Monday, October 31, 2005

Alito Index

Here's a list of various Alito articles and NPR broadcasts.

NSA Lied to Cover Up Gulf of Tonkin Mistakes

Why it's good to question your government, sometimes they lie. And really, the excuse of "this is what the intelligence said" isn't a good one either. Take that Ann Coulter.

Libby's Replacement?

The National Journal has a long article on David Addington, Cheney's current counsel and leading candidate to replace Libby. It's a bit of his background and a lot of stuff about his possible role in Plamegate. I never like it when an article says "sources say" but there's some stuff here.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Republic Dogs

This is apparently from 1994 but I don't remember seeing it. In todays terms it's a mashup of Quentin Tarantino and Socrates. Amusing.

Another Victim of Miers

It seems Doonesbury was going to run a series of strips on Miers starting next week. But now with her withdrawl they won't run them, instead next week will be repeats. But you can see the Mier's Strips here.

Time to take the beach chair out of my trunk

It's snowing here. Pretty hard. Thankfully not sticking (yet). It's not even November yet. It's not even the end of Daylight Savings Time!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers Analysis

This SCOTUSblog Commentary seems to say it all:

The Bush administration is in so much trouble he probably doesn't have the political capital to win a hard nomination fight. Bush hates losing and is probably pissed. Gonzalez would run into the same documentation problem as Miers did. He probably has to look beyond his inner circle because the cronyism complain worked. Democrats are probably more willing to filibuster someone like Priscilla Owen. Finding another Roberts would work. O'Connor is probably on the court through December, meaning she'll be involved in the abortion case in the current docket.

Miers Scratches in the Second

Harriett Miers withdrew her nomination to the Supreme Court today. Maybe with the possible upcoming indictments they think Bush will need his personal lawyer. While I looked forward to what seems like a more qualified nominee, I expect it to be a more conservative one. So I guess Sandra Day O'Connor will be on the court a bit longer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Does Visual Studio Rot the Mind?

This is an interesting talk by Charles Petzold about the current state of programming. He's been programming for many years and has written several Windows Programming books. He begins with a summary of how computers have been portrayed in movies, which I of course particularly liked.

He then gets to programming. First about IntelliSense, how enormous libraries make you dependent on it, and how it forces you to give up and top-down programming. Then he talks about how generated code (in particular that generated by Visual Studio) is often bloated and not exemplary of good programming practices. One quick example is how generated code uses really poor variable names like button1, button2, etc. It's also quite a different paradigm for the programmer from traditional programming methods. The general premise is that Visual Studio is designed to make us faster programmers, not necessarily better ones.

He's not dogmatica about it. Often saying he's not sure if what he's complaining about is significant. But I found a good (and also a long) read.

A Mac note: I read this article (as I do most long ones) by copying the text into Tofu, a simple program that just formats the text into easy to read narrow columns, like newspaper articles. I also enable speech recognition so I can literally just say "move right" to scroll the page. Great stuff.

Guessing about Roberts and Roe

Here's an interesting commentary on the first abortion related action of the Roberts court. A Missouri prisoner in her 2nd trimester wanted an abortion but under a new statute Missouri doesn't provide transportation for prisoners to abortion facilities unless the abortion is medically necessary, which wasn't the case. She sued saying the policy violated her right under Roe and was cruel and unusual punishment. It came to U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple who found in her favor. Please read the article it explains all the issues involved very well, it's not obvious and he didn't decide it on a knee jerk reaction.

So this in the jurisdiction of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Thomas is the Circuit Justice. The Eighth Circuit issued a temporary stay of Judge Whipple's decision pending the Supreme Court's resolution of the issue. This kind of stuff happen often and the court didn't give a reason for it's decision. The Supreme Court, in a one-sentence order denied review, and Judge Whipple's decision stands. That's all the info we have to go on. But the article ends with lots of speculation as to what could have happened. Of course it covers Robert's opinion being either side of the issue and can come to no conclusions but I found the discussion interesting.

Administration and Torture, Fault of Congress?

Andrew Sullivan make an interesting point that every administration overreaches in time of war. In our Constitution it's the role of Congress to check this and they haven't. Republicans don't go against their president and Democrats are too afraid of looking week on terrorism. Only McCain is trying.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Human Remote Control

SFGate reports on an experimental device, you wear on your head, which generates low voltages that throw off your balance. With a remote control, someone can make you walk a path of their choosing. The notion is to make video games more realistic, or to allow you to experience the motions of someone like a dancer. Crazy stuff.

Movie Review: Good Night, and Good Luck

TV news sucks. The 24 hour cable channels repeat the same stuff over and over. The networks give a few moments for news stories and take up most of their time with weather, sports, and celebrity gossip. The best example to me was Jon Stewart last night on the Daily Show commenting about coverage of Hurricane Wilma. He showed clips of weather reporters standing out in the storm being blown around and hit by debris. Al Roker literally had a man holding his legs so he wouldn't blow over. That didn't work and we saw them both blow over. How absurd is this?

