December 2006 Archives

Dirty Players

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As a follow up to this, Sam Smith of the Trib makes a couple of points.

Days of prideful dirty players over | Chicago Tribune James Posey, the character from the Miami Heat, is dirty.

Posey served his one-game suspension Friday for taking down Luol Deng on Wednesday in Miami's game against the Bulls, a suspension the Bulls predictably thought was too lenient.

Heat coach Pat Riley also objected, predictably, because it apparently would keep Posey from his appointment to accept a good-citizenship medal.
Posey is a dirty player, and has been for some time, which is an irony of sorts. When he played in Denver and Memphis, he was known as a “soft” player who backed away from physical play. But he mostly hits guys from behind, so it's not like he has toughened up. More likely he has watched Bill Laimbeer tapes.

I watched the game between Miami and Chicago, and Posey was guilty of at least three dirty fouls, which if added to other cheap shots Posey dished out in previous games between the two teams, is evidence of a vendetta, or of instructions from thug-ball disciple, Pat Riley.

Also, what is up with all the hand-wringing over fighting in the NBA? When baseball teams get into brawls, everyone yucks it up later. When hockey players get into fights, well, we've all heard the jokes.

And so we move on from the debate about who is a dirty player, what is a dirty play and why the officials in hockey just stand there while guys punch each other yet it's the NBA that is called the violent league.

The racism debate will have to wait as we sort out NBA malevolence.
But it's nowhere near what it once was, and nowhere near what happens on the ice in hockey and on the field in football.

Here's a list of several players I dislike, and apparently, so does Mr. Smith.

He's not playing this season because of an injury, but one of the worst is Denver's Kenyon Martin, filled with lots of phony bluster and elbows from behind. The Mavericks' Jason Terry is one to watch for, and not only for that punch to the groin of Michael Finley during a tie-up in last season's playoffs. The little guard is sneaky. ...

When I ask about dirty players around the NBA these days, there are few names that come up immediately. Seattle's Danny Fortson is probably the consensus, and he sued former Suns managing partner Jerry Colangelo for calling him a thug. Truth being the ultimate defense, we haven't heard much from that.

It's one of Ron Artest's lesser sins, but he gets into the top five with the angry, well-placed elbow. More common is something like the tactic of Terry's Dallas teammate Josh Howard, who likes to stick out his foot to stop a potential fast break. Alonzo Mourning was worse before he got to Miami.

Reggie Evans of Denver, and Raja Bell, of Phoenix, could both be on this list, but they are not quite in the same category. There is also a distinction between players like Bruce Bowen (San Antonio Spurs), Andres Nocioni (Chicago) and maybe Anderson Varejao (Cleveland Cavs) - they all play tenacious defense, but I wouldn't consider them 'dirty' players, just good players to have on your team.

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links for 2006-12-31

Olfactory Cuisine

Moto Fish boxes

Haven't (yet) eaten at Alinea, but we did 'experience' Moto.

Olfactory Cuisine
“The taste and the sense of smell form but one sense, of which the mouth is the laboratory and the nose the chimney,” wrote Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the father of modern gastronomy. No American chef has taken Brillat-Savarin’s dictum to heart more quirkily than Grant Achatz, the chef at the restaurant Alinea in Chicago. He has made the use of pure scents — complementing the taste of food with items used for their smells alone — a hallmark of his inventive cuisine.

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Carbon monoxide


I really wish the government would stay out of my bedroom.

STLtoday - News - Metro East About 100 new laws go into effect in Illinois on Monday, covering everything from identity theft to dog fights.

The new law with perhaps the most direct effect on most Illinoisans is a requirement to put carbon monoxide detectors in most residences. The law requires that as of New Year's Day, every house, apartment complex and other dwelling in the state that's heated by a gas furnace, or has an attached garage, be equipped with at least one carbon monoxide detector near every bedroom.

How exactly is this law going to be enforced anyway? Other than issuing tickets to grieving parents after a devastating fire kills their kids.

“Oh, I'm sorry Ms. Jones, I have to fine your smoke-charred ass because you didn't have a carbon monoxide detector in Junior's room.”

Not saying that owning carbon monoxide detectors isn't a noble aspiration, but....WTF? How about reducing some tax breaks for nuclear energy producers or ADM, and spending the money to arrange for every resident to receive a detector via a coupon or something?

Kidde 900-0102 Carbon Monoxide/Smoke Alarm
“Kidde 900-0102 Carbon Monoxide/Smoke Alarm” (Kidde)

Maybe the first (or among the first) times I've agreed with a Rethuglican:

Still, the bill hit some opposition when the Legislature passed it in March. Most of it came from Republicans who say the issue isn't about personal safety, but overbearing government.

“It's a philosophical thing. The government gets involved in so many things today,” said Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, who was among the “no” votes on the carbon monoxide bill.

Luechtefeld said conservatives' frequent opposition to new regulatory laws doesn't indicate a lack of concern for the dangers of life, but rather a disagreement on where to draw the line between protecting citizens and intruding on their lives.

Here's the full list of new laws

To be fair, I rather like these ones:

Senate Bill 2165 guarantees condo owners can freely observe the doctrines of their religion at home, including being able to display objects on their front door. The legislation was prompted by several cases in Chicago where co-op boards and condo associations have attempted to pass rules that would ban the display of religious symbols in hallways.

• Senate Bills 2303 and 2968 protect people trained in first aid or medical response from being sued for trying to help injured people. The new laws aim to alleviate worries by “Good Samaritans” that they could be sued for helping someone who is seriously injured.

• Senate Bill 2310 allows Illinois residents to place a security freeze on their credit reports. The legislation also requires a password to remove the freeze. The Illinois Attorney General Office’s Identity Theft Hotline has information on how to do that and other measures one can take to prevent identity theft. That number is (866) 999-5630.


Oh, and D added, “deny insurance coverage after a fire” as another screw-you moment side effect to this legislation.

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20 free MP3s

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Salon's Thomas Bartlett compiles twenty of his favorite 2006 tunes, for free download, if you are into such things. Take a listen, and delete 'em if the songs bore you. Would make a good CD mix for playing in your car.

My favorite things | Salon Arts & Entertainment

Anyhow, here are my 20 favorite downloads from Audiofile this year. As usual, they're not as eclectic as I'd like, as it's still the case that indie rock is the only genre to have fully embraced the Web and the idea of giving away songs on it as an effective promotional tool.... Regardless, much as I wish there were more jazz, more world music, any classical, etc., this is still a batch of 20 songs that I'm proud to have hosted

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links for 2006-12-30

Cloning hype

Kristen Philipkoski of Wired answers the first question I had when I read about the FDA's pending approval of cloned meat/dairy: isn't it too expensive?

The answer is - yes, mos def.

suckling pig

Wired News: T-Bone Steak, Well-Cloned U.S. regulators may have declared meat and dairy from cloned animals safe for humans to eat, but don't expect to see clones on the supermarket shelves any time soon: Rather, look for their offspring.

In a 678-page report released Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration says that cloned pigs, goats and adult cows pose no more risk to humans who eat them than any other meat or milk. Newborn cows may pose some “very limited risk” to humans, the report says, because the genetic reprogramming that takes place during cloning may not be complete in very young animals. And the agency said it didn't have enough data to make a decision on sheep.

... “The fact is, meat and milk from clones is going to be too expensive for the marketplace,” said Mark Walton, president of ViaGen, an agricultural cloning company in Austin, Texas. “They're going to be breeding animals and their offspring are going to market.”

It costs about $15,000 to clone a cow, compared to $2,000 for natural breeding

Soylent Green
Soylent Green
is people, you know, and is much, much cheaper.

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Read this last night in the dead ent edition, and had to laugh. No way 9 hours of sleep is possible if one's household contains pets, especially of the kitten kind.

Chinese Herbalist

Enhance-athon: Be Smarter Everyone wants a better body, a sharper mind, or both. But how? To find the answer, Wired sent writers on three different challenges: For one month, do everything possible (and legal) to run faster, get smarter, or shoot straighter. And keep a diary. In this installment, Joshua Green tries to boost his brain function.

THERE COMES A TIME IN EVERYONE'S life – usually past age 30 and just after you've done something boneheaded like pour coffee on your cereal – when the thought hits you: “I wish I were smarter.” But is real cognitive improvement possible? Experts say yes; intuition suggests no. I was eager to put my own brain to the test.

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The Social-Cue Reader

As far as I know, I don't have autism, but I still want one of these devices. Too often I feel like I need such a magic device, especially when talking on the telephone.

Don't Oil this index

The Social-Cue Reader People with autism tend to have difficulty understanding other people’s emotional states, which can turn even casual conversation into a minefield of missed emotional cues and inadvertent faux pas. But last spring, two computer scientists at M.I.T.’s Media Lab unveiled a new device that promises to help people with autism perform the kind of everyday “mind reading” others take for granted.

The Emotional-Social Intelligence Prosthesis, developed by Rana el Kaliouby and Rosalind Picard, consists of a small camera mounted on a cap or glasses that monitors a conversation partner’s facial expressions and feeds the data into a hand-held computer. Software tracks the movement of facial features and classifies them using a coding system developed by the psychologist Paul Ekman, which is then correlated with a second taxonomy of emotional states created by the Cambridge autism researcher (and Ali G cousin) Simon Baron-Cohen. Almost instantaneously, the computer crunches each raised eyebrow and pucker of the lips, giving a whispered verdict about how the person is feeling.

Maybe not autism, but asperger syndrome?

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links for 2006-12-29

Noise Ninja

I was going to report a bug, but apparently, the developer already knows about it. Quite annoying, as I had unsaved changes to a photosketch which were irrevocably lost.

Noise Ninja plug-in download On Mac, filtering can hang if another window partially obscures the progress dialog. This seems to happen most often if you switch back and forth between Photoshop and another window multiple times.


Rubber and Glue

Err, something, something. Actually, kudos to Da Mare for at least attempting to get some green PR.

Chicago Tests Rubber Sidewalks - Travel Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's green initiative is gaining ground yet again -- this time with two new infrastructure technologies.

Cheri Heramb with the Chicago Department of Transportation said the aim of the initiative is to become the “greenest city in the world.”

Chicago is taking one more step toward that goal with new green infrastructure technology.

The DOT has kicked off a pilot program to test 550 feet of recycled rubber sidewalk over the next year, right across the street from the Chicago Center for Green Technology on the city's West Side.

Sadhu Johnston, with the city's Department of Environment, explained the logic behind rubber sidewalks.
“We've all seen video of huge mountains of tires. All of it sitting there for years. Well, here is a productive use of that rubber material,” Johnston said.
“One of the great things about this is when roots grow under sidewalks. (With) normal concrete, you see concrete popping up, but with this you don't see it; you pull it up, trim it up and put them back down,” Johnston said. “So, this technoloy not only reuses material but could potentially save money for the city of Chicago.”

Chicago's first solar-powered bus shelter will also save money for the city, according to Heramb.

“There's cells that power the lights in the shelter,” she said.

About 100 solar shelters will be installed next year by the company that has the contract for shelter advertising. The installation will save the city an estimated $20,000 in electricity costs every year, according to Heramb.

The city is also testing out a Green Alley program, using porous material instead of asphalt to promote drainage and lessen damage.

More here

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Norton loves the environment

In fact, the former Secretary of the Interior loves nature so much, she joined up with Royal Dutch Shell. A cynic might ask what Ms. Norton did for Shell while serving as Secretary from 2001-2006, but a realist could readily answer: anything Shell wanted. I mean, any thing. Ms. Norton apparently learned a lot by being an assistant to Regan era Interior Department under James Watt.

Ex-Interior Secretary Norton Is Hired as Counsel for Shell - Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it hired former U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton to serve as a counsel for the Anglo-Dutch oil company.

The move comes amid rising scrutiny in Washington of the department's dealings with the oil industry.
The hiring of Ms. Norton comes at a tough time for her former agency. With the Democratic takeover of Congress, leading lawmakers have signaled they will closely scrutinize the Interior Department's policies for collecting oil-and-gas royalties from public lands.

The Minerals Management Service has come under particular criticism after agency omissions excused the oil industry from paying royalties on Gulf of Mexico leases from 1998 and 1999. A Government Accountability Office report said the omission by the MMS cost taxpayers $10 billion.

Shell, historically one of the biggest industry players in the Gulf of Mexico, was one of five oil companies that reached an agreement with the MMS Dec. 14 to pay royalties on the 1998 and 1999 leases.

She does have prior experience screwing the environment...

Before being named Interior Secretary in 2001, Norton was senior counsel at Brownstein, Hyatt & Farber, P.C., a Denver-based law firm. The firm was listed with the U.S. Congress as a lobbyist for NL Industries, formerly known as National Lead Company.

also, at the occasion of her stepping down to spend more time with Jack Abramoff's family of criminals, the Sierra Club issued this press release:

As Interior Secretary, Gale Norton was an unpopular symbol of unpopular policies. Americans do not believe their public lands should be sold to the highest bidder, and they don't believe in privatizing their parks, forests, monuments. While the symbol of those unpopular policies may be leaving, we don't expect those unpopular policies to change.

Unless the Bush administration reverses direction, her replacement will merely be a different fox guarding the hen house. Considering that the administration is currently lobbying to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and our coasts to destructive drilling, it's hard to imagine that the next Interior Secretary will be allowed to promote smart energy solutions that protect sensitive lands, waters and wildlife habitat.

“Having previously represented oil, mining, and timber companies in her private life, Norton consistently gave those gave those interests special treatment while pulling agencies she oversaw away from their role as stewards of the land. Her policies were opposed by ranchers, hunters, anglers and other conservationists and the faith community.

”Thankfully, significant pieces of her agenda were blocked by Congress, courts, and by public outrage. For example her attempts to open the Arctic Refuge to drilling were repeatedly rejected by Congress and the American people.

and don't forget:

an example of a nonbribe for which the Honorable Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House of Representatives, will not spend one hour in jail. The Chicago Tribune reported this week that on June 3, 2003, Hastert held a fundraising event at Signatures restaurant, the deluxe Washington watering hole that Jack Abramoff appears to have run at a loss to corrupt federal officials.

At Hastert's bash, Abramoff, who picked up the cost of the affair, also donated $20,000. One week later the Honorable Hastert sent Interior Secretary Gale Norton a letter asking her to go along with one of Abramoff's Indian casino gambling schemes. Money changed hands, favors were done. But this is not a bribe, this is legal, this is OK. This stinks, and there is no law against it.

Robert Kennedy Jr. writes:

In October 2001 Interior Secretary Gale Norton, responding to a Senate committee inquiry on the effects of oil drilling on caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, falsely claimed that the caribou would not be affected, because they calve outside the area targeted for drilling. She later explained that she somehow substituted “outside” for “inside.” She also substituted findings from a study financed by an oil company for some of the ones that the Fish and Wildlife Service had prepared for her.

In another case, according to the Wall Street Journal, Norton and White House political adviser Karl Rove pressed for changes that would allow diversion of substantial amounts of water from the Klamath River to benefit local supporters and agribusiness contributors. Some 34,000 endangered salmon were killed after National Marine Fisheries scientists altered their findings on the amount of water the salmon required. Environmentalists describe it as the largest fish kill in the history of the West.

Mike Kelly, the fisheries biologist on the Klamath who drafted the biological opinion, told me that under the current plan coho salmon are probably headed for extinction. According to Kelly, “The morale is very low among scientists here. We are under pressure to get the right results. This Administration is putting the species at risk for political gain. And not just in the Klamath.”

Roger Kennedy, former director of the National Park Service, told me that the alteration and deletion of scientific information is now standard procedure at Interior. “It's hard to decide what is more demoralizing about the Administration's politicization of the scientific process,” he said, “its disdain for professional scientists working for our government or its willingness to deceive the American public.”

I could go on, but you get the general idea. Too bad the modern Republican party doesn't believe in conservative values anymore, you know, like conservation of our planet.

OK, one more tidbit, from Eyal Press:

At the heart of the controversy lies a drilling method known as coal-bed methane extraction, a technique pioneered in the late 1980s that enables companies to suck natural gas out of the coal seams that lie buried beneath the San Juan Basin and other formations. Beginning under the Clinton Administration, the federal government pushed to expand production of this comparatively clean-burning fossil fuel, although Clinton also protected millions of acres of public land from drilling. The Bush Administration, by contrast, has called for removing all “restrictions and impediments” on domestic development, code language for opening dozens of pristine natural habitats to unfettered leasing.

...But the Blancetts, like many Western ranchers, are not taking the Bush Administration's policies lying down. Earlier this year, after the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a Resource Management Plan authorizing the creation of nearly 10,000 new oil and gas wells on public land in the San Juan Basin--where an estimated 19,000 producing wells already exist--Tweeti filed suit against Gale Norton and the Interior Department, accusing the government of failing to balance resource extraction with conservation, recreation and other uses of federal land. Among the other plaintiffs in the suit are the Natural Resources Defense Council, several Navajo Indian chapters--who say they were never consulted about the drilling plans--and the San Juan Citizens Alliance, a watchdog group based in nearby Durango, Colorado.

None of the plaintiffs claim that extracting coal-bed methane gas, which is used to heat millions of American homes each year, is an inappropriate use of public land. But under federal law, they note, the BLM is supposed to balance this objective with the interests of other users (hunters, ranchers) and insure that drilling is done in a way that does not wreak havoc on a precious public resource of value to all. “The federal lands that we have in the West are all of our heritage, all of our legacy,” says Tweeti Blancett, a feisty woman who has turned this issue into a personal crusade, and who is convinced the entire Rocky Mountain West will soon look like her ranch if landowners don't fight back. “What's happened here will happen throughout the American West if we don't get the public to understand the issues.”

Coming from, say, a member of the Sierra Club, such a statement might not be terribly surprising--and would likely be ignored by Republicans, who long ago conceded the vote of avid environmentalists to Democrats. But Tweeti is no card-carrying Green. Four years ago, she not only voted for George W. Bush but served as the co-chair of his campaign in San Juan County, an area of New Mexico that is heavily Republican and crucial to the President's hopes of winning this hotly contested swing state in November.
These days, she says, members of the Bush Administration don't even return her calls. “What I didn't factor in is the dollar sign, the billions,” she concludes. “They were not going to listen to me over the largest industry on the face of the earth and the billions of dollars they generate.”

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Privacy a thing of Past

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Pasta-damn! I'd sue the bastards too.

Normal day at the office honey

Spread of Records Stirs Patient Fears Of Privacy Erosion - After her fiancé died suddenly, Patricia Galvin left New York for San Francisco in 1996 and took a job as a tax lawyer for a large law firm. A few years later, she began confiding to a psychologist at Stanford Hospital & Clinics about her relationships with family, friends and co-workers.

Then, in 2001, she was rear-ended at a red light. When she later sought disability benefits for chronic back pain, her insurer turned her down, citing information contained in her psychologist's notes. The notes, her insurer maintained, showed she wasn't too injured to work.

Ms. Galvin, 51 years old, was appalled. It wasn't just that she believed her insurer misinterpreted the notes. Her therapist, she says, had assured her the records from her sessions would remain confidential.

As the health-care industry embraces electronic record-keeping, millions of pages of old documents are being scanned into computers across the country. The goal is to make patient records more complete and readily available for diagnosis, treatment and claims-payment purposes. But the move has kindled patient concern about who might gain access to sensitive medical files -- data that now can be transmitted with the click of a computer mouse.

I guess the solution is to avoid the U.S. healthcare industry, including therapists. Or don't be honest and open about anything with any medical personnel.

Patients tend to be especially sensitive about medical information they believe could stigmatize them in the workplace or among acquaintances, such as records about AIDS, substance abuse and abortion. “What's sensitive to one person may not be to another,” says Deborah Peel, an Austin, Texas, psychiatrist and head of Patient Privacy Rights, a medical-privacy advocacy group. “How many women want somebody to know whether they are or are not on birth control?”

Mental-health records are generally viewed as worthy of the most stringent safeguards. In recent years, courts and state legislatures have afforded psychotherapy records special protections. All 50 states recognize some form of psychotherapist-patient privilege to limit disclosures in legal proceedings, and a similar federal privilege was established in a landmark 1996 Supreme Court ruling.

Because Ms. Galvin learned of the disclosure and filed a lawsuit, unusual in such cases, her experience offers a look at how increasingly complex confidentiality issues are affecting patients and their insurance coverage.

and of course, the lure of selling information for a profit wins out over any old fashioned ideas about confidentiality:

HIPAA's principal goal was to ensure that people could change jobs without losing insurance coverage for pre-existing medical conditions. When employers and insurers complained about the added cost, the federal government pledged to make it easier for medical providers, insurers and others to swap medical information electronically, potentially saving as much as $30 billion over a decade.

To assuage concerns of privacy advocates, Congress authorized the Department of Health and Human Services to draft privacy regulations. The final rules allow health insurers and medical providers -- including doctors, pharmacies and hospitals -- to disclose medical information for “treatment, payment and health-care operations,” among other situations, without specific patient permission. But they aren't supposed to send any more records than necessary for nontreatment purposes.

Dawn Ross, a 37-year-old Los Angeles hairstylist, says she was startled to discover how much a bill collector knew about her. Federal rules permit the release of medical records in connection with “payment.” Soon after Ms. Ross returned home from an uninsured hospital stay, the hospital's collection agency began dunning her for $8,600. When she disputed the bill, she learned that the agency had detailed records about her miscarriage and the treatment she received for it.

The rules also do not require patient permission for the release of records for “health-care operations,” a broadly defined category that includes some marketing, data warehouses and fund-raisers. John Metz, chairman of JustHealth, a consumer health-care advocacy group in California, says he has encountered patients who were diagnosed with borderline diabetes -- then inundated with marketing materials for diabetes services and supplies from their medical providers.

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Earmark my arse

Strange little back-story (on the front page). Federal earmarks are more complicated than assumed. For instance, the Colorado Dept of Transportation was forced to build an overpass for elk, coyote and other wildlife, against their will. The CDT would rather spend the money building new roads for SUVs, or filling potholes or something.

Seth's ear accupuncture chart

As Earmarked Funding Swells, Some Recipients Don't Want It - ...the reaction at the Colorado Department of Transportation, the direct recipient of the federal money, was far different. “Earmarks make my life miserable,” says Tom Norton, the agency's head. And in fact, many federal and state officials whose agencies receive earmarked money say they don't want it.

The problem, they say, is that most earmarks don't come with extra money from Washington. They merely dictate how agencies must spend federal money they were already counting on. Mr. Norton says the wildlife bridge is a waste of money that could divert federal funds from more pressing highway projects. His department never agreed to fund it. Earmarks, he complains, force him to use limited federal money to pay for lawmakers' pet projects.

