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November 15, 2006

News (or lack of)

Two interesting notes:

First, today at 3pm local time (the local time zone is 3 hrs ahead of UTC, so 6pm UTC) Al Jazeera's English-language global news channel Al Jazeera International goes on-air.

Second, a US newspaper has this story about a leaked internal memo from Fox news showing their obvious political bias.

The two may seem unrelated, but I have to say that when I leave Qatar for good and move back to Canada, I hope I'll be able to get Al Jazeera International on cable or satellite. I personally know journalists and other folks who work there, and right now I have high expectations that this new competitor to CNNi and BBC World will cover major news stories with a much more global perspective, and probably with less bias than the western news outlets. To me the leaked Fox memo symbolizes the decline of journalistic integrity in North America, and I fear for the future of the US (and to some extent Canada as well) if our news organizations continue to slide into ineptitude.

Not that I watch the news much anyway...

Ed: two quick corrections. Apparently a news release yesterday indicated the name has been changed to Al Jazeera English. Also, I did the math wrong and the launch is noon in UTC or 6AM EDT (still 3pm locally here in Doha).

Insight in Afghanistan

Here is a fascinating video of a speech given in late 2005 by an AP reporter who has lived 18 years in Afghanistan that goes beyond the black/white Taliban/Majihadeen simplistic portrayals in western media. Highly worth an hour of your time if you have any strong opinions on world matters.

October 28, 2006

Web politcal roundup

I have a guilty habit of reading left-leaning, liberal political opinion articles online. For quite a while I have had a low opinion of the Bush administration and the general tone of politics in the US. There seems to be a rising tide of people willing to question to current US government record, particularly in foreign policy, so I've been bookmarking quite a few articles lately. I already spend too much time on the computer, so I won't take time to comment on any in depth. Instead I post the following links with brief commentary for my own amusement and future reference. If somebody out there gets a kick out of them, or (hopefully) learns something new or beneficial, all the better.

Continue reading "Web politcal roundup" »

June 09, 2006

Impeach George W. Bush

I didn't realize that the case for impeaching president Bush is so strong. Of course, nobody expects the Republican congress to do anything, but a motion was introduced this year to investigate impeachment. Even that was almost a token gesture, but it was done with this purpose: to present a 190-page report giving the exact details of the mistakes, abuse of power, flouting of the US constitution, and possible criminal actions of the current US administration. It removes the excuse of "we didn't know." When history passes judgement on this decade, and our children ask where were the supporters of justice and democracy, nobody will be able to say that the facts of the matter were not known.

Of course, I'm just occasionally distracted from my life by politics and so on, and I haven't read the original report. The term Conyer's Report sounds vaguely familiar, so perhaps I've been living in a cave (or just living outside of North America... oh wait, I am) and everybody has already heard about this, but still I wonder why there is still so little action. Regardless of the man's professed faith, how can any citizen of a free, democratic country tolerate a leader who so blantantly abuses a position of power?

Oh, and just as a little footnote: I used to support the investigation into Bill Clinton's indiscretions and the subsequent impeachment proceedings. However, aside from the obvious partisan attack, the Clinton administration seems to have emerged completely unstained by high-level scandel or corruption. Here's an exercise for the reader: count how many high-level Bush supporters or appointees have been implicated in scandels, resigned, or even been indicted? For extra points, calculate the percentage of those who were disgraced by personal failings like oral sex with an intern, and how many were for things like fraud, perjury, theft, corruption and so on. If you are too lazy to actually do that, even a casual google search may be enlightening...

June 06, 2006

Work less, produce more

I've always liked the idea of shorter work weeks, but I didn't realize there was such a strong academic argument for limiting work hours to 8hr/day 5day/week maximum. Apparently it's been well studied and long accepted in business and industry, except it seems that every generation needs to re-learn the lesson.

This article is written from the perspective of the software industry, which is infamous for ridiculous schedules expected of employees, but the arguments and all of the sources apply generally to most if not all industries. Highly recommended!

