Monday, April 30, 2007

A couple more by Hitchens

I recommended some excerpts from Christopher Hitchens a short while ago. Here are a couple more that you might like.

First, an interview in New York magazine, in which he reveals (surprise, surprise) that Karl Rove is an atheist. I don't agree with him about Iraq, but don't miss his explanation for the sole reason for prayer.

Second, his Slate commentary on the VPI shootings.

Good stuff.

Hat tip for the first link: The Scientific Activist.

Kind of puts "but I didn't inhale" in a whole new light, doesn't it?

ABC News released a statement last night saying Tobias acknowledged Thursday that he had used the service to provide massages, not sex.
-- WaPo

In case you haven't heard, deputy secretary of state Randall Tobias "abruptly resigned yesterday [Friday 4/27] after he was asked about an upscale escort service …"

I heard about this from MK, a determined non-participant in the blogosphere, Saturday night, so I'm a little late to the game on this one. But I couldn't resist.

The official press release on the State Department's web site says:

He is returning to private life for personal reasons.

Not, presumably, to spend more time with his family.

Border Control

Melamine will cost you about $1.20 for each protein count per ton whereas real protein costs you about $6, so you can see the difference.
-- an animal feed seller in Zhangqiu, China

Actually, I can't. I don't buy cat food by the ton. I buy it four pounds at a time. I have to say, I'm not getting rich on the 76 hundredths of a cent per bag savings.

The NY Times's lead story today is about melamine as a pet food filler being an "open secret" in China. Apparently, melamine can fool the tests run to determine the protein content of a sample.

I'm not usually aligned with the isolationist point of view. But ever since the poisoned pet food story first broke, the lizard part of my brain has been clamoring for attention. And it's not just my cats that I worry about. It's clear, although the story doesn't say so explicitly, that there's every reason to worry about human food products being treated in the same cavalier fashion. And (wild guess here) this so-what attitude is probably not limited to China.

I like the option to be able to buy fresh produce from other countries when it's out of season locally, and I love imported delicacies. (And, okay, even some "necessities" -- apart from Hawaii, we don't grow too much coffee in the US, do we?) But I strongly believe that the first thing that any nation must do is guarantee its own food supply.

This is a hard problem. It's all good to preach "buy local" and to prefer "organic" and "free range," and I make an effort to support all of these philosophies. But the fact is, virtually all of us opt for convenience foods at least some of the time, and we all like to save money. It's also a fact of life that to satisfy these two consumer demands, food production is ever-increasingly viewed as a manufacturing task, which means that the producers will of course focus on saving systematic pennies.

In all the yammering about homeland security, though, I know how I'd like to reallocate some funds.


2007-05-01 06:04 EDT

I guess I'm not the only one worried about this. The NY Times is soliciting reader input, too.


2007-05-01 07:24 EDT

And they have a follow-up article.

Line of the Day: 2007-04-30

Via email:

How about that new Tenet book about Iraq! Who was it who said the older I get the more cynical I get, but it's getting hard to keep up.
-- TC


2007-05-01 06:11 EDT

Clyde Haberman has a nice column on this: "A Slam-Dunk of a Book Tour Comes to Town." [T$]

And speaking of evolution …

… (as I was in the comments for the previous post), here's a story that I'd love to watch the young Earth creationists read. Out loud.


2007-05-01 21:30 EDT

Maybe my mind is moving out of the gutter, or maybe it's just calcifying. I don't know how I didn't think of the title that William Saletan did, but let's steal it give him a shout-out: Ten-Inch Duck.


This story is all over the place by now, and it seems that one of the big reasons is one I read right over in my haste to poke fun at the wingnuts: It took a look at the female ducks to understand what was going on here, and it took a female scientist to think of looking at the female ducks. Another bad day for my gender.

The weird thing is, given well-known behavior patterns like "eyes front while peeing!" and general public shower shyness, you'd think all the guy scientists would be more interested in looking at … nah, let's not go there.

One Possible Explanation

A while back, I fretted about the state of mind of America's young adults. I am especially concerned that the 18-29 year-old group is the most supportive of Bush of all age groups, because I am afraid that this is a measurement of how many of them are being brainwashed by buying into various fundamentalist Christianist sects.

Turns out there's probably at least one other contributing factor.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fun Fact for the Day: 2007-04-29

Comparing one six-year span to another …

Number of subpoenas issued to the executive branch by the House Oversight Committee when Republicans controlled the House and George Bush was president: 4

Number of subpoenas issued to the executive branch by the House Oversight Committee when Republicans controlled the House and Bill Clinton was president: 1000+


California Dreaming

The record of facing reality is not a good one for the current administration. Ditto planning ahead. But given the recent rash of subpoenas, let me make a humble suggestion: I hear California is nice.

Snow Job

This from KK, via email. Click the pic to zoom.

Snow Job (cartoon)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Makin' Good Progress

Your president has chanted the "progress" mantra so often that you'll no doubt be shocked, shocked to hear that:

In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.

Well … is this a legitimate statistical sample?

Officials at the oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, said they had made an effort to sample different regions and various types of projects, but that they were constrained from taking a true random sample in part because many projects were in areas too unsafe to visit.

