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Saturday, 03/29/03

It dawned on me a minute ago that Clay Shirky's writing style is appealing in large part because it reminds me so intensely of Malcolm Gladwell: clear voice, curveball hyper-apt analogies, big points. Check out their latest efforts and see what I mean: Shirky's Permanet, Nearlynet, and Wireless Data, marshalling precedent to suggest 3G cell service is doomed, and Gladwell's Connecting the Dots: the Paradoxes of Intelligence Reform, about the predictable consequences of inevitable intelligence failures. Except for Shirky's focus on software, telecom, and other "new economy" subject matter, I think I'd have a hard time telling them apart. 10:01AM «

Friday, 03/28/03

My housemate is out of town all week, and I've spent the time wearing no pants working on Scrapoplexy. Jon Udell's comment on project blogs landed less than a day after I whimsically decided to set up a simple Scrapoplexy blog to keep me focused and let the few interested parties look in on my progress.

It's not public yet (not until there's some code to see), but I expect it'll be useful to have a historical project record -- early screen shots, frustrations, design assumptions, etc. As a solitary effort, the collaborative effects Udell praises are missing or at least different, but it's worthwhile even for my own benefit. Having already set up Movable Type, the marginal effort in running an additional blog is zero, though I suppose if I get to the point of selling anything, I'll owe Ben and Mena a check.

(My esteem for Ben Trott's technical achievement in building MT rocketed upward after a recent project afforded me the chance to spend some time gazing at Slash's designed-by-accretion guts. MT is a real pleasure with which to work, both as an end-user and a developer/tinkerer, and I have all the more appreciation for it after getting more familiar with some of MT's venerable competition.) 10:48AM «

bumppo.net has been listing toward full-time political commentary, insofar as it's full-time anything. Until the last few days I'd had a hard time concentrating on the nonpolitical, so I've been forcing myself to deal with something else. As I attempt to dial down bumppo.net's political output, let me leave you with a few choice resources:

10:41AM «

Sunday, 03/16/03

With all the attention on Miguel Estrada, the Ninth Circuit just got 3.6% less lovable.

From that article, I couldn't figure why neither Feinstein or Boxer blocked his appointment (their prerogative as senators from the candidate's home state). Sure, it's politics a la Jesse Helms, but they're not shy, and at this rate we're going to standardize on the Fourth Circuit (where Bybee clerked) by the time the executive branch gets its ass regime-changed.

The article calls Bybee an "Oakland native", but the Congressional record says he's from Nevada, whose senators both voted to confirm. The Ninth Circuit press release says he was born in Oakland, and I thought that's what counted. Otherwise all those judges Helms blocked could have just moved to another state for six months.

The CR roll call on the Bybee vote includes this comical postscript from Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton:

Mr. President, on rollcall vote No. 54 [Bybee's confirmation], I voted aye. It was my intention to vote no. Therefore, I ask unanimous consent that I be permitted to change my vote since it will not affect the outcome of the vote.

And there you have it, the modern Democratic party in a nutshell.

I find it pretty reprehensible that Maria Cantwell, the junior senator from Washington, voted to confirm this guy. Not that Slade Gorton would have made me happier, but hell, he wouldn't be making me meaningfully less happy. I can't think of an elected official I like less for whom I've voted. 10:26PM «

Thursday, 03/13/03

My copy of The New Yorker traditionally shows up a few days late, so when mom forwarded me the link a few days ago, I hadn't seen the issue with this Seymour Hersh story about Richard Perle, long-time Iraq hawk and chair of the Pentagon-advisory Defense Policy Board, who is ostensibly doing a very good job making a buck while fanning the flames of homeland security. It will not be news to the Tom Tomorrow readers in the audience that Perle is now suing Hersh for libel.

When somebody's willing to take a high-profile libel case to court in the US, the burden of proof is high, and it's (appropriately) difficult enough to prove a case that the plaintiff probably has a substantial gripe, or wouldn't be tilting at windmills.

