Dept. of Science vs. Politics

The Guardian is reporting that the White House censored and edited an EPA report on global warming so much as to completely undermine the scientists’ findings, apparently because “global warming” isn’t part of the GOP platform.

It’s a shame how things like science can get in the way of politics, isn’t it?

Dept. of Amusing Bits of History

In the days and weeks ahead, I suspect we’ll hear calls for an independent counsel to investigate the Wilson/Plame affair. I’m just as certain that the GOP will insist that such a thing is not needed, that we can trust Ashcroft and his existing criminal investigation, and that there’s no reason to worry.

When they say that — and they will — consider these quotes from GOP legislators concerning possible campaign fundraising law violations and the conflicts of interest involved in the Justice Department investigating a sitting president. Then consider which is the greater sin: campaign finance violations, or outing a covert operative of the CIA?

More on Wilson/Plame Affair

Slacktivist — a fine site worth visiting frequently — has a nice rundown of the Administration’s efforts since the weekend. His post title says it all: “Smear, smear again.” Smearing Wilson is just a bit difficult, though, since he has served Democratic and Republican administrations with distinction, and was singled out for praise by the other President Bush.

PATRIOT just keeps on giving

The Feds are invoking PATRIOT in letters to journalists insisting that they retain all their materials related to the Adrian Lamo hacking case (Lamo gained notoriety for breaking into companies’ systems, and then offering to help fix the holes he exploited; Lamo turned himself in on September 9). An FBI spokesman stated that “all reporters who spoke with Lamo” should expect such letters.

This flies in the face of traditional subpoena power, and in fact may well be in violation of the DOJ’s own guidelines, not to mention New York law. Of course, that those so notified aren’t allowed to tell disclose that they’ve been contacted, so these actions by the Feds are only now coming to light. The best part may well be that they’re using clauses of the Act designed to apply to ISPs and the like, not journalists (the specific language is apparently “providers of electronic communication”). More coverage here.

This, at least, is encouraging: CIA Requests DOJ Investigate White House

After a long conversation at dinner when I suggested there was little to be optimistic about in the current political landscape, I came home to discover that the CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate the White House in the “let’s-blow-the-CIA-agent’s-cover” scandal I noted here months ago, and which the mainstream media essentially ignored. The CIA has no enforcment powers of its own, but it surely has done its own investigation or it wouldn’t be hassling Herr Ashcroft. Of course, emnity between the CIA and 1600 Pennsylvania is no secret; the spooks from Langley have been somewhat marginalized by the neocon “don’t bother us with the facts” worldview pervasive in the West Wing, and have resisted providing intelligence to support assumed conclusions (instead of, say, gathering intelligence and acting on what one discovers).

In case you’re confused, the precis is this: columnist Robert Novak named Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative in his column, apparently tipped off by (unnamed) senior officials in the White House. This woman was the wife of Joseph Wilson, who was dispatched to Niger in 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium — and who discovered that, well, there was no real evidence that they had. Never mind that; of course; the administration used the Niger story as part of its smoke-and-mirrors cassus belli for invading Iraq. Wilson publically criticized the administration for using this dubious and ultimately unsupportable claim, and smart money says they outed Plame in retaliation, and the Post (see link below) even has a source saying so:

A senior administration official said two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and revealed the identity and occupation of Wilson’s wife. That was shortly after Wilson revealed in July that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson’s account eventually touched off a controversy over Bush’s use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.

In any case, Novak did indeed name her, and was apparently correct — the CIA has been doing damage control. Wilson himself said in an August 21 forum in Seattle that he believes White House adviser Karl Rove is the culprit, and that he’d like “to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.”

The Talking Points Memo interview with Wilson is here (PDF link). TPM’s post on this is here, and is worth reading as well. More coverage:

Now: what happens next?

Must be a good day to die.

