Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Not My Day

So not only did my mac die today, I had friend cancel lunch plans too. But the thing that just hurt was I sat down to watch the Godfather Part II from netflix. Yes about two years I mentioned I had never seen it and it was the best movie I've never seen and I'm finally around to watching it. I watched part 1 again this weekend and had most of review done on my mac but that's probably lost. Anyway I sat down to watch the DVDs it actually split on two DVDs that netflix shipped separated (but counted as only one selection). Unfortunately the envelope that said disc 1 had disc 2 in it; and so did the envelope that said disc 2. Ugh so back it goes and I won't see it before I get my mac back.

Quiet For a While

I was going to post on Friday that there would be no posts for the long weekend. I'll be away at the beach as usual over July 4th and won't be back till Wed night. But now I can say even sooner there will be fewer posts. My mac's hard disk died a sudden death. Yep it happens to macs too. I have what should be a complete backup on an external drive from about a month ago. Not so bad as I don't really have anything critical. Since all my mail is kept on gmail that's ok, that system works out nicely.

I'll say it, but you won't really listen to me. Make sure you have backups and keep them current. Apparently this concept only sinks in after you've had a disaster yourself. Maybe Time Machine in Leopard will fix that.

I have two things to add. When my machine just hung today it was about 4pm. I tried a few things to bring it back and called a friend. Didn't make much progress. I tried making an appointment at the local Apple Store Genius Bar but it was booked. I managed to boot off of the Tiger DVD. I called Apple support and while I don't have Apple Care they took my call with only a couple of minutes wait and for free walked me through checking with Disk Utility and seeing the hard disk wasn't listed. That meant it needed someone to look at it so he made at appointment for me at the Genius Bar at 5:15pm. I don't know if he had special rights or an opening occurred but I got in the car and went over. The genius looked and yep it was dead. I ended up ordering the replacement drive through them, it was expensive but convenient and they had it in stock. They'll install it and try getting any data off of the old drive but that seems doubtful. By 6pm I was home. In just two hours I had called in support, dropped it off and had a plan to have it back to me. That's all without Apple Care on a 2+ year old machine. I think that's very nice. Apple is really making good use of their stores.

The second thing is that not having the PowerBook is kinda traumatic. I've been using it all the time as you can probably tell. But it's not quite as bad as when my series 1 TiVo died five years ago. On that one I had to send it to Sony to be repaired but lucked out to find it needed to go to Needham, MA which is about 20 mins from here. I dropped it off and even convinced them to fix it while I waited. I had it back up and running by the time I was back from work that day. Still the idea of TiVo dying was bad. I think it's probably less for the mac since I have a reasonable backup and I was planning on not bringing it with me on my trip anyway.

A last thing, I'm writing this post using bloggers web interface in Firefox on my PC. It's the first time the PC has been on in a few months. It's really not nearly as nice as using MarsEdit on the mac. But if I didn't have another computer and was completely cut off (and not by my own choice) I'd be pretty bummed.

Hardball: Please Stop Giving Ann Coulter a Forum

I try to avoid writing about what Ann Coulter says, I'll make a brief exception. Apparently she has a new book out, whatever.

3 months ago she essentially called John Edwards a "faggot", I hear people get thrown off of popular TV shows for that, but not Ann. On Monday on GMA she said "So I've learned my lesson, if I'm gonna say anything about John Edwards in the future, I'll just wish he'd been killed in a terrorist assassination plot." She was on Hardball yesterday and Elizabeth Edwards called in and politely asked her to stop the personal attacks. Coulter stayed snarky and obnoxious as ever, lying about saying it, talking about raising money on the comments, and exaggerating that Edwards was telling her to "stop speaking". Ever the victim that Ann. Amazingly she kept it up even when Edwards brought up Coulter's comments about their dead son, responding with "that was 3 years ago". Watch it here (this is the longest clip I found on youtube so you have the most context).



I know GMA and Hardball and others have Coulter on precisely because this gives them press. But I'm politely asking them to stop. Let Fox be the one to promote this troll. NewsBusters complains that Elizabeth Edwards is hiring people that use the language of hate and that Hardball set up an obvious call-in stunt. Still they gave her the whole hour on the show. As Jon Stewart so eloquently said "You're hurting America".

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The First Important iPhone Reviews

The first meaningful reviews of the iPhone are out. First out is Walt Mossberg's Review after two weeks of using it. "Our verdict is that, despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer. Its software, especially, sets a new bar for the smart-phone industry, and its clever finger-touch interface, which dispenses with a stylus and most buttons, works well, though it sometimes adds steps to common functions."

And here's cute video review by David Pogue:


Overall it's good, probably really good. The virtual keyboard seems to work well, the battery gives 7+ hours of talk time, it's gorgeous, maps are fantastic with real-time traffic, the wifi connectivity is great, voicemail, email and the web work well. The camera is good for a phone. The cheapest plan is $60/month for 450 minutes but that includes unlimited data and carryover minutes which is quite nice.

The less than stellar is that it's on AT&T EDGE network which is slow and you can't transfer a phone number from another phone company. Also the battery life is good but the battery isn't replaceable, so after a few years expect to send it to Apple to get a new battery installed. There's no IM just SMS. The web works well but no Flash or Java. No games. No one-touch or voice dialing, no video capture. The one that surprises me is you can't set a song as a ringtone.

Unlock a Car with a Tennis Ball

TechEBlog has a list of Strange Ways to Unlock Car Doors. My favorite is this one, I have no idea if it works.

Update: Mythbusters tried it and busted it. Doesn't work.


Unlock a car with a Tennis Ball

Moebius Transformations Revealed

This is a cool visualization of moebius transformations. It really demonstrates how math can be made much more understandable by showing things visually on a graph vs using formulas (not that they don't have their place) and that things sometimes do get clearer if you add a dimension.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Carbon Footprint Calculator

Live Earth has a ECP Carbon and Lifestyle Calculator. Answer a few questions and get a score. My ECP Score was 270 which is low (scale is 150-900) and translates to 9 tons of carbon output.

3 Supreme Court Decisions

KRATS decided 3 SCOTUS cases today, 5-4. Think Progress reports: Supreme Court Sides With Administration, Corporations In New Decisions.

In one of them, a citizens can't challenge the White House in "encouraging religious charities to apply for federal grants." If the religious right can object to using federal funds to pay for abortions for poor women in the case of rape or incest, then I should be able to object to the federal money going to religious groups, or at the very least to the federal government helping religous groups get money from the federal government. Case wasn't about banning the practice, merely about challenging it. In his dissent, Justice Souter said the decision ''closes the door on these taxpayers because the executive branch, and not the legislative branch, caused their injury, I see no basis for this distinction."

Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?

Man this is sad. The kids' WTF expressions are hilarious. I'm not sure what's worse, that there are adults this dumb around, that idiots like this get on TV, that millions of people enjoy watching idiots like this, or that I'm actually posting this. I think I have to get on this show, I might do ok.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

More on Cheney, er Angler

So lots on Cheney this week, including a huge article in the Washington Post that's been a year in the making and the first of four reports. Think Progress already has some comments on it.

Rolling Stone has a long article on The Secret Campaign of President Bush's Administration To Deny Global Warming. Think Progress points out "The report highlights Dick Cheney’s surreptitious role in developing Bush’s pro-industry climate agenda, arguing Cheney took “full advantage of the president’s cluelessness” on climate change. Rolling Stone argues Bush played along with Cheney’s arm-twisting, which culminated most recently in his decision to bypass the G8 climate resolution"

Here's more on previous posts about Cheney not reporting statistics on document classification in compliance with an executive order for all executive branch departments because his office isn't part of the executive branch.

Apparently one of Cheney's arguments is that since he, as VP is President of the Senate is part of the legislative branch. In response, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanual (D-IL) said "he plans to propose next week, as part of a spending bill for executive operations, a measure to place a hold on funds for Cheney's office and official home until he clarifies to which branch of the government he belongs. Emanuel acknowledged that the proposal is just a stunt, but he said that if Cheney is not part of the executive branch, he should not receive its funds."

Andrew Sullivan follows up: "I don't think this is a trivial matter, because it seems to me that Cheney is currently an extremely dangerous man. He has nothing to lose in the next eighteen months. He cannot get any less popular. He thinks the 2004 election is the only legitimacy he needs. He doesn't believe the Congress should have any role in foreign policy. And he also believes that Iran must not develop nuclear power and that no one apart from him can stop them. The drum beat coming from his office about Iran's direct involvement in the Iraq war is obviously a preamble to claiming that the 2003 war authorization gives him and Bush the right to bomb Iran without going back to the Congress for approval. He's a man ready and willing to pull a Cambodia. If the Congress and the press don't start pushing back now, it may come sooner rather than later."

