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

31 May 2006

The easiest way to fool smart people

How? Talk technical-sounding rubbish. If it works for new-age airheads spouting ignorant garbage about quantum physics, it can work for you, too.
I’ve been to quite a few consultancy presentations where all kinds of jargon and graphs are flashed up on the screen. The consultants will drop terms like “inverted blade-center uptime matrix” into the presentation while showing some baffling data on the screen. If I look around the room while this is going on, everyone will be nodding and wide-eyed. The audience is baffled by the cool-sounding words and the clever-looking graphs.

If, at this time, you ask the consultant what exactly an “inverted blade-center uptime matrix” is, they’ll often try to fob-you off with even more meaningless jargon. If you persist in trying to pin them down, they’ll start acting like you must be some kind of incompetent idiot for not understanding this stuff. And the audience will probably be on the consultant's side - they don't want to be seen as incompetent idiots.

Consultants behave this way because they know that’s how to get a sale. Bombard people with clever-sounding stuff they don’t really understand, and they’ll assume that you’re some kind of genius. It's a great way of making money.
The Easiest Way To Fool Smart People (Paul's Tips)

Websites as graphs

Here's a cool tool that shows you a graphical representation of your website's Document Object Model (DOM) structure.

Ladies and gentlemen:

Websites as graphs - an HTML DOM Visualizer Applet

Hat tip: Pharyngula via The Commissar.

30 May 2006

A catalogue of failed states

Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, East Timor. Four states currently in the headlines the most worrying thing about which -- apart from that each has a Western presence which may continue for years -- is that they may be joined by other countries jolted into collapse by any unpredictable crisis. A huge natural disaster, epidemic or internal conflict could precipitate many of the countries referred to as 'failed states' into complete collapse. For two successive years (2005, 2006) Foreign Policy has listed the 'most failed' states based on twelve indicators which attempt to measure the degree to which each has broken down. The 28 worst states in the 2006 list is shown below.

1 Sudan
2 DRCongo
3 Cote d'Ivoire
4 Iraq
5 Zimbabwe
6 Chad
7 Somalia
8 Haiti
9 Pakistan
10 Afghanistan
11 Guinea
12 Liberia
13 Central African Republic
14 North Korea
15 Burundi
16 Yemen
17 Sierra Leone
18 Burma/Myanmar
19 Bangladesh
20 Nepal
21 Uganda
22 Nigeria
23 Uzbekistan
24 Rwanda
25 Sri Lanka
26 Ethiopia
27 Colombia
28 Kyrgyzstan
The Belmont Club: The Sad State of the World

Weekend Carnivals

Two carnivals went up over the weekend, while the blog was on Memorial Day break:

Carnival of the Cats, at Niobium.

RINO Sightings at Don Surber's blog.

Invest like Warren Buffett

Periodically, we review the stock holdings of Berkshire Hathaway, the investment conglomerate run by Warren Buffett, one of the all-time great investors. Each quarter, Berkshire files form 13-F, which discloses its consolidated equity investments, with the SEC. Berkshire's latest 13-F disclosed 36 stock positions as of March 31, and we add two foreign investments we know of, for a total of 38. Berkshire now owns three more stocks than it did at the end of 2005, and nine more than it did at the end of 2004. We note that Berkshire doesn't have to disclose its foreign investments because it owns the local shares, not the U.S. ADRs.
Morningstar.com - The 38 Stocks in the Buffett Portfolio

The Management Myth

Most of management theory is inane, writes our correspondent, the founder of a consulting firm. If you want to succeed in business, don’t get an M.B.A. Study philosophy instead.
The Management Myth (Atlantic, June 2006; subscription required.)


Chat rooms monitored. Blogs deleted. Websites blocked. Search engines restricted. People imprisoned for simply posting and sharing information.

The Internet is a new frontier in the struggle for human rights. Governments – with the help of some of the biggest IT companies in the world – are cracking down on freedom of expression.

Amnesty International, with the support of The Observer, is launching a campaign to show that online or offline the human voice and human rights are impossible to repress.
irrepressible.info (Amnesty International)


Free your mind and your ass will follow

Well, whaddya know. Joe ran my letter on his blog.

Joe Bageant: "Free your mind and your ass will follow."

Related: A letter to Joe Bageant (January 2006)

27 May 2006

Lest we forget: Memorial Day 2006

In honor of Memorial Day, guest poster C. Scott Smith shares a few thoughts on family and sacrifice. This blog (and its author) are taking the long Memorial Day weekend off; see you next Tuesday. - bc

The date on the grave is shown as March 18, 1945 and the site at the Henri-Chapelle military cemetery is, if my memory serves, on a long rolling hilltop in the middle of farmland in Belgium about an hour from Brussels.

C-02-33 Heinlein 1

I visited it once with my mother in 1967 after a harrowing taxi ride along single-lane farm roads from Brussels. The grave belongs to my grandfather, Crayton Mack Heinlein, who was killed fighting the Germans in World War II.

Family lore, or at least that lore passed along by our often unreliable grandmother, tells us that Mack, as he was known to his friends and fellow soldiers in the 9th Infantry Division, was killed in action in the battle just before the Battle of the Bulge. This information would seem at odds with the date of death listed on his grave, since the Battle of the Bulge took place from December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945 and Granddad was listed as having been killed in March.

I for one never really thought that knowing the correct date that he died was all that important. He was dead long before I was born and whether the date we were all told by Grandmom was the right one never really seemed to matter.

We do know, thanks to surviving letters from him, that Mack landed with his division at Normandy on D-Day plus 3 and fought across France, through the killing hedgerows of Normandy, and from there into Luxembourg and Belgium where, if Grandmother was to be believed, he died sometime before the Ardennes offensive which was launched by the Germans in their last gasp to fight their way to Antwerp and force a negotiated peace with the Allies. If the Army’s date is correct, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge before being killed.

He was almost too old to serve in the Army, having been called up at the age of 39, but he went without complaint. During the winter of 1944-45, one of the coldest on record in Europe, he lost part of both feet to frostbite (his first Purple Heart) but refused medical evacuation; once he had recovered, he rejoined his unit--where. during a short sharp firefight, he was credited with saving the life of his best friend. He was killed shortly thereafter (his second Purple Heart), the details of his death never really being made clear since no one from his original infantry platoon survived the war and the Army was confused as to the actual date and cause of his death.

I had not thought about his grave in years. and yet recently something caused me to recall that trip my mother and I took by taxi from Brussels all those years ago. We used to have a photograph that I took as an eight year-old of my mother kneeling next to her father’s grave, a young woman of 28 with tears rolling down her face and seeing her father’s grave for the very first time in her life. There was another photo that my mother took of me at that time and in it I’m standing at attention next to the grave attempting to look solemn.

Neither picture exists any longer and Mom died in 1987.

I don’t know why I started thinking about Granddad’s grave, but I did, and the thinking about it drew me to Google, that divinely inspired fount of all knowledge both useful and less than, and within about a minute I had located the web site for the American Battle Monuments Commission, and from them I was able to locate my grandfather in Belgium 61 years after his death and almost 40 years since my visit to his grave.

The Battle Monuments Commission does an incredible job of maintaining the graves of our fallen soldiers. There are over 5,000 of them at Henri-Chapelle alone. If you have the name of the fallen you can easily find his or her grave, and if you request it, they will take photographs of the grave for you and return them via email or regular international mail within days of your request.

