Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Radio Free Fruitvale

There's a great article about pirate radio operators bringing relevant music to their communities over at Alternet. Power to the people.

I'm pretty sure this is how the Borg got started

For the diabetic kid whose ADD interferes with their proper health maintenance, try Glucoboy. Glucoboy is a custom Gameboy™ cartridge that includes a glucose meter and some games that are downloaded into the Gameboy as a reward for maintaining good blood sugar control. It's the first glucometer explicitly designed to help kids maintain their health.

Gandalf the Wired

Sir Ian McKellen has been kind enough to post scans of the additional dialogue recording scripts used in the final recordings of Return of the King. It is interesting to note how, even at almost literally the last minute, the dialogue was continually being refined... the script pages have words crossed out, changed, added.

Ian McKellen's site has a lot of great information about his experience making the films. McKellen's journal from the primary filming days (the Grey Book) and his journal from then on (the White Book) are great, and he's also got galleries of photos that show the filming from his point of view.

I think everyone did an awesome job on the films... there was simply no way to capture the entire LOTR in its every intricate detail, and I felt like they honored the original story very well. Elijah Wood was a little cherubic, and nobody sounds good in a fake British accent, and Sean Astin was... Sean Astin, so the two main hobbits didn't do much for me, but the rest of the cast really put quite a bit of energy into their roles, and the design work is astounding.

McKellen's site continues in the grand tradition of the extended DVDs, providing us with behind-the-scenes information and insight into how and why things were done... the additional documentary DVDs are better than many feature DVDs that are coming out these days. I'm glad they decided to share that content with us; it seems like just another facet of the care and respect with which they created and presented the films.

Cold reception

The movie 'Cold Mountain' has been getting very polarized reviews... some people say it is an instant classic, others say it is shite. Uncle Scoopy says it is over-rated:

Cold Mountain, according to some critics, is the Homeric tale of The Odyssey relocated to the era of the American Civil War...

So what does Cold Mountain have to do with The Odyssey? Well, a guy leaves a war to return to his faithful beloved. Along the way he has many distracting adventures, each of which is a separate episode only peripherally related to his trek home, and ...

Oh, let's face it, the Odyssey thing is just a red herring meant to distract you from the fact that this movie is The English Patient filmed over again with different costumes.

Has every story already been told? Charlie Kaufman doesn't think so. But it seems like most movies nowadays are thinly disguised remakes of older films... it is astounding how many films can be boiled down to "it's like Shakespeare in space/the present/the future/Los Angeles/the mafia/cartoonland". Even Star Wars, which many people think was a creative masterpiece, was just Akira Kurosawa's Kakushi toride no san akunin ("The Hidden Fortress") retold in Flash Gordon style (not idle speculation: Lucas admits this). But then of course Kurosawa's Yojimbo ("Bodyguard"), which also influenced Lucas, was based on Dashiell Hammett's 1928 book Red Harvest... and Sergio Leone remade Yojimbo as Per un pugno di dollari ("A Fistful of Dollars"), starring Clint Eastwood... the road goes ever on and on, nothing new under the sun.

Bam... pow... crack.

The death toll in last week's earthquake in Bam, Iran, is expected to reach 50,000. The level of destruction there is apocalyptic... you can see for yourself, but be warned, it's rather disturbing.

Check out this photolog of a trip through Bam two months before the quake, and this satellite photo of Bam taken the day after.

(Some links via Bruce Sterling's blog.)

Oh come on... almanacs?

Spinster crossword-puzzle afficionados and boring trivia buffs beware, the FBI has their eye on you:

The FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that the popular reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning.

In a bulletin sent Christmas Eve to about 18,000 police organizations, the FBI said terrorists may use almanacs "to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning."

It urged officers to watch during searches, traffic stops and other investigations for anyone carrying almanacs, especially if the books are annotated in suspicious ways.

Almanacs are probably the most innocuous and boring sources of information on the face of the planet... doesn't everyone just use the internet nowadays?

I'd like to thank the FBI for bringing an unlikely and little-known source of information to the attention of any terrorists who were having trouble figuring out where certain dams were located or how many days it rains each year in key American cities. It's nice to know that our tax dollars are being so usefully spent.

Sheesh... almanacs.

Fear the friendly skies

A recent Homeland Fear Maintenance directive requires some international flights crossing over or headed to the US to carry an armed law enforcement officer. As usual, of late, the government is taking a Big Brother "it's always been this way" approach to their actions:

Aviation security experts said the announcement marks a significant change in that, up until now, international security guidelines have been voluntary.

"In the past, no country has ever tried to impose on other countries any measures of aviation security," said Rafi Ron, president of New Age Security Solutions, a Washington-based consultancy, and the former security director for the Israeli Airport Authority...

Homeland Security officials said governments frequently set security and other standards for planes bound for their airspace.

Ironically, in another press release Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said

"People travel. People must travel... we cannot submit to the fear associated with the continuous scream that the terrorists would use aviation as a means of attack."

We cannot submit to the fear... so we'll raise the national 'terror index' (wtf?) and cancel a bunch of international flights and require that everyone else in the world change their behavior. Do you really think they are doing this to make you feel more safe? I think they are doing it to make you feel more scared, to keep the fever pitch of fear at such a level that there will be no opposition to their political agenda.

This 'terror index' and our cowboy 'circle the wagons' mentality is just sad... as an empire, we've supported terrorism in many forms as long as we've been around. Then one time it happens to us, and we don't just freak out, we start demanding that the rest of the world freak out too, unless of course they choose to imply that they are supporting terrorists... oooh, spooky.

I for one remember a dim and distant past, when Republicans claimed to support smaller federal government and more fiscal responsibility, and when a nation that acted as we now act was worth keeping an eye on, maybe worth a laugh or two, but certainly not worth any serious consideration. We've become a parody of ourselves... it is shameful. We keep tightening the screws in the name of 'freedom', when it's rather apparent we don't even remember what freedom is.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

As long as we're rewriting history...

... we might as well get rid of that pretender to the throne, Queen Elizabeth, and reinstate the rightful King of England: Michael Abney-Hastings, forklift driver.

This is actually a sort of consolation post... since the last post was pretty depressing for the French, I figured they needed something to cheer them up: they will be pleased to note that King Edward IV, who reigned from 1461 to 1483, was the illegitimate son of a French archer. Sacre bleu!

One of Britain's leading historians, medieval scholar Dr Michael Jones, says his research shows the heirs of King Edward IV's younger brother, the Duke of Clarence, are the rightful rulers of England. Jones has found historical documents that show that at the time of Edward IV's conception, his parents were 160km apart: Richard Duke of York was fighting the French at Pontoise while Lady Cicely Neville was 'apparently deeply engrossed in the company of a local archer' at Rouen.

This isn't really new news, just newly rediscovered news. King Louis XI of France is recorded as shouting about Edward: "His name is not King Edward - everybody knows his name is Blaybourne!' (the surname of the French archer). Edward's family launched a 'concerted campaign' to stifle these rumours, even going so far as to suggest that the conception had taken place in May 1440 in Yorkshire, before the royal parents set sail for France... even though that would have been an 11-month pregnancy.

Joan of Arc posthumously deconstructed

When the French government invited an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in forensic reconstruction to look at some bones in the Basilica of Notre Dame de Clery, they gained some knowledge but lost a martyr. Doctor Serhiy Horbenko believes he has found plasible evidence to suggest that the martyrdom of Joan of Arc - "one of the defining moments in the French national psyche" - actually involved a different woman.

The surgeon, invited by the French authorities to study the skulls of the French King Louis XI and his wife, has suggested that with the English armies threatening the French throne, the monarchy needed a miracle and their supporters concocted one.

He said: "I believe that a group of nobles thought up the plan, in a time when people were deeply religious and believed in miracles, to influence the French people and armies and to demoralise the English. They wanted a woman sent by God to defend France and to legitimise the Dauphin's claim to the throne."

He said that the person who was chosen to play the role of saviour - always ascribed to Joan - was in fact a noblewoman called Marguerite de Valois, the illegitimate daughter of the previous monarch Charles VI.

Horbenko believes that Marguerite de Valois performed her role much better than anyone expected, so much so that she was perceived as a threat to the French throne. History and legend are full of people who were too 'noble' to kill but too dangerous to ignore (think 'the man in the iron mask'); Horbenko believes that Marguerite was essentially exiled while another woman was killed in her place.

