Archive for January, 2005

The Dark Side At Bay

January 31, 2005

From elsewhere in the Axis of Evil, check out this facinating Sunday Times (UK) piece by Michael Sheridan. It’s a first-hand look inside crumbling North Korea, and deserves more play than it’s getting. One of the unexpected (at least to me) details suggests the North may have caught what the Chi-Coms call “The Polish Disease”:

Word has spread like wildfire of the Christian underground that helps fugitives to reach South Korea. People who lived in silent fear now dare to speak about escape. The regime has almost given up trying to stop them going, although it can savagely punish those caught and sent back.

The Difference

January 29, 2005

Glenn asks,

The question is, will the Democrats be willing to do to Ted Kennedy, for his remarks on the war, what Republicans did to Trent Lott, for his remarks on Strom Thurmond and the 1948 election?

The answer: absolutely not, because unlike in Lott’s case, the majority of the party, and the overwhelming majority of the activists and donors agree with Kennedy completely. They also have the added benefit of knowing the MSM will never call Kennedy to account for anything he says.

Iceblogging

January 29, 2005

Forget about what Sherman did to the place; as for today, Atlanta, she is frozen.

The bad weather started a little after noon yesterday, a steady patter of sleet that lasted for hours, but didn’t accumulate. That turned into rain around midnight, even as the temperature was dropping. A slushy mix kept falling until around dawn. This is the result, at least around our house:

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The atmosphere outside is nothing short of eerie. No traffic sounds at all, but when the wind blows, you hear the crackling of ice on the tree branches around you. It sounds like an army of squirrels nibbling away on ten thousand acorns.

Things could certainly be worse. Unlike previous ice storms, we haven’t lost power, and although my cable modem’s lifeline looks precarious:

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… it hasn’t failed yet. There are certainly lots of people in worse straits than we are today. Still, the roads, including street we live on, are sheets of ice, and I really, really needed to get over to Alabama today. That’s not going to happen, unless there’s a miraculous thaw. I’d be lucky to make it to the grocery store right now (fortunately, we stocked up already).

We’re not expected to get above freezing until sometime Sunday, and the precipitation forecast for today and tonight ranges between 80 and 100 percent. And what the heck, the dog seems to enjoy it:

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UPDATE: 6PM Eastern. Very steady rain now, and the temperature is dropping. We didn’t try to drive anywhere today, and watching two idiots slipping and sliding their cars up the hill going out of the neighborhood was proof we’d made the right choice (by some miracle, they didn’t hit each other, but both wound up sliding into somebody’s yard).

This is going to be a rough night, much moreso than last night. You can hear branches popping all over, and our power went out for the first time about a half hour ago. It came back in about five minutes, but I don’t expect that to last. Fortunately, tomorrow is supposed to be much warmer, but there are going to be some dark, cold, icy hours between now and then.

Are You Listening, Steve Jobs?

January 23, 2005

Practically since the moment the Mac Mini was announced, the online Macintosh communities have been ablaze with commentary from people who’d like to use one of these suckers as a DVR and A/V hub. From DealMac to AVSForum to PVRBlog, there’s a sizeable cohort of tech-savvy folks who look at the Mini-Mac and say, “That belongs right next to my friggin’ huge HDTV.”

Unfortunatley for all those folks (myself included), the Mini just isn’t built for that task. The hard drive is too small and too slow (it’s just a 4200 rpm laptop drive), and the video card and G4 processor don’t have the horsepower to play back HD video. The current models of Minis are designed to be either second computers for Mac owners, or first Macs for Windows users who’re fed up with Microsoft and want to see how the other side lives.

But. That’s just the first model. Who’s to say there won’t be an A/V Mini coming down the pipe from Cupertino in the future? Noted tech historian Bob Cringely (real name Mark Stephens, who was briefly one of Apple’s first employees) thinks Steve Jobs is working a deal with Sony to make a set-top Macintosh that’ll act as a video server for downloaded movies.

Personally, I think that’s a neat idea, but what I’d really like to have is an affordable Mac that can act as a high-definition ReplayTV–and that’s ReplayTV, not Tivo, folks. Tivo imposes way too many MPAA-demanded limitations on content for my tastes. I want a box that will schedule, record and play back HD programs, and will also allow me to edit and permanently record that content to removable media, preferably some form of DVD. I can do all that now for standard definition with my Replays and my 2001-era G4 Mac tower, thanks to DVArchive software.

