Saturday, December 31, 2005

traffic conditions

This blog isn't publicized outside the family, but it's freely available on the internet. Every now and then I check traffic to see whether anyone's visiting at all. Checking today, I noticed an upward blip in access last fall. From mere handfulls in the early summer visits jumped above 100 (140-180) over Aug, Sep. and Oct. I think the sudden increase in interest was at least partly caused by a mention in another blog. The blog is Jennifer Ehle by "Jennite." It's subtitled "A fan blog with daily news and links about actress Jennifer Ehle." The mention came in a post on August 25: Skip if sensitive. Jennite said, "There's an interesting photo comparison of actresses who have played Elizabeth at Secondat."

This linkage is unusual. During an exchange of emails Tim Spaulding, who who runs LibraryThing, wrote me a while back to say he didn't understand why I'd write a blog for only a few people. I didn't have a ready answer, but I'm content with it.

Friday, December 30, 2005

acqua on indigo

I rotate clothes, for example shirts and ties. I've dozens of ties and a bunch of dress shirts. The shirts are basically either blue or white. The ties are any color or pattern. Sometimes the rotation turns up an interesting combination. If it's really awful I wear something else, but if it's just unusual, I'll go with it. Today, as it happens the combination is one that's never come up before: The shirt is an interesting indigo blue -- sort of a classy workshirt color. The tie is a solid acqua, woven wool. This gives you the idea.

a fine season for toasts

Overheard in New York is an addictive blog by Morgan Friedman. People submit odd bits of conversation that they overhear. I suppose some of it may be made up or enhanced for effect, but I don't like to think so.

Here's a recent entry:
We Drink to Freedom Toast Here

Drunk guy: Here's hoping you're in Heaven ten minutes before the devil knows you're dead.
Drunk girl: What's that mean?
Drunk guy: It's an Irish toast.
Drunk girl: Oh. Well, here's to bread, eggs and cinnamon.
Drunk guy: Huh?
Drunk girl: That's French toast.

--Stoned Crow, Washington Place

Overheard by: Gradie Smith

Thursday, December 29, 2005

First snow in Hastings

The Guardian has a gallery of photos of first snow in Britain. Here's one entry:

Caption: Pett Level, near Hastings. "Staying with friends and family and awoke to this magical view towards the sea with a threating greenish sky. I didn't think it snowed in the south."

Source: First Snowfall in Britain, December 30 2005: Photos sent in by readers of some of the first winter snow in Britain, and from elsewhere around the world.

Here's another, from Devon:

caption: Zeal Monachorum, Devon. "This is our cottage and garden. If you look hard you can see two of our hens."

Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas Eve on Deer Isle

Here is a monologue delivered before prayer time at Christmas Eve service by Alice Hildebrand. She is pastor of a parish with two churches: First Congregational Church of Deer Isle and Sunset Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. December through May, the parish worships in the former; June-November in the latter.
Tonight we have a special guest, someone who can tell us what it was really like, on that Christmas Eve so long ago, or at least, one person’s point of view.. . (TURN AND PUT ON SHAWL)

“It was late in the day, evening really, when they showed up. My heart sank, and I groaned to myself, for it was obvious that they were very tired and in need of a place to stay, and also very poor. The young woman sat on the little donkey with her face so pale that I was worried and then I saw that she was going to give birth very soon. I had nowhere to put them in my inn, for it was a busy time of year, with everyone returning to their villages from the big cities where they lived and worked. Many people were in Bethlehem, people who had much more important things to do than these two, and the money to pay for it besides, which they surely did not. I was about to turn them away and get back to my customers, but the man asked me if I might be able to find a place for them somewhere, and pity got the better of me. I told him, rather sharply I’m afraid, that they could sleep in the stable. It was hard for me, running the inn all alone after my husband died; and at the end of a long day of rushing to and fro, trying to keep track of everything, I didn’t have much patience for the demands of the poor. But in my younger days I had been a religious woman, before my life got so busy that I had no time for it, and the scriptures teach us that to be good to the poor is what God wants from us. So I thought to myself, well, if they have nowhere else to go, at least the stable is dry, and reasonably warm from the animals.