In order to make the inscription on the cross or Star of David stand out better in a photograph, the lettering is filled in with contrasting beach sand for the photo. The sand used can only come from Omaha Beach at Normandy (the site where over 2,000 American GIs fought and died on D-Day) because, as I was told by the superintendent of the cemetery, only sand from hallowed ground can be used to touch a grave marker that marks a hallowed site.

I was going to try to write something to finish this that might serve as a final statement and fitting tribute to the man my grandfather must have been. Upon reflection, I think that there can be no better statement about who he was, what he did and what the men and women with whom he served and died with accomplished for us all than this photograph.

Crayton Scott Smith
Seattle, Washington
Memorial Day 2006

26 May 2006

Take the Dennis Hastert Poll

The Commissar is running a poll right now regarding what should be done with (or to) Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who sprang to the defense of sleazeball Congressman William Jefferson (D-Louisiana)--you know, the guy who thinks his freezer is some kind of safe deposit box (not even drug dealers are this stupid any more.) (Background here.)

Visit Politburo Diktat and vote. Should Hastert be...
  • investigated for being stupid
  • removed from the Speakership
  • required to sleep with Nancy Pelosi
  • made to clean out William Jefferson's freezer with a toothbush
  • Tarred and feathered
  • injected with Nancy Pelosi's Botox until his flab folds catch an updraft and carry him to Canada
  • all of the above
The Politburo Diktat » Take the Dennis Hastert Poll

(Hmm... could this Washington Post story, indicating that Hastert may now be "in the mix" in the Abramoff scandal, have anything to do with the Speaker's sudden fascination with the concepts of innocence and burden of proof?)

Mister Gato's New Trick

Cats love computer keyboards.

Or, rather, they love interposing themselves between humans and their computers (or between human beings and *anything*, other than a cat, to which the human being is giving undivided attention.)

This often involves walking across, lying down on top of, and otherwise abusing said computer keyboards.

Mister Gato is certainly no exception, as has been thoroughly documented both at this blog and elsewhere. But he has slowly learned (likely due to my agonized exclamations of "Aaagh! Buddy! Nooooo!") that it makes me crazy when he plays kitten-on-the-keys, especially when I'm trying to work.

Cats, of course, also love found water. Mr. G. is especially fond of anything that's in your glass.

In the picture below, Gato manages three things simultaneously:

(1) To use the large wrist-rests on the Dell Latitude 810 that is my primary work machine as a perch, managing to sit on the computer without touching the keyboard.

(2) To use the perch to reach a freshly-poured glass of ice water.

(3) To completely prevent me from getting any useful work done until he finishes his drink.

Gato's New Trick 390x289
Nicely done, buddy.

Be sure to check out the Friday Ark at The Modulator to see pictures of other bloggers' pets; this Sunday, the Carnival of the Cats is at Niobium.

25 May 2006

Desperate for Supporters, DeLay Turns to Stephen Colbert

A good sign that Tom DeLay doesn’t have the facts on his side: the top source for his latest defense against his critics is Stephen Colbert.

This morning, DeLay’s legal defense fund sent out a mass email criticizing the movie “The Big Buy: Tom DeLay’s Stolen Congress,” by “Outfoxed” creator Robert Greenwald.

The email features a “one-pager on the truth behind Liberal Hollywood’s the Big Buy,” and the lead item is Colbert’s interview with Greenwald on Comedy Central (where Colbert plays a faux-conservative, O’Reilly-esque character).
Think Progress » Desperate for Supporters, DeLay Turns to Stephen Colbert

Hat tip: Johnny D.


…for the reduced volume of blogging over here.

I’ve been working hard, but also taking a lot of training lately.

  • Last month, I sat for (and passed) the ITIL Foundation certification exam.

  • I’ve made a couple of quick (and very pleasant) trips to the Bay Area of California for administrative classes conducted by BMC Software, who produce the Remedy line of service-management products.

  • And this month (this week, in fact) I have been immersed in a PRINCE2 Practitioner class. (PRINCE2–PRojects IN a Controlled Environment–is a project management methodology developed by the Office of Government Commerce, the same folks who brought us ITIL.)

PRINCE2: whew. It’s a lot of material to get through–a 400 page text, plus supplementary material, in a week of classes–but our instructor (from Advantage Learning in the UK) must be doing something right, as 100% of the class passed the PRINCE2 Foundation exam yesterday.

Now, on to the Practitioner exam Friday. Once I recover from that, blogging should resume its normal operational tempo next week.


24 May 2006

Paging "Cute Overload"

Oh. My. God.

It's an AP photo, so we can't reproduce it here, but perhaps the caption will whet your interest enough to click the link:
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, three baby tigers are seen near their mother at the Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Tuesday, May 23, 2006.
Mama is massive; the little baby tigers are tiny and impossibly cute.

"Baby Tigers" - At the Zoo on Yahoo! News Photos

The Danger of IT Monocultures

Dan Geer is an extremely well respected security expert. When he worries about something, people listen.

One of the things he has worried - and warned - about is the danger represented by IT 'monocultures' - the situation that arises when everyone uses the same software, for example, and therefore everyone shares the same vulnerability to a computer virus or other security threat.


As it happens, Dan's bomb went off a few days ago, with the breakout of the "Backdoor.Ginwui" virus, a malicious bit of code that Symantec introduced in an alert as follows:

It has been reported that Backdoor.Ginwui may be dropped by a malicious Word document exploiting an undocumented vulnerability in Microsoft Word. This malicious Word document is currently detected as Trojan.Mdropper.H.
The ConsortiumInfo.org Standards Blog: "Monocultures and Document formats: Dan's Bomb Goes Off"

Also posted at Knowledge Work.

23 May 2006

Rita Katz, counterterrorist

Meet private, open-source counterterrorism operative Rita Katz:
Katz, who was born in Iraq and speaks fluent Arabic, spends hours each day monitoring the password-protected online chat rooms in which Islamic terrorists discuss politics and trade tips: how to disperse botulinum toxin or transfer funds, which suicide vests work best. Occasionally, a chat-room member will announce that he is turning in his user name and password and going to Iraq to become a martyr, a shaheed. Several weeks later, his friends will post a report of the young man blowing himself up. Katz usually logs on at six in the morning. When she has guests for dinner, she leaves a laptop open on the kitchen counter, so she can check for updates. “It is completely addicting,” she says. “You wake up thinking, I’ve been offline for seven hours, but the terrorists have been making plans.”

Traditionally, intelligence has been filtered through government agencies, such as the C.I.A. and the N.S.A., which gather raw data and analyze it, and the government decides who sees the product of their work and when. Katz, who is the head of an organization called the Search for International Terrorist Entities, or SITE Institute, has made it her business to upset that monopoly. She and her researchers mine online sources for intelligence, which her staff translates and sends out by e-mail to a list of about a hundred subscribers.
The New Yorker: Private Jihad

Related: SITE Institute

Thought for the day: Willie Nelson

'I could have gotten all pissed off thirty-something years ago when my wife Shirley tied my drunk ass to the bed with a clothesline and woke me up by beating me with a mop handle, but instead I figured I probably had it coming.'
The Tao of Willie (Yahoo News)

Bruce Schneier: The Eternal Value of Privacy

The most common retort against privacy advocates -- by those in favor of ID checks, cameras, databases, data mining and other wholesale surveillance measures -- is this line: 'If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?'

