Monday, August 31, 2009

Study Reveals Mercury Contamination in Fish Nationwide

Study Reveals Mercury Contamination in Fish Nationwide "Scientists detected mercury contamination in every fish sampled in 291 streams across the country, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study released today. About a quarter of these fish were found to contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of people who consume average amounts of fish, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than two-thirds of the fish exceeded the U.S. EPA level of concern for fish-eating mammals."

Separating Fact from Fiction and Health from Health Care

The Health Care Blog: Separating Fact from Fiction and Health from Health Care "In an editorial on Wednesday, The New York Times debunks the often-cited claim that America has the best health care system in the world.  For the politicians who routinely use this as a plank in their efforts to stifle reform, the Urban Institute study is an objective rebuke. The U.S. health care system is not the best – far from it.  And Americans, with a life expectancy that still trails many other countries, are not the healthiest people in the world. "

The Coming War Over Climate

Kevin Drum writes about The Coming War Over Climate. Extrapolating over what the right is doing to healthcare, they'll do the same thing over climate change.

"At $10 per month nearly 60% favor cap-and-trade. At $25 per month, 60% oppose it. Now, do you think the same people who were responsible for all those townhall shoutfests this month will have any trouble convincing people that $25 is the right number? Or $100? I didn't think so."

I hope Obama has learned something. There are those idiots who won't understand anything and they'll be the loudest and they just shouldn't be listened to. I want him to address the nation and explain that the world is at risk and we have to do something about it. Yeah, energy taxes will go up, but not because the government wants more of your money, they don't. They want you to use less energy, which is what will save the world.

Video Shows Bush Getting Katrina Warning

The BBC writes Video shows Bush Katrina warning "Video showing President George W Bush being warned on the eve of Hurricane Katrina that New Orleans' flood defences could be overcome has emerged."

The video shows a briefing saying the storm is a bad one and the levees might not hold. Bush asks no questions and ends by saying "We are fully prepared to help." But of course, those were just words, they weren't prepared at all.

And of course after the disaster Bush said, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

I can't believe we had a president for 8 years who didn't understand what the words he said meant. And he didn't use big words! Fuck you W.

Mad Men

Sunday night has the only two hours of television I currently look forward to each week. Mad Men is great TV and True Blood is great (guilty) fun. Mad Men manages to capture a time, just under 50 years ago and make it seem like an alien world. It also has some of the best characters on TV, all with something to hide or prove, which isn't too different than now.

* Spoilers *

Last night's episode was particularly good, but I had to think about it a while. I saw some comments that there's no plot and it wandered all over the place. I don't agree. I think every scene was about people dealing with their class or position in society. I don't think there was a wasted scene as it covered every character in this light.

At Roger's country club party every pairing was interesting. First off there's the Roger and Jane relationship where he gave up his long term marriage and married Don's secretary who proceeded to get drunk at the party. Roger singing to her in black face and the fact that only Don was disgusted by it completely defined the time. Don later saying to Roger "No one thinks you're happy, they think you're foolish." and Roger saying you get to pick who comes to such parties also put these two seeming friends in their places.

Don had the conversation with the guy at the bar about not fitting in because of where they came from. Betty was impressed with the stranger merely because of his good looks and charms and then because he was a politician. The reference to governor Nelson Rockefeller marrying a divorcee further underscored the still huge gender gap and hypocritical moral distinctions as they're all adulterers. Don and Betty clearly approached the party completely differently. She was happy to be back in society and he just wanted to get away from it.

The other co-workers there were trying to fit in. Harry's wife had to convince him he was good enough to have conversation with them and he wasn't. Pete while eyeing some potential clients has to be told by Don not to hand out his card, seemingly to avoid being crass. I'm still not sure where Pete and Trudy's dance put them in the social hierarchy. Were they valued for their skill or treated like mere entertainment?

Meanwhile Peggy at work is holding her own. She first puts down Harry's behavior in the model interviews. Then she's more professional than Paul and Smitty while working over the weekend. Well until she joins them smoking pot, but even that raises her standing in their eyes. Even Paul and his pusher have an argument over Paul's standing back in Princeton. Then there's the obvious exchanges between Peggy and her secretary, who's appalled by her behavior, but Peggy isn't worried at all. The ERA movement is still a decade away.

We first see Joan having a thinly veiled conversation with Jane. Jane used to work under her as Don's secretary and is now marrying Roger, who Joan had an affair with. Jane was lauding it over her and Joan, always composed, barely held in her contempt.

Later at her dinner party we see Joan arguing with her husband Greg about seating etiquette, he's intimidated by the senior surgeon coming over. Later she finds out he's botched a surgery at work and obviously didn't tell her. This will move him down the ladder at work and with his wife. Joan commands some respect from the wives at the party but still gets advice from them. Like Pete's dancing at the party, Joan's accordion playing seemed like she was merely a performer (she was embarrassed) but she knocked it out of the park and everyone took notice.

Betty's father Gene is at home; the father is now the child. He still treats Carla the maid with contempt; but Carla's talking back to him. And finally we get to Sally. She experiments with theft, probably for the first time. She takes advantage of Grandpa's disfunction and lowered position in the family. But in the end, she can't stomach it and gives back the money. She even finds a way to do it so that she can retain some face, even though Gene and Carla immediately figure out what really happened. There's hope for Sally and the whole next generation to get over all this stuff.

Really great stuff.

Movie Review: The Time Traveler's Wife

I expected The Time Traveler's Wife to be a heavy romantic chick flick; not that there's anything wrong with that. I also expected the time travel element to be unexplained and merely a plot device, which worked fine in films like Frequency and Pleasantville. Instead I found I spent a lot of time trying to sequence the events in my head (and they all fit together quite well) and trying to figure out when the next time travel twist would come. Unexpectedly, I actually wanted more romance. The New York Times called it "a dirge about love instead of an ode" and there's something to that.

I've liked all the Rachel McAdams films I've seen (Mean Girls, Red Eye, and Wedding Crashers), certainly more than I've expected to, and she's good in this film as Clare. Eric Bana is also pretty good as Henry, but it's the script that lets them down. I hadn't read the book, though I did see McAdams on The Daily Show and she gave away much of the plot, I'll try not to do that. Henry uncontrollably take random jaunts through time, flashing to the past or the future. He arrives naked and stays for anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of weeks. Early in the film he meets Clare, who claims to know him as his future self has visited her past. As the title implies, they marry and she has to cope with the consequences of his condition.

I've seen criticism about how preposterous the story is. Well, yeah it's time travel but either accept the story premise or don't see the film. Within the confines of the premise I think the story works, that is it's internally consistent. I have a few quibbles. At one point Henry says he's visited a particular event hundreds of times, but wouldn't that mean there would be a crowd of him standing around? A crowd we didn't see when we saw the event. Also, when Henry first meets Clare, he's surprised that she knows him, and even if this is the first time he's met someone who knows him but he doesn't yet know, I expected him to have thought about the possibility or at least grasp the concept faster than he did.

A few times we see the event only from one point of view. He's away for two weeks and she gets very lonely and annoyed and they argue when he returns. That's fine for showing the problems of the relationship. But I wanted to know where he was for that long and what he went through. As one of the longer trips he'd taken I expected it to be significant.

A few reviews have commented that they found it creepy that she first meets him as a little girl and he arrives naked standing behind bushes in a field. For me, the bigger problem was that the romance felt more predestined than real, and Clare even says as much at one point. The story spends too much time on dealing with the inconveniences of his disappearances rather than letting us get to know these characters. If they had met as adults in a normal situation, I have no idea if they would have fallen for each other.

* Spoilers *

There were two things that occurred to me while watching the film and I'm surprised neither happened.

