The Gunther Concept

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Friday, May 30, 2003

 

Cleanup Time I've finally done a bit of overdue housekeeping, alphabetizing my links and dropping or adding a few. New links are: Cosmic Iguana H-Town Blogs, a listing of some Houston area blogs The Art of Peace ReachM High Cowboy Network Noose (I have no idea what the name means)

posted by gunther at 6:51 PM Link

 

Libertarianism There is a posting by Kevin Drum at Cal Pundit today on the issue of libertarianism. In it, he expressed dissatisfaction with the concept of libertarianism, saying: This is a good example of why I've never been able to take libertarianism seriously: it simply doesn't provide any meaningful real-world guidance for what governments should and shouldn't do. The gist of his criticism is that everyone recognizes that some limits must be placed on freedom. You don't have the freedom to punch me in the face, to take an obvious example. But if you accept this 'harm principle', it is a relatively simple matter to extend it to cover indirectly harmful behavior, potentially harmful behavior, behavior that might be potentially harmful to someone else in the future, etc. In other words, there are so many potentially harmful effects of someone's actions that libertarianism, as a philosophy, is useless as a guiding philosophy. I have to say that I disagree with this assessment. Isn't libertarianism about who gets to make the important decisions that affect your life, you or some supervising authority? Or to put it another way, what is the relationship of the individual to the state? If you believe that the state should have minimal power over individuals behavior and choices, you are a libertarian. If you distrust the individual's ability to make sound choices, then you advocate authoritarianism, or the view that the state should make decisions for you (or more generally, place enormous restrictions on individual liberty). To use a concrete example, suppose that I wish to advertise my opposition to the war by hanging a large poster criticizing the troops on the side of my house. One fact to consider in making the choice of whether I wanted to go ahead with this would be the possibility that neighbors have some family member or friend in the military, perhaps actually stationed in Baghdad. If this were the case, then there are any number of potential negative effects on my neighbors. They may merely get upset. They may however get so upset that one of them has a heart attack and dies. What I have to consider when deciding whether to put up my poster, is; does the importance of me expressing my opposition to the war, in this particular manner, outweigh the potential negative effects it may have on my neighbors? If you believe that I should be the one to consider all of the facts and make that decision, then you are a libertarian. On the other hand if you believe that the police, town authorities, or the government should be the ones who make that decision, you are not a libertarian.

posted by gunther at 1:56 PM Link

Thursday, May 29, 2003

 

Better Than 'Showgirls'? Appearing in the Toronto Globe & Mail yesterday was this bizarre story about a movie currently being shot in Toronto. It apparently covers the events surrounding 9/11 and subsequent startup of the war on terror. Written by the same guy who adapted Mordechai Richler's book into the screenplay for The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (which for some mysterious reason continues to be regarded as a Canadian classic), the movie paints Bush as a heroic, focussed and determined figure. The general consensus from what I've read about this since yesterday is that the movie is a really, really bad idea destined to become a camp classic. I'll be scouring the internet for the foreseeable future in an attempt to get hold of a copy of the script. In the meantime I'll amuse myself with irregular postings that propose possible castings for major figures. You're invited to submit your own suggestions. Today's version: G.W. Bush - Ray Romano Laura Bush - Rosie O’Donnell Dick Cheney - William Shatner Donald Rumsfeld - Rip Torn Condaleeza Rice - Rosie Perez Colin Powell - Richard Roundtree Tom Daschle - Alan Alda Dennis Hassert - doesn't matter; no one knows what he looks like anyway Tom DeLay - Kevin Sorbo Osama Bin Laden - Nicholas Cage Ari Fleischer - Verne Troyer

posted by gunther at 2:33 PM Link

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

 

