Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Massachusetts Assaults Monoculture

Dan Geer writes in c|net about Massachusetts requiring records be in OpenDoc format. This is a big deal. Why should public records be in a proprietary format that require you to buy software from a company to read. Currently many records are in MS Word format, requiring me to buy MS Office which is a several hundred dollar program. Not what you'd want from public records.

Geer gives another more important reason to avoid a single proprietary format. It's not as safe. Virus's and other threats attack individual program flaws and if everyone uses the same program we're all susceptible to the same attacks. That's why computer viruses spread so fast, they can infect virtually every computer they come across because so many run Windows. There's no reason that a document can't be in a standard format that many programs can read, allowing competition and safety. That format used to be plain text (.txt) but there are now good open standards which support more advanced formatting and there's no reason that they shouldn't be used. It's also more likely that the public records will be readable in 200 years. Got any 8-track tapes lying around? Got anything that can play them?

The Voice-Activated R2-D2. at Hammacher Schlemmer

Now you can own your very own Voice-Activated R2-D2. And it's only $120 from Hammacher Schlemmer. But he's mini-R2 at only 15" high.

And Now the Name Calling

Aaron Freeman says Only the left respects George Bush. The right insists he is an idiot in the Huffington Post. But it's ok, he's a comedian.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Franken v. Scalia

John Nichols in The Nation describes an event in NYC last week where Justice Scalia was taking questions from an audience. Al Franken was in the audience and: "Franken stood up in the back row and started talking about ‘judicial demeanor' and asking ‘hypothetically' about whether a judge should recuse himself if he had gone duck-hunting or flown in a private jet with a party in a case before his court."

Franken was referring to Scalia himself who didn't recuse himself from Cheney, Vice President of the United States, et al. v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia et al. Scalia and Cheney know each other and were seen having dinner before the court accepted the case. And they went on an annual duck hunting trip with many other people together.

Scalia answered: "Demeanor is the wrong word. You mean ethics," the justice claimed, before adding that, "Ethics is governed by tradition. It has never been the case where you recuse because of friendship."

The article says "Actually, Scalia was wrong on all accounts" and cites The American Bar Association's Model Code of Judicial Conduct though it notes that it doesn't apply to the US Supreme Court Justices.

The article goes on to say:
The standard for U.S. Supreme Court Justices was set by the court itself in a majority opinion in Liteky v. United States (1994). According to that opinion, recusal is required where "impartiality might reasonably be questioned." The opinion set a high standard, declaring that what matters "is not the reality of bias or prejudice, but its appearance."

The article ends with the supposed bombshell that Scalia authored the above decision.

Well if you actually read the decision it's a different matter. The "impartiality might reasonably be questioned" phrase is actually in the law, USC 28, Section 455(a). If you make it to 2nd paragraph of the decision you see it says: "Held: Required recusal under 455(a) is subject to the limitation that has come to be known as the 'extrajudicial source' doctrine." So the decision that Scalia authored describes a limitation on the need to recuse.

"Extrajudicial Source" comes from US v. Grinnell Corp (1966) and Scalia says "First, Grinnell (the only opinion of ours to recite the doctrine) clearly meant by "extrajudicial source" a source outside the judicial proceeding at hand". So basically things a judge learns during a trial that might bias his or her opinion one way or another is not sufficient to demand recusal.

Scalia also writes: "Since neither the presence of an extrajudicial source necessarily establishes bias, nor the absence of an extrajudicial source necessarily precludes bias, it would be better to speak of the existence of a significant (and often determinative) 'extrajudicial source' factor, than of an 'extrajudicial source' doctrine, in recusal jurisprudence.

"'Partiality' does not refer to all favoritism, but only to such as is, for some reason, wrongful or inappropriate. Impartiality is not gullibility. Moreover, even if the pejorative connotation of "partiality" were not enough to import the 'extrajudicial source' doctrine into 455(a), the 'reasonableness' limitation (recusal is required only if the judge's impartiality "might reasonably be questioned") would have the same effect. To demand the sort of 'child-like innocence' that elimination of the 'extrajudicial source' limitation would require is not reasonable.

The Liteky decision was unanimous, so all the other justices agreed. I'm no lawyer (let alone a judge) but it seems to me that what matters is whether or not there was inappropriate favoritism. I don't know if there was in the case Franken brings up (I note Scalia concurred in 4 out of 5 parts in a 7-2 majority). I do think that John Nichols' argument doesn't hold water. FYI, Cheney wrote a memorandum to the Cheney case, explaning in depth why he did not recuse himself.

And for all of you that think I hate Franken, I give him a lot of credit for this stunt (which really is what it was).

The Colbert Report

So what do people think of the Colbert Report? By far my favorite part is The Word and I don't like too much of the rest. On tonight's show he did a segment comparing faith to science. It was kinda funny but since the conclusions were just what he wanted to say, it didn't hold up as strongly as his "This Week in God" segments on the Daily Show.

The interviews play like the correspondent sections of the Daily Show (my least favorite parts of that show) as opposed to Jon Stewart's interviews. I know they are different shows and Colbert is trying to play this obnoxious newscaster, but I think it works better when he's alone rather than talking with other people.

In tonight's segment he interviewed Dr. Brian Green on String Theory. Dr Green did a great job and had good stuff to say. Colbert constantly interrupted and drove the conversation all over the place. I came away from this wishing Green just had 10 mins to talk (he was funny too) and that Colbert was silent. That's not a good thing for an interviewer.

So what do you think?

Monday, November 28, 2005

FOX and Prison Break

What's wrong with FOX? Prison Break is the only new network show this season that I think is good. It's FOX's number one show; according to Entertainment Weekly, it was number 12 overall last week. And what do they do? Tonight was the last episode until March. A 3 month hiatus! Moronic.

Bullies in the White House Pulpit

Bob Burnett in The Huffington Post explains how the Bush administration is a bunch of Bullies.

"When George W. Bush accepted the Republican nomination for President, he promised to differentiate his Administration from that of Bill Clinton. “After all of the shouting and all of the scandal, after all the bitterness and broken faith, we can begin again.” Yet, this is a far more scandalous, divisive Presidency than that of Clinton. It has left a broad trail of acrimony and betrayal. Broken faith with America. Ultimately, there is only one explanation for this unending stream of political malfeasance. George W. Bush and his cronies are bullies."

US Supreme Court Falls Apart, literally

Piece of Supreme Court marble falls near tourists.

Bush Administration and Manipulating Intelligence

Murray Waas in The National Journal last week wrote about a Key Bush Intelligence Briefing Kept From Hill Panel. On Sep 21, 2001 Bush got a report that there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks or to Al Qaeda, on the contrary, Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as a threat. And since then nothing has come to light to contradict that original report.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked for the document and othes, but true to form the Bush administration has refused to turn them over. How can it be that they say Congess has the same intelligence reports as the White House as they refuse to give congress intelligence reports? Why can't the press come out and say "you're lying"?

