Archive for February, 2014

Why was the iOS 6 user afraid of iOS 7? He wasn’t, but he didn’t have an incentive to upgrade until recently

February 28, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 28, 2014

Guess what finally got me to upgrade my smartphone operating system?

Yep — that massive wireless security flaw.

Although Apple released iOS 7 in September, I didn’t get around to updating my iPhone 5 until just the other day. Although the new system seemed to have some cool features, I didn’t find its look all that appealing, and I was pretty happy with iOS 6. However, knowing that my heavily used smartphone was highly vulnerable to hackers forced my hand.

The update process turned out to be a bit tricky, which did not surprise me. Before the upgrade, my 32 GB phone’s memory was basically stuffed to the gills. I ended up having to delete a bunch of apps before I was able to install the new operating system. There turned out to be a long list of apps waiting to be installed on the phone. I wasn’t aware of this, but the upgrade couldn’t proceed until the queued-up apps were downloaded.

Anyway, after some mucking about, I had an iPhone 5 running a new, and newly secure, iOS 7. I’ve spent the last few days getting to know the new software, and so far, my reaction is mixed.

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Twitchy is mad as hell, and it’s not going to take it anymore: Ambassador Samantha Power edition

February 27, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 27, 2014

The Obama administration’s liaison to the United Nations, gave a lecture Sunday night at UCLA. Ambassador Samantha Power, the author of a Pulitzer Prize–winning book on repeated American inaction in the face of genocide, was speaking at the invitation of the Daniel Pearl Foundation. The organization is dedicated to the memory of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered in 2002 while reporting on al Qaeda terrorism activity in Pakistan. Pearl, infamously, was beheaded in a video that was posted on the Internet.

At some point on the evening of the lecture, Power posted the following tweet:

A number of conservative-leaning Twitter users reacted to Power’s message with a mixture of bafflement and outrage.

Several of these comments were collected by Twitchy, the quick-reaction infotainment site founded by conservative commentator Michelle Malkin. The organization gets most of its juice by finding supposedly outrageous tweets (generally from non-conservatives) and publishing outraged responses from conservatives.

Twitchy first posted about Power’s purported faux pas at 8:14 a.m. on Feb. 24, the morning after Power’s controversial tweet. That inaugurated a series of what would turn out to be seven separate articles, all bylined “Twitchy Staff.”

The first article quoted a tweeter asking if Power’s message was the dumbest tweet ever, or just of the week. “Arguably the former,” staffers wrote. After a tweet by conservative writer David Freddoso that called Power’s comment stupid, staffers added: “Yep. The idiocy, it scorches.”

Immediately following a tweet calling Power “an absolute idiot,” Twitchy closed out one of its articles with this observation: “Dangerous incompetence and appeasement from the Obama administration. Again.”

Twitchy’s fifth post about this kerfuffle, at 2:34 p.m. on the 24th, featured more than a dozen tweets calling for the ambassador’s resignation or firing. Included was this message from a conservative writer with more than 77,000 Twitter followers:

The elegance and wisdom of Burge’s dazzling punditry there is impossible to deny, is it not?

Now, there are plenty of ways to interpret the Power message that so outraged the folks spotlighted by Twitchy; in fact, the ambassador tweeted these two follow-ups in response to the stir that her original post caused on Twitter:

So Power acknowledges that Pearl was killed by bigots because of his religion and nationality. And her correction asserts that is not specifically his story but rather the work of the Daniel Pearl Foundation that reminds us that “individual accountability + reconciliation are required to break cycles of violence.”

Twitchy, by the way, dedicated a post to those two Power tweets. It was headlined “‘Definition of flailing!’ — Amb. Power ‘clarifies’ Daniel Pearl tweet; Doubles down on idiocy.”

For all the energy that Twitchy expended gathering outraged reactions to Power, no one on the staff evidently could be bothered to look up the full text of the ambassador’s remarks. I found a copy of them, which the U.S. mission to the United Nations evidently posted on the night of Power’s speech, with little effort.

Now, the lecture would take a while to process fully; the text runs just shy of 4,000 words, and I’ve only skimmed it. Still, a bit from near the beginning of the remarks jumped out at me. After acknowledging the murdered journalist’s parents, Power said:

I think their son would be very proud that the foundation established in his memory is dedicated to inter-cultural understanding. Given the circumstances of Daniel Pearl’s death, we should recognize how remarkable that is. Much of the world’s sorrow can be traced to cycles of retribution, where one group seeks revenge for real or imagined wrongs done by another.

