Wednesday, May 31, 2006


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by Rebecca Webber and Gail Robinson
July 7, 2003

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When 57-year-old Alberta Spruill died after a botched police raid on her Harlem apartment in May, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly reacted immediately. Kelly apologized for her death, Bloomberg spoke at her funeral, both men promised an investigation. And, in a response that has become familiar in New York, the police department vowed to look at the numbers -- in this case to create a database with information on police raids conducted as the result of search warrants. The police department, like so many other city agencies and city governments, was hoping that another thorny problem could be solved by using yet another variation of Compstat.

In 1994, Police Commissioner William Bratton launched Compstat, a program that used hard data and stepped-up accountability to try to stem lawlessness in the city. It was, said George L. Kelling and William Sousa in a paper for the Manhattan Institute, "perhaps the single most important organizational/administrative innovation in policing during the latter half of the 20th century."

Officials in New York and elsewhere began copying it -- to fight crime but also to address many other problems as well. Soon, we had Healthstat and Parkstat and TrafficStat, and many more - with even more on the way.

Few seem to question whether there is a limit to the magic. But not everybody sees the trend as wholly positive. Indeed, some critics might go so far as to argue that Compstat actually played a part, albeit very indirectly, in Alberta Spruill's death.


Collecting data and then mapping it has been used to identify trends and help find solutions since at least 1854, when a London doctor plotted the locations of more than 500 cholera deaths and saw that they clustered around one water pump. He had the handle of that water pump removed and ended the epidemic.

When William Bratton became police commissioner of New York City almost a century and a half later, he asked for a count of major crimes and where they occurred. A team of four police officers set to work transforming a rudimentary software program for small businesses into an elementary database with statistics about the seven crimes that municipalities must report to the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny auto. When the time came to save the file, one of the officers suggested naming it CompStat.

From this humble christening, something remarkable emerged. Police would enter crime reports into the computer system, which sorted them by type. Then officers pored over the weekly statistics to create maps and charts showing notable changes and emerging problem spots. Police department heads convened regular meetings to discuss the trends and strategies, inviting commanders from relevant precincts.

The sessions could be rough. As described by Craig Horowitz in New York magazine Jack Maple, the deputy police commissioner, "hammered every commander who came to a meeting unprepared. If robberies were up in the four-five that [commander] better have some suggestion to deal with it. Otherwise, he risked not only humiliation at the Compstat meeting but career derailment as well."

"In the Compstat meeting, people were accountable for getting the mission accomplished," said David Weisburd, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland and the lead researcher on a Police Foundation study into the proliferation of Compstat. "The idea was, if you don't do the job, we are going to get rid of you, which was a radical idea. And if you do a good job, we are going to reward you." (The meetings are reportedly less contentious these days.)

But perhaps even more important than these meetings, write Kelling and Sousa, was the fact that Compstat spurred the development of local crime fighting strategies.

As Compstat evolved, crime fell sharply throughout the city, in all 76 precincts. The trend has continued. Overall, the serious crime rate (in pdf format) in 2002 was 65 percent lower than in 1993. For example, 2002 had 584 murders, compared to almost 2,000 in 1993.

Experts debate the true cause of that crime drop, pointing to the police department's pursuit of minor offenders during the Giuliani administration as well as demographic changes, the end of the crack epidemic and the strong economy. Some say that people in high crime neighborhoods, particularly young people, were angry at the violence and brought about the change themselves. Some critics note that other cities throughout the country also saw crime plummet in the 1990s - without Compstat.

Further, "the drop in crime [in New York] did not start in 1994," said Richard Holden (in pdf format), a professor of criminal justice at Central Missouri State University. Crime in the city peaked in 1990, Holden wrote, "and began its rapid decline from there. New York City was already in its fourth year of a dramatic downward trend in crime rates when it implemented its new approach."

"The data do not support a strong argument for Compstat causing, contributing to or accelerating the decline in homicides in New York City or elsewhere," criminologists John E. Eck and Edward R. McGuire have said.

But many officials and experts think, as Eli Silverman of John Jay College of Criminal Justice puts it, that Compstat "deserves some of the credit." The program received an Innovation in American Government Award, from Harvard's Kennedy School and the Ford Foundation, and officials in New York and beyond began looking for ways to apply it to other city scourges.


Over the past decade, especially in the past few years, city officials have implemented Compstat-like systems to address problems ranging from dangerous intersections to unruly inmates to negligent landlords.

First Compstat itself has evolved. "Compstat has changed over the years," said Detective Walter Burns, a spokesman for the New York City Police Department. "We've added different elements. The original concept was just dealing with precinct commanders. But one would come in and say, 'My problem is narcotics and I don't have a narcotics group. So bring narcotics into Compstat.' One says, 'I'm having a big problem with kids stealing cars.' Now auto theft is part of Compstat."

In New York, Trafficstat was among the first offshoots to take off. Also run by the police department, the program tracked accidents, arrests for driving while under the influence and other moving violations.

The Department of Correction implemented the Compstat model with T.E.A.M.S., its Total Efficiency Accountability Management System, and decreased overtime payments while increasing prison safety. The jails on Rikers Island became among the safest prison facilities in the nation, according to a report (in pdf format) about Compstat by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation developed Parkstat. City parks were regularly rated for cleanliness and safety, and department supervisors were called upon monthly to account for their park's rating and discuss ways to solve problems. The percentage of parks rated acceptably clean and safe by the department rose from 47 percent in 1993 to 86 percent in 2001.

In August 2001, the Giuliani administration announced the Citywide Accountability Program which asked all city agencies to develop programs that implement the essential elements of Compstat. The agencies would collect data about their work and hold regular meetings with managers to find solutions to the problems revealed by the data. Currently, 20 city agencies participate in the program and publish data on the internet, where one can track all sorts of city statistics, from the numbers of complaints against taxi drivers to the number of malfunctioning off-track betting machines.

More "children of Compstat" appear every day. For example, the Mayor's Office of Health Insurance has been re-focusing Healthstat, a program designed to help uninsured New Yorkers enroll in publicly funded health insurance programs. In the first 18 months, participating agencies enrolled about 340,000 eligible New Yorkers. There are still 1.6 million uninsured New Yorkers, about 900,000 of whom are eligible for public insurance programs.

The Department of Education's new Office of School Safety and Planning will use elements of Compstat for SchoolSafe, a program that will identify schools with the highest crime rates and implement action plans.

And the Department of Transportation has M.O.V.E., a performance management and accountability system that meets twice each month to examine measurements of each operation's performance and to review its function and workflow.

And proposals for more Compstat type programs keep coming.

"We've done Compstat, let's do Jobstat," wrote Mike Wallace in his book 'A New Deal for New York.' Using the same kind of targeted analyses that helped reduce crime, he argues, we can help manufacturers stay in the city and nurture new kinds of industries.

Others think the Compstat approach can improve education in the city. "Changing the behaviors and attitudes of the school system toward parents and community won't be as easy," one-time mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer, now president of the Drum Major Institute, said. "That is why we proposed a Compstat-like mechanism for measuring the system's attempts to create meaningful relationships with parents and communities."

The Department of Homeless Services and the Vera Institute of Justice is gearing up for Homestat. The idea, says department spokesman Jim Anderson, is to examine the incidence of homelessness in various areas, as well as factors that may contribute to homelessness. The department hopes that a better understanding of factors contributing to homelessness will help it develop strategies to prevent homelessness, not simply try to house those already out on the streets.

The reaction to the death of Alberta Spruill provides more evidence of how much faith officials now put in tracking numbers. According to the New York Times, the Civilian Complaint Review Board had suggested as early as January that the police department track and store information on search warrants executed by police. Spruill's death apparently spurred the department to move to put the proposal into effect.

Some have even suggested a Compstat for city government as a whole. "Rather than casually assert that government is efficient, City Hall should create an Office of Continuing Reinvention to aggressively keep pursuing new streamlinings and efficiencies - a CompStat for all services," former Public Advocate Mark Green has suggested.


Meanwhile, the idea has spread across the country. By 2000, a third of the country's 515 largest police departments had implemented a Compstat-like program, according to the Police Foundation study. Bratton, now chief of the Los Angeles police, has taken Compstat west with him, instituting it in America's second largest city last fall.

"That's an amazing diffusion of innovation," said David Weisburd, the lead investigator of the study. "I compared it to diffusion ranks of the fastest growing innovations, agricultural innovations and social innovations like birth control. Most innovations take a very long time to spread. This one, in comparison, was extremely fast."

The researchers at the Police Foundation believe that Compstat's popularity came from its top-down authority model. "Compstat emphasizes putting pressure on commanders," Weisburd said. "The drama occurs with the higher-ups."

Like their colleagues in New York, officials in other cities have created Compstats for other problems -- or a combination of problems. Baltimore, Maryland, has taken Mark Green's suggestion and implemented Citistat, which tracks city government as a whole. City agencies provide regular data about their work to a central office that analyzes the data and creates reports for the mayor.

