Archive for July, 2007
31 Jul 2007

Michaelangelo Antonioni, September 29, 1912 – July 30, 2007

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In a sad coincidence, the great Italian director Michaelangelo Antonioni also passed away on Monday, mere hours after Ingmar Bergman, in Rome.

Though best known for the playful photographic detective story Blowup (1966), a perfect fashion-piece mirroring the sensibilities of the then emerging long-hair, drugs, and Rock n’ Roll era, Antonioni’s reputation may rest more firmly on his grim trilogy of alienation and ennui L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961) and L’Eclisse (1962).

Antonioni films were typically less immediately pleasurable than they were intellectually stimulating. The typical Antonioni film featured spare dialogue and minimal and problematic plotting, brilliantly photographed in scenes triumphantly composed with the same assurance and monumentality as the frescos of Giotto or Mantegna.

The Rediff news service aptly observed: Cinema has been orphaned twice — in just 24 hours.

DW-World-DE obituary.

31 Jul 2007

The Real Datamining Scandal

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David B. Rivkin, Jr. and Lee A. Casey argue, in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, that the real wiretapping scandal ought to be considered the significant degradation of American Counter-Terrorism surveillance capabilities as the result of partisanship and ideological assault.

Last Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing — at which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was insulted by senators and ridiculed by spectators — was Washington political theater at its lowest. But some significant information did manage to get through the senatorial venom directed at Mr. Gonzales. It now appears certain that the terrorist surveillance program (TSP) authorized by President Bush after 9/11 was even broader than the TSP that the New York Times first revealed in December 2005.

It is also clear that Mr. Gonzales, along with former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, tried to preserve that original program with the knowledge and approval of both Republican and Democratic members of key congressional committees. Unfortunately, they failed and the program was narrowed. Today, the continuing viability of even the slimmed-down TSP — an indispensable weapon in the war on terror — remains in serious doubt. …

In December 2005, … a firestorm of controversy erupted when The New York Times published a story describing the TSP. Although it was clear from the beginning that the program targeted al Qaeda — a particular communication was intercepted based on the presence of a suspected al Qaeda operative on at least one end — and not directed at ordinary Americans going about their daily routines, the administration’s critics quickly wove the TSP into their favorite overarching anti-Bush narrative. They cited it as just one more example of a supposedly power-hungry president, the new “king George,” chewing up our civil liberties.

Administration officials, including Attorney General Gonzales, repeatedly explained the TSP to Congress and the public, presumably to an extent consistent with continuing national security imperatives. In particular, they said that only communications where at least one party to the conversation was outside of the U.S. were intercepted; purely domestic calls were not in play. But after months of congressional pressure, and having failed to secure new legislation that would have fundamentally revised FISA, the administration announced in January this year that it had reached an agreement with the special FISA court to bring the TSP under judicial auspices. …

What has gotten lost in all of this increasingly sordid game of political gotcha is the viability of a critical program in the war on terror. The TSP was brought under the FISA court’s jurisdiction this January, allegedly without impairing its effectiveness. But FISA orders are not permanent. They must be periodically reissued, and FISA judges rotate. As an editorial on the facing page of the Journal first reported Friday, well-placed sources say that today’s FISA-compliant TSP is only about “one-third” as effective as the 2005 version — which, in turn, was less comprehensive than the original program. This is shocking during a summer of heightened threat warnings, and should be unacceptable to Congress and the American people.

The problem is particularly acute because FISA’s 1978 framework has been rendered dysfunctional by the evolution of technology. FISA was enacted in a world where intercepts of purely foreign communications were conducted overseas, and were entirely exempt from the statutory strictures. Only true U.S. domestic communications were intercepted on U.S. soil and these intercepts were subjected to FISA’s prescriptive procedures. Yet, with today’s fiber optic networks functioning as the sinews of the global communications system, entirely foreign calls — say between al Qaeda operatives overseas — often flow through U.S. facilities and can be most reliably intercepted on American soil. Subjecting these intercepts to FISA strictures is absurd.

