Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bipartisan Group Eyes Independent Bid -

Bipartisan Group Eyes Independent Bid -

Sounds good to me...
Conveners of the meeting include such prominent Democrats as former senators Sam Nunn (Ga.), Charles S. Robb (Va.) and David L. Boren (Okla.), and former presidential candidate Gary Hart. Republican organizers include Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), former party chairman Bill Brock, former senator John Danforth (Mo.) and former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman.

Boren, who will host the meeting at the university, where he is president, said: "It is not a gathering to urge any one person to run for president or to say there necessarily ought to be an independent option. But if we don't see a refocusing of the campaign on a bipartisan approach, I would feel I would want to encourage an independent candidacy."

The list of acceptances suggests that the group could muster the financial and political firepower to make the threat of such a candidacy real. Others who have indicated that they plan to attend the one-day session include William S. Cohen, a former Republican senator from Maine and defense secretary in the Clinton administration; Alan Dixon, a former Democratic senator from Illinois; Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida; Jim Leach, a former Republican congressman from Iowa; Susan Eisenhower, a political consultant and granddaughter of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower; David Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency; and Edward Perkins, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Until plans for this meeting were disclosed, the most concrete public move toward any kind of independent candidacy was by Unity08, a group planning an online nominating convention to pick either an independent candidate or a ticket combining a Republican and a Democrat. The sponsors, an eclectic mix of consultants who have worked for candidates including Jimmy Carter (D) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), have not aligned with a specific prospect.

Now, some people with high-level political and governmental credentials are moving to put muscle behind the effort. A letter from Nunn and Boren sent to those attending the Jan. 7 session said that "our political system is, at the least, badly bent and many are concluding that it is broken at a time where America must lead boldly at home and abroad. Partisan polarization is preventing us from uniting to meet the challenges that we must face if we are to prevent further erosion in America's power of leadership and example."

Not one of the Republican candidates appeals to me in the slightest (except for Ron Paul, maybe, and I don't much trust him). Mark Kleiman and Paul Krugman have each been making persuasive cases for their chosen Democratic candidates (Obama and Clinton, respectively), and if forced to pick between the two I'd probably back Obama despite some reservations. I admire Mrs. Clinton, but I feel that so many people hate her that electing her would be bad for the country. Otherwise, I tend to think Krugman's case for Clinton is slightly stronger.

This piece (via Krugman) rang my bell.

In any case, there's no chance for Gravel or Kucinich, and Richardson doesn't seem to be getting anywhere, so what to do?

In my fantasies there's a peaceful revolution coming.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Selling garden hoses to firefighters is lucrative

Mexican marijuana is still plentiful — and cheap | - Houston Chronicle:
"Drug czar John Walters portrayed a spike in cocaine prices during the first six months of 2007 as progress because a key drug-war goal is to squeeze supply and drive up prices to discourage use. DEA spokesman Steve Robertson said low marijuana prices, however, don't signal defeat.

'Every time we seize an amount of marijuana, no matter how small or large, that is a blow against these criminal organizations, and that deprives the organization of money. It is also one less opportunity for somebody to mess up their lives,' he said."

Right. What a smokescreen.

National drug policy is the stupidest and most dishonest goddamn thing I've ever seen, but it employs lots of people and generates major money for some. End of story.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


So I'm home sick today, lying down is making me feel worse, so I'm sitting at the confuter reading the internets. The Unknown Candidate had a must-read link to an Online Journal piece, the excerpt of which simply didn't fit the Wall Street Journal's editorial stance in the slightest. (Turns out I had read Online Journal but thought

I read the piece

Ah, I'm losing interest in this post. Long story short, there's this study done back in the 70's by Stanford Research Institute: Changing Images of Man. Someone put a 30 MB pdf of the book here. I didn't find anything about it on the SRI website.

Damned post wants to get long again. No!

The must-read piece, The planned collapse of America, by Peter Chamberlin, takes off from that study and paints a scary picture of the fairly near-term future. Being the pessimistic and ignorant nihilist that I am, OK, sounds plausible.

But I've grown tired of this kind of stuff. Nobody knows what will happen. It's very hard for me to imagine a good short- to medium-term future. It seems that all the trends, ALL the trends, point hopelessly in the wrong directions. Paying attention only darkens my outlook, so I seem to be paying less and less attention. Ekhart Tolle's living "in the now" seems to make more sense to me now than when I read his book (which kind of turned me off at the time).

Whatever... Nobody knows what will happen.

Merry Christmas! Steve

Friday, December 07, 2007

I hope he's right

This article about Unity08 made the point that they are too far behind in signing up members and raising money to make a difference in the next Presidential election, concluding that the movement won’t see much success unless people quickly begin joining in larger numbers.

I liked Bob Roth's response. I hope he's right.
By Bob Roth, 12-06-07
Well-written article, Heath. The rush to membership that you suggest should have or should be happening is just not the plan that we envision here at Unity08. We've taken the time this past summer and fall to strengthen the infrastructure, build the team, and put the plans in place for ballot access and the June Online Convention. We've been in contact with the major media outlets along the way. We've briefed more than 60 candidates, some who have announced and others who have not yet done so. We're ready... and America is ready, too.

We believe that Unity08 is perfectly timed. After the two parties make their choices (probably as early as February 2008), supporters of the losing candidates will feel homeless. And after a few months more, many who thought the party choices were the right ones will suffer the buyers' remorse that historically occurs. For these people and, the independents yearning for another choice, the Unity08 online convention in June 2008 is timed perfectly.

Bob Roth
VP, Online Marketing

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sanchez: Iraq war 'a nightmare with no end in sight' -

Sanchez: Iraq war 'a nightmare with no end in sight' -

Retired General Ricardo Sanchez, Commander of Coalition Ground Forces in Iraq between June 2003 and June 2004, now blasts his civilian leadership for their lust for power, their incompetence and so on with respect to the Iraq war.

Sanchez entered the military in 1973 or 1974. He had been in the military for 30 years, well into retirement eligibility, when he took over in Iraq. He might have retired the instant these insights occurred to him. He could have said what he's saying back when it might have mattered. Seems to me Sanchez is the pot criticizing the kettle.

Sanchez can kiss my ass. His excuse that it was his duty to obey orders and not object publicly when he was on active duty is nothing but lame.

Sanchez rails against partisan politics:
"National efforts to date have been corrupted by partisan politics that have prevented us from devising an effective, executable and supportable strategies," he said. "At times, these partisan struggles have led us to political decisions that endangered the lives of our sons and daughters on the battlefield. The unmistakable message was that political power had greater priority than our national security objectives."

"Overcoming this strategic failure is the first step toward achieving victory in Iraq," he said. "Without bipartisan cooperation, we are doomed to fail. There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope."

A possible Unity08 candidate? What he says above may be true enough, but I sure hope not.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Las Cruces Sun-News - Truck driver gets money back from DEA (6:29 a.m.)

Las Cruces Sun-News - Truck driver gets money back from DEA (6:29 a.m.)

Too bad there couldn't have been major punitive damages.
The ACLU had sued the agency on behalf of Anastasio Prieto of El Paso after the DEA told him he would receive a notice of federal proceedings to permanently forfeit the money and that to get it back, he'd have to prove it was his and did not come from illegal drug sales.

It was his because he had it, and the burden of proof should have been on the government.

Good for the New Mexico ACLU!

Previous item here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

See? The climate models ARE wrong!

The North Pole Is Melting: Scientific American:
Such precipitous loss of ice cover far outpaces anything climate models or scientists have predicted.
"The observed rates of change have far outstripped what we projected."

So, what's next, the thermohaline circulation weakening much faster than projected because of all that freshwater from melted ice? Oh, well... At least there'd be the likely upside that the French wouldn't have to shut down any more nukes due to the water they use for cooling the condensers being too warm.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rigging a study to make conservatives look stupid. - By William Saletan - Slate Magazine

Rigging a study to make conservatives look stupid. - By William Saletan - Slate Magazine

I've read a few of the articles Mr. Saletan is reacting to, and I think I agree with him in the sense that I think entirely too much is being made of the study by the press.

I have not read the paper, and I'm not going to, but I think the study authors would agree that too much is being made of an interesting study intended to have a very narrow scientific focus.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Damned good question

Commentary: Where is the outrage when humans are abused? -

My own answer is that the Vick case was vastly overblown because of celebrity, while the case of the six cracker assholes received about the right amount of coverage. It was a newsworthy story, as should be the story of their rapid execution, but that's about it.

