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

31 August 2006

On the ledge

I was called away unexpectedly on business, so we're dipping into the Strategic Catblogging JPEG Reserve.

Here's a nice picture of Mister Gato enjoying the bedroom air conditioner to the absolute fullest, taken in August:

mister gato on the windowsill resized
Do not disturb.

(Yes, observant reader, we go through a hell of a lot of fancy skin lotion in the summer months. That's Kiehl's Creme de Corps on Mister G's left, and Bigelow's mentholated, medicated lotion on the right.)

Be sure to visit The Modulator's Friday Ark to see pictures of bloggers' pets from around the world, and don't miss the Carnival of the Cats this Sunday, hosted by Watermark.

(P.S. This Labor Day Weekend marks the tenth anniversary of my move to New York City, and the beginning of the happiest 25% of my entire life: the decade I've spent with the lovely and talented Carrie. Watch this space for commemorative observations.)

30 August 2006

Ron Paul: Why Are Americans So Angry?

Since the use of power to achieve political ends is accepted, pervasive, and ever expanding, popular support for various programs is achieved by creating fear. Sometimes the fear is concocted out of thin air, but usually it’s created by wildly exaggerating a problem or incident that does not warrant the proposed government “solution.” Often government caused the problem in the first place. The irony, of course, is that government action rarely solves any problem, but rather worsens existing problems or creates altogether new ones.

Fear is generated to garner popular support for the proposed government action, even when some liberty has to be sacrificed. This leads to a society that is systemically driven toward fear-- fear that gives the monstrous government more and more authority and control over our lives and property.

Fear is constantly generated by politicians to rally the support of the people.

Environmentalists go back and forth, from warning about a coming ice age to arguing the grave dangers of global warming.

It is said that without an economic safety net-- for everyone, from cradle to grave-- people would starve and many would become homeless.

It is said that without government health care, the poor would not receive treatment. Medical care would be available only to the rich.

Without government insuring pensions, all private pensions would be threatened.

Without federal assistance, there would be no funds for public education, and the quality of our public schools would diminish-- ignoring recent history to the contrary.

It is argued that without government surveillance of every American, even without search warrants, security cannot be achieved. The sacrifice of some liberty is required for security of our citizens, they claim.

We are constantly told that the next terrorist attack could come at any moment. Rather than questioning why we might be attacked, this atmosphere of fear instead prompts giving up liberty and privacy. 9/11 has been conveniently used to generate the fear necessary to expand both our foreign intervention and domestic surveillance.

Fear of nuclear power is used to assure shortages and highly expensive energy.

In all instances where fear is generated and used to expand government control, it’s safe to say the problems behind the fears were not caused by the free market economy, or too much privacy, or excessive liberty.

It’s easy to generate fear, fear that too often becomes excessive, unrealistic, and difficult to curb. This is important: It leads to even more demands for government action than the perpetrators of the fear actually anticipated.

Why Are Americans So Angry? (Ron Paul, R-TX; Remarks on the Floor of The House of Representatives, 29 June 2006)

On the one year anniversary

On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's deadly landfall, here's archival and up-to-date coverage from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

PLoS Medicine: Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false. The probability that a research claim is true may depend on study power and bias, the number of other studies on the same question, and, importantly, the ratio of true to no relationships among the relationships probed in each scientific field. In this framework, a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance. Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias. In this essay, I discuss the implications of these problems for the conduct and interpretation of research.
Ioannidis JPA (2005) Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. PLoS Med 2(8): e124

This way to the egress

By Election Day, how many Republican candidates will have come out against the Iraq war or distanced themselves from the administration's policies?

August 2006 will be remembered as a watershed in the politics of Iraq. It is the month in which a majority of Americans told pollsters that the struggle for Iraq was not connected to the larger war on terrorism. They thus renounced a proposition the administration has pushed relentlessly since it began making the case four years ago to invade Iraq.
Slowly Sidling To Iraq's Exit (EJ Dionne, Washington Post, 29 August 2006)

29 August 2006

Tierney: South Park Refugees

John Tierney attends the Reason magazine conference in Amsterdam, and finds libertarian Republicans thin on the ground:

The G.O.P. used to have a sizable libertarian bloc, but I couldn’t see any sign of it at the conference. [South Park creators Matt and Trey] Stone and Parker said they were rooting for Hillary Clinton in 2008 simply because it would be weird to have her as president. The prevailing sentiment among the rest of the libertarians was that the best outcome this November would be a Democratic majority in the House, because then at least there’d be gridlock.

“We’re the long-suffering, battered spouse in a dysfunctional political marriage of convenience,” said Nick Gillespie, the editor in chief of Reason. “Most of the libertarians I know have given up on the G.O.P. The odds that we’ll stick around for the midterm election are about as good as the odds that Rick Santorum will join the Village People.”

"South Park Refugees," John Tierney, New York Times, 29 August 2006 (behind TimesSelect firewall)

28 August 2006

Consultancy or Body Shop?

Rob Lawrence wrote a useful field guide to help you identify whether you’re dealing with a consultancy or a body shop:

What are the differences between a consultancy and a “body shop”? No matter what your role in professional services–buyer, seller, or resource–you need to be able to understand how the two differ. Consider:

  • If you are a buyer, you need to distinguish between high-value services you should select on the basis of value, and low-level commodity services you can safely select on the basis of price.
  • If you are a seller, you need to understand what type of services you are selling and how you are perceived by clients.
  • If you are a resource, you need to understand the type of organization you are working for and how the organization will impact your career development.

I might quibble with a point or two that Rob makes, or in where he places his emphasis, but in general I think this is dead-on.

A little selective kibbitzing:

Rob states:

The more a firm favors fixed-price engagements that are focused on the achievement of specific results, the closer it is to a true consultancy. If a firm favors time-and-materials billing, whether out of habit or out of worries about “scope creep,” the closer it is to a body shop.

Generally true; however, depending on the nature of the work your firm performs, fixed-price work is not always logistically feasible, and this may not make you any less a high-value consultancy.

And Rob also mentions, as a key factor:

A body shop bills as much of its consultants’ time as possible, all the time. In contrast, a consultancy continually invests time in improving its collective knowledge and performance.

I would add: A high-value consultancy also invests time and money improving the skill-sets of its individual consultants. If the firm you’re working for isn’t interested in your personal and professional development, you’re working for a body shop.

The Work the Line Blog - Consultancy or Body Shop?

Also posted at Knowledge Work.

Nice stacks.

Hot library smut. (Not what you think; completely safe for work.)

Laisser les carnavals commencer

RINO Sightings (the Ninja Warriors Edition) are up over at Don Surber's place.

The 127th Carnival of the Cats is up at Catymology.

27 August 2006

Best computer for school? MacBook

In years past, I'd suppress my inner Mac booster and point out that you should weigh the school's operating system suggestions (which typically means Microsoft Windows) in your deliberations, and I'd note in fairness that a Windows laptop can be better suited for some people.

Boy, am I glad I don't have to do that anymore.

Get a MacBook.

As we've discussed in this column before, the Intel-based MacBook can run Windows, either directly using Apple's Boot Camp beta (which was recently updated to version 1.1 and will appear as a full-fledged feature in the upcoming Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard,
www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/) or using virtualization software such as Parallels Desktop (http://www.parallels.com/).

