Wednesday, January 31, 2007

When Product Placement Goes Bad

Judith Miller arrives to testify in the Scooter Libby trial
(Photo credit: Michael Temchine for The New York Times)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Surreality-Based White House

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries.

Because that worked out so well in the U.S.S.R.

And hasn't he already taken on enough things that he can't seem to manage?

Add to the inanity of this idea the following bald-faced lie:

In an interview on Monday, Jeffrey A. Rosen, general counsel at the White House Office of Management and Budget, said, "This is a classic good-government measure that will make federal agencies more open and accountable."

Gory details in the NYT.

Barack-Up Plan

I just noticed that the presidential campaign site that I linked to in my previous post has a prominent link, right on the home page, inviting you to "Visit the Obama 2010 Senate Re-Elect Website."


Takes "Defeatocrat" to a whole 'nother level.

Line of the Day: 2007-01-30

Regarding the "name problem" of a certain candidate:

He could barely have it worse even if he was called "Fidel Bin Repealthesecondamendment" …

Read the rest.

Monday, January 29, 2007

That Which Is Right

I've never really been sure about when to prefer that to which, or vice versa. But I just came across a tip:

As a handy help, imagine that a parenthetical "by the way" always follows the word "which." We wouldn't say "The weapon which (by the way) Xena prefers is the chakram," but we would say "Gabby's skirt, which (by the way) is brown, is made of leather."

And, from the same page, here's another:

Here's a very simple rule that should always work: Try replacing the word "who/whom" with "he/him." If "he" is correct, "who" is correct. If "him" is correct, "whom" is correct.

He is my brother.
Who is your brother?

I'm looking at him.
You're looking at whom?

Thanks, English Chick.

Bonus quiz, suggested by another page on EC's site: name a common English word, built by adding "-ly" onto the end of another common word, that is not an adverb.

Answer in the Comments.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

On the QT

That is a tasty burger!

There's no easy way to get from Rochacha to Ithaca. You want to start on 490, pick up 90, and eventually get to 34. (I'm out of L.A., the thes are no mas.)

One of the good parts about a trip like this is a chance to see Main Street in a town you've never heard of.

Halfway through the trip, rolling at 25 mph, trying to follow a web map printout of the directions from one named street to another, hoping to get back on properly numbered roads, I saw a store.

Big Kahuna Burger.

Well, we were running late, freezing rain was everywhere, and the navigator is a vegetarian, which kind of made me a vegetarian, too, so we didn't stop.

But I know they got some tasty burgers, and I'm going back.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Bad Privatization Idea #209357

Today's NYT has a story on New Jersey governor Jon Corzine's idea to lease the NJ Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway to private companies. In return for paying the state for the right to run the roads, the companies collect the tolls. Corzine is not the first governor to go this route.

There are any number of reasons why this is a bad idea. Tolls will almost certainly rise sharply. Future improvements will likely be more difficult and expensive. The requirement that the companies plow and otherwise maintain the roads will inevitably require that a new bureaucracy be created to monitor the companies. Even if that bureaucracy doesn't become completely corrupted by becoming part of yet another revolving door, it will be at best wasteful and unresponsive to the citizenry.

The worst thing about this, something that the NYT story doesn't touch upon, is that privatization of things at this scale frequently leads to higher costs and worse service. As examples, I offer Enron's control of the electrical grid in California a few years back, the billions that have passed through the hands of Halliburton in Iraq, and the fact that the Internet infrastructure in the U.S. increasingly lags behind the quality and capacity available in other nations.

The NYT is right to call attention to this as being seen as a cowardly move by Corzine. It's a way to raise revenue without having to raise tolls or taxes. In effect, it buys a little short-term breathing room at the expense of larger long-term problems. It shields the governor from having to be realistic with his constituency, and it puts yet another charge on the credit cards of the next generation.

The worst part about this idea is that it is yet another case of the government giving a sweet deal to the already rich and powerful. This isn't capitalism, despite how it will doubtless be pitched. Once a lease deal for a roadway is struck, there is no way for anyone to compete. It won't be a cost savings for society as a whole, either, and forget about any claims of increased efficiency. Monopolies are never cheap, agile, or responsive. Think about your cable bill, the price for the latest version of Windows, and the odd borrowed trillion.

Control over infrastructure that we all depend upon is not something that should be handed off to a small group. If something needs fixing and it's going to cost money, then politicians should not shirk their responsibilities. Raise the tolls yourself, Gov. Corzine, or add another nickel to the tax on a gallon of gas. We all use the roads, we should all pay for them, and you should have the courage to make that case.


2007-01-28 09:35 EST

Edward Ugel has an interesting op-ed piece in today's (Sunday's) NYT, on another bad privatization idea under consideration. He also presents an additional argument that I hadn't thought of, but which I certainly second.

Butt Out

All together now …

I need to quit smoking like I need a hole in the head.

I wonder about the term for that part of the brain:

… the insula, a prune-size region under the frontal lobes that is thought to register gut feelings and is apparently a critical part of the network that sustains addictive behavior.

Give yourself a "well done!" if you have recently referred to the Bush Administration as insular.

Reading Recommendations: 2007-01-26

In a change of pace from my recent RRs, this list contains no despair.

The Just Us Department

Thanks for the lethal pun, Richard Pryor. I hope you don't mind that I used it in a different sense.

Today's lead story in the NY Times, "Secrecy Is at Issue in Suits Opposing Spy Program," bears close reading.

You'll be unsurprised to learn that the government, who is the defense here, is being less than fully cooperative in dealing with the plaintiffs, their attorneys, and the judges hearing the cases. You might be interested, though, in just how ridiculous things can get when what's at issue is the NSA's domestic surveillance program; i.e., warrantless wiretaps.

The good news is that some serious people are finally taking the government to task.