I imagine Edward R. Murrow would be appalled but not surprised. He became famous doing radio reports from London during World War II. After the war, still working for CBS he moved to television. See It Now was the first news magazine show on television, though it didn't make a lot of money, it won many awards and was on the air for 5 years. He also hosted Person to Person which were celebrity interviews as we know them today. Murrow didn't like doing Person to Person but it was popular and brought in revenue.

Murrow is probably most famous for a series of broadcasts that led to the downfall of Senator Joe McCarthy. They were brave shows because anyone that went against McCarthy was attacked by him. Murrow, his team, and CBS all took a big risk. But Murrow was highly principled and felt a duty to stand up for what was right. This film covers these episodes of See It Now.

At an hour and half this is a short film and it was made on only an $8 million budget. it doesn't try to cover the topic exhaustively, skipping over almost all of the investigation and reducing several of the scenes to musical montages. It does try to acurately show the episodes in question, the risks the reporters took and a bit of what live TV was like. Murrows studio was tiny, with the camera so close to him that his producer Fred Friendly (played by writer, director George Clooney) could sit next to him, light his cigarettes and queue him by tapping him on the leg. We also get scenes within the CBS offices of meetings of the staff and management on the effects of the reports.

David Strathairn plays Murrow recreating several of his broadcasts. He's remarkably convincing, an Oscar nomination is certainly possible. In the Sen. McCarthy role we have original footage of McCarthy which is just stunning. it's very effective to have the actual menace playing himself.

Much as The Crucible was really an allegory against McCarthism this movie is really about the current state of journalism in this country. To make it clear, the story is bookended by Strathairn giving a speech Murrow really gave at at the Radio and Television News Directors Association convention in 1958. It was a scathing criticism of the use of television and the civic mindedness of Americans. He worried if in 50 or 100 years, television was only used for entertainment, what a waste it would be. He asked if we had an hour a week on civic education what a difference it would make. And he realized that Americans were probably to fat and lazy to watch such things but said we should still try.

Sadly his predictions came true. This film is a wake up call. A very good one. It's not so much a great movie as it is a compelling civics lesson. The media needs to do better, the audience needs to do better, and our government should be on alert. McCarthism could happen again, maybe it is already.

Getting Honest Advice

There's this big brouhaha going on that Bush won't release documents that Harriet Miers authored while serving in the White House. Senators want to review them for their "advise and consent" role, but Bush won't release them. When asked about it yesterday Scott McCellan repeated the party line: "The President depends on his staff to receive open and candid advice as he moves ahead on the decision-making process. It would be unprecedented for a sitting President to release deliberative decision-making documents while they are in office. That is unheard of. It would have a chilling effect on the ability of the President to continue to receive sound and open and candid advice from his advisors." Ok, though I suspect that without more info, Senators will exercise their constitutional right and reject the nomination.

So I read the Boston Globe today and I see that yesterday the president met with his Cabinet, live on TV. Really, you can even get the
video from the White House website. If the fear of releasing papers would co-opt his ability to get sound advice, even assuming the relevant parties agreed to it, how is it that you can televise a cabinet meeting? Unfortunately I know the answer, it wasn't a real meeting, just a stunt. I'm not sure if that's better or worse


It's fun watching the Republicans try to down play a perjury charge as they wait for Fitzgerald to announce his findings. They were so outraged when it was Clinton being called for it. So todays
flip-flop-flip is Senator Kay Baily Hutchison (R-TX). Against Clinton perjury was important, over the weekend it was a technicality, today it's a terrible crime. Fun fun fun.

I'll go further though. Clinton's perjury was about if he had sex with a (consenting adult) intern. The perjury charges being talked about are related to national security, lying to the nation about going to war, and about an administration retaliating against a whistle blower by destroying his wife's career. I'd they are all far more serious than Clinton's. For one thing, I think they are all crimes while Clinton's actions were merely immoral.

Bush and Torture Again

So maybe there is a little more evidence in the Bush supports torture debate. This post from Andrew Sullivan describes a couple of interesting points. First is an ACLU review of 44 deaths of captives. Second is that the administration is trying to compromise in saying it won't allow the military to torture people, just the CIA, and this is why he wants Roberts and Miers on the Supreme Court. Nice.

Wellington Mara 1916-2005

About the only thing I follow in sports are the New York Giants. Today their owner Wellington Mara passed away at the age of 89. He worked with the Giants for an amazing 81 years, becoming co-owner at the age of 14. Nice work if you can get it, but imagine doing the same thing for 81 years. Now imagine doing it well, really well, well enough to be in the NFL Hall of Fame. And, he treated members of the organization like family, even after they left the team. He had 11 children and 40 grandchildren, he was used to large families.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Hitchcock This Week

Turner Classic Movies begins a Hitchcock Week today, showing 39 of his films over next 7 days. My Tivo will be busy catching some of the less common ones, but if you haven't seen the classics (Rear Window, North by Northwest, Vertigo, To Catch a Thief, Notorious, The Man Who Knew Too Much, etc.) nows a great time to see them.

More on the 10 Foiled Plots

Yesterday's Washington Post had a followup article on the 10 foiled plots Bush mentioned a few weeks ago.

