Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Viva BBC America

I caught the first episode ofViva Blackpoollast night on BBC America, a six-episode mini-series that features the most wonderfully vile lead character sinceThe Sopranos.

The show's a funny drama about Ripley Holden, an Elvis-loving Brit trying to bring Vegas-style excess to Blackpool, England, in the form of the Yankee Dollar Casino. When a dead body turns up one morning, a Scottish detective shows up poking around Ripley's business (and his wife).

The comparisons to Tony Soprano are unmistakeable -- Ripley's a larger-than-life oaf ruling the lives of his wife, son and daughter, and he mixes bullying and charm in a way that makes me think the U.S. will steal actorDavid Morrisseythe way we've absconded with Ricky Gervais.

The strangest and most amazing thing about the show was the occasional use of musical numbers a laCop Rock. The first episode ends with a"These Boots are Made for Walkin'"dance between Holden and the detective, and though it sounds excruciatingly bad, it was so great I scrambled for the TiVo to record the show for my wife.

I try to avoid watching television aside fromLaw&Orderand football, because it robs me of time I could be wasting on the web. But I'm in for the next five hours ofBlackpool, which airs Mondays at 10 p.m. and has one last repeat airing of the first episode at 7 p.m. tonight.

In a story that will not become an inspirational ESPN movie starring Gene Hackman, a Florida high school hasdropped its football programmidseason after losing its first six games by a combined score of 299-0. The Doral Academy Firebirds, who returned13 startersfrom last year's 0-11 team, still had thetoughest part of the scheduleto come. During the first six games of this season, they lost 29 out of 45 players with season-ending injuries to their pride.

Harriet's Homework Helpers
A postscript on Harriet Miers, buried in aWashington Poststory on the burial of her Supreme Court aspirations:

White House aides finished Miers's second response to the Senate questionnaire and delivered it at 11:40 p.m., more than three hours after she decided to abandon her nomination. The 59-page document makes it clear that the struggle to learn about her advice to Bush would have continued had she stayed in the fray. Asked for details about her work, she submitted 135 boilerplate, publicly available fact sheets on White House policies and 67 policy statements the administration has sent Congress on legislation.

Miers wasn't even working on her own questionnaire! I know that Supreme Court justices often lean heavily on their clerks in drafting opinions, but you'd think a person described as"detail-oriented"in four billion media stories might have given her homework a look-see before aides turned it in.

I'm beginning to wonder if she's even agood bowler.

My Reign as the King of Pings
I've been runningWeblogs.Comsince June for Dave Winer, who wanted to see if service performance could be improved as he began to receive seven-digit inquiries about selling it.

Weblogs.Com ran onFrontierfor six years from its founding in 1999, handling the load reasonably well until the number of pings topped one million per day within the last year.

In a frenzied weekend, I recoded the site as an Apache/MySQL/PHP web application running on a Linux server, writing all of the code from scratch except forXML-Simple, an XML parsing library I adapted from code byJim Winstead. Hosting was provided byServerMatrix, which charges around $80-$140/month for a dedicated server running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 with a 1,200-gigabyte monthly bandwidth limit.

On an average day, my application served 34.65 gigabytes of data, took 1.1 million pings and sent 11,000 downloads of changes.xml, a file larger than 1 megabyte. TheLAMP platformis ideal for running a high-demand web application for as little money as possible.

When Dave rerouted Weblogs.Com to my new server and it instantly deluged the box with more than a dozen pings per second, I felt like Lucy Ricardo pulling chocolates off the conveyer belt.

The server ran well, crashing only a few times over four months because of a spammer sending thousands of junk pings per minute. Every few days, I used theiptablesfirewall to block requests from the IP addresses of the worst abusers.

Business reporterTom Foremskiand others have suggested that the Weblogs.Com sale might reveal a lack of faith in blogging as a business.

I think the sale was motivated by the realization that the demands of running Weblogs.Com had become much too large for Dave's one-man company. He could either hire people and start pursuing revenue opportunities or sell the service.

VeriSign got a good deal acquiring it for a reported $2 million. The company's now at the center of the blogosphere, a giant web application and information network with more than 15 million users, and ought to be able to leverage those pings into new services built on XML, XML-RPC and RSS.

One thing I'd like to see is a real-time search engine built only on the last several hours of pings, which could be a terrific current news service if compiled intelligently. While I was running Weblogs.Com, I wanted to use my brief moment as the king of pings to extend the API, which VeriSign appears to beconsidering, but Dave didn't want to mess with things while companies were loading a truck with money and asking for directions to his house.