Linton Weeks Tries to be Funny Linton Weeks wrote something on Sid Blumenthal's book today, prompting me to send this letter to him at the Post: Dear Mr. Weeks; An article by you appeared in the Washington Post today, that apparently was an attempt at humor at the expense of Sidney Blumenthal. I say 'apparently' because what little humor exists in the piece is, to put it politely, not going to make anyone forget Oscar Wilde. I was not familiar with your writings, but apparently you have been a longtime writer for the Post's 'Style' section, specializing in book reviews. Now, however, you appear to be trying out for Michael Kelly's old job as a partisan, dishonest conservative hack (let's face it; a job has unexpectedly opened up). It's a solid first attempt, but you have a long way to go - you don't understand politics as well and you're not as vicious. However, I do feel that your article merited a response of some type. A quick search on the internet revealed that it was you who (perhaps inadvertently) was responsible for creating a stir a while back concerning a then new biography of Ronald Reagan by Edmund Morris. Specifically, Morris was taken to task by many conservative pundits and figures for calling Reagan an airhead. The biography was unfairly maligned as a result. The root cause of this series of attacks on Morris, who's book you reviewed, was a misquote of him which you included in your review. Specifically, you wrote the following: After following him around for seven months, making friends with Reagan insiders such as Michael Deaver, Donald Regan, George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger, Morris writes that he was stumped. 'Dutch remained a mystery to me, and worse still - dare I entertain such a heresy, in the hushed and reverent precincts of his office? - an airhead.' The section in quotation marks was the passage that you cited from Morris's book. His actual words in the book were 'an apparent airhead'. One can quibble over whether excluding the qualifying term 'apparent' changes the meaning of what Morris was telling us. But to include a quote from a book you are reviewing, it would be nice if you used the actual words that the author wrote, especially on an issue you certainly should have known would be controversial. I mention this episode because while one could pardon the exclusion of a single word from a quote lifted directly from a book, your latest offering makes me believe that this earlier incident is part of a pattern. It is a biased, smarmy, dishonest piece of character assassination. I take issue with a number of points: 1. You quote one of the people Blumenthal criticizes, Chris Vlasto, as saying that he doesn't know Sid Blumenthal and that he has never spoken to him. The point of this exchange seems to be to try and paint Blumenthal's book as dishing out attacks, spin and opinions about other people, without actually letting them tell their side of the story. Or, without Blumenthal even making any attempt to solicit their side of the story, whether or not he includes it in his book. Yet your entire article does exactly the same thing. Critics of Blumenthal are trotted out to attack him (apparently you found time to phone them up), but the quotes attributed to Blumenthal seem to come from other published sources. Why did you not make any attempt to get direct responses from Blumenthal concerning the opinions and claims that you solicited from people like Vlasto, Hitchens, and Isikoff? 2. One of the central themes in Blumenthal's book is that there was (and indeed still is) an unholy alliance between political figures out to get Clinton, and various media pundits and journalists. If the gist of his argument is that certain figures (Hitchens and Isikoff, to take two examples) acted maliciously and with absolutely no sense of objectivity at all, why on earth would you care about their opinion of Blumenthal's book? What did you expect them to do, throw up their hands and say 'He's right! I don't know what we were thinking!'? If they're sleazy and untrustworthy, you shouldn't be surprised that they have nothing good to say about him. 3. You use quotes selectively to smear the author (again I'm reminded of the Edmund Morris incident). Specifically, although I'm sure that Hitchens had a lot to say, one of the choice quotes you include concerns his statements about Blumenthal having a 'good' and 'evil' side. He has a 'paranoid mind and mentality'. So, Chris Hitchens, you believe that Blumenthal is of two minds? The bad deeds, Hitchens says, "were done by his evil twin Sid." There is a good twin Sid, Hitchens says. "Clinton wanted the other one. That's the one he got. That's now become more like the real one." This seemed like an odd series of opinions to focus on, given what I'm sure were any number of pithy but printable comments that Hitchens offered up. Basically, Hitchens (and you, through his words) are calling Blumenthal's mental stability into question. It is certainly no coincidence that you subsequently include a quote from Blumenthal’s book on how to deal with character assassination, as follows: One healthy response for coping was dissociation. I came to see the false persona being constructed by malicious enemies and called by my name as an alien being. To be sure, using Blumenthal's own quote against him is clever. And granted you don't actually come out and call him a nutcase. But this ploy is all too transparent. Try to explain it away, but coincidental use of this set of quotations in this context seems particularly sleazy and cowardly. 4. Finally, there is an undercurrent throughout your piece that Blumenthal's book is all about politics as usual. All fun and games, and nothing the average person should get worked up about. Allegations about finger-pointing notwithstanding, I think Blumenthal's basic premise is that this wasn't a case of politics as usual, and that in fact what went on during the Clinton era was something new and sinister. I think a fair commentary on his book would have dealt with this issue, instead of treating it and the issue with the smarmy condescension you displayed.