On December 9, 2001, Cheney said on NBC's Meet the Press: "[I]t's pretty well confirmed that [Mohammed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in [the Czech Republic] last April, several months before the attack." Cheney continued to make the charge, even after he was briefed, according to government records and officials, that both the CIA and the FBI discounted the possibility of such a meeting. Credit card and phone records appear to demonstrate that Atta was in Virginia Beach, Va., at the time of the alleged meeting. Really if this isn't manipulating, then what is?

In Rolling Stone, James Bamford (author of The Puzzle Palace and Body of Secrets) writes about The Rendon Group. They're credited with creating the Iraqi National Congress (INC) in the early 90s to oppose Saddam. More recently the Bush administration hired them to run the propaganda war.

Never before in history had such an extensive secret network been established to shape the entire world's perception of a war. "It was not just bad intelligence -- it was an orchestrated effort," says Sam Gardner, a retired Air Force colonel who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College. "It began before the war, was a major effort during the war and continues as post-conflict distortions." Just great.

And if you think it's some rogue group in the administration doing this stuff, nope. Cheney's office controls everything. He just might be a Sith Lord after all.

Still With The Voting Problems

Brad Friedman writes in the Huffington Post about voting problems. It seems in the last Ohio election 4 ballot questions failed by large margins in spite of the fact that pre-election polling showed they would win by large margins. There are a number of explanations for this and we don't know what the answer is. But it does point out troubling problems with electronic voting machines.

There's no reliable audit trail and the software is proprietary, meaning no one knows what it does. It should be open source, so that any programmer could read it and be sure it does what it should be doing. Before you express doubts of problems here, you should know that the CEO of Diebold said in 2003 he's "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." Why should the most public of actions depend on proprietary secrets?

Did Bush Want To Bomb Al Jazeera

In the Guardian Unlimited is a story: "Reports that George Bush and Tony Blair discussed a plan to bomb al-Jazeera reinforce concerns that the US attack in Baghdad on April 8 [2003] was deliberate targeting of the media," said Aidan White, the general secretary of the nternational Federation of Journalists. The Daily Mirror claimed last week a leaked memo revealed that the US president last year discussed plans to attack al-Jazeera's Qatar HQ with Mr Blair.

"We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response," a White House official said. A Downing Street spokesman added: "We have got nothing to say about this story. We don't comment on leaked documents."

Children's Writers Brainstorming Lists

Children's Writers Brainstorming Lists is just a fun set of lists of different things. 733 occupations, but only 115 hobbies. 58 animal sounds. 168 types of weather. 143 vegetables but 222 desserts. 44 Kool-Aid Flavors, Past and Present. The things the internet makes possible.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Long March of Dick Cheney

Sidney Blumenthal writes in Salon (via Mathaba) a long history of Cheney and his friends and how his "goal is the concentration of unaccountable presidential power". Great read.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Onion on the Sony Rootkit Fiasco

The Onion talks about the Sony Rootkit Mess. I don't think the link will last long so here's what the story is. They interview 3 (fictitious) people:

"This won't be the first time I got a virus from that Sarah McLachlan." - Cameron Feng, Electrician

"I've been downloading bootleg MP3s for nearly three years and the first CD I buy fucks up my computer?" - Jesse Glass, Machinist

"I've always known that one day, Sony's unblinking commitment to artist's rights would come back to bite them in the ass." - Sonja Kelly, Custom Tailor

They got it exactly right. If Sony wants to prevent bootlegging, they have to offer a superior experience. Breaking people's computers isn't that.

A Look Back at the Wild 2005 Hurricane Season

NBC has a recap of the worst hurricane season ever. Thankfully it's over.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What Bush Knew: More Evidence That He Deliberately Misled

I'm not sure any of this is new, but Think Progress reports on: What Bush Knew: More Evidence That He Deliberately Misled.

Again, I remember seeing a PBS special (Frontline?) in September 2002 about 9/11 and they showed the National Security Council meeting right after 9/11 and someone (I think Wolfowitz) said "let's bomb Iraq" and basically everyone ignored him. I don't know why this never gets covered. It makes it clear the neo-con's had an agenda to attack Iraq and they did, regardless of terrorism or facts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Arrests Without Charges

Cenk Uygur on the The Huffington Post is outraged that the government indictment of Jose Padilla is a new claim that he had plans to "murder, kidnap and maim" people overseas (previously they said he was going to launch a dirty bomb and then it was blow up apartment building). Padilla, a US citizen, has been held without charges for over 3 years in a South Carolina prison as an enemy combatant. Uygur is outraged, If It Can Happen to Padilla, It Can Happen to You.

Looking at his background Padilla is clearly not a model citizen. Nevertheless, he is a citizen, and he has rights even though the Bush administration doesn't think so. You can arrest someone and then make up the charges (much) later. The Bush administration has given itself the power to come into your home, take you away and lock you up in prison without any charges or explanation. Does that sound like the United States of America to you? It sounds more like the charges we've made against Saddam Hussein.

Lego's Not For Kids

LaCie has just announced new Brick Hard Drives as in Lego Bricks. They may be large size, but don't give these to your preschoolers.

Good Quote

"Democracy means that anyone can grow up to be president, and anyone who doesn't grow up can be vice president. - Johnny Carson

"Why We Know Iraq is Lying" A Column by Dr. Condoleezza Rice

This is from Jan 23, 2003: "Why We Know Iraq is Lying" A Column by Dr. Condoleezza Rice. It's amazing for it's lack of facts. The argument is basically that they aren't being forthcoming. This from the "the most secretive [administration] ever to run the United States" (according to John Dean!).

Ms Rice says: "For example, the declaration fails to account for or explain Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad, its manufacture of specific fuel for ballistic missiles it claims not to have, and the gaps previously identified by the United Nations in Iraq's accounting for more than two tons of the raw materials needed to produce thousands of gallons of anthrax and other biological weapons."

But perhaps the best part is the top of the page, above the title of the piece. It says: "Iraq Denial and Deception". They told us they were lying to us! :)

Cheney Speaks

Today VP Dick Cheney spoke at the American Enterprise Institute. You can get the text of his remarks from the White House or watch the video from Crooks and Liars. Lots of fun things in this one.

He began with a bit of a joke: "One thing I've learned in the last five years is that when you're Vice President, you're lucky if your speeches get any attention at all." If you look at his own website you see that since July 26th he's given a total of 11 speeches. One at a gala, one at a groundbreaking ceremony, one at a reception, one at a luncheon, one at the National Restaurant Association, and a few others.

He rails against those that suggest the administration "purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence". Read it carefully, he talks about how many of the people dissenting now voted for action and agreed that Saddam had WMDs. What he doesn't say is what info they had to make that decision. He didn't go as far as to say they had the same information, merely "These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence materials." I still don't know if the administration was deliberately lying or merely incompetent but I'm fairly certain those are the only two possibilities.

