Saturday, January 28

near Bout time

My, the preceding post was quite the rant... I'm just getting my Irish up (such as it is) for the Roller Derby & attendant events. Because me & my boys, we got our tickets, & we intend to MAKE SOME NOISE.

The elephant in the room

Anybody who says the Abramoff scandal is bipartisan can bite me*. Completely aside from being in bed with Ralph Reed, who apparently used to merely crash on his couch (?!), Abramoff went after Republican congresscritters for the same reason Willie Sutton reportedly went after bank vaults -- because that's where the money is. Everybody knows it.

Unfortunately, it looks like the congressional Democrats are afraid of losing their own ticket on the gravy train -- after all, someday they might actually be worth bribing again! Parading congressional Democrats in front of a pledge nobody will read is no substitute for real reform. Although I like the relative detail of this proposal, it seems the reform effort overall is a bit fuzzy.

Nevertheless, this is a great time to let the media know that balancing the story is not the same as balancing the facts. If the facts show that Abramoff was playing pander to the GOP, and the punditocracy keeps saying otherwise, the public needs to ask why pundits are allowed to pull assertions from their asses without getting called out on the air. Chris Matthews (or whomever, but Media Matters has a typical quote) may be too craven to call a man a liar to his face; but can anyone explain why he won't book somebody who's willing to do it? I thought the whole point of the Crossballs genre was the agon! I can't believe, I refuse to believe that no one is willing to talk about this honestly. Give me a break! It's an elephant -- & it's in the room!

Of course, the Treadmill to the White House 2008** could be the problem; for the last few decades, the Democrats have only ever had a leader for about 4 months out of every 4 years**. If there's no "front bench", how can you field a team?

* hat tip to Kevin Drum, whom I visit too seldom.

**"2008 election" = 17.2 million Googles at the moment...

***actually, from August convention to November election is barely over 3 months.

Wednesday, January 25

Busy Day for the webs (& the Web?)

Synchronicity strikes the entertainment industry with two current news reports: that two of the few remaining broadcast networks are merging, and that Steve Jobs will soon be the single largest shareholder in Disney.

Of the latter: I expect the Disney/Pixar deal will likely play in the short-term as a movie thing, but that's old-century thinking. Having six hits in a row in the movie business is grand, but Pixar's not Harrison Ford. Don't get me wrong, Brad Bird is a freakin' genius; but the future of Pixar is in whatever today's image jockeys, code monkeys and interns happen to dream up over the next 10 years. If Pixar maintains a happy shop, they could be a powerhouse in producing short(er)-form film. Which brings us around to TV...

Of the former, I note the obvious short-term benefit to CBS and Warner television as producers of "content". Not long ago, networks were restricted in their ownership of the programs they ran; that seems odd, but it was presumably intended to promote diversity among producers. Well, that's all done now. With DVD releases starting to wake up TV the same way they're waking up the movie business, owners like the idea of making the network a big pipe for what the home office sends. Of course, 90% of television is crud -- so throwing CBS & TimeWarner together allows for some mutual support (until the back-stabbing begins).

Networks may benefit additionally from TV's strengths in the coming "content wars". TV has an edge in matching content to manageable blocks of attention: not only does TV break down the consumption of content to a variable set of up to a half-dozen or so parts (prime-time, lead-ins, etc.), but also TV builds-in an array of serial encounters (the season, the story arc, re-runs). These two strengths, the "stay tuned!" model and the "tune in tomorrow!" model, could rock the movie industry over the next generation or so. Why? Because most people don't remember which studio had a massive hit & a massive flop the same weekend, but they're likely to recall where the TV shows they watch are to be found.

P.S. Essay question: is it synchronicity that the cancellation of 7thHeaven was announced immediately before the WB/UPN merger, and that the WB/UPN merger announcement was immediately followed by a swift collapse in the share price of Sinclair Broadcast Group, Incorporated? If anyone in Birmingham, Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, or Milwaukee has an opinion, I'm all ears.

If it makes any difference, The WB's January 15th announcement by "top executive" Garth Ancier is oddly timed by any measure. How fresh is the "news" on CNN (a TimeWarner compay) these days, anyhow? E! Online had it in November! I guess this is what happens when you pit the home office against a relatively independent company. I never said the free market was all bad...