During a dispute over access to a document, federal district judge Garr M. King said to Justice Department lawyer Andrew H. Tannenbaum:

My problem with your statement is that you assume you are absolutely correct in everything you are stating, and I am not sure that you are.

If there were ever a polite one-sentence summary of why the Bush Administration is such a disaster, that's it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Oh, No! Not Another Post On Global Warming!

There's a website out there called It features video streams of two people having a conversation or a debate. Typically, the participants are pundits of some repute, especially in the blogosphere.

I happened across this site a while ago, and it's pretty good. Sometimes, the conversation devolves into a low-res version of what you can see on any Sunday morning shoutfest. But at other times, it stays a little more polite, and I find that I can actually pick up on some new thoughts.

Once such example is the "diavlog" of Robert Wright and Joel Achenbach, posted last May. Wright, among many other things, is the site's founder. Achenbach currently works for the Washington Post. The diavlog is entertainingly random, as Achenbach seems to have come into it with at least a partial goal of tormenting Wright, but they do occasionally stray on topic.

That topic is global warming.

Achenbach, at the time of the diavlog, was finishing up a long piece called "The Tempest" for the WaPo. The article focused on global warming skeptics.

Now, before you scream "YOU MEAN DENIERS!!!" let me finish.

Achenbach, in the diavlog, made me realize at least one thing that I didn't know: those who don't buy (completely) into the global warming idea are not at all unified. He said it more sympathetically in the diavlog; he said it more succinctly in his article:

But when you step into the realm of the skeptics, you find yourself on a parallel Earth.

It is a planet where global warming isn't happening -- or, if it is happening, isn't happening because of human beings. Or, if it is happening because of human beings, isn't going to be a big problem. And, even if it is a big problem, we can't realistically do anything about it other than adapt.

Right off the bat, I liked hearing this. Global warming is a complex problem, and it's instructive to hear that those who don't agree with me about its seriousness are not some homogeneous Rovian blob.

I have come to fear, however, that those who do believe that global warming is a problem are becoming a little too quick to band together. I'm not here to confess that I suddenly have my doubts about the central principle. What bothers me is that some aspects of the situation are less certain than others, and no one who wants the problem addressed acknowledges this. I am afraid that if we make too rigid a case, and turn this into a single question over which a debate must be won or lost by the end of the next election cycle, we won't succeed in dealing with the problem.

One good example: How many times have you heard "so much for global warming" in the past couple of winter weeks?

Here's Achenbach again, from his article:

And Then There's Hitler

Let us be honest about the intellectual culture of America in general: It has become almost impossible to have an intelligent discussion about anything.

Everything is a war now. This is the age of lethal verbal combat, where even scientific issues involving measurements and molecules are somehow supernaturally polarizing. The controversy about global warming resides all too perfectly at the collision point of environmentalism and free market capitalism. It's bound to be not only politicized but twisted, mangled and beaten senseless in the process. The divisive nature of global warming isn't helped by the fact that the most powerful global-warming skeptic (at least by reputation) is President Bush, and the loudest warnings come from Al Gore.

Human beings may be large of brain, but they are social animals, too, like wolves, and are prone to behave in packs. So when something like climate change comes up, the first thing people want to know is, whose side are you on? All those climatic variables and uncertainties and probabilities and "forcings" and "feedback loops," those cans of worms that Bill Gray talks about, get boiled down to their essence. Are you with us or against us?

I want to be clear. I am not suddenly on the payroll of ExxonMobil. I think the data, as I understand them, indicate something very worrisome. But I am pleading for us all to recognize that this is a long-term problem. You don't really understand global warming. Nor do I. No one does, yet. And we're not going to fix things with a magic bullet. So I think it's worth trying to understand all points of view. As cliché as it is, we're all in this together.

Attack of the Puritans

Brian Krebs, who runs the WaPo blog Security Fix, has an interesting post up today. It concerns the case of a substitute teacher from Connecticut, who was recently found guilty of "endangering students by exposing them to pornographic material displayed on a classroom computer."

Oh, the children.

As has been said elsewhere, when politicians start talking about protecting the children, you are well-advised to keep one eye on your wallet and the other on the Constitution.

Krebs interviewed the accused, and makes a very plausible case that justice was not at all served on this occasion. Apparently, the woman was using a computer that she didn't have an account on, so she was given another teacher's username and password to log on. She says that when she visited what she thought was an innocuous site, with kids watching, pop-ups started appearing, and new ones appeared every time she tried to close them. She says she had been told by the teacher who gave her the username and password not to logout or shut down the machine, so she went to get help. Some of the kids told their parents about it, and it sounds like witchhunt city was the next stop.

The defense had a computer expert testify, and he said that the machine was riddled with spyware. Further, the machine had an outdated version of Internet Explorer installed and the school's firewall software was four years out of date. The court did not allow the expert to present his full testimony. He has since summarized what he wanted to say and posted it on the Web.

Granted, I'm reacting here after hearing only one side of the story. But it's a pretty powerful side.

Further reading:


Lindsay Beyerstein has a longer analysis of the computer forensics in this case, along with some valuable commentary on how ill-equipped the legal system is to handle technical matters. Beyerstein makes it clear that the teacher was not the one to visit the site from which the pop-ups emanated -- someone else had visited the site using that computer before the class started -- and that the spyware had clearly been loaded onto the machine weeks before the substitute teacher ever used it.


Alex Eckelberry has a good post on this, filled with links, and wrote a column for the local paper about the matter. Among other things, it indicates the kids were the ones to start surfing. See also the top of his blog for the latest updates.

"Most Emailed" Watch: Vegan Cooking

Sometimes, the entries on the NYT's "Most Emailed" list mystify me. Not this time, though.

Today's #1 article is on vegan cooking, and it's delightfully Birkenstock-free. It centers on two women who are more punk than tediously hippie, who evidently have come up with a way to make vegan cupcakes actually taste good. One of the two even goes so far as to diss the vegan movement for its self-righteousness.

