Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bush Approval: Challenging Nixon

Mystery Pollster is a blog on Political Polling. Today's post is about State of the Union polling. This is what to expect: "First, CNN/USAToday/Gallup and perhaps CBS News will conduct instant reaction polls among speech watchers who will express great enthusiasm for the President and his address. Second, the traditional poll of all Americans conducted in the weeks following the speech will show little or no 'bump' in the President's job approval ratings."

Apparently the people that watch are predisposed to like Bush because those that don't like him, simply don't watch. What a surprise. So any poll of those that watched the speech is skewed from the general population.

But the fun statistic is the graph below (click it for full size) showing approval ratings of Presidents Nixon, Clinton, and W. over their presidencies. With current approval ratings at 42%, Bush isn't doing so good. The circled data is Clinton's State of the Union (SOTU) speech.

Bush: Challenging Nixon

Theories on Pakistan Attack

The Asia Times has an interesting article speculating on the motivations behind the January bombing in Bajur by the US that killed 18 civilians and no al Qaeda leadership. It's worth a read but here are the concluding paragraphs:

"The Bajur attack is more political than military," said former ISI chief Gul. "On one side it carried a message that they [the Americans] would play their game of 'war on terror' on their terms, and would destroy their enemies, even on Pakistani soil. The killing of Nek Mohammed, Hamza Rabia and the current incident of Bajur are examples.

"However, there is reverse swing [an unexpected angle] in this game," said Gul. "The Americans cannot get any concrete evidence on Iran's nuclear program [that it plans to build nuclear weapons], and without such evidence they will not take the matter to the [United Nations] Security Council. They have been pressing hard on Pakistan to hand over Dr A Q Khan for interrogation because they understand that this is the only way to get evidence on Iran's nuclear program. So apparently they are trying to put Pakistan in a serious quagmire by giving it the option to either bear constant air strikes in Pakistani territory or hand over Dr Khan," Gul maintained.

"At the same time, to further strangulate Musharraf, they are once again beating the drum of democracy. Now there are clear voices from Washington in favor of democracy in Pakistan. I recall a situation in which the late Pakistani premier, Mohammed Khan Junejo, visited the US [in 1986], and when he returned, his attitude towards the late [dictator] General Zia ul-Haq changed. To me, Shaukat Aziz' [present] US visit, given the current situation, is of significance and we will have to see what secret message he brings back with him," Gul said.

Oscar Nom Results

I made my predictions and the nominations came out this morning. I did 5/5 in Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay and 4/5 in each of the acting categories and Original Screenplay. I picked 5 for Animated Film and there are only 3 nominations but all were films I picked. I only picked 4 for Documentary and there were 5 nominations, 3/4 I picked.

Interesting that King Kong and Narnia both got nominations in each of the 3 effects categories (sound mixing, sound editing, visual effects) and that Sith didn't get any. In fact Sith only got one nomination for Makeup.

Overall Brokeback Mountain got 8 nominations, Good Night and Good Luck got 7, Crash and Memoirs of a Geisha got 6, Walk the Line and Capote got 5. John Williams was nominated twice for Original Score, for Munich and Memoirs of a Geisha.

I have a lot of films to see:
  • A History of Violence
  • Hustle & Flow
  • Junebug
  • Mrs. Henderson Presents
  • Transamerica
  • Pride & Prejudice
  • Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • The New World
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • War of the Worlds
  • Darwin's Nightmare
  • Street Fight

Monday, January 30, 2006


Chewy has a blog!.

Movie Review: Walk the Line

Walk the Line is a biography of Johnny Cash. I've never been a fan of his or his music. This movie didn't change my mind. He had some hits, became an addict, was miserable to everyone that cared about him. Yes his father was a drunk and blamed Johnny for the death of his older brother but that doesn't excuse his behavior. Johnny married and had two daughters but he fell in love with June Carter who he toured with. She helped him get clean and eventually agreed to marry him.

What is impressive in this film are the performances by joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash. They are believable in both their private and their stage personnas. And, it's quite impressive that they did their own singing, in the voices of their characters. They are both guaranteed Oscar nominations tomorrow.

It's really June's life that was much more interesting to me. She was a child star of a performing family. She learned to do comedy because her voice wasn't as strong as her sister's and she managed a successful career. Her personal life wasn't as successful as she divorced twice while it was still something frowned upon. What she saw in Johnny I don't know and I don't think it was shown well in the film. I wish the film had concentrated on her instead of Johnny, her story has much more to it.

Heck of a Job Brownie

The New York Times reports Interior Dept. Report Describes FEMA's Scant Use of Its Help. it lists several failings. An Interior Department staff of 4,400 skilled officers wasn't called till late September. Amtrak offered to help evacuate citizens but the train left almost empty.

"Monday's scheduled hearing, on the search and rescue efforts, is the first of two weeks of hearings by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which hopes to wrap up its investigation by mid-March."

Oscar Nomination Predictions

Oscar nominations come out tomorrow, here are my predictions for them:

Best Picture
Brokeback Mountain
Good Night, and Good Luck

Best Director
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Bennett Miller, Capote
George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck
Paul Haggis, Crash
Steven Speilberg, Munich

Best Actor
David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Russell Crowe, Cinderella Man

Best Actress
Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
Judi Dench, Mrs Henderson Presents
Charlize Theron, North Country
Ziyi Zhang, Memoirs of a Geisha

Best Supporting Actor
Don Cheadle, Crash
George Clooney, Syriana
Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain
Matt Dillon, Crash
Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Junebug
Catherine Keener, Capote
Maria Bello, A History of Violence
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener

Best Original Screenplay
Cinderella Man
Good Night, and Good Luck
The Squid and the Whale

Best Adapted Screenplay
A History of Violence
Brokeback Mountain
The Constant Gardener

Best Animated Feature
Chicken Little
Howl's Moving Castle
The Corpse Bride
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Best Documentary Feature
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Mad, Hot Ballroom
March of the Penguins

Movie Review: Brokeback Mountain

Much has been made of "the gay cowboy movie" and in spite of the fact that President Bush hasn't seen it, it seems it will be a favorite come Oscar time, so it was on my list to see. I knew nothing about the plot going into it. I saw it with a friend who had read the 40 page short story it was based it on. She said it was very faithfully adapted.

Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) are two ranch hands who take a job in the summer of 1963 herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain. Basically it's just the two of them up on the mountain, one minding camp while the other watches the sheep. Ennis is the quiet type, barely saying a word, but as the weeks go by Jack gets him to talk a bit. One cold night, Ennis is outside freezing and Jack tells him to join him in the tent. And then they start going at it. Really, to me this was right out of the blue. My friend said it happened on page 3 so I guess that's why. In spite of the fact they both say it was a one time thing and that neither of them is "queer", it happens again.

One day their boss seems them frolilcing outside. The job comes to an end a month early. Whether it's because of an early snow storm or because the boss is discriminating against them isn't clear, just like real discrimination isn't always clear. After a barely uttered "See you around" each go their own way.

Ennis stays in Wyoming and Jack moves to Texas. Each marries and has children and 4 years later Jack writes Ennis saying he'll be in town and asking if he wants to go on a weekend trip to Brokeback. Ennis agrees and as soon as Jack arrives they have a passonate embrass behind a building. Ennis' wife Alma (Michelle Williams) catches a glimpse of it and is devastated. But she doesn't say anything.

We see the relationship remain stagnant over 20 years while the rest of their lives fall apart. Alma divorses Ennis, Lureen (Anne Hathaway) and Jack grow apart, Ennis can't keep a relationship with a waitress going. Jack would like the two of them to get their own ranch, but Ennis tells the story of two men who had their own ranch where he grew up who were the laughing stock of the town, until they were killed. No instead Ennis is content with their fishing trips several times a year. But he's not really.