Earmarks do seem to have run wild, a true bi-partisan spend-fest. Perhaps voters in the districts ought to have more input? Probably would be chaos, but Congress seems pretty eager to spend money it doesn't have. There is more than a whiff of corruption about the whole process.

Traditionally, annual funding bills passed by Congress set broad spending priorities, but left it to the executive branch and to states to decide how to meet those goals. When earmarks were tacked onto those bills, they came primarily from committee chairmen or veteran lawmakers with clout.

Earmarks allow lawmakers to fund projects fast, with little public scrutiny. These days, their use is mushrooming. Congressional leaders are using them to help vulnerable junior colleagues curry favor with home-state constituents to boost re-election efforts. Earmarks grease the skids for important legislation -- bills loaded with spending provisions that benefit numerous congressional districts tend to garner more votes. In recent years, Republican leaders have offered lessons for newly elected lawmakers in how to get earmarks.

In the 1980s, President Reagan vetoed a transportation authorization bill because it contained a few hundred earmarks. Last year's version included more than 6,000, including $223 million for a bridge to a sparsely populated Alaskan island -- the oft-mocked “Bridge to Nowhere.” In the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2005, there were 15,818 earmarks in all federal spending bills, up from about 3,034 in fiscal 1996, according to the research arm of Congress, the Congressional Research Service.

...Leaders in both parties use earmarks to reward lawmakers. For example, Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha, who will be chairman of the defense spending panel, won't allow members to add earmarks to the defense-spending bill unless they agree to support it, according to aides on the appropriations committee. This year's defense bill, which included nearly 3,000 earmarks, took a mere 20 minutes to pass the House in October.
Earmarks made up about $40.8 billion, or 4%, of the roughly $1 trillion that Congress allocated in the 2005 fiscal year. Federal prosecutors in Washington, Los Angeles and San Diego are looking into potential abuses, including whether lawmakers have added earmarks to benefit political contributors, former staffers and friendly lobbyists. At least four congressmen, including Rep. Jerry Lewis, the current chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, are being investigated for their roles in earmarking or their ties to lobbyists specializing in earmarks.

Some congressmen have called for abolishing earmarks altogether, but there is widespread doubt that major change will occur. Rep. Alan Mollohan, a West Virginia Democrat, is under federal investigation for steering hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks to nonprofit groups run by friends, former staffers and business partners. He will take charge of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees law-enforcement agencies. Mr. Murtha, who opposes changes to the system, will take over the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee.

Full access to complete article via Digg

California leads Green Energy revolution

Kudos to the golden state. I assume energy lobbyists are furiously power-lunching in D.C. to thwart this initiative.

Not Easy Being green

California Kindles Green Energy -

Facing new regulations intended to limit greenhouse-gas emissions by the electricity industry, California utilities are using their clout as big power buyers to snub “dirty” resources outside the state and push forward development of renewable resources in and around California.

At a meeting next month, California utility regulators are expected to approve a measure that will prohibit utilities from entering into contracts to buy electricity from resources that emit substantial greenhouse gases, such as coal. The policy, believed a first among states, implements a new state law that takes aim at global warming.

Utilities in the state are already moving to meet or exceed the new standards. Last week, for example, Southern California Edison, part of Edison International of Rosemead, Calif., announced a deal to buy a record sum of electricity from a proposed wind-power project in the Tehachapi Mountains that divide northern and southern California.

The 1,500-megawatt contract with Alta Windpower Development LLC, a unit of Allco Finance Group Ltd. of Australia, is believed the biggest by a U.S. utility. It will provide support for wind development in the region over the next decade. Financial terms weren't disclosed, however, so electricity customers have no way of knowing the price they will be obligated to pay for the power. A megawatt can provide power to 500 to 1,000 households.

Through a variety of programs, utilities are being urged to sign contracts so that 20% of the state's energy supply will come from renewable resources, such as wind and solar power, by 2010. It also is trying to cut emission of greenhouse gasses, from power plants and vehicles, to the 1990 level by 2020, while still accommodating steady growth in population.

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Crack vs powder

If politicians weren't such craven, cautious creatures, the sentencing guidelines would have been revised years ago. And even now, I'll restrain my joy until such time when legislation rectifying abuses of the justice system actually passes.

Sentencing Guidelines Face New Scrutiny - With Democrats poised to take control of Congress, law-enforcement officials are preparing to defend two decades of federal sentencing policies that mandated harsh prison terms on a variety of crimes and led to a boom in the prison population.

Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Robert Scott (D., Va.) have already said they plan hearings early in the term to look at how nonviolent drug offenders are punished under mandatory minimum laws.

An early target will be the prison terms mandated by Congress for crack-cocaine convictions. Under current law, someone caught with five grams of crack gets a five-year sentence, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same sentence, even though there is no physiological difference. Critics have long maintained that the law unfairly targets African-American communities, where crack is more prevalent. In contrast, suburban white users tend to prefer cocaine in its powder form.

Mr. Conyers has called the crack-cocaine sentences the “most outrageous example of the unfairness of mandatory minimums.”

Here's the main cause of my skepticism:

...Reversing drug laws, though, is politically dangerous, for it risks angering law-enforcement officials and police unions. In addition, it could resurrect the soft-on-crime mantra that Republicans have long used to bludgeon Democrats. As a result, some Democrats might be reluctant to be viewed as rolling back harsh sentences just when the nation's violent crime is starting to rise.

“Whenever you suggest somebody's sentence is too long or a policy is too draconian, the immediate reaction in the political arena is you're soft on crime and you're not taking public safety seriously,” says Alexander Busansky, director of the Washington office of the Vera Institute of Justice, a criminal-justice reform organization based in New York. officials -- from the Justice Department to police groups -- are joining forces to oppose any changes that decrease the severity of the crack penalty, warning that it's a slippery slope that could weaken other mandatory sentences

Insight into how politics works: there is no such thing as reform for the public good, there are only partisan bludgeons. So, the phony War on Drugs continues to sap resources from the nation, with no end in sight. Nanny state indeed.

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links for 2006-12-28

Views, Emulations and Triptychs

Photoshop wankery - click thumbnails to embiggen. Some of these look much better at full size (8x14 prints, for instance)

Canyons to the Lake
Canyons to the Lake mildly out of focus, whatcha gonna do.

Nobody Home stamp
Nobody Home stamp three views of same buildings, faux postage stamp version.

Nobody Home filmstrip
Nobody Home filmstrip three views of same buildings. Filmstrip version.

Nobody's Home
Nobody's Home three views of same buildings. Original “Miami Vice T-shirt style”

State of Blue tinted
State of Blue tinted Original here

Feverish self portrait triptych

Feverish Courage
Feverish Courage self portrait triptych

Feverish colors
Feverish colors self portrait triptych

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links for 2006-12-27

Let Us all now pause

I've been hibernating, watching films, drinking too much wine, ignoring the outside world. Never my favorite time of the year.

For your entertainment, here are a few recent city shots. Please, no gambling....

Metaphors and Avatars
Metaphors and Avatars from the Department of Unintentional Irony

Chess Party
Chess Party Michigan Ave

Most Beautiful Steel Bridge
Most Beautiful Steel Bridge An award worth winning

Note to Guess Where Chicago - I'm not 100% positive which bridge this is, am hoping ya'll can tell me. I remember my walking route, but cannot recall where I took this photo.

Willoughb Tower

Willoughb Tower
street scene, Michigan Ave

an embiggening is just a click away, unless you are Aunt P

more photos of light and shadow below the fold

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James Brown RIP

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Wow. Mr. Brown practically invented modern funk and R&B. A great talent. His song's lyrics were usually simple, but that wasn't the point: you could (nearly had to) dance to the monstrous beats and grooves.

James Brown - 20 All-Time Greatest Hits!
“James Brown - 20 All-Time Greatest Hits!” (James Brown)

James Brown, 73, Dies; ‘Godfather of Soul’ - New York Times James Brown, the dynamic, pompadoured ''Godfather of Soul,'' whose rasping vocals and revolutionary rhythms made him a founder of rap, funk and disco as well, died early Monday, his agent said. He was 73.

Brown was hospitalized with pneumonia at Emory Crawford Long Hospital on Sunday and died around 1:45 a.m. Monday, said his agent, Frank Copsidas of Intrigue Music.
Along with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and a handful of others, Brown was one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years. At least one generation idolized him, and sometimes openly copied him. His rapid-footed dancing inspired Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson among others. Songs such as David Bowie's ''Fame,'' Prince's ''Kiss,'' George Clinton's ''Atomic Dog'' and Sly and the Family Stone's ''Sing a Simple Song'' were clearly based on Brown's rhythms and vocal style.

If Brown's claim to the invention of soul can be challenged by fans of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, then his rights to the genres of rap, disco and funk are beyond question. He was to rhythm and dance music what Dylan was to lyrics: the unchallenged popular innovator.

I could probably sing you every note of the every song on the compilation referenced above (20 Greatest Hits), and in fact, if you happen to wander through my hallway today, you'll hear my pale parody of Mr. Brown's gutteral 'Hunh' as I sing along.

Check out this album too:

In the Jungle Groove

“In the Jungle Groove” (James Brown)

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There's hope for me yet

Psychological Neoteny The next time you see a mother of three head-banging to death metal or a 50-year-old man sporting a faux-hawk, don’t laugh. According to Bruce Charlton, a doctor and psychology professor at Newcastle University in Britain, what looks like immaturity — or in Charlton’s kinder terms, the “retention of youthful attitudes and behaviors into later adulthood” — is actually a valuable developmental characteristic, which he calls psychological neoteny.

I knew science would come up with a label for me one of these days....

Happy Holidays, MoFo.

Pope In Hat Beard

I think the Pope is some sort of pagan, bird-worshipper, but she keeps the details to herself.

links for 2006-12-22


More importantly, what does it taste like? I'm thirsty enough at the moment to drink one, but I'm sure that impulse will pass.

Sorghum beer tapped | Chicago Tribune Anheuser-Busch Cos. on Wednesday introduced Redbridge, which the company called the first nationally available sorghum beer. It will be available in restaurants and stores carrying organic products. Sorghum is a safe grain for those with wheat allergies


bacteria guts

Somehow, I imagine this study will be mentioned in every local news broadcast, find its way into the front section of most local dailys, and all sorts of willful misunderstandings will ensue.

Study says bacteria in gut can contribute to weight gain - The Boston Globe Researchers found a strong connection between obesity and the levels of certain types of bacteria in the gut. That could mean that someday there will be novel ways of treating obesity that go beyond the standard advice of diet and exercise.According to two studies being published in today's issue of the journal Nature, both obese mice and people had more of one type of bacteria and less of another kind.

A “microbial component” appears to contribute to obesity, said study lead author Jeffrey Gordon, director of Washington University's Center for Genome Sciences.

Obese humans and mice had a lower percentage of a family of bacteria called Bacteroidetes and more of a type of bacteria called Firmicutes, Gordon and his colleagues found.

Still haven't started on my SciFi treatment of bacteria. On my “some day” list.


links for 2006-12-21

Carl Sagan Blog-A-Thon

Who knew I was part of a trend? I haven't even been keeping up on my blog reading this last week....

Carl Sagan Blog-A-Thon - BuzzFeed Bloggers are commemorating Carl Sagan on the 10th anniversary of his death. Joel Schlosberg is calling all nerds who blog (the venn diagram of which looks like pretty much an all-inclusive set) to pay tribute to their favorite alien-obsessed pothead, Carl Sagan. So start blogging! You owe your atheism to him.

Turks acquitted over translation

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Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media
“Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” (Edward S. Herman, Noam Chomsky)

Turks acquitted over translation Four Turks are acquitted of insulting “Turkishness” in translating a book by US writer Noam Chomsky.

Fatih Tas had published a Turkish version of Chomsky's book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.

It examines what part the media plays in setting social agendas, and criticises Turkey's treatment of its Kurdish minority.

Editors Omer Faruk Kurhan and Taylan Tosun, and translator Ender Abadoglu were also acquitted as the judge ruled there was no case to answer.

I should have some smart aleck response, but my brain is tired. Good book though, too bad Ed Herman always gets second billing.

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Blood substitute disaster

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We've been fascinated by this creepy clinical trial for a while.

Blood substitute `a disaster' in trial Northfield still plans to seek FDA approval

In a potential blow to the future of an Evanston-based biotech company, a clinical trial showed Tuesday that its key product, an experimental blood substitute, performed worse than standard treatments in patients who suffered traumatic injuries.

In a trial of 712 patients, Northfield Laboratories Inc. reported 13.2 percent of the 349 who had been given Northfield's product died, compared with deaths of 9.6 percent in the control group of 363 who received either saline solution in the ambulance or blood in the hospital.

“No matter how they slice it, it's a disaster,” said Martin Shkreli, a hedge-fund manager at New York-based Elea Capital, which invests in health-care companies and sold its Northfield shares earlier this year. “If you look at the absolute number of deaths, it kills more patients than saline does.”

In the trial, 46 in the group receiving the blood substitute Polyheme died, while 35 in the control group died, according to Northfield Laboratories.

Northfield has been working for more than 20 years on a potentially lucrative blood replacement that could save lives in trauma situations by carrying oxygen through the body, which the saline used during emergencies now cannot do. A blood substitute also would be easier to transport, especially to battlefields and accident scenes, and does not require the sometimes-complicated matching process real blood does.

Not to say that fake blood wouldn't be useful in certain scenarios (war zones, for instance), but Northfield seems to have a reckless approach towards figuring out the details. Probably because they've been working for so long: they want to recoup costs, one way or another. Is Halliburton a big investor?

Recently, an FDA panel decided against endorsing a clinical trial of Biopure Corp.'s Hemopure blood substitute, the only other major contender in the market, because it was going to use the same disputed method of testing without the patient's consent as Northfield did. The panel's vote came despite pressure from the U.S. Navy, which had agreed to conduct the tests for Biopure on civilian trauma patients.

Industry analysts say the controversy over blood-substitute development makes Northfield's attempt to gain approval more challenging.

“Clearly, I think the news is very negative for them,” said Eugene Trogan, a biotechnology industry analyst with Morgan Joseph & Co.

What's more, Northfield has met with increasing criticism from consumer groups, influential members of Congress and medical ethicists, who said participants in the company's trial were not given adequate notice or enough information about the Polyheme no-consent trial. Such criticism makes company observers wonder about the product's future.


Master Cleanse


I've also found the Winter Solstice Season to be a good time to cleanse my body of toxins. This year I'm trying the protein-free version, the suddenly trendy Master Cleanse. The recipe is simple, the juice of a lemon, two tablespoons of grade B maple syrup (which is like a madeleine to me - conjuring up childhood memories of annual maple syrup harvesting in Frostpocket), distilled water (I'm substituting Fiji water because distilled water is so flat-tasting) and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Surprisingly delicious. Herbal teas will be added to my diet later (peppermint tea, especially). I doubt I'll continue for 10 days, but who knows.

Inebriates are taboo of course, and I won't have a problem giving up beer, wine, etc., but removing the 6-8 cups of espresso I normally drink is going to wreak havoc on my mental clarity, at least for a few days. I'm sort of in a fog at the moment, in fact.


Kobe Bryant and the Bulls

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Hmmm, now that would be an interesting trade.

Bryant keeps an eye on Bulls | Chicago Tribune

Instead of wearing a Bulls uniform, Kobe Bryant watches Bulls uniforms.

“They're one of the teams in the league I most enjoy, so I watch them regularly,” Bryant said.
General manager John Paxson's secret free-agent pitch to Bryant in July 2004 has been well documented. But Bryant entertained his flirtation in a new light Thursday, answering how he thought he would exist with coach Scott Skiles.

“I'm sure I'd enjoy it,” Bryant said. “He's a hard-nosed guy, a blue-collar guy. I enjoy hard work. So I'm sure it'd be fine.”

Bryant is supremely talented, no doubt, yet I wish teams were more patient. The current crop of Bulls players is still on the upward arc of talent/experience, and should only get better. Why risk altering the team for nebulous rewards? Why trade promising young players for Kevin Garnett or Kobe? One of the reasons I like basketball over other sports is the concept that team play trumps individual play. 5-as-1, as the cliche goes. The Bulls, as currently constructed, are fun to watch play exactly because they don't have a superstar player (like Kobe Bryant, or Allen Iverson) who holds the ball while the other four players stand around or set picks, or ogle the dance team, or whatever.


Copyright Fools Will Scan Web

Wonder how Attributor Corp will handle blogs, such as this one, who use chunks of articles for personal use?

Copyright Tool Will Scan Web For Violations - To deal with the mounting copyright issues swirling around video and other content online, a start-up founded by some respected Silicon Valley executives is taking a novel approach: combing the entire Web for unauthorized uses.

Privately held Attributor Corp. of Redwood City, Calif., has begun testing a system to scan the billions of pages on the Web for clients' audio, video, images and text -- potentially making it easier for owners to request that Web sites take content down or provide payment for its use.

Though its service isn't out yet, Attributor appears to go further than existing techniques for weeding out unauthorized uses of content online. While companies are tackling parts of the same problem -- Indigo Stream Technologies Ltd., based in Gibraltar, offers a free service called Copyscape that analyzes a Web page and then uses Google's search engine to see whether the text is duplicated elsewhere on the Web -- Attributor's approach is seemingly more comprehensive.

I've seen Copyscape appear in my site logs before.

And I am curious as to how this process would work:

Attributor analyzes the content of clients, who could range from individuals to big media companies, using a technique known as “digital fingerprinting,” which determines unique and identifying characteristics of content. It uses these digital fingerprints to search its index of the Web for the content. The company claims to be able to spot a customer's content based on the appearance of as little as a few sentences of text or a few seconds of audio or video. It will provide customers with alerts and a dashboard of identified uses of their content on the Web and the context in which it is used.

The content owners can then try to negotiate revenue from whoever is using it or request that it be taken down. In some cases, they may decide the content is being used fairly or to acceptable promotional ends. Attributor plans to help automate the interaction between content owners and those using their content on the Web, though it declines to specify how.

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links for 2006-12-20

President Wants to Institute Draft

or maybe his girls and their cousins are joining up?

President Wants to Increase Size of Armed Forces

President Bush said that the U.S. should expand the size of its armed forces to cope with what he suggested would be a long battle against Islamic extremism.

He proposes to swell the ranks of the military by emptying jails of white collar criminals. Err, maybe just by borrowing more money from the PRC.

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Embassies and Military

Strange little report from the Congressional Republicans, issued as they creep out of DC.

Military Role in U.S. Embassies Creates Strains, Report Says

The report found that some embassies have effectively become command posts, with military personnel all but supplanting the role of ambassadors.

The expansion of the Pentagon’s presence in American embassies is creating frictions and overlapping missions that could undermine efforts to combat Islamic radicalism, a report by Congressional Republicans has found.

Intriguing subtext, perhaps a shot at departing Rummy?

The report, completed by the Republican staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, concluded that Pentagon “enthusiasm” has blurred chains of command and has the potential to backfire by weakening American relationships abroad and setting back American counterterrorism efforts.

Even with the military strained by long-term deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has been steadily expanding its presence outside of declared war zones, dispatching troops to embassies in remote parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East to conduct counterterrorism missions and to train local militaries.

The military buildup is one of the legacies of Donald H. Rumsfeld’s tenure at the Pentagon. Military officials say that with some embassies reduced to a skeleton crew of civilians, the deployments are necessary to execute America’s top foreign policy priority of dismantling terrorist networks abroad.

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faux Libertarians

If you paid attention to politics at all in the 90s, you'll remember the nutter, Bob Barr. Well, apparently, he's now a spokesperson for the Libertarian Party (in the South East).

Libertarians and the Drug War One particular recent event, however, is muddying the waters... the conversion of Bob Barr to the Libertarian party. ...this is the same Bob Barr who was once a Congressman Drug Warrior

No wonder the Libertarian Party is a fracking joke. Dream On Party members, activate!! Err, something. Somehow, I imagine Bob Barr and Michael Chertoff in a hot tub, giggling, and I want to soak my brain in lemon juice to wash out the vile imagery.

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Comets hold life chemistry clues

Star-stuff, as intoned by Carl Sagan, perhaps.

Comets hold life chemistry clues

The idea that comets brought the chemical “seeds” for life to the early Earth is given a big boost by new research.

Scientists studying the tiny grains of material recovered from Comet Wild-2 by Nasa's Stardust mission have found large, complex carbon-rich molecules.

They are of the type that could have been important precursor components of the initial reactions that gave rise to the planet's biochemistry.

The first full analysis of the Wild-2 grains is reported in Science magazine.

“Whatever it took to get life started, the more variety of molecules you had in the mix and the more they looked like the kinds of molecules that life uses now then the easier it should have been,” Dr Scott Sandford from Nasa's Ames Research Center told BBC News.

I was looking for Dr. Sagan's famous phrase on YouTube, didn't find it, but found these instead. Funny also how many comments by anti-science anti-evolutionary Christian zealots posted on every Carl Sagan video clip. Don't they have anything better to do, like spreading peace, love and so forth? Rhetorical question, of course.

(direct video link of Carl Sagan's summary of evolution)

Geopolitics in perspective

Hypatia and the anti-science Christians

Oh, the famous phrase? Unable to find a good link source, but here's one version of Carl Sagan's quote:

All the elements of the Earth except hydrogen and some helium have been cooked by a kind of stellar alchemy billions of years ago in stars, some of which are today inconspicuous white dwarfs on the other side of the Milky Way Galaxy. The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of Star Stuff.“

and the cliche of Dr. Sagan intoning, in his easily recognizable voice, ”Billions and BIllions.“ Just an urban legend.

I never said it. Honest. Oh, I said there are maybe 100 billion galaxies and 10 billion trillion stars. It's hard to talk about the Cosmos without using big numbers. I said 'billion' many times on the Cosmos television series, which was seen by a great many people. But I never said 'billions and billions.' For one thing, it's imprecise. How many billions are 'billions and billions'? A few billion? Twenty billion? A hundred billion? 'Billions and billions' is pretty vague... For a while, out of childish pique, I wouldn't utter the phrase, even when asked to. But I've gotten over that. So, for the record, here it goes: 'Billions and billions.'

Ah, nostalgia is a powerful drug, I really wanted to be a scientist in the 80s, and even was accepted into the Physics program of the University of Texas, but I couldn't take the rigidity of the curriculum, and changed majors after 3 semesters.

