Archive for February, 2006

What She Said

February 23, 2006

Peggy Noonan on the bad joke known as the Transportation Security Administration:

I am almost always picked for extra screening. I must be on a list of middle aged Irish-American women terrorists. I know a message is being sent: We don’t do ethnic profiling in America. But that is not, I suspect, the message anyone receives. The message people receive is: This is all nonsense. What they think is: This is all kabuki. We’re being harassed and delayed so politicians can feel good. The security personnel themselves seem to know it’s nonsense: they’re always bored and distracted as they go through my clothing, my stockings, my computer, my earrings. They don’t treat me like a terror possibility, they treat me like a sad hunk of meat.

I don’t think most of us get extra screening because they think we are terrorists. I think we get it because they know we’re not. They screen people who are not terrorists because it helps them pretend they are protecting us, in the same way doctors in the middle ages used to wear tall hats: because they couldn’t cure you. It’s all show.


This is a flying nation. We fly. And everyone knows airport security is an increasingly sad joke, that TSA itself often appears to have forgotten its mission, if it ever knew it, and taken on a new one–the ritual abuse of passengers.

Now there’s a security problem. Solve that one.

To put it another way, “UAE, ABC, NRA — I could care less who runs the ports, just as long as it’s not Homeland Security.” As Homer would say, it’s funny ’cause it’s true.

Or maybe not so funny, but unfortunately still true.

The Phantom Menace

February 22, 2006

If you follow tech blogs like Engadget or Slashdot, you probably noticed a blurb about how several movie companies are suing Samsung, over an obscure DVD player that was sold for just a few months in 2004. Like many, many other DVD players, the Samsung DVD-HD841 had a “back door,” or a semi-secret code that could be entered in through the remote control to turn off various copy protection schemes. Disney, Time Warner, Fox, Paramount and Universal have all sued claiming they’ve been damaged by video piracy related to the Samsung players, and are demanding a complete recall of all units in private hands (how the heck they plan to pull that off, I have no idea, and I imagine the plaintiffs don’t, either).

The existence of such a DVD player is nothing new; the age of DVD secret codes goes back at least seven years, to the venerable Apex AD-600A, which caused a huge commotion when its own back door was revealed by USA Today and the Washington Post way back in 1999. The Apex players, which were cheap for the day at $175, flew off the shelves of Circuit City, their only retailer, and hundreds if not thousands made their way to eBay for resale at a hefty profit.

Thing is, all of these players, from the Apex all the way up to the Samsung and beyond, wouldn’t let you do much more than avoid the MPAA’s asinine region coding scheme (meaning you could play DVDs bought anywhere in the world, as opposed to only those from the one region the movie companies think you ought to be able to buy from), or successfully copy a DVD onto videotape, or later onto a set-top DVD recorder. The really funny thing is, not one copy made in that manner would be nearly as high-quality as the exact duplicate anybody can make today with a $40 DVD burner and free, easy-to-find DVD copying software. And region-coding actually affects only a tiny portion of any DVD’s purchasers.

So, what’s the big deal here? Why are all those movie companies suing Samsung over a DVD player that really didn’t do much of note, and at any rate hasn’t been for sale for a year and a half? What the heck are they going to accomplish, beyond sending the Samsung player’s resale value through the roof?

I’m glad you asked.

This lawsuit is not about Samsung. It’s not about the DVD-HD841. It’s not even about DVD players as you and I know them.

It’s a warning. It’s a shot across the bow to Samsung and Apex and Panasonic and Cyberhome and every other hardware manufacturer, great and small, to lock up all those back doors in future products.

The movie companies know that the DVD copying cat is so far out of the bag, its kittens have reached every corner of the Earth. They’ve lost that fight, but they don’t plan to lose it as easily in the new generation of high-definition hardware. They know very well that the guys (and almost all of them are male) who design the hardware and software for Blu-Ray and HD-DVD and every other variant of video technology want to be able to make copies for themselves, the movie studios’ wishes be damned.

That’s what happened with the back doors on all these consumer products–they were put in by engineers who wanted to get around the copying restrictions placed on their hardware. Today, Hollywood is leaning on the bosses of those engineers to stamp out any such shenanigans in future products. They figure if the hardware suits are worried enough about getting sued, they’ll lean on their engineers to only produce products unlikely to draw the fire of Hollywood’s First Lawyer Division.

Will it work? I frankly doubt it. Every engineer alive thinks he’s smarter than any lawyer, and a lot of them are right. But Hollywood is going to do its damnedest to scare them out of proving it.

Port Recall

February 21, 2006

I honestly don’t know what to make of the port management story. I’m not clear on what the implications of the whole deal are. On the one hand, I can certainly understand the “What the hell are they thinking?” instinctive reaction. That initial response to a country from the Middle East ‘taking over US ports’ is not hard to sympathize with.

On the other hand, I think Bush has a point when he says we aren’t doing ourselves (or anybody else) any favors by taking a “no Arabs need apply” position on doing business. That’s a bad way to make friends–and enemies. Whether or not you buy the line ‘we are not at war with Islam,’ we are not at war with every Arab on the planet. We really are trying to win people over in that part of the world. Throwing what appears to be a normal business transaction back in the faces of a decent ally is not going to help our cause.

