Friday, August 31, 2007

Craig's List: The Sports Tie-In

How soon before baseball announcers get the memo to avoid describing batters as having a wide stance?

My Rovian Suggestion for Dealing With the Craig Issue

How's this for political cynicism?

Rather than pressure Larry Craig to resign, the Republican Party leaders should get him in a back room somewhere and urge him to make a public statement, in which he renounces his Republican Party affiliation, and asks to be invited into the Democratic Party. They can pay him off with the same sort of lobbyist job he's going to get if he just resigns.

I mean, it's not like Craig has any chance of getting re-elected as a Senator from Idaho, and candidates for his seat when the election rolls around would be running against a Democrat with "San Francisco values." The Republicans will hold that seat in any case, so the campaign would just provide another opportunity to serve up some more red meat to their base.

Meantime, and here's the real beauty of my plan: the country could kick back and watch the Democrats do more squirming than nine buckets of salted earthworms.

It could backfire, I suppose. The Democrats would only have to step right up and embrace him. But that assumes the Democrats have spine. Care to bet on that?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jamie Tarabay on Fresh Air

If you missed Fresh Air on 23 August, go listen to it.

Tarabay (bio) is the NPR bureau chief in Baghdad. Her courage is incredible. So are her stories.

When the "Petraeus Report" comes out next month, we'll get a sunnier view of the situation, I'm sure. It's not like I expect to believe any of it, but the Tarabay interview really pre-loads my doubts.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Warning: Untwisted

Just got my first Sierra Nevada without a twist-off cap. Guess we finally finished up the old stock. Andrew Leonard did warn about this eventuality, so I didn't hurt myself too badly.

If you're uninspired to click the link, here's the short story: Sierra Nevada let it be known a while back that it was unsatisfied with the tightness of the seal of its twist-off caps, saying that they worried about the longevity of the freshness of their fine product. I had long noticed that their caps were unusually tight compared to most twist-off bottles, and had always thought it was an error introduced during the design specifications -- either the bottles were one gnat's whisker too thick, or the caps similarly too small.

But no. They were looking out for my tastes, all this time.

Friday, August 24, 2007

March to Global Dominance Continues

Who here caught the "Twisted Pair" podcast for 24 August 2007? And paid special attention starting at 26:50?

Okay, so they didn't fawn quite as much over the astuteness of my observations as those other podcasters did. But they did read my email on the air. It's always nice to be acknowledged.

Thanks, Jason and Keith.

Oh, and Mr. de Mille? I'm ready for my close-up now.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Further Evidence that the Internet Connects Everything

You remember the banana video, right?

Just came across "Jesus and Mo," and what do you suppose they were discussing?

Set aside some time. You'll need it for clicking all those "<<" and ">>" icons. The best ones are when they're talking to the barmaid. Great comic strip!

If you want to start at the beginning and experience the, um, evolution of the strip, the first one is here.

And here is a specific recommendation for TC. KK might especially like it, too.

(h/t: Pharyngula)


2007-08-23 21:59 EDT

Couple of other good comics, from the links supplied by "Jesus and Mo:" "Basic Instructions" and "PartiallyClips."


2007-08-23 22:43 EDT

And speaking of strange connections, we have this old post and this new (to me) comic, from PartiallyClips.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Surveillance Chatter

There is an excellent diavlog now available over on between Julian Sanchez and Spencer Ackerman. They discuss the Destroy the Last Vestiges of the Fourth Amendment Act Protect America Act, how it came to be, why its sunset provision is probably a sham, how it's unlikely to be of much use against the turrurists, and how its provisions are likely to be applied.

And by "applied," I mean, "grievously misused."

A little background on my point of view on this topic is available here and here.

Hard to believe I didn't think of this one

Or I should be happy that I have let not let George Bush and Rudy Giuliani burn the date too deeply into my brain. Nonetheless, it's a good thing we have people like Tim Grieve around:

Pushing back against reports that the White House would prevent Gen. David Petraeus from testifying in public about his report on the success of the "surge," Bush administration spokesman Gordon Johndroe said last week that Petraeus will, in fact, testify before Congress, both in public and in private, "prior to ... Sept. 15."

Anyone want to guess the actual date?


TC and I have been going back and forth about this for a couple of days now. He had called my attention to the trial balloon of Petraeus not testifying in public, and I had wondered whether the Bush Administration was waiting to see how much blowback would come from this. As it turns out, there's been a lot of blowback.

As it surprisingly turns out, the Bushies for once have a Plan B. In this case, they're going to write the report Petraeus was supposed to, as Tim Grieve notes in another post. (Others have also noted this: [1], [2], [3]).

Going out on a limb department: I predict the actual public testimony by Petraeus before Congress will make the kabuki theater of, say, confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices seem like hard-hitting cross-examination.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Line of the Day: 2007-08-20

Just heard from my favorite nephew. He had replied, today, to an email that I sent him a week or so ago, and I asked him if he had become one of those people who had abandoned email for IMing. His answer:

ehhh...I mostly use my computer for corresponding with teachers about work or staying after school or whatever. So it's not really a thing I pay attention to during the summer.

Another myth busted. It turns out that kids, in fact, do not need to be told to go outside and play. They do not spend all their time online.

Now, as for the old fart uncles …

Holy Eye Roller

The following is a copy of an email that I sent to Alexei Barrionuevo of the NY Times.

