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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Saturday, 31 December 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

The Year in Review: Too Much Information

In Year End Notes: 2005 in Perspective, and 2006 Predictions, there was some pretty odd stuff about the year that just passed and what might happen with the new year. But for reference one should note the big events, or what really matters, to some.

William Falk in the New York Times offers the stories of "subtle significance" that didn't get that much press, in Big Little Stories You Might Have Missed.

He opens with these -
A BLAST FROM THE PAST - To find out whether human activities are changing the atmosphere, scientists took ice cores from ancient glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. Bubbles of air trapped in the ice provided a pristine sampling of the atmosphere going back 650,000 years. The study, published last month in the journal Science, found that the level of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases that can warm the planet, is now 27 percent higher than at any previous time in that period. Climatologists said the ice cores left no doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is altering the atmosphere in a substantial and unprecedented way.

THE DAY AFTER TODAY - One of the more alarming possible consequences of global warming appears to be already under way. The rapid melting of the Arctic and Greenland ice caps, a new study finds, is causing freshwater to flood into the North Atlantic, deflecting the northward flow of the warming Gulf Stream, which moderates winter temperatures for Europe and the northeastern United States.

The flow of the Gulf Stream has been reduced by 30 percent since 1957, the National Oceanography Center in Britain found. In the film "The Day After Tomorrow," the collapse of the Gulf Stream produces a violent climate shift and a new ice age for much of the Northern Hemisphere. Climatologists don't foresee a future quite that catastrophic, but something worrisome, they say, is afoot.
And he notes that scientists have pieced together, from fragments found in tissue samples, the Spanish flu virus that killed twenty-five million people in 1918 - it produces 39,000 times more copies of itself than regular flu and, in an experiment, killed all the mice being tested in six days. Then they published the flu's genetic blueprint. So who has a home chemistry kit?

He also mentions that, in 2005, scientists developed a vaccine against human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease that is the primary cause of cervical cancer. The vaccine produced total immunity in the 6,000 women who received it as part of a multinational trial. The Family Research Council and other social conservative groups in America vowed to ban it, even though it could virtually eliminate cervical cancer. Vaccinating girls against a sexually transmitted disease, they say, would reduce their incentive to abstain from premarital sex. Oh well.

There's much more there.

Additionally see these:

From AFP - The Year of Unnatural Disasters - and from The Independent (UK) - Review of the Year: Climate Change -

Other summaries of 2005 -

BBC's offbeat stories - The best 'and finallies' of 2005

Business stuff from CNN-Money - Top Tech Stories of 2005

From the San Francisco Chronicle, the top California stories - The 10 Biggest Stories of The Past 363 Days

The top national stories - from The Oregonian here and from The Clarion-Ledger (Mississippi) here

From the mainstream, CNN's "Year in Review" is here and the amazing, in-depth "The Year in Ideas" from the New York Times is here. National Public Radio's top stories, with podcast, are here.

For the Brits, from BBC, most popular stories, among BBC readers - Stories That Mattered to You - in February, Prince Charles to Marry Camilla was the biggest story.

Obituaries of prominent and influential people who died in 2005 from the Associated Press here, from the New York Times here, and from BBC here. Time Magazine's "Persons of the Year" item is here (Bill and Melinda Gates, and Bono) - and Barbara Walter's "Most Fascinating People of 2005" is here (Tom Cruise at the top).

General reviews - highlights of key events of 2005 by month from Infoplease here, and the online cooperative encyclopedia Wikipedia covers most everything from the year here.

Hooray for Hollywood? From the Internet Movie Database a complete index of all 17,337 movies released in 2005 here. Whatever.

For the politically minded, see Eleanor Clift's Biggest Political Lies of 2005 - "Who told the worst political untruth of 2005? It's a shame the list of contenders is so long." And Newsweek offers the twenty-four political cartoons of the year here, and the best quotes of the year here. In that last item you'll find former First Lady Barbara Bush, on hurricane refugees in the Houston Astrodome - "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." The White House qualified that remark as a "personal observation."

So much for the year.

Posted by Alan at 12:05 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 31 December 2005 12:13 PST home

Friday, 30 December 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

Year End Notes: 2005 in Perspective, and 2006 Predictions

Tai Moses over at AlterNet has conveniently compiled, for 2005, The Ten Best Top-Ten Lists, saving us all the trouble of all the research involved in finding out what everyone was doing to assess the year.

There we find Merriam-Webster Online has posted the top the most-looked-up words of 2005, and those would be -

1. integrity
2. refugee
3. contempt
4. filibuster
5. insipid
6. tsunami
7. pandemic
8. conclave
9. levee
10. inept

The first one is curious. Why would folks look up "integrity" at all? The word is not obscure. Moses: "I think these people were perfectly confident they knew the meaning of integrity until certain others started throwing the word around like last Sunday's bagels, and so, head in hand, people went back to double-check, only to find that integrity was still integrity and in shorter supply than ever."

Well, yes. Words are thrown around in such a way that up is down, and if DeLay and Cunningham and Frist are men of integrity, one does lose one's bearings. So you look up the word to make sure you're not crazy.

And as you recall, the second on the list, "refugee," was controversial after Hurricane Katrina - the New Orleans folks stuck in Houston shouldn't be called refugees, as that word seemed fraught with overtones. The word "refugee" is often used as shorthand for "political refugee" - someone displaced from his or her homeland because of the action, or inaction, of some malevolent government. The idea was with this "act of nature" the word shouldn't be used, as no one meant these people harm and forced them to seek asylum in another nation - they were just camping out in the next state. Of course you can argue the word was just fine, for just that reason - for these folks their government failed them and all that. Maybe so, and maybe not, but they were seeking some refuge, and why not use the word? That's only logical. We were told that was not logical - these folks were not seeking political asylum from some dictator in a new nation - so folks looked up the word a lot. Can you use it with its unembellished meaning, or is it always political? It seems people almost always use the word in the political sense, and the media stopped using it for the displaced in Texas motels and school gymnasiums. But it was a perfectly good word.

The others on the list may or may not be tied to current events. Some obviously are. But "insipid" in the fifth spot? That's curious.

In any event, skipping over the list of the commonly reported birds of 2005, even though bird watching has become wildly popular in the United States in the last several years (the northern cardinal is tops, by the way), we come to the Top Ten Global 'YouthSpeak' Words for the year.

1. Crunk: A Southern variation of hip hop music; also meaning "fun" or "amped."
2. Mang: Variation of "man," as in "S'up, mang?"
3. A'ight: All right, as in "That girl is nice, she's a'ight."
4. Mad: A lot, as in "She has mad money."
5. Props: Cheers, as in "He gets mad props!"
6. Bizznizzle: This term for "business" is part of the Snoop Dogg/Sean John-inspired lexicon, as in "None of your bizznizzle!"
7. Fully: In Australia, an intensive, as in "fully sick."
8. Fundoo: In India, Hindi for "cool."
9. Brill!: In the U.K., the shortened form of "brilliant!"
10. "S'up": Another in an apparently endless number of "whazzup?" permutations.

For those of us who grew up in the late fifties and graduated from college as the sixties ended, this is just sad. We had our moment when we changed common speech - far out, man - but that became mainstream, and then commercial, and then became quaint, or deeply ironic, or forgotten, or just embarrassing. We got old. The grandkids do that now, and more power to 'em. It's amusing to note. And any child of the sixties who ever uses any of these ten expressions should be ridiculed, even out here in Hollywood. Turn your back. Just walk away. Your moment has passed. Let the new kids play with the language. It's not yours anymore, or at least, this part of it is not.

Moses also covers the top ten Most Commonly Encountered Hoaxes and Chain Letters, and in the age of email that's worth a glance, and covers the Top Ten Baby Names of 2005 - Emma for girls and Aidan for boys (Jacob was tops the previous four years). Aidan? What's with that? We're thinking Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne or what? Does this have something to do with the character Aiden Shaw from "Sex and the City" on HBO? It's a mystery. But it's just a name. Kids adjust.

