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

31 August 2007

A little Quechup on your spam?

This must be some kind of new land speed record for getting spammed.

Last month, I set up a private, "secure" e-mail account, and just gave the address to friends and key business contacts. It's been working like a charm - the account works beautifully with the iPhone, and I know that every piece of mail that arrives is high-value, because I've given the address to nobody outside a tight little circle of privileged contacts.

Today, the first piece of spam arrived.

A trusted friend had included my secure e-mail in a mailshot promoting a project. No problem there; it's not a state secret, I'm just trying to keep it safe for useful communications... wish he had bcc'ed me, though.

Everyone on the mailshot who had a webmail account that autoharvests e-mail addresses for their contacts suddenly had my e-mail address. Gmail does this; Yahoo does it if asked; probably others do, too.

OK, still not a real problem there.

Then a woman I know slightly, who was on the trusted friend's mailshot (still following me?) apparently signed up for Quechup, a new social-networking site with a very underhanded modus operandi:

When you sign up, Quechup asks, as many social networking sites do, if you'd like to check your address book to see how many of your friends are already on the service (something that can be done safely at sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.)

Then guess what happens. It spams *everybody* in your freaking address book, evidently without your knowledge or consent.

Rat bastards.

I've tried to remove myself from future Quechup mailings, but with this standard of ethical behavior on their part, I'm sure my address has been sold to every Viagra spammer and Nigerian scam artist in the world by now.

Writer fetish pr0n



30 August 2007

Adventures in branding

Hulu.com, NBC and News Corp's new joint-venture video sharing site, might have been named a little better.
Hulu means “butt” in both Indonesian and Malay. But that’s nothing compared to Swahili, which 80 million or so people speak in sub-Saharan Africa. In Swahili, Hulu means, among other things, both “cease” and “desist.” See here as well. Given the litigious nature of online video, that is some serious irony.
TechCrunch: Hulu Translates To “Cease” and “Desist” in Swahili. Oops.

After all, the Romans invented bureaucracy...

“I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralisation.” - Petronius Arbiter, A.D. 60


With Labor Day right around the corner, my thoughts are turning to the beach.

In fact, I am a late-spring and early-fall beachgoer, by preference.

I had my share of high-summer beach vacations with my parents when I was a child, but with very few exceptions since I've been doing my own vacation scheduling, I've been a before-Memorial-Day or after-Labor-Day kinda guy.

This has nothing to do with being cheap or contrarian -- or, rather, is independent of how, um, value-conscious or contrarian I might be.

The reasons are simple: I don't like very hot weather, and I abhor crowds. (In the summer, I'd much rather be in the cool, green mountains than sweltering in the sand.)

So at about the time that everyone is packing up and schlepping their stuff back from their summer shares, and the seasonal workers at the resorts start contemplating their migration back to hometowns or schools, I am rubbing my hands together with glee and contemplating walking in bare feet in the incoming tide, and eating seafood suppers, with my lovely wife.

Cape May, NJ this year, I think.

29 August 2007

Everyday heroism

James Fallows, currently living and working in China, shares an inspiring story:
Last Saturday morning China time, when I was in the rural hinterland, I got a very early-morning mobile phone call from a friend on the U.S. east coast, where it was Friday night. For medical reasons I won't go into, it was a matter of life-and-death importance that a close friend of his in New York receive a certain medical supply, available in Shanghai, as soon as possible.
There was no way to get the medicine there in time through the ordinary and usual international supply-logistics chain (DHL, etc.)

So Mr. Fallows started making some phone calls...

Read on: Recognizing generosity: David Valentine and Raider Ramstad (James Fallows)

Objective data about politicians

As often happens here, a comment on a post inspires an actual post. In the discussion re Larry Craig, reader Dan asks:
Are you aware of any easy to interpret web sites that rate politicians based on their voting records in a non-partisan fashion?
Partisan rankings, of course, abound; every interest group worth its salt will assign voting scores to Congresscritters based on their pet issues, and by taking these scores in the aggregate, one can often assemble a meaningful picture of how a representative votes. (Of course, if you're like me and would prefer to support politicians who have good track records in supporting both citizens' rights *and* fiscal probity, you're, um, kinda screwed.)


My suggestion was a Dead Tree publication called The Almanac of American Politics, published every two years by National Journal, which lists key votes in the House and Senate in a dispassionate and nonpartisan fashion. (It's available in electronic form to National Journal subscribers, but that is a very expensive subscription indeed... they don't even list the annual rate on the site.)

Doc had what is likely to be the most practical suggestion for free, web-based information:
[T]ry Project Vote Smart. I think it'll provide what you need.
Project Vote Smart does indeed look to be a terrific resource.

Other ideas, anybody?

28 August 2007

I, da ho

Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), a staunch "family values" man and a big Romney supporter, pled guilty to cruising for gay sex in a Minneapolis-St. Paul airport bathroom in June 2007 .

Upon arrest and interrogation, Senator Craig apparently tried to throw his weight around:
After he was arrested, Craig, who is married, was taken to the Airport Police Operations Center to be interviewed about the lewd conduct incident, according to the police report. At one point during the interview, Craig handed the plainclothes sergeant who arrested him a business card that identified him as a U.S. Senator and said, “What do you think about that?” the report states. (source)
The police sergeant's reaction is not reported, but I hope he said something like, "You're still not getting that blowjob..." (or giving, as the case may have been.)

