Sunday, December 31, 2006

Reading Recommendations: 2006-12-31: Late Addition

In keeping with the theme in today's Reading Recommendations, here's another one not to miss:

In The Kinsman Saga, one of Ben Bova's better books, the setting is a dystopian near future. Among other bleak prognostications, the U.S. government has classified the unemployment rate. Sounded crazy when I read it a couple of decades ago. Now, I'm not so sure.

TPM Muckraker has been maintaining a list of unreleased reports, deletions from government web sites, and gratuitous classifications. The list's entries share the characteristic that none contains data whose publication would threatens national security.

<heavy irony>

What other reason could there possibly be for the suppression, then?

</heavy irony>

Reading Recommendations: 2006-12-31

This list ought to indicate how sincere I am when I wish us all a happier new year.

  • Notes from Iraq and Christmas in Iraq
    Two emails from a soldier on duty in Iraq to Tom Tomorrow. Note, in particular, the soldier's description of the on-base Internet filtering.

  • The Bill of Wrongs: The 10 most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006
    It's sometimes hard to remember all of the specific instances of the Bush administration defecating on the Constitution. Dahlia Lithwick, Slate's legal correspondent, provides a good summary of the most egregious acts, in what ought to serve as the new Congress's New Year's resolutions.

  • The Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2006
    There are probably a few of these around, but this list from Foreign Policy is well worth your time. I knew about number 10, and mentioned it a while ago, and I'd heard about it a few of the others. I didn't know about all of them, though. Number 7 is a piece of good news that I missed.

    Thanks to Eat The Press for the link.

  • Does Iraq need more debate?
    Martin Kaplan, back on the 19th, in the LA Times. This is not just another yada-yada Iraq-is-a-mess column. As my referent points out, it's a call to arms. Holding pencils, I mean.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Zero Hour

By show of hands, who here thinks hanging Saddam Hussein has:

a. Made Iraqis feel safer
b. Helped bring the war closer to an end
c. Intimidated hostile forces in the Middle East
d. Improved America's relationship with our allies
e. Enhanced George W. Bush's image
f. Served justice
g. All of the above
h. Any of the above

Nobody? Nothing?

That's what I thought.

Update: Just read over at Eat the Press that Fox News is airing the Saddam hanging video non-stop. Pretty expensive snuff flick, Mr. President.

Pledge This

On The Media is evidently on a bit of a break this week. But that's not all bad, because they've filled the space with a rebroadcast of "Pledge This."

"Pledge This" is one of the best pieces of radio drama I've ever heard. It's a satire on pretty much every aspect of public radio. The more you listen to NPR, the more you'll like it.

Depending on when you read this and where you live, you might still catch the show live. If not, visit the transcript page and click on the little loudspeaker icon near the top.

The full cast listing, plus a download link for the MP3 file, are also available. Visit this page.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mr. Smith Goes Off In Washington

You've probably seen excerpts of, and commentary on, Sen. Gordon Smith's speech yesterday. If you haven't, here's a summary: Smith is a Republican from Oregon, usually characterized as a moderate. He voted for the Iraq War and has since had little else to say on the matter. He gave a surprise speech yesterday on the floor of the Senate, criticizing the Bush Administration's clinging to the status quo. The NY Times has an article covering the speech and giving some reactions from other senators. (Thanks, KK.)

This is an instance where it's probably worth going to the source. TPM Muckraker has the full transcript, as well as a link to the video of the speech.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Papa's Got a Brand New Gig

I guess the man upstairs got as tired of the same old carols as the rest of us, and so sent for some fresh tunes. This wasn't the best Christmas present that I've ever gotten, however.

RIP, Mr. Brown.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Before You Buy That Vista PC …

I just had my attention called to a disturbing paper on Microsoft Windows Vista. The paper is called "A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection." The online version says that it was last updated 23 December 2006.

The paper describes numerous potential problems stemming from Vista's design for handling copy-protected data, like digital video and music. Among these problems are certain increased hardware costs, probable instability of computer systems, and possible worldwide computer shutdowns, performed by malware authors or by Microsoft itself.

That last sounds a little conspiracy-theory-ish, I know.

It won't help to tell you that I do not know anything about the author of the paper, Peter Gutman. Gutman titles himself a "Professional Paranoid" on his home page, which is hosted by the University of Auckland, New Zealand. The U of A's Department of Computer Science home page lists Gutman as one of several "Honorary Researchers."

Rick Downes, whose newsletters I have been reading for years, calls Gutman a "[n]oted technology expert." I know a little about Downes and consider him a highly credible source. It was his site that called my attention to the paper.

Thus, given Downes's referral, Microsoft's history, and finally, the tone and content of Gutman's paper itself, I find nothing that resembles a tinfoil hat anywhere.

The paper is a bit technical, so I am unqualified to assess the merits of some of the bit-level details. From what I do know, nothing sounds wrong. Except, of course, everything that Microsoft seems to be doing. Gutman's analysis is sound and his projections are worthy of serious consideration, in my opinion. I'll leave it there, and let you judge for yourself.

Gutman's paper is at:

It may help to read Downes's summary first:,00.shtml

Friday, December 22, 2006

MI: 1

Got an extra holiday card that needs sending?

Here's an address:

Molly Ivins
c/o Creators Syndicate
5777 West Century Blvd. Suite 700
Los Angeles, CA 90045

Your card doesn't need to get there by any specific date, but now seems like a good time to send it. Ms. Ivins has taken leave from work to undergo treatment for breast cancer. This ain't the first time for my girl Molly. Word is, she'll be back in January. We most sincerely hope so.