"The charts, maps, and pictures tell a story of performance, and those managers are held accountable," said Matt Gallagher, director of operations for Citistat. Since the program was implemented, Baltimore has experienced a 40 percent reduction in payroll overtime, saving the city $15 million over two years, while taking on such indicators of urban blight as graffiti and abandoned vehicles.

Cities from Miami to Pittsburgh will soon implement similar programs.

The Compstat mania has gone so far that one proponent, Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute has turned it into a verb. In a November 2001 Daily News column urging that Compstat techniques be used to track down terrorists, MacDonald wrote, "The FBI's anti-terrorism efforts should be Compstated in every city where the bureau operates."


Nobody has been heard suggesting that Compstat can root out members of Al Queda. But Eli Silverman, author of NYPD Battles Crime: Innovative Strategies in Policing says it makes sense for city officials to try to extend the Compstat model. "It''s not rocket science. It's fundamental management accounting," he says, adding, "if it's done right it can be very meaningful."

But he offers some caveats. When the system is introduced, it has to be explained to the organization. The basic information -- the numbers -- must be consistent. "The managers have to feel top management is serious about it," Silverman says, and management has to stick to it. The New York Police Department, he says, has done most of this. In particular, he says, the department "has been consistent about it. That's one of the secrets of its success."

Even Compstat's most ardent proponents concede that Compstat-style programs do have some downsides. "What is not counted tends to be discounted," wrote Dennis Smith and William Bratton in a Rockefeller Institute Report (in pdf format) that considered some of the unintended consequences of the New York City Police Department's Compstat.

Commanders tend to overlook other indicators of police performance, such as civilian complaints and patterns of police misconduct, including too-aggressive policing and a lack of respect for citizens. Critics say such an attention to the numbers helped create the aggressive police tactics of the late 1990s, leading to the killing by police of Amadou Diallo and frayed relations between the police department and many black and Hispanic communities. And, though relations have improved, some have suggested that the recent incident with Alberta Spruill is a continuation of the imbalance in police attitudes and values.

Sidney L. Harring, a professor of law at City University of New York Law School, and Gerda W. Ray of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, wrote in 1999, that as the police strove to increase arrests, they did not keep track of how many people they stopped and frisked on city streets. "That all of this scientifically structured, aggressive police work could be pulled off without even the most rudimentary data about its result reveals the hollow core of the social scientific foundation of New York City's highly managed policing. Compstat is no better than its flawed database," Harring and Ray said.

Indeed tracking systems are only as good as the numbers that guide them. Last month, police officials revealed that many felonies committed in the 10th precinct in Manhattan last year were improperly reported as misdemeanors, making the crime rate in the area appear lower than it really was. The department was investigating a former commander and a sergeant for downgrading crimes in the precinct, which includes Chelsea.

Police department spokesperson Michael O'Looney told the New York Times that the distortions were too small to have any impact on the Compstat statistics. But critics reportedly say that as crime has fallen, police commanders feel intensifying pressure to drive the numbers even lower. Since Compstat went into effect, "at least five police commanders have been accused of reclassifying crimes to improve their statistics, which are reviewed at sometimes contentious weekly Compstat meetings," William K. Rashbaum reported.

After Philadelphia began using Compstat, some police officials there also changed crime reports to make the areas under their command appear safer than they really were. "If a person was punched in the eye, it might have been written up as a hospital report, so it didn't reflect a crime had occurred," said Philadelphia police department Inspector Bill Colarulo, who said that checks and balances have since been put in place to avoid such fraud.

Even without such fraud, the system makes some managers uncomfortable. "Poor managers hate it, because there's no where to hide. You are constantly being questioned about what you are doing," said Gallagher of Baltimore's Citistat. But it is not just incompetent managers who have been bothered by the harsh tone of Compstat meetings and the constant attention to statistical details. Holden of Central Missouri University blamed Compstat (as well as low salaries) "for its share of the drop in officer morale."

Such concerns are increasing as the paramilitary management style of the police department is extended into traditionally collegial and collaborative realms, such as education.

But the biggest problem with Compstat, said Holden, may simply be that we expect too much of it: "Compstat has ceased to be a tool and has become a religion dominated by high priests."

It is a religion that, given Mayor Bloomberg's well-known enthusiasm for technology, will only increase in municipal acolytes, whatever the reservations of the unfaithful.

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The Trouble with Compstat

by Robert Zink, PBA Recording Secretary

It was a great idea that has been corrupted by human nature. The Compstat program that made NYPD commanders accountable for controlling crime has degenerated into a situation where the police leadership presses subordinates to keep numbers low by any means necessary. The department’s middle managers will do anything to avoid being dragged onto the carpet at the weekly Compstat meetings. They are, by nature, ambitious people who lust for promotions, and rising crime rates won’t help anybody’s career.

The Compstat program was started when crime was at an all-time high, with over 2,000 homicides a year and countless felonies. The program called for the immediate tracking of crime, swift deployment of police resources to problem areas and what Compstat’s creator Jack Maple called relentless follow-up. The only problem is, it didn’t anticipate the “fudge factor.” That’s the characteristic that allows local commanders to make it look like crime has dropped when it has in fact increased.

In the early days, it was easy for a precinct commander to benefit from Compstat. He or she had crime-ridden neighborhoods where rudimentary policing techniques could bring crime down. Add the increased resources from the Safe Streets/Safe City program, and just paying attention to patterns and putting cops where crime was happening caused stats to fall dramatically. Then add to that the benefit of the gun control effort by the street-crime teams and we’ve made some real and honest impact on crime in New York City.

Of course, when you finally get a real handle on crime, you eventually hit a wall where you can’t push it down any more. Compstat does not recognize that wall so the commanders have to get “creative” to keep their numbers going down. No mayor or police commissioner wants to be the one holding the bag when crime starts climbing, and no precinct commander wants to be the one to deliver the bad news that he or she doesn’t have enough cops to do the job.

So how do you fake a crime decrease? It’s pretty simple. Don’t file reports, misclassify crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, under-value the property lost to crime so it’s not a felony, and report a series of crimes as a single event.

A particularly insidious way to fudge the numbers is to make it difficult or impossible for people to report crimes — in other words, make the victims feel like criminals so they walk away just to spare themselves further pain and suffering.

Some commanders even persecute the victims so they stop reporting crimes. In one case, it is alleged that a precinct commander shut down a fast food joint because the manager reported a grand larceny — someone stole a pocketbook. The precinct commander shut the place down for “an investigation” during lunch hour. Do you think the manager of that establishment, who relies on his lunchtime income, will ever report a crime again?

The truth is, there are over 5,000 fewer police officers on our streets than there were in 1999. And there is a lot more work to do because of the threat of terrorism. And all along, the bosses have been peddling phony numbers to make everybody feel safe. Our mayor likes to say that the NYPD has been doing more with less. Perception becomes reality. But when people are being put at risk and victimized due to ambitious managers, that’s unacceptable.

We’re asking every PBA member to share with their delegates the hard evidence of crimes being downgraded so we can save this department from itself.

The crime game. Can a fancy computer really cut evil-doing?

The crime game
Can a fancy computer really cut evil-doing?

Sat May 27 2006

George Stephenson

Rudy Giuliani claims he has figured out how to cut crime in big cities.
FOR all the self-promoted sturm und drang of the media, too many in the craft accept too much without question. They are not as immune from conventional wisdom and urban myths as they would like to believe.

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You see it often. Auditors-general reports are treated like sermons from the mount, beyond the criticism of mere mortals. Every aboriginal kid who went to a residential school is depicted as a "victim" or "survivor." There is no shading in such pictures, just black and white, good and evil.

Such is the case with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his blink-long visit to Winnipeg recently. Most of the media, and politicians like Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, soaked up all the crime-fighting claims Giuliani made at the recent city summit here. And nary was heard a discouraging word.

And, really, who cares? A potential candidate for the U.S. presidency comes to town, brags about his record and leaves in a cloud of dust. No harm no foul; turn the page.

Now, however, Sam Katz is using Giuliani's claims as the basis for public policy in Winnipeg and, again, the media are complicit in promoting an agenda around which there are a lot of questions nobody has bothered to ask.

While in Winnipeg, Giuliani said a key element in the decline in the crime rate in New York in the 1990s was a management and computer system called CompStat, promoted by himself and his police commissioner William Bratton.
Katz was so thrilled with this revelation that he now wants the Winnipeg Police Service to implement the system. The bottom line, apparently, is that the system will do for Winnipeg what it supposedly did for New York and other cities: cut the crime rate.

The question then is whether the system played a central role in cutting crime in New York. Since the late 1990s conventional wisdom told us that Giuliani's tough guy approach to crime and implementation of CompStat in 1994 cut the New York crime rate by more than 60 per cent.

Wayne Barrett, a senior editor of the Village Voice in New York and author of the book Rudy, says what Giuliani really managed to do is "mug the media into accepting as fact that he is the man who caused it to happen."

In fact, crime peaked in New York, and across North America, in 1990 and there were 36 months of declines preceding the election of Rudolph Giuliani and the implementation of CompStat.

"The only real claim that Rudy Giuliani can make to a legacy at all is in the crime statistics," says Barrett, "and they have been miserably manipulated."