Moses also points to Popular Science with its list of the The Worst Jobs in Science, where number four is "Kansas Biology Teacher." Ha, ha. Also listed are "manure inspector" and "extremophile excavator." That last one? Visit the Searles lakes here in California, where the US Geological Survey team has been working for years. They discovered the "extremophile" microbe thriving in the arsenic-saturated mud there. To harvest that mud, once thought to be sterile, the researchers deal with days well over one hundred degrees, the salt-caked lakes, and noxious gas - hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, highly volatile methylated amines. But these microbes eat arsenic and render it harmless. Someone's got to go get some of these and see how they do that. That's worth a read.

What may not be worth a read is the Top Ten Grocery Lists of 2005 - abandoned shopping lists - although some are definitely kinky. You might also want to glance at the Top Ten List of Data Disasters - but just as I typed that my system mysteriously decided to reboot and dump everything I had been accumulating in files on screen during the day. And that's actually true. Luckily most of the software is set to "Auto Recover" and with some fancy searching (the "auto" part is a bit of a joke) I found the files. Sometimes irony is a pain. At least this wasn't like the woman who dropped a ceramic pot on her laptop. Oops.

Other lists? Well, there's the Top Ten Out-of-Print Books for 2005 - those volumes people want and cannot get any longer, so they have to settle for used copies -

1. Sex (1992), Madonna
2. Sisters (1981), by Lynne Cheney
3. The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel (1981), by Felicitas D. Goodman
4. Where Troy Once Stood (1991), by Iman Wilkens
5. The Principles of Knitting (1988), by June Hemmons Hiatt
6. General Printing (1963), by Glen Cleeton
7. The New Soldier (1971), edited by John Kerry
8. The Lion's Paw (1946), by Robb White
9. Dear and Glorious Physician (1959), by Taylor Caldwell
10. The Book of Counted Sorrows (2003), by Dean Koontz

Who knows what to make of that, except Sisters is a steamy tale of lesbian love written, a long time ago, by the wife of Vice President Cheney. The John Kerry book is in demand, a bit, and not really available. That fits.

Moses also recommends the FBI list of their current Ten Most Wanted Fugitives - Osama bin Laden to James J. Bulger. Whatever. And she mentions Parade magazine has an annual list of the World's Ten Worst Dictators, but that isn't out yet, although last year's list is here.

Of course Moses is being humorous.

There are the serious lists, of course. Over at Media Matters, where they are perpetually angry with the right-wing wind machine, you get things like this - Chris Matthews: 2005's Misinformer of the Year and the Most Outrageous Statements of 2005, and the more topical Top 12 Media Myths And Falsehoods On The Bush Administration's Spying Scandal.

Everybody likes lists - but these look backward at the year gone by.

What about the year to come? What about predictions?

Well, the Daily Times of Pakistan tells us this - Giant Asteroid to Hit Earth in 2006. Of this means everything that follows is pointless - Arnold Schwarzenegger will be re-elected governor of California, Internet giant Google will suffer a setback - and Brazil will hang on to the World Cup - unless we're all dead.

It seems the Schwarzenegger thing, along with a prediction the Bush administration will bring back the draft, comes from the website exodus2006.com where they use the Torah4U software on the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Torah. All this is hidden there, numerically, so we're talking your digital Kabbalah here. In the sixties Rabbi Saul Lieberman of the Jewish Theological Seminary is reputed to have introduced a lecture by Scholem on Kabbalah with a statement that Kabbalah itself was "nonsense," but the academic study of Kabbalah was "scholarship." That was before the software, of course. The software also predicts that August 3, 2006 will be a blood-drenched day - "yet just a mere shadow of the calamity that will befall us in 2010." So stay home.

But it was the psychic Annie Stanton who said catastrophe will come this year in the form of a massive asteroid crashing into the planet. No software. We also learn Anita Nigam from India does sports betting. Pay her and you get outcomes of English football's Premier League matches, but her World Cup prediction is free. Brazil is it.

Those with software - Bill Gray of Colorado University with computer models on global sea-surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions says seventeen named tropical storms, nine hurricanes and five major, high-wind hurricanes in 2006 - nearly twice the historical average in all categories. The co-founder of "Wired" magazine, John Battelle, says "Google will stumble" due to a bad partnership or a legal setback, and also legislators in the United States and elsewhere will take steps to protect citizens against "the perils of unprotected Internet data mining" into their personal lives, including credit and health histories. Bull.

Then there's Alan Caruba from South Orange, New Jersey with this pro-Bush Republican set of predictions (partly wishful thinking) -
Both Israel and the United States will be compelled to launch a preemptive strike against the network of Iranian nuclear weapons and missile manufacturing facilities either in 2006 or 2007 at the latest.

The Palestinians will fail to elect any kind of widely accepted new government and civil war will break out among Hamas, El Fatah, and whatever other terrorist gang has weapons. That's assuming, of course, they even manage to hold elections.

Lebanon will continue its struggle to break free of Syria's grip and will be aided in this effort by the U.N., the U.S. and the European Union. This may lead to the destabilization of the Assad regime.

Turkey will transition from the only successful secular state in the Middle East to one in the control of Islamic fundamentalists. Where previously, its military corps insured against this occurring, it may have too many Islamists in its ranks to prevent it. Admission to the EU will be put on permanent hold and Turkey's economy will plummet. Foreign investment will disappear.

Despite naysayers, Iraq will continue to make progress toward establishing a functioning government and making adjustments to its constitution to avoid splitting apart.

Depending on the level of dissatisfaction among Venezuelans, the assassination or overthrow of President Hugo Chavez may occur. South American nations will continue to elect socialists, i.e., communists, to rule. Expect widespread social discord and unrest. The only winners will be the drug cartels.

The Bush administration will engineer some sort of "guest worker" program that will enable Mexicans to enter the United States legally and push it through Congress. The alternative would be the potential economic collapse of Mexico.

China, while bellicose and building its military, will continue to seek accommodation with the U.S. and world trade partners. Internal problems with growing peasant and worker rebellions will continue to occupy the attention of its political cadres. Japan will begin to rearm in a big way.

Saddam Hussein will be found guilty of crimes against his nation and executed.

Worldwide, al Qaeda will continue to be steadily degraded in its ability to launch major terrorist attacks. Some kind of catastrophic attack, however, should be anticipated against the U.S.

The Republican Party will retain control of Congress, but just barely.

2006 will see another, totally predictable succession of powerful hurricanes. There is no connection between the number or intensity of hurricanes and the so-called "global warming" theory.

A major earthquake causing extensive damage and loss of life is overdue in California.
Yeah, well, maybe. Every Republican hopes for that last one.

But some like California, as with celebrity astrologer Susan Miller here, where she says Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are "just heaven. He's a Sagittarius, she's Gemini, and they're just heavenly together. Saturn was just in opposition to his four planets in Capricorn, which signified that he wanted kids desperately, and Jennifer Aniston didn't realize how much this meant to him, and she delayed having children as she nurtured her career. Angelina provides him with the children he so badly wants. They will make the most amazing family."

And she says Angelina Jolie will eventually stop acting and focus on her work as a goodwill ambassador - "She has Cancer rising which means she values home and family more than anything else. Although the media portray her as a home wrecker, she's really not. She is devoted to the idea of family." And she says the planets indicate it would be "especially wise" for Pitt and Jolie to marry in June.

That's nice. They're pretty people. But as for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes - "I cannot understand this relationship. There are no links in their chart, no passion. I don't know how it happened. There are pressure points that will come up. She's Sagittarius, he's Cancer ... Sagittarius usually hurts Cancer's feelings by being too direct. The birth of their baby, sadly, could add further stress to their relationship."

Oh my!

As for less important matters, note this:
Fashion Trends: Miller says that with Jupiter in Scorpio, black will remain the color of the moment, and tailored classic "investment pieces" will be what to wear ... until it all changes next Christmas when Jupiter moves into Sagittarius. "There will be all sorts of beautiful, bright colors," she says. "Think purples, royal blues, brocades and rich, luxurious colors. The return to the all-American jeans and crisp white shirt will also happen around December of next year."

