Presidential debate, part IV

Interesting staking out of positions while position to the extreme facets. The president’s slipping in the World Criminal Court was telling, as was Kerry’s mention of the Kyoto Protocol.

Hmm. Good clarification from Lehrer. Bilateral vs. multilateral. Interesting clarification leaving Kerry looking slightly foolish, with Bush’s correction about “enriched uranium” vs. “plutonium.”

And here is the real point, on the Sudan: we’re overextended, straining the National Guard, holding people in who want to leave. But both candidates want to answer questions on Iran rather than the Sudan.

I think Kerry was a little overconfident, slipping “Mission Accomplished” into his reply on Korea and Russia. His closing is OK—not a barnraiser, but it is after all a debate moderated by Jim Lehrer. Bush: same talking points.

Post-debate spin: Giuliani gets checked by Tom Brokaw on the assertion of the leader of Pakistan that the war made things worse by America, not better, but calls Bush’s stalling on the same two talking points a “strength.”

Presidential debate, part III

The sum of the President’s point right now appears to be, “Don’t change horses in mid-stream. We won’t succeed if we send mixed signals to the world.”

Hmm. A free Iraq and a free Afghanistan will send a powerful signal. Hard to get to that signal if we are losing ground there daily.

Did Bush’s prep people give him any points other than “Wrong war, wrong time” and “grand diversion”?

The enemy attacked us, and I’m committing troops…in Iraq. Where the enemy wasn’t. Oh, and let’s slip “mixed messages” into our reply.

Good of Kerry to pounce on Bush’s slip there.

Presidential debate, part II

Homeland security. I think this could be the hidden strength of Kerry. This is the untold story of the Bush presidency—the strong emphasis on homeland security while adding no funding. Bush: “How are you going to pay for all those promises?” Hmm. Perhaps by not slashing taxes on the rich and the corporations. Bush sounds like an imbecile by comparison to the senator.

—What the hell? “We’ll never succeed until the Iraqis take responsibility for protecting themselves.” Is that a cover signal to the gun lobby—here’s a new market? A free Iraq is essential for the security of this country. True, now.

Interlude: New York Times is also live-blogging.

Kerry let Bush get away with the $87 billion again. Probably again wise to not try to explain the fine points of how Congress works in a 30 second rebuttal.

First debate impressions

Watching on NBC, who are getting around the “no cutaway” rule by doing splitscreen reaction shots of the candidates. Meaning that Bush shared the screen with Kerry the whole time that Kerry was speaking, while Bush had the screen to himself during the response. But it looks like they’re keeping it fair by doing split screens for the initial respondent to each question.

Second question, about the reprehensible comments of Cheney about the safety of the country should Kerry be elected. Bush ducks by saying that’s not going to happen and refuses to answer the question, which Lehrer lets him do. But Kerry zings him on the rebuttal about the diversion in Iraq—then bobbles it with his military referrals—then makes an allegation about outsourcing the fight for Bin Laden.

Third question. Anyone else notice how Bush is a frowner, not a smirker, when he’s waiting to respond? Was Saddam ten times more important than Bin Laden? Rebuttal: flip-flop allegation.

Interjection: DNC fact checkers fact checking the RNC fact checkers, here.

Hmm, in the fourth question, Bush said, “Saddam Hussein,” then mumbled and corrected himself, “Osama Bin Laden.”

Bush’s response? “Flip flop.” Kerry, wisely, isn’t trying to explain the nuances of his decisions, which I don’t think are flip flops; he’s driving on the fact that this was a mistaken decision by the president.

Autumn in Arlington

scudding clouds above our house

I took the bus for the first time yesterday, going toward Kendall Square (via a change to the T at Harvard Square) to meet Lisa after work. She and I went to John Harvard’s for a quick burger and beer and to pick up a couple growlers of her favorite Pale Ale.

On the way I shot a couple photos of the water tower at Park Circle, just a block or so from our house, taking advantage of the first clear skies in a few days. This morning I shot some more photos, including my first Lensday entry. I don’t plan to make this a regular occurrence, but thought it would be fun.

Anyway, autumn: not crisp yet (still too soggy from the last few storms), and not too many turning trees, but beautiful anyway.

And in the “it’s about time” department…

A federal judge has ruled that key parts of the PATRIOT Act, those provisions which grant extended surveillance powers to the FBI and impose gag orders on those who receive subpoenas to turn over records, are unconstitutional. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

I’d just like to pause for a second, as tonight’s first Presidential debate looms, and place my own bet on the least likely question to be asked George Bush: “Can you reconcile recent court rulings declaring major parts of the PATRIOT Act unconstitutional, as well as recent court challenges to the holding of uncharged ‘enemy combatants,’ with your oath to protect and defend the Constitution? If not, why should we vote for you for a second term? Shouldn’t we be prosecuting you instead?


