Friday, April 30, 2010

Hacker of Sarah Palin's e-mail found guilty

Reuters reports, Hacker of Sarah Palin's e-mail found guilty.

"After four days of deliberations, a federal jury found David Kernell, the 22-year-old son of a Democratic Tennessee state legislator, guilty of obstruction of justice, a felony, and unauthorized access of a computer, a misdemeanor.

Kernell was cleared of a wire fraud charge, and the jury could not agree on a verdict on a charge of identity theft.

Judge Thomas Phillips declared a mistrial on the identity theft charge but did not set a date for sentencing.

The obstruction charge alone carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years, while the misdemeanor count is punishable by up to one year in jail."

I think he is clearly guilty of the misdemeanor and perhaps of the obstruction of justice charge (I don't know the details of that). I hope the sentencing is lenient, 20 years would be crazy.

Warning: Measure Your Salt

Warning: Measure Your Salt "It is the first three figures that we need to pay attention to, because those are the salts we’re most likely to use in our cooking and baking. We learn from them that a tablespoon of Morton’s kosher salt is the equivalent of 1.85 tablespoons of Diamond Crystal — just half a teaspoon shy of 2 tablespoons. We learn that a tablespoon of table salt can be replaced by 2 1/4 tablespoons of Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 1 1/4 tablespoons of Morton’s."

Gulf Oil Spill Creeps Towards Mississippi Delta

The Earth Observatory Image of the day is Gulf Oil Spill Creeps Towards Mississippi Delta.

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"The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured a natural-color image of the oil slick just off the Louisiana coast. The top image shows a wide-area view, and the bottom image shows a close-up view of the oil slick (outlined in white in the top image). The oil slick appears as dull gray interlocking comma shapes, one opaque and the other nearly transparent. The northwestern tip of the oil slick almost touches the Mississippi Delta. Sunglint—the mirror-like reflection of the Sun off the water—enchances the oil slick’s visibility."

Hitchcock's Forgotten Silent Films Restored

Hitchcock's forgotten silent films restored "A nationwide Alfred Hitchcock retrospective featuring nine of the celebrated director's rare silent films, made at the start of his career, will be staged in 2012 in a series of public screenings."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Goldman

Over the weekend, Nate Silver wrote On Goldman.

What the Hell is Wrong with People?

This morning I was on the phone talking to a friend. I was pacing around and looking out my living room window at the street. I saw a man across the street walking his beagle. He crossed to my side of the street. The local weekly town paper was on the small three foot high stone wall around my lawn (next to the sidewalk).

I watched him pick up the paper, take off the yellow plastic wrapper and layout the paper on the wall. He tore off a part of the cover and blew his nose with it! He then crumpled that up and threw it in the bushes! He then tore off another piece and did it again and then walked away!

I was still in pajamas but went to the front door, opened it and yelled out "Nice!" and closed the door. That seemed to shame him as he walked back to the paper, picked it up and the crumpled sheets and walked them across the street and threw them in the trash cans a neighbor had put out at the curb.

Who does that?!?!

Good thing I don't care about the local paper.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Movie Review: Cairo Time

Cairo Time is an unusual film. Partricia Clarkson plays Juliette Grant who's husband Mark works for the UN. The films opens with her arrival in Cairo for a planned vacation but he's delayed in Gaza. She has several days on her own waiting for him. Alexander Siddig plays Tareq Khalifa a former co-worker of Mark's who now runs a coffee shop in Cairo and who Mark arranges to look after her. Juliette is very quiet and contemplative. The script has her not sleeping well which might be an excuse but I found her role a little underwritten. Some romantic tension between Juliette and Tareq does develop.

In the end, Juliette is our excuse to observe Cairo. The film gives an amazing sense of place. It's not a travelogue and there are plenty of films in famous cities, but I got the feeling I've seen Cairo and have never seen it before. Lot's of films have shots of famous places, but this felt far more substantial. There are some wonderful pans of the skyline and I'm not sure how they were shot.

I'll probably forget the characters pretty easily but I'm going to remember some of the locations for a long time.

Movie Review: The Good, the Bad, the Weird

The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a western made in and set in 1940s Manchuria. The MacGuffin is a treasure map. Three outlaws and their gangs are after it after it's stolen from a train. The Japanese army and a Chinese gang known as the Ghost Market are also after it.

It's an modern retelling of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with lots of action and some very modern visuals. There are some big set pieces and sweeping camera moves that are often dazzling. The characters are a bit cartoony, particularly "The Weird" who could almost be a Jackie Chan character but isn't as outright comedic. I did get a Shaolin Soccer kind of vibe though where that's a comedy, this is a western.

I thought the movie was a great deal of fun. The last half hour was to me a little stretched out but it was in keeping with the over-the-top storytelling.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Movie Review: Drones

Drones is a small film, written in six days and shot in 14. It's directed by Amber Benson and Adam Busch both actors from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's a droll comedy set in an office. There's all the office politics, friendships, and romance you'd expect in Office Space or The Office. There's also the added twist that some of the workers are aliens and the added added twist that for the most part that doesn't matter too much.

I found the beginning to be very entertaining. I wasn't laughing out loud but I was smiling the whole time. Then it started to get very funny as the situations escalated. It's all in the dialog and the deadpan acting. There are a couple of wonderfully horrible PowerPoint presentations and great office complaints.

They changed the database from chronological to alphabetical, what could they be thinking!?
"Don't worry, I'm going to write a strongly worded memo!"

Still, at it's heart is a romance about Brian and Amy. They work at the same place but seem like aliens to each other. Literally and figuratively.

"High Five!"

Definitely one of the best films at IFFBoston.

Movie Review: Do It Again

Do It Again is a documentary of Boston Globe report Geoff Edgers quest to reunite The Kinks. Geoff interviews various musicians and producers and tracks down some former band members. Realizing his goal may well be unattainable, he also tries to play Kinks songs with several musicians, including Sting, Robyn Hitchcock, and Zooey Deschanel. The film works because Geoff is entertaining enough on camera. A friend said he was "the perfect blend of reporter and obsessive fan".

Movie Review: Erasing David

David Bond lives in Britain (London I think) and one day got a letter saying the Child Benefit Office had lost some records of 25 million Britons and his were among them. Bond got fairly obsessed over how many agencies and organizations had records of him and what was the risk to his privacy. Erasing David is a documentary about him finding out this information and putting things to test by trying to disappear for a month. He also hired investigators to try to find him. The film switches between "chase" scenes and flashbacks to David research the extent of Britain's surveillance state.

This Times article from a week ago is pretty complete and had some details I'd wondered about but didn't remember from the film, Can you disappear in surveillance Britain?:

"Before going on the run, he made 80 formal requests to government and commercial organisations for the information they held on him. He piled the replies on his floor, appalled by the level of detail. The owners of the databases knew who his friends were, which websites he’d been looking at, and where he had driven his car. One commercial organisation was even able to inform him that, on a particular day in November 2006, he had “sounded angry”. It was more than he knew himself."

"And what if the information about us is wrong? Bond found that the DVLA still keeps on record a youthful driving offence that should have been expunged years ago. He waved it grimly at his uncomprehending daughter: “This is Daddy’s drink-driving record.” Worse was the case of a woman he met, falsely identified by the Criminal Records Bureau as a convicted shoplifter, who’d taken a year to prove her innocence. Or the man who, after someone pinched his credit card details and used them to pay for porn, was arrested, then sacked without notice; when Bond met him, he still hadn’t been able to clear his name."

Two things in particular struck me about the film. First was that paranoia that overcame David. He was always looking over his shoulder worried that he was being followed. This was even when he was off in the woods with no one around and that being followed wasn't part of the plan. If the investigators were there they would just come up to him, they wouldn't "follow" him. The other thing was about how wrong he was. He spent a lot of time taking odd routes and being difficult to follow while on the way to his mother's house. The investigators had no idea where he was, but they did have someone staking out his mom's house in case he went there.