Dear Mr. Barrionuevo:

Your story in today's Times, "In a Place of Solace, Finding Faith Among the Sorrow," reminds me why I am so glad that people like Harris and Dawkins and Hitchens and Dennet have been speaking up.

Okay, so it's sad that people got killed in an earthquake. And it's understandable -- one might even say "only human" -- that people who have spent their entire lives clinging to a belief system would try to force current events to conform to that belief system. I'm mystified by this behavior, but I recognize that it happens.

The thing that really irks me is the article's tone. There is no sense of the skepticism that one would expect when a reporter is covering a story where irrational claims are being made. There is no response to quotes like this:

"The only thing we can do now is pray and give thanks to God."

For dropping a church on the heads of those inside, and killing sixty of your friends?

In any other story, you would have gone all over town, looking for a statement from someone with a different point of view. Failing that, the trusty Rolodex would have been consulted. As a thought experiment, suppose I had mobilized my whole town to claim, "This church collapse shows there is no God." Do you think there's any chance at all, if you were covering my group, that you wouldn't flesh out the the story with differing viewpoints? Do you think your editor would let you get away with this, if you didn't?

Instead, we get treacly nonsense like this:

But the town's residents have drawn faith from what they see as small miracles.

So, a stone statue that was outside the church is plucked more or less intact from the rubble (unlike the scores of people inside, mind), and this is a miracle?

In any other realm of human thought, this would be labeled as insanity, or more politely, at least "temporarily disoriented thinking."

A common criticism leveled at the so-called New Atheists is that we try to paint all people who hold religious beliefs as completely mindless. This is untrue. I don't think that, and a careful reading of the above authors will show that, too. What we are asking is this: Isn't it about time to subject religiously motivated behavior to the same scrutiny as we do every other aspect of human affairs?

Brendan Keefe
Rochester, NY, USA

One Myth Demolished

David Pogue has a reputation in some on-line circles as a "fanboy." This is the term of choice for people who also like to characterize computers designed in Cupertino as "MacIntoys."

I've never thought of Pogue that way. Sure, he likes a lot of what Apple puts out -- which he admits -- and he's good at his job when in full praise mode. But he can also play the role of a proper critic.

Case in point: His recent review of iMovie '08 should be enshrined as an example of how to rip apart something that needs ripping apart. Even if you don't use your computer to make edit video (I'm not there yet, either), Pogue's piece is well worth a look. Companies need to hear stuff like this, when it truly applies.

In my dreams, Pogue's words would also be stapled to the eyelids of anyone who attempts to writes anywhere on-line "MacIntoy," "Micro$oft sux," or "free software is worth what you pay for it." Specifics, people. Specifics are what sell your story.

Those of you who are made queasy by my new policy of shunning on-line holy wars are invited to hook up with me off-line, where I will be glad to deliver my seventeen hour sermon, "Why Emacs is the One True Editor."

Sunday, August 19, 2007


In today's announcement email, Alchemy Mindworks offered the free SFW plug-in for its wonderful program, Graphics Workshop Professional.

I was unable to conceive of this as anything other than a tool for transforming NSFW pictures into something suitable for viewing at the office.

Mine Take

I had planned not to comment on the Utah mine situation. What could I add to the rest of the coverage and commentary? But I was just made aware of a wrinkle in this story that particularly irritated me.

Maybe you already know this:

The man who will oversee the federal government's investigation into the disaster that has trapped six workers in a Utah coal mine for over a week was twice rejected for his current job by senators concerned about his own safety record when he managed mines in the private sector.

President George W. Bush resorted to a recess appointment in October 2006 to anoint Richard Stickler as the nation's mine safety czar after it became clear he could not receive enough support even in a GOP-controlled Senate.

Classic Bush story. Cronyism, obvious conflicts of interest, disregard for comptence, and disdain for the advice and consent of the Senate. Time and time again, this costs innocent people their lives.

I've ranted before about this never-ending parade of foxes guarding henhouses that is so characteristic of the Bush Administration. The chickens are coming home to roost, once again.

This time, I hope they're packing heat.

Spin Watch: Divisive Democrats

From an article in this morning's NYT:

… in an interview at an IHOP restaurant here, days after he announced his resignation as Mr. Bush's top political adviser, Mr. Rove defiantly dismissed the rash of fresh critiques that have come his way in the last several days, blaming the Democrats for the divisive tone that has dominated Mr. Bush’s tenure …

On this past Friday's podcast of Left, Right & Center, I heard almost exactly the same thing from Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley. Blankley is a consistent parrot of rightwingnuttery (example howler: in the same podcast, he calls Newt Gingrich "brilliant, articulate, and well-read"). Among other things, Blankley claimed:

…after September 11th, within about a month and a half or two months, all of the instincts of Washington on both sides of the aisle was 'back to partisanship' … I think both parties played back to their worst partisan instincts … so I don't blame him [Rove] any more than I blame the Democrats …

It takes a truly amoral nature, or a point of view completely disconnected from reality, to be able to say things like this with a straight face. As an easy refutation, you might start by Googling Bush: Democrats traitors and Democrats terrorists win.

The truth is, the Bush Administration blew the biggest opportunity to unite the country given to a President in at least the last half-century, and instead tried to seize the moment to make the country a one-party state. Think midterm elections, 2002, and Max Cleland. And who could forget, from the horse's, um, mouth:

Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.

'Nuff said.

So, it looks like the real reason Rove quit is to get a head start on rewriting history. We'll have to watch out for this.


