Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pandora Dot Com

My friend Ken mentioned Pandora to me the other day, and I'm so glad he did. is part of a project called the Music Genome Project, which has some 50 musicians working to characterize music according to a large number of criteria. Pandora allows one to create "stations" which you seed with a particular song or artist name. They then stream music that they think will fit a mold conforming to the seed song or artist. Along the way you can give selections "thumbs up" or "thumbs down", or you can add songs or artists to the station in an attempt to teach Pandora what you want in that stream.

It's an interesting idea very well executed.

The service is ad supported, or you can pay a small fee to avoid the adds. The ads aren't bothersome - nothing flashy or too distracting.

and what have you. Apparently some body empowered to collect royalties from music streamers is setting prices based on the number of streams that a They've recently had to limit service to the United States, which they verify by asking for your zip code and checking your IP address. This all has to do with licensing issues. There's some body empowered to collect royalties from webcasters whose rates are currently designed in a way that works against Pandora because every member's individual "stations" are considered distinct streams subject to a minimum stream charge. I hope they resolve the issue and stay in business.

Every time I'm away from Liza, water come to me eye.
Come back Liza, come back girl, wipe the tear from me eye.
Harry Belafonte. Beautiful!

There are some other limitations but nothing too bothersome. You can only thumb-down six times per hour, even if you switch channels, because their purpose is to stream "stations" not serve up custom programs. Has something to do with the licensing business. They explain all this in their FAQ.

I am impressed with the quality of the service, and I'm enjoying it greatly. I seeded my first "station" with "Joan Baez" (one of my favorite voices of all time), and like magic I was listening to a very nice stream of stuff I hadn't heard in ages along with some music new to me. I thumbed a couple of songs down along the way, but the stream has been very nice.

Since then I've made a few other stations seeded with everything from Juan Luis Guerra to Inti-Ilimani to Iron Maiden to Michael Schenker. These stations all work very well, though I have deleted a couple of stations that didn't work out as I'd have liked. Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma didn't work out. I think that's because the version of the song they were going to start out with was by Harry Belafonte, which seemed to direct the stream to music I'm indifferent to. I love Harry Belafonte but the stream was a little too elevator-music for me. I deleted that station and seeded a new one with "Harry Belafonte", down-thumbed a couple of selections, and I've enjoyed the resulting stream very much.

If a stream delivers a song you want to purchase, you can click on a menu that allows purchasing it from iTunes or Amazon.

Music is encoded at an adequate bit-rate (at least for my dead ears). I think it must be on the order of 128 kbps. Sounds pretty good to me.

My hat is off to the creators of Pandora. I hope they're able to resolve their royalty issues and stay in business.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007 - Sex, Drugs & a Federal Prosecution - Opinion - Sex, Drugs & a Federal Prosecution - Opinion:
What’s more, the government insisted (and still insists) it needed to show no motive and no criminal intent to convict these doctors of drug dealing. It only needs to show that a given doctor’s prescriptions are outside the course of normal medical practice—a standard to be determined by government drug cops, not medical boards.
Not only was the jury not told about these arrangements, it was explicitly told precisely the opposite—that there were no testimony-for-leniency deals.

The ex-boyfriend of Jennifer Riggle, the government’s star witness, gave Rottschaefer’s lawyers 183 letters Riggle sent to him while he was in prison. In them, Riggle admits over and over again that she fabricated the sex-for-drugs stories about Dr. Rottschaefer and lied about them in court.

“I think they want to subpened (sic) me to a grand jury about the doctor I was seeing,” Riggle wrote in one letter. “They’re saying he was bribing patients with sex for pills, but that never happened to me. DEA said they will cut me a deal for good testimony.”

Federal prosecutors have never charged Riggle with perjury.


Now there’s new evidence undercutting the “legitimate medical purpose” argument, too. All five women who testified against Rottschaefer have sued him in civil court for medical malpractice. So far, none of those suits have been successful—three of eight remain unresolved.

The lawsuits did, however, allow Rottschaefer’s lawyers to look at the women’s entire medical histories, not just the portions prosecutors provided at trial. What they found ought to be enough to set Rottschaefer free.

