Friday, August 29, 2008

Public Service Message For My Friends

Libertarianism, science fiction fandom … aaah, life is good (and often very flattering) when you’re a woman who shares such male-dominated interests. Though it has on occasion led to some serious disagreements ’twixt me and my friends:

THEM: Blah blah gripe gripe gripe what a goddamned sausage party this is turning out to be.

ME: (innocently) You say it like it’s a bad thing.

Joking, of course. I feel for you guys. So I thought I’d share some news I found on the BBC, which reports that Australia is suffering from a “man drought”:

An analysis of new census figures has shown that Australia is suffering from an unprecedented "man drought".

The statistics have revealed that there are almost 100,000 more females than males in Australia.

The problem is worse in the coastal cities, where women have moved seeking better jobs and lifestyles, while many men have gone overseas. ... Major cities in Australia now have concentrated groups of unattached women, along with dwindling numbers of the opposite sex.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship can be contacted here.

You’re welcome.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

CT Liberty Forum

My home state of Connecticut (recommended motto: “Without us, people traveling ’twixt Boston and New York would have no place to stop for bathroom breaks”) is responsible for inflicting both Joe Lieberman and the odious Kelo v. New London eminent domain decision upon America. On behalf of my statemates, I sincerely apologize.

But not all Nutmeggers are like that. To prove it, check out the CT Liberty Forum the weekend of September 27-28, especially if you’re already planning to visit scenic Bristol, Connecticut anyway (and gee, why wouldn’t you?). I’ll be one of the panelists at Sunday's Freedom of the Press panel, and plan to indulge in moderate alcohol consumption during the cocktail hour Saturday afternoon.

Now if y’all will excuse me, I have to go practice being pithy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Get Well, NoStar

Commenter NoStar, also known as Bill Kalles, is currently in the ICU after a terrible motorcycle accident yesterday took the life of his 12-year-old daughter, Jessie.

There are no words to make this better.

The Internet makes it possible to befriend people you’ve never had the honor to meet. I consider Bill one of those friends; though we live on opposite coasts, we’ve known each other online for several years now. A few weeks ago, when I noticed that his name wasn’t appearing on certain forums we frequent (this one included), I e-mailed to ask if he was all right. He wrote back to say that yes, he’d been spending more time with his daughter.

The loss of a child is a vile thing for any parent. “Time heals all wounds” is not entirely true. But I hope Bill knows there are many people who are thinking of him today, and hope or pray that he will pull through.

Former president Calvin Coolidge had a son die young. When a friend of Coolidge’s suffered the same tragedy, Coolidge sent the man a book with the following inscription: To E.K.H., Whose boy, and my boy, by the grace of God, will remain boys through all Eternity.

The same holds true for girls. Rest in peace, Jessie. Get well soon, Bill.

ADDITION: If you check the comments, you'll see that real-life Friends of Bill have posted the addresses where people can send sympathy cards, donate to the Jessica Kalles Memorial Fund (buying books at the local library where Jessie was a voracious reader), or send donations to help defray funeral and hospital costs.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mystery In The Southland

There’s two basic rules to follow if you don’t want to catch AIDS:

  1. If you belong to the overwhelming majority of humanity that likes having sex, always use a condom; and,
  2. If you belong to the smaller subset of humanity that likes intravenous drugs, never share a needle.

That’s pretty much it, right? There’s extra rules to follow if you’re a doctor or anyone else whose job requires the handling of medical waste, but for most people it just boils down to “Use condoms” and “don’t share needles,” and most people can ignore the second admonition since they don’t shoot heroin anyway.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a story discussing the alarming increase in AIDS and HIV among rural black women in Georgia (the American one, not the Asian country that just might catapult us into World War Three):

HIV/AIDS has assumed a new face in Georgia. It is younger and more rural, more likely to be black or female.

And it is harder to reach with prevention messages, testing and services.

Old messages geared to urban, white, gay men simply don’t resonate with many African-American and rural people, advocates say.

