Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Too Good Not To Swipe

Q: Why don't Republicans use bookmarks?

Give up?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Take Charge

From today's NY Times:

But even as some investors have profited handsomely by buying and sometimes quickly reselling power plants, electricity customers, who were supposed to be the biggest beneficiaries of the new system, have not fared so well. Not only have their electricity rates not fallen, in many cases they are rising even faster than the prices of the fuels used to make the electricity. Those increases stand in contrast to the significantly lower prices in other businesses in which competition was introduced, such as airlines and long-distance calling.

As I have argued in the past, deregulation is not always a good thing. This is especially true in an arena where the competition is unlikely to be completely open, and even more so when the few who can afford to sit in the game can also buy politicians wholesale.

Read the whole story.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Closet Cases

Within the world of gay Washington, many of Capitol Hill's gay Republicans are out about their sexual orientation -- but not about where they work. (source [S$])

That seems sensible to me. I'd only be ashamed of the job, too.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Don't tell W. He might just.

This just in from El Deb:

U.S. Cedes Control of Iraq to Jerry Bruckheimer

Megaproducer to Guide Nation's
Transition to Disaster Film

In a high-risk exit strategy that surprised many in diplomatic circles, President George W. Bush announced today that the United States would cede control of Iraq to the Hollywood megaproducer Jerry Bruckheimer.

The decision to transfer sovereignty of Iraq to Mr. Bruckheimer, best known for such Hollywood thrill-rides as "Pirates of the Caribbean," struck many foreign policy experts as unorthodox at best, since Mr. Bruckheimer has no experience at nation-building and has never set foot in Iraq.

But at the White House today, a beaming President Bush said that Mr. Bruckheimer was the most logical choice to guide Iraq in its transition from a Middle Eastern nation to a big-budget disaster film.

"It is true that Jerry Bruckheimer has never been to Iraq," Mr. Bush told reporters. "But he did produce 'Armageddon.'"

For his part, Mr. Bruckheimer was tight-lipped about his plans for the war-torn nation, but he did offer a sneak preview, telling reporters, "Nicholas Cage will be playing a key role."

Mr. Bruckheimer added that Iraq had "all the ingredients" necessary to become a major summer blockbuster: "lots of explosions, thousands of people running for their lives, and a world-class villain, Saddam Hussein."

But whether Mr. Hussein would be willing to play a role in Mr. Bruckheimer's disaster epic remains to be seen, according to the deposed dictator's Hollywood agent, Adam Leinhartz of the William Morris agency.

"What Saddam really wants to do is direct," Mr. Leinhartz said.

Elsewhere, the G.O.P. announced a new midterm election strategy, saying that it would target voters who have not read a newspaper in two years.

The sad thing about the last line: that really is their base.

Adverbs Added Due to Ad

With a title of Adverbs, how do you not pick up the book? And how do you not want to read it, when part of the inside front cover looks like this?

'Adverbs' book jacket
(Click image to zoom)


From today's PC Advisor:

Security and quality assurance experts reacted negatively to Apple's efforts to blame manufacturing problems that resulted in iPod MP3 players shipping with a virus that affects Windows.

Security professionals, including Microsoft's own product release virus scanning chief, called Apple's efforts to deflect blame on to Microsoft misleading and said the batch of factory-infected iPods reveals a troubling lack of thoroughness in the company's manufacturing process.

Ah, c'mon. Ask any Republican. They'll tell you the truth: It's all Bill Clinton's fault.

I read. I gape.

David Brooks has an op-ed piece [T$] in today's NY Times in which he endorses Barack Obama for president.

Well, okay, not quite. His main thrust is that, for now, he's strongly in favor of Obama being the Democratic nominee, and for all of the right reasons. But I think I can read a little more between the lines. Here's an excerpt:

[Obama] has a compulsive tendency to see both sides of any issue. Joe Klein of Time counted 50 instances of extremely judicious on-the-one-hand-on the-other-hand formulations in [Obama's recently published] book. He seems like the guy who spends his first 15 minutes at a restaurant debating the relative merits of fish versus meat.

And yet this style is surely the antidote to the politics of the past several years. It is surely true that a president who brings a deliberative style to the White House will multiply his knowledge, not divide it.

It's a very good column. I'm not saying that I'm surprised that Brooks can write, I'm just saying it's pleasantly astonishing to see him step outside of his usual rut.

Imagine a president who uses his brain instead of relying on his gut. Be still my beating heart.

Reprint: "Sami's Shame, and Ours"

This might not make the NY Times too happy, and if they complain, I'll take it down, but Nicholas Kristof's column [T$] of 17 Oct 2006 is too important to be hidden behind the TimesSelect wall. Thus, I am displaying the full article here.

