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

29 February 2008

Real change in Louisiana?

The three-ring circus of Louisiana politics has a new ringmaster--Bobby Jindal, the nation's first Indian-American governor--and he's pushed one of the toughest sets of ethics laws in the nation through the state legislature:
"I’ve talked to C.E.O.’s in New York, even the president of the United States," Mr. Jindal said in an interview, and when “you ask them for more investment, more help on the coast and other areas, their first reaction always is: ‘Well, who do you need to know? Who do I have to hire? Is this money going to end up in somebody’s pocket?’ ”

That had to change, the governor said, and he was using his “narrow window” — his honeymoon at the Capitol — to do it.


The new requirements will force all state legislators, as well as most other elected and appointed officials around the state, to disclose all sources of income, real estate holdings and debts over $10,000. (Judges are exempted.) Lawmakers and executive branch officials will no longer be able to get contracts for state-financed or disaster-related work. Lobbyists will also have to disclose their sources of income and will be limited to spending no more than $50 per elected official, per meal; splitting the tab, say among other lobbyists or legislators, will also be prohibited.

Louisiana Governor Pierces Business As Usual (New York Times, 28 February 2008)

Friends of mine who are still active in Republican politics are more excited about Bobby Jindal than any politician I can remember for a long, long time.

They're following Governor Jindal with great interest over at Sepia Mutiny, too:
Incidentally, here at Sepia Mutiny, our stringent anti-corruption rules dictate that bloggers have a free meal cap of exactly $4.60 — just enough for a single Kati Roll…

28 February 2008

"Inserting a game cartridge at just the right angle to make it work..."

Obsolete skills.

(via Kottke)

Thought for the day: Understanding change

"We always overestimate the changes that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the changes that will occur in the next ten." - Bill Gates

Stuff White People Like: Bottles of Water

...[L]ately, advanced white people have been getting very upset about all of the waste that comes with drinking 15-20 bottles per week.

The leading edge of white people have started to use sturdier, refillable bottles. But do not assume this is from the tap. Most white people need to run their water through some sort of filter (Brita or PUR) before they put it into their bottle. This allows them to feel good about using a refillable bottle, but it also makes it more complicated, which they also like.

Previously, the gold standard was the Nalgene bottle, however recent studies have shown the plastic can leak toxins into the water. Currently, white people on the cutting edge are really into metal bottles of water with a twist cap. It is recommended that you buy one of these as soon as possible.

Stuff White People Like: #76 Bottles of Water

Oh, man. That one hits a little close to home... I've been rocking the Sigg bottles this year instead of buying water in plastic bottles. (In my defense, I was using them more than ten years ago, when I was an active outdoorsman.)


Review: "Leaderless Jihad"

In the Washington Post, David Ignatius reviews Marc Sageman's latest book, Leaderless Jihad.

Politicians who talk about the terrorism threat -- and it's already clear that this will be a polarizing issue in the 2008 campaign -- should be required to read a new book by a former CIA officer named Marc Sageman. It stands what you think you know about terrorism on its head and helps you see the topic in a different light.


...The first wave of al-Qaeda leaders, who joined Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, is down to a few dozen people on the run in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. The second wave of terrorists, who trained in al-Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s, has also been devastated, with about 100 hiding out on the Pakistani frontier. These people are genuinely dangerous, says Sageman, and they must be captured or killed. But they do not pose an existential threat to America, much less a "clash of civilizations."

It's the third wave of terrorism that is growing, but what is it? By Sageman's account, it's a leaderless hodgepodge of thousands of what he calls "terrorist wannabes." Unlike the first two waves, whose members were well educated and intensely religious, the new jihadists are a weird species of the Internet culture. Outraged by video images of Americans killing Muslims in Iraq, they gather in password-protected chat rooms and dare each other to take action. Like young people across time and religious boundaries, they are bored and looking for thrills.

David Ignatius - The Fading Jihadists (Washington Post, 28 Feb 2008)



Original post, 27 February 2008:

Conservative intellectual icon William F. Buckley died today. He was 82.

The news just moved across the wires a few minutes ago; sad to say, most of the major news agencies are sure to have detailed obituaries that were prepared well in advance, since he had been sick for some time. But as of this writing, they're not yet up.