It’s theoretically possible to do all of the above in HD with a G4-class Mac and ElGato’s EyeTV 500 Firewire box–but only in theory. The ElGato box is designed to need a dual-processor G5 Mac for full HD playback, and that’s a dang sight more powerful, expensive, and bulky a computer than the new Mini-Mac. It’s alleged that one could overcome the Mini’s lack of juice by playing back HD video through a set-top HD converter box with a Firewire port, but I haven’t found an example of anybody who’s actually done this, and even if I did, I suspect the process is too ungainly for casual use (i.e., my wife would hate it).

Still, if all the EyeTV 500 box needs is the processing power of a set-top box, what’s to keep ElGato from building that in to a prospective EyeTV 600, plus a heftier hard drive? I don’t think we can count on Apple to produce an HD-PVR-ready Mac anytime soon; after all, Jobs himself is the CEO of a major (and very successful) movie studio, Pixar. He’s not going to cross his fellow moguls with a pre-broadcast-flag HD PVR system… but I wouldn’t be if a future video-hub Mini does arrive with some kind of DRM built in, a la the iTunes music store.

Until then, though, Apple’s best customers are shouting about what they’d love to be able to buy from the company. If Jobs isn’t listening, somebody else almost certainly is. Stay tuned.

Johnny

January 23, 2005

NBC is reporting that Johnny Carson has died.

I really feel sorry for people who weren’t old enough to see and appreciate Carson while he was still on the air. He was just So. Damn. Good. His successors, on every network, are decidedly pale reflections, and I doubt any of them would seriously argue that Carson was head and shoulders above anybody else who’s ever hosted a talk show, anywhere. His blend of great good humor, high taste, low comedy, and refusal to condescend to anybody, regardless of who they were or where they came from, almost certainly can’t be duplicated in today’s mass media.

Now he’ll be missed even more. RIP.

Dhimmitude Or Diaspora?

January 18, 2005

Something’s been bothering me since reading Christopher Caldwell’s piece on the Netherlands in the wake of Theo van Gogh’s murder. It’s this bit:

The question naturally arises: If immigrants behave this way now, what will happen when they are far more numerous, as all authorities have long promised they will be? It has been estimated that the country’s two largest cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, will be “majority minority” very soon (Rotterdam is today at 47 percent), and already 65 percent of primary and secondary students in both cities are of non-Dutch parentage. London’s Daily Telegraph, citing immigration experts and government statistics, reported a net outflow of 13,000 people from Holland in the first six months of 2004, the first such deficit in half a century. One must treat this statistic carefully–it could be an artifact of an aging population in which many are retiring to warmer places. But it could also be the beginning of something resembling the American suburban phenomenon of “white flight,” occurring at the level of an entire country.

What if a considerable fraction–even a large minority–of that 13,000 really are fleeing from Islamic radicalism? What happens 20 or 30 years from now, when demographic trends could well result in “minority-majority” (or even outright majority) status for the Islamic cohort in western Europe? If they’re faced with the options of dhimmitude or flight, where will the native Europeans flee to?

Why, here, of course.

Lots will go to Canada, I would guess particularly the Scandinavians, and plenty more will go to Australia. But the majority will be drawn right here to the USA. After all, we’ve got more room, more money, more opportunities–and most importantly, we’re the most able to protect our own. Not unlike their ancestors’ cousins of past centuries, the majority of those who give up on Europe will come here.

And then what? What will we do with them? More interestingly, what will they do to us? Will the ‘blue states’ fill up with UNphilic Euro-refugees and get bluer? Or will the refugees, haven been driven from their homes by radical Islam, lean more towards the ‘red’ Scots-Irish motto of nemo me impune lacessit?

I don’t have any idea. You don’t, either. It’s silly to even project current political trends in this country 20 years from now. In 1985, the South was still a province of the Democratic Party at virtually every level below the Presidency, and California was reliably Republican. Nobody really knows what the political maps will look like in 2025, much less how those maps might be impacted by a new wave of European immigrants.

But somebody ought to start thinking about it, both here, and across the pond. Just in case Holland is the canary in Europe’s coal mine.

Smoking Gun

January 18, 2005

Here’s a big, loud dog that didn’t bark in what CBS’s Rathergate report.

