The Seine with Notre Dame in the background.The main reason I started posting links to things that I’ve read and found interesting but that didn’t prompt me to write a full post was the hope that other people would respond by giving me links to things in return. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Still, I hold some hope that this may occur in the future, so I continue to post, from time to time, “Links.”

I didn’t spend as much time this week poking around on the internet. (“Surfing” sounds like ridiculous self-aggrandizement.) While waiting to board the train earlier this week, I looked around the newstand for my usual train magazines. MIT Technology Review had a cover story entitled “Free Speech in the Era of Technological Amplification.” Needless to say, I picked it up since the story fit in so well with my ongoing research on the subject. (Yes, I promise I’ll write more. Or perhaps I should say threaten.) What a disappointment. I feel so lame giving you a link to a crummy, poorly thought out article, centered around a conceit so clumsy that it’s downright embarassing. It seems as if it was written off the cuff by someone who did not one whit of research. It might be acceptable as a post on a private blog, but, when someone is writing for a living, I expect them to do some useful work, not indulge their own vanity. I can indulge my vanity because I do this for free. I wondered how the editor of the magazine let that crap pass muster until I got to the end of the article where the author was identified as the editor in chief. Sorry, but this all I have to offer for this week.

Related to the subject of freedom of speech, I saw Searching for Sugar Man last night, a movie about the muscian Rodriguez. It was a reminder that censorship is used to maintain the position of the people who have the power to censor. A woman working for an archive in South Africa that maintains material that had been censored during the aparthied era takes out a vinyl record of Rodriguez’s album Cold Fact. She shows the track Sugar Man, which has been physically scratched to render it unplayable. Obstensibly, this track was forbidden because it was about drug use, but the viewer is made to understand that the real threat posed by Rodriguez had less to do with drugs but with the deeper message that we need to question society’s assumptions.

A close up of a gnarled bit of exposed wood on a tree where the bark has been damaged.Well, well, well. I was reminded this week that I’ve become lazy and dropped the ball on my freedom of speech project by several news items. The first was, at least to me, a real shocker. Reminding us that the K in UK stands for Kingdom, the Queen of England has issued a royal charter that has severely curtailed her subjects’ freedom of expression. To me, this is a mind-boggeling outrage. The ostensible reason for this seizure of power is the phone hacking scandal which, it is important to remember, was not revealed by the police or other authorities, but by competing newspapers. Clearly, the phone hacking scandal is nothing more than an excuse and a pretty poor one at that. To have your liberties taken away by a Queen issuing a decree. . . .  Really, I just don’t know what to say. When are you getting rid of that medieval remnant?

I consider myself a liberal, a progressive, someone who’s moderately left of center and all that, so I don’t think I need to tell anyone what I think of Rupert Murdoch. However, principles are principles. The hacking scandal should have landed the creep in jail with criminal charges. The current decree doesn’t seem to address the real problem.

Interestingly, back in Murdoch’s birth country, new media regulations have already come and gone.

A rather different situation emerged recently in Canada.

One subject that I intend to eventually take up, and one of the main reasons I’m moving slowly over the historical development of the freedom of speech and trying to wrap my head around the principles involved, is the question of laws against hate speech. Here in the U.S., we have few laws of this sort. However, they represent a growing body of laws around the world and we’ve been hearing more calls for similar laws to be passed here.

I grew up in a world in which people on the left tended to be more enthusiastic supporters of freedom of speech than people on the right. Recently these roles have been reversed, yet I have not changed my own beliefs on the subject, a situation which puts me at odds with many people with whom I am otherwise political allies.

In the province of Quebec, a young man Matthieu Bonin, who sees himself as an internet humorist and comedian (with a maudit bel accent), was charged with the crime of hate speech (in French) for saying, in a context which appeared to not be serious, that he hoped that someone would shoot up the National Assembly, Quebec’s provincial legislative body. The charges were dropped, because, if I understand correctly, members of the National Assembly are not an identifiable group warranting protection. This case has within it all sorts of interesting implications that I think it might be worth examining at length later despite the fact that the charges were dropped. (ht Leonid Sirota at Double Aspect)

Very young seedling in a peat pellet.