It’s now clear that all five women perjured themselves in Rottschaefer’s criminal trial—both about the bargains they’d struck with federal prosecutors, and about their own medical histories. One failed to inform the jury that she’d been diagnosed with several psychological disorders, allowing the jury to conclude that a breakdown she’d suffered in 2002 was due to the drugs Dr. Rottschaefer had prescribed her, not her underlying medical conditions.

The other four had been or were later treated with medications similar to those Dr. Rottschaefer prescribed, and for the same conditions he had diagnosed. Meaning that not only were Dr. Rottschaefer’s actions not outside the scope of accepted medical practice, they were actually duplicated by other doctors.


I have such disrespect...

Monday, August 27, 2007

ACLU sues DEA on behalf of truck whose money was seized | - Houston Chronicle

ACLU sues DEA on behalf of truck whose money was seized | - Houston Chronicle

Disgusting. This is why I support the ACLU.

I wonder what would have happened had Mr. Prieto declined to consent to a search.
ACLU sues DEA on behalf of truck whose money was seized

© 2007 The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A trucker has sued the Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking to get back nearly $24,000 seized by DEA agents earlier this month at a weigh station on U.S. 54 in New Mexico north of El Paso, Texas.

Anastasio Prieto of El Paso gave a state police officer at the weigh station permission to search the truck to see if it contained "needles or cash in excess of $10,000," according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the federal lawsuit Thursday.

Prieto told the officer he didn't have any needles but did have $23,700.

Officers took the money and turned it over to the DEA. DEA agents photographed and fingerprinted Prieto over his objections, then released him without charging him with anything.

Border Patrol agents searched his truck with drug-sniffing dogs, but found no evidence of illegal substances, the ACLU said.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants violated Prieto's right to be free of unlawful search and seizure by taking his money without probable cause and by fingerprinting and photographing him.

"Mere possession of approximately $23,700 does not establish probable cause for a search or seizure," the lawsuit said.

It said Prieto pulled into the weigh station about 10:30 a.m. Aug. 8 and was let go about 4 p.m.

DEA agents told Prieto he would receive a notice of federal proceedings to permanently forfeit the money within 30 days and that to get it back, he'd have to prove it was his and did not come from illegal drug sales.

They told him the process probably would take a year, the ACLU said.

The ACLU's New Mexico executive director, Peter Simonson, said Prieto needs his money now to pay bills and maintain his truck. The lawsuit said Prieto does not like banks and customarily carries his savings as cash.

"The government took Mr. Prieto's money as surely as if he had been robbed on a street corner at night," Simonson said. "In fact, being robbed might have been better. At least then the police would have treated him as the victim of a crime instead of as a perpetrator."

The DEA did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Peter Olson, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, which oversees state police, said he could not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit names DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy, DEA task force officer Gary T. Apodaca, DEA agent Joseph Montoya and three state police officers identified only as John or Jane Doe.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Lost War -

The Lost War -

Wow! And in the mainstream press, too.
Could anything replace the war on drugs? There's no easy answer. In May, the Senlis Council, a group that works on the opium issue in Afghanistan, argued that "current counter-narcotics policies . . . have focused on poppy eradication, without providing farmers with viable alternatives." Instead of eradication, the council, which is made up of senior politicians and law enforcement officials from Canada and Europe, concludes that Afghan farmers should be permitted to grow opium that can then be refined and distributed for medical purposes. (That's not going to happen, as the United States has recently reiterated its commitment to poppy eradication.)

Others argue that the only way to minimize the criminality and social distress that drugs cause is to legalize narcotics so that the state may exert proper control over the industry. It needs to be taxed and controlled, they insist.

In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It's obvious why -- telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world. In one particularly revealing conversation, a senior official at the British Foreign Office told me, "I often think we will look back at the War on Drugs in a hundred years' time and tell the tale of 'The Emperor's New Clothes.' This is so stupid."