Some clever answers: 'If I'm not doing anything wrong, then you have no cause to watch me.' 'Because the government gets to define what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition.' 'Because you might do something wrong with my information.' My problem with quips like these -- as right as they are -- is that they accept the premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. It's not. Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.

Two proverbs say it best:
Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? ('Who watches the watchers?') and 'Absolute power corrupts absolutely.'

Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged." Watch someone long enough, and you'll find something to arrest -- or just blackmail -- with.

Bruce Schneier: The Eternal Value of Privacy (Wired News)

Thanks. No.

Hi there, beloved friend of this email recipient:

Please visit http://thanksno.com/

Because this person likes getting personal messages from you, but doesn’t want any more email like this, please.


Thanks. No.

22 May 2006

Barbaro's Survival 50-50 After Surgery - Yahoo! News

A bad leg fracture in any horse, much less a Thoroughbred racehorse, is usually a death sentence; this is the reason that horses are typically euthanized after such an injury, to save the animal from protracted suffering in what is an almost inevitably bad and painful death.

But when the horse in question is as special as Barbaro, who has never lost a race and was this year's consensus contender for the Triple Crown, everyone involved felt they had to try. Barbaro will certainly never race again, but if he survives the complicated surgery he just underwent at the large-animal veterinary equivalent of the Mayo Clinic, he has a promising and not-unpleasant future ahead of him as an equine gigolo a stud:
Barbaro underwent more than five hours of surgery Sunday to repair rear leg bones he'd broken in the Preakness, calmly awoke from anesthesia and 'practically jogged back to his stall' for something to eat.

His survival, however, is still 50-50.

Despite the huge first step on the road to recovery, Dr. Dean Richardson said the Kentucky Derby winner's fate still came down to 'a coin toss.'

'Right now he's very happy,' Richardson said after the surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center for Large Animals. 'He's eating, he's doing very good. But I've been doing this too long to know that day one is not the end of things.'
I am the furthest thing imaginable from a 'horsey' person, but I do wish this magnificent animal well.

Barbaro's Survival 50-50 After Surgery - AP via Yahoo! News

21 May 2006

IMAO: Carnival of the Cats #113

Carnival of the Cats #113 is up at IMAO.

Which, come to think of it, sounds not unlike "meow."

Multiculturalism, Wahhabi-style

Saudi Arabia... distributes its religion texts worldwide to numerous Islamic schools and madrassas that it does not directly operate. Undeterred by Wahhabism's historically fringe status, Saudi Arabia is trying to assert itself as the world's authoritative voice on Islam -- a sort of "Vatican" for Islam, as several Saudi officials have stated-- and these textbooks are integral to this effort. As the report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks observed, "Even in affluent countries, Saudi-funded Wahhabi schools are often the only Islamic schools" available.


The passages below -- drawn from the same set of Saudi texts proudly cited in the new 74-page review of curriculum reform now being distributed by the Saudi Embassy -- are shaping the views of the next generation of Saudis and Muslims worldwide. Unchanged, they will only harden and deepen hatred, intolerance and violence toward other faiths and cultures. Is this what Riyadh calls reform?


" Every religion other than Islam is false."

"Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words (Islam, hellfire): Every religion other than ______________ is false. Whoever dies outside of Islam enters ____________."


"Whoever obeys the Prophet and accepts the oneness of God cannot maintain a loyal friendship with those who oppose God and His Prophet, even if they are his closest relatives."

"It is forbidden for a Muslim to be a loyal friend to someone who does not believe in God and His Prophet, or someone who fights the religion of Islam."

"A Muslim, even if he lives far away, is your brother in religion. Someone who opposes God, even if he is your brother by family tie, is your enemy in religion."


"As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus."


The 10th-grade text on jurisprudence teaches that life for non-Muslims (as well as women, and, by implication, slaves) is worth a fraction of that of a "free Muslim male." Blood money is retribution paid to the victim or the victim's heirs for murder or injury:

"Blood money for a free infidel. [Its quantity] is half of the blood money for a male Muslim, whether or not he is 'of the book' or not 'of the book' (such as a pagan, Zoroastrian, etc.).

"Blood money for a woman: Half of the blood money for a man, in accordance with his religion. The blood money for a Muslim woman is half of the blood money for a male Muslim, and the blood money for an infidel woman is half of the blood money for a male infidel."


"The greeting 'Peace be upon you' is specifically for believers. It cannot be said to others."

"If one comes to a place where there is a mixture of Muslims and infidels, one should offer a greeting intended for the Muslims."

"Do not yield to them [Christians and Jews] on a narrow road out of honor and respect."


"Jihad in the path of God -- which consists of battling against unbelief, oppression, injustice, and those who perpetrate it -- is the summit of Islam. This religion arose through jihad and through jihad was its banner raised high. It is one of the noblest acts, which brings one closer to God, and one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God."

This is a Saudi textbook. (After the intolerance was removed.) - Washington Post, May 21, 2006

Related: Freedom House Report: Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques

20 May 2006

33, RIP

Ah, hell. The owners of the Rolling Rock beer brand have sold out to Anheuser Busch... but tiny Latrobe Brewing Co, which has been putting out Rolling Rock beer for generations, is not part of the deal. A-B will brew Rolling Rock elsewhere, and "the glass-lined tanks of Old Latrobe" will soon be empty.

From the glass-lined tanks of OLD LATROBE,
we tender this premium beer
for your enjoyment,
as a tribute to your good taste.
It comes from the mountain springs to you.

There's some Rolling Rock sitting in my fridge right now; as domestic bottled beers go, it's about my favorite. This sucks.
The departure of Rolling Rock beer from the tiny Pennsylvania town it has come to symbolize has left the future of local brewery workers — and the town's identity — in question.

The owner of the Rolling Rock brand, a U.S. subsidiary of the Belgium-based brewing giant InBev SA, announced Friday that it had sold the brand to Anheuser-Busch Cos. for $82 million.

But the Latrobe Brewing Co., which has churned out the beer since 1939, is not part of the deal. It will be sold and Anheuser-Busch will begin making Rolling Rock and Rock Green Light elsewhere in August.

Rolling Rock Sale Clouds Pa. Town's Future - Yahoo! News

The $1 million question: NYC vs. Raleigh

Ironically, while I'm down here in Raleigh, NC, my hometown newspaper is running a comparative study of what $1 million will buy you in Raleigh (a McMansion) vs New York City (a nothing-special 1100 square foot apartment in the West Village.)

G.D. Gearino, who fancies himself a humorist, makes the following observation:
Of course, the Triangle may well suffer from a comparison with Manhattan. They are very different places. Anyone living in the Triangle has to endure the numbing boredom of neighborliness, good manners, a relaxed pace of life and a mild climate. In contrast, residents of Manhattan get to enjoy aromatic subway stairwells, engage in lively discourse with culturally fascinating cab drivers, experience the excitement of citywide power blackouts, and revel in an economy so healthy that a bowl of Corn Flakes can fetch $8.
G.D., I know you're doing your best with the hometown boosterism thing, dude.

