current events

Election time 2002

Mid-term elections attract something like 20% voter turnout. Pretty sad, and ripe fodder for jokes, but perhaps things won’t be quite so bad this time. News is that early voting has been unusually active, which may be cause for optimism.

At any rate, I do believe it’s important to vote, and to be an educated voter. With that in mind, here are a couple of scooby-snacks for the interested voter: Open Secrets and Vote Smart.

The California Coastline Project

This is brilliant. A guy who got rich during the dotcom era is photographing every inch of the California coastline from a helicopter

The camera is linked with a cable to the helicopter’s global positioning system, and to an Apple Power Book laptop. Every three seconds, he snaps a picture, and the exact longitude, latitude and altitude are recorded.

Adelman said he will spend about $20,000 to photograph the whole coast, and take about 10,000 pictures in all. He has finished about 60 percent, including nearly everything from Marin County to Los Angeles. He expects to finish the rest of Southern California this week. One area, over Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, is in restricted air space and Adelman is still working to get permission to photograph

This is what computers and the Internet are for. The fact that this project can be undertaken–and made universally available–for so little money amazes me.

Why is he doing this? I’m sure that once he is done, people will find all kinds of fascinating but unintended uses for it. His motive is environmental preservation. Check it out at

The Internet and the ADA

In an important decision, a judge has ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to the Internet. A blind man sued Southwest Airlines over the fact that their website was difficult to use with his screen reader.

What to make of this? I’m sympathetic to the plaintiff. And it would be sensible, both from business and aesthetic standpoints, for the Southwest website to be more universally accessible, but bringing the Internet within the ADA’s purview could open a huge can of worms.

Paper Tiger

Although I have little interest in Tiger Woods and less in the sport of golf, there was an interesting story surrounding him in the paper today.

Apparently he is being called upon by civil-rights campaigners to take a stand regarding the policy at Augusta National that only men can be members. The policy strikes me as equally (and very) anachronistic, silly, and inexcusable. Tiger’s comments are interesting.

In his most extensive comments on the Augusta’s membership, Mr. Woods rejected the suggestion that he steers clear of political controversy for fear it will harm his corporate interests or affect his income from endorsements. “There’s no validity to that at all,” he said. “I’ll say what I believe, but I’ll choose when.”

Then Mr. Woods took his cap off and rubbed his forehead in frustration.

“I’m also trying to win tournaments here,” he said. “Do people understand that?”

Fair enough. He’s an athlete (if you call golf “athletic”).

But he also said “It would be nice to see everyone have an equal chance to participate, but there is nothing you can do about it.”

Now, I don’t know much about the whole power structure of the pro-golf world. Perhaps he doesn’t have as much pull as I imagine he does. But I suspect he’s being either naïve or disingenuous when he says that. I get the impression he has a huge amount of clout in the golf world, and that if he said “I cannot in good conscience play golf at a club with such blatantly unfair policies,” the board members at Augusta National would convene an emergency session and reverse their policy fast enough to give us all whiplash. The only way these things change is when people “do something about it.”

But there are other interesting issues at work. Tiger Woods, simply because of the circumstances of his birth, attracts issues like this that no other golfer does.

Mr. Woods smiled when he was asked if he thought it unfair that he constantly heard the question of whether women should be admitted to Augusta National, especially since legendary white golfers like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus — who are members of Augusta National — are seldom asked about it.

Forget about race for a moment. Tiger Woods is basically an entertainer. He’s got a lot of exposure, money, and public support. Does that mean that he is obliged to be politically outspoken? A role model? It’s not clear to me that we should put that freight on our entertainers, and frankly, it can get pretty tedious when they assume that mantle anyhow.

Our fearless leader

I was reading an article on the prospect of invading Iraq (despite the fact that it was written by Noam Chomsky), and was struck by his quote of George II, who explained the terrorists attacked us because they “hate our freedoms.” I realized, in that moment, that the administration’s response has been to limit our freedoms–perhaps so they’ll hate us less. Brilliant!

Then I decided it would be interesting to dig up the speech where Bush used the phrase. A trip to didn’t show me the speech, but it did reveal something interesting. There appears to be a complete index of Cheney’s speeches, and even Laura Bush’s, but there isn’t a complete listing of the President’s speeches in one place, and if you want more than his “greatest hits,” you need to do some digging (eventually I found it). He does have some lovely photo essays though, and those are easy to get to.

Damage control

Our fearless leader has spent 42% of his term on vacation. I realize there hasn’t been a whole lot going on that would require his attention, but this number is still surprising.

Then again, it’s probably a blessing in disguise. The more time he spends on the job, the more he can screw up.