Tuesday, January 24

First draft for a report

Here's a familiar quote from W's Monday appearance in Kansas: "My most important job is to protect the security of the American people." It struck me as familiar -- I thought I remembered previously shuddering at pretty much exactly the same phrase.

So, since Google is still legal, I tried it. As of this afternoon, there are 199 hits for "My most important job is to protect the security of the American people". I'm gonna see how much W has been running this one up the flagpole & who's saluting before further comment...

Much too late that night: Dang, I'd better finish my research PDQ -- in less than 8 hours the hit count has reached 342.

Thursday, January 19

Coincidence? I hope so!

I think it's dangerous to believe W is just plain stupid, but some days I understand why so many people wish it so.

Anyone who thought data mining was slowed down when John Poindexter slunk off a couple of years ago needs awakening. The MSM washed its hands of the story when Senate Democrats leashed the TIA, but the Administration pulled a favorite executive trick -- apparently they just renamed the project & handed it off in some dark corner of bureaucracy. I wonder if anyone's got a timeline?

The only reason the White House "briefed" a handful of Congresscritters was the Power of the Purse. What a scene those briefings must have been! "Sit down. Shut up. Here's what we're doing. You can read this report but you can't take notes, you can't ask questions, & if you tell anyone outside this room that this conversation even happened you'll be guilty of a felony. We need X amount of money in the Intelligence budget, and you'd better pass it."

The part that makes the Unitary Executive seem smart is that apparently the spying program kept costs low by getting the FBI to run down their "leads". And maybe that's where coincidence bows out: right after a revelation of FBI weariness at invading the privacy of innocent Americans, the Bureau brandishes "a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period".

This standoff has been in the cards for years, but I just can't understand how the Justice Department can argue while the NSA flap approaches a rolling boil (439 hits for "public hearings in Congress on surveillance" as of this afternoon). Does somebody think every civil liberties advocate in the country will be so tied in knots that no one will notice?

First we get told it's For National Security, and next we'll be told it's For the Children. "Protecting the general welfare" is a duly Constituted aim of the U.S. Government, but citizens don't need protective custody.

The true beauty of the Google subpoena is that the government is requesting the information specifically as evidence in a case brought against them by the ACLU in 1998. I suppose Google's competitors are glad to see the rich kids have to pay mouthpieces -- or has the FBI been strongarming everyone? Apparently Google's just the first to holler. According to this article, the government's motion says everybody else who's been asked has rolled over.

Supposedly the data is "only" needed to demonstrate that without Federal law, there's no way to prevent some people from having access to some information from which society would like to protect them. The protective purpose (keeping kids away from the porn) is understandable, but once "penalties of up to $50,000 per day and up to six months imprisonment" get involved, I'm reasonably certain the enforcement mechanism is going to involve some intense surveillance. There's no solid definition of "harmful to minors" (some might include this) , so prosecutors will have to start out either by evaluating material online & then identifying everybody who saw it or identifying all minors & then evaluating everything they see. Either way, there's going to have to be some serious data mining.

What does that say? Plenty, I suspect, and little to the good. Perhaps the random "lawyers for the U.S. Justice San Jose" are off the reservation, and they counted on Google to make a fuss so the Senate could grill Gonzalez -- but that's damned unlikely. Likelier is that the Justice Department has gotten so big nobody thought about Google and NSA at the same time -- a comfortable "our enemies are just stupid" kind of explanation, but certainly believable.

What I don't want to believe is that these events coincide by the power of pure authoritarian arrogance: the Security State wants to gather as much data as possible about everybody, all the time, with no legal oversight, to be used for any purpose whatsoever. If that objective is so central that it must be sought at every turn, in every forum, regardless of political consequences, then I desperately hope that W is stupid about one thing: stupid in believing that no institution or power in the world can succeed in frustrating him.

Friday, January 13

Accidental pilgrimage

How infinite my pleasure at finding a truly universal example, suitably enshrined -- like the sacred relic that once stood as the one true measure of a meter (symbolizing a truly cosmopolitan "10-7 or one ten-millionth of the length of the meridian through Paris from pole to the equator").

Example domains may be old hat to my geek circle. I mean old hat -- the memo linked to the Example Web Page (self-categorized as "Best Current Practice") references its argument to publications on Internet practice from November of 1987.