aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Friday, January 05, 2007
The White House and the Secret Service quietly signed an agreement last spring in the midst of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal declaring that records identifying visitors to the White House are not open to the public.” The agreement came one day after Judicial Watch “asked a federal judge to impose sanctions on the Secret Service in a dispute over White House visitor logs for Abramoff
Spitzer & gay marriage
I’m down with that:
By Day 365, Governor Spitzer will propose legislation legalizing gay marriage in New York, a top aide to the governor said yesterday.
The Spitzer administration moved to reassure gay-rights advocates that it wasn’t backing down from a campaign promise to support a same-sex marriage bill. The governor did not address the issue specifically in his 61-minute State of the State address on Wednesday.
“The governor made a commitment to advancing it this year, and he will do so,” Mr. Spitzer’s communications director, Darren Dopp, told The New York Sun.
Gay marriage, however, isn’t a Day One issue, he said. For now, the administration is chiefly concerned with pushing forward its ethics and economic agenda and is keeping the issue of gay marriage off the front burner. “We have to prioritize and that’s how we prioritized,” Mr. Dopp said. “That’s not to say other matters are not important.”
And I agree with my friend Tom:
State Senator Thomas Duane, a Manhattan representative who is openly gay, speculated that Mr. Spitzer has taken note of President Clinton’s failed effort to end the military’s ban on gays. “When President Clinton came in he got very specific about his plans Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ and it became a distraction for some of the other things he wanted to accomplish. And he didn’t get a win on gays in the military. It was probably a lesson learned for Eliot Spitzer,” Mr. Duane said.
This is your
brain spider on drugs
Presumtion of innocence?
The Times has an article on the propensity of criminal defendants to give statements to police. Don’t. Here’s what the police think:
“Everybody talks,” said Daniel J. Castleman, chief of investigations for the Manhattan district attorney. “Almost nobody doesn’t talk. And the reason for that is that people think they can either talk their way out of it or mitigate the crime. It’s human nature.”
Isn’t it equally possible that they talk because they are nervous? And isn’t an interrogation an inherently anxiety-producing circumstance to find yourself in?
Whatever you do, don’t offer up your alibi. If you do, prosecutors love it “because it shows what they call ‘consciousness of guilt.’”
Defendants may try to talk their way out of a charge, but do they succeed?
“Never,” said Gerald B. Lefcourt, who has defended clients from the Black Panthers to Harry B. Helmsley. “Which is why if it’s up to me, every client I have should know they should never, ever, under any circumstances speak to law enforcement unless I’m there.”
Obviously, police and prosecutors have no presumption of innocence. We know that innocent people make false confessions. This is well documented and if we were more focused on really solving crime - as opposed to building conviction statistics and marking cases closed - we would videotape all interrogations; written statements too.
The WaPo had a series on false convictions in 2003 that I can no longer find online.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
A survey by researchers at Villanova University has found that 85 percent of Roman Catholic dioceses that responded had discovered embezzlement of church money in the last five years, with 11 percent reporting that more than $500,000 had been stolen.
The Catholic Church has some of the most rigorous financial guidelines of any denomination, specialists in church ethics said, but the survey found that the guidelines were often ignored in parishes. And when no one is looking, the cash that goes into the collection plate does not always get deposited into the church’s bank account.
The “global counterinsurgency”
In the doctor’s waiting room today I finally finished George Packer’s New Yorker article, Knowing the Enemy: Can social scientists redefine the “war on terror”?
I came away heartened that the people profiled in it are working within our government - I guess I’m just a social science kind of guy - even as they’re apparently still swimming against the tide. Too much to be summarized or quoted, a highly recommend reading it.
