Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Cannot possibly be true

This is a crazy story right out of Rambo: First Blood. A young couple visiting Baltimore was apparently arrested for trespassing on city streets after some bizarre interactions with two police officers. If true, these two kids probably have 150 messages waiting from them from attorneys.

The story rings false on some levels: what aren't we hearing? On the other hand, two children of police officers will likely know how to talk to the police without wearing handcuffs.

Chris Rock had some tips on how not to get your ass kicked by the police. Wise words, my friends.

Lions led by Donkeys

Here is a a truly great memorial day post by Kung Fu Monkey. I don't know why this point of view are so hard to understand by 101st Fighting Keyboard™ crowd: you don't "support the troops" when you are indifferent to their deaths and their suffering, not when the liars who brought U.S soldiers to their bloody deaths can be casually referred to as "Heroes in Error".

I "supported the troops" when I didn't want them sent into a pointless war, I "supported the troops" when I wanted them adequately armed and supplied, and now I "support the troops" by wanting them out of this hell hole as soon as possible.

There is no saving this burning building. Out, out, out. It's a civil war, fueled by religious fervor. We lost, Iraq lost, Iran won. Out.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I miss New York

Scrabble girl: "Gooeesay" is so not a word.
Scrabble guy: That's "guise."
Scrabble girl: Ha! Well, smart guy, you spelled it wrong. "Guys" is spelled G-U-Y-S.
Scrabble guy: Are you serious?
Scrabble girl: Sorry, there's no way I'm letting you get away with that after you wouldn't give me any points for "Steve."
Scrabble guy: How long have we been dating?
— Central Park

Overheard In New York rocks.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Bad tattoos

I had my ear pierced when I was 25. It wasn't common for straight men to get their ear pierced back then, and I felt moderately rad. The earrings definitely attracted attention, and not just when I wore the big smiling Mickey Mouse earring. My friend Teresa's reaction was the best: she screamed in delight within seconds of seeing me with my new adornment. My older Russian friend Alla also saw it quickly, but she declined to say anything about until I explicitly asked her. Then she told me, with a face faintly wincing in pain, that she had noticed it and she did not like it. Men uniformly did not notice and did not care. My mother's reaction was not positive. When I told her that I had gotten an earring, she lay awake all night, calling me at 8am the next morning to find out if I was gay. My amusement did not, in turn, amuse her. But hey, if moving to New York to get away from your parents doesn't involve some element of épater le bourgeois, then you're really not getting the full E-ticket ride. So, radness achieved.

Still, some time passed, I decided it looked like I was trying to be hip, and I just took the earring out forever. Completely disradificated, I was; and of course, no one cared. True, once a poor closet case unfortunately assumed that my barely-visible earring hole meant that I was also a closet case. Unfortunately, his gaydar was way off, and we so started on a brief, abortive friendship with him asking me frequently to go on "walks" and me eventually saying a variation on the ultimate lame statement, "Look, I don't want to date you, but I don't see any reason why we can't be friends." Turns out that's a really bad thing to say to certain closet cases.

Still, it would take a remarkably close observation of my face to notice that I have a tiny little dimple in one earlobe. Maybe someday the earlobe will be wrinkled or hairy enough that it will be completely invisible. Ew.

Easy reversibility is why earrings are cool. Hell, get two or three piercings if you feel like it. Tattoos, on the other hand, are not so easy to remove. Don't get a tattoo. If you have one, don't get another one.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Hookers and Booze

The San Diego Union-Tribune has a good story detailing the poker parties that Foggo and Wilkes ran. Now-convicted Congressman Duke Cunningham attended these parties, along with Porter Goss, former head of the CIA and his assistant Brant "9-Fingers" Bassett, along with "CIA agents, lobbyists, defense contractors and, occasionally, staffers and members of Congress." That cautious summary from the always sue-able paper left out the hookers, since these swingin' dicks were showing their manliness in every way that they could.

The parties sounded like fun.
Joe Murray, a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who attended a party in 1994, wrote about how eagerly one of the CIA officers accepted a Cuban cigar from him.

"You know, of course, this is considered contraband," the CIA officer told Murray. "But you've done the right thing as a good citizen. You've turned it in to the proper government agency. Be assured that very shortly it will be destroyed by fire."
But of course, it's all fun until someone gets their eye out, or, alternatively, until they fuck up national security by playing politics, or start assigning bogus water-delivery contracts to their friends, effectively stealing millions from the U.S.

The story has a just little bit of information about Goss and ol' "9-fingers" Bassett. Here is a story with more information about them,with a few more more high-testosterone anecdotes:
Bassett is said to have sent a prank letter to a friend at the CIA who was then stationed in Vienna. I've heard various accounts of precisely what he wrote, but multiple former intelligence sources said that the letter contained exaggerated talk about sexual relationships. Two of the sources said that the letter was intercepted in Vienna by the KGB, which, believing it had Bassett in a compromised position, subsequently made a blackmail recruitment pitch to him. Bassett properly reported the contact to his superiors, they said, but was again reprimanded for sending the letter in the first place. "Bassett was a cowboy who violated procedures, but he had a lot of influence with Porter," said one person. "Dusty would never have gotten the [executive director] job if he hadn't been good friends with Bassett."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Della Reese said it best

Bush and Blair have actually deigned to admit that they made mistakes during the prosecution of the war with Iraq. This does merit a headline, since Bush has admitted virtually no errors of any kind during his six years in office.

