Thursday, April 27, 2006

Your Congress at Work

You know how you sometimes read the first paragraph of a story in the newspaper, and you know that you don't need to read any further?

Here's an example, from today's NYTimes:

As anxiety spread in Congress on Wednesday over soaring oil prices, lawmakers in both parties said they were ready to take a tough look at oil and gas incentives they passed as recently as eight months ago.

Well, they're ready to serve up tough sound bites, anyway. Maybe even a photo op with some tough-looking banner in the background.

Next story, please.

Moving Thoughts

The good news is: the resident five-limbed creature has finally worked up his courage and come out from his hiding place behind the litter box. After only 20 hours in a crouched and (ahem) near-catatonic state, he is wildly running from room to room in the new place. The four-limber (manx) has been exploring since this morning (no surprise).

Both of them are nervously going down and up the stairs to my front door (I live in a converted attic now). They are clearly aware that they are being bad, since the stairs were off-limits in the last apartment, and they always got chased back inside the instant they tried to go down those.

The bad news is: my dad bought me a new phone as a moving-in present, and I packed it, because it needed a 20-hour charge before first use. I packed it in some place so clever that I didn't need to note it on the box. Consequently, it is the only possession that I can't find.

Here's a new experience in fretting. Did you ever tow a car on one of those UHaul trailers, behind the truck? If you look in your rear-view mirrors, you can only see the outside edges of the trailer. That is, there's no way to be sure that the car is still there. I found myself looking for excuses to make sharp turns so that I could look at it.

Well, I'm here in Rochester now. So far, every local that I've talked to has expressed some degree of mystification as to why I moved here.

Maybe it's just me.

Friday, April 21, 2006

It's Not Just The Dress Code

The NBA brass need help.

Suppose you, like me, wanted to look at the NBA playoff schedule. You'd point your browser to, wouldn't you? You'd expect a prominent link, saying something like


to jump right out, right on the home page, wouldn't you?

You wouldn't think that you'd actually have to hunt for the schedule, would you?

Well, you, like me, would be wrong.

That web site has always sucked heavily, and I'm here to report: It still does, only ever so much more so.

Get a clue, Mr. Stern.

New Snail Mail

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. I've been packing for the big move.

I just tried to circumvent the paper change-of-address form. The whole thing was pretty smooth. Then I got to the final page -- enter a valid credit card number to confirm. Okay, no problem. I mean, how would they be sure otherwise?

I was just about to type in the magic sixteen numbers when I noticed in the fine print that I would be charged $1.00 for the "service."

I mean, come on. I'm obviating a paper form with handwritten data, and entering the info myself. They now have everything in digital form, without any data entry on their part. I'm saving them loads of money, and they want to charge me?

I could go on a whole long rant about big business and their charges for my doing things that save them money, and why I don't do automatic billing for this reason among others, but . . . I gotta go to the post office. Burning ten cents' worth of gas for a nickel's worth of satisfaction.

BTW -- I'll be sending out a mini-mass mailing, containing my new snail mail address and new phone number, in the next few days. If you don't get it, please send me an email. If you'd like the details, I mean.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

MS Security Updates

Just so you know:

If you use a Windows machine, especially one running Windows XP or Windows 2000, and you don't have Automatic Updating turned on, then you might want to visit Microsoft's updating web site, at A new fix for several critical security issues has been posted.

Installing the updates is easy. Make sure to use Internet Explorer to visit the above link. You'll be automatically redirected to the appropriate page, based on your operating system, and from there, the onscreen instructions are clear.

The Great Mystery

KK sent out the following, in this morning's email:

Graves in Academe, by Susan Kenny, a thriller that Maura lent me, is about a college literature professor, female of course, who uses literature clues to solve a series of murders and other crimes that take place on the campus of her new University posting. (Do you think colleges are the most dangerous places around?)

In an aside she muses at one place; "That was the beauty of literature, of the written word; it existed, created a world elsewhere, another country that one could enter freely and at will."

Oh well, back to The X Bar X Boys at Devil's Canyon...

This reminded me . . .

I was just thinking, a couple of nights ago, that I have gotten tired of most mysteries, at least, the ones readily available as mass-market paperbacks.

The writing is often well-nigh unbearable, and even if the plot seems like something I'd like to follow, the prose puts me off to the degree that I hurl the book across the room.

I started fretting that the only modern mysteries with any literary merit, or at least, without literary demerits, are those set on college campuses or in English drawing rooms.

Now that Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald are done, I wondered, am I doomed to the ivory tower for my light reading, condemned to an endless diet of tea and crumpets?

Fortunately, I thought of Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane, John Sandford, and Andrew Vachss. And if there are these four, there must be many more good ones.

Send in your favorites. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ah, Jesus

TC sent me a clipping from the front page of yesterday's LA Times, which I just now got a chance to read. The headline: "Christians Sue for Right Not to Tolerate Policies."

As with anything sufficiently horrible, I became sickly fascinated, and went off to the LAT's web site in search of the whole article.