But as someone born and raised in Raleigh, and who spent the first thirty years of his life in the Triangle, and has been living happily in NYC for the last ten, I can tell you this:

The reason that housing is so much more affordable in Raleigh is that once you've bought the house, you have to live in Raleigh.

Also, in ten years, I have not had one single conversation about lawn care with *anyone*, and dammit, you can't put a price tag on that.

newsobserver.com | The $1 million question

Winning—and Losing—the First Wired War - Popular Science

Every war becomes a proving ground for new tactics and new technologies. Battleships rose to prominence in World War I; tanks and bombers determined the course of World War II; Vietnam brought air power definitively into the Jet Age. The current conflict is no different. The Pentagon began this war believing its new, networked technologies would help make U.S. ground forces practically unstoppable in Iraq. Slow-moving, unwired armies like Saddam Hussein’s were the kind of foe network-centric warriors were designed to carve up quickly. During the invasion in March 2003, that proved to be largely the case—despite most of the soldiers not being wired up at all. It was enough that their commanders had systems like BFT, which let them march to Baghdad faster than anyone imagined possible, with half the troops it took to fight the Gulf War in 1991. But now, more than three years into sectarian conflict and a violent insurgency that has cost nearly 2,400 American lives, an investigation of the current state of network-centric warfare reveals that frontline troops have a critical need for networked gear—gear that hasn’t come yet. “There is a connectivity gap,” states a recent Army War College report. “Information is not reaching the lowest levels.

This is a dangerous problem, because the insurgents are stitching together their own communications network. Using cellphones and e-mail accounts, these guerrillas rely on a loose web of connections rather than a top-down command structure. And they don’t fight in large groups that can be easily tracked by high-tech command posts. They have to be hunted down in dark neighborhoods, amid thousands of civilians, and taken out one by one.
Winning—and Losing—the First Wired War - Popular Science

19 May 2006

Dear NSA

Have a question? Just ask!
Q: Should I be worried about this red bump on my arm?
A: You should be more worried about the lump on your kidney.

Q: My wife suggested that I get this new haircut, how does it look?
A: It's fine -- but what's up with the pedicure?

Q: Where's Waldo?
A: We're still looking, but you can trust that we're following up on many excellent leads.

Q: I'm interviewing with AT&T, can you put in a good word for me?
A: Already taken care of.
Dear NSA.com

Apes Shown to Be Able to Plan Ahead

Primate behavior specialists have demonstrated experimentally that apes, like people, are capable of planning ahead and remembering to bring along the necessary tools for a future job.

Fair enough. Let's put orangutans and bonobos in charge of our country's energy policy.

Apes Shown to Be Able to Plan Ahead - AP via Yahoo! News

18 May 2006

George Will: Who Isn't A 'Values Voter'?

In today's Washington Post, George Will writes:
An aggressively annoying new phrase in America's political lexicon is 'values voters.' It is used proudly by social conservatives, and carelessly by the media to denote such conservatives.

This phrase diminishes our understanding of politics. It also is arrogant on the part of social conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only social conservatives vote to advance their values and everyone else votes to . . . well, it is unclear what they supposedly think they are doing with their ballots.


Last Saturday, when John McCain delivered the commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, he was said to be reaching out to values voters. Hillary Clinton, speaking recently at the annual U.S. Chamber of Commerce convention, scolded "kids," by which she evidently meant young adults, for thinking "work is a four-letter word." She was said to be courting values voters. If so, those voters must value slapdash rhetorical nonsense as well as work.
An excellent column, and well worth reading. Though not a social conservative myself, I know and love many very sincere people who are social conservatives, even as I harbor a cordial loathing for some of their public representatives.

That being said, to say or even imply that social conservatives have a lock on "values" or the moral high ground is both absurd and insulting to the two-thirds of America that *isn't* socially conservative.

George Will: Who Isn't A 'Values Voter'? (Washington Post, May 18, 2006)

On reading history

Have been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, especially history. Have noted the following three trends:

(1) I have become increasingly convinced that history is the only subject of study that really matters, and progressively more infuriated about how badly it is taught in schools, by and large.

(2) I grow more respectful of historians as a class or group, to the point that my esteem for them is nearly boundless, but also increasingly distrustful of the agenda and point of view of any single historian (from any point on the political spectrum.)

(There is no conflict or even inconsistency between these two positions.)

(3) I weep with shame for ever having considered myself an educated man.

Some histories, biographies, books on current events, and general works of social science I have recently enjoyed include:

They hate us for... uh, our freedom, that's it...

The precipitous rise in anti-Americanism is startling. To understand why the world has turned against the United States, the Pew Research Center, under the leadership of Andrew Kohut, has undertaken an unprecedented survey of world opinion--more than 91,000 respondents in fifty nations. In America Against the World, Kohut and Bruce Stokes unveil the sobering and surprising findings.

America's image is at a low ebb: where once it was considered the champion of democracy, America is now seen as a self-absorbed, militant hyperpower. More than 70 percent of non-Americans say that the world would be improved if America faced a rival military power, and about half the citizens of Lebanon, Jordan, and Morocco think that suicide attacks on Americans in Iraq are justified.

Where does this anti-Americanism come from? Kohut and Stokes find that what pushed the world away is American exceptionalism--our individualism and our go-it-alone attitude. And it doesn't help that Americans' pervasive religiosity and deep patriotism are often exaggerated by America's critics.
Pew Global Attitudes Project: America Against the World

17 May 2006

Sign of the times

Recent e-mail thread, names redacted and lightly edited to protect the innocent and/or guilty:
from: recruiter@techpimp.com
to: Barry

Hi Barry,

I am looking for an information architect for [gigantic investment bank] in NYC. Please e-mail me your resume and hrly rate and I will get back to you. XML and investment banking are a must.


from: Barry
to: recruiter@techpimp.com
bcc: friendandcolleague

Hi [Recruiter],

I'm off the market now, but I will pass this requirement on to friends who might be looking.

- bc


from: friendandcolleague
to: Barry

i will pass it along

man it's getting hot out there



from: Barry
to: friendandcolleague

Hot enough to make me worry about another tech bubble, actually.

- bc


from: friendandcolleague
to: Barry

oh man

here are two agenda items i saw on a whiteboard in a room i was in for a meeting

"new paradigms"

nda: sign here please


from: Barry
to: friendandcolleague

Yes. It's time to break out the Bullshit Bingo board again.



from: friendandcolleague
to: Barry

see also http://www.dack.com/web/bullshit.html

Sorry, you're not my type

It seems that Type I (juvenile) diabetics don't want to be associated with slovenly, undisciplined Type II (adult-onset) diabetics.

Because, you know, we have this tacky statistical tendency to be fat, poor, and old, and often belong to minority groups, and, you know, we brought this disease on ourselves with our sinful behavior anyway:

Most Type 1 diabetics develop the disease as children, without warning, on the basis of genetic factors. They are quite often thin. They come from all walks of life, neighborhoods and ethnicities.

Their chief advocates are parents of children with Type 1, a group that includes skilled, upper-income professionals devoted to finding a long-sought cure, which many think is approaching.

People with Type 2, on the other hand, are far more likely to be old and poor, overweight and not white, although this disease also stems, in part, from genetic factors. The risk increases with age. Because their disease is associated with eating and inactivity, they routinely encounter less sympathy. Often they are stigmatized as undisciplined.