Here's a fun quote: "Although our coalition has not found WMD stockpiles in Iraq, I repeat that we never had the burden of proof; Saddam Hussein did." What can that possibly mean? Yes it's true that Hans Blix stated that Hussein was not being fully cooperative but is the rule now that other countries have to prove they're innocent before we attack them? I think there's a problem with this new pre-emptive war idea. Oh and Norway hasn't proven they don't have white phosphorus rounds to my satisfaction.

Then he says "we now know that the sanctions regime had lost its effectiveness and been totally undermined by Saddam Hussein's successful effort to corrupt the Oil for Food program." We also know that the sanctions are what kept Niger from selling yellow cake to Iraq. I'd call that working. And if he didn't have WMDs, isn't that working?

Here's what may be the closest admission to a mistake by the administration: "The flaws in the intelligence are plain enough in hindsight". I'll remember that one.

Here's a point that confuses me. He said "In the war on terror we face a loose network of committed fanatics, found in many countries, operating under different commanders...Their goal in that region is to gain control of the country, so they have a base from which to launch attacks and to wage war against governments that do not meet their demands." They seem to be doing ok without a country, why do they need one to attack us? He goes on to say "The terrorists believe that by controlling an entire country, they will be able to target and overthrow other governments in the region, and to establish a radical Islamic empire that encompasses a region from Spain, across North Africa, through the Middle East and South Asia, all the way to Indonesia" Wow, that's the first I've heard of a plan for a new empire. His evidence for this is: "Recently we obtained a message from the number-two man in al Qaeda, Mr. Zawahiri, that he sent to his chief deputy in Iraq, the terrorist Zarqawi." I'd really like to hear more details about this, cause

Cheney also said "They have made clear, as well, their ultimate ambitions: to arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate all Western countries, and to cause mass death in the United States." which I have heard before and understand to be their goals. This seems like a basic tactic of the administration, some crazy exaggerations peppered with correct information.

Then he goes off to la la land again. He said: "Some have suggested that by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein, we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq on September 11th, 2001 -- and the terrorists hit us anyway." Let us not forget, those responsible for 9/11 had nothing to do with Iraq; "the terrorists" refers to different terrorists. He's also playing the same game he's played for a long time, trying to claim a relationship between 9/11 and Iraq. The Senate Intelligence Committee report says on page 347: "Conclusion 96: The Central Intelligence Agency's assessment that to date there was no evidence proving Iraqi complicity or assistance in an al-Qaida attack was reasonable and objective. No additional information has emerged to suggest otherwise."

He asks "Would the United States and other free nations be better off, or worse off, with Zarqawi, bin Laden, and Zawahiri in control of Iraq? Would we be safer, or less safe, with Iraq ruled by men intent on the destruction of our country?" I haven't heard that that's bin Laden's goal before and it certainly wasn't before we invaded. He goes on to point out some progress we've made in Iraq. "There are more than 90 Iraqi army battalions fighting the terrorists, along with our forces." That sounds good, how many do they need and how much are they doing vs us? Apparently if we leave it's not enough to prevent them from being overrun. But Think Progress points out that Rumsfeld said yesterday: "People who denigrate their competence and capability are flat wrong. They’re making a mistake. They either don’t understand the situation or they’re trying to confuse it, but the Iraqi security forces are well respected by the Iraqi people. They’re doing a very good job."

"On the political side, every benchmark has been met successfully -- starting with the turnover of sovereignty more than a year ago, the national elections last January, the drafting of the constitution and its ratification by voters just last month, and, a few weeks from now, the election of a new government under that new constitution." Hmm, I actually think the constitution was a little passed the deadline but I'll give it to him. So what is the list of goals that when they are accomplished we're done? "We will continue the work of reconstruction. Our forces will keep going after the terrorists, and continue training the Iraqi military, so that Iraqis can eventually take the lead in their country's security and our men and women can come home." Thanks, that's specific.

"The terrorists lack any capacity to inspire the hearts of good men and women" That's strange, I thought their numbers have grown enormously. Maybe they were all bad people to begin with. And given the sentiment of other nations about the US I'd say the Bush administration has no capacity to inspire any good thoughts in others.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Pentagon Document Described White Phosphorus As Chemical Weapon

Back on the White Phosphorus issue, Think Progess has found a declassified Pentagon document that Described White Phosphorus As Chemical Weapon. It was from 1995 and says that Saddam Hussein might have used "White Phosphorous (WP) chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels."

Pentagon spokesmen admitted that white phosphorus had been used directly against Iraqi insurgents. "It's perfectly legitimate to use this stuff against enemy combatants," Colonel Venable said Friday.

Get it? If Saddam uses WP it's a chemical weapon, if the US uses it, it's not.

When to Leave Iraq, Fun With Circular Logic

I'm not sure if this is profound or merely amusing. Cenk Uygur in the Huffington Post writes The Insurgents Will Wait Us Out No Matter What -- They Live There!.

The administration makes the claim that having a time table would allow the insurgents to wait us out. Ok, I can actually see some logic in that, but it does beg the question of what the victory conditions are? If the violence were to stop, would that be enough? Well then if the insurgents really wanted to game the system why not stop the attacks for a few months, have the Americans leave and then start up attacking the new government? So clearly the end of violence isn't a good exit criteria, so what is?

I guess to put in Bush terms, "figuring out when to stop occupying a nation is hard".

ACLU suing over ouster from event

Remember Bush's town hall meetings about Social Security that only had Bush supporters at them? It turns out that some others occasionally tried to go and in at least one instance were removed from the event.

The ACLU is taking up the case of 2 people ejected from a tax-payer funded presidential appearance in Denver on March 21, 2005.
The lawsuit says that at other presidential appearances around the country, people with views opposing the president's have been denied entry, ejected or arrested. "This case isn't about just a couple of people here in Denver," Mark Silverstein, [legal director of the Denver ACLU office] said. "It's really about a principle, about the rights and liberties of us all."

What I Knew Before the Invasion

Sen Bob Graham (D-FL) writes in the Washington Post What I Knew Before the Invasion.
The American people needed to know these reservations, and I requested that an unclassified, public version of the NIE be prepared. On Oct. 4 [2002], Tenet presented a 25-page document titled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs." It represented an unqualified case that Hussein possessed them, avoided a discussion of whether he had the will to use them and omitted the dissenting opinions contained in the classified version. Its conclusions, such as "If Baghdad acquired sufficient weapons-grade fissile material from abroad, it could make a nuclear weapon within a year," underscored the White House's claim that exactly such material was being provided from Africa to Iraq.

America's Safest (and Most Dangerous) Cities

For the 2nd year running Newton, MA was named America's Safest City.