As for the title of this post, I do admit to taking the name of the Lord in vain. No matter how many times I call upon Jesus to straighten out his wayward followers, I don't see any response.

One particular disturbing bit from the story:

A recent survey by the Anti-Defamation League found that 64% of American adults -- including 80% of evangelical Christians -- agreed with the statement "Religion is under attack in this country."

I can believe that 80% of the wingnuts feel this way, because it seems that every time I hear about some convention that guys like Delay and Frist attend, that's the sum and substance of every speech made, and is, in fact, usually the title of the convention. Fear sells, especially with the dumb. So does hate.

But 64% of all adults?

Assuming the ADL's survey was properly conducted, I am stunned.

To Ruth Malhotra, Rick Scarborough, Stephen Crampton, Gregory S. Baylor, Orit Sklar, and all your drooling ilk who didn't manage to get quoted in the story, I say this: If you feel like you're "under attack" just because the government won't let you discriminate against an already persecuted minority, I suggest you write to your Representative or Senator.

Oh, wait, you can't. Congress is on Easter recess, isn't it?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Some Reading Recommendations

Amy Sullivan has an excellent piece in the May 2006 issue of The Washington Monthly, called "Not as Lame as You Think." In it, she completely dismantles the idea that the Democrats, especially in Congress, are weak, passive, or ineffective. It's more than a feel-good piece; there are numerous supporting examples. Among other things, it also removes any remaining shreds of belief in the notion of a liberal media. (Thanks to Jonathan Chait for pointing this one out.)

Paul Krugman and Robin Wells coauthored an article called "The Health Care Crisis and What to Do About It," which appears in the 23 March 2006 edition of The New York Review of Books. The piece is putatively a review of three books on this topic, but it is really an excellent summary of where we stand these days. Unlike virtually every other article on health care problems in the US, this piece is neither shrill nor killingly dull.

• For some shorter but equally insightful words, check out Molly Ivins on immigration, Jack Shafer on the underlying causes of media bias, and last but never least, EarlG on this week's Top Ten Conservative Idiots.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Let's Just Barry The Issue and Move On

At my request, KK sent me William Rhoden's piece in today's NY Times, in which Barry Bonds is compared to Jack Johnson. I had read the teaser on the front page, and wondered if the article could possibly be as boneheaded as the teaser made it sound. After all, I used to love Rhoden's work, and I miss reading him, now that he's sequestered behind the TimesSelect wall.

Johnson, if you didn't already know, was the first black man to be the heavyweight boxing champ. Since he had the misfortune to achieve this milestone in 1908, in America, he suffered greatly. He was hounded by the United States government, who created a law (the Mann Act) pretty much just to get him -- Johnson had a white girlfriend at the time. Depending on whom you believe, he may have been forced into throwing the fight that cost him his crown, to a white man.

If you have access to TimesSelect [no longer applicable], here's the link to Rhoden's piece.

Here's my response to Rhoden's piece, part of my reply to KK:

Rhoden writes well enough that the piece wasn't as boneheaded as I had feared from the teaser, but still.

Barry Bonds is not in Jack Johnson's league, from what little I know about the two men. I'll go along, a smidgen, with the suspicion that Bonds is being persecuted, by some in the chattering classes, for being simultaneously black, loud, and ornery.

However, there have been no new laws crafted specifically to hound him. His race and choice of sleeping partners are not the issues, from the government's perspective. Congress did not place him, alone, in front of the cameras. In fact, if memory serves, Bonds wasn't even present at that ludicrous photo op. At most, baseball has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into enforcing rules that seem eminently reasonable, and there is not anything on the horizon to suggest that these rules will be retroactively enforced.

Granted, Bonds has gotten the lion's share of the long-term spotlight, now that Rafael Palmiero is effectively banished, and Mark McGwire has been relegated to the status of "Who? Oh, yeah, that guy with Sammy Sosa . . ."

But what does he expect? He's chasing a hallowed record in a country that pays its top gossip topics top dollar. Welcome to the big leagues, Barry.

A classy man in his situation might have retired by now. A slightly less classy man might just shrug and say, "I played by the rules as they were," and then quietly continue to play ball. Instead, Bonds launches his own "reality" show and continues to play the victim.

Ban him from the Hall of Fame? Append asterisks to his stats? Naw, not me. But, other than that, I've got no sympathy for the guy.

Good Rule-Breaking

We are taught that adverbs (and other modifiers) should be excised from our writing, and that we should prefer nouns and verbs. However, as E. B. White said in The Elements of Style, we should also know the rules, so that when we break them, we do so with grace.

Writing in in the "War Room" blog on, the always wonderful Farhad Manjoo shows how it's done.

The post discusses White House spokesman Scott McClellan's attempt to defray accusations that his boss is behind Scooter Libby's leaking of Valerie Plame's name. McClellan's behavior during the press briefing was about what you would expect.

