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

30 March 2007

Battle of the primates

On the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, two wily groups of primates are competing for resources and habitat.

Hat tip: Carrie

Try always to blend in to your surroundings

Mister Gato is a very efficient little predator, equipped by Nature to move quickly (and almost silently) and kill with teeth and claws.

(Now that he's largely done away with the building's indigenous rodent population, thank God the Chows have a good sense of humor about being attacked randomly.)

He is also, of course, outfitted with a coat that is as sophisticated a system of visual camouflage as anything the Army's haberdashers could dream up. Note how well he blends in to the visual chaos of our desk, guarding our home desktop machine from the depredations of the dreaded CPU Mice (see also):

gato by keyboard
Tiger stripes are excellent camouflage in almost any setting.
Please do not be lulled into a false sense of security by my attitude of repose.

Be sure to check the Friday Ark at The Modulator for more furry (and feathered, and scaly) friends, and the April Fools' Day edition of the Carnival of the Cats this Sunday at IMAO.

29 March 2007

Experiment: Amazon context links

Update: Sadly, context links do not appear to be ready for prime time. They're slowing down loading times and aren't producing interesting results. Will revisit at some future date.

As a purely mercenary experiment, we've signed up for Amazon Context Links...

Amazon's bots will scan the content of the blog posts here and automatically add product links when they "see" a meaningful phrase. Here's hoping for some wildly lucrative and hilariously inappropriate artificial intelligence action.

A bad week for White Trash

It's been a bad week for the White Trash portfolio, but then it hasn't been a terrific week for the market in general.

White Trash investors saw the value of their portfolio dip 1.42% in the last three days, meaning that $10,000 invested at inception would now be worth $9,857.90.

By way of comparison, over the exact same time period:
  • DIA, an ETF which tracks the Dow Jones Industrial Average, is down 0.69%
  • VTI, an ETF which tracks the performance of the broad US stock market as a whole, is down 0.61%
  • IYC, an ETF which tracks the Dow Jones Consumer Cyclical index, is down 0.71%.
Whew. It's at times like this that you want to relax with comfort food (such as a Big Mac), drink a shot of Jack, chase it with a Coke, and finish everything off by smoking a Marlboro.

I hope.

Millions of housewives, beset by nightmares

Oprah has gone and done it now... the next selection of Oprah's Book Club is Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

I'm made of pretty stern stuff, but Mr. McCarthy's post-apocalyptic landscape haunted my dreams for months afterwards.

And, of course, this means that in about a month, Cormac McCarthy is going to be interviewed on television.

By Oprah.

I can't wait for my favorite Cormac McCarthy scholar to get back from his skydiving vacation to tell us what this all means.

27 March 2007

Announcement: The White Trash and Minor Vices Portfolio

Everyone says "invest in what you know."

I'm about to put my money where my big mouth is. Carrie and I invest, mostly in index funds and ETFs, every month through Sharebuilder, which allows fractional purchases of shares in stocks and funds for a flat monthly fee.

The vast majority of our modest monthly stake goes into a total-market index fund and an aggregated bond fund.

But I'm going to make a modest investment in a stock portfolio -- a mini-fund of my own making, if you will -- called "White Trash and Minor Vices" (motto: don't beat your wife, beat the Dow) the constituent stocks of which are:
  • BFB - Brown-Forman Corp. Cl B

    Holding company for distilleries that produce Jack Daniel's, Early Times, Canadian Mist, Southern Comfort, Finlandia, and others. Recently acquired a major stake in a Mexican tequila manufacturer.

  • BUD - Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.

    Brewer of cheap domestic beer; owner of theme parks.

  • CHB - Champion Enterprises Inc.

    Major manufacturer of mobile homes and modular buildings.

  • F - Ford Motor Co. and GM - General Motors Corp.

    Contrarian picks to be sure, but here's the key: GM's share of U.S. pickup truck sales is 38.2%. Chrysler has 16.4% of the market. FordMotor Co. has 36.5%.

    GM is in talks to acquire Chrysler. Enough said.

  • IGT - International Game Technology

    Designers and manufacturers of the most sophisticated video gaming machines (slot machines, video poker) on the market; they own the supply lines for low-end gambling.

  • KO - Coca-Cola Co.

    Fizzy, flavored, caffeinated water.

  • MCD - McDonald's Corp.

    Supersize me. I'm lovin' it.

  • MO - Altria Group Inc.

    Holding company for Philip Morris USA and Kraft Foods, among others. Marlboros and Velveeta, baby. Spinning off Kraft on 30 March 2007.

  • WMT - Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

    One-stop shopping for lower-middle America.
I've built a portfolio to track these stocks, and will report back periodically on their performance.

(Possibly coming soon: a "Freaks and Geeks" portfolio, including Apple, Google and Starbucks.)

Faith-based ignorance: choose your favorite flavor

With creationism now coming in Christian and Muslim versions, scientists, teachers and theologians in France are debating ways to counteract what they see as growing religious attacks on science.

Bible-based criticism of evolution, once limited to Protestant fundamentalists in the United States, has become an issue in France now that Pope Benedict and some leading Catholic theologians have criticized the neo-Darwinist view of creation.

An Islamist publisher in Turkey mass-mailed a lavishly illustrated Muslim creationist book to schools across France recently, prompting the Education Ministry to proscribe the volume and question the way the story of life is taught here.

The Bible and the Koran say God directly created the world and everything in it. In Christianity, fundamentalists believe this literally but the largest denomination, Catholicism, and most mainline Protestant churches read it more symbolically.