It seems the answers to all his problems would be for Ennis to say he's gay, but that's the one thing he can't do. Brokeback Mountain is a film with beautiful scenery, long pauses, tragic supporting characters, and a forbidden love. I've seen a review say this could be about someone not pursuing a love of cabinetmaking, trying to get passed the gay stigma. I think that's going a bit too far. Which is the same way I feel about all the praise this film has generated, I think it goes a bit too far. It's a good film, but I don't see why it's great.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Debate on Climate Shifts to Issue of Irreparable Change

The Washington Post has an article called the Debate on Climate Shifts to Issue of Irreparable Change.

Scientists agree the earth is warming, now the question is, how long do we have to act. There are several events that if they happen will be very difficult if not impossible to correct. The article cites three things: "widespread coral bleaching that could damage the world's fisheries within three decades; dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century that would take tens of thousands of years to reverse; and, within 200 years, a shutdown of the ocean current that moderates temperatures in northern Europe."

NASA said 2005 was the warmest year on record. "It's not something you can adapt to," Hansen said in an interview. "We can't let it go on another 10 years like this. We've got to do something."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

No Really the US Budget is in Bad Shape

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is generally a good organization. They say the budget is in good shape to be balanced by 2012. But....The Heritage Foundation says that may be true but the CBO is required by law to make some assumptions which may have an inpact on that prediction.

What are those assumptions? Little things like: no more money for Iraq or Afghanistan or for US Gulf Coast reconstruction. Those things certainly couldn't have a budget impact now could they? So they recomputed the CBO's estimates with corrections for these assumptions. Instead of a balanced budget by 2012 they see a $805 billion deficit in 2015, that's $6,500 per household.

The Heritage Foundation says the problem isn't revenue as much as spending and the real problem is Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Now I remember the President having a plan to fix Social Security, I hated his plan, but he did offer one. The mechanism the Democrats used to combat the plan was to say Social Security was not broken. I didn't agree with that then and I don't agree with it now.

Bush Hates Science (Again)

The New York Times reports: "The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming."

Friday, January 27, 2006

Border Security a Joke

Federal authorities have found the largest drug tunnel crossing the US-Mexico border. It's more than 1200 yards long, "made of concrete, the passageway had lighting, electricity, ventilation and a pump to remove water, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement."

It had 2 tons of marijuana so it's assumed to have been made by a drug cartel. "More than 20 cross-border tunnels have been uncovered in California and Arizona since 9/11, she added." They attribute the increase in tunnels to tighter border security since 9/11.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

What's on My Mac 2

Last July I listed What's On My Mac. I figure it's time for an update. I'm running the lastest version of OS X software, 10.4.4. Unless otherwise noted everything listed is free.
  • Safari - Last time I listed Camino as my browser of choice, I'm backing to using Safari. Camino is good, and does have better ad blocking than Safari, but it's still not at 1.0 (though it is getting closer) and there's another feature that's become more important to me. Safari uses native Cocoa widgets for text, so the standard mac features work. Namely, selecting text and typing Command-Control-d will popup a dictionary definition of the word and while editing, there's automatic spell checking and emacs-like editing keys (particularly important to me for blog entries). If Camino (or Firefox) had that, I might well switch, but really Safari does everything I need of it.
  • Aquamacs - If you don't know what Emacs is, you don't care about this. If you do, then Aquamacs is the version you want. It's the most stable and up-to-date (based on the development branch of Emacs) and works well. They are working hard at making it behave like a standard mac application and while they sometimes go too far (they deprecate user preferences in ~/.emacs to be in ~/Library/Application Support/Aquamacs/Preferences.el) it's very configurable (it's still Emacs :). I was previously using CarbonEmacs which is still a fine choice. If you use an emacs on mac, configure the Option key to be meta so, that your fingers don't get confused with the Command (aka Apple) key. Aquamacs comes configured with the standard Comand key bindings working, so Comand-S saves and Comand-C copies, so your fingers don't get confused as you switch applications. Also you'll want this hack to add more emacs keybindings to every cocoa app.
  • Quicksilver - This is really a wonderful application and is hard to describe. It's an application launcher with a very flexible plugin system which many powerful plugins. Via a trigger key (usually Command-space) you activate it and via typing can enter a noun, verb and perhaps an object to do things. Nouns can be file names, bookmarks, Address Book entries, iTunes songs, iPhoto albums, Applications, services, users, random text, etc. Verbs are things like run, copy, paste, open, compose email, send IM, append to file, etc. Objects are needed to specify things like what address to send a file to, etc. It's all modular and is really remarkable. One of the great advantages is that it's matching algorithm is very clever, working with a variety of abbreviation techniques and it learns your preferences over time. So after not too long you can do very complicated things with just a few keystrokes. The documentation isn't great so you're left learning by doing, but this basic and intermediate tutorial are quite good and this page on 43 folders hints at some powerful things. The more I use it, the more I new things I learn and more dependent on it I've become. I can now control iTunes (including rating songs) with key strokes without leaving the application I'm using.
  • Vienna - This is a free open source RSS newsreader that's clean and works well. I subscribe to about 65 feeds and read them in a 3 panel window. It can open web pages in background tabs or in Safari and feeds recognized in Safari can be automatically subscribed in Vienna via a Safari preference setting. Some memory leaks are being fixed in which is a beta and 2.0 should release soon.
  • Adium X - Until iChat adds support for Yahoo IM I need something else. Adium is the closest thing to Trillian on the mac. It uses libgaim, works very well and there are lots of extras available. I use the Dock theme which can get pictures remotely or from the Address Book. So I have a small dock-like thing on the right of my screen that has pictures of my online buddies. It seems very personal. It can't yet do video chat, I have to use iChat for that but don't use it that often.
  • Delicious Library - This is a clever app to help you keep track of your books, DVDs, CDs and Games. It only runs on Mac and won all kinds of awards when it shipped in late 2004. It's a little expensive at $40 but I've enjoyed it. Basically it's a database for your collections but it's very very pretty. It's also easy to enter information into, you give it a name or a UPC code and it looks it up on Amazon and downloads all the info, including a picture, it can even suggest similar items you might be interested in. The really neat hook is that it can use a video camera (I bought an iSight) to scan in UPC codes. I entered 150 DVDs in about an hour.
  • Microsoft Office - I can't say I use it too often but I did buy this to open docs people send me. I found the Standard edition online for $257. Many like Entourage which is the included Outlook-like app, but I use Mail.app, iCal.app and AddressBook.app and am very happy. Now there's a free option, NeoOffice/J based on OpenOffice, but I haven't tried it yet.
  • iWork - This is the suite from Apple and includes Keynote for presentations and Pages for documents (and it's rumored the next version will contain Numbers). Keynote is very impressive and Pages is ok for a 1.0. Both integrate nicely with iLife and it's interesting to see the different approach from Office. A lot of features are dealing with typography and making things print nicely but I find I need hardcopy less and less. It's $79 from Apple. I'm still using the '05 version but Ihear good thinks about the '06 update.
  • iTunes - It's obvious and came with the Mac, but I'd figure I'd list it.
  • iPhoto - This is suiting my modest digital photography needs for now. It's part of iLife and came with my Mac. I haven't upgraded to the '06 version yet but probably will.
  • Media Players - Certainly QuickTime comes with the Mac and I use it a lot. I have not spent the $30 to upgrade to QuickTime Pro. I use Windows Media Player to play WMA files though it's now been discontinued and Flip4Mac is a third-party plugin for the QuickTime Player that Microsoft is pointing people at to use. Occasionally I use Real Player, usally for NPR audio streams. If I have any other video file that doesn't play VLC will almost certainly play it.
  • Audacity - is an audio file editor. I've only recently started using it to create ringtones for my new Verizon RAZR but it seems to work quite well. It's free and open source.
  • SilverKeeper - I bought a LaCie d2 drive for backups and this came with it. It works with any drive and is freeware. So far it's been fine.
  • Azureus - This is the BitTorrent client I use.
  • Cyberduck - This is a GUI-based ftp client. While OSX has a command-line client, this is convenient to use from the finder with drag and drop. The other popular client is Transmit which does have a Quicksilver plugin, but it's $30 and I don't do that much FTP. MacWorld reviewed 3 FTP clients in July 2005.
  • Stellarium - is a free star charting program (works on Windows and Linux too). Enter your location and it will draw the stars above you. It's quite pretty and works well.
  • Tofu is a small application that displays text in narrow columns, much like a newspaper. If I'm reading a long article I'll sometimes copy the text into Tofu to make it easier to read. It supports the Mac's builtin speach recognition so you can say "Scroll Page Right" to move the page.
  • MoinX - I tried a lot of outliners for personal notetaking but found myself drawn back to wanting a wiki. I wanted a python-based one and MoinMoin seems to be the best. This is a prepacked version that's trival to install, though development seems to have stopped on it.
  • Google Earth - now runs on the Mac