And yes, there are links to recipes.

In what is my favorite use of a modifier this year, reporter Julia Moskin refers to the results of previous vegan baking efforts as "penitential scones and muffins."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Quick: Time to Patch

A security hole has been discovered in QuickTime. This affects versions running on both Macs and PCs.

Mac users: Get the patch by running Software Update.

PC users: If you recently installed or upgraded iTunes/QuickTime on your PC, you probably also have a program installed called "Apple Software Update." (Do Start -> Programs or Start -> All Programs to see if you have it.) If you do, run that program.

If you don't have "Apple Software Update" installed, you may want to look into this -- it's being portrayed as a serious bug.

Further reading:

Lemme know if you want more details.

Are You a Seppo?

Courtesy of a funny diss of music emanating from these United States, I just learned a new derogatory term for people like me: seppo.

I thought it might have been a shortening of "separators," since I was reading a blog hosted in the UK, and you know how some of those people still feel about our little breakaway. However, according to Convict Creations, it's an example of Australian rhyming slang:

Seppo - Yank. (From Septic Tank)

Who even knew the Australians had rhyming slang?


Given the tendency of military hardware to find its way out of the armory, we can only ask: What could possibly go wrong with this?


Military Develops Non-Lethal Ray Gun
New Weapon Makes Human Targets
Feel Like They're About To Catch Fire



I keep hearing about the Chumby, which is a clock radio replacement sort of thing that can connect to the Web over your existing wireless connection. If this were the mid-'90s, we'd call it a Web appliance, but I'm pretty sure that term has since become eternally taboo.

Anyway, this thing isn't available yet, but they have a web site! but it seems to have moved past the vaporware stage. It's supposed to be released in spring of this year, and will sell for about $150, according to one source.

One of the coolest things about it is its "anti-iPod" stance -- both the hardware and software will be fully hackable.

Naturally, I've been to their site a few times. I went back today, and found out that they are offering prototypes to a very select few.

You gotta love the screening process:

No, you can't actually do it from here. The above image is just a screen grab. Go make your convincing argument at

I can't believe …

… I clicked on this link: "Paris Hilton's Private Items on Internet."

I can't believe you did, either.

Okay, now I'm interested

I haven't been paying too much attention to this week's trial of the century. Having heard that prospective jurors were being screened by being asked whether they trusted the Bush Administration, I figured the whole thing was going to devolve into a marathon whitewash.

But then came this lede:

I. Lewis Libby Jr., the vice president's former chief of staff, was made a scapegoat by White House officials to protect the president's longtime political adviser, Karl Rove, Mr. Libby's lawyer asserted in his opening statement on Tuesday. (source)

Cat fight!

Creepy Line of the Day: 2007-01-24

I've blogged once before, but it was in the privacy of my home.
--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), quoted in The Caucus

Okay, I took this a little out of context. But it was still pretty creepy.

Another problem solved

I saw somewhere on that there's a movie coming out with the title Synecdoche, New York. If you live in Ithaca, Rochacha, or some other fine city up around here, you immediately get this.

For my part, I'll never have to worry about saying "SIN-ek-dosh" again. It's embarrassing when your kid sister has to correct your pronunciation.

New worry: speeping croonerisms.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Random Nugget

I came across something, published in October 2005, that begins:

The following are excerpts from actual one-star reviews of books from Time's list of the 100 best novels from 1923 to the present. Some entries have been edited.

Depending on your mood, your reaction will be either to bang your head on your desk and mutter, "Oh, the humanity …" or to scream with laughter at the morons out there. As I tend to oscillate between these two states, the article definitely worked for me.

Read Lone Star Statements.

Sad Cliché

From today's NYT newsletter:

Two powerful car bombs ripped through a market in central Baghdad on Monday in one of the worst scenes of carnage since the war began.

I have read "one of the worst scenes of carnage since the war began" so many times in the past couple years that I'm now convinced reporters have this phrase defined as a keyboard macro.

Which is hardly to blame them.

I wish, too

Lisa Margonelli has an excellent post up on her NYT blog, titled The State of Our Energy Policy. [T$]

It's the speech that she wishes President Bush would give tonight -- a realistic assessment of our situation, with plenty of proposals that might actually work. Out with the hydrogen-powered cars and drilling our way to independence, in with practical plans for increased efficiency and conservation. Margonelli gives a number of useful links, as well.

Highly recommended.

22 January

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

I just heard about "Blog for Choice Day," thanks to Brian. I am happy and proud to post the above graphic. I fully support a woman's right to choose, and I am against any and all restrictions on that right.

The site that provides the above image, Bush v. Choice, challenges bloggers to "tell us, and your readers, why you're pro-choice."

I did notice, when reading the NY Times newsletter this morning, that today is the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I thought about mentioning this then, but I couldn't think of anything new to say. Reflecting upon the BvC challenge, I have decided that writer's block, and my egotistical desire to coin a pithy new phrase, will have to be set aside. This is an issue where it is of paramount importance to stand up and be counted. I will therefore explain my thinking for being pro-choice, and ask your indulgence for the lack of originality.

When I was back in college for the second time, I was hanging out in a bar with my roommate, his friend, and his friend's fiancée. We were all older students who had returned to school in our late 20s, and we were finally nearing completion of our undergraduate degrees. The woman, whom I'll call Phyllis, was telling us about her roommate, whom I'll call Jane. Phyllis told us that Jane had been aware that Phyllis was going to the drugstore.

"And then Jane asked me to pick up her birth control pills! Can you imagine?"

I was puzzled. "So you didn't do it?"

"Of course not!"

"Why? Didn't she have the money? Or didn't you?"

"No, no! I didn't care about the money! But, I mean, these were her birth control pills!" She leaned back as thought she had just played the ace of trumps.