For more intimate reflections, National Review's blog The Corner will be the place to read in the coming days.

For my part, I will simply say that I began reading Mr. Buckley at a young age (around 14) and read him with pleasure and appreciation for my entire adult life. Although I never met the man, I did correspond with him a bit -- he was famously gracious about answering letters from readers -- and I feel like I've lost an old friend.

Bumped and updated, 28 Feburary.

Appreciation for Buckley from all points on the political spectrum:

Progressive author and history professor Rick Perlstein:

Nice people, friends, can disagree about the most fundamental questions about the organization of society. And there's nothing wrong with that. We must not fantasize about destroying our political adversaries, nor fantasize about magically converting them. We must honor that some humans are conservative and some humans are liberal, and that it will always be thus.

And some, simply are mensches. Last year Bill called me to ask if I would blurb his next book, about Goldwater. I chose not to. But damn: I bit my nails a little. I wanted him to blurb my book! Now he'd certainly take out his revenge by refusing. That's the way you're supposed to behave in the literary game.

He didn't. Instead, when a reporter came calling to ask him about Rick Perlstein, he said something remarkably sweet for the record—for all I know, one of his last public utterances. Then, after sending him the galleys of my book last, I heard back from him post-haste: another self-reproach. He would love to endorse it, but could not; he was too frail. This in an email obviously drafted by himself: letters were missing, words garbled.

Buckleyism to the end: friendship, and adversarialism, coinciding. All of us who write about politics, may that be our role model.

Reason's publisher, Robert Poole:
By creating National Review in 1955 as a serious, intellectually respectable conservative voice (challenging the New Deal consensus among thinking people), Buckley created space for the development of our movement. He kicked out the racists and conspiracy-mongers from conservatism and embraced Chicago and Austrian economists, introducing a new generation to Hayek, Mises, and Friedman. And thanks to the efforts of NR's Frank Meyer to promote a "fusion" between economic (free-market) conservatives and social conservatives, Buckley and National Review fostered the growth of a large enough conservative movement to nominate Goldwater for president and ultimately to elect Ronald Reagan.
Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent:
It’s impossible to overstate Buckley’s impact on America. No William F. Buckley, no National Review; no National Review, no Goldwater movement; no Goldwater movement, no Ronald Reagan… and on and on. Naturally liberals will find much of Buckley’s legacy to be ultimately malign. But what was undeniably valuable was how he forced mid-century liberalism, so self-satisfied, to rethink many of its basic premises, grapple with inconvenient truths and harsh assessments, and emerge (in my opinion) stronger.
We'll give the last word to Reason's Radley Balko, who remembers a time when "conservatism" meant something very different than it does today:
Buckley leaves an enormous legacy, but to the detriment [of] everyone, the right left Buckley years ago. Where Buckley stood athwart the tide of history and beat it back with wit, sophistication, and argument, we today get best-selling Regnery screeds from lowest-common-denominator clowns like Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, and Glenn Beck. Where Buckley mistrusted government and aimed to slow the world down, he's been usurped on the right by the likes of William Kristol and David Brooks, men who want to use government to remake the world in their own image. Where Buckley flourished in cosmopolitan Manhattan and took delight in life's finer things, modern conservatism has grown disdainful of the marketplace of culture, commerce, and ideas abundant in urban areas (witness the last election, where many on the right weirdly smeared John Kerry as a "latte-sipper"—real Americans apparently drink Maxwell House). In fact, today's Bush/neocon-right is often contemptuous of commerce itself, sometimes calling the voluntary, unchecked exchange of goods, labor, and services—a pure free market—"ugly" and "crude."
And don't miss Buckley's obituary in The Daily Telegraph.

25 February 2008

Watch for Raul to start appearing at poker tournaments, soon

Best throwaway line of the new year, so far, goes to Nick Gillespie at Reason's Hit and Run blog (my italics below):
Earlier on Sunday, before the grand Oscar hoopla started, Raul Castro, the Jerry Van Dyke of communist tyranny, officially took charge of the revolution in Cuba...

