Ladies, You Need to Look Good for Your Man

I'm reading Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life, a biography of the sorely missed Texas liberal columnist by Bill Minutaglio and W. Michael Smith.

When Molly was eight months old, her father Jim Ivins was serving on the USS Gallup in the Coast Guard during World War II. He wrote this in a letter home to his wife Margaret:

I think your new stationary is solid, but how about a picture of you lately? I think you have a complex about your looks. When you put your mind on it you are one hell of an attractive girl. No woman looks good unless she worked on it and you don't work on it enough. I want you to be a stunner, babe, and you can be. ... The Chinese woman of the upper classes, they say, has only one aim in life -- to make herself attractive to her husband. Not a bad idea, hey?

Ivins went on to be a corporate attorney and general counsel for the Texas oil company Tenneco, raising his family in the wealthy River Oaks section in central Houston. In 1998, Molly Ivins wrote this about him in her column for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

(I started this column at approximately 8 p.m., April 19, knowing that my father had advanced cancer and anticipating that sometime in the next six months an obituary column would be required. I was planning to send him this column on the theory that he would like to know exactly what I thought of him. About 8:20, seven sentences into the column, I received a phone call informing me that my father had put a bullet through his brain. I am shocked but not surprised. And I continue.)

-- Rogers Cadenhead

Blog Visitor Planning Cruise Ship Suicide

I discovered yesterday that a recent commenter to my blog is contemplating suicide. In response to a post about cruise ship passengers who are lost at sea, a visitor wrote this comment on May 24:

i am tentatively planning a suicide at the end of a cruise i am to take around the holidays...i will reconnect with my family, have some wonderful times, and at the pinnacle of positive memories having been made, I plan to dive or slosh or whatever into the water, leaving all the garbage behind, m decision, my way. Just because the reason is not apparent to you does not indicate it does not exist. ppl who know me call me "sunshine" and believe i am always happy, when in reality i am the opposite. if u have never been in the depths, dont bother to write about how it had to be murder. Some of us just hate it here. if u hate your job, u leave, hate your house, you move, hate your life, u leave. it should be a personal choice

The comment was signed "madness" and posted by a Cincinnati Bell DSL user who found my site by searching Google for the words suicide off cruise ship. He or she has not returned since.

If anyone has advice for how to handle this situation, I'm eager to hear it. Unless the holidays in question were the Memorial Day weekend, there's still time. I looked for news stories about cruise ship overboards the past week and didn't find any.

Weiner Story Another Breitbart Scam

Correction: Weiner story not another Breitbart scam.

On Saturday evening, conservative activist Andrew Breitbart published a story suggesting that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) sent a photo on Twitter of his underwear-clad penis to a female college student in Seattle.

This story, like others pushed by Breitbart in service of his right-wing agenda, appears to be factually questionable.

Weiner had more than 40,000 Twitter followers at the time the alleged tweet was sent, but only one of those users either responded to it or shared it: Patriotusa76. That account belongs to Dan Wolfe, a self-described "conservative Reagan Republican" whose Twitter history reveals that he's obsessed with Weiner. Wolfe created the account Jan. 6 and has posted hundreds of messages about the congressman and his wife Huma Abedin. His first 19 messages were all about the Weiners, as were around 175 of his first 400 Twitter messages.

Wolfe's primary use of Twitter has been to post extremely crude criticism of the Weiners and correspond with a small group of other right-wing users who share his sentiments. Among his messages, more than 200 of which were addressed to Weiner at his @RepWeiner account so he'd see them, were claims that Weiner is gay, that his wife is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's lesbian lover, that she's a Muslim who sympathizes with Al Qaeda terrorists and that she's so ugly she should wear a burqa. Here's a typical message he posted about them:

@goatsred LOL! Now there's an image not far from the reality! He's out looking for wiener while his "wife" is with her husband, Hildabeast

One of the technical aspects of how Twitter works is that you can't make a message disappear simply by deleting it quickly after you send it. Twitter messages are received and stored instantaneously by numerous Twitter clients and websites around the Internet. A user such as Weiner, even if he had deleted a message sent accidentally only seconds after it was transmitted, would not be able to stop copies of it from being saved. Tens of thousands of users receive his Twitter messages.