Apart from noting the obvious, that Inspectors General have a well-known liberal bias, never report the good news, and want the terrorists to win, let's pay attention to something else: We're batting .125 in the safe areas. Care to bet what the average is in the dangerous areas?

Not to worry, though. I'm sure Halliburton will be honoring all warranties, and will be right in to fix things up.

Heckuva job all around, Bushies.

Antidote for Wingnuttery

Is your stomach still roiling from the reactions of the rightosphere to the Va. Tech. shootings? Here's a great remedy: Brando.

Even if your stomach has since calmed, go over there anyway, and get a good belly laugh.

Hitchens on Religion

I once heard somebody on, probably Mickey Kaus, attribute to Christopher Hitchens the following aphorism: "If you never go too far, you risk not going far enough."

Slate has posted three excerpts from Hitchens's new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and depending on your mindset and your religious beliefs, you might keep the aphorism in mind.

If you're less of an atheist/agnostic than I am, you'll probably find some or lots that makes you uncomfortable in Hitchens's words. So be it. I challenge you to read them anyway.

If you consider yourself a Christian, I suggest you read them in the reverse order listed below. I suspect it might be easier to start by analyzing Hitchens's take on particular religions that aren't yours, and maybe you'll be in a more receptive frame of mind for what is really the first excerpt.

3. Mormonism: A Racket Becomes a Religion

2. Was Muhammed Epileptic?

1. Religion Poisons Everything

Moyers Infected By Stewart

After the interview with Jon Stewart on last night's Bill Moyers Journal, Moyers led into the next segment, an interview with Josh Marshall, by saying:

For six years, Democrats have suffered what Jon Stewart might call subpoena envy …

If you missed the show, you missed a good one. (Despite the frequent mention of the Vice President in both the Stewart and Marshall interviews, there were no other dick jokes.) Check the site in a day or two; I'll bet they post it.

Is He Kidding?

As further proof of its liberal bias, the LA Times has evidently retained Jonah Goldberg as a regular columnist.

No, seriously, it has. And that's fine. I think he's a wingnut's wingnut who will cling to his creed no matter what, but he'd undoubtedly say the same about me. And, I'll admit, he occasionally makes a good point.

One thing he has never struck me as possessing, however, is a sense of humor. But in a column he wrote a couple of weeks ago about political correctness gone wild, I wondered whether he had actually made a joke.

I'd heard of the term herstory, which some feminists use in place of history, for obvious, if dubious*, reasons. Goldberg cites this, but further complains that there are also those who replace seminar with ovular.

The etymological reasoning for being irritated by the implied sexism of seminar is stronger than it is for history, as it does stem from words having to do with "seed."

However, although it's been a while since I've been on a college campus, I did recently live for five years in Northampton, MA -- which has to be on anybody's short list for the center of the politically correct universe -- but I've never heard ovular. At least in this sense.

Have you? [Added 2008-09-27: kyklops has.]

* The claim that history comes from "his story" is undermined, for example, by my American Heritage dictionary, which says it comes from the Latin historia, which itself comes from a Greek word meaning "inquiry" or "observation." My OED confirms this, and gives a long list of Greek words, but I'm too lazy to look up the HTML character codes to reproduce them all. The Online Etymology Dictionary also pretty much agrees, saying:

… from O.Fr. historie, from L. historia "narrative, account, tale, story," from Gk. historia "a learning or knowing by inquiry, history, record, narrative" …

Granted, all three sources trace the word back further, to the Greek word histor, one meaning of which is "wise man." So, maybe there's sexism way in history's past, but the word did not form from "his story." You might as well argue that the proper term for a woman who hates men is a misterogynist.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Time Warp?

So, I turn on my TV, to see if I can get a PBS station to catch tonight's Bill Moyers Journal -- I'm cable-free, meaning I was testing the rabbit ears -- and what do I see?

A baseball game! Red Sox-Yankees no less! On free TV! In April! On a Friday night! What's up with that?

It's on Channel 13, which is evidently called "my 9," if all the on-screen logos are to be believed. I'm so confused.

BTW: The announcers are doing a split-screen of A-Rod batting from last year and this year, and are attempting to make a big deal out of a subtle change in stride to explain his torrid April this year. Me, I'm convinced it's because he switched back to the classic knickers, and away from the current fashion horror -- draggy pants legs. I bet Manny Ramirez could hit .400 if he'd get his cuffs off his heels.

Right now, Daisuke Matsuzaka is facing Hideki Matsui, and they're showing a split-screen close-up on both faces. I'll resist the temptation to make an allusion to a karate movie. This is definitely a good part of globalization.

2-0, Sox. Bases loaded for the Yanks, no out. Gotta go.


2007-04-27 20:40 EDT

Thought the Yanks were gonna blow that chance, but with two outs and only one run in, both Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter showed just how important bat control -- and not swinging for the fences -- can be. Protect the plate half-swing on a 3-2 count by Damon: soft single, 2 RBIs. Going with the pitch, hit it the other way by Jeter. Another RBI.

I miss baseball on TV. Can you tell?

