January 2008 Archives

Bush Administration at Its Finest

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Which, truth be told, isn't very fine if you are mistakenly added to the Do Not Fly List. Terrorism Theater, in other words. Style without substance.


A government program set up to remove innocent people from terrorism no-fly and watch lists has been ineffective and riddled with problems, travelers and congressional leaders say.

The Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, or TRIP, was started almost a year ago to clear people routinely subjected to extra airport-security screening and even detention simply because their names were confused with those on the government's voluminous terrorism watch lists. The lists now contain more than 700,000 records and include many names as common as John Thompson and James Wilson.

But travelers say TRIP has done little to ease their security hassles. They complain that government officials have been unresponsive and offer little information even when they do answer inquiries. And travelers who have been told they have been placed on a "cleared" list find themselves still subjected to added security procedures, unable to pre-print boarding passes for airline flights or use kiosks at airports, for example. Then, after waiting in line to check in, they find themselves trapped in a Catch-22 of long waits while supervisors probe their identity and status on the "cleared" list -- just to avoid the delay of being selected for additional screening at checkpoints.

[From The Middle Seat - WSJ.com]
[Digg-enabled link to access complete story here]

And, the list is so 'secure' that one can avoid it by using one's middle name instead. Lovely.

Jason Steele, a technology contractor in Colorado, discovered his name was on the watch list about four years ago and fought to get a letter from TSA clearing his name. The letter didn't stop him from getting tagged as a "selectee" when he flew, so he applied again through TRIP and received notice that he had already been cleared. "I don't think that clearance does a darn thing for you," he says.

He has gotten some relief from UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, which has identified Mr. Steele as cleared through his frequent-flier number, allowing him to check in online, use United's kiosks and avoid extra screening. On other airlines, Mr. Steele has learned that if he flies under his middle name, he doesn't get stopped.
Officials familiar with security procedures say much of the problem with misidentifying people comes from imperfect data in airline reservation systems trying to match up with imperfect data on government watch lists.

Government lists cast a very wide net by including many varieties of spellings and aliases for the same person. Yet many airlines don't include middle names or even gender in reservations, increasing the likelihood of false matches. That also makes the "cleared" list ineffectual if government lists a full legal name and airlines don't. And differences in how airlines handle reservations can mean travelers get stopped for extra screening on some carriers and not others.
I'm waiting for my teleportation device to get its patent first.

Salty Dogs

Parking Lot Fun

I just discovered some jerk-off stole 11 bags of salt* from my building. At $16.50 per bag, and sales tax, that is over $200! Still, can't see myself bothering to report this crime to my local police precinct, I imagine they have better things to do.

The thief is planning to have one hell of a margarita party!
*used to melt snow for you readers lucky enough to live in warmer climes

links for 2008-01-31


Darth Vader

Darth Vader
Darth Vader, originally uploaded by swanksalot. I hope the IRS employee who opens this tax form has a sense of humor, and doesn't put us on the audit list, or add us to the Do Not Fly database.

Lost Chicago, found on film

I do this as well: look at old movies and try to figure out how old neighborhoods have changed. Richard Linklater's docu-drama about my college years (well, and others lives as well), filmed in the area around the University of Texas memorializes several buildings, cafés, and neighborhoods that are now defunct, or drastically changed.

Patrick Reardon writes:

"Call Northside 777 (Fox Film Noir)" (Henry Hathaway)


More than half a century ago, during the filming of "Call Northside 777" in Chicago, Jimmy Stewart walked up the sidewalk and entered a tavern at 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave. Behind him was a typical street scene of the era -- a row of close-packed commercial buildings, of which Kosinski Jewelers with its large sign was most prominent.

On a recent morning, I went to that neighborhood. The tavern's still there, although now it's an art gallery, Roots & Culture, more befitting its gentrifying community. But Kosinski Jewelers and the other stores across the street are long gone, demolished in the late 1960s in a slum-clearance project to make way for a low-rise residential development.

So, for me, "Call Northside 777" isn't just a movie. It's a time capsule of Chicago in 1948.

[From Lost Chicago, found on film -- chicagotribune.com]

Mr. Readron lists six other Chicago-centric films:

City That Never Sleeps - VHS only, but sounds quite interesting. Why hasn't this been released on DVD yet?

"Medium Cool" (Paramount)

It's a true you-are-there moment, one of many in a documentary-like film that was revolutionary in both technique and purpose.

In the movie, director Haskell Wexler is telling a fictional story against the backdrop of real Chicago -- the real Uptown neighborhood with its real poverty; the real South Side with real Black Power militants, such as artist Jeff Donaldson; and the real Grant Park where real police officers were beating up real protesters while one of Wexler's actors (Verna Bloom, in a bright yellow dress) moves along the edges of the violence.

"Medium Cool" is a time capsule that records more than a building that's gone (the Amphitheatre) and another that's been drastically altered (Soldier Field). It documents, to a degree unprecedented in a feature film, Chicagoans at a quintessential moment in the city's history.

"Cooley High" (Michael Schultz)

The so-called black American Graffiti, set in Cabrini-Green, in a now defunct high school located at Division and Sedgewick.

"The Blues Brothers (Widescreen 25th Anniversary Edition)" (Universal Studios)

1980 Chicago, captured with typical John Belushi zany antics. I actually haven't seen this in years, perhaps time for a revisit.

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off Bueller...Bueller... Edition (Special Collector's Edition)" (Paramount)

Came out the summer of my high school graduation. I doubt it had any impact upon my decision to move to Chicago years later, but one never knows the power of subconscious yearnings. Austin is cool, but it is no city.

"Only the Lonely" (Chris Columbus)

Ummm, I don't think so. Looks a bit insipid for my taste. Maybe if it plays on television?

links for 2008-01-30

Better get out my bathing suit

Ice Queens

Excellent! I hadn't gotten in my full annual quota of bitching about the weather yet anyway.

Much colder. Lows 1 below to 3 above zero. Wind chills as low as 15 below to 25 below zero. West winds 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 45 mph at times. Chance of precipitation 90 percent.

Wednesday...Mostly sunny in the morning then becoming partly cloudy. Highs 14 to 18. Lowest wind chill readings 15 below to 25 below zero in the morning. West winds 10 to 20 mph. Gusts up to 35 mph in the morning.

[From 7-Day Zone Forecast for Cook County]

Can't wait!

Marina Towers Condo Ass is Delusional

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Blue was the color of my true loves hair

I know I have more photos of Marina Towers (aka Marina City) than the three I've uploaded to Flickr. If not, I'm making it a special assignment to take a few dozen in the near future just to protest the Marina Towers Condo Association's inanity. Seriously, are they insane? Deluded? George Bush Donors?

You may have seen our previous posts on the proclamations by the Marina Towers Condo Association that they have the right to forbid anyone from publishing photographs of Marina City who doesn't first get their permission and pay them tribute. Despite the absence of any substantive case law in support of their position, they declared the first amendment null and void.

That was delusional enough. Now they've published the actual "rules" on their website and there can no longer be any doubt: they've officially lost it. I dare you to read through any more a half-dozen of the 25 requirements (twenty-five requirements!) without beginning to laugh uncontrollably

[Click here to read the alleged rules: ArchitectureChicago PLUS: 25 Things You Must Do Before Publishing a Photo of Marina City]

What utter foolishness.

Don't Give Up So Easily

We previously noted this ridiculously Orwellian proposal, and Joel Johnson's interview with some AT&T flacks, but seems like AT&T is continuing with their scheme.

Tim Wu writes:

Chances are that as you read this article, it is passing over part of AT&T's network. That matters, because last week AT&T announced that it is seriously considering plans to examine all the traffic it carries for potential violations of U.S. intellectual property laws. The prospect of AT&T, already accused of spying on our telephone calls, now scanning every e-mail and download for outlawed content is way too totalitarian for my tastes. But the bizarre twist is that the proposal is such a bad idea that it would be not just a disservice to the public but probably a disaster for AT&T itself. If I were a shareholder, I'd want to know one thing: Has AT&T, after 122 years in business, simply lost its mind?
No one knows exactly what AT&T is proposing to build. But if the company means what it says, we're looking at the beginnings of a private police state. That may sound like hyperbole, but what else do you call a system designed to monitor millions of people's Internet consumption? That's not just Orwellian; that's Orwell.

[From Why does AT&T want to know what you're downloading? - By Tim Wu - Slate Magazine]

One more snippet:

But the most serious problems for AT&T may be legal. Since the beginnings of the phone system, carriers have always wanted to avoid liability for what happens on their lines, be it a bank robbery or someone's divorce. Hence the grand bargain of common carriage: The Bell company carried all conversations equally, and in exchange bore no liability for what people used the phone for. Fair deal.

AT&T's new strategy reverses that position and exposes it to so much potential liability that adopting it would arguably violate AT&T's fiduciary duty to its shareholders. Today, in its daily Internet operations, AT&T is shielded by a federal law that provides a powerful immunity to copyright infringement. The Bells know the law well: They wrote and pushed it through Congress in 1998, collectively spending six years and millions of dollars in lobbying fees to make sure there would be no liability for "Transitory Digital Network Communications"—content AT&T carries over the Internet. And that's why the recording industry sued Napster and Grokster, not AT&T or Verizon, when the great music wars began in the early 2000s.

Here's the kicker: To maintain that immunity, AT&T must transmit data "without selection of the material by the service provider" and "without modification of its content." Once AT&T gets in the business of picking and choosing what content travels over its network, while the law is not entirely clear, it runs a serious risk of losing its all-important immunity. An Internet provider voluntarily giving up copyright immunity is like an astronaut on the moon taking off his space suit. As the world's largest gatekeeper, AT&T would immediately become the world's largest target for copyright infringement lawsuits.

On the technical side, if I were an AT&T engineer asked to implement this plan, I would resign immediately and look for work at Verizon. AT&T's engineers are already trying to manage the feat of getting trillions of packets around the world at light speed. To begin examining those packets for illegal pictures of Britney Spears would be a nuisance, at best, and a threat to the whole Internet, at worst. Imagine if FedEx were forced to examine every parcel for drug paraphernalia: Next-day delivery would soon go up in smoke. Even China's Internet, whose performance suffers greatly from its filtering, doesn't go as far as what AT&T is proposing.

FDA Will Get Right On It

The FDA will fix their structural problems as soon as Congress decides regulation is actually a good task for government to perform. Until then, don't count on the FDA protecting the consumer.

The Food and Drug Administration is so understaffed that, at its current pace, the agency would need at least 27 years to inspect every foreign medical device plant that exports to the United States, 13 years to check every foreign drug plant and 1,900 years to examine every foreign food plant, according to government investigators.

Computer systems at the drug agency are so inadequate that it can only guess the number of the plants, and it cannot produce a list of those that have not been inspected. The situation is particularly dire in China, which has more drug and device plants than any other foreign nation but where F.D.A. inspections are few.

[From For F.D.A., a Major Backlog Overseas - New York Times]

Good Morning Morgan Market

The only way things will change is if there is a truly horrific public health disaster, directly caused by inaction at the FDA, yielding perfectly formed sound bites for our corporate media to spew. Otherwise, the long term goal of conservatives (Republican and Democrat alike) of shrinking the government so that it is small enough to drown in a bathtub will continue.

In the last 14 years, the drug agency has lost 1,311 employees and nearly $300 million in appropriations to inflation while Congress has passed more than 100 laws defining or expanding its regulatory responsibilities. The agency now regulates about $1 trillion worth of goods, or 25 cents of every dollar spent by consumers. The agency’s field inspection force has suffered, particularly in the area of food.

In 1973, the F.D.A. undertook 34,919 food inspections; in 2006, that number had dropped to 7,783.

As the share of imported food, drugs and devices has soared, the number of agency import inspectors has plunged, to 380 in 2006 from 531 in 2003. Although 80 percent of the nation’s drug supply is now imported, the F.D.A. last year inspected only 30 of more than 3,000 foreign drug plants. It inspected 100 of 190,000 foreign food plants.

Night Life

links for 2008-01-29

DEVO in your Funk

Watching DEVO videos while walking on the treadmill (got to get my 30 minutes a day to ward off the threat of seasonal affect disorder aka the winter blues) seems somehow mechanical perfection, in a de-volutionary style. Are we not men?

"Devo - The Complete Truth About De-Evolution" (Rhino / Wea)


(Worried Man) - In which DEVO comments, in their devolutionary-revolutionary language, upon the near reality of nuclear power, and its waste.

Mayors on the frontline

Housing foreclosures impact everyone.

Local governments are scrambling to deal with the rising number of foreclosures that strain city services and soon may take a toll on property-tax revenue.

Stemming foreclosures and managing vacant properties so that years of economic development doesn't unravel was a priority as the nation's mayors gathered in Washington last week. Many localities have set up efforts to reach the 50% of people who never even speak to their lender before their homes are foreclosed. Mayors are eager to help constituents make payments or restructure loans because vacant properties pose costly problems. [snip]

Chicago estimates that each vacant house costs the city an average of $34,000 for inspections, court actions, extra law enforcement, visits from city utilities, and sometimes demolition... Chicago has had a program to help residents stay in their houses since 2003, bulking it up in recent months as foreclosures surged. Each week, using court records, the city compiles a list of homeowners who have defaulted on their loans and sends them postcards urging them to get help, said Ellen Sahli, the housing commissioner. It has recruited local ministers to reach homeowners and also has asked lenders to invite their delinquent borrowers to events where they can modify loans on the spot.

[From As Foreclosures Rise, Mayors Brace for Fallout - WSJ.com
(Digg-enabled full access to complete article here)]

Can't be good for the nation's economy if housing prices continue to fall either. Even if you yourself are able to pay your mortgage, if a good percentage of your neighbors can't, your home's equity is in danger of plummeting too. Especially if you live in Detroit, godz forbid, where 1 in 33 homes are in foreclosure.

Oh Boy more condos [where: 501 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60661 ]

Community input an illusion

Journey to the Underworld

Part two of an interesting Chicago Tribune series. Construction über Alles! Not mentioned in this quasi-morality play is our former Alderman, Burt Natarus, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was a key player in the Aldermanic Charade.

ALDERMEN They decide who can build what. Money, not planning, often drives the process. Second in an occasional series.

Chicago aldermen wield near-absolute power over development in their wards, but most insist they get neighborhood input from community groups or handpicked advisory panels before approving or rejecting projects.

What they don't say is that those groups often are stacked with real estate agents, developers and campaign donors with vested interests in the zoning decisions made by the aldermen.

One alderman backed zoning changes that let a developer tear down several modest homes on the Near West Side and replace them with three-story condos, projects that were OKd by a community group.

The group was familiar with the developer -- he's a longtime leader of the organization.

Another alderman got the backing of his own advisory panel before he approved the zoning change for a redevelopment project in Logan Square, a neighborhood in the midst of the city's gentrification wave. The owner of the land happened to sit on the panel. He sold the property, with its valuable zoning change, for nearly $1 million more than he had paid less than two years earlier.

An unprecedented Tribune investigation, including an analysis of 5,700 zoning changes over the last 10 years, found city neighborhoods being remade by a development boom greased by millions of dollars in political donations to aldermen.

As neighborhoods are transformed, advisory groups frequently offer no more than the illusion of community input. But the political cover they provide for aldermen is very real.

[Click to read more of Community input an illusion]

Yellow Truck

Also not mentioned is our current Alderman, Brendan Reilly. He hasn't been in office long enough for me to judge whether or not he plans on caving in to developers against community wishes, but it certainly looks promising*. We'll soon see. There have been promises made to us regarding some green spaces, and other considerations. Talk is available at the dime store, as the cliché goes, only tangible action counts in the long run.