Movie Review: Teenage Paparazzo

Teenage Paparazzo is a great documentary by Adrian Grenier, the star of HBO's Entourage. While being swarmed by paparazzi he noticed 13 year-old pararazzo Austin Visschedyk in crowd and was fascinated by him. He decided to find out more about him and start a documentary project. What's really great about the film is
how the story changes as they learn more.

Grenier is the perfect person to make this film. He's a well-known celebrity but not the a-list tabloid fare. So he knows a bit about paparazzi and the red carpet but not like Paris Hilton does. But his celebrity lets him interview the Hilton and Lohan and Eva Longoria, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon and others. He's also made some previous documentaries so he's curious about it. And of course there's the added irony that he became famous for playing a celebrity in Entourage.

Adrian first wants to know about this kid and his parents who let him go out till 3am and run around West Hollywood chasing celebrities. He really is dedicated to the job and has earned a substantial amount of money selling his photos to the tabloids. He's home schooled and gets good grades. He asks other celebrities about the 13 year-old paparazzo and most find him cute and are therefore willing to give him some good shots. Then Grenier wants to find out more about the job. At first, Austin's paparazzi friends don't trust him but when Grenier picks up a camera himself, they get more talkative.

The film then goes much further. Austin becomes a bit of a celebrity himself and is in discussions about starring in a reality show. Grenier detects some changes in Austin and wonders about the cause. He interviews scholars on the subject of celebrity and pop culture and our obsession with fame. He then ultimately has to take some responsibility for Austin's celebrity since his documentary project is well known. The film then gets even more self-referential.

It's remarkably engaging and probably my favorite film of IFFBoston so far. I hope it gets a release or a TV showing so it gets a wider audience.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Movie Review: Down Terrace

Down Terrace is a British crime film. Bill and Karl are father/son crime figures who've just gotten out of jail and are trying to lay low at their home with Maggie, Bill's wife and Karl's mother. We don't know details about what they did or even their last name but we do hear a lot of conversations as various people visit the home. Karl's girlfriend arrives and she's pregnant. Various other associates visit and Bill and Karl try to figure out who leaked information to the police. And of course, the family argues.

The writing is good. The conversations are interesting and as the stakes are steadily raised we consistently get deeper into the characters. There were a few too many (almost tender) scenes of the family singing for my tastes but that was ok. They did serve as a good contrast to the swearing and rows.

My only other issue is that the film was mostly shot in extreme closeup. Most all of it takes place in their house and with so few wide shots I barely got a sense of what the house looked like. I read afterwards that Bill and Karl were played by real life father-son pair of Robert and Robin Hill (who also co-wrote it) and it was shot in the home Robin grew up in (in just 8 days). I assume now all the closeups were meant to make up for the lack of space to film wider.

Sorta The Sopranos crossed with The Snapper and bit of Shakespearian tragedy. Good film not great, but I think I'm liking it more in retrospect.

Movie Review: Bass Ackwards

Bass Ackwards is a road movie of a man driving cross-country from Seattle to Boston. I'm not sure depressed is the right word, but he's clearly confused about who he wants to be and lets people walk all over him. He meets a few people on the trip and there are a couple of geniunly good scenes with interesting characters. But star/writer/director choose to go too much for tone, with long rambling driving scenes with a very repetitive soundtrack. That can be fine, but I found it didn't sustain the 1:45 running time. Particularly since in the end, the protagonist's change is so slight.

Movie Review: Machotaildrop

Machotaildrop was a bizarre almost Prisoner like skateboarding film. I really enjoyed the first 15 mins or so but then it became more directionless. It almost seemed like Troma quality but the acting was better and the locations and sets were quite good. But I really can't recommend it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The MGM Lion

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"Above is the recording of MGM’s lion in 1929. Since its inception as the mascot of the Goldwyn pictures, five lions have graced the beginnings of every MGM movie and the above is the 1929 photo and recording session for its second lion, Jackie."

Tell Wall Street to Stop Shorting America & Defrauding Reform

Found out about this here.

Have Conservatives Gone Mad?

Marc Ambinder writes in the Atlantic, Have Conservatives Gone Mad?.

"I really do want to take Republicans seriously.  Mainstream conservative voices are embracing theories that are, to use Julian Sanchez's phrase, 'untethered' to the real world. Can anyone deny that the most trenchant and effective criticism of President Obama today comes not from the right but from the left? Rachel Maddow's grilling of administration economic officials. Keith Olbermann's hectoring of Democratic leaders on the public option. Glenn Greenwald's criticisms of Elena Kagan. Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn's keepin'-them-honest perspectives on health care. The civil libertarian left on detainees and Gitmo. The Huffington Post on derivatives."

Movie Review: Cyrus

Cyrus is a very odd comedy. John C. Reilly plays a depressed divorced man named John. His ex (Catherine Keener) is remarrying and drags him to a party. There's a lot of modern comedy about uncomfortable scenes and Cyrus delivers here. Where it gets odd is that Molly (Marisa Tomei) is attracted to him. What improbably wouldn't even be a one night stand turns into a relationship. You have to figure she has something emotionally wrong with her and it turns out it's Cyrus, her 21 year-old son who lives with her and is played by Jonah Hill. Their relationship is a bit too close. John and Molly's relationship then become how well Cyrus accepts John. You can see the comic potential.

A good amount of that potential was achieved, I did laugh a lot, but the film sticks to an offbeat tone and a unique voice. That usually goes a long way for me this time it kept me off balance. Molly and Cyrus kept talking about honesty and openness but it turns out one of them wasn't and the other was utterly blind. What I thought was leading up to a giant blow out, just petered out in the end. That may be unconventional, but it also undercut my understanding of the characters.

The film also had some awkward handheld camera work with arbitrary zooming that didn't work for me. There were also some odd editing choices with the dialog not matching the shots of the characters. That can all be ok, but it seemed to do this for no useful effect and just called attention to itself and pulled me out of the story. That's exactly what editing is supposed to not do.

Up until the ending I would have given this film a four out of five, but I just sat dumbstruck at the ending (literally) and that dropped it down to a three.

Death Panels

Reuters wrote Exclusive: WellPoint routinely targets breast cancer patients.

"The women paid their premiums on time. Before they fell ill, neither had any problems with their insurance. Initially, they believed their policies had been canceled by mistake. They had no idea that WellPoint was using a computer algorithm that automatically targeted them and every other policyholder recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The software triggered an immediate fraud investigation, as the company searched for some pretext to drop their policies, according to government regulators and investigators."

Why Ebert Is Wrong: In Defense of Games as Art

Why Ebert Is Wrong: In Defense of Games as Art was a good read and described some games that I've never heard.

Movie Review: Perrier's Bounty

Perrier's Bounty is an Irish crime story. It reminded me most of In Bruges but that was more serious and this more of a dark comedy.

Michael (Cillian Murphy) needs to pay back a loan shark (Brendan Gleeson) before his men will break two of his bones (of his choosing). Michael's father (Jim Broadbent) shows up and says he's going to die soon but is willing to help his son. Michael's neighbor (Jodie Whittaker) who he has a crush on, is pining for her philandering boyfriend. One situation leads to another, tracking down more loan sharks, a quick crime to raise money, a drug dealing friend, some vicious dogs and two of the most dedicated parking cops I've ever seen.

The cast is great and the film is put together well. The story is easy to follow even though the accents can be a little thick at times. I liked the music a lot too, but wished it wasn't quite so loud. The violence is quite harsh, but not gratuitiously bloody; the point being to generate shock but not revulsion.

I really enjoyed it, but you have to appreciate this kind of film.

Don't Ignore the Tea Party's Toxic Take on History

Ron Rosenbaum in Slate wrote Don't ignore the Tea Party's toxic take on history.

"I'd been trying to find a way to write about Tea Party ideology, and in particular about the fraudulent history and distorted language it indulges in. Listen to Tea Partiers on cable news—or read the signs they hoist or their Internet comments—and you frequently encounter the flagrant abuse, the historically ignorant misuse, of words such as tyranny, communist, Marxist, fascist, and socialist.