Come on, though. There are plenty of other things that need coverage, and focusing on one or two of the many, many outrages that occur all the time distracts from the wider picture.

Maybe that's part of the intent. Who knows? My two cents.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Conservatives just can't help themselves

Conservatives just can't help themselves
Amodio says that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a forebrain region, "serves almost as a barometer for this degree of conflict."

"People who have more sensitive activity in that area,'' he notes, "are more responsive to these cues that say they need to adapt their behavior," reacting more quickly and accurately to the unexpected stimulus. On average, people who described themselves as politically liberal had about 2.5 times the activity in their ACCs and were more sensitive to the "No-Go cue'' than their conservative friends.

"They are more sensitive to the need for change and more sensitive to the need to change their behavior," Amodio says about the politically left-leaning subjects.

In other words, conservatives are just slow.

No, seriously...

I wonder how I'd do on a test like this? Would I come out looking more conservative or liberal? I once took a test that showed me to be pretty close to the center, but I think it was because I harbor some attitudes which right-, and other attitudes which left-wingers, might consider extreme. The scale balanced but the weights were way out there.

There's an old joke about how, if you're conservative when young, it's because you have no heart, but if you're liberal when you're old it's because you have no brain. Well, if it's true that our brains slow down as we age, maybe the slowing affects the ACC. Now we know why older people tend towards conservatism.

Or not.

Interesting stuff. I'll see what a Google Alert on the researcher's name turns up over time.

LA Times has an article on this topic: Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain.

Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research who was not connected to the study, said the results "provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity."

Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.

Sulloway said the results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen. John F. Kerry, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat who opposed Bush in the 2004 presidential race, as a "flip-flopper" for changing his mind about the conflict.

Caveats abound, of course.

Lead author David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University, cautioned that the study looked at a narrow range of human behavior and that it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said.

Depending on the situation.

Maybe the world will be a better place when this sort of thing is widely understood and people are sensitized to the limits of their innate thinking style.

Or not.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

AFP: Terror groups raise funds through drugs: DEA

AFP: Terror groups raise funds through drugs: DEA:
'We'll have to deal with more and more hybrid' organisations in the future, Braun told the conference in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya.
Of course, because you won't consider addressing the fundamental cause, the thing that makes the trade lucrative.
"When your job takes you to the swamps to hunt snakes, you can end up taking crocs too -- they live in the same place."
Yes, well, sorry about the danger. Don't do it on my account. I'd just as soon you were put to work doing something more worthwhile.

.50 caliber assholes!

Tribal fishermen held after whale killed with machine gun -

"We allow native hunts for cultural purposes. However, this does not appear to be of that nature so far," he said.

What do you mean, "so far"? .50 caliber culture?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Q&A: "We're Dealing with a Christian Taliban"

Q&A: "We're Dealing with a Christian Taliban"

Let me make this clear. I'm doing this Q&A with you guys today as a man at war with the gun smoke in my face. We are not at war with Christianity or evangelical Christianity. We have many evangelical or non-evangelical Christians who massively support what our organisation, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is doing. We are at war with a small subset of evangelical Christianity [known as] "Dominionist Christianity" and it represents about 12.6 percent of the American public or about 38 million people.


Let me make it clear. We are dealing with a Christian Taliban. They hate when I say that but that's too bad. If you look at Chris Hedges Book "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" you'll see that the Christian Right is a fascistic organisation. And remember, I'm not a bleeding heart liberal -- not that there's anything wrong with that. I know the Christian Right would love it if I were a tree-hugging, Chardonnay-sipping, Northern California Democrat. I'm not. I come from a conservative military family. My youngest son just graduated three months ago from the Air Force Academy. He's the sixth member of my family to go there including myself. We have three consecutive generations of military academy graduates and over 128 years of combined active duty military service in my immediate family. I spent three and half years in the West Wing of the Reagan White House as one of his lawyers. I've been Ross Perot's general counsel. I didn't want to have to get into this fight. But when I say the Christian Taliban I frickin mean the Christian Taliban.


Sylvester and Tweety Bird

Sylvester and Tweety Bird
In a new video, al-Qaeda leader bin Laden again taunts Bush, the United States – and then the Democrats for not forcing an American withdrawal from Iraq, which should help guarantee that the Democrats won’t dare press for a withdrawal from Iraq.

At a summit of Pacific Rim leaders in Sydney, Australia, President Bush then did his part, highlighting bin Laden’s Iraq comments:

“I found it interested that on the tape Iraq was mentioned, which is a reminder that Iraq is part of the war against extremists. If al-Qaeda bothers to mention Iraq, it’s because they want to achieve their objectives in Iraq, which is to drive us out.”

Except that U.S. intelligence has long concluded that al-Qaeda really wants the opposite: to bog the United States down in a hopeless, bloody war in Iraq that has been a boon for recruiting young jihadists, raising money and protecting al-Qaeda’s leadership holed up in base camps inside Pakistan.


Now, as Bush faces another Democratic challenge to his plans for continuing the Iraq War, bin Laden shows up again, essentially berating the Democrats for not forcing U.S. troop withdrawals.


Fox News commentator Sean Hannity offered a taste of how the new bin Laden tape will be used against both Democrats and the American Left.

“One of the things that also struck me is the language specifically that he [bin Laden] used,” Hannity said. “He seemed to adopt the very same language that is being used by the hard Left in this country, as he describes what’s going on in Iraq as a ‘civil war’; he actually used the word ‘neocons’; he talked about global warming; he denounces capitalism and corporations.”

In other words, any similarity in language between bin Laden and what many Americans say in common conversations will be used to discredit them. They will become bin Laden’s fellow travelers.

All the better to get Bush and bin Laden what they both really want: a prolonged war in Iraq – and possibly a U.S. attack on the Shiite government of Iran.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pandora Dot Com

My friend Ken mentioned Pandora to me the other day, and I'm so glad he did. is part of a project called the Music Genome Project, which has some 50 musicians working to characterize music according to a large number of criteria. Pandora allows one to create "stations" which you seed with a particular song or artist name. They then stream music that they think will fit a mold conforming to the seed song or artist. Along the way you can give selections "thumbs up" or "thumbs down", or you can add songs or artists to the station in an attempt to teach Pandora what you want in that stream.

It's an interesting idea very well executed.

The service is ad supported, or you can pay a small fee to avoid the adds. The ads aren't bothersome - nothing flashy or too distracting.

and what have you. Apparently some body empowered to collect royalties from music streamers is setting prices based on the number of streams that a They've recently had to limit service to the United States, which they verify by asking for your zip code and checking your IP address. This all has to do with licensing issues. There's some body empowered to collect royalties from webcasters whose rates are currently designed in a way that works against Pandora because every member's individual "stations" are considered distinct streams subject to a minimum stream charge. I hope they resolve the issue and stay in business.

Every time I'm away from Liza, water come to me eye.
Come back Liza, come back girl, wipe the tear from me eye.
Harry Belafonte. Beautiful!

There are some other limitations but nothing too bothersome. You can only thumb-down six times per hour, even if you switch channels, because their purpose is to stream "stations" not serve up custom programs. Has something to do with the licensing business. They explain all this in their FAQ.

I am impressed with the quality of the service, and I'm enjoying it greatly. I seeded my first "station" with "Joan Baez" (one of my favorite voices of all time), and like magic I was listening to a very nice stream of stuff I hadn't heard in ages along with some music new to me. I thumbed a couple of songs down along the way, but the stream has been very nice.

Since then I've made a few other stations seeded with everything from Juan Luis Guerra to Inti-Ilimani to Iron Maiden to Michael Schenker. These stations all work very well, though I have deleted a couple of stations that didn't work out as I'd have liked. Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma didn't work out. I think that's because the version of the song they were going to start out with was by Harry Belafonte, which seemed to direct the stream to music I'm indifferent to. I love Harry Belafonte but the stream was a little too elevator-music for me. I deleted that station and seeded a new one with "Harry Belafonte", down-thumbed a couple of selections, and I've enjoyed the resulting stream very much.

If a stream delivers a song you want to purchase, you can click on a menu that allows purchasing it from iTunes or Amazon.

