Friday, October 26, 2007


I've turned the CAPTCHA feature back on. (This is the twisty "word" you have to type in to post a comment.)

It appears that some spam bot found me -- fourteen "comments" were posted between yesterday and today. Deleting these is a laborious one-at-a-time process, and it's just too much of a pain to keep doing it.

I'll turn the CAPTCHA feature back off in a few days. Meantime, sorry for the inconvenience.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Can You Say "Statute of Limitations?"

From yet another story about yet another group of private contractors feeding at the trough blindly filled by yet another branch of the Bush Administration:

The State Department said it had improved monitoring of DynCorp, but in a letter to auditors department officials said that it would still take "three to five years" to reconcile fully the payments made to the company during the first two years of the training contract, beginning in February 2004.

Not to worry. We're only talking about a billion dollars that no one can account for. So nice when the grown-ups are in charge, isn't it?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

This seems counterintuitive

In an article on profiling in today's NYT, the following assertion is made:

Passengers with frequent-flier memberships are more often suspected of having malicious travel plans than those who don't participate, according to Professor Schauer.

There is no explanation given as to why this might be.

Not that I'm willing to reveal my secret identity as a master crimestopper or anything, but this is opposite to what I'd think. Absent any other information, I'd be more suspicious of someone who didn't want the frequent flier miles, because I'd think such a person (a) didn't have plans for a life long enough to use them and (b) wanted to stay out of a database.

Your speculations?

Saturday, October 20, 2007


(Updated below)

The second poll is up (over there in the sidebar).

Results from the last one: The majority thinks this blog's font is readable. No one voted for a change to sans-serif, so I guess all those young hot shot web designers don't know all demographics. I guess I'll stop fretting about this.

Coming in second was "Never mind the font. When's the content getting an upgrade?" I'll take it under advisement.

Thanks for voting!


2007-10-22 13:55

Clare noted that multiple-choice answers are sometimes too limited, so please feel free to expand on the thoughts underlying your vote in the Comments here. (You should see a new link to this post in the sidebar under the poll that points you here, as well.)

Republicans Gone Wild, Part (*** integer overflow ***)

Via Tom Tomorrow, we hear of yet another Gross Old Pedophile. The Green Bay Press-Gazette seems to be the primary source:

The chairman of the Republican Party in Brown County faces criminal charges for allegedly fondling a 16-year-old Ethan House runaway and providing the boy with beer and marijuana late last year.

Donald Fleischman, 37, of Allouez, was charged last month with two counts of child enticement, two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child and a single charge of exposing himself to a child.

The story reports that the Wisconsin Republican Party's communications director says Fleischman has resigned, but that they couldn't confirm this with Fleischman's own people.

Granted, Fleischman has yet to be convicted. But I'm adding to the buzz on this story because I'm a shameless partisan hack who mainlines schadenfreude because there's a stench of cover-up about this whole thing.

Is the Publish or Perish Grind Wearing You Down?

From Mark Trodden, via Julianne, the best motivational statement I've heard in years:

Once you have tenure, it's all edible panties, firearms, and blow.

I was going to title this post "So You Think Your Prof's a Stiff?," but …

A Small But Pleasing Victory

Phil Plait notes an update to the Sen. David Vitter story that I mentioned last month. Vitter had snuck an earmark into a Federal appropriations bill that would have given $100,000 to a Louisiana group that wants public schools to teach creationism as science. Now, thanks to reaction from the reality-based community, it ain't gonna happen.

Plait gives partial credit, and rightly so, I think, to the blogosphere for bringing Vitter's tactics to light. Whether or not my tiny contribution helped, I'm proud to have been part of the protest.

Phil's source for the news is this piece in the Times-Picayune, which is worth a look if you want to see some clumsy backpedaling by Vitter.

On a related note, in an earlier post, Phil links to a great editorial in the Calgary Herald, titled "Schools should put faith in science." Evidently, Canada is starting to suffer wingnut infestation as well.

Most Obviously Untrue Introductory Clause Ever

From a NYT story about a Rudy Giuliani speech:

Mr. Giuliani spoke with a tone of humility …

Let's see how the sentence continues.

… saying at one point: "I come to you today as I would if I were your president …"


Line of the Day:2007-10-20

Last year, Hollywood producer Joseph Medawar was convicted of conning investors out of $5.5 million for a bogus TV show on the Department of Homeland Security called D.H.S.: The Series. Medawar spent the money but never produced anything, which makes it the most realistic portrayal of DHS yet.
-- Bruce Reed

Friday, October 19, 2007

Huckabee Hound

It's been a while since I've indulged in fisking David Brooks. Lately, he's been showing signs of coming to his senses, at least on some issues. He occasionally borders on sounding sane these days, both in his column and on his point-counterpoint gig on PBS's News Hour. Sure, he still coughs up one of his patented sociology-as-seen-from-suburbia navel gazers from time to time, but I can forgive overlook these. Coming up with a column twice a week isn't as easy as blogging when the mood strikes.

But then there's this, from out of nowhere, a love letter to Mike Huckabee.

Let's pick it up in the middle of the lede.

But it’s quickly clear that Huckabee is as good a campaigner as anybody running for president this year.