If your school requires you to use some Windows-only software, you can simply launch Parallels and run Windows within a separate window in your Mac OS X environment, or restart the machine from Windows using Boot Camp.

The Seattle Times: Business & Technology: Best computer for school? MacBook

Think globally, eat locally

Journalist, professor, and foodie Michael Pollan on why buying locally-grown produce (regardless of agricultural method) is probably environmentally superior to "buying organic":
Most of the produce on the East Coast comes from the Central Valley of California. We're taking organic lettuce, grown with great care, terrific cultural practices, and we put it on a truck and we keep it cold from the moment we pick it, 36-degree cold chain all the way across the country for three to five days, and that takes 56 calories of fossil-fuel energy to get one calorie of organic lettuce. Now technically that product is organic. In any meaningful sense of that word, if you think back in the values embedded in that word and its history, I have trouble calling it organic. So organic has become less sustainable as it's gotten bigger.

Say you live in Boston and you want to buy organic. You can buy that lettuce and support the care of some land in the Central Valley of California. If you buy local you can support some land on the outskirts of Boston. So if you're motivated by environmental considerations, you may find -- and I'm not telling anybody what to do, I'm just trying to give them information so they can make their own decisions -- you may find that more of your values are supported by buying local than organic. Because that local buying decision is also an act of land conservation -- you are protecting farms in your community from sprawl by keeping those farms around.
Pollan makes some very interesting and thought-provoking points about the energy costs of the ways in which we process and transport our foodstuffs.

I am as delighted as anyone with the ability to buy fresh strawberries year-round, but there's more to the cost of that than the ruinous price you pay for a pint of strawberries at the grocery store on a cold January morning in New York.

"Eat The Press" - Interview with Michael Pollan (Grist magazine, 31 May 2006)

Hat tip: Carrie

Nature photography

Sometimes nature photographs you.

26 August 2006

Heirloom tomatoes

Walking the dogs past the little farmer's market in our neighborhood today, we spotted a table full of funky-looking heirloom tomatoes.

Naturally, we bought a bunch and are planning to assemble a tasting menu for dinner tonight; we've got a loaf of good peasant bread, sweet butter and kosher salt, and we may not have anything else at all.

heirloom tomatoes scaled.jpg
Tomato porn.

These are some of the same cultivars that your grandfather might have sliced and enjoyed on a sandwich--Cherokee Purples, German Johnsons, Mortgage Lifters--before the botanists at the ag schools got hold of them and started concocting hybrids that could be picked green, "force-ripened" with chemical gases and would survive shipping and have a longer shelf life at the grocers.

heirloom tomatoes front view scaled.jpg
Front view.

These heirloom tomatoes look completely unlike grocery store red-softball tomatoes. They are butt-ugly, shaped strangely, and they all have only one thing in common:

They taste absolutely great.
Ain't nothin' in the world that I like better
Than bacon & lettuce & homegrown tomatoes
Up in the mornin' out in the garden
Get you a ripe 'un don't get a hard 'un

Plant 'em in the spring eat 'em in the summer
All winter without 'em's a culinary bummer
I forget all about the sweatin' & diggin'
Everytime I go out & pick me a big 'un

Homegrown tomatoes homegrown tomatoes
What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can't buy
That's true love and homegrown tomatoes

- Guy Clark

"Product sabotage"

The "short cappuccino" is a metaphor for a lot of what goes on in the technology market today.
Why would a company deliberately damage its best product?

Many hi-tech companies do that, and even my favourite local restaurant does.

It doesn't sound like a winning formula, but it's at the heart of the way many companies do business.

Take the secret cappuccino, which you can buy in two of the leading coffee chains, Starbucks and Coffee Republic.

The sales assistants know what the drink is and they have a little button on their cash tills to ring it up. It's cheaper than the other drinks on offer, but it doesn't appear on the menu.

Starbucks claims that's because they don't have room on the menu board. Coffee Republic doesn't even have that excuse: there's a blank space with no price where this drink should be listed.

It's called the "short cappuccino", and it's smaller, cheaper and better than the smallest size on the menu, the "tall".
BBC News | Business | 'Product sabotage' helps consumers

Hat tip: Seth Godin

Update: In the comments, John asks, "Why is the short capp better?"

Answer: The mystery of the "short cappuccino" revealed

Frappr Map shoutout

It's been almost a year since we set up our Frappr map, but we haven't run a call for participation in a while.

If you're a regular (or even occasional) enrevanche reader, and you haven't done so yet, please take a minute to plant your flag. The blog's readership grows slowly but steadily from month to month (there are now about eleven of you) but the map action has stagnated.

In particular, I'm lookin' at my Continental-European and Asian readers; my site logs tell me that about 80% of my traffic comes from North America and the UK (unsurprisingly) but that leaves a mostly-silent 20% of you (aside from Fiona... hi, Fiona!) in the Rest Of The World not speaking up.

Let us know you're out there.

25 August 2006

Moo, y'all.

Cows have regional accents, a group of British farmers claims, and phonetics experts say the idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds.

Lloyd Green, from southwest England, was one of a group of farmers who first noticed the phenomenon.

"I spend a lot of time with my Friesians and they definitely 'moo' with a Somerset drawl," he said, referring to the breed of dairy cow he owns.

I don't remember any of the Herefords or Charolais I met in my Southern youth as mooing with a Southern accent, but these farmers may be onto something.

Cows 'moo' with an accent, farmers believe

24 August 2006

Take what you can get, I guess

Certain members of the right-wing blogosphere will no doubt be delighted to learn that the government is finally going after the New York Times under the espionage laws.

In a highly publicized trial, a researcher for the Times was just sentenced to three years in prison for fraud, although a charge of leaking state secrets was later dismissed.

Of course, it's the Chinese government...

But then they've always known how to handle dissent.

Hello kitty

When Mister Gato wants attention from me, he just hops up on the laptop table and buzzes and chirps.

If I don't pay the right kind of attention to him, or don't do it quickly enough, he expresses himself through a range of body language from head-butts to the biting of fingers, toes, and noses. He usually gets what he wants. He's a cat.

But when he wants attention from Carrie, whom he adores above all others, he turns into a completely incorrigible flirt.

Here's a picture she snapped last week while I was out of town on a business trip, and she, poor thing, was trying to work:

mister gato on the keyboard scaled
No, pay attention to me!
I am much more interesting than whatever you are doing.

He looks like he's auditioning for a role in an anime, doesn't he?

Be sure to check out The Modulator's Friday Ark for bloggers' pets from around the world, and on Sunday, don't miss the Carnival of the Cats, hosted this week by Catymology.

Schneier on Security: What The Terrorists Want

I'd really like to quote this entire post... just, you know, reprint it.

Instead, I'm going to give you a meaty chunk from the middle and urge you to immediately go read the entire thing, please:
The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.

We're all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects in Great Britain. The men were reportedly plotting a liquid-explosive attack on airplanes, and both the press and politicians have been trumpeting the story ever since.

In truth, it's doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public. Certainly the suspects were a long way off from trying: None had bought airline tickets, and some didn't even have passports.