You hear them say, for instance, that we live under 'tyranny' because one side lost a health care vote in an elected legislative body. And that, in all seriousness, the president is a communist. For many Tea Party members, the word is not just a vile epithet; it's a realistic political description. Check out this clip in which Tea Party 'celebrity' spokeswoman Victoria Jackson flatly tells a flummoxed Fox News host, 'The president's a communist.' When the host (the Fox host!) starts to object, she responds that Glenn Beck has taught her that progressive is a code word for communist. "

"The muddled Tea Party version of history is more than wrong and fraudulent. It's offensive. Calling Obama a tyrant, a communist, or a fascist is deeply offensive to all the real victims of tyranny, the real victims of communism and fascism. The tens of millions murdered. It trivializes such suffering inexcusably for the T.P.ers to claim that they are suffering from similar oppression because they might have their taxes raised or be subject to demonic "federal regulation.""

Thursday, April 22, 2010

SCOTUS Appointment Considerations

I still haven't researched potential Supreme Court nominees to have an opinion. A few articles I've read seem to be suggesting Diane Wood, one of the more liberal possibilities, would be best, in part because she is very good at convincing the conservative members of her court. We'll see.

I've also heard a few times that retiring Justice Stevens is currently the only Protestant Justice and the only Justice with military experience, he was a cryptographer in World War II, having enlisted the day before Pearl Harbor. There's also been talk that perhaps the court should have some more diversity and have some non-judges.

This reminded me of an NPR story I heard a while ago and had a hard time tracking down. I don't know much more about him, but how about Colby Vokey? Respected Marine Lawyer Alleges Military Injustices:

"By all accounts, Colby Vokey is a model officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, at one point helping command an artillery unit in Kuwait during the Gulf War in 1991.

For the past four years, Vokey has served as chief of all the Corps' defense lawyers in the western United States — and he's played a key role in some of the military's most sensitive legal issues, including the murder investigation in Haditha, Iraq, and in the debate about detainees at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

"Colby Vokey?" muses retired Col. Jane Siegel "Integrity almost seems like a word too small to describe him."

Says Lt. Col. Matthew Cord, "He's just one of the best."

So when Vokey announced recently that he wanted to leave the Corps, it said something troubling about the military system of justice that he's served for almost 20 years. Vokey charges that some commanders and officials in the Bush administration have abused the system of justice, and he's going to retire from the Corps May 1, 2008."

As I said, don't know much about him. He's currently a lawyer in Dallas. I'm mostly posting this to point people at this story (again) and because I'm wondering how the Republican's would argue against him...

The SAFE Banking Act: Break Them Up

The SAFE Banking Act: Break Them Up "On Wednesday, Senators Sherrod Brown and Ted Kaufman unveiled a ‘SAFE banking Act’ with a clear and powerful purpose: Break up the big banks."

U.S. Soldier on 2007 Apache Attack: What I Saw

Wired has an interview with a U.S. Soldier on 2007 Apache Attack: What I Saw. A good read, though disturbing at times. He described what he saw when he came upon the scene then they talked a bit about the release of the video.

" Wikileaks presented the incident as though there was no engagement from insurgents. But you guys did have a firefight a couple of blocks away. Was it reasonable for the Apache soldiers to think that maybe the people they attacked were part of that insurgent firefight?

McCord: I doubt that they were a part of that firefight. However, when I did come up on the scene, there was an RPG as well as AK-47s there…. You just don’t walk around with an RPG in Iraq, especially three blocks away from a firefight…. Personally, I believe the first attack on the group standing by the wall was appropriate, was warranted by the rules of engagement. They did have weapons there. However, I don’t feel that the attack on the [rescue] van was necessary.

Now, as far as rules of engagement, [Iraqis] are not supposed to pick up the wounded. But they could have been easily deterred from doing what they were doing by just firing simply a few warning shots in the direction…. Instead, the Apaches decided to completely obliterate everybody in the van. That’s the hard part to swallow."

"McCord: When it was first released I don’t think it was done in the best manner that it could have been. They were stating that these people had no weapons whatsoever, that they were just carrying cameras. In the video, you can clearly see that they did have weapons … to the trained eye. You can make out in the video [someone] carrying an AK-47, swinging it down by his legs….

And as far as the way that the soldiers are speaking in the video, which is pretty callous and joking about what’s happened … that’s a coping mechanism. I’m guilty of it, too, myself. You joke about the situations and what’s happened to push away your true feelings of the matter."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Movie Review: The Extra Man

The Extra Man opened the Independent Film Festival of Boston tonight. It's a comedy based on the novel by Jonathan Ames. Paul Dano plays Louis Ives, a milquetoast who is asked to leave his position as a high school English teacher and decides to move to Manhattan to find himself. He rents a room in a shabby apartment from Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline) who's an eccentric once-promising playwright. Henry has no money but leeches off of high society elder women. Louis gets a job at a magazine and pines for a vegan environmentalist co-worker (Katie Holmes) while trying to resolve his own odd sexual predilections. Dano and Kline are both good but John C. Reilly steals the show as a neighbor with a lot of surprises.

I did laugh quite a bit but I can't say I loved it. Quirky is the easy word, it struck me as Wes Anderson without the melancholy but that doesn't really capture it. While there is a plot, it mostly seems an excuse to crafting a series of vignettes. There are lots of absurdities but little character development.

There was a Q&A afterwards with Kevin Kline and co-director Robert Pulcini. Kline was exactly as I expected him to be and was very funny. Virtually every sentence had a laugh in it and yet he did answer all the questions completely.

Iceland Eruption Disrupts Mass. Seafood Trade

WBUR reports News » Iceland Eruption Disrupts Mass. Seafood Trade something I hadn't heard of or thought about before.

"The ash was a big problem for Rich Stavis. The president of Stavis Seafoods in Boston had bought some fresh Norwegian salmon. The fish were sitting in a container in London last week, bound for Boston. But there, cargo planes were grounded, thanks to that volcano whose name Stavis couldn’t pronounce."

"Instead of packing scallops and monkfish onto ice in airplane shipping containers — activities both labor intensive and expensive — Tarabaigh froze his product and shipped it by boat. He also decided to sell more of that fresh fish here in the United States."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Photos of the Day Einstein Died

Life has a photo gallery of never before published photos, The Day Einstein Died. This is his desk:

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Different But The Same

Different but the same is a new blog: "I created this blog to compare old packing/logos with their current counterparts. I'm not a design, marketing or any sort of expert in any field relating to this subject. I just do this for fun. The examples of earlier design I use are from what I have, either magazine ads, old photos or actual 'artifacts'. They might not be the original design of a product, just an earlier version."

And just to be clear, I did not create the blog, I'm quoting from the site above.

Here's another, Second Rate Snacks, consisting mostly of things I don't want to eat either of, but I'm impressed by the dedication.

Why Cilantro Tastes Like Soap, for Some

Harold McGee wrote in the New York TImes Why Cilantro Tastes Like Soap, for Some. "FOOD partisanship doesn’t usually reach the same heights of animosity as the political variety, except in the case of the anti-cilantro party. The green parts of the plant that gives us coriander seeds seem to inspire a primal revulsion among an outspoken minority of eaters."

"Flavor chemists have found that cilantro aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these are modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes. The same or similar aldehydes are also found in soaps and lotions and the bug family of insects."

Saturn’s Seasons Are Made in the Shade

The Cassini mission reports, Saturn’s Seasons Are Made in the Shade.

"Saturn's atmosphere is affected by seasonal changes just like Earth's is, but perhaps even more so, because the poles spend nearly 15 Earth-years in winter darkness and the next 15 years in sunlight. On top of that, the cooling shadow of the rings causes differences in heating and sunlight-driven chemistry between the shaded and sunlit parts of Saturn's atmosphere.

