Monday, February 27, 2006

Movie Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I liked this better than the reviews led me to believe. Apparently it's more faithful to the book but since I've never read it, I don't know. The first half hour was well done as we see the golden tickets given out and meet Charlie and his family. They live in a very poor house that's tilted in a Dr. Seuss way that only Tim Burton could do. The movie changes once they get into the factory. Again as you'd expect from Burton, the factory is fantastical. A chocolate river and candy garden, a few crazy machines, a great glass elevator and an odd white room that's an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey. My favorite was how Wonka used a room full of real squirels to shell nuts.

There are some good performances. Freddie Highmore as Charlie is very good. David Kelly of Waking Ned Devine does a more memorable job in the Grandpa Joe role than Jack Albertson did in the original. The various kids are are all fine as kids spoiled in various ways. The Oompa Loompa's in this film are digital clones of one person (Deep Roy) and I found that a little creepy. The songs aren't as fun as in the original film though I've read the lyrics come from the book and Danny Elfman did the music. It also bother me that they speak their own language but sing in English.

But the film really does rest on Willy Wonka and Johnny Depp does an odd job at that. I think he does a cross between Michael Jackson's looks and Dana Carvey's Church Lady's mannerisms. Now this review says he modeled his performance on "Howard Hughes and Edward Scissorhands" and this one says he modeled it on "Vogue editor Anna Wintour" so who knows. Regardless it's creepy and annoying and detracts from the film. They also fill in Wonka's background with various flashbacks that try to explain things. Turns out his father (Christopher Lee) was a dentist and kept him from having candy. And I'm sure having Saruman or a Sith Lord as your father would screw up anyone. But the overall effect is to push the character from an excentric inventor to a crazy Batman villian. It might work for you but it didn't for me as much as I really liked the rest of the film.

Oh and it's narrated by the awesome Geoffrey Holder who's voice you'll recognize from Doctor Dolittle, Live and Let Die and 7-Up commercials.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Iraqi Troop Readiness

CNN reports on the Congressionally mandated quarterly report from the Pentagon on Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq.

There are no Iraqi battalions capable of operating independently (aka Level 1). There was one, it was downgraded. "There are 53 Iraqi battalions at level 2 status, up from 36 in October. There are 45 battalions at level 3. Overall, Pentagon officials said close to 100 Iraqi army battalions are operational, and more than 100 Iraq Security Force battalions are operational at levels 2 or 3."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Four Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Pride and Prejudice

I really enjoyed this film. Of course it's a well known good Jane Austin story, but it was told well, had good performances, sets, costumes, etc. You really felt like you were there. Also for a 2 hour version of a 350 page novel of which a 6 hour mini series is based, they did a good job with pacing and getting enough of the story in. This was one of my favorites of the year.

Movie Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

I saw many so-so reviews of this but I liked it. The story follows a young girl sold into slavery at one of the geisha houses in Japan (Kyoto?). She sees an older man (Ken Watanabe) who buys her an ice cream cone and falls in love. Then a rival geisha (Michelle Yeoh) trains her and she (ziyi Zhang) becomes the star of the town and of course see her love again. There's much more to the story, involving her rival (Li Gong) and once friend (youki Kudoh) which pushes the melodrama scale very far. If you look past the creepiness factor and an out of place dance scene that reminded me of Flashdance I was very entertained.

Movie Review: Mrs. Henderson Presents

I knew nothing about the story going into this film and was surprised. It starts out in 1937 with Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench) burying her wealthy British husband and figuring out what to do with her new widowed life. But this seems to be comedy and some of these scenes are quite funny as she decides to run a theater in the West End. She hires Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to run it and they create a vaudville-like show that runs continuously. When others copy it, Mrs. Henderson suggests turning it into a nude review to bring in the crowd. It's then part musical and still pretty fun. Of course World War II intervenes some personal issues pop up to give the film some dramatic bite. The movie kept wanting to shock us by having Judi Dench swear and it pretty much works.

Movie Review: Transamerica

In this one Felicity Huffman plays Stanley Osbourne who's a week away from becoming Bree Osbourne. Having taken hormones and dressing the part, she already goes by Bree. And then she gets a phone call from someone claiming to be Stanley's unknown 17 year-old son Toby (Kevin Zegers). Her therapist (Elizabeth Peña) says she has to resolve this before she can give approval for the sugery and delaying it would mean a long scheduling delay. So off to New York goes Bree to bail out Toby. She doesn't tell him that she's his father and a road trip to Los Angeles ensues. Oh yeah, Toby is a 17 year male prostitute drug-user who dreams of being a porn star, a model child. You can guess the bonding plot summary but none of the details. The middle of the film with the road trip isn't all that good but it does pick up in the last act. I would have liked this better if the characters were a little more likable. Bree's situation didn't bother me but did they have to make her someone who corrects everyone's grammer and uses the vocabulary of a anthropologist? They explain she went to college for 10 years but failed to get a degree, but I don't think that explains that she works as a dishwasher in a small mexican restaurant and does telemarketing from home. Among all the characters and performances, Huffman is the only one of note, and she's very good, almost good enough to carry the film, if only there was more for her to work with.

The Real Port Issue

I haven't commented on the Port Ownership issue because I haven't figured it out. It seems odd that another country would want to own 6 ports in the US and it seems odder that the US would want to sell them. If you think if a port a purely a capitalistic endeavor then sure, globalization would mean foreign ownership could happen and even make sense. But ports aren't just economic means, they are part of our borders, in fact deliberate holes in our borders to allow things in and out. Protecting the borders is a fundamental responsibility of any government and outsourcing that responsibility seems crazy; particularly to a country that was a valued counterterrorism ally of the United States and a persistent counterterrorism problem.

Andrew Sullivan however points out that this whole issue really is a sidetrack from the real problem that our ports are vulnerable to terrorist attacks and are not being adequately secured. This is from the US Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security. I don't even want to mention nuclear or chemical plant security which I'm sure is worse. Who is that keeps repeating "and Americans are safer?". Bleech.

Pink Commuter iPod Tie

Gizmodo reports on Thomas Pink's new effort to make a tie useful. Turn it into an iPod case. The Commuter Tie has a sleeve for an iPod nano and a loop to run the headphone cord. I imagine it creates an ugly bulge but it's an interesting idea.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Clever World Clock

Gizmodo pointed me at this clever world clock. It has no numbers on the face or am/pm indicator, so by just rotating the whole clock around you can change where it's telling the time of. So it's cylinder shaped and you rotate it until your desired location is pointing up. At $75 it seems way overpriced, but it is a good design.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

U.S. Reclassifies Many Documents in Secret Review - New York Times

The New York Times reports that the U.S. has Reclassified Many Documents in Secret Review. "In a seven-year-old secret program at the National Archives, intelligence agencies have been removing from public access thousands of historical documents that were available for years, including some already published by the State Department and others photocopied years ago by private historians."

An intelligence historian, Matthew M. Aid, said of the items reclassified: "Some of it is mundane, and some of it is outright ridiculous."