Networks As Brands

I was in Best Buy last week and something surprised me. There are now about 6 racks in the DVD section and there's an aisle devoted to television shows now available on DVD. The section is arranged alphabetically but the surprising thing is there are subsections for HBO and Fox shows. I found it interesting that these networks are promoting their brand to enhance their shows. If you like the Sopranos, try The Wire (and you should it's great). I guess Fox and HBO worked with Best Buy to get them to organize this way. It was probably a bit of a risk as things could be harder to find. Looking for the Sopranos, you won't find it under S in Television.

Movie studios used to do this. Stars were contracted by studios and only appeared in their films. People knew the difference between an MGM film and a Universal one. I don't think people could tell you what network The Brady Bunch or I Love Lucy was on (ABC and CBS). I'm sure syndication made this worse. Things like Tivo don't help either but I still know the Sopranos are on HBO and Family Guy is Fox, because they wouldn't be on any other network. I have no idea what network Numb3rs or Without a Trace is on and think they could be on any of the big three because they all seem the same to me. I guess these are just good and bad examples of branding.

US Used Chemical Weapons in Iraq, Then Lied

I don't know why this isn't getting more (any?) coverage in the US news. The Mail & Guardian has an article today called US used chemical weapons, then lied.

It turns out the Italian reports didn't have enough evidence but bloggers found the proof in the March 2005 issue of Field Artillery, a magazine put out by the US Army. US officers talked about using White Phosphorous in Fallujah in Nov 2004. They also found another report from an embedded reporter in the April 2004 Fallujah siege.

When the accusations started the US State Department said WP was used for illumination, not directly against humans. Denial, the first thing this administration does for everything. And of course it didn't work. Last Thu they found out this was false and went to tactic number two, we just used it as a psychological weapon. The London Times describes a third tactic, it's not an illegal chemical weapon. It turns out it's not covered by the 1993 convention but is by the 1980 convention but the US didn't ratify Protocol III, blah blah blah.

Really shouldn't the measure of this be if we won't admit it in a public statement, we probably shouldn't do it? Maybe that's too strong, but the Mail & Guardian article ends with this damning line: "Hussein, facing a possible death sentence, is accused of mass murder, torture, false imprisonment and the use of chemical weapons. He is certainly guilty on all counts. So, it now seems, are those who overthrew him."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Best Space Movies of All Time lets you rate various space movies and has a a list of the top 10 Best Space Movies of All Time. It's a reasonable list, though going through the ratings process you realize how many crappy space movies there are. Space Truckers anyone?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Washington Post Says Cheney for Torture

In an editorial, the Washington Post declares: Vice President for Torture. It's final line: "As for Mr. Cheney: He will be remembered as the vice president who campaigned for torture." Just disgraceful (Cheney, not the Post).

Friday, November 18, 2005

Administration Comments On Ongoing Investigation

Think Progress points out that the Administration is breaking its pledge not to comment on an ongoing investigation. Now that we have Bob Woodward's statement, Karl Rove, Condi Rice, John Bolton, Andrew Card, Dan Bartlett, Karen Hughes and even President Bush have all denied they were Woodward's source. That would be commenting.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Oil Execs Lied to Congress

Remember those Senate hearings last week with the heads of the major oil companies? There was a good daily show bit about how the chairman Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) didn't swear them in, even when Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) asked him to.

Well now it turns out all of the execs lied about meeting with Cheney. Just great, can anyone in Washington tell the truth?

Though if you read the transcript of the hearing Sen Stevens began it with "These witnesses excepted the invitation to appear before our committees voluntarily. They are aware that making false statements and testimony is a violation of federal law, whether or not an oath has been administered."

The relevant law is Title 18 Section 1001 of the US Code. The penalty is "shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both." How insane would it be to put the CEO's of ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP America, and Shell in jail for 5 years in one fell swoop?


Here's an attempt at Parsing Woodward's statement. What a mess.

Media Matters goes into several examples of questionable things Woodward has said over the last two years knowing what we know now.

Can I Get a Little Privacy?

Dan Savage in the New York Times agrees with me that there should be a right to privacy amendment.

Hydrogen Fuel Injection

Wired reports that many trucks in North America now use a new Hydrogen Fuel Injection technology to save fuel and reduce emissions (ok they probably care more about the fuel savings). What's cool about it is that the system generates the H on board from a small amount of distilled water via electricity from the vehicle. No need for hydrogen fuel stations.

It only gives a 10% fuel savings but this evidently works great for commercial uses. Seems like something we should be investing more in until we can find better solutions.

Ministry of Silly Jumps

Researchers from the University of Zurich have named a newly discovered species of lemur after John Cleese. He's apparently been quite active in helping the endangered primates. I'm sure the Avahi cleesei are very happy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

It's Not Just The Intelligence, It's The War

Cenk Uygur has a good article on The Huffington Post about Iraq.
Throughout the last three years we have been given three principle reasons for the Iraq War by the White House. 1. We had to launch a pre-emptive strike to make sure we hit Iraq before they hit us with their arsenal of WMD. 2. Iraq is tied into the Global War on Terror that was brought to our shores on 9/11. 3. By bringing democracy to Iraq we will stabilize the region and make it friendlier to US interests, thereby defeating terrorism in the long term. All of these reasons might have sounded good at some point, but time has proven that they are all terribly wrong.

He then goes through the details on each of the three. For the first he ends with "I don’t remember the Iraqi people, let alone the American people, receiving an apology for this grave error. In the best case scenario, the administration invaded a country – invaded a country – based on an error."

For the record, at the time I was buying into number 3 as at least a reasonable argument to consider and was one that couldn't be stated outright. I wasn't convinced it was a justification but I thought it could be discussed (as opposed to the knee jerk reaction that the war was wrong). Well I now feel differently. It was wrong, we did it badly (maybe it could have worked if we were better prepared but it seems doubtful), and things are worse now than they were. The effects of the US forcing it's will on another country has antagonized the rest of the world and weakened our position (see previous post).

I think Uygur goes a little too far at the end of his piece, but he may well be right.

Relying on Computer, U.S. Seeks to Prove Iran's Nuclear Aims

The Sunday New York Times had an article saying we have a laptop that shows that Iran is trying to build a nuclear warhead. That's just great. But we're having problems convincing other countries that we didn't fabricate this evidence too. Maybe someone should tell Bush the story of the boy who cried wolf. This is so tragic.

Strange Behavior at the F.D.A.

In another editorial today the New York Times describes yet another attack on science by the Bush Administration. I'm sick of it.

Update: More on it. Seems the GAO says the FDA did make up their mind on ideology and not science.

Decoding Mr. Bush's Denials

The New York Times has a good editorial today on how Bush's latest attempts at clarifying his decision to go to war with Iraq are lies. It goes through a lot of the issues and is a good read but I want to stick to one, because it's clear.

