Mauritania Update

June 24, 2009

Adam is all well and good, and brewing wine, and killing goats.  And traveling lots.

here are some photos from my trip to bamako, mali and watching the soccer game against ghana. also, there are some of the bissap wine festival we held at my house in kiffa. we brewed our own wine and killed our own sheep to cook. note: there are some photos of this, so for those with weak stomachs, you might want to skip over the folder ‘winefest’

here is a link to more south africa photosrobben island, rugby game, etc. etc. enjoy. off to bamako, mali!

And look at this — our Alma Mater, Marquette, just ran a story on him.  Huzzah:

Fiebelkorn works at a health clinic in Kiffa, weighing babies and administering treatments to malnourished children. He’s also helping community leaders develop a campaign to distribute clean birthing kits to combat rural Mauritania’s alarmingly high infant mortality rate.

(Update 6/25)  To revise yesterday’s post about Adam, he’s wrote to say hi, and to let everyone know he’s okay.  Apparently there was an American killed in Nouakchott yesterday.

well, a quick update. i hope all of you have been enjoying some bamako and kiffa winefest photos. thus far, things are going well here in kiffa. my projects are moving along as scheduled and i have been enjoying life these last couple weeks even though it has been absurdley hot. but, as Mauritania often does, it may turn downhill quick. as of now, the incoming class of volunteers to come in behind us has been officially cancelled because the mauritanian government is refusing to issue visas. therefore, my class of 75 (there are 68 left) will be the only volunteers left in mauritania because the class before me are ending their service next week.  christmas and WAIST is about to get boring. no fresh blood to liven up the scene or show around the country. boo.  furthermore, and i don’t know how well people keep on top of the news, but there was an american killed in Nouakchott (the capital) yesterday and the North African Al-quaeda network is taking responsibility. ugh. so who knows, i may be home before you know it. i didn’t post a link but i am sure you can find it.

but! in better news! the USA soccer team did destroy the number one team in the world (spain) last night! this will setup a savory final against brazil who beat us 3-0 in the group stages! i hope all is well. don’t mean to be a downer but peace corps told us to keep friends and family ‘in the know.’ of course, no worries, peace corps prides themselves on security and i feel very safe within the community i live in. i will keep everyone updated. hope all is well.

adam

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Yelp Snub – Nightwood & TeeCycle

June 12, 2009

I’ve previously mentioned Yelp for their “community censoring” — deleting unflattering reviews and allowing obviously faked positive reviews to remain posted.  For a while it was just interesting “Web 2.0” type news, but I’ve recently had a number of reviews removed from the site for various reasons.  That’s fine.  Yelp’s a private entity that can do what they wish.  (Thank God for Google cache).  I’ll post the stuff that was deleted below (including emails explaining why).

Unfortunately, the first one was for a restaurant called Nightwood, and was deleted.  I assume this is because I wrote the review based on Time Out Chicago and a few other sources commenting on the place before it even opened… ha.  Yeah, I love Lula’s and I couldn’t resist breaking the news that a sister restaurant was opening. Anyway, I received this email on 5/25 from Yelp HQ:

Hi Brian,

We’re writing to you regarding your review of Nightwood. Your review was flagged by the Yelp community, and after looking it over we’ve decided that it falls outside of Yelp’s review guidelines because it links to outside content.

We’ve also noticed that several of your other reviews also contain such links to outside content. Rather than removing these reviews, we’d like for you to use the edit function to remove these links from the body of the reviews in question. Please make the necessary changes by week’s end, or we’ll have to take them down.

We hope you’ll understand our stance here, which is meant to keep Yelp reviews fresh, fair, and original.

Thanks for being a part of the Yelp community.

Regards,
**************
Yelp User Support

Aside from my enthusiasm for the Nightwood owners and the area of Pilsen in general, my review was based entirely on other sources and, as a good blogger should do, I linked back to the stories that I drew from.   I wasn’t about to take what I’d read and pretend it was my own.  Anyway.  The plot thickens I guess.  I wrote to our Chicago Yelp liaison, who is a very nice gal….

Hey ******,

I got this email and I’m confused.

Yelp is going to take down my reviews because of links to “outside content”.

What they’re referring to as “outside content” are my references to sources I’ve used to write the post.  I.E. if I hear about someplace from TimeOut Chicago (which is what happened in the case of the Nightwood), I’m going to reference it as a source as opposed to plagiarizing.  Or, in another case, if the Art Institute used Johnny’s Grill as a place to re-imagine “Nighthawks“, finding an image online and reposting it on Yelp as my own is stealing — acknowledging outside content, I would feel, is the right thing to do.