From the first scene we meet him, I was waiting for Henry's father to be revealed as a time traveler. I think it was obvious that he was, but they just didn't say so. Since the daughter was a time traveler we know it's hereditary. Henry said drinking sets of his trips and we know the father drank a lot. We don't know why he left Henry's mother. Henry says he always disappears and then was really happy that he could make the wedding. I figured that was a sure hint he was a time traveler. If he wasn't, why wouldn't he make his son's wedding?

I also found the wedding scene interesting. Present day Henry disappears and a future Henry appears and stands in for him during the ceremony and wedding night. I thought it would have been really interesting if Clare experienced time linearly but with Henry's from non-sequential timelines. One day she's with 30 year-old Henry, the next 33 year-old Henry, then 27, 41 42, 26. It probably would have been even less romantic and more tedious, but perhaps it's an idea for another story.

Schneier on London's Surveillance Cameras

Bruce Schneier writes On London's Surveillance Cameras "A recent report has concluded that the London's surveillance cameras have solved one crime per thousand cameras per year."

Boing Boing points out a London bus with 16 CCTV cameras inside.

It's time to embrace American royalty

Glenn Greenwald nails it in It's time to embrace American royalty.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ebert on Trivia

Roger Ebert on The plague of movie trivia. For the record, I got the first 4 right but could only name two for number 5.

True Story of Inglourious Basterds

I haven't seen Inglourious Basterds yet but this is a good read. My Father, The Inglourious Basterd "Quentin Tarantino's ultra-violent Nazi revenge movie may have plenty of drama but the real story is even better. Kim Masters on the heroic band of Jewish commandos known as X Troop."

Flying coach next to Ted Kennedy

A favorite memory: Flying coach next to Ted Kennedy is one of the more interesting pieces of read on him.

Exposed: The WPost’s One-Sided Account of Torture and Abuse

Exposed: The Washington Post’s One-Sided Account of Torture and Abuse "The lead story in today’s Washington Post, headlined ‘How a Detainee Became An Asset,’ provides a one-sided and distorted account of the torture and abuse of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (KSM) and demonstrates the urgent need for a blue ribbon bipartisan commission to create a comprehensive and authoritative narrative of the eight years of misgovernment of the Bush administration."

Friday, August 28, 2009

More Krugman on Debt

Krugrman defends his position in The burden of debt.

26 Lies About H.R. 3200

If you need to debunk complaints about the healthcare bill, use's Twenty-six Lies About H.R. 3200 "A notorious analysis of the House health care bill contains 48 claims. Twenty-six of them are false and the rest mostly misleading. Only four are true."

Snow Leopard's Old and New Annoyances

Rob Griffiths, Snow Leopard's old and new annoyances just confirms that no, Apple doesn't listen to him.

Of his list I find 5, 4, and 2 mildly annoying and 1 has bothered me a few times. His two new annoyances seem ridiculous.

100 Years of Visual Effects in 5 Minutes

Gizmodo writes Take Five Minutes to Watch 100 Years of Visual Effects and lists the films used. I've seen all but the first three and the 2nd to last.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More GOP Lies

digby writes "You can't dismiss this as fringe weirdos or 'entertainment,' can you? The official Republican Party is telling its members that Democrats may use voting registration information to identify and kill them. "


I am tired of Twitter's enthusiasm today to update me as to the current location of Ted Kennedy's corpse. had this interesting tidbit "Sen. Edward M. Kennedy authored more than 2,500 bills during his 46-year career in the U.S. Senate. Several hundred of them became law."

Hot Dogs and Pi

Freakonomics wrote Usain Bolt Is No Takeru Kobayashi.

Recent Krugman

Catching up on my Paul Krugman, some good ones:

Reflexively anti-Bush. "Given all that, it made complete sense to distrust anything the Bush administration said. That wasn’t reflexive, it was rational."

How big is $9 trillion?. "Again, the debt outlook is bad. But we’re not looking at something inconceivable, impossible to deal with; we’re looking at debt levels that a number of advanced countries, the US included, have had in the past, and dealt with."

Picturing purgatory. "Notice that this is NOT just saying that unemployment is a lagging indicator. In 2001-2003 the job market continued to get worse for a year and a half after GDP turned up. The bad times could easily last longer this time."

A note on the Bush fiscal legacy. "What would things look like if we hadn’t had 8 years of gross fiscal irresponsibility from the Bush adminstration?...And that, in turn, means that we’d be looking at projected net debt in 2019 of around 50 percent of GDP, not 70...the irresponsibility of the Bush years has left us poorly positioned to deal with the current crisis, turning what should have been an easily financed economic rescue into a more difficult, anxiety-producing process."

Absolut Boston

20090826_absolutboston_250x375.jpgOkay, this seems to be real and an early review isn't good. But I guess I'll have to find out for myself.

Everest View

360-degree view from the peak of Mount Everest. "

Snow Leopard Coming on Friday

David Pogue wrote in the New York TImes Apple's Sleek Upgrade. "Otherwise, if you’re already running Leopard, paying the $30 for Snow Leopard is a no-brainer. You’ll feel the leap forward in speed polish, and you’ll keep experiencing those “oh, that’s nice” moments for weeks to come. If you’re running something earlier, the decision isn’t as clear cut; you’ll have to pay $170 and get Snow Leopard with Apple’s creative-software suites — whether you want them or not. Either way, the big story here isn’t really Snow Leopard. It’s the radical concept of a software update that’s smaller, faster and better — instead of bigger, slower and more bloated. May the rest of the industry take the hint."

Walt Mossberg in Apple Changes Leopard’s Spots, isn't as convinced, "Overall, I believe Snow Leopard will help keep the Mac an appealing choice for computer buyers, and I can recommend it to existing Mac owners seeking more speed and disk space, or wanting to more easily use Exchange. But I don’t consider Snow Leopard a must-have upgrade for average consumers. It’s more of a nice-to-have upgrade. If you’re happy with Leopard, there’s no reason to rush out and get Snow Leopard."

MacWorld's Snow Leopard Review lists a bunch of tweaks that I wasn't aware of. I think it gives credence to Pogue's position. "But the price of upgrading is so low that I’ve really got to recommend it for all but the most casual, low-impact Mac users...If you’re a user who connects to an Exchange server every day, upgrading to Snow Leopard really is a no-brainer. For everyone else, maybe it’s not quite a no-brainer—but it’s awfully close. Snow Leopard is a great value, and any serious Mac user should upgrade now."

I believe this is a list of 3rd party apps with their Snow Leopard compatibility described, though it seems to be down now.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan 1930 Newsreel Footage

(Rare!) Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan (1930 Newsreel Footage)

"Helen Keller, the American author, political activist and lecturer, whom I don't have to explain much about, and her instructor and lifelong companion, Anne Sullivan, appears in a Vitaphone newsreel from 1930. In this footage Sullivan shows the way how Helen Keller learned to talk. The final line of this footage, "I Am Not DUMB now!" is somewhat touching."

The Trifid Nebula

"Today ESO has released a new image of the Trifid Nebula, showing just why it is a firm favourite of astronomers, amateur and professional alike. This massive star factory is so named for the dark dust bands that trisect its glowing heart, and is a rare combination of three nebula types, revealing the fury of freshly formed stars and presaging more star birth."

Seriously, this is a amazing.

<a href="/gallery/d/119351-6/vid-30a-09_FLASH.flv">Download movie</a>

10 Screen Actors to Count On

The Chicago Tribune lists 10 screen actors to count on and I agree.

Well I'm not a big fan of #5 Zooey Deschanel though I do like her current film 500 Days of Summer. And I have no idea who #6 Michael Fassbender is. But other than that, I completely agree. 80% isn't bad :)

Top 10 UX Myths

Keith Lang's Top 10 UX Myths is pretty good. Though I think writing UX instead of User Experience should probably violate some principle.