In Britain, a libel suit is a cheap way to quash speech, because the burden of proof is backward. Recall the David Irving case: when Deborah Lipstadt (an American professor at Emory) wrote a book calling holocaust denier David Irving a holocaust denier, Irving hauled her into court and successfully marshalled the weight of the majestic British legal system to force Lipstadt to prove that the holocaust had happened. Irving lost the case, spectacularly, but he was on solid British legal ground to put the burden of proof on Lipstadt, and the outcome was not a fait accompli.

So it's significant and scary that Perle, not-British, is pursuing his libel case against Hersh, also not-British, in a British court. Thus, the pesky obstacles of American constitutional protections are neatly avoided.

If that doesn't want to make you read the Hersh article for yourself, you're no friend of mine.

It's unsettling that the only stories I can find about this, as of now, are in the New York Sun and in Slate, where Timothy Noah has been following the adventures of Adnan Kashoggi for some time. Use this Google News query for "Perle, Hersh, and libel" to find others, more or less as they happen. If they happen.

Update: Jack Shafer, also in Salon, is skeptical that Perle will actually file (but double-dog dares him to):

Ordinarily newspapers don't consider it news that someone might have "plans" to file a lawsuit. Especially if they plan to file later. In England. All of which explains why no U.S. daily published his threat except the neoconservative New York Sun.

Meanwhile, for a view from the echo chamber, see the blog of David "Axis of evil" Frum. Frum's is the first treatment of this story I've seen with no mention of Perle on CNN a few days ago calling Hersh "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist". Go figure. 04:50PM «

Wednesday, 03/12/03

Brad DeLong replies to Mickey Kaus's attempt to poke holes in Paul Krugman:

So why doesn't Krugman say all this--that there are two dangers, that they work at different time scales, that today I'm going to talk about the second long-run danger, and that better fiscal policy for the United States would involve bigger deficits today (and for the next several years) and big surpluses tomorrow ("tomorrow" starting five years from now)? That would keep Mickey Kaus (and, I fear, hundreds of thousands of others) from being puzzled.

Well, he only has 700 words.

My view is that the op-ed column length is the work of the Devil. It is too long to make one simple important point--so an op-ed column has to at least pretend to take a comprehensive view. But it is too short to really take a comprehensive view of anything. IMHO, the op-ed column length is one of the many, many things that degrades the quality of our political discourse.

Word. 12:09PM «

The Bushies have been pounding the pavement for votes in the Security Council's next Iraq resolution, even though France and maybe Russia have both already promised to veto it. Our fearless leaders have been looking to land in a situation where they can say they had UN approval for their private little war, "you know, except for France". Once that's understood, the GOP breast-beating over France's "betrayal" makes sense as more than idle jingoism.

This is, of course, the same administration that refused to entertain the impertinent notion that its legitimacy might be less than authoritative after failing to win a popular election by 500,000 votes. Playing the role of the electoral college in the current drama, here's the UN Charter. Where's Ari Fleischer and his grating rhetoric about the rule of law when we need it?

Trying to game the UN vote is about as legitimate as Al Gore's unpacking in the White House would have been two years ago. The administration's gyrations are in service of a military action that, from the standpoint of the UN Charter, materially resembles the Iraqi action in 1990 -- you know, the one Bush's daddy went to war to stop. And, glory be, the old man is being consistent. 11:21AM «

Weekend Edition Sunday is running its annual review of Oscar-nominated scores, which in its first installment (RealAudio) covers Philip Glass's atypical effort for The Hours and Thomas Newman's score for Road to Perdition.

Since I heard this segment over the weekend I've been trying to figure out why Newman's score, which they begin discussing at about 7:15 into the clip, sounds so familiar. I saw the movie months ago and I didn't feel like I was remembering the score itself.

Days later, the jangly, out-of-tune guitar finally gave it away -- Andy Trudeau mentions it's a Newman tell, but its usage (and the whole song in which it appears) bears the undeniable DNA of the Six Feet Under theme. And yes! Newman wrote that too. There's one less thing to think about. 11:20AM «

Saturday, 03/08/03

mpt: "In my observation, if your software puts up an alert you've got about two seconds to make your point and get your response, before the person you're shouting at will lose interest and choose a button at random." He doesn't have room to mention the infuriating Windows custom of putting the default button on the right. There's a reason every web browser since Mosaic puts the back button facing left -- Microsoft's default button placement is willfully wrong, unless you're reading Hebrew.