This literalism led Christian fundamentalists to reject the theory of evolution elaborated in the 19th century by Charles Darwin, the foundation stone of modern biology. Muslim scholars also dispute evolution but have not made this a major issue.

"There is a growing distrust of science in public opinion, especially among the young, and that worries us," said Philippe Deterre, a research biologist and Catholic priest who organized a colloquium on creationism for scientists at the weekend.
French scientists rebut U.S., Muslim creationism (Reuters via Yahoo News)

Perhaps we've dismissed Dinesh D'Souza's ideas too quickly. Plug your umbilical cords into your belief systems and stop that pesky thinking forever!

25 March 2007

The interrupt-driven life

Several research reports, both recently published and not yet published, provide evidence of the limits of multitasking. The findings, according to neuroscientists, psychologists and management professors, suggest that many people would be wise to curb their multitasking behavior when working in an office, studying or driving a car.

These experts have some basic advice. Check e-mail messages once an hour, at most. Listening to soothing background music while studying may improve concentration. But other distractions — most songs with lyrics, instant messaging, television shows — hamper performance. Driving while talking on a cellphone, even with a hands-free headset, is a bad idea.


In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.

“I was surprised by how easily people were distracted and how long it took them to get back to the task,” said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft research scientist and co-author, with Shamsi Iqbal of the University of Illinois, of a paper on the study that will be presented next month.

“If it’s this bad at Microsoft,” Mr. Horvitz added, “it has to be bad at other companies, too.”

Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don't Read This in Traffic (New York Times, March 25, 2007)

The collaborative nature of the modern workplace, especially in technology, seems to doom us to constant interruption. If I'm in a meeting, and especially if I'm meeting with a customer, it might well take me more than an hour to respond to an e-mail--it might take me more than a day--but in general, because of the nature of the work I do (proposal management), I am in constant contact with my colleagues, and I live in a world that is both deadline-driven and "interrupt-driven," to borrow (and misuse) a technical term of art.

Waiting an hour to check e-mail, ignoring IMs, or letting voicemails pile up just isn't an option. If I'm in the office and there are no meetings on my calendar, my co-workers feel free to just walk directly into my office and start describing their problems, and vice-versa... it's how things have to work.

It is absolutely true that long, uninterrupted stretches of time are required for work that involves heavy concentration and focus. I've done technical and marketing writing for so long that I can do it with one hemisphere of my brain (I'm not saying which one) tied behind my back, but if I'm working on something new and different, I leave the room with the humming and beeping electronics, turn the cellphone and Blackberry off (or mute the ringers), and sit in a quiet room with a notebook, a fistful of sharpened #2 pencils and a cup of strong coffee.

I recently worked on one of my favorite kinds of jobs -- an information architecture project, where I was working with a couple of very bright colleagues to design a new document storage and retrieval system for the office.

My final "deliverables" took the form of Visio diagrams and hierarchical Word outlines... but all of the design work involving skull sweat was done with a Ticonderoga on a really big pad of graph paper.

In a quiet room.

24 March 2007

A.A. Gill on Brits in New York

Is there anything more bracing than a well-written rant, delivered by a man with a gutload of venom, a sense of timing and a way with words?

A.A. Gill, in the most recent Vanity Fair, unloads on Brits in New York City, and specifically a little strip of shops on Greenwich Avenue, around the corner from where we live:
What I mind is that they've re-created this Disney, Dick Van Dyke, um-diddle-diddle-um-diddle-I, merry Britain of childish grub and movie clichés, this Jeeves-and-Wooster place of mockery and snobbery, and I'm implicated, by mouth. Made complicit in this hideous retro-vintage place of Spam, Jam lyrics, bow ties, and buggery.

Although reading a scathing critique of Brits in New York City in Vanity Fair is a bit like seeing an op-ed criticizing the doctrine of papal infallibility in The American Catholic.

Letter From New York: Brits Behaving Badly (A.A. Gill, Vanity Fair, March 2007)

Related: Campaign For Little Britain In The Big Apple

23 March 2007

My National Security Letter gag order

The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue "national security letters." It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision -- demands issued without a showing of probable cause or prior judicial approval -- to obtain potentially sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me.

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn't abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an NSL -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

The inspector general's report makes clear that NSL gag orders have had even more pernicious effects. Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out; the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.

I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.

I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I've now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government's use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.

Usually, I quote excerpts.

This time I just cut and pasted the whole damned thing:

My National Security Letter Gag Order (The Washington Post, March 23, 2007)

Pork spread. Yum.

As we enter year five of the Iraq war, President Bush is demanding a second surge—not of soldiers, but of spending. Congress has been glad to oblige, seeing his $93.4 billion "emergency" request and adding an extra $21 billion, with subsidies for such military necessities as America's citrus farms ($100 million), fisheries ($60 million), and new congressional office space ($16 million).

Two years ago Bush promised this war would "support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond." Obviously, he has been true to his word. Once, to be a war profiteer, you had to be involved, however peripherally, in war-making: building weapons, supplying troops, or at the very least making money off some supposed reconstruction project. Now you can rake in the war profits from the shade of your orange grove. What better example could there be of democratization, of replacing the rule of elites with an open, more participatory system? Talk about sharing our wealth: Every Man a Halliburton!
Blood and Treasure (Reason Magazine, March 22, 2007)

Keeping it clean

Mister Gato seems capable of making a comfortable perch--and even going to sleep--in the oddest places.

On top of a bucket full of cleaning supplies and rags in the utility cupboard?

gato on bucket scaled
This cupboard once held mice, and might again one day.
A cat can dream, can't he?

