Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Who Am I?

Okay, so I admit this is partly my fault, but I think these various websites need to take some responsibility too.

Here's the deal: A little while ago I decided to change some preferences in my Zap2It account. (Zap2It is the online TV listing I emigrated to when I got tired of waiting forever and a weekend for TV Guide's graphics to load. Now, of course, Zap2It has discovered Flash-animated advertising, so it takes forever and a weekend for' This meant logging in, naturally, and that's where the problem began. I put in one of my e-mail addresses and a likely password. And was rewarded with a screen that told me my "e-mail/password is invalid."

Well, yes. But which is it?

I have half a dozen e-mail addresses; in all likelihood I would have used one of my "big three" in signing up. I have more password out there than you can shake a stick at, and while I keep important ones stored (not on the computer, and not in a form that any would-be trespasser is apt to make sense of) there are half a dozen or so that I use for "non-vital" purposes like this one. It's been too long since I did permutations or factorials or whatever they may be to figure out how many possibilities we have here, but it's a bunch.

Of course, there's the "forget your password?" button...which means I have to keep plugging in e-mail addresses until I hit the magic combination. So I got it on the second try--that's not the point! The point is, wouldn't life be simpler if they would tell me which item, the address or the password, I got wrong? It would certainly cut down on the guesswork. And since some (indeed, many) sites seem capable of doing this, I don't suppose it's prohibitively difficult to effect.

And, yes, I could just write this stuff down. But I'm not always in the same location as my password list (seems like a bad idea to carry it around with me). And is it too much to ask that they meet me halfway?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I notice that the DVR that I bought last fall from, the easy-to-remember Lite-On LVW-5115GHC+, is on sale again for ten or fifteen bucks less than I paid for it. Oh, well...I've had all these months of utility, and it wasn't that expensive to start with (I think I paid $75 or so).

Utility...and oddities.

Well, maybe not. This is my first experience with a DVR, so maybe they're not oddities at all; maybe they're common to the species. I keep reminding myself that this is a low-end, entry-level machine, and that if I had spent more I probably could expect more. And I remind myself that more expensive units record to a hard drive and thence, if desired, to disc, whilst this machine records directly to discs, which may make a difference, too.

Still, at the very least, I have to ask myself why the computer that is the guts of the thing wasn't made smart enough to understand that if there is an empty block of, say, 2:30:00 over here, and an empty block of, say, 00:05:00 over there, and the timer is set to record a program that is of an hour's duration, then the thing to do is record the program into the first block and not the second block, which will only result in a "disc full" error at the end of five minutes. When, clearly, the disc is not full. But nooooo. I have to go in manually and tell the silly thing, via an "overwrite" command, that it's okay to write to that empty block of space. Very primitive. And, of course, the number of hiccups resulting from my foolishly glancing at the disc menu and seeing that there's "plenty of time" to record, and not checking to make sure that the LVW-5115GHC+ knows that there's plenty of time, has resulted in several missed opportunities these past six or eight months.

The question is, why isn't it smarter?

I am a bit disappointed in the picture quality of the LVW-5115GHC+, but I'm not sure where the blame should rest. Previously I had a little Cyberhome DVD player attached to that TV set (the bedroom set), and the picture was fine--but of course that was playback-only, and almost always professionally recorded DVDs, so I am to an extent talking apples and cabbages here, I know. But it seems to me that the picture on even professional DVDs viewed through the LVW-5115GHC+ is a little washed out, the colors less vibrant. In both cases--the Cyberhome and the Lite-On--I have to play through a VCR, since the TV set in question is an older model that doesn't have the proper input ports...indeed, it has no input at all except for an RF post and the old dipole antenna connection. And that may degrade the picture somewhat, although, as stated, I did the same thing for the Cyberhome and the picture was good.

It's also possible that the cable-TV connection in the bedroom isn't that good--the picture back there has never been as crisp as the one in the living room, although of course theyr'e different sets and so on. But ever since we moved into that house we've noticed that you get interference on cordless phones if you wander into the bedroom with them, so I suspect there's some kind of an electromagnetic issue there, too, and thay may affect the TV reception.

Or it could be a combination of things, including (as I've concluded) that the Lite-On just doesn't have that good a TV tuner, based on my attempts to "fine tune" it via the remote control.

I haven't yet gotten into my eventual plan to transfer all those miles of tape to disc, although I have tried dubbing from disc-to-disc, with so-so results. This seems to be the result of quirks in the discs recorded with the Lite-On and how they play back on other DVD players. Specifically, I had recorded a couple of local newscasts in which figured groups that my kids are involved in, and wanted to save just those little segments for posterity. So I plugged the Cyberhome DVD player into the Lite-On recorder, and went to town. Well, not really. The recorded discs didn't quite behave properly in the DVD player--jumping around rather than smoothly forwarding, and sometimes not reversing at all. I had to unplug and restart the Cyberhome a couple of times to get it to "snap out" of a catatonic state. Eventually I gave up and just suffered through the entire newscasts, hitting the record button on the DVR when it finally got to my part. Again, primitive, but it worked.

