Monday, June 30, 2008

What have you been listening to, reading, watching?

Weekend Box Office
1. Wall-E
2. Wanted
3. Get Smart
4. Kung Fu Panda
5. The Incredible Hulk

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Yeah it's a little long, but read - or watch - Senator Dodd's speech on the floor of the Senate about the FISA/retroactive immunity bill. It's fabulous - and a perfect example of the reason why the Senate floor is, occasionally, known as a place for great speeches.

I'm genuinely confused as to why Obama feels the need to alter his course here. But it seems more and more like his earlier pledge to filibuster the bill if it contains immunity for telecom companies is the one that may have been a bit of a pander, not this newer resolve that we need the bill regardless. In other words, he may actually mean it now. That, I guess, would at least explain it.

For another compelling take, you should read Kevin Drum, who thinks this bill is horrible, but not because of the retroactive immunity provisions. He makes alot of sense. I would like for Obama, and others willing to support it, to explain *exactly* what has changed in the legislation that makes it palatable now whereas it was not before.
A Philosophical Question
If an e-mail is sent but it's never opened, does it still contain a message? This sound of one hand clapping comes courtesy of the White House.
The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.
Also, when the EPA calls, White House officials are instructed to put their fingers in their ears and sing la-la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you-la-la-la-la.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Only 209 More Days
In a news conference with the Filipino President:
PRESIDENT BUSH: Madam President, it is a pleasure to welcome you back to the Oval Office. We have just had a very constructive dialogue. First, I want to tell you how proud I am to be the President of a nation that -- in which there's a lot of Philippine-Americans. They love America and they love their heritage. And I reminded the President that I am reminded of the great talent of the -- of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House.
Good Luck Everybody
Today's NYTimes adds a bit of truth-telling to the Russert-based heart disease discussion.
Mr. Russert’s fate underlines some painful truths. A doctor’s care is not a protective bubble, and cardiology is not the exact science that many people wish it to be. A person’s risk of a heart attack can only be estimated, and although drugs, diet and exercise may lower that risk, they cannot eliminate it entirely. True, the death rate from heart disease has declined, but it is still the leading cause of death in the United States, killing 650,000 people a year. About 300,000 die suddenly, and about half, like Mr. Russert, have no symptoms.
At his last physical, in April, he passed a stress test, and his heart function was good. Dr. Newman estimated his risk of a heart attack in the next 10 years at 5 percent, based on a widely used calculator.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rest in Peace, George Carlin. Here he is famously discussing the Seven Words you can't say on television. Needless to say, the audio is not safe for work. In fact, in sheer volume of bad language, it may be the least safe 10 minutes of audio in history.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I had a professor argue that one measure of The Beatles' greatness/importance was that hardly anyone making music who was popular before them was still popular after them--Frank Sinatra and, to some degree, Elvis Presley the notable exceptions.

Usually I don't buy the argument that losing political candidacies "accomplish" anything. But, I'm starting to re-assess in the case of Howard Dean. I think - and hope, if everything goes right - that we will look back on Democrats in this era and divide them in 2 camps - before Dean and after Dean. There are a whole host of Dem office-holders now that embrace the politics of toughness and contrast on the content side, and bottom-up grassroots organization on the politics side.

Webb, Tester, Schweitzer, Sebelius, Obama to name a few. Democrats who were in office across that divide can likewise be separated into those who either embraced this development (Kennedy, Harkin) or have resisted it (Clinton, Lieberman).

Where I'm going with this is with regard to VP selection. It will be interesting to see if Obama picks a post-Dean figure in the name of consistent vision, or a pre-Dean figure in the name of unity. Hillary is an interesting case in that she is clearly a pre-Dean Democrat, but wound up - quite unintentionally in my view - becoming a post-Dean, movement candidate for President.

Either way, I think it's safe to say that if not for the Dean campaign, many of those new Democrats in federal office would not have won. Also, clearly, Obama would not be the nominee for President now.

Of course, the formula is flawed, oversimplified. If Dean hadn't run the campaign he did, someone else may have used the intertubes to engineer the same kind of political shift. But, he did. In retrospect, his failed campaign did accomplish quite a bit.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm Depressed [UPDATED]
Normally I would save reaction to a film for the next Media Monday. However, my response here is not so much about the merits of the film . After studiously avoiding seeing the HBO movie The Recount (about the FL 2000 election), my brother - apparently something of a familial sadist - told me I should watch it. So I did, late last night.