For example, he points out that under Giuliani the rate for attempted forced burglary dropped by a whopping 90 per cent. This seems startling until one realizes police at one time went out to investigate attempted burglaries, but now victims have to go to the precinct to report them. People just don't bother.

And CompStat is very much about statistics.

The system compiles statistics on selected types of crime on a daily basis, giving police a quick view of where crime is occurring. In most departments these statistics are then used by management to hold district commanders accountable for taking action in their areas of the city.
While the statistical element of CompStat gets all the publicity, it is the accountability aspect that may make it more worthwhile.

Indeed, an in-depth analysis of three departments by the American Police Foundation found the system to be of benefit in making more middle-managers accountable, but was limited in its ability to fight crime.

"CompStat at these sites (Minneapolis, Newark and Lowell) did markedly energize middle managers to do something about crime, but in many respects, the pattern that evolved mimicked the reactive forms of policing.

"CompStat seemed to engender a pattern of organizational response to crime spikes in hot spots that was analogous to the Whack-a-Mole game found at fairs and carnivals. Moles pop up randomly from holes in the game board and the object of the game is to whack them with a paddle before they submerge. A premium is placed on responding quickly rather than (trying) to discern patterns.

"The pressure to act decisively and nip hot spots in the bud may be an improvement over prior practice, but it does not conform to more ambitious notions of how police can use data effectively to ascertain the bigger picture and act proactively to get at underlying problems."

As for cutting crime, that remains an open question.

Stephen Mastrofski, one of the study's authors and director of the administration of justice program at George Mason University in Virginia, says there is little evidence to support the claim that the system cuts crime rates.

"The evidence isn't terribly strong one way or the other."

He too points out that crime rates were dropping for years before the creation of CompStat. But the unquestioning swirl of publicity around dropping rates of crime in New York has been a major contributor to more than half the police forces in the United States implementing CompStat or similar programs. A report on the growth of CompStat, also done for the Police Foundation, says a prime motivator was the desire to reduce rates of serious crime, as had been supposedly done in New York.
And while that was a key reason, not all departments have met with success. The slide in crime in some cities that have been using CompStat has bottomed out, and even risen in some areas.

For the most part, though, cities which have adopted the system say it has helped reduce crime in their streets. But police departments aren't the most objective voices when it comes to questioning the value of toys it buys for crime busting.

Mastrofski says such claims come from a look at the numbers, but when crime begins to fall, there are many reasons, many of which we probably are not even aware. CompStat is not the magic bullet.

Indeed, when crime was dropping in Seattle far faster than it was in New York, the police commissioner there was asked what was causing the decline.

"We have no idea," he replied.

Needless to say, the commissioner is not being touted as a possible presidential candidate, giving speeches to Winnipeg audiences or dragging along an adoring train of media.

George Stephenson is a Winnipeg writer.

Police adopting method of gleaning crime stats

COMPSTAT has been success in Minneapolis, NYC.

Thu May 18 2006

By Mary Agnes Welch and Bruce Owen

Winnipeg Free Press archives
Sam Katz: wants COMPSTAT
WINNIPEG police will overhaul the way they keep crime statistics, using the same model that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani made famous and that cut crime in Minneapolis by 35 per cent.

Mayor Sam Katz wants a made-in-Winnipeg version of COMPSTAT -- police jargon for a computerized statistics program that allows police to track and map crimes in each neighbourhood on a daily basis.

That helps police deploy officers to stop a rash of break-ins or drug deals in a neighbourhood as soon as they develop and before they get worse, Katz said.

The statistics also help citizens and city politicians hold police -- from the chief to division commanders to beat officers -- accountable for rising crime rates or unsafe neighbourhoods.

"The key thing is to have a system that's factual, that tells it like it is right then and there," Katz said. "It makes sure you get the best value for your resources."

Giuliani, the superstar speaker at the mayor's city summit two weeks ago, was the architect of COMPSTAT in New York. It was a key element of his widely admired crime-fighting plan that included hiring 8,000 more officers.
In Minneapolis, where a COMPSTAT system was created eight years ago, crime has dropped 35 per cent, said Lt. Greg Reinhardt, the former commander of the data unit.

The computer system that married crime reports and mapping software allowed police to immediately recognize trends and rethink their tactics or deployments instead of relying on luck or guesswork, he said.

"If all your burglaries are happening in the afternoon, but all your burglary suppression is happening in the evening, maybe that's something you should think about changing," Reinhardt said.

Because weekly statistics in Minneapolis are available for easy viewing on a series of Internet maps, the public can also be enlisted to provide police with tips.

Winnipeg Deputy Chief Menno Zacharias said police already collect statistical data on crime trends in each division to develop new policing techniques.

An example is the work of the stolen auto unit. For about two years, it has charted theft trends in the city to pinpoint the worst areas. Officers then identify youth living in those areas who are known car thieves.

Most of Winnipeg's existing crime data is raw statistical information with no system in place to massage it quickly into something meaningful.

It's not certain yet if Winnipeg's COMPSTAT program will provide the public with weekly snapshots of crime in their neighbourhoods, even though that's a key element of programs in other cities.
Katz is waiting to see Ewatski's plan later this summer but suggested he would like the data made public weekly.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Former Marine in media glare as he joins Al-Jazeera

I recall seeing this guy in the documentary Control Room. He was a US Marine, acting as a publicist on behalf of the US to the media in the Gulf region. Now, he works for Al Jazeera's International network.

By Mark Memmott, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Marine officers are taught to think ahead. So Josh Rushing, a captain in the Corps until last October, anticipated the unpleasant questions.

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Is he a modern-day Tokyo Rose, the nickname GIs in World War II gave to the womenthey heard on Japanese radio trying to turn them against America? Is he a propagandist set to tear down the country he once served? A collaborator aiding the enemy?

Rushing, 33, has taken a job reporting for a new channel for Al-Jazeera. That's the Qatar-based network that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said is "perfectly willing to lie to the world" and has "a pattern of playing propaganda over and over and over again" for its 50 million viewers, most of them in the Arab world.

Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly branded it a "propaganda network ... bent on encouraging violence and sympathetic to terrorists." And Iraq's new government temporarily closed the network's offices in Baghdad, saying that Al-Jazeera incites insurgents by showing video of attacks and statements from Osama bin Laden and his deputies.

But Rushing, who will appear on a global, English-language news channel the network hopes to start by spring, considers his decision to work for Al-Jazeera noble, not seditious. "I've given my entire adult life to the health and well-being of this nation," Rushing says. "I wouldn't do anything to threaten that.

"What the Marines trained me to do was to represent the best of what America stands for to a foreign audience. That's exactly what I'm going to do."

The network, heavily subsidized by the emir of Qatar, says it presents news from all sides in a part of the world in which most Arab media outlets are government mouthpieces.

Rushing views Al-Jazeera's English-language channel as a forum for reaching millions of Muslims, many of whom may not understand the America he knows, and for reaching millions who he thinks know little about the Muslim world, including Americans.

"The gravity of it sets in all the time," he says during an interview in the dining room at the private Army and Navy Club, two blocks from the White House. "It puts me where the good fight is — at a station that's going to bridge America and the rest of the world."

Not everyone agrees with his reasoning. "I don't see how in good conscience he can work for Al-Jazeera," says Cliff Kincaid, editor of the conservative Accuracy in Media Report. "It incites Arabs and Muslims to kill Americans."

Another former Marine also is concerned. "I wish I could count on him to further our efforts" in the war on terrorism "rather than hinder them," says Keith Delp of Louisville. He spent five years in the Marines, leaving as a corporal in March 2004 after a seven-month tour in Iraq. Delp writes the weblog Kadnine. In an e-mail, Delp says he will "be watching Josh closely."

So will others, says the author of a book about the network.

"Al-Jazeera has been judged already and found guilty already in the eyes of most Americans and particularly the (Bush) administration," says Hugh Miles, a British freelance journalist and the author of Al-Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel That Is Challenging the West. "Many people will see Josh Rushing as collaborating with an enemy propaganda outfit."

Rushing's response to such criticism: "I believe in America so dearly and the values that it stands for that I'm in no way threatened by the kind of information this station's going to put out. ...

"Besides," he explains, "once a Marine, always a Marine."

Learning from Al-Jazeera
Age: 33; born July 24, 1972.

Grew up in: Lewisville, Texas, just north of Dallas.

Now lives in: Washington, D.C.

Family: Wife, Paige; 13-year-old son, Luke, from previous marriage.

Education: Bachelor's degree in classic civilizations and ancient history, University of Texas, 1999.

Marine Corps experience: Enlisted in 1990. Wrote for and edited Corps publications for five years, then attended college while on active duty. Served as a Marine public affairs officer in California. Liaison to Al-Jazeera at the U.S. Central Command media center in Doha, Qatar, during the Iraq war.

Says he is: "A Marine at heart" and "very conscious of being a Texan. Supposedly, my family goes back to Sam Houston. Every other person in the family seems to be named Sam, Samantha or Samuel."

How Rushing, a self-described "blue-eyed, American son from Texas," has wound up working for Al-Jazeera is something of an only-in-America tale.

