Monday, July 29, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 7.29

I thought I would try and clarify my 'prisoner post' from a few days ago because I'm taking a bit of grief over it. The problem comes from my always writing in the same way I think so I just assume a reader understands what I'm trying to say because I understand it perfectly. In all likelihood that last sentence was a perfect example.

In the post I wasn't trying to say that what Manning and Snowden did was totally wrong. In a purely technical sense what they did, stealing classified documents, was illegal but I think justified at some level. In Snowden's case I did say the conversation he started needed to be started but that I think his methods have overshadowed that very conversation. Running to Russia as it persecutes gays and Putin cracks down on his political opposition just created a farce. Snowden could have released the same documents anonymously and had the same results as the documents would have been just as legitimate. The main difference I can see is that Snowden wouldn't have gotten all the attention and that is my issue with Snowden. I wish we could have the NSA and privacy debate without having to debate Snowden's motives at the same time.

Basically my problem with both stories is they seem tainted by ulterior motives and also by personalities I'm not at all thrilled with, Julian Assange, who I see as egotistical, and Glenn Greenwald. At times Greenwald seems overly concerned with drawing the story out as long as possible as he constantly refers to more forthcoming documents and articles he is working on.

As I said in the earlier post it was the comparison to Watergate that set me off. The NSA story isn't as Earth shattering, will bring down no governments, and it shouldn't have surprised anyone. It doesn't even compare to Watergate in a strictly journalistic sense. During Watergate the story drove the release of documents and the infamous tapes while in these cases the release of documents seems to drive the stories.

In all likelihood I just made it all worse. I shall await further grief.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


I found out today that Saturday night somebody my sister went to school with most of her life was shot and killed not far from my dad's house. While I wont go into details it sounds all too much like a case of suicide by police. The question you should ask yourself about this is how did a young man who has had mental issues since elementary school acquire two hand guns. He personally harmed nobody, including himself,  but because of those two guns he is dead today.

I don't want to preach or write a sermon but I needed to say something. This country has some serious issues it needs to come to grips with and I only hope it does before it's too damn late for more of us.

As my sister wrote, "nobody should feel the need to leave this earth so young but now you're in a better place."

Rest In Peace

Friday, July 26, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 7.26

Peter Muhly for AFP
Maybe you should call this 'Observations: The Prisoner Edition.' It may seem like a strange topic but I've just gotten sick of hearing about a pair of great Americans, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.  I don't want to take the time to get into their backgrounds because they both have huge Wikipedia  articles for you to read if somehow you don't know who either one of them is (see ManningSnowden). I had planned on writing a paragraph about each but when I started I realized I'd just be repeating myself so I'll just throw them together. I also want to say from the start that I'm not commenting on what they did as much as how it's portrayed. I just don't look at either men and see a persecuted great American.

Closing arguments began yesterday in the Manning trial and some commentary on that trial is what finally set me off. A lot is being made of what the 'persecution' of the two men will do to investigative journalism in the internet age. I even saw where someone wrote that Watergate couldn't happen today. I just don't understand how stealing documents and throwing them at journalists or organizations constitutes investigative journalism. I'm not saying what they did was right or wrong I'm just saying they stole the documents, that's a simple fact. I at least give Manning credit for staying and facing the consequences, than again in his case fleeing would have constituted desertion in wartime.  Even though Snowden started a discussion that needed to be started his flights around the globe have made him personally more of a story than the documents he released and thus taint the whole discussion. To me pretending he is safer in the Tsar's Russia than in front of an American jury is just a pathetic way of saying "look at me." If all he wanted was to help his country he could have easily released the documents anonymously and let Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian run with them.

During Watergate Mark Felt, an FBI agent who was the source Deep Throat, passed information to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that confirmed information they already had or steered their investigation over the course of two years. That is investigative journalism, not being handed thousands of documents than writing about and publishing them. The identity of Deep Throat wasn't revealed for over thirty years.