As a group, Type 2 diabetics tend to be less organized and less forceful in advocating for themselves. They cannot argue as convincingly that more money might produce a medical cure anytime soon.

Yet the number of Type 2 diabetics is so large, and growing so rapidly, that Type 1 parents often say they fear that their children's plight is being lost in the din of the larger problem with the similar name. They often bristle when their children are mistaken for Type 2 diabetics, fearful that their children, and their own fund-raising efforts, are being muddied by the stigma that clings to the other disease.

Beyond 'I'm a Diabetic,' Little Common Ground - New York Times

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick."

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

'It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick,' the source told us in an in-person conversation."
The Blotter (ABC News)

Hat tip: MeFi.

Gato the Minuteman

The Rodent Saga in our apartment is, well, not quite over.

We've heard reports from other tenants in our building that mice are still being spotted occasionally... and apparently enough time has passed since Mister Gato's last pogrom that new generations of mice have been born who never heard stories of his Reign of Terror.

The little critters are getting bold again. Or suicidal. Or something. Gato takes border security very seriously, and amnesty is not on the table for discussion.

In recent days, we've noticed Mister G making quick, stabbing dives in the general vicinity of the stove. Haven't witnessed him catch anything (yet), but we know damn well what that intensity and focus means: he just went back to Active Duty.

So we decided to give him a hand: Carrie removed a cabinet door and cleared out a space to give the Mousinator better access to the probable ingress and egress locations for the meeces, whom we all collectively hate to pieces. (Yeah, I know that the pipes and the floor look pretty grotty, but it's a mostly-unrenovated building built in 1902; you'd look crappy at 104, too!)

Gato awaits meece scaled
Come out, come out, my little mouse tartare.
I will draw you from the walls with the power of my mind.

He has pretty much been sitting in the Mouse Cabinet since we made it accessible. We're going to have to forward his mail.

On Friday, be sure to visit The Modulator's Friday Ark to see pictures of other bloggers' pets; this Sunday, the Carnival of the Cats is at IMAO.

New York park goers to get free Internet Wi-Fi - Yahoo! News

New York's Central Park and a number of other public spaces will become public Internet hubs starting this summer when the city's parks begin offering free wireless net access, the city government said.
Cool. Washington Square Park is on the list.

Sometimes it's nice to have an IT executive as mayor.

New York park goers to get free Internet Wi-Fi - Yahoo! News

Macworld: First Look: Apple's new MacBook

Apple's new Intel Core Duo-based consumer laptop is out. Meet the MacBook:
When the MacBook Pro was introduced in January 2006, everyone was left wondering: If this is the MacBook Pro, where’s the MacBook? Five months later, the other shoe dropped.

The new non-pro MacBook is a 13-inch laptop that replaces both the iBook and the 12-inch PowerBook G4. But despite its lack of Pro in its name, this little laptop is much more powerful and full-featured than the laptops it’s replacing.
Macworld: First Look: Apple's new MacBook

Naturally, it's already available at the Apple Store. The cute little beasts start at $1099; the configuration that I'd want to buy (2GB RAM, 100GB hard drive, AppleCare) prices out at just under $2200... or, comparing Apples to Apples (sorry about that) roughly $800 less than a comparably configured MacBook Pro.

16 May 2006

Nice line, John.

John Tierney has the best line of all the pundits this morning on Bush's immigration speech:
"Like Ava Gardner tending to the germphobic Howard Hughes in his isolation chamber, Bush had to reassure the Minuteman Republicans that they were safely sealed from the perils outside. "
Throwing Hawks a Bone - New York Times (TimesSelect required, so most people will never, ever read this article in full)

15 May 2006

Now live: MilBlogs

Some of the best milbloggers in the business are now live and kicking over at MilBlogs.

Check them out.

14 May 2006

Watermark: Hi, Mom!

The Mother's Day edition of the Carnival of the Cats is up at Watermark.

Watermark: Hi, Mom!

Linguistic profile

Since I'm headed down South today, here's some interesting, quasi-empirical proof that you can take the boy out of Dixie but you can't take the Dixie out of the boy:

Your Linguistic Profile:
35% General American English
30% Dixie
15% Upper Midwestern
15% Yankee
0% Midwestern

(via Idiom Savant)

Bound for Carolina

Packing my bags yet again this morning; taking off for a mercifully brief flight in a few hours, headed for for a week of remote work from North Carolina.

Need to check up on Mom, and with her on the mend it's finally time to plan the memorial service for my father, who died last fall.

Will be posting as usual from the land of barbecue and sweet tea soon. (It's always a challenge to try to maintain a sensible diet in homemade-biscuit country.)

13 May 2006

"Your cat is all feet."

Cats sometimes sleep in improbable positions, and Mister Gato is no exception.

Just a minute ago, I looked up at him in his high perch, and noticed that he was sound asleep whilst contorted into quite an unusual shape: head tilted up, legs jutting out at odd angles, tail dangling randomly, so that he resembled nothing so much as a Cubist portrait of a kittycat.

I tapped my wife on the shoulder, pointed, and said, "Your cat is all feet."

cat as cubist portrait scaled
Kids, don't try this at home.

As, indeed, he is.

Wordlessly, she handed me the camera.

We're late again boarding the Friday Ark at The Modulator, but hopefully we'll be on time for the Carnival of the Cats, hosted this Sunday at Watermark.


"Fuck you. Strong letter to follow."

-- Doug Thompson, publisher of Capitol Hill Blue, responding on March 6 to an FBI national security letter demanding traffic data, payment records, and other information about his web site; quoted in Reason magazine, June 2006.

How Daddy affects your job

Successes or failures of employees in the workplace can be traced to what kind of father they had, a psychologist argues in a new book.

In "The Father Factor," Stephan Poulter lists five styles of fathers -- super-achieving, time bomb, passive, absent and compassionate/mentor -- who have powerful influences on the careers of their sons and daughters.

Children of the "time-bomb" father, for example, who explodes in anger at his family, learn how to read people and their moods. Those intuitive abilities make them good at such jobs as personnel managers or negotiators, he writes.

How "Daddy" affects your job - Reuters via Yahoo! News

When the radical priest come to get me released we was all on the cover of Newsweek

Many death penalty opponents hoped that Roger Coleman, executed by the State of Virginia in 1992, would be exonerated (posthumously) from charges of rape and murder by evaluation of DNA evidence, a technique that wasn't available when he was arrested, tried and convicted.

Coleman's case had been a cause célèbre in the early 1990s; he was a bright, articulate man who steadfastly maintained his innocence, and many people came to believe his story.

When the DNA test results finally came back, it was clear that Coleman was, in fact, guilty as charged. Quite a blow to the anti-death-penalty forces who had championed Coleman's case, many of whom (including representatives of the high-powered DC law firm Arnold & Porter) simply weren't interested in commenting for Glenn Frankel's story in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine.

How surprising.

To his credit, however, one of Coleman's chief defenders, Jim McCloskey, was more than willing to take a hard (and public) look at how badly, and thoroughly, he had been duped. McCloskey's reflections are the centerpiece of Frankel's story, which makes for fascinating reading.