The Worst Plumber President Ever shares some thoughts on a recurring problem in his line of work (excerpt from an official White House transcript):

Let me just say something about leaks in Washington. There are too many leaks … in Washington. There's leaks at the executive branch; there's leaks in the legislative branch. There's just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.

Okay, the picture is actually from another story, which, it must be said, reminded me of the planning skills of the Current Occupant.

(h/t for the real story: Jinnet)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Found Object

Some of you may recognize some of these:


Thanks for sharing, KK!

Well, Knock Me Over With a Feather

Broad new surveillance powers approved by Congress this month could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include -- without court approval -- certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans' business records, Democratic Congressional officials and other experts said.


The dispute illustrates how lawmakers, in a frenetic, end-of-session scramble, passed legislation they may not have fully understood and may have given the administration more surveillance powers than it sought.


"We did not cover ourselves in glory," said one Democratic aide …


The Congressional Democrats, in their haste to blow town, didn't carefully consider a bill? A really complex one, that the Bush Administration wanted? That further eroded the Constitution? And now they're having second thoughts?

Who could've predicted any of that?


And, from later in the same article:

At a tense meeting last week with lawyers from a range of private groups active in the wiretapping issue, senior Justice Department officials refused to commit the administration to adhering to the limits laid out in the new legislation and left open the possibility that the president could once again use what they have said in other instances is his constitutional authority to act outside the regulations set by Congress.

No way to see that one coming either, was there?

BTW, I added the Wall of Shame names to the first post I put up about this whole surveillance bill disgrace. Look for your senators and representative, if you don't already know how they voted.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Upgrade to Thunderbird Version 2

When I launched Thunderbird on my desktop machine this morning, the automatic update notifier said that version was available. This was a bit of a surprise, since I was running version Usually, I think of updates (minor bug fixes) being delivered this way, not major upgrades.

Evidently, the lead developer of Thunderbird, Scott MacGregor, views things differently. He did say this past April: "Thunderbird 1.5.0.x users will be offered Thunderbird 2 via software update at a later date." My bad.

No matter. I've been running Tbird v2 on my laptop for a while, and it has been well-behaved. I accepted the upgrade update offer. The whole new program downloaded (about 8 MB) and it seemed to self-install without a problem. When the installation was complete, I clicked "OK" to restart Thunderbird, as directed.

The new version launched. Everything seemed smooth. No need to reenter passwords or change settings or anything of that nature. All old mail was where it belonged. Getting and sending mail worked fine.

I did notice a minor display glitch, which is apparently specific to the ancient NVIDIA graphics card that I and six other people on the planet still use. This was easily remedied.

If you've been putting off upgrading to version 2, my inner procrastinator salutes you. However, according to a note at the top of the Tbird 1.5 page:

Thunderbird 1.5.0.x will be maintained with security and stability updates until October 18, 2007. All users are strongly encouraged to upgrade to Thunderbird 2.

So, in two months, you're doomed you might as well fix things now. If you aren't offered the option to upgrade by Thunderbird itself, you can probably force it via Help -> Check for Updates. If that doesn't work, visit the main Thunderbird download page.

Finally, Mozilla has a page describing the new features of version 2.

Thunderbird and Firefox 2.0 Display Glitches (And Workarounds)

(Updated below: clarification)

(Updated 2 below: another possible workaround)

I upgraded to version of Thunderbird this morning. The installation seemed to run successfully, and everything seemed to work when I restarted the program. However, I noticed a problem with the display in the main window: the text in the message pane was garbled. It looked like the text had been overwritten. Also, moving around in the message pane using the up and down arrow keys caused weird highlighting, as though every other message had been selected.

It turns out that the problem almost certainly stems from my particular setup: Windows 2000 SP4, running on an old Dell Precision 330, featuring an ancient graphics card, an NVIDIA RIVA TNT2/TNT2 Pro. This is a known issue, and you can read all about it in Mozilla's bug database.

There are at least a couple of known workarounds. First, I first tried Dao Gottwald's add-on for Thunderbird, "Hot Fix for 'garbage in folder contents pane' bug 1.0." This solved the glitches, but it also had the effect of removing the "zebra striping." Zebra striping means that the lines of text in the message pane are displayed with alternating background colors, which makes it a lot easier to look at a list of messages. I didn't want to do without this feature.

The next thing I tried was turning down the hardware acceleration for my graphics card, from its default setting of "full" to one step below that. (How? See "Update" below.) This did the job, and better than the hotfix -- the glitches were gone, and the zebra striping was retained.

As a happy side effect, this workaround also seems to have fixed a minor display glitch in Firefox 2.0, something called "tab ghosting." If I had multiple tabs open in my browser, switched focus away to another app, and then returned to Firefox, I would see garbled tabs, partially overwritten with icons from the toolbar. (The overwriting would clear itself when I clicked on the tabs.) This problem has also been noted, and again, for a very small set of graphics cards.

If you want more details, I've posted them on the Thunderbird and Firefox support forums.

Finally, note that you probably have to be logged in as Administrator to change the acceleration settings.


Keywords for Googling fellow sufferers: Thunderbird 2.0 text garbled, Thunderbird 2.0 text overwritten, Thunderbird 2.0 message pane garbled, Thunderbird 2.0 display problems, Firefox 2.0 tab ghosting, Firefox 2.0 tab display problems.


