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Your Friday reads

Jack Kapica searches the Web and offers a selection of the week's interesting stories: Those incomprehensibe donairs; a rant about the new search engine; what is wrong with Wordscraper, the new Scrabulous; and how Obama is channelling previous U.S. presidents

Globe and Mail Update


The Canadian Medicine blog obviously has it in for donairs, those awful shawarma-like things that are sold mostly in Nova Scotia, made from spiced meat, tomatoes and onions all in a wrap, and slathered in a bizarre sauce only devotees can love.

So the blog was delighted when a federal agency sent up a warning about the health risks involved. But it didn't have much respect for the government agency either:

"Ever frustrated by the excesses of government bureaucracies and the frivolity of much of what passes for public policy?

"Then wrap your head around this: Canada's Federal/Provincial/Territorial Donair Working Group recently issued recommendations on how to prepare the popular Haligonian shaved meat sandwiches.

"The name of the project undertaken by the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Donair Working Group? Why, it was nothing less than the eminently self-serious title, A Consultation with Stakeholders on the Recommended Guidelines for Management of the Risks Related to the Consumption of Donairs and Similar Products (Gyros, Kebabs, Chawarmas and Shawarmas).

"Yes, it sounds ridiculous. ... But suppress your laughter — and perhaps your appetite, as well.

"That Orwellian donair bureaucracy recently issued a dire health warning about the spiced meat, tomato and onion snack -- a warning so drastic that it was accompanied by a recommendation to the provinces to overhaul the regulation of the rattled Canadian donair industry.

"Once in the freezer, twice on the fire: That's how the Halifax Chronicle-Herald's Chris Lambie describes the new recommendations officially adopted by the government of Nova Scotia earlier this month. Essentially: meat must be cooked after it is sliced from the large rotating cone, and at day's end the cone must be chopped up and frozen -- not reused.

"If all this government nitpicking about the preparation of sandwiches strikes you as phenomenally micromanaging, that's because it is. But keep in mind that there have been three large outbreaks of E coli as a result of donairs since 2004, infecting around 100 Canadians.

"...The question that nobody seems to be asking is whether some E coli might be a fair trade-off for a nosh that the government hasn't stuck its fingers into."


Robert Scoble was a little put off by the reactions he read about the arrival of the new COUIL search engine, most of which were positive. He says it's because journalists want there to be another search engine, and so he launched a tirade on why journalists act like PR guys:

"On Sunday night a ton of blog posts all went up. Most of which were pretty congratulatory and hopeful that there was a 'Google competitor.' Tech journalists desperately want there to be a competitor to Google. Why? Monopolies are boring to cover. The best tool a story teller has is when there's conflict. I like to tell people this world is just like high school. Think back to high school.

"In your high school, did anyone talk about the geeky kid who stayed after school to build a science fair project? In my school, which had lots of geeky kids, no, not usually. But if there was a fight in the quad would everyone talk about the fight for days afterward? Yes.

"Journalists thrive off of [sic] conflict. That's why we want a competitor to Google so badly and why we play up every startup that comes along that even attempts to compete with Google."


Over at Techcrunch, Erick Schonfeld didn't hesitate to offer the kind of journalism Scoble was asking for. In trying out the new version of Scrabulous, now called Wordscraper and given a makeover, he writes:

"Yesterday, one day after taking down Scrabulous in the U.S. and Canada in response to a lawsuit from Hasbro, the Indian brothers behind Scrabulous, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, released a brand new crossword-like game on Facebook called Wordscraper.

"... The brothers have even foregone the familiar square tiles for circles. Quite frankly, I don't like this. It hurts my eyes. (Call me a traditionalist). It all blends together and makes it hard to grok the board at a single glance."


Leonard Steinhorn might be writing for the History News Network, but he has his sights firmly set on a history that is happening right now: the Obama phenomenon. At least he links his thoughts to history by arguing that Obama understands the link between the invention of photography and three presidents from history:

"Those of us in the chattering class prefer to think that elections are about issues and grand historical trends, but the political strategists see it quite differently. To them, elections are about emotions — specifically, how a candidate builds an emotional connection with voters. Ever since the still photograph brought vivid and real images of presidents into our homes a century-and-a-half ago, enabling us to project all sorts of feelings onto them, our relationship with presidents moved from the civic to the emotional. Radio and television simply amplified this trend, and the result is a presidential campaign that is far more evocative and psychological than didactic and instructive.

"Barack Obama knows this perhaps better than anyone in politics today, and nowhere was it more evident than in his recent speech before 200,000 cheering Germans in Berlin. What Obama did, quite brilliantly, was conjure up the three most consequential American presidents of the modern era — Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan — and in doing so he connected his candidacy to them and made it easier for Americans to swallow their doubts and imagine him as president."


Speaking of the U.S. presidential race, Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, mused on the tetchy subject of religion and politics, specifically the religion of the two main candidates:

"I can't decide if I prefer the candidate for President who says we should consider all the facts before deciding when to withdraw troops from Iraq or the one who says we should consider all the facts before deciding when to withdraw troops from Iraq.

"On a marginally related note, I can't help wondering whether McCain and Obama are both closet atheists. My hunch is that they are.

"McCain is famously quiet about his faith, which is strange for a Republican candidate. And you have to wonder what five years in a prison camp does to your belief, assuming his buddies who didn't make it out were praying too. My hunch is that he's not a believer.

"Obama came to Christianity about the same time he realized it was useful to his future ambitions. He seems like a pragmatist to me. The majority of people at his education level aren't believers. My hunch is that he isn't a believer either.

"I won't quibble if you disagree. It's just a feeling I get by watching how they operate and how they present themselves. The truth will never be known."


The Beijing Olympics are already under a cloud (this one not made of pollution) about human-rights abuses in China; the Olympic Games were believed to be the thin edge of the wedge in breaking down that country's extensive abuses. But so far, the abuses have been harpooned mostly by idealistic geeks and sports writers, who have discovered they can't get results from the Olympics' computers when they pump "Falun Gong" or "Tibet" into a Chinese search engine. Salon sports columnist King Kaufman looked at it this way:

"The marquee event of the 2008 Olympics may turn out to be political gymnastics, with the International Olympic Committee itself favoured to win the gold.

"This week, in a tune-up event, an IOC spokesman carefully explained the limits inherent in the word 'freedom.'

Amnesty International released a report Tuesday slamming China for cracking down on human-rights advocates in the run-up to the Beijing Games, which begin Aug. 8. [It] ... has been monitoring the Chinese government's performance particularly closely in four areas with a direct link to preparations for the Olympics and in line with the core principles of the Olympic Charter.

"Those areas are use of the death penalty, abusive forms of detention, the arbitrary imprisonment and harassment of 'human-rights defenders,' which includes journalists and lawyers, and censorship of the Internet.

... "So freedom means freedom to do what you're allowed to do, which is subject to the whim of those granting the freedom. And we can't do anything about that because — well, that would be political, and the Olympics aren't about politics. Got that?"

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