Well, it worked on ONE disc--I tried with a second disc, a recording of my daughter playing her saxophone at her church, and so far I have yet to find any DVD player that will even recognize the disc as a disc, let alone play it. And, yes, I went through the "Finalize (Make Compatible)" steps under Disc Tools. Worked on one disc, not on the other. (Neither disc will mount on my Blue and White G3 Macintosh, but I have in the past observed that it, or its CD burner/DVD player, is very fussy about things, up to an including failing to recognize certain brands of CD-ROMs.)

On the whole, I guess the LVW-5115GHC+ is adequate for my current purposes--mostly recording, watching, and then wiping TV shows. The DVDs are certainly much easier to deal with than VHS tapes, and I have yet to encounter a DVD player or recorder that eats discs as VCRs and cassette players were wont to do with tapes. But the main thing the LVW-5115GHC+ has done is point out what features will be mandatory on my next DVR, specifically a hard-drive and a decent tuner.

As for, I would definitely order from them again...though of course I have one small quibble: The packing sheet for the LVW-5115GHC+ says it's supposed to come with a DVD-RW disc. It didn't. So I e-mailed and told them as much, hoping that they could simply pop one in the mail to be. Got back a nice reply saying they weren't set up to do that, but if I wanted I could send back the whole package and they'd send out another one. Way more work than it was worth, so I declined...all the while wondering how hard it could possibly be to grab a DVD-RW off the shelf (they sell media, too, so it's not like someone would have to make a Circuit City run) and stick it in a padded envelope. Oh,w ell--obviously not a big deal as far as customer service is concerned, since I would, as indicated, buy from them again.

But here's a lingering problem: These past 25 years or so, I have gotten into the habit of "taping" TV programs. But now I use discs. Am I now "discing" programs? "Recording" sounds stilted and clumsy. As this technology replaces VCRs, will we find that we are still "taping" things, even as we still "dial" our telephones that haven't sported a dial in 30 years or more?

McCain's Free-Fall

Drew Westen, in "Telling Stories on the Campaign Trail: Lessons from McCain's Free-Fall" at The Huffington Post, writes:

    The problem for John McCain was that his transparent right turn onto a bridge to nowhere and his cheerleading for a man he personally knew to be despicable -- because he'd looked into his eyes in South Carolina and seen his soul -- didn't fit the story that made him so compelling. Instead, as the perfidy of Bush Republicanism was about to become increasingly clear to the American public, what became equally clear was that the honorable McCain had learned from Dubbya that the straightest line between McCain and the White House was a dishonorable one. [Read the whole thing here.]

Though never a big fan of McCain, I once upon a time had him in the "maybe not so terrible" column of presidential contenders. In years gone by, I felt that, philosophical and political differences aside, he was a man of integrity, and had he gained the GOP nomination in 2000, and won, well, that would certainly be a better outcome than some others I could think of (which came true). But now McCain has emerged as Just Another Politician, willing if not eager to check his integrity at the door, set aside any principle or higher ideal, in his quest for office. As Westen puts it, "he sold his soul for a brief lease on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

It's actually sad: If he had always been a guy I distrusted (or worse), his behavior on the campaign trail this season would serve as an I-told-you-so moment. The fact that I once had a certain regard for him (albeit perhaps grudging) makes his fall--and his bizarre tone-deafness to the way he is coming off even within his own party--an ungleeful event.

The mistake McCain made is this: As Westen points out, he seems to have decided that Bush's 2000 playbook was his path to the White House. But Bush was, is, and always will be unprincipled. McCain was, or at least was perceived as, a man of principle. (Remember the "Straight Talk Express," anyone?) When he threw principle out the window, when he revealed himself as another empty suit who would say or do anything to get elected, he lost not only his chance but himself.

It's too bad that his legacy now seems to be to serve as an object lesson to other politicians. As if they're listening.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Dog in the Night-Time

Inspector Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Sherlock Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

--Arthur Conan Doyle, "Silver Blaze"

And speaking of watchdogs who remain silent, here’s this from the Washington Post:

In Intelligence World, A Mute Watchdog
Panel Reported No Violations for Five Years

By John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 15, 2007; A03

An independent oversight board created to identify intelligence abuses after the CIA scandals of the 1970s did not send any reports to the attorney general of legal violations during the first 5 1/2 years of the Bush administration's counterterrorism effort, the Justice Department has told Congress.

Although the FBI told the board of a few hundred legal or rules violations by its agents after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the board did not identify which of them were indeed legal violations. This spring, it forwarded reports of violations in 2006, officials said.