This all brings me to who America's real political prisoners are, the ones that really matter in my opinion. Those are the 166 inmates who call the tiny Guantanamo Bay prison home. Talk to people around the world and you find that Gitmo has done more damage to what America stands for than anything else that has happened since 9/11. More than the war in Iraq, more than the torture. While terrible those actions can at least be loosely blamed on a terrified nation run by fanatics. Both are in the past and await the verdicts of history.

Gitmo just goes on and on like the slow motion train wreck it is.

notes - A common thread through the Manning and Snowden stories is Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. My personal opinion of Assange is that he is an attention whore on a level that would have given Paris Hilton a run for her money back when anybody cared.

According to the Department of Defense the cost of running Gitmo last year was $454 million or $2.7 million per prisoner. As of now 46 of the detainees, we don't call them prisoners, are on a force feeding list due to hunger strikes. Just a few days ago The National Review called closing Gitmo a terrible idea because, you know, terrorists.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Observations 7.21

At the moment the temperature is 79° so I want to quickly claim the temp is below 80° for the first time in days before it has a chance to rise. Today's high temp is supposed to be in the mid 80s, the first time in a week that it hasn't been above 90°, which will break the longest heat wave in the Village since 2002. We shall see.

A few weeks ago I had the totally brilliant idea of getting tickets for a Phillies game when they visited the Mets this weekend. Looking back it probably wasn't one of my better ideas. Granted I had no idea what the weather was going to be like but also Philadelphia sports teams have notoriously bad luck when I'm at the game. I thought things looked good after the Phillies beat the Mets 13-8 in Friday night's series opener. My positive attitude continued as I watched Jimmy Rollins hit a lead-off home run to give the Phillies the lead just a few pitches into the game. Then Cole Hamels took the mound for the first time looking like he had just stepped out of the shower and immediately gave up 3 runs to the Mets. Four hours of hundred degree heat later the Phillies had lost 5-4. It was still a good time.

One thing I noticed at yesterday's game that I'd like to mention. The Mets' home at Citi Field is a wonder of modern architecture. Built facing Flushing Bay in Brooklyn it manages to catch only the non-existent northern wind and have no shade whatsoever. Well done.

I also had a different kind of experience with a movie last night. The movie was Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux à la reine) a French film by Benoît Jacquot based on a novel of the same name about Versailles during the first few days of the French Revolution. While the trailer is French with English subtitles the version we saw was dubbed in English and I had a hard time following it. The only reason I can think of is that I was reading their lips meaning what I was seeing didn't go with what I was hearing, now I need to find the French version. I'd honestly always rather have a subtitled version of a film.

Another movie I saw recently was the zombie apocalypse World War Z. The movie was good but I just started reading the book because I had heard of some major ways the book and the film were different. What I have found is that the book is so much better. Actually neither the film or the book ruins it for the other because they are written in such different styles.

Last week I read a lot about Tumblr, Yahoo, and the 'quarantining' of adult blogs on tumblr. The short version is that tumblr removed adult blogs from Google and other web searches and also removed them from internal tumblr searches unless you actually follow the blog. I just had a little secret that I wanted to pass on that you may or may not know. Every tumblr blog has an archive page whether there is an archive link or not. Here is an example of one of mine. If you don't want to follow a blog yet you still want to keep track of it just bookmark the archive page. If a blog doesn't link to its archive simply add /archive to the blog's address and hit enter.

No politics today but I do have a quick question, why are so many guests on Sunday morning talk shows Republicans? I rarely watch the shows but it irritates me just the same.

7/23 update - Another tumblr idea I thought I should add to this. If your blog isn't completely adult or 'nsfw' keep tags to a minimum on 'nsfw' posts. That way they don't show up in search, nobody complains, and the gods of tumblr don't find out. Everybody remains happy.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Observations 7.18

When I first saw it this video from Wednesday night's The Daily Show it made my morning. I've watched it a few times since than and if anything I like it even more now. There is a back story to this, which you can get by watching the full segment here, but I think it's perfect stand alone for so many reasons. Especially given Rick Perry signed Texas' draconian anti-abortion bill into law today.

