When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

31 January 2005

Overheard in New York, Personal Edition

Walking the dogs Sunday night, I had an encounter that, had somebody else overheard it, might have been a good candidate for Overheard In New York.

Since nobody else was around, I am self-reporting:

As the Chows and I are ambling down Greenwich Street, walking towards the Meatpacking District, a homeless guy starts walking in the same direction we're going, pacing us. In a little while, he addresses me:

Homeless Guy (in a friendly, conversational tone of voice): I think people who don't clean up after their dogs should be shot.

Me (showing Homeless Guy the plastic grocery bags I have brought along for waste management): I couldn't agree with you more. I'll bring the bullets.

Homeless Guy (still friendly and conversational): And you know, I think people who keep animals as pets when there are people hungry and starving should be shot, too.

Me (pausing briefly for reflection): Hmm, well, while I understand your point of view and am not insensitive to its implications, I really have to disagree with you there.

Homeless Guy (same matter-of-fact, totally nonthreatening tone of voice): I think you should be shot.

Me (finally realizing that we are playing some sort of game here): Oh, I'd be careful about that. Where I'm from, we shoot back.

This answer seemed to please him enormously. He wished me a good evening, complimented the Chows as lovely dogs, and headed off down a side street.

30 January 2005

A gesture of goodwill from our dear friends in Saudi Arabia

The Center for Religious Freedom, a division of the invaluable Freedom House, has just issued a lengthy, exhaustively researched and well-documented new report (PDF format; free Adobe Reader required) documenting the dissemination of Saudi government-sponsored hate literature in America.

Among the key findings of the report:

  • Various Saudi government publications gathered for this study, most of which are in Arabic, assert that it is a religious obligation for Muslims to hate Christians and Jews and warn against imitating, befriending, or helping them in any way, or taking part in their festivities and celebrations...

  • The documents promote contempt for the United States because it is ruled by legislated civil law rather than by totalitarian Wahhabi-style Islamic law. They condemn democracy as un-Islamic...

  • The documents stress that when Muslims are in the lands of the unbelievers, they must behave as if on a mission behind enemy lines. Either they are there to acquire new knowledge and make money to be later employed in the jihad against the infidels, or they are there to proselytize the infidels until at least some convert to Islam...

  • Sufi and Shiite Muslims are viciously condemned...

  • For a Muslim who fails to uphold the Saudi Wahhabi sect’s sexual mores (i.e. through homosexual activity or heterosexual activity outside of marriage), the edicts published by the Saudi government’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and found in American mosques advise, “it would be lawful for Muslims to spill his blood and to take his money”...

  • Regarding those who convert out of Islam, the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs explicitly asserts, they “should be killed”...

  • Saudi textbooks and other publications in the collection, propagate a Nazi-like hatred for Jews, treat the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion as historical fact, and avow that the Muslim’s duty is to eliminate the state of Israel...

  • Regarding women, the Saudi publications instruct that they should be veiled, segregated from men and barred from certain employment and roles.
Wow, I'm sure glad that we have such wonderful allies in the Middle East.

With friends like these...

Voting begins in Iraq

Under heavy security, and with news services reporting some scattered episodes of violence (mostly in Baghdad so far), the citizens of Iraq have begun voting for members of the transitional National Assembly, and for representatives to 18 provincial councils.

Blog sampling and snapshot, 8:45 AM Eastern time Sunday:

At Sun of Iraq, Alaa Smary (blogging again after going quiet for a while) writes:
Election Day
Today we vote, today is a democracy birthday.
The people lines are very long, We heard explosions voice but we vote.
I'm very happy today, long live Iraq, long live love and long live democracy.
I will post more images here.
A suicide explosion in Al-Mansor city, Al-Sader city and in New Baghdad city near election center , but the Iraqis still insistent to vote.
We will crush the terrorists.
The democracy will win.
Omar, at Iraq the Model, writes (in part):
I walked forward to my station, cast my vote and then headed to the box, where I wanted to stand as long as I could, then I moved to mark my finger with ink, I dipped it deep as if I was poking the eyes of all the world's tyrants.

I put the paper in the box and with it, there were tears that I couldn't hold; I was trembling with joy and I felt like I wanted to hug the box but the supervisor smiled at me and said "brother, would you please move ahead, the people are waiting for their turn".

Husayn, at Democracy in Iraq, reports:
It is early in the day, but I am confident of the turnout of the vote. The terrorists have not scared us. They made some attempts at disrupting things yesterday when they attacked an American buildling, and in attacking balloting areas, but it has not been effective. People are going to vote.
Faiza, writing at A Family in Baghdad, pours some cold water on the election euphoria:
Yes, of course I am for the elections, and for the participation and voting, but not in this way! Not in this shallow and superficial way!
At the same time, I am against violence and preventing people from going to elections.
The funny thing is that we face the same kind of question in post-war Iraq: are you against or for saddam? Are you against or for the elections?
No one asks: what do you think about what is happening?
You always find yourself in a narrow space put by the person asking you!
And this is funny, because the world is not just Yes and No
The BBC's "Iraqi Election Log" has some interesting comments this morning as well.

