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November 2005
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What I Believe

I am an advocate. Not a powerful or successful one, but a small still voice striving to be heard above the booming of the right-wing media echo chamber, advocating (except in the case of my ill-advised screed on the South) for a nation that pays some attention to the poor, the underprivileged--in short, all the people who not only weren't born on third base, but may never be allowed an at-bat. I believe, with Ben Franklin (in a different context) that we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. When the poor pay more taxes than I do (on a percentage basis), that's just wrong. Eliminating the estate tax is wrong. It would save my family a fortune, but it's still wrong. Note that Bill Gates is in favor of the estate tax. I've never cared for the man's personality, but heavens to Betsy his heart is in the right place on all the big issues except regulation of monopolies.

My life has been blessed regularly by public subsidies of various sorts--my public education, the federal subsidy of universities, social security for my grandparents, and more. I believe government can (not always is, but can) be part of the solution to many large national problems. I believe the regulated capitalism of 1950-1970 was better than the unregulated capitalism of 1880-1900, and I think the numbers back me up. The GOP is driving us back to the laissez faire economy of 1880 with all its might, and I feel I must resist as a union man and the son of a union man.

We must have equality of opportunity as our ultimate goal, but along the way we're going to have to assure some equality of results. I believe we were better off as a nation when politics hovered around the center, rather than driving to the extremes. I think pre-emptive war stinks, and Bill Clinton no more committed high crimes and misdemeanors than George Bush. Bill Clinton's crime was to serve as president with a Republican house. I gave to Katrina relief; I hope the rest of the country will help us out when our time in nature's bull's-eye arrives, as it probably will in my lifetime. I think of myself as a straightforward 1960s liberal, a man who campaigned for Wayne Morse and George McGovern and is proud that his daughter interned with both Hillary Clinton and Diane Feinstein. I think my column reflects these views. I don't spend a lot of time defending Bush's record on the war because a) others do and b) he is wrong.

I think, as a whole, my column reflects these views. If you disagree (either with the views or my self-perception), feel free to let me know.

Reasons For A Short Column

On the average, I see more movies in a month than the average American sees in a year. This is the big season for movies, and with school out, my daughters home, and my wife in India, I am liable to see a whole mess of films. I'll try to post the reviews as I go along, so I am not crunched when my daughters and I hop on a plane Dec. 25 to spend a few days in Oregon with my parents. (You can't tell when I actually post reviews, since I mess with the time and date stamps to make my column come out in the order I desire).

On an unrelated note, I swell with pride to see that 2005 was the first year in the history of this column that I filed all 52 weeks. Good on me! Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Time permitting, I'll be back next week too.

Merry Christmas: A Political Statement?

I suffer from the usual dilemma of people of good will at this holiday season; I try to say Merry Christmas where appropriate and Happy Holidays where I am not sure. Sometimes Jewish friends will wish me Merry Christmas, and I'll wish them one back, then wince. At a store yesterday, the shopkeeper wished me a Merry Christmas than blanched. "Schindler's usually a Jewish name, but I'm German-Swiss," I reassured him.

This is one more count in my indictment of Bill O'Reilly, who has a reverse Midas touch (everything he touches turns to s***). I am irritated by his stupid War on Christmas rant, backed up by the full intellectual firepower of the Fox News Channel. Said firepower is slightly less than that of a damp cap gun. The Christmas campaign has made me self-conscious. The holiday season is enough of a minefield at school (I'd rather not offend my students, thank you) and in my personal life (I'd rather not offend my friends) and while shopping (when I can't quite be sure, so I answer in kind).

What I hate is the fact that now, when I say Merry Christmas, I feel like I am making a right-wing political statement. The flaming right has despoiled Christmas as they have the flag and the dignity of the Armed Forces, by enlisting them in bitter, pointless, partisan battle. None of us will live to see the day that Christians are a persecuted minority in this country. Get over yourself, Bill--to see who's dissing Christmas, check a Bible, then look in a mirror.

And Happy Holidays, or Merry Christmas, as you wish.

The March to Impeachment Begins: This Time It's A Crime

Once again, some comment on these two very important stories:

Let's have a quick Q&A:

Q: Correct me if I am wrong. Some amendments to the constitution are difficult to read or understand because of their archaic language and dated historical intentions. But it has always seemed to me that the fourth amendment, like the first, could not be simpler and clearly means what is says. You... need... a... warrant...