"Don't mess with Texas? No, don't f*ck with New York.
I'm Lewis Black and I approve this message."

If you want to have some real fun Google Texas' reaction to the video. The San Antonio Express had this gem; "People come here (Texas) from all over the world because we've got all of the nation's jobs, for the ability to park your car anywhere you want, but most of all, for the fact that it's not the rat-infested, overbuilt, overpriced, concrete craphole that is New York City."

update - There is also a twitter hashtag, #NYmiddlefingerTX, and a website,, for your entertainment. The website is paid for by "New Yorkers who think Texas blows."

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Observations 7.13

On Tuesday the ACLU filed a lawsuit in Harrisburg challenging Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban on behalf of 23 plaintiffs. On Thursday Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that her office would not defend Pennsylvania's Defense of Marriage Act. Since 1980 Pennsylvania's Attorney General has been an elected office and Kane, a Democrat, is the first woman or Democrat to ever hold the position. Kane's decision may well doom Governor Tom Corbett's reelection bid next year. Corbett, an unpopular (30% approval rating) Republican in his first term, will most likely defend the law with his general counsel but that will give him almost no chance of winning in suburban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. If he doesn't defend it his own wingnut base will destroy him.

Pennsylvania state law and politics will make this so interesting to watch as it plays out. As I said Attorney General is an elected office in Pennsylvania unlike most states where the AG is appointed by the Governor. You have a Democrat AG with aspirations of higher office, Kane, and a Republican Governor up for reelection, Corbett. The whole episode is like a political chess match in which Kane has just smiled and said "your move Governor."

I couldn't find Kane's complete statement anywhere but below are the highlights and here is a link to the Pennsylvania Attorney Generals Office website which has more information. I'm sure I'll have more to say about this story.

"I cannot ethically defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's version of DOMA where I believe it to be wholly unconstitutional. It is my duty under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act whenever I determine it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth to authorize the Office of General Counsel to defend the state in litigation. Additionally, it is a lawyer's ethical obligation under Pennsylvania's Rules of Professional Conduct to withdraw from a case in which the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement with the client.

"I know that in this state there are people who don't believe in what we are doing, and I'm not asking them to believe in it. I'm asking them to believe in the constitution.

"The issue of same-sex marriage is squarely in the tradition of the struggle for civil rights in the United States. We have always stood strong in the face of discrimination, which in its various forms has never withstood the test of time. It is our duty, each and every one of us, to protect the constitutionality, to protect the rights and dignity of others, and to protect the equality of all men and women in this Commonwealth.

"Today, the attorney general chooses to protect all those without high-priced lawyers, all those who suffer discrimination and inequality, those thousands of families who have been denied of the dignity and respect that the constitution protects and guarantees in marriage equality. Today we represent everyone who does not have representation."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Observations on Art 7.10

I'll be on the road again because the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday in State College. That makes it a good time to post some of the art notes I have.

You may not realize it but color has a history almost as intriguing as the art that was created with it. For various reasons there are colors that were once wildly popular but are no longer used or outright extinct. Some are poisonous, white lead is the obvious one but green has had its share of problems. Both Scheele's Green and Paris Green were produced using arsenite compounds (arsenite is an oxidized version of arsenic). Scheele's Green may have caused the death of Napoleon as his apartment in exile was painted with the color while Paris Green was used in early insecticides.

Other colors are just lost to the ages. Mayan Blue is a sky blue color used by the Mayans which doesn't fade, ever. It was made from clay and the indigo plant but the exact preparation is lost. Tyrian Purple was made from the shell of a certain shellfish which was only found off the shore of ancient Phoenicia’s Tyre. Actually a reddish purple it was the color of royalty for centuries but was extremely expensive and disappeared along with the shellfish.

Than there are colors that are simply illegal. Indian Yellow was supposedly made from the urine of cows fed only mango leaves and water but there is no documented proof of that. Whether true or not the government of India outlawed the color in 1908 though a synthetic version is available today. Another illegal color is Mummy Brown the story of which I'll let to your imagination.

