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

30 April 2007

The murder of innocents and the War on Drugs

It sure is a good thing that we've got the brave officers of the Atlanta Police Department protecting us from the scourge of Dangerous Drugs by, among other things, gunning down a 92 year-old woman while botching the execution of a fraudulently obtained search warrant... and then planting evidence to cover their asses.
While an innocent, elderly woman lay bleeding, handcuffed, and dying on the floor of her own home due to their malfeasance, these animals went about planting drugs to implicate her, and concocting a story to save their own hides. Every case these officers ever worked on needs to be reopened. And that's just getting started. A police department that could produce these three dirty cops, and allow them to operate, is a department that has almost certainly produced many more. It would be awfully coincidental if the only three bad drug cops at APD all happened to be working together this particular night, and happened to get caught on this particular raid.
I certainly feel a lot safer. Don't you?

[Kathryn] Johston Timeline (Radley Balko writing at Reason's Hit and Run Blog, April 30, 2007)

The importance of good backups

The MacBook hard disk died this morning. Cold dead. Blinking question mark when I try to boot up.

After a quick diagnostic session with Apple Tech Support, in which we were able to boot from an external disk drive but completely unable to get the internal hard disk to be recognized, I am about to send in the MacBook for factory service for the second time in less than a year.

I am annoyed--very, very annoyed--but not stressed out about data loss. You see, I have a backup that is current as of Saturday morning.

Lessons learned:

(1) Never buy Rev 1 Apple hardware.
(2) Always buy AppleCare.

A lesson I learned painfully a long time ago: Always, always, always have a current backup of the data on your hard drive. The question is not whether your hard drive will fail, but when.

29 April 2007

I think Ted Haggard was getting "massages" too

Deborah Jeane Palfrey has not been at all shy about it: for more than a decade she ran an escort service that catered to upscale clients in the nation’s capital, sending college-educated women to men’s homes or hotel rooms.

For about $300, she promised 90 minutes of what she has described as a discreet “legal high-end erotic fantasy service.” But the discreet part is over, after federal authorities charged her with operating a prostitution ring.

“The tentacles of this matter reach far, wide and high into the echelons of power in the United States,” Ms. Palfrey wrote in a court filing last month, as she prepared to release a list of her clients’ telephone numbers and vowed to subpoena her customers — some of whom she described as prominent Washington officials.

It is a defense strategy that had its first casualty Friday.

Randall L. Tobias, the top foreign aid adviser in the State Department, became the most prominent person on the list to be publicly identified when he resigned after acknowledging to ABC News that he was among Ms. Palfrey’s clients. The State Department’s statement on Mr. Tobias’s resignation said simply, “He is returning to private life for personal reasons.”

ABC News reported that Mr. Tobias told the network on Thursday that he had called Pamela Martin and Associates — Ms. Palfrey’s business — for massage services, not for sex.

Woman in Escort Case Plans to Name Names in Defense (New York Times, April 29, 2007)

IBM Almaden builds a virtual mouse brain

US researchers have simulated half a virtual mouse brain on a supercomputer.

The scientists ran a "cortical simulator" that was as big and as complex as half of a mouse brain on the BlueGene L supercomputer.

In other smaller simulations the researchers say they have seen characteristics of thought patterns observed in real mouse brains.
BBC News/Technology: Mouse brain simulated on computer

The computer hasn't yet been built that can simulate even half a cat's brain. Why, the bathing subroutines alone would require the invention of a new form of mathematics... call it "furry logic," perhaps.

Of course, here at Enrevanche House, as opposed to modelling cats on computers, we've had cats modelling on computers for years now.

Mister Gato prefers HP products
Cat and mouse

WFB on GOP

The political problem of the Bush administration is grave, possibly beyond the point of rescue. The opinion polls are savagely decisive on the Iraq question. About 60 percent of Americans wish the war ended — wish at least a timetable for orderly withdrawal. What is going on in Congress is in the nature of accompaniment. The vote in Congress is simply another salient in the war against war in Iraq. Republican forces, with a couple of exceptions, held fast against the Democrats’ attempt to force Bush out of Iraq even if it required fiddling with the Constitution. President Bush will of course veto the bill, but its impact is critically important in the consolidation of public opinion. It can now accurately be said that the legislature, which writes the people’s laws, opposes the war.
The Waning of the GOP (William F. Buckley, Jr. writing in National Review, April 28, 2007)

28 April 2007

A failure of generalship

You will read, in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere today, of an article in the Armed Forces Journal, written by Lt. Col Paul Yingling, which criticizes the senior leadership of the United States military in very blunt, harsh terms.

If you are interested in the Long War at all, let me urge you strongly not to get your synopsis of this article from the newspaper. The entire article is posted, for free, on the Web for all to see, and read, and it's worth twenty minutes of your time to read it for yourself and think hard about it.

This is too vital a topic for you to let someone else, even an accredited professional journalist as fine as the Post's Thomas Ricks, chew your food for you and tell you what it tastes like.

The journalists I've read today are quoting the flashy and angry bits of the article, and they can't be blamed for that; it's a long complex piece, it's hard to summarize, and they're out to sell newspapers.

Yingling isn't a naysayer, in my view... he's someone who has taken a hard look at what's at stake and is very worried:
For the second time in a generation, the United States faces the prospect of defeat at the hands of an insurgency. In April 1975, the U.S. fled the Republic of Vietnam, abandoning our allies to their fate at the hands of North Vietnamese communists. In 2007, Iraq's grave and deteriorating condition offers diminishing hope for an American victory and portends risk of an even wider and more destructive regional war.