However, it's simply past the point where it is relevant. Are there parents of dead soldiers who care that Bush now regrets taunting the insurgents by saying "bring it on"? Will it comfort the children whose fathers or mothers were killed in action to know that Blair and Bush now believe that Bremer de-Baathification policy was hasty and ill-advised? If I or my loved ones are killed in a terrorist bombing, will it be a balm to consider that Bush would prefer not to have radicalized certain people by invading their country and torturing their citizens? The time to investigate possible errors was back in 2002, when lies were published as facts, when sober objections to this war were sneered at and called treasonous.

Although it borders on the tedious to keep saying it, these two men lied their respective countries into war, destroying the lives of thousands of individuals. Apologies now are senseless and unproductive. You don't get points for a hand-written apology after running my kid over with your truck. Beaten wives forgive their abusive husbands all the time, but I'll be goddamned if I will ever forgive these two. As Della Reese's character in Harlem Nights says, "Kiss my entire ass."

Anti-heros of the fourth estate

Magnusson pushed away the vodka bottle as though it was too close to him.

"I started as a 15-year-old trainee at one of the Stockholm newspapers," he said. "That was in the spring of 1955. There was an old night editor there named Ture Svanberg. He was almost a big a drunk as I am now. But he was meticulous at his work. And he was a genius at writing headlines that sold papers. He wouldn't stand for anything sloppily written. Once he flew into such a rage over a story that he tore up the copy and ate the pieces, chewed the paper and swallowed it. Then he said: 'This isn't coming out as anything but shit.'

"It was Svanberg who taught me to be a journalist. He used to say that there were two kinds of reporters. 'The first kind digs in the ground for the truth. He stands down in the hole shovelling out dirt. But up on top there's another man, shovelling the dirt back in. There's always a duel going on between these two. The fourth estate's eternal test of strength for dominance. Some journalists want to expose and reveal things, others run errands for those in power and help conceal what's really happening.'

"And that's how it really was. I learned fast, even though I was only 15. Men in power always ally themselves with symbolic cleaning companies and undertakers. There are plenty of journalists who won't hesitate to sell their souls to run errands for those men. To shovel the dirt back into the hole. Paste over the scandals. Pile on the semblance of truth, maintain the illusion of the squeaky-clean society."
— Henning Menkel, Sidetracked

On September 29, 2003, three days after it became known that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate who leaked the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, columnist Robert Novak telephoned White House senior adviser Karl Rove to assure Rove that he would protect him from being harmed by the investigation, according to people with firsthand knowledge of the federal grand jury testimony of both men.


Rove testified to the grand jury that during his telephone call with Novak, the columnist said words to the effect: "You are not going to get burned" and "I don't give up my sources," according to people familiar with his testimony. Rove had been one of the "two senior administration" officials who had been sources for the July 14, 2003, column in which Novak outed Plame as an "agency operative." Rove and Novak had talked about Plame on July 9, five days before Novak's column was published.

Rove also told the grand jury, according to sources, that in the September 29 conversation, Novak referred to a 1992 incident in which Rove had been fired from the Texas arm of President George H.W. Bush's re-election effort; Rove lost his job because the Bush campaign believed that he had been the source for a Novak column that criticized the campaign's internal workings.

Rove told the grand jury that during the September 29 call, Novak said he would make sure that nothing similar would happen to Rove in the CIA-Plame leak probe. Rove has testified that he recalled Novak saying something like, "I'm not going to let that happen to you again," according to those familiar with the testimony. Rove told the grand jury that the inference he took away from the conversation was that Novak would say that Rove was not a source of information for the column about Plame. Rove further testified that he believed he might not have been the source because when Novak mentioned to Rove that Plame worked for the CIA, Rove simply responded that he had heard the same information.

— Murry Waas, "Rove-Novak Call Was Concern To Leak Investigators"

F---d company

Skilling and Lay are heading for the big house. Their blame-the-short-sellers defense was profoundly disingenuous, and could more properly be called the "we sure hope the jury knows nothing about finance" defense. Instead of spending $70 million on this defense, they would have done better to take a page from Michael Jackson's book and just move to a country like Bahrain that has no extradition treaties with the United States.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hicks blitz, then nix, ritzy pix

Hey, I was right back in January! The Da Vinci Code is indeed a terrible movie. The movie has a low, mixed rating of 45 on This is a highly mixed rating. Assorted middle-brow reviewers like Roger Ebert give it a moderate rating of 3 out of 4 stars; but I have long believed that Ebert gives higher ratings to movies that he predicts will be popular.

Even better (as far as my prediction's accuracy), the negative reviews are blaming Akiva Goldsman in large part for the disaster.