Daily Kos points out that yesterday the White House said the order doesn't apply to Bush's office either and goes on to quote sections of Executive Order 13292 that seemingly apply to both Bush and Cheney. "The President and/or the Vice President have roles, tasks, responsibilities, obligations and entitlements prescribed for them no less than 30 times in this document. But... none of it applies to them. No siree, Bob. Move along, people. Nothing to see here. Look! It's the B.F. Goodrich blimp! And it's getting an expensive haircut!"

Here's the original Executive Order 12958. Bush's Executive Order 13292 updated it in March 2003. From that update, Section 6.1 (b) "Agency" means any "Executive agency," as defined in 5 U.S.C. 105; any "Military department" as defined in 5 U.S.C. 102; and any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information. 5 U.S.C. 105 says "For the purpose of this title, “Executive agency” means an Executive department, a Government corporation, and an independent establishment."

Sec 1.3 lists the Vice President as having "the authority to classify information originally". Sec. 5.4. says "Heads of agencies that originate or handle classified information shall:" amongst other things "designate a senior agency official" to "provide a full accounting of the agencys special access programs at least annually;". Seems pretty clear to me. It's interesting that Cheney's argument could be that he's not part of the executive branch, there are 6 times in the order that it refers to the Vice President's "executive duties".

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Twittering?

Is anyone reading this using Twitter? I've known about it as a tweak on IM. Users have accounts and can set short status messages about what they're doing now. They can set these by IM, SMS or a web interface, so it could be "standing in line at the Apple store", "buying an iPhone", "drinking at OM", "writing my thesis" or just about anything short. Like IM, your buddies can subscribe and get these updates. Of course it's free.

Since they're short and you might have lots of buddies you might get a lot of these. People have said they've tried Twitter, gotten addicted but most that I've heard of have wondered if there was any use. The twitter web site has some recent posts from random people and of course in the Web 2.0 world someone has done a Google Maps mash-up, actually two.

I still subscribe to Wired, it's only $12 a year and there's usually one interesting article per issue. The July issue (sorry not online yet), has a short article that finally explains a use of Twitter that I understand.

I was at first resistent to IM but after using it for a while I realized it was more than just chat messages halfway between phone and email. Your buddy list provides "presence"; that is you can see who's online, and with their status messages something about what they are doing ("busy") or where they are ("in meeting", "in China"). Since my Adium buddy list is just photos of them, I "see" my friends when they're online. I keep up with them more often because I "see" them regularly and think to say hi.

Clive Thompson in Wired describes the Twitter messages as not doing much individually but in aggregate you get a sense of what people have been doing, and when you do talk with them you have conversation starters. "For example, when I meet Misha for lunch after not having seen her for a month, I already know the wireframe outline of her life: She was nervous about last week's big presentation, got stuck in a rare spring snowstorm, and became addicted to salt bagels. It's almost like ESP, which can be incredibly useful when app,ied to your work life. You know who's overloaded--better not bug Amanda today--and who's on a roll." If your in a distributed work environment it's yet more information you can use to keep connected.

I'm now kinda interested in trying it but I don't think any of my friends are using it. Are you? If so, let me know.

NH Tax Evasion Standoff

I just found out about this this morning. Ed and Elaine Brown are holed up in their NH home. In January they were convicted of tax evasion for refusing to pay income taxes. They don't believe the government has the right to collect income taxes. The wikipedia page has a Chronology of events.

Elaine is a dentist and they have a home on 110 acres, in Plainfield NH (satellite photo via Google Maps). Apparently they didn't report a lot of income over several years. In April they were sentenced to 63 months in jail.

I've seen wildly different amounts mentioned in the various news articles I've read. This one seems to be the highest and also the most detailed. "Elaine Brown was found guilty of evading federal income taxes on the nearly $1.9 million she earned as a dentist between 1996 and 2003. At trial, prosecutors estimated that her unpaid taxes were about $625,000 for those years. But with interest and penalties, that number has jumped to close to $2 million. Brown was also found guilty of failing to withhold employment taxes for the workers at her practice. A separate federal lien shows that liability for those taxes has risen to $194,000." According to an April US District Court ruling there is a state tax lien for $348,235.32.

Watch their press conference from a week ago; you won't be pursuaded. In it they say the IRS code doesn't apply to them, only to people involved in alcohol or firearms trade and a few other things. The Tax Protester FAQ debunks these claims as does this PDF from the IRS.

I've also seen articles saying the Browns claim that the 16th Amendment was never ratified. Wikipedia has a page that points out all the flaws in the Tax protester constitutional arguments. The ratification argument is that the states ratified copies of amendment with different capitalization and punctuation. Other amendments had those problems (gee I guesss it was common when copying things by hand) and the courts have ruled against this argument.

This ABC article begins "Calling the federal agents surrounding his fortified compound 'guns for hire,' a New Hampshire man convicted of tax evasion vowed today that he and his wife would fight U.S. marshals to the death if they tried to capture them." This despite the later quotes by U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier "There is no standoff and the house is not surrounded. We have no intention of assaulting the house or engaging in a violent confrontation." and "We are not setting up roadblocks or surrounding the house."

And I'm so sure about "fortified compound". It's house and visitors have come and gone. What some describe as a turret, Brown describes as a deck. Here's another picture of the house taken in January. Federal agents had already seized the approximatly 30 guns Brown owns; a routine process after sentencing.

They have a web site, a blog and a myspace page. I won't support them by linking to them but they weren't hard to find. Yesterday's Boston Globe says Tax resisters finding allies in cyberspace. The blog gets a million hits a month. They also point out the wackiness: "He said Bush ordered the killing of thousands on Sept. 11 to justify a takeover of the Islamic world on behalf of Freemasons. He said his allies around the world are compiling a list of Freemasons for future reference."

Today's Boston Globe says Dukakis pardoned him in 1976 for a conviction of a 1960 assault with a deadly weapon in Somerville and "a dozen minor motor vehicle offenses dating from the 1960s and early 1970s." He served some prison time until a parole in 1965. Randy Weaver of Ruby Ridge fame is with them since June 18th. That's sure to help calm things down.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Bringing Back Habeas

Think Progress reports Skelton And Conyers Introduce Major New Habeas Reform Legislation. Amazing that this is even necessary and is as difficult as it's been.

Roberts Court Good for Business

The Los Angeles Times has an article High court has been good for business.

"The Bush administration and corporate lobbyists long have sought sweeping 'tort reform' to limit lawsuits and massive jury awards — without much success. But in the last year, they quietly have been winning much of what they've wanted on a case-by-case basis in the Supreme Court.

With a week to go in their term, the justices have handed down a dozen rulings that sharply limit the damages that can be won in lawsuits or make it harder to sue corporations.

'The Roberts court is even better for business' than the court led for two decades by the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, said Washington attorney Maureen E. Mahoney, who is a longtime friend of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and a former clerk for Rehnquist. 'There is unquestionably a greater number of business cases before the court, and [the justices] are quite willing to limit damage remedies.' "

Waxman Goes After Cheney For Being Above the Law

A year ago I blogged VP not an Executive Branch Entity? about a story that the office of the VP was not following a directive for all executive branch offices to file reports with the National Archives about the number of documents they classify and declassify. Unfortunately the original source link is no longer working.

Yesterday Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Governmnet Reform Committee, sent a letter to Cheney with the long history of issue and requesting the answers to four questions by July 12th. My favorite line in the letter was "Your office may have the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding classified information." Given this and the fact that his office hasn't answered previous requests by the National Archives in the last year (and Gonzales' office didn't answer a request for clarification on the issue) I doubt Cheney's office will respond.

Cheney's original argument is that his office isn't part of the executive branch so the executive order doesn't apply. Cheney has futher requested changes to the National Archives that would eliminate the Information Security Oversight Office that's making the request and would prevent the National Archives from appealling disputes to the Attorney General. Scummy isn't it?

It's also a bit hypocritical. Remember that during Plames civil suit "Cheney's attorney went further, arguing that Cheney is legally akin to the president because of his unique government role and has absolute immunity from any lawsuit." Last I checked, the President was part of the executive branch, even if the Vice President isn't. Can't we please impeach this Napoleon?

When White House spokeperson Dana Perino was asked about this today, she danced around it and called it "a little bit of a non-story".

Lawmakers to Investigate Signing Statements

A little over year after the story of Bush's use of signing statements broke and about 6 months after the Democrats took over Congress, they finally seem ready to do something about it.