A recurring theme in Iraqi bloggers' posts today: digital photos of their ink-stained index fingers. (As you vote, you dip your finger in a pot of indelible ink as an anti-fraud measure; keeps people from voting multiple times.)

Per CNN, Iraqi elections officials are reporting a nationwide voter turnout of 72%, which (if the final number holds up as anything close to that) is truly extraordinary.

Fascinating, also, to see how the MSM is handling the reporting. Even Al-Reuters, which, earlier this morning had been focused like a laser-beam on the attempts of the terrorists and Baathist thugs insurgents to disrupt balloting with violence, has been forced to acknowledge the unprecedented voter turnout and the fact that many Iraqis are celebrating their ability to, at long last, have a voice in their own governance.

29 January 2005

Kiehls, baby

Talk about service journalism. In "Lovely Weather for Ruining The Skin," New York Times writer Elizabeth Hayt runs down a list of several options for dealing with the dermatological depredations of a New York City winter.

But she left out some of the very best options, and from a home-grown supplier in NYC, to boot!

Okay, two quick things:

(1) This is not an advertisement, and
(2) I guess I am really letting my metrosexual flag fly here, but

Kiehls, baby.

Specifically, their miraculous Creme de Corps, their hand creams and lip balms, and virtually all of their shaving stuff for men.

The only quibble I have with Kiehl's is that their e-commerce unit is a little *too* efficient. Based on the seven-to-ten-business-day lead time that their web site advertises, I ordered my wife a bunch of her favorite Kiehl's products, targeting arrival around Valentine's Day.

She got the box at work yesterday. So now I have to come up with something else to give her for Valentine's Day!

Remembering Philip Johnson

Over at Music and Cats, Kimberly has posted a wonderful appreciation of the recently departed master architect Philip Johnson.

(Since Kimberly grew up in Houston, where Mr. Johnson did some of his best, most dramatic work, and is, if memory serves, an architect herself, I imagine that Mr. Johnson's work must have resonated especially strongly with her.)

Here in New York City, Johnson designed the AT&T Headquarters (now the Sony Building) as well co-designing the Seagram Building with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, among other notable buildings.

Blogging the Iraqi Election

Over at BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis provides a comprehensive list of Iraqi bloggers who will be covering the imminent elections there. I expect that blogger coverage will be more comprehensive, more eclectic, and certainly more interesting than what we're going to be getting from the BBC and the New York Times.

My personal Iraq-blog short list features Iraq The Model and their new project, Friends of Democracy. But I'm certainly going to check out some of the bloggers in Jeff's post, who are new to me.

27 January 2005

The Peaceable Kingdom

Getting our cat- (and dog-) blogging in a day early...

Welcome to The Peaceable Kingdom, tiny-New-York-City-apartment version, where, with apologies to the prophet Isaiah, "the dogs and the cat shall dwell together, and the goofy red Chow shall lie down with the tabby." (And a fat man shall feed them, no doubt.)

Here, a pair of candid shots of our animals practicing mutual non-aggression and peaceful coexistence while working together to achieve shared goals, i.e., lying around on the bed:

Chow Bella reclines next to her favorite cat.Posted by Hello

Chow Fun, with a sleepy Mister Gato Posted by Hello

(Earlier Mister Gato information here, here, here and here. See The Modulator and The Carnival of the Cats for more bloggers' cats from around the world.)

Update, 1/30/05: Carnival of the Cats #45 is now up at Watermark.

26 January 2005

Saying goodbye to Johnny

Predictably, we've been ass-deep in celebrity farewells to Johnny Carson.

CNN outdid itself in the mawkish-underachievement sweepstakes Sunday evening, running several back-to-back archive editions of Larry King Live featuring hour-long interviews with Ed McMahon... but, dammit, they were all the same interview and they used most of the same clips, despite being taped years apart, on three separate occasions.

The actual, live Larry King Live that ran later that night featured a panel (Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Carl Reiner, with a phone-in segment from Dick Cavett) for which I would've loved to have the Depends (and, at least in Rickles' case, Haldol) concession. Enough said about that.

There have, however, been a few worthwhile remembrances. As celebrity eulogies go, I must admit that I found Steve Martin's, and William F. Buckley's, very affecting.

Update on the subway fire story

Just a quick update on the Sunday afternoon subway fire story.

After howls of protest, and the gathering of pitchforks and torches, etc. by mobs of unruly straphangers and politicians alike, the MTA's "three to five year" timeframe for restoring normal service has suddenly been reduced to "six to nine months":

Lawrence G. Reuter, the president of New York City Transit, said at a news conference yesterday that replacing the custom-made signal relays, switches and circuits would take less time than expected. "We were just this morning able to come to the determination that we could actually do this in six to nine months," Mr. Reuter said. "We were actually able to find enough relays left over in our system that we could salvage out of other jobs we had to do this work," he said...