The NYT don't use the word lie, but that's really what it is. Bush says that Congress had the same intelligence reports he did and they came to the same conclusion. It is a lie. They did not have access to all of the same info. Since there's no way the President can't know this (it's in every paper and Senators are saying it), the only explanation for this false statement is Bush is lying to us. And what's worse, he's doing it badly.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Graham eliminates Habeas Corpus for detainees

SCOTUSBlog has a good summary of the issues involved with Senator Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) efforts to eliminate the statutory right of habeas corpus for alien detainees held by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo.

It's of course not clear if they had this right (though the Supreme Court ruled they do in 2004). But I think the effects of the amendment are bad. Both from a world opinion point of view and by the fact it's saying that the executive branch can do whatever it wants outside of the US. It's codifying loopholes and it's wrong.

Pope Echoes Arguments of Intelligent Design Advocates

Oh well, it seem Pope Benedict XVI is hinting at intelligent design unlike his predecessor who hinted at evolution.

Bush Lies, Proof at Think Progress

Think Progress gives various details on why Bush's claim that congress had the same intelligence on Iraq that he did is "patently false". No wonder polls show most of the country thinks he's dishonest.

Thoughts on Alito

Andrew Sullivan points at an article by Jeffrey Rosen on Alito. It's at The New Republic which requires a little more to their registration than I want to give so I have to depend on Sullivan's quote. Alito could be a Thomas or a Roberts and we'll have to see based on some answers to questions. Really the quote is better than that.

Carol Platt Liebau asks: Who Is Lying About Iraq? She Is.

I don't know who she is but in Who Is Lying About Iraq? Carol Platt Liebau quotes various Democrats from 1998 saying they thought Saddam ha WMDs. Of course that's different from in 2003. Remember the UN investigating and saying they didn't find any WMDs but that Saddam had been uncooperative so they should keep investigating?

What about the much maligned Joe Wilson report. What he actually came back with was that officials in Niger said Iraq asked about buying uranium but Niger was fearful of selling it to an embargoed nation so said no (see the embargo worked!). When the right says Wilson's report proved Iraq was trying, that may be true, but it also proves they didn't succeed.

Oh and those aluminum tubes we heard about that could make nuclear bombs. But what about those reports that we didn't hear that no they couldn't. All those qualifiers in the intelligence the administration didn't want to bother us with. Colin Powell telling the UN, this isn't supposition "these are facts".

See there's another difference between 2003 and 1998. The Clinton administration didn't wage a pre-emptive war on their suspicions.

Winning the War in Iraq by John McCain

John McCain gives a long speech onWinning the War in Iraq by John McCain. I think it's the most detailed policy statement I've ever heard a politician give.

John Cusack On Bush

The Huffington Post gets articles from all kinds of people. John Cusack's posting is a fun read.

The Economist Catches Up To Me

The Economist has a good editorial on Bush's torture policy: How to lose friends and alienate people.

Fun With Home Networking

I've previously written about problems trying to setup Wireless Printing at Home. I got to revisit that today.

OS X 10.4.3 came out and went pretty smoothly for me but I found reconnecting to my home network when waking the laptop up from sleep was now slower and didn't always work. So I did some searches and there have been a number of problems with 10.4.3, great. I also installed the AirPort update 2005-001 which was supposed to improve interoperability with 3rd party routers (I have a D-Link DI-524), but it didn't.

I did find that my router had a fireware upgrade out, so I tried that. Of course I forgot that the upgrade also deletes all configuration information...without warning. So I reconfigure things. My AirPort wasn't connecting but my PowerBook was. Then I turned on encryption and things weren't so smooth again. The new feature in the firmware upgrade was WPA2 support (better encryption) but even though the PowerBook said it supported it, it didn't work. I got the PowerBook working with the older WPA encryption, though it was still slow when waking. Now I had to make the AirPort work. After a lot of failed attempts I finally reset it and got it configured to connect to my network without encryption.

Now everything works great. When I wake up the PowerBook it can see the AirPort. So the original problem was of course encryption. Products made by two different companies (D-Link and Apple) both claim to support WPA (1 and 2) encryption but don't work together. Standards suck and security sucks. I'll make due with MAC filtering for now. I can probably solve the problem by buying an AirPort Extreme (I need that version to connect my PC via an ethernet cable) but really $200 for that when my D-Link cost $20. Then again, today was another 4 hours of my life wasted configuring a home network.

Ken Mehlman is Evil

Ken Mehlman was on Meet the Press today and he is just evil. Tim Russet asked him about the information leading to war. He just kept dodging questions and misleading. He repeats that democrats had the same info and concluded going to war. Russet points out that no the president had more info and that he's accussed of cherry picking. Mehlman cites some other study that said the info the president had was more conclusive, which can't be true since there weren't WMD nor a program to build them. And we know that he removed the caveats from the intelligence before sharing it with the world ("may have" became "has").

When the quesitons got too tough he falls back on should we have waited until he did have weapons before taking him out. This is just a ridiculous argument. It could be used for any nation. Let's attack Britian before they become our enemy. Iraq was not planning an attack and wasn't reconstituting their weapons program. Saddam was bluffing that he was, throwing up a smoke screen saying he was more dangerous than he was (hmmm, sounds like Fitzgerald's baseball analogy applies here).

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sony's EULA is worse than their rootkit

Sony is not doing well dealing with the "virus" their music CD installs. Virus isn't the right word, but it's what the non-techie will understand. The right word is rootkit and it's a piece of software, if you will, installed into the roots of your computer that is very hard to remove and could be a hole virus writers use as well as cause problems for your computer. A Sony exec responded to criticism about this by saying if you don't know what a rootkit is why do you care? I don't know how Ebola kills you but I'd care if I caught it.

So here's an article that says Sony's EULA is worse than their rootkit. The list of things the EULA prevents (moving out of the country, playing music at work, using backups if you're robbed, using it as background music for a slideshow) is absurd. Maybe someday we'll change things so that when you buy things you own them, you don't just license them.

Did Republican Senators Leak About CIA Prisons?

This does sound a little too conspiracy oriented for me, but Media Matters is normally quite good at getting facts right. According to an
article today it seems Trent Lott of all people said that most of the info in one of the articles was spoken about the day before at a republican senate luncheon. Wow.

History's Worst Software Bugs

Perhaps not as debatable as a Top 10 Movie list but Wired'sHistory's Worst Software Bugs is an interesting read.

Republicans Miss the Point on a New Leak Investigation

A week ago a story broke that the CIA had a secret network of detention centers in several countries around the world including eastern Europe. Which if true, would violate European Human Rights principles, but apparently not US ones. Condoleezza Rice dodged questions about the prisons, suggesting it's true. Great.

Mirroring the events of the Plame affair, the CIA general counsel made a referral to the Justice Department for an investigation into a leak of classified information. Which also suggests it's true.