"A White House list of 10 terrorist plots disrupted by the United States has confused counterterrorism experts and officials, who say they cannot distinguish between the importance of some incidents on the list and others that were left off." For example, Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. "Intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the White House overstated the gravity of the plots by saying that they had been foiled, when most were far from ready to be executed." Also pointed out was the threat index was not raised from yellow during the most of incidents listed. And of course, here's the money quote: "We don't know how they came to the conclusions they came to...It's safe to say that most of the [intelligence] community doesn't think it's worth very much."

Remember how this went? Bush mentioned them in his speech, the press questioned Scott McClellan about the 10 and he said "Well, those are two off the top of my head. I'll be glad to see what additional information we can get you. Some of that information is classified, though." Then later that day they released the Fact Sheet. My personal guess, Bush mentioned it, either off the cuff or more likely via a speech that wasn't properly vetted (hey how many plots do you think he should say we foiled?) and they had to make up a list. Either way, this sounds like politicizing terrorism, I'm shocked, just shocked.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Movie Review: Capote

I must admit, I didn't really know who Truman Capote was. I knew he played Lionel Twain in the 1976 film Murder by Death, because I remember seeing it as a 10 year old and wondering who the strange old guy was. I also knew that the boy Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird was based on him. I guess I knew he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's but I had never heard of In Cold Blood.

For those of you like me, Truman Capote was a famous writer (in the 1950s and 60s), as the film describes it, the most famous writer in America . He was openly gay, had an eccentric manner and a unique childish voice. In 1959 he read about a murdered family in Kansas and decided to write about the effect of the murders on the town. He went to Kansas with his childhood friend Nelle Harper Lee (who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird) to do research. The criminals were caught and Capote interviewed them at length and he turned his story into the first "non-fiction novel" about a true crime and the criminals. Perry Smith and Richard Hickock were convicted and sentenced to death. The film starts with him reading about the murders and covers through their executions 5 years later.

Philip Seymour Hoffman seems to transcend acting and becomes Truman Capote. An Oscar nomination seems assured. Catherine Keener plays Nelle, Clifton Collins Jr. is Perry Smith, and Chris Cooper plays agent Alvin Dewey. They all do a fine job, but the film is owned by Hoffman.

We start out seeing Capote holding court at a New York party, being the center of attention and loving it. In Kansas, when he first meets Alvin Dewey he points out the scarf he's wearing is from Bergdorf, when Dewey leaves the room he mentions his hat is from Sears Roebuck. Later, Mrs. Dewey invites the famous author to their home for dinner and Capote wows them with tales of Humphrey Bogart and John Huston as well as touching stories showing his serious side. He succeeds in getting Dewey to talk about the investigation.

Capote meets murderer Perry Smith and we see him make a connection, he feels sorry for someone else alienated from society. Despite his poor background, Perry uses words like "mendacious" and keeps a journal. Capote says to Lee, "It's like Perry and I grew up in the same house, and one day he went out the back door and I went out the front." For a long time we see Capote seem to befriend Smith and then we start to see him talking to his editor and to friends about this wonderful story he's found and how he just needs to get Smith to talk about the actual crime and his book will be the book of the decade. We see Capote lie to Smith to get the information he needs but Smith resists. It's not clear if Smith is using Capote or not. It's also not clear if Capote actually cares for Smith or is merely using him. It's probably wasn't clear to Capote either.

In order to have more time to get their story, Capote has helped Smith and Hickock get better lawyers. This worked a little too well, as the appeals go on for 4 years. Capote starts drinking heavily and hopes that their appeals are denied so that he can get the end of his story. While his views are clearly self-absorbed, he also feels guilty about not helping murderers who call him friend. We learn in epilogue that Capote never finished another novel and died in 1984 of complications from alcoholism.

The film is not perfect. It drags in the second half as Capote's novel is delayed. Though that probably helps put the audience in Capote's position a bit. The script is minimalist but not completely so. Hoffman's portrayal shows all the inner angst he must but the script also provides some exposition in wonderfully biting lines . He tells Lee "There wasn't anything I could have done to save them." and she replies "Maybe, but the fact is you didn't want to." Capote might have changed the literary landscape with In Cold Blood, in but in doing so he realized how self-absorbed he really was and he couldn't recover from that. I'm just glad we got to go along for the ride.

An interesting note. The theater was selling the paperback In Cold Blood at the concessions stand. They were also selling DVDs of the 1967 movie starring Robert Blake. I've never seen this done before but think it's a great idea. I picked up a copy of the book and look forward to reading it.

San Francisco in Jell-O

Elizabeth Hickock has created a model of
San Francisco in Jell-O. 6 photos and 1 minute video clip of the city wiggling.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Friday, October 21, 2005

Astronomy Night

Last night was Observatory Night at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The speaker was Marcia Bartusiak. She spoke about her recent book Archives of the Universe.

Her book traces 75 great discoveries in astronomy using the words of the original papers. I imagine the books is pretty good but I didn't love the presentation. It seemed like she was reading most of it and phrases like "Aristotle has the honor of having written the oldest paper in my book" really turned me off.