George Plimpton, famously the eponymous “Paper Lion,” but also a genuine giant of American letters, passed away at 76. He founded the highly respected Paris Review in 1953, and is famout — or infamous — for his contributions to “participatory journalism,” a school which we may probably blame for the aforementioned Dr. Thompson.

Today, too, singer Robert Palmer passed away, much younger at 54, of a heart attack. He had his largest success in the eighties, which is why I don’t need to explain aobut “Addicted to Love” or “Simply Irresistable,” or even the Power Station.

Dept. of Interesting Developments

On Wednesday, a panel of experts including a man named Dan Geer released a report strongly suggesting that our reliance on Microsoft is a danger to national security. These views are difficult to dispute; computing is dangerously close to monoculture — over ninety percent of corporate desktops are a single type of computer, right? — and the culture involved isn’t a terribly robust one (it seems every couple weeks, we have a new worm or virus to worry about [or, rather, you do; I’m MS-free {HDANCN}]). Recall what happened, for example, when Ireland relied primarily on a single strain of tuber.

Today, Dan Geer was fired from his position as CTO of @stake, a consulting firm with close ties to Microsoft. In a prepared statement, @Stake said “Participation in and release of the report was not sanctioned by @Stake. The values and opinions of the report are not in line with @Stake’s views.”

And dissent, of course, isn’t allowed. Especially of the “but he’s NAKED!” variety.

Dept. of Things I Didn’t Know

Viggo Mortensen and punk pioneer Exene Cervenka (1) were once married and (2) have a child together.

Someday, that kid’s gonna have the best show and tell story ever. “Yeah, my mom was in X, and my dad played Aragorn.”

Not Like This Is News or Anything

So Comcast sucks, of courses. It’s axiomatic: they’re a large cable company, ergo they suck. The Comcasts of the world are the reason I bought a DirecTV system as soon as I bought a house, and they’re the reason I’ll never consider using a cable company for my TV feed again.

Still, it’s fun to read somebody rant about them, especially when the specific area of suck — Comcast’s privacy policy — is so topical.

Here’s a Shocker.

The RIAA has been working overtime, what with suing a 12-year-old girl who lives in subsidized housing and everything, but they didn’t stop there.

They’ve actually tried to sue a 66 year old grandmother who doesn’t own a computer capable of USING Kazaa, and is confused by the whole idea of file sharing. No, she has no children or grandchildren who could’ve been using her connection. This means that an innocent woman had to get legal representation because of the RIAA’s hamfisted antics, and nobody has so much as apologized. In fact, the RIAA has reserved the right to bring action against her again. Beautiful, guys, just beautiful.

This Just In

A pack of marauding dogs have killed Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s prized peacocks. Dr. Thompson’s reaction will doubtless be swift and savage: “Anything that kills four animals, four people or four of anything on my property is going to die one way or another.”

Just Great.

A Federal Court in Oklahoma has put a hold on the national telemarketing Do-Not-Call list. The ruling is a victory for the parasitic slime who brought the suit (the Direct Marketers Association), who presumably would prefer it if the 50 million folks who signed up for said list would just shut up and answer the phone. The FTC is expected to appeal the ruling, so there may be some hope yet.

More on Black Box Voting

Remember that story I noted yesterday, about the Diebold election machine problem? And how Bev Harris had unearthed company memos more or less admitting how wholly fscked the system is, and that they didn’t care? If not, go read it again; I’ll wait.

Bev Harris’ site is shut down today, courtesy of Diebold. This ought to tell you something, and it’s not something good.

Salon on Diebold, Et. Al.

Salon is running an interview with Bev Harris, a writer who has spent a great deal of time investigating the electronic voting industry for her upcoming book, “Black Box Voting.” In the course of her investigation, she uncovered confidential memos that Diebold has attempted to copyright rather than disavow; this is most disturbing, since they describe a level of security I wouldn’t use for Nogators, let along our country’s voting systems.