2007-10-04 00:06

In the comments for this post, Tim gave the succinct description for changing hardware acceleration:

Start/Control Panel/Display/Settings/Advanced/Troubleshoot/

I did describe this in the posts I put up on the Mozilla forums, thinking the full technical details belonged there, and not here. But Tim's one-liner deserves front-page mention, to save you having to click a link.

Thanks, Tim.

Update 2

2008-07-30 10:30

From the comments, here's another possibility: If you'd rather not mess with your display settings, try installing a "theme." I have not tried this myself, but Blog said it worked for him or her.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Small Comfort of the Day: 2007-08-16

PDF is no more able to embed malware on an unsuspecting user's system than any other typical e-mail attachment.
-- Erick Lee, a security engineer at Adobe (alt. link)

Following is a copy of an email that I sent to Lynn Tan, the author of the article containing this statement. I'll let you know if I get any response.


Dear Ms. Tan:

I read your article about PDF files and the threat, or lack thereof, that that they pose as email attachments, in today's NY Times.

You quoted Erick Lee: "PDF is no more able to embed malware on an unsuspecting user's system than any other typical e-mail attachment."

This is very small comfort, given how many email attachments can, in fact, carry malware. I'm thinking of EXE files, Microsoft DOC and VBS files, and as we both know, the list could be made much longer. Perhaps by "typical" Mr. Lee meant "compared to, say, picture files like JPEGs and GIFs." If so, I wish he would have been more specific.

So, I have three follow-up questions for you:

1. Does the vast amount of capability that can be stored in PDF files (to provide mechanisms like file locking, forms that can be filled in, and so on) mean that there is some chance that executable code could be made to ride along? I'm thinking, by analogy, of DOC files containing viruses that work through MS Word's macro mechanisms.

2. I use Wordpad to read DOC files that come as email attachments. (As you probably know, this is a common safety recommendation -- Wordpad's reduced functionality means, among other things, that it can't run macros.) I have been using FoxIt to read all PDF files (not just email attachments) for about seven months now, mostly because it loads about 100 times faster than Adobe Reader. Foxit is vastly smaller than Reader, which implies reduced functionality. Therefore, if the answer to question 1 is "yes" or even "maybe," and thinking of preferring Wordpad for attached DOC files, how much safer would one be preferring FoxIt or some other lightweight reader to Adobe Reader for opening PDF attachments?

3. Many programs besides Adobe Acrobat can be used to create a PDF file these days. Modern versions of Word come to mind. Since it's already well-known that one can embed malware in a Word DOC file, what are the chances that Word could also be made to embed malware when it saves a file in PDF format, instead?

I think my questions are not without merit, especially given Mr. Lee's vague and somewhat lawyer-ish statement. If you can't take the time to respond to my email directly, perhaps you could pursue some of what I've raised in a follow-up article.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The King, from a few years ago

I was link-hopping from one King Kaufman column to the next, and ended up at the piece he wrote back in 2001, when he left San Francisco for St. Louis. (He has since returned.) It's a fine read, a lament for the loss of a once-loved city that will resonate with you if you've ever felt, "Man, this used to be a great place. What happened?"

King has one line in the mostly bittersweet piece that made me laugh out loud, a probably apocryphal weather report for the Bay Area: "77 Again Today -- No Relief in Sight."

That reminded me, for some reason, of the great Mort Sahl line that I recounted last year.

The Real Scooter

The emailed headlines for today's NY Times has Vecsey's story about the now late great shortstop titled as "The Yankees' Gabby Talisman."

Gabby Talisman.

That's almost as great-sounding a baseball name as Phil Rizzuto.

I never did get to see Rizzuto play, of course, but I grew up with him in the Yankees' broadcast booth. After a while, he did become the caricature of himself that most people remember, and boy, those endless ads for "the Money Stawwwuh" on WPIX are still a scar in my inner ear.

Nonetheless, I have fond memories of him. RIP, Scooter.


It turns out the headline for Vecsey's piece in the actual paper replaces "Gabby" with "Chatty." This is unfortunate. It's a good read [T$] otherwise.

There are some great pictures, attached to another story, here.


Apologies to KK for not acknowledging the superiority of Pee Wee.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

When Ego-Surfing Goes Bad

Just had a momentary glitch in my Internet connection. To test that it had come back I Googled a term picked at random. Partial screen capture below (with added highlighting). Click pic to zoom.

When Ego Surfing Goes Bad

Farhad Manjoo on Net Neutrality

I admit it. I talk about this issue from time to time. It's important. So here's some more.

The always stellar Farhad Manjoo has a good piece about the issue as it plays out in the U.K. The BBC is beta testing something called iPlayer. This is a combination program and web service that aims to provide free access to tons of its video content. Amazingly, the ISPs are wailing and gnashing their teeth. And -- hold onto your modems -- they want money! More money!


2007-08-14 17:59 EDT

A glance at Farhad's archives from last week reveals a tidbit that mashes up every buzz topic you could name. Except Net Neutrality.