Anthony Lane in the New Yorker:
The film is directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman, the master wordsmith who brought us "Batman & Robin." I assumed that such an achievement would result in Goldsman’s being legally banned from any of the verbal professions, but, no, here he is yet again.
Peter Travers in Rolling Stone:
How to apportion that blame for the movie's inertia? Start with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (an inexplicable Oscar winner for A Beautiful Mind), who manages to eradicate every ounce of suspense, spirituality and erotic fire from Brown's novel. Point the finger at director Ron Howard (also an inexplicable Oscar winner for A Beautiful Mind) for playing it so safe that the film feels embalmed. The acting is either hammy (Bettany) or nonexistent (Tautou, so good in Amelie, so charmless here). Even the great Ian McKellen, cast as Holy Grail expert Sir Leigh Teabing, is reduced to nonstop bloviating, only alleviated by the occasional hint of mischief in his eyes. Instead of dialogue, Goldsman has written huge globs of exposition. Sir Leigh will yak about the concept of the "sacred feminine." Sophie will say, "I don't follow." And Sir Leigh will pick up the thread with a slide show that reveals a mystery woman visible in Da Vinci's The Last Supper. And Robert will add to the blabfest. And so on and on and on.
Here's the conclusion of Anthony Lane's very testy review:
Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people, except at Columbia Pictures, where the power lunches won’t even be half-started. The Catholic Church has nothing to fear from this film. It is not just tripe. It is self-evident, spirit-lowering tripe that could not conceivably cause a single member of the flock to turn aside from the faith. Meanwhile, art historians can sleep easy once more, while fans of the book, which has finally been exposed for the pompous fraud that it is, will be shaken from their trance. In fact, the sole beneficiaries of the entire fiasco will be members of Opus Dei, some of whom practice mortification of the flesh. From now on, such penance will be simple—no lashings, no spiked cuff around the thigh. Just the price of a movie ticket, and two and a half hours of pain.
Ha, I say. You heard me: ha!

While I certainly don't mind a movie that slams Opus Dei — these self-flaggelating ultra-conservatives are collectively as nutty as a fruitcake, even if they do not employ albino priest-assassins — this book was meaningless, pretentious balderdash. It should never have been made into a movie.

True, this movie is making a great deal of money, but hell, people paid good money to go see Godzilla, too. I will predict Da Vinci Code will have an relatively short run, as the huge PR buys and ultra-wide release plans are really what made for a big opening weekend. This movie was simultaneously released in every major country in the world — it took place in just three days. (India came a week later.) That's the widest initial release I have ever heard of.

Big, splashy box office numbers will make headlines; but the actual run won't be sustainable once the word of mouth gets out that the movie stinks. The Da Vinci Code sounds like a long, dull movie. While America always has a bumper crop of movie-goers who can be bullied into seeing a movie with a serious ad blitz, there's ultimately a limit to what people will drop $10-$16 in tickets and refreshments to see. The studios want people to think that they're seeing Passion of the Christ (in both senses), but instead, they get an involved, ridiculous conspiracy about art history and early Christian history.

Brokeback Bunnies

Beauty is composed of an eternal, invariable element whose quantity is extremely difficult to determine, and a relative element which might be, either by turns or all at once, period, fashion, moral, passion.
    —Jean-Luc Godard

Is this true? Who can say? Godard was a pretentious twit, and I write computer code for a living.

However, you can't argue with the cinematic magic of Brokeback Mountain, enacted by bunnies, in 30 seconds.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Monthly tasks

Every month or so, it's definitely worth checking out the sporadically-updated Craig's List best-of collection. This month is typically stellar. It's got good advice, high tragedy and low comedy.


I have never touched a woman.

God bless Europe, the center of civilization.

Here's the winning band, the Finnish xerox of GWAR, Lordi, with "Rock and Roll Hallelujah" on Google Video (3 minutes). I can only conclude that drunken 13-year-olds are the only ones actually voting in Eurovision, because, uh, these guys really suck.

Tables of Presidential Assassinations

I do not want any president killed, not even the current boy king. Still, it's amazing when you see how many unsuccessful and successful assassinations there have been against both presidents (JFK through Bush) and candidates (Wallace, RFK). The Congressional Research Service has compiled a six-page report on Presidential assassination attempts (PDF). In addition, heaven only knows how many cases are not in this list because the Secret Service has detected or scared off a potential attacker before it became serious.

Naturally, I wouldn't want to offend any NRA folks out there — I like guns, honest injun — but there is one obvious, common thread in all but one of these attempts.

Give up?

Ok, a hint: no U.S. president has ever been killed in a bout of swordplay.

Crashing your car

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute have completed the first year of a truly neat study where they completely wired up the cars of 100 drivers, enabling them to monitor the drivers and cars closely when they were in crashes or in near-crashes.

Their bottom line: people usually crash their cars out of sheer inattentiveness. These are persuasive numbers:
Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. Primary causes of driver inattention are distracting activities, such as cell phone use, and drowsiness.
The results of the factor analysis are also very interesting:
  • Reaching for a moving object increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by 9 times
  • Looking at an external object by 3.7 times
  • Reading by 3 times
  • Applying makeup by 3 times
  • Dialing a hand-held device (typically a cell phone) by almost 3 times
  • Talking or listening on a hand-held device by 1.3 times.
It's not always easy to avoid looking at maps or dialing cell phones while driving. But if you set your cell phone up with speed-dial for your most common phone numbers, you could really be doing yourself a favor. I use speed-dial regularly, and it's damned convenient.

And of course, the other important safety tip to be gleaned is: don't put makeup on in the car, you nut. At worst, you'll have an accident; at second-worst, you'll roll into work looking like Tammy Faye Baker.

(Photo of burning car from

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What kind of an idiot do you take me for?

There's been a fair bit of competition over the details of the new high-definition (blu-ray) DVD formats, which ordinarily no one would care about.

