When news of a detainee “compromise bill” started rumbling off of Capitol Hill, I was a bit suspicious that none of the media coverage contained even the slightest bit of detail about how the new legislation would deal with the major problems inherent in our current system of torturing them until they give us what we want. As the days have unfolded, I’ve read the daily paper anxious for more information, and been both surprised and alarmed that there wasn’t any. So when the U.S. House of Representatives approved the legislation yesterday, I was intrinsicly hopeful that perhaps they had details that sufficiently put to rest fears that we’d continue crapping all over the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles, and any other half-moral set of guidelines that dictate we as a nation shouldn’t be torturing people. Well, it turns out that that’s not quite the case — most lawmakers haven’t the foggiest clue which interrogation methods are currently used in our War on Terror, and none of them know what practices will be allowed or disallowed by the new legislation. (And yes, this includes John McCain, who apparently doesn’t actually give a crap about prisoners’ rights or standing up for what’s just.) As always, Dahlia Lithwick masterfully puts it into words, this time skipping the humor and going straight for deserved damnation.

For the five years since 9/11, we have been in the dark in this country. This president has held detainees in secret prisons and had them secretly tortured using secret legal justifications. Those held in secret at Guantanamo Bay include innocent men, as do those who have been secretly shipped off to foreign countries and brutally tortured there. That was a shame on this president. But passage of the new detainee legislation will be a different sort of watershed. Now we are affirmatively asking to be left in the dark. Instead of torture we were unaware of, we are sanctioning torture we’ll never hear about. Instead of detainees we didn’t care about, we are authorizing detentions we’ll never know about. Instead of being misled by the president, we will be blind and powerless by our own choice. And that is a shame on us all.

Update: Unsurprisingly, the Senate just voted to kill an amendment which would have guaranteed habeas corpus rights to all non-citizen detainees. (Yep, even good ol’ John McCain voted against it.) Let’s be very clear: this means that those detainees who aren’t U.S. citizens will have absolutely no venue in which to challenge their detention, meaning that there’s almost no way to review this abhorrent bit of the legislation once enacted. (Congress and the President decided to be generous to citizens — we all have been granted the kindness of military tribunals to which we can appeal our detention.) Far from fearmongering, that parenthetical statement is a particularly important bit of info, since the new law also gives the President and military pretty much sole authority over the definition of “enemy combatant”, meaning that it’s not exaggerated to say they can go so far as to declare American citizens on American soil as enemy combatants. As a result, our Congress is a hair’s breadth from ensconsing our Executive branch in virtually unfettered power to detain, interrogate, and permanently imprison anyone they so choose. Truly, completely shameful.

OK, this makes me pretty happy: the folks at Sling Media announced three new versions of the Slingbox today, and after a bunch of delays, are also promising the public release of SlingPlayer for the Mac within the next month. (Well, I bet it’ll be a beta version, but whatever — I’ll be able to use something to view our Slingbox TV feed from my Macs.) It’s great that the company is also finally adding HDTV support, although I’m not terribly ecstatic about that support coming as a vaporware add-on that isn’t being released until the fall, will cost more, and will only plug into the most expensive of the new Slingbox models. I guess I can’t have everything…

The New York Times now has part two of its series online on the miscarriage of New York State town and village justice. It’s as frightening as the first.

Is there an single person anywhere who thinks that Pink’s NBC Sunday Night Football intro are sexy, or anything but supremely disturbing? I can’t figure out what part of the NFL demographic she’s supposed to appeal to; she’s just gross, and the intro bit makes her even nastier.

Tomorrow’s New York Times has a fascinating — and fascinatingly frightening — look at the abhorrent state of New York State’s town and village courts. 75% of the nearly 2,000 judges don’t have any formal legal training, and the state practices little to no oversight into how they run their “courtrooms” (a word deserving of the quotations, given some of the descriptions in the article). Misogyny, racism, and petty grievances take precedence over justice in a few of the towns the Times profiled, and disciplinary action is scarce to nonexistent. Let the article serve as a warning: never run afoul of the law in upstate New York.

Tonight’s pizza dough recipe, based mostly on Jeff Varasano’s painstaking work:

  • 3 ½ cups of flour;
  • 1 ½ cups of water;
  • 2 teaspoons of kosher salt;
  • 2 teaspoons of dried baker’s yeast.

Following his recommended preparation method, I mixed three cups of flour with all the water, salt, and yeast in my KitchenAid, blended it all together for two minutes (using the mixing paddle and the slowest speed), and then covered it and let it sit for 20 minutes. Following this, I switched to the kneading hook and mixed at the slowest speed for another five minutes; I sped up the mixer (only to the next-highest setting) and added the final half a cup of flour slowly over three minutes more. I again covered it and let it sit for 20 minutes, after which I transferred it to a well-floured cutting board, divided it into three portions, and transferred them into containers that had been wiped with the lightest of oil coatings. These are now in the fridge, and tomorrow evening, I’ll grab one of them, let it sit at room temp for around 30 to 60 minutes, and then try it out!

Space separation against the sun

This is really, really cool: a telescope photo of the Space Shuttle Atlantis taken 50 minutes after it separated from the International Space Station… while crossing in front of the sun. It was taken four days ago from Normandie, France by Thierry Legault, shot at one eight-thousandth of a second using a Canon 5D. He shot three images a second over the span of five seconds, and managed to capture the orbital ballet perfectly.

Am I really the only one who sees the irony in the fact that the company implicated in the bagged spinach E. coli outbreak is named Natural Selection? It feels like the sort of thing that, despite its seriousness, would have caused a bit of chuckling in the land o’ weblogs; in any event, it’s certainly an interesting Darwinian coincidence.