Finally there is a blue in a category all its own, Ultramarine or Sacred Blue. It was first produced in the 6th century and is made by grinding the Lapis Lazuli semi-precious stone of Afghanistan. The paint is literally worth its weight in gold. Unlike some of the other colors I mentioned true Lapis Lazuli blue does still exists and you can purchase it yourself, for $38/gram, at the Kremer Pigmente store in New York.

A few other random thoughts ....

The rich just keep getting richer and in this case I'm not talking about dealers or collectors. Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, was paid $1.8 million in 2011 while his rival the Metropolitan Museum of Art's President Emily Rafferty was paid $1.1 million. Nine New York City museum or performing arts organization chiefs made over $1 million that year.

For over forty years the Met has been closed on Mondays but as of July 1st that changed and the museum is now open seven days a week. I only bring that up because there was always a joke that Monday was the Met's busiest day of the week. More tourists lined up at the Met's door on a Monday morning than on any other.

Speaking again of the Met, did you know that you can 'pay what you wish' whenever you visit? The recommended fee is $25 but as little as 1¢ will do just fine. You didn't hear that from me.

7/11 update - The greens seem to be cursed, Ash had another I hadn't thought of myself. Verdigris, actually vert-de-Grèce or the Green of Greece. It's another green that is highly toxic but was the most popular green of the Renaissance when it was made by soaking copper plates in wine. You've seen it hundreds of times without realizing it because it's made by oxidizing copper. It's the color of the Statue of Liberty.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 7.8

One thing the protests in Egypt, Brazil, and Turkey, actually protests anywhere, have in common is the prodigious use of American made tear gas. Sometimes I look at photos from these protests and I wonder something. I wonder how it feels to go to work somewhere in the U.S. and make the tear gas that governments seem to fire with abandon. Do you honestly feel like you're doing something constructive? Protecting freedom maybe? I don't understand it at all.

With all the news about this or that Republican anti-abortion bill it's easy to lump them all together as a Republican 'War on Women' and politically that may be true but in the wider world it all starts to look like good old fashioned sexism. I'll give you a few examples.

Of the 320 most expensive artworks sold in auction between 2008 and 2012 only 1 was created by a woman. In Stone Harbor I was talking about this with a gallery owner, I shall refrain from saying who, and her response was that "galleries are in the business of making money and the perception is that works created by men will be worth more than those created by women." The owner is in no way shape or form a Republican.

When Marissa Mayer became CEO of Yahoo writers and pundits everywhere claimed it was just another sign of how women had broken though the 'glass ceiling' in the tech world. Well in 1985 37% of computer degrees went to women while today only 18% of them do and only 19% of the country's programmers are women. In Silicon Valley a woman only makes 47 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Last week NASCAR announcer and former driver Kyle Petty, who at one time was my dad's favorite driver, said of Danica Patrick; "She can go fast, but she can't race. I think she's come a long way, but she's still not a race car driver. And I don't think she's ever going to be a race car driver." I suppose this means it doesn't take a 'race car driver' to lead the Indianapolis 500 or win the pole for the Daytona 500, one only has to go fast. In his defense I must say Petty did win 8 whole races in his 30 year Sprint Cup career. Well his dad won 200 races, that has to count for something.

By the way, I really despise the term glass ceiling.

At the moment I have no idea how I went from the topic of tear gas to sexism but I did. I'm so damn proud.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Observations from the Shore 7.6

I've been trying to stay away from politics as much as possible this week but I have to mention this. You know I love Paris and I love the French language but there are times I'm not so sure how I feel about France or the French in general. That being said there are times you just have to admire the arrogance of the French.

Every year on the 4th of July the American ambassador to France holds a garden party. This year's guest of honor was French Interior Minister Manuel Valls who proceeded to lecture the attendees on the NSA spying operations. The minister said that "in the name of our friendship, we owe each other honesty. We must say things clearly, directly, frankly." He also said "such practices, if proven, do not have their place between allies and partners." The comments probably didn't go over well but I can't say they are totally out of line given what's been revealed. But this post is about French arrogance so I'll move on.