Yet in this situation, no one other than Wolfe responded on Twitter to the supposed crotch tweet. It was not present on Weiner's Twitter account when Breitbart's story was published. The only person who can vouch for it ever being posted at all is the rabid antagonist of the congressman.

The photo referenced in the alleged tweet was hosted on YFrog, an image-hosting service where people can post photos to be shared on Twitter. The photo did exist on Weiner's account for a brief time until it was deleted, presumably by him or someone on his staff.

YFrog has a huge security vulnerability that makes it possible to post photos to someone else's account without their password. If you know the person's email address on YFrog, you can send a photo to that email address and it will show up on that site under their account. Godfrey Dowson of the Cannonfire blog tried this out, sharing his YFrog email address and encouraging readers to send a photo to it. One of them did, and it appeared on Dowson's account.

Considering this vulnerability, I think the most likely scenario for what took place is that someone posted the crotch photo on the congressman's YFrog account without his permission using the security vulnerability and it never appeared on Twitter. Wolfe shared this link as if it had been posted on Twitter, either because he was involved or because he monitors Weiner's YFrog page closely.

To believe Andrew Breitbart, Weiner sent a picture of his crotch over Twitter to thousands of people, but only one responded to it -- a person who has devoted his entire online life to hating that congressman and his wife. The media has once again fallen for a bogus story being pimped by the biggest charlatan on the right.


Tell Me What to Tell Congress

I'm in Washington D.C. as part of the Long Tail Fly-In, a group of around 60 small web publishers assembled by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). As a publisher who uses context-based advertising on the Drudge Retort and other sites, I was invited to meet with members of Congress to talk about why this form of advertising is important to online media.

I attended this event last year and met aides for Reps. Diane DeGette (D-Colo.), Michael Castle (R-Del.), Bill Young (D-Fl.), Charlie Melancon (D-La.) and Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). I also elbowed Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas) hard in the schnozz in one of the tiny elevators in the Rayburn building, but I don't think he knew I was with the IAB -- so no harm, no foul.

This year the odds are pretty good I'll be talking to a member of Congress, since 18 members of the House or Senate have scheduled time with us.

That's where you come in. I'd like to hear from people who are running full- or part-time businesses that are fueled by Google AdSense and other third-party ad services that provide contextual ads. I'd like to know how you started the business and whether it will be viable if new privacy laws make it impossible for ads to be targeted to users using cookies and other web technology.

I wouldn't be able to run the Retort or my other sites without AdSense, one of two ad brokers I'm currently using on the site. I tried a half-dozen other ad providers before Google got into that business, and none of them generated enough revenue to be able to afford server hosting, much less any of my time.

If you're running an online site with these kinds of ads, I'd like to hear from you so I can crib your stories tomorrow on Capitol Hill.

YouTube Founders Save Delicious from Doom

Good news: The social bookmarking site Delicious has been saved from Yahoo's wrecking ball. YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen have acquired the site for an undisclosed sum.

DeliciousDelicious was founded in 2003 by Joshua Schachter, an entrepreneur I got to know as a contributor to his early group blog Memepool. Delicious is a free service to organize web bookmarks and share them with others. This was briefly a phenomenon before Facebook and Twitter devoured all other forms of link sharing.

New owners Hurley and Chen have formed the AVOS startup to run Delicious and have designs on some kind of search business:

Going back to their roots, Hurley and Chen located Delicious in downtown San Mateo, California, blocks away from where they started YouTube. They're aggressively hiring to build a world-class team to take on the challenge of building the best information discovery service on the web.

When Yahoo announced it was either shutting down or selling the site in December, it appeared likely that it was a goner. As a user for years, I figured at some point I'd need to migrate my data someplace else. Looks like that's unnecessary.