The United States: The U.S. is a Cancer-ruled nation because the country was "born" in July. Saturn is in the solar chart of money and resources, Miller says, which forces us to sacrifice or choose between two alternatives. She notes that the country is going to be going through a "renewed sense of realism - we're going to have to push everything back on track and be more practical. We could very well become conservationists, sort of like the Depression babies. We're going to save more, be more aware of what we're spending and not waste money or resources." She also advises that 2006 is not a year for the country to make big gambles in any sense.

Economy: Miller says the markets should stay the same as they are now. They'll be "a little tight, but there should be no big change." She also says that there is no sign from the stars that the housing market will burst this year; it may slow down a bit, but we shouldn't expect a complete crash.

Medicine: According to Miller, 2006 can be a major year for medical breakthroughs, with Saturn in Leo. "When Saturn was in Cancer, we had the big revolution on how we eat," says Miller. "We became more aware of childhood obesity. We abolished the 'super-size' mentality. It led to changing food labels so we knew what we were consuming and we became more aware." With Saturn in Leo this year, she says, "we're looking at the heart, blood. There can be transfusion breakthroughs. Right now, we have issues with blood donation, and it's becoming a long-term problem because young people aren't giving blood. But there can be advances toward developing a synthetic blood. There will be a lot of amazing AIDS research with Saturn in Leo, too, and we could get very close to a cure for AIDS."

Natural Disasters: "We are not done by any stretch of the imagination with water damage and natural disasters," Miller advises. "When (Hurricane) Katrina wreaked havoc on the South, Uranus was in opposition of the sun. Uranus will be conjunct of the sun, opposite a major eclipse on March 14 of this year. This is going to be huge, and there can be a major water disaster or natural disaster somewhere in the world. There could be some contamination of the water supply. We should all be geared for this. At the smallest level, everyone should have flood insurance." She also says that Sagittarians should be especially cautious.
Those of us who are Gemini are now a tad more relaxed.

Nick Clooney in the Cincinnati Post is a bit less serious, with this list, which includes, "American troops will be out of combat in Iraq in time for the fall elections. The president will declare victory to ensure his friends in Congress can obey the 11th Political Commandment; 'Thou Shalt Not Lose Thy Majority.' Cynical, but perhaps right. As is this - "Senator Joe Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, will be offered a cabinet post by President Bush." And this - "Republicans Delay-Frist-Cunningham-Ney-Abramoff will all be convicted of ethical violations. Vice President Cheney will declare they were all secretly Democrats. Fox 'News' will lead with the story."

Here he's just mad as a hatter - "The Reds will win the pennant."

As for political lefties, there's Matthew Yglesias here -
- A serious terrorist attack will occur in Italy.
- Democratic candidates will look much stronger in early September than in early November.
- American troop levels in Iraq won't dip below 100,000.
- A spate of absurd conservative books bashing Hillary Clinton will continue to mask her underlying weakness as a candidate for the Democratic nomination.
- Real - but not nominal - wages for movie stars will fall.
- The Heat will beat the Wizards in four in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
- Canada will get another Liberal minority government.
- Republicans will deny they ever tried to privatize Social Security.
- Conservatives will gloat about Brokeback Mountain's somewhat disappointing box office returns; gay marriage will grow in popularity and gay rights will expand; heterosexual marriage will not collapse.
- Liberals will be sorely disappointed to learn that teaching the truth about evolution polls very badly.
- Supreme Court decisions will leave the constitutional status of abortion unclear, provoking a spate of state-level regulations and a massive new round of lawsuits.
- America will keep inching toward socialized medicine as the ratio of people getting public sector health insurance to having private sector insurance reaches an all-time high.
The Miami Heat?

Whatever. Who knows?

As Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) said - Prudens futuri temporis exitum Caliginosa nocte premit dues - "A wise God shrouds the future in obscure darkness."

That famous writer down in Long Beach, Ray Bradbury, had the right idea - "I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it."

But it will be here Sunday.


Posted by Alan at 20:39 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 31 December 2005 07:12 PST home

Monday, 19 December 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

Documentation and Observations: Filling in the Corners of the Domestic Spying Dispute

As elsewhere, a unanimous Supreme Court decision in 1971 held that President Nixon did not have the constitutional powers as Commander-in-Chief to override any law, statute or other provisions of the constitution in order to preserve and protect the constitution of the United States. There were rules against spying on American citizens - spying here being defined as, without a warrant or congressional oversight or any judicial review, wiretapping and bugging and all that, and keeping secret files and all the rest. That was a no-no, a violation of the Fourth Amendment regarding illegal search and seizure. This secret spying is, of course, different than criminal investigation, where you get a warrant to secretly, or at least discretely, investigate suspicious activity that my be connected to a crime, one that has been committed or is being planned. That's fine. You ask for permission and almost always get it - the Fourth Amendment doesn't to forbid the government from fighting crime. But you have to ask. You just can't tap the phone or plant the bug without permission. You do a legal search.

That was the controversy as of Monday, December 19th - but this time it was President Bush maintaining he had the constitutional power to override any law, statute or other provisions of the constitution to do this domestic spying. The flurry of opinion throughout that day was intense.

In the morning the president held a press conference where he said just that - Bush Says U.S. Spy Program Is Legal and Essential (NY Times). He did this without any warrant or review, and he planned to keep doing it.

A few hours earlier the Attorney General said on the Today Show that congress, when they approved the 2001 resolution giving the president the authority to use force to deal with the threat posed by al Qaeda and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, implied with the words "by any appropriate means" that they were granting the president permission to work completely outside the law. That's how he saw it. Thus there was no problem and all the outrage was misplaced. That contention is reviewed (with links) here - Congress Gave President The Authority To Spy On Americans. In a press conference later in the day the Attorney General elaborated. Of course in the press conference he argued that Congress had already implicitly authorized such a warrant-free outside-any-law domestic spying program, and then also said the administration declined to seek explicit authorization because "we were advised that that was not likely to be - that was not something we could likely get." Huh? So Congress had already clearly authorized it - but he knew they really wouldn't authorize it. But they did authorize it. But they wouldn't if they knew what was going on. But they really did authorize it. Really.

Fine. Make of that what you will.

But what to make of this from Jonathan Alter in Newsweek just a few hours later - "I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president's desperation."

Somehow the word "busted" comes to mind. One can be fairly safe in assuming the bad guys know we do everything we can to intercept and evaluate all the communication of theirs we can get our hands on, or our ears on, or whatever. What could the Times be doing here that would aid the enemy? The enemy knows we're listening. The Times story was about who gets to ignore the law. Is there any other reason to ask the Times to spike it?

Well, maybe there is, and that leads to the first curious Monday document.

The administration says they consulted with congress on this. But it seems they consulted with only a few committee chairs, and swore them to secrecy - they couldn't even speak to their staff about what they'd heard - and as these few have pretty much all said, it was hardly a consultation anyway.

They were told the administration was doing this domestic spying and bypassing the special and secret panel, the FISA court, set up in 1978 to approve such things - even though this panel had never turned down a request and was okay with stuff done without asking, as long as they were told within seventy-two hours. This wasn't asking what they thought of bypassing the rules and safeguards - these select few were just being informed it was happening.

And that prompted one of these few, Senator Jay Rockefeller, to release a handwritten note he sent the Vice President over two years ago after one of these "consultations."

This is very odd. The image is here and the text is this:
July 17, 2003

Dear Mr. Vice President,

I am writing to reiterate my concern regarding the sensitive intelligence issues we discussed today with the DCI, DIRNSA, and Chairman Roberts and our House Intelligence Committee counterparts.

Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues. As you know, I am neither a technician nor an attorney. Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities.

As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter's TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance.

Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.

I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ensure that I have a record of this communication.

I appreciate your consideration of my views.

Most respectfully,

Jay Rockefeller
Now that's something you don't see every day, and it raises all sorts of questions.

The first is with " I am neither a technician nor an attorney." Why would he need technical knowledge?

Josh Marshall here says that "over the last couple days I've heard informed speculation from several knowledgeable sources that what is likely really at issue here is the nature of the technology being deployed - both new technology and technology which in the nature of its method of collection turns upside down our normal ways of thinking about what constitutes a reasonable or permissible search."
Those of us who have worked in the world of information technology and built "data warehouses" know all about data mining and things like Bayesian and Dependency Networks and Sequential Patterns and Time Series. The tools exist to scan the thousands of terabytes of emails out there on all the email servers in the country, daily, "in order to find previously unsuspected relationships, which are of interest or value." It's not just looking for keywords anymore. And yes, this really does "turn upside down" our normal ways of thinking about what constitutes a reasonable or permissible search. And it is something the NSA can do, as many have reported. As one of Marshall's readers noted, "No FISA authorization would be possible, since this sort of activity was not contemplated by that law." That may be what's going on here.

