More on creeping theocracy in the Park Service

They’re selling an extreme young-earth book at the Grand Canyon explaining how it’s only a few thousand years old, and have prevented park Rangers from publishing a rebuttal of said book.

Fortunately, a rebuttal by an actual geologist is available online. That some religious kooks believe the world is 4,000 years old is one thing; they’re certainly free to do that. However, the Park Service has no business peddling this anti-science pablum from its gift shops, even along side real analysis. It lends respect to a point of view that deserves none.

Dept. of Creeping Theocracy

The National Park service has caved to right-wingers who have been complaining for years that the video at the Lincoln Memorial included footage from gay-rights and pro-choice rallies held there. Said footage has been removed, and replaced with shots of Promise Keeper rallies and pro-Gulf War demonstrations held elsewhere.


Good News, but it’s not over yet

The Second US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the government may not arrest US Citizens and hold them as “enemy combatants” without charge and without access to an attorney. The government will of course appeal; it’ll end up in front of SCOTUS before it’s all over, but this ruling is encouraging.

(Update) It’s like a one-two punch for the Constitution! The 9th Circuit ruled today that the Gitmo prisoners could have access to lawyers and the courts as well.

Speaking for the court, Justice Stephen Reinhardt said:

Even in times of national emergency –indeed, particularly in such times — it is the obligation of the Judicial Branch to ensure the preservation of our constitutional values and to prevent the Executive Branch from running roughshod over the rights of citizens and aliens alike,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the majority.

Dept. of Equal Time for Equal Idiocy

Those tired of me ranting about the foibles of my home state will be pleased to see that I’m not above calling out silly shit in my adoptive one.

Joanne Webb, a former fifth-grade teacher and executive board member of the Burleson Chamber of Commerce, now faces criminal charges after selling a vibrator to an undercover cop at a Tupperware-style party focused on sexual products.

Apparently, if she’d marked them “novelties,” it would have been okay, but since these were expressedly for sexual purposes, they’re EVIL and ILLEGAL.

What the Fuck?

Cringely on eVoting, again

Robert Cringely has another great piece on the problems of electronic voting — which are really those of expecting technology to just fix the problem instead of realizing how it introduces a whole new set of issues.

Don’t miss his description of how simply, efficiently, reliably, and cheaply Canada handles voting.

Because We CARE and shit.

We at Heathen wish to point out the Onion’s Tips on Responsible Holiday Drinking, which include:

  • Always drink from the bottle labeled “XXX.” The bottle with the skull-and-crossbones on the front is poison.
  • Drinking more than seven nights a week is not just irresponsible, it’s impossible.
  • If someone you know is too drunk to drive, demand that he let you have his car keys. If he refuses, pull out a gun and demand the car keys again. This also works with people who are not drunk, and whom you do not know.

And, of course:

  • Never drink with Tyler Schneeklov.

Keep in mind that you may be someone’s “Tyler Schneeklov”.

Damn spammers

Erin pointed out that I’ve gotten my first comment spammers (since removed). If it keeps up, I’ll have to take care it somehow — registration or disabling comments altogether. Ick.

Why Home Depot Doesn’t Get It

I build web systems for businesses. I’ve been working with and around the Internet since before most folks knew it existed, and I’ve been working with corporate web systems since 1997. Most of you know this.

In the pre-boom days, we frequently had to actually build the business case for putting corporate assets and information online. People didn’t quite understand how to get payoff out of this new thing, so lots of silly ideas got tried. Generally, though, some best practices surfaced, and they continue to be followed by companies who Get It.

One of these very important maxims is simple: don’t get in the way of a user making a purchase, or finding out if what you have is what your browser wants. This is particularly important and applicable to large retail companies like Home Depot. Tell people what you have, and how much it costs, and they’ll come see you. This is the “internet as ur-catalog” school of thought, and it’s pretty much the rule — even if you don’t do it, everyone else IS.