“To tell the truth, once I had told the man he could make up a bed out of the clean straw, and sent them out there, I forgot all about them. There was a crowd here for dinner, and so much to see to. One of the maids came to tell me that the woman’s time had come, and the man was asking could we fetch a midwife, but I thought, “Yes and who will pay for that?” so I told the maid no, they could manage without, in the way of the poor, and now get back to your serving! We were so busy that it wasn’t until I was climbing the ladder to my own bed that I thought of them again. In spite of myself, I thought of that woman, giving birth all alone in the stable, with just her husband to help.

What would a man know about it? I tried to shut the thoughts off and go to my bed, but I couldn’t. I pushed open the shutter of my window and heard the faint cry of a baby, and then I thought I would go and see how things were, so I put my shawl around me and started to go out but I was so tired that I just lay down and fell asleep. Tomorrow was going be another day of work, and really, I thought, what is one baby more or less to the world?

“I never did get there. There was just so much to do, I was always meaning to check in on them, but I had responsibilities. I never got there, and then one day they were gone. It’s hard to make time for unexpected things when you have a schedule to keep. Later on, when I began to hear the stories about that baby and who he grew up to be, I used to wish I had just made the time to go and see him when he was here, lying in my stable.

“I tell you, I’ve learned something from it all. Who would think that God would show up in a stable? But isn't that what the scriptures tell us? That God shows up all the time, and in the unexpected places more often than not. As the years have gone by, I’ve realized that I didn’t miss out completely after all. Just having heard that faint cry, and seen the glow coming through the small window of the stable has made a difference in me, somehow. The scriptures tell us that God is patient, God is faithful even when we are too busy to notice. I guess I always thought that God was far, far away, that we were just supposed to be admiring and respectful. But now I think that maybe God is right here, all the time, and needs something from us. God needs us to make room, pay attention.

God needs us to be involved. Good people, tomorrow when you wake up and think about Christmas morning, remember that it wasn’t just once, long ago that God was born a human baby. God is born each day, in each one of us. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to notice that. Don’t let your cares get in the way. ( TURN AWAY, TAKE OFF SHAWL)

Let us pray. Holy God, in Jesus we see you revealed. We see you loving us, teaching us, working with us, needing us to work with you. You are God beyond words, beyond sight, beyond all that is familiar and yet you are near, warm, tender. When Jesus was born he was visited by shepherds, common people as we are common people, as well as by glorious angels and wise kings. Guide our steps to the manger. Grant us light when we are overwhelmed by the confusion and the darkness of our world’s night and cannot see our way forward. Grant us the shelter and comfort of darkness when our eyes are seared by the harsh light of the world’s demands. Unfold within our hearts the mystery of your purposes and your power. O God of starlit distance and timeless time, tonight for just one moment help us to catch a glimpse of you in the small and simple. Help us to see that you have not only to do with galaxies and planets, with making worlds by a puff of breath, but also with us, that you are among us, here and now.

Merciful God, you know all needs before we even speak our prayers, yet for our own sakes we speak out loud our hopes, that we may be always mindful of the needs of others. Hear us as we pray now for our world, that all may come to know the meaning of your love, and to live out the vision of mercy, justice, and peace of which the prophets speak; We pray for those in need; for those who keep watch with the sick and dying those who weep with the grieving those who are without faith and cannot accept your love any who are ill, lonely, distressed or weak those struggling with addictions the hungry and the homeless those in dangerous occupations those in military service those who suffer for conscience's sake the victims of natural and of human-made disasters the victims of war. We pray for ourselves, that we may be helped to labor faithfully with you in the fulfillment of your purposes, that the lion may lie down with the lamb, and that a little child shall lead us.


Rev. Alice Hildebrand
Sunset Congregational Church, UCC
First Congregational Church of Deer Isle, UCC
December 24, 2005

First Congregational Church of Deer Isle. Click to enlarge.

happy boxing day

Happy Boxing Day

We here in our house hope you all were as pleased with your Christmas celebrations as much as we were with ours! Special thanks to Noah, Jill, and Mircea for the package that the mail person delivered to us Christmas morning with its wonderful photo montage!