Rushing grew up in Lewisville, Texas, just north of Dallas. He played high school football until he hurt his wrist and led what he calls "a normal suburban life." At 18, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. His rationale? "I was immature enough I wouldn't have made it (through college) and just mature enough to realize that."

On Sept. 11, 2001, Rushing was serving as a public affairs officer based at what is now Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, north of San Diego. He was at a seminar with other public affairs officers when terrorists attacked New York and Washington. "How could you watch 9/11 and not say, 'Life is different now?' " Rushing asks. He says he pressed commanders at the Pentagon to send him overseas.

In early 2003, when U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) set up a media operations center in Doha, Qatar, for the war in Iraq, he was ordered to go there.

Though he was one of the youngest public affairs officers, he was made liaison to Al-Jazeera.

"I wanted to learn Arabic," Rushing says, "and when the Al-Jazeera guys showed up, they were the first Arabs I'd run into. ... So I would go by each day and learn a phrase from them.

"There were so many reporters in the media center, and we only had nine spokesmen, we divided them up into accounts. The boss said, 'Rushing, you've got a pretty good relationship with those Jazeera guys, why don't you take them?' "

The assignment would bring Rushing unexpected attention.

When Egyptian filmmaker Jehane Noujaim first came to CENTCOM's media center in Doha, Rushing and the other public affairs officers thought she was making a student film about the media's coverage of the war. Instead, her documentary, Control Room, gained worldwide attention and brought Rushing a modest amount of fame. He's the only American who figures prominently in the film, which focuses on Al-Jazeera's coverage of the war's early days.

'We don't see blood'

Control Room captured Rushing's growing respect for Al-Jazeera's staff, particularly senior producer Hassan Ibrahim, with whom he had many philosophical debates. In one scene, Rushing talked about how revolted he was by Al-Jazeera showing dead American soldiers and interviews with American prisoners of war. Then he noted that he had seen video of Iraqi casualties on the network and not been affected by what he saw.

"It upset me on a profound level that I wasn't as bothered as much the night before," he said in the film. "It makes me hate war."

When the film was released in 2004, reviewers commented on Rushing's candor. Rushing told The Village Voice that American media don't tell the whole story when they cover a war. "In America war isn't hell — we don't see blood, we don't see suffering. All we see is patriotism, and we support the troops. It's almost like war has some brand marketing here," he said in that interview.

Soon after, Rushing was ordered not to talk to the media about the film. "I didn't think it was appropriate for him to be speaking about this documentary — almost promoting it," says Lt. Col Stephen Kay, deputy director of public affairs for the Marine Corps. "It was purely a decision I had to make as his commanding officer."

Rushing had been debating whether to apply for training to be a Marine foreign affairs officer or to leave the Corps. He decided it was time to leave.

Opportunity knocks

Al-Jazeera approached him earlier this year about joining the new channel, Rushing says. He was out of work, giving speeches while trying to decide what to do next.

The network has been hiring staff for more than a year. A spokeswoman, Katie Bergius, said in an e-mail that the channel is "over halfway there" in hiring the "hundreds" of people it will need. In past statements, the network has said it will need about 200 staffers.

So far, Bergius said, Al-Jazeera has hired reporters and producers from several Western competitors, including the Associated Press, the BBC, the Canadian Broadcast Corp., CNBC, CNN and Fox News.

Nigel Parsons, the channel's British-born managing director, was previously director of sales for Associated Press Television News and before that worked for the BBC. Will Stebbins, an American, is Washington bureau chief. He also came from AP Television News. Riz Kahn, who will host a talk show from Washington, previously worked at the BBC and CNN.

Rushing is the most prominent American hired so far. Exactly what he'll be doing remains undecided, but it probably will involve a combination of in-studio work and field reporting. In announcing Rushing's hiring, Parsons said the American "understands the importance, as well as the consequences, of providing news from all sides of the issue, a core value of the channel."

Rushing won't say how much he's being paid, except that his salary is more than the $70,000 a year in pay and housing allowances he earned as a Marine captain and roughly what he could have expected to earn if he had gone into public relations.

The English-language channel will have broadcast centers in Doha; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; London and Washington, where Rushing now lives. It has yet to reach any agreements to be carried by cable systems and satellite operators that serve the USA. A spokesman, Mike Holtzman, said Al-Jazeera is confident it will sign such contracts in time to be on the air in the USA next spring.

Rushing says his new bosses will not try to dictate his commentary.

"One of my big questions coming in was, would they want to control what I was going to say? Or my perspective?" he says. "(There's been) no sense of that at all. Editorially, you say what you want."

Kay says he still considers Rushing a friend. "He's a talented guy. ... I think very highly of him," Kay says. "I'm sure he'll do a fine job and be very successful at Al-Jazeera." As for the network, Kay says, "It's obvious Al-Jazeera is probably not the most objective news organization."

Jim Wilkinson, now senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was director of strategic communications for CENTCOM when Rushing was in Doha. Although he has "strong negative feelings" about Al-Jazeera, Wilkinson says no one should question Rushing's loyalty to his country.

"Josh has served his country with honor and distinction in uniform, and he did a good job, a fantastic job," Wilkinson says. "If Sept. 11 taught us anything, it taught us that we simply have to engage more with the Arab media. Josh clearly did a good job of engagement with their media."

Giving Rushing a job "is a smart move on (Al-Jazeera's) part," and taking the job is "a gutsy move on Josh's part. Both sides will come under some criticism."

'Turn the map around'

Rushing says he's ready for that. "I'd like to go on Fox News as much as possible to explain what I'm doing," he says. He says he knows he'll be asked about his politics. "I'm not registered with either party," Rushing says. He won't say who he voted for in 2000 and 2004, but says he voted for Ross Perot in '92.

He predicts that critics also will question whether he believed in the military's mission in Iraq.

He says he "bought into all the reasons we were going — that Saddam was horrible ... that there were weapons of mass destruction that might get into the hands of terrorists."

But though he's "glad Saddam Hussein isn't there anymore," Rushing says he sometimes thinks "maybe we did the right thing for the wrong reasons" because it's "clear" there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

What he hopes critics will understand, Rushing says, is that he believes he's doing what a Marine officer is trained to do.

"We're taught to 'turn the map around,' " to see things from the enemy's perspective, Rushing says. He hopes he can help people around the world see America differently, and help Americans see the world in new ways.

Film: X-Men: The Last Stand

I heard rumors a couple of weeks ago that the new X-Men film would be the last one. Hogwash, I thought, as the franchise has been growing in popularity, with X-Men II being one of, if not, the best comic book film adaptation of all time.

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The premise behind The Last Stand is that a pharmaceutical company has created a "cure" that suppresses the gene that allows a person to develop a genetic mutation, if their "x" gene was present. The President sees this as a cure while Magneto believes that mutants are just fine the way they are, and are, in fact, the next step in human evolution. Another battle is brewing with the Dept. of Homeland Security ramping up and the familiar lingo associated with the war on terror and Bin Laden being bandied about. Magneto becomes the world's most wanted man.

While this is happening, a very powerful X-Man from the first film, reappears, but isn't quite herself. With a dual-personality, Professor Xavier seeks to control her carefully, lest her darker, wilder, personality take over. When calm, she seems indifferent and otherwordly. When she loses her cool, she takes on an undead look, particularly in her eyes, before turning everyone around her to dust.

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The President's cabinet now includes mutant Dr. Hank McCoy (Kelsey Grammer - Beast in the comic book series), who is in charge of the Department of Mutant Affairs.

Once again, Hugh Jackman is Wolverine, the grizzly, but loyal Canadian with unbreakable metal bones and the ability to heal injuries. He's still the most prominent character in the film for me. Patrick Stewart also does a fine job as Professor Charles Xavier, but it's Ian McKellan who's magnetic as the charasmatic leader of anti-mutant rebellion, Magneto, who is the most riveting actor in the film. New characters are introduced with the same shallow convenience that we have seen from the comics. Witness the introduction of the cheeky Juggernaut (British actor Vinnie Jones seen in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch) who provides some of the funniest one-liners. Missing is Nightcrawler and there's no mention of his absence. In one of the early scenes, which appears very similar to scenes from the Terminator series, we see the appearance of the gigantic, menacing robots from the comic book series known as the Sentinels.

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The film ended up feeling shallow and heartless. It was depressing to see key characters knocked off. There's little character development. You don't get inside of the heads of the characters and therefore they don't seem as appealing as they could be. The script basically was weak and meant to dazzle but at the expense of genuine storytelling. I almost felt as letdown after watching this film as I did after watching the Fantastic Four movie. Director Brett Ratner's X-Men pales in comparison to what Bryan Singer brought to the screen in the first two installments. I'll give them credit for taking chances with the characters, but the overall story was not well written or executed.

We are teased about the potential for another sequel, however but you have to watch the closing credits to find out. Fox has apparently confirmed X-Men 4. Also, IMDB has entries for the movies Magneto and Wolverine, both set for 2007. Yes, Stan Lee shows up again, this time as a neighbor watering his lawn.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

DVD - Match Point


You know that awful feeling you have when you've done something wrong and you desperately want to keep it a secret?