It was painful, painful, painful. Gore won Florida in 2000 - not by much, but he did. And somehow we let the other guy get sworn in. We should have made more noise, caused more trouble, and made it much more difficult for that to happen. I know if the shoe was on the other foot, the other party would have brought the country to a standstill.

And now look where we are.

My experience re-living that horror (mostly in something of a whiny fetal position on the couch) left me with 3 questions resonating through the accumulated last 8 years.

1) How could Democrats have been so inattentive to the awful, even criminal mismanagement of elections that was happening right under their noses in that state - from the ridiculous ballots and machinery to the wrongful purging of 20,000 voters from the rolls just for having names *similar* to felons? And why did these failures not result in a major overhaul of election law and procedure?

2) Given the dubious election thrust not only an illegitimate presidency on us, but - as was almost immediately clear - one of the most incompetent failing presidencies of all time, how the hell did we not soundly right that wrong in 2004? How the hell did Kerry lose? And especially how did he lose Florida?

3) Since the Nader vote in either New Mexico or Florida would have delivered the presidency to Gore, how do 2000 Nader voters in those 2 states live with themselves?

Ok, while I'm at it, 4) How did the fact that Gore won the popular vote end up fading away so uncontroversially? There was never the slightest effort the next year to undo the Electoral College, even as it awarded the presidency to the candidate who got fewer votes, here in a supposedly one-person, one-vote democracy. I understand the arguments for continuing the Electoral College, but nobody even seriously brings up changing it so we can debate the relative merits? I seem to remember after 2000 everyone assuming it would be one of those inevitable groundswell debates, but it just never happened. Don't you know that if Obama becomes President through the Electoral College but loses the popular vote to McCain that Republicans will first contest that result with all they've got (and probably win a few votes in the Supreme Court), then brand Obama as illegitimate *every week for 4 years*, will attach anti-EC legislation to everything until they win, and then will hammer home that Americans really didn't vote for Obama through the entire 2012 election until they defeat him.

We just don't fight like them. Sometimes I'm proud of that, but watching Recount doesn't help with that sense.

If anyone can help my psyche with some salving answers to those questions, I'd appreciate it. In the meantime, and until then, I can't recommend Recount.

[UPDATE: This makes me feel a little bit better, but only a little.]

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Question on a Cave
In case you missed it, Democrats have bizarrely caved on the FISA immunity bill that lets telecom companies get away with spying on Americans on behalf of the Administration. We have the Blue Dogs to thank, it would seem, though I really don't understand - is there some kind of groundswell of public anger in those conservative Dem areas over FISA legislation? From where I sit, it doesn't look like anyone even knows what it is, much less are they clamoring about it.

Anywho, over at War and Piece, Laura Rozen has the question which we can only dream someone in today's press corps might actually ask of Speaker Pelosi.

[UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald's powerful analysis is here.]

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I'm kind of surprised the flooding in the Midwest hasn't gotten wall-to-wall coverage we saw with New Orleans and Katrina. This is a real disaster as levees are giving way all the way down the Mississippi as the crest surfs toward the Gulf. In terms of devastating homes and towns and property, it seems just like Katrina only spread out over a larger area.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bugs to the rescue?
To be more precise: the genetic alteration of bugs – very, very small ones – so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw, they do something extraordinary. They excrete crude oil.

Unbelievably, this is not science fiction. Mr Pal holds up a small beaker of bug excretion that could, theoretically, be poured into the tank of the giant Lexus SUV next to us. Not that Mr Pal is willing to risk it just yet. He gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”. After that, he grins, “it’s a brave new world”.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Litigant With a Vendetta
Professor Lessig posts some background and perspective on the Judge Kozinski business:
For at least a month, a disgruntled litigant, angry at Judge Kozinski (and the Ninth Circuit) has been talking to the media to try to smear Kozinski. Kozinski had sent a link to a file (unrelated to the stuff being reported about) that was stored on a file server maintained by Kozinski's son, Yale. From that link (and a mistake in how the server was configured), it was possible to determine the directory structure for the server. From that directory structure, it was possible to see likely interesting places to peer. The disgruntled sort did that, and shopped some of what he found to the news sources that are now spreading it.
No one can know who uploaded what, or for whom. The site was not "on the web" in the sense of a site open and inviting anyone to come in. It had a robots.txt file to indicate its contents were not to be indexed. That someone got in is testimony to the fact that security -- everywhere -- is imperfect. But this was a private file server, like a private room, hacked by a litigant with a vendetta. Decent people -- and publications -- should say shame on the person violating the privacy here, and not feed the violation by forcing a judge to defend his humor to a nosy world.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Unexpected Success
After my hard drive died, I decided to get an external to back everything up, plus I think I will use it to store all of my music since that can take up lots of space. I picked an iomega because it portable and I know the name, but when I went to hook it up with the Firewire connector, it didn't show up. So I went online to the iomega site, went to support where they claim to offer live chat help (my favorite kind of support), filled in my item's serial number and waited for about 20 mins. Tech help finally came on and I told him my issue and we both feared something wrong with the port on my ibook. And, you know, usually, those help people are all too glad to deflect blame to somebody else's device. So I figured I would end up back at the Apple store...but he said he'd send a replacement cord, just in case that's it. It just came via FedEx and I plugged it in and voila.