I've just discovered Raysoda, a Korean photoblog gallery akin to flickr.

There's precious little info on the site to those of us whose command of Eastern tongues is nonexistent, but the photos are eloquent in their own expressive language.

click image to enlarge

-- This image has the date/time stamp of 2005-12-26 20:45, which is odd since it's Dec 26, at 10am in my time zone here and now (not odd if you're comfortable with convention of the international date line of course).

click image to enlarge

Here's a little info about the site from the GlobalKorea blog:
RaySoda is an online gallery, a community, and an IT system for Korean photographers. Plenty of photos are posted and displayed continually. Both professionals and amateurs take part. Displayed are selected photo images recommended by the community members, the panel, and the operator of the website. Words are in Korean only, but you will have no problem looking around the images, which are the universal language worldwide. For me, diversity is the first appeal. You can feel the life and culture of Korea from many different minds and sights. Just click wherever the index finger comes up as you scroll at the site.

Here's what the camera recorded about the photo of the boat (so-called EXIF data):
Camera Make: Canon
Camera Model: Canon EOS 350D DIGITAL
Image Date: 2005:11:12 17:23:01
Flash Used: No
Focal Length: 300.0mm
CCD Width: 5.14mm
Exposure Time: 0.0040 s (1/250)
Aperture: f/5.6
ISO equiv: 400
White Balance: Auto
Metering Mode: Matrix
Exposure: program (Auto)

click image to enlarge

Saturday, December 24, 2005

praise for the light of day

Christmas, beloved Christmas, is one of many winter solstice festivals.

The winter solstice has a special place in my heart. My office has no window -- this job is the only one I've ever had where that is so. I begin my day early and most of the year my morning ride takes place in darkness (with the politicians' penchant for "saving" daylight ensuring that this darkness extends longer than nature intended).

The event is for me just what mythology makes of it: a new beginning, a first tiny intimation of spring and summer days when the sun rises as I ride to work. I can imagine that day arriving -- at spring equinox -- when the sun pops up, flooding my face with its huge orangeness, over the earth's horizon at the end of Independence Avenue as I close in on my destination.

Here's a link to the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

This graphic, from National Geographic, shows earth's farthest tilt, which defines the event.

Here is sunrise at winter solstice over Newgrange, a famous megalithic monument in Ireland. Click to see the photo full size. The structure is aligned to catch the light of the midwinter sun.

Link to lots of photos of the sun illuminating the interior of Newgrange.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

"breathtaking inanity"

A friend at work, one who helps me keep our cataloging intranet site useful and responsive to people's needs, talks to me about academic stuff from time to time. He recommended a good book on St. Augustine not too long ago. We've chatted about Hannah Arendt.

Yesterday, he told me it's really worth while reading the full ruling issued by Judge John E. Jones in the Intelligent Design case. I'm passing the recommendation on to you, though I haven't had time to read it myself yet. Here's a link to the ruling. It's a pdf document 139 pages long.

And here's a set of links, including the ruling, from my favorite law library site:
From BeSpacific:

Federal Judge Issues Decision Against Teaching "Intelligent Design"

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III (M.D. PA), Kitzmiller v. Dover (139 pages, PDF)

  • Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al - docket and link to decision

  • AP article, 'Religious alternative' to evolution barred from public-school science classes

  • Federal Judge Rules Intelligent Design Unconstitutional

  • Dover, Pa., resident Tammy Kitzmiller gives a statement during a news conference at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. on Dec. 14, 2004. Two civil liberties groups filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 11 parents, including Kitzmiller, against a school district that is requiring students to learn about alternatives to the theory of evolution.
    (AP Photo)

    On May 5, 1925, biology teacher John Scopes was arrested for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in violation of Tennessee state law.
    (AP Photo)

    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    a small editorial on an illegal act by our president

    I'd never heard of it before I saw the "small editorial" I've copied below, but the site says its purpose is to provide "Documents on cryptology, dual-use technologies, and national security and intelligence." There's a little be more of a description here. Another source says: "Cryptome is a web archive from which interesting items can be uploaded by the public, especially items so interesting they can expect to be removed from their originally available webpage." Here's the editorial:
    To: cryptography[at]
    Subject: A small editorial about recent events.
    From: "Perry E. Metzger"
    Date: Sun, 18 Dec 2005 13:58:06 -0500

    A small editorial from your moderator. I rarely use this list to express a strong political opinion -- you will forgive me in this instance.