Moreover, the very fact that the intelligence community operates in a state of continued uncertainty about what precise surveillance parameters would be allowed in the future — instead of having the collection efforts driven entirely by the unfolding operational imperatives — is both unprecedented in wartime and highly detrimental. In past wars, as fighting continued, valuable battlefield experience was gathered, causing weapons systems, military organization and combat techniques to improve consistently. In this difficult war with al Qaeda, by contrast, the key battlefield intelligence-gathering program has been repeatedly emasculated.

Congress’ obsession with the TSP’s legal pedigree has become the major threat to its continued viability, rivaling in its deleterious impact the infamous “wall,” much criticized by the 9/11 Commission, which prevented information sharing between the Justice Department’s intelligence and law-enforcement divisions. It is hypocritical for those in Congress who preach fidelity to the 9/11 Commission recommendations to behave so dramatically at odds with their spirit. The question Judiciary Committee members should have been asking Mr. Gonzales was not whether he had misled them — he clearly did not — but whether the TSP is still functioning well. The question the public should be asking those senators — and with not much more civility than the senators showed Mr. Gonzales — is what are they going to do about it if the answer is no.

31 Jul 2007

A Congressional Majority is a Terrible Thing to Waste

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Rich Lowry quips in a New York Post editorial gleefully observing Congressional democrats doing a fine job of discrediting themselves in the eyes of the public by a futile series of shamelessly partisan “investigations.” The leftwing nutroots are enjoying every minute of it, though.

(But) That’s not stopping congressional Democrats.

When not trying to force a pullout from Iraq, their main effort has been chasing Bush-administration scandals that loom large only in their fevered imaginations. Democrats consider this “change,” but it is really a toxic repeat of the Republican investigative onslaught against Bill Clinton in the 1990s and of the Democratic one against Ronald Reagan in the 1980s – in other words, business as usual when Congress confronts a hated presidential adversary.

The Democrats’ latest tactic is to give an implicit choice to Bush officials: They can either come to Capitol Hill to testify so Democrats can try to build a perjury case against them, or they can refuse – in which case Democrats will cite them for criminal contempt of Congress. Either path leads inexorably to Democratic calls for a special counsel. Democrats love the prospect of another couple of Patrick Fitzgeralds, drumming Bush officials out of public life with onerous legal bills for their trouble.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been a particular target, and why not? He’s so incapable of defending himself that, for grandstanding Democrats, cuffing him around is risk-free fun, like cruel kids pulling the wings off insects. …

The new perjury accusation against him is based on testimony this past week in which he often was kept from saying two sentences in a row without being interrupted and called a liar. …

Between the interruptions, the difficulty of discussing classified activities in public and Gonzales’ expository shortcomings, it all got garbled, but a well-intentioned person could understand his point. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Democrats preferred to pretend that they had witnessed a flagrantly perjurious performance.

Gonzales is being tormented on another front, too – the firings of U.S. attorneys. Democrats can’t explain how the administration’s firing of U.S. attorneys who serve at its pleasure could be criminal, but apparently want to spend the rest of the Bush presidency hunting for evidence of this elusive wrongdoing. …

This is a grave political miscalculation. Absent a Watergate-style smoking gun, or at least some plausible whiff of gunpowder, voters aren’t interested in scandal monomania. The only political effect of the investigative onslaught is to please the bloodthirsty Democratic “netroots” who are desperate for excuses to try to impeach Bush, while convincing voters that Washington is a disgusting cockpit of partisan rancor oblivious to their true concerns. There is a reason President Bush can be at 28 percent approval and still double Congress’ rating in some polls.

But Democrats can’t help themselves. They’ve held more than 600 oversight hearings so far, and these hearings are close to their only accomplishment. The Democratic majority brings to mind a paraphrase of the old saw about teaching: Those who can, legislate. Those who can’t, investigate.

Read the whole thing.

30 Jul 2007

Technology and Politics Hamper US Counter Terrorism Surveillance Program

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While Congressional democrats are playing “He said; she said” games on the subject of Counter-Terrorism data-mining in order to bring down Alberto Gonzalez, Newsweek is reporting that US Intelligence Agencies are having difficult keeping up with changes in technology and that all the political games the left and the MSM have played with the Echelon program have also had a real impact, significantly diminishing the program’s effectiveness.