More Roving, More Crumbling

As I noted with unashamed glee in an earlier post, the once seemingly monolithic conservative bloc that controlled the Republican Party now seems more like too many rats in too small a box. Here's another example, from Ryan Sager's op-ed in yesterday's New York Sun:

The face of the Republican Party in Iowa is the face of a losing party, full of hatred toward immigrants, lust for government subsidies, and the demand that any Republican seeking the office of the presidency acknowledge that he's little more than Jesus Christ's running mate. The pandering from the stage told the story. Mr. Romney promised not a chicken in every pot, but "a button on every computer" for parents to block obscene material. Anti-immigrant ranter Tom Tancredo nearly brought the house down decrying the fact that Americans sometimes have to "Press 1" for English. Mr. Huckabee earned his second-place finish in part by making the specious claim that farm subsidies safeguard America's food independence. (You think it's bad depending on foreign oil, Mr. Huckabee asked? "Wait until our country messes up and has to depend on foreign food.") Senator Brownback of Kansas, the third-place finisher, declared as he often does in his stump speech, quoting Mother Teresa: "All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus."

Hat tip for the link to Tim Grieve, who in his post, also from yesterday, opens up with the most intriguing bit of inside baseball thinking about Rove that I've heard yet:

Maybe we've been doing this too long, but our first reaction to the news that Karl Rove is resigning was to wonder why he's doing it now. Which is to say, what does he want all of us not to be thinking about while we're busy thinking about him?

And along those lines, the first thought we had this morning was this: Jeez, Rove really didn't want Mitt Romney to have the post-Iowa day in the sun that he would be enjoying today if only Rove hadn't knocked him out of the news cycle.

Jane Meyer: "The Black Sites"

When you have some time, Jane Meyer has a lengthy piece in the New Yorker detailing the CIA's black sites and the torture that regularly occurs at these sites. I'm sure you already have a sense of this particularly heinous aspect of the Bush Administration's worldview; nonetheless, the details and documentation that Meyer presents are well worth examining.

Roving Correspondents

When I heard the news yesterday, I figured I'd let everyone else in the leftosphere carry the ball (no sane person competes with Brando, for one). I'm happy the advisor known as Turd Blossom has been put out to pasture for real, but until we can drag his fat ass in front of Congress and put it under oath, I can't find a real upside. It's not like he's not going to cash in right away. A seven-figure book deal, talking head gigs on Fox News, and speaking fees that threaten to make Ann Coulter even more shrill immediately come to mind.

However, one thing that has interested me about Rove's departure is the piling on by conservatives. Probably a lot of this is explained by their never-ending quest to assign blame to whomever, given that their dream of state-imposed wingnuttery is falling out of fashion. But still.

It's also fascinating to see the dissolution of what used to present as a monolithic force. For example, David Frum, former Bush speechwriter and current AEI sourpuss, has a well-crafted hatchet job op-ed in today's NYT. At one point, he's going on about the erstwhile Boy Genuis's poor choice of focus on issues:

Instead of seeking solutions to national problems, "compassionate conservatism" started with slogans and went searching for problems to justify them. To what problem, exactly, was the faith-based initiative a solution?

Ah, where were voices like this from the Right, four and five and six years ago?

Never mind. Right now, I'm mainlining schadenfreude.

More on the Fairness Doctrine

(Updated below)

Back in April, I wondered whether the Fairness Doctrine would require that TV stations remove Law & Order reruns from the air when (if?) Fred Thompson officially announced his candidacy for the presidency. As I understood it, the Fairness Doctrine had been done away with during the Reagan Administration, so I thought the answer was no, the unkillable show would not have to be killed.

However, I did see several stories speculating about just this possibility. You'd think reporters at small-time rags like the NY Times and Slate would have nothing better to do than to respond to my emails asking about this, but I never did hear back from any of them.

Once again, it's to the rescue. A diavlog between Jack Balkin and Eugene Volokh, two law professors who also blog regularly, was posted yesterday. They did not specifically mention the Thompson issue, but they had a detailed discussion about the Doctrine itself which pretty much allowed me to conclude that my thinking was correct.

The entire thing is well worth watching, if you like the sort of debate that occurs when law professors discuss First and Second Amendment issues. I myself enjoy gnats and straining thereat, so I found it fascinating. The diavlog raised any number of subtle considerations about gun control and the separation of church and state.

Lately, I have found myself losing steam in my anti-gun stance, mostly because it seems like a lost cause. The diavlog validated my attitude to a degree, confirming my sad belief that instituting a sweeping gun control policy is probably hopeless, even from a purely legal point of view. However, many local and specific remedies might well be made to pass.

By contrast, I have lately become ever more vehement about church/state issues. I was somewhat chastened here, finding that my thinking regarding various issues was simplistic. It turns out to be really hard to maintain the ideal when you get down to cases. (Again, speaking from a purely legal point of view.)

I won't go on about this. I found the diavlog highly instructive, but I realize that it won't be to everybody's taste.


2007-08-14 11:49 EDT

BTW, if you're interested only in the Fairness Doctrine, the discussion starts at this point. Also, in response to a comment that I posted on the forums, I was informed by Ogieogie that TV stations are contemplating doing away with L & O reruns on a voluntary basis.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Line of the Day: 2007-08-12

The first day was filled with the only invited talks of the entire conference - overviews on Quantum Mechanics, Inflation, Non-String Quantum Gravity, String Theory (or Non-Non-String Quantum Gravity, as might have been more fair) …


There is nothing finer than the geek funny.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Line of the Day: 2007-08-11

Speaking on the topic of the recent law issued by the Chinese government regarding Tibetan/Buddhist reincarnations, Peter Sagal said this:

Just to make it fair: No application, they've announced, is necessary if you want to come back as an invertebrate, such as an earthworm, a jellyfish, or a Congressional Democrat.