Mr. Reuter said the A line - with an average weekday ridership of 470,000 - would be running at 50 percent to 60 percent of its regular frequency by early February and at 80 percent by the middle of April. It will take a full nine months to restore regular service on the C line, which has a ridership of 110,000. "We could do it faster but we'd have to shut the system down," Mr. Reuter said.

The forecast still calls for commuting hell for the foreseeable future.

Also, the Times and the Post (see also: here and here... the Post goes all-out on this one, three editorials on the same day) have weighed in helpfully today with editorials saying, basically, what the hell are we doing letting homeless people live in the subway tunnels, anyway?

The Post, subtle as a punch in the jaw, declares that it's time to "throw the bums out"; the Times, which wouldn't dream of talking that way about Residentially-Challenged Americans, advises that we should immediately mobilize our police and homeless outreach workers to clear the tunnels, which amounts to the same prescription.

Sounds nicer, though.

(Related: There are two sources left in the world for the ancient signal relays that burned up in Sunday's fire. Talk about your niche markets.)

Addendum, Wednesday evening: Gawker offers this highly significant grace note... a photo of a vigilant transit cop on the job.

25 January 2005

Butch and Eddie

An e-mail this morning from my father-in-law, Stan the Man, contained the inspirational story of Butch and Eddie O'Hare... and unlike many of the inspirational stories circulating on the Internet, it turns out to be basically true: Mob lawyer Eddie O'Hare changes his ways and sets a good character example for his son, Butch, who winds up a war hero (for whom Chicago's O'Hare Airport is named.)

However, there's a cynic in every crowd. Over at AmericanMafia.com, John William Tuohy has a somewhat jaded take on the story, which doesn't detract one iota from the story of a father's love for his son, but does provide some dark shading for the details:
When Butch was about to graduate from high school, he told his father that he wanted to go to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, which required the backing of a local representative in Congress.

At the same time, Capone was locked in the midst of his tax fight with the government, which was desperately trying to put Capone away.

It so happened that one day Eddie O'Hare ran into a reporter from the St. Louis Post Dispatch named John Rogers, who was also a friend of one of the prosecutors going after Capone.

Rogers knew that O'Hare wanted to get his son into Annapolis. Introductions were made and a deal was cut, Butch O'Hare would enter Annapolis if Eddie O'Hare would play ball with the government and inform on Capone, which he did and did well.

Nothing like a little quid pro quo to bring a heartwarming story down to earth.

Still, a great story, and one I thought y'all might enjoy on a dreary winter morning.

(Don't) Take the A Train

From yesterday's New York Times, a story to serve as a morning meditation on the fragility (and the longevity) of technology:

A fire that began with a homeless person trying to keep warm by igniting wood and refuse in a shopping cart has crippled two of the city's subway lines, which might not be restored to normal capacity for three to five years, officials said today.

The Sunday afternoon blaze in Lower Manhattan was described as the worst damage to subway infrastructure since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It gutted a locked room that is no larger than a kitchen but contains some 600 relays, switches and circuits that transmit vital information about train locations.

"This is a very significant problem, and it's going to go on for quite a while," said the president of New York City Transit, Lawrence G. Reuter. He estimated that it would take "several millions of dollars and several years" to reassemble and test the intricate network of custom-built switch relays on which the two lines rely.

In the meantime, long waits and erratic service are likely to be the norm on the A and C lines, which have a combined average weekday ridership of 580,000 passengers...

Here's the bit that really made me sit up and take notice:
The fixed-block signaling system in use today is substantially the same one that existed when the first segments of what are now the A and C lines opened in 1932. The transit agency has invested $288 million on its first computerized signaling system; it is scheduled to debut on the L line in Brooklyn and Manhattan in July.

Dozens of signal relay rooms like the one destroyed on Sunday are scattered throughout the 722-mile subway system, and it is impossible to fireproof them...
As a technical writer, I've worked with engineers, programmers, and scientists my entire adult life. It's a certainty that the guys who designed that original 1932 fixed-block system are long gone, but if they were still around, I'm sure that they would have the same reaction I'm having right now.

They would be immensely proud that their design was good enough to continue working under the harshest conditions imaginable for over 70 years, while simultaneously being horrified and appalled that no significant technological improvements (or security improvements, obviously) had been applied in all that time.

It's actually a horrifying story on a lot of levels.

Since 9/11, and especially since the Madrid train bombings, we have had an elevated police presence in the subway system. During periods of high alert, we've even had so-called "Atlas teams" (police toting automatic weapons, sometimes accompanied by similarly-armed soldiers in uniform) underground.

So, was it one of Osama Bin Laden's buddies who wound up laying us low, doing essentially permanent damage to a vital piece of NYC infrastructure?

No. It was, evidently, some poor penniless wretch trying to keep from freezing to death on the coldest day of the year.