Our seeds have sprouted already!

Considering our recent conversations about sexuality, and that one of sexual practices that sex addiction proponents frequently consider deviant is pornography, I just had to include a link to this Sun article about pandas using panda porn as a sex aid. The article is very cute.

I was thrilled to see that Natalie Reed was posting again, only to be disappointed by the fact that she will have stopped again yesterday.  She has an interesting post about musical taste and society. I’m not linking to it because I agree with it, she has some oddly late realizations and makes some unsubstantiated sweeping generalizations, but I still think it’s interesting. I had similar experiences about social pressure to like certain types of music and to dislike others. I’m not sure if I should include it in my memories, not being a musician. On the other hand, since the musical forms were sometimes stand-ins for other ideologies, perhaps it might be worthwhile to examine. How much can I bore all of you with the trivia of my early adolescence?

I haven’t listened to this talk about James Baldwin yet, but I will certainly get to it.

Finally, Interesting Literature has a post about one of my all time favorite writers, George Eliot (proof positive that I’m a dork).

A fractal flame randomly generated by Aphophysis

I would like to share with everyone some information about a software program I came across several years ago. It’s called Apophysis and you can use it to create fractal flames. You’ve almost certainly heard of fractals, but you might not know what they are.1 They are geometric patterns that have “self-similarity.” They are frequently formed by rules that repeat. It’s easier to understand with an example than with a description.

A Sierpinsky Triangle'The Seirpinski Triangle2 is formed by making a triangle. Then you make three triangles half the size of the first triangle and place them so that their corners touch. Then you do the same thing again within each of the new triangles. Repeat. Repeat again. Keep doing this forever. Each step is called an iteration.

A portion of the triangle.

The top triangle was made using the program Apophysis. Then I zoomed in more closely in the upper left portion of the triangle. It’s hard to tell where I zoomed in, because the different areas resemble one another. That’s the self-similarity. The large triangle will be divided into smaller triangles to the extent it is physically possible to render it. If you zoom in, more triangles appear. Read More

I haven’t yet decided if I want to participate in this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, but I took my camera out and went around my neighborhood to take a few pictures. People in this town love to put eccentric ornaments in their yards. Sure, you might find the occasional ironic pink flamingo or even a genuine sculpture, but the general taste around here is the quirkier the better. Maybe one day, I’ll go out and concentrate on lawn ornaments. The following item caught my eye.
An eleven inch high stone lawn ornament.
I think this was a left over prop from the movie This is Spinal Tap.

Here was an interesting article by someone who writes comic books. The title is self-explanatory: Writing While Black.

There was an interesting article in the The New York Times Magazine about Anheuser-Busch InBev’s attempt to buy Grupo Modelo. The Justice Department is looking into the possibility that AB InBev could become an abusive monopoly. The fear is essentially that AB InBev would be able to set a price without pressure from competition and this would lead to higher prices for consumers. However, since beer isn’t exactly an essential, a somewhat inflated price might not be a bad thing. I also had another thought. The article also mentioned that there are 2336 breweries in the U.S. with an average on one new brewery every day. I can’t help wondering if an artificially high price on the mass market beers might also inadvertently help the smaller breweries which presumably have higher costs. That’s just speculation on my part. Any thoughts?

If you’ve come across any interesting tidbits in the last week (or titbits as Daz over at Dixie Flatline informed us), please share.

A brightly colored leaf stands out on a snow covered bush.Well, I had one of those weeks that vaguely reminded me of that xkcd “someone is wrong on the internet” cartoon. If you haven’t seen it, read it and weep with laughter.

