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3.31.2004

Google will offer free email ("Gmail"), starting this week.

Incredibly smart move on Google's part. Having bested all comers in the search market, email is a natural extension, though not one I saw coming. (Orkut, Google's answer to the on-fire Friendster phenom, was more obvious.) And it's a major screw-you to MSN and Yahoo!, who are already far behind Google in search technology and now stand to lose users to Gmail.

People spend a massive amount of time on email, and it's a huge source of revenue for major competitors MSN (HotMail) and Yahoo! By allowing users an unprecedented amount of free storage space (Google's promised 1GB is 250-500 times what MSN & Yahoo! offer for free, respectively) without having to spend any money on developing brand recognition, Google will likely steal many users away from those services in the near-term (though the biggest liability here is users losing long-held addresses). Couple that with (allegedly contextual) ads in emails, and Google is looking at a lot more revenue.

Additionally, Google will be able to profile users and track their behavior across even more activites; currently their AdWords product is widely syndicated by sites too small to afford their own sales team or to sign up with Overture. If Google can map my search behavior and the sites I visit, link my 'friend networks' (& email networks!) AND get some overweening contextual picture of my email chit-chat....advertisers will be lining up for more AdWords.

I'm not in favor of this kind of creep and have always had a strong dislike of privacy-invading, advertising-network entities like GoTo (now Overture) and DoubleClick. I've worked for two of Google's direct competitors (marketing, product), and I far prefer their products. Not sure I'll be signing up, but it's a big, bold move.

(Google's 2003 revenue was estimated by Bloomberg to be at about $1 billion, with net income of about $200million. Google will likely seek an IPO this year.)

Update: I'm not alone in concerns about privacy. Charles Cooper's penned an excellent piece on CNet explaining why Gmail gives him "the creeps."


Yogi Berra School of Diction?

Asked if he had been recruited to join the campaign against Clarke, Powell replied, "I'm not aware of any campaign against Mr. Clarke, and I am not a member."

Slate article on how relatively quiet Tenet & Powell have been on Clarke.


3.30.2004

Fun With Quotes

This is all a little too pat, since one could (and probably does) do this with any group of people, political parties aside. Still, there're a lot of gems here. There's no context, but many of these don't need it. And no, I'm not being NYT-centric on purpose.

"I don't understand how poor people think." - George W. Bush, confiding in the Rev. Jim Wallis, The New York Times, 08-26-03

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to The New York Times building." - Ann Coulter, The New York Observer, 08-26-02

"Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many, what day it's gonna happen? It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" - Barbara Bush, said on 'Good Morning America' the day before the Iraq war started, The New York Times, 01-13-03


3.29.2004

Coalition of the Willing To Be in NATO.

President Bush today welcomed 7 new nations to NATO. Perhaps coincidentally, all 7 of them supported the US-initiated war in Iraq. New NATO pals are: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

See a thorough list (w/map) of countries for and against the Iraq war here.


Iraq. Right?

"Rice, the top foreign-policy official in President Bush's White House, brushed aside the notion that the U.S. government should apologize to Sept. 11 victims' families for not stopping the attacks, saying, "It's important that we keep focused on who did this to us." Rice asserted that "we are safer today than we were on September 10," and, asked whether there were any mistakes or misjudgments before the attacks, replied: "I think we did what we knew how to do."

Read the rest of the article.


3.26.2004

Gavin Newsom on Charlie Rose

SF Mayor Gavin Newsom was on Charlie Rose last night (following Rudy Giuliani!!), and I was pretty impressed with how he acquitted himself talking about his role in the city's fleeting weeks of "legal" gay marriages. He was almost charming, even (until he started talking about homelessness, but I digress). Some folks over on Charlie's message board are less impressed, and are repeating the same tired sap about how Newsom's "pandering to the homosexual element in society is hardly impressive."

(Aside: Can anyone cite a instance where the word "pander" is used in a positive way?)


3.25.2004

Because $82,395/yr wasn't quite enough.

Not to get too local on everyone, but this short piece (scroll!) in the San Francisco Chronicle caught my eye the other day.