posted by gunther at 2:56 PM Link

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

 

Am I More of a Left-Libertarian Than the Dali Lama? It's hard to tell, but I've just finished the survey on left/right vs libertarian/authoritarian tendencies courtesy of the Political Compass. My scores were: Economic left/right -6.62 Libertarian/Authoritarian -7.13 Based on their (estimated) examples of other famous figures, this puts me in the same general quadrant as Nelson Mandela and the Dali Lama, and makes me an exact opposite of Ariel Sharon and GW Bush. Not a bad place to be in my opinion.

posted by gunther at 3:42 PM Link

 

New Drug Laws Proposed in Canada Well, it looks like the Canadian Government is set to officially introduce it's proposed legislation reforming the nation's drug laws. And at first glance it seems that recent reports they were backing away from it (presumably due to U.S. pressure) were unfounded. The proposed reforms would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Canadians caught with less than 15 grams of the drug will receive fines that will vary depending on the amount they are found with. Certain aggravating factors such as whether people caught with marijuana are near a school, driving a vehicle or committing another offence can further increase the penalties. For amounts between 15 and 30 grams, it will be up to the police officer's discretion whether to issue a ticket or make an arrest. Along with these changes would be increased penalties for large-scale growing or possession, and more funding for drug treatment and education about the effects of drugs. The reforms are what are described as an attempt to adopt a 'modern approach' to dealing with illegal drugs. Now that this seems to be going forward after all, it will be very interesting to see how the U.S. administration responds. There will likely be attempts to derail the legislation before it gets passed. This would be done by causing enough of a stink that individual MPs begin to express doubts about the wisdom of the legislation, or by basically intimidating the government into either withdrawing the proposed legislation or amending it. It would be much easier for the Bush administration to deal with this problem by working to prevent the legislation from passing in the first place than by acting afterwards to try to get it repealed after the Canadian parliament passes it. And they do want this problem dealt with; the last thing that the drug-hawks in the U.S. want is to have lenient marijuana laws in a neighboring country. Particularly so if there is a chance that the proposed Canadian reforms may actually have a chance at proving effective. This could get ugly.

posted by gunther at 1:02 PM Link

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

 

Hitchens on WMD No More Mr. Nice Blog has selected a few choice quotes from Christopher Hitchens concerning WMD in Iraq, and the failure to find them so far. There are a number of earlier quotes that specifically predict that such evidence would be forthcoming as soon as the Iraqi regime folded, shortly after the invasion, or whatever. Also included are the obligatory numerous snide comments about those who were opposed to the war, basically saying that they would look like fools when the dust finally settled. These earlier, pre-war comments are contrasted with a more recent statement appearing in a Slate article that appeared yesterday. Now Hitchens has apparently embraced the 'WMD never existed' theory (I critiqued a variant of this theory in a posting last week). Specifically, he suggests that few if any WMD ever existed, or that if they ever did exist then… The stuff must have been destroyed, or neutralized, or work on it must have been abandoned during the long grace period that was provided by the U.N. debates He even goes so far as to say that American forces must have known this, or else they wouldn't have been there. Nor can the coalition have believed there to be. You can't station tens of thousands of men and women in uniform on the immediate borders of Iraq for several months if you think that a mad dictator might be able to annihilate them with a pre-emptive strike. I have a vague recollection, no, make that a clear memory, of this long-ago period in history. And it seems to me that the purported WMD were the explicitly stated reason why there were massive numbers of U.S. troops on Iraq's borders. Now that it turns out that there weren't any WMD, Hitchens spins it by proposing that the presence of U.S. troops can be taken as evidence that THERE WERE NO WMD. Besides excusing the tortuous logic employed here, we are presumably also supposed to ignore the obvious implication (if Hitchens is correct) that the Americans lied about this issue in the weeks and months leading up to the war. Another clear misstatement of fact by Hitchens is his accusation that opponents of the war are trying to have it both ways. For example, if 'stuff' has gone missing, you can't criticize U.S. forces for failing to secure it, since the presence of the 'stuff' in the first place is evidence that Iraq had an active WMD program. This is simply incorrect, and inexcusably so. The ‘stuff” in question is presumably the nuclear waste materials that are now missing from a site that U.N. inspectors shut down and secured 10 years ago. Possessing barrels of radioactive sludge is a long way from possessing nuclear weapons or from having any reasonable hope of ever having any in the future. So the fact that this 'stuff' existed proves nothing about WMD aspirations Iraq might have had in the years since the U.N. found, identified and sealed these materials. However, failure to secure these nuclear waste materials since the fall of the regime is inexcusable, since they might now be used to manufacture a dirty bomb This entire article is merely another excuse for Hitchens to trot out his call for Jihad against the Islamists who so (in his mind) threaten the West. In his mind, the fact that Al Qaida and associated groups are upset now supposedly 'proves' that they were 'friends' with Saddam Hussein. This justifies the Iraq invasion as just another battle in the long war against the forces of Islamo-facism. It's far more likely that any extra strength that Al Qaida and it's brethren have gained following the fall of Hussein stems not from their admiration of him, so much as the fact that an Arab nation has been invaded by Western military powers who bring Christian Fundamentalists and carpetbaggers along with them