RD659 Destruction

*Update: As Yellow Dog Democrat argues, Reilly has done the right thing so far in several instances. Thousands of times better than Burt Natarus, that's for sure.


update: comments closed due to spam-rats. Email your comment, and I'll publish it (swanksalot @ gmail dot com)

Chicago neighborhoods and Aldermanic Clout


Interesting investigative journalism by the Chicago Tribune. Here is Chicago described in less than flattering terms. The so-called City that Works is greased by totally legal (mostly) campaign contributions from developers.

DEVELOPERS Many give to aldermanic campaigns in quest to build bigger, pricier projects. ALDERMEN They decide who can build what. Money, not planning, often drives process. HOMEOWNERS They are often left out of the decision-making and boxed in by towering structures.

[snip] Zoning rules had prohibited such a behemoth from going up on the block. But that was before the developer got a break from then-Ald. Ted Matlak (32nd). Two weeks after the developer applied for a lucrative "upzoning" so he could build a much bigger house, one of the developer's companies gave the alderman a $2,000 campaign contribution.

The real zoning code in Chicago is unwritten, but developers know it well: Changes in zoning go hand in hand with contributions to aldermanic campaigns.

In an unprecedented investigation of city development, the Tribune examined 5,700 zoning changes approved by the City Council over the last decade and recorded on sheets of paper clipped into binders in a City Hall office. The newspaper converted the paper records into an electronic database to perform an analysis of development beyond the scope of anything previously possible, even for city planners.

The investigation found that Chicago is a city where a building boom greased by millions of dollars in political donations to aldermen has remade the face of neighborhoods, changing the feel of the streets where people live and work.

It's a city where aldermen have become dependent on the political contributions they rake in from developers, while routinely ignoring city planners who oppose out-of-scale development.

It's a city where the council rubber stamps aldermen's wishes -- rejecting just 15 requested zoning changes in a decade -- and where almost half the zoning changes were concentrated in 10 of the city's 50 wards that are exploding with growth.

And it's a city where advisory groups that review zoning proposals are sometimes stacked with developers and real estate agents who will profit from the projects. [Click to read more of: How cash, clout transform Chicago neighborhoods]

Obvious to anyone who pays attention to what buildings get approved, and where. Pay enough to an Alderman, and his answer is always, "Oui! Oui!"

Oui Oui Enterprises
This practice of "aldermanic prerogative" creates a political spoils system where cash and clout trump the public planning process employed in many other major American cities. The result is a patchwork approach to development, where the fate of any zoning change is decided long before it is ever discussed publicly by the council's Zoning Committee.

The decisions made in ward offices and rubber stamped in City Hall are driving the transformation of Chicago, making neighborhoods unrecognizable to people who have tended their homes and yards there for decades.
Not quite as bad as Houston, TX, but approaching so. What would be a solution? How about having an actual vetting process with actual community residents having meaningful contribution. Instead, if the Alderman gives the green light, there are very few impediments to the construction being completed.

The Virgin Spring

"The Virgin Spring - Criterion Collection" (Ingmar Bergman)

What a spectacular film.

Netflixed on 01/16/08.

Set in medieval Sweden, this disturbing tale directed by Ingmar Bergman earned an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. On the way to deliver candles to a church, the virginal daughter (Birgitta Pettersson) of feudal landowner Töre (Max von Sydow) is savagely raped and murdered. But fate takes a vengeful hand when the killers unknowingly seek food and shelter at the girl's home, and the grief-stricken Töre learns the truth about his visitors. [From The Virgin Spring]

I had last seen this film when I was 19, so did not recall many, if any, of the details, only the general atmosphere. Unlike Ang Lee (who introduces the film), I had seen prior art-house films, but A Virgin Spring still made an impression on me. Amazingly, hearing the Swedish phrases brought back some long dormant Swedish language skills. Not enough to hold a conversation, mind you, but still enough to understand what was said before the subtitles caught up.

Pagan gods are not yet wiped out in medieval Sweden, Odin still has his adherents. Bergman cannot decide if this is acceptable or not: the film is drenched with ambivalence towards religion.

links for 2008-01-28

  • My cousin Leo continues to take over the universe: "Leo of Zen Habits fame has just launched a blog about writing — Write to Done."



(click to embiggen image)

A bit of found Egyptian-style art along the Chicago lakefront from a couple years ago. The third hieroglyph looks familiar, but I don't remember from where. At first I thought it might be my namesake, but on second glance, probably not.

Bonus if you can translate the entire phrase into Chicago-ese.

[where: 60614]

Merchandise Mart Certified LEED-EB


Interesting. I wonder if there is money available for smaller buildings to retro-fit as well? (Link to 81 page PDF describing details). Wouldn't be a stretch to convince residents of our condo building to landscape the roof, use green cleaning products, enhance our recycling program and so on. Couldn't hurt re-sale value.

Like the certification program for new buildings, the program for existing buildings assigns points for various steps, including efforts in recycling, water and energy efficiency and air quality. (If a building will be more than half vacant during a renovation, the council considers it new construction.) There are four levels of certification, from basic to platinum, which is awarded to the highest-scoring buildings.

After a slow start, and the release of a second, streamlined version of the guidelines last October, the program has gained momentum, with hundreds of buildings lining up for LEED-EB certification. According to the Green Building Council, more than 60 buildings, including Adobe Towers in San Jose, Calif., the Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., and the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, received certifications, and 840 more are in the process of doing so, representing more than a half-billion square feet of space.

In addition, the Clinton Climate Initiative of the William J. Clinton Foundation in 2006 created the Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program to facilitate the retrofitting of existing buildings. Last fall, the foundation announced a partnership with the city of Chicago, as well as one with GE Real Estate to retrofit buildings in its portfolio.

As more companies look to reduce waste, along with their carbon imprint, they find that their buildings are one of their most immediate opportunities. For their efforts, they typically get a healthier, cleaner work environment, improved efficiency and lower operating costs, all of which can help attract tenants and employees. A 2006 Green Building Council study found that by retrofitting buildings, owners can save 90 cents a square foot annually, on average, in energy and other costs and earn back their investment in 2 to 2 ½ years. “It just makes good business sense,” said George Denise, the general manager of Cushman & Wakefield’s client solutions group.

[Click to read more about ‘Green’ Buildings Don’t Have to Be New - New York Times]

Reflections at night

[where: Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60610]

Tongass Rainforest to Be Logged Clear

Tongass Rainforest

Lest we forget, trees cause pollution

More than 3 million acres in Alaska's Tongass National Forest would be open to logging under a federal plan that supporters believe will [turn base metals into gold].

The Bush administration released Friday a management plan for the forest, the largest in the country at nearly 17 million acres. The plan would leave about 3.4 million acres open to logging, road building and other development, including about 2.4 million acres that are now remote and roadless. About 663,000 acres are in areas considered most valuable for timber production.

Environmentalists said the plan continues a Bush administration policy of catering to the timber industry.

"The new plan suffers from the same central problem as old plan. It leaves 2.4 million acres of wild, roadless backcountry areas open to clear cutting and new logging roads," said Tom Waldo, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice.

"This plan simply ignores economic realities. Logging these pristine areas makes no sense," said Christy Goldfuss with Environment America, another advocacy group.

[From Plan to allow logging in Alaskan forest]
Is it 2009 yet?

links for 2008-01-26

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Tuna containing mercury is old news. Here's the real crime:

No government agency regularly tests seafood for mercury.

[From High Mercury Levels Are Found in Tuna Sushi - New York Times]

Why the hell not?
Sometimes A Fish(erman) needs a Bicycle

Funny also how the Chicago Tribune published this same article, focusing on Chicago restaurants, of course, in 2006, yet the New York Times reports this as it were breathless breaking news. Not that it isn't important to note, but not a revelation.

(See for instance: Department of Regulatory Corruption
or: With Sales Plummeting, Big Tuna Claps Harder
or Mercury and fish a killer combo
or: Mercury and the Government
or FDA and mercury - best friends
or Sun Myung Moon - King of the Ocean
or Mercury and you
which begins -
(Wired Magazine has published a contrary article, taking the stand that eating mercury-laden fish is better than not eating fish at all. Color me skeptical.

I have no evidence that the author, Gretchen Cuda, is a paid hack, other than this article, so feel free to make up your own mind based upon evidence on hand. She might just be trapped in the false “Fair and Balanced” dialectic.)

or Toxic Tuna Redux.

Fishy Fishy Fish
You get the idea.

Fotos from a Flounder

Err, well, from my archive anyway. Killing time so as not to start any new projects that require thinking.

(click to embiggen)
Got the Wine Country Blues

Got the Wine Country Blues

I wish I had taken a better photo, gotten a bit closer, so that the image was sharper. But still a fun shot. He wasn't playing for money (no tip jar), just because he wanted to. I have a great fondness for street musicians of all kinds. Unless they ululate drek ala Whitney Houston, of course.

Drink Straight

Drink Straight

Buddy Guys Legends

Buddy Guys Legends

Complete with tourists, of course.


Floaters This ad sort of creeps me out. What exactly is the kid doing in that bucket? And you plan on serving the contents to your customers? I'll pass, thanks.

Esophagus Man

What a crock. James Srodon probably conducted an embarrassing home stunt with a vacuum cleaner, simulating oral sex or something, and concocted this tale to avoid telling his doctor the truth.

His voice cracking with emotion, James Srodon recounted Thursday how a camera had been shoved down his throat during a Blue Man Group performance in Chicago, injuring his esophagus and resulting in nightmares.

The Blue Man Group, famous for its actors who don't utter a word, was forced to respond to Srodon's lawsuit, saying it was all just an illusion—a camera never even entered his throat. In a bit of sleight of hand, as the camera is held near an audience member's mouth, a jumbo video screen switches to a pre-recorded medical video, leading the audience to think it is peering down the individual's throat, the production said.

"We are disappointed that this false claim forces us to reveal the truth behind one of our most popular theatrical devices," Blue Man Productions said in its brief statement.

The producers referred to the comedic bit as the "Esophagus Video" and said it had played out in more than 50,000 performances over the last 15 years.

Blue Man Group called the "Esophagus Video" a "hilarious and absurd illusion."

"Because the camera never enters the mouth, the execution of this illusion could not possibly put anyone at risk of injury," the statement said. [From Blue Man Group denies patron's story of abuse -- chicagotribune.com]

Horse Thief

A horse thief, fleeing a mob. Sounds about right

Jacob Weisberg has solved the mystery. He invested the time to track down the commission behind the art work and he gives us the full story in his forthcoming book on Bush

The Bush Tragedy

[Bush] came to believe that the picture depicted the circuit-riders who spread Methodism across the Alleghenies in the nineteenth century. In other words, the cowboy who looked like Bush was a missionary of his own denomination.

Only that is not the title, message, or meaning of the painting. The artist, W.H.D. Koerner, executed it to illustrate a Western short story entitled “The Slipper Tongue,” published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916. The story is about a smooth-talking horse thief who is caught, and then escapes a lynch mob in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The illustration depicts the thief fleeing his captors. In the magazine, the illustration bears the caption: “Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught.”

So Bush’s inspiring, prosyletizing Methodist is in fact a silver-tongued horse thief fleeing from a lynch mob. It seems a fitting marker for the Bush presidency. Bush has consistently exhibited what psychologists call the “Tolstoy syndrome.” That is, he is completely convinced he knows what things are, so he shuts down all avenues of inquiry about them and disregards the information that is offered to him. This is the hallmark of a tragically bad executive. But in this case, it couldn’t be more precious. The president of the United States has identified closely with a man he sees as a mythic, heroic figure. But in fact he’s a wily criminal one step out in front of justice. It perfectly reflects Bush the man. . . and Bush the president.

[From "The Illustrated President" by Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine) ]

Click the link to see the painting Bush misappropriated.

links for 2008-01-25


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"Cow (Reaktion Books - Animal)" (Hannah Velten)

My public kvetch must have worked, as I received a copy of the promised book today. Looks like a very interesting read, actually.

From Amazon:

"The book''s design and illustrations are beautiful, which means, I suspect, that Cow will be probably bought most often as a gift--for country lovers, perhaps. . . . Velten has a passion for her subject and it comes across. Her account is sweeping but precisely detailed and subtly persuasive. . . . Look hard at cows and you learn about humans. Fascinating and delightful."

From the milk we drink in the morning, to the leather shoes we slip on for the day, to the steak we savor at dinner, our daily lives are thoroughly bound up with cows. Yet there is a far more complex story behind this seemingly benign creature, which Hannah Velten explores here, plumbing the rich trove of myth, fact, and legend surrounding these familar animals.

From the plowing field to the rodeo to the temple, Velten tracks the constantly changing social relationship between man and cattle, beginning with the domestication of aurochs around 9000 BCE. From there, Cow launches into a fascinating story of religious fanaticism, scientific exploits, and the economic transformations engendered by the trade of the numerous products derived from the animal. She explores in engaging detail how despite cattle’s prominence at two ends of a wide spectrum: Hinduism venerates the cow as one of the most sacred members of the animal kingdom, while beef is a prized staple of the American diet. Thought provoking and informative, Cow restores this oft-overlooked animal to the nobility it richly deserves.
If you happen to see it at a bookstore, my photo is on page 92, and my credit on page 204.

Oh, and since I'm flipping through the book as a prelude to reading it, and postponing returning to work, here's page 69 (and part of page 68 for context):

The Spanish herdsman, Ambrosio, who is used to the 'pride and the nimble rage of a young bull from Coruña', takes charge of a herd of twelve Simmental dairy cows in Switzerland. He is unable to admire the cows, but:...he couldn't deny that these overbred bodies had something reassuringly decent about them, it might well be dull, but the warmth they radiated, their incessaqnt inner activity, their endless ruminating, digesting, multiplying, lactating, producing-even-while-they-slept, all that impressed Ambrosio in spite of himself. Sometimes their uninterrupted productivity seemed positively god-like to him, and he learned to respect it.

The cow symbolizes maternal nourishment because of her ability to provide milk. In effect, she is the Mother of humans, and by inference also of the gods. Her milking ability is her passport to greatness. There is nothing more to her: milk is her raison d'être, as simply put by the American poet Ogden Nash (1902-1971):
The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

links for 2008-01-24

Harry Reid is Horrible

Harry Reid is just a horrible, horrible Majority Leader. You'd think he was a member of Bush's inner circle or something.

Harry Reid -- who has (a) done more than any other individual to ensure that Bush's demands for telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping powers will be met in full and (b) allowed the Republicans all year to block virtually every bill without having to bother to actually filibuster -- went to the Senate floor yesterday and, with the scripted assistance of Mitch McConnell and Pat Leahy, warned Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold and others that they would be selfishly wreaking havoc on the schedules of their fellow Senators (making them work over the weekend, ruining their planned "retreat," and even preventing them from going to Davos!) if they bothered everyone with their annoying, pointless little filibuster.

To do so, Reid announced that, unlike for the multiple filibusters from Republican colleagues, he would actually force Dodd and company to engage in a real filibuster. This is what Reid said:
[I]f people think they are going to talk this to death, we are going to be in here all night. This is not something we are going to have a silent filibuster on. If someone wants to filibuster this bill, they are going to do it in the openness of the Senate.


The idea "that this must be done immediately" is a Bush talking point that is absurd. There is no possible way that the Senate and House will agree to a bill and get it to the President before the Protect America Act expires. An extension is inevitable, and Reid knows that.

