June 21, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 24

Table of Contents:

General News

Computer Industry News

 

Humor

Movies

Letters

General News

Finally Starting To Relax A Little

Last week wasn't really a perfect week. For one thing, the doctor wants to try to shock my heart again this week (the procedure has been delayed because my insurance won't pay to have it done in my doctor's home hospital). For another, I was a half hour late to music filing for the band and had to file all my music by hand myself, instead of as part of the communal effort.

On the other hand, Amma, the hugging saint, the Hindu guru my wife has been following for more than a decade, was in town. We went to a weekend retreat with her. I was hugged twice by Amma, and heard three very enlightening talks from her swamis as well as one of her own. I need to be more mindful and have a better attitude. I also did seva, which is selfless service.

Also, I've found the world's greatest massage therapist, who makes me forget stress for 90 minutes each week. And finally, I didn't set foot in my classroom all week, for the first time since spring break. In fact, I was called and told I had to move, then called back and told the other teacher decided against moving. Just thinking about changing classrooms lets me know why teachers hate to do it. It is almost as bad (in some ways) and maybe worse than moving to a new home. By the way, it's official, I'm a half time teacher for next year. If I keep it up, it will take me five years to reach tenure instead of three, and of course, my benefits are cut in half. But, as I have noted to several people who've asked, if I'm dead, I can't teach anyone.

I didn't spend enough time reading and relaxing last week; I spent too much time doing chores, errands and running around. I am planning on taking Monday off.

Marlow from China

Marlow's in Mongolia. Here's what she's up to:

A couple of fun Beijing facts: Beijing is the size of Belgium. The population of Beijing is more than the entire island of Taiwan.

Yesterday I went to the Forbidden City, which I found a bit disappointing. And I also went up to see the view of Tiananmen Square from Tiananmen (men means gate). Afterwards I went to LiuLiChang, which is the "antique" street. I had hoped to show a little bit of self-restraint, but actually did not. I bought lots of Mao stuff (an old poster, a standing bronze statue, and an old looking vase), two scrolls, some jewelry, some calligraphy practice materials, some postcards, another name chop (with my birth year creature, the monkey, on top) and basically anything else that caught my eye. Luckily there was a bank on the street that took my ATM, unlike in Taiwan where it took me forever to find a bank that worked for me, so my spending was only temporarily slowed. I liked chatting with the store owners, but at the beginning I did a terrible job of haggling, only by the end was I doing a half-way decent job.

Today I'm probably going to go to the Heavenly palace, another shopping district, and perhaps the Beijing opera tonight. And the next day the Great wall with a German couple staying at my hotel.

...

Anyway, the last couple of days I have gone to the Heavenly Palace, much better than the Forbidden City, and a couple of markets where I bought too much stuff, but had the enjoyable experience of commissioning jewelry that fits me perfectly, and of course got lots of practice in haggling. I picked up a couple Mao lighters, and scarves.

Yesterday I spent the whole day on a Great Wall excursion. I went to Si Ma Tai, a section of the wall that is pretty far away, a bit over 3 hours by bus....

The wall itself was, of course, pretty impressive. There are parts of the wall which have been recently renovated, and parts that have too many tourists, this place was none of those. This section of the wall is on top of the mountains that separate Inner Mongolia from the area North of Beijing. The mountains were very impressive.

Political Notes

Interesting state fact sheets on the Bush economy.

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From Eli Pariser of the MoveOn PAC

Last night, I got a chance to see a sneak preview of Michael Moore's new film Fahrenheit 9/11. It is an incredibly powerful movie that lays bare the cynicism and greed behind Bush's war policy. And the astonishing and revealing footage in it has the power to change the course of the 2004 election. (There's a full review below.)

Given how devastating the movie is to President Bush's carefully crafted facade, it's hardly surprising that right-wing groups who call Moore a "domestic enemy" are using censorship and intimidation tactics to try to get it pulled from theaters. That's why we've got to do everything we can to make the opening a huge success.

Today, we're asking MoveOn members to pledge to see the film on the opening night -- Friday, June 25th. (If you can't make it on Friday, pledging to go on Saturday or Sunday is fine, too). It'll be fun, of course -- you'll be watching the movie with lots of other MoveOn members. It'll also send an unmistakable message to the media and theater owners that the public is behind this movie.

See the Fahrenheit 9/11 trailer and pledge to see the movie on the opening weekend.

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An interesting analysis by an ex-CIA employee as to why the Republicans have to stop at nothing to win this fall. Basically, the prospect of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft facing trial for their lives because of a violation of the federal law against torture.

