Happy Birthday To This

Three years ago today I made the first post to Miscellaneous Heathen. I’d been distributing amusing bits via a private mail list, and decided it was time to move the operation to a Blog.

Late 2000 was towards the end of a period of time I refer to as my “near wealth experience;” I was still working for a vaguely profitable Internet software consultancy, and still had a big pile of founder’s stock, and it was still worth a lot of money on paper. So, I guess, was I.

Of course, all that stock was illiquid, and the value vanished entirely in the next year as the economy slowed to a crawl. We took a big deal with a major Texas-based, star-themed oil company, which then decided not to live up to its contractual obligations, thereby putting us in a bit of a bind. Add to this an unfortunate acquisition, and that was all she wrote.

As the firm circled the drain, though, I had a consulting job and little to do, which was a great environment for encouraging thoughts like “hey, how about a Blog?” The rest, they say, is history.

Great article on Digital Rights Management

EDNMagazine is running this mildly technical discussion of various DRM schemes, their problems, their pitfalls, and the whole business model surrounding it. Among other things, they note pretty clearly that there’s really no incentive for electronics makers or consumers to cooperate with these schemes, though the content providers want the schemes to be as restrictive as possible, even to the point of eliminating fair use and casual copying (say, to play the same music in your car and in your home).

They come to a pretty clear conclusion:

Of course, you can always try charging a reasonable price and trusting people to be honest. Just think of all the money you’ll save not having to implement DRM.

Okay, ONE more Jackson bit

This quote is just impossible to ignore. From a New York Times piece (link rot is certain; NYT are awful that way):

By any stretch, Mr. Jackson, who is 45, must be considered wealthy. But according to accounts of his close advisers and industry friends and court records, he is also an extravagant spender whose wealth is being consumed by an appetite for monkeys, Ferris wheels and surgery.

No comment.

Politics as usual, or criminal acts?

A member of Orrin Hatch’s staff has been suspended for “improperly obtaining” some Democratic computer files that were subsequently leaked to the press. It goes further:

In a related development, The Hill learned yesterday that Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle had hired a renowned counter-espionage and anti-terrorism expert to join the investigation of the alleged theft of internal Democratic documents from a committee computer system. The Hill

Committee Republicans, of course, oppose any wider investigation. I wonder why? Josh Marshall’s TPM has more.

Whom will SCO sue next?

SCO has been threatening to sue a high-profile Linux user for some time now, insisting as they do that THEY own the rights to Linux (poppycock, as Gartner has said, among others). An anonymous source is cited today in Linuxworld saying this high-profile target may well be Google, which would be provocative indeed.

Almost certainly a doomed effort, but provocative, at least. The real question is whether Microsoft is involved in this thing somewhere, since we know they loathe Open Source, and we also know they want to buy or destroy Google.

There’s no such thing as the Public Domain anymore

The headline is true: no copyrighted work has passed into the public domain in a long, long time. In fact, nothing copyrighted after Steamboat Willie has behaved as the copyright framers intended and passed into the commons.

Why? In a word, it’s Mickey. Disney and their legislative stooges figure (for the most part accurately) that Americans aren’t paying attention, and won’t mind if they give Disney a few dozen more years of copyright on the Mouse.

The most recent extension, the Sony Bono Copyright Extension Act, prompted a high-profile Supreme Court case (Eldred v. Ashcroft) that unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) went for Disney.

The folks at Illegal Art have posted a new compilation project, Sonny Bono Is Dead, pointing out that the worst part of Mr. Bono lives on in the gradual loss of our cultural commons. Visit to see what copyrighted works would have passed into our collective ownership had their copyright terms not been extended.

Oh, here’s a good idea

The War on Drugs isn’t now, nor has it ever been, going well. What’s the answer? Well, Canada and other countries are experimenting with decriminalizing pot, for one thing. What’s our response? Federal threats for states that consider medical marajuana, and introducing tough new legislation that makes dealing pot more punishable than some violent crime.

Why is my country insane?

Bush’s Environmental Scorecard

Via this Slacktivist post, which summarizes an editorial by RFK Jr.

It’s not just civil liberties. It’s not just the environment. It’s not just our international goodwill and prestige. It’s not just our economic situation. It’s not just the erosion of the barrier between church and state. It’s not just the rightward tilt of the Federal bench. It’s all these things.

