Dutch Diplomat Dooced

Apparently the Northern European fondness for plain speaking is an art not full appreciated by the genocidal government in Sudan.

Jan Pronk, a Dutch national working for the United Nations in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, was declared persona non grata for writing on his weblog that Sudan’s army had suffered hundreds of casualties in fighting against rebels in northern Darfur. Pronk, the top UN official in the country, was given 72 hours to leave.

Technically, of course, Pronk has not been dooced, because he still has his job with the UN. Still, he’s been shown the door, and the blog was the ostensible reason. Was he surprised that his blog was read in Khartoum? Was it a deliberate provocation? No word yet from the suddenly tight-lipped diplomat.

Sweeping Up

While we’re working on the update, our latest changes to the back end seems to have left us vulnerable to more comment spam than usual. (On the other hand, it’s become much easier to add pictures.) We’re doing our best to take out the trash, but there may be a bit more of it than you’re used to seeing here. Also, if we happen to take out one of your real and valuable comments by mistake, just let us know. We’ll try to rescue it from the assorted bits and bytes laying around in the construction site here.

Working on it

The intrepid Tobias Schwarz is working on an update to A Fistful of Euros. It’s great stuff, from what he’s shown us in previews, and he has been very good not only with the heavy lifting and template tweaking, he’s been very open about incorporating the odd suggestion from the rest of the crew.

It’s scheduled to go live Real Soon Now, but first, a look behind the scenes at a developer’s work…

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Radioactive Bloggy Goodness

If you want news about nuclear tests, nonproliferation and other arms control topics from people who actually know their throw weights from a hole in the ground, go and visit the Arms Control Wonk blog. They’re low on heh-indeed, and high on things like “Cooperative Monitoring in Outer Space to Manage Crowding and Build Confidence,” (pdf) so be prepared for plenty of facts and genuine know-how.

At the moment, they’re full of North Korea news, spiced with things like nuclear forensics, which will come in handy if a nuclear bomb ever goes off somewhere it shouldn’t, and retaliation has to answer questions like whether it originated in Iran, Pakistan, North Korea or somewhere else.

An Experiment in Globalization: Results

First off, Apple did get back to me within the time frame that they promise. (I was in New York on business part of this week and last, thus the lack of blogging.) So far, so good.

But I can’t say I’m satisfied with the results. Instead of finding a way for me to acquire music from iTunes, they replied:

Currently, iTunes Music Store Gift Certificates can only be redeemed in the country where they are purchased. It is not possible to send an iTunes Music Store Gift Certificate to a recipient in another country.

Because of this, the order was canceled and a refund was issued in the amount of $[foo] to the sender’s credit card. This credit should post to the their account within 3-5 business days of [date]. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Upshot is no tunes for me, no money for Apple, or the artists, or anyone else interested in making some euro cents from legal downloads of music. (I suppose I could log onto iTunes US whenever I happen to be in the States; how’s that for convenience?) Market failure, thy name is copyright lawyers.

An Experiment in Globalization

Nowadays, people’s lives often take them far from the land of their birth, right? And the internet is supposed to be able to help diminish the problems arising from distance, yes? We will see if Apple and iTunes are up to the challenge.

Dear Sir or Madam,

My sister, who lives in the United States, sent me an iTunes gift certificate for my birthday. I would like to use it to purchase music. Your software tells me that I cannot use this gift certificate for iTunes Germany. It also tells me that I cannot sign on to the iTunes store for the United States, where the certificate was purchased.

How can I use this gift certificate to purchase music?


Douglas Merrill

The FAQ says to expect an answer within 24 hours. I will keep you all posted.

Superfast Update: The “thank you” page says that they will be in contact within 72 hours. This is not an auspicious start.

1..2..3..And They’re Off – The Left

On the other side of French politics, as I promised, the internal conflicts are if anything stronger. To start with the most important ones, the Socialist Party is about to do something quite rare in its history – have a contested primary election. The only other was that of 1995, when Lionel Jospin beat Henri Emmanuelli to succeed Francois Mitterand. Before that, the candidacy normally went to the party’s first secretary, who was usually Mitterand anyway. (Before 1971, when Mitterand set up the modern PS, the various splinter-groups from the old SFIO that made it up of course had their own arrangements.)

Since the disaster of 2002, though, this looks like it’s going to change, chiefly because there’s a strong external candidate. Ségoléne Royal, the head of the Poitou-Charentes regional government, has been campaigning vigorously all year with some success. The success can be measured, in fact, by the frequency with which she is being accused of “Blairism” by the rest of the possible candidates. This looks like being the content-free insult of the campaign, in fact, as could be seen with the PS official quoted by Libération who remarked that he didn’t want Royal to “come back from London and abolish the social security” – after all, everyone knows that the UK provides no social security whatsoever, right?

