Blog: 2003-03

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For posterity: some 19-Mar screenshots of's initial reports of the attack, complete with the glib "Time's up."

Snapshot of UriFrame, since it was somewhat apropos to a question on the PLT list. This snapshot is to solicit comments on the API; perhaps 20% of the coding remains to be done, then it needs a test suite. I'll probably release a more usable version next week, after taking care of unrelated business.

Mini gesture study.

Periodic update of the Privoxy actions file.

Saw Akira Kurosawa's Yume (Dreams). Most of the parts had quite a lot of unsubtlety. On a technical note, I was bothered by the stark brightness of the composited scenes, especially when the man walked through the paintings. Presumably this is how Kurosawa saw the scenes in his mind, but to me, they were too reminiscent of the bluescreen video work we often saw in daytime children's shows, which spoiled the cinematography for me. Anyway, it's worth renting, and you'll probably like at least some of the pieces. My favorite was probably the tunnel. I also liked the fox procession, perhaps because I haven't figured it out.

But let us continue to ask why our government chose to impose this war. The choice reflects a fatal turn in U.S. foreign policy, in which the strategic doctrine of containment and deterrence that led us to peaceful victory during the Cold War has been replaced by the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. The president has adopted a policy of "anticipatory self-defense" that is alarmingly similar to the policy that imperial Japan employed at Pearl Harbor on a date which, as an earlier American president said it would, lives in infamy. Franklin D. Roosevelt was right, but today it is we Americans who live in infamy.

—Arthur Schlesinger Jr., "Good Foreign Policy a Casualty of War," LA Times, 23-Mar-2003

I hate to link an LA Times article — intrusive registration process. Dave Farber's IP list archives has a copy.

An article on Farber's list today quoted a Media Lab parody in an old issue of VooDoo, an MIT student humor publication. One such VooDoo piece I happened to scan is missing from their archive, so, in the interests of media preservation: page 16, page 17, page 18. Not so analytical, but chock-full of in-jokes from a UROP (undergrad) perspective.

Vocabulary term for today is incestuous amplification:

One answer is that Mr. Cheney made sure that his task force included only like-minded men: as far as we can tell, he didn't consult with anyone except energy executives. So the task force was subject to what military types call "incestuous amplification," defined by Jane's Defense Weekly as "a condition in warfare where one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation."

—Paul Krugman, "Delusions of Power," New York Times, 28-Mar-2003

Just discovered that a dissertation idea I'd shopped around to a few prospective advisors has coincidentally been executed by someone closely-connected. After I overcame the initial shock, decided that this one is probably parallel invention, and also probably not as similar to my idea in the details (though I'll still have to cite them as seminal work now). There've been at least three prior incidents in the last three years in which ideas I'd proposed to a professor (and occasionally had to argue strongly for) were later given to the professor's students. The students presumably assumed it was the professor's idea, and they have done the work, so you have to let it slide.

This is one of those things that we don't talk about in academia, because it happens all the time, and is usually accidental. You trust that you can share your ideas to some extent without others blatantly stealing the ideas and leaving you without a PhD, postdoc, professorship, or tenure. You also keep the paper trail in mind. This usually seems to work out. Nobody gets too bent out of shape, so long as they get a piece of the academic subsistence pie.

One of Parrish's better recent articles:

For me, in many ways, the U.S. street demonstrations of the last week have been nearly as depressing as the invasion itself. They have been primal screams, by definition unsustainable, when what is desperately needed is sustainable responses. They have been expressions of what protesters have felt they need to say, rather that what protesters felt other Americans needed to see or hear. They have been reactions to what has been done, rather than demands for what should be done now. They have used the shopworn tactics, iconography, and slogans of 40 years of left street protest, which by definition are going to seem knee-jerk and irrelevant when what is being undertaken is in many ways so new and so dangerous we don't have words to do that danger justice.

—Geov Parrish, "Post D-Day depression," WorkingForChange, 27-Mar-2003

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...