    This mailing list is putatively about cryptography and cryptography politics, though we do tend to stray quite a bit into security issues of all sorts, and sometimes into the activities of the agency with the biggest crypto and sigint budget in the world, the NSA.

    As you may all be aware, the New York Times has reported, and the administration has admitted, that President of the United States apparently ordered the NSA to conduct surveillance operations against US citizens without prior permission of the secret court known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (the "FISC"). This is in clear contravention of 50 USC 1801 - 50 USC 1811, a portion of the US code that provides for clear criminal penalties for violations. See:

    The President claims he has the prerogative to order such surveillance. The law unambiguously disagrees with him.

    There are minor exceptions in the law, but they clearly do not apply in this case. They cover only the 15 days after a declaration of war by congress, a period of 72 hours prior to seeking court authorization (which was never sought), and similar exceptions that clearly are not germane.

    There is no room for doubt or question about whether the President has the prerogative to order surveillance without asking the FISC -- even if the FISC is a toothless organization that never turns down requests, it is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years imprisonment, to conduct electronic surveillance against US citizens without court authorization.

    The FISC may be worthless at defending civil liberties, but in its arrogant disregard for even the fig leaf of the FISC, the administration has actually crossed the line into a crystal clear felony. The government could have legally conducted such wiretaps at any time, but the President chose not to do it legally.

    Ours is a government of laws, not of men. That means if the President disagrees with a law or feels that it is insufficient, he still must obey it. Ignoring the law is illegal, even for the President. The President may ask Congress to change the law, but meanwhile he must follow it.

    Our President has chosen to declare himself above the law, a dangerous precedent that could do great harm to our country. However, without substantial effort on the part of you, and I mean you, every person reading this, nothing much is going to happen. The rule of law will continue to decay in our country. Future Presidents will claim even greater extralegal authority, and our nation will fall into despotism. I mean that sincerely. For the sake of yourself, your children and your children's children, you cannot allow this to stand.

    Call your Senators and your Congressman. Demand a full investigation, both by Congress and by a special prosecutor, of the actions of the Administration and the NSA. Say that the rule of law is all that stands between us and barbarism. Say that we live in a democracy, not a kingdom, and that our elected officials are not above the law. The President is not a King. Even the President cannot participate in a felony and get away with it. Demand that even the President must obey the law.

    Tell your friends to do the same. Tell them to tell their friends to do the same. Then, call back next week and the week after and the week after that until something happens. Mark it in your calendar so you don't forget about it. Politicians have short memories, and Congress is about to recess for Christmas, so you must not allow this to be forgotten. Keep at them until something happens.



    BeSpacific, great library-related blog I read, has the following post on this topic:

    AG, VP Issue Statements on Legal Underpinnings of Electronic Surveillance Program

    In following postings on the revelations on the Domestic Surveillance Program, see the text of this Press Briefing by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and General Michael Hayden, Principal Deputy Director for National Intelligence, December 19, 2005.

  • "The President confirmed the existence of a highly classified program on Saturday. The program remains highly classified; there are many operational aspects of the program that have still not been disclosed and we want to protect that because those aspects of the program are very, very important to protect the national security of this country. So I'm only going to be talking about the legal underpinnings for what has been disclosed by the President. The President has authorized a program to engage in electronic surveillance of a particular kind, and this would be the intercepts of contents of communications where one of the -- one party to the communication is outside the United States. And this is a very important point -- people are running around saying that the United States is somehow spying on American citizens calling their neighbors. Very, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States."

  • ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: This is not a backdoor approach. We believe Congress has authorized this kind of surveillance. We have had discussions with Congress in the past -- certain members of Congress -- as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible. [emphasis added]

  • Related government documents and news:

  • Press release, December 17, 2005: "All nine Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a senior Member of the House Judiciary Committee today introduced legislation to strengthen accountability and oversight of National Security Letters (NSLs), which are requests for personal data and records issued directly by government agencies without the approval of a judge."

  • statements made by Vice President Cheney, December 20, 2005: "I would argue that the actions that we've taken there are totally appropriate and consistent with the constitutional authority of the president."

  • Dec. 20, 2005 Press Briefing by Scott McClellan: "...Well, the NSA authorization that has been talked about over the past couple of days is vital to our efforts to prevent attacks...And remember, there are important safeguards and oversight measures that are in place for this program...Every 45 days or so it is carefully reviewed; it must have the approval of top legal officials from the Attorney General to the White House Counsel. The activities that are conducted under this authorization are thoroughly reviewed by the Department of Justice and by the National Security Agency legal officials, including the General Counsel and the Inspector General. There is intense oversight of it, as General Hayden, the Deputy Director of National Intelligence, talked about. And the decisions that are made under this authorization, which is very limited, again, are made by career intelligence officials at NSA."

  • December 19, 2005: Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, comments on the National Security Agency (NSA) program for intercepting communications within the United States. "The record needs to be set clear that the Administration never afforded members briefed on the program an opportunity to either approve or disapprove the NSA program. The limited members who were told of the program were prohibited by the Administration from sharing any information about it with our colleagues, including other members of the Intelligence Committees...Additionally, Senator Rockefeller released his correspondence to the White House on July 17, 2003 – the day he first learned of the program -- expressing serious concerns about the nature of the program as well as Congress' inability to provide oversight given the limited nature of the briefings."

  • Washington Post: White House Elaborates on Authority for Eavesdropping

  • LA Times: Legal Test Was Seen as Hurdle to Spying - Some say the court's tougher standard of 'probable cause' led to the surveillance order.

  • Washington Post: Bush Addresses Uproar Over Spying - 'This Is a Different Era, a Different War,' He Says as Some Lawmakers Seek Probe

  • Sunday, December 18, 2005

    WTO and U.S. cotton subsidies

    I've been reading Pietra Rivoli's Travels of a T-Shirt which gives lots of information about subsidies to U.S. cotton farmers and now at the Hong Kong meeting of the World Trade Organization I read that Americans are bowing to pressure from four West African cotton-farming nations to (this is from the Bloomberg account): "expedite deep cuts in payments to cotton producers."

    It will be interesting to see what is meant by "deep cuts in payments" because cotton subsidies are both enormous and complex.

    Rivoli points out that cotton farming has been coddled since the founding of the country, but protectionism has escalated during the Bush administration. This might seem surprising since the administration pursues free-trade policies, including for example a pan-American trade pact. But cotton farming is a Texas thing and the biggest farms are not far from the Bush ranch in Crawford.

    And so it was in 2002 that U.S. subsidies guaranteed cotton farmers a minimum of 72 cents per pound, while the average world price of cotton was about 38 cents per pound (that was the price in 2004). Rivoli says that the subsidies in 2000, that is before the increases of 2002, were about $4 billion, which she says "exceed the entire GNP of a number of the world’s poorest cotton producing countries, as well as the United States entire USAID budget for the continent of Africa."

    The list of protections is impressive. The 2002 Farm Bill contains a pretty comprehensive insurance program that protects farmers against just about everything that can go wrong from bad weather to deadbeat purchasers.

    On the other hand, she also points out that subsidies have not induced farmers to become fat and lazy. Though you might expect government payments to result in inefficient production methods, U.S. cotton production has become the most efficient in the world. Through cooperative ventures among farmers (coops and farmer-owned corperate ventures for ginning, storage, distriubtion, and marketing), through academic reasearch and the adoption by farmers of the benefits of this research, through mechanization and innovation by entrepreneurs, and through training and support from the USDA Rivoli shows how a 1,000-acre family farm, operated by husband and wife with only occasional part-time help from high-school students, can produce 500,000 pounds of cotton a year. That's enough cotton for 1.3 million T-shirts from the work of just two people, both in their 80's. I find this almost unbelievable.