Afterwards was viewing on the roof. The large telescope was on Mars, which looked pretty cool. You could make out some colors on the surface. There were 4 smaller (6-8 inch I think) telescopes set up as well. One also on Mars and one was on the Moon where you could clearly make out craters. One was on the Ring Nebula M57 though all you could see were some stars with a light haze between them. Nothing like the pictures on this amateur page. The last was on the double star Albireo. It looked just like this picture.

A Day in Philadelphia

I was in Philadelphia this week speaking at a conference on wikis. I had Tuesday in town to site see.

I went to the Rodin Museum it has the largest collection of Rodin’s works outside of Paris. Some interesting large pieces and many more smaller ones. He had a fixation for hands and feet. They look a bit oversized. The Thinker was outside, just off the street, it's pretty impressive. I had no idea it was in the US.

I then went to the Franklin Institute which is a science museum. It has a lot of hands on exhibits that are pretty cool but it makes it very geared toward kids.

I went to the National Constitution Center expecting not to like it very much, having read a lot about the constitution recently. But I was very surprised that it was great. There was a Lincoln exhibit that you walked through and had panels and sounds describing the constitutional aspects of his presidency: emancipation, states rights, suspending habeus corpus, etc. Good stuff. And things like the actual pen he used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The permanent exhibit begins with a 17 minute show in a round theater where one (live) man describes the reasons the colonists were upset, the declaration of independence, why the articles of confederation failed and how the constitution brought a democratic experiment to the world in a bold new way. He also talked about slavery and civil rights. The fact that it was live vs just a movie made it very effective. You exited this round theater at the top and the main exhibit hall was a round room around the theater. The outside wall had displays and the space was wide enough that there were displays in the middle of this donut as well. They were text, artifacts, movies, recordings, models, multimedia displays with touch screens, etc. Very modern stuff and very in depth. You could skim it all and get a sense of the various issues that changed our government over years or you could dive into just about any of them in a good deal of depth. Unfortunately I got there late in the day and didn't have much time before they closed, but I very much want to go back there and wander through it. On the way out you go through a room with life sized bronze statues of the signers of the Constitution. It was ok, but next to it was an alcove with an original copy (one of 20) of the Constitution and that's pretty impressive to see. This is a really great modern museum.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

On the Media

Found this via a friends referral. On the Media is a weekly NPR program produced out of NY about all things media. It's roughly an hour long and they have really good stories. They also get the Internet and have intelligent discussions about its implications for newspapers and other things. I listened to 6 episodes on my iPod during my drive to/from Philadelphia this week (more on that coming) and it made the time go by.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Google for "failure"

If you google for the word "failure" you get taken to this page. A good prank pulled of by people who placed a lot of links on the web to this site for this word.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Geek T-Shirt

Buy that Huge Monitor

The New York Times Magazine has an article today called
Meet the Life Hackers. It's about how distracted our lives are, particularly if we use computers. It goes into more than you might expect. First it realizes that many distractions are in fact work related and not necessarily a bad thing. But then it goes on to find ways that people have used which help.

Surprisingly, the single thing that helped the most was a bigger monitor, showing a 10-44% speed improvement on tasks. Other suggestions were funneling everything through one system like a single to-do list in a word processor or emailing yourself all your tasks and keeping up on your email queue. This sounds a bit like Getting Things Done and it goes into that as well. It also wonders why computer programs themselves don't try to do more to manage our time more effectively and interviews researchers who are trying to do just that. Good stuff, but for now I'll continue to live from a plain text list I manage in Emacs.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Those Who Give Up Their Liberty for Security...

Here's a chilling story from last month. This is what happens when people get too paranoid about terrorism and not paranoid enough about things like the Patriot Act. David Mery was getting on a subway after work, wearing a rain jacket, carrying a bag with a laptop in it and checking his cell phone. He was arrested as a terrorist suspect "or suspicious behaviour and public nuisance" and kept until 4:30 the next morning. Crazy.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Bush Teleconference With Soldiers Staged

Today the President spoke with a group of U.S. soldiers based in Tikrit, Iraq via a nationally televised teleconference. The transcript from the White House is here. Obviously it's not impromptu and it's not a real means for the president to get information. So it's obviously staged for viewers to see the president doing something and troops saying good things.

But this time, we saw extra stuff before the teleconference (I'm not sure how this happened), In particular, Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Allison Barber, instructing the soldiers before the conference. NPR has the audio of the rehersal. She clearly says: "But if he gives us a question that is not something that we have scripted Captain Kennedy you are going to have the mic and that’s your chance to impress us all." It's one thing to stage an event like this. It's another thing to ask soldiers to be actors. Then again, it's another thing to back peddle when your found out, as Scott McClellan did in the afternoon Press Briefing (CNN's The Situation Room shows some of the video).

I wonder if we see Ms. Barber get reassigned soon.I

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Basic Budget Facts

This from Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. BTW, he's Republican.