Bonus youtube fun

Atheists aren't that bad. This is NOT an argument for atheism... It's a defense of atheists.

James Randi said this video was ”very cool!“

Michael Shermer said it was ”very impressive.“

Teller (of Penn & Teller) said, ”If a god existed, this video would make him wish he were dead.“

Dan Barker (author of ”Losing Faith in Faith“) said it was ”very creative and powerful“ and that it ”makes a GREAT point!“

David Mills (author of ”Atheist Universe“) said ”I am absolutely addicted to watching this fabulous video, which has almost instantly become a legend in the freethought community. Zak has created the most intellectually and emotionally powerful multimedia presentation I've ever seen endorsing the atheist position. This is a proud moment for all rational-minded people. Atheist books can have wide-reaching influence, but I strongly suspect that Zak's video will influence a much larger audience than any atheist book ever published. The first few times I watched this video, I literally had tears in my eyes by the end. The artistic talent and technical skills required to write and produce this video -- as well as its core message -- have made Zachary Kroger my newest freethought hero. I'm not surprised at the HUGE reaction Zak's video has generated.“

NOTE- It has recently been brought to my attention that the quote attributed to former President, George Bush, is in question. He allegedly made the comment when he was Vice-President and campaigning for the Presidency. The statement was heard by one journalist without other verification.

slightly long, but makes its point (the video, that is)

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Photoshop CS3 video

This MacWorld/MacUser interview and demonstration is fairly useful too

Now, if I only could afford a new Intel Mac desktop, I'd be set....

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New Photoshop interface

Still haven't had free time to play with Photoshop CS3 much, beyond taking a few screenshots (also posted below). I have noticed several differences though, and John Nack of Adobe comments on some of them.

John Nack on Adobe: Exploring the new Photoshop interface The newly refined user interface in the Photoshop CS3 beta represents a bit of a departure from the past several versions of the application.

see also this video overview by Deke McClelland.


Pogues on YouTube

The Winter Solstice season would not be complete without Shane MacGowan singing my favorite song of the season, Fairy Tale of New York. Recently I watched the 2001 documentary of the decline of Shane MacGowan's teeth

If I Should Fall from Grace - The Shane MacGowan Story

“If I Should Fall from Grace - The Shane MacGowan Story” (Sarah Share)

which is worth watching if you have a fondness for the Pogues. Guest appearances by Johnny Depp, Elvis Costello, Sinéad O'Connor, Nick Cave (brushing over MacGowan's heroin addiction), Matt Dillon, some footage of Shane MacGowan pogo dancing at a Sex Pistols show (teeth intact), Shane MacGowan's parents and family (he still lives with them in rural Ireland sometimes), etc. The man is quite talented as a writer and songwriter, but perhaps has a wee substance abuse problem. Ahem.

Perhaps not fair to mention MacGowan's teeth, but in all the musical footage, his mouth is prominent, sings with his head slightly back, exposing his mouth. The camera also seems to linger on the center of his mouth, one cannot help but marvel at such an impressively punk-rock maw. Also, MacGowan's laugh is beyond parody: sort of a guttural hacking sound.

“The British press have been giving me six months to live for the past twenty years - they must be getting pissed off interviewing me by now.” “I'm just following the Irish tradition of songwriting, the Irish way of life, the human way of life. Cram as much pleasure into life, and rail against the pain you have to suffer as a result. Or scream and rant with the pain, and wait for it to be taken away with beautiful pleasure.” “The most important thing to remember about drunks is that drunks are far more intelligent than non-drunks. They spend a lot of time talking in pubs, unlike workaholics who concentrate on their careers and ambitions, who never develop their higher spiritual values, who never explore the insides of their head like a drunk does.”
(from) Anyway, to celebrate the season, here's a few YouTube moments.

The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl / Fairytale of New York

direct video link

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links for 2006-12-19

Priorities and protocols

Speaking of Jose Padilla,

The terrorist you've never heard of | Salon News :
In a Miami courtroom on Monday morning, defense lawyers for Jose Padilla, the American citizen accused of conspiring with al-Qaida, will argue what could be a landmark motion. Padilla's defense attorneys are asking the presiding judge to dismiss the case on the grounds of “outrageous government conduct.” The abuse Padilla has endured while in custody, they contend, has so scarred him that he can no longer even discuss the case against him. They believe he has been rendered incompetent to stand trial.

The logic of the federal government's response to the defense motion was stunningly cold. The U.S. Attorney's office agrees that Padilla needs his competency evaluated. We didn't torture him, argue the representatives of the U.S. government, but if we did, and it made him crazy -- well, then, no claims he makes about said torture can be trusted. He is, after all, mentally incompetent.

Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University who specializes in constitutional criminal procedure, calls this argument “bizarre.”

“It would create a rather perverse incentive,” marvels Turley. “As long as the government can force someone into mental incompetency they cannot face a motion for incompetency in court.”

“It would seem,” concludes Turley, with great understatement, “to invite abuse.”

When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft first announced the detention of Padilla, it was as a suspected dirty bomber. But the indictment eventually handed down against Padilla, after the Bush administration moved him from military jurisdiction to a federal criminal court to avoid the potential of a Supreme Court review of Padilla's detention, mentions nothing about a dirty bomb. Actually, it hardly mentions Padilla at all; most of it focuses on his alleged co-conspirators. The parts of the case that do make specific reference to Padilla, the judge overseeing the case said in an August hearing, seem to be “very light on facts.” That's because most of the evidence the government says it has can't be used in court. According to a November 2005 report in the New York Times, the reason that Padilla was not charged with conspiring to explode a dirty bomb is that the case has been contaminated by the extraordinary, if not extralegal, methods that were employed to develop some of the evidence against him.

The information that drove the FBI to arrest Padilla as he stepped off a flight from Pakistan at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on May 8, 2002, reportedly came from two al-Qaida members now in U.S. custody, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Ron Suskind, the author of “The One-Percent Doctrine,” tells Salon that Zubaydah gave up Padilla as an al-Qaida associate as the result of an interrogation process that used psychology, rather than force, to glean information from the captured al-Qaida member.

“Zubaydah was surprised that he had survived the capture when so many of his associates had been killed,” Suskind says. “The interrogator managed to get inside of his head on this point and say that he survived for a reason, because there's a strong strain of pre-deterministic thought in his particular theology, and that was how we were essentially able to get him to talk.”

But once the FBI had handed Zubaydah over to the CIA, these softer interrogation methods -- Suskind calls them “more sophisticated” -- were replaced by a harsher regime. Both Zubaydah and Mohammed were subject to some of the “alternative interrogation methods,” like waterboarding, that have become so notorious during the war on terror. And, the Times report says, the decision to use those methods against Zubaydah is apparently what doomed the “dirty bomber” allegation against Padilla. Prosecutors are reportedly worried that if the two men take the stand, the credibility of their statements would be impeached by allegations of torture. Similarly, according to the Times report, some of the information about a Padilla bomb plot came from Padilla himself, while he was held in Department of Defense custody in a military prison without counsel, and would thus be unusable in court.

Suskind says the ultimate utility of traditional law-enforcement investigative methods in the Padilla case, as opposed to the relative inutility of these new, tougher tactics, is an important lesson.

“It's not a matter of, we do these things and get information or not,” he says. “Long-standing interrogation practices showed that you can get all the information you need using, let's just say, accepted methodology.”

there is another terrorist on trial, except the methods chosen by the government are slightly less harsh, for some reason....

The Bush administration has defended its handling of Jose Padilla and other alleged terrorists in federal custody by arguing that the post-9/11 “war on terror” requires extraordinary methods. But while the Department of Justice has been tying itself in knots trying to justify the government's handling of Padilla, the nearly simultaneous -- and successful -- prosecution of another supposed “dirty bomber” in Tennessee stands as proof that the measures taken in the Padilla case are at best counterproductive. Without fanfare, and without any damage to the Constitution, 41-year-old Demetrius Crocker has been convicted of plotting to explode a bomb and release sarin gas outside a courthouse.

On Nov. 28 -- six days before the Times ran its photos of Padilla -- Demetrius “Van” Crocker was sentenced to 30 years in prison. David Kustoff, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, where Crocker was prosecuted, tells Salon that “It was one of the preeminent anti-terrorism cases of 2006 nationwide.” Whether or not that is true, few outside of the greater Memphis metropolitan area have ever heard of Crocker. Only one reporter, John Branston of the weekly Memphis Flyer, even covered his entire trial. What is certain is that in every particular his case is a study in contrasts with the prosecution of Jose Padilla.

According to court documents, the investigation of Demetrius Crocker began in early 2004, around the time he told a man named Lynn Adams that Timothy McVeigh “[did] things right.” Adams, who had met the Mississippi-born farmhand through a mutual acquaintance, began to hear from Crocker about his plans for mass murder. A resident of rural Carroll County, Tenn., an hour northeast of Memphis, Crocker told Adams he wanted to kill the black population of nearby Jackson, Tenn., with mustard gas and explode a bomb outside a courthouse.

By then, Adams had learned a lot about Crocker's background: his previous membership in the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, his anti-government beliefs, his fascination with Adolf Hitler and idolization of Oklahoma City bomber McVeigh. “Fuck them. Let God sort them out,” Crocker said when Adams asked if he was worried about killing innocent women and children.

Crocker, meanwhile, hadn't learned nearly as much about Adams. He didn't know, for example, that Adams was a former sheriff's deputy and a confidential informant for the Carroll County drug task force. At first, Adams didn't take Crocker seriously, but as their relationship progressed, Adams began believing Crocker was more than just talk.

At that point, the Carroll County Sheriff's Department passed the case on to the FBI. Steve Burroughs, an FBI agent, began working undercover. Posing as an employee at the Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, where some of the country's remaining chemical weapons are stored to await destruction, Burroughs offered to help Crocker obtain explosive materials. Without Burroughs' prompting, Crocker became more ambitious. He began talking about blowing up a radioactive bomb outside the U.S. Capitol.

There was an element of the fantastic in Crocker's plan; he hoped, he told Burroughs, to obtain the necessary plutonium for the dirty bomb he wanted to explode outside Congress by communicating with mail-order brides from Russia, one of whom would presumably put him in touch with a former KGB agent with access to nuclear material. His lawyers claimed he had an IQ of just 85.

But tapes of the conversations between Crocker and Burroughs reveal that Crocker knew what he was doing. He had made a version of Zyklon B, the gas used in the gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps, and he accurately described its manufacture. He had made nitroglycerin. He had the ingredients for a rudimentary bomb in his home, where he also kept several guns he told Burroughs he would use to kill any government agent sent to capture him.

Oh I see, it's that kind of terrorism. No wonder CNN didn't breathlessly tell us every possible detail and speculation about Crocker. Terrorism is defined as enemies of the Christian Taliban, and not just some dude who wants to commit mass murder. Silly me.

Read more here

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Theater of the Absurd

Such idiots. The airlines really should lobby to reconfigure the airline security configurations - there are reasons people don't want to fly as frequently as they once did.

Theater of the Absurd at the T.S.A. - New York Times :

FOR theater on a grand scale, you can’t do better than the audience-participation dramas performed at airports, under the direction of the Transportation Security Administration.

Of course, we never see the actual heart of the security system: the government’s computerized no-fly list, to which our names are compared when we check in for departure. The T.S.A. is much more talented, however, in the theater arts than in the design of secure systems. This becomes all too clear when we see that the agency’s security procedures are unable to withstand the playful testing of a bored computer-science student.

In late October, Christopher Soghoian, a Ph.D. student in the School of Informatics at Indiana University, found his attention wandering during a lecture in his Cryptographic Protocols class. While sitting in class, he created a Web site he called “Chris’s Northwest Airlines Boarding Pass Generator.”

A visitor to the site could plug in any name, and Mr. Soghoian’s software would create a page suitable for printing with a facsimile of a boarding pass, identical in appearance to one a passenger who had bought a Northwest Airlines ticket would generate when using the airline’s at-home check-in option.

The fake pass could not be used to actually board a plane — boarding passes are checked at the gate against the roster of ticket buyers in the airline’s database — but it could come in handy for several other purposes, Mr. Soghoian suggested, such as passing through airport security so you could meet your elderly grandparents at the gate.

Or, as he told his site’s visitors, it could “demonstrate that the T.S.A. Boarding Pass/ID check is useless.” It worked well, indeed.

No cryptographic recipe was cracked; no airline computer system was compromised. Without visiting an airport, Mr. Soghoian needed access to nothing other than a public Web site to embarrass those responsible for airport security.

To thank Mr. Soghoian for helping the government identify security weaknesses, the T.S.A. sent him a letter warning of possible felony criminal charges and fines, and ordered him to cease operations, which he promptly did. It was too late, however, to spare his apartment from an F.B.I. raid.

Richard L. Adams, the T.S.A.’s acting federal security director, said Mr. Soghoian’s generator “could pose a threat to aviation security.”

Oh yeah, right. Threat to TSA job security, perhaps.

The root problem, as some experts see it, is the T.S.A.’s reliance on IDs that are so easily obtained under false pretenses. “It would be wonderful if Osama bin Laden carried a photo ID that listed his occupation of ‘Evildoer,’ ” permitting the authorities to pluck him from a line, Mr. Schneier said. “The problem is, we try to pretend that identity maps to intentionality. But it doesn’t.”

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All quizzes are inherently worthy of skepticism, but Hume is as good an answer as any, I suppose.

The Cambridge Companion to Hume (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy)
“The Cambridge Companion to Hume (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy)” (Cambridge University Press)

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.“


Hume was charged with heresy but he was defended by his young clerical friends who argued that as an atheist he lay outside the jurisdiction of the Church.
Hume told his friend Mure of Caldwell of an incident which occasioned his conversion to Christianity. Passing across the recently drained Nor’ Loch to the New Town of Edinburgh to supervise the masons building his new house, soon to become No 1 St David Street, he slipped and fell into the mire. Hume, being then of great bulk, could not regain his feet. Some passing Newhaven fishwives seeing his plight, but recognising him as the well-known atheist, refused to rescue him until he became a Christian and had recited The Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. This he did and was rewarded by being set again on his feet by these brawny women. Hume asserted thereafter that Edinburgh fishwives were the ‘most acute theologians he had ever met’

Which philosopher are you?

You are David Hume. You single-handedly made monkeys out of guys with a lot more education and experience than you, making you the most famous empirical skeptic who has ever existed. You believed that all ideas were merely copies of sensations, and with this simple principle you almost destroyed all of philosophy, not to mention religion, ethics, and the basis of natural science. While you give us no assurances that we are justified in any of our most treasured beliefs, you never let these pain-in-the-ass views stop you from enjoying a beer and a good game of billiards at the end of the day.
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

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Empty-Stomach Intelligence

I do my best work after morning coffee and waking up (say, an hour after getting out bed) up until lunch (usually around 1:30 or 2 pm). If I eat a big lunch, I have the overwhelming urge to nap around 4 pm. If I eat a light lunch, I'm ok, but not quite as 'sharp'. All of which is a round-about way of saying my anecdotal experience agrees with Tamas Horvath's research.

Chicken Wings

Empty-Stomach Intelligence Hunger makes the best sauce, goes the maxim. According to researchers at Yale Medical School, it may make quadratic equations and Kant’s categorical imperative go down easier too. The stimulation of hunger, the researchers announced in the March issue of Nature Neuroscience, causes mice to take in information more quickly, and to retain it better — basically, it makes them smarter. And that’s very likely to be true for humans as well.

A team led by Tamas Horvath, chairman of Yale’s comparative medicine program, had been analyzing the pathways followed in mouse brains by ghrelin, a hormone produced by the stomach lining, when the stomach is empty. To the scientists’ surprise, they found that ghrelin was binding to cells not just in the primitive part of the brain that registers hunger (the hypothalamus) but also in the region that plays a role in learning, memory and spatial analysis (the hippocampus).
the biochemically “hungry” mice — mice infused with ghrelin — performed notably better than those with normal levels of the hormone. The finding was startling, but “it makes sense,” Horvath says. “When you are hungry, you need to focus your entire system on finding food in the environment.” In fact, some biologists believe that human intelligence itself evolved because it made early hominids more effective hunters, gathers and foragers.

Horvath says we can use the hormonal discoveries to our cognitive advantage. Facing the LSAT, a final exam or a half-day job interview? Go in mildly hungry, not carbo-loaded for endurance, and snack to maintain that edgy state. Such advice, applied on a national scale, might help save our schools. Since overweight kids have suppressed ghrelin levels, Horvath theorizes that perhaps the obesity epidemic has contributed to declining test scores and other American educational woes.

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Reading about Padilla makes me physically sick to my stomach. Especially since it seems pretty apparent there was never any strong evidence that Padilla was actually going to do anything. Bush, and Ashcroft, and whoever else was involved in this travesty ought to all go to prison for what they did. Even if Padilla was a terrorist (and I'm certainly not convinced he was), torture should never be an option, nor should stripping a human of his civil liberties.


Crucial ruling near in Padilla terrorism case | Chicago Tribune A federal judge in Miami will soon make one of the most important rulings in the Bush administration's war on terrorism and decide whether to publicly explore evidence that an accused terrorist was brutally mistreated for years inside a one-man isolation cell. The allegations involve former Chicagoan Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen once portrayed as one of the most dangerous Al Qaeda operatives ever arrested. Padilla's lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke to set him free because of the abuse they say he suffered.

Padilla told his lawyers and mental-health experts that he was held without sunlight, adequate food or a clock, and was injected with truth-serum drugs to coerce him to talk. At times, he said, his wrists and torso were chained to the cell floor.

Heightening the drama is a defense request to question military officials about conditions at the brig. Some officials have expressed concerns in written reports that Padilla and two other enemy combatants held in the brig outside Charleston, S.C., were abused.

...Padilla was arrested in 2002 on suspicion of trying to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the United States. The Justice Department, led by then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, castigated Padilla as a major terrorist menace but eventually scaled back its assessment and filed lesser charges of conspiracy.

Andrew Patel, one of the defense lawyers, said the defense wasn't allowed into the brig until March 2004, only to discover that Padilla was alone in a two-tiered prison wing of 10 cells.

Patel said the cell windows were blocked; no natural light entered the 9-foot-by-7-foot space. There was no mirror, no clock, no calendar; just a slot in the door for food and a steel platform for a bed.

often was kept awake by loud noises or cold conditions, Patel said. Other times, he said, Padilla was given a truth serum that lawyers suspected was some form of LSD or PCP.

Dr. Angela Hegarty, a New York psychiatrist who examined Padilla for the defense over five days in June and September, told the judge the prisoner often “begged his guards not to put him in the cage.”

Hegarty said Padilla could not understand his trial was drawing near. “He has large memory gaps related to his detention and he is unable to place events in chronological order,” she said.

The defense team filed a new report Wednesday from Patricia Zapf, a clinical psychologist in New York, who examined Padilla twice in October. She concluded he suffered from depression and paranoia, and had “difficulty with memory, attention and concentration.”

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Sailing an Oil Tanker

Cool. If we had a President in office who actually cared about energy conservation efforts, research of this sort would be subsidized.


Sailing an Oil Tanker While you might fume about rising gas prices while filling up your car, you can always take the bus and save a few dollars. Not so if you’re in an industry tasked with, say, shipping cars or oil from one hemisphere to another. That’s one reason 2006 has been a good year for the California-based company KiteShip, which makes “very large free-flying sails”— basically, giant traction kites that harness the wind to pull very large free-floating objects.

Dave Culp, the engineer who helped found KiteShip, calls the three-person operation a “micromultinational.”

But Culp has bigger plans, which helped KiteShip win the Lexus Transportation Prize at the first California Clean Tech Open this year. Culp would like to build kites of up to 50,000 square feet — roughly the size of a football field and big enough to help move cargo ships and oil tankers. Working in tandem with an engine, the kites could allow fuel savings of 15 percent to possibly 30 percent. But why kites and not traditional sails? It’s all a matter of cost, Culp says. A traditional sailing rig needs a mast, which requires either significant structural modifications — or building an entirely new ship. A kite is much more flexible and can easily be attached to an existing ship or moved from one ship to another.


Hidden economy

Talk about bubbles. $35,000,000,000 is a large number. What would happen to our economy if this cash suddenly was removed? Or what would happen if it suddenly became taxed, and traded in the futures market?

Stop and Drink

Pot called top cash crop in America | Chicago Tribune

A report released Monday by a marijuana public policy analyst contends that the market value of pot produced in the United States exceeds $35 billion--far more than the crop value of such heartland staples as corn, soybeans and hay.

...Jon Gettman, the report's author, is a proponent of the push to drop marijuana from the federal list of hard-core Schedule 1 drugs, such as heroin and LSD. He argues that the data support his push to begin legalizing cannabis and reaping a tax windfall from it, while controlling production and distribution to better restrict use by teenagers.

“Despite years of effort by law enforcement, they're not getting rid of it,” Gettman said.

and of course, the government official quoted uses specious reasoning to splutter that the cannabis crop is evil:

But Tom Riley, a spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, cited examples of countries that have struggled with drug crops.

“Coca is Colombia's largest cash crop, and that hasn't worked out for them, and opium poppies are Afghanistan's largest crop, and that has worked out disastrously for them,” Riley said.

In other words, if the U.S. legalized hemp, the Christian-Taliban would take over our country, and Saudi Arabia would lead a coalition of nations to invade the Eastern Seaboard to kill our leaders and convert them to Islam (or whatever it was that Ann “Demon-spawn” Coulter said). Uhhh, yeah. Perfectly logical. The Christian-Taliban part, maybe already happened, but they seem to be in decline, or at least in remission.

Gettman's methodology used what he described as a conservative value of about $1,600 a pound compared with the $2,000- to $4,000-a-pound street value often cited by law-enforcement agencies after busts.

Nationwide, the estimated cannabis production of $35.8 billion exceeds corn ($23 billion), soybeans ($17.6 billion) and hay ($12.2 billion), according to Gettman's findings.

So, $1,600 a pound based on $100 an ounce. Hmmm, seems low really, but what would I know.

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Strangely, Thomas Friedman didn't write about this part of the global economy. Soon, we will be living in a Phil-Dickian dystopia.

Weight of the World

The hidden cost of your hardwood floor | Chicago Tribune

ZHANGJIAGANG, China -- Night and day, the timber ships reach this Yangtze River port, one of the world's busiest clearinghouses for logs from every corner of the globe: Southeast Asia, the Amazon, Russia, the Congo....

U.S. shoppers have become the world's best customers of low-cost Chinese flooring, furniture and plywood, buying 10 times as much as a decade ago.