U.S. Jails Iraqi Photographer a Year With No Charge

Jeremy Gerard writes in Bloomberg, U.S. Jails Iraqi Photographer a Year With No Charge.

"Each time I report on a journalist imprisoned for committing journalism, a few readers call me a hypocrite for not turning the spotlight on my own country. Here is one case nobody should ignore.

Ibrahim Jassam, 31, is an Iraqi freelance photographer. Since Sept. 2, 2008, when U.S. soldiers seized him at his home near Baghdad, he has been held without charge in American military prisons. He’s currently at Camp Bucca, in the southern part of the country, according to Lt. Col. Patricia Johnson, a U.S. Marine Corps spokeswoman in Iraq. Jassam is a security threat, Johnson said, ‘as the result of his activity with an insurgent organization.’

No details of that alleged activity were offered. Journalists often make contact with opposition forces in the course of their work. Last November, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq ruled that Jassam is not a security threat and asked the Americans to release him. The American response has been to politely ignore the court and keep the photographer in prison as his first anniversary in jail approaches."

Jassam will be release by the end of year due to an agreement with the Iraqi government about all detainees. Also, any new detainees must have a valid warrant or detention order.

"“The point is that there’s a pattern here,” Simon said. “There are a dozen or so cases in which journalists have been held, allegations have been made and then they’ve been released. If they were a threat, why were they released?"

Obama, fix this.

Oscar Trivia

This came up in conversation last night. Only three films have won all five of the top Oscars: Picture, Director, Lead Actress, Lead Actor, and Writing.

While all are extremely good movies, I wouldn't list any of them in my top picks. Certainly not top ten, maybe not even top 50. (Crap, now I have to think about my top 50.)

The common stats you see are films with the most wins and most nominations. I liked Titantic more than many of my friends, but while it's the top of those lists it's not the best film ever. All About Eve tied it with 14 nominations (and only 6 wins) and its certainly a great film, but any system that gives Mrs. Miniver 12 nominations has to be rethought.

Number of wins is skewed by what else was nominated that year and number of nominations places too much importance on minor categories like costumes or sound editing. At first thought, winning all of the top awards would seem to be a better measure of greatness than either of those two lists. But given the only three films that won the big 5, it doesn't seem too successful a measure either.

* Highlight below for answer *

"It Happened One Night in 1934
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in 1975
The Silence of the Lambs in 1991

and if you haven't seen any of them, you really should.

FCC Chief Vows Net Neutrality Enforcement

Nice to see this, FCC Chief Vows Net Neutrality Enforcement. "Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski says the agency is fully prepared to enforce its network neutrality principles. Genachowski's comments come as Comcast has gone to court challenging the FCC's network neutrality authority."

New Algorithm Explores Future Changes In Plant Populations

Saw this via a friend, New algorithm explores future changes in plant populations.

"It is called spatially explicit, reiterative algorithm, or SERA—that explores whether changes occurring in plant communities, such as self-thinning and the competitive displacement of one species by another, can be attributed to the characteristics of the individual plants that comprise the community.

‘Our model predicts how a plant population or community will behave when plant-plant interactions are predicated exclusively on the constraints imposed by a few physical principles and by competition for physical space and light,’ stated Dr. Niklas."

Beloit College Mindset List

I guess this came out last week and I missed it. Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013 "Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college."

The most surprising for me:

1. For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead.
2. Dan Rostenkowski, Jack Kevorkian, and Mike Tyson have always been felons.
4. They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
6. Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
7. Earvin "Magic" Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
10. Rap music has always been main stream.
23. The European Union has always existed.
31. There has always been a Cartoon Network.
50. Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the Evening News came on.
51. Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
58. There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
63. There has always been a computer in the Oval Office.
70. Vice presidents of the United States have always had real power.
75. There has always been blue Jell-O.

RIP Ted Kennedy

Obits from New York Times, Boston Globe, NPR and TPM.

The Boston Globe has a Retrospective Photo Gallery and NPR has a Timeline: Edward M. Kennedy: A Life Of Service.

BNO News has statements by President Obama, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Times obit called him Rabalaisian.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Scalia and Killing the Innocent

Tuesday I started to see stuff like this tweet "Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas are heartless, and indifferent to actual justice" and this Think Progress article: Scalia says there’s nothing unconstitutional about executing the innocent.. Most quote this paragraph from Scalia's dissent:

“This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.”

Alan Dershowitz calls this Scalia's Catholic Betrayal. "It would be shocking enough for any justice of the Supreme Court to issue such a truly outrageous opinion, but it is particularly indefensible for Justices Scalia and Thomas, both of whom claim to be practicing Catholics, bound by the teaching of their church, to do moral justice. Justice Scalia has famously written, in the May 2002 issue of the conservative journal First Things, that if the Constitution compelled him to do something that was absolutely prohibited by mandatory Catholic rules, he would have no choice but to resign from the Supreme Court."

So what's going on here? The first big article on the matter was Adam Liptak in the New York Times, Supreme Court Orders New Look at Death Row Case.

"The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a federal trial court in Georgia to consider the case of Troy Davis, who is on death row in state prison there for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer. The case has attracted international attention, and 27 former prosecutors and judges had filed a brief supporting Mr. Davis. Seven of the witnesses against Mr. Davis have recanted, and several people have implicated the prosecution’s main witness as the actual killer of the officer, Mark MacPhail. The Supreme Court’s decision was unsigned, only a paragraph long and in a number of respects highly unusual. It instructed the trial court to “receive testimony and make findings of fact” about whether new evidence clearly established Mr. Davis’s innocence."

Of course it's SCOTUSBlog that has the best article Hearing on innocence claim ordered, that describes the actual legal issues and links to all the supporting documents. If you're going to read just one article, read that one.

Here's the newsworthiness of the matter: "The Court’s action set off a sharply-worded exchange — Justice Stevens on one side [3 pages], Justice Scalia on the other [6 pages]— over the strength of Davis’ claim to be innocent, and over whether the Georgia federal judge who will be conducting the new reiew has any power to rule for Davis."

Scalia claims a few things. First, there's an order to how appeals work. Supreme Court rule 20.4(a) says:

"A petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus shall comply with the requirements of 28 U. S. C. §§ 2241 and 2242, and in particular with the provision in the last paragraph of § 2242, which requires a statement of the “reasons for not making application to the district court of the district in which the applicant is held. ” If the relief sought is from the judgment of a state court, the petition shall set out specifically how and where the petitioner has exhausted available remedies in the state courts or otherwise comes within the provisions of 28 U. S. C. § 2254 (b). To justify the granting of a writ of habeas corpus, the petitioner must show that exceptional circumstances warrant the exercise of the Court’s discretionary powers, and that adequate relief cannot be obtained in any other form or from any other court. This writ is rarely granted."

So if you're going to skip district court, you have to show exceptional circumstances. That's reasonable, as the Supreme Court certainly couldn't handle every appeal, that's why there are lower courts. If I understand my writs correctly, this type of writ hasn't been granted in 50 years. So what are the "exceptional circumstances"? The news articles say that 7 of the witnesses have recanted, but Scalia says that this isn't new info and that "Most of the evidence on which it is based is almost a decade old. A State Supreme Court, a State Board of Pardons and Paroles, and a Federal Court of Appeals have all considered the evidence Davis now presents and found it lacking."

The state trial court looked at this evidence and found "that the majority of the affidavits that Davis submitted had been sworn over five years earlier, and a few had been attested to over ten years earlier. The state trial court concluded that some of the affidavits contained inadmissible hearsay, that the post-trial affidavits by some of the State’s witnesses did not constitute cause for a new trial, and that several affidavits were not so material that they would have produced a different result. The state court ultimately denied the motion."