posted by gunther at 2:53 PM Link

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

 

Mad Cow Disease in Canada Word came today that Mad Cow Disease, or BSE, has been found in a single animal in a herd in Alberta. This amounts to one animal out of around 3.5 million in Canada. Nevertheless, the U.S. quickly placed a temporary ban on imports of all Canadian beef and beef products. Anything other than a temporary ban would be devastating to the Alberta economy, and severely damaging to the Canadian agriculture industry as a whole. Normally, I wouldn't be too worried about this type of incident. Despite the fact that the transmissible agent for BSE isn't fully known, the mechanism for transmitting it seems to require consumption of infected materials (feed, additives, etc.). However given the generally poor relations between Canada and the U.S. these days, I can't help thinking that this will stretch on for a while, since the Americans may want to teach Canada a lesson. But maybe I'm just being paranoid. For more information about Mad Cow Disease than you ever possibly need to know, check out these sites; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration BSE web site, and this one.

posted by gunther at 4:12 PM Link

Friday, May 16, 2003

 

Saddam Hussein as Colonel Klink The failure of U.S. occupiers to find any evidence of WMD in Iraq is now such an obvious fact that even conservatives are having to address the issue. 'Address', in this case, meaning 'propose an excuse or theory to explain the failure, no matter how implausible it might be'. One of the silliest appeared in Opinion Journal yesterday by a certain Jim Lacey. It happens that Mr. Lacey was a Time reporter embedded with the 101st Airborne during the Iraq invasion. Just in case there was any doubt’s about the objectivity and/or competence of the reporters that the Pentagon allowed to go along for a ride during the latest military excursion, read that piece of crap and see if you can believe that the author is actually paid to write for one of the world's most famous news magazines. Lacey proposes three obvious reasons why WMD haven't been found. First, they have been extremely well hidden and will take years to uncover. Second, they were secretly moved to Syria for safekeeping. The third possibility, and the one that the world is increasingly coming to suspect as the truth, is that they never existed. This last possibility creates a lot of cognitive dissonance in the heads of war supporters. If you believed the administration’s reason for the invasion (eliminate Iraq's WMD, blah blah blah), you are now faced with two incompatible beliefs: (a) The Bush administration says that Iraq has WMD. (b) There is no evidence for WMD in Iraq. To resolve the conflict, cognitive dissonance theory states that we must alter or change one of these two incompatible beliefs, or generate a rationalization that allows them to continue to exist alongside one another. One simple way of resolving this conflict would be to change proposition A. For example, one could conclude that the administration's stated reason for going into Iraq were lies. To avoid coming to this heretical conclusion, and to avoid denying the obvious lack of evidence exposed by proposition B, Lacey has developed a new theory which simultaneously explains why there are no WMD to be found, and doesn't require one to assume that the administration was lying to us. The brilliant theory is that Saddam Hussein didn't know that he had no WMD. That is why he acted all along as if he had them, causing weapons inspectors such a hard time, and all. At the same time, this theory excuses the administration, since presumably they couldn’t be expected to know more than Hussein himself did. Thus, all tied up in a neat bow, you have the best of both possible worlds; the current lack of WMD evidence is explained, as is the Bushs administration's certainty abut their existence. I have to admit that the logic of the argument presented in this article escapes me. First of all, there is the matter of the claims of the U.S. and British before the war, along with documentation, claiming that the WMD existed. To have this level of 'evidence' paraded before the word media and the UN Security Council, one has to conclude either that the Americans and British fabricated their evidence, or that they in fact were fooled by the same people who lied to Saddam Hussein. Unless you want to state that both the U.S. and British governments knowingly lied to the UN, you have to conclude that the intelligence communities of both countries were fooled by a motley crew of conspirators in Iraq who were merely covering their asses. Not very likely. A big reason why this theory is bogus is that there is no necessary connection between what various actors did in Iraq (i.e., fooling Hussein into believing he possessed WMD) and what the intelligence communities in the U.S. and Britain knew. All evidence points to the contrary; prior to the war, intelligence sources complained that they were being pressured to generate evidence for WMD when they couldn't find any. They knew full well that there was scant evidence for WMD in Iraq. Rather than being 'sucked into the deception', as Lacey suggests, quite the opposite was true. Perhaps the most fundamental flaw in the argument raised in this article is that it assumes that a cover-up this massive could have gone on this long in a country like Iraq under Saddam Hussein. This was state, after all, where seemingly everyone informed on everyone else. Hussein had spies everywhere. His authority was unchallenged. Virtually nothing went on in that country without his approval. Does Lacey really expect us to believe that for 10 years, after spending supposedly millions if not billions on WMD programs, Hussein wouldn't have wanted to get out from behind his desk just once and see what was happening? This is an astoundingly stupid argument. While I'm not surprised to see it raised in the blogosphere by some wingnut, I'm appalled that it comes from someone who was actually a war correspondent for Time magazine.

