Wednesday, June 28, 2006

More Fluff

In an earlier post, I called attention to one of the weighty matters upon which the Massachusetts legislature was focused. After a week of rancor, including the inevitable appending of a -gate suffix, I'm happy to report that the matter is now closed.

Today's NY Times has an update.

The defeated state senator was not quoted as saying that he would be spending more time with his family, but a spokesperson did trot out to issue something almost as mealy-mouthed: "It got to the point where the larger story had overshadowed his original goal, which was to start a discussion . . ." Yada, yada, yada.

No. His original goal was face time. He introduced a bill without merit, based on thinking most charitably characterized as incoherent, and he caused a week of time to be wasted. Fortunately, he got spanked.

I now declare victory and move on.

Wingnut Watch

John Jacob is the loser of the Republican primary for a House seat in Utah. From an AP story appearing in the NY Times:

On Friday, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Jacob believed some of his campaign problems were being caused by the devil. Jacob said his businesses were having problems that made it difficult to fund his campaign. He said he believed those hardships were being caused by an outside force, likely Satan.

A true representative of the party of individual responsibility, right?


The vote in the Senate for a resolution to amend the Constitution to empower Congress to enact laws to prevent desecration of the American flag failed. By one vote.

You can see how your Senators voted here.

Some interesting highlights:

  • Joe Lieberman voted against the amendment resolution. A cynic might label this as a cheap bone tossed to us lefty bloggers, but given that the vote was so close, I'll take his stance as true on this issue. Say it is so, Joe.

  • John McCain voted for it. (You're not still conned by that "every Democrat's favorite Republican" image, are you?) Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island is the only not completely heinous Republican that I know of -- he voted against.

  • Hillary Clinton continued her never-ending efforts to alienate voters on both sides, first sponsoring a bill to make flag burning illegal, but then voting against the amendment resolution. Her supporters spin this as some kind of "third way" thinking. I say it's trying to have it both ways, and it's reprehensible. I also say it will be easy for rightwingnuts to spin this as more "I supported it before I was against it" flip-flopping. Wasn't she supposed to be the smart one?

  • Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voted against. The New York Times says he "is in line to become the Republican leader in the next Congress, and he opposes the initiative on free speech grounds." I say it would be really, really nice if we didn't have to go throught this nonsense every July 4th, so I cling to that Times sentence ferociously, with irrational exuberance.

The Times article speculated that if the resolution ever passed the Senate, there is a good chance that it would become an amendment -- at least 38 states, the required three-fourths majority, would likely approve it. (The House apparently always manages its own required two-thirds majority.)

My moral sense on the issue is this: I appreciate the power of symbols, and I can't see myself setting a flag on fire, purely because it is so offensive to some people. I'd find some other way to demonstrate my protest. Analogously, I am an agnostic, but I try not to say "goddam."

However, and much more importantly, the ideals represented by the American flag don't mean much to me if I'm told that I can't burn it. I suspect I'm not alone in this view.

Practically speaking, we are not exactly suffering an epidemic of flag-burning. Even the head of the American Legion's effort to pass the amendment admitted recently that he had never in his life seen a flag on fire. And aren't Republicans always crowing that they are the party that favors small government and opposes needless regulation?

I'll make this prediction right now: If the vote ever does pass the Senate, and gets sent to the individual states for ratification, then far more flags will be burned during the nationwide fight than were ever burned in the 1960s.

People who have this strange fetish for the sanctity of a specific piece of cloth might want to consider that.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Disturbing Mental Image of the Day

"Does anyone really want to think of Limbaugh waving around the handiwork of the little blue pill?"

--Tim Grieve, writing about Rush Limbaugh getting detained at an airport for having a bottle of Viagra in his luggage. (source)

Quote of the Day

"I don't believe in dynastic wealth."

--Warren Buffet, explaining why he plans to donate $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (source)

Tell it to the "death tax" spinners.

More Proof

You'll probably be shocked, shocked to read about "'Breathtaking' Waste and Fraud in Hurricane Aid," regarding the Katrina aftermath.

Here's the acting deputy director of recovery, Donna M. Dannels, speaking to a House panel: "We did, in fact, put into place never-before-used and untested processes . . . Clearly, because they were untested, they were more subject to error and fraud."

Never-before-used and untested processes? What, FEMA never had to help out after a natural disaster before? Or did they toss all the previously used and tested processes into the trash, because they came from Bill Clinton?

It's easy enough to say, "Heckuva job," and move on. But I think a reminder is warranted: The next time some guy tells you how he's going to be the CEO president . . .

