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New Year's Resolution:

Thursday, January 9, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

(If you're reading this, it probably means that at least most of the computer transition mentioned just yesterday has been at least mostly successful.)

We've got good news and bad news. First, the bad news.

A panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has found that the Executive Branch can hold U. S. cititzens wherever and however and for as long as they want, as long as said U. S. citizens seem to have been on the other side in a faraway conflict. (CNN, AP).

Everyone's favorite line from the decision, sure to become a classic:

The constitutional allocation of war powers affords the President extraordinarily broad authority as Commander in Chief and compels courts to assume a deferential posture in reviewing exercises of this authority.

Any particular "deferential posture" spring to mind? (Let's not always see the same hands.) Did the Framers really picture the Judiciary assuming quite that posture before the Executive? I don' think so.

The decision is worth reading; not that long, and relatively readable. Note how the Justices first find that the courts shouldn't be second-guessing battlefield decisions about who is an enemy and who should be captured (relatively reasonable), and that they then blatantly dodge the question of why the courts continue to be out of the picture long after the battle is over and the prisoner brought to a controlled place, and (one would think) there is plenty of time for reflection.


They are careful to point out that they haven't allowed the executive to arbitrarily strip any citizen of eir rights:

We earlier rejected the summary embrace of "a sweeping proposition -- namely that, with no meaningful judicial review, any American citizen alleged to be an enemy combatant could be detained indefinitely without charges or counsel on the government's say-so." Hamdi II, 296 F.3d at 283. But, Hamdi is not "any American citizen alleged to be an enemy combatant" by the government; he is an American citizen captured and detained by American allied forces in a foreign theater of war during active hostilities and determined by the United States military to have been indeed allied with enemy forces.

They're saving that for Padilla v. Bush.

(If you're curious about what Circuit Courts do in general, besides depriving citizens of basic liberties, see for instance this weekly summary of the Fourth Circuit.)

Am I taking an honest disagreement about the proper role of the courts in wartime and using it as an excuse to revile the Justices who disagree with me? I don't think so; this decision seems to me beyond the pale of honest disagreement and off into unjustifiable deference to the arbitrary exercise of state power, something that I find myself unable to just agree to disagree about.

The good news, which is good but unfortunately not as good as the bad news is bad, is that Jon Lech Johansen has been acquitted:

The entertainment lobby has failed to persuade a Norwegian court to convict a teenager for creating a utility for playing back DVDs on his own computer.
Jon Lech Johansen has been acquitted of all charges in a trial that tested the legality of the DeCSS DVD decryption utility he produced, Norwegian paper Aftenposten reports.

Apparently the Norwegian court isn't as fond of assuming deferential postures as the Fourth Circuit.

So rah! The RIAA's plans for world domination suffer a setback.

Perl Module o' the Week: Acme::Buffy.

From MeFi, a very fine collection of old book covers. (The collector has a page worth reading, about his interest in this particular art form, the sad fact that you can't pick up these books for a dime in used bookstores anymore, and so on.) See also the The Lurid Paperback Cover of the Week.

Seen on Massless: a new web browser from Apple, called Safari. Should I try it on the iBook? The Mac version of Mozilla kept crashing on GNE, so I've been using Chimera over there lately. Is it worth looking at Safari? In my copious free time?

Steve noticed that Kafkaesque noticed that William Gibson has a weblog. Cool!

Lost phrase o' the Week: "begs the question". No one ever uses it to mean what it really means. I've seen professional websites, and heard real live television newspeople, use it to mean "raises the question" I dunno how many times recently. Many too many, anyway.

A glance in Google shows that by far the two most common uses of the phrase on the web are: people who think it means "raises the question" and people complaining about people who think it means "raises the question". People using it properly, to mean "assumes the conclusion as a premise", run a very distant third.

One of the good points of worrying about this sort of thing is that it distracts us from that other sort of thing.

Wednesday, January 8, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

Here's a fun one: People who think they've been drinking are bad at remembering stuff, even if they haven't really been drinking (alcohol) at all. What a mess of hacks the brain is!

Speaking of drinking, Lord of the Drinks, a LOTR-themed pub-crawl game. Do people actually do stuff like this? What a lot of things I missed out on in my youth!

From Win XP News of all places: Central Booking, a website where they talk about like books and stuff. I vaguely remember having time for books.

One of the things that gives the RIAA and friends nightmares is the thought that, since computers are digital thingies, any music that's played on a computer is at some point passing from module to module as a stream of bits that could potentially be recorded, without any complicated Digital Rights Management codes embedded. Here's some software that seems to do something like that.

The DTPA will fix all that, of course.

From Medley, an item about the 20th anniversary of the Internet, in some sense.