Music is encoded at an adequate bit-rate (at least for my dead ears). I think it must be on the order of 128 kbps. Sounds pretty good to me.

My hat is off to the creators of Pandora. I hope they're able to resolve their royalty issues and stay in business.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007 - Sex, Drugs & a Federal Prosecution - Opinion - Sex, Drugs & a Federal Prosecution - Opinion:
What’s more, the government insisted (and still insists) it needed to show no motive and no criminal intent to convict these doctors of drug dealing. It only needs to show that a given doctor’s prescriptions are outside the course of normal medical practice—a standard to be determined by government drug cops, not medical boards.
Not only was the jury not told about these arrangements, it was explicitly told precisely the opposite—that there were no testimony-for-leniency deals.

The ex-boyfriend of Jennifer Riggle, the government’s star witness, gave Rottschaefer’s lawyers 183 letters Riggle sent to him while he was in prison. In them, Riggle admits over and over again that she fabricated the sex-for-drugs stories about Dr. Rottschaefer and lied about them in court.

“I think they want to subpened (sic) me to a grand jury about the doctor I was seeing,” Riggle wrote in one letter. “They’re saying he was bribing patients with sex for pills, but that never happened to me. DEA said they will cut me a deal for good testimony.”

Federal prosecutors have never charged Riggle with perjury.


Now there’s new evidence undercutting the “legitimate medical purpose” argument, too. All five women who testified against Rottschaefer have sued him in civil court for medical malpractice. So far, none of those suits have been successful—three of eight remain unresolved.

The lawsuits did, however, allow Rottschaefer’s lawyers to look at the women’s entire medical histories, not just the portions prosecutors provided at trial. What they found ought to be enough to set Rottschaefer free.

It’s now clear that all five women perjured themselves in Rottschaefer’s criminal trial—both about the bargains they’d struck with federal prosecutors, and about their own medical histories. One failed to inform the jury that she’d been diagnosed with several psychological disorders, allowing the jury to conclude that a breakdown she’d suffered in 2002 was due to the drugs Dr. Rottschaefer had prescribed her, not her underlying medical conditions.

The other four had been or were later treated with medications similar to those Dr. Rottschaefer prescribed, and for the same conditions he had diagnosed. Meaning that not only were Dr. Rottschaefer’s actions not outside the scope of accepted medical practice, they were actually duplicated by other doctors.


I have such disrespect...

Monday, August 27, 2007

ACLU sues DEA on behalf of truck whose money was seized | - Houston Chronicle

ACLU sues DEA on behalf of truck whose money was seized | - Houston Chronicle

Disgusting. This is why I support the ACLU.

I wonder what would have happened had Mr. Prieto declined to consent to a search.
ACLU sues DEA on behalf of truck whose money was seized

© 2007 The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A trucker has sued the Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking to get back nearly $24,000 seized by DEA agents earlier this month at a weigh station on U.S. 54 in New Mexico north of El Paso, Texas.

Anastasio Prieto of El Paso gave a state police officer at the weigh station permission to search the truck to see if it contained "needles or cash in excess of $10,000," according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the federal lawsuit Thursday.

Prieto told the officer he didn't have any needles but did have $23,700.

Officers took the money and turned it over to the DEA. DEA agents photographed and fingerprinted Prieto over his objections, then released him without charging him with anything.

Border Patrol agents searched his truck with drug-sniffing dogs, but found no evidence of illegal substances, the ACLU said.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants violated Prieto's right to be free of unlawful search and seizure by taking his money without probable cause and by fingerprinting and photographing him.

"Mere possession of approximately $23,700 does not establish probable cause for a search or seizure," the lawsuit said.

It said Prieto pulled into the weigh station about 10:30 a.m. Aug. 8 and was let go about 4 p.m.

DEA agents told Prieto he would receive a notice of federal proceedings to permanently forfeit the money within 30 days and that to get it back, he'd have to prove it was his and did not come from illegal drug sales.

They told him the process probably would take a year, the ACLU said.

The ACLU's New Mexico executive director, Peter Simonson, said Prieto needs his money now to pay bills and maintain his truck. The lawsuit said Prieto does not like banks and customarily carries his savings as cash.

"The government took Mr. Prieto's money as surely as if he had been robbed on a street corner at night," Simonson said. "In fact, being robbed might have been better. At least then the police would have treated him as the victim of a crime instead of as a perpetrator."

The DEA did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Peter Olson, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, which oversees state police, said he could not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit names DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy, DEA task force officer Gary T. Apodaca, DEA agent Joseph Montoya and three state police officers identified only as John or Jane Doe.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Lost War -

The Lost War -

Wow! And in the mainstream press, too.
Could anything replace the war on drugs? There's no easy answer. In May, the Senlis Council, a group that works on the opium issue in Afghanistan, argued that "current counter-narcotics policies . . . have focused on poppy eradication, without providing farmers with viable alternatives." Instead of eradication, the council, which is made up of senior politicians and law enforcement officials from Canada and Europe, concludes that Afghan farmers should be permitted to grow opium that can then be refined and distributed for medical purposes. (That's not going to happen, as the United States has recently reiterated its commitment to poppy eradication.)

Others argue that the only way to minimize the criminality and social distress that drugs cause is to legalize narcotics so that the state may exert proper control over the industry. It needs to be taxed and controlled, they insist.

In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It's obvious why -- telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world. In one particularly revealing conversation, a senior official at the British Foreign Office told me, "I often think we will look back at the War on Drugs in a hundred years' time and tell the tale of 'The Emperor's New Clothes.' This is so stupid."

How right he is.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Michael Hawkins: Pure Democracy and the Moral Bankruptcy of the War On Drugs

Jury duty...
As for the moral bankruptcy of the War On Drugs, I have only this to say: it is abundantly clear -- and I'm not the only jury member to give voice to this insight -- that the government had held this trial over the head of the defendant's brother in order to put pressure on him to give up the names of his suppliers -- the Columbian drug lords. There was never a case, and this poor hispanic construction worker is now $22,000 in the hole for legal expenses. His young wife and son have been put through Hell, and up to a couple days ago were faced with the very real possibility that their working-class husband/father would spend 20 years in prison. The three multi-time felons who testified against the defendant -- who were each caught lying over and over and over again -- may or may not be given a break on their sentences, for having given the government "substantial assistance" in seeking a conviction in this case.

Meanwhile, coke and meth continue to flood the streets, much of it "allowed" into the States by the very government that plays this nasty game with peoples' lives. Prisons are filled with drug players from all levels of participation. Violence showers down on the streets of America because drugs continue to be illegal, and hardly anything is done to address the addiction problem at the root of the War. The Drug War validates the careers of many cops, prosecutors, investigators and lawmakers, so we can't count on any of them to put a crimp in their gig. It's all about Black Hats vs. White Hats for these people -- and they seem to sleep at night just fine, no matter how many lives they ruin in the process.

Do drug dealers ruin lives? You bet -- they create more addicts to keep the game going.

People are addicted to drugs.

Cops are addicted to both addicts and their addictors.

And the world spins on its axis, infinitely patient with the insanity of its human inhabitants.

Hat tip to Pete Guither.

The First Unity08 Vote

Unity08 sent their membership a request for survey participation. I'm tagging along with Unity08 this election cycle and I'd like to see them succeed, so I gave it the 20 minutes or so that it took.

I suppose any survey will leave the interviewee dissatisfied in one way or another. I am disappointed, for example, that national drug policy was not listed among the various issues to be ranked as crucial or not. It would not have made it into my "crucial" list, but it's certainly more important than a lot of other stuff that was listed. How could something that sends tens of billions of dollars down the drain every year (not to mention the many other undesirable side effects of national drug policy) not be important enough to include in the ranking?

I didn't care for the fact that when immigration was listed, it was "illegal immigration" not "immigration". Illegal immigration is just part of the problem.

Enough quibbling. Overall, I thought the survey was probably useful.

They have a version of the survey for people who have not yet joined Unity08. I'd urge my fellow citizens who happen to read these lines to take the survey, which is said to include information about Unity08 and what they're trying to do. If you like what you read, think about signing up. Maybe even send them a few dollars.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Another Prohibition Success Story

Afghanistan | Under fire |

Continuing news of Prohibition success:
And the Taliban has funds. The UN will soon announce that this year’s opium crop in Afghanistan, in which the militants have a stake, pipped last year’s record crop. That amounted to 6,100 tonnes, about 92% of the world’s total. Despite around to $1 billion devoted to the task, America and its European allies have come up with no effective way to reduce the blight.
Well, if $1 billion hasn't been enough, how about $2 billion, or $3 billion? That ought to do the trick, don't you think? After all, consider how well the Strategy of More Billions has worked throughout Latin America.

