and the islamic world revels

    Posted in Mark's Life | 7 Comments

    on learning to face the new year without me

    Are you wondering where all the images went?

    Well, it would appear as though a hacker has decided to come in and erase those files. I’d like to think that it was somehow politically motivated, but right now it looks as though it was just some second-rate hacker looking to exploit a pretty well documented security hole in the open-source software we use to run MM.com. I’ve been trying to come up with an analogy and the best that I can come up with is that it’s like a young thug pushing an elderly woman over, and running off with her walker and her family photo albums while yelling “I own you!”

    And, yes, I’m aware that I just cast myself as a helpless elderly woman (sadly, I am when it comes to technology), and, yes, the guy who did it did say something like, “I own you.” In the brief message that he left, he also identified himself as an Iranian hacker. (If I were a hacker in Iran, I think I’d be a bit more interested in using my skills to expose and bring down extremist clerics than eliminating the family photos of a depressive midwesterner, but that’s just me.)

    So, an Iranian asshole wiped out every image I’ve ever posted, and I’m thinking about “taking my ball and going home.” At least that’s how Linette put it last night. (She’d rather that I stay here and fight.) Echoing Linette’s sentiments, our friend Patty says that I’d be “letting the terrorists win” if I walked away now. (She also said, and I don’t know that she’d want me sharing this, that this attack was more devastating than the one on 9/11.)

    The truth is, I’d been thinking about pulling the plug on this site for a long time now, and this recent incident may have just served to hasten along the inevitable. I think we all knew that this site jumped the shark with my decision to write in the character of the baby, Clementine. (I thought that she might deliver a younger demographic.) And, I’m not too proud to admit that I burned-out creatively at about he same time. Yes, there have been the occasional bursts of greatness, like the interviews with Peter Falk and John Edwards, the mentions by the BBC, and with projects like Zombie Claus, but, on the whole, it’s just a faint echo of what we once had. And, I think we all know it.

    With all of that said, I should add that I’m not so sure that this is going to be permanent. Bloggers, as you might know, in addition to being insecure and obsessive by nature, are a fickle bunch. And, as I realize that, I’m not going to say definitively that you’ll never hear from me again. (That’s what you would have heard me saying last night, but I’ve calmed down a little since then.) All I’m going to say right now is that you’d better start looking for more reliable sources for your daily fix of whatever it is that you’ve been getting here. I may take a month or so off, or I may just be leaving terse little observations every now and then, but it certainly won’t be anything like the reams of content I’ve been dumping these past few years on a nightly basis.

    So, now you know. It’s not exactly the news I was hoping to share with you as we prepare to enter the new year, but maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe this will give some of us the time to actually start doing things in the real world, with real people. (I, for one, plan to focus on the new issue of “Crimewave,” and some other things that have been hanging over my head.)

    One more thing… For the record, I don’t regret any of the time or effort that I’ve put into this site over the past four years. If I had it all to do over again, I’d do it the exact same way. I’ve met some really incredible people through this site, and it’s opened up some possibilities for me that wouldn’t have otherwise been there for me. I loved all of your comments and looked forward to coming home every night, putting the baby to sleep, reading what you all had to say and joining in on the debate. I don’t want to get all sappy, but I think we had something really special here, and I’ll miss it. (It’s been my experience that communities like this, either in the real world or on-line, are pretty hard to come by.)

    One other important lesson I’ve taken away from this experience: always backup. I didn’t do it with any consistency with my photos, and, as a result, I don’t think that most of the work here that I’ve done can be recreated. I might, if I can find the time, try to rebuild what I can, but I don’t relish the idea of spending weeks of my life trying to do what I’d already done once before. (I did write a note to the hacker asking that he replace the images, on the off chance that he has them, but I suspect that he probably doesn’t have the ability to do so. The fact that he left his email address suggests to me that he probably just gets off on having people grovel, but I went ahead and sent a note anyway, hoping that perhaps it might lead to my at least getting some of my old images back, especially the ones of my daughter.)

    So, to reiterate, we were fucked yesterday. A real badass Iranian hacker found a way in and destroyed my site. A monkey could have done it. I’m using open-source software and the security limitations are pretty well documented. I guess I never really thought that it would happen to me though. I guess I knew that hackers were out there, but I never really thought that they’d bother going after such easy prey. I thought any hacker worth a damn would be going after Microsoft and the NSA. But, I guess second-rate hackers need to have their fun too.

    I suppose it’s possible that it has something to do with the fact that I’ve never restrained myself when it came to saying what I felt about militant Islamic theocracies (like the one in Iran). It would make me feel a lot better if that were the case, but I suspect that it wasn’t. (If you have a moment, and if you want to cheer me up, please leave a comment telling me this is what I get for suggesting that women should have equality with men and that burkas, like the chains of slavery, should be abolished forever. (Bonus points if you can work in the phrase “American pig dog.”))