Line of the Day: 2007-04-27

The president has resumed harping on those who "think they know more than the generals." O, for a member of the press with the fortitude to shout, "Like General Shinseki, sir?"
-- Dick Cavett [T$]

Fringe benefit for TimesSelect subscribers (and pity for the other 99.99% of Webizens): Dick Cavett has a blog behind the wall, and it's quite good. The latest post talks about the Bill Moyers show that I mentioned yesterday, in even more glowing terms.


No, not that annoying purple creature.

Here is a four-minute video clip of Barney Frank speaking against banning Internet gambling.

I don't gamble, so I don't have a much of a dog in this fight, but boy, the gentleman from Massachusetts sure does a nice job reminding us of core principles.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bill Moyers is back on TV

You probably remember Bill Moyers, who got the bum's rush from PBS after Bush crony Ken Tomlinson was installed as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I don't know where Tomlinson is these days (does he still have that cushy job running Voice of America?), but Moyers is back! He has just launched a new show, called Bill Moyers Journal [sic -- no apostrophe].

The first episode, "Buying the War," is a documentary largely concentrating on the packaging of George and Dick's excellent adventure in Iraq, and focuses especially on the compliance of the mainstream media. Here's Moyers's own pitch for the show:

What the conservative media did was easy to fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the President -- no questions asked. How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored. How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?

The show starts a little slowly, and if you've been getting your news from anywhere other than Fox over the past few years, it'll probably seem like old hat. Nice effort to document it all, I thought initially, but really, nothing too groundbreaking. After a few minutes, though, the show starts getting into a level of detail beyond what I had known.

You'll have to put up with the insufferable pontifications of Dan Rather from time to time, and nauseating archived clips of Bush, et al, doing their "let's do war!" soundbites, but other than that, it's quite good. Moyers makes Tim Russert and Peter Beinart spill a little flop sweat, and spotlights some of the few reporters who did get the story right, long, long ago. There's a surprising amount of evidence presented of suppression of reporters' findings by their bosses. All in all, it's well worth watching, although I suspect that no one who should watch it will.

The show aired last night (I missed that), and hopefully, will be re-run at some point in the future. In the meantime, you can watch it online and/or read the transcript.

On that same page, you'll see the announcement that Moyers's show will air regularly on Friday nights, starting tomorrow, 27 April. According to the show's blog, Jon Stewart will be the first guest, and he and Moyers will discuss "how faking the news can reveal more of the truth than all of the Sunday-morning talk shows put together."

Welcome back, Bill.

Hat tip for the link: Joel Achenbach.


2007-04-27 00:15 EDT

Here's a nice excerpt from the show's blog, a reprint of an interview that Moyers gave to The Christian Century:

Q: If the Bush administration were to ask you for your advice, what would you say to them?

A: Well, I did give President Bush advice once: on a broadcast I urged him to make Al Gore head of homeland security -- in other words, turn our response to the terrorist attacks into a bipartisan effort, make the fight against terro[r]ism an American cause, not a partisan battle cry.

What would I say now? Fire the ideologues and assign them to scrub the floors at Guantánamo for penitence. Stop confusing neocon pundits with Old Testament prophets. Read the Bible for humility's sake, but for policy's sake commit to memory the report of the Iraq Study Group. Don't sacrifice any more soldiers to prove you're in charge; get the soldiers out of the line of fire between Sunnis and Shi'ites. And remind your hirelings of Winston Churchill's definition of democracy as the occasional necessity of deferring to the opinions of other people.

The whole interview is really good. Strictly speaking, it appears to be less of a real-time interview than Moyers's written answers to a set of submitted questions, but that doesn't detract from their worth.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Two Lines of the Day: 2007-04-25

First, a close runner-up for the crown of adjectival meaninglessness:

It makes space astronomically more dangerous than it was before.
-- Air Force chief of staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley

Second, for all my fellow lovers of keyboard shortcuts:

Every time you touch the mouse, God kills a kitten.
-- Brent Simmons, as noted by Daniel Jalkut

Maybe Santorum Was Right

Never mind hot man on beast action. We're now messing with the plant kingdom. From today's NYT:

Prince Charles, whose hobbies have included both polo and … hedge laying …

Oh, wait

Now Even More Proud of My Lapsed State

The five justices who turned the Supreme Court around last week and upheld the ban on "partial birth abortion" had much in common.

All are men. All were nominated by conservative Republican presidents. And, it was widely noted, all are Roman Catholics.


I added the emphasis above, because I wasn't part of that "widely" until now.

I knew about Roberts, Scalia and Scalito Alito, and probably would have guessed as much about Kennedy. But has Clarence Thomas always been a Catholic? Or did Scalia tell him what to do here, too?

Okay, that was uncalled for.

But here's something that is called for, and good on the Times for including the line in the same story:

I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.
-- John F. Kennedy

(whole speech here)

Those were the days.


2007-04-25 22:25 EDT

And as for the supposed Catholic view on the sanctity of life, would you care to guess the four justices in the minority when the Supreme Court threw out three death penalties today?

(Answer here.)

You had to look?

New Record Set For Adjectival Meaninglessness

The headline:

McCain Officially Enters Presidential Race

I suppose the paper of record feels it has to note these things, but sheesh. This campaign has been going on ever since McCain backed off on the "torture: bad" meme about, what, three years ago?