These debacles are not attributable to individual failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America's general officer corps. America's generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America's generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress.

Here's the link. Go read it:

Armed Forces Journal: A Failure In Generalship

Update, 4/28/07: Chapomatic has a thoughtful, personal reaction, as well as a useful roundup of commentary from the milblogosphere and beyond.

27 April 2007

Humidity and fried foods, probably

As I slide down the razor blade of life into my forties, and stoically (if I do say so myself) endure the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, why, oh why, did I wake up this morning to find a fresh zit on my chin?

At the very least, surviving until early middle age should shield one from the indignities of adolescence.

26 April 2007

Music Meme

A really fun iPod shuffle meme from Cobb:

INSTRUCTIONS:
1. Put your music player on shuffle.
2. Press forward for each question.
3. Use the song title as the answer to the question even if it doesn’t make sense. NO CHEATING!

How do you feel today?
So Real - Jeff Buckley

What’s your outlook on life?
Find my baby - Moby

What does your family think of you?
Piggies - The Beatles

What do your friends think of you?
A Night In Tunisia (Take 5, Master) - Charlie Parker

What do strangers think of you?
Relaxin' at Camarillo - Charlie Parker

[Note: Camarillo was a state mental hospital in California where Parker was committed involuntarily for a period of time. - bc]

What do your exes think of you?
Lady Cab Driver - Prince

How’s your love life?
Ain't That Love - Ray Charles

How will your love life be in the future?
Living In The Future - John Prine

Will you get married?
Games Without Frontiers - Peter Gabriel

Are you good at school?
Jungleland - Bruce Springsteen

Will you be successful?
The Nearness of You - Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

What song should they play on your birthday?
Groovin' High - Dizzy Gillespie

What song should they play at your graduation?
Think of Me - Buck Owens

The Soundtrack of your life?
Illumination - Thievery Corporation

You and your best friends are?
Lead a Normal Life - Peter Gabriel

Happy times:
The Hymn (Take A Master) - Charlie Parker

Sad times:
Goin' Away Blues - Big Joe Turner

Every day:
My Favorite Things - John Coltrane

For tomorrow:
Long, Long, Long - The Beatles

For you:
Jesse James - Bruce Springsteen

What does next year have in store for me?
Carvin' The Bird - Charlie Parker

What do I say when life gets too hard?
Crayon Sun - Latin Playboys

What song will I dance to at my wedding?
Back at the Chicken Shack - Jimmy Smith

What do you want as your career?
One Last - Sufjan Stevens

Your favorite saying?
You're The Top - Louis Armstrong

How will I die?
Joogie Boogie - Dizzy Gillespie

First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye

Andrew Klavan, writing in the Spring 2007 edition of City Journal:
The thing I like best about being a conservative is that I don’t have to lie. I don’t have to pretend that men and women are the same. I don’t have to declare that failed or oppressive cultures are as good as mine. I don’t have to say that everyone’s special or that the rich cause poverty or that all religions are a path to God. I don’t have to claim that a bad writer like Alice Walker is a good one or that a good writer like Toni Morrison is a great one. I don’t have to pretend that Islam means peace.

Of course, like everything, this candor has its price. A politics that depends on honesty will be, by nature, often impolite. Good manners and hypocrisy are intimately intertwined, and so conservatives, with their gimlet-eyed view of the world, are always susceptible to charges of incivility. It’s not really nice, you know, to describe things as they are.

This is leftism’s great strength: it’s all white lies. That’s its only advantage, as far as I can tell. None of its programs actually works, after all. From statism and income redistribution to liberalized criminal laws and multiculturalism, from its assault on religion to its redefinition of family, leftist policies have made the common life worse wherever they’re installed. But because it depends on—indeed is defined by—describing the human condition inaccurately, leftism is nothing if not polite. With its tortuous attempts to rename unpleasant facts out of existence—he’s not crippled, dear, he’s handicapped; it’s not a slum, it’s an inner city; it’s not surrender, it’s redeployment—leftism has outlived its own failure by hiding itself within the most labyrinthine construct of social delicacy since Victoria was queen.

I very much like the idea of a conservatism that tells it like it is and the hell with the consequences. Would that it were so.

But the very notion that in 2007, a putatively serious writer can link the American conservative movement with truthtelling, of all things, is so ridiculous that I think it must be some kind of twisted performance art.

It's lots of fun shooting fish in a barrel (yes, Alice Walker sucks and multiculturalism is feelgood crap) and setting up PC strawmen and then knocking them down, but it's not very good exercise; to get a real workout, you need to be punching the heavy bag.

The first conservative to step up to the plate and offer honest, no-holds-barred and damn-the-consequences talk about, e.g., one or more of the following will win my heart:
  • How the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are going, and what "victory" will look like there.
  • Science and the public sphere (stem cells, evolution, energy policy, global warming, etc.)
  • Entitlement programs, most notably the ones created by the current "conservative" administration and how we're going to pay for them.

25 April 2007

His perfect and instinctive amorality

Matt Taibbi remembers Boris Yeltsin:
Yeltsin wasn't a "reformer" any more than he was a human being. He was born in a Russia where the mean ones got the house with the mill and the wood floors and the losers worked themselves to death in pits and outhouses. He left behind exactly the same country. There will be some Russians who will mourn him today, because for all his faults, he was what the Russians call nash -- "ours." With his drunkenness, his talent for making a slobbish spectacle of himself in front of the civilized leaders of the world, his apelike inability to wear a suit, his perfect and instinctive amorality, his effortless thievery, and his casual use of lethal force, he represented a type intimately familiar to all Russians.