But that profitable embrace comes at a steep, hidden cost: The demand for cheap Chinese goods is driving destructive logging around the world, threatening livelihoods and dividing fragile nations.

Nearly three decades into its unprecedented economic ascent, China is outstripping its own resources and roaming the planet for more. Its hunt for timber is driven by a voracious hunger for everything from wood to cashmere to oil.

That hunger has wrought damage within its borders and beyond.

and of course, like the stripping of most natural resources, the profits aren't distributed. The rich get richer, the middle class remains oblivious to the hidden costs of consumer goods, and the poor get schtupped.

points south from the flourishing coast of southern China, across 3,000 miles of the Pacific to Papua New Guinea, one of the world's most troubled and spectacular countries, which nearly abandoned logging until China came along.

Digit by digit, the map leads over the mountains and glaciers to the nation's remote northwest province, Sandaun, where millions in timber profits and payments have left children without shoes and schools without plumbing.

The numeric trail ends at a specific patch of Papua New Guinea's forest. And in that forest lies a village where the torn landscape of logging has left a tribal leader unsure where to hunt for food and fearful for the future.

and all is not peachy when even the investor class starts to pay attention...

Behind that surge is a timber industry with unequaled power in local politics and business, strong enough to keep cutting trees despite mounting criticism from citizens, government and international organizations.

Regulators describe a logging system in crisis. Hundreds of pages of Papua New Guinea government audits, ordered by the World Bank from 2000 to 2005, document widespread illegal and unsustainable logging, a monitoring system “fatally damaged” by budget cuts and cronyism, and “few lasting benefits” to the villagers who sell their trees.

Foreign donors and customers have begun to recoil. The World Bank canceled a conservation deal last year that would have delivered more than $30 million in loans. British timber traders recently issued a rare advisory to avoid products made of Papua New Guinea wood.

Around the world, more consumers are beginning to ask where their wood comes from, pressuring retailers to sell products certified as being from responsible sources.

British conservation groups, for instance, persuaded lawmakers to ban illegal wood from all government contracts. Illegal logging takes many forms: flat-out theft, evasion of taxes and fees, and violation of national labor and environmental laws.

Americans have been slower to realize the extent of the problem. U.S. law does not ban the sale of most illegal wood. Environmentalism has never been as popular in the U.S. as in Europe, and U.S. demand remains low for environmentally certified products.

There might be hope:

That may be changing. Just as sweatshops and “conflict diamonds” posed an ethical challenge for U.S. retailers in the past--forcing many to improve their practices--China's traffic of illegal wood tests the environmental pledges of U.S. retailers.

The pressure to clamp down on illegal timber has reached Papua New Guinea, where industry executives and political allies defend logging. They call it an economic lifeline that employs more than 9,000 people, contributes up to 6 percent of tax revenue and provides more than $20 million a year in payments to landowners. Tate, the industry spokesman, said regulators' criticisms bear “no relationship to reality.”

But critics accuse timber companies of exploiting a nation unequipped to police itself in a race to feed world demand before Papua New Guinea's supply is exhausted.

“When we look at the issue in a global sense, you have to ask the question: Are the people and government of Papua New Guinea getting a good deal from forestry?” asked High Commissioner David Gordon-Macleod, the highest-ranking British diplomat in Papua New Guinea. “And the answer is: They are getting an appalling deal.”

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Drivers and Peds

Possibly welcome news, depending upon zealousness. Perhaps because I lived in Ontario, I've always been surprised at the aggressiveness of Chicago drivers towards pedestrians. Maybe Lake Shore Drive will get a couple more pedestrian bridges?

Arrogant drivers best look both ways | Chicago Tribune Starting in the spring, city officials posing as pedestrians will be sent to high-accident intersections as part of a new crackdown on motorists who endanger walkers.

However, this assertion is just stupid:

On average more than one pedestrian is killed in a traffic accident each week in Chicago. Accidents involving pedestrians in the city have dropped from 4,478 incidents in 2000 to 3,632 in 2004, the most recent year for which data are available from the Illinois Department of Transportation. But some experts say the drop could partly be a sign that fewer people are walking city streets out of fear of getting hit.

I'd like to meet this so-called 'expert', because he sounds like a moron. If people refrain from walking for fear of being hit, they have psychological problems.


Isiah Thomas Evil say Selena Roberts

Selena Roberts does not care for Isiah Thomas, perhaps his conduct in the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment case is relevant, maybe not. Regardless, Isiah Thomas should be suspended a game or two if the account of Thomas threatening opposing players is true. Isn't there a rule about coaches talking to the other teamj's players?

Selena Roberts: Look for a Mastermind in the Shadow of a Melee Commissioner David Stern should punish Isiah Thomas for a tacit and direct pattern of bounty-hunting. Thomas doesn't take hits; he orders them.

...There are no double-digit losses to Thomas. Just scores to settle.

“Hey, don’t go to the basket right now,” Thomas appears to say to Denver’s Carmelo Anthony with 1 minute 32 seconds left in another home-court rout of the Knicks.

Seventeen seconds later, Collins threw Smith down — as he drove through the paint. And a melee was on. In the mix of fists thrown by several players, including Anthony, and while Smith and Nate Robinson wrestled in the laps of first-row fans, Thomas remained unruffled in his Fifth Avenue threads, untouched by a fight that he all but instigated.

That’s the way it is with instigators. Others were bloodied for Thomas in Madison Square Garden’s twist on “The Sopranos.”

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Apparently, Harakiri is not the proper word, Seppuku ( 切腹,) is the preferred non-vulgar description for the ritual act, but since the fine folks at Criterion continue to use Harakiri as the title, I'll follow their lead.

Harakiri - Criterion Collection
“Harakiri - Criterion Collection” (Masaki Kobayashi)

Harakiri Winner of the Cannes Special Jury Prize, Masaki Kobayashi's drama centers on samurai Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai). A new political climate finds the once-powerful samurais wandering the country begging estate owners to allow them to commit suicide on their property, when what they really want is a handout. Hanshiro arrives at a lavish manor and asks to commit hara-kiri on the grounds, but the vengeful warrior is harboring a secret.

Why aren't there more movies like this made in contemporary cinema? I really can't think of a movie made in recent years that attempted this sort of scale. Spectacular and poetic cinematography, pathos, bathos and even a little sword play. I suppose, if one squints, Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man has comparable moments, but Dead Man is no masterpiece.

Partially, Harakiri's greatness is due to use of black and white film stock, probably largely due to wabi-sabi (Kanji: 侘寂), but there is much that is ineffable.

Simply a masterpiece.

5 stars.

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links for 2006-12-17

What is art anyway

Art is what I say it is, or what the artist says it is. Albert Reyes may be a street performer, but the product sounds like art or Art (not sure which).

Spit Art Albert Reyes shows his paintings and prints in small galleries, and his designs have a cachet in the arcane world of art T-shirts. But this year, it's his spit that has drawn the most attention.

The discovery of spit art was a happy accident. Reyes and a girlfriend were out walking, and when he spilled his drink on the sidewalk, they were astonished: it looked just like a chicken. I can do that, Reyes thought. It was like graffiti without consequences. Reyes’s spit-art performances now regularly accompany his openings; he commandeers a sidewalk in front of the gallery, takes a mouthful and begins. The ubiquitous jug wine at these shows also provides Reyes with his favorite medium, which he prefers to water. “I can make a very fine line with white wine,” Reyes says. “It’s like a sharpened pencil.”

direct link to Albert Reyes performance video here

seems part of the same 'movement' that Paul Curtis belongs too:

Reverse Graffiti

The British artist Paul Curtis is not sure what to call his version of vandalism. “People call it ‘reverse graffiti,’ ” he says, “but I prefer something less sinister: ‘clean tagging’ or ‘grime writing.’ ” Curtis, a k a Moose, selectively scrubs dirty, derelict city property (tunnel walls, sidewalks) so that words and images are formed by the cleaned bits. “It’s refacing,” he says, “not defacing. Just restoring a surface to its original state. It’s very temporary. It glows and it twinkles, and then it fades away.”

To pay for industrial scrubbers, he has sold some of his reverse graffiti as advertising. But mostly he sticks to his own art. Critics, like the City Council in Leeds, have accused him of breaking the law, but for what? Cleaning without a permit? “Once you do this,” he says, “you make people confront whether or not they like people cleaning walls or if they really have a problem with personal expression.”

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Spin that wheel

Haymarket wheel

I say, why not? What's really the downside? People not taking elections 'seriously' enough? Why should they? Nine/tenths of the voting eligible public already doesn't take voting seriously because elections are a joke.

The Ballot That Is Also a Lottery Ticket Mark Osterloh has been known to walk around Arizona handing out large tickets that say, “DO YOU WANT TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?” Generally, this gets people’s attention. So does the idea behind it: a lottery system that Osterloh hopes will someday increase voter turnout by offering a financial incentive to show up at the polls.

Here’s how it would work: Each person’s vote would count as a lottery ticket. At the end of each election, one ticket would win $1 million. If two million Arizonans vote, as they did in the 2004 presidential election, the odds of winning (1 in 2 million) would be far better than current Powerball odds (1 in 146 million). The voting jackpot would come from the state’s unclaimed lottery fund. “It’s surprising,” Osterloh says, “but a lot of people forget to pick up their lottery winnings.” Enough, he says, to provide $2.7 million every two years.

With the $1.7 million remaining after the jackpot, he proposes 1,700 prizes of $1,000 each. “That would increase the odds of winning something to about 1 in 2,500,” he says, “which is pretty good.”

Public financing of elections, with prizes for voting. I say we add this as a plank to the Dream On Party.


Short reviews Fall 06

Brief thoughts about some movies I've seen recently. I should keep a notebook by my television to jot notes while I watch films because these reviews are really sparse....


Farewell, Dense Prince

| 1 Comment

Amazing how clueless Rumsfeld, Cheney and their little dog, Bushy remain.

MoDo purrs:

Maureen Dowd: Farewell, Dense Prince :

The defense czar who rivals Robert McNamara for deadly incompetence has been on a victory lap in Baghdad, Mosul and Washington.

James Baker ran after W. with a butterfly net for a while, but it is now clear that the inmates are still running the asylum.

The Defiant Ones came striding from the Pentagon yesterday, the troika of wayward warriors marching abreast in their dark suits and power ties. W., Rummy and Dick Cheney were so full of quick-draw confidence that they might have been sauntering down the main drag of Deadwood.

Far from being run out of town, the defense czar who rivals Robert McNamara for deadly incompetence has been on a victory lap in Baghdad, Mosul and Washington. Yesterday’s tribute had full military honors, a color guard, a 19-gun salute, an Old Guard performance with marching musicians — including piccolo players — in Revolutionary War costumes, John Philip Sousa music and the chuckleheaded neocons and ex-Rummy deputies who helped screw up the occupation, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, cheering in the audience.

It was surreal: the septuagenarian who arrogantly dismissed initial advice to send more troops to secure Iraq, being praised as “the finest secretary of defense this nation has ever had” by his pal, the vice president, even as a desperate White House drafted ways to reinvade Iraq by sending more troops in a grasping-at-straws effort to reverse the chaos caused by Rummy’s mistakes.

Just imagine the send-off a defense secretary would have gotten who hadn’t sabotaged the Army, Iraq, global security, our chance to get Osama, our moral credibility, the deficit and American military confidence.

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Chrichton is an ass


Bad enough to actively fulminate against global warming, but turning critics into fictionalized child rapist seems a little unhinged.

TPMmuckraker December 14, 2006 11:45 AM :

Global Warming Denier Michael Crichton Fictionalizes Critic as Child Rapist

The battle between anti-global warming activists and their critics is frequently uncivil. Name calling, put downs, you name it, they fling them.

But this marks a new threshold, I think.

This March, Michael Crowley wrote a cover story in The New Republic hitting blockbuster novelist Michael Crichton's very public denials that global warming was a proved phenomenon.

And that's when it dawned on me: I happen to be a Washington political journalist. And, yes, I did attend Yale University. And, come to think of it, I had recently written a critical 3,700-word cover story about Crichton. In lieu of a letter to the editor, Crichton had fictionalized me as a child rapist. And, perhaps worse, falsely branded me a pharmaceutical-industry profiteer.

Class act, no?

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Out of Gitmo, in the clear

Yes, our vaunted anti-terrorism intelligence. If the detainees were so dangerous, why are they set free so soon upon returning home? Rhetorical question of course. The bitter truth is a majority of the detainees were not terrorists, were not a threat, were just used as political pawns.

Out of Gitmo, in the clear : Most detainees returned to home countries are set free

The Pentagon called them “among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth,” sweeping them up after Sept. 11 and hauling them in chains to a U.S. military prison in southeastern Cuba.

Since then, hundreds of the men have been transferred from Guantanamo Bay to other countries, many of them for “continued detention.”

And then set free.

Decisions by more than a dozen countries in the Middle East, Europe and South Asia to release the former Guantanamo detainees raise questions about whether they really were as dangerous as the United States said or whether some of America's staunchest allies have set terrorists and militants free.
But through interviews with justice and police officials and detainees and their families, and by using reports from human-rights groups and local news media, The Associated Press was able to track 245 of those formerly held at Guantanamo. The investigation, which spanned 17 countries, found:

- Once the detainees arrived in other countries, 205 of the 245 were either freed without being charged or were cleared of charges related to their detention at Guantanamo. Forty either stand charged with crimes or continue to be detained.

- Only a tiny fraction of transferred detainees have been put on trial. The AP identified 14 trials, in which eight men were acquitted and six are awaiting verdicts. Two of the cases involving acquittals--one in Kuwait and one in Spain--initially resulted in convictions that were overturned on appeal.

- The Afghan government has freed every one of the more than 83 Afghans sent home. Lawmaker Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, the head of Afghanistan's reconciliation commission, said many were innocent and ended up at Guantanamo because of tribal or personal rivalries.

- At least 67 of 70 repatriated Pakistanis are free after spending a year in Adiala Jail. A senior Pakistani Interior Ministry official said investigators determined that most had been “sold” for bounties to U.S. forces by Afghan warlords who invented links between the men and Al Qaeda. “We consider them innocent,” said the official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

- All 29 detainees who were repatriated to Britain, Spain, Germany, Russia, Australia, Turkey, Denmark, Bahrain and the Maldives were freed, some within hours after being sent home for “continued detention.”

Some former detainees say they never intended to harm the United States and are bitter.

“I can't wash the three long years of pain, trouble and humiliation from my memory,” said Badarzaman Badar, an Afghan who was freed in Pakistan. “It is like a cancer in my mind that makes me disturbed every time I think of those terrible days.”

entirely too many incidents like:

Murat Kurnaz, a German-born Turkish citizen, also was quickly freed when he was flown to Germany in August, bound hand and foot, after more than four years at Guantanamo.

U.S. officials maintained he was a member of Al Qaeda, based on what they said was secret evidence. But his New Jersey-based lawyer, Baher Azmy, said he was shown the classified evidence and was shocked to find how unpersuasive it was.

“It contains five or six statements exonerating him,” Azmy said.

No wonder Bolton was instructed to keep the U.S. out of the International Criminal Court.

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Ahmet Ertegun RIP

A well-respected mogul from back in the day when the suits who ran the music labels really cared about music instead of just milking profits repackaging the same crap, and adding DRM.

Mr. Ertegun's label has given my ears lots of pleasure over my long career as a rock snob. ahem.

Funny who different newspapers choose to populate their leads with. The Guardian uses Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin:

Atlantic Records founder dies aged 83

Ahmet Ertegun, the Turkish diplomat's son who launched Atlantic Records and the careers of acts ranging from Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin, has died.

while the NYT uses the Stones and 'Trane.

Ahmet Ertegun, Music Executive, Dies at 83
Ahmet Ertegun founded Atlantic Records and shaped the careers of John Coltrane and the Rolling Stones.

and sort of a strange coda

A spokesman for Atlantic Records said the death was the result of a brain injury suffered when Mr. Ertegun fell backstage at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan on Oct. 29 as the Rolling Stones prepared to play a concert that marked former President Bill Clinton’s 60th birthday. He had been in a coma since then.

Guardian UK:

...Atlantic's roster included huge stars: Professor Longhair, the Drifters, Led Zeppelin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Cream, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dusty Springfield, Genesis, AC/DC, the Bee Gees, Bette Midler, the Allman Brothers Band, the Three Tenors and latterly James Blunt.

Launched in 1947 as a short-term outlet for Ertegun's fixation with the jazz and blues that was largely unknown to most Americans, Atlantic grew into one of the world's biggest record companies. Ertegun was founding chairman, surviving various ownership changes since he and his partners sold the label in 1967 for $20m.

He was one of the first recording executives to sell music by black artists to white youngsters looking for something exciting in the conformist Eisenhower era of the 1950s, and in so doing, he helped pioneer rock'n'roll.

and this is the only kind of triangulation I appreciate:

Mr. Ertegun’s music partnerships, he sometimes pointed out, were often culturally triangular. He was Turkish and a Muslim by birth. Many of his fellow executives, like the producer Jerry Wexler, were Jewish. The artists they produced, particularly when the label began, were black. Together, they helped move rhythm and blues to the center of American popular music.

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Self portrait hour horror show

Sick of seeing my cartoon mug. Possible replacements. What's funny (to me) is that I don't think I resemble any of these self portraits, at least at the moment.

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links for 2006-12-16

The Days of Wine and Yoga

What every meal needs

Personally, I think wine goes with everything. I like to bring wine on bike rides, sip a glass while watching sun sets and moon rises, you get the idea.

The Days of Wine and Yoga While the notion of combining yoga with another facet of American pop culture is nothing new, serious yogis may draw the line at wine.

ON the one hand, there is Angela Gargano, a yoga instructor in Madison, Wis., who doesn’t quite see what the big deal is.

“Yoga can be very serious, sure, but why not have it be really fun?” she said, shrugging off concerns that yoga purists might raise an eyebrow at her latest venture — yoga-and-wine retreats.

On the other hand, there are those like Nancy Elkes, a New York-based yoga trainer and instructor who doesn’t necessarily condemn drinking — she just isn’t so sure it goes with yoga.

“After a yoga class,” she said, “the last thing you’re thinking about getting is a drink.”

Ya see, this is why I don't like Yoga classes.

Seriously though, Rachel Cimino as a point:

But for Rachel Cimino, a Californian who has practiced with Sikh instructors at Los Angeles’s star-studded yoga empire, Golden Bridge Yoga, the deviation from ritual isn’t a deal-breaker.

“Yoga has become so American, and we have this cafeteria attitude of picking and choosing what we like,” Ms. Cimino said. “If you were very serious, it would definitely interfere with being a yogi. The best time to do yoga is at twilight, from 3 to 5:30 in the morning, when your energy is most powerful. And if you’re hung over, you’re altering your chemistry.”


Lawyers Guns and my money

Alley Garbage - by Law

Continuing my weekly theme of kvetching, I've had to wear my legal-related head piece this week. Not only are we being sued in some frivolous lawsuit by an unethical company over a billing dispute from last year, but we have several outstanding contracts pending, lingering over our heads all month. We often represent companies as an outside consultant and/or sales team, necessitating formalized agreements dealing with compensation, yadda yadda yod.

Check out this clause a company-who-shall-remain-nameless is trying to assert:

Your representation with the Company will be on an “at will” basis, meaning that the Company may terminate this agreement at any time for any reason or no reason, without further obligation or liability. Further, during your representation with the Company, you shall not use any information about the Company to attempt to negatively influence any of the Company’s clients, customers or suppliers from purchasing Company products or services or to solicit or attempt to influence any client, customer or supplier either directly or indirectly, to direct his or its purchase of products and/or services to any person, firm, corporation, institution or other entity in competition with the business of the Company.

Sort of negates the idea of having a contract doesn't it? Why should we even waste ink on printing the document out? If we didn't have a rather large potential sale of the product of company-who-shall-remain-nameless on the (metaphoric) table of a company-who-shall-remain-nameless-but-they-are-fracking-huge, we'd walk away in disgust. As it is, we get to spend hours debating the issue (and others similarly contentious).

In contrast, another company-that-shall-remain-nameless-but-you've-all-heard-of-them that we work with allowed us to present them with our contract, and really didn't have much negative to say, or really any insistence upon changing clauses. What a pleasure! More so because of the rarity of this occurring.

Don't you love how vague sounding it all is? Trust me, it is driving me and my partner to self-medicate like MoFos.

I wish I had a clever contract lawyer in my social circle. D's childhood friend is a successful attorney, but an environmental lawyer. My uncle R is a whip-smart lawyer in S.F., but specializes in real estate, if I'm not mistaken. So, even though my legal education boils down to an ability to parse minutia, I'm the designated “reader of contracts”. We've hired attorneys in the past (and no doubt will hire in the future, see second sentence at the top of this post), but we have yet to find an entrepreneurial business lawyer who can think on their feet to our satisfaction. Too often we do all the work, educate them to our peculiar situation, but they bill us anyway.


Ok, self-imposed moratorium on whining and complaining starts now. Really. :)

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Whichever Way the Wind Blows

Green Fairies

Friedman is smoking crack again, or slurping from the bottle of absinthe stashed in his desk drawer. When did Gov Bush ever have green inclinations? Cynical political bullshite, concocted by Karl Rove to woo suburban soccer sluts, or whatever they were called.

And I don't think The Dauphin has any possible tricks to 'salvage' his legacy. Other than seppuku.

Thomas Friedman: Whichever Way the Wind Blows The only way for you, Mr. President, to salvage any legacy is to get back in touch with your green Texas roots.

Time for another news quiz: Which American state produces more wind-generated electricity than any other? Answer: Texas. Next question — this one you’ll never get: Which politician launched the Texas wind industry? Answer: Former Gov., now President, George W. Bush.

Somehow, I'd wager a guess (without actually, you know, researching the topic) that Gov Bush didn't really launch the Texas wind industry. Possibly signed something giving tax breaks to some oil baron friends who wanted to diversify their portfolios, but Friedman gives Bush entirely too much credit.

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The year in errors

Kottke points to a funny collection of media mistakes. (and a last year's collection)

The year in errors Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite.

I guess the NY Post didn't get the memo, or else Ms. Mortimer really is a socialist.

And if you made all these recipes as originally written: het-damn, what a fracking fun party! Drunk on vodka, mouth (and bowels) on flame, and queasy nervous energy from eating nearly raw beef.

A correction in this column Thursday about a June 14 Taste section recipe for French coconut pie incorrectly suggested that the recipe called for a pint of vodka.