No problem.

Be sure to check the Friday Ark at The Modulator for more furry (and feathered, and scaly) friends, and the Carnival of the Cats this Sunday at Scribblings.

Thought for the day

"If pigs could vote, the man with the slop bucket would be elected swineherd every time, no matter how much slaughtering he did on the side." -- Orson Scott Card

22 March 2007

Basketball erudition

If John deVille won't start posting on his own blog again, I'm just going to have to start reposting his comments from mine.

Like this one:
The last [UNC basketball] game was my favorite of the year. After the first five minutes of clock time, when Hansbrough took off the protective man to return to the floor to play like a man possessed for the rest of the game -- it took me back to 1993 UNC championship team when George Lynch (my all-time favorite Carolina player) simply willed the championship.

Hansbrough has a fire, an indomitable will to go along with mediocre talent and his will wins almost every battle near the rim. He's expanded the range from where he's comfortable shooting during a game (story has it, that he regularly drains 15-footers and beyond during practice). Watching him bang around inside, knowing that he knows there's an 85% he's either gonna score or get a foul and score (big men, learn how to make free throws like Tyler) always gets the adrenaline hitting my system.

The Reyshawn Terry of last year resurrected during the ACC tourney and has been spectacular on both ends of the floor. Hopefully Wright gets more touches - Lawson seems to feed Tyler better than Brandon; Quentin and Brandon share the same alley-oop neural circuit. Teams are starting to learn that the if-I-hear-it-one-more-goddamn-time label of "defensive stopper" hung on Ginyard only tells half the story - the man will take your sleeping ass on the baseline with a reverse before he heads back down to the other end to harass you like a tabloid paparazzi.

Lawson....you mean the Flash? A Carolina point guard that's the fastest in history WITH THE BALLS TO SHOOT? Well, fuck me and fuck all his opponents because Ty is the new sheriff and he takes no prisoners. And that's a freshman? Only in the press guide - he's Mr. Prime Time. And if he needs to grab some air well there's last year's starter Frasor who is perfectably serviceable for as long as you need him and then Quentin who is only 1/100th of a second slower than Lawson and has some outstanding moves of his own if not the court command of Lawson.

Green doesn't dazzle, he just comes in and outscores the starters on a per minute basis while the starters are resting, that's all, nothing to see here, move along. Wes Miller, who looks and plays like a Duke point guard, which means he's got a center of gravity about three inches off the hardwood and is as ramped up as a Jack Russell on Mountain Dew and visualizes the ball as a chew toy on defense so he can dish it to a pick on the other side while he's scouting territory about 30 feet from the basket to launch his gorgeous mortar which finds the target the longer he's in the game.

There's this Thompson kid who has Sean May's hands which Sean must have left -- they're "soft" as we say -- that means go ahead, throw him a shitty, uncatchable pass - he'll catch it and stuff the rock in the basket while Stephenson blocks out for the rebound.

Love this time of the year - well, let's just say I want to see Dewey "Biscuit" Burke play in four more games.
(For the uninitiated, Dewey Burke is a player that UNC Coach Roy Williams puts in for a few minutes at the end of the game, when victory is well and truly clinched. He earned the nickname "Biscuits" because the regional fast-food chain Bojangles offers a two-for-$1 sausage biscuit special to the holder of a ticket stub for any game in which Carolina scores 100 points, and Dewey made that happen a few times this season.)

The new look

Originally uploaded by enrevanche.
OK, so people have weighed in publically and privately on the new look (short hair, heavy black-rimmed glasses) with their own private theories about who I resemble.

The answers have spanned a range from (predictably) Drew Carey to (somewhat unexpectedly) Ira Glass, with one brave soul venturing "Barry Goldwater" (and, of course, Vic made me out to be the "Know -It-All" character from Polar Express, which, as I play a know-it-all in my actual adult life, hits a little close to home.)

Well, you're all wrong, but you can hardly be blamed.

I look like this guy. That's Grandpa Floyd, of blessed memory.

Dean's List

The LA Times' Robyn Norwood explains UNC basketball to USC fans:
Imagine if every summer for more than 30 years, young Trojans in the NBA — some of them already All-Stars — kept returning to USC's North Gym or the Sports Arena or now the Galen Center to play pickup games.

And imagine if year after year, Bill Sharman, Tex Winter, Paul Westphal, Bob Boyd, Stan Morrison, George Raveling and Henry Bibby — all of them with some connection to USC — got together with Tim Floyd to play golf, talk basketball and hold a coaching clinic.

That is what USC is up against in North Carolina.

"They've got the best tradition in the world," said Trojans guard Lodrick Stewart, who remembers playing at the Dean E. Smith Center as a sophomore. "You look up and see all the best names — James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan — players I grew up idolizing. You just look at them and are like, 'Man, I'm on the same court and sitting in the same chairs where the best played.' "

Never mind that the Smith Center opened after Jordan, Worthy and Perkins finished their careers. And Stewart and his teammates don't have to face NBA greats, just Tyler Hansbrough and a batch of talented freshmen, when they play the Tar Heels in an NCAA tournament East Regional semifinal Friday at East Rutherford, N.J.
I love this time of year.

Tar Heels' Tradition Wins Big (Los Angeles Times, 22 March 2007)

Hat tip: Greg

21 March 2007

A rodent to give even Mister Gato pause

As dusk fell on the tropical wetland crawling with iguanas and small crocodilian caimans, José Ismael Jiménez pointed his harpoon at a rodent about the size of a Labrador retriever. With aim that comes from years of practice, he landed his spear on the back of its head.

