Category: "culture/news"

Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney likes his office to operate in secret, starting from his second week as Vice President. Now this:

For four years, Vice President Dick Cheney has resisted routine oversight of his office’s handling of classified information, and when the office in charge of overseeing classification in the executive branch objected, the vice president’s office suggested that the oversight office be shut down, according to documents released today by a Democratic congressman.

The oversight office, a unit of the National Archives, appealed the issue to the Justice Department, which has not yet ruled on the matter.

-- New York Times (June 22, 2007)

Well, at least we know that the Justice Department will be absolutely impartial and apolitical.

Nations that don't use the metric system

That's Burma, Liberia, and the US.

(via Digg)

Slaughterhouse-five

I started reading Slaughterhouse-five on Friday night and finished it on Sunday afternoon. It's about a man that comes unstuck in time and experiences his life in a random order. Part of the story follows him through the allied fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, where he was held as a prisoner of war by the Germans in World War II. After the war, the main character is up late one night when this happens:

He went into the living room, swinging the bottle like a dinner bell, turned on the television. He came slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

I thought that was one of the more poignant passages of the book.

Powell: Close Guantanamo

Former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell was on Meet the Press today. Here's this retired four-star general's view of the detention center in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba:

If it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo. Not tomorrow, but this afternoon. I'd close it. And I would not let any of those people go, I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system. The concern was, well then they'll have access to lawyers, then they'll have access to writs of habeas corpus. So what? Let them. Isn't that what our system is all about?

You can add Powell's name to the long list of people calling for Gitmo to be closed. That list also includes Tony Blair, the UN, the European Parliment and Amnesty International. This American Life did an episode about Habeas Corpus where they interview some of the detainees who have been released.

Powell goes on:

I would also do it because every morning, I pick up a paper and some authoritarian figure, some person somewhere, is using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds. And so essentially, we have shaken the belief that the world had in America's justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open and creating things like the military commission. We don't need it, and it's causing us far more damage than any good we get for it.

McCain

Does John McCain like to ask rhetorical questions? Yes he does. Does it wear thin? Yes, very quickly. Did he squirm and dodge like a weasel today on Meet the Press? Yes. Is he still a maverick? No.

Gas Boycott

People, for the love of crap, if you get an email that sounds too good or bad to be true, it probably is. Before you hit the forward button, do a quick Google search for the subject of the email and the word hoax. Or visit snopes.com.

Google search for gas boycott hoax
Gas boycott page on Snopes

Someone taped this gem to the breakroom door at work. I also got it in an email from an otherwise reasonable person. First of all, there's never been a one day gas boycott that dropped the price of gas by 30 cents. Second, if you just buy gas on another day, the monthly total sales won't be different at all. The only things that can drop the price of gas are an increase of supply or a (real) decrease in demand.

If you actually want to do something about gas prices, then use less gas. Bike, walk, carpool, don't travel as much or get a more efficient car.

Gov Blunt's Biggest Donor

Fired Up Missouri reports that Governor Blunt's latest campaign finance report includes some big numbers from a notable name: Bob Perry. He was also a contributor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the 2004 smear campaign that brought us four more years of Bush. Perry has been the largest donor of some of the political action groups run by disgraced former congressman Tom DeLay.

Some find it surprising that the increasingly unpopular Matt Blunt is even raising money for a reelection run in 2008. Bob Perry is not the kind of person that we want associated with our state. If we judge by the company he keeps, then Matt Blunt isn't either.

Quid pro quo

Contribute toward the character assassination of a war hero and you, too, could be rewarded by being made an ambassador. Bush is so loyal to his hitmen, he's appointed Sam Fox even when it was clear that the Senate thinks he's unfit to serve. At least this crony appointment won't put lives in danger like Mike "heckuvajobbrownie" Brown.

EMI drops DRM in iTMS

Apple, inc and the record label EMI announced (EMI press release, Apple press release) this morning that they will begin offering songs in the iTunes Music store that have no digital rights management (DRM). If you're not familiar with DRM, here's a quick explanation. When you buy a 99 cent song in iTunes, you can play it on your computer and up to four more computers where your iTunes account is authorized. You also can only play the song on an iPod, so if you have bought some songs on iTMS and you get an mp3 player that's not from Apple, you can't play your songs. There's also a limit on how many cds you can burn from the music you buy. The idea is to prevent piracy, but the people who are willing to pay a dollar for a song are usually not the pirating type. They could have downloaded the entire album for free from BitTorrent if they wanted to pirate it. What usually happens is that DRM is an annoyance to law-abiding music purchasers.

EMI is offering DRM-free tracks on iTunes for a premium ($1.29), but they are higher quality (256K). I think the price is still too high, but this is a huge step in the right direction. You'll be able to do whatever you want with these files: email a song to friend, burn as many cds as you want, back them up, play them on any mp3 player and not worry about losing your investment if technology changes. Steve Jobs says that similar deals with other labels will follow and by the end of the year he hopes to have 50% of the iTMS catalog available DRM-free. This may be the beginning of the end for DRM. I've never bought songs from iTunes, but I may consider it now.

I mentioned DRM in a post almost two years ago. I linked to Cory Doctorow's great speech on the subject (still a good explanation of why DRM is terrible) and I hoped that Microsoft's forthcoming portable audio player wouldn't have an oppressive DRM. It does.

If you're wondering what artists this will include, here's a list of EMI artists.

Best and Worst Presidents

A discussion over at Voter Vault got me thinking about who I would rank as the best and worst Presidents in our history. Here are my top five:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
4. Thomas Jefferson
5. John Kennedy

I don't feel too strongly about Kennedy. Maybe Wilson should be there. Kennedy did get us into Vietnam, but he also pushed the Apollo program. I guess the nerd in me wins out.

Now, for the worst Presidents:

39. Franklin Pierce
40. Herbert Hoover
41. Andrew Johnson
42. James Buchanan
43. Warren G. Harding

It's still way too early to put George W. Bush in either list. Unless things turn around in Iraq in the next year, he'll probably find his place in the bottom five eventually.

Who would you put in these two lists? If you need some help, take a look at this article about scholar's rankings.

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