Those of you who know me offline will understand why I have a special appreciation for this stellar journalist: she's a tough lady who calls 'em as she seems 'em, and she's invariably right. Blow-dried politicians fear her, and that makes us all a little more safe.

Go easy on the sympathy, though. If her tone from an earlier battle is any indication, she'll hurl your good intentions into the trash. Or right back in your face.

Just tell her to get off her ass and back into the saddle. If you've heard any new Shrub jokes lately, she'd probably like those, too.


Thanks to The Quad-City Times, via Google Alerts, for the link. Thanks to many papers for giving Molly's address.

Line of the Day: 2006-12-22

The goal of fair and balanced reporting is so amoral, misleading, and uninformative that it is no surprise to me that Fox News tried to trademark it.
-- Dan Weston

Wii Bow Down

I like to think of myself as a geek, but Jon Peck makes me realize that I'm still using training wheels, or maybe even still wearing training pants.

That's a compliment. (But you knew that.)

I'm still learning how to pronounce "Wii." Jon's already hacking it.

Pic of the Day: 2006-12-22

Remember The Kids in the Hall? The people at Eat the Press sure do!

Their caption:

Condi Is Crushing Your Head (Not A Metaphor, Just A Picture We Liked) (Okay Maybe A Metaphor)

Alternate caption (by me): "My husb ... The president assured me this was nine inches."


Did you see today's piece by Leverett and Mann in NY Times OpEd section? Go look. Just keep scrolling.

And then, of course, you can read the explanation.

Thanks to Eat The Press for pointing this one out.

And now, for a short note of optimism

I've even managed to bum myself out with the last two posts. But then I had a happy thought:

Ever notice how you can be hopeful, but only worrisome ?

$emper Fie!

If you didn't get enough downers from today's earlier reading recommendations, Dennis Perrin has a chilling Christmas story to share.

If you've had enough already, I'm sorry. But his story is well worth the read.


I tried.

Reading Recommendations: 2006-12-22

The first three are a little gloomy, given (because of?) the time of year. Assess your mood, and perhaps reserve them for another time. The last two are easier to take.

  • My years in captivity
    Moazzam Begg, a British citizen of Muslim faith, who was held in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay as an "enemy combatant," has written a book about his experiences. This is an excerpt. Unsurprisingly, it's not a fun read. However, you might be interested in a case study of your government at work.

    Thanks to A Tiny Revolution (see the header quote) for the link.

  • The Digital Imprimatur
    A longish paper by John Walker (not the wannabe Talibanian) about how the Internet might well be locked down, probably by about 2010. He discusses a number of existing or near-existing technologies (the paper was last revised in late 2003) in a tone that he suspects will be used to pitch their wholesale adoption. Some small parts are moderately techical, but overall, it's quite clear. And very worrisome.

  • Light Blue Christmas
    Self-indulgent naval-gazing twaddle. From yours truly.

  • Fractal Food
    This is another page from John Walker's site that has some spectacular pictures as well as good words. There's loads to see on Fourmilab. If you liked these articles, go to the home page next.

  • What Should a Billionaire Give -- and What Should You?
    Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics, contributed this piece on philanthropy to last Sunday's NY Times magazine. It is quite a thought-provoking article, and while it might induce a bit of guilt, it's worth it. Among other things, he demonstrates how easy it would be to alleviate much of global poverty and suffering, without causing undue hardship on the givers.

    Sure, it's an idealistic piece, and Singer makes no attempt to outline the collection or distribution mechanisms. But before we can have a practical plan, we often have to have a dream.

Mozilla Updates

In case you didn't already know, Mozilla has released security patches for Firefox and Thunderbird. The new version is for both, unless you've already made the move to Firefox 2.0, in which case, you'll be upgrading to version

I have been using Firefox 2 for a short while now. So far as I have noticed, the new version is not tremendously different. It's got some minor niceties, one tiny glitch, and a couple of design changes -- most of the major changes are evidently under the hood. The glitch is occasional ghosting on the tab title text that seems to occur when the browser window loses focus and then regains it; i.e., if you switch to another program's window and come back to the Firefox window when you have multiple tabs open. From what I can see on the Mozilla forums, this only affects those with particular graphics cards, and in any case, is easily remedied by clicking on the tabs. I only experience this on one of my machines, an old Dell Precision 330.

I've been making some notes on the new Firefox, and I might have some more to say in a short while. Bet you can't wait!

One reason to think about upgrading to Firefox 2 is that Mozilla has announced that it will stop supporting Firefox 1.5 as of next April. That means that no more security patches will be issued. It also implies that there are probably fewer people working on the older version as of right now. As the browser is one of the most attacked channels to your computer these days, it's probably worth moving to the new one sooner rather than later.

If you have disabled automatic upgrades, and do the usual Help -> Check for Updates drill, Firefox will upgrade itself based upon your current version. In other words, if you're still running version 1.5.x, you won't get offered the upgrade to version 2. To get the major upgrade, visit Mozilla's site. To read the details about what's new, see the release notes.

In all cases, the upgrades are painless. Moving to version 2 does require downloading the entire new program (about 5.7 MB), and it will overwrite the existing version, but you won't lose your bookmarks and other preferences.

I haven't heard about Tbird 2 yet.


