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

31 December 2005

2005: The Year In Military Heroism

Here's a year-end list that, sadly, you won't see in the news media, in all likelihood:

Riehl World View: 2005: The Year In Military Heroism

Follow that link, and go read about Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, Sgt. Willie L. Copeland III, Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin, and many more whose names you probably haven't heard before, but should remember.

Worth a Nobel, if it works

Forget vaccines to protect us from AIDS and avian influenza. Got a planned design for an automobile that gets 100 miles to the gallon? Pish and tosh.

Courageous scientists at the School of Textiles and Design at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland are tackling a serious problem--and the answer will be a boon to clothing manufacturers, not to mention beleaguered husbands, boyfriends, and significant others around the world.

They seek a scientific, definitive method for answering the question, "Does this outfit make my ass look fat?"

Models with variously sized posteriors will wear different types of clothing as part of the research, which will examine how designs, colours, patterns and fabric types affect perception.

Others will be asked to assess how big or small each model's backside appears to look in the outfits.

"This study will provide for the first time detailed and usable information that would enable designers to make the clothes that help women make the most of their natural assets," said Dr Lisa Macintyre, who is leading the study.

Vaya con Dios, Dr. Macintyre. Our thoughts and prayers--nay, our hopes and dreams!--are with you.

British academics to tackle fashion's bottom line - AFP via Yahoo! News

More year-end reporting from enrevanche

In a previous post, we reported the most common search terms by which folks found this blog in 2005.

This site is a labor of love, but we do derive a little bit of revenue from our Google Ads and our affiliation with Amazon.com.

If you click on a Google Ad, or if you buy something from Amazon after clicking a link on our site (or clicking the Amazon logo in the sidebar) then we get a little piece of the action. It's a nice way to support the site, and we appreciate it when y'all do that. (It funds our habit of buying tube socks at street fairs, a joke that no one outside of New York City is likely to get.)

Just ran the year end reports from Amazon. I had missed this in an earlier report, but in late May, one of our loyal supporters bought the following--speaking of a piece of the action:
  • Undergear French Thong Brief M BLACK
  • Undergear Silk Extreme Thong M ROYAL
  • Flawless Mesh Thong S/M NUDE
Don't worry. We have no way of knowing who ordered what; Amazon protects the privacy of its customers. But we do get a list of what they ordered.

Um. Call me?

Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!

It's a little late for Christmas, but if you're looking for an appropriate gift for a young child any time soon, I heartily recommend Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!

From author Katherine DeBrecht's description:
HELP! MOM! There are LIBERALS Under My Bed! follows the adventures of Tommy and Lou, two regular boys who dream of starting a lemonade stand in order to earn enough to buy a swing set. Their dream goes quite well until liberals like Congresswoman Clunkton, Mayor Leach and Mr. Fussman attempt to tax and regulate their dream away...

Every life makes a difference

While I was home over Christmas, we got a call from a reporter at the Raleigh News and Observer. They were doing a year-end feature on people in the community who had passed away over the last year, and wanted to interview us about Dad.

The story ran in this morning's N&O: "Every life makes a difference," (Saturday, December 31, 2005.) The entire article is fascinating reading.

Here's the bit about Dad, which runs at the very end:
Bob Campbell, 69, Raleigh
Though disabled, he was neighborhood's Mr. Fix-It

Bob Campbell lost the ability to walk at 31, but he never gave up his will to live.

Inspired by his young son, the IBM engineer from Western North Carolina soldiered on in a wheelchair by laughing at the small indignities of his disability and by tinkering with his Raleigh neighbors' lawn mowers.

Campbell died in October at the age of 69.

He savored taking things apart and putting them back together. He spent his first few years at IBM traveling the world for the company.

His life changed in November 1967, when he borrowed a friend's motorcycle. He lost control of the bike on a country curve in Rowan County, flew into a field and snapped his back.

Campbell was paralyzed from the chest down, and life was harder. He had to pull himself out of bed in the morning, required help getting dressed and could no longer control his bladder.

"His sense of humor got us through the hard times," said his wife, Betty. "We laughed about things that you never would think we'd laugh about."

He developed a reputation as the mechanical handyman of Raleigh's Oak Park neighborhood, fixing lawn mowers and children's bicycles for free in the shade of his carport.
I can't tell from the web version of the article whether they ran a picture of Dad. But in case they didn't, here's one from his retirement party, at which he was presented with a toy lawnmower as a gag gift from his friends and colleagues, who knew of his mechanical proclivities.

bob campbell presented with toy lawnmower 1992
I hope you don't expect me to fix this.

30 December 2005

GAO Report on Offshoring

This was released while I was on a heavy business travel schedule, so I missed it, but better late than never.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO, formerly known as the General Accounting Office) has finally released a long-awaited report on the economic impact of offshoring: "Offshoring of Services: An Overview of the Issues."

From the abstract:
Analysts of the offshoring phenomenon have expressed a range of views about the likely impacts of offshoring on four broad areas. The differing views reflect several factors: the fact that services offshoring is a relatively recent development whose impact is not fully known, the limitations of available data on offshoring, and different theoretical expectations about how services offshoring will impact the U.S. economy.

(1) The average U.S. standard of living: Traditional economic theory generally predicts that offshoring will benefit U.S. living standards in the long run. However, some economists have argued that offshoring could harm U.S. long-term living standards under certain scenarios, such as if offshoring undermines U.S. technological leadership.

(2) Employment and job loss: While economic theory generally predicts that offshoring will have little effect on overall U.S. employment levels in the long-run, there is widespread recognition that pockets of workers will lose jobs due to offshoring, though there is disagreement about the expected magnitude of job loss and implications for displaced workers.

(3) Distribution of income: Some economists maintain that offshoring could increase income inequality in the U.S., while others argue that changes in the income distribution are driven primarily by factors other than offshoring, such as technological change.

(4) Security and consumer privacy: Experts express varying degrees of concern about the impact of services offshoring on the security of our national defense system and critical infrastructure--such as utilities and communication networks--as well as the privacy and security of consumers' financial and medical information.
There's nothing terribly new or groundbreaking in this reporting or analysis, to put it mildly, but it might serve as a decent basis for opening a policy dialogue on an issue that is going to be extremely significant to the American economy in the coming years.


Is Outsourcing the Next Terror Target?

At about 7:30 p.m. on December 28, a gunman walked into an international conference taking place at the Indian Institute of Science, a prestigious academic institution in Bangalore, and began throwing hand grenades into the conference hall—four grenades, all unexploded, have been found so far on the institute's campus. Apparently panicking when none of the grenades exploded, the gunman opened fire with an AK-56 while he retreated. A retired mathematics professor attending the conference was killed, and four others were wounded. The gunman scaled a wall and fled; the Bangalore police believe that he had an accomplice.