I still didn't get it. "Why wouldn't you do this, if you were already going?"

Phyllis went on at some length, saying that it wasn't her job to cover for her roommate's irresponsible and immoral behavior. I guess, being engaged, she felt she had some exclusive right to have sex. She finished by clapping her hands and said, in a mocking tone of voice, "Oh, look! It's a baby!"

I said, "So, you think it would be better if she had to get an abortion?"

She looked aghast at me. "Of course not! That would be a sin!"

The conversation quickly devolved. My roommate's friend began featuring a pained look. I read it as agreement with my point of view, and a wish to be anywhere but caught in the middle of this. His fiancée was looking to him for support. I was on the verge of asking him how he could be planning to marry such a wingnut. My roommate, recognizing the wisps of steam, went proactively diplomatic and dragged me out of the bar.

I don't mean to equate birth control with abortion. I don't think they're the same thing at all. But this was the first time that I had encountered the intolerance of the vehemently religious in anyone my own age. Every time I hear the rantings of some anti-choice loudmouth, I am reminded of Phyllis's smug self-appointedness.

I do not view a fetus as a human being. I view it as a potentiality. Until the fetus exits the womb, I see it as part of the woman's body. As such, she is the only one who is entitled to make decisions about it.

I recognize that others may view this dividing line as arbitrary, or as drawn at the wrong place in time. I can occasionally summon up some abstract appreciation for those who are morally convinced that a late-term fetus is already a distinct life. I suppose I could be more charitable to these people, were so many of them not also in favor of the death penalty and invading other countries.

At the moment, there is no clear answer about when a sperm cell and an egg become a baby. Maybe my split point will ultimately be proven wrong. For now, I am comfortable with my own definition. Until I hear a distinction that is based on something more substantial than religious leanings, especially when they are not shared by everyone, I believe that the best policy as a society is to leave it to the individual to decide.

Monday, January 22, 2007

PC-speak of the Day: 2007-01-22

The tendency over the last decade or two for the Painfully Correct to refer to every granfalloon as a "community" usually makes me don my waffle-stompers and look menacingly at puppies.

Not today, though:

… zombies (aka the "non-living community") … (source [S$])

2007-01-23 09:27

This just in, from Natalie Angier's entertaining article on time in today's NYT:

Far more action is going on below the surface, in the subatomic community.

OIC. No ic.

Apparently, panties are getting bunched by the spread in usage of the Mangler-in-Chief's way of referring to his opposing party.

Bush has, for a while now, spoken of the "Democrat Party." This grates on the ears of the Democratic Party faithful, and they haven't been quiet about it.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as the rightwingnuts saw how well this worked, they gleefully adopted the tactic. But now the "liberal" media is starting to say it, too. And … well … This. Can. Not. Stand.

Or so say some.

Michelle Pilecki makes a pretty good case about why it matters so much, over on The Huffington Post. She refers to it as a "slur."

But you know what? I'm not buying it. I've noticed Bush & Co. saying it, but it would never have occurred to me to take it as a slur. In fact, I can't think of anything dumber to worry about. We're beset by about nine hundred dreadful problems, and the Democrats are once again letting themselves become distracted by something so inane that it doesn't even merit the term "issue."

My advice to the Democrats: Chill. Do your job. Be icy, not icky.

Reading Recommendations: 2007-01-22

Some darker ones to start:

  • Smearing Barack Obama
    And so it begins …

    Christopher Hayes documents the first trickles of what will undoubtedly be a tsunami of right-wing poison. I don't know how we'll all be able to stand the next two years.

  • Beyond Sophistry
    Kevin Drum describes Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales's recent dismissal before the Senate Judiciary Committee of the right of habeas corpus.

  • The Iraq Gamble: At the pundits' table, the losing bet still takes the pot
    Jebediah Reed profiles "the four pundits who were in our judgment the most influentially and disturbingly misguided in their pro-war arguments and the four who were most prescient and forceful in their opposition."

    You'll note a trend: the boneheads continue to make the big bucks, the others, not so much. This is a topic that's getting a fair amount of buzz lately, and rightfully so. Reed's effort is one of the best I've seen.

    This is a multi-page article. Note the "next page" links at the bottom of each.

  • Closing the 'Collapse Gap': the USSR was better prepared for peak oil than the US
    Dmitry Orlov predicts the eventual collapse of the United States, and argues that it is even less prepared for this than was the USSR. Unlike most slide shows that get posted on the Web, this one has the nice touch of including the transcript of his talk, weaved among the slides.

    The premise may sound a little over the top, but Orlov makes many points that bear serious consideration. Trust me, you're not an America-hater if you read this one.

And now, on the lighter side:

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Jargon Watch: Escalation Surge

There's a new way to characterize the throwing of good troops after dead. At least, according to Condoleezza Rice:

In a heated exchange with [Sen. Chuck] Hagel, a potential presidential candidate in 2008, Rice disputed his characterization of Bush's buildup as an "escalation."

"Putting in 22,000 more troops is not an escalation?" Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and longtime critic of Bush's Iraq policy, asked. "Would you call it a decrease?"

"I would call it, senator, an augmentation …"


Thanks to Frank Rich [T$], for pointing this out.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Krugman on Purges

Paul Krugman's op-ed in yesterday's NY Times is a must read. Even if you don't usually read Krugman, read this one.

In his column, Krugman summarizes the Bush Administration's latest trick for heading off anticipated investigations: firing U.S. Attorneys viewed as potentially hostile, and replacing them from an apparently limitless stock of toadies.

Krugman also calls attention to an unnoticed clause, slipped into the Patriot Act during the last Congressional session by Arlen Spector. This clause does away with the erstwhile requirement that Congress approve interim appointees to these positions.