As a site that depends on community and member reputation, I would think that transparency is of the utmost importance.  Blogging without referencing where your information is coming from, to me, would seem like the antithesis of what Yelp is about.

I would ask that Yelp reconsider what they consider “outside content” compared to proper citation.

Regards,
-Brian Battle

Meanwhile, in the world of actual journalism (as opposed to the cult of passive criticism that is Yelp) Chuck Sudo of Chicagoist wrote a review of Nightwood, in which I got made fun of… deservedly… on 5/27

To review Nightwood after one night would be a disservice to Hammel and wife Amalea Tshilds, Executive Chef Jason Vincent and the humping-to-please staff we encountered last night. (Although it didn’t stop Brian B. on Yelp, who apparently gave Nightwood a four-star rating based on TOC’s preview without even visiting). We’ll have a full-on review after a few more visits. But the Chicagoist food and drink staff have had cameras at the ready lately, so we took photos of some of the dishes we sampled. Enjoy.

Then I got this email at 7pm that same day:

Hi Brian (and *****[Yelp Chicago liason]*****),

After much careful review and discussion, we’ve decided to remove your review of Nightwood. We’re doing so for a number of reasons, but primarily it’s the copious linking and quoting, which do not represent a firsthand experience with this business. And yes, granted, we have in the past allowed “coming soon” reviews, and so, of course, a firsthand experience with a business that has yet to open is impossible. In these instances, we look to the user to write something useful about the business based on firsthand knowledge (i.e. past businesses operated by the owner; location; likely menu), but these reviews must contain firsthand information; additionally, this type of “coming soon” review is only left on the site for one month.

We hope you’ll understand our decision in this case, Brian. We also strongly urge you to make sure your reviews comply with Yelp’s review guidelines because we’ve also removed your reviews of teecycle.org since you state yourself that you have a conflict of interest with this organization.

Thank you for your understanding in this matter and thank you for being a part of the Yelp community.

Regards,
********
Yelp User Support

————— Original Message —————
From: ***************
Sent: 5/26/2009 9:33 AM
To: ******************


Subject: FW: Message from Yelp.com HQ

Hey all…

Hmm, he has a point. Any thoughts? I think his outside content is mostly just images, etc. And the Nightwood post was actually very helpful (moreso than people posting before an opening saying “Can’t wait to check it out.”)

He’s elite, and very well behaved…

Thanks,
********

*********** *******
Chicago Yelp Community Manager
Yelp.com | *******

Ha!  I love the chain of command!  Our local Chicago community manager calls me “very well behaved”!  Yay!  I should get a gold sticker.  Despite that, Yelp San Fransisco pulls my review… after the suspicious use of the word “copious”.  (Copious = 3, btw).

Anyway, the review clearly mentioned I’m fond of their owners, their chef, their other restaurant and also describes the menu.  Yet, they deem it unworthy of Yelp.  Which, considering what gets onto Yelp,  hurts bad.

What’s worse, upon further dissection of my posts, Big Yelp pulls my review of TeeCycle.Org too.  Ouch.  Ah, well.  The nail that sticks up, yada yada yada.

More on a tirade about a Lincoln Park puppy mill later.


The Digital Switcheroo

May 22, 2009

Photo Courtesy of CNL822 on Flickr

Watching baseball last week with all the jitters, smears, and pauses of digital broadcasting,  I realized I haven’t officially bitched about the digital switchover. All this info (well, except for the Kanye part) I think is pretty valuable:

  • With good reception, digital broadcasts look good. It is a huge step forward for television clarity.  Admittedly.  It does work.  So, if you get a new TV, yay, you get a new TV with potentially much better quality and more channels.  Everybody wins!(?)  The following bullet is much more important…
  • DIGITAL SIGNALS ARE NOT CRYSTAL CLEAR. It’s true.  Before I got a digital converter I didn’t realize this, my coworker didn’t realize this, so I assume some of you have been (or are in the process of being) mislead as well.

Now that people are using digital receivers, we’re realizing that digital TV reception is as bad or worse than analog TV.  Those that haven’t gone digital yet (or in some cases can’t even afford to), hear the Networks pitching the switcheroo and it’s like they’re doing you a favor.  It’s important to know that TV Networks/the government/Big Businss are NOT just doing it for your benefit.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, hell, any rant that mentions “the government” usually makes me tune out.  But this is true, apparently: The initial digital switch plan (I shit you not) was a delayed reaction to  Post-9/11 communication issues. According to Bloomburg

The government mandated the switch to free up airwaves for advanced wireless services and emergency workers’ radios, to raise money and to provide clearer pictures and more programming.