More fun with SUVs

According to the New York Times (registration required), some folks are demonstrating their dislike for SUVs by sticking mock tickets on their windshields. This seems to inspire a lot of anger. According to the article, some people write the organization to express their displeasure, or to defend their choice of vehicle.

One man told a sobering story. “You have no idea why I drive the vehicle I have,” his message said. “Maybe, just maybe, it’s because my wife and myself have lost a son in an accident and want my family to be safe. Try losing a child.”

This guy is guilty of two lapses in thinking: 1. For the occupants, SUVs are not safer than cars, they just make you feel that they are (and because of the risk-compensation mechanism, might actually be even more dangerous than they seem); 2. SUVs are much more dangerous to surrounding vehicles. So, hey, who knows–maybe this guy, having lost his child, will cause someone else to lose one.

DVD region codes to fade away?

Apparently, Hollywood may be giving up on the whole region-code scheme for DVDs, which prevented a person from (perfectly legally) buying a DVD in, say, the USA and then playing it in, say, Japan. Or vice-versa. This system is so obviously anti-consumer that some countries have made region-code locking illegal. Of course, I’ve got one of the first DVD players that allowed the user to hack the region code, but I’m still pleased. Score one for the rest of us.

Open Letter to America from a Canadian

This is one of the best bits of vitriol I’ve read in a while:

Go get your ten-billionth burger, America. Fatten your already fat asses with bacteria-and-hormone-ridden meat and do nothing as you sit stupefied before your mind-numbing television sets awaiting the next episode of sad families being humiliated on “Cops.”

Of course, this was written by a Canadian, and as we all know, Canada is just a suburb of the USA.

via Plastic

Fight the Berman Bill

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is encouraging all of us to send a letter to our representatives to fight the Berman Bill. I’ve mentioned this before here. What is it? If passed, it would give legal protection to copyright holders who hack into your computer if they suspect you have any files on it that violate their copyrights–and grant protection for any damage done (files lost, etc) in the process. Yes, really.

Suddenly upside-down vehicles

SUVs are a pet peeve of mine. Very few people have any valid justification for driving them, they’re dangerous (both to the driver and to others, though they instill a false sense of security in the driver), they’re un-economical and un-environmental, and they’re road hogs. I’m not the only person who feels this way–the Car Talk guys agree. Harper’s Magazine also wrote a decent polemic on the subject (thanks, Greg).

Chimera 0.4

Chimera 0.4, a browser for Mac OS X, is out. I’m using it right now. I like it.

It’s still very obviously a work in progress, with odd behavior when new windows pop up, or when typing in a field (as I am doing now), etc. But it seems to be well behaved, fast, and designed with good “instincts.” Joe Bob says “Check it out.”

Big Brother lives in Hollywood

As if we needed further convincing that Big Media is evil: License to Hack: Black Hats win.

A bill is being prepared that would allow copyright holders to hack into your computer if they suspect you have illicit copyrighted materials. The bill would also shield them from damages if they happen to mess up your computer.

via Kuro5hin.

Big, Bigger, Biggest: The Supersize Suburb

Big, Bigger, Biggest: The Supersize Suburb

Does anyone actually need an 8,500 square-foot house? There’s something vaguely pornographic about a house that big. My own house is somewhere in the range of 1,550 to 1,800 square feet, and families of four have lived in it comfortably. You could fit my house into one of these McMansions four or five times over. When I lived in Japan, I shared an apartment that I generously estimate to have been 240 square feet.

Goodbye, Internet radio

Goodbye, Internet radio. There’s no way the hobbyist-level operators, who are doing this as a labor of love, will be able to pay these royalties (apparently, about $500 a day). Up until today, I barely listened to conventional radio at all; I listened to Internet radio all the time. As of today, most of my favorite streams are dead air, and I have to imagine the others are not long for this earth.

No doubt the big broadcast-radio conglomerates and the RIAA are happy. The RIAA, which has had its collective head stuck up its collective ass for years, shouldn’t be so smug. I’ve bought quite a few albums as a result of music I heard on Internet radio–probably more than I’ve bought because of broadcast radio. In the past, there was a chance they’d get some revenue through record sales. Now, they’re not going to get any royalties from the Internet streams (since they’re disappearing), nor from the album sales spurred by those streams. This is arguably more of a clear-cut win for big radio, since it eliminates real competition. Then again, I’m not going to start listening to broadcast radio more as a result of this.

War On Error

War On Error: Live Pictures Taken by U.S. Planes Were Freely Available

The war on terrorism in Europe is being undermined by a military communications system that makes it easier for terrorists to tune in to live video of U.S. intelligence operations than to watch Disney cartoons or new-release movies.

Now, I’m all in favor of openness in government, but I believe someone’s pants are down around his ankles here.

What do you suppose the odds are that this’ll get to be a big story, and that Ashcroft will then tell us something scary to distract us?