Were there subtitles?

Pressure of work meant that I missed Bush’s televised speech on Iraq, so I was forced to rely on the transcript and the pronouncements of the pundits to determine what he said. And that’s a pity, because I’m sure I missed something – a subtitle, or an ad-lib that wasn’t captured in the transcript. How else can one explain the following juxtaposition?

First, Bush promised that “If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job.” So the troop levels are a matter of military judgment, right? And since quite a few officers have been saying that they don’t have enough troops….

But wait. The President then said “Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever – when we are in fact working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave.” Huh? So now we can’t send more troops because that would undermine the strategy and send the wrong message? So it’s a political decision then.

Well, no. Maybe Bush realized that he was speaking in front of a military audience, because he later said, “As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters – the sober judgment of our military leaders.”

So which is it? Did they explain in the subtitles that I wasn’t there to see? Or did the President manage to flip and then flop in the course of a single speech? Inquiring minds, etcetera…

How far we've come

Earlier today, I posted a little piece about a classic children’s book on computing. When I got home, I found in my inbox an announcement of the latest edition of The Edge. It begins with a simple and thought-provoking assertion:

One aspect of our culture that is no longer open to question is that the most significant developments in the sciences today (i.e. those that affect the lives of everybody on the planet) are about, informed by, or implemented through advances in software and computation.

The piece that follows is a conversation with J. Craig Venter, Ray Kurzweil and Rodney Brooks on biocomputation. It’s fascinating as always. The Edge has become essential reading; I highly recommend it. In the meantime, I’ve just re-read the Ladybird book on computers from 34 years ago. Hmmm.

Michael Shermer channels the Intelligent Designer

Check out Michael Shermer’s delightful creation myth parody over at the Huffington Post: all the way from:

“In the beginning – specifically on October 23, 4004 B.C., at noon – out of quantum foam fluctuation God created the Big Bang. The bang was followed by cosmological inflation. God saw that the Big Bang was very big, too big for creatures that could worship him, so He created the earth. And darkness was upon the face of the deep, so He commanded hydrogen atoms (which He created out of Quarks and other subatomic goodies) to fuse and become helium atoms and in the process release energy in the form of light. And the light maker he called the sun, and the process He called fusion. And He saw the light was good because now He could see what he was doing. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

to a satisfying conclusion:

By now the valley of the shadow of doubt was overrunneth with skepticism, so God became angry, so angry that God lost His temper and cursed the first humans, telling them to go forth and multiply (but not in those words). They took God literally and 6,000 years later there are six billion humans. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.
By now God was tired, so God said, “Thank me its Friday,” and He made the weekend. It was a good idea.

The scary thing is that there are people out there that might take it seriously….

How It Works…The Computer

Someone has scanned in all the pages of the 1971 and 1979 editions of the Ladybird book How It Works…The Computer. This is wonderful stuff. I remember using the 1971 edition to explain to relatives (elderly, young, and just plain confused) what it was that I did for a living; I also bought the 1979 edition for my son, Chris, who was five at the time (and a voracious reader). Both pictures and text are priceless.

(Via Boing-Boing.)

Reality TV

According to today’s Guardian:

Channel 4 has teamed up with the award-winning film director Michael Winterbottom to make a docu-drama about three British Muslims who were incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay as “enemy combatants”. The Road to Guantánamo will tell the story of the so-called “Tipton Three”, who were released without charge from the US government’s Camp X-Ray prison last spring after two years in captivity.

(I wonder if it will be shown on US TV? PBS seems increasingly unlikely; maybe HBO.)

Sad songs say so much

From Friday’s Guardian Review, “Tom Reynolds, author of I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You’ve Ever Heard… offers his top 25 miserable tracks.” A classic list, including such ghastly dirges as Tell Laura I Love Her and Seasons in the Sun, as well as Bobby Goldsboro’s excruciating Honey:

The world’s wordiest dead wife song, Honey is jammed full of blooming flowers, puffy clouds, singing robins, planted trees, and a puppy, all of which just make you want to swallow a hand grenade. The narrator mourns Honey, his deceased spouse, while condescendingly describing her as kinda dumb and kinda smart. If you feel inclined to listen to Honey, please drink heavily and then bale out after Honey dents the car. Otherwise, you’ll get hit with angels carrying Honey away and clouds crying on flower beds. You won’t make it out with your senses intact. It is that bad.