Oh Dear God. Say It Ain’t So.

Televisions. Motorcycles. VCRs. Microwaves. Cars. Handheld computers. All things the West used to make, and make well, only to be eclipsed by our friends in Japan.

Unfortunately, we must now add whiskey to that list, since the 20-year-old Nikka Yoichi, distilled in Hokkaido — which is decidedly not in the Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, or Islay — beat heavyweights such as the Lagavulin 16-year-old and 12-year-olds from Cragganmore and Balvenie in a blind tasting.

My beloved Islay came in second; the 12-year-old Yoichi was third, followed by the Balvenie, the 10-year-old Yoichi (oh! the agony!), and the Cragganmore (which I’ve always felt was overrated anyway).

Frank? This is what we want for Christmas. It’ll drive Lindsey nuts. Of course, it’s also $250 for the one that’s almost old enough to drink itself, so I’ll settle for the 12-year-old, which is a paltry $87.

Christmas Music So Good I Don’t Care If It’s Not Thanksgiving Yet

The Blind Boys of Alabama have a Christmas disc out. It’s absolutely astounding. Guests include Solomon Burke, Chrissie Hynde, Richard Thompson, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, as well as TOM WAITS and GEORGE CLINTON.

Don’t miss this one. I got mine at a great local record shop. Fred hasn’t got a website that I can see, or I’d point you there. In any case, it’s called “Go Tell It On The Mountain”; Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records is the label (which (thank God (HDANCN?)) has nothing at all to do with beautiful, vapid, self-absorbed twentysomethings screaming, whining, and misbehaving in absurdly well decorated apartments).

You can buy it online via either the Blind Boys’ site, or the label site, which curiously uses frames so I can’t link directly to the page in question.


Congress has approved a new measure that extends the FBI’s domestic surveilance powers. It was tacked on to an intelligence spending bill.

Congress approved a bill on Friday that expands the reach of the Patriot Act, reduces oversight of the FBI and intelligence agencies and, according to critics, shifts the balance of power away from the legislature and the courts. A provision of an intelligence spending bill will expand the power of the FBI to subpoena business documents and transactions from a broader range of businesses — everything from libraries to travel agencies to eBay — without first seeking approval from a judge. (Emph. mine.) Wired News

Oversight? Checks and balances? What are those? This. Has. Got. To. Stop.

You knew it was coming

We’re sure most longtime Heathen readers are simply stunned that we have yet to address the Michael Jackson situation. Where is the snark? Where are the rude jokes?

Well, frankly, up until yesterday, we viewed the entire affair as beneath us. Then we were directed to what may be the definitive resource concerning the evolution of Mr. Jackson’s “face,” presented here without additional comment. Enjoy.

More on Electronic Voting

The Sacramento Bee has a great article on one of Heathen’s favorite subjects; it’s worth your time. Unless something changes quickly, our voting systems will be crimiinally insecure and unverifiable, with no audit trail. The worse case scenario is not a repeat of Florida in 2000: it’s never having the option to recount or review an election in any meaningful way.

He’s not electable, but that means he’s got little to lose

Dennis Kucinich has weighed in on Diebold’s actions w.r.t. copyright law and their leaked memos on his Congressional website.

(In case you’re behind: Diebold memos illustrating that they know how absurdly bad their voting systems are surfaced on the Internet; rather than challenge their authenticity, Diebold has tried to use the DMCA to force ISPs to remove the pages in question in an attempt to coverup their incompetentcy.)

One of my favorite things about Johnny Cash

Cash editorializes

In 1998, his second album with Rick Rubin (Unchained) won a Grammy for Best Country Album, this after he’d been dropped by Columbia and considered washed-up by the marketing drones of Music Row in Nashville. See, Johnny wasn’t a buff twangy guy in a hat and Wranglers, and that’s what they wanted to sell. To hear folks like Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, and Robbie Fulks tell it, that’s still all they’re interested in selling.

In appreciation of the “support” Cash’s records had received from Country radio (despite critical and commercial success with the pop & rock audience), Rubin and Cash published an advertisement in Billboard based on the (in)famous photo of Cash at right. Click the picture to see the ad (new window).

Said Willie Nelson at the time, “John speaks for all of us.”