Inside job: Two Municipal Railway repairmen have been charged with ripping off "substantial'' sums of cash from the bus fare boxes they were supposed to be fixing -- and even those they weren't, authorities said Tuesday.

"They had been accessing (fare boxes) that didn't need repairing but that had cash,'' Muni spokeswoman Maggie Lynch said. Officials are still totaling the loss, she said.
...
The two men, who each earn $82,395 a year, have been placed on unpaid administrative leave.


Hello. I am Jason. Given that it is a miracle that I can even type after several drinks, I feel it prudent to apologise in advance for any offence caused.


Why we need a C-SPAN 4

If ever there needed to be cameras at the Supreme Court it was yesterday, when Michael Newdow, who has a law degree but not the requisite three years experience to argue before the Court, made his Pledge of Allegiance presentation. I was cringing for him just thinking about it. I had read this LA Times profile the day before, and in his mock-court preparations he had said things like "Justice Ginsberg, as a Jew . . ."

But apparently he was a real hit, according to the usually-jaded Dahlia Lithwick, and even won some applause that resulted in an “I’ll clear this courtroom” from the Captain of the Pinaore himself, Justice Rehnquist. And because Newdow succeeded in eliminating Justice Scalia from the proceedings, all he needs is a tie to uphold the ninth circuit decision, so he has a shot. It would be one of the greatest upsets in the history of the court, a regular Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson. (Teddy Olson is Tyson in this scenario I guess, though I suppose that's a bit insulting to Tyson.)

All the talk of whether Newdow had standing is pointless. There's no way the Court would have heard the case if they had any intention of dismissing it because of the custody issue.

I’m torn over what I’d like to see happen. A victory for Newdow, while probably the correct decision, may prove alienating to left-leaning Christians that could otherwise be won over for better causes. See David Neiwert.


3.21.2004

Love: Causes 3 Staples to the Head.

Maybe I'm old and jaded, but I think I'd rather just take the staples instead of seeing Courtney Love perform live. With Cobain, Erlandson, Reznor, and Corgan out of the paddock, who else is left to write the songs? I'd suggest PJ Harvey (update: actually, it's linda perry who 'helped' on the new CL album), but I'm afraid that it's at this point that the performer must fall back on 'punk' grandstanding. Read the NYT's account of Love's 'Take Care of Me' platform if you have a few extra minutes.


3.20.2004

Because "Fried" Sounds So, Like...Unhealthy

What with KFC's recent re-branding of their acronym to stand for "Kitchen Fresh Chicken," we started to think of other possibilities we hoped they'd tested in focus groups. Imagine the whiteboarding at their ad agency! Feel free to contribute your own. Ours aren't, like, funny. Except for the last two.

Kentucky's Finest Chicken
Keen Fancy Chicken (this one more appropriate in 1955)
Kinda Fried/Fattening Chicken
Kickin'it Family-Style Chicken
Kickin' Fly Chicken
Kosher Fantasy Chicken
Kinky Freaky Chicken
Kung Fu Chicken
Komforting, Familiar Chicken
Kafka's Favorite Chicken
Keep Feelin' Chicken
Killer Fuckin' Chicken


3.19.2004

If You Can Read This Without Laughing...

Rumsfeld Hosts No-Holds-Barred Martial Arts Tournament at Remote Island Fortress

FANG ISLAND—U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has opened his fortified island headquarters to participants in his second no-holds-barred martial arts tournament, the enigmatic mastermind announced Monday.

The graphic of Rummy accompanying the article is likely to induce a spit-take.


3.18.2004

Chaperoned

NYT on Scalia's refusal to recuse himself from the Cheney Energy Commission case.

Why didn't Scalia lead with his final and most important point below? I suppose he might've (I haven't read his letter), but why bother with the specifics of duck blinds and Cheney's security detail? Wonderful to hear that he and Cheney have never discussed the specifics of the case (at least whilst blasting Daffy, Donald, & brethren), but somehow I'm feeling less than reassured. It's interesting that his reaction is one of sarcastic scorn that anyone would suggest that his and Cheney's relationship could impact his impartiality at all.

Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court today bluntly rejected demands that he step aside in a case involving Vice President Dick Cheney, mocking criticism that a duck hunting trip the two were on in January suggested he would be biased toward his longtime friend.
...
During the hunting trip to Louisiana, which the memorandum said involved 13 hunters as well as Mr. Cheney's security detail, ``I never hunted in the same blind with the vice president,'' he said.

``Nor was I alone with him at any time during the trip,'' he continued, ``except, perhaps, for instances so brief and unintentional that I would not recall them - walking to or from a boat, perhaps, or going to or from dinner. Of course we said not a word about the present case.''


My Very First "Shorter"

Shorter Dennis Prager:

The conscience is a terrible ethical guide. One should instead live only by the words of an invisible wizard in the sky.



Paid for by CREEP

Josh Marshall suggests that the John Kerry’s position on the Iraq war is just the president’s position read back to him. It’s an arguable, but I think valid, point. So since the administration seems to be struggling to find acceptable ads, let me recommend the following text:

Can Americans trust John Kerry keep them safe?

John Kerry voted against every major weapons system
our military now uses.

John Kerry voted to gut America’s intelligence
services.

John Kerry even voted to let President Bush make war
on Iraq.


I’m George W. Bush, and I support this message.





Sweet Facial Anonymity

Is anyone else as relieved as I am that we can read Kevin Drum now without having to look at that ridiculous picture? And is he taking the cats with him to the Washington Monthly?


BOMBSHELL: Reporter Reads Texts Without Consulting Authorities

Fred Kaplan is far and away the main reason to read Slate these days (though Tim Noah has been a little less cute and a little more barbed of late). Here's Kaplan on Zapatero's sacrilege:

Is there anything so shocking here? He didn't say he would definitely withdraw his troops from Iraq—only that he would do so if the U.S. authorities in Iraq don't cede political control by June 30. Isn't the Bush administration planning to do just that—to turn sovereignty over to Iraq by June 30? And isn't L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. occupation authority, doing everything he can to bring in the United Nations well before then to help mediate Iraq's internal conflicts?

This is damn near revolutionary: a reporter that actually reads and reports on the text, rather than dwelling on the mood that said text produces among "officials."


3.17.2004

This is What You Get for Spilling Paint in the Garage.

US soldiers punish looters. (3mb movie requires Windows Media Player or equivalent.)

This is one of the most pitiful videos I've seen come out of Iraq. I'm sure we're not seeing the entire context (and I think this is from the recent Frontline special, which may give more ), but doesn't it seem sad? The punishment in this instance far exceeds the crime. And is a waste of time & money. They were stealing wood, for chrissakes.

As a friend noted, "This is what happens when you put intellectual children in the army."


Department of Forced Language: Terrorists Want Another 4 Years of Bush

Yahoo! again:

"In a statement sent to the Arabic language daily al-Hayat, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the Madrid bombings that killed 201 people, also urged its European units to stop all operations."
...
The statement said it supported President Bush in his reelection campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than the Democratic candidate John Kerry, as it was not possible to find a leader "more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom."


Maybe it's just me. Or maybe the translation sucks. But this is pretty laughable language. Who knew terrorists were also poets?

In comments addressed to Bush, the group said:
"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization."


So...if al Qaeda endorses Bush...I'm confused. Sort of clever, though, turning the admin's major talking point on the Spanish election into a...big joke?


The Blame in Spain Falls Mainly on the Basques

from the WaPo, via Yahoo!

"Beginning immediately after the blasts, Aznar and other officials telephoned journalists, stressing ETA's responsibility and dismissing speculation that Islamic extremists might be involved.
...
"There is no doubt that ETA is responsible," Acebes said.
...
In retrospect, however, there were signs that the government was at least selective in releasing information about possible culprits. By 11 a.m. Thursday, police had already discovered an abandoned white van in Alcala de Henares -- a town where the bombed trains passed through -- containing seven detonators and a cassette tape with verses of the Koran recited in Arabic, officials said later. Sources familiar with Spanish intelligence services said the CNI, the National Intelligence Center, had suspected al Qaeda from the beginning."