Cassini's years in orbit around Saturn have produced the first long-term space-based measurements of seasonal change on a gas-giant planet. In particular, Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer has recorded seasonal changes in Saturn's atmosphere, witnessing rapid responses in the atmospheric temperatures and hazes as the equinox approached last August. At that time, the incoming sunlight hit the rings edge-on, reducing the ring shadow to just a thin line across the planet's middle. Mission scientists have been struck by how quickly the atmosphere changed in response to the shifting ring shadow."

Best Package Tracker Ever

Maybe not, but I saw this lifehacker post about Boxoh - Maps and Tracks Your Packages. I went to the site, typed in the order I'm expecting from Amazon and found out it was delivered a half hour ago! I was home and never heard UPS. Yet again, finding out via the internet things that I should have known already.

4th Gen iPhone

There's a ton of stuff on the net about the iPhone prototype reported by Gizmodo. It looks real and I don't have much to say about it aside from the fact my two year contract is up in Sept so when this comes out I'll be in the market to upgrade :)

Justice Stevens Turns 90

The Associated Press reports Justice Stevens turns 90; only Holmes was older.

"Until Tuesday, Oliver Wendell Holmes was the only American who fit that description. Now, John Paul Stevens becomes the second Supreme Court justice to mark his 90th birthday on the court.

Stevens' recent announcement that he will retire this summer, a few months after turning 90, means Holmes will remain the court's oldest justice. He retired two months shy of his 91st birthday in 1932."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sarah Palin's House Hit List: No Money to Favored Candidates So Far

Sarah Palin's House Hit List: No Money to Favored Candidates So Far.

"Sarah Palin put the bull's-eye on 20 U.S. House races on her Facebook page last month, but didn't donate to favored candidates in those districts during the first quarter of the year. Although her SarahPAC took in $400,000 in the first quarter and had more than $900,000 in the bank, it gave only $7,500 to candidates between January and the end of March, plus an additional $2,000 to two other PACs. None went to Republicans in the races she targeted."

Eyjafjallajokull Photos

The Boston Globe has More from Eyjafjallajokull, crazy amazing photos.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Humor: Conservative and Liberal Views of the World

Kottke pointed me at this, I am an American conservative shitheel:

"This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US department of energy. I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the national weather service of the national oceanographic and atmospheric administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the national aeronautics and space administration. I watched this while eating my breakfast of US department of agriculture inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the food and drug administration.

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US congress and kept accurate by the national institute of standards and technology and the US naval observatory, I get into my national highway traffic safety administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the environmental protection agency, using legal tender issued by the federal reserve bank. On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US postal service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the department of labor and the occupational safety and health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal's inspection, and which has not been plundered of all it's valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log on to the internet which was developed by the defense advanced research projects administration and post on and fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right."

And here is the full liberal version:

"This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock, powered by energy generated solely by Southern California Edison and manufactured by the Sony Corporation.

I then took a shower in my house constructed by Centex Homes, sold to me by a Century 21 real estate agent, and mortgaged by Citibank.

After that, I turned on my Panasonic television which I purchased with a Washington Mutual credit card to a local NBC Corporation affiliate to see what their team of hired meteorologists forecasted the weather to be using their weather radar system.

While watching this, I ate my breakfast of eggs and bacon, both produced by a local farm and sold to me by my local grocery store, and took my prescribed medication manufactured by Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Astra-Zeneca, and Novartis.

When my Motorola-manufactured Cable Set Top Box showed the appropriate time, I got into my Toyota-manufactured Prius vehicle and set out to my graphic design workplace and stopped to purchase some gasoline refined by the Royal Dutch Shell company, using my debit card issued to me by Bank of the West. On the way to my workplace, I dropped off a package at the local UPS store for delivery, and [ropped my children off at a local private school.

Then, after spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the company-mandated standards enforced at my workplace, I drive back to my house which had not burned down in my absence because of the high manufacturing quality of the products inside and of the company which built my house, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the alarm services provided by Brinks Home Security. I was able to rest easy knowing that even had this happened, I would have an Allstate insurance policy which would cover any damage to my home and anything that was stolen.

I then logged onto the internet, financed and ran in part by various different private corporations such as Google, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, and posted on the Huffington Post and Daily Kos about how capitalism is the source of all evil in this country."


I heard this commercial while watching At The Movies today. I have no knowledge of nor opinion on Cymbalta itself but the commercial spent 47 seconds reading the following...

"Tell your doctor right away if your depression worsens, if you have unusual changes in behavior or thoughts of suicide. Anti-depressants can increase these in children, teens and young adults. Cymbalta is not approved for children under 18. People taking MAOIs or thioridazine or with glaucoma should not take Cymbalta. Taking it with NSAID pain relievers, aspirin or blood thinners may increase bleeding risk. Severe liver problems, some fatal were reported. Signs include abdominal pain and yellowing of the skin or eyes. Talk with your doctor about your medicines, including those for migraine, or if you have high fever confusion and stiff muscles to address a possible life threatening condition. Tell your doctor about alcohol use, liver disease and before you reduce or stop taking Cymbalta. Dizziness or fainting may occur upon standing. Side effects include nausea, dry mouth and constipation. Ask your doctor about Cymbalta."

I know it's FDA regulations requiring them to say this, or more likely lawyers CYA interpretation of such regulation. But isn't this a little ridiculous? The whole commercial was just 75 seconds, so 63% of it was this warning. I doubt the warning would change anyone's opinion of taking the drug and I doubt a defense of "well we warned them in our TV commercial" would hold up in court in any kind of lawsuit; so it's just pointless.

Sleep Schedules

FlowingData has a nice graphic, Sleep Schedule showing sleep patterns of a lifetime. 1.png

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Krugman v. McConnell

Paul Krugman in The Fire Next Time gives you all the ammunition you need to refute Mitch McConnell on financial reform.

SEC Charges Goldman with Fraud

James Kwak writes about SEC Charges Goldman with Fraud and has some good insights.


Yesterday I went to an award ceremony at Harvard:

"The Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism is presented at Harvard University each year by the Harvard Secular Society on behalf of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard and the American Humanist Association. Selected by a committee of 20-30 Harvard students each year, this award is given to a figure greatly admired by our students and community for both artistic and humanitarian reasons.

Now in its fourth year, the HSS Cultural Humanism committee has chosen the recipients for the award, the MythBusters, based on what they feel is an outstanding contribution to Humanism in culture. The MythBusters – special-effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman – take on the task of separating truth from urban legend on their television show with the same name. In true Humanist style, the pair takes on three myths per episode and uses modern-day science to demonstrate, through scientific trials, whether or not some things we take for granted really hold any ground."

It started with a 6 minute clip show of various explosions from the series. That alone was the worth $30 ticket. A few intro speeches and then Adam and Jamie gave their short speeches. Adam read his from his new iPad.

After that they took questions from the audience.


Forgive the poor photos. The venue was the Memorial Church in Harvard Yard and it's a terrible venue. There are enormous pillars that make sections on both sides obstructed view seats. If you go to something there, be sure to go early to be able to sit in the center section and remember there's a balcony with the same issue.

A few of their answers were fun. One of Jamie's favorite myths is coming up and is testing if a vehicle with square wheels would work if you go fast enough. It's an idea that's nonsensical at first but the more you think about it might be practical in some situations like uphill sandy terrain.

A myth they are unlikely to test is whether a truck of liquid oxygen spills will it combine with the asfault to make a bomb. They thought about it, but it's very volatile but not always consistent. So it will either kill everyone or be boring.

In an early episode Adam singed an eyebrow and was worried about his date later that night. Apparently it went "great".

They're most thrilled when their preconceptions are wrong. "At this point we've been around so many explosions they're like wine to us." Full bodied with a deep resonance on the back end.

Adam once tested if breast implants expand on a plane. He wore a bra with implants and held them to see if they changed size. Discovery deemed this sight too disturbing to air.

Adam described how they really love the creative process working through issues of testing a myth and making it understandable. Science isn't someone telling you the answer. It's this messy creative process that's like art or sculpture.

Update: Here's the text of Adam's speech.