Of course, you know what he's talking about.

BTW (he said after listening further into the show), do not miss the guest on the "Not My Job" segment. A bouncer for the Rolling Stones, urged by Keith Richards to make something of his life, is now a veterinarian. Howl!

Would You Believe …

… an interesting radio program on the Farm Bill?

Believe it or not, yes. The 10 August edition of NPR's "Science Friday" is quite good. Additional food topics are covered, too.

The direct audio link is not yet posted -- probably will be in a day or two. If you're impatient, you can get it right now by subscribing to the podcast. Info right on the same page.

Andrew Revkin on

This week's episode of "Science Saturday" on features a guest diavlogger: Andrew Revkin of the NY Times.

Revkin, who is paired with "SS" regular John Horgan, starts by describing the difficulties a reporter covering the environmental beat faces when writing for a mainstream audience. After years of fighting to get the story of the global warming taken seriously, Revkin now reports that the current problem is to resist pressure to write doomsday stories. Revkin speaks of the problems of pushing nuance and caveats through the newsroom. The diavlog gives him a good chance to achieve these goals. His description of the different levels of certainty about aspects of the GW phenomenon is particularly instructive.

I've had arguments about this last point with some of my green friends, who tend to substitute zealotry and political correctness for a lack of science education. I understand where the emotion comes from. We have had to fight for years to overcome the FUD put out by the energy industry shills [1], not to mention the distortions caused by MSM's "he said/she said" style. It's understandable that we're a little vengeful and that we remain on hair-trigger alert for further spin from the global warming denier crowd.

I am not at all a "global warming denier." I believe that human pumping of CO2 and other greenhouses gases into the atmosphere causes warming, that this is a real problem, and we'll have to significantly change our behavior to address it. I would label these aspects as close to fact as science ever gets.

The thing I worry about is exaggerating how sure we are about projections of the effects. First, this is scientifically dishonest, and therefore, immoral. Also, pragmatically, it could hurt our ability to make the best decisons about how to address the problem. And, politically, we could lose momentum if we have gone on record as equally sure about all aspects; if one piece is later shown to be untrue, that gives the denier crowd a fresh wedge to relaunch their campaigns.

Anyway, go watch Revkin and Horgan. It's good stuff.

[1] If you crave a big helping of red meat, the Revkin/Horgan page links to something that should satisfy: Sharon Begley's piece in Newsweek, "The Truth About Denial."

Censorship, American-style

(Many updates below. If your feed reader is complaining, I apologize.)

Sean Carroll's latest post, about his surfing experiences on a laptop in a hotel room in Beijing, is an interesting read.

Of course, things could be better here in the U.S., too, as Sean notes by linking to this post on Obsidian Wings. Good ol' AT&T.

(Update, a little later):

On an unrelated note: In an earlier post, Sean weighs in on "the God particle" as terminology, reacting to the same Dennis Overbye piece that I noted a few days ago. Sean is a physicist by profession, and also one of the best at communicating science to the interested lay audience (I've gushed [1], [2] about this before). His views are both worth considering and well-expressed.

(Update, a little more later):

This tends to happen every time I visit Sean's blog: I can't help but link to one piece, and then I keep reading, and another worthy post presents, and then another, and pretty soon, I have my own post that has nothing to do with my title or original thought. Nonetheless, you might enjoy reading what a theoretical physicist means when he says "axis of evil." Prior to that, fire up a separate browser window, visit this post, scroll to the bottom, and fire up some Mussorgsky for background music while reading. A full service blog, indeed.


2007-08-11 23:32 EDT

Okay. Just one more. From the same site, but this time, from Julianne Dalcanton. You want to read a great post on how a real scientist thinks? Read this.

Man. All I can say is, I wish I'd hung with these people, instead of the cool dope dealers, back in my college days.


2007-08-12 00:37 EDT

In another post, Julianne introduces (to me, at least) the term gastrophysics. I like it! (And we know now, at last, whence came gastronomy.)

Further on, she cites a cliché for the distant past: "… back when I was a grad student (you know, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the iPhone did not yet exist) …"

I don't know how any self-respecting person in her field neglects to add "… and when Pluto was a planet."

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Well, Jinnet would probably call it "spooky."

Following a link from her latest post, I typed in a birthday sorta close to mine, and got the following result:

You've outlived John F. Kennedy by 174 days.

If you make it 28 more days, you will outlive Judy Garland.

Obrunwawoo: A new word, from Ghana

You know how I always like a new word. Here is one from my cousin Kathy, who is spending the summer in Ghana.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Righteous Tongue-Lashing

(Updated below. Twice.)

A few days ago, I alluded to the lame group that we call "Congress." I was too discouraged about their cowardice in giving in to the Bush Administration on surveillance to write anything coherent.

Fortunately, the editorial board at the NYT got the job done. This is an excellent essay: "The Fear of Fear Itself."

Money quote:

… the spectacle left us wondering what the Democrats -- especially their feckless Senate leaders -- plan to do with their majority in Congress if they are too scared of Republican campaign ads to use it to protect the Constitution and restrain an out-of-control president.


2007-08-07 19:36 EDT

The WaPo has a good one, too.