Monday, June 26, 2006

Fun With Lists

The NY Times had a sidebar accompanying its recent story about Wikipedia's having closed some entries to further editing (at least temporarily). Most of them are obviously controversial, and it's easy to understand why the owners of Wikipedia said, "Find some place else to flame, kiddies:"

  • 2004 United States election voting controversies, Ohio
  • Cuba
  • Islamophobia
  • Elitism
  • Kosovo
  • Human rights in the People's Republic of China
  • Military budget of the People's Republic of China
  • Messianic Judaism
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Islam and anti-Semitism
  • Freedom fighter
  • Mail-order bride
  • Moscow Metro

But . . . George Bernard Shaw?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Good Read: Tim Harford

I don't play the game, and I'm completely stumped as to why anyone wants to watch it played on TV, but I do like to read about . . . poker. Check this out.

[Update] New link.

There's No Truth To The Rumor . . .

. . . that Gary Trudeau knew me in my educationamable days, to paraphrase the Current Occupant In Chief.

But it's scary when I come across something like this.

Have you been following Doonesbury? Pretty funny stuff lately. The Sunday piece (link above) is, as always, out of the flow of the weekly story line. For that latter, start here, and then use the "Next" button.

Another Thing I Didn't Know

Along with my recent discoveries of new words, stock ticker symbols, and web names (see posts and comments below), I've just come across a new keyboard shortcut for Firefox. It rules!

I'll assume you know about tabbed browsing -- the capability of Firefox to open a new page in the same browser without opening a new browser window, and without losing the previous page. If you're like me, you tend to get four or five tabs going after a bout of surfing, and switching between them can be a minor annoyance. You can click on the appropriate tab with the mouse (I hate having to grope the rodent) or you can cycle through the tabs with <CTRL>-<TAB>; i.e., press the CTRL key and the TAB key at the same time. If you have many tabs open, and want to jump back and forth between just two of them, this isn't so satisfactory, either.

Thanks to a slip of the fingers, I have just discovered that pressing <CTRL>-N, where N is 1, 2, 3, ... causes tab number N to be brought to the front. Cool!

Others that you probably already knew: <CTRL>-T opens a new tab and <CTRL>-W closes the current tab.

Kudos to the NY Times. Finally.

Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, wrote a letter to the Times's readers today, concerning a recent story about the Bush Administration's secret program to examine banking records.

I thought the original article was pretty tame, but evidently, the rightwingnuts have gone zellmiller over the matter, accusing the Times of all manner of aiding and comforting the enemy. The money quote from Keller's response to them:

Some of the incoming mail quotes the angry words of conservative bloggers and TV or radio pundits who say that drawing attention to the government's anti-terror measures is unpatriotic and dangerous. (I could ask, if that's the case, why they are drawing so much attention to the story themselves by yelling about it on the airwaves and the Internet.)

Much of Keller's letter will strike smart readers (like you) as a rehash of Civics 101: The Desirability of a Free Press in Preserving Democracy. However, it's a well-written piece and it never hurts to review the basics. I do have to wonder whether anyone sufficiently drool-free to pick up the Times needs this refresher, but maybe some, like me, will pass it along.

Anyway, here's the letter I wrote to Keller, in response:

Dear Mr. Keller:

I meant to write earlier, to congratulate you and the Times for having published the article on the bank records matter. It was the right choice.

Your letter in today's (6/25 -- web version) Times, which responds to the mail that you did get, obviates the need for me to add my two cents, I suppose.

I do have one comment on your fine letter: You said, regarding attitudes about government surveillance programs, "Most Americans seem to support extraordinary measures in defense against this extraordinary threat . . ."

I'll stipulate that you've seen polling data to back this up. However, I would argue that those results are a bit misleading. First, it's easy to construct a poll question that would skew these results in any desired direction. Much more importantly, I strongly believe that many people have a kneejerk reaction to say, "Yes, yes, anything to defeat the terrorists," and never stop to consider the ramifications of granting such carte blanche.

I'd like such poll questions to be asked before and after reading articles like the Times's expose of the banking records case.

As the son of a career newspaperwoman, I will always believe that among your principle duties is to educate the public. Keep up the good work.

More Creepiness

You might already know this, but I didn't.

Q: What's the stock ticker symbol for Halliburton?


When you consider the modulated, yet menacing, voice of that computer run amok with the one emanating from that company's former CEO . . .

Thanks to The Nation's William Greider for pointing this out.

New Words (To Me, Anyway)

Did you know salient can be used as a noun? It does not mean anything related to the adjectival form with which I'm familiar. Instead, it means "the part of the line of battle that projects closest to the enemy." (source)

Have you heard the economic term monopsony? Related to monopoly, it refers to a single (all-powerful) buyer dealing with lots of sellers, like Wal Mart, as opposed to a single (all-powerful) seller dealing with lots of buyers, like your cable company. The term was apparently coined by Joan Robinson, in 1933. (source)

I picked these up from recent crossword puzzles:

  • sapid is the opposite of the more familiar vapid. Example: "These tapas, though tepid, are sapid, Astrid."
  • Despite looking like a misspelled word, relict is a real word. It is a remnant of a pre-existing formation. Makes you wonder about the etymology of derelict, doesn't it?
  • If your music teacher tells you to go scherzo, keep your seat. Just play faster.
  • And finally, a tumbrel is how one hopes to remove the current occupant from the White House.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

First, We'll Shoot All The Congressmen

Yesterday, MK sent me a link to a Reuter's piece by someone named Scott Malone. The article reported on some dweeb in the Massachusetts legislature introducing a bill restricting the serving of Fluffernutters in school cafeterias.