Drug Gangs Use Violence to Sway Guatemala Vote - New York Times

Drug Gangs Use Violence to Sway Guatemala Vote - New York Times
The most popular trafficking routes shift constantly to stay one step ahead of law enforcement efforts, the officials say. “If you attack the cockroach in one corner, the son of a gun shows up in another,” said a senior American counternarcotics official in the region, who spoke on background to avoid compromising future investigations.
And this has been going on for how long, despite more and ever more Plan Colombia this and DEA that?

Never a peep, though, about addressing the root cause: Prohibition.

As a symbol of the peace he wants, Mr. Colom, who is in his third bid for the presidency, threw a dove in the air at a recent campaign rally. It went up for a moment, its wings flapping furiously, then quickly plummeted to the ground.
The situation down there is hopeless and depressing, but also infuriating. The American counternarcotics official's cockroaches are doing what cockroaches do, just as they did during our previous experiment in Prohibition. Just as last time, the cockroaches will continue to do what cockroaches do until Prohibition and the War on Some Drugs are ended, which will probably never happen because of the political power of the constituencies Prohibition serves in the United States.

Oh, well...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

In the ’60s, a Future Candidate Poured Her Heart Out in Letters - New York Times

In the ’60s, a Future Candidate Poured Her Heart Out in Letters - New York Times

I was raised to believe that a letter is a private thing. The thought of someone making private letters public without permission is highly offensive to me.

While it's easy to envision scenarios in which such a unilateral release would be justified, this doesn't seem to be one of them. That holds even though, in one of her letters, young Ms. Rodham jokes about saving her correspondent's letters for the money they might be worth in the future.

I don't know whether John Peavoy had Mrs. Clinton's permission to release her private letters to Gail Sheehy or to the New York Times, but if not he should have his face slapped. If so, never mind.

There's just something unseemly about all this.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wife, 2 daughters dead after doctor's family held hostage -

Wife, 2 daughters dead after doctor's family held hostage -

That perpetrators of an act like this will not be executed in three months or less is a glaring indicator of the need for reform and streamlining in the administration of the death penalty.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fresh Thorns

Last week I got a letter from the power company saying they couldn't read the meter because the trees had grown to block their line of sight (I guess they use binoculars rather than jump the locked gate).

In the background of the picture is Camelback mountain. In the middle-ground are the mesquite trees I tried not to hurt myself on, and in the foreground is the reason I wasn't successful. For scale, that's my forefingertip supporting the stick of thorns, which are stout and extremely sharp.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Blogger domain blocked by Spamhaus

Yesterday I discovered that if I send an email containing this blog's URL (in the signature, say, or as a link for the recipient), my email service provider is blocking it. Turns out I cannot send or receive such an email, nor can a third or external party send such email through my provider's system.

This turns out to be because Spamhaus has listed the entire Blogger domain. So says my email service provider's friendly tech rep. He said that it's a Google/Blogger problem, and that in the future I could simply obfuscate the URL to avoid the problem. That's a shame because it defeats the purpose of placing a link. [Apparently it's not the entire domain, but some subset of Blogger's servers, which is hardly a better situation.]

I don't know how many major Internet service providers subscribe to Spamhaus, but if they do, they are probably blocking any inbound or outbound email that contains a Blogspot URL.

I wonder if other blogging services are similarly affected? If they are not affected, why is Blogger listed? Is it something Blogger is or isn't doing?

This is apparently not a new problem. It would seem that Google/Blogger and Spamhaus, both of them good guys, could do something about it.

This is the sort of reason that I registered a long time ago. Maybe I should think about using it instead of the trusty, familiar Blogspot account.

Oh, well...

Monday, June 25, 2007

'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' case limits student rights -

'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' case limits student rights -

Well, that's pretty much what I would expect out of a court that sees interstate commerce in the absence of state lines crossed and the absence of money changing hands, all the while involving a legal activity in the state in which it occurred.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Salman Rushdie's knighthood should be the last thing to offend Muslims

Salman Rushdie's knighthood should be the last thing to offend Muslims:
Above all, I'm offended that so many other Muslims are not offended enough to demonstrate widely against God's self-appointed ambassadors. We complain to the world that Islam is being exploited by fundamentalists, yet when reckoning with the opportunity to resist their clamor en masse, we fall curiously silent. In a battle between flaming fundamentalists and mute moderates, who do you think is going to win?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Speaking of Unity08

I've been paying some attention to Unity08 since shortly after they started up. At times, reading other opinions here and there about how Unity08 would only serve as a spoiler, throwing the election to one or the other major party, I've wondered whether there might be more than meets the eye, as they say.

Eventually, I decided to decide that Unity08 is what it seems to be. Since I agree with what they say about dysfunction, paralysis and partisanship, and since the major party candidates mostly turn me off, I signed up with Unity08 and sent them some money. The Unity08 banner at the top of this page might stand out, too.

I hope Unity08 creates a tremendous splash this election season. With any luck, the waves from that splash will wind up completely marginalizing the extremes. I don't know exactly what I expect out of this, but I'm completely confident that it's better than what can be expected of the usual two-party tango.

Time will tell...

Unity08 and Bloomberg: Perfect marriage? -

Unity08 and Bloomberg: Perfect marriage? -

Except that Unity08 is, as I understand it, going to nominate a ticket with one member from each of the two major parties. Mr. Bloomberg just left one party without joining the other.

I guess there's still time.

Unity08's statement on Mr. Bloomberg's move is here.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Well, that was certainly predictable

BBC NEWS | UK | Iran condemns Rushdie knighthood

I'm happy to see Salman Rushdie receive this honor.
The measure that has taken place for paying tribute to this apostate and detested figure will definitely put British statesmen and officials at odds with Islamic societies, the emotions and sentiments of which have again been provoked.
- Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini
The emotions and sentiments of islamic societies aren't as much provoked by this knighthood as agitated by islamist demagogues for power points.

Not that the same sort of thing doesn't occur on our side of the cultural divide, of course.

It would have been interesting to observe the discussions leading to the decision to knight Sir Salman.

The Independent - Salman Rushdie: His life, his work and his religion:

[Rushie] senses soft racism in the refusal to see Islamic fundamentalists for what they are. When looking at the Christian fundamentalists of the United States, most people see an autonomous movement of superstitious madmen. But when they look at their Islamic equivalents, they assume they cannot mean what they say.
It's unfortunate that the title of The Independent's piece implies that Rushie has religion. He doesn't. Rushdie is a wholly secular person.

Fundamentalism isn't about religion. It's about power.
Hear! Hear!

"Sir Salman Rushdie" sounds good on him.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pick a target with a pin

Well, I don't know anything about James Wimberley other than what it says in his bio (scroll down a bit) at Mark Kleiman's Reality-Based Community blog, and that he seems to be a very bright guy.

Today, Wimberley has a piece over there entitled, A radical thought experiment in halting climate change. In it, Wimberley writes
You wake up tomorrow as [a ruthless and utilitarian but benevolent world dictator]. Sitting down at the jade desk in your palace in Persepolis at 6 a.m - being emperor of the world is no sinecure - you find a file marked "Climate Change". What do you decide?

It is stipulated that you are as benevolent as Asoka, as strictly utilitarian as Bentham, and as ruthless as Tamerlane. Justice, rights, and national feeling are to you just petty foibles of your subjects, and there are few practical limits on your power to coerce obedience to your commands. (I won't bother making this male fantasy gender-neutral).

Let's open the file.

Wimberley then goes through some words from the G8 and from the IPCC, calls both of them something to the effect of more words, writes about GNP, GNI at PPP, tabulates some presumed costs of CO2 stabilization, and discusses how American GDP should be "downgraded (at least by half), and African GDP upgraded (at least doubled)" because of the different marginal values of different GDPs.

Wimberley packs a lot into a few paragraphs, then states that the optimum policy for his (ruthless and utilitarian but benevolent) dictator is to pick a target with a pin and order your satraps to get moving. You can always adjust as you go, but get going.