How right he is.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Michael Hawkins: Pure Democracy and the Moral Bankruptcy of the War On Drugs

Jury duty...
As for the moral bankruptcy of the War On Drugs, I have only this to say: it is abundantly clear -- and I'm not the only jury member to give voice to this insight -- that the government had held this trial over the head of the defendant's brother in order to put pressure on him to give up the names of his suppliers -- the Columbian drug lords. There was never a case, and this poor hispanic construction worker is now $22,000 in the hole for legal expenses. His young wife and son have been put through Hell, and up to a couple days ago were faced with the very real possibility that their working-class husband/father would spend 20 years in prison. The three multi-time felons who testified against the defendant -- who were each caught lying over and over and over again -- may or may not be given a break on their sentences, for having given the government "substantial assistance" in seeking a conviction in this case.

Meanwhile, coke and meth continue to flood the streets, much of it "allowed" into the States by the very government that plays this nasty game with peoples' lives. Prisons are filled with drug players from all levels of participation. Violence showers down on the streets of America because drugs continue to be illegal, and hardly anything is done to address the addiction problem at the root of the War. The Drug War validates the careers of many cops, prosecutors, investigators and lawmakers, so we can't count on any of them to put a crimp in their gig. It's all about Black Hats vs. White Hats for these people -- and they seem to sleep at night just fine, no matter how many lives they ruin in the process.

Do drug dealers ruin lives? You bet -- they create more addicts to keep the game going.

People are addicted to drugs.

Cops are addicted to both addicts and their addictors.

And the world spins on its axis, infinitely patient with the insanity of its human inhabitants.

Hat tip to Pete Guither.

The First Unity08 Vote

Unity08 sent their membership a request for survey participation. I'm tagging along with Unity08 this election cycle and I'd like to see them succeed, so I gave it the 20 minutes or so that it took.

I suppose any survey will leave the interviewee dissatisfied in one way or another. I am disappointed, for example, that national drug policy was not listed among the various issues to be ranked as crucial or not. It would not have made it into my "crucial" list, but it's certainly more important than a lot of other stuff that was listed. How could something that sends tens of billions of dollars down the drain every year (not to mention the many other undesirable side effects of national drug policy) not be important enough to include in the ranking?

I didn't care for the fact that when immigration was listed, it was "illegal immigration" not "immigration". Illegal immigration is just part of the problem.

Enough quibbling. Overall, I thought the survey was probably useful.

They have a version of the survey for people who have not yet joined Unity08. I'd urge my fellow citizens who happen to read these lines to take the survey, which is said to include information about Unity08 and what they're trying to do. If you like what you read, think about signing up. Maybe even send them a few dollars.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Another Prohibition Success Story

Afghanistan | Under fire |

Continuing news of Prohibition success:
And the Taliban has funds. The UN will soon announce that this year’s opium crop in Afghanistan, in which the militants have a stake, pipped last year’s record crop. That amounted to 6,100 tonnes, about 92% of the world’s total. Despite around to $1 billion devoted to the task, America and its European allies have come up with no effective way to reduce the blight.
Well, if $1 billion hasn't been enough, how about $2 billion, or $3 billion? That ought to do the trick, don't you think? After all, consider how well the Strategy of More Billions has worked throughout Latin America.

Drug Gangs Use Violence to Sway Guatemala Vote - New York Times

Drug Gangs Use Violence to Sway Guatemala Vote - New York Times
The most popular trafficking routes shift constantly to stay one step ahead of law enforcement efforts, the officials say. “If you attack the cockroach in one corner, the son of a gun shows up in another,” said a senior American counternarcotics official in the region, who spoke on background to avoid compromising future investigations.
And this has been going on for how long, despite more and ever more Plan Colombia this and DEA that?

Never a peep, though, about addressing the root cause: Prohibition.

As a symbol of the peace he wants, Mr. Colom, who is in his third bid for the presidency, threw a dove in the air at a recent campaign rally. It went up for a moment, its wings flapping furiously, then quickly plummeted to the ground.
The situation down there is hopeless and depressing, but also infuriating. The American counternarcotics official's cockroaches are doing what cockroaches do, just as they did during our previous experiment in Prohibition. Just as last time, the cockroaches will continue to do what cockroaches do until Prohibition and the War on Some Drugs are ended, which will probably never happen because of the political power of the constituencies Prohibition serves in the United States.

Oh, well...