Regardless of the threat, from the would-be bombers' perspective, the explosives and planes were merely tactics. Their goal was to cause terror, and in that they've succeeded.

Schneier on Security: What The Terrorists Want (August 24, 2006)

And then there were eight

Pluto, we hardly knew ye.

Beloit College Mindset List, 2006

Most 18-year-old students entering the class of 2010 this fall were born in 1988. They grew up with a mouse in one hand and a computer screen as part of their worldview. They learned to surf the internet as they learned to read. While they were still in their cribs, the 20th century started to close as the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet bloc disintegrated, and frequent traditional wars in Latin America gave way to the uncontrolled terrors of the Middle East.

Each August since 1998, as faculty prepare for the academic year, Beloit College in Wisconsin has released the Beloit College Mindset List...
Beloit College Mindset List

Five quotations

An interesting blogmeme, spotted at Kottke:
Go here and look through random quotes until you find five that you think reflect who you are or what you believe.
Here are mine:

Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.
-- Laurens Van der Post, The Lost World of the Kalahari (1958)

I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.
-- Noel Coward (1899 - 1973)

It is only prudent never to place complete confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived.
-- Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650), 'Meditations'

No one has ever had an idea in a dress suit.
-- Sir Frederick G. Banting (1891 - 1941)

Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.
-- Earl Mac Rauch, from "Buckaroo Banzai"

23 August 2006

I am very, very disappointed to announce...

...that Haloscan barfed on a really interesting comment earlier today.

Chap tried to leave a detailed comment in response to this post, but Haloscan didn't like the number of (perfectly formed, interesting in-context) links he included.

So he posted the whole thing over at his place:

"A Response To An Andrew Sullivan Fan Club Member."

While "Sully groupie" is far from the worst thing anyone's ever addressed me as, I do feel compelled to point out that, while I do share some tastes and preferences in common with A.S. (notably an aversion to torture-as-policy, a profound disappointment in our current Administration, and an affinity for dogs and the Pet Shop Boys), there are quite a few that I *don't* share.

Anyway, go read Chap's post. I'll be filled with heartache at your gobsmacking vileness if you don't.

best of craigslist : The Care and Feeding of Your Barista

On the same tip, [vegans,] don’t even MENTION that a shake or smoothie made with dairy substitutes doesn’t “taste creamy.” What part of the word “cream” don’t you understand, you self-righteous, leg-warmer wearing fuck? In order to make something “taste creamy,” it has to have “cream” in it, in some way, shape, or form. That is even a law in some countries, such as France. And while I’m at it, let me just bring this up. If, as a vegan, you are not willing to GIVE UP these foods whole-hog (pardon), and so you spend large amounts of your life searching for substitutes for these foods, then why are you a vegan? Practice what you preach and eat a peach, you dick. They’re in season.
best of craigslist : The Care and Feeding of Your Barista

Hat tip: John deVille

The Middle East Buddy List

Via Chap, here's a USA Today-style infographic in Slate (using AOL-style buddy icons) that takes four key Middle East players (Hamas, Hezbollah, Israel and Lebanon) and explains who everybody likes, hates, and isn't sure about. (Click on the icons for a short briefing.)

middle east buddy list

The Middle East Buddy List (Slate)

22 August 2006

Bedbug jihad update

Dear neighbors,

As a few of you in the building have inquired as to our progress with our anti-bedbug campaign, being Similarly Afflicted or Merely Curious, I thought that I would update you all on our progress.

It was about six weeks ago, in early July, that we noticed that we were getting up in the morning with ugly red welts on our legs and arms. We didn't see any bedbugs at first, but having talked with others in the building (and read the news about the massive bedbug infestations in New York City) we pretty much knew what was going on. The little f***ers do not spread any diseases (that anyone knows of), but their bites are very itchy and unpleasant, and anyway being fed on while one sleeps is enough to skeeve anyone out thoroughly.

The exterminator coming by twice a month to spray for whatever was not making it. We did some research**, and found that bedbugs require focused and determined and repeated efforts at extermination. It requires separate, and repeated, visits from an exterminator to control the problem; it can take weeks or months to bring an infestation under control, and we determined that we might well be better off buying some Dangerous Chemicals and methodically taking our bedroom apart and doing the job ourselves.

We found an excellent supplier of said chemicals in Rockland County, NY. www.bugclinic.com, the website of Environmental Chemical Co, Inc (674 N. Main St, Spring Valley, NY 10977; 845-356-2837), sells professional exterminator supplies to the general public over the Internets. Being a Southerner and so naturally enthusiastic (and having considerable aptitude) when it comes to killing shit, I bought about $150 worth of stuff (the cost of one comprehensive exterminator visit, by the way) to test out on our unwelcome guests, as follows:

-- AllPro Bug Killer Spray, 1 gallon, $20. A persistent, relatively low-toxicity (to mammals) agent that kills for weeks. You can spray this on your mattress, box springs, all over, and put the sheets and so forth right on top of it. It hasn't harmed us or the animals doing this, at least not yet (twitch, twitch.)

-- Two cans Whitmire PI Aerosol, $30 each (this stuff is like Raid on steroids, knocks down bugs fast, and you want to take major precautions when using it - do NOT inhale this stuff.)

-- One large container Drione Dust, $30 (silica gel + pesticide - very effective but messy and can't be used in areas where pets can get to.)

- 1 oz concentrated Gentrol (is supposed to disrupt the bedbug breeding cycle; this is my plan to salt the earth behind me in a few more weeks.) - $12.

I also followed their Excellent Directions for dealing with bedbugs, which involve a lot of cleaning and vacuuming and so forth.

I think that the most cost-effective solution is the All Pro Spray, at $20/gallon. This stuff is potent, works well, and a gallon will last a looooong time in apartments the size of ours. If your infestation is serious, get a can of the Whitmire PI too but use gloves and a mask (seriously) when you spray it, and air the rooms out well before you re-enter. The Drione dust is too messy and impractical to deal with, and I suspect that I was snookered on this Gentrol stuff but have not tried it yet to find out (and am not sure how I will assess the results once I do.)

It would be a very good idea to attempt some kind of coordinated effort to kill all the bedbugs in the building at once. If they keep migrating from apartment to apartment within the walls, we could be living with them for a very long time.


- bc

** See, e.g.: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/bedbugs/ (Harvard School of Public Health on bedbugs and their control) or any of the other reputable sources on the net.

Wake County, NC bans books

The author of what has been described as the definitive dictionary of slang is gobsmacked, gutted, throwing up bunches, honked, hipped, and jacked like a cock-maggot in a sink-hole. A North Carolina school district has banned the dictionary under pressure from one of a growing number of conservative Christian groups using the internet to encourage school book bans across the US.

Jonathon Green, who compiled the 87,000 entries in the Cassell Dictionary of Slang, which was published last year, said that North Carolina is the only place he knows of where the book cannot be used in schools.
Schools Ban Dictionary of Slang

The school district that banned the book (along with five others) is, unfortunately, that of Wake County, NC, where the state capital, Raleigh (my home town) is situated.

Bowing to pressure from "Christian" activists (don't get me started), the invertebrates managing the school system have pulled five books, including the dictionary of slang mentioned above, from library shelves.