In Wednesday's Taste section, a Washington Post recipe on Page F7 included an incorrect cooking time for carbonada (braised beef with onions and red wine). The dish should be cooked for 2 1/2 hours, not 10 to 20 minutes.

Because of an editing error, a recipe last Wednesday for meatballs with an article about foods to serve during the Super Bowl misstated the amount of chipotle chilies in adobo to be used. It is one or two canned chilies, not one or two cans.

and you could have this for desert:
A recipe in the Entrée section Sunday for Mr. C’s Bread Pudding misstated the length of time for baking the pudding. The recipe calls for baking it for 40 minutes, not 540 minutes.

Plenty more fun

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Frack Me


I wonder what went through the minds of all those libertarians who voted for Bush, not just once, but twice? Idiots. If the libertarian 'brand' wasn't so diluted with retards and retarded positions, I might like them more. The idea of a society where government isn't involved in religion, social issues, drugs, etc. is an attractive idea. All Libertarians I know are jerk-offs though.

Sean Corbett of my other favorite site for Chicago-esque news, writes:

Chicagoist: Michael Chertoff Just Wants To Get To Know You Better :
By mid 2008 all US citizens are scheduled to be carrying documents that identify our names, addresses, birthdays, gender, photograph, and some kind of biometric marker to any federally sponsored agency that requests the information. Real ID act which gave The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority over the contents of a national ID card was tacked onto a tsunami relief bill back in 2005. It passed in the US House (368-58) and Senate (100-0).
Problems with that statement: It’s impossible to have a totally secure system (and who wants every person who sees their driver’s license to keep all of their stats in a database?) and terrorists will blow themselves up whether or not they have an ID card on them when they do it. What’s a wrongdoer these days anyway? Are kids (and grandmothers) who pirate music wrongdoers? How about unruly protestors? Is it possible to live in a society where the government knows your whereabouts and daily activities without deteriorating into a totalitarian state? Those are some serious questions, and the word on the street is that our Senators and Representatives were sleeping when they last had the chance to raise them.

Hmmm, well, my family still owns 100 acres in central Ontario. No electricity, but solar is getting cheaper, and seems like winters aren't as cold as they used to be when I lived there as a kid.

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Intel-native Photoshop CS3 beta

Excellent. I'm downloading this as soon as I am able...

Macworld: News: Adobe to release Intel-native Photoshop CS3 beta Photoshop users who’ve been waiting for a version of the image-editing program that runs natively on Intel-based Macs are about to be rewarded for their patience. Adobe will release a beta of Photoshop CS3 on Friday, December 15, that’s available as a Universal Binary. The free beta can be downloaded at Adobe’s Web site by any user with a valid Creative Suite 2 or Photoshop CS2 serial number.
“This is a enormous watershed event at Adobe — we have never taken a flagship product and made it available this way,” John Nack, senior product manager for Adobe Photoshop, told Macworld. “It’s a way to do our best for the Macintosh customers.”
Even those who don't have Photoshop can test it
While users need a valid serial number to use the Photoshop CS3 beta without restriction, you can still download the beta and use it for two days before it expires.

from Adobe's download page:

A licensed copy of Photoshop CS2, Creative Suite 2, Production Studio, Adobe Web Bundle, or Adobe Video Bundle is required to use this technology beyond a two-day trial period. After installation you will be prompted to enter a CS3 beta serial number for Photoshop. To obtain a beta serial number, visit and enter your CS2 serial number.

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links for 2006-12-15

Amazon kvetch


Amazon has decided that customer satisfaction is only moderately important to them, and what is more important is keeping their shipping contractors happy. I ordered a DVD player for use in my office, spending the grand total of $87 for this machine.

Philips DVP5960 DVD Player with HDMI, 1080i Upscaling, DivX Ultra, USB direct
“Philips DVP5960 DVD Player with HDMI, 1080i Upscaling, DivX Ultra, USB direct” (Philips)

However, Amazon has started utilizing the evil stepchild of the package delivery business, Airborne/DHL.

I should have taken my own advice, but all times previously, Amazon only used UPS.

Of course, my DVD player never arrived. I ordered it Dec 3rd, choosing to spend a few dollars extra for expedited delivery. On December 6th, according to DHL tracking, the player was delivered, and signed for by 'secretary/receptionist'. Hmmm, wasn't aware that I employed such a creature. Who is paying this secretary/receptionist? I contacted Amazon, they apologized, and promptly resent my order via DHL again.

Two days later, DHL tracking reported 'attempted delivery - recipient not home'. Strange, I never heard the door buzzer ring, nor did my partner. Curiously, when I examined the building's security camera (a camera trained on the front door, on the elevator door, and elsewhere, saved to a computer in our basement), there was no record of an employee of DHL ringing the door buzzer the entire week.

Yesterday, according to DHL tracking, somebody named Mike G signed for my DVD player, at 9 A.M. Hmmm, again, nobody rang the door, and there is no resident of my building with the first name of Mike. There are only 17 residents who live at this address, and I know them all at least by name/face. We don't kiss each other hello, but I do know with absolute certainty there isn't a Mike G here.

Amazon apologized again, yet tried to insinuate the problem was my address, ignoring the multiple times UPS has arrived bearing Amazonian gifts, using the exact same address. I suppose this was Amazon's way of giving me the brush-off. Duly noted, Amazon. Good luck to ya. I won't be ordering electronics from you anymore.

As two attempts to deliver a package to this address have been unsuccessful, I hesitate to send you another replacement.

Instead, I have requested a refund of $83.98 to cover the cost of the original shipment. This refund should go through within 2-3 business days and will appear as a credit on your next credit card billing statement.

If you'd still like to purchase the item, you could place a new order using a different shipping address.

Unfortunately, there is no proposed solution being proffered by Amazon here. I'm not prepared to move to another address just so that Amazon can deliver to me. My building predates the Chicago Fire, you'd think DHL would have entered it into their database by now.

I ordered the same DVD player via B&H this morning, who value their customers enough to give choices of preferred delivery service. Luckily for B&H, I also ordered a Nikon D80 and a couple of lenses, choosing UPS for delivery.

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Bush screws country

| 1 Comment

Depending upon whether you work in a conservative office or not, you may find this amusing.

direct link here

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links for 2006-12-14

I think I'll pass

Don't get me wrong, I use vinegar in salad dressings, sometimes sprinkle a little on just-cooked rice, and devoured chips and vinegar while lolly-gagging in London a few years ago, but drinking an entire glass sounds a bit disgusting.

Down Drinking at the Bar

Vinegar Vitality | Lifestyle | Trends in Japan | Web Japan vinegar bars and cafes offering beverages that combine rice vinegar with ingredients like fruits and vegetables have begun to appear in Tokyo. They are attracting an increasing number of working men and women looking for new ways to beat the summer heat and stay healthy. These shops are competing for customers by developing original concoctions like desserts featuring rice vinegar and vinegar drinks made using oranges and grapefruits.

In June 2006 the Kurozu Bar opened inside Shinbashi Station in Tokyo, targeting health-conscious office workers. The shop features a selection of nine vinegar beverages, including black vinegar with soy milk and a blueberry vinegar shake. The bar is of the tachinomi (stand-and-drink) type to cater to workers on the move. Formerly a bento (boxed lunch) shop, the conversion to a vinegar bar has led to a threefold increase in sales.

In July, OSU-Café@Limapuluh, a vinegar cafe, opened its doors for one month only in Aoyama, near Omotesando Station. In addition to vinegar beverages, the café offered a special vinegar-inspired menu that included everything from main dishes to desserts.

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The Pope Says

Happy Holidays, MoFo.

Pope In Hat Beard

I think the Pope is some sort of pagan, bird-worshipper, but she keeps the details to herself.


links for 2006-12-13

Smart Elevators

Going down

Hmm, haven't been in one of these yet. I could see being 'unlucky', and waiting for what would feel like forever for my elevator to arrive. When you don't have control, or the illusion of control, patience ebbs quickly. Ever waited for a bus?

Smart Elevators If you look at the elevators in the newly renovated lobby of the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square, you’ll notice something unusual. Instead of a button to call the elevator, there’s a keypad. Punch in the number of the floor you want, and the computer will direct you to a particular elevator. There, you will find a group of people headed to your floor and those close to it. When the elevator arrives, it whisks you and the group directly to your floors.

You’ve just taken a ride on the Schindler Elevator Corporation’s Miconic 10, one of a new generation of “smart elevators.” The system is based on a simple fact: when an elevator contains a group of people going to many different floors, each person’s ride becomes longer than if traveling alone. By sorting people into groups headed to nearby floors, each person’s journey becomes — on average — 50 percent faster.

Though it might also be 50 percent more annoying...

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Soundtrack to Life

These headphones sound sort of fun, in an artsy-way, and in fact are not an original idea, but I personally enjoy the juxtaposition of random iTunes offerings on my iPod and the urban infrastructure. I don't turn the volume up so loud as to drown everything out (which would be dangerous on a bike), I just enhance my movie with a soundtrack.
SelfPortrait Headphones Warholesque

The Ambient Walkman A graduate student at the M.I.T. Media Lab has created a pair of headphones that tunes the listener back in to the world around him.

The device, which Vawter calls Ambient Addition, consists of two headphones with transparent earpieces, each equipped with a microphone and a speaker. The microphones sample the background noise in the immediate vicinity — wind blowing through the trees, traffic, a cellphone conversation. Then, with the help of a small digital signal-processing chip, the headphones make music from these sounds. For instance, percussive sounds like footsteps and coughs are sequenced into a stuttering pattern, and all the noises are tuned so that they fuse into a coherent, slowly changing set of harmonies.



Yodeling is a vocal technique that is instantly recognizable. Not quite as cool as Tuvan throat singing, but in the general vicinity.

The Rough Guide to Yodel
“The Rough Guide to Yodel” (Various Artists)

Yodeling Is Universal You might assume that yodeling is limited to the worlds of lonesome cowboys or Swiss Miss Cocoa ads. But according to Bart's a vocal technique used all over the world.

Recently, on a fact-finding trip to Wisconsin — home to many Swiss-Americans — Plantenga discovered something surprising even for someone whose oeuvre has largely relied on odd discoveries: groups of farmers from Wisconsin’s Hmong community yodeling their native folktales while working in the fields. But by showing how so many vocal traditions are united by a quirky vocal technique, can Plantenga really elevate our appreciation of the Swiss or cowboy yodeling we’ve learned to laugh at? Would a yodel-ay-ee-oooo by any other name still sound as corny?


Pods and Pilsen

I've probably blathered about my first landlord in Chicago being Mr. Podmajersky (I lived at 1906 S. Halsted, I'm pretty sure), YoChicago has video footage of Pod's personal recollection of how he created his fiefdom. Pretty much how I remember him telling the tale, back in the mid-90s. His son also owns some properties in the area.

YoChicago today | Podmajersky's private history of Pilsen Developer and landlord John Podmajersky is, for better or worse, something of a legend in Pilsen. He came to the neighborhood nearly half a century ago to visit his chronically ill parents and says he found a neighborhood suffering from abandonment and displacement in the aftermath of expressway construction. He reacted “like a kid in a candy store” and began buying up buildings. Saddled with a growing portfolio of distressed property and difficulty finding and keeping tenants, however, reality began to sink in.
Pod's solution was to rent to artists, enlisting their help in rehabbing and designing his spaces, and over several decades, he constructed a kingdom of lofts that is something to behold. In this fascinating video, he recounts the evolution of his properties and of Pilsen as he sees it - and he displays some of the attitudes that have made him enemies in the neighborhood.


Bicycle Helmets are the devil


Interesting supposition. I very rarely wear the things myself, maybe for this very reason.

Bike the Drive 13

Bicycle Helmets Put You at Risk For years, cyclists who ride on city streets have cherished an unusual superstition: if they wear a helmet, they are more likely to get hit by a car. ... Ian Walker, a psychologist at the University of Bath who rides his bike to work every day...decided to find out — putting his own neck on the line. He rigged his bicycle with an ultrasonic sensor that could detect how close each car was that passed him. Then he hit the roads, alternately riding with a helmet and without for two months, until he had been passed by 2,500 cars. Examining the data, he found that when he wore his helmet, motorists passed by 8.5 centimeters (3.35 inches) closer than when his head was bare. He had increased his risk of an accident by donning safety gear.

Why? You might suspect that cyclists wearing helmets are more prone to take risks. But studies have found otherwise. The real answer, Walker theorizes, is that helmets change the behavior of drivers. Motorists regard a helmet as a signal that the cyclist is experienced and thus can be approached with less caution. “They see the helmet and think, Oh, there’s a serious, skilful person,” Walker says. “And you get hit.”

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Artic Sea is melting


Depressing factoid of the day....
ice lands

Arctic sea ice 'faces rapid melt'

The Arctic may be free of all summer ice by as early as 2040, new data from scientists suggests.

The latest data presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting suggests the ice is no longer showing a robust recovery from the summer melt.

Last month, the sea that was frozen covered an area that was two million sq km less than the historical average.

“That's an area the size of Alaska,” said leading ice expert Mark Serreze.

“We're no longer recovering well in autumn anymore. The ice pack may now be starting to get preconditioned, perhaps to show very rapid losses in the near future,” the University of Colorado researcher added.

The sea ice reached its minimum extent this year on 14 September, making 2006 the fourth lowest on record in 29 years of satellite record-keeping and just shy of the all time minimum of 2005.

So there's really no need to avoid cocktails before lunch then, is there?


Energy-Harvesting Floors

I want one of these on my treadmill, or perhaps my staircase. Or even on the sidewalk in front of my building. /dream over.

Streams of Whiskey (trucks)

Energy-Harvesting FloorsThe average human being generates about eight watts of energy with each step, most of which is expended as vibration. It may not sound like much, but take the 30,000 or more people who pass through a major-city subway hub at rush hour, and suddenly you've got serious power. That's usually a problem for architects and engineers, who have to design structures to withstand such small but persistent pressure. But the Facility, a London architecture firm, sees it as an opportunity. The company proposes putting small hydraulic generators in floors to capture vibration and convert it into electricity.


Curves, lobes and lounges

Repressed artists in us

Arches of the Covenant
Arches of the Covenant Ogden Ave

Lost Causeways
Lost Causeways Ogden Ave

Maitreya on Grand Street

Maitreya on Grand Street

Funky Buddha Lounge

Modern Buddha

Modern Buddha
Funky Buddha Lounge, Grand Ave

click to embiggen

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Daddy Coal is a dirty dirty Daddy

Gov Rod the Blob should get some kudos for this negotiation.

Industry and Commerce
(photo actually taken in Little Italy, but was the only smokestack I could find. Click to embiggen. Except for Aunt P.)

Utility to cut coal emissions
Plants may close if plan too costly

Three of the largest sources of air pollution in the Chicago area will either shut down or become dramatically cleaner within the next dozen years.

After months of negotiations with Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration, Midwest Generation agreed Monday to deep cuts in smog, soot and mercury pollution from its six coal-fired power plants.

Company executives also raised the possibility that three aging plants--in Waukegan and Chicago's Pilsen and Little Village areas--might close if they decide it isn't worth spending millions to clean them up.

I can see the Pilsen plant from my window (a mile away, or so), meaning that I breathe its emissions too. Would be very happy to see it close.

Of course, the details are all that really matter, and I don't like the long window of implementation.

To broker the deal, the state compromised and gave Midwest Generation more time to meet the stringent standards. Mercury emissions will be controlled by 2009, nitrogen oxide by 2012 and sulfur dioxide by 2018.

The cuts will be faster and deeper than U.S. rules require.

“This is a really good deal for Illinois,” said Doug Scott, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. “We're giving them a few more years to comply, but we are getting so much in return.”

Cleaning up Midwest Generation's dirty smokestacks is a critical matter for the Chicago area. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide churning from the coal plants contribute to smog and soot that hangs over the city and its suburbs, especially during the summer.

Groups such as the Sierra Club, American Lung Association and Environment Illinois have campaigned for years to shut down or clean up the plants. They've circulated petitions, paid for ads on CTA trains and protested outside the company's headquarters.

The groups welcomed the deal as a good start.

“We would like it to happen much faster, but this is a big improvement,” said Dorian Breuer of the Pilsen/Southwest Side Greens, a group trying to get a non-binding referendum on the city ballot that calls for deeper cuts in pollution.

Midwest Generation also is the state's largest source of mercury, a toxic metal that falls into lakes and streams and becomes more dangerous as it moves up the food chain. The pollutant has become so pervasive in U.S. waterways that Illinois and 43 other states urge pregnant women and children to avoid or limit eating certain fish.

The utility was responsible for 1,533 of the 5,609 pounds of mercury released into the air in Illinois during 2004, the last year for which figures are available.

Not to mention the Bush administration wants to give tax cuts to coal plant owners, and encourage further delays in the rest of the country. Air pollution effects all of us.

Mercury controls will be installed by July 2008 at the Pilsen, Little Village and Waukegan plants, and a year later at plants outside Romeoville, Joliet and Peoria. Emissions must be reduced by at least 90 percent by 2015.

By contrast, federal rules require utilities to reduce mercury pollution by 70 percent by 2018.

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links for 2006-12-12

Prince is not Dead

Prince during his early '90's “Diamonds and Pearls” era, playing live on the MTV Video Music Awards. Probably won't be doing this song at the 2007 Super Bowl, especially not in this ass-out pantsuit. Too bad,

(direct link to the slighty-murky video, here)

23 positions in a one-night stand indeed - sounds tailor made for the corporate-friendly Super Bowl half time show.

(via Deadspin)

speaking of corporate friendly.....

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Pinochet Is Dead

Speaking of Pinochet, Marc Cooper of The Nation, writes,

Pinochet Is Dead. His Legacy Lingers : Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died of complications from a heart attack Sunday at age 91. His death has cheated justice, snatching him from the material world just as he faced the possibility of standing trial for the murder of two bodyguards of his predecessor, President Salvador Allende.

A neatly timed exit, considering the former general was also facing charges on how and why he stashed as much as $17 million in overseas accounts, as well as continuing judicial investigations into numerous human rights atrocities that took place during the bloody and dark period of his rule that stretched from 1973 until 1990. ... Pinochet also embodied a wave of authoritarianism that swept through all of Latin America during the time of his rule. Similar dictatorships imposed their own brand of fear as they clamped down on Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru.

Encouraged by the Reagan Administration in Washington and rising Thatcherism in Europe, these military regimes instituted a savage free-market capitalism, in many cases reversing decades of carefully constructed social welfare reforms. At gunpoint unions were outlawed, labor laws were abolished, universities were stifled, tuition was hiked, national healthcare and social security programs were privatized, and these already unequal societies were rigidly stratified into rich and poor, strong and weak, the favored and the invisible.

Pinochet even attempted to build a new Terror International by setting up what became known as Operation Condor. Established in Santiago, the short-lived network aimed at making repression and murder more efficient through increased coordination, information-sharing and joint secret operations among the allied dictatorships. The most prominent victims of this alliance in murder were former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his associate Ronni Moffett, blown apart by a 1976 car bomb in downtown Washington, DC--a bomb set by Pinochet's dreaded secret police, known as DINA.

Even after this barbaric act of terror, even after the world began to learn of Pinochet's other mass crimes, it was jarring to see how much the American press still pandered to him as the man who was bringing economic revival to Chile. No matter that his “shock therapy” nostrums prescribed by the recently deceased Milton Friedman pushed Chile to the brink of bankruptcy and that the first public rebellions against the regime in 1983 were motivated as much by hunger as political rage.

Before Chris Snitchens went off his meds, he wrote about Kissinger and Pinochet:

The Trial of Henry Kissinger

“The Trial of Henry Kissinger” (Christopher Hitchens)

I have the movie in my Netflix queue, I'll probably get to view it sometime next year.

The Trials of Henry Kissinger
“The Trials of Henry Kissinger” (Eugene Jarecki)

No wonder the U.S. and Ambassador Bolton lobbied against the International Criminal Court - too many potential charges could be brought against U.S. officials. Not to mention the UN Human Rights Council.

How shameful that the U.S. government wants to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Pinochet.

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Time Is Now

Bob Herbert voices the opinion of most of the country: get the frack out of Iraq, now! What's the point of delay?

Bob Herbert: The Time Is Now : The United States lacks resolve when it comes to Iraq. It is time to pull the troops out of harm's way.

On Wednesday, as if the release of the Iraq Study Group report needed some form of dramatic punctuation, 11 more American G.I.’s were killed in this misbegotten war that just about everyone, except perhaps the president, now sees as a complete and utter debacle.

Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican from Oregon who supported the war, delivered an emotional speech on the Senate floor Thursday evening in which he said:

“I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that anymore.”

If the U.S. is ultimately going to retreat in Iraq, he said, “I would rather do it sooner than later. I am looking for answers, but the current course is unacceptable to this senator.”

War Memories
(Vietnam War memorial in Chicago. Click to embiggen.)

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Outsourcer in Chief

Police Training Grounds - Keep Dogs off Grass

Speaking of privatization, the Shrill One writes:

Paul Krugman: Outsourcer in Chief :

Privatization through outsourcing is one reason the Bush administration has failed on so many fronts.

According to U.S. News World Report, President Bush has told aides that he won’t respond in detail to the Iraq Study Group’s report because he doesn’t want to “outsource” the role of commander in chief.

That’s pretty ironic. You see, outsourcing of the government’s responsibilities — not to panels of supposed wise men, but to private companies with the right connections — has been one of the hallmarks of his administration. And privatization through outsourcing is one reason the administration has failed on so many fronts.

For example, an article in Saturday’s New York Times describes how the Coast Guard has run a $17 billion modernization program: “Instead of managing the project itself, the Coast Guard hired Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, two of the nation’s largest military contractors, to plan, supervise and deliver the new vessels and helicopters.”

The result? Expensive ships that aren’t seaworthy. The Coast Guard ignored “repeated warnings from its own engineers that the boats and ships were poorly designed and perhaps unsafe,” while “the contractors failed to fulfill their obligation to make sure the government got the best price, frequently steering work to their subsidiaries or business partners instead of competitors.”

In Afghanistan, the job of training a new police force was outsourced to DynCorp International, a private contractor, under very loose supervision: when conducting a recent review, auditors couldn’t even find a copy of DynCorp’s contract to see what it called for. And $1.1 billion later, Afghanistan still doesn’t have an effective police training program.

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Squeezing Money From the Music

Major labels are like the blob that ate Springfield. Will anything ever stop their insatiable appetite?