Broadcast networks volunteered to give their analog frequencies over to  emergency police and fire communications.  Though, “volunteered” is a stretch.  Television networks were well aware that this act, which appears fairly selfless and sensible, had an overwhelming business-minded upside.

Giving up these frequencies and moving to a digital signal would mean that every American that does not subscribe to a cable subscription (~20% of the population, skewed towards the less affluent) must buy a brand new TV, update their televisions on their own dime (that’s 285 million sets as of ’05),  or  get cable.  It was a sweetheart deal all around, exemplified by the nifty bullet points below:

  • Government gets low-freq emergency channels (Which is great… whoopdie-doo.)
  • Broadcast Networks, who have been trying to go digital anyway, get to do so with the government bankrolling them, and in the name of public good.
  • Broadcast Networks now have multiple channels to run second-tier content on, which can steal share back from cable stations like The Weather Channel, Univision, Telemundo, and in NBC Universal’s case —  ESPN.
  • Cable companies  profit off of new subscribers unwilling to make the digital switch
  • Electronic stores (namely Radio Shack) make a killing on digital converter box sales, and on selling peripherals around the digital conversion.
  • Everybody gets to pretend they’re helping John Q. Public

That last bullet is the kicker, because, if you installed the digital converter box you quickly realize that reception can, and does, still suck.  What’s worse, broadcast channels that used to come in a little fuzzy on an analog television will not even register through the digital box.  No longer do you have the option of watching a fuzzy screen — it’s all or nothing now.

Digital TV is a snob — if it’s not crystal clear, you’re not allowed to watch it.   You cannot even manually tell your digital converter to include a channel that is not registering — this is what is happening to CBS (WBBM) on my TV and a friends in Chicago.  I wonder if they’re losing ratings because the digital boxes they forced on their viewers refuse to recognize it as a channel.

The funniest part is those antannae… you know the ones you were supposed to be able to throw away…  those rabbit ears they made fun of in the “swtch to digital” PSAs earlier this year?  Yeah… you have to buy a new one.


Geronimo Jackson: LOST Rock Found

April 24, 2009

The Fictional Geronimo Jackson -- they look like Sawyer's people

Except for a few times in Season 1, when the lovable Hurley would put on his Discman to listen to some god-awful Grey’s Anatomy reject songs while observing life on The Island in slo-mo, the two things I  tend to obsess over — LOST and pop music — rarely come together.

But lo and behold, hipster culture dictator Pitchfork Media broke a VERY interesting development a few weeks ago:  The story of a fictional classic rock band Geronimo Jackson / real San Diego throwback rockers The Donkeys. The Phork reports:

On a recent episode, the character Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) is heard listening to a Geronimo Jackson song called “Dharma Lady”, and last week, the song appeared as a free download on iTunes. Over on the “Lost” message board Dark UFO, someone noticed that “Dharma Lady” is almost the exact same song as “Excelsior Lady” by the Donkeys

The non-fictional Donkeys

Well played Dark UFO dude!  Pitchfork, thorough journalists as they are, took it straight to The Donkeys’ label, Dead Oceans, to pose the question, “Are the Donkeys Geronimo Jackson?”.  The reply was revealing, also, hilarious:

“It seems as though it’s possible that the Donkeys also existed as Geronimo Jackson in 1977. It might be possible that they were part of a Dharma Initiative experiment on time travel … Geronimo Jackson is likely to appear on extras of the season five ‘Lost’ DVD, where they will feature the band recording ‘Dharma Lady’.”

Hahahah.  It seems they did indeed.  Alrighty then.  A simple “yes” would have sufficed.

Anyway, Geronimo Jackson seems to be a recurring reference in the show — on T-shirts, on posters, but most prominently in the scene below.  Hurley and Charlie (who could easily pass for clerks at Championship Vinyl) sift through the Dharma record collection and come across the GerJack LP Magna Carta…

Innnnnnnteresting Charlie.  Hmmm.  You say you’re an “expert of all things musical,” but you’ve never heard of them, eh?  Hmmmm.  Maybe that’s because YOU’RE IN THE BAND in the past (future episodes)!?!?!  Wha? Sounds ridiculous, but why not?

I personally like to think that Charlie is bound to show up again.  First of all, one of the lesbians hiding in the Looking Glass told Charlie that the stations’ passcode was the song “Good Vibrations” and that it was originally programmed “by a musician”.  That’s a weird tidbit of information to throw out there as your dying words, isn’t it Bonnie?