Krugman refers to TPMmuckraker: "… which has done yeoman investigative reporting on this story." For your convenience, here are some links:

As Krugman says:

The broader context is this: defeat in the midterm elections hasn't led the Bush administration to scale back its imperial view of presidential power.

On the contrary, now that President Bush can no longer count on Congress to do his bidding, he's more determined than ever to claim essentially unlimited authority -- whether it's the authority to send more troops into Iraq or the authority to stonewall investigations into his own administration's conduct.

The next two years, in other words, are going to be a rolling constitutional crisis.

New! The iRack!

From the AP:

The Pentagon has drafted a manual for upcoming detainee trials that would allow suspected terrorists to be convicted on hearsay evidence and coerced testimony and imprisoned or put to death.

Count on the Democrats to, at best, submit a non-binding resolution condemning the environmental impact of smoky fires. You know, when the witch-burning really gets going.

Thanks to teh l4m3 for pointing this story out.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Half Life

An excerpt from today's "help get this money out of the African bank" spam:

In an account that belongs to one of our foreign customer who died along with his entire family in a concord plane crash in the year 2003 in paris that almost took the whole life of the pasengeres on board.

Almost took the whole life?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Jargon Watch: Blink Tanks

It sez here:

blink tanks--blogs that function as online think tanks

My first thought: New one on me. I like it!

My second thought: Wait. Won't the right will use this to attack, linking every lefty blink tank to blink in the sense of backing down from a confrontation, a la Kruschev blinked ?

Maybe I'm out of the loop on this term. I see that there is a "," with the admirable goal of hosting "the opinions of all, from the left and the right, in the form of well argued, well researched papers."

The home page goes on to say, "we now hope to be up and running by October 2005 (sorry for the delay)!"

To make matters even worse, this is the top result returned by Googling "blink tank."

Guess I missed this one, coming and going.

What's the moral of this story? All together now …

Don't blink, you might miss it.

Surge Thought for the Day: 2007-01-18

Can a single man force a nation to fight a war it does not want to fight, expand a war it does not want to expand--possibly to other countries? If he can, is that nation any longer a democracy in any meaningful sense? Is its government any longer a constitutional republic? If not, how can democratic rule and the republican form of government be restored? These are the unwelcome questions that President Bush's decision has forced on the country.
--The Nation

JG on JK

It is with no small amount of visceral distaste that I link to a post on the National Review's site, especially when I'm not going to flame it, but I have to admit, Jonah Goldberg's piece on John Kerry is pretty good.

Laugh line:

… and despite enormously impressive hair; he is near the bottom in all the important rankings of serious candidates.

And when I say near the bottom, I mean if he claws his way up a bit, he'll be at the bottom.

Smart line:

[In 2004,] Democrats figured Kerry was the most "electable," forgetting that electability is often cover for spinelessness and, in voters, is usually based on the hope that someone else will like the guy even if you don't.

I don't think Kerry was spineless so much as muddled, but I sure did hate that "electability" aspect of the 2004 primaries. I mean, I know we're all (blog)pundits now, but still. Hold your nose and vote for the lesser of two evils in the actual election, but vote your conscience in the primaries.

Of course, I don't agree with everything Goldberg has to say in his piece. For example:

In 2008, the election won't be a referendum on President Bush …

Will, too!

Pardon that schoolyard response, but the 2008 election will be nothing but. Every Democrat will have plenty to say about how we need to fix all of the damage that Bush has done. The eventual nominee will doubtless attempt to portray his or her Republican counterpart as right out of the Bush mold. And every non-right-wing voter who isn't enamored of the Democratic nominee will frequently be thinking, "Bush's party or the other one?" Right up to the moment of truth in November.

It's kind of funny to watch Goldberg trying to plant this seed already, that his side has nothing to do with W (anymore). You know how much he's sweating. Absent a miracle in Iraq or a Republican candidate that I can't think of, the election of 2008 will be all about his boy George.

And rightly so.

Mossberg on Vista

The WSJ's venerable tech writer, Walter S. Mossberg, has reviewed the latest version of Windows. He doesn't harsh on it completely, but nothing he said made me feel any less disinclined to get it.

Here's the headline:

Vista: Worthy, Largely Unexciting

Here's the upshot:

There are some big downsides to this new version of Windows. To get the full benefits of Vista, especially the new look and user interface, which is called Aero, you will need a hefty new computer, or a hefty one that you purchased fairly recently. The vast majority of existing Windows PCs won't be able to use all of Vista's features without major hardware upgrades. They will be able to run only a stripped-down version, and even then may run very slowly.

In fact, in my tests, some elements of Vista could be maddeningly slow even on new, well-configured computers.

Some additional warnings, in case you haven't already heard them elsewhere:

… Vista isn't a breakthrough in ease of use … Nearly all of the major, visible new features in Vista are already available in Apple's operating system … despite Vista's claimed security improvements, you will still have to run, and keep updating, security programs … it will still force you to spend more time managing the computer than I believe people should have to devote … Even if you buy the Home Premium or Ultimate editions, Vista will revert to the Basic features if it detects that your machine is too wimpy to run the new user interface … I wouldn't even consider trying to upgrade a computer older than 18 months, and even some of them may be unsuitable candidates …

There are other reasons to be dubious about Vista, as I noted last month.

I am not usually one of the Web's most vociferous Microsoft bashers -- in fact, my aging Win2K machine is still my main computer -- but everything I have read about Vista over the past few months has only increased my irritation with that company. When this machine dies, I'll be running Ubuntu full time.


From "Mind Games," an article in this past Sunday's WaPo Magazine:

In 2005, a group of MIT students conducted a formal study using aluminum foil and radio signals. Their surprising finding: Tinfoil hats may actually amplify radio frequency signals.

A tip of my own tinfoil hat (now that I'll be removing it, of course!) to Jinnet for the link.