Movie Review: The Squid and the Whale

As you watch The Squid and the Whale you wonder how autobiographical it is. The story of a family's divorce and the effect on the kids is filled with too much authenticity to be anything but. I found out after seeing the film, Noah Baumbach, the writer-director, was raised in Brooklyn. His father Jonathan Baumbach, was a novelist and film critic and his mother, Georgia Brown, was a critic for the Village Voice, and they did divorce.

In the film, Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) Berkman, live in Park Slope Brooklyn, in 1986, with their two sons: Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) who's in high school and younger brother Frank (Owen Kline, son of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates). Bernard's personality is the strongest in the family. He's a formerly successful writer who thinks way too much of himself. He's frustrated at his inability to get published anymore and is quick to put down others. Walt is unfortunately picking up these traits. Bernie tells him his reading assignments are the lesser works of great authors and that's a function of the education system he's stuck in. Walt of course starts repeating such things. When Walt speaks highly of Kafka's Metamorphosis to a girl in school, she reads it and wants to discuss it with him. Walt describes it as Kafkaesque which she says is self-evident, Kafka wrote it. Walt's left with nothing else, because he's never read it.

We don't know much about Joan at first, aside from the fact that she has difficulty dealing with Bernie. We also know that she's begun writing herself and is having some success at getting published. This only adds to Bernie's frustrations. I found myself siding with Joan on many of the arguments but we learn later that she's made her mistakes and is no saint either.

Early on, Bernard moves 5 subways stops away and they take joint custody of the kids and the cat. I found it very amusing when one of of Walt's friends explains why he hates joint custody vs other custody arrangements. We watch how the children take sides in the various issues. One of Bernies students (Anna Paquin) moves in with him and teenage Walt develops crush for her. Joan starts dating the tennis pro (William Baldwin) who Frank idolizes and Bernie calls a Philistine.

What's sad is neither is a good parent. The children swear, turn violent, plagerize, lie, and each learns to hate one of their parents. Frank, who seems about 12 years old, drinks beer and whiskey and no one seems to care. This is not the ideal family situation. You see them make one mistake after another, but these aren't melodramatic movie mistakes, they are small things that add up.

It's very engaging and the acting is excellent. This is probably Jeff Daniels best role. Laura Linney does her usualy wonderful job and the two kids pull off very difficult roles. The music is awesome. I was humming Hey You for a couple of days after seeing this and any soundtrack that has Schoolhouse Rocks on it is okay in my book.

There's a lot to really like about this film, but there is also unfortunately a flaw. Baumach isn't sure what he wants to say with this story. There isn't so much a story arc as there is a weak wrapup with a nod to Citizen Kane. As Bernie says to his student, there are worse things to draw from, but it doesn't really work. While we've gotten to know these interesting characters well, we don't really see how things turn out for them. Maybe that's the point, but it still left me a little cold.

Specter writes Gonzales

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) has written a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales with 15 questions he'd like him to address at the Senate hearings scheduled for Feb 6, 2006, about "Wartime Executive Power and the NSA's Surveillance Authority." The 15 questions on the 3 pages are worth a read.

Bush Mine Safety Administrator Walks Out of Senate Hearing

Is there anyone in this administration who doesn't have contempt for Congress? That was my thought after reading Think Progresses report on this case.

On Monday, David Dye, the acting administrator of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration was testifying before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on mine safety. He was scheduled for 2 hours of questioning. After an hour he left, even though Arlen Specter (R-PA) said "I can understand your pressing other business. It may well be that some of the senators here have pressing matters, too. We don't think we are imposing too much to keep you here for another hour...That's the committee's request, but you're not under subpoena..."

Think Progress's description was "Unfortunately, David Dye has a busy schedule. After an hour of questioning, Dye announced he had 'some really pressing matters' to attend to, and asked to leave the hearing." Makes it sound pretty bad. But I also give Think Progress credit for pointing to the video of the event. If you watch that, you hear Mr. Dye say: "We've still got a mine fire going, we have a rescue team, that's in the Sago mine and another mine fire that no one has heard of burning in Colorado. We have really urgent matters that we need to go back to attend. We've been diverted dealing with these matters, we were happy to prepare for this meeting but we really need to get back and attend those. There's 15,000 mines in the US and we've got some really pressing matters."

Seems a little different when you hear that doesn't it? I'm not sure what to think. If those are really out of the ordinary they seem more pressing then questions from a senator on past events; they could wait a week no problem. Or is it the case that with 15,000 mines there's always stuff going on and the head of the agency isn't needed to deal with it? Or is it the case that the $2.8 million removed from the agency's budget over the last 10 years (not keeping up with inflation) causing the loss of 183 staff members, really has made the agency incapable of dealing with such events? Then again, it is Congress that makes the budget and this is the appropriations committee. I don't know.

The Firefly Season 2

Ok, this one seems like a stretch, but if you were a fan of Firefly (and you should be), a group is trying to get a Season 2 made. They have a survey to figure out if you'd be willing to pay for alternative ways of distributing the season (DVDs, pay-per-view, downloads ala iTunes, etc.).

Bush's CIA

Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Dish writes about Bush's CIA. More on the torture case of Lewis Welshofer. The defense was "following orders". Didn't the Nuremberg Trials put that one to rest? And apparently the government is more willing to convict someone in the military then put into public record the actions of the CIA with detainees. When will this end?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Documents Show Katrina Warnings Ignored

So in case you haven't been following this lately. The cause of levee failure was that they were badly designed and constructed by the Army Corp of Engineers. Today it comes out that 2 days before Katrina hit New Orleans, Homeland Security agencies overseen by Brown and Chertoff forecasted the possibility of a breach and included damage estimates. Apparently due to the design flaws they probably couldn't have prevented the breaches but they most certainly could have improved FEMA's anemic response.

Now why this is such a big deal I don't know. I heard media warnings that the levee might break before the storm hit. It's not like people didn't say this before every big storm that hit New Orleans. I already knew that Bush's statement that no one could have predicted the failure was wrong.

What an Idiot

CNN writes: Original 'Survivor' guilty of tax dodge He didn't pay taxes on the $1 million he won or on $327,000 he earned as a radio show host or on $28,000 he earned from rental property. Did he think the government would be voted off before he had to pay? "Hatch, 44, faces up to 13 years in prison and a fine of $600,000. Sentencing was scheduled for April 28."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Toy Review: Verizon RAZR Cell Phone

It was time for a new mobile phone. I still like Verizon's coverage better than the others and basically just want a small phone. I choose the new RAZR. I got a $100 tradein (it's been almost 2 years) and there's a $100 mail in rebate, so only $150 for the phone and car charger.

