Day: May 13, 2003

An Interesting Day:

President Bush’s Movements and Actions on 9/11

“Bush’s actions on September 11 have been the subject of lively debate, mostly on the internet. Details reported that day and in the week after the attacks – both the media reports and accounts given by Bush himself – have changed radically over the past 18 months. Culling hundreds of reports from newspapers, magazines, and the internet has only made finding the “truth” of what happened and when it happened more confusing. In the changed political climate after 9/11, few have dared raise challenging questions about Bush’s actions. A journalist who said Bush was “flying around the country like a scared child, seeking refuge in his mother’s bed after having a nightmare” and another who said Bush “skedaddled” were fired. We should have a concise record of where President Bush was throughout the day the US was attacked, but we do not.

What follows is an attempt to give the most complete account of Bush’s actions – from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska to Washington, DC.” Center for Cooperative Research [via Booknotes]

psy-geo-conflux:

the meaning of living in a city

Psy-Geo-Conflux 2003 marks the inauguration of an annual event dedicated to current artistic and social investigations in psychogeography. Part festival and part conference, it brings together visual and sound artists, writers, and urban adventurers to explore the physical and psychological landscape of the city.


In 1955, Guy Debord defined psychogeography as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” (An Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography). It has also been summarized as “the active search for, and celebration of, chance and coincidence, concurrently with the divination of patterns and repetitions thrown up by the [meeting/collision] of the chaos and structures of cities, personal histories and interpretations. It is based on the technique of the “derive,”an informed and aware wandering, with continuous observation, through varied environments. It can be sought and can lead anywhere.” (Psychogeography: a working definition) context

FCC Giveaway to Media Oligarchs in Impending Broadcast Overhaul:

F.C.C. Prepares to Loosen Rules on Media Ownership: “The government proposed the most significant overhaul of its media ownership rules in a generation today, including a change that would allow television networks to own enough local stations to reach 90 percent of the nation’s viewers.


That change— a result of increasing the cap on ownership and simultaneously preserving a 1980’s formula that discounts the reach of UHF stations — is part of the package of proposals that officials said appeared to have the support of the Republican majority of the Federal Communications Commission.” NY Times The vote will be along strict party lines, it seems, and in the same kind of doublespeak we’re getting used to in the foreign policy arena, is promoted as encouraging free airwaves. Is Colin Powell proud of son Michael? [thanks, Abby, who suggested I put this blink in the “It Can’t Happen Here” Dept. of FmH]

Secret Service Questions Students

“For years the classroom has been the setting for the free expression of ideas, but two weeks ago certain ideas led to two students being taken out of class and grilled by the United States Secret Service.

…When one of the students asked, ‘Do we have to talk now? Can we be silent? Can we get legal counsel?’ they were told, ‘We own you, you don’t have any legal rights’…” KRON-TV

Also: Vt. Cop Photographed Class Projects: “A uniformed police officer persuaded a custodian to open a school in the middle of the night so he could photograph class projects he found objectionable as an American and as a military veteran.” Lycos News [thanks, walker]

Comcast to test whole-home DVR:

“Comcast will shake up the digital video recorder business today by unveiling a system to go on field trial in Philadelphia midyear that records TV shows and uses cable lines to distribute them through the home.


Samsung will make decoders with built-in DVRs — which record TV shows to a hard drive, making them far easier to use than VCRs. Set-top units for other TVs will access that hard drive. Ucentric Systems will provide the software to sort through TV schedules and help users select shows to record.


What makes the Comcast system different from DVRs such as those from TiVo and ReplayTV is its ability to piggyback on the cable system to create a home network. That eliminates the need for extra connections or equipment.” CED Broadband Direct News

This seems to be an effort to introduce DVRs to the masses, remedying their renowned inability to program their VCRs’ clocks and, in the process, restoring control to the media giants who are threatened by the viewercentric TiVo attitude. Although a spokesperson touts the notion that the Comcast system is as “full-featured” as existing DVRs, I’ve heard rumors that this and other systems planned by cable giants do not allow you to fast forward through commercials and may limit which programming you can record at all. Anyone with more information on this? (TiVo, it should be noted, has just introduced a home networking upgrade that works via ethernet or WiFi, as current users are well aware.)

The FOXP2 story:

A single family with speech abnormalities may hold one of the keys to the origin of human culture.

For most of us, learning to speak in our mother tongue is so natural and instinctive that we need no formal instruction. And ‘natural’ seems to equate, at least in part, to ‘in our genes’, as studies of identical and non-identical twins to tease out the genetic and environmental components of this trait have shown. These are the genes that set us apart from our closest primate relatives and equip us with the unique combination of physical, articulatory and neurological features necessary for spoken language again.