"The [state] supreme court nonetheless painstakingly detailed each of the seven post-trial affidavits by the State’s eyewitnesses, as well as six affidavits from additional witnesses Davis located, and explained how each affidavit failed to support Davis’s extraordinary motion for a new trial."

"After detailing these post-trial affidavits, among others, the [state] supreme court pointed to several defects in them, including the fact that Williams’s and Ferrell’s affidavits failed to affirmatively claim that Davis was not guilty, and that Murray’s unsworn affidavit was yet another inconsistent statement she had made years after the murder. The supreme court determined that none of the affidavits had the materiality required to support an extraordinary motion for a new trial. "

"As we have noted above, most of the witnesses to the crime who have allegedly recanted have merely stated that they now do not feel able to identify the shooter. At trial, the jury had the benefit of hearing from witnesses and investigators close to the time of the murder, including both Davis and Coles claiming the other was guilty. We simply cannot disregard the jury’s verdict in this case."

Scalia saying "petitioner’s claim is a sure loser" may be untactful, but it might not be inaccurate. Scalia's third issue is with what the Supreme Court ordered. "Even if the District Court were to be persuaded by Davis’s affidavits, it would have no power to grant relief." He cites 28 U. S. C. §2254(d)(1), saying "Davis can obtain relief only if that determination was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, “clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.”" Now we get to his quoted line:

"This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable. A state court cannot possibly have contravened, or even unreasonably applied, “clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” by rejecting a type of claim that the Supreme Court has not once accepted as valid. "

Most of the quoters leave out that last sentence. That opinion is not unreasonable, particularly when you realize that actual innocence has a specific legal meaning. It means they really didn't do the act as opposed to other innocence claims where they did the act but it's not illegal because of for example insanity or self-defense. Scalia is making a point about treating one kind of defense claim differently from another, not mocking innocence by putting actually in quotes.

So what did the majority think? Stevens only addresses two of Scalia's points. First he says Scalia assume's Davis is guilty. I don't get this because you're innocent until proven guilty and he was found guilty by a unanimous jury. Again, it's a legal term, and he's guilty, it could be overturned, but it's true now. Stevens says "He does this even though seven of the State’s key witnesses have recanted their trial testimony; several individuals have implicated the State’s principal witness as the shooter; and “no court,” state or federal, “has ever conducted a hearing to assess the reliability of the score of [postconviction] affidavits that, if reliable, would satisfy the threshold showing for a truly persuasive demonstration of actual innocence,”. But I far as I can tell several courts did do extensive investigations into those same affidavits and weren't convinced.

He also says, "The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing. Simply put, the case is sufficiently “exceptional” to warrant utilization of this Court’s Rule 20.4(a)" which would seem to say that every capital crime is exceptional which seems wrong. You may be against capital punishment but it is the current law of the land.

Stevens also says the court could get around the §2254(d)(1) limitations. He quickly mentions three reasons but just cites cases and I'm too lazy to track those down at this point, particularly as they all sound a little vague ("expressly leaving open", "certain actual innocence claims", "arguing that Congress intended"). Finally he just says, that if he's innocent then yeah the court could do something and says "Justice Scalia would pretermit all of these unresolved legal questions on the theory that we must treat even the most robust showing of actual innocence identically on habeas review to an accusation of minor procedural error." There's a point to be made that this is important and the claims are not minor nitpicks, but I think Scalia gets that and is trying to weigh the claims.

So yeah, if he's really innocent exceptional things should happen. The question is how many appeals can happen. Scalia points out that more than 3 courts have looked at this evidence, one for over a year, and weren't convinced enough to overturn a unanimous jury. Without new evidence or claims of improper procedure, what's the basis for further appeals? You can always say, "but if he's innocent...". It comes back to the death penalty argument, and I'm not sure I could sentence someone to death without hard evidence as in this case. I can say this, Scalia's dissent is well written and seemingly well reasoned; at least enough to refute the various rants that he wants to kill the innocent.

Robert Franklin also has some good thoughts on this.

On a related note: Justice Sonia Sotomayor didn't participate at all in this case; though that same day she did cast her first vote on the death penalty, "joining three other members of the Supreme Court in dissent as the Court permitted the execution Tuesday of an Ohio inmate, Jason Getsy, 33." "Sotomayor would have granted a stay of execution, along with Justices Breyer, Ginsburg and Stevens" but since those 4 lost, I believe that means the other five denied the stay.

The obvious conclusion is that yes Sotomayor will be a liberal, but Orin Kerr isn't impressed, "I personally don't see very much in this: Recall that one of Justice Alito's very first votes was a vote against lifting a stay of an execution when the other conservative Justices voted to lift the stay. It makes sense that a new Justice with little experience in capital cases would be extra cautious, so it's hard to read much into this, I think."

Out of the Box Health Care Ideas

Just saw this June post from Brad DeLong, An Unrealistic, Impractical, Utopian Plan for Dealing with the Health Care Opportunity. Definitely thinking outside the box and has some interesting points.

Yglesias has some more on these lines. The Logic of DeLong Care.

For Democrats, a "Moment of Clarity" on Health Care?

Nate Silver wrote For Democrats, a "Moment of Clarity" on Health Care? "After a couple of very tough weeks, Congressional Democrats seem to be wising up on health care reform." Worth a read.

Mathew Yglesias has a little more on of the points in Hatch and Kennedy.

Who Are the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Republicans? writes Who Are the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Republicans? "Daniel Lee and I made these graphs showing the income distribution of voters self-classified by ideology (liberal, moderate, or conservative) and party identification (Democrat, Independent, or Republican). We found some surprising patterns."

Bobby Jindal Now Wants $300 Million for a Train

Matthew Yglesias wrote Bobby Jindal’s Newfound HSR Enthusiasm.

The Daily Show Debunks Death Panels

Jon Stewart on last night's Daily Show did the country a great service. His guest was former NY Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey who is critical of the healthcare bill and one of the original sources of the death panel idea (although she doesn't use that term). The interview was long and didn't fit in the episode, but he showed the first part unedited (taking up two segments in the show) and put the rest on the web.

Here's part 1 that was aired. After it's over, part 2 will start, but instead go to the second embedded video which shows the full part 2 (though they call it extended part 1) and then all of the rest (extended part 2).

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Betsy McCaughey Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Betsy McCaughey Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

A few things strike me about this interview. First, I haven't seen anything else on TV that actually read from the bill. Second, they do cut each other off a lot, but they also manage to let each other finish. Third, Stewart had obviously read the bill and lots of background info and could bring it up off the top of his head. He's more knowledgeable on the facts than any other journalist I've seen on TV. I don't think any of the news anchors could do that or any of the cable pundits aside from possibly Rachel Maddow. Fourth, Stewart can do that while being brief and funny and his guests aren't used to the forum and are at a disadvantage, and the audience's cheers don't help that.

I've been reading the bill too and parts are difficult. McCaughey mentions some of the issues; something that sounds good in one part can be different because of some other part. Much of it is just changes to existing laws and only lists the modifications and you need the full context. That said, the troubling part is she says she thinks the purpose of the bill is to deny old people care. Maybe that came across badly from the pressure of the show, but still. It sounds like she might have some issues with the wording of the language that could be tweaked to solve the issues, rather than throwing out the whole thing. If her only issue is that doctors will be incented to ignore patients when they want to change their living will at the last minute, then that sounds like something that could easily be fixed. She also says it will cut medicare by $500 billion from Medicare and that will kill old people but the other complaint with the bill is that it will cost too much.

Jon Stewart provided the most time of anything on national TV to get to the details of the issue. Including actually reading the bill. He had on someone who could speak authoritatively and gave her plenty of time (24 minutes). It wasn't completely successful at getting her point across, but wow it was good and I hope it happens more and improves even more.

Bush Raised Threat Level for Politial Reasons

The Washington Post reports, Ridge Cites Pressure Before 2004 Election to raise the threat level for political reasons.