Harking back to the Revolutionary and Civil wars, the House is talking about a national day of humility, prayer and fasting to seek guidance from God during a time of war and terrorism. A vote on urging President Bush to designate such a day was expected later in the week.

—Jim Abrams, "Lawmakers seek national day of prayer," AP via Salon, 26-Mar-2003

On slant:

"We are going to treat this war differently than almost any other country will. We don't want to undermine the morale or support of the troops. It's not a time when people want to attack the president, so I believe it is natural that there is a certain amount of self-censorship going on."

—John Donnelly and Anne Barnard , "Differing TV images feed Arab, US views," Boston Globe, 26-Mar-2003

One wonders how accurate Mr. Burns' below assessment of Iraqi body language. Certainly a description of "unenthused, lethargic, resigned" has very different impact than one that uses phrases like "grim determination," "conflict-weary bravery," and "unflinching self-sacrifice."

The city's streets were virtually deserted apart from clusters of security men posted outside government buildings and the compounds of Saddam Hussein and his associates, many of them seated on plastic chairs and rickety bedframes, armed only with Kalashnikov rifles and the unenthused, lethargic, resigned look of men who knew that standing guard outside buildings likely to be struck by American air attacks placed them at mortal risk.

—John F. Burns, "In Iraqi Capital, Sirens Precede Two Direct Hits," New York Times, 21-May-2003

The few mentions of Iraqi casualties I've seen today all said "died" rather than "were killed." Unless there is a reasonable possibility that the Iraqis died from natural causes, rather than as a direct result of being shot at, to say "killed" would be more accurate. When you're intentionally killing people, it's disingenuous to pussyfoot around that fact. I'm not following the reports closely, so maybe the died/killed observation is not representative. There are media analysis and corpus linguistics projects waiting to happen if someone captures the emphemeral data now.

I'm actually writing code that will enable this kind of analysis. The PLT string->url bug last Saturday was while using HtmlPrag and SXPath under PLT Scheme to spider the New York Times Web site, about to put select pages into PostgreSQL. I'm now coding a robust URI library, partly because I'll soon need it for reliable spidering, and partly because it's coding that can be done when I'm stuck on the underpowered laptop.

The CNN Effect: Get your media buy orders in now!

So, my country attacked Iraq, under the direction of our current President. Any honest commentary seems trite, or likely to get me in trouble. I can only hope that the war ends quickly, with minimal casualties on both sides, and that Iraqis will soon have a better life. (Certainly there will be enormous political pressure to "rebuild" Iraq, since it is a showcase of the Bush Doctrine.) I also hope that history will be free enough that the Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush regimes can be judged harshly.

The people with whom I've talked tonight are responding to the attack against Iraq with excitement and frivolity, like a Super Bowl game, rather than with the gravity and horror that attended, say, the terrorist attack against the WTC on 9/11. Even after this disturbing observation is mentioned to them.

Two good pieces in New York Times today: Paul Krugman's "Things to Come," and an editorial, "War in the Ruins of Diplomacy."

At a time when America most needs the world to see its actions in the best possible light, they will probably be seen in the worst. This result was neither foreordained nor inevitable.

Was near a common area TV on campus when G.W. Bush's war speech aired tonight. Roughly speaking, every third sentence out of his mouth seemed disingenuous, if not an outright lie. At the end, the majority of students burst into applause, with only one person booing.

Walking home from that, on the eve of a war that to a large extent is about Middle Eastern oil, saw one of the more excessive SUVs.

Roger Morris, "A Tyrant 40 Years in the Making," New York Times, 14-Mar-2003

Paul Krugman, "George W. Queeg," New York Times, 14-Mar-2003

Human Rights Watch

Officials provide comic relief:

Meanwhile, both American and British officials blamed France for bringing the world closer to war [...]