It would be more accurate to place Royal on the soft-left. (If anyone’s Blairite in this game, it’s Nicolas Sarkozy – this speech is a classic of early Blairite rhetoric circa 1997.) She is no more “neoliberal” than Lionel Jospin was in government, for example, or for that matter Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and is closer to the Greens than some. She is given to vaguely conservative speaking, but it’s harder to discern where a concern for civisme, secularity and Republican values (in the French sense) stops and where a rather stern law-and-order politics begins in a French context.

However, it looks more and more as if the rest of the party is gearing up for an “anti-Blairism”, stop-Sego campaign. And policy doesn’t matter very much in this sense.
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Beware BlogBurst: Bad for Business

Bitch PhD has a long post warning bloggers of the perils of signing up with a syndication service called BlogBurst. Essentially, what BlogBurst does is take an RSS feed of your blog, then sell the feeds to big-traffic websites. Now, we can already see one thing wrong with this picture. Why would anybody pay for RSS they can aggregate completely free?

Clearly that reference to “big-traffic websites” ought to read “high-traffic but clue-deficient websites”.

Now, this might seem a good idea. More traffic please. Here’s the first problem, though; the BlogBurst feed includes the complete text of your stuff. There is no way in which any of the traffic will make its way back to you, unless you count a byline link. In fact, as one can read all your stuff (and other blogs too) on Bigsite.com, you may actually lose traffic.

BlogBurst asked us to join some time ago. After considerable consideration, we decided to turn them down. It wasn’t the traffic we were concerned about, though. It was the fact that agreeing to let BlogBurst use your stuff involves granting them a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual license to reproduce, distribute, make derivative works of, perform, display, disclose, and otherwise dispose of the Work (and derivative works thereof) for the purposes of (a) modifying the Work without substantially changing its original meaning, and (b) distributing the Work (and derivative works thereof) to Publisher electronic web sites or corresponding printed editions, whether now known or hereafter devised. That is to say, signing over the rights!

Needless to say, this is a very bad idea, and (although IANAL) does not seem compatible with Creative Commons licencing. Especially as BlogBurst offers in exchange the prospect that there “might” be some payment in the future. Not “will”. And, just to cap the lot, if you are independently hosted like we are, it could cost you a fortune. Any images in your posts, should they be picked up by BlogBurst, will be hotlinked – on sites that are meant to run massive numbers of pageviews.

Demography Matters

Well as everyone who reads Afoe assiduously already knows this is my opininion: demography does matter. And now this is doubly official as some of us demography enthusiasts have just set up the demography matters weblog. This does not mean that you, gentle readers, will now be completely spared, but it does probably mean that my Afoe posting may become a little less ‘monothematic’ given that I now have another outlet from which to vent my obsessions.

Stefan Geen’s simple Turing test hack for MT 3.x

Stefan Geen’s simple anti-spam Turing test hack is fantastically efficient – you’ll almost never get any spam. Unlike MT’s anti-spam measures, it saves bandwidth (and, of course, it actually works); unlike Blogger’s turing test, it’s not unbelievably tedious. I’ve put together a tutorial for people who use MT 3.x. (An improved version of the one by Patrik Strang’s, which is no longer online). If you have older version of MT you can read Stefan’s original post (don’t miss the updates).

The hack involves requiring a human mind to complete a simple instruction, such as “type the letter ‘F’ in this textbox” or “Type the third letter of this sentence in the textbox,” before MT accepts the accompanying comment.

Here’s how you do it: In your cgi-bin folder, locate the file Comments.pm. The filepath should end with /lib/MT/App/Comments.pm or something similar (It depends on what version of MT you have). Click edit and do a search for the following piece of code:

if (!$q->param(‘text’)) {
return $app->handle_error($app->translate(“Comment text is required.”));

Right under it, you add:

unless ($q->param(‘spam’) eq ‘F’) {
return $app->handle_error($app->translate(“Type the anti-spam text exactly as shown.”));

Save and close.

Then you must paste this snippet of code

<p><label for=”spam”>Today’s anti-spam measures are brought to you by the letter “F”. Please type it here:</label> <input id=”spam” name=”spam” />

in three different places, which all contain the form elements for commenting:

First you must open the file Contexhandlers.pm. (In early versions of MT3 it’s called Context.pm). The filepath should be something like cgi-bin/mt/lib/MT/Template/ContextHandlers.pm. Search the code for

<p><label for=”url”>URL:
<input tabindex=”1″ type=”text” name=”url” id=”url” value=”$comment_url” />

and add the snippet of code.

Then search for

<p><label for=”url”><MT_TRANS phrase=”URL:”>
<input tabindex=”3″ type=”text” name=”url” id=”url” value=”$comment_url” />

and add the same snippet. Save and close.

Now go to the templates screen in the MT control panel, click on the Individual Entry Archive Template and paste the same lines a third time; under the comment submission form code.

What happens now is that when a comment is submitted, MT checks that the accompanying question is answered correctly; if it is, the comment is accepted. The question is asked in the HTML, the answer is found in the Comments.pm code.