October 17, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
Sami's Shame, and Ours

There is no public evidence that Sami al-Hajj committed any crime other than journalism for a television network the Bush administration doesn’t like.

But the U.S. has been holding Mr. Hajj, a cameraman for Al Jazeera, for nearly five years without trial, mostly at Guantánamo Bay. With the jailing of Mr. Hajj and of four journalists in Iraq, the U.S. ranked No. 6 in the world in the number of journalists it imprisoned last year, just behind Uzbekistan and tied with Burma, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

This week, President Bush is expected to sign the Military Commissions Act concerning prisoners at Guantánamo, and he has hailed the law as "a strong signal to the terrorists." But the closer you look at Guantánamo the more you feel that it will be remembered mostly as a national disgrace.

Mr. Hajj is the only journalist known to be there, and, of course, it’s possible that he is guilty of terrorist-related crimes. If so, he should be tried, convicted and sentenced.

But so far, the evidence turned up by his lawyers and by the Committee to Protect Journalists -- which published an excellent report on Mr. Hajj’s case this month -- suggests that the U.S. military may be keeping him in hopes of forcing him to become a spy.

Mr. Hajj, 37, who attended university and speaks English, joined Al Jazeera as a cameraman in April 2000 and covered the war in Afghanistan. He was detained on Dec. 15, 2001, and taken to the American military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan.

"They were the longest days of my life," Mr. Hajj’s lawyers quoted him as saying. He told them he was repeatedly beaten, kicked, starved, left out in the freezing cold and subjected to anal cavity searches in public "just to humiliate me."

In June 2002, Mr. Hajj was flown to Guantánamo, where he says the beatings initially were brutal but have since subsided somewhat.

At first, interrogators said Mr. Hajj had shot video of Osama bin Laden during an Al Jazeera interview, but it turned out that they may have mixed him up with another cameraman of a similar name. When that assertion fell apart, the authorities offered accusations that he had ferried a large sum of money to a suspicious Islamic charity, that he had supported Chechen rebels, and that he had once given a car ride and other assistance to an official of Al Qaeda.

One indication that even our government may not take those accusations so seriously is that the interrogations barely touched on them, Mr. Hajj’s lawyers say.

"About 95 percent of the interrogations he went through were about Al Jazeera," said one of the lawyers, Zachary Katznelson of London. "Sami would say, ‘What about me? Will you ask about me?’ "

He added, "It really does seem that the focus of the inquiry is about his employer, Al Jazeera, and not about him or any actions he may have taken."

Mr. Katznelson also says that interrogators told Mr. Hajj they would free him immediately if he would agree to go back to Al Jazeera and spy on it. He once asked what would happen if he backed out of the deal after he was free.

"You would not do that," Mr. Hajj quoted his interrogator as saying, "because it would endanger your child."

The Defense Department declined to comment on Mr. Hajj’s case, saying that in general, it does not comment on specific detainees at Guantánamo.

While Mr. Hajj is unknown in the U.S., his case has received wide attention in the Arab world. The Bush administration is thus doing long-term damage to American interests.

Mr. Hajj’s lawyers say he has two torn ligaments in his knee from abuse in his first weeks in custody, making it exceptionally painful for him to use the squat toilet in his cell. The lawyers say he has been offered treatment for his knee and a sitting toilet that would be less painful to use -- but only if he spills dirt on Al Jazeera. And he says he has none to spill.

And while Defense Department documents indicate that he has been a model inmate at Guantánamo, he protests that he has been called racial epithets (he is black) and that he has seen guards desecrate the Koran.

When Sudan detained an American journalist, Paul Salopek, in August in Darfur, journalists and human rights groups reacted with outrage until he was freed a month later. We should be just as offended when it is our own government that is sinking to Sudanese standards of justice.

This doesn’t look like a war on terrorism, but a war on our own values.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

And now for some good news!

After wallowing in the gloom of my previous post, I now feel a whole lot better. Thanks to Brando's Top 10 Tuesdays (special Wednesday edition), I came across this nugget on the Huff Post: "Fox News' Ratings Take a Nosedive."

Read them both and howl. With joy!

Phish Warning, FWIW

I apologize if this post sounds a little Chicken Little or Nervous Nellie, but I've thought about it for a while, and figured I'd just get it off my chest.

Just so you know, there seems to be a new phishing scam going around. This one involves the telephone, not email. Here's what happened to me. (I use BankXYZ as the name of the bank in the following, for obvious reasons of obfuscation, but it was a real bank, one with whom I do have a credit card.)