The phone is a little taller and wider than my last phone but it's a LOT thinner. This is nice, it fits easily in a shirt pocket, or in the same pocket as my wallet (not with keys). Battery life seems good, I've only gotten it down to about 50% after a couple of days. The phone has a camera, bluetooth, speaker phone, voice dial, etc. Sound quality seems fine, which is really the most important thing. Overall at this level, it's been a fine phone.

A nice thing about the phone is that the connector is a standard mini-USB connector. So you can charge it from a laptop with just a USB-mini-USB connector (available with many digital cameras). It of course comes with a charger that connects to it as well. Hopefully future phones will do this too and we can stop buying new accessories with each phone.

While the RAZR comes from Motorola, Verizon is trying to standardize the interface across all their phones. The RAZR has the standard Verizon UI. It's kinda ugly with red bars across the top and bottom of the screen but it's mostly pretty usable. I haven't done any of the connect to the net, download ringtones or pics that I think they charge extra money for. The problem is, this UI is installed on top of the Motorola UI and there are some bugs. There's no Vibrate Then Ring support, which is annoying, you choose vibe or ring. There's a calendar bug that after you have about 60 entries, the calendar is unusable. There's no way to unassign a speed dial number, you move the number to another location. The phone comes with about 25 ringtones and they are ok. I could find a few that wouldn't embarrass me in public. The UI seems inconsistent in that some functions move across several keys in different places. E.g, editing some options is done with the left soft key sometimes and with the select (middle of the directional pad) key in other places. Going back is sometime a soft key and sometimes the Clr key. You can configure the down button to go directly to various functions but the left, right and up buttons are hard coded to various Verizon features, even though I never use them.

Now the real stuff. A nice feature is the bluetooth support. Verizon only supports connecting a bluetooth headphone, in fact, they've tried to disable using the bluetooth for anything else. But they screwed up and left what's known as OBEX support enabled. So after downloading a single file for my mac to teach iSync about the RAZR I can connect my mac to my phone. iSync is a program that comes with the mac to sync Address Book and Calendar information. I created a Phone group in Address Book and put 65 contacts in it. I used iSync once and all these contacts and month's worth of calendar entries were copied to my phone. That was fantastic. The only problem was that all the phone numbers (and email addresses) got assigned random speed dial numbers and with the poor design of the UI it was a pain to reassign them. Of course after a week I learned about the above mentioned calendar bug and have to stop doing that (a failed sync deleted iCal events from my mac). Still, having contact info sync'ed between the mac and the phone is wonderful.

You can also use the bluetooth support to copy files to the phone. These include pictures, ringtones, video clips. I'm one of the few mac users I know that actually uses Address Book and I also have associated pictures with contacts so I see their faces in email and IM. I put the pics on the phone and when someone calls me, their picture will appear on the outside display, cute. After copying them to the phone I had to associate their contact with the pic, which was tedious but not difficult. I also started creating some ringtones. All you need is an mp3 file. I took clips from songs I have in iTunes, used the free program Audacity to trim the clips to something short and copied them to the phone. I'm very happy with this.

So I like the phone but now my delimma. Verizon will fix the various bugs in a software update this quarter, but that update will also disable the OBEX support. This is so annoying. In order to encourage me to use their services, which I won't anyway, they've disabled my favorite functions of the phone. Really, why shouldn't I be able to keep the address book and calender on my computer and phone in sync? Why shouldn't I be able to take my music, which I've paid for, and use it as ringtones. Why shouldn't I be able to put my pictures on my phone for free? Verizon, please start treating your customers with respect. I know Verizon has every right to do this and my option is to take my business elsewhere. My problem is that even crippled, I think the RAZR is the best phone for me. It could just be so much better.

Monday, January 23, 2006

College Sophomore Stumps Bush

Think Progress reports that a College Sophomore Stumps President Bush. Bush was taking questions as Kansas State. Tiffany Cooper, a sophmore, asked "Recently 12.7 billion dollars was cut from education. I was just wondering how is that supposed to help our futures?". Slam. Bush's response should be read to be believed.

After asking her to repeat herself and being dismayed at the thought, he basically said no we didn't, we just cut inefficiencies and the same number of people will get loans and more will get Pell Grants. Of course Think Progress points to reports that this is just false. Fewer people get loans, get less, and get fewer grants. Todays Boston Globe has an article that says Researchers in nearly every field are finding it harder to win competitive grants from the NIH, the NSF, and other research agencies. The article cites some raises in budgets but say they don't keep up with inflation, call that a cut if you want, I will.

But here's my favorite part of Bush's answer. He ends by saying: "But I think i’m right on this. I will check when I get back to Washington, but thank you for your question." He didn't say he'd have someone get back to her. So I really want someone in Scott McClellan's press briefing to followup and see if Bush did check and what he found. Think it will happen? Nah, me neither.

War On Terror Results

The Daily Kos, which I usually find a bit too biased has a very factual article on
The Real Truth About Bush's "War On Terror". It's well worth a read. It analyses some data from the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base.

The article says the number of terrorist attacks by year has increased as well as the number of fatalities. Looking at the database I see that it includes much more than just al Qaeda or other fundamentalist Muslim acts; that may or not be what you want to compare.

The article then goes on to point out errors (or lies) in Bush administration claims. In 2002 they claimed 62 cases of international terrorism were prosecuted. Turns out the real number was 1. 60 of those cited were middle eastern students cheating on an English proficiency exam to get into college. Last summer the administration claimed over 400 terrorists prosecuted. Turns out only 36 were prosecuted for terrorism, most of the others were for immigration or making false statements.

There's other stuff, but you get the point. When are we going to hold the administration responsible for not telling the truth, or more meaningfully, actually succeeding.

Army Interrogator Convicted in Death of Iraqi General

The New York Times reports Army Interrogator Convicted in Death of Iraqi General (I hope this link lasts). Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr "suffocated Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush after wrapping him in the sleeping bag and sitting on him during an interrogation session on Nov. 26, 2003." He was convicted of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty. It's not called torture but so far he's one of 251 military members punished for detainee mistreatment.

In the trial, the defense argued that approved interrogation techniques were not clear. All the more reason the McCain Amendment was important.

Bizarre CIA Attack

CNN reports that "Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Sunday ridiculed as bizarre a U.S. report that senior al Qaeda leaders were killed in a CIA attack on a home along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border."

On Jan 13 we bombed a home thinking that Al Qaeda leaders were there having dinner. At first reports were that 8 leaders were killed with several civilian casualties as well. Turns out there were no leaders there, just 18 civilian casualties. Aziz said Sunday, "If you just reflect on what happened, first -- we heard that there was a dinner meeting with all the seniors -- I think that's a bizarre thought, because these people don't get together for dinner in a terrain or environment like that."

So here's the problem. "Aziz said the attack violated a U.S.-Pakistani agreement that calls for the countries to collaborate with each other before any such attack." Can this country not follow procedures for anything? We don't get warrants and we don't tell other governments before we bomb their countries. Great. Here's my favorite, US politicians said the airstrike was justified by the erroneous belief that a top al Qaeda leader was among the group. Aren't we all tired of "justified by erroneous belief" by now?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Google Subpoena

The Mercury News has an editorial Google is right to fight Justice Department. Cnet has an FAQ: What does the Google subpoena mean? So what's this all about?

This started in 1998 when the COPA (the Child Online Protection Act) became law. While from the title it sounds fine, the wording of the law is troublesome. it requires commerical distributors of "material harmful to minors" to protect sites from access by minors. There are a few problems with this. One it only affects commercial sites, apparently it's not worth protecting children from non-commerical sites. Two, it's only the US and certainly there's plenty of material available from other countries. Three, and most importantly, the "harmful to minors" standard is very broad and significantly different than "obscene". What's harmful to minors? I've seen 5 year olds run from the room when Bruce the Shark appears in Finding Nemo. Is scaring them harmful? The judges said that even portions of a "collection of Renaissance artwork" could be viewed as harmful to minors if a prosecutor was sufficiently zealous.