And by "anybody," I mean "anybody in the GOP." And by "quickly," I mean "it only took me a year to come up with this."

I get that a not-completely-unhinged guy like Brooks has to be appalled at the front runners in the Republican Party. Giuliani wants to start World War Whatever. Hard as is to conceive of the possibility, Romney is both creepier and less trustworthy. And Thompson? (Long pause for laughter, or a collective under-the-breath "OMFG," depending on the audience.)

But really. The standard for bars has never been lower.

And before too long it becomes easy to come up with reasons why he might have a realistic shot at winning the Republican nomination:

First, Republican voters here and in Iowa are restless. That means that there will be sharp movements during the last 30 days toward whoever seems fresh and hot.

Shorter version: I have no idea how any of this is going to play out.

... Huckabee is the most normal person running for president ...

Bars, low, very. (op. cit.)

... he is part of the new generation of evangelical leaders.

Did he raise his hand when asked, "Who here doesn't believe in evolution?"

Yes he did. So, define "new."

... though you wouldn’t know it from the past few years, the white working class is the backbone of the G.O.P. Huckabee is most in tune with these voters.

Redacted: I don't actually have any statistics to back this up, but the assertions sound good, don't they? (And wait'll you hear 'em said live on TV!)

He tells audiences that the only soap his family could afford was the rough Lava soap, and that he was in college before he realized showering didn’t have to hurt.

Yup. And Alberto Gonzales sold crap from the trunk of his car. Or his father did. No matter. The key is, a heart-warming personal story guarantees exemplary public service.

He condemns "immoral" C.E.O. salaries ...

Which won't ever happen again if he moves out of the second tier and starts having to ask for real money.

... and on global trade he sounds like a Democrat: "There’s no free trade without fair trade."

He's the bold candidate for all people! He dares to makes vague statements when he's in single digits in the polls!

... he’s a former governor. He talks about issues in a down-to-earth way that other candidates can’t match. For example, he’s got a riff on childhood obesity that rivets the attention of his audiences.

One point to Mr. Brooks for not saying that I/you/he/we would like to have a beer with him. But other than that, the NYT Sunday magazine already puffed him on this suitable-for-Oprah-fans weight loss story. What else you got?

... he’s a collaborative conservative.

What brand does that make me think of ... ? Wait! I've got it! It's two, two, two brands in one! "Compassionate conservative" PLUS "Uniter, not a divider!" And both of those worked out really, really well!

He also criticizes the Bush administration for its arrogance.

He is so far ahead of the curve on this one, isn't he? After all, 24% of the country has yet to achieve this insight.

He is a solid conservative who is both temperamentally and substantively different from the conservatives who have led the country over the past few years.

He's got the old values, but he's all new? Maybe Brooks will clarify?

Too late! Word limit looming! Final graf just ahead!

He’s rising in the polls, especially in Iowa. His popularity with the press corps suggests he could catch a free media wave that would put him in the top tier.

And by "press corps," I mean "me." And by "free," I mean "I work cheap, don't I?" And by "suggests," I mean, "Don't hold me to any of this. Please."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Version 2007: Round 1

Andrew notes that WingNutDaily has fired the first salvo in this year's culture war.

I respond thus:

(click pic to zoom)

It Is But To Dream

From John Cole, via Andrew Sullivan, two questions we'd like asked of all Republicans running for president:

• Would you have sex with a man to stop a terrorist attack?
• If you had a time machine, would you travel back in time and abort Bin Laden?

On a related note, I saw this comment from The Exterminator over at John's place:

Wouldn't it be great if they discovered that the alleged gayness-gene and the so-called god-gene were mutually dependent …?


I have no idea where that title came from. There is precisely one Google result returned for this exact phrase. Maybe reincarnation is true?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Best Blogger Portrait Evah

Agent Zero

Agent Zero, aka Gilbert Arenas

I'm posting this mostly as a reminder to self, now that roundball is returning. And because I like the picture, of course.

I look at AGENT ZERO: THE BLOG FILE every now and again. It's a bit heavy on the self-promotion (News flash: pro atheletes have big egos! And endorsement contracts!) but a lot of it feels tongue-in-cheek. There's gossip, trash talking, and laughs to be had, and occasionally, some real diary moments (e.g., "The Gary Payton Story").

If you're into inside baseball basketball, check it out. Although it's hosted on the official NBA site, it's not excessively sanitized.

T-shirt of the Day: 2007-10-17

bad grammar makes me [sic]

No, really. I was only looking at the words.

More models here. Of shirts, I mean.

Dennet on Darwin

screen grab of Daniel Dennet

(Updated: title typo)

Via John, the Evolutionary Middleman, I came across a video of Daniel Dennet giving a talk titled "Darwin's Dangerous Idea."

Since I swiped John's link, I'll swipe part of his pitch, too:

Even those who are steeped in evolutionary theory will be enlightened by some of his unique insights. Fair warning -- it is over an hour long and by the end you will wish it was two!

I completely agree. It started out seeming a little basic to me, but I know Dennet -- he's a philosopher by profession, so he likes to lay a firm foundation for his ideas. He's a fine speaker, with a gentle voice and a good sense of humor, so I wasn't suffering, and, within a few minutes, I was hooked.