It’s good to see that, after back to back hurricanes have dumped more water on Virginia than during almost any season in memory, the Bush Administration has decided to prevent ten environmental disasters waiting to happen by scrapping ten of the “Ghost Fleet” ships in the James River. In an article about the disposal contracts for the last four ships, the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote four paragraphs that had a chilling edge for this former Hampton Roads resident:

… the National Defense Reserve Fleet, which holds ships designated as being useful for defense. When the ships deteriorate, they are made available for disposal.

There are 60 such “non-retention” vessels in the Ghost Fleet.

The ships contain oil, asbestos, lead and other toxic chemicals and have been an environmental concern in Virginia for years.

A report prepared for the Maritime Administration in 2001 offered a worst-case scenario in which two ships from the Ghost Fleet break apart in a storm, spilling oil and polluting a 50-mile stretch of shoreline that includes historic Jamestown Island and various nature sanctuaries.

Having grown up seeing the Ghost Fleet anchored just a mile away from my friends’ houses and motoring or rowing past the old ships, hearing adults talk about the ships being ready to be called back into service, and looking up at the rusting hulks and wondering, it’s interesting to get the truth.

Stay of execution

It looks like I have a little while longer before I have to make a decision about shifting photo publishing platforms. The storage limit on my .Mac account just increased from 100 MB (plus 5 for mail) to 250 MB partitioned between mail and disk.

Incidentally, I have to say I’m not super impressed with Flickr so far. The upload speed was quite slow for the trial batch of 10 photos that I put up. Also one of the most potentially useful features, the Calendar, sorts photos by when they were uploaded, not when they were taken (though this may have to do with the iPhoto-to-Flickr plugin that I used to upload them). Since I just spent a long time manually correcting dates on a batch of newly digitized photos from 1998 and 1999, I was disappointed to not see those dates carry over. But I’ll continue playing with it until I find my alternative.

Reasons for alternative bourbons (or Tennessee whiskies)

Fark pointed out today that Jack Daniel’s has quietly lowered the proof of its flagship Black Label Tennessee Whiskey, from 86 to 80.

I’ll be going out tomorrow to see if there are any of the big bottles left in our local liquor stores—at 86 proof. And I might even sign a petition

In the meantime, these other fine bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys are still at their original higher proofs:

  • Labrot and Graham’s Woodford Reserve (90.4 proof)
  • Henry McKenna’s (100 proof)*
  • Knob Creek (100 proof)
  • Old Forester (86 proof)*
  • Elijah Craig (94 proof)*
  • Maker’s Mark (90 proof)
  • And, ironically, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel (94 proof)

* Have not personally tried but have heard they’re good.

Quick-n-easy image resizing, two ways

I had been meaning to cobble together a quick script to do automatic image resizing (occasionally the images that Amazon provides for album covers or book jackets are larger than the standard sizes I use on the site, and I always want to resize album covers to 65 pixels tall), but was scared off by GraphicConverter’s AppleScript dictionary, which indicated I had to specify a scaling factor rather than an absolute pixel height. Today on MacOSXHints someone saved me the trouble, providing (a) a sample script that uses the built in Image Events application to do the scaling and (b) a link to information about a command line tool called sips that accomplishes the same thing.

North End meets Hollywood

A week or two ago, I was on my way up Salem Street to our favorite 24-hour bakery in the North End, Bova’s, when I noticed that traffic was even worse than usual in front of the door and there were some seriously bright lights. I went inside and asked the lady at the counter what was going on. She said they were filming location shots for a movie to be called “Fever Pitch.” Apparently Jimmy Fallon’s character, the obsessed Red Sox fan, lives above the bakery in the movie, and Drew Barrymore’s character buys a cannoli there—from the lady I was talking to.

I took my bread and turned to go. She was already telling the next customer, “Yeah, I sold Drew Barrymore a cannoli the other day!!”

All I could think was, Tony Pierce’s Drew-obsessed friend Ashley would totally freak out over this news.

I went back last Friday and the street was back to normal. “No Hollywood today,” I commented to the lady inside. She nodded and said, “They might be back, but right now they’re reconstructing the street corner in Canada somewhere.”

“At least they’ll have better parking there,” I said.

Expressway to Yr Skull

My brand new Airport Express is now happily parked downstairs next to my stereo, where it’s streaming tunes from my PowerBook into the receiver and out through my B&W speakers.

And it’s interesting, because I can tell a definite difference with the digital tunes. I always play jazz for audio “firsts”—first time in a new house, first tune on new PowerBook, first tune for new speakers—and this time I chose the Brad Mehldau version of Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place,” from the iTunes store, meaning it’s encoded as 128-bit AAC.

