Monday, January 15, 2007

The Joke's On Us

We're only two weeks in to 2007, and already there is the first nomination for this year's Foleys for bad government web design. Only last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education castigated the execrable for its terrible user interface in "Wading Through"

Of course, there's more to be said for unintentional humor, with the recent NPR story on intellectual property disputes involved in "Suing for a Punchline: Leno, NBC Target Joke Books."

I looked up "joke" in Whitehouse search engine and found the following images among the top results. It turned out that actually many of the "joke" titles involve photographs of the current Vice President. The rhetoric of these search results is interesting, both in providing a form of White House "photo essay," a genre which I have written about before here, and in illuminating the relatively crude mark-up practices represented by photo captioning and the kind of data that the metadata "joke" marks.

Among the prose offerings for "joke" on the White House website there was this gem from Tom Ridge, former head of the Department of Homeland Security, which is ironic given recent legal challenges to humorous competitors on the grounds of intellectual property:

I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humor and enjoy a good story or joke. And I also think that humor is a very effective way of communicating serious messages. So when political cartoonists, singing groups or comedians talk about duct tape, it is a humorous reminder for all Americans to take a look at our web site ( to review our emergency preparedness recommendations and kit suggestions. When they talk about the color coded warning system, they remind us that the 21st century includes a different kind of enemy, international terrorism, that has America as its primary target and that we need to understand that we must be constantly vigilant and on the alert.

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