2006-12-22 13:32 EST

I know I rant about this a lot, but if you're still using Internet Explorer as your primary browser, you should stop. Here's another reason, which seems to be making some buzz lately on the blogs that I watch: If you visit a site using IE 6, that site can silently access the contents of the Windows Clipboard. If you're using IE 7, you'll get a warning. Chances are, however, that if you're using Windows XP and IE of any version, you've long since gotten into the habit of dismissing Windows's pop-up warnings without reading them.

There's a proof of concept on the Scripting Magic site. To test it, copy something to the Clipboard, say, a glob of text from this page, and then click the link.

Visiting the site with Firefox will give you a warm fuzzy. With IE? Well, I hope it scares you straight.

P.S. If you like the geek humor (I love the geek humor), have a look at Rixster's take on this matter.

Foiled Again

I was going back and forth with TC about some minor thing, and he responded in an especially clever way, and when I went to reply, I didn't even stop to think before typing touché.

Which got me to thinking.

Back before the Republicans tried to ban the use of all things French, it was not at all uncommon for people to say touché. Invariably, one would say this when another had scored a telling point upon him or her, usually, in the case of some kind of verbal duel.

As I understand it, touché comes from fencing or something similar -- a sport that is a stylized form of sword-fighting in which the winner is determined by something less extreme than the number of hacked-off limbs. Points for style, as it were.

So here's the thing. In our games of verbal fencing, the one who gets scored upon acknowledges that fact by saying touché. The one who deals the critical thrust does not say it. Is it the same way when épées are in hand?

Since touching a well-padded opponent with the tip of the flimsy sword is unlikely to cause obvious effect, it seems to me more likely that the victor would be inclined to claim touché: a triumphant shout that ends the match. Or has fencing long been a sport so honorable that the one scored upon is trusted to acknowledge defeat?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I got tagged by Dan TUA a short while ago.

Here are the rules for this particular tagging:

  • Find the nearest book
  • Name the book
  • The author
  • Turn to page 123
  • Go to the fifth sentence on the page
  • Copy out the next three sentences and post to your blog.
  • Tag three more folks.

This is my first time being tagged, so if I mess up the etiquette, sorry. A'ight. Here goes.

The Boys on the Bus, by Timothy Crouse.

They saved most of their venom for George McGovern, however. They called McGovern "the doyen of the Democratic Party's left fringe." They consistently played down his victories and scoffed at his candidacy.

I now tag: Brando, Dan Weston, and Jinnet.

Here's the etiquette part I don't know about. Do I get to say anything more about the book?

Assuming "yes" …

As it happens, I recently picked this book up for $0.99, from the used book annex of the local B&N. (Haven't found a good independent used book store here in Rochacha yet.) I have been toying with writing something about this book, so it's right here next to the keyboard.

The Boys on the Bus is a pretty amazing book. It was written in 1972, originally as an article for Rolling Stone, back when that mag wasn't a rag, and Crouse later fleshed it out into a book.

For the young 'uns, here's some context: In 1972, Richard Nixon, a Republican, was running for reelection. Watergate had not yet become a big issue. George McGovern, a senator from South Dakota, was at first considered a long shot candidate for the Democratic Party nomination. Edmund Muskie, a senator from Maine, was the early favorite, and Hubert Humphrey, a senator from Minnesota and VP under Lyndon Johnson (1963-1968), was a close second.

Four years earlier, in 1968, Johnson did not run for reelection. Humphrey became the nominee, with Muskie as his running mate. They lost a fairly close election to Nixon and Spiro Agnew.

Finally, 1972 was the the first year where winning primaries became critical to securing the nomination.

I hope it's not a spoiler for anybody to say that Nixon won reelection in a landslide. Many people who have a passing familiarity with the 1972 race think of the McGovern campaign as a train wreck. As I was a little young to be voting that year, I pretty much was of that camp, too, prior to reading this book. It turns out to have been a little more complicated than that.

Crouse gave me the sense that 1972 saw the beginning of so many things that make the way we elect presidents seem broken: the packaging of candidates, the way the game is stacked in favor of the incumbent, how just a few nationally-known reporters have a terrible amount of influence over the average voter, and how the marathon campaigning with an exhausted and bored press corps in tow colors the perceptions of these few reporters.

If you're as cynical as I am, there may not be a lot to surprise you here, at least initially. But as I kept reading, I found myself fascinated by the inside baseball, the close-ups of many who would later become major players in the punditocracy, and the day-by-day evolution of the Watergate scandal as news. I was hugely impressed by Crouse's observations and prescience, not to mention his sheer ability to write.

While reading about how a little meme (a word not then used) could get repeated over and over again by those covering the campaign, until the average citizen thought that's all there was to know about a candidate, I was reminded of several parallels to more recent events: the Dean scream. Gore as a liar. Bush as a guy you'd (supposedly) like to have a beer with. Hillary/Shrillary.

Crouse also makes a compelling case about the bias in the press at that time. Tell me if this (CliffsNotes version) sounds familiar: Many newspaper publishers and network executives -- the top bosses -- were staunch Republicans. Guess how the endorsements tended to run. Most of the reporters, on the other hand, though not necessarily Democrats, tended to be liberal-leaning on most of the issues. Crouse argues that reporters' tones suffered from these facts for two reasons: First, concern about job security, and second, being aware of their own leanings, they tended to over-compensate. They were far tougher on the Democratic candidates, and despite their near universal loathing for Nixon, most of them bent over backwards when reporting on him.