But this hunt was not about ridding the country’s southern plains of varmints. It was about what’s for dinner.

The hunter’s only goal was the meat of the capybara, reputed to be the world’s largest rodent. Unlike other South American countries, including Argentina and Brazil, where capybaras are raised mainly for their hides, here the rodent’s meat is a sought-after delicacy, fetching prices almost double those for beef.

In Venezuela, Rodents Can Be A Delicacy (New York Times, March 21, 2007)

Survey: Outsourcing does not save money

Outsourcing may be commonplace, but it continues to confound IT executives’ expectations. Take the common myth that companies outsource to save money. Not only is this not true in half the cases, but our survey shows that most companies aren’t saving money by outsourcing.

And that’s not the only surprise: Insourcing and outsourcing, though polar opposites, are both on the rise. Companies spend more on offshore vendors than domestic ones, despite problems with quality and delivering return on investment. Dissatisfaction with outsourcing vendors is widespread, yet most of the 401 IT executives who took our survey blame their own companies most of all for the disappointing performance of their vendors.

CIO Insight: Outsourcing Does Not Save Money

20 March 2007

Houses cheaper than cars in Detroit

With bidding stalled on some of the least desirable residences in Detroit's collapsing housing market, even the fast-talking auctioneer was feeling the stress.

"Folks, the ground underneath the house goes with it. You do know that, right?" he offered.

After selling house after house in the Motor City for less than the $29,000 it costs to buy the average new car, the auctioneer tried a new line: "The lumber in the house is worth more than that!
Houses cheaper than cars in Detroit (Reuters via Yahoo News)

19 March 2007

Think a good thought for Cathy Seipp

Journalist and blogger Cathy Seipp, whose work has appeared, well, just about everywhere, is in a bad way. The doctors say she's got a few more days to live.

If you can spare a good thought, or a prayer, for a fine person, please hold Cathy (and daughter Maia) close by in your mind.

Separated at birth?

Too funny not to share:

enrevanche pal Vic writes in and says:
Barry... I couldn't help it when I saw your new look on your blog.

I've watched the Polar Express with my son more than I should admit and you now possess an incredible resemblance to the character Know-It-All from that movie.
Vic helpfully includes a visual aid, in the style of the old Spy magazine "Separated at Birth?" feature:


How today's techies work

Do you match the profile of today’s typical high-tech worker? You do if e-mail is your main way of communicating, you spend half your day in meetings, and you search the Internet for the latest research instead of reading print journals.

That’s according to a study of how engineers work, commissioned by the IEEE Publication Services & Products Board. The study was carried out at some of the most innovative technology companies in the United States and India. The hope was to learn how to design new products and services for high-tech workers.

How Today’s Techies Work (IEEE)

Hat tip: Greg

"Bong hits" make strange bedfellows

The "BongHits4Jesus" case is going to the Supreme Court:
A Supreme Court case about the free-speech rights of high school students, to be argued on Monday, has opened an unexpected fissure between the Bush administration and its usual allies on the religious right.

As a result, an appeal that asks the justices to decide whether school officials can squelch or punish student advocacy of illegal drugs has taken on an added dimension as a window on an active front in the culture wars, one that has escaped the notice of most people outside the fray. And as the stakes have grown higher, a case that once looked like an easy victory for the government side may prove to be a much closer call.


While it is hardly surprising to find the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship on Mr. Frederick’s side, it is the array of briefs from organizations that litigate and speak on behalf of the religious right that has lifted Morse v. Frederick out of the realm of the ordinary.

The groups include the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson; the Christian Legal Society; the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization based in Arizona that describes its mission as “defending the right to hear and speak the Truth”; the Rutherford Institute, which has participated in many religion cases before the court; and Liberty Legal Institute, a nonprofit law firm “dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights and religious freedom.”

You find civil libertarians in the strangest places these days. (I have enormous respect for the Rutherford Institute, by the way, and have linked to them--see "Liberty Links" in the sidebar--for a couple of years now.)

Free Speech Case Divides Bush and Religious Right (New York Times, 19 March 2007)

17 March 2007

Kickin' out the jams

In heavy rotation chez enrevanche, on CD player, iTunes, iPod and just generally in the hippocampus...

Ladies and gentleman, live from the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, Michigan, on Halloween Eve in the year of our Lord 1968, it's the MC5.

Ur-metal, and especially ur-punk.

1968, people.

More recent CDs getting frequent airplay at our place:
  • The Little Willies, "The Little Willies" (2006) - Texas swing by-way-of-New-York-City side-project band for a number of musicians, the most famous of whom is Norah Jones. They tend to focus, in their recordings and live performances, on reverent, virtuosic covers of country standards (from Rose and Acuff to Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt.... and, of course, Willie Nelson) but they occasionally record original music, too.

  • Rickie Lee Jones, "The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard" (2006) - Music inspired by Lee Cantelon's "The Words" project, a modern-language rendering of the words of Christ. (See also: The Words Online.)

  • Guy Clark, "Workbench Songs" (2006) - More polished diamonds from the best singer-songwriter working today in any genre. Thoughtful, engrossing, you couldn't and wouldn't change a word he sings or a lick he plays.

Mediocre loyalists

The Economist sums up the flap over Gonzales nicely:

For Mr Bush's critics, both Republicans and Democrats, this tale reinforces two conclusions they drew some time ago. First, Mr Bush is asserting greater executive power, at the expense of other branches of government, than any previous chief executive. And second, the president is too fond of mediocre loyalists such as Mr Gonzales. That said, if he sacks him, he will have a heck of a job getting a replacement confirmed by the Senate.