All of that to say, next time you're considering a storage device, put a check mark beside support help under iomega.

Lastly, someone remind me about this unexpected success the next time I am moaning about tech support horrors and about to put a hex on the whole industry.
My Wish for McCain's VP
Please, please please let it be Jindal.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Newsflash: The Internets Are Not So Private
Even if you're a chief judge. Whoops.

Kozinski probably didn't want to be on the Supreme Court anyway.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Plant Social Life
This is pretty fascinating:
The sea rocket, researchers report, can distinguish between plants that are related to it and those that are not. And not only does this plant recognize its kin, but it also gives them preferential treatment.

If the sea rocket detects unrelated plants growing in the ground with it, the plant aggressively sprouts nutrient-grabbing roots. But if it detects family, it politely restrains itself.

The finding is a surprise, even a bit of a shock, in part because most animals have not even been shown to have the ability to recognize relatives, despite the huge advantages in doing so.

If an individual can identify kin, it can help them, an evolutionarily sensible act because relatives share some genes.

Monday, June 09, 2008

What have you been watching, reading, listening to?

I know I've pointed to the NYTimes' songwriting blog, "Measure for Measure" before, but here's another great post of Rosanne Cash's from a couple of weeks ago, here about whether honest songwriting is helped by being true to facts.
The “truth” (or “honesty”) and the “facts” are not necessarily the same, they are not necessarily equal and one often requires the suspension of the other. This may not be the case in higher math or on Wall Street (or, actually, it may work there as well, but I’m clueless about that) but it is an immutable “truth” in art and music that facts are not necessarily the best indicators of the deepest human experience.

The table where you found the suicide note, the cup of coffee that turned cold because you were distracted in a painful reverie staring out the old wavy-glass window at the rain dripping off the eaves, the seashell left in the coat pocket from the last time you were at that favorite spot at the ocean, when it all came clear that you were at the right place with the wrong man, the letters, the photos, the marbles and jewels — all these physical, material, real-world artifacts carry poetic weight and should be used liberally in songwriting. These are the facts that convey truth to me.

The exact words he said, who was right or wrong, whether he relapsed on the 7th or the 10th, why exactly she does what she does, the depth and weight and timbre of the feelings, whether Love Heals Everything — these aren’t facts, these are ever-changing blobs of emotional mercury, and when you are working in rhyme, it can be much more powerful and resonant to write about the shards of the coffee cup than about the feeling that caused him to throw it across the room.
She goes on to describe a recent collaboration between herself, Elvis Costello, and Kris Kristofferson.

Weekend Box Office
1. Kung Fu Panda
2. Zohan
3. Indiana Jones
4. Sex and the City
5. The Strangers

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friday Quick Links
Mitch McConnell brought the US Senate to a standstill yesterday in retaliation for what he claims is Democratic obstructionism on confirming Bush appointments. He forced the clerks to read the entire Lieberman-Warner climate change bill aloud, all 500 pages. It took 9 hours. I can only assume the reason why Democrats did not ever take such a tact when Republicans were in charge is that we feared they would pummel us in the press for it. And yet when Republicans do it, we do not pummel them in the press for it.... McConnell is up for re-election in November, and I'm hoping Kentucky voters hear lots from his opponent about this kind of foolishness, even if our fine media doesn't seem to care.

The climate change bill, by the way, is dead. 12 votes short, though really 10 if you figure that Obama and McCain both said they would have voted yes.