This isn't just a straight lecture on natural selection. Part of Dennet's purpose is to analyze why some people find Darwin's ideas so hard to accept, and to rebut their arguments against evolution. Then he takes another step, going beyond purely anatomical characteristics, and examines how the growth of human ideas, beliefs, and languages can be explained by the same evolutionary mechanisms.

Highly recommended. Watch it here.

Latest Keef

Nah, he's not a relative. But I wished I shared his comic gene-ius.

The latest. The archives.


As you might recall, I had a monitor die on me recently. It wasn't a catastrophe; I had an almost identical one that I had bought used via Craigslist last year (a bargain, of many sorts), so it was only a matter of getting another carton out of storage. Unfortunately, starting a couple of days ago, I'm seeing flakiness in this one, too. I'd be paranoid about an electrical problem if it weren't for the fact that the computer itself, along with several peripherals, draws from the same outlet, and they've all been fine. My new hypothesis: The Gateway EV-700 engineers had designed obsolescence nailed more precisely than I had previously thought possible.

Then, I get two emails from regular correspondents, one day apart. In the spirit of sharing the pain, let's hear next from TC.

I've been down with the computer for a day. The off/on button on my monitor bit the dust and froze in the off position, so I couldn't get on to do anything. I called around this morning to try and get it repaired and nobody wants to work on monitors especially a small job like putting in a new switch where they won't make 300 dollars. Strictly PC in Morro Bay told me that it's $ 75 to check it out and then there would be the charge on top of that for the repair and really he didn't want to fool with it and suggested that I buy a new one. Star computer in Morro Bay told me that the parts are impossible to get and recommended that I buy a new one. Too bad Midstate Electronics isn't around to do small repairs.

So I went to Best Buy and bought a new floor sample with a $ 30 discount. The sales guy said I'll get you some cords for it because the floor samples use some that are wired into the wall. He went in back and came back with the cords. When I got home I tried to set it up and the monitor cable won't work because the plug is on the reverse way for the monitor so you can't plug it into the monitor. The cord comes out of the side of the plug instead of the back and the cord runs into the monitor so you can't plug it in. So I have to drive 60 miles to SLO again tomorrow to try and get the correct cord. 120 miles round trip each time today and tomorrow, so it's going to cost me 6 gallons of gas to get it going. 6 gallons times $ 3.17, and I break even on the savings if you don't count the hassle and time for anything. My jinx with computers continues. God doesn't want me to have one or at least to enjoy it. Sheesh.

I love the "explanations" we all reach for when we're beset by electronic gremlins. TC is as much of an atheist as I am.

KK isn't, but here, his mind goes to an earlier god, who, evidently, is a food nazi.

This morning when I got up I blew out the USB ports (with pressurized air) in the front of the PC - transferred the keyboard from the laptop (see below) to the PC there. It worked. I did the same in the back -didn't work. Back to the front -didn't work …

Then I remembered your "leave it in." Five or ten minutes later, it worked. Into the back - didn't work. Five or ten minutes later (I should have timed it) it worked.

Thank goodness, 'cause I've just returned from Mike the Computer Guy's shop. My lap top began to act funny when I was at the condo with Dan and Carol a few weeks ago. Freezing, restarting by itself -wouldn't shut off sometimes, etc. Finally I took out the battery and put it back in. It coughed a few times and then seemed to work just fine for the two or three days left.

But after seeming fine for the first few days with Jill and Keith, it started the same old thing. Battery out and in then work for a few hours, then have to force off. On AC or battery - usually I got it rolling, but brought it home to have it checked out. It worked last night, and some this morning, but I guess it was mad at my lunch selection and refused to do more than hum when I "started" it.

So, electronically: My Nikon is back with Nikon for the third time.

I have three watches. One, my old Seiko, at random times loses five or six minutes. I bought (On a Pulsar. It now does the same thing. Dan gave me a watch last month, one of those four buttons, each of which, when pressed in exactly the right order, sets the time and alarms, date changes, etc. Tunes the TV. Too complicated to use except as watch. It too began to lose five minute chunks. None of them do so when they are not on my wrist.

My PC keyboard has cowed me.

My laptop is in the shop.

I'm afraid to buy an electric toothbrush.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I give it 48 hours before O'Reilly blames it on the KOSsacks

The unwashed teeming masses that infest teh Internets scored another victory last week. No, no, I'm not talking about the poll results. I'm just loving the fit of pique they provoked in another clueless suit.

Tim Grieve has the details.

And Now, A Message of Christian Love From Pat Robertson

Actually, it'd be funny if the underlying story weren't so sad.

(h/t: Clif)

Toward An Understanding of their Angst

Have you caught wind of the outrage being expressed in certain quarters, about Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize?

I'll admit that there might be a little something to the claim that the Nobel Committee is motivated by politics. My sense is that they tend to recognize people who have done something about a problem that they think merits more attention. But the level of vitriol being expressed everywhere from the WSJ opinion pages to the dank cellars of the rightosphere is truly astounding. Why should this be?

Paul Krugman has as good a list of explanations as any.

One thing PK doesn't mention which has crossed my mind: the right fears Al Gore stepping into the race for president. I no longer think that Gore is going to do this, absent a meltdown by the leading Democratic contenders. But it would be pretty funny if the Republicans' efforts to smear Hillary over the past year were suddenly for naught.