A: In general you are correct. While there are exceptions to the warrant provision, none apply here. The administration did not seek or obtain a warrant within 72 hours. Criminal penalties include five years per interception and there are civil penalties available as well. For a guy trying to avoid putting money in the wrong hands, it's a strange way for Bush to act. It is directly contrary to the will of the people as expressed by the Congress in that the U.S. was to try to deter the flow of funds in certain directions. Bush just offered backdoor funding. There is no need for the plaintiff to appear in court in a civial action, or probably even for a deposition given a set of stipulated facts.

Q: Wake me up if I'm dreaming, but can there be any question Bush's internal spying program trashes the fourth amendment?

A: No.

Q: I know he didn't go to law school, but he did graduate from Yale and Harvard and so, at minimum, must be literate.

A: You should have received some training at the trade school you attended against making unfounded assumptions. Based on the available facts (unrelated to the object of your inquiry), there is serious ground to question the alleged standards to which they adhere and the alleged quality of either brand's product. As Bill would ask: What does literate mean?

  • Able to give a speech when it's being piped into your ear? (as for example during the debate or last Sunday night)
  • Able to read the words off a page without comprehending what they mean? (This would also provide an explanation for the inclination to avoid reading newspapers, although, within the last few years, it was alleged he was reading books without pictures in them.)

Q: How could he find an honest American lawyer who wouldn't slap him silly for even proposing the NSA program of warrantless interception?

A: As in so much else, he failed in this effort. (Delete "honest" and ask again.)

Q: Is there suddenly, for the first time in our nation's history, a shortage of spineless rollover judges (or, alternatively, law and order hanging judges) willing to issue secret warrants on the flimsiest of presentations?

A: In short, no; not sure about the spineless and rollover, however the latest statistics indicate just a few warrants were denied in the last year or two (out of what seems to be about 1,700 approved in the last year).

Q: And who the hell did he brief?

A: The so-called gang of eight (from the Senate: Majority Leader, Minority Leader, IntelComChair, IntelComRankingMember and from the House: Speaker, Minority Leader, IntelComChair, IntelComRankingMember) plus, when Reid succeeded Daschle, Reid was briefed. Over the weekend, Bob Graham said he did not understand there was warrantless interception from the briefing he received. On this point, note handwritten letter released yesterday by Jay on July 17, 2003 which expressed reservations and referred to in the New York Times story Administration Cites War Vote In Spying Case on Dec. 20.

Note that the question is what does "is" mean? These were briefings (ha-ha look what we're doing, you can't tell anyone, refrain from letting the door hit you on the way out) not requests for approval.

You are not confused; Bush is naked and thinks he's entitled to walk around that way and no one will say anything. The issue of executive entitlement was resolved in the period roughly 1776-1783; the decision was: no entitlement. The serfs are commenting already; the real question is whether they will say anything effective.


The fat is in the fire - at least two ways.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, says so and plans to ask hardcore radical far right-wing Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito about his view of the issue of warrantless wiretapping. Then Specter plans hearings on the issue.

Prof. David Cole of Georgetown University Law School and Prof. Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School were both on Nightline on December 20, 2005. Prof. Turley has gained a reputation (whether rightly or wrongly) as a "legal expert" who is willing to shill for George W. Bush and the Republicans on occasion. Not on this Nightline. The professors agreed that George W. Bush committed felonies by engaging in warrantless wiretapping. Prof. Turley stated Bush's actions violated not only the law but also the Constitution. Prof. Turley further suggested that warrantless wiretapping is an impeachable offense.


Prior to the November 2004 election, the New York Times apparently had the story of the unconstitutional warantless interception of communications that were partially or entirely domestic.

Why Times Ran Wiretap Story, Defying Bush
By Gabriel Sherman, New York Observer

The Times decided not to print this news which was fit to print before the election.

Prior to the November 2004 election, the New York Times reportedly also had the story of the fraudulent wireless communications receiver George W. Bush used in at least one of his joint press conferences (so-called "debates") with Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.)

The Times decided not to print this news which was fit to print before the election.