Six years after 9/11 , U.S. intel officials are complaining about the emergence of a major “gap” in their ability to secretly eavesdrop on suspected terrorist plotters. In a series of increasingly anxious pleas to Congress, intel “czar” Mike McConnell has argued that the nation’s spook community is “missing a significant portion of what we should be getting” from electronic eavesdropping on possible terror plots. Rep. Heather Wilson, a GOP member of the House intelligence community, told Newsweek she has learned of “specific cases where U.S. lives have been put at risk” as a result. Intel agency spokespeople declined to elaborate.

The intel gap results partly from rapid changes in the technology carrying much of the world’s message traffic (principally telephone calls and e-mails). The National Security Agency is falling so far behind in upgrading its infrastructure to cope with the digital age that the agency has had problems with its electricity supply, forcing some offices to temporarily shut down. The gap is also partly a result of administration fumbling over legal authorization for eavesdropping by U.S. agencies. …

According to both administration and congressional officials (anonymous when discussing such issues), the White House and intelligence czar’s office are now urgently trying to negotiate a legal fix with Congress that would make it easier for NSA to eavesdrop on e-mails and phone calls where all parties are located outside the U.S., even if at some point the message signal crosses into U.S. territory.

30 Jul 2007

Ingmar Bergman, July 14, 1918 – July 30, 2007

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Ernst Ingmar Bergman, undoubtedly the greatest living film director, died earlier today at the age of 89, reportedly “peacefully at home,” presumably at his famous residence on the Island of Faroe in the Baltic.

Bergman directed 44 films in the course of a career lasting 57 years.

London Times

Wikipedia entry

29 Jul 2007

Criminalizing Childhood

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Contemporary American society is afflicted with an epidemic of metastatic growth in the self importance of petty officials at a time in which ordinary common sense has taken a vacation from American life.

One noteworthy result, especially common on America’s liberal coasts, has been the expansion of zero tolerance policies to include ordinary childhood behavior.

The Canadian Mark Steyn is deservedly appalled at a case in Oregon.

Do you know Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison?

If you do, don’t approach them. Call 911 and order up a SWAT team. They’re believed to be in the vicinity of McMinnville, Ore., where they’re a clear and present danger to the community. Mashburn and Cornelison were recently charged with five counts of felony sexual abuse, and District Attorney Bradley Berry has pledged to have them registered for life as sex offenders.

Oh, by the way, the defendants are in the seventh grade.

Messrs Mashburn and Cornelison are pupils at Patton Middle School. They were arrested in February after being observed in the vestibule, swatting girls on the butt. Butt-swatting had apparently become a form of greeting at the school – like “a handshake we do,” as one female student put it. On “Slap Butt Fridays,” boys and girls would hail each other with a cheery application of manual friction to the posterior, akin to a Masonic greeting.

Don’t ask me why. …

So, upon being caught butt-swatting, Mashburn and Cornelison were called to the principal’s office, where they were questioned for several hours by vice principal Steve Tillery and McMinnville Police officer Marshall Roache. At the end of the afternoon, two boys who’d never been in any kind of trouble before were read their Miranda rights and led off in handcuffs to spend five days in juvenile jail.

Tough, but I guess they learned their lesson, right?

Ha! The state of Oregon was only warming up. After a court appearance in shackles and prison garb, the defendants were charged with multiple counts of felony sexual abuse, banned from school and forbidden any contact with their friends. …

Having had no previous prolonged exposure to the American justice system, I was interested to see whether the techniques used by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald were particular to that case or more widely applied. The Oregon butt psychos make an instructive study. … once the authorities had decided on their view of the case, other parties were leaned on to fall into line and play the role of “victims.” Of 14 other students interviewed by officer Roache, seven (boys and girls) told him they had engaged in bottom-swatting themselves. Two of the “victims” said they had done it to others. At the initial hearing, a couple of female students spontaneously testified that they’d felt very much pressured to conform during their interviews with the vice principal and the police officer. “Well, when the principal asked me stuff, I kind of felt pressured to answer stuff that I was uncomfortable, and that it hurt, but it really didn’t,” said one girl.