Justice Stevens

The Washington Post has a good article on Justice Stevens. Appointed by Ford, a left-leaning centrist, he's now the 3rd oldest justice ever, with a ton of influence. A good read.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Music Copyright in Britian

Seems that British companies are starting to be more concerned with copyright. In 2013 the copyright on some huge selling works from the Beatles and Elvis will come up. The copyright is 50 years and record companies are starting to get scared so they are proposing extending the copyright to 95 years. That will show 'em.

"The argument for the extension of copyright is often presented as win-win situation for all. If we do not extend copyright, then the Beatles' sound recordings could be packaged and released by anybody, and the recording artists would not receive any money from future sales of the songs they recorded and made popular."

Except, the article points out that's bull (not in so many words). See it's the specific recording that has a 50 year copyright. The "original work belonging to the songwriter lasts for the length of their lives plus 70 years." So they're pretty safe. And the consumers will benefit from multiple sources offering the work and being able to compete on price. So the only loser is the record company, which really, just got 50 years to be able to profit from the work so I don't feel too sorry for them.

Copyright is limited so that at after a fair period of time, others can borrow and create from the work. If the record companies got their extension to 95 years, do you think in 2058 they wouldn't be complaining again?

Cheney Shooting Discrepancies

The AP has an article pointing out VP Accident Tale Filled With Discrepancies. Turns out, when you ask different people a lot of questions about the same thing, you get different answers. Wonder why that is? In this case we get differences on: blame, drinking, the victim's condition, the hunting license, and the disclosure. I'm not sure there was anything nefarious involved, just some bungling by the VP's office in getting the story out, just like they always do. Facts don't quite matter, just what they want to do.

Fact Checking Bush

"Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) hits back at President Bush's speech earlier today with a list of fact checks that range from the pre-war claims of WMD in Iraq, Congressional briefings about NSA wiretapping, and Vice President Cheney's involvement in putting together Colin Powell Speech to the UN in 2003"

Friday, February 17, 2006

Stars after the Star

After seeing Halle Berry I hung around Harvard Square and then went to the Monthly Observatory Night at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The speaker was Bryan Gaensler who spoke about "The Brightest Explosion in History". It was a great talk.

On December 27, 2004, satellites detected the brightest explosion we've ever seen. It was a thousand times brighter than the Milky Way and lasted a half a second. it ionized the earth's upper atmosphere. We actually saw it twice because it echoed off the moon and hit us again. Why don't you remember seeing it? It wasn't in visible light but rather in gamma rays, which are filtered out by the atmosphere. But man has only seen two things brighter: the sun and the Great Comet of 1882. Satellites detected it and in fact were overloaded by it. In addition to the main explosion, there were (basically) aftershocks on a 7.56 second cycle.

Using data from several satellites that were affected, and knowing their position and the exact time it hit them, astronomers triangulated the explosion to a the magnetar called SGR 1806-20 located in Sagitarious. SGR 1806-20 rotates every 7.56 seconds so this matched up nicely with the aftershocks. This magnetar is 50,000 light-years away, on the far side of our Milky Way galaxy.

In case you were wondering, the International Space Station was fortunately on the other side of the earth so it was protected. If it weren't the occupants would have gotten the equivalent of a dental x-ray. Which is pretty impressive as it came from 50,000 light-years away (that's about 3,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles).

So what's a magnetar? Basically it's a rare type of neutron star (the remnants of a supernova) with a very strong magnetic field. There are 10 known in the Milky Way. They were first theorized in 1992 and the first one was observed in 1998, coincidently it was SGR 1806-20, so to us they're quite new. It's about 15 miles in diameter but has 1.5 times the mass of our sun. Made of neutrons, they are the densest stars in the universe. They are very hot, a million degrees on the surface, (our sun is only 6 000 degrees on its surface). Given their name, you might guess that they are the strongest known magnets, with a magnetic field a thousand million times that of the earth.

So what was the explosion? The surface of our sun has many magnetic feld arcs moving about and when they touch they release debris and energy. These are called solar flares. We think this explosion was the result of something similar on the magnetar. But with it's much greater magnetic field, it was much larger. The magnetar released more energy in one-tenth of a second than our sun has released in 100,000 years. It killed off everything within 10 light-years. If earth were that close it would have burned off the ozone layer. The magnetar lost about 1% of its energy but it's still there, spinning every 7.56 seconds.

This NASA site has some interesting animations you can watch. People have wondered if this event could have cause the tsunami at about the same time. Nope, the tsunami was 2 days prior. Someone had sent him a picture they took on a vacation in Rome. It had some flares on it and they wondered if it was the magnetar. Nope.

Afterwards we went to the roof for some observation. I'll never get tired of seeing Saturn through a telescope. The we also looked at the moon and mars. We looked at a double star in the Big Dipper called Mizar and at M44 The Beehive Cluster. One of the graduate students was giving her tour of stellar evolution. Stars form from clouds of gas called nebula and then spread out as they are affected by other stellar objects. We looked at three objects. First was M42, the Orion Nebula where you can see stars and the cloud that formed them. Then we saw M45, the Pleiades a young open cluster with young blue stars but with none of the original nebula visible. Last we looked at the Double Cluster in Perseus which while young has some stars old enough to have evolved into red-giants. It was a great night.

Halle Berry, Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year

Thursday I went to the Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year Roast. This years winner was Halle Berry. I've read about this every year I've been up here and always thought that would be fun to see. This year I did hear about the event beforehand and managed to buy a ticket.

At first I stood by the parade route which went about three blocks down Mass Ave into Harvard Square. At 2pm there were a few people standing by the start area, by 2:30 the whole course was pretty mobbed with people moving closer and closer into the street to get a view. As I walked down the block I heard a lot of different languages that I couldn't identify, and then I'd always hear "Halle Berry". I think half the people knew what was going on and the other half were asking what was going on. When she drove by it was pretty anti-climatic as it was very difficult to see her. I was more interested in the contraption driving in front of her car. A four row bleecher filled with photographers. Very strange.

The roast was done by two students and was very funny. They had a mock debate on whether Miss Berry was an action star or a dramatic actress. To resolve the issue, they put her through a few tests. One said the stunts were fake and weren't the only fake things in the movie. She took offense and made it clear saying "If I took my bra off you'd see how real they are." They brought out a guy dressed as a poodle and said he was Dogman, Catwoman's enemy. They made her defeat him in a dance competition. She won that handily and at one point the cat mounted the dog.

To prove her dramatic abilities they had her act out some scenes from Monster's Ball. The first was to talk her way into car. I'll let the small pic show you how she did. The hosts described it as unprecedented. In acting out the couch scene from Monster's Ball she basically gave him a lapdance.

They mentioned that she won Miss USA in 1986. She corrected them that she came in second. One pointed out that in '86 he was two years old. Ouch. The crowd turned on him for that. The other said second is like Yale. Then they had a the Hasty Pudding Beauty Contest. First they made her answer a question in her BAPS character. They asked something like what was the most serious problem in the world today. She said, "that fucking president, George W. what's that nigga's name?" They said that was also unprecedented. Then they moved to the talent portion of the competition and had her use a bullwhip on a poster of Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Before they would give her the Pudding Pot, they made her write "I will not make 'Catwoman 2" four times on a chalkboard. They wanted her to sign it but she wouldn't, instead she used Angela Basset's name.