But he wants to spout this Bush claim that the Senate must comply with the President's orders immediately because he wants to pressure and shame Dodd, Feingold and any others who might support them out of filibustering telecom immunity and new warrantless eavesdropping powers. Dodd is ruining your weekend, preventing your fun retreat, not letting you go to Davos -- all because he wants to grandstand with "talking this to death." The President said he wants this done and we must give him what he wants and now, and I am acting with my good friend Mitch McConnell -- who is explicitly hoping to bully the House into passing the same bill in one day that the Senate passes, just like happened back in August -- to make sure this all happens with as little disruption and debate as possible.

If and when telecom immunity is passed (thereby forever extinguishing any hope of investigating and obtaining accountability for the President's illegal spying programs), and the Bush administration (and subsequent presidents) are vested permanently with vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers to spy on Americans, it will be because Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership conspired to ensure that it happened. They aren't just standing by meekly, failing to oppose it. They are actively enabling it with as aggressive a posture as the Republicans could possibly have employed had they still been in control of the Congress.

[Click to read more details Glenn Greenwald - Your Harry Reid-led Senate in action]

The joke is old, but somehow appropriate for the ex-Las Vegas gambling commissioner, exactly what compromising photos do the Republicans have of Senator Reid? They've got to be brutally sensational, or else they've made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

Lonely Noodles

Really, really is time to go grocery shopping when I am making noodles (a previously opened package of angel hair) with a sauce consisting of two garlic cloves and a carrot. The carrot looks so lonely swimming around in the tomato sauce, especially since the only can of tomatoes is the large size container I hardly every use (or purchase). I have no parmesan cheese to add, no protein, no pine nuts, just a simple gravy, with a carrot.

I have plenty of wine at least.....

Oh, I found a package of previously opened frozen broccoli, but who knows how long ago it was opened: might have that dreaded freezer-burn-flavor. Yech. Can't chance it.

Berghoff Cafe

[where: Berghoff Cafe, Chicago IL 60603] - The Berghoff Cafe is defunct by the way.

Truly Happy

Bush is like a five year old kid with a new toy. Jon Stewart can't help laughing, neither could we.

(stupid Daily Show website may or may not work)

Trillions of Plastic Bags

Bag Gyre

Thirty-five trillion is a lot of bags cluttering up landfills, and oceans, and alleyways.

The inevitable question faced by shoppers at the grocery checkout, how to tote their food home, may soon get simpler.

Faced with a growing push in some states and cities to ban or limit use of plastic bags, many grocers are encouraging consumers to recycle bags or bring their own. At least one, Whole Foods Market Inc., plans to do away with the bags altogether.

But many grocers report that about 90 percent of their shoppers still ask for plastic. And the bag makers, a billion-dollar industry, oppose bans, calling instead for consumers to reuse or recycle the bags. They favor recent legislation that encourage the recycling of bags but don't ban them outright.

Plastic bags have a split personality: They draw shoppers with their durability and light weight, but environmentalists consider them a scourge, tangled in tree branches or swirling in waterways where they can be scarfed up by unsuspecting aquatic creatures.

[From Grocers, Bag Makers Rethink Plastic: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance]

Mabuhay DJ Grocery

As I've said several times, I think a tipping point has been reached, and there is going to be some drastic plastic (fantastic) industry shake-ups in the near future, and plastic bags in grocery stores are going to be phased out.

The United States lags behind many other countries globally in placing limits on plastic bags. Ireland and Germany levy fees for every bag handed out by stores, and several African nations have set thickness requirements that have effectively banned the flimsy thin bags that float in the air. Earlier this month, China, the world's fastest growing economy, banned free plastic shopping bags and encouraged people to use cloth ones instead.

"This issue is not going away. It is not necessarily going to take over the plastic bag market in a year or two, but it is indicative of a real trend," said Allen Hershkowitz, director of the solid waste program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

Plastic bags are a favorite of grocers because of their price, around 2 cents per bag compared to 5 cents for paper. Used widely since the 1970s, environmentalists now estimate between 500 billion to a trillion bags are produced annually worldwide. Made from fossil fuel-based polymers, the bags are virtually indestructible, taking years to break down and commonly ending up in landfills.


Hilex Poly Co., a South Carolina firm that sells about 30 billion bags annually, has set up a recycling facility to reprocess bags collected at grocers like some Kroger and A&P stores. The company is selling a bag that will degrade after being exposed to air and sun for several weeks, breaking down into carbon dioxide and water. And it is developing technology that measures how many items baggers put in bags to cut down on underfilling.

David Pastrich, the company's president, said the shift was largely driven by customer demand, the surge of anti-bag legislation, and the fact that plastic bags were becoming synonymous with litter for many people.

"If nobody wanted this, we wouldn't invest money in it," he said. "We want to be on the right side of the environmental threshold."

Wake if You Want To

Misleading Congress is an impeachable offense, no?

Juan Cole notes:
The Center for Public Integrity has published a study finding that

President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war. [Click to read more 935 False Statements that Led a Nation to War]

The full report available here. I wonder how many more false statement have been mouthed by the Bush administration since 2003? I'd hazard a guess the number is equally as large. Of course, impeachment is off the table, since the election season is upon us (seems like it is a never ending cycle these days), and because most of the elected Democrats have no moral fiber.

Quest for Glory

Quest for Glory

[where: Chicago, IL 60601 ]

(click to embiggen)

ecto added a Flickr helper, and a Twitter plug-in, so am testing them. The Flickr helper needs more search options to be useful. If a good search engine is built in, I'd use this feature a lot (would save going to the flickr search page all the time).

Photo from last February (here's all 26 photos), when the temperatures were approaching absolute zero (or nearly), and the Chicago Bears were about to play in the Super Bowl (embarrassingly bad loss ensued). I had a touch of cabin fever, braved the cold and took photos until my iPod battery and my camera battery both conked out from the chill.

(hmmm, the Twitter thing only works if my server connection doesn't flake out, which it seems to do a lot these days. Sometimes 450 seconds isn't enough to complete the request for a new page. I'll have to inquire with pair.com to see if there is anything they can do)

links for 2008-01-23

You Are Free

You Are Free or not. Isn't that an oil derrick on the lower left?
Keep away from children

We knew this was coming sooner or later, and it might soon spread to a grocery store near you. Of course, hemp makes a damn good resin, and would be easily grown, yadda yadda, but even the suggestion of allowing (non-smokable) Plants-of-the-Devil be used for industrial purposes might get you investigated by the DEA and their cohorts in crime.

The decision comes as plastic bags are increasingly being discouraged or banned by governments and retailers because of concerns about their environmental impact. The Whole Foods Market chain said Tuesday that it would stop offering plastic grocery bags, giving customers instead a choice between recycled paper or reusable bags.

A rising number of governments and retailers are banning plastic bags, or discouraging their use, because of concerns about their environmental impact. San Francisco banned plastic bags last year unless they are of a type that breaks down easily. China announced a crackdown on plastic bags a few weeks ago, while other governments, including New York City’s, are making sure retailers offer plastic bag recycling.

Whole Foods officials said they had hoped to eliminate plastic bags for some time but had to decide how to make it work in the chain’s 270 stores.

A. C. Gallo, the company’s co-president and chief operating officer, said Whole Foods tried to get customers to buy reusable bags for several years but “it really never caught on.” That changed when the grocery chain began offering reusable bags for 99 cents, he said.

In addition, he said, Whole Foods was given a test run of sorts when San Francisco banned plastic bags last year. The number of paper bags used in the San Francisco stores increased a mere 10 percent, he said, suggesting that some customers switched to reusable bags.

Two other trial runs, in Toronto and in Austin, Tex., also went well enough that Whole Foods executives felt confident broadening the plastic bag ban to all its stores. It will take effect by April 22, Earth Day. [From Whole Foods Chain to Stop Use of Plastic Bags]

Regardless, a bold move by Whole Foods, kudos.

"Gram Parsons Archive, Vol. 1: Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969" (Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers)

Excellent. I've long been partial to Cosmic American music, discovering it first through Uncle Tupelo and Michelle Shocked, then working my way backwards in time to Gram Parsons, Dylan's John Wesley Harding, The Band's first few albums, and others. Being a musical historian in the age of re-releasing frenzy does have advantages.

Live at the Avalon Ballroom is the rock equivalent of the Jackson Pollock discovered at a flea market, or the first-edition William Faulkner found in the dollar bin at a used book store. These recordings of the Flying Burrito Brothers' two shows in San Francisco in April 1969 were long buried in the Grateful Dead vaults (which many listeners speak of in the same terms explorers once used for El Dorado) until Dave Prinz, the co-founder of Amoeba Records, tracked them down and worked for more than a year to secure permissions from the Dead's soundman, Owsley "Bear" Stanley. Prinz compiled the recordings into a 2xCD set (one for each show) and released them on the newly launched Amoeba Records label-- its second release, in fact. The title, Archives Volume 1: Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969, teases with the tacit promise of a second volume-- more buried treasure.

For Parsons fans, this constitutes a major event-- perhaps more anticipated than even Rhino's long-awaited reissue of his two solo albums in 2006-- not only because it contains numerous unheard covers, but primarily because Parsons didn't leave a whole lot of live material behind when he died in 1973. Even the supposedly "live" medley from Grievous Angel was just a studio re-creation, and the real live recordings that survive are marred by poor sound quality or, in some cases, poor performances. Live documents of Parsons' short tenure with the original Flying Burrito Brothers line-up are even scarcer. What makes Live at the Avalon Ballroom so special is that the performance is just as good as the sound quality. As professional hanger-on Pamela "Burrito Sister" Des Barres writes in the liners, "I have literally been waiting for this album for decades."

[Click to read more about Gram Parsons : Gram Parsons Archives Volume 1: Gram Parsons with the Flying Burrito Brothers Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969: Pitchfork Record Review]
Grammatical Errors
Parsons died too young.

Terrorism Theater NYC edition

Perpetual Motion Machine

What a crock. Freedom, remember that? Wasn't even that long ago when America was the (self-named) Home of the Free.

NYPD Seeks an Air Monitor Crackdown for New Yorkers
A city councilman and the cops don't want you to have that Geiger counter without their permission

Damn you, Osama bin Laden! Here's another rotten thing you've done to us: After 9/11, untold thousands of New Yorkers bought machines that detect traces of biological, chemical, and radiological weapons. But a lot of these machines didn't work right, and when they registered false alarms, the police had to spend millions of dollars chasing bad leads and throwing the public into a state of raw panic.

OK, none of that has actually happened. But Richard Falkenrath, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, knows that it's just a matter of time. That's why he and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have asked the City Council to pass a law requiring anyone who wants to own such detectors to get a permit from the police first. And it's not just devices to detect weaponized anthrax that they want the power to control, but those that detect everything from industrial pollutants to asbestos in shoddy apartments. Want to test for pollution in low-income neighborhoods with high rates of childhood asthma? Gotta ask the cops for permission. Why? So you "will not lead to excessive false alarms and unwarranted anxiety," the first draft of the law states.

[Click to read more village voice > Runnin' Scared: NYPD Seeks an Air Monitor Crackdown for New Yorkers by Chris Thompson]

Sounds more like they just want to squelch citizens reporting on industrial toxins, asbestos, and other urban blights. Less information for us means less work for them, in other words.

Scaife Co Kellegg American

EMI and Blind Acceptance

Speaking of the slow, painfully public death of record labels, the new owners of EMI (Terra Firma Capital Partners) are not having an easy time. Surprisingly, musicians are much more difficult to manage than generic widgets.

As the chief executive of Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd., Guy Hands controls companies that lease jets, operate natural-gas pipelines, and, most recently, sell music.

The big difference among those businesses is Mr. Hands doesn't have to worry about keeping the planes or the gas happy. But the musicians signed with EMI Group Ltd. are a different story -- and they've been less than pleased with the British private-equity mogul.

The Rolling Stones are considering leaving EMI, as Paul McCartney, has.
"He's either really stupid, or really smart," says Jazz Summers, who as chairman of an organization called the Music Managers Forum has found some of Mr. Hands's statements "not very artist-friendly," but credits him with taking a big gamble on EMI.

People who do business with the company say that Mr. Hands has inadvertently contributed greatly to the alienation among artists and their representatives. A series of missives and remarks by Mr. Hands has given many in the artist community the impression that he is out of touch with many realities of the music business -- including the need to carefully soothe the artists who actually make the hits.

On top of that, key portions of the restructuring plan Mr. Hands unveiled last week, which includes as many as 2,000 job cuts, some complain, treats music as an ordinary consumer product that can be marketed and sold in various territories like soap.

[From Can New EMI Owner Strike a Chord? - WSJ.com]

"Suckers and Liars, Get me a shovel" Some CEOs are damn devils.

Music is not an object that can be bought and sold on the open market, it is an art, and thus needs to be treated with a bit of respect.

In an interview, Mr. Hands says the music industry spent too much time fighting piracy with lawsuits and other tactics, rather than dealing with the situation. "Instead of spending millions shutting down Napster, it should have been working harder," to find new ways to convince people to pay for music, he says.

Mr. Hands got off on the wrong foot last October with an internal memo that found its way outside the company. He wrote that EMI should be "more selective" about which artists the company signs, as many don't work hard enough to promote their music. These performers, he complained, "simply focus on negotiating for the maximum advance... advances which are often never repaid." Many artists and managers felt insulted by the comment, which was widely discussed in the music business.

When Mr. Hands tried to patch things up at a series of dinners with prominent artist managers, he got a chilly reception. At a London restaurant he described to several managers Terra Firma's track record, including its stewardship of United Kingdom movie theater chain Odeon Cinemas Ltd., telling them "the cinema business isn't the movie business -- it's the popcorn business," recalls Mr. Summers, of the managers' group. Mr. Summers, whose clients include EMI artists Badly Drawn Boy and the Verve, found the remark insulting to musicians: "I told him he's dealing with artists, not popcorn."

It hasn't helped that Mr. Hands, having ousted EMI's senior management, still hasn't named a new chief executive, choosing to run the company himself on an interim basis and bringing in music-industry outsiders for key roles. At the same time, some key industry veterans have been shown the door, including Tony Wadsworth, a respected executive who oversaw the company's British operations for 20 years -- including the long, steady erosion of the company's market share on its home turf. Among those brought in was Mike Clasper, the former chief executive of the British Airports Authority.

"They're bringing in a lot of executives from other industries," said Dave Holmes, manager of Coldplay, one of the biggest acts left on an EMI label. "I would say that's worrying. It's not very comforting to me."

Actual journalism

Practicing actual journalism should be celebrated. Not all bloggers are misguided pranksters and bathrobe-wearing skeevers, despite the frequently dismissive corporate media description of the citizen media.

Joel Johnson, of Boing Boing Gadgets, writes:

Yesterday, I was invited to talk about gadgets onThe Hugh Thompson Show, a television-style talk show sponsored exclusively by AT&T for distribution on the online AT&T Tech Channel. I eventually did talk about gadgets, but in light of AT&T's shocking and baffling announcement of their plans to filter the internet, I thought that a much more interesting and important topic.

So that's what I talked about.

As you can see from the video, the crew ended up scrubbing the interview about half-way through. Figuring that might happen, I asked my steely-nerved friend Richard Blakeley to tape the first take. I wanted to make sure that we had a record of the event, primarily to ensure that AT&T would have no reason to try to bury the interview entirely—the same reason I am running this clip now, while discussion about what to do with my segment in post-production is surely underway.

After the crew got their wits about them—they were not very happy with me, understandably—we went on to shoot a second take, which to Hugh's credit also included not only talk of gadgets, but of network neutrality and AT&T's collusion with the NSA

[Click to read more Talking About AT&T's Internet Filtering on AT&T's The Hugh Thompson Show - Boing Boing Gadgets ]

YouTube footage here for the moment.