Individuals become symbols, faiths become enemies, and hate becomes a currency of identity — all that we have in common — as fellow parents, fellow students, fellow believers — all that we have in common becomes reduced to a catastrophic alchemy of Us versus Them.

That was the ugly mindset of the men who murdered Daniel Pearl because he was a reporter, an American and, most of all, because he was a Jew. In that infamous video, the killers advertised their ruthlessness, betrayed their faith, and sought further to inflame passions that divide the world. Not long thereafter, the Daniel Pearl Foundation took its brave stand on the opposite shore, guiding us toward a more profound response to hate: urging dialogue, shared learning, reconciliation, and a recognition that individual — not collective — accountability is required to break cycles of violence.

Now, people are certainly free to disagree with Power’s assertions here. But they don’t seem particularly baffling or objectionable to me. And call me crazy, but I certainly don’t think that they constitute grounds for calling Power an idiot, asking if she smokes crack or comparing her to feces.

The Daniel Pearl Foundation itself would seem to agree. After all, it had invited Power to speak — she was, in fact, delivering the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture. The morning after the event, the organization tweeted:

Twitchy evidently never bothered to scan the foundation’s Twitter feed, even though it was linked to in two of the Power tweets that Twitchy itself cited. Nor is there any evidence that Twitchy sent an email or put in a call to the Daniel Pearl Foundation to get its reaction to anything Power said or tweeted.

Of course, Twitchy isn’t a news organization. It doesn’t seem to be geared toward advancing any specific policy goals, either. Instead, Twitchy is part of — well, not the conspiracy (real or imagined) that Hillary Clinton long ago bemoaned. No; Twitchy is part of a vast right-wing outrage machine.

Twitchy isn’t focused on reporting, or considering, or thinking. Rather, it’s a component in a vast virtual echo chamber, finding and promoting various spurious provocations.

The great Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum regularly uses a great phrase, “nothingburger,” to dismiss overhyped stories, hollow promises or ginned-up controversies. But for Twitchy, whether any given outrage has any substance or not is entirely beside the point. The fact that it will get some people angry is justification enough to throw up one, two, three or seven different posts about whatever comment is at hand.

Failure to disclose: Journalism, ethics and Breitbart ‘news’

February 25, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 25, 2014

Last week, I wrote about the Texas Tribune, which was the subject of a lengthy critique documenting serious issues with journalism ethics, notably rampant conflicts of interest and lax disclosures of same.

As noted in that blog post, I first became interested in the Tribune after seeing a pair of tweets Wednesday by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a conservative Texas political activist. Sullivan, it would turn out, posted another message on Twitter later the same day that also caught my eye.

#TxLege #GOP Rep. Threatens To Sue For Discussing His Voting Record: via @BreitbartNews

— Michael Q Sullivan (@MQSullivan) February 20, 2014

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How much is money mixing — and interfering — with news at the Texas Tribune? A political activist voices grave concerns

February 22, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 22, 2014

On Wednesday, a tweet by a conservative Texas political activist caught my eye.

“In which Huffington Post attacks @TexasTribune for assorted bad behavior,” Michael Quinn Sullivan wrote. “For whom do I cheer? #GetPopcorn[.]” Shortly afterward, Sullivan tweeted, “Is this best described as ‘pay-to-play’ journalism? It seems to waddle and quack, so…”

Both messages linked to this article by Jim Moore, a former Texas television reporter who now runs a liberal-leaning political action committee called Progress Texas. He’s also the co-author, with Wayne Slater, of Bush’s Brain. The 2004 book profiles Karl Rove, the political consultant who helped make George W. Bush the nation’s 43rd president.

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Yes, Clevelanders voted heavily for Obama in 2012. No, the results don’t seem all that unusual.

February 20, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 20, 2014

Bill Cunningham is a politically conservative attorney who has hosted a radio talk show on Cincinnati’s WLW 700 AM station for more than three decades. Since 2011, he’s also hosted The Bill Cunningham Show, a weekday television talk program that is filmed in New York City and is currently shown on the CW Network.

I’ve never seen any video of Cunningham, but I know a little about him from his appearances on various shows aired in the Raleigh-Durham Triangle on WTKK 106.1 FM. He’s an occasional guest on Sean Hannity’s radio program, and three hours of Cunningham’s own show air on WTKK beginning at 10 p.m. Sundays. (I’m unclear on whether these Sunday broadcasts involve original content or repackaged segments from Cunningham’s daily radio program.)

