January 26, 2005

Durbin votes no on Condi 

posted by Paul Smith @ 9:18 PM
Although Rice's nomination was never in doubt, Democrats mounted a lengthy and biting protest that showed she will not immediately match Powell's collegial relationship with Capitol Hill.

Democratic senators denounced Rice's job performance and truthfulness. Most criticism focused on Rice's role planning for war and explaining the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Some accused her of avoiding accountability for the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Others said she seemed unwilling to acknowledge errors in planning or judgment.

"In the end, I could not excuse Dr. Rice's repeated misstatements," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said of his vote against Rice.
Sen. Durbin had a good, strong Democrat day, also giving torture apologist Alberto Gonzales the thumbs-down in committee. Kudos, Senator.

Eyes on the Screen 

posted by Paul Smith @ 8:53 PM
The incomparable agents provocateur at Downhill Battle are engaging in some wholly justified civil disobediance with "Eyes on the Screen":
According to some, it's illegal for makers of the civil rights documentary "Eyes on the Prize" to put it on DVD or show it in public? But at 8:00 PM on February 8th during Black History Month, Downhill Battle (downhillbattle.org) is encouraging Americans to celebrate the struggle and triumph of the civil rights movement with screenings of "Eyes on the Prize" in homes and public places with the goal of having a screening in every major city in America. The campaign is called Eyes on the Screen.

"Eyes on the Prize" is the most comprehensive and revered civil rights documentary ever made. But the documentary has not been available for public viewing for the past 10 years because of unreasonable copyright laws that impose stifling restrictions on artists and filmmakers. In one instance, copyright holders believe they should receive licensing fees for the song "Happy Birthday," which appears in footage of a group of people singing to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"To celebrate Black History Month, we believe that "Eyes on the Prize" should be seen by as many people as possible," says Tiffiniy Cheng of Downhill Battle. "The civil rights movement is just too important for this invaluable resource to be denied to the public. So, we're going to help distribute "Eyes on the Prize" to a mass audience and communities can have screenings."

January 25, 2005

Google Video 

posted by Paul Smith @ 2:16 AM
The Mountain View geniuses do it again with Google Video, a television show search engine. I haven't read up on the back-end technology, but after playing around with it for a few minutes, it's clear they're doing some sort of speech-to-text and associating stills with the conversions. So when you give it a query, the video stills are relevant in context to when the term occured in the show. I searched "obama" and I got back, among other results, the exact still of the Jeopardy! answer about him, with the corresponding transcript highlighted to when Alex was reading the answer and the contestant replied with the question. You can't actually watch any video via the site, so utility seems limited at the moment. It's still cool, in a way that I think is designed to drum up demand for access to the video contained in your search results. Where that demand goes is anyone's guess right now. Content owners think advocates for sensible copyright restrictions are communists.

Okay, they have figured out how to scrape a video (and presumably audio) feed for human language and put it all in the search relevancy results we've all come to expect. They've only been running their indexer against television feeds since December, but think about it: if it weren't for the stingy copyright, we already have the technology to google any TV show, really any media -- music, movies, audiobooks -- ever. That's pretty fucking amazing. It's not surprising, because all of the pieces to do this have been floating around for a while, and it takes a Google to pull it off, but as I was just sitting here thinking of how we could have truly on-demand entertainment ("oh, what was that one episode of West Wing, with the diary? Let's google it and watch it...," or, "I want to see a movie right now about Vietnam," or "How does that song, Genius of Love, go, again?"), it seemed to warrant mention.

UPDATE (minutes later): Alright, on further examination, it appears they are getting the text from speech via the closed captioning stream, so they've offloaded that heavy-lifting to existing infrastructure. It's still impressive, even if it isn't as sophisticated as it initially seemed :-( Reading the "About" page: who knew?