So the ACLU brought suit and the law was blocked. I don't think it's actually been in effect and it's been in legal hell for 8 years. Circuit courts have ruled it unconstitutional, the government has appealed, it's gone to the Supreme Court twice who sent it back down to Circuit courts and ruled that it was unlikely to be constitutional. At issue is are there alternative means, such as filtering, to protect children that isn't so restrictive?

So to research the effectiveness of filtering the federal government has subpoenaed several search engines to provide information about their users searches. Federal prosecutors have asked Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL to turn over two types of data: "all URLs that are available to be located through a query on your company's search engine as of July 31, 2005." and "all queries that have been entered on your company's search engine between June 1, 2005 and July 31, 2005, inclusive." Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL have complied but we don't know exactly what they sent. AOL said it returned "aggregate and anonymous search terms, and not results, from a roughly 1-day period."

Google has not complied. In a letter dated Oct. 10, 2005, Google lawyer Ashok Ramani objected to the Justice Department's request on the grounds that it could disclose trade secrets and was "overbroad, unduly burdensome, vague and intended to harass." We know this because on Wednewday, federal prosecutors asked a judge to force Google to comply.

Google's stance makes sense. Think about the request, Google is not a party to the case and the logs are not evidence in a crime. The government is subpoenaing private companies for their internal records to do internet usage research for them to help a case for a law that's been ruled unconstitutional, twice.

Really wouldn't it be easier to rewrite the law to be more specific? If the right is so concerned with judges interpreting laws too broadly shouldn't they be happy to write laws more narrowly to make that less likely? This fight has been going on for 8 years. When does it become a waste of your tax dollars?

The Reason for Federalism

Taking a cue from the right, states that are fed up with weak federal environment regulations are starting to create stricter regulations on their own. This is what the right wants, more states rights and less forced upon states by the federal government.

20 states are requiring renewable sources for some of their electricity. 10 states have different regulations for various appliances. "California is the only state with separate standards for hot tubs and pool pumps. Only Massachusetts has rules for residential furnaces, boilers and the fans inside. California has standards for televisions, DVD players and recorders." And there's the problem, it makes things harder for manufacturers to have different standards for different states.

"Aggressive action at the state level has forced manufacturers to agree to some national efficiency requirements for appliances. After several states moved to regulate ceiling fans, for instance, manufacturers agreed to national standards to avoid the expense and hassle of customizing products for individual states."

But really, things that are manufactured and sold in multiple states are the very definition of interstate commerce and to be most efficient should be regulated by Congress or other appropriate agencies at the federal level. It seems the Energy Department had missed legal deadlines in setting appliance energy efficiency regulations. Wow that Bush administration is efficient.

Apple Ran Out of Ad Ideas

Engadget reports that the new Apple commercial for their Intel-based macs is a ripoff of a music video for the song "Such Great Heights" by the group "The Postal Service".

Apparently Apple didn't get approval to do so. It's one thing to take a shot or two, or do a parody, but this is apparently a ripoff of the whole thing. Not good, particularly for a company trying to woo recording and movie studios to it's online service with it's own digital rights management scheme.

Big Content Tries To Stop Innovation

ars technica has a good article summarizing the RIAA and MPAA's new attempts to pass copyright legislation. The problem is the wording is way too broad and would in fact prevent the invention of any new technologies to manipulate digital media.

The problem is the phrase: "permit customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law;". See, "customary historic use" means no new stuff. If you have some innovative new thing to do with digital music (like say invent an iPod or a Tivo for digital radio) you can't without the permission of the RIAA and MPAA.

Look, I don't believe in stealing music or movies, that's wrong. But I do think I have the right to rip my CDs to digital form so I can use it on any device I want. I also might want to copy or send the media from one device I own to another. I believe it's the content and not the format that should matter. I should only have to pay for a song or movie, once. That should be enough to reward the creators.

If there's a format change I might pay for convenience (I might buy a new HD DVD if it's easy or there's new stuff on it but I also want to be able to record a digital HD broadcast). If I pay for cable and miss an episode of Battlestar Galactica (maybe my Tivo failed) can't I copy it from a friend to watch? Can't I copy it from a stranger? I already paid for it. If I have something I've paid for in digital form, shouldn't I be able to play it on anything I own (like my phone) for free?

Friday, January 20, 2006

British Honda Ads are Better

Remember Honda's Cog Ad from a few years ago. Well they've done it again. This time in a Honda commercial with a human sound effects chorus. It's slow to load but it's worth it. They show various shots of the car and all the sound effects are done by a human chorus that they show doing them. Very cool.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

We Have Comet Dust

On Feb 7, 1999, NASA launched the Stardust mission to intercept comet Wild-2 and capture some of it's dust and return it to earth. It arrived last weekend after traveling 2.9 billion miles and scientists are thrilled. This is the first solid material brought back from space since Apollo 17 returned moon rocks in 1972.

They didn't know until they examined the capsule if it had succeeded in collecting anything. Apparently it got thousands of samples, most microscopic, but at least one almost the size of your little finger.

The comet is believed to be 4.5 billion years old, making it about the same age as the solar system. Analyzing the composition of the particles will give clues as to what particles existed to form the sun and planets.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Golden Globe Winners

Well the Golden Globes are done and Brokeback Mountain seems to be the big winner (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Song). Favorites Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) and Felicity Huffman (Transamerica) won as well. Oscar nominations are in a few weeks, hopefully it's interesting this year.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Gore On Executive Power

Al Gore gave a speech today On the Limits of Executive Power. it's not bad, though it is 7123 words long. He still hasn't learned a thing about brevity.

In the end he calls for 5 things, a special prosecutor, new whistleblower protections, congressional investigations, rejection of Patriot Act expansion, and asks all telecommunications companies to not comply with illegal wiretaps. I guess that's fine but really, why not just CALL FOR IMPEACHMENT! He broke the law, admitted it, and says he'll do it again! Can we stop making 7000 word speeches and just cut to the chase. This really is serious enough (and it's a lot worse than lying about getting a blowjob from a consenting adult).

Movie Review: Cache

Cache is an art house film. I don't usually use this term and it doesn't bother me but here I use it disparagingly. On the surface it's about a Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) who start getting anonymous packages of video tapes of the front of their house. It's best described as a surveilance tape. More such things come, wrapped in drawings. The couple try to figure out who is sending these to them. As we get further into the film, the couple invariably starts bickering as they deal with the situation differently.

Now the art house stuff. This movie isn't really about what I just told you. This movie is about France and its failing to deal with its transgressions against Algeria. You'll notice various news stories of such things prominent in the background. Georges represents France and another character Algeria. And you know all of that is ok and greater meaning usually makes a movie better for me. The problem with this movie is that to make points about about its symbolic meaning, it shortchanges its overt plot.

Yes there is some neat camera work and acting in this film. Though many will confuse this with overly long scenes with little action and no camera movement. Really the open credits will alert you to this and the rest of the movie is the same way. Long static shots, sometimes of just a (quiet) street scene. Others will find the long shots of characters thinking intriguing. There is also one genuinely shocking scene that's very sudden and raw. Michael Haneke is certainly a skilled filmmaker.

I'll say here that the film's ending didn't work for me. If you go see the movie, watch the upper left of the screen during the credits. iF you want more info, this is the best review I've found. It gives away more info than I have but not all, it's also very intelligently reviews the filmmaking and meaning. If you want to avoid spoilers stop reading now.

Update: It turns out this review is the most popular entry in my blog. Please leave a comment below on what you thought of the film or this review.


Sorry about having to do this via spoilers but I don't see another way. There isn't an ending to this film! We never find out about the tapes, and there are many plot threads left open, in fact, all of them. I remember Ebert's review of Mulholland Drive where he said David Lynch "violated the contract between director and viewer". Michael Haneke does the same thing. I didn't mind such things in John Sayles' Limbo since that narrowed things down considerably. In Cache you can extrapolate many different causes from naming specific characters as the source of the tapes to calling it merely a contrivance of the story. You can also tack on any ending you want to any and all of the characters. it makes a point, but it's very annoying and I think in some ways lazy. Bleech.