I was listening to Cunningham this past Sunday when he said something that made my jaw drop. Cunningham’s guest at the time was Bill Tucker, an editor for and the author of a new book called Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human. Although it was a comment by the host that caught my attention, I’ll let you read what Tucker said to set up that remark:

Tucker: I think you have to recognize that the Democrats have quite a racket going, and that is that the more single mothers they create, the more, the more they secure themselves [of] the vote of a huge percentage of the electorate. The breakdown — married people elected Mitt Romney in the last election. Married people voted about — married women voted for Romney. The split in the electorate now is not racial, it’s not income; it’s between married people and single people. And single women are this huge, are the largest — they’re about a quarter of the electorate now, and they voted just overwhelmingly, something like 65 to 35, for Obama, and they handed him the election, basically. The same thing happened in this recent election in Virginia. Now the Democrats have defined this, the issue — it’s a war against women.

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Strangers come together, things fall apart, repairs are made: The haunting arc of ‘The English Patient’

February 18, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 18, 2014

The English Patient is a complex tale of passion and betrayal set before the start of and near the end of World War II.

The 1992 Booker Prize–winning novel by Canadian novel Michael Ondaatje deftly interweaves two stories. In one, a Canadian nurse named Hana commandeers an abandoned Italian monastery as the war winds down to care for her dying patient, the eponymous character, who is supposedly amnesiac. The isolated outpost attracts a variety of characters — notably a thief with the unlikely name of David Caravaggio and a British soldier with the almost-as-unlikely name of Kip Singh.

The other story, set before the war, begins when an English couple joins an archaeological expedition in the Sahara Desert. The intense, brusque Laszlo de Almásy, a Hungarian count, and the urbane, adventurous Katharine Clifton find themselves drawn to one another. This love affair is slow to begin; when the illicit romance unravels, so does Almásy. As war breaks out, mirroring the conflicts in the love triangle, the fates of the three lovers are turn out to have deadly consequences for countless thousands of people.

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See-sawing between convenience and privacy

February 17, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 17, 2014

Last week, I considered Kevin Drum’s complaint about Google leveraging its access to his web searches in order to send him a targeted email advertisement.

Since writing that post, I’ve given the topic a little more consideration. Specifically, I spent some time trying to sum up my message in a pithy fashion.

I came up with this formula: You can have lots of convenience or you can have lots of privacy online, but you can’t have both.

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Snow problem: It’s not if people don’t get on the roads at the same time they’re being converted into ice rinks

February 15, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 15, 2014

On Friday, I wrote about my (very modest) snow-day misadventures. But I wanted to write a bit about the much more significant troubles that the South, and in particular my corner of it, have handling snow.

In Durham, North Carolina, a lot of area businesses and schools seemed to close around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. This appeared a bit silly to me at the time, but it turned out to be a great call. As previously noted, the snow started around a quarter to 1 that afternoon, and visibility and road conditions deteriorated very quickly.

So what happens when snow starts during business hours? Typically, lots of people jump on the roads to go home — the same roads that have suddenly become unsafe to travel, the same roads that are not scaled to handle virtually everyone traveling on them at the same time, and the same roads that, in most of the South, there are very few snowplows to clear.

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Snowed in: A short, inconsequential comedy of errors

February 14, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 14, 2014

I looked out a window around a quarter to 1 on Wednesday and saw the first few flakes drifting down onto Durham, North Carolina.

I packed up my computer and put away my teapot and tea cup and headed out of the coffee shop and into the cold gray afternoon. This snow, I quickly realized, was no joke; in the space of about five minutes, it had gone from nothing to a very heavy fall.

I’d known a snowstorm was coming, of course; everyone did. I was pretty well stocked with food and supplies at home, but I wanted a few more things, so I drove to a grocery store.

The place was pretty crowded — although I didn’t appreciate just how crowded until I brought my fruit, soy/coconut milk mixture (a first-time and last-time purchase) and pasta sauce to the checkout lanes. Every lane was staffed, and every one had a queue. Fortunately, the express line moved pretty quickly.

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One simple way to evade corporate peeping toms (in which I quote the Founding Fathers and a 1980s TV show)

February 12, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb 12, 2014

The great Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum put up a short post yesterday. The title captures the content pretty well: “Google Reads My Mind (And My Web Searches) Once Again.”

You should read the whole article, though. It’s just three brief paragraphs and 180 words long. Go ahead, check it out. Just click on the link above. I’ll wait.

I’ve been reading Drum on and off for years, and he strikes me as a pretty savvy character. He’s also someone who’s taken a noted interest in the issue of privacy. To be fair, Drum is mostly concerned with government surveillance, but he’s certainly aware of the potential that corporate data mining has to infringe on privacy.