The book isn't all dark. There are lots of funny stories and a good collection of pictures, and the tearing down of more than one sacred cow. But there are powerful lessons to be learned by reading this book, especially now, when the Fourth Estate seems to be ever more frequently falling down on the job. I dream of The Boys on the Bus being added to the reading lists for all high school and college kids. For that matter, it would benefit anyone who lives in a democracy. I'd like to think that if we all read it, we could possibly start fixing some things.

If you want to know more, here's the Amazon page for a reissue edition. At this moment, Powells's has one used copy of the original paperback, as well.

All Right, Already!

Sorry to be a little lax lately. I see that I have been tagged. I see a lot of interesting comments that merit response. There are emails to answer and maybe even a couple of half-baked scribblings to complete.

Thanks for your nagging. Seriously.

I'm on it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Yeah, That IS Important. (He said sarcastically.)

There's an article about a list of questions that couples should discuss before getting married. Unsurprisingly, this is the most emailed story from today's NY Times.

Also not much of a surprise are most of the questions. What about kids? Money? Heath issues? Career plans? Yada yada.

But here's a surprise. Coming in at number seven on the list:

Will there be a television in the bedroom?

My answer? I don't want one, but if you do, go for it.

You think the reason I'm still a bachelor is that I'm too easy to get along with?

Want to make $50,000? And save humanity?

How could you not?

Despite the scammy sound of this post's title, you're not being asked to help out any Nigerian prisoners or participate in a Ponzi scheme. You might, however, wish to forward this to your friends.

Here's the deal: All you have to do is figure out how to put a beacon on Apophis.

Apophis is an asteroid that is on a path that will bring it very close to Earth in 2029. There is some worry that during this passage, Earth's gravitational field will perturb Apophis's orbit in such a way that when it comes back around in 2036, it just might hit us.

The current thinking is that the chances of this happening are pretty small, about one in a few thousand. And it's not the biggest piece of nearby rock, at about 300 meters (1000 feet) in diameter. Still, the uncertainty about the exact path makes it something to keep an eye on. Putting a beacon of some sort on the asteroid will improve the ability to track it, which would indicate whether we need to think about moving it.

Got a great idea? Then why not enter the contest?

Thanks to the NY Times (see the end of their page) for calling this to my attention.

Lest you be filled with gloom at our impending doom, the NYT has another story in the Science section that might cheer you up. It turns out that "poinsettias are poisonous!" is mostly a crock. I'm still disinclined to stuff handfuls of their leaves into my mouth, but at least I no longer have to gun down visiting plant-bearers to ensure the safety of my cats.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Chew on This

Isn't it great how ruminate and ruminant sound so much alike?

(This random thought comes from remembering reading William Safire's column this past Sunday, in which he used cud as a metaphor, and then felt compelled to explain it. I wanted to write the above back to him, but he didn't have a comment link, so …)

And yeah, I probably wouldn't be so intrigued by this thought had I had a proper grounding in Latin.

You may now go back to doing whatever it is you were doing.

Anglophilia Nixed

So, I was just driving to the store. Punched on the radio, hit the preset for the local NPR outlet, and caught the tail end of a show that sounded like it might have been playing good music. You know how sometimes, you can just tell?

I was trying to catch some kind of ident, and I could not understand, for the life of me, the web address for the show. It was clearly some kind of syndicated deal. The DJ repeated the URL several times. Nope.

Now, I think it was a British accent that I was listening to. And I am one of many Americans who love that sound. I told my dinner hosts, on a recent trip to London, that I think a British accent makes the speaker sound smarter, and that many of us unwashed colonials suffer from the same prejudice. She had recently moved to the UK from France, and he from Iran, so they didn't so much understand, much less believe.

Anyway, back to the radio: Just before the closing number came on, the DJ gave the name of the show. And it almost sounded familiar. He said it again. I cranked the volume. Thankfully, he said it yet once more.

Back in my L.A. days, I used to listen to KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic and Evening Becomes Eclectic, so I was able to conjecture that the show has since become homogenized into Sounds Become Eclectic.

But it really sounded like "sands."

Stupid nasal limeys.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Reading Recommendations: 2006-12-17

The previous post left such a bad taste in my mouth that I just had to post some links to good stuff right away.

  • Theater of the Absurd at the T.S.A.
    A good piece of commentary/analysis by Randall Stross, about the oxymoron that is the Transportation Security Agency. Kudos to the NY Times for not sticking this on the OpEd page; it's nice to see the fetish with balance suspended when something is as broken as the TSA.

  • Dangerous Liaisons
    Bruce Reed's latest Slate post, this time about Michael Chertoff and another oxymoron, the Department of Homeland Security. Reed's column/blog, "The Has-Been: Notes from the Political Sidelines," is always a pleasure to read, and this post is a textbook on scalpel-wielding.

  • Doonesbury's War
    I came across this article by following a link from the Doonesbury site. It's a feature on Garry Trudeau, written by Gene Weingarten and published in the WaPo this past October. If you know about GT's habit of shunning the spotlight, you know what a rarity this is. You may need to register (for free) to read the whole thing -- I'm not sure -- but the piece is well worth the momentary pain, if so.

Hating America's Freedoms

I believe it is instructive, from time to time, to lift up a rock and see what is slithering around underneath. In that spirit, I followed a link to the fetid darkness that is, specifically to a piece titled, "America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on."

The author of this piece is one Dennis Prager. His bio states that he is "a radio show host, contributing columinst [sic] for, and author of 4 books." It does not explain why he has yet to learn the rules for properly capitalizing a headline, when to spell out numbers, and how to use a spell-checker.