On the very same day Valls was scolding the ambassador's garden party Le Monde was published with this headline, "Révélations sur le Big Brother français." Yes it seems the NSA isn't the only organization spying on its citizens and allies. According to the paper's investigation the DGSE, France's equivalent of the CIA and NSA combined, spied on French citizens both inside and outside the country. It collected phone calls, emails and internet activity. It even spied on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. But the DGSE didn't just collect metadata for future use it used the data to "map" who was talking to who.

Meanwhile French President François Hollande has suspended talks on the EU-US free trade pact until he receives a full explanation of American surveillance operations. Hollande has repeatedly said that he "cannot accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies."

Maybe this is just typical French arrogance but it also raises a question. If it's not just arrogance is the French government extremely hypocritical or just incredibly naive?

A spokesman for the DGSE in Paris refused to comment on Le Monde's report.

7/7 update - This is on a related topic so I thought I would just add it to this post. The MIT Media Lab has finally released Immersion, a program that had been in development for a few years. When you grant Immersion access to your e-mail account (currently only Gmail) it creates a map of your personal network. Each collaborator, a person with whom you have exchanged at least three e-mails, is given a circle, which is connected to all the other circles in your big web of relationships. If you are interested follow the link for more information. Unlike the government databases all the info Immersion collects CAN be permanently deleted when you are finished.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July

So it's the 4th of July, Independence Day. Enjoy the day, just try not to blow anything up in the process. A short history lesson ....

On June 24, 1826 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Roger Weightman discussing the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In the letter he wrote the following paragraph which still has meaning today given the recent Supreme Court decisions, both the good and the bad decisions.

"All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. The palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."

On July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson passed away at his home in Monticello, Virginia. Five hours later John Adams passed away in Boston, Massachusetts.

Supposedly John Adams’ last words were, "Thomas Jefferson still survives."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Observations 7.2.1

I want to briefly take you back to last Wednesday.

And a call was heard from on high that the lord god almighty himself was pissed the hell off and willed his holy minions to stamp out the pestilence of queer marriage wherever it be found in his land of all lands.

Okay, so maybe it didn't go quite like that but that's what some holy Republicans heard. Just three days after the Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional GOP Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, a man who has been in Congress all of two years, submitted House Resolution H.J.Res.51 which proposes an amendment to the Constitution of The United States banning same sex marriage.

"Article: Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."

So much for states' rights. The bill has 28 co-sponsors, all of whom happen to be men and all of whom happen to be Republican. I'm not going to waste my time typing all there names but follow this link for the full text than click on the co-sponsor link for a complete list. I would however like to send special kudos to Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland who co-sponsored the bill even though his state voted for same-sex marriage in a referendum last November.

In order to send a constitutional amendment to the states it must a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. Currently 54 Senators and 185 Representatives are on record as supporting marriage equality making that impossible.

Now that they have this out of the way maybe Congress can get back to important work like voting to repeal Obamacare for the 39th time.

Observations 7.2

From Huffington Post Gay Voices; "Whether "Same Love" hits number one as a result of the Supreme Court rulings and the general feelings towards gay marriage in the United States remains to be seen, but if its leaps up the charts is any indication, "Same Love" may be a gay marriage wedding present from the unlikeliest of places: the hip hop world."

I can honestly say I've never been much of a hip-hop fan but I suppose I can evolve too. Just watch.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Observations from the Shore 7.1

Iwan Baan for Arquitectura
I don't think I've ever had a dream house other than the one I'm currently sitting in but then I saw this one. "Casa Obsevatorio" was designed by Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco along with architect Tatiana Bilbao and is built on an isolated beach near Puerto Escondido in southern Mexico. The house is on the west coast so I can lounge by the rooftop pool and watch the sun set into the Pacific as I sip Coronas with fresh lime from the garden. It's my dream so I'll drink what I want but if you simply must have Bud Lite with Lime so be it. Just don't expect me to condone such a despicable habit.

One thing I would add is a large room with virgin white walls. Whenever I felt like it I could just splash paint on them.