The President's Intelligence Oversight Board -- the principal civilian watchdog of the intelligence community -- is obligated under a 26-year-old executive order to tell the attorney general and the president about any intelligence activities it believes "may be unlawful." The board was vacant for the first two years of the Bush administration.

The FBI sent copies of its violation reports directly to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. But the board's mandate is to provide independent oversight, so the absence of such communications has prompted critics to question whether the board was doing its job.

"It's now apparent that the IOB was not actively employed in the early part of the administration. And it was a crucial period when its counsel would seem to have been needed the most," said Anthony Harrington, who served as the board's chairman for most of the Clinton administration.

"The White House counsel's office and the attorney general should have known and been concerned if they did not detect an active and effective IOB," Harrington said.

Read the whole of it here.

Feeling safer yet?

Church, Scandals, and Money

Read this this morning on The Huffington Post:

The Business of the Catholic Church
Bill Maher

Posted July 16, 2007 | 10:35 AM (EST)

In this great and diverse country, one is always proud to see their own city on the front page of the national newspapers, so you can imagine my pride yesterday when Los Angeles turned out to be the place where the Catholic Church has had to pay the largest fine ever for diddling kids, $660 million. (Full disclosure: I was raised Catholic and I was sometimes alone with priests, although none ever tried anything. Which is a little insulting.)

Cardinal Mahoney announced that to help pay for the deal, the church would sell a building it owns on Wilshire and about 50 other properties they weren't using, which reminded me, oh yeah, the Catholic Church owns more property out here than Bob Hope did -- and why? Oh, yeah, because it's a business -- and not just a business, really, the greatest business in the world, in that, like all religions, it's selling an invisible product. It doesn't really get easier than that, unless you count Edgar Bergen, a ventriloquist on the RADIO.

The total payouts for abuse cases in dioceses all over America is now over $2 billion, and I imagine much of it came from people who went to Church and bought the invisible product by dropping their hard earned money into the basket (Full disclosure: when I was a child, that was my favorite part of the mass, and my father often let me put a quarter in). I wonder what those people think when they see that their money got spent on buying the privilege of touching and fucking kids. I was reading a week or so ago about Aga Khan, a very rich man who leads some tiny sect of Islam, and it's a good one to lead, since lots of the followers just send the dude money for being him.

It's the Ultimate Hustle.

Happy belated birthday to our dear editor -- thanks for letting me vent on that, it was on my mind and I'm doing Leno tonight and did not want it to come out there! Also let me plug my stand-up special this Saturday night on HBO -- I've been on the road, and it's ready and then some!

In cases like this, one must always filter for sensationalism and the quest for the joke, and having done so I mostly agree with Mahrer's sentiments, though not his tone (and I have yet to figure out why people seem to be so annoyed about the Catholic Church owning property. My only complaint--and it's directed at all churches and all religious organizations--is that I think the enormous tax breaks they receive violate the intent of the First Amendment). But I felt he, and most other observers/critics of the issue, are missing an important point. And so I told him that, in posting this comment:

Mr. Mahrer misses an important point: Long-range, this is good news not only for the victims but also for the Catholic Church.

Disclosure: I am a Catholic, although that strain that some insist cannot exist, viz., bleeding-heart liberal Democratic pro-choice Catholic. I am sickened and angered by the thought of priest pedophiles (like Mr. Mahrer, I spent a lot of time around priests--went to a Catholic college--and met some profound jerks, but no criminals), and even more sickened and angered that some bishops knew their crimes and protected them. (Why are they not behind bars?)

That's where "good for the Catholic Church" comes in.

If anyone learns anything from this atrocity, I hope it will be that cover-ups don't work. Ever. The accessories-after-the-fact who felt they needed to "protect" the institution from "scandal" created greater "scandal": the revelation that they covered up crimes, and then attempted to obfuscate and obstruct justice as the crimes came to light.

Now that dioceses are being hit where, as they say, it hurts, one hopes--perhaps naively--that some in leadership positions will learn a lesson: You can sweep it under the carpet today, but sooner or later the bulge will start to show and it will cost you a good deal more to clean it up later. In a perfect world, people who purport to be working on God's behalf would not have to be hit in the wallet to be made to understand this principle, but it ain't a perfect world.

P.S.: When I throw a few coppers into the collection plate, I am not buying an "invisible product": I'm helping in a small way to finance the good things that the church does--education, health care, poverty and disaster relief, etc. Another terrible side-effect of church "leaders" covering up priests' crimes is that the people who benefit from these services have been and will be victims of the fallout.

Meanwhile, my indignation extends to prosecutors and district attorneys in various jurisdictions who have inexplicably failed to prosecute the bishops who knowingly covered up priests' crimes. They are, as I assert above, accessories after the fact and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. That, too, would be good for the church in the long run.

But since when is anybody interested in the long run?