On first glance, it would look a lot like their site is on the right track, and in no small part it is. You can find information on the makes and models they carry, and even compare features and functions. However, a marketing decision somewhere in their adminisphere has robbed them of true high marks.

Home Depot is their mainline brand, but they also have the higher-end stores called Home Depot Expo Design Centers. Expo carries the fancy brands, and is much more of a service provider and design center, as opposed to the ur-hardware-vendor that the conventional Depot stores are. You can’t get lumber at an Expo, but you can’t get a $4,000 DCS range at Home Depot. There’s some overlap, I’m sure, but mostly they’re distinct (unlike, say, the bizarre brand strategy at General Motors). Perhaps to emphasize this distinction — and to avoid cannibalization — “nicer” appliances aren’t available at Depot, but can be easily had at Expo. There is, in effect, a “ceiling” at work — if it’s too nice, Depot doesn’t carry it.

Herein lies our tale: Last night, we discovered (while making our second-ever fruitcake — don’t laugh, it’s delicious) that our oven had gone on the fritz. The cooktop works fine, and the whole box is getting power, so some sort of ignitor or valve has gone the way of all flesh (and, apparently, oven parts). Rather than spend the couple-hundred this will doubtless cost (between parts and labor and service-calls), Erin and I are going to shift from “new couch” mode to “new oven” mode.

I’ve done some simple research in the past; I specified all sorts of fancy bits for the first house I tried to buy (longtime Heathen know this story), and ever since I moved into the Treehouse I’ve been meaning to replace the basic, no-frills range the place came with. We’ve got a list of features we want:

  • Gas. ‘Lectricity is no good.
  • It needs to be stainless steel.
  • There’s no point in doing this without including a convection oven.
  • We want a “super-burner” of > 12,000 BTUs.
  • A simmer burner capable of < 1,000 BTU heat would be nice, too.
  • Self-cleaning, natch.

I pointed my browser to Home Depot and started looking. As it happens, their selection isn’t terribly extensive. They have a festival of Maytags plus what looks like a single model of JennAirs in different colors (why the model numbers vary by color is sort of odd, but that’s another rant). I quickly found almost the right one: a JennAir JGR-8775-QDS. It met all the critieria above, but lacked a convection oven. There was no evidence that Home Depot even had a JennAir with a convection oven, in fact, which struck me as intensely odd.

Odder still was the fact that Erin, searching at the same time at the Lowe’s site, found precisely what we wanted: a JGR-8875-QDS, which is the same model with a convection oven. Of course, Lowe’s price for the non-convection model was more than $200 more than Home Depot’s on the same item, so we figured their price on our target model was similarly high.

Now, had I been actually IN the Home Depot, I expect this is where a salesman might have noticed my interest, asked me questions, and figured out that what I wanted they actually sold — but in their upmarket store, not in the “regular” Home Depot. On the web, however, there was no indication that Expo even existed at all, so it appears that Lowe’s is the only place to get the range we want. (This isn’t true, of course, but Home Depot does nothing to make sure we know that.)

Since I’m reasonably savvy about these things, and also since I knew Expo existed, I did a web search and found their site. Of course, this did me very little good: Expo’s site is a disaster. You can do some shopping, but only for small items like blenders. There is no provision at all — at least that I can find — for browsing their appliance lines, something I’d expect any such store to have. Fancy stoves are things people shop for kind of intensely; stepping in the way of that process is a bad idea.

The madness goes on, however. At, I found one of the most misguided things I’ve seen in years: they’ve gone to the trouble of digitizing their catalogs so you can browse them by virtually turning pages. This absurd and useless feature isn’t even hosted at the main site; it opens in a new window. It features essentially no search tools, and in any case does not even emulate a comprehensive catalog (which could be at least quasi-useful). It’s as if Best Buy digitized their Sunday insert on a grand scale. I do web development for a living; this kind of thing isn’t cheap. I’d love to have the salesman who closed this deal hawking MY services.