Cameras are Weapons To Some

I ran into the same problem as David Pogue when I went to an Os Mutantes show a couple summers ago. Wanted to bring my Nikon D70, but instead had to bring a little pocket Canon, and thus only got crappy shots that I never posted at Flickr, or elsewhere.

Anyway, I brought my new Nikon D80 and my trusty image-stabilized, 18-200 millimeter (11X zoom) lens. This event absolutely screamed out for this camera: three frames per second, 11X zoom, image-stabilized. I was looking forward to getting some truly rockin’ shots, like the ones I’d taken at a monster-truck rally we saw last year in the same arena.

Amazingly, the guard stopped me at the door. “You can’t take that in there,” he said. “Detachable lens.”

Say what?

“You can bring pocket cameras, but no detachable lenses.”

[Click to read more of Cameras Permitted Maybe - Pogue’s Posts - Technology - New York Times Blog]

You would think artists, athletes, and their corporate sponsors would like the public to have quality photos circulating on the internet. Word of mouth and all that. Instead, photographers are treated like potential criminals.

Toymaker fights state recall

Taking a play from the Bush Administration handbook (specifically the EPA vs. California edition), Ty Inc. decides it will easier to fight the inevitable lawsuit in the future rather than denting quarterly profits by issuing a costly recall. A criminal decision really, allowing children to potentially get lead poisoning. I hope Ty Inc. loses a lot of money in fines, and summary judgements.

Ty Inc. refuses Illinois' request to pull lead-tainted doll from stores

In what could trigger the first test of Illinois' strict law against lead in toys, a major toymaker is refusing to pull a popular, but tainted, doll from store shelves across the state.

Illinois authorities thought they had reached an amicable agreement late last year with Ty Inc. to have the company voluntarily remove its Jammin' Jenna dolls from retailers because the toys contained high amounts of lead.

But a few days later, the state attorney general's point person on the issue was surprised to see Jammin' Jenna for sale in a candy store near her office. The next morning, the official spotted another one at a grocery store near her home.

then the attorney general's office confronted Ty, best known for its Beanie Babies, the Westmont-based company said it would no longer sell new versions of Jammin' Jenna to Illinois retailers. But it refused to recall dolls already in stores, according to the state.

[snip] In previous interviews, Ty Inc. representatives have said the company is not violating state law because federal rules supersede it. While the state bans vinyl toys that exceed the 600 parts per million limit, federal law does not.

But both the state attorney general's office and the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission have said that the Illinois ban is valid because states can adopt their own rules where no federal law exists. The safety commission is conducting its own investigation into the 21 toys identified by the Tribune; results are expected within a few weeks.

[From Toymaker fights state recall]


links for 2008-01-22

links for 2008-01-21

HBO Putting Shows Online

Lonely Zenith

ummm, The Wire? Maybe more folks will get to watch it.

HBO, cable’s most popular premium channel, is carefully entering the arena of Internet video.

The channel, a subsidiary of Time Warner, will introduce HBO on Broadband starting this week to subscribers in Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wis., then spread the service slowly to other parts of the country. The free service will allow access to about 400 hours of movies and original programming each month. It will be made available only to people already subscribing to HBO, and it will be marketed and delivered through cable operators.

“There are a lot of people, particularly young people, who are watching TV through the PC. We wanted to create a product for them,” said Eric Kessler, a co-president of HBO.

[From HBO Putting Shows Online, at No Additional Charge - New York Times]

Of course, only on Windows PCs at the moment, no Mac support. Typical.

Oh wait, you have to be a subscriber first? What's the point of that? How do you grow your subscriber base that way? Crazy. And short-sighted.

Amazon Flatters Me

"Hey Venus!" (Super Furry Animals)

Hello from Amazon.com.

We're still trying to obtain the following item[s] you ordered on December 19 2007 10:09 PST

Super Furry Animals (Artist) "Hey Venus!"

You have unique (and excellent, of course) taste, and this item is difficult for us to get our hands on.

Why thank you....though I don't even know if I like this album. Flattery will get you everywhere, goes the cliché.

Speaking of Solitude

| 1 Comment
Winter, Oh Winter

Speaking of solitude, I may be a hermit for the next few days....

Bitterly cold. Lows 1 to 5 below... except zero to 4 above downtown. Wind chills as low as 15 below to 25 below zero. West winds 10 to 15 mph

[From Chicago weather from the Chicago Tribune. Including Tom Skilling 7 day local weather forecast. WGN-TV and the Chicago Tribune -- chicagotribune.com]

Usually, I don't have an excuse, but this sounds like a valid one.

[where: 401 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL 60661]

Drug Agents Feelings Hurt

"American Gangster - The Complete First Season" (Paramount Home Video)

(actual DVD of the film not yet available at Amazon, though Netflix has it listed)

Sometimes the truth stings. Wouldn't be an issue if there wasn't some guilty consciousnesses involved.

Three former Drug Enforcement Administration agents filed a $55 million defamation lawsuit against the movie studio that made "American Gangster" on Wednesday, claiming it tarnished hundreds of reputations.

The film follows the rise and fall of former Harlem heroin kingpin Frank Lucas, portrayed by Denzel Washington. His empire undercut the price and quality of heroin sold by the Mafia and when he was caught, Lucas turned informant.

Former DEA agents Louis Diaz, Gregory Korniloff and Jack Toal said NBC Universal, the owner of Universal Studios, falsely claimed the movie was based on a true story and misrepresented the events surrounding Lucas and New Jersey Detective Richard Roberts, depicted by Russell Crowe.

The movie hurt the agents' reputations by falsely claiming in text at the end that a collaboration between Lucas and Roberts "led to the convictions of three-quarters of New York City's Drug Enforcement Agency" agents between 1973 and 1985, according to the suit, which seeks class action status.

[From Drug agents sue NBC over American Gangster]

The Return of Superfly, indeed. (Working title of the film, per IMDb)

NBC Universal, owned by General Electric, denied the allegations, saying: "American Gangster does not defame these, or any, federal agents."

"The end legend specifically refers to members of 'New York City's Drug Enforcement Agency' -- not the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, where the plaintiffs formerly worked. We believe the lawsuit is entirely without merit," NBC Universal said.

Drug Companies Lie for Profit

What a surprise, the FDA and the Pharmaceutical industry conspiring to help sell ineffectual drugs....

The effectiveness of a dozen popular antidepressants has been exaggerated by selective publication of favorable results, according to a review of unpublished data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration.


A review of research submitted to the FDA:
• Of 74 studies reviewed, 38 were judged to be positive by the FDA. All but one were published, researchers said.
• Most of the studies found to have negative or questionable results were not published, researchers found.

As a result, doctors and patients are getting a distorted view of how well blockbuster antidepressants like Wyeth's Effexor and Pfizer Inc.'s Zoloft really work, researchers asserted in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.

Since the overwhelming amount of published data on the drugs show they are effective, doctors unaware of the unpublished data are making inappropriate prescribing decisions that aren't in the best interest of their patients, according to researchers led by Erick Turner, a psychiatrist at Oregon Health & Science University. Sales of antidepressants total about $21 billion a year, according to IMS Health.

[From Antidepressants Under Scrutiny Over Efficacy - WSJ.com] [Digg-enabled full access to article for non-WSJ subscribers]
I know several people on these drugs, though I have found my own concoctions work better (sex, exercise, diet, coffee, and so on. I'll tell you the particulars if you ask nicely)

More and more high profile artists are realizing the music labels are dinosaurs who only exist to suck up a percentage of profits. Especially for marquee bands, the labels don't really bring much to the table.

In what is shaping up to be the latest vote of no confidence from a marquee act, EMI Group Ltd. is in danger of losing the Rolling Stones, along with more than 35 years' worth of their albums, when the group's current contract with the London-based music company expires in March, according to people familiar with the situation.

A person close to the Stones, led by singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards, said the band members are considering their options after their current recording-and-distribution deal with EMI expires in March. The band has been talking to other record labels and other potential partners, according to people in the music business. The band could still decide to stay with EMI and has until about May to make up its mind.

If the Stones leave, their departure would be only the latest in a string of high-profile defections. Under EMI's previous management the company lost the rights to release new albums by Paul McCartney and Radiohead. Since private-equity owner Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd. last summer bought the company for £3.2 billion ($6.28 billion) and ousted the previous management, the pushback from the artist community has grown. Pop singer Robbie Williams's manager has told the British press his client is considering leaving the label.

The status of Coldplay, perhaps the biggest act left on EMI, may also be in question. People close to EMI had been counting on the band to deliver its still-untitled fourth album in time for release in the first half of this year. But manager Dave Holmes says the band is still working on the album and hasn't set a delivery date. [snip]

The loss of the Stones could be more damaging than any of the others: Unlike most record contracts, the Stones' deal with EMI lets the band take all its albums since 1970. The albums in the portion of the Stones catalog currently distributed by EMI -- from 1971's "Sticky Fingers" through 2005's "A Bigger Bang" -- last year sold 395,000 copies in the U.S. alone, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

[From Rolling Stones Might Say Goodbye to EMI - WSJ.com]

[Digg-enabled link to to complete article for non-WSJ subscribers here)

Goodbye three martini lunches! David Byrne wrote an article for Wired Magazine recently discussing the six possible models for musicians to follow, ranging from the 360 (Equity) model to self-distribution. Artists like The Rolling Stones no longer need to be in the 360 model anymore, nor do bands like Radiohead, et al. I think the death of the record labels, as we know them, is rapidly approaching a certainty, and I couldn't be happier, fitter.

links for 2008-01-18

Randy Newman at Macworld 2008

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"Randy Newman Creates Something New Under the Sun" (Randy Newman)

not many corporations would host a (so-called) Bush bashing musical appearance on stage, too much potential controversy, but Apple did:

For the record, this particular bit of political theater was pretty mild, at least to my jaded and cynical ears. The fainting-couch class of Republicans are already out, publicly wailing and gnashing their teeth in faux-rage. You'd think Randy Newman called for assassination of the President or something.

links for 2008-01-17

McCormick Place

A brief photo essay of McCormick Place

Three To One
Three To One
McCormick Place, I believe oh, and this guy was protecting them

Asleep at the Post
Asleep at the Post
catching 39 winks, shoe off.

While meanwhile, directly below

click to embiggen, and juice my flickr stats

[where: 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60616 ]

Fences are Ridiculous

Haymarket Fence

I'm with the landowners, for once. Walls of steel and iron do not equal good immigration policy. Not to mention the fact that some of the residents of South Texas have owned property here since before the United States even existed.

A barrier many doubted would ever be built suddenly looks very real

BROWNSVILLE, Texas When Congress approved the construction of a nearly 700-mile-long fence along the U.S.-Mexico border two years ago to keep out terrorists, drug smugglers and illegal immigrants, many residents in this bustling border town were certain the idea was just politics and would soon be discarded as unworkable.

[snip] "To appease people in middle America, they are going to kill our communities along the border," said Pat Ahumada, the mayor of Brownsville. "The rest of America has no idea how we live our lives here. We are linked by the Rio Grande, not divided by it. Our history, our families, our neighbors are tied together on both sides of that river."

By the end of this year, the Department of Homeland Security intends to erect 670 miles of single- and double-fencing along the border, about 180 miles of it in Texas. But this isn't a straightforward fence.

Even when construction is complete, the fence will not be an unbroken barrier. Instead, sections of fencing will start and stop, interspersed with natural barriers such as mountains or open areas where surveillance cameras and invisible tripwires will alert Border Patrol agents when someone tries to cross.

In some areas, according to draft maps issued by the government, the fence will follow the contours of the wildly twisting Rio Grande, which forms the natural border between Texas and Mexico. In other areas, it will abut an old earthen levee that lies a mile or more from from the border, potentially cutting farmers off from their fields and the fabled river, which is their historic source of irrigation.

Steel in some places and wrought iron in others, the fence may run through selected wildlife habitats while stopping short of selected golf course communities.

[From Feds sue border landowners over fence]
And of course, we must, we must, we must protect the golf courses at all costs.

But wherever it runs—officials say the final route hasn't yet been decided—the fence will require the government to condemn and purchase thousands of acres of private property. And that has outraged scores of border landowners, such as Eloisa Garcia Tamez, who have defied requests from the federal government to grant government surveyors access to their properties.

This week, the U.S. Justice Department began taking those landowners into federal court, seeking judicial orders to compel them to grant the government the temporary right to enter their properties. Of 135 landowners in California, Arizona and Texas sent warning letters by last month, 102 have refused to comply, according to homeland security officials.

"This land has been in my family since 1767, when my ancestors received 12,000 acres from the king of Spain," said Tamez, 72, the director of graduate nursing at the University of Texas at Brownsville. "I don't want to just give it up on a whim."

Tamez's holdings are down to just 3 acres in the tiny hamlet of El Calaboz, 12 miles northwest of Brownsville. But she said she's determined to make the government prove in court why it must take some of her land for the fence.
No racism involved at all either:
For Nydia Garcia and her family, who own border farmlands just up the road from Tamez, the objection is more pragmatic. Most of their fields would fall on the outside of the proposed route, still on American soil but consigned to a new no man's land between the fence and the Rio Grande.

"Are we going to have to ask permission from the Border Patrol every time we need to plow?" she asked as she led a reporter on a back-roads tour of her family's property.

As if to answer her question, within a few minutes a Border Patrol agent drove up and asked Garcia who she was and why she was driving near the river.

John King is an ass

The Devil and Pope

CNN's John King is a thin-skinned moron. Glenn Greenwald skewers King with his own words, and King has a pouty fit in response.

but it's worth noting how often journalists' responses to criticisms contain so many of the same elements which King's email contains. They always want you to know that they never read what you write and that you're an Unserious, biased, partisan amateur (without any recognition of the glaring contradiction between those two claims).

They boast of what they believe to be their reputation, assuring you that they are widely respected and admired by the People Who Count. Even though they never read you, they're repulsed by the idea that you would dare to critique their work because you know absolutely nothing about the High Art of Journalism and never get any messages on your Blackberry from Ed Gillespie or Karl Rove or Anyone.

They invariably point to criticisms from both Left and Right as proof that they're unbiased straight-shooters. They chide you for being unaware of the secret, concealed information (interview questions that weren't broadcast, paragraphs that were edited out) which somehow disprove your critique of what they did broadcast or publish.

They proudly inform you that there have, indeed, been some instances over the many decades that they've been working when they've stood up to someone and asked something other than mindlessly reverent questions, and if you had looked hard enough, you might have found a couple. They tell you it's appalling to comment on what they publish to their readers or viewers without first talking to them about it, even though you linked to or even printed in full everything they said and wrote. And they close by telling you that you have no standards, no ethics, no understanding of their Complex Profession, and no decency -- that you're just a shrill, ignorant partisan pushing a lowly agenda while they are in the business of Real Unvarnished, Objective Reporting.

Ponder how much better things would be if establishment journalists -- in response to being endlessly lied to and manipulated by political officials and upon witnessing extreme lawbreaking and corruption at the highest levels of our government -- were able to muster just a tiny fraction of the high dudgeon, petulant offense, and melodramatic outrage that comes pouring forth whenever their "reporting" is criticized. All this energized invective from King because CNN aired an "interview" with the GOP front-running presidential candidate consisting of one adoring question after the next, which I printed in full. [Click to read more of CNN's John King responds]

Corporate Media sucks, doesn't it?

links for 2008-01-16

NSA Wants to Eat Aunt Millie

Stop Snitchin

You've got to be fracking kidding me.

The nation's top spy, Michael McConnell, thinks the threat of cyberarmageddon! is so great that the U.S. government should have unfettered and warrantless access to U.S. citizens' Google search histories, private e-mails and file transfers, in order to spot the cyberterrorists in our midst.