I want to pursue these ideas, either independently or in concert with VeriSign andYahoo Blo.gs. No knock intended, but big companies tend to sit on purchases like this rather than implementing new features.Bloggerstill lacks category support two years after being purchased by Google, an omission so basic you have to wonder whether it's serious about fending off competition fromSix Apart,UserLand, andWordPress.

Samuelo Alito and a Catholic Majority

Any legislator who is publicly supporting laws which favor abortion or euthanasia may not present himself or herself for Holy Communion. --Raymond Burke, Catholic Archbishop of St. Louis

If Judge Samuel Alito is approved by the Senate, the Supreme Court will have five Catholic justices, a religious majority that is nearly without precedent in U.S. history. He would join Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The only time thisappearsto have happened was 1792-1793, when four of the six justices belonged to the Episcopal church: Chief Justice John Jay and Justices James Iredell, Thomas Johnson and James Wilson.

The Constitution expressly forbids religious tests in consideration for public office, so there's a strong inclination against scrutiny of a nominee's religious beliefs, whether in support or opposition. With Catholics, this comes into conflict with agrowing movementwithin the church to deny sacraments to lawmakers who oppose its views on subjects like abortion, stem cell research and euthanasia.

In 2002, the Vatican issued adoctrinal notestating that Catholic lawmakers must act in accordance with its teachings:

John Paul II, continuing the constant teaching of the Church, has reiterated many times that those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.

The Catholic Church comes into conflict with different political factions over the Vatican's voluminously documented views. John Kerry, a practicing Catholic who regularly attends mass, was publicly denied the right to communion by Archbishop Burke during the 2004 presidential campaign, an action with theapprovalof Pope Benedict XVI while he served as cardinal. New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey was denied by another bishop for remarrying without getting an annulment.

Up to this point, American bishops have played the communion card solely against socially liberal Democrats. There has been no comparable effort to deny Justice Scalia for his support of capital punishment, nor a rejection of Catholic politicians who favor the Iraq war.

Though I'm undoubtedly going to be accused of anti-Catholic bigotry, one of my concerns with Alito's selection is the historic majority that it establishes. When the church began actively politicizing the Eucharist, it called into question how life-tenured justices will reconcile conflicts between their Constitution and their church.

And the Booker Goes To ...
There aren't many instances where I wish the American Revolution had turned out differently, but the yearly award of theBooker Prize for Fictionis one of them. Our former rulers treat an annual literary contest with the pagaentry and hype that the U.S. bestows uponSurvivorfinales and the joyous day Tom Cruise announces that he has anointed his next bride. Advantage Britain.

The Booker's such a big deal there's atell-all bookcoming out about the contest, written by departing administrator Martyn Goff:

There will be a number of stories that have not appeared ever before, including stories about judges. Yes, there will be sexual shenanigans, but that's quite minor compared to other things.

When this becomes a movie, I see Ben Kingsley and Helen Mirren in the roles of the sexually rapacious literary judges, with F. Murray Abraham hiding in the closet taking pictures.

This year's Booker, announced live last night on British TV, went to Irish novelist John Banville forThe Sea, a novel of a grieving man returning to a vacation spot where something very bad happened in his youth. (The titleThe Prince of Tideswas already taken.)

Banville put some work into this victory. He shredded a critically acclaimed book,Saturdayby former Booker winner Ian McEwan, and may have contributed to the"dismayingly bad book"being left off the list of finalists for 2005.

The review's on afor-pay site, but the writer Jenny Davidsonbloggedthe good parts:

It happens occasionally that a novelist will lose his sense of artistic proportion, especially when he has done a great deal of research and preparation. I have read all those books, he thinks, I have made all these notes, so how can I possibly go wrong? Or he devises a program, a manifesto, which he believes will carry him free above the demands of mere art -- no deskbound scribbler he, no dabbler in dreams, but a man of action, a match for any scientist or soldier. He sets to work, and immediately matters start to go wrong -- the thing will not flow, the characters are mulishly stubborn, even the names are not right -- but yet he persists, mistaking the frustrations of an unworkable endeavor for the agonies attendant upon the fashioning of a masterpiece. But no immensity of labor will bring to successful birth a novel that was misconceived in the first place.