And yeah, it was flat, even through those speakers. No bounce in the bass, no life in the piano. I can probably tweak the eq and get some life back in it, but I can already tell I’m going to need a lot of hard disk space if I want to take my CD library digital, because I’m going to need a higher bit rate. Maybe even lossless.

Oh, the setup? I wish it had been easier. I plugged in the unit and connected it to my stereo using an (analog) Monster cable to the tape inputs (which were available), then installed the included software, rebooted, connected to the unit’s wireless network, and tried to use the Airport Express Assistant, which appears automatically, to connect it to my network. Only it didn’t want to. The assistant is programmed to set up a standalone network only, as far as I can tell. And I couldn’t get it to connect to my 128-bit WEP network the first time; I had to reset it, then reconfigure it. Finally it connected.

So my updated network topology (see this post for the previous version):

network map with audio

The Existential Sox

I’ve often thought that the eternal struggle of Boston’s fans, their faithfulness in spite of the losses and the “curse” and the occasionally unbelievable stupidity of the management, was one of the best things about this town. The French may have invented existentialism, but this is the city where it’s practiced in its most refined form.

But what’s a desperate fan to do when his team not only starts winning, but handily slams the Yankees 2 out of 3, and twice by 7-run margins?

I may have to trade in my Camus for some more cheery reading. Kierkegaard, perhaps.

Inspired by a slightly sour-grapey post on Wunderkinder by David Ellis. At least we see eye-to-eye on Virginia football—4 and 0 after last Saturday’s 31–10 steamrolling of Syracuse. I’d say something about the poll (whaddaya mean we’re still #12???) but I don’t want to jinx the team…

Monday morning music notes

I can’t believe I waited this long to buy a Ramones recording (yes, Johnny’s death prompted me. I’m a ghoul, I can’t help it), but Ramones Mania was worth it—30 tracks of pure rock goodness, with the longest track the caustic Reagan kiss-off “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” at a sprawling 3:53 and 25 other tracks that are less than three minutes in length. It’s almost available on the iTunes Music Store, but they haven’t gotten around to adding “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment” (track 3), which actually exists in the store but hasn’t been linked to the album yet. I recommend waiting until they complete the album lineup so you pay $10 instead of $28.71.

The new U2 single, “Vertigo,” is available in the iTunes Music Store. This isn’t so much of a non sequitur as you might think—there’s a strong punk influence on the track, from the opening four-count in Spanish to the first guitar and bass riff. After that it goes some different places, including some very nice angular guitar work in the bridge, which for all the world sounds like the Edge quoting himself circa October. It sounds like the boys are having fun, which is something of a relief after the self-consciously earnest All That You Can’t Leave Behind.

I’m currently listening, while I try to get some work done, to the amazing Low outtakes and rarities box set, A Lifetime of Temporary Relief. The polar opposite, in size, mood, and tracklength, of the Ramones recording, the set chronicles ten years of mournful beauty from the amazingly consistent and downbeat trio from Duluth. Too many highlights to mention, but I will say that they do more justice than I would have thought possible to the George Harrison-penned Beatles classic “Long Long Long.”

Weekend o’ projects

Last Thursday I installed a programmable thermostat to replace the old mercury-filled dial-down model. This turned out to be a pretty simple project, though once again the age of the house complicates any project where we try to rely on advice from on-line sources and books. To wit: the new thermostat manual and all the on-line advice said to label the wires coming from the wall according to the labels on the old thermostat’s terminals. Good idea, except there were no labels on the old terminals. I guessed based on the color of the insulating fabric wraps around the old wires, crossed my fingers, and hooked up the wires accordingly. I guessed right, as it turned out; after cutting the power back on, I turned the thermostat up to 90° and was rewarded a few minutes later with the telltale whistle of extra air blowing out the relief valves in the radiators. (This, by the way, appears to be designed to eliminate knocking and the need to bleed the radiators. Based on the one cold day we’ve had so far, it appears to be working, though it does make one want to turn off the teakettle.) Now I need to find a place to dispose of the old thermostat (this program in western Massachusetts gives me some hope).

Yesterday was mostly a shopping expedition. We picked up some glaze to mix with the paint we used for the bottom half of our dining room; we’re going to try to add a little sophistication to the top half, which in its current baby-blue color looks a little too little-kid for the room. And we picked up a replacement light fixture for the dining room so I’ll stop braining myself on the chandelier. And we bought a little more than 30 pounds of tomatoes—it’s sauce time.

This morning while Lisa started to make sauce I installed new weatherstripping on the bottom of the garage door—hopefully that will give us some relief from the water that floods in during heavy rains. This afternoon I’ll clean and reinstall some storm windows, blow the maple seed pods off the driveway, and mulch the existing leaves. My neighbor’s tree has already started to turn, so our big maples shouldn’t be too far behind.