And O, how they danced, the little people of Stonehenge

Spinal Tap is back, and this time the band wants to help save the world from global warming.

The mock heavy metal group immortalized in the 1984 mockumentary, "This is Spinal Tap," will reunite for a performance at Wembley Stadium in London as part of the Live Earth concerts scheduled worldwide for July 7.
Mock metal group Spinal Tap to reunite (AP via Yahoo News)

Attention, Mister Gato fans

While I'm in North Carolina this week, Carrie's got catblogging duty over at Pencil Roving.

24 April 2007

Even the computers at gop.com are against him

I just got perhaps the (unintentionally) funniest piece of e-mail ever.

It's a campaign message from President George W. Bush and is evidently authentic. (Even though I quit the Republican Party a little while back, just try getting off the damn mailing lists.)

Subject: Laying the Groundwork for Victory

Message text: Error: the server didn't return any data for the contents of this message.

Screencap below. I vow to you this is exactly as I received it.

e-mail
Click for full-size.

Yoga vs. Kung-Fu

When I was younger, I was always jealous of the other Asian kids. Why? Because they had kick-ass unarmed martial arts. A Chinese kid could say “Hey, don’t mess with me - I know Kung Fu like Bruce Lee!” What was I going to say in response - “Well, I know Ahimsa like Gandhi?” Even if they didn’t know it meant non-violence, they would still probably hear it as “asthma” which really wouldn’t help my case any.

[...]

...[This] amazingly paneer filled clip from Yoga vs. Kung Fu is the only time I’ve seen Yoga used in a movie to beat somebody up...

My Yoga Is Unstoppable: Sepia Mutiny

You really, really need to go see that clip. :-)

Brian Doherty on libertarians and American politics

[The] sense of a lost cause haunts libertarians in the public arena. They are often thought to be pushing an outmoded 19th century philosophy of laissez-faire that had been proven wrong in the Progressive Era and the Great Depression. It’s hard to argue against history—particularly in a deeply state-embedded world that most people feel quite comfortable in, or if they don’t, want the simple and visible expedient of some sort of concerted state action to solve whatever problem is bothering them.

Positing the benefits of a more libertarian world, as I’ve learned on talk radio across the land, runs you smack into failures of imagination as vast as the federal deficit: anything the government has ever had a hand in, from making cities well-designed and livable to regulating commerce or the money supply to running schools, is thought to be impossible without it.

And when it comes to things like getting out of Iraq—one of [Texas Congressman and libertarian-Republican Presidential candidate Ron] Paul’s main selling points, and a great one—you run into another of libertarianism’s rhetorical difficulties: it is often difficult for a libertarian solution, coming at the end of decades or even centuries of state solutions, to seem to “solve the problem.” After all, merely pulling out of Iraq is going to leave a pretty ugly situation in Iraq, and how is your libertarian non-interventionism going to solve that one, pal? One thing government programs are unfailingly good at: creating seemingly legitimate excuses for more government programs.

The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Libertarian: How far can traditional libertarianism go in modern-day America? (Reason, April 24 2007)

Toyota surpasses GM

Toyota sold more cars and trucks around the world in the first three months of 2007 than any other manufacturer, surpassing General Motors for the first time and ending one of the longest runs of dominance in all of global industry.

[...]

Toyota’s ascendancy, which many in the industry have predicted for some time, is another milestone in America’s long decline from unchallenged industrial preeminence.
Toyota Overtakes G.M. in Sales for First Time (New York Times, April 24, 2007)

Anyone who has driven a Camry or Prius lately, vs. the latest offerings from GM and Ford, will have no difficulty parsing this story.

I'll be watching from the sidelines with considerable interest to see how the Asian countries manage the 21st century.

It's pretty much theirs to manage.

23 April 2007

Carnival of the Cats @ The Scratching Post

The Scratching Post: The Feline Theocracy Hosts the Carnival of the Cats

Sex education the old-fashioned way - on the streets

Ah, the University of Life

Little boy: I know three things about aliens. One, they don't have hair. Two, they don't have mouths. Three, they don't have privates.
20-something: Then how do you know if it's a boy or a girl alien?
Little boy: Um, they're not boys or girls. They're its... Or she-males.
20-something: Where did you learn 'she-males' from?!
Little boy: Third Avenue.

--N train

via Overheard in New York, Apr 22, 2007

22 April 2007

Lower Manhattan, higher testosterone

Nope, not surprised at all:
Men now outnumber women [among resident of Lower Manhattan] by a ratio usually found in towns with all-male colleges, military bases and prisons, and in a few enclaves in Silicon Valley, with high concentrations of engineers and workers in other male-dominated fields.
In next weekend's New York Times, an enumeration and deconstruction of the ways in which having a job on Wall Street as, e.g., a junior analyst, resembles being a prison bitch.

21 April 2007

Omakase! We've been had...



I always suspected something wasn't quite right.

Hat tip: deVille.

Finally, a principled, focused attack on media negativity

It's about time somebody did something about those doomsayers and gloom-mongers in the MSM.
“When we talk of death, violence or poverty, for example, this is not positive,” said one editor at the station who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. “If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive.”
Let President Putin show you how it's done.

50% Good News Is the Bad News in Russian Radio (New York Times, April 21, 2007)

Guest catblogging: Buddy the Wonder Cat

Mister Gato is taking a well-deserved rest this week, but the show must go on.

Meet Buddy, the feline familiar of our dear friends Francis and Lynn.

Buddy Alert.jpg
Did someone call?