The new details are breathtaking in their arrogance.
  • They call for digital watermarking. That is, you wouldn't be able to copy the digital media without it being seen as a copy. No surprise there, the assorted content-making industries have been insisting on this repeatedly for years.
  • They call for the new players to have permanent connections to the internet, where "self-destruct" sequences can be sent out to individual players, requiring owners to take them in for servicing. The report does not detail the reasons why this might happen; but it's not hard to imagine the MPAA or RIAA lobbing repeated self-destruct instructions at every IP address that they see with a BitTorrent service. There are also substantial marketing reasons to want to know whatever DVDs an individual is viewing.
  • They call for the new players to have overridable encryption methods, which would enable a global self-destruct sequence to be sent out, invalidating the encryption methods used by all existing devices. This would be used in the event that the upcoming encryption methods for the Blu-ray DVDs is ever broken as spectacularly as the old DVD method was.
I am reminded of a high-level summit attended by myself and several of my sixth-grade friends, where we concluded that it was unbelievably unfair that we had absolutely no idea how the act of sexual intercourse was actually consummated. To remedy the situation, it was decided that someone should persuade a girl to get naked and show us all the details. Although there was unanimous consent by all participants that this research project would have been a highly productive path to take, unfortunately, serious implementation details interfered with the actual completion of the goals: that is, we couldn't get a single girl to agree to help us with our study.

In a similar vein, I can't imagine who in the world the movie and music industries think is actually going to buy these crippled, spying-on-their-owners, self-destructing devices to replace perfectly good DVDs — or BitTorrent, if it comes to that. The most charitable explanation is that the various technical people involved in this know that it is all bullshit, but they are doing exactly what they were told to by their bosses. It won't work, fellas.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Scylla and Charybdis

Rove understands the situation the GOP is in perfectly well. If the Republicans become strongly associated with anti-Latino racism in the minds of Latino voters, they will probably not win another national election for a generation or more . As Josh Marshall described the tensions in a joke while analyzing the 2004 election from the Republican point of view:
"Well, we've locked up the white racist vote. Now, if we could just get the blacks too, then we'd be cooking with gas!"
However, like a drunk driver heading straight towards a highway pylon, Rove doesn't know which way to turn. He must not annoy the Latin vote. He must not annoy big business. He must not annoy the racist element of his party, particularly those whipped up by hysterical jingoists like Lou Dobbs and Michelle Malkin. It's an impossible conundrum.

Karl Rove is indefatigable and he will not concede this, not even in the week before he is indicted. He wants to parse the issue very, very finely, touching on sympathetic points in yesterday's speech at the AEI:
[L]ook ... we're a country of immigrants. I'm from Texas. I have a lease in Kenedy County, Texas.

It's half the size of Rhode Island and has 973 people who live there. And I don't care if you're hunting deer in February or mowing the roads in the middle of the pasture in August, you'll find somebody carrying a plastic jug and a plastic bag in the middle of the cold winter or the very hot summer, trying desperately to get north in order to earn money to put food on the table for their families.

We've got to deal with that reality.

On the other hand, we've also got to deal with the reality that people die. I've seen a couple of corpses out there. I don't want to see them again.
then swinging back to tough guy on the borders.
Most people don't understand that we're doing a heck of a lot better job of getting control of the border. This year, the average day this year, we have apprehended and returned over 4,200 people each and every day this year. There have been 6 million people who have been apprehended and removed from the country since 2001.
Unfortunately, he cannot land the triple axel. Bush's speech was rejected minutes after he gave it, with folks like Schwarzenegger leading the chorus of harrumphs. Last week, the racist elements of the right-wing were so upset about Bush's push for amnesty for illegal aliens that they began calling for his impeachment. (Wildly, they also believe that Bush is primarily motivated by the urge to appease Vicente Fox. So, when they're not working on immigration issues, I guess they're investigating UFOs or the JFK assassination.)

Josh Marshall and Ruy Teixeira have been writing for years about the trouble that the GOP will have charting their way past these demographic and political dangers. It is pleasant and soothing to see their predictions start to come true: hardly anything Bush can say now will help to ease the pressures in the party. The dog-whistle racist element of the Republican platforms since Nixon has worked all too well: it has brought in a rabid, racist, entirely unappeasable element as their most loyal voters. Now these tensions will tear the party apart.

Monday, May 15, 2006

bee season

Whether you like your bee stories anthropomorphicized
If the colony were preparing an emergency queen, she would hatch as soon as possible. The virgin queen who bursts from her cell first rests a moment. Then amid the buzz and the hum of the hive a sound enraptures her. It is a sound like the quack of a duck, the piping of another virgin. It awakens a royal bloodlust and she quickly searches out her rivals. To find them, she pips, a sound produced by vibrating against the wax. Instinct demands of the unhatched queens that they pip back, playing a deadly game of marco polo with their soon to be murderer. She rips into their cells from the side so that they are helpless, turning their wax beds into wax tombs. With the time of her birth the princess claims her queen right. With the blood of her sisters she seals it. The workers will drag their bodies from the hive and cast them aside.
or you like them all scientific-like
The dancing bees, half a dozen, were rotating in place, counter-clockwise on the surface of the swarm, pausing at the same spot in each circuit to execute an exaggerated abdominal waggle. A score of other bees followed each one intently, pushing forward, nudging their heads close to the dancer's rear, "reading" the dance by sticking their antennae into the space directly behind the dancer's wings. "That's where they can best perceive the sound of the wings' vibration," Camazine said. "They need to follow several circuits in order to get the message." Dancers signal the direction of a site by the way they face when they waggle, he went on, orienting themselves by the sun if they can see it, or by gravity if they are in shade. They indicate distance by the alacrity of their circuits: fast means a site is nearby; slow means it's farther away. The bees dancing now were facing about 5:00 from the position of the sun — roughly the direction of the north box, by Camazine's calculation — but their circuits were relatively slow, each requiring about three seconds to complete. "They're probably dancing for a site in those mountains over there," Camazine said, pointing. Then he culled these "rogues," plucking them off the swarm with thumb and forefinger and dunking them through the plastic lid of a Del Taco soft-drink cup. "We don't want them to interfere with what we're trying to look at," he said.