2007-08-18 16:28 EDT

For the record …

Here are the 16 Senate Democrats who voted for Bush's surveillance bill (source): Bayh (IN), Carper (DE), Casey (PA), Conrad (ND), Feinstein (CA), Inouye (HI), Klobuchar (MN), Landrieu (LA), Lincoln (AR), McCaskill (MO), Mikulski (MD), Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), Salazar (CO), Webb (VA)

Here are the 6 Senate Democrats who could not be bothered to vote (source): Boxer (CA), Dorgan (ND), Harkin (IA), Johnson (SD), Kerry (MA), Murray (WA)

Here are the 41 House Democrats who voted for Bush's surveillance bill (source): Altmire, Barrow, Bean, Boren, Boswell, Boyd (FL), Carney, Chandler, Cooper, Costa, Cramer, Cuellar, Davis (AL), Davis (Lincoln), Donnelly, Edwards, Ellsworth, Etheridge, Gordon, Herseth Sandlin, Higgins, Hill, Lampson, Lipinski, Marshall, Matheson, McIntyre, Melancon, Mitchell, Peterson (MN), Pomeroy, Rodriguez, Ross, Salazar, Shuler, Snyder, Space, Tanner, Taylor, Walz (MN), Wilson (OH)

Here are the 9 House Democrats who could not be bothered to vote (source): Becerra, Clarke, Clay, Delahunt, Hinojosa, Kilpatrick, Klein (FL), Lantos, Skelton

More on the "God Particle"

A couple of weeks ago, I noted an article by Dennis Overbye that surveyed the current state of affairs in particle physics.

Overbye has written a follow-up piece that's quite entertaining. In this one, he talks about the heat he and Leon Lederman, the originator of the term, have received from saying "God Particle."

Overbye also mentions a new article that Lederman recently published. Here it is: "The God particle et al."

Monday, August 06, 2007

Contrarian Findings

I'm a big supporter of the "Buy Local" philosophy, especially when it comes to food. Having most recently lived in New York, Massachusetts, and California, this is an easy philosophy to live by and to preach, I'll admit.

Many of the reasons to prefer local produce still obtain, but the new one -- to reduce carbon emissions caused by shipping food long distances -- doesn't necessarily. Have a look at James E. McWilliams's piece, "Food That Travels Well." Lots of surprises, including this one example:

… lamb raised on New Zealand’s clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton while British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed. In other words, it is four times more energy-efficient for Londoners to buy lamb imported from the other side of the world than to buy it from a producer in their backyard. Similar figures were found for dairy products and fruit.

Now, the radical greens among us will say that we shouldn't eat anything if we can't grow it nearby. There's something to this, when considering luxury items, but I'm really not ready to give up, say, tangerines, at least not yet. Besides, McWilliams's article demonstrates how such a stance is really not practical for most of the world's population in any case. A fascinating piece.

Pic of the Day: 2007-08-06

Considering the look on the fans' faces, I was going to title this one "Crotch Shot of the Day." Fortunately, good taste prevailed.

A picture like this one of Joey Gathright rekindles my old love for baseball:

Joey Gathright catching a foul ball

(Click pic for larger version)

Photo credit: John Dunn for The New York Times. (source)

Webignominy Looming?

I sent an email to William C. Rhoden of the NYT, taking minor issue with a statistical argument that he used in his column [T$] today. Just got the following reply:

> BrendanQuibble noted and accepted!
> And thanks for the note

I presume he meant to insert a carriage return, a colon, or a hyphen after the first seven letters, but maybe I'm in peril of a new (probably well-deserved) nickname.

For the record, not that it's important, I've reproduced my email in the Comments.

Snark of the Day: 2007-08-06

It's the dullest thing I've seen all day, and I've been staring into a jar of pennies for the last half hour.
-- Choire Sicha, as quoted in the NYT

It's a funny line, but I don't actually agree with it. Sicha is speaking of, a news aggregation site. I've been looking for one of these. For some reason, neither Yahoo's nor Google's approach to aggregating headlines appeals. Maybe I just haven't messed with them enough, or maybe I'm just biased towards the new new (news) thing. At any rate, I had a favorable first impression of Newser.

Following a headline link from the home page leads to a summary of the story, which seems in most cases to have been written by the Newser staff; i.e., it's not just a scrape of the lede from the original story. The link to the original story is of course provided, and a number of links to related stories also appear. From the few that I've looked at so far, they seem quite relevant.

One of the site's design aspects that I really liked: You know how a lot of web pages these days have areas where if you hover over them with a mouse, a little window pops up, to expand upon the content in that area? Newser does this, too, with its headline stories, but here's the good part: In the pop-up window appears an explanation of what's happening, and the option to disable this behavior. Very nice!

They're in beta right now, but you can visit the site and browse around. No registration is required, but if you go through the free sign-up, you get additional services, like customizing what's shown and optional email alerts keyed to topics that interest you. (Some of these additional features have not yet been implemented, this being beta.)

Don't miss the NYT story that brought this to my attention, either. It's pretty good.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Rosa is My Hero

Did you catch Rosa Brooks's op-ed piece in Friday's LA Times? Good stuff.

You might also want to bookmark her column archive page, and check it frequently.

What (Else) is the Matter With Kansas?

From yet another story on earmarks, which trust me, you really don't want to read:

When Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, recently ridiculed a provision on the House floor to spend $100,000 on a prison museum near Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Representative Nancy Boyda of Kansas jumped to promote her district's heritage.

Leavenworth County, she boasted, had more prisons than any other county in America.

Heritage? Boasted?

