Facebook "wall," with many now announcing that it's time to move on.
well it was a good run, but its finally over. Later guys...

I still hate George Bush... but he's gone so I don't see the point in having this crowd up my groups now.

"im leaving this group to move on from this era"


But as George W. Bush finally left office, there was a new group was already springing up on Facebook clamoring for the new president to enact a more liberal policy. Its name? "5 million strong to petition Obama to legalize weed."

It currently has just 3409 members.

See Also:
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
Site Sparks Political Sexiness War
25 Harshest Reactions to the Wall Street Bailout
Why Sarah's Sex Life Matters
Don't Go There: 20 Taboo Topics For Presidential Candidates
Oakland Celebrates Obama's Victory

Christmas with Hitler

What was Christmas like with Hitler?

The answer comes from a Michigan communications professor, who's created a disturbing web collection showing the Third Reich's attempt to convert the holiday into military propaganda. But Christmas of 2008 also finds authentic reminders of the Nazi era turning up on eBay and YouTube. The question is uncomfortable, inappropriate — and morbidly fascinating. And fortunately, some comedians on YouTube have supplied the last word.

Randall Bytwerk teaches communications at Calvin College, and his web exhibit of Nazi propaganda offers an actual glimpse of the murderous dictator at Christmastime.

"Hitler had thousands of Autobahn workers as his guests in the Berlin Sportpalast at Christmas 1938," explains an upbeat pamphlet called Everybody's Hitler!. "Note the Christmas trees... Hitler's enemies lie when they say that Christmas has been abolished in Germany." (After invading France, the Nazis were assuring its Alsace province that der Führer still celebrated the holiday.)

Another photo shows a decorated tree behind a festive Christmas dinner for Hitler and his soldiers. The blitzkrieg isn't mentioned, but the site does remind us that later — of course — the pamphlet was translated into Dutch.

Professor Bytwerk shows that during the Nazi regime, Hitler's culture department continued producing a Christmas booklet with magical stories, festive songs, and lavish illustrations. (The 1944 edition was 200 pages long.) Several pages quoted the fanatical Christmas Eve speeches of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
On this evening we will think of the Führer, who is also everywhere present this evening wherever Germans gather... The flag and the Reich shall remain pure and unscathed when the great hour of victory comes.

Like Santa Claus, Hitler is everywhere — and he probably sees you when you're sleeping, and knows when you're awake. The book even includes an apparent Christmas card from der Fürhrer himself displaying a red flower with an inspiring Christmas quote: "All nature is a gigantic struggle between strength and weakness, an eternal victory of the strong over the weak."

Another site actually shows Santa paying a visit on Nazi officers and their girlfriends in Christmas of 1944.

But the Nazis ultimately had an insidious agenda for the holiday, and Hitler's propaganda department could show Bill O'Reilly what a real war on Christmas looks like. "The Nazis were out to transform Christmas from a Christian holiday to a celebration of the family in a National Socialist context," writes professor Bytwerk. In 1943 the Nazis released a 64-page pamphlet for Advent which never mentions Jesus. A drawing of lonely soldiers is captioned:
Through your bravery, you give us at home a lovely Christmas season. Each child, as he sees the candle's glow and sings the songs, thinks of you, full of thanks.

The most disturbing entry is a Christmas story about three men lost in the woods — a king, a soldier, and a wood-cutter. Bright stars light a poor woman's hut where she holds her newborn child. She advises her visitors that children fulfill the promise of the future, and the three visitors offer him gifts. "Nazi propaganda intended to remove as much of the Christian content of Christmas as possible," writes professor Bytwerk, "turning it into a family festival with German racial overtones."

There's a page for each day of the month, but each entry is intensely secular, like a sample children's letter to a soldier on the front. ("Mother is already baking for the soldier's package... We think of you so often, especially when we hear the news on the radio...") One YouTube user has even found a clip of a documentary showing Goebbels' Hitler Youth propaganda for Christmas of 1942.

More than 65 years later, it's still a painful subject, and in 2006 the German magazine Spiegel uncovered a bizarre incident:
Germans shopping for Christmas trinkets have been shocked recently to discover row upon row of Santa Clauses looking to all the world as if they are giving the Hitler salute — right arm, straight as an arrow, raised skyward. Never mind that St. Nick is carrying a bag of toys and wearing a silly red hat complete with a white pom-pom. Shoppers were sure — these Santas were Nazis.

It's still possible to buy Nazi artifacts on eBay, including Nazi-era coins and stamps — but not in every country. "This item cannot be sold in Germany, Italy, France, or Austria," reads one page description, "as stated in Ebay Rules." But the web has found more than one way to remember a dark moment in world history. In fact, 2008 ends with Hitler starring in his very own humiliating meme.

There's at least half a dozen videos on YouTube swapping in silly subtitles for Hitler's dialogue in an intense movie called Downfall. The original film chronicled Hitler's final 12 days in a bunker in Berlin, receiving bad news from subordinates as his military crumbles.

But now web wise guys have the dictator ranting insanely over trivial slights — poor attendance at Burning Man, the subprime mortgage crisis, getting his avatar banned from World of Warcraft, or struggling to upgrade Windows Vista. Inevitably, last week someone appropriated the meme to show Hitler complaining about the cost of buying Christmas presents.

"Those of you that think I am being unreasonably cheap better leave now..." a furious Hitler warns his staff.

Magically, the footage has been re-titled again and again, forcing Hitler to endure every possible insult of fate, and this latest video shows him being slowly bankrupted at Christmastime — by requests for iPads and 3DTVs.

See Also:
A Christmas Conspiracy
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays with YouTube
Death at Christmas
Five Awful Thanksgivings in History

Oakland Celebrates Obama’s Victory

A 20-something reporter from Tennessee said she teared up after voting today. She said she was proud of our president — finally, for the first time in her adult life.

And as I drove to Oakland, it was obvious she wasn't the only one.

One city over, a crowd of people were counting down the seconds to 8:00, when results would be announced, at the Democratic Club in Alameda. But I walked in the door as it came up on the screen: Barack Obama was our next President. Everyone cheered. Several people wiped their eyes. My cell phone rang — it was my girlfriend — but I couldn't call her back, because cell phones stopped working everywhere, because everyone was already calling their friends with the news.

"President Obama," someone said. "I told you. President Obama."
"The whole country is calling each other."
"We did it."
"It's over."
"He's already won."

A black woman in a dirt-colored windbreaker watched to the left of me. She had a birth mark on her face, and her hair was pulled back in a frizzy pony tail. "I never had a doubt," she said. "I never had a doubt."

A young black boy smiled, held his arms over his head, and said "Yes we can."

"Yes we did," someone said.

"God bless America."

People were jumping up and down, and there was hugging. Most of the people in the room were white, and mostly young, but I saw an older blonde woman with a big necklace around her neck. She was tearing up. So was an older guy in a baseball cap. So was the woman in the pony tail who'd said "I never had a doubt." So was I.

At the side of the room was a smiling cut-out of Barack Obama. "California made him win," someone said. "California is what did it." A woman raised her fist over her head. "Obama, y'all!" On the street, I heard a stranger shouting "Obama. Whooo!" And then I left to drive to a celebration party at Everett and Jones, a big barbecue restaurant near Oakland's Jack London square.

At the restaurant, people had screamed when the victory was announced. A news crew filmed people jumping, hugging, waving flags, dancing, and weeping. "Thank you Jesus," the restaurant's owner said, over and over again, clapping her hands. "400 years! We won!"

"I wish my mother and father was here," another woman said. "My mother always worked at the polls, and she always told us to vote. And to believe in ourselves."

Near the restaurant, one street had been blocked off, where a band was performing. There were small balloons woven into an arc — red, white, and blue. Cars drove by honking. Even a truck honked its horn. One honking jeep drove by with two American flags. I heard later they were honking horns in Washington D.C., and in New York. All across America, horns are honking. Three hours later, I'd hear horns start honking again.

A black guy stood at the side of the street dangling an Obama t-shirt to the passing crowds. Later he started dancing — squatting and then kicking. I saw a black kid on his parents shoulders waving an American flag.

I had trouble finding parking, and the barbecue joint was so packed it was nearly impossible to move around. The TV showed a shot of Sarah Palin, and some people booed and held up downturned thumbs. We couldn't hear McCain's concession speech, but were only seeing his expression. Someone said that "He never had a chance."

I saw two black women leaving the crowd. Their eyes looked moist, and that made me mist up too. A young white woman from the Oakland Tribune asked me questions about the election — are you excited? What do you expect Obama to do? What's the first thing you're going to do tomorrow? I started to say that I'd watch everything tomorrow that I missed tonight — that it seemed sad to watch TV tonight when you could be out with the people. I told her I'd been there when they'd counted down to 8 o'clock, and when they'd said Obama was President. I choked up. She thanked me, and moved to someone else.

"This is history right now, Oakland," a woman said from the stage. "This is what we do."

Everywhere I looked I saw cell phones and PDAs. Everyone was still calling everyone else. I found the line for barbecued food — but it was long. After I'd waited for five minutes, I saw the man in front of me greeted by one of his friends. They were both black, and the friend said "I'm so proud. This has been a long, long coming." He didn't say "time" — just a long, long coming.

A reporter from the Oakland Tribune was interviewing a grey-haired black man behind me. Five minutes later, they were still talking.

A lot of the crowd were proudly wearing Obama t-shirts. I saw an "Obama on the cover of Time magazine" t-shirt. And an "Obama on the cover of Ebony" t-shirt. One shirt just said "Black man running, and it ain't from the police."

There was a bright light in the sky. It took me several seconds before I realized it was a helicopter sweeping the crowd. Everyone cheered and waved. Three different people held their hands over their heads, making the "O" sign.

A younger man with dreadlocks and a goatee said "I never really thought I'd see something like this happen in my lifetime." A local news crew filmed him saying Obama had the support not only of African Americans, but everybody. "So America can be what it's destined to be —a melting pot."

A woman from the restaurant was cooking dozens of big dinner sausages on a wide outdoor grill, wearing a sequined "Uncle Sam" hat. The band sang a funk song.
"I thank my lucky stars
I got you in my arms."

I heard the reporter from the Tribune say he was out of ink.

Yes we can.

See Also:

20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
How a Barack Obama Site Made Me Famous
Sarah Palin Photos and a Moose
Site Sparks Political Sexiness War
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?

The Great Google Rebellion

Thursday Google unveiled a new design for its iGoogle homepage service. Unfortunately (according to one geek), it's "a big unwanted piece of crap."

In an email interview today, Google defended the changes. But Google won't let users switch their home pages back to the way they used to be, which has sparked a furious revolt, online activism, and even some homegrown fixes.

22 million people visit iGoogle each month (according to January figures from Comscore), but Thursday Google foisted their changes onto every user in the United States. The same day, Johnson Rice created an online petition urging Google to allow a rollback option — and found nearly 1,000 people to sign it. Then he expanded his crusade on a nationally-syndicated radio show, and launched a Facebook Group protesting "forced website redesigns." Its goal? Fighting for the best-loved sites "if the corporate committees start trashing them."

iGoogle's product manager, Jessica Ewing, emaield us today arguing Google is "constantly thinking about how to improve our products for our users. Then, we take our ideas, prototype them, and put them through a vigorous set of usability tests and experiments to make sure we are doing the right thing for users.

"The iGoogle features we launched went through this exact process and we've made changes along the way based on feedback from users and developers."

But some users clearly aren't satisfied. One thread in Google's discussion groups "is full of thousands of complaints about this sudden and unannounced change," according to Slashdot. In fact, one commenter posted that "Google has gone evil," joining a chorus of other negative threads.
What were you thinking????
How do I complain to Google?
Please return the hijacked horizontal space
I agree that the new igoogle changes are crap

Within 24 hours, disgruntled users had gotten even more aggressive, and resorted to posting email addresses for iGoogle's developers. One commenter claimed they'd also contacted a Google employee, "and they said they agreed that the new layout is horrible and was surprised that it was distributed to everyone at this point in time.

"They also said that as soon as they saw it, Google would be bombarded with complaints."

Soon the fierce discussion had identified several unsanctioned workarounds, which include logging into Google's Australian, British or Irish home pages or running a Greasemonkey script in Firefox. (The script's name? "Old Google Ig...") Other protesters used Google's discussion group to tout Google's competitors, including Netvibes and Protopages. Another blogger located a Firefox add-on which "disappears" the unwanted column, and one user even bragged they were accessing their Google Gmail account using Yahoo's home page service.

Comscore's January figures suggest Google has more than a quarter of all personalized home page users, and one iGoogle user says it's corrupted Google's philosophy. "Notice that the more powerful Google becomes, the more they take away our choices....once they reached the status of monopolistic stardom they suddenly fling off the sheep's clothing and out comes the wolf."

"Welcome to the future of cloud computing," warns a commenter on Slashdot. "This is what it means to give up control of your software for the convenience of a net-based service."

Information Week iGoogle's senior product manager, Jessica Ewing, defended the new column added in the re-design. "The left navigation allows users to go from canvas view to canvas view of the new gadgets with one click, which we think is important as we see more and more great canvas view gadgets that require a scalable navigation model." Jessica says Google was careful to narrow the column because "We realize it does take up some screen real estate, particularly on small monitors," and adds that "We'll continue to monitor user feedback and usage and adjust accordingly." But angry users on Google Groups were already posting her phone number, along with a number for Google's "User Experience" Vice President Marissa Mayer, urging "flood her inbox people!" One user even posted that "After trying the phone number and getting the 'error' hangup — I sent her a fax!"

The new iGoogle features "were designed to make it more powerful," according to Google's official blog, saying the redesign will "bring more information to the homepage." Besides the new column (which re-lists the homepage's links), iGoogle now also offers a new "canvas view" expanding RSS feeds to fill the screen. (And another option condenses that view to a Gmail-like list of the feed's headlines.) The changes will simply "bring more information to the homepage," argues Google's blog. But some critics see it differently.

"They forced users to a hideous new format today with no method to opt out," complained a blogger named Merry Goose Mother. "Everyone on the interwebs is roaring about how much it sucks and how inconsiderate it is to make changes to a page that users customize to their own preferences without providing them a medium to give feedback or revert." She titled her post "Google has officially become evil." (Ironically, she posted it on Blogspot — a service owned by Google.) And she asked her users for the ultimate solution.

"I need a new homepage, does anyone use Netvibes?"

Lifehacker posted another Greasemonkey script which eliminates Google's new design changes, telling readers that "over half of you gave it the thumbs down. Your main complaint: The new sidebar eats up a substantial chunk of screen real estate." And Information Week reported that "Almost all of the 80 comments posted on Information Week since Thursday express unhappiness about the new iGoogle," adding that "The situation is similar on other sites. Almost all of the 149 comments posted on the Google Operating System blog express displeasure with the iGoogle changes."

But statements from Google suggested the easiest workaround — of logging into a foreign version of iGoogle — may not last forever. Google's blog announces cheerily "Don't worry. We'll also be rolling out this updated version in other countries very soon."

Google isn't the only offender, according to Johnson Rice. "Facebook has done the same thing to all their users," he argued in his radio diatribe. "They just changed the design, and so what has happened is people are starting to get angry, because this is an egregious use of force on these people..." Today Slashdot reported that Yahoo "decided to massively screw up their entire userbase by changing all user profiles to blank, while Friday Thomas Hawk noted a thread on Flickr complaining about changes to Flickr's "Recent Activity" page. (Hawk sardonically headlined the post "Flickr Changes Most Popular Page on the Site, Users Go Bonkers," and in three days the thread has racked up over 3,700 posts.)

Johnson Rice argues the web services are committing a clear injustice. "Both Facebook and Google, while they offer a free service, make their money on advertising," he told the radio show's hosts. "Which means that their users and their community are the people who are in fact paying them by using their service." But despite his best efforts, he hasn't succeeded yet in rallying everyone to his cause.

The radio show's host responded, "I'd like to go on record as not giving a crap."

See Also:
Google Heard Me: Now What?
Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google
Google Stalker Reveals Secret Project
Google is Trying to Get In Your Pants

25 Harshest Reactions To the Wall Street Bailout

"The point is this is one of the most important irrevokable economic decisions we will ever make. Let's make it in a state of panic."

      — Stephen Colbert


"The fox is guarding the hen house."

      — A heckler mocking Treasury secretary Henry Paulson


Senator Bunning: How long were you CEO of Goldman Sachs?
Audience: (Laughter and applause from a Code Pink supporter skeptical of Secretary Paulson.)

Code Pink woman: And what's your net worth?

Senator Bunning: I don't need help from the audience, I can ask the questions on my own...


"I'm not going to fire you; you can still be called Congress. But you don't have any power."

      — Jon Macey, Yale Law School professor and deputy dean, providing an allegory for Secretary Paulson's proposal


"As of now we [journalists] are, as a group, behaving just as we did the
last two times the administration sought to rush through a hastily
thought out, ill-conceived plan. Why in the world are we being so
gullible and naive?"

      — Former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston

"What the proposal actually did...was explicitly rule out any oversight, plus grant immunity from future review... [I]f Paulson can't be honest about what he himself sent to Congress... there is no reason to trust him on anything related to his bailout plan."

      — Paul Krugman


"If you think the Bailout of All Bailouts...won't saddle American taxpayers with billions, if not trillions, of risky obligations, you don't know politics... Never before in the history of American capitalism has so much been asked of so many for...so few."

      — Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor


"We are talking about ten thousand dollars per household, and that money
cannot simply go into a black hole of bad debt."

      — John McCain


"Americans can no longer trust the economic information they are getting from this Administration... Secretary Paulson's market predictions have been consistently wrong in the last year."

      — Republican Senator Jim DeMint


"Normally, this is a process that would take months — years."

Instead, the law is being worked out, live on television, over the course of a few days.

      — NPR, quoting the chief lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, Scott Talbott


"This is scare tactics to try to do something that's in the private but not the public interest. It's terrible."

      — Allan Meltzer, former economic adviser to President Reagan
and Carnegie Mellon professor of political economy, quoted in the New York Times


"Watching Washington rush to throw taxpayer money at Wall Street has been sobering and a little frightening."

      — Newt Gingrich


"Many economists argue that taxpayers ought to get more than avoidance of the apocalypse for their dollars: they ought to get an ownership stake in the companies on the receiving end."

      — New York Times front-page analysis by reporter Peter S. Goodman


"Seriously, is there anybody out there willing to write George Bush a blank check?"

      — Democratic Activist Christine Pelosi


"No 'cash for trash.'"

      — Dennis Kucinich, proposing Americans should also take partial ownership of any institutions receiving bailout money.


I think it's embarrassing to the United States of America. There is a lot of blame to go around."

      — Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson


"For anybody out there living in cave, let me just say this. Congratulations. You've apparently made the soundest real estate investment possible."

      — Jon Stewart

See Also:
The Future of America Has Been Stolen
Don’t Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?
Prior Permission From Government to be Required for Each Flight
Homeland Security Follies

The Ghost of the D.C. Madam

After Deborah Palfrey's suicide, one sex-worker advocate blogged a message of sympathy, saying "I know who you're determined to haunt."

But eight weeks later, she received an email telling her that the D.C. Madam's ghost was talking back!

"I rather suspect this letter could come as a bit of a shock," warned "ghost whisperer" Daniel 'Trinity' Jackson. He identified himself as a professional astrologer — and "metaphysical teacher" — as well as an experienced psychic.

The 55-year-old astrologer lived 10 miles from Tarpon Springs, Florida where Palfrey had committed suicide in May. (Her body was discovered hanging from a noose in a storage shed behind her mother's mobile home.) "My reaction was simply 'This is really terrible'," Daniel says, adding that two weeks later, "I was at home in my living room when I became aware that another person, a spirit entity, had suddenly entered my consciousness and my body..."

Daniel says he now has the answers to the questions surrounding the infamous brothel-keeper's death. (Was Palfrey's suicide faked by government conspirators? Would she reveal the names of her famous clients?) Within 10 seconds, he'd identified the visiting spirit as Deborah Jeane Palfrey. (And to make sure, he'd verified it — with another psychic.) In July, Daniel was ready to contact the sex-worker advocate to say the madam was now available for questions.

The offer was declined, but 10 Zen Monkeys eventually conducted our own brief interview, emailing questions which would be relayed to the dead madam's ghost.

Would she reveal whether her suicide was faked by wayward government agents?


Her ghost says...

This is absolutely false! I am solely responsible for the manner in which my life ended. There was no conspiracy that I became aware of to kill me. And even if there was, it was not successful. I took my own life; it was my decision, end of story. Or is it...?

The Government was my own dark shadow. The Government is very often our own personal dark shadow. Once we begin to recognize this we can move past the guilt, punishment, blame games and victimization. Until such time as the Human Race gets really, totally and completely fed up with limiting beliefs and values, our Government will stand as a reminder, a grim reminder that we are anything but a free people living in a world of real freedom and personal fulfillment.

Her ghost sounded much more philosophical than when we published this 2007 interview with the D.C. Madam — although it's possible that four months in the afterlife puts things in perspective. But an even more surprising revelation was that after running a brothel and hanging herself in Florida ...the D.C. Madam had gone to heaven!

It's not an either/or proposition! There is no afterlife judgment, no eternal condemnation, no 'fire and brimstone' and no angry God to punish anyone! Now there is a place for 'cleansing and repair' that certain individuals will have to endure briefly that forms all of the ancient myths about 'the fires of hell,' but that condition is temporary! It doesn't last forever!

I already briefly went through that myself and I write at length about that in Chapter 10 of the new book.

The new book? Yes, according to Daniel, it seems Palfrey's wandering ghost had kept coming around day after day, holding forth in long beyond-the-grave conversations. "I thought she might ask me to try and send a message to someone living that she was concerned about," Daniel says — but that wasn't it. She had wanted to learn "her disposition and her destiny" in the afterlife. But while she was doing that — she'd decided to dictate a book through him.

In fact, Daniel had originally contacted the sex-worker advocate to see if she'd write the foreword for his book, and maybe promote it on her site. ("Assuming this book is commercially successful, Deborah and I are agreed that substantial portions of the proceeds will be donated to a legal defense fund for women accused of prostitution or pandering and to women victims of rape and other sex related offenses.") And besides, he wrote sympathetically — dictating a book from beyond the grave might give Deborah closure.

Daniel also sells "Pre-Paid Astrology Services," according to his web page at freewebs.com. (Ten sessions cost $425 — with readings of children available for just $60!) But it was apparently much trickier to write an entire book with a ghost. "I literally let Deborah take full control of my body and she typed the book herself!
After Deborah finished each session, we would examine the manuscript together and occasionally I would offer editing suggestions... Deborah also received some assistance from some very wise "Guides" where she is in the afterlife.

There have been other responses to Deborah's death. Last month her 76-year-old mother went to a Florida courtroom urging some privacy over the death of her daughter, requesting that police photos of her daughter's corpse not be released to the public. ("This is the last thing I can do for my daughter," she told the judge. "Please don't let these pictures get out in public.") The judge ultimately ruled that the public could view the photos, but that they couldn't be published or duplicated. It seemed like the final possible episode in a year of fierce notoriety.

But had this helpful Florida psychic found a way to deliver the last word? Besides the political questions surrounding her notoriety — what powerful men secretly visited her service? — there's the bizarre vengeance in having the names spoken from beyond the grave. Last year bloggers pondered a rumor that Dick Cheney might even be on her client list. Through Daniel's psychic connection, Palfrey's ghost finally stepped up to the plate, and gave us an answer.

Sort of.

Her ghost continues...

Suppose for a moment I named more Government People in my new book channeled through Daniel Jackson. Such information would be nothing more than an assertion — hearsay — because Daniel does not have access to my personal records from Pamela Martin Escort Services. So legally speaking at least, naming more people could be dismissed as fabrication to sell the book and Daniel couldn't prove it unless he could obtain my business records...

The grateful ghost couldn't leave her psychic channel facing a libel charge "or possibly even worse." (Though she did add graciously that "My Channel Daniel by the way has worked and worked tirelessly for months to bring this book into reality.")

Daniel acknowledges that some people may be cynical about the validity of his claims. "I understand and appreciate that segments of the public do not recognize or accept either an afterlife or the possibility of psychic contact with spirit entities." And what's his response?

"I always leave it to individuals to decide for themselves the validity of such claims of contact."

Chapter Nine of the book even reveals that being dead has given the D.C. Madam the ability to see into the future.

It will also be discovered that love can be both amplified and transmitted exactly as if it were radio waves sent across the planet... By Year 2089 such an instrument will be nearly as common as are cell phones today.

But the book doesn't end without answering the obvious question: What's it like being dead? And in the strangest twist of all, Daniel's book has given the story of Deborah Jeane Palfrey something no one ever expected to see.

A happy ending.

Most of what I have seen here in the afterlife is just absolutely, positively remarkable; it's called Heaven for really good reason...!

[I]n my final moments on Earth I found myself hoping either for a Tiki Bar that is always open, or maybe a mountain glacier made of butter pecan ice cream and spiced rum cake but instead I think I got something much better!

Read The Book's Epilogue - "The Lesson I'll Never Forget"
and excerpts from five chapters

See Also:
Death of a Madam
The D.C. Madam Speaks
California Cults 2006
Scientology Fugitive Arrested
Dead Woman Blogging

Sarah Palin Photos and a Moose

There's many strange facts emerging online today in the uproar over Alaska governor Sarah Palin...

Enthusiastic bloggers have already uncovered these 2007 photos from Vogue magazine (plus a fake cover photo, pictured above-left) — and this 1984 beauty pageant photo. Her Wikipedia page was even edited to identify her as "the hot governor of Alaska" until editors increased the security on her page. (Vandals had swapped in a photograph of Hulk Hogan to represent the female governor, while another committed a major revision they described as simply "Replaced content with 'tacos'.") And the corrected entry still points to a URL describing Palin's smoking of pot — when it was legal in Alaska, though illegal under U.S. law. (According to an Alaska newspaper, Palin says she didn't like it and doesn't smoke it, but "I can't claim a Bill Clinton and say that I never inhaled.")

She's drawing lots of comments online. ("For some reason she looks like Kermit the Frog in this picture to me," wrote on Digg user about Sarah Palin.) But one user on Fark was more enthusiastic — "Jesus Christ. This campaign has turned into a Viagra commercial" — and within a few hours, Fark users had posted a whopping 2,700 comments. The snarky discussion continued on Metafilter, joking about how Sarah named her children Track, Trig, Bristol, Willow, and Piper. ("Dear GOD! Vice Presidents don't get to NAME anything, do they?!")

But Palin could also be the center of the biggest controversy for McCain's vice presidential pick. Dubbed "Trooper-gate," the potential vice president is currently being investigated by the Alaska legislature over charges that she pushed for the firing of a state official after they refused to fire her sister's ex-husband. (The couple was locked in a bitter custody battle.) It's been an especially messy divorce, according to Alaska newspapers. Her ex-husband "admitted to using the Taser on his stepson in a 'training capacity' and said he shot a moose on his wife's tag, but didn't think the act was illegal."

Governor Palin actually wrote a letter to his superior saying Molly's trooper spouse had drunk a beer at her house and then drove off in a state patrol car, "waving with beer in hand." And after an investigation, Alaska's Public Safety Employees found her ex-husband threatened Molly "with shooting her father if he hired a lawyer to represent her. Wooten denied making the statement, but [Sarah] Palin, McCann and Palin's son all confirmed that he did."

Sarah Palin joins McCain's campaign at a crucial time. According to one focus group, after viewing Obama's Thursday speech, more than 25% of swing voters switched from undecided to supporting Obama — or from supporting John McCain to undecided. Politically it's hoped that Palin can help McCain with conservative voters. (The Christian Coalition has already issued a statement praising Palin, who has said she believes schools should teach creationism.) Though ironically, Palin has also expressed her support for Barack Obama's energy plan.)

And she's currently taking some heat for an interview she gave with the CNBC.
As for that VP talk all the time, I'll tell you, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day...? We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we're trying to accomplish up here for the rest of the U.S., before I can even start addressing that question.

But today, it's the online world that's providing her first vetting. And many of the comments have been strongly unfavorable. ("My third grade teacher had more gravitas," wrote a user at Wonkette.) U.S. News and World Report asked "Will Palin Stand Up to Scrutiny?" on one of their blogs — and received a withering critique from a user named "Educated Female from FL."
She's is essentially a beauty queen....a housewife....that became Governor of Alaska.

We are one heart attack away from her as commander in cheif. [sic] Just like when Dubya picked Harriet Miers for Supreme Court Justice.

Why is it that Republicans always pick inexperienced females? Is it that they are trying to be equality minded, but can't get away from choosing someone that is really unqualified, because their insecurities won't let them have a female sharpie next to them? Their idea of women is hilarious...they are stuck on mommy.

Not every online voice is critical. A U.S. News blogger argues that she's a real asset for the McCain ticket. "[T]hough she comes from far-off Alaska, she will help—big time—in Montana, Colorado, and other western states that McCain has to lock up quickly. She can talk guns, and energy, and wildlife, and make conservative dogma sound reasonable."

But after watching McCain's press conference, Politico's Jonathan Martin saw her rural background as a negative — and put his finger on yet-another strange oddity about the life of Sarah Palin.

"There are more people in that arena than in the town she was mayor of."

See Also:
Why Sarah's Sex Life Matters
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?
Here Comes the Judge's Porn
War of the Candidate Music Videos
Is It Legal Porn or Illegal Porn?

How a Barack Obama Site Made Me Famous

Image via BikePortland.org

Mat Honan worked for two failed dotcoms before becoming a contributing editor at Wired magazine — but his luck changed in February when he created a funny site about Barack Obama in just a few hours. 7 million pageviews later, it's landed him a book deal, a slew of interviews, and even a mention in the New York Times.

The success grew from a personal catchphrase whispered teasingly to his wife: "Barack Obama is your new bicycle." (Her excitement about the candidate matched her previous enthusiasm for cycling.) But it soon exploded, proving once again the strange fame-making power of the web. Mat's publisher had also conjured books out of viral web sites like Chuck Norris facts and the LOL Cats. Is the internet changing the world of publishing as well as the presidential race — and maybe even democracy itself?

A funny thing happened when I tried to buy Mat's book — I couldn't. It had already sold out at my local store, and there were only two copies left at the Borders superstore. ("It's been really popular," the floor clerk said.) But Mat's a friend of mine, so I tracked him down for an honest answer about the role of the internet in 2008, and how it's changing the way we argue about politics.

And the way we argue about Barack Obama....

LOU CABRON: Are you surprised by the runaway success of your site?

MAT HONAN: The thing you have to keep in mind is that I got the idea for the site on a bus ride home, and between 5 p.m. and when the site went live at 9 p.m. — nothing was done after that!

I didn't have any expectation that something I created in a few hours was going to take off like it did. I've worked on a lot of online and writing projects for weeks and months, and sometimes you create things that you think are going to be insanely popular — that people will like — but you can never predict that kind of stuff. And those things you spend a few hours on — I don't know what happened. I basically tapped into some sort of Zeitgeist, and people really related to it!

I think most people who like it are pro-Obama, and it's fundamentally sort of sweet. I was trying to come up with ideas that your wife or your boyfriend or your best friend or something would do for you. That was my criteria.

LC: Like "Barack Obama bought you candy. Barack Obama baked you a pie. Barack Obama folded you an origami crane. Barack Obama built you a robot." For some reason, these non sequitors you came up with resonated with the online world.

MH: I really am sort of amazed by it. Even though I've thought about it a lot, I can't really put my finger on whatever made it take off like it did.

If you had told me 10,000 people would see it, I just wouldn't have thought that was very likely, or that if they did, it might've been if some big blog linked to it — I might've gotten a one-day bump in traffic. I certainly wouldn't have thought it was going to result in a book deal!

LC: It's been said that online media also helped Obama build the "net roots" backbone for his Presidential bid. Is the role of technology in this campaign being overblown?

MH: I don't think it's overblown. I think if anything, there's probably not enough made of it.

I have in the past couple of months become an unintentional and unwitting spokesman for what's right or wrong about the Obama campaign and I just — I'm not an expert on it. But he is internet savvy, and what made me put some of those references in the book — "Barack Obama favorited your photo" and "Barack Obama friended you on Facebook" — is that his campaign did have those internet presences. That was certainly one of the things that led me to include those.

LC: Your web site immediately inspired several other viral sites — about Hillary Clinton, Ron Paul, and even Steve Jobs. But at the same time, political blogs have started to play a real role in fundraising and disseminating campaign information. Is that a good thing?

MH: I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing, because it leads to us not talking to each other as we once did. I think the more that we splinter into little groups, the worse it is for society as a whole. It becomes very easy for me to forget that there are people out there who have some political opinion that's very different than my own, because I just don't go to those web sites. I don't know what people are talking about on Little Green Footballs today. I don't know if it's still around, and if it went away — I wouldn't know.

I tend to avoid political web sites like I do somebody who's got a hacking cough. Whether they're left wing or right wing, I think they just tend to be so consumed with anger — I have a hard time getting into it. I don't think it's constructive. It's really easy to get yourself into a feedback loop...

Maybe I don't have enough spare time to be hanging out on the hardcore political sites.

LC: Does it seem like there's too much cynicism — online, and in the real world?

MH: I feel like cynicism is just such an easy cop out to caring for people — or doing anything. I feel like cynicism is the lazy man's sincerity. It's hard work not to be cynical. Social pressures make you want to be cynical, especially among people who might consider themselves urbane or in some way outside of the mainstream.

I try very hard not to be cynical. I think I'm somebody who used to be a very cynical person... There's a lot of social pressure for you to not be enthusiastic about anything — and to just not like anything, or to act like you don't like anything, to be too cool to like anything, too cool to be a fan. I made a decision a long time ago to not be cynical. And I hope it comes through in the book. And yet there's some part of me that's cynical, deep inside of me.

I feel like so few people are engaged and trying to do anything — to put themselves out there, largely because so many other people are engaged in trying to tear down people who put themselves out there. I think that applies to politics, art, business... I think society has become, and maybe always has been, very cynical, and I think ultimately that's not very constructive or helpful. I think that oddly enough, it's to some extent the creative class that is the most cynical and should also be the group of people who are least likely to be cynical, because they're the ones who are most often negatively affected by the cynicism of others.

LC: Your web site is sweet but sardonic — and it's ultimately hard to guess what your true feelings are about Obama.

MH: The book and the web site certainly were meant to be neither pro or anti-Obama. They almost have nothing to do with each other in that regard. I mean, the book is definitely done from a well-meaning and loving place, but in a way that I think could be open to interpretation, as something that you could see as not pro-Obama. And many people have seen it as an anti-Obama site. I was just trying to make a joke, and I think a lot of times jokes work better if they don't have an agenda. And I didn't have an agenda.

But I also was "taking the piss" a little bit — because I felt like there's a certain zeal to the whole Obama thing. I think that people can have conflated expectations of Obama and not necessarily him as a candidate. I certainly think he's the stronger candidate — he was the stronger candidate in the primary, and he is now. But that doesn't mean he's the perfect candidate or the perfect man. No one is. So I was just making fun of the concept of Obama as the person who's all things to all people, which is how I think people perceive him, not that he's presented himself as such. I kind of think those are two different things. When I made the web site, I was just sort of trying to say the whole country seems to have just fallen in love with Barack Obama.

LC: The McCain campaign is comparing the Barack Obama phenomenon to Paris Hilton.

MH: I wasn't talking about Obama as a celebrity. I was talking about him as a boyfriend. I thought it was kind of a good-natured ribbing about my wife in particular and people in general, being in love with Obama.

I certainly think that the McCain campaign is coming from a place of cynicism, which I think is unfortunate. I think John McCain is a great American and I think he is a person who probably is a statesman and I think he's done a disservice to his campaign by engaging in this kind of Karl Rove "scorched earth" cynical campaign. I feel like he's taking things that Obama has said and making it appear that Obama has created a cult of personality or attempted to create a cult of personality, whereas it's the people who have supported Obama who have generated this zeal for him, when it's Obama's supporters who are enthusiastic for him. Obama can't artificially create something like that. No one can.