No arrests have been made, and the police have named no suspects yet, but suspicion is increasingly zeroing in on the Islamist terror outfits that have been waging a mounting campaign of terror against India. The Lashkar-e-Toiba, a jihadist group that aims to drive India out of Kashmir, is a prime suspect, but Bangladesh-based terror outfits are also considered potential culprits. India's security experts have been warning for months that it was only a matter of time before terrorists attacked Bangalore in a bid to weaken the country's booming technology sector. In March this year, Indian authorities announced that plans seized from militants belonging to a Lashkar-e-Toiba cell in New Delhi showed that the terrorists had planned to strike at software companies in Bangalore.

TIME.com: Is Outsourcing the Next Terror Target?

29 December 2005

Mister Gato's new favorite spot

We've done a little rearranging in our house, which always slightly discombobulates the cat. Inadvertently, we made it a little easier for Mister Gato to go mountaineering--he can now climb up onto the stereo before jumping to the top of the bookcase.

(In case anyone from Cambridge Soundworks is reading this, you'll be pleased to know that your Radio/CD 740, in addition to sounding great and filling a small NYC apartment with beautiful music, makes an excellent and sturdy feline launch platform.)

So he's spending a lot of time up in the crow's nest, atop (naturally) some cardboard boxes containing... well, I'm not sure what's in them, but I'm guessing they're business records of some kind. The Cat in the High Castle.

Baseball broadcasting legend Red Barber used to talk about a pitcher "sitting in the catbird seat" when he had a game well under control. I never knew just exactly what the hell that meant, even though Red and I are both from the South.

But maybe I'm beginning to understand. This is indisputably a picture of a seated cat who is as happy as if he'd just eaten a small bird.

Visit the Friday Ark at The Modulator to check out more bloggers' pets from around the world--and be sure to visit the first Carnival of the Cats of 2006 on Sunday, hosted this New Year's Day by Rahel at Elms In The Yard (where it has actually been 5766 for some time now... dammit, I just stopped writing 5765 on my checks, too...)

(And pssst... mark your calendars! We're hosting the Carnival of the Cats here on February 5.)

Update: Carrie has more Mister Gato for you this week.


Just a quick tip in case you're not already hip:

For matters relating to the United States Supreme Court, the excellent SCOTUSblog should be your first stop on the Information Superhighway.

Especially as the fight over the Alito nomination heats up, you're going to want to check in every now and then... but today, for example, their coverage of the Jose Padilla case is better, more insightful and more nuanced than what you'll get if all you read is the New York Times or the Washington Post.


28 December 2005

A Chowhound In Boston

Today's Boston Globe runs a nice profile of Chowhound's Alpha Dog, Jim Leff, on a holiday trip to the Boston 'burbs (Framingham and Worcester), where he samples more ethnic cuisines than you can shake a stick at: Brazilian, Jamaican, South Indian...

I've been on a couple of restaurant crawls with Jim (though not recently... and, full disclosure, I used to volunteer a few hours a week working on the Chowhound site newsletters) and this article does a pretty accurate job of capturing the Jim Leff Full-Contact Chowhounding Experience:
As a fan of Brazilian food, [Leff is] enraptured by Framingham. ''Cidade maravilhosa -- that's what they call Rio, city of wonder. But that's what I call Framingham."

[Accompanying Chowhounder] Chris, 36, chuckles: ''He's kind of a zealot, but in a good way."

Sure enough, when Leff asks what I think of a baton-shaped, coconut-flavored sweet and I say it's fine but not that interesting, he rushes to correct me. ''Have you given it enough of a chance? Take another bite. Things will start to happen."

I do. Nothing happens. I'm sure it's perfectly made -- not stale or dry -- but does that mean I have to love it? Apparently so. ''Some things hit you over the head with flavor right out of the gate," he says. ''Some things build. This is a builder."

Chris is smiling. ''This is where the word 'zealot' starts to make sense," she says.
Chowing down with the hound - The Boston Globe

Related: Chowhound.com

The Needies

Everyone loves to be loved and needs to be needed.

That, at least, is the tagline of a bizarre new line of plush robotic dolls called the Needies. Clingy, jealous, and possessive, Needies want nothing short of your undying love and attention--and they're prepared to fight one another to get it.

Pick one up and give him a squeeze, and he'll reward you with fond words, flattery or a special Needie song. But soon his Needie siblings will start to complain.

"Is it my turn yet?" one might sullenly whine.

"Me! Me! Me!" another may shriek.

"Throw him," a particularly desperate Needie might even command. "THROW HIM!"
Being already possessed of (or by) two clingy Chow Chows and one irascible tomcat, I have no need (ahem) of this new product. But it's a fascinating use of wireless networking technology and an amusing concept for a new toy... assuming that you find a plush toy with a personality disorder amusing, that is...

The Needies Need You to Need Them - Forbes

Related links:

All he needs now is a good nickname

Meet Richard Causey. History may well ultimately record him as the "Sammy the Bull" Gravano of the Enron case.

Just as Mob underboss Gravano's turning state's witness was instrumental in Federal prosecutors bringing down John Gotti (and a host of other Mafia kingpins), Richard Causey -- the former chief accounting officer of Enron -- has apparently just agreed to a plea deal, one that will almost certainly involve testifying against his former bosses:
In a reversal that transforms the criminal case against Enron's former top officers, the company's former chief accounting officer has reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to violating federal law during his employment there, people briefed on the decision said yesterday.

The former accounting officer, Richard A. Causey, had been viewed by lawyers in the case as likely to strike a plea deal with prosecutors and possibly serve as a witness for the government in the coming trial of two former chief executives of Enron, Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling.
Plea Deal Is Seen for Enron Figure - New York Times

Use your body as a network connection

Crypto-geeks have been heard in the past muttering about "handshake protocol," but this is ridiculous and wonderful:
Japanese company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) has developed technology that uses the human body as a high-speed network. What's more, it also forms a communications link between people and electronic devices.

This is the first viable Human Area Network (HAN) device, enabling fast data transfer between devices using the human body as a conduit.

The transceivers - called RedTacton - uses the surface of the human body as a safe, high speed network transmission path.
What, you don't have the latest copy of the PowerPoint presentation? Here, take my hand...

Don't have a LAN connection? Use your body! - Indiatimes Infotech

27 December 2005

Mistaken identity

This is kinda funny.

Wonder if it's one of my alter egos?

The Ecosystem Shifts, Again

Don't look now, but I think the TTLB Ecosystem is on goofy pills.

Or N.Z. Bear is tweaking the algorithms again, or both.

Look what I saw this evening in my sidebar:

ecosystem weirdness
We appear to be evolving rapidly.
Punctuated equilibrium, anyone?

And when I checked it out at the TTLB site...

a large mammal again
Suddenly, I'm a Large Mammal again...

At this rate, I'll be overtaking Michelle Malkin and Glenn Reynolds in a few days.

Update, December 28: A Marsupial again. Stay tuned for further devolution.