I sure do like beeses.

(bee beard photo taken from second article, published at PSU's Research magazine.
bee photo taken by David Cappaert. It is for sale here.)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Evolution of Dancing

As brought to you by Judson Laipply. (6 minutes)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

All politics is local

Tip O'Neill's most famous saying was "All politics is local." Richard Cheney has taken that counsel to heart by attacking Russia for being non-democratic. Naturally, because he wouldn't be our own Dick Cheney if he didn't also throw in a little Darth Vader cha-cha dance step, he visited Kazakstan on the very same trip. Although the injustice and irrationality of these attacks on Russia completely flummoxes the Russian specialists, this is a primarily a U.S. domestic political maneuver. The GOPs need some enemies, and they need them fast. The immigrant issues hasn't worked out so well, and people have started not to care so much about the dread homosexual menace. So, let's bring out the stuffed Russkie bear and start to fling darts at it.

Kazakstan is not the worst place in the world, as far as semi-tyrannical states go. Political parties and the press are tightly controlled. However, it's much better than its neighbor, Uzbekistan, where political opponents are boiled alive instead of just jailed. But Kazakstan is absolutely no worse than Russia, and its only virtue is that not one American in a thousand could find it on a map, nor do most Americans care one little bit that the U.S. and Britain are allied with it or the monstrous regime in Uzbekistan.

Mentioning Russia stirs primal memories in many Americans, however. They remember Ronald Reagan telling the Gorbachov to "tear down this wall!" Cheney hopes to tap into that feeling. It will probably work -- it's not hard to pull fast ones with countries where Americans are both ignorant and indifferent.

In addition, note that Kazakstan is the last oil-producing nation that is probably able to increase its production capacity, so this visit could certainly be indicative of continuing plans for military action against Iran. It's not hard to imagine Cheney requesting that Kazakstan be willing to step up production in the event that we attack Iran, and Iran responds by mining the Straits of Hormuz., thereby constricting the international oil supply.

(Photo courtesy of Ibiblio's Yiddish-Hebrew-English-German-Russian-French Picture Dictionary.
No, I'm not kidding.)

Mirabile dictu - the oil companies are not passive victims

The Josef Hebert at the AP has a timely story out. The oil companies have been artificially restricting supply to indirectly raise gas prices.
Leaked Oil Industry Memo Suggests Bid to Curb Refinery Output
by H. Josef Hebert

Even as the Bush administration cites a lack of refineries as a cause of energy shortages, oil industry documents show that five years ago companies were looking for ways to cut refinery output to raise profits.

The internal memos involving several major oil companies were released Thursday by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., whose office obtained them from a whistleblower. He said the materials did not necessarily reflect any illegal activities but said some of them "sure look very anticompetitive."

In response, Red Cavaney, the president of an industry trade group, said: "This finger pointing six years into the past serves no useful purpose."

Wyden was turning the material over to the Governmental Affairs Committee, which plans hearings on oil industry practices and energy prices.

Tight gasoline supplies have been cited repeatedly by the industry and the White House as a primary reason for soaring gasoline prices this year.

While pump prices have eased recently, the cost of gasoline jumped an average of 31 cents a gallon nationwide during the seven weeks ending in mid-May, according to government figures presented at a House hearing Thursday.

Because it takes about four years to build a large refinery, planning for a new plant would have had to begin by the mid-1990s, energy experts say. There has not been a new refinery build in the United States in 25 years; in the meantime, dozens of small ones have closed.
By delaying the refinery building until there were more market pressures, there will also be an incentive to bypass environmental requirements when the refineries are built. That's my prediction, in any case.

I am glad for the high prices and the market forces that will force people to conserve more and hopefully make research into alternative energy sources. However, when a fraction of the high prices is a just simple wealth transfer from everyone to the oil companies, especially when they deliberately helped make the problem worse, I'm back with the group of lefties I ordinarily despise, the ones that are calling for price-gouging legislation.

This is a bad moment for law-making in America. There are real problems (disastrous war, global warming, terrorism, zero savings rates, peak oil scenario) and there are problems that do not threaten the nation (immigrants, national anthem in Spanish, drastically low Republican popularity, steady stream of Republican indictments). Little good can come of this combination, not with the weak and corrupt leadership in Congress and the White House eager to change the channel and resume their looting.

Office etiquette, new rules

Rule 1 - Do not refer to other co-workers absent from a meeting as "limber-dicked cocksuckers". Curse you, Deadwood.