Inquiring legal minds want to know whether that slogan on the front page of The Times ("All the News That's Fit to Print) is false advertising. Can all of The Times subscribers get a refund on the grounds they were sold the paper under false pretenses?

Also on this subject, Matt Taibbi is a worthy successor to one of the leading lights of American journalism, the late great Hunter Thompson, may Hunter rest in peace. Read The Magical Victory Tour: While Iraq burns, the president keeps playing the same old song. It is in the style of the former national affairs correspondent for Rolling Stone.

Taibbi comments on the poor physical appearance of George W. Bush on the morning of December 7, 2005. We now know that this was the day after George tried and failed to convince the editor and publisher of The New York Times to refrain from publishing the article which eventually appeared on December 16, 2005. It revealed massive unconstitutional and criminally illegal warrantless wiretapping approved by George. The penalty : five years per unconstitutionally intercepted communication.



Impeachment Watch


by Craig Reynolds

Web services, free apps, who needs Microsoft?: the AP ran a long look at "alternative" applications and web services that continue to weaken the case for being locked in to Redmond: The Office-free life: Surviving on free Web-based services alone. One of the apps mentioned,, offers a new release: Takes Another Step Forward. I am a happy user of OpenOffice on Linux but the Mac OS X support has been slow in coming (see Mac OS X Port and NeoOffice).

Google stuff: a sense of the times, as seen in Google queries: 2005 Year-End Google Zeitgeist . Who needs memory if you have Google?: This is the Google side of your brain. (This will remind those who read science fiction know that as soon as a society comes to depend utterly on information technology, that is when the Big Crash happens.) A clever use of Google to get around firewalls, and so on: Google free proxy!

Non-sphere bubbles: recently I mentioned colored bubbles but perhaps more significant from a technology standpoint are these very cool shaped "armored" bubbles by Anand Bala Subramaniam et al. at Harvard. Scientists can mold bubbles' shapes ("By adding plastic or metallic particles, bubbles become putty in researchers' hands.") and Harvard scientists make odd-shaped bubbles.

Katamari Damacy Dilbert: this recent Dilbert (or try here) reminded me of Katamari Damacy (or try here and here) the famously unique and quirky video game for PS2. ("What, no guns?!") The game play consists of rolling a sticky ball around, picking up various objects and making your ball larger, allowing you to roll up larger objects, and so on. The scale issue gives the game a bit of the Powers of 10 feel. I had always thought "sticky rice balls" but never made the connection with dung beetles, so thanks to Scott Adams for that! While the game is way cool, it sounds like the designer wants to work in other media: Katamari creator dreams of playgrounds, and apparently tee-shirts.

Technobits: Copyleft Hits a Snag --- review of The Republican War on Science --- more on back roads broadband: Rural Living, but With Access to High-Speed Internet Service --- Texas utility to provide Internet over power lines --- Fuel Cell Vehicles by 2010? --- Debunking common GNU/Linux myths --- GPS lost and found --- the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons may finally make it to the big screen: 'Watchmen' on duty at Warner Bros --- the VirtuSphere a $100,000 human sized hamster ball --- V8 snowblower.

Language Humor

- Those who jump off a bridge in Paris are in Seine.
-- A backward poet writes inverse.
-- A man's home is his castle, in a manor of speaking.
-- Dijon vu - the same mustard as before.
-- Practice safe eating - always use condiments.
-- Shotgun wedding: A case of wife or death.
-- A man needs a mistress just to break the monogamy.
-- A hangover is the wrath of grapes.
-- Dancing cheek-to-cheek is really a form of floor play.
-- Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?
-- Condoms should be used on every conceivable occasion.
-- Reading while sunbathing makes you well red.
-- When two egotists meet, it's an I for an I.
-- A bicycle can't stand on its own because it is two tired.
-- What's the definition of a will? (It's a dead giveaway.)
-- Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
-- In democracy your vote counts. In feudalism your count votes.
-- She was engaged to a boyfriend with a wooden leg but broke it off.
-- A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
-- If you don't pay your exorcist, you get repossessed.
-- With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.
-- When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds.
-- The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.
-- You feel stuck with your debt if you can't budge it.
-- Local Area Network in Australia: the LAN down under.
-- He often broke into song because he couldn't find the key.
-- Every calendar's days are numbered.
-- A lot of money is tainted - It taint yours and it taint mine.
-- A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.
-- He had a photographic memory that was never developed.
-- A plateau is a high form of flattery.
-- A midget fortuneteller who escapes from prison is a small medium at
-- Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.
-- Once you've seen one shopping center, you've seen a mall.
-- Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis.
-- Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.
-- Acupuncture is a jab well don