What Was, and Wasn't, on the Public's Mind in 2005

It's that time again - the year-end lists are coming fast and furious.

One of the most interesting comes from the Pew Charitable Trusts: What Was (and Wasn't) on the Public's Mind in 2005.

The top ten opinion trends as captured by Pew's pollsters and opinion watchers (each is, of course, described in much more detail at the linked article):
1. Presidential Popularity Plunge
2. Hurricane Blowback
3. Iraq Disillusionment
4. Pump Shock and Economy Anxiety
5. Inward Turn
6. Domestic Issues Ascendant
7. Schiavo Backlash
8. Evolution Devolution
9. Social Security Misstep
10. Feds Out of Favor
More interesting to me, a short list of non-stories:

People failed to panic over avian flu. The Democrats failed to get much of a bounce from public disillusionment with the GOP. Most Americans didn't change their opinion on the propriety of torture (one-third say it is never justified; two-thirds see circumstances under which it might be useful.)

What Was (and Wasn't) on the Public's Mind in 2005 (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press - December 27, 2005)

Reason: Are You Being Searched?

Julian Sanchez has a good (if somewhat brief) piece on the NSA eavesdropping program over at Reason Magazine.

The defenses offered thus far of warrantless wiretaps on U.S.-to-foreign communications of persons with "links" to al-Qaeda have been, if not quite tortured, then at least subject to coercive tactics.

Consider, for instance, the argument that Congress' authorization of military force to pursue terrorists in the wake of 9/11 gave President Bush the power to authorize such surveillance—even though Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said the administration declined to seek such authority explicitly for fear of being turned down.

The argument turns on a strained analogy to a 2004 Supreme Court ruling holding that the authorization of force included the authority to detain captured combatants, a fairly obvious natural concomitant of war, even though it did not explicitly mention "detention." The alternative would be to conclude, ludicrously, that Congress intended a "take no prisoners" War on Terror, in which enemies must either be released or shot on the spot. But administration apologists—take the hairpin curve in this logic slowly or you may crash—have parsed the ruling as entailing that Congress therefore endorsed anything short of putting a bullet in a suspected terrorist's brainpan.
Reason: Are You Being Searched?: How NSA's mass eavesdropping could fly under constitutional radar

26 December 2005

The Meme of Four

The Commissar tags me with a floating meme:

Four jobs you’ve had in your life: emergency medical technician, short-order cook, technical writer, IT consultant/business process analyst.

Four movies you could watch over and over: Blade Runner, The Godfather (I and/or II), Drunken Master, Aliens.

Four places you’ve lived: Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill (Research Triangle) NC; Hollywood, CA; Chicago, IL; New York, NY.

Four TV shows you love to watch: The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report.

Four websites you visit daily: Gawker, Metafilter, Chowhound, Google News.

Four of your favorite foods
: Only four? Yikes. Well... the classic New York pizza slice; kalamata olives; bhindi masala; Eastern North Carolina-style pulled pork barbecue.

Four places you’d rather be
: London, Paris, San Francisco, the middle of nowhere (not necessarily in that order.)

Four albums you can’t live without: John Coltrane, A Love Supreme; Dizzy Gillespie, Groovin' High; Richard Pryor, Is It Something I Said?; The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street.

And now, I tag: Chap @ Chapomatic, Fiona @ V's Spot, Kimberly @ Music and Cats, and Kat @ The Wisdom of Change.

ABC News: India's Outsourcing Boom Runs Into Trouble

A chronic shortage of skilled workers is threatening India's outsourcing industry. Call centers and outsourcing firms are growing fast, but their human resources employees despair because most of the young Indians they interview are, they say, "unemployable."

Some people in the IT industry have said that only one in 10 graduates is worth taking on. "Just look at their English," fumed a frustrated Mumbai-based call center manager as he waved around letters written by employees. One read: "As I am marrying my daughter, please grant a week's leave." Another said: "I am in well here and hope you are also in the same well."
ABC News: India's Outsourcing Boom Runs Into Trouble

25 December 2005

And there were in the same country shepherds...

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 2, verses 1-14 (King James version.)

Happy Christmas, one and all.

24 December 2005

Trolling for traffic in 2006

John deVille, the Mountain Philosopher, promises to start blogging again Real Soon Now. In the meantime, in response to this post, he provided the following comment, which in my view deserves a post of its very own. Riffing off our most popular search terms, John develops the following traffic-trolling scenario:
Maybe posting this story will greatly increase your traffic in the coming year.

Kyle and Stan buy a shitty router from Cartman, who currently happens to be working at Best Buy as a crooked salesman. Being quite pissed they search the internets for a hitman, but as it turns out, the only one they can afford happens to be a retired Mexican gunfighter who happens to love cats.

With no cash to hire said hitman, Kyle and Stan steal their parents' big box discount cards to use as payment for the hit on Cartman.

Unknown to Kyle and Stan, Cartman has anticipated their wrath and has hired hitmen of his own -- a Jamaican with a spaghetti fetish and a talk-show host who is the bane of a certain naval Lt. Cmdr.

All the boys have gathered for a sleepover at Kenny's house in the ghetto. Kyle and Stan's guy is supposed to make the hit on Cartman; Cartman's thugs lay in wait in the basement for the Pancho Villa makeover.

Unfortunately for all hitmen concerned, Kenny's basement is jammed with rodents as they couldn't afford to pay for a cat. The Mexican gunfighter's cat is overwhelmed by the rodents who starts shooting, alerting Cartman's duo who also start shooting, and in typical farcical fashion, they all shoot each other.

The boys, who have been playing terrorist/Homeland Security (with Kenny wearing a fake beard designating his jihadist status), scurry to the basement to observe the source of the ruckus (and to see whose hitman was successfull). They extol Kenny to light a match in order that they could see, unaware of the gas leak in a nearby stove.

There is a huge explosion which vaporizes Kenny, who is miraculously able to stay in character as he curses his old chums with one last exhortation.


Track Santa with Google Earth

If you've got Google Earth on your machine, starting at 2PM GMT today, you can track Santa Claus's progress around the globe.
To: "Google Support"
From: claus@gmail.com
Subject: Naughty or Nice Layer

I love Google Earth and have been planning a big trip with it. Now I'm wondering if you've ever thought about licensing data layers for "nice" and "naughty." If interested, I've got a really good list -- I've checked it twice. Rooftop accurate data!

Let me know,
S. Claus
Santa tracking data here for Google Earth users.

tracking santa
We just spotted Santa very near Pyongyang.
Personally, we're betting Kim Jong Il gets a stocking full of coal.

Via the Official Google Blog

enrevanche zeitgeist

Google Zeitgeist tracks the most common search terms in use by Googlers at any given time. The 2005 Year-End Google Zeitgeist has just been posted, which has in turn inspired this post:

About 30% of our traffic, on any given day, comes from search engines. Google, far and away, sends us the most visitors (in both its plain-vanilla and Blogsearch flavors) followed by Yahoo and MSN Search.