Like the Coen Brothers, the Castro Brothers March Deep into Oscar Night... (Hit and Run, 25 Feb 2008)

23 February 2008

Amino acid test

In April 1993, a man in a balaclava mask escaped after sexually assaulting a 36-year-old woman in the town of Bridgwater, England. More than 13 years later, forensic detectives used an unusual approach to track the man down: A genetic trace that led first to his sister.

Known as familial searching, the U.K. technique has already helped crack 20 difficult cases and led to the arrest of several long-elusive murderers and rapists.

The innovation is propelled by the growth of Britain's DNA database, which holds the records of 4.2 million people in England and Wales, or nearly 8% of the population there, one of the largest proportions in the world. Anyone arrested -- including for minor offenses -- must provide a DNA sample, which stays in the database permanently, even if the person is acquitted. About a quarter of the profiles are of minors, some as young as 10.

The U.S. is now considering following Britain's lead...
The Gene Police (Wall Street Journal, 23 February 2008)

Blogroll revision: Fallen Icarus

While Kat's primary blogsite, formerly known as "The Wisdom of Change" (and blogrolled here for a long time) is being remodeled and renovated, you can find her over at Fallen Icarus.

22 February 2008

A *tough* online civics quiz

Via Buck, here's a hard - but fair - online civics test, courtesy of AmericanCivicLiteracy.org.

I scored 93.33%, and was a little surprised to have done that well.

Readers, take the test and post your scores in the comments, if you dare.

21 February 2008

If God had meant for us to do molecular engineering, He'd have given us brains

If you don’t have a super-fast, super-small computer in a few years, blame the moral majority. It turns out that most Americans find nanotechnology, the scientific field most likely to produce such a breakthrough, morally unacceptable.

That’s according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin who are studying people’s attitudes towards nanotechnology, an emerging scientific field that involves manipulating molecules and atoms. They found that just 29.5% of the 1,000-plus Americans surveyed said they thought nanotechnology research was morally acceptable.

In other news, at least 70.5% of Americans don't have the first freaking clue what "nanotechnology" is...

Nanotechnology Is Morally Unacceptable (Wall Street Journal Business Technology Blog)

20 February 2008

Matters McCain

Earlier today, Carrie noticed this pricelessly understated, yet savage, description of Cindy McCain in a BBC News profile of the Presidential candidates' spouses:
The 53-year-old former Arizona rodeo beauty queen is seen as an asset to her husband's campaign, having long overcome the humiliating public exposure of her former addiction to prescription painkillers.
The knife slipped in so deftly, I didn't even see the blade until it was too late. Bravo, and ouch.

The big John McCain-related news of the evening, of course, is the New York Times story indicating that he may have a bimbo eruption or two to deal with... as Carrie noted, when a paper runs a front-page story with a quadruple byline, they've either been working awfully hard on it or want to look like they have.


At Windy Ridge, a recently built starter-home development seven miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community’s 132 small, vinyl-sided houses were in foreclosure as of late last year. Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped the copper wire from vacant houses; drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in. In December, after a stray bullet blasted through her son’s bedroom and into her own, Laurie Talbot, who’d moved to Windy Ridge from New York in 2005, told The Charlotte Observer, “I thought I’d bought a home in Pleasantville. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that stuff like this would happen.”

In the Franklin Reserve neighborhood of Elk Grove, California, south of Sacramento, the houses are nicer than those at Windy Ridge—many once sold for well over $500,000—but the phenomenon is the same. At the height of the boom, 10,000 new homes were built there in just four years. Now many are empty; renters of dubious character occupy others. Graffiti, broken windows, and other markers of decay have multiplied. Susan McDonald, president of the local residents’ association and an executive at a local bank, told the Associated Press, “There’s been gang activity. Things have really been changing, the last few years.”

In the first half of last year, residential burglaries rose by 35 percent and robberies by 58 percent in suburban Lee County, Florida, where one in four houses stands empty. Charlotte’s crime rates have stayed flat overall in recent years—but from 2003 to 2006, in the 10 suburbs of the city that have experienced the highest foreclosure rates, crime rose 33 percent. Civic organizations in some suburbs have begun to mow the lawns around empty houses to keep up the appearance of stability. Police departments are mapping foreclosures in an effort to identify emerging criminal hot spots.