Tangential note: As I look at PK's column at this moment, the first, second, third, and fifth-most emailed articles from the NYT come from people who used to be locked behind the TimesSelect wall. I hope that's working out for the company; you know the columnists themselves have to love it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Poll Dancing

Blogger/Blogspot offered me a new widget and I accepted. If you look over on the sidebar, you should see a poll. Vote early and often!

The mechanics of this new gee-whiz-imo seem a little clunky -- it appears to slow page loading a tiny bit, and I've noticed some minor weirdnesses in how it behaves after playing around with it for a short while. But, it could be fun. More importantly, it could be a small step up the Coolness Chart, something that I climb in the forlorn hopes of someday catching Mr. Sandwich.

Please let me know if you experience any problems.

One More From TPM

If you like the Daily Show, you might also like this: "TPMtv: John McCain vs. The Video Tape."

It's not as immediately funny as the work of Jon Stewart et al, but it's as devastating as anything they've ever produced. It never fails to amaze me how often Republicans will just flat out lie contradict themselves, when you'd think they'd be aware that yesterday's assertions were also recorded.

Don't worry about the monkey at the start of the video. It's just part of the set-up.

Need Another Reason To Hate Willard?

Your moment of Romney, ably shredded by Steve Benen and friends.




Couple other good ones from today's TPM: a LOL @ Condi and some cackling at the MSM.

Herbert Hits a Homer

Bob Herbert knocked one out of the park with today's op-ed. He's thinking about Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize and the connection to the presidency, starting with the upcoming election.

The first thing media types wanted to know was whether this would prompt Mr. Gore to elbow his way into the presidential campaign. That's like asking someone who's recovered from a heart attack if he plans to resume smoking.

Then a look back:

Mr. Bush came to mind because, for all of the obvious vulnerabilities he exhibited in 2000, it was not him but Mr. Gore who was mocked unmercifully by the national media. And the mockery had nothing to do with the former vice president’s positions on important policy issues. He was mocked because of his personality.

In the race for the highest office in the land, we showed the collective maturity of 3-year-olds.

 … and back to the present, after quoting a nuanced thought from Gore:

That's just the kind of thoughtful comment that can’t get a real hearing in our sound-bite politics. The result is that reality, untidy and complex, is almost always trumped by well-crafted phoniness.

Which brings us to Mr. Giuliani.

Inside baseball (metaphor continued): Ten points to the first person who can pick up the subtle dig that Herbert delivers to Maureen Dowd (hint: not listed in any of the above excerpts).

And if you're really into inside baseball, Gail Collins has a great quiz for you, right on the same page. (Thanks for vanishing, TimesSelect!)


More Gore Lore, from Jon Chait (h/t: TPM).

Positive Insubordination?

There's an interesting article in the NYT that reports on a debate between mid-level officers over who is more at fault for Iraq: Rumsfeld or the generals?

I've been thinking about this one since the war started. Leaving aside the obvious bone of contention that the war should never have started in the first place (and hence, the blame goes to Bush and Cheney), and just stipulating that the war "had to" be fought, the question is, should the uniformed officers have spoken up more forcefully against the SecDef's war plan?

My immediate response was to say, "Of course!" But almost as quickly, you have to ask, how is it a good thing for soldiers to disobey the civilian oversight that is the hallmark of our society? One need only look at Turkey for an example of what happens when the military feels permitted to overrule the will of the people.

No resolutions, either in the article or from me. Just something interesting to contemplate and debate.

You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Your Ticket

On the heels of the NYT's state lottery story that I commented on recently comes another. According to today's paper, several states are now considering "leasing" their lotteries to private companies.

There are some immediate concerns that leap to mind. The first thing that comes to mind, for me: What about the chunk of the state's take on the lottery that is earmarked for education spending? As I noted in the earlier post, it's a small percentage of education spending, but still, it is billions of dollars. If the lottery income gets replaced by a one-step-removed stream of payments from some Wall Street firm who bought the rights to run the lottery, will it be easier for the funds to be redirected, away from education?

There's also the obvious worry that comes about when the government hands over control of something where big money is involved. What happens when, say, the business running the lottery says "We're not making as much money as we were, so we want to cut our yearly payments to the state." What happens when accusations are raised that the business is running a crooked table; e.g., paying out less to winners than might be merited by sales? So, obviously, you're going to need a regulatory agency of some sort. This means another layer of bureaucracy, not to mention a few key government employees susceptible to kid-glove treatment by lobbyists.

It's worth considering, as well, how much more aggressively a private company would market the lottery. As I noted in my earlier post, I'm on the fence about the government protecting adults from their own vices, but it does seem likely that poor people are going to be exposed to more commercials pushing the lottery. Who will be responsible for the truth in that advertising?

A final thought: if a private company can run the lottery, then why wouldn't any other gambling operation also be legal? I'm sure that the argument in response here will be that the private company doesn't own the lottery, but is merely running it, but this seems to be only a semantic difference. After all, it's not like the private company is being paid to perform a service. It's paying for control of the game and for the right to maximize its own profits. Sort of like leasing federal lands for the right to extract oil.

Yeah. Nothing to worry about here.