In case you haven't heard, Keith Ellison (D-Minn) is the first person of Muslim faith to be elected to the U.S. Congress. He has announced his intention to place his hand on a copy of the Koran while taking his oath of office. Dennis Prager says: "He should not be allowed to do so."

Quite apart from displaying an obvious ignorance of the First Amendment, Prager's piece is a truly horrifying screed. If you'd rather not be totally nauseated by reading the whole thing, this excerpt gives the gist:

… America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible.


When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization. If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11.

I now place the rock back down, and wish it were not metaphorical.


2006-12-21 09:37 EST

Dennis Prager has posted a rebuttal to the response that he engendered. To my mind, it's not worth reading. It is mostly repetition of the original point, all of which stems from his fundamental belief that his prejudice is justified. There's also some whining about the mean lefty bloggers. Surprise, surprise.

Dan Weston has more patience for this guy than I do. You might be interested in his more considered dismantling of Prager's original column and the follow-up.

Update 2

2010-05-31 18:02 EDT

Dan's post now lives on his new blog, here.

Jargon Watch

Gary Forsee, the CEO of Sprint-Nextel, was being asked about the company's recent woes, in an interview published yesterday. In consecutive answers, he talked about problems stemming from "confusion of the brand image" and "we've gone through rebanding."

I'm a little proud of noticing the difference, even if I had a little more context than I gave here.

Yeah, yeah. Small things, small minds.

Later in the interview, he gives another area that he sees as a problem: "… disproportionately aligned with consumer activity and subprime customers." And still later: "… it was assumed that every user was the same."

Nice to know how much the big telcos think of you, isn't it?

And finally: "… we're very focused on our strategy and executing against our plan right now."

Against the plan? What, is the plan the enemy?

Dubious Headline of the Day: 2006-12-17

Sprawling Brawl Mars Ending of Knicks' Loss

By implication, the Knick loss would otherwise have been … pristine?

Disturbing News

Sometimes, it doesn't pay to get up early and read the paper. Two cases in point, the first from the land formerly associated with the rising sun:

But here, they [a few Japanese kidnapped by North Korea, decades ago] are still a burning issue, kept alive in the news media every day by nationalist politicians and groups that pound at the topic as firmly as their cherished goals, such as jettisoning the pacifist Constitution and instilling patriotism and moral values in schools.

The highly emotional issue has contributed to silencing more moderate voices who expose themselves to physical harm or verbal threats from the right wing.

By championing this one cause, Mr. Abe rose from obscurity to become prime minister three months ago. But Mr. Abe, who has backpedaled on economic changes undertaken by his popular predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, has begun to plummet in the polls. To survive politically, he will probably have to keep leaning on the abduction issue.

In a move that raised concerns about the news media’s freedom, Mr. Abe recently ordered the public broadcaster, NHK, to further emphasize abductions in its international radio broadcasts. NHK agreed, even though it had already been devoting about a third of its news content to the topic in the first nine months of this year, according to NHK.


Moderates being silenced by right-wing yahoos. A weak leader fanning the flames to distract attention from nationwide problems. Public broadcasting being controlled by the executive branch. Hey, we have all that here, too! I'n't grate?

And …

In Virginia, the two large [Episcopalian] churches are voting on whether they want to report to the powerful archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality who supports legislation in his country that would make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to form organizations, read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant.


Usually, I am happy to read about any big church organization breaking up. Divide and conquer, or at least, divide and lessen the political clout, I say. But it's awfully troubling to think that there are enough members of any organization, especially one professing to believe in Jesus, who would consider even for a moment choosing to take marching orders from a wingnut like Akinola. The fact that there are enough of them to merit a vote makes me want to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Line of the Day: 2006-12-16

Okay, it was actually said fifty years ago. But I never heard it before, and thanks are due to George Will for being old for remembering it:

During the 1956 presidential campaign, comedian Mort Sahl said: "Eisenhower stands for 'gradualism.' Stevenson stands for 'moderation.' Between these two extremes, we the people must choose!"

There's nothing else to recommend about this particular Will column. It's just blather about Romney and McCain. I thus give the the link for purposes of attribution only.

Sorry, but …

I know how irritating it is for one to talk about a controversial new book when one has not read it. Nonetheless, I'm going to give one link, about one such book, mostly because the essay is good, and partly in the hope that I'll get out and get the book faster. So that I can bloviate, guilt-free, I mean.

Okay, the book is Jimmy Carter's new one, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, and the link is to a post from Red State Son that criticizes Michael Kinsley's WaPo op-ed critique of Carter's book. (Let's hope, but not bet, that at least one along the line has actually read the book! We're all so post-something, ain't we?)

Carter always strikes me as well worth listening to, especially since attaining emeritus status, so I want to read the book even apart from a desire to jump into the fray.

End of apology.

Reading Recommendations: 2006-12-16

  • Neo Culpa
    David Rose's full article is up on Vanity Fair's site. This is a sort of a where-are-they-now? (in mindset) piece, concerning some of the big names in the neoconservative moment. Although this article was designated for the January 2007 issue of VF, the editors decided to publish an excerpt on VF's site as soon as Rose turned it in -- shortly before the last election. Rose discusses that decision and consequent brouhaha in this full article, as well.

    Thanks to Red State Son, via Jonathan Schwarz, for the link. I keep forgetting VF has the occasional good article.

    (I give the surfing history as an example of what a wonderfully, um, web-like thing the Web is. Follow the links for some snark about the VF article itself, not to mention some vintage Monty Python arcana.)