—"U.S. May Abandon U.N. Vote on Iraq, Powell Testifies," New York Times, 13-Mar-2003

Norman Solomon, "The Conventional Media Wisdom of Obedience," FAIR, 13-Mar-2003

George Soros, "The bubble of American supremacy," Korea Herald, 13-Mar-2003

Followup to the Observer story I weblogged on 3-Mar-2003: FAIR, "New York Times, Networks Shun U.N. Spying Story," 11-Mar-2003

And so it is that Massachusetts has become the Energizer Bunny of the nation's real estate markets, profoundly resilient, seemingly impervious to outside economic conditions; the market keeps soaring even as the bottom drops out.

—Anthony Flint, "Through the Roof," Boston Globe Sunday Magazine

Jimmy Carter, "Just War—or a Just War?," New York Times

MSNBC reinforces its role as right-wing outlet, with the hiring of Michael Savage: FAIR Activism Update, "MSNBC's Double Standard on Free Speech," 7-Mar-2003

Vocabulary term for today is oderint dum metuant:

Then came President Bush's Monday interview with Copley News Service. He alluded to the possibility of reprisals if Mexico didn't vote America's way, saying, "I don't expect there to be significant retribution from the government" — emphasizing the word "government." He then went on to suggest that there might, however, be a reaction from other quarters, citing "an interesting phenomena taking place here in America about the French ... a backlash against the French, not stirred up by anybody except the people." And Mr. Bush then said that if Mexico or other countries oppose the United States, "there will be a certain sense of discipline."

—Paul Krugman, "Let Them Hate as Long as They Fear," New York Times, 7-May-2003

We'll let the sic pass.

Nicholas D. Kristof, "Losses, Before Bullets Fly," New York Times, 7-Mar-2003

Geov Parrish, "The suicide bombers," WorkingForChange, 7-Mar-2003

Learning PostgreSQL today, with the intention of using Ryan Culpepper's spgsql Scheme bindings. Immediate need is to store a text corpus with metadata and indexes.

Dropped the digicam down some concrete stairs this morning in its soft case. Amazingly, no detectable damage, except that the 4-way momentary rocker no longer works in the "up" position. Doesn't have quite the same buckling tactile feedback as the other 3 three directions. Suspect either a collapsed membrane switch or some tiny piece of plastic or PCB broke. If I open it up myself, surely the ultracompact retractable zoom lens assembly will spill out in 1000 pieces that I'll never get back together. Hopefully it's an inexpensive repair by Canon.

Under the odd title of "Give Freedom a Chance," Safire calls for Americans to ignore all doubts about the goodness of attacking Iraq, and to switch into Blind Faith Mode, damn the moral and practical logic, full speed ahead.

An excellent short article: Jack Beatty, "In the Name of God," Atlantic Unbound, 5-Mar-2003

Released Quack 0.19.

Nicholas D. Kristof, "God, Satan and the Media," New York Times, 4-Mar-2003

When I've linked articles on US nationalism and religious extremism recently, I've done it with a non-US audience in mind.

An OK article on George W. Bush's political rise partly on the shoulders of Christian fundamentalists. The article seems more sympathetic than critical.

In 1993 — the year before he ran for governor — Bush caused a small tempest by telling an Austin reporter (who happened to be Jewish) that only believers in Jesus go to heaven. It was a theologically unremarkable statement, at least in Texas. But the fact that he had been brazen enough to say it produced a stir. While the editorial writers huffed, Rove quietly expressed satisfaction. The story would help establish his client's Bible-belt bona fides in rural (and, until then, primarily Democratic) Texas.

—Howard Fineman, "Bush and God" Newsweek, 10-Mar-2003 issue (on 03-Mar-2003)

Barry Crimmins whines about a flaky NPR program, not all that entertainingly, but scroll 4/5 down the page to his revenge in red, "And oh yeah... They want satire? How about..."

"Revealed: US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war," The Observer, 2-Mar-2003

Released Quack 0.18, mostly for an XEmacs 21 portability fix by Garrett Mitchener.

Kore-Eda Hirokazu's 1998 film "Wandafuru raifu" (USA "After Life" 1999) is highly recommended. Don't risk spoiling it by reading the vapid teasers.

Earlier to... 2003-02

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