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More dangerous to American democracy than the Patriot Act:

James Bamford is an acknowledged and well-published outside expert on U.S. intelligence agencies. Bamford wrote This Spy For Rent which appeared in The New York Times June 13, 2004, Week In Review. The article discussed private contractors taking over the intelligence agencies. It revealed that many jobs are now performed (or mis-performed) by private persons and companies. These include regional desk officers who control clandestine operations around the world; watch officers at the 24-hour crisis center and analysts who sift through reams of intelligence data. Private contractors also act as counterintelligence officers who oversee clandestine meetings between agency officers and their recruited spies. Plus, the CIA has farmed out the jobs of the reports officers who act as liaisons between officers in the field and analysts back at headquarters. Given multiple levels of secrecy it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the public or Congress (even if it were inclined to provide oversight) to determine what the CIA is doing. For example, whether the intelligence agencies are being operated for the benefit of the United States or for the benefit of the private clients of the companies now apparently controlling a substantial portion of the critical functions of the agencies.

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With his devotion to the best in America which is exemplified by the constant devotion to the truth (the hallmark American virtue), Ronald Reagan would surely look kindly and cheerfully on this truthful (and thus all-American) appraisal from Jimmy Breslin of Newsday.

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While The New York Times and The Washington Post did not distinguish themselves in reporting and providing essential analysis on the September 11 Commission's revelations concerning two unlawful "orders" issued on Sept. 11, 2001, for the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard to kill Americans (by shooting down their civilian airliners), an ex-military lawyer (Matherw J. Nasuti) finally got to the point in a letter to the editor of The New York Times published on June 19, 2004: "The vice president is not in the legal chain of command and has no authority to issue orders to the military, especially to shoot down a civilian airliner." (Those interested are directed to Title 10 of the U.S. Code.)

In short, Dick Cheney's authority to order the military to do anything on Sept. 11, 2001, was exactly equivalent to Paul Schindler's authority which is precisely none. By law the chain of command runs from the president to the secretary of defense to the area commanders. The chain does not run through the vice president and does not run through the Joint Chiefs of Staff (which apparently was the view held by one of Condi Rice's minions (deputy security adviser Stephen Hadley)).

The first order was from Cheney who thought (according to Don Rumsfeld) he (Cheney) had "relayed" an "order" (allegedly from the president in a telephone call of which no one has a record although there are notes on just about every other call at the same time) which resulted in the downing of two airliners. For two reasons no one died because of Cheney's attempt to kill; first, this request from Cheney came after all the hijacked airliners had already crashed; second, the area commander did not relay the "order" (for reasons unrelated to whether the "order" was lawful) to the pilots.

The second order was from the D.C. Air National Guard commander who took it upon himself to offer his planes to the Secret Service which accepted and told the ANG to shoot down any planes over Washington which did not divert from the area when directed to do so. These pilots got the order but again no one died because the hijacked planes had already crashed. As far as can be determined so far, Cheney had nothing to do with the Secret Service's effective takeover of the U.S. military assets involved.

All of which raises many issues (a few of which follow) about the Commission's operations and specifically the decision to accept joint unsworn testimony from Bush and Cheney.

Bush's story is that he was forced to use a cell phone to communicate with Cheney. In short, the normal military communications lines (presumably tape recorded or at a minimum with records of each call) maintained with the president wherever and whenever he travels by the White House Communications Agency were not used.There was no mention of any tape recordings of the alleged cell phone calls.There is no contemporaneous documentary record that Bush ever issued an order to shoot down airliners. The Commission only has the unsworn word of the truth challenged (WMD in Iraq, Cleland's a traitor, Iraq was responsible for 9/11) Bush and Cheney.

Even if there were an "order" for the first killings, why was it accepted by Rumsfeld and the Defense Department from anyone other than Bush?

What happened to WHCA's communications lines?

Why was it impossible for Bush to contact the military while he was a passenger on an Air Force jet?

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

The Uncanny Valley: this lovely phrase is the English translation of a term coined in 1978 by the Japanese roboticist Dr. Masahiro Mori. It describes the paradoxical observation that as attempts to simulate humans -- be it with robots or computer animation -- get more and more realistic, the result becomes increasingly creepy. (At least until the simulations are indistinguishable from the real thing.) While the phenomenon was familiar to me, I had not heard of Mori or this apt phrase until reading The Undead Zone - Why realistic graphics make humans look creepy in Slate. That lead me to Dave Bryant's excellent 2000 essay The Uncanny Valley (also in PDF) which asks: Why are monster-movie zombies so horrifying and talking animals so fascinating? Film critic Roger Ebert invoked the phrase in talking about the CGI Gollum character in Return of the King (Gollum avoids the valley because he is not human) as mentioned in Robots Dancing in the Uncanny Valley And for a strong dose of uncanniness, see The Man Who Mistook His Girlfriend for a Robot. Detours around the Valley are often provided by stylization as artfully discussed in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.

SpaceShipOne burns rubber: a truly historic event may happen on Monday, the first launch of a privately funded space craft with a human crew in an attempt to reach an altitude of 100 kilometers. If successful, SpaceShipOne will be within spitting distance of winning the X Prize. Among SS1's many innovations: it uses uses rubber and nitrous oxide for fuel!

eVote eVents: Florida Voting Machines Have Recount Flaw is it a "minor hiccup" or perjury by state officials? The League of Women Voters has supported e-voting as a progressive solution to the debacle of the 2000 election. But as the reputation of e-voting machines and the firms that make them have sunk into the slime of technical incompetence and political corruption, the LWV found itself on the wrong side of this issue. Finally there was an internal coup and the organization changed its stance. Now they endorse "voting systems and procedures that are secure, accurate, recountable and accessible" as opposed to those from say Diebold Election Systems.