Is that a good thing? Maybe so, and maybe not. But perhaps some sort of rules to safeguard against abuse should regulate such massive digging around. This is not exactly analogous to a "fishing expedition," where you want to nail someone but you have nothing so you just poke around. But it's close to that. Is using "pattern recognition" software on a billion random emails something for which you need a warrant? The question had ever come up. Now it has, or will.

Marshall notes other comments about the Rockefeller memo, like this -
I am sure you've read enough bureaucratic communications to know what this memo says: "When this hits the fan, I am keeping a copy of this so you can't take me down with you." I hope you explicitly bring this out in one of your postings. The consulted senators knew this was ultimately going to go nuclear.
And this -
To read Sen. Rockefeller's feeble handwritten letter is like reading a note sent from a jailed political prisoner, isn't it? This must be the "oversight" Bush was talking about this morning - giving a Senator an iota of information regarding extra-legal executive branch activities, prohibiting him to even tell his own staff, and then refusing to respond in any meaningful way when he writes a handwritten letter of concern to the VP ...
Well, that's life in Washington, isn't it?

And Marshall also here wants to clarify one point that he believes "has become muddled a bit in the discussion of the White House's legal argument with these wiretaps." He says Bush and the Attorney General are not really arguing that the Afghanistan War Resolution gave them "the authority to override whatever laws or constitutional prohibitions exist against these warrantless searches/wiretaps." They are actually arguing is that the Resolution affirmed the president's inherent power as commander-in-chief to do these things - the president's powers as a wartime commander-in-chief are essentially without limits and that "he's simply not bound by the laws the Congress makes." He says what gave them that idea was this legal opinion from the Justice Department advisor at the time, John C. Yoo. That's the second odd document.

The third odd document is from one of our California senators, Barbara Boxer.

She has a question -
December 19, 2005

Washington, D.C.- U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today asked four presidential scholars for their opinion on former White House Counsel John Dean's statement that President Bush admitted to an "impeachable offense" when he said he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without getting a warrant from a judge.

Boxer said, "I take very seriously Mr. Dean's comments, as I view him to be an expert on Presidential abuse of power. I am expecting a full airing of this matter by the Senate in the very near future."

Boxer's letter is as follows:

On December 16, along with the rest of America, I learned that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without getting a warrant from a judge. President Bush underscored his support for this action in his press conference today.

On Sunday, December 18, former White House Counsel John Dean and I participated in a public discussion that covered many issues, including this surveillance. Mr. Dean, who was President Nixon's counsel at the time of Watergate, said that President Bush is "the first President to admit to an impeachable offense." Today, Mr. Dean confirmed his statement.

This startling assertion by Mr. Dean is especially poignant because he experienced first hand the executive abuse of power and a presidential scandal arising from the surveillance of American citizens.

Given your constitutional expertise, particularly in the area of presidential impeachment, I am writing to ask for your comments and thoughts on Mr. Dean's statement.

Unchecked surveillance of American citizens is troubling to both me and many of my constituents. I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer

United States Senator
So what will the scholars say? Is President Bush is "the first President to admit to an impeachable offense?" This has "gone nuclear."

On the other hand, there is this charm offensive going on. The president gave four speeches in the run-up to the Iraq elections, gave an extended interview to Brit Hume on Fox News and one to Jim Lehrer on public television, gave his first speech from the Oval Office in years on Sunday night and Monday morning held a long press conference. He's suddenly all over the place, in what John Dickerson calls Bush's Long March to Candor.

As for the Oval Office speech -
This was only the latest display in Bush's month long march toward candor. Starting in late November, with the first of a series of speeches preparing the ground for the Dec. 15 Iraqi elections, the president started offering a little more reality and a little less spin. Likewise, in his Sunday night remarks, Bush tried to show he was "listening" to opposition lawmakers and his military commanders and reacting accordingly. He admitted mistakes and course corrections and leveled about the shaky future in Iraq. "We have learned from our experiences, and fixed what has not worked," he said, sounding fresh out of therapy. "We will continue to listen to honest criticism, and make every change that will help us complete the mission."

The promise of a more candid president is irresistible. It's insulting when Bush spins so wildly while claiming to be plainspoken. If he admits the obvious, the press can spend less time trying to make him do so and more on questions about future policy. Democrats might also be shamed into a more honest dialogue.

But should we believe that the president really has changed? Politicians and no-good boyfriends have traditionally used watery admissions to give the appearance of change without actually changing. Is Bush now listening and facing up to reality? Or is he saying he's listening, the better to tune out criticism and facts he doesn't want to hear?
Who knows? Dickerson has his views -
Bush still has a way to go with this whole candor thing. He says he's listening to his critics but then labels them as defeatists. Asked in his press conference Monday what he thought his biggest mistake was during his tenure and what he had learned from it, Bush didn't offer much. He saw the question as a trap, just as he did when I asked him the same question in April 2004. This time, he talked briefly about training the Iraqi civilian defense force poorly and moved on.

... Bush surely has the capability to be candid. Those of us who have talked to him off the record have seen it. White House aides have struggled for years to show that side of Bush to the public but always fail because Bush says things off the record that would get him crucified. It's not just rough language that he thinks would hurt him. Bush doesn't think he can speak plainly without his comments being taken out of context - without Democrats doing what the RNC is doing to them. Bush can say in private that he understands that the mere presence of U.S. soldiers helps feed the Iraqi insurgency, but in public he's never going to say anything that might look like he's undermining U.S. troops. If people think he's clueless because he won't speak this and others truths out loud, he's willing to suffer that.
It sounds like the man is trapped. And here Fred Kaplan suggests that in the Oval Office speech Bush close to delivering a frank and forthright speech "but in the crunch, he reverted to form and the by-now-predictable mix of fact, distortion, and fantasy."

Well, there's a lot of that going around, along with some odd documents.

Posted by Alan at 20:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 19 December 2005 21:04 PST home

Sunday, 23 October 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

Follow-Up Notes: Digging Deeper

THEOLOGY

Back on October 16 in these pages - in Who Believes, and Why? - there was this on the Harriet Miers nomination -
The problem seems to be that the Republicans made a commitment to the religious right, the evangelical born-again crowd, that for their support they would throw them a bone now and then. And the religious right felt - after all the years of being mocked and having to endure people arguing "under God" had no place in the Pledge of Allegiance, and being told officers at the Air Force Academy couldn't demand all cadets find Jesus, and they couldn't force all children in public school to mouth their approved prayers every day, and they couldn't have cities and states finance religious displays, and so on - well, this was pay-back time. They'd get this born again church lady or someone like her.
These very angry people feel they have God in their pocket and know "the truth" and all the rest.

Then I came across this from Samuel T. Lloyd III, the Dean of Washington National Cathedral:
If God were to be fully and completely revealed, if we were to see God beyond all hiddenness and mystery, our freedom would disappear. We would be forced to believe, forced to be obedient. No, this hiddenness is God's blessing.

Certitude is a spiritual danger. If we claim to know God's ways without question, we limit God to the shape of our own minds. As St. Augustine put it 1700 years ago, 'If you think you understand, it isn't God.'

One of the troubling currents of our time is the tendency of religious people to speak as if we have seen God's face. A lot of what is being said in religious circles can suggest that some people claim to have God figured out, under control, in their pockets.
Now this suggests a deeper divide than the one currently tearing apart the conservative movement, the split between, on one side, the elitist, intellectual, well-read thinkers opposed to the Miers nomination, and, on the other side, the populists who find matters of the heart and trust and blind faith (is there any other kind?) are far more important than books and thinking and all that fancy stuff.

The split here is between the theology of doubt and humility - God is not knowable and his ways are beyond man's limited mind - and the theology of proud certainty - "God spoke to me and told me what to tell you what must do."

