February 07, 2005

Multimedia players 

posted by Paul Smith @ 3:20 PM
Dear NPR's Morning Edition,

Your story "Multimedia Players Compete for Desktop Space" lamented the fact that none of the three major media players support all of each other's native file formats. While it may not be from a known software company---or from company at all---the open source MPlayer supports all of the big three formats, and many more. It's another example of open source software that, like Linux with operating systems, is more feature-rich than its closed-source competitors, because anyone can improve upon it and fill the gaps big companies have left behind. And yes, it's also free.


February 04, 2005

Both Illinois Senators vote "no" on Gonzales nominations 

posted by Paul Smith @ 2:28 PM
Sens. Barack Obama and Richard Durbin of Illinois, along with 33 other members of the Democratic caucus, voted "no" on the nomination of Alberto Gonzales for Attoney General.

Sen. Obama made a particularly good statement on the floor before casting his vote.

I had hoped that during his hearings Judge Gonzales would ease my concerns about some of the legal advice he gave to the President. And I had hoped he would prove that he has the ability to distance himself from his role as the President's lawyer so that he could perform his new role as the people's lawyer.

Sadly, rather than full explanations during these hearings, I heard equivocation. Rather than independence, I heard an unyielding insistence on protecting the President's prerogative.

I did not hear Mr. Gonzales repudiate two and a half years of official U.S. policy which has defined torture so narrowly that only organ failure and death would qualify. A policy that he himself appears to have helped develop the dubious legal rationale for. Imagine that. If the entire world accepted the definition contained in the Department of Justice memos, we can only imagine what atrocities might befall our American POWs. How, in a world without such basic constraints would we feel about sending our sons and daughters to war? How, if we are willing to rationalize torture through legalisms and semantics, can we claim to our children, and the children of the world, that America is different, and represents a higher moral standard?

Good stuff.

February 03, 2005

Anti-municipality telecommunication legislation coming down the pike for Illinois 

posted by Paul Smith @ 4:44 PM
A while back I mentioned that 2005 would be a pivotal year locally and nationally for communities, neighborhoods and municipalities to determine their own telecommunications future. SBC, fresh from gobbling up its big daddy, AT&T, is already manuevering next door in Indiana. Expect to see similar if not nearly identical legislation introduced very soon in Springfield that neuters the ability of a muni to provide advanced telecommunications services to its citizens, even if the market has ignored them or actively suppressed innovation and affordable prices. With the recent release of free and open source software that lets anyone deploy their own community wireless network---which runs great on low-cost and even recycled computer hardware: burn a CD, pop it in that old 486 PC lying in your closet, throw a cheap wireless card in it, and you're off---Illinoisans should be wary of laws that preempt their choice, because we've already seen what this looks like in Pennsylvania. Let's not turn out like Pennsylvania.

Word is, the bill won't be introduced until after a meeting of the Illinois Telecommunications Association sometime next week. But community telecom advocates need to be ready for a fight, and it won't be pretty. SBC has Emil Jones et al. in its pocket. There's not much of a political constituency for community wireless just yet. This may change soon ...

February 02, 2005

Shorter SOTU 2005 

posted by Paul Smith @ 9:21 PM
"Freedom freedom freedom---unless you're gay."

Frist off the deep end 

posted by Paul Smith @ 9:51 AM
Majority Leader Frist needs to lay off the formaldehyde.
"I can play hardball as well as anybody," he said, unprompted, at the end of a recent interview. "That's what I did, cut people's hearts out. On the other hand, I do it to cure them, to heal them, to make them better."
Is this supposed to be intimidating? You're a doctor: you didn't cut people's hearts out to teach them a lesson. "This is what I do, I gas people. I did it for anesthetic purposes, but they knew who was boss. You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something. I am God."

Half of bankruptcies caused by medical expenses 

posted by Paul Smith @ 8:30 AM
A new Harvard study looked at thousands of bankruptcy cases, and found that major medical bills caused half of them, usually from a single severe illness or prolonged hospital stay. And today's insurance packages weren't enough:
The study found that the majority of medical bankruptcy filers nationwide were middle-class homeowners with some college education. They usually had health insurance, too. More than 75 percent of people in medical bankruptcy were insured when they first got sick.
It's the high, one-time medical costs that drive up prices for the rest of the insured and keeps businesses from offering affordable health insurance. Government, as a large entity with major purchasing power, should absorb these top-end bills, which are probably something like 5% of the cases but 75% of the costs. (I'm making up numbers; if only there were more health-care-related bloggers …) Then private insurers and employers could affordably offer the in-patient, prescription drug, and preventative care plans.

This is a crisis for the middle-class, and one that could be fixed with progressive legislation and leadership. While the Cook County Board is working to save the old Cook County Hospital, they could make a real statement with the money they'll claim to save by using it to look at comprehensive catastrophic coverage.

February 01, 2005

Eyes on the Prize screening by teacher shut down 

posted by Paul Smith @ 5:22 PM
The Eyes on the Prize screening campaign being organized by Downhill Battle has received its first casualty: according to the DB blog, a teacher in Virginia has been forced to cancel a planned viewing of the landmark civil rights documentary on February 8th, by threat of lawsuit from a copyright holder. DB is rightly pissed:
We absolutely cannot believe this - we had never anticipated that anyone would try to stop students and community members from watching a film about the Civil Rights Movement. Apparently, the law firm that contacted them says that the school district does not have the proper licenses. This is really unbelievable-- if there is any fair use, free speech right at all, it applies to screenings of a historical documentary in a school (wikipedia on fair use). This is a public screening in an educational, non-commercial, one-time use setting. Messing with a school district in Virginia is a whole different ballgame, don't you think?
On the bright side, this pushes the issue of absurd and harmful copyright restriction into the fore; hopefully an EFF or similar can step up and challenge this right away. Being Black History Month, there may not be better opportunities for political cover like this.

UPDATE: It's gotten back to Downhill Battle themselves: from their website moments ago:
we have taken down the torrent links to these videos at the request of lawyers for Blackside, Inc. This sucks!
I have to believe they were looking for this fight or at least knew it would come. Luckily, I think this was publicized well-enough amongst the major blogs that I imagine the video got pretty well distributed. Folks with friendly web hosting ought to step up and host torrent trackers …

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