It was very funny and surprisingly outrageous. She looked great, though very much like an everyday person. All right a very good looking everyday person. But it wasn't the glamour you see on a red carpet.

HD Olympics

Here's a blog called HD Olympics with details about NBC's production facilities for the Torino Olympics. It includes pics of racks with huge numbers of wires and other geek things. Good stuff.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


47 years ago today "Fidel Castro became premier of Cuba after the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista." His favorite color is apparently red.


Here are pics of some amazing origami art

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Movie Review: War of the Worlds

Spielberg remade War of the Worlds last year and I didn't see it. Then it got nominated for 3 oscars, so I saw it. It opens with a shot of Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier operating a crane on dock overlooking New York City. His boss asks him to work an extra shift, but he just walks off. Oh good, another Tom Cruise cocky asshole character. Cut to a Mustang driving way too fast through the streets. Yep, cocky asshole. He gets home and we see that his ex-wife (Miranda Otto) is there to drop off the kids for the weekend. Robbie (Justin Chatwin) is a teenager who hates his father and Rachel (Dakota Fanning) is the 10 year-old going on 40. No really, we learn she has a bad back even though she does yoga. Learn is probably too strong a term, as both of these facts are mentioned once in passing and never revisited. To remind us that this was directed by Steven Spielberg, the dropoff scene has an odd soft back lighting on the street behind his ex-wife. This seems to be for no reason than to say to say, look what I can do.

Cruise quickly ignores his kids. There's no food in the house so he tells them to order out, he's going to sleep. Rachel of course orders organic health food and Ray it turns out has no idea what hummus is. I was thrilled to hear Rachel suggest that Ray get TiVo nice plug there. But I was annoyed to hear him say he couldn't afford it when we see he has a large TV, several stereo components, a game console and an expensive cell phone. I guess Tivo should have spent more for product placement. Anyway, in the background during this meet-the-characters time we hear about an odd storm overseas that was accompanied by an EMP. If you're attentive enough to listen to the background, you're rewarded with foreshadowing. If you're not, don't worry, it's about to happen here. Everyone goes outside to see a freakish lightening storm. Ray knows it's odd because the wind is blowing away from the storm, as if he would know this trvial fact about wind. Then New Jersey gets the EMP so all the cars stop.

Our ten minutes of opening pleasantries are up, time for a destructive set piece. It turns out, just around the corner lightening has struck 26 times in the same place, so Cruise goes to investigate. Here we're treated to another useless observation. He picks up a piece of asphault from the site, someone asks if it's hot, he says no it's freezing cold. Nothing is ever mentioned about this again. The earth starts cracking and the (classic) alien tripod rises from the ground and starts destroying things. Death rays beam out from it, turning people to dust so that their outer clothing is left blowing in the wind. This is PG-13 so apparently their undergarments turn to dust too. Ray makes it home, gathers the family and prepares to leave. We hear how packing food will be difficult since Ray doesn't have any, wink wink, but that's ok, no one ever gets hungry in the rest of the movie. Ray finds the only working car and they begin their drive. Where? To Boston because that's where mom is. They make it pretty far since the EMP stopped the other cars on the road in a convenient pattern that Ray can slalom. Apparently EMPs prevent gridlock too. The aliens are right on their tails, and the talented Miss Fanning spends the rest of the film screaming.

We follow this family in their flight, they have several other run ins with the aliens and with angry mobs. One mob behaves like a group of henchmen in a Bruce Lee film, each attacking one at a time, you know, just like a mob wouldn't. This theme is picked up again when light reflects off a river into Rachel's face, in exactly the way light from a river wouldn't. Cruise drives the car slowly through a mob, with the people moving out of the way, just like they wouldn't. Let's say you're a ferry boat captain, with death and destruction is on it's way, do you wait to bring up the ramp before leaving?

All right, I could keep this up throughout the whole film, but you hopefully get the point by now. The thing I haven't mentioned yet is that parts of this film are genuinely thrilling. I'm not sure about frightening but the destruction is presented from the point of view of the common man, not some Rambo-like super soldier, and that's effective. Our heroes are helpless as aliens exterminate mankind. Speilberg made Jaws, Poltergeist, Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, he knows how to push the audience's buttons. You'll catch little references to E.T., Jurrasic Park, and Minority Report as well. Every Sci-Fi geek knows the ending, but if you don't, I think the focus of this film detracts from it. The point of it all seems to be enjoy some popcorn and get your thrills at these thrilling scenes. This was a summer film, and it's better than most of the crap that passes for a summer action flick, but it's also Spielberg stepping down a bit to make merely summer action flick. Too bad.

Atomic Bomb Detonation Photos by Harold Edgerton

Three Atomic Bomb Detonation Photos by Harold Edgerton. Not sure if they're real, but they are funky.

No-Fly List Errors

Here are two more examples of why the no-fly list isn't working. First, a
4 year-old boy is stopped because his name is on the list. Second, is the story of a Canadian citizen traveling to Mexico with his family for vacation. "U.S. fighter jets shadowed an Air Transat flight from Toronto to Mexico this week, following a passenger from Mississauga who was eventually detained upon landing and forced to spend a night in a Mexican jail because his name appears on an American no-fly list."

Congressional Probe of NSA Spying Is in Doubt

It seems that Congressional Probe of NSA Spying Is in Doubt. "They attributed the shift to last week's closed briefings given by top administration officials to the full House and Senate intelligence committees, and to private appeals to wavering GOP senators by officials, including Vice President Cheney."

So it seems that the $1.6 billion the administration spent on advertising was unnecessary. They seem very effective just talking by themselves. Then again, I think talking to Cheney is a little scarier now. Pat Leahy joked that he got off easy, referring to when Cheney told him to go fuck himself in June 2004.

I can't believe I found a personal injury lawyer using this reference I thought of: "If you were a fan of television in the '70s, there is a great Happy Days episode directly on point: Richie Cunningham was being picked on by a bully. Fonzie revealed his secret to why he rarely got into fights: Sound tough, act tough, and people will think you are tough. Stand up to the bully, Fonzie told Ritchie, and he will back down. Ritchie prepared to fight the bully but the bully did not back down. Ritchie asked Fonzie why the bully was not backing down. Fonzie comically told Ritchie that he forgot to tell him one thing: once in his life, he would have had to hit someone for the 'act tough, sound tough strategy' to work." Maybe Cheney could have just gotten a new wallet instead of shooting someone to prove he's tough.

Abu Ghraib Called Incubator for Terrorists - New York Times

In the New York Times yesterday was this article: Abu Ghraib Called Incubator for Terrorists. "American commanders in Iraq are expressing grave concerns that the overcrowded Abu Ghraib prison has become a breeding ground for extremist leaders and a school for terrorist foot soldiers." Great.

Top Sci-Fi Films That Never Existed

David Wong has written his list of The Top Ten Sci-Fi Films That Never Existed. It's pretty amusing in a geek fan-boy kind of way.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Billions in Tax Breaks for Oil Companies?

Here's another complicated story broken by the New York Times. The one line summary is causing people to have a knee-jerk disgusted reaction. That summary is this, over the next 5 years, the government is giving oil companies $7 billion in tax relief. These are the same oil companies reporting insane record setting profits. Of course the left is blaming Bush for this and Bush is blaming Clinton. Here's the scoop.