May 08, 2006

Complaining about the MSM?

How about the sorry state of the US MSM leading up to the US invasion of Iraq?

Very interesting

I'm not the only one

to be terribly annoyed by the entertainment industry generally, and the STUPID DVD region scheme specifically.

DVD Madness

January 30, 2006

Curse the entertainment industry

I've ranted before (long ago) about copyright stupidity. Let me just say again how idiotic I think current copyright law has become. It infuriates me, really.

You see, I bought me a laptop, completely legally, in Canada. It's a nice laptop with a DVD drive. I then took a job in the middle east, which is all completely legitimate. Now that I am here, I legally obtained a copy of a movie. It is the original DVD disc published by the movie house that made the film, not some illegal grey market copy. I put it in my legal DVD drive, and voila! IT DOESN'T PLAY!!!

That's because the MPAA devised the stupid region coding system whereby all DVDs can be marked with a region code, indicating in what portion of the world that DVD is allowed to be viewed. Starting off that sounds ridiculous, but it gets better! You see, computers being the versatile, general purpose tools that they are, you'd think that somebody would write a program to play movies from DVD, and simply ignore that region code. Well, something like that has happened (and I won't talk about the lawsuits that followed). However, the entertainment industry, in their infinite wisdom and obvious keen business sense, lobbied for changes in US copyright law (which finds equivalents nowadays in most developed countries of the world, through trade treaties that require countries to adopt similar copyright laws) which puts a copyright on the specific little math and programming details needed to either properly read or outright ignore the region code on DVD discs.

Now there is this artificial legal protection that says any program (and anybody who uses such a program or even talks about how it works) is breaking copyright law - those ideas, math tricks and so on are the property of the movie industry. So, while I have no doubt I can find a way to play my legal DVD on my legal DVD player, I'm infuriated that I must technically perform a criminal act to do it! OUTRAGEOUS!

Anyway, this is old news, and everybody outside of North America is used to dealing with this. It seems like it's only in North America that people never encounter DVDs from other regions (because nearly all major english movies are released first as Region 1 DVDs). So, I expect sometime soon I'll either download a piece of (technically illegal) software or else do a minor modification to the actual DVD player to enable any DVD movie to play.

I just wish I were angry enough to actually stop buying movies and giving these morons my money.

January 23, 2005

The next environmental crisis?

I didn't know until recently that there is a global shortage that may be more urgent than oil: Helium. It seems that awareness of the issue (at least among my peers) is fairly low, but a quick google search shows that it is real.

Continue reading "The next environmental crisis?" »

April 29, 2004

US Casualties in Iraq

Tomorrow night ABC's Nightline will broadcast the names and pictures of America casualties due to hostilities in Iraq. In response, one company that owns eight ABC stations has ordered its stations to not air the show.

Continue reading "US Casualties in Iraq" »

January 28, 2004

Copyright (again)

Yes, it's my favorite hobby-horse.

The History of the DeCSS Haiku is a little long and dense around 2/3 of the way through, but it covers a lot of interesting ground and gives pretty good context to the frustration in the software world with the state of copyright in the western world and the antics of the movie and recording industries.

"So somehow in our world the law allows us to say how to kill people, but not how to decrypt DVDs" ... "The highest irony in light of the position of movie studios on the legal protection of software expression is that movies were originally not recognized as speech."

"Because of this, we have an odd problem today; we are constantly trying to show the literary merit of software." ... "Do we worry about showing the extent to which people read cookbooks for literary merit, or home repair manuals for literary merit, or textbooks for literary merit, or tables of logarithms for literary merit? Are these books not speech because of their functionality?"

"It's sad to see much of the self-identified "creative community" fail to support intellectual freedom here. Particularly galling is the short-sighted proprietary attitude toward the First Amendment expressed by some people in the culture industries..."