Also Charlie gets the code on the first crack before he drowns.  Is it too crazy to assume that Charlie himself wrote that passcode?  I don’t think so.  Meaning, Charlie didn’t die at that point, and is sure to have lived and done other things, like, ummmmm, jumping through time and forming a band in the 70s. It’s possible.  After all, we’ve seen people we thought were dead come back to life in the show before.   Isn’t it possible that Charlie is in the band Geronimo Jackson?  Could be.

Also, is it at all possible that Geronimo is actually the name of Jack’s son?  Doubtful.

You can down the Donkey’s on music blog Gramotunes.com: The Donkeys – “Excelsior Lady


Jay Cutler, the Chicago Bears, and Scratch-Off Tickets

April 19, 2009

The completely unexpected happened a few weeks ago.  Because I’ve been slacking, I haven’t  posted anything, but, after all my bear-bashing, I’m about to eat my words and enjoy it.

Photo from Blog Down Chicago Bears

The oft-criticized Chicago Bear front office pulled off what amounts to the most important personnel move in my personal history with the team, and perhaps the biggest move in Bears history.

Though other franchises make blockbuster moves and offer ridiculous contracts nearly every off-season (Hi Jets! Cowboys! Redskins!), the Bears are traditionally a stoic, staunch, and slow-moving franchise.  Instead of grabbing hot free agents every year, the Bears opt to reward their core players with generous contract re-signings…  regrettably, as the cornerstones of the defense proved last year, sometimes that’s not the best idea (see: #21).

All that was blown out of the water earlier this week.

Bears fans have had nearly enough of GM Jerry Angelo’s big talk with no follow-through, while Lovie Smith’s unnerving poker face press responses further aggravated fans.  Meanwhile in Colorado, Jay Cutler, former Midwest-born Bears fan and 25 yearr-old Pro Bowl quarterback, was refusing to answer the phonecalls of his team, the Denver Broncos.  Cutler was rightfully peeved — the Broncos’ new sherrif in town, Josh McDaniels, had made no secret of the fact he was not interested in having Cutler under center during the 2009 season.  McDaniels had an inexplicable man-crush on a Patriots backup QB.

Photo from Football Nation

This was the highest-profile trade in recent memory and the Bears, somehow, fended off a HUGE amount of competition to lock up what could wind up solidifying the always-iffy Bears QB position.  A gutsy move that could feasibly solve the perennial Chicago QB problem for the next decade-plus.  Imagine not worrying about this issue again until after we host the Olympics!  Ha.

But there are always naysayers… here are the biggest complaints which I will swiftly refute:

Naysayer #1: “Jay Cutler is a good QB but he doesn’t have anyone to throw to”

  • Aside from the fact that the Bears have two solid tigh ends and one the best pass-catching backs in the league, I get the point — the Bears wide receiving corp(se) is  the worst in the league.  But, as my pal Jimmy pointed out, good quarterbacks create better receivers.  Good receivers don’t make great QBs.
  • Note how unimpressive past Packer wideouts become after they leave a team that had  Brett Favre throwing to them. Note how well Randy Moss fared in Oakland without a decent signal caller under center.  Note how well the pass-happy Eagles threw this year without any real stars at the position.  Note how Wes Welker played on the Dolphins compared to how well he’s played in New England.
  • Also worth mentioning: the Bears are sure to make some moves post-draft.  Aside from the draft itself, there are plenty of veteran wide receivers to pick up… Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison, The Foot-Shooter to name a few.  Granted two of those three athletes are past their prime, but they’re still  serviceable, savvy, smart, possession players.

Naysayer #2: “The Bears gave up too much to get Cutler”

  • To lock-up Cutler, the Bears gave up two first-round picks, an additional pick, and their starting QB, Kyle Orton.  On paper, this looks like a pretty steep cost.  But for anyone that’s followed the history of Chicago drafts, this is a great move.  Long-story short, the Bears DO NOT draft offensive players well… or develop them well. Trading away what might be for what already is makes perfect sense.
  • Think about it like this:  Some guy (probably in a trenchcoat) approaches you on the street… let’s call him… ummm,  Josh McDaniels.  He has five-hundred dollars neatly stacked in a pile and wants to trade you for your two “Win a Million” scratch-off lottery tickets.  Mr McDaniels (who is obviously clinically insane) would rather have your two scratch-offs than his cold, hard cash.  He’ll trade you his liquid assets for two of your unscratched lottery tickets.  Sure, your tickets might be worth lots too, but your name is McCaskey and your family has never had much luck in the lottery.  WHY DO YOU NOT AGREE TO THIS TRADE?
  • Appendix: Here are the Bears’ 1st round offensive skill position picks since 1988: Greg Olsen, Cedric Benson, Rex Grossman, David Terrell, Cade McNown, Curtis Enis, Rashaan Salaam, Curtis Conway, Brad Muster, and Wendell Davis.  It’s pretty evident you’ve been squandering them anyway, why not give them away for something tangible? Tangible and fucking awesome btw.