In 1996 Congress wanted to encourage oil companies to explore and drill in the Gulf of Mexico, but this was expensive so oil companies balked. So Congress passed and Clinton signed the Deep Water Royalty Relief Act to offer tax breaks to encourage this. Lessening on our demand on foreign oil, sounds like a good thing. The tax breaks came in the form of relief from paying royalties to the government for drilling on federal land. Well it worked and oil companies started the long process to explore and drill in these areas. They are just now starting to produce oil. But now prices are much higher. The 12% royalty the government was giving up for oil at $10/barrel was one thing. To some people 12% of $50/barrel is another.

The way to solve this is with price triggers. Currently if oil is more than $35/barrel the royalties still need to be paid, but, Clinton wavied the price triggers for all leases awarded in 1998 and 1999. "The Interior Department announced that 41 oil companies had improperly claimed more than $500 million in royalty relief for 2004." Most paid up in January, but one, Kerr-McGee, is fighting it in court. They claim that Congress didn't set price thresholds for leases awarded between 1996 and 2000. If Kerr-McGee wins, the overall cost in royalities will be about $35 billion in the next 5 years.

So all of this happened 10 years ago and what can we do now? It turns out Congress has tried a few things. Last years energy bill had more tax relief in it. Administration officials say they opposed those features, but apprently not very hard. The Senate tax bill has a one-year tax of $5 billion on profits of major oil companies, but the administration is threatening to veto it.

So what's right here? Honor the original agreement which did what it was trying to do (encourage more oil production) and was perhaps badly written to not account for a possibility for huge oil price increases, or get money from companies making enormous profits when the budget is so crazy out of wack? The article points out that $35 billion is "about the same amount that Mr. Bush is proposing to cut from Medicare, Medicaid and child support enforcement programs over the same period."

Companies are clearly about making money. Some argue that companies also have a responsibility to society. Apparently some companies like Exxon Mobil have stopped claiming royalty relief. You'd think there might be a way to compromise here.

Bush Spent $1.6 Billion on Advertising

You know how Bush is always saying he doesn't govern with focus groups? Well that may be, but he does spend a lot on advertising.

According to the GAO from the beginning of 2003 to the middle of 2005, the Bush administration spent $1.6 billion on "contracts with public relations firms, advertising agencies, media organizations, and individual members of the media". $1.1 billion of that was spent by the Department of Defense. The details are in this fact sheet.

This guy's fiscal management is disgusting.

At Cheney's Expense

Here's a pretty good summary of the various jokes about Cheney shooting a friend. Jon Stewart was hysterical last night. It's too bad Mr. Whittington has had an irregular heart rhythm. It might be that jokes about shootings aren't funny.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Metal Curling

Here's a combination I never would have expected: quicktime video.

Ten Ways Dick Cheney Can Kill You

Movie Review: Hustle & Flow

Hustle & Flow is up for two Oscars (actor and song), and if it wasn't for that I probably never would have seen it. Terrence Howard plays DJay, a Memphis pimp and drug dealer, who isn't really loving life. He lives with three of his prostitutes, one of whom is pregnant and another has a baby, and there's a lot of yelling. His life is going no where and to prove it to us he has one of those conversations about life that's just crap.

While meeting up with a friend he is brought to tears listening to a beautiful hymn sung in church. Now he wants to make a hip hop album. The middle of the film is that process and it's good. You see the songwriter, producer, muscian and singer all add to the process. You see how a perfect take where the singer is "in the mode" can be ruined by a bad microphone. And you see a pretty decent song get created. But really what you see here is what you didn't see in Brokeback Mountain. That film was about unfulfilled love, this film, at least the middle of the film is about someone finding a purpose in life and going for it. The film puts the point in the script, "everybody gotta have a dream" or "every man has the right, the goddamn right, to contribute a verse."

The movie might sound pretty formulaic at this point, down and out guy makes good, but it't not really. There were several scenes where the yelling and the screaming stops and the characters actually have a conversation about what they feel. There are also some fun lines. The musician is describing his day job restocking vending machines to Nola, one of DJay's prostitutes and the primary investor into the song. Her reaction is "and I thought my job sucked".

In the third act Skinny Black (Ludacris) a local boy who made it big as a rapper comes to town for a July 4th party. DJay tries to get him to listen to the demo tape they made. Seeing how DJay approaches this and what actually happens moves the film out of standard boy makes good fare but unfortunately a little closer to standard gangsta fare.

Howard's performance was very strong and for that reason I'm glad I saw it. The women in the film were treated pretty badly, but then again, so were the men. The movie has a heart, but in parts, not so much, and that's how I liked it. Mostly pretty good, but in parts not so much.

Huffington's Russert Watch

I normally find Arianna Huffington a bit harsh on Tim Russert but having watched Meet the Press this week, I think she's dead on.

Tortures Link to Rumsfeld

The New York Times reported yesterday on the prosecutions going on for the deaths of two Afghan prisoners in US custody in Afghanistan in Dec 2002. "Of 27 soldiers and officers against whom Army investigators had recommended criminal charges, 15 have been prosecuted. Five of those have pleaded guilty to assault and other crimes; the stiffest punishment any of them have received has been five months in a military prison. Only one soldier has been convicted at trial; he was not imprisoned at all." As Andrew Sullivan points out, "You can judge how seriously this administration takes the abuse of detainees by what they do about it."

The article also points a direct line to Rumsfeld. On Dec 2, 2002 he approved the use of extreme interrogration methods at Guantanamo Bay. Apparently these were bad enough that Alberto Mora, the Navy general counsel, and other officials complained and Rumsfeld rescinded the order "barely a month later". So what does Rumsfeld think of torture? Apparently Bagram had adopted the methods approved by Rumseld at about the same time. The article suggests a number of things that were not brought up at trial, probably because they are embarrassing to the administration. Great.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Snowed in With the Olympics

I've been watching the Olympics all weekend and I have to say I've been loving it. First off they are gorgeous in High Definition. The shots of Italy alone are amazing. And unlike a couple of years ago, it seems everything is in HD. The coverage seems to be showing the actual sport and the human interest stuff that so dominated the coverage in previous years seems to be at a good minimum. There was good drama: Michelle Kwan dropping out and Ohno in the 1500m short track speed skating.

The sports have been interesting. Halfpipe is fun to watch, they just do crazy things. I don't know how they came up with the names for the moves. A McTwisty inverted 540? Moves are called by the number of degrees they turn so you hear "a ten-eighty or a nine hundred." I like diving where it's a "double with a double twist". But like gymnastics and ice skating I think the names of the moves makes it a little harder for people to really get engaged in it. Nevertheless, I was really impressed. And there was drama too as favorite Shawn White almost didn't make the finals.

In downhill skiing we saw really fast runs on a crazy course. A couple of times NBC did cool camera effects showing multiple stills simultaneously so you could clearly see how the skier moved. At the end they showed the two fastest runs with one superimposed on the other so you could see where one skier was ahead of the other. Neat stuff. And you had Americans changing to new skis just before their runs.