I got two automated phone calls in the past week or so, both saying it was BankXYZ and they needed to talk to me about my credit card, and "this is not a sales call." They gave an 800 number.

The first time I called the number, I got an automated answer, which began by asking me to punch in my credit card number, just as always happens when I call my real credit card company for whatever reason. Fortunately, I'd had a couple of cups of coffee, and I didn't fall for it. I just hung up. But the call and the answer were pretty professional-sounding, and had I been a little more distracted, I wonder if I might have gone into zombie mode and just punched in my number.

I finally got around to calling BankXYZ, using the number on the back of my card. They said there was nothing wrong with my account, and that they had no record of having called me. The customer service rep agreed with me that it was probably a scam, but she didn't sound like she was ready to call out the troops.

I now wish I had written the phone number down. Maybe I'll try to call my phone company and see if they'll let me have a list of the 800 numbers called from my phone in the last month, and then I could think about who I might report this to.

Anyway, pass the word. There definitely seems to be a new variant of phishing going around, and it's not as obvious as most email spam. I heard from a friend out west that something quite similar just happened to him, too.

The next time I get the call, if I do, I'm going to punch in a made-up number, just to see what happens next. Hope I don't inadvertently use yours! Come to think of it, it would probably be best if you sent me a list of your numbers, just so I can be sure not to use any of them.

[Update:2006-10-19 14:00 EDT]:

It turns out that it wasn't a scam. After a bunch of phone calls, I found out that my phone number is listed on a credit card account, a Sears account which is managed by one of the giant banks.

The account that's generating all the phone traffic, however, is not my account. As I have only had my current phone number for a relatively short while, it seems likely that the guy who had this phone number before me moved and neglected to inform Sears of his new number.

Thank you for your patience. We now return you to our regular blog, which is typically not nearly as riddled with paranoia. Neurotic, obsessive, and misanthropic? Granted.

Attitudinal Dissonance

What is a card-carrying pessimist to do when he reads this?

One reason despair is not an option is because things can always get worse, and then what'll we do?
--Molly Ivins

So, despite my dark and gloomy outlook on life, I am evidently required to remain upbeat? Ouch.

The column where the above line appears discusses the Vietnamization of Iraq, and it's quite good. You might also like another recent column by Ivins, which discusses Bush and North Korea.

Good columns. Molly Ivins. At least some things are consistent.

Shiping Charges May Vary

I just finished writing a lengthy screed in response to an email that contained an essay moaning about the supposed persecution in this country of those with religious beliefs.

Never mind my screed, although you can read it if you want to. What I want to talk about is this:

Which word is spelled correctly: worshipping or worshiping?

My email spell-checker said the latter, where I had the former. My American Heritage dictionary and Princeton's WordNet accept both, although they list the single p version first. The spell-checker built into the Blogger editor flags neither.

If you're going to argue for the latter and you skipped past the title of this post, I ask, have you ever read The Shiping News?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Reading Recommendations: 2006-10-17

The first three links on this list point to Salon. You know the drill. The last is on the NY Times's site, and free.

  • The real menace to American kids
    Bill Maher, making a guest appearance. A fine rant in his usual Politically Incorrect fashion, which may strike some as a bit over the top. Me, I like over the top in general, and Bill Maher in particular.

  • Abramoff's "rock star"
    File this one under "surprise, surprise" if you will, but Mark Benjamin does a nice job of reporting. Hard as it may be to believe, current RNC head Ken Mehlman was seriously in bed with Jack Abramhoff when Mehlman was working in the Bush White House a few years back. The House Committee on Government Reform got right on the matter, and three or four years later, delivered a report. Benjamin summarizes it, focusing on an appendix detailing the email trail that proves that the name of the game is pay-for-play.

  • Hillary is us
    The incredibly good Rebecca Traister takes some time out from her regular beat on "Broadsheet" to give a lengthy piece on feminist perspectives of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The article is complex and nuanced, so I hesitate to give a "money quote," but this phrase hints at Traister's understandably hesitant embrace and rock-solid analysis: "... what Hillary Clinton can offer the American left: unreliable, occasional, but intermittently effective action on behalf of the good guys." Definitely not for women only.

  • The Vegetable-Industrial Complex
    A short essay from Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, reflecting on the lessons that should be learned from the recent spinach unpleasantness. Among other things, he makes a good argument for buying from local farms that doesn't require the reader to also have a fondness for Birkenstocks.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Disturbing Image of the Day: 2006-10-16

I just had a thought.

You know how it's common among the punditocracy to make fun of bloggers like me by characterizing us as sitting around in our underwear?