Dr Simon Fisher, a Royal Society Research Fellow at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford, was studying for his PhD when he came across Steven Pinker’s book, The Language Instinct, which speculates on the genetic basis of speech development. He was intrigued by Pinker’s ideas. Now, almost ten years later, he is setting up a research group to look at the molecular basis of speech and language development. His research revolves around a key discovery made in the laboratory of Professor Tony Monaco, director of the centre in Oxford – that of the first gene shown to be necessary for the acquisition of spoken language.

50 Reasons to Reject The Matrix: Reloaded:

“A film franchise so sloppy, so irresponsible, so lowbrow

that it’s almost criminal.
Here’s 50 Reasons to stay away on May 15th:

1. The Matrix Murders

The first film killed 13 students at Columbine High School, the disturbed trench-coated teens imitating the pipe-bombing, shotgunning film’s finale. How many troubled teens are out there Reloading with the release of the sequel?

The site is by “Dr. Albert Oxford, PhD, chairman, London Film Institute”, who adds, “Sign Dr. Oxford’s Petition. It is my understanding that if I can get 5,000 signatures, Warner Brothers will not release the films.” It’s a troll, of course Could it be this Albert Oxford?

Treasury to unveil new $20 bill Tuesday:


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New bills to deviate from standard green with the introduction of “subtle background colors.” In some way, this is supposed to be an anti-counterfeit measure. Digital imaging has been such an enormous boon to counterfeiting that the last round of currency redesign during the ’90’s, widely rationalized as necessary for security, has failed to stem the tide at all. And one rare-currency trader and anti-counterfeiting expert is quoted in this article as saying that the new design won’t make any more of a difference. On a different note (sorry), the new bills are not supposed to create problems with the increasingly ubiquitous bill-acceptor machines, sources claim. CNN Money

The Deepest Photo Ever Taken:


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“Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope’s powerful new Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) have taken the deepest visible-light image ever made of the sky.

The 3.5-day (84-hour) exposure captures stars as faint as 31st magnitude, according to Tom M. Brown (Space Telescope Science Institute), who headed the eight-person team that took the picture. This is a little more than 1 magnitude (2.5 times) fainter than the epochal Hubble Deep Fields, which were made with the Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. It is 6 billion times fainter than what can be seen with the naked eye.” Sky and Telescope

time tales:

“a shelter for found photographs. found on the street, at fleamarkets, thrift shops, in archives, in abandoned lofts… the photos exist on their own, lost in time. who and where are these people? are they still alive? why are the photos lost, abandonned, or thrown away? it’s not our goal to find out, time tales is not looking for answers. time tales wants to be a home to the lost and forgotten in this world.” Found via the Solipsistic Gazette, which also has a link to the photographs of one of my favorite tech journalists, Declan McCullagh, e.g.:


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Explosions Rock Western Enclaves in Saudi Capital

Four separate overnight bombing attacks struck Western targets including residential compounds in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, causing an undetermined number of deaths and dozens of injured, Saudi officials and diplomats said today.


The United States Embassy in Riyadh said 44 Americans had been injured, some of them seriously, and there were local press reports of at least three deaths. The three were identified as a Saudi, a Lebanese and one Westerner. Neither the American nor the British Embassies could confirm that any of its citizens had been killed, but both said they expect the casualty figures to rise during the day.

…Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, due to travel to Saudi Arabia from Jordan today, said at an early morning news conference in Amman that the violence had likely been carried out by Al Qaeda, since it bore its hallmarks.” NY Times

What exactly does it mean these days to say that an attack bears the hallmarks of al Qaeda? Little more than that it is an Islamist reaction to the US’s continued projection of force into the Middle East, which the WoT® and the invasion of Iraq have intensified. I’ve always found the thesis attractive that one of the underlying incentives for us to seize Iraq was to establish another power base in the region and end our assailable reliance on the vulnerable Saudi regime. Confirmatory evidence comes in Rumsfeld’s announcement, as soon as the Iraqi adventure was brought to a satisfying conclusion, that the