posted by gunther at 4:04 PM Link

 

title The failure of U.S. occupiers to find any evidence of WMD in Iraq is now such an obvious fact that even conservatives are having to address the issue. "Address", in this case, meaning "propose an excuse or theory to explain the failure, no matter how implausible it might be". One of the silliest appeared in Opinion Journal yesterday by a certain Jim Lacey. It happens that Mr. Lacey was a Time reporter embedded with the 101st Airborne during the Iraq invasion. Just in case there was any doubt’s about the objectivity and/or competence of the reporters that the Pentagon allowed to go along for a ride during the latest military excursion, read that piece of crap and see if you can believe that the author is actually paid to write for one of the world’s most famous news magazines. Lacey proposes three obvious reasons why WMD haven’t been found. First, they have been extremely well hidden and will take years to uncover. Second, they were secretly moved to Syria for safekeeping. The third possibility, and the one that the world is increasingly coming to suspect as the truth, is that they never existed. This last possibility creates a lot of cognitive dissonance in the heads of war supporters. If you believed the administration’s reason for the invasion (eliminate Iraq’s WMD, blah blah blah), you are now faced with two incompatible beliefs: (a) The Bush administration says that Iraq has WMD. (b) There is no evidence for WMD in Iraq. To resolve the conflict, cognitive dissonance theory states that we must alter or change one of these two incompatible beliefs, or generate a rationalization that allows them to continue to exist alongside one another. One simple way of resolving this conflict would be to change proposition A. For example, one could conclude that the administration’s stated reason for going into Iraq were lies. To avoid coming to this heretical conclusion, and to avoid denying the obvious lack of evidence exposed by proposition B, Lacey has developed a new theory which simultaneously explains why there are no WMD to be found, and doesn’t require one to assume that the administration was lying to us. The brilliant theory is that Saddam Hussein didn’t know that he had no WMD. That is why he acted all along as if he had them, causing weapon’s inspectors such a hard time, and all. At the same time, this theory excuses the administration, since presumably they couldn’t be expected to know more than Hussein himself did. Thus, all tied up in a neat bow, you have the best of both possible worlds; the current lack of WMD evidence is explained, as is the Bush’s administration’s certainty abut their existence. I have to admit that the logic of the argument presented in this article escapes me. First of all, there is the matter of the claims of the U.S. and British before the war, along with documentation, claiming that the WMD existed. To have this level of “evidence” paraded before the word media and the UN Security Council, one has to conclude either that the Americans and British fabricated their evidence, or that they in fact were fooled by the same people who lied to Saddam Hussein. Unless you want to state that both the U.S. and British governments knowingly lied to the UN, you have to conclude that the intelligence communities of both countries were fooled by a motley crew of conspirators in Iraq who were merely covering their asses. Not very likely. One reason why this theory is bogus is that there is no necessary connection between what various actors did in Iraq (i.e., fooling Hussein into believing he possessed WMD) and what the intelligence communities in the U.S. and Britain knew. All evidence points to the contrary; prior to the war, intelligence sources complained that they were being pressured to generate evidence for WMD when they couldn’t find any. They knew full well that there was scant evidence for WMD in Iraq. Rather than being “sucked into the deception”, as Lacey suggests, quite the opposite was true. Perhaps the most fundamental flaw in the argument raised in this article is that it assumes that a cover-up this massive could have gone on this long in a country like Iraq under Saddam Hussein. This was state, after all, where seemingly everyone informed on everyone else. Hussein had spies everywhere. His authority was unchallenged. Virtually nothing went on in that country without his approval. Does Lacey really expect us to believe that for 10 years, after spending supposedly millions if not billions on WMD programs, Hussein wouldn’t have wanted to get out from behind his desk just once and see what was happening? This is an astoundingly stupid argument. While I’m not surprised to see it raised in the blogosphere by some wingnut, I’m appalled that it comes from someone who was actually a war correspondent for Time magazine.