So what do Republican Congressional leaders Bill Frist (R-TN) and Dennis Hastert (R-IL) do? They call for a congressional investigation into the....leak, missing the point entirely. Now expect the Republicans to say well if you have to investigate leaks about Plame you have to for leaks like this as well. There's a difference, Plame wasn't a humans rights violation or an embarrassment to our country.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

John McCain has Tivo

He just said so on the Daily Show :) And he loves the TV show "24".

Kansas Anti-Evolution Hat-Trick

For the third time in 6 years the Kansas Board of Education
has voted against evolution in their curriculum. This time around students will learn evolution and learn about Intelligent Designs issue with it.

While that might sound okay it misses the point. ID should not be taught in science class because it's not science. It's not a theory that makes predictions of things that can be tested. But Kansas took care of that too: "In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena."

"This is a sad day. We're becoming a laughingstock of not only the nation, but of the world, and I hate that," said board member Janet Waugh. I'd laugh at them if it weren't so sad.

It Continues to Get Worse for Bush

Things are just miserable for the Bush Administration. His Latin America trip was useless (remember when he ran against Gore, one of his strengths was his relationship with Latin America and the fact he spoke Spanish). Torture and Cheney dominate the news and the administrations seems incapable of doing anything right.

Now The Independent publishes an article entitledUS forces 'used chemical weapons' during assault on city of Fallujah which points to video evidence from an Italian news channel. If this is true I don't know how Bush finishes his second term in office.

3 Stories on Bush Today

Bush is in Argentina but the questions he's gotten (at least from US reporters) have been about indictments and prisoner treatment. Here are 3 news stories today about it. They're all pretty short and it's worth reading them to see the difference.

From ABC News we have Bush Declares: 'We Do Not Torture'.

In the Washington Post we have Bush Defends CIA's Clandestine Prisons.

From Aljazeera we have
Bush: Terror Suspects Not Tortured.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Apple has Taste, MS Doesn't

I guess I really have become a mac lover. Look at the slides and UIs shown at this Microsoft Technology Preview. Aren't these ridiculously ugly? Compare them with one of Steve Jobs' presentations.

Avoid Call Center Hell

Hate those automated voice systems you get when you call a company? Know the trick that dialing zero often gets you to human? Annoyed that it's working less and less? Paul English was and developed an online Cheat Sheet to Find-A-Human. There are hundreds of companies in it.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

More Proof Bush Lied About Iraq

The New York Times is kinder to Bush than I am. In their article they write Senator Levin (D-MI) said "called the Bush administration's misuse of prewar intelligence to try to justify the war in Iraq". I call it lying.

A newly declassified document that the source for much of the info Bush, Cheney and Powell used to justify the war was known to be likely fabrications months before This seems to be the first of much more info to come out. If true, it's clearly justification for impeachment if not war crimes. Remember all those times we were told there's "no doubt" and "we know".

Tomlinson Tried to Make PBS Partisan, Worked With Rove

Ken Tomlinson was the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which funds PBS. On Tuesday CPB's Inspector General issued a report detailing Tomlinson's efforts to impose a partisan agenda on PBS, NPR and other publicly funded programming.

On Thursday he resigned and is now the subject of a criminal inquiry which it seems involves communications with...Karl Rove. Wow the man is everywhere.

13,997 Pork Projects in Fiscal 2005

Citizens Against Government Waste have released their 2005 Congressional Pig Book.

"Once again, Congress porked out at record levels. For fiscal 2005, appropriators stuffed 13,997 projects into the 13 appropriations bills, an increase of 31 percent over last year’s total of 10,656. In the last two years, the total number of projects has increased by 49.5 percent. The cost of these projects in fiscal 2005 was $27.3 billion, or 19 percent more than last year’s total of $22.9 billion. In fact, the total cost of pork has increased by 21 percent since fiscal 2003. Total pork identified by CAGW since 1991 adds up to $212 billion."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Torture is a crime, not a policy

I've never heard of the Cincinnati Post but they seem to be the first paper in the country to call out Bush for his torture policy. Thankfully someone is.

Opinio Juris: The Sands-Yoo Debate

The Opinio Juris blog points to a Debate between Professors Philippe Sands and John Yoo about US Torture policies. Yoo worked in the Justice dept between 2001 and 2003 and helped to form the current policy about obligations to enemy combatants under the Geneva Convention. Sands nails him hard a couple of times. There are audio downloads of the slightly over 1 hour debate.

More on Alito

Bill Scher on the Huffington Post has more on Alito. Again we get the bit that his rulings aren't necessarily his opinions but those of the law and the Supreme Court's rulings which he is bound by. Ok. He also points to some articles saying Alito is bad on the environment, works rights, and equality for women and minors. In trying to follow those cases I found them to be less than detailed, but you may find differently.

The Google Print Issue

Groklaw as a phenomenal summary of the Google Print issue. If you don't know, Google wants to index all the worlds books and make their content searchable online. The Author's Guild has filed a class action suit on behave of 8000 authors, claiming that it would be copyright infringement. Groklaw gives a good summary of the project and of the legal issues involved. Well worth a read.

Italy Denies Distributing Dossier On Uranium

Remember those reasons to go to war with Iraq? One of them was a dossier from the Italian Secret Service (SISMI) that said Saddam Hussein tried to by uranium from Niger. Well according to the AP, yesterday, Enzo Bianco, chairman of an oversight committee on secret service denied that SISMI ''ever had a role in the dossier that was supposed to have demonstrated that Iraq was in an advanced phase of possession of enriched uranium." Previously we knew the dossier was a fake, but now it seems we don't even know where it came from. I wonder where it did come from....

Did Cheney Authorize Torture?

Dan Froomkin writes about Lawrence Wilkerson's claims that while chief of staff to Colin Powell "he had uncovered a 'visible audit trail' tracing the practice of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers directly back to Vice President Cheney's office." I'm shocked, just shocked. It's still hearsay but I'd really like to hear Cheney speak up.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Alito Conflict of Interest

This Boston Globe article describes a 2002 case that Alito ruled on in spite of an alleged conflict of interest. The plaintiff Shantee Maharaj, was suing Vanguard. Alito had hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in Vanguard funds and ruled in Vanguards favor.

"In 1990, when Alito was seeking US Senate approval for his nomination to be a circuit judge, he said in written answers to a questionnaire that he would disqualify himself from 'any cases involving the Vanguard companies.'" In 2003 responding to complaints by Maharaj he said ''I do not believe that I am required to disqualify myself based on my ownership of the mutual fund shares."

You know he'll be asked about this in the hearings.

Alito's Abortion Ruling in Casey vs O'Connor's

The Pitsburgh Post-Gazette had this interesting analysis of Alito's abortion decision in Casey compared to O'Connor's. I did more research on the topic and found this Slate article which seems a little more complete. If you want further reading, I found this 5 page PDF helpful.