Finally, I located a phone number for a local Expo center — in the fifth distinct browser window their window-happy site opened for me (yet another rant; there’s very little reason to do this, in particular when the windows point to THE SAME SITE). When I got someone on the phone (a very helpful man named Ciro), he was able to tell me that yes, indeed, they do stock the model we want, and that it’s $200 cheaper than Lowe’s, and that we can have one at most two to three weeks after we ask for it, probably sooner.

Erin and I will almost certainly buy this stove from Expo. It’s what we want, and it’s cheaper than Lowe’s. However, Home Depot very nearly lost this business because they’ve imposed a ridiculous firewall of sorts between their two brands, and furthermore because the Expo site itself — for people lucky enough to find it — turns out to be worse than useless. What HD should do:

  1. First, include information about Expo brands and lines as part of the Home Depot site. Don’t make me guess that it might be possible to buy what I want from you, because most people won’t go to the trouble I did.
  2. Put Expo’s lines and brands on the Expo site, for the love of Mike, so people can see what you’re selling. Again, don’t put barriers in the way of sales. You don’t have to sell online; just show me what you have.
  3. Allow HD site searches to branch to the Expo site (going the other way doesn’t make as much sense, but how can preventing the upsell be a good thing?) as required; the perfect situation would involve the HD search returning links to Expo products as appropriate.
  4. Hire someone competant to manage the Internet strategy across all brands.
  5. Get rid of the ridiculous paged catalog minisite, and fire whoever bought it for you.

Of course, that’s free advice, and they’ll probably never see it. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Miami is a police state

Salon coverage of the police riot against unarmed and peaceful protesters last month. The police conduct is being heralded as the new way to handle protest — i.e., overwhelming aggression, arrest everyone protesting, shoot riot-control rounds at those already retreating, and generally doing their best to quash any real demonstration or dissent.

This Is Not America. What is happening to my country?

Dept. of Interesting Contradictions

The headline in the Houston Chronicle this morning trumpet’s President Bush’s promise that Saddam Hussein will receive a fair trial.

I find this interesting, since this administration has been fairly aggressive about its right to deny precisely that to US citizens it deems “enemy combatants;” I wonder why Saddam rates better treatment than our own people?


Memo to the WFAA news production staff: always check the background of your lockerroom footage before broadcast. ALWAYS. (3.2mb MPG)

Dept. of Yellow Journalism

A week or so ago, the formerly decent but apparently now deeply lightweight PC Magazine ran a column by Lance Ulanoff crowing about how OS X had a vulnerability, and that this meant that it wasn’t any better than Windows after all. It’s a poorly written whinefest, really, full of misconceptions and perhaps even deliberate misrepresentation — either that, or Ulanoff is grossly unqualified to author such a piece.

Predictably, there was great hew and cry over the article on technical sites. (Given that PCMag has published John Dvorak for years — sort of a technological Bill O’Reilly — I wonder if this wasn’t their point, but never mind that.) There have been rebuttals great and small, but the best is almost certainly this piece by Richard Forno, a security specialist, author, and former Chief Security Officer at Network Solutions.

This would be funnier if I hadn’t used an Amex

Slightly haggard Christmas tree Erin’s present came today, so I went to Walgreen’s.

  • Slightly haggard four-foot artificial tree: $14.99
  • Moderately cheesy 7-light star: $7.99
  • Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer “Abominable Snowman” ornament: $5.99
  • Gold bead garland far too long for tree: $1.99
  • Box of old-fashioned glass Christmas balls: $1.99
  • Box of ornament hooks: $.69
  • Look on Erin’s face when she discovered we actually had a tree after all: priceless.

Why I Have The Best Girlfriend

Received in email:

From: Erin Willis 
Subject: invitation
Date: December 12, 2003 12:30:29 PM CST
To: Chet 

who - Chet Farmer, Erin Willis & Bob
where - living room couch
what - Two Towers
when - 7:30 pm
why - I love you, duh.

RSVP by 2:30. 

Dow 10,000, again

Today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 10,008.16; it’s the first 10K+ closing number since May 24, 2002, and only 15% off its all-time high of 11,722.98 (in the halcyon days of January, 2000).