And UAE is an ally. At least as I understand it, the UAE is easily the most Americanized of the Gulf states. We already sell them the most sophisticated version of the F-16 ever built; the new jets they’re getting are more advanced than any US F-16 (no kidding). That’s a pretty big statement of trust, and that deal was done well before Bush came to power; I remember seeing the first models doing flight tests back in the 1990’s.

That’s not to say that the US can’t or shouldn’t be careful here. I have no problem at all with doing extensive screenings of port employees, for instance (I’d be pretty hypocritical if I did, since I had to go through a pretty damn intensive government screening myself for my own job). But after further review, I do have a problem with “no Arabs need apply.” The opportunistic stuff I’m hearing out of everybody from Hillary Clinton to Bill Frist sounds a lot like that, and that’s not something we ought to be standing for.

For whatever it’s worth, I think Bush is going to take a big political hit for the whole affair. Nobody can accuse him of going with polls or focus groups on this one.

UPDATE: The proprieter of Aladdin’s Rant (full disclosure–he’s a friend of mine) has a few thoughts on the subject.

Ground Control To MSM: Your Judgement’s Dead, There’s Something Wrong

February 19, 2006

When I heard last week about Dick Cheney’s hunting accident, I think I’m safe in saying that I had the same reaction as most people: “The guy who got shot is okay? Kind of funny, then.” And that was about it. When the press coverage jumped the rails over the next couple of days, I asked a few decidedly-not-pro-Bush friends whether they thought the story was a big deal. None of them said yes. All of them forwarded me jokes, most of which were pretty good.

That reaction, more than everything else, was all the confirmation I needed that the media has lost its collective mind. I see at Drudge that they’re intent on stretching the non-story of why they didn’t get a press release as soon as they would have liked into a second week.

Now, if you MSM folks out there have any interest in convincing the rest of us that you haven’t lost all sense of proportion (or sense, period), I have a suggestion: quit talking to each other about how ill-used you’ve been, and start doing some actual reporting. Just to show that I’m a nice guy, I’ll even point you towards a big story that isn’t getting any coverage to speak of:

A home invasion and attack near Duluth [GA] a week ago has set off a political firestorm that may reach all the way to China.

Peter Yuan Li said he was tied up and beaten in his Chatburn Way home by several men on Feb. 8. The men spoke Korean and Mandarin and left behind certain valuables, including a camcorder and television, but took his computers, a phone and his wallet, according to Li. They also demanded unspecified documents and pried open two file cabinets, he said.

But Li claims it was no ordinary robbery. The culprits, he said, were Chinese agents who targeted him because of his work with The Epoch Times international newspaper and its Internet site, which is affiliated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

The Chinese government has brutally clamped down on Falun Gong practices and branded it a cult. Li, a practitioner of Falun Gong, said the newspaper is highly critical of China’s communist government and its dismal human rights record.

“It was a warning,” said the China-born Li, 41, who moved to the United States in 1987 and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. “They did this because of the work I do promoting human rights.”

The FBI is looking into the incident for possible civil rights violations, but a spokesman declined to say whether the Chinese government might be involved. The attack is still under investigation by the Fulton County Police Department.

A man, who declined to give his name, who answered the telephone at the Chinese Embassy in Washington called The Epoch Times the “propaganda machine of the evil cult” and said he didn’t know anything about the attack on Li.

Li, though, has no doubt who is behind the attack.

Li’s ordeal began a week ago, while he was at the home he shares with his wife and two children. Between 11 a.m. and noon, he said, someone knocked on his door and a man said it was a water delivery. Li said he hadn’t ordered water but when he opened the door another man, who was hidden, jumped out and the two pushed him back into his house. His attackers had a knife and a gun.

He was knocked to the floor, blindfolded and covered with a quilt. “I was scared,” Li said as he recalled the terrifying morning. “They were strong. I couldn’t breathe. I became weak and they started to beat me.”

They used duct tape to cover his mouth and tied him up. At one point, he said, one or two other men came in the house. One, Li said, spoke Chinese and asked him about the location of a safe. Li said he doesn’t have a safe, but could hear them searching through his file cabinets.

He said relatives who still live in China also have been harassed. Li doesn’t ask them about details for fear it might make their situation worse, but his family has told him they think he’s “taking the right course and they support me.”

That article appeared in the Metro section of Thursday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other than one Washington Post story and couple of online mentions by Forbes, it hasn’t received any other notable coverage. The name “Peter Yuan Li” gets no hits from a search of the New York Times, no hits at CNN.com, and no hits at MSNBC.com (David Gregory, call your office).

I find this a bit odd. Here we have a pretty credible allegation that a United States citizen was attacked, beaten, and robbed in his own home by agents of a hostile foreign power because of his political views and activities.

As George Carlin used to say, I’m going to repeat that, because it sounds kind of important:

Here we have a credible allegation that an American citizen was attacked, beated and robbed in his own home by agents of a hostile foreign power because of his political views and activities.