To be fair, I guess the title of this post really should have been: "What's the Matter With Congress?" From the same story:

So far this year, House lawmakers have put together spending bills that include almost 6,500 earmarks for almost $11 billion in local projects …

Which must explain why they had no time to tend to trivialities like, say, a surveillance bill that would actually make the Bush Administration show some respect for the Constitution.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Just a nice pic

I was going to make some Golden Arches joke, but, really, this one just plainly appealed to me (click it to see a larger version):

Launch of the Mars Phoenix Lander

Photo credit: Mike Carlson/Reuters (source)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Not to mention "Mary Tyler Moore"

Disturbing image of the day:

… drug kingpins like Gavin MacLeod as Big Chicken, soaping up and singing that pidgin classic "Ain’t No Big T'ing, Bruddah" in a prison shower scene that may forever ruin "The Love Boat" for you.


I'm Baaaack! (Online)

(Updated below)

Frontier sent their man Brian over to run new phone lines from the pole to the new old house, and I can now make landline calls and surf the Web!

By the way, this is post #777, which might be thought lucky by some. However, I know that being superstitious is bad luck.

I'll be trying to catch up with email and comments tonight. See you soon.


2007-08-03 22:02 EDT

Actually, there's a little more to the story than that.

It started a few days ago, when I called Frontier to arrange for my phone and Internet service to be switched to the new address, and to have new lines run from the pole to the house. "No problem," they said, but they wouldn't be able to make it happen until the 3rd. Between 8 am and 5 pm was the closest estimate they could give.

You know how that huge time window works: plan for a morning arrival, and you wait all day. Expect that nothing will happen till afternoon, and there's someone banging on your door at 0800.

It was about 88 degrees last night, even at 10:30 pm. I had that awful "I have to get to sleep because I have to wake up early" feeling. Tossed, sweated, and turned until about 3. Finally fell asleep, got jolted awake by the alarm clock.

Made some coffee. Fed the cats. Set up the phone and computers, so that everything would be ready for testing. Right about during the last cable connection, I hear a deep voice in my driveway: "KEEFE. KEEFE?"

I looked out the window. There was a very large man in a very red shirt. The latter did have the Frontier logo, so I was happy. This was Brian. He ran the wire from the pole to the house, listened to what future considerations I had for my remodeling purposes, ran lines through the basement, and put the one jack right where I wanted it. I handed him the filter gizmo that accepts the phone line and the DSL modem output line, and outputs one phone line, and he plugged it in to the new wall jack. Phone worked fine. Internet? Not so much.

I had by that point verified that two computers could access the modem, one with a wire, one without, and could talk to each other through its routing capability, but no happy "DSL" or "Internet" LEDs were glowing.

I asked Brian if he could make a direct call into the office, and he said that they weren't allowed to anymore, "because one guy called from a customer's home just like you want, and she later used that number herself. Said, 'Your tech guy gave me this number.'" Nothing to do but climb through phone tree hell, he sympathized.

Brian left. I called. Went through phone tree hell. Eventually got connected to a human, explained the situation. Got transferred to the first-order tech support. This is where the troubleshooting consists of "check the connection of the phone line into the modem" and the hardcore solution is "try turning the modem off and turning it on again."

After patiently walking through all of this, and then restating my situation and the diagnostics I had already run, I had this guy at the end of his list. He said he'd put in a work order, and someone would call me back.


"Uh, noon. No, between noon and 4."

Not much to do except thank him and spend the rest of the day working with the cordless handset dangling off my belt. I did get the call around 1 pm. This was the next level of tech support, and the new guy did not waste time with the luser questions. Finally, he said that his screen was showing that my Internet service wasn't scheduled to be reactivated until Monday, but he'd try to put a rush on it.

Yeah, right.

He says someone will call back in an hour or two. I go back to work, phone a-dangling. Even a few extra ounces weigh a ton on a day this hot.

I eventually come back inside for some shade and water, and when my head stops swimming, I notice all five lights lit on the modem!

I tentatively fire up Firefox, do a speed test, and it's all good. I note this happiness in the original version of this post.

Now, here's the problem. How do I call to say, "All set, thanks!"? No way in the world am I going through that phone tree again. Well, I've had enough of walking around with the phone clanking my thigh, so I figure, back at DSL Central, someone just came back from lunch and clicked an activation box on his or her computer screen, and didn't bother to call. Or maybe, Frontier will call, just to say, "You should be all set now!" That's what answering machines are for, I decide.

Did a couple more hours work, came back in, guzzled some more water, decided to run for materials for tomorrow. Came back, loaded everything in, and hit the wall. Decided to have a beer on my stoop before heading over to my temporary shower facility (thanks, M&M!). Finished the beer, decided to have one more, finished that, went inside, gathered up some clothes, threw them in a bag, gathered up the to-be-replenished water jugs. I'm backing out of the house, arms full, trying to dissuade the resident manx from following, balanced on one foot, wrestling to lock the door. A voice from right over my shoulder: "HAVING A DSL PROBLEM?"

No, but my heart might need some attention.

Turns out to be what looks like a classic computer guru. He's wearing a red Frontier shirt. We talk for a bit, I explain how things just started working. We geek out massively for a couple of minutes. I am amazed that this guy is making a service call at 6:30 pm on a Friday. When it's still like a billion degrees out. I say, "I wish I could let you say that you had to spend an hour here, but I don't want to pay for the labor."

Since this was meat time, I did not have to use go sideways with my smiley face.