The most common search term bringing people to this blog in 2005 was some variation on "Westell Versalink 327W" - the name of the piece-of-shit DSL modem/WiFi router combination that Verizon sticks its aDSL users with.

I get so many hits on this post that I think I should start a freaking support group.

And the top ten search strings leading people to "enrevanche" in 2005...

(1) "Westel Versalink 327W"(and variations)
(2) "south park avatars"
(3) "gato"/"gatos"
(4) "cats with guns"
(5) "party of sams club" (and variations)
(6) "pastafarianism"
(7) "borat"
(8) "mouse infestation" (and variations)
(9) "how to light stove pilot light" (and variations - yes, there are people out there Googling to learn how to do this)
(10) "dirka dirka"

I'm so proud.

Making a list, checking it twice...

...gonna find out who's naughty and nice...

...by illegally conducting warrantless wiretaps on US soil and co-opting major telecom firms and ISPs to get backdoor, direct switch access to perform data mining and traffic analysis...
The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.


What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large data-mining operation.


Historically, the American intelligence community has had close relationships with many communications and computer firms and related technical industries. But the N.S.A.'s backdoor access to major telecommunications switches on American soil with the cooperation of major corporations represents a significant expansion of the agency's operational capability, according to current and former government officials.
That settles it. I'm going into the tinfoil hat business right now.

Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report - New York Times

Related link in which I have a sudden, strange new interest:

Infamous neighbors in the news

A few famous Greenwich Villagers in the news this week.

First, Vincent "Chin" Gigante, former Village resident and Genovese Family crime boss, died in Federal prison this week. Also known as "The Oddfather," Chin (who like most Mob bosses attained his elevated position by climbing atop a pile of corpses) had some habits that were notably eccentric even in a neighborhood famous for its tolerance of eccentricity:
What made Gigante a legend was his feigning of mental illness as a way of escaping prosecution. Unshaven and mumbling to himself, Gigante would wander around Greenwich Village in his bathrobe. When cops once tried to serve him a subpoena, they found him fully clothed in a running shower holding up an umbrella.

Investigators suspected Gigante was acting, but he tricked the courts for years.

In April 2003, Gigante pleaded guilty to charges he feigned mental illness in the 1990s, adding three years to his sentence.
Chin's been out of the neighborhood for years, being a guest of the Feds and all. But he was back, briefly, this week, for a modest, low-key funeral service at St. Anthony of Padua Church over on Sullivan Street.

Then there's this other guy, who still lives right around the corner from me, and who I see occasionally on the street when he's in town. A noted lawyer and former Attorney General of the United States, he's a little busy right now in an out-of-town trial... defending Saddam Hussein.

Meet Ramsey Clark, 12th Street resident and the counsel of choice for dictators, mass murderers, and war criminals who make Vinny the Chin look like Mister Rogers.

Clark has defended not just Saddam Hussein, but (and this is just a sample) Radovan Karadzic, Slobodan Milosevic, Nazi concentration camp officer Karl Linnas, Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, Rwandan genocide instigator Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, the PLO leaders whose minions tossed wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer off the deck of the Achille Lauro...

Frankly, I'm not that proud to have shared a neighborhood with either man, but if forced to choose I'd rather associate with the likes of Chin Gigante than Ramsey Clark.

For one thing, I'd trust the mobster more, and have more respect for his personal integrity.

Here's Ramsey Clark, defending Saddam's use of actual murder and torture:
"He (Saddam) had this huge war going on, and you have to act firmly when you have an assassination attempt." - BBC interview, 28 November 2005, about the torture and murder of 148 men and boys near the mainly Shiite town of Dujail, Iraq in 1982.
Compare and contrast with his assessment of Abu Ghraib:
"Abu Ghraib is unbelievable in the innocent times of 1961. That we would torture people that way and on the instructions of the President of the United States and his highest legal advisers, torture is okay, they said. Go for it, fellas. If we can't renounce that and remove it from office, then the Constitution doesn't work anymore."
Articles cited:
Related links:


23 December 2005

Obscene Clone Fall

So, South Korean national hero scientist Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, who stunned the world with his announcement last summer that he had created the world's first cloned dog, and had made other major scientific breakthroughs in the cloning and stem-cell research fields...

..and published the experimental results, among other places, in the incredibly prestigious journals Science and Nature...

Well, it turns out that he may have exaggerated a little bit.

Or a lot.

Hell, it's starting to look like he made the whole thing up:
A landmark scientific paper on cloning that propelled a South Korean scientist, Hwang Woo Suk, to international stardom was an "intentional fabrication" orchestrated by Dr. Hwang, a university panel charged today.


Offering the first evidence of what is considered one of the most sensational suspected frauds in science in recent years, the Seoul National University panel not only pledged to impose an unspecified heavy punishment on Dr. Hwang - until recently hailed as a national hero in South Korea - but also announced it was investigating his other high-profile achievements for veracity.

The most prominent of these was his announcement in August that he had created Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog. Time magazine named it the invention of the year for 2005.

The nationally televised announcement by the university - which examined data from his lab and questioned members of his research team - marked the first confirmation of a series of allegations that have cast doubt on all of Dr. Hwang's purported scientific breakthroughs.

"I apologize to the people for creating an unspeakable shock and disappointment," said Dr. Hwang, surrounded by weeping students. "I step down as professor of Seoul National University."
The tears of a cloner.

Korean Scientist Quits After Charges He Faked Cloning Data - New York Times

La vie en prison

France may be about to introduce the most draconian anti-piracy laws yet.

Internet downloaders could face jail sentences and software makers may be required to add anti-copying technology to products distributed in France under draft legislation that's expected to go to a vote this week.
Wired News: Download Piaf, Go to Jail

DSM-IV/Christmas Carol mashup

(From one of those e-mails that's going around...)

Schizophrenia -- Do You Hear What I Hear?

Multiple Personality Disorder -- We Three Kings Disoriented Are

Narcissistic Personality Disorder -- Hark the Herald Angels Sing (About Me)

Manic phase of Bipolar Disorder -- Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and Fire Hydrants and...

Paranoid -- Santa Claus is Coming to Get Me

Borderline Personality Disorder -- You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder -- Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells...

Agoraphobia -- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day But Wouldn't Leave My House

Senile Dementia -- Walking in a Winter Wonderland Miles From My House in My Slippers and Robe

Oppositional Defiant Disorder -- I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus So I Burned Down the House

Back in the Big Apple

Got an early afternoon flight back from Dallas-Fort Worth yesterday.

The cab ride from Newark Airport to the West Village didn't even take thirty minutes; we barely slowed down as we hit the Holland Tunnel, and there was virtually no traffic on Hudson Street.

Got home, reheated a little of the pizza that Carrie had ordered earlier, spent some blissful time just hanging out with the family, and hit the sack early.