LC: But do you think that popularity translates into real political change? Do you really think Barack can bring America together?

MH: I think maybe he can. I don't know why, exactly, but I think maybe he can. I think he can, because I think he's sort of an authentic person, and I think he's a leader. There are certain indefinable traits that leaders have, and I think he's got those indefinable traits.

And I think people will support him as a President. I think it's fundamentally bad to have two camps in the country hating each other, and I think you need somebody that speaks from the middle. And I think unless he can kind of be painted into a corner, I think he can do that.

The government's last eight years have been governing from the edge. I felt Clinton and Bush's dad did a good job of governing from the middle. I think it's something Obama will try to do, and if you're a strong leader you certainly stand a better chance than when you just govern from your base.

LC: But you're not actually a Democrat?

MH: I'd never voted for a major party candidate until John Kerry. And that was because I had a cynical view of both parties, and didn't really necessarily feel that my vote was going to change anything. Not that it wasn't important — I felt that it was important, but I also felt like it wasn't going to change anything, because nobody stood for anything that they were talking about. They just stood for themselves. So John Kerry — it wasn't so much that I was voting for him as I was voting against Bush.

I'm 35 and about to be 36, but Obama is certainly the first candidate I have ever been excited about and really believed in. I feel like it's not just necessarily young people. I feel fortunate that there's a candidate like that in this election because I think you maybe get one of those in a lifetime — one candidate in a lifetime who you can really truly believe in. I do believe in Barack Obama because I believe he has some essential authenticity. He comes across as a real human being, as someone who wakes up in the morning and goes to sleep at night and has doubts and isn't just saying what needs to be said in order to be elected. I just — that's my take on it. Why do I think that? It's hard to say.

LC: What about John McCain?

MH: McCain is someone who had his own authenticity, and he squandered it by zagging to go after his party's base, by cozying up to the very people he called agents of intolerance.

Obama — you look at some of the things he's done. I think he made a very risky speech on race. He's the first person I think in my lifetime who talked about race to me as if I wasn't an absolute idiot, who talked to me like he would if it were the two of us in the room rather than speaking to a nation of people. Most politicians won't talk to you like that. They'll talk as if there are 100,000 ears listening in, and they're trying to catch them — which they are.

LC: So if Barack is our new bicycle, what was John Kerry? John Edwards? Al Gore?

MH: I don't think it quite works that way. It was very specific. One of the things that was interesting about the book and the web site is that it's all so enigmatic to people. I was almost reluctant to write an introduction because I didn't know if it would kind of ruin the enigmatic title to explain where it came from. But to me, when I say "is your new bicycle" — the your is my wife's.

If you're talking about John Kerry in her terms, I guess maybe he's a MUNI bus Fast Pass. It still beats driving to and from work, but it's not going to be as fun.

LC: So you don't have a metaphor for the Taft administration?

MH: I think even if you went back to Clinton, I'd be dry.

LC: The Democratic Convention is this week. Any plans to capitalize?

MH: I had actually hoped to go to Denver and try to do some book promoting, but I can't afford the hotel rooms. My wife and I had thought about driving out there and maybe setting up a little table. But I think when I last checked, the Super 8 or the Motel 6 cost $350 a night with a four-night minimum...there were virtually no rooms.

LC: So I'll take it you haven't been offered a speaking slot at the convention. But have you heard anything from the Obama campaign?

MH: Nah. Nothing. I don't know if they know about my book or not.

He did favorite a photo of mine on Flickr. That was great, but I assume that was somebody in his campaign. He's way too busy to be messing around with Flickr.

LC: Your book's last non sequitor is "Barack Obama autographed your book."

MH: And it even have a space for him to autograph it there.

LC: Has anyone....?

MH: My hope is that someone will actually do that and send me a picture.

LC: But meanwhile, back in San Francisco, not only is Barack Obama your new bicycle — you wrote the whole book at a bike cafe. Bikes are fuel efficient, and there was even a minor stir over a photo of Barack Obama riding his bicycle. And yet ironically, bicycles have been almost completely absent from this campaign.

MH: There are going to be thousands of bikes at the Democratic convention to get around on — those pick-'em-up, drop-'em-off bikes. I think anything that gets people on bikes is great.

Good for them!

Buy the book here!

See Also:
Is the Net Good For Writers?
An Obama Caucus Story From Idaho
The Bush Administration's Greatest Hits (To Your Face)
The QuestionAuthority Proposal
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?

Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued

Jason Fortuny appeared in Sunday's New York Times magazine — but he may soon be appearing in court.

Nearly two years ago, Jason Fortuny placed a fake sex ad on Craigslist pretending to be a woman seeking casual sex, and then published the photographs of anyone who responded. Now one of his victims has filed a $75,000 lawsuit against Fortuny in U.S. District Court, and this summer (after four months of effort) finally obtained a valid address for Fortuny and issued a summons.

Two weeks ago — as the New York Times was preparing their article — Fortuny was writing an eight-page letter to the judge finally defending his "Craigslist experiment" against the legal charges, and offering his own testimony about the event. "I take it back," Fortuny wrote recently on his blog. "You might get sued if you do a Craigslist Experiment..."

But it's still very complicated.

According to the suit Fortuny "acted with actual malice to harm and deceive the individuals responding to the Craigslist ad." The suit demands a jury trial and seeks a full slate of damages — compensatory, statutory, and punitive, plus attorney's fees and costs.

"Plaintiff has suffered, and continues to suffer, harm arising from the foregoing wrongful conduct by Mr. Fortuny," the lawsuit complains, identifying the victim as John Doe and arguing that the incident affected his private life "and the manner in which he is viewed among family, friends, and colleagues."

Fortuny's prank traumatized John Doe, it argues, causing him to "suffer and continue to suffer from humiliation, embarrassment, lost opportunity of keeping his family together, and emotional distress."

John Doe is asking that Fortuny be enjoined from publishing the photo, that Fortuny destroy his copy of the photo (and sexy email), and to "cooperate in the removal...from any cached sites."

The specific charges?

Count one: Violation of copyright act
Count two: Public disclosure of private facts
Count three: Intrusion upon seclusion
Count four: Injunctive relief


Is he guilty of disclosing personally identifiable private facts? There aren't any, Fortuny argues. "In his communication, Plaintiff does not use his actual name, or provide any method of personal contact," he writes in his motion to dismiss — noting that the victim had used an anonymous email address.

And whatever Fortuny published, the victim had volunteered, the motion claims. "I did not obtain any information by intruding into Plaintiff's personal space, eavesdropping, or illegally intercepting any communication," Fortuny argues. "Thus, the disclosure of Plaintiff's e-mail is not, by its nature, personal or intrusive."

And what about the copyright law? Fortuny's motion says that there's been no violation of copyright law, since the photo he's republished is used "to discuss how DMCA law can be used to be chill free speech." (After the photo was removed from another site, Fortuny had re-published it in October of 2006 in a blog post called "Don't tread on me, or, how I learned to stop worrying and ignore DMCA threats.") Fortuny had filed a counter-notification disputing the copyrighted status of the photo. ("The counter notification basically says 'you're a liar liar pants on fire'," Fortuny wrote on his blog, "and adds that if you don't respond within 14 days, I get to put my shit back up.")

Now his motion adds that "The use of the photo is in reduced form, is transformative, does not affect market value of the original photo, and is for a purpose of education and public interest." The motion also notes that it's a 4-kilobyte image (and not the original 22 kilobytes), and "there is ample case law that protects the fair use of reduced versions of media, especially for the purposes of education and discussion."


Yes, there were sexy shenanigans on Craiglist, but Fortuny adds that while he did re-publish this particular photo, "there was no malicious intent in my actions. This was never a plan to embarrass people or to single out a subset of the population."

The Craigslist griefer writes that he understands the hurt and frustration inflicted on the unsuspecting victims. But Fortuny also cites a clear warning in Craigslist's terms of service that the information on the site might indeed be inaccurate or misleading. "If I made the mistake of telling secrets to someone I didn't know online and it got out...I'd be kicking myself pretty hard. I would most definitely be shouting expletives at my computer screen. But that's the risk we all take online, as well as in life. Whether it's someone's e-mail, picture, or personal ad, there's no guarantee of identity, and no guarantee that you won't be betrayed. And there never will be."

But the plaintiff obviously disagrees. The lawsuit cites a section of Craigslists' privacy policy stating that users "agree not to post, email, or otherwise make available content that includes personal or identifying information about another person without that person's explicit consent." Making an obvious point, the suit notes that the plaintiff intended his sexy photo and email "to be a private communication between himself and the 'woman' who placed the advertisement... The public disclosure of these private facts represents an intrusion upon the privacy of Plaintiff that is objectionable and highly offensive to a reasonable person."

"The foregoing acts of infringement have been willful and intentional, in complete disregard of and with indifference to Plaintiff's rights," the suit argues. "Moreover, the uncertainty of the extent of the intrusions continues to cause Plaintiff a great deal of anguish and suffering." The facts disclosed "were not of any legitimate public concern," it argues, adding that "Mr. Fortuny acted with actual malice."

"Unless enjoined and restrained by this Court, Mr. Fortuny will continue to cause Plaintiff great and irreparable injury that cannot fully be compensated or measured in money."


Appealing to the court's sympathy, Fortuny shares a personal statement with his own perspective.
I've been asked over and over, "Jason, why did you do it?" To be honest, it was a small act that quickly spun out of control. It's not like I woke up that morning and said, "hey, I think I'll start a controversy today and get my face in the news."

I posted the fake ad with the sole intention to satisfy my curiosity about what kinds of people respond to such overt advertisements. I expected no responses. I didn't believe anyone would fall for such an obviously fake ad on a website that tells its users to exercise caution. When I received those 175 responses to my Craigslist ad, I was blown away by the utter disregard for personal privacy...

When Second Life's user database was hacked, the press coverage was minimal, Fortuny argues, while his own stunt generated a disproportionate huge wave of attention. "That there was so much coverage truly confused me," he writes, adding that "I've struggled to integrate this experience into my life, and to make it productive."

And Fortuny also argues that he doesn't ridicule the individuals who responded, but talks instead about "the larger issue of privacy on the Internet, and how to be proactive in protecting one's private information."

"[B]ringing legal action against me may punish me, but it won't change or even impact online culture in the positive ways that I describe above."

But for the moment, he's left grappling with the legal nuances of his defense. For example, he points out that though both he and his victim live in Washington state, the suit was filed in federal court in Illinois. (The suit argues it's a federal issue, and that Fortuny also spoke about the incident at a "Lulz Con" in Chicago.) There's one more interesting wrinkle. The plaintiff did copyright his photograph — but apparently as an after-thought. (Fortuny published the image on October 6 of 2006, and the plaintiff began his copyright filing on October 12.)
The Plaintiff is seeking to punish my discussion of his DMCA actions by abusing the intent of copyright law, stretching the common law terms of privacy, using unverified e-mail as alternative process, and side stepping personal jurisdiction...

I have never been afraid to answer for my actions and to face anyone who takes exception with me. This case, however, is quite different. This is a case of a person trying to get his pound of flesh out of me for my perceived wrongs.

Fortuny argues that tactics like the victim's frivolous DMCA notice "erode the free speech rights of Internet users everywhere, especially the growing world of bloggers and other self-published groups. When an individual uses copyright law and privacy torts to silence critics or unjustly control publicly relevant discussion, it damages everyone's rights."

Ironically, the day after filing the lawsuit, John Doe's attorney had to ask the court to delete the copyright application because it revealed his embarrassed client's real name.


Almost two years later, more than 180 responses remain online at Encyclopedia Dramatica, including photographs of more than 94 men (and in some cases, close-ups of their genitals).

Fortuny reportedly copied the text verbatim from an actual Craigslist ad, which gave his lure an extra authenticity. "i am 27 yo sexy str8 woman, 5 ft 7 in, 145 lbs..." the ad promised. "send ur stats and a face pic and i'll return mine to you..."
looking 4 ruff man, harley rider... i have a leg spreader, crop, cane and metal cuffs. spit on me, verbally abuse... "i am looking 4 a white or latin only, str8 brutal dom muscular male 30-35 yo who is arrogant, self-centered, nasty, egotistic, sadistic who likes 2 give intense pain and discipline...

But so far the resulting legal actions have been centered on the uses of copyright law. Neither "John Doe" nor his lawyers returned our request for a comment — nor did Craigslist or the EFF. But Jason Fortuny did, urging internet users "protect your free speech rights. Stand up to copyright and DMCA law abuse."

But so far, he's standing alone. ("Let me introduce you to my amazing lawyer," Fortuny wrote on his blog. "Me.") He contacted the Chicago ACLU, according to the post, saying that they replied that handling e-mail was "too complicated, could you please send us a fax." So faced with expensive legal fees and his own counter-arguments about copyright law, "here I am, going Pro Se on this. This is going to be fun."

In an email today, Fortuny conceded that "The case is at a very early stage, and it's not at the forefront of my brain right now." But a hint of his true sense of impunity may have slipped into his letter to the court. "I make no excuses about who I am," he writes in his motion to dismiss. "I am frequently rude, unsympathetic, unempathetic, and politically incorrect, to put it mildly.

"But there's no law against that."

See Also:
Jason Fortuny Speaks
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
Good Griefers: Fortuny v. Crook
Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
In the Company of Jerkoffs

Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?

"He should be recalled," jokes blogger John Amato.

"And then forced to move to another state."

Liberal democrats hate Joe Lieberman — and according to a recent poll, a lot of other people do too. The Connecticut Senator is so unpopular, he'd "be crushed today" in a new election, one headline announced, citing a poll showing that even 46% of Connecticut's independent voters disapproved of Lieberman's performance, while another pollster noted Lieberman's overall approval rating "has dropped below 50 percent for the first time in 14 years of polling..."

Is the discontent building into a political force? Yesterday a petition with nearly 50,000 signatures was delivered to Capitol Hill urging the Democrats to revoke Lieberman's leadership of the Homeland Security committee. And some bloggers have pondered an even more severe question: can you recall a sitting Senator?

Lieberman won a six-year term in 2006 with just 49.7% of the vote — after losing in the state's primary election, and being forced to run as an independent. And since then he's antagonized both parties, caucusing with the Senate's Democrats to provide the crucial vote they need for a one-Senator majority — while endorsing the Republicans' presidential candidate. "Come on, Connecticut, recall this boob," wrote one blogger — even before the latest poll showed Lieberman trailing by a huge 15 points in a re-match against his previous Democratic challenger, Ned Lamont.

But is there enough bad energy around the Senator to launch a recall effort?

According to at least one liberal blogger — no. "I'm pretty certain that as a factual matter he cannot be recalled," says Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo. "Full stop. Can't happen." Some states have a recall procedure in their Constitution, notes Daily Kos blogger Meteor Blades — but Connecticut isn't one of them.

And even then, "there is the matter of whether a state could recall a Senator if it had a recall provision on the books," he adds. "I'm no lawyer — Constitutional or otherwise — but since no serious effort has ever been made to recall a Senator, we don't have any case law dealing with the issue." In 1967, Idaho tried to recall Senator Frank Church, only to be told by a district court that the state's recall laws didn't apply to a U.S. senator, according to Wikipedia. Idaho's Attorney General agreed, saying the U.S. Constitution handles the ejection of Senators.

In fact, 32 Senators have faced expulsion from the Senate over its 219-year history under a provision in the first article of the U.S. Constitution. ("Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings...and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.") The last one was in 1995 — Senator Robert Packwood of Oregon, who resigned after allegations of sexual assault (and a unanimous preliminary expulsion recommendation from the Senate's ethics committee). But a two-thirds vote is hard to achieve — just ask Senators Vitter and Craig. Aside from one treasonous anti-Spanish conspiracy in 1797, no Senators have actually been expelled except for the 14 ejected during the Civil War for supporting the Confederacy.

Recall procedures are listed for 18 states on the official site of the National Conference of State Legislatures — but the number shouldn't be misinterpreted. "We're the national conference of state legislators," says the group's media manager, Meagan Dorsch, "so this page pertains primarily to the recall of state officials. Some of these laws may be applicable for both state and U.S. elected officials — but you would have to read the states' constitutional articles to find out their exact definition of an elected official."

Connecticut isn't one of those states, Meteor Blades points out — and that's only the beginning. "If, somehow, Connecticut managed to put a recall law on the books and then tried to use it against Lieberman, there litigation would start to flow. And everything I've read on the subject indicates that such a move would fail on (U.S.) Constitutional grounds. So, to shorten my answer, 'No,' Lieberman can't be recalled."

But a day of reckoning may still find Joe Lieberman. Until the next election, he's the ultimate swing vote — single-handedly determining which party controls the Senate. In just 16 weeks, however, the Democrats are favored to win at least three more seats — and those election results could change everything. Yesterday reporters directly asked the Democrats' Senate majority leader Harry Reid whether Lieberman should retain his committee leadership posts even after the election. "Let's talk about this year," Reid hedged non-commitally. When pushed on whether he was open to change, the Senate leader countered that he wasn't, then added "I'm just waiting to get through this year when I have a 51 vote majority."

"He will be ousted of all his leadership responsibilities if a few more states vote for Democratic candidates in the Senate," believes John Amato, who founded the political blog Crooks and Liars. In fact, Amato believes Lieberman's recent support of John McCain hides a Machiavellian scheme. Lieberman "latched onto John McCain because...he knows this, and has betrayed the values he says he believes in for purely personal gain."

Meteor Blades notes ironically that Democrats could see Lieberman leave the Senate in November — if John McCain won the Presidency, and then gave Lieberman a cabinet post. McCain might even run with Lieberman on the ticket as Vice President in another scenario. (Though ironically, last week's polling showed the combination would actually hurt McCain's chances of winning Lieberman's home state of Connecticut.) And there's one other option that would remove Lieberman from the Senate. If Barack Obama wins in November "Obama could offer him a good Cabinet position," suggested one commenter at Daily Kos wryly.

"But that has the downside of putting Lieberman in a good Cabinet position."

What about that grass roots petition to strip Lieberman of his committee leadership positions? Lieberman dismissed it as "old, petty partisan politics," according to the response from Lieberman's office. And so far the controversy isn't winning support from the Democrats' leader in the Senate. "Anytime we have a problem here, with the exception of Iraq, Joe Lieberman is with us," Harry Reid told reporters Thursday. "So I wish people would leave him alone."

There's no question that Lieberman is unpopular — but the real question is what to do about it. In fact, Lieberman already has an unexpected supporter for a re-election bid in 2012 — Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos. "My biggest fear is that Lieberman retires in 2012," Markos wrote last week.

"I want him defeated at the ballot box."

See Also:
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
Prior Permission From Government to be Required For Each Flight
Homeland Security Follies
The Future of America Has Been Stolen

Here Comes The Judge’s Porn

Judge Alex Kozinski posted porn online, the L.A. Times announced yesterday. But today internet bloggers discovered which porn it was!

"And now, for the more disturbing and/or pornographic images," announced conservative blogger Patterico, who claimed he'd spoken to the Times' source for two hours, and ultimately convinced him to deliver the images he'd downloaded from the judge's site. He's identified the naked women painted like cows (cropped above), the man performing fellatio on himself, and the women exposing their genitalia in front of the "Bush for President" sign. ("That is a funny joke," Kozinski admitted to the L.A. Times...)

And the "slide show striptease featuring a transsexual" appears to be just a PowerPoint quiz jokingly challenging the viewer to guess real women from the pre-op transsexuals.

Some of the photos from the PowerPoint were clearly X-rated, but the blogger posting the contents of Kozinski's directory ultimately was sympathetic. "I could be wrong, but I think that on the whole, most people will say that the actual images are slightly less offensive than one would expect from a text description," he blogged today.

And for some fans online, Kosinski is on his way to becoming their favorite judge.

At Fark, one poster remembered the time judge Kozinski contacted a supposedly female blogger at "Underneath Their Robes," nominating himself for their "Judicial Hottie" contest. ("I have it on very good authority that discerning females and gay men find graying, pudgy, middle-aged men with an accent close to Gov. Schwarzenegger's almost totally irresistible.") He proudly submitted video footage of his appearance on "The Dating Game" in 1968. (When selected, he grabs the female contestant's face and surprises her by planting a very long kiss.)

"I had my own photo-spread in George Magazine, with lots of sexy pictures of me jumping," Judge Kozinski added. "This was a few years back, but I've only gotten cuter with age."

The blog "Underneath Their Robes" was actually written by David Lat, who later became a blogger at Wonkette. "I was surprised, needless to say," Lat emailed us today about the news of the Kozinski porn stash. "But one thing I'd emphasize is that that this material was not easily accessible — you needed to know what subdirectory to enter in order to access items.

"So I'm not as scandalized as it seems other folks are. This was never material that he meant for the public to see."

And the judge himself had another explanation, which appeared today on the blog "Above the Law"
"Everyone in the family stores stuff there, and I had no idea what some of the stuff is or was — I was surprised that it was there. I assumed I must have put it there by accident, but when the story broke, [my son] Yale called and said he's pretty sure he uploaded a bunch of it. I had no idea, but that sounds right, because I sure don't remember putting some of that stuff there.

It's worth remembering that Kozinski has always been an unashamed advocate for freedom of speech — and he has a sense of humor. (When Mattel sued over the song Barbie Girl, Judge Kozinski wrote in his legal opinion that "The parties are advised to chill.") When confronted about the dirty images by the L.A. Times, he argued that at least some of the pictures were funny. Some might be offensive, he conceded, but he didn't think any matched the legal definition of obscene.

"Is it prurient? I don't know what to tell you," he told the newspaper. "I think it's odd and interesting. It's part of life."

The blogger at Patterico says the images the Times discussed had been online since December, according to his source. And one commenter at Slashdot found a cached screenshot of Kozinski's directory, with file dates as far back as 2004. But the screenshot revealed the directory held mostly the kind of viral videos one would usually find on Digg.

Yes, some of the file names were a little racy — like fart.exe, orgasm.wav, and esheep.exe. But the Kozinski directory also held a copy of Monty Python's innocuous Lumberjack song — along with two songs by Weird Al Yankovic

Wonkette ultimately called it "the sort of naughtiness you’d find in the dirty birthday cards section at Spencer Gifts," describing Kozinski's directory as "the very worst excuse for hosting a porn stash since Mark Penn told his mom 'I'm keeping that stack of Juggs for a friend?'"

Ironically, one of the Yankovic songs in his directory gave a title beginning with the words "You Don't..." presumably the song parody "You Don't Love Me Any More." ("I guess I lost a little bit of self-esteem," Weird Al sings, "that time that you made it with the whole hockey team.") It's an odd bit of synchronicity, since the judge now faces a media firestorm — and ironically, his curiosity about free speech may ultimately make it harder for him to rule in defense of it.

Though Judge Kozinski has had a stellar career, it may be Weird Al who's ultimately provided its epitaph.
You used to think that I was nice
But now you tell all your friends
that I'm the Antichrist.

See Also:
CNN Exposes Boob Job Giveaway
The D.C. Madam Speaks
Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship
Sex Panic! An Interview with Debbie Nathan
Racist Porn Stars

The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy

Another pointless brouhaha about drugs has erupted, this time between Wired magazine, the New York Times, and a reporter's blog. And what fueled all the noise was less than 300 words in a tiny chart — and an unexpected admission of past drug use. (Which in no way resembled the "Faces of Meth" public service ad pictured above.)

Reporter Mat Honan is a friend of mine, and he's not a drug addict, a street pusher, or even a very regular blogger. But he created a table of eight drugs which affect your thinking for last month's Wired — seven prescription or over-the-counter drugs, plus methamphetamine. And that's when the tabloid-esque headlines started.

"Is Wired Pushing Illegal Drug Use?" read one headline, linking to a New York Times article by reporter Lia Miller. In the Times' "Media and Advertising" section, she'd asked disingenuously "does Wired magazine really mean to promote drugs?" calling their eight-drug table "somewhat disarming."

"Do the Right Drugs," it recommends, laying out the pros and cons of eight drugs — some legal, some not — that it says can “boost your cognitive output."

Yes, Wired had tried to provoked interest in their table by including a 34-word introduction.
Brains + drugs = fried eggs, right? Not always.

But as the Times had obviously recognized, nearly all of the drugs listed were legal, including nicotine. (Wired noted it neurochemically increases attention and memory formation, while listing as its side effects "addiction, cancer, and social isolation.") And for the commonly-abused drugs, Wired listed side effects which might dampen the enthusiasm of recreational users. For Adderall, a popular black market prescription medication for ADHD, Wired listed as side effects "addiction" and also "heart attack," while for methamphetamine, the side effects included "stroke "and "death." "In the context, no one can seriously conclude that we are suggesting that Wired readers take these substances," Wired's managing editor, Bob Cohn, told the New York Times.

But the Times still insisted they weren't completely placated, arguing that "Given the magazine's cheeky writing style, that may be lost." Wired had apparently failed to be rigorous enough in their anti-drug posturing, even sardonically listing each of the eight drugs with a color code identifying "how to get it."
Order online
Buy from manufacturer
Tap black market
Fake illness to get prescription
Hit drugstore

Rather than a straight-out condemnation, Wired had simply issued a gentle reminder about personal responsibility. "We at Wired aren't doctors. Anyone who takes a bushel of drugs based on our say-so must be high."

"I should probably just let it go," Wired's reporter wrote on his personal blog, but the piece "is just such a hand-wringing piece of bullshit that I have to weigh in."
I don't quite get what the Times' position is, other than "Wired is suggesting you do meth!" Well, no. That wasn't the point at all. Let's look at some of the side effects I listed: "Parkinson's-like symptoms, addiction, stroke, psychosis, prison, death." Oh, hey, and in the "what it does" column, I also note "Prolonged use can also make you stupid and crazy." Does that sound like an endorsement to you?

I'll tell you one thing about Wired that I really appreciate: we don't assume our readers are idiots.

In defending the article, Wired's reporter shared a surprising level of straight talk.
Look, here's the thing: meth can help you focus and accomplish menial and creative tasks—just as is true of other amphetamines. It boosts dopamine output. Plain and simple. Does that mean it's worth doing? No...

Why, this may shock you, but here's the thing: Cocaine is exceptionally fun. LSD? It genuinely alters your perception. I'm not suggesting that you do either of these. Both conspired, unsuccessfully, to kill me and I would no more try either today than I would attempt to put a rattlesnake in my anus. I am older and wiser and recognize that the benefits are not worth the risks... Drugs, especially highly addictive ones like speed or cocaine or heroin or ones with powerful psychological components like LSD, tend to not be worth the price you pay for their use.

Soon Gawker had taken note of the blog post, giving it their own spin with the headline "Wired Drug Writer Has His Own Drug Expertise."

"It was a stupid controversy over a relatively innocuous drug story," Gawker began, saying "The Wired piece didn't deserve criticism for its content," but then adding: "it might have been served by some disclosure." Gawker ultimately supported Honan's position — albeit in a snarky way — though ironically, both Gawker's article and the New York Times' ended up being longer than Honan's original table.

"We'll never solve society's problems if we can't at least speak honestly about them," Honan had written on his blog. But in the end, the Times had simply led its readers through yet-another exercise in knee-jerk denunciations, and there was no discussion about drug policy whatsoever. When the Times article was linked from the Huffington Post, it drew just nine comments — three of which were about the site's pop-up ads.

But at least this time there was some justifiable media criticism online to go along with the faux outrage. One of Gawker's commenters jokingly asked what kind of high they'd get from putting a rattlesnake in their anus. "Is it a jumpy high, like cocaine, or a dancey, laughy high, like shrooms, or is it groovy, like LSD? Does anyone know where I could score a rattlesnake in midtown?"

And maybe the parody of the impressionability is the ultimate point. "I don't think Wired could influence anyone to take meth," Wired's managing editor had told the Times. Instead, one Huffington Post commenter objected only to the "underlying moral self righteousness" of the headline — "Is Wired Pushing Illegal Drug Use?" — as another suggested a strong rebuttal.
Obviously the answer is no.

Why the question??

Slow news day?

The New York Times did not return our request for a comment, meaning that the online community ultimately gets the last word. "[A]s long as we're shaming, maybe the New York Times should be ashamed of itself," Honan wrote on his blog, "for assuming we are a nation of six year olds who can't be spoken to honestly or trusted to make rational decisions."

And then he linked to a video by Bill Hicks, who more than 14 years ago had laid out the case against the media's over-simplified talking points — and maybe implicitly endorsed Wired's more honest tone about the real effects of drugs.

"Wouldn't that be newsworthy? Just once to base your decision on information rather than scare tactics and superstitions and lies? Just once?

"I think it would be newsworthy."

See Also:
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube

Death of a Madam

The D.C. Madam Speaks - Deborah Jeane Palfrey Interview

"I am not going back to prison. I will commit suicide first."

Deborah Jeane Palfrey made that vow last year, a friend told the Associated Press. Today she reportedly took her own life, just two weeks after a guilty verdict on charges of running a prostitution ring.

But in August Palfrey sat down for a wide-ranging interview with sex educator Susie Bright. "Public scrutiny is not her style," Bright noted at the time. Palfrey's personality, she concluded after the interview, is "very circumspect... afraid of being ridiculed or treated like a 'whore.'" And Palfrey had obviously spent decades "compartmentalizing," Bright concluded. The woman that the newspapers had designated "the D.C. Madam" had actually spent decades cordoning parts of her life from the rest of her personality, "and she's not about to change now.

"Lots of dissonance — oceans of it."

But as a long-term observer of the scene, Bright had also spotted something odd about Palfrey's legal predicament. "They really did a 'Hoover' number on her that is unprecendented for a prostitution bust. And I don't think she knows what it is they were after, either."

More than a dozen federal agents descended on Palfrey's home and executed a search warrant, according to the local newspaper. Palfrey said in the interview that "I was obviously sitting on a powder keg of information" (adding that "there is much still to come out.")
David Vitter is not the sole and substance of my entire 13 years of operation, that's for sure. I was sitting on something — or they thought I was sitting on something. I was under observation — J. Edgar Hoover-style — from as far back as March of 2004, until the trigger was pulled on me early in October of 2006. For 31 months I was being observed!

In September, Palfrey sent Bright a follow-up email with an announcement from her attorney. Palfrey's team was filing a pro se brief alleging that "the United States Government has been directly or indirectly benefiting from the operation of her service by monitoring her customers and is thus equitably barred from prosecuting her."

In January, more discouraging news arrived about the suicide of one of Palfrey's escorts — a former University of Maryland professor (according to the Associated Press), who was facing prostitution charges. Press reports note that Palfrey recruited the women who worked at her agency with advertisements in college newspapers. Originally Palfrey even bragged on the web that her service was staffed with escorts "with two or more years of college education, who either work and/or go to school in the daytime." (Though in October, Palfrey claimed to The Smoking Gun site that she'd already shuttered the business in August because all those college-educated escorts were "driving me crazy.")

Job-seeking females were told they must have a car, a cellphone and a "weight proportionate to height." (Palfrey's web site touted the job's "excellent income and flexible hours.") Over the last seven years, Palfrey reportedly earned $750,000 — which would represent at least 2,700 dates.

"Cash or traveler's checks only."

Unfortunately, D.C. investigators were starting to ignore Palfrey's compartments. Though she lived in D.C., Palfrey kept a home near the San Francisco Bay Area. (According to an affidavit published by The Smoking Gun, women were asked to send a photograph and application to Palfrey's P.O. box in Vallejo, California.) After being hired each woman was then required to "engage in sexual activity" (without payment) to ensure they weren't undercover policewomen. Upon seeing the affidavit, Palfrey concluded it was the Department of Justice itself that was actually leaking the information.

And there was another strange anomaly in Palfrey's case, Bright observed. "What's so funny to me is how cheap these services seem to be in D.C. You'd pay sooooo much more in L.A." Five weeks before her death, Palfrey made the same argument to a reporter at Newsweek.
All along, Palfrey has claimed she was running a perfectly legal "adult fantasy" service that stopped short of sex...now, she hopes, [Eliot] Spitzer's fall may give her claims an unexpected credibility boost...

"We charged between $200 and $300," Palfrey tells NEWSWEEK. Even if the Emperor's Club rates were inflated New York area prices, Palfrey says, her business "wasn't even in the prostitution price range.

"This whole scandal helps my case considerably."

Ironically, the agency was started in 1991 while Palfrey was still on probation after 18 months in prison for running "an illegal prostitution business" in California. In the August interview, Palfrey shared her memories of that fateful day 17 years ago, saying she'd viewed prostitution as a business opportunity.
You come out prison with a scarlet F — "Felon" — across your forehead. Despite the fact that I had a four-year degree, and a little less than a year of law school — I was a fairly well-educated, well-traveled, well-read, sophisticated young woman in my mid-30s... there was no chance in hell for me in this society — certainly not back in the early 90s — to go forward, to get any kind of a job, or to do anything.

I had no choice. My life was in tatters financially, emotionally... So, I was really not in a position to do much of anything but to go back into the business.

"And to go back into it in a way that I felt — and I believed — I would never have a repeat experience."

Palfrey had earned an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, and her new plan had consisted of opening her business as far away from California as she could — in Washington D.C. And, to structure the business so that hopefully no one would do anything "that would get me into trouble"

"And I guess I did a pretty dog-gone good job," she said proudly in August, "because for 13 years, from late 1993 until last August of 2006, we did not have one bust!"

Seven days a week "Pamela Martin and Associates" opened at 5 p.m., offering "best selection and availability" before 9 p.m. — for 13 years. "Entirely female managed, [our] philosophy is to develop an on-going and sound relationship of mutual respect and consideration, with each and every staff member," Palfrey told prospective employees on her site. "For those individuals without experience, regular guidance and assistance is offered, by seasoned professional(s)."

Palfrey believes she got onto the government's radar after putting her home up for sale and wiring $70,000 to Germany. "Which by the way was picked up on one of those Homeland Security terrorist watch programs — the ones which are supposed to be watching the terrorists?

"They were watching me."

In the last year of her life, Palfrey had a unique perspective on how law enforcement handles prostitution — and she had especially strong words about vice cops. ("They love to go after defenseless women.") She talked hopefully about going public with her complaints after her trial was completed. "It is something that I want to explore when this is all over — when my actual civil/criminal case is all over. I am even talking to some folks right now about putting together a documentary on what the police have done, do, and will continue to do to defenseless women in this country involved in the sex industry."

David Vitter, who had hired Palfrey's escorts, is still a member of the U.S. Senate, and in the interview Palfrey's outrage grew when she talked about the hypocrisy of politicians, saying she was on the same crusade as Larry Flynt.
"[Vitter] has the ability to send us to war, in part. He has a vote. We don't have a vote, but he has a vote. So these people not only are hypocrites — they're kind of dangerous. And these people can and should be exposed, as far as I'm concerned. And that's the very reason I let the records go as I did, in the very end.

Though ABC News concluded that none of her patrons were newsworthy, Palfrey shocked the world by releasing 46 pounds of her phone records. It fueled the aura of scandal around her trial, though Palfrey still remained baffled as to the prosecutors' real agenda.

"We don't know what the rationale has been for them to go forward with the case," Palfrey said in August, "other than the fact that we simply wouldn't fold and give them what they wanted. At that time, I think they pretty much wanted to just take my entire life savings from me. So of course they ratcheted it up a notch, and it went into the criminal realm."

She described the prosecution as "a tremendous shock" — though nine months before her suicide, there was one moment of optimism.

"Now that I am freed from the chains of this business, in a way that I never thought I would be free... I have great hope, in the coming months, as I work my way out of my current predicament, to end up in another place, obviously.

"And in that place, I hope, indeed, to find a nice man."

War of the Candidate Music Videos

Is there an emerging YouTube demographic? Politically-themed music videos may be offering an unacknowledged glimpse at the next generation of voters. But judging from these clips, their real message might be that elections are stupid, and what's really important is who's got the funniest music videos.