Those who would evangelize - that is, bring "the word" to everyone, everywhere, and save them by forcing them to convert to what God specifically told them all folks should be thinking, doing and believing - are of the second group. The first group just worships, and wonders about things, and understands there are things they just don't know. The second group knows. They see know problem. God's a good guy who told them what's what, even on the minor details of constitutional law.

What if these two opposing views square off now? You can see the animosity growing. Traditional Christians want their religion back. Traditional Republicans want their party back.

Big questions - "Is God knowable?" - "Is doubt a good thing, or at least inevitable?" - are the province of theology. These are deep thoughts for sunny, dusty seminar rooms late in the afternoon, or for lonely writing after midnight.

Perhaps now they are political questions. And is such, how key people answer these questions concerns us all. The president's moral certainty and his born-again conviction that what he does is right, because he found Jesus when he was forty, comes to mind. (So did Harriet Miers, by the way. She was forty when she abandoned her Roman Catholicism, found Jesus and walked away from "The Cult of Mary," had a real, full-immersion baptism and all the rest.)

Augustine said, "If you think you understand, it isn't God." Dobson, Falwell, Robertson, Ralph Reed, and all the rest, disagree. For them, certitude is not a spiritual danger, it's a career necessity, and profitable (subtle pun).

And why pay attention to a saint, even Augustine, when you get the word on the day's issues directly from the top?

This is all quite curious. One can sense a real pissing contest coming - a theological and philosophic pissing contest, of all things.

Too bad it matters so much.

RELIGION AND WAR

In these pages on October 23 - in Doing Good, Doing it Right - there was a bit of discussion of this incident:
Australian television on Wednesday broadcast footage of what it said was U.S. soldiers burning the corpses of two dead Taliban fighters with their bodies laid out facing Mecca and using the images in a propaganda campaign in southern Afghanistan.

The television report said U.S. soldiers burned the bodies for hygienic reasons but then a U.S. psychological operations unit broadcast a propaganda message on loudspeakers to Taliban fighters, taunting them to retrieve their dead and fight.
There was lots more detail, and this just makes matters worse in the Middle East, of course. For reason mentioned, this burning the bodies and taunting the civilians is a major insult to Islam, not to mention just a really boneheaded tactic. "Our Man in Baghdad" says he may have something to say on this matter, but, as you must understand, he's pretty busy. He may not have time.

But someone on the ground at the time thought this was just the thing to do - use their religion to get them to do something stupid, or at least to let them know who's top dog and shouldn't be messed with. Let them see how foolish and powerless they are, so they'll be more compliant. (Yes, the logic of expecting compliance after such is questionable.)

Andrew Sullivan has a comment here:
... we should not transform this war into one against all Islam. Abusing Islam in military prisons or on the battlefield is both immoral and deeply counter-productive. Using people's religious conscience against them is a mark of totalitarian countries, not one where religious freedom is paramount.
Of course, this is not who we are, except for our current leaders - who we elected this last time without any ambiguity. Okay, maybe it is how fifty-one percent of us are - quite willing to use people's religious conscience against them. But that's not what we say.

Perhaps it's time to explain to the fifty-one percent that even if this sort of thing really feels good, and makes you feel all righteous and superior, it DOESN'T WORK!

Yeah, it's un-American. But they don't want to be told that.

How about this - it just makes people very, very mad, for a very, very long time. Think about that when Cleveland becomes a radioactive crater and there's no more Rock 'n' Roll Museum.

FATHER AND SON AND A HOLY GHOST

In these pages on October 23 - in The Autumn of Reaching the Limit of What You Can Put Up With - there was a note that the New Yorker is running an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in which Colin Powell's longtime mentor, Brent Scowcroft, "levels a 'powerful new attack' on the Bush administration." Yes, Scowcroft worked for Bush's father, but publicly opposed the war, then gave in and said something like "whatever." The idea is the guy expected the younger Bush's administration to "revitalize the Middle East peace process and start engaging seriously with Iran, two things that pretty clearly haven't happened." The thought is he's had enough now. And it seems this that Goldberg article will contain some "incredibly juicy commentary from President George H.W. Bush on the performance of his son's national security team."

The article is "Breaking Ranks: What Turned Brent Scowcroft Against the Bush Administration?" - Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker, 31 October 2005

The article is not available on the web - you have to buy copy of the actual magazine to read it - but there are some long excerpts here, and one can stretch the Fair Use Doctrine and make some comments.

Brent Scowcroft is one of those reality-based folks, it seems -
The first Gulf War was a success, Scowcroft said, because the President knew better than to set unachievable goals. "I'm not a pacifist," he said. "I believe in the use of force. But there has to be a good reason for using force. And you have to know when to stop using force." Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good reason to use force.

"I thought we ought to make it our duty to help make the world friendlier for the growth of liberal regimes," he said. "You encourage democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the traditional way. Not how the neocons do it."

The neoconservatives - the Republicans who argued most fervently for the second Gulf war - believe in the export of democracy, by violence if that is required, Scowcroft said. "How do the neocons bring democracy to Iraq? You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize." And now, Scowcroft said, America is suffering from the consequences of that brand of revolutionary utopianism. "This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism," he said.
"You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize." That about sums it up. Why did these guys think THAT would work? Revolutionary utopianism just sounds like a bad idea. Utopianism?

But better days ahead?
Scowcroft and those who share his views believe that the reality of life in Iraq at the moment is undermining the neoconservative agenda. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as Colin Powell's chief policy planner during the first Bush Administration (and who was Scowcroft's Middle East expert on the National Security Council during the first Gulf War) said that the days of armed idealism are over. "We've seen the ideological high-water mark," he said. "I mean wars of choice, and unilateralism, and by that I mean an emphasis, almost to the point of exclusion of everything else, on regime change as opposed to diplomacy aimed at policy change."
The smart money bets the days of "armed idealism" are far from over. Regime change is far easier than diplomacy, or at least it polls better.

Brent Scowcroft was a key player in the administration of Bush 41 - a West Point man who became National Security Advisor - so what does he think of Bush 43?
When I asked Scowcroft if the son was different from the father, he said, "I don't want to go there," but his dissatisfaction with the son's agenda could not have been clearer. When I asked him to name issues on which he agrees with the younger Bush, he said, "Afghanistan." He paused for twelve seconds. Finally, he said, "I think we're doing well on Europe," and left it at that.
That's cold, but were only doing a tad better in Europe, Brent. Doing well will have to come later.

As for Condoleezza Rice, the former National Security Advisor who is now our Secretary of State -
"She says we're going to democratize Iraq, and I said, 'Condi, you're not going to democratize Iraq,' and she said, 'You know, you're just stuck in the old days,' and she comes back to this thing that we've tolerated an autocratic Middle East for fifty years and so on and so forth," he said. Then a barely perceptible note of satisfaction entered his voice, and he said, "But we've had fifty years of peace."
This Sate department doesn't do "peace," it seems. They're utopians.

Scowcroft on Paul Wolfowitz, the thinker in the administration (and Scooter Libby's Political Science teacher at Yale) who said we'd be greeted with flowers, there was no history of sectarian strife over there to worry about, we'd be out in six months, and the thing would pay for itself with the flood of oil review to the new Chalabi government - and on Wolfowitz' sidekick Kagan -
"He's got a utopia out there. We're going to transform the Middle East, and then there won't be war anymore. He can make them democratic. He is a tough-minded idealist, but where he is truly an idealist is that he brushes away questions, says, 'It won't happen,' whereas I would say, 'It's likely to happen and therefore you can't take the chance.' Paul's idealism sweeps away doubts."

Wolfowitz, for his part, said to me, "It's absurdly unrealistic, demonstrably unrealistic, to ignore how strong the desire for freedom is."

Scowcroft said that he is equally concerned about Wolfowitz's unwillingness to contemplate bad outcomes and Kagan's willingness to embrace them on principle. "What the realist fears is the consequences of idealism," he said. "The reason I part with the neocons is that I don't think in any reasonable time frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East can be successful. If you can do it, fine, but I don't think you can, and in the process of trying to do it you can make the Middle East a lot worse."

He added, "I'm a realist in the sense that I'm a cynic about human nature."
Well, he's eighty years old. He's earned the right to that view.

