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July 23, 2007

"Barista Not Actually Flirting With You"

Via Starbucks Gossip, this story from The Onion:

Sources: Barista Not Actually Flirting With You

SAN FRANCISCO -- Though she greets you every morning with a smile, sometimes chats with you, and makes sure the chocolate syrup is evenly distributed throughout your mocha, Starbucks barista Molly Sopel is in truth not flirting with you, and is instead simply a pleasant person and conscientious employee, coffeeshop sources reported Monday.

"The best part about Molly is that she laughs and talks with everyone," said manager Mike Dezort, who confirmed that Sopel asks if you want room for milk as a courtesy, and not because of the physical attraction you think exists between the two of you. "I always overhear her calling customers sweetie, which people seem to like."

A Starbucks regular who frequently watches you order from Sopel is reportedly "shocked" that you still haven't realized that she only calls you by your first name when you pay with your debit card.

Wait, if the barista at Starbucks isn't flirting with me... what does that mean for the girl who worked at the Quizno's down by Harris Teeter? Or the cool girl with the tattoo who made me sandwiches at Yaletown Market? Or the girl who worked at Red Tractor Cafe? Has none of them been flirting with me? Not a single one? Damn!

July 22, 2007

Back from Seattle

I'm back from Seattle -- I actually have been for a couple of days now, but am just starting to catch up with things like blogging.

It was as good a week as I could have hoped for. The actual content of the conference wasn't terribly compelling, but the meetings we held couldn't have gone better. The old friends I caught up with, and the new friends I got to know -- that was great. And up until the last day there, the weather was practically perfect -- sunny and in the low-to-mid-70s every day.

Oh, and then there was the food. A wonderful dinner at Dahlia Lounge, my favorite restaurant in Seattle. Lunch at Serious Pie, the new pizzeria also owned by Tom Douglas, home to the best pizza I've had outside Rome. Drinks and dessert at Salty's on Alki, at sunset, no less.

July 16, 2007

iPhones and Wireless Data in Canada

AppleInsider has a story on how the cost of wireless data in Canada may be holding up the introduction of the iPhone there:

In the U.S., AT&T's combined iPhone service and data plans start at just $59.99 for 450 anytime minutes, 5000 additional night and weekend minutes, and unlimited data. But in Canada... a comparable plan for Rogers Wireless -- the only carrier with an iPhone-compatible GSM network -- would currently run about $295 per month.

Rogers charges $60 for 500 anytime minutes, $25 for an additional $500 anytime minutes and a whopping $210 for 500MB data plan. Unlike AT&T, the Canadian carrier does not offer an unlimited data plan and its monthly minutes do not rollover to the next month if they go unused.

Last year, considering the possibility of spending a good deal of time in Canada, I stopped at a Rogers Wireless store to ask them about their data plans:

Me: How much do you charge for unlimited wireless data?

Salesperson: We don't offer that here.

Me: It's fine if it's more expensive than in the States, but how much is it?

Salesperson: We don't offer an unlimited data plan.

Me: You're kidding.

Salesperson: No. We just don't have that here.

Me: At all?

Salesperson: No.

Me: Okay, if you don't, who does?

Salesperson: No one.

I have a mobile wireless broadband card from Sprint (evil though they may be, they do have a great wireless data network). It costs $60 per month for unlimited data, and it's one of the better purchases I've made recently. I no longer hunt for Wi-Fi hot spots on the road, paying T-Mobile and others $10 a day for the privilege of using their networks. I haven't yet found a place where I've wanted to open my laptop that Sprint wasn't available, and I don't have to worry about how much I'm using the service.

So where are the competitive pressures that would lower prices for wireless service in Canada?

July 15, 2007

Redhook Brewery

After embarrassing myself more than once over the years by explaining that I had never been, I finally visited Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, WA. The beer was excellent, the food great, it was a gloriously perfect Pacific Northwest summer day, and the company couldn't have been better -- my friends Ian and Terra:

Ian at Redhook

Ian at Redhook.

Terra at Redhook 2

Terra at Redhook.

Power and Its Limits in Today's World

Retired British Army general Michael Rose recently wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times comparing the effect on Britain of its loss in the War of Independence to the possible effects on the US of either withdrawing from or hunkering down in Iraq. You know where he's going from the title, "How a Revolution Saved an Empire":

Britain was near bankruptcy when peace with America was officially signed. [William] Pitt [the Younger], however, realized that because of industrialization his nation was about to experience unprecedented economic growth. He rose to prime minister in 1783 and set about creating the necessary economic conditions for Britain to become the workshop of the world.

Pitt also passed the India Bill in 1784 -- thus ensuring that the sort of poor administration that had soured relations with the American colonies would not be repeated in Britain’s other territories...

Most important, Pitt set about rebuilding the British Navy and Army, for he could see that war with France was looming once again. He would often visit the yards to ensure that ships were being constructed on time. Under the energetic direction of the Duke of York, the king’s second son, the army was reorganized and retrained. New commanders were appointed for both services -- men like Nelson and Wellington -- who were determined not to make the same mistakes as their predecessors. It is hardly an overstatement to say that had Britain not ended the American War of Independence when it did, it could never have been in a position to defeat Napoleon.