One quick sample that I was able to copy from the article before hypocrisy-induced projectile vomiting began:

Americans are acutely aware of our problems and their patience is at end for politicians who value incumbency over principle …

Said the nine-hundred-term senator.


A House committee voted this afternoon to authorize a subpoena of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as it presses an inquiry into the claims, long since discredited, that Iraq sought uranium from Niger.


We can only hope it is the first of many, many subpoenas.

I've been arguing for a long time that for reasons both idealist and cravenly political, the Democratic Party should make its first priority to bring to light as many of the Bush Administration's lies and dirty tricks as possible. As I mentioned in the last paragraph two posts ago, we're facing a cleaning task that makes a Superfund site look like a job for half a paper towel.

You're a good man, Congressman Waxman.

Rosa Brooks Update

A few days ago, I called attention to an op-ed by Rosa Brooks. If you're interested in hearing her expand upon her line of thought, check out the "diavlog" between her and Ross Douthat, posted today on

Brooks and Douthat also have a fairly long discussion on the recent Supreme Court decision concerning intact dilation and extraction (which the anti-choice crowd calls "partial birth abortion."), as well as a few other topics.

Not all opinions expressed, even by Brooks, are ones that I agree with, but it's an interesting discussion nonetheless.

Here's the link to the video, which will start automatically a few seconds after the page loads. Unfortunately, you'll need at least cheap broadband to watch it.

Fun Fact of the Day: 2007-04-25

Since George W. Bush became president, OSHA has issued the fewest significant standards in its history, public health experts say.

Want some more?

It has imposed only one major safety rule. The only significant health standard it issued was ordered by a federal court.

Wait. Could it be another fox guarding the henhouse moment? In this administration? What are the chances?

Mr. Foulke, the OSHA chief, has a history of opposing regulations produced by the agency he now leads. He has described himself as a "true Ronald Reagan Republican" who "firmly believes in limited government." Before coming to Washington last year, Mr. Foulke, a former Republican Party state chairman in South Carolina and top political fund-raiser, worked in Greenville, S.C., for a law firm that advises companies on how to avoid union organizing.

These excerpts are all from a story about workers getting sick from working in a plant that makes microwave popcorn. Apparently, the new "buttery flavor" is toxic. (To breathe, that is -- don't worry, keep eating! Mmmm. Diacetyl tastes gooooood!)

Never mind the Iraq war, global warming, terrorism, and the economy, I don't care who the next president is; it's gonna take him or her two terms of concentrated effort just to clean up our own government.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Line of the Day: 2007-04-24

I'm not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody who has a 9 percent approval rating.
-- Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), after being asked to respond to comments made by Vice President Dick Cheney (source)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Another Worry For Liberal Parents

Q: Do you find that having children adds meaning to life?

A: I find that for a left-winger like me, the problem is that either your children out-left you or they become fascists.

(From an interview with Terry Eagleton.)

Graphic Perspectives

From today's NY Times Week in Review:

Bullet points.

And as if that weren't depressing enough, what the hell is wrong with kids these days?

Bush Under the Radar, Part 9723178

Here's a bit of news that I hadn't heard, and I'd be willing to bet that you hadn't either: President George W. Bush (aka "The Uniter, Not the Divider") has nominated one Michael Baroody to be the next chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.


Oh, just some guy who has spent the last decade and a half whoring for working for the National Association of Manufacturers.


Oh, just another K Street group, whose mission statement reads like this:

The NAM's mission is to advocate on behalf of its members to enhance the competitiveness of manufacturers by shaping a legislative and regulatory environment conducive to U.S. economic growth and to increase understanding among policymakers, the media and the general public about the vital role of manufacturing in America's economic and national security for today and in the future.

In other words, NAM lobbies Congress to do away with those tiresome regulations that protect consumers and trots out spinmeisters to explain why this is a Good Thing. has a list of some of his "accomplishments" while at NAM.

The most prominent news article I could find concerning the nomination itself is after the jump in a WaPo gossip column, although there has been some reaction since.

Breathe deep. Eat, drink, and be merry. And don't forget to feed the kitty.


2007-04-22 12:43 EDT

On a related note, you might enjoy this short video: "What We Call The News."

Thanks for the link, KK.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My take got took

I have hesitated to post anything about the VT shootings. Whenever one of these freak things happens, the gun nuts and wing nuts never fail to amaze me with their inane "reasoning," the anti-gun nuts never fail to sadden me with their inability to accept reality, and the photo-op hungry politicos … well, here I go, just adding to the noise.

But Rosa Brooks's op-ed is a rare gem, and no matter how sick you are of the coverage, you should read it. Hers are the thoughts I've been trying to compose.

Hat tip for the referral: Kevin Drum.

Headline of the Day: 2007-04-20

Okay, it was the headline of the day nearly a century ago, when the first experimental results verifying Einstein's Theory of General Relativity came in. But as Joel says, as Walter says, they really knew how to write them back then:


Men of Science More or Less
Agog Over Results of Eclipse


Stars Not Where They Seemed
or Were Calculated to be,
but Nobody Need Worry

But nobody need worry. I absolutely love that.