The GAO found that in 6 out of 19 cases the administration didn't follow the law. "The accountability office, a watchdog agency, in a report issued Monday, did not pass judgment on whether the agencies were responding to the signing statements or whether the president had the constitutional authority not to comply. But Congressional officials said Tuesday that the findings were alarming since the administration had apparently not complied with the law in 30 percent of the cases scrutinized."

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) "said their next step would be to explore the signing statements to determine the broad extent of their impact." Well maybe "do something" was a bit strong.

Surveillance Technology of 24 and The Wire

Peter Suderman has an interesting article in The New Atlantis Seeing and Believing. It talks about the surveillance technology shown on the two TV shows 24 and The Wire.

"These differing attitudes manifest themselves in each show’s treatment of surveillance technology. In 24, it appears as abundant, powerful, and chic—the solution to every problem...In particular, CTU’s surveillance capability is virtually without boundaries. No computer security is too difficult to hack; no image too distorted to make scrutable; no location too remote for satellites or surveillance cameras to peer in. Bad guys are forever destroying or encrypting important files only to have CTU technicians handily salvage or decode the relevant sections."

"In contrast to 24’sawe-struck parade of technological glamour, The Wire’s treatment of surveillance technology is dingy and downtrodden—a skeptical vision where greed and apathy drive human action and technology is as flawed as its creators. Its world is mired in self-serving bureaucracy, a tangle of inaccessible systems that exist only to perpetuate their own power. Computers, communication devices, and surveillance equipment are no different: Costly, complex, and imperfect, they are the tools of elites—an integral part of Baltimore’s ongoing turf wars, both on and off the streets."

24 has been fun at times though this season got tedious. The Wire is a great show and if you haven't seen it go get the DVDs for season one; and then two, and three.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Watching the Supreme Courts Shift

Edward Lazarus has an interesting article on FindLaw: The Transformation of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, As the Roberts Court Shifts from Harmony and Consensus to Bitter Division.

Cenk Uygur on Talking Points

Cenk Uygur has another brilliant essay in the Huffington Post called Does Anyone Really Not Support the Troops?. I'd try to pull quotes but it's all good. The media probably isn't controlled by some cabal but does get it's priorities wrong. Well there is a good quote "There are several reasons for this. The two most important ones mentioned were the enormous right-wing echo chamber that still controls the conversation and the lack of engagement by the Democratic Party in the media wars."

He brings up an example of how the Republicans were in power and hated the Democrats fro threatening to filibuster; but now that they are the minority they're doing so all the time and the media doesn't call them on it.

Basically the right-wing media effectively gets out it's (fraudulent) message and the Democrats can't defend themselves. "The war in Iraq has been going on for nearly four and half years and the Democrats have still not figured out a way to get out of the verbal trap known simply as, 'support the troops'."

"Here's a response a journalist with any sense and ethics would say to a Republican politician who uses this talking point, 'Senator, do you believe the Democrats really intend to harm the troops? Do you have any evidence of this? Can you name names, who are these villains who hate our own people? If you can't answer these questions, can you please tell me the real reason for your policy in Iraq without pretending you speak for the troops?'"

Honestly, whoever the Democrats pick as their nominee, I want them to get Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart, Aaron Sorkin and Cenk Uygur as their speech writers and message crafters. Time to start calling a spade a spade.

Smoking rate has plummeted in New York City

Smoking rate has plummeted in New York City. "The 2006 rate was nearly 20% lower than the 2002 rate -- a decline that represents 240,000 fewer smokers."

"These large declines followed a year-long ad campaign aimed at prompting more smokers to quit. Beginning in 2002, and after a decade with no progress, New York City increased the tobacco tax, eliminated smoking in virtually all workplaces, and launched hard-hitting anti-tobacco ads. There aren’t many programs that can prevent 80,000 premature deaths this quickly"

I've seen some of the billboards that were up in 1999 while driving to or from visiting my father in the hospital with lung cancer. Those were pretty brutal, but whatever helps.

McNulty Testifies Again

Paul McNulty, Deputy Attorney General resigning this month, testified again for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law today. This was after Monica Goodling called into question some of his previous testimony.

It opened with Rep John Conyers (D-MI), the chairman of the committee rebuking Rep Chris Cannon (R-UT, ranking subcommittee member) for saying "there is in fact nothing wrong with firing US Attorneys at any time for any reason" and for saying the Democrats are pursuing this for partisan political reasons. First Conyers said there are reasons that US Attorneys can't be fired and Cannon quickly agreed. Rep Linda Sanchez (D-CA), chairwoman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law pointed out that her opening statements were not partizan but brought up the facts that have been brought up in evidence, documents and testimony, "it warrants our time and our attention and investigation and it's not fabricated because it's supported by factual information". Nice.

In his opening statements McNulty said he's always tried to tell the truth to Congress though since his testimony it's been clear his knowledge of some of the events has been "incomplete". He says he has no knowledge of the plan to fire US Attorney's until October 2006 and wasn't consulted until the November 27th meeting. This in spite of the fact that Gonzales has said McNulty knows more than anyone about who was on the list and approved the firings. He says that he did approve the firings and assumed Gonzales thought Kyle Sampson would consult with McNulty but he apparently didn't.

Can't we get all of these guys in the room at the same time and ask them all questions. This process that drags on for months where congressmen get 5 mins to ask a question is maddening. All these players (except Goodling) seem to give very specific answers that sound more general than they are and then when asked about the discrepancies parse them very tightly to say "see I wasn't lying". It's like they all forgot the middle part of "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth". The other technique, which McNulty used today was since there's an internal investigation going on, they've recused themselves from actions. We still don't know who made the list and no one can investigate because they're all recused.

Movie Review: Paprika

Paprika is an anime film. This could have been a Philip K. Dick story as dreams and reality merge together seemlessly. The story was hard to follow and a bit incoherent. Steamboy was incoherent in a bad way, Head was incoherent (more surreal) in a good way. Paprika I'm not sure about.

The plot is about some scientists who invent a device called a DC-Mini that allows people to see into their dreams and even share them with other people. Somehow a cop is involved too, in fact the opening scenes cover his dreams (if I remember correctly). Some of the devices have been stolen and when used in the wrong way can be used to affect the dreams of many in a terrorist act. They try to find the thief and thwart his plans, as the reality gets stranger and stranger.

The animation is at times amazing. Like much of anime and European animation the backgrounds are quite detailed and realistic looking. I was particularly impressed with the plants overgrowing an abandoned amusement park and wondered if they were photographs superimposed on the drawing. While there are some parts that had me thinking this would be good as a live action film with Matrix-like effects, other parts just couldn't be live action and made use of animation's lack of limitations.

Reviews I've seen say it commented on everything from man vs machine, the nature of dreams and reality, how we relate to others, the nature of terrorism. Those topics might be mentioned, but I don't think Paprika actually had anything to say about these things. It was too busy being a trippy experience. It was kinda interesting but hard to follow. I'll probably watch it again on cable and I expect I'll enjoy it more.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Be Like Hitchcock

Here's a fun article on the Film Techniques of Alfred Hitchcock or "How to turn your boring movie into a Hitchcock thriller..."

Digby Revealed

I didn't know that digby's identity was unknown, well no more, Digby is Revealed giving a good speech about the blogosphere and politics

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Purgegate Emails

Think Progress reports on the Extensive Destruction of RNC Emails, Violations of Records Act in the Purgegate investigation. More people than indicated had RNC accounts, the administration isn't cooperating with the investigation, many email messages have been destroyed and the White House counsel was complicit.

On basic rights, U.S. lost its way

The St Petersburg Times had an editorial yesterday on the al-Marri case: On basic rights, U.S. lost its way.

"What happened to Ali al-Marri is the story of America losing its way by letting fear override our national values. The student from Qatar was in the United States legally along with his wife and five children, studying for his master's degree in Peoria, Ill. In 2001, he was detained by federal agents and later charged with credit card fraud. Then, on the eve of trial, he was unilaterally designated an enemy combatant by President Bush and sent to a military brig in South Carolina, where he spent the next four years in solitary confinement in a cell described as 9 feet by 6 feet.

The government claims that al-Marri is an al-Qaida terrorist who was a sleeper agent in the United States. He is alleged to have been on a 'martyr mission' with instructions to disrupt our country's financial system through computer hacking.

This may all be true, but it has never been proven before an independent judicial body. Instead, the Bush administration says that no proof is necessary. Al-Marri may be held indefinitely and never charged, solely upon the president's say-so.