That's according to a sprawling 18-page story on the Director of National Intelligence by Lawrence Wright in the January 21 edition of the New Yorker. (The story is not online).

In the piece, McConnell returns, in flamboyant style, to his exaggerating ways, hyping threats and statistics to further his bureaucratic aims. For example, McConnell regurgitates the hoary myth that computer crime costs America $100 billion a year. THREAT LEVEL traced down the source of that fake-factoid in September to a former privacy officer for the state of Colorado.

Presumably using unsupported stats like that, in May 2007 McConnell convinced President Bush that a massive cyber-attack on a singe U.S. bank would be worse for the economy than than the deadly terrorist attacks of September 11, the article reports. In response, the NSA developed a mind-boggling, but still incomplete, plan to eavesdrop on the internet in order to protect it.

[From NSA Must Examine All Internet Traffic to Prevent Cyber Nine-Eleven, Top Spy Says | Threat Level from Wired.com]

Excuse me while I scream a bit, and look for the print edition of The New Yorker in question so I can read more of the article, screaming. There is a podcast at The New Yorker, if you are interested. Lest we forget, terrorists are not really the target of this internet monitoring (you think Al Qaeda operatives use natural language in their communications?), we are, the citizens.

Is it 2009 yet? Though, if such a disgusting program began, I'd be very surprised if any of the current Corporate Democrats or Republicans with a chance to become President would actually dial back this program. Sure, Kucinich might, but he's not winning.

Oh, the sign in the above photo reads:
Community Watch Area
Trust, Respect, and Communication are essential to healthy community; Protect your friends and neighbors from uniformed gang members and other suspicious characters.

Police Not Welcome

In Memory of Fletcher Starbuck

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From his friend and fellow potter, Kit.

In Memory of Fletcher Starbuck
Former Austinite Fletcher Starbuck - photographer, traveler, voracious reader, master woodworker, good friend, and potter extraordinaire - died on Sunday, January 6, 2008, in Ft. Bragg, California. All of us who knew him are heartbroken.

[Click to read more Clayways Pottery Studio and Gallery, Austin Pottery Classes, pottery wheel throwing hand building classes - Ceramics Austin Texas TX: In Memory of Fletcher Starbuck]

and I thought I was done crying.

Directions Requested

Directions Requested

Hope I can make it to both of these exhibits

But Leonardo's relatively diminutive examples of the mapmaker's craft are almost overcome by ancient, awesome and fanciful examples of cartography going back to a clay tablet inscribed with the city plan of Nippur in what is now Iraq, dating from about 1500 B.C. The seven-foot-tall gold and leather-bound 275-pound "Atlas of the Great Elector," created in the 17th century for the Duke of Prussia, opens the exhibition, and before the show ends you can have a look at maps drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien for "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings."

Curated by James Akerman and Robert Karrow, historians of cartography at Chicago's Newberry Library, this array of 130-odd maps created for wildly different purposes is divided into themes, ranging from "Finding Our Way" to "Mapping the World," "Visualizing Nature and Society" and "Mapping the Imaginary." One of the most affecting examples is a 16th-century world map by Oronco Fine. While this colorful work is mathematically precise for its time, Fine presents the Earth in heart-shaped form, relating the globe to the essence of humanity. A contemporary animated video map from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., shows the U.S. during the Civil War. In four minutes, it dynamically illustrates the territory held and lost by each side as it pinpoints each of the major battles. The North and the South expand and diminish in the course of the video, until the South is bisected by Sherman's march to the sea and then obliterated.

[From Chicago Marks the Spot For Two Shows About Maps - WSJ.com (Digg-enabled full access for non-WSJ subscribers here)]

Field Museum
Through Jan. 27
Newberry Library
Through Feb. 16

Circles and Squared Off

Circles and Squares
Sent this photo to my mom as a holiday present (20 x 10). She had asked to purchase it, but I can't really sell a photo to my mom. She might have more money in the bank than me (maybe), but I'm not destitute, and she isn't wealthy. I would sell a photo to a friend (and have), but not to my folks. Anyway, she emailed me today saying:
Now, the problem. the large photo is cropped wrong and is missing the skateboard. Can we send it back and ask them to try again? The small proof print that they sent was right, but when they blew it up, they cropped from the bottom.
Probably my fault, not resizing correctly before uploading, but still, you'd think somebody would at least glance at the photo before printing it. We'll see what happens, if anything.

A Time to Keep Silence: Page 69

"A Time to Keep Silence (New York Review Books Classics)" (Patrick Leigh Fermor)

Blog-Sothoth's review intrigued me. I have always been a great lover of solitude, and controlled silence. If I have ever discovered religion, or the voice of The Other, it has been after blissful hours of quietude. Minor note, since my flesh is weak, I'd want to have an inebriant of some sort handy if I retreated to my Pasta Abbey.

Page 69 reads:
Mental discipline, prayer and remoteness from the world and its disturbing visions reduce temptation to a minimum, but they can never entirely abolish it. In mediaeval traditions, abbeys and convents were always considered to be inexpugnable centres [sic, or not, depending upon one's country of origin] of revolt against infernal dominion on earth. They became, accordingly, especial targets. Satan, issuing orders at nightfall to his foul precurrers[?], was rumoured [sic] to dispatch to capital cities only one junior fiend. This solitary demon, the legend continues, sleeps at his post. There is no work for him; the battle was long ago won. But monasteries, those scattered danger points, become the chief objectives of nocturnal flight; the sky fills with the beat of sable wings as phalanx after phalanx streams to the attack, and the darkness crepitates with the splintering of a myriad lances against the masonry of asceticism. Piety has always been singled out for the hardest onslaught of hellish aggression. The empty slopes of the wilderness became the lists for an unprecedented single combat, lasting forty days and nights, between the leaders of either faction; when the Thebaid filled up with hermits, their presence at once attracted a detachment of demons, and round the solitary pillar of St. Symeon the Stylite, the Powers of Darkness assembled and spun like swarming wasps.

What, a psychiatrist may ask, are the results of the manhandling of the delicate machinery of the psyche which these struggles involve? Can so many human instincts be seized like a handful of snakes, tied up in a sack,
(links added by the curious typist)

From the Amazon description:
While still a teenager, Patrick Leigh Fermor made his way across Europe, as recounted in his classic memoirs, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. During World War II, he fought with local partisans against the Nazi occupiers of Crete. But in A Time to Keep Silence, Leigh Fermor writes about a more inward journey, describing his several sojourns in some of Europe’s oldest and most venerable monasteries. He stays at the Abbey of St. Wandrille, a great repository of art and learning; at Solesmes, famous for its revival of Gregorian chant; and at the deeply ascetic Trappist monastery of La Grande Trappe, where monks take a vow of silence. Finally, he visits the rock monasteries of Cappadocia, hewn from the stony spires of a moonlike landscape, where he seeks some trace of the life of the earliest Christian anchorites.

More than a history or travel journal, however, this beautiful short book is a meditation on the meaning of silence and solitude for modern life. Leigh Fermor writes, “In the seclusion of a cell—an existence whose quietness is only varied by the silent meals, the solemnity of ritual, and long solitary walks in the woods—the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear, and much that is hidden away and all that clouds it floats to the surface and can be skimmed away; and after a time one reaches a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world.”

Netflixed: Caligula


Shipped on 01/09/08.

Malcolm McDowell portrays the infamous emperor who wielded godlike power over ancient Rome while at the same time sleeping with his sister (Teresa Ann Savoy). Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole and John Gielgud co-star in this film produced by Penthouse Magazine editor Bob Guccione and written by Gore Vidal. Warning: This unrated edition contains explicit sex, nudity and violence as well as disturbing imagery. [From Netflixed: Caligula]
Yikes. Easily the worst movie I've seen in years. Not even good porn, unless you like late 70's Penthouse Magazine lesbian porn, or scenes of group (male) masturbation. I couldn't make myself watch the whole thing, apparently there was even more over-the-top action to follow.

My two word review: cocaine-inspired megalomania. Apparently, Bob Guccione locked everyone except for sycophants out of the editing room, and cut and pasted footage so it is even more confusing. Gore Vidal sued to get the title changed from "Gore Vidal's Caligula" to "Caligula", though his name is still on the credits. Even as straight-out camp fun, this film wasn't fun.

Roger Ebert's review is classic:
"Caligula" is sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash. If it is not the worst film I have ever seen, that makes it all the more shameful: People with talent allowed themselves to participate in this travesty. Disgusted and unspeakably depressed, I walked out of the film after two hours of its 170-minute length. That was on Saturday night, as a line of hundreds of people stretched down Lincoln Ave., waiting to pay $7.50 apiece to become eyewitnesses to shame.

I wanted to tell them ... what did I want to tell them? What I'm telling you now. That this film is not only garbage on an artistic level, but that it is also garbage on the crude and base level where it no doubt hopes to find its audience. "Caligula" is not good art, It is not good cinema, and it is not good porn. [snip]

You have heard that this is a violent film. But who could have suspected how violent, and to what vile purpose, it really is? In this film, there are scenes depicting a man whose urinary tract is closed, and who has gallons of wine poured down his throat. His bursting stomach is punctured with a sword. There is a scene in which a man is emasculated, and his genitals thrown to dogs, who eagerly eat them on the screen. There are scenes of decapitation, evisceration, rape, bestiality, sadomasochism, necrophilia.
"This movie," said the lady in front of me at the drinking fountain, "is the worst piece of shit I have ever seen."

Netflix Watch Instantly

Netflix Cracked

Good news for some, I suppose, and would alleviate the Netflix system's built-in USPS errors (lost shipments, broken discs, long delays).

Netflix is gearing up for the increased competition by expanding a year-old feature that streams movies over the Internet instead of making customers wait for their online rental requests to be delivered through the mail.

Until now, Netflix restricted how long its more than 7 million subscribers could use the streaming service each month, based on how much they pay to rent DVDs.
For instance, under a popular plan that charges $16.99 per month to rent up to three DVDs at a time, Netflix customers could watch as many as 17 hours of entertainment each month on the streaming service, dubbed "Watch Instantly."

With Monday's change, virtually all Netflix subscribers will be able to stream as many movies and TV shows as they want from a library containing more than 6,000 titles. There will be no additional charge for the unlimited access.

Only the small portion of Netflix customers who pay $4.99 to rent up to two DVDs per month won't be provided unlimited access to the streaming service.

[From Wired News - AP News]

Well, and anyone who happens to own a Macintosh computer. We are not allowed to watch any amount of streaming video because the Netflix engineers cannot make a copy-protection software robust enough to satisfy the Hollywood studio honchos (and their corporate lawyer lackeys). Not sure I'd want to use the streaming option anyway (my office is not the most relaxing room in the house), but I'd like to try it once.

Tribune's new design debuts

Print edition of the Chicago Tribune gets slightly smaller, with increased white space. Looks good, I guess, though where are the editors going to find space to add all the Britney Spears news?

Starting with today's editions, the newspaper introduces some design changes updating our appearance and enhancing your reading experience.


We have maintained most of our signature typefaces, including the one used for the text of our articles. That remains the Nimrod typeface, among the most readable in the industry. It also is exactly the same size and has the same line spacing that readers have come to expect. We are introducing some new typefaces as well. We have changed our primary sans-serif typeface to the highly legible Benton Sans and are adding the very readable Poynter Agate One typeface.

[From Tribune's new design debuts -- chicagotribune.com]


Make It Stop

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Please, please, make it stop. No more Britney Spears appeared naked, drugged and delusional at her court appearance today stories. Pretty please?

The Associated Press is bolstering its entertainment news coverage — and for many readers and viewers, Britney Spears is nothing if not entertaining.

An internal memorandum from The A.P.’s Los Angeles bureau dictating coverage of the troubled pop star was published by several media blogs on Tuesday, prompting some punch lines at the news service’s expense.

“Now and for the foreseeable future, virtually everything involving Britney is a big deal,” Frank Baker, the Los Angeles assistant bureau chief, wrote on Tuesday morning, three days after Ms. Spears was released from the hospital where she had been admitted in the wake of a custody dispute

[From A.P. Says It Wants to Know Everything About Britney Spears - New York Times]

No wonder our national media has fading credibility. I'd rather read about Corri Fetman than of the Sisterhood of Sleaze.

Al Coholic

Cocktail Hour can strike at any time

Title from the Simpsons, natch

"An alcoholic is someone you don't like who drinks as much as you do." [From Dylan Thomas]

Copyright holders like Disney get to set the laws, commoners have to 'relax and enjoy it'.

Gaughran-Perez logged on to http://www.sweetney.com, the personal blog where she'd uploaded a snapshot of her dog, then waited for the Fox pug -- a sort of "Merry Christmas" icon -- to appear again on TV.


The pug was definitely Truman; the photo was definitely one she'd marked as "all rights reserved."

It's not like the picture was some golden chalice of Internet wonder. It's a picture of a stupid dog," says the Baltimore mom. "But it's my dog and it's my photo!"

Supreme irony: "Every commercial break there would be a warning from Fox saying, 'This telecast may not be reproduced,' " she says. "I guess copyright pertains only to them."

Under the banner of "intellectual property," record labels warn you not to bootleg their songs. Hollywood studios warn you not to download their movies. Intellectual property has lately seemed the concern of corporations trying to protect the artist from the grabby public.

But in an increasingly user-generated world where the public is the artist, sometimes it's the big boys who get grabby. And the questions that arise are about ownership, but they are also about fairness, and changing culture, and ultimately, the search for authenticity.

[Click to read about a whole slew of incidents of corporate theft Hey, Isn't That . . .]
There seems to be a gold-rush for user generated content filling up space in corporate media properties, yet so often the content is repurposed without acknowledging the source.

For Niall Kennedy, the issue was hypocrisy -- the casual smugness with which corporations seemed to say, Copyright? What copyright? Kennedy had snapped photographs at a technology convention in late 2005 only to see one suddenly appear, without proper crediting, on a Microsoft-run blog.

"I've had audits where Microsoft has sent people to verify that I have copyrights for the software running on each employer's computer," says Kennedy, who once worked for Microsoft and now runs a Web technology firm. "This is a company that goes after copyright violators with the assumption of guilty until proven innocent."

The original blogger later posted an online mea culpa: "I forgot to include an attribution, which I had fully intended to do, but for which I apologise [sic] to him." Microsoft did not return calls seeking further comment.

Says Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford legal scholar who created Creative Commons, when asked about the issue of corporations borrowing photos: "There's really no excuse for [these companies] except that they think it's not important to protect the rights of the amateur."

[snip] And none of it is comforting to the people who have had their images grabbed online.

So while these issues of authenticity and fairness and legality are all being sorted out, amateur photographers who find themselves more famous than they would like may consider taking advice from Niall Kennedy.

When his initial e-mails to the Microsoft blog asking it to remove links to his photo didn't immediately work, Kennedy replaced the image with one of a man engaging in an activity best described as "extreme mooning." Visitors to the Microsoft blog who clicked on the innocent-looking link were guided to the new photo.

Says Kennedy, "They pulled down the link within 15 minutes."
In many instances, proper attribution is all it would have taken to avoid controversy. Money is nice too, but at least a pat on the head.

Don't Fly in May

More on the upcoming Real ID fiasco. I don't look forward to standing in line at a DMV office, especially since my license is still registered in Texas.

Come May 11 this year, Georgia and Maine residents without passports may not be allowed into federal buildings and the lines at Hartsfield-Atlanta airport could stretch to Alabama, according to federal rules designed to morph state driver's licenses in a national identification card that were released Friday.