Manjoo characterized it as "ruthlessly opaque."

Pinups for Aliens

For about three-quarters of a century, we (Earthlings) have beamed our television broadcasts to the cosmos. If you've read the hugely enjoyable Contact, or seen the suprisingly good movie based thereon, you know what I'm talking about.

However, despite our best efforts, the tourism board of Planet Earth has failed miserably in its efforts to attract visitors from other worlds, despite the non-stop streaming of advertising that our planet and its inhabitants are truly wacky.

Evidently, Maxim magazine has decided the best way to lure the marks into the tent is by making them come a little closer, and rewarding their courage with a nice static image.

If you have Google Earth installed on your machine, check this out. (Clicking on the link should launch Google Earth and eventually zoom in on the object, um, desired. (Oh, wait. I'm not saying she's an object.))

No word yet on whether the Bush Administration is concerned about the message that this poster sends to the rest of the universe -- I mean, the babe in question does go out with a French guy.

(, a gold mine of pure snark, has the story.)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies, and Republicans

In a piece in the in the business section of yesterday's Times, analyzing the effects of Bush's 2003 tax cuts, it was hard not to laugh at this line:

Because of the tax cuts, even the merely rich, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, are falling behind the very wealthiest . . .
That's the funny part. Here's the serious part:
  • The average tax bill for those with incomes of over $10 million has decreased by more than $1 million
  • Taxpayers with an average income of $26 million pay about the same in taxes as those making less than $0.5 million
  • About 1/10 of 1% of all American taxpayers received 43% of the total savings on investment taxes. 70% of the savings went to just 2% of the population.
  • Those earning less than $50,000 per year realized an average savings from these investment tax cuts of . . . . . wait for it . . . . . $10

Yes. Ten dollars.

Compounding the lies under which this tax cut was initially pitched, Rep. David L. Camp (R-MI) said the following, on the House floor:

Nearly 60 percent of the taxpayers with incomes less than $100,000 had income from capital gains and dividends.

Practically all people with low-to-modest incomes who get any capital gains or dividends get them in the form of automatic reinvestments in retirement accounts; i.e., money they can't touch now, and which will be taxed as straight income, when they can.

In fact, as the Times points out:

But I.R.S. data show that among the 90 percent of all taxpayers who made less than $100,000, dividend tax reductions benefited just one in seven and capital gains reductions one in 20.

Mr. Camp, who had said in an interview that his figures were correct, said Monday through a spokesman that he had been misinformed by the staff of the House Ways and Means Committee.

So, he lied repeatedly, and then said (through someone else) that he was "misinformed."

Sound like any presidents other Republicans you know?

Euphemism Alert

According to a story in the automotive section of last Sunday's NY Times, California rates certain automobiles as "AT-PZEV's ('advanced technology partial zero emission vehicles')."

Partial zero emission?

That's, um, very unique.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Just The Facts, Man

Sometimes, a sober-sounding sentence gets past the editors, and makes me glad that I occasionally read articles that aren't part of my usual interests. For example, a piece in the fashion section of the NY Times (4/2/06) analyzes the death of Cargo, a men's shopping magazine. When discussing the magazine's readership, it had this to say:

At last count Cargo had 373,727 subscribers, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which does not break down numbers on how many are metrosexuals.

So much for data mining.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Got Him!

Probably no one else in the blogosphere will bother to note this bit of happiness, so I figured I should at least mention it.

According to today's NY Times (Lead story! Damned liberal media!), the erstwhile bug hunter has himself been squashed.

I haven't been following the saga closely, assuming hoping it was just a matter of time before Delay got brought to justice, but it seems that a second aide to the former House majority leader has recently pleaded guilty to corruption charges, in connection with the Jack Abramoff scandal. Both aides are said to be cooperating with the Justice Department, as is Abramoff himself.

From the Times's story (emph. added):

Bill Miller, a leading Austin lobbyist close to the Republican leadership, said Mr. DeLay called Gov. Rick Perry Monday night. Mr. Miller quoted Mr. DeLay as saying "I don't want to be a distraction" and said he had maintained that his decision to drop out of the race had nothing to do with any pending criminal action.

In an interview Monday night, Richard Cullen, Mr. DeLay's principal criminal defense lawyer, said that his client had been pondering a withdrawal from the race for some time and that "it had nothing to do with any criminal investigation."

Uh huh.

The formal announcement about wanting to spend more time with his family is expected soon.

(Thanks to for the image.)

Turn On

It may be a sign of geekiness run rampant to say the following, but . . .

I came across a funny line in a recent issue of The Economist this morning.

In a short piece discussing declining performance in Europe's universities and secondary schools, even compared to the US (*gasp*), one of the targets for blame was the people in the educational systems -- they are apparently highly resistant to new ways of thinking required in a post-industrial economy.

Or, as The Economist would have it:

Q: How many teachers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: What do you mean, change?

(Substitute your preferred stick-in-the-muds accordingly -- I myself blame the teachers last.)