This sweeping arrogation of presidential authority is what a federal appeals court halted in a recent ruling. In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that al-Marri is a civilian with constitutional rights and has to be either criminally charged, deported, held as a material witness or set free. But he could not continue to be held in legal limbo outside the normal rules governing the treatment of suspects."

Torture News

Think Progress reports CIA General Counsel Nominee Stands By Torture

Justice Scalia adds to the "What would Jack Bauer do?" debate on torture at a legal conference in Ottawa. He's a Bauer fan. Ugh. I think people have to realize that the ticking time bomb scenario is exceedingly rare and should be treated as the exception and not the rule. The rule should be no torture and if Jack Bauer has to do so because a nuke is about to destroy LA then he should get Presidential approval (as he often does) and the President takes the responsiblity.

Hamas

HAMAS Wins! Thanks to Us is an interesting article

"Now the enemy could be truly at the gates. We can simply say ‘to hell with them’ and watch Gaza become Hamasistan. Or we can get an international force in Gaza to stop the blood-letting, ensure that humanitarian needs are met, and adopt the policy of distinguishing between Palestinians ready to live in peace with Israel, whatever their affiliations, and those who aren’t. Above all, we can abandon a policy of starving people into submission, a policy reminiscent of the dictator who threatens that ‘the beatings will continue until morale improves.’

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been a threat to American security, although one that is somewhat indirect. But this week’s events make the threat to America (and to Israel, of course) infinitely more direct. Hamas is on the brink of fully controlling territory adjacent to Israel and Egypt. Is there any reason to believe that if they solidify their hold, their Iranian friends (or even A-Q) will not follow?

A little urgency on the part of the Bush administration is long overdue.

As for the Israeli and Jewish right, these are good times. Palestinians are killing each other. There is 'no partner' for negotiations. And, if lunatics own Gaza, they will never have to worry about negotiations. Besides they decided long ago that no Israel at all is preferable to an Israel without the West Bank."

A Third Way for Iraq

Amitai Etzioni writes in The Huffington Post A Third Way for Iraq. It draws from his new book Security First.

"Is there a way for the United States not to withdraw from Iraq and yet increase security and greatly cut its casualties? Two recent detailed reports of the facts on the ground strongly suggest that there is such a third way between folding and endlessly raising the stakes. Both point to the merit of letting each community largely provide for its own security."

I'm certainly not qualified to evaluate it, but it sounds reasonable.

Apple Spreads FUD Too

Chad Hermann writes in The Huffington Post: They Don't Say: Apple's New, Karl Rove-Worthy Press Release .

Monday, June 18, 2007

Wrath of Khan, Now With Science Content

Tonight I went to the Coolidge Corner theater to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as part of their Science on Screen series. I was debating going as I could almost recite the film, but it began with a talk by Dr. Jeffrey A. Hoffman, an MIT professor and former astronaut. And I hadn't seen it on a big screen in twenty years. And it was free for Coolidge Members.

The lecture took a little bit to find it's point, but once he spoke about his experiences in space--what liftoff felt like, the views from windows, zero-g, and difference between holding onto the ship during a spacewalk vs letting go for a moment and floating free--everyone was hooked. He said the rocket fires for 8 minutes and 30-45 seconds to lift the shuttle into orbit and described reentry as riding on a meteor. He said a transporter would be much easier. Hoffman was one of the astronauts that repaired the Hubble Space Telescope.

The movie was of course good and it was a lot of fun to see it in a theater filled with geeks. Lots of laughter (mostly at Shatner) and cheers (mostly at Montalban). I didn't know "Khaaan" had become such an internet phenomenon to the extent that someone would get a license plate of it.

America's Is Banning Chemistry Sets and Flasks

Memepunks writes about America's War on Science. There was a similar Wired article a year ago. "While the government targets terrorists, drug makers and illegal fireworks, it's the arm chair chemists and curious youngsters that get caught in the crossfire. The government has enabled legislation that makes DIY chemistry impossible without violating laws."

The Consumer Product Saftey Division has made it a point to outlaw chemicals that can be used to make illegal fireworks. Chemicals like sulfur and potassium perchlorate, that would have been standard issue in any lab experiment of yesteryear are now contraband. The fact of the matter is that 98% of all firework related injuries are caused by off the shelf fireworks. All of this CPSD nonsense is to cut down on the other 2%.

United Nuclear [a Scientific Supplies store founded in 1986 by a former Los Alamos scientist] sells super powerful magnets, aerogel, lasers, chemicals, lab ware, and all sorts of other geeky goodness. The founders of United Nuclear were held at gun point, handcuffed, and had all of their computers and records confiscated. Why? Because some of the chemicals they sell could be used to make fireworks.

"In an attempt to curb the production of crystal meth, more than 30 states have now outlawed or require registration for common lab equipment. In Texas, you need to register the purchase of Erlenmeyer flasks or three-necked beakers. The same state where I do not have to register a handgun, forces me to register a glass beaker. In Portland, Oregon, even pH strips are suspect. Modern off the shelf "chemistry" sets are sold without any of the questionable chemicals or equipment."

"For example, when a current company tried re releasing a kit based on the one marketed by Mr. Wizard himself back in the 1950s, they found that they could only include five of the original chemicals in the set. The rest of the items were replaced with inane things like super balls and balloons. Even a non neutered modern chemistry set like the C3000 from Thames and Kosmos is forced to ship without many key chemicals, suggesting to their customers that they acquire the missing ingredients elsewhere."

"Forget about model rocketry. Since the beginnings of the war on terror, the government has ridiculously claimed that model rockets could be used to shoot down commercial aircraft. Now all rocket engines above a certain size and thrust limit require fingerprinting, background checks and waving of your search and seizure rights! Said engines often require a Low Explosive Usage Permit to launch or take them across state lines."

"And all of these paranoid laws and regulations on chemistry, rocketry, and lab ware are not being done in ignorance. The powers that be are aware of the effect legislation is having on budding scientists and hobby enthusiasts. Pentagon and Justice Department consultant, professor James Tour said, “The fact that there are amateurs and retired professors out there who need access to these chemicals is a valid problem, but there aren’t many of those guys weighed against the possible dangers.” So because we still fear the terrorist boogieman, our kids are not allowed the same access to science that we had growing up. And hobbyists are forced to collect their chemicals and do their work in secret."

“People who want to make meth will find ways to do it that don’t require an Erlenmeyer flask. But raising a generation of people who are technically incompetent is a recipe for disaster.” says Bill Nye.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Movie Review: Ocean's Thirteen

Better than 12, not as good as 11. Like cotton candy.

Elliott Gould's Reuben Tishkoff was cheated out of his share of a casino by Al Pacino's Willie Bank. He slips into some unnamed medical condition and Ocean and his gang want revenge on (the) Bank. Their goal is to cause him to lose enough money his board gives up on him; and while they're at it, prevent the Bank from getting a 5 diamond rating. Bank feels safe because he built this new high-end casino with impregnable security measures, insanely secure safes and a computer system that analyses everyone in the casino to see if they expect it when they win and therefore are cheating. When Ocean's gang needs more funds, they turn to the villian from the first two films, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) who makes them also steal some diamonds.

The caper is fine though many many details are left out. The most egregious is using one of the machines that dug the chunnel on the support pilers of the building to make it seem like there's an earthquake. When they need a replacement at the last minute they only thing the film bothers to show us is getting the funds from Benedict, not how such a mammoth machine is transported to Vegas or surreptitiously put under the building. But honestly just hearing Don Cheadle technobabble in a British accent and watching George Clooney ask Garcia for the funds was enough to be fun. I could follow enough of the multipart elaborate plot though I expected more twists at the end.

In Ocean's 11 the minor quirks substituted for characterization. Matt Damon lacked self-confidence, two brothers argued, etc. Now that's just who they are. So with a zero risk of death or failure, there wasn't much of an emotional investment. Lots of cool, a few laughs, and some cleverness sufficed.

Steven Soderbergh's direction had some fun elements and only one bit that I found too clever and annoying. In a scene where Clooney and Pitt are setting up a hotel room, you see all their actions in close ups of their hands in double and triple exposures. So you really can't see what they're doing but you get the idea they're rigging the room.

Fun and I enjoyed myself but no reason to rush to see it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Schneier Announces Movie-Plot Threat Contest Winner

Bruce Schneier announced the winner of his Second Movie-Plot Threat Contest.

The goal: invent a terrorist plot to hijack or blow up an airplane with a commonly carried item as a key component. The component should be so critical to the plot that the TSA will have no choice but to ban the item once the plot is uncovered. I want to see a plot horrific and ridiculous, but just plausible enough to take seriously. Make the TSA ban wristwatches. Or laptop computers. Or polyester. Or zippers over three inches long. You get the idea.

