Catch-up

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver July 15, 2004 @ 12:28 pm

I’ve been offline for a while. Real-life adventures have left little time for this particular waste of bandwidth. However, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped tracking current events.

–I’ve been keeping an eye on the Electoral Vote Predictor. The folks there use national polling data to predict how many electoral votes Bush and Kerry stand to win, were the election held today. At the moment, Kerry appears to hold a commanding lead of 117 EVs (322 vs 205). However, I get a bit nervous when I look at the numbers each candidate holds in weakly-held and barely-held states. Of Kerry’s 322 EVs, fully 2/3 (202) are from weakly- or barely-held states. In contract, only about 1/4 of Bush’s EVs (55) are from weakly- or barely-held states. If those states were to tip between now and the election, Kerry would suffer more than Bush.

Wanna see something really scary? The site has recently mapped county-by-county election data from the 2000 vote. The sharp line between rural and urban voters is, to say the least, startling. I believe this shows that we are a country divided not only by wealth, but by ideology as well. Of course, we’ve always known that, but I’ve never seen it literally drawn up.

When we do finally go to the polls, a lot of us will find ourselves using new electronic voting machines. The states say that using them will prevent a lot of the problems that made us the laughing stock of the world in the 2000 elections. But not everyone agrees. You’re sure to hear a lot more about e-voting, both here and in the news, as the election nears.

‘Course, this is all assuming that you even get to vote. In line with a prediction I made months ago in the wake of comments made by Gen Tommy Franks, the ministry of Homeland Security announced that it has looked into the option of postponing the elections should terrorists strike near Nov 2. You know, if I were a cynic, and the president had previously ignored information that could have prevented a terrorist attack here, I’d suspect that they might allow an attack to occur, then declare martial law, suspending both the constitution and the elections. Just the fact that I can now even consider my government capable of doing such a thing is pretty scary, and says a lot about how far into the Twilight Zone this country has veered. Didn’t it used to be only in Orwellian fiction that you read about such police-state actions as people being arrested for wearing t-shirts that criticize the president?

–Also in politics this week, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report stating that most of the intelligence we used as an excuse to overthrow Iraq was, well, wrong. And they placed the blame squarely on the CIA. The report, perhaps not coincidentally, was released on Director George Tenet’s last full day of work.

Where does the White House fit in with all this? So far, they have been content to allow Tenet to throw himself on his sword for every intelligence misstep thus far. Admittedly, he did not come off very well in Richard Clarke’s book, “Against All Enemies” when he throws his arms up in the air during a national security meeting and declares that the case against Saddam is “a slam dunk”. However, there are many entities to blame other than Tenet. Most certainly, a major factor was the White House’s “stovepiping” of raw intelligence, which bypassed the standard fact-checking filters in favor of expediency. Unprecidentedly, intelligence was delivered directly to the Vice-President’s office, shutting out the State Department’s intelligence officer, whose job was to report the vetted intelligence himself. It was a direct result of this process that caused the White House to accept the infamous “Nigerian uranium” claim. When the documents cited were exposed as forgeries (possibly whipped up by MI6 themselves, a claim for which I unfortunately lack solid proof), the White House blamed Tenet, and Tenet acceded. In fact, the CIA made multiple attempts to prevent the White House from using the information.

A report claims that Pakistani officials are being pressured by the White House to announce the capture of a “high-value” terrorist to coincide with the Democratic convention. So be on the lookout for the announcement during the last week of July. And remember, act surprised!

–Anyone who thinks that the AIDS horror of the ’80s has subsided any, think again. The UN released a report last week that shows that global AIDS infections have gone up by another 5 million. This country has done a wonderful job of supressing and stigmatizing an unpleasant subject. A few thousand people worldwide catch SARS and they close down the airports and shut the borders. A few million people worldwide have AIDS and they cut research funding and argue over why $2/pill isn’t a fair price to sell to victims in 3rd-world, famine-stricken countries. It’s a pandemic folks. So was the bubonic plague, and AIDS has a higher mortality rate than the black plague did. (In fairness, Bush has pledged $3billion/yr for the next five years to assist needful countries. However, the money has yet to materialize, and knowing this administration, they will make it contingent on a number of unrelated factors, probably to include “abstinence-only” sex education and parental planning.)

–I can’t decide if this is funny, sad, or if it just pisses me off. StorageTek (a maker of network tape backup systems) has successfully claimed in court that a third-party service violated the DMCA for doing maintenence work on their units. The ruling essentially means that vendors can hold a monopoly on service and maintenance of their equipment. What does this potentially mean for companies that choose–for budgetary reasons or otherwise–not to keep a maintenance contract with the vendor? Will they be forced to pay per-incident for an “approved” service tech to come do even the simplest maintenance procedures, such as, say, a firmware upgrade? Credit to Jason Schultz’s LawGeek blog for reporting this story, and to bOINGbOING for flagging it.