Octopus observations: OK, I've always been a bit of a cephalopod fan, so it warmed my heart a few weeks back when I read that the elderly J-1 got a chance to do the Wild Thing with the fetching young Aurora. Now comes the happy news that the old boy had the Right Stuff, since the couple is now expecting. I also feel compelled to pass on the news that Octopuses have a preferred arm.

Technobits: DMCA Foes Find Allies in House --- Kahle v. Ashcroft and submission site --- FBI: Arrests Made in 'Half-Life' Game Hacking Case --- Cory Doctorow on How Doesn't DRM Work? --- OD2: A Penny for Your Songs --- German city picks Linux over Microsoft --- Italy School Foils Cheats by Blocking Phone Signals --- weblogs.com goes dark --- Phoebe by Cassini and Wild 2 by Stardust --- Teleportation with Atoms --- thought visualization (paper and video).

Humor

None

Movies

Guest Review: Saved

It's about a handful of mis-fits (protagonist, PK (Preacher's Kid), boy in wheelchair, and rebellious Jewish girl) at a Christian High School. (Kind of an intersection of the TV shows "7th Heaven" and "Joan of Arcadia" ?) If nothing else (and there is), it pokes at the question, "(Assuming) God has a plan (for us) doesn't mean we know what it is."

Well done, recommended.

--Daniel Dern

Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban

Once again, I was a bit spoiled by all the reviews I read in advance. This is supposed to be "the darkest Harry Potter yet, the one that really deals with adolescence, the first one that actually adapts the book instead of slavishly following it." Well, I don't know about dark, and I didn't really see any special look at adolescence, but I will say that the new director, Alfonso Cuarón, had the courage both to step into Chris Columbus' shoes (no small feat) and to take liberties with the book. Whole subplots disappeared. I must say, given that I really hate the Draco Malfoy character, it was a pleasure to see him dealt with so harshly in this film. It is certainly entertaining, and, at a mere 142 minutes (versus 161 minutes and and 152 minutes), the length is moving in the right direction. Maybe by 2007, when Goblet of Fire comes out, it will be a real movie! In any case, this outing is moderately entertaining, sometimes clever, and seems shorter than it is, which is an improvement over Potter I and Potter II which seemed longer than they were--and they were pretty long.

Letters

Cinnamon For Diabetics And Other Dern Stuff, Nilsson on Disappearing Blogs, Ken Cron, Macedonian Plot, Dan Grobstein File

If you, like me, have type-two adult-onset diabetes, consider eating more cinnamon. Thank you, Daniel Dern. Also: editorial relations J

I mentioned I'd been criticized for grumbling too much about my job. This from Daniel Dern:

Grumbling one's faculty:

On grumbling... some people do that as part of processing change. And as one who's had a teacher for an ex-wife (or vice-versa... at this point, an ex-wife who's an ex-teacher), and known current and ex-teachers, there's often a lot to grumble about. Heck, I'm a volunteer literacy tutor ~1.5 hours a week during the school year and I could give you a sizeable grumble.

Granted, if the grumblees (grumbled-to?) feel over-grumbed, I don't begrudge their wanting to flow-control (bogart?) the kvetching.

Lord knows there was enough to grumble about in your previous employment, at times.

Dern, who wrote InformationWeek's humorous Christmas columns for many years, is back at it, attempting to inject humor into technical journalism.

This from Bob Nilsson (Craig also has it in TechnoBytes above)

An item of journalism news - Thousands of Blogs Fall Silent

I put blogs in the category of journalism these days. I guess this is also a lesson in "you get what you pay for". Dave Winer (author of the Cluetrain Manifesto) created an uproar this week when he abruptly and unexpectedly shut down his free blog-hosting service. The story was at Wired.

An interesting analysis by an ex-CIA employee as to why the Republicans have to stop at nothing to win this fall. Basically, the prospect of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft facing trial for their lives because of a violation of the federal law against torture.

People who follow Ken Cron's career will note his new job.

Craig Reynolds found this amazing story:

A war against terror that went very wrong Fabricating terrorism to win U.S. approval
7 innocents killed in Macedonian plot to show nation's zeal

San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, June 20
Juliette Terzieff

Islamabad, Pakistan -- Officials from the tiny Balkan nation of Macedonia stepped forward last month to admit that the government had lured seven innocent South Asian immigrants to Macedonia, gunned them down and claimed they were al Qaeda terrorists plotting to attack the U.S. Embassy -- all to prove Macedonia's worth to the U.S.-led war on terror.

Dan Grobstein File

Bush told he is playing into Bin Laden's hands
Al-Qaida may 'reward' American president with strike aimed at keeping him in office, senior intelligence man says

New York Times