So, putting aside the typos, the superscripts, the signatures, the wrong header and address, and all the previously dissected items susceptible to subjective interpretations, how do I prove this memo is a fake? Easy— for the weekend that 1st Lt. Bush was supposedly ordered to report for his physical, May 13-14, 1972, the Ellington Air Guard Base was closed. It was Mother’s Day. Except for emergencies, Air Guard units never drilled on Mother’s Day; the divorce lawyers would be waiting at the gate.
If George Bush showed up at the clinic that weekend, he would have had to get the key from the gate guard.

The drill weekend for May 1972 was the following weekend, May 20-21. A survey of the pay and flight records of several of the Texas Air Guard members of that period shows no activity for May 13-14, but drill pay vouchers and flights for May 20-21. Guard flight physicals were normally conducted on the drill weekends, because that is the only time all the required clinic personnel were on hand to complete lab work and flight surgeon consultations mandated for aircrew. Does anyone think that Jerry Killian, squadron commander and one of the drill-schedule planners would not know on May 4 that the clinic was closed the next weekend?

As the author, William Campenni, notes elsewhere in his piece, those facts, all by themselves, shatter any lingering credibility in the Mapes/Bullock memos (which can no longer be referred to in any honesty as “Killian memos”). One would think that had either CBS News or “the Panel” of Richard Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi known the other officers from then-Lieutenant George W. Bush’s squadron hadn’t logged a single hour during the weekend when Bush was allegedly ordered to report for a flight physical, that would have been the last step needed to determine the memos were fraudulent.

Except that they did have that information:

While CBS, in its rush to judgment, might have missed this fatal flaw in the Burkett memo, its investigative law firm, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP, cannot be excused. Why? Because one of their investigating lawyers was informed of this fact on Nov. 15 and given a list of seven witnesses who worked in the same offices with Jerry Killian every day in 1972. (Disclosure statement: I was the source.) The panel report makes no mention of this, and a canvass of most of the witness list reveals no contact attempt by Kirkpatrick & Lockhart.

As John Podhoretz noted last week, Thornburgh and Boccardi were not an ‘independent panel.’ They and their law firm were hired by CBS–and following the ethical standards of lawyers in this country, their first duty was protecting their clients. They did so in true lawyerly fashion by simply not mentioning inconvenient facts, and without any adversarial attorneys on the other side, they may well have assumed that nobody would ever call them on it.

Wrong guess. Information is no longer the sole property of the MSM–or their law firms.

The report is a whitewash. The memos are frauds–and CBS still won’t admit it. So we’ll just have to go on doing the job they’re supposed to be doing themselves.

I Swear, There Are No Cute Robot Dogs

January 14, 2005

Just a friendly Vodkasphere public service announcement here.

I mentioned a day or two ago that the new “Battlestar Galactica” series was my favorite TV show of 2004. That might have sounded a little odd for many reasons, but especially so considering the show doesn’t premiere in the US until tonight (January 14). But thanks to an oddball contractural agreement, it’s been playing in the UK since last fall, and the episodes aren’t terribly hard to find online (no, I’m not going to give you directions, so don’t ask).

Frankly, I didn’t expect to like this show at all. I’d watched the 1978 original avidly, and loved it–but what the hell, I was in the fourth grade back then. As one of Pixar’s execs noted recently, kids have no taste, and will watch pretty much anything (no link and no name, sorry; I think I read it in an airline magazine). The Sci-Fi Channel, which is responsible for the “BG” remake, runs the original shows all the time, and at 36, I can barely stand to watch them. Take away the neat-looking spaceships, and it’s just standard-issue 70’s television. In other words, crap (although I still think Lorne Greene was great as Adama–sue me).

Listen, you’re just going to have to trust me on this one, because I was thinking the same thing you were a few months ago: “‘Battlestar Galactica?’ C’mon, that’s a punch line. It’s the definition of suckage. What, are you going to tell me to watch ‘Buck Rodgers’ next?” Full disclosure: I have neither a Tron costume nor (ahem) a Lego Star Destroyer in my house. I’m not saying any of this out of loyalty to nerd-dom.