Rule 2 - If you are a bearded fellow of a certain age, and the lyrics "My hump. My hump my hump my hump. My lovely lady bump" are in endless rotation in your head, it is not ok to sing them out loud. Curse you, Black Eyed Peas.

Rule 3 - No sandals for men. Stop it right now.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Gosh, please don't send me any more harsh emails

Richard Cohen, rebel without a clue, writes about the angry response to two recent columns of his, one criticizing Al Gore's recent movie, the other criticizing Stephen Colbert for his comedy routine at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. He was apparently quite disturbed to find some 3,500 emails, some of which used pejorative language. Although he didn't read hardly any of the emails, their mere existence makes him conclude that it's curtains for the Democrats in the 2008 presidential election.

But the message in this case truly is the medium. The e-mails pulse in my queue, emanating raw hatred. This spells trouble -- not for Bush or, in 2008, the next GOP presidential candidate, but for Democrats. The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before -- back in the Vietnam War era. That's when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated.

The hatred is back. I know it's only words now appearing on my computer screen, but the words are so angry, so roiled with rage, that they are the functional equivalent of rocks once so furiously hurled during antiwar demonstrations. I can appreciate some of it. Institution after institution failed America -- the presidency, Congress and the press. They all endorsed a war to rid Iraq of what it did not have. Now, though, that gullibility is being matched by war critics who are so hyped on their own sanctimony that they will obliterate distinctions, punishing their friends for apostasy and, by so doing, aiding their enemies. If that's going to be the case, then Iraq is a war its critics will lose twice -- once because they couldn't stop it and once more at the polls.

This is an interesting ball of contentions, with key elements founded on half-truths.

It's true that the anti-war wing of the Democratic party was ascendant during the 1972 election, and American voters weren't ready for it. George McGovern's campaign was widely seen as too radical for the politics of the time. However, McGovern was the chosen candidate of Nixon. Nixon's henchmen sabotaged the moderate Democratic front-runner, Edward Muskie, using a series of dirty tricks early in the primaries. When Muskie broke down in tears during a press conference, he had to withdraw from the race. This was a highly engineered outcome by Nixon, and it worked perfectly. This is very well-known history, and it should be at the fingertips of a Washington Post columnist, particularly an aged ex-liberal like Cohen.

In addition, some things that weren't arranged by Nixon nevertheless turned out to be disastrous for the Democratic campaign, such as when McGovern's first vice-presidential choice was revealed to have been institutionalized and given shock-therapy. McGovern quickly found a replacement, but the damage was immeasurable, as it would be in any presidential campaign.

Cohen tries to paint a picture of an seething, teeth-gnashing rabble, intent on making the war in Iraq a matter for litmus tests and bitter, internecine battles. It won't work out that way.

With Iraq, the anti-war campaign was present from the beginning, and it has grown steadily stronger. Currently, 68% of Americans think it was wrong to go to war with Iraq. Compare this to Vietnam, where opposition to war took more than twice as many year to build to significant levels -- levels much less than 68%. (in 2000, only 60% would say that we should stayed out of Vietnam.). While the anti-Vietnam-war movement was inescapably part of our late 60's/early 70's culture, the movement itself was a failure. It was never directly responsible for the U.S. withdrawing from Vietnam.

Cohen wants to make a simple parallel: opposition to one war caused the 1972 Democratic candidate to lose an election, therefore opposition to our current war will cause the future Democratic candidate to lose their election. Hmm. El perico dice lo que sabe, pero no sabe lo que dice. You can't just manipulate symbols blindly and come up with conclusions like this. The Iraq war was sold on a pack of lies. They told us it would be fast, cheap, and painless. Instead, it's an painful, interminable quagmire, and you can't distract the American public from these essential facts. You certainly cannot scare the anti-war movement by threatening them with some unknown Republican triumphing in 2008. First, these are the conclusions of an purblind idiot, so, not a good road map. Second, doing the right thing means that you're not gaming out your political positions now in the hopes of scoring a presidency later.

Also, note the elision of subject when he says "they" endorsed the war. Who's they, white man? You, Richard Cohen, endorsed the Iraq war, and you also insulted those who were against it. So, fuck you, idiot, you were completely wrong then. Trying to hide your own complicity in this national folly just makes you look like a craven jackass. I thought the war was a stupid idea in 1992, primarily because of the ethnic tensions that would be released. I was never in favor of the war, and I watched in anguish as our country took this fatal step, one that will take decades to recover from. There's no comfort taken now that 68% of America has caught up with me. I just wish others didn't have to die so that some of my fellow Americans can feel tough.

Incidently, what kind of lace-embroidered boarding school for fancy boys did all of the WaPo reporters attend? That is, why are they so shocked by swear words, particularly in email? Do they not get HBO? Were none of them on the net in any way before the last few years? I mean, you don't to be tricked into seeing the goatse image to realize that there's all kinds of rootin' tootin' harsh language and images out here. Reagan was president in his first term when I was first called a demon-spawn shit-for-brains baby-killing homo-loving liberal faggot.

Sticks and stones, fellas. Sticks and stones.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Performance reviews

I have left one company that has written goals and objectives, which are evaluated yearly and turned into a bonus figure ... for another company that has written goals and objectives, evaluated yearly and turned into a bonus figure. I couldn't be happier about it. Why?