Mac OS X Security Update

Apple has released patches to address 25 potential security holes. The patches are bundled into single 10 MB file. Use Software Update in the usual way -- it seemed to go without a hitch when I did it. A reboot is required upon completion of the update.

Gory details, if you want them, are available from Apple.

Hat tip: Brian Krebs.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Anti-Microsoft Snark of the Day: 2007-04-19

The only possible explanation is that someone on the Outlook team is getting paid a bonus for convincing people to switch to Gmail.
-- Joel Spolsky

The real question, though, is why an otherwise brilliant guy like Joel Spolsky is using Outlook in the first place.

A Mild Impasse

You know the old saying, "Power corrupts, but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely," right? And you know that Google's motto is "Don't be evil," right?

So what are we to make of this headline?

Google launches PowerPoint competitor

According to various other sources, the code name for the project is "Presently," which is said to be a pun on their on-line word processor, once called "Writely."

I can think of at least one person who would have wished that they call the new software "Currently," instead. Unless, of course, they meant "coming soon," and not "now."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Line of the Day: 2007-04-17

In noting the infestation of the Bush Administration with 150 graduates of Pat Robertson's Regent Law School, a "tier-four" [lowest-ranked] school:

It's not a hard school to get into. You have to renounce Satan and draw a pirate on a matchbook. This is for the people who couldn't get into the University of Phoenix.
--Bill Maher

The Fearness Doctrine

There's a funny article on Salon titled "Is Rush Limbaugh next?" It covers a panel discussion that (really) took place last Friday, in which wingnuts wondered whether the ousting of Don Imus portends a wholesale purge of conservative talk radio hosts.

Not that the wingnuts consider Imus a conservative, mind you. Check out this bit of paranoia:

… the left has sacrificed one of their own to give them a platform to go after true conservative talk show hosts.

That insight came from Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State whom you might remember from his stalwart oversight of the elections in 2004, and it's far from the most lunatic of the utterances noted.

The bulk of the panel discussion revolved around fears that We, the All-Mighty Liberals Who Control All Media, are bent on reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. Until reading the Salon article, I was vaguely aware that this law was no longer around, but I didn't know that it was abolished by the FCC during the Reagan Administration, an act which the Salon article notes was "widely credited with making the explosion of conservative talk radio possible."

For the younger readers: the Fairness Doctrine basically mandated that whenever a broadcast outlet aired an opinion piece, it was required to give equal air time to someone who wanted to express an opposing point of view. This was all part of the quaint notion that the airwaves belonged to the public, a view last popular in Congress when we shared the Earth with dinosaurs.

I buy the argument that there are enough outlets for differing views these days that we don't need to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine. Also, I'm convinced that it would be a waste of money and a source of way too much squabbling and hot air. Even if I thought it was a good idea in principle, the reality of today's political arena is that it would almost certainly be doomed to failure in implementation.

So, I don't plan to vote in favor of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine when We all get together at George Soros's secret hideaway to plot our next moves to suppress conservative voices.

But I'm glad that we've got the wingnuts fretting about the possibility.


2007-04-18 13:18 EDT

It just occurred to me that one of the inside baseball memes threading through the blogosphere (example here) concerns the possibility that Law & Order reruns featuring Fred Thompson would have to be removed from TV during his campaign, because of the Fairness Doctrine. Anybody got any ideas as to why this meme has legs? I mean, isn't the Fairness Doctrine gone?

Congratulations to Charlie Savage

Charlie Savage has won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. Here's the citation from

Awarded to Charlie Savage of The Boston Globe for his revelations that President Bush often used "signing statements" to assert his controversial right to bypass provisions of new laws.

It is a measure of the importance of Savage's work that you probably, by now, consider the whole "signing statements" issue common knowledge.

I'm proud to have linked to Savage's work a couple of times last year, in March and October. The October piece is part of the work for which Savage won the award.

Here's a nice line uttered by his editor at the newsroom champagne toast. I'd like to tattoo it on the back of every Washington reporter's hand:

… the reason he won this richly deserved Pulitzer is because he covered what the White House does, not just what it says …

The above was brought to my attention by Glenn Greenwald, who has an excellent post covering Savage's award. Go read the whole thing.

To understand why this is recognition is so noteworthy to me, to Greenwald, and hopefully, to many others, you might first look at the curiously resonant cartoon by Tom Tomorrow.


2007-04-18 11:16 EDT

You can hear a rebroadcast of a May 2006 interview with Savage on Fresh Air's site. The interview is quite good.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Factoid of the Day: 2007-04-12: WUTemp

If you spend the kind of time that I do scrutinizing the list of folders on your PC, you may have wondered what the origin and purpose of C:\WUTemp was. (Play along here; I have often wondered about this folder, having adopted more used PCs than any three starlets have babies.)

It turns out it serves as a sort of work space for Windows Update. If it's empty, that's probably a good thing, because that means your recent updates have gone well. Assuming you're doing them, I mean. If it's not empty, the contents may help you figure out the problem that Windows Update had.

Many more details (you know you want them) on the Windows Secrets site. Search for the string "WUTemp" after the page finishes loading.