What does hurt? Attracting the attention of the district attorney. The prosecutor’s office reduced the counts from felony sexual assault (with which he’d successfully charged a couple of other middle-school students a year ago) to five misdemeanor counts of sexual abuse and five counts of sexual harassment.

With the boys’ respective parents already in the hole for $10,000 apiece in legal fees, the D.A. used the most powerful weapon in the prosecutor’s armory: Cop a plea, and we’ll make all the pain go away. In this instance, that would mean pleading guilty in return for probation. The terms of probation would prevent Mashburn and Cornelison from contact with younger children, which would mean they couldn’t be left with their younger siblings.

Mashburn and Cornelison do not believe they’ve committed a crime, so they would like to exercise their right to the presumption of innocence – a bedrock principle of the English legal tradition now in great peril from American prosecutorial excess. Instead of letting the state bully them into a grubby, shaming deal, the boys would like it to do what justice systems in civilized societies are required to do: prove the crime. It’s a gamble: Those 10 charges each command a one-year sentence, plus lifelong sex-offender registration.

District Attorney Berry told reporter Susan Goldsmith of the Oregonian that his department “aggressively” pursues sex crimes. “These cases are devastating to children,” he said. “They are life-altering cases.”

No, sir. The only one devastating children’s lives is you. If you “win,” and these “criminals” are convicted, 20, 30 years from now – applying for a job, volunteering for a community program, heading north for a weekend in Vancouver and watching the Customs guard swipe the driver’s license through the computer – there’ll be a blip, something will come up on the screen, and for the umpteenth time two middle-age men will realize they bear a mark that can never be expunged. Because decades ago they patted their pals on the rear in a middle-school corridor.

A world that requires handcuffs and judges and district attorneys for what took place that Friday in February is not just a failed education system but an entire society that’s losing any sense of proportion. Without which, civilized life becomes impossible. So we legalize more and more aspects of life and demand that district attorneys prosecute ever more aggressively what were once routine areas of social interaction.

A society that looses the state to criminalize schoolroom horseplay is guilty not only of punishing children as grown-ups but of the infantilization of the entire citizenry.

29 Jul 2007

Pakistan Invades Waziristan Emirate

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The London Times reports that Pakistan has sent in 80,000 troops into the area it previously surrendered to Al Qaeda with orders to root out the Islamist extremists.

map

Pakistan is still refusing to permit US military actions within its borders, and threatening to withdraw from its American alliance if the US were to act unilaterally, the Chinese Xinhua news agency reports.

29 Jul 2007

New York Man Arrested For Desecrating Koran

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AP:

A 23-year-old man was arrested Friday on hate-crime charges after he threw a Quran in a toilet at Pace University on two separate occasions, police said.

Stanislav Shmulevich of Brooklyn was arrested on charges of criminal mischief and aggravated harassment, both hate crimes, police said. It was unclear if he was a student at the school. A message left at the Shmulevich home was not immediately returned.

The Islamic holy book was found in a toilet at Pace’s lower Manhattan campus by a teacher on Oct. 13. A student discovered another book in a toilet on Nov. 21, police said.

Muslim activists had called on Pace University to crack down on hate crimes after the incidents. As a result, the university said it would offer sensitivity training to its students.

Can anyone imagine a similar arrest for doing the same thing to the bible or a crucifix? As Tom Maguire recalls, when Andres Serrano submerged a crucifix in a bottle of urine, the result was an art competition award and a succès de scandale.

28 Jul 2007

Masked Bandit Videotaped in Burglary

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1:06 video

28 Jul 2007

3rd Annual Nigerian Email Conference

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Sample topics:

The effectiveness of using all UPPERCASE characters.”

“Are 10 million emails a day too many?”

link

Hat tip to Jim Conroy.

28 Jul 2007

“We Were Hoodwinked!”