As said here last week and before that, the chances of Iraq turning out to be a Jeffersonian democracy and all three sides living in harmony in a prosperous, secular, unregulated free-market, flat-tax capitalist Starbucks and Wal-Mart paradise, that transforms the whole Middle East, seems more and more remote every day. It may have never been possible. But if there's a chance, even a slim chance, why not try for that? Hell, one could spend a dollar and actually win the lottery. It's quite possible, though not probable.

The problem is the cost. It's a cost-benefit thing. Is three hundred billion dollars, and two thousand dead soldiers, and ten thousand maimed for life, just a lottery dollar to these guys? It's not their money, nor their kids' lives. And this could work out fine? The odd are against us.

And the discussion is pointless. Our leaders decided it was possible. They don't deal with things like whether it was remotely "probable" at all. They're an idealistic, hopeful lot. And their kids aren't dying. The chances were always more that wildly remote - they were infinitesimal - but why not go for it? Well, their kids aren't dying for the longest of long shots.

Oh well, note Matthew Yglesias here -
I'll certainly read the article on Brent Scowcroft when it comes out, but I feel compelled to at least semi-dissent from the heaping of praise upon the likes of Scowcroft, Larry Wilkerson, Richard Haas, and other Republicans who've started speaking out against the Bush administration lately. Everything they say could have been said 12-18 months ago when it would have made a difference for the future of the country. But that would have meant taking fire from the then-intact conservative attack machine, and gotten them labeled as bad party men. Instead of speaking out when Bush was strong and trying to weaken him, they've waited until Bush is weak and decided to pile-on in an effort to save their own reputations.

Better late than never is a true enough adage, I suppose, but it's actually pretty shabby behavior. It also tells you a lot about the way Washington operates and the sort of dysfunctional culture that deserves a lot of blame for the unfortunate circumstances in which the country now finds itself.
The man has a point. But we could have a revolution and throw the bums out. Jefferson himself suggested having those now and then might be necessary, and a good thing - "Every generation needs a new revolution."

Maybe it's time.

Posted by Alan at 22:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 23 October 2005 22:21 PDT home

Monday, 17 October 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

Tech Notes: Being Disconnected

It never rains in Southern California? Well, it did Monday - thunderstorms all day over a Hollywood. And in rained until sunset, when it finally cleared and the full moon rose above the odd racks of clouds. Another twenty-four hours of storms lined up, coming up from Baja? Three inches or more of rain two days, for this town, is considerable.

Around one in the afternoon Monday there was trouble for some of the news junkies and policy wonks - those of us who like to follow what's happening in the world - at least for those of us connected to the world through landlines. Around one in the afternoon a big storm lashed Hollywood - lots of lightening, thunder, and then hail. And the cable service went out. No internet. No television. No way to keep up on the news. Couldn?t check BBC or Le Monde or any of the sites reporting and commenting on the events of the day.

This was odd. There's a lot going on in the world, changing quickly. Suddenly it was gone. All there was, politically, was the mindless rants on talk radio.

But the hail was cool. And it seems some folks spotted funnel clouds. We don't get tornados out here very often, if at all.

But being out of touch feels bad. Cable service for most of Los Angeles is handled by Comcast, and from just after noon until six in the evening all cable television service and high-speed cable internet service for Los Angeles, or for Hollywood at least, was out. So - switched to very slow dial-up to trade emails with friends, and told them it might be time here to order a satellite dish for television, radio and high-speed internet, as cable goes out too often.

From my friend who teaches marketing at a prestigious business school in New York -
In the late seventies when I was busy being a consultant to technology and entertainment companies, I came to the conclusion that the then emerging cable television industry - and the laying of hard wire assets all across America - was at some future point in jeopardy of simply being "turned off" by consumers who might easily switch to direct satellite. (Why bother with the wires after all, and that now reads also "mobile technology" - a possibility that wasn't even a glimmer back then.)

So politics and embedded legacy industry interests create a lot of friction in the system - but still here we are - able to change channels, so to speak.
Well , the service came up again after five hours - but who knows if it'll go out again?

What to do? One can look at this historically.

The situation. Los Angeles - the second largest metro area on the continent - granted monopoly status to Comcast cable for about ninety percent of the area, the rest going to Adelphia. No one else can legally lay cable or offer services, and the two must not tread on each other's areas. Like anywhere else, no? The alternative on internet is DSL, multiplexing over existing telephone lines, but if you are more than one thousand meters from the nearest switching station, you cannot hook up. Can't be done at greater than that that distance. And it's a bit slower. Here in this complex just above Sunset there are fifty-two units, and over the last two years about half of them have gone to the third alternative, direct satellite - the roof looks like a mushroom patch.

So yes, hard-wiring America may have been a good idea at the time, but the folks I worked for at Hughes Space and Communications developed the way to bypass the wires. GM-Hughes spun off the Hughes Space and Communications division's hardware and launch operations - I worked for them for ten years - to Boeing. That was in 1999 and I was in Canada at the time on another GM account. Anyway, Boeing now builds the satellites and payloads and gets them up there. Hughes kept the satellite "operations" and renamed the division DirecTV. Since these satellites were transmitting almost all cable worldwide to the cable operators' downlink dishes, to be sent, then, over the coaxial lines on the ground, it was a no-brainer to develop a little dish, cheap and small, so everyone could have their own individual home satellite receiver and forget the wires. So in the mid-nineties they did - the engineers in building S-41 did that. A nice little unit now licensed everywhere. The rest is history.

Funny - in the early nineties in the next building in El Segundo, surrounded by a massive satellite farm, next to Mattel headquarters oddly enough, was the Hughes satellite operations center. Back then everything on cable television anywhere in the world was live on one of the hundreds of monitors in that center - a sort of quality control operation monitoring all the satellite signals before they hit the wires. Letting folks buy direct feeds from all that stuff was an obvious money-maker, once the little dish was ready.

The guys at Hughes knew that's where the money was. And Boeing is now losing its shirt trying to get good hardware into geosynchronous orbit.

And Rupert Murdoch bought DirecTV from GM-Hughes last year for a few billion he had lying around that he wasn't using for anything else. The Hughes folks just smiled.

So I'm stuck at the moment with the old technology - real fast, but dependent on miles of coax cable and switches and all the rest, and prone to being blown out at some point on the grid by a lightening strike. (A few loud cracks today had Harriet-the-Cat hiding under the bed.)

Why is the old technology still here?

Note this:

Free American broadband!
In France, you can get super-fast DSL, unlimited phone service and 100 TV channels for a mere $38 a month. Why does the same thing cost so much more in the U.S.?
S. Derek Turner - SALON.COM - October 18, 2005

The gist?
Across the globe, it's the same story. In France, DSL service that is 10 times faster than the typical United States connection; 100 TV channels and unlimited telephone service cost only $38 per month. In South Korea, super-fast connections are common for less than $30 per month. Places as diverse as Finland, Canada and Hong Kong all have much faster Internet connections at a lower cost than what is available here. In fact, since 2001, the U.S. has slipped from fourth to 16th in the world in broadband use per capita. While other countries are taking advantage of the technological, business and education opportunities of the broadband era, America remains lost in transition.

How did this happen? Why has the U.S. fallen so far behind the rest of its economic peers? The answer is simple. These nations all have something the U.S. lacks: a national broadband policy, one that actively encourages competition among providers, leading to lower consumer prices and better service.

Instead, the U.S. has a handful of unelected and unaccountable corporate giants that control our vital telecommunications infrastructure. This has led not only to a digital divide between the U.S. and the rest of the advanced world but to one inside the U.S. itself. Currently, broadband services in America remain unavailable for many living in rural and poorer urban areas, and remain slow and expensive for those who do have access.
The rest explains the cable and telecom companies have great lobbying arms that contribute tons of money to politicians, the Republicans at the moment, so the FCC doesn't get all out of hand and allow "hot spots" and alternatives to land lines. The dinosaurs have money.