Woke up in my own bed for a change, with my wife sleeping next to me and Mister Gato, naturally, hogging most of the space by my feet. Chows were splayed out on the carpet by the bed snoring away. The sweet sounds of home.

(Incidentally, for those of you who just can't get enough Gato in your life, Carrie has additional catblogging this week; check your blood sugar levels before you visit.)

Speaking of sweet sounds, the radio alarm woke me up at 6:30 AM; WBGO was playing Coltrane's "My Favorite Things." Indeed, indeed.

Best of all, the transit strike that hobbled New York City for three days is over. The trains and buses are running again this morning, the transport workers union having achieved exactly nothing. "Hold your head high when you report to work" this morning, their web site advises the hapless members of TWU Local 100. "We walked out strong, and we walked back stronger."

Heh. Personally, I think this assessment is a tad more realistic:

While many workers seemed relieved to return to their jobs, there was at least a small undercurrent of anger directed at the strike's result.

"I'm very disappointed to have to come back now. I think we should have held out," said Larry Powell, 55, who was returning to work at the 239th Street maintenance shop in the Bronx. "I feel bad. I don't know what we got."

Or, even more bluntly, this one:

"We got nothing out of this, absolutely nothing," said George Pearlstein, a [TWU Local 100] board member who voted against the deal.

Home with friends and family, Christmas right around the corner. Life is good.

22 December 2005

Tough Stance, Tougher Fines: Union Leader Is in a Corner

Oh, dear. Looks like Roger Toussaint, leader of the rogue Transport Workers Union Local 100 in New York City, is starting to realize just how badly he has miscalculated...
...Mr. Toussaint has quickly discovered that engaging in an illegal walkout can leave a union with a weak hand. His union faces a $1 million fine for each day on strike, a state judge is threatening to throw him in jail and thousands of individual strikers stand to lose two days' pay for each day out.

Not only that, but the mayor, the governor and editorial writers are denouncing the union as greedy and showing contempt for the law. The front page of The New York Post screamed, "You Rats." And the transit workers' parent union has come out in opposition to the strike.

"They have painted themselves into a corner," said Barry L. Feinstein, the former president of New York City's largest Teamsters local and now a member of the transportation authority's board.
This news analysis appears today in that notoriously unreliable, arch-conservative, anti-union, anti-worker running-dog rag, The New York Times: Tough Stance, Tougher Fines: Union Leader Is in a Corner - New York Times.

Here's a strategy hint for the union boys: When you finally realize that you're stepped on your johnson and are continuing to grind it into the dirt, your first move should be to LIFT YOUR FOOT.

(Mr. Toussaint and his colleagues shouldn't give up hope entirely, though; a few people are still buying into their class-warfare rhetoric. In particular, the World Socialist website, published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (sic), is still 100% behind them. So they're apparently assured the continued backing of at least a few losers in rent-controlled cold-water flats... just what you need to win the hearts and minds of average New Yorkers.)

Mister Gato's Guide to Abundant Living

Mister Gato was a street cat before being rescued and (partially) rehabilitated. He had done pretty well for himself hunting and living by his wits (plenty of rodents in New York City!) but one of his all-time favorite concepts, first introduced to him by the gentle, kind animal rescue folks, has to be "cat food."

As in, food that he doesn't have to hunt down and kill, or compete with some other animal to get. Plain old dry cat food that gets shaken into his dish a couple times a day, with another little dish of fresh water that gets replenished often.

He still hunts for sport, but man alive, does this boy love his cat food. And he likes to see plenty of it in his bowl; if the supply gets low, you'd better believe that we hear about it.

In this picture, Mister Gato performs essential quality control measures as we replenish the stock of hard, crunchy nuggets in the plastic pitcher that we dispense them from, having just received a massive delivery of cat and dog kibble, kitty litter, dog biscuits, and related sundries from the neighborhood pet store:

Mister Gato's Guide to Abundant Living
A good batch, and it tastes just fine right out of the bin.
Plate some up for me, won't you?

You'll have to imagine the loud, purring sound effects.

Visit the Friday Ark at The Modulator to check out more bloggers' pets from around the world--and be sure to visit the Carnival of the Cats on Sunday, hosted this Christmas Sunday at Watermark.

21 December 2005

Greenwich Village Idiot - 45 RPM

We're hoping to bring back the Greenwich Village Idiot podcast in 2006, and here's a little preview from someone who will be a primary collaborator. Guest host Chap of Chapomatic, owner of the World's Most Dangerous Record Collection, has been busily digitizing some vinyl 45s and 78s, including some tasty B-sides.

Here's the 45 RPM edition of the Greenwich Village Idiot (MP3 format - 31:45, 21 MB).

It includes music from Booker T and the MGs, Ross Bagdasarian (aka David Seville, the guy who made the Chipmunks records), Dave Brubeck, the klezmer/jazz genius Mickey Katz, Mister Rogers...

Also, hear Chap's iTunes signature. Scary.

But well, well worth a listen.

Greenwich Village Idiot - the enrevanche podcast

Spy Court Judge Quits In Protest (Washington Post)

A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program, according to two sources.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. late Monday notifying him of his resignation without providing an explanation.
Spy Court Judge Quits In Protest - Washington Post

BQE, 8:30am, 12-20-05

BQE, 8:30am, 12-20-05
Originally uploaded by jukeboxgraduate.
This pretty much says it all. The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, yesterday morning at 8:30 am. (Originally posted by "jukeboxgraduate" at Flickr.)

Blog coverage of the NYC transit strike

For excellent blogger coverage of the NYC transit strike, may I recommend:
Also well worth a look:
And finally, for a general survey of opinion on the transit strike in the blogosphere, you can run this Technorati search.

20 December 2005

A stray thought or two

You know, replacing bus drivers is not a big deal; there are qualified bus drivers all over the United States.

Replacing subway workers is a little more complicated, as the skill-set is a little more esoteric.

But, you know, there are subways and metros all over the world.

And I bet that the *current* MTA salary and benefits package would look pretty good to an experienced motorman from Mexico City or Moscow.

Just sayin'.

Two words: Taylor Law

One place they didn't hear the trains running last night: New York City.

The long-threatened transit strike started in earnest last night (coverage: AP via Yahoo! News, New York Times.)

I'm in Dallas at the moment, and Carrie is going to work from home until the strike is resolved, but millions of New Yorkers (and suburban commuters) aren't so lucky; they've got to work out a way to get to and from work and school until the strike is resolved.

According to press reports, the MTA and the state attorney general intend to seek full damages from Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union under the Taylor Law, which prohibits public employees from striking. Mayor Bloomberg and the City's attorneys are likely to pile on.

And I say: Go get 'em. I hold no brief for the MTA (to put it mildly), but it's time to shut this union down hard.

Put the boot in, boys, and give no quarter. New Yorkers are behind you, and you'll find little sympathy for the union in the electorate.


