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Journal: Nytimes is afraid, very afraid 1

Journal by Jeremy Erwin

I confess I do like the nytimes. I've been reading it regularly since high school. Perhaps I'm attracted to the shear verbosity of it-- I'd rather read a 30 column inch story than an AP supplied 6 column inch blurb. With so much wordiness, it just has to be insightful... And, of course, the Grey Lady has a certain eliteness factor associated with it, adopting color presses long after the McPaper did it. They don't have an astrology column. They have a Science section. And so on.

But occasionally, the institutional interests of the New York Times Company pop up to remind its readers that the newspaper is a conservative beast, at odds with the interests of its readers. When David steals Goliath's Music is one of those occasions.

Both the court and Congress should be sensitive to evolving technologies. But they should not let technology evolve in a way that deprives people who create of the ability to be paid for their work.

Ooh. Now that's a solution. Leave the R&D up to Congress.

Hardware

Journal: Fastest Supercomputer is BlueGene(L)

Journal by Jeremy Erwin

I just checked Jack Dongarra's site (on a tip from Boing Boing).

BlueGene(L) takes the lead, with an Rmax of 70720 GFlops. It's followed by Project Columbia, at 51870 GFlops. Earth Simulator is third, with 35860 GFlops. Several clusters are benched at ~20GFlops. It looks like a site needs at least 10 GFlops to enter the top 10-- and it's even possible that Virgina Tech's System X will be knocked out of contention, if a couple of surprise entries publish benchmarks before the Nov 09 top500 list.

It's funny.  Laugh.

Journal: strange spam messages 1

Journal by Jeremy Erwin

The following spam arrived in my inbox from some internet drug dealer.

enjoy your girlfriend's medical problem like never before

I really don't want to know. It sounds quite unethical.

User Journal

Journal: Of the cheesy and the profane

Journal by Jeremy Erwin

Patrick Smith, a columnist for Salon, has recently been writing about the supposed "terrorist dry run".

About a month ago, Annie Jacobson shared a flight with a group of Syrian musicians travelling to a gig in the states. Observing their peculiar habits (traveling together, speaking arabic, praying), she came to the conclusion that this group was in fact, an Al Qaida cell, preparing for a 11 September attack. The Air Marshall on board came to a rather different conclusion.

One of the groups that has attacked Smith for his skeptism is the Federal Air Marshals Association, which may of may not be associated with actual air marshals.

Anyway. their website opens with a flash introduction. It's pretty cheesy-- interpolating pictures of the World Trade Center disaster (complete with falling bodies) with quotations from American Revolutionaries-- "The tree of liberty must periodically be refreshed with the blood of tyrants"-- that sort of thing. It's all set to one of those vaguely mournful funeral pieces that classical symphonies dredged up for "9-11" memorial concerts and the like.

I'm not sure I really want the Air Marshall on my plane to be motivated by thoughts of bloody revenge and patriotism. I would prefer a purely professional motivation-- so that if skyjackers attempt to take the plane, the marshall will react with competence and professionalism, and not be inspired by thoughts of martyrdom.

User Journal

Journal: Bourne Supremacy-- a bit of a dissapointment 2

Journal by Jeremy Erwin

Warning: Spoilers follow.

I just got back from seeing the Bourne Supremacy I have to say that I was a little disappointed. Bourne Identity, its predecessor was refreshing at the time because it marked a return to Europe, it was decently plotted, and the characters were at least somewhat believable.

Over the past half century, cinematographers had learned how to properly film a gunfight amid a East German winter. They had learned to highlight the crimson blood against fresh fallen snow, to contrast the crack of sniper rifle against the tranquility of nature. And when the bodies had fallen into the powder, the spy could retreat to the seemingly exotic cities of Berlin, or Paris.

After the wall fell, and the Soviet Empire began to crumble, such European films were eclipsed by the "Columbian Drug Lord" movie, or the "Islamic Terrorist" film. Perhaps these settings were less anachronistic, but somehow the sands of Arabia or the jungles of South America were less aesthetically pleasing.