Men's Single Luge was also fun, but I think it's impossible for a layman to follow. The announcers kept saying things like "he's stiff here" or "he's not keeping his line" or "his head is up" when every run looked the same to me. I think if they used the same technology that can draw the first down mark in football to draw the line they want through a turn it would help. Nevertheless, guys going 80 something miles down a track on a tiny sled is cool.

I'm having fun. But does anyone else think the medals this year look like CDs on a ribbon?

Movie Review: The New World

Terrence Malick doesn't make a lot of films. In the past 30 years he's directed four: Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and now The New World. His films are not average fare. They are closer to poetry. Rather than full scenes or sentences, you get lingering imagery, suggestive voice-overs and immersive music. The film needs to be experienced and is more about what it makes you feel than telling a particular story.

The New World is the story of Pocahontas (newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher) and the Jamestown colony in Virgina. She falls in love with John Smith (Colin Farrell) and marries John Rolfe (Christian Bale). So what did I feel? The British arrival on the shore was sudden. The film opens with gorgeous shots of a river and then you see several ships arrive with the "naturals" looking on from shore unsure of what they are seeing. The differences in the two peoples were shown in such original ways

The language barrier was often shown without subtitles but the naturals often screamed loudly and their gestures used not just their hands but their whole bodies. When they first meet I was the only one in the theater that laughed at how the naturals popped up from the tall grass as if they were meerkats. The natural village was a part of the woods, lush and green with one large building. The colony was walled in, with substantial looking log cabins and a courtyard of just mud with no grass in sight. I thought at one point it's no wonder that the colony was starving, they spent all their time chopping down trees and building buildings. When Pocahontas goes to England you see London through her eyes and it's even more strange. I loved when her companion said the king wanted him to carve a notch into the sticks he brought for every person he saw in England. The sense of scale was so wildly different.

So how was the love story? Ok. It dragged a bit with the Smith segment and then was a little short on the Rolfe relationship. I didn't really like Smith so I wasn't that engaged in the relationship. In spite of the fact that Farrell does a lot of voice-over, I didn't really feel I understood him and even less so for Rolfe. In the end, I was interested in how different this film was from normal fair, but I didn't love it.

Cheney Shoots, Benchley Dies

Ok, the two stories are (so far) totally unrelated but it's so easy to manipulate headlines.

First, VP Dick Cheney shot a fellow hunter today, by accident. Harry Whittington, 78, got hit in the "cheek, neck and chest" but is apparently fine.

Peter Benchley, 65, died at his home in Princeton, NJ, of a lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Benchley wrote "Jaws" in 1974.

First Katrina Report

The House will release a 600 page report this week on the failures of the Katrina response. It's singles out Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chartoff as being particularly sucky (yes that's my term) but also blames the White House, Michael Brown and virtually everyone else. Apparently we've learned no lessons since 9/11 and "Americans are NOT safer". Apparently the Senate and White House are each going to release their own conclusions.

Big Spark

Here's a video clip of opening a 500kV Switch.

A Real Transformer Robot

Some inventive Japanese have created a real Transformer robot. Transformers were a toy line in the 80s that could convert between being vehicles and being giant humanoid robots, and of course they fought evil transforming robots. Oh, and don't forget, Optimus Prime is Jewish. Here's a video of of a real transforming robot. I just hope they don't start breeding Godzillas.

Where is Lewis Black?

I'd been wondering what Lewis Black has been up since I haven't seen him on The Daily Show in a while. I stumbled across this reference in Wikipedia, he's creating a new show for Comedy Central called Red State Diaries. "It will feature Black on the road exploring the red states for explanations of the subjects of his comedic rants." I can't wait.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Who's In Gitmo?

Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Dish has a good article called Who's In Gitmo?. he points to and summarizes several articles on the topic. Half weren't captured on the battlefield, and less than a fifth were al Qaeda members. More than half were "handed over by reward-seeking Pakistanis and Afghan warlords and by villagers of highly doubtful reliability." Great.

Friday, February 10, 2006


I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics tonight. It looked gorgeous in High Definition. It wasn't quite as stunning as the Athens one two years ago, but had some very cool visuals. You gotta like people floating through a stadium.

But the thing that impressed me most was Peter Gabriel singing John Lennon's "Imagine". Yeah I've heard it a thousand times, but it amazed me that 35 years later it's still so radical a song. How many people were offended to imagine no countries or religion? How do you sing this at the Olympics in front of all these athletics representing their countries? They just walked into the stadium by country! Personally I love the song, and I love the utopia it presents. It just seems so far away these days.

Classic Movie Test

Similar Minds has a variety of fun Personality Tests including this one made for me a Classic Movie Test. I did it twice, once I was Sunset Blvd and once Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Another Good Bush Summary

Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post wrote another good summary of the current news stories as well as several letters from readers. It's called" Questions of Credibility.

Multi-Touch Interaction Video

This is a cool video showing a touch screen interface being used in interesting ways. Much cooler than Minority Report. Now if only giant touch screens would become affordable.

More Details on Plot

The Australian has more details on How US stopped Hambali. Bush menioned Hambaii, head of Jemaah Islamiah, a Southeast Asian terror group, now in US custody, possibly in Jordan. The cell that was to carry out this attack was headed by a Malaysian named Zaini Zakaria, now held in Malasia. Two other members of the cell were arrested in Thailand with Hambali.

Bush Eavesdropping - Why do We Care? | The Huffington Post

Bob Burnett writes in The Huffington Post a good article entitled: Bush Eavesdropping - Why do We Care?.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Republicans Behaving Badly

Objective Justice a good legal blog has a post entitled Republicans Behaving Badly which lists the current info on the various Republican scandals of the day.
  • NSA Wiretaps which I've just talked about
  • Karl Rove has threatened to blacklist any Republican who votes against the president
  • The new House majority leader John Boehner (R-OH) rents from a lobbyist
  • Tom Delay (R-TX) is now on the sub-committee investigating Abramoff
  • Michael Brown is threatening to release all his communications with Bush if Bush doesn't pay his legal fees! Really, he's blackmailing the President...PUBLICLY!
  • And finally the government has been holding an american citizen for more than a year without charging him with anything or giving him access to lawyer.

Now if only someone would have sex with an intern so we could do something about it.

FISC Judges "Infuriated" over NSA Warrantless Domestic Spying

I found this Washington Post article a little hard to follow but I think it goes like this. FISC is the special federal court dealing with intelligence stuff. There are 11 judges but only the chief knows about the NSA warrantless domestic wiretap stuff. Both the current chief (Colleen Kollar-Kotelly) and the former chief (Royce Lamberth) feel the program is unconstitutional but don't feel they have the ability to rule on it. They have said that they don't want evidence directly from that program used to get other warrants from the court.

The judges setup a system where any case with evidence from warrantless wiretaps was tagged. Future applications for warrants on those subjects would have to be based on different independently obtained evidence. Both cheif justices had a lot of faith in the administrations liason to the FISA court, James Baker. He's chief of the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, an expert on intelligence law, and a stickler for the rules. Apparently Baker expressed reservations to his bosses about the constitutionality of the NSA warrantless domestic spying program, but since he had the trust of the FISC his bosses kept him in the position.