    I wish I could be more eloquent here, and really sum up what I’ve come to learn over the past few years that I’ve spent on-line, but I just don’t know what to say. I guess I’ve learned that people are shortsighted and stupid. And that backing up your files is probably a good thing to do.

    Now I will begin the next phase of my life — lobbying for the United States military to begin the indiscriminate bombing of the people of Iran until my hacker is dead.

    Happy holidays.

    It was nice knowing you.

    -Mark

    update: Thanks to the efforts of Steve Cherry, most of the pre-2005 images have now been restored.

    Posted in Mark's Life | 37 Comments

      charitable giving

      I’ve been super-busy these past few days with family things and other social commitments, but I just wanted to drop by the site and say hello to everyone and wish you all a happy New Year (in case I don’t get a chance to come back before then).

      I was going to suggest a few weeks ago that you use the Amazon links on the side of the page to do your Christmas shopping (so that I could make enough money to pay for hosting the site). It seemed kind of in bad taste though, so I didn’t do it. I also didn’t suggest, even though I was tempted to do so, that you buy back issues of Crimewave, or Ypsipanties for your loved ones. I didn’t even pitch the newly released Monkey Power Trio record, “Spiders in the Blood Supply.” I guess I could say, “Now that the holidays are over, isn’t it time you think of yourself? Don’t you deserve something nice from MM.com?” I can’t bring myself to do it though. There are just too many more important things to spend your money on. Not that my merchandise isn’t great, but the stakes are just too high this year.

      So, with that in mind, I thought that I’d take this opportunity to make a few suggestions in case you might be in a position to make a tax-deductible donation to a non-profit before the end of the year… I know I don’t need to tell you this, but as “social spending” is drying up in Congress, it really is imperative that those of us who have a few extra dollars at the end of year pass them along to organizations that can put them to good use helping others who might not be as well off. I know that a lot of us probably aren’t in much of a position to help this year, but maybe, if that’s the case, you could still lend a hand by forwarding on a few links to your friends and family members who might be more able to pitch in… Anyway, I just thought that the subject warranted a post. Sorry if it comes across as too “preachy,” but sometimes I can’t control myself. (Just ask the MTV crew filming in Fort Lauderdale in ’87 if you don’t believe me.)

      OK, so here’s my list of ideas… I’m sure there are tons of other deserving groups, but these are just the first ones that came to mind. If you feel passionately about any that I didn’t mention, please leave a comment. (Where applicable, I’ve also included a link to the organization’s Charity Navigator rating.)

      The Les Turner Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Foundation: I watched my grandmother dealing with ALS (commonly referred to as “Lou Gherigs’s Disease”) up until the point when she chose to take her own life, and I’ve always told myself that when I had the resources I’d contribute toward research. While I haven’t done a great deal yet, I have done a little digging and it seems as though the Les Turner Foundation is at the forefront when it comes to funding research in the area. (rating)

      The Electronic Frontier Foundation: Kind of like a digital ACLU, the EFF works to protect civil liberties online. And, if you’ve been reading the news this past week, you know just how important that is. (rating)

      826 Valencia: Started by Dave Eggers, the man behind the McSweeney’s machine, this non-profit helps students (ages 8–18), especially those with few resources of their own, to develop their writing skills. (As I’ve never been able to make my way though anything published by McSweeney’s, I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan, but they put out my friend Amy’s book (which I did read — and very much liked), and this non-profit of theirs is one of the most interesting and innovative that I’ve heard about in a long time.)

      The American Visionary Art Museum: It’s my favorite museum. It doesn’t really come through from the website, but the place has a lot of heart and I’m sure the money would go a long way toward making programs available to kids in underserved communities, who could really benefit from the underlying message – everyone is capable of creating unique works of art reflecting their own experience. It really is an inspirational place.

      The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities: “One of the nation’s premier policy organizations working at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals.” (rating)

      The American Progress Action Fund: The group behind the Think Progress site that I’m always linking to. There are a lot of people doing good, important work these days, but these folks are among the best. They do an incredible job of explaining things simply, and I’m sure that with a little more money they could disseminate that information even more broadly.

      Along the same lines, you might also want to consider a contribution to Media Matters: “A progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.” They are also doing vital work.

      WFMU: The best radio station in the free world, and I’d say that even if they didn’t play my records. (Speaking of people who play and appreciate my records, word is that there may one day be a “John Peel Memorial Music Foundation,” but so far I can’t find any sign of its existence. (Will someone remind me on New Year’s Eve to have a drink in memory of Mr. Peel?))

      WNYC: The National Public Radio station that produces my favorite program, On the Media. (rating)

      The American Civil Liberties Union: The CEO makes a mint, but the organization still gets a great rating from outside auditors like Charity Navigator. If you aren’t already a member, you should be. If there was ever a time in our nation’s history that the ACLU was absolutely indespensible, it’r right now. (rating)

      I wanted to link to People for the American Way also, as I’m a member and I like what they have to say when it comes to the separation of church and state, but they get a bad Charity Navigator rating… Perhaps you’d be better served to give to The Council for Secular Humanism . (They get the highest rating possible, and seem to be working on a lot of the same issues.)