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Handsome tennis instructor lands a gig at a posh London club. He wasn't good enough to make it as a pro and loathes teaching, but relied on it to drag himself up from a poor upbringing.

He forms fast friends with his first client, a single upper-class guy who shares a passion for the opera. While at his client's outing at the opera, he meets the family and makes quite an impression on the client's sweet young sister.

At a family party, he chances upon a smoldering beautiful American (Scarlett Johansson) with a come-hither look, who turns out to be his client's fiance...

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What I loved about this film was the tormented yet understated acting by the lead character, played by Jonathan Rhys Myers. His character is filled with tension yet struggles to keep it under wraps.

"It's better to be lucky than good." This is a common theme in this murder mystery, written and directed by Woody Allen. It's one of those films that played briefly in theatres in 2005 but turned out to be a real gem, at least, for me.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Goodbye Microsoft Office, hello OpenOffice

Eureka, CA

May 16, 2005.

The Times-Standard Tech Beat
by Rene Agredano

This article is being written using's “Writer” program. It's a software application so similar to Microsoft Word that anyone who's always used Microsoft Word can get the hang of it within minutes.

It's being written in Writer because of one simple fact: I'm done with Microsoft Office. Fed up and tired of the bugs and problems related to this expensive software that's dominated our world for far too long. Last week, the straw broke the camel's back, and with the help of a fellow Redwood Technology Consortium member, I made the switch to the OpenOffice software suite that's changing the world, one geek at a time. Here's why I did it.

I have DSL, and my computer is always hooked up to the Internet (with a firewall in place). As long as I can remember I've dutifully had my computer's settings adjusted so that automatic Microsoft system updates will occur behind the scenes as they become available.

The first time I realized this was a dumb thing to do was about a year and a half ago, when my machine automatically downloaded Microsoft's Service Pack Two. Funny things started happening to my computer, which was becoming old and was already experiencing its own aging problems. Microsoft's update sped up the aging process, and Service Pack Two turned my machine into a decrepit vegetable that had to be put out of its misery. No problem, I needed a new machine anyway.

So I had a fellow RTC member build me a fabulous new machine. It was running beautifully, until an automatic update that occurred two weeks ago. You should know about this update, because if you've downloaded it, your machine will start running like poo-poo (a technical term). It's called Security update MS06-015.

The damage that occurred was like this. Whenever I tried to perform a “Save As,” either when saving an e-mail attachment to my hard drive, or from within any Office Application's Explorer window, my machine would completely stall. I had to force quit the application and restart. The only way to perform a “Save As” was to open the document and do it from the drop down “File” menu. Within a day, my performance was slowed down by 99 percent.

I had to find a way to fix it. But if you've ever tried to tunnel your way through Microsoft's support pages, you know it's like digging your way to China with a spoon. After too much time spent searching for this issue and making futile attempts to use one of my two “free” e-mail support options,


I gave up.

So I made a leap of faith, and my friend installed OpenOffice. It's changed my world. It's so easy to use, and so far, bug free. My machine hums like a dream. What is OpenOffice and why is it so great? OpenOffice is a multiplatform and multilingual office suite and an open-source project. Programmers around the world, with no money-making incentives whatsoever, are constantly fine tuning and building the program. This gives equal office suite access to everyone in the world, regardless of how much they can pay. It's compatible with all other major office suites, the product is free to download, use and distribute. OpenOffice is built in the true spirit of the Internet; it is the great equalizer. Much has been said about it in other Tech Beat articles. For more information, please visit the RTC's Newsletter section at www.redwood, and search for “Open Office” to learn more.

Today I received a reply from Microsoft's automated system. They sent me this technical information about the problem:

Article: “Problems in Windows Explorer or the Windows shell after you install security update MS06-015” and is located at

The solution? Hack the registry code and install a new shell extension. Do you even know what this means? I do, sort of, and I wouldn't dare go there. Why on earth would Microsoft think that the average user would even attempt this? Do they think we want to fork over at least $100 to fix their stupid problem that should've been fixed before the update was released to the unsuspecting public?

So consider yourself warned, their flawed update will wreak havoc on your system. Don't do it! Or if you have, call up your favorite geek and get them over to install OpenOffice on your machine, fast. Trust me, you'll never look back.

Rene Agredano is an RTC member and co-owner of Agreda Communications, founder of www.MarcomAndPOP, an online storefront with point-of-purchase and marketing communications solutions of every sort under the sun.

City finds big savings in Linux

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May 20, 06

by Jennifer Mears, Network World.

People thought running systems entirely on Linux was weird but no longer.

Ruth Schall remembers when vendors and fellow IT directors would look at her network and scratch their heads.

"I would get calls, and people would think we were freaks. They'd say, 'What are you doing?'" recalls Schall, director of MIS for the city of Kenosha in Wisconsin, USA. "But people don't consider us quite so strange anymore."

Now, instead of expressing surprise at the broad use of Linux , Kenosha's peers are calling for advice. "It's been interesting to watch the evolution. Now we have people call and say, 'Can we come in and see what you're doing?'" she says.

Kenosha, a city of about 100,000, was on the bleeding edge when it began deploying Linux a decade ago. The city had been a Unix shop, but as IT demands became more dynamic and more dependent on the Internet, Schall decided that instead of buying more Unix boxes, it was time to look at an inexpensive alternative.

"We started bringing in Linux for our Web servers, our mail servers, DNS," she says. "We had read about how stable [Linux] was and we wanted to see for ourselves."

They also wanted to see what cost savings they could achieve. A study Schall conducted years ago showed that the city averaged savings of about $100,000 a year, and she believes it could be higher today.

Much of the savings comes from Linux being easier to monitor and manage, especially on the desktop. "Without Linux, we wouldn't be able to get by with the people we have," Schall says.

Schall's full-time staff of four manages about 300 client devices and about 20 servers for 19 departments, many of which are remote. The remote sites are connected via private lines or DSL. The servers run more than a dozen home-grown legacy applications, including systems for tax receipts, payroll and water bills.

Today, most of the city's servers are from Penguin Computing, a firm founded in 1998 that specialises in Linux servers. Its client devices are Neoware-embedded Linux thin clients that run a variety of open source applications, including Open Office. The city uses Red Hat Linux.

Schall says there were no major issues with the migration to Linux on either the server or the desktop. The city never used Microsoft on the desktop and so is in the process of transitioning from WordPerfect to OpenOffice.

"For the most part, everybody is happy," says Schall, who adds that OpenOffice integrates smoothly with Microsoft Word and Excel documents.

A key benefit of using open source applications such as OpenOffice and the Firefox Web browser is that they are platform independent, says Tig Kerkman, Kenosha's network administrator.

"So my users can download OpenOffice for free and use it at home on whatever hardware they have," he says.

As for the server side of things, Kerkman says migration has been pain free. "As we grew, I haven't really hit a roadblock saying, 'Oh, I can't do this because we're running Linux,'" he says.

Still, when Kenosha first deployed Linux it was careful to find a hardware partner that knew Linux inside and out. "At the time we were also talking [with a major systems vendor] that was talking about selling Linux. But it became apparent that they had certified machines for Linux, but they didn't know anything about it," Schall says. "I wanted somebody who knew a lot about it so that if we needed help, we would be able to find it."

Schall notes that brand-name vendors such as HP and IBM are big Linux backers, but she has stayed with Penguin because hardware prices from the bigger firms have only recently come down.

"Businesses and governments are sometimes afraid [of Linux] because they're unsure where the support is coming from," she says. "I say, don't ever be afraid of that, because when you need the support, it's out there in the form of the open source community. It's much better than anything we've ever paid for."

Schall is starting to look up the stack when it comes to open source. Most of Kenosha's applications are written in-house, but the city uses Linux-based routers and firewalls.

Schall says she's looking at possibly bringing in MySQL as the city's first database. Even Kenosha's lone Windows server might be on its way out. The server runs a handful of applications, including a proprietary Housing Authority application.

"The plan is to move this to Linux," Kerkman says. "They also have budget concerns and are looking at simplifying things and making it open source."

film - The Da Vinci Code


I wasn't crazy about the book like some people, but I wanted to see how the film turned out.

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It's going to be seen by a ton of people, but it's not a terrific film. There's little chemistry between Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou. Paul Bettany was good as the creepy albino monk into self-flagellation. Sir Ian McKellan was alright as the rich eccentric historian. I didn't get a sense that this was as good a thriller as it could have been. Hanks' performance has been described as being "bloodless." Some of the dialogue is stupidly cheesy. What made the book mildly interesting - when the reader gets the puzzles revealed and tries to solve them - is not as big a part of the film.

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Perhaps Ron Howard was the wrong guy to direct it or maybe it just wasn't going to be good since the book was mediocre.

Sir Ian McKellan appears next week in X-Men 3.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

concert: Alice Cooper May 16, 2006

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May 16, 2006
Centennial Concert Hall
attendance: 1400

I saw Alice Cooper twice in the 80s at the old Winnipeg Arena but had not seen his recent shows since then. When I discovered that he would be playing at the plush Centennial Concert Hall, I jumped at the chance to go. This is the home to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet and The Manitoba Opera Society, in other words, not your typical venue for a rock concert.