The French are Not Pleased.

Horbenko makes some leaps in his analysis that might be hard to back up, but this is also true of the historical interpretation of Joan of Arc. And it's not like the "holy martyr" thing hasn't been used for political purposes before... there's a popular myth about some jewish guy getting killed about 2000 years ago that has seen considerable use as a political tool, and even that story has seen significant revision when changes were required to support political gain.

Good Thinks

Alton Brown, the 'Good Eats' chef from an alternate universe where Thomas Dolby made pies instead of music, has some interesting things to say about the most recent outbreak of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or 'BSE'):

That's right - you and I are to blame for the fact that hundreds if not thousands of animals will have to be destroyed because of the threat of BSE. We are to blame because our culture has come to value two qualities above all else: 'cheap', and 'more'. How else can you explain the cancerous creep of Wal-Marts across our landscape, or the ever swelling American waistline?

You think wanting 'more' for 'less' is just good sense? Well let me tell you what you get: more of less.


I imagine that this newest mad cow threat is going to make a lot of folks angry. I just hope it makes them angry enough to vote, not in elections which may or not be useless, but with money. Believe me, every dime you spend is a vote - a statement of what you believe in and what you value; which lines you'll cross and which ones you won't. Me, heck even if I didn't have a taste bud in my head I wouldn't want anyone feeding ground up cow brains to beef cattle on my behalf anymore than I'd want to set one foot in a Wal-Mart.

It doesn't really bother me that the human race is probably going to be done in by its own hubris... that hammer has been falling for quite awhile now. What does bother me is that people don't appear to be waking up... that to the average American, mad cow disease (and famine, and war, and everything else) is something they hear about on the news as they're going through the drive-through to pick up a burger. The people have become cattle, gorging themselves at the trough of excess and ignorance... I wonder what the next disease will do to them.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

High geek weirdness

The Mini-ITX form factor motherboard allows you to build very small computers, which gives you room to come up with some creative case designs.

One fellow decided to fit his Windows XP box into an actual Windows XP box. He also made a second case for the dual-boot machine, for when he was running Linux. But what if the computer was in the Linux case while running Windows XP, or vice-versa? His solution was to make the motherboard fit upside-down into the Linux box, thus allowing a hacked assembly-language bootloader to query a tilt sensor and boot the appropriate OS.

This guy is using his considerable talent and creativity to come up with uniquely elegant solutions to problems that don't actually exist, and I applaud him for it.

Police sketch artist, digital style

Now you too can create facial sketches using this handy Flash utility.

Speaking of hypocrites...

Dean, who was starting to look like the sane one, has changed tactics to fight Bush on Bush's own territory, which is the same as saying he has become politically irrelevant. It is a problem that the percentage of Americans who want a devout religious president is significantly higher than the percentage of Americans who would adopt a personal philosophy that makes them better people. We want the packaging, the actual content isn't so important.

Presidential contender Howard B. Dean, who has said little about religion while campaigning except to emphasize the separation of church and state, described himself in an interview with the Globe as a committed believer in Jesus Christ and said he expects to increasingly include references to Jesus and God in his speeches as he stumps in the South.

Good luck... he who tries to defeat Bush in the 'spineless hypocrite' arena stands no chance of winning.

The idiot's guide to fucking the country

The nation's first 'faith-based prison' just opened up, and I guess it should come as no surprise that it is in Florida (it had to be there or Texas) and it was the 'idea' (perhaps too grand a term?) of Governor Jeb Bush.

Later, Bush told the inmates "I can't think of a better place to reflect on the awesome love of our lord Jesus than to be here at Lawtey Correctional. God bless you."

While many prisoners loudly applauded Bush, some remained seated throughout the ceremony, staring straight ahead with no expression.

Despite the claim that the prisoners will be able to follow their own faith, their is a hell of a lot of 'Jesus' talk going on.

The 'hallelujah' factor didn't keep these people from commiting their crimes in the first place, so why should we assume that 'more religion' = 'more morality'? It hasn't been shown to be the case. In fact, many of the most abhorrent things happening on this planet right now are being commited in the name of one religion or another. Atrocities ranging from kiddy-fiddling priests to bomb-strapped mujahadeen are only the most severe and newsworthy effects... some of the more subtle effects (such as the reinforcement of stereotypical societal and gender roles and a prevalent sense of self-righteous justification of child abuse) are perhaps more damaging, due to their pervasiveness.

I for one have always been disgusted when some psycho whackjob murderer wants to be released from prison because he's found Jesus... good for him, if he's on such good terms with Jesus he should be calm and collected while sitting on death row, secure in the thought that his premature enlightenment is sufficient to counterbalance whatever horrors he committed prior to being 'saved'. It's always amazed me that people who yap so much about the glories of heaven go into such histrionics when it is their turn to die.

I suspect that the *real* reason for this new step towards religious fascism in the US owes more to political ideology than to any belief that the results will be useful. After all, it blends in quite nicely with the other dipshit Bush's 'faith-based initiatives', adding yet another mechanism for American tax dollars to fund a specific religious sect. Yes, a specific sect. Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, has already stated that 'pagan' religious groups will not receive funds, because helping the poor is tough work and only those with loving hearts are drawn to it. Apparently pagans don't have loving hearts, at least not in the same sense as child-molesting priests (for instance) do.

There are deep waters in the philosophies and practices of the penal system. We pretend that the purpose of incarceration is to make the offender pay off their debt to society, but too often it becomes apparent that the real purpose is retribution (which would be fine, if we'd just come out and say it, but we need to pretend we're nicer than that.) This new twist opens a big can of worms for the future: if this prison shows lower levels of recidivism (I'd like to propose that somebody other than the Florida government be responsible for counting the votes on that one, please), it will be that much easier to expand the program all over the country. Before too long, federal tax dollars can become so inextricably intertwined with religious programs that there will be no turning back. This isn't paranoid ranting: it is the stated goals of Bush and friends.

Just remember this: the Nazi party felt they were Christian. Tiny steps, over a long period of time, led them from a reasonably sane set of beliefs to the point of no return. Our country is this fucking close to starting a new world war, creating new enemies and alienating more allies with each passing day.

The only good thing I have to say about the faith-based prison is that it gives me a very strong incentive to stay on the right side of the law... getting sent to federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison sounded bad enough, but now there are federal pound-me-in-the-soul prisons... if I ever commit a crime, I'm going to make sure it is one with a mandatory death penalty. I don't even have a philosophy about what happens after we die, but every day it looks more and more like it can't be any worse than what's going on here.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Still-life ad infinitum

Every 30 minutes every day for 3 weeks Phillip Torrone took a picture of himself, regardless of what was happening at that moment. The results can be seen at the graphics-intensive Option3.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Greed, lies, and rampant stupidity

I've got pretty good spam filters in place: a white list, a Bayesian filter, and (most importantly) enough common sense to ignore the few spam emails that do get through. I go through the spam bucket every month or so, to make sure there weren't any false positives (which has been happening less and less as I get the spam filtering system dialed in). Invariably, when I look through the spam bucket, nestled amongst the offers for cheap viagra and the secrets of length extension will be a few specimens of a tired old scam known as the Nigerian 'Advance Fee Fraud', also known as '4-1-9 scams' after the section of the Nigerian penal code that deals with such fraud.

A 4-1-9 scam is a confidence scam which usually looks something like this: an 'official' of some sort contacts you for your help... millions of dollars (usually attributed to some noble and moral person who was screwed over by a corrupt government) are tied up in bureaucratic red tape, but if only someone outside the system would step up to claim the money (usually with the aid of the person making the offer, who is invariably either a person of power or a close friend of one), the local corrupt government would have no choice but to turn over the money. The person writing the email would of course only be too happy to reward you generously for your help...

Of course, if you are foolish enough to buy into the scheme, what happens next is very tightly scripted: unforeseen problems keep popping up, problems so severe that if an infusion of money is not immediately forthcoming, the whole plan will be for naught: the corrupt government will keep the millions, the noble-yet-unfortunate instigator of the offer will be destitute, and you will have missed out on the wondrous opportunity to make a few million by simply doing a good deed.

Often the scammer will show that they too are struggling with the same concerns: they will say that $20K is needed to secure an important document, but that they only have $15K, so would you be able to come up with the other $5K? They will appeal to a sense of Christian brotherhood, telling the scamee (somehow 'victim' just doesn't seem appropriate; it seems too forgiving of the persons culpability) that surely the hand of God is responsible for leading them to the one kind person who can resolve their difficulties. And they will continually reinforce the sense that your own kindness and generosity are so overwhelming that the only way they can balance the scales is to reward you with millions of dollars.