Does this mean that those loudmouths who think spending their lives in Fox News studios is somehow worthy are all going commando?

Lends a whole new meaning to "empty suit," don't you think?

Andrew Sullivan: Follow-Up

A while back, I posted a bit of snark about Andrew Sullivan and his changed views of the Bush Administration. Now I'm feeling the tiniest bit guilty, because I just read an interview [S$] with him on Salon.

Sullivan, as I have said elsewhere, is someone whom I respect. I read his blog regularly, as part of my ongoing efforts to find people who doesn't share my views, but who don't sound like they're just repeating Karl Rove's talking points. He makes a far more coherent case for the conservative point of view than do most pundits these days. His explanation of his change in mindset about George W. Bush, the war in Iraq, and the Republican Party, is well worth reading.

I still disagree with Sullivan about some things, to be sure. For example, his view of conservatism in the ideal, as Salon quotes from his new book, is: "… a political philosophy designed to check power, to ensure individual liberty, to protect individuals from lawless government authority, …"

This strikes me as hopelessly utopian, an attitude he critizes in other people and in other contexts later in the interview. I mean, dude, who isn't against the gummint minding your business? Just because liberals like me think we have a societal responsibility to help the less fortunate, and just because we haven't yet come up with a better way to do so than through policies which are summarily dismissed as "tax and spend," doesn't mean we like the president behaving as a dictator or his buddies telling us who we can boink and what we can ingest.

I'll also point out that every administration -- nay, virtually every single politician -- in my lifetime professing a conservative stance has been in favor of pork, ridiculous military spending, and more pork. The only place spending is ever cut is from poor people and the environment. Tax cuts, which inevitably grossly favor the already rich, are invariably paid for by a crippling amount of borrowing. And forget about these "conservatives" letting you live your life the way you want to live it, of course.

Nonetheless, my respect for Andrew Sullivan was only increased by reading this interview. You should, too. (You've followed the my "[S$]" explanatory link before, right? If not, do so.)

As further evidence of what a good guy Sullivan is, check out his appearance on The Colbert Report. He has posted a YouTube excerpt.

I can't resist the urge to salute him for playing a straight man so well.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Comment of the Day: 2006-10-15

You're in Boston. All one-way street signs mean is "your car should be pointing in this direction"; don’t let them stop you from getting where you need to go. Your car has a reverse gear; use it.
-- Joseph Goldstone, commiserating about driving in Boston

CC of an email sent to Harvey Araton

Subject: Your 10/15 column

Dear Mr. Araton,

I liked your piece [T$] analyzing the declining television audience for baseball's post-season. I think you're probably right that baseball itself deserves some of the blame for our lessening interest. You're also correct in saying that there are many other things competing for our viewing attention.

However, I think you omitted a major reason when listing your explanations.

I myself no longer watch much baseball on TV, in large part because the production itself has become unbearable. The intrusive advertising during the game, the pompous and right-wing tone of announcers like Joe Buck, the painfully vapid and cliché-strewn sideline interviews and back stories, a screen so cluttered with non-stop animations and banners that it looks like the computer of a teenager gone off his Ritalin, ... I could go on and on.

It's a disconcerting thing to contemplate that I might have become an old fogey, merely grumpy because things aren't as nice as when I was a boy. But I don't think I have gone completely around the bend. I can certainly remember White-Messer-Rizzuto and Nelson-Kiner-Murphy mentioning beer sponsors between at-bats, and it must also be admitted that my best baseball friend and I practically fetishized the "Polly-O Gamer Award" at the conclusion of every Yankee win.

But baseball, as broadcast when I was younger, seemed less in-your-face. It used to be comfortable differing from music videos and football games. It didn't self-consciously try to fill every open space, to present like every other form of "non-stop entertainment." It didn't feel the need to hype "smackdowns" and "wars." It would wait for drama to occur, rather than inflating every .250 hitter facing every 5.50 pitcher into a battle for the very survival of civilization. And occasionally, hard as it may be to believe, the talking heads would actually shut their mouths.

I once read that one of the nicest sounding words in the English language is "murmur." Clearly, none of baseball producers shares my taste in books, either.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Line of the Day: 2006-10-13

What's wrong with being elitist, if you are trying to encourage people to join the elite rather than being exclusive?
--Richard Dawkins, in an interview on Salon (S$)

Dawkins is one of my heroes, if you didn't already know. I think it is especially fitting that a man who inveigles so eloquently against superstition should be cited on Friday the 13th.