You can get used to anything, I guess

Back in Dallas for one final week of change management classes before Christmas, and I think I've finally found the perfect hotel room for my needs.

Now that I've been living in New York City for ten years, I find it impossible to sleep in a truly quiet room.

Even on our idyllic West Village side-street, there's plenty of noise at night: cars going by, people talking on the street, sirens from ambulances arriving at nearby St. Vincent's Hospital... to me, the mingled street noises are a lullaby. (Throw in a snoring Chow Chow or two and I couldn't be happier.)

When I travel, if I'm not in a noisy part of a major city, I have to create some comforting background noise to fall asleep. In a hotel room, I usually tune in CNBC, turn the sound way down so that there's sort of a constant background mutter (unless they're rerunning Jim Cramer's show, in which case it's a sort of muted background screaming) and drift off; other places, I've been known to carry a little transistor radio to assure myself of some ambient noise. Silence is actually a little creepy to me now.

The people at the Adam's Mark Dallas must think I'm a trifle strange. The hotel is quite near a light rail station (very convenient!) and when I checked in last night, I asked specifically for a room on a low floor overlooking the train tracks.

"Um, sure, we can do that," the nice-but-bewildered lady at the front desk said hesitantly. I smiled happily.

Last night, I was lulled to sleep by the sound of steel wheels, electric motors and ringing bells, as the DART Red Line ran outside my window. (It doesn't quite run all night--they seem to take a break between midnight and 4 AM - but it was more than enough to get me to sleep. Bliss!)

18 December 2005

Music and Cats » Carnival of the Cats #91

Carnival of the Cats #91 is now up over at Music and Cats. Go visit!

It's ska, it's Sinatra, it's Hoboken

enrevanche pal and partner in musical crime Chapomatic hips us to the existence of Skanatra - a band from Hoboken, New Jersey that performs nothing but ska versions of songs first performed by Old Blue Eyes.
Skanatra is a 12-piece ska band whose members decided at the band's inception that they would perform excerpts from the Frank Sinatra songbook exclusively. The name "Skanatra" effortlessly spilled from their lips just moments after conjuring the ska-Sinatra concept.
They've got a couple of MP3 samples up at their site, including a ska version of Come Fly With Me. Not bad.

Hey, if XM Radio can have an all-Sinatra *channel* (Frank's Place) then why not a side-project ska tribute band made up of musicians from Hoboken?

SKANATRA: It's ska, it's Sinatra, it's Hoboken

How to make your Chow Chows happy

In fact, how to send them into transports of ecstasy...

Chows with Bones 001
Shortrib leftovers from last night's dinner.

Torture's Long Shadow

Like John McCain, Vladimir Bukovsky actually knows a little something about torture.

Unlike McCain, who was tortured by the enemy while a prisoner of war, Bukovsky, a former Soviet citizen, was tortured by his own government. He was, you see, a "guest of the state" in prisons, political gulags and psychiatric hospitals for over a decade due to his nonviolent human rights activism.

He has a few thoughts on torture as a matter of public policy, which he shares with us in an op-ed in today's Washington Post.

(Warning for those of you with weak stomachs: the article contains a harrowing description of torture, under the guise of "medical treatment"--brutal force-feeding--inflicted on Bukovsky after he went on a hunger strike. You've been warned.)

Here's an excerpt:
If America's leaders want to hunt terrorists while transforming dictatorships into democracies, they must recognize that torture, which includes [cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment], has historically been an instrument of oppression -- not an instrument of investigation or of intelligence gathering. No country needs to invent how to "legalize" torture; the problem is rather how to stop it from happening. If it isn't stopped, torture will destroy your nation's important strategy to develop democracy in the Middle East. And if you cynically outsource torture to contractors and foreign agents, how can you possibly be surprised if an 18-year-old in the Middle East casts a jaundiced eye toward your reform efforts there?

Finally, think what effect your attitude has on the rest of the world, particularly in the countries where torture is still common, such as Russia, and where its citizens are still trying to combat it. Mr. Putin will be the first to say: "You see, even your vaunted American democracy cannot defend itself without resorting to torture. . . . "

Off we go, back to the caves.
Torture's Long Shadow (Vladimir Bukovsky, Washington Post, Dec 18 2005)


17 December 2005

"Señor El Gato"

Alert enrevanche reader and pal Ben G., listening to WFMU's excellent "Greasy Kid Stuff" radio show this morning (presumably with his young son, but there's no telling) reports via e-mail:
Just heard a song on FMU called Mr. El Gato...
Some rapid research turns up the likeliest candidate for the song he heard:

KELLY HOGAN - Señor El Gato

You can listen to a snippet of the song over at Amazon.com; it appears on a collection of children's music amusingly entitled (pace, Merle Haggard) "The Bottle Let Me Down."

It's a cryin'-in-your-(root)-beer love song about a beautiful lady cat, and the tomcat who dies of a broken heart pining for her. Mister Gato approves.

Smug Kitty

By the way, Bloodshot Records, the publishers of "The Bottle Let Me Down," is an amazingly good Americana/alt.country/roots music label. I don't even *have* kids, and I think I'm gonna buy this album. If you're looking for a Christmas present for a family with toddler(s), you could do a lot worse.

16 December 2005

Too cute, and I ain't lion

As noted earlier, Carrie's doing the family catblogging this week, but this morning, as I was reading the news, I stumbled across this incredible Reuters photo-series:

Veterinarian Houses Exotic Animals (Reuters via Yahoo! News)

Tatyana Efremova, a veterinarian in Kharkov, is raising three little lion cubs in her house. There are some lovely shots of Tatyana, her mother and friends with the lions, who are lounging around the house in various attitudes of repose.

I particularly like this shot:

Two cats.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
(click the picture to go to the entire photoset)

As I've said many times before: you know a cat really likes you if he's chewing your ears.

Visit the Friday Ark at The Modulator to check out more bloggers' pets from around the world - and be sure to visit Kimberly's furry family at Music and Cats this Sunday for the Carnival of the Cats.

NYC Transit strike: It's on, sort of

After negotiating through the night with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and not making much progress, the head of the Transport Workers Union, Roger Toussaint, announced that the TWU would start a partial strike (involving drivers of private bus lines) Friday evening, but would hold off on shutting down buses and subways citywide until 12:01 AM next Tuesday. (See this morning's New York Times for details.)

I really don't know where to begin with this one, y'all.

Leaving aside that the City of New York will be in a complete state of emergency for the duration of a public transportation strike (over seven million people, a mix of New Yorkers and suburban commuters, ride the subways and buses in New York City every day) what we've got here is this:

A bloated, inefficient, secretive, and incredibly poorly managed state government transportation authority pitted against a venal, thuggish labor union with a hypertrophied sense of entitlement.

Whose side am I on? Easy: the people of the City of New York, who are utterly dependent on this pack of dysfunctional jokers to get them from point A to point B in the five boroughs.