One thought that I did come away with was that the Democrats, without any plan of their own (yet), should immediately stop using the term “War on Terror”:
Last year, in an influential article in the Journal of Strategic Studies, Kilcullen redefined the war on terror as a “global counterinsurgency.Ã¢â‚¬Â� The change in terminology has large implications. A terrorist is “a kook in a room,” Kilcullen told me, and beyond persuasion; an insurgent has a mass base whose support can be won or lost through politics… A war on terror suggests an undifferentiated enemy. Kilcullen speaks of the need to “disaggregate” insurgencies: finding ways to address local grievances in Pakistan’s tribal areas or along the Thai-Malay border so that they aren’t mapped onto the ambitions of the global jihad. Kilcullen writes, “Just as the Containment strategy was central to the Cold War, likewise a Disaggregation strategy would provide a unifying strategic conception for the war-something that has been lacking to date.” ... Crumpton, Kilcullen’s boss, told me… “It’s really important that we define the enemy in narrow terms… The thing we should not do is let our fears grow and then inflate the threat. The threat is big enough without us having to exaggerate it.”
By speaking of Saddam Hussein, the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the Taliban, the Iranian government, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda in terms of one big war, Administration officials and ideologues have made Osama bin Laden’s job much easier. “You don’t play to the enemy’s global information strategy of making it all one fight,” Kilcullen said.
Kilcullen, the central figure in the article, is Australian anthropologist and counterinsurgency expert Lt. Col. David Kilcullen on loan to the State Department. His ideas are intriguing to say the least:
There are elements in human psychological and social makeup that drive what’s happening. The Islamic bit is secondary. This is human behavior in an Islamic setting. This is not Ã¢â‚¬ËœIslamic behavior.’ “ Paraphrasing the American political scientist Roger D. Petersen, he said, “People don’t get pushed into rebellion by their ideology. They get pulled in by their social networks.Ã¢â‚¬Â� He noted that all fifteen Saudi hijackers in the September 11th plot had trouble with their fathers. Although radical ideas prepare the way for disaffected young men to become violent jihadists, the reasons they convert, Kilcullen said, are more mundane and familiar: family, friends, associates.
“If I were Muslim, I’d probably be a jihadist,” Kilcullen said as we sat in his office. “The thing that drives these guys-a sense of adventure, wanting to be part of the moment, wantin to be in the big movement of history that’s happening now-that’s the same thing that drives me, you know?
Pushing the envelope
Using the same legal reasoning to justify warrantless opening of domestic mail as he did with warrantless eavesdropping:
President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans’ mail without a judge’s warrant, the Daily News has learned.
The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a “signing statement” that declared his right to open people’s mail under emergency conditions.
That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.
Bush’s move came during the winter congressional recess and a year after his secret domestic electronic eavesdropping program was first revealed. It caught Capitol Hill by surprise.
Via Attaturk, “self-described civil libertarians when the f@*# are you going to give a damn?”
Toyota anti-drunk driving move
Toyota’s developing a dunk driving prevention system:
Toyota Motor Corp. is developing a fail-safe system for cars that detects drunken drivers and automatically shuts the vehicle down if sensors pick up signs of excessive alcohol consumption, a news report said Wednesday.
Cars fitted with the detection system will not start if sweat sensors in the driving wheel detect high levels of alcohol in the driver’s bloodstream, according to a report carried by the mass-circulation daily, Asahi Shimbun.
The system could also kick in if the sensors detect abnormal steering, or if a special camera shows that the driver’s pupils are not in focus. The car is then slowed to a halt, the report said.
The world’s No. 2 automaker hopes to fit cars with the system by the end of 2009, according to the report.
I was happy to see this. A recent visit with my nieces and nephews convinced me of the need.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Me and my blog software. Continued.
My hosting package is up on Saturday, so I decided I’d switch. I am completely satisfied with ICDSoft but they do not offer a package with the bandwidth I need at a reasonable rate. I had done some work with sites hosted by Network Solutions and liked their features and service, so I bought a package there. On Monday night. Not a lot of time.