On a related note, I recently saw a line from Tom Delay, in one of those NY Times pieces where fundamentalists get an undeserved amount of ink to whine about their "persecution" in the United States. Delay said society "treats Christianity like a second-class superstition."

Had I been there, I would have gone all Ali G on him, and said, "So, you view it as a first-class superstition?"

[2006-10-14 23:17 EDT]: Fixed the last line. (Thanks for the eagle eye, Josh.)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Momentary Strand of Drool

David Pogue has a review of the new Sony Reader in today's NY Times. This is the latest attempt to make e-books on a standalone machine palatable to the masses.

At the start of the review, it sounds good. The screen is apparently easy on the eyes, the text size is adjustable, and while on a given page, the unit requires no power whatsoever to maintain the display. "Turning" the pages is what costs power, and Sony says that you can do that 7500 times before needing to recharge. The built-in memory will hold about eighty books, and there's a memory card slot for expansion. At $350, it sounds almost tempting.

Unfortunately, reading further makes me think, okay, we're not quite there yet. You can't search the text using this machine, there is a "white-black-white blink that quickly becomes annoying" every time you turn a page, and one of two ways to get new content onto the reader is to use "a somewhat buggy Windows program." (That last bit of Pogue's prose brought to you by a grant from the Dept. of Redundancy Department, no doubt.)

I don't know why this has to be such a hard problem. It doesn't seem like we're asking for Mr. Fusion here, or even a personal Jet Pack. Still, this latest effort gives me the hope that at least a few of the early adopter crowd will buy one, and that will stimulate enough buzz to interest, say, Apple in making a serious effort to come up with a good one.

Well, maybe not Apple. They seem to be focused on convincing us that a 3" TV screen is what we really must have. Unfortunately, most books, unlike most TV shows, are scarcely improved by demagnification.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reading Recommendations: 2006-10-10

  • Silicon Superstitions
    Jef Raskin, on the persistence of belief in magic in a technological age. Don't let the fact that this appears on an ACM site dissuade you. Just ignore the geeky ads and focus on the article.

  • Where there is war, there's Kissinger
    Molly Ivins, in her usual brilliant form.

  • Dude, where's my cross? (S$)
    To a landscape already littered with train wrecks, we can now add Stephen Baldwin. You might remember him from Usual Suspects but, more likely, his name probably just makes you think: "Alec's little brother, right? What's he done lately?" To which I respond: "You mean, besides shilling for W and accusing Bono of being in league with Satan?" Lauren Sandler has the full story on Baldwin's new act: evangelism. Learn why working to end global poverty incurs God's wrath, among other howlers. Partly chilling, mostly hilarious.

  • Apparently there are a lot of nerds with a lot of money
    The title was enough to get me to click the link, and happily, it paid off. Evidently, "live long and prosper" was more of a savvy prediction than just a good wish.

Monday, October 09, 2006

News Flash: Amurrikin Peepul Get a Clue

From a story summarizing the results of "the latest New York Times/CBS News poll:"

83 percent of respondents thought that Mr. Bush was either hiding something or mostly lying when he discussed how the war in Iraq was going.

It's time to rephrase, in a slighly happier direction, that classic British headline from 2004: How can 17% of the American public still be so dumb?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Web Arcana

Someone recently pointed me to http://abandonware-magazines.org/, a Web site dedicated to old French computer magazines from way back when. The creators of this web site took hundreds of magazines from the time, scanned them and made them available for all to see.
-- Otaku, Cedric's weblog

I truly love the Internets.

The site is in French, which makes me wonder if the French language police are going to cite them for the site's name, an Americanism if there ever was one.

Despite the potential language barrier, it's worth having a quick look. First, notice their clever logo, a riff on the old DOS prompt. Second, even if you don't speak much French, it's fun to look at a site laid out in the usual way, and pick up the differences. Kind of like going to a Montreal Expos game, back in the day.

My favorite is at the sign-in section (not required): instead of username, the French webmasters ask for your nom de jeu.

If I remember correctly from high school, this translates literally as play name.

By the way, I saw no mention of les pommes frites des libertés.


If that upsets you, well, sorry. It upsets me, too. Mostly because I couldn't think of a better word to describe my reaction to the latest signing statement from George W. Bush, an obscenity if there ever was one.

From Charlie Savage's excellent article in yesterday's Boston Globe:

President Bush this week asserted that he has the executive authority to disobey a new law in which Congress has set minimum qualifications for future heads of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


To shield FEMA from cronyism, Congress established new job qualifications for the agency's director in last week's homeland security bill. The law says the president must nominate a candidate who has "a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management" and "not less than five years of executive leadership."