Baker came to the court twice to report problems in the system. The first time in 2004 he said the NSA wasn't providing a full list of those monitored so he couldn't tag the cases. The court complained to then Attorney General Ashcroft. The program was suspended for a while and the court demanded "that high-level Justice officials certify the information was complete -- or face possible perjury charges." In 2005 Baker said due to a mistake by a low-level employee "at least one government application for a FISA warrant probably contained NSA information that was not made clear to the judges". "Kollar-Kotelly asked Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to ensure that wouldn't happen again."

The article in the beginning says Kollar-Kotelly was "infuriated" but doesn't give details more details then I described above. it also says several FISA judges were puzzled at the administrations claims that FISA wasn't quick enough to use. They cite very quick turnarounds and openness to change rules to make them more efficient. The article describes how when al Qaeda number 3 Abu Zubaida was captured in March 2002 "they discovered that the vast majority of people he had been communicating with were being monitored under FISA warrants or international spying efforts." Sounds like warrants work to me.

Libby Finks on Cheney

Apparently Fitzgerald filed papers in court today that say Libby specifically claimed that in one instance he had been authorized to divulge portions of a then-still highly classified National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Also, while not in the filings, "people with firsthand knowledge of the matter, Libby also indicated what he will offer as a broad defense during his upcoming criminal trial: that Vice President Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials had earlier encouraged and authorized him to share classified information with journalists to build public support for going to war. Later, after the war began in 2003, Cheney authorized Libby to release additional classified information, including details of the NIE, to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war."

Read the whole article but I smell impeachment.

Posturing, But Funny

Trey Ellis in the Huffington Post points out that "even CNN is questioning the political timing of the disclosure". But he also has a link to the Daily Show broadcast of Bush's rendition of "Fool Me Once".

Eat Broccoli, Avoid Cancer

Scientists have found the mechanism by which some vegetables may provide cancer defense. These include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and beans. Eating them increases the levels of a protein that repairs DNA. Obviously too early to tell details, but pretty interesting stuff.

HBO Doesn't Want You Recording

This just absolutely boggles my mind. Don't the studios get it? If I want to watch their shows, make it easy for me to do so. If I miss an episode of a serialized show, let me watch it some other way, otherwise I'm likely not to bother with the rest of the season because I'll be lost.

But studios don't get it. They're trying to get broadcast flag in all the transmissions and forcing all equipment to be able to recognize it and do what it's told. If the flag says don't record, the device (be it a VCR, DVD-Recorder, Tivo, etc.) won't let you record it. Studio's want this because they fear their shows being recorded digitally and put on the internet for others to download.

Now for broadcast TV I see the fear, people who download don't watch commercials and commercials pay the bill. But now HBO wants its programming to be off-limits for DVRs too. Now I already pay a subscription fee for HBO and they don't do commercials, so this is just rude. If Deadwood conflicts with something why shouldn't I be able to record the 3am show and watch it when I have time? The article posits that they want me to pay for On Demand to see that episode. Oh and if I do pay extra for On Demand, I can't Tivo that either. My cable bill is high enough, they are just greedy.

People have to reread the Sony decision and studios have to understand that new technology is new opportunities. If they had succeeded in banning VCRs, who much money would they have lost? I wonder how iTunes video sales are doing?

Bush Says Terrorist Plot Foiled 4 Years Ago

So I find this very bizarre. Last October Bush mentioned 10 foiled terrorist plots and didn't say much more. Later that day the White House released a fact sheet about them. At the time they were mostly dismissed as they were old plots (two in 2004, the rest in 2002-3) and most were stopped early in the planning stage. Good stuff to be sure, but odd to be talking about it in Oct 2005.

Today, Bush Says Cooperation Foiled 2002 Terrorist Scheme referring back to the first one of the fact sheet. It was a plot to fly an airplane into the tallest building in Los Angeles (as well as West of the Mississippi). He gave more details as a cell was captured about 4 years ago in a Southeast Asian nation. Why is he telling us this now? To indirectly boost his NSA domestic spying program? He didn't say that program was used in this case. All he said was he was talking about it to highlight that the war on terrorism involves international cooperation. Great, maybe we'd be doing better if we weren't pissing off all our allies?

Oh and the plot was going to use Southeast Asian terrorists because as Bush said it was "believed [they] would not arouse as much suspicion". So much for profiling.

Did Gonzales Mislead Congress Again?

ThinkProgress reports on a discrepancy between what Gonzales said on monday and what Gen. Hayden and John Ashcroft have said previously. Gonzales said there was a probable cause test on the program. Hayden said they needed to use the warrentless wiretap because they couldn't meet the probable cause burden to get the warrant after-the-fact as FISA allows. Hayden made it clear he thought the test wasn't probable cause but was reasonableness. Maybe Gonzales would explain it by saying Hayden isn't a lawyer. Why doesn't that make me feel better?

Spector v. Bush

I like Sen Arlen Spector (R-PA). After scolding Gonzales in the hearings Monday, he now is making a very reasonable proposal. He's going to draft legislation to have FISC review the NSA-surveillance program. He's suggested this before but now he wants to pass legislation to force it.

This strikes me as very clever. If the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court finds it constitutional, great, if not, then the program needs to change to become so. Hard for the President to disagree with that. It's the court's job to do this and Congress' job to oversee the executive branch. Spector cites Article I, Section 8 "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces" as giving Congress this authority. Now will the Congress pass such a law? Well Democrats will vote yes and enough Republicans are upset by this they probably will to. Then it needs to go to the President to sign, would he? Well he's never vetoed anything, imagine the outcry if this was his first veto?

I suspect it will go similar to the McCain Torture Amendment, lots of lobbying from the administration but ultimately unsuccessful. Maybe Spector will embed it in some other important legislation as McCain did with his? Anyway, Spector's idea sounds like a good one. It seems only FISC is in a position to be able to get all the details of the program to make a knowledgeable decision.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Dashboard Widgets I Use

Back in July I posted on the Mac Dashboard Widgets I Use. This is an update to that. The Dashboard is a new feature in Tiger that when invoked, slides a set of small graphical tools over your screen, allows you to use them, and then slides them away. I Expose configured to open the Dashboard when I mouse into the lower left corner of the screen. I never use F12 to invoke it even though that has the advantage of if you hold it down, the dashboard will disappear when you release the key. You can cut and paste to and from widgets but you can't drag and drop to them.

Widgets can be installed or open. Only open ones use resources (aside from disk space). Open widgets only use CPU when the Dashboard is open but they do each consume 5-10MB real memory and about 220MB virtual memory (most of which are shared libraries) all the time. There's only one screens worth of widgets, they can overlap but that seems less useful, so screen real estate is valuable. Therefore I want to be somewhat selective in the widgets I use.

There are a lot of third party widgets available from or Apple or Dashboard Widgets but I find only a few things work well as widgets. Widgets that wrap search engines or RSS newsfeeds are better done with browsers (Safari) or newreaders (Vienna). I use the OSX dock and often the icons show status like new mail, so I don't need email or IM status widgets.