Squeezing Money From the Music : Major labels have begun demanding a cut of concert earnings or T-shirt, ring tone and merchandise revenue from new artists seeking record contracts.

the big record companies, whose fortunes are still overwhelmingly tied to CD sales, are taking a far more expansive view of how to carve out pieces of the music economy, which by some estimates runs as high as $75 billion, including recording sales, music publishing, concert ticket and merchandise sales and other sources of revenue.

There has also been a scramble to squeeze revenue from other unconventional sources, including amateur videos posted to YouTube that incorporate copyrighted songs. Universal Music threatened to withhold its huge music catalog from Microsoft’s new digital music service unless it received a royalty of more than $1 on each sale of the technology giant’s Zune portable music player.

Lately, the major labels have in effect tried to move into the talent management business by demanding that new artists seeking record contracts give their label a cut of concert earnings or T-shirt and merchandise revenue — areas that had once been outside the labels’ bailiwick.

Greedy MoFos, taking food out of the mouths of their alleged clients.

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popular tax cuts

Have read several news articles that used the exact same phrase: restored $38,000,000,000 in popular tax breaks. Popular why? and what specifically are they? Shouldn't they be itemized somewhere, like in the self-proclaimed newspaper of record?

After Flurry of Votes Stretching Into Morning, Lawmakers Head Home :

In one of their last acts in the majority, Republican leaders forced through a broad tax and trade bill packed with provisions.
The trade measure, a compendium of last-minute priorities sent to President Bush, was the chief legislative accomplishment of the final hours. It restored $38 billion in popular tax breaks; established normal trade relations with Vietnam and granted trade benefits to Haiti and four South American countries; and blocked a cut in Medicare payments to doctors. The measure also fulfilled a long-sought objective of Gulf Coast lawmakers and the oil industry by expanding offshore drilling opportunities in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and directing hundreds of millions of dollars in new royalties to the region.

and the 109th Congress seemed to have the work ethic of the Dauphin (ie, lots of time not in Washington, and lots of effort passing or attempting to pass stupid bills like ant-flag burning). More drilling for oil in sensitive environmental areas though, that bill sailed right through....

Hours earlier, just minutes before a midnight deadline, the Senate approved a stopgap measure to maintain financing for government agencies at current or lower levels through Feb. 15 — a temporary fix required because Congress had failed to pass 9 of the 11 routine spending bills that were due Oct. 1.

That collapse raised complaints from Democrats that Republicans were irresponsibly leaving them with major unfinished business to take care of next year. Some Republicans were pointing fingers as well.

“The breakdown of regular order this cycle — indeed the failure to get our bills done — should be squarely placed at the feet of the departing Senate majority leader who failed to schedule floor time for the consideration of appropriations bills,” Representative Jerry Lewis, Republican of California and the departing chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said in an unusual public attack on a fellow Republican.

As they plowed through legislation in the early morning, Congress also whisked through a package of three major health care initiatives that continued a program for H.I.V. and AIDS that will provide more than $6 billion for care over three years, created an agency to centralize efforts against bioterrorism and restructured the National Institutes of Health.

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links for 2006-12-11


Jim Gray is a putz

I'd say more, but why bother. If you know Jim Gray's body of work, you probably already agree with me; if you don't, I envy you your bliss.

N.B.A. Roundup: Duped by Iverson Imitator? Jim Gray thought the voice on his telephone was Allen Iverson’s when he called Iverson's cell phone to get information about a potential trade.


The YouTube Referee Indictment

I assume this usage of YouTube will be frowned upon by the masters of the entertainment/sports industry. In fact, apparently has already started to happen.

Musn't dilute the brand, chumps....

The YouTube Referee Indictment In recent years, criticizing the officials of the major professional and college sports has evolved from a crude art form to an efficient science. ... A few minutes of watching how seemingly every decision in Game 5 of the Dallas Mavericks-Houston Rockets playoff series last year was overly generous to Dallas can turn even the most indifferent observer into a conspiracy theorist.

Sports leagues have started to fight back. The N.F.L. recently asked YouTube to take down thousands of videos containing footage of its games, including many that were critical of the officiating. But such aggressive tactics may just force fans to become more creative. In “Referees,” a YouTube parody in the style of a “Frontline” investigation, an actor plays an N.B.A. official who favors big-market teams and wouldn’t dream of calling a foul on Shaquille O’Neal. “I actually consider myself the Stalin of basketball,” he says, “the Hitler of basketball, the Pol Pot of basketball.”

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Voting-Booth Feng Shui

I knew there had to be a simple explanation, like feng-shui....

Voting-Booth Feng Shui Ever since the 2000 election, Democrats and Republicans alike have complained that our voting system is vulnerable to fraud and manipulation. They have scrutinized "hanging chads," "hiccupping" and "choking" voting machines, miscounted absentee ballots and e-votes that leave no paper trail. Now, though, they may have something more subtle to worry about: the location of polling stations. This year, Jonah Berger, Marc Meredith and S. Christian Wheeler, researchers at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, released a study suggesting that where you vote may significantly influence how you vote.

Really? Voting is not an impartial activity? Who woulda-thunk?

Rather, it's a fairly basic principle of psychology -- the idea that environmental cues can trigger ideas and affect our behavior without our being conscious of it. If you're voting in a school, then the part of your brain that values kids and education might be activated, whereas if you vote inside a church, your ideas about spirituality might be invigorated. For some people, it seems, a change in location is enough to change a vote.


Pinochet and the Chicago School


Greg Palast has a few thoughts on the recent deaths of Milton Friedman and his economic protegé, General August Pinochet. At least Mr. Friedman had the sense to fulminate against the folly of the drug war. I can recall no ameliorating character traits regarding the General: I only wish he had to face the war crimes tribunal he so deserved before his death.

Tinker Bell, Pinochet and The Fairy Tale Miracle of Chile Greg Palast ...In 1973, the year General Pinochet seized the government, Chile’s unemployment rate was 4.3%. In 1983, after ten years of free-market modernization, unemployment reached 22%. Real wages declined by 40% under military rule.

In 1970, 20% of Chile’s population lived in poverty. By 1990, the year “President” Pinochet left office, the number of destitute had doubled to 40%. Quite a miracle.

Pinochet did not destroy Chile’s economy all alone. It took nine years of hard work by the most brilliant minds in world academia, a gaggle of Milton Friedman’s trainees, the Chicago Boys. Under the spell of their theories, the General abolished the minimum wage, outlawed trade union bargaining rights, privatized the pension system, abolished all taxes on wealth and on business profits, slashed public employment, privatized 212 state industries and 66 banks and ran a fiscal surplus.

Freed of the dead hand of bureaucracy, taxes and union rules, the country took a giant leap forward … into bankruptcy and depression. After nine years of economics Chicago style, Chile’s industry keeled over and died. In 1982 and 1983, GDP dropped 19%. The free-market experiment was kaput, the test tubes shattered. Blood and glass littered the laboratory floor. Yet, with remarkable chutzpa, the mad scientists of Chicago declared success. In the US, President Ronald Reagan’s State Department issued a report concluding, “Chile is a casebook study in sound economic management.” Milton Friedman himself coined the phrase, “The Miracle of Chile.” Friedman’s sidekick, economist Art Laffer, preened that Pinochet’s Chile was, “a showcase of what supply-side economics can do.”

It certainly was. More exactly, Chile was a showcase of de-regulation gone berserk.

The Chicago Boys persuaded the junta that removing restrictions on the nation’s banks would free them to attract foreign capital to fund industrial expansion.

Pinochet sold off the state banks - at a 40% discount from book value - and they quickly fell into the hands of two conglomerate empires controlled by speculators Javier Vial and Manuel Cruzat. From their captive banks, Vial and Cruzat siphoned cash to buy up manufacturers - then leveraged these assets with loans from foreign investors panting to get their piece of the state giveaways.

The bank’s reserves filled with hollow securities from connected enterprises. Pinochet let the good times roll for the speculators. He was persuaded that Governments should not hinder the logic of the market.

By 1982, the pyramid finance game was up. The Vial and Cruzat “Grupos” defaulted. Industry shut down, private pensions were worthless, the currency swooned. Riots and strikes by a population too hungry and desperate to fear bullets forced Pinochet to reverse course. He booted his beloved Chicago experimentalists. Reluctantly, the General restored the minimum wage and unions’ collective bargaining rights. Pinochet, who had previously decimated government ranks, authorized a program to create 500,000 jobs.
In other words, Chile was pulled from depression by dull old Keynesian remedies, all Franklin Roosevelt, zero Reagan/Thatcher.
New Deal tactics rescued Chile from the Panic of 1983, but the nation’s long-term recovery and growth since then is the result of - cover the children’s ears - a large dose of socialism.

There's more, including:

In 1998, the international finance Gang of Four - the World Bank, the IMF, the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Bank for Settlements - offered a $41.5 billion line of credit to Brazil. But before the agencies handed the drowning nation a life preserver, they demanded Brazil commit to swallow the economic medicine that nearly killed Chile. You know the list: fire-sale privatizations, flexible labor markets (i.e. union demolition) and deficit reduction through savage cuts in government services and social security.

In Sao Paulo, the public was assured these cruel measures would ultimately benefit the average Brazilian. What looked like financial colonialism was sold as the cure-all tested in Chile with miraculous results.

But that miracle was in fact a hoax, a fraud, a fairy tale in which everyone did not live happily ever after.

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Boing Boing and NYT Magazine

Once a year, the New York Times Magazine turns into a print edition of Boing Boing. Always my favorite issue of the year, but then I like quirky news items and adventurous science experimentations. Actually, several topics I'd read about elsewhere, but nowhere with the clout of the Grey Lady.

The New York Times Magazine - Features - Columns - Style - The New York Times This month, as in the past five Decembers, the magazine looks back on the passing year from a distinctive vantage point: that of ideas. Our editors and writers have located the peaks and valleys of ingenuity — the human cognitive faculty deployed with intentions good and bad, purposes serious and silly, consequences momentous and morbid. The resulting intellectual mountain range extends across a wide territory. Now it’s yours for the traversing in a compendium of 74 ideas arranged from A to Z.

I may quote some them if I get around to it, but if you can, browse the issue.

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Patent Lawyers

I wondered why the helicopters were hovering around my office, Friday afternoon. I can see the Citicorp building from several windows.

Gunman felt cheated over his invention

A West Side truck driver turned a downtown law firm into a nightmare of blood and broken glass, his rage apparently fueled by the belief he had been cheated over the invention of a toilet designed for tractor-trailers.

He killed three people, wounded another and, after a terrifying 45-minute standoff Friday afternoon, was taken down by two SWAT snipers.

“He had already shot four people,” Police Supt. Phil Cline said Saturday as more details of the rampage emerged. “He had reloaded his gun and there's nothing to stop us from believing he [was] going to go around shooting more.”

Cline said Joe Jackson, armed with a snub-nosed revolver, sought out one attorney, Michael McKenna, an intellectual property specialist. He found him, shot him, then continued firing at others in the 38th-floor office until the snipers shot Jackson in the chest and head.

Not to defend lawyers, as a profession (especially since we are being sued at the moment in a frivolous and ludicrous lawsuit), but they are easy scapegoats when clients have lawsuits that go awry, or in this case, a patent that doesn't get granted. I have no idea of the facts in this particular incident, but law offices often have higher than average security for the simple reason that our society is structured to make every bad twist in fortune somebody's fault, and lawyers are easy targets for wrath.

Police sources said they remain unclear about Jackson's invention and why he felt cheated. A dog-eared copy of McKenna's business card was found in Jackson's pocket, but investigators weren't sure when or how Jackson got the card. As for Jackson's statements that he was cheated, sources said they were waiting to speak with Leib to find out if McKenna had any history with Jackson. ... A public records search found that McKenna had handled at least 84 patents since 1989, but only two of them related to toilets. One involved a toilet paper dispenser that plays music and another covered an ornamental handle for lifting toilet seats.


links for 2006-12-09

| 1 Comment
  • "Too soon we get oldt, too late we get schmardt"" so pass me the salt!
    (tags: health humor food)
  • ru-oh. "Those who avoided red meat but ate white meat regularly had a more than 300 percent increase in colon cancer incidence."
    (tags: food health)
  • My man, Pippen. "Scottie Pippen is one of the most underrated players ever because he played with Michael Jordan. Some people might say 25 is too high of a spot for Pippen, but honestly I would be more likely to make him higher on the list than I would to
  • similar to about 10 blocks due west of me. "Mostly it made me sad to see some blocks with one well-tended house, an optimistic garland of Christmas lights in a shuttered window or hanging from a rusted aluminum awning, situated amidst completely gutted an
  • "government program that's automatically flagged nearly 5,000 U.S. travelers as "suspected terrorists" appears to defy a congressional prohibition against computerized risk ranking of ordinary Americans"
  • strange and beautiful, just like I remembered
    (tags: film film_snob)
  • "Three films are anomalies in world cinema: They're slick, expensive, avant-garde essay-poems, seen by far more people than would ordinarily queue up for such arty abstraction"
    (tags: film_snob film)

The drug war is ruining this country

| 1 Comment

Tales like the Kathryn Johnston travesty in Atlanta are horror shows. When the War on (some) Drugs erodes our civil liberties to the point that police kick in your door, unannounced, kill you, and then phony up the evidence by threatening an informant, something is really, really wrong. Too bad the Tweedle Dees who run our country, for the most part, love to pretend they are 'tough' on crime, and year after year allow the phony war to continue. It Gets Worse. Yes. Worse.: Comments
that encounter led police to the home of Kathryn Johnston, an elderly woman who lived alone behind burglar bars and kept a rusty revolver. When officers burst into the house just three hours after talking to Sheats, a shootout ensued that left the woman dead and three officers wounded. No cocaine was found.

read lots more here, and here, if you have a strong stomach.

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Aggies suck

Our new fearless leader of the military is an Aggie? eeeewwwww....
and an anonymous poster in a Texas A&M chat site?

New Defense Secretary A Closet Online Football Chatterer .....Turns out that Gates has been posting on the TexAgs forum as “ranger65” over the last four years, tuning in and piping up on all matters Aggie football. Last night he came out of the message board closet.

Folks, as I just posted on another thread, it is time for true confessions as I prepare to depart Aggieland. Ranger 65 is Dr. Gates ('65 because that is my college class and Ranger because he's buried in my front yard). I have enjoyed reading you all for the past four and a half years -- well, at least most of you. You are all hard core Aggies, and I have listened and paid more attention to you than you might imagine. Good luck to all of you in the future. Bob Gates

Growing up in Texas, we told Aggie jokes to pass the time. Imagine any joke based upon cultural or ethnic stereotypes (Polish, redneck, etc.), and replace the protagonist with “Aggie”, and you'll know what I mean. Depending upon your tolerance for stupid humor, there are plenty to be found, just a click away.

The first Aggie joke I remember hearing went something like:
Q: why did the Aggie have holes in his forehead?
A: he was learning how to use a fork.

You get the idea.

Our Defense Secretary is an Aggie?

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Vengeful god

I may have posted this before, but with the Wal-Mart kerfuffle percolating through the internet tubes, I repeat myself when under stress. I repeat myself when under stress.

The Wal-Mart Bible Letter : In Exodus 31:15 the Holy Bible demands: “For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.” This demand is repeated in Exodus 35:2: “For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death.” To put these demands in context, please see Isaiah 40:8, 1 Peter 1:24-25, Psalm 19:7 and Matthew 5:18-20.

I wonder what the Christian Taliban thinks about this? Are they allowed by their god to watch football? Seems like work to me (but then I despise football). Can you shop? I mean, I've been a mall, once, and that sure seems like work. Wal-Mart employees have to work on Sunday, they thus are at risk of being put to death.

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Draft gets shaft

More on the ad agency gossip that has the industry a-flutter.

Wal-Mart Dismisses Ad Agency That It Had Just Hired - : Two days after removing two senior marketing executives, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. dismissed the lead advertising agency the executives had helped pick little more than a month ago.

The company dismissed Interpublic Group's Draft FCB and announced it was reopening the recently completed search for an agency for its $580 million account. The move is a new blow to New York-based Interpublic, which is trying to bounce back from an accounting scandal and major client defections.
People familiar with the situation say that during the review, Ms. Roehm attended an expensive dinner at Nobu, a swank Manhattan eatery, that was thrown by Draft FCB for a group of new business consultants. The move may have violated Wal-Mart's strict corporate policy of not accepting gifts from vendors, those people say. Under the longtime policy, designed to keep suppliers from buying business at the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart employees aren't allowed to accept even the smallest gratuities.
Ms. Roehm confirmed that at Draft's behest, she had spoken about the selection process to a group of consultants at Draft's New York office, and later attended an event at Nobu that Draft held for the same group. However, she said, her attendance wasn't a violation of Wal-Mart's policy. “As far as I know, there was not a dinner party . . . just hors d'oeuvres. We attended a short period of time and left.” She also said it was unclear to her why Wal-Mart dropped Draft.

The agency's dismissal “is a result of new information we have obtained over the past few weeks,” Mona Williams, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said. “Because of work done during the original selection process, this new review should move quickly,” she added. “We are open to including another Interpublic agency in the process. We expect the new agency to be on board by the end of January.”

Ms. Williams declined to discuss the “new information.” In response to questions about whether it involved perks inappropriately accepted by Ms. Roehm, she said: “Our policy is that our associates cannot accept anything from suppliers, not even a cup of coffee. I'm not saying if it's related to this or not.”

Wal-Mart, which has struggled this year with weak same-store sales, hired Draft as part of an effort to trade its mass-market approach for customized appeals to suburbanites, ethnic groups and city dwellers. It had viewed Draft as best able to help it identify and reach such customers.

This year, its push to add more-fashionable merchandise hasn't lured upscale suburbanites, and it may have alienated Wal-Mart's traditional price-conscious shoppers. The retailer revived its price-rollback campaign this fall as sales at stores open at least a year fell below expectations. Wal-Mart had put the campaign on ice earlier this year in favor of ads marketing its higher-margin fashions, home decor and electronics products.

“We're very disappointed by Wal-Mart's decision,” said a spokesman for Draft, which referred questions to Wal-Mart.

Some agency executives said they were stunned by the move and unsure whether Wal-Mart intends to reconsider only the three finalists beyond Draft or broadly reopen what had been a five-month search. The dismissal of Draft will have no immediate impact on Wal-Mart's current advertising. The contract was to begin early next year.

The other finalists include Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas; Interpublic's Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.; and WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York. Aegis Group's Carat was named media buyer at the conclusion of the review. Carat has been invited to reapply for the business, and a spokeswoman for the firm said it will participate in the new review.

People familiar with the situation said that Wal-Mart and Draft had never formally signed a contract, although the hiring was disclosed in late October.

(some previous coverage here, here and everywhere)

I really think the problem with Ms. Roehm and Wal-Mart had a little to do with gender issues, power, and the ole Red State Blue State divide. Especially since, per AdRants, she was having 'a relationship' with Sean Womack (vice president of marketing communications). Tisn't life grand?

from the NYT

...At the heart of the controversy, everyone agreed, is a culture clash. Ms. Roehm, a 35-year-old rising star who won acclaim in advertising circles for her work in the automobile industry, was never at home within the painstakingly modest by-the-books culture of Wal-Mart.

While some of the details are in dispute, several people briefed on the matter said that Wal-Mart dismissed Ms. Roehm and a lower-ranking marketing colleague, Sean Womack, after deciding that the pair had a personal relationship that violated the company’s strict ethics policy, which forbids fraternizing with subordinates.

After an internal investigation, these people said, the company also concluded that Ms. Roehm had accepted gifts, including meals, from companies vying to become Wal-Mart’s advertising agency, a coveted account because the company spends nearly $1 billion a year on marketing.

Several weeks ago, Ms. Roehm courted controversy again when she oversaw production of a holiday TV ad, known inside the company as “Sexy,” that portrayed a husband and wife discussing racy lingerie in front of their extended family. The ad drew customer complaints and was immediately taken off the air, a person involved in the matter said.

But the biggest questions about Ms. Roehm’s conduct surrounded her work on a closely watched hunt for a new advertising agency for Wal-Mart. Over the last seven months, Ms. Roehm, Mr. Womack and three other colleagues crisscrossed the country interviewing candidates. During that time, her conduct surprised and, in some cases, alarmed Wal-Mart executives.

She was spotted taking a ride in an Aston Martin owned by the chief executive of one agency, Draft FCB. At another time, she was seen riding in a BMW convertible with the president of another, GSD&M, according to people familiar with the matter.

And she attended a September dinner given by Draft FCB at the Manhattan hot spot Nobu, during which she lavishly praised the ad agency and appeared to suggest it had the upper hand in the contest more than a month before an official announcement of the winner was due.

Wal-Mart’s tough standards for employee conduct have become even more stringent since its former vice chairman, Thomas M. Coughlin, pleaded guilty in February to stealing thousands of dollars from the company using fraudulent expense documents and gift cards.

After learning of incidents like the evening at Nobu, and the suspected relationship, Wal-Mart fired Ms. Roehm and Mr. Womack around noon on Monday in terse meetings at the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

Draft FCB was in the early stages of hiring as many as 200 additional employees at its Chicago headquarters to handle the Wal-Mart account.

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They Told You So

There were quite a few vocal critcs of the Iraq debacle, yet good luck hearing them on any national news platform (print, television, etc.). In fact, I'd suggest the rise of the blog-o-sphere(pcbs) is directly correlated to the lack of anti-Iraq-war commentary.

Our Onion-headed Overlords

The Shrill One writes about the politicians who expressed doubt:

Paul Krugman: They Told You So :

Shortly after U.S. forces marched into Baghdad in 2003, The Weekly Standard published a jeering article titled, “The Cassandra Chronicles: The stupidity of the antiwar doomsayers.” Among those the article mocked was a “war novelist” named James Webb, who is now the senator-elect from Virginia.

The article’s title was more revealing than its authors knew. People forget the nature of Cassandra’s curse: although nobody would believe her, all her prophecies came true.

And so it was with those who warned against invading Iraq. At best, they were ignored. A recent article in The Washington Post ruefully conceded that the paper’s account of the debate in the House of Representatives over the resolution authorizing the Iraq war — a resolution opposed by a majority of the Democrats — gave no coverage at all to those antiwar arguments that now seem prescient.

At worst, those who were skeptical about the case for war had their patriotism and/or their sanity questioned. The New Republic now says that it “deeply regrets its early support for this war.” Does it also deeply regret accusing those who opposed rushing into war of “abject pacifism?”