Line of the Day: 2007-10-12

Rudy Giuliani has just announced a new raft of foreign policy advisors. And I guess the premise of the campaign is now that the Bush administration wasn't sufficiently riddled by neoconservative whackjobs.
-- Josh Marshall

Friday, October 12, 2007

Even Jar-Jar Was Never This Bad

(Updated: just wordsmithing)

There's a long piece in last month's Rolling Stone on the U.S. missile defense program. It's written by Jack Hitt, and I highly recommended it.

If you are on the fence about this program, the piece should prove instructive. If you're against it, you might like the details. If you're for it, I challenge you to read the entire article, and then say that again.

Pardon the long post. I just couldn't resist any of these excerpts.

Perhaps you'd like some background music to get you into the appropriately surreal mood while reading:

Let's start with a taste of the boondogglery:

Then, after Osama bin Laden blew a hole in the Pentagon in 2001, Donald Rumsfeld plowed even more money into missile defense -- even though the system was designed to counter large, trackable strikes by an enemy nation rather than small, asymmetrical threats from isolated terrorists. Indeed, the shield's hasty progress from drawing board to hardware resembles nothing so much as the Iraq War: engineered by neoconservatives, founded on blurry threat assessments, approved over the complaints of enfeebled Democrats, its mission periodically adjusted to accommodate the prevailing political winds.

Today, thanks to Rumsfeld's devotion to the shield, missile defense is the single most-expensive weapons system in the American arsenal. The Bush administration has nearly tripled Clinton's average missile defense budget, to $11-billion a year -- a sum almost four times larger than the U.S. government's total spending on energy research. By 2013, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, missile defense will be costing us nearly $19-billion a year -- roughly half the current budget for the entire Department of Homeland Security.

Missile defense exists in a world of its own. It has a special budget process that exempts it from most congressional oversight, and it is pioneering a new acquisitions process that redefines the very nature of what constitutes a "threat." The system has a separate definition to denote what it means for a weapon to "work" and even what it means to "know" something to be true. The shield operates beyond the world of empirical testing, and outside the four service branches of the U.S. military.

Oh, and by the way? All this money, and even a brochure put out by the program itself admits there's no chance it would work against an all-out missile attack launched, say, by Russia or China. Currently, it's being pitched as defense against North Korea and Iran. Take it away, Jack.

But the State Department recently reached a diplomatic agreement with North Korea that would eliminate its nuclear weapons program, and Iran is years away from developing nuclear capabilities. So whose warheads will the shield protect us from? In August, during a lecture at a missile defense convention, one proponent of the system suggested the possibility of a new ballistic threat from a country that currently possesses no missiles: Venezuela.


Does it get more inane? You bet. See page 6 for how the program might be expanded to defend against aliens from outer space. See page 7 for the new style of evaluating whether this will ever work: faith-based testing. I am not making this up.

Okay, so "faith-based" is Hitt's term. Rumsfeld's term of art was "capability-based." But they both would agree, unlike the testing done for every other piece of procured military hardware, it's specifically not "knowledge-based." Who knew Rummy hated "Old Pentagon" as much as "Old Europe?"

More numbers: Hitt quotes Joseph Cirincione, a national security expert at the Center for American Progress:

The Manhattan Project cost about $22-billion in today's dollars -- and we got a bomb. So far, missile defense has cost more than $100-billion …

And there's this:

In 2003, the American Physical Society convened a study group of top scientists from MIT, Cornell, Stanford, Sandia Labs and Los Alamos … Their conclusion: "With the technology we judge could become available within the next fifteen years, defending against a single ICBM would require a thousand or more interceptors." Currently, we have twenty-two.

How about a little more faith-based thinking? Glad you asked. One key component of the system is called the SBX. This is a radar unit that is supposed to detect the incoming missile (note singular). It's mounted on a ship, about which an SBX engineer says:

It is built to commercial standards, for better or worse, and those are just different from what the Navy does. They intend their hulls to get shot at, and we are really hoping that doesn't happen to us.

My bad. It's not faith-based. It's hope-based.

As to how this program got so out of control, tell me if any of this sounds familiar:

To understand what happened, it is necessary to dial back the clock to 1994, when Newt Gingrich and the new Republican majority took over Congress. To make the case that America faced new threats in the post-Cold War world -- and thus needed to maintain a big defense budget -- Congress ordered America's intelligence agencies to assess the new dangers. The resulting National Intelligence Estimate was issued in 1995.

The problem began when the NIE arrived. The report concluded that there weren't any immediate threats: "The Intelligence Community judges that in the next fifteen years, no country other than the major declared nuclear powers will develop a ballistic missile that could threaten the contiguous forty-eight states or Canada."

Republicans immediately attacked this report. "Extraordinarily sloppy work," declared Sen. John Kyl of Arizona. Missile boosters mandated that a congressional commission be assembled to study this obviously flawed assessment. To ensure they got the answer they wanted, they stacked the commission with Republicans and put Robert Gates, a former CIA director, in charge. Yet Gates and his team concluded that not only was the NIE correct but that things were even less dire than stated.