This scam is old... I remember these emails appearing in the mid 80s. I thought this one had faded away, that everyone knew about it, and I hoped that people were at least savvy enough to just delete the email.

Just another bit of misguided optimism on my part.

Just yesterday it was reported that a Florida retiree unwittingly donated his entire life savings to what has become the 4th or 5th largest industry in Nigeria. Despite numerous sites that have been set up documenting these scams, reported cases alone show that *hundreds of millions* of dollars each year have been sent to Nigeria as part of these scams. A number of murders have been committed in connection with these scams, as well, when some sucker decides that he'll accompany his money to Nigeria to make sure everything goes smoothly. The Financial Crimes Division of the US Secret Service receives approximately 100 telephone calls and 300-500 pieces of correspondence each day from 'victims' or potential 'victims'.

This scam does not remain widespread because of the corruption of the Nigerians. It remains widespread because of the greed of Westerners, so intense that it blinds people to common sense. In American culture, there is a strong sense of entitlement ('I want my stuff... where is my stuff?') without a similarly strong sense of personal responsiblity. The success of scams such as the Nigerian 4-1-9 is a function of how strongly people desire unmerited gains, whether it be large sums of money, the feeling of having done something helpful, or the feeling that they are striking a blow against corruption. It is pretty difficult to feel any sorrow for people who lose money in search of such hollow victories... to even get to that point, they had to have lost many things of more value than mere cash.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Personal Note 22 Dec 03

On Saturday the Sisters Martell, Scott, and Paige descended on our house with the industriousness of bees and helped Anne-Marie pack up everything and move it into our new home. We are now wandering through towering stacks of boxes wondering where the hell everything is :)

I was only able to help out for an hour or so before the pain and cramping exceeded my tolerance level... in addition to the usual, I was having some medication imbalance problems, someting like withdrawal symptoms: shaking, sweating, felt like my whole body had been scraped. I appreciate everyone giving me the space to bow out while they hauled innumerable boxes of our stuff out to the truck. Thank you all for your help.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

This planet's rocking

In the northern hemisphere, today is the winter solstice. This means that the planet is at the place in its orbit where the north pole is tilted as far away from the sun as it gets over the course of the year. Which is good, since it means the days start getting longer as of now.

Here is what the earth looks like today:

Solstice sun map

Note that right now there are places in the north that never see the sun, while the Antarctic is partying all night. My latitude (NW US) is damn cold at night, and you can see that at that height on the map, the night is like one-and-a-half times as long as the day.

Here is what the earth looked like 3 months ago, at the vernal equinox (when the tilt of the earth was aligned such that the north and south poles were the same distance from the sun):

Equinox sun map

See how much better everything is when we share? Here comes the sun, doot do doot doo...

World view

If you can't figure out why the rest of the world hates the US, the short answer is that the US is the only country on the planet that is safe from America's foreign policy. For the long answer, go here.

Miserable failure

Take a look at what Google returns for a search on the words 'miserable failure'. Muahahahahahaaaaa.

A kinder, gentler armageddon

George W Bush:

The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were acquire weapons [sic], he would be the danger. That's the -- that's what I'm trying to explain to you.

A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be dealt with.

And it was done after 12 long years of the world saying, "the man's a danger."And so, we got rid of him.

And there's no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.

CNN today:

The Department of Homeland Security raised the U.S. terror threat level from elevated to high Sunday, warning of possible terrorist strikes more devastating than the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the move was the result of a "substantial increase" in the volume of intelligence pointing to "near-term attacks that could either rival or exceed what we experienced on September 11."

Get 'Happy'

I've written before about Mark Osborne's phenomenal animation short 'More', which shows not the dystopian future but rather the dystopian now, where people live empty lives slaving away in little cubicles to get money to buy junk that they have become convinced is essential to life. The video has been difficult to obtain for awhile... I purchased it from Ifilm years ago, back when you could get full-screen downloads for $5.

Fortunately Mark Osborne has started a website where he will soon be marketing a DVD containing 'More' and a documentary about the making of the animation. If you are a cube-dweller, or anyone stuck in any sort of dehumanizing demoralizing job, you need to see this film. If the comedy film 'Office Space' made you cry, you really need to see this film.

Get Happy Product

Information ants

MUTE is a new peer-to-peer file-sharing app that focuses on secure, anonymous connectivity. The cool thing about MUTE (other than the fact that it might keep you from getting sued by rich assholes) is that the networking algorithm is based on the way ants find food.

Whether you use file-sharing or not, and regardless of your moral outlook on this practice, research such as MUTE is going to affect you someday... as spam levels rise and personal freedoms shrink, the need for better methods of data distribution will become more apparent. Currently these problems are addressed by grafting a secure layer (such as PGP/GPG) onto an insecure transport layer (have you heard of 'Carnivore'?), but this practice is inefficient and prone to problems, since nodes on the network have complete knowledge of where specific packets are coming from. A new network paradigm in which nodes are secure (i.e. the Bad Guys could own the routers and data pipes and still not be able to determine the source of a specific packet), with the security built in from the ground up instead of being grafted onto an existing infrastructure, would eliminate much of the potential for abuses of the system. Kudos to the folks at MUTE for taking a step in that direction.

Define 'is'

The following is a transcript of the recent interview of pResident Bush by Diane Sawyer. You can make your own conclusions at to the levels of deceit, stupidity, and malice the idiot shows every time he opens his fucking mouth.

SAWYER: 50 percent of the American people have said that they think the Administration exaggerated the evidence going into the war with Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction, connection to terrorism. Are the American people wrong? Misguided?

BUSH: No, the intelligence I operated on was good sound intelligence, the same intelligence that my predecessor operated on.

The - there is no doubt, uh, that Saddam Hussein was a threat. Uh, the - otherwise, the United Nations, by the way, wouldn't have passed, y'know, resolution after resolution after resolution demanding that he disarm.

I first went to the United Nations, September the 12th 2002, and said:

"You've given this man resolution after resolution after resolution. He's ignoring them. You step up, and see that he honor those resolutions. Otherwise you become a feckless debating society."

And so for the sake of peace, and for the sake of freedom of the Iraqi people, and for the sake of security of the country, and for the sake of the credibility of international institutions, a group of us moved. And the world is better for it.

SAWYER: When you take a look back --

(Video clip of Dick Cheney saying, "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons -- ")

SAWYER: -- Vice President Cheney said there is no doubt Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Not programs, not intent.

SAWYER: There is no doubt he has weapons of mass destruction.

Secretary Powell -- (Video clip of Powell at UN saying, "Iraq today has a stockpile -- ")

SAWYER: -- said a hundred to five hundred tons of chemical weapons.

And now the inspectors say that there's no evidence of these weapons existing right now.

(Video clip of Bush at the State of the Union address saying, "significant quantities of uranium --")

SAWYER: The yellowcake in Niger. George Tenet has said that shouldn't have been in your speech.

(Graphic of Tenet and the quote "This was a mistake.")

SAWYER: Secretary Powell talked about mobile labs, again the intelligence, the inspectors have said they can't confirm this, they can't corroborate.

(Video of Bush at the SOTU again, saying, "suitable for nuclear weapons production -- ")

SAWYER: "Nuclear" suggested that he was on the way on an active nuclear program.

SAWYER: David Kay: "We have not discovered significant evidence of an active -- "

BUSH: Yet. Yet.

SAWYER: Is it, "yet?"

BUSH: But what David Kay did discover was he had a weapons program. And had that knowledge --

SAWYER: Missiles.

BUSH: Let me finish for a second. No, it was more extensive than missiles.

Had that knowledge been, uh, examined by the United Nations, in other words, had David Kay's report been placed in front of the United Nations, he, Saddam Hussein, would have been in breach of 1441, which meant it was a casus belli.

And, uh, look -- There's no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person. And there's no doubt we had a body of evidence proving that. And there is no doubt that the president must act, after 9/11, to make America a more secure country.

SAWYER: Um, again I'm just trying to ask -- and these are supporters, people who believed in the war --

BUSH: Heh-heh-heh.

SAWYER: -- who have asked the question.

BUSH: Well you can keep asking the question, and my answer is going to be the same. Saddam was a danger, and the world is better off because we got rid of him.

SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction, as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still --

BUSH: So what's the difference?

SAWYER: Well --

BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were acquire weapons [sic], he would be the danger. That's the -- that's what I'm trying to explain to you.

A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be dealt with.

And it was done after 12 long years of the world saying, "the man's a danger."And so, we got rid of him.

And there's no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.

SAWYER: But, but again some, some of the critics have said this, combined with the failure to establish proof of elaborate terrorism contacts, has indicated that there's just not precision, at best, and misleading, at worst. [sic]

BUSH: Y'know, uh, look (shakes head). What (chuckle) what we based our evidence on was a very sound National Intelligence Estimate.

SAWYER: Nothing should have been more precise?

BUSH: I - I - I - I made my decision based upon enough intelligence to tell me that the country was threatened with Saddam Hussein in power.

SAWYER: What would it take to convince you he didn't have weapons of mass destruction?

BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.

SAWYER: And if he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction --

BUSH: You can keep asking the question. I'm telling ya, I made the right decision for America. Because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait. But the fact that he is not there, is uh, means America is a more secure country.

How does a more unstable world and increased animosity towards the US add up to a 'more secure country'? Is anyone else getting tired of having idiots in the White House?
(via Honan.net)

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Uruwashii desu

This collection of Japanese origami is brilliant.

Buddha origami

Medieval playtime

Björn Karnebogen used images from the Bayeux Tapestry to make a Flash site where you can make your own medieval tapestry: the Historic Tale Construction Kit. Images can be added to a gallery there or emailed to a friend.

Ye fabbe four

Friday, December 19, 2003

Share the love

The folks at http://www.fuh2.com are sharing their love for the Hummer H2 Urban Assault Vehicle that so many assholes are driving to the grocerystore each day.

The H2 is the ultimate poseur vehicle. It has the chassis of a Chevy Tahoe and a body that looks like the original Hummer; i.e. it's a Chevy Tahoe in disguise.

The H2 is a gas guzzler. Because it has a gross vehicle weight rating over 8500 lbs, the US government does not require it to meet federal fuel efficiency regulations. Hummer isn't even required to publish its fuel economy (owners indicate that they get around 10 mpg for normal use). So while our brothers and sisters are off in the Middle East risking their lives to secure America's fossil fuel future, H2 drivers are pissing away our "spoils of victory" during each trip to the grocery store.

You can submit your own contribution to the project, or view others here.

SUVs are the powdered-wig and tights of the new decadence: another absurdity grafted onto the status quo that makes people look like even bigger idiots. If you drive a car that gets 10 miles per gallon, you're not only supporting foreign terrorists, you're also supporting domestic price-fixing fatcats who buy legislation that allows increasing destruction to happen to the planet. Now I'm all for seeing the planet go down in a ball of flames, but I fear that I won't get that luxury, I'll just have to keep huffing your exhaust and watching the world die without getting the payoff of seeing the ultimate end of greed and hatred.

Here's a news clip from a recent SUV wreck:

At least two people were injured Monday afternoon after a motorist drove a new Hummer through a red light, slammed into two vehicles and then sped down the wrong side of the road and hit two more vehicles, police said.

One car hit by the Hummer caromed into a van, making for a total of six vehicles in what looked to other drivers like a demolition derby...

...The crash tied up rush-hour traffic on DeBarr Road. At 6:15 p.m., two hours later, the maroon Hummer lay crossways in the eastbound lanes of DeBarr, its front end mashed to an unrecognizable tangle, its door alarm ringing and radio playing.

"It's still got that new-car smell," Davis said.

Ahhh, that new car smell... you can have it. Me, I'm breaking out the digital camera, see if I can add a few submissions to fuh2.com.

A little something for the ladies

An all-woman design team at Volvo is nearing completion on a concept-car designed by and for women.

What do women want? Storage, parking, ergonomics and maintenance. Their design solutions led to some surprising features:
  • No hood. The front end is designed as one large section, meant to be lifted only by the mechanic. The reasoning is women don’t want to be bothered with maintenance, and the car is designed to be virtually maintenance free (oil change every 30,000 miles). When the car needs servicing, it sends a wireless message to a local service station, which will contact the owner and schedule an appointment.
  • Storage space. The car has wide, gull-wing doors that allow easy access to the space behind the driver’s seat. The rear seats are fold-up, theater-style, which allows more storage space. The emergency brake is electric, freeing storage space between the front seats.
  • No gas cap. The car has a race-car-style fueling system in which the gas nozzle goes in through an opening with a roller-ball valve to prevent gas and fumes from escaping. Window-washer fluid is poured into a reservoir next to the gas tank.
  • Easy to clean. The car has dirt-repellant paint and glass, as well as machine-washable seat covers. The seat covers and carpets come in a variety of styles for a customized interior.
  • Easy to park. The car has a sensor to tell the driver if the car will fit in a parking space. It also can take over the steering to parallel park.

The car has run-flat tires, pedals that collapse to the floor during a crash to prevent leg injuries, and a headrest with a valley down the center for women who wear their hair in ponytails.

One wheel to rule them all

Check out the gallery of monowheel vehicles.

To be blunt, the only good thing about Owen's first monowheel was that it was too slow to kill either spectators or the rider, and as a result it failed to achieve his bizarre ambition to own "the most dangerous motorcycle ever".

Dynosphere monowheel vehicle

Thursday, December 18, 2003

The 12 days of bullshit

SEB has some interesting commentary on the revisionist efforts of Christians trying to rewrite reality to bolster their wacko beliefs.

I'm guessing that the main intent behind engaging in this sort of deception is to make fellow believers feel better about the validity of their faith by showing, in part, how their ancestors managed to keep the faith during periods when their beliefs were being persecuted.

Aye, I also suspect that is their motive... but modern-day Christians in this country aren't being persecuted. They've basically got free reign of the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court, as well as various city councils, school boards, and advisory committees. You wouldn't know it, though, since every time they are kept from forcing their beliefs on everyone else they start yapping about how they are being oppressed.

News flash: Christianity, as practiced in the US and many other places, attracts people who feel like they are being persecuted. The whole religion is based on the 'wounded god' archetype, so it's not like this obsession with imagined persecution is something that was grafted onto the core belief system at a later date. It has ALWAYS been a religion that attracts whiners, guilt-trippers, and people who need to put a friendly face on their attempts to control others. Constantine formalized the whole thing 1700 years ago:

First, Constantine moved to eliminate the external challenges posed by paganism, destroying their temples and books. After that, he ordered that those Christian groups which had been deemed "unorthodox" also be eliminated, thus removing internal challenges. Very quickly, theological disagreements which had been a part of the Christian experience became "unchristian." For Constantine, religious differences were impediments to the power that had replaced Maxentius and Licinius. In this way, choice ("heresy") to be religiously different became defined as treason, a political crime.

Hrmmm... what's the point of this rant? I guess it is that you can take your candy canes and your falalalala and your twelve days of commercialism and stick them up your ass, if you can fit them past your head. Happy holidayssssssss toooooooooooooo yoooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.

Peace on earth, good will towards... well, none of you wankers, that's for sure

Clearly, the best solution in these troubled times is for people to fight against the ever-increasing separation between us and our fellow humans... isolationism breeds ignorance and fear, fear leads to hatred, hatred leads to... *eep* I sound like Yoda.

But if you just can't get it together to open up your life to the people around you, some interprising capitalists have just the thing for you: wallpaper with life-sized pictures of ordinary people in ordinary domestic situations so you don't have to feel lonely this Christmas.

"The friends we provide are not very talkative, but they are guaranteed not to argue with you at Xmas, promise to be there all the time and don't leave dirty dishes or argue over the TV remote control."

...According to Schmidt the next step is to create personalised "partner wallpaper" for people who only see their partners at the weekend.

I can just imagine the headlines when some poor housewife comes home to find her husband sitting before a life-sized simulacrum of the 'other woman'.

TURN OFF YOUR TELEVISIONS, GO OUT INTO THE WORLD, AND TALK TO PEOPLE. It's better to have loved and lost than to have been a fucking pathetic loser from the start.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

I wish this was a television commercial

NOFX makes it plain in a Flash video that documents the Bush pResidency: 'The idiot son of an asshole'.