Tax Relief

In my recent post about the tv-newsmagazine show on the top 10 myths and misconceptions in America, I mentioned one of the myths of the show: "the rich don't pay their fair share of taxes". The show countered that "myth" with the IRS statistic that the richest 1% of Americans pay 34% of taxes. I suspected as I watched the show that there was some context missing from that tidbit, and now I have something slightly more concrete to back that up.

This evening, in an unrelated conversation I overheard, somebody said that the richest 3% of Americans have 90% of the wealth. I'm not sure if that figure is accurate, but it does illustrate how the tv-show stats may have been designed to be misleading. For example, if the richest 3% of American's pay 60% of taxes (the show mentioned something to this effect but I forget the exact number), but actually possess 90% of the wealth, then perhaps they don't pay their fair share of the burden.

So, hurrah to 20/20 and ABC for helping the poor, ignorant masses shed their unfounded resentment of the humble, wealthy folk. We should all have new sympathy for the taxes shouldered by the rich, and by all means support reduction of those taxes.

As an interesting side-note, I also read recently something that I hadn't thought of on my own, but makes perfect sense. It is actually reasonable for the rich to pay more tax than the poor, because there are large parts of the government that provides services used primarily by wealthy people. For example, the majority of the legal and judicial system deals with corporate laws and the interactions of business. Who owns the large businesses that use and depend on those systems? Of course, the wealthy.

Yes, there are also portions of the system that benefit primarily the poor - medicare and social assistance come immediately to mind. I don't argue for one particular point of view, I only want to say that the issue of who pays enough tax is not as simple as some would want you to believe.

January 24, 2004

Lies, Myths, and Downright Stupidity

Tonight's special edition of 20/20 on ABC was about 10 common myths and misconceptions among Americans.

Yes, it's good for us to know that viruses cause colds, not cool temperatures. However, once they went down the list to the richest 1% pay 34% of taxes, banning DDT is causing millions of malaria deaths in Africa, and gun control is a criminals best friend (cause it keeps law-abiding citizens disarmed) it REALLY started to sound like a Republican party shill. I don't know how the host maintained any self-respect.

Yes, logically I understood the truth all of the 10 points they made, and I'm not saying they were wrong on anything. But they so simplified the issues and overlooked the details that it's easy to believe that many people would form opinions that are equally stupid on the other end of the spectrum.

I know that the USA won't run out of land to turn into landfills for thousands of years. No thinking person says that space to put garbage is running out. But who wants to live in a country paved with landfills? How do you keep water supplies safe from leaching when landfills cover every state and county? No, that's not the situation now, but that doesn't mean we should discard Reduce, Reuse and Recycle as a useless misconception.

Their number one point "Life is getting worse" I agree is a myth. Then they shoot themselves in the foot by quoting an expert who says "Right now is the safest time to ever have lived" -- ok I'm with you -- " ...and America is the safest place to live." Uhhh, are you sure? Well, I got no data here, but my crap detector is dinging...

I especially liked the little passing comment in the closing about how cities 50 years ago were covered by blankets of smog, and air pollutants have dramatically reduced everywhere. Seems like a thinly veiled statement in support of Bush's anti-Kyoto protocol stance. Yeah, maybe we aren't mucking things up quite as quickly, but that doesn't mean we're in the clear. But John Stossel certainly isn't going to make any great effort to give you both sides of that picture...

September 03, 2003

Major Record Label to Slash Prices

Does this mean that I'm prescient?

Music "Piracy"

I try to step back from the Slashdot groupthink on issues such as file sharing and music trading. However, I can't help but feel that the RIAA is being hypocritical and more than a little heavy-handed when it comes to copyright infringement.

I briefly read some stuff on the RIAA web site today, and on the surface it sounds plausible. I took a minute to remind myself why the tech-savvy crowd is pretty uniformly anti-RIAA and pro-file sharing. I think the core reasons are: fundamental differences of opinion regarding the application of copyright in the digital age, frustration with the slow adoption of more efficient methods of music distribution, and anger towards the record (and movie) industry because of high prices and the lack of truly creative new music.

Continue reading "Music "Piracy"" »