Now, only a few neocon dead-enders still believe that this war was anything but a vast exercise in folly. And those who braved political pressure and ridicule to oppose what Al Gore has rightly called “the worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States” deserve some credit.

Unlike The Weekly Standard, which singled out those it thought had been proved wrong, I’d like to offer some praise to those who got it right. Here’s a partial honor roll:

Former President George H. W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft, explaining in 1998 why they didn’t go on to Baghdad in 1991: “Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”

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links for 2006-12-08

Geographic time waster

I need to study my geography a little more, especially in Africa and eastern Europe.

WORLD MAP - countries of the world

World Map 58

(via Kottke)

update, I glanced at a globe, tried again, and got a passing score this time. Some countries are so obscure I've never even heard of them, but some (say, Sweden) are pretty easy.

World Map 71

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Seminoles love to rock

Native Americans continue to integrate into American capitalism. Err something.

Champagne cork
Carbide and Carbon building, 1929, Burnham Brothers. Of all things, this is now a Hard Rock Cafe hotel. Oh well, at least they didn't demolish it.

Exit, Zimmerman
Bob Dylan floor at the Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago

Dylan memorobilia Hard Rock
Bob Dylan floor at the Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago Seminole Tribe of Fla. Buying Hard Rock | Chicago Tribune

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is buying the Hard Rock business, including its massive collection of rock 'n' roll memorabilia, in a $965 million deal with British casino and hotel company Rank Group PLC, the tribe announced Thursday.

The Hard Rock business includes 124 Hard Rock Cafes, four Hard Rock Hotels, two Hard Rock Casino Hotels, two Hard Rock Live! concert venues, and stakes in three unbranded hotels. With it, the tribe acquires what is said to be the world's largest collection of rock memorabilia, some 70,000 pieces including Jimi Hendrix's Flying V guitar, one of Madonna's bustiers, a pair of Elton John's high-heeled shoes and guitars formerly owned by Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Chuck Berry.

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Exit Roehm Left

For your daily Wal-Mart news (jes' kidding, really, a follow up to an earlier article about Ms. Roehm, Draft and Wal-Mart):

Roehm's Exit Raises Questions at Wal-Mart The departures of Julie Roehm, svp-marketing communications for Wal-Mart, and Sean Womack, vp-communications architecture, from Wal-Mart Tuesday call into question several issues that Wal-Mart will need to deal with over the coming weeks and months.

Chief among them:

• Whether the remaining management team will stick with Roehm’s decision in late October to hire DraftFCB in New York to replace GSD&M in Austin, Texas, and Bernstein-Rein in Kansas City, Mo., as Wal-Mart’s main ad agency. The review in which DraftFCB was victorious was marked by controversy because Roehm was seen socializing with CEO Howard Draft prior to giving him the account. The other competing agencies—which included Ogilvy & Mather and The Martin Agency—did not get as much face-time as Draft did.

• Whether Wal-Mart will address published reports that the exit of the two executives came following alleged concerns regarding violations of Wal-Mart’s extremely strict ethics policy.

• And whether Wal-Mart is really committed to widen its consumer appeal by stocking upscale items such as sushi and fine wine, flat-panel TVs and Apple iPods. Stores are selling organic food and socially responsible products such as organic coffee, and apparel has taken a more fashionable approach with new brands such as Metro 7, for urban customers.

which is certainly being discussed at Edelman's offices (based on my site traffic). Kris Hudson of the WSJ writes, in part, of the somewhat creepy outreach Wal-Mart is engaged in:

Behind the Scenes, PR Firm Remakes Wal-Mart's Image -

Over the last year, Lee Scott has appeared on the Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show, talked about pro-environment policies and given speeches that repeatedly state his organization's devotion to “working families.”

If Mr. Scott, the chief executive of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., seems like he's running for office, it's no accident. For the last 15 months, the Edelman public-relations firm, led by seasoned political operatives, has been directing a campaign it calls “Candidate Wal-Mart.” The goal: Rescue the battered image of the world's largest retailer.

Edelman's bipartisan team has been behind the curtain during Wal-Mart's most visible recent initiatives -- and some of its public stumbles. When Wal-Mart decided to sell an array of generic drugs for $4 a prescription, Edelman orchestrated a 49-state rollout, lining up local dignitaries in 79 places for publicity events. The PR giant also organized a grass-roots group called Working Families for Wal-Mart. But it had to scramble when the leader it helped recruit, Andrew Young, made derogatory comments about ethnic shopkeepers and was forced to resign.

Wal-Mart badly needs a boost. Its sales growth has waned in recent years and an effort to reach out to higher-earning shoppers has sputtered, partly because of the company's beleaguered image. Sales at stores open more than a year fell 0.1% in the four weeks ending Nov. 24 -- only the second monthly drop in 27 years. This year Wal-Mart scaled back expansion plans amid pressure from investors and political opposition in New York, Massachusetts, California and elsewhere.

In late September, Wal-Mart executives gathered with Florida officials, including Gov. Jeb Bush, to announce the program's introduction in the Tampa area. That generated national coverage, despite Wal-Mart's initial statements that it wouldn't expand the program beyond Tampa until 2007. Then the company rolled it out in rapid-fire succession to 48 other states, declaring that the low-cost pills were so popular it didn't want to keep people waiting.

The acceleration of the program earned new national coverage, but even more important were local news outlets. The 79 news conferences arranged by Edelman across the country helped the effort win notices from The Dallas Morning News, Vermont's Burlington Free Press and others.

Privately held Edelman is the largest U.S. public relations firm with 2005 revenue of $254 million and clients such as Microsoft Corp. and Pfizer Inc. (Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has also been a client.) Both Wal-Mart and Edelman decline to disclose Edelman's fee, but outside estimates put it in the millions of dollars annually.

Mr. Dach, a slightly built 52-year-old, was born and raised in the New York City borough of Queens, son of a homemaker and a small-business owner in Manhattan's garment district. He studied neurobiology at Yale but quickly was drawn to politics, working on the advance teams of Sen. Edward Kennedy and President Carter during their 1980 presidential bids.

He went on to play prominent advisory roles for Democrats in five of the next six presidential campaigns. He prepared Al Gore for debates in 2000 and handled publicity for Democratic efforts in 2004 to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot in several states. In between campaigns, he spent 17 years at Edelman advising clients such as a Fujifilm Corp. division and the Nature Conservancy.

Hey, where's my payout? I wrote about Wal-Mart frequently.

Yet the Working Families group has produced some of Edelman's worst fumbles, too. Union-backed Wal-Mart Watch swooped in to claim the Web address, and posted statements there mocking the company-backed group as artificial. In August of this year, Mr. Young raised a stir when he told an African-American newspaper in California that Jewish, Korean and Arab shopkeepers overcharged inner-city African-Americans for stale food. He had been asked about Wal-Mart's impact on mom-and-pop businesses. Mr. Young apologized and resigned from Working Families for Wal-Mart.

In October, bloggers and mainstream media criticized Working Families for Wal-Mart for not disclosing the full identities of two people -- one the sister of Edelman's Mr. St. Claire -- whom it enlisted to write a pro-company blog. The two drove an RV around the country and posted happy accounts of the Wal-Mart customers and employees they encountered. Edelman's chief executive, Richard Edelman, apologized on his own blog for the lack of disclosure.

The faux pas had union groups crowing. “Edelman stumbled badly on the Wal-Mart account, and the fake-blog episode is fast becoming a case study on the importance of PR transparency,” said Wal-Mart Watch spokesman Nu Wexler.

In its pitch for the account, Edelman had warned Wal-Mart that Google results for a “Wal-Mart” search yielded mostly unflattering material, potentially overshadowing the company's own sites. Edelman sought to balance that equation by funneling positive information about Wal-Mart to bloggers. For example, news that 24,500 people applied for 325 jobs at a new Wal-Mart outside of Chicago made its way onto some blogs.

and hey, giving lip service is not the same as action. I'm skeptical of Wal-Mart's committment to “working families” and to the environment. Show me some results before crowing about victory.

In Mr. Scott's speech at this year's annual meeting, he used an Edelman-inspired line with political echoes: “This company is committed to working families.” In all, Mr. Scott used the expression “working families” 10 times in that speech, which Edelman wrote, and 11 times in two other talks around the same time. Since Edelman's hiring, Wal-Mart has issued at least 44 press releases mentioning working families to describe its customers and employees.

Later in the summer, Edelman booked Mr. Scott in several unfamiliar forums, such as Mr. Sharpton's radio show, where the CEO fielded questions from listeners. In July, Mr. Dach arranged for former Vice President Al Gore to speak about environmental issues and screen his global-warming movie “An Inconvenient Truth” at a quarterly meeting of Wal-Mart employees and environmental groups. Mr. Gore's camp initially had concerns about Wal-Mart's sincerity on the issue, but Mr. Dach helped allay them. “Leslie brings some credibility and integrity,” said Roy Neel, Mr. Gore's chief of staff

previous coverage of Draft, Wal-Mart and Ms. Roehm here

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Brett Chidester


I probably shouldn't allow myself to write comments before I finish imbibing my first pot of espresso. Unfortunately, most mornings that's the only free time I have to sit at my desk.

Anyway, Brett Chidester's family seems to have discovered this entry...

B12 Partners Solipsism: Mindless drug propaganda

Mindless drug propaganda

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links for 2006-12-07

China's Sunshine Boys

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Not sure why Mr. Friedman calls them boys, but perhaps the headline writer made that decision. Also notable, Mr. Friedman has started calling himself an environmentalist. Good for him - hope the label doesn't get chewed up and misappropriated like the label, liberal.

Thomas L Friedman: China's Sunshine Boys The seventh-richest man in China is a green entrepreneur! It should only happen in America.

So here’s a little news quiz: Guess who’s the seventh-richest man in China today, with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $1.43 billion?

Answer: Shi Zhengrong.
Mr. Shi is China’s leading maker of silicon photovoltaic solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. ...

Mr. Shi thinks, as I do, that renewable clean power — wind, solar, bio-fuels — is going to be the growth industry of the 21st century, and he wants to make sure that China and his company, Suntech Power Holdings, are the leaders. Only 43 years old and full of energy himself, Mr. Shi hopes to do for solar energy what China did for tennis shoes: drive down the cost so that millions of people who could not afford solar photovoltaic panels will be able to do so.

As an environmentalist, I wish him well. As an American, I worry that if we don’t start doing everything we can to develop our own clean power, we’re going to miss out on the green industrial revolution. Today, most of our hybrid cars are imported from Japan. Tomorrow, if Mr. Shi has his way, most of our solar panels will come from China.

Isn't Mr. Friedman a famous proponent of NAFTA and other free trade agreements? Global economy above all else? Hmmm, what then is his solution?

Actually, snark aside, he does make a couple of valid points...

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Gone Away

Gone Away
republished at my favorite site for Chicago-esque news, namely Gapers Block.

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Bolton's last mission

Besides commenter Tom, a possible paid troll (why else would he land here?) who wants to turn the U.N. into condos and eschew all diplomacy between nations as a matter of American policy, Bolton will not be missed.

His last mission was particularly vile

TPMmuckraker December 4, 2006 10:27 AM
...attempting a thoroughly embarrassing and wholly unsympathetic maneuver.

Less than two weeks before the White House announced his resignation, Ambassador John Bolton's U.N. mission blocked an effort to celebrate the end of slavery in our hemisphere.

Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As far as anniversaries go, it seems like a good one to recognize, doesn't it? It should not be a real bone of contention to say that one is against slavery; and, upon hearing of the anniversary of its abolition in one region, to acknowledge that as a good thing; to recognize the cost of the practice in the millions of lives uprooted and forced into extreme suffering; and to celebrate the efforts which ended the horrific practice.

To do so, a number of Caribbean countries got together to propose a commemorative resolution before the United Nations.

Guess who refused to sign? That's right: Ambassador John Bolton's United States.

There used to be honor in being a diplomat. For both Republican and Democratic men of a certain age and class, serving one's country using the power of words, wit and persuasion was a noble calling. Apparently, Bush's crew of thugs prefers punching people in the face instead. Diplomats are men like Bush the Smarter (aka 41), and thus should be ignored or downplayed as often as possible.

There still are a few civil servants who don't agree with Bolton and Bush's fiat declaring the U.N. a worthless organization.

The Bush administration is not popular at the United Nations, where it is often perceived as disdainful of diplomacy, and its policies as heedless of the effects on others and single-minded in the willful assertion of American interests. By extension, then, many diplomats say they see Mr. Bolton as a stand-in for the arrogance of the administration itself.

But diplomats focus particularly on an area with less evidence of instructions from Washington and more of Mr. Bolton’s personal touch, the mission that he has described as his priority: overhauling the institution’s discredited management. Envoys say he has in fact endangered that effort by alienating traditional allies. They say he combatively asserts American leadership, contests procedures at the mannerly, rules-bound United Nations and then shrugs off the organization when it does not follow his lead.

Six ambassadors separately offered similar accounts of an incident in June that they said captured the situation. All were from nations in Europe, the Pacific and Latin America that consider themselves close allies of the United States, and they asked to speak anonymously in commenting on a fellow envoy.

Mr. Bolton that day burst into a packed committee hall, produced a cordless microphone and began to lecture envoys from developing nations about their weakening of a proposal to tighten management of the United Nations, his chief goal.

Gaveled to silence, he threw up his hands and said, “Well, so much for trying something different.”

It was not merely rude, the ambassadors said. One recalled that moments later, his BlackBerry flashed a message from another envoy working on management change. “He just busted us apart,” it read.

Three weeks later, on June 30, the 191-member General Assembly upended Mr. Bolton’s strategy to force change, lifting a six-month budget cap that he engineered without agreeing to significant management improvements. Dumisani Kumalo, the South African ambassador and the leader of the Group of 77, which represents 132 developing nations, said Mr. Bolton’s “putting on budget caps and being very contentious” had increased his group’s resistance.

A European envoy said that Mr. Bolton was a difficult ally for his traditionally pro-American group because he often staked out unilateral hard-line positions in the news media or Congress and then proved unwilling to compromise in the give and take of negotiations.

In the aftermath of a 170-to-4 vote last spring on creating a Human Rights Council, which the United States opposed, Peter Maurer, the ambassador of Switzerland, characterized the American approach as “intransigent and maximalist.”

“All too often,” he said, “high ambitions are cover-ups for less noble aims, and oriented not at improving the United Nations, but at belittling and weakening it.”

Mr. Bolton’s habit of avoiding any favorable mention of the United Nations while seizing many opportunities to disparage it is so well established that Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, observed to him in a May hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee, “The role of constant scold I’m not sure is the best way to induce change.”

Ian Williams of The Nation has compiled a little list titled, “John Bolton's Greatest Hits.”
some excerpts:

One of his proudest achievements in his previous job at the State Department was to “unsign” the treaty that committed the United States to the International Criminal Court, and then to bully and browbeat small countries across the world into signing agreements not to extradite US citizens to its seat in the Hague. And then this year he had to allow a Security Council resolution setting the Court's prosecutors on the perpetrators in Darfur.

As pious commentators talk about how effective he was, it is worth remembering that while he was in charge of arms control, North Korea joined the nuclear club and that, according to him and Bolton and his allies, Iran is about to. It is an achievement--but of a dubious sort for an alleged arms control maestro. To be fair, within the Administration, he reportedly opposed the US-Indian nuclear deal, although he remained silent on Israeli nuclear capabilities.

Otherwise, Bolton's most memorable “achievement” occurred while he was in charge of arms control at the State Department before moving to the UN. He was a major saboteur of Congressional efforts to improve and tighten the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If these measures had been passed, countries would not have been able, as North Korea did, to drop out of the treaty after reaping its dual-use benefits, and the voluntary protocols on inspection that Iran stopped observing would have been compulsory.

However, his greatest legacy may be his semi-successful attempt to wreck the UN reform proposals last year. By introducing hundreds of unilateral amendments after long months of painstaking negotiations between the members, he certainly managed to destroy the efforts of Kofi Annan to persuade the Third World members that managerial reforms were not some form of American and Western plot. In fact, almost every public statement he made pretty much confirmed their suspicions.

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links for 2006-12-06

  • " We are trying to compile the ultimate year-end list of year-end lists. If you are a self-important music journalist with a list who feels the need to impose your inflated opinion on others, suggest the link!"

North Beach forever

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In my yout', I spent some time learning how to stumble down North Beach streets after drinking coffee and brandy faster than my liver could process the toxins. Funny how certain places have cultural and personal significance to multiple generations. I consider Venice a similar place, and New Orleans in a slightly different sense (at least prior to Katrina)

North Beach forever “It was the end of the continent; they didn't give a damn,” Jack Kerouac said of San Francisco. But what happens when you and your city grow up?

When I was a kid, growing up in Berkeley, San Francisco's North Beach seemed as old, sinful and mysteriously hip as a daguerreotype of a 19th-century stripper. I might have driven through it once or twice with my parents, and my memories are a blur, the gaudy lights of adjoining Chinatown, the scary strip joints on Broadway, the cafes reeking of espresso and vanished Beats, and the indefinable Italian-ness of it all combining to make up something that felt less like a neighborhood than a dream.

Eventually I realized my dream and moved there, but I still felt like I was wandering around in a place more grownup than me, and more fabled than I deserved. The whole life history of San Francisco was in its streets, from its roistering Gold Rush start to Mark Twain's wild newspaperman days to Kerouac and the jug-guzzling, chanting Beats. It was seedy and glorious. Broadway looked like Times Square at night, all glowing lights and glory, and in the day turned into a 25-buck whore with her makeup peeling off. City Lights was the church of literary revolution, and I'd see Allen Ginsberg and even the reclusive Bob Kaufman walking down upper Grant. Jazz wafted from little clubs. Unclassifiable post-Beat hipsters, not hippies or eggheads or anything else recognizable, wandered its byways. The Beach was vaguely decrepit, already past its glory days, but its mephitic vibe made it even cooler. It was a neighborhood of beautiful losers in a city that specialized in that.

North Beach was the heart of the city I inherited and first loved. I didn't think it would ever lose its aura: it would forever be frozen in amber, like Baudelaire's Paris. But it changed, or I did.

Cities are archaeological digs, and the layers are made up not just of decaying objects but of memory. As I walk through North Beach today, I walk through a place as resigned, well-behaved and familiar as I am. All the years I spent looking at it with completely different eyes, with the wild surmise of youth, are gone.

But sometimes, turning a corner onto a certain alley, I remember.

My memories are, alas, erratic. One drunken evening was so much like another, around the corner of that green and neon dreamland that has vanished now except for the flashing nipples that sometimes blink at me a moment before sleep, that I can never remember if I chugged a 48-ounce when I was 32 or chugged a 32-ounce when I was 48. All the North Beach stories stagger down to the cross-eyed shitfaced sea, and I put in my hand and bring out whatever I can find. And I pull out my grey tweed jacket and the unextinguished joint.

I was walking one night from Nob Hill down Pacific Avenue to North Beach. My destination that night was not Vesuvio, or Tosca, or the Caffe Italia, or Keystone Korner, or Frank's Extra, or Gulliver's, or the Saloon, or Mooney's Irish Pub, or Grassland, or the Lusty Lady (honesty compels me to surreptitiously drop that name like a greasy quarter into the dead center of this Homeric list of watering-holes), or the Portofino, or Spec's, or Silhouette's, or the North End, or Tony Nik's, or the Columbus Cafe, or Gino and Carlo's, or the Old Spaghetti Factory, or La Bodega.

I'd like to visit SF more frequently.


Whoa that was fast

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I wonder if it was a culture clash. Ms. Roehm wasn't (if my memory serves) from the insular, conservative Dixie-land country of God, Guns and gals-in-the-kitchen, but was a Detroit native, working for Ford and later Chrysler. I also wonder if the recent foray into urban areas, into previous ignored demographics played a part in Ms. Roehm's abbreviated tenure. Poor quarterly earnings might have significance too.

Advertising Age - Julie Roehm Out at Wal-Mart Julie Roehm, who spearheaded the recent $580 million Wal-Mart Stores agency review, has left the company after less than a year on the job, according to a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. She joined Wal-Mart in the new position of senior VP-marketing communications in early February after a controversial stint as director of marketing communications at Chrysler.

Ms. Roehm's departure comes a little more than a month after the retailer handed its account to Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB and its media partner on the pitch, Aegis Group's Carat.

Her role in the review was closely watched as well as her willingness to get personal with agency executives vying for the account. Most notable was her spin in the Aston Martin of Howard Draft, chairman-CEO of the DraftFCB.
Roehm issued this statement in an e-mail: “I was hired by Wal-Mart as a change agent a little less than a year ago. One of my first orders of business was to help spearhead a comprehensive agency review. Now that I have established the marketing communications organization and completed the agency review, it's time to tackle my next challenge. I have enjoyed my time at Wal-Mart and I wish my many friends and colleagues there much future success.” She could not be reached for further comment.

and spin from Ms. Roehm and Wal-Mart notwithstanding, I doubt this was planned. You don't move your family to Bentonville, Arkansas unless you plan to work for Wal-Mart.

from Hoovers Online:

Roehm will relocate to Bentonville, Ark., with her husband, Mike, and sons Nick, 7, and Luke, 4.

Source: Company Press Release, January 18, 2006.

Roehm will be responsible for the overall development and execution of advertising strategies, creative services and special events for Wal-Mart Stores U.S.A. She will report to John Fleming, Wal-Mart's chief marketing officer. This is a new position within the company.

Prior to joining Wal-Mart, Roehm worked for nearly 11 years in the automotive industry. Most recently, she served as the director of marketing communications for the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands and was the director of marketing communications for the Dodge brand from 2001 through 2003. During her tenure with the Chrysler Group, her responsibilities included overseeing media purchasing, creative, auto and consumer shows, branded events, sponsorships and partnerships, interactive media and gaming, customer relationship and database management, merchandising and licensing, and dealer advertising association communications.

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Rudy is giddy

hoping the 9/11 propaganda will usher him into the White House.

Two parts hubris, one part paranoia
9/11 gave America amnesia about the real Rudy Giuliani. He's an authoritarian narcissist -- and we don't need another one of those in the White House.

However, those of us sentient remember Giuliani for the putz he was/is.

Some have even written books on the topic....

Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11

“Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11” (Wayne Barrett, Dan Collins)

Cintra Wilson has more:

There is something deranged about you ... this excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness ... you should go consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist with this excessive concern, how you are devoting your life to weasels. You need somebody to help you. There are people in this city and in this world that need a lot of help. Something has gone wrong with you.