Well, yeah. Stocking rural black churches with AIDS-prevention posters showing buff naked white guys with fabulous hair likely wouldn’t resonate (as they say in marketing) with the intended audience.

But that’s not what the story’s about. It mostly focuses on the stigma that keeps people who already have HIV reluctant to say anything about it. Which is indeed a problem, but one entirely different from “How to prevent people getting the disease in the first place.”

To talk about that you must make frequent use of the word “condom,” which unfortunately appears in this story only twice, in a little throwaway clause:

[Georgia AIDS Coalition President] Teahan said reaching young people in schools has been difficult since so much sex education in Georgia is abstinence centered.

“No one can use the word condom now,” she said.

But Bruce Cook, whose Atlanta company Choosing the Best provides abstinence-centered education materials to Georgia schools, said such instruction can be effective in leading young people to make the right decisions.

“The only way you eliminate risk is abstinence,” Cook said. “Condoms do break and they do slip off.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is confusing the issue (or missing the obvious) by marveling over the success differential between “messages that appeal to white urban gays” and the failing programs in rural Georgia. It's simple: gay men’s AIDS awareness ads aren’t funded by the Anti-Sex League. The difference isn’t between urban and rural, gay and straight or black and white; it’s between “use condoms” and “never ever have sex.”

Thursday, August 07, 2008

ODesk: Turning Libertarians Into Commies Since Last Sunday

I’m toying with the idea of abandoning libertarianism just long enough to buy a Che Guevara T-shirt and lead a Glorious Revolution of the Proletariat. And when this day arrives, the first mofos up against the wall will be the CEO, investors and executives of a loathsome company called oDesk.

Get this: When my staff-writer job was downsized into oblivion last April, the first thing I did was sign up for daily e-mail alerts from various job-hunting sites. And last Sunday, one of them sent notice that a company down South was supposedly looking to hire a “syndicated columnist.”

Syndicated columnists don’t become such by answering a help-wanted ad. But maybe (I thought) this is a company looking for someone to write a column that’ll run in multiple publications owned by the same chain. I clicked on the link and discovered that the only way to apply for this job was through an agency called oDesk.

So I filled out the online application, here’s my resume, there’s my clip file, references upon request, et cetera.

Then I was supposed to take various online multiple-choice tests to prove my writing ability. That struck me as decidedly odd – a multiple-choice test to see if you can write interesting, readable copy? Wouldn’t asking for clips be a better idea? Already I suspected this “syndicated columnist” job, whatever it entailed, wasn’t the right fit for me.

But with nothing better to do I figured I’d take the test anyway. However, that required me to download and install some free company software. I waited until my IT guy (read: boyfriend) could take a look at it; he checked it out and then did the downloads and installations.

I never took any test. In fact, once I realized what those programs were I had my IT guy uninstall every last one of them right the hell off my computer. ODesk is a great company to work for … if you’re the type who’d be flattered to discover that a psychopath cared enough to stalk you.

That software was spyware that would record every keystroke I made when logged in to the oDesk site. It would also send automatic screenshots (of my computer) to company central six times an hour. There’s webcam capability, too, so oDesk can keep an eye on you while you’re in your house.

I could’ve saved myself a lot of aggravation if I made a habit of reading the blogs at the Wall Street Journal, where Sue Shellenbarger wrote about the Odesk phenomenon around the same time that “syndicated columnist wanted” e-mail landed in my in-box:

The clipboard toting, clock-watching, quota-setting productivity expert, peering nosily over your shoulder at work, has been out of fashion in business schools for decades.

Now he's back, in electronic form -- in the home office.

In a budding trend some employment experts say is invasive, companies are stepping up electronic monitoring and oversight of tens of thousands of home-based independent contractors. They're taking photos of workers' computer screens at random, counting keystrokes and mouse clicks and snapping photos of them at their computers. They're plying sophisticated technology to instantaneously detect anger, raised voices or children crying in the background on workers' home-office calls. Others are using Darwinian routing systems that keep calls coming so fast workers have no time to go to the bathroom.