16 March 2007


"For whatever reason, Duke – in a way that, say, Stanford or Northwestern or Vanderbilt doesn’t – represents a certain snotty, privileged, sweater-draped-over-the-shoulder elitism that we love to see taken down a few pegs."


Duke became the Yankees wrapped up in Notre Dame and divided by the Lakers; without the cuddly presence of Dean Smith at North Carolina and with the decline of Bob Knight at Indiana, playing Duke became the game every player, fan and coach circled on their schedule.

One ring to rule them all

In his weekly technology column, the New York Times' David Pogue describes the incredibly innovative web-based telephone management service, GrandCentral:
Millions of people have more than one phone number these days — home, work, cellular, hotel room, vacation home, yacht — and with great complexity comes great hassle. You have to check multiple answering machines. You miss calls when people try to reach you on your cell when you’re at home (or the other way around). You send around e-mail messages at work that say, “On Thursday from 5 to 8:30, I’ll be on my cell; for the rest of the weekend, call me at home.”

And when you switch your job, cellphone carrier or home city, you have to notify everyone you know that you have new phone numbers.

A new service called GrandCentral, now in its final weeks of public beta testing, solves all of these problems. It’s a rather brilliant melding of cellphone and the Internet.

Its motto, “One number for life,” pretty much says it all. At GrandCentral.com, you choose a new, single, unified phone number (more on this in a moment). You hand it out to everyone you know, instructing them to delete all your old numbers from their Rolodexes.

From now on, whenever somebody dials your new uninumber, all of your phones ring simultaneously, like something out of “The Lawnmower Man.”


15 March 2007

Athwart History

The war that has unhinged so many has curiously revitalized Buckley, not as the administration's most eloquent defender but as perhaps its most forceful in-house critic. Untethered to the Bush team--the only insider he knew was Donald Rumsfeld, whom Buckley suggested should consider resigning following the Abu Ghraib scandal--he is also detached from its outer ring of ideologues and flacks. He is, instead, a party of one, who thinks and writes with newfound freedom. While others, left and right, have staked out positions and then fortified them, week after week, Buckley has been thinking his way through events as they have unfolded, looking for new angles of approach, new ways of understanding, drawing on his matchless knowledge of modern conservatism and on his 50-year immersion in the American political scene. It is one of those late-period efflorescences that major figures sometimes enjoy--and, in Buckley's case, it is marked by an unexpected austerity. Like Wallace Stevens's snow man, he has developed a "mind of winter" and, as he scans the bleak vista of the Iraq disaster, "beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." And it has been instructive to observe.
Athwart History: How William F. Buckley Turned Against The War - And His Own Movement (The New Republic, 3/15/07)

Gunfight on Bleecker Street

As Carrie and I rode back into Manhattan from Brooklyn last night, having visited and had dinner with friends, it was clear that some major shit had hit the fan: police cars were swarming everywhere, helicopters were hovering overhead, and automobile traffic was being diverted off of Houston Street, one of the main crosstown streets in Lower Manhattan.

It seemed evident that New York's Finest were focused on, and engaged in, seriously kicking someone's ass. Our driver detoured around the scene and we made it home with only minimal delay.

There was no immediate word on the goings-on in the news when we got home, but on awakening this morning, I was horrified to find this headline in the New York Times:

4 Dead in Manhattan Gunfight (New York Times, March 15, 2007)

The horror deepened as I read the story, which is an amazing narrative of senseless brutality and mindsnapping bravery.

A brief synopsis: A gunman walked into DeMarco's Pizzeria on Houston Street, put 15 rounds (!) into the bartender's back, and shortly thereafter killed two unarmed auxiliary police officers who chased him when he ran out the door. The fourth decedent was the gunman himself, who went down in a hail of bullets on Bleecker Street:
The attack began after the gunman entered a pizzeria on Macdougal and West Houston Streets and fatally shot a bartender who worked there, the authorities said. The two auxiliary officers — volunteers who dress in uniforms virtually indistinguishable from regular police officers — followed the gunman toward Sullivan Street, where he suddenly turned and shot them, the authorities said.


The authorities said that the gunman was followed by the two auxiliary officers either immediately or shortly after he left the pizzeria, and that minutes later they were shot outside 208 Sullivan Street, which once housed the former Triangle Social Club, the mob redoubt of Vincent (The Chin) Gigante. When police officers shot and killed the gunman, he was found to have been carrying two weapons and nearly 100 rounds of ammunition.
100 rounds. Ye gods.

Here's a backgrounder on the New York City Auxiliary Police, a uniformed, unarmed, all-volunteer and unpaid force.

Chasing an armed man who has just murdered someone, when you yourselves are armed with nothing but a police radio, is a species of bravery that I can't even imagine. These two brave men--unarmed volunteers--died protecting the citizens of New York City.

I'm quite sure I couldn't have, or wouldn't have, done it. Put a .45 in my hand and I might be capable of going after a gunman, even though the risk of getting shot at myself would be just as real... but if all I have is a radio and some pepper spray, I'll be calling in my location and giving as good a description of the assailant as I can muster.

And keeping my head down.

For this kind of story, of course, the NYC tabloids are unmatched:

Gonzales deadpool

What with the escalating furor over the political firings of Federal prosecutors, and an independent report by the Justice Department's inspector general stating (surprise, surprise) that the Bush Administration exceeded its authority to investigate "suspected terrorists" using unaccountable techniques like secret national security letters, I'd say the over-under on U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation is about ten days.