Buddy is a very affectionate orange tabby with a white "shirtfront." As Lynn wrote in her e-mail introducing us all to him:
Here is Buddy from the ASPCA, either 1 year or year and 1/2 and a delight, all boy... plays too rough, but is an endearing soul. We have lucked out and come upon a true worthy beast. He does bite and we have to figure that out, but he is affectionate for days... has commandeered the 'throne of power' so Francis sits in the forward position at times. We are really pleased with Buddy--cannot believe some of the strange places he feels he must investigate.
It took us several months to convince Mister Gato that hard biting and clawing were *not* considered affectionate behavior. Part of that is cat psychology... chewing is how cats show affection... and part of that is just the process of turning a street cat into a housecat.

Here's Francis on the aforementioned throne of power. Any cat who can get F. to share the Eames chair in his study is formidable indeed.

buddy and francis
It's awfully considerate of me to let you sit here.

What a good lad you are, Buddy.

For more pet pictures from bloggers around the world, check out The Modulator's Friday Ark... and don't miss the Carnival of the Cats on Sunday, hosted this week at Scratching Post.

Buddy Sleeping.jpg
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Sic transit gloria mundi

The plywood comes down at the former location of the 2nd Avenue Deli. (Eater.com)

The Depravity Scale

Judges and juries both across the United States and in other countries who decide that a crime is "depraved," "heinous," or "horrible" can assign more severe sentences. Yet there is no standardized definition for such dramatic words that courts already use. And while we may all recognize that some crimes truly separate themselves from others, there is no standard, fair way to distinguish crimes that are the worst of the worst, or "evil."

To minimize the arbitrariness of how courts determine the worst of crimes, and to eliminate bias in sentencing, the Depravity Scale research aims to establish societal standards of what makes a crime depraved, and to develop a standardized instrument based on specific characteristics of a crime that must be proven in order to merit more severe sentences.

This research will refine into the Depravity Standard, an objective measure based on forensic evidence. This instrument distinguishes not who is depraved but rather, what aspects of a given crime are depraved and the degree of a specific crime's depravity. The research will enhance fairness in sentencing, given that it is race, gender and socio-economic blind.
The Depravity Scale

Hat tip: Cobb

20 April 2007

The sociology of the upper middle class, via The Onion

"There is not a single existential crisis or self-congratulatory epiphany that has been or could be experienced by a left-leaning agnostic that we have not exhaustively documented and grouped by theme."

This American Life host and producer Ira Glass began work on the project in 1995 in Chicago, where he found himself inspired by and catering to an audience of professionals who dine out frequently and have a hard time getting angry. Glass and his team of producers, writers, and interns set about the exhausting task of gathering all available information on a range of subjects from minor skirmishes with the law to the rewards of occasionally talking to poor people. The raw data was then analyzed, deconstructed, reconstructed, re-deconstructed, organized under a broad philosophical title, and interspliced with musical interludes by rock duo They Might Be Giants.

White Trash Portfolio Update

As the Dow soars to record levels, remember that a rising tide floats all crackers: the White Trash and Minor Vices Portfolio is now up 2.5% since inception.

Over the same time period, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) tracking the major indexes performed as follows:

  • DIA, an ETF which tracks the Dow Jones Industrial Average, is up 3.5%
  • SPY, an ETF which tracks the S&P 500, is up 3.2%.
  • VTI, an ETF which tracks the performance of the broad US stock market as a whole, is up 3%
  • IYC, an ETF which tracks the Dow Jones Consumer Cyclical index, is up 2.3%.

Gonzales deadpool update

It's taking much longer than I originally thought, but it's looking more and more like the Attorney General's forwarding address will be "under the bus."

It did not bode well for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales when, before he uttered his first word to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, looked at him as if he were headed to the gallows and offered this advice: “Be alert and direct and honest with this committee. Give it your best shot.”

[...]

“I don’t believe that you’re involved in a conspiracy to fire somebody because they wouldn’t prosecute a particular enemy of a politician or a friend of a politician,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “But at the end of the day, you said something that struck me: that sometimes it just came down to these were not the right people at the right time. If I applied that standard to you, what would you say?”

Whoof. Bye, Al.

WaPo: Advocates Sue Yahoo In Chinese Torture Case

A human rights group sued Yahoo on Wednesday, accusing the Internet giant of abetting the torture of pro-democracy writers by releasing data that allowed China's government to identify them.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, says the company was complicit in the arrests of 57-year-old Wang Xiaoning and other Chinese Internet activists. The suit is the latest development in a campaign by advocacy groups to spotlight the conduct of U.S. companies in China.

As they seek a slice of the booming Chinese market, Yahoo and other American companies have sometimes set aside core American values, such as free speech, to comply with the communist government's laws.

Advocates Sue Yahoo In Chinese Torture Case - Washington Post (April 18, 2007)
The suit alleges that Yahoo helped the pack of thugs and criminals who pass for China's government identify internal dissident writers, so that they could be arrested, jailed and tortured. (China has always had a very... aggressive version of the Patriot Act in place, and past a certain level, one condition of doing business there and gaining access to the lucrative Chinese market has been a demonstrated willingness to be a collaborator.)

I know very little about the World Organization for Human Rights USA, the group that is helping Mr. Wang and his family file the lawsuit. I intend to do some due diligence, though; in this case, at least, they are on the side of the angels, and that suggests that they are potentially deserving of our help and support.

19 April 2007

The North Carolina Barbecue Society

North Carolina is the “Cradle of Cue™.” It all started on our shores. The North Carolina Barbecue Society invites you to join “The Fun Tribe™” and help preserve the history, culture and uniqueness that sets North Carolina barbecue apart from all others. Come visit the Old North State and experience the barbecue diversity that makes North Carolina the Barbecue Capital of the World.
The North Carolina Barbecue Society

Needless to say, I immediately made a healthy contribution to the cause and joined up.