The Return of the Numb-Ass-In-A-Theater-Seat

The final installment in the Lord of the Rings series is out now... I'll see it on Thursday. After reading Harry Knowles' review (in which he compares the trilogy favorably to Hiroshi Inagaki's 'Samurai' series with Toshiro Mifune, Coppola's 'Godfather' trilogy, Lucas' 'Star Wars', and David Lean's not-a-trilogy-but-still-three-damn-fine-films-in-a-row 'Bridge on the River Kwai', 'Lawrence of Arabia', and 'Dr Zhivago'), I thought I'd see if there were any reviews that were longer on criticism and shorter on adoration. So of course I went over to Rotten Tomatoes, to see what the critics there thought. (No spoilers below.)

The current standing is 102 positive ratings and 3 negative, with an overall rating of 9.3 out of 10. Now, it takes guts (or stupidity... the two are remarkably similar in appearance most of the time) to slam RotK when you just *know* people are going to be fawning over it, so I read the three negative reviews carefully. What I found there was quite interesting:

Stephen Whitty:

...these new multi-part epics invariably disappoint, either assuming we know all the background by heart, or going off on tangents that interest no one but the eventual "director's cut" devotee...

...Jackson's movie doesn't ignore other races, or patronize them. It casts them as villains. Why is it, otherwise, that our heroes' latest enemies are said, ominously, to come "from the South," and enter riding elephants and wearing burnooses?

...Elijah Wood and Sean Astin manage to evade both the dangers of their quest and any hints of homoeroticism in their loving friendship as Frodo and Sam...

David Elliott:

...why the endless padding of "heroic" suspense? Jackson really thinks we needed such touches as the episode with a huge spider worthy of a '50s monster film (reputedly he's an arachnophobe)...

... Why is hero Frodo (Elijah Wood) often so wan and floppy, as if in need of smelling salts? Why is he so slow to notice that creepy mini-nudist Gollum is no friend? And his pal Sam (Sean Astin) calling him "Mr. Frodo" starts to seem like a joke...

...perhaps pinched by feminism, Jackson lets fair Eowyn (Miranda Otto) flail a sword and hack off a monster's head...

Michelle Alexandria:

As someone who has never read the books...

...I simply never bought into the basic premise of the film, that somehow this little "Gold Ring" was the "embodiment" of all evil in middle earth and if you destroy it; all will be good and right with the world...

The positive reviews all contain caveats about just about every little scene that was cut from the books (or added to them). It's a pretty tough crowd to please; people who will damn near memorize a 1200-page book or study multiple non-existent languages feel a pretty strong connection to the subject matter. But all in all, the reports are very good.

This pleases me. I don't think I could handle another pile of shite like Matrix:Revolutions; as far as I am concerned, The Matrix was one film, and there were two other films that take place in the same setting but have little thematic continuity with the first. 'We envisioned The Matrix as a trilogy from the very beginning' my ass. If that was true, why the fuck did they leave every fucking plot line hanging, only to pursue newer, stranger, more irrelevant subplots?

With 'Star Wars' pretty much fucked, and 'The Matrix' fucked proper, it's up to Jackson to keep it real with the Return of the King. If he fucks this one up, I'm not going to anymore movies. But since the only real complaints about the film come from people who haven't read the book (wtf?), I don't think there's much of a risk there. I'll let you know on Thursday.

Do not go unphotographed into that dark night

A collection of death scenes from various operas.


Plant ice, harvest wind

Some reasoned and thoughtful observations on the Saddam-Hussein-wankfest going on in the US.

Give your kids nightmares for Christmas

Cleveland artist Scott Radke creates incredible marionettes, bizarre other-worldy little beasties that will give your kids issues. Make sure you check out the ones he's already sold.

Scott Radke

The Linux are coming, the Linux are coming

Linux boot-disks are becoming more popular these days. I for one am interested in these, because it gives me the freedom to explore Linux without having to dedicate a machine to it. (It's not that I don't want a Linux box, it's that I don't yet know which Linux to go with.) I'm not rabidly pro/against any OS... I just want the damn computer to work. For me, Linux is like my old VW bus: sure, it looks like you can fix it if breaks down, but it's really more like you must fix it when it breaks down. You don't have the option of being blissfully ignorant of your computer's inner workings the way you can be with Windows. But if you are willing to learn how it works, Linux is a more powerful tool than Windows.

Some of the recent distributions solve some of the problems with newbie Linux installation... for instance, Knoppix, which is based on Debian, has a painless hardware-identification process that takes almost all of the guess-work out of setting up drivers for your hardware, and it even provides a mechanism for either saving data between boot sessions, or transferring the Linux system to your hard drive. Xandros has just released a new version of their distro, that has a very clean GUI that is similar to Windows, but is much more stable and makes better use of hardware resources.

For systems that have some sort of trouble, SystemRescueCD (based on Gentoo) is an excellent distro that boots up with an impressive array of tools for repairing a damaged system. They've even included 'SpeakUp' support so blind users can work on their machines.

Distrowatch keeps track of most of the bootable Linux distros. There are distros in many languages, distros that fit on mini-cds or compact-flash cards, and distros that are specifically set up for security, gaming, or multimedia.

Linux, or a Unix variant in one form or another, is probably coming your way. Mac's OS X is just a prettified version of FreeBSD. Lindows has found a market selling user-friendly versions of Linux that have been tweaked to act more like Windows. (Unfortunately, Lindows has also found the wrath of MS, and might not live much longer.) To give credit where it is due, Windows XP is the best product Microsoft has ever put out, but their practices are becoming ever more draconian, and there are few reasons to stay with them when there are free full-featured OS's out there along with an accompanying catalogue of free software.

I wish I could say I was surprised

The anti-spam law that Bush just signed has been widely publicized as a tool for bringing relief from the incessant barrage of spam that many of us receive. The problems with this law are not quite so well publicized... the law, which was drafted by the Direct Marketing Association (which in any less-bizarre political climate this might be seen to be a conflict of interest), was specifically created to supercede and eliminate tougher existing state laws. Spam king Alan Ralsky, who is directly responsible for literally billions of spam emails, told reporters that the passage of the House bill "made my day".

The biggest problem with this law is that it actually provides a legal mechanism for businesses to increase the amount of spam they send out. Under the new law all spam is legal as long as there is an 'opt-out' method; the law does not place requirements on the timeliness or efficacy of the opt-out process. This law is less restrictive than a number of state anti-spam laws that it supercedes... does anyone remember the olden times when the republicans talked about smaller federal government and more states rights? I know it was a long time ago (all of 3 years or so), so you're forgiven if the idea sounds absurd to you now.

Most of the spam that is received in Europe comes from the US. The UK recently passed an anti-spam law that actually seeks to protect its citizens from unwanted advertising, rather than fortifying the 'rights' of big businesses at the expense of the people. Unfortunately, people in the UK will still be receiving a significant amount of spam from the US that is now legal as the result of this new law. Fortunately for the US, however, the impression people in the UK have of us cannot really drop any lower, so the social consequences of the new law will not be too extreme.

I've got the music from 'Deliverance' going through my head again

A 'privately funded organization dedicated to dispelling social prejudices and discriminating laws based on common myths about cousin marriages' has gone through the trouble of developing a handy graph for figuring out just how related you might be to someone else. At least now I know what the hell all of that 'twice-removed' stuff is about.

They gave me Lincoln Logs

Wired's list of cool tech gear has some interesting items on it this year. Looking for something for the little future scientist/engineer/alien-autopsy-coroner in your life? Try this Home DNA Sequencer from Discovery.com. This kit is loaded with everything you need to do gel electrophoresis DNA sequencing.

It was only 50 years ago that Watson, Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and the historically ignored Rosalind Franklin figured out the structure of DNA. Even just a few years ago the idea that kids would be doing DNA sequencing in their bedrooms was the stuff of science fiction. Imagine where we'll be in another 50 years, if we don't fuck the whole thing up by then.

The meta-best

You know how at the end of every year, whether anything good happened that year or not, everyone puts up a 'Best of ...' list? Rex at Fimoculous.com has put up a list of those lists. The year in review.

Family values

The 'American Family Association', which seems to me to be more vicious hate group than anything else, isn't happy with the freedoms America was created to establish. They've set up a website that gives bigots, racists, and people who are keen on Jesus the chance to turn their bloated and unfounded feelings of oppression into public policy. One of their recent forays into Jesus-sanctioned fascism is their support of the 'Religious Liberties Restoration Act' (wtf?), an attempt to bypass the normal corruption found in the US legal system by placing issues like the posting of the 'ten commandments' in our courthouses and the 'one nation under god' line in the pledge of allegiance (again, wtf?) outside of the reach of the judicial system:

Finally, a U.S. Senator has given Americans a method to restore our religious liberties. He has introduced a bill, S.1558, "Religious Liberties Restoration Act," which does exactly that.