Of course, the poor NASDAQ didn’t do quite as well. It closed up only 2%, at 1,942.32, which is still more than 60% off its high point of 5,048.62, set on March 10, 2000. That’s three days before my thirtieth birthday, which sort of explains the car, really.

They may have beaten us at football…

…but at least my alma mater isn’t on academic probation.

Auburn University was placed on 12 months probation Tuesday by a national accrediting agency that said the school violated rules regarding the school’s board of trustees and intercollegiate athletics. School officials said they were “disappointed and surprised” by the ruling, which is one step short of revoking Auburn’s accreditation. Lack of accreditation would result in the loss of millions of dollars in federal funding, including federal financial aid. Montgomery Advertiser

I mean, the Tide has been on NCAA probation for a few years now, but at least the academic side of the house is in order.

Really, really, really big trees

Van Pelt photo of enormous fir Erin and I heard a great feature on NPR this morning about, well, really big trees in the Pacific Northwest. The reporter followed tree hunter Bob Van Pelt on his quest to identify and measure a giant fir he’d seen a few years before.

The tree in question had in fact fallen due to a fungal infection, but the statistics are still astounding: it had a trunk circumference of more than FORTY TWO FEET. That’s the broken stump at right; NPR reporter Ketzel Levine is about halfway up the stump on the left side in a green slicker.

There’s a summary of the feature at NPR, of course, which also includes a slide show of 8 other giant trees. These things can be literally thousands of years old. Astounding.

Perhaps the most disturbing political blog yet makes me vaguely uncomfortable. However, read on, since a bit down the page she holds forth on the, er, “humpability” of the Democratic candidates.

Senator Kerry seems to get the worst treatment:

The minute he rode the motorcycle onto Jay Leno’s set, Kerry nixed any chance of nabbing red-hot, under-35 poontang again in this lifetime. Gas up the Suburban, and godspeed to the local T.G.I. Friday’s for Mudslide Nite, Senator – ’cause soccer mom snatch is the only cocktail left on your menu.

Of Rep. Kucinich, she says:

No doubt the ladies love Cool Denny, what with his elegant bearing and rakish, rugged good looks, but I’m troubled by his veganism. If he won’t eat meat, will he still eat ME? Rovey knows just how I like my oeufs whipped up – scrambled and shirred and over easy, and I just don’t reckon I could go without now. Once you’ve had Rovey’s bacon, fakin’ just won’t do.

But the finest lines are reserved for Ambassador Moseley Braun:

Well, I can’t really comment, because I’ve never surrendered to the sweet strains of Sappho (at least not without a few shots of Jaegermeister and a Delta Kappa Epsilon running a video camera, and The Chipster swore to me that he destroyed every copy of those tapes so you can’t prove ANYTHING!), but I’m sure with a couple of roofies and a Phranc album on the turntable, I’d likely pick her over Hadassah Lieberman.

Hard to argue with that.

Astounding, and yet not.

Wolfowitz, et. al., have announced that due to vital security interests, the next round of reconstruction contracts for Iraq will go only to US companies and companies based in countries that supported the war.

Considering how clear it is that we cannot run or reconstruct Iraq on our own, and that we need international support — real support, not a smattering of Italian troops — this strikes me as a really, really bad call. It’s obviously vindictive, and the stated reason is blatently disingenuous. Neither of these paints us in a very flattering light.

Of course, there’s plenty of commentary. Talking Point Memo includes a bit of the actual document involved, which is interesting. The New York Times coverage will of course expire eventually, but it’s there nevertheless.

Virgina AG to SCOTUS: Drop Dead

The Attorney General of Virginia is seeking to craft a new law that complies with Lawrence v. Texas, but also plans to keep the existing law on the books despite the fact that it can’t be enforced. The reasoning is mind-boggling:

Removing the state’s more than two-century-old law could doom pending court cases involving people charged or convicted under current Virginia law, members of the commission said. “The reason we’re going to do that is right now there are several cases working through the court systems in Virginia,” said Kimberly Hamilton, executive director of the Virginia Crime Commission. “The [Attorney General’s] Office is going to deal with that on an appellate level.”