January 20, 2005

Obama votes to recommend Rice for confirmation 

posted by Paul Smith @ 1:54 AM
The Senate Foreign Relations committee voted 16-2 to send NSA Rice's confirmation as the next Sec. of State to the Senate floor. Illinoisans might want to note Sen. Barack Obama's first high-profile vote, committee or otherwise, in this case being cast in the affirmative to recommend the confirmation. I have no idea what sort of inside baseball goes on amongst committee members of the same party. Clearly Sen. Boxer was sent to be the attack dog in this battle. Sen. Kerry probably has all the freedom he wants at this point. The etiquette for freshmen senators is to stay fast to leadership, keep your head down, earn quiet respect; Sen. Obama, as much as Sen. Clinton before him, needs to keep out of the spotlight and do the hard work of becoming a parliamentarian. All that, and add the nigh-impossibility of voting against another African-American. Really, he had almost no choice in this case but to vote to recommend.

Still, it must have been hard to press the yea button.

January 14, 2005

Let me tell you where to put those stickers 

posted by Paul Smith @ 1:42 AM
Members of the reality-based community can celebrate a little tonight.
A federal judge Thursday ordered a suburban Atlanta school system to remove stickers from its high school biology textbooks that call evolution “a theory, not a fact,” saying the disclaimers are an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
Here we have the problem of a word with a strong popular meaning and connotation also having a particular precise application in a more specific context. They only got away with this as long as they did because presumably well-meaning people looked at the term "theory of evolution," and it seemed a little soft, spongy enough to absorb controversy and able to be dismissed or argued by an average but reasonably well-informed person. Theory, in the scientific sense, is a word that's hard and neutral, and the price of admission to argue a scientific theory on its merits is high. Besides, if you start casting doubts about evolution because it's "theory" of evolution, it's a slippery slope: science is pretty much all theories.

While I tend to put myself in the Feyerabend camp and think that a community, not a group of scientists, should determine for itself how best to absorb and integrate scientific knowledge and its applications, if you're Joe Q. Schoolboard from Georgia, you're making a huge mistake climbing into the playing field of science, same with you "intelligent design"ers. It's absurd for you to adopt the framework of the thing you're trying to negate. Haven't you learned anything from your ridiculously successful, tax-cutting political brethern?

Update: I've had a change of heart: I'm pro-sticker.

January 13, 2005

Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others 

posted by Paul Smith @ 8:36 PM
Dan's right that the position that there should be nothing shameful about abortion is not a very popular one, but it's hard to defend a practice if you're conceding that you, too, believe it is distateful, somehow "wrong," should be rare, etc. You've already given up a good bit of moral ground to your opponent. I think there is room to manuever here, in the demystification arena, especially around first-term abortions. T-shirts aren't going to get you anywhere, but a first-term abortion -- so I'm told by my feminist activist friends -- is quick, non-surgical, pain-free, apart from the discomfort. Obviously, there is an emotional component which varies wildly and is attendent both in the abstract and in first-hand experience, but if the actual medical procedure was less of thing only talked about in hushed tones if at all, well, I'll just say that people tend to be less racist when they've seen and known actual other races. On the other hand, I don't know how one would go about demystifying abortions …

Now, this is not to say that the party should go and start being all out and abortion-positive. Politically, it's a landmine where the media is not on our side and which animates the opposition. And I certainly think it's not inconsistent to woo moderates who find abortion morally suspect but aren't single-issue (single-issuers are going GOP every time, anyway, and are thankfully an extremely small group). But I think the advocacy groups that compose the party can try to take some of the taboo out of it, while the party basically stands pat on its current position. As Kevin Drum has pointed out, of all the social policies Democrats might want to bring under the microscope and have a heart-to-heart re-evaluation about, why are we so quick to tinker with the one core pillar that also happens to be the majority position?

January 12, 2005

Forbidden Words 2005 

posted by Paul Smith @ 1:21 PM
A yearly custom that's sure to become an annual tradition, I hereby and humbly present the Forbidden Words Flagger, updated for 2005.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?