The decline of places like Windy Ridge and Franklin Reserve is usually attributed to the subprime-mortgage crisis, with its wave of foreclosures. And the crisis has indeed catalyzed or intensified social problems in many communities. But the story of vacant suburban homes and declining suburban neighborhoods did not begin with the crisis, and will not end with it. A structural change is under way in the housing market—a major shift in the way many Americans want to live and work. It has shaped the current downturn, steering some of the worst problems away from the cities and toward the suburban fringes. And its effects will be felt more strongly, and more broadly, as the years pass. Its ultimate impact on the suburbs, and the cities, will be profound.

The Next Slum? (The Atlantic, March 2008)

19 February 2008

My people, my people, part XVIII

Down in Raleigh this week. Caught this little gem in the local newspaper:
A Raleigh lawyer was in the wrong when he removed a parking boot from his Toyota Land Cruiser in a private downtown lot and drove off with it, the state Court of Appeals ruled today.


In March 2006, Kirschbaum parked in a leased space in the private lot while he attend[ed] a lunch meeting at the nearby Caffe Luna. While he was in the restaurant, Quantum immobilized Kirschbaum's SUV with a boot and left a note that he could have the boot removed for a $50 fee.

Instead, Kirschbaum removed the tire with the boot still attached, replaced it with a spare and drove away. He initially refused to return the boot, telling a police officer that Quantum could bid on it on eBay...

Lawyer who drove off with parking boot loses appeal (Raleigh, NC News and Observer, 19 February 2008)

18 February 2008

Oh, I hope in my heart that it's so, in spite of how little we know

A passing reference in a John Scalzi post led me to this great Wikipedia article on the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

The Dunning-Kruger effect is the phenomenon wherein people who have little knowledge think that they know more than others who have much more knowledge.

Dunning and Kruger were awarded the 2000 Ig Nobel prize for their work.[1]

The phenomenon was demonstrated in a series of experiments performed by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, then both of Cornell University. Their results were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in December 1999.[2]

Kruger and Dunning noted a number of previous studies which tend to suggest that in skills as diverse as reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing chess or tennis, "ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge" (as Charles Darwin put it). They hypothesized that with a typical skill which humans may possess in greater or lesser degree,

  1. Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
  2. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
  3. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.
  4. If they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.

Virtues requiring caveats are not virtues

TWENTY-SEVEN years ago, in the final days of the Iran hostage crisis, the C.I.A.’s Tehran station chief, Tom Ahern, faced his principal interrogator for the last time. The interrogator said the abuse Mr. Ahern had suffered was inconsistent with his own personal values and with the values of Islam and, as if to wipe the slate clean, he offered Mr. Ahern a chance to abuse him just as he had abused the hostages. Mr. Ahern looked the interrogator in the eyes and said, “We don’t do stuff like that.”

Today, Tom Ahern might have to say: “We don’t do stuff like that very often.” Or, “We generally don’t do stuff like that.” That is a shame. Virtues requiring caveats are not virtues. Saying a man is honest is a compliment. Saying a man is “generally” honest or honest “quite often” means he lies. The mistreatment of detainees, like honesty, is all or nothing: We either do stuff like that or we do not. It is in our national interest to restore our reputation for the latter.

Unforgivable Behavior, Inadmissible Evidence (17 February 2008, New York Times, Guest Op-Ed, Morris Davis. The author, an Air Force colonel, was the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 2005 to 2007.)

16 February 2008

The dollar isn't doing too well against the euro, either

"Some soldiers have reported that the trading value of RCIRs when on exercise with MRE eating troops is 1 RCIR for 5 MREs on average. In Somalia, a crate of RCIRs would get you a US field cot."

Information on the "Ration de Combat Individuelle Rechauffable"-- RCIR, the French MRE.

Related: Earlier enrevanche experiences with (American) MREs.

Bar culture in Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville is awash in bourbon. And beer. It's a drinking person’s town, due in no small part to the state’s bourbon heritage and the city’s nickname-namesake brewery, Falls City. This is where the Old Fashioned was invented. It’s where Al Capone dodged the law during prohibition, ducking out of the Seelbach Hotel through secret passageways. And it’s where barkeeps plied their customers with rolled oysters and bean soup to keep them coming back. Louisville’s private clubs, hotel bars, and neighborhood taverns are rich with drinking history and lore, and there’s always time for another round.