Unnerving to think that, when I graduated from college, the Net hadn't yet switched over to this new-fangled "IP/TCP" thing.

[administrivia: I'm currently shuffling computers around in a reasonably major way and, depending on how well that goes, there may be a few-day technical hiatus in the log here, to avoid having (shudder) parallel versions of the relevant datasets. Readers are advised to generate sentences by rolling dice in the meantime.]

Monday, January 6, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

Another thing I liked about the movie panned yesterday is the treatment of Gollum; the struggle between his evil side and his "not actually good, but potentially good if he hadn't had such an awful life, and actually mostly frightened and cowardly" side is done quite well.

His CGIness (/cgi-bin/gollum) is also technically impressive (aside from some little oddnesses about gravity here and there), although as far as storytelling goes he could just as well have been done with a (human) actor.

I wonder if this is the first time in a movie (or at least a Major Motion Picture?) where CGI is used for a character that could as well have been played by a normal(ish) human actor.

On the same general subject, a reader writes:

Have you thought about what it means when you say that the two towers "sucked"? To me, it says "I didn't like the movie, and by the way, people who perform oral sex on men are bad." I think oral sex is positive, so I wouldn't want to describe something I didn't like as "sucking".

No, in fact I hadn't thought about that, and it's an interesting and disturbing point. I wouldn't want to discourage a commendable amatory practice, or cast implied aspersions on its practitioners.

Now there are various other possible explanations for the pejorative use of "to suck": "sucking mud" (a cousin of the enigmatic "pumpin' mud"), "go suck an egg", pumps that are sucking air (instead of whatever they're supposed to be sucking). But I imagine that a large piece of the cognitive and cultural and connotative load of "that movie sucks" is borne by (stems from?) the idea of sucking, um (well?), sucking (SAY IT!) the male reproductive apparatus (ooooohh).

So next time I'm tempted to say that something "sucks", I'll try saying that "it doesn't seem to be very good", and see how that feels. "Sucks" isn't a verb I'm normally use (this way) anyway; it was intended really for comedic effect.

Ironic that I should have committed this particular gaffe, given that I was just recently scolding a young person of my acquaintance for using "gay" as a nonspecific pejorative.

"Everyone does it," the young person suggested. "Not in this house, they don't", I said, doing my best grown-up impersonation.

Speaking of which, there was a very amusing and/or educational incident on GNE the other night, involving someone using "gay" as a nonspecific pejorative. Fortunately, the chat log was saved. Watch as the hapless newbie attempts to insult us, and we waltz merrily around him singing "I feel pretty"!

(While asking Google to confirm the spelling of "gaffe" above, I found this interesting article arguing for simple HTTP URI XML stuff, as against SOAP stuff. If you recognize those acronyms and haven't read the piece, or if you don't but you're having trouble getting to sleep, you might want to take a look.)

- 3 for "chocolate"
- 3 for "domains"
- 2 for "tetris attack"
- 2 for "view a web cam without permission"
- 2 for "yahoo webcam"
- 1 for "brian eno"
- 1 for "britney"
- 1 for "chocolate midi"
- 1 for "eagles"
- 1 for "hack a web cam"

The Assault on the Private Yahoo Webcams clearly continues. And I have in fact been reading Brian Eno again, his "A Year with Swollen Appendices" having come to the top of one of the shaky piles of books again.

The namespace continues to fill: I got a piece of mail that was sent to an id at chessfamily dot org that was intended for someone at chessfamilies dot org. Maybe there should be a minimum Hamming distance (okay, pseudo-Hamming distance) between assigned domain names.

Hey! When did they change the meaning of 'newsreader'? Why wasn't I informed?

Should I write a nasty letter to the American Automobile Association?

From NTK, some amusing alternate versions of the Lord of the Rings:

You don't know me without you have read a book by the name of The Red Book of Westmarch; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Frodo Baggins and his Uncle Bilbo, and they told the truth, mainly.

and also the clearly terrorist-linked Mission USA:

In the new year, Rooting Out Evil will be sending a team of volunteer weapons inspectors into that greatest of rogue nations, the United States of America.

We have selected the US as our first priority based on criteria provided by the Bush administration.

It's people like these that cause unrest.

From gorjuss, our comeuppance of the week:

Each, in his or her own way, has endorsed the notion that you abandon your privacy when you set your trash on the curb. So we figured they wouldn't mind too much if we took a peek at theirs.

Boy, were we wrong.

as well as a mostly harmless selection of pictures taken by some people using those new cellphones that have cameras built in (or cameras that have cellphones built in, or something).