So what did I find most shocking about Drum’s post from Tuesday?

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Bodily functions and bodily fluids: The earwax post

February 11, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 11, 2014

Cerumen, old friend. We meet again.

I didn’t actually say that to myself last month when my doctor looked into my ears, but I may as well have. I certainly cringed internally.

Here’s a quick recap. I got sick in late January, and after trying to tough it out for a few days, I made an appointment to see my physician. After checking both ears with that funny pointed scope that doctors use, she told me that there was some wax buildup in both my ear canals, especially the left one, which needed a cleaning.

I’ve been told this kind of thing many times over the years. The human body naturally produces wax, technically known as cerumen; it traps dirt and protects the eardrums, in part by slowing the growth of bacteria in the ear canals. If everything is working smoothly, older wax will migrate to the outer ear, dry up, harden and fall out.

Unfortunately, sometimes wax builds up without coming out. Earwax accumulation can cause discomfort and occlude hearing.

I didn’t immediately follow up on my doctor’s suggestion to clean my ear. After a few days, though, I was feeling better — more energetic and ready to tackle challenges, and also better prepared to handle disappointments.

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George Clooney’s arty party can’t quite come together in tale of ‘The Monuments Men’ of World War II

February 8, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 8, 2014

A sequence in The Monuments Men captures the key problem with the new feature directed, co-written by and starring George Clooney.

As sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman) and Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) are questioning a clergyman about the fate of historic artwork stolen by the Nazis, a sniper begins shooting at them. Garfield and Clermont comically argue about which of them will provide suppressive fire and which will attempt to infiltrate the structure where the gunman is located. After that matter is settled, Clermont races toward a gutted building as Garfield covers him.

Once the Frenchman is inside, his fate comes down to whether he can outfox — and outshoot — the sniper. Clermont advances to the second floor, hugs a door frame and pivots, rifle-muzzle-first, into the space that he thinks contains the shooter. It’s empty.

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Is the end Nye for creationism? (Probably not.) Musing on an unusual debate in Kentucky

February 7, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 7, 2014

On Tuesday night, science educator Bill Nye stepped on stage at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., to debate the institution’s founder, Ken Ham. The question at hand was whether science or the Bible offers a better explanation for the creation of the universe and the development of life on Earth.

I didn’t watch or listen to the event, as I was driving to New York because of the death of a friend’s parent. But the web, naturally, has a full spectrum of reactions to the event.

A number of people who advocate for science and evolution are upset with Nye for even crossing metaphoric swords with creationists. Before the event, physicist and philosopher Karl Giberson wrote the following at HuffPost:

Ham has won the debate before he even steps on stage, simply because Bill Nye does not believe in God. Nye walks on stage with a huge bubble over his head that says “I reject God and the Bible and I accept evolution.” Ham walks on stage with a bubble that reads “I believe in God and the Bible and I reject evolution.” And Christians will be pressed to choose sides.

The anti-science guy has already won.

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Spy vs. spy: An aging veteran tangos with a canny but green rookie in understated character study ‘Breach’

February 5, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 5, 2014

In late 2000, veteran FBI agent Robert Hanssen was posted to the bureau’s headquarters and put in charge of a new division, the Information Assurance Section. Hanssen, a devout Catholic, had an abrasive, brook-no-B.S. approach to his job that had won him many enemies. He also had an impressive intellect that had earned him a great deal of respect, however begrudging, from his peers.

Over a two-month period, probationary agent Eric O’Neill would come to know Hanssen intimately. As shown in the 2007 film Breach, which is based on actual events, O’Neill was pulled from surveillance duty and made Hanssen’s assistant. His secret assignment: Win the trust of his crusty, acerbic boss — and figure out how to catch Hanssen in the act of betraying his employer and nation.

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A charming diversion: Dumb Ways to Die app offers a pleasant reminder of ways to stay alive

February 3, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 3, 2014

I’ve been recovering from a cold, and a few days ago, I was desperate for a new mindless distraction. This being 2014, I did what any au courant individual seeking diversion does: I turned to my smartphone.

I opened up the app store, tapped on the icon for the most-downloaded pograms, and started scrolling horizontally through the free apps. I was in search of a fun, simple game.

The first one that jumped out at me was called Unroll Me. I played with it for a few minutes but found it a bit too challenging. I deleted it and went in search of more fun.

That’s when I stumbled upon Dumb Ways to Die, a May 2013 release out of Australia. I downloaded it and found this digital gewgaw to be utterly charming.

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