Video of the Day

Amazing Photos of Neutrino Searching

Seed Magazine has some amazing photos of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antartica, Butterfly Nets for Ghosts.

"For decades physicists have suspected that neutrinos hold some of the universe’s darkest secrets. Determining their behavior and where they came from could tell rich stories of the early universe and potentially illuminate the curious nature of dark matter. Untold trillions of these tiny subatomic particles—some born soon after the birth of the universe, others born in the hearts of stars—have traveled unimaginable distances to pass through your body every second. So what does this mean for you? Not much, really. The nearly massless particles pass through almost all matter unabated, without leaving a trace. It’s this elusive nature that also makes them so difficult to detect and therefore study. Very occasionally, however, a neutrino collides into an atom, producing from the wreckage another particle—known as a muon—that can be detected (using special light sensors). At the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a team of pioneering researchers has buried thousands of these sensors miles deep into the ice at the bottom of the Earth, all in an attempt to catch the rare neutrino that crashes into an atom of ice. By analyzing the specific path of this subatomic train wreck, the researchers can trace the neutrino’s path to its distant cosmic source. In this way, IceCube looks through the Earth and to the northern skies, using the planet as a filter to select neutrinos. ‘I like to say we’re building butterfly nets for ghosts,’ says Francis Halzen, principle investigator of the project. ‘The ultra-transparent Antarctic ice itself is the detector. And a real bargain at just 25 cents per ton!’"

Two Cents on the Dollar

PHD comic has a nice Two cents on the dollar' breaking out the $68 billion in research funding from all parts of the $3,518 billion federal budget.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Goldman Sachs charged with fraud by SEC | Reuters

Reuters reports Goldman Sachs charged with fraud by SEC "The SEC alleged that Goldman structured and marketed a synthetic collateralized debt obligation that hinged on the performance of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities, and which cost investors more than $1 billion."

I'm glad they are finally digging into it and finding actual (I guess I have to say aledged) crimes.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Scientists Discover Five Things That Smell Good To Nearly Everyone

io9 reports on a paper, Scientists Discover Five Things That Smell Good To Nearly Everyone.

Taxes: Myths And Realities

Campaign for America's Future wrote Taxes: Myths And Realities.

The average tax cut the working poor got in 2009 under President Obama.

The average tax cut the working poor got under President Bush's tax cuts.

The percentage of income that a family of four in the exact middle of the income spectrum will pay in income taxes this year, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. That's the second-lowest percentage in the past 50 years.

10 percent
The increase in the average tax return that most working families are receiving this year due to tax cuts enacted under President Obama.

66.7 percent
The percentage of U.S.-owned corporations that paid no income tax in 2005, according to the Government Accountability Office."

Obama's NASA Plans

Obama announced some changes at NASA and there's been some talk about it. Of course, as Media Matters points out Fox doesn't need to understand Obama's NASA plan to attack it. Nevertheless Phil Plait of Bad Astronomer has a couple of posts on his plans and they look pretty good to me. President Obama’s NASA budget unveiled and after today's speech, Obama lays out bold and visionary revised space policy.

NSA Has Massive Database of Americans' Phone Calls

USA Today reports NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls.

"The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY."

"This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews."

""It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added."

In related news, Glenn Greenwald writes, The Obama DOJ's warrantless demands for e-mails. "A very significant case involving core privacy protections is now being litigated, where the Obama Justice Department is seeking to obtain from Yahoo "all emails" sent and received by multiple Yahoo email accounts, despite the fact that DOJ has never sought, let alone obtained, a search warrant, and despite there being no notice of any kind to the email account holder."

I'm only mildly disturbed by the NSA story since it's just metadata and not call content. The DOJ one is another matter. Just get a search warrant.

Library of Congress Acquires Entire Twitter Archive

The Library of Congress Blog reports How Tweet It Is!: Library Acquires Entire Twitter Archive "That’s right. Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006, will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. That’s a LOT of tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day, with the total numbering in the billions." And yes, the first thing I did was check the date of the post, it wasn't April first.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated

You have to make it to the end of this New York Times article, it's a riot. Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated.

Update: Digby comments on this article.

Does Being Wrong Have Consequences?

I'm tired of Republican lies. The latest stuff they're spewing on financial reform is laughable. Here's Robert Reich's take:

The Republican Strategy on Financial Reform: Make Democrats Look Like Patsies for the Street:

"Let’s be clear: The Dodd bill doesn’t go nearly far enough to rein in the Street. It allows so-called ‘specialized’ derivatives to be traded without regulatory oversight; its capital requirements are weak; it gives far too much discretion to regulators, who, as we’ve seen, can fall asleep at the switch; it does nothing about conflicts of interest within credit rating agencies that rate the issues of the companies that put food on their plates; it puts a consumer protection agency inside the Fed whose consumer bureau didn’t protect consumers; it doesn’t do anything to control the size of banks; it delays dealing with other hard issues by assigning them to vaguely-defined ‘studies;’ and, yes, it preserves the possibility that the Fed could launch another bank bailout.

But the Street thinks the Dodd bill goes way too far, and wants its Republican allies to water it down with more loopholes, studies, and regulatory discretion. Republicans figure they can accommodate the Street by refusing to give the Dems the votes they need unless the Dems agree to weaken the bill — while Republicans simultaneously tell the public they’re strengthening the bill and reducing the likelihood of future bailouts."

Here's Simon Johnson's take: Senator McConnell Is Completely Wrong On Financial Reform.

"Do not be misled by this statement.  Senator McConnell’s preferred approach is not to break up big banks; it’s to change nothing now and simply promise to let them fail in the future. This proposal is dangerous, irresponsible, and makes no sense.  The bankruptcy process simply cannot handle the failure of large complex global financial institutions – without causing the kind of worldwide panic that followed the collapse of Lehman and the rescue/resolution of AIG.  This is exactly the lesson of September 2008."

Then we get their take on the Nuclear Summit. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) says it made no meaningful progress. Spencer Ackerman explains Nuke Summit Wrap: Jon Kyl Embarrasses Himself. Kevin Drum sums it up as "Well now. China agreed to sanctions on Iran. Ukraine agreed to give up their HEU. Russia agreed to close down its last plutonium plant. And the entire conference agreed to focus far more attention on keeping fissile material out of the hands of terrorists. But, yeah, it didn't solve every world problem instantly in its first meeting. By that yardstick the whole thing was a failure."

Then there's the whole 47% of households owe no taxes crap. David Leonahrdt takes care of that in two New York Times articles: Yes, 47% of Households Owe No Taxes. Look Closer and Taxing the Rich, Over Time. "The 47 percent number is not wrong. The stimulus programs of the last two years — the first one signed by President George W. Bush, the second and larger one by President Obama — have increased the number of households that receive enough of a tax credit to wipe out their federal income tax liability. But the modifiers here — federal and income — are important. Income taxes aren’t the only kind of federal taxes that people pay. There are also payroll taxes and investment taxes, among others. And, of course, people pay state and local taxes, too." He then goes into lots of details and also has this picture:


So when is it that being wrong or lying actually has consequences in Washington?

Woman’s Shattered Life Shows Ground Beef Inspection Flaws

The Burger That Shattered Her Life is a Pulitzer Prize winning article from the New York Times. You may never eat ground beef again.

The Cover-Up

James Kwak wrote a great piece, The Cover-Up about the hedge fund Magnetar which was the subject of a This American Life story this weekend. I'd quote it, but all the paragraphs are good.

Washington Mutual Fraud

Here is yesterday's Opening Statement of Senator Carl Levin, U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Hearing on Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: The Role of High Risk Home Loans. It's more a summary of a year long investigation by a Senate subcommittee. Most of it is a fascinating case history of Washington Mutual and their fraudulent mortgages.

"WaMu built its conveyer belt of toxic mortgages to feed Wall Street’s appetite for mortgage backed securities. Because volume and speed were king, loan quality fell by the wayside, and WaMu churned out more and more loans that were high risk and poor quality. Once a Main Street bank focused on financing mortgages for its customers, Washington Mutual was taken in by the short-term profits that even poor quality mortgages generated on Wall Street."