Whew. Anyone who still plans to vote a straight Republican ticket in 2008 may have trouble finding enough straight Republicans.

Postscript: An editor at The Nation wants to know: "What's up with Republican politicos getting arrested by undercover cops for soliciting sex in public restrooms?" Yes, there are some obvious (and very funny) cheap shots taken in the editorial, but it's also surprisingly thoughtful.

27 August 2007


I developed my taste for bare-knuckled politics growing up in North Carolina, where both local and statewide races were often entertainingly tawdry and replete with dirty tricks.

One of the formative political experiences of my young adulthood, in fact, was the 1984 U.S. Senate election between Jim Hunt, the Democratic governor of the state, and incumbent Republican Senator Jesse Helms.

Both sides pulled out all the stops--it was the costliest and arguably the dirtiest Senate campaign in U.S. history at the time--but Helms won in a squeaker.

Today I was delighted to discover that two veteran political consultants who met during the 1984 campaign -- Gary Pearce, who was Hunt's man, and Carter Wrenn, who was Helms's -- are publishing a blog together these days. It's called TalkingAboutPolitics.com, and while it has a definite Old North State flavor, their observations about party and process transcend regional and state boundaries.

Brother Bubba says check it out.


I like graphs, and this is a good one.

Move along, citizen

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez resigns, two weeks after Rove.

Countdown to Hugh Hewitt's "there's nothing to see here, move along" post at Townhall in 5... 4... 3...

Vint Cerf on Internet security

Vint Cerf is vice-president and “chief internet evangelist” at Google. If the internet needs proselytisers, Mr Cerf, 64, is more than qualified – he is considered one of the architects of the worldwide web, having developed the protocols that govern it.

At the weekend the American computer scientist gave warning that poor security and poor software design were undermining the reliability of the internet. He said that he was worried about the robustness of computer software and the exposure of the network to hacks that alter the website addressing system.

Business big shot: Vint Cerf (TimesOnline, 27 August 2007)

Middle management ranks senior management... in the U.S. Army

Followup to an earlier post:
On Aug. 1, Gen. Richard Cody, the United States Army’s vice chief of staff, flew to the sprawling base at Fort Knox, Ky., to talk with the officers enrolled in the Captains Career Course. These are the Army’s elite junior officers. Of the 127 captains taking the five-week course, 119 had served one or two tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, mainly as lieutenants. Nearly all would soon be going back as company commanders. A captain named Matt Wignall, who recently spent 16 months in Iraq with a Stryker brigade combat team, asked Cody, the Army’s second-highest-ranking general, what he thought of a recent article by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling titled “A Failure in Generalship.” The article, a scathing indictment that circulated far and wide, including in Iraq, accused the Army’s generals of lacking “professional character,” “creative intelligence” and “moral courage.”


General Cody looked around the auditorium, packed with men and women in uniform — most of them in their mid-20s, three decades his junior but far more war-hardened than he or his peers were at the same age — and turned Captain Wignall’s question around. “You all have just come from combat, you’re young captains,” he said, addressing the entire room. “What’s your opinion of the general officers corps?”

Over the next 90 minutes, five captains stood up, recited their names and their units and raised several of Yingling’s criticisms. One asked why the top generals failed to give political leaders full and frank advice on how many troops would be needed in Iraq. One asked whether any generals “should be held accountable” for the war’s failures. One asked if the Army should change the way it selected generals. Another said that general officers were so far removed from the fighting, they wound up “sheltered from the truth” and “don’t know what’s going on.”

Challenging The Generals (Fred Kaplan, New York Times Magazine, 26 August 2007)

24 August 2007

Radley Balko: The Privileged Class

...[Y]ou're immune from drunk driving laws; you can stash the evidence that you've committed a crime in your office, because investigators aren't allowed to search it; if you kill someone because you've got a lead foot and blew a stop sign, the taxpayers will cover your financial liability; and, we learn today, you can commit whatever Internet-related crimes you please, because the police aren't allowed to search your computer.
Three guesses as to who he's talking about, and the first two don't count.

Radley Balko: The Privileged Class (Reason's Hit and Run Blog)

Helpful Gato

helpful gato
Originally uploaded by enrevanche.
Mister Gato helps Carrie with a crafts project by holding the fabric down.

What would we do without him?

See more bloggers' pets at The Modulator's Friday Ark; this Sunday, the Carnival of the Cats is hosted by The Scratching Post.

Hacking the iPhone

yep it's unix
Originally uploaded by enrevanche.
The iPhone has been out not quite two months, and already benevolent hackers have been working hard to open up the platform.

With the help of community-built toolkits like "Jailbreak," serious Unix geeks have been installing new applications on their iPhones for weeks now.

For those of us a little less certain about DIY mods to our $600 cell phones, there's now a nice, hand-holding GUI interface -- Installer.app (Mac OS X only; there's a roughly equivalent program for Windows that is named, somewhat unsettlingly, iBrickr) -- that walks you through "jailbreaking" your iPhone and putting a nice Unix package installer on.

Once Installer.app is up and running, you can install everything from programming language runtimes (Perl, Python, Ruby) to OpenSSH and standard Unix apps like the Apache web server.

iphone finder
iPhone "Finder"


Mac notebooks in third place in U.S.

While Apple may be focusing a lot of its attention on the iPhone lately, consumers are clearly still interested in the company’s computer offerings. Data from one market research firm shows Apple’s notebook business broke 17 percent while another research firm said Apple has moved into third place among computer makers.