When the “miniseries” version of the new “BG” came out in late 2003, I tuned in mostly out of sick curiosity, i.e., “Let’s see how much this sucks.” I was pleasantly surprised to get adequate entertainment instead. It wasn’t great. At four hours minus many, many, many commercials, the thing dragged a lot. Some of the acting was good (Edward James Olmos as Adama, Mary McDonnell as a Secretary of Education suddenly elevated to the presidency), and some not so good (the new Apollo was almost as wooden as the original). But it wasn’t bad.

So I, ah, arranged to view the first couple of episodes when they showed up online in the fall… and I was astonished by how good they were. At forty-odd minutes a show, they had a speed and vitality that was missing from the miniseries, and the writing was so much better than the original show, there wasn’t any point in quibbling about Starbuck being a girl and Colonel Tigh becoming a bald white dude (okay, I’m still a little torqued about that one, but let it pass).

Anyway, I’ve gone on way too long here, but the bottom line is: Check it out. The premiere two episodes run back-to-back tonight on Sci-Fi, and they’re terrific, especially the first one, titled simply “33.”

I’ll guarantee you this much: it’s a hell of a lot better–and more grown-up–than any ‘reality’ crap you’ll find on the tube tonight…

UPDATE: As a reader points out, I completely goofed up the Pixar thing above; his name is Craig Good, and the interview was on NRO. I mixed it up with a Brad Bird interview I read on an airplane.

Also, Ain’t It Cool News collects a whole bunch of positive mainstream press reviews of the show here. Pretty strong endorsements, especially considering every non-geek critic over 30 had to have been pre-wired to hate this one.

In This Case, “Anti-Trust” Has More Than One Meaning

January 13, 2005

Peggy Noonan (who was once a producer for Dan Rather, incidentally) in today’s WSJ:

Mr. Fineman asserts that the MSM came into existence after World War II, which is essentially true, but goes on to claim that it came into existence as the result of the fact that “a temporary moderate consensus came to govern the country.” Please. America was a political battleground in those days, fighting over everything from McCarthyism to the true nature of communism to the proper role of government to Vietnam. The MSM didn’t come into existence because of a brief period of political comity. The MSM rose because it had a monopoly. And it fell because it lost that monopoly.

All this has been said before but this can’t be said enough: The biggest improvement in the flow of information in America in our lifetimes is that no single group controls the news anymore.

Quite right, and whether in Iraq or Minnesota or even Lafayette, Lousiana, there is nothing so desperate, angry, or ugly as a monopoly that’s losing its grip.

More:

Only 20 years ago, when you were enraged at what you felt was the unfairness of a story, or a bias on the part of the storyteller, you could do this about it: nothing. You could write a letter.

When I worked at CBS a generation ago I used to receive those letters. Sometimes we read them, and sometimes we answered them, but not always. Now if you see such a report and are enraged you can do something about it: You can argue in public on a blog or on TV, you can put forth information that counters the information in the report. You can have a voice. You can change the story. You can bring down a news division. Is this improvement? Oh yes it is.

Some media organs–Newsweek, Time, the New York Times–will likely use the changing environment as license to be what they are: liberal, only more so. Interestingly they have begun to use Fox News Channel as their rationale. We used to be unbiased but then Fox came along with its conservative propaganda so now just to be fair and compete we’re going liberal.

I don’t see why anyone should mind this. A world where National Review is defined as conservative and Newsweek defined as liberal would be a better world, for it would be a more truthful one. Everyone gets labeled, tagged and defined, no one hides an agenda, the audience gets to listen, consider, weigh and allow for biases. A journalistic world where people declare where they stand is a better one.

Couldn’t have said it better myself–although I did try a couple of times.

My Favorite Is “Pickup Andropov”

January 12, 2005

Here’s a great Boston Globe article about the “Car Talk” guys, Tom and Ray Magliozzi (hat tip to Los Bros Judd). Way too many great quotes to pull anywhere near a representative sample, but here’s a good one:

Ray: “One of the big chains approached us, but we didn’t want to stand in front of their store and tell people to get their cars fixed there. We couldn’t. Because they [expletive] everybody.”

Berman: “Even though they offered them [a lot] of money.”

Tom: “Offered who?”

Ray: “You didn’t get that memo?”

Tom, puzzled: “No.”

Berman: “These guys are not greedy. And the best negotiations happen when you truly don’t give a . . . ”

Tom: “Wait, back up. Offered who?”

Read the whole thing. And don’t drive like my sister.