The winner was a fun story probably inspired by this post.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Law and Al Qaeda Cell Members Discovered in the US

Orin Kerr writes about a recent 4th Circuit decision in Al-Marri v Wright in What Should Happen to Al Qaeda Cell Members Discovered in the United States? I don't know the case but he constructs what seems like a common hypothetical about evidence obtained via an illegal 4th Amendment search. In this case they happen to be al Qaeda cell members, so what should happen to them? His answer is that the standard throw out the illegally obtained evidence seems wrong. That of course seems wrong to me, the answer is that the cops shouldn't have broken the 4th Amendment and should have obtained a warrant or searched the room when the suspects were there to give permission.

Kerr goes on to talk about the differences between Al-Marri and Hamdan and speculates on how the Supreme Court would likely rule in Al-Marri and all of that seems pretty well reasoned to me.

On Libby

digby writes about people supporting Libby.

"I don't know why Scooter is so damned special that everybody in Washington is having the vapors over the fact that he may have to do time. (I know if I were Jack Abramoff, I'd be a little bit miffed that nobody is lifting a finger after the tens of millions I'd funneled to all my good friends.)I mused yesterday that it was because the town elders are circling the wagons around one of their own, and I think that's part of it. But it appears that this is actually something more and it's beginning to smell very ugly to me.

The political and media establishment are making an explicit argument that high level Republicans really should be held to a lower standard than other Americans --- the exact opposite of the argument they made in the Clinton impeachment, where they insisted that a non-material lie about a private sexual matter in a dismissed case was so important that it required a duly elected and successful president be removed from office. Perhaps the problem is simply that the it's a capitol full of lawyers, who tailor their arguments for each individual case. Unfortunately, the only client seems to be the Republican party. "

Human Tetris in Japan

glumbert.com shows a new Japanese game show, Japanese Tetris. Brilliant.

Government Agencies Avoiding Warrants

Not the NSA program but the Washington Post reported yesterday that the FBI Finds It Frequently Overstepped in Collecting Data using NSLs. "An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, far more than was documented in a Justice Department report in March that ignited bipartisan congressional criticism."

"FBI officials said the results confirmed what agency supervisors and outside critics feared, namely that many agents did not understand or follow the required legal procedures and paperwork requirements when collecting personal information with one of the most sensitive and powerful intelligence-gathering tools of the post-Sept. 11 era -- the National Security Letter, or NSL."

"Since March," FBI General Counsel Valerie E. Caproni added, "remedies addressing every aspect of the problem have been implemented or are well on the way."

So the NSA and FBI are avoiding warrants; guess what, other agencies are as well. Here's a crazy story of the DEA causing a car accident, car theft and car chase in order to make use of the vehicle exception to the 4th Amendment.

"On December 18, 2004, Ascension Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend were stopped at a traffic light near La Pine Oregon, and when the light turned green, the car in front of them stalled. Alverez-Tejeda stopped in time but a pickup truck behind him rear-ended him. When he got out to look at his bumper, the police showed up and arrested the truck driver for drinking and driving. The cops then convinced Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend to go to a nearby parking lot, ordered them out of their car and into in the back of the cop car for 'processing.' While they were in the cruiser, a person jumped in their car and took off. The cops ordered the pair out and set off in full pursuit up the road. A few minutes later, the stolen car comes flying back down the road with the police cruiser in pursuit. The pursuing officer returns alone with the woman's purse, telling the duo that the carjacker thrown it out the car window and escaped. The woman is so upset she hurls and the police put the distraught couple up in a motel."

Everyone in the story other than Alverez and his girlfriend were cops. This is what cops are doing instead of getting warrants. Why is that? The district court in Washington found that the caper violated the Fourth Amendment, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's decision on June 7th.

Rendition News

Last weekend we learned officially Poland and Romania hosted secret detention facilities on behalf of the CIA. "For the first time, the Council on Europe's report names some of the detainees in the secret facilities: they include 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and former al-Qaeda military committee chief Abu Zubaydah. Both, Marty writes, "were questioned using 'enhanced interrogation techniques,'" making his report the first documentation by any public official to state definitively that such techniques have in fact been employed."

Der Speigel reports US Interrogates Terror Suspects in Ethiopian Jails. "Terror suspects have been questioned by US officials in Ethiopia after being transferred from Somalia and Kenya. The captives included Europeans who were detained, interrogated and then released without charge."

"[Swedish citizen Munir Awad, 25] claims that they were held on a military base and interrogated, sometimes for 12 hours at a time or longer, and were not given access to a lawyer. He says that they were accused by the Americans of being al-Qaida fighters. DNA samples were taken and they were questioned about Swedish Muslims. He says they were sometimes beaten or choked and only those who cooperated were allowed to sit or were given something to eat."

Bricklin's thoughts on Admiral Mullen

Dan Bricklin invented VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet. Last saturday he posted "Thoughts about Admiral Mullen as the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff". Pretty interesting perspective.

Majority of Republicans Doubt Theory of Evolution

This is just depressing Majority of Republicans Doubt Theory of Evolution.



I expected the part of the study that said the more religious you were the more likely you were to not believe in evolution but I was shocked that as many as 74% of weekly church goers didn't believe in evolution. Ugh.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Schneier on Recent Terrorist Plots

Bruce Schneier discusses recent foiled terrorist plots in Portrait of the Modern Terrorist as an Idiot.

"The recently publicized terrorist plot to blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport, like so many of the terrorist plots over the past few years, is a study in alarmism and incompetence: on the part of the terrorists, our government and the press. Terrorism is a real threat, and one that needs to be addressed by appropriate means. But allowing ourselves to be terrorized by wannabe terrorists and unrealistic plots -- and worse, allowing our essential freedoms to be lost by using them as an excuse -- is wrong."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What Simon Does During the Idol Hiatus

Britain's Got Talent is a new Idol-like TV show in the UK. It premiered Saturday and cell-phone salesman Paul Potts performed on that episode:

Monday, June 11, 2007

WWDC Keynote, Meh

So the big Keynote happened at WWDC and the speculation what Apple will announce is over. I think there were only 2 new things announced and they came first. The Finder and desktop is getting an overhaul, ars has the early details in Apple to rework the interface in Leopard. Basically the menu bar is translucent, the dock is a little different, the sidebar is more like iTunes with builtin spotlight searches (which really usefully now work across machines on the local network and your own machines connected via .mac) and a coverflow view.

EA and ID also announced they'll be porting more games to mac which should help to eliminate one of Window's advantages.

The one-more-thing was Safari for Windows. Yeah, Safari for Windows. it's twice as fast as IE and 1.6x as fast as Firefox but that seems like a yawn. Jobs had a one-last-thing which was developing apps for the iPhone. Instead of providing a kit to install apps on the device the answer is to make a web app. Since the iPhone has full Safari a real web app will work fine (like amazone or salesforce.com) and with Safari on Windows you don't need a mac to do the development. It's kinda a cop out. I want the app to work when there isn't a connection (on a subway or plane) and I don't want to have to host it. I don't see an app like Planetarium running on a web server.

Update: Gizmodo has a summary with pics.

The Sopranos *Spoilers*

The Sopranos is over, it's not resolved it's just over. The ending made many people believe their cable went out. With the ending of the biggest and perhaps most significant cable series, maybe it did. From what I can see online the finale is widely hated for it's ambiguous ending, though some critics are taking the high-brow approach and saying we just don't get how brilliant it is. Bleech.

This episode dutifully visited all the main characters and didn't do much to conclude their stories. Junior has lost it (at least it seems he's not faking his Alzheimer's as I've long thought), Sil is still in a coma, Pauli is still superstitious and loyal to Tony. Janice seems to have improved a bit with therapy and her mother issues but now has to loose weight to find another man. Supposedly she'll get some money from Phil's crew but they can't find Junior's stash. Carmela, AJ and Meadow are all back to their old deluded selves, they've learned nothing in 7 seasons.

The one bit of resolution is that Tony managed to beat Phil. After Tony's world was collapsing last episode and he was left with his crew decimated, his family in hiding and in a bed with an M16, Tony managed to broker a deal to call off the hit. All his cozying up to Agent Harris this season paid off in him sleeping with another FBI agent to get info to tip off Tony to where Phil is. Phil gets wacked and Tony survives.

I have to say, everything was going so well for Tony that when they showed AJ sitting on the couch with his girlfriend laughing at the TV I thought the episode was a dream sequence. The timing was odd, it could have taken place over several days, weeks or even months. If Tony had woken up in bed with the M16, it would have fit and I would have been happier. But of course that's not what David Chase did.