Bush signed the homeland-security bill on Wednesday morning. Then, hours later, he issued a signing statement saying he could ignore the new restrictions.


Bush said nothing of his objections when he signed the bill with a flourish in a ceremony Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz. At the time, he proclaimed that the bill was "an important piece of legislation that will highlight our government's highest responsibility, and that's to protect the American people."

The bill, he added, "will also help our government better respond to emergencies and natural disasters by strengthening the capabilities of the Federal Emergency Management Agency."

Bush's remarks at the signing ceremony were quickly e-mailed to reporters, and the White House website highlighted the ceremony. By contrast, the White House minimized attention to the signing statement. When asked by the Globe on Wednesday afternoon if there would be a signing statement, the press office declined to comment, saying only that any such document, if it existed, would be issued in the "usual way."

The press office posted the signing-statement document on its website around 8 p.m. Wednesday, after most reporters had gone home. The signing statement was not included in news reports yesterday on the bill-signing.

Thanks to Eve Fairbanks of The Plank for calling attention to Savage's story.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Andrew Sullivan on Faith

And if God is beyond our categories, then God cannot be captured for certain. We cannot know with the kind of surety that allows us to proclaim truth with a capital T.
--Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan has an essay in the 9 October issue of Time, titled "When Not Seeing Is Believing." His thesis: "Fundamentalism is not the only valid form of faith, and to say it is, is the great lie of our time."

To be sure, I never agree with everything Sullivan says, here or elsewhere. In this essay, for example, I take particular exception to my beliefs being characterized as one half of a "secular-fundamentalist death spiral." Being completely opposed to the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, George W. Bush, and Pope Benedict XVI is -- quite literally -- the only rational response. Also, when Sullivan asks me for tolerance of religious beliefs, I'd ask him to recognize that my non-beliefs merit the same respect. Even non-fundamentalist types like Sullivan get mighty tiresome with their frequent implications that agnosticism and morality, or athesism and a sense of awe, are mutually exclusive.

Nonetheless, the essay overall is a pretty good read. Of course, as with most arguments of this type, those who will read it already agree with the core principles. Those who should think about it most deeply, on the other hand, will likely not read it at all. And even if some do, it's hard to imagine ever swaying a zealot.

Pardon me. I guess I just put the "I" in "spiral."

Some Bargain

I just bought some perfectly good computer equipment for $25.

From someone named Faust.

I did not make such an allusion while transacting business, because one properly addresses this person as "Sensei."

This Might Be The Last …

… time I post about Mark Foley. There's no topping FGN's take on the matter.


In an alliance that would have been unthinkable a week ago, the Republican National Committee and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have come together to create a widespread awareness campaign denouncing Foley as both a gay and a Republican.

Read the whole thing.

Your new home page

Follow this link, and then press CRTL-D:

Search the Web

Oh, don't be a baby. Just click the clink. You're not going to catch anything.

Thanks to KK, who thanks David Pogue, who thanks Richard D.

[Update: 2006-10-18 02:20 EDT]: Well, it was fun while it lasted. The above link no longer works. Blame Google's lawyers? Bandwidth problems? If the latter, this resolves to blaming the NY Times, which would probably please our Vice President.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Help Save The Planet. It's Really Easy.

There's a great piece by Andrew Postman called "The Energy Diet" in today's NY Times.

Go read it.

Line of the Day: 2006-10-05

And really these ducks aren't doing anything that a porn star doesn't do on a regular basis.
-- Anthony Bourdain

From a fascinating conversation (S$) between Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman on a supremely marginal issue: whether foie gras ought to be made illegal.

Reading Recommendations: 2006-10-05

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Net Neutrality Update: 2006-10-04

MoveOn.org sent out an email today, celebrating the fact that the Senate has adjourned without voting on the telecommunications bill that would have killed Net Neutrality. They also warned that the biggest challenge will be to keep up the pressure when Congress returns after the election, characterizing the lame duck session as the time when Congress is least accountable. There's a nice summary of the issue, and a handful of links, on their site.

Two days ago, Daniel W. Reilly posted "The telecom slayers" (S$) on Salon. This is a very good read.

You still think Net Neutrality is a minor issue? The telcos sure don't. Consider this, from Reilly's article:

In 2005, the big phone and cable companies began putting their money where their mouths were. That year, they spent $71 million in lobbying, reports Bloomberg News, to make sure Net neutrality died a quiet death. This spring, according to a study conducted by Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications, a Maryland telecommunications research firm, the telecom companies spent more than $1 million per week in targeted TV advertising in the D.C. area. Arlen puts that level of advertising "on par with a car dealership," although in this case, he says, the ads are aimed only at "the 535 members of Congress and their staff."