      Then there are always international aid organizations like The Red Cross (rating) and CARE (rating).

      Of course, it’s also nice to keep you money local to where you are. If you’d like to that, I’m sure you can find a well-run soup kitchen or local branch of Habitat for Humanity. If you’re in southeastern Michigan three very good alternatives are: Growing Hope, Food Gatherers (rating), and The Detroit Institute of the Arts (rating).

      (I don’t know of any good charities doing work with anxiety disorders (like OCD), but I’d love to hear about them if you know of any. (The anxiety disorders association of America gets a really bad write-up from Charity Navigator.) I’d also be interested to hear if anyone knows of any charities doing good work in depression and suicide prevention.)

      Groups I won’t be supporting this year: Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (rating), Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association (rating), James Dobson’s Focus on the Family (rating), Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis Ministries (rating), The Thomas More Law Center (rating), or the newly founded group Mothers Against Noise. (There are dozens of so-called charitable organizations that I don’t choose to support, but these were the first ones that popped into my mind. If your organization isn’t listed, please don’t take it as evidence of the fact that I approve of what you are doing.)

      OK, so there are my thoughts on end-of-the-year charitable giving. If you have a moment and feel like leaving a note in the comments section, let me know where, if at all, you plan on sending a check. I’m sure there are hundreds of extremely worthy non-profits out there that I’ve never heard of and I’d like to hear about what some of them are doing. (Also, if you have comments on any of the organizations that I’ve recommended — either positive of negative — leave a note. I’m interested in hearing what you think.)

      (I should also mention that Charity Navigator reviews that I’ve linked to don’t necessarily mean that non-profits are, or aren’t, doing good work. I’m sure that several of the organizations that scored poorly still do very good things.)

      One last thing, while we’re on the subject… I was talking with a woman at a party a few days ago about charities and such, and she mentioned that in her family they give their daughter an allowance, but they do so with the understanding that she’s to set aside a certain percentage of it to a charity of her choice. That was the coolest thing I heard all Christmas season. It made my heart warm up and grow like the Grinch’s at the end of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

      Posted in Other | 12 Comments

      …and may all your flesh be warm

      “Season’s Eatings from the Bloated Heartland of America.”

      (Photo courtesy of Patrick Austin.)

      Posted in Mark's Life | 8 Comments

      why aren’t our conservative congressmen dying their fingers purple this time?

      I haven’t been following the results of the recent Iraqi elections like I should have been, so I’m trying to get caught up now, and everything I’m reading, outside of the statements being made by administration officials, is terribly depressing. Here, for example, is a clip from an article by author Robert Dreyfuss:

      The last hope for peace in Iraq was stomped to death this week. The victory of the Shiite religious coalition in the December 15 election hands power for the next four years to a fanatical band of fundamentalist Shiite parties backed by Iran, above all to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Quietly backed by His Malevolence, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, sustained by a 20,000-strong paramilitary force called the Badr Brigade, and with both overt and covert support from Iran’s intelligence service and its Revolutionary Guard corps, SCIRI will create a theocratic bastion state in its southern Iraqi fiefdom and use its power in Baghdad to rule what’s left of the Iraqi state by force…

      The consequences of SCIRI’s victory are manifold. But there is no silver lining, no chance for peace talks among Iraq’s factions, no chance for international mediation. There is no centrist force that can bridge the factional or sectarian divides. Next stop: civil war…

      The more perceptive among U.S. intelligence officials and Iraq experts know how to read the situation, and they mostly believe it is hopeless. “I hate to say, ‘Game over,’” says Wayne White, who led the State Department’s intelligence effort on Iraq until last spring. “But we’ve lost it.” There is no mechanism for the Sunnis now to restore a modicum of balance in Iraq, and the Shiite religious parties have no incentive to make significant concessions either to the Sunnis or to the resistance, White says.

      I haven’t been able to find the final numbers yet, but the last article that I read indicated that the secular Iraqiya party only received 8% of the vote and that Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress didn’t even have the votes necessary for one seat in the new Iraqi parliament. As I understand it, that essentially means that almost everyone voted along religious and ethnic lines, choosing not to build coalitions across them. Most experts, from what I can tell, feel as though civil war is inevitable at this point. They also, almost without exception, feel as though the real winner in all of this is the government of Iran… So, it would seem to me, an admittedly undereducated observer, that we lost 2,000 American soldiers and spent countless billions of dollars to install what’s shaping up to be an extremely unstable Islamic theocracy… And that, I think, is why we didn’t see a lot of our leaders dying their fingers purple in symbolic solidarity this time around.

      Posted in Politics | 3 Comments

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