Only Skot can take a show so abhorrently awful as CSI: Miami and revel in it.

You see, it has morphed from a disastrous, insulting failure — not to mention a criminal waste of talents like Emily Procter and Khandi Alexander — into possibly the most overwrought, over-the-top, hilariously ridiculous spectacle since… I don’t know. The Piltdown Man? Any Cirque Du Soleil show? This show is so awesomely misguided and bizarre and campy that it could only top itself by having everyone perform in drag. And I feel bad saying that, because I have friends who are drag queens, and I don’t want them to feel insulted.

Every time I’ve been subjected to even sixty seconds of CSI: Miami, I’ve found myself wondering (a) how its existence is justified, and (b) why someone (anyone!) hasn’t sent the gift of actual acting lessons to David Caruso. I guess a partial answer to the first query is that, without the show, we wouldn’t have the awesome experience of reading Skot ripping it to pieces, something that’s almost worth the pain of watching it in the first place.

Since moving to Washington, DC, Shannon and I have been trying to be much better about cooking dinner for ourselves as often as possible, and putting some time aside early in the weekend to plan the coming week’s worth of dinners (mostly so we can make a grocery list and go to Eastern Market to grab everything we need!). Last weekend, while paging through a few of my favorite cookbooks looking for new things to try, I decided that it was as good a time as any to learn how to make pizza, so we added all the various ingredients to our list and penciled it into our dinner plans for mid-week. (Well, we grabbed almost everything; I also ordered a pizza stone online, since I love my pizza crusts crispy.) After finishing up as the attending on the pediatric oncology service on Wednesday morning, I made my very first pizza Thursday evening, and I’m pleased to report that it wasn’t bad at all!

My first pizza.

I made my pizza dough using the basic recipe from The Silver Spoon, and I used Rebecca Blood’s no-cook pizza sauce as a base for my sauce and diced-up fresh mozzarella cheese from the dairy counter at Eastern Market as the only topping on the pizza. All in all, I was pretty happy with how everything turned out (well, except for a near-disaster that made clear to me how important it is that I get myself a pizza peel!) — but my happiness faded a bit once I read through Jeff Varasano’s treatise on his years of trying to reproduce the perfect Patsy’s pizza. (That link appears to be the most popular thing on the internet right now, resulting in Jeff taking the content down; it’s mirrored by the good folks at SliceNY, though.)

After reading Jeff’s observations, I can see about a thousand ways to work on my pizza technique and results. For one, it’s clear that I can put a lot more care and attention into my pizza dough, something that actually sounds like fun to me. Likewise, using authentic sourdough yeast cultures looks like it can improve the taste of a pizza crust about a millionfold, so it’s time to start getting an understanding about how someone like me (who only intends to make the occasional pizza here and there) might be able to use them without it becoming a huge pain in the butt. And finally (since I have absolutely no intention of hacking my oven and using the cleaning cycle to cook pizzas at 800 degrees!), I need to play around with doughmaking enough to understand which parts of Jeff’s recommendations are specific to high-temperature baking, and which parts play an important role even at the more pedestrian temperatures that home ovens achieve. In any event, I can feel a bit of a pizza obsession creeping into my being… here’s hoping for many happy returns on that obsession.

There’s been a bit of press given lately to Amazon Unbox, the internet behemoth’s move into the video download business, and I’d imagine that between it and Apple, the online video market is going to explode over the coming months. It’s for that reason that I’m grateful to people like Cory Doctorow, who put quite a bit of effort in Friday explaining how godawful the terms of service are for Amazon Unbox, and why people should treat the new service as they would an ebola-infected colony of monkeys. Summarizing any of the salient points of Cory’s analysis doesn’t do the whole thing justice; suffice it to say that the terms of service dictate when and where you’re allowed to watch any downloaded videos, prevent you from deciding how and when Amazon’s software runs on your computer and updates itself, and prevent you from recourse if and when Amazon decides that you’re no longer allowed to watch the things you’ve paid for and downloaded. If you had to find a single pullquote from the piece, this is it:

So this is just like renting a movie from Blockbuster, except that while you can give your Blockbuster movies to your boyfriend to watch after you’re done with them, these movies are only for you. Oh, and they cost more. Oh, and you have to pay for the bandwidth to transfer them to your home. Oh, and you have to wait for them to download. Oh, and you have to let them invade your privacy.

Given that Amazon has precious little independent interest in enforcing most of the the restrictions placed on users by the terms of service, it becomes clear that what’s being enforced are the desires of content producers like the MPAA, and by using a service agreement, the whole setup avoids the need for an actual legal basis for the demands placed on Unbox users. Most of my tens of readers know that I’m not one to tilt towards tin-foil-hat conspiracy land — the terms of service for Amazon Unbox are purely awful, and I couldn’t recommend more strongly that people find another way to spend their entertainment money.

Avi Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins, posted a recap of his day as an election judge in Maryland on Tuesday, and it’s enough to make you wonder how a first-world democracy like the United States can behave like a banana republic when it comes to our election methodology. Avi’s precinct used the hideously insecure Diebold Accuvote-TS systems, and between technical problems, false security mechanisms, and a Diebold tech who had less than 24 hours of job experience and less than eight hours of training, Avi’s experience was disastrous. Given how fundamental voting is to the American way of government, it’s hard to concieve of a reason why Diebold and its machines are still present in elections. It’s pretty clear that an intermediate-level computer science student could develop a more reliable and secure system…