Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sarah Palin vs. Newsweek vs. the flag

Sarah Palin denounced this Newsweek cover as "out-of-context" and "sexist." Out of context because the photo was originally taken for Runner's World and sexist because Newsweek wouldn't have used a photo of Obama like that on its cover (maybe not, but the Washingtonian would).

Newsweek defended itself saying they chose "the most interesting image." I think it was no coincidence that they chose a photo of Palin in a "running suit" given the speculation of whether or not she will run in 2012.

But what really strikes me about the photo is Palin disrespecting the US flag. I guess she's glad that there are no penalties for violating the US Flag Code. Darn that activist Supreme Court putting the First Amendment above the flag.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Meep that frindle!

The principal of Danvers (Massachusetts) High School has a discipline problem. According to the Salem News, the principal responded by banning the students from using the word "meep."

Meep? Yes, meep.

Clearly something's wrong when students use of a nonsense word can be seen as so disruptive that the word has to be banned. It reminds me of the book Frindle by Andrew Clements. The back cover of the book asks "Is Nick Allen a troublemaker?" because he decides that pens should be called "frindles."

I won't spoil the story, but I think it would be a good idea if everyone at Danvers High read the book.

I note that this news report came on the same day as Sesame Street's 40th anniversary? Just a coincidence? I think not.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Unlinked links

A little while ago, I wrote about web sites that have missing links and how that's breaking the web. There's another problem that might be even worse, nofollow links, exemplified by Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is without a doubt a cultural phenomenon. I frequently link to it in my blog posts. I suppose I could link to Encarta but in case you hadn't noticed, it's gone :-(. I haven't been linking to Encyclopædia Britannica because I just provide the links for background material not because you need to go read an encyclopedia to follow along, and most people don't have a Brittanica subscription. (However, I've just learned that you don't need a subscription to read linked articles, so I might be linking more to Britannica in the future.)

Anyway, since many people link to Wikipedia for the same reason I do, it's not surprising that Wikipedia pages often show up at the top of search results. That's just the way the web works.

Except when it doesn't. Wikipedia marks every link with a "nofollow" attribute instructing search engines that they should not follow the links. That's telling the search engines: "please notice who links to us but please ignore who we link to." When I link to Wikipedia, their ranking on the web goes up as they get some of my link juice. When they link to me with a nofollow attribute, they don't share the juice. This is a classic case of applying a big hammer to a small problem and breaking other things in the process.

You might wonder how this could happen on Wikipedia, which is all about sharing information and consensus, etc. etc. If you read the policy article, you'll see that the change was instituted unilaterally at the request of Jimbo Wales, one of the co-founders of Wikipedia, despite consensus from Wikipedians that this was not the right solution. In case you have doubts, Wikipedia is not a democracy. But I digress.

In order to understand what the right solution is, first we have to understand the problem. The problem is spam links, links added to Wikipedia (and other sites) in order to push the spammers' pages up in search engine rankings. A proper solution would make that infeasible. So all that's necessary is to apply the nofollow attribute for some length of time after the link is added. This gives time for the link to be removed by Wikipedia editors or for the spammer's website to be shut down, rendering the link moot. Obviously, there can be refinement to this idea, but the general concept is sound.

So, c'mon Wikipedia (that is, Jimbo), it's time to start following along with the rest of the web.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A non-partison election fable

Once upon a time, Washington State had a blanket primary where voters could vote for anyone they wanted to in any party and the candidates receiving the most votes in each major party advanced to the general election.

The major parties challenged the system because they didn't want non-members choosing their candidates for them. Apparently, they were under some delusion that no logical person could ever honestly support a Republican for one office and a Democrat for another office.

The result: after lots of legal wrangling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court not once but twice, the parties won and lost. They succeeded in eliminating the blanket primary and voters replaced it with a "top two" primary, where the two candidates receiving the most votes advance to the general election. Of course, the two big parties are still upset about this because there's no guarantee that a candidate from each party will advance. Parties can, of course, be involved in recruiting candidates and endorsing and supporting them but not choosing who gets on the ballot.

Now here's where it gets silly: in retaliation for the parties still fighting the top two primary, voters in King County went one step further, making all elections "non-partisan." The truth is that elections are inherently political, and pretending that political parties are irrelevant is a sham. It's unreasonable to think that all candidates fit neatly into one of two boxes and all this does is keep the voters in the dark. In fact, the Seattle Times reports that in next week's race for King County Executive, the campaign contributions between the two candidates are divided overwhelmingly on party lines.

While writing this post, I stumbled across More Party Animals, "a lighthearted kick-start toward change in this country," founded by two guys who think we should have more diversity in our political spectrum. See the illustration above. Of course, in King County, the animals would all need disguises so no one would be able to identify them on the ballot.

UPDATE: Read Joni Balter's post-election column on partisanship in the King County Executive race.

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