Monthly Archives: September 2013

Somebody’s Getting Fired: McCain’s Op-Ed and the Power of Names


Having worked in tech support during a very painful period of my life, it’s very difficult for me to not drop some snark about old people and computers right here, but I restrain myself out of both good taste and the fact that my 80 year old grandmother mastered the Internet better than most teenagers. And the easy joke is never the best one anyway. Of course, it’s not like McCain is really the one to blame anyway for this fiasco, as he has an entire team of people whose job descriptions include the paraphrase “catch the clusterfucks before they’re out the door”. Yeah, they didn’t.

In the wake of ol’ Vladimir Vladimirovich’s opinion piece in the New York Times lambasting American policy and such, John McCain decided that a good stunt would be to publish a retort in Russia’s biggest paper. Not a terrible idea, except for the fact that apparently his staff assigned the task of picking the newspaper to the slacker intern whose sole research into the matter was conducted by watching “Spies Like Us”.

See, they published McCain’s article on the website This might at face value seem reasonable, if there was one Soviet newspaper that a Westerner could have named during the Cold War, it would have been Pravda. There are several problems though.

First, there was the failure to understand that Pravda has only a fraction of the circulation that it did during the Cold War. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, very few people felt a need to read the official newspaper of the Communist Party. There are at least a few dozen newspapers that would make more sense to publish a nationally aimed op-ed piece in. It is hardly impressive that a sitting American senator lambasted a foreign country without even knowing enough about that country to find out which newspaper the population reads.

But there was a second even more embarrassing failure here. His staff did not even manage to submit the article to the right Pravda. See, there’s a website set up in the late nineties by disgruntled former Pravda reporters. They managed to land the URL at which location they host what can only politely be termed an online tabloid. The actual newspaper is hosted at So on top of failing to understand that no one reads Pravda, the McCain team did not even manage to send it to Pravda. They sent it to a website that makes the New York Post look like the Economist.

An innocent mistake? Here are a selection of headlines from’s current homepage. They have an English version, which makes the mistake even more egregious:

Physics, a culture of criminality

Putin overshadows blood-hungry, ‘exceptional’ Obama

No Russian feels any respect for Pussy Riot

Homosexual shadow of the Vatican

Why Conservative Americans Admire Putin

Western bankers poised to enslave Russia

McCain believes that God left people his will in America’s national documents

And my personal favorite:

Russia saves the world

You stay classy Russia.

Afghanistan Gets its Own Social Media Summit


Figuring that the only way to get off the bottom is to start bit by bit, Afghanistan is hosting its first social media summit in Kabul next week. The summit is called “Paiwand”, which means either “connection” or “unity” in Pashto. Hopefully the former, since the latter word forever reminds me of Ubuntu’s destruction of their user interface, but if I digress into talking trash about various Linux distributions, we’ll never get to the interesting bits.

The website is at, not to be mistaken for as several news outlets did, pointing their articles towards an organization in support of Afghan refugees in the UK. Though that group could have used the vacant Learn your country TLDs, people, that’s what they’re for!

The conference aims to feature some 200 participants, from 24 provinces out of the 34 in the country. Looking at the schedule on their website, they’re really packing in the speakers and workshops, sometimes with half a dozen speakers per hour, over the course of two days. Given that the country has only 5% internet penetration rates and that whole violence thing going on, it’s a decent turnout, though their Twitter stream is less than encouraging. It’s only got 118 followers, a number which one would really hope to be at least as large as the number of attendees. But perhaps more strange is that the conference is maintaining two Twitter accounts, one in Dari and one in English. The Dari one only has 38 followers and only 110 tweets to the English stream’s 149. That strikes me as strange, and I can’t help speculating that one would see something like that with a shell of an event propped up by American money. That would be a depressing explanation that I hope simply isn’t true.

The summit is being followed up with by single day workshops in five other parts of the country in order to provide training in the use of social media.