City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health was a 1983 case where the court found that 5 provisions regulating abortion were unconstitutional. O'Connor was in the minority and wrote a dissent stating that the trimester framework of Roe was unworkable and she put forth an "undue burden" test.

In 1989s Webster v Reproductive Health Services, 4 Missouri statutes were challenged including restrictions on use of public facilities and funding to perform abortions. Basically the court held 5-4 that the restrictions were okay. There were 3 concurring opinions and O'Connor wrote one that reiterated the "undue burden" test, now in a concurring opinion, it is law.

Then comes Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey which tested five provisions of PA law: informed consent, spousal notification (not consent), parental concent (with bypass), a 24-hour waiting period and certain reporting requirements for abortion facilities. The District Court found all five were unconstitutional. In 1991 the appeal went to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals where Alito sat with two other judges. All three agreed that they needed to determine if the restrictions were an "undue burden". All three judges agreed 4 of the regulations were not an undue burden and upheld. On the spousal notification issue there was disagreement. The other two justices said it was an undue burden and won, Alito dissented saying it was not an undue burden. So the question is, what constitutes an "undue burden".

In fact it was a question asked before. In his concurring opinion on Webster, Justice Scalia wrote: "I know of no basis for determining that this particular burden (or any other for that matter) is 'due.' One could with equal justification conclude that it is not." I wonder how he would define a "reasonable doubt".

Circuit Court judges must work within existing Supreme Court decisions. Alito pointed out that O'Connor had once written that an undue burden "has been found for the most part in situations involving absolute obstacles or severe limitations on the abortion decision." He reasoned, that since it was just notification and not consent it wasn't a veto (which was explicitly disallowed in Planned Parenthood of Central Mo. v. Danforth (1976)) And since the husband would have a "compelling interest" in the welfare of the fetus the state had a rationale for the restriction.

Supreme Court Justices are not limited by previous decisions, though almost all use great caution in overturning previous decisions. The Supreme Court ruling on Casey in 1992 was significant in that it explicitly upheld Roe, but it also changed the rules, "Roe's rigid trimester framework is rejected." Instead, it said "a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability" and it reaffirmed Roe's holding that "subsequent to viability, the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother". The rules restricting abortions "must not be an undue burden" and "may not impose unnecessary health regulations that present a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion". So now the test is "substantial obstacle" which Rehnquist argues in his dissent, isn't much clearer. Under the new "substantial obstacle" rule the Supreme Court found 4 restrictions did not pose an undue burden and were allowed. The spousal notification restriction was found to be an undue burden and was overturned.

The proposed notification law had exceptions if the spouse isn't the father, could not be located, would cause bodily harm to the mother, or if the pregnacy was the result of a reported spousal sexual assault. Still, O'Connor found that there were "many many" women who would be blocked from an abortion in situations such as: an unreported sexual assualt or "devastating forms of psychological abuse from their husbands, including verbal harassment, threats of future violence, the destruction of possessions, physical confinement to the home, the withdrawal of financial support, or the disclosure of the abortion to family and friends". So she found "the spousal notification requirement is thus likely to prevent a significant number of women from obtaining an abortion. It does not merely make abortions a little more difficult or expensive to obtain; for many women, it will impose a substantial obstacle."

The Post-Gazette article quotes Planned Parenthood's lawyer in Casey saying "O'Connor's view of what was an 'undue burden' changed significantly. The Casey opinion was one of the most feminist decisions in history." As the Slate article descirbed it, Alito had a "sunnier, husband-centered version of marriage". But O'Connor wrote in the Casey decision: "The proper focus of constitutional inquiry is the group for whom the law is a restriction, not the group for whom the law is irrelevant." We should understand that Alito was bound by what the current Supreme Court rulings were at the time, and O'Connor was able to change them. Nevertheless, the other 3rd Circuit Judges found the spousal notification restriction was and undue burden but since their decision isn't online, I can't read it.

Michael Brown Emails During Katrina

This CNN article is just amazing. A LA congressman posted some of the email and it's really disgusting. During the crisis he's sending emails trying to find a dog sitter. An aid is telling him to roll up his sleeves on camera to look more hard-working, and pointing out that even Bush did so.

He sent this on Mon, Aug 29th at 7:52 AM, about 2 hours after Katrina made landfall in LA: "I got it at Nordsstroms. Email McBride and make sure she kniows! Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?" That's a hell of a job Brownie.

Sony Boycott over DRM

The Inquirer has a good story about the new Sony DRM scheme. I think it was Mark Russinovich who originallyfound the problem. To summarize, he bought the Van Zant's brothers CD "Get Right with the Man" which is marked as a "Copy-Protected CD" but then found it surreptitiously installs very nasty software on your computer made by a company called First 4 Internet.

Mark's article describes how bad the software is. It uses techniques that viruses and other really nasty programs use. It slows down your computer and is not easily removed (in fact, trying to do so might damage your computer). The Inquirer article describes Sony's reaction: "So, rather than come clean, Sony minimises the problem, blames the user, and refuses to help you out."

So here's the problem. Companies want to prevent illegal copying. I'm fine with that, but the problem is there's no way to do that without restricting legitimate users from doing legitimate things. I also think there are more good users than bad users. I might loan or give someone a song or album thinking they might like it. If they do, they'll go buy it or other music by the group, that's a good thing. The pirates are bad, but they are also ones who weren't going to give the record companies much money anyway. I don't think they are losing business as much as being stolen from, there's a difference and they shouldn't hurt their legitimate customers to correct it.

Data and software really should stay separate, you should be able to open a data file with any program you want, not just what the owner wants you to use. This allows for competition in software, smooth upgrades, and protection of content if a company goes out of business or discontinues a product. This is why MA is trying to switch from MS Office documents to an Open Document Format that many programs can read. It's a good thing, but I also don't think it can be legislated. I think the only way to fight this is economically. Sony just lost my business, until they stop such practices.

Today Show Embarrasses Science

The Today show had a segment this morning on the 2005 Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge. They began with a spokewoman from the Discovery Institute explaining that we lose kids in science in middle school and they are trying to change that witheducational programs and contests. I note the today show couldn't get the name of the contest right for the text on the screen, they just wrote "Discovery Scientist Challenge".

They introduced Neela Thangada, 14, who was the grand prizewinner this last year. As she described it, she cloned potatoes to produce a higher yield of crops. In her profile linked to above, she measured the effects of different nutrient concentrations on the cloning process.

The theme of the challenge this year was "forces of nature" and they had two museum-like experiments set up. They had two water containers setup, one was a tornado and the other a tsunami. In one they created a vortex and then put a propellor in to measure the windspeed. It's closer near the vortex then further away. In the other they had a shoreline setup and pulled a lever to generated a wave to see the effects on the shore and on some buoys setup off shore.