I ended up in the 6th row, which is about as far away as the 10th row in most theatres, due to the fact that the rows are spaced quite far apart, with no centre aisles, to ensure easy access to the seats. A few seats away from me sat a 70-something grandmother with her grand kids. Probably the most surprising aspect of the show was the broad age range of the attendees. There were loads of people in their 50s and 60s who look like the normal type of folks you see shopping at the store. None of these people looked out of the ordinary. Born-again Christian, 4-handicap golfer Vince Furnier, aka Alice Cooper, is 58 years old and can still draw a crowd. The 1400 people in attendance was fewer than I expected, but may not have been surprising since ticket prices started at $69 coupled with the fact that he hasn't had a bona fide hit since 1989's "Poison."

Crash Kelly are a relatively unknown rock band from Ontario and they opened the show with a bit too much posing from their lead singer/ guitarist, who should have toned things down a bit for the audience. Despite many of these awkward moments, he tried to raise the energy level in the room with their sound that ranged from classic pop/rock (think The Sweet) to bland, mainstream rock. The response from the audience was polite but not especially elevated, even when he announced that their bass player was from Winnipeg and when this guy later appeared on stage wearing a Winnipeg Jets jersey. The two most memorable tracks they played were "She Put The Shock (In My Rock n Roll)" from their new Gilby Clarke produced album and "Roxy Roller," the classic Sweeny Todd single that won the band the Best New Band Juno in 1977.

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Opening with music from The Phantom of the Opera, Alice Cooper's bandmates all appeared in Phantom-like masks for their first number, which made them look suitablly creepy. Alice the man strutted around the stage to a roaring welcome with a cane, which he later tossed into the audience. This tossing of props to the fans was revisited a few more times during the show, leving people with baited anticipation as he tantalized them with bead necklaces, a riding crop and other goodies. It was hilarious to see a group a guys in front of me bowing whenever Cooper approached their side of the stage with the "we're not worthy" moves from Wayne's World.

He opened the show with a track that I wasn't familiar with, "Department of Youth" off 1975's Welcome To My Nightmare, followed by "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Dirty Diamonds" and several well-worn favorites including "Million Dollar Babies," "Be My Lover," "Lost In America," "I'm Eighteen," "Go To Hell," "Feed My Frankenstein," "Welcome to My Nightmare," "I Never Cry," "Woman Of Mass Destruction," "Only Women
Bleed" and "Poison."

Never one to disappoint, Alice appeared on stage with a long, light green boa constrictor, which weaved its way around him and through his shock of jet black hair. I have wondered if the snake is affected by the loud sounds but I suppose it isn't. No Alice Cooper show would be complete without seeing him wrapped in a straight jacket and his beheading and we were treated to these once outrageous spectacles
once again. This must have been absolutely shocking to parents in the early 70s but for many years now, the beheading is simply a campy, quaint trick. Throughout the show, a leather bikini-clad dancer acted her way into several of songs, with a pair of flailing whips and then later on, dressed up as a nurse and then as a Paris Hilton knock-off. This dynamic young lady turned out to be his 25 year-old daughter, actress/dancer Calico Cooper.

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Former member of Kiss Eric Singer showed up on drums. Guitarist Keri Kelli plays with other bands, including Skid Row, and Slash's Snakepit, among others. Damon Johnson, who also favour Gibson guitars, has recorded with musicians as diverse as Faith Hill, John Waite, Sammy Hagar and Damn Yankees. Bassist Chuck Garric is another veteran, having played with La Guns, Dio, Gilby Clarke, Lynch Mob and Billy Bob Thornton. Alice Cooper sidemen, with the exception of the drummer, appeared to be decades younger. While not unbelievable players, they were razor sharp and more than adequate. I would have appreciated seeing some more spontaneous interplay between them, however.

He's been a true innovator and his influence continues to live on in the multitudes of bands who seek to shock as they entertain us. Alice Cooper is mostly a nostalgia act these days, however, so long as he is able to confidently effortlessly perform, he should remain a vital touring icon for a few more years.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Linux goes after the desktop

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Barbara Gengler
MAY 16, 2006
A WIDELY backed effort is under way to create a standard Linux desktop to help break Microsoft's stranglehold.

The Free Standards Group, which is backed by at least 14 software makers, aims to make it easier for developers to write applications that will work on different versions of Linux.

AMD, Asianux, CA, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Mandriva, Novell, RealNetworks, Red Flag, Red Hat, Turbolinux, Xandros and others have thrown their weight behind the Linux Standard Base.

The group has released LSB 3.1, the first version to include support for portable Linux desktop applications.

LSB 3.1 incorporates the recently approved ISO standard LSB Core (ISO/IEC 23360).

It is an effort to create a single starting point for Linux distributions based on standard elements.

As well as including the desktop and the ISO standard, LSB 3.1 includes aligning LSB's roadmap with those of major Linux versions, such as Asianux, Debian, Novell and Red Hat.

This will make it easier for software developers to correlate different versions of LSB.

Free Standards Group executive director Jim Zemlin says Linux developers and users know well-supported standards are the best way to reach desktop users.

Supporters of the standard cover the vast majority of the Linux market, he says.

"That coverage, combined with desktop standardisation delivers a compelling environment for software vendors wishing to target the Linux desktop."

Zemlin says the announcement eliminates one of the major barriers to adoption of the Linux desktop, making it easier for application developers to target the complete Linux platform. Novell open platforms chief technology officer Markus Rex says the specification's launch is an important step.

Standards such as LSB are essential if vendors are to target the Linux desktop, he says.

"At Novell, we think the desktop market is extremely strategic, and we will continue to invest in desktop innovation and desktop standards," Rex says. A number of Linux providers, including Novell, are expected to certify their products as complying with the new LSB standard.

The first desktop distribution certified will be from Xandros, followed by certified distributions from Novell in July and Red Hat, the Debian Project and others.

Linux has a foothold as an operating system for servers, but it has little of the desktop market.

Its desktop efforts have been blocked because Linux supports two desktop systems, Gnome and KDE, making it difficult for developers to create software that will run on all versions.

The group expects its combined LSB standard to help developers write applications that will work on Linux versions from different distributors.

The standard provides a degree of assured interoperability that will allow users to move their data and applications to another platform if they want to.

Unix is also promoting standardisation. Zemlin says the Unix effort pre-dates open source technical and legal models designed to improve protection against proprietary, closed systems and encourage engineering.

The LSB builds on earlier efforts to prevent Unix fragmentation, such as Posix and the Single Unix Specification.

Zemlin says the group has learned from the Unix experience and the LSB avoids the limitations of Posix and SUS.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Pain At The Pump: Government Gas Secrets

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by Michelle Meredith, KCRA.

Mon May 8, 1:42 PM ET

The government has been keeping a secret about automobiles under wraps for the past 30 years.

Reporter Michelle Meredith teamed up with Consumer Reports to explain why your car probably does not get the mileage advertised.

The Consumer Reports' auto test track in Connecticut looks like it could be a new theme park in Orlando.

And when it comes to testing cars, Consumer Reports leaves no stone unturned, no lug nut loose. And here's the question Consumer Reports set out to answer -- does your car get the gas mileage promised on the showroom sticker.

It's the mileage you probably used to decide if the car fit your monthly budget.

First, Meredith took a look at how carmakers come up with these numbers because you could be in for a big surprise. The guidelines for the tests were set by the federal government decades ago, in the late 1970s. Gerald Ford was president and disco was king.

And under these guidelines by the Environmental Protection Agency, carmakers are allowed to test miles per gallon by running the vehicle not on the road, but on what's essentially a treadmill for cars.

During an EPA spot check, the car ran with no air conditioning, no inclines or hills, no wind resistance and at speeds no greater than 60 mph.

There's hardly anything real world about it, but it gives carmakers what they want -- the highest possible miles per gallon to put on that sticker.

"People are going into showrooms, they're looking at that sticker that says miles per gallon and they're saying, 'Oh it get goods miles per gallon,'" said Consumer Reports' David Champion. "In reality, they're being cheated."

Consumer Reports conducts their test on a track and in the real world.

First, they put them through a simulated city course. Next the highway -- a real highway. For the third test, they take the car out on a 150-mile day trip throughout Connecticut.

All the while, a special miles per gallon meter is ticking away. Their results? Many numbers you see on those stickers are off way off -- one as much as 50 percent.

For example, Chrysler says the four-wheel drive diesel version of the Jeep Liberty gets 22 mpg in the city. Consumer Reports tested it and found it got more like 11 mpg.

Honda claims its hybrid Civic sedan gets 48 mpg in the city. Consumer Reports found it only gets 26 mpg -- a 46 percent difference.

Chevy's Trailblazer EXT four-wheel drive is supposed to get 15 mpg in the city. For Consumer Reports, it was 9 mpg.

"It's an unrealistic sales and marketing tool that they are actually using. They are saying you're going to get 35 mpg, and you're really only going to get 21," Champion said.