Wimberley says this is the only way things can change, and that it's been Angela Merkel's intended course at the G8. As for Americans,
The current health care debate in the USA is welcome but it's an impossible model for climate change. Health care reform will take the form of a set of once-off measures that can be implemented by federal legislation and budgets. It's reasonable to demand that the proposals are detailed, coherent and joined-up. Climate change is complex, world-wide and only partly understood: like unemployment during the Depression, or race inequality in the 1960s. Measures addressing them will start processes that themselves can't be fully predicted: as with a carbon tax, a right to reverse metering, massive research on renewable and fusion energy. On climate change, the models for American politicians should be FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society, driven forward by men who were not wonks - though they listened to them - but visionary, flexible (and none too scrupulous) leaders.

If they fail, I fear the world may spiral into a night of chaos in which the despairing peoples may, as many of them have done before, sacrifice their freedom to a Strong Man. There is zero probability that such a man would be an Asoka, and very little a Bentham or Augustus. What they would likely get would be more like an unvarnished Tamerlane.

Aside from a slight quibble about the title (because it's too late for halting climate change), this sounds about right to me, except he doesn't give the odds I'm sure he's thought about a lot. I wonder if he's got as bleak an outlook as mine?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Wireless Energy Inefficiency

Wireless Energy Lights Bulb from Seven Feet Away: Scientific American

The idea of not having to deal with a power cord for recharging portable devices has appeal, but it's an example of where government regulation has a role.

On the MIT tabletop, this system of energy transfer is only 40 percent efficient, meaning that it takes more than twice the energy to do the job a power cord would do (reasonably assuming that resistive losses in the power cord, though non-zero, are negligible).

Efficiency will improve somewhat (possibly to as much as 70 percent) by the time this sort of product is generally available, but that still represents a large energy premium, especially when you include significant upstream losses. Considering the large number of portable devices out there, that's a lot of coal burned and CO2 emitted. It's an unnecessary load on an already overloaded national energy grid. It's the wrong way to go.

We live in an age when increasing energy efficiency is critical for various reasons. Just as some jurisdictions are beginning to ban incandescent lighting, this sort of wireless powering of portable devices probably ought to be disallowed for non-essential applications.

In some applications this mode of energy transfer may make good sense, but if you believe (as I do) that humanity is rapidly (and increasingly so) trashing the atmosphere to the globe's and humanity's severe detriment, if you're in favor of wind, solar, nuclear and other atmospherically benign, renewable sources of energy, then you ought to be opposed to this development for the consumer electronics market.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Edwards, Clinton and Obama Describe Journeys of Faith - New York Times

Edwards, Clinton and Obama Describe Journeys of Faith - New York Times:

Reading that some reporter had asked candidates if they'd be willing to discuss the biggest sin they'd ever committed made me want to puke.

Reading about how Mr. Obama spoke about the role for faith in forgiveness among those screwing each other in the Middle East, rather than the role of faith in fomenting the screwing, it made me want to puke.

Reading about how Ms. Clinton and Mr. Edwards spoke about how prayer helped or they weren't sure they could have gotten through some ordeal without their faith, it made me want to puke.

What a bunch of studied bullshit in response to idiotic questions.
The participants sought to walk a fine line between appealing to religious voters, while not turning off secular voters...
Well, guess what?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Jack Kevorkian, Hero, Released from Prison

Kevorkian Out of Prison After 8 Years -

I admire Dr. Kevorkian, and wish him well for the rest of his days.

He can speak about assisted suicide, but can't show people how to make a machine like one he invented to give lethal drugs to those who wanted to die, Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said.

I wonder if he's prohibited from mentioning Derek Humphry's book, Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying?

I wonder if he's prohibited from telling people about the Internet as a means of finding information?

Long live Jack Kevorkian!

The Nuclear Temptation: The Perils of Pushing Atomic Energy as the Climate Change Panacea - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

The Nuclear Temptation: The Perils of Pushing Atomic Energy as the Climate Change Panacea - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

This article leaves me frustrated. There's nothing new, and the anti-nuclear slant gets old. Even the title is annoying. "... the Climate Change Panacea ..." Anybody who uncritically uses the word "panacea" in a sentence containing the phrase "climate change" ought to be shot, not only because there is no climate change panacea, but because nobody with half a brain claims that there is.

Uncritical association of "panacea" with "climate change" is suitable for setting up a straw man, and nothing more.

What might have been new would have been some sort of analysis of exactly how humanity can expect to obtain the energy needed to replace depleting energy presently liberated from polluting fossil sources, all the while providing vast quantities of new energy to meet the needs of expanding economies and many millions of new people (two or three billion of whom already exist in squalor).

But no. The question is acknowledged as pressing, but that's about it.

The article acknowledges the "largely carbon neutral" nature of nuclear energy, but only as a back-handed explanation that the fact "allows the industry to accept and promote the worst-case climate change scenarios while simultaneously presenting itself as a potential solution to the problem of global warming."

In a variant of the "panacea" fallacy, some activist doctor is paraphrased as saying that "Nuclear power simply doesn't have the ability to influence global warming decisively..."


Does the good doctor actually think that any option could be individually decisive? Human dieoff would be decisive, but that's not much of an option. I wonder if this doctor has considered the decisiveness of battle deaths in resource wars, the likelihood of which is some function to energy availability?


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New To Me: RSVP

MineZone Wiki | Main / RSVPReaderComparison

Years ago, I took a sped riddin' class. I increased my reading speed a bit but found the whole thing unsatisfactory. Along the way, though, one of the exercises had one reading text presented in a column, one or two words at a time. That seemed to work for me.

Since then, sometimes, when I have something long to read that I'd like to get through as quickly as I can, I narrow the window as much as possible. Sometimes I have to copy the text into an editor in order to do so.

The other day I was reading a provocative piece to which my friend The Misanthrope had sent me a link. When I was finished reading it, I thought I'd see what else was on that site. The thing that caught my eye was that a piece of software called Vortex xStream was offered for sale.

Remembering my experience with columnized text, I checked around and decided to buy it since I had not, by that time, found any alternatives. I found code snippets that people had written to do a similar thing, but I'm not good with code snippets and just wanted a program.

I'll have to write to these folks about some deficiencies in their product, but I think I'll keep it. My primary tool for this purpose, though, and assuming I continue reading some things this way, will probably be a free add-on for Firefox called RSVP Reader. RSVP Reader could use a few tweaks, too, but it's pretty close to prime time. It adds a toolbar to Firefox with a few controls and a space to present text. You select what you want RSVPed and push the Play button. Works pretty well.

RSVP, by the way, stands for Rapid Sequential (or Serial) Visual Presentation. Vortex xStream calls itself MARS, for Machine Assisted Reading Software.

Since I started playing with this stuff I found, as usual, that there's nothing new aside from my awareness. There are lots of options. Here's one person's writeup.

In my short experience so far, going through most documents at anywhere from 450 to 600 words per minute is satisfactory. I find myself reading things I would normally pass up simply because of my reading speed and available time. I find that I retain enough to make the exercise worthwhile.

Apparently, researchers have discovered effects such as reduced or confused retention when the reader encounters repeated words. Surely there are other findings, but I'm not sure I'm motivated to dig deeper. In other words, it's a mixed bag. Overall, I'll keep it.

Now maybe I'll finally get around to reading a few books I've downloaded, like Sam Cohen's Shame.



Nuclear weaponeer Sam Cohen's memoir "Shame: Confessions of the Father of the Neutron Bomb" is "not a good book in any conventional sense," Secrecy News observed a while back (SN, 01/16/01).

"It is long, whiny, profane, and self-indulgent. It seems to have escaped editing altogether. Part reminiscence, part crank manifesto, it is a mess. But it is an honest and compelling mess that students of nuclear history will not want to miss."

It is now available online here:

Seems that Shame has been renamed F*** You Mr. President.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why Horses?

Take Action: Shut Down Horse Slaughter

No, I don't think so.

Why horses? Why not pigs? Pigs are smart and can make good pets.

Why not cows? They're sacred to more people than there are US citizens.

Why horses? Just because some affluent Americans like them more than they like cattle and pigs?

The Humane Society's role should be to promote the humane treatment of all animals. They should go after operations that allow idiots to play football with live chickens, or those that immobilize animals for extended periods of time for reasons of practicality or product.