In January Southern Foodways Alliance oral historian Amy Evans bellied up to many a bar in Falls City, chatting up bartenders, bar owners, and bar patrons, gathering their stories one drink at a time. She met with John C. Johnson, 50-year employee of the Pendennis Club, where the Old Fashioned was born. Greg Haner, fourth-generation owner of Mazzoni’s, talked about his family’s 100-plus-year history of making and serving rolled oysters. Edward Winfield shared stories of the legendary Seelbach Hotel and the much-loved Louisville bartender Max Allen Jr., whom he had the opportunity to learn from before he passed.
Serious Eats/Southern Foodways: Bar Culture in Louisville, Kentucky — An Oral History Project

The interviews will be posted on the web at SouthernFoodways.com this spring.

Dribble-Drive Motion

Who the hell is Vance Walberg? How is his [basketball] offense spreading around the nation? And if his brainchild is the hottest thing in U.S. basketball, why is he out of a job?
Grant Wahl examines the Dribble-Drive Motion offense in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated. ("Fast and Furious," 12 Feb 2008).

(via Kottke)

Dean Smith was an innovative basketball coach and, a legend himself, "descended" from legends: Smith was coached by Phog Allen at Kansas, who in turn was coached by James Naismith, the inventor of the game. Dean wrote what continues, today, to be the bestselling technical book on basketball theory in the world, but the offenses and defenses he ran during his career were developed and tested by others first.

Hell, Dean didn't even invent the Four Corners offense, in which the team with a lead near the end of the game tries to run out the clock... he just popularized it, so much so that the NCAA had to change the rules of the game and introduce the shot clock. The inventor of Four Corners was a coach you may not have heard of. (And a big chunk of Dean's Book On Basketball--the description of the shuffle offense--was written by an obscure coach named Bob Spears.)

That's what Grant Wahl's story is about this week... it's a fascinating look at how unknown coaches can revolutionize the games they make their anonymous livings at.

College basketball is the only sport I know anything about, or really care to.

It's mostly an accident of birth; I grew up as an inadvertent but reverent student of the game in the Triangle region of North Carolina--the place that Dick Vitale inevitably (and inaccurately) refers to as "Tobacco Road," where the legendary programs at UNC, NC State, Duke, and Wake Forest had us surrounded.

Like most North Carolinians, if pressed, I could do a fair job of offering color commentary on a basketball broadcast. My elderly aunt could give you a learned discourse on how to set a screen and execute a perfect pick-and-roll.

(It's a good thing I married a girl from Kansas. They also take their basketball seriously there.)

15 February 2008

The (patent) claim vs. the reality

Philip Greenspun has some useful and interesting thoughts on Internet software patents:
A basic theory of human endeavor suggests that the smartest people who will ever work in a field are those who work in that field when it is new. When a technology is new and exciting, it attracts the best people that it will ever attract. No modern oil painter has ever developed the skill of Vermeer or Rembrandt, guys who pioneered the use of paints that were then new. In computing, among the pioneers were Alan Turing and John Von Neumann. Can we honestly look at Windows Vista and say "Whoa, the guys who built this are way smarter than Turing and Von Neumann"?

If programmers get dumber every year, how come we're smart enough to keep discovering clever new things to patent, things that those pioneers in computer science didn't dream of? We can buy all of our books on amazon.com and the early Internet pioneers couldn't go shopping online because they weren't smart enough to envision online shopping, right?

The answer is that the early Internet pioneers did envision essentially every service available on the present-day Internet. They wrote about it and distributed those writings to tens of thousands of people. They demonstrated prototypes, sometimes to rooms full of more than 1000 people, and distributed films of those demos. The only reason that we believe ourselves to be innovative is that we are too lazy to go to the library and read what was done in the 1960s.

If those old guys were so smart, why didn't they build amazon.com, eBay, and Google? Well, many of them died before the 50,000th person obtained Internet access. There wasn't much point in having an online store when there were only 50 or 100 computers on the Internet.