I'm unlikely to touch the asinine 'a vote for the Socialists is a vote for al Qaeda' meme, except to say that I think Josh Marshall is dead-on.

(Aside: Why is it that this story prompts such awful potential headlines in my brain? "No One Expects The Spanish Inquisition!","Spanish Bombs" etc.)


3.16.2004

Kid Harvard Starts to Draw Some Blood

What Atrios said Big Media Matt said:

For the record, anyone who think this may be the incident that forces Europeans to get serious about terrorism is a moron.

Most Europeans were plenty serious about terrorism before this happened. So was the Democratic Party. It was George W. Bush who, along with José Maria Aznar, Tony Blair, and Silvio Berlusconi who decided that terrorism was such a serious problem that it should be pretty much ignored except insofar as it was a useful rhetorical prop for the selling of an unrelated war.

Indeed.


Indeed indeed.

There’s more here. Nice to see Yglesias loading up and firing the big weapons we all know he has.


3.12.2004

Diva in a Loincloth

Finally saw “The Passion,” and I have to admit I thought it was filled with plot holes and logical problems.

If I understand things correctly, this "Jesus" character, he’s not just the Son of God, but God himself, the Creator of the Universe. (To the unschooled, here’s how I’m told it works: The trinity is one “what,” but three “whos.”)

So who exactly was he saving us from when he went through all this torture? Himself, right? So seeking salvation from him is like paying protection money to a mob boss.

Also, he created the Jews, he created the Romans, he created crosses and blood, right? So why go through this whole charade? What a drama queen! Why not just snap your fingers and save everyone, or, here’s an idea, how about not punishing everybody in the first place for the sin of being born, something over which we had no choice and, come to think of it, was His doing in the first place!

And finally, what’s the big sacrifice in dying when you’re only going to be dead for three days? Centuries of praise for a three-day death? Hell, I’ll play dead in a cave for three days for $500 and a few pats on the back. Sorry, but I just didn’t find the guy very sympathetic.

Orcinus, by the way, remains the prime smart authority on all things “Passion,” and World O’ Crap has much funnier stuff than I on the subject.


So the Defense Department is still paying Ahmad “Hero in Error” Chalabi’s organization for intelligence. Kind of like betting on a horse that’s 0-for-20 because he’s "due:"

A Defense Department official who defended the continuing ties with the Iraqi National Congress said the arrangement was proving more useful now than it had before the war, in part because the agency was taking new pains to corroborate the intelligence provided.

In the days after Mr. Hussein's government fell in April, congress officials took a vast quantity of secret government documents, and the group has kept custody of them, to the dismay of some at the C.I.A., according to government officials. Defense Department officials said the Pentagon agency had been permitted to review the documents but not to take custody of them.

Another government official outside the Pentagon who has been critical of the earlier relationship said he believed that the current partnership might be valuable. "This is an organization that has a lot of access, and people who know the country and speak Arabic, and we ought to take the information as long as we're careful about it," the official said.


This reminds me of Homer Simpson telling his daughter why it’s OK to sell their pet elephant to an ivory dealer:

A guy who's got lots of ivory is less likely to hurt Stampy than a guy whose ivory supplies are low.

Why would Chalabi be any more circumspect now? Is he afraid he’ll lose one of the 30 jobs he has in the new government?

Eric Umansky points out, and the Times story grudgingly notes, that Knight Ridder had this story in February. Let me join the chorus: Who are these dark knights and why do they keep beating the best and the brightest from the big cities?


3.11.2004

New View on Newsom


As a San Francisco lefty, I wasn't much impressed with mayor Gavin Newsom. Mayoral opponent Matt Gonzalez's populist aesthetic and concern for working-class San Franciscans felt more in line with my political views, and Newsom's billionaire-Getty-backed successful-businessman story was the opposite of Gonzalez's. Gonzalez parlayed an expensive Stanford law degree into a low-rent public defender job, while Newsom borrowed money at atrociously low rates from family friend Getty to put it into tony restaurants, bars, and resorts. He ran as a Democrat (and would've been considered solidly Dem in almost any other major city), but by many he was considered Republican-lite at best.