They should go after those who cause animal suffering or don't reduce it when they could.

The Humane Society should work to make sure that slaughter operations are as humane as possible. I stop listening, though, when they promote this kind of emotional nonsense.

Update: The Senate and House Bills are all about slaughter for human consumption, which makes the whole thing even more ridiculous. The Humane Society seems to be mixed up. Animal suffering is one thing. Human diet is another. Only one of those is within their purview.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

BBC NEWS | Health | Using drugs as weapons 'unsafe'

BBC NEWS | Health | Using drugs as weapons 'unsafe'

I certainly don't know everything about what happened during the Moscow theater siege several years ago, during which several dozen Chechen fighters took eight hundred or so people hostage. Apparently, in addition to explosives planted at various places throughout the building in such a fashion as to collapse it on the hostages' heads, individuals wearing explosive devices had dispersed among the hostages in order to maximize the killing if the moment came.

Some 130 hostages died (meaning that 600 or more survived) when the Russians gassed the place with a drug of some kind, possibly something called Kolokol-1, supposedly a weaponized variant of Fentanyl.

It seems that many of the dead hostages died as a consequence of the physical position into which they collapsed when gassed, positions that obstructed breathing or caused them to drown in vomit. They were all physically stressed by three days of confinement, discomfort, thirst and so on, which probably also contributed to mortality. There were other contributors to mortality, such as lack of patient care preparations and secrecy about the nature of the gas.

It's certainly no less lethal to die this way than by explosion or gunfire, but there is a difference.

I'm open to argument, but I admire the Russians for what they did at that theater. I'm aware of insinuations that the Russians themselves instigated the event but, frankly, anybody can say anything and I don't know what's true. In any event, such arguments don't bear on the logic or morality of using drugs as weapons.

Weaponized drugs are primarily weapons. If you're in need of weapons, it makes sense to have ones that will work in the situation in which they're needed.

Raising the Moscow theater hostage event in opposition to weaponized drugs strikes me as akin to raising the spectre of Chernobyl in opposition to nuclear energy. It doesn't follow.

What a man!!

That's some pig: Boy, 11, shoots 1,051 pound hog -

He said he shot the huge animal eight times with a .50-caliber revolver and chased it for three hours through hilly woods before finishing it off with a point-blank shot.
His father said that, just to be extra safe, he and the guides had high-powered rifles aimed and ready to fire in case the beast, with 5-inch tusks, decided to charge.

Well, gee, that ought to swell the heads of the rest of the pack at Christian Heritage Academy. This must be just the sort of thing their Jesus would do.

These good Christians deliberately made a poor beast suffer for over three hours when they could have easily done something about it.

Mike Stone is having sausage made from the rest of the animal. "We'll probably get 500 to 700 pounds," he said.
I guess that makes it all OK then. They probably need the food after paying for .50 caliber revolvers, high-powered rifles and the services of hunting guides, not to mention tuition at the small, private, Christian Heritage Academy.

I might be able to respect a hunter who strives for a swift, single shot kill, but toying with an animal the way these good Christians did is nothing but contemptible.

"It feels really good," Jamison said. "It's a good accomplishment. I probably won't ever kill anything else that big."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

This is No Way to Win a War by Thomas Snodgrass

This is No Way to Win a War by Thomas Snodgrass:

But the best brake on man's inclinations to resolve differences by war is to insist that when war is the only alternative, it must be fought ruthlessly and with a single minded focus to destroy the enemy's ability to wage war of any kind.
Sure, but the author probably wouldn't agree with me that the best way to eliminate war might be to let everyone have the bomb.

The quote above is, in turn, a quote Mr. Snodgrass takes from an article in the May 2007 Armed Forces Journal entitled A Failure of Generalship, by LTC Paul Yingling. I'll have to go read that.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Stayin' Alive: Bubbles

Stayin' Alive: Bubbles:
And that is why, if you have faith, you are most likely wrong.
What he said.

I think it's wise to embrace uncertainty.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What we all know to be true?

Personhood and Planned Parenthood:
what we all know to be true
Make that, "what we all know to be True," with a capital "T". And strike the "all" part. In fact, strike the "know" part, too. Just strike the whole thing.

Jim Sedlak insists that a person exists from the moment of conception. Since that's a capital T, there's no reconciling my contrary view with his.

In the last congress, 100 members of the House of Representatives supported a bill that simply said:

The Congress hereby declares that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being.

Sound reasonable?

Of course.

No, not "of course". No, not reasonable. Disingenuous.

I eat scrambled eggs for breakfast. Though some of those scrambled eggs may bear the fruit of a rooster, they are not scrambled chickens.

I wonder how many of those right-to-life Representatives would immediately object to the use of their disingenuous bill in opposition to capital punishment? My guess would be most of them.

Mr. Sedlak is apparently a religious man. He doesn't seem to invoke God very much in his writing (he mentions God, mostly in passing, in only four of the 13 articles listed here), but it seems obvious that his world view is rooted in a firm belief in the existence of a supernatural soul implanted by a God at the moment of conception.

In contrast, as far as I'm concerned, Mr. Sedlak's is a highly implausible stance stemming from myth.

Whereas I'm content to let him be, Mr. Sedlak would impose his views on me by force of law. That's part of the reason I'm giving $910 (minus United Way's handling cut) to Planned Parenthood this year.

Ooooo, he probably doesn't know that United Way can serve as a conduit for money to Planned Parenthood. Maybe I'd better shut up lest he make trouble for them, too.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Laptop Schmaptop

When I bought a new laptop several weeks ago, I bought it at Costco for one reason: their return policy. Costco offered a six-month return policy (since then cut to three months), and since I had never owned a laptop before, and since it came with the brand new Vista operating system, the only way I would have bought one of these things was with a long return policy like Costco's.

Now it's going back, not to be replaced.

Several things about the computer lead me to return it. Primary among them is continued incompatibility with iTunes videos. It's hard to know exactly what the problem is, but the effect is that there's no sense in having any iTunes videos on the machine. Up until Apple's most recent update of Quicktime, one could copy the videos from the hard drive to a thumb drive, from which they would play perfectly. Coupled with the machine's having two gig of RAM, a dual core AMD Turion processor and nVidia graphics, this means the problem is not a lack of oomph.

Now that I've gone through several iterations of trying this and that at the suggestion of HP's support people, and with their last suggestion being to restore the machine to factory condition (and failing that, to send it in for hardware repair), I'm packing it up to get my money back.

A few things greatly reduced my confidence in the machine. For example, I understood that it came equipped with an SATA hard drive, but the Device Manager wrongly reported a SCSI drive instead. The support people confirmed it is an SATA hard drive, and dismissed the SCSI part with a comment that it was only a device name. Well, maybe so, but it's not right and it doesn't inspire confidence.

A couple of nights ago I got a sudden blue screen of death. It said that the operating system had been stopped to prevent damage of some sort. When the machine re-booted, I was presented with
Windows Vista license alert

Windows has detected that an unauthorized change was made to your Windows license. This alert appears when a copy of Windows in unlicensed or if Windows activation has been bypassed.
... To purchase Windows Vista now, go to the Windows Vista website.
No thanks.

For the past year or two I've been trying to use online applications rather than having software on my computer. I no longer use an email client, having found webmail acceptable. I resisted the urge to put Office on this laptop, and so far Google and ThinkFree's services seem acceptable. You can do all sorts of things online that used to require on-board applications. I think that's liberating, and it certainly made ditching this laptop an easier decision. Sure you're dependent on the the Internet, but so what? I'm dependent on the interstate highway system, the electricity grid and a whole lot more public infrastructure anyway, so why worry about it?


28 Weeks Later - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

28 Weeks Later - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

My son and I saw 28 Weeks Later last night. We had enjoyed the original (28 Days Later), and since this sequel received good reviews from the New York Times and others it seemed like a good bet.

Naaa... While we didn't walk out, we didn't think this flick was a particularly good use of our entertainment budget.

The movie annoyed me immediately with that detestable, supposedly hand-held camera work that is supposed to add a sense of, what, realism?.

Whatever suspense the movie might have generated was overwhelmed with graphic excess. Spewing blood gets old quickly.

I could go on, but what for? Bottom line: Shrug.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Worthless reports

Why the media, especially reputable media like the BBC, publish reports about worthless, unscientific polls continues to puzzle and annoy me.