Hello, Blue Thursday

Somehow, 84 seems way too young. I want my heroes to be immortal.

Kurt Vonnegut died last night.

The NY Times has their own obit, and the LA Times has a very good long one.

At the time of this posting, most of the rest of the news sites seem to be running or excerpting the AP's version, which is also pretty good. In what seems a fitting nod to the wacky world seen by Vonnegut, you might like to read it on Al Jazeera.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


The NY Times has a story covering the flap at Brigham Young University. They don't mention something that immediately popped into my mind: the connection with the Biggest Mormon Out Campaigning.

Maybe I'm a little paranoid about "the most powerful man in the world" (as the BYU College Republican chairman labels him), but this seems to me like the Godfather's kiss from Cheney to Romney.

Shirk Attack

If we listed bureaucracies that already have more than enough levels, you'd have to think the US Department of Defense would be in anybody's top three. Right?

If we think of Republican slogans from the past few hundred elections, we'd have to agree that they like nothing finer than portraying themselves as "the party of small government." Right?

If there are two things that George W. Bush has said more than "9/11" in the last six years, it's "I'm a war time president" and "I'm the Commander-in-Chief." Right?

Which must be why there's an ongoing search for someone to be the new War Czar, someone who would "oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies …"

The White House has not officially acknowledged that creating this post is in the works, but the San Jose Mercury News* is reporting today that "the White House is searching for someone with enough stature and confidence to deal directly with heavyweight administration figures such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates."

Wait. What happened to "I'm the Decider" and "the CEO president?"

SJMN also says: "At least three retired four-star generals [have been] approached by the White House in recent weeks …"

The good news is, they've all said, Thanks, but no thanks.

So, assuming the White House eventually finds someone dumb enough to take this job, what exactly will Bush be doing all day?

Hat tip: The Rude Pundit.

* Update

2007-04-11 14:17 EDT

My bad. The SJMN story I cited is actually a reprint of a Washington Post story.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

While Krebs Slept

Brian Krebs, who writes the useful WaPo blog "Security Fix," is not one of those tech writers who feels compelled to play Cheney to Microsoft's Bush, defending bad strategy and worse results to the point of lunacy. He doesn't usually take much of a stance, for or against, the worthiness of Microsoft-ware, preferring instead merely to report the latest news about vulnerabilities and how to address them.

But he had a moment today that made my eyebrows and jaws travel in opposite directions:

Given that Microsoft did not have time to do a wholesale re-write of Windows with Vista …

In fairness, he may have been paraphrasing someone else, as the above appeared in the middle of a quotation. But if that's the case, Krebs at least deserves a rap on the knuckles for parroting without comment.

Microsoft had five years, near-infinite cash reserves, and who knows how many thousands of developers on the Longhorn Vista project. They had time to rewrite it twice.


2007-04-17 19:11 EDT

Sorry if your RSS reader pinged you. Just a typo fix this time.

CC: My email to Robert Wright

Dear Mr. Wright,

That was a great column [T$] that you had in the NY Times today. I am one of those liberals who occasionally strays beyond "deep ambivalence" concerning the United Nations, and rarely have I read a defense of that institution that is anything but clichés. Very well done. Good jokes, too. You packed a lot into 700 words.

One other reason to salute: "to sometimes not authorize things." I am occasionally a stick in the mud about the English language, but one rule I do not think deserves absolute obedience is the one about split infinitives. As E. B. White has said, know the rules so that when you break them, you do so gracefully. I think you nailed that here.

Or maybe, you just thought two wrongs make a Wright?

Brendan Keefe
(A loyal watcher since Jan 2007)

Was it good for you?

Today's NY Times has an article concerning attitudes about sex. One part of the article deals with a study performed in several countries, in which men and women aged 40-80 were asked about the physical and emotional pleasures they obtained from sex, and whether they thought sex was important. In the accompanying survey results, there are a couple of things that seem kind of strange.

The minor observation I make is that the countries whose people stereotypically pride themselves as lovers, France and Italy, are significantly below the top with regard to the pleasure aspects.

The more curious observation is that for many of the countries who fell in the middle of the pleasure rankings, the percentage attaching importance to sex is higher than the numbers affirming pleasure. For example, 73% of men in the US report physical pleasure and 77% emotional pleasure, while only 37% say sex is important. By contrast, men in Italy report 43% and 49% on the pleasure aspects, but 58% say sex is important.

I dunno. You think American guys aren't paying enough attention, or Italian guys are trying too hard?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Puff, Puff. Slurp, Slurp. Grin, Grin.

Know what I mean? Know what I mean?

Never mind the disclaimers. I'm warding off Parkinson's as we speak.

(With apologies to MP: Click to play sound)

CAR Troubles

A while back, I sent my friend Dan a link to a NYT story about the Central African Republic, since I knew he had lived there for a while.

You should definitely read his response.

Another thing I didn't know

According to the Harry Shearer, on the 8 April edition of Le Show, David Hicks, the Australian citizen who recently signed a plea agreement at a military tribunal -- obviously, to get himself out of Gitmo -- pleaded guilty to "offending" a law which was passed four years after he was detained.