Sydney Morning Herald: Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano [...] described pre-emptive war as 'murder on a grand scale; useless, unjust and intrinsically stupid'". I mention this because I felt equally shocked to hear NPR's Sylvia Poggioli use that S-word as to learn she was quoting the pope.

Roger Ebert: "Vertical prayer is private, directed upward toward heaven. It need not be spoken aloud, because God is a spirit and has no ears. Horizontal prayer must always be audible, because its purpose is not to be heard by God, but to be heard by fellow men standing within earshot." I hear the Sun-Times gets a bucket of howling hate-mail whenever he writes one of these; I just love them so.

Steven Johnson: "If Google went in this direction with the Blogger acquisition, it would hearken back to one of the seminal documents of the computing age: Vannevar Bush's 1946 "As We May Think" essay, which envisioned a new tool to augment human memory." I was just reading about Memex recently. I think Johnson would have a happier metaphor if he addressed ZOË, plus a proxy server.

The word "ampersand" turns out to be a corruption of "and per se, and". Who knew? The jibe/jive of its day. 11:08AM «

Thursday, 03/06/03

At 5:47, toward the end of Bush's shameful talking-points session, Bob Deans from Cox News Service stood up and asked:

Millions of Americans can recall a time when leaders from both parties set this country on a mission of regime change in Vietnam. 50,000 Americans died; the regime is still there in Hanoi, and it hasn't harmed or threatened a single American in 30 years since the war ended. What can you say tonight to the sons and daughters of the Americans who served in Vietnam to assure them that you will not lead this country down a similar path in Iraq?

As Deans said "30 years since", there was a noise from Bush's podium. It sounded to me like a derisive snort. To be charitable, perhaps Bush had fallen asleep and woke himself up after he began to snore -- I can't be sure, because NBC's camera was fixed on the reporter. Did anyone see Bush at that moment? 06:15PM «

Google's attempt to police use of its trademarked name as a verb yesterday led me to the discovery that "google" is already a word. Not "googol", which is a 1 followed by 100 zeroes, but google, a verb back-formed from googly, which is a 20th-century cricket term meaning a pitched ball exhibiting "break and swerve". "To google" is to throw a googly ball. See Jamie Moyer.

[I came across this fact through an even more seminal discovery: the Seattle Public Library provides cardholder access to the Oxford English Dictionary through its web site. To my great glee, it doesn't even time out after a period of inactivity. If you think this news heralds a brave future for bumppo.net's etymological commentary, then by god, you're quite right.] 11:56AM «

Wednesday, 03/05/03

I'm always on the lookout for new blogs run by economists, and a few days ago I discovered a valuble cache of new ones to audition. Faux-nepotism makes John Irons an early favorite, though, and his post today of Andy Foulds' "The Economists" is the funniest use of Flash I've ever seen. 11:00AM «

Sunday, 03/02/03

Neal Pollack's new soldier friend: "Explaining why 'The Patriot Act' sounds so scary is like trying to explain why little girls are the creepiest characters in horror movies."

After Jen complained that Pollack "hit on her that one time" (I recall thrown objects were involved, more or less in good fun) he swiftly struck up an email exchange, initiated with an apology and a declaration of their friendship. In light of the above, which is interesting and worthwhile in its own right, Pollack apparently confirms my theory that he hauls out his imprimatur of friendship for a large percentage of his correspondents, which strikes me as a sound long-term strategy likely to increase book sales and attendance at readings. 11:41AM «

Guillermo del Toro is adapting and directing a "futuristically revamped" Wind in the Willows for Disney. Michael Eisner must be hitting the ether again. Del Toro has a pretty good track record for legitimately scary movies -- I haven't seen "Blade II", but "The Devil's Backbone", a ghost story set in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War, was gorgeous and unnerving. Next up: David Cronenberg to announce his remake of "The Jungle Book", and Peter Jackson decides to adapt Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. 09:31AM «

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