This summer famously saw debating candidates facing questions from a cartoon-voiced talking snowman, and Barack Obama's inspiring "Yes I Can" speech eventually morphed into a hip music video. But at the same time, though Barack lost Ohio's primary, he won the support of a whopping 75 percent of voters under the age of 24. If America's future will ultimately be determined by YouTube, it's these young video stars who are running the secret campaign.

So what is the new generation trying to tell us?

1. Hillary Boy

Not only is she mandating universal healthcare for millions — but YouTube user DaveDays also has a crush on her.

He admits candidly in the second verse that "I don't have political views," but states that 60-year-old Hillary has still won his support because of "Those thighs, those eyes. Yeah, yeah, yeah..."

Using doctored footage showing Hillary winning a dance contest, he implies that Barack Obama can't win because his own supporters' videos are insufficiently sexy. "Obama Girl you're a skank," sings Days, warning his sexy video rival that she can't ensure an Obama victory "even if you take off all your clothes." Such is the devotion of this Green Day wannabe (with the Republican mom) that he'd even choose to watch Hillary instead of the Teletubbies. Which kind of puts the whole primary in perspective...

Day's real interest is becoming a video star — as he himself acknowledges in the video's description.

"This is a spoof of obama girls vid.." he scribbles.
dont take it too seriously ;-)

Unfortunately, only 900,000 people have watched his video, putting his efforts slightly behind Taryn Southern's own lesbian-themed video about her own crush on the candidate, "Hott 4 Hill." ("I know you're not gay, but I'm hoping for bi-") But together they've created a visual, musical, sexually-charged dialogue — which is entirely free of any actual political issues.

2. The Obama Girl Revolution

In November "Obama Girl" recorded a public service announcement arguing America's political system suffered from one longstanding dysfunction: public servants who can't dance. The video was viewed just 135,659 times, suggesting that 25-year-old model Amber Lee Ettinger had already fallen from her earlier fame.

As the original video figurehead, Barely Political's "Obama Girl" launched the craze for political musical videos back in June of 2007, though there's no evidence it impacted the campaigns. HCD Research later discovered that the responses reported most-frequently for her famous video were "irritated" (48%) and "embarrassed" (35%). There's even something vaguely fascist about her newest music video, released Tuesday, in which she wails to Hillary to surrender because "it's become an Obama nation."

Ironically, all that crushing didn't actually lead her to vote for Obama. According to a February post on a New York Times blog, Obama Girl skipped the New Jersey primary after a weekend of partying at the Super Bowl.

And she didn't vote for anyone.

3. Viva!

There's a positive side to political music videos. The dialogue has been democratized, with every voice claiming a part of the internet for its own message. Miguel Orozco, a Mexican-American Obama supporter born in East L.A., created Amigos de Obama.com "to fill a void in media outreach to Latinos" according to a message on his site. ("Tu Voto Tiene Swing!" it welcomes visitors...)

The site also displays one of the most sincere music videos, one that actually hopes to persuade voters — in this case, the crucial hispanic demographic — using a mariachi band. "Viva Obama!" the corridos sing...
"Families united and safe and even with a health care plan... His struggle is also our struggle, and today we urgently need a change..."

"Out of many, we are truly one," Barack announced last week in a speech about race — and it seems true even the world of viral music videos. Elsewhere on the web, there's even a video called Barack OBollywood.

4. "Oh my god! No!!!"

In an age of music videos, the worst sin is bad production values. The video Hillary4U&Me became viral simply because it was so bad, and ultimately it even provoked a YouTube counter-meme: the horrified reaction video. ("Oh my god! No! That is horrible! Ah ha ha ha ha ha! Are you serious?!" screams YouTube user CloudIzMe, as his friends gather around laughing in derision.) User "UltimateJosh" attempted to inject some edge by creating a metal "Rock Remix" by replacing the soundtrack with Marilyn Manson's "Better of Two Evils."

"I will step on you on my way up, and I will step on you on my way down...")

The music videos have evolved into post-modern deconstructive "meta" videos. But we still don't know which candidate has the best healthcare proposal.

5. McCain-o-mania

How long until John McCain feels compelled to record his own music video? The answer came in 2002, when the 65-year-old former prisoner of war appeared on Saturday Night Live to sing a medley of Barbara Streisand songs.

"I've been in politics for over 20 years," he tells the audience, "and for over 20 years I've had Barbara Streisand trying to do my job..."

As the tables turned, the young writers at Saturday Night Live thought they were writing a satire. But instead they'd stumbled into a harbinger of the strange future to come, when music and politics would collide into a near-meaningless jumble of amateur glory hounds.

Though it still remains to be seen who they'll vote for.

See Also:
Democratic Cartoon Candidates
YouTube 5 Sorriest Questions for the 2008 Presidential Candidates
5 Best Videos: Animals Attacking Reporters
5 More Nasty Campaign Ads
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube

The Collected Controversies of William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley

"Part of me thinks he actually died a long time ago," one blog reader commented, "like maybe the day Rush Limbaugh was awarded the inaugural 'William F. Buckley, Jr. Award for Media Excellence,' by the Media Research Center."

But Buckley always remained his own man, infuriating some neo-conservatives with his independence from their movement. As his smooth genial personality watched over the decades, Buckley observed conservatism in many flavors. There was ultimately nothing unusual about the moment when he called on George Bush to admit the war in Iraq was lost, since Buckley had consistently engaged virtually every social issue in the lifetime that preceded it.

1. Secret Agent Man

Buckley didn't just support the cold war — he actually participated in early CIA actions. In 1951 he became a deep cover CIA agent stationed in Mexico, reporting directly (and only) to E. Howard Hunt (who would later play a role in the Bay of Pigs invasion). Two years before his death, 79-year-old Buckley remembered a strange aftermath to his CIA work more than half a century before:
In 1980 I found myself seated next to the former president of Mexico at a ski-area restaurant. What, he asked amiably, had I done when I lived in Mexico?

Buckley's honest answer? "I tried to undermine your regime, Mr. President."

"It was three months before I was formally permitted to inform my wife what the real reason was for going to Mexico City to live," Buckley later remembered. And in 1986, Howard Hunt affectionately dedicated his spy novel Cozumel, to Buckley: "...como recuerdo de nuestra temporada en Mexico."

2. Yeah Yeah Yeah, They Stink

Throughout his life Buckley continued taking staunchly conservative positions, railing against desegregation in the 1950s and criticizing Nixon for going to China in the 1970s. But as a cultural critic, Buckley also injected himself into smaller controversies. "Beatle Hater William F. Buckley Dead At 82," read one post in the newsgroup rec.music.beatles. In a 1964 essay titled "Yeah Yeah Yeah, They Stink," Buckley had written that the Beatles were not merely awful: "I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are godawful." His diatribe acknowledged the National Review critic who argued that after Sinatra's twitches and Elvis's thrusts, future entertainers would have to wrestle live octopuses. "The Beatles didn't in fact do this," Buckley wrote, "but how one wishes they did!"

"And how one wishes the octopus would win."

But behind Buckley's wit was at least the appearance of fair play, and the essay ends with him knowingly mocking the horror of parents. "What was our sin? Was it our devotion to Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald? We worshiped at the shrine of purity..."

In fact, Buckley was a genuine music lover, and when it came to Elvis Presley, Buckley had always defended him. In 2002, at the age of 77, Buckley even wrote historical fiction about the life of the pop star called Elvis in the Morning. "Ninety five percent of what he sang, in my judgment, is simply awful," he told one interviewer. "But five percent is just terrific. He was a great, great balladeer and his sense of music and his sense of rhythm was fantastic." Unfortunately, despite his genuine enthusiasm, Buckley's final novel drew mixed reviews. "This lackluster affair is filled with so little energy that one suspects that the author was as bored as his readers will be," wrote The Library Journal. "It's hard to imagine someone making Elvis and the 1960s and 1970s uninteresting, but Buckley succeeds beyond all reasonable expectations."

Today used copies are for sale on Amazon for one cent.

3. "Go Back To Your Pornography"

As the sixties heated up, Buckley made one of his most notorious statements. It was during a live television discussion about a police crackdown on demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Gore Vidal and Buckley were in absolute disagreement about the meaning of the clashes, with Buckley arguing there was a legal right to disperse the demonstrators. Vidal cited the support for North Vietnam in parts of Europe, and invoked the importance of freedom of speech in America. "Shut up a minute," Vidal said, as Buckley tried to interrupt.

"No I wont," Buckley replied — and then the debate got complicated. Addressing the question of how to handle dissenters, Buckley said "Some people were pro-Nazi, and the answer is they were well-treated by people who ostracized them. And I'm for ostracizing people who egg on other people to shoot American marines and American soldiers. I know you don't care."
Gore Vidal: As far as I'm concerned, the only sort of pro-crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.

William F. Buckley: Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in your god damn face and you'll stay plastered.

Citing Vidal's book, Myra Breckinridge, Buckley suggested his opponent "Go back to his pornography." Buckley also cited his military service in World War II, which Vidal accused him of exaggerating. There were real bad feelings, though ultimately Buckley himself admitted he was deeply embarrassed about losing his composure.

Buckley remained the best of friends with an equally liberal writer, Norman Mailer, and Playboy magazine once published the transcript of a good-spirited debate between the two. (Buckley embarrassed Mailer by citing an earlier essay where he'd discussed the pursuit of the perfect orgasm...)

For 33 years Buckley held court for intellectual discussions on his talk show, Firing Line, where he gamely engaged the cultural figures of his time, including one legendary interview with Jack Kerouac just one year before the author's death in 1968. Apparently under the influence of an intoxicating substance, Kerouac blurts out "Flat foot floosie with a floy floy" at one point — and the interview was later lovingly recreated in a 2006 stage play.

4. Cigarette Smoking Man

At the time of his death, Buckley was suffering from emphysema, and 14 months earlier (at the age of 82) he penned a remarkable editorial against tobacco. Buckley first turned his witty style against cigarette advertising, skewering Newport cigarettes' claim that they're "alive with pleasure." ("The ads, of course, took no account of those who were dead, presumably without pleasure.") His wife had died the year before, after 57 years of marriage, "technically from an infection," Buckley wrote, "but manifestly, at least in part, from a body weakened by 60 years of nonstop smoking."
My wife began smoking (furtively) when 15, which is about when I also began. When we were both 27, on the morning after a high-pitched night on the town for New Year's Eve, we resolved on mortification of the flesh to make up for our excesses: We both gave up smoking.

The next morning, we decided to divorce — nothing less than that would distract us from the pain we were suffering. We came to, and flipped a coin — the winner could resume smoking. I lost, and for deluded years thought myself the real loser, deprived of cigarettes.

Buckley had defended the free market his whole life, but felt a sadness over his years of silence on the dangers of tobacco, which "puts me in something of the position of the Zyklon B defendants after World War II... They pleaded, of course, that as far as they were concerned, they were simply technicians, putting together chemicals needed in wartime for fumigation... Those who fail to protest the free passage of tobacco smoke in the air come close to the Zyklon defendants in pleading ignorance."

5. Sailing Away

Buckley famously smoked marijuana — after sailing his boat outside the U.S. territorial limits, where it would no longer be illegal. Finally at the age of 78, Buckley wrote an editorial for the National Review decrying the war on pot.

"Legal practices should be informed by realities," Buckley argued, citing 700,000 pot arrests each year, 87% of which involved only possession of small amounts. "This exercise in scrupulosity costs us $10-15 billion per year in direct expenditures alone."

But would America ever rise up and demand a change in marijuana laws?
It is happening, but ever so gradually. Two of every five Americans, according to a 2003 Zogby poll cited by Dr. Nadelmann, believe "the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it illegal only for children". The Dutch do odd things, but here they teach us a lesson.

Buckley's position was unexpected, but it offered an honorable example of his real commitment to intellectualism. He began his essay by writing that "Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great."

His son said Buckley died "with his boots on," according to BBC News — writing at his desk. "If he had been given a choice on how to depart this world," the National Review wrote, "I suspect that would have been exactly it. At home, still devoted to the war of ideas."

See Also:
20 Secrets of an Infamous Dead Spy
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
The QuestionAuthority Proposal
The Furious Passions of Norman Mailer

Records Broken By the Perry Bible Fellowship?

Nicholas Gurewitch draws the Perry Bible Fellowship
Is Nicholas Gurewitch fulfilling a childhood dream? Photo by Jeff Marini

"This is the reason paper was invented. Give him your money now."

Marvel comic book writer Mark Millar joined the stampede which placed the first Perry Bible Fellowship collection into the top 500 on Amazon— before the book was even released.

25-year-old cartoonist Nicholas Gurewitch watched as the pre-order sales climbed past $300,000 for The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories. Close to 27,000 copies were sold even before the collection of comic strips had its official release in November and crashed into Amazon's top 250. "It bounces off and on Amazon's best-seller lists all the time," Gurewitch told me, jokingly searching for an explanation. "Nifty cover? I'm not sure."

In December the cartoonist's site warned that only 3,000 copies remained, and now copies are "in short supply," Nick says. (The book's first printing had some errors which required a second printing to fully meet the demand, and Gurewitch confirms that "We are indeed gearing up for a third printing.") Publisher's Weekly reports that his publisher, Dark Horse Comics, received their biggest order ever from Britian's Diamond distributor.

"I think people respond to a packaged volume of comics much more than they connect with a computer screen," Gurewitch speculates about the response. "Seeing it on someone's coffee table, or seeing it in someone's hands, or on a high shelf, can affect us in ways far more grand than seeing it bookmarked on someone's computer."

Nick's cover for The Trial of Colonel Sweeto

In our interview, Nick shared even more surprising news. He's been building to this moment for two decades — sort of.

NICHOLAS GUREWITCH: My mom says I was doing cartoonist things at the age of 2, though that's hard to believe. But I was definitely story-oriented. She actually had us making little books around the age of 5 — me and my siblings.

LOU CABRON: Drawings and words?

NG: Early on, it was mostly pictures. And she would bind them with string.

LC: That's adorable.

NG: I think the idea of making a book was a really fun thing that was ever-present in my mind. I undertook a few on my own once I found a stapler.

LC: What was in the books you drew as a kid?

NG: The same stuff I'm doing now, I'm pretty sure. Lots of monsters, lots of robots, lots of dinosaurs...

I don't think I've always wanted to be a cartoonist. I've always just been a cartoonist. I've always just been making little stories.

LC: Colonel Sweeto shows a magical candy land where the reigning monarch practices some vicious realpolitik. When I contacted you, I almost wondered if you lived in a far-away fantasy castle of your own.

NG: I wonder if most people have that impression. I love castles. I plan to live in one some day. It's not wrong that you have that impression.

I wish it were true.

LC: I was picturing lots of monsters, lots of robots, and lots of dinosaurs all scattered throughout the PBF empire.

NG: It's a pretty quaint empire. My buddy Evan handles all the t-shirt stuff, and I had a friend helping me out with the prints. (They take in a lot more money than you expect, though I haven't checked my records in a while.)

Evan was actually my roommate in college when I first started the comic, and he's been writing a lot of the comics lately. He came up with the idea for Commander Crisp, as well as the one with The Masculator.

A panel from "Commander Crisp"

Earlier on Evan would come up with one out of four comics, and he's been doing that lately too. And my buddy Jordan is always really good about knowing how I should amplify an idea and he's come up with ideas on his own. We're all kind of on the same wavelength collaborating, and it's extremely easy.

LC: A writer for The Daily Show, Sam Means, described your comic strip as being almost psychedelic.

"The Perry Bible Fellowship is what Bil Keane, Jim Davis, and the guy who draws Marmaduke would see if they closed their eyes and rubbed them with their fists. It's absurdist, comic fireworks, and I can't get enough of it."

NG: I don't want to make judgments about my artwork, but a lot of people seem to think that it's good, and I chalk this up to the amount of time that I spend concentrating on it and enjoying it myself. If I enjoy it myself a lot, people tend to enjoy it a lot.

LC: Is that the secret reason why you use so many different styles? The strip about Finneas the heroic dog was drawn with acrylic paint, while The Throbblefoot Aquarium switched to the black-and-white style of Edward Gorey.

NG: I might be attracted to giving people the kind of response that makes them write in. That's always nice. I'm not terribly lonely, but its wonderful to hear when somebody recognizes that you've done something very subtle.

I like touching people on those levels. So it only makes sense to make references to childhood heroes and artists that I appreciate.

LC: You also told the Boston Phoenix. "There's something wonderful, and soon-to-be mythic, about the printed page... I'll always prefer it."

NG: I just have a feeling comics drawn on a napkin in 100 years will be far more appreciated than comics made on a computer. Don't you get the impression that we're getting bombarded by images that are digital? People often go straight to the digital format, which is unfortunate. I just really appreciate seeing evidence of hard work!

LC: Each of your strips always manages to startle me. For example, Hey Goat starts in the winter, but ends after the spring thaw, implying that there's been a horrible avalanche. You even told one interviewer "there's a lot to be said for chaos where order is making things very, very boring."

NG: I think I just always felt that it might be an aspect of my personality, that I think chaotic situations often reveal something about a scene or a person or an object that a still life wouldn't. It really squeezes out the nature of the characters.

Plus, chaos is just eye-catching. It's a necessary aspect of comedy and drama that there be some conflict.

LC: Does that mean you were a frustrated artist in school? Did you feel high school stifled your creativity?

NG: Or the spirits of the students, or the thinking of students.

I was an editor of an underground newspaper that we distributed in high school. We ruffled a lot of feathers. I think I have an FBI record because of it.

LC: How do you get an FBI record for an underground newspaper? Are you sure?

NG: Someone tells me I do, for certain.

A local pastor had seen the work that we were doing in the paper, and he must've thought we were more than the basic renegade kids because he wrote a letter to the FBI. This is right after Columbine, and he thought our paper displayed many warning signs for troubled youth.

He was probably right about that. We certainly were troubled youth. I just don't think we were the type of troubled youth that would express ourselves with guns.

LC: Well, wait — what was in this newspaper?

NG: We had a section where we presented fictionalized accounts of our teachers fighting each other, and how those fights would go. We'd show a big picture of them, and then a "versus," and then another teacher. It was really entertaining if you had these people as teachers. Lots of blood, lots of violence. Lets hope they never end up online.

We actually published the pastor's letter in the following issue. We also did a word search, and we hid the word "clitoris". It was a point at which we lost a lot of our audience.

LC: So you regret it?

NG: It's the type of thing I look back on and see as funny in retrospect. I think I get paid to make clitoris jokes now.

But I really enjoy having flexed my mind to the full extent at that tender age, because I think it's really helped me maintain a momentum. College was a little bland, but I think that's why I ended up starting the comic strip — because I was so hooked on my experience with the paper.

I noticed that the comics page at the college newspaper would get a heck of a lot of attention. It only took about a semester when I realized that's where I should be putting my attention, and not the articles about the dining hall.

LC: You were "discovered" when you won a comic strip contest in the Baltimore City Paper. When you entered that contest, where did you think it would lead?

NG: The Perry Bible Fellowship debuted in the New York Press the same week that it won, so there were parallel blessings. I had no prediction about where it was going. I just knew I appreciated the extra money while I was at school!

It was running in two papers when I graduated in 2004, so I gave myself a few weeks to see if I could call what I was doing a job. I sent out samples to ten more papers and heard back from about three. I figured that was just as good as trying to get a temporary job in New York City, so I ended up just staying home and doing the comic and operating from a studio space that I rented near my house.

The initial proliferation of the samples was the only time I sent out samples. Since then most papers have just emailed me — because of the web site, I assume.

I think the story ends right about now. Because I've still been doing it...

See Also:
Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship
Neil Gaiman has lost his clothes
The Perry Bible Fellowship Enters Semi-Retirement
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert - and Other Pranks
Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google
George Bush vs. Spider-Man

Dead Woman Blogging

Theresa Duncan committed suicide in July.

But on New Year's Eve, five months after her death, she updated her blog.

January's Vanity Fair had already trumpeted "The New York Art World's Bizarre Double Suicide" in a cover story this month. (One week after Theresa's suicide, Jeremy Blake, her partner of 12 years, removed his clothes and walked into the ocean at New York's Rockaway Beach.) Morbid interest in her blog was only exacerbated when, three months after her death, a new post suddenly appeared on her blog just two days before Halloween. Its title?

"Basil Rathbone's Ghosts."

It's a weird final twist for the A-list blogger and game designer. In the last year of her life, Theresa's apartment was in a New York rectory "allegedly haunted by the ghosts of Edgar Allan Poe and Harry Houdini," according to Vanity Fair, and she'd developed an apparent intrigue in at least one ghost story.

Unfortunately, the entire 423-word post was written by Dick Cavett. On his own blog at the New York Times site, the former 70s talk show host had promised his readers ghost stories. In February he'd told a story about the actor who'd played Sherlock Holmes in the 1940s. (Moments after Rathbone's friend is killed in a car accident along with his beloved hunting dogs, the actor receives a phone call from a psychic who says she's received a ghostly message. "Traveling very fast. No time to say good-bye. There are no dogs here.")

Theresa wrote a post scheduled to appear at the end of October, quoting the entirety of Cavett's last six paragraphs.
The next time I saw Rathbone...more years had gone by, and he was in the act of receiving a summons for letting his dog Ginger off the leash in Central Park. I thought he might have decided, looking back, that it had all been some sort of bizarre coincidence, or maybe a highly original prank. He said, "At the time, of course, I was quite shaken by it." And now? "I am still shaken by it."

A note below the post warned that a second one would appear on New Year's Eve — the final blog post of Theresa Duncan.

And increasing the tension was another dark story lingering after her death — the couple's belief that Scientologists were secretly harassing her. Vanity Fair reports that her boyfriend Blake "wrote a 27-page document encapsulating their claims, which he planned on using as the basis for a lawsuit against the Church of Scientology." (They also report Tom Cruise's denial that he interfered with her negotiations to direct a modern version of Alice in Wonderland, which her agent says was blocked for "budget considerations.")

Theresa's fear of Scientologists had already led to bizarre confrontations with their Hollywood neighbors, according to the article.
"Theresa said to me, 'Jeremy and I have started a club where we've found a bunch of old men and we're letting them fuck us in the ass, and we wanted to know if you wanted to be a part of it.' I asked Theresa if she was joking. She said 'no' and repeated herself..."

In July, when O'Brien came home and picked up her mail, she wrote, Duncan "shrieked 'cult whore' and 'cult hooker' repeatedly. She was very frightening."

Both incidents appeared in a letter supporting the couple's eventual eviction from their bungalow in Venice, California in August of 2006.

But a strange mystery lingers over one detail of Theresa's story — the fact that rock star (and Scientologist) Beck pulled out of Theresa's Alice movie. New York Magazine found a curious inconsistency in Beck's statement to Vanity Fair that he'd "never met to discuss doing her film." Blogger Emmanuelle Richard says she found an Italian interview where in fact, Beck gushes excitedly about preparing for his upcoming movie debut. ("It will be full of energy and full of characters: some kind of Alice in Wonderland set in the 70s... The director is a friend of mine and it will be her directorial debut. We will begin shooting in the Fall.")

Or was their fast lane life simply catching up to them? Vanity Fair reports Blake sometimes took a hip flask of whiskey to his job at Rockstar Games, while Theresa "drank champagne by the bottle."

"It was starting to show in their faces; they were looking haggard."

After the couple's twin suicides, the New York Times ran an article about prowling through Jeremy Blake's computer, assembling his final artwork from the PhotoShop folders he'd left behind.

Other bloggers searched for a logic in the death of the two New York artists. "The same anxieties that underwrite Ms. Duncan's nightmare visions are to be found in the economic and technological circuitry that surrounds all of us," reads one post on the blog Jugadoo, "an erosion of stable modes of identity and selfhood..."
It isn't hard to imagine a future scenario when people will be able to generate AI-controlled virtual selves who will stroll around digital worlds like Second Life, having conversations with grief-stricken friends and family after their living counterparts are dead. That a person on the brink of suicide might leave a new kind of note.

And then Theresa's final blog post appeared.

It spoke of "twenty largely wasted years," saying trying to write is a failure "because one has only learnt to get the better of words for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which one is no longer disposed to say it."

Theresa is quoting T.S. Eliot, but she'd skipped the first four passages of "East Coker" to focus in on the fifth. "With shabby equipment always deteriorating in the general mess of imprecision of feeling, undisciplined squads of emotion..."

Her final mysterious post was another long quote, arguing wearily that the great truths have already been recorded and "There is only the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions that seem unpropitious."
"But perhaps neither gain nor loss. For us, there is only the trying.

The rest is not our business."

See Also:
Scientology Fugitive Arrested
Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death
Robert Anton Wilson 1932 - 2007
Death? No Thank You

2007 Re-Mixed

In 2007 the viral video stars spawned their own wave of counter-memes, proving once again that the internet moves in mysterious ways.

Even Barack Obama ultimately acknowledged "the fertile imagination of the internet," as his fan's cranked out homegrown music videos from a mysterious swamp of unseen creativity.

But as 2007 escapes into a haze of champagne, these videos offer a helpful warning to any future YouTube stars. When you make yourself look ridiculous — it's only the beginning.

1. Ottoman-Humping Gigolos

"Pipelayer" and his boyz — Relentless, X2C, Pressure, and Satisfaktion — show the ladies their technique. But it took internet joker Neuracnu to add Benny Hill's Yakkity Sax.

"Despite the video's description and my big-pasty-white-guy user icon," Neuracnu told us today, "I still get private messages like:

that video was funny please make a notherone and
me @my sister and give it to us. we are 18

His parody also provoked an angry email. ("Ok we Gone kill yo ass...... Ha ha Bitch ass nigga u dont know what u got yo self into....") Which, of course, ended up in another YouTube video.

Eventually even Jon Stewart got involved, noting the Department of Defense had banned all YouTube videos and MySpace pages from being viewed by soldiers. "If there's one thing we don't want our fighting boys exposed to, it's guys their age with enough time on their hands to film themselves doing this.

"Ottoman-humping gigolos! You're ruining troop morale!

2. Two Girls, One Frog

Some videos become famous for being awful, like the notorious "Two Girls, One Cup." Its somber music and surprise scat-eating scene spawned its own viral video meme — footage of horrified reactions from people watching it.

Everyone got into the act, including Opie and Anthony, and even a web site called BestReactions.com. Over two dozen clips appeared on YouTube — someone's mom, four grandmothers, and even two people who appeared to be police officers.

Even after it found its way to Kermit the Frog, that wasn't the end. One follow-up video showed Kermit himself couldn't resist foisting its horrific surprises on his other muppet friends.

3. Snakes on a Chocolate Rain

Tay Zonday's deep voice and pretentious keyboards inspired imaginative re-mixes of his song "Chocolate Rain."

Tay was glad it received attention from John Mayer and Green Day's Tre Cool. But its hard message became hilarious when the singer was replaced by a ventriloquist dummy, Darth Vader, or McGruff the Crime Dog (who, like Tay, also "moves away from the mic to breathe in.")

In November Tay teamed with rapper Mista Johnson and Dr. Pepper for a new video, randomly titled Cherry Chocolate Rain. "This is the web, and it's gonna murder your TV," Tay warns, though he'd just stumbled inadvertently into the next "Snakes on a Plane" — another internet meme that proved impossible to commercialize.

4. Fox News 11 Meet Anonymous

Fox News 11 imagined a "gang" of computer "hackers" who attack "like an internet hate machine" in a sensationalistic story that echoed through countless video parodies. A local L.A. newscaster borrowed half-understood words (like "Epic Lulz") and after one victim used the word "terrorist" in a sentence, even helpfully spliced in a picture of an exploding van.

It took YouTube user "Fluffbrain" to create an appropriately irreverent video celebrating the clip's safety-conscious housewife, who not only bought a security system, but also...a dog. (Then the video segues to cameo appearances by LOL Cats.)

The crimes of "Anonymous" were, at worst, hoax threats, along with minor annoyances like guessing MySpace passwords, crank phone calls, disrupting the children's game Habbo Hotel, and shouting out the end of the new Harry Potter book. (Ironically, when Fox 11 ran a poll on their web site asking visitors if they'd ever been a victim of computer crime, a whopping 97% said "no.")

Eventually Encyclopedia Dramatica unveiled their own equally unsubstantiated act of journalism, arguing that Anonymous "is in fact, a single twelve year-old boy named Tom who has over 9000 fake AIM accounts and single-handedly makes every single post on the 4chan website. No one knows why..." And the parody videos kept coming.

Fox finally received an authoritative rebuttal from "Lord Quadros," another YouTube user who abandoned Fox's melodramatic music altogether, and simply replaced it with footage from the video game Arsenal Gear.

5. "Don't Tase Me, AOL"

The year ended with marketers hungrily eying the success of viral videos, while Hollywood's writers went on strike for a slice of future web revenues. And then AOL News decided to exploit it all.

They rolled parody versions of famous video stars into their own viral web commercial. The world's unluckiest shopkeeper confronts Florida's tased university student, Miss South Carolina, and that emo vlogger who cried "LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!!!"

If you actually visit AOL News, you'll find the real end-of-the-year headlines are a lot less entertaining. (For example, "Pakistan's Bhutto Assassinated at Rally.")

But maybe that's why people turned to the web.

See Also:
10 Video Moments From 2006
Worst Vlogs of 2006
Web Fight: Wikipedia, YouTube vs. Perverted Justice
YouTube, the 20-Year-Old, and Date Unknown
Five Freakiest Muppet Videos

Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship

Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship - Nicholas Gurewitch Interview

It's startling, it's funny, it's disturbing, and it's brilliant — and always with deceptively-innocent titles like "Hugbot," "Colonel Sweeto," or "Weeaboo."

Nicholas Gurewitch finally agreed to pull back the red curtains of his mind and share some secrets (and some unpublished art) with his beguiled fans.

The 25-year-old cartoonist created a web phenomenon with his comic strip The Perry Bible Fellowship, where there's always a new storyline, and often even a new style. I spoke with Gurewitch about his work and his forthcoming book, The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories.

LOU CABRON: Can you explain some of the mystery away? Tell me something I don't know about The Perry Bible Fellowship.

NICHOLAS GUREWITCH: I hide a lot of things in the comic — details that I hope resonate with people when they read things for the second and third time. I do love planting things like that...

LC: I was just proud that I'd spotted that same curly line in the Masculator strip last week that was in your first strip six years ago, Stiff Breeze.

NG: It might be the same breeze in all these strips! I think it might be God messing with people.

Stiff Breeze
LC: Your first comic also had a hidden phallic shape in the clouds...

NG: That may have been a very formative one — the comic that determined the persona of The Perry Bible Fellowship.

That one was kind of created by accident, but most of the comics that followed seemed to get their power by hiding something. I got high off the fact that some people noticed it and some people didn't. It almost made the people who noticed it feel more privileged.

I think I've been trying to appeal to that ever since...

LC: Now I have to know — what else have you hidden in the strips?

NG: I like hiding characters from one comic in another comic, or objects from one comic in another comic. Or people in a comic.

I tried to put the author Charles Bukowski in the comic strip Gamblin' Man. I think it may have been successful, because I noticed that a Charles Bukowski web site had mentioned his presence in the comic.

LC: Wow! Can you give me any other examples?

NG: I think you can see in the comic strip The Other Girls — with the vampires... I might rather avoid giving too many clues.

I don't generally do celebrities, but I've had a lot of people accuse me of planting ex-girlfriends in the comics. (Laughs)

LC: So what do you say to that?

NG: I think you've got to shrug it off.

LC: So you're not drawing your ex-girlfriends into your comics?

NG: That's my official answer.

LC: Your strip No Survivors had a weird backstory. It shows a man spelling out "Marry Me" with the corpses from a plane crash. You told Esquire that you'd ended a relationship with "a very gorgeous girl," and were trying to convey your sadness to her!

NG: I just found my situation very comical. I don't think it's a coincidence.

Forbidden Frontiers and "Cave Explorer"

LC: So could the Perry Bible Fellowship cartoonist ever dream up a strip that was just too strange? Ever have an idea that was too far out to publish?

NG: Occasionally, but it's usually because it's too far out for me. It's never because its too far out for my audience. Sometimes I don't really want to see them.

LC: But in your FAQ you've also said some strips aren't online because they're "not meant for the internet."

NG: Occasionally I'll just outgrow my appreciation for an old strip, and I'll remove it from the internet. Or there's one that I never thought was funny that got published that I never bothered putting online. Or there's one that's just too offensive...

I put a bunch of these lost strips in the book that's coming out. There's a whole section of the book devoted to comics that have been supressed from public view. There are a couple that are overly offensive that are in the book. I've hidden a few things in there...

LC: Can we see one?

NG: Sure - here's the first frame.

This lost frame for Rhino Brain appears in Nicholas Gurewitch

LC: One of my favorite strips is Cave Explorer — where a man builds a couch-cushion "cave" to trick his son into getting on the school bus.

NG: That's something that eveyone does, every day, in small little ways. I don't think everyone does it that literally, but we're constantly manipulating children. So to see it done very visibly, and in an enjoyable way, is almost kind of — it throws a wrench in our conception of ourselves.

LC: Does this mean your parents tried to trick you like that?

NG: I don't think we ever set up "Cave Explorer." But any parent that tries to outsmart their child to get them to do something is kind of engaging in this activity. If they try to get the kid to think about a new topic or they mention something advantageous about school that day — any time they cut a corner when they're parenting.

LC: Laughing Squid spotted something apparently based on another of your comic strips, Nice T-Shirt. Someone's selling "Avenging Unicorn" action figures, "with four interchangeable horns that can be used to impale a mime, a new age/hippie girl and a business man."

NG: I always thought that was really bothersome.

LC: Really?!

NG: What I took from what it was that person had probably seen the "avenging unicorn" comic that I did. And I think the giveaway is that there was no reason to think that the unicorn was extracting vengeance on any of the people he was supposed to impale.

Also, the fact that a mime actually has something go through his chest seems reminiscent of The Perry Bible Fellowship archive again. I did one where a mime gets hit in the chest with a bullet. (There's also their "Unicorn Power" chewing gum, which is even more bothersome because it looks so tasty.)

I had some people telling me — wondering if I was getting a cut of the profits from them.

LC: So if it's not licensed by you — what did you do?

NG: I think I just got a little sad for a day, and left it at that.

LC: Sad? Was it that far from the original comic strip?

NG: I thought they missed it entirely. The toy almost comes off as mean-spirited. What bothers me about the toy is that there's no reason to think that any of those people should be punished.

The comeuppance in the comic is entirely appropriate. I think the beauty of the strip is that there are unlikely protectors out there. The boy wearing the shirt doesn't even bid them to do it. I think it's just the nature of the unicorn to protect the person who wears their mantra. And I adore the fact that the bully absolutely deserves what he gets.

Food Fight and the Fans

LC: Do your strips get any other weird reactions from readers?

NG: This one kid thought I was enjoying the guy who yells "food fight!" in the Food Fight comic strip.

I despise that man! I don't think he realized that. I hate him with all my heart. Seeing him in action is something I find extremely amusing...

There's almost always a punishment element to these terrible people in the comics. It's not just badness for badness's sake. People don't see the bigger picture a lot of times. They see something bad and they think it's automatically endorsed. I condemn a lot of the characters in my comic strips.

LC: Do you ever get people complaining that "This strip wasn't as funny as that strip?"

NG: That's a really common review. I think a lot of people think the comic is slipping lately.

But I think people have been saying that since the first six strips came out in college my freshman year. I had my roommate saying, "These new ones are okay, but you'll never get back to that first semester." It's been that way every step of the way.

I laugh at it just as much as I always have.

LC: Wikipedia says you almost never receive hate mail.

NG: I've learned to make really quick and vague replies that make them sorry for asking.

I had a really long dialogue with someone who wrote in who was quite disgusted. He said he couldn't figure out how I thought certain things were funny — that there was no excuse for thinking that someone's death could be funny. He was particularly disturbed by the comic Hey Goat, where the last frame indicates an avalanche and a skeletonized couple next to the goat. He said there was no reason that could ever be funny.

LC: What did you say?

NG: I basically apologized and let him know where I was coming from. I think my explanation to him was that in that case, I thought it was very funny that his downfall — his fate — was determined by something absolutely unnecessary. It's pretty frivolous to yell at a goat and let him know that you're in love. I really like the idea that that was his undoing.