The Bush explosion of government spending needs more exploration. Heritage has put together a PDF document you can find here with all the relevant facts - from the government's own records. Some data: Washington now spends a record $22,000 a year per household. Defense and 9/11-related spending accounted for less than half the growth in spending between 2001 and 2003. Overall federal spending is accelerating in Bush's second term, not declining as he promised. Entitlement spending is set to explode in the next decade or so - requiring massive spending cuts, huge tax hikes, or real entitlement reform. Bush has made the entitlement problem far worse rather than better in his first five years. Under the post-1994 Republican Congress, pork barrel spending has gone from around $10 billion to $25 billion today. The number of "earmarks" under today's Republicans has gone from 1,439 in 1995 to 13,999 this year so far. The feds cannot account for $24.5 billion spent in 2003. This is what big government conservatism does for you. Happy now?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Bush Supports Torture

For all his talk that enemy combatant detainees are treated humainly even though the Geneva Convention doesn't apply to them, people still don't believe the Bush doesn't allow torture. And here's a reason why. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) proposed an amendment to a military spending bill. The bill is short and says just a few seemingly non-controversial things. First US forces can't use any "treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation". See not changing our rules, just making it clear. Second, it says "No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as 28 other retired senior military officers, endorsed the amendment. Sounds like a good thing.

I don't have a link to the amendment but type "S11062" in the search box on this page in Thomas. Then click on the link to S11062 which is a page number in the Congressional Record. There you can read the text of the amendment and what McCain said when introducing it. It's worth the read.

When introducing the amendment McCain said: "Several weeks ago, I received a letter from CPT Ian Fishback, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, and a veteran of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a West Point graduate. Over 17 months, he struggled to get answers from his chain of command to a basic question: What standards apply to the treatment of enemy detainees? But he found no answers." How absurd is that? Well it gets worse.

The Senate passed the amendment 90-9 and the whole bill passed the Senate. Now it goes to the House and if they pass it, off to the White House for the President to sign. Now this amendment was to a $450 billion dollar miltary funding bill, pretty important stuff, but it seems the president is so opposed to the amendment that since July he's had Cheney working at making sure it didn't get inserted. Well Cheney failed.

When asked about it on Oct 5th, Scott McClellan refered reporters to a statement of administration policy which I think means this one which says on page 3: "If legislation is presented that would restrict the President's authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice, the President's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill." When further asked "will the President veto Senator McCain's legislation?" McClellan replied "if it's presented, then there would be a recommendation of a veto, I believe."

You can read all about this at WikiNews and the Washington Post.

So please, someone explain to me how concluding that the President supports torture is unjustified?

Bush Appoints Another Unqualified Crony

On Sep 6, Bush appointed Ellen Sauerbrey to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Population, Refugees, and Migration). According to this New York Times Editorial, the role is to
"coordinate the delivery of life-sustaining emergency aid to refugees of foreign wars, persecution and natural disasters." She "has no experience responding to major crises calling for international relief." She was a "former Maryland state legislator and twice-defeated Republican candidate for governor who was state chairman of Mr. Bush's 2000 campaign."

Fortunately the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gets to approve her. You'd think after Michael Brown Bush might know better. Then again, maybe Brown did resign on his own and Bush continues to think he did "a heck of a job".

Spoof Harriet Miers's Blog

Odd things happen in the net. Someone took the time to make a spoof Harriet Miers's Blog.

Monday, October 10, 2005

You're bidding on a Mistake

Here's an eBay auction. Read the description and laugh.

Presidential Records Redux

I've previously written about Bush's Executive Order 13233 from Nov, 2001. This order is about releasing presidential records and some have said basically overturned the Presidential Records Act of 1978.

The NY Times had an Op-Ed today on this today. Kitty Kelly explains that "a former president's private papers can be released only with the approval of both that former president (or his heirs) and the current one" where previously "all papers, except those pertaining to national security, had to be made available 12 years after a president left office."

Section 8 of the order says "a former President or the incumbent President may request withholding of any privileged records not already protected from disclosure under section 2204" which seems to be an expansion though section 2 cites some Supreme Court cases and other parts of US Code that provide a basis for this. But as I read 13233, all of this only applies during the 12 year period and doesn't change anything after the 12 years, so it doesn't read like a big change. But I must be missing something. Kelly says "Now, however, Mr. Bush can prevent the public from knowing not only what he did in office, but what Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan did in the name of democracy." She explains that Reagan's term was over 12 years ago but is grandfathered on a technicality. She says, "George W. Bush and his father can see to it that their administrations pass into history without examination." Ok, so does 13233 only apply for a 12 year term or not?

Bush's Radio Address on Miers

President Bush devoted his entire radio address Saturday to his Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Most of it was a repeat of her qualifications. FindLaw has a good profile of her. Here's a quick summary of her positions and major awards:

* 1967 BS Math from Southern Methodist University
* 1970 JD from SMU Law School
* 1970-72 Clerked for Chief Judge Joe E. Estes of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas
* 1972-2001 First woman lawyer hired by Locke Purnell Boren Laney & Neely
* 1985 President Dallas Bar Association
* 1986 First female president of the Dallas Bar Association
* 1989-1991 elected as an at-large member on the Dallas City Council
* 1992-1993 First woman president of head the State Bar of Texas
* 1993 Counsel Bush's Texas gubernatorial campaign
* 1994 General Counsel for Bush's TX Governor transition team
* 1995-2000 chair of Texas Lottery Comission
* 1995 Bush's personal lawyer
* 1997 National Law Review 100 Most Influential Lawyers
* 1998 National Law Review 50 Most Influential Women Lawyers
* 1999 Co-Manager Locke, Liddell & Sapp
* 2000 Lawyer in Bush's presidential campaign
* 2000 National Law Review 100 Most Influential Lawyers
* 2001-2003 Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary
* 2003: Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy
* 2004: White House Counsel, the chief legal adviser for the Office of the President.

