Archive for January 29th, 2005

Entire Season of Simpsons in One 4GB File

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Most Shared Shows: Number of files shared during the week ending Jan.
16. Source: Big Champagne

The New York Times has a timely article about the increasing popularity
of recording, swapping and downloading TV shows. Apparently, this activity
is illegal. Who knew? Much of the article deals with BitTorrent, which seems to be some kind
of hacker’s Napster…

Created
by Bram Cohen, a 29-year-old programmer in Bellevue, Wash., BitTorrent
breaks files hundreds or thousands of times
bigger than a song file into small pieces to speed its path to the Internet
and then to your computer. On the kind of peer-to-peer site that gave
the music industry night sweats, an episode of "Desperate Housewives" that
some fan copied and posted on the Internet can take hours to download;
on BitTorrent, it arrives in minutes. BitTorrent may sound like some
obscure techno-trickery, but more than 20 million people have already
downloaded the application. Each week dozens of shows are shared by hundreds
of thousands of people. "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" and "Friends" top
the most-popular list, but even "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Trading
Spaces" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" landed in
the Top 20 for the week ending Jan. 16, according to Big Champagne, which
measures file-sharing activity.

Strange, it took US 12 hours to download the latest
episode of "Desperate Housewives," which we just got through watching
on the laptop snuggled under the down comforter with Norma Yvonne, who
has become a big fan, of Desperate Housewives and the down comforter.
Maybe we need to update our software our upgrade our internet connection.
Of course, we are only previewing the program for inclusion in our American
Culture class at BU. Each week, we have been snipping a few scenes, and
writing exercises exploring the language and cultural themes, like attitudes
towards infidelity, suburban morality between Red States and Blue States
(where does the story take place, anyway?), socioeconomic
stratification on Wisteria Lane, teenage slang and dating habits, pharmacalogical
treatment of psychological disorders, the list goes one and on. Of course,
some weeks we get caught up in a half-hour discussion of "Can anybody
really be as dumb as Susan?" The students love it, and we feel it really
does capture the cultural pulse of the nation in a way NPR can only dream
about.

from the New York Times

The Spread of a Radical Philosophy

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It
has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all
the others that have been tried. Winston Churchill said that, supposedly,
although you never can tell in this day and age of contested attribution.
The
elections
going on as we write in
Iraq
are a case and point illustrating
both the power and the peril of what we often forget was originally
a very revolutionary form of government. Potentially, it still is.

The true power and righteousness of a government by the people, for
the people and of the people is awesome to behold, although in the opinion
of the Dowbrigade it has been quite some time since Our American Breed
of democracy has been anywhere close to that Jeffersonian ideal. And
in terms of spreading democracy around the globe, the Bush administration
need be careful what they ask for, lest they get it – in spades.

It is bizarre to the point of surreal that the turnout
in these Iraqi elections is expected to surpass that of the recently
concluded,
most hotly contested US presidential elections in decades. This is a
country where just walking within a city block of a polling place means
the very
real possibility of being shot or blown up.  Where dozens of people
are being slaughtered in the streets every day just for trying to HOLD
elections. Where names are being taken and retribution is being promised
to anyone daring to exercise their democratic right! And they are expecting
over
70% turnout!

If voting meant risking your life and the safety of your family, how
many Americans do you think would go out to vote?

As far as the theory that exposure to American values
will foster the flourishing of democracy elsewhere it is interesting
to note that of the quarter-million
adult Iraqis
living in the United States, only
10% even bothered to register
for these elections, for which they
are indeed eligible.

The sad fact is that in truly free, open elections,
those that are hungry, those that are oppressed, and those who are suffering
will turn out at a higher
rate than those whose bellies are full and who are basically satisfied
with the status quo. For better or worse, this facet of democracy lies
at the heart of its radically revolutionary nature.

This is where America must beware. Let’s face it, if
free and open elections tomorrow created governments of, by and for the
people of Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi
Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Egypt, Algeria and many more, we would lose most
of those few allies and negotiating partners we have in that part of
the world. We would also lose access to over half of our imported oil,
which
would throw our economy into a tailspin it would take a generation to
recover from.

What has happened and continues to happen in Venezuela
is an excellent example of the dangers of rampant democracy. By appealing
to the hungry,
dissatisfied masses, who in a county like Venezuela are in a clear majority
(whether or not they agree with Chavez) he got elected by a landslide.
Almost the entire economic power structure of the county and their close
friends
and colleagues
in the US have been trying to get rid of him ever since, but thanks to
access to the oil income and that pesky philosophy democracy (he has
won two recall elections) the Chavez revolution rolls on. Somehow, though,
we suspect its going to end badly for old Hugo.

The point is, free elections are a tricky thing.  You
never know who might get elected.  Don’t forget, the Germans elected
Adolf Hitler in 1933. How’d that work out for them, and for the rest
of us? However, as the Americans have proven, managing elections
is both an art and a science. Obviously, they will be attempting to manage
the new Iraqi elections as artfully as they have managed recent elections
in this country, but it is more difficult in the hinterland, where the
mechanisms of control are not as sophisticated or ingrained.

The ultimate danger to the US Government of this whole
Proselytize Democracy strategy is the boomerang effect. If radical ideas
like transparent government,
official accountability, and participatory democracy with an educated,
involved electorate ever found their way back to the States and infected
the body politic, we could all be in big trouble. Democracy is a revolutionary
idea, especially when the power of a country is concentrated in the hands
of a corrupt regime or a privileged minority. Caveat emptor.

Optional Avalanche Escape Equipment

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A
Slovak man trapped in his car under an avalanche freed himself by drinking
60 bottles of beer and urinating on the snow to melt it.

Rescue teams found Richard Kral drunk and staggering along a mountain path
four days after his Audi car was buried in the Slovak Tatra mountains.

He told them that after the avalanche, he had opened his car window and
tried to dig his way out.

But as he dug with his hands, he realised the snow would fill his car before
he managed to break through.

He had 60 half-litre bottles of beer in his car as he was going on holiday,
and after cracking one open to think about the problem he realised he could
urinate on the snow to melt it, local media reported.

He said: "I was scooping the snow from above me and packing it down
below the window, and then I peed on it to melt it. It was hard and now
my kidneys and liver hurt. But I’m glad the beer I took on holiday turned
out to be useful and I managed to get out of there.

from Annanova