"Former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, the first director of the Department of Homeland Security, says that he was pressured by other agency heads to raise the terrorism threat level on the eve of the 2004 presidential election -- a move he rejected as having political undertones. The disclosure comes in promotional materials for Ridge's new book, due out Sept. 1, in which he writes that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft tried to pressure him to raise the threat level."

Marc Ambinder says Don't Cry for Tom Ridge and that " Our skepticism about the activists' conclusions was warranted because these folks based their assumption on gut hatred for President Bush, and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence." Marcy Wheeler calls him out on it, Ambinder: Sorry I Was So Stupid, But I Was Right To Be Stupid. Ambinder updated his post. Brad DeLong wasn't satisfied, and his link to a Ron Suskind article, What Bush Meant, is a must-read.

Of course it's Glenn Greenwald who covers the topic most completely in Fringe leftist losers: wrong even when they're right. Also as usual, his Updates at the bottom of the post are even better than the article, including pointing out this bit from Atrios: "And just so it's clear: using the threat of terrorism to try to achieve political goals is, you know, what terrorists do."

I'm curious to see the full allegations when Ridge's book comes out. At the time of these incidents the raises did seem a bit coincidental. If the Bush administration really did this, I want him prosecuted, because Atrios is right, that's terrorism itself. Though we'll probably never have enough evidence to convict.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Prof. Dawn Johnsen, still waiting for confirmation to head the DoJ's OLC, goes back to Indiana University to teach. Apparently she only has 57 votes in the Senate because of ill Democrats. And the Republicans forgot their chanting of allowing an up or down vote.

Setback for US on Detention Claims

SCOTUSblog writes Setback for U.S. on detention claims. It seems a federal judge ruled the Pentagon can't use hearsay at trial (like you normally can't).

"The new development is another indication of how a dozen federal judges in Washington are shaping the law of detention, little by little, with only general guidance from the Supreme Court.  The net effect has been to hold the government to more demanding legal standards than it wanted, standards that it has vigorously resisted.

While the specific dispute centers on the arcane issue of what kinds of statements, declarations or other verbal descriptions of detainee activity can be admitted in habeas cases in federal court, there is a real practical dimension to it.  It puts the onus on Justice Department lawyers to show the material is convincing, and spares detainee lawyers the primary task of showing the contrary."

"He warned that he would not accept mere “conclusoary assertions from government officials” that it would be too difficult for them to come up with harder evidence. Officials with direct access to government evidence must give sworn statements about how hard it would be to come up with alternatives to hearsay, he added. If hearsay is all the evidence that the government has about a given detainee, Walton went on, that does not necessarily mean he will accept it. "

Why Are SCOTUS Justices Sworn In at the White House

The Blog of Legal Times has an interesting note in Rehnquist Papers: White House Wanted Publicity on Thomas Oath-Taking. Why are Supreme Court Justices sworn in at the White House and not at the Supreme Court? It used to be the Supreme Court but, starting with Clarence Thomas they moved it to the White House because the Court doesn't have television.

The Filibuster

Jack Balkin's The Constitutional Moment of Health Care Reform is an interesting essay on the state of the filibuster.

How The Average U.S. Consumer Spends Their Paycheck

Nice graphic: How The Average U.S. Consumer Spends Their Paycheck.

Donkeys Enable Voting In Afghanistan's Remote Areas

NPR reports Donkeys Enable Voting In Afghanistan's Remote Areas "Donkeys are playing a key role in helping Afghanistan stage its presidential election. In rural areas — where roads are almost impassable — 800 of these sturdy creatures delivered polling booths and ballot boxes. The donkeys traveled rickety bridges and steep mountain trails; in some cases, helicopters dropped off the materials in the most remote regions."

Caffeine vs Calories

Nice chart of Caffeine and Calories.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Boycotting Beck

Conner Clarke on Why Wal-Mart is Boycotting Glenn Beck.

"As you probably know, Fox host Glenn Beck has been losing lots of advertisers -- about 20 so far, including Wal-Mart, CVS and GEICO -- for calling Barack Obama a 'racist' with a 'deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.' I clicked around to see what people on the right were saying about the donnybrook, and found this page from, which appears to be organizing a counter boycott, or is at least offering the sinister warning that 'there will be repercussions from our side if [these companies] are so willing to become pawns of the left.' I find all of this a bit funny"

Read the rest, I agree completely.

Ten things you don’t know about the Earth

Ten things you don’t know about the Earth was surprisingly interesting. I hadn't heard of "Cruithne" before.

The Swiss Menace

The Swiss Menace is a really good NY Times op-ed from Sunday by Paul Krugman. He outlines the healthcare options in clear terms.

The British system is like the VA, the Canadian system is like Medicare and the Swiss system is like what we have in Massachusetts and what the Obama plan is.

"If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn’t have chosen this route. True “socialized medicine” would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That’s why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort. But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work."

Wall Street, More of the Same

Robert Reich wrote Obama's Second Biggest Test: Reforming Wall Street, and Why Early Indications Aren't Hopeful. It begins...

"Citigroup -- the giant Wall Street bank still on life-support courtesy of $45 billion from American taxpayers -- wants to pay its twenty-five top executives an average of $10 million each this year, and award its best trader $100 million. Whaaat?"

Boehner vs the Drug Industry?

So I haven't been happy with the concessions that the Obama administration gave the pharmaceutical industry. "The drug industry offered some $80 billion in concessions over a decade as part of their contribution to reducing health care costs. In return, the White House agreed not to pursue sharp price reductions under Medicare from the drug makers." Why is it House Republican Leader John A. Boehner (R-OH) of all people who's calling the drug industry out on it?, Boehner Assails Drug Industry ‘Appeasement’ on Health Care Bill.

"Boehner, in his letter, charged that PhRMA had opted to “accommodate a Washington takeover of health care at the expense of the American people in hopes of securing favorable treatment and future profits.”" Of course, doesn't the GOP believe that companies should only seek profits and that the market should decide which succeed and fail?

Giving Up on Bipartisanship

Paul Krugman wrote an Op-Ed last Thursday, Republican Death Trip. He talks about how Obama is dealing with his failure to move us past partisanship.

"Sure enough, President Obama is now facing the same kind of opposition that President Bill Clinton had to deal with: an enraged right that denies the legitimacy of his presidency, that eagerly seizes on every wild rumor manufactured by the right-wing media complex. This opposition cannot be appeased. Some pundits claim that Mr. Obama has polarized the country by following too liberal an agenda. But the truth is that the attacks on the president have no relationship to anything he is actually doing or proposing."

Krugman said it again on MSNBC “you can’t actually satisfy the crazies by trying to offer substantive concessions” and Mathew Yglesias comments in , The Trouble With Appeasement.

On Friday, Krugman wrote Journamalism. "This gets at one of my biggest gripes: reporting that focuses on the political game without ever informing readers or viewers about the actual facts." I note that in these articles Krugman is careful to point out which statements are true and which are false and I really appreciate that.

He gives an example that he looked into. My experience in 1996 while looking through all the Boston Globe articles on the governor election the weekend before the voting. I looked through over 100 articles from over the course of the campaign and only three were on the issues. The others were on speeches or reviews of their TV ads. That convinced me that reading the news everyday was a waste of time and I started getting most of my news from weekly magazines.

J. Bradford DeLong takes it to heart in writing Why Orrin Hatch Lies a Lot (and Pete Domenici, Bob Dole, and Chuck Grassley too). He refers to a previous Krugman debate on bipartisanship. "Once the parties realigned, zero-sum partisan loyalties would dominate: Republicans like Hatch would think hard whether it was more important to vote for a bill because it was good for America or vote against it because then you could paint the Democratic president as a failure and pick up seats in the next election, and make their decision."