Oh yes: these things are already being used in 37 states. This has got to stop. Any voting system MUST be both tamper resistant and auditable; Diebold offers no features in either department, and is aggressively attempting to avoid doing so. Moreover, there’s an utter lack of security in their product that they know about, but refuse to fix. People need to know this.

How to Follow That Saturday with a Questionable-and-Expensive Monday

In Which We Discover that Rain Man Lives in My Shower Spigots
When the water to the hot-water heater is turned off, the pressure failsafes in my shower and tub faucet mechanisms (designed to keep me from scalding myself, presumably to avoid the eponymous “hot water burn baby” scenario) prevent any water flow, which means that showers are an all-or-nothing affair. No amount of determination on the theme of “fuck it, I’ll take a cold shower” will result in a shower, cold or otherwise.
Presumably, the Balance of the Name is still Accurate
Nick’s Plumbing is not actually owned by anyone named “Nick”.
Home-office Advantages in the Realm of Chronologically Challenged Plumbing Personnel
The plumber was set to arrive at 0730 this morning. The morning plumber, a tall hipster-sideburn guy, showed up about an hour later.
If We Must Allow Electrons Spontaneous & Unfettered Movement from Pipe to Pipe, The Terrorists Have Already Won
Electrolysis is the enemy. You want brass nipples on those, you see, not galvanized.
I’ll Bet They Won’t Let You on a Plane with Either One
I’m not sure if “brass nipples” would be funnier as a previously-unknown gangland fighting tool (perhaps employed primarily, but not exclusively, by female gangs), or a brand-new-fad from the world of body modification.
A Discussion of the Failings of the Morning, Hipster-Sideburn-Plumber and His Silent Sidekick, Part 1
Diagnosis and follow-on discussion were quite brief (as the problem and solution were pretty obvious), whereupon he stated it would take “about an hour or so” to get a heater and return. He and his silent sidekick left. About two hours later, I heard from the main office. It appears hipster-plumber has told them I want the work done on Wednesday. Would it be okay for someone else to come on back and do the replacement this afternoon instead? Why yes, yes it would.
A Discussion of the Failings of the Morning, Hipster-Sideburn Plumber and His Silent Sidekick, Part 2
Despite what the hipster morning plumber said, my water heater is from 1997, not 1988. This is obvious from the most cursory examination of the serial number, a point not lost on the Afternoon, More Conventional Plumber Guy or the crack NoGators Plumbing Team. This is, coincidentally, the year the house was built, and is therefore not nearly as puzzling as the alternative date supplied by Hipster Guy.
Wherein the High End of Water-Heating Devices is Considered, Albeit Briefly
There exist tankless water heater devices that create hot water on demand. This means you can’t run out. This is good. They cost $2,000 and up. This is bad. NoGators HQ has elected for a conventional pressurized-container-of-scalding-water instead.
Wherein We Ascertain the Cost of This Particular Affair
Conventional water heaters cost $650 (installed). This includes the brass nipples.
A Discussion of the Failings of the Morning, Hipster-Sideburn Plumber and His Silent Sidekick, Part 3
Despite what the hipster morning plumber said, they do not in fact take American Express.
In Which We Ascertain, with the Help of the Afternoon-Conventional-Plumber, Which Payment Methods Are Acceptable
Checks are fine.
Lest We Be Unfair, a General Discussion of Why We Like the Afternoon-Conventional-Plumber
I now know what to do to keep my water heater happy for 15 years or so, though the methods involved (“open the valve at the bottom and drain it into your yard about once a year”) imply a level of water waste bound to be unpopular with certain other NoGators personnel. Oh, and the brass nipples help, too.
And Then There’s This
When I turned the breaker back on, he waited in the garage with the heater “in case anything blows up.” We are not sure if he was joking.
Don’t Leave Us Hanging Like That
No, nothing blew up.
A General Discussion of My Hygiene Standards
I will shower immediately, despite plans for exercise in an hour, as I am too dirty to sweat.
A General Discussion of Why My Hygiene Standards are Silly
I last showered not quite 24 hours ago.
In Which we Acknowledge Generous Offers Made Elsewhere
My Attorney’s offer of late-night plumbing assistance is greatly appreciated, though perhaps unvetted by the likes of Mrs Attorney and ~, and (even more likely) may be based in part on a poorly worded initial draft of the earlier entry. A cocktail instead?