In spite of the above limitations there is a set of things I've found very useful as a widget. Something that I use frequently enough that I want it easily available though not so much that I want it on the desktop, and that provides information visually (for some reason widgets should be pretty). Below are the widgets I have open all the time. First the Apple supplied ones.
  • Weather - I probably check the weather 3 times a day and this widget remembers where I am, shows a lot of info, in a little space, and is very pretty.
  • Dictionary - In modern (aka Cocoa) apps you can highlight a word and type Command-Control-D to get a popup dictionary definition. It's great, but not all apps are Cocoa. Quicksilver has a Lookup in Dictionary function, but sending a word to only works if the dictionary is already running. So, copying a word, bringing up Dashboard and pasting it into this widget works pretty well.
  • Calendar - Nice to see a calendar in easy reach without having to open iCal. Since the clock in the menubar doesn't show the date, this is an easy solution
  • Stocks - Just like the weather, it's easy to check several stocks a few times a day

And the third party ones:
  • SysStat nano - This is the best of the system status widgets. It's very small and the overview shows CPU, Memory, and Disk Usage, network throughput, and temperature.
  • AirPort Rader - This isn't planes but Wi-Fi, shows the strength and channel of available networks. Nice to see the channels so you can set yours to be a different one
  • RadarInMotion - This is a great addition to the Weather widget. I have it cycle between a radar and satellite view. It uses a lot of memory but it lets me know if that 30% chance of rain will actually happen where I am.
  • iCal Events - The Calendar widget should show your upcoming appointments but it doesn't so this one does
  • YOLK Mini - I use this for 30 and 60 minute times for laundry.
  • StatCounter - I use to monitor hits on this blog.
  • Say Cheese - This shows several daily comics. I use it to read Calvin and Hobbes reprints. it minimizes to a nice small voice ballon.
  • RPN Calc - If you don't konw what RPN is, skip this. If you do, this is my favorite. It doesn't waste space with number keys assuming you'll use the keyboard for those anyway.

The following widgets I use infrequently so I don't keep them open all the time:
  • Widget Updater - This widget checks your installed widgets on various sites to see if there have been newer versions posted and will let you download them. Easy and great.
  • Sudoku - generates a random puzzle and lets you solve it. Allows you to make notes in each square so you work just like paper and pencil.
  • Sing that iTune - will lookup the lyrics fo the currently playing song and display them. Can also copy them into the notes portion of audio file.
  • DashTunes - Tiger ships with an iTunes widget that lets you play, pause, skip, etc. But it doesn't let you rate the song, this widget does.
  • Translation - Every once in a while I'll want to translate some phrase into english, this does fine.
  • Unit Converter - For the ocassional convertions this is most convenient.
  • Package Tracker - When I order something online I want it now. Rather than look the email with the link to the order to find the link to the package tracker, I enter an UPS, FedEx or DHL number in the widget and it displays the current location of my delivery, easy to check obsessively three times a day.
  • Easy Envelopes - A cute widget that looks like an envelop, lets you search through your address book for a person and will print an envelope addressed to them. Since it remembers the print options, it's faster than using the Address Book directly.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Movie Review: The Chronicles of Narnia

It was nominated for 3 Oscars (Makeup, Sound, Visual Effects) so I had to see it. I read the book by C. S. Lewis as a kid but didn't remember much. In one respect it's a typical fantasy yarn. Four children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) in an old castle find a wardrobe who's back opens onto another world. The world has witches, fauns, centaurs, and all manner of talking animals. Of course the children are part of a prophesy and there's a quest and a large battle.

The heart of this movie is in the 4 children. Unfortunately I found only the youngest, Lucy, to be likable. The others were greedy, whiny, wimpy, and filled with self doubt. No part of this is to show growth, but it didn't work for me. I didn't believe their abilities in battle at all. The movie also has some wonderful animal characters, some liek the faun were humans with makeup and a combination of CGI and others like a beaver couple were pure CGI. These effects were seemless and very believable, and the characterizations really did come through.

The movie is a mix of light adventure with some fierce battles. The movie is rated PG, but parts seemed very intense. The book is well known as a Christian parable with Aslan the Lion King as a Christ figure. I was surprised that the first thing he taught Peter was to kill an enemy wolf. I also did think of Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ when Aslan sacrifices himself.

You can skip the Christian allegory and just view this as a good fantasy film with a well-crafted world, great effects, and some uneven intensity.

Republicans Don't Like Bush's Budget

Think Progress reports that there are at least several Republican Congressmen that don't like Bush's Budget.

NSA photo opp prop, Feds use security portal as if top-sekrit

I found this on Boing Boing. On Jan 26 Bush visited the National Security Agency to help boost morale after the warrantless wiretap issue broke out. So of course on the visit there was a photo op, you can click on the pic here for a larger image. Check out the impressive looking display behind Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the NSA. But rather than being some NSA developed world monitoring device, it's actually the Talisker Security Wizardry Portal which includes DShield world map, a free service sponsored by the SANS Institute that collects internet malicious activity from volunteers.

Good that the NSA uses this stuff, because it's some of the best around, and it's free, but also not as impressive as the photo op might suggest.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Telling Congress

Media Matters has more details on the reaction of Democrats on the information they received about the "domestic spying" program.

They also have evidence that program monitored Americans with no terror ties. Which is something that according to Think ProgressGonzales can’t give you absolute assurance they aren't doing. Think Progress likes taking the most shocking headlines, but they did quote Gonzales saying "Certainly General Hayden knows more about the operational details of this [program]. What I can give the American people assurance is that we have a number of safeguards in place so that we can say with a high degree of confidence or certainly certainty that what the president has authorized in connection with this program, that those procedures are being followed." which is a real dodge of the question, because it's not clear if the policies involve monitoring Americans or not. And they report that Hayden dodged the same question three times. Someone should be able to give an answer.

Gonzales Defies Logic and Plain English

Senator Arlen Spector (R-PA) was the last to question Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today about the NSA Warrantless Wiretapping program. At one point the conversation when like this.

Gonzales had all day been quoting a small part of FISA, Title 50 USC Section 1809 which says that "A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally (1) engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute." He said that "authorized by statute" means Congress anticipated later laws that would modify FISA and he says that on Sept 14, 2001 when Congress issued the Authorization To Use Miltary Force so Bush could go after those that caused 9/11, that meant that he had new authorization so that FISA didn't necessarily apply to all electronic surveillance programs.

Spector pointed out "when members of Congress heard about your contention that the resolution Authorizing The Use Of Force amended the [FISA], there was general shock."

Gonzales said "we've never asserted that FISA's been amended. We've always asserted that our interpretation of FISA which contemplates another statute, and we have that here in the Authorization To Use Force. That those complement each other. This is not a situation where FISA's been overwritten or FISA's been amended. That's never been our position.

Spector replied: "That just defies logic and plain English. FISA says squarely that you can't have electronic surveillance of any person without a warrant and you are saying when you tag on to other statute which is in the penal provision that those words in FISA are no longer applicable, that there's been a later statutory resolution by Congress which changes that."