    As she says, between the subsidies and the efficiency, there's no way for third-world countries to compete with U.S. cotton farmers.

    And this leads to another question: Even if the U.S. does follow through on its promise and does actually "expedite deep cuts in payments to cotton producers," and these cuts include the more-or-less hidden supports of crop insurance and the like, even then, how will primitive farmers be able to compete with U.S. high-tech farming.

    The policies and the government structures in west African nations do not enable poor farmers to become efficient. The contrary is the case: policies and bureaucratic gouging discourage efficiency. And every other infrastructure need is lacking: education, credit at reasonable cost, availability of quality seed, labor-saving machines, and chemicals (such as pesticides).

    The major result of lifting U.S. subsidies is likely to be an expansion of cotton growing in other countries where large-scale farming is feasible and other infrastructure needs are becoming available (education, research, etc.). China is the primo example of such countries. India possibly as well -- in time. Maybe Brazil, though less likely. I expect the west African farmers who are the ostensible beneficiaries won't see much benefit. As someone said, if the lifing of subsidies results in increases in the cost of cotton world-wide, it's more likely to generate increases in the Swiss bank accounts of African "kleptocrats" than to better to lot of the poor. Alas.

    Comments? I'd be delighted to be shown evidence to the contrary.

    End note: The U.S. may not lift subsidies after all. From Bloomberg: "In Washington today lawmakers criticized the proposed compromise saying it requires the U.S. cut subsidies and tariffs without demanding the same of India, Brazil and other developing nations."

    Saturday, December 17, 2005

    best of ........

    The blog Fimoculous by Rex Sorgatz is compiling a meta-list of those best of..... lists. It's called Lists: 2005

    He says, "Please email me list suggestions. This will probably grow to about 500+ items, but here's what we have so far."


    BOOKS (18 lists) from Ottakar's (12/08)

    10 Best Books from New York Times Books Review (12/04)

    Favorite Fiction from L.A. Times (12/04)

    Favorite Nonfiction from L.A. Times (12/04)

    Best Nonfiction from Christian Science Monitor (12/03)

    Best Fiction from Christian Science Monitor (12/03)

    Dagger Awards from Crime Writers' Association (12/02)

    Favourite Books Of The Year from The Guardian (11/27)

    100 Notable Books from New York Times (11/25)

    Best Children's Books from Publishers Weekly (11/25)

    Best Of 2005 -- Customer's Picks from (11/09)

    Booker Prize from Man Booker Prize (11/05)

    Books Of The Year from National Book Awards (11/05)

    MUSIC (33 lists)

    My 22 Favourite Songs from Said The Gramophone (12/07)

    Best Of Year from New York Sun (12/07)

    Best Music Of 2005 from Art Forum (12/07)

    Top 20 Albums from Crazy Monk (12/04)

    New York's Best Jazz from AllAboutJazz (12/03)

    Best Of 2005 -- Classical Editor's Picks from (11/09)

    FILM (5 lists)

    The Frigid 50: The Coldest People In Hollywood from Film Threat (12/08)

    Best Of 2005 from Metacritic (11/05)

    ONLINE (5 lists)

    Top 10 Most Confusing (Yet Widely Used) High Tech Buzzwords from Global Language Monitor (12/06)

    50 Coolest Websites from Time (11/20)

    Top Ten Web Design Mistakes from Jakob Nielsen (11/20)

    PHOTOS (3 lists)

    50 Photos Of People Smiling from LowCulture (11/18)

    Best Of What's New from Popular Science (11/18)

    Best Photojournalism from National Press Photographers Association (11/05)

    Smilers: Ringo Starr, Wanda Sykes, Robert Johnson, Leon Trotsky, Maggie Cheung, Christine Taylor

    Friday, December 16, 2005

    30 years ago

    From a page called EUROBAD '74, an exhibition of Europe's worst interiors of 1974.

    The page also has this odd piece of drama.