The second company doesn't have forced ranking (FR), aka Forced Distribution, while the first one did. With forced ranking, employees are grouped into pre-sized buckets, which HR usually gives neutral numbers like 5..1 or neutral names like "Superior" to "Requires Improvement". The names hardly matter, since they're functional categories that everyone understands: "highly paid" down to "about to be fired."

There are many complaints about FR (use if you don't want to register)
Those who are opposed to forced ranking suggest that the process may:
  • Be detrimental to morale. We want high-performing workplaces, yet we also want people to enjoy coming to work. Can we have both?

  • Emphasize individual performance at the expense of team performance. Employees will be less willing to "pitch in" and help others. Completing individual assignments becomes more important.

  • Promote competition. If employees are ranked, will there be less cooperation?

  • Invite litigation. An important concern, this will be addressed later in the article.
Many of these objections are valid. In particular, people have pointed to Enron's "rank and yank" policy as an indirect cause of its later flaming demise. Here's a pre-crash article that buys the whole thing, saying that this management style at Enron rewards high-performers, and encourages "everyone to work harder and smarter." It's a truly remarkable booster article to be written about a company that would be valued at pennies per share just a few months later. The terrific documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room touches on "rank and yank", and it's covered in great detail in the book that the documentary was based on, Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron. I recommend them both highly.

There's nothing wrong with ranking employees, of course, and there's not much wrong with firing employees who aren't working out according to the local standards. What is evil is
  1. requiring that the employees be artificially forced into buckets of arbitrary sizes.
  2. iterating this ranking process repeatedly, especially if it leads to mandatory dismissals.
  3. pretending that the ranking is entirely objective.
For point one, Forced Ranking is pseudo-science. You can grab 100 oranges randomly off a tree, measure them by any standard you like, and they'll fit some normal curve. But if you grab 100 oranges out of a bin at a supermarket, it's no longer a random set. Those oranges have passed several filters: those that were picked, those that had the "right" orange color, those of the right size, etc., etc. Some of those causes are interlinked, but the ultimate conclusion is: they're not random oranges that arrive at the supermarket. If you still don't believe me, check out the orange bins at a higher-end grocery store, then toddle over to the cheapest supermarket in your area.

Your fellow employees are not randomly chosen, either, just like the oranges that finally appear in a supermarket. Their resume reflects years of history of a particular type of behavior. The resume was compared, accurately or not, to a job description. They were picked for the job after a series of interviews and tests. Once hired, they discovered what the job really is — they didn't run screaming out the door. They're not random. There's no reason to assume that they're suitably ranked along a bell curve, especially when FR is usually done in the group of people under a single manager, so groups of 5-20 people.

The second evil aspect in Forced Ranking is the iteration. Many businesses can likely be improved by ranking all the employees and eliminating some fraction of the lowest-ranked people. Once. If you're actually firing people each year who are in the bottom bucket, then the people that appear in the bottom bucket this year were considered adequate the previous year. How does that make sense? Were you ranking them incorrectly last year or this year?

This leads directly to the third evil side of Forced Rankings. Why are these objective rankings? Very, very few jobs can be ranked objectively, unless you're a paid Olympic sprinter. And since you're starting with numbers that are tainted by management and personal bias, how is it possible that these groups will magically align themselves into a bell curve? In some cases, is the manager even worthy to judge the employee?

Forced Ranking is all crap. It should be abandoned as a cruel hoax pretending to be a scientific management theory.

Forced Ranking probably appeals to MBA types who think they can apply quality improvement methods to people the way that they can to making machine washers. It seems highly numerate and "scientific". The difference is that the little metal disks don't feel fear, and the cruelty of FR is that you're forcing an arbitrary portion of your staff to live with fear of losing their job.

(Image of bell curve taken from

Wahoo Christ

In honor of baseball season, I bring you... Wahoo Christ . Several years old now, but still funny.

Derf City appears in the Bay Area papers, but I seem to be unable to find him regularly.

Separation phase beginning

Crooks and Liars uncovered an amazing apology from a conservative LA radio announcer, who has abruptly decided that Bush is the worst president ever. He gives a very long list of his complaints about Bush, summarizing at one point with some remarks about guts:
Katrina, Harriet Myers, The Dubai Port Deal, skyrocketing gas prices, shrinking wages for working people, staggering debt, astronomical foreign debt, outsourcing, open borders, contempt for the opinion of the American people, the war on science, media manipulation, faith based initives, a cavalier attitude toward fundamental freedoms-- this President has run the most arrogant and out-of-touch administration in my lifetime, perhaps, in any American’s lifetime.

You can make a case that Abraham Lincoln did what he had to do, the public be damned. If you roll the dice on your gut and you’re right, history remembers you well. But, when your gut led you from one business failure to another, when your gut told you to trade Sammy Sosa to the Cubs, and you use the same gut to send our sons and daughters to fight and die in a distraction from the real war on terror, then history will and should be unapologetic in its condemnation.
Looks like old Stephen Colbert's meme farm is ready for harvest. It'll be a bumper crop this year.

This guy is still angry at the Democrats, but now he concedes that his dislike for the Dems made him unable to see Bush for who he was:
[A]ccept my apology for allowing partisanship to blind me to an obvious truth; our President is incapable of the tasks he is charged with. I almost feel sorry for him. He is clearly in over his head.
All very true. Like so many other incompetent people, Bush has made a difficult set of situations immeasurably worse for the people who have to clean up afterwards.