Place your bets.

14 March 2007

Evaluating the CAIR package

With violence across the Middle East fixing Islam smack at the center of the American political debate, an organization partly financed by donors closely identified with wealthy Persian Gulf governments has emerged as the most vocal advocate for American Muslims — and an object of wide suspicion.

The group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, defines its mission as spreading the understanding of Islam and protecting civil liberties. Its officers appear frequently on television and are often quoted in newspapers, and its director has met with President Bush. Some 500,000 people receive the group’s daily e-mail newsletter.

Yet a debate rages behind the scenes in Washington about the group, commonly known as CAIR, its financing and its motives. A small band of critics have made a determined but unsuccessful effort to link it to Hamas and Hezbollah, which have been designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department, and have gone so far as calling the group an American front for the two.
Group Advocating For Muslims In US Gets More Scrutiny (New York Times, 14 March 2007)

Action Alert: Whistleblower Bill

Dear Liberty Lovers,

Please contact your Representative and tell them to vote for H.R. 985 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007. Also, tell them to oppose the Hoekstra amendment (#3) which would deny whistle-blower protections to national security employees. They also need to oppose the Davis amendment (#4) which would attempt to retain uniformity in the consideration of whistle-blower cases in the federal courts by keeping in place the current requirement that all whistle-blower appeals go through the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rather than opening up appeals to other circuits. Call (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Representative. Also, use the action alert link.

In Liberty,


Michael D. Ostrolenk
Co-Founder/National Director
Liberty Coalition

The Liberty Coalition works to help organize, support, and coordinate transpartisan public policy activities related to civil liberties and basic human rights. We work in conjunction with groups of partner organizations that are interested in preserving the Bill of Rights, personal autonomy and individual privacy.

Information and action items on the Liberty Coalition website, email Update or other materials should not be taken as an endorsement by any partner organization unless explicitly stated as such.

TAKE ACTION: Whistleblower Bill Scheduled for House Vote This Week

13 March 2007

Losing my affiliation

Quite a few folks have written or commented in re this recent post.

Here's the backstory on why I've switched from "Republican" to "unaffiliated" on the voter rolls:

(1) The GOP shows absolutely no signs of learning anything from recent history, including the pummeling they took in the 2006 elections.

(2) The "Big Tent" is no more: Current Republican leadership is trying systematically to silence libertarian voices within the party, e.g., stripping Congressman Jeff Flake of his committee leadership positions in Congress as punishment for criticizing the party's direction.

(3) Not only are Modern Republicans not libertarians, they're not even recognizable as "conservatives" outside of positively troglodytic positions on a few hot-button social issues; once they got their hands on the public treasury, they spent like sailors on shore leave, creating insupportable new entitlement programs (Medicare prescription benefit, anyone?)

(3a) There are also these little problems with our country's foreign policy... ahem.

(4) With the theocrat/retard wing of the party firmly behind the wheel, and no one with a modicum of economic literacy or respect for civil liberties in sight, the GOP is not a viable or a realistic place for a libertarian/conservative to reside.

(5) The Democratic Party certainly isn't either (I doubt that I have to explain this to you, but I will if needed.)

(6) There *is* no viable libertarian (large L, small l, makes no difference) party in the US and it doesn't look likely that there ever will be one, as the number of American voters for whom an anti-statist philosophy is a primary voting criterion is vanishingly small and might as well be zero.

Und zo.... "unaffiliated."

Primal laughter

“Laughter is an honest social signal because it’s hard to fake,” Professor Provine says. “We’re dealing with something powerful, ancient and crude. It’s a kind of behavioral fossil showing the roots that all human beings, maybe all mammals, have in common.”

The human ha-ha evolved from the rhythmic sound — pant-pant — made by primates like chimpanzees when they tickle and chase one other while playing. Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist and psychologist at Washington State University, discovered that rats emit an ultrasonic chirp (inaudible to humans without special equipment) when they’re tickled, and they like the sensation so much they keep coming back for more tickling.

He and Professor Provine figure that the first primate joke — that is, the first action to produce a laugh without physical contact — was the feigned tickle, the same kind of coo-chi-coo move parents make when they thrust their wiggling fingers at a baby. Professor Panksepp thinks the brain has ancient wiring to produce laughter so that young animals learn to play with one another. The laughter stimulates euphoria circuits in the brain and also reassures the other animals that they’re playing, not fighting.

“Primal laughter evolved as a signaling device to highlight readiness for friendly interaction,” Professor Panksepp says. “Sophisticated social animals such as mammals need an emotionally positive mechanism to help create social brains and to weave organisms effectively into the social fabric.”
What's So Funny? Well, Maybe Nothing (John Tierney, New York Times, March 13, 2007)

Patti Smith, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Patti Smith writes a guest op-ed in Monday's New York Times, on the occasion of her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
On a cold morning in 1955, walking to Sunday school, I was drawn to the voice of Little Richard wailing “Tutti Frutti” from the interior of a local boy’s makeshift clubhouse. So powerful was the connection that I let go of my mother’s hand.
Ain't It Strange? (Patti Smith, New York Times, March 12, 2007)

It's just a breathtakingly lovely piece, and I urge you to read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Rock and Rap Confidential

11 March 2007

Some amazing college basketball this weekend...

...and thus, very light blogging at enrevanche.

But don't worry, the brain trust over here is putting our heads together. We'll get back to you shortly.

09 March 2007


Basketball as a Second Language:

With conference tournaments in full swing and the N.C.A.A. tournament fast approaching, I think this is a good time to offer a remedial B.S.L class: Basketball as a Second Language.