If by May, Georgia hasn't changed it mind and the feds don't blink, the nation's busiest airport -- Hartsfield-Atlanta airport -- will have security lines that last for hours. If a federal court house did not let a state resident get to his court date or prohibited someone from getting into a Social Security office, lawsuits and a storm of unflattering news stories will surely follow.

The ACLU's Barry Steinhardt says that's not going to happen.

"There is not going to be any real penalty. This is a bluff," Steinhardt said. "Are they really prepared to shut those airports down? We don't believe that is going to happen."

Instead the real takeaway from today's regulations is that DHS is pushing the implementation of all of this onto the next administration, according to Steinhardt, who noted the rules were supposed to be in effect in 2007 and now have been pushed to 2010, 2014 and 2017.

Tim Sparapani, the ACLU's legislative counsel, warned cash-strapped states to steer clear.

"DHS is trying to spin states in deep budget crises to participate in this," Sparapani said. "Our message to these states is don't spend a dime on implementing these regulations."

[From New Real I.D. Rules To Shut Down Nation's Airports in May?]

More reason to drive everywhere, or take the train.

Graphic Arts Finishing

Graphic Arts Finishing
Graphic Arts Finishing, originally uploaded by swanksalot. Alleyway, somewhere in the city limits....

behind Marché

V is for Victory

from my vast archives.

V is for Victory
V is for Victory, originally uploaded by swanksalot. remnants of a party

No CS gas emitted, however.
CS gas is the common name for 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (also called o-Chlorobenzylidene Malononitrile) (chemical formula: C10H5ClN2), a substance that is used as a riot control agent and is generally accepted as being non-lethal.

Shoplifters of the World lift your weary heads
Shoplifters of the World lift your weary heads, originally uploaded by swanksalot. and look at the helicopter

New Crap Rules for Driver's Licenses

May Day rally 2007 Washington Bridge

Everybody knows how efficient and cheerful DMV queues are already, these new requirements will only make everyone's life easier. Yayyy for more pointless bureaucracy, and yayyy for more terrorism theater!

Americans born after Dec. 1, 1964, will have to get more secure driver's licenses in the next six years under ambitious post-9/11 security rules to be unveiled Friday by federal officials.

The Homeland Security Department has spent years crafting the final regulations for the REAL ID Act, a law designed to make it harder for terrorists, illegal immigrants and con artists to get government-issued identification. The effort once envisioned to take effect in 2008 has been pushed back in the hopes of winning over skeptical state officials.

Even with more time, more federal help and technical advances, REAL ID still faces stiff opposition from civil liberties groups.


The traditional driver's license photograph would be taken at the beginning of the application instead of the end so that should someone be rejected for failure to prove identity and citizenship, the applicant's photo would be kept on file and checked in the future if that person attempted to con the system again.

* The cards will have three layers of security measures but will not contain microchips as some had expected. States will be able to choose from a menu which security measures they will put in their cards.

Over the next year, the government expects all states to begin checking both the Social Security numbers and immigration status of license applicants.

Most states currently check Social Security numbers and about half check immigration status. Some, like New York, Virginia, North Carolina and California, already have implemented many of the security measures envisioned in REAL ID. In California, for example, officials expect the only major change to adopt the first phase would be to take the photograph at the beginning of the application process instead of the end.

After the Social Security and immigration status checks become nationwide practice, officials plan to move on to more expansive security checks, including state DMV offices checking with the State Department to verify those applicants who use passports to get a driver's license, verifying birth certificates and checking with other states to ensure an applicant doesn't have more than one license.

A handful of states have already signed written agreements indicating plans to comply with REAL ID. Seventeen others, though, have passed legislation or resolutions objecting to it, often based on concerns about the billions of dollars such extra security is expected to cost.

[From New Security Rules for Driver's Licenses -- chicagotribune.com]

links for 2008-01-11

Blackwater Gassed US Troops

Gordon, an ex-Marine who blogs at Alternate Brain, writes:

From NYT:

Blackwater teams in the air and on the ground were preparing a secure route near a checkpoint to provide passage for a motorcade,” Ms. Tyrrell said in an e-mail message. “It seems a CS gas canister was mistaken for a smoke canister and released near an intersection and checkpoint.

"Mistaken' my ass. I went and looked up the markings for CS grenades in an old (1979, still about 20 years newer than the one they sold me! Heh.) Guidebook for Marines. CS grenades are marked 'RIOT CS' and smoke grenades are marked 'SMOKE' with the top and bottom of the device the same color as the smoke it will produce. I'm assuming, and yes I know that's dangerous, that larger canisters are similarly marked.

I've experienced CS gas in the 'gas chamber' training in the Marine Corps. At best, it's very unpleasant. The contents of your sinuses void all over your shirt front, your eyes water, it makes anything moist or mucus-y sting like the blazes, and any moisture you may encounter for hours afterward will reactivate any residue and it will happen all over again. Also, the version of The Marines Hymn that they make you sing while all this is going on is not exactly on par with that of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

At worst, depending on concentration and length of exposure, it can be fatal.

It is not allowed as a method or means of warfare,” said Michael Schmitt, professor of international law at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. “There are very, very strict restrictions on the use of CS gas in a war zone.”

Except for Blackwater, of course. They are above any and all laws they choose to ignore by presidential fiat, it seems, just like him.

[Click to read more: Alternate Brain: Blackwater Used CS Gas on US Troops ]

Amazingly, Blackwater is still expanding their government contracts. In a just world, they'd instead be fighting off legal challenges on their way to prison.

More on the topic from the NYT:

About 20 to 25 American soldiers were at the checkpoint at the time of the incident, and at least 10 were exposed to the CS gas after “rotor wash” from the hovering helicopter pushed it toward them, according to officers who were there. A number of Iraqi civilians, both on foot and in cars waiting to go through the checkpoint, were also exposed. The gas can cause burning and watering eyes, skin irritation and coughing and difficulty breathing. Nausea and vomiting can also result.

Blackwater says it was permitted to carry CS gas under its contract at the time with the State Department. According to a State Department official, the contract did not specifically authorize Blackwater personnel to carry or use CS, but it did not prohibit it.

The military, however, tightly controls use of riot control agents in war zones. They are banned by an international convention on chemical weapons endorsed by the United States, although a 1975 presidential order allows their use by the United States military in war zones under limited defensive circumstances and only with the approval of the president or a senior officer designated by the president.

FBI Wiretaps Dropped Due to Unpaid Bills

I'm With Stupid

What a joke. Is this why the Telecoms want immunity?

Telephone companies have cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau's repeated failures to pay phone bills on time.

A Justice Department audit released Thursday blamed the lost connections on the FBI's lax oversight of money used in undercover investigations. In one office alone, unpaid costs for wiretaps from one phone company totaled $66,000.

In at least one case, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation ''was halted due to untimely payment,'' the audit found. FISA wiretaps are used in the government's most sensitive and secretive criminal and intelligence investigations, and allow eavesdropping on suspected terrorists or spies.

''We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence,'' according to the audit by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.

More than half of 990 bills to pay for telecommunication surveillance in five unidentified FBI field offices were not paid on time, the report show

[Click to read more of FBI Wiretaps Dropped Due to Unpaid Bills - New York Times]

The ACLU is calling for the full release of the report, as something doesn't quite add up.

Americans should be extremely concerned when the FBI’s failure to pay its bills on time puts our national security at risk. We’re down the constitutional rabbit hole when lack of payment, and not the lack of a warrant, prevents the FBI from wiretapping. It seems the telecoms, who are claiming they were just being "good patriots" when they allowed the government to spy on us without warrants, are more than willing to pull the plug on national security investigations when the government falls behind on its bills. To put it bluntly it sounds as though the telecoms believe it when FBI says warrant is in the mail but not when they say the check is in the mail.

The information released by the OIG is yet another example of the complete disarray at the FBI. The FBI has failed to address its serious management issues – continuing to turn a blind eye to its internal problems. Yet against all odds, instead of being chided for not addressing these problems, the agency has asked for and received even more authority from Congress.

Six and a half years after 9/11, the bureau’s mismanagement still threatens our national security.

Until proper oversight is imposed on the intelligence community, our security and our rights will remain at risk. As Congress is seeking to further expand surveillance powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, we urge them to take these facts into account. The bureau must be held accountable. If the FBI can’t even manage its checkbook properly, how can we trust it to ensure that our rights are being protected?"

For more information on FISA and surveillance, go to:

[From American Civil Liberties Union : ACLU Says FBI Can’t Manage Checkbook]
Cut Rate Drugs

When I read this article's opening paragraphs, I turned and said to my partner, "Sounds like a major pharmaceutical company placed a couple calls to their lackeys at the FDA." Bioidenticals are big business, but not for Wyeth.

The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on pharmacies that sell customized hormone mixtures as antidotes for menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, saying they are being promoted with false claims about their benefits and contain an ingredient the agency hadn't approved.

The regulator's move ramps up a contentious debate over growing use of the customized hormone products, which have surged in popularity since a government study in 2002 raised questions about the health risks associated with traditional menopause hormone drugs. They were also boosted by actress Suzanne Somers, who promoted use of them in her books.

[From FDA Warns Pharmacies On Hormone Claims - WSJ.com]
Seems as if I was right (thought the FDA denies it of course):
Drug maker Wyeth, which sells hormone drugs for the same uses, had complained to the agency about pharmacies' practices. Wyeth reported $791 million in revenue from hormone products for the first nine months of 2007. In a sign of the issue's high profile, the FDA got more than 70,000 comments from patients, pharmacists and others about the company's petition, many defending the pharmacies. The controversy comes as millions of women born at the peak of the postwar baby boom are entering their 50s. The North American Menopause Society said an estimated 6,000 U.S. women reach menopause every day, or over two million a year.

In letters, the agency warned seven individual pharmacies to stop using certain promotional language, including the popular descriptive phrase "bio-identical." The FDA also told the pharmacies that they couldn't sell hormone mixtures containing the ingredient estriol, which the regulator views as a new drug that hasn't won agency approval. The special hormone combinations, known as "compounded" products, must be prescribed by a physician.

A Wyeth spokesman, Doug Petkus, said the company supports the FDA's action against the pharmacies. Mr. Petkus said Wyeth was "pleased" with the FDA's formal response to its petition, a document the FDA also released yesterday.
70,000 folks take the time to write in, but one phone call from Wyeth trumps the will of the people. Profits Über Alles!

(Digg-enabled full access to complete article here)

Rocket Man

Richard Branson is an interesting cat. Not your typical buttoned-up billionaire.

The stretch white SUV limo outside the Virgin Group's Bleecker Street headquarters does not belong to Richard Branson. Like any self-respecting billionaire environmentalist these days, his ride is flex-fuel.

Recently honored by the United Nations as the 2007 Citizen of the Year, Mr. Branson follows in the footsteps of previous recipients like Angelina Jolie, Bill Clinton and former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix. "I have a lot to live up to," he says, "I have to make sure I'm a worthy recipient."

Following in anyone's footsteps seems like an unlikely prospect for Mr. Branson, who has become one of the world's best known CEOs as much for his antics and image as for his expanding global empire. He kite-surfs, lives on his own private island, and is planning to commercialize space travel.

Big-think is part of Mr. Branson's M.O., the spirit he has brought to his far-flung and diverse businesses. When he started Virgin Atlantic Airways he was a 30-something music exec, and everyone thought he was crazy, including his own board of directors. "I rang up the head of Boeing one day when I was 33 years old and I said, 'Hello, this is Richard Branson and is there any chance of me buying a secondhand 747?'"

The Boeing executive didn't know who Mr. Branson was ("Virgin?"), but the two ended up inking a deal that Mr. Branson remembers as one of his favorites. If the airline didn't work out, Mr. Branson would be able to give Boeing its plane back after a year, limiting his downside risk. "Based on that premise," he says, "I managed to persuade my very dubious record company to let me start an airline. And fortunately after the first 12 months, people seemed to like to fly it."

Eventually Virgin Records, his first business, was sold to help support the growing airline. "It was hard at the time," Mr. Branson laughs. "I'd been given this billion-dollar check and it was in my top pocket and I was running down the street with tears streaming down my face, having just sold my company. And I passed this sign saying 'Branson Sells for a Billion' and I thought, if anyone could see me, this looks a bit pathetic."

The sale of his record company in 1992 came at the best possible time, just before the traditional music industry headed into a downward spiral that continues to the current day. Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic Airways has leveraged its cheeky slogans -- "Virgin seeks travel companion(s)," "Extra inches where it counts" and others even less fit for a family newspaper -- to become the major rival of British Airways.

[From Richard Branson: The Weekend Interview - WSJ.com]

Digg-enabled full access to article here

matt eyes on the prizeSharlot at MOMA, circa 1995.

One last thing, my friend, Matthew Sharlot, gave me a micro-loan of $2500 to purchase my first computer, way back when, and I paid him back slowly, but surely, over nearly five years. Launched me into whatever it is I am doing now, and I'll always be grateful.
In the U.S., meanwhile, Virgin Money is charting a new path in "micro-finance," acting as a middleman to formalize lending relationships between friends or family. Mr. Branson's aunt once helped him with a second mortgage on a recording studio. The rate was slightly cheaper than he could have gotten from a bank and slightly more than she could have gotten by leaving the money on deposit. He paid off the loan in three years and everyone was happy.
Chinese Herbalist

Bag news from all over

The City Council here voted yesterday by a wide margin to require supermarkets and drug stores to collect plastic bags for recycling. The legislation, which reports said was thus far unopposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, applies to stores that use plastic bags and occupy 5,000 or more square feet or have more than five outlets in New York City, according to a statement from the City Council. Stores would be required to provide collection bins and would have to use plastic bags printed with the words “Please return this bag to a participating store for recycling” or a similar message. They would also have to offer reusable bags for sale to shoppers. The stores will also be required to submit annual reports to the Department of Sanitation on the amount and weight of collected plastic bags.

[From New York City Council Passes Bag Recycling Bill]

Every little bit helps.

The NYT writes:

The City Council on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bill requiring large stores and retail chains to collect and recycle plastic bags they give to shoppers. New York is by far the largest American city to enact so broad a measure to limit the environmental impact of the bags. Altogether, each year the country is estimated to use 86 billion bags, which end up blowing down city streets, or tangled in the stomachs of whales and sea turtles, or buried in landfills where, environmental organizations say, they persist for as long as 1,000 years.

Plastic bags are a source of environmental anxiety for New Yorkers, who use one billion a year, Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn said in an interview after the vote. City dwellers consider recycling “more and more” important, she explained, but until now have not had a ready means of recycling the bags.

But under the new bill, which had a surprising amount of support from retailers and plastic-bag manufacturers, stores that give the bags to customers must provide recycling bins for the bags in a prominent place in the store. The legislation applies to stores of 5,000 square feet or larger, as well as all branches of chains with more than five locations in the city.

Shoppers will be invited to deposit plastic shopping bags as well as other stretchy plastic materials, such as dry-cleaning bags. Stiff plastic bags with cardboard bottoms are out, since they are considered reusable.

Consumers can drop off bags from any store, not just the one where the bin is located. “It would be terrible if you had to have your Duane Reade pile and your D’Agostino pile,” Ms. Quinn explained. “That would be a nightmare.” [From City Council Passes Bill for Recycling of Plastic Bags - New York Times]

Catsimatidis is running for Mayor? Really?

immediately faced criticism from John A. Catsimatidis, the Gristedes supermarket magnate, who is eyeing a mayoral run on the Republican ticket; he called the proposal a case of too much regulatory meddling. Mr. Catsimatidis’s criticism soon died down, and the Food Industry Alliance, which represents 750 supermarkets in the city, backed the bill after pushing through some changes. “We already have a lot of members who have taken up this cause,” said Patricia Brodhagen, vice president of public affairs for the Alliance. ShopRite, Stop & Shop, Food Emporium and others already collect bags voluntarily. Whole Foods, which is not a member, promotes reusable bags and offers small discounts for returned bags.