Sadly, "a plague on both their houses" won't solve the problem; New York City has got to move.

But in my fantasy world, both sides (the MTA and the TWU) would take such a credibility hit from this fiasco that we (as in "we the people") could break the back of the union AND shake up and restructure the MTA from top to bottom. And start over.

The NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, which claims to represent the interests of the average Joe riding the subways, attempts a conciliatory tone in a letter jointly addressed to the heads of the MTA and TWU:
We understand the challenges faced by the MTA, including future deficits fueled by a growing burden of past massive borrowing to pay for much needed repairs in the absence of the State and City to shoulder their fair share. At the same time, we applaud progress this year, including passage of a five-year $15 billion-plus core capital program, voter approval of a $2.9 billion transportation bond and a first-ever program of holiday fare discounts. These actions are due to the efforts of a broad coalition of groups - including business, community groups and labor - and the MTA.

We are also pleased that transit officials have agreed to keep booth personnel as customer service representatives. So we are all the more disappointed that MTA New York City Transit appears to be pressing for "one person train operations," at the expense, we believe, of rider and worker safety.
(Because they're NYPIRG, they started off with some ass-kissing rhetoric about the glory of collective bargaining, which I've spared you.)


15 December 2005

Pencil Roving: Mister Gato is my muse

Mister Gato fans: Carrie has the catblogging duty this week.

Pop on over to Pencil Roving and see:

Pencil Roving: Mister Gato is my muse (or should that be "mews"?)

Online encyclopedias put to the test

According to a study by journal Nature, Wikipedia (mistakes) — such as this week's one on President Kennedy's assassination — are "the exception rather than the rule", and the resource is almost as accurate as the online Encyclopaedia Britannica, at least when it comes to science.

Nature took stories from Wikipedia and Britannica on 42 science-related topics and submitted them to experts for review. The experts were not told which encyclopedia the stories were from. "The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, around three," according to Nature.
Online encyclopedias put to the test - The Age (Australia)

Congratulations, Britannica! Your professional, expert writers and editors are only 75% as inaccurate as anonymous, random, self-selected amateurs from all over.

The standard warnings against using Wikipedia as a single source for information are, and remain, pertinent, but they are but a subset of the general rule: never use *any* single source and trust it to be definitive, even when it's a venerable brand name like "Britannica."


Novak: "Bush knows who the source is"

Addressing a luncheon audience at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, NC on Tuesday, syndicated columnist Bob Novak threw more fuel on the Plamegate fire:
"Bob Woodward speculates that his source is the same as my source. He says that’s the case. He is not going to reveal this name, and certainly I am not either until such time as this person comes forward and says he wants his name to be revealed.

"I am confident the president knows who the source is. I would be amazed if he doesn't. So I think, don't bug me. Don't bug Bob Woodword. Bug the President as to whether he should reveal who the source is."
Read the whole story, broken by the Raleigh, NC News and Observer, in their "Under the Dome" politics column. (I grew up in Raleigh, and "Under the Dome" has long been required reading for NC politics junkies.)

14 December 2005

A strange new respect for chimpanzees

"Monkey see, monkey do" is useful shorthand for the concept that observation and imitation is a fundamental teaching model. (I'm teaching change management classes this week, and about an hour of the three-hour class is tool instruction... straight "monkey see, monkey do"; watch what the instructor does on the overhead projector and follow along on your PC.)

A new study just published in Animal Cognition (and referred to in this fascinating essay in the New York Times) indicates that humans might just be a little too imitative in their learning patterns.

In comparative experiments pitting chimpanzees against toddlers, behavioral scientists "taught" representatives of both primate species how to open up a box and get to a desirable treat by demonstrating the process. But they deliberately included some unnecessary steps in the process (e.g., tapping on the top of the box before opening it.)

The chimps quickly figured out which steps didn't get them any closer to the reward, and stopped doing them.

The children? Not so much. They did everything the teacher showed them, even when it was completely irrelevant to the task at hand.

One of the grad students who helped design the study thinks he knows why:
Mr. Lyons sees his results as evidence that humans are hard-wired to learn by imitation, even when that is clearly not the best way to learn. If he is right, this represents a big evolutionary change from our ape ancestors. Other primates are bad at imitation. When they watch another primate doing something, they seem to focus on what its goals are and ignore its actions.

As human ancestors began to make complicated tools, figuring out goals might not have been good enough anymore. Hominids needed a way to register automatically what other hominids did, even if they didn't understand the intentions behind them. They needed to imitate.

Not long ago, many psychologists thought that imitation was a simple, primitive action compared with figuring out the intentions of others. But that is changing. "Maybe imitation is a lot more sophisticated than people thought," Mr. Lyons said.
Or maybe we need chimps taking a hard look at our business processes.

Really interesting stuff.

Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do. Chimps Don't. - New York Times

(hat tip: Slashdot)

Regret The Error: Crunks '05: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections

I'm sure missing New York this morning, and über-NYC blog Gawker points us to the fabulous Regret the Error, a site which tracks amusing corrections printed in the nation's press.

This being the time of year for "best of" lists, here are some of the best corrections run in the last year: Regret The Error: Crunks '05: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections

Since I'm in Dallas this morning, this one seems oddly apt.
From the Dallas Morning News:

Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite.
Whew. I'm sure the debutantes in Galveston are relieved to learn this.

My own hometown paper is hardly exempt, however.
From the New York Times:

An obituary of the civil rights leader James Forman yesterday misstated a word in describing his call, in 1969, for reparations to be paid by Protestant and Jewish groups for the crimes of slavery. Mr. Forman asked for $500 million for crimes perpetrated against generations of blacks, not "by" them.
Ouch. That's gonna leave a mark.

Regret The Error: Crunks '05: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections (hat tip: Gawker)

13 December 2005

onNYTurf : Google Map NYC-Subway Hack

Just a quick one on the way out the door this morning:

onNYTurf has come up with a neat Google Maps hack: it's the best New York City-wide subway map I've ever seen. The idea is simple but powerful: overlay the subway route map on the actual topography of the city; you can use Google Maps' lookup, pan and zoom features to figure out where you want to go, then zoom out and find the closest station.


onNYTurf : Google Map NYC-Subway Hack

12 December 2005

The Next Retirement Time Bomb (New York Times)

Since 1983, the city of Duluth, Minn., has been promising free lifetime health care to all of its retired workers, their spouses and their children up to age 26. No one really knew how much it would cost. Three years ago, the city decided to find out.

It took an actuary about three months to identify all the past and current city workers who qualified for the benefits. She tallied their data by age, sex, previous insurance claims and other factors. Then she estimated how much it would cost to provide free lifetime care to such a group.

The total came to about $178 million, or more than double the city's operating budget. And the bill was growing.

"Then we knew we were looking down the barrel of a pretty high-caliber weapon," said Gary Meier, Duluth's human resources manager, who attended the meeting where the actuary presented her findings.