By the end of it, we were pretty friendly. We realized it's impossible to know anyone's intentions without meeting them in person. It was something really nice like that.

LC: I have to ask you — where did the title come from?

NG: My buddy and I were just looking around his room and he had a poster on his wall of this traveling singing group. And they were performing at the Perry Bible Fellowship. They were called the Hyssongs.

He actually framed it and gave it to me as an apartment warming present a few months ago.

The poster — it would be embarrassing to anyone who owned it.

That's them — but not the same image.

LC: So when people ask you about the title, what do you think?

NG: I think, a mental sigh. And then I proceed to try to cover up the fact that I'm not sure that there is a very good reason why the comic strip is called that....

LC: How many emails do you get, anyways?

NG: It varies quite a bit. But there's one instance that really gave me an idea about the crowd that was waiting for each update. I'd published online The Throbblefoot Aquarium. I was blown away with the fact that within five minutes of posting, I had received 20 similar emails — appreciating the parody of Edward Gorey.

It's tough to figure out. I get the impression that people think I get a lot more email than I get.

LC: Do you want more?

NG: Everyone says, "I'm sorry for loading up your inbox. You must have a thousand of these." I do probably get more email than I'm comfortable with. I think I have a few from last May that I need to respond to...

I want to respond to all of them. Sometimes I just don't know what to say, so I put it off for another day.

LC: What's the strangest reaction you've ever gotten from a fan?

NG: Every once in a while, I'll get a piece of fan mail that touches my heart. The other day a young lady sent me an envelope full of grass. It had little to no explanation along with it, but it was nice to receive. It was strange encouragement.

LC: Did you write back?

NG: There wasn't a return address.

LC: So after six years of strangeness, do you have a message for all your fans?

NG: We're in this together

Perry Bible Fellowship - Lost Frame - Rhino Brain (Art, no text)

See Also:
What Happened to the Perry Bible Fellowship?
Records Broken by the Perry Bible Fellowship
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube

Burning the Man With Hunter S. Thompson

Paul Addis a.k.a. B. Duke
Image courtesy of Scott Beale.

Twelve weeks ago we recorded an interview with Paul Addis — the man who burned the Man and was promptly arrested for arson. And even back then, he was constantly flicking his lighter.

"He never asked for permission to smoke in my house," remembers Jeff Diehl, co-host of the The RU Sirius Show. "And he chain smoked the whole time, even though he doesn't inhale."

This was at least partly because he was in character — Addis was performing as Hunter S. Thompson in a one-man show (a local newsweekly said it "feels like a reckless, all-out verbal assault") called "Gonzo: A Brutal Chrysalis," and was discussing his idol. Before the show was over, he'd identified the "heir apparent" to the Gonzo journalist.
Matt Taibbi. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is the heir apparent to Hunter Thompson.

He is on the mission... I first noticed him about two years ago when he went to Burning Man and proclaimed it for what it is — toothless and wallowing in its own muck and irrelevant to anyone or anything...

Eight weeks later, we interviewed Larry Harvey, the festival's founder. While there's no indication of what motivated Addis, Burning Man was already under criticism for a new policy.

On our podcast, Harvey addressed a simmering controversy over the presence of environmental exhibits at the base of the man which some participants thought were too commercial.

"We...informed everyone that they wouldn't be allowed to advertise," Harvey said. "They wouldn't be allowed to pass out their cards; they wouldn't be allowed to brand anybody; they wouldn't be allowed to talk about their product." He attributed the backlash to a Business 2.0 article which he said used business terminology to describe the event. (For example, calling the festival's attendees "customers.")

I don't see that commerce and community are allergic to one another. That's absolutely absurd... For instance, when participants are producing something that others might need in the desert, we let people know about it. So you can take those two value systems and make them overlap in such a way that they reinforce one another... To be against commerce is to be against your shoes, your shorts...

Addis's anger at the festival pre-dates the controversy. Laughing Squid's Scott Beale discovered that five years earlier, Addis praised a reporter at San Francisco's alternative newspaper, SF Weekly — for another negative article about the Nevada festival, saying it showed that the festival was over-controlled.
One by one the rules have risen since 1997, and not just to protect the participants from themselves. Those rules and judgments, such as what art is permitted in Black Rock City and radical free expression's outer limits, are determined in line with what will make the most money for Burning Man and generate the fewest potential controversies in the media. As such, Burning Man's overall relevance is kept safely within the realm of harmless diversion, quietly under the feet of the same elements that tame all other aspects of society.

In the letter he also laid into Burning Man founder Larry Harvey. "No amount of diffusion filters can give Harvey what he doesn't have: vision or loyalty," Addis wrote. "Don't fear the Hat, ladies and gentlemen. He's just trying to realize what it's like to be the Bill Graham of the 21st century."

Addis' Mug Shot
This morning on a dark playa, at 2:58 a.m., some festival goers gathered to watch the lunar eclipse, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. A festival organizer told the Associated Press that Addis was then spotted by many festival-goers — deliberately lighting the Man on fire. A blogger at C|Net reported the frantic conversation he overheard on the Burning Man communications channel:

...the most poignant moment of all, however, was when Crimson Rose, one of the six people on the Burning Man board that runs the event and the person in charge of the Man, said...

I want that asshole arrested...And I want the first shot.

Larry Harvey had earlier been hit by a lawsuit from John Law, an early organizer of the Burning Man festival. One of Law's supporters — Chris Radcliffe — has been advocating the communal ownership of the Burning Man trademark (rather than its current ownership by Burning Man, LLC.)

"I just spoke with Chris Radcliffe, who is currently in Portland" Scott Beale at Laughing Squid wrote, "and he said that he has paid the $3200 bail for Paul’s release, but they have not let Paul out yet because he is refusing to give his name to authorities."

A 56-year-old lawyer from Napa who was at the festival gave a disgusted quote to the Reno Gazette-Journal. "Nowadays people seem to want to use terrorist acts for political reasons rather than by debating, talking or reasoning." And a Burning Man ranger — Ranger Sasquatch — saw the attack as something even more pitiful.

"Someone went to a great extent to interfere with everyone else's burn. I think, frankly, an attention whore has made a plea for attention."

There may be more behind the act's motivation than that, and it probably would be instructive to think, "What Would Hunter Do?"

RU Sirius Show co-host and life-long admirer of HST, Steve Robles, thinks he knows: "Hunter would have stopped attending when they banned firearms and started organizing camps so you wouldn't get run over by a wayward car in the middle of the night while sleeping off the tequila."

Then again, it is also true that Addis' one-man show is poised for a West Coast tour.

See Also:
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Interview with Paul Addis, a.k.a., B. Duke
Catching Up With an Aqua Teen Terrorist
Has 'The Man' Infiltrated Burning Man?
Anarchy For the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf
California Cults 2006

CNN Exposes Boob Job Giveaway

CNN Exposes Boob Job Giveaway at My Free Implants

Wednesday CNN's Headline News delivered a hard-hitting expose — on a web site offering free boob jobs.

After showing the obligatory footage of the site's models, CNN reporter Erica Hill asked commentator Glenn Beck what he thought of MyFreeImplants.com. (Beck's first comment was a request for another look at the site's photographs.) But Erica Hill remained unimpressed, arguing that if she wanted to pimp her photograph to earn boob job money — she'd just do it herself.

This titillating report overlooked the fact that the site's been in operation since 2005. It was started after a Vegas bachelor party, if you believe the site's history page. My Free Implants hopes to attract registrations from both female and male customers — offering the women a chance to "work their way" to breast implants by instant messaging and chatting with the site's male customers. (Along with sending them customized photos or selling "personal items or gifts".)

"Ladies," it asks. "Have you ever wanted bigger breasts? But couldn't afford the expensive costs of surgery?"

"Gents. Help the girl of your dreams get the body of her dreams..."

"Do I have to pose naked?" is a frequently asked question. (No, a FAQ explains, though some ladies "choose to reward donors with sexy photos," and just how "sexy" the photos get "varies greatly from person to person.") The site graciously informs its female members that they "can upload an unlimited number of pictures of yourself," and brags without irony that it's uniting the women with "benefactors" who "wish to help these women improve their self esteem and confidence..."

If you're skeptical, don't worry. My Free Implants also includes what it says are the women's testimonials about their visits to their plastic surgeons. "Lemme see what ya got here, buddy," one woman reports her surgeon as saying.

I actually laughed out loud, but then I realized he was serious. So I showed him what I got here, buddy... Needless to say, he took one look at my breasts and said, "Holy Mackerel! I've seen 14 year-old boys with larger breasts!" No, he didn't. He just squeezed them. Then he squeezed them some more. Then he pointed to my nipples and said the implants would perk them up....and then squeezed my breast again to show me how my nipple would pop up. I felt a bit like Charmin by the time he was done...

In fact, My Free Implants is very proud of its accomplishments, saying they are "on pace to average" one free breast augmentation surgery every month. Another page boasts that "MyFreeImplants.com is the first website of its kind to harness the global power of the Internet to service the unique needs and desires of its members."

There's a page showing "before and after" pictures, of course — plus what it says are excerpts from the press coverage.
"See that's what makes our country great!"
— Jay Leno

"You're doing the lords work! I want to thank you..."
— Former Loveline host Adam Carolla

"...honestly the government should be funding this site it's so great!" — some deejays from KROQ

Click here to watch a news report about the site.

It proves an age-old truism about the internet — where there's breasts, there's an audience. But apparently their business model has still gone through some changes since 2005. "We used to offer a wide range of free cosmetic surgery procedures," the online FAQ explains, but "we discovered over time...that those that were contributing to fund the surgeries, were really drawn to the site based on the concept of helping to fund free breast implant procedures." (Although this is contradicted by another page on the site which still announces that "we do have relationships with a variety of cosmetic surgeons and often provide our female clientele with other cosmetic surgeries at no cost.")

Women can choose their own surgeon, of course — and in fact, the site appears to be making a hefty income just from banner ads touting various cosmetic surgery centers.

They're also offering the services of the site's official spokesmodel. "She was the very first lady to reach her goal of earning a free boob job," the site explains, and Natasha "now takes time to help other women in similar positions." And, it adds, she's also available for "modeling assignments." She must have taken MyFreeImplants.com's unique philosophy for success to heart:

"You do not need to possess anything but an open mind and an adventurous spirit."

See Also:
The Celebrity Breast Conspiracy
World Sex Laws
They're Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas
Sex Expert Susie Bright Let's It All Out
Libertarian Chick Fights Boobs With Boobs
Downfall of the Seducer

Web Fight: Wikipedia, YouTube vs. Perverted Justice

Von Erck Their name is "Perverted Justice" — and something strange happens when you follow hyperlinks to their site from Wikipedia.

"Hello Wikipedia Visitor!" it announces. "We've listed Wikipedia as a Corporate Sex Offender for quite some time..."

The site's server re-directs any visitors from the online encyclopedia to a page warning that "there's a few facts you should know about Wikipedia as a foundation itself." Then it lays down an inflammatory attack.
Each article on Wikipedia that deals with any issue relating to pedophiles or internet predators has been heavily targeted and edited by the online pedophile activist movement... Our own article on Wikipedia, which you have likely come from, has been edited by known and outed pedophile activists dozens and dozens of times.

NBC's Dateline works with "Perverted Justice" to create an ongoing series of reports exposing pedophiles (called "To Catch a Predator.") But the group has apparently broadened its list of targets. Their site notes that Wikipedia remained ungrateful when Perverted Justice helpfully pointed out which Wikipedia editors they thought were pedophiles. So the group launched an online campaign to raise public awareness...
"With Wikipedia continuing to try to get their project used in classrooms across the world, it's important to note the danger inherent in the public accepting the project as being factual considering their acceptance of even extremist special interests such as pedophile activists as legitimate editors of their 'encyclopedia.'"

Sunday Wikipedia reacted to the announcement — though not without a tremendous debate.

"I've just gone through Perverted-Justice and removed all outbound links to their site..." announced a Wikipedia administrator named Sarah. (After temporarily locking the entry from being edited.) Another editor pointed out that the site was clearly an attack site, and "There's no place for ideological witchhunts on Wikipedia," while a third editor suggested a temporary blacklisting of the site.

But more viewpoints joined the discussion. A fourth editor asked "Is there some reason why we're trying to hide criticism from a legitimate and active organisation?" Noting that Wikipedia does accept pedophiles as editors, they asked "Why are we trying to hide this fact and label the site that respectfully and politely points that out as some kind of vicious attack site?" Another editor shared an interesting detail. One week ago, Perverted Justice founder Xavier Von Erck was blocked indefinitely from any editing of Wikipedia articles

The discussion continued over the next 48 hours...

"Ten thousands people are being slandered because we refuse to acquiesce to his point of view in our articles and policies? Wonderful."

"[T]his is America, and P-J has every right to criticize Wikipedia in general for what they see as failings of the project."

"I just don't see how this can be treated any differently than a rant on some mildly successful blog."

One editor even posted an email about the controversy, saying it came from Xavier Von Erck himself. The email lent a fierce new perspective to the debate.
We're quite pleased with the links being removed from Wikipedia. This will do two things. One, it will reduce the Google relevancy of the Wikipedia article about us, an article rife with error and editors whose sole purpose is to try to use Wikipedia to attack us. Secondly, having the article without links to our organization but links to other organizations that attack us will make the average person, unaware of the problems of Wikipedia, wonder why the hell the article has such a overt bias.

Lastly, the idea that websites cannot "respond" to a Wikipedia article by redirecting is quite curious. The policy itself is nonsensical. It is Wikipedia saying that their editors, no matter who they are, can write whatever they wish about a subject and that subject has no right of response. 'Tis an unjust, silly policy and one we have no interest in cooperating with.

Ultimately, Wikipedia compromised. They kept all of their pointers to the Perverted-Justice site — but not as hyperlinks. This meant Wikipedia's readers would have to cut-and-paste the URLs into their browser to access the Perverted-Justice site — which would pull up the requested page rather than re-directing the users to an anti-Wikipedia announcement.

But Perverted Justice left their announcement online anyways, pointing its readers to another site called "Corporate Sex Offenders .com."

In fact, Wikipedia was the sole reason that Perverted Justice created their "Corporate Sex Offenders" site in February, according to their announcement. The site lists two web companies as "aggressive corporate sex offenders" — YouTube and LiveJournal. While applauding YouTube for removing some "advocates" of pedophilia, their page argues that YouTube "is still rife with pedophiles and predators on their service." (And they add that YouTube has yet to clarify their policies for pedophiles.) LiveJournal's offense is similar, according to the site — they've failed to delete the accounts of pedophiles. "LiveJournal is as welcoming of pedophiles as they are kids, adults and teens."

Their Wikipedia page also alleges that one pro-pedophile activist labelled Wikipedia's pedphilia page an "important platform for us," since it's Google's top search result. (And that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales once personally banned a pedophile editor.) It concludes with a condemnation of Wikipedia for having a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy about pedophilia.

And then it includes their list of Wikipedia's suspected pedophile editors.

See Also:
Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google
The Perversions of "Perverted Justice

Democratic Cartoon Candidates

Pundits claim that in 2008, the issues will magically fuse with a Presidential candidate's personality — and reflect the ultimate wishes of the American people. So which hopes and dreams will rise to the surface?

Ask the people who've already imagined the candidates into cartoons. Their "one step from reality" videos reveal a sort of enhanced "hyper truth." Or at least, the truth as seen by six wise guys on the web.

1. Super Size Me

The Democrats' "excitement" over their '08 candidates may just be relief — that George Bush won't be President any more. Capturing this glee is a Saturday morning cartoon showing the Bush administratration as "The Legion of Doom." And they're about to get their asses kicked by a team of Democratic superheroes.

In this dream world, Karl Rove is transformed from an evil prince of political disinformation into The Joker, and Condoleeza Rice becomes Catwoman. They've teamed up with arch villians Bush and Cheney for a "conquest of the universe" — but four Democratic Presidential candidates are flying to the rescue. Hillary Clinton appears as Wonder Woman — of course — and Barack Obama is "Captain United." Former attorney John Edwards gets a special crest on his chest — the scales of Justice. And Al Gore isn't the Green Lantern, he's "The Green Solution".

At the end of the video, there's even a pointer to a web site analyzing their various super powers. Hillary Clinton's weakness?

"A severe aversion to interns."

2. Barack Obama: More than Meets the Eye?

America ignores the primaries until Labor Day, focussing on summer blockbusters instead. But one voter imagines the world-conquering robots from Transformers taking a break from dominating the box office to discuss...Barack Obama.

Sure, he's set fund-raising records, but are we being blinded by his skillful speechmaking? Even "Optimus Prime" can't stop talking about the Obama phenomenon. There's thoughtful questions about his experience — could Obama handle a nuclear Iran? Or maybe the Transformers should be voting for Bill Richardson.

But ultimately this video demonstrate the most powerful truth of all. That most political conversations in America devolve into nothing but personal attacks and defensiveness.

3. Hillary Clinton: Please Don't Hurt Me.

It's not any particular position, just...a weird vibe. Hillary Clinton is the front runner. Hillary Clinton scares people.

To be fair, the former First Lady (and former lawyer) endured eight years of right wing vilification, and it's given her a tough skin. But one Mason-Dixon poll found that more voters reported a negative reaction to Hillary than a positive one. Despite her name recognition, she remains an enigma — everyone thinks they know her, but no one knows why. While inventing her political self, Hillary's moved from "the left" to "the center" and even to "the right." But it's not that. It's just...something.

YouTube user "thefreemind" has created a video he's labeled "My opinion" that captures this disconnect. It offers the electorate one simple message.

Hillary Clinton? Please don't hurt me.

4. John Edwards meets Hanna Barbera

Electability! That's what Democrats crave most.

So while John Edwards babbles on about that war in Iraq and the need for universal health care, there's a secret second message. Just think how many Electoral College votes he could win!

With an earnest, low-key delivery, Edwards packs the charisma of Bill Clinton — the only Democrat who actually won the Presidency in the last 21 years. And it's that charming Southern accent that gives him extra empathy points. Who does he remind you of?

Here's a hint. Southern voters include "yellow dog Democrats" — who are said to be so loyal they'd vote for a yellow dog if it were running as a Democrat. But this video asks a related question. Would they also vote for a blue cartoon dog wearing a bow tie?

There's also a second political truth. While creating this video, user "Meadowfrost" ignored everything Edwards said about warring factions in Iraq — and then spliced in dialogue from a Huckleberry Hound cartoon.

That tells you everything you need to know about the American electorate.

5. The Good, the Bad, and Bill Richardson

When Bill Richardson ran for governor in 2006, his campaign came up with a full-fledged western in 30 seconds. But at least there was a point to mimicking old movie cliches — as governor he claimed credit for "$600 million worth of movie production."

It's a cartoon of sorts — a sugary over-simplification of both the campaign and its candidate. (What will they call the sequel — A Fistful of Bill Richardson?) But political ads always reveal the inner thoughts of hired political consultants, and how they're privately viewing the electorate. In this case, their message seems to be: voters won't listen without a feel-good story.

And sadly, the consultants are probably right.

6. An Inconvenient Al Gore

After years of being called a robot, Al Gore finally appears with one. Al Gore's daughter is a writer for Futurama, and to promote An Inconvenient Truth, Gore appeared in a cartoon with Futurama's robot, Bender.

Our former Vice President says he's not seeking his party's nomination — but no one believes him. Instead, Gore's denials are seen as a brilliant stealth campaign that includes both An Inconvenient Truth and this year's Live Earth campaign. In an age of YouTube debates and viral video, voters have more media options than ever, and if Al Gore enters the race, he may have unwittingly revealed the most inconvenient truth of all.

If you want to be President, you can't be afraid to step into a cartoon.

See also:
Senator Vitter's Suppressed Statement
The 5 Faces of Bush
John Edwards' Virtual Attackers Unmasked
5 Nastiest Campaign Ads So Far
YouTube's 5 Sorriest Questions for the 2008 Presidential Candidates

Monkey v. Dog v. Wikipedia

Battle of the Bulldog and the Monkey

A monkey versus a dog. Who would win in a fight?

Wikipedia has the answer, but sometimes being a source of such answers comes at a price.

As with seemingly every other topic on the site, an anonymous expert sprung from the grass roots to detail the fascinating, hidden history of prizefights between dogs and monkeys. "A quite unusual fight between two animals was staged in Worcester," read his description of one fight, taken from an obscure magazine article from 1799.

The wager stood at three guineas, according to which the dog would kill the monkey in at most six minutes. The dog's owner agreed that the monkey would be allowed to defend itself with a stick about a foot long.

Hundreds of spectators gathered to witness this fight and the odds stood at eight, nine and even ten to one in favour of the dog, which could scarcely be subdued before the fight. The monkey's owner took a stick, about twelve inches long, from his coat pocket, tossed it to the monkey...

There's even an illustration — titled "Battle of the Bulldog and the Monkey" (above) — from 1799.

So who won the fight?

The monkey.

The monkey was amazingly nimble, jumped about three feet high in the air and when it came down landed directly on the dog's back, bit firmly in the dog's neck, grabbed his opponent's left ear with his hand thereby preventing the dog from turning his head to bite him.

In this totally surprising situation the monkey now began to work over the dog's head with his club and he pounded so forcefully and relentlessly on the dog's skull that the poor creature cried out loudly...

Eventually the dog's corpse is carried from the ring. ("Yet, the monkey was only of medium size....") Yes, it's a cruel fight-to-the-death. What's more surprising is that someone in 1799 went to the trouble of carving an engraving to commemorate the event. (Hey, 18th-century dog-fighters — get a life!)

Then again, back here in the 21st century, Wikipedia editors would pick apart a description of the event sentence by sentence in a dog-fight of their own. Reading the article's "History" page ultimately offers its own morbid spectator sport. In a six-part, 1400-word entry, user SirIsaacBrock (according to his user page, a Canadian MBA) first described recreational "monkey baiting" in March of 2006 — and was unaware that his status as a Wikipedia editor would soon come to an end.

"Monkey-baiting is a blood sport involving the baiting of monkeys," his original entry began — linking the words "blood sport," "baiting," and "monkeys." Within two weeks another Wikipedia user had tagged the article with a warning flag.

It is proposed that this article be deleted, because of the following concern:

this seems like nonsense

The user was later reassured by Sir Isaac's involvement in another full-scale WikiProject — documenting various forms of animal baiting — and left an apology on Sir Isaac's own Wikipedia discussion page. (Six days later, another user would also add: "Thanks for the correction in Badger Baiting...") In fact, there's a whole series of Wikipedia articles, on everything from duck baiting to rat baiting and donkey baiting.

"Badger-baiting is a blood sport involving the baiting of badgers."

"Donkey-baiting is a blood sport involving the baiting of donkeys...."

But the monkey-baiting page remained controversial. Sir Isaac presented an 1820 description of a second monkey/dog fight — this time between a dog and Jacco Macacco, "a celebrated monkey gladiator" who could dispatch opponents in 3 minutes.

"What a monster!" said a greasy butcher, who sat there with open mouth, a red nightcap on his head, pointing at Jacco Macacco. "I bet a leg of mutton on the monkey! You could strike me down if I ever saw such a thing before in my life... "

"It is amazing how many owners would send their dogs to almost certain death," Sir Isaac had written.

"This strikes me as unwiki," another editor complained, saying it was not objective fact, and adding, "I personally do not find it 'amazing.'"

Another user complained about the article's "wholy innapropriate origional research [sic]." Of course, research about 18th-century animal fights is hard to find — and a year later, the article remains online, a testament to one user's dedication to his personal topic of interest.

Within four months of creating his page about monkey/dog fights, a warning appeared on his user page saying he'd been identified as "the puppet master of one or more abusive or block/ban-evading sock puppets." (Sock puppets are deceptive online identities.) He has since been banned from Wikipedia.

In a way, it's ironic. SirIsaacBrock was a man who could tell you who'd win in a fight between a hunting dog and a rage-filled monkey — but he couldn't stay online against a handful of Wikipedia editors. Will he be hard to replace? How many amateur historians are available with an interest in monkey-baiting?

We can only hope that his obsessive and self-destructive work will inspire a new generation of Wikipedians to continue to monitor this deserving subject matter. Or, better yet, perhaps there's another sock puppet out there at this very moment, waiting to ambush us with the latest and greatest in monkey-baiting.

See Also:
Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google
John Edwards' Virtual Attackers Unmasked
Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
10 Video Moments from 2006
Worst Vlogs of 2006
The Cartoon Porn Shop Janitor: Carol Burnett vs. Family Guy

YouTube’s 5 Sorriest Questions for the 2008 Presidential Candidates

What if my President was selected by MySpace? It's the nagging concern raised when young video bloggers lob questions at the Presidential candidates. In July when the Democrats gather in Charleston, they'll find CNN has swapped in questions that were uploaded as videos to YouTube.

At least that was the hope when the CNN/YouTube "debate" was announced. Unfortunately, no one cared about the announcement (except the commenter who added "omg the youtube guy is fucking HAWTT!!!"). Nearly a week later, YouTube has managed to assemble just over 120 questions to choose from. And five of them are the dogs below.

Yes, for years we've dreamed of an interactive democracy — a giant techno-village wired into a real, two-way discourse. Why shouldn't our lawmakers get the same crowd-polling technology that's available to contestants on 1 vs. 100? (Answer: because the wisdom of the crowd is matched only by the buffoonery of the individual.)

While it's morbidly amusing to imagine candidates groveling for LonelyGirl15's endorsement, YouTube is slyly attempting to appear democratic without actually accomplishing anything. But maybe that's YouTube's cynical comment on democracy itself. Maybe they're imagining the event's slogan as: "It's participatory! It's YouTube! And it's stupid! Just like voting..."

1. Headzup

This question comes to us from "HeadzUp", who specializes in badly-animated cartoons of jabbering heads — in this case, George W. Bush.

The cartoon President starts a familiar gotcha question — if a dirty nuclear bomb killed millions, and a second bomb risked millions more lives... But never mind. It's a joke.

"you are totally a moron," replied an irate YouTube commenter, "and if youtube had a star rating for the DUMB FUCKS, you would most certainly qualify, hands down LMAO,FOAD."

We've elevated the discourse already.

2. We are not alone

A user named "DickGhostmoon" wants to ask the candidates "a very, very serious question...about aliens." He's titled his video "alien autopsy CNN YOUTUBE Debate," and includes footage of a 2001 press conference seeking the declassification of secret government information about extra-terrestrials.

And there's also some footage of Santa Claus.

Interestingly, the question comes from England, and YouTube also received questions from Spain, Canada, Australia, and Malaysia.

We're guessing these questioners aren't even voting. They're just mocking our hopelessly compromised electoral system while enjoying their universal health care.

3. "88% of Californians..."

Imagine the next President of the United States fielding questions from "The Wine Kone." His YouTube channel identifies him as a Canadian, and promises "video responses and who knows what else (probably lameness)."

His self-described "very important question" concerns Arnold Schwarzenegger, his re-election as governor of California, and... No wait. It's another joke, this one about cyborgs and the plot of Terminator III.

"YouTube didn't put me up to this," adds a superfluous title at the end. (Really? Because it's hard to believe that YouTube would allow something so edgy unless they had an ironical hand in it.)

Maybe one day, with enough help from biting Canadian jokes like this one, Americans will penetrate the haze of our Puritan, bi-polar system and, like Maplestan, finally see how ultra-silly it is to elect actors as politicians.

4. "Hi, Hillary..."

OMG! It's a cartoon animation of Hillary Clinton! Asking a question to Hillary Clinton! My head is about to explode!

The question — read by a speech synthesizer — presents scenarios about access to health care. By the way, did I mention it's read by a Hillary Clinton avatar? "Give us a nice answer," it asks, "so you look good — and I look good!"

Video hides the face of the American asking, but maybe it reveals a deeper truth — that the real appeal of politics is the opportunity to preen and pose. "Please advise me on your future vision for addressing our health care crisis," the video seems to say...

"And also, check out my cool new widget!"

5. "So cool..."

16 people have rated this video. It's average score? One star. YouTube user Netram59 summed up the response. "You say YouTubers have a lot to say but it seems you don't."

But the uploader — "GoodNeighbor" — is actually part of an L.A. based sketch comedy crew. "They all like to draw," reads their YouTube profile, "and make music and movies and stuff!!" Hooray!

Is it better or worse that "GoodNeighbor" skipped the chance to question our next President for a quick laugh? I'm honestly not sure. YouTube may have empowered a generation, but maybe it's a good thing that the giant internet corporation hasn't been able to channel them all into a specific, YouTube-directed activity.

Maybe the revolution was never meant to be televised...

See also:
YouTube, the 20-year-old, and Date Unknown
Should YouTube Hear Me?
John Edwards' Virutal Attackers Unmasked
Iraq Battle Footage
The 5 Sexiest Apple Videos

The Celebrity Breast Conspiracy

"Public diplomacy" in Hollywood isn't exactly an exercise in subtlety. But sometimes, publicists, studio executives, or whoever dreams up these boob-headed propaganda schemes, actually try to trick us by presenting "authentic" incidents of "titillation". Which are totally not authentic.

In fact, call us paranoid, but we strongly believe there is a well-established, but never openly-acknowledged, plan among movie marketers and star handlers to manipulate the constituencies of female celebrities. Shocking? Yes.

However, here's five tabloid examples that make the case.

1. Dead Man's Chest?

Three franchises compete this weekend over the biggest box office in movie history. Pirates of the Caribbean 3 is the big contender, and suddenly its lead actress starts jabbering about... well, here's the resulting headlines.
Keira Knightley Wants Bigger Breasts
Keira Knightley Wishes She Had Larger Chest Size
Knightley Not Happy With Her Breasts, Wants Them Bigger
Knightley: 'I don't have tits!'

Keira plays the feisty Elizabeth Swann in the new Pirates movie — an adventure-loving tomboy. Of course there's a line of merchandise associated with the film, and when asked later for her opinion on her officially licensed action figure, Keira responded similarly. "It's nothing like me! She's got tits, for a start! I don't have tits!"

And the headlines rolled again...
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Live Woman's Chest
Keira Knightley Says Well-Endowed 'Pirates' Action Figure
Looks Nothing Like Her
Keira bemused by Pirate doll's ample cleavage
Keira Knightley: I Don't Have Any Tits!

Tits! Tits! Tits! Pirates of the Caribbean 3. Everyone got the message?

2. The Right Stuffing

But Keira is only the first example of a marketing ploy gone wild. Just a few weeks earlier, Spiderman 3 broke box office records by earning $117 million in its first day. By that weekend it had racked up over $381 million, and it's already become one of the twenty highest-grossing movies in cinema history.

But did Spiderman have his own secret weapon?

Just days before the movie premiered, Kirsten Dunst told British reporters that "I had to wear a padded bra for this movie...! I embraced my Mary Jane boobs!" And the headlines started spilling out.
Bust boost for Kirsten
'I had to wear a padded bra'
Kirsten Dunst sexes up Spider-Man's Mary Jane...
Kirsten Dunst Has Saggy Boobs*

* A blogger named Mocksie.

Kirsten Dunst issued more breast-related comments in 2004 while joking about the release of a video game for Spiderman 2. After spotting her character, Dunst announced "They made her boobs gigantic! I was like, 'Tone down the boobs, please!'" For this year's movie, her publicist apparently advised her to be a little more breast-positive. ("...I get it. It's OK... I didn't feel like it was sexist or anything...") And speaking of her character, Spider-Man's girlfriend, she added, almost prophetically, that "I know that her boobs are usually enhanced on the action figure toys as well."

A few days later, Marvel comics issued this 7-inch collectible figure.

Is Kirsten Dunst's bra-stuffing a legitimate news story? (It is a kind of special effect...) It's a bit of trivia that seemed suspiciously timed, guaranteed to seize the attention of the celebrity press, even those who were already covering the future of Spiderman movies. One reporter ultimately couldn't resist asking as his next question "whether her bigger breasts will be seen in a fourth film?"

3. Charlie's Nipple

Can Shrek 3 compete with this titillation? After all, the film's leading actress is...a giant animated ogre. But fortunately for the producers, her voice is supplied by Cameron Diaz, who played one of Charlie's Angels. Leaving nothing to chance, she appeared to promote the film on The Ellen DeGeneres Show — and then pulled her breast out.

Cameron Diaz flashes boobs on Ellen
Ellen Checks out Diaz's Boob
Cameron Diaz Has Nip Slip on Ellen Show
Diaz bares a breast on Ellen

In the press, the incident was a wardrobe malfunction, of course, and Ellen relayed a message to Diaz from the production staff.

"They're asking you to pull up your shirt."

But it was a publicity masterpiece — and all the headlines prove it.
Shrek 3! Shrek 3! Cameron's nipple! Shrek 3!

No wonder Muslim fanatics hate us.

4. The Visible Woman

That's enough breasts to last through Memorial Day weekend — but at least one Hollywood actress thinks you're in for a long, hot summer.

Two weeks before the Fantastic Four sequel opens, the film's leading actress starts making the rounds. Jessica Alba clumsily announced to one reporter that she hopes this movie will alleviate the ongoing problem of how friggin' hot she is. "I hope all my new work will help producers in getting past my hotness," she complained to GQ magazine.

And then for good measure, she started talking about sexy body parts.

"I have my own fashion style and do not try to fit in," Alba began "I don't have my breasts under my chin, I'm not showing butt cheeks, nor much legs..." So she's saying she dresses her tragically-hot body in a less-than-sexy manner. But this plea for attention is so blatant, Gary Larson could've used it for a new Far Side cartoon.

What Jessica Alba says:

"I don't have my breasts under my chin, I'm not showing butt cheeks."

What reporters hear:

"Blah blah blah breasts. Blah blah blah butt cheeks."

5. Disney Girls

There's other examples of this phenomenon too. In 2005 a rumor leaked to the tabloid press that Lindsay Lohan's breasts were so humongous, they'd had to be digitally reduced when she appeared in Disney's newest movie about Herbie the Love Bug. (Which was, ironically, called Fully Loaded)

The film's producers later squelched this rumor — and in fact, 18-year-old Lohan spent most of the movie in a sternly unrevealing racing uniform.

Two years later Lohan would check into rehab after crashing her Mercedes in a suspected DUI incident. But her brush against notoriety had already put this whole phenomenon into perspective.

Yes, movie publicists and the entertainment press like to steer the conversation towards what's "under the hood."

But ultimately isn't it even more demeaning to pretend there's nothing there at all?

See also:
The Secret Ending of Pirates of the Caribbean 3
10 Worst Spiderman Tie-Ins
Dustin Diamond vs. Sgt. Harvey
World Sex Laws
Libertarian Chick Fights Boobs With Boobs
Sex Expert Susie Bright Lets It All Out

Dustin Diamond vs. Sgt. Harvey

VH-1 proudly displayed the clip on their blog, gloating that in comparison, "All the throwdowns from the current drama-filled season of Celebrity Fit Club seem like kids' stuff..." It's Dustin Diamond vs. Sgt. Harvey Walden— the detached smart-ass comic confronted by a former Marine drill instructor.

Dustin's been riding a wave of publicity ever since that infamous sex tape was released to the world. (Click here for our interview with Dustin about it.) Did Dustin enjoy the notoriety too much? Or did VH-1 set him up? And is it a verbal beatdown — or a former child star righteously standing his ground?

After 11 years of playing Screech on Saved by the Bell and its sequels, Dustin became a standup comic, ultimately joining the cast of VH-1's celebrity weight-loss competition. In this profanity-laced clip from Sunday's episode, Dustin weighs himself for Sgt. Harvey and the show's nutritionist, Dr. Ian Smith. Dustin had already challenged comedian Ant, the shows host, to "physical combat" for making what he thought was a bad call. When Harvey aggressively dismisses him, Dustin offhandedly refers to the UFC, which is the Ultimate Fighting Championship — a cable TV fighting show.

And then all hell broke loose.

VH1.com Blog
A transcript of the video appears below

HARVEY: Three pounds. Get the fuck out of here.

