Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Month: December 2008 Page 1 of 9

Last Note of 2008: You! Me! Dancing!


Happy New Year.

Winding Down/Up

DJ Earworm’s Gimme Freaks, from Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and Moguai & Tocadisco’s – Freaks (Moguai Mix).  Click it.

American Exceptionalism

Today I came across an essay posted over at Booman Tribune in the summer of 2006.  It was written when the drumbeat of war with Iran was louder than it was today, but it’s still relevant.  It will be for the rest of my life, I suspect:

The disconnect between mainstream America and critics abroad is unarguably a wide one, and most likely an unbridgeable one, at least in practical and reality-based terms, but it may be possible for each, if they try, to get at least some sort of understanding of the other’s position, even though it is very unlikely that anyone will change their minds.

Let’s look at the American point of view first, since so many people around the world have trouble understanding it. The first step is accepting, whether you agree with the practice or not, that Americans are taught almost from birth that not only is the United States the greatest country in the world, but it is so much greater than any other country, in every possible way, that laws and rules that may govern the way the global community of nations behaves toward each other simply do not apply to the US because of its greatness and uniqueness. It is not that the US objects, for example, to international laws or the Geneva cnoventions. In fact, if any other nation even thought about going round to other countries and seizing people at will, and hauling them off to secret torture camps, you can bet that the US would be the first to condemn such an atrocity, and would aggressively pursue any and all strategies and methods to put a stop to the practice immediately, and bring that rogue nation to heel, quite very possibly including a very swift and most likely unceremonious regime change. Now there might be exceptions to that. Note that word exception, because you will be hearing it a lot. An exception might be, for instance, Israel. As most people are aware, the US and Israel have a very special and unique relationship. So special and unique in fact that situations, such as that international kidnapping and torture camp thing, might not be looked at in the same way as it would if say Malaysia did it. Or France. Or Iran. Like the US itself, Israel would be considered an Exception.

That word, exception, is so important because to Americans, it’s not just a word. It’s not just a policy. It’s a doctrine. A fundamental core value on which policy is based, and according to which policy is implemented.

Where do we go from here?

Midweek Makeover: No Song Is An Island

Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island is familiar to you, even if you don’t recognize the name.   Written in 1964, it’s turned into something of a jazz standard.  I imagine that on any given night, there are a few dozen people taking a crack at on stage somewhere.   It got a big boost in 1993, when Us3 reworked it into a pop hit.  While I keep going back to the original (which really requires a martini in hand and a light summer breeze for full appreciation), I’ve recently found myself enjoying it in the form of a(nother) Tanghetto cover. Give them all a listen, below:

Tech Notes: Desk Clearing Edition

This story on “passive” heating of homes just confirms my decision that if I’m ever building a place for myself, I’m hiring Germans to do it:

The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.

And in Germany, passive houses cost only about 5 to 7 percent more to build than conventional houses.


I wouldn’t even consider owning an iPhone (keyboard required), but I’ll have to admit that this nifty little application – which geocodes your photographs by syncing your iphone’s GPS position with the timestamp on your photos – makes me wish my Treo could do that.


I wonder if this search/bridge will make the Tor anonymizer service any more useful. I try to keep a Tor node running most of the time, but it doesn’t seem to see much use.  What’s Tor?

Tor is endorsed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other civil liberties groups as a method for whistle blowers and human-rights workers to communicate with journalists, among other uses. It works by randomly routing traffic, such as website requests and e-mail, through a network of nodes hosted by volunteers around the world before delivering it to its destination. The traffic is encrypted enroute through every node except the final one, and the end point cannot see where the traffic or message originated. Theoretically, nobody spying on the traffic can identify the source.

It’s often painfully slow and not terribly easy to use, however.  Perhaps the app I linked will help stimulate some interest in overcoming that.


Looks like NASA is contracting out resupply of the International Space Station to two private operators.  While part of me is pleased to see an operator like SpaceX get some stability through this, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a significant step down the path of placing the space program (and tech) entirely in private hands.  The problem I have with that is massive public spending on R&D that will only end up being locked up for private benefit.


Consider the possiblities of this published research:

Rapid and selective erasures of certain types of memories in the brain would be desirable under certain clinical circumstances. By employing an inducible and reversible chemical-genetic technique, we find that transient CaMKII overexpression at the time of recall impairs the retrieval of both newly formed one-hour object recognition memory and fear memories, as well as 1-month-old fear memories. Systematic analyses suggest that excessive CaMKII activity-induced recall deficits are not caused by disrupting the retrieval access to the stored information but are, rather, due to the active erasure of the stored memories. Further experiments show that the recall-induced erasure of fear memories is highly restricted to the memory being retrieved while leaving other memories intact. Therefore, our study reveals a molecular genetic paradigm through which a given memory, such as new or old fear memory, can be rapidly and specifically erased in a controlled and inducible manner in the brain.


Open source once against illustrates the dangers of putting our elections in the hands of Diebold and other black box voting technology companies:

Ballot Browser, an open source Python program developed by Mitch Trachtenberg (yours truly) as part of the all-volunteer Humboldt County Election Transparency Project, was instrumental in revealing that Diebold counting software had dropped 197 ballots from Humboldt County, California’s official election results. Despite a top-to-bottom review by the California Secretary of State’s office, it appears that Diebold had not informed that office of the four-year-old bug.



Homebrew is better.

I spent no small amount of time this year revising and improving my shot-to-publication workflow for my photo coverage of pro cycling races.  It’s an enormously time consuming process, and I’m still looking to improve it.  Reading this (recent) history of pro photog filing systems makes me rather thankful for today’s tech.


Speaking of photo tech – Polaroid is done making instant film today.

Almost 60 years after Polaroid introduced its iconic instant camera, the company will stop manufacturing the film Dec. 31. Remaining film supplies are expected to dry up sometime next year.

“Shake it like a what?”, the kids ask.

130k Troops in Iraq? Let a Stringer Cover It

Armchair Generalist notes (with the appropriate adjectives) the decision by the three major American broadcast networks to pull their full time correspondents from Iraq.

DJ Earworm’s United State of Pop

The year in pop.  Brill.

Want a copy?  DJ Earworm will give you one.

End of Year, or . .

end of days? In the past 10 minutes it’s gone from bright sun to 30 mph winds to snow to rain to thunder and lightning.  And as I’m about to hit “publish”, we’re back to bright sun.

(Why yes, I am procrastinating.  Why do you ask?)

Gonzales: “At that point, I didn’t care.”

Perhaps it says more about my gullibility than anything else, but this WSJ interview with former AG Alberto Gonzales leaves me almost speechless:

“What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?” he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that “for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror.” (emphasis supplied)

I just . . . I just don’t know.  Maybe the clue to his problems comes at the very end of the piece:

In one of his final acts before leaving office, Mr. Gonzales denied he was planning to quit, even though he had told the president of his intention to resign. Asked about the misleading comment Tuesday, he said: “At that point, I didn’t care.”

At that point?

Arlington ZPizza Sucks

Putting aside their problem with delivering in less than an hour (at least four times), they keep insisting on sending the WRONG pizza to me.  And then bitching about it when I object.  Funny, I think there’s a difference between a sausage and vegetarian pizza.  When they get it right, it’s great.  But it seems getting it right is beyond them.  Avoid the Arlington ZPizza location.

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