Read the whole thing. You wouldn't want to miss his timeline of Net innovations. :-)

Internet Software Patents (Philip Greenspun, 15 Feb 2008)

14 February 2008

A team player

gato on briefcase scaled
Please take me to work with you, Pops.

gato on briefcase front view scaled
There's room in the briefcase.

10 February 2008


Set mostly in an office in India, "Doubtsourcing" aims to be to the outsourcing world what "Dilbert" has been to the U.S. cubicle set. Making fun of Indian workaholism in one cartoon, a job candidate receives an offer after boasting that he hasn't "seen the sun for 7.5 months."

In another, a U.S. manager criticizes the India team for being slow and uncreative. An Indian worker says the U.S. firm has changed its business model three times in three months, from online dating to insurance to pornography. "You just need to deal with ambiguity better," the U.S. manager says.

[Comic strip author Sandeep] Sood says that though "there's a lack of humor in the outsourcing industry," he finds it very funny.
LA Times: Finding the funny in outsourcing (10 February 2008)

Related: Doubtsourcing

Hat tip: Greg

Mr. Good Enough

When we’re holding out for deep romantic love, we have the fantasy that this level of passionate intensity will make us happier. But marrying Mr. Good Enough might be an equally viable option, especially if you’re looking for a stable, reliable life companion. Madame Bovary might not see it that way, but if she’d remained single, I’ll bet she would have been even more depressed than she was while living with her tedious but caring husband.

What I didn’t realize when I decided, in my 30s, to break up with boyfriends I might otherwise have ended up marrying, is that while settling seems like an enormous act of resignation when you’re looking at it from the vantage point of a single person, once you take the plunge and do it, you’ll probably be relatively content. It sounds obvious now, but I didn’t fully appreciate back then that what makes for a good marriage isn’t necessarily what makes for a good romantic relationship. Once you’re married, it’s not about whom you want to go on vacation with; it’s about whom you want to run a household with. Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way.

Lori Gottlieb: Marry Him: The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough (The Atlantic, March 2008)

They must be going through a lot of litmus paper

Ross Douthat, writing a guest op-ed in the New York Times:

After being denounced as a tax-and-spender and a pro-life liberal, Mr. Huckabee won four primaries in four Republican strongholds, including Alabama and Georgia. Mr. McCain split the frequent-churchgoer vote with Mr. Romney, and eclipsed him among evangelical Christians, even though the religious-conservative poobah James Dobson has promised to sit out the November election if Mr. McCain becomes the Republican nominee.

The failure of conservative voters to fall in line behind Mr. Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, among others, reflects a deeper problem for the movement’s leadership. With their inflexibility, grudge-holding and eagerness to evict heretics rather than seek converts, too many of conservatism’s leaders sound like the custodians of a dwindling religious denomination or a politically correct English department at a fading liberal-arts college.

Or like yesterday’s Democratic Party. The tribunes of the American right have fallen into the same bad habits that doomed their liberal rivals to years of political failure.

The Republican Reformation (New York Times, 10 February 2008)

09 February 2008

The Hipness Tax

"The development of the neighborhood makes it impossible to succeed—it kills the goose that laid the golden egg."
Meatpacking District institution Florent faces a huge rent increase, and possible eviction; the overheated real estate market in the district it helped put on the map is driving it out of business.

The New York Observer: Will Meatpacking Pioneer Have To Pack It In?

(via Eater)

In this comment thread, I had a premonition of this in February 06: "Florent, one of my favorite places in the world, is still hanging on. I think Florent owns the building they're in; I fervently hope so, because otherwise rising rents will inevitably drive them out."

Of *course* Sammy Hagar has his own line of tequilas...

A-list celebrities don't really pimp food products. It's like doing TV commercials—it's okay in Japan, out of sight, but it seems far beneath the likes of Tom Cruise or Russell Crowe to do something so gauche in America. The exception is Paul Newman, whose vast food empire is about more than releasing a quickie, crappy product. The A.V. Club's Tasha Robinson has had a bottle of Olympia Dukakis-brand salad dressing (brought to you by the same defunct company that once foisted Erik Estrada corn chips on the world) on her desk since 1999: Inspired by that, we dug up some currently available products endorsed by marginal celebs.
Nectar of the demigods: B-list celebrity-endorsed foodstuffs (The A.V. Club)

Flowchart: Should you watch the Grammy Awards?