posted by gunther at 4:04 PM Link

Thursday, May 15, 2003

 

With Baited Breath… Upon looking back at my posting earlier today, I wondered whether I had misspelled a word when I used the term “baited breath”. Thank god for Google! I was able to track down a useful site for questions of this nature, which explained that the form I used is now considered appropriate, since the original (and technically correct form) “bated breath” is so seldom used these days. Here are the particulars: BATED BREATH The correct and original form is bated breath, but the first word is now so rare that it only appears in this phrase. Because bated is archaic, the phrase bated breath is a linguistic fossil. As a result, people have begun to respell it as a word they do know (a process that linguists call folk etymology). Bated is an abbreviation of abated through loss of the first vowel, and which has the meaning “reduced, lessened, lowered in force”. So bated breath means that you almost stop breathing through terror, or awe, or extreme anticipation or anxiety. Shakespeare used it in The Merchant of Venice: “Shall I bend low and, in a bondman’s key, / With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness, Say this: ... ”. So did Mark Twain in Tom Sawyer: “Every eye fixed itself upon him; with parted lips and bated breath the audience hung upon his words, taking no note of time, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the tale”. The recent tendency to write bated as baited evokes an incongruous image, which Geoffrey Taylor captured in verse in his poem Cruel Clever Cat: Sally, having swallowed cheese, Directs down holes the scented breeze, Enticing thus with baited breath Mice to an untimely death. It is best to stick to the traditional spelling, if only to avoid annoying the pedants among us!

posted by gunther at 4:23 PM Link

 

Mission Accomplished The three-minute video was finally completed late last night, and is due to be mailed just in time for the final deadline of 5:00 this afternoon. There were only a moderate number of panic attacks, these occurring when the sound mysteriously disappeared from the final product. After 6 straight hours of watching and editing clips on my computer screen, I somehow failed to notice that there were volume controls on the camera I was using for playback. I couldn’t figure out how to get the sound back, and the volume controls were staring us right in the face! It’s sad when supposedly educated individuals act like complete boobs, but what are you gong to do?. Fortunately Karen had a few seconds of lucidity and noticed the control. After that everything was a piece of cake. The video is done with 15 seconds to spare. We will now wait with baited breath to see if we make the cut.

posted by gunther at 2:26 PM Link

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

 