There is probably a moral to this story about how governments allocate resources in times of crisis, but I think I need more coffee before I contemplate that.

24 January 2005

In the news...

enrevanche buddy John deVille writes to point us to a couple of interesting news items.

First, "A Windmill I Won't Tilt At" by Simon Jenkins, a lovely appreciation of Miguel de Cervantes, in the Times of London:
This month we celebrate two anniversaries. One is of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity (1905), a great work of Western civilisation. The other is Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605), also a great work of Western civilisation. The first is greeted with BBC specials, colour supplements, postage stamps and a United Nations Year of Physics. The other, at least outside Spain, is being ignored. Which merits the bigger salute?
As we say in the blogosphere, "Read the whole thing."

Second, this photo of Dubya (credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite) flashing the "Hook 'em Horns" sign, with this irresistable detail in the caption:
President Bush's 'Hook 'em, 'horns' salute got lost in translation in Norway, where shocked people interpreted his hand gesture during his inauguration as a salute to Satan.

How Karl Rove is traditionally greeted. Posted by Hello
John's comment is a very pertinent quote from Ian Faith: "I wouldn't say Tap's audience has gotten smaller....just more selective."

Related: Wikipedia expounds on the various cultural meanings of the sign.

23 January 2005

Johnny Carson, R.I.P.

CNN is reporting that Johnny Carson, still the King of Late Night Television as far as I'm concerned, died Sunday morning of emphysema. He was 79.

(This makes a recent story, in which it was revealed that Carson, in blissful retirement, was quietly keeping his hand in by writing jokes for David Letterman, all the more poignant.)

Carson took the late-night talk show format and made it his own. He made doing late-night talk look easy, almost effortless. But it wasn't, and it isn't, and the late-night TV comedy timeline is replete with the names of everyone who thought they could do it as well, and failed. Carson beat back every contender (and there were plenty) who tried to knock him off his perch, and when he retired, he resolutely stayed out of the limelight.

Kenneth Tynan's 1978 New Yorker profile of Carson, "Fifteen Years of the Salto Mortale," is definitive, and well worth checking out. The piece has been collected and reprinted many times, and can be found in the recent New Yorker profiles compilation, Life Stories.

Chows must be walked.

It's the day after the blizzard. 20 degrees outside with high winds, over a foot of snow on the ground.

Nevertheless, dogs must be walked.

After tying on three consecutive rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors (moral: it *is* possible for spouses to know each other too well) Carrie and I agreed to walk Chow Bella and Chow Fun together.

Here, two happy Chow Chows and one freezing wife stopping by a likely-looking tree on West 12th Street:

Chows and wife in the snow, Sunday afternoon. Posted by Hello

To the hoop, y'all!

Oh, I am loving me some college basketball this year. Our TiFaux is allowing me to record some of the games I would ordinarily miss. And there have been some barn-burners lately. Last week's UNC-Wake Forest game (even though my guys lost) was mindsnappingly good.

A pointer to a couple of b-ball blogs I follow religiously:

22 January 2005


You know, I've been a libertarian-conservative for as long as I've been paying attention to politics.

I'm named after this guy, and I had an autographed photo of this guy on my dorm room walls in high school and college (still have the photo, but my wife says it, um, clashes with our decor.)

I'm a classical liberal, economically (laissez-faire is my mantra) and a hawk on foreign policy and defense.

I am not, however, a social conservative for the most part, and have watched with increasing concern as social conservatives have essentially taken over the Republican party, wielding an influence quite disproportionate to their actual numbers. I do see hopeful signs--some moderate Republicans, including prominent elected officials, are trying to be heard above the din--but for the most part, I don't recognize "my party" any longer.

I have remained a registered Republican, recognizing essentially that my economic and foreign policy ideals preclude finding myself a home in the Democratic Party, while my positions on social issues increasingly estrange me from the GOP. (On the other hand, with Bush creating massive new Medicare entitlement programs and spending us into penury in Iraq, I'm not so sure that he belongs in the Republican Party, either.)

I try to get along with my social conservative brethren in a spirit of tolerance and good humor, though it has been difficult at times.

During the last election cycle, when GOP fundraisers called me and tried to whip me up into a frenzy of check-writing indignation over the gay marriage issue, I calmly told them that while I was a happily married heterosexual man, I thought that it was absurd and insulting for Bush and Co. to be demagoguing such a non-issue while there were much more important concerns before the nation.

Did we, as a party, no longer believe in individual rights?

(I told one particularly strident lady that I have met many charming gay men since moving to New York City and, were it not for a few minor issues of sexual mechanics and attraction, would strongly consider marrying one or two of them. Regrettably, she hung up on me before I could elaborate further.)

Yeah, it's tough sometimes. Stem-cell research. Teaching evolution in schools. And on and on.