As for the Coleman case and the people who glommed onto it, I think the good citizens of Grundy, Virginia, the hardscrabble coal-mining town where the murder took place, have it figured out pretty well:
[Grundy residents] viewed Coleman's supporters as a powerful group of lawyers, activists and journalists who were blinded by their loathing of the death penalty and taken in by a clever psychopath. "They were trying to build this case for Roger's innocence, and they didn't care who they threw to the dogs," says Pat Hatfield, the victim of an earlier incident, in which Coleman had exposed himself and masturbated in front of her at the public library. "It didn't matter whose life was destroyed as long as they could save Roger."
Burden of Proof: Washington Post Magazine

Update: Good God, my younger readers do indeed make me feel old as Methuselah. After a few e-mailed inquiries about the title of this post, I am compelled to point out that once upon a time there was a singer-songwriter named Paul Simon, who penned a little ditty called Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard. And, see, Jim McCloskey is an unordained minister, and the Washington Post is owned by the same company that owns Newsweek, and... oh, dammit, never mind.

WSJ: U.S. Goes Along With Dollar's Fall to Ease Trade Gap

The Bush administration is quietly acquiescing in the dollar's recent slide, a potentially risky approach but one it hopes may gently narrow the yawning U.S. trade gap by realigning world currencies.

On Friday, government data showed that gap shrank in March. The Commerce Department said the monthly U.S. trade deficit narrowed to $62 billion, the smallest figure in seven months, spurred by record exports and an import bill that dropped somewhat despite high oil prices.


...[B]acking currency depreciation can be tricky. The dollar's slow slide could become a steep plunge if markets turn against it -- particularly if investors fear that U.S. officials are trying to engineer a drop. That's why the administration isn't calling attention to its stance, except for attempts to press China and its neighbors to strengthen their currencies.
Wall Street Journal (subscription required) - U.S. Goes Along With Dollar's Fall to Ease Trade Gap

Ma Bell and Big Brother

The former chief executive of Qwest, the nation's fourth-largest phone company, rebuffed government requests for the company's calling records after 9/11 because of "a disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process," his lawyer said yesterday.

The statement on behalf of the former Qwest executive, Joseph P. Nacchio, followed a report that the other big phone companies — AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon — had complied with an effort by the National Security Agency to build a vast database of calling records, without warrants, to increase its surveillance capabilities after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Questions Raised for Phone Giants in Spy Data Furor - New York Times

12 May 2006

Brutal but accurate

Here's the cover of next week's Economist:

axis of feeble
In the utterly savage but essentially accurate story inside, "In Carterland," we read:
The president’s political strategy has always rested on supercharging the base while attracting just enough independents and Democrats to give him a majority. But the Democrats have long since abandoned him (that approval rating stands at 4%), and now it looks as if the base has had enough. The New York Times/CBS News Poll and the USA Today/Gallup polls both found that only about 50% of conservatives approve of Mr Bush’s performance. The figure for Republicans hovers in the high sixties. Their list of complaints is long. Small-government conservatives hate his lax spending. Paleo-conservatives hate his immigration policies. Libertarians hate his meddling in medical-ethics cases. John Zogby, a pollster, says that Mr Bush’s job approval has fallen to 50% or less among gun-owners and even evangelicals.

Mr Bush’s dismal poll numbers are limiting his ability to manage Congress. Normally loyal Republicans such as the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, are criticising his pick for the directorship of the CIA. The Senate ignored his veto threat and approved an inflated $109 billion spending bill. The House is in open revolt against his immigration-reform plans.
Just so.

New Scientist: Change the way you see the world

From the latest issue of New Scientist magazine (subscription required) comes an article entitled "Change the way you see the world" (and it will):

We love our maps. At first glance, people are shocked by them: the shapes look familiar, yet everything is absurdly distorted. Without even thinking, they have learned something about the world they live in.

Most of our data comes from sources such as United Nations reports and is often tucked away in appendices. No one wants to look at those figures, and it would be hard to provoke any excitement by confronting someone with spreadsheets filled with numbers. But you just can't help looking at these pictures. After all, a new view of the world, rather like the famous Earthrise photo taken by Apollo astronauts, is a compelling sight.

The maps referred to here are produced by the statisticians and cartographers at Worldmapper.org, and they use a simple but powerfully effective method to convey information: they shrink or swell portions of the world map to indicate the magnitude of the statistics being shown.

Here's a pair of maps that speak volumes:

patents granted per year
Patents granted per year

children 10-14 in the workforce
Children aged 10-14 in the workforce

New Scientist: Change the way you see the world (subscription required)

If you don't subscribe to New Scientist--and you should; it's a very readable weekly that wipes the floor with every other magazine that even attempts to communicate with a lay audience--you can go directly to Worldmapper.org and groove on the mappage therein.

Related: Worldmapper.org

Hat Tip: BLDG BLOG via Althouse

11 May 2006

The state of things, six months before the election

A pair of articles in the Washington Post this morning sums up the state of things, six months before the election, very nicely: the President's support has eroded badly even among the vaunted conservative "base," but luckily for the GOP, the Democrats seem to be in no danger of getting their act together in order to exploit the situation:

Disaffection over spending and immigration have caused conservatives to take flight from President Bush and the Republican Congress at a rapid pace in recent weeks, sending Bush's approval ratings to record lows and presenting a new threat to the GOP's 12-year reign on Capitol Hill, according to White House officials, lawmakers and new polling data.

Bush and Congress have suffered a decline in support from almost every part of the conservative coalition over the past year, a trend that has accelerated with alarming implications for Bush's governing strategy.

Bush, GOP Congress Losing Core Supporters (Washington Post, May 11, 2006)


Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and the leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have clashed angrily in recent days in a dispute about how the party should spend its money in advance of this fall's midterm elections.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who is leading the party's effort to regain majority status in the House, stormed out of Dean's office several days ago leaving a trail of expletives, according to Democrats familiar with the session.

The blowup highlights a long-standing tension that has pitted Democratic congressional leaders, who are focused on their best opportunities for electoral gains this fall, against Dean and many state party chairmen, who believe that the party needs to be rebuilt from the ground up -- even in states that have traditionally been Republican strongholds.

Democrats Are Fractured Over Strategy, Funds (Washington Post, May 11, 2006)

From the perspective of this lifelong Republican, the GOP is indeed in desperate trouble; the only thing that can possibly save it at this point is the fecklessness of the opposition.

Back home in NYC...

...and hobbling around like a little old man with a bad back, after twelve+ hours of middle-seat coach air-travel in four days. Will do some stretching, and take a hot soak. More soon.

09 May 2006

Google Maps Hack: FloodMaps

Global warming alarmist? You'll really dig this: a Google Maps hack that lets you superimpose rising sea levels on your favorite piece of coastal real estate.

Here's a picture of what my immediate neighborhood will look like if the sea level rises five meters (based on elevation data from NASA):

google maps flood hack
Not looking good for Jersey. Or Brooklyn.

Flood Map of lower Manhattan, Eastern NJ, Brooklyn and Queens at 5m sea level rise

Hat top: BoingBoing

08 May 2006

Your mileage may vary - and how!

Chrysler says the four-wheel drive diesel version of the Jeep Liberty gets 22 mpg in the city. Consumer Reports tested it and found it got more like 11 mpg.

Honda claims its hybrid Civic sedan gets 48 mpg in the city.
Consumer Reports found it only gets 26 mpg -- a 46 percent difference.