Attorney General Holder: Look at the Torture Photos

Daphne Eviatar of The Washington Independent wrote last week in Glenn Greenwald's blog: Attorney General Holder: Look at the torture photos. It's a thoughtful piece about the Obama administration's resistance to releasing more torture photos as part of investigating the torture under the Bush administration. "Although Bush Justice Department prosecutors claimed they didn't have the facts to support prosecuting anyone for the mysterious deaths and disappearances of detainees hauled out of Bagram and Abu Ghraib in body bags, the photographs -- which two courts have now ordered the Obama administration to turn over -- would seem likely to provide some of the missing evidence."

"Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer handling the case, answered that for me yesterday. 'The argument the government has put forward is unacceptable because it would afford the greatest protection from disclosure to records that depict the worst kind of government misconduct. That is fundamentally inconsistent with FOIA. And it's fundamentally inconsistent with democracy.'

It's a good point. Though I want to protect our troops as much as anybody, it turns out the law wasn't drafted to protect Americans from retaliation that might result because their country did something illegal, or even just really embarrassing. If it were, then evidence of any illegal or upsetting U.S. government conduct would be exempt from disclosure. And that would defeat the entire purpose of the Freedom of Information law."

Google Feature Trickle

I haven't really paid much attention to all the Google Apps stuff going on. I looked at it when announced and thought it had a lot of potential but wasn't quite baked yet. I know it's improved a lot but I haven't really gone back and looked at it or the myriad of other Google products like calendar, etc. I now think I know why.

Yesterday the Official Google Blog wrote Sharing with Google Groups "We recently rolled out improvements to the way Google Groups interacts with several of our applications. Now, sharing calendars, sites and documents with multiple people is easy — instead of adding people one at a time, you can simply share with an entire Google Group."

They keep rolling out one feature at a time and I really don't want to bother tracking changes at that granularity. Even with this announcement I was confused thinking this was groups in the contacts (aka address book) in Gmail, but no, it's the groups that does the public mailing lists (of which I'm on several). From a brief look it seems you still can't specify document access by groups in your gmail contacts. And in finding that out I had to remember that to get to Google Apps I click on "Documents" in the header of my gmail.

Maybe at somepoint Google will start really integrating their online apps and caring about the user experience across the line.

The Footnotes of Mad Men

If you're a fan of AMC's Mad Men (and you should be) you'll also like The Footnotes of Mad Men..

I Lost My Vote in Congress Because My Senator is Sick

The Boston Globe has an article Maine Senator Snowe gets gentle treatment on health care. It describes how Snowe is a swing voter on healthcare reform and is avoiding ideological lines. But this is what struck me...

"Snowe is one of three Republicans on the powerful Senate Finance Committee trying to work out a bipartisan deal. And based on her voting record, she is the most likely of the trio to break from the GOP and vote with Senate Democrats - who may need at least one Republican to get a bill passed, especially if Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, is unable to travel to Washington and cast a vote in the fall."

I understand one of my Senators is sick and I hope he gets better soon. I understand during his treatment he might not be able to travel, but why in this age of communication technology does he need to travel to DC to cast his vote? 200 years ago, sure, but now? Why do I lose representation in the Senate (for months) because of this? Massachusetts requires a special election to fill a mid-term vacancy, but why can't a Senator establish a proxy to vote for him during his illness? One of his aids answers his phone and speaks for him when I call.

Article II Section 6 of the Constitution says "They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place."

That's some travel policy; immunity from arrest while at work and while commuting! I don't know what the last clause means. They can't be questioned about their speeches except in Congress? Do journalists know this? Is this what all the uproar at town halls is about? People just want to make sure congressional members aren't questioned outside of Congress?

Update: Not the same but a related problem Kennedy seems be trying to fix things: Ailing Kennedy Asks For Speedy Replacement Process. "Kennedy’s letter acknowledges the state changed its succession law in 2004 to require a special election be held 145 to 160 days after the vacancy. At the time, legislative Democrats – with a wide majority in both chambers – were concerned because then-Republican Gov. Mitt Romney had the power to directly fill any vacancy created as Democratic Sen. John Kerry ran for president."

Here's a Clever Business

"You've committed your life to Jesus. You know you're saved.  But when the Rapture comes what's to become of your loving pets who are left behind?   Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind. "

"Each Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you've received your reward."

"For $110.00 we will guarantee that should the Rapture occur within ten (10) years of receipt of payment, one pet per residence will be saved. Each additional pet at your residence will be saved for an additional $15.00 fee. A small price to pay for your peace of mind and the health and safety of your four legged friends."

I love the FAQ including "Naturally, we must anticipate that there will be widespread chaos and confusion immediately following the Rapture that could impact travel times. Thus, we are targeting a maximum of between 18- 24 hours from realization of the Rapture, to animal rescue."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Newt Gingrich: Opportunist

Matt Taibbi wrote Newt Gingrich Changes What’s Left of his Mind on End-of-life Care. It seems a few months ago he was all about reform of health care at end of life and now he's opposed to death panels. Taibbi has all the quotes and breaks it down clearly.

"In other words, there may not be a death panel in the bill, but there are other panels, and while no one has actually ever said such a thing and it is not relevant to this particular discussion, I nonetheless assert that in general it is true that “people in government” believe in euthanasia.

Amazing. I mean, talk about being full of shit. This is as clear a case as you will ever find of a politician just getting up on television and just flat-out dogging it, saying something without even the faintest shred of belief, just as a means to an end. What an asshole!This is as clear a case as you will ever find of a politician just getting up on television and just flat-out dogging it, saying something without even the faintest shred of belief, just as a means to an end. What an asshole!"

I could respect a conservative party, I just wish we had an honest one.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

So, crazier then, or crazier now?

Rick Perlstein writes in the Washington Post In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition--Birthers, Health Care Hecklers and the Rise of Right-Wing Rage.

"Before the 'black helicopters' of the 1990s, there were right-wingers claiming access to secret documents from the 1920s proving that the entire concept of a 'civil rights movement' had been hatched in the Soviet Union; when the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced, one frequently read in the South that it would 'enslave' whites. And back before there were Bolsheviks to blame, paranoids didn't lack for subversives -- anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists even had their own powerful political party in the 1840s and '50s."

"If 1963 were 2009, the woman who assaulted Adlai Stevenson would be getting time on cable news to explain herself. That, not the paranoia itself, makes our present moment uniquely disturbing."

"The media didn't adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of "conservative claims" to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as "extremist" -- out of bounds."

"Good thing our leaders weren't so cowardly in 1964, or we would never have passed a civil rights bill -- because of complaints over the provisions in it that would enslave whites."

The 35 Best iPhone Apps Of The Year (So Far)?

TechCrunch lists The 35 Best iPhone Apps Of The Year (So Far). The only one I use on this list is Kindle.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mars Photos

Universe Today shows some amazing photos of Mars, HiRISE Highlights: Crater Within a Crater, Awesome View of Victoria and More. Here's just one but go to the page to see more.

Crater-within-a-crater-580x435 1.jpg

Chocolate Cuts Death Rate in Heart Attack Survivors

At least until the next study... Chocolate cuts death rate in heart attack survivors: study.

"Heart attack survivors who eat chocolate two or more times per week cut their risk of dying from heart disease about threefold compared to those who never touch the stuff, scientists have reported. Smaller quantities confer less protection, but are still better than none, according to the study, which appears in the September issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine. Earlier research had established a strong link between cocoa-based confections and lowered blood pressure or improvement in blood flow."

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field in 3D

A while ago I wrote about the Hubble Deep Field image. Here's a 4 minute youtube clip that ends with The Hubble Ultra Deep Field in 3D. It's the second such image and they mapped the red shift of all the galaxies and built a 3D model that they fly through. It's pretty impressive.