And this - if you like conspiracy theory - keeping folks away from fast communication is a way to keep them from becoming liberals -

Blue, Red State Broadband Penetration Mirrors Election Results
TechWeb News - August 17, 2005 (11:20 AM EDT)
U.S. households continue to install broadband at a furious rate, according to a report released Wednesday. Curiously, the penetration of cable modem and DSL has been tracking state-by-state splits in the 2004 presidential election.

In its latest broadband report of what it calls "one of the fastest adopted services in U.S. history," the Leichtman Research Group noted that eight "Blue" states with broadband penetration over 35 percent had all voted for John Kerry while eleven "Red" states with broadband penetration at or below 20 percent all voted for George Bush in 2004.

"While these disparities are largely related to variations in household income across the states, these differences are strikingly similar to the state-by-state splits in the 2004 presidential election," said Bruce Leichtman, the market research firm's president and principal analyst, in a statement.
Now THAT is curious.

But I don't think the storms that disconnected me for half a day from the scandals and the war news and all the rest were caused by the right-wing folks trying to keep us all in the dark. They have other ways to do that.

And a late comment from our friend in upstate New York -
Hughes HAS been smart in its timing - not often guilty of firing too far ahead of or behind the duck - a good trick in this day and age.

Hughes was smiling when DirecTV brought a windfall price. But I grimace at Murdoch owning hard infrastructure servicing, on top of his renowned editorial qualities for content management.

Evolution of technology in "moderated markets" - where policy helps manage the public interest - is VERY interesting given the American mythology of 'free markets' - free to influence!

As a market analyst, I'd have to question the blue-red penetration conclusion you cite and ask - is DSL versus political leaning a cause or effect? I would argue the latter - those in red states (especially as defined by the neoCon movement) are less inclined to buy into technology or advancement - advancement of ideas or the culture in general. DSL doesn't create liberals. Liberals tend to embrace options - and they're probably more inclined to pay inflated prices to get them!
Agreed. And "conservative" means looking to the past and using it - new stuff is suspicious, of course.

And of this new stuff, and who uses it and why, below is a dialog and technology and marketing, from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, one of those who got CNN going when it started up, and our friend who teaches marketing at that upstate New York business school, with some observations on the telecom situation in Paris, from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis.

First, Atlanta:
More techie observations, these from the guy who founded the first TV "satellite news desk" in this country, for anybody who is interested -

Why is the old technology still with us? I can tell you one reason, at least from my experience in broadcasting - no satellite delay.

Ever watch a live interview between a news anchor in New York and a reporter in Asia, and wonder why it takes so long for the reporter to respond to the question? This is (mostly) the result of the anchor's question going up to a geosynchronous satellite 22,300 miles in space, then coming down again to the reporter's ear, the round-trip taking roughly (if I remember correctly) two thirds of a second each way - then the reporter responds, with the same thing happening in reverse. In fact, there sometimes may be as many as two or three such satellites involved ("double hop" or "triple hop") - since the same satellite that can be accessed by New York cannot be seen by one that hovers over, say, Tokyo, since the planet Earth gets in the way.

And have you ever seen a reporter begin to answer a question then rip his earphone out of his ear and lay it on his shoulder as he continues talking? When you see that happen, you know the reporter's "IFB" isn't working. ("IFB" stands for "interrupted feedback" - sometimes known as "mix minus," which means the control room sound guy takes all the audio, but mixes out the reporter's own voice, then sends that back to him.)

What this malfunction means is that his earphone, which is supposed to feed into his ear ONLY what the anchors and other guests are saying, and NOT his own voice, is not doing what it's supposed to be doing, so he is hearing his own voice, at anywhere from twp-thirds of a second to maybe two seconds or so after he says it - depending on whether it's a single, double, or even triple hop involved. Try listening to what you said two seconds ago while trying to think of what you're trying to say right now, and you'll understand the problem! (I've never actually tried it, but I have sometimes suffered the wrath of those who have.)

The reason I mention this? None of this happens with terrestrial landlines, only with satellites. Landline audio is relatively instantaneous, and therefore doesn't usually need IFB. Shortly after I left CNN, fiber optic lines began to be strung all over the country, which was much better than satellites, at least for live TV purposes.

Satellite delay is okay for most (although not all) internet and computer communications, where it isn't really noticed, but if you ever talk on the phone with someone and find yourself talking over each other, it's probably via satellite.

But yes, satellite phones definitely come in handy now and then - for example, in hurricane disaster zones when all the cell towers have either been knocked out, shorted out by water, or maybe overloaded by relatives calling from New Jersey to make sure everyone is alright - but also in Pakistan after an earthquake, especially back in the mountains where cell systems didn't exist in the first place. In that case, a little delayed signal is better than no signal at all.

(And in Hollywood, if you ever find yourself in that situation again, but with your phone line knocked out as well - meaning you can't even get dial-up internet - do what I do: Go online through the cell phone! Just another port in a storm, which has come in handy now and then.)

And a little more regarding direct satellite TV:

Although CNN's founders in 1980, among other cable network programmers, were prepared from the beginning to abandon cable for direct satellite if it ever became as popular as it was predicted to become, there was a time when it looked like satellites were not going to make it, since nobody wanted to gamble on recouping the big bucks needed to replace the cheap little birds that were up there - some used transmitters that had as much wattage as your average Christmas tree bulb - with the huge, expensive satellites powerful enough to feed to the tiny little dish you could install on your window sill, partly - as was once explained to me by Ted Turner's right-hand man, Terry McGuirk - because less than half of the apartment dwellers in large cities, where the big money was, had windows that faced the southern horizon, where all the satellites were parked over the equator.

But that, of course, was then, and this, of course, is now.
From upstate New York -
You've certainly been a few places over the years - nice to know you lived to tell about it!

I guess the question is NOW - since that was then - do today's satellite feeds for home "programming" purposes (with power now in orbit) provide equal or superior service reliability and potential hi-definition capability, given the hard-wire issues of the "last mile." (Glass fiber may span the country, but every house is still copper wire from pole to television.) Anybody out there up on the technical issues which may make one system more likely than the other?

(I pose the question KNOWING full well that technically superior Beta videotape, and Mac computers DIDN'T win their respective market battles for de facto dominance! Or that compromised NTSC TV broadcast technology HAS been our system of choice here in the US for just about my entire lifetime! Technological superiority hardly guarantees market adoption. I guess that must serve as some consolation for all those marketing folks who pop up in Dilbert!)

So I repeat my question - anybody keeping up on the futuring game? Able to frame underlying issues with greater clarity? Or willing to venture a forecast?

Rick - there ARE a few of us interested -
Atlanta -
Good questions.

Last question first - No, I'm not a futurist anymore. I used to be, but found myself getting too far out in front, thinking that would help my career, but discovering later that merely knowing something was coming up was not the same as being able to cash in on it.

(One example: While working at AP Photos in the early 1970s, I told the department head that news photos in the near future would all be digitally recorded and manipulated on what look like TV screens, then stored in computers that clients could access instantaneously by phone. He laughed at me. Years after I had resigned, they went ahead and did it without me. There have been other examples since, but maybe I'll bore you with those some other time.)

I've also not kept up much with how satellites work since I left CNN in 1985, so keep that in mind when you read this.

Remember that the problems with those live two-way satellite feeds between the anchor here in the states and the reporter overseas I described really only show up "in-house" at the network, which are way "upstream" of your home receiver. Although we will see on our television sets the product of the mess that sometimes occurs, we don't usually notice any satellite delay on the whole program as it comes to us. (Want to see that delay in action? The next time the president addresses the nation switch around between the three networks, and CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. The audio will usually not be in synch because some nets or stations usually throw in an extra satellite that others don't.)

Because of the prohibitive cost of running landline, even fiber-optic ones, I'm sure cable companies still get their programming via satellites. I'm not sure about whether network TV affiliates these days still get theirs via their old-fashioned landlines or new-fangled fiber or via satellite, but my guess is that it's a mix, with most of it coming from space. Probably the better quality would be fiber, but the cost would make it not worth it. With all their faults, satellites are definitely cheaper to use.

I'm sure the satellites that cable and television companies use today have benefited from the advancements pushed by the home satellite business. (Do today's birds, like those of yore, still get overwhelmed twice a year by "sun outages" that occur when the satellites wander between the dish and the sun? In the old days, the video noise brought to mind trying to empty out a playground sandbox with a vacuum cleaner.) But yes, however those folks receive their signals, the ultimate quality of what they send to you is determined by "the last mile" - "cable," in the case of cable, and "air," in the case of you local TV station.