They've got a pretty damned fine idea for a road trip, too.

Hat tip: Greg.

18 April 2007

Duct-Tape Marketing

Duct tape (the tape) is simple, effective, and affordable—it’s not always the prettiest solution, but it does always work. The central theme of Duct Tape Marketing: The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide by John Jantsch is that effective small business marketing is a system—not an event—composed of simple, effective, and affordable techniques.

When you combine that with the cult-like obsession many people have for all things duct tape you also get a pretty good example of how something simple like the right name can do a great deal for a company, product, service, or book.

How to Change the World: The Essence of Duct Tape Marketing (Guy Kawasaki)

Blackberry Outage

A system failure knocked out BlackBerry service to millions of customers late Tuesday but the company said Wednesday morning that service for "most customers" was restored.

A statement from the company said: "A service interruption occurred Tuesday night that affected BlackBerry in North America. E-mail delivery was delayed or intermittent during the service interruption."

"Root cause is currently under review, but service for most customers was restored overnight and RIM is closely monitoring systems in order to maintain normal service levels," the statement said.

BlackBerry Service Back (CNN/Money)

"I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened."

Blacksburg

Haven't said anything about it because I don't think I have much to add to the conversation.

This brings it home pretty hard.

17 April 2007

Enlightened policing

Are We Going to Search Every Cup? We Are Not

St. Patty's drunk: So, wait... I was told that we aren't allowed to drink in Penn Station today, but all the vendors are selling beer. What's the deal?
Cop: Well, they shouldn't be selling it. If you are caught, you will be ticketed and--
Interrupting cop: --Dude, just put it in a paper cup! Go right there, buy that beer, and ask for that red paper Coke cup. That's all.

--Penn Station

Overheard by: Super Mike


via Overheard in New York, Apr 16, 2007

A traitor among us

Fiona points to a dangerous example of tolerance of the enemy within our midst.

The Prophet Isaiah spoke of a better time in the future, where predators and prey would happily live together in peace and harmony... wolves lying down with lambs, and so forth... but this is ridiculous.

actually_this_IS_my_chair
Your shop steward would like a quiet word with you.

14 April 2007

Stop Illegal Spying

As a constituent who cares deeply about respect for the rule of law, our nation's tradition of checks and balances, and the Fourth Amendment, I urge you to support immediate and thorough investigations into the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless spying program as well as other abuses of surveillance powers. Congress must uphold its Constitutional duty as a check on the Executive's power and put an end to such unprecedented violations of Americans' rights.

If anyone involved in the NSA spying program has broken the law, he or she should be held accountable. Hearings should be held to investigate the extent to which the law been broken and how to prevent such illegal activity now and in the future. The inquiry must also uncover the program's operational details, including whom it targets and the information it collects.

Such vigorous oversight is long overdue. It has now been over a year since the press first reported on this clear violation of the Fourth Amendment and the legal safeguards set up by Congress. Yet Congress has so far failed to thoroughly investigate the details of this still-shadowy program.

Meanwhile, more privacy invasions have continued to come to light and must also be the subject of Congressional scrutiny. For instance, the FBI has blatantly misused National Security Letters under PATRIOT Act and violated the law to spy on Americans' telephone, Internet, and other personal records, as documented in a report recently released by the Justice Department's Inspector General.

Congress should also eschew any expansions of surveillance power. It would be highly irresponsible to legislate in the dark, before the past and present abuse of surveillance powers has been thoroughly investigated.

It's time for Congress to do its job and help restore the checks and balances that define our democracy. Please support investigations regarding the secret NSA surveillance program and help stop the illegal spying.
StopIllegalSpying.org

Stop Illegal Spying

"Pearls before breakfast"

What happens when you put a world-class violinist, playing a Stradivarius, at a Metro stop during morning rush hour?

As it turns out, not all that much.

This little detail, though, is very telling:
There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.
Pearls Before Breakfast - Washington Post, April 8, 2007

I can relate to the D.C. commuters who "didn't see" violinist Joshua Bell as he busked in L'Enfant Plaza Station. The *place* where art is happening isn't irrelevant, and very little can penetrate through the fog of my morning commute on the New York City subway.

Getting from point A to point B at rush hour is kind of a cross between meditation and a martial arts exercise, and in fact, it would likely take a threat to my safety to snap me out of my morning routine:
  • Up early, feed the animals, make coffee, walk the dogs, answer e-mails, shower, shave and dress, kiss my wife on the way out the door.
  • Be on the subway platform by 8:15
  • Skim the headlines in AM New York or Metro (hey, I'm a Times reader, but those little free tabloids are cannily designed to be perfect for commuters)
  • Take the express train to Chambers Street, switch to the local and get off at South Ferry
  • Stop for a takeout breakfast on the way in to the office.
I start perceiving things around me again as I settle in at my desk, greet my co-workers and start thinking about what I'm going to do that day.

13 April 2007

Abundance

Meet the happiest gibbon in the world.

Welcome to the Village

Sometimes, the best way to see yourself is through a stranger's eyes.

That's certainly the case with this lovely travel article from The Hindu Business Line (of Mumbai, India) in which an Indian journalist delightedly discovers Greenwich Village.

(Naturally, she finds the "Dosa Man" in Washington Square Park almost immediately.)

The Hindu Business Line: Off To The Village

Cats can make themselves comfortable anywhere, part XVII

Having recently had the wiring in our 110-year-old apartment building replaced, we've bought some new, high-powered air conditioners to get us through the New York City summer.