So they can’t invalidate the current law — which has been struck down by Lawrence already — because there are people charged under it? How’s that again?

Well, it’s not quite as absurd as it sounds. The law in question is the same one prohibiting public sex, a prohibition the high court sees as legitimate. Of course, that’s not the only agenda at work. State House delegate David Albo sums it up:

A lot of people don’t agree that certain sex acts should be legal in Virginia. Some people don’t want to capitulate to a decision by the Supreme Court they consider to be completely wrong.

Unfortunately for Albo, the Supremes think otherwise.

The AG does his best to muddy the issue as one of states-rights and an overreaching judiciary; one hopes that few are fooled by such grandstanding:

“The people of Virginia have a right to say that they do not want these acts performed in public and that such acts, if performed against someone’s will, are criminal,” said [Virginia Attorney General Jerry W.] Kilgore in a written statement.

Granted, of course; that public sex may be prohibited isn’t even at issue, and obviously many acts legal for consenting participants become illegal when done without that consent. He’s parading out the most simplistic of straw men.

“As one who believes that the courts are to interpret and not create law, I disagree with the ruling and am always disappointed when a court undermines Virginia’s right to pass legislation that reflects the views and values of our citizens.”

Whatever, Jerry. Any first-year law student should be able to tell you that the right of a state to pass laws that reflect said “views and values” does not mean they may pass laws in violation of the Constitution. What if the “views and values” include second-class status for African-Americans? Clearly, the issue isn’t as simple as laws reflecting the will of the majority. We have a Constitution to protect our liberties even from the tyranny of that majority. Even if you reject the notion of a Constitutional right to privacy (as established in Griswold v. Connecticut, which held that it really was okay to buy birth control), surely the explicit Equal Protection clauses apply.

All quotes from this Moonie Washington Times story.

Slacktivist on Left Behind

If you’re followed any of the links I’ve posted to Slacktivist, you know he’s a clever, witty sort. He’s also a Christian, and not of the knee-jerk Fundamentalist right-winger sort, either.

Lately, he’s been writing a series of entries analyzing the extraordinarily popular Left Behind series of books. The books purport to be “Christian thrillers,” and deal with events that happen in the End Times, after all the good people have been taken to Heaven (hence the title). They are, of course, unadulterated crap, on a number of levels. Slacktivist, though, hits them where it hurts: right in the dogma.

He points out again and again how badly wrong LeHaye and Jenkins have it based on honest-to-God (literally) theological research. His ongoing point is how frighteningly misguided these books are, and how they fuel decidedly wrongheaded notions of Christianity, at least as he (and the rest of us not on the far right) sees it. His latest entry on the subject quotes a Mennonite theologian, who says:

Ultimately, it is not [LeHaye and Jenkins’] interpretation of the end times that troubles me so much as their interpretation of Christianity. It is devoid of any real theology, or substantial Christology, or any ethics that are recognizably Christian. This is a vision of unredeemed Christianity. Loren L. Johns

Ouch. But Slacktivist goes further:

L&J present a political perspective that is every bit as corrosive as their theological views. And that political perspective is being read and absorbed by millions of Americans. The political impact of L&J’s brand of dispensationalism is difficult to measure and difficult to overstate. It affects people’s attitudes toward religious pluralism, multilateral and international institutions, diplomacy and peacemaking. To give one specific example, adherents of L&J’s apocalyptic worldview are vocally opposed to the “road map” peace initiative in the Middle East. At a very basic level, this worldview opposes and undermines any long-term thinking, any sustained effort to make the world a better place — replacing the hope of redemption with a perverse longing for apocalypse.

He wraps with this, which is impossible not to love:

As such, L&J ultimately are like any given set of villains from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They want to open the Hellmouth and bring about the end of the world. Stopping them, as always, begins with research. So let’s send Xander out for donuts and get back to hitting the books.