Service journalism from New York Magazine's Vulture blog.


Grammies 390x498

Ask Vulture: Should You Watch Sunday Night's Grammy Awards? (7 February 2008)

08 February 2008

He loved Pig Brother

America was a free country, once, before the Barbecue Police put their boot heels on our necks.

"Or, you can call them the Pig Police, since they hate people cooking pigs in their own back yard!" Amante Enad, 55, of Wheeling told me Thursday.

"That's what I was doing, until they wrote tickets on me and took me to court. I said, 'What rights do I have to cook in my own back yard? Don't I have rights to cook a pig on my own property?' And they gave me the tickets.
If Pig Brother Is Watching, No Barbecue Will Be Safe (Chicago Tribune)

Hat tip: Greg

07 February 2008

MIT Technology Review on the cable cuts

When the Internet suddenly collapsed early last Wednesday across the Middle East and into India, it provided a stark reminder of how the Net's virtual spaces can still be held hostage to real-world events.

Almost simultaneously, two separate undersea fiber-optic cables connecting Europe with Egypt, and eventually with the Middle East and India, were cut. The precise cause remains unknown: experts initially said that ships' anchors, dragged by stormy weather across the sea floor, were the most likely culprit, but Egyptian authorities have said that no ships were in the region.

Whatever the cause, the effects were immediate. According to its telecommunications ministry, Egypt initially lost 70 percent of its connection to the outside Internet and 30 percent of service to its call-center industry, which depended less on the lines. Between 50 and 60 percent of India's Net outbound connectivity was similarly lost on the westbound route critical to the nation's burgeoning outsourcing industry.

"This [fiber path across the Mediterranean] is a choke point, which until recently was a very lightly trafficked route where there wasn't great need for cable," says Tim Strong, an analyst at telecommunications research firm Telegeography Research. "There are many new cables planned for the region, but as it happens, they're not in service yet."


Undersea cable damage is hardly rare–indeed, more than 50 repair operations were mounted in the Atlantic alone last year, according to marine cable repair company Global Marine Systems. But last week’s breaks came at one of the world’s bottlenecks, where Net traffic for whole regions is funneled along a single route.

This kind of damage is rarely such a deep concern in the United States and Europe. The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are crisscrossed so completely with fast fiber networks that a break in one area typically has no significant effect. Net traffic simply uses one of many possible alternate destinations to reach its goal.

Not so with the route connecting Europe to Egypt, and from there to the Middle East. Today, just three major data cables stretch from Italy to Egypt and run down the Suez Canal, and from there to much of the Middle East. (A separate line connects Italy with Israel.) A serious cut here is immediately obvious across the region, and a double cut can be crippling.

MIT Technology Review: Analyzing the Internet Collapse (5 Feb 2008)

05 February 2008

Beating a (terminally ill) horse

It's Tsunami Tuesday, and for the first time since I turned 18, I'm not voting in a Presidential primary.

I changed my party affiliation to "Independent" last year, and New York State runs a closed primary system. There's no vote and no voice for anyone who doesn't declare affiliation with a political party, and there's no political party in New York State that I'd care to be affiliated with.

Speaking of which...
A Hobson's choice is a free choice in which only one option is offered, and one may refuse to take that option. The choice is therefore between taking the option or not taking it. The phrase is said to originate from Thomas Hobson (15441630), a livery stable owner at Cambridge, England who, in order to rotate the use of his horses, offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door—or taking none at all. (Wikipedia)
If the horse in the nearest stall is worn out or diseased, sometimes you're better off walking.

If the two-party system were a horse, we'd have to shoot it.

I will vote in the general election, to be sure.

In the meantime, I'll try to grab some pictures from the New York Giants "tickertape" parade on Lower Broadway. It kicks off, pardon the expression, at 11 AM, about a football field's length from my office.

(The old traditions get harder and harder to maintain. Most of the newer buildings downtown have windows that can't be opened, and tickertape hasn't been used on Wall Street for two generations now, though the concept of a "ticker" is still very much with us in electronic form. The City is providing newspaper shredded in 12-inch strips as a substitute. You'd really hurt somebody on the street below if you tossed a Bloomberg terminal out the window, assuming you can even open it.)