The Bourne Identity, blessed with the exotic cities of "Zurich", "Marseilles", and "Paris" (which were all, I'm led to understand, redressed sections of Prague), piled on believable characters, a suitably complicated plot, and blessed lack of comedy. Sure, the ubermensch assassin archetype is itself a little absurd, but somehow Damon, with the help of his costar Potente ,pulled it off. The plot departs from Ludlum's original novels, but that's forgivable, as Carlos the Jackel is a non entity in these modern times. And lack of comedy made lines like "I want Bourne in a body bag by sundown" seem more serious and authentic.

And of course, Identity had one of the greatest car chases in the history of cinema.

The Bourne Supremacy, which was not directed by Doug Liman, Identity's director, is still largely set in Europe-- after a brief stop in Goa India, the action moved briefly to Naples, then to Berlin (a profoundly ugly city--at least in Greenglass's lens), and then onto "Moscow".

I hope I'm not giving much away by revealing that Potente, after a listless performance, exits the stage in Goa. Damon spends the rest of the film without her company, and chasing after his adversaries, whom he believes to be agents of the CIA's Treadstone project.

Meanwhile, we learn that "Pamela Landy", played by Joan Allen, is investigating the ruins of her failed operation, which she believed was bloodily disrupted by Jason Bourne. Early in this investigation, Allen announces that she believes that Bourne/Treadstone is running some two bit scam to defraud the CIA financially. We, the audience are initially amused by this notion, because we know that Treadstone is about black-ops work and not about money.

Or is it? In the end, we learn that Allen's inititial suspicions are not so far off the mark-- and Bourne, the $30 million dollar piece of "US Government Property" will find his answers not in a plot to kill government leaders, or steal bombs, or launch coups d'etat, but in a humdrum "Russian Petroleum" fraud.*

It seems a waste-- and though Damon is given ample opportunity to show off his automobile racing skills-- Greenglass's frenetic photography is more blurry than truly engaging.

[*]Yes, I'm well aware that a certain famous CIA mole sold his country essentially for a lifetime supply of "Red Lobster" dinners. But that doesn't mean that his story makes for engaging cinema,

User Journal

Journal: On Kerryisms and Bushisms 1

Journal by Jeremy Erwin

For a number of years now, Slate has been running what its author calls Bushisms-- reports of incidents in which the president has been tripped up by apparently simple english, and blurted out malapropisms, mangled syntax, and the odd Freudian slip For a leftist such as myself, they serve as a comforting "reminder" that the (p)resident is an idiot.

For the past few months, in a spirit of bipartisanship, Slate has also run Kerryisms which serve to highlight Kerry's excessive use of guarding phrases and caveats. The author of Kerryisms, William Saletan, takes it upon himself to simplify the Senator's verbiage, replacing phrases with footnotes, so that:

"I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception. But I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist ... who doesn't share it." [Ellipses in original transcript]

becomes

"I oppose abortion1. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception.2 3"

[1] personally

[2] But I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist ...

[3] who doesn't share it.

If a reader skips the footnotes, the meaning of the phrase changes, from a strict pro-choice position to a rather more pro-lifeish position. "I really don't care about your personal decisions" becomes "I may care deeply enough to enact my personal position into law." For this sort of thing, Saletan has been roundly accused of distorting Kerry's message, and failing to appreciate nuance.

Nuance seems to be highly valued among liberals-- the world is a bit too complex for simple maxims. Others see only the result of such "nuance" and mistake it for flip-flopping. Synthesis becomes mediocrity. Flexibility becomes amorality.

But it takes a good speaker to properly present such nuance. Kerry is, on occasion, not up to the task. On such occasions, his capacity to translate his mind-language into english is so slow that he is tripped up into oversimplifying- and is forced to grope his way back to complexity.

Saletan's renditions are at least partially accurate-- those simplifications are what Kerry's oratorical skills allow him to say-- and the caveats are a crude attempt to salvage the original thought.

In that respect Kerryisms complement Bushisms fairly well. Both depict poor oratorical skills struggling to keep up with other thought processes. If such gaffes are representative, the presidential debates will be excruciating to watch.

User Journal

Journal: Random thought on the Israel/Palestinian "wall"

Journal by Jeremy Erwin

One of the most common reactions to the recent World Court decision condemning the Israeli security barrier is the utilitarian argument:

Who cares if it cuts through Palestinian land? Who cares if involves a massive land grab? It stops terrorists, doesn't it?