The Crooks and Liars piece has the audio, too.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Crispy lame duck

This post on Bush's predicament pretty much covers everything:
A thousand days from the end of his time in the Oval Office, George W. Bush seems finally to be paying the costs of the divisiveness, fear, lies, and extremism (religious and otherwise) that he has so successfully spread during the last five-plus years.
He'll look back on the speech by Colbert when they were a measure of relatively good times. At the moment, I'll give a 5% chance that Bush resigns early. He's been a quitter for his entire life. Soon, this terribly sheltered man will discovering what it means when literally billions of people hate you. Once that starts to penetrate his bubble, it won't take much longer before he realizes that even his dog is struggling to get away from him.

(Photo by J Scott Apple White -- AP)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Where have I been?

Good question. I've been settling into my intense new job, and I've been working through some serious, depressing family issues. I have a few tech toys that I've been playing with, and my better half and I were finishing some important things. And in terms of the political news and analysis that usually I enjoy, I frankly had to take a break from reading about politics after our president thought it might pep up his poll ratings if he flirted with a nuclear war with Iran, just so he could look tough. No, no, no, fuck you and hell no.

So, when I've actually been online recently, I've been distracting myself with assorted flash video games. (My favorite, Curveball, is pure catnip for a former ping pong and baseball fan like me. The physics is modeled quite well: with a high-friction paddle and extremely viscous air. If you don't know what I mean, just play it. It's fun, although you won't really see it until you hit the ball with a moving paddle.)

To sum up: for those of you who know me, hiya, I'm back and I will try to post more often.

And for those of you who keep coming here looking for the V for Vendetta script, would you please buy the fucking thing already. At least I didn't mention nude Natalie Portman.


Missing the point

My favorite imbecile, Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, paused briefly from considering his magnificence:
First, let me state my credentials: I am a funny guy.
to review Steven Colbert's speech at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner last weekend. He was not amused:
Colbert was not just a failure as a comedian but rude.
Ah, what a big happy universe we live in, full of shiny things that Cohen doesn't understand. Well, I was never able to explain Doonesbury to my dog, but let's give this one a shot. Colbert did a twenty-minute comedy act attacking the press, and it was utterly magnificent. After six years of covering for Bush, six years of declining to pursue his Administration's never-ending search for increased executive power, six years of fatuously covering an aggressive, dangerous and profoundly stupid foreign policy, six years of pretending that this absurd, ignorant and petulant man-child merited even a nail-paring's worth of respect, the press in that room deserved everything that Colbert said to them. I hope it was intensely uncomfortable for them.

The White House press corps were, as a group, enablers. They treated Gore with contempt, while praising the sincerity and genuineness of George W. Bush, the least qualified man for president in the last hundred years. They covered vicious lies about Kerry as if they were volleys at a tennis game. They covered the ridiculous lies that led this nation into war as an interesting domestic political strategy, like the the cool point of view that sociopathic journalists might have taken while covering Kristallnacht: a fascinating political ploy observed in exotic Germany. They were stenographers when we needed analysis, cheerleaders when we needed skeptics.

The people in that room probably thought they were in for another self-congratulatory "you're so cool" homage, like the inane nicknames that the fratboy-in-chief uses to infantilize them. They would have expected in-jokes, a little song, a little dance, but no seltzer -- please -- and nothing heavy. Their internal surprise when they realized Colbert's real target must have been immense. What Cohen manifestly does not understand in his column about the speech is that Bush was always a secondary target of Stephen Colbert's deep irony. The press and the military were implicitly lampooned in every arrogant, fatheaded pose Colbert struck. That's where the venom was aimed: at the intelligent, competent people who have treated politics as a game, thereby enabling these crooks and liars, these murderers of our fine young soldiers.

When the jokes were personal, the press sat on their hands:
But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!
But when there was no clear target, no one they could offend by laughing, they didn't squirm, they laughed out loud, even though this was well past the uncomfortable part of the speech:
Jesse Jackson is here, the Reverend. Haven't heard from the Reverend in a little while. I had him on the show. Very interesting and challenging interview. You can ask him anything, but he's going to say what he wants, at the pace that he wants. It's like boxing a glacier.

Enjoy that metaphor, by the way, because your grandchildren will have no idea what a glacier is.
Both jokes are just as funny, and both are just as barbed in their despair over the world as it is. The different response to the two jokes speaks worlds, as does the general absence of coverage.

In any case, it's easy to go overboard while analyzing comedy, so I'll stop now. Here's the transcript. Here's the video, at least until the lawyers are unleashed. If you have the slightest interest in politics or comedy, watch it.

Two of my favorite comedians, Bill Hicks and Andy Kaufman, were justly famed for doing acts that went beyond straight comedy and into areas that made their audiences deeply uncomfortable. Colbert's act easily ranks with their greatest performances. For all three men, giving fierce, uncompromising performances like these are one of the bravest and truest things they can do. I am deeply grateful to Colbert (#711) for having had the professional nerve to speak forthrightly to the larger audience, and to avoid going for the easy laughs with the pampered folks he was addressing. Many, many fine comedians would have buckled under that pressure, but Colbert was a mensch.

Writing in a blog named after an obscene jest by a jester who was himself acting out of deepest love for his country, I cannot help but be pleased. Colbert's performance was in the finest tradition of all: the tradition that gleefully and loudly calls bullshit whenever they see it.

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