This is by turns an entertaining and saddening article. It's beyond a cliché to say that the Web lets like-minded people seek each other out, where before they might have been feeling hopelessly lonely. As has also probably been noted by at least one other person, usually this is good, and sometimes … not so much.

I know what Bad Santa would say: Click to play sound

However, from reading the article, it seems that not everyone who hears voices can be treated successfully, given the current state of the pharmacological art. So in this sense, it's nice that tormented people don't have to feel alone.

On the other hand, hanging around with a bunch of people with the same hang-ups as you tends to make you ever-so-much-more you, and it seems to me that people with shared neuroses are sometimes made worse by mutual reinforcement. (cf. the White House, Fox News watchers, and the blogosphere).

I am undecided about the {good|bad}ness of support groups for people convinced that the government is beaming stuff into their brains.


The date for the next meeting of The Ditherer's Club has not yet been determined.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Significant Figures

Have a look at David Leonhardt's article in the business section of today's NY Times.

It's a summary of recent analysis on the financial aspects of Bush's War. You probably already have a vague sense of the expense, but Leonhardt's piece helps make it more concrete. The lowest cost estimates come in at over $1 trillion. And counting.

How big is a trillion? Perhaps this'll help:

1 million seconds = about a week and a half
1 trillion seconds = more than 30,000 years

Fork It Over, People

From the I-Saw-It-On-The-Internet-So-It-Must-Be-True Department:

I just entered this blog's URL into a tool available on the Business Opportunities Weblog.


My blog is worth $3,951.78.
How much is your blog worth?

Of course, DailyKos still has me beat. By a factor of about 2000.

It's All Becoming Clear Now

(Emph. mine):

The committee's rules, called marketing orders, are very strict as to the shape and uniformity of Florida tomatoes that can go to other states during the season, from Oct. 10 to June 15. Flavor is not a factor because, in the committee's view, it is too subjective.

If everyone agrees that supermarket tomatoes are horribly bland, is it still "subjective?"

At any rate, it's nice to hear that there might be an improvement coming. The NY Times has the story.

Reading Recommendations: 2007-01-17

Special censorship edition

  • Wires Reject Handout Photo Of Bush Speech
    The reason for all of those low res pix of Bush in the papers, the day after the speech. Paranoia is at a new high at the White House, it seems to me.

    Thanks to Eat The Press for the link.

    On a related note, you heard that none of the broadcast networks aired the Democratic response, right? I admit that I didn't watch Bush's speech, and would probably have been equally unimpressed by Dick Durbin's response, but still. It's an awfully troubling precedent.

  • Dr. Spocko Nerve-Pinches Disney Over Outrageous SF Radio Show
    Following a hint from Betmo's recent comment under my first Tucker post, I came across this story. Apparently, Spocko is a blogger who had been documenting the heinous sputterings aired on the radio station KSFO. Disney/ABC prevailed upon the blogger's ISP to kill his site, claiming that the audio clips that Spocko posted were some kind of copyright infringement. (To my mind, it's hard to believe any sane person would want to control ownership of this kind of hate speech, but never mind that.) At any rate, Spocko's ISP killed Spocko's site. <sarcasm>(Gutsy move, 1&1.)</sarcasm>

    [Update: I wrote the above paragraph on 13 Jan, and followed by noting that the MSM hadn't picked up on the story. After double-checking Google News today, I see that the NYTimes ran an article on 15 Jan.]

    Meantime, the good news is, Spocko has a new host, and the audio links work.

  • Federal Way schools restrict Gore film: 'Inconvenient Truth' called too controversial
    Another link courtesy of Eat The Press.

    BTW, Federal Way is a city. The article doesn't make this clear, probably because if you read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, you're assumed to know this. The point is, Federal Way is not some business running charter schools -- it's a city whose school board is running public schools.

    "Condoms don't belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He's not a schoolteacher," said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven who also said that he believes the Earth is 14,000 years old. "The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD."

    Hardison's e-mail to the School Board prompted board member David Larson to propose the moratorium Tuesday night.

    "Somebody could say you're killing free speech, and my retort to them would be we're encouraging free speech," said Larson, a lawyer. "The beauty of our society is we allow debate."

    What did you learn in school today? Condoms = Al Gore. The Bible = the best source for climatological information. Banning movies = encouraging free speech.

    We're doomed.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Tucker Update

Tucker Carlson's video store meltdown has made the WaPo. Kind of a lame article, and on page C3 on a Saturday, but still. It's another body added to what I hope will become an enormous pig pile on top of Carlson.

Thanks to EarlG for catching this.

Don't know what I'm talking about? See my earlier Tucker post for a summary, and then head on over to the source for the latest.

Jargon Watch: Weimarization

I just came across the term Weimarization in Michelle Goldberg's interview [S$] with Chris Hedges:

There has been a kind of Weimarization of the American working class …

From the context of the article -- Hedges has a thesis that the leaders of the Christian Right are equivalent to fascists -- and my weak grasp of history leavened with a quick Googling, I understood Hedges to mean a condition where a class of people feels uneasy about life, and is consequently susceptible to manipulation, especially through appeals to fear, by another group who seeks power.

Google only returns about 300 hits for this term, as of post time. How do you interpret the term?

The interview is well worth reading, by the way. My in-line characterization of Hedges's thesis should not be taken to mean that he thinks the flocks of the churches are all fascists, but he does have a pretty dim view of some of the pastors. He has considerable credibility, having graduated from divinity school before becoming a reporter, and his beat has included many of the world's most troubled spots over the past couple of decades.

Thanks to Scott Rosenberg for the link.

Update: There is a bio of Hedges and a list of some of his recent articles on Truthdig. This one builds on the theme of Salon interview, focusing on the military. Pretty scary.