In North Carolina, we used to say "thank God for Alabama and Mississippi," for without those two jurisdictions our school systems would have been dead last in the country. Now that NC's schools have improved significantly, I guess Tar Heels have to say "thank God for Kansas," because their Board of Ed's pimping for "Intelligent Design" still sets the standard for Christianist-inspired educational bushwa.

But we're coming up fast. Watch your back, Kansas.

OpinionJournal: Bush's Brain

When a U.S. president has a 40% approval rating, critics declare open season. Last week Britain's Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had to deny a report that he had called the Bush administration "crap" in a private meeting with fellow Labour Party members of parliament. But Harry Cohen, a Labour MP, stood by his account and went on to claim Mr. Prescott had also called Mr. Bush "just a cowboy with his Stetson on."

Foreigners' deriding Mr. Bush isn't big news, but doubts about the president may be spreading to his domestic media allies. A National Review editorial this month concluded the president has a problem connecting with the American people on Iraq: "It is time for the Bush administration to acknowledge that its approach of assuring people that progress is being made and operating on that optimistic basis in Iraq isn't working."

Joe Scarborough, a conservative MSBNC talk-show host and former GOP congressman from Florida, is even questioning the president's mental skills. Last week he devoted a segment on his program (a segment on which I was a guest) to the question: "Is our president an idiot? . . . Is George Bush playing dumb or is he just plain dumb?" The next day he wrote on HuffingtonPost.com that while Republican presidents are routinely an unfair "target of ridicule from liberal circles" he has noticed that now "Republicans are quietly joining the left in questioning the President's intellectual prowess." He says that "former administration officials still close to the White House will tell you Mr. Bush detests dissent, embraces a narrow world view and is intellectually incurious."

OpinionJournal: Bush's Brain (John Fund, August 21, 2006)

Some of us Republicans arrived at this conclusion a long, long time ago. Mr. Bush has done more damage to the Republican Party and the conservative movement in general than many conservatives are yet prepared to accept and acknowledge.

And by the way... when the Wall Street Journal turns on you, and you're a Republican president, your relevance is officially over.

21 August 2006

Blood, sweat and tea

Tom Reynolds, the paramedic on the London Ambulance Service who runs the excellent Random Acts of Reality blog, has a new book out called Blood, Sweat and Tea.

You can buy it online at amazon.co.uk (shipping to North America is surprisingly affordable, at not quite twice the cost of the paperback!) but Tom has also released the book under a Creative Commons license, meaning that you can also download it for free.

I worked as an EMT on a small-town rescue squad in North Carolina twenty years ago (cough, cough) when I was in college, and it is easily the most rewarding and fulfilling job I've ever done.

Reading Tom's blog has been a trip down memory lane, but also quite entertaining and thought-provoking; I've downloaded a PDF of his new book, but have also ordered the paperback, as I'd like him to make a few pence off me and would also like to have a printed copy to hold in my hands.

WaPo: Mere Users Could Leap Into Tinkerer's World

If you're disappointed with Windows XP, scared to death of Windows Vista, and thinking about dipping your toes into the techie waters of Linux on the desktop, there's never been a better time.

The Linux operating system -- a free, open-source alternative to Windows and Mac OS X -- has long served to define the gap between people who merely use computers and those who tinker with them.If you counted yourself among the first group, you probably were irked by the some-assembly-required ethos of Linux. If you were in the second group, that same aspect was more likely to be a source of satisfaction.

But that dividing line may be fading. On one hand, the security problem with Windows seems as bad as ever for many people -- especially those still running pre-XP releases ineligible for some of Microsoft's latest fixes. On the other hand, Linux's developers have been working to fix the issues that have understandably spooked outsiders.

These days, Linux is a lot less likely to bite your hand off.

Mere Users Could Leap Into Tinkerer's World (Washington Post , August 20, 2006)

And how. The reporter goes on to extol the virtues of Ubuntu 6.06, generally acknowledged to be the most user-friendly desktop Linux install yet.

Put bluntly, this is the first Linux distribution I've seen that I'd consider putting on, say, my elderly aunt's PC. Especially if you've got older PC equipment and you mostly need to send and receive e-mail, surf the Web, and do basic multimedia stuff, you should look into Ubuntu.

For the record, my preferred Unix-based OS is Mac OS X, but at the moment I own just one (recently purchased) Mac; meanwhile, I still own two PCs and have the use of a third (home desktop, home laptop, and work laptop.) It'll be a while before I can afford to replace them all with Macs, if ever.

So I've got Ubuntu installed in a secondary partition on the two PCs I own right now, and between them and the new MacBook, I am happily using Microsoft products less and less as time goes by.


Red Peonies: Carnival of the Cats, 126

Carnival of the Cats #126 is up at Red Peonies.


Two of my favorite bloggers have stepped up to the plate and responded to the Booking It meme:

Kimberly, at Music and Cats

Tata, at Poor Impulse Control.

Sissy at Sisu politely declined but wrote such nice things about me that I just can't help linking to her.

(Yes, curious reader, I asked some male blogfriends to participate as well. So far it's just the women. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Send the brainy ladies to my table, always.)

RINO Sightings

RINOs have been sighted at Below The Beltway.

20 August 2006

A school that succeeds where others have failed

A Jesuit high school in inner-city Chicago is getting great results with kids that the educational establishment has traditionally failed.

What's their formula for success?
At the age of 14, children must commit, single-mindedly, to working for a place at college.

The dress code is strict, punctuality rigorously enforced, and students who lie about being on drugs are kicked out. So are any who promote, or recruit for, gangs.

In return they get an intensive high school education in small classes, freedom from intimidation and a counselling system that does its best to defuse domestic issues such as abuse, violence, drugs and crime.

It costs $10,000 (£5,300) a year, in a neighbourhood where the average family of five lives on little more than $30,000 (£15,900).

And how it finds the money is perhaps the real secret ingredient of Cristo Rey's success - a formula in which there seems to be no losers.
Read the whole story.

BBC NEWS: From Our Own Correspondent | The Jesuits' school experiment

Related: Cristo Rey (Christ The King) Jesuit School, Chicago, IL

NYT: Islamism Trumps Arabism

She grew up in Cairo with the privileges that go to the daughter of a military officer, attended a university and landed a job in marketing. He grew up in a poor village of dusty unpaved roads, where young men work long hours in a brick factory while dreaming of getting a government job that would pay $90 a month.

But Jihan Mahmoud, 24, from the middle-class neighborhood of Heliopolis, and Madah Ali Muhammad, 23, from a village in the Nile Delta, have come to the exact same conclusion about what they and their country need: a strong Islamic political movement.

“I have more faith in Islam than in my state; I have more faith in Allah than in Hosni Mubarak,” Ms. Mahmoud said, referring to the president of Egypt. “That is why I am proud to be a Muslim.”

The war in Lebanon, and the widespread conviction among Arabs that Hezbollah won that war by bloodying Israel, has fostered and validated those kinds of feelings across Egypt and the region. In interviews on streets and in newspaper commentaries circulated around the Middle East, the prevailing view is that where Arab nations failed to stand up to Israel and the United States, an Islamic movement succeeded.