Chevy's Trailblazer EXT four-wheel drive is supposed to get 15 mpg in the city. For
Consumer Reports, it was 9 mpg.

'It's an unrealistic sales and marketing tool that they are actually using. They are saying you're going to get 35 mpg, and you're really only going to get 21,' Champion said."
Pain At The Pump: Government Gas Secrets - Yahoo! News

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!

The Freaknomics boys are at it again, with an article in the Sunday New York Times about "Expert Performance."

Simply put, research shows that people who are very good at what they do - ballet dancers, soccer players, neurosurgeons - are not born with "natural talent," but acquire their skills through ruthless discipline and practice.

Ericsson and his colleagues have thus taken to studying expert performers in a wide range of pursuits, including soccer, golf, surgery, piano playing, Scrabble, writing, chess, software design, stock picking and darts. They gather all the data they can, not just performance statistics and biographical details but also the results of their own laboratory experiments with high achievers.

Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.

Ericsson's research suggests a third cliché as well: when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love — because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.

A Star Is Made - New York Times

Chapomatic: On A Genocide Prevention Corps

Chap has a long, well-reasoned, and thought-provoking post on why the military needs to rework and reorganize itself in ways that will be conducive to making the ungovernable areas of the world (e.g., Darfur) not just safer for the people who are trying (and often failing) to simply survive there, but safer for the rest of the world as well.

As this is a thorny problem with no obvious solution, and one that I have long admired (in the sense of 'My, my, that is indeed one hell of a problem'), I found Chap's thoughts very welcome indeed. He's a professional military man and one of the brightest guys I know, and when he thinks out loud like this, I tend to pay attention:

We need a better method of deciding when to “go into Bosnia”. One component is a military doctrine that addresses different things than did the Weinberger/Powell doctrine while still considering the same concerns. We need to consider the impact of time on political will, the danger of changing goals once committed, the danger of expanding problems, and the long term nature of intervasion. Congress will need to have this made easy for them, too. It’s easy to call for Darfur intervention now; much harder to keep the heat on a couple of years later.

The UN peacekeeping forces were not feckless in Rwanda merely because Kofi Annan was in charge of that UN region. They had people who weren’t organized, trained and equipped to do the job they needed to do–but more importantly, they couldn’t shoot people. “Creating a security space” means, among other things, that the forces can shoot people if they need to. It also means that they can’t set up pedophile rings and graft and corruption as is rampant in some of the UN efforts. Do we need different rules for a combined group of folks that isn’t quite the UCMJ, or a superset that is compatible that all parties in this new setup could use? How do we support an ally who wishes to intervene like this? If an ally wishes to join us, how do we modify our military coalition efforts to support the other country using all the new tools we have? Coalitions are the way things get done internationally, despite our size. How do we learn from what the other guys are doing?

Make yourself a cup of coffee (I've done just that in my little hotel room in California) and go read the whole thing.

Chapomatic » On A Genocide Prevention Corps

07 May 2006

Packing with Papa

Blogging will be reduced over the next few days, as I'm leaving for a trip to California in a few hours, and will have limited network access during the day.

I was so busy last week that there was no time for catblogging! Better late than never, though. Here's Mister Gato, proposing that he be checked as "excess baggage" on my flight to the Bay Area of California.

packing the cat scaled
I don't weigh much and would be a nice addition to your hotel room.

(The little boo-boo on his right leg, visible in the shot, is a very minor flare-up of eosinophilic granuloma complex, a common feline skin condition related to an allergic reaction; he is under the care of a very good veterinarian and doing fine.)

The Modulator has had the Friday Ark up for a couple of days now; later today, the Carnival of the Cats will go live at Pages Turned.

Life lessons...

...acquired while trying to get as quickly as possible to the bedside of a relative visiting from out of town, laid up in an emergency room at a hospital across the Hudson River in New Jersey:

(1) When you make a rental car reservation through the Web or an 800 number for same-day booking, and they give you a confirmation number, this does not necessarily mean that the neighborhood outlet you specified for pickup will actually have a car for you. That's right - even though all records are on the computer, confirmation number != available car.

(2) When a New York City cab driver assures you that he knows the way to the Meadowlands Hospital from the Lincoln Tunnel and does not need the instructions you got over the phone from the people at the hospital, do not believe him.

(3) When you threaten a New York City cab driver with physical violence and/or the Taxi and Limousine Commission because he is attempting to drive you to Newark, having missed the turnoff for the Meadowlands, he will immediately turn off the meter and take you to Newark Airport. You will not have to pay him anything like the going rate for taking someone to Newark Airport. (Suggested phrasing: "You thieving f***, I'm going to kick your ass until you bleed from the ears and then turn over whatever's left to the TLC.")

(3a) This is not legal advice and almost certainly not a legal practice. Do not blame me if you end up in jail after saying something like this; I probably should have.

(4) Any randomly selected New Jersey cab driver at Newark Airport can find Meadowlands Hospital. It's a ten minute drive and a $35 flat fare (oof.) You will feel ripped off by this but pay it without demurral.

(5) When Meadowlands Hospital discharges your elderly aunt from the ER with a badly broken ankle in a temporary cast, they will in fact call a cab for you, and the driver will be insanely helpful and solicitous in maneuvering her into a comfortable position in his town car. You will tip him lavishly on a $10 fare and not feel ripped off in the least.

(6) The [hotel name redacted] in Secaucus, New Jersey has a shockingly good restaurant. If they are afraid that your elderly relative is going to sue them for slipping in their bathroom and breaking her ankle, a late breakfast buffet with all the trimmings is free for your entire crew; otherwise, it's $15.99 per person.

(7) The only pharmacy within walking distance of the [hotel name redacted] is WalMart; on a Saturday morning, all of Secaucus and half of Ciudad Juárez is there having their prescriptions filled.

(8) The [hotel name redacted] also has shockingly good room service.

06 May 2006

"Go help the sheik"

The videotape released last week by the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi showed him firing long bursts from a machine gun, his forearms sprouting from beneath black fatigues, as he exuded the very picture of a strong jihadist leader.

But in clips the American military released on Thursday and described as captured outtakes from the same video, Mr. Zarqawi, head of the Council of Holy Warriors, cut a different figure.

In one scene, Mr. Zarqawi, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq, appears flummoxed by how to discharge the machine gun in fully automatic mode. Off camera, one aide is heard ordering another, "Go help the sheik." A man walks over and fiddles with the weapon so Mr. Zarqawi can fire it in bursts.

Another sequence shows Mr. Zarqawi handing the weapon off to other aides and striding away, revealing white jogging shoes beneath his black guerrilla attire. One insurgent later appears to grab the machine gun absent-mindedly by its scalding-hot barrel and drop it.
U.S. Uses Iraq Insurgent's Own Video to Mock Him - New York Times

I opened my hotel room with the cream cheese...

There's a lot of interest in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in many industries. It allows inventory to be scanned and identified quickly, and is also showing up in "smart" credit cards, building security badges, and similar applications.

Unfortunately, the most common implementation of RFID is basically completely unprotected from hackers with commercial, off-the-shelf equipment:
Located in Rheinberg, Germany, the Future Store is the world's preeminent test bed of RFID-based retail shopping. All the items in this high tech supermarket have RFID price tags, which allow the store and individual product manufacturers - Gillette, Kraft, Procter & Gamble - to gather instant feedback on what's being bought. Meanwhile, shoppers can check out with a single flash of a reader. In July 2004, Wired hailed the store as the "supermarket of the future." A few months later, German security expert Lukas Grunwald hacked the chips.