When It Says Libby, Libby, Libby …

… on the label, label, label …

From the Consider The Source Dept., courtesy of the NYT:

Pressed about his former aide's honesty, Mr. Cheney replied, "I believe he's one of the more honest men I know."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Fragment of the Day: 2007-01-14

From an interview with Neal Stephenson, the beginning of an answer:

Let me just come at this one from sort of a big picture point of view.

(the sound of a million Slashdot readers hitting the "back" button...)

The whole interview is really, really good, especially his thoughts on the bifurcation of the writing profession.

Thanks to Alastair for the recommendation.

Sign of the Day: 2007-01-14

From OddThinking:

On the topic of signs, I did like the warning sign in a gift shop:
Unaccompanied children will be given an espresso and a puppy.

You Can Relax Now, Rightwingnuts

It looks like Speaker Pelosi's sinister plans to impose San Francisco values on the entire country aren't going so well. Evidence of surrender from today's NYTimes:

Thirty girls signed up for the cheerleading squad this winter at Whitney Point High School in upstate New York. But upon learning they would be waving their pompoms for the girls' basketball team as well as the boys', more than half of the aspiring cheerleaders dropped out.

I mean, so much for the success of the gay agenda.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Knock, Knock (Rakoff Edition)

I sent an email to KK, who I know groks the knock-knock (ask him about the interrupting cow, sometime). Maybe you do, too. Here's an excerpt from the email:


Knock knock

Who's there?

Control Freak, okaythisisthepartwhereyousaycontrolfreakwho?

And second:

A man is reading the paper on a Sunday afternoon when there's a knock at the front door. Answering it, he sees there is no one there. Spying a snail on the front step, he picks it up and throws it back into the flower beds. Ten years later, another Sunday, another newspaper, another knock. He answers the door. No one there, but a snail, who says "What the fuck was that about?"

These are from a blog that Rakoff kept while at the Woody Allen Film Fest. I haven't read it very closely, as much as I like Rakoff's other work. As ETP, who pointed me to this blog, says: "There has been less neurosis in one place at one time, we thinks."

Jargon Watch: Rightosphere

I just finished listening to this week's edition of On The Media, where I heard a word new to me: rightosphere.

This is a good word, in that it almost doesn't need to be defined. Assuming you've heard of blogosphere, I mean.

It's evidently pretty new: Google returns only about 10,000 hits at post-time.

The obvious next word to consider, of course, is leftosphere. This is currently at about the same level of mention. (For comparison's sake, blogosphere returns about 20 million hits.)

You can watch these two compete at Googlefight.

BTW, I came across the delightful Googlefight site thanks to Wordzguy, who is one of my new favorites in the linguisphere.

Ah, crap. I thought that last neologism was mine! But Google shows seven hits already.

I gotta get moving. I still don't even know how to pronounce noosphere.

The Axeman Cometh?

According to the New York Observer, the New York Times is considering eliminating the position of Public Editor.

I admit that I long ago stopped reading the columns by the current PE, Byron Calame. I found him dull and he never seemed to write about anything I wanted to read about. Jack Shafer said the same thing, only much better, last May on Slate. However, I did like Calame's predecessor, Daniel Okrent, who was the first to hold the job, and I read his column and blog regularly.

More to the point, I think the position itself is crucial. To be sure, there are any number of media watchdogs, spread across the political spectrum, who help keep the Times honest. But having someone on the inside is a valuable addition for us readers. From the Times's perspective, having a Public Editor improves credibility and gives the paper a good way to defend its editorial decisions. It's a good channel for addressing readers' concerns, much more focused than just accepting Letters to the Editor.

I know cutting staff is the new black for staying in the black at newspapers across the country, but I can't believe the cost of one staff position is going to break the bank for this paper. Hell, charge us another buck a year for TimesSelect if you're really hurting that badly. I'll pay it gladly.

I get the sense from the Observer that Keller doesn't like Calame personally, and perhaps this whole thing stems from that. If so, I hope time and input from interested parties will cool Keller down. In any case, I hope he reconsiders.

If you want to weigh in, you can:

Thanks to Rachel Sklar for calling this to my attention.

Reading Recommendations: 2007-01-13

  • Unveiled Threats: A Bush appointee's crude gambit on detainees' legal rights
    A WaPo editorial, responding to "Cully Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs." Stimson had done a radio interview the day before, urging businesses to drop associations with law firms involved in representing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

    Thanks to Kevin Drum for the link.

  • Shifting the Terms of Debate: How Big Business Covered Up Global Warming
    First of a seven-part set of articles by Aaron Swartz (links at bottom of each page to continue). The entire set is not about global warming. It appears to have been renamed, and was earlier called "Shifting the Terms of Debate: Right-Wing Think Tanks in Action." The entire set of articles is not really just about that, either. Evidently, this is sort of an organic thing, which Swartz has added to several times. A bit of a piecemeal approach, with plenty of interesting parts.

    Update 2007-01-18: Aaron straightens me out, in the Comments.

  • Surge and destroy: Bush's escalation folly
    Scott Rosenberg's article is the best response to a supremely dumb idea that I have yet read. (NB: This was written well before Bush's latest speech, and many others have since published similar points of view. Blame me for not posting this link earlier.)

  • Rock of Ages, Ages of Rocks
    Steve Benen brings us up to date on another front in the war on science. Turns out the age of the Grand Canyon is now classified. I am not making this up. Well, I may be exaggerating slightly -- I have equated de jure with de facto.

  • The mousetrap
    Remember that great book, Innumeracy? Here's something else from John Allen Paulos, published in The Guardian on 8 September 2005: a clever refutation of creationism Intelligent Design.

    More Paulos articles, on a range of topics, can be found at his web site. ABC news also has an archive of his "Who's Counting" columns. He's good.