Cat v iPad

Star Wars Uncut - “The Escape”

/Flim wrote: Star Wars Uncut - “The Escape”

"Last year an interactive art project was launched called Star Wars Unut. The idea was to recreate Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope using 472 15 second fan recreated scenes. Fans that participated recreated a 15 second segment of the film any way they wanted to. Some filmmakers submitted their own Be King Rewind-style Sweded video reproductions, while others recreated scenes using various forms of animation and photography.You can watch some of the clips on the StarWarsUncut website right now.

The plan has aways been to edit all of these segments back together in a fan created remake of the original Star Wars film. That time is now. Star Wars Uncut will premiere in Copenhagen at CPH:PIX Festival on April 19th and the project organizers claim that have several screenings in New York City in the works. To celebrate the upcoming premiere they have released a five minute segment of the film, a teaser they call ‘The Escape’."

Star Wars Uncut "The Escape" from Casey Pugh on Vimeo.

Memories of the Turn of the Century in Film

Film editor Steven Santos has a blog, The Fine Cut and has been reviewing films of the 2000s. Here's part three where he describes the first two parts, Memories of the Turn of the Century in Film, Part III: 2004/2005.

"With this series, beyond discussing my favorite films, I am covering the significant changes concerning the various aspects of movies in the '00's. While the first part focused mostly on where the world of film was following a decade of generally superior quality and the emergence of many important directors and the second part focused on the deterioration of good manners from movie theater audiences, this part will focus on the significant changes in technology that has changed the art and craft of filmmaking. This will obviously be a little more tech-heavy, but, seeing how involved I am with the technology on the editing side, I consider this rather important in how it changed movies not only in the last decade, but for the long-term."

I can't wait for the rest.

Monday, April 12, 2010

2010 Pulitzer Prize Winners

2010 Pulitzer Prize winners. I don't know any of their work off-hand.

Research Reactors a Safety Challenge

The New York Times reports Research Reactors a Safety Challenge

"That is only one of the challenges that President Obama and dozens of world leaders have been struggling with during a nuclear security summit meeting held in Washington on Monday and Tuesday. The agenda aims at bolstering safeguards on the world’s nuclear arms, as well as a range of sensitive materials and sites, like the M.I.T. reactor."

"Earlier this year, for example, experts from the National Nuclear Security Administration in Washington conducted a sensitive operation in Chile to remove highly enriched fuel from two research reactors. But an 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck amid the delicate endeavor, throwing Chile into chaos and forcing the nuclear teams to improvise on how to remove the crated fuel."

Where Was Moody's Board When Top-Rated Bonds Blew Up?

McClatchy reports Where was Moody's board when top-rated bonds blew up?

"As the bottom fell out of the housing market and complex mortgage-backed securities began tanking in 2007, a strange thing happened at Moody's Investors Service, one of the largest firms that rate bonds for the risks they pose to investors. Moody's blue-ribbon board of directors stopped receiving key information from an internal committee that was supposed to keep the board informed of risks to the company, a McClatchy investigation has found. Instead, the ad hoc risk-management committee suddenly disappeared, precisely at the time when the board and management should have been shifting to higher alert as the financial world began quaking."

""My question the whole time has been, 'Where the hell has the board been?'" said a former Moody's employee who was on the disbanded committee. The employee spoke on the condition of anonymity at the advice of a lawyer, fearing future litigation. "I would have expected, sitting where I was, that I would have got a lot more calls from the board. I got none of that.""

""There was no (corporate) governance at the firm whatsoever. I met the board, I presented to them, and it was just baffling that these guys were there. They were just so out of touch," another former high-level Moody's executive said."

I'm not sure how it's supposed to work. But I know some investments (like by pension funds or government organizations) are limited to very high rated investments. But what happens when the ratings are flawed? Ok, sometimes it happens, but are the ratings agencies just companies publishing their opinions (like movie critics?) or is there some responsibility and liability? Shouln't there be?

Has computer security changed in 15 years?

Matt Blaze wrote After the Afterword.

"Back in 1995, Bruce Schneier asked me to write an 'afterword' for the second edition of Applied Cryptography. Perhaps to his chagrin, I couldn't think of any better way to sum up a book about cryptography than to dismiss what was then a popular delusion about the subject: that it, above all else, held the secret for securing computers."

"Hmm. We've made some progress on #4 and #10, but basically, not much has changed in 15 years. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't really need to change a word. If I had to tweak it, I might add something about human factors in security, a poorly understood and hugely important subject if ever there was one. Or perhaps I could just repeat #1, the sorry state of software, ten times over. All in all, though, it still holds up pretty well."

George W. Bush 'knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent'

The (London) Times reports George W. Bush 'knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent'.

"George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times."

"Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”."

"He also claimed that one reason Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld did not want the innocent detainees released was because “the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were”. This was “not acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DoD [Mr Rumsfeld at the Defence Department]”."

I'd still like to see a war crimes trial.

Justice Stevens, Last Of His Line

Dan Froomkin had a good article, Justice Stevens, Last Of His Line "He is actually the last of the Moderate Republican Justices." It lists how Stevens swayed others in several important cases.

The “Kennedy Court,” Only More So

SCOTUSblog has a very interesting article, The “Kennedy Court,” only more so that explains some of the inner workings of the court and the effects that Steven's retirement will have on them.

"Without Justice John Paul Stevens, who announced Friday that he is retiring soon, Justice Kennedy moves into position to become a frequent “assigning Justice.”"

SCOTUS Nominees

There's tons of speculation about who Obama will nominate to replace Justice Stevens on the court. I'm really not that interested in the guessing nor do I know enough about the candidates to be able to evaluate any of them. There are a few things I hope (and assume) Obama considers.

The biggest issue seems to be how far to the left is Obama willing to go with a nominee. Obama tends to be a centrist (really) and Sotomayor was a center left nominee. It's too early to establish her record (and the biggest cases this term haven't been decided yet), but this article is pretty good on her.

So Obama will probably tend not to go too radical. Current wisdom is the Democrats will lose seats in Congress in the November elections. If Obama does get another nominee, this will probably be the easiest the confirmation process will be. If he's going to go for someone more progressive, now would be the time to do it.

Stevens has been at the left of the court. There seems to be some debate (perhaps just by Stevens himself) that he's remained the same and the court has moved to the right during his term. There's no doubt that the court has moved right. If the court is to remain similar, it needs a strongly left Justice to replace Stevens. That's not necessarily a good rationale for a nominee and it's proven difficult to know how a Justice will rule after confirmed. Stevens was nominated by Republican Ford who wasn't expecting him to be the left end of the court. Thomas, the far right of the court, actually in some ways moved the court to the left because he was so unwilling to compromise he drove O'Connor's vote left in some cases.

I do think the court should be composed of a few strongly left and strongly right Justices. I have no problem with Scalia being on the court. He's clearly qualified and represents a popular judicial philosophy (even if I don't subscribe to it). Thomas is further to the right of Scalia and i'm not so sure about him but ok. But now we also have Alito and Roberts and the very conservative Kennedy is the swing vote. I'd really rather see 3-5 centrists and 2-3 Justices at each extreme. Elections do have consequences and for all those progressive Hilary supporters who were going to vote for McCain when she lost the nomination, this is (one of) the reason(s) that was a dumb idea.

Still a court where Ginsberg and Breyer are the left and Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts are the right with Sotomayor and Kennedy as the centrists doesn't seem that balanced. Rebalancing will probably have to wait until Scalia and Kennedy leave but Ginsberg is probably the next Justice to be replaced.

Both sides in the Senate are saying they want a good Justice who will "interpret the law and not make the law". The fact that both sides are saying this should point out how meaningless the phrase is. The cases that make it to the Supreme Court are by definition difficult and often cover areas where the law is vague or conflicting. A philosophy of how you resolve such disputes is necessary and reasonable people can disagree.