The already infamous last scene is actually a tour de force in cinematic tension. The elements shown are completely benign, Tony walked into a diner, picks a song, waits for his family, has chit-chat with his wife and son, his daughter has trouble parking her car and nothing happens. The soundtrack is an 80s pop song! And yet, everyone watching was on the edge of their seats, white knuckled, hitting a pillow, and every other metaphor for tension you can think of think of. Masterful audience manipulation (though it didn't hurt to have 10 years of buildup).

In fact I've seen posts who are sure Tony was wacked by the guy who went to the bathroom. They're convinced it's a reference to the Godfather, which it probably is, but there's no reason in this situation for the guy to have had to hide a gun in the bathroom, he could have just walked in with it. In the Godfather, Michael was frisked as he walked into the restaurant. The other evidence people cite is that the scene was from Tony's point of view and it went black when he died, the like the shot to the head Phil got and like Bobby said on the lake, you probably never see it coming. Or it wasn't.

Some people think Tony saw himself in the diner in a bowling shirt when he first walked in and some related that to his mistaken persona Kevin Finnety in the long dream sequence earlier in the season. Not so much. He walked in wearing that shirt under the leather jacket, looked around and saw an empty table, cut to his face, cut to the same shot of the diner's interior with him sitting in that seat, cut to him picking a song, cut to the cooks in the back. He just sat down and they didn't show it, just like they didn't show him ordering the onion rings for the table. The shirt is one he wore in the first episode.

With Meadow rushing to parallel park and get into the dinner I thought she'd get hit by car crossing the street (one went by her), the building would blow up with her just outside it or just inside it, or she'd get in just in time to see her father or whole family killed, even though Tony said last episode they never hit the family. It was all in my head, there's was nothing in the episode to hint to any of those things. Except for the fact that is was a culmination of 7 seasons of a show filled with violence.

As an aside, I've seen people so confused by what Meadow was doing. The San Francisco Chronicle said she had "all kinds of trouble double-parking out front". The wikipedia article says "Finally, Meadow double-parks". George Lopez asked some actor he was interviewing "You don't end up in a diner with your girlfriend trying to three point park?". Three point parking? Meadow was having trouble parallel parking, she didn't double park (which is to park next to a parked car, blocking the right hand lane and is illegal) and there's no such thing as three point parking (just turning). Learn how drive.

Skipping the subtext, the text of the scene said Carlo was going to testify which meant Tony was probably going to be indicted. He clearly was going to have serious legal trouble. In the spectrum of will Tony get killed or arrested, it's seems clear that if he's not killed he will be arrested.

Of course this was after Carmela asked "what looks good" and saying Meadow was at the doctor to switch birth control; completely benign. This was just another day in the life. AJ said "focus on the good times". AJ delivering the morale of the show?!?! Who would have thought that? Earlier he gave that rant too, was this David Chase screaming at the audience?

"You people are fucked. You're living in a dream. You still sit here talking about the fucking Oscars. What rough beast slouch towards Bethlehem to be born. Yeats. The world, don't you see it. Bush let al Qaeda escape, the mountains. Then he has us invade some other country. It's more noble than watching these jack off fantasies on TV if I were kicking their ass. It's like America. I'm mean this is still where people come to make it. It's a beautiful idea. and what do they get, bling, and come on for shit they don't need and can't afford."

AJ quoting Yeats!!?!? (at least he mispronounced his name) Here's the poem if you, like me, had no idea what he was talking about. As the girl at the table said, "You're all over the place I don't know what you're trying to say". Still I don't feel like Pauli then spouting gibberish since that's all he heard. AJ basically said it was just a TV show, there's more important stuff going on in the world. The next scene has a Twilight Zone episode in the background with the dialog: "Give me a chance. Give me first dibs at this television thing or whatever it is. Let me do the pilot please. The television industry today is looking for quality they're looking for talent. They're preoccupied with talent and quality and the writer is a major commodity." I guess quoting Yeats means you have talent.

Some people were looking for clues in the song titles in the jukebox. Sorry no, well maybe just a little. In a few shots the songs actually moved around and most didn't mean much. There were three times where they zoomed in on two song titles by the same artist. They were:

Who Will You Run to
Magic Man

Don't Stop Believing
Any Way You Want It

I've Gotta Be Me
A Lonely Place

Tony chose "Don't Stop Believing" and I think "Any Way You Want It" is implied. This was a "Lady, or the Tiger" ending. The lyrics were good, particularly if you spell "fill" as "Phil".

Working hard to get my 'Phil',
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin anything to roll the dice,
Just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on

So given that, here's what I think. If they wanted to kill Tony they would have just done it, an ending. Not killing him what's left? While they could end with his arrest or conviction that's not really an end either. He'd get out eventually and his family would go on. So without a death, it's hard to have an ending. That may be a cop out, since other stories manage endings and that's true, but with seven seasons of ups and downs would one have been significant?

One thing is undeniable about the last scene, it was intense. Every single little detail, every gesture, every camera angle, every sound seemed significant. Everyone was riveted and nervous. Why? Because something might happen. And that's how Tony lives every second of his life. He looked up every time someone walked in the door or walked passed him. The likelihood of being indicted was just something else to throw out before enjoying onion rings. This show was always about a guy who just trying to do well for his family (however inept he was at that) who just happened to be in an illegal profession. His whole seven years of therapy was him trying to cope with all of these stresses. In one sense he was like everyone else, but in another, his stresses were way more than most peoples'. And at end of the series, for a mere five minutes, David Chase made everyone feel Tony's stress; and it was maddening. Imagine if the whole episode was like that last scene? Or your whole life. It really is an impressive achievement.

And it still sucked. I mean really, if the point was to show tension they could have done that at any point in the series. After seven seasons it would be nice to have seen at least some of the characters change. All of the possibilities were there, someone in the family could have grown a spine and stopped deluding themselves about Tony's life. He was a brutal killer and a sociopathic thug and it would have been nice to actually see some justice done, not just alluded to. If that's all they wanted to do they could have ended the series with last week's episode, Tony alone in a strange bed with a gun waiting to see what happened. This episode really didn't add much to the story on top of that.

Ambiguous endings aren't better or more artistic, they're just ambiguous. And annoying. People hated the ending of season one of Lost when the camera just fell down the hatch we'd been wondering about for a half a season. As a series finale this was much worse No matter how much Chase tried to tell us it's just a TV show, people obviously got very involved it in, and this was just a big "fuck you, get over it". It was great filmmaking and really bad storytelling. If the point was to say that you don't know what's going to happen next and what's important is family and to do the best you can, is Tony Soprano really the best way to say that? This should have been about crime or justice or anger management or consequences of your actions or even managing a small yet difficult team. But who am I to say what the artist should have said? I was just a fan.

GeoGreeting!

GeoGreeting! has found a building in the shape of each letter from Google Maps and has wrapped it in an interactive script. Make your own ransom notes but with buildings. Here's an example.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Iraq Update

Two articles from the New York Times last week

Commanders Say Push in Baghdad Is Short of Goal:

"Three months after the start of the Baghdad security plan that has added thousands of American and Iraqi troops to the capital, they control fewer than one-third of the city’s neighborhoods, far short of the initial goal for the operation, according to some commanders and an internal military assessment."

"The American assessment, completed in late May, found that American and Iraqi forces were able to “protect the population” and “maintain physical influence over” only 146 of the 457 Baghdad neighborhoods."

"In the remaining 311 neighborhoods, troops have either not begun operations aimed at rooting out insurgents or still face ‘resistance,’ according to the one-page assessment, which was provided to The New York Times and summarized reports from brigade and battalion commanders in Baghdad."


Cheated of Future, Iraqi Graduates Want to Flee :

"Iraq's college graduates are ending their studies shattered and eager to leave the country. In interviews with more than 30 students from seven universities, all but four said they hoped to flee immediately after receiving their degrees. Many said they did not expect Iraq to stabilize for at least a decade. "

They said would leave their country feeling betrayed, by the debilitating violence that has killed scores of professors and friends, by the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalism and by the Americans, who they say cracked open their country, releasing spasms of violence without protecting the moderate institutions that could have been a bulwark against extremism.

Movie Review: Invincible

Invincible is a good Rocky-like movie with Mark Wahlberg playing the real life Vince Papale, a 30-year-old bartender from South Philly that played 3 seasons of football with the Eagles. It's formulaic, with all the self doubts until the big play at the end, but well done.

Movie Review: Tsotsi

Can a thug learn to care about something, someone or himself? Tsotsi won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2005. The title comes from the alias of the main character and means "thug". This movie grabbed me and wouldn't let go, I couldn't look away. I found Tsotsi to be a cross between City of God, A Clockwork Orange, and Raising Arizona if that's at all conceivable.