  • Where the 'Angry Young Men' Are
    On the lighter side … Okay, not really. Colbert King's op-ed in the WaPo is a fine example of how to use humor to make a telling point.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Uh-Oh. The New Crack?

I just happened across a new Google thing, called Google Image Labeler.

Must resist. Temptation. To try it.

Gotta go.

(A few minutes later)

Naw, it was boring.

Reading Recommendations: 2006-12-14

  • Run Now, Obama
    An interesting analysis piece by George Will, if a tiny bit cynical.

  • A Report Overtaken by Reality
    Another column by George Will. Will is usually labeled as a conservative columnist, and I suspect he wouldn't dispute that characterization. He hasn't been much of a Bush supporter for some time now, though, and this piece continues that theme.

  • America, Do You Even Care Any More?
    I came across this while randomly link-hopping. Tough to read for a variety of reasons, but well worth the effort.

  • On the lighter side, and antidote for the above, see the cartoon at another post on the same blog.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

David Duke Announces Withdrawal From Mainstream Politics. And Reality.

Remember David Duke, the somewhat telegenic Ku Klux Klansman who made an effort to go mainstream for a while? A quick glance at his Wikipedia page reminds me that he did, in fact, once win an election, a seat in the House for one term back in 1988. Since then, he has run unsuccessfully in bids to be a US Senator, Louisiana's governor, and yes, the President of the United States.

I guess those losses, not to mention some time in the slammer for tax evasion and mail fraud, have convinced him that the strategy of posing as a normal human being wasn't working.

I mean, I have no other explanation for why he would attend a conference in Tehran, Iran, whose sole purpose seems to be generating publicity for the Holocaust deniers of the world.

David Duke, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, BFF? That's almost as nauseating as Paris and Britney.

If you have a strong stomach and absolutely nothing better to do, Duke has posted the text of the speech he made at the conference on his web site. Among other howlers, Duke thanks Ahmadinejad for holding a conference devoted to free speech.

Free speech? In Iran? Lucky for him that he didn't give thanks for the opening buffet's delicious coffee and Danish Roses of the Prophet Muhammad.


Stop what you're doing and go read "So This Manatee Walks Into the Internet." Right now.

There. Didn't that make your whole day better?

Thanks to KK for calling this to my attention.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

30 Means "DONE," Right?

In old-school journalism, anyway. Zogby's new poll lends a new twist.

Thanks to Bob Harris for the link.

Listening Recommendation: 2006-12-10

I just got a little caught up with some of my backlogged podcasts. There's a good American Microphone interview out there with Bob Kerrey, which was posted on 8 Oct 2006. Kerrey was a both a Senator from, and a governor of, Nebraska, as a Democrat. Given the interview date, the first part of the interview is sort of the usual exercise of "how do we coasties appeal to the heartland?" To Kerrey's credit, he's less banal in this department than most.

Later on in the interview, however, it gets a lot better, with extensive discussion about the 9/11 Commission. (You might recall that Kerrey served on that commission.) He's pretty frank about the whole thing. If your leanings are rightward of mine, don't worry. It's not a partisan rant on his part.

Generally, it's nice to hear a guy who was a savvy politician speak from a position of apparent retirement from that game.

You can watch the video on AM's site and/or get the audio-only content as a free feed from iTunes. Let me know if you want help with the geekery.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Updated Feed Options

Thanks to Dan, I was motivated to find out about tracking comments on individual posts. This is something you might want to do, say, if you post a comment and want to be notified when other comments appear after yours.

What, is this is some new Web 2.0 concept? Yes, it's called "having a conversation."

Never mind that.

Anyway, there are a few details on a short faq page on my web site, if you want them. I'm assuming that if you are at all into this sort of thing, you don't need a lot of details, but if something isn't clear, please give me a shout.

If you'd rather keep it old school and just use bookmarks or whatever, that's fine. No need to change your way of surfing. This is just a little extra nicety for those who think it's fun to say, "See you later, aggregator."

Okay, probably no one thinks it's fun to say that.

Reading Recommendations: 2006-12-09

  • King Kaufman's Sports Daily (for 2006-12-08) [S$]
    The King on the eternal fretting by baseball owners about the need for salary caps. Hilarious!

  • Two parts hubris, one part paranoia [S$]
    Cintra Wilson does a hatchet job on someone who probably deserves it: Rudy Guliani. If you're a fan of Rudy's, you might think this one is a bit over the top. But as the philosopher told the president, the truth has a well-known liberal bias.

  • What It Means to Think Again [T$]
    Stanley Fish, defending his previous post, which provoked a lot of criticism. Fish is a law prof who blogs behind the TimesSelect wall. He had earlier analyzed the defense's strategy of arguing that a Mormon polygamist's right to religious freedom was being impinged upon. Both posts are interesting brain-stretchers.

New Tool

As some of you already know, I have resolved the first quandary, and chosen an electrician. Now it's a matter of waiting for RG&E to issue a work order number, so that my electrician can legally mess around with the riser cable and relocate the meters. Hopefully, this won't take more than about a week. But we are talking about a bureaucracy embedded within a monopoly, so …

In other news, we had a few inches of snow fall yesterday morning, so I went to the nearby hardware store to buy a snow shovel. It is a minor irritation to me that you can't get a straight-handled snow shovel anymore, unless you want the real bottom of the line one, or unless you want one of those ones that only pushes and doesn't scoop. So I bought the second-cheapest bent-handle model. Perhaps I'll look for something better somewhere down the road.

Why would anyone worry about upgrading this tool?