Here are some things that bother me about Bush's address. He said "She was in charge of the process that resulted in the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts." That may be true, but really, is it any evidence that she's qualified to be a justice herself?

Bush said "Like Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Byron White, who were also nominated to the Supreme Court directly from legal positions in the executive branch, Harriet Miers will be prudent in exercising judicial power and firm in defending judicial independence.". Well Rehnquist had four degrees from Stanford and Harvard and was valedictorian at Stanford Law School, clerked for a Supreme Court Justice, and was Assistant Attorney General. Byron White graduated first in his class from Yale Law School, clerked for Chief Justice Vinson, was Deputy Attorney General under Robert F. Kennedy. Do these qualifications sound comparable?

Bush said "no Supreme Court nominee in the last 35 years has exceeded Harriet Miers' overall range of experience in courtroom litigation, service in federal, state and local government, leadership in local, state and national bar associations, and pro bono and charitable activities." Ok, I don't she tried any cases before the US Supreme Court. I think her state and local government service amounts to a single 2 year terms on the Dallas City Counsil and chairing the Texas Lottery Comission, I don't think these are qualifications for a life-time appointment on the US Supreme Court.

Bush said: "Throughout her life, Ms. Miers has excelled at everything she has done." which is just pure hyperbole. He also said: "Harriet Miers will be the type of judge I said I would nominate: a good conservative judge." which I don't remember him saying, he usually just repeats the won't legislate from the bench line.

Bush said: "she knows that judges should have a restrained and modest role in our constitutional democracy". Huh? Between Article III and the Supremecy Clause the Supreme Court can overturn any federal or state law. But there's nothing saying it should be restrained or modest. just as there's nothing that says the Commander in Chief should be restrained or modest. In Federalist Paper 48 James Madison discusses the importance of the separation of powers. "It is agreed on all sides, that the powers properly belonging to one of the departments ought not to be directly and completely administered by either of the other departments. It is equally evident, that none of them ought to possess, directly or indirectly, an overruling influence over the others, in the administration of their respective powers." In Federalist Paper 78 Alexander Hamilton wrote "the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power; that it can never attack with success either of the other two; and that all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks." and "The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution."

Bush said: "Harriet Miers has served our nation in critical roles, including White House Counsel, one of the most important legal positions in the country. As counsel, Ms. Miers addresses complex matters of constitutional law, serves as the chief legal advisor during regular meetings of the National Security Council, and handles sensitive issues of executive-congressional relations, among many other essential duties." The problem is, Bush said he will not provide those documents because it is "important that we maintain executive privilege in the White House," So there's absolutely no basis to evaluate her expertise on constitutional law.

Sorry Mr. President, I'm not taking your word for anything, you haven't earned that privilege, because you've blown it every other time.

Annoying Boston Globe Graphics

I get the print edition of the Boston Globe. Today two things bothered me about their page designs. First was the cover story of the Health and Science Section on flu vaccines. There's a fine graphic timeline on how the vaccine is made and some text, but someone choose to put some splattered green and yellow background that I guess is supposed to look like cells in a petri dish. To me it was like reading text over vomit. Ridiculous. At least it's not in the online version of the story.

A cover story of the City and Region section was about map-based travel guides of Boston and how they only show a limited area. They had a summary of 6 guides each with a small map and a rectangle that showed how much of Boston they covered. But to screw up the comparison, 4 of the maps were the same and 2 were different. They all should have been on the same scale.

George Bush Meets the Phantom Empire

Bob Burnett in the Huffington Post has a review of Bush's speech last Thursday. My comments are here. He liked it less than I did, and backs it up with stuff I agree with. - 'Architect' Builds Bush Policies, Legacy

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on Karl Rove. It's about what he does for the administration, now that it looks like he might be indicted.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

10 Plots and 5 Casings

The White House released a fact sheet on the Plots, Casings, and Infiltrations Referenced in President Bush's Remarks on the War on Terror. Of the 10 Plots listed only 3 were were for attacks on US soil. 8 of the 10 were between 2002-2003, the latest one was mid-2004, have we been slacking off or have they? Only one name is mentioned Jose Padilla a US citizen held without charges as an "illegal enemy combatant" since June 9, 2002. Way to demonstrate democracy.

Of the 5 Casings and Infiltrations all were in the US (though it's hard to tell for one of them). Lyman Faris, another US citizen, pleaded guilty to plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge and is in US federal prision. One was in 2001 and the other 4 were in 2003 (with one running into 2004).