S. 1558 is not a constitutional amendment, but a legislative statute which would remove from federal court review the displaying of the Ten Commandments, the national motto and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Using this approach, a constitutional amendment would not be needed. Sen. Allard's bill would become law by a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress and the signature of the President. No liberal federal judge would have any authority to rule on this law!

Note that they seem to find a lot of joy in the fact that the rights of the people can be so effortlessly curtailed.

The part of my brain that is currently screaming and wanting to get the fuck out of this country (off the whole fucking planet, preferably) wonders how people can talk about the 'restoration of liberties' in the same breath in which they talk of taking away the few freedoms people have to make their own decisions about their spirituality. The more jaded part of me knows that the answer is in the question: in order for people to maintain such serious delusions about their own innocence, they must continually assert that their situation is the exact opposite of what it really is. The ability of these people to even hallucinate that they are victims of religious oppression, when they spend so much energy and cultivate so much hatred in their quest to oppress others, is evidence enough of their inability to think at all.

In the early part of the last century, it was predicted that by the year 2000 automation would have created a brave new world where each person, at last freed from the drudgery of work, would find the time to create and grow, to bring about a new renaissance. To a large extent, that luxury economy is here... for all the talk of stalled economies the US, we are still an extraordinarily material culture, where basic 'needs' have been redefined to include cars and televisions and digital cameras and $100 tennis shoes. (If this isn't evident to you, you need to travel outside the US for awhile.) But instead of finding time to create, we have merely found the time to hate.

Every little glimpse of I get into the minds of the people in this world fills me with more dread. Delusion, hatred, ignorance, misery, self righteousness, madness... and that's just the people who think they are doing good. How did it come to this?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

You had me at 'hello'

The biggest thing Howard Dean has going for him, in practical terms, is the fact that he is not George W Bush. And that's good enough for me. That he turns out to be fairly human and intelligent is an unexpected bonus.

Here's a recent speech:

In 1968, Richard Nixon won the White House. He did it in a shameful way -- by dividing Americans against one another, stirring up racial prejudices and bringing out the worst in people.

They called it the "Southern Strategy," and the Republicans have been using it ever since. Nixon pioneered it, and Ronald Reagan perfected it, using phrases like "racial quotas" and "welfare queens" to convince white Americans that minorities were to blame for all of America's problems.

The Republican Party would never win elections if they came out and said their core agenda was about selling America piece by piece to their campaign contributors and making sure that wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of a few.

To distract people from their real agenda, they run elections based on race, dividing us, instead of uniting us.

But these politics do worse than that -- they fracture the very soul of who we are as a country.

It was a different Republican president, who 150 years ago warned, "A house divided cannot stand," and it is now a different Republican party that has won elections for the past 30 years by turning us into a divided nation.

In America, there is nothing black or white about having to live from one paycheck to the next.

Hunger does not care what color we are.

In America, a conversation between parents about taking on more debt might be in English or it might be in Spanish, worrying about making ends meet knows no racial identity.

Black children and white children all get the flu and need the doctor. In both the inner city and in small rural towns, our schools need good teachers.

When I was in medical school in the Bronx, one of my first ER patients was a 13-year-old African American girl who had an unwanted pregnancy. When I moved to Vermont to practice medicine, one of my first ER patients was a 13-year-old white girl who had an unwanted pregnancy.

They were bound by their common human experience.

There are no black concerns or white concerns or Hispanic concerns in America. There are only human concerns.

Every time a politician uses the word "quota," it's because he'd rather not talk about the real reasons that we've lost almost 3 million jobs.

Every time a politician complains about affirmative action in our universities, it's because he'd rather not talk about the real problems with education in America - like the fact that here in South Carolina, only 15% of African Americans have a post-high school degree.

When education is suffering in lower-income areas, it means that we will all pay for more prisons and face more crime in the future.

When families lack health insurance and are forced to go to the emergency room when they need a doctor, medical care becomes more expensive for each of us.

When wealth is concentrated at the very top, when the middle class is shrinking and the gap between rich and poor grows as wide as it has been since the Gilded Age of the 19th Century, our economy cannot sustain itself.

When wages become stagnant for the majority of Americans, as they have been for the past two decades, we will never feel as though we are getting ahead.

When we have the highest level of personal debt in American history, we are selling off our future, in order to barely keep our heads above water today.

Today, Americans are working harder, for less money, with more debt, and less time to spend with our families and communities.

In the year 2003, in the United States, over 12 million children live in poverty. Nearly 8 million of them are white. And no matter what race they are, too many of them will live in poverty all their lives.

And yesterday, there were 3,000 more children without health care - children of all races. By the end of today, there will 3,000 more. And by the end of tomorrow, there will be 3,000 more on top of that.

America can do better than this.

It's time we had a new politics in America -- a politics that refuses to pander to our lowest prejudices.

Because when white people and black people and brown people vote together, that's when we make true progress in this country.

Jobs, health care, education, democracy, and opportunity. These are the issues that can unite America.

The politics of the 21st century is going to begin with our common interests.

If the President tries to divide us by race, we're going to talk about health care for every American.

If Karl Rove tries to divide us by gender, we're going to talk about better schools for all of our children.

If large corporate interests try to divide us by income, we're going to talk about better jobs and higher wages for every American.

If any politician tries to win an election by turning America into a battle of us versus them, we're going to respond with a politics that says that we're all in this together - that we want to raise our children in a world in which they are not taught to hate one another, because our children are not born to hate one another.

We're going to talk about justice again in this country, and what an America based on justice should look like -- an America with justice in our tax code, justice in our health care system, and justice in our hearts as well as our laws.

We're going to talk about making higher education available to every young person in every neighborhood and community in America, because over 95% of people with a 4-year degree in this country escape poverty.

We're going to talk about rebuilding rural communities and making sure that rural America can share in the promise and prosperity of the rest of America.

We're going to talk about investing in more small businesses instead of subsidizing huge corporations, because small businesses create 7 out of every 10 jobs in this country and they don't move their jobs overseas -- and they can help revitalize troubled communities. We're going to make it easier for everyone to get a small business loan wherever they live and whatever the color of their skin.

We're going to talk about rebuilding our schools and our roads and our public spaces, empowering people to take pride in their neighborhood and their community again.

We're going to talk about building prosperity that's based on more than spending beyond our means, a prosperity that doesn't force us to choose between working long hours and raising our children, a prosperity that doesn't require a mountain of debt to sustain it, a prosperity that lifts up every one of us and not just those at the very top.

The politics of race and the politics of fear will be answered with the promise of community and a message of hope.

And that's how we're going to win in 2004.

At the Democratic National Convention in 1976, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan asked, "Are we to be one people bound together by common spirit sharing in a common endeavor or will we become a divided nation?"

We are determined to find a way to reach out to Americans of every background, every race, every gender and sexual orientation, and bring them -- as Dr. King said -- to the same table of brotherhood.

We have great work to do in America. It will take years. But it will last for generations. And it begins today, with every one of us here.

Abraham Lincoln said that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth. But this President has forgotten ordinary people.

That is why it is time for us to join together. Because it is only a movement of citizens of every color, every income level, and every background that can change this country and once again make it live up to the promise of America.

So, today I ask you to not just join this campaign but make it your own. This new era of the United States begins not with me but with you. United together, you can take back your country.

Much of that will turn out to be smoke and mirrors... our society is so overwhelmingly conservative that if Dean wins, Congress will almost surely remain Republican-controlled... but four years of gridlock would look like a fucking utopia compared to the years we have had under Bush.

Regardless of your ideology, there are some simple truths about the current administration: US foreign policy has reached an all-time low, with Bush destroying political and economic alliances and flaunting disdain for the opinions of the rest of the world while simultaneously demanding that they heed our cause. Domestic policy has created the worst economic environment since the Depression, and the full brunt of the damage hasn't even hit us yet. Large corporations have become an overt political force, taking advantage of the climate of fear and the accomodating administration to twist the legal system into a shape that better fits their greed. Congress stumbles over itself to undo many of the fundamentals of the Constitution. And the sheep continue waving their fucking flags like it's all a big football game.