The first very wrong thing on the internet was something I came across in the comment section of a blog. Someone made a reference to the United States’ Civil Flag. I’m a pretty well read person and I’d never heard of it so I took to the internet to find out what this was. This is a bit of woo is brought to you by the same people who have brought you the sovereign citizen concept and other historical hallucinations. I put it here mainly as a warning. The Urban Legend of a “Civilian” National Flag. The Civil Flag: Forgotten Flag or Fiction?

The second thing isn’t exactly someone being wrong in the same way as simply have some incorrect facts. Somehow, by accident, I came across some stuff about pit bulls and related breeds. I remember once I signed up to volunteer at an animal shelter and I lasted less than an hour after I realized that the shelter housed almost nothing other than dogfighting breeds. The people at the shelter talked me into taking one of the dogs for a walk and I could barely control her. She was perfectly sweet, but too strong for me, who at the time wore a size zero. Another time I thought about getting a dog, but changed my mind when I realized that the local shelter in a different city had nothing but dogfighting breeds as well. I know myself well enough to know what I can and can’t handle and there are a wide variety of dog breeds I’d never own, not just the fighting breeds. I found this article on the problem of pit bulls in shelters interesting. I spent much of one even following up some of the information on the internet. Frankly, I don’t know what’s wrong or right in this case. Maybe I’ll write it up sometime.

Finally, there’s nothing wrong with this article. I’m putting a link up because I enjoyed it. It’s by a writer who hoped that working as a journalist on the cop beat would give him material for a novel. The experience was different than he expected. The Cop Beat by Stephan Talty.

If you have anything to share, add it in the comments. Thanks.

A rusty, old railroad trestle crossing a backroad. It is winter. There are no leaves on the trees. Snow is on the ground, but the road itself it wet. It is probably just above freezing. As sign that reads "Ogdensberg NJ" is affixed to the trestle. An American flag hangs down from it.

The New Republic as revamped its publication and its website. There was a great article about how the GOP, which had once been the stronger party on civil rights, became the “party of white people.”

Matt Taibbi has a new article about banking scandals.

I was looking up information on the microbiome when I came across a criticism of a project by a company called uBiome. I will have to do more reading on this. I may be writing a post on the microbiome in the near future. So many posts, so little time.

If I only had forty or fifty hours in a day, I’d put up one humorous post, one photograph and a thoughtful post every day. Ah, well.

If you came across anything interesting recently, please share it with us in the comments.

Two benches facing one another inside an outdoor structure made of rough hewn logs.Researchers now think that polyandry, a woman marrying more than one man, was a more common social system than previously thought. From The Atlantic: When Taking Multiple Husbands Makes Sense.

For people who are interested in the more theoretical ideas having to do with liberalism, there’s an interesting debate going on in South Africa right now about whether or not the concept of ubuntu is compatible with liberalism. Why Ubuntu Is a Liberal Value: @zilevandamme; What’s Behind Liberalism’s Unseemly Attack on Ubuntu: The Modular Man ; Liberalism, the Democratic Alliance and Identity: Synapses

In the New York Review of Books, Russell Baker discusses how the resurgence of wildlife in North America has been caused by our changing attitudes towards nature and has, in return, changed our attitudes.

I have decided to request to join the Atheist Blogroll. I probably won’t be posting on that particular subject especially often, but I think it’s a good idea to identify myself as an atheist just to get across the notion that we exist, we’re pretty diverse and we’re interested in a whole lot of things. It’s important to let people know that people who don’t believe in the existence of any gods consist of more than just a handful of authors and active members of the atheist blogosphere. Since I’m not a former Christian, I won’t be spending much, if any, time criticizing that religion. Although, I haven’t been put on their blogroll yet, I can’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be, so I went ahead and posted the badge in the right hand column. The link will take you to a list of blogs maintained by atheists. Since you don’t have to write about atheism, you just have to be an atheist, I think it’s a good idea for people who post about a variety of things to think about joining.

Again, if anyone wants to share links of interesting things they’ve come across recently, please feel free to post them in the comments.