And Now, Islamism Trumps Arabism - New York Times (August 20, 2006)

Meet Alice Sheldon

Even in a science fiction writer’s most inaccurate predictions, there are sometimes valuable truths to be gleaned. In an introduction to “Warm Worlds and Otherwise,” a 1975 collection of short stories by the elusive and enigmatic James Tiptree Jr., his editor and fellow author Robert Silverberg attempted to sketch a portrait of a cult figure who had never been seen in public, and whose only tangible connection to the known universe was a steady stream of letters originating from a post office box in McLean, Va. Though some fans believed that the mysterious Tiptree was actually J.D. Salinger or Henry Kissinger, Silverberg speculated that the writer was probably employed as a federal bureaucrat, around 50 or 55 years old, and enjoyed the outdoors. Furthermore, Silverberg wrote: “It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing. I don’t think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman, and in the same way I believe the author of the James Tiptree stories is male.

As science fiction readers would learn just a few months later, Tiptree was closer in age to 61 but was an avid traveler and gun enthusiast who had worked for the United States government. Also, James Tiptree Jr. was a woman named Alice Sheldon.
A fascinating story about a literary double life, richly lived. In her actual identity as Alice Sheldon, she worked as a counterintelligence analyst with the C.I.A. and earned a Ph.D in experimental psychology, among other things; as James Tiptree, Jr., she wrote science fiction stories that attracted a cult following.

Alice's Alias: New York Times Sunday Book Review, August 20, 2o06

Related: James Tiptree at Amazon.com

18 August 2006

WaPo: GOP is losing "security moms"

Married women with children, the "security moms" whose concerns about terrorism made them an essential part of Republican victories in 2002 and 2004, are taking flight from GOP politicians this year in ways that appear likely to provide a major boost for Democrats in the midterm elections, according to polls and interviews.

This critical group of swing voters -- who are an especially significant factor in many of the most competitive suburban districts on which control of Congress will hinge -- is more inclined to vote Democratic than at any point since Sept. 11, 2001, according to data compiled for The Washington Post by the Pew Research Center.


Disaffection with President Bush, the Iraq war, and other concerns such as rising gasoline prices and economic anxiety are proving more powerful in shaping voter attitudes.

Republicans Losing "The Security Moms" - Washington Post, August 18, 2006

If these poll numbers hold up, the GOP may be in real trouble in the coming elections.

Not in the House of Representatives, where gerrymandering has created safe seats for both parties in all but a handful of districts--as Ronald Reagan observed in the bad old days of the Evil Empire, there was more turnover in the Supreme Soviet than in the US House of Representatives--but in Senate and statewide races, this is bad news for Republicans.

Cat on a pedestal

Mister Gato knows down deep in his heart that everything in our apartment really belongs to him.

So when I got in off the road last week and cleared off our portable laptop desk in preparation for a day of work, it was absolutely clear (to him) that what I meant to do was set it up as a cat platform.

Thank you for clearing my pedestal
I always wanted to be put on a pedestal.

He wasted no time in making himself really comfortable.

It's a cat platform, not a laptop desk
The surface is a little firm, but it's sized correctly.

Be sure to check out The Modulator's Friday Ark for bloggers' pets from around the world, and on Sunday, don't miss the Carnival of the Cats, hosted this week by Red Peonies.

16 August 2006

Some Americans are more evolved than others

In surveys conducted in 2005, people in the United States and 32 European countries were asked whether to respond “true,” “false” or “not sure” to this statement: “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals.” The same question was posed to Japanese adults in 2001.

The United States had the second-highest percentage of adults who said the statement was false and the second-lowest percentage who said the statement was true, researchers reported in the current issue of Science.

Only adults in Turkey expressed more doubts on evolution. In Iceland, 85 percent agreed with the statement.

Did Humans Evolve? Not Us, Say Americans (New York Times, 15 August 2006)

Related: Science: Public Acceptance of Evolution, where the abstract sums it up nicely:
The acceptance of evolution is lower in the United States than in Japan or Europe, largely because of widespread fundamentalism and the politicization of science in the United States.


This searchable database contains 36389569 searches made by AOL users from 01 March, 2006 - 31 May, 2006. The data was released under a non-commercial research license by AOL. The associated README file contains further information about what data was provided. If you find any data that actually makes it possible to identify a user, please let us know using the [!]-function and we'll remove those references.

14 August 2006

Booking It

In response to being tagged by j.d.:

1. Book that changed my life.

Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and his subsequent books forever altered the way I looked at presenting information. Since I do this for a living (I’ve been a technical writer and instructional designer for the last 20 years) Tufte’s books were both life- and career-altering.

2. Book I have read more than once.

It seems to be part of the natural rhythm of my life to read Joseph Mitchell’s Up In The Old Hotel at least once a year. Mitchell, one of the best writers ever to grace the pages of The New Yorker, profiles NYC eccentrics, has-beens and never-wozzers with the utmost respect and a fanatical and loving attention to detail.

3. Book I would want on a desert island.

The Encyclopedia of New York City
, so I could stay focused on getting back to the non-desert island on which I live.

4. Book that made me laugh.

John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces made me laugh out loud repeatedly; more recently, so did Gary Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook.

5. Book that made me cry.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

6. Book I wish I had written.

Will Blythe’s To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever, a scholarly and very funny dissection of the UNC-Duke basketball rivalry, but also a touching meditation on fathers and sons (among other things.)

7. Book I wish had never been written.

The Turner Diaries. (Not linking this one. If you want to read it, you can goddamned well locate a copy yourself.)

8. Book I am currently reading.

Tom Ricks’ Fiasco: The American Military Adventure In Iraq.

9. Book I’ve been meaning to read.

Jared Diamond’s Collapse has been sitting on my Shelf of Shame for over a year now. I enjoyed Guns, Germs and Steel but for some reason can’t motivate myself to read this one.

10. Tag five other people.

I will respectfully decline to name them in this forum, but have sent private notes encouraging five of my favorite bloggers to pony up.

Really big oil

When activists, journalists and others speak of “Big Oil”, you know exactly what they mean: companies such as Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Royal Dutch Shell. These titans have been making lots of money for their shareholders; their bosses enjoy vast pay packets; and their actions affect us all. BP's decision to shut down Prudhoe Bay, America's biggest oilfield, to repair leaking pipes is a case in point, outraging many and pushing petrol prices even higher (see article).

Yet Big Oil is pretty small next to the industry's true giants: the national oil companies (NOCs) owned or controlled by the governments of oil-rich countries, which manage over 90% of the world's oil, depending on how you count. Of the 20 biggest oil firms, in terms of reserves of oil and gas, 16 are NOCs. Saudi Aramco, the biggest, has more than ten times the reserves that Exxon does. Those with misgivings about oil—that its price is too high, that reserves are running out, that it damages the environment, that it is more a curse than an asset for countries that produce it—must look to NOCs for reassurance.

Really Big Oil - The Economist, August 12-18 2006

Things you find out only by reading your wife's blog

Wow. She's in love with another man.

His short stories, anyway.