I wonder what the Romans thought, when their empire reached this stage. Did they know that the empire had begun its decline, or did bread and circuses allay such concerns?

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792-1822

Aye, despair I can do.

But I keep hoping for change.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Fly the friendly skies

Australian pilot Jon Johanson, the first person to fly a home-built single-engine plane over the South Pole (he has also flown the plane around the world three times, and over the north pole), was forced to land his plane at a US base when strong headwinds ate up his fuel reserves.

The Americans at McMurdo base and a nearby New Zealand base refuse to sell him fuel, saying they "do not want to encourage tourism in the Antarctic".

You can read about Jon's flights at his webpage.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The land of the free, and the home of the hypocritical

Bush warned Taiwan not to seek independence from China:

"We oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo," Bush said when asked about a planned March 20 vote in Taiwan on China. "And the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally to change the status quo, which we oppose."

Bush was speaking with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who accused Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian of 'using democracy as an excuse to pursue independence'. Eh?

To some, it seemed incongruous for Bush to side with the unelected leaders of China instead of the elected leaders of Taiwan.

John Tkacik, an Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, said it was inconsistent for Bush to deliver a pro-democracy foreign policy speech a month ago only to "tell people of Taiwan they can't elect a president who reflects their will."

Actually it's not inconsistent at all... the guy doesn't even want the people of America to elect a president who reflects their will.

The hypocrisy in Bush's statements is overwhelming... Taiwan really only seeks the same sort of independence we celebrate with flag-waving rabidity every 4th of July. And it's not like we're in a real strong moral position to be lecturing anyone about 'unilaterally changing the status quo'.

I don't care if you are a republican or a democrat (actually yes I do: shame on you either way, you idiot. Go read the fucking constitution and study up on the history of this country... you're a nation of sheep), but regardless of your political beliefs, do you *really* want this fucktard representing you to the world?

Monday, December 08, 2003

Another proud day for America

I can't look out my fucking window without seeing US flags flying off of houses and cars, plus bumper stickers and t-shirts and all the rest of the self-righteous whitewash propaganda. Americans seem to think it's right and proper that they bludgeon each other (and the rest of the world) with their 'patriotism'. But, as with most things American, there is a double-standard. It seems that people in the US get upset when they see Canadians displaying the maple-leaf... they feel that it implies the Canadians are purposely intent on showing that they are different, and the idea that the Canadians are merely exhibiting the same sort of behavior as the flag-wavers here (only much less rabid) doesn't seem to occur to them.

This country has a fierce case of tunnel vision. As reprehensible and short-sighted the actions of the US have been, anyone with an ounce of sense should be proud to show that they don't belong to this country. Personally, when I travelled through India, Thailand, and Nepal, I told everyone I was Canadian. They treated me nicer, prices went down, and (importantly) other Americans would leave me alone.


Sunday, December 07, 2003

Accountability flew out the window

Diebold, a company known for making huge Republican campaign contributions, has been awarded several lucrative voting-machine contracts by an administration that has, if you recall, already shown considerable scorn for the actual counting of votes. Many people are upset that the company is making machines that cannot be audited and that leave no paper trail. The interesting bit is that Diebold's primary business is making machines that can be audited... so why are these machines different?

Bob Cringely writes:

Diebold makes a lot of ATM machines. They make machines that sell tickets for trains and subways. They make store checkout scanners, including self-service scanners. They make machines that allow access to buildings for people with magnetic cards. They make machines that use magnetic cards for payment in closed systems like university dining rooms. All of these are machines that involve data input that results in a transaction, just like a voting machine. But unlike a voting machine, every one of these other kinds of Diebold machines -- EVERY ONE -- creates a paper trail and can be audited. Would Citibank have it any other way? Would Home Depot? Would the CIA? Of course not. These machines affect the livelihood of their owners. If they can't be audited they can't be trusted. If they can't be trusted they won't be used.

Now back to those voting machines. If EVERY OTHER kind of machine you make includes an auditable paper trail, wouldn't it seem logical to include such a capability in the voting machines, too? Given that what you are doing is adapting existing technology to a new purpose, wouldn't it be logical to carry over to voting machines this capability that is so important in every other kind of transaction device?

Curiouser and curiouser... they actually have to go out of their way to make a special hardware that can't be audited. I'm thinking of requesting that the UN send in people from actual democracies to make sure this next election is fair.

The new face of freedom and democracy

A US Army Colonel explains our role in Iraq:

"This fence is here for your protection," reads the sign posted in front of the barbed-wire fence. "Do not approach or try to cross, or you will be shot."

American forces have used the tactic in other cities, including Awja, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. American forces also sealed off three towns in western Iraq for several days.

"With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them," Colonel Sassaman said.

Ummm... I think this guy just broke the dial clean off my irony meter. Isn't 'terrorism' the 'use of fear and violence to intimidate or coerce, often for political or ideological reasons'?

Thursday, December 04, 2003

This clearly isn't my planet

Alright, I know that there are people who are into some really freaky shit. There are plenty of wacko belief systems that probably only survive because they contain restrictions against sharing their secrets with the uninitiated (i.e. someone who could point out that you've lost your frickin mind). I've sat in embarrassed silence many times after an otherwise intelligent adult has shared beliefs that seem childish or inane or just fucking wrong. But there seems to be a whole lotta high weirdness floating around these days that I'm just not prepared to deal with.

In a news item that seemed more like a review of a gore film, a man who freely admits to killing and eating another man also told the court about a thriving online community of people who are into cannibalism. The really disturbing part is that this community contains both people who wish to eat someone else, and people who wish to be eaten. In the current murder case, the victim actually responded to an online ad and volunteered, claiming a desire 'since childhood' to be slaughtered and eaten. The cannibal himself said he had a childhood wish for a little brother that he could 'make part of me'... so to him, it was only natural that when he grew up he would start posting ads seeking victims after he built a special 'slaughtering room' in his house that contained meat hooks, a cage, and a butcher-block table.

It's a little bit disturbing that the guy looks a bit like Dahmer.

The charge of murder might not stick, since the victim is shown on video tape requesting that he be killed and eaten. The defense lawyer is seeking charges of "killing on request," a form of illegal euthanasia which carries a maximum sentence of five years.

Whatever happened to people having hobbies? In this age of absentee parenting, are children simply not being told not to eat each other? How fucked up does the world have to get to create people like this? Of course, you can argue that at least the guy wasn't predatory in the sense that Dahmer was... he sought and found a willing participant. I think you might be able to argue, however, that the volunteer was not right in the head. Either way: ewwww. Ewwwwwwwwww.


Battlestar Galactica

With bad guys that were thinly disguised Stormtroopers and a mythos that was thinly disguised Mormonism, Battlestar Galactica is in my mind just one more bit of the 70s that I don't want to be reminded of. Sadly, I am out of luck. The SciFi channel is airing a miniseries that aims to make the series more relevant by turning Starbuck into a woman and all of the cylons into fembots worthy of an Austin Powers movie. A video game and a movie are also in the works, which is the status quo these days... entire plot lines haphazardly thrown into films to justify a video game spinoff (think 'pod racing').

Maybe it's true... the great stories have already been told... but today's storytellers seem to think that changing a character or two into a scantily clad woman will revive almost any lifeless story. This is going to be like 'Battlestar Galactica 90210', which means we get the worst of the 70s combined with the worst of the 90s. I'm going to go to sleep now... somebody wake me when this blows over.

Will work for food

Odd Todd's tells his tales of jobless woe in these flash videos.

The Towers are the players

Gollum raps in this Shockwave Flash video.

It's like watching a child pretend to be the president

Speaking of Bush's big Thanksgiving publicity stunt, designed to make him look... human, or something... by showing his commitment to his troops in the face of grave personal danger, the White House said that Bush's ultra-secret cover was almost blown before they got to Baghdad:

On the flight over, Air Force One had come within sight of a British Airways plane, Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, told reporters on the trip, according to the transcript.

The British Airways pilot radioed over and asked, Bartlett said, "Did I just see Air Force One?" There was silence from the Air Force One pilot, who then replied, "Gulfstream 5."

There was a longer silence from the British Airways pilot, Bartlett said, who, seeming to get that he was in on a secret, then said, "Oh."

Of course, this turned out to be yet another lie. The White House then churned out a more plausible-sounding anecdotal revision of their thrilling tale.