And you say there ARE a few of you interested?

Well, sure, but you're in marketing! You marketing guys are interested in everything - especially anything you might be able to sell!
From upstate New York -
For a retired futurist you still do pretty well with informed speculation!

With my students I try to continually remind them that shooting ahead of the duck is as harmful to a career as late to market! My classes are filled with too many intelligent people that need reminding they're not average, they're not their own best customers (re: extending their own executive intuition to the consumer choice game), and they need to find the practical application for their future market insight (humans demand continuity in their existing behaviors/comfort zones - disruptive behavior requirements result in failed technologies in the marketplace. I like to point to ATM touchpads as extensions of telephone touchpads as one key element for ATM usage adoption - the phone designs having taken some 20 yrs to fully penetrate over rotary dial 'behavior').

Except for keeping up with classroom-level futuring, I too have retired from that element of corporate maneuvering, at least in terms of expecting remuneration (that brings its own liability!).

You say - "Well, sure, but you're in marketing! You marketing guys are interested in everything - especially anything you might be able to sell!"

I'm only "interested in everything" as an intellectual hangover of my earlier days of attempting renaissance thinking in an age of exponential info explosion (actually all of history has probably suffered from exponential info explosion - from any given base context starting point - it's probably ALWAYS been overwhelming to those living it - just another example of relativity! - it all depends!)

And to tell the truth - I've never (?) (admitted to) selling anything I didn't first believe in - so in reality I guess I don't even qualify as a marketing guy.

As to the hard issue of cable vs. wi-fi vs. satellite feed - Bill Gates launched X-Box gaming systems with the idea that kids could help him put smart boxes atop every TV, which eventually could usurp the current cable descrambler, and be the smarts behind the monitor WHICHEVER delivery system won out... so even he isn't showing his cards yet. (I LOVE recent speculation that Goggle is creating its OWN glass fiber global web network, by which if could offer FREE wi-fi access to the world (in exchange for targeted advertising to any given "receiver.")

The futuring torture never stops!
From Atlanta -
You say: "I try to continually remind them that shooting ahead of the duck is as harmful to a career as late to market! ... they need to find the practical application for their future market insight."

My main problem was I would find myself pioneering on ground that would necessarily have no room for me.

In the late seventies, I was trying to lease time on a Manhattan Cable channel to run old black-and-white classic movies, selling my own commercial slots. I gave up when I couldn't interest advertisers in cable TV, but more importantly, couldn't get any movie studio to clear any movies for me to run; they were biding their time until they could figure out how much to charge. Shortly after I gave in, Charles Dolan of Cablevision on Long Island started up his AMC, and with great success.

As I was mentioning to our Wall Street attorney friend, in the early eighties, I wrote and demonstrated a web-browser program on my Apple II+ (before there were Windows and even Macs), knowing that some day computers would be doing this sort of thing. But what, I asked, did this have to do with me? My program was in Basic, and I wasn't going to be a computer programmer, nor would I be starting a business to do this.

In the early 1990s, I tried to start a wireless information and email network, mostly using HP 95 palmtops and the Casio Zoomer, a precursor of the Palm Pilot. In fact, in 1992, I got permission from CNN to sit in their newsroom on election night, broadcasting election results wirelessly via Motorola's Embarc service (with whom I had signed a working agreement) to selected handhelds around the country. One big reason my company failed is that Motorola withdrew its wireless text service from the market. But I also realized that just because I was among the first to be offering to broadcast wireless text, there was nothing to stop any big latecomer to the biz from walking all over me - for example, by offering on cell phones something they already produced for another media. Indeed, CNN itself eventually began doing this.

Another way of putting it: I think my main problem is that I don't want to be in big business, and yet everything I've tried to do requires that I form a company large enough to compete.
And finally, from Paris, where all this talk of satellite and cable seems silly, as over there the copper telephone lines work just fine. From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, a response to the Turner article above - "In France, you can get super-fast DSL, unlimited phone service and 100 TV channels for a mere $38 a month. Why does the same thing cost so much more in the U.S.?" -
19.10 - Wired In France?

Something is up. When I lived in the suburbs and they came along to lay the cable in the ground, they put in copper wires. It was a hell of a job - digging trenches everywhere and putting this new cable in them - and copper was 'good enough.' This was done by Lyonnaise des Eaux for France Telecom, and then I guess, leased to a cable operator, a subsidiary of FT.

When it was finished FT came along and put a little badge outside each apartment door. 'This place is cabled.' There's one of these outside my apartment door here in the 14th too.

Then my dial-up operator quit on me. It was slow and costing a lot on account of France Telecom charging by the minute. So I signed up for Noos cable. The guy comes and looks and says there are two problems. No key to access the cable in the locked garbage room right next to my door, and no Ethernet port on my Mac.

So I got a newer used Mac with an Ethernet port, but I couldn't locate the garbage room key. Time was running out so I went to France Telecom and paid extra for an Ethernet modem (instead of a free USB modem), and they turned on the DSL within hours. This gave me 'Net access for a flat rate and cut my telephone bill to a monthly minimum. A savings of about 50%, with a full-time 'Net connection, plus faster.

The cable, Noos, is plagued in this area by 'too many folks in the business' of shoving big files around. They offer the service and then whine if people use it. Result- Noos is notoriously erratic.
In contrast, FT's Wanadoo DSL is very reliable month in and month out. Imagine if you will, my building, built in 1931, with its original wires, is handling this DSL - not FT's TV cable.

They started me out at 512 Ko and they hustled me into 1024 Ko and phoned up a week ago to ask if I wanted to keep their 'Maxi+' - which is one or two mega. Actually they phoned to try and get me to pay a sub for a 'Box' of theirs - I think for their telephone/internet/TV offer - but I refused it. I'm trying to save money and I have no time to watch 80 'free' TV channels. Actually I haven't noticed any speed increases moving from 512 to 1024 Ko - I'm just happy it's reliable.

(Also France Television started broadcasting 'digital' TV six months ago. With a decoder - about 100 euros - you can have the regular channels in digital, plus 3 or 4 more new France Television channels. This is broadcast through the air. My reception over the apartment's antenna isn't wonderful because the Montparnasse Tower is between me and the broadcast tower, the Tour Eiffel. So I'm not sure the 'free' digital would work here.)

Metropole's hosting company is out in the sticks, not served by DSL or cable. In distance not far from the big technopole at Saint-Quentin or the atomic research center at Orsay, but might as well be in the south Pacific. Some years ago they moved the server out of there, to a proper server park. They used to say France Telecom had one wire and it always broke late on Sundays. For TV they have satellite but whenever I was out there I couldn't see it. Have to be a geek to figure out the telecommand's buttons. In any case, the satellite not reliable (or too expensive) to run a web server over.

In sum, the techno folks are squeezing a lot out of old copper wires. In Europe, especially in cities, most wires are underground and are relatively immune to most normal hazards. FT's Wanadoo for example, is offering TV over its telephone wires, plus telephone, plus DSL Internet. Over one wire this is.

And now, in this time frame, they are rolling out the promo bandwagon for video reception over portable phones. They sold SMS, they sold photos, and now comes video - the phone companies are headed towards the big jackpot right here on earth. At the rate things are going, before this decade is over we will all either be working for the phone company, or be in debt up to our eyeballs to it.

However my personal view of all this, the telephone, is dubious.

Fine is the technical advance of the telephone as an essential tool for communication; not so fine is its conversion to gadget, game machine, Dick Tracey wristwatch video player. The financial and human investment in the non-essential aspects of the phone is insanely pharonic, hardly any step forward for mankind. The money is being sucked out of the world's economy... in return for? No Panama Canal is being built here.
Indeed.

What is being built?

Photographic record - tiny satellite dishes on the roof here in Hollywood -


















Big satellite dishes down in Culver City, snagging entertainment out of the sky for redistribution over landlines -






















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Rain in Los Angeles - a photo from Bon Patterson -




Posted by Alan at 17:15 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005 16:33 PDT home

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