Something of the kind seems to have happened here.Saturdayis a dismayingly bad book. The numerous set pieces -- brain operations, squash game, the encounters with Baxter, etc. -- are hinged together with the subtlety of a child's Erector Set. The characters too, for all the nuzzling and cuddling and punching and manhandling in which they are made to indulge, drift in their separate spheres, together but never touching, like the dim stars of a lost galaxy. The politics of the book is banal, of the sort that is to be heard at any middle-class Saturday-night dinner party, before the talk moves on to property prices and recipes for fish stew. There are good things here, for instance the scene when Perowne visits his senile mother in an old-folks' home, in which the writing is genuinely affecting in its simplicity and empathetic force. Overall, however,Saturdayhas the feel of a neoliberal polemic gone badly wrong; if Tony Blair -- who makes a fleeting personal appearance in the book, ozozing insincerity -- were to appoint a committee to produce a 'novel for our time,' the result would surely be something like this.

Meow! I do not expect to learn in Goff's book that these two are having sex.

Harriet Miers, Bush's Stealth Bomb
A letter toNational ReviewcolumnistDavid Frum:

I graduated from law school this past May, and am currently a **th Circuit law clerk. I have always been a member of the Federalist Society, and have devoted much of my recent spare time to working on several law review articles that, while on subjects esoteric to non-attorneys (such as subject matter jurisdiction priority over personal jurisdiction), remain important to the proper position of the courts in our governmental system.

I'm considering abandoning them after watching how such advocacy often turns into a negative blotch on an attorney's resume and a disqualifier for any high level judiciary or executive service ...

Since the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, the most fascinating political site on the web has beenConfirm Them, a weblog created by Republican activists to support the confirmation of President Bush's judicial appointments.

Miers has made a mockery of the site's name, splitting conservative contributors into angry pro- and anti-Miers camps. They were gearing up for a fight to get an openly conservative jurist with an established track record past the Senate, but instead have been handed another stealth nominee whose judicial philosophy must be taken on faith.

No conservative had the White House counsel on their short list of prospective choices, according toGeorge Willin one of the greatest insults in the history of punditry:

... there is no reason to believe that Miers's nomination resulted from the president's careful consultation with people capable of such judgments. If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers's name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists.

Snap! You go, George!

Stealth nominees have a strategic short-term advantage that makes it difficult to keep them off the court, so it's likely that Miers will be confirmed unless President Bush withdraws the nomination, which ranks in probability somewhere between"no chance in hell"and"never in a million years."The president's so stubborn that were he captain of the Titanic, he would have run the ship into a second iceberg to prove he meant to hit the first one.

There's a long-term price for filling the Supreme Court in secrecy, as this clerk's letter illustrates. Conservatives have built an intellectual foundation for their interpretation of constitutional law over a quarter century, as embodied by theFederalist Societyand the embrace oforiginalism.

Neither Bush appointment has publicly nurtured this movement during their careers. In some instances, they've even distanced themselves from it. When asked her most admired Supreme Court justice, Miersdid not chooseJustices Scalia or Thomas. When John Roberts showed up in a Federalist Society membership directory, the White House issued aquick denial, stating that he"has no recollection of being a member."

Roger Pilon, a Cato Institute vice president and society member, was stunned to see Robertsrun away from the associationas if Joseph McCarthy was after him."Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Federalist Society?"

If you're a 25-year-old conservative who graduated Harvard Law first in your class and clerks for Chief Justice Roberts, do you spend the next 20 years contributing to law journals, actively participating in the Federalist Society and seeking a judgeship from which you can foster conservative jurisprudence?

Clearly, if you have supreme ambitions, the answer is no. By choosing Roberts and Miers, Bush has publicly affirmed the notion that judicial conservatives believe in an ideology that dare not speak its name. Friends of Clarence are the new Friends of Dorothy, forced to develop furtive code phrases to seek each other out -- just like how President Bush namedropsDred Scottas a double-secret shout out toanti-abortion activists.

"I couldn't help but overhear what you said aboutGriswold v. Connecticutat the bar, friend. Want to take this someplace more private so we can disrespectstare decisisaway from all of these living constitutionalists?"

Harriet Miers is the best thing to happen to liberals since the repeal of anti-sodomy laws. I hope she has a sister.

Stuart Smalley: Bush Needs Therapy
Stuart Smalley made his first appearance onAl Franken's radio showFriday, venturing into politics to discuss tabloid rumors that the president has returned to the bottle (attached podcast).

I'm surprised it took so long to hear from the caring nurturer, who believes the president should get into an anonymous recovery group, regardless of whether or not he's drinking:

Right away. Imagine the stress. There but for the grace of God go I. If I were president, I'd be a complete wreck. I'd be doing a worse job than him, I really believe that. If that's possible.