You should have seen the looks that I was getting from the passers-by in my new 'hood while I was shoveling. I couldn't decide whether they were wondering why anyone would care to do such a thorough job shoveling the driveway of a boarded-up house, or if it was more like, "Dude, this is Rochester. We don't shovel until it's at least a foot deep. And then we don't shovel. We have snow blowers."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pearl Harbored

MK told me a story last night that gave me a warm fuzzy.

Apparently, there is a group of people who gather in Hawaii every five years, to commemorate their having survived the attack on 7 Dec 1941. This year's reunion is likely to be the last, as time has done what the bombs couldn't do.

Anyway, one of the guys who attends always brings his wife. Who comes from Japan. Who he met at an earlier one of these reunions.

Maybe we all really can get along. At least after a while. Maybe time really does heal all wounds.

Don't know why. I've fallen in love. With sentence fragments.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

House: Quandary 1

So, as you might know, the first thing that I want to do in my new house is to get the electricity turned on. This is going to mean a fairly extensive amount of work, and so I've just had my first experience with soliciting bids from contractors. Up till now, I've always been on the other side in these negotiations.

Today, I had the second of two electricians look at Phase I of the electrical work to be done. The first guy, Dave, had given me a bid right on the spot when I walked him through the place on Monday. Steep, but not out of the realm of reality. Today's candidate, Les, said he wanted to think about his bid and would call in the evening.

Les called a short while ago, and gave a bid that was considerably lower than Dave's. After talking to him, I decided to call Dave, to see if he wanted to refigure his bid. He did, after a small amount of hemming and hawing, and essentially matched Les's bid.

And now, to the quandary. I liked both of them, a lot, on first impression. They are night and day as far as personalities go, or more precisely, are taciturn and loquacious to respective extremes. They both assure me that they'll be able to get to work as soon as the bureaucratic details with RG&E (the local utility) are worked out. They were both recommended by the same source. Dave gets a point by being the first to come look at the job. Les gets a point by giving the better number first. Still pretty much a tie.

The card-carrying ditherer, which is too often me, might think to postpone resolve this dilemma by getting a third estimate. Maybe. But I want me some E-lectrici-T!

What to do?

House: "Before" Pix 1

After walking another electrician through the house today, so that he could get an idea of what he'd have to do to get the juice on, I decided to take a few "before" pix. The house is boarded up, of course, so I was shooting in the dark.

Anyway, if you haven't already had the flashlight tour, you might like to have a look at my Picasa site. These pix show a few examples of what I'll need to do.

In the way of minor touch-up, I mean.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


If you've read my pitch about subscribing to, then you know that one of the fringe benefits they offer is an opportunity, from time to time, to cop a free subscription to some other (print) magazine.

I like a stack o' free reading material for the bathroom, coffee table, and nightstand as much as the next guy. However …

The latest issue of Rolling Stone arrived a few days ago, wrapped in plastic, bundled with an offer to renew the subscription at some massive discount. (The freebies from Salon typically last six or twelve months.) It's telling that I just got around to opening it today. I'm very sad to say, a magazine that I once gladly paid cover price for is now not even worth getting for free.

I know I'm fast approaching geezerhood, so I'm discounting the fact that I don't care about most of the bands mentioned. (Although I did have to laugh when three of the first issues I got had Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and The Who as cover boys.) If I did care about the bands, I'd be even more pissed at RS. The stories typically have all the depth of the rags cluttering the checkout line at the grocery store. Most of the photography is, charitably, Discount Paparazzi. The "interviews" take all of nine seconds to read.

Here's another gripe: Like Wired and every other magazine that started out with other aims, RS has become way too much of a gear mag. I get that pimping trinkets helps sell ad space to those manufacturers, but really. Page after page of cell phone reviews? Glossy spreads on the "ten hottest" iPod wannabes? Snooze. Why kill trees just to repeat the same fluff that can be found on a million different web sites?

Most crucially, the writing and reporting just ain't there anymore. I mean, RS used to have Hunter Thompson and Timothy Crouse on staff. And remember the old motto? "All the news that fits we print?" RS used to scare the Establishment. Now they're just trying to be part of it. Apart from Maureen Dowd's interview with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert a few issues back, I couldn't tell you one other piece that I've read during the whole subscription run that was worth anything.

The final straw came when I read a story about some of the top young players in the Web biz. (It might have been in the MD/JS/SC issue.) It was so surfacey as to be unbearable. When I read tripe like this, I am unsure whether to blame the media for causing or just enabling the ADD epidemic.

So today, shortly after I happily chucked the renewal offer in the trash where it belongs, I happened across a post on Blake Ross's blog. Ross is, for all intents and purposes, Mr. Firefox. He's an amazing guy in many ways, not least of which is his class in dealing with being the most publicized teenager since LeBron James. Read his "Historians Deem Rolling Stone Most Accurate Publication Ever."

And weep for the Rolling Stone that once was.

[Update 2006-12-05 22:43 EDT]: Speaking of Blake Ross, he's been working on a new project, and finally spilled a few details recently. The November issue of Spectrum has an article, unfortunately titled "The Firefox Kid," that's pretty good. A good mix of software geekiness and human profile.

Most Puzzling Use of "Despite"

This year's winner: The NY Times.

In a sad story profiling four recently murdered prostitutes in Atlantic City, the following howler appeared (emphasis added):

Friends said her troubles haunted her despite countless vials of crack cocaine.