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Charles Schumer promises the democrat base that Bush will get no more Supreme Court nominees through the Senate confirmation process, and apologizes for democrats supposedly being somehow deceived by Judges Roberts and Alito. And here I thought they just didn’t have the votes to block those nominees’ confirmations.

New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a powerful member of the Democratic leadership, said Friday the Senate should not confirm another U.S. Supreme Court nominee under President Bush “except in extraordinary circumstances.”

“We should reverse the presumption of confirmation,” Schumer told the American Constitution Society convention in Washington. “The Supreme Court is dangerously out of balance. We cannot afford to see Justice Stevens replaced by another Roberts, or Justice Ginsburg by another Alito.”

Schumer’s assertion comes as Democrats and liberal advocacy groups are increasingly complaining that the Supreme Court with Bush’s nominees – Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito – has moved quicker than expected to overturn legal precedents.

Senators were too quick to accept the nominees’ word that they would respect legal precedents, and “too easily impressed with the charm of Roberts and the erudition of Alito,” Schumer said.

“There is no doubt that we were hoodwinked,” said Schumer, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

A White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said Schumer’s comments show “a tremendous disrespect for the Constitution” by suggesting that the Senate not confirm nominees.

“This is the kind of blind obstruction that people have come to expect from Sen. Schumer,” Perino said. “He has an alarming habit of attacking people whose character and position make them unwilling or unable to respond. That is the sign of a bully. If the past is any indication, I would bet that we would see a Democratic senatorial fundraising appeal in the next few days.”

Schumer voted against confirming Roberts and Alito. In Friday’s speech, he said his “greatest regret” in the last Congress was not doing more to scuttle Alito.

“Alito shouldn’t have been confirmed,” Schumer said. “I should have done a better job. My colleagues said we didn’t have the votes, but I think we should have twisted more arms and done more.”

28 Jul 2007

Conspiracy Theory

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Remember the press coverage of John Edwards’ $1250 haircut? The democrat candidate tells an audience of rubes and bumpkins in Iowa that it’s all part of a conspiracy by the people who make $100 million a year to silence him.

This class warfare stuff is pretty rich coming from a champion of poor who owns a 28,000 sq. foot house, and whose own personal fortune is estimated in a range from $29.5 and $62 million..

1:22 video

Via The Politico.

27 Jul 2007

Necrophilia Legal in Wisconsin

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AP:

Three men who dug up a young woman’s corpse to have sex with it after seeing her obituary photo cannot be charged with attempted sexual assault because Wisconsin has no law against necrophilia, an appeals court ruled Thursday.

A judge was correct to dismiss the charges against twin brothers Nicholas and Alexander Grunke and Dustin Radke, all 21, because lawmakers never intended to criminalize sex with a corpse, the District 4 Court of Appeals said in a 3-0 ruling.

The three men went to a cemetery in Cassville in southwestern Wisconsin on Sept. 2 to remove the body of Laura Tennessen, 20, who had been killed the week before in a motorcycle crash.

The men used shovels to reach her grave. They abandoned their plan and were eventually arrested after a vehicle drove into the cemetery and reported suspicious behavior, authorities said.

They said the men had seen an obituary of Tennessen with her photo and wanted to dig up her body to have sexual intercourse. …

The men were charged with attempted third-degree sexual assault and misdemeanor attempted theft charges. But Grant County Circuit Judge George Curry dismissed the sexual assault charges in September, saying no Wisconsin law addressed necrophilia. Prosecutors appealed his ruling.

But there remain some limits to tolerance in Massachusetts.

27 Jul 2007

West African Cherry Orange Endangered in Uganda

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The West African Cherry Orange (Citropsis articulata) is common throughout West Africa, but has become endangered only in Uganda where it is known as Omuburo. In Uganda, Omuboro roots are believed to be a powerful male aphrodisiac.

Independent:

It [the tree] is like a natural Viagra,” said Hannington Oryem-Orida, a professor of botany at Makerere University. “Because of its enormous medicinal properties, the tree is being harvested faster than it can reproduce, thus threatening its long-term survival.”

Seeds can be ordered from a California company.

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