I had further decided to leave Movable Type. You may remember my post, Hating your blog software. Since May I’ve been having problems, as yet unresolved. I wanted better support than I was getting with the free package, so I plunked down 50 bucks… only to find out that I paid $50 for LESS than I was getting for free.
Basil has asked for a post on Movable Type; I’ll tell the full story there one day soon. I was a big fan, until that $50 debacle. Six months later they tell me, “The level of support included with each of these licenses is identical. If you purchased the Unlimited Personal Edition under the assumption that it would afford you a different level of support than what you were already receiving under your [free!!!] Commercial license, then the purchase was unnecessary.”
Back to the looming deadline. I thought I’d switch to Expression Engine from pMachine. I tried out the package and think it looks great, but what I read says it’s more than I need for my little blog. And it costs $99. I read up on WordPress, too. It has its advocates and fans but nothing made it an obvious choice over Movable Type. So I concluded I should let bygones be bygones and stick with MT.
Then I asked their support about switching hosts. The article they referred me to (from January 30, 2004!!!!):
Moving your Movable Type blog to a new server or to a new host is much more perilous than you might think. If not done properly, you could lose all of your entries… I’m not a techie, so if something goes wrong by following these instructions, I can’t help you. I accept no liability.
Back to Expression Engine. For another 50 bucks they’ll install it for me. Sounds good. I want to set up a blog with forums and photo galleries and more for the students at school; I plan to use Expression Engine, this will pave the way. Sounding better. They have a Movable Type Import Utility and can do it in one business day.
But that still may not make my Saturday deadline. And can I get the import done in time? (To top it off I’m out of commission tomorrow - a lumbar puncture - won’t that be a fun blog post! And my parents arrive Saturday night for a brief overnight stay.) Time is ticking away… If this little blog is missing Sunday, you know I missed the deadline. I’ll keep you posted.
Coming this weekend in the NYTimes travel section, 36 hours in Atlanta:
FIRST, don’t call it Hotlanta anymore. It’s the ATL [er, hate that!], the code for the teeming airport that is a fitting emblem for a city so transient it barely recognizes itself, where more than half the adult population is from somewhere else, and where every urban fad, from underground parking to savory ice cream, is embraced. A corporate stronghold, a Southern belle and a hip-hop capital, Atlanta wrestled with identity dysphoria as it searched for a new slogan ("Every day is an opening day,” [hate that too] accompanied by a new theme song by the hip-hop impresario Dallas Austin) and tried to name its newborn giant panda (Bling Bling was rejected). Major civic investments like the new, grandiose $220 million aquarium, a significant expansion of the High Museum of Art by the architect Renzo Piano, and the purchase of the papers of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. add up to a high tide of enthusiasm, even in a city where optimism is liberally indulged.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all before. But it was their first stop that threw me for a loop:
Few places can be said to be definitively Atlantan, but the Colonnade (1879 Cheshire Bridge Road NE, 404-874-5642) is one: a meat-and-three restaurant with a full bar (rare) and a sizable gay clientele (more rare). The resulting mix is spectacular: black fingernails, Sansabelt trousers, birthday tiaras, Hawaiian shirts, all in a buzzing carpeted dining room with efficiently friendly waiters. When it comes to ordering, stick to the classics: a Bloody Mary to start ($5.50), fried chicken with yeasty dinner rolls straight from the school cafeteria ($10.95) and the day’s pie ($3.50).
I’ve been there - I may even go back one day with friends from here - but I don’t get it. I’m thinking the reason New York gets such a kick out of it is because they fly in. Bask in some local flavor. And fly out.
Says Doug, “Yes and when we go to Atlanta all we want to do is find restaurants like those in New York!”
LATER: The link is live and already a “most-emailed” article.
The mendacity of dope
Through his book, Obama has become the first potential presidential contender to admit trying cocaine.
“I believe what the country is looking for is someone who is open, honest and candid about themselves rather than someone who seems endlessly driven by polls or focus groups,” said Robert Gibbs, Obama’s spokesman. Gibbs said yesterday that Obama was not available for an interview.