According to NPD, Apple’s U.S. retail notebook market share for June 2007 was 17.6 percent, an increase of 2.2 percentage points over the same period last year when Apple posted a 15.4 percent market share.

Macworld: Apple's notebook market share climbs to 17.6 percent

23 August 2007

*Not* for sale, one owner

To keep a car running for many years, change the oil every 3,000 miles, says Clarence Cleveland Curtiss. His advice is not new, especially for anybody who owns a 1990 Buick, a 1980 Chevy or even a 1964 Volkswagen.

But Mr. Curtiss, 84, of Shelton, has followed the advice with the first car he ever owned, a 1929 Ford Model A; it has 200,000 miles on it and still runs.


Mr. Curtiss also has a strong emotional attachment to the car. He met his wife, Dorothy, shortly after he bought it, when he was 17 and she was 14; they had been married 56 years when she died in 1998. The initials they carved on the steering wheel as teenagers can still be seen. “She was the first and only girl I ever kissed in the car,” he said. “It’s priceless because of that, as far as I’m concerned.”
84 Years Old and Still Driving His First Car (New York Times, August 19, 2007)

Steve Pavlina: How to stop complaining

Perhaps the most important step in quitting the habit of complaining is to disconnect the undesirable behavior from your identity. A common mistake chronic complainers make is to self-identify with the negative thoughts running through their minds. Such a person might admit, “I know I’m responsible for my thoughts, but I don’t know how to stop myself from thinking negatively so often.” That seems like a step in the right direction, and to a certain degree it is, but it’s also a trap. It’s good to take responsibility for your thoughts, but you don’t want to identify with those thoughts to the point you end up blaming yourself and feeling even worse.
How to stop complaining (Steve Pavlina.com: Personal Development for Smart People)

Now reading: "The Groucho Letters"

Reading "The Groucho Letters" is like eating candy without the carbs or guilt... or, actually, the sort of sick feeling that you get when you eat too much of it.

Okay, it's nothing like eating candy but it's still pretty great.

July 8, 1957

Dear Mr. Cooke:

I was a little disappointed on receiving your rather lengthy letter, to find no mention of money. I am of course, an artist, with my head in the clouds. And I was very happy to be invited to appear, gratis or thereabouts, on "Meet the Press," "The Last Word," the City Center Theater in New York, two all-night telethons, etc. But my business manager, Mr. Gummo Marx, has a passion for money that is virtually a sickness. I am constantly being embarrassed by it. Still, he is my brother, and rather than upset him, I have to bow to his wishes.

I hope you and your charming wife are as happy and as gay as the weather permits, and that this note will not end our fragile friendship.


Heh. On a serious note, there are some funny and very moving letters to and from people like T.S. Eliot... Groucho had very interesting pen-pals.

22 August 2007

I am a tuna fish sandwich

You Are a Tuna Fish Sandwich

Some people just don't have a taste for you. You are highly unusual.

And admit it, you've developed some pretty weird habits over the years.

You may seem a bit unsavory from a distance, but anyone who gives you a chance is hooked!

Your best friend: The Club Sandwich

Your mortal enemy: The Turkey Sandwich

Hat tip: Rachel


OpenSecrets.org: Your guide to money in U.S. elections.

How to evaluate the front-runners.

19 August 2007

New in the sidebar: Yelp

Yeah, I've been Yelping some. (If you're on Yelp, hit me up.)

Frank Rich cites Michelle Malkin on Rove; universe collapses

It's behind the damned, doomed (and soon to be defunct) TimesSelect paywall, but I had to post this snippet of Frank Rich's latest bile-filled screed... which, interestingly enough, I tend to be in near-complete agreement with:
...[T]he Republican reaction to Mr. Rove's departure is more revealing than the cries from his longtime critics. No G.O.P. presidential candidates paid tribute to Mr. Rove, and, except in the die-hard Bush bastions of Murdochland present (The Weekly Standard, Fox News) and future (The Journal), the conservative commentariat was often surprisingly harsh. It is this condemnation of Rove from his own ideological camp — not the Democrats' familiar litany about his corruption, polarizing partisanship, dirty tricks, etc. — that the White House and Mr. Rove wanted to bury in the August dog days.

What the Rove critics on the right recognize is that it may be even more difficult for their political party to dig out of his wreckage than it will be for America. Their angry bill of grievances only sporadically overlaps that of the Democrats. One popular conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, mocked Mr. Rove and his interviewer, Paul Gigot, for ignoring "the Harriet Miers debacle, the botching of the Dubai ports battle, or the undeniable stumbles in post-Iraq invasion policies," not to mention "the spectacular disaster of the illegal alien shamnesty." Ms. Malkin, an Asian-American in her 30s, comes from a far different place than the Gigot-Fred Barnes-William Kristol axis of Bush-era ideological lock step.
He Got Out While the Getting Was Good (Frank Rich, New York Times, 19 August 2007)

me and her talk about politics on IM

her: http://www.theonion.com/content/news/giuliani_to_run_for_president_of_9 ...You MUST see the photo.

me: whoof.

her: indeed

me: Prophecy and social commentary, not satire.

her: As with so much of the Onion.