(Miraculously, we will be able to run the air conditioner and, say, run the toaster oven at the same time... I'm quite sure we won't know what to do with ourselves.)


The old air conditioner
Originally uploaded by enrevanche.

Here, Mister Gato makes a comfortable bed out of the *old* bedroom air conditioner (on its way out) plus a little packing material from one of the new ones on its way in.

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 Books for Israel.

12 April 2007

More fun with Google Maps

Courtesy of the new My Maps feature, a few of my favorite New York City places.

my maps google
Click to visit.


17. Swim across the Atlantic Ocean (3,462 mi)

How to get from my house to a favorite little hotel in Paris, via Google Maps.

Kurt is up in Heaven now

Kurt Vonnegut, dead at 84.

After having lived in New York City for only three or four years, I ran into Mr. Vonnegut on the street one day near Coliseum Books, a New York institution that predeceased him by only a few months.

I could have tried to stop him in his tracks and babbled on endlessly, as I'm sure many thousands of people have done, about how much his books meant to me. (Hell, after I graduated from the writing program at UNC and should have known better, for a few years I drove a convertible with a license plate that read "ICE-NINE.")

Instead, I smiled, nodded, and kept walking... a man who will always be a Southerner despite living in New York, communicating with a man who had always been a Midwesterner despite living in New York.

He nodded and smiled in return.

I'm glad I did it that way. A cynic and a misanthrope he may have been, but he was perfectly polite to a stranger on the street.
I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, "Isaac is up in heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, "Kurt is up in heaven now." That's my favorite joke.

(source)

Kurt is up in Heaven now.

Related: Biography and CV of Kilgore Trout @ VonnegutWeb

10 April 2007

You're never too old to enjoy playing with trains

Just ask Warren Buffett.

Burlington Northern added $5.45 to $88.17 after Berkshire bought a 10.9 percent stake in the company, which is one of the largest train companies in the United States. Berkshire had accumulated 39 million shares of the company as of Thursday, paying between $81.18 and $81.80 for the final 1.6 million, according to regulatory filings.

Berkshire bought "major" stakes in two other unidentified North American railroads, CNBC television reported, citing an interview with the head of Berkshire, Warren Buffett.

Other companies in the railroad transportation sector, including CSX,Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern , were buoyed by the disclosure.

"Railroad firms surge after Buffet invests in the industry," Bloomberg News via International Herald Tribune, 10 April 2007

Smart investment, Mr. B. (I always bought the railroads when I played Monopoly... nice income stream...)

Commuter rail works in dense urban areas, when heavily subsidized, and absolutely worth the cost in traffic and pollution avoidance.

Although as an admitted, card-carrying railfan it pains me to say this, intercity passenger rail in America (now consolidated as Amtrak) should have been euthanized in the 1970s, and outside of areas like the Boston-Washington corridor, it has been a shriveled husk of its former self, in a kind of living death, for the last four decades. (Passenger rail works in Europe and Japan because of the relatively short distances involved; in the US, cheap airfares made it irrelevant and would have killed it long ago if not for massive government intervention. )

But freight rail in North America is a great business that is more relevant than it has ever been.

Transporting freight by train costs less per mile and is more energy-efficient than trucking; these economies are multiplied when freight is packaged in standardized shipping containers, meaning that they can go straight from ship or truck to train (and vice-versa) without unloading and reloading.

In the long term, fuel and transportation costs are going nowhere but up. The train vs. truck equation is going to be tilting even more heavily in favor of trains... and Buffett, who is more of a buyer than a trader (he rarely liquidates a position; he buys and plans to hold for the foreseeable future) is in this for the long haul, pardon the expression.

09 April 2007

DoubleClick: in play

DoubleClick, the New York-based Internet advertising network, is no YouTube: It is an unsexy, revenue-producing business run by grown-ups who keep a low profile. It may also be worth more than YouTube, which Google bought for $1.65 billion: Google, Microsoft and other Internet heavyweights are reportedly willing to pay more than $2 billion for DoubleClick.

If they do, will the purchase boost the fortunes of DoubleClick's competitors? Many of the YouTube also-rans thought the larger site's purchase would increase their value in the eyes of potential acquirers. That hasn't panned out.
The DoubleClick Effect - Forbes.com

Musotik

Musotik is a search engine with a simple premise: give it the name of a musician you like, and it will scour the Net for music, video, and information related to the artist.

In five minutes of random and completely unscientific testing, it looks promising. It pulled up a ton of information on country singer-songwriter Guy Clark, and even managed to locate some album covers for jazz drummer/bandleader Paul Motian.

08 April 2007

Call your Senators if you care about stem cell research

Dear CAMR Member:

The time is NOW to start calling your Senators and urging them to vote in favor of S. 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.

On April 10, the Senate will begin a stem cell debate on two bills: the Senate version of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (S. 5) and an “alternative” bill authored by Senators Coleman of Minnesota and Isakson of Georgia. Votes on the two bills are expected on either April 11th or April 12th. There will be no amendments allowed and both bills will require 60 votes each to pass.

S.5 has been modified from earlier versions and will now include provisions from S. 2754, a stem bill which was passed by the Senate last year without opposition. This new section simply encourages the NIH to pursue other forms of stem cell research. CAMR remains fully in support of S.5.

The alternative bill by Senators Coleman and Isakson the Hope Offered through Principled and Ethical Stem Cell Research Act (S.30) does not change current policy in any meaningful way and CAMR is not taking a position on the legislation.