Seriously, do you think that if there was a chance in hell that he would have been in any danger whatsoever, Bush would have even left the fucking ranch? He doesn't need to get anywhere near any actual danger; that's what poor people are for.

Unsatisfied with ordinary morally-bankrupt lawyers...

... Bush orders genetic breeding of new extra-strength minions.

The military defense team who were assigned to poorly protect the few remaining rights of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been fired by the Pentagon after some on the lawyers made the mistake of actually trying to defend their clients. It seems that some of the lawyers felt that the 'military tribunal' forum, wherein suspects are held without charges and denied access to counsel before being tried in secret proceedings, restricted their ability to defend their clients, so they were sacked.

This is the new America, folks. Bush is Sauron... save the Shire.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Power corruption and lies

When will it ever end? I don't imagine anyone is surprised to find that Halliburton, who still count Vice President Dick Cheney on their payroll and who have been given lucrative no-bid businees contracts 'rebuilding' Iraq, are charging the US Treasury (that means you, taxpayers) almost double the going rate for fuel it imports into Iraq. In an ironic twist that we should be very familiar with by now, the companies who are offering the same services for half the price are the very same Iraqi companies we claim to be helping get back on their feet.

If you aren't sure where your patriotic duty lies in this issue, just follow the words of our illustrious leader pResident Bush: "Corporate leaders who violate the public trust should never be given that trust again."

Teaching to the test

In January of 2002 pResident Bush signed the 'No Child Left Behind' law, which gives public schools 12 years to match the successes being claimed in Texas schools. Bush claimed that holding schools responsible for student performance (i.e. financial punishment if test scores don't rise) had improved passing rates and lessened the gap between white and minority children in Texas schools. He even took Houston school superintendent Rod Paige to Washington to be his Secretary of Education.

Given the large body of lies this administration generates, it comes as no surprise to find that Bush's claims about Texas schools were untrue. It turns out that the improvements shown based on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills are not mirrored in standardized national tests such as the SATs. In the years since 1999, students who showed a meteoric rise in reading skills on the Texas test actually showed a decline in scores on the SATs.

Recent reviews of the Texas educational system have shown that Texas schools are under-reporting dropouts, exaggerating the number of college-bound graduates, and excluding students with poor English skills from taking national assessment tests.

The achievement gap between whites and minorities, which Houston authorities have argued has nearly disappeared on the Texas exam, remains huge on the Stanford test. The ranking of the average white student was 36 points higher than that of the average black student in 1999 and fell slightly, to 34 points, in 2002.

"This says that the progress on TAAS is probably overstated, possibly by quite a margin," said Daniel Koretz of the Harvard School of Education, who also reviewed The Times's analysis, "And when all is said and done, Houston looks average or below average."

Sounds like a great model to base the country's educational systems on. Of course, it is the educational model most likely to ensure that more idiots like Bush get elected.

Follow your dreams

A 62-year-old wheelchair-bound quadriplegic has been charged with being the 'drug lord' in an Australian drug ring. Apparently the guy really gets around:

Earlier this year, he made a round-Australia trip using a $6000 water purifying system for his mobile kidney dialysis machine.

He now faces charges of trafficking a drug of dependence, possessing a drug of dependence, possessing articles for the manufacture of a drug of dependence, and possessing the proceeds of crime.

See kids, if you just follow your dreams, you too can be a success.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Plays well with others?

The Bush administration is making $150 million in payments to U.S. steelmakers over the next two weeks under a program declared illegal by the World Trade Organization. The program, which aims to offset the economic damages caused by cowboy politics, has all the subtlety and finesse of some shithead kid squealing "I'm going to take my ball and go home".

Japan, the European Union and a host of other trading partners challenged the scheme, saying it violated WTO rules and would encourage more anti-dumping petitions.

The WTO agreed and in June set a Dec. 27 deadline for the United States to repeal the measure.

However, Congress adjourned for the year in November without taking any action on the provision.

Instead, more than two-thirds of the U.S. Senate has urged Bush to work out an agreement with the EU, Japan and other trading partners to preserve it.

So: we impose absurd tariffs, often for reasons more political than economical. The desired effect of the imposition of those tariffs is that American companies gain a price advantage versus their foreign competitors, thereby boosting the profits of the American companies. The 'Byrd amendment', which was supported by most of congress irrespective of party affiliation, dictates that the revenue raised by tariffs must be distributed to companies who apply for protection against 'below-cost' imports, i.e. the companies who lobbied to have the tariffs raised in the first place.

This of course leads to a sort of critical mass global inflation, wherein all of the other countries raise tariffs on US imports, so people buy less crap from the US companies, which leaves them no recourse but to petiton for higher tariffs to even the playing field. Ha! Truly evening the playing field would put half of all US companies out of business... we've built an empire on perks of an uneven playing field.

I'm getting out of my league with the 'playing field' analogy here... in the Great Game of American empire, I'm the guy wandering up and down the stands selling peanuts.

UPDATE: Backing down to international pressure (and violating yet another of his campaign promises), Bush has scrapped the tariff. The steel industry is not pleased.

Bring it on?

George W Bush, 2 July 2003:

Anybody who wants to harm American troops will be found and brought to justice. There are some who feel like if they attack us, we may decide to leave prematurely. They don't understand what they're talking about if that's the case. There are some who feel like that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring 'em on. We got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 16 April 1953:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.


Personal update 2 Dec 03

Yesterday I went in to the pain management clinic for another diagnostic nerve block procedure. They blocked my 9th, 10th, and 11th ribs on the right near the spinal cord. I am currently (30 hours later) feeling about 50% of the usual right-side pain, and 100% of the left. The fentanyl patches aren't taking much of the pain away, but neither are they taking much of my cognitive abilities away, so I think I will continue ramping up on them and see what happens. I'm in bed all but one or two hours of each day... I do what I can until the pain gets to be too much, then I go lay down again. My next visit to the pain management clinic is on 29 December.

AM and I are working on the new house; we're refinishing some of the wood floors, installing bamboo flooring upstairs, and swapping out an epidemic of butt-ugly light fixtures that appear to have infected the house in the 70s.

Our 17th anniversary is coming up in a couple of weeks... I'm still often surprised at how we continue to grow closer, how much it feels like home when she is near.

OpenCourseWare Revisited

I've spoken before about MIT's OpenCourseWare project, which placed the lectures, assignments, and exams of 500 courses online. I've been delighted by the... openness, I guess, of their gesture - I believe that Good Things come from the free flow of information. (If nothing else, it is simple to show that a restricted flow of information is harmful... look at they way the early Christians solidified their political control by ensuring that only priests knew how to read). MIT seems to be a fount of innovation, so it seemed fitting that this bold step (most academics are notoriously stingy with information) would be undertaken there.

You would think that an enterprise devoted to the 'open source' ideology might use open source tools to promote their venture... but, as with most things, you'd be WRONG. NO COOKIE FOR YOU. Recently Philip Greenspun had some interesting insight into the amount of 'innovation' involved in MIT's project. Greenspun is teaching 'Software Engineering for Internet Applications', a course whose goal he states as "The bottom line: we want one someone who has finished this course to be able to build amazon.com, eBay, or photo.net by him or herself." Apparently the folks from OpenCourseWare gave a lecture to Greenspun's class, from which he shares the following information:

The more sophisticated portion of ocw.mit.edu is a 100 percent Microsoft show. A student asks the speakers why they chose Microsoft Content Management Server, expecting to hear a story about careful in-house technical evaluation done by people sort of like them. The answer: "We read a Gartner Group report that said the Microsoft system was the simplest to use among the commercial vendors and that open-source toolkits weren't worth considering."

Students began to wake up.

A PowerPoint slide contained the magic word "Delhi". It turns out that most of the content editing and all of the programming work for OpenCourseware was done in India, either by Sapient, MIT's main contractor for the project, or by a handful of Microsoft India employees who helped set up the Content Management Server.

Thus did students who are within months of graduating with their $160,000 computer science degrees learn how modern information systems are actually built, even by institutions that earn much of their revenue from educating American software developers.

I've been basically devastated by the immense gap between what I studied so hard to learn in school (bachelors degree in electrical engineering) and what I actually did in the workplace (mostly fill out paperwork and fight closed-minded empire-building fucktard managers for whom innovation was antimatter). I'm saddened to see that MIT also suffers from the lack of applicability in their curriculum, but I am glad to see that at least one professor there understands the problem.