Electronic monitoring is built right into freelance transactions at, which links 90,000 computer programmers, network administrators, graphic designers, writers and others with about 10,000 clients world-wide. The system takes random snapshots of workers' computer screens six times an hour, records keystrokes and mouse clicks and takes optional Web cam photos of freelancers at work. Clients can log into the system anytime and see whether contractors are working, what they're doing and how long it's taking them.

If I’m looking for a freelancer to write an article, design a Web page, write code or any other produce-something-at-a-computer activity, here’s what I need to know about your work habits: “Did you produce the desired product in the agreed-upon time frame?”

That’s all. I don’t need webcam screenshots to see whether you’re wearing a bathrobe or a business suit. I don’t need keystroke monitoring to determine how many times you rewrote a sentence before you were satisfied with it. I don’t care if you did the assignment in a single productive burst of energy, or worked on it a little at a time between breaks.

All that matters – all that should matter – is: did you write the damned article I asked for, and get it to me by the agreed-upon deadline?

I consider myself a softcore rather than hardcore libertarian; I don’t think all government regulation is unnecessary, just 95 percent or so. Nor do I share the libertarian-purist idea that no worker protection laws are ever needed since mistreated workers can simply quit and find another job.

Not that I’m calling for regulations or bans toward oDesk-style spyware. It’s still a relatively small phenomenon, and I’m quite content to sit back and let The Market sort things out. But what if this becomes commonplace? We’re already seeing greater intrusion into employee’s off-the-clock time; e.g., “Smoking is legal but if you or anyone in your family does it you’re fired.” So far The Market seems to be shifting toward less and less freedom for employees.

Add to that the intrusive potential of modern technology, and I worry we’re heading toward a bleak dystopian future. As we rush toward it, I can't get behind the libertarian orthodoxy which states “If oDesk-style spying becomes the workplace norm, it would be detrimental to human freedom to support a law banning it from home-office work requirements.”

Governments arent the only organizations, nor heads of state the only individuals, whose power over others needs to be kept in check to ensure a free society.

Monday, August 04, 2008

How To Be A Patriotic American

An immigrant friend of mine just got promoted to Legal Resident status which is, as I understand it, the last signpost on the road to full-fledged citizenship in our dying republic. Welcome! For his benefit, and that of any other Legal Residents who chance to read this, I offer the following list of helpful tips on fitting in with the citizenry of your new homeland:

  1. Decorate your house and augment your wardrobe so that you’re always within sight of the Stars and Stripes. Patriotic Americans always surround themselves with plenty of flags, in case they forget what country they live in and need a quick reminder. An American-flag belt buckle the size of a dinner plate is a tasteful and stylish way to do this.
  1. Corollary: If you become a citizen, and thus get the right to vote, remember that Patriotic Americans only ever vote for candidates who wear American-flag lapel pins whenever they’re photographed in public.
  1. Patriotic Americans show faith in the strength of their currency. Whenever you hear someone discuss the price of consumer items in foreign countries (e.g, “This DVD costs 10 pounds in England” or “I paid five Euros for a beer in France”), look perplexed and ask “How much is that in real money?”
  1. When visiting foreign countries, Patriotic Americans remember that they represent not just themselves, but their countrymen as well. Take personal responsibility for having won World War Two, especially around Europeans who always appreciate it when drunk Yank tourists say “If it weren’t for us, you’d all be BLEARGH speaking German right now.”
  1. Corollary: don’t try this in Germany.
  1. Or Russia. Never try this in Russia.
  1. Patriotic Americans know that sticking a magnetic yellow ribbon on the back of their car makes life better for Our Troops.
  1. Patriotic Americans know that countries are like houses – once you come in, the polite thing to do is shut the door behind you. And since nobody comes in through Ellis Island anymore, this means that poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty no longer applies. So when asked why this great republic of ours is dying, Patriotic Americans blame it all on immigration and make a point of attending the next anti-immigration rally scheduled in their area.
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