The film opens with Tsotsi hanging around with his gang, Boston (the drunken intellectual), Butcher (the vicious killer) and Aap (the dumb ape), outside of Johannesburg South Africa. They go out to do the days theft and Butcher ends up killing a man. Tsotsi has little reaction to it but it bothers Boston who asks Tsotsi if he ever cared about anything. Through later flashbacks we learn that Boston hit all the right points to piss off Tsotsi enough to beat him badly. This is Tsotsi at his lowest, committing heinous crimes, beating up his friends, and caring about nothing.

Tsotsi literally runs from that scene and commits a carjacking, shooting a woman in the process. After driving away for a bit he realizes there is a baby in the back seat and completely freaks out. But rather than just leaving the child, he takes the boy home. He's inept as a parent but grows attached to the child. While the rest of the film could have been Hollywood trite, it's nothing like that. This is probably due to Presley Chweneyagae amazing portrayal of Tsotsi. As the character learns about the meaning of decency you see the progression and setbacks played out in his eyes.

There is some really interesting camera work, particularly in the first half hour, that would make Scorcese or Spike Lee proud. Unlike those directors, the dramatic scenes mostly have no background music and use simple shots. These are often intense standoffs as you stare at Chweneyagae's eyes and into Tsotsi's soul. At other times the Kwaito soundtrack really adds to the sense of place.

I really enjoyed Tsotsi and wish I had seen it sooner. Gavin Hood wrote and directed it and his next film Rendition comes out in November starring Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin and Peter Sarsgaard. I might be first in line.

Cheney's at it Again

Think Progress points out that Cheney is still lying about a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, this time to high school juniors at the Wyoming Boys State Conference.

When asked if we could win the war in Iraq he said yes and then went on to describe that Iraq is a central point in the war on terror and then gave a history of pre- and post-9/11. He talked about al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the late 90s. Then post 9/11 he said "we were going to use our intelligence services and our military forces and our economic power and means to go after those who sponsored terror, that provided safe haven for terror -- and so forth. Went into Afghanistan, cleaned that out, and obviously are in Iraq now." Quite a leap isn't that?

Cheney is also a fan of the bait and switch. See how he supports a war in Iraq with the non sequitor of saying terrorists train in Afghanistran: "There is an argument being made by some of my friends on the other side of the aisle that say, well, Afghanistan is a good war, we want to fight that one, but Iraq is a bad war, we don't want to do that. And they act as though somehow you can walk away from Iraq without consequence. You can't. The fact is national boundaries out there don't mean that much when you're talking about a global war on terror. And when you take people and train them in Afghanistan, or anyplace -- a lot of other places out there have got training, too -- and then they take off and go partway around the world -- we've seen attacks by those folks in Afghanistan, originally trained there, not only in New York and Washington, but London, Madrid, in Istanbul, in Algiers, in Morocco, in Tunisia, in Mombasa, in East Africa, in Jakarta, in Bali -- all over the world."

RIght, "national boundaries out there don't mean much". Invade whatever country you want. I guess this is why they don't seem to care about world opinion of our actions. But what Think Progress reported on was this gem:

"The worst terrorist we had in Iraq was a guy named Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian by birth; served time in a Jordanian prison as a terrorist, was let out on amnesty. Then he went to Afghanistan and ran one of those training camps back in the late '90s that trained terrorists. Then when we launched into Afghanistan after 9/11, he was wounded, and fled to Baghdad for medical treatment, and then set up shop in Iraq. So he operated in Jordan, he operated in Afghanistan, then he moved to Iraq. He was the lead al Qaida terrorist in Iraq until we killed him last June, just about a year ago. He's the guy who was responsible for blowing up the mosque at Samarra that really precipitated the conflict between the Shia and the Sunni."

Notice how he describes the geographical connections but not much else. Did we go to war in Iraq because he "set up shop" there? No of course not, it wasn't even a consideration. We went to war to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This probably helped Zarqawi because as the Senate Intelligence Committee Report concluded, Saddam and Al Qaeda were enemies, not collaborators.

I found some of his other lies annoying too. "And I think we're making significant progress now in terms of what's happening in Anbar Province. It's out west of Baghdad. We've seen a turn out there that the local population has turned on al Qaida, that the tribal sheikhs have gotten their people actively involved in opposing the al Qaida elements out there that are responsible for the foreign bombers who come in and do a lot of the suicide bombings."

Notice how he just mentions the foreign bombers and the suicide bombings. No mention of the fact that foreigners are a tiny portion of the insurgency or the other ways they attack like using IEDs. The wikipedia article on the Iraqi Insurgency has a good break down of who we're fighting.

I found this ironic, the article says "Zarqawi's group has since announced the formation of the Ansar platoon, a squad of Iraqi suicide bombers, which an AP writer called 'an apparent bid to deflect criticism that most suicide bombers in Iraq are foreigners.'" though the source article link is dead.

I guess Cheney's view is if we concentrate on the 1% case the other 99% will work itself out. Or it could merely be that we need to attack al Qaeda wherever they are and who cares about the mess we leave.

The bulk of Cheney's speech was about how public service can be rewarding, at any level of government. I was surprised to see him say "Running for my current job as Vice President in 2000 was a notion that came out of the blue, and, obviously, it was somebody else's idea. I was not a volunteer." That's pretty blunt. And I have no idea what he meant when describing Wyoming as "a two-party state, but not heavily partisan". They are one of the most staunchly Republican states in the US. I guess if you don't have dissent your not partisan. Saddam's Iraq wasn't partisan either.




Purgegate Update

Was the Federalist Society society involved in Purgegate? Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society sent an email message to Mary Beth Buchanan on March 7 2005. Buchanan is now US Attorney for western Pennsylvania but at the time she served at the White House as director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and Kyle Sampson consulted with her about which US Attorneys should be replaced.

The subject of the email was "USA San Diego" meaning US Attorney and the message was "You guys need a good candidate?" with a recommendation for Mary Walker.

The problem is, Carol Lam was "USA San DIego" at the time, had no plans to step down, but was put on "the list" in late February, just a couple of weeks before this email. At the time, supposedly only top DoJ and White House officials knew of the planned purge; so why would Leo recommend someone for Lam's position?

By the way, "Walker led a Pentagon working group in 2003, which critics said helped provide the administration with a rationale to circumvent the international Geneva Conventions banning torture in the interrogations of terrorism suspects."

Buchanan will testify privately with the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.

Domestic Spying Update

James Comey replied to Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) written questions, you can read the 5 pages here. While helpful, I'm surprised that 4 times he said "I do not think it would be appropriate for me to reveal the substance of those discussions". The Washington Post has more on these answers but I honestly can't tell if they're sensationalizing them or connecting the dots that I'm missing. Their headline is "Cheney Urged Wiretaps".

Patrick Philbin, a Justice Department official "who played a key role in blocking the recertification of the NSA warrantless wiretap program" (he was in Ashcroft's hospital room during the incident) was going to be promoted by Gonzales to principal deputy solicitor general but was blocked by Cheney, vindictive soul that he is. FYI, the solicitor general is who argues the executive branches' position before the Supreme Court.

Letters For Libby

The letters that people wrote to help influence Libby's sentence were released. The Washington Post says Letters Cast Light on Cheney's Inner Circle though I don't see too much of that. The two that stuck out for me:

"John R. Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador, wrote of how 'information flowed across his desk on a daily basis like water coming out of a high-pressure fire hydrant, with more demands for action than could humanly be met. In the face of all these demands, keeping every detail straight is impossible,' Bolton wrote." Isn't keeping all the details straight the job of the chief of staff? And we're not talking details here, we're talking about the justification for war. The office certainly had enough time to go after one little New York Times op-ed.

"Former ambassador and White House aide Robert D. Blackwill called Libby a 'crucial voice' in President Bush's decision to accelerate transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. 'Sadly I believe that Mr. Libby's premature departure from the Administration has been a major reason for the downward spiral of the situation in Iraq and the consuming mess in which we find ourselves today regarding that country,' he wrote." Riiiiight. Actually I think that failure has more to do with Blackwill himself who was "one of the White House's most trusted architects of the Iraq reconstruction policy"

Scooter Libby's Sentence

Edward Lazarus writes in FindLaw about Scooter Libby's Sentence While It Was Justifiable, a More Lenient Sentence Could Also Have Been Appropriate Under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

"Imagine, on one hand, someone who commits perjury to cover up an illicit sexual affair. Then imagine, on the other hand, someone who commits perjury to cover up a $10 billion business fraud that wipes out the pensions of thousands of workers. Surely, these crimes do not deserve the same offense severity. They deserve to be punished in relation to the magnitude of the underlying crime. "

"The mere fact that the underlying investigation did not result in criminal charges can't be the difference-maker. If it were, then a really successful cover-up would result in more lenient sentencing for a perjury/obstruction defendant, than would a less successful one - that is, one which led to criminal charges. That makes no sense, as it rewards talented and effective deception, the most dangerous kind."