How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Saturday

Sleep late. Make breakfast with Erin. Watch TV. Get hungry. Go eat. Go to Surly Table. Talk to Joy. Go see a movie. Go to a bar. Visit friends. Drink vodka. Go to a restaurant. Eat. Enjoy. Laugh. Talk. Moan about Alabama. Joke about weddings. Make fun of show tunes. Deconstruct movies. Express dismay, again, that you enjoyed Underworld. Get tired. Get the check. Split the check. Pay the check. Go home.

Turn into driveway. Open garage door. Notice loud noise. Assume it’s the car. Pull into garage anyway. Turn off car. Notice noise again. Open car door. Notice you’re getting wet. Notice geyser shooting from top of water heater. Assume this is bad, since “containment” is a core attribute of the object “water heater.”

Take off shoes. Take off shirt. Toss inside. Close valve to water heater. Put car back in driveway. Begin moving Erin’s stuff. Realize how much water is involved (it’s running into the street). Realize you’ve been gone since 3:00. It’s midnight. Wonder how many of those nine hours involved a mini-Old Faithful in the garage. Keep moving Erin’s stuff. Notice lowest level of boxes occasionally soaked. Take inside, give to Erin to unpack and dry.

Finish moving boxes — the ones you can — out of harm’s way. Have creeping realization that there’s a closet opposite the water heater. Rush inside to find Erin already there, moving things into the office, drying boxes. Be very glad modest comic book collection is all in mylar bags, as box itself is wet-but-not-soaked. Mop closet floor.

Move more boxes in garage. Call Joy, who is still at the restaurant, for plumber referral. Realize midnight-on-Sunday is not a good time to call plumbers, as their rate-o-meters are doubtless set to “obliterate” for anything between the evening news and football on Sunday. Settle things as best you can. Move boxes around. Put car back in garage. Sit on couch, wet, tired, and sort of hung over. Fall asleep on couch watching Tivo and drinking ginger ale. Be thankful water heater, at least, was not in an improved area of house. Wonder how much water heaters cost.

And to think this is partly our fault.

Underworld, the Kate-Beckinsale-vampires-vs.-werewolves film, topped the box office this weekend at $22 million. N.B. that when I say “partly our fault,” I mean approximately 0.000082%.

Critics seem to loathe it, but I had a much better time than I expected, and I’m notoriously hard on films. It’s certainly not high art, but at least it seems to care about whether it makes sense within itself or not. I’ve seen much, much worse vampire movies. I’ve seen much worse movies that didn’t even have vampires in them, in fact. And this one has Beckinsale in goth fetishy clothing, of which she seems to have a bunch, and what’s not to like about that?

It’s marketed, sorta, as a Romeo-and-Juliet kind of thing, but that’s a real stretch — not every story about (potential) lovers from warring clans is a rehash of R&J. A better case can be made for a racial politics theme, but even that is subordinate to “run, fight, shoot, jump, and look fancy in black leather or latex, pausing occasionally to reveal more of the plot and backstory” (and thank God for that).

Beckinsale is easily the best of the cast; most of the rest seem to have been hired for look rather than talent, but fortunately Beckinsale is (usually) the only one who’s called upon to do anything that really looks like acting. What ultimately saves the film is a more-intricate-than-you’d-expect plot that isn’t over-explained (though the Exposition Fairy does make some unnecessary visits early on).

Oh, I was going to link to the official film site, but it’s a nasty full-screen all-Flash thing. The Sony site, though, includes a link to an Underworld Half-Life game mod, which is a marketing tie-in I’ve not seen before. Clever.