Why had we never heard of most of these? Scott McCleLLan said they were classified. Ok, I'm sure some of the details should be, but not even mentioning these to even the extent shown here? What changed on Oct 7 that we could now list these events, most of which are over 2 years old? And if (as I suspect) nothing did, why didn't the government announce them? Isn't is scary that we've twarted these plots and not charged anyone with any crime? Are all the plotters being held as enemy combatants? If Padilla's case makes it to the Supreme Court will Bush's appointees recuse themselves? We need a more open government, because this one has proven we can't just trust them.

Lost Monk and Coltrane Recording Released

Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane are two of the greatest Jazz musicians of all time. They played together for 5 months in 1957 at the Five Spot in New York but we have hardly any recordings of the two of them together. On November 29th, 1957 Monk and Coltrane played together (with Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums) at Carnegie Hall at an all-star benefit fundraiser for the Morningside Community Center. This performance was recorded by the Voice of America and recently unearthed in the Library of Congress archives by recording lab supervisor Larry Appelbaum and prepared for release by producer Michael Cuscuna and Monk's son, drummer T.S. Monk. The CD came out a week ago and is #1 in music sales on Amazon.

The list price for the CD is $18.98 and Amazon is offering it for $13.49. I looked on the iTunes musics store and sure enough they have it. You can buy 7 of the 9 tracks individually for $0.99 or the whole album for $9.99. With the CD you get liner notes and an unprotected lossless format but why wait (and pay) for shipping? I didn't, and the album is fantastic.

Ethically Challenged Members of Congress

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released a report entitled Beyond DeLay The 13 Most Corrupt Members of Congress. And the winners are:

* Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
* Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-CA)
* Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL)
* Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA)
* Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO)
* Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH)
* Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA)
* Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ)
* Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC)
* Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)
* Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT)
* Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN)
* Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)

Catholic Church on Bible: Some Parts not True

On Oct 4, the Bishops of England and Wales, and of Scotland, released a 60 page teaching document, The Gift of Scripture which unfortunately is not online.

The Times of London reports that it is says "We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision” They say the Genesis creation story cannot be "historical" and should be compared to creation legends of other cultures. The bishops say: “Such symbolic language must be respected for what it is, and is not to be interpreted literally. We should not expect to discover in this book details about the end of the world, about how many will be saved and about when the end will come.”

The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, they say, but continue: “We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.” They go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach. “Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others.”

The Theory of WMDs

Three years ago yesterday Bush gave a speech in Cincinnati outlining the reasons to go to war with Iraq. Think Progress has done a line-by-line fact check of the speech entitled Bush Misled Us Into War. It's pretty scary. Just about every reason given has been shown to be false.

So here's the thing, Bush used terms like: "clear evidence", "Knowing these realities", "evidence indicates", etc. Now since Bush feels Intelligent Design should be taught with equal standing as evolution I think we should use one of their tactics. Really, shouldn't he have called it "the theory of WMDs".

If Bush (and seemingly most of the country) actually understood what science was and what facts, hypotheses and theories are maybe we wouldn't have these problems. You're supposed to learn science in school, but even though Bush wanted to be the "education president", we fall behind the rest of the world in science test scores and put up with this crap.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Did Bush Say God Told Him To Go To War?

There are a lot of articles today about Bush supposedly saying God told him to invade Iraq. This Reuters article seems the most balanced.

This supposedly happened in a June 2003 Israeli Palistinian summit. After the summit Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said Bush said "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them." It's coming up now because a BBC broadcast last night mentioned it.

Yesterdat at a Press Briefing Scott McClellan when asked if Bush ever said "Gold told me go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan...and end the tyranny in the Iraq" replied "No, that's absurd. He's never made such comments."

This was brought up at the time, including this article named Who would Jesus invade?. But really, we know the man claims to be religious, do we really need to be obsessing on what he said in a closed meeting that was translated from english to arabic and back to english. Such things are easily misconstrued. Then again, if it's true, it's scary, mostly because it's the same kind of crap that isalmic fundamentalists say to justify their actions. Then again, this instance isn't clear enough to make the case and it wasn't 2 years ago either.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Building an Ancient Death Ray

Archimedes is rumored to have used a death ray made of glass during the siege of Syracuse in 212 BC to burn Roman ships. There hasn't been any proof of this but the myth lives on. In fact, TV's MythBusters tried to replicate the feat and failed. Well leave it to MIT students to make it work.

Good Bush Speech Leads to a Question

President Bush, spoke at the National Endowment for Democracy today. The Washington Post has a transcript. It's a good speech, not much new but it really is well articulated. That might be a first for this President.

I want to mention one thing. Bush said:
"we've killed or captured nearly all of those directly responsible for the September the 11th attacks, as well as some of bin Laden's most senior deputies, Al Qaida managers and operatives in more than 24 countries: the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing who was chief of Al Qaida operations in the Persian Gulf, the mastermind of the Jakarta and the first Bali bombings, a senior Zarqawi terrorist planner who was planning attacks in Turkey, and many of Al Qaida's senior leaders in Saudi Arabia. Overall, the United States and our partners have disrupted at least 10 serious Al Qaida terrorist plots since September the 11th, including three Al Qaida plots to attack inside the United States. We've stopped at least five more Al Qaida efforts to case targets in the United States or infiltrate operatives into our country."
So where are the trials? Why don't we know what these 10 serious plots were? I'd find him much more believable if his administrationi wasn't so secretive and didn't lie so much. How do I know we really did stop 10 plots? And what is serious?