Giuliani's pro-9/11 message seems to be resonating with potential voters. Said Ames, IA voter Alan Benoit: "I remember seeing Rudolph Giuliani's face, on television, saying reassuring things during a highly emotional moment filled with fear and confusion. He's got my vote."

me: They're prophets, I tell you.

her: owwww

me: Look, that's a valid point.

her: Nah.

me: No, let's give credit where credit is due - Giuliani showed leadership. He should have enough of a sense of grace and shame to shut the fuck up about it at this point, but he's a politician. Fear is a great button to push - the best there is. Both sides - all sides - are doing it.

her: He did show leadership. but yes, enough already.

me: Rudy is just particularly relentless and tone-deaf about it.

her: Fear: yes, always.

me: Look, a lot of people are evaluating Rudy and saying, "He turned NYC from an ungovernable crime-ridden mess into a showplace." In broad sketches, it is not without truth. He showed leadership on 9/11. Ditto.

A lot of people look at "tough on crime, strong leader" and think "we could do worse."

A lot of people would cheerfully elect a Fascist.

her: You read the New Yorker article on Rudy last week?

me: Nah.

her: Fascist: precisely. In troubled times people want someone who appears to be in control.

The point was that the money of the 90s did that to a larger degree than Rudy did.

me: Yeah, I've heard that argument before, and it has some validity.

The reason I didn't read the New Yorker article on Rudy is that it would be unnecessary to do so -

I know the New Yorker.

I know Rudy.

I know what any New Yorker article on Rudy is going to read like (shrug)

I know what the Village Voice on Rudy is going to say.

And Reason.

And National Review.


Why waste time?

When it comes to politics, the think rags rarely surprise.

her: "Giuliani addressed the crowd like a man who hadn't expected to be called on—or, worse, like a man who felt that he'd done his part by showing up. He paid homage to Ronald Reagan, then spoke disjointedly about his record in New York, the war on terror, and "the second most important thing that I'm worried about"—education. It was thin stuff for this crowd, as Will later groused. "Rudy Giuliani came in and informally meandered a bit," he said on ABC's "This Week." "And a lot of the energy seeped out of the room."

Rudy's CPAC speech.

Boyer points out that Rudy is oddly tentative in his campaigning.

"There is an embarrassing ad-hoc-ness, a bush-leagueness to this," the columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan remarked in the Wall Street Journal. "It's as if he hasn't thought it through, as if he's just deciding everything each day. But by the time you're running for president you should have decided."

Which is really NOT what I would have expected of the man.

me: You're surprised that the New Yorker interviewed Peggy Noonan and George Will, both of whom are strongly anti-Giuliani, and that they found him maladroit and shallow?

I guess I've just spent too much time reading articles on politics in "good" magazines.

Let me break it down for you.

National Review is backing Mitt Romney.

her: I guess I didn't know they were so strongly anti-Rudy.

me: Reason thinks most libertarians should probably vote Democrat this year.

The Village Voice secretly wants Kucinich but they'll back whoever the party nominates; their next-best hope is Obama.

The New Yorker? Hillary all the way.


her: Are you saying that you don't believe Rudy is as flat and tentative as is being implied?
Or that you're not surprised that Will and Noonan were willing to say so?

me: I'm saying that the New Yorker can be absolutely counted on to paint him in an unflattering light, through the age-old technique of only interviewing people who are already known to be down on the subject.

her: BTW, neither of those quotes came from interviews the New Yorker did.

Will: on TV.
Noonan: in WSJ.

me: As I said, I haven't read the article -

her: No, but you read the quotes above.

me: But quoting people from other published sources is even easier and gives more of a veneer of objectivity.

her: I think.

me: You get to cherry-pick.

me: Here, I haven't read the article, but - Karnak the Magnificent predicts that Giuliani *supporters* were quoted in the article and said supporters came off as shallow and maybe even a little nutty. 

Warm? Cold?

her: Maybe so - don't recall.

Will look - one sec.

me: k

Not trying to pick a fight here - I love the New Yorker, but find the political coverage laughably predictable.

Will and Noonan: backing other people.

her: Well, South Carolina state GOP chairman, who seems to be for Rudy, is Lester Maddox's grandson.

me: Parfait. That's beautiful.

her: Other supporters mentioned: Adm. Schachte of the Swift Boaters.

me: It condemns itself! genius.

her: John Podhoretz.

me: Little Lester and the guy who bushwhacked Saint John Kerry.

her: Columnist for NY Post. (is critical)

me: J Pod: National Review-ista.

her: ah, natch

Some political and legal observers/opponents.

"Some black allies of Giuliani's, including Richard Parsons, the Time Warner chairman, attributed his political failure among minorities to his inability to relate to the world outside his own experience."

me: Wow, it sounds like a reaaaaallly thorough hit job.

Not that he may not deserve every comma and semicolon of it.

her: Yep.

me: With "allies" like Dick Parsons, who needs mortal enemies? "Yeah, Rudy's a great guy, for a social autistic..."

her: Yeah, good point. Calling him an "ally" seems like a stretch under the circumstances.

me: I don't want to overstate the case here -

But this is about like asking me, "Hey, have you seen the new piece in The Nation about the Patriot Act? Yeah, they're against it..."

18 August 2007

Neutron loans

“All of the old-timers knew that subprime mortgages were what we called neutron loans — they killed the people and left the houses,” said Louis S. Barnes, 58, a partner at Boulder West, a mortgage banking firm in Lafayette, Colo. “The deals made in 2005 and 2006 were going to run into trouble because the credit pendulum at the time was stuck at easy.”
Few Heard Ticking Credit Time Bomb - New York Times

17 August 2007

Thanks, this was helpful

Memo to: All Tenants

From: Building Management

Re: Military flyover authorized over Manhattan

The FAA has advised that two (2) military F-15 aircraft will be performing a flyover over New York City at 1330 hours on Friday, August 17th, 2007. The aircraft will fly along the East River and then veer out to the east.