The book in question is not The Audacity of Hope, but rather Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.
I prefer open, honest and candid to the stonewalling obfuscation of religious redemption offered up by Bush to avoid the persistent gossip about his past.
Detecting computer-generated porn
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal law banning the possession of images of minors in lascivious poses that were either Photoshop-altered adults or completely computer-generated. Since then, to secure a conviction, prosecutors must prove that a defendant possessed images of real--not virtual--children.
This brings us to the case of Rudy Frabizio, whose employer discovered sexually explicit images on Frabizio’s computer that appeared to involve minors. The FBI was contacted, and Frabizio was indicted on one count of possession of child pornography.
Initially, the FBI chose as its expert witness Hany Farid, a Dartmouth College professor of computer science, who had written a program to determine whether an image was real. But then Frabizio’s defense attorney discovered that the program had a 30 percent false-positive error rate: it frequently classified a real photograph as computer-generated. It also classified an image of a cartoon dragon called “Zembad” as real. [...]
After that revelation, the FBI quickly switched witnesses. Its new expert was Thomas Musheno of the FBI’s Forensic Audio, Video, and Image Analysis Unit.
The FBI claimed that Musheno could simply look at each image--with no computer program required--and figure out which is legal and which is not. Musheno concluded that 6 of the 19 JPEG images definitely depict real children and 10 others “appear to be” real children. (Musheno holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in photography, not in any technical disciplines, and the FBI handbook (PDF) does not discuss how to detect computer-altered images.)
Said the judge:
“I have serious doubts as to whether a person visually studying the images in this case can distinguish real pictures from manipulated or wholly virtual ones with the level of confidence required in a criminal prosecution,” Gertner wrote. She cited computer science research that said even “experts cannot know whether a digital image is real or virtual.”
Musheno was not allowed to testify.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
More Too much! Bill Kristol
I enjoy shouting at him on TV as much as the next guy, but I’d enjoy it a helluva lot more if he wasn’t so adulated there. He’s being pretty well grilled by Jon Stewart on a Daily Show rerun right now. And in another browser window that I’ve had open all day David Corn articulates in detail just exactly how wrong Kristol has been time and time and time again. A small sampling:
On September 15, 2002, he claimed that inspection and containment could not work with Saddam: “No one believes the inspections can work.” Actually, UN inspectors believed they could work. So, too, did about half of congressional Democrats. They were right.
On September 18, 2002, Kristol opined that a war in Iraq “could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East.”
On September 19, 2002, he once again pooh-poohed inspections: “We should not fool ourselves by believing that inspections could make any difference at all.” During a debate with me on Fox News Channel, after I noted that the goal of inspections was to prevent Saddam from reaching “the finish line” in developing nuclear weapons, Kristol exclaimed, “He’s past that finish line. He’s past the finish line.”
On November 21, 2002, he maintained, “we can remove Saddam because that could start a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy.”
The point of Korn’s column is to bemoan the unfortunate fact that for all this the guy gets invited by Time to become one of their “star” columnists. More of our market freedom at work.
LATER: More from Anonymous Liberal.
UMG v Lindor is being closely watched because a federal judge ruled that the RIAA will have to show that Ms. Lindor actually shared music, a higher burden than simply demonstrating that she made the files available for download.
Today Recording Industry v The People tells us that a new discovery dispute has erupted in the case:
[T]he RIAA is refusing to comply with Magistrate Judge Levy’s order directing them to turn over “all relevant documents” concerning their wholesale prices for downloads unless Ms. Lindor’s attorneys agree to keep the prices confidential. Ms. Lindor’s attorneys are willing to keep the details of the contracts confidential, but not the pricing and volume information, and have submitted a proposed order to the judge to resolve the dispute…
Clickthrough for links to the relevant docs. And stay tuned…
The death of the blockbuster. Continues.
The Massachusetts marriage vote
Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, took a first step toward banning it today when legislators voted to advance a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman.