Japanese TV

Jamie has links to various japanese TV videos. Sure we have Fear Factor, but it doesn't compare to what they do.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Internet Explorer Unsafe

The Belgian company scanit has an interesting security study out. They wanted to compare the top three browsers, Internet Explorer, Mozilla, and Opera on their security vulnerabilities. In A Year Of Bugs their approach was to count how many days in 2004 a vulnerability was publicly known but did not have an available patch. That is, even if you kept the browser up-to-date, how often were you still vulnerable to publicly announced flaws.

Mozilla faired the best, there were 54 days, or 15% of the time where there was a known unpatched vulnerability. 30 of those days were for a MacOS-only flaw, so if you were a Windows user, only 24 days or 9% of the time were you vulnerable.

Opera is a lessor known but very capable browser. I used it for several years. It was vulnerable for 65 days or 17% of the time.

So the real question is Microsoft's Internet Explorer. IE was vulnerable all but 7 days of the year. That's 98% of the time it was vulnerable to known exploits. What's worse, 54% of the time there was a worm or virus in the wild, actively exploiting one of these flaws.

Stop using IE, it will make your computer sick. If your company forces you use to use it, convince them to change. I'd say try to convince MS to fix IE, but they've been trying for years (remember MS started a big security push in 2002) and can't manage to succeed.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bush and Spying

In the Huffington Post, former BBC journalist Ian Masters article Against All Enemies: Foreign or Domestic? describes why some of us are very troubled by Bush's domestic spying. Someone said to me if he's just going after people that al Qaeda called ok, but it seems all too likely that he's doing more than that. We've seen past reports on FBI spying since the Patriot Act, and Masters lays out Bush's "history of mining data for dirt".

Even without Watergate kinds of conspiracies, nearly 30,000 airline passengers discovered in the past year that they were mistakenly placed on federal "terrorist" watch lists. At least they weren't kidnapped and imprisoned for five months, and "shackled, beaten, photographed nude and injected with drugs by interrogators." [Links and text from Schneier]

Alito vs Scalia and Thomas

Media Matters, while correcting mistakes in a Washington Post article, does a good job at differentiating Alito from Scalia and Thomas or rather not.

Thomas really is the most extreme on the court. He's an originalist and does not believe in precedent. In his dissent in the eminent domain decision he cited the definition of the word use (as in public-use) from an 18th century dictionary and expressed that a 100 years of case law be overturned.

Scalia is an originalist but does believe in precedent. He's also a literalist, the law is what it says, not what the authors intended it to say.

The Washington Post article in question says that Alito distanced himself from strict constructionists. Well so do Scalia and Thomas, they aren't strict constructionists, they are originalists. Alito also stated he believed in precedence, but during his confirmation hearings so did Thomas, so really what good are these hearings?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Abramoff Primer

Think Progress has a good overview of the K Street Project to help you understand the Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay scandals.

MacBook Pro Scoop

The big Apple announcement this week at MacWorld was the release of the new MacBook Pro line of Intel powered laptops. Very cool stuff. MacWorld has a story with What you need to know about them. Good stuff if you're drooling over the shiny new stuff.

3 Movie Reviews

Rumor Has It has a cute premise. It assumes The Graduate was based on real people and postulates about a third generation finding out about it. Jennifer Aniston plays the daughter of Katharine Ross's character. She's engaged to Mark Ruffalo but isn't too sure about it. She comes home for her sister's wedding and finds out from grandma (Shirely MacLaine) about the family's secret. She tracks down Kevin Costner who Dustin Hoffman's character was apparently based on and there's a little fling. It's ok, but it needed to be funnier. Too much of it was taking the plot seriously.

King Kong surprised me and it shouldn't have. I heard a lot about how realistic the gorilla was and of course the special effects are so lifelike, the dinosaurs look better than in Jurasic Park and how faithful it was to the original and at its heart, it's a love story. Ok. The problem is, this is a movie that's way over the top, pure spectacle. Who would have thought, King Kong, spectacle, I know. There's a dinosaur stampede (yes there were dinosaurs in the original) and men run under their legs and along with them the whole time. For 10 minutes. Like everything in this film, each segement just goes to far and on for too long. It's a 3 hour movie and it could have been a lot shorter and a lot better. I'm curious to see the original again, which was only 100 minutes long.

Munich is another long film. Has Hollywood forgotten the benefits of editing? This is about Mosad's efforts to track down Black September who was responsible for the killing of the 1972 Israeli Olymipic team. It follows a secret Mosad task force (led by Eric Bana) that uses terrorist tactics to track down and kill those responsible. Speilberg tells much of the story visually, many segments have no dialog. At least one of the assassination attempts is very Hitchcockian in how the suspence builds. Speilberg is a master but too much of this film seemed to be him showing off. There's a lot of reinactment of the Olympic kidnapping and that seemed unnecessary to me. It included original footage of Jim McKay reporting the events that seemed too much like, "see what I did here, this was real". The damage the bullets do is graphically shown and there's usually smoke coming out of the various wounds. The film has 3 serious conversations and asks the question, does revenge work to bring about peace? The Israeli government is shown saying yes, but after being an undercover assassin for over a year, Bana wants to know what effect they had, as all those eliminated have been replaced and where does it end? There's a lot of potential here, and much of it was realized, but it's too showy and too long.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Alito Character Witnesses

Alito's questioning is over. Next up are the character witnesses. Here's the
list of those testifying direct from the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary's website. For some reason they decided to display it in unreadable menu format.

Kennedy-Spector Fight

So you've probably heard of the blow out between Kennedy (D-MA) and Spector (R-PA) over stupid stuff. As some have already said, it was just embarrassing, think particularly for Kennedy. If you haven't seen it, the video is online.

The big hooha was over a letter Kennedy sent to Spector on Dec 22 asking the committee to request documents from CAP on Alito. Spector said he hadn't received it, but of course we now have a timeline for the whole exchange and Spector's office certainly had it.

This just seems like a big none-issue. The New York Times analysed all of this back on Nov 26 and it's hard to see anything that says CAP is representative of Alito's views. Particularly as there seems to be no other similar organization that he's been involved with.

Also, Kennedy's questioning of Alito about his membership in CAP reminded me of McCarthy questioning people's membership in the Communist Party. Maybe that's going too far, but Kennedy was over the top.

Illegal to Annoy

As of last thursday, a new law is in place that makes it illegal to anonymously annoy someone online. How ridiculous.

There are other parts that are legitimate. It also makes it illegal to "abuse, threaten or harass" someone anonymously (I guess it's already illegal to do these things non-anonymously). But the bill, slipped into an "unrelated, must-pass bill to fund the Dept of Justice" by Arlen Spector (R-PA) has very different wording than previous versions proposed.

The problem is being annoyed is a pretty low threshold and other people's free speech might annoy you. Now they can't do it anonymously. Hmmm, I'm annoyed by many ads and I don't always know who's publishing them (as opposed to who they are for) maybe they are now committing a crime.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Alito Hearing Day 2

I listened to most of the Alito hearings on Tuesday. No conclusions yet but here are some early reactions. Alito was much more forthcoming than i expected. He rarely resorted to the "that may come before the court" and instead described how he would approach such questions if they did come before him. It was pretty effective.

Another thing that was clear was how each side distorts things. Spector opened the hearing saying that Alito's record is so extensive that you can pick a few cases and show him as either a flaming liberal or an arch conservative. Senators asked about several cases we expected to hear about. in general the Democrats attacked, usually with long drawn out questions and Republicans gave softballs and expounded how there was no issue there. The truth is that the devils in the details and they only slowly came out.