In case you’re following the SCO-IBM-Linux debacle

SCO’s claims of ownership of Linux — and their “license or litigate” tactics — haven’t impressed IT analysis/research firm Gartner. According to them, we ought to assume SCO is going to be laughed out of court, and should therefore not even consider paying the “license” for Linux that SCO is brazenly insisting everyone now needs. They also note, for the record, how SCO has managed to convince Boies to entertain their abuse of the tort system: lots and lots of money, much of it in the form of stock.

Excellent. I’m shocked anyone would really take SCO’s claims seriously once they examine the issue; it’s good to see someone of Gartner’s stature calling SCO, Boies, and McBride on their bullshit.

Deep down, of course, I suspect even Myers knows this is true.

So there’s a movie adaptation of The Cat in the Hat. I’m sure you’ve heard. It stars Mike Myers. You probably know that, too.

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe confirms what you almost certainly suspect about this movie. A sample:

At one point in “The Cat in the Hat,” the Cat, played by Mike Myers, is mistaken for a pinata by a group of children at a birthday party. One by one, they line up to smack him, and the scene culminates with a husky lad swinging a baseball bat directly into the unfortunate feline’s cojones. That’s a remarkably precise metaphor for what this movie does to the memory of Dr. Seuss. If the producers had dug up Ted Geisel’s body and hung it from a tree, they couldn’t have desecrated the man more.

Ouch. Of course, Myers, et. al., will likely cry all the way to the bank.

Salon Interview with Max Cleland

Max Cleland was, until the last election, one of Georgia’s two Senators. A triple-amputee due to wounds sustained in Vietnam, was hounded out of office by his GOP opponent who tried to equate him with Saddam and Osama for questioning some changes made to the Homeland Security bill; there are still some questions surrounding his loss.

Fortunately for all of us, Cleland has stayed active. He wrote an essay for Salon in September attacking the Administration’s failure to plan for postwar Iraq; the essay concludes with “Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn’t go when you had the chance.” Score one for Max.

He’s also one of the ten commissioners serving on the independent panel investigating the 9/11 attacks — a commission the White House has resisted at every turn for reasons so far unknown.

Today, Salon’s running an interview with Cleland. It’s worth your time, no matter what you think of the war.

Everyone Berenger knows is turning into a rhinoceros.

Rhino Infernal Bridegroom opens Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros tonight; you should go see it.

Ionesco’s absurdist riff on conformity, alienation, and, well, pachyderms is an awful lot of fun to watch. Really, what’s not to like about people turning into rhinos? This production is the first dramatic piece directed by IBP founding member Tamarie Cooper, and she’s done a fine, fine job. Troy Schulze and Kyle Sturdivant turn in truly standout performances, but the whole cast is strong in material that’s not by any stretch easy. It’s well worth your time; I promise it’s not too weird.

Shows happen at 8:00 Thursday ($10), Friday ($12), and Saturday ($15) nights through December 13 (no show on Thanksgiving). The special opening-weekend rate, good only on the 21st and 22nd, is $5.99; you can’t beat that.

The Axiom is at 2524 McKinney, behind/east of George R. Brown Convention Center. For reservations, call IBP at (713) 522-8443.

Dept. of Cool OS X Software

I’m a clutter person. This is not news to anyone who knows me. It’s ordered clutter, mostly, but sometimes not. This extends to my digital environment as well as my physical one; in addition to scraps of paper on my actual desk, I use a program called Stickies to mimic the behavior of Post-Its on my computer desktop.

Okay, make that “mimic the behavior of LOTS AND LOTS of Post-Its.”

The problem with Stickies is, well, it’s very basic. You can set color and font, and you can minimize each note down to a single line, but there’s no way to group related notes, or view only a certain set, or make sub-notes, or anything like that. Real organization is almost impossible with more than a few notes.

This fuels the clutter, and in a bad way; I have several notes that include include arcane command lines for doing this or that on our production machines, or for constructing elaborate SQL statements, for example, but they’re mixed in with notes listing books I want to remember to read, or links I should visit, directions to people’s houses not yet transferred to my Palm, or even half-written posts for this very weblog.