This is for you fans who enjoy watching the games and have a vague idea of what the analysts are talking about. Or you fans who simply want to review the terminology. Or you fans who want to impress the gang at the water cooler the day after by tossing out a few nuggets like: “Did you see how the Heels forced tempo when they went small? When they switched to four out, one in they opened up plenty of back cuts for Reyshawn Terry,” and “How about Wisconsin mixing halfcourt sets with their swing offense? Bo Ryan ran Tucker off those staggered screens, and Taylor beat his man with dribble penetration.”

It still won't help you understand Dickie V, but it's a start.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down gun control law

Can someone get a weather report from Hell? I'm wondering if it has frozen over.

Some shockingly good news from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals:

A federal appeals court in Washington today struck down on Second Amendment grounds a gun control law in the District of Columbia that bars residents from keeping handguns in their homes.

The court relied on a constitutional interpretation that has been rejected by nine federal appeals courts around the nation. The decision was the first from a federal appeals court to hold a gun-control law unconstitutional on the ground that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals, as opposed to a collective right of state militias.

There is abundant evidence that a private, individual right of gun ownership was the precise intent of the Founders, as noted (for example) in Sanford Levinson's Yale Law Journal article, The Embarrassing Second Amendment:
I cannot help but suspect that the best explanation for the absence of the Second Amendment from the legal consciousness of the elite bar, including that component found in the legal academy, 28 is derived from a mixture of sheer opposition to the idea of private ownership of guns and the perhaps subconscious fear that altogether plausible, perhaps even "winning," interpretations of the Second Amendment would present real hurdles to those of us supporting prohibitory regulation. Thus the title of this essay — The Embarrassing Second Amendment — for I want to suggest that the Amendment may be profoundly embarrassing to many who both support such regulation and view themselves as committed to zealous adherence to the Bill of Rights (such as most members of the ACLU). Indeed, one sometimes discovers members of the NRA who are equally committed members of the ACLU, differing with the latter only on the issue of the Second Amendment but otherwise genuinely sharing the libertarian viewpoint of the ACLU.
Ahem, yes.

Welcome home

You can hardly get unpacked around here without Mister Gato trying to help.

ready to travel_scaled
But first, a quick bath.

A nice "welcome home."

Be sure to check the Friday Ark at The Modulator for more quadruped goodness, and the Carnival of the Cats this Sunday at... drumroll... The Carnival Of The Cats Homepage.

The other African genocide

Less than ten miles from Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's mansion in Harare--the largest private residence on the African continent--Cleophus Masxigora digs for mice. On a good day, he told me, he can find 100 to 200. To capture the vermin, he burns brush to immobilize them, then kills them with several thumps of a shovel. This practice has become so widespread in Zimbabwe that, as a Zimbabwean journalist informed me, state-run television has broadcast warnings against citizens setting brush fires. Masxigora began hunting mice to support (and feed) his wife and three children soon after Mugabe began confiscating thousands of productive, white-owned farms in 2000, a policy that has since led to mass starvation. Not long ago, Zimbabwe, the "breadbasket of Africa," exported meat and produced what was widely considered to be Africa's finest livestock. Today, Masxigora tells me that each mouse nets $30 Zim dollars, about 12 cents, which makes him a wealthy man in Zimbabwe. "This is beef to us," he told me in August.

The conditions Mugabe rendered in Zimbabwe do not merely stem from idealistic economic and social policies gone awry. He has undertaken a campaign of violence and starvation against political opponents, the fallout of which is killing tens of thousands, if not more, every year. In 2005, there were roughly 4,000 more deaths each week than births, a rate that the famine has surely increased. This is worse than brutality. The United Nations says that "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" constitutes genocide, and that is exactly what Robert Mugabe has wrought.
The Other African Genocide: Killing Them Softly (New Republic, 3/8/07)

07 March 2007


Gapminder is a non-profit venture developing information technology for provision of free statistics in new visual and animated ways. Goal: enable you to make sense of the world by having fun with statistics. Method: turn boring data into enjoyable interactive animations using Flash technology. Gapminder is a Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. Funding has been mainly by grants from Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. In collaboration with United Nations Statistic Division Gapminder promote[s] free access to searchable public data and all animations of different types of data are freely available at www.gapminder.org.

Gapminder (Google Tools)

Is there virtue in bad workplace behavior?

Bob Sutton employs his signature frankness to discuss whether the bad behavior of workplace bullies and jerks should be tolerated in the name of success. While referencing such famous assholes as Steve Jobs of Apple or Hall of Fame baseball player Ty Cobb, Sutton debates the value of getting results with a strategic temper tantrum.

ChangeThis: The Upside of Assholes: Is there Virtue in Bad Workplace Behavior?

06 March 2007

To sleep, perchance to dream, dammit

I've been an insomniac my entire life; I didn't sleep well as an infant right out of the womb, and I don't sleep well as a 40 year-old man; for all I know, I had disturbed sleep patterns as a zygote and fetus as well.

This article in the Washington Post about famous insomniacs -- and the creative edge often associated with insomnia -- makes me feel a little better.

The notion that insomnia might have a use is counterintuitive. Conventional wisdom insists that to perform at your best -- as a student facing a test, an athlete preparing for a game, a lawyer scheduled to argue in court, etc. -- you need a good night's sleep. (As an insomniac, however, I might point out that all this harping on the efficacy of sleep only compounds the problem: How in blazes can you get a good night's sleep when you're worried about getting a good night's sleep and doing your best in that exam or soccer tournament or hearing? For the hard-of-sleeping, it's sometimes a tossup as to which is heavier, the pressure to sleep well or the pressure to do well in the activity being slept for.)