The Today show host was David Gregory, who I normally like in the White House Press room, but here he was an idiot. While Neela was explaining the experiments he tried to keep up and to dumb down her descriptions for the audience. She said "the model was 1/20 the size of the actual experiment". He had to explain "so this is a minature version". As the vortex started and there were lots of bubbles in the water he says "are we making a smoothie or a tornado?" She asked his prediction for where the higher speeds were (that would be forming a hypothesis to test). He said "Hmm, I don't know how about away from the...I say closest to the ah funnel actually". You know his ear piece corrected him. Then as he had problems putting the measuring device into the tank he said "There's something in there. There's a shark in there!"

They then moved to the tsunami demo as they were running out of time. Neela described it well in about 30 seconds. He then came in and said "all right, all right, we're gonna have to leave it there, lets keep doing it, seeing how it works here". He then pushed the lever back and forth to make a huge wave, much as a child would. Neela was literally laughing at what he was doing. When they came back from commercial the next segement James Blunt singing a song from his new album. Edward R. Murrow must have been rolling over in his grave.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Restaurant Review: Morimoto

For my one dinner in Philadelphia I choose Morimoto. A friend recommended it and I was a fan of Iron Chef so I had to try it. It's one long narrow modern room. See the site for pictures, mine didn't come out. The booths aren't really booths but free standing tables and chairs (and benches) with thick plastic walls separating the tables. As you progress through your meal, you realize the plastic walls slowly change colors. At some point you think, wasn't that blue before? There's a menu but the specialty is Omakase which is a chef's choice. It's priced at three levels, $80, $100 or $120 per person. The difference is the quality of ingredients they choose from. For $60 more you can have wine paired with the dishes. I choose the $120 figuring I wasn't coming back any time soon and skipped the wine instead opting for a Morimoto Martini (Sake, Vodka and some slices of cucumber) which was tasty. They asked if I had any alergies and then brought out 9 courses of surprises.

My 1st course was Toro Tartare. It was tuna mashed with something a little crunchy stuff, topped with caviar. On the side was wasabi and I was instructed to have a little wasabi with each bite. It was absolutely delicious. A great texture and flavor, very fresh. Next to the wasabi was a small fruit called Yamamomo which I was told is a small mountain peach and was a refresher for between courses. Inside is a pit but the flesh was sweet and tasty.

My 2nd course was 3 oysters served on the half shell. One with Champagne, one with a thin slice of jalapeno and one with some salsa. Now I don't like oysters but II hadn't mentioned this and was willing to try anything, so I did. They were good, particularly the champagne and jalapeno ones. Forgive the picture, I forgot when the dish came out, so picture the oysters being in the shells you see.

My 3rd course was Thai Red Snapper, 4 slices sashimied, seared and served in some olive oil. It was just ok. The fish was nice but it was very oily. Again, sorry about the pic, just imagine 3 more slices beneath this one. Really I got better at this.

The 4th course was I think called compache, supposedly an exotic form of yellowtail. It was two sashimi slices and some microgreens in a very tasty umi soy vinaigrette. Only problem was the fish was little tough, I had to eat each piece in one bite.

The 5th course was a palette cleanser, a scoop of sherbert. I tried a bite and it was very good, raspberry I thought. I had a few more bites and tasted some wasabi. At first I thought it was left over from the tuna tartare, but that didn't make sense and I only tasted it while having the sherbert, not between bites. I asked and yes, the palette cleanser was a raspberry wasabi sherbert. It was good and the wasabi was very mild, but I never would have thought to use wasabi cleanse your palatte.

My 6th course was tilefish. It was cooked and served over japanese vegetables and some grain and sliced almonds. It was in a fantastic sweet soy dressing. There were some small tempura somethings. They might have been peas but seemed a little big for that. They were hot from the fryer and really good.

My 7th course was a half lobster that was spiced and broiled. Instead of butter it was served with a citris crème fraîche which made this absolutely decadent. I'm not a big lobster person. I normally just think the flavor is ok and can't be bothered eating it from the shell. This was amazing and I picked the meat out of every small leg and place I could find. This was the best part of the meal.

While waiting for my next course I looked down at the sushi bar and realized their sushi would probably be really good. i wondered if the chef would be insulted if after the meal I ordered a few pieces of sushi to try. Well it turns out my 8th course was six pieces of sushi. From left to right: otoro, yellowtail, salmon, something, squid, and mackerel. This was the best sushi I've had in the US. I can't really explain why. I think because I had the more expensive meal they were high quality cuts of fish. Whatever it was, it was yummy.

While waiting for dessert I realized I should have said I loved chocolate. Again, they seem to have read my mind and brought a chocolate cake for my 9th course. With the cake was a scoop of (I think vanilla) ice cream, a sake flavored jelly and 3 almonds. The sake jelly was awful and I didn't like it with the rest of the flavors. The ice cream was fine, smooth and creamy. The chocolate cake was unfortunately not molten but was rather cupcake-like, which was disappointing. Though I have to say, the three almonds were by far the best I've ever had, they were just astounding. The black coffee was very strong.

So that was it. $150 total and two hours long. Very tasty but not consistent, I had some amazing things (the tuna tartare, sushi and the lobster) and some just ok things. I wouldn't say the best meal I've ever had though I would definately come back and have the omakase again, though I'd probably get one of the cheaper ones.

Movie Review: Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

I love the Wallace & Gromit films. If you haven't heard of them, Wallace is and inventor and Gromit is his very intelligent dog. They have been in several animated shorts, two of which ("The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave") have won Academy Awards. They are done by Nick Park of Aardman Animation in painstaking claymation. Park also did Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" music video which you might have seen. Their first feature length film was Chicken Run and this is the first time Wallace and Gromit have been in a full length (85 minute) feature.

In this film, our duo run Anti-Pesto, a humane pest remover which the whole town seems to have hired to protect their prized vegetables from rabbits. There's an annual fair coming up and they all want to win. They of course have some wonderful devices to help them, including the Bun-Vac 6000 (which has two settings: Blow and Suck). While Anti-Pesto seems to be protecting the town efectively, soon a giant beast starts attacking and they have their work cut out for them. Their premire customer, Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) also runs the fair and hopes to win. Her suitor is Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes) who wants to pursue a less humane way to deal with the beast.

The animation is of course amazing, though I noticed some small special effects thrown in in a couple of places. In their first film, A Grand Day out, the flame on a match was clay, didn't look like it in this one. The plot moves pretty quickly and there are several good chase scenes and a lot of puns. However I did find it quite predictable. I couldn't guess to far ahead, but very often I knew what the next step was, and that's all you really need to blow any suspense. The other thing I was disappointed in was that there wasn't enough Gromit. The Wrong Trousers was very effective at making you feel sorry for Gromit and giving you a big emotional attachment to the film. A Close Shave couldn't quite match that. In this film, Gromit's seems mostly reduced to inaudibly groaning at Wallace's incompetence and of course saving the day. I enjoyed the film a lot and laughed out loud several times, but I liked the last two more.