Why is this allowed? Meredith asked the EPA's director of transportation.

"We cannot have a perfect test," said Margo Oge.

Oge said for so long, nobody really complained. Meanwhile, everything has changed.

"All the cars today have air conditioning, which was not the case in the mid-80s, and we drive at higher speeds because we are allowed to drive a higher speeds. And technology has changed," Oge said.

Carmakers know their number is up. Several have been to Consumer Reports' test track to see how they test real world conditions.

"I think it's desperately time for a change," Champion said.

The EPA has said a change is coming in time for the 2008 models, but is that soon enough? Consumers need real world tests with real world numbers now because with the price of gas constantly climbing, the real world has become a very ugly place.

The EPA said even though the new test will reflect more real-world conditions, there is no perfect test.

For more information and for a list of the most fuel efficient cars and SUVs, check out Consumer Reports' special report A Guide To Stretching Your Fuel Dollars.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

concert: The Strokes/ The Most Serene Republic

Friday, May 12, 2006
The Burton Cummings Theatre
Winnipeg, Canada
attendance: 1646 - sold out

I had second row seats on the "floor" and sat there for the opening act, Canadian band The Most Serene Republic, who were interesting with their orchestral, indie-pop sound that is not too far removed from The Arcade Fire. I have their one and only cd, Underwater Cinematographer, which is another gem from the Arts and Crafts label.

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I really couldn't see very well, even from the second row, with the assortment of fans standing on the floor, right in front of the stage. I decided that I would rush the stage for The Strokes towards the end of the intermission. As the stage hands finished laying out the equipment, suddenly, a lineup formed down the aisle, to head to the stage. The security guy stood in their way and allowed those of us sitting in the first two rows to get to the front first. I ended up leaning on the stage, amidst the crush of fans, with Albert Hammond, Jr. right in front of me. The view was the best possible, with no one in front of me.

Julian Casablancas stumbled around and slapped hands during the first song. He made is way to my wide and made contact with myself and these two giddy teenage girls who were right beside me. One who looked like Jessica Alba (no kidding) and she hopped on stage towards the end of the show but was scooped off right away by security. Naturally, her pixie blonde friend had to follow suit. Prior to The Strokes taking the stage, security warned us that they would clear the floor and make everyone sit in their seats if anyone jumped on the stage.

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I have a theory that concerts tend to be better experiences, the closer you are to the stage. While I recognized several of the Strokes songs, some of them sort of came and went without leaving much of an impression, but even so, it all sounded good. There's something about your senses being overwhelmed with lights and sound that helps to make the entire show really enjoyable. I think I will be heading for the stage more often.

Their set list included several notable tracks from the new album as well as their big hits, including Last Night, Hard to Explain, Someday, You Only Live Once, Electricityscape, Juicebox, Heart In A Cage, Razorblade, On The Other Side, Vision of Division (my favorite from the new album), and Ask Me Anything.

The Strokes aren't virtuoso players, nor are they musical innovators. However, they are a fun rock'n'roll band with several distinctive and memorable songs, including quite a few from their new album. Visually, they are okay, but not spectacular. Most of the band actually shoegazed rather than look into the audience. Julian Casablancas, the lead singer, casually wandered around the stage, like a cross between a junior Joey Ramone and Dean Martin. Did he have a few too many drinks before show time? I neglected to wear ear plugs at the Franz Ferdinand/DCFC show, and had a noticeable loss of some hearing for a few days. This, time, I came prepared so I can't say that the show was too loud or not.

I can only of two ways they could have made the show better, play a cover tune by one of their influences, like the Ramones, or Velvet Ungerground and cut loose with some more jamming. I don't know to what extent their musical talent would allow them to do some extended soloing but it would be a change from the usual 4 minute song pace of the entire show.

Next show, Alice Cooper. I saw him twice in the old Arena and he plays the Concert Hall next week.

I would rate my experience at this show as being 4.5/5. My rating would likely have been lower if I were further away as The Strokes tend not to put on a visually exciting show.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Open Source New York City

Open Source New York City

To the elected leaders of New York City:

Microsoft Office is expensive and unnecessary, and switching to the feature-equivalent and compatible software can save New York taxpayers more than $10 million each year.

Open Source software, also called Free Software (as in Freedom) can provide New York City with significant benefits by increasing the efficiency of governmental operations. Open Source software is free to use, but more importantly, its source code is free to observe, modify and correct by any user. Changes that improve its quality are adopted and shared with all users of the program.

Linux and Firefox are the most famous open source programs, but other lesser known programs are of equal importance: over 2/3s of global webservers are run on the open source Apache web server, for example. And is likely to be the next big hit.

Because it is free to acquire, goverments around the world have recently begun adopting open source software as a way to cut costs and use their budgets on more important matters. If New York ceases purchasing Microsoft Office in favor of, it could save millions of dollars in licensing fees each year, while causing almost no disruption to any City employee’s daily work. (In the longer term, a conversion from Windows to Linux would also be logical, but city computer users will find this to be a slightly larger adjustment.) Today, or next week, any person can install on their Windows computer and start using it, free of charge. Many will not even notice that their software has been changed.

There are four major reasons that open source software, and in particular, is the best choice for public agencies.

1. The first reason to switch to open source is to protect data created by the City. No single company should have control over the format in which that data is saved, because then they have ultimate control over all access to it.
2. The second reason is that citizens expect transparency in government, and the software tools which the government uses should also be open to their scrutiny. Open source software code can be viewed and analyzed by anyone, allowing each person to satisfy his need to understand the processes he or she sees in its functioning.
3. The third reason is to support the local economy. Open source encourages many small businesses, as each has fair and equal access to all information about the software. Local consultants can use the service-and-support business model to provide value to users of open source software. They can also refine the code to suit a client’s needs, or create third-party add-ons for their clients. Helping to grow the local software industry is far more valuable to the City than sending all that taxpayer money to someone else’s distant economy.
4. The fourth reason is cost. Open source software carries no licensing fee. This will save an organization the size of NYC many millions of dollars each year. This money can be better spent on police and fire protection than on paying monopoly rents on software tools.

Numerous governments, from towns to nations, from the USA to Europe to the entire world, have already made great strides implementing in lieu of Microsoft Office.

* Massachusetts has decided to standardize on the OpenDocument format for all state-produced documents, by January 1, 2007. Microsoft has refused to support this standard format, therefore Massachusetts state agencies will be moving to an application that does, such as, StarOffice, KOffice, or one of several others. I have collected links and information in these posts:
o Massachusetts Chooses OpenDocument
o Why OpenDocument Won
o More on Massachusetts and OpenDocument
* Los Angeles is currently analyzing a proposal to switch to Linux and/or and use the saved funds to hire more police officers:
o Federal Computer Week
o Linux Insider

“For example, Kamensky said city officials could save US$5.2 million by switching to OpenOffice, an open-source desktop computer suite that includes word processor and spreadsheet programs, rather than purchasing a Microsoft Office product at $200 per license for 26,000 desktops. The savings would go to a special fund to hire more employees for the police department, a major focus for city officials right now, he added.”
* The State of Indiana will deploy up to 300,000 Linspire Linux computers with over the next few years: Linspire press release.
* Singapore Ministry of Defense is moving 20,000 users to Europa
* The national police in France (the Gendarmerie) have decided to replace 80,000 copies of Microsoft Office on Windows computers with on Windows by the end of the summer of 2005, and had already converted 35,000 by January. They will save two million euros per year: Europa
* The French national tax agency also announced it will migrate 80,000 of its own computers from Microsoft Office 97 to in 2006, and save €29.3 million over choosing MS Office XP, as part of its larger move to open source: ZDNet UK
* Munich, Germany is converting 14,000 municipal computers to Linux and in the next few years: The Economist
* The original Harlem, in the Netherlands, has switched its 2,000 municipal computers to OpenOffice: The Register
* Brazil is switching its governmental computing platform to Linux and, totaling 300,000 computers. (This is an audio report.): NPR
* Brazil’s post office installed 14,000 copies of on new computers in January 2005, and will replace Microsoft Office with on an additional 32,000 computers nationwide. Bloomberg
* Birmingham, England is migrating 1,500 computers to Linux and ZDNet UK
* Since 2003, Extremadura, a region of Spain, has run 80,000 Linux PCs with and a collection of other FOSS applications. OS News
* In 2005, Macedonia rolled out 5,000 Linux computers (using Ubuntu with GNOME) in 468 schools and 182 computer labs nationwide. GNOME Journal
* Other governments around the world moving to, or analyzing, and/or Linux include:
Austin (Texas), PR China, Israel, Malaysia, Massachusetts, Oregon, Newfoundland (Canada), Peru, Rhode Island, South Africa, the UK, Venezuela, Vienna, and others.

This “tipping point” is not just happening in governments, as many large corporations have also begun adopting and/or Linux.