05 March 2007

Fiscal irresponsibility

Ah, for the days when "conservative Republicans" really believed in small government and fiscal responsibility.
A prescription drug benefit of the U.S. Medicare program is a "financially irresponsible" addition to a system that was already on course for possible bankruptcy, the U.S. government's top accountant said in an interview on Sunday.

"The prescription drug bill is probably the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s ... because we promise way more than we can afford to keep," U.S. Comptroller General David Walker said on CBS' "60 Minutes."

Walker said $8 trillion would be needed immediately, invested at treasury rates, to cover the gap between what Medicare is expected to take in and what it is expected to cost over the next 75 years.
The main problems? A tsunami of about-to-retire Baby Boomers and an administration that apparently felt, like Teen Talk Barbie, that "math class is hard."

Prescription drug benefit unaffordable (Reuters, via Yahoo News)

Carnival of the Cats #154

Tacjammer's got the 154th Carnival of the Cats:

In this 154th edition of the Carnival of the Cats, we take particular notice that even though the US presidential elections are well over a year away, there are more candidates of every faction or stripe than one can shake a stick at, running like the polls open next week.

Stupid humans.*

Cats, too, have issues they feel strongly about... though they aren't quite in such a hurry to be on the hustings. Today, we'll be examining topics of concern to the feline population, and the various positions cats take on the matters at hand.

The bridges of New York County

A little homesick for Manhattan this morning.

Look what I found.

03 March 2007

Rolling my R

I am a RINO (Republican In Name Only) no longer... because, in fact, I am no longer a Republican.

I've changed my party registration to "unaffiliated."

I've stuck with the GOP through thick and thin, success and failure, smart and stupid.

Stupid finally got to me.

More on this soon.

Candidate for testicular implants

The whole sordid Walter Reed Army Hospital mess is being covered (and covered well) in both the blogosphere and the mainstream media.

The big question, of course, is why it has taken so long for anyone to notice the Big Picture and do anything about it.

Prominent among the people who should be held accountable for their inaction is a Republican Congressman from Florida who clearly needs some lessons on how to throw his weight around:
In 2004, Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and his wife stopped visiting the wounded at Walter Reed out of frustration. Young said he voiced concerns to commanders over troubling incidents he witnessed but was rebuffed or ignored. "When Bev or I would bring problems to the attention of authorities of Walter Reed, we were made to feel very uncomfortable," said Young, who began visiting the wounded recuperating at other facilities.

Source: Hospital Officials Knew Of Neglect (Washington Post, 1 March 2007)
Ahem. You're a Congressman. And, poor baby, they "made you feel very uncomfortable?"

Repeat after me, Bill: "I am concerned about the welfare of my constituents in this hospital, General, and I don't give a f*** what you think about my attitude."

Representative Young has demonstrated that it is possible to be both a pussy and an asshole at the same time. In fact, let's throw in the perineal region as well.

02 March 2007

Well, not exactly

As Long As You Never Leave Your Room at the Holiday Inn

Tourist to random girl: You go, girl!
Girl: You can't say shit like that. You are not in fucking North Carolina anymore!
Tourist: Whatevs, the only difference between New York City and North Carolina is that there is a Y in the middle of N-C.

--Grand Central

via Overheard in New York, Mar 1, 2007

Some of the rodents at the Waverly Inn are bipeds

"I would not take another meal in that celebrity hellhole again if Graydon Carter had Heidi Klum feed it to me herself. "

Unregulated home care for the elderly

Dr. Diane E. Meier, a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, is an expert on end-of-life care. So when her elderly parents needed long-term help at home with bathing, dressing and cooking after her father’s stroke, she knew where to find assistance.

It was not through agencies in Manhattan that provide home health aides who are bonded, insured and certified. A year of custodial care from such an agency would cost her family $150,000, and in short order exhaust its savings because aides are not covered by government assistance unless patients are poor or fresh from a hospital stay.

Instead Dr. Meier turned to “a little list” of aides from the so-called gray market, an over-the-back-fence network of women. They are usually untrained, unscreened and unsupervised, but more affordable without an agency’s fee, less constrained by regulations and hired through personal recommendation.
New Options (and Risks) in Home Care for the Elderly (New York Times, 1 March 2007)

We are very lucky in that we can afford (due in no small part to my parents' forward-thinking purchase of long-term care insurance) certified, licensed nursing assistants to live with my mom.

Most families aren't so lucky.

Most choices aren't so good.

01 March 2007

70 hours a week: the new standard?

Before Barbara Agoglia left her job as a director in American Express’ small business unit, she was on the verge of burnout. Aside from logging upward of 50 hours per week, she had a 90-minute commute to and from northern Westchester and had to be reachable to clients nearly 24-7.

The breaking point came when her son started kindergarten and she didn’t have time to wait with him at the bus stop. “The hamster-on-the-wheel analogy is the best way to describe how I felt,” she says. For Agoglia, quitting felt like her only option.

It’s a feeling shared by many Americans who know that simply working hard isn’t enough anymore. To get ahead, a 70-hour work week is the new standard.

Crazy hours becoming the new standard - Forbes via MSNBC.com

Gato's Screen Test

Uh-oh. Video catblogging is nigh. Mister Gato is ready.

Be sure to check the Friday Ark at The Modulator for more quadruped goodness, and the Carnival of the Cats this Sunday at Tacjammer.