-- New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on his radio show, to a ferret advocate, after imposing New York's 2001 ferret ban

There is at least one nice thing one can say about former New York mayor and current Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani -- besides, of course, his penchant for dressing in drag, his love for opera, and the fact that he used to share an apartment with a gay man.

On 9/11, all Americans were frightened children, and in a moment of mythic personal heroism, Mayor Giuliani filled the gaping leadership void. The president looked like a petrified chimp; Cheney was spirited to an underground bunker. Only Giuliani could pull himself together sufficiently to get on TV in the midst of the wreckage and show America that a grown-up was still breathing. On that terrible day our reptile brains looked at Rudy Giuliani and said, “We're OK now. Daddy's home.”

And we forgot, some for a moment, some permanently, that Daddy was psycho.

Again, there were some of us who never forgot, and were not fooled by Rudy G's sound-bites.

...Rudy was a hyper-authoritarian narcissist with a lust for overkill verging on the sociopathic.

And now, at a time when the machinations of another hubristic bully have brought an unprecedented expansion of the powers of the presidency, “America's Mayor” may be our next chief executive. He is neck and neck with John McCain when Americans are asked their preference for the next occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is alarming to think that the murky dealings and totalitarian tendencies that have marred the current administration could flourish even more under another control-junkie Republican. It is even more frightening to think what a commander in chief who already has a violent record of abusing authority could do with the unrestrained might of a geopolitical superpower. Given Giuliani's historic willingness to take Spanish Inquisition-style action against threats both real and imaginary, is anyone in doubt that it is every American's duty to keep Rudolph Giuliani as far from the White House as possible?

His political career may have been defined by his willingness to confront scary bogeymen, but during slower periods when there were no obvious villains around, Giuliani's interpretations of who or what constituted an immediate threat became increasingly bizarre, personal, puritanical and dangerous. Before the planes hit, when he had too much power and not enough to do, Giuliani, like an old soldier who comes home and starts abusing his family in lieu of a real enemy, was pulling a Great Santini on New York, rooting around in our sock drawers with a Maglite, looking for vices to confiscate and sins to punish. By the mid-'90s, Mayor Rudy was abusing authority according to the whims of his own paranoid, hyper-defensive personality disorder in way that would have made Tiberius self-conscious.

As his second term wound down, New Yorkers knew what Rudy was, and they were sick of it. In 1999, they rejected his caudillo-style attempt to amend the city's (relatively new) term-limit law so he could serve another four years. By May 2000, with crime at historic lows, the city's economy still aglow, real estate prices soaring -- the kind of external factors that normally make politicians untouchable -- his approval rating had slid to a Bush-oid 37 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. In December 2001, when Giuliani finally stepped down -- after trying and failing to exploit his post 9/11 popularity by passing a special law that would've added three months to his reign) -- the New York Times interrupted its elegy for the Rudy years with a sober reminder. “The suppression of dissent,” noted the Times, “or of anything that irked the mayor, became a familiar theme.”

Rudy's character flaws were evident at the very beginning of his public career. Before he ran for mayor the first time (and lost) in 1989, Giuliani had a shining Tom Dewey-esque reputation as a giant-killing prosecutor. Among the reporters who followed him, he also had a reputation for inflating his own accomplishments and using his power to humiliate people.

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Remembering Robert Altman

Altman review

Remembering Robert Altman :
From the 'Voice' archives: Remembering Robert Altman through the words of Voice critics past.

We decided for reasons that will become apparent, that the most appropriate way to review Nashville was through a dialogue between the boss critic and his first stringer. May we also suggest that since a lot of the pleasure ofNashville lies in discovering it for yourself and watching how it comes out, you avoid reading this or any other reviews of the movie until you've seen it.

well, from a review of



anyway. From where I type, Nashville not the best of Altman. Interesting, watchable, enjoyable, but not perfect. In fact, occasionally annoyingly imperfect.

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Comments moderated

I'm drowning in spam comments these days, and don't have time to wade through it, so am turning on comment moderation until further notice. Bleh. Feel free to comment, I will approve nearly anything that isn't spam.

Sounds familiar

I call the area, half-ironically, half in jest, SoFu (South of Fulton). I've lived here since 2000, and D even longer. The area has certainly changed, mostly for the better, but not mentioned in this article are the incredible number of loft conversions, condos and apartments built (and being built) in the last few years. Seriously, thousands of the suckers. Our city skyline view has drastically and irrevocably been altered, and not for the better.

Hotel Victor

Hotel Victor

before the beautiful people and their minions arrive

In Chicago, Slaughterhouses to Art Houses - New York Times

STAND on West Fulton Market in Chicago at around 3 p.m. and witness an incongruous changeover. Forklifts hauling greasy pallets of sliced bacon clear out, as bright young things in stiletto heels and luxury cars roll in.

This is Chicago’s meatpacking district, just west of the Loop and known as the West Loop. And like its sister in New York City, the gritty, blood-soaked and sometimes rancid-smelling neighborhood is undergoing a major transformation.

“We’ve got 100-year-old businesses selling wholesale pork rinds and bulk-size canned tomatoes next to world-class galleries selling $50,000 paintings,” said Eric Sedler, president of the West Loop community organization. “That’s what makes this neighborhood so appealing — it’s not overly planned or fabricated. It’s been growing in this organic, evolutionary way for 12, 15 years now.”

The latest wave started along West Randolph Street, an industrial strip where trend-setting restaurants like Blackbird and Marché opened. But now it’s pushing north, to the 19th-century warehouses, cold meat lockers and loading docks along West Fulton Market and West Lake Street.

Among the pioneers is the Fulton Lounge (955 West Fulton Market, 312-942-9500,, a sophisticated bar and lounge with 15-foot ceilings, exposed brick walls and shag rugs. What was once a desolate street corner now bustles with parking valets and stylish young people in big sunglasses.

A few doors down is Moto restaurant (945 West Fulton Market, 312-491-0058,, where the mad scientist-chef Homaro Cantu, a Charlie Trotter protégé, creates “postmodern” food using liquid nitrogen, carbon dioxide and lasers. The chili cheese nachos, for example, taste like a fruit salad, and the menu is printed on edible, panini-flavored paper
Some two dozen galleries now call the West Loop home, creating a thriving art market among the meat and produce purveyors.
After dark, ignore everything your mother ever told you about dark alleys and venture down North Sangamon Street toward the Victor Hotel (311 North Sangamon Street, 312-733-6900, on the Web at It’s not a hotel, but a former sausage factory that’s been turned into a trendy restaurant and lounge.

“People pass by and think we’re a fleabag hotel,” said a co-owner, Jerry Kleiner, one of Chicago’s most celebrated restaurateurs. Grinning broadly, he gestured out the front door to the deserted street and the boarded-up warehouses. “I love the mystery, the suspense, the illusion of seediness. You couldn’t paint a better backdrop.”

(more on Jerry Kleiner here)

a few of my photos of the West Loop below (except for Aunt P, who is working for the Man, and is only allowed to read the captions)


links for 2006-12-05

Torture of Padilla

How brutal and inhumane! Sickens me. Hope Mr. Padilla never watched Marathon Man (more details of the brutal dentistry torture scene here).

I Hate Dentists

Marathon Man

“Marathon Man” (John Schlesinger)

Video Is a Window Into a Terror Suspect’s Isolation - New York Times : “Today is May 21,” a naval official declared to a camera videotaping the event. “Right now we’re ready to do a root canal treatment on Jose Padilla, our enemy combatant.” One spring day during his three and a half years as an enemy combatant, Jose Padilla experienced a break from the monotony of his solitary confinement in a bare cell in the brig at the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston, S.C.

That day, Mr. Padilla, a Brooklyn-born Muslim convert whom the Bush administration had accused of plotting a dirty bomb attack and had detained without charges, got to go to the dentist.

Several guards in camouflage and riot gear approached cell No. 103. They unlocked a rectangular panel at the bottom of the door and Mr. Padilla’s bare feet slid through, eerily disembodied. As one guard held down a foot with his black boot, the others shackled Mr. Padilla’s legs. Next, his hands emerged through another hole to be manacled.

Wordlessly, the guards, pushing into the cell, chained Mr. Padilla’s cuffed hands to a metal belt. Briefly, his expressionless eyes met the camera before he lowered his head submissively in expectation of what came next: noise-blocking headphones over his ears and blacked-out goggles over his eyes. Then the guards, whose faces were hidden behind plastic visors, marched their masked, clanking prisoner down the hall to his root canal.

The videotape of that trip to the dentist, which was recently released to Mr. Padilla’s lawyers and viewed by The New York Times, offers the first concrete glimpse inside the secretive military incarceration of an American citizen whose detention without charges became a test case of President Bush’s powers in the fight against terror. Still frames from the videotape were posted in Mr. Padilla’s electronic court file late Friday.

To Mr. Padilla’s lawyers, the pictures capture the dehumanization of their client during his military detention from mid-2002 until earlier this year, when the government changed his status from enemy combatant to criminal defendant and transferred him to the federal detention center in Miami. He now awaits trial scheduled for late January.

Together with other documents filed late Friday, the images represent the latest and most aggressive sally by defense lawyers who declared this fall that charges against Mr. Padilla should be dismissed for “outrageous government conduct,” saying that he was mistreated and tortured during his years as an enemy combatant.

Now lawyers for Mr. Padilla, 36, suggest that he is unfit to stand trial. They argue that he has been so damaged by his interrogations and prolonged isolation that he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and is unable to assist in his own defense. His interrogations, they say, included hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of “truth serums.”

The most sickening part of this whole U.S. sponsored torture is that Padilla might be as innocent as the now-discredited Miami terrorist plotters of last summer, i.e., the allegations seem pretty unsubstantiated and the alleged terrorist seems more like a victim of entrapment. However, we can't really even know because the evidence is so super-secret that nobody outside of the inner circle of the government is allowed to examine it, or defense lawyers faces will melt, ala Indiana Jones.

Lawyers face Melting after reading Padilla evidence

(update: TalkLeft, the well written legal blog, had a similar thought)

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Two More Years

24 more months, and then? Seems like an eternity before there is a possibility of an adult occupying the White House.

The Shrill One has more...

Two More Years - Paul Krugman At a reception following the midterm election, President Bush approached Senator-elect James Webb.

“How’s your boy?” asked Mr. Bush.

“I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” replied Mr. Webb, whose son, a Marine lance corporal, is risking his life in Mr. Bush’s war of choice.

“That’s not what I asked you,” the president snapped. “How’s your boy?”

“That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President,” said Mr. Webb.

Good for him. We need people in Washington who are willing to stand up to the bully in chief. Unfortunately, and somewhat mysteriously, they’re still in short supply.

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Tales of yesteryear

Well, when the weather wasn't so fracking cold, that is.

Stately Pleasure Dome

Stately Pleasure Dome
mysterious “hookah palace” under construction, W. Randolph St.

Office Space for Lease

Office Space for Lease
mural, and overlay. Kind of a crappy place for a sign, isn't it?

Red Driving Machine

Red Driving Machine
this ride looks decidedly unpimped

Gone Away

Gone Away

Pretty sure this is the back of One Sixty Blue ( ) - you'd think they could afford a couple of cans of paint.

Saturation bumped a bit in Photoshop.

uhhh, update, Phule says not owned by One Sixty Blue (per this map). Probably a crack den then.

click photos to embiggen

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Bolton to Resign As U.N. Ambassador


Strange, why were all the trial balloons floated this weekend about Bolton being under-secretary or some other lesser post? Perhaps Bush's handlers and media lackeys should have consulted with Bolton first.

Bolton to Resign As U.N. Ambassador - :

President Bush has accepted the resignation of U.N. Ambassador John Bolton when his recess appointment expires. Mr. Bolton's nomination has languished in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for more than a year, blocked by Democrats and several Republicans.

Although Bush could not give Bolton another recess appointment, the White House was believed to be exploring other ways of keeping him in the job, perhaps by giving him a title other than ambassador. But Mr. Bolton informed the White House he intended to leave when his current appointment expires, White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. Mr. Bush planned to meet with Bolton and his wife later Monday in the Oval Office.

Goo goo gajoob

links for 2006-12-04

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Rye Whiskey

When the temperature dips, and the sun starts descending below the city-line before 4, I tend to drink more cocktails. Strangely enough, I haven't had rye whiskey in years, though after reading this pean to the drink, I want to go get a bottle....

All but Lost, Rye Is Revived as the Next Boutique Find - New York Times

LET me get straight to the point. Rye whiskey is the world’s great forgotten spirit, distinctive, complex and delicious. It offers a tactile pleasure unlike any other whiskey in the world.

Yet it nearly disappeared from American barrooms and from the national consciousness.

It used to be the signature whiskey of the United States. George Washington distilled it. Men fought over it in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. Classic cocktails like the manhattan, the Sazerac and the Ward 8 were invented for it. Humphrey Bogart swigged it. But the rise of vodka, bourbon and single-malt scotch, along with the decline of the distilling industry in the Northeast, the stronghold of rye production, turned rye into a relic.
Unlike bourbon, which is characteristically sweet, smooth and rounded, rye has a dry, jangly, brash nature.

Perhaps because as a whipper-snapper growing up in Texas, bourbon was what we shoplifted, and frequently drank to excess, or for other reasons, I don't like the taste of bourbon. I always have Irish whiskey in the house (well, except for tonight, boo hiss), nearly always have tequila, often have gin or vodka, but never bourbon. I can't really justify spending over $40 for a bottle of anything though, so may have resurrect long dormant teenage skills to procure a bottle. Ahem.


Memphis Grizzlies ownership

David Stern's grand plan for worldwide domination notwithstanding, I think the NBA would be better served by contracting back to 28 teams (from the current 30). Memphis is a prime candidate for evaporation.

Bid for NBA's Grizzlies Gets Push As the Minority Owners Bow Out - The minority owners of the Memphis Grizzlies pro basketball team declined to exercise an option to buy the team, clearing the way for Brian Davis -- a real-estate developer and former National Basketball Association player -- to pursue a closely watched bid for the team.

Mr. Davis is leading an investor group that in October reached a deal to buy a 70% stake in the team from billionaire Michael Heisley for $252 million. The minority owners had a right to match the offer but their decision to pass means the Davis group's offer needs only NBA approval to be consummated. The league's answer could come as soon as this month.

If completed, the purchase would make the 36-year-old Mr. Davis the youngest managing partner in the NBA and only the second non-white in that position.

The sale of the Grizzles has been closely watched because Memphis ranks among the NBA's smallest and poorest cities. The team...has ranked near the bottom of the league's attendance list since the season began.

who the heck is Brian Davis, anyway? Played briefly for the 93-94 Timberwolves, according to his wikipedia entry.

The WSJ's Adam Thompson (and Jennifer Forsyth) write about him, in part:

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Not to be too cynical, but how many deaths did Pfizer expect?

Deaths Halt Development Of Pfizer Cholesterol Drug -

Pfizer Inc. halted development of a drug to boost good cholesterol that was the most important medicine in its pipeline, after more patients than expected died during a large clinical test.

The unanticipated deaths became known Saturday after a board of independent experts reviewed the latest data from a 15,000-patient test of the drug called torcetrapib.

Half the people in the study, which was supposed to last three more years, took a combination of torcetrapib and Lipitor. The other half took only Lipitor.


links for 2006-12-03


I'm interested in an Omni-authored Getting Things Done program, once it is on the market, that is. Until then, vaporware is an apt description for a program promised, yet not available, regardless of what folks at Omni think.

Daring Fireball ...forthcoming “GTD” task management application, OmniFocus. ... and, likewise, given Omni’s track record and reputation, I’m sure they have developers working on OmniFocus and that it too will eventually ship. But just because a pre-announced product isn’t pure hype that never actually sees the light of day — like, say, Duke Nukem Forever, or the “native Mac port” of the suite that I took flak for calling vaporware four years ago — doesn’t mean it isn’t vaporware.

Maybe OmniFocus is going to be a nice app like OmniOutliner or OmniGraffle. Maybe it’s going to be a complex, over-engineered, over-designed turd like OmniPlan. But today, it’s vaporware.

And I’ve got to call bullshit on the idea that Omni’s decision to pre-announce OmniFocus wasn’t at least partially for competitive reasons. Competitive doesn’t necessarily imply nefarious, but it’s disingenuous to pretend it wasn’t competitive at all.

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links for 2006-12-02

  • Scoop Jackson sucks. "He stole. He stole a concept, a schtick, a character. He took it and presented it as his own. It’s wrong, and people with integrity don’t do it. In any creative industry, it’s like the RULE. It’s the one thing you DON’T DO.
  • "I'm learning there are more than a few NBA athletes who DO understand and have a passion for politics. So my question to them is: why aren't you at least as vocal as you would be if you had a regular job? Why not be heard? Why not be heard as a group?"
  • Bravo!!! "Last evening, after ten minutes of Dave Lombardo's thunderous double-bass drum kicking the stereo next door was off and the two roomies and their guests had left the house. I hope their plaster ceilings came down."
  • Me too! " I'm looking for a way, either software app, script, or whatever methodology for "mapping" data onto, well, a map. That is, I've got a large list of zip codes, and want to draw a US map with a color dot for each item in the list."



Arrabiata? You want to get that checked out... - Yahoo! News Nearly two-thirds of Britons think the fiery Italian sauce Arrabiata is a sex infection, according to a survey on Friday.

I wish I had a joke here, but instead, I just wish I had a plate of Arrabiata. Is it Beer O'clock yet?


Pleasure is evil

| 1 Comment

I never, ever, ever thought I would agree with conservative columnist, Andrew Sullivan about anything, much less quote something from his blog. But sometimes the fish does fly....

Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish: The Trouble With Pot

The difficulty with marijuana is that it produces a side effect that our government cannot tolerate. This side effect is so severe that any drug that produces it must be severely restricted or banned outright. And it is an insidious side effect. It is so insidious that it is nearly impossible to detect through measurments of body chemistry, metabolic function, critical organ functions, or tissue damage. You simply cannot find any harm caused by this side effect, but it's there.

The side effect, of course, is pleasure. Our government will never allow it.

This is the nub of the issue, I think. Sometimes, you hear attempts at justifying the ban on pot that point to marinol, a THC-based drug that allegedly helps nausea. They're for that, if necessary. And they much prefer it to marijuana, even though smoked or vaporized THC is much more effective. Why? Because marinol doesn't provide pleasure. And pleasure, even harmless pleasure, is evil and must be prevented. Once you allow people to enjoy life, there's no end to the dangers. Unless, of course, pleasure is backed up by vast industries rendering hefty taxes, like tobacco and alcohol. Then it's fine.

For my part, I find the attempt to ban any naturally growing plant to be an attack on reality, and a denial of some of the most basic freedoms. I guess that's why today's GOP is so in favor of it.

I've blathered about this topic for years (decades, probably, maybe even longer), and still have no good answer as to why pleasure is taboo in America. Remember fat-free foods? Prohibition? Outlawing pre-marital sex? yadda yadda.

If you enjoy it, there must be something wrong with it. I call bullshit.


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ESPN is lame-o

While on the topic of the NBA, here's a little dust up brewing. For several months, the truly talented NBA humorist (moniker - The Cavalier) who runs YaySports has been writing stories about the Orange Roundie, complete with clever cartoons that look like they were generated from Comic Life. There might be some movie being developed with the same characters, perhaps of the animated variety.

Scoop Jackson, a 'journalist' of the ESPN variety (i.e., not much of one) decides to write 4,000 words based on the same concept, even using the same phrase for an anthropomorphic basketball, and doesn't even bother to cite the site he first sighted the Orange Roundie™.

Deadspin got this comment out of Scoop:

I actually thought I was giving them some love, even though ESPN edited out the part about them being the ball's favorite site. Just trying to have some fun. Hope you enjoyed the piece; tell YAY I thought their overall ball coverage was brilliant. The ball, on the other hand, had a few issues.“

Umm, probably not. The Cavalier responded:

We appreciate the compliment, Scoop, and that's exactly what we figured you'd say. ”Aww, thanks lil' blog guy. I'm gonna take your idea and run with it on my own in big boy land.“

Look, we have the copyright on the ”Orange Roundie“. This isn't about ”respect for blogs“ or ”wahh wahh recognize us“, it's about a character that we own and commercial plans for, which you have taken and used without permission.

Personally, I haven't read ESPN more than half a dozen times since the master, Ralph Wiley died, and after reading half of Scoop Jackson's 'unfair use' essay, I remember why.

True Hoop has slightly more.

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Kenny Smith doesn't love Elvis

I hinted at this in my nightly “links of note” post yesterday, but a cursory Google blog search shows that nobody else has posted the topic, and I thought it worth preservation.

Kenny (“the Jet”) Smith (one of the studio commentators on TNT's NBA studio show, Inside the NBA ) was riffing off of the marketing gimmick based on the current marketing campaign for T-Mobile. The list of five for the evening was “Charles Barkley's fave5 favorite singers”.

The five were (not necessarily in this order): Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, The O'Jays, Mary J. Blige, and Elvis Presley.

Kenny Smith couldn't believe that Elvis Presley was on this list, quipping, “This is ridiculous. How could Elvis Presley be in your list over Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye? ”

Eventually, after some back and forth between Barkley, who at least pretended to like Elvis, “The Jet” started reciting parts of Public Enemy's seminal track Fight the Power, “Elvis was a hero to most”, but then realized the next couple of lines might cause a little PR problem, so didn't say them, just hummed, and finished with, “and forget him and John Wayne”.

Charles Barkley claimed the reason he chose Blue Suede Shoes over Superstition is because he is from Alabama. I wonder - did the producers have a say? Probably not, but you never know. Oh, and apparently, Barkley almost chose Kenny Rogers too, being a gambler and all.

Song file excerpted below, but I cannot find the uncensored version which is odd. Oh well. You can read along with the lyrics.

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Winter might be here

Winter, Oh Winter

after an early snow shower, the fall season extended, surprisingly, until yesterday. Last weekend, the temperature almost reached 70! So, I'm not complaining at all about the conditions today. Ask me in March, and you'll get a different answer, today I'm happy there are four distinct seasons.

Snow...Heavy at Times this morning especially northwest. Snow May mix with sleet and rain south...Before changing to all snow this morning. Snow then tapering to flurries by early afternoon. Snow and sleet accumulation from 3 to 6 inches southeast sections to 8 to 12 inches northwest. Windy. Areas of blowing snow. Highs 30 to 35. Northwest winds 20 to 30 mph. Gusts up to 40 mph.

(from the NWS)

Photos later, for Aunt P not to see....

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links for 2006-12-01

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