Call me a press-hating fascist wingnut, but I think that’s a big story. That’s a page one, lead for a week, cover-of-Time-and-Newsweek story. Why the hell are you whining yourselves hoarse about how long it took the White House press corps to learn about a minor hunting accident?

Cartoon Violence Spreads

February 16, 2006

Heh.

Living On In The Aftermath

February 15, 2006

A while back, I introduced the Vodkasphere to one of my favorite writers, New Orleans columnist Chris Rose. Prior to Katrina, Chris’s work was usually focused on humorous slice-of-life pieces, always echoing the weird, chaotic joys and worries of his hometown. These days… well, these days, like a lot of other people in NOLA, he’s pissed.

I sometimes talk to septuagenarian women on the phone — that’s one of my job responsibilities; don’t ask — and I find the language I hear both shocking and, I have to admit, very entertaining. Maybe even uplifting.

Inspiring would be too strong a word for it.

I have used some of these words in this column space in recent months, vocabularic liberties my editors would probably not have allowed back before The Thing.

This linguistic phenomenon was best described to me by Greg Meffert, the chief technology officer for the mayor’s office and a man with no proficiency whatsoever in language studies but who, nevertheless, has developed a social paradigm that exhibits a keen understanding of human behavior.

Particularly New Orleans human behavior.

The Meffert Theory, as told to me, is thus: “If you were circumspect before Katrina, now you are candid. If you were candid, now you are frank. If you were frank, now you are blunt. And if you were blunt, now you are an asshole.”

After softening you up with that rueful laugh, Chris gets out the knife. I won’t spoil the last section for you here; go read the whole thing.

What He Said

February 12, 2006

Jonah Goldberg on Ann Coulter:

My “reluctance” to discuss Ann has very little to do with any double standard and more to do with a more general unwillingness to talk about her routine at all. But, even though I think Media Matters is something of a joke, that doesn’t mean the point isn’t valid. I don’t think Ann does anybody but herself any good when she jokes about killing presidents, Supreme Court justices or uses terms like raghead. I don’t think she should do it and I don’t think conservatives should applaud it. I’m all for shattering the stereotype that conservatives can’t tell a joke, but that doesn’t mean any joke is worth making just because it gets a laugh (indeed, some jokes shouldn’t be made for fear that they will generate a laugh). Regardless, if anyone thinks Ann is going to stop her act simply because she gets heat from the likes of me, they’re crazy.

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

February 12, 2006

Okay, it’s not exactly frightful here in Atlanta, where big, puffy flakes just started falling. It’s pretty lousy in Philadelphia, though, where my in-laws have been stuck in the airport since three this morning. They’re hearing now that they might get on their way (to Mexico, where hopefully snow is not a factor) by seven tonight.

Just in case you were thinking you were having a crummy day…

Euro-Weenie Alert

February 9, 2006

Good. Grief.

In an interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph, EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said the charter would encourage the media to show “prudence” when covering religion.

“The press will give the Muslim world the message: We are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression,” he told the newspaper. “We can and we are ready to self-regulate that right.”

In other words, the EU’s official policy on free speech, when challenged by violent, immature, brainless barbarism is, “RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!”

What He Said

February 7, 2006

When it comes to dealing with tribalism, Windsor Mann says football is the answer:

As strange as this may sound, people become fans in order to become part of a tribe — each with its own customs, chants, costumes, and idiosyncrasies. America, like Iraq today or Scotland centuries ago, is still a tribal society, but a highly sophisticated one. Sectarian conflict still exists, but it is artificial and superficial and, thankfully, governed by officials. We no longer fight with weapons; now we fight with footballs. Instead of fighting to the death, we play until sudden death. Unlike our brethren in the Middle East, Americans have learned how to channel their tribal aggression. That channel is ESPN.

The beauty of team sports is that they allow us, as fans, to identify with a large group of people — mostly strangers — who partake in a common heritage, cheering on players we will never meet. In this way, being a fan is no different than being a tribesman. Singing the fight songs, donning the colors, and investing one’s time, money and emotion in a team’s success — these are the ways of the athletic clan.

When the teams represent significant blocs of society, sports can serve as a medium for enmity between rival factions within a country. More often than not, domestic obsession with team sports is a positive sign; it suggests that war-torn rivals have found a safe venue in which to settle the score.

It is worth noting that American football became popular in the late 19th century — after a war that had divided the nation against itself and pitted brother against brother. Writer Jim Weeks suggests that in those volatile postwar years, football emerged as a substitute for war. “In an era concerned with reviving the Civil War virtues of self-sacrifice, courage, discipline, teamwork and public spirit, football appeared to be the panacea.”

That the teams in the NFL and NCAA represent major cities or states shows how civilized and harmonious American society has become. Better for Carolina and New York to face off on the gridiron than in civil war.

As a born-into-it member of one of the fiercer tribes, and eager chronicler of the fiercest of the tribal wars, I’m left with little to add but, “Well, yeah!”