This notification is provided for informational purposes only and is intended to allay any concerns or fears of potential military activity over New York City airspace as a result of witnessing this scheduled event.

Please share with your personnel accordingly.

Hell, I'm going to try to get *video*.


I, for one, welcome our new dog-walking chimpanzee overlords.

(via Metafilter, where there are many other links to Pan-kun's antics)

16 August 2007

Information Arbitrage: Keep it simple

Discipline, especially when it goes against one's native instincts, is hard. When your friend brags about a particular stock or strategy on the golf course, you are jealous, right? And when you hear stories of people making tons in _____ (choose your era - tech stocks, commodities, currencies, gold, etc.), regardless of a lack of documentation (self-reporting is notoriously poor as people tend to remember wins and forget losses), you want in, right? It is very hard to be the tortoise when you are seemingly surrounded by hares. But you know what, you can try your hand a bit if you adhere to a few simple guidelines:

1. Set an asset allocation mix that makes sense for your age, stage, family circumstance, etc. If you can't do this with confidence get some help;
2. Establish the majority of your allocation using low-cost, liquid instruments like index funds and ETFs;
3. Figure out if you want to try and dicker with investing at all, and if the answer is yes;
4. Limit your "play money" to 5-10% of your total portfolio.

By all means have some fun. Do some research. Collaborate with others. Try and generate some real alpha. But don't, DON'T have this be the core of your investment strategy. Please. Don't. Do. It.
Retail Investors + Complex Investments = Failure (Information Arbitrage, 16 Aug 07)

(Speaking of investing, the White Trash and Minor Vices Portfolio is taking a beating but, with its emphasis on consumer staples, doing one hell of a lot better than the markets as a whole. The White Trash Portfolio is only up 0.3% since inception, but that's compared to a 0.4% loss for the S&P 500 over the same time period and a 1.1% loss for the US stock market as a whole, as measured by the VTI ETF.)

Obituary euphemisms

From this week's edition of the Popbitch newsletter:
Obituary euphemisms
"Free spirit" - unemployable
"Vivacious" - drunk (female)
"A character" - drunk (male)
"Fun loving" - drank more than worked
"Down to earth" - born working class
"Utterly carefree" - senile

15 August 2007

I'm going to have sanction you for "word processing while clueless"

The FTC spills the beans on Whole Foods' acquisition strategy, including a plan to contain Wal-Mart as they move into the organic grocery space... via a very elementary editing error while using Microsoft Word (and, presumably, Acrobat or something like it to create distributable PDFs.)

The Associated Press loves it:

Many of the details in the documents, which FTC lawyers filed electronically, were not meant to be released publicly, but words intended to be redacted were actually just electronically shaded black. The words could be searched, copied, pasted and read in versions downloaded from court computer servers.

Court officials realized the mistake and replaced the filing with a version using scanned pages of the redacted documents. Like covering up parts of a page with black paper before photocopying, there is no way to remove the blacked-out portions from the final copy.

The Associated Press downloaded the document from the public server before it was replaced by a properly redacted version.

In a statement late Tuesday, Whole Foods said it was investigating the "apparent improper release by the Federal Trade Commission of confidential proprietary business information."

"All information shared with the FTC was done so with the reasonable understanding that it would be handled appropriately," the statement said.

FTC spokesman Mitchell Katz declined to comment on the matter.

FTC's Whole Foods Case Revealed (AP, via Yahoo News)

I'll bet.

13 August 2007

Carnival of the Cats #177

Carnival of the Cats #177 is up at Momma Grace and Company.

Fallows: A Chinese perspective on Karl Rove

Yesterday I spoke with a Chinese-American scholar who I'm not sure at the moment I should name. (I need to check with him, since it was a chat rather than an interview.) Among other things I asked him why the Chinese leadership, skillful in so many ways, did so many other things that were pointless and self-damaging. Clumsy censorship, to take a recent example; or firing off an anti-satellite weapon early this year, which gave Japan, America, South Korea, Russia, and many other countries a whole new reason to wonder about China's military plans.

My friend's answer boiled down to: a Chinese version of the "tragedy of the commons." It was bad for the "brand image" of China when the censors were heavy-handed or annoyed the foreign media. It was bad for the central Communist leadership too. But it was good for the censors in the propaganda ministry. No censor had ever been fired for being too restrictive, so they kept on doing it. The larger interest of the country, even the narrow interests of the regime, took second place.

I thought of that when I heard of Karl Rove's departure. I suspect that historically he will be seen as a "tragedy of the commons" type. Or at least he should.

A Chinese Perspective on Karl Rove (James Fallows, Atlantic Online)

12 August 2007


Originally uploaded by enrevanche.
As has been exhaustively documented on this blog, Mister Gato is a shoulder cat. He has never, in the years that he has been a member of our family, been a lap-sitter.

At approximately 1:15 PM Eastern Daylight Time on August 12, 2007, something went wrong in Mister Gato's wiring... and we had a nice, long, lap-sit. I have no idea what triggered this... Carrie has been traveling for a few days, and perhaps he was just a little needier than usual.

Anyway, a nice long lap-sit.