Our message is simple - there is only one bill that matters, one vote that will advance stem cell research, one vote for patients, and that is a vote for S.5. Take a moment to share this message with your family and friends. We need as many calls made to the Senate as possible. Individuals can reach any Senate office by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Thank you, Sean Tipton
CAMR President
www.camradvocacy.org

White Trash Update

Last week was a better one for White Trash on Wall Street; the White Trash and Minor Vices Portfolio is now up 1.1% since inception, helped along by solid performances in the "beverages that are bad for you and made by companies with hyphenated names" (aka Brown Liquids) category (Brown-Forman, Anheuser-Busch, and Coca-Cola) and a surprisingly good showing from Ford.

The spinoff of Kraft Foods from parent company Altria has been a net win as well.

Over the same time period, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) tracking the major indexes performed as follows:
  • DIA, an ETF which tracks the Dow Jones Industrial Average, is up 1.3%
  • SPY, an ETF which tracks the S&P 500, is up 1.1%.
  • VTI, an ETF which tracks the performance of the broad US stock market as a whole, is up 1.15%
  • IYC, an ETF which tracks the Dow Jones Consumer Cyclical index, is up 1.67%.
Never let it be said that white trash can't keep up with the Dow Joneses.

And once again, the complete White Trash portfolio is comprised of:
  • BFB - Brown-Forman Corp. Cl B
  • BUD - Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.
  • CHB - Champion Enterprises Inc.
  • F - Ford Motor Co.
  • GM - General Motors Corp.
  • IGT - International Game Technology
  • KO - Coca-Cola Co.
  • KFT - Kraft Foods (not part of original portfolio; spun off by Altria)
  • MCD - McDonald's Corp.
  • MO - Altria Group Inc.
  • WMT - Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Happy investing!

Review: Nokia N800 Internet Tablet

My dad, of blessed memory, always used to say "you can tell a man from a boy by the price of his toys."

This one's for you, Pop.

Let's say you've bought into the notion that "the Internet is the computer." Much of the information you use in your daily life is either online or is accessible from there; you're wired to the max at work and at home, you've got a Wi-Fi equipped laptop, maybe you've also got a BlackBerry or PDA, and in short you are, IP-wise at least, extremely well-connected.

You succumbed to an early case of iPhone lust, but then you started thinking about it: Do you really want your mobile telephone, your iPod, and a small-form Internet tablet all in the same device? What's the battery life going to be like on that bad boy if you're using it for all three purposes? Do you really want a single point of failure for all three functions?

I already have a nice, rugged, compact cellphone that pulls a great signal and, you know, makes and receives phone calls. That's truly all I want out of a cellphone. It does those things just fine.

I doubt that anyone is going to improve, any time soon, on the form factor, the ease of use, or the bang for the buck of Apple's 8GB iPod Nano. Even Apple.

And I certainly don't have a burning desire to get sucked into an expensive monthly data-rate plan on a two-year contract with AT&T as a precondition of spending $500-700 on an iPhone when it comes out.

But, you know, the "Internet device in the small-but-usable" form factor is still very attractive. Cellphone screens are just too small for extended Internet use, but there are times when you don't want to be lugging a laptop around with you.

The clever Finns at Nokia have an answer to this dilemma.

Meet the N800 Internet Tablet (retail price $399, street price $375 or so).

nokia n800 clipped
Meet the solution.

If you're usually near a WiFi hotspot (in New York City, I'm rarely more than a hundred yards from one, and my office and apartment building are thoroughly saturated) this might be the device of your dreams.

The specs (full details here): The N800 runs an embedded variant of Linux (really), gets its Internet access via WiFi (although it's also capable of matching up with your Bluetooth-enabled cellphone), weighs about seven ounces, is roughly three inches tall by six wide, and half an inch thick. and has a nice, bright wide screen for your webular activities, plus a built-in webcam for still pictures and videoconferencing.

Comparative sizes (an Altoids tin, an N800, and a 13" Macbook)

Comparative Sizes
Three geekly things.

It ships with the Opera web browser; a dedicated RSS reader; e-mail and chat clients; a media player (audio/video) and a host of similar tools; you can also download all kinds of third-party software for it already, including Gizmo (and soon, Skype) if you'd like to use the tablet as a Voice Over IP (VOIP) telephone.

The resolution on the wide, bright touchscreen is an astounding 800 x 480; if you have a pair of middle-aged eyes, rocker switches on the top of the device makes zooming in and out for easier reading a breeze.

Data entry is in three modes: handwriting recognition, which works okay, and two different sizes of virtual keyboard, one that works well with the included stylus, and one that works well with my fat fingertips.

Rated battery life is about four hours of constant use or ten days of standby; in practice, due to Nokia's excellent power management features, I can use the device on and off all day long without recharging, and that's all I really care about.

Some screenshots (click to enlarge them all)

Here's the "default" view when you turn the device on; you can select applets to be displayed on the main screen. I've got a Google search window, an RSS news feed, a streaming audio control with my favorite Internet radio stations, a clock/calendar and a media player ready to go.

Main screen
Basic view.

A web browser-view in full screen mode:

Web browser
Web browser.

And yes, it really is Linux under the hood. Shell window screengrab, showing virtual keyboard in stylus-size:

Xterm
Surprise!

(Xterm not included in the base configuration, but geeks will quickly make their way to Maemo.org, where this and many other Linux-related goodies can be found.)

The only downside, so far: there are very competent text editors, and even a port of the GNU spreadsheet application, but there is currently not any way to edit (or even reliably read) Microsoft Office documents on the N800.

With improved browser support coming, however (a port of Mozilla Minimo is actively in the works) offering access to online applications like Zoho or Google Docs, this problem will soon be solved.

I've had my N800 for about a week now, and after putting it through its paces, it has earned itself a permanent place in the manbag.