It's the little things that really drive me around the bend, though. Every now and then, a news story comes along that really makes me blow my cool. Something preternaturally stupid and offensive, something that really makes me wonder why I stay in a party with such raving imbeciles, something... like this (links added):

"Does anybody here know SpongeBob?" Dr. James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, asked the guests Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner for members of Congress and political allies to celebrate the election results.

SpongeBob needed no introduction. In addition to his popularity among children, who watch his cartoon show, he has become a well-known camp figure among adult gay men, perhaps because he holds hands with his animated sidekick Patrick and likes to watch the imaginary television show "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."

Now, Dr. Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside children's television colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."

Tolerance! The deuce you say! Step away slowly from the tolerance with your hands up, punk.

At times like this, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Or to exercise my constitutional right to firearms ownership and just go up in a tower and start shooting until a police sniper settles my hash.

The entrepreneur in me thinks that I've got plenty of lead time to print up SpongeBob T-shirts for Pride Week.

Hey, an opportunity for profit! Hmm. I guess maybe I am a Republican after all.

But please, guys, lay off SpongeBob.

21 January 2005

Goodbye, Spinsanity...

Spinsanity is closing up. Best of luck, folks - I've had you on my blogroll since going live. You will be missed.

Friday catblogging: The Face of Evil

"Cats are autocrats of naked self-interest. They are both amoral and immoral, consciously breaking rules. Their "evil" look at such times is no human projection: the cat may be the only animal who savors the perverse or reflects upon it." --Camille Paglia

"You have failed me for the last time." Posted by Hello

(Earlier Mister Gato information here, here and here. See The Modulator and The Carnival of the Cats for more bloggers' cats from around the world.)

Update, 1/23: This week's Carnival of the Cats is now up at Music and Cats.

19 January 2005

NY Times: CBS Plans to Change Evening News Format

New York Times: CBS Plans to Change Evening News Format
The CBS chairman, Leslie Moonves, said on Tuesday he is planning to introduce significant, potentially revolutionary changes to the format of "The CBS Evening News" when Dan Rather departs as anchor in March.

Mr. Moonves said the moves were likely to include a shift toward multiple anchors and away from what he called the "voice of God, single anchor" format that has been used throughout most of the history of network television news.

...Mr. Moonves said he was looking to install something more "cutting edge" this time. As part of the overhaul he indicated he would even consider a role for Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's "Daily Show." Mr. Stewart has emerged as both a late-night comedy star and a biting commentator on the news.
Jon: Don't do it, man. I know you work for Viacom and all, but... don't do it. You've got the funniest show on television right now. Instruct your assistant to tell Mr. Moonves that you're in a long, long meeting.

17 January 2005

BBC: Chinese reformer Zhao Ziyang dies

Chinese reformer Zhao Ziyang, who was removed from office and placed under house arrest after opposing the use of force against the Tienanmen Square demonstrators in 1989, has died after suffering a series of strokes:
High-profile dissident Wang Dan, who helped lead the Tiananmen protests, said Zhao represented "Chinese Communist Party members with a conscience".

He showed that "the Communist Party is a bad political organisation, but not every Communist Party member is a bad person", he said.

Zhao during the Tienanmen Square protests. The mortified-looking fellow to his right is Wen Jiabao, now Premier of China. Posted by Hello

To this day, no one knows the identity of this brave man. Posted by Hello

16 January 2005

As seen on TV

The New York Times reports that a Queens-based drug gang, huge fans of HBO's very fine crime series "The Wire," adopted the same strategy that the (fictional) Bell-Barksdale crew used with respect to disposable cell phones:
The accused leaders of the Queens gang, whose arrests were announced yesterday by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and District Attorney Richard A. Brown of Queens, mimicked the practice of characters in "The Wire," using disposable cellphones to make it more difficult for the police to eavesdrop on them.

Each time the suspects switched phones, investigators and prosecutors had to go back to court and seek approval for a new wiretap from a State Supreme Court justice, a labor-intensive and time-consuming process, said Sgt. Felipe Rodriguez, a supervisor on the case.

"Believe it or not, these guys copy 'The Wire,' " said the sergeant, who is assigned to the Organized Crime Investigation Division. "They were constantly dumping their phones. It made our job so much harder."

Amusingly, the cops investigating the real-life Queens gang are also apparently big fans of the show.

Naturally, the user community over at Television Without Pity is all over this.

If you've never seen an episode of The Wire, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It's on hiatus at the moment, but this is the best thing on television right now by a country mile. The first season is out on DVD now, and season 2 is coming out on January 25--put them in your Netflix queue or look for them at your local video store.

Incidentally, it seems that it is far from a sure thing that The Wire will be coming back for a fourth season. Make some noise, yo. There are petitions circulating, but I've already contacted HBO directly and would like to suggest that you do so, too.

(Also posted at Blogcritics.)

...and then the cat eats you. So just don't pass out.

Overheard In New York is a new favorite site of ours... documenting snippets of overhead conversation and public interactions in NYC.