Still, until there's a specific nominee, the debate will be pretty tame. Also, Steven's doesn't resign until the current term ends which is probably the end of the June. Obama should probably wait until close to then to nominate someone as the hearings can't happen before Steven's actually resigns. Extending the period of public debate during the background checks would only make the process uglier. Give reasonable time for evaluation and no more. Here's the timeline from Sotomayor's nomination.

A lot of conservatives complain about the makeup of the court, but six of the current Justices were nominated by Republicans (including Stevens). Also the lower courts are strongly dominated by Republican appointments. Maybe they are still trying to make up for the Warren court, but that was a long time ago already.

There's a lot of speculation now about whether Republicans will filibuster the nominee or rule out filibustering. In the history of the court there has been one nominee filibustered. It was in 1968 when Johnson nominated current Justice Abe Fortas to be Chief Justice replacing Earl Warren. The details are here. I think the filibuster should be permissible but used only in exceptional circumstances. Now that filibustering is more common, the Senate has to figure out how to deal with it in non-exceptional cases.

I'm not looking forward to the confirmation hearings. They've become pretty boring and repetitive. Every Republican wanted to be heard asking Sotomayor about the "wise latina" quote. Every Democrat just want to say how good she was. I think it was Ginsberg who started the idea that nominees shouldn't answer questions about topics that might come before the court. Nominees now will only answer general questions about law at a layman's level and saying things like "calling balls and strikes". They're nominated for life and while impeachment is possible, it's extremely rare. This is the only time to evaluate them and somehow we think we can't even do that. Is there any Supreme Court nominee who hasn't thought about the Roe v. Wade decision? You can ask anyone on the street and they'll probably have an opinion, but when appointing someone into a position to do something about it we can't ask their opinion.

Chief Justice Roberts a few months ago was asked by law students what questions could be asked and said that asking how they write opinions would be an interesting question. I'm not convinced. If I ever have the opportunity to ask him one it will be why is not all right to ask a nominee about relevant recent cases. Accepting that each case has it's own specifics and that actual pending cases should probably be off limits, why not be able to ask about Roe or Kelo or Bush v. Gore and not just Brown v Board of Education? And if not how they would have ruled, how they would have approached their decision process in more than abstract terms (I'd first look at the facts of the case then I'd look to precedent....). Wouldn't it be nice if a nominee used the hearing to actually talk about interesting stuff?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Richard Dawkins: I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI

The (London) Times reports Richard Dawkins: I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI.

"Richard Dawkins, the atheist campaigner, is planning a legal ambush to have the Pope arrested during his state visit to Britain ‘for crimes against humanity’. Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998."

If this were more than a publicity stunt, I think they shouldn't have publicized it before trying to arrest him. There is this interesting legal point: "Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations."

Big Banks Move to Mask Risk Levels

The Wall Street Journal wrote on Friday, Big Banks Move to Mask Risk Levels.

"Major banks have masked their risk levels in the past five quarters by temporarily lowering their debt just before reporting it to the public, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. A group of 18 banks—which includes Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc.—understated the debt levels used to fund securities trades by lowering them an average of 42% at the end of each of the past five quarterly periods, the data show. The banks, which publicly release debt data each quarter, then boosted the debt levels in the middle of successive quarters."

After the news of Lehman's Repo 105 shenanigans this is pretty outrageous. "The SEC now is seeking detailed information from nearly two dozen large financial firms about repos, signaling that the agency is looking for accounting techniques that could hide a firm's risk-taking. The SEC's inquiry follows recent disclosures that Lehman used repos to mask some $50 billion in debt before it collapsed in 2008."

The whole article is short and worth reading. I'm curious how this was found out and what i means for regulation. This is apparently legal though misleading. This was in a New York Fed report because they monitor banks constantly but the regulation (and I guess investigation) of this apparently falls under the SEC. So does the SEC monitor the numbers continuously or just based on quarterly reports? Part of the problem is that the Fed monitors banks and this is a brokerage issue which falls under the SEC. Under Glass-Seagul these were different entities, now, post Lehman, these are merged even-more-mega-firms. This is why I think financial reform should have one regulator that covers everything (and all parts of current and future shadow banking) so that firms can't shop around for the most ineffective regulator of choice.

What Would Really End “Too Big To Fail”?

I'm only about 80 pages into 13 Bankers, but Simon's Johnson's article, What Would Really End “Too Big To Fail”? is quite good.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Obama Authorizes Assassination of U.S. Citizen

Glenn Greenwald writes Confirmed: Obama authorizes assassination of U.S. citizen. "Today, both The New York Times and The Washington Post confirm that the Obama White House has now expressly authorized the CIA to kill al-Alwaki no matter where he is found, no matter his distance from a battlefield.  I wrote at length about the extreme dangers and lawlessness of allowing the Executive Branch the power to murder U.S. citizens far away from a battlefield (i.e., while they're sleeping, at home, with their children, etc.) and with no due process of any kind.  I won't repeat those arguments -- they're here and here -- but I do want to highlight how unbelievably Orwellian and tyrannical this is in light of these new articles today."

This seems very very wrong.

"No due process is accorded. No charges or trials are necessary. No evidence is offered, nor any opportunity for him to deny these accusations (which he has done vehemently through his family). None of that. Instead, in Barack Obama's America, the way guilt is determined for American citizens -- and a death penalty imposed -- is that the President, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone's guilt as a Terrorist. He then dispatches his aides to run to America's newspapers -- cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which they're granted -- to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist. It is simply asserted that Awlaki has converted from a cleric who expresses anti-American views and advocates attacks on American military targets (advocacy which happens to be Constitutionally protected) to Actual Terrorist "involved in plots." These newspapers then print this Executive Verdict with no questioning, no opposition, no investigation, no refutation as to its truth. And the punishment is thus decreed: this American citizen will now be murdered by the CIA because Barack Obama has ordered that it be done. What kind of person could possibly justify this or think that this is a legitimate government power?"

Friday, April 09, 2010

Would a lava lamp work on Jupiter?

Geekiest thing I've seen this week...

Ordinary T-Shirts Turned Into Body Armor

THe University of South Carolina reports Ordinary T-shirts could become body armor "Researchers at the University of South Carolina, collaborating with others from China and Switzerland, drastically increased the toughness of a T-shirt by combining the carbon in the shirt’s cotton with boron – the third hardest material on earth. The result is a lightweight shirt reinforced with boron carbide, the same material used to protect tanks." Crazy.

Movie Reviews

I'm really far behind in my movie reviews. Here are some short ones for films I saw a while ago, mostly in the run up to the Oscars:

The Most Dangerous Man in America is a documentary about Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers. It's perhaps my favorite doc of the year. I learned a lot about the story and found him fascinating. There were lots of interesting elements, including his original views on the war and how they changed, how he first came to the conclusion that he was wiling to go to jail and then figuring out what to do, and then the mechanics of how to leak the info. Great film.

The Blind Side was better than I expected while watching it but less good in retrospect. It's based on the true story of Michael Oher who went from homeless kid to the NFL with the help of a charitable family. It does spend too much time on Sandra Bullock's character and under-writes Oher's. There are enough good moments to make an entertaining film, but not enough to make a memorable one.

The White Ribbon is the latest film from Michael Haneke who made Cache (my most read movie review). It's about a small village in Germany before World War I. There are some crimes and mysteries and children who are abused and suspected. The black and white cinematography has been highly praised (and nominated for an Oscar) but didn't do much for me. However, it's long and slow and things are not resolved and the point was unclear (at least to me). I hated this film.

Coco Before Chanel is a biography of the early life of Coco Chanel starring Audrey Tautou (of Amélie fame). She starts as a performer, and then a mistress of a wealthy man and then starts to make hats and clothes. I didn't know her history or her fashions, so I mostly missed the foreshadowing of her influences until they showed the clothes (some of which wasn't until the fashion show montage finale). It was more about how two relationships allowed her to work her way out of poverty and their affect on her. Pretty good film, worth seeing.