I managed to get one decent documentary photo of this with the iPhone. I hope this trend continues, because it's a hell of a lot easier to type with Mister G. on your lap than on your shoulder.

11 August 2007

Ordinarily we associate him with a different sort of wand-waving

In this final volume there is a good deal of loose-end gathering to be done. Which side was Snape really on? Can Neville Longbottom rise above himself? Are the Malfoys as black as they have been painted? Unfortunately — and with the solid exception of Neville, whose gallantry is well evoked — these resolutions prove to possess all the excitement of an old-style Perry Mason-type summing-up, prompted by a stock character who says, “There’s just one thing I don’t understand. ...” Most of all this is true of Voldemort himself, who becomes more tiresome than an Ian Fleming villain, or the vicious but verbose Nicolae Carpathia in the Left Behind series, as he offers boastful explanations that are at once grandiose and vacuous. This bad and pedantic habit persists until the final duel, which at least sees us back in the old school precincts once again. “We must not let in daylight upon magic,” as Walter Bagehot remarked in another connection, and the wish to have everything clarified is eventually self-defeating in its own terms. In her correct determination to bring down the curtain decisively, Rowling has gone further than she should, and given us not so much a happy ending as an ending which suggests that evil has actually been defeated (you should forgive the expression) for good.
Hitch reviews the latest Harry Potter novel in The New York Times.

Google News adds comments... for subjects of articles only

Beginning this week, Google News will start posting user comments, but only from people actually featured in news stories. Newspapers that were unhappy about Google News using snippets of their articles will probably be even less pleased to see the new feature deployed, since Google could become an even more formidable player when it starts hosting original content.

Here's how the new system will work: people or organizations that are mentioned in news stories can submit comments to the Google News team, which will then display those comments—unedited—alongside the Google News links to those stories.

The new system will at first be deployed only within the US, but Google is open to expanding it to other regions if the trial goes well.
Freedom from the press: Google News lets newsmakers comment on stories (ArsTechnica)

10 August 2007


i has ur iphone

Constructed at The Cheezburger Factory.

See more bloggers' pets at The Modulator's Friday Ark; this Sunday, the Carnival of the Cats is hosted by Grace and Kittens.

Understanding liquidity risk

A few generations ago, savers responded to financial panics with runs on banks, and even healthy institutions could fail if they could not raise enough cash quickly enough.

For a long time, that all seemed to be safely relegated to the past. But now the runs are back — and this time the targets are not banks but the securities that have replaced them as the prime generators of credit in the new financial system.

“Our current system of levered finance and its related structures may be critically flawed,” said William H. Gross, the chief investment officer of Pimco, a mutual fund company. “Nothing within it allows for the hedging of liquidity risk, and that is the problem at the moment.”

A New Kind Of Bank Run Tests Old Safeguards (New York Times, August 10, 2007)

09 August 2007

The Economist on conservative American malaise

The Republican Party is only the most visible part of the American right. The right's hidden strength lies in its conservative base. America is almost unique in possessing a vibrant conservative movement. Every state boasts organisations fighting in favour of guns and against taxes and abortion. The Christian right can call upon megachurches and Evangelical colleges. Conservatives have also created a formidable counter-establishment of think-tanks and pressure groups.


Yet today this mighty movement is in deep trouble. Veteran activists are sunk in gloom (“I've never seen conservatives so downright fed up,” says Richard Viguerie, a conservative stalwart). And the other side is cock-a-hoop. Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, describes the shift from conservatism as “breathtaking”.


In 2002 the electorate was equally divided between Democrats and Democratic-leaners (43%) and Republicans and Republican-leaners (43%). Today only 35% align themselves with Republicans, and 50% with Democrats. The Republicans are doing particularly badly among independents (the fastest-growing group in the electorate) and younger voters. The proportion of 18-25-year-olds who identify with the Republican Party has declined from 55% in 1991 to 35% in 2006, according to Pew. Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster, notes that the share of Republican voters aged 55 and over has increased from 28% in 1997 to 41% today, whereas the share aged 18-34 has fallen from 25% to 17%. No wonder Ken Mehlman, a former Republican Party chairman who oversaw George Bush's 2004 victory, is now advising hedge funds on how to deal with a Democratic-leaning America.

The American Right: Under the Weather (The Economist, August 9, 2007)

FQ (Feminism Quotient)

You Are 74% Feminist

You are certainly a feminist - whether you know it or not. You believe in gender equality, at least most of the time. You also believe there are a few exceptions.

The "exceptions" I probably got gigged on... I think the guy should pay on dates (sue me) and I object to women as, e.g., firefighters or infantry, so I can't say with honesty that I think women and men are equally suited for *every* job in the world.

Hat tip: Rachel, 84% Feminist

Subway Lockdown

Yesterday was interesting in New York City. 
All it took was about three inches of rain in three hours to bring the nation's largest mass transit system to its knees.

Subway tracks were swamped, buses were overwhelmed and commuter trains were held up for hours because of flooding Wednesday. Some roads became waterways, and one woman was killed in a car accident during the storm.

The weather also created problems for the region's airports, where delays of up to an hour were reported, and thousands of people throughout the region lost electricity for part of the day.
NYC storm leaves mess, and questions (AP via Yahoo)

Thank God, Carrie and I have jobs that can be done from home rather easily, and all the equipment that we need to do that. (For about four years, both of us worked, simultaneously, out of our tiny Greenwich Village apartment; it was our home *and* our office.)