Chargepod Sounds Cool

"Callpod Chargepod™ 6-way Charging System (US Plug)" (Callpod)

Ed Zylka thinks the living room TV is ready for a new remote control.

Darren Guccione believes road warriors should be able to set up a conference call no matter the location.

Both Chicago entrepreneurs are headed to the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which opens Monday, hoping to turn their wireless products into big hits with the retailers, distributors and content providers who attend.


Guccione, the CEO for Chicago's Callpod, understands the challenge. "To compete with Motorola and Nokia, we need to be innovative and fast because those companies are just monsters," he said.

Guccione's company is bringing its Chargepod, a universal charging device for gadgets, and an array of high-powered Bluetooth wireless products, including one for conferencing. He has a bit of a leg up because the Chargepod appeared on several "must-have" tech gifts lists this past holiday season.

Yet Callpod's first for-sale product, developed as an afterthought, has the most interesting back story.

"I had headsets and their chargers everywhere," Guccione said, as they were being used to test compatibility with his conferencing product. "But not nearly enough outlets to charge them. It was driving me nuts."

So he sketched out what became the Chargepod.

"From start to finish, it took under 6 months to get it built and into the market," Guccione said. "We're selling them faster than we can make them."

The Chargepod looks like a wheel with six spokes, with each spoke representing a cable to charge a different gadget, such as an iPod, mobile phone or digital camera. [snip]

The Chargepod, which was introduced in July, has received strong reviews from gadget writers as well as a top holiday gift recommendation from morning show "Live with Regis and Kelly."

"Al Gore ordered two," Guccione adds. Still, Callpod isn't a well-known brand.

[From Gadgets gun for big stage -- chicagotribune.com]

Looks like an essential thing to have in one's suitcase, no? I hate having to bring twenty-seven million power bricks with me every time I travel.

More Plastic Water Bottle Blues

Do Not Attempt This At Home

That's it, I'm sticking with beer, wine and Jameson's from now on.....

Alina Tugend writes:

The type of plastic bottle that typically holds water, soda and juice is made from polyethylene terephthalate, a petroleum-based material also known as PET that is labeled No. 1.

The trouble with reusing those plastic bottles is that each time they are washed and refilled they become a little more scratched and crinkly, which can lead them to degrade. That can cause a trace metal called antimony to leach out, said Frederick S. vom Saal, a professor of biology at the University of Missouri who has studied plastics for years.


But perhaps a better alternative — in terms of health and the environment — is to use the hard plastic bottles made with polycarbonate plastic, often known by the brand Nalgene. It has the numeral 7 stamped at the bottom and is the same type of material used to make some baby bottles, the lining of tin cans and other products. I have some of those around the house. They are just too big to fit into our car cup holders so I retired them to the basement.

Time to dig them out?

Not quite. Environmental groups and some scientists have raised concern that such plastic can leach bisphenol A, an endocrine-disrupting chemical.

[Click to read more of The (Possible) Perils of Being Thirsty While Being Green - New York Times]

Which plastic bottle to use then? Can't always count on having the

Sigg bottle
(in airports and during other impromptu needs for water)

“If I was to use plastic, I would stay with No. 2 and No. 5,” Professor vom Saal said. No. 2 is high-density polyethylene; No. 5 is polypropylene. Both are used in margarine tubs and yogurt containers for example.

But, he warned, do not heat anything in any type of plastic in the microwave.

If you do use these hard No. 7 plastic bottles, the Green Guide, published by the National Geographic Society, advises you to avoid washing them in a dishwasher or with harsh detergent to limit wear and tear.

Bearded Wonders

Self Portrait number 5131 Muted

Who knew I was showing solidarity with the striking WGA members?

Consider the great beards in history: Confucius, Abe Lincoln, Rasputin. The whiskers seem inseparable from the men. Yet for many guys it is the decision to forgo regular shaving, as a reaction to circumstance, and not the resultant goatee or Vandyke, that counts. “Beards have always marked transitions in men’s lives,” Allan Peterkin, a leading pogonologist, says. (He is the author of “One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair.”) Thus we get Al Gore after the election (whiskers of grievance and release), and Ted Kaczynski in his cabin (isolation, madness), and Johnny Damon with the Red Sox (superstition)—all iconic beards in their proper context.

Conan O’Brien, now forty-four, grew his first-ever beard—“a hobby on my face,” he called it—only recently, after his late-night show went off the air as a result of the Writers Guild of America strike. Six weeks in, he was beginning to resemble a hockey player in mid-“playoff beard” form, or, as he preferred to put it, a “lone gunman.” “In my line of work there’s no opportunity to grow a beard,” O’Brien said, shortly before Christmas. “These shows are the organizing principles of our lives, and the moment they stop you start to go insane.” That morning, a paparazzi photo of O’Brien had appeared in the Post, alongside one of David Letterman, who was also, evidently, growing a strike beard (“LATE GUYS TURN INTO ‘CAVE’ MEN”). “Literally, it’s something to do,” O’Brien said. “You can check on the progress of your beard.”

[snip] O’Brien was threatening to stick with it long enough to bring his beard back on the air this week, when his show is scheduled to resume, almost as a form of blackmail: “Let’s get these writers a fair shake or this beard stays.” A side benefit of his new hobby was that it was giving him something to joke about in the absence of a writing staff. “This is the only creative act I’ve been allowed to participate in,” he said and, as if to keep in shape, continued to rattle off shaggy inspirations (“Charlie Daniels, now that’s a killer beard”), quips (“I injected caulking into it about a week ago”), and punch lines (“I’m the only guy chopping wood outside his Manhattan co-op”). [From Dept. of Labor: Strike Beards: The Talk of the Town: The New Yorker]
Message from the Deities?

Even funnier (to me anyway) is that I received a free sample Schick Quattro razor in a Amazon package (of metric hex wrenches, if you were curious). Is some pasta-deity trying to send me a message?

Oh, and both Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart made beard-related jokes on their respective first shows of 2008. (embedded below with the suck-tastic Viacom Flash player. It might work for you, or not).

We Book Private Parties

From last summer

We Book Private Parties
We Book Private Parties, originally uploaded by swanksalot. Man and dog rest for a second

links for 2008-01-10

China Bags

The Pope gets bagged

Interesting development, especially since most of the plastic bags issued by US retailers are manufactured in China.

The Chinese government says it is banning shops from handing out free plastic bags from June this year, in a bid to curb pollution.
Production of ultra-thin plastic bags will also be banned, the State Council said in a statement.

Instead, people will be encouraged to use baskets or reusable cloth bags for their shopping, the council said.

The council also called for greater recycling efforts from rubbish collectors, and suggested financial authorities should consider higher taxes on the production and sale of plastic bags. [From BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China announces plastic bag ban]

If China does in fact start taxing the bag manufacturers, will this encourage more US retailers to consider other options, like cloth bags? Hemp bags?

NNW set free

If you are a Mac user, there is no excuse - go ahead and download NetNewsWire. I've been a paid user for many years, but now you can all join in the RSS fun without parting with 30 bucks.

But I will say that, for me personally, this is a dream come true. Every developer wants to be able to work on the software they love, make a living at it, and give it to the world for free.

Usually you get to pick two out of three—if you’re lucky. Me, I get all three.

[From inessential.com: Weblog: Comments for ‘NetNewsWire 3.1 is free’]

I've gotten used to syncing with NewsGator, and was wondering if I would ever pay for the feature when the two year trial period expired. Now I don't have to make that choice.

Vineyard Coast

from my archives
(someone faved the photo on Flickr)

Vineyard Coast
Vineyard Coast, originally uploaded by swanksalot. visted some friends who were living at Martha's Vineyard. In the offseason, so was just beautiful there.

Fly to this location (Requires Google Earth), and must be evoked at the flickr page.

The Nightfly At Twenty-Five

| 1 Comment

"The Nightfly," Donald Fagen's 1982 album, has shown enough staying power to get an anniversary edition from Reprise Records. The inescapable album draws on obscure corners of American pop for its musical settings.

One of pop music's sneakiest masterpieces has turned 25.

Often, an album rises from regular best-seller to classic status because it captures the temper of its times. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," for instance, simply sounds like 1967, trippy and disarrayed. But "The Nightfly," the 1982 album from songwriter Donald Fagen, gives that standard a twist. Instead of evoking the early '80s, Mr. Fagen captures a different time -- the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, when America was starting to simmer but the '60s hadn't arrived in earnest. Along the way, he pulls off an unmatched bit of alchemy, blending satire and affection without letting one overwhelm the other.

If the album doesn't ring a bell, don't worry. "The Nightfly" has sold more than a million copies and shown enough staying power to get a soup-to-nuts anniversary edition in November from Reprise Records. Yet it never quite made itself inescapable. If you've heard one of the songs, it was probably either "I.G.Y.," a catalog of World's Fair forecasts about the future, or "New Frontier," a frantic, jazzy number about a "summer smoker underground" in a fallout shelter.

You might also know Mr. Fagen, who has a long history of misdirection. As the front man for the band Steely Dan, he co-wrote a decade's worth of hits that hid snarky lyrics under silky harmonies and slick musicianship. "The Nightfly," which arrived a couple of years after the band broke up, was something else altogether. For once, Mr. Fagen stopped being cryptic and opened up to his audience.
[From 'The Nightfly' Still Lives at 25]

I've read about this album for years, but have never actually heard it. One of these days, one of these days.

(Digg-enabled full access to complete article here)

Stock Photos


Could this really be worth it?

On Shutterstock, the comissions have a fixed price of $0.25. I know it doesn't seem a lot but if you have 400 downloads in a month (which is relatively easy) you will get $100. With 2000 downloads, your earnings go to $500.

After you've signed up, uploaded, got photos approved and downloaded, got enough money to make a withdrawl (on most sites, there is a $100 minimum withdrawl) you can start spending it!

[From About Stock Photo - Learn > Sign Up > Upload > Earn]

Sounds sort of lame, really. $0.25 for the use of a photo? And restricting payments to multiples of one hundred sounds like a way to avoid paying photographers. I'd like to sell some work, sure, but cheapening myself just to 'get published' sounds lame. If there was a minimum amount I could set per photo, like $50, maybe. Maybe. $50 is well below the standard rate, but would be enough that I wouldn't feel like a whore. One the other hand, Gapers Block, The Consumerist, The LAist, et al, don't pay a penny, and get to use photos as needed. Gapers Block at least is showcasing a photo as art, but still, in a perfect world, they'd have to pay for the privilege.

Speaking of, I gave permission to "Hannah" to republish my Ladybug Cow photo in exchange for a copy of her book, published, allegedly, June, 2007, but haven't heard a word since. Bleh.

links for 2008-01-09

Crossing the Street

Something about this photo looks iconic, though not through anything I did.

Crossing the Street
Crossing the Street, originally uploaded by swanksalot. Returning to R+D 659 Construction site with coffee

links for 2008-01-08

| 1 Comment

Chicago river lights

Chicago river lights
Chicago river lights, originally uploaded by swanksalot. I love how the bridges over the Chicago River have different color lights. I've taken hundreds of photos of the resulting reflections, and all end up different.


Fletcher Starbuck RIP

My dad emails with bad news about a sudden death in my extended family:

This time there IS a death to report, I'm sorry to say. Fletcher died yesterday. I talked to him about two weeks ago and he said that he was improving. I assume you knew that he had an infection of the brain perhaps caused (according to Kim) by a botched root canal! I don't know anymore. I'll pass along whatever I hear.

I had not heard of hospitalization (I seem to be off the gossip news list), but root canals should not lead to death, even in America.

Fletcher Starbuck will be missed by many. He was a inspiration for a lot of my photography (though he no longer exhibited in galleries by the time I took up photography, I had several of his photos hanging up, and still have a book of a collection of his photographs, published by some Canadian governmental agency I think.)

Fletcher also was a great lover of film - I specifically remember having a long conversation about Werner Herzog's movie, Fitzcarraldo some time ago. Also remember seeing Apocalypse Now for the first time with Fletcher and my father, and Bladerunner too, now that I think about it.

Life's too short.

Fletcher Starbuck RIP

The cup on the left transported many many bottles of wine to my mouth over the years, until it finally cracked recently. Now relegated to paint brush duty. The vase on the right has held various items over the years, but currently is empty. I have other Fletcher Starbuck pottery pieces in Austin.

-- Update, another memorial here


I hate when I make errors in logic, and then tell others of my conclusions. I always blame excel, but the culprit is really my rapid typing skills.

333, originally uploaded by swanksalot. Wacker Drive

links for 2008-01-07

links for 2008-01-06

Take Your Stand

(a possible repost, too lazy to look at the moment)

Take Your Stand
Take Your Stand, originally uploaded by swanksalot. You have nothing to lose.

DNA Tests Free Yet Another Innocent

How do prosecutors and arresting officers sleep at night?

After nearly 27 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, Charles Chatman walked free on Thursday, the 15th wrongfully convicted prisoner in Dallas County to be exonerated by DNA testing since 2001.

The innocence claims of seven other Dallas-area prisoners are pending, thanks in large part to a crime laboratory that, unlike others in Texas, has preserved evidence going back as long as three decades.

Dressed in a new blue blazer, gray slacks, blue shirt and red tie bought by his lawyers, Mr. Chatman said he harbored no feelings of animosity toward the neighbor who had misidentified him as her rapist, earning him a 99-year sentence. But he said he felt he was victimized because he was black.

“I want to let the world know what happened,” he said, “I won’t shy away from that.”

Mr. Chatman, who had been locked up since age 20, said he had lost three chances for release by insisting to the Parole Board, “I never committed the crime.”

He said he wanted to work alongside his lawyers, Jeff Blackburn, Natalie Roetzel and Michelle Moore, to help others he had met in prison prove their innocence. The lawyers work with the Innocence Project of Texas, a consortium of university law clinics that has been using DNA evidence to exonerate people who were wrongly convicted.

[From 15th Dallas County Inmate Since ’01 Is Freed by DNA - New York Times]

Shouldn't DNA tests be mandated as routine procedure?


Girls Only

A friend emailed me this joke that's been making the rounds, and I cannot tell if she thought the joke funny, or as a prime example of sexism. I laughed in spite of myself.
A study conducted by UCLA's Department of Psychiatry has revealed that the kind of face a woman finds attractive on a man can differ depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle.

For example: If she is ovulating, she is attracted to men with rugged and masculine features.

However, if she is menstruating, or menopausal, she tends to be more attracted to a man with duct tape over his mouth and a spear lodged in his chest while he is on fire.

No further studies are expected.

links for 2008-01-04

suckling pig

Who says the Bush administration respects the sanctity of life?

After more than six years of wrestling with the question of whether meat and milk from them are safe to eat, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to declare as early as next week that they are.

The FDA had asked producers of cloned livestock not to sell food products from such animals pending its ruling on their safety. It isn't clear whether the FDA will lift this voluntary hold.

While many consumer groups still oppose it, the FDA declaration that cloned animal products are safe would be a milestone for a small cadre of biotech companies that want to make a business out of producing copies of prize dairy cows and other farm animals—effectively taking the selective breeding practiced on farms for centuries to the cutting edge.

[From FDA Set to Say Food, Milk From Cloned Animals Are Safe - WSJ.com]

yummm, yummm, soylent green, baby.