More Fun With Video – Episode I I’ve been tied up for a few days trying to finish up a project that my snificant other and I have been working on. A local film center, The Aurora Picture Show, is sponsoring a three-minute film festival. There is a competition and the winning selections (along with a lot of others deemed good enough) will be shown as part of a special festival coinciding with Aurora’s anniversary celebrations. Any film three-minutes or under qualifies. Having purchased a hugely expensive digital video camera last November, and being long convinced that we were undiscovered geniuses, we have decided to try to make a production so we can enter entry it in the competition. At this point I’ll be satisfied if it even gets selected for showing, since I doubt we have any serious chance of winning anything. There were a couple of false starts; the embarrassing details need not be revealed here. Let’s just say that that there are only so many things you can do with a toy horse, and leave it at that. We finally settled on trying to do a three-minute documentary of the Houston Art Car Parade, which was held last weekend. Since there were around 270 cars in the parade, this means that each car is limited to being shown for about 2/3 of a second. So for two days I’ve been editing down the footage we shot of the parade, and trying to reduce it down so that we have clips of each car that last for exactly 2/3 of a second. Sound has also figured into it since that clip length happens to be just long enough to get the occasional word blurted out, and it’s going to be as much a sequence of 270 sound clips as it is of video images. What I’ve looked at so far makes me think it will look good as a finished product. I’m kind of hoping that whoever reviews the entries is so impressed with the obsessive nature of the work that went into it that this alone will be enough to get us in the door. Certainly there is something a bit disconcerting about seeing a long sequence of clips that are as short as we’ve made them. And the work is not yet over. This is the 14th, and the deadline for entries is tomorrow. Only about 2/3 of the footage has been adited, and the remainder will have to be edited down and pasted together tonight (thank god for iMovie!). With any luck it will be done by 11:00 pm, and then it’s just a matter of copying it onto a tape for mailing.

posted by gunther at 11:50 AM Link

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

 

Texas Democrats In Hiding The partisan attempts by Texas Republicans to modify the boundaries of congressional districts in their favor appears to have hit a bump in the road. Democrat lawmakers in the Senate have used the only weapon available to them, given the extremist tactics of the Republican majority. They have vacated the state en masse and moved to Oklahoma, New Mexico and elsewhere. This is intended to halt the Republican legislative agenda by depriving them of a quorum needed to vote on legislation. A two-thirds quorum is necessary, and Republicans have only 88 Senate seats. Even with the help of three turncoat Democrats, this leaves them well short of the needed 100. Needless to say Republicans are pissed and speaker Tom Craddick has disbursed the Texas State Troopers and Texas Rangers to try to bring them home. Unfortunately for the Repugs, the State Troopers have no jurisdiction outside Texas and things at this point are at a stalemate. As the rebellion took shape during the weekend, the Democrats broke up into small groups, with only their team leaders knowing the details of their travels. They were told to pack enough clothes and necessities to last four days. "I don't know where we're going. I don't know how we're going to get there," one Democratic lawmaker told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he packed before a Sunday night rendezvous. How this is going to pan out is unclear. There are only three weeks left in the current legislative session (the Texas legislature meets only every two years). Governor Perry has already threatened to have a special session if necessary, but why should Democrats bother to show up if it’s only purpose is to allow Republicans to ram a gerrymandered redistricting plan through? Stay tuned…

posted by gunther at 12:19 PM Link

Friday, May 09, 2003

 

So This Is Where The Washington Post gets Its Columnists? This is probably the first newsworthy item I have ever seen on the Fox News web site. Apparently some researchers in England have been giving monkeys computers, to see what they would do with them. I suppose there are worse ways to spend research money, but anyway, the gist of the story is that (surprise!) monkeys don’t produce much in the way of meaningful dialogue or intelligent behavior with their new toys: At first, said Phillips, "the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it. "Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard," added Phillips, who runs the university's Institute of Digital Arts and Technologies. Oddly, this seems to be the modus operandi of most of the columnists at the Post.

posted by gunther at 1:04 PM Link

 