Enraged, Congress mandated yet another commission. This time, the chairman was none other than Donald Rumsfeld. Working alongside Paul Wolfowitz, the future secretary of defense finally came up with the result that Republicans were looking for. The Rumsfeld Commission established a new standard of threat, asserting that any country with Scud technology would be able to easily convert to ICBM capability. Most important, they determined that the earlier intelligence efforts were flawed because they looked only at "likely" threats instead of "possible" threats -- such as North Korea and Iran and Venezuela.

Read the whole thing.

(h/t: Lawyers, Guns and Money)


(Updated below)

Congratulations to Al Gore and the IPCC for winning the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Rude Pundit has a nice essay reflecting on Gore's achievements since 2000, especially as contrasted with George Bush's.


2007-10-13 00:21


You know, with Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize for his environmental activism, it really makes the Nader voters look prescient, doesn't it?
-- Josh Marshall

Security Updates -- Windows, Java, and QuickTime

(Updated: just wordsmithing)


Probably you have Automatic Updates turned on for Windows. If not, stop what you're doing and go visit There are some nasty holes to be patched, particularly in IE.


Sun announced a security upgrade for the Java Runtime Environment, which will take you to Version 6 Update 3. You probably have some version of the JRE installed -- this is what enables you and your browser to run Java apps on web sites that use them. I didn't get a notification about installing the upgrade, as has happened in the past, so you might not, either. Fortunately, we have Brian Krebs.

To check your version of Java, visit and click on the "Do I have Java?" link. This link will examine your version and offer any needed upgrades. I had Version 6 Update 2 installed. The upgrade was about 7 MB and took about three minutes. It works through the browser, so you'll have to restart your browser after the installation is complete for the upgrade to take effect.


Krebs also recently noted another QuickTime security update. (I imagine this applies to Mac users as well, but I don't have my Mac hooked up right now to verify this.) On the Windows platform, the update is only available for Windows XP and Vista, so I can't say anything about it -- Apple insists my Win2K machine's version is up to date, even though the version number for QuickTime is well behind what's current.

NB: If you think you don't have QuickTime installed, but you do have iTunes installed, then you probably have QuickTime lurking on your machine. This applies to both Macs and PCs.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wish I Hadn't Already Overused "Sign of the Times"

Swiped from Beth Stewart's BooksEtc.:

Beware.  Just Beware.

Titan-ic Piece of Trivia

Learn Something New Every Day Department:

Had you asked me up till five minutes ago whether Saturn's largest moon was ever visible to an Earth-bound naked eye, I would have said no. Now, thanks to The Astronomy Picture of the Day, I'm not so sure.

Tip: Let your mouse hover over the image if you don't see it at first.

I don't know whether the visibility is due to a prolonged camera exposure, but it's still pretty amazing.

Same As It Ever Was

For 10 points, who was Paul Krugman channeling in his Monday op-ed?

Now, as they survey the wreckage of their cause, conservatives may ask themselves: "Well, how did we get here?" They may tell themselves: "This is not my beautiful Right." They may ask themselves: "My God, what have we done?"

Pretty hip for an ivory tower guy.

Yeah, I hate guys like this, too

What I noticed was that his [Obama's] answers tended to be so nuanced, so thoughtful, that I wanted to shout, "Too substantive! Come one [sic], this is supposed to be POLITICS."
-- Joel Achenbach

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Flagging Response

Eugene Volokh had an op-ed in today's WSJ, flogging Barack Obama for his recent statement about ditching the by-now-obligatory flag lapel pin. I had noticed with approval Obama's decision when it first made the news, and I should have posted a sign of my support about it then. But I didn't, probably because I find it easier to criticize than to compliment.

Roy took Volokh down in his usual smart way (read: better than I ever could) over on alicublog, so I'll not go on at length about the op-ed. Here's what I added in the comments under Roy's post:

It's sad to hear Volokh say things like this. I only know him from BloggingHeads and an occasionally look at his blog, but he'd previously struck me as smarter than this.

That stupid flag lapel pin has driven me crazy since about, oh, September 21, 2001. It's a meaningless and shallow statement, precisely equivalent to a yellow "ribbon" magnetic thing saying "Support Our Troops." It's only significant to mouth-breathers who look for its absence.

Actually, it's worse than that. Most people who puff their chests out to show you their stupid lapel pin are actually the ones doing the most to destroy the really important things that our flag stands for. Or at least, once did.

Obama's decision only makes me like him better.

[Too bad I didn't see my bad adverb until now. And, actually ...]

Last century, my sister MK argued with me when I expressed impatience about some other instance of ritualistic flag waving. She said that we shouldn't let the other side claim the flag for their own, that it was ours, too, and we shouldn't surrender its use as a symbol. It was a good enough point to shut me up then.

In the abstract, her point may still have merit. But day-to-day, lately, here in reality? The flag -- as a symbol -- is mostly offensive to me. Maybe we need a new one.

What, Is It April 1st Already?

From the latest newsletter out of Redmond: Now available: Windows Security and Directory Services for UNIX Guide v1.0. Really.

Customers who bought this also chose:

  • Dick Cheney's Handbook of Human Kindness
  • Britney Spears on Responsible Parenting
  • George W. Bush: Lessons I Learned in the 21st Century

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

DST: Don't Fall Back Too Soon

You might recall that the starting and ending dates for Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. were changed this year. We're coming up on the old date to "fall back;" i.e., set clocks back an hour. Depending on your computer, its operating system, and how scrupulous you are about updating, your computer might reset its clock one week too soon: at 2:00 am on 28 October, instead of at 2:00 am on 4 November.