"However, I could also imagine a different approach. One of the most troubling aspects of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines - as the Supreme Court noted, in declaring them to be advisory rather than mandatory - is the way they allow the government to increase punishment based on uncharged acts and alleged facts that have never been tested in the crucible of litigation, let alone proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury."

"As it turned out, Judge Walton -- who had discretion, under Booker, to depart from the guideline range regardless of how it was calculated -- seems not to have seen the Libby case as approaching any borderlines. Indeed, he made a point at sentencing of stressing the overwhelming evidence of Libby's guilt, and made short shrift of Libby's arguments in favor of leniency, including the one relying upon his impressive career in public service."

Andy McCarthy in the National Review calls out the hypocracy of the right wingers crying foul on Libby's sentence merely because he's a conservative. "Lying to the FBI and a grand jury is a very bad thing, even if we all think it was an unworthy investigation."

I only mention that because I like Kevin Drum's follow up. Clinton lied to cover up an affair which isn't illegal and has nothing to do with being President.

"But Libby is a different case entirely. The conservative community wants us to believe that Valerie Plame wasn't really undercover at all. They also want us to believe that outing her was, in fact, part of an entirely legitimate effort to explain that Dick Cheney hadn't been responsible for sending Joe Wilson to Niger. And finally, they want us to believe that none of this was part of a coordinated plan. Plame's name was merely mentioned in an offhand way here and there when reporters brought up questions about Wilson's trip. But if that's the case, then why did Libby lie? Deliberately and repeatedly? Richard Armitage fessed up almost immediately. Ari Fleischer fessed up. Karl Rove had to be pushed, but eventually he fessed up too. Only Libby lied. Why? If nobody actually did anything wrong, what was he hiding?"

Orin Kerr writes "Back during the Clinton impeachment, I read a lot from conservatives about how perjury and obstruction of justice were dangerous crimes that struck at the very heart of our legal system. Given that, it's been interesting to see the recent conservative calls for Scooter Libby to be pardoned for his perjury and obstruction of justice crimes."

She was Covert Already

I've been baffled at how the right can continue to question whether Valerie Plame was covert. Both she and Fitzgerald have said she was and what's more it was the CIA that began the investigation, why would they do that if the statute didn't apply to her? Tim Grieve at salon list some of the Conservative commentators weighing in.

Tucker Carlson comes off as the ass that he is: "MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, whose father, Richard Carlson, is on the advisory committee for the fund set up to help pay for Libby's defense, told Salon that he believes the CIA was defining Plame as covert at the time of Novak's column, but questioned the definition. "If it is in fact true that she had served under nonofficial cover and was then working at Langley, the story is why was CIA calling her covert? ... I'm covert too, how does that sound? What does that mean?" Carlson said. "CIA clearly didn't really give a shit about keeping her identity secret if she's going to work at fucking Langley."

Friday, June 08, 2007

Most Unfortunate Logos Ever

Following on the Olympic logo disaster (which apparently some think looks like Lisa Simpson giving oral sex, we have a site with theMost Unfortunate Logos Ever. A common favorite seems to be this one for the Brazilian Institute for Oriental Studies. I have no idea if it's real. It took me a moment to realize it was a pagoda in front of a red sun.


What Supreme Court Justices are Worth

I'm not sure why we care or even if I do but the AP reports Justices Report Their 2006 Finances:

"At least six and possibly seven justices are millionaires. Then there are Kennedy and Thomas, who between them don't have a million bucks."

"Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg easily top the list of the court's wealthy, each with holdings that exceed $5 million and could reach upward of $25 million."

A Drought for the Ages

USA Today report on A drought for the ages:

"Drought, a fixture in much of the West for nearly a decade, now covers more than one-third of the continental USA. And it's spreading. As summer starts, half the nation is either abnormally dry or in outright drought from prolonged lack of rain that could lead to water shortages, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly index of conditions. Welcome rainfall last weekend from Tropical Storm Barry brought short-term relief to parts of the fire-scorched Southeast. But up to 50 inches of rain is needed to end the drought there, and this is the driest spring in the Southeast since record-keeping began in 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center."

This can't be good.

What the World Eats

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats is a book by Peter Menzel with pictures from around the world of what an average family eats in a week. I enjoyed flipping through his previous book Material World showing the possessions of families around the world.

Time Magazine has 15 of the photos from Hungry Planet online. Check out how much Germans drink.

Your Middle Finger is Medium Rare

Lifehacker says "According to Men's Health, you can gauge how done your steaks are by comparing the elasticity of the steak to the way the meaty part of your thumb feels as it progressively flexes."



I don't know if it's true, but I was impressed that the "meaty part of my thumb" feels different as I touch different fingers.

Debates

Yeah I still follow politics, I just haven't blogged that much about the events lately. I watched both the Democratic and Republican debates this week. I thought they were ok. For having 10 people on the stage they did much better than I expected at getting to some points, but as usual there isn't enough follow through.

Here's an example. Paul Begala rips apart Mitt Romney over his fictional answer to would you vote for the authorization for military force in Iraq knowing what we know now. He came up with a new twist to avoid an answer. He said it's a nonsense question because the way we would have known would have been for Saddam to allow inspectors in and if he allowed inspectors in we wouldn't have invaded.

Begala points out what everyone should remember (well he called the story bullshit), Saddam did let inspectors in, we all remember the name Hans Blix. He and other UN inspectors looked everywhere and didn't find any WMDs, though they had some suspicions and wanted more time. But it wasn't Saddam who didn't give it to them it was Bush (or more likely Cheney) who said no more time or games, we're invading. Begala continues...

"I couldn't believe it. I understood why Romney's Republican opponents didn't correct him. They need the public to believe the myth that Saddam wouldn't allow weapons inspectors in. In fact, Bush has repeated this same lie. Republicans want to blur the record, to revise history, so we don't have to confront the fact that if Mr. Bush had given the weapons inspectors more time to do their job, they would have concluded Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. No weapons, no threat. No threat, no war. But I was -- and am -- stunned at the lack of scrutiny by the media."

There were other things during the Republican debate that made me yell at the screen though thankfully by now I've forgotten them. The Democratic debate had less craziness but wasn't that interesting. The one thing that stands out for me was Hilary pointing out that under Clinton we had a budget surplus and Mike Gravel screaming that they did that by raiding the Social Security Trust Fund. It sorta said it all to me. Hey look we did better (and they did), but parts were still ugly.

Hilary also said a few times that they agreed more than they disagreed and that the important thing was the differences with the Republicans. And certainly the Republicans agreed with each other on most things, including pardoning Scooter Libby. Maybe Ann Althouse is right in asking, Why don't they put all the candidates in one debate instead of separating Democrats and Republicans?. 20 people on stage, yeah that would be fun.

I just find the whole Republican platform moronic, I'll write the details later but I disagree on Iraq, climate change, tax policy, privacy, torture, security, and energy. And on those topics I really do feel their positions are indefensible. I disagree with their abortion position too but I can understand it; but to be the pro-torture party? To not believe in the science of climate change (and 3 candidates disagree with evolution!)?

At points I chuckled at how the Republican candidates were distancing themselves from Bush. Glenn Greenwald points out in a typically great article, that much of the right wing media is doing so by saying Bush isn't really a conservative. Greenwald shows that this is just a function of his approval ratings and that many of these same people though he was the second coming of Ronald Reagan when his ratings were higher but his policies were the same.

Andrew Sullivan pointed me at Juan Coles post, where he says: "These guys got away with these hawkish fantasies because they bamboozled the poor evangelicals into believing they would support public morality, and bamboozled poor conservatives into thinking they would uphold small government. Instead, they are hitching their wagons to a multi-trillion dollar quagmire abroad and don't give a rat's ass about evangelical values."

We have 8 more months before the first primary. Seems like plenty of time to get into more depth on the issues; but in the same way 24 hour cable news channels never have enough time to go into any depth, I doubt this race will be different from any other. I just really want to see a Democrat debate a Republican and call them out on all they lies they spew. The Democratic candidate should get Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann to coach him or her. Then again, I think Aaron Sorkin is looking for a job.