DIAMOND: I gotta move? Everyone else has been up. I don't have to go anywhere...

HARVEY: Man, get this — somebody get his ass out of here! (Off-camera voice: "You're done, Dustin") You are fucking full of shit. I oughta, before you will tell me, I will beat your fuck — you must be out of your fucking part-time cartoon mind!

DIAMOND: (Turning to go) If you agree, we can set up the UFC...

HARVEY: Don't you ever god damn motherfucking threaten me! God damn! Don't you ever fucking threaten me!

DIAMOND: I did not threaten you.

HARVEY: You just god damn stood and said you fucking challenge me! I will wear your fucking ass out! Don't you ever fucking threaten me! I'm hear to fucking help your fat ass!

DIAMOND: You put yourself in a protected spot...

HARVEY: No, you god-damn — first after you said you'd kick his ass, you said you'd kick mine! Why the fuck don't you ever think?

DIAMOND: Did I say I'd kick your ass?

HARVEY: Yes you did!

IAN SMITH: You did.

HARVEY: You stood right there, and goddamn fucking said it!

DIAMOND: Can you roll the tape back? Is that what I said? Is that what I said?

HARVEY: You don't want fuck over with me, boy, 'cause I'll wear your fucking ass out.

DIAMOND: That's a threat.

HARVEY: I will fuck your world

IAN SMITH: Go, Dustin. Go, Dustin...

DIAMOND: That's the threat.

HARVEY: I think that... and you're god damn right, It's a fucking promise. It's not a god damn threat. It's a fucking promise! Don't you ever, in your fucking life — in your fucking cartoon life...

DIAMOND: (To stagehand) ....attack me on camera...

HARVEY: ...ever fucking threaten me, bitch. 'Cause I will wear your fucking ass out. Now you take that shit to your porn convention.

IAN SMITH: Get off the scales.

DIAMOND: I'm off the scales.

HARVEY: And if you ever fucking go to A, you better standby. Guarantee that shit, too. Now put that bitch on the VSPOT. Get the fuck out of here.

DIAMOND: Whatever.

This clip appears on VH-1's "VSPOT" page. It closes with Sgt. Harvey offering one final thought.

"He got away this time, but he's lucky my home girl held me back.

"Because I was ready to dissect him."

See Also:
Virtual Screech, Sexual Superstar
Screech's Sex Tape Follies

7 Worst Mother’s Day Gifts

Mother's Day lets you recognize mom's good qualities — like her saint-like patience for your jackass sensitivity. Or, to put it another way — her sense of humor. So here's our list of the seven worst mother's day gifts we could imagine.

But Mom loves you already. So what have you got to lose?

MILF's Need Love Too

"It's a book! Why thank you dear. (Pause) What's a MILF?"

    "Um, it's an acronym."

"But what's it stand for?"

    "Well, uh — the M stands for 'Mother'..."

"Why is this woman chewing her necklace?"

    "It's my sister's fault. She said she'd pick out something nice for me to give you."

         "I did not!"

     "I'll get you for this!"

         "Ha ha ha ha..."

And Stacey's mom lived happily ever after.

Mom loves movies. And it's mother's day. So why not a movie called... Mother's Day?

Because it's an R-rated horror film from the notorious Troma studios. The producers of Blood Sucking Freaks tell the gruesome story of three sorority girls who get captured in the woods and tortured by two hicks — and their mother. When asked for plot keywords, Amazon's reviewers recommended the words "kidnapping," "disturbing," "sadism," and "murder". One reviewer even calls it "The first movie I ever walked out of. And I was home!"

Special features include a commentary track, plus footage of grossed-out people watching the movie.

Mom would probably prefer the Hitchcock movie about that nice schizophrenic whose mother is a mummified corpse in the basement. Because at least he was polite.
It's My Head In a Box

A Very Special Bracelet Mom loves her charm bracelet. To help personalize it, each family member gives her a charm. There's one from her son, one from each daughter, and one from Dad that says "A little head never hurt anyone."

Last year Dad gave Mom a Pugster bracelet that said "Two in the pink, one in the stink." But she didn't understand it, so the next charm had a picture. Amazon has since discontinued any charm bracelets advertising "the shocker," but there's still one very special bracelet charm that just says "PMS."

We told Dad these were great gift ideas — but that's because we're trying to get them divorced. For her birthday, Dad gave her a charm that said "Pootie Tang."

Any day now...

This heartwarming family classic shows Mrs. Sturak, an elderly babysitter, who dies the instant mom leaves for Australia. In a surprise plot twist, the five children dump her body at the morgue — "Nice old lady inside. Died of natural causes" — then party all summer.

Mom will love seeing her worst nightmares come to life. For added angst, the movie even stars Christina Applegate, who played the slutty daughter on "Married With Children". Although to be fair, in this movie she learns a valuable lesson about responsibility, and even gets a job.

And no, it isn't pole dancing.
Dreams Come True

A Night of Romance

"I can't wait to see her face light up!" Dad had said. Mom was waiting in the bedroom for her special Mother's Day present...

But at first, through the doorway, all we heard was sobbing. Then we heard Dad's voice, saying "You don't understand. That's the name of the weed."

Then we heard a loud noise, and then Dad saying "Oww!" Eventually, the police came.

Now we're staying with Aunt Minnie.

For all the sex-positive soccer moms, here's a t-shirt that says "I love porn."

It's cotton, with a banded hem, by the fashionable designers at Locher's of Paris. ("To counterbalance the elegance and antiquity of the embroidery...the playful charm of a dirty saying embroidered into every shirt.") They promise their shirts highlight mom's best asset — "her sense of humor."

Their fine print cautions the shirts are "something your Mother wouldn't wear, and your Daddy shouldn't see."

Which, perversely, makes me want to buy one even more.
Fine Print

The Perfect Gift

Mother's Day was originally an anti-war crusade. Over the years it eventually became an opportunity to recognize Mom's seething resentment over her life's shattered dreams with flowers.

But only once a year.

So Sunday get mom what she really needs — a divorce. This book promises "a thorough overview of the divorce process" — plus cartoons! It's the perfect gift after years of enduring your demanding, moody, and overbearing father. (And remember — Father's Day is June 17.)

One Chicago divorce attorney even put up a billboard with encouragement — showing a young man's muscular torso over the headline "Life is short. Get a divorce." Doesn't your mom deserve the best?

If it all works out, you could wind up with some new step brothers and step sisters.

And hopefully — they'll have better taste in Mothers Day gifts.

See also:
Nancy Drew's Sexy Secrets
10 Worst Spiderman Tie-Ins
The Male Scale: 10 Archetypes
Top 5 Cartoon Hunks

Twittering the Twitter Revolution

The new messaging service for status "microblogging" was recognized as this year's best blogging tool at the SXSW festival. But all the excitement provoked a surprisingly sudden backlash, and now Twitter is the application people love to hate.

I had to know. Is Twitter the next big thing? Or the answer to a question that no one asked. Knowing there's only one way to find out, I sought to brave the unknown phenomenon, create an account on the service, and describe the results.

In Twitter-speak.

Using Twitter...

Creating a Twitter account!

Noticing Twitter won't let me edit my past updates without an add-on program.

Deciding to write an article called "Five Things I Hate About Twitter."

Realizing Twitter will let me delete past updates if I click on its trash can icon.

Thinking they should have tool tips explaining what their stupid icons do.

Noticing that Twitter doesn't recognize linebreaks in updates.

Adding it to the list.
Thinking "That's it?"

Thinking this reminds me of IRC in the 90s.

       /away getting more beer
       /away so what are you wearing?

Deciding to give Twitter a second chance.
Reading the public Twitter timeline.

Noticing "mrjonnypantz" has typed 11 hours!!!!!!!

Deciding these updates are boring at best, illiterate at worst.

Wondering if Twitter will really send these messages directly to my pager.

Wondering how incredibly annoying that would be.

Thinking Twitter is one step above MySpace status icons.

What I'm Doing: Playing Music.
Current Mood: Depressed.
Changing my "Friends" icon.
Still depressed.

Reading the Twitter FAQ.

Not finding anything cool.


Coming back.

Deciding I must have missed something.

Noticing Stephen Colbert has a Twitter feed.

"Anthrax (my goldfish) isn't feeling well. He's resting at the surface of his tank"

Noticing John Edwards has a feed too.

About to make remarks at the Int'l Assoc. of Firefighters. Then remarks at the Boilermakers conference.

Deciding a campaign feed would be excruciatingly boring.

Noticing Robert Scoble is heckling John Edwards.

"how are you going to get your campaign carbon neutral when you have to fly jets around the country so much?"

Noticing the Edwards campaign was goaded into replying.

"will fund alternative energy production that will offset the carbon generated from campaign travel."

Wondering if John Edwards is cheating.

Reading blog coverage of Twitter-mania.

"To me it's just something that has got some SHORT-term popularity and will eventually fade back into a neat tool people don't really use anymore."

"if I were a Scoble fanboy, I would love that he posts every event in his busy life to his Twitter channel"

Snorting derisively.
Envisioning the rise of Twitter consultants creating fake updates for Hollywood clientele.

Imagining Paris Hilton junkies loving Twitter. Because of the illusion that they're stalking her.

Wondering if Twitter is like that scene in Scary Movie where the heavy-breathing stalker taunts his victims with updates. "I'm in your house, watching you undressing."

Thinking Twitter probably isn't like that.
Wondering if you can hack someone else's Twitter feed?

"I'm in your kitchen, lying about your updates."

Thinking Twitter users have already heard that joke.

Reading that Robert Scoble thinks Twitter is the new black.

Realizing what he actually said -- that hating Twitter is the new black.

Thinking Twitter should let users publish these entries on MySpace and LiveJournal.

Realizing they're doing that already.

Wondering if it's a generational thing.
Predicting Arianna Huffington's ego will compel her to join Twitter.

Predicting Norman Mailer will be too technophobic.

Wondering if there will be promotional feeds for TV characters.

Dwight Schrute is scanning the Office ventilation system for vampire bats.

Thinking that would be lame.
Speculating about the future.

Will all TV shows be forced to adopt real-time microblogging to reach the emerging Twitter demographic?

Noticing Robert Scoble has 1380 followers. And 1041 friends.

Realizing I don't know the difference between a "friend" and a "follower."

Noticing one of Scoble's friends is Irina Slutsky.

Noticing she responded to BloatedLesbian.

Reading the Bloated Lesbian feed.

waiting for the shower to stop smelling like George Bush so I can shower then goto my conference

CC is having a vagina for lunch?????

lying to someone with a big dick

Noticing that for "Bio:" she just wrote "fat."

Being intrigued that she linked to The Karen Carpenter Story, told entirely with Barbie dolls.

Watching The Karen Carpenter Story.

Realizing it's 44 minutes long.

Being glad I'm unemployed.

Reading the Twitter blog. Noticing they have a Twitter shirt. It says "Wearing my Twitter Shirt."

Laughing at the comments. ("so I finally understand the business model....")
Reading Scoble's blog.

"I'm fascinated that so many people hate the service... They contribute more to the hype than anything else."

Reading web coverage about Twitter web coverage.

"Is Twitter the RSS for people with not much to say?"

Realizing I've wasted an hour playing with Twitter...

...when I'd meant to write about how uncompelling it is.

See Also:
iPhone Debate: I'm a Mac vs. Bill Gates
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
John Edwards' Virtual Attackers Unmasked
10 Worst Spiderman Tie-Ins

“Dear Internet, I’m Sorry”

Crook on Fox News

Even while delivering a video apology "to all bloggers, webmasters and other individuals" as part of a settlement agreement with 10 Zen Monkeys, he somehow seems determined to be the most hated man on the internet — if he could just get people to stop ignoring him. (You'll find that video further down on the page.)

But, let's back up a bit first...
I'm writing a new story for 10zen tonight.

Dana Plato?

Nah, the piece is about that Michael Crook guy.

That's how it started last September. We'd already written about a Seattle prankster named Jason Fortuny, who'd pretended to be a woman on Craig's List and then published horny male respondents' private info on the internet. In the fateful 27th comment on that story, a new site popped onto our radar.
He's inspired a website that exposes people nationwide — craigslist-perverts.org

That web site was registered to Michael Crook, and to this day I'm convinced Crook himself left the comment, hoping to skim off some of the attention. Sure enough, the site showed that Crook had duplicated Fortuny's stunt; he'd posted a fake ad on Craig's List pretending to be a young woman seeking sex in Syracuse, New York. But no one even noticed; according to Crook's own blog, he only got a few dozen responses. He tried posting more fake ads in more cities — Las Vegas, Dayton, South Jersey, Kansas City, and Anchorage — and created a web site with the results.

We noticed, but we weren't impressed. The original title for our article about Crook was "wannabe asshole," although we later changed it to In the Company of Jerkoffs, calling Crook "another sad member of the 'griefer community'... not only pathetic, but a pathetic copycat."
As an after-thought, I'd sent Jeff Diehl, our editor, a screenshot from Crook's appearance on Fox News to accompany the story. ("I think the bad hair and stiff tie and collar say a lot about the guy...")

We knew Crook wouldn't like it — but that's life on the internet. (I'm sure the men who answered his fake Craig's List ad didn't like it when he called them at work, either.) Life continued at our up and coming webzine — our next story questioned the press coverage about Willie Nelson's September arrest for possession of mushrooms. And then something weird happened...

Our internet service provider got a nasty email from Michael Crook. Crook wanted the embarrassing picture taken down, and to make that happen, he was pretending he had a copyright over the screenshot from Fox News, citing the "Digital Millenium Copyright Act" (or DMCA). I suggested a new headline for Jeff. "Syracuse jerk uses heavy-handed DMCA mumbo-jumbo to try to intimidate web pages he doesn't like."

We were clear that Crook had no legal claim. But his amateurish legalese spooked our spineless (pre-Laughing Squid) ISP, who asked Jeff to remove the image anyways. Jeff knew there was something wrong. In the world we live in, internet services can absolve themselves from future legal liability — if they quickly remove the suspect material. This means if someone wants an embarrassing picture taken down, simply masquerading as its copyright holder can be enough. So Michael Crook was pretending he owned a copyright on someone else's picture of his face.

Crook's legal interpretation was as laughable as the Batman comic book where the Joker claimed a copyright on a fish that looked like him.

But deep within the DMCA law is a counter-provision — 512(f), which states that misrepresenting yourself as a copyright owner has consequences. Any damage caused by harmful misrepresentation must be reimbursed. In 2004 the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a six-figure award from Diebold Election Systems, who had claimed a "copyright" on embarrassing internal memos which were published online. So not only was Jeff Diehl legally free to publish Crook's picture; Crook was in violation of the law for pretending he owned a copyright.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation now agreed to represent us. Crook hadn't just issued a copyright notice to 10 Zen Monkeys; he'd sent them to other web sites, again pretending to own the copyright on Fox News' image, to trick the sites into taking his picture down. (There were even cases where he served DMCA notices to websites that published Fair Use quotes from his blog.) Crook was a serial abuser of the copyright law — and so far his misuse of it had been rewarded every time. Some webmasters and bloggers obeyed the takedown notices without considering the counter-claim process, to avoid having to give Crook their identifying information — which he'd publicly demonstrated he enjoyed using maliciously.

But it was a mistake to try his stunt anywhere near Silicon Valley, where people closely follow how technology is evolving, and care deeply about protecting free speech online. Local web stars cheered on the lawsuit at sites like BoingBoing and Valleywag (where Nick Douglas wrote, "This Emo Kid is Getting Sued," and later begged Crook for a DMCA takedown notice of his own — which he got and displayed proudly). Someone had finally noticed Michael Crook — but for all the wrong reasons. Web sites were now re-posting even more copies of the picture he hated.

Crook tried hiding from the delivery of the legal documents — then later blustered on his web site that he'd successfully re-structured his business holdings to make it hard to collect. In a futile go-for-broke strategy, he then sent even more bogus DMCA notices — to other web sites which were reporting on his original bogus copyright notice. "I wonder if this is another one of his stunts for 'bad attention,'" I asked Jeff. "Everyone online hates the DMCA; maybe he's deliberately abusing it, the way Andy Kaufman used to bait professional wrestling fans."

For a brief moment it was Michael Crook versus the internet — until Michael Crook lost in a blow-out. Ignoring Crook's amateurish legal posturing, Fark.com users created over 50 versions of the supposedly-forbidden photo, photoshopping Crook's face into even more embarrassing poses. Someone tracked down Crook's high school yearbook photos (which, ironically, ended up being mocked in the blog of the original Craigs List prankster, Jason Fortuny.) Someone even uploaded the photo into the virtual gaming world Second Life. (Crook then tried unsuccessfully to issue a DMCA notice against a photo of that photo.) The ongoing mockery became a kind of online seminar, reminding web surfers to stand up to copyright law abusers, and to never pay attention to the Michael Crooks of the world.

In November, web writer Tucker Max called out Crook for an online debate. Crook accepted — though he only made three short posts, apparently caught off guard when Max refused to take Crook's weird positions seriously and instead attacked Crook himself. "You are desperate for attention," Max wrote, "and the ability to feel something, anything, you are willing to be the most ridiculed, hated person on the internet. Look at yourself dude. Look at your life." Max even claims he used his contacts as a law school graduate to guarantee that Crook, who says he wants to one day be a lawyer, will never pass the bar.

But abusing copyright law was only Crook's latest attempt at provoking attention. He'd previously claimed to hate the military, Jews, gays, immigrants, non-whites and children. Max noted that Crook tried to join the army, and had been rejected; and that Child Protective Services had taken his children away. Were Crook's attacks just a misguided lashing out over his own bitter failures?

The online world was faced with the griefer paradox: that griefers want bad attention, and the only real answer is ignoring them. Behind the scenes, the EFF was working to establish the only true point of the case — that web sites didn't have to buckle in the face of bogus copyright threats, and that abusing the DMCA would bring consequences.

Because Crook proved himself to be legally indigent, and was representing himself in an incompetent way that would likely have lessened the impact of an official judgment, it was decided that a settlement agreement could accomplish just as much, possibly more. Crook eventually signed such an agreement. It requires him to 1) take a course on copyright law basics; 2) never again file any cease and desist notices concerning the image of him on Fox News; 3) withdraw each and every DMCA notice he served regarding the image; 4) refrain from filing any DMCA notices for 5 years unless the material in question is personally authored, photographed or originated by him; 5) include in any DMCA notice during that 5 year period, URLs pointing to the EFF's web page summarizing this case; 6) turn over ownership of any domain names to Jeff Diehl and 10 Zen Monkeys if he is caught violating any of the terms of the agreement.

And, finally, he had to formally apologize to those he harassed. In video. Here now, is that video:

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In the San Francisco Bay Area? Celebrate free speech and the EFF: Free Speech Ain't Free!

See also:
EFF's Jason Schultz Explains the Crook Case
EFF's Diehl v. Crook page
Settlement Agreement
In the Company of Jerkoffs
The Case Against Crook
Crooks of the World Hurt Copyright, Free Speech
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued

Who are Second Life’s “Patriotic Nigras”?

They're brash, articulate and unapologetic; and they have a message for America. Mudkips Acronym is co-founder of "the Patriotic Nigras," the group who attacked John Edwards' virtual headquarters in Second Life, and Wednesday he agreed to an email interview.

Talking about Second Life and the blogosphere, Mudkips explains how his group operates and their pranksterish motivations, and insists that... no, they're aren't Republicans.

LOU CABRON: Why did your attacking avatars wear "Bush '08" buttons?

MUDKIPS ACRONYM: Everything we do is for laughs, and we thought "Bush '08" would be interpreted as humor — as I'm sure you know, Bush obviously can't be re-elected in '08.

However, the resulting aftershock from the "blogosphere", particularly on the left, has been enormous, when they thought the raiders were Republicans. This was completely unexpected, and frankly hilarious. I'm a bit disillusioned with my own party after this event, actually, as someone who did read blogs like the Daily Kos and expected some honest and truthful journalism. However, it seems as if everyone played a giant game of telephone, taking the Republican assumption and adding on more and more anger and hostility as it went on.

While I felt Kerry was a bit wishy-washy, I voted for him in 2004. I'm sort of conservative on economics but very, very liberal on anything else. I'm all for Bush impeachment over the Iraq war and all that jazz. I'm currently rooting for Obama, but that doesn't mean we won't raid him or anything. We'll hit anyone if it's funny, and if the guy I want to be president in 2008's campaign provides the lulz, we'll certainly not cross him off our list.

I'm not going to deny Patriotic Nigras is a troll group. We exist primarily to make people mad. Unlike most trolls, however, the attention is not the biggest concern. However, the reaction to this whole mess has been a troll's DREAM. An "attack," placed in an unofficial spot on an unofficial blog, has been a large story if only because the political persecution factor was tacked on to it.

While a few of us might be racist or something (who knows with this group), that's completely irrelevant to our cause. N3X15, our webhoster guy and acting Second Life leader, is a Republican. I probably disagree with him on a lot of things. But we're willing to overlook that in the fact that we all are allied to the same goal. I think laughs transcend party lines.

I think this whole incident is telling of where our priorities lie (and by "our" I mean America, if you happen to be outside the U.S.). But let's not make this too much of what it isn't.

Returning to the Bush thing, my answer would be "for the lulz". Claiming to be from the Republicans, we thought, would just add some irony to the whole thing. We didn't know that it would become the centerpiece of the event.

LC: Can you tell me about your group? How many people are in it?

MA: We have around 70 members on the forums. Of those, maybe 35 are active and confirmed.

The first attack was somewhere in December or January. I don't remember exactly when, but it was around Christmas-time. Like it says in the Encyclopedia Dramatica article, though, the first attacks were somewhat sparse. Me and a couple other guys, doing random crap.

As for hating John Edwards himself...nah. He (actually, the camp seems to be unofficial, so rather whoever set it up and posted the news on the blog) was simply a high-profile target exploitable for maybe a day or two of chuckles, maybe more, at least we thought at first.

It was only when we'd become able to get to a critical-mass of sorts of members that the "attacks" become organized and large-scale. I'd put that around the time of the third Fort Longcat, the middle of January. Once we got that set up, we were able to organize efficiently and had a place to retreat and regroup when things didn't go right.

The planning for the Edwards attack was actually fairly minimal. We have experience doing this sort of thing with the furry and gorean sims. However, and without trying to be too dramatic, we did have "spies" in and around the physical Edwards campaign HQ.

Our original plan was to arrive in a bunch of Black Hawk helicopters and have sniper areas. We had it planned out for a while, but a couple people from the organization decided to go in prematurely. Like I've said, it would have caused much more of a hubbub had the original plan went through!

LC: What do you tell people who say your group is racist?

MA: As an organization, we have no racist, sexist, or political bias, except in the case of when it serves our interests. The "nigra" thing could be seen as a racist remark at first glance, but Encyclopedia Dramatica explains it well

"Since the Internets is largely Anonymous and because the term was invented by a /b/tard (a cyber being of indeterminate and irrelevant sex/age/heritage) in the virtual, 'colourblind' environment of Habbo Hotel as a way to say 'nigga' without alerting their dirty word Department of Habboland Security feds, any suggestion that the word 'nigra' is racist is not only completely without merit, it's racist against the inhabitants of Internets."

LC: So how are you able to operate in Second Life?

MA: Even though Fort Longcat was deleted by the landowner, we're still setting up small scale forts to organize. Since our forts are usually deleted within the week by landowners, we're constantly on the move, and the fact we have permanent forums (no ProBoards free stuff that can be taken out from under us) now has helped keep us together. Our webmaster has engineered a half-working separate Second Life server/sim as well, where we can meet up independent of the main grid.

As to who we are, all I can say is that we're big-A Anonymous.

LC: So what kind of people are in the group? Are you high school students, middle-aged geeks...?

MA:The stereotype of us being high school geeks with acne is funny. Most of our members are well in their twenties and even thirties. The site where we originated from from has an active no-under-18 policy.

As for the site's identity, I have to clarify two things:

1. We're not from Something Awful.

2. Ebaumsworld is a cover, and we're not from there. Rule one in our book is "do not mention the site we come from." Anyone caring to analyze the content (signs, things we say, the "nigras" part of our name) of our raids, however, should be able to figure it out with a little Googling. However, while we originated from that board, we're a separate entity and do not organize there.

LC: Is your group worried about getting busted?

MA: Nah. As far as bans go, IPs can be changed, we can spoof MACs, we can change or send gibberish HD IDs. Thanks to our resident programmers, and Linden Labs' generous open-sourcing of the client package, we have tools that can do most of that already.

As for getting in trouble in general - no. First off, cases involving prosecution on Internet sites require tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, are often dragged out for years, have little evidence to support their claims, and so forth. Add that with the fact that everything being done is according to the game world's own mechanics, and I'm not too worried about anything serious going on.

I think if someone were to be sued (even in a civil court) for putting giant phalluses on somebody's Internet lawn, they'd be laughed out of court. If anything, Linden Labs is attracting more attention to Second Life thanks to this incident. Nevertheless, you're still going to have people like intLib threatening us with obscure felonies to try to dissuade us. At that point, the best way to deal with them is to ignore them.

LC: You sound very libertarian.

MA: I don't support all libertarian causes, but I am of the opinion that people should be able to do what they wish unless it negatively impacts someone else. I'm anti-drug but completely for the legalization of marijuana (though I don't use it), as well as completely against the Patriot Act and things that I feel invade American liberties.

LC: So what happens next? What do you think the Edwards camp should do?

MA: Good question. I'll assume you mean the campaign and/or the people supporting it, not the physical location itself.

The fact is, Second Life is not a credible or effective way to make a campaign statement. Whether or not the headquarters was officially sanctioned by the Edwards campaign, having something like this is a waste of time. Second Life's actual membership numbers are vastly inflated, as is the more literal artificially inflated Second Life economy. The bubble will burst eventually.

Anyways, if the Edwards campaign wants to try to get more public support, they need to take less time trying to be edgy and Web 2.0 and more time focusing on issues and traditional publicity. It's nice when someone takes the trouble to make a video on YouTube explaining their campaign goals, but half the time they're recycled or just plain corny. If anyone in the campaign wants to bring the young demographic in, they need to actually care about their potential constituents, not just put out a video of old campaign meets with cheesy background music, set up a fort in Second Life, and be done with it.

LC: What are your plans for the future?

MA: Well, we'll keep bombing the furry sims, but other than that, who knows?

If I say anything else, there might be some lockdowns, but other candidates in Second Life are a possibility. Anything high-profile is fair game.

See also:
John Edwards' Virtual Attackers Unmasked
Craiglist Sex Troll Gets Sued
20 Wildest Reactions To Obama's Victory
The 5 Faces of Bush

John Edwards’ Virtual Attackers Unmasked

The attackers have been identified — and they're alive and gloating.

"Guess what: we're not Republicans. In fact, I'm one of the most hard-core liberals I know."

A post on the John Edwards blog claimed credit for an attack on his campaign HQ in Second Life — saying that "We simply did it for the lulz... The fact you were so bent out of shape to make a blog post on the OFFICIAL JOHN EDWARDS BLOG about how some people placed a bunch of shittingdicknipples on your lawn is mighty telling."

The post was deleted from Edwards blog. (Its last line was "Enjoy your AIDS!") But the poster used the name Mudkips Acronym, which also turns up in a January entry on Encyclopedia Dramatica, identifying him as a member of a longstanding Second Life "invasion group." Its name is given as "Patriotic Nigras: e-terrorists at large," and Saturday the entry was updated to claim credit for the Edwards attack.

This would make the Edwards attack just the latest installment in a longer history of random assaults. The page describes the group's first attacks as griefing pranks on Second Life's "Gay Yiffy" virtual nightclub — blocking the exit doors on a disco's private rooms, and filling its dance floor with an annoyingly large box. They returned to build a wall with a swastika of American flags, and eventually acquired a "Doomsday" weapon that creates endlessly replicating cubes.

The group also claims weapons like "the Dong Popgun" (which fires a barrage of penises), and the "Cosby Block" (a profilerating posters of the Jell-o pudding pops spokesman). One Second Life blogger accused the group of distributing the infamous Goatse picture, a tactic confirmed by a Second Life newspaper. And the group's ultimate weapon — the "Mario mosh pit" — even floods an area with images of Nintendo's Mario character.

YouTube footage apparently captures the attacks, set to musical soundtracks like "America: Fuck Yeah", or the soundtrack to Star Wars. A climactic January attack targeted another night club in Second Life, according to their Wiki page — followed by a permanent ban of the group's members. (They believe Second Life had successfully identified their computer hardware, according to the web page.) It claims the group is now armed with an "unbanning" tool, and having grown to at least 15 members, now hides in a secret base somewhere in Second Life's virtual sky.

On the Edwards blog, Mudkips Acronym also posted that "we had something much bigger planned, and the actions of a few in the organization sort of spoiled it." Even then, he was amused by the online coverage and wrote that "If this sort of hilarity is getting out after something rather routine, we can only dream of what would happen later."

John Edwards had been running a flawless online campaign, with a web site promising Edwards will "ensure America's greatness in the 21st century." The candidate assembled an impressive online outreach effort, with pages on all the major social networking sites. (Although his LiveJournal site still sports embarrassing ads for cheap flights to Las Vegas because the campaign didn't pay the $2.00 a month for an ad-free account.) Last month an Edwards volunteer decided to create a campaign headquarters in Second Life — prompting mixed reactions. ("Edwards To Pin Down Crucial Techno-Savvy Shut-In Vote," joked Wonkette.) But other Edwards volunteers were clearly excited. "Excuse me, your netroots are showing!" gushed a poster on the Edwards site. "The Edwards campaign once again proves its Web 2.0 credentials..."

It was barely more than two weeks before the attackers struck — setting off an interesting discussion about the state of the online world.

"This is the modern-day equivalent of hippies freaking out the squares," wrote a blogger at Wired. "You see countless news stories about this, over and over again: the gray humorless drones of political parties or corporations rushing to establish a presence in Second Life because it's the thing to do, only to find themselves staring directly into the collective Goatse.cx of the Internet's soul."

One of the attackers struck the pose of a manifesto writer. "[T]he truth is, there is something terribly wrong with Second Life, isn't there...? [W]here once you had the freedom to object, think, and speak as you saw fit, you now have IP bans and hypocritical labelers coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission."

But their real motivation seems to be the thrill of griefing. "You don't have to have furries to be a target," notes another comment, "all you have to be is so full of yourself that you freak out over an attack. Freak out once and they'll come back because the more you struggle and complain, the funnier it is."

And one poster goes even further. "The thing is... griefing is pretty much the only way to make Second Life fun if you aren't a furry or a pedophile or something."

Second Life's creators, Linden Labs, were compelled by the incident to issue a middle-of-the-road response ("At Linden Lab we do the utmost to ensure the protection of creative expression, within certain bounds. Ultimately, instances in which residents engage in vandalism will have to be taken on a case by case basis according to our terms of service.") And Second Life boosters had already been sharing their tips for dealing with griefers. But perhaps the best summation came from a comment at the Game Politics site.

"Why does everyone think that this was political? This is what happens in Second Life."

According to the Second Life Herald, the Edwards virtual HQ had already been targeted by a pesky next door neighbor who insisted on touting the presidential candidacy of John Edward — the psychic host of TV's "Crossing Over."

Q: Will Edward be making a visit to SL?
A: He's already here. He's inside all hour hearts and minds. Because he can read them.
Q: how can he concentrate?
A: I imagine he just squints his eyes really hard

In an unpredictible online environment, political campaigns will face situations that are new and unexpected. (The Huffington Post went to the trouble of pointing out that while Edwards had a virtual headquarters, there were "scantily clad vixens nearby.") One observer even found their way to Edwards' blog and posted "John, welcome to the internet. If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen, but if you are willing to laugh at the insanity you'll find many friends there."

As a kind of confirmation, the online pranksters themselves updated their Encyclopedia entry with a link to an apparently-related web page. Accessing the page plays the dramatic finale to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture while showing a picture of a giggling anime girl — and a five dollar bill with John Edwards' face.

"Sorry we broke your intertube campaign, Mr. Edwards," it says.

"So here's 5 bux."

See also:
Who Are Second Life's "Patriotic Nigras"
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
Is Yahoo/Flickr DMCA Policy Censorship?

The 5 Sexiest Apple Videos

Are Mac users sexier than other people? Or are they just flaunting their computer's superior video editing capabilities? Either way, these videos should bring a smile to your favorite Mac-loving gal or guy. Self-obsessed egotists — or sexy valentine's day surprise? You make the call!

1. Setty Smooth wants to iChat with your four hot friends.

Armed with an iSight camera, a Santa Monica player/wannabe dubbed himself "Setty Smooth," then created an earnest music video about how the Mac enables him to cajole women into stripping online. ("20-inch screens, we can be seen. Live our fantasy, it will feel like a dream....") It's a world of sexy online possibilities, which he demonstrates — five times — culminating with an unforgettable chorus.
The Mac, the Mac. Thanks to the Mac,
We can have fun while we layin' on our back...

There's a whole album of unreleased love ballads, Setty promises. But you can bet that in online chat rooms of Mac enthusiasts, he's already a superstar.

2. Plug it, play it, zip, unzip it (NSFW)

Silhouettes dance with their iPods — then strip, grind, and start screwing each other. Apparently they've been trapped in iPod-silhouette land too long, and they've finally snapped. Gone is the harmless breakdancing from the iPod + iTunes ad — replaced with a variety of sexual positions, pole dancing, and a collar and leash. (For those who think really different.) But at least they're getting it on while wearing their iPods, and the song remains the same.

"Buy it, use it, break it, fix it, trash it, change it, melt, upgrade it..."

3. Japanese iPod bikini dance (NSFW)

Reon Kadena, Japanese model, shares her unique perspective on enjoying an iPod. (Hint: flesh-colored lingerie.) A series of fast cuts show the delight that only an iPod can bring, along with several gratuitous closeups of Reon's young body. (For those special moments when watching an iMac dance just isn't enough.)

The three-minute video of Reon tapping her toes would probably be rated PG-13 — despite the fact that the cameraman apparently lay on the floor trying to see under her bikini. (And at one point, the iPod makes her jeans disappear.) But Apple-loving YouTube viewers were divided in their reactions, with one posting an enthusiastic "marry me please," and another complaining that "we don't see enough of her ipod."

4. Say Hello to the Ibuzz

Its manufacturer says this music-activated sex toy will allow Apple-loving couples to "share the music, share the love," and sure enough, the iBuzz connects your mp3 player to two bullet-shaped vibrators. (So besides scrolling through your playlist, you can also cycle through its collection of vibrating patterns.) And yes, it can also vibrate in time to the music — or, as British TV host Jonathan Ross puts it, "the tempo controls the rhythm of the night.")

But does this mean your libido is subject to copyright law? One grumpy YouTube poster asks if the iBuzz is hobbled with DRM. Meanwhile, another video shows women hand-testing yet another vibrator — called, appropriately, the OhMiBod. And Apple's trademark lawyers have already gone after a Japanese man marketing a similar device called the G-Pod.

5. "You're Beautiful, It's True"

Ultimately using a Mac means you've joined a community, and YouTube user HappySlip celebrates it with an alternate version of James Blunt's song "You're Beautiful." Singing and playing the piano, she sadly mourns the fact she'll never be with the gorgeous 24-inch display she saw at the Apple Store.

From around the web, cute Mac-loving guys were drawn to respond, including a fan in England, Fmanfer in France, and a user named spaghettio (who obsessively remixes her into his 10-second art film trailer).

Whether or not Apple's user-friendly technology will revolutionize our lives, our hearts, and the way we express our passions — at least Mac users know they'll never be alone. In Indiana an Apple enthusiast named Melchiorus was even inspired to lip-synch Weird Al Yankovich's parody version of the song in a response he directed to his Dell laptop.

"You're pitiful, you're pitiful... It just sucks to be you."