In addition to the TV ads and the lobbying efforts, the telecoms have been conducting a number of Astroturf campaigns. Chief among the talking points: they need the money to expand the broadband infrastructure. Believe it? Reilly again:

To hear McCurry [head of one of the lobbying groups] tell it, the telecoms are struggling. Without tiered pricing, he says, the companies will not have the funds to build out broadband networks. However, Verizon generated nearly $80 billion in revenue last year, more than all other cable companies combined. AT&T's revenues clocked in at a paltry $44 billion. Over the past five years, the four Bell phone companies have received more than $15 billion in federal subsidies to help wire rural and low-income households through the "universal service fund." All to say nothing of the monthly charges they receive from the average Internet user.

Contrast that with this article, from last week's NY Times, about a town in rural Vermont that still can barely do dial-up. I don't know where that $15 billion in subsidies went, but it sure didn't make it up to Canaan.

There are times when it's appropriate to let the private sector and market forces run the show. This isn't one of them. The U.S. is already way behind most of the developed world in broadband access, and the letting the big telcos set up tollbooths on the Internet is not going to change that. It's just going to make matters worse.

I'd like to close with some words from that most eloquent of senators, Barack Obama, whom SaveTheInternet.com quotes from one of his podcasts:

It is because the Internet is a neutral platform that I can put out this podcast and transmit it over the Internet without having to go through any corporate media middleman. I can say what I want without censorship or without having to pay a special charge. But the big telephone and cable companies want to change the Internet as we know it. They say that they want to create high speed lanes on the Internet and strike exclusive contractual agreements with Internet content providers for access to those high speed lanes. Everyone who cannot pony up the cash will be relegated to the slow lanes.

Gory political details:

SaveTheInternet.com maintains a tally of senators and their respective positions on this issue. They also have a nice interactive map. Click on your state to see your senators' positions.

Here's what they know as of today.

On the plus side, 28 senators are counted as supporting Net Neutrality: Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Mark Dayton (D-MN), Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND), Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), James M. Jeffords (I-VT), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), John F. Kerry (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barack Obama (D-IL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Harry Reid (D-NV), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Kudos to Olympia Snowe, the lone Republican on the side of the people.

On the dark side, 14 senators are counted as opposing Net Neutrality: George Allen (R-VA), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Conrad R. Burns (R-MT), Larry E. Craig (R-ID), Jim DeMint (R-SC), John Ensign (R-NV), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Trent Lott (R-MS), John McCain (R-AZ), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Ted Stevens (R-AK), John Sununu (R-NH), Craig Thomas (R-WY), and David Vitter (R-LA).

No surprises here. All Republicans, all on any list of the usual suspects. Note, in particular, that Saint Sen. McCain continues to prove that he really isn't an "okay guy for a Republican."

Here are the declared wafflers, the "known unknowns," as it were: Joesph I. Lieberman (D-CT), Mel Martinez (R-FL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), and Arlen Specter (R-PA).

My, my. Lieberman and Specter. Who woulda thunk?

Yeah. Sure. Tell me another one …

From an article in today's NY Times, with my emphasis added:

A consortium of major universities, using Homeland Security Department money, is developing software that would let the government monitor negative opinions of the United States or its leaders in newspapers and other publications overseas.


It could take several years for such a monitoring system to be in place, said Joe Kielman, coordinator of the research effort. The monitoring would not extend to United States news, Mr. Kielman said.

Quote of the Day: 2006-10-04

I'm not sure that a company that has had as much trouble securing its users from malware as Microsoft should be going it alone.

--Lane Bess, general manager for consumer products and services for Trend Micro (source)

This is actually an interesting debate. Given the widespread use of online banking and shopping, the rapidly increasing use of the Internet to carry phone calls, and the ever-present trend to rely on computers for everything, I think it's also an important one. So as geeky as blogging about software disputes might be, I encourage you to think about this one.

I tend to have a kneejerk reaction against Microsoft whenever I hear about them being accused of anti-competitive practices. But in this case, the accusations are coming from makers of anti-virus and other anti-malware software, and to my mind, they don't sound completely credible.

Some of the complaints are legitimate. Apparently, Vista (the new version of Windows that's coming out any year now) will make it difficult for users to turn off the MS security console. This implies that users will find it hard to prefer a different security suite. It also smells a lot like the strategy that allowed Internet Explorer to kill Netscape.