Not dead? Paul Pierce. Carried off the court in the middle of the 3rd period against the Lakers last night, then carted to the dressing room in a wheelchair, Pierce determined his knee ligaments were not torn as feared and limped back through the tunnel and onto the parquet to lead the Celtics to victory in the first game of the NBA Finals a la Larry Bird against the Indiana Pacers. It was....awwwesome.

Shepherd Fairey prints for Obama are cool (here's "Progress" and "Hope".) . If you have one, hold on to it. They are limited edition, and selling for bunches on the intertube auction sites. Would love to get my hands on a poster of one, and/or a shirt, but seem hard to come by at the moment.

We could use some hope, change and progress these days. Unemployment jumped more than it has in 20 years. New figures are 5.5%.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama's "Strong Diplomacy" in Action?[UPDATED]
[D]uring a Senate vote Wednesday, Obama dragged Lieberman by the hand to a far corner of the Senate chamber and engaged in what appeared to reporters in the gallery as an intense, three-minute conversation. While it was unclear what the two were discussing, the body language suggested that Obama was trying to convince Lieberman of something and his stance appeared slightly intimidating.

Using forceful, but not angry, hand gestures, Obama literally backed up Lieberman against the wall, leaned in very close at times, and appeared to be trying to dominate the conversation, as the two talked over each other in a few instances.

Still, Obama and Lieberman seemed to be trying to keep the back-and-forth congenial as they both patted each other on the back during and after the exchange.

Afterwards, Obama smiled and pointed up at reporters peering over the edge of the press gallery for a better glimpse of their interaction.
Lieberman has lately been joining in with McCain to bash Obama for his stance re Iran.

[UPDATE: ABCNews' Jake Tapper has more on the confrontation.]
Deep Thought: The Day After
I see where superdelegates are coming out today - including my own Governor - to endorse Obama. Could there be a more useless bunch? Apart from those few who have some other legitimate reason (e.g., Dean, or Gore or congressional leadership) to wait until it's all decided, there are 2 kinds of superdelegates: those who helpfully endorsed someone before today, and those who are complete cowards. Who the hell else were they going to endorse today??
Obama's Speech
I understand from the late-night commentary that some people viewed Obama's speech cynically. So, are there just 2 kinds of people? The kind that are moved by a speech like this, and the kind that aren't? Either way, I suppose, it's not a conscious decision. Still, I'm glad to be in the former group, and as confused by the presence of the other side as they surely are by mine. By the end especially, I found it remarkable and inspiring.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hillary supporters have all of the determined energy right now. That plus trouble-making Republicans means she will outperform expectations.

Obama 53
Clinton 47

South Dakota
Obama 46
Clinton 54
The Restrictionist Message
An important editorial in today's NYTimes
A nation of immigrants is holding another nation of immigrants in bondage, exploiting its labor while ignoring its suffering, condemning its lawlessness while sealing off a path to living lawfully. The evidence is all around that something pragmatic and welcoming at the American core has been eclipsed, or is slipping away.
The restrictionist message is brutally simple — that illegal immigrants deserve no rights, mercy or hope. It refuses to recognize that illegality is not an identity; it is a status that can be mended by making reparations and resuming a lawful life. Unless the nation contains its enforcement compulsion, illegal immigrants will remain forever Them and never Us, subject to whatever abusive regimes the powers of the moment may devise.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, June 02, 2008

What have you been watching, reading, listening to?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Random Primary Thoughts
--Looks like the turnout in Puerto Rico is not nearly what was projected (900,000), much less hoped for (2 million) by the Clinton campaign. Assuming that holds up, she will lose the popular vote even including Florida.

--Went to the Democratic Party's Jackson Day Dinner last night and Governor Bredesen and indeed the entire event onstage sounded ready to unify behind Obama, even without expressly saying it that way.

--At that same event, a Hillary-supporting couple at my table referred to the guest speaker, Senator Claire McCaskill as a "traitor" for supporting Senator Obama. It occurred to me that while at one time the Obama campaign may have had the appearance of an over-excited, cult-like following, it is now the Clinton campaign that has the claim on rabid-in-the-face-of-reality.

--Perhaps because of that, I still think Clinton as VP offers more positive than anyone else I can think of.

--This would be nice, if true:
Despite veiled threats to keep the race going by taking the Michigan compromise to the Democratic party's credentials committee or even to the party's convention in August, Clinton's team is already sounding out Obama about taking on some of her campaign staff and adopting some of her policy positions, particularly on health. Clinton would in turn endorse Obama and the two might appear together later this week.