And now that the FAA has given the greenlight to WiFi on airplanes (some US carriers may be rolling that out as soon as early 2008), this will be the device that I whip out if I want to get a little work done in my coach seat.

Related: Ecstatic review of the N800 in The Inquirer

05 April 2007

On the platform, fine...

...but please, not in the subway cars.

I'm talking, of course, about busking.

On the train home last night, two guys who wanted to "entertain" us (read: play music badly and then shake us down for cash) crowded into "my" car on the Broadway Local.

One of them had a 12-string guitar, one of them had a freaking *accordion.*

Don't get me wrong, I love me some norteƱo music, but I don't want to listen to it involuntarily on the way between South Ferry and 14th St. As soon as I could do so safely, I changed to another car (and cranked up my iPod.)

(Old musician's joke: "Perfect pitch" means being able to toss a banjo into a dumpster from 25 paces, and have it hit an accordion when it lands.)

A mighty labor

New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni, in the midst of giving a mediocre review to NYC dining institution The Four Seasons, on being "made" (identified as a critic) mid-meal:

The standouts on the menu aren’t as numerous as they should be. The signs of a restaurant that runs on two tracks — one for the anonymous, another for the anointed — are too obvious.

I get the sense that I’ve moved from the first to the second group about a third of the way into one of my dinners, with the arrival of a salad to be prepared tableside. Suddenly the romaine’s lone squire is joined by several others, who fuss and fret over the cart as if what’s under way isn’t a Caesar but a Caesarean.

Heh.

No Longer Young, But Still Turning Heads (Frank Bruni reviews The Four Seasons and gives it two stars in the New York Times, April 4, 2007)

Don't be evil (unless, you know, there's a lot of money involved)

Google on Wednesday recommended to its shareholders that they vote against a proposal calling for new policies to protect internet freedoms.

The world's biggest internet company gave no explanation in an SEC filing why it opposed the proposal, which is being put forward by The New York state pension funds, one of the biggest investors in the US, at its annual meeting in May.

The group has submitted an identical proposal for consideration at Google rival Yahoo's annual meeting in June.

Funds press Google on Internet freedoms (Financial Times, April 5, 2007, via MSNBC)

Google may not have explained it, but I can sum it up in one word: China.

Larry and Sergey's famous dictum, "Don't be evil" (in summing up Google's corporate philosophy) clearly has some wiggle room built in.

04 April 2007

Twitter

Twitter is kind of fun.

After you register, you can send Twitter an IM or a text message from your cellphone, and anyone can check your "current status" at the Twitter site or wherever you've embedded the right code snippet.

Like over there in the sidebar. :-)

Hint: Click the arrows to see the recent history - and if you're a Twitter user (or inclined to become one) please let me know so's I can "friend" you.

03 April 2007

Always listen to Chap when he recommends a record

Chap points us to a new record worth listening to: Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black":
Winehouse is spending some time working her tone, shifting from insistent to tentative in a phrase, singing back back behind the beat where she can get away with it. “Me And Mr. Jones” has been stuck in my head for about too long now–she credits the Ronettes and the Specials on the record and here it makes sense–if you add in the Andrews Sisters doing “Mister Sandman” in the backup singing. Worth a listen.
Chapomatic » Back To Black

Oh lord, y'all. I've been listening to this disc since it arrived.

If Queen Latifah stayed up three nights straight listening to Billie Holliday records and then decided to front a 60s girl group, it might sound something like this... it's absolutely irresistible. Amy Winehouse is part of the British neosoul revival; if you think that all there is to that is Joss Stone, you really, really need to listen to this recording.

If there were any justice in the world, Chap could make a nice six-figure salary curating record collections for people. I've known him for over twenty years now, and in all that time he has given me exactly one bum steer musically (an unfortunate experience with an industrial/noise record, never to be repeated.)


02 April 2007

The coming entitlement meltdown

About one-third of this $3 trillion [2008 Federal Budget] is so-called discretionary spending; the remaining two-thirds is deemed "mandatory" entitlement spending, which means mostly Social Security and Medicare. I'm sure many American voters would be shocked to know their elected representatives essentially have no say over two-thirds of the federal budget, but that is indeed the case. In fact the most disturbing problem with the budget is the utter lack of concern for the coming entitlement meltdown.
Ron Paul, R-TX, Remarks on the 2008 Federal Budget

Getting dirty is good for you

Exposure to dirt may be a way to lift mood as well as boost the immune system, UK scientists say.

Lung cancer patients treated with "friendly" bacteria normally found in the soil have anecdotally reported improvements in their quality of life.

Mice exposed to the same bacteria made more of the brain's "happy" chemical serotonin, the Bristol University authors told the journal Neuroscience.

Common antidepressants work by boosting this brain chemical.
Dirt exposure 'boosts happiness' - BBC News

As someone with a lifelong love of gardening, this is absolutely not news to me. It's one of the only things I miss, living in New York City.

If the association between soil bacteria and serotonin holds up after experimental testing, though, it raises all sorts of interesting questions.

The human shift to agriculture from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle took place very recently, in the evolutionary scheme of things - roughly 10,000 years ago, homo sapiens first donned a John Deere cap and squinted at the sky: looks like a good day to plant chickpeas.

In terms of human history, 10,000 years or so is about all we've got of it; the shift to farming slightly predates the development of written language, and of course that's no accident.

In terms of evolutionary pressures, it's the blink of an eye; surely it's not enough time to develop a tendency in human beings to get happy around dirt.

Is it?

Carnival of the Cats #158

...is up at IMAO.

It actually went up on April Fool's Day, but that's a religious holiday for me; I don't blog.