Shearer's discussion of the topic, covering among other things Hicks's testimony of the torture he endured and witnessed, and perhaps even more importantly, how quickly the story died in the US media, is well worth listening to -- it's right at the beginning. The audio stream should work even over dial-up.

Shearer's source for all this is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which obtained an affidavit of Hicks's sworn statement to a British court.

Apothegm: A New Word To Me

I just started reading "The greatest living critic" on Salon, a book review by Allen Barra. Barra begins the piece:

Clive James' "Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories From History and the Arts" is a collection of 107 original essays written on people whose apothegms James has collected over the decades …

I don't remember ever seeing or hearing this word before. Princeton's WordNet defines it merely as a synonym to aphorism: "a short pithy instructive saying." Wikipedia hints that it may have a less pure connotation: "a short, but memorable saying, which holds some important fact of experience that is considered true by many people, or it has gained some credibility through its long use."

The latter strikes me as a polite way to refer to many White House pronouncements of the past six years.

From the dead trees reference books: my Oxford English Dictionary says it's merely a variant on apophthegm (same definition), which strikes me as a needless squandering of consonants. My American Heritage Dictionary keeps the definition as terse as the one from WordNet.

Bonus: the entry following apothegm in my AHD is another new word to me: apothem, which means the perpendicular distance in a regular polygon from its center to any of its sides. Pretty big difference, given the two words are pronounced exactly the same: ăp'ə-thĕm'.

Double bonus: here's an image of the above pronunciation key, for those whose browsers don't handle Unicode so well:

apothegm pronunciation

Someday you'll be doing the Saturday crossword puzzle, and you'll thank me for all this.

Update: Oh, and by the way, I just finished reading the Barra review that got me started on this post. It's quite good, and he makes the book sound like a must-read, too.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Reading Recommendations: Good Laughs Friday Edition

Here are three from a somewhat old bookmarks folder that tickled me.

If the glove fits …

Baseball mitt for a switch pitcher

… you must switch hit?

There's a fun story in the NYT sports section about an ambidextrous pitcher. I'm reminded both of the Syd Finch hoax and a dream that I'm sure I shared with every other pitcher who peaked in Little League.

Photo credit: Chris Machian for The New York Times

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Can you spot the puppet master among the bushes?

Cheney is off to the left, in the shadows

If clicking on the image to make it bigger doesn't help, here's a hint: Cheney is in the shadows (as usual) and off to the left (way unusual -- maybe the picture got flipped?)

Photo credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times. Hat tip: Atrios, via The Rude Pundit.

Driven to Tears

I don't care how you spin the story behind this headline; it's obscene.

Ford Pays Chief $28 Million for 4 Months' Work

It's also symptomatic of what ails American automobile manufacturing -- it's not all the fault of the UAW.

Maybe it's just me …

… and maybe I have less appreciation for feature-laden cell phones, but today's NYT has a story about a new phone, that hasn't come out yet, which is billed as "an iPhone killer." The iPhone, of course, is an Apple product that hasn't come out yet.

One non-existent product is a killer of another non-existent product? This is a whole new level in vaporware.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Rush of Power

This is post DC.

(Again with the Latin?)

Okay, the big six-oh-oh. And thanks for reading.

(And aren't we here to talk about AC?)

Ah, yes. Speaking of power, I now have some!

Well, sort of.

There's a temporary alligator-clipped-in thing -- in principle, I could be stealing electricity right now. But I figured gazing admiringly at a work light for a few minutes was enough for the first day.

After an endless winter, I finally got the electricians over this morning, and it didn't look good. Lots of hints of rain, forecast for thunderstorms coming, not to mention plummeting temperatures, and snow expected tonight and tomorrow. (Next time I hear "Lake Effect," someone's going down). Two of the crew left right away to get materials. The other two got done what they could, then we sat around for more than an hour, then the sitters got a call to meet the material boys for lunch.

After lunch, it was raining fairly steadily, and I figured they'd fart around for a few minutes and call it a day. They started unloading materials, rolling like Whiffle balls through molasses, looking at the sky, saying comforting things like "Doesn't look good … this rain sucks … I have a bad cramp in my leg …"

But suddenly, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and work started getting accomplished. They installed a new riser cable -- the line that comes down from under the eaves along the corner of the house to the meters, installed a new meter box, and connected the riser to that. Below, that's Carmen up on the ladder making the initial attachment, to the right of the old riser cable, and Mike holding the ladder and wondering how much longer I was going to be shooting pix before offering to hold the ladder so he could go get his gloves. Next picture is Carmen, pulling the riser cable through the top of the meter box. Click the pics for bigger versions.

Carmen and Mike installing the riser cable
Carmen the Electrician, pulling riser cable through the meter box

Inside, Steve and Mike installed two new circuit breaker panels, after the tall man on the job (me) put in the key four nails that no one else could reach -- had to put up a sheet of plywood to mount the breaker panels. Carmen drilled a hole through the house, fed cables from the meter box outside into the basement, and Steve hooked them into the breaker panels. Les sank a grounding rod and connected one ground wire to that. Tomorrow morning, Les and Steve come back to run a ground wire to the water pipe in the basement. ("Double-grounding," they tried to explain to me, but if I can't hit it with a hammer, I'm lost.)