No Charge Yet

As I mentioned earlier, the house that I bought does not feature a complete infrastructure. Lots of the water pipe is gone, for example. However, I did have hopes that the previous owner had not stooped to stealing wiring, and most of the electrical systems did look intact. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, before the Thanksgiving holidays started, I had called the local utility company, RG&E, to see if they would turn the juice back on. (I do plan to upgrade the house's wiring, breaker panels, outlets, etc., but I thought it might be nice to be able to plug in some tools and work lights before that.)

RG&E's representative declined to flip the switch, since the power has been off for so long, and told me that I'd have to have a safety inspection first. That happened a few days ago, and it turns out that I'm going to need to do a pretty big chunk of my planned electrical upgrades before I do anything else.

Aside from the obvious plumbing problems that the missing water lines present, their absence also means that the electrical system can't be grounded. Outside, the "riser cable," the main line from the pole to the house, has cracked insulation, so it will need to be replaced. Once you get involved in doing that, RG&E will require that the electrical meters be relocated outside. Oh, and by the way, those old fuse boxes won't fly, even temporarily. Might as well put the new circuit breaker panels in right away.

I had an electrician come by yesterday to look at the situation and give me an estimate. He was great -- a good explainer and willing to give me a bid on the spot. I'd have been inclined to hire him on the spot, but I had already arranged for another electrician to come by Wednesday.

Could be my first bidding war!

Reassessing Things

One of the good things about having hired a lawyer to assist me during the closing when I bought my house was that he gave me some tips about how to reduce my property taxes. The first thing he suggested was that I ask the city to reduce the assessed value of the house.

It turned out to be a straightforward process -- a required visit to City Hall but no need to fight it. I filled out some forms and was given the name and phone number of one of the city's official real estate appraisers. I called him and made an appointment for him to come buy to have a look.

Yesterday, he pulled into the driveway of the new place. He got out of his car, a nattily dressed man. He had a bit of a nervous look about him, as though he couldn't quite believe that he'd come to the right place.

We shook hands. "So, Brendan, what's the story here?"

I explained that I'd bought this place after it had been foreclosed upon, that I was planning to fix it up, and that, meantime, I wanted to have its assessed value reduced. He nodded. I asked him if he wanted to have a look inside. He nodded.

"Got a flashlight?" I asked.

"No. Why? I need one? Is it safe to go in there?"

I assured him that electricity was not yet one of the house's happinesses (details in a coming post), but that he would not, in fact, fall through any floors. From giving earlier tours to friends and prospective contractors, I have gotten in the habit of carrying two flashlights, and so I handed him one.

I led him in the only non-boarded-up door, which leads directly to the second floor. He came up behind me. I would say "unwillingly," were I the sort to bandy about adverbs. Which I am.

He stopped at the top of the stairs, took about five more steps, quickly shone the flashlight at a couple of walls and turned to go.

"Wait," I said, "Don't you want to see the first floor? Or the basement?" I was planning to emphasize how the services would all need serious work, too.

"No, no. I've seen enough. How about I change the value of the house to $20,000? That work for you?"

He quickly rattled off the details, about how the new value would not affect the balance of this year's property taxes, but would affect 2007's taxes. "Any questions?" He looked like he absolutely could not wait to run back down the stairs.

"Nope. Guess not. Thanks for coming."

Once safely back outside, he gave me a few more details about how the city would be reassessing everyone's property next year, for the 2008 tax year. By then, of course, I should have the place restored to its original opulence. But considering that New York has a state program called the STAR exemption, which can knock $30K off the assessed value of your primary residence if you're the owner, next year ought to be a good one for not paying so much in taxes.

He didn't give me any kind of paperwork to document the reassessed value, so we'll have to see how this all plays out. I'm going to write him a follow-up email, FWIW.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Okay, so it wasn't from Ed McMahon …

… but I did get something kind of fun in today's snail mail: a free razor.

This is the new Gillette Fusion, it sez here. I am wondering why anyone would name a product after an energy source that remains an unfulfilled dream after decades of promising. Or maybe, why would they name it after bad '70s music?

The more important consideration: why does any razor need five blades?

I did get a Mach 3 in the mail a few years ago, and I have to say, I liked it enough to make it my daily razor. I don't care so much about the three blades. To my mind, the real breakthrough in its design was the open back. All multi-blade razors (remember when two seemed astounding?) get gunked up before they get dull, but the Mach 3 seems to be quite rinsable. It takes me weeks and weeks to feel like I need to change cartridges.

I know your heart is pounding with excitment already from this post, but hang in there. I'll let you know how the Fusion shaving experience turns out, in a day or two.

Reading Recommendations: 2006-12-04

I haven't had as much time for surfing lately, for obvious reasons, but I did come across a few good ones this past weekend.

  • Has He Started Talking to the Walls? [T$]
    Frank Rich's column from Sunday's NY Times. Absolutely devastating, I thought, and spot-on. This, of course, is nothing new from my boy Frankie.

  • The N-Word: Unmentionable lessons of the midterm aftermath
    No, this isn't about some washed-up comedian's flameout. This is Diane McWhorter on the other N-word.

  • Questions and Answers for New Pilot Naturalization Exam
    La Migra has decided to update the test for those seeking to become American citizens, thinking that the current version features too much rote memorization. According to the rules: "To pass, applicants will have to correctly answer six of 10 selected questions." There are 144 questions, and I think that there might have been five that I couldn't get. I shudder to think how badly the average American might do on this test. Of course, now that the questions and answers are posted, we're back to rote memorization.

    Nonetheless, it's a fun test to take. Use the scroll bar -- the answers appear right below the the corresponding questions.