The utilitarian response to this sort of argument would be diminish the utility value of the wall itself-- if a novel terrorist tactic renders the wall useless, the costs of building and maintaining the barrier will come to outweigh the benefits...

I'm not of a mind to propose such a "novel tactic"-- but I would not be surprised if hamas has their "best men" working on novel methods of murder-- and the conflict will will shortly resume its rather bloody course.

User Journal

Journal: A little History is a dangerous thing

Journal by Jeremy Erwin

Saddam Hussein has repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of the ad hoc court currenty trying him for various war crimes.
In today's Washington Post, a letter argues that there is ample precedent for trying heads of state in the trial of King Charles I.

The letter writer, Tony France, approvingly cites the words of Lord President John Bradshaw

[Charles Stuart] "out of a wicked design to erect and uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people.

.

France concludes his missive with these words:

"Many at the time challenged the legitimacy of the trial of Charles I, but the bottom line is that England is still here today, a cornerstone of free thinking and a bastion of a free people."

Conveniently, though, France forgets what really became of Mr Bradshaw, who so foolishly argued that the king can be held hostage to the law. Upon the restoration of Charles II, the various conspirators were charged with and convicted of Regicide-- meaning that the legal doctrines by which Bradshaw and his associates convicted the King were fraudulent, and therefore, the execution of Charles Stuart was an act of murder.

Bradshaw himself died in 1659-- but his corpse was exhumed and hung in chains at Tyburn. His fellow conspirators were hung, drawn and quartered.

"Challenged the legitimacy" seems a bit of an understatement.

User Journal

Journal: More Florida Voting shenanigans

Journal by Jeremy Erwin

Worried that the current generation of electronic touch screen voting machines precludes a recount? Don't be. According to an April 2004 rule issued by the Florida Department of State, "manual recounts [are] not required for the touch-screen machines because the machines do not permit the types of errors that are subject to ballot recounts."

Sometimes it takes a lawsuit to deflate such overconfidence.

User Journal

Journal: Democrats are free; Republicans, slaves to the Borg 1

Journal by Jeremy Erwin

Might as well post this little article, which notes that John Kerry and the DNC are using LInux to host their websites, databases, and other support systems, while Bush's coterie relies on Microsoft.

I do hope that this not a facile comparison, and that this choice reflects, on the part of the democrats, a willingness to reconsider the IP-grabs of recent note. But I'm not holding my breath.

User Journal

Journal: That peculiar American Institution: Creationism 3

Journal by Jeremy Erwin

In the NY Times, Nicolas Cristof berates northeastern elites for ignoring the fact that Americans outside the region cling to religion. Evangelicals, in particular, are ignored. Hence, when Bush refers to his religious beliefs-- it is something to be noted.

Kristof points out that "A new Gallup poll shows that 48 percent of Americans believe in creationism, and only 28 percent in evolution (most of the rest aren't sure or lean toward creationism)." I'm not so sure that this is a particularly admirable quality--most in Europe would call this evidence of scientific illiteracy rather than sincerity of religious belief-- but in the Good Old USA, it's a test of world views.

How would I answer the poll? I don't believe IN Evolution. I don't believe IN Creationism.

Evolution is not something one believes in. I do not cling to faith in Charles Darwin. However, evolution is a more scientific answer to the origin problem. One can theoretically confirm it through observation. In Bioinformatics, certain extrapolations from the theory of natural selection can be applied to protein and genetic homology problems.

But believe it it? Not a chance. If a more useful theory comes along, I'll give it a whirl. What I believe in, is Science. Objective truth is obtained through systematic observation.

Apparently, I am in the minority.

I view this as a problem, not as some testament to the pious nature of Americans. One does not have to be an atheist to believe that creationism is, as an explanation, less fit than, say, natural selection.

Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that Evolution is too often presented as alternative to creationism, and not as a framework for researching Biology. Evolution, as "taught" to millions of Americans, has no value other than to attack religious beliefs. So why not believe in creationism? Saving one's soul from a jealous and vengeful god is more practical than a abstract, useless theory...

"Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb

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