It's great being able to sit here at night, and watch an episode of Babylon 5 from a DVD that I got for Christmas, and then after watching the episode go out onto the web and find pages of careful analysis and cross-references and commentary and excerpts from newsgroup postings by the director of the show, and a zillion reviews, and so on.

I like information.

(Is there a word that falls somewhere between the dead "there are some bits here" of "information" and the grandeur of "wisdom"? Maybe what I mean in this case is really along the lines of:)

I like communication.

Sunday, January 5, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

Doing today's log maintenance is the first time I've had to write that "2003" thing very much.

Pretty strange.

Not only is it not the subject of millennial angst, or the title of a famous movie and so on, it's not even a palindrome.

We saw "Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers" this afternoon. I kinda thought, like I kinda thought about the last one, that it kinda sucked. The suckiness didn't hit me quite as strongly as last time; maybe my expectations were just lower.

It's hard to say exactly why I thought it sucked. There are lots of small to medium things (some of which I'll rant about shortly). The trilogy was so good (the books), that it'd be very hard to produce a movie that lived up to them. Rather than any particular fatal flaw, maybe it's more that they're okay movies, and okay isn't really enough.

Jackson's made a bunch of changes of course, and many of them seem both unnecessary and for the worse (hardly a new criticism of these films, I realize!). I want to rant about three, one that seems objectively really uncalled for, and two that disappointed me personally.

In the books, Faramir is a pretty clueful guy, and when Frodo explains to him where they're going with the ring and why, Faramir says that okay, if the wisest Good Guy powers in the world think Frodo should take the ring into Mordor, then maybe Frodo should take the ring into Mordor, so he helps him on his way.

In the film, Faramir decides (Boromir-like) that Gondor could make better use of the ring, and (rather illogically) hauls him way the heck upriver to the battle of Osgiliath, and is about to turn him over to a random underling to be taken cross-country to the King (ooh, brilliant) when suddenly he changes his mind.

And why does he change his mind? Apparently it's because he sees Frodo, in a trance, nearly hand the ring over to a Nazgul. Why this should convince him that it's a really good idea for Frodo and Sam to go off alone with the ring, I cannot imagine.

(The whole Jackson-added Nazgul scene is ridiculous; not only are Frodo's and Faramir's motivations opaque, but once Sam tackles Frodo and someone puts an arrow into the Nazgul's mount, the Nazgul just flies off, perhaps having suddenly remembered a dental appointment or something else more important than merely recapturing the most powerful magic item in the world.)

So that's one objectively doofy thing that bothered me. More subjectively, two of the incidents from the Two Towers that I was most looking forward to seeing on the screen didn't happen.

The place in the book where Our Heros stride into Edoras and overthrow Wormtongue's whispers and shadows and doubts with good old-fashioned sunlight and shouting and manliness has always appealed to me greatly for some reason. In the movie, though, it's done strictly as a magical "break the spell of possession" thing, which is I suppose more cinematic, but somehow not nearly as fun.

(The idea that the loyal Rohanners would have just stood there watching a foreign wizard doing apparently rather violent and possibly fatal things to their king with his staff is pretty absurd, too, while we're here.)

The second thing I really wanted to see on screen was the coming of the Trees to the Deeping Coomb.

The land had changed. Where before the green dale had lain, its grassy slopes lapping the ever-mounting hills, there now a forest loomed. Great trees, bare and silent, stood, rank on rank, with tangled bough and hoary head; their twisted roots were buried in the long green grass. Darkness was under them. Between the Dike and the eaves of that nameless wood only two open furlongs lay. There now cowered the proud hosts of Saruman, in terror of the king and in terror of the trees.
The Orcs reeled and screamed and cast aside both sword and spear. Like a black smoke driven by a mounting wind they fled. Wailing they passed under the waiting shadow of the trees; and from that shadow none ever came again.

Wouldn't that have made a great scene? In the film, the Orc host simply run away. Which is not only less magical and mysterious and satisfying, but also leaves us wondering (since they surely still outnumber the defenders of Rohan, and they're supposedly mindless killing machines who will fight on despite the odds anyway) why they don't rally aways out on the plain and came back to finish the job.

Ms. Evenstar

So those are my main rants. Just to show that I'm not simply a Jackson hater or a fan of the books who would despise anything about any possible film version, I will say that I like the film's treatment of Arwen. Tolkien's Arwen is mostly a distant and symbolic figure, and I think Jackson's done well to make her more (hm, can't say "human" here, exactly) sympathetic (or something). But that (and the lovely photography, and the reasonably well-done Ents, and so on) isn't enough to keep the film from sucking again (oh, and I could really have done without all the "Gimli is short" jokes; sheesh!).

Which isn't to say that I didn't have a good time at the movie. I can just imagine a much better one.


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