Naysayer #3: “Kyle Orton is the future”

  • K.O., god love him, is a solid QB, and may still wind up being a fantastic player.  But look at the facts: He is not a Pro Bowler,  Cutler is.  He isn’t 13-1 when the defense allows less than 22 points, which Cutler was last year (fyi — Bears avg points allowed last year: 21.9).  Lastly, Orton’s lack of arm strength nullified the speed that “#1” receiver Devin Hester possesses; while the words “Cutler”, “canon”, and “lazer” often appear in the same sentence.
  • It’s Science:
  • Note how "canon" spikes when Jay Cutler news spikes.

I’m thrilled to see what happens this season.  And if Cutler is a bust — so be it.  I don’t think Chicago would have ever forgiven the franchise for not pursing an all-star QB that was within their grasp, so I commend the Bears for making a huge, and long-awaited move.  I’ve never anticipated a season more than I have this off-season.  I wish it started tomorrow.


Who’s NOT Playing Pitchfork This Year

March 26, 2009

Thanks to the idiotic “Radius Clause” inflicted on Chicago every summer, while we eagerly anticipate which bands are announced to play its  two major music festivals every year, we know immediately who WILL NOT be playing.

"Sad hipster" courtesy of Aubs on Flickr

Time Out Chicago explained it well last year:

For 60 days before and 30 days after their Lollapalooza appearance, Lolla performers are prohibited from booking a show within 250 miles of Chicago (which includes Madison, Milwaukee, Champaign, Indianapolis, Ann Arbor and Iowa City)

Because of these bullshit protectionist agreements we know that any band that plays P-fork (July 17th to 19th) cannot play Lolla (Aug 7th to 9th). Boo, fucking, hoo. But it gets more interesting than that.

Provided that Pitchfork also follows these festival rules we know that any band playing between ~May 18th and ~August 16th will not be sweating it up on stage in Union Park.

This includes TONS of bands, most of which are inconsequential. But there are a few groups that are well-regarded by the haute-indie online tastemakers that now cannot play. (Pitchfork ratings in parenthesis):

I’m especially suprised to see SXSW * bloggy sweethearts School of Seven Bells and Passion Pit on this list. St. Vincent, though only registering one album on p4k, has been a favorite over the years.  As has Art Brut who will be doing a 5-day residency at Schubas over the summer.


Pay Per Yelp?!

February 19, 2009

GapersBlock reports, via an East Bay Express article, that user-generated review site Yelp.com suppresses bad reviews, but only for good money…. Hmmmm.

John’s restaurant has more than one hundred reviews, and averages a healthy 3.5-star rating. But when John asked Mike what he could do about his bad reviews, he recalls the sales rep responding: “We can move them. Well, for $299 a month.” John couldn’t believe what the guy was offering. It seemed wrong.

GB also posted another a link to about a martial arts specialist blog about what seems like more Yelp scrubbing here in Chicago… either than or rampant flagging by someone.

This is when the problem began. After a few days, the reviews started disappearing one by one on the Yelp site until I went from 28 reviews to 18 reviews. I was pissed. I know you can flag reviews, and I suspected that maybe a competing business who’s reviews weren’t so glowing was flagging my students’ reviews.

Yelp is indeed a cool company, and useful (ed. note; I am a Yelp Elite member).   But I’ve had a few experiences when there definitely seems to be tampering going on, whether it’s internal or with other parties abusing the site.  First instance was the failure of Mojoe’s Hot House in Avondale on Belmont.  It went under new management and the place just went to shit. (As evidenced by not only the reviews on Yelp, but the crafty graffiti stencils found all over Avondale that read “MoJoe’s Sucks Now”).

Despite all the verbal vitriol, and spray paint that spoke the opposite, at some point positive posts started cropping up on Yelp.  While it’s possible they did, indeed “turn it around”, two of the final eight reviews of the place (which eventaully closed) were most definitely “inside jobs” — both 4-star reviews of the place written by people that I knew actually worked at Yelp (Though, I’m not naming names).  This, of course, is just one place I was directly familiar with —  I have no idea how common this is.