Yesterday, though, I found VoodooPad, a new and very inexpensive OS X tool ($19.95). The description on the site was very promising, so I downloaded a test version limited to 15 pages per file. Fair enough, I started playing. A VoodooPad document is a sequence of linked pages, which makes it very, very easy to organize little bits of information on an ad hoc basis. Creating a link is dead easy (I’m honestly not sure how it could be easier). I went from experimenting to actively moving my Stickies into it in about 2 minutes; by the time I hit the limit, there was no doubt I was giving them the twenty bucks, and now I don’t have fifty-eleven Stickies on my desktop anymore.

If you’re on OS X, DEFINITELY check this out. (Mohney, I’m talkin’ to you, too; it’s sort of like a hypertext authoring tool, but much easier to deal with.)

Not that I expect much of you watch FoxNews

The Murdoch-Media is apparently all aflutter over a memo supposedly establishing once and for all that Saddam and Osama were in cahoots, and have been for years, and that we’ve known it all along. Predictably, Murdoch’s machine is all over this, though the rest of the media have essentially ignored the story, and for good reason.

Why? Well, rather than explain it all again here, I’ll point you to our friends at Talking Points Memo (that post and this one)and Slacktivist, who enumerate a wealth of reasons why this isn’t the slam dunk it may appear to be. For one thing, even the Pentagon is saying it’s not proof of a link.

Either you know who he was, or you don’t

But either way, read this Wired article about Philip K. Dick.

Dick, who died in 1982, was something of a cult figure until very recently. However, once Hollywood started to accumulate some success with his work, he became dramatacally less obscure. He’s the science fiction author who wrote the stories upon which Blade Runner (novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”), Total Recall (short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”), and The Minority Report (short story of the same name) were based. There have been others, and there’s more coming.

Bush to Mass. Court: Drop Dead

Bush has already commented on the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that struck down that state’s same-sex marriage ban:

“Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman,” Bush said in a statement released shortly after he arrived in London for a state visit. He said the ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court “violates this important principle.” “I will work with congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage,” he said. Salon coverage

Tom DeLay (R-Tx-Weasel) had this to say, where (unlike Bush) he openly advocates a Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage:

When you have a runaway judiciary, as we obviously have, that has no consideration for the Constitution of the United States, then we have available to us through that Constitution (a way) to fix the judiciary.” Ibid

Huh? Where in our Constitution does it deal with marriage, exactly?

The hardline conservatives would have us all rally against gay marriage, because it’s apparently very important that we control what other people do. I’m deeply confused by this; it seems to me to be a blatent case of unequal access to government services for vague and artificial reasons. I’ve no idea how a heterosexual couple might suffer if their neighbors were a married gay couple; to deny them that is simply absurd. Not only that, shouldn’t governmental regulation of marriage fall outside the party-of-small-government’s jurisdiction?

Fortunately, the Massachusetts court majority agrees with me, and not with Antonin “If it were up to me, sodomy would still be a crime” Scalia, et. al.:

Recognizing the right of an individual to marry a person of the same sex will not diminish the validity or dignity of opposite-sex marriage, any more than recognizing the right of an individual to marry a person of a different race devalues the marriage of a person who marries someone of her own race. If anything, extending civil marriage to same-sex couples reinforces the importance of marriage to individuals and communities. That same-sex couples are willing to embrace marriage’s solemn obligations of exclusivity, mutual support, and commitment to one another is a testament to the enduring place of marriage in our laws and in the human spirit. Ibid

Salon has additional coverage as well, focusing in particular on how gay marriage may well become the major domestic issue of the ’04 Presidential race.

Dept. of Things You Can’t Do with Windows

Mac OS X, like all Unix-related operating systems, is terribly, terribly stable. To wit:

[Yakland:~] chet% uptime
12:23PM  up 47 days, 46 mins, 4 users, load averages: 0.14, 0.13, 0.19

Yup. Up and running with no reboots for any reason for a month and a half.

“But Chet, what about your applications?”

[Yakland:~] chet% ps -aux | grep Safari
chet  7965   3.3  9.4   747212  49384  ??  S    10Nov03 161:43.13 /Applications/Safari.app
chet  9993   0.0  0.0     1116      4 std  R+   12:23PM   0:00.00 grep Safari
[Yakland:~] chet% ps -aux | grep BBEdit
chet  2962   0.0  3.6   239568  18876  ??  S    10Oct03  93:37.31 /Applications/BBEdit.app
chet  9995   0.0  0.0