Mayor Herb Bergson was more direct. "We can't pay for it," he said in a recent interview. "The city isn't going to function because it's just going to be in the health care business."
Thousands and thousands of jurisdictions across America have made similar promises to their government employees.
Stephen T. McElhaney, an actuary and principal at Mercer Human Resources, a benefits consulting firm that advises states and local governments, estimated that the national total could be $1 trillion. "This is a huge liability," said Jan Lazar, an independent benefits consultant in Lansing, Mich. "If anybody understands it, they'll freak out."

Gee, I wonder how well my Mom's pension and health insurance plans are funded. She was a school librarian in Wake County, North Carolina for most of her career.

The Next Retirement Time Bomb - New York Times

Face recognition software

Shamelessly yoinked from MetaFilter this morning: Face recognition software.

Historically, primarily used in security applications (by the military and border security to spot undesirables, and by Vegas casinos looking for cheats and card counters) face recognition software is coming of age in the general commercial market as well.

Now there's a geneaology web site that will allow you to upload a picture of yourself and compare it against a database of "family pictures" (or... more fun... a rogue's gallery of over two thousand world celebrities.)

Hysterically, the face-recognition database found high-percentage matches for this headshot of me with:

Aung San Suu Kyi (67%)
John Cusack (61%)
...and, God help us all, Alec Baldwin (56% -- probably later photographs, after he put on all that weight.)

I even matched better-than-50% with Barack Obama.

Your assignment for today: upload a headshot of yourself, run it against the celebrity database, and report back the results (in the comments.)

11 December 2005

Heading to Dallas

Flying out to Dallas tonight so as to be ready to go bright and early Monday morning. I'll be teaching a couple of week's worth of classes. and flying out the night before makes it possible to be in place, with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, at 8 AM CST tomorrow.

I'll still be posting this week, but both tempo and quantity of blogging will be different from the normal pace from December 12-22, in all likelihood.

Carrie will be giving you your catblogging fix this week.

Over and out.

Richard Pryor, RIP

(Posted Saturday afternoon, about 4:20 PM Eastern Time)

Just moved over the news wires, no stories up yet:

Richard Pryor, aged 65, apparently died this afternoon Saturday morning at his home in California after a long struggle with multiple sclerosis.

The skinny kid from Peoria, Illinois was one of the finest comics who ever lived. Rest in peace, Richard.

Update, Sunday morning:

Some very fine remembrances of Richard Pryor in the press this morning, including:
And in many other newspapers not called "The Times" as well.

The message forums at Richard's web site are still down; the server must have damn nearly melted under the load.

I used to pop in there from time to time and read a thread or two; Richard's wife (and long-time caregiver after the MS diagnosis) Jennifer Lee was a constant presence on those forums, and the Man Himself turned up there every now and then with a comment (dictated, of course, to Jennifer, as MS had long since robbed him of the fine motor control required to operate a keyboard.)

Wikipedia has temporarily locked their article on Pryor due to repeated vandalism; if you're looking for a biography, the one at Richard's site is quite good.

10 December 2005


The heirs of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo have launched a line of high-end spirits using the name and likeness of the style icon, hoping to capitalize on the popularity of expensive liquor in fancy packaging.

"Tequila was her favorite drink, and she drank a lot of it," said Mara Romeo Pinedo Kahlo, a grand-niece who was an infant when Kahlo died in 1954.
Words fail me. "She drank a lot of it" is putting it rather mildly; her surviving family is cashing in on Frida's legacy by naming a superpremium tequila after a lifelong alcoholic (after a terrible accident that basically broke every bone in her body, Kahlo turned to alcohol and drugs for relief from the physical and psychological pain.)

Perhaps one day, when hard drugs are eventually legalized in this country, we can look forward to Richard Pryor-labelled cocaine, Tom Sizemore-endorsed crank, and Charlie Parker brand smack... and when it all becomes unmanageable, you can take yourself out with a Hunter S. Thompson signature 12-gauge double-barrel.

Houston Chronicle: Family to cash in on the Frida factor

Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi (dance) party!

It sounds like a plot point from a Mel Brooks movie, but it isn't: back in the 1930s, German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels commissioned a Nazi Party "house band," Charlie and His Orchestra, with an English-speaking bandleader, who broadcast Big Band music over shortwave, aimed at European and American audiences:
Charlie and His Orchestra was led by Karl Schwendler, an English speaking German who broadcast Nazi-themed swing and big-band hits every night on the medium-wave and short-wave bands throughout the 1930s to Canada, the US and Britain. Leave it to Goebbels to take the music of The Andrews Sisters, Paul Whiteman and Irving Berlin and fill it with venomous rants against Jews, America and the British. The man took his propaganda seriously.
And, naturally, there are forty-plus tracks of Nazi Swing available for you to download from the Internets, courtesy of the very fine, eccentric freeform radio station WFMU and its very fine, eccentric blogging general manager.

The musicianship can be described as competent at best -- strictly "sweet" Big Band sound, a sort of second-rate Glenn Miller style, stuff that wouldn't really "swing" in the Louis Armstrong sense if you put four million volts through it.

But the lyrics have to be heard to be believed (e.g., FDR Jones.)

WFMU's Beware of the Blog: Still More Nazi Swing Music (MP3s)

Hat tip: BoingBoing.

09 December 2005

Yahoo! buys del.icio.us

Yahoo! just acquired the community "social bookmarking" site del.icio.us.

Wow. First Flickr, and now del.icio.us.

Yahoo is betting the farm on tagging and folksonomies.

del.icio.us: y.ah.oo!

iTunes Signature Maker (Jason Freeman)

Here's one of the coolest Java applets I've seen in a long time. The iTunes Signature Maker analyzes your iTunes music library, and creates a personalized sonic "signature" for you based on your favorite music.

Here's how creator Jason Freeman describes it:
People often ask me what music I listen to, and I find it difficult to describe my enormous music collection in just a few sentences. So I created iTSM to answer in sound a question I cannot answer in words.

iTSM selects a small number of your "favorite" tracks based on some simple selection criteria, such as the number of times you have played them or the rating you have assigned them. Then it analyzes the audio content of these files, combining a small bit of each of them to create the signature.

Maybe you'll load your iTunes signature onto your iPod, e-mail it to some friends, share it in our signature gallery, or stick it on your home page. Maybe it will help you gauge your compatibility with your next blind date: "She seems nice enough, but her iTunes signature is just so atonal! Should I go with my heart or with my ear?" Or maybe an iTunes signature will figure prominently into a political attack ad: "If you're mad at him for raising your taxes, polluting our environment, and cutting the education budget, just wait until you hear the music he listens to…"
Since Carrie and I share the same iTunes music library (about 10,000 songs now) this is a composite musical signature generated by ITSM. It's about a minute and forty-five seconds long, in MP3 format (96 bps):

Barry and Carrie's iTunes Signature (MP3 download, 1.14 MB)