See Also:
iPhone Debate: Bill Gates vs. I'm a Mac
Steve Wozniak vs. Stephen Colbert
Girls Are Geeks, Too
Why Chicks Don't Dig the Singularity
Libertarian Chick Fights Boobs With Boobs

20 Secrets of an Infamous Dead Spy

E. Howard Hunt

During his time on this planet, Howard Hunt was everywhere — in both the Pacific and Atlantic theatres in World War II, and in the CIA during its earliest experiments with regime toppling. But he achieved fame for his spectacular failures — including a role in planning the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and an infamous break-in to the Watergate hotel. And he also wrote some really rockin' spy novels.

He died on Tuesday.

Here now, a whole slew of stuff you may not have known about this bold political operative...

1. Hunt's CIA work was preceded by a successful career as a writer

Though he attained infamy for the Watergate break-ins, Howard Hunt wrote his first novel, East of Farewell, when he was 24, in 1942. After being medically discharged from the Navy after an injury in the North Atlantic theatre, he became a war correspondent in the South Pacific for Life magazine.

Later book jacket biographies note that Hunt worked as a press aide to Averell Harriman during his work on the Marshall Plan in Paris, where he met his future wife Dorothy.

In the mid-1940s Hunt won the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship for creative writing, a distinction he shares with authors like Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, and Eudora Welty. Other recipients of Guggenheim fellowships include Ansel Adams, e. e. cummings, and John Cage, as well as Linus Pauling and Laurie Anderson.

Howard Hunt received $35,000 from Warner Brothers for the movie rights to his novel Bimini Run, when he was just 31.

That same year he joined the CIA — just two years after it was established.

2. Howard Hunt was the direct-report for William F. Buckley

Future conservative pundit William F. Buckley served as a deep cover CIA agent in 1951 in Mexico — and reported directly to Howard Hunt.

Buckley remembered a conversation he had 30 years later when he found himself sitting next to the President of Mexico at a ski resort restaurant. "What," he asked amiably, "had I done when I lived in Mexico?

"'I tried to undermine your regime, Mr. President.'"

Hunt dedicated his 1986 book Cozumel to Buckley: "como recuerdo de nuestra temporada en Mexico."

3. Hunt played a role in the rise of Che Guevera as well as his death

Within four years of joining the CIA, Hunt helped the U.S. overthrow the left-leaning president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. ("We got Arbenz defenestrated," Hunt bragged to Slate. "Out the window.") Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara cited this event as hardening his belief in armed violent struggle to protect socialism from imperialism.

Shortly before his death, Hunt also recounted the CIA's role in Guevera's death. In Hunt's re-telling, Castro dispatched Guevera to Bolivia as a way to get rid of him. Easily tracking Guevera's radio transmissions, the CIA tipped off the Bolivians on Guevera's position. "We wanted deniability," Hunt remembered. "We made it possible for him to be killed."

4. Hunt saved the life of the Guatemalan President

As Hunt tells it, Arbenz was surrounded by hate-filled Guatemalans and CIA agents. Fearing an assassination for which "we'd be blamed," Hunt gave word to set him free. Arbenz then began a twenty-year exile which included Mexico, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Uruguay, and post-revolution Cuba.

Wikipedia notes that in 1971 Arbenz died in his bathroom, "either by drowning or scalding due to hot water. The circumstances under which Arbenz died are still suspect."

5. Hunt regretted cutting and running from Guatemala

"We should have done something we never do — we should have maintained a constant presence in Guatemala after getting rid of Arbenz."

Ironically, Hunt later became Arbenz's neighbor.

When Hunt became the CIA station chief in Uruguay, he ended up living on the same street as Arbenz. "We went to the country club for dinner one evening and lo and behold, the Arbenzes were seated a few tables away," he told Slate. He sent the CIA a telegram asking them to be more careful in the future about advising him of new arrivals.

6. Hunt performed reconnaissance in Cuba prior to the Bay of Pigs

Prior to the Bay of Pigs operation, Hunt visited Cuba and surreptitiously asked Cubans how they'd feel about a U.S. invasion, according to Slate. (He also made a point of cautioning them "don't count on it because it's not going to happen." )

During preparations for the invasion, an FBI agent once tipped him off that the police received a complaint from one of his neighbors about strange men coming and going to his Florida house late in the night. He'd thought Hunt was running a gay brothel.

In a strange coincidence, it was during the Bay of Pigs that Hunt first met the four men he would later use in the bungled Watergate break-in. Hunt secured their cooperation by telling them that Fidel Castro was surreptitiously contributing money to the Democrats to buy softer treatement.

7. Hunt refused to deny a Kennedy role

Hunt maintained a lifelong bitterness over Kennedy's role in the Bay of Pigs failure. Some conspiracy theorists even believe Hunt was one of "the three tramps" on the grassy knoll in Dallas when President Kennedy was assassinated. Two years before his death, Slate confronted the 86-year-old former spy and asked him about the charges.
Slate: There were even conspiracy theories about you being in Dallas the day JFK was killed.

Hunt: No comment.

8. Hunt was fingered as Deep Throat in the 1990 novel Gordon Liddy Is My Muse

The gonzo collection of short stories culminates with a meditation on the identity of Woodward and Bernstein's source, Deep Throat — and comes to this conclusion:
It's the lost love story of the Watergate Caper. Howard Hunt so loved his country that he gave himself up to rid it of a gang of scoundrels. But he didn't do it like a hero, he did it like a hooker, a prostitute, a ratfucker for hire, to take everybody down with him... [H]e couldn't be a simple witness, because he knew he wouldn't be believed. He'd just be another guy trying to lie his way out of a crime. So instead he fed Woodward the story and watched his cronies squirm.

Although in the far-fetched guessing game about the Washington Post's source, some conspiracy theorists even suggested that Deep Throat could have been Nixon himself.

9. Howard Hunt was armed and dangerous

In All the President's Men Woodward and Bernstein note news reports that the FBI had found a gun in Howard Hunt's White House office.

Deep Throat also told the reporters that after news broke of the Watergate break-in, John Mitchell conducted his own investigation and "At some point Howard Hunt, of all the ironies, was assigned to help Mitchell get some information."

Nixon lawyer John Ehrlichman eventually realized his mistake, and "Like lightning, [Hunt] was pulled off and fired and told to pack up his desk and leave town forever."

Two of the Watergate burglars had Hunt's phone number, under the name "W. House" or "W.H." According to the police report, the Watergate burglars also had "two pieces of yellow-lined paper, one addressed to 'Dear Friend Mr. Howard,' and another to 'Dear Mr. H.H.,' and an unmailed envelope containing Hunt's personal check for $6.36 made out to the Lakewood Country Club in Rockville, along with a bill for the same amount."

Hunt was one of the first people Woodward called for his first reports about the break-in, and in All the President's Men, he remembers the conversation in which he asked Hunt why his phone number was in the address books of two Watergate burglars.

"Howard Hunt here... Yes, what is it? Good God! In view that the matter is under adjudication, I have no comment."

Hunt then disappeared, and while 150 FBI agents searched for him, the book reports that he did not re-appear until after his lawyer received $25,000 in cash in a brown envelope.

10. Howard Hunt's White House safe included forged anti-Kennedy documents

Documents destroyed by acting FBI director Patrick Gray included fake telegrams implicating President Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of the president of South Vietnam, plus a dossier on Senator Ted Kennedy. (Hunt worried Kennedy would run against Nixon in 1972).

11. Hunt orchestrated the first Watergate coverup

According to Time magazine, Hunt urged the four Watergate burglars to plead guilty to avoid an embarrassing trial — and offered them $1,000 for every month they'd spend in prison (to be paid upon Hunt's own release).

All the President's Men reported that Hunt personally visited the burglars in Miami, also promising the burglars executive clemency and support for their families.

Eventually their lawyer instructed the burglars to "stay away from that son-of-a-bitch Hunt." But he was still unable to dissuade them from entering guilty pleas. Time quoted Watergate burglar Bernard Barker as telling the judge that to work with Hunt had been "the greatest honor."

Although according to All the President's Men, Barker's exact words were, "I have the greatest honor and distinguish him." [sic]

12. Watergate was the tip of the iceberg

Investigators focused on the Watergate break-in and attempted bugging of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. But Hunt and "the Plumbers" were also involved in a series of "ratfucking" dirty tricks to aid Nixon's re-election campaign in 1972, according to All the President's Men. Political operative Donald Segretti remembers Hunt asking if he'd create a fake anti-Nixon demonstration to embarrass Nixon's Democratic opponent. Segretti told the reporters, "It sounded illegal to me, and I didn't want anything to do with being violent or breaking the law."

A friend of Hunt's told the reporters that Hunt lined up an elaborate scheme to discredit John Lindsay in Florida's Democratic primary. "Howard had some fliers printed saying that Mayor Lindsay of New York was having a meeting and there would be free beer. Howard handed these fliers out in the black areas, and of course there was no meeting or beer, so the blacks would come for their beer and leave hating Lindsay.

"Howard thought this was the greatest thing since Chinese checkers."

Calling himself "Ed Warren," Hunt also visited the man who, 12 years earlier, had been the PR director for a hotel used as John Kennedy's staff headquarters in 1960, seeking sex scandals that could be used against possible candidate Ted Kennedy. "I tried to persuade Hunt that it was a waste of his time," the man told the Post's reporters, "but he said he represented some group that he couldn't tell me about. He seemed dedicated to something. The country, the group, or himself."

But Hunt's most notorious political service was getting lobbyist Dita Beard to disavow a damaging memo she'd written linking a Nixon political contribution to favorable anti-trust treatment. Using the alias "Ed Hamilton," Howard Hunt visited her in a hospital wearing "a cheap, dimestore reddish-colored wig." Her son told the reporters Hunt's wig was on "cockeyed, as if he'd put it on in a dark car," and added that Hunt was also wearing makeup and was "very eerie."

A few days after the Watergate arrests, the same wig was found in the Watergate hotel.

All the President's Men contains two entries in its index for "Hunt, Howard - wigs of"

Hunt even testified that he'd been asked by Nixon lawyer Charles Colson to connect Arthur Bremer, the man who shot and paralyzed 1972 third-party candidate George Wallace, with left-wing political groups. Colson's attorney countered that an already-imprisoned Hunt was under pressure and clearly unstable.

13. Hunt knew of the journalist murder plot

In a 2005 commentary on the revealed identity of Deep Throat, William F. Buckley remembered a day in 1973 when Hunt's daughter (and Buckley's goddaughter) came to visit him. During the visit Hunt told Buckley that one of Nixon's "plumbers was ready and disposed" to kill columnist Jack Anderson if the order was given.

14. Hunt supervised the infamous break-in to a psychiatrist's office

After leaking top secret Pentagon papers about the Vietnam war, Daniel Ellsberg was facing a lifetime in prison. Howard Hunt supervised the infamous break-in of Ellseberg's psychiatrist's office. The judge in Ellsberg's trial was notified by the Watergate prosecutors, who eventually dismissed all charges against Ellsberg, saying government misconduct had "incurably infected the prosecution."

15. Howard Hunt appears in Nixon poetry

Nixon referred to Hunt as one of " the jackasses in jail." Even stranger, Nixon's ruminations on Howard Hunt appeared in The Poetry of Richard Milhous Nixon, a novelty book in which the transcripts of Nixon's Watergate tapes were re-published and typeset as surreal freeform poetry.
It is going to require
approximately a million dollars
to take care
of the jackasses
in jail.

That can be arranged.
That could be arranged.

But you realize that after
we are gone
and assuming we can
expend the money
then they are going to crack
and that would be
an unseemly story.

Frankly, all the people aren't going to care that much.

16. Hunt's blackmail was big-time

The index of All the President's Men also includes two pages listed under the heading "Hunt, Howard - blackmail by." In the book's climax, as Woodward played a Rachmaninoff record to thwart possible bugging, he typed for Bernstein that "Hunt was key to much of the crazy stuff and he used the Watergate arrests to get money...first $100,000 and then kept going back for more... The President himself has been blackmailed. When Hunt became involved, he decided that the conspirators could get some money for this. Hunt started an 'extortion' racket of the rankest kind."

"Coverup cost to be about $1 million. Everyone is involved."

"President has had fits of 'dangerous' depression."

17. Hunt spent nearly three miserable years in prison

As one of the first Watergate conspirators to plead guilty, Hunt served 33 months on charges of wiretapping, conspiracy, and burglary. His term included time in 13 different federal prisons, during which he was ferried from jail to Capitol Hill to testify against other Watergate conspirators — and then back to jail.

During his prison term his wife died in a mysterious plane crash. With their mother dead and father in prison, his children "went into drugs," according to his second wife.

18. During his prison term, Hunt released a book about the Bay of Pigs

In the midst of his Watergate notoriety, Hunt published a biography about his role in the failed 1961 invasion of Cuba. Ironically, It was the Washington Post who in a review called Hunt "the Great Gatsby of the cloak and walkie-talkie set."

Give Us This Day promised "The inside story of the CIA and the Bay of Pigs invasion" offering "a rare account of human courage — and political bungling."

In the book Hunt bitterly blames the Kennedy administration for scapegoating the CIA over the invasion's failure — while admitting serious mistakes by the CIA.

The 1973 book ends by quoting professor Hans J. Morgenthau in a remarkably prescient article from Foreign Affairs magazine. "In order to minimize the loss of prestige, the United States jeopardized the success of the intervention... and we lost much prestige as a great nation able to use its power successfully on behalf of its interests... It sought the best of both worlds and got the worst."

Hunt added that "For the sake of our country one can only hope that this analysis of needless failure will be remembered by our national leadership during some crisis yet to come."

The back cover calls him "America's most famous spy," but then quotes a CIA colleague who called him "The dumbest son-of-a-bitch I ever worked with."

19. Hunt wrote autobiographical spy novels under a pseudonym

Wikipedia lists Howard Hunt as "an American author and spy." (Though in All the President's Men Woodward noted that, "The characters in Hunt's novels were always ordering dishes Woodward had never heard of and telling the chef how to prepare them.") Throughout his life Hunt continued writing spy novels, often under a pseudonym, prompting a guessing game as to how much of the books were autobiographical.

On the dust jacket of his 1980 book The Hargrave Deception, the author's biography describes Hunt as a man who "has twice spent time in prison for obeying the orders of seniors who went scot-free." And the plot description? "Morgan was an ex-employee of the agency who, as a younger man, did high-level dirty work for God and country and then went to prison for refusing to talk out of deference to an out-of-date idea: national security. Now he spends his time in florida fishing and keeping house with [the] granddaughter of a Cuban diplomat."

20. Hunt had only one regret

Two years before his death, Slate visited the 86-year-old former spook on his ranch in Miami.

"Hunt answered the door in a wheelchair. One of his legs has been amputated due to atherosclerosis, and for the past few months, he's battled lymphoma localized in his jaw (it is now in remission)... While no longer the dapper spymaster, he remains salty and unremorseful."

"Posted around his door are warnings against trespassing."

Finally they asked Hunt if he had any regrets about his life.

"No, none," Hunt replied. Then there was a long pause. And then Hunt added one last thought.

"Well, it would have been nice to do the Bay of Pigs differently."

See also:
Don't Call It a Conspiracy — The Kennedy Brothers
The Chicks Who Tried to Shoot Gerald Ford
Did Bush Spin Like Nixon?
The Five Faces of Bush

iPhone Debate: I’m a Mac vs. Bill Gates

Hello. I'm a Mac...
And I'm Bill Gates, here to rain a little gloominess on your euphoria over the iPhone.
Oh, come on, the iPhone is revolutionary! It's an iPod, a phone, and a "breakthrough internet device."
And what makes it a breakthrough device, exactly? As far as I can tell, that just means the iPhone can sync with your email and bookmarks — just like any other PDA since 1999. Oh, and it has built-in icons for a bookmarked weather page.
You forgot the built-in camera capabilities. Plus, you're missing the point. A lot of ordinary applications — like maps, search engines, and yes, weather — are exponentially more useful when they're elegantly available on a handheld mobile device.
It's all hype over nothing. Apple's web page describes the iPhone's supposedly high tech features, and it turns out they just mean it has OS X and a touchscreen.
And an accelerometer! And quad-band GSM...

What if I want to rotate my pictures 90 degrees. Will the iPhone keep "correcting" its display, forcing me into a contest to see which of us can rotate the image faster?
And you're also overlooking the built-in proximity sensors and ambient light sensors to save power.
That's another thing. I can't believe Apple is bragging that they got a whopping five hours of web browsing/phone usage/video time. But don't worry, if you only listen to music at work, you can go a whole two days without recharging.
Yes, without a recharge there's 16 hours of audio playback. And the Zune does, what — 14 hours?
Just because the Zune is crap doesn't make the iPhone a paradigm shift...
The reaction from the press has been phenomenally positive. Eat the Press says it will be remembered by history as one of three products that revived Apple and "hastened the end of Microsoft" — the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone.
And Apple's market share now is, what, 5.7%?
For PC's, yeah — something like that. But don't you see what's happening? PC's are 1990, man! Handheld devices are approaching the processing power of PCs — and everyone has at least one. Either a cellphone or an mp3 player, if not a PDA. It's like Microsoft just cornered the market on Univacs.
So if I say Microsoft has an overwhelming installed base, you'll just wish that into the cornfield and say the future belongs to Apple?
It's not wishing. Apple's market share for digital music is 75%. The iPod's market share is 62%. And as we pointed out Tuesday, Apple sells almost as much recorded music as Target — and more than Amazon.
Help me out here. That's significant why, exactly? Is this the point where you yell "Steve Jobs has a magic third eye that sees into the future?"
A hand-held future is already here. The U.S. is already behind the rest of the world in terms of wireless and cellphone adoption - and the cool services that go along with them. 40% of Japanese adults already browse the web with their cellphone.
In Japan it's nearly impossible to get an internet connection in your home! Plus, people there spend something like four hours a day commuting. I'm sick to death of people touting regional anomalies as some harbinger of the future. They should make an ad where there's three actors representing devices — a Mac, a PC, and a teenaged Japanese girl representing the ability to send text messages on a Hello Kitty cellphone.
Well, Solutions Research Group determined that 40 million Americans consider the iPhone "a great idea" for themselves personally. They also predicted a 50% increase in the number of Americans owning an Apple product just 18 months after the product is released.
That's another thing. "When it's released" isn't until sometime around this summer. (Which means your adoption study is talking about the year 2009!) I thought Microsoft was supposed to be the ones announcing Vaporware.
Are you really accusing Apple of pre-announcing a new product just to dampen interest in a competitor?
Apple unveiled a plastic box with some make-believe pixel images of buttons. MacWorld's rabid gadget-o-philes were kept at bay by a plastic cylinder. It was like Maxwell Smart invented a "cone of non-disclosure."
It's real. Technology reporters saw it.
You just want to believe. It's still just a pretend phone until June. The last iPhone I saw was made out of cardboard because some guy printed out a picture that he found on the web.
Doesn't that prove consumers are hungry for this device?
It proves Mac users have too much time on their hands. Here's a prediction. 12 months from now, Apple releases a new iPhone that's tangerine colored — and Mac-heads will buy 20 million of them.
Who's living in the future now?
Or a "Blue Dalmation" pattern....
Now that would be pretty sweet.
iPhone may not even be its name! About 18 hours in, Cisco filed a lawsuit claiming they owned the trademark. I can see the ad campaign now. "Say hello to the — no wait, don't." Maybe they'll call it the Tangerine-o-Phone.
Why are you so bitter?
Because I bought a Newton in 1997.
Ha ha. And yet, despite the fact that it was discontinued, there's still tremendously loyal user groups. Doesn't that prove that Apple forms strong and lasting relationships with its customers?
No, it just proves Mac users are crazy.

See also:
Expect Trouble Activating Your iPhone
The Wonderful Wizardry of Woz
How to Use Your Blackberry Pearl as a Bluetooth Modem on a Mac

Screech’s Sex Tape Follies

Dustin Diamond

Dustin Diamond claims his hotel room sex tape slipped into the world four years ago. But anyone who's watched the tape can see that story's obvious flaw. Within the first five minutes Dustin's naked in a bath tub with his girlfriend, Jennifer, telling her:
"I wanna watch the rest of 24... What episode are we on? Did we get Season Four yet?"

"Not yet," Jennifer answers, "I haven't bought Season 4."

Season four of 24 was released just 13 months ago.

Reached for comment today, Jennifer said, "I can't believe I'm catching shit for not being accurate in a statement during downtime in my own home. Half the time I don't even know what day it is... and I probably had wine to top it off. I probably meant CSI and had a brain fart."

In the tape, Jennifer responds to Dustin's request to watch 24 by chanting, "Kiefer! Kiefer! He's my man." (Kiefer Sutherland does not apppear on CSI.)

Monday, the celebrity sex tape's broker told The New York Daily News that Dustin "made this tape in a St. Louis hotel room with two girls last summer with the intention that I would sell it."

But Dustin's girlfriend seems convinced that Dustin's hotel sexcapades with the two other women nevertheless happened in his distant past. "Considering the tape was about four years old, our little scene had to be before that... I still can't believe he taped over us."

If it's true, Dustin has been calling his penis "the monster" for over four years. Dustin also insists the tape was made shortly after he and Jennifer met in 2002. "Jenn found out about this and thought I cheated on her," he told 10 Zen Monkeys while he and Jenn relaxed in their Wisconsin home. He says when she'd confronted him about his X-rated antics, his concern was "making Jenn realize it was a long time ago; it wasn't that big a deal.

"I said, 'You can't be mad. I didn't know you were going to be around!'"

Standing By Her Man

Monday's allegation that Dustin knowingly filmed the sex tape for distribution this summer is well-timed — right before this week's Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. On the implausible rumor that Dustin swapped in a cock double for the filming, Jennifer told the New York Daily News, "I would definitely know. I'm proud of my man."

"She's perfect for me," says the former Saved by the Bell star admiringly, "but at the same time she doesn't put up with bullshit."

They've already been through a lot together. In 2004, Jennifer suffered a miscarriage with their first child, after which they created the Dustin Diamond Foundation to support child care organizations. In 2005 Jennifer told a Milwaukee reporter they'd been married since 2003. But in November Dustin told me that "I'm not really married.

"We just say we're married because — might as well. I come home and hang my balls on the coat hook like any married man."

Jennifer, who met Dustin in an Arby's in 2002, is now also his manager. She promised to share the unique perspective this gives her on Dustin's sex tape before I interviewed him — but that changed when I made the call. "You know what? I'm not happy," she said. "I'm not commenting." And about the fact that Dustin says he taped over their bath tub sex tape for a sex tape with two other women?

"I am not happy about that either."

In the tape, Dustin exercises his former child star charm to seduce an alleged bride-to-be and her bridesmaid into girl-girl action involving a plastic dong. The "bride" even gives him a blowjob while wearing her veil.
You've done this before...
Only to my husband.
When are you getting married again?
Shut up!
(Dustin hums "Here comes the bride.")

But it's Jennifer's voice that's heard in a seven-minute bath tub scene spliced onto the beginning of the film, providing some intriguing dialogue of her own. ("That's quite a 'brat' you have there... Why is your toe going in there? Stop it! No seriously — do it again.") Both Jennifer's bath flirtations and Dustin's orgy with two other women were released on the now-infamous adult DVD Screeched. In November Dustin told me the tape must've slipped out after he shared it with his friends in 2002. "Four years is a long time to lose track of something."

He didn't want it released, he explains, but he was afraid it would leak out onto the web, and, "Once it's out there, the bottom line is the internet is unstoppable. I was faced with either spending a fortune fighting a losing battle, over years — and then it still gets out anyways. Or, you know — 'back door' this guy, no pun intended of course, and go around and sign off with this other company. I could make a fortune, potentially, instead of spending it on a losing battle."

Of course, the tape couldn't legally be released this summer without a signed release from the two other women Dustin says he met in a motel room four years ago. "Once our attorneys became involved," Jennifer tells me, "they spoke with the ladies and got the releases." After four years? "I guess Dustin keeps the numbers he gets," Jennifer speculates.

Adding, "Well he did...not any more!"

Controversy and T-Shirts

Other statements of the couple have faced scrutiny from the press — especially since Dustin announced he was in danger of losing his house. The organizers of an online telethon claim Jennifer told them, "This is more of a publicity stunt than anything. He is not really going to lose his house."

Dustin calls that's an outright lie, saying the disgruntled internet show concocted the quote for revenge when Dustin objected to their program's format. "We never OKed a telethon asking for freebies — we're selling shirts! We're not asking for handouts!

"They said, 'Well, we set up a telethon so that's what you need to be doing.' And we said 'Uh-uh!' And they got pissed off. We ended up leaving, and then they called up and threatened us, saying, 'We're going to tell the media this whole thing is a hoax.'

"Jenn said, 'It'll be slander and libel,' so we have allowed them enough rope to hang themselves."

But what about the newspaper article questioning their integrity? "My stand about the Journal-Sentinel reports is: they can suck my balls," says Dustin. "They can suck my balls, and I'll film it and sell it to Red Light District.com. 'Failed career'? Suck my balls!"

In the background, Jennifer laughs.

And about those stories that the t-shirts he'd sold weren't even delivered? "There's just some dickhead, some nerd out there, going, 'I'm going to take my ogre-slayer sword and hack into his server...' We weren't getting the emails and the orders!" He points out Paypal has procedures in place for that. "If they didn't get a shirt, they get their funds sent back. So no one's getting ripped off." And he argues that it was "maybe 100 or 200" — out of 22,000 t-shirts.

So if it was 22,000 shirts — at $15 a pop — does that mean Dustin made the $330,000 he needed for his house? Minus expenses, says Dustin — like shirt costs and shipping...

Wisconsin's Journal-Sentinel also alleged that Dustin wasn't even making payments on their house.

"That guy's a retard," said Dustin. "The internet gets like 99.9% of everything wrong."

It wasn't that he wasn't making payments; the financier had suddenly called in the entire loan, and, "I don't know how many people have a quarter mil lying around... What it comes down to is my lawyers advised me not to pay them once the legal papers came in, because if they are going to take the house, I'm just throwing money away for nothing. Plus, I tried to send them payments and they weren't accepting them because they were moving to try to take the house." But when I talked to him in November, he felt good about new financing he'd arranged (though he was still waiting for a final round of signatures).

More Unreleased Porn?

Ironically, shortly before the sex tape surfaced, Dustin was already selling a ring-tone that said "Buy a t-shirt...I really don't wanna do porn." (According to the Journal-Sentinel.) But when I asked Dustin about these four-year-old porn tapes, the conversation took a weird turn. "There are quite a bit of tapes that I hope don't get out." What's on the tapes? "Oh, dude. We'll see if any of those got out. We did some pretty gnarly stuff. Between me and this other guy, we pulled off some things that were guide-worthy."

I asked again what was on those tapes.

"I can't tell you. If I let the cat out of the bag... The Dirty Sanchez and the Fish-Eye would be part of that if it wasn't already out... We used to do a thing where we'd get people to do stuff on camera and compete with other people who did stuff on camera. We used to have a lot of fun with that. Like we'd get girls doing stuff that they'd never do."

I asked once more — what was on those tapes?

"I can't reveal, my friend."

I asked if he'd ever make a new sex tape, and he says no — at first. "I can't make a new one because of my lady, man. It'd have to be figures that would make her say yes, because I'm not allowed to to go on forays and expeditions any more."

So how many ladies did they tape?

Dustin claims the sex tape was part of a Hollywood contest of competitive sex-tape swapping. When I asked him how many sex tapes there were — among all the participants — he has trouble counting them up. "Between all of us? Um, maybe... (He sighs.) Lets see. Between, like, there are about, uh... (Another sigh) 13 of us doing it, and we did it for numerous months, so it's probably, between each one of us, over 8 months, or 8 times 13 or so — and then some of those had more than one girl, and some of those had one... There's quite a substantial number. Well over a hundred."

And how many times did he tape himself? "Maybe eight times, or something." The current sex tape is "definitely top shelf," he says, but using vodka as a rating system, "If this is Belvedere, there's definitely some Pravda and some Grey Goose up there. There's a few Kamchatkas."

But What About Screech?

I have to ask him about Saved by the Bell. In light of the sex tape, what does he say to fans complaining he's defiled their wholesome memories of Screech?

"People need to grow up," Dustin answers. "You're not a child any more. I think people would be more upset with finding out Santa Claus isn't real from their parents rather than finding out I ruined their Saved by the Bell dream. Does that happen with every childhood show? Are people upset because — 'Why did you do this to my Small Wonder.' You mean she's not a robot?'"

Dustin has spent years fighting the stigma of simply being a former child star. "I think people like to pick on me because I'm the only one who didn't come out of the grinder with — I'm not a junkie and I don't even smoke cigarettes! I came out of the Hollywood grinder pretty unscathed, and that pisses them off. They want to see me fail."

He says he's worked hard to revive his career, so intentionally releasing a sex tape would be the last thing he'd want to do. "I wouldn't have chosen the month where I was on Showtime with The Comedy Show and [an appearance on] Knights of Prosperity with Mick Jagger. I definitely wouldn't have picked that time period, plus getting signed to Universal Records to do my first comedy record. There's a lot of big stuff... You want 'I did a show with Mick Jagger,' not 'I got blowed with two girls.'"

Jennifer Gets the Last Word

Despite all the notoriety about his sex tape, in real life Dustin is often demure and protective of his girlfriend-manager Jennifer. When I ask Dustin if there was anything interesting edited out of Screeched, he refuses to answer. "Dude, I'm standing right next to my lady!" he insists.

"Remember, I hang 'em up when I come home. She throws them down the garbage disposal when its done."

Sunday she told me that their bath tub intimacy wasn't limited to 2002. "It's a common occurrence for us...even still." Jennifer was obviously uncomfortable when I interviewed Dustin, as he told me he'd slept with 400 women. "Jenn's like, 'I don't want to hear this,'" Dustin teased.

Then she told him to say that she was the best.

See also:
Virtual Screech, Sexual Superstar
Dustin Diamond vs. Sgt. Harvey
Five Druggiest High School Sitcom Scenes

Worst Vlogs of 2006

1. Dogs Barking in Cars.com

Dude, you're not even trying.

Vlogger Kyle MacDonald presents a series of canine captives embodying that existential truth that we're all tragicomic prisoners in the parking lot of life. Either that, or it's just footage of barking dogs. The site's clever tagline — "Dogs + Cars = Barking" — signals its minimalist approach. (Short clips, no commentary.) The dogs are the stars, and the site's reason for existence — whether they're bravely frightening potential intruders or just lunging in impotent fury towards the defrosting grill.

Maybe it's an absurdist parody of the vlogging experience itself, with each entry necessitating prosaic tags like "one dog," "three dogs," or "even barking people". (Who, it turns out, are barking at dogs.) Video titles add their own meaningless epitaphs to the sound and fury. Two girls laughing at a dog becomes "ha ha bark bark"; a cab-ful of huskies becomes "so many dogs. so much barking". And finally completing the circle, an upload page invites viewers to contact "Barkly McBarkalot" to share their own footage of more barking dogs.

Behold the future of multimedia. It's a terrible idea for a video blog — or is it? Just remember that the site's creator is the far-thinking genius who parlayed a paper clip into a house in Saskatchewan.

2. Father doesn't know best

In January, Josh Johnson decided to film his kids talking about Hoodwinked. Then he dubbed them "the Cinekids," and made them do it over and over again.

Young Nick fidgets morosely, his eyes darting in that surreal helplessness every child feels before a parent with a videocamera, while his sister Kayla babbles on.
"Superman is very good excepting when — especially when he caught, he was flying through the, he — this is Superman. (Holds up finger.) He was flying through the air, and caught an airplane. (With fingers) Like, VVVVVVVMmm. And that airplane had a rocket ship! And he was like, VVVVVVVVVMmm to the rocket ship. And they went into outer space. That was probably my favorite part."

And here's Kayla on Santa Clause 3.
"I give it 30 thumbs up because it's so funny and goofy and laugh la-yadda yadda yadda."

15 episodes later, and it's still painful to watch. The children — who look around 8 years old — offer their mangled commentary on movies like RV, Godzilla, and Nacho Libre. The preening father adds a credit for himself at the end of each of "their" shows, apparently hoping to ride the "cute" train to a 6-figure development deal from the Lifetime network. (He's already pressed his kids into a family-friendly short he directed, then included its trailer before one of "their" reviews of Tim Allen's Zoom.)

Unfortunately, exactly one person has subscribed to Dad's YouTube feed, where episode 1 was given three ratings by YouTube viewers — all one star. The clip was favorited 0 times, and commented on twice. ("crap!" 5 months ago and "Shit!" 1 month ago.)

3. Vlogs 4 Peace

Next time someone tells you "I wish all the vloggers would just shut up," send them to Vlog4Peace — a Twilight Zone world where video bloggers say absolutely nothing.

Pete Rahon urged video bloggers around the world to submit one-minute movies of "silence and peace" in an effort to create "a collective sound energy" which would bring transformation and communication to a troubled world. Rahon believed this could ultimately lead to the impeachment of President Bush ("Impeachment is so close to being mispronounced as in-peace-men!") and he called for "a million minutes for peace" — that is, nearly two years of amateur YouTube footage of people meditating.

He apparently abandoned the project 7 weeks later, leaving behind a Yahoo group with exactly two members and an unnoticed post on Blogger titled "Vloggers of the World Unite! Let us Vlog4Peace!" ("0 comments; 0 links to this post.")

It also drew mixed reviews when it was uploaded to YouTube, including commenter ShotgunVinny, who wrote "fucking load of shit!"

Apparently world peace has not yet been achieved.

4. Rocketboom

Rocketboom is like a broken robot that keeps dispensing dispatches from an entirely insulated world. For two weeks in November, every news tip viewers sent was bounced back five days later after their server refused to accept it. But what's even more significant is they didn't notice.

While bad amateur vlogs can at least be endearing, Rocketboom uses an alienating professionalism, dividing the world into talking heads and the rest of us. Their formula is simple (despite the "Web 2.0-speak" in the above interview clip). It's like a newscast, but shorter, with a token wisecrack for each story delivered with artificial sauciness by a 20-something British woman. Day after day Rocketboom plows ahead with preciously pretentious topics, in a slick yet uninspiring crusade to turn the web's grand global conversation into a one-way TV show.

Interactivity is reduced to a few dozen comments left on their web page, many of them one word. ("Hee-larious!" "AWESOME") with no shout-outs to other video bloggers. In a December stunt they displayed URLs for other non-Rocketboom sites which they'd suddenly discovered existed elsewhere on the web — but only for one 24-hour period. Now it's back to business as usual.

There's nothing particularly original or ennobling in filming an attractive young female reading news stories. (Over six years ago another video blog adopted a nearly-identical formula, with an even more commercial twist. It was called The Naked News.) Ultimately it was Ze Frank who summarized the popular reaction to Rocketboom in a series of vlogs which made the argument that they couldn't possibly be as popular as they claim — because they're so horribly, horribly lame.

Besides, everyone knows British accents are just a giant conspiracy to feign superiority over Americans.

5. Rocketboom Lite

Even after two shows, it can only be described as "Like Rocketboom, but with ads. And not as good." Before viewers can even watch the clunky transitions of former Rocketboom newscaster Amanda Congdon, they discover that there's a mandatory commercial from the food and beverage division at Procter & Gamble. (During which her corporate overlords have decreed that pause buttons shall be disabled.) Immediate gratification from fast-paced video stimulation will have to wait until ABC-Disney is through shilling coffee — and even then, they've also decreed that a mandatory second ad shall be displayed at all times. ("Garlic Chicken pizza with punch! Now in your grocer's freezer...")

Also, no rewinding is allowed, ever. I know you can just start the program over from the beginning, but — guess what? That means watching another ad!

It's painful to watch Amanda feign enthusiasm for pre-scripted jokes which aren't funny with a voice that's not resonant, and a personality that's not engaging. Bad acting, a lack of charisma, all under the mistaken belief that she's talented. ("Congratulations! I've arrived! You're welcome!" she seems to say.) It's an infuriating self-satisfaction which violates the web's original promise that online communication is open to everyone, and you don't ascend to a ruling class because you're cute and perky. (This week's crappy episode even appeared over the self-congratulatory and wordy headline "You Want Sexy and Irreverent? You Got It!")