Grunwald cowrote a program called RFDump, which let him access and alter price chips using a PDA (with an RFID reader) and a PC card antenna. With the store's permission, he and his colleagues strolled the aisles, downloading information from hundreds of sensors. They then showed how easily they could upload one chip's data onto another. "I could download the price of a cheap wine into RFDump," Grunwald says, "then cut and paste it onto the tag of an expensive bottle." The price-switching stunt drew media attention, but the Future Store still didn't lock its price tags. "What we do in the Future Store is purely a test," says the Future Store spokesperson Albrecht von Truchsess. "We don't expect that retailers will use RFID like this at the product level for at least 10 or 15 years." By then, Truchsess thinks, security will be worked out.

Today, Grunwald continues to pull even more-elaborate pranks with chips from the Future Store. "I was at a hotel that used smartcards, so I copied one and put the data into my computer," Grunwald says. "Then I used RFDump to upload the room key card data to the price chip on a box of cream cheese from the Future Store. And I opened my hotel room with the cream cheese!"

Wired: The RFID Hacking Underground

05 May 2006

Letter to Bill Frist

May 5, 2006

Senator William H. Frist
509 Hart Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Frist:

I am writing you today to request that you bring the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (H.R. 810) to the floor for a vote with no amendments and no alternatives this month.

As a diabetic myself, and as the husband of a cancer survivor, I have a personal interest in the progress of this legislation.

As a lifelong Republican who has been thoroughly disheartened to see how the stem cell issue has been hyped, abused and demagogued by religious extremists in my own party, I am glad to see a Republican like yourself taking a leadership role on this issue.

As someone who believes that biotechnology is a key industry for America’s economic future, I urge you to support sensible empowering legislation for stem-cell research, lest we lose an entire generation of biotech researchers to South Korea and Singapore.

The majority of the American public supports stem cell research and wants this bill passed. It’s been a year since H.R. 810 passed in the House; it’s time to bring the bill to the Senate floor now. I hope that you will press forward to pass this legislation quickly with no amendments and no alternatives so that it will be ready for the President’s signature and enactment by May 24, 2006.


Barry Campbell


03 May 2006

Return of the Aeron chair

The home office at Enrevanche House is once again complete. We just picked up our repaired, reconditioned Aeron chair from the nice folks at Sam Flax... no charge for parts or labor.

You truly do get what you pay for. The chair is six years old, but Herman Miller has a 12-year original-owner warranty on their chairs, and Sam Flax sells so many of them that they have all the parts in stock.

From delivery of a broken chair to their door, to return of a repaired and reconditioned chair - time elapsed, two business days.

All we paid was cab fare to get it back and forth.

We're not the only ones happy to have it back.

Color us satisfied customers, and you can bet we'll be recommending both the chair and the dealer to friends with renewed vigor.

Unhappy memories

New York City had its biggest fire since 9/11 yesterday: a complex of ancient warehouses on the Brooklyn waterfront burned to the ground, covering much of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan with acrid, chemical-smelling smoke.

It was a ten-alarm fire, which means, I think, that NYC was getting mutual-aid support from firefighters responding from Canada at one point... whew. (Okay, I exaggerate, but just a little.) The FDNY made good use of its fireboats, pouring millions of gallons of East River water onto the roaring blaze.

Smell is an incredibly powerful trigger for memory.

I happened to be down in the Financial District yesterday, putting in one of my relatively infrequent appearances at the office, and as I walked down lower Broadway with the haze and smoke in the air, I was having major flashbacks to that awful day in September 2001. My companion, a Chicagoan, noted that I looked a little funny, and asked if I was okay.

"Unhappy memories," I explained.

The New York Times is circumspect about the cause of the fire, though it notes that the owner of the property has had questionable fires on his properties in the past.

The dishy NY real-estate site Curbed states it a bit more boldly:
"Word on the street is... party A recently wanted to purchase entire 1 million+ sf of terminal space from Party B. Party B refused because he/she thought that they could make more money by renting it out to film and TV entities. The word is that Party A burned it so that Party B could no longer make any money with it. Heard this from four different sources in Greenpoint this afternoon."

Crunchy Culture

Are you, or do you know, a "Crunchy Conservative?"

Author Rod Dreher, whose book, "Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-Wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or At Least the Republican Party)," may have the longest subtitle I've ever seen, has a little theory about a new movement emerging from within the conservative fold.

Crunchiness, and its potential to both irk and challenge the Republican Party, has become Rod Dreher's central preoccupation: In the summer of 2002 -- not long after he'd discovered that Birkenstock sandals make his achin' dogs feel better and that the stuff from the co-op tastes even better than the No. 2 combo at his beloved Sonic Drive-In -- Dreher wrote a brief essay for National Review's Web site, which grew into a 3,000-word manifesto for the magazine.

"We made fun of our liberal friends," he originally wrote of his newfound love for organic food, "until we actually tasted the vegetables they got from the farm. We're converts now, and since you asked, I don't remember being told when I signed up for the GOP that henceforth, I was required to refuse broccoli that tastes like broccoli because rustic socialist composters think eating it is a good idea."

The essay ran, and though his right-wing friends mostly hated it, he got more positive responses from readers than for anything he'd ever written, all on a variation of "Me, too."

A broader manifesto began to take shape. Crunchy Cons prefer smaller houses, older things, the musty truth of Scripture. "Culture is more important than politics and economics" is a bullet-point, as is "Beauty is more important than efficiency. . . . Small, Local, Old and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New and Abstract." Meanwhile, "The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty and wisdom."

Memo to Rod, et al: There is no inconsistency between having a membership in the local food co-op and a nice portfolio of mutual funds, and neither is a good predictor of how someone will vote.

Also: Damn hippies. Get a haircut!

Crunchy Culture: Washington Post

Copywriting 101: Copyblogger

Copyblogger is all about “how to sell with blogs, e-mail and RSS.” It looks like an excellent resource for small businessses and consultancies looking to leverage the power of the Web to market themselves.

Copywriting 101 is a set of articles about persuasive writing for the Web:

Copywriting skills are an essential element to the new conversational style of marketing. Whether you’re looking to sell something or to build traffic by earning links from others, you’ll need to tell compelling stories that grab attention and connect with people. This tutorial is designed to get you up and running with the basics of copywriting in ten easy lessons.


02 May 2006

Jon Stewart Defends Colbert's Dinner Speech

'It was balls-alicious,' Stewart said. 'Apparently he was under the impression that they'd hired him to do what he does every night on television'--that is, make fun of conservatives, public officials and the press in the guise of an O'Reillyesque talk show host.

'We've never been prouder of him, but HOLY ----,' Stewart added.

He also described the annual dinner as 'where the President and the press corps consummate their loveless marriage.'


Colbert made fun of his mixed reception at the dinner, re-running the tape of one of his jokes with the audience barely reacting. He described this as "very respectful silence," and said that actually the crowd loved him.

"They practically carried me out on their shoulders," he said, "even though I wasn't ready to go."
Jon Stewart Defends Colbert's Dinner Speech (Editor and Publisher)

Related: ThankYouStephenColbert.org