For example. He was questioned a lot about his not recusing himself from a case involving Vanguard Mutal Funds which he is an investor. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) started with this and after a long question let Alito explain it all at length. He did pretty well, saying he's always taken ethics issues very serious and strived for himself to stick to the spirit of the ethics codes and not merely the letter of them. But in this case, it was a pro se case meaning one party represented themselves instead of having a lawyer, and recusals didn't usually happen in these cases. Since it was a pro se case there wasn't a "clearance sheet" listing various interested parties that might spark recusals. Basically he just missed it. And after the fact he checked with the ABA and various ethics experts who all found he didn't do anything wrong. But he still vacated the decsion and allowed a second trial to go through which decided exactly the same way as he did. Finally he described the changes he put in place in his office to ensure such a mistake doesn't happen again so that he does recuse himself. A good answer. But then in Kennedy's questioning he says that Alito left something out of the story. In his confirmation hearing before this same committee he promised that he would recuse himself from any case involving Vanguard, so why did he break his promise to the committee. But Kennedy bloviated so much that he never really got the question out and Alito never directly answered it. Other republican senators continued to defend Alito on this point saying any suggestions that he wasn't ethical was absurd. Russ Feingold (D-WI) took issue with that and said asking questions and doing their duty wasn't absurd. He had Alito clarify that earlier suggestions that the failure to recuse himself was the result of a computer glitch were not true. So the end result is that it wasn't really an ethics issue as much as a why didn't he follow through on a promise to the committee? It turns out there are standing recusal lists showing reasons to recuse, but Vanguard wasn't on Alito's list. Alito gave no real explanation for this fact. So lots of making mountains of molehills but never dealing with the actual moles. What are we to make of this?

Similar things came up with his listing membership in a Princeton organation (CAP) that was opposed to minorities and women going to the school. There was a lot about executive powers due to all the Bush crap lately. Since it will all come down to specific arguments we're left with Alito saying obvious things like "no one, including the President, is above the law". How inciteful. It should come as no surprise to anyone that for all the cases that people have made a big deal about (spousal notifications for abortions, not banning machine gun sales, the strip search of a 10 year-old) the details show it not a clear cut this guy is a loon. All those cases were very specific narrow legal issues. Now still whether he's a nutcase on those or not, I'm not really sure. He offered what sounded like reasonable rationales for his decisions and the Democrats didn't describe any real challenges to those.

I will say I was very impressed with Arlen Specter (R-PA) who dove right into Roe v Wade and asked many short direct questions which Alito answered clearly. I also thought Joe Biden (D-DE) did a good job going into some depth on some Alito decisions on descrimination. This was the one place I heard someone challenge him on his specific rationale. Bidon started by saying that descrimination is often very subtle and Alito agreed. Alito described the case and in one part described how the company didn't follow one of their internal procedures and it wasn't a big deal. In this case an employee applied for a more senior position that had become available and was rejected. The procedure was the the employee should have been told she didn't get the job before they interviewed anyone else, but they had interviewed one other person before telling her. Doesn't sound like a big deal. But Bidon interrupted and said but the reason for that policy is that that is how descrimination is hidden today. Instead of having to say no even if they are qualified (and there was no question in this case the that employee was qualified) they keep interviewing others until they find someone that's more qualified. Alito said that's a fair point but no one presented it during the case. Bidon kept pressing on with similar things and Alito didn't have any good answers. At the end of this Alito said it went on to the Supreme Court in a similar case and O'Connor ruled as he did. Bidon said he went back and read O'Connors decision and didn't think she'd agree with Alito. But now we're in the realm of speculation. I wish more questioning was as effective as Bidon's.

Some dumb things. Both Spector and Grassley (R-IA) had staffers hold up card with small text on them. Apparently showing how they can produce cards with small text on them. Ridiculous. The funniest line of the day was probably from Lindsey Graham (R-SC). It was about 5pm and he commented on some detail from 15 years ago that Alito couldn't remember (maybe it was the lack of vanguard on his standing recusal list). Graham added "If any of us come before a court and can't remember Abramhoff you'll believe us." Funny if it weren't so serious.

We'll see more tomorrow.

230 Years of Common Sense

230 years ago today Thomas Paine published Common Sense. In plain language it put forward the case for US independence from Britain.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Cheney at it Again

Think Progess reported on Jan 4th, Cheney Falsely Suggests Warrantless Domestic Surveillance Could Have Prevented 9/11.

Cheney said "If we’d been able to do this before 9/11, we might have been able to pick up on two of the hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon." Problem is, that really isn't true. First off, they could listen in with a warrant, no one has suggested otherwise, FISA allows this no problem. But as determined by the 9/11 commission, the problem wasn't getting the intelligence, it was internal communications between agencies.

Why do we let these guys still spread FUD? I think we need to add something to the Oath of Office. "I will never lie to the American people." Is that asking too much?

The Ginsburg Precedent Myth

This post from Media Matters points out the recent false claims from the right about the Ginsberg and Breyer nominations. Neither were really viewed as extremists at the time. In fact, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has claimed in his book that he suggested these nominees and that "From my perspective, they were far better than the other likely candidates from a liberal Democrat administration." He also wrote: "Not many people realize this, but her voting record at the appellate court was very similar to that of another subsequent Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia."

Ginsburg had a reputation as a moderate on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A June 15, 1993, Washington Post article reported that Ginsburg had "straddled the liberal-conservative divide of the D.C. Court of Appeals for the last 13 years" and that her "pragmatic, non-ideological approach" would most likely put her in league with such "centrist-conservatives" as justices Sandra Day O'Connor and David H. Souter.

Justices have changed their viewpoints after being appointed and I'm curious to look into that here. But doesn't it say something that these moderates are now the left wing of the court. Seems clear that the court is pretty far to the right.

Bush Still Wants to Torture

So remember that whole torture issue? The administration wanted to continue to be able to torture people and many said this was bad policy. John McCain (R-AZ) felt strongly enough that he added an amendment to a budget bill and the administration threatened to veto it. Cheney fought for months to avoid the amendment but in the end the Senate approved it 90-9. it all seemed settled on Dec 30 when Bush signed H.R. 2863. But hold on for the rest of the story.

Remember how the government supposedly works. Congress makes the laws, the President executes the laws, the Courts interpret the laws. The right has been whining about how the courts have been overstepping their bounds, that justices should merely interpret not make the laws. Well the president also gets to sign the laws but still not write them. He can veto the whole thing or sign it, he (or she) can't change it. Well it seems there's more.

In 1986, then deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel Samuel Alito (yes that one) laid out a case for having the president routinely issue statements about the meaning of statutes when he signs them into law. This would help courts understand what he thought the bill meant the way the congressional record is used to help understand what congress meant (unless you're Scalia who believes the law is what it says, not what the lawmakers intended to say, really). It seems that presidents since Regan have used these (I'm not sure if before Regan) and the current Bush has done so 108 times. It also seems the courts haven't yet weighed in on the relevance of these signing statements.

It turns out on Dec 30 Bush not only signed the bil but issued a signing statement as well. Congress doesn't offer permanent links to bills. To see the bill (now law) go here and type "H.R. 2863" into the search box, select "Bill Number" and hit search. Choose the last of the results which is the final version. McCain's Amendment is Title X. In Bush's statement the relevant part is the 8th paragraph which starts: "The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."

I find the statement a bit convoluted but the Boston Globe reported about it and found four people to comment, all seem to agree. No government official would comment on the record but one anonymous"senior administration official, "said the president intended to reserve the right to use harsher methods in special situations involving national security". Ouch.

David Golove, an NYU law professor who specializes in executive power issues, said that the signing statement means that Bush believes he can still authorize harsh interrogation tactics when he sees fit. ''The signing statement is saying 'I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it's important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me. 'They don't want to come out and say it directly because it doesn't sound very nice, but it's unmistakable to anyone who has been following what's going on."