Is it that they don't recognize a bad poll when they see it, or that they don't care? I suppose there may be some other reason, some agenda behind publishing such a piece, but I can't think of any legitimate excuse.

Giving uncritical space to unscientific polls is not harmless. Sponsoring them, as CNN and others seem to do all the time, is contemptible even if it does get people to click or call.

... with 50% of respondents saying they had watched the Star Wars films more than 20 times.
... was unavailable to say how many people took part in the survey.

Knowing how many people took part in the survey would not legitimize the poll in any way.

It is clear that this is an unscientific poll, which necessarily means the results are illegitimate. That the BBC puts this story on the front of their web page, even if it is in the entertainment section, is not up to the standards of a legitimate news source.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

iTunes HP Vista nVidia SATA video

I'm starting to get pissed off at the combination of iTunes, HP, Microsoft and nVidia. I'll mention them all because I don't know where to place the blame for an apparently intractable issue involving what seems to be all of them.

To make a long story shorter, among all the compatibility issues involving iTunes and Vista, none has affected me, and the one that does affect me (and others) is never mentioned except among posters in Apple's support forum.

It seems that any iTunes video stored on an SATA hard drive is unplayable on a Vista machine. You can take the same video and put it on a thumb drive and it will play perfectly.

I just wish that Apple would say something about this issue. iTunes users have been posting about it on Apple's forum for some time, with at least one poster claiming that Apple is aware of the problem. It's been a long time, though, and it's annoying that Apple isn't saying anything.

If this problem isn't fixed, I will probably return my laptop before the six month return policy expires. Trouble is, by then I'd be so pissed off at Apple that I wouldn't get a Mac to replace it.

Come on Apple. Say something!!! Keep your customers informed. I can accept that sometimes there are challenging technical issues, but I don't see any justification for the silence.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Fallacy (?) of "Personally Opposed, But..."

The Fallacy of "Personally Opposed, But..." - The American Spectator

Daniel Allott thinks the "Personally opposed, but..." stance is fallacious. He is wrong about that.

He starts out with a quote.
"I'm in the same position now that I was 12 years ago, when I ran for mayor, or as mayor, which is personally opposed to abortion, don't like it, hate it, would advise that woman have an adoption, rather than an abortion. And I will help you find the money for it. ...But it's your choice. It's an individual right. You get to make that choice."
-- Rudy Giuliani, CNN interview, April 5, 2007
Sounds reasonable to me. Sounds respectful of other people's views.

Back in 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry insisted he was "personally opposed" to abortion; Hillary Clinton has called it "a sad, tragic choice"; and Barack Obama has described it as a "personal tragedy."
So what? Though I'm not personally opposed to abortion, even I would just as soon it didn't happen. I'd much prefer that people took care to avoid a generally avoidable medical procedure. Even I don't think abortion is a good means of birth control.

If he didn't consider the unborn child a human being and/or didn't think that abortion hurt women, there would be little reason for him to oppose it, especially with words like "wrong," "hate" and "tragedy."

In other words, if the child in utero were merely a "cluster of cells" and if the effects of abortion on women were "mainly positive," as Planned Parenthood insists, why would anyone oppose it on a personal, or any, level?

No one would, of course, which is what makes the "personally opposed, but..." position so dishonest (and why it is in a very real sense a more deplorable position than that of the abortion advocate who fails to recognize the essence of abortion).
What?? That no one would oppose abortion if pro-choice views were correct makes the "personally opposed, but..." stance dishonest? Come on, that doesn't follow. Coming from someone claiming to point out a fallacy it borders on being dishonest itself.

To acknowledge the grave injustice of abortion yet still promote its perpetuation is like saying: "I'm opposed to slavery but...
No, it is not. Slavery involves the criminal denial of another autonomous person's human rights.

But, Mr. Allott is likely to protest, the "cluster of cells" IS a person.

No, it is not. It might become a person, but it is not a person. A person is not defined by the DNA in his cells, nor by the stage of development of cells containing DNA. The "cluster of cells" is no more a person than it is a chimp or a tumor. Or a slave.

In the end, the "personally opposed, but..." position on abortion cloaks itself in reason and compassion; but, it is merely a rhetorical device that shields the politician who refuses to follow through on in public what he purports to believe in private.
In some cases, "personally opposed, but..." is simply pragmatic, something it is necessary to do, rather like going to church in this country. I'm sure that there are good and honest people of faith involved in politics. There are also good and honest people of NO faith involved in politics, but to be there they have to indulge Nature's little while lie.

In other cases, "personally opposed, but..." reflects respect for the views of others, and a sense of freedom lacking in those who would impose their implausible beliefs on others.

Different strokes for different folks.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

President Bush Infuriates Me Sometimes

I have no illusions about the informative value of television news, but for some silly reason I still check it out in the evenings, though less and less as time goes by. Cervantes' rant is right on the money.

Last night the tube brought us a rambling discourse from the President about Iraq war funding legislation that he's about to receive, and which he will veto due to inclusion of a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. As he yammered and stammered, Mr. Bush accused the Congress of a sin along the lines of making military decisions for the military.

That was a bit much for me, and I'm not particularly happy about having yelled "ASSHOLE!" at the image on the screen in the presence of my son. If Mr. Bush's administration hadn't been so guilty of precisely that sin, maybe Iraq wouldn't be the hopeless tar pit it is today.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Black Sabbath returns to tour with '80s lineup

Guess where I'm going tonight?

Black Sabbath returns to tour with '80s lineup

Hey, I know of at least a few people in that building that'll be as old or older than yours truly. ;>)

Ozzy is off doing another gig. That's Ronnie James Dio on vocals tonight.

"Heaven and Hell". It should be fun.


Tardy update:

This will be the last show I attend at the Dodge Theater in Phoenix. It's a nice enough venue, but I am completely incompatible with the acoustics there. On top of not caring for the first band, and not being much of a fan of the second, both played so loud that my clothing was fluttering in the sound pressure waves, vocals were unintelligible, and frequencies higher than about 500 Hz all mixed into a deafening hiss. I found myself wishing for a sound level meter to satisfy curiosity, and when I walked out to the entryway to get away from it, it wasn't enough. I had to go outside the building for a while. Crazy. It reminded me of being on the turbine deck, or even the compressor area, of a large power plant (where you'd get in trouble for not having your earplugs in place) without earplugs.

When I came back in during the break before Sabbath and was asked where I'd been, my "It was too goddamn loud!" was met with two or three incredulous "No!"s, and one guy in the row in front of us said, "That's an old guy talking." Well, that's true enough, but I've been to a lot of shows and this was bad.

For some reason Black Sabbath sounded better than the two preceding bands (Machinehead and Megadeth). Sabbath was loud, too, but somehow I was able to make out Dio's lyrics and the higher frequencies weren't as muddled. Maybe they played a bit lower, maybe they played a bit better, maybe they played with better equipment, I don't know.

In any event, no more rock shows at Dodge Theater for me.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"You're going to leave her dead."


Diario La Hora. Deporte.

Somehow, I don't think this ad would cut it in the sports section of, oh, say, the New York Times.

Translated, it reads:

You're going to leave her dead.
Actra-RX - Sexual Power
  • Superior to all the others
  • Free delivery throughout the republic
  • Telephone...


Of course, "dead" is actually a, what, metaphor?, for "absolutely satiated".


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Supernatural Superstition

Al Jazeera English - News:
'We don't want to expose Muslims to supernatural and superstitious beliefs,' the Berita Harian newspaper quoted [Abdul Shukor Husin, National Fatwa Council chair,] as saying.

Oh My ...

Growing In Grace

Well, since I think an omnipotent God is perfectly within His rights and capabilities to be anything to anyone, this guy could actually be for real.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Moustache, La (2005)

Moustache, La (2005)

La Moustache is quite a good movie. Some reviewers seem to have interpreted it differently, but I thought it portrayed a man, from his own perspective, falling into schizophrenia.

I probably just revealed my ignorance of schizophrenia, but there you have it. Good flick. Well acted, well filmed, generally nice characters, good story.

French with English subtitles.

Monday, April 09, 2007

BBC NEWS | Americas | BC cartoonist dies while drawing

BBC NEWS | Americas | BC cartoonist dies while drawing

I like that he died at his storyboard. If you've gotta go, what better way than quickly while doing what you love.