Yahoo bought Delicious in 2005, reportedly for $15 to $20 million. Geek System reports today that Yahoo's asking price for Delicious was around $1 to $2 million. The numbers work pretty well with some advice I offered on Twitter back in December: If you sell your site to Yahoo, set aside 10% of the money so you can buy it back after Yahoo drives it into the toilet.

Two Science Fiction Novels I Didn't Finish

I hit a bad streak reading novels this month. My house is overflowing with books I've been meaning to read, so I will give up on a novel when I've abandoned all hope of being entertained. I figure if I'm not enjoying a book after 50 to 75 pages, it's time to bail. I reached that point with Wilson Tucker's The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970) and Philip K. Dick's The Divine Invasion (1981).

Wilson Tucker's The Year of the Quiet SunQuiet Sun is a Nebula Award-nominated time-travel novel by the late Wilson "Bob" Tucker. He was an active science fiction fan who belonged to the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA) and coined the term "space opera."

As a current member of FAPA and a time-travel geek I wanted to like the book, but after 70 pages Tucker was still putting the main characters together. Nothing had happened yet. No time travel. No plot twists. Just talk talk talk. The male protagonists pass the time pontificating about their fields of study and making moves on the young female bureaucrat who recruited them. She's in her 20s and the prospective time travelers are an older scholar and two military officers. Their constant attempts to flirt with her may have been standard operating procedure in the free-love-and-sideburn '70s, but Tucker never shows her reciprocate anyone's interest -- so it feels like actionable sexual harassment.

Wikipedia's synopsis of the novel reveals that the time-traveling Don Drapers go to the future and find a U.S. embroiled in race war: "Moresby goes first and travels to July 4, 1999 ... only to emerge in the middle of a racial civil war in which Chicago had recently been attacked with a nuclear bomb launched from China on behalf of black guerrillas." I might have stuck with the novel if I knew it was fueled by early '70s fear of a black planet.

I hadn't read anything by Philip K. Dick before trying Divine Invasion. The book's about a virgin conception on a remote industrial planet. The savior fetus Emmanuel is the son of Yahweh, and he needs to return to Earth to take the planet back from the devil Belial, who has been running things since the fall of Masada in the first century AD. Belial controls Earth through a one-world government that's a "unification of the Communist Party and the Catholic Church."

This is odd enough to catch my interest, but Dick's plot feels like an excuse to engage in ponderous theological ruminations on God, the Bible and the Torah. Here's an example:

Emmanuel watched, and presently the cat came to him and asked to speak to him. He lifted it up and held it in his arms and the cat placed its paw against his face. With its paw it told him that mice were annoying and a bother and yet the cat did not wish to see an end of mice because, as annoying as they were, still there was something about them that was fascinating, more fascinating than annoying; and so the cat sought out mice, although the cat did not respect the mice. The cat wanted there to be mice and yet the cat despised mice.

All this the cat communicated by means of its paw against the boy's cheek.

I usually struggle with this kind of pass-the-bong storytelling. Give me literal fiction with relatable characters. I have an allergy to allegory.

Calling the Itamar Attacker a 'Terrorist'

I'm getting some pushback on the Drudge Retort to how I presented the Itamar attack story:

Intruder Kills Israeli Settler Family

In the West Bank settlement of Itamar, five members of an Israeli family were killed Friday night by an intruder who broke into their home and stabbed them to death. The suspect stabbed the mother, father and children aged 11, three and three months old. Two children, aged 2 and 4, were not harmed in the attack. The attacker has not been caught.

The media is calling the attacker a terrorist. I read six stories on the incident last night and none of them contained a single bit of evidence to back up this claim. They all simply assume that it must be terrorism and quote people making the same assumption.

I know this heinous crime is likely to be terrorism, but the media should not jump to conclusions and report something that is likely as if it is certain. This is particularly true when a story has immediate and explosive political ramifications.

But since I wrestled with this decision for a while, I'd like to hear other opinions.