Pencil Roving: An open fan letter to George Saunders

Fat Factors - New York Times

In the 30-plus years that Richard Atkinson has been studying obesity, he has always maintained that overeating doesn’t really explain it all. His epiphany came early in his career, when he was a medical fellow at U.C.L.A. engaged in a study of people who weighed more than 300 pounds and had come in for obesity surgery. “The general thought at the time was that fat people ate too much,” Atkinson, now at Virginia Commonwealth University, told me recently. “And we documented that fat people do eat too much — our subjects ate an average of 6,700 calories a day. But what was so impressive to me was the fact that not all fat people eat too much.”
Fat Factors - New York Times Sunday Magazine (August 13, 2006)

Blog d'Elisson: Carnival of the Cats #125

Carnival of the Cats #125 is up over at Blog d'Elisson.

Blogging light and intermittent this week

Out in California for a week of training and conferences.

(JetBlue completely rocks. Last week from JFK to Raleigh-Durham and back; this week from JFK to Oakland, CA amd back. Cheaper *and* more comfortable than any other airline... I don't know how they do it and I don't care, as long as they keep doing it.)

Anyway, blogging will be light, lumpy and intermittent this week, as I suspect free time will be in even shorter supply than usual. These back-to-back week-long trips take a lot out of you.

Gato packs himself
I would fit comfortably in your suitcase, Papa.

More soon.

11 August 2006

Gore: Do as I say, not as I do

Graciously, [Al] Gore tells consumers how to change their lives to curb their carbon-gobbling ways: Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, use a clothesline, drive a hybrid, use renewable energy, dramatically cut back on consumption. Better still, responsible global citizens can follow Gore's example, because, as he readily points out in his speeches, he lives a 'carbon-neutral lifestyle.' But if Al Gore is the world's role model for ecology, the planet is doomed.
Gore isn't quite as green as he's led the world to believe - USA Today, via Yahoo! News

Weighing a Switch to a Mac - New York Times

Ten years ago, if you were a Windows user, the idea of switching to a Macintosh might not have seemed enticing. An abundance of new Windows software was arriving on store shelves, while the selection available to Mac users seemed to be falling behind, often relegated to a back corner of the same store.

Today the calculation is different. Apple Computer, through a series of transitions, has reinvented itself. With a new operating system, its own chain of retail stores, the iPod and now a new line of computers that run on Intel processors, this new and more mainstream Apple is catching the attention of Windows users, and many are curious about switching.
Weighing a Switch to a Mac - New York Times (August 10, 2006)

Happy birthday, IBM PC

The IBM PC was announced to the world on 12 August 1981, helping drive a revolution in home and office computing.

The PC came in three versions; the cheapest of which was a $1,565 home computer.
In 2006 dollars, that's a $3500 computer, folks.

That's enough to buy you a nicely equipped Mac Pro with Apple Cinema Display (and yes, I've been pricing them lately.)

On the other hand, the modern-day, common-as-dirt $500 Dell and HP desktops, not as nice as the Mac Pro by a long shot but light-years ahead of the original IBM PC, would have cost $233 in 1981 dollars.

Anyway, the BBC has a very nice slideshow on the history of personal computing, and it's nice to think about one thing that consistently gets much more powerful and much less expensive over time: the personal computer.

BBC News | In pictures: IBM PC anniversary, Birth of the PC

Best friends forever

gato avec mouse
When a tomcat's not
engaged in his employment
Or maturing his rodenticidal plans
His capacity for innocent enjoyment
Is great as any furry litttle man's.

(with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan)

Mister Gato had a busy week, which involved catching a couple of mice (though one got away.)

When he isn't on Mouse Patrol, though, there's nothing the little guy loves more than a good cuddle, and he's not terribly picky about species.

Here's a configuration we see a lot in our house. Is this Gato guarding Chow Fun, or Chow Fun guarding Gato? Or both?

mister gato and miss chow fun
Mister Gato and Chow Fun, front view

Or just the ultimate in cross-species yin-yang?

gato and chow fun top view
Mister Gato and Chow Fun, top view

Be sure to check out The Modulator's Friday Ark for more bloggers' pets from around the world, and make a point of visiting Sunday's Carnival of the Cats, hosted at another sort-of-French-sounding blog, Blog D'Elisson.

(Also crossposted at The Politburo Diktat, where I will probably never be asked to guestblog again.)

10 August 2006

WaPo: British Police Thwart Major Terror Plot

If you're traveling by air any time soon, don't plan on taking any liquids on board with you:
British authorities said today they had disrupted a 'major terrorist plot' to blow up passenger flights between the United Kingdom and the United States, prompting a security clampdown at British and U.S. international airports and a cascade of delays in trans-Atlantic flights generally.

London's Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson said 21 people had been arrested in London and in Birmingham England after a months-long investigation into what he said was a plan for 'mass murder on an unimaginable scale.' He did not say why the announcement was made today.

U.S. officials raised the 'threat level' for air transport to red, the highest alert.

Passengers at Dulles airport in Washington and New York's John F. Kennedy Airport were told to expect intensified searches, considerable delays and new restrictions on carry-on items, with particular attention to liquids of all types, especially liquids with a gel-like consistency.
Washington Post: British Police Thwart Major Terror Plot (10 August 2006)

Related: TSA: Threat Level Change for Aviation Sector

09 August 2006

Samurai cell phone

After a weekend mishap involving the inadvertent submersion of my cellphone in a tank of water (don't ask), I had to replace it fast. (My cell phone number is my published office phone number, and it's my lifeline to colleagues around the country and world.)

Luckily, the Sprint stores were open on Sunday, and just as luckily, they were able to offer me a $150 upgrade discount on a new phone.

So I switched from my soaked-and-defunct ultrabasic Samsung flip phone to Sanyo's Katana, a brand-new knockoff of the very popular Motorola RAZR.

So far, I like it just fine. It's the first compact cell phone I've ever owned that has a screen large enough (and a fast enough processor and enough memory) to do a little occasional web surfing (by the way, Opera Mini is the bomb!)

Reception seems to be *much* better than with the old Samsung phone; I had heard anecdotal evidence from other Sanyo owners that their phones consistently got stronger signals, and was pleased to learn that this appears to be true.


Word of the day

We do this all the time:
plan-overs n.pl. an excess of food cooked so as to have leftovers for future meals. Also planovers, plannedovers, planned-overs, and as adjective, planned-over, planover, plan-over.
Dictionary definition of plan-overs from Double-Tongued Word Wrester Dictionary

Windows XP 15 Minute Tune-Up

A fine-tuned Windows XP PC can run quite fast even it's seriously lacking in the memory and CPU department. Before you chuck out your PC to buy a new one, try stripping some of the rust that's built-up over the years; the results may surprise you.

It's probably your operating system that's slow, not the PC. It's software, not hardware - you know, invisible 1s and 0s held in an electric field representing your data. Your computer is still fast, but there's a ton of stuff slowing it down. There's more 1s where there should be 0s and your PC is killing itself fighting an impossible battle to burn off this fat.

We've seen Pentium II machines with 128 MB RAM run XP faster than Pentium IVs with 4x the clock speed and 4x the RAM - so what gives? This article will help you figure out why your PC is running slow and outline exact steps to fix it quickly, before throwing in the towel with a format, restore, or new PC purchase.