"Whole Foods Market is committed to providing consumers with clone-free products," says Margaret Wittenberg, global vice president of quality standards and public affairs for grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. "The lack of effective governmental oversight and tracking could mean consumers will lose the ability to choose clone-free products."
Our only hope seems to be with EU regulators putting the kibbosh on franken-food.
The European Food Safety Authority, the European Union's version of the FDA, will likely deliver its initial assessment on food from cloned animals next week, but the final decision won't come for several months. In addition, a special commission called the European Group for Ethics is conducting its own studies on the question of whether cloning is inhumane.

U.S. food companies could face more trouble from European Union regulators and consumers, who are unlikely to respond favorably to the idea of eating cloned animals or their offspring. According to a recent poll, 55% of Italians think the EU should ban food made from cloned animals.

The EU already bans most meat imported from the U.S. because it's often raised using hormones. (It imports only $70 million worth of meat a year from the U.S.) Similarly, trade rules allow the EU to ban the import of cloned animal food if it's for health and safety reasons.
(Digg-enabled link to complete article here)

Kernel Panic

Kernel panic, a rare event. Toast 8 was verifying a disc, had just quit Screen Sharing, and boom. Bummer, dude. At least I didn't have any unsaved documents open.

Opening Mac Pro Step 1

Works of Igor Stravinsky

| 1 Comment

"Works of Igor Stravinsky" (Sony Classics)

Pretty reasonably priced set, I might pick it up.

With Works of Igor Stravinsky, Sony/BMG is offering Sony Classics' massive Stravinsky box of 22 CDs, which once retailed at a faint-inducing price tag, for less than one-sixth of the original cost. Certainly more of these will get around than the old "Recorded Legacy" box did; so prohibitively expensive, such boxes would sit at the counter of finer classical music stores for years as a never-purchased luxury item. In the new edition, you don't get much aside from the same 22 CDs in cardboard sleeves and a paper-thin booklet, which contains a highly generalized, four-page-long appreciation of Stravinsky's artistry and as close to the most basic projection of the recording data as one can imagine.

Aside from the marketing angle, Sony/BMG's Works of Igor Stravinsky has all the vicissitudes of the original Sony Classical set, apart from the old set's monolithic dimensions. No other composer born in the 1880s -- unless you count Leopold Stokowski as a "composer" -- left behind a more extensive body of recordings than Stravinsky. Stravinsky didn't make his first recording until he was 43 years old, only picking up conducting as an avocation a couple of years after that. The vast majority of Stravinsky's recordings were made for CBS Masterworks starting in 1957 -- when he was 75 years old -- and extending to 1967, when he made his last public appearances, and Works of Igor Stravinsky includes, in one way or another, some 90 percent of the music Stravinsky is known to have composed. Save the inclusion of both the Firebird Ballet and its corresponding suite, alternate incarnations of works are not found here; the dreaded, posthumously discovered Sonata in F sharp minor for piano is likewise lacking, but so are several of Stravinsky's other piano pieces and the Three Pieces for String Quartet.

[From allmusic [Works of Igor Stravinsky]]

Bound to be some good stuff here, $33 bucks for 22 discs sounds like a good cost-per-minute ratio. 433 tracks.

The Price of Neglect

Baby Factory

No wonder our children isn't learning.....

The Army Corps of Engineers came to the [Washington D.C. school] District in the late 1990s on an expensive mission: launch a massive overhaul of decrepit school buildings, which eventually included spending $80 million to replace ancient heating systems with brand-new boilers to last 25 years or more.

Since then, 40 of the 55 renovated heating systems have broken down or needed major repair. Public schools officials failed to maintain the new equipment, leading to problems such as damage from mineral deposits that built up because the water was not properly treated, repair records and interviews show.

It would have cost just $100,000 a year to remove harmful minerals from the water flowing into all of the more than 400 boilers in the public schools. But maintenance officials say there was never enough money for it in their budget.

[From The Price of Neglect - washingtonpost.com]

Priorities, priorities. And meanwhile, how much money is pissed away in the sands of Iraq every hour?

Death Penalty Is Cruel

Death Comes RSVP

The Death Penalty is cruel, no matter how you slice it.

When a state panel recommended last April that Tennessee abandon the three chemicals used in executions across the nation in favor of the single drug usually used in animal euthanasia, the state’s corrections commissioner said no.

Though the move would have simplified executions and eliminated the possibility of excruciating pain, the commissioner, George Little, said Tennessee should not be “out at the forefront” of a decision with “political ramifications,” according to recently disclosed evidence in a death row inmate’s lawsuit.

Mr. Little’s decision helps illuminate one of the questions lurking behind the year’s most eagerly anticipated death penalty case: Why have states so doggedly and uniformly clung to an execution method with the potential to inflict intense pain when a simpler one is readily available?

[From States Hesitate to Lead Change on Executions - New York Times]

If the state can murder its citizens, how can the state tell citizens not to murder? And funny how many of the so-called Christians who create our nation's laws are pro-death penalty. They want to place the Ten Commandments in courthouses, yet the one commandment that makes the most sense* Thou shalt not kill is oft ignored.

The answer, experts say, seems to be that no state wants to make the first move. Having proceeded in lock step to adopt the current method, which was chosen in part because it differed from the one used on animals and masked the involuntary movements associated with death, state governments would prefer that someone else, possibly the courts, change the formula first.

“The departments of correction are dug in,” said Deborah W. Denno, an authority on methods of execution at the Fordham University Law School. “There’s safety in numbers. But if one state breaks from that, the safety in numbers starts to crumble.”

“If you change,” Professor Denno continued, “you’re admitting there was something wrong with the prior method. All those people you were executing, you could have been doing it in a better, more humane way.”
Lethal injection protocols nationwide were copied from one developed in Oklahoma in 1977 — the year after the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty — based on advice from a medical school professor to a state senator. They call for a short-acting barbiturate to render the inmate unconscious, followed by a paralytic and then a chemical to stop the heart.

If the first chemical works, there is no dispute that the process is quick and painless. If it does not, there is no dispute that the inmate will suffer intense and terrifying pain. But because the inmate is paralyzed, it may not be possible to tell whether the first drug worked.

*personally, I like this one better:
14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
15 Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;
16 And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.
and is this a weird use of matrix or what?
19 All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.
20 But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

Lake Michigan water

Splasher in Lake Michigan

Can we start treating fresh water as a precious commodity yet? And stop willingly polluting it? And selling it to beverage companies?

Experts unsure why there is less water

For a couple of days last week, Lake Michigan dropped beneath its record monthly low, heightening concerns about lower water levels in the Great Lakes.

The readings lasted only a few days and do not amount to a new record, which can only be set by monthly averages, but forecasts suggest it could be official by the end of January if expected rains and snowfall do not deliver.

"This is the closest we've been to the record low line in a while," said Cynthia Sellinger, deputy director of Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, which is run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. "Lake Michigan has been dropping continuously since 1997, and it's finally approaching the record lows."
[From Lake Michigan monthly averages nearing record lows]
No consensus as to cause, but there are a few plausible guesses:
Possible explanations for the levels have ranged from the effects of warmer winters and drier summers to the unintended consequences of dredging rivers between the lakes in the 1960s. Some have posed that the water may actually be draining from the lakes more speedily because the Earth's crust is lifting beneath them, having been freed of the weight of glaciers so recently, geologically speaking.

Whatever the cause -- or combination of causes -- Lakes Michigan and Huron are poised for one of their lowest years since levels were first recorded in 1860.

California Sues EPA

Never thought I'd type the phrase, good job Arnold, but the EPA's reasoning is ridiculously transparent in this matter, and California certainly has the moral imperative to sue.

California sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, challenging its recent decision to block California rules curbing greenhouse-gas emissions from new cars and trucks.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, California has the right to set its own standards on air pollutants, but must receive a waiver from the E.P.A. to do so. The environmental agency broke with decades of precedent last month and denied California a waiver to move forward with its proposed limits on vehicular emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide.

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “It is unconscionable that the federal government is keeping California” from adopting new standards.

California officials argue that the agency had no legal or technical justification for blocking the new standards.

[From California Sues E.P.A. Over Denial of Waiver - New York Times]

Of course, this won't be settled soon, we may all be dead by the times the courts issue a final ruling.

Mary D. Nichols, thechairwoman of the Air Resources Board, the state agency charged with putting California’s 2002 law on vehicular emissions into practice, said the suit was filed quickly because “the states didn’t want to sleep on their rights.”

California regulators, Ms. Nichols added, have just calculated that in 2016, the state’s standard would reduce carbon dioxide output by 17.2 million metric tons, more than double the 7.7 million metric tons that would be eliminated under the new federal fuel-economy standard.

California’s cumulative reductions from 2009 through 2016 would be 58 million tons, she said — triple the reductions the federal standards would provide.Mary D. Nichols, thechairwoman of the Air Resources Board, the state agency charged with putting California’s 2002 law on vehicular emissions into practice, said the suit was filed quickly because “the states didn’t want to sleep on their rights.”

California regulators, Ms. Nichols added, have just calculated that in 2016, the state’s standard would reduce carbon dioxide output by 17.2 million metric tons, more than double the 7.7 million metric tons that would be eliminated under the new federal fuel-economy standard.

California’s cumulative reductions from 2009 through 2016 would be 58 million tons, she said — triple the reductions the federal standards would provide.

links for 2008-01-03

Marriage Not All That

Witchy oops in Oak Park

Proving once again that marriage (and class differences) is often a force for evil in the world.

Caste dispute cited in Oak Forest fire

An Oak Forest man set a fire that killed his pregnant daughter, son-in-law and young grandson because he was upset over his daughter's marriage, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Subhash Chander, 57, told police that he resented the couple for what he considered a "cultural slight" -- that his daughter Monika Rani, 22, had married a man from a lower caste and done so without his consent, according to a court document.
[From Grandfather charged in blaze that killed 3]

If this story's hook was about a smoker of salvia who killed himself, for instance, there would be pressure to ban it. Who is going to "think of the children" and agitate for banning marriage?!

Is it 2009 yet?

We cannot wait much longer before Bush leaves office. Here is a tale of the dark side of the Terrorism Theater instituted by the Bush-ites.

If you don't mind thinking about the Bush legacy a year early, there are worse places to begin than with the case of Erla Ósk Arnardóttir Lilliendahl. Admittedly, she isn't an ideal "tempest-tost" candidate for Emma Lazarus' famous lines engraved on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty. After all, she flew to New York City with her girlfriends, first class, from her native Iceland, to partake of "the Christmas spirit." She was drinking white wine en route and, as she put it, "look[ing] forward to go shopping, eat good food, and enjoy life." On an earlier vacation trip, back in 1995, she had overstayed her visa by three weeks, a modest enough infraction, and had even returned the following year without incident.

This time -- with the President's Global War on Terror in full swing -- she was pulled aside at passport control at JFK Airport, questioned about those extra three weeks 12 years ago, and soon found herself, as she put it, "handcuffed and chained, denied the chance to sleep… without food and drink and… confined to a place without anyone knowing my whereabouts, imprisoned." It was "the greatest humiliation to which I have ever been subjected."

By her account, she was photographed, fingerprinted, asked rude questions -- "by men anxious to demonstrate their power. Small kings with megalomania" -- confined to a tiny room for hours, then chained, marched through the airport, and driven to a jail in New Jersey where, for another nine hours, she found herself "in a small, dirty cell." On being prepared for the return trip to JFK and deportation, approximately 24 hours after first debarking, she was, despite her pleas, despite her tears, again handcuffed and put in leg chains, all, as she put it, "because I had taken a longer vacation than allowed under the law."

[Click to read more of Tomgram: How Bush Took Us to the Dark Side]

And the cynic wonders if the TSA is already too big of a bureaucracy to be down-sized even when more sensible politicians (possible oxymoron) take control of US policy in 2009. Especially since so much of the U.S. national debt is owned by foreign nations.

links for 2008-01-02

  • "all the mainstream Democratic candidates are racist. After all, they not only do not disavow, but they actively support the institution that is arguably the most racist since slavery. The drug war."

Use It or Lose It

It standing for any sort of artistic or athletic behavior. Picking up a guitar after a long lay-off, takes a while to get one's groove on again. Same with painting, for instance, or writing poetry. When you work on a skill every day, train long enough to enable effortless motion, then stopping the work throws up a barrier to re-enabling the effortlessness. Or something like that: you know what I mean.

Dick Cavett writes:
The late Steve Allen noted that the more comedy you write, the more you can write. It happened to me. Thrown instantly into the front lines, as I was, of daily writing for Jack Paar on “The Tonight Show” — a task nothing at Yale prepares you for — it seemed that each day of the week got a bit easier. Monday hardest, Friday a breeze. Friday’s jokes seemed to write themselves. Rust set in on the weekend and again, Monday wasn’t easy.

This might be a nice time to throw in my favorite fact about myself: I was a gold-medal pommel horse state gymnastics champion in Nebraska. There, it’s out. (Since you ask, I clinched the title with my triple-rear dismount.) And, shamefully perhaps, this means more to me than “three-time Emmy winner.” And it’s always left out of my introductions, possibly because it is not believed. It was not only the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life — nothing else comes close — but it paralleled gag-writing in the sense that what you lost over the weekend was astonishing. A remarkable insight into the difference between being in shape and really being in shape. Dancers know this, too.

[Click to read more of No Gagging the Gags - Dick Cavett - Opinion - New York Times Blog]

NBA players (starters especially), symphonic musicians, dancers, chess maestros, the list is endless. Even bloggers. Much easier to crank out seven blog posts in a day then one, all other things being equal.

Terrorism Theater

Here's why I hate to fly, post 9/11. All of the counter-terrorism measures enacted at US airports are just prop-comic jokes - supremely unfunny ones to boot. Shoe bombs? Liquid explosives? Only on television or in James Bonds films, not practical in the real world. Restricting wine openers and cuticle scissors? Ridiculous. One can make a deadly weapon out of a myriad of devices, including a credit card or a photo id! Try bending a card you no longer need in half, that sucker quickly becomes a sharp, sharp blade. Confiscating bottles of liquid in huge garbage barrels? If the bottles of water are so dangerous, why are they kept in the crowded areas of airports for hours? Obviously nobody is really scared of these liquids, yet the TSA guards become rapidly belligerent if one attempts to notice this fact, or any other inane Terrorism Theater prop.

Does any of the Terrorism Theater Kabuki make us safer? Doubtful.

Patrick Smith (a commercial pilot) explores the topic in detail:

But of all the contradictions and self-defeating measures T.S.A. has come up with, possibly none is more blatantly ludicrous than the policy decreeing that pilots and flight attendants undergo the same x-ray and metal detector screening as passengers. What makes it ludicrous is that tens of thousands of other airport workers, from baggage loaders and fuelers to cabin cleaners and maintenance personnel, are subject only to occasional random screenings when they come to work.

These are individuals with full access to aircraft, inside and out. Some are airline employees, though a high percentage are contract staff belonging to outside companies. The fact that crew members, many of whom are former military fliers, and all of whom endured rigorous background checks prior to being hired, are required to take out their laptops and surrender their hobby knives, while a caterer or cabin cleaner sidesteps the entire process and walks onto a plane unimpeded, nullifies almost everything our T.S.A. minders have said and done since September 11th, 2001. If there is a more ringing let-me-get-this-straight scenario anywhere in the realm of airport security, I’d like to hear it.

I’m not suggesting that the rules be tightened for non-crew members so much as relaxed for all accredited workers. Which perhaps urges us to reconsider the entire purpose of airport security:

[Click to read more of The Airport Security Follies - Jet Lagged - Air Travel - Opinion - New York Times Blog]

I just drive, or don't go at all, if at all possible.

links for 2008-01-01

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