A few recent gems:
Man: ...I'm saying, you've passed out, and then the cat eats you. So just don't pass out.
--1 Train

Scientologist: Ma'am, are you interested in taking a free stress test?
Woman: Hell no. I don't need no freako to tell me I'm stressed. I already know that.
-- Union Square station

Dude #1: I want a new printer but they're too expensive.
Dude #2: Yeah, I know what you mean. I want to find a good cheap one.
Homeless busybody: Cheap?! That's why you're a fucking Jew!
Dude #2: Actually I'm not Jewish, but I'm glad you're homeless!
--W. 4th St.

See also: Overheard In The Office.

The Economist on Social Security Reform

In a discussion of the economic agenda of Dubya's second term, The Economist weighs in with a remarkably fair-minded assessment of Bush's plans to reform the Social Security system:

As in most of the rest of the world, the combination of longer life expectancy and lower birth-rates will put increased financial pressure on this pay-as-you-go social insurance system. Over the coming decades, Social Security's payments will rise much faster than its revenues, which come from payroll taxes. The net present value of this financial imbalance over the next 75 years is $3.7 trillion, less than 1% of cumulative GDP. Over an even longer horizon, the present value of the permanent imbalance is estimated at around $10 trillion, a number Mr Bush loves to repeat.

These numbers can be hard to interpret, but the larger point is that Social Security is on an unsustainable trajectory, one that goes well beyond the retirement of the baby-boomers. It is not an immediate “crisis”. In fact, payroll-tax revenues will exceed pension payments until 2018, masking America's overall fiscal imbalance. Nor is it America's biggest long-term fiscal problem. The financial burden from Medicare will be much bigger... Mr Bush's first-term decision to introduce a prescription-drug benefit for retirees worsened Medicare's long-term financial imbalance by more than twice as much as the entire Social Security problem. Nonetheless, Social Security needs fixing. And that means either boosting revenues (for instance, by raising payroll taxes) or reducing promised benefits.

(Related: The Heritage Foundation's Social Security Calculator, and a modest proposal for additional tax reform in a second Bush administration)

15 January 2005

Stunning photos from the Huygens probe

The European Space Agency's web site is showing some amazing photographs of Titan from the Huygens probe.

NASA/JPL are hosting some Huygens images as well (including some gorgeous shots of Saturn's rings.)

And naturally, Wikipedia has an excellent (and continually updated) take on the mission.

Congratulations to ESA and NASA on an apparently incredibly successful joint effort.

Commentary: Americanism and Its Enemies

A pointer to David Gelernter's thoughtful essay in the January 2005 issue of Commentary magazine, "Americanism and Its Enemies," in which the author traces the religious origins of American exceptionalism and analyzes the current phenomenon of anti-Americanism in that context.

Anti-Americanism has blossomed frantically in recent years. Nearly the whole world seems to be pock-marked with lesions of hate. Some of this hatred focuses on George W. Bush, but much of it goes beyond the President to encompass the supposed evils of America and Americanism in general. In its passionate and unreasoning intensity, anti-Americanism resembles a religion--or a caricature of a religion. And this fact tells us something important about Americanism itself.

nytimes.com: Most popular news stories of 2004

From "@NYTimes," here are the ten most viewed stories of 2004 at nytimes.com:
1. Magazine: The Girls Next Door
By PETER LANDESMAN, Published January 25, 2004
The sex-trafficking trade may begin in Eastern Europe and wend its way through Mexico, but it lands in the suburbs and cities of America, where perhaps tens of thousands are held captive and pimped out for forced sex.

2. Magazine: Without a Doubt
By RON SUSKIND, Published October 17, 2004
What makes Bush's presidency so radical -- even to some Republicans -- is his preternatural, faith-infused certainty in uncertain times.

3. Friendly Fire: The Birth of an Anti-Kerry Ad
By KATE ZERNIKE and JIM RUTENBERG, Published August 20, 2004
An ad questioning John Kerry's war record sprang from an alliance between Texas Republicans and veterans angry about Mr. Kerry's criticism of the Vietnam War.

4. Movie Review: 'Fahrenheit 9/11': Unruly Scorn Leaves Room for Restraint, but Not a Lot
By A. O. SCOTT, Published June 23, 2004
While Michael Moore's documentary about the Bush administration has been likened to an op-ed column, it might more accurately be said to resemble an editorial cartoon.

5. Frank Rich: On 'Moral Values,' It's Blue in a Landslide
Published November 14, 2004
There's only one problem with the storyline proclaiming that the country swung to the right on cultural issues in 2004. It is fiction.

6. Iraq Videotape Shows the Decapitation of an American
By DEXTER FILKINS, Published May 12, 2004
The killers called the decapitation revenge for the American mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

7. How the White House Embraced Disputed Arms Intelligence
October 3, 2004
The Bush administration was made aware as early as 2001 that the aluminum tubes used as critical evidence against Iraq were most likely not for nuclear weapons.

8. Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq
Published October 25, 2004
The Iraqi interim government has warned that nearly 380 tons of the world's most powerful conventional explosives are missing from a former military installation.

9. Editorial: John Kerry for President
Published October 17, 2004
John Kerry has qualities that could be the basis for a great chief executive and we enthusiastically endorse him for president.

10. How Scientists and Victims Watched Helplessly
By ANDREW C. REVKIN, Published December 31, 2004
The magnitude of the tsunami that killed tens of thousands and remade the coasts of the Asian subcontinent was slowly gauged across the world.
Some hard news in the mix, but for the most part the political stuff is just a festival of spin and self-delusion. No wonder Times readers felt so blindsided and angry when Bush won.

12 January 2005

Who's that guy with Mister Gato?

Friday catblogging, a few days early. (See The Modulator and The Carnival of the Cats for more bloggers' cats from around the world.)

(Update, 16 January: This week's Carnival is hosted at iBeJO.)

A sleepy Sunday morning, a fat man, and a tabby cat. Posted by Hello

(Earlier Mister Gato information here and here.)

10 January 2005

Rather as expected

At long last, the report on the Dan Rather/CBS News Texas Air National Guard forged document story (PDF; Acrobat Reader required) has been released. (See the official response from CBS News, also a PDF, here.)

I haven't had time to read through the report thoroughly, but if the national newspaper of record can be believed, the independent reviewers (former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former AP executive Louis D. Boccardi) essentially let CBS News off the hook on the question of bias:
While the panelists said they could find no definitive evidence that the network prepared and broadcast the report based on political bias, they cited one instance in which Ms. Mapes "created the appearance of a political bias."
The appearance of bias, but no definitive evidence.

(We pause in our narrative to allow for a moment of silent derision.)

So, let's review the bidding. CBS has fired producer Mary Mapes, and Les Moonves has demanded the resignations of three executives.

But CBS News President Andrew Heyward, and Mr. Rather, still have their jobs.

Business as usual on West 57th. Nothing to see here. Move along.

I'm gonna rearrange your face!

(Via Metafilter)

Those clever folks at The University of St. Andrews have come up with web-based photo morphing software. I ran my Blogger headshot through a couple of their filters... here are the "Modigliani" and "Apeman" versions of your humble correspondent. (I may send the Apeman shot to Koko the Gorilla, whom I have admired from afar for years now.)

"Modigliani" filter. Posted by Hello

"Apeman" filter Posted by Hello

08 January 2005

Set your camera to "cuisine"

Olympus is introducing the Stylus 500, a new digital camera with a very specialized setting:
It seems that the rage in Japan these days is photographing your restaurant meal before chowing down.

Far be it from Japan-headquartered Olympus to ignore the rumblings from the Tokyo street: they've created a new camera scene mode setting called "Cuisine" - making its debut in this instrument - to optimize things for indoor food photography.
Amazon already has them in stock, for just a hair under $400.

Must. resist. ordering.

(found on bookofjoe, via Chowhound)

Social Security Calculator

Federal Social Security Calculator

Courtesy of the Heritage Foundation.

Great Day in Harlem

In August, 1958, the photographer Art Kane (incredibly, on his first professional assignment, a commission for Esquire magazine) assembled some of the greatest jazz musicians of the 20th century on the steps of a brownstone on 126th Street in Harlem. The famous photograph that resulted inspired books, an Oscar-nominated documentary, and this lovingly-created website.

Related: writer and jazz fan/historian Wayne Bremser offers this thoughtful piece on how, as music moves into the digital era, invaluable information, e.g. liner notes, from jazz recordings isn't being preserved.

07 January 2005


Reading an Ask Metafilter thread today, I stumbled across this great link: Us.ef.ul (beelerspace) - a user-friendly introduction to del.icio.us.

Here's how the del.icio.us site explains itself:
del.icio.us is a social bookmarks manager. It allows you to easily add sites you like to your personal collection of links, to categorize those sites with keywords, and to share your collection not only between your own browsers and machines, but also with others.
The Beelerspace article goes into much more detail, however, and is much more effective at explaining why this is so cool.

Here's my del.icio.us page. (Related: see this Wikipedia article on "folksonomy," and this longer, more scholarly treatment of the subject by Adam Mathes.)

"What do you believe is true, even though you cannot prove it?"

From Declan McCullagh's invaluable Politech mailing list comes this link to a great story at Edge.org:
John Brockman, a literary agent and publisher of Edge, a science website, collects an annual list of provocative responses to provocative questions. This year his question is: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" and it's an excellent way to begin the new year.
An abridged version of this article ran in the New York Times this week; the full article at edge.org is here.

05 January 2005

Charity Navigator

Well, just as sure as the sun sets in the west, the vultures are starting to descend on the tsunami victims.

Terrible stories are starting to appear in the media about people preying on survivors, looting the homes of victims... and, naturally, con men and unscrupulous "charities" taking advantage of the altruistic instinct to line their own pockets.