BC and The Wizard of Id are two of my favorite cartoons.

Long live Johnny Hart.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Guatemalan Indian Child by Valerius

I guess it was back in the early 60's that my Mother had a painter friend who went by the name Valerius. He was European, if memory serves, but he wasn't the Belgian Valerius who died in 1946, or the Russian Valerius who was born in 1969.

My wife and I have had this painting since I don't know when. Today I was playing around with a new cellphone that incorporates a camera, and was looking for things to take pictures of, and so here it is.

Actually, no. The one in this post I took with my more suitable Olympus Stylus 300 Digital camera. The cellphone version is here, but it's not a fair comparison. I took the cellphone version while the picture was on the wall in a fairly dark hallway, whereas for the Olympus version, I took the painting outside into full daylight and used the flash (not to mention a few more pixels with greater color depth, and a better lens). Just for grins, I think I'll give the cellphone camera another shot at a fairer comparison.

I've always liked this painting. I think Valerius caught the child's tears just about right. Her hand, nervously at her mouth, adds a little something I don't think I've seen in any other painting.

I remember meeting this Valerius, but I don't remember anything else about him. I think my Mother met him in her capacity as number two in the Guatemalan tourist commission, where she was, naturally enough, heavily involved in promoting tourism to Guatemala (something she loved doing, and carried on by establishing a travel agency with a couple of partners when she left the tourist office).

I'm glad I got that silly cellphone camera. Now I appreciate this painting a little bit more.

Leaving Las Vegas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Leaving Las Vegas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Why did I watch this movie? I saw that it was playing on one of the cable movie channels, and that Elizabeth Shue and Nicholas Cage were in it, and I recognized the title, so I told the DVR to record it without knowing what it was about.

The acting was great, and the story was compelling, but what a bummer of a movie! I don't know whether Cage's acting the drunk was good or not. I've been around drunks before, even been drunk myself, but I've never been around anyone quite that far gone. I've heard of DT's but never seen them. If they are anything like what Cage portrayed, that's some scary shit.

According to the Wikipedia article, the movie got very good reviews. Cage got an Oscar for Best Actor and Shue a nomination for Best Actress. It was very well done, but why did I watch this movie? Why did they make it? Why not make another movie about drawn-out suicide, or even painful death by cancer, say? I'm sure someone in the industry could create an Oscar-worthy film along those lines, but why?

On the other hand, why do Blackhawk Down, Hotel Rwanda or Reservoir Dogs? Straw Dogs? Deliverance?

Never mind.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Common Grace

WARREN: The truth is, religion is mutually exclusive. The person who says, "Oh, I just believe them all," is an idiot because the religions flat-out contradict each other. You cannot believe in reincarnation and heaven at the same time.

Why the hell not? Who is this pastor to question the capabilities of a being he claims is omnipotent? Why is God's mystery stopped by this pastor's church's dogma?

I've never heard a person say anything like, "Oh, I just believe them all." Maybe what's really being said to this pastor is a more polite version of, "I don't care. Just stop preaching at me."

I'm amazed that Harris has the energy to keep plugging away. I wouldn't. More power to Sam Harris.

Vista (and iTunes video playback)

About three weeks ago I bought a Windows laptop computer at Costco (sorry Apple, I would have preferred a Mac but I could not afford the one I'd have been satisfied with). Nowadays these things all come with Windows Vista, which, being new to me, made Costco's generous return policy especially important. The machine I bought is an "HP Pavilion dv6253cl Entertainment Notebook PC".

So far so good. Pretty much. A couple of things have bothered me, though.

I've not been partial to Symantec security products for some time, but that's what's bundled with the machine so I'm using it for now. Along the way, something prompted me to run Microsoft's free online "Windows Live OneCare Safety Scan for Windows Vista" (beta). Son of a gun if it didn't report several instances of something called "Trojan:HTML/Bankfraud.M" buried in some gzip files in my Firefox cache. I don't know why Norton didn't notice these things on the way in, nor am I all that confident it wasn't a false positive by OneCare. What I know is that, for reasons rational or not, I have more confidence in Kaspersky and will buy a second license to put on my laptop.

The other thing that bothered me was the incompatibility with iTunes. I read all I could find about the incompatibility that's widely known and figured it would be no big deal. It hasn't been a big deal and iTunes is working well on my new computer. With one exception, that is: video playback. Watching videos with iTunes on Vista was only possible if a slow slide show would have been acceptable. The video playback remedies on Apple's website had no effect. Scratch videos on iTunes.

Now it turns out there's an issue with iTunes on Vista with SATA hard drives, and that's what's been bothering me all along. A post on the iTunes support forum said the poster had been able to get videos to play properly by copying them to a flash drive to avoid the SATA hard drive. Sure enough, when I tried my thumb drive the video played beautifully.

I suppose Apple or Microsoft will have this problem fixed before too long. When they do, I'll be about as satisfied with this new computer and this new operating system as I expected to be.

As I type I'm reminded that the keyboard seems to be defective, failing to register spacebar strokes rather frequently. Maybe it's just some stickiness that'll clear up with usage. In fact, I think I just cleared it up by forcefully striking the right side of the spacebar a few times. It's OK as I type now.

If I had to do it over again, I would. I think Vista is solid enough, and will get better as issues are discovered and patches issued.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The art of fooling around

BBC NEWS | UK | Magazine | The art of fooling around

I was a little young to have noticed the BBC spaghetti hoax, but one of the best April Fool hoaxes I've seen was, if memory serves, an NBC News piece by John Chancelor 30 years or so ago. It was a report on the state of the pickle crop, complete with footage of the pickle orchard, workers and all.

Scientific American has had some memorable April Fool pieces, too. One I remember was about how you could increase the mass of a block of gold by simply cutting it up in a certain way, and then put it back together again in a different form. The article started out by showing how you could increase the area of a piece of paper by cutting it into a certain pattern and then put the pieces back together differently. They then extrapolated to three dimensions to increase the volume of the block of gold.

I'm happy to say I didn't fall for it, but I didn't spot the trick right away, either.

Another Scientific American April Fool piece was about a method for connecting one end of a wire to a stationary base, and the other end to a rotating platform, in such a way that the wire would not be twisted when the rotating platform rotated. The piece was complete with detailed drawings of a lab device with a conduit passing through the axis of the rotating platform with a geared mechanism to change the relationship of the wire conduit to the rotating platform as it rotated. Something like that. This may be my favorite April Fool joke of all time.

April Fool?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

What Pete said.

"Bong Hits 4 Jesus" is a very sticky meme.

It will be interesting, and revealing, to see what the Supremes do in this case.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Then and Now


I wonder where Tony Auth was about four years ago when this version of his cartoon should have been published?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Cliff Kincaid is full of shit

This guy Cliff Kincaid is, at best, overly self-assured.
But the dangers associated with marijuana go far beyond mental confusion and acting like a buffoon. It destroys a person’s productive capacity and can help make people either wards of the state, unable to take care of themselves, or criminals.
Oh, no!! Not only that, but Richard Allen Davis murdered Polly Klass while he was high!

Cliff Kincaid is full of shit.

Along with the Independent, maybe Cliff ought to read from the Guardian across the street:
Alcohol is ranked almost as harmful as heroin in a controversial new drug classification system proposed by a team of leading scientists. ...

Cannabis, recently downgraded to class C, occupies a middle position. It is rated more dangerous than Ecstasy, LSD and the dance floor drug GHB, but less harmful than tobacco [and much less harmful than alcohol].

The table, published in The Lancet medical journal, was drawn up by a team of highly respected scientists led by Professor David Nutt, from the University of Bristol, and Professor Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council.
Cliff should have read the Forbes piece:
Heroin and cocaine were ranked most dangerous, followed by barbiturates and street methadone. Alcohol was the fifth-most harmful drug and tobacco the ninth most harmful. Cannabis came in 11th, and near the bottom of the list was Ecstasy.
Hey Cliff, since you're such a conservative, I bet you support the Court's decision approving Interstate Commerce Clause application in the Raich case (about legal medical marijuana, "commerce" involving no money, and "interstate" crossing no state lines). You must think civil forfeiture is the best thing since flush toilets. As a good conservative, you must think $60B down the drain, every year, is a good use of your tax money.

I think I'll stop before I type something impolite.