US will withdraw all combat forces from Saudi Arabia by this summer, ending military presence that began as joint operation to contain Saddam Hussein after 1991 Persian Gulf war but has become dangerous for US troops because of terrorism stoked by Osama bin Laden; US anger has also swelled since Sept 11 terrorist attacks in which 15 of 19 hijackers were Saudi; Sec Donald Rumsfeld and Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz say in news conference in Riyadh that ouster of Hussein creates ‘safer region’ that allows pullout; photos; only small longstanding training program will continue; US is already pulling out of sprawling air base for new base in Qatar; prince denies asking US to withdraw, but announcement is broadcast on television; Saudis have suggested departure will help them institute political reforms (M) The United States said today that it would withdraw all combat forces in Saudi Arabia by this summer, ending more than a decade of military operations in this strategic Middle East nation that is America’s largest oil supplier. NY Times

It is not so much that the region is safer, it seems, as that it is too dangerous for us to stay in Saudi Arabia. This may be where the otherwise too-simplistic war-for-oil thesis comes in. Of course, we’d also remain in a position to project force back into a fundamentalist Arabia after the House of Saud is overthrown, if it is strategically necessary.

The Unsinkable Molly Ivins Strikes Again:

Not Finding Weapons of Mass Destruction a Crucial Detail: I’m actually already bored by press coverage of the Weapons of Mass Disappearance, (Frustrated, US Arms Teams to Leave Iraq, Washington Post) but Ivins has other fish to fry as well:

“We ought to be beating our chests every day. We ought to look in a mirror and be proud, and stick out our chests and suck in our bellies, and say, ‘Damn, we’re Americans!’ ” — Jay Garner, retired general and the man in charge of the American occupation of Iraq.


Thus it is with a sense of profound relief that one hears the news that Garner is about to be replaced by a civilian with nation-building experience. I realize we have all been too busy with the Laci Peterson affair to notice that we’re still sitting on a powder keg in Iraq, but there it is. In case you missed it, a million Iraqi Shiites made a pilgrimage to Karbala, screaming, “No to America!”


Funny how media attention slips just at the diciest moments. I doubt the United States was in this much danger at any point during the actual war. Whether this endeavor in Iraq will turn out to be worth the doing is now at a critical point, and the media have decided it’s no longer a story. Boy, are we not being served well by American journal- ism.

Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq threaten war in case of crackdown:

“Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has warned that it will retaliate with force if either Turkey or the United States move to purge northern Iraq of its militants.


Some 5,000 rebels are believed to have found refuge in the mountainous area across the border since 1999, when the PKK declared an end to its 15-year armed struggle for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey and withdrew into Iraq.” Khaleej Times (Dubai) [via truthout]

When Is a Good Liar Better than a Good Reporter?

Was race the issue in the Jayson Blair case? Writing in Alternet, Farai Chideya thinks so, arguing that as long as true diversity is not tolerated in the newsroom, there will be a pull for minority reporters to be “shapeshifters” and “charming liars” spending more effort ingratiating themselves to their editors to fit in to a lily-white environment than they do at good reporting. In essence, she argues that focusing on Blair’s misdeeds is blaming the victim. While Chideya may find my dismissal of her thesis an indication of either or both my own covert racism or my ignorance of the true dynamics of the newsroom (I plead to the latter), I think she sets up a straw man — that the Blair case will be ammunition for a new assault on affirmative action principles — for which I see no evidence, and then defends against it with a tortured argument that makes little sense in light of the evidence of journalistic malfeasance among white reporters as well. Do they, not being oppressed by institutional racism, plagiarize and fabricate for different reasons than minority con men, who are because of their oppression less culpable? In fact, Chideya might just as well turn her own hypothesis on its head and argue that minority reporters, not really fitting in and under more job insecurity, would be under increased pressure to do a scrupulously honest job and keep their noses clean rather than cut any corners. But that wouldn’t explain away Blair, would it? Pulling the race card here is clumsy and nonsensical political correctness at its worst which, I suspect, will offend the bulk of upstanding hardworking capable journalists of color.

By the way, William Safire’s much-blinked Times op-ed piece, ‘Huge Black Eye’, halfheartedly castigates his rightwing friends’ schadenfreude about the ‘diversity gone wrong’ aspects of the story without actually strongly contending that Blair’s being black did not have anything to do with his downfall.

Addendum: On re-reading my post, I wondered if Chideya might equally apply her argument to Colin Powell in the Bush Administration — that he will be under extra pressure to be a shapeshifting con man to fit into his institutional culture. Ironic, given the juxtaposition with my recent post flirting with the longstanding controversy as to whether Powell is as much a lying sociopath as the rest of the Bush regime or a dupe who is being lied to and whose integrity co-opted. If Chideya thinks there’s as much institutional racism in the halls of the White House as those of the New York Times, would she be arguing for cutting Powell some slack? Here are her published references to Colin Powell, according to Google.