* Google: More than 50% of desktops company-wide run Linux. “All the developers use it and most of the engineers and sysadmins.”
* Novell: “Novell’s internal Open Desktop Initiative now sees more than 85 per cent of its employees utilising the business productivity applications ‘full time’.” (4,850 employees out of its total of 5,700)
Novell Connection Magazine 1
Novell Connection Magazine 2
Novell Connection Magazine 3
* IBM: “IBM executives said at the time (November, 2003) that they had approximately 15,000 Linux desktops within the company and predicted that they would have between 40,000 and 60,000 desktops in operation by the end of 2004.”
* Oracle: “Oracle will finish switching its 9,000-person in-house programming staff to Linux by the end of 2004, the database powerhouse said.”
* Sun Microsystems: 100% of its 36,000 employees use StarOffice, a fully-compatible derivative of
* Cisco: Of 37,000 employees in the company, 2,000 currently use Linux. The company goal is for 70% of employees to use Linux and in the next ‘few years.’
* HDFC Bank: “One of India’s most savvy IT users, HDFC Bank, has been using OpenOffice on more than 7,000 desktops for about two years. It has also deployed Linux-based desktops for the use of its outbound telemarketing team.”
* LVM Insurance in Munster, Germany: 7,700 Red Hat Linux desktops.
* From the same article as above: “Banca Popolare di Milano is rolling out 4,500 SUSE Linux desktops with a Mozilla Web browser, a Web client for Lotus Notes, Sun’s StarOffice suite and a Java-based custom suite of banking applications to its 500 branch offices.”
* Canara Bank in India: 10,000 Red Hat Linux desktops and 1,000 servers to be distributed across the bank’s 2,500 branches.
* Health First, Inc. in Brevard County, FL: Migrating 6,000 IT users on 3,500 PCs from Microsoft Office 97 to (May 2004).

(For another list, compiled by the project itself, see the Major Deployments wiki page.)

New York City can and should be next. The rewards of the switch would be vast, and the risks minimal.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

GOSLING a shining example of IT innovation through shared ideas

Some of its schemes have been adopted by the feds to save taxpayers money
11/7/2005 2:03:00 PM
by Dan Perley

According to, GOSLING (Getting Open Source Logic INto Governments) is “a voluntary, informal learning and knowledge-sharing community of practice, involving civil servants and other citizens who actively assist the engagement of free/libre open source methods and software solutions in government operations.”

That, however, is a bit like referring to a modern airliner as a .hunk of metal that flies; it does not really do GOSLING full justice. GOSLING is much, much more than that. It is the visionary leadership shown by IT economist Joseph Potvin who has been working at PWGSC for the past four years, and by Russell McOrmond, an independent consultant and intellectual property expert, both of whom have worked tirelessly to make GOSLING a reality.

It is an on-going, lively and spirited debate amongst all sorts of IT folk from government, universities and companies that started three and a half years ago as a end-of-the-afternoon Friday gathering, over our favourite libation and snacks. Usually several discussions are running in parallel about how best to move the open source way of working forward bit by bit, project by project, utility by utility, application by application, system by system and workgroup by workgroup, across the staggering welter of organizational units that make up the Government of Canada (GoC), the City of Ottawa, provincial governments, and others. This is a genuine volunteer effort by people who believe in the democratic and financial value of openness. It is also a chance for those of us who have managed significant IT projects and programs or served as senior IT executives or consultants to rub shoulders with bright young developers and mid-career supervisory managers who are working at the front lines now. GOSLING is thus also about making new contacts who share common ideals about open methods and technology in government , but who come from all sorts of philosophical perspectives.

This November, the GOSLING weekly format is expanding to include quarterly “keynote discussions” at 3 p.m., and this community doesn’t shy away from controversy. The first keynote, by a senior University of Ottawa School of Management professor, will be about how the use of open source spreadsheets (like GNUmeric) and spreadsheet auditing utilities (like TellTable) can help to make erroneous and false financials harder to accomplish, and easier to discover. Accountants and auditors should take note.

GOSLING has also been an innovative idea forum for schemes that have been adopted by GoC departments to save taxpayers money. One idea tossed around the table two years ago about the need for a Canadian-based service similar to led to a proof-of-concept for both open source and closed consortium-based public sector involvement in collaborative software evolution (CoSE) on which Treasury Board and PWGSC signed a memorandum of understanding this past spring. Now, it seems several departments are interested in using such a facility for jointly working with counterparts — in the next office tower and around the world — on the further development of some of their own software. A seemingly unrelated GOSLING discussion about recycling old surplus servers quickly led to co-operation across departments and with vendors, in which IBM offered to swap the value of some surplussed hardware for brand-new Linux servers; these were formally assigned under another agreement to the CoSE initiative.

It is very hard to over-estimate the importance to the process of technological innovation of commonwealths of people, ideas, code, hardware and process, resulting in the sharing of all of these for a creative and common purpose. I’m not sure yet who will soon write the authoritative book on how Open Source logic got into government — and many people have contributed to the success of this thing — but don’t be at all surprised if it turns out to be Russell McOrmond and Joseph Potvin.

Linux and PWGSC Canada

After giving Linux the cold shoulder for years, there are signs from the federal government that it might be slowly flocking to the free operating system and open source software.

In fact, an Ottawa open source advocate says a small pro-Linux organization is already operating quietly within Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC).

The Getting Open Source and Linux Into Governments group (GOSLINGS) formed in May following a federal conference in Gatineau, Que. Goslings, incidentally, are young geese, and the group is riffing off the penguin and bird motif of Linux's trademark.

The new organization, which is probably the first internal group of its type, hopes to host an official Web site through PWGSC early next year. If that happens, it’ll be a small coup for the government open source movement, its organizers say. PWGSC sets the IT standards for every other federal department through its Government Telecommunications and Informatics Services (GTIS) branch.

Russell McOrmond, a volunteer member of GOSLINGS, says departments like Canadian Heritage, Industry Canada and National Defense are quietly experimenting with Linux. These departments haven’t publicly supported the operating system yet, but he hopes that will change with the creation of the group.

Why open standards matter

The Online Newspaper for Linux and Open Source
Title Why open standards matter
Date 2006.04.09 4:00
Author Tina Gasperson
Topic Why open standards matter

I think open source software is a good thing, but I've never bought into the religious fundamentalist fervor of a lot of the circles I move in as an IT reporter. Condemning people for not using Linux instead of Windows, and the strong-arm tactics of some proprietary software makers that try to lock people into a certain product, are just two sides of the same coin. But open standards that make real choices possible? Now, that's something I can get behind.

This week I spent six and a half hours at Government Day, a sub-conference at LinuxWorld Boston led by Leon Shiman, the founder of Shiman put together the daylong session to raise awareness in the public sector about the need for open standards in IT infrastructure. He brought in people from city governments in Massachusetts to talk about their challenges with IT, and key people from the free software community to talk about the projects they're working on, as well as representatives of each of the corporate sponsors.

Of all the speakers I heard, two really made me sit up and pay attention: David Wheeler of the Institute for Defense Analyses, and Luis Villa, a Harvard Law School geek and self-professed "free software bigot."

Wheeler spoke in parables to illustrate just what open standards are and why they are important for IT infrastructure security. First he talked about "magic food," a hypothetical substance that would nourish those who ate it for an entire year, providing all nutrients necessary and costing only one dollar -- the first year -- and making all other food poisonous and inedible forever. "How many of you think that the cost of magic food is going to go up next year?" Wheeler asked. "You probably think I'm picking on Microsoft or Red Hat -- I'm not. We need suppliers. The problem is dependence." He went on to show the audience, through another word picture describing a 1904 fire in Baltimore, how open standards can prevent unhealthy dependence on one vendor. "Firefighters were called in from all the surrounding states," Wheeler said. "But all they could do was stand and watch the building burn, because their firehoses would not fit on the fire hydrants." A standard fire hose coupler could have prevented much of the destruction.

Open standards are by their nature platform-independent, collaboratively developed, vendor-neutral, and do not depend on any commercial intellectual property. Through this talk I began to see how base standards in hardware and software could allow vendor innovation while preventing vendor lockin. Using the fire hose coupler example, without open standards, a fire hydrant maker with a lot of money could force out smaller vendors, patent their fire hose coupler, and start making the only fire hoses that work with their fire hydrant, creating a monopoly. If the pattern for the fire hose coupler was freely available to anyone, it would allow competing companies to create fire hoses that would work with the hydrants, ensuring a free market. The idea is not to put the monopolist out of business, but to open the game to other players.

Later in the day, Villa, who is on the GNOME Board, shared some of his thoughts about open standards and open source software. "It hurts me to even say 'open source,'" Villa said. "I am a free software bigot." For ethical reasons, he believes in the principles behind the movement that Richard Stallman began. But when it comes to government software procurement, he feels differently. "Legislating the use of open source is a mistake," Villa said, "because it takes away the ability to make a choice."

Speaking to the audience of government workers, Villa said, "Maybe 2006 is not the year that Linux ends up on your desktops." But, he encouraged them, if they begin using software that supports open standards now, such as Firefox and, then when Linux is ready it will be that much easier to make a switch. "And maybe you'll decide not to make that switch," Villa said. "But at least the choice will be yours."

I wholeheartedly agree. This industry needs open standards implemented and enforced -- now.

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