[Editor's Note: God Save Russia. In an item on American cultural imperialism, NPR reported last week that Aeon Flux was one of the top-grossing films in Russia. I am sure the themes of disappearance and universal surveillance resonated with the Russian people, and they are no doubt second to none in their appreciation for Charlize Theron's talents, but really. No wonder they're sliding back towards communism.]

Neal Vitale already reviewed Syriana. I saw it this week and wanted to add at least one thought of my own: a lot of the reviews and (in San Francisco), some cartoonists have suggested the film is busy and hard to understand. I say, "wake up and smell the coffee." Yes, it wasn't a straightforward single narrative, but anyone who has watched any hour-long TV show in the last five years knows that none of them tell one story a week any more either; there's always at least an "A" story and a "B" story and sometimes more. The writers intercut between them. Same thing with this movie. I did not need a scorecard to keep the characters straight (well, OK, maybe some of the minor characters). There were surprises and twists, but at no time was I unclear who a major character was, or what they were doing at any particular point in their story. Of course, since I saw it with Marlow, who has been studying European and Middle-Eastern oil politics for the last two years, I may have had a jump on the subject. However, while I cannot, as she can, name all the "stans," I think I could have kept up even without her. It's not that hard, folks. It is a major film and significant Oscar bait for writer/director Stephen Gaghan and lead actor George Clooney. Chris Cooper may be in line for an award as well.

Lion, Witch and Wardrobe

Just like the reviewer in the New Yorker, when many young people were reading C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, I was busy reading, then rereading, The Lord Of The Rings (a trilogy I understand my brother rereads every four or five years). They seem to share a sensibility, based on their screen adaptations, but of course the allegory in LOR is subtle while CON slaps you in the face with its parallels to Christianity. In fact, part of the "viral marketing" for the film has been a campaign to encourage evangelical Christians to come and see it--that it is their "Christian Duty" to see it. That alone almost kept me from going, but Rae read and loved the whole series (this movie is based on the first of seven books in the series) and was anxious to see it. Yes, it is CGI gone mad, but done very well, and in service to the story instead of overwhelming it (as it did, for example, in Star Wars III). The whole thing is too long at two hours and 12 minutes (Restraint! Restraint! My kingdom for some directorial restraint!). I could have brought this film in at two hours; why can't a professional filmmaker? No wonder fans have taken to recutting films. On the other hand, the humans are human (and so we care about them), the weird creatures are distinctly secondary (no Jar Jar Binks, messa think is a good thing). The battle scenes are exciting and well done but not (ala LOR) interminable. And of course, how can I resist a film with a talking beaver--given that the beaver is MIT's mascot (and appears on my class ring)--and a lion with the voice of Liam Neeson (James Earl Jones would have been all wrong, not to mention derivative, not to mention not English enough for this all-accent, all-the-time outing).  Fun for the whole family, especially if you like your allegory served piping hot and in your face, and enjoy spending too long in the dark.

Fun with Dick and Jane

Ah, the soft bigotry of low expectations. This is a remake of a film that wasn't all that good the first time out. The critics have clubbed this baby seal of a film until it is unconscious, but, having seen it, I am here to tell you that I rarely stopped laughing. Although Carey is no Bill Murray, he is a funny guy with a nice repertoire of acting moves. Someone told Téa Leoni she could do light comedy; can someone else tell her something different, please? Stay for the first few credits; they're funny. And, in the end, it's a revenge fantasy, so if you've been screwed out of your severance or pension, you'll enjoy the film immensely. Other adults will probably be mildly amused.

Credit Card History, Kent Peterman Update, Beginner's Guide To Hannukah, Dan Grobstein File

Good show. I missed it, but the web site is great: Frontline: Secret History of the Credit Card

What's Kent Peterman up to?

Peggy Coquet: A Beginners Guide to Hannukah.

Dan Grobstein File

New York Times