After this Spector went on at length, giving Gonzales a polite spanking. He quoted Justice Jackson's momentous decision in Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer about executive power and said in this case, Congress stated it's position and the president's was squarely against so it "was at its lowest ebb". By the administration taking this narrow view it would force Congress to weigh every semi-colon and word carefully in the future and the executive might not get all the power he wanted or would at least be at it's lowest ebb. He implored Gonzales to take this to the entire Intelligence Committee or the FISC with all the info so they could make an informed decision, because the executive authority was not unlimited (Gonzales agreed) and because you can't decide this issue without all the facts, and these facts are sensitive and can't come out in other places. Again quoting Jackson, Spector said this was important because, "the equilibrium of our Constitutional system which is involved" and "security is very weighty but so are civil rights".

Warrentless NSA Wiretap Hearings

I've been watching the hearing on CSPAN today. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been testifying. To me, he's coming off as slimy. He's being extremely specific on language and not very forthcoming on answering questions. He also seems to be giving long answers, when even a yes or no would suffice, I'd guess to use up the Senator's time to ask questions. He refuses to say when he reached legal conclusions as that is an operational detail. When asked how laws that authorized the use of force could be interpreted to allow electronic surveillance, he refers to the Hamdi Case where the Supreme Court found that it allowed for detention, and refused to recognize a distinction.

I have to say I was impressed with Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who said "All I’m saying is the inherent authority argument in its application to me seems to have no boundaries when it comes to executive decisions in a time of war, it deals the Congress and courts out, Mr. Attorney General." Pretty powerful stuff.

But the most impressive so far as been Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL). He started out commenting about the administration's description of FISA as a useful tool in the fight on terrorism. He pointed out it's not a tool for the executive branch but rather a limitation on it's powers. Describing it as a tool suggests you'll use it when you want and not when you don't want. He asked Gonzales about previous statements he made about the president's authority to ignore unconstitutional statutes. Gonzales answered that they weren't ignoring FISA but complying with it (by legally working around it). Durbin then pointed out that FISA says it's the is the exclusive means of conducting wiretaps. Gonzales points to Title 50 USC Section 1809 which says that "A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally (1) engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute" anticipates further statutes and says the Authorization To Use Military Force was that statute. Durbin said that the president enjoyed bipartisan support to fight terrorism, that the Patriot Act was passed 99-1, and Congress has authorized every penny asked for, so why didn't the administration ask for changes to FISA if it wasn't sufficient.

Gonzales had previously said he had conversations with Congress about could FISA be sufficiently amended and was advised by them that no it couldn't. Sen Patrick Leahy (D-VT) got Gonzales to admit that they didn't tell Congress until 2004 which was after they knew a newspaper was going to publish it. Gonzales said it was the Gang of Eight (bipartisan leadership) he spoke wand that it happened in 2004, three years after they had been doing this. And Leahy yelled at him that it was the Judiciary Committee that would have to write the law but he admits he didn't talk to the Judiciary Committee but still said that Congress advised him they couldn't do so. Leahy then said "Does this sound like a CYA on your part, it does to me."

Paper-like display in two years

Philips says they will have Paper-like display in two years. I can't wait.

Super Bowl XL Commercials on Google Video

Google has all of yesterday's Super Bowl Commercials on Google Video. Including the GoDaddy ones that were banned. I haven't watched them all but I like the Bud Light "Save Yourself" and the Budweiser "The Wave"

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Bowl Tech

Engadget has a fun article on the tech at the Super Bowl.

Plame Was Still Covert

Remember all those people that said Valerie Plame was not covert? Well it seems they are all wrong. MSNBC is reporting that "according to newly released portions of a judge's opinion" "Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame had indeed done 'covert work overseas' on counterproliferation matters in the past five years, and the CIA 'was making specific efforts to conceal' her identity. Fitzgerald didn't have proof that Libby knew Plame was covert, so he indicted Libby for lying.

Digital Camera Futures

cnet has an interesting article on the future of digital cameras. With Kodak and Nikon exiting the film business and Konica Minolta exiting the camera business all together, digital has become the accepted norm.

New camera models will incorporate interesting changes. While image stabilization will be the hot trend this year, and its easy to expect better batteries and screens, we're starting to see more innovative things. New camera shapes are coming, new liquid lens technology, and better software that could do things like identify faces, avoid pictures with the subjects eyes closed. We're starting to see wi-fi enabled cameras and new ones could have GPS systems to record where the photo was taken. That would really help flickr tags.

Surveillance Net Yields Few Suspects

The Washington Post has a good article on the NSA's warrentless spying program entitled Surveillance Net Yields Few Suspects. It's a good collection of what we know about the program, claims made by Bush and Cheney about it, and various techniques that are probably in use and why the might be good.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Cheney told Libby

about Valerie Plame's identity. And Libby told Ari Fleischer a week before it was made public. Still no word on Rove. Libby's trial isn't until next year, conveniently after mid-term elections.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Movie Review: A History of Violence

A History of Violence opens with a tracking shot outside of a motel with two guys leaving their room and checking out. You can tell they are bad. One goes into the office to check out and comes out and then the other goes in and we see the first has murdered the office staff. It's presented so matter of factly and there is no shock or remorse in either of the villians so that it has a rather chilling effect. We then cut to a small town where Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) runs a diner and we also meet his wife Edie (Maria Bello) and his children Jack (Ashton Holmes) and Sarah (Heidi Hayes). We see everyday life, Tom and Edie seem very much in love, the diner is Norman Rockwellesque, Jack is picked on in high school, and young Sarah is cute.

Our villians come into the diner and attempt to rob it. Just as they are about to kill someone, Tom jumps into action and saves the day, killing the two villians. He becomes a local hero and makes all the news channels. The rest of the movie is about him dealing with his new fame. I won't say more because it would be giving things away.

The movie was good; it was engaging and kept moving. It's been most recognized for it's performances. I didn't mention Ed Harris or William Hurt, but they are both in it and were both very strong. Hurt got a Oscar nomination as Supporting Actor and while he was good, I think his role was small enough that I'm surprised he got it. I thought Don Cheadle in Crash was more deserving.

The film is directed by David Cronenberg and has a small town with violent underbelly feel somewhere between David Lynch's Blue Velvet and Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. It's based on a 1997 graphic novel which focused more on Tom and the movie focused a bit more on the family. I liked what the movie tried to do but wish it would have gone a little further with it. The end focuses on Tom and teh wrap up leaves a little to much for you to fill in on your own. As a result the movie isn't really a family drama, a crime story, or a suspense yarn, but rather a bit of all, which is pretty fun.

Bush's State of the Union, I Didn't Really Mean It

Knight Ridder reports "One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally." and "This was purely an example," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.

This is just amazing. If he wanted to make an example, don't be specific by saying something like 75%. So if this sentence wasn't to be taken literally, what others ones weren't to be taken literally? Conveniently, Think Progress has a list.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Maybe Bush Doesn't Hate Science

His speech last night included a number of good science and technology initiatives. If he actually comes through with them (he said stuff about fuel cells last year) it would be good. I guess I'll believe it when I see it.

I've figured out what I'd asked him if ever given the chance. "How old do you think the Earth is?"

Think Progress on SOTU

Think Progress has many postings on the State of the Union speech. Basically for most things Bush said, they point out how his administration has made that thing worse. While I'm not going to verify it all, it seems pretty comprehensive.

How to Eat Sushi

This is an instruction movie on how to eat sushi. Hilarious.