The amendment still needs to be approved by at least 50 legislators in another vote in the 2007-2008 session. Then it would be placed on the November 2008 ballot as a popular referendum. If it passed, the amendment would not do away with the more than 8,000 same-sex marriages that have taken place since they became legal in May 2004. But it would prevent future marriages of gay men and lesbians.
The swiftness of the vote today surprised people on both sides of the issue, taking place without any prior debate, just minutes after the constitutional convention had been gaveled into session. Proponents of the amendment needed just 50 of the legislature’s 200 lawmakers to support it; the final vote was 61 in favor of the amendment and 132 opposed.
You know, I think we’re going to win this and that the longer it’s kept alive and debated the better our chances, so I don’t look at this as a defeat. It’s the process.
On the other hand, Pam makes an excellent point, “would it have been fine...to let ‘the people’ vote on whether I must sit at the back of the bus or drink from a separate fountain?”
You might have noticed that my site was down for a good bit of today. It hasn’t been behaving well since, either. It seems a cable was cut in Boston:
A network outage at hosting provider SAVVIS Communications Corp. has knocked a number of Web sites offline including Web portal Lycos Inc.
The outage occurred around 9 a.m. (EST) on Tuesday when a backup data line connecting SAVVIS’s Boston data centers was accidentally severed, said Kathy O’Reilly, a Lycos spokeswoman. At the time, crews had been in the process of repairing the main line to the data center, which was also down.
With the two data lines out of service, the entire Lycos Network—including Lycos Mail and the Tripod Web hosting service—was knocked off the Internet, O’Reilly said. None of the data being stored by Lycos was affected by the incident, she added.
SAVVIS is one of the largest hosting providers in the U.S.
What’s a blog
Dave Winer says it’s the unedited voice of a person:
People use blogs primarily to discuss one question—what is a blog? The discussion will continue as long as there are blogs.
It’s no different from other media, all they ever talk about is what they are. We got dinged by the NY Times because all bloggers talked about at the DNC was other bloggers. But what were they busy doing—talking about other reporters, except when they were talking about bloggers—talking about bloggers.
Nothing wrong with it.
And you don’t need comments, “We already had mail lists before we had blogs. The whole notion that blogs should evolve to become mail lists seems to waste the blogs. Comments are very much mail-list-like things.”
LATER: Others think a blog is defined by its ability to leave comments.
Autism optimism in the digital age
Autism is on the rise. But, says Simon Baron-Cohen:
I remain optimistic that for a good proportion of them, it has never been a better time to have autism.
Why? Because there is a remarkably good fit between the autistic mind and the digital age… Computers operate on the basis of extreme precision, and so does the autistic mind. Computers deal in black and white binary code, and so does the autistic mind. Computers follow rules, and so does the autistic mind. [...]
For this new generation of children with autism, I anticipate that many of them will find ways to blossom, using their skills with digital technology to find employment, to find friends, and in some cases to innovate. When I think back to the destiny of children with autism some 50 years ago, I imagine there were relatively fewer opportunities for such children. When I think of today’s generation of children with autism, I do not despair.
Via Jeff Jarvis, “I have known in this industry who, though I have no idea of their diagnoses, display some of these signs and who are very good at their computer jobs.” Me too.
Monday, January 01, 2007
A general rethinks don’t ask, don’t tell
Retired army general John M. Shalikashvili was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993 to 1997. He supported Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Today in the NYTimes he says:
Last year I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew. These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.
This perception is supported by a new Zogby poll of more than 500 service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, three quarters of whom said they were comfortable interacting with gay people. And 24 foreign nations, including Israel, Britain and other allies in the fight against terrorism, let gays serve openly, with none reporting morale or recruitment problems.
I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces.
Neuhaus on Times Square: the aural equivalent of Christo
A favorite Times Square attraction of mine, while it was there from 1977 to 1992, was Max Neuhaus’s Times Square, “a rich harmonic sound texture emerging from the north end of the triangular pedestrian island located at Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets in New York City.”