This, of course, will mean the end of civilization as we know it.

If you straightened out the DST problem back in March (after, say, reading this and this), you'll probably be all set, but it won't hurt to be doubly aware come the end of October.

Wait. End of October? Why are you bothering me with this now?

I wanted to note this, and gather up the pertinent links, while I thought of it, having just been notified by a newsletter from Microsoft. I'll try to remember to post a reminder closer to that date, for those of you who depend on this blog to solve all of life's dilemmas.

More details, for Windows users, available here and here.

Legal Question

(Updated below)

I was looking up something in that quaint old document, the United States Constitution, and now, more than ever, I am moved to ask: How does the government get away with ill-treatment of non-Americans, given Amendment 14, Section 1?

I quote (emph. added):

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.


2007-10-09 17:48

I have been straightened out on this one, thanks to Don McArthur. Further clarification in the Comments.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Thought for the Day: 2007-10-07

Mark Crispin Miller, the author of "The Bush Dyslexicon," once made a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms -- "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family," and so on -- have involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and compassionate.
-- Paul Krugman

What Would Shirley Jackson Say?

Today's NYT has an interesting and thoroughly researched article about state-run lotteries.

You might recall how many of these programs were originally pitched: proceeds were to go to schools. As is all too often the case when the private sector, the government, and big money are tangled, the results are a little less than the promise:

... among the states that earmark lottery money for education, lottery dollars accounted for 1 percent or less of the total K-12 education financing (including all state, federal and local revenue) last year in at least five states, including New Jersey. New York had the highest percentage, 5.3 percent.

Now, it's not all bad. Percentages can be misleading. The raw numbers:

State lotteries raised more than $56 billion and returned $17 billion to the state governments last year.

It's hard to say, given the current political climate, if $17 billion could have been raised through taxes. On the other hand, it's also hard to say how much of existing tax revenue originally earmarked for schools was spent in other ways, since the state governments had this new source of revenue. Certainly, I remember Pete Wilson playing games like this when he was governor of California. The NYT piece has other examples.

There's also the consideration of the morality of the whole thing. According to the sidebar to the story:

Massachusetts has the highest lottery spending per resident, at $699 … 

The libertarian in me says, whatever. Let adults make their own choices. For a lot of people, a few bucks here and there buys, if nothing else, a chance to dream for a little while.

The liberal in me recalls Mario Cuomo, who once characterized supporters of lotteries as cowardly politicians balancing the budget on the backs of poor people. Seven hundred bucks a year is a non-trivial amount of money to spend, especially when the chances are good that the big spenders have no grasp of the odds.

I guess if I were king, I'd permit the lotteries to remain. But I'd require that part of the proceeds pay for a required one-semester course in high school on probability and statistics.

(Post title explained)

Those Were The Days

An excerpt from the U.S. Treaty with Tripoli, unanimously ratified by the Senate in June 1797:

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.


(h/t: Jon Meacham)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Go To The Doghouse. Now.

If you've followed my earlier advice, you've already seen these. If not, read Doghouse Riley on David Brooks and Jenna Bush.

Why DR isn't a major op-ed columnist says a lot about what's wrong with the MSM.

Good for what ails ya

Kyklops has just posted a useful tonic.

And after you enjoy that, start at his main page, scroll down, and have a look at the photos he's been posting lately. Good stuff.

Condemn This?

Via Joan Walsh, we see a story titled "Sycophant Savior," about one General David Petraeus.

Published in?

The American Conservative.


Petraeus has chosen a middle course, carefully crafted to cause the least amount of consternation among various Washington constituencies he is eager to accommodate. This is the politics of give and take, of horse trading, of putting lipstick on a pig. Ultimately, it is the politics of avoidance.

A political general in the mold of Washington or Grant would have taken a different course, using his moment in the spotlight not to minimize consternation but to stir it up to the maximum extent. He would have capitalized on his status as man of the hour to oblige civilian leaders, both in Congress and in the executive branch, to do what they have not done since the Iraq War began—namely, their jobs. He would have insisted upon the president and the Congress making decisions that wartime summons them--and not military commanders--to make. Instead, Petraeus issued everyone a pass.


... he has broken faith with the soldiers he commands and the Army to which he has devoted his life. He has failed his country. History will not judge him kindly.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Pick Your Candidate With Just Eleven Questions

Dan sent me a link to a fun quiz that matches your views on various issues with the candidates' stated positions. Here are my results:

Dennis Kucinich (Score: 56)
Mike Gravel (Score: 50)
Chris Dodd (Score: 48)
Bill Richardson (Score: 46)
Hillary Clinton (Score: 43)
Barack Obama (Score: 43)
John Edwards (Score: 39)
Ron Paul (Score: 38)
Joe Biden (Score: 31)
Rudy Giuliani (Score: 25)
John McCain (Score: 14)
Mitt Romney (Score: 12)
Jim Gilmore (Score: 7)
Sam Brownback (Score: 5)
Mike Huckabee (Score: 1)

Nonetheless, I'm still voting for Obama. Which raises the obvious question: What's the Matter with Brendan?