"Try a new stomach-friendly coffee," urges the Folgers ad to the right.

While Amanda retains her trademark spin-to-camera-two move, she's jettisoned Rocketboom's lightning cuts, along with background music, outdoor interviews, and a sense of excitement. Now she's just going through the motions, possibly out of spite (according to some half-understood posts I skimmed on Valleywag). I can't think of anything less exciting than watching Andrew Baron feuding with Amanda Congdon, unless the whole thing took place on a Yahoo group. Maybe next they can argue in a comments thread on MySpace.

But it does offer a nice counterpoint to her show's smug, smirking cadence with its unmistakeble whiff of ha-ha-I'm-on-ABC-and-you're-not. And just as her delivery seems to be picking up some excitement, the show ends, to be immediately followed by yet-another ad! And then ABC News immediately shoves viewers into a non-consensual second video from their back bench of crappy video news stories.

Amanda Congdon's new show is the equivalent of deciding that Lite Beer isn't bland enough, and asking for a LITE lite beer. Is it unfair to compare Amanda Congdon's new video blog to footage of dogs barking in cars? No — because I hate it that much.

I will give her credit for breaking away from the formula, and taking chances in an attempt to find a new voice. I like how she plays video comments from other bloggers on her laptop during her own show. And to her credit, Amanda is acknowledging other weblogs and actively soliciting input from her viewers and the online community.

But as 2006 ends there are just 19 vlogs, according to a badly-researched category on Yahoo. (And one of them is just a Wikipedia page defining the word vlog.) In a weird way this proves the medium is genuinely new, and gives even the worst blogs the honor of being a pioneer. The worse they are, the more they prove that the medium is still wide open, and as Howard Rheingold used to say, what it is...is up to us.

See Also:
10 Video Moments from 2006
ABCNews Amanda Congdon - Rocketboom = Whuh?
2007 Re-Mixed
The Simpsons on Drugs: 6 Trippiest Scenes

ABCNews + Amanda Congdon – Rocketboom = Whuh?

Her first story: "Only Folgers has the aroma-sealed cannister."

Wait, what? Oh. It's an ad. Before the video blog. (I'm sorry Amanda, but I'll have to deduct a point for that.) At least the ad refreshes every time you watch her show. The second time it was plugging a Chase Bank credit card. The Rolling Stones sold one of their earliest songs to the monolithic financial institution. (Ironically, they sing "I'm free to do what I want, any old time.") Everyone has their price, I'm thinking — just as ABC's official four-note news jingle introduced their newly acquired video blogger.

"Hello and welcome!" she coos — and the historic moment has arrived. "I'm Amanda Congdon, videoblogging for ABC News! Each week, take a little break, a little trip with me."

Each week? Whoa. I guess any breaking news on Thursday will have to wait until next Wednesday. That's very Web 1.0. I really think they should've hired kidnapped, tortured, and "re-educated" Ze Frank, and given the show to him.

Amanda is the show's co-producer, which raises the question of whether her show will get too self-indulgent. The first impression wasn't promising. "One of my favorite things to do is explore, online and off," she begins, "so that's just what we're going to do!" She then stops the show to acknowledge co-producer Jason, adds that he doesn't want to come on camera, and teases him for being "such a big baby." My first thought was that she doesn't have the stage presence to carry off this kind of empty banter without the fast edits they'd augmented her with at Rocketboom (and even then...).

But I was grateful that the tone turned quirky and peremptory. "As I was driving to work today [footage of Amanda driving to work], I thought about just how much JavaScript sucks."

Hooray! I'm thinking. Something geeky, and esoteric!

"Yeah! Let's go with JavaScript for my new show at ABC News.com," she says. Later I'd ask myself why the vlog's script specifically included this segment? I can only guess they're trying to show us one of two things.

1. Amanda dreams up her own ideas, spontaneously.
2. They're teasing mainstream viewers by pretending it's going to be very geeky — before abandoning the premise altogether.

"ABC News.com," Amanda continues, arriving at work. "An appropriate place to start the day." Okay, now you've said "ABC News.com" twice. Don't make me deduct another point for flagrant corporate fellating.

"After scanning the headlines I followed an advertiser link to NYT.com, where I found—"

Bzzt! Okay, that's it. Apparently this show is just a way to pimp paid sponsors on the web site of Amanda's new broadcast network overlords.

She swings that rubbery neck in her signature style (what a move!) and summarizes the New York Times' story about spam, makes a single wise-crack, and then moves on to another story she found on their site — people surfing in Cleveland.

She included a video question from her "discovery," vlogger William Hung — a kid in serious need of a brisk slap to the side of the head for that affected non-accent.

"I want you to be seen and be heard," she says later. "Every week I release a new episode and I think it would be so much more fun to do it together. Let's re-invent the host viewer relationship and truly make this a two-way street." That's very "Web-me-too point oh" of her. Let's see if she can pull it off.

Out of all the amazingly cool videos on the web, the one she found was a woman using her Wii and doing some karate-like dance moves. Maybe the message here is that Amanda really is open to showing your home movies. If she truly opened her doors to a flood of user-submitted videos — that could be interesting. Maybe.

There are times where her enthusiastic cadence actually does add something to the story, but mostly she has to artificially synchronize it with the words in her script — like the one for virtual snowflakes. ("It's so cool," she reads, "how you can drag your cursor across them, and read and comment...") If Robert Altman were directing this, he'd have her bantering spontaneously about the sites with her co-producers, then edit together moments of genuine spontaneous enthusiasm. (Both this vlog and Amanda's work at Rocketboom were the polar opposite of spontaneous.)

Rocketboom's stories were always mildly interesting, but maddeningly lacking in real drama or excitement. Now at ABC, Amanda's story choices were reasonably interesting — the new blood substitute she covered had been overlooked by nearly every other news site. It was nice to see footage of Tori Spelling's infamous garage sale, along with some appropriately cynical commentary about how "it blurs the lines between reality and fiction." Her detachment can work against her efforts to welcome user submissions, but it does position her to offer a counter-commentary. (Or as the New York Times puts it, "The news, it seems, kind of grosses her out.") But I was disappointed that the show wasn't geekier. ("In case you're wondering, we are working on the whole JavaScript thing," Amanda says at the end.) I'm guessing she doesn't really know much about technology. She's no Gina Smith — who successfully made the transition from technology journalist to ABC on-air talent before becoming a technology CEO.

The show doesn't really end. There's an ad, and then another clip of Amanda, and then another ad, and then another clip of Amanda. ABC hits you with everything in their multimedia vault, like a malfunctioning jukebox. Although I appreciate that Amanda recorded two separate pleas for user-submitted content.

Then she included a special report by Kenny Munich, who doesn't shine until he's had his Folgers. Then he bakes muffins.

Oh wait. That's another ad....

See also:
Worst Video Blogs of 2006
Interview With Valleywag Nick Douglas
Where in the World is Nick Douglas?
Don't Go There: 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
Is Iraq really THAT bad?

The 5 Faces of Bush

The media tells secret stories, according to blogger Josh Marshall.

"When the story is bad for the president, you find a picture of him caught off guard, embarrassed, looking stupid," he writes. The picture may or may not correspond to the actual news, but editors don't care. "You just need one that shows the guy expressing the emotion the editors think he must be experiencing because of the story they're publishing."

It's not a right-wing/left-wing thing. In the Clinton days "they had a stock 'sad' Clinton picture," Marshall says, "with a sort of 'man, am I bummin' look on his face." Is the media now branding Bush with a "dazed and confused" storyline?

Bush image
Dismissive Bush
(Associated Press)

"Yes, yes, I have the report, right here in front of me, as you can plainly see. No, I haven't opened it yet. Thought I'd take a look at the back cover first. Now shoo."

That's the message in this AP photograph — but there's something else. Bush has always had a breezy Texas disdain for the press corps he considers negative and biased — Washington's nattering naybobs of buzzkill. Here he's looking up awkwardly, tired eyes averted, gesturing them away, but weakly. It's like he's going through the motions of disdain without really feeling it.

The Democrats' takeover of Congress was called an electoral rejection of Bush's policy in Iraq, and news editors may see that as their cue. ("Now what, Mr. President" asks a (Newsweek) headline.) Wednesday's release of the critical Iraq Study Group report fits that emerging narrative perfectly. ("Panel: Bush's Iraq policies have failed," read one AP headline paired with this photo.) Maybe this picture was chosen for reinforcing that message with subtle visual suggestions of "chastised hesitation."

Or maybe that's Bush's actual reaction, and the news editors are simply providing coverage of the moment — and all its dimensions. Minutes after we spotted this picture in an AP News story, Yahoo had swapped in a different picture. "Iraqis react outside the Yarmouk hospital following an attack in Baghdad."

Worried Bush

This picture — on the CNN site's front page — shows Bush deep in thought, his forehead lined, his usual confidence momentarily stunned.

And what message is the "worried Bush" image trying to convey?

"Hours after the Iraq Study Group urged a radically different approach to the war, the chief White House spokesman told CNN that President Bush may be able to 'announce a new way forward' in Iraq by the end of the year." Looks like he's got some serious thinking ahead, and he's already getting started.

But if you look closely, CNN has just cropped the "Dismissive Bush" photo into a closeup of Bush's eyes. Gone are the helplessly-outstretched hand and the overturned book. Just a man deep in thought.

Maybe they're seeing a different reality — that the President is recognizing the current strategy's weaknesses, or at least registering the public's desire for words of hope. "Baker said he and Hamilton had been 'pleasantly surprised,'" CNN writes, "by President Bush's reaction when they presented the report to him at the White House Wednesday morning."

Nervous Bush
From deep in thought to deeply disturbed, the President's face turns away — clutching his fingers apprehensively. A cameraman catches him by surprise in a look of distracted dejction.

This picture echoes the pessimism that's evident from Reuters' lead. "The U.S. should begin to withdraw forces from combat and launch a diplomatic push...to prevent 'a slide toward chaos' in Iraq, an elite panel recommended on Wednesday." And the photo utilizes a common visual theme: a wider shot showing Bush stared at by older (and often more serious) men. While this accurately conveys who was in the room, it can also be interpreted as a message from the news editors. It's either a positive message — an example of seasoned White House advisors offering counsel to a pragmatic President — or, a negative message, as the young MBA is called to task for an under-considered foreign policy. ("I said I was gonna read it! You don't hafta keep glaring at me!")

Can you really read history in a man's face — or only project it?

Not-Nervous Bush
The book is overturned, face down, while Bush looks away. Maybe he hasn't decided whether he'll read it yet. This photo looks like he's still considering the back cover's blurbs. ("Spell-binding! A tour de force! — Ebony")

This photo proves one thing. Bush's face passed from worried to smiley during the press appearance — but most photo editors chose shots conveying a specific tone. Was Reuters trying to show the President as disengaged? Or just displaying admirable objectivity by refusing to match their photo's tone to the news story's theme? Or maybe they just bought into the ongoing storyline of Bush as a Texas homeboy who retained his charm while rising to the responsibilities of the Presidency. It's certainly a popular perception. If you search the web for pages with the word Bush and the phrase "Aw Shucks," you'll get 98,400 matches.

Ultimately the problem with media criticism is it devolves into empty speculation about the motives of an unseen editor — and to their credit, Reuters' caption is completely neutral. "Bush speaks to the press after receiving the official report of the Iraq Study Group."

Although to me the picture screams, "No, I still haven't read it."

Secret-Smile Bush
(Getty Images)
This picture offers an interesting contrast. It's Dick Cheney (to Bush's right) who has the real secret grin — a quiet, almost smug, Mona Lisa smile that may contain the story of his career. (A scowling Donald Rumsfeld appears in the larger picture.) But President Bush looks like he's catching Cheney's sparkle too — eyebrows arching, eyes lighting with private joy.

This picture is from six months ago, and USA Today chose this picture to accompany a story with a headline nearly the opposite of today's. ("Bush rejects calls for pullout from Iraq.") Neither Bush nor Rumsfeld look particularly concerned, and if you look closer you'll see Bush has fewer grey hairs.

What a difference six months makes.

Josh Marshall remains cynical about the Iraq Study Group's report. On his blog he writes that "[A]ll this report really does is state the obvious (that Iraq's a disaster and we can't stay there forever) in a quasi-public forum." But that acknowledgment is the first step towards an official policy change.

And maybe news editors just want to see another acknowledgment in the President's face.

See Also:
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
25 Harshest Reactions to the Wall Street Bailout
The Future of America Has Been Stolen
Here Comes the Judge's Porn
Is It Fascism Yet?

They’re Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

Santa Boobs It's "The Breast Christmas Ever," promises California radio station KLLY. Whichever lucky listener wins their holiday-themed contest will receive a special prize — breast enlargement surgery.

Surprisingly, it's happening in other states too. Monday, Florida's "MJ Morning Show" announced that "Santa Claus is bringing a big bag of boobs to your town this Holiday Season" for their "Holiday Hooters" contest. The show — which is rebroadcast on two other Clear Channel stations — has been giving away breast jobs in tacky contests since November, with the prizes awarded to the listener (in this case, "Borat's sister") who submitted the most compelling story. ("In my country, you no see big boob on women because hard to find doctor to do nice boob surgery.") Now that it's Christmas time, radio stations have apparently just adapted their contest plans to the holidays of the season. KLLY announces their contest with green and red letters, above a promotion for their Toys for Tots telethon.

The contests drew criticism from the National Organization for Women, who said the Clear Channel stations were "promoting potentially dangerous plastic surgery and marketing unrealistic and unhealthy images of women." They urged their members to take action, saying that "When a radio station in your area degrades women in any way, look up their phone number and call to complain." A Google search finds these remarks in a NOW Action Alert — issued in 2004. Apparently it failed to stop the contests.

They weren't the only ones complaining. CBS's Dick Meyer called it "profitable entertainment that preys on female insecurity, male boorishness and coed voyeurism." And feminist Germaine Greer famously compared breast augmentation surgery to Africa's female genital mutilation. But as the winning essays go online, they form a weird snapshot of the way the contest-entering women view their breasts, their bodies, and the world around them. "Every year my husband will say, 'What do you want for Christmas/Birthday/Anniversary?'" wrote one winning entrant. "Every year I tell him — new boobs."

Another winner even composed a long rant comparing her potential new boobs to a video game console.
My husband wanted a Playstation 2 when it first came out so bad, more than anything. In fact it was one of our wedding presents! Now that he has one, guess where it's at? Collecting dust under the entertainment stand, coaster marks on it and everything. With your boob give away, they would gets lots of use for years and years after."

It's all about getting attention — though in some cases it's simply the attention of the contest's male judges. Some entrants wrote themselves into silly stories in the hopes of being selected. ("These Holiday Hooters are the way for me to score the love of my life: Kevin Federline! Now that he's left that piece of trash, Britney, my life will be complete.") The contest's first winner had actually acknowledged the real-world issues that surround unwanted male attention. Evelyn Mora submitted a sardonic essay citing the notoriety surrounding a local tax collector who had recently apologized for "inappropriate conduct" in a bar in Tampa. In her essay she wrote, "Imagine my embarrassment when even Doug Belden won't sexually harass me because of my small chest."

"We understand it to have been an ill-advised joke," said a grumpy attorney for the scandal-plagued local tax collector in a follow-up news article. Ironically, the winning essay-writer works for the city's Circuit Court, prompting the court spokesman to issue a statement of his own about the breast surgery contest. ("As of this time, all of our information leads me to believe that she did not utilize the office in any way to participate in this contest.")

Controversy apparently clings to anything breast-related — and behind the scenes lawyers are scrambling to close any legal loopholes. "Winner must be in good medical condition to undergo surgery," read the rules for the California station's version of the contest. "Clearance from a physician may be required prior to any procedure performed." (And remember: "All prizes are non-transferable.") KLLY also notes that "In the event that a winner is under the age of 18 and travel is required, the winner must be accompanied by a parent or guardian." (Though presumably that's just their boilerplate verbiage from another contest.)

The Florida contest has similar rules. "If, for any reason, the providing physician deems a winner not a viable candidate for surgery, the winner will be disqualified and the prize becomes invalid." They also hint at another problem in their offer to "help offset" the cost of additional fees — operating room charges, anesthesia charges and lab work. The FDA recently approved silicone implants with recommendations of additional MRI scans every two years for the remainder of the patient's life — which won't necessarily be covered by health insurance. Breast augmentation surgery requires several hours of anesthesia, an often uncomfortable post-surgical recovery period, and in many cases follow-up surgery to replace the original implants. "Any additional costs incurred pre and post surgery are the sole responsibility of the winners," warns the radio station. (Adding "Prizes are not redeemable for cash.") And remember: only one winner per household.

Winners of the California contest will have their breast augmentation surgery performed by Dr. Kerendian of Beverly Hills, whose web site notes he has a "life long passion" for cosmetic surgery. (For even greater gender differentiation, he also offers male breast reduction surgery.) A concern for the human form is apparently a common trait in his family. His brother placed an ad in New York's Village Voice saying, "Stop being fat and start doing something about it."

It's a case where the media spreads its message far and wide. In Florida the slick Clear Channel radio personalities launch a successful stunt for listeners. News of their success reaches radio programmers in the agriculture communities in California's Central Valley. There's already an extra focus on body image coming from their local gymnasium, and a cosmetic surgeon two hours away in Beverly Hills.

So they take that fateful first step. Above their contest for tickets to Disney's "High School Musical" they add a second contest for bigger boobies. Since Christmas time is rolling around, they casually add it in among the messages of love and family and the birth of the son of God.

And when the holiday arrives, maybe their listener's thoughts will turn to the world they described. They'll be snug in their beds, with warm thoughts filling their heads, but instead of sugar plums, it's visions of surgically augmented melons.

See also:
CNN Exposes Boob Job Giveaway
The Celebrity Breast Conspiracy
Adopt an African Hottie's Clitoris
Libertarian Chick Fights Boobs With Boobs

Crook’s Internet Club

The Internet's most hated figure, Michael Crook, who is on the verge of being legally humiliated in court thanks to griefer dumbfuckery using nefarious websites, belonged to the Internet Club in high school, where he trained students "on how to use the Internet properly."

It makes one wonder what the curriculum must have consisted of... Who could've known, back in the year of 1997, to what heights Mr. Crook's life would lead? Somehow, a modest start showing newbies the basics of internet technology allowed him to, less than 10 years later, rise to the position he holds now: President and CEO of Michael Crook Internet Properties!


In the last five days millions of web surfers have learned the legend of Michael Crook — his story, his image, and his attempts to squelch it by abusing a badly-written copyright law.

Crook objects to the use of a goofy picture taken from his 2005 appearance on the Fox News network. But Xeni Jardin, a BoingBoing writer, posted that she's since contacted a producer at Fox News, saying they'd "laughed, asked why Crook was claiming rights to an image that Fox produced, then said Fox had no problem with BoingBoing or anyone else posting the thumbnail image online."

It's becoming a giant parable — showing people online how easily copyright law can be mis-used. But in a new twist, they're responding, rising up in an an impromptu celebration of free speech. TailRank CEO Kevin Burton re-published the photo, urging Michael Crook: "Please send me a fake DMCA takedown notice... I'm going to auction it off on eBay and give the proceeds to the EFF!" Fellow griefer Tucker Max also republished Crook's photo, writing that he was calling Crook's bluff and adding "Fair warning: I OWNED the last lazy-eyed douche to come at me." (A debate has apparently been scheduled between the two for Wednesday at 3pm Eastern time.)

The writers at TechnOccult not only re-published the photo on their blog and MySpace page — they urged others to do so as well, even including the necessary HTML text. "By standing up to intimidation and spreading the word about this case," they wrote, "you can help the fight for free speech online." And soon the image was appearing on blogs around the world. Pranksters at Fark.com even started a contest, photoshopping Crook's picture into new satirical settings, showing him assassinating President Lincoln, tormenting William Shatner, and appearing as the photograph on a box containing a douche.


Also republishing Crook's photo was the original CraigsList sex pranker, Jason Fortuny, who also dared Crook to send him a DMCA notice. ("Operators are standing by.") Ironically, Crook first gained the attention of 10 Zen Monkeys after mimicking Fortuny's Craig's list experiment of republishing the responses he received to a fake ad pretending to be a woman seeking casual sex. Now the two men are apparently locked in a weird online rivalry. Friday Fortuny went to the trouble of adding a new entry to his official blog scrolling 20 copies of Crook's photo, along with more abusive commentary. ("This is Michael Crook. He has AWESOME hair. In his spare time, he likes to DMCA websites.") How did Fortuny handle the DMCA notices he received? "I send the counter notification to my webhost, who then notifies your attorney, and your attorney notifies you and follows up with something like 'this will cost thousands of dollars to follow through.' And then you swallow, and smack your forehead, and you don't respond within the alloted 14 day period specified in the counter notification and my shit goes back up...Thanks for playing. All contestants on the RFJason Show get 'The Craigslist Experiment' home game and free turtlewax."


Crook joined the online conversation, and Friday even created a new domain - FuckEFF.org. Lambasting "the almighty Electronic Freedom Frontier," he decries the group's lawsuit as malicious prosecution — then 15 words later writes "I will go broke ensuring [Jeff Diehl] incurs eternal financial misery for going after me."

Crook says the action against him will "expose arrogant hippies such as the EFF and Jeff Diehl" — not as defenders of free speech, but as "arrogant abusers of the legal system." Apparently confused by the word "frontier," Crook free associates that the group is "renegades who feel the Internet is the Wild West, and that they can do whatever they wish." Jeff Diehl and the EFF are "hippies," he writes again, but thwarted by the DMCA, they cannot "rule the internet."

"All of this fuss could have been avoided," he writes wishfully, "had they simply shut up, asked no questions, adn [sic] complied with the law." Calling the DMCA a "wonderful law," Crook argues that the EFF suit "is about publicity and pity-whoring..." (Although his own official statement on the matter includes contact information for any media outlets seeking to interview him.) In fact, later his position on attention-seeking becomes more clear. "It's unfortunate that their true movitation is intimidation, publicity, and pity-whoring" he writes — above four Google AdSense ads.

To draw more traffic from search engines, Crook augmented his anti-EFF page with over a dozen different hidden keywords in its HTML code, including "hippie lawyers," "jackasses," and "whiners."

And he's also helpfully includes a banner ad where you can download Firefox. At the bottom of his web page he's posted that it's copyrighted to "Michael Crook Internet Properties" — so don't get any funny ideas. Although ironically, all four of his AdSense ads are recommending attorneys. ("We Fight For and Defend Your Rights! Call 24/7....")


As Crook voiced his opinions about image control, the online world apparently decided to join the discussion. Saturday someone sent Michael Crook's dorky high school yearbook photos to 10 Zen Monkeys in a show of support, saying they'd gone to the same school as Crook and remembering that "he was always kind of a spaz." (In the yearbook's section for a quote or favorite memory, Crook offered "I'm the great Cornhuho!")

It's just one of many responses to the original article. "Been there, done that," wrote a director from Black Box Voting, adding he "beat Diebold Election Systems Inc. when they were going nuts trying to DMCA-slam websites."

Another commenter challenged Crook's argument that his presence in the photo grants him a copyright, saying it raises an interesting question "about the photos he published of men who had answered his CraigsList ad. (Who would presumably then enjoy the same copyrights.)"


It's an exciting moment, as the tubes of the internet fill up with dozens of conversations, all about the same topic: a flaw in online copyright law.

A law student at New York Law School writes that the legislation "promotes a 'shoot first, ask questions later' response from ISPs," but notes that the counter-notification policy also creates a "game of chicken" situation in which "the ISP is only obligated to listen to the last party to speak on the issue." He identifies the problem as the default assumption that a copyright infringement is taking place. "If an ISP were to contact users of DMCA takedown notices before removing the material, this assumption isn't that strong, but most ISPs don't behave this way... once the ISP gets a takedown notice of any sort it will usually just pull the material down and let the user know in due course." And even if a counter-notification is filed, the ISP still observes a 10-day period of time where the contested material remains offline.

Technology writer Thomas Hawk writes "I think it's abusive to use the DMCA, a law that was meant to be used for copyright owners to have their copyrighted material taken off the internet, abused and used as a tool of censorship." And Plagiarism Today links to an academic study from earlier this year offering statistics showing the DMCA being mis-applied. The study shows 30% of the DMCA takedown notices being marred by obvious issues like fair use or the targeting of material which couldn't be copyrighted. Nine percent are incomplete. And apparently over half the notices sent to Google were targeting competitors, with over a third targeting sites which weren't even in the U.S. Thursday Plagiarism Today observed that "The problems with Crook's DMCA notices are so numerous that it is hard to know where to begin." Calling the mistakes "a sign of extreme recklessness, or malice," they argue that Crook holds no claim to the image's copyright, and points out the existence of a well-known exemption for the "fair use" of copyrighted materials.

"In the end," they add, "it appears that Crook has done the most damage to himself. The photograph he sought to bury is now plastered all over the Web, his name is now eternally connected with this matter and, perhaps worst of all, he's on the wrong end of an EFF lawsuit."


Crook has started using new wording in the DMCA notices he's been sending, now claiming he enjoys a "jurisdiction" over the photo, simply because he appears in it. Significantly, in the earlier notice which first caught the EFF's attention, Crook had written: "I swear, under penalty of perjury...that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive copyright..." Crook now swears only that he is the copyright owner "in that the image, though belonging to another source, is of me, thereby giving me certain copyright rights...."

"Feel that?" one BoingBoing reader responded. "It's as though millions of photojournalists suddenly began laughing hysterically at once..."

A new fight has also erupted over the video footage where Crook's image originated. Thursday TailRank's Kevin Burton was surprised that YouTube had removed a movie showing Crook's disastrous appearance on Fox News. Burton contacted a friend at YouTube who apparently restored the footage — but by Saturday night had removed the video again, displaying its standard red-box warning. ("This video has been removed at the request of copyright owner Michael Crook because its content was used without permission.")

But the post-Google era may ultimately bring a new willingness to challenge any perceived mis-handling of copyright claims. Burton simply linked to another copy of the footage he'd found elsewhere online — and hosted another copy himself.

Update: Tucker Max de-constructs Crook

See also:
In the Company of Jerkoffs
EFF vs. Crook

5 More Nasty Campaigns

The war for control of the House and Senate continues to escalate. "You can't say I want to win the war but not be willing to fight the war," Karl Rove told the Washington Post Sunday.

But that's only half the story. A 2002 overhaul of campaign law shifted ad-financing contributions to independent groups — and these groups are more likely to air negative campaign ads. In this new landscape, nearly $60 million has been spent on a massive stockpile of television artillery. The pageant of grotesqueries is entertaining eyeballs all over the InterTubes, as with the ones in this round-up of nasty Senate ads. Below are four even-nastier ads for tight House races — plus an update on the nastiest Senate race of all.

1. "Hi, sexy!"

A silhouette of a stripper appears next to footage of a smirking district attorney — Michael Arcuri, the Democratic House candidate for New York's 24th Congressional district.

"The phone number to an adult fantasy hotline appeared on Michael Arcuri's New York City hotel room bill," the announcer warns, "while he was there on official business... Who calls a fantasy hotline and then bills taxpayers?"

"Bad call!" the stripper moans.

What the ad doesn't say is the call lasted less than a minute, and was apparently a wrong number. While attending a 2004 conference for district attorneys, the director of New York's Prosecutor Training Institute had used Acuri's phone to dial the state's Department of Criminal Justice Services, which coincidentally had the same number, but with a 1-800 area code. Immediately realizing his mistake, he'd dialed the correct number, Arcuri told the L.A. Times — producing phone records to back up his claim. The cost of the mis-dialed phone call? $1.25.

The ad cites as its source conservative web site HumanEvents.com, though the story was published the same day the National Republican Campaign Committee distributed the information. (Ironically, the story's 26-year-old author, Robert B Bluey, is analumnus of Cybercast News Service, which also employed suspected male prostitute Jeff Gannon.)

Because of the ad's misleading nature, New York television stations are refusing to broadcast it, and in the Times' article even Arcuri's Republican opponent Ray Meier characterized the attack as "way over the line." In fact, both men told the Associated Press they were friends, and regretted the nasty tone of ads funded by their parties' national committees. But the National Republican Congressional Committeeinsisted the ad's claim that the call appeared on a taxpayer-funded phone bill is "totally true, and we stand by it."

In another NRCC ad, their announcer tells voters that "A man charged with raping a 13-year-old girl was let out of jail after Michael Arcuri's office didn't indict him in time."

2. "Harold? Call me!"

For the other side of Capitol Hill, the National Republican Senate Committee has created a sexy ad of their own. It's a montage of bizarro-world voters, each giving a ridiculously unappealing reason for supporting Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford.

"Terrorists need their privacy."

"When I die, Harold Ford will let me pay taxes again!"

"Ford's right. I do have too many guns!"

"So he took money from porn movie producers. Who hasn't?"

The format gives the ad's producers an opportunity to include a woman wearing nothing but a necklace, squeaking in a bimbo voice that she met Harold at the Playboy party. It's an allusion to a 2005 Super Bowl party Ford attended, which the Republicans have been using since last March, to attack Ford's appeal to values voters. ("What kind of man parties with Playboy playmates in lingerie, and then films political ads from a church pew?") But even Ford's opponent, Republican Bob Corker, thinks the national committee's latest ad "has no place in this, or any other campaign," according to his campaign manager. (Who added that the ad was "tacky, over the top and...not reflective of the kind of campaign we are running.")

The ad closes with the warning that the candidate is "just not right" - followed by one last shot of the mock Playboy bunny, whispering into the camera. "Harold? Call me!"

3. "An absolute idiot."

Idaho Republican Bill Sali finds himself in a surprisingly competive race for a district which encompasses half the state. Now he's facing TV attacks with a barrage of damning quotes about his candidacy — from Republicans. "He was incompetent in the legislature," goes the quote attributed to State Senator Sheila Sorensen. "In the campaign he proved himself dishonest and deceitful and he'd be an embarrassment to Idaho."

"He's an obstinate opportunist," according to Representative Dolores Crow.

"An absolute idiot," says another quote from Speaker Bruce Newcomb. "He doesn't have one ounce of empathy in his whole fricking body, and you can put that in the paper."

Sali is a far-right conservative who squeaked onto the ballot after winning 18,965 votes in a six-way primary. A social and fiscal conservative, Sali entered the race with a $400,000 war-chest, prompting Idaho's largest newspaper to dub him "a wholly-owned subsidiary of a big out-of-state benefactor, the anti-tax Club for Growth." His confrontational 16-year career in the state legislature has apparently created lingering bad feelings among other Republicans. (When Dick Cheney came to Idaho to campaign for Sali, all of Idaho's Republican congressmen reportedly skipped the event.) This created an opening for Idaho Democrat Larry Grant.

The announcer in his ad doesn't identify his party affiliation. It just reminds voters that "If you're a Republican or independent and you want to vote for Larry Grant — you're in good company."

4. "Help me!"

Majority Action is a 527 group which includes seven former members of Congress and the national field director for Al Gore's 2000 campaign. They've assembled a series of hard-hitting ads about stem cell research, an issue some believe could become a liberal wedge issue splitting voters off from traditionally Republican blocs.

Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill has already tapped the issue for her tight race against Republican Jim Talent. (Michael J. Fox reminds viewers he cares deeply about stem cell research, and tells Missouri voters the election's results matter to millions of Americans — "Americans like me.") But a new ad by Majority Action tries to personalize the stakes even more. "This ad, in very powerful terms, lays out what is at stake in the stem cell debate," says the group's Executive Director.

One shows three people matter-of-factly describing the medical problems waiting in their future. A boy says he'll be paralyzed for the rest of his life; a woman saying she'll have Alzheimer's disease; a little girl says she'll be diagnosed with diabetes. Staring at the camera, they indict the Congressmen who voted against federal funding for stem cell research, saying it could save their lives, and maybe the lives of the viewer's family. "Help me!" the boy says. "Help me!" the little girl says...

Majority Action is running the same ad against four Republican House candidates — Don Sherwood, Jim Walsh, Chris Chocola, and Thelma Drake.

5. "Stay the course."

Thelma Drake gets a second dose of negativity from Majority Action in another ad saying she "won't stand up to the Bush/Cheney White House."

The ad is a straightforward attempt to link the Virginia Congresswoman to the failures of the Bush administration.

An image of George Bush, doubling into two, and then four images, repeats "We must stay the course. We must stay the course. We must stay the course..."

"It was the right thing to do," Dick Cheney says nonchalantly about the war in Iraq, "and if we had it to do over again, we'd do exactly the same thing. A closeup then appears of George Washington's sad eye on the dollar bill, next to the words "Exactly the same? Cost: Over $300 billion. Billions missing and insider deals...."

"It was the right thing to do," Dick Cheney says again, "and if we had it to do over again we'd do exactly the same thing."

"Insufficient forces. No weapons of mass destruction. Dubai ports sales scandal. Our ports and borders: unsecured."

The ad's stark take is matched by its striking melodramatic music - a disembodied chorus rising over discordant violins which would be more at home on the soundtrack of a scary movie.

"U.S. Intelligence Report: Iraq war breeding more terrorists. Five 'F's' from 9/11 Commission. bin Laden still at large. Exactly the same?"

The same ad is also being run agaisnt House candidates Dave Reichert, Deborha Pryce, and Jim Walsh.

To condemn each of these lawmaker's support of President Bush, the ads close by (badly) inserting Dick Cheney's lips into pictures of the candidates, so it looks like they're speaking Cheney's words. The ad-makers are hoping to swing the election towards the Democrats, and they're staking it on the idea that voters will find something unforgiveable in the Vice President's staunch refusal to concede mistakes.

"It was the right thing to do," they lip sync, "and if we had it to do over again we'd do exactly the same thing."

See Also:
5 Nastiest Campaign Ads So Far
Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ad Ever
My Opponent Pays for Gay Teen Bestiality

Good Griefers: Fortuny v. Crook

In the easily spoofed "reality" of the online griefing biz, it's difficult to know the difference between authentic actions and ones that are done merely for publicity, particularly when the publicity-seekers don't have a whole lot of regard for their own reputations.

Jason Fortuny and Michael Crook, who both conducted sex-baiting, privacy-killing pranks on CraigsList, are currently feeding what seems to be a new phase in the lifecycle of the meme. In the process, while trying to turn "bad attention" into revenue streams, they're throwing insults at one another, as well as taking considerable rebuke from various sources.

Fortuny had baited hapless doofuses by pretending to be a woman seeking rough sex. In a blustery online interview last month he taunted his victims, saying his detractors had failed to prove his prank was illegal, and crowing that "I'm still alive... No one's killed me, no one's tried to kill me..."

But last week on his blog he posted a scan of a beautifully handwritten letter, signed, "Mom."
You are my son, and I will always love you; but I don't respect the person you have become. You'll never get the chance to play us again. You're wrong, Jason, to play with people's minds or emotions; and don't push buttons.

I do wish you well.

Good Bye, Mom

Comments of condolence quickly turn to his September notoriety as well. ("Your mom ditched you in a letter?" "Maybe she thought an email would get published on the net and it was safer.") After an earlier post where Fortuny noted he'd been unable to identify his biological father, someone suggested he simply post an ad on CraigsList looking for one. One poster even suggests that the letter itself was another prank. ("Jason has already proven he will do anything for attention," another commenter adds.)

But Fortuny continues to bait his critics. In a mock advice column to future CraigsList prankers, he writes, "Don't worry about lawsuits. They won't happen. Don't worry about getting stalked or beaten. Not gonna happen." Fortuny published what he says are hate mails in response to his prank, including one scolding email from a lawyer in New Jersey. Another blogger claims to have contacted Seattle's prosecuting attorney, and received a response that, "there is no violation of our state criminal code involved here, yet."

Fortuny identifies the experience as "the peace corps of attention whoring: the toughest spotlight you'll ever love."