FOX Network and Murdoch As I learned from browsing Freakgirl, there is a possibility that the Fox News Network might have it’s British broadcasting license revoked due to complaints about it’s bias. I’m not aware of the history of this process or how strict the British TV regulators, the ITC, are about such things. If it is successful, however, it will be a slap in the face of Rupert Murdoch. He certainly deserves it, but even if this does happen Murdoch still controls Sky Digital, the satellite company that broadcasts FOX in the UK. Money will still flow in his general direction even if that one channel is removed. Sky appears to hold a virtual monopoly on certain aspects of British broadcasting to an extent that would surprise an outsider. I remember visiting England for a few days in 1999 and hoping to spend some time watching the English League on Saturday, while waiting for my flight to leave later that night. I soon learned that actual broadcasts of soccer games don’t actually occur; apparently one of Murdoch’s channels (I think it was Sky) had locked up the broadcasting rights. The only information available was watching the BBC (or maybe it was Channel 4) showing what amounted to a ‘stock ticker” of events as they occurred. For example, you’d see that Westham United was in a scoreless tie with Arsenal in the 63rd minute, etc. No actual images or even play-by-play. Which brings me to another story, which is far more important than this one. Murdoch is attempting to gain control of DirectTV, the nation’s largest satellite television company. His efforts will likely succeed, given the Republican control over congress. Far from creating any roadblocks for this takeover, they seem to be extremely supportive. Is anyone out there paying attention to this?

posted by gunther at 11:29 AM Link

Monday, May 05, 2003

 

Willam Bennett Update Regarding my earlier posting about the dual William Bennett involvement in gambling, casinos and Las Vegas, some sad news to report. The good William Bennett, the one who never lectured people about morality while simultaneously losing millions in pre-dawn excursions to the high stakes slot machines, is no longer with us. Apparently Mr. William G. Bennett passed away in December of last year. Mr. Bennett, who was also a pilot during WWII, died in his sleep at the age of 78. The other William Bennett, the non-war hero and hypocrite, is still alive and well. This dual-Bennett aspect of the affair has now made it into the mainstream media. While this story probably has a brief shelf-life, I hope that someone out there will find time to say a bit about the other Bill Bennett, who seems to have been a remarkable individual.

posted by gunther at 3:56 PM Link

 

Weird Search Term of the Day Who was it who found my site after using “live-action, insect, whore” as a search term? What is that about?

posted by gunther at 3:30 PM Link

 
Coincidence or Karma? You Decide… The latest flap involving Bill Bennett, America’s self-appointed “morality czar”, and his gambling problem, would be funny if it were not so hilarious. A little bit of research turned up a surprising and eerie fact; one of the men whose name figures prominently in the history of gambling and casinos in Las Vegas is none other than, William Bennett! Granted it’s another William Bennett entirely. Still, it’s amusing to read through that William Bennett’s bio on this website when considering the current situation that the holier-than-thou-one finds himself in. Some examples… In the early 1960s, William Bennett was a successful Arizona-based businessman. At that time he accumulated a personal fortune of some $40 million as the result of his success with a steadily growing chain of retail furniture stores. In 1965, Bennett moved to Lake Tahoe to work for the Webb Corporation. Bennett was surprised to discover how little so many people seemed to know about running a good casino operation. Years later, he would say there was one noticeable exception - Harrah's. "Harrah's had a real good slot operation. Later, when I got into Circus, I applied some of what I learned from watching Harrah's." - Bill Bennett During the next few years, Bennett had the chance to see what he could do with both the Mint and the Sahara in Vegas. In each case, Bennett's arrival on the scene produced a big improvement in the bottom line… "Funny isn't it? How easy it was for so many casinos to make so much money during the years before competition became such a factor in determining who would succeed and who would fail." - Bill Bennett Other factors were a little head-spinning. When he arrived at the Mint in 1966, the casino was equipped with a lot of the old Mills machines. They were supposed to drop 20 coins, with the remainder of each jackpot being off in rolled coins. "For some reason, I found out they were not dropping the 20 coins and I asked about it. Was there a problem? I was told it was a problem because some people were claiming they were not getting the 20 coins. Now you've gotta remember that what we're talking about here was mostly nickel machines." - Bill Bennett Bennett shook his head and ordered that the machines be set to drop what they were supposed to drop. The first month, the slot win increased $200,000. Slot players had more time in front of their machines now that they were no longer forced to sit and twiddle their thumbs, waiting for their nickel jackpots to be hand paid. Better to occupy their time with the chance to keep playing. That's always been part of the Bennett formula. In every way possible, give a gambler all the time you can at the games.

posted by gunther at 12:39 PM Link