A few quick lighter stories before I go:

The longest concert in history is a couple of notes closer to completion. A church in Germany has taken John Cage’s instructions to play his “Organ2/ASLSP” “as slowly as possible” literally, staging a performance that will take 639 years to complete. The performance has been going since Sept 5, 2001, but since the piece begins with a rest, there was only silence for the first year and a half.

–To the delight of Lovecraftians everywhere, a report in Australasian Science finds that squid have overtaken humans in total bio-mass and are on track to become the dominant life form in the oceans, if not the planet. Ia! Ia! Cthulu fhtagn!

–Finally, I apparently missed all the net chatter about the excision of a cameo appearance by Colin Farrell’s penis from his upcoming movie. “A Home at the End of the World” was supposed to feature full-frontal nudity by Mr Farrell, but apparently his ample endowment caused the women in the audience to become “over-excited” and the men to be “uncomfortable”. (Does that sound straight out of a 1950s Hollywood press release, or what?) Anyway, by the time I came upon the story, it was old hat–so to speak–but Neva Chonin has a nice essay stemming from the incident on the discrepancy between what is expected of male and female actors.

Heroes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver July 9, 2004 @ 11:23 am

As I walked out of a downtown building the other day, I heard sirens coming down the street to my left. I glanced, saw the fire trucks screaming down the street, and didn’t give it a second thought (sirens and emergency vehicles are a too-common sight in my town; they quickly blur into the background). I turned to the right and began walking down the sidewalk just in time to see a running man disappear into the alley. Black dress slacks, blue shirt, glasses, dark hair. Somehow I knew that as he jogged through the alley that he was pulling his dress shirt open to reveal a red “S” on blue background. I avoided looking into the alley as I passed. I wanted my imagination to remain my reality. I want there to be superheroes flying around the city, forever one corner out of view.

Remember when comic book and movie heroes fought the bad guys because they were good, and noble. They fought because evil was evil and they didn’t need any more reason than that. Now they have to have a personal stake in the battle. The hero’s girl must be kidnapped by the bad guy. Someone close to him must be hurt or killed to provoke vengeance. Why doesn’t the good guy go after the bad guy simply because he’s bad and it’s the right thing to do?

[SPIDERMAN SPOILER]
There’s a wonderful moment in Spiderman 2 where, having given up the role of Spiderman because the toll on his personal life is too heavy, Peter Parker comes upon a burning tenement building. Someone says that there is a child trapped inside. Selflessly, Peter runs inside and, using only human courage and none of his Spiderman skills, he rescues the child and brings them both out ok. But later, after choosing to resume being Spiderman, Doc Ock kidnaps Mary Jane, and that provokes Peter to action. It would have been so much better if MJ had been left out of it and Spiderman had gone after Doc Ock simply because he’s a raving lunatic who’s going to destroy the city.
[/SPOILER]

Somewhere out there the heroes of my comic book youth are patrolling the cities and the skies, looking out for you and I even though they don’t know us. Naive perhaps, but the idea of a world where we are all on our own is too discouraging.

Shooting the wounded

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver July 1, 2004 @ 12:57 pm

–Saddam Hussein had his day in court yesterday. Or rather, his first of many days in court. I find it interesting that one of the charges he faces (in addition to the obvious ones for killing innocents) is for invading Kuwait. Am I the only one that sees the irony (I will refrain from saying “hypocrisy” for now) in invading Iraq so we can put him on trial for invading Kuwait? If his invasion of Kuwait in an unforgivable crime, how can we justify our own invasion of Iraq?

If anyone thinks that the Iraqis are really running this trail, think again. They’re using prosecuting materials drawn up by the US Justice Dept. Ashcroft & co have made sure that nothing comes up that would be potentially embarrassing to the US. Like, uh, the fact that we sold him the chemical weapons that he’s accused of using?

–A Florida state court ruled that the state has to turn over the list of nearly 50,000 voters who were declared ineligible to vote in 2000 due to supposed felonies. Perhaps–just perhaps–this means that a thorough analysis of the will be done and we will finally know exactly how many Florida residents were unjustly and illegally prevented from casting votes in the 2000 election. And perhaps–just perhaps–the public will give a shit.

None of this is news, of course. Greg Palast tried to alert the media when he first learned of the scheme back in late 2000. The news outlets could have just gotten the list from him; he has a copy. Of course, his copy was not obtained through proper channels, but so what? Someone tried to blow the whistle on Jeb Bush and Kathy Harris, and the American media ignored it. I appreciate the value of a legal ruling against the state, but the American media has lost all credibility with me. The days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite are over. They now know only how to shoot the wounded.