Meanwhile, Fortuny found himself sharing the spotlight with second-string sex-baiter, Michael Crook. Word of Fortuny's prank had reached Crook in upstate New York, inspiring him to also post fake ads on CraigsList forums two weeks later, again pretending to be a young woman seeking casual sex. By last Sunday the Las Vegas Sun had apparently confirmed Crook's aggressive coaxing of emails and photographs from his victims, including from one married man in Las Vegas. According to the paper, Crook then made taunting phone calls to the man's wife, and to managers and the CEO at the company where he worked. For his antics, Crook was served with an injunction in late September, according to the newspaper, and within days Crook had taken down his site.

Crook's own blog had gloated instead that he'd sold the domain (CraigsList-perverts.org), and he'd added sassily that it meant "the guys that were on there were literally bought and sold." The domain's registration did change — to a fake phone number in New Jersey belonging to a TV station, and a fake address belonging to a group of physicians. A Yahoo.com email address associated with the domain belongs to "Nightshadow Productions," though when contacted they'd claimed plans for "the same busts, as well as the results from at least 15 new busts, some of which are currently going on." Suspiciously, CraigsList-Perverts.org still shows links only to Michael Crook's own sites, and it still appears on a list of domains which Crook himself has for sale. (Its listing says craigslist-perverts.org will be offered free of charge to anyone purchasing CLPervs.org, for an asking price of $250.) Crook's boastful blog has been taken offline, though — replaced with instructions to search engines not to archive it. In an online forum he writes instead that, "It's difficult to get advertisers behind such a website, which is the primary reason I pulled out..." He says that he'd considered putting the site on a server outside the U.S., but, "It's just not worth it to me if I can't bring in the bucks."

CraigsList got involved, according to the Sun article, citing court documents where the popular web site alleges trademark infringement and harassment and threatens legal action against Crook unless he will "formally apologize" to each CraigsList victim. They also interviewed another of Crook's victims, a single 34-year-old homeowner who said he felt violated - and is "considering" hiring a lawyer. A spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation even tells the newspaper that online pranksters "may be overconfident thinking that they might not go to court."

Crook responds on his web site, arguing he's too poor to be sued. "Judgments aren't a good thing, but when there's nothing to judge, i.e. nothing to legally put a lien on or seize, it's really a non-issue." He gloats that in any trial he'd use the sexy conversations as evidence, accomplishing "the very same thing these guys want to avoid... [E]verything would become public record, and it would likely wind up in the media, or at the very least under public scrutiny. "

He also bickers with Fortuny over which of them has kept more of their web material online, and argues that he's not ugly, but Fortuny is.

Into the drama comes a third character named "Mr Piss On Ya," a domain registered in Louisville, Kentucky which also matches the name of a Louisville "band" on a Garageband.com page. (Though two of their four tracks are recorded prank phone calls.) The "Mr Piss On Ya" domain shows only a picture of Michael Crook over a supposed transcript of Crook himself being baited into giving his phone number to a pretend online female. ("but what if my wife answers?") The transcript dates back to 2005, and was originally hosted on the fan site for a band called "Flaw" — also from Louisville.

There's no guarantee of its authenticity, and the content seems unusually damning and improbable. (At one point it has Crook saying his penis is "pretty small," and adding later that "I've been in 3 porn films...petite fuckers 1, 2, 3.") Crook had made himself a target for online revenge that spring, moving from an argument that America's soldiers were overpaid to incendiary comments like "Let 'em die in combat — we don't need their ilk in this country!" It's impossible to tell whether the revenge took the form of enticing a sexy chat transcript, or simply fabricating it.

But Tuesday night a tipster calling himself "mikecrookfraud@yahoo.com" gleefully forwarded the URL for the year-old web page to 10zenMonkeys, commenting that Crook "seems to have engaged in the same behavior he's calling himself a martyr by trying to expose." Three minutes later, someone calling themself "Michael Crook is a fraud" posted the same URL — in a comment on Jason Fortuny's blog.

Another comment appeared — less than an hour later — responding that the transcript "was long ago proven to be a forgery," and adding, "Fortuny doesn't care about facts, now does he?"

There certainly appears to be a private feud between the two online sex prankers. Fortuny linked to an article about copycat Crook, then made fun of Crook's hair. Someone calling himself "Michael Crook" then appeared in the comments, saying "you can crack wise and insult all you like, but you're the one who was molested as a child (by your own admission), and you're the one who posted about BDSM." (Adding: "And if you're going to insult my hair, get out of that glass house of yours. You're so ugly that my dog wouldn't barf on you.")

Perhaps it's a fitting end to the story: Two online griefers uncomfortably co-habiting the same meme, locked in endless arguments over their respective self-destructing reputations and posturing defensively for an imagined audience of fans and detractors. Or, God save us all, maybe this meme will simply never go away!

See Also:
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
In the Company of Jerkoffs
Jason Fortuny Speaks
Craigslist Troll Gets Sued

5 Nastiest Campaign Ads So Far

Will Republicans or Democrats control the Senate? It all hangs on five tight Senate races — which means negative ads, and lots of them. Mis-leading, meaningful, desperate, or despicable — they're on your TV, messing with your mind.

To get a glimpse at those states where the battle is being fought the hardest, we scoured the party campaign sites (and sometimes YouTube), compiling this list of the five nastiest Senate campaign ads of 2006 — so far.

1. "It was unbelievably demoralizing to be painted as a pampered slut!"

This according to retired Navy commander Jennifer Brooks. Retired Commander Kathleen Murray adds that, "The unnecessary abuse and hazing received by me and my fellow women midshipmen" were contributed to by the demeaning philosophy of Democrat Senate candidate Jim Webb.

They're citing an article he wrote a whopping 27 years ago (page 277 of "Washingtonian Magazine") saying a military dorm with 4,000 males and 300 females "is a horny woman's dream." (Oh, and 14 years ago, he also called a midshipman "thunder thighs," according to the attack site Webb against women.) Of course, in the 70s the public debated whether the all-male military should be open to women at all, and "I don't think it was wrong to participate in the debate at that time," Webb tells Meet the Press. Or tries to. In the Republican Senate Committee's ad, he only gets to say, "I don't think it was wrong..." before the ad switches to different footage — of Tim Russert incredulously repeating the idea that "being in a naval academy is a horny woman's dream."

Webb ultimately countered with some tough ads of own, showing support from a (female) retired Brigadier General, a (female) Coast Guard officer and a (female) 1984 Naval academy student who says "Jim Webb broke down barriers. He changed things as Naval Secretary."

2. "My opponent parties with lingerie-clad Playboy bunnies! And then goes to church!"

That's the implicit message in a political ad which attacked Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford. (It has since been removed from YouTube.) In a tight (and crucial) Senate race, Democrat challenger Ford had run an effective ad emphasizing his connection to "values" voters by walking down the aisle of a church. "Here I learned the difference between right and wrong," he states earnestly. "And now Mr. Corker [his Republican opponent] is doing wrong." Corker's sins include spending millions "telling untruths" about his Republican opponents in the primary, "both of them good men," says Ford sympathetically. "And now me!"

"What kind of man parties with Playboy playmates in lingerie," counters the latest NSRC product, "and then films political ads from a church pew?" It's an allusion to Playboy's 2005 Super Bowl party, which Ford attended. The National Republican Senate Committee first seized on the party eight months ago, and Ford recently struck back with an ad mocking Republican Corker's wealth in a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous parody. It cites Corker's 30-room mansion, 6 SUVs, and $200 million net worth, finally arguing that he'd accepted three pay raises for himself, "yet nothing for police and firefighters!"

The race is neck-and-neck, according to recent polls, which means ad consultants will continue scrambling for the hottest buttons they can push.

3. "Depends on your area code!"

Oh sure, Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill says she's tough on methamphetamines. But everything she says "depends on your area code... She just tells you what you want to hear."

So does this mean she's in favor of methamphetamines? Well, no. The ad doesn't cite her position on the illegal drug. But she lived in a city that had illegal drugs — lots of 'em! (Kansas City was "the meth capital of America," according to a four-year-old Kansas City Star article cited by the ad.) And at that time, Claire McCaskille was a prosecutor for the county! See?!

That charge has since been removed from the online version of the Republican National Senate Committee's ad. Its other two supposed McCaskill flip-flops were 1.) gun control, which she was either for or against, and 2.) she missed paying her property taxes, yet had the gall to talk about things like "integrity" in her campaign.

The logic can be a little strained — but we're sure Republican Jim Talent appreciates the effort.

4. "A piss-poor job!"

Emotional music lauds the 9/11 firefighters who fought Montana's forest fires. Except, they were doing "a piss-poor job" according to evil Republican Senator Conrad Burns. While pointing at one, he said, "he hasn't done a god-damned thing," according to the ad. Burns' dirty words were re-broadcast into Montana homes, after a Democrat Senate Campaign Committee disclaimer that: "The following contains language by Conrad Burns, unsuitable for Montana."

Using his own words against him, Burns' opponent, newcomer John Tester, seems to have gotten the upper-hand with Montana's conservative voters. But it's not like the Republican candidate didn't try. "Feller comes in fer a trim on his flat-top," says a barber in one of Burns' ads, "because he's running fer U.S. Senate. Guess he doesn't want anyone to know he opposes a gay marriage ban, thinks flag burning is all right, and supports higher taxes!"

Apparently, the ad-makers thought all Montanans are rural hicks who only trust their barber. But ultimately no amount of barber-speak could keep Tester from opening a lead on the incumbent that will likely cost him his Senate seat. "Here's a tip," ran the counter-ad. "The man attacking Jon Tester is an actor. A fake, sent by Senator Burns' Washington friends..." Tester later pointed out to the L.A. Times that he doesn't support gay marriage or flag-burning, but opposes addressing the issues with constitutional amendments. Finally an op-ed in the New York Times even tracked down Mr. Tester's real barber, who said the ads were phony cheap shots. Then added, "I thought there was a war going on in Iraq, for crying out loud."

5. "...The happier we'll be!"

Mike DeWine is the incumbent Republican Senator in Ohio. (He's also incredibly short.) And he used the innocuous phrase "we all have to work together: Democrats, Republicans," in his ads. Suddenly the picture freezes, in a new ad from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

"Senator DeWine HAS worked together," it tells us, "voting 92% of the time with President Bush."

"The more we work together, the happier we'll be," a chorus of children sings, as subtitles flash over a picture of smiling Michael DeWine with his arm around President Bush.
Increasing the National Debt to $9 trillion
Tax breaks for the oil companies
Tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas
Mike DeWine likes working together with George Bush.

With President Bush's popularity ratings stuck in the high 30s, this may ultimately be the most negative campaign ad of all.

Think you know of better ones? Leave them in the comments!

See also:
Awesomest Campaign Ad Ever
5 More Nasty Campaigns
My Opponent Pays for Gay Teen Bestiality.

The Perversions of Perverted-Justice

Von Erck"To Catch a Predator" on Dateline introduced sex baiting to the popular mind. Fortuny and Crook may have adapted it to their own psychological obsessions, but clearly, NBC's relationship with "Perverted-Justice.com" is the established and refined model for the freelance bad-guy sting.

On Friday, NBC ran the fifth installment of the pedophile-trapping news segment. The stings are choreographed by a community college drop-out and his group of "trained citizen contributors" who have, in the name of protecting society from its most reviled deviants, also aimed their vigilante arsenal at rival web sites, personal enemies, and even Google and Wikipedia.

It's got to be a little heady these days for Xavier Von Erck, the Director of Operations for Perverted-Justice.com. In an online essay, he talks about growing up with a mother who "worked everything from Taco Bell to gas station jobs to warehouse jobs to parts delivery jobs." His group now rakes in over a hundred grand for each episode it's involved with.

A recent New York Daily News article cited another article on RadarOnline identifying him as a 27-year-old Oregon community college dropout. But when the article linked to his blog, Von Erck redirected it to his original emails to the magazine's reporter. "I completed some college before what I would call a 'productive internet addiction' ruined my studies," he'd commented, "which I were not all that interested in anyways."

There are people who oppose Perverted-Justice.com's methods. There's even an opposing site that calls itself Corrupted-Justice.com. ("Number of INNOCENT people harassed and terrorized by volunteer vigilantes...with no police involvement since January 2003: 2704.") This in turn spawned a counter-counter site called Corrupted-Justice.net whose sole function is to criticize Corrupted-Justice.com.

It all culminated in a bizarre incident involving an Arkansas pilot — a married man (and non-pedophile) who still vehemently opposed the group. He'd threatened everything from online computer attacks to investigations from the IRS. The response? Erck says his group lured the married man into an online romance by pretending to be a sympathetic female and then continued the online relationship for several months, leading to the collection of thousands of lines of chat containing personal information used to out the straying man to his wife.

Fighting pedophiles has brought with it still more enemies. For instance, they have a problem with Google. Their site argues that pedophiles "have infiltrated legitimate businesses to try to spread their pro-pedo message to the masses" — if by "infiltrated legitimate businesses," you mean "posted on a blog." Google is their #1 target for its ownership of Blogspot, which is guilty of not removing sites advocating sex with children. Perverted-Justice concedes that "We love Google," yet the company is #1 in their "Corporate Sex Offender registry" for failing to remove pedophilia-advocating blogs, including two blogs by a user named Rookiee.

Both Google and Libsyn.com (Rookiee's podcast host) are listed as "aggressive corporate sex offenders" on Perverted-Justice for giving Rookiee a platform. The first name on their list of passive corporate sex offenders is Wikipedia, which it describes as the "'wild west' of encyclopedias" with "a vast pedophile cabal seeking to undermine it." Their main objection was that Wikipedia's articles could be accessed and edited by Rookiee. (Although not any more. Last week his Wikipedia account was blocked from updating the site's articles, though not without some spirited discussion.) "We've left Wikipedia in the 'passive' category," Perverted-Justice states, "because they still have not taken a clear and unambiguous stance disavowing pedophile advocates from editing 'encyclopedic' pedophile articles."

This Saturday they added a new name at the top of their corporate offenders list: Verizon/MCI Worldcom. (Perverted-Justice argues that an obscure Canadian hosting company named Epifora hosts dozens of sites advocating sex with minors — and is getting its internet connectivity from Verizon's pipes.)

So who do they like? Well, there's YouTube — for removing Rookiee's account; Xanga — for pulling Rookie's web site; and CafePress — for pulling Rookiee's online store. (They're now listed as "the Rehabilitated.") In fact, elsewhere on the Perverted-Justice site they write that entire list was created because "Rookiee made the mistake of attacking our organization online." That was enough to get him their attention, along with the companies enabling him to speak. Perverted-Justice argues that the writings of Rookiee offer a "snapshot" into the online pedophile world.

In their own bizarre form of exploitation, every page of the site now also includes an ad for their official store, which offers to give visitors a chance to raise awareness of the growing problem of online pedophilia "by shopping." The store sells merchandise bearing the site's logo, including underwear, women's thongs, and a baby doll t-shirt. There's also coffee mugs and beer steins. For the t-shirts they've even come up with catchy pedophilia-busting slogans.

"See you later masturbator, after a while, pedophile."
"Squeeze no child's behind"
"Coast to coast, we make predators toast"

Publicizing their pushback against online predators may or may not offer another way of discouraging online predators — but it's ultimately bringing its own set of challenges. The article in Radar cited a controversial blog post Von Erck made over two years ago, arguing a hostage who signaled his weakness to an al Qaeda captor failed to understand that "Arab culture is quite sick in many respects.... Spinelessness and negotiation only encourage Arabs to attack and harass western society further." Von Erck's emailed responses to Radar's reporter also hint at other criticisms he's faced. ("[W]e have not posted the log of anyone prior to conviction in almost over nine months now.") He's angry about the way the article portrayed him and rationalizes any personal flaws by citing his site's victories in the war on pedophiles:
One was a doctor and a vice-president of a biotech firm. One was a software developer for Apple. Two were guys in IT (who likely could have figured out how to log into Yahoo chat on a Mac) And yet another had a very successful job running a fairly successful business

He may be a community college drop-out — but for the fifth time he's also busted pedophiles on television. It's worth noting, though, that before he ever dreamed of hooking up with Dateline, he posed as children in chat rooms and chatted sexually with adults. He hasn't admitted that it's one he entertains himself, but this is an established role-playing fetish in itself.

In any case, we once again have a self-congratulating sex baiter who rains righteous anger down on everyone — except himself.

See Also:
Web Fight: Wikipedia, YouTube vs. Perverted Justice
Sex Panic: An Interview with Debbie Nathan

Jason Fortuny Speaks

Jason Fortuny

He's not sorry, he'd do it again, and he's buying a gun.

Jason Fortuny became notorious after posting nearly 150 explicit photos he'd received for a fake sex ad on Craig's List. Three weeks later he discusses the aftermath in a 29-minute online interview.

But is he really as cocky as he pretends to be? A close look at the footage reveals that behind the bravado is genuine fear. Although he remains unapologetic and bemused, his internet infamy has left him worrying about an unseen army of invisible enemies.

At one point they even have to stop the filming, because they'd inadvertently said someone's name.

"If you don't know who's stalking you," says Fortuny, "you don't know who's going to come after you in the middle of the night and, uh, kill you."


"The internet is serious business," the cameraman jokes, noting later that the web page received over one million visits in two and a half weeks.

When reminded that there's a new Jet Li movie called Fearless," Fortuny admits it's "something that I am not."

"How many people told you to kill yourself?"

"I lost count after, like, 20."

A friend even asked an FBI contact about Jason's situation. "What's my recourse here, if I am being stalked, if I am being harassed. What can we proactively do to protect me?" He says their answer was that he could call 911.

"So when are you getting your gun?"

"Probably this weekend."

Fortuny concedes he's never taken a gun class, "but I had a Nintendo for a while so I got pretty good... I need everyone who's going to come kill me to please dress up as an 8-bit duck."

Some people genuinely wondered if he had a deathwish, "because some people are under the impression that if you piss off the BDSM crowd, they'll kill you." Instead he jokes that the BDSM crowd is probably more about consensual pain — then playfully slaps the thigh of the woman next to him.


"So how many pizzas did you get delivered to your home?"

"I wasn't at home when it happened," he answers, although he does an impression of a pizza deliveryman's voicemail, then promises more updates on his web page. "Eventually I'll get all the hate mail up that I've received."

He claims he also got a few women offering him tail, "and I got lots of people who told me I would be getting some after going to jail. Which — how am I going to go to jail over this?"

The cameraman offers to film Fortuny turning himself in at the police station. But the truth is, no one has gone after him.

"I'm still waiting for a cease and desist letter to arrive — or an actual lawsuit!"

He remembers a blustery comment on his LiveJournal page claiming to have hired a lawyer. But so far all it's generated is a prank by another poster, who described leaving a taunting sign on that lawyer's office which read "ON UR CREGZLST POSTIN UR N00DZ!!!" under a drawing of the LiveJournal icon. (The poster added that while delivering the sign, "I spotted at least three Mexican transsexual prostitutes!")

Fortuny also laughs at the 20 "internet lawyers" who aren't actual lawyers, but "play them on the internets."

"If you're out there and you're making the whole 'illegal' judgment thing, just cite some law. I know some of you out there have gone after the whole privacy and 'intentional infliction of emotional distress', but even that's a little murky."

At one point he even seems to bait the online audience. When jokingly asked if he could swap some of the naked pictures he received, he stares starkly at the camera and replies "Considering that it's my property now, what the hell!"

But later he concedes that "If some good privacy law came from this, I'd actually be really pleased."


The woman next to him adds an interesting observation from a Seattle blog. "Despite all the publicity about your ad, there were still all sorts of people posting all sorts of no-strings-attached sex ads with sometimes personal information and pictures right in the ad... So I don't think even you can stop people from trying to get their rocks off."

When asked about future experiments, he smiles. "I think it's only fair we go after women — and I should get what, two replies?"

He discusses the idea of posting an equally too-good-to-be-true ad aimed at women — maybe one pretending to be a sugar daddy. But Fortuny doubts it would have the same impact.

"Women don't reply to ads. What would be very telling would be to get replies from women to an ad like that and watch that none of them put up personally identifiable information or any of their photos or anything like that. Or if they do put up a photo, it's something that's going to be hard to identify."

But even he was surprised by the copycat prankster who lures victims into additional online conversations and researches their lives before publishing all their embarrasing details.

"I didn't even verify that the information is real," Fortuny notes.

"For all I know it could be the joke of the universe on me."

Also surprising were some of the positive reactions he received. "There's a feminist out there who went absolutely nuts, thinks I'm some kind of hero, exposing all these perverts who want to beat up women."

"Did you invite her over for a spanking?" his female companion jokes. "You should have."

Earlier this week syndicated columnist Dan Savage argued that the only villain was Fortuny himself. The men who responded "were doing the decent, responsible thing" - assuring a woman who was seeking a connection based on a trust, Savage writes. "They shouldn't be punished for doing the right and honorable thing."

Fortuny also had some responses that were just plain awkward. His parents laughed, he says, but he also had to explain his notoriety to the men he'd identified in a search for his biological father. What would he have done if a paternity test candidate had answered the ad? "Oh god," he groans. "See? I have my limits."


The interview takes place during a rambly conversationally while eating noodles at a Pho restaurant in Seattle's university district. But all conversations ultimately lead back to Jason's stunt of September 4.

"Why do my noodles hate me?" the woman next to him asks.

"Because you're not treating them nicely. You're stringing them along and teasing them. Which is what you and all women do... Which fully justifies me posting as a woman... I strung them along. Teased them."

"So basically you gave them the same experience they would've gotten anyways."

"Yeah, pretty much. I teased their cocks."

He deep throats his spring roll. The camera zooms in, as he mock-viciously bites off the end. He points at the viewer, then the roll, and then makes a "think about it" gesture. Then continues eating.

"We'll put this on a DVD, mail it as a free consolation gift to everyone who participated."

By the end of the interview, he's taunting his online viewers. "I'm still alive... No one's killed me, no one's tried to kill me.

"If pizzas are the best you can do," he jokes, "oh my, this is sad. I got on the BBC, and the best you can do is pizzas?!"

See Also:
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
In The Company of Jerkoffs

In the Company of Jerkoffs

Note: The above screen capture is from a 2005 Fox News Channel appearance. The image has been re-inserted on November 15th, 10 business days after filing a counter-notice (pdf) in response to a DMCA takedown notice filed by Michael Crook which forced its removal soon after it was originally published.

As little as we like to encourage these guys, yet another sad member of the "griefer community," Michael Crook, is ambushing men with fake sex ads on Craig's List. Like past incidents, the story ultimately reveals a lot about the man behind it. In this case, he's not only pathetic, but a pathetic copycat.

If sex pranker Jason Fortuny is similar to the "Chad" character from Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men, then Crook is the asshole wannabe, "Howard." Not only is his imagination lacking, capable only of putting a slight spin on his hero's methods, but he also possesses a pathological moralism that seems entirely out of place and hypocritical for the behavior he's engaged in.

Clearly following the [tag]Fortuny[/tag] script, Crook pretended to be a 19-year-old female student at Syracuse university with B-cup breasts, looking to hang out "and maybe enjoy a nice, safe sexual encounter." ("I don't care if you're married, single, engaged, whatever. Life is fun. Sex is natural. Friendship is great.") And naturally, when men responded, Michael published their pictures and emails on craigslist-perverts.org — a domain he created Wednesday.

He also visited the "Casual Encounter" listings for five other cities — Las Vegas, Dayton, South Jersey, Kansas City, and Anchorage — publishing variations on his original ad. ("I'm 19, 5'4, 108 lbs, brown hair and eyes, and B cup breasts.") And added the responses to his site.

But he also made the additional effort of replying to his respondents to extract even more-embarrassing emails, and sometimes even instant messaging them. He also did online research, looking up their phone numbers and often claiming to have deduced the identities of his victims. "Check out this magazine article from a couple years ago, where he is in a picture with his wife and the guy whose name he used..." He apparently conned the (possibly married) man into sending a photo of his erection — then sent him one last email asking why he was trolling for girls on the internet and cheating on his wife. "What do you think your wife and co-workers' reaction will be when they find out?" he asks. (Adding that their answers, "along with your pics, will be posted for all to see on craigslist-perverts.org.")

The extra cities were apparently necessary because his original prank generated less than 50 responses and received almost no attention. (Just two comments and one post in his forum.) He brags that the next day his fake ad got 15 more responses. (Possibly because no one actually reads his web site —-Ed.) He claims he's enjoying "exposing the perverts" and "pathetic men" responding to the ads. "I just wanted to see what kind of people would respond on a site like Craigslist, which is known for carrying ads from prostitutes," he writes. But he's also published the names of their wives, and in one case Googled the name of a respondent, then claimed it appeared on other dating sites "including fag sites."

So who is Michael Crook? His web site describes him as a former Mormon, disillusioned after a dispute about how religious programming was assigned spots on a local cable access show. (And the fact that a flirtatious weather guy was tapped to teach teenaged girls in his ward.) In 1999 he was too underweight to join the army, but even after bulking up was told he was medically unfit for service. Seven years later he composed an essay arguing that members of the military are overpaid. ("Financially speaking, it's the Pacific Avenue hooker of our economy.")

He weasled his way right onto TV in the spring of 2005 for creating a web site called "Forsake the troops," which called attention to his belief thatsoldiers are over-compensated. It also called soldiers "scumbags" and "pukes," asking "What idiots risk their life for a country...? Let 'em die in combat - we don't need their ilk in this country!" This led to an appearance on Fox News where Crook's deer-in-headlights performance drew a standard-issue beatdown from Sean Hannity. ("You're ignorant and you're a disgrace... You are heartless, you are soulless, you are mean and you are cruel....") His site later reported he was beaten to death by angry servicemen — though that was obviously a hoax. Instead Crook created related domains like opposethetroops, disownthetroops, and citizensagainstthetroops - although he was apparently trying to auction them off to cash in on their notoriety.

Recently he's registered two more domains — racismworks.com ("Coming soon, a website which will explain why racism is actually a good thing...") and crimmigrants.org ("dedicated to exposing and discussing illegal immigrants.") Both sites, though appear to be little more than their taglines, followed by the words "Coming soon!" But at least some of his anger appears sincere. One blogger claimed earlier Michael had cited anaffiliation with a group to "preserve the rights of white men and women." Recently Michael also created a web page criticizing a 17-year-old drunk driver who killed her friend in a car accident — including what he purports are her phone numbers and address.

But for all his online activity, Michael remains plagued by obscurity. He grew up in small-town Arizona, southern New Jersey, and Las Vegas, according to his web site, and ran a 300-member fan club for an obscure Dutch Eurodance group. He writes that he manages a sports-clothing store and is "pursuing" a criminal justice degree.

Ironically, just four weeks before his Craig's List prank, he'd sent a spate of letters complaining about copyright infringement. It's possible that this article may only further his goal of online infamy, though it remains to be seen whether he can make a career out of pissing people off.

In April a garage band called Permament Ascent uploaded a song about him to their MySpace page. Its lyrics?

"He's a dick. (He's a dick!) Fuck him! (Fuck him!) Asshole. (Asshole!) Fuck hi-i-m. Fuck Michael Crook!"

Perhaps Fortuny and Crook take solace in each other, from within the familiarity of their malicious community. I can foresee a day when this community of nihilistic pranksters hold its first convention, and they spend a week at the Marriott sneaking up on each other, flicking each other's ears and laughing until they drool.

See also:
Crook's Internet Club
EFF and 10 Zen Monkeys vs. Michael Crook
"Dear Internet, I'm Sorry"
Craigslist Troll Gets Sued

The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny

Jason Fortuny

Jason Fortuny has become famous as an online menace/hero after posting the photos and come-ons he received from nearly 150 men responding to a fake sex ad he placed on Craig's List. He's started an intense debate about the nature of online privacy and dating.

But beyond the practical effects of the experiment, what kind of man would commit such a dastardly prank?

Researching that question, I stumbled across Jason Fortuny's Amazon reviews. He read and reviewed exactly one book over five years -- and two soundtracks for Star Trek movies. ("Reviews written: 4." Helpful votes: 0.) He also awards 5 stars to National Lampoon's Van Wilder ("Reviewer Matthew K. Minerd totally needs to get laid. Dude, relax! It's just a movie.")

He's also been sexually molested by his grandfather.

"I haven't talked to my parents or the rest of the family in 11 years," he wrote in a post on his LiveJournal account in May. It's one of many suprisingly frank glimpses into the 30-year-old's life. "[I]f you had a family where four different members molested you, your mother tended to the prime molestor instead of you, and your stepfather utterly failed to provide for a future, you'd be pretty pissed, too."

Later he posts that two of the perpetrators are dead, and two were under 18.

While there's no guarantee that his LiveJournal posts are true, they offer intriguing glimpses into the personality behind the prank. When someone suggested in May that he keep his current contact information from his family, he answered, "it's too late for the contact information. It's all available out there. Part of my online persona is to hide nothing. Let the psychos come to my door -- I have a pellet gun and a baseball bat and occasional bad breath." He jokes in a later comment that "I miss the days when it was just trolling and making fun of fat people. Life was so easy back then!"

Another poster advises, "just make sure you have someone you trust who you can rant and freak out to if you need to."

"LiveJournal?" he answers.

Eight weeks ago he split with his fiancee. Seven weeks ago he posted about his difficulties with his thyroid and testosterone levels. ("If it works, one of the first things I should notice is the return of my energy, followed by the return of sexual function, followed by weight gain, followed by increased body hair.") He hints at biochemical depression. In July he began selling his Star Trek trading cards to cover $2600 in debt. "Looks like its time to eBay my stunning collection of original Star Wars and Transformers toys and action figures...," he writes. "There are some heartbreakingly awesome Transformers and Star Wars toys in there. I am profoundly sad..."

He also describes a history of malicious pranks. He apparently once claimed to have put pictures of someone's children on a child rape site. In January of 2005 he'd faked a sudden conversion to born-again Christianity, in a post which received 448 comments. ("I was sitting there, New Year's Eve, drinking alcohol by myself, in my underclothes, abusing my body to images of Rod Serling on the TV... And then, without warning, the flood of emotion I had tried so hard to block forced it's way into my consciousness...") This June he'd tried a Livejournal "whoring" project, "friending everyone".

But on May 8 he posts that a friend commented "I no longer have that annoying 'must be the center of attention' drive anymore." Then adds his own self-analysis about his past motivations. "...my ability to keep a crowd entertained and charmed was a major pillar of my self-esteem. If nothing else, I could rock a party. I certainly didn't believe in my professional abilities then like I do now. And, I didn't want to admit that it was annoying. All I cared was that I got my boost when I did my thing - friends be damned."

Fortuny's LiveJournal entries detail everything from his search for his biological father to his recent STD test. There's the checklist for the perfect woman, and the poem he'd written for his fiance in December. He even jokes about falling for someone else's prank -- pretending to be fired over a LiveJournal post. He posts downloadable copies of Star Wars, Fight Club, Blade Runner and Batman Begins, and in April he was attacked by a mailbox-flooding bot.

While it doesn't resolve the question of what motivated his sex-ad prank, it at least demonstrates an online persona that can be abrasive and negative. He complains that "friends' private entries have been read by psycho womenz. Psycho womenz that I went out on a date with once and reeled in horror when she bared her five year old and her smoking teeth..." He mockingly rants against the Girl Scouts, adding "I swear to god the only reason I don't shout at every last one of them is that I know all little catholic girls are uninhibited sluts, just waiting to be liberated from oppressive and neglectful fathers and gods, into the arms of a bustling, accepting, healthy porn industry."

But behind it all are the hints of something much darker. He writes of zombie nightmares -- and family nightmares. "While my nightmares of my parents have not returned," he wrote in June, "I have others that bring up similar feelings of righteous anger. We'll see."

See also:
Craigslist Troll Gets Sued
Good Griefers: Fortuny vs. Crook
Jason Fortuny Speaks
In the Company of Jerkoffs

Dana Plato, Porn Star

Dana PlatoDana Plato's soft-core porn feature, Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill... and Jill, is misunderstood. "Dana really wanted the lesbian thing to be real, not exploitative," remembers Diane Anderson-Minshall, who interviewed Plato about the film for the lesbian magazine Girlfriends. "She wanted it to be a statement, not just another career move everyone would make fun of." Unfortunately, the people at DanaPlato.Net are positioning it as "Plato's pussy videos" with the tagline "From child TV star to adult porn star fucking her way into your bedroom."

The video's cover promises a "steamy erotic love story," but is it? Porn lovers may be disappointed.

The film opens with Plato's female co-star, Landon Hall, watching the male lead play the piano. The camera pans slowly over his ringed hand and the sheet music to stop on Hall, in a blue bikini, leaning on the piano, trying to communicate something with her eyes. You quickly get the uneasy feeling this movie is going to have more plot than the usual porno.

The piano scene does lead to sex, but not with Dana Plato. Instead, there's R-rated footage of "Jack," who's a photographer, making love to Landon Hall. Dana arrives later, playing a New York art director who's come to help Jack in his next photo shoot. They've got an early shoot the next day, so in a typical porn plot device, Jack suggests, hey, "Why don't you spend the night?" But then he makes a fatal mistake. He leaves the two women alone. Wrong! Everyone knows what's going to happen next...

"You're not wearing a bathing suit!"

"Nah, I didn't pack one..."

There's a long shot of Dana diving into the pool naked. Then there are shots of her through ever-shifting prisms of water. Hundreds of frustrated men reach for their remotes to hit the frame-by-frame button. But a minute later, Plato stands up and reveals her breasts.

Landon stares, bites her lip, dives into the pool, says something generic like "Ooo, it's chilly," and then removes her bikini. Oboe and piano music begins, and, of course, a montage. But in a radical departure for a porn film -- nothing happens! (Say, that is arty!) Instead, the film shows Dana calling her lesbian lover in New York, who doesn't pick up the phone because, of course: She's busy with another lesbian!

Guess there's nothing left to do but... take a shower!

This seems like an obvious setup. Landon Hall is already taking a shower when suddenly, there's a knock on the door. Dana had been showering elsewhere in the house, but wouldn't you know it, there's no soap! She swings by (no pun intended) to pick some up (no pun intended) and a transparent conversation ensues.

"Oh, wow, this is a great shower. It's huge! I have a little bitty one back in New York."

"You know, if you want, there's plenty of room in here. You could join me."

"Oh, I'd love to. You wouldn't mind?"

More pause-button fun ensues, but little is revealed. Instead, there's another arty montage: mostly scenes from the pool, with one flash of a fantasy where Dana kisses Landon's breast.

Not to give away the plot, but let's just say the ladies' stars start lining up. Landon has a fight with her boyfriend, then runs into Dana, who asks "Would you mind dropping me off at my hotel?"

Landon's reply? "You're not going to stay in a hotel tonight. You're gonna come home with me."

Of course, they end up in bed together. There are candles all around, and they're both naked. "It feels good to cuddle like this, doesn't it?" Landon asks. Dana starts petting her hair... But this scene is disappointing, too. Landon runs her fingertip over Dana's arm. Dana drags her fingertips across her breasts. There's a kiss. Dana pets her hair again. Kiss. Kiss. Oboe. And that's it.

Then there's a jump to the next morning, when Dana's ass is sticking out from the covers. The complicated threesome depicted in the movie's promotional poster never occurs. Instead, the film cuts to the two women running with a picnic basket in the sun, the synthesizer switches to harpsichord sounds, and we're treated to a song written by the film's director.

I want to know, what you think of me

I want to know, what you're feeling

Maybe it's just me, but I thought this movie had more potential when they were naked in bed together.

Dana Plato told Girlfriends the movie was "The worst piece of work I've ever done." It could've been better, but the director was "not an actor's director." (His next film was Bikini Med School.) "When there is no chemistry, no consistency, it's hard to do a good scene."

But for all the notoriety the film caused her, it could be worse. Earlier this year, her former TV co-star Gary Coleman revealed to US magazine that he was still a virgin.

Click here to buy Dana Plato's video!

See Also:
Dana Plato and the Diff'rent Strokes Curse
Screech's Sex Tape Follies
Nancy Drew's Sexy Secrets
Why Sarah Palin's Sex Life Matters
Deep Throat, Big Brain
World Sex Laws