Well leave it to Think Progress to do some fact checking. Scott McClellan was asked about these and he cited "Jose Padilla and Iyman Faris...And then there are other incidents that are still classified." Think Progress sums it up as: "One three-year old arrest in a case where no charges have been filed, one two-year old arrest related to a plot that was already abandoned and eight 'incidents' the administration won’t tell us anything about."

Fainting Goats

I've never heard of this but it seems Fainting Goats are real as this hilarious video shows.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Movie Review: Serenity

Firefly was sci-fi series created by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. It aired on FOX in the fall of 2002 but only lasted 11 episodes. A DVD box set was released and sold very well. Universal produced a movie with the same cast, written and directed by Whedon. There's a good intro at the beginning of the film so you don't need to have watched the series to understand it (since there were so few episodes, they didn't have time to build up too much backstory). But here's some background for those that want it.

Serenity is the name of a Firefly-class transport ship (hence the name of the movie and the series). We follow the adventures of the crew who get one job after another, some legal, some not. The captain is Malcom Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). He an d first mate Zoe (Gina Torres) fought together 6 years prior on the losing side of the Alliance - Independents War. Zoe is married to Wash (Alan Tudyk) the pilot. Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is the engineer and Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is none-to-bright brawn. These five are the main crew, though there are 4 other regulars on board. Inara (Morena Baccarin) is a licensed companion, a future version of a courtesan. She rented a shuttle and met clients on various worlds that Serenity visited. There was romantic tension between she and Mal and she left Serenity between the series and the movie. Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) appeared to be a holy man but had some dark past that was never revealed. He helped out in several missions and also left the ship between the series and the movie. Finally we have a brother and sister pair, Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau). River was a child prodigy, able to learn anything from physics to dance, almost instantly. She joined an Alliance facility known as the Academy, but once there was put through medical experiments. Simon rescued her and they are now fugatives anxiously pursued by the Alliance. River is now psychotic and speaks in child-like almost nursery rhymes. She also has shown signs of telepathy and precognition as well as deadly accuracy with a gun and remarkable fighting skills. Simon is a skilled surgeon and is trying to cure her.

FIrefly was known for character driven stories that were often clever takes on standard storylines. As in Farscape, their plans often didn't work and it was a lot of fun watching them get out of it. One episode began with Mal, in the middle of an empty desert landscape, sitting on a rock, naked, saying "Yeah, that went well". It also had very clever dialog, with some very funny banter. Serenity offers all of this in a slightly grittier more action filled package. The story keeps moving throughout the 2 hours and the added budget for effects shows. Serenity fills in many of the mysteries of the series, even a few I didn't realize were mysteries. It also leaves one out, and even goes as far as one character telling Mal (and us) he doesn't have to reveal his past. There are a couple of ridiculous movie moments but the premise doesn't depend on them and the plot is only minorly stretched by them.

If you can't tell, I loved Firefly and I loved Serenity as well. After the film I remembered reading someone's comment after seeing it, "Fuck George Lucas". This is what Sci-Fi and good movie making is about, real plots, real characters, real dialog. Aside from Battlestar Galactica, this is the best Sci-Fi around. I then realized that my true sentiment was really "Fuck FOX" for cancelling this series without giving it a fair chance. I would have much preferred weekly doses of Firefly for several years and based on the DVD sales, I'd say many others would have as well. But if we can't have that, I'll take Serenity any day, and I hope to see sequels.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


There's a big huff in the media these days about revealing spoilers in reviews. Entertainment Weekly has an article about it this week (sorry can't find it online) and I think I first heard it on an NPR piece. The question is, in reviews can you reveal plot secrets of the film? Some people don't care if they know things in plot, I think they're idiots but that's their choice. Many films try to use suspense to make the experience richer, if you know the end, you lessen the suspense and weaken the experience.

The other question is, is there a statute of limitations on spoilers? It's difficult to review a film that depends on twist without giving it away (see my Flightplan review), at some point can you write something more in depth about the film which requires revealing the info or can it never be discussed? Some say that you can discuss it when the film comes out on DVD. This is moronic considering that box office sales are declining and DVD viewing expanding, many are waiting for the DVD to see it for the first time.

IMDB did a poll about what things are so well known that giving them away shouldn't be considered a spoiler anymore. The end of Empire Strikes Back won (it is the net after all). Citzen Kane came out in 1941, can you finally talk about what rosebud means and what that says about our lives?

The answer to all of this was resolved on the net long ago. People used to post reviews to and started marking them with the word spoilers. That way you can make up your own mind. If you don't care about the spoilers (ie, you're an idiot) read the review, if you do care, don't read it until after you see the film. If you can, it's good to write a bit without giving things way, then give the spoiler alert and continue with the rest. The whole point is to give the reader the choice, it's not that difficult. Is there a statue of limitations on this? Absolutely not. Printed reviews and net reviews live forever and there are always new generations that come along and can enjoy great films of the past, without spoilers. Just because I was born 25 years after Citizen Kane came out, doesn't mean I don't deserve to see it unspoiled.