Tweak3D.net - Windows XP 15 Minute Tune-Up

Hat tip: Lifehacker

enrevanche (or any site) as pr0n

Turn any site into a porn site with Pornolize.com.

Here, for instance, is enrevanche filtered through the pornolizer.

(NSFW, obviously.)

Hat tip: Rachel

Nota bene

Not a word from me today about Lieberman's loss to Lamont in the Connecticut primary - there's a bumper-crop surplus of bloggage about that, and I doubt very much that I have anything useful or even interesting to add.

Instead, let me tell you about these fabulous little notebooks I've just found.

As a writer (one who works on technical subjects, not the Great American Novel) I make a point to never be without a notebook and a pen (a Pilot G2, please.)

For years, I used cheap spiral-bound reporter's notebooks and went through them like Sherman through Atlanta.

They have a great form factor (essentially a half-width steno pad), are inexpensive, and each notebook holds a few working weeks worth of notes.

In 2004, I developed a Moleskine fetish.

In case you've been living on another planet for a while, Moleskines are pocket-sized bound notebooks with high-quality paper inside; that creamy, heavy paper combined with a gel pen or fountain pen makes handwriting an almost sensual pleasure.

They have a great form factor, are ridiculously expensive but worth it, and I rationalize all this by purchasing them in bulk and writing them off on my taxes every year. (They come in three flavors: plain paper, ruled paper, and "squared" -- graph paper, in other words. Guess which one sets my propellor-beanie a-spinnin'.)

Since the development of my notebook fetish, my man-purse has always had the current, working Moleskine notebook in it, filled with furious scribbles and doodles and grocery lists and occasionally actual project notes and diagrams.

Well, now. Yesterday I saw the new Moleskine Cahier. I think I just met my new favorite auxiliary/travel/project-specific notebook.

Moleskine Cahiers
The Moleskine Cahier, nerd-ruled

The Cahier is a slim, pamphlet-sized, cardboard-bound notebook holding 64 pages (with the last 16 perforated for easy detachment.) These little guys have, in fact, almost the exact same form factor in every dimension as a United States Passport... and I have a passport wallet at home.

I bought a dozen.

Do yourself a favor, and indulge yourself a little: buy a really nice notebook and pen, and record those stray million-dollar ideas that float through your consciousness every now and again.

Moleskine Cahiers at the Moleskine US Store

08 August 2006

When you hit bottom, stop digging

AOL, also known ruefully in the financial community as "the worst acquisition in modern corporate history" (having destroyed $200 billion in Time Warner shareholder value - source) would seem to have screwed up, comprehensively, in just about every way that a company can screw up.

But no. Here's a helpful reminder that it can always get worse:

AOL removed a list of the Web search inquiries of 658,000 unnamed users from a public Web site over the weekend, after bloggers complained that the information was so detailed and personal that it could compromise the users’ privacy.

AOL said the publication of the data was a violation of internal policies and issued a strongly worded apology.

“This was a screw-up, and we’re angry and upset about it,” a statement from the company said. “It was a mistake, and we apologize.”

Memo to AOL: When your company starts behaving essentially like an abusive drunk sending flowers to the wife he beat up the night before, it's time to pull the plug.

AOL Removes Search Data on Group of Web Users - New York Times

07 August 2006

I've got a little list, actually

A German scientist has been testing an 'anti-stupidity' pill with encouraging results on mice and fruit flies, Bild newspaper reported Saturday.

It said Hans-Hilger Ropers, director at Max-Planck-Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, has tested a pill thwarting hyperactivity in certain brain nerve cells, helping stabilize short-term memory and improve attentiveness.
You know anybody who needs an "anti-stupid" pill? - Reuters via Yahoo! News

RINO Sightings at DANEgerus Weblog

This week's batch of RINO Sightings are up over at the DANEgerus Weblog.

RINOs representin' this week include Don Surber, Jane from Armies of Liberation, Cody Herche at Legal Redux, Dan Melson at Searchlight Crusade, Joe from aTypical Joe, Jim K at Right Thoughts, and your humble correspondent.

DANEgerus Weblog: Colonic Conservatism for those whose ignorance tilts Left

Keeping up with the profound changes in basic arithmetic

Responsible education reformers know that throwing money at the problems of poor schools and underperforming students doesn't work.

Sun Microsystems' retired CEO Scott McNealy has a new idea: leverage the power of open-source tools and software to make high-quality instructional material available to the world's students for free.

"Math hasn't changed since Isaac Newton," declares Scott McNealy. So why, he asks, is California paying some $400 million annually to "update" grade-school textbooks?

That's just one of the practices questioned by the Sun Microsystems chairman. And one of the problems he believes can be solved.

McNealy, who handed Sun's chief executive reins to Jonathan Schwartz earlier this year, is now applying his know-how to steer the Global Education and Learning Community (GELC). That's a non-profit entity, spun off from Sun in January, which aims to make open-source software available to the world's kids for free--just as Sun sought to distribute its Solaris operating system (OS) and other wares to businesses, for profit.

Sun's McNealy Leads Non-Profit Open-Source Drive - Forbes.com

Related: Global Education and Learning Community (GELC)

06 August 2006

Carnival of the Cats #124

The Carnival of the Cats comes home to This Blog Is Full Of Crap today:
The Carnival of the Cats is a weekly roundup of cat-related posts on weblogs. Its purpose is to provide a non-political respite from the vehement echo chamber that the Blogosphere spins itself into during the week, demonstrating that even the mightiest and meekest of pundits have a love of cats in common.
TBIFOC: Carnival of the Cats #124

Same song, different verse

Here's a story that should sound familiar to a lot of Americans. Slight change in locale, though.
Pro-Beijing lawmakers approved legislation here today giving broad authority to the police to conduct covert surveillance, including wiretapping phones, bugging homes and offices and monitoring e-mail.

The bill passed the 60-member Legislative Council on a vote of 32 to 0 soon after pro-democracy lawmakers walked out of the chamber in protest early this morning. The Democratic Party and its allies had tried to introduce nearly 200 amendments to the bill through four days of marathon debates, but all were defeated or ruled out of order.

Ambrose S.K. Lee, the secretary for security, welcomed the legislation, saying it was necessary to fight crime. “I wish to assure the residents of Hong Kong that the law now is a good balance between effective law enforcement on the one hand and the protection of privacy on the other,” he said.
See, it's okay, because it's necessary for public security. Relax, citizen!

Despite Protest, Hong Kong Surveillance Law Passes - New York Times

(Also posted at The Politburo Diktat, where I'm doing a spot of guestblogging for the next few weeks.)

Gato, the great hunter

I'm on the road, down in North Carolina, but got exciting news in a phone call from home yesterday evening.

Mister Gato caught himself a mouse in the kitchen yesterday, which Carrie dutifully photographed (over a hastily-spread tarpaulin made from a print edition of the New York Times... can't do *that* with a web site!)

Unfortunately, not long after this photograph was taken, the big fat mouse in Mister G's mouth escaped. The escape apparently took place during the extended I'm-half-playing-with-you, half-torturing-you phase that cats go through immediately after rodent capture.

We can only hope that the mouse has gone back to his brethren and warned them of the gruesome fate that awaits them, should they venture again into our apartment.