Today, Galileo is scheduled to end its 14-year mission by plunging into Jupiter — deliberately. NASA believes that the massive subsurface ocean on Europa could harbor life, so pains must be taken to ensure there is no chance of contamination with Earthly bacteria.

Data will continue to arrive for about another hour — since that’s how long it takes for light to get from Jupiter’s neighborhood to us — but the craft is most likely breaking up as I type this at 2:00PM Central Time. Galileo showed us Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashing into Jupiter in 1994; more tantalizingly, Galileo gave us evidence of the only other liquid water in the solar system (on Europa), which forces us to re-evaluate what a life-supporting planet might look like (heretofore, we assumed they’d need to look pretty much like Earth).

Have a drink to Galileo, the little-engine-that-could of space probes; it’s exceeded all reasonable expectations, particularly given its rocky beginnings.

Galileo being deployed from Atlantis, 1989.

Political Generals, Cincinnatus, and Wesley Clark

“Now hold on a minute, Mr. Gator Man! Who the hell is this Cincinnati person?”

Well, I’ll tell you. Actually, I’ll just point you at this article, and all will be revealed. Therein you will find this bit as a footnote, which provides a convenient rundown of the generals in our history who have sought or achieved the Oval Office:

The president generals are George Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and Dwight Eisenhower. Unlike the other six, who were famed for their battlefield achievements, Pierce, Hayes, Garfield, and Harrison were not known for their military records. Generals who have lost general elections include Lewis Cass, Winfield Scott, George McClellan, and Winfield S. Hancock. Douglas MacArthur and Al Haig are among the generals who planned presidential runs but never got close to the November ballot.

Slate on the 9th Circuit Ruling

Everybody, I reckon, knows about the 9th Circuit’s ruling halting the California recall, and how their ruling cites Bush v. Gore. Slate’s running this commentary, which is pretty darn funny without being terribly partisan either way.


The voting machine fight is heating up. This time, the IEEE committee charged with creating the standard has become badly politicized, and is working to create a situation where actual performance metrics — you know, like on accountability and auditability — aren’t part of the picture. Diebold, et. al., badly want these standards in place quickly, and with a minimum amount of fuss — but if we get machines without adequate safeguards, fair elections will become a thing of the past. These firms are also lobbying to have the mechanisms of their electronic voting machines labeled trade secrets, which means “trust us; it works just fine.” Does this strike you as a good idea?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a petition. Go there, read, and sign if you agree. You can read more about this via this BoingBoing post and this post from JWZ’s livejournal; both link to other stories as well.

This is important, people. Pay attention.

Dept. of Market Research, Military Division

Okay, so it’s not really market research; it’s actually feedback from soldiers in the Iraq war on their equipment — weapons, vehicles, uniforms, etc. It’s oddly fascinating — in many cases, soldiers opted for aftermarket modifications or even nonstandard equipment (for example, Camelbacks instead of canteens) when something better than standard issue was available.

Note: if you’re at all squeamish, skip the (enthusiastic) paragraph about the XM-107 Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle. Suffice it to say that the snipers were very, very pleased with its ability to lethally (and dramatically) “engage” both vehicular and human targets at 1,400 meters, though they felt that with better optics, targets as far as 2 kilometers would reasonable as well.

Holy Crap.

This is absolutely the best use of Flash/Shockwave I’ve ever seen. It’s rich and lush, surreal, and interactive in a Myst sort of way. Give it a few minutes of your time.

Dept. of Weasels, Aviation Division

Heretofore widely admired low-cost, big-seat carrier JetBlue has apparently been passing the full travel histories of many of its fliers on to a private security firm as part of the CAPPS II program, and then denying it after the fact.

This sensitive travel data was then turned-over to a private security contractor for analysis, the results of which were presented at a security conference earlier this year and then posted on the Internet.

If you fly JetBlue, please stop if you believe privacy is something worth preserving.