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Population: One


About time. Paul Gaston sold the Boston Celtics today. Under the ownership of the Gaston family, the Celtics saw two championships, but since Don Gaston turned the team over to his son, it’s been very sparse times for Celtics fans.

Gaston Jr. has been more interested in keeping costs low than in winning titles. This has, not surprisingly, kept the Celtics far away from the latter. We’ll see what happens now.

Some days are busier

On October 11, 2002, the following movies that I want to see will open:

  • Below, a submarine haunted house flick directed by David Twohy (Pitch Black) and written by Darren Aronofsky.
  • The Grey Zone, directed by Tim Blake Nelson and starring Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino.
  • Knockaround Guys, a much-neglected gangster flick with Vin Disel, Seth Green, Dennis Hopper, and John Malkovich; the writer/directors also wrote Rounders.
  • Punch-Drunk Love, the new Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) movie that happens to star, um, Adam Sandler.
  • The Rules of Attraction, based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel, which has good word of mouth.
  • Swept Away, which is directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch) even if it does star his wife Madonna.
  • The Transporter, directed by the great Corey Yuen (Fong Sai Yuk and a million others) and written by Luc Besson.

That’s seven movies solidly worth seeing, ignoring the other seven opening that weekend. Do they wanna kill me?

Big Dig

After much twiddling around, has moved and is now served off my shiny semi-new OpenBSD box in Somerville. Making new entries just got a lot faster; at some point I’ll try mod_perl again and see if that doesn’t speed up as well.

DNS hasn’t propagated as I write this, but it will in a few hours. And I suppose if you’re reading this, you know it’s propagated.

Let’s see. The new server is now my primary nameserver, and I’ll be letting the registrars know that next. The last piece is email (also probably the most nervewracking piece). Woot!

Meanwhile, an uprising

There is much talk over here in the States of Tony Blair; of how well he gets along with Bush, and of course of his recent speech presenting the case against Iraq. No stauncher ally than the Brits. Yeah.

Well, or at least, none stauncher than Tony Blair. Andrew Sullivan’s article on the friendship between the two men says more than he realizes, I think. “Blair’s second intuition was that with George W. Bush, the most important element is always personal rapport and trust. He sensed almost intuitively that an intimate bond with Bush would give the British prime minister more influence than any other world leader in the post 9/11 world.” Yes, indeed. How much is that influence worth? Is it worth the trust of Blair’s own Labour Party?

53 Labour MPs rejected Blair’s speech on Monday, and 80 more may follow suit. Labour’s been downplaying the problem, but why else would Blair allow Monday’s vote to go through if he wasn’t leery of forcing the issue?

So it’s all very well to blithely wave off China and Russia’s criticism. Germany opposes Bush’s plan, and so does France? Well, at least the British support us. Except that polls show only about half of England thinks Bush is on target, and Blair’s own party is restless.

Would you like fries with that?

The new Google News service kind of bugs me. The FAQ says this:

The headlines on the Google News homepage are selected entirely by a computer algorithm, based on many factors including how often and on what sites a story appears elsewhere on the web. This is very much in the tradition of Google’s web search, which relies heavily on the collective judgment of web publishers to determine which sites offer the most valuable and relevant information. Google News relies in a similar fashion on the editorial judgment of online news organizations to determine which stories are most deserving of inclusion and prominence on the Google News page.

Huh. So the most reported stories show up on Google News, which causes people to report the stories more, and so on. In engineering, they call this positive feedback. It is not always a good thing.

Mind you, Google’s always used algorithms like this for their search. Daypop, the popular (and currently dead) weblog search service, creates a similar effect with their Top Forty listing of popular links from the world’s weblogs. So this is nothing new, per se.

Still. I have a penchant for the unexplored, the new, and the underreported. It seems to me that Google is encouraging the homogenization of the Web, here. The algorithm is problematic when applied to news, and it has the same problems when applied to web search.

Discussing this is, alas, met with scorn from the weblogging community. Daniel Brandt is a bit of a loon, admittedly, and his personal stake in these arguments is well documented. But there’s some truth at the core of his complaints. Besides, you’d kind of expect Doc Searls to stand up for Google. He’s one of the guys who benefits from PageRank.

When Doc Searls says “Why is this bad? Because PageRank doesn’t give a fair shake to stuff nobody points to? What user would want that?” I am forced to reply, “Users who want to find stuff outside the beaten path.” PageRank is great for building up an initial concept of the Web; if you’re starting from scratch, you get an accurate picture of which sites are important. But from that point on, you make it harder for completely new sites to break into the rankings. New clusters of link relationships won’t be ranked as highly as the old clusters.

So that’s why Google News kind of bugs me.

Disclaimer: I used to work for AltaVista.

Nullify this

South Dakota is about to vote on a constitutional amendment permitting jury nullification. This means that juries could vote not guilty on the grounds that the relevant law was unfair or otherwise misguided. The supporters have a site, and the South Dakota State Bar has this to say.

The actual amendment would rewrite Article VI, Section 7 of the South Dakota Constitution as follows. The changes are marked in italics.

In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the right to defend in person and by counsel; to demand the nature and the cause of the accusation against him; to have a copy thereof; to meet the witnesses against him face to face; to have compulsory process served for obtaining witnesses in his behalf; and to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the county and district in which the offense is alleged to have been committed; and to argue the merits, validity, and applicability of the law, including the sentencing laws.

The supporters don’t actually do a very good job addressing the arguments against jury nullification; there is, in fact, an existing mechanism for allowing citizens input into the law, and it is reasonable to ask whether or not 12 jurors selected at random should have the ability to override a majority vote of the entire populace. I think the answer may be yes, but I dislike the arrogance of claiming that the question is irrelevant. “Common sense isn’t.”

And the lawyers of South Dakota are not universally evil people who rely on scare tactics. Claiming that “they are insulting your intelligence” is the worst kind of populist rhetoric. Sigh.

So the impression I get is that South Dakotans in favor of jury nullification are not in fact capable of constructing or analyzing legal arguments, or logical arguments of any kind. This does not convince me that it’s a good idea to let South Dakotan juries decide cases based on their opinions of the laws involved. Sorry, guys; if you can’t move beyond populist rhetoric, you shouldn’t be trusted with more complex decisions on a jury.

Scenes from an exhibition

Guilty pleasure: Billy Joel. I suspect this New York Times article is morosely grim even if you’re not a big fan, though. Or maybe it’s just pathetic. The man is certainly whining — but if he was more credible, wouldn’t there be something worthy about a guy who weighs the value of love so high against the rewards of fame? Instead, it’s just the Piano Man, and he’s hard to respect.