Next step is to get the city inspector over to approve the work. When (if, he said superstitiously) the inspector signs off, he then faxes notice of said approval over to RG&E, and then they come out, install new meters, and connect from the pole to the top of the new riser cable. And then I start getting two new electric bills!

So here's what the outside of the house looks like at the end of the day:

Meter box with meters yet to be installed
- - - - -

In other good karma news, my next door neighbor back at the current domicile stopped me when I got home after the big wire thing to ask if it had been me who had shoveled their driveway last snowstorm. (It had been.) She asked why, and I said that I could tell that they were away for the weekend, and I was already in that mode, and I figured I'd clean off their driveway and back porch before things melted and refroze.

So I got a batch of "the world's best chocolate chip cookies" coming my way.

It's all good.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Windows Update: 2007-04-03

As noted by Brian Krebs among others, Microsoft is releasing an emergency security patch. I'm not sure whether having "Automatic Updates" turned on results in proper notification -- on the one machine where I do have this on, I did not get a notification, at least, not right away.

In any case, fire up Internet Explorer and visit, just to be safe.

Microsoft has noted one possible glitch associated with this patch, which affects users of XP SP2 running Realtek HD Audio Control Panel. Visit this page for details.

Sharpen Your Puncils

In the spirit of Magritte's Ceci n'est pas une pipe [1] and B. Kliban's Fig 1, [2] …

I propose a still life, consisting of nothing but a small pocketbook. The title of the picture: Purse A.

Can you guess what Latin phrase [3] I was just looking up?

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Mitts Come Off

Did you see today's Doonesbury? Nice!

Condensed Information

Sometimes, you sense that you don't need to read the whole thing. From today's NY Times, for example:

4 G.I.'s Among Dead in Iraq; McCain Cites Progress

Not that the headline writers are trying to emphasize the Senator's apparent cluelessness, or anything …

- - - - -

Here's another NYT pick. This time, the headline and teaser:

Stalking Strangers' DNA to Fill in the Family Tree

Inexpensive genetic testing is turning the once-staid pursuit of genealogy into an extreme sport.

Up next: scrapbooking death matches.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

And Second Prize is Two Weeks in Philadelphia?

Remember how Microsoft was going to beat Google at the search game? No, really. Just six months ago, they had that big ad campaign, with the tagline, "Algorithm. Meet Humanity."


Me, neither.

Allow me to quote Plan B:

Adam Sohn, director of global sales and marketing for Windows Live, confirmed that Microsoft would pay large companies $2 to $10 a user annually — the more searches, the larger the bounty earned — in credits that can be used for Microsoft products and training services.

The second question is: which company will be first among boneheads to think, "Hey! I know how we can maximize! Let's block access to Google at the company firewall!"?

I'm thinking something associated with the executive branch of the US government, especially if Microsoft promises to cut down returns of reality-based results.

A Wikipedia Moment of Ouch

Excerpt from a NYT mag interview with Douglas Hofstadter:

NYT: Your entry in Wikipedia says that your work has inspired many students to begin careers in computing and artificial intelligence.

DH: I have no interest in computers. The entry is filled with inaccuracies, and it kind of depresses me.

NYT: So fix it.

DH: The next day someone will fix it back.

Not that I'm I Wikipedia hater, but it is a little irritating that it comes up first for so many Google searches.

Firefox and Spell Checking

If you're using version 2 of Firefox, you've probably noticed that its default behavior is to run an on-the-fly spell checker whenever you're typing in a text box. For example, you're typing in a text box when composing a comment on this blog. You can see that the spell checking is on if you misspell a word -- as soon as you move to the next word, the error is underlined in red.

All well and good, but what about when you want to insist that the word that Firefox insists is wrong is right? And you use this word all the time -- say, a bit of jargon or a proper name -- and the red underline is starting to feel like a poke in the eye?

It turns out that you can add words to a personal dictionary on the machine that you're using. Right-click on the underlined word and choose "Add to dictionary."

If you're like me, and add a word only to realize a moment later, no, Guiliani is in fact spelled with one N, it appears that you have no recourse but to modify the file containing your personal dictionary by hand. That file is named "persdict.dat," and it's stored in the same folder containing your bookmarks.dat file. For Windows users, this a location deeply buried in the file system; e.g., "C:\Documents and Settings\brendan\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\profiles\7qtija3d.default\persdict.dat" (all one one line, of course).

If you make changes in this file, be sure to use a plain text editor, not a word processor. You may also need to close and restart Firefox for your hand-edits to be apparent to Firefox. At least, that's what a little experimenting indicates to me.

Finally, that same right-click context menu permits you to toggle the spell checking on and off for the current text box only. You can also set the default behavior via Tools -> Options -> Advanced tab -> General tab, and check or uncheck "Check my spelling as I type" as you prefer.

Now you know. And your life is made immeasurably better. And by "immeasurably," I mean, "not tending toward the really large, but in the other direction."

Political Label of the Day: 2007-04-01

In a typically fine post [S$], Glenn Greenwald characterizes Rudy Guiliani's new campaign stance as the "compassionate authoritarian."