On the other hand, one of the big complaints is that Microsoft is planning to block access to the kernel (the core of the operating system). I don't know enough about the low-level operations of a computer to be sure, but this sounds to me like a good design decision. As I understand secure computing, programs are supposed to run on top of the operating system, and interact with it by sending requests. They shouldn't be making modifications to the OS itself. Put another way: In general, leave my kernel alone. It's private.

Trend Micro, Symantec, McAfee, and others want access to the kernel for "trusted" applications, so they can be "innovative." This tempts me to ask: What could possibly go wrong with that?

It's clear that the makers of all those third-party apps are fretting about the potential loss of business. The question is one of degree: How much is Microsoft unfairly locking them out, and how much of this is whining from people who have been dining out on the inherent insecurity of all previous versions of Windows?

It's also fair to ask, how much do we want to trust that Microsoft will get it right, all by themselves, this time? MS has never -- not once -- demonstrated that it can secure its products by itself. When Vista is released, there will doubtless be a massive effort on the part of the black hats to crack it. McAfee claims that this has already occurred. It took out a full page ad in the Financial Times, which said, in part, "Microsoft is being completely unrealistic if, by locking security companies out of the kernel, it thinks hackers won't crack Vista's kernel. In fact, they already have."

Add to that Microsoft's occasional history of being sluggish in response to known security flaws, and its frequent history of opening security holes, on purpose, just to make their own applications do something gee-whizzy. Two words: Outlook Express.

I'm also dubious about Microsoft's ability to provide a sensible user interface for their security console. I run Windows 2000 on my main PC, partly because Windows XP's notion of enhanced security seems mostly to involve a plethora of pop-up windows, each filled with cryptic but ominous-sounding messages. This is the company, remember, that brought you the talking paper clip, and who wants you to click the Start button to stop your computer.

Diversity always builds strength, and we all know the line about eggs and a basket. McAfee's ad again: "Only one approach protecting us all: when it fails, it fails for 97% of the world's desktops."

Ultimately, I think Lane Bess's line has a lot of resonance.

iTWire has an article that presents McAfee's side of the debate in more detail.

This Pork is Rancid

Stories about items of dubious merit being tucked into appropriations bills at the last minute are all too familiar. But my nose is particularly wrinkled now.

Tucked away in fine print in the military spending bill for this past year was a lump sum of $20 million to pay for a celebration in the nation's capital "for commemoration of success" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, the money was not spent.

Now Congressional Republicans are saying, in effect, maybe next year. A paragraph written into spending legislation and approved by the Senate and House allows the $20 million to be rolled over into 2007.

Read the whole story, where you'll find other gems, like this:

A spokesman for the Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee said it was protocol not to identify sponsors of such specific legislation.

So much for a government accountable to its citizens.

[Update: 2006-10-05]: Evidently, someone was listening to this grumbling. The office of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) fessed up yesterday. (source)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Interjection of the Day: 2006-10-03

During a campaign swing through California today, George W. Bush stopped at George W. Bush Elementary School -- have we mentioned that we're now in favor of "school choice" programs? -- …

-- Tim Grieve

And here's the creepy thought for the day, also reported by TG:

BlogActive says that Maf54 was online as recently as this morning.

Guess who belongs to the screen name "Maf54?" (Note the amusing redirection of that last link.)

Reminder -- Are You Registered?

From the good people at MoveOn.org:

In many states, your last chance to register to vote is this weekend. This is an important election to be a part of. You can register quickly and easily at:
Already registered? Invite your friends & family to register at:

The League of Women Voters has a nice page that provides not only for online registration, but also gives links and info about absentee ballots and voting from overseas. NB: If you're male, you'll have to make up an alternate identity to access this site.

Just kidding.

Please be sure you're registered. Here's how strongly I feel about the importance of this election:

Last Exit
(Click image to enlarge)

First Rule of Holes Ignored

It looks like Mark Foley is continuing to dig. Evidently he's now trying the Mel Gibson "defense" as part of his PR strategy:

At a news conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., late Monday, Mr. Foley's lawyer, David Roth, said that Mr. Foley had sent the inappropriate e-mail messages while under the influence of alcohol and that he had kept his drinking problem secret. (source)

A couple of drinks changes you that much? In vino veritas, I say.

Two Good Reasons to Visit the Midwest

Okay, they haven't invited me yet.

But I wouldn't mind hanging out with TLB and Brando some day.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

We Can Only Hope

Josh Marshall on the Foley cover-up:

When you see Majority Leaders and Speakers and Committee chairs calling each other liars in public you know that the underlying story is very bad, that the system of coordination and hierarchy has broken down and that each player believes he's in a fight for his life.

Read the whole thing.

And after that, have a look at Jonathan Schwarz's post, "Two peas in one dreadful pod."