Reinstated in May of 2002, it is a regular stop of mine when I am back. Last week I was there and shot this video.
Dave Marash on Al-Jazeera English
From On The Media last month reporting on the launch of Al-Jazeera English, still not shown on any US cable outlet - that’s our market freedom at work - this recap from a February interview makes a most important point:
DAVE MARASH: Al-Jazeera in Arabic is, I believe, one of the most revolutionary and positive influences on the Arabic-speaking, mostly Islamic Middle Eastern world in, literally, centuries. It has opened up public discourse and it has brought American standards of reporting to an area that previously had nothing but really moronically state-controlled television and news operations.
BOB GARFIELD: Al-Jazeera in Arabic serves some 40 million Arabic-speaking viewers around the world, but mostly in the Middle East. According to Marash, Al-Jazeera aims to create the widest possible debate, and that means including the most extreme views.
DAVE MARASH: And to us in the West, the extremes of that context seem obnoxious or worse, even intolerable. But in that region, if Al-Jazeera in Arabic were politically correct and scrubbed the extremes from its debate, it would lose all of its credibility with its viewers, who know that anti-Israeli attitudes are prevalent in the region and flat, ugly anti-Semitic attitudes are also widely distributed. The only way that I believe that they can be combated is in direct intellectual combat, and you can’t do that by excluding them.
Now, Al-Jazeera International is going to be a global channel, operating from four regional bases - 11 hours a day from Doha, in Qatar, 5 hours a day from London, 5 hours a day from Washington, 3 hours a day from Kuala Lumpur. Over the course of a 24-hour day, you are going to hear globally significant news stories discussed and approached from four different regional points of view.
Emphasis mine! We’d benefit from understanding those regional points of view. Do we really want to? Or are we happy to work our tolerance as a stealth means of imposing our views and beliefs on the world?
Why I watched the video
Yesterday I decided to watch the Saddam cellphone execution video. Several times. I paused before I did and I can’t entirely explain why I finally decided to go ahead. I was reading this blog post which argued the video “raises serious questions about whether justice was really followed,” but I could not successfully link from there (I got a 509 Bandwidth Limit Exceeded error) so I had to go to Google Video and search for it.
I oppose the death penalty and some time ago commented elsewhere that I consider Saddam’s sentence cruel. Given my government’s, and my own, complicity in the hanging I felt a kind of obligation to watch. It would have been simpler to allow the press surrogates to watch it for me, the way my fellow citizens fight the war in my name, but it was not a simpler solution I sought. I wanted an honest one.
I was grateful the video wasn’t more graphic, and could not make out any of the shouted words. I noted the lack of uniforms and hooded executioners, and the generally lawless - no military order here - and primitive feel to the environment. I understand that I don’t have have the experience to put it all in the proper, fuller, context. I continue to read a wide variety of media reports for that.
I was aware that a decade ago there would have been no cell phone video, and that the narrative constructed around the event would have necessarily been much different than what I saw; closer, no doubt, to the one Bill Kristol posited on Fox News Sunday yesterday morning, “It’s really a remarkable thing for—I think he’s the first Arab dictator to be dealt with by his own people—not just killed so another dictator can take over, but killed after a reasonably fair due process trial before judges of his own country. It’s a very heartening thing.”
I’m not heartened by the hanging. I was, and remain, grateful for the cellphone. Friends last night debated the video; none saw it, most objected even to NPR broadcasting the audio. I argued that this is the world we live in now. I reject that mine was a prurient interest and will refrain from judging the interest of others.
I have some awareness of the dynamic of crowds - I believe we are subject to social cascades and can be swept up in them for good and evil - so I agree that there is reason for concern and important study to be done. We can turn our heads away but the threat is not going away. I choose to engage and make as informed a decision as possible rather than to hide and let someone else do it for me.