04 February 2008

Flickr and Creative Commons

Hi Barry,

I am writing to let you know that one of your photos with a Creative Commons license has been short-listed for inclusion in the fourth edition of our Schmap San Francisco Guide, to be published mid-February 2008...

Related: Schmap

Dragging anchor

When two submarine telecom cables in the Mediterranean were cut last Wednesday, the outage was attributed to a ship anchor that severed the cables. When a third cable cut in the region was reported on Friday, it raised suspicions that there might be more to the outages than coincidence.

"I'm a security guy, and hence suspicious by nature," Columbia computer science professor Steve Bellovin wrote on the NANOG (North American Network Operators Group) mailing list. "The old saying comes to mind: 'once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but the third time is enemy action.'"

But list members who manage submarine fiber cables say such outages happen fairly often, but usually aren't noticed due to cable redundancy, which allows system operators to route around outages...

...other theories have emerged that might explain the proximity of the Mediterranean cable cuts... "One theory is that the cuts, reportedly caused by ships anchoring in rough seas, are actually a diversion to cover taps installed by a specially equipped submarine hundreds of miles away."

Datacenter Knowledge: Cable cuts, coincidences and conspiracies (3 Feb 08)

03 February 2008

In heavy rotation: eMusic

I love eMusic.

eMusic caters to music lovers of all types in the underserved 25-54 demographic. It does so by cultivating a vast catalogue from the world’s top independent labels that spans every conceivable musical genre, by offering unrivaled music discovery tools and by providing tracks in a high bit rate (192K VBR) MP3 format with no DRM. It all adds up to a pro-consumer experience that gives subscribers the ultimate in flexibility, and just as importantly, ample opportunities to discover new, exciting music.

For a flat fee, you can purchase a package of downloads every month (I pay $19.99 for 75 tracks every month, or 27 cents a download for those of you too lazy to do the math at home; cheaper and more expensive plans are available for those who want to download less, or more, respectively.) One of the best features of eMusic is a preference matching engine that tracks what you download and suggests music you might like, based on what other users who have downloaded similar stuff are listening to.

Unfortunately for me, eMusic doesn't have an affiliate model, because I've certainly convinced a lot of people to try it; fortunately for you, they have a "get 50 downloads free" trial plan that you can check out for yourself.

Some recent eMusic finds, currently getting heavy airplay on iTunes at home, at work, and in transit:
  • Ze Records has reissued Was (Not Was)'s "Out Come The Freaks," a compilation of their work from the early 1980s complete with remixes and bonus tracks.
  • I've become very familiar of late with the gypsy-punk stylings of Gogol Bordello and the semi-deranged world music of Manu Chao.
  • The jazz section is just tremendous and features some wonderful live recordings. In recent weeks, I've download Bud Powell (At the Blue Note Cafe, 1961); Sarah Vaughn (Live at the 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival); Thelonious Monk (Live in Paris); and Louis Armstrong (at a much earlier Monterey Jazz Festival, in 1958.)
  • There are some delightful oddities, too. Last year, Lou Reed released an ambient music album called "Hudson River Wind Meditations." I've never seen it any place but eMusic.

02 February 2008

All the buggywhips that are fit to flex

...[I]f you want to issue bonds to pay for FCC-approved snack cake manufacturing in a submarine on display at a national park by a sundress-wearing cigarette-puffing Levitra-popping Judy Miller, you're pretty much set.
Marc Andreesen, analyzing the expertise of the New York Times Company's Board of Directors: Inaugurating the New York Times Deathwatch.

In the bedding department, right next to the Quiltys

An online campaign by a group of mothers has forced Woolworths to withdraw a line of bedroom furniture for girls called 'Lolita'.

The Lolita Midsleeper Combi, a wooden bed with pull-out desk and cupboard designed for girls aged around six, was put on sale on the Woolworths website for £349.99.


A spokesman for the company said: "What seems to have happened is the staff who run the website had never heard of Lolita, and to be honest no one else here had either. We had to look it up on Wikipedia. But we certainly know who she is now."
The Daily Mail: Woolworths forced to withdraw LOLITA bedroom furniture range for girls