‘Death Panel’ Rumor Origins

The New York Times actually did some decent reporting in False ‘Death Panel’ Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots.

"But the rumor — which has come up at Congressional town-hall-style meetings this week in spite of an avalanche of reports laying out why it was false — was not born of anonymous e-mailers, partisan bloggers or stealthy cyberconspiracy theorists. Rather, it has a far more mainstream provenance, openly emanating months ago from many of the same pundits and conservative media outlets that were central in defeating President Bill Clinton’s health care proposals 16 years ago, including the editorial board of The Washington Times, the American Spectator magazine and Betsy McCaughey, whose 1994 health care critique made her a star of the conservative movement (and ultimately, New York’s lieutenant governor)."

Population Shift Likely To Cost MA Seat in US House

The Boston Globe reports Population shift likely to cost Mass. seat in US House. "Long-term economic and demographic shifts in favor of warmer climates with less expensive housing are to blame for the state’s slower growth, and thus the loss of a congressional district, according to estimates. Massachusetts’ population grew by just 2.3 percent from 2000 to 2008, compared with 8 percent nationally, a disparity that is expected to continue next year and beyond."

"The most likely outcome of redistricting would be to place two incumbents in the same district, forcing them to run against each other. In many states a nonpartisan board handles redistricting, but in Massachusetts the Legislature draws the borders and has a long history of gerrymandering."

They of course failed to mention that the word gerrymandering was coined for the actions of a Massachusetts governor in 1812, so yeah there's a "long history of gerrymandering".

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Different Presentations

It looks like someone took Jef Raskin's Humane Interface and turned it into a presentation tool called Prezi. It's kinda slick and certainly will stand out, though I'm not sure why their examples seem to like spinning so much.

Errol Morris on Lying

I don't think I knew that documentary great Errol Morris had a blog at the New York Times.

His most recent posting is a two parter, Seven Lies About Lying. Part 1 is mostly a conversation with the great Ricky Jay and Part 2 gets good once it gets into the seven lies.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Barack Obama Book Club

The Barack Obama Book Club. "Looking for your next book? Perhaps borrow a page from First Reader Barack Obama. The Daily Beast has combed newspaper archives and peeked into Air Force One tote bags to bring you the complete list of the books Obama has been reading—or, well, strategically let on that he is reading—since the beginning of the 2008 campaign. This is the Barack Obama Book Club, and the list shows a predilection for presidential profiles, a weakness for explain-it-all bestsellers, and the occasional hankering for literary fiction."

Rove E-Mails Shed New Light On U.S. Attorney Firings

NPR says Rove E-Mails Shed New Light On U.S. Attorney Firings. "'After all the delay and despite all the obfuscation, lies and spin, this basic truth can no longer be denied: Karl Rove and his cohorts at the Bush White House were the driving force behind several of these firings, which were done for improper reasons,' said Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee."

Top 10 Tricks for Making Your Playlists Rock

Lifehacker writes Top 10 Tricks for Making Your Playlists Rock. "If music is part of your everyday work routine, workout, or commute, stuffing your player full of tunes and hitting shuffle just won't cut it. Scan these 10 tips for improving and expanding your music playlists."

Action Comics No. 1

Someone has posted online all the pages of Action Comics No. 1 from 1938. This is the comic book that introduced Superman. I knew the origin story and his powers were different from what we know them today, but I was surprised at the stories too.

The first one has him breaking into a governor's house to get a pardon for a death row prisoner about to be killed. Another has him going after a wife beater.

Charlie Stross Talks with Paul Krugman

At World Con in Montrealon August 6, 2009, Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist and columnist for the New York Times" and "Charlie Stross, Hugo-winning science fiction author" had a conversation. It's nothing amazing but it is pretty fun.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Imposing Freedom

The Economist a few weeks ago had a special report on the Arab world. I really liked this article, Imposing freedom - Well that didn't work.

"Why did Mr Bush’s message of reform fail? One reason, a lot of Arab reformers say, is that he and his colleagues were—or at least became—the worst possible messengers. Thus Hossam Bahgat, founding director of a pressure group, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, admits to having been impressed and surprised when Ms Rice turned up at the American University in Cairo to say exactly what people like him had been longing to hear: that there would be no more American support for dictators. But when the American government then started to defend its own human-rights abuses at Guantánamo and elsewhere, he felt disgusted. ‘What we learnt from the Bush years was that reform was our own business,’ he says now.

In Arab eyes, the freedom agenda was also tainted by the war in Iraq. How could America claim to have Arab interests at heart while laying waste to one of the Arab world’s biggest countries (and, cynical Arabs add, the one most dangerous to Israel)?"

Why Neoconservative Pundits Love Jon Stewart

New York Magazine has an article Why Neoconservative Pundits Love Jon Stewart which explains why his news interviewers aren't just the funniest on television, but the best and most informative.

"'There is genuine intellectual curiosity,' May told New York. 'He's a staunch liberal, but he's a thoughtful liberal, and I respect that.' May isn't the only conservative gushing about Stewart. While the movement professes a disdain for the 'liberal media elite,' it has made an exception for the true-blue 46-year-old comedian. 'He always gives you a chance to answer, which some people don't do,' says John Bolton, President Bush's ambassador to the United Nations and a Fox News contributor, who went on the show last month. 'He's got his perspective, but he's been fair.' Says Bolton: 'In general, a lot of the media, especially on the left, has lost interest in debate and analysis. It has been much more ad hominem. Stewart fundamentally wants to talk about the issues. That's what I want to do.'"

I loved when he went on Crossfire and told them they were hurting America and ultimately got the show cancelled. I'm much more happy he's now leading by example and getting recognized for it. I'm also disappointed the neo-cons interviewed don't acknowledge that it's the conservatives news shows that are the most confrontational.

36 Dishes in Boston, MA

36 Dishes in Boston, MA. "In The New York Times weekly column, 36 Hours, a weekend-long itinerary is given for different cities., is taking a more culinary-focused, food-challenge approach to weekend travel with a new, occasional feature, 36 Dishes. The goal? To eat and drink a combination of 36 memorable dishes and beverages from significant places in a city during one weekend."

I've eaten at 9 of the places but I don't think I've had any of the dishes he had.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

2.40:1 Movies on 16:9 TV

Steven Soderbergh wrote Format Wars in DGA Quarterly.

"Television operators, the people who buy and produce things for people to watch on TV, are taking the position that films photographed in the 2.40:1 ratio should be blown up or chopped up to fit a 16:9 (1.78:1) ratio. They are taking the position that the viewers of television do not like watching 2.40 films letterboxed to fit their 16:9 screens, and that a film insisting on this is worth significantly less—or even nothing—to them"

MGM, IFC, Sundance, HDNet Movies and FMC get it right. Showtime mostly gets right. HBO and AMC get it wrong.

NASA - Kepler Mission Detects Exoplanet Atmosphere

NASA - Kepler Mission Detects Exoplanet Atmosphere

"NASA's new exoplanet-hunting Kepler space telescope has detected the atmosphere of a known giant gas planet, demonstrating the telescope's extraordinary scientific capabilities."

"[Planet] HAT-P-7 was known before Kepler turned its attention to the planet. Kepler's measurements are so precise, however, they show something new: a smooth rise and fall of the light caused by the changing phases of the planet, similar to the phases of our own Moon. Kepler could also see the planet's light vanish completely when it passed behind its parent star"

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Omnivore’s Delusion: Against the Agri-intellectuals — The American, A Magazine of Ideas

I'm hesitant to link to anything put out by the American Enterprise Institute, but in The American, Blake Hurst takes on Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Delusion: Against the Agri-intellectuals. He's a farmer and he has some issues with Pollan's arguments. Like so many things, I don't know which is right, but I found this interesting to read...