I am happy to report that I have moved out of that state, and that my new state legislators wrapped up their session with something much more weighty -- the designation of a new official state ladybug.

Anyway, the following is an email that I sent to the editors of Reuters after reading the piece. I'll share it with you, since they are still dithering over their reply.

Dear Ma'am or Sir:

I just finished reading Scott Malone's piece, "Kerfuffle over 'Fluffernutters' in Massachusetts." At first, I thought it was funny. Then I started getting annoyed.

One of my pet peeves is the rampant innumeracy of practically everyone in the news media. This article was a classic example.

In the article, Mr. Malone reports: "A two-tablespoon serving of [F]luff . . . 60 calories." Why did he not offer for comparison, say the calories contained in an equal portion of jelly or jam (typically, about 80)? Why did he not provide some sense of scale for what 60 calories means? It turns out that practically no single serving of anything is this low; e.g., a small apple has about 55 calories, an 8-oz glass of orange juice has about 110, and a two-tablespoon serving of peanut butter has about 190.

It's kind of funny (oh, no, wait, it's sad) that the legislatures in this country seem focused on banal issues such as these. It's doubly hilarious (depressing) that reporters are unable to call them on it in any meaningful way.

Granted, I might be taking this a bit too far. After all . . . it was a Fluff piece.

Word Nerd Heard

So, I was reading Robert Alter's review of Stephen B. Smith's book about Leo Strauss (now there's a topic sentence guaranteed to grab attention!) and I came across a term I had not heard before.

Back in the early days of Google, there was a game whose object was to type in a word pair that would yield exactly one link in return. (I never actually played this game myself, having at all times since the Internet was invented maintained a much fuller and more purposeful life.)

Anyway, I was reminded of this game when I typed in the phrase, in quotes: "conformist progressivism." On all the billions of web pages out there, the only place this exact phrase appears is in . . . Robert Alter's review of Stephen B. Smith's book about Leo Strauss.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Some of these might make you feel better:

Friday, June 09, 2006

Overheard . . .

. . . in a grocery store checkout line yesterday:

"She definitely has her lips."

Three guesses as to which baby was being discussed.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Cowardice, Too, Makes Strange Bedfellows

Today's NY Times had a story about the vote to close debate on a proposed Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. (The forces of intolerance were unable to attain the 60 votes needed to continue with this idiocy.)

The story finishes with a funny line. Think about how elected Republicans have been fleeing the state every time the president comes to visit, the past year or so, when you read it:

Not voting . . . [was] . . . one Republican, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who was accompanying Mr. Bush in Omaha earlier today.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Economist Humor

The hardest part about getting The Economist is that it comes weekly, which doesn't give me enough of a chance to read it as carefully as I'd like. But sometimes I get the chance, dig through the piles of unread issues, and then I find a little tidbit buried in a sidebar, and I realize that the superficially staid magazine can bring the snark with the best of them:

If there is a trend, Mr Rosedale says, it is perhaps that Second Life does best in places with bad weather, fast broadband connections and unexciting entertainment options. He considers British suburbs an excellent growth market.
--page 16 of the insert "A survey of new media," April 22nd 2006

I'd say that trying to push a specific demographic into wasting huge chunks of time on yet another RPG isn't going to work unless there is good pizza delivery service, but then the discussion would quickly devolve into jokes about dentistry.

Oh, and Second Life? Don't ask. There are places even a nerd like me won't go.

Friday, June 02, 2006

More Bad News From Iraq and Washington

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld briefed the President this morning.

He told Mr. Bush that three Brazilian solders were killed in Iraq.

To everyone's amazement, all the color drained from Mr. Bush's face. Then he collapsed onto his desk, head in hands, visibly shaken, almost in tears.

Finally, he composed himself and asked Mr. Rumsfeld, "Just exactly how many is a Brazilian?"

Thanks, TC!


In case you don't have your Firefox browser set to check for updates automatically, you might be interested to note that v1.5.0.4 is now out. It fixes several security holes, according to the release notes.

The update is about 500 K, and requires a browser restart after downloading. In other words, painless.

You can check for updates using

Help > Check for Updates ....

from the Firefox menu bar.

What? Still not using Firefox? Why?

[Update: 2006-06-02 10:33] Thunderbird v1.5.0.4 is also now available. Pretty much the same drill for the mail program as the browser.

[Update: 2006-06-02 12:13] The Mac versions of the upgrades are available as well. However, the smaller downloads don't seem to be available (yet?). The "Update Now" button causes what looks like the whole program to be downloaded -- about 7 MB for Ffox, 9 MB for Tbird. On the bright side, the installation is automatic -- no mucking about with .dmg files.