  • Data Mining 101: Finding Subversives with Amazon Wishlists
    Following a link from another Paulos article, I came across this gem by Tom Owad. Owad carried out a slightly tongue-in-cheek experiment in data mining and wrote up his procedure and results. The result is both fascinating and creepy. Among other things, it's a great illustration of the problem of false positives that Paulos warns about in his article. There's a bit of geekery in Owad's article, which I enjoyed, but if murky-looking Linux commands are not to your taste, just skip over them. You'll still find it easy to follow his approach and get his points.

    In an ideal world, all members of Congress would be required to read these two articles, and then immediately afterwards, reconsider the Patriot Act. In the meantime, I call on all of us, in an act of civil disobedience, to salt our wishlists with terms tempting to the NSA.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tucker Carlson: Now Even More Unbelievable

I just read a story describing how a friend of a friend was fired from his job. The reason? He sassed Tucker Carlson.

Apparently, Chuckles had posted something on his blog about Carlson opening an account at the video store where Chuckles worked. Carlson came into the store ranting about the post and Chuckles responded with a couple of wisecracks. Employment termination ensued.

It probably won't amaze you to hear that yet another rightwing gas bag who makes a very comfortable living saying obnoxious things about other people is singularly unable to take any guff in return. It might amaze you, however, to read about the level of pettiness to which Carlson stooped.

The comments on Chuckles's blog are filled with scorn for Carlson, and that's as it should be -- it is to hoped that this episode comes to the attention of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, and that Carlson gets put under the spotlight for his ridiculous overreactions. One might even dream of MSNBC realizing that Carlson should be shown to the sidewalk himself.

It seems to me, however, that there is another party in this mess who deserves some blowback as well: Chuckles's former boss. I'd like to know how you could be so weak-kneed as to fire someone because Tucker Carlson tells you to.

Thanks to Brando for calling this to my attention.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Tinpicking: What's The Difference?

I want to compliment a tiny matter. Please pardon my neologism. I couldn't think of an antonym for nitpick.

I was just reading Jeff Atwood's post, Keeping Time on the PC, which talks about the inaccuracies of the clocks built into computers. (Believe it or not, it's quite interesting.)

At one point, he says (emph. mine):

There's a clever PC time drift graph on this webpage derived from the difference between JavaScript time on the client, and the server time the webpage was sent to the client.

Thank you for not saying "differential," Jeff.

I have a special loathing for people who use differential when they mean difference. This is even worse than utilizing utilize instead of using use. It's as bad as saying "The boss met with Joe and I" or "The student was disinterested in the lecture."

To my mind, differential should be reserved for discussions involving a particular aspect of calculus or a specific part of a car's rear axle. The error probably started with suits and sales dweebs. Whatever the origin, it has infected all manner of telepundits and spokesdrones. For the past few years, differential seems to have been the sole page in the Power Word of the Day calendars belonging to TV sports commentators; e.g., "If they kick a field goal here, there's still a four-point differential in the score."

There is a difference between accepting our language as a living thing and insisting on precision. Kudos to Jeff for getting this right.

Spleen vented. Thank you for your attention.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Is It Still That Bad?

Yes. It's still that bad.

I wrote earlier about the worth of other people making me read a news story for a second time. Here's another example.

Actually, in this case, the commentary made me read the story for the first time. I didn't even make it past the headline of this one, this morning. I thought: bad. It turns out: worse.

I don't mean to step on Steve Benen's final line, but really. Who could help but think of a certain chocolatey dessert from the get-go?

As one minor consolation, I think I now understand Virgil Goode's recent misanthropy. I don't excuse it by any stretch, but at least I now see why an apparent raving lunatic is raving.

Because he's just following orders.

A Base-ic Joke

KK sent me a link to a math joke today, and that link led me to some others, and boy, did I have fun!

Here's one I particularly liked:

Q: Why do mathematicians confuse Halloween and Christmas?

A: Because OCT 31 = DEC 25.

(Explanation in the Comments.)

More Blog-elytizing

You know how I love the blogosphere, and I hope you'll pardon my preaching, but here's another example of what makes it great.

I usually start my day off with a look at the web edition of the New York Times. Sometimes, for whatever reason, some of the front page stories don't seem as important to me as they must have to the editors of the Times.

Take, for example, today. One of the lead stories was an article headlined "Chaos Overran Iraq Plan in '06, Bush Team Says." I read it, sort of, experienced MEGO, and moved on. Just another dutiful piece of stenography summarizing administration pre-spin before the big "new way forward" speech, I thought.

Later today, my Bloglines notifier pinged me, and among the new posts was The Washington Monthly's take on the article. This post, in turn, quoted another post, the second one by Josh Marshall.

One of Marshall's lines not quoted by the WM was his opening sentence:

I don't know if the basic gist of the New York Times piece on what happened in Iraq in 2006 will get picked up.

Marshall was exactly right, at least in my case. I had missed it entirely, but as soon as I read his words, the original Times article came right back: it does, in fact, document the Bush Administration's latest search for a scapegoat for the Iraq mess. The Times was too polite to beat me over the head with this, so I'm happy that others didn't hesitate to employ the required club.

We all know the value of hearing competing points of view on any issue. It's a bit more subtle, but I find it equally important to hear others' reactions to a particular story. It's hard to read everything as critically as I'd like.

Thanks, bloggers.

Update: Josh Marshall posted a link to Greg Sargent's post, which details Bush's abrupt turnaround on the new scapegoat. I can't have too much sympathy for a guy who was such a corporate stooge, but it does hurt a little to watch Casey getting the bat.

Image Uploading Problem Solved

I haven't been able to upload images for a short while, so I finally had a look at the Blogger help pages. Following suggestion #4 on "Troubleshooting picture upload problems," I cleared my browser's cache and cookies.

It worked! Now you I know.

Note to self: RTFM -- always good advice.

Make Your Own Tin Can Label!

Thanks to Jinnet, I came across a fun little site where you can make your own label for a tin can.

Here's mine. Click the image to zoom.