Rose then goes on to draw an explicit parallel with the United States in 2007:

Today, of course, the United States finds itself in much the same position as Britain in 1781. Distracted and diminished by an irrelevant, costly and probably unwinnable war in Iraq, America could ultimately find itself challenged by countries like China and India. Unless it can find a leader with the moral courage of Pitt, there is a strong probability that it will be forced to relinquish its position as the global superpower -- possibly to a regime that does not have the same commitment to justice and liberty that the United States and Britain have worked so hard to extend across the world over the past two centuries.
There are a variety of forms of power that states wield to advance their goals: not just military, but economic, intellectual, and even moral. After 9/11, the Bush Administration made the conscious decision to fight terrorism primarily with military power. We even have a "War on Terror", which Jerry Brown insightfully called a "war on a strategy".

Rose is absolutely right to point out that the United States has challengers coming on strong. Could we take any country in the world in a stand-up fight? Of course, but then we should expect nothing less given that we spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined (or we did the last time I checked). But that's today.

We've lost the moral power we had prior to and even immediately after 9/11 -- after invading Iraq on false pretenses, and then showing disregard for our own standards of civil liberties, who takes our President seriously? If I don't believe him when he talks, how can I expect someone in Europe to do so -- much less someone in, say, the Middle East? Without that moral power, we may find that we don't have quite so many friends ready to help us when we need it -- and note that we are working with much of NATO just to deal with the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Economic power? Yes, we're still the greatest economic power in the world. But the massive deficits we're running are creating a hole out of which our children and grandchildren will have to dig themselves, just as China is becoming directly competitive with them on virtually every front.

Intellectual power? The US is in many fields still the preeminent source of innovation in the world today. Thank goodness for our university system and our venture capital community, as well as our inherent risk-taking, fault-tolerating, entrepreneurship-celebrating national psychology. But in certain fields, we could find ourselves lagging, if we're not doing so already. Restrictions on stem cell research mean that some of the best work is being done overseas. Failure to enact useful environmental legislation is causing us to fall behind in green technologies.

So if our moral power is nearly gone, our economic power on a long, slow, deficit-induced decline, and our intellectual power inconsistent across industries, what does this mean for us? The days of relying on military power alone to maintain one's position in the world are long gone, for a variety of reasons. One is that the world economy is so interconnected that for one major state to attack another would rightly be seen by all sides as self-destructive, and so highly unlikely. Another is the law of accelerating returns (per Ray Kurzweil): with the rate of progress itself progressing, very slight advantages become dramatic. Technology in the year 1007 AD looked nearly identical to technology in the year 987 AD. But look at how profoundly technology has altered our world in the last two decades. If we fall behind our competitors even by a few years, we could find ourselves at a serious disadvantage.

Rose doesn't offer any prescriptions beyond an implied recommendation that we extricate ourselves from Iraq. That's a good start, one that I believe would make the US and its allies safer almost immediately. But there needs to be much more than that. We need to reiterate -- through actions, not words -- our commitment to human rights and the rule of law. We need a government that brings its fiscal house in order and returns to the budget surpluses of the 1990s. We need to ensure that in every critical industry, we're doing everything we can to be the most competitive nation in the world.

For the sake of the US -- and the rest of our interconnected world -- I hope our next president and the congress he or she inherits are up to these tasks.

July 14, 2007

Impeachment Polls, Then and Now

Via Andrew Sullivan, Eric Kleefeld reports on recent polls of whether Americans favor impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Via The Crossed Pond, Ana Marie Cox digs up comparable pre-impeachment numbers for President Clinton.

The bottom line is that 36 percent of Americans favored impeachment hearings for Clinton in 1998. Today, 45 percent of Americans favor impeachment hearings for Bush, and 54 percent for Cheney.

July 13, 2007

Off to Seattle

I'm off to Seattle in the morning for the Casual Games Association's Casual Connect Seattle meeting this coming week. I'll try to get some catch-up blogging done on my flights out there -- lots to write about.

July 03, 2007

Orin Kerr on the Case Against Libby

Via Andrew Sullivan, Orin Kerr makes this point on Scooter Libby's prosecution for perjury:

The Scooter Libby case has triggered some very weird commentary around the blogosphere; perhaps the weirdest claim is that the case against Libby was "purely political."

I find this argument seriously bizarre. As I understand it, Bush political appointee James Comey named Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Plame leak. Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Fitzgerald filed an indictment and went to trial before Bush political appointee Reggie Walton. A jury convicted Libby, and Bush political appointee Walton sentenced him. At sentencing, Bush political appointee Judge Walton described the evidence against Libby as "overwhelming" and concluded that a 30-month sentence was appropriate. And yet the claim, as I understand it, is that the Libby prosecution was the work of political enemies who were just trying to hurt the Bush Administration.

I find this claim bizarre. I'm open to arguments that parts of the case against Libby were unfair. But for the case to have been purely political, doesn't that require the involvement of someone who was not a Bush political appointee? Who are the political opponents who brought the case? Is the idea that Fitzgerald is secretly a Democratic party operative? That Judge Walton is a double agent? Or is the idea that Fitzgerald and Walton were hypnotized by "the Mainstream Media" like Raymond Shaw in the Manchurian Candidate? Seriously, I don't get it.

Here's the Wikipedia article on the impeachment of President Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. It includes, of course, lists of how the senators voted on each charge. It would be interesting to look up the Republican senators who voted to impeach Clinton then and who are now supportive of the commutation (if not pardon) of Libby, and compare their statements then and now.