Broken Embraces written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar and starring Penélope Cruz in the role she should have been nominated for (instead of for Nine). There's a lot of film here and I want to see it again to try to unravel all of its meanings. Harry Caine is the protagonist, a blind writer who used to be a filmmaker named Mateo Blanco. He's helped by a longtime assistant Judit and her son Diego. A young man comes asking him to work on a screenplay but he refuses. We learn that a businessman name Ernesto Martel has died and his affects Caine though we're not sure how. I will say it involves Cruz's character Lena. Finding out the backstory reveals a suspense thriller but the film is about more. There are films within the film and tons of film references including some obvious ones to his previous films. I'm sure I caught only a small fraction of them. It's sumptuous to look with tons of color and thought provoking shots. The average film goer should enjoy this, but the film geek should love it.

Taken is crime thriller about a former spy (Liam Neeson) trying to rescue his daughter who was kidnapped moments after arriving in Paris. There are a bunch of Borne-like action scenes (Neeson as action star) strung together with brief but interesting detective work and use of his old contacts. Neeson is always the smartest guy in the room and that is the basis of his success in all the fights, which did go far in helping me suspend my disbelief. If you squint enough you might accept it all, but not really. Still I was pretty entertained.

The Young Victoria won the Oscar for costumes (of course) and was nominated for art direction and makeup. Emily Blunt plays the 19th century queen during her ascension to the throne and her early reign as she fell in love and married Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). At the start of the film she is to succeed her uncle, King William. If he dies before her 18th birthday, her mother wants her to appoint Sir John Conroy as regent to rule and of course the headstrong teenager doesn't want this and neither does the King. Meanwhile there are all the suitors and one of them is her pen pal Albert. It's a cross between Elizabeth and The Blue Lagoon and you can probably guess which part I liked more.

Ajami was nominated as best foreign film from Israel. I just found out while writing this that it was made by first time writer-directors (one Israeli one Palestinian), with non-professional actors, and many improvised scenes. The title is the name of a poor neighborhood in the Jaffa district of Tel-Aviv. The film tells several stories Pulp Fiction style, that is they intersect and are sometimes not in chronological order. There are crimes, murders, mistaken identity, doomed relationships, revenge, justice, etc., but not not a lot of politics. These are stories story of individuals, trying to find their way in a place where circumstances dictate lives. It was good and compelling but a little too confusing at times. I followed the big things, but lost track at times of who was who and how their motivations related between stories. Still, well worth seeing if you like this kind of thing.

Daily Show on FNC Lies on Nuclear Treaty

Barney Frank (D-MA), on the Tonight Show blamed Newt Gingrich's ascension and the media (meaning Fox News) for the current partisanship. The Daily Show got them both in this clip.

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For Decades, Stevens Molded Supreme Court Decisions

John Paul Stevens is about to turn 90 and his retirement has been rumored for a while so that means people have pre-written plenty of stories about him. I found this one from NPR For Decades, Stevens Molded Supreme Court Decisions, to be particularly interesting. Some things I learned:

"'It bothers him a great deal whenever he hears himself portrayed as a liberal,' Mikva says. 'When we're together, he looks at me playfully and says, 'Now, Ab, you know I'm not a liberal.' And I do.'"

"Sloan, the onetime law clerk, sees the Bush v. Gore and Clinton v. Jones opinions as flip sides of the same coin. "He has a very deep respect for the crucible of litigation," says Sloan. "And in both cases, what he was strongly objecting to was the suggestion that there be some kind of arbitrary shortcut." In the Clinton case, the shortcut would have been to delay a trial, and the court unanimously rejected that. In Bush v. Gore, the shortcut was to remove the case from the Florida state courts, where vote-count cases are traditionally resolved, and Stevens bitterly objected."

"One of his least-known efforts involved the machine that became ubiquitous in American homes: the TV video recorder. In the early 1980s, Hollywood tried to ban the devices and punish both the manufacturer and the home user with fines for copyright infringement. A majority of the court initially agreed with the filmmakers, but Stevens' proposed dissent turned the court around, and he ended up writing the court's 5-4 opinion declaring that VCRs did not violate copyright laws when used in the home to make a single copy for personal use."

Justice Stevens Will Retire This Summer

Justice Stevens Will Retire This Summer "Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will retire from the nation's highest court this summer, at the end of this session."

Glenn Greenwald has some thoughts on a replacement who's name has been around for a while: "When President Obama chose Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter, that had very little effect on the ideological balance of the Court, because Sotomayor was highly likely to vote the way Souter did in most cases. By stark contrast, replacing Stevens with Kagan (or, far less likely, with Sunstein) would shift the Court substantially to the Right on a litany of key issues (at least as much as the shift accomplished by George Bush's selection of the right-wing ideologue Sam Alito to replace the more moderate Sandra Day O'Connor). Just click on the links in the last paragraph here, detailing some of Kagan's "centrist" (i.e., highly conservative) positions on executive power, civil liberties and Terrorism for a sense of how far to the Right she would be as compared to Stevens."

National Science Board Removes Evolution/Big Bang Survery Results

What happened to evolution at the NSB? "A section describing survey results about the American public's beliefs about evolution and the Big Bang was removed from the 2010 edition of Science and Engineering Indicators. According to a post on the AAAS's Science Insider blog (April 8, 2010) and a subsequent report in Science (April 9, 2010; subscription required), although survey results about evolution and the Big Bang have regularly appeared in the National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators, its biennial compilation of global data about science, engineering, and technology, they were absent from the 2010 edition."

Joshua Rosenau has a good post about this with some more details, NSF governing board spikes evolution from science literacy report.

Science magazine says: "Science has obtained a copy of the deleted text, which does not differ substantially from what has appeared in previous Indicators. The two questions (see graphic) have been part of an NSF-funded survey on scientific understanding and attitudes toward science since 1983. The deleted section notes that the 45% of Americans who answered "true" to the statement: "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals" is similar to the percentage in previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). A similar gap exists for the response to the statement: "The universe began with a big explosion," with which only 33% of Americans agreed."

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Mercury. Check.

I'm pretty sure I managed to see Mercury tonight. Important safety tip, when you check the star chart program on your iPhone, make sure you've reset the location since you were in Philadelphia a couple of months ago.

Ars Technica reviews the iPad

Ars Technica reviews the iPad in 18 pages...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Nuclear Posture Review

Obama said: Fulfilling a Promise from Prague:

"One year ago yesterday in Prague, I outlined a comprehensive agenda to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to pursue the peace and security of a world without them.  I look forward to advancing this agenda in Prague this week when I sign the new START Treaty with President Medvedev, committing the United States and Russia to substantial reductions in our nuclear arsenals.

Today, my Administration is taking a significant step forward by fulfilling another pledge that I made in Prague—to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and focus on reducing the nuclear dangers of the 21st century, while sustaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent for the United States and our allies and partners as long as nuclear weapons exist. 

The Nuclear Posture Review, led by the Department of Defense, recognizes that the greatest threat to U.S. and global security is no longer a nuclear exchange between nations, but nuclear terrorism by violent extremists and nuclear proliferation to an increasing number of states.  Moreover, it recognizes that our national security and that of our allies and partners can be increasingly defended by America’s unsurpassed conventional military capabilities and strong missile defenses. "

Obama does keep making progress on things that don't get a lot of press. He's behind on closing Guantanamo and a few other things, but I get the feeling that he has a lot in the works and that by 2012 he'll have accomplished a lot.

Monday, April 05, 2010


Mercury is the only planet I haven't seen. I'm hoping to in the next week. Universe Today describes where to look in Planet Dance, basically:



Teabonics is a Flickr set of signs from tea parties with bad spelling.

Wikileaks Video of US Military Killing Journalists

Boing Boing has a page including the video of the Wikileaks video of US military killing journalists. Everything about this story is bad. The Boing Boing page lists most of them, the event, the coverup, the news coverage afterwards. Ugh.