We hunkered down in the air conditioning, connected remotely to our computers at our workplaces, and got a good day's work in.

On a normal, dry day, NYC pumps a lot of water out of its subway tunnels... that's just part of having an underground transportation system.  

It seems to me that the MTA needs some outside help in figuring out how to keep heavy rains from shutting down the transportation system for an entire metropolitan region, though.

Funny observation of the day

In an otherwise unremarkable and implausible post declaring Huckabee's likely success as GOP presidential nominee:
"The cat has already curled up on the bed of the McCain campaign..."
(see also)

08 August 2007

Le grand saut

The article is not available online, dammit... but connoisseurs of extreme sports, eccentricity, skydiving and/or spaceflight would do well to get their hands on a copy of the August 13, 2007 edition of The New Yorker, and turn straight to page 58, where a long article by Burkhard Bilger introduces us to retired French paratroop colonel Michel Fournier, age 63.

Later this summer, Col. Fournier plans to attempt to parachute safely to Earth, wearing a pressure suit, from a height of twenty-five miles.

Excerpt from online abstract:
Michel Fournier has fallen from thirty-nine thousand feet (a French record), but he longs to go much higher. His record jump was just a warmup, he says, for what he calls the Great Leap: the highest, longest and fastest jump ever attempted. Fournier is a retired colonel in the French Army. He has made more than eight thousand jumps. Tells about his exercise regimen, which includes yoga, calisthenics, marksmanship. The Great Leap was conceived in the nineteen-eighties by the French Ministry of Defense and later co-sponsored by the French space agency. Its primary goal was to test parachutes and other equipment for pilots and astronauts. Tells how Fournier, who served in the French army in Algeria, came to be one of the three candidates for the Great Leap. The project was put on hold in 1988. In 1992, he quit the Army, sold his house, and purchased the mothballed equipment from the defense ministry. Over the past fifteen years, he has raised more than eleven million dollars.

Meet "Dr. Gourmet"

Timothy Harlan is a trained chef and practicing physician. (Naturally, he practices in New Orleans!)

At his site, Dr. Gourmet, he offers recipes and advice:
Working as a caterer throughout [Emory Medical] school, he continued to be involved with food and cooking but noticed a lack of knowledge in the medical field about eating healthy and eating well. Neither patients nor health care providers understood much about a healthful diet. Patients, it seemed, were usually told not what they could eat but, rather, what they could not eat.
Indeed. Aside from registered dietitians--and they are, pardon the expression, thin on the ground--very few medical folks seem to have solid medical-nutritional chops. I've bookmarked the site and plan to try some of the recipes.

06 August 2007

An American VAT?

Bruce Bartlett, guestblogging at Andrew Sullivan's this week, is a big proponent of consumption-based taxes (a Value Added Tax, or VAT, such as is in common use throughout the European Union.)

He gets off a pretty good line at the end of a post, paraphrasing Lawrence Summers:
To put the issue more succinctly, let me quote Larry Summers, who once said something to this effect. We don't have a VAT because liberals think it is regressive--it takes more in percentage terms from the incomes of the poor--and conservatives think it is a money machine. We will have a VAT, Summers went on, when liberals figure out that it is a money machine and conservatives realize that it is regressive.

Wiser words were never spoken on this topic.

If Aesop had lived on the Upper West Side...

The Fox and the Goat

A fox is offered free tickets from Cindy in P.R. She drops them off after lunch, and the fox is dismayed to find that they are for an experimental Swedish dance company called Leøtåård. He takes the tickets to the goat in the next cubicle. “Leøtåård?” says the goat. “I’ve never heard of them.” “I saw them last week,” coos the fox. “The Scandinavian Alvin Ailey. I’ll give them to you for ten bucks.” And so, while the goat spends the evening in a dank underground space off Avenue C, the fox goes to Ollie’s and spends the ten dollars on lo mein. Sure enough, the performance is awful and the goat gets a massive strobe-light headache. Still, inexplicably, he puts his name on the e-mail list.

Moral: Always check the Web site.

Shouts and Murmurs: Aesop in The City (The New Yorker, Yoni Brenner, August 13, 2007)

05 August 2007

Billions for "homeland security"... but how much for homeland infrastructure?

The tragic rush-hour collapse in Minneapolis of the I-35W Bridge over the Mississippi River is again forcing a reexamination of the nation's approach to maintaining and inspecting critical infrastructure.

According to engineers, the nation is spending only about two-thirds as much as it should be to keep dams, levees, highways, and bridges safe. The situation is more urgent now because many such structures were designed 40 or 50 years ago, before Americans were driving weighty SUVs and truckers were lugging tandem loads.

It all adds up to a poor grade: The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation a D in 2005, the latest report available, after assessing 12 categories of infrastructure ranging from rails and roads to wastewater treatment and dams.

"Bridge collapse spotlights America's deferred maintenance," Christian Science Monitor, August 3, 2007

A bridge collapse in Minneapolis. A steam pipe explosion in midtown Manhattan. A catastrophic levee failure in New Orleans...

Homeland Security dollars are being spent in a way that would make any self-respecting drunken sailor blush.

In the meantime, we aren't spending the necessary funds to maintain our roads, bridges, and our power, water and waste treatment infrastructure.

Our old, overloaded, decaying power grid struggles to keep up with demand and is incredibly vulnerable to failure (I *can't believe* that the 2003 Northeast Blackout, which took an enormous swath of the US and part of Canada out of service for up to four days, depending on where you lived, was not a wakeup call.)