A little more than (cough) twenty years ago (cough), I was a volunteer EMT on a small rural rescue squad. While there, I took some additional training in handling mass-casualty incidents, and a couple of points I heard from several instructors stuck with me.

Key point: When a mass casualty incident occurs, humanity's noblest and basest instincts express themselves.

For example:

One of the first things you need to do in a mass-casualty incident, for safety reasons as well as legal reasons, is to establish a makeshift morgue... and put one or more armed persons in charge of guarding it, to shoo off the people who inevitably show up to rob the corpses (shudder.)

On a much happier note, another thing that you need to do is assign one or more people to intercept all of the people who will show up of their own free will at the site of the incident to offer help--another instinct that tends to express itself (in a better class of person) under extreme duress. You want to give these people something safe and productive to do, if possible, but keep them out of the way of active rescue efforts, so that their instincts don't impede your progress.

In the spirit of aiding the altruistic instinct, and preventing the enrichment of the unscrupulous, let me point you to a great site: Charity Navigator.

Charity Navigator evaluates thousands of charities, ranks them by efficiency in delivery of services, and helps you make an informed decision about how and where to give money. When in doubt, check it out.

I am adding Charity Navigator's "Featured Charities" to this blog's sidebar; I hope you find it helpful. They've got a list of "four-star" charities aiding tsunami victims; you can give to any of these charities with confidence that most of the money you donate will get to the intended recipients.

04 January 2005

We Are Happy To Serve You

I am the last person in the world to notice this, I am sure, but check out these great coffee cups: WeAreHappyToServeYou.com

It's the classic New York City deli/diner paper coffee cup, rendered in ceramic.

I just ordered a couple.

03 January 2005

Update on Bone Lick Park

Ate dinner at Bone Lick Park (the new barbecue joint in the West Village) last night.

Despite my earlier misgivings (also noted by Gothamist), we had a pretty good meal there. I posted a full (and long) review over on Chowhound's Manhattan board; here's an excerpt.
The meat was *surprisingly* good. Bone Lick is the real deal, barbecue-wise, in that all of their meats are cooked in a massive high-tech wood "pit" over hickory and fruit woods. The meat that arrived at our table had the firm texture, slightly smoky taste (and tell-tale pink color) that comes from long, slow cooking and smoking at low temperature. No liquid smoke ever got anywhere near this meat.

02 January 2005

Comment system upgrade

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog. We'll test this for a week or two and see how it works out.

Support Iranian dissidents and bloggers

Good friend Chap, over at Chapomatic, picks up on an earlier post by Buzzmachine's Jeff Jarvis and runs with it:
Per Jeff Jarvis, these bloggers are being tortured. They are being forced to make false admissions and confessions.

Mr Hanif Mazruee, Ghoreishi
Ms Fereshte Ghaazi, Naderpoor
Ms Mahboobeh Mollagholi

Per Natan Sharansky, these Iranian dissidents also need our support:

Ahmad Batebi
Siamak Pourzand
Hashem Aghajari

Please pass these names around. Let these people know they are supported out here in the free world. Let their oppressors know their time is coming, and coming sooner than they realize.
Happy to do my part. Here's the original post from persianstudents.org that started the ball rolling.

See also:

01 January 2005

Why I haven't been blogging as much lately

"Please note: I am much more interesting than this computer." Posted by Hello

He took care of our mouse infestation, but now we've got a cat infestation on our hands!

Above, Mister Gato gently suggests that I stop writing and pay him some attention.

It's not just miniature laptops he's attracted to, either.

"This keyboard hutch is sized appropriately." Posted by Hello

Update, 1/2/05: The Modulator's Friday Ark and the Carnival of the Cats (hosted this week by MartiniPundit) are picking up our exercise in catblogging. Chow Bella and Chow Fun are demanding equal time - stay tuned.

A few more Gmail invitations

Like the oil in the lamps at Hanukkah, my Gmail invitations keep miraculously replenishing themselves. I've got a few more kicking around the place - drop me a line if you'd like a Gmail account.

A good year for The Internets

2004 was the year that blogs reached critical mass (ABC News's "people of the year" - bloggers.) Bloggers fact-checked the "professional" media repeatedly, and banded together to provide information when the mainstream media was floundering, trying to get a handle on the tsunami story.

Hey, it looks like the Internets are really starting to catch on.

We've all become used to seeing URLs everywhere... in every kind of advertising from movie previews to product packaging.

Well, last night, a new milestone for me. Carrie and I were getting ready to toast the new year with a bottle of our favorite California bubbly (Domaine Carneros 2000 Brut Cuvée, made by Taittinger in the Carneros region of California, one of the finest Pinot Noir growing areas in the world. Great champagne and a total steal for the money, BTW.)

I peeled back the foil cap, removed the wire cage, and gently loosened the cork to produce an aesthetically pleasing "pop"... all très traditionnel...

Pop goes the vino. Posted by Hello

...to find that the California winery's URL had been inked into the side of the cork.