You can take the quiz here.


The occasion of the Kilostone got me to thinking about comments, so I'm going to try an experiment. I'm turning off the CAPTCHA -- the twisty letters you have to type to post a comment -- to see what happens.

Ideally, more of you will feel encouraged to add your thoughts, and the amount of comment spam won't be too obnoxious. We shall see.

Line of the Day: 2007-10-04

Coming soon: Rudy explains how 9/11 taught him that homosexuality is wrong.
-- Gail Collins

Strange Pitcher

Strange Pitcher

Looks like the shoe is on the other foot now.

On the other hand ...

Arms akimbo?

(Desperately trying to resist urge to make Thalidomide joke.)

Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters (found here)

Got Milked?

Yesterday morning, after having had a good-bye coffee with Clare at Spot, I was walking back to my car. There was a guy sitting on a low wall nearby, and we made eye contact, and we did the nod thing that one does in a small city -- in between the full greeting of a small town and the "look hard or look away" strategy that Andrew Vachss advises for NYC.

The guy called out to me after I had turned to get in my car, and I figured it would be the usual plea for spare change. I don't usually give handouts, for a long and complicated set of reasons that I am unable to articulate fully. But I usually try to say "no," politely. (Which I'm sure means the world to hungry street people.) So I turned to do that.

The pitch started out in a usual manner: "I'm just trying to get to my mother's house … I'm not a bum … look at me, you can see that I'm dressed better than that … " But then it got a little different -- he eventually came right out and asked for a ride.

Now, I used to hitchhike all the time, and I had some amazing experiences, getting picked up and driven way out of the driver's way, and so I'm inclined to pass along, or pay back, the good karma, for lack of a better term. So I said, "Where you looking to go?" I heard an answer that sounded coherent and nearby, and so, what the hell. "Yeah, come on."

He thanked me profusely, and got in. He was a giant. I indicated the seat adjustment. He introduced himself as Charlie, and we shook hands. I pulled away from the curb, banged a U-y, looked in my rear view mirror, and saw a cop. Crap.

I got the hairy eyeball from the cop, but he passed me by. I guessed out loud that he was heading for his coffee break.

Charlie was happier than I that we didn't get pulled over. As in, waaaaay happier. Turned out that he had just finished a ten-year bit in prison. Nine days ago. ("I'm in the halfway house now.") And, as sad as I am to say that this makes a difference, Charlie is black. Thinking back, he was the probably the one getting the long look from the cop. Me, in my pale skin and sedate sedan, not so much.

Anyway, we get to where I'm to drop Charlie off. He has meanwhile asked if I had a cell phone (I lied and said no, for reasons still unclear to me), asked me where I lived, which I told, and gotten me to agree to give him a couple of bucks for a coffee. We get to his mother's house, and her car isn't there, so he asks me to run him to the coffee shop down the street. I do so.

I pull to the curb in front of the shop, pull out my wallet, and give him what singles I have. He says, "As long as you're giving me that, why don't you give me another five, so I can get a sandwich, too?"

Of course I did.

I'm so goddam white.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I just noticed that the 1000th comment was posted, yesterday, on this blog. Dan Weston had the honor.

Thanks, everybody! Keep 'em coming.

What should I give Dan as a prize? (Besides crap for not having recently posted on his own blog, I mean.)

Ted, Just Admit It

So, I had a contractor over this afternoon to look at the heating situation in my rehab project. After we did the walkthrough and talked at length about options, he said, sort of to himself, "Damn. Wish I'd brought my camera." It was clear that he was talking about augmenting the notes that he'd made, so that he'd be able to write up his estimate.

I said, "I have a digital camera. You could take the pictures, and I could email them to you."

Now, it's always hit or miss with guys in the trades. Some of them are like me -- email as the preferred mode of communication, etc. Some say, "Uh, I bought my kid a computer for Christmas, but I never touch them."

This guy was in between. He took the pictures and gave me his wife's email address. But it all worked, and he replied that the pictures came through just fine.

So now you must know what the title of the post means.

Okay, so it's so obscure that it has a two-part explanation. Hint: How often do you simultaneously get to make fun of a U.S. Senator and name-check a favorite band?

Monday, October 01, 2007


So, I come home and turn on my monitor to check my mail and the latest news. After few seconds, it went blank. I figured it must have gone into sleep mode, so I jiggled the mouse. No response. Turned it off, turned it back on. Lasted only about two seconds this time. A few more tries and it now refuses to display anything at all.

What do you suppose They didn't want me to see?

Anyway, if this looks a little sloppily typed, you know why.

A Brush With Greatness

Today's NYT has a fascinating story about Eduardo Arias, the man in Panama who discovered that a tube of Chinese-manufactured toothpaste was contaminated with diethylene glycol. As you might recall, this contamination problem turned out not to be unique to Panama; at last count, dozens of brands spread across 34 countries have been identified.

You probably didn't get a contaminated tube if you buy your toothpaste here in the U.S. Unless you're in lockup. (Which means "only" a few million people, but that's rant for another day.)

How did Mr. Arias make the discovery, which seems to have eluded officialdom worldwide?

He read the label.

Yes. Really.