Marty Lederman, a Georgetown University law professor who served in the Justice Department from 1997 to 2002. ''The whole point of the McCain Amendment was to close every loophole. The president has re-opened the loophole by asserting the constitutional authority to act in violation of the statute where it would assist in the war on terrorism."

Elisa Massimino, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, called Bush's signing statement an ''in-your-face affront" to both McCain and to Congress. ''The basic civics lesson that there are three co-equal branches of government that provide checks and balances on each other is being fundamentally rejected by this executive branch. 'Congress is trying to flex its muscle to provide those checks [on detainee abuse], and it's being told through the signing statement that it's impotent. It's quite a radical view."

I imagine McCain is fuming. Paul Rieckhoff is. I'm disgusted.

Cool Toy: SkyScout

Here's a cool new toy the SkyScout from Celstron. "Point the SkyScout at any bright star and it will instantly identify the object or choose an object from the celestial database of over 6,000 objects and the SkyScout will guide you to it." It's basically a handheld nav system for the sky. Pretty cool, I wonder what it will cost.

Has Bush Made America Safer?

AmericaBlog says no and gives 8 reasons why. I agree with all of them.

Alito Articles

How Appealing has a pretty complete list of Alito articles from yesterday.

Ted Kennedy wrote this editorial in Saturdays Washington Post. It's not quite a solid analysis of his voting record, but it does raise very serious questions about some of his past actions.

Unlike the Washington Post article I blogged about yesterday, this article that will be in the Jan 23rd The Nation, seems to pick a few cases and say how radically conservative they are. They are, but picking the most from a long history of rulings doesn't strike me as fair. The article ends with the thought that the last two times two nominations failed the the 3rd wasn't more conservative as expected but more moderate. So we should reject him because we like the number three, odd logic.

Vice President Cheney Hospitalized

Cheney was taken to the hospital early this morning with breathing problems. He was released a few hours later. It's apparently unrelated to his heart problems. He had some foot problems reported early this week that had him walking with a cane. Apparently the anti-inflammatory he was on for that caused him to retain fluids. Now he has a diuretic to take.

"He has had four heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, two artery-clearing angioplasties and an operation to implant a special pacemaker in his chest." I noticed that his first heart attack was in 1978 at the age of 37, after that he quit smoking, but it seems he started exercising and eating better in 2000, seems a little late.

So here's my speculation, image Bush needs to appoint a new VP, who would it be? My guess is Condi Rice, making her the first woman and first black to serve as VP. I don't see him having any other choice. Rumsfeld and Gonzales are the only other long term senior people he has and this president hasn't seemed to meet anyone new in a decade. Could you imagine a 2008 election of Condi vs Hilary?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Domestic Spying

The big news while I was away was that Bush had approved the NSA to spy on US citizens (those called by suspected terrorists) without a warrant. I know it made the news for several days but after that I didn't see much about it. I think this is a huge deal.

It's so obviously a violation of the 4th amendment and I still haven't heard Bush give a single reason (let alone a good one) why a warrant would have been to difficult in these cases. If you forgot, the Patriot Act amended FISA to make getting these warrants easier. Even still in a press conference on Dec 19, 2005, Attorney General Gonazles and General Hayden gave crap answers. They cite speed as a special circumstance, but these warrants by FISA often take less than hour, and are sometimes gotten after the fact as was asked. Gonzales ignored that part.

Gonzales' view seems to be that since we're at war, the president can do anything. That sounds absurd to me. First I don't think that's the case, second are we really at war? Congress hasn't declared it and when do you know you've defeated an enemy in a constant state of hiding? Giving the president any powers he wants by this reasoning is really "indefinite dictatorial power" according to security expert Bruce Schneier.

On Dec 22, 2005, the DoJ put out a memo citing various precedents for his actions. It will take me longer to go through those though several of those are sealed which doesn't make me happy. I do point to this debunking of the memo on Think Progress. Others have posted more analysis but I need more time to go through it all.

Today in the Boston Globe was an article (from the Baltimore Sun) entitled
Surveillance Controversy Puts NSA Back Into Harsh Spotlight. That cites James Bamford, who wrote the (well actually both) book(s) on the NSA, "there is no question that after the Sept. 11 attacks the agency broke the law."

Remember, the issue here isn't so much the domestic spying, as much as doing so without a warrant, in violation of FISA. Bush has made it very clear this is what he did. This will be fun once the hearings start.

Alito Rulings

Here's an article from the Washington Post from Jan 1 that reviews Alito's judicial rulings. The Post looked at how Alito voted on all 221 cases he has helped to decide in which the 3rd Circuit issued a divided ruling. It's an interesting read but if you want the short summary:

"Instead, the analysis, along with interviews of scholars who study the courts, shows that Alito takes consistently restrictive stances on some social issues and criminals' rights but does not differ substantially from the typical judge in other areas. Overall, the analysis shows, Alito does not disagree with majority opinions more frequently than most federal appeals judges do in similar cases. Yet a closer look finds that he dissents most often in areas where his views are least typical of the average judge: cases in which he has favored religion and largely sided against immigrants and one group of convicted criminals: prisoners facing the death penalty"

Some things bother me. The article says that in all the death sentence appeals he voted against sparing the prisoner. It says that on average, judges vote to spare about 1/3 of the time. But if you read it carefully you see Alito voted in a total of 4 of these cases, so the average would be to spare 1, which doesn't seem statistically significant.

Not in the summary statements of the article is this: "Alito voted in favor of workers nearly half the time -- about the same as judges nationwide and more often than the average Republican-appointed judge."

I found this a bit troubliing: Alito's views differ from those of most appellate judges and all the current members of the Supreme Court, Lupu said, because "he is on the side of whoever is trying to include or advance a religious message."

Obviously, move to come...

Alito Background

The Alito hearings start next week. I'll be watching. Here's an article in the Washington Post on Alito's background, mostly his schooling.

It's interesting reading, but it also made think that perhaps we dive too deeply into nominees. Of course if they don't answer questions about issues they might face, then I guess people search for hints wherever they can.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Dealing with Unattended Children

Almost Official DeLay to Quit as Majority Leader

It's about time. This AP story says DeLay (R-TX) has decided to quit the House leadership role so that others can start doing the work. Hopefully more will come of this whole Abramoff fiasco.

retrievr - Search by Sketch

This isn't working very well for me but I like the idea. retrievr let's you sketch something and then searches flickr for similar images. I'm not sure if it could ever work well, but at least someone is trying an image search that isn't text based and doesn't require manually adding metadata to all the images.

TiVo unveils Series 3 HD DVR

I want this now.

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica's second season started up again last night. Another great, tense episode. If you haven't watched this show (a serious remake based on the cheesy 70s series) you're missing something. Time magazine called it the best television of 2005, they're right.

Jon Stewart to Host 2006 Oscars

Now this should be good. Oscars night is March 5, and yes I'll be running my pool.

Google Making your PC just work like Mac

I see Google is now offering a suite to make your PC just work. As I read what's in it they're basically making a PC more like a Mac.

Picasa is like iPhoto, the screensavers already exist (including using your own photos), the desktop is like Spotlight. Preview can show PDFs. I haven't needed spyware or virus protection (yes I know, yet) and while I've tried Firefox and Camino on the Mac, so far I'm happiest with Safari because it's the most mac-like.

I'm Back

I was in Vegas, not for CES, but celebrating my birthday. Lost a little but had fun. I did win $90 on a the first pull of $1 monopoly slot machine. "O" was amazing. I really wanted an intermission to take a breath. The stage is a giant pool that changes depth and shape throughout the show and they do it in such a way you barely notice the transitions. The acts were mostly acrobatics above the pool and were a little less varied than in other Cirque shows. The rest of the trip was all good.