"We raised the hogs in a shed, or farrowing (birthing) house. On one side were eight crates of the kind that the good citizens of California have outlawed. On the other were the kind of wooden pens that our critics would have us use, where the sow could turn around, lie down, and presumably act in a natural way. Which included lying down on my 4-H project, killing several piglets, and forcing me to clean up the mess when I did my chores before school. The crates protect the piglets from their mothers. Farmers do not cage their hogs because of sadism, but because dead pigs are a drag on the profit margin, and because being crushed by your mother really is an awful way to go. As is being eaten by your mother, which I've seen sows do to newborn pigs as well."

"In his book, Pollan quotes geographer Vaclav Smil to the effect that 40 percent of the people alive today would not be alive without the ability to artificially synthesize nitrogen. But in his directive on food policy, Pollan damns agriculture's dependence on fossil fuels, and urges the president to encourage agriculture to move away from expensive and declining supplies of natural gas toward the unlimited sunshine that supported life, and agriculture, as recently as the 1940s. Now, why didn't I think of that?"

"The last time I planted a cover crop, the clover provided a perfect habitat in early spring for bugs, bugs that I had to kill with an insecticide. We do not normally apply insecticides, but we did that year. Of course, you can provide nitrogen with legumes by using a longer crop rotation, growing clover one year and corn the next. But that uses twice as much water to produce a corn crop, and takes twice as much land to produce the same number of bushels. We are producing twice the food we did in 1960 on less land, and commercial nitrogen is one of the main reasons why. It may be that we decide we would rather spend land and water than energy, but Pollan never mentions that we are faced with that choice."

Two Good Mad Men Articles

Mad Men Season 3 begins a week from Sunday on AMC. They're showing reruns in the mean time. Here are two good articles: The Women Behind ‘Mad Men’ from the Wall Street Journal and the very long Don and Betty’s Paradise Lost in Vanity Fair.

Hiroshima, 64 Years Ago in Pictures

Yesterday, August 6th was the 64th anniversary of when the Enola Gay dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima. The Boston Globe has some amazing photos in Hiroshima, 64 years ago.

Jetlev-Flyer - The Upcoming Watersport?

Jetlev looks pretty cool:

Political Spectrum Quiz Results

My Political Views
I am a center-left social libertarian
Left: 2.33, Libertarian: 4

I had a hard time with some of the questions on this Political Spectrum Quiz. E.g., "A person's morality is between that person and God only. Government should not get involved." Aside from the God part does morality mean murder? I'm in favor of anti-murder laws. I'm not in favor of the state legislating things consenting adults can do which some people treat as immoral.

Overheard at Airport

True or not, what Greg Laden Overheard at airport is funny.

The Town Hall Mobs

Krugman has a good op-ed today The Town Hall Mob.

"Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison. I’ve gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatization activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can’t find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds. And I can’t find any counterpart to the death threats at least one congressman has received."

James May Rides in a U2 Spy Plane

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

I went to a free screening of District 9 tonight. The first trailer had so much promise. An alien ship arrives on earth and seems to be stuck over Johannesburg. Many aliens have come down to the surface and now live in a walled off shanty town. The trailer shows an alien being interrogated and asked how his weapons work. See all the real world parallels this brings up? Fiction used to explore reality? Forget it. The movie doesn't really do anything with it.

There's no explanation for how the humans and aliens understand each other's language. It begins with humans walking around the district handing out eviction notices and expecting the aliens to sign them. Seriously. All the humans are sadists or idiots or usually both. You don't want to root for any of them. The aliens all seem to be worker drones, so they're dumb too and this is why no one is repairing the ship (though you'd expect workers to... never mind).

The film unfolds as a documentary, with cuts between interviews with people and events of the story. But it's not consistent, at times it's showing events not in the documentary even though it's still using the same shaky handheld camera. And some events in the documentary are filmed from too many camera angles. Even though there are 1.8 million aliens in it, this is the least crowded shanty town ever. The characters often make very stupid decisions and the film definitely glorifies the violence as they find more and more ways to make bodies go splatter. Air support shows up in force in one scene and doesn't show up at all in another. No reason given.

There is a plot, but I won't describe it. I suspect it's far more sensible than that of Transformers 2, but I was mostly disappointed in how it developed and what they were ignoring. The real problem is we don't find out enough about the aliens or even how humans reacted to their arrival. There could be a sequel but I doubt it. They had a great premise and obvious parallels to apartheid; but wasted it telling a story only slightly better than Cloverfield's and not having anything more to say about apartheid. As an action movie, it's pretty good, and the special effects are very good; but rewatch that trailer, is it an action movie? Which film would rather see?


Ok, I'm completely shocked that Rotten Tomatoes is showing 10 out of 10 favorable reviews for this film. I really wanted to find out more about the aliens and how their arrival changed earth rather than all this Fly-like stuff happening to Wikus. Some of the things that bothered me:

If you're sprayed in the face by alien goo and start feeling ill, you go to a doctor. If you see someone sprayed in the face by alien goo and watch him start getting ill, you suggest to him that he goes to a doctor.

Why did the ship come in the first place? What happened to it? Why did they let the aliens off the ship in the first place? Couldn't the smart aliens have hidden on board? If they were looking through the alien technology to find the fluid, wouldn't there be a ton of it on the ship? Why didn't the smarter aliens ever talk with the humans? Were there more smart aliens? What happened to them? Just what is their relationship to the worker drones?

MNU reminded me of Haliburton but even I think Dick Cheney has more heart than these people. And really, if you have the first specimen with a trait you're interested in, you don't dissect (or vivisect) him immediately. Especially if he's married to your daughter.

If you've setup a shanty town for the aliens and are going to move it and obviously don't care much about their lives, you do not come up with a process that requires getting 1.8 million alien signatures by walking around the town. Instead you bring in buses and say they'll take you to a place with lots of cat food and watch them get on board.

If you have a secret ship hidden underground, why not put your secret lab and stash of fluid in it, rather than in a shanty without a lockable door?

Doesn't everyone know you can be tracked by using your cellphone? Hell, you can be tracked by just having your cellphone, even if it's off (you have to physically remove the battery).

I've seen a few reviews praising the arc that Wikus goes through, starting out as an ass and then feeling so much for him in the final scene. That's not an arc and I don't think he changed too much. First he starts off treating the prawns as dumb sub-humans. A fine parallel to apartheid, but of course in this case it's actually true, the prawns aren't human and are dumb. They are at least sentient and Wikus doesn't seem sensitive to that at all. So then his transformation begins and he starts to panic. There's not character change there, just a new situation to deal with. When he finds Christopher he's surprised he's intelligent and that changes his view of the prawns, but then it should, it's a different kind of prawn. But even still, he's all about his own self-interest and that doesn't change until the very end when all seems lost and he kills many soldiers so Christopher can get away. How cliche is that? Even Christopher saying I will return in 3 years reminded me of Daniel Day Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans, except in that film he did. At the end Wikus turns into a prawn and misses his wife. Awww. I bet a lot of the other people who died in this film had families they loved and miss, but the film doesn't even make an attempt to address that. And given Wikus' initial behavior and how quickly her father gets her to turn against Wikus, how strong do you think that relationship was to begin with? The film didn't do enough to make me care about him.

You have enough fluid for interstellar travel and hand weapons more powerful than anything else on earth. Are there any ships weapons to use before you leave? It's a city-sized ship with 1 million passengers on it, most all of whom are worker drones, wouldn't you expect to need more than two people to pilot it? And really, the humans don't want the drones around, couldn't you at least consider taking them with you? Wouldn't it be an interesting story if the human civilians wanted them to go but MNU wanted them to stay for the weapons? What would they have to negotiate with MNU to let them all go? Maybe leave weapons and hints to develop the tech to use them and what effect would that ultimately have on earth?