Ye gods, what I wouldn't give for a real conservative candidate to step up and make this an issue.

Conservation and responsible stewardship of infrastructure is a bedrock issue, and one that allegedly fiscally responsible adults ought to be mighty damned interested in.

"The legacy of a director who never said no to anybody"

On September 17, 2001, President Bush signed a secret Presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to create paramilitary teams to hunt, capture, detain, or kill designated terrorists almost anywhere in the world. Yet the C.I.A. had virtually no trained interrogators...


The C.I.A. knew even less about running prisons than it did about hostile interrogations. Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of European operations at the C.I.A., and the author of a recent book, “On the Brink: How the White House Compromised U.S. Intelligence,” said, “The agency had no experience in detention. Never. But they insisted on arresting and detaining people in this program. It was a mistake, in my opinion. You can’t mix intelligence and police work. But the White House was really pushing. They wanted someone to do it. So the C.I.A. said, ‘We’ll try.’ George Tenet came out of politics, not intelligence. His whole modus operandi was to please the principal. We got stuck with all sorts of things. This is really the legacy of a director who never said no to anybody.”

Many officials inside the C.I.A. had misgivings. “A lot of us knew this would be a can of worms,” the former officer said. “We warned them, It’s going to become an atrocious mess.” The problem from the start, he said, was that no one had thought through what he called “the disposal plan.” He continued, “What are you going to do with these people? The utility of someone like [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] is, at most, six months to a year. You exhaust them. Then what? It would have been better if we had executed them.”

"The Black Sites," The New Yorker, August 13 2007

04 August 2007

Happy Birthday, Pops!

Today is Louis Armstrong's birthday.


I always loved the Bookmobile when I was little.

If it had been a book-toting mule, and it had been the only way that I could have gotten my hands on a book, how much more would I have loved it?

Coloring text in Wikipedia on the basis of trust (demo)

In this demo, the text background of Wikipedia articles is colored according to a value of trust, computed from the reputation of the authors who contributed the text, as well as those who edited the text.

  • The demo contains only a few hundred pages. Click on Random page to get to an existing page, and once there, click on Random page on the left-hand side to get to other pages.

  • Text on white background is trusted text; text on orange background is untrusted text. Intermediate gradations of orange indicate intermediate trust values.

  • The history is colored as well, and it is the most interesting thing to look at. Click on history, click on a revision, then click the older and newer buttons. You can see how edits initially have a trust value that depends on the author, and gain (or, occasionally, lose) in trust as the page is revised.

UCS Wiki Lab - The Wikipedia Trust Coloring Demo

DIY sub builder meets the NYPD

What began as an unorthodox art project has become a law-enforcement headache today and the talk of the New York blogosphere.

Duke Riley, a heavily tattooed Brooklyn artist whose waterborne performance projects around the city have frequently landed him in trouble with authorities, spent the last five months building a makeshift submarine — a partial replica of what may be America’s earliest submarine, an oak sphere called the Turtle, which saw action (not particularly successful action) in New York Harbor during the Revolutionary War.

The wood and fiberglass submarine, which was launched into the New York Harbor, made its way toward a far larger vessel — the Queen Mary 2, one of the largest ocean liners in the world, which was docked at the cruise ship terminal in the Buttermilk Channel off Red Hook, Brooklyn.

What happened next was a delicate mixture of performance art and domestic security.
NY Times CityRoom Blog: One Mans Art (a Submarine?) Runs Into Trouble

Bear Stearns: Yahoo needs a social networking strategy

Courtesy of TechCrunch:
There is a bit of buzz around the presentation Bear Stearns Internet analyst Robert Peck gave a couple of days ago. It recommends a broad strategy for Yahoo to get their act together in the social networking space, and recommends a near term acquisition of one of the big players.

I’ve embedded the full presentation below. It is a broad overview of social networking in general, which Peck breaks down into four distinct types...

03 August 2007

Cashing in on the Carry

The most controversial tax break on Wall Street, known simply as the Carry, is not authorized by any law and was never approved by Congress.

Instead, it grew quietly over several decades, hinted at but never directly addressed in obscure court cases and arcane regulations issued by the Internal Revenue Service.

Unchallenged by lawmakers, it swelled into a benefit that, by one back-of-the-envelope estimate, spares a small band of the country's richest and most powerful financiers $6 billion a year in personal income taxes.
Wall Street's Lucrative Tax Break Is Under Fire (Washington Post, 3 August 2007)

In a nutshell, here's how it works: fund managers and venture capitalists and those sort of folks arrange to receive much of their compensation as "carried interest," which is then taxed at capital gains rates (15%) instead of the twice-as-high (for their income bracket) personal income tax rates.

I agree with Judge Learned Hand on the subject of taxes: "Anyone may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes."

Further, I think that low capital gains tax rates, which encourage investment, are a social good.

But the private-equity managers who are cashing in on the carried-interest loophole are, for the most part, not investing and managing their own money; they're performing services on the behalf of others. In other words, they're doing a job and being compensated for it.

As a society, we would do well to abolish the fiction that fees earned for managing hedge funds and performing other feats of financial engineering aren't "income" or shouldn't be taxable as such.

01 August 2007

Reactions from (the) Wall Street (Journal)

“It’s sad,” said a veteran reporter at one of the domestic bureaus, who did not want to be named because of concerns over his career. “We held a wake. We stood around a pile of Journals and drank whiskey.”