(Via When Last We Left Our Intrepid Heroine… in Iraq.)

Somewhere, an Apple engineering manager is committing seppuku….

I just installed the latest version of Apple’s iTunes on my PowerBook, along with an updater for the software on my iPod. Perhaps I should have read my horoscope first, or consulted the i ching. Whatever the reason, when I started iTunes it showed me an empty library, rather than the 18GB of music that I have, and it also warned me that my iPod was associated with a different library, and did I want to erase it and copy my new (empty) library? Aargh! No, cancel, quit, unplug iPod, back away from the keyboard really slowly…..

From browsing the Discussions section of Apple’s support web, it seems that a number of us have had this problem with iTunes 4.9. (See, for instance, the thread entitled “iTunes 4.9 – lost library – please help”.) The only remedy seems to be to back up the old Library files (before iTunes can mess with them), let iTunes build a new library, and then import all of the existing music. This requires that you have enough space for two copies of all your data, so I’ll have to wait until I can get home to use a FireWire drive. (I only have 7GB of free space on my 60GB PowerBook.) And you’ll also wind up losing all of your playlists, ratings, and “last played” information, which is a huge pain.

UPDATE: A Mac user called Dave Garrett just posted the following workaround:
1. Open your Music folder/iTunes folder/Previous iTunes Libraries folder
2. Re-name the file named iTunes 4 Music Library to iTunes Library
3. Drag your newly named file iTunes Library into your iTunes folder, replacing the iTunes Library that the new iTunes had created.
4. Voila.

Seems to work for me.

So long, 14th Amendment! Welcome to Scalia's two-tier USA

Over at Balkinization, Jack Balkin discusses Scalia’s uncompromising dissent in McCreary County v. ACLU, the courtroom 10 commandments case:

Scalia forthrightly explains that the Establishment Clause is not about preserving neutrality between religion and non-religion. It is not even about neutrality among religions. Rather, it requires neutrality among monotheistic religions that believe in a personal God who cares about and who intervenes in the affairs of humankind, and in particular, among Christianity (and its various sects), Judaism, and Islam.

Quite apart from its viciously divisive tone, Scalia’s argument displays remarkable ignorance. For example, he asserts that “With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation’s historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists”. Yet the phrase “believers in unconcerned deities” clearly describes deists, a category that included many of the framers of the Constitution.

Balkin’s analysis is much more detailed than my brief note. Among other things, he dissects the curious pretzel logic that Scalia employs in including Jews and Moslems. The (scathing) bottom line: “Justice Scalia’s tradition of establishment of monotheism is, like so many other traditions, an invented tradition which he has made up to produce an outcome that he politically prefers.”

Highly recommended.

Santorum on Catholic clergy sex abuse: it's all because of liberals….

In his attempt to beat out Karl Rove for the title of Most Shameless Fabricator of Guilt by Association, Senator Rick Santorum explains the origins of child molestation by Roman Catholic priests in Catholic Online: “It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning ‘private’ moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.”

(Via Sully. But Josh thinks Santorum first said this back in 2002.)

UPDATE: Sullivan received a great email from a reader in the Republic of Ireland which emphasizes the sheer stupidity of Santorum’s attempt to link priestly pedophilia with liberalism:

99% of schools were Catholic, 90% of the population were weekly mass goers and monthly confession was the norm for the majority. Divorce was banned by the constitution. There was no “plague of cultural liberalism”; there was no liberalism at all! It was almost a perfect Catholic State. Yet the physical and sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy was rampant. Indeed it has been the exposure of these crimes that has revolutionized Irish society in the course of 10 years.

Visualising chaos

Over at whitelabel.org there’s a brilliant analysis of the state of the London Underground: tube map“In Britain, where trains are so routinely late that punctuality has been redefined as ‘within 20 minutes of scheduled time’ and even then only around 80% can make it, the people have forgotten that it doesn’t have to be this way, and that in the rest of world, including the really poor parts, it just isn’t.”

The writer grabbed the realtime disruption maps published by TfL and turned them into a three minute Quicktime movie. Tufte would be proud (I think).

While I sympathize with the author, I think he needs to get out more. The riders of the T in Boston would kill for any kind of information like that provided by TfL; disruption is a way of life over here.

(Via Boing-boing, of course.)