05 August 2006

Love me, love my blog

A man and a woman sit side-by-side in a New York cafe, drinking beer, sharing food, and not saying a word. Instead of chatting, they are typing on a laptop about the tunes played through a shared iPod.

'Realising that communicating via typing was far more comfortable ... we conducted ... our date without speaking. We traded headphones back and forth and typed and ordered beer and wine and more food ... The waitress thought we were crazy,' wrote singer Amanda Palmer at http://www.dresdendolls.com/diary.

As the Internet evolves -- with its webcams, iPods, Instant Messaging, broadband, wi-fi and weblogs -- its image as a relationship-wrecker is changing.

Now a sociable habit is emerging among the Netorati: couple-surfing.
"Love me, love my blog," as Netorati couple-surf - Yahoo! News

I wonder if my wife has seen this story, and what she thinks of it.

I guess I'd better IM her and ask.

Time for Plan B - New York Times

Paging Captain Obvious... white courtesy phone, please:
It is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are baby-sitting a civil war.
Time for Plan B - New York Times (Tom Friedman, August 4, 2006 - behind TimesSelect Firewall)

This isn't good

The proxy war between Iran and Israel (via Hezbollah) just got a little more transparent:
Iran will supply Hezbollah with surface-to-air missile systems in the coming months, boosting the guerrillas' defences against Israeli aircraft, according to a report by specialist magazine Jane's Defence Weekly, citing unnamed Western diplomatic sources.

In a meeting, held late last month, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia called on Tehran to 'accelerate and extend the scope of weapon shipments from Iran to the Islamic Resistance, particularly advanced missiles against ground and air targets.'
Iran to supply Hezbollah with surface-to-air missiles - AFP via Yahoo! News

04 August 2006

The End Of the Right?

Is conservatism finished?

What might have seemed an absurd question less than two years ago is now one of the most important issues in American politics. The question is being asked -- mostly quietly but occasionally publicly -- by conservatives themselves as they survey the wreckage of their hopes, and as their champions in the Republican Party use any means necessary to survive this fall's elections.
The End Of the Right? (E.J. Dionne, The Washington Post, 4 Aug 2006)

Where's Raúl?

In this island capital's long bus-stop lines and open markets, its offices and restaurants, the question keeps popping up: Where's Raúl?

Raúl Castro has yet to appear in public since being named temporary president of Cuba late Monday. His absence is adding a layer of intrigue to the speculation-heavy ambience that has settled over this city. It was two days ago that the Cuban government announced that Fidel Castro -- who is recovering from intestinal surgery -- would relinquish his 47-year hold on power to his younger brother.

'I think Raúl should have appeared by now, more than anything to calm the public and to show the world that everything is under control,' said Joel, a taxi driver, who did not want to divulge his last name for fear of government reprisals."
In Cuba, Question Keeps Popping Up: Where's Raúl Castro? (The Washington Post, 3 Aug 2006)

TNR: Sheik Up

This week's edition of The New Republic has a very interesting article on Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon. It's well worth reading, and contains the following key and central observations:
In the Middle East, political leaders are often old, corrupt, and repressive; just as often, they are the pampered, Western-educated sons of aging dictators. There are also guerrilla leaders, who, if they survive, often end up as petty old despots themselves.

And then there is Nasrallah. Revered by the Shia, respected by his enemies, he has already earned the distinction of being the only Arab leader to evict Israel from Arab land without having to sign a peace treaty. But he is also a religious warrior. Today, as he fights a lopsided military battle against the Jewish state, he is becoming an icon--not just in the Arab world, where he was already a hero, but in the umma, the world of Islam. Nasrallah's war is not just a war between Lebanon and Israel, or even between Iran and America's allies; it's a war of myths and images, a battle to transform the Arab and Islamic worlds. Whatever battlefield setbacks Hezbollah may suffer in Lebanon, on this larger stage, Nasrallah has already won.
Sheik Up: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's bid to lead global jihad (The New Republic, 28 July 2006)

Arbeit gibt nicht frei

Reflecting on the misery of industrial England in the 1840s, Thomas Carlyle mixed acute discernment with moralistic perversity. Capitalism, he wrote in Past and Present (1843), bore 'the Gospel of Mammonism,' in which money, through its 'miraculous facilities,' held its devotees 'spell-bound in a horrid enchantment.' That's a nice encapsulation of capitalism's grotesquely religious character, akin to Marx's later exposition of 'commodity fetishism.' But in the face of that 'Gospel'—whose fruits Friedrich Engels would judge in The Condition of the Working Classes in England (1845)—Carlyle recommended, not the apostasy of revolution, but an evangel of Work. To his tired, hungry, sweated countrymen, Carlyle delivered a sermon on that 'unpreached, inarticulate, but ineradicable and foreverenduring Gospel: Work, and therein have well-being.'

That's quite an admonition to people already burdened with twelve-or-more-hour days, but Carlyle continued to bless the sweat of Adam's curse as the beads of beatitude. A little later, in his 'Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question,' Carlyle recounted the character-building benefits of African enslavement with a sanctimonious sadism worthy of Christian Reconstructionists. Behind the racism lay the Gospel of Work, now preached with the brutal eloquence of the whip. "If it be his own indolence" that prevents a man from his "sacred appointment, to labor while he lives on earth," then, Carlyle pronounced, every "wiser, more industrious person" had a duty to " 'emancipate' him from his indolence." (Arbeit macht frei, as a later generation of the Wise and Industrious would put it.) The man who dubbed economics the dismal science was certainly a piece of work.
Eugene McCarraher, "The False Gospel of Work," in Christianity Today (July/August 2006)

Hat tip: Brother Joe Bageant

Happy Birthday, Pops!

Louis Armstrong was born in a poor section of New Orleans known as “the Battlefield” on August 4, 1901. By the time of his death in 1971, the man known around the world as Satchmo was widely recognized as a founding father of jazz – a uniquely American art form. His influence, as an artist and cultural icon, is universal, unmatched, and very much alive today.

Satchmo.net • The Official Site of the Louis Armstrong House & Archives

Many jazz radio stations will be celebrating all day today.

Here at Enrevanche House, we are tuned to WKCR (the excellent radio station from Columbia University), where they're playing Louis Armstrong music all the livelong day, and have been doing so since 12:01 this morning (you can listen over the Net if you like.)

The New York Sun

The formerly subscription-only New York Sun is now freely available on the web for all to read and enjoy.

Thought for the Day

My favorite conspiracy theory is the one that says the world is being run by a handful of ultra-rich capitalists, and that our elected governments are mere puppets. I sure hope it’s true. Otherwise my survival depends on hordes of clueless goobers electing competent leaders. That’s about as likely as a dog pissing the Mona Lisa into a snow bank.
Scott Adams @ The Dilbert Blog: Secret Society

03 August 2006

Details: Orgasm or Excellent Marinara?

This? Is genius.

It's a collection of photographs, carefully cropped to obscure everything but the facial expression.

Some folks are Food Network celebs, and the others are porn stars.

And you have to guess: Orgasm or Excellent Marinara?

(via Kottke; as he notes, might be mildly NSFW depending on where you work.)