Most of my friends were vocally pro-Gonzalez during the election, & some of them even worked on his ad-hoc campaign. When Gonzalez lost by a relatively slim ~5% margin (esp considering his war chest was 1/10th of Newsom's reputed $30mm), we were sad. And there was a strong, bitter, venal bent against our new mayor.

Newsom's firm support of gay marriage came as a big surprise, a bold move that he claims came as a reaction to seeing (in person) President Bush's praise of a Constitutional Marriage Amendment at the SoTU. And most of my friends have softened on him solely because of his strong position.

Now, Newsom has gone from being a local curiousity amongst lefties who considered him on par with Bush to being a Freeper-hated exemplar of the hard Left.

What's Newsom's decision about? My theory is pretty bland: San Francisco Is Different. With one of the largest gay communities in the country, almost everyone who lives here has openly gay friends, coworkers, roomates, or acquaintances - most of whom want to be in love as much as any heterosexual person, and many of whom have developed loving relationships that can outstrip those of their hetero associates in duration and commitment.

I'm betting that this kind of personal experience is the basis of Newsom's strong commitment to gay marriages. Even if I have a viscerally negative response to his Pacific Heights lifestyle and strong aesthetic resemblance to American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, I think he's had the same reaction based on experience that many Americans have: if Britney Spears can get married for a weekend, why can't a same-sex couple who may've been together for years (or a decade, or a year) affirm that realtionship under the law and get some of the same benefits (financial and otherwise) that hetero couples have enjoyed forever?

But it's also another example of how the political dialogue in SF is wildly different than those in the rest of the country. I'm still pretty grateful to live here.


3.10.2004

When I heard about this live-mic gaffe, I immediately thought of this West Wing episode. In the fictional version, Bartlet knew what he was doing all along. I'd like to think Kerry is pulling the same thing, but I doubt it. Still welcome, though.


3.05.2004

From a WaPo article on the Senate investigation into Filegate. I'm not sure yet whether the bolded portions point to a Bush-esque "What's the difference"-ism or a Clnton-esque "Depends on what the definition of 'is' is" defense. If I stand outside an alarmed, keypad-protected building watching people enter their codes, & then use their codes to go inside, where I'm not supposed to be....Well, what's the difference?

"It was wrongdoing by calculation and stealth, not by inadvertence or mistake, and we know it was intentional, repeated, longstanding and . . . systematic and malicious," Leahy said. "It was carried out surreptitiously, because those who did it knew it was wrong."

According to Pickle's report, Lundell learned how to access the files by watching a systems administrator work on his computer. Miranda guided Lundell in his accessing endeavors, the report said. In addition, the probe found "a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence implicating him," the report said.

In a statement e-mailed to reporters, Miranda said the report "fails to find any criminal hacking or credible suggestion of criminal acts," and called on Hatch to investigate the substance of the Democratic memos. He accused Pickle of having "acted improperly toward me from the first day I met with the investigators."


3.04.2004

From the syntax files:

Look at the way the New York Times’ Elisabeth Bumiller uses the word “cynically,” writing about Bush and the FMA, here:


Although the president's behavior might reinforce the view among his critics that he was acting cynically when he endorsed the amendment, the fact is that he has a record of tolerance in personal situations.


Now look at the way Matthew Yglesias (in an excellent post by the way) uses the word “cynicism” in his response to Bumiller:

That's an interesting point, except rather than refuting the charge of cynicism, Bumiller's observation -- and the supporting anecdote that follows -- supports it.

Innumberable political writers use the word “cynical” in this way, even seasoned wordsmiths and longtime editors like Michael Kinsley.

But the word “cynical” does not mean acting disingenuously or with calculating self-interest. It means thinking others are behaving that way. To say the president is acting “cynically” is just to use the wrong word. If we believe that the president is supporting the FMA just to secure his base or pander to the electorate we ought not say he is "acting cynically" but that we are cynical about him. The words are not synonyms, but you should be able to substitute the word “skeptical” if “cynical” is being used correctly.

No definition of the word that I have ever read fits the definition of this usage, and I’ve looked far and wide, even in the OED. Here’s Webster's:

Main Entry: cyn·i·cal
Pronunciation: 'si-ni-k&l
Function: adjective
1 :Captious; Peevish
2 : Having or showing the attitude or temper of a cynic as a: contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives b: based on or
reflecting a belief that human conduct is motivated primarily by self-interest


I think I’m taking this one to Atlantic Monthly word court.


Easy-to-use headline templates for The New Republic:


(Person x) is right about (subject y). But for all the wrong reasons.

or

(Person or subject x) is (negative adjective y). And that’s a good thing.


Try your own in comments.



3.03.2004

Block that metaphor.

We've been hearing that the Federal Marriage Amendment is the conservative's right only possible response to "activist judges," and the media has uncritically adopted the term without putting it in quotes.

Why can't the Dems seize the term to indicate it cuts both ways? (As the definition of 'activist' clearly does.) It could just as easily be said that civil actions like Newsom's use of the "full faith and credit" clause in the CA constitution were a response to the religious right's "activist legislators" like Marilyn Musgrave attemping to deny equal rights to same-sex couples. So why hasn't anyone on the left adopted and re-spun the term 'activist'? After all, Musgrave's amendment was introduced in Fall 2003, after the MA court decision but long before the current lefty groundswell of action.


Can someone make me a Venn diagram of competing influences?
"U.S. gives $400M in work to contractor with ties to Pentagon favorite on Iraqi Governing Council"

MSNBC: Iraq rebuilding contract on hold. These are the money quotes, but this story is full of 'who knows?' holes on the most basic of facts. Like where Nour's office is, for example.

"It’s one of the biggest postwar contracts in Iraq yet: $330 million to equip the new Iraqi army with everything from helmets and trucks to 16,000 AK-47 rifles. Nineteen international companies bid. The victor: tiny Nour USA, headquartered in an office building in the Washington suburbs — set up only last May.
...
“Something is definitely wrong,” said Mark Spry. Spry was part of a losing American consortium. He complains Nour’s $330 million bid was so low it wasn’t credible — that the equipment alone would cost more than $500 million.
...
Nour is run by Huda Farouki, a big Democratic contributor and longtime close friend of Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a member of the Iraqi Governing Council and guest of President Bush at the State of the Union address."


(Interesting quote from a lengthy Newsday piece:
"Asked how much influence Chalabi had in the decision to award the contract to Erinys Iraq (joint-venture partner of Nuor - ed), Sam Kubba, president of the American Iraqi chamber of commerce, a congressional candidate in Virginia and a businessman with extensive connections in Iraq, said, "100 percent ... and you can quote me on that."")

The LA Times piece is more thorough. I thought this was interesting.

Bumar and Cemex, whose bids were each $200 million higher than Nour's, questioned Nour's ability to deliver. A Polish company that partnered with Nour in winning the award, Ostrowski Arms, is under investigation in Poland because it has no permit to export weapons.

Nour's proposal raised other questions. For instance, the firm told the CPA that it had partnered with Booz Allen Hamilton, a well-regarded Washington consulting firm whose participation would have lent credibility to the newly formed company. But Booz Allen officials denied Friday that they were partners with Nour, saying they had only a small contract with Nour to help in planning the execution of the contract."


Booz Allen Hamilton? The firm that's well-connected with the Defense Policy Board insiders like former CIA head James Woolsey? Oh. The LAT notes that the a large number of consultants or groups listed (Booz included) as at least three quoted "business partners" of Nour had answers a lot like this one:

"Our resumes were used in the competitive bid process, but we never met nor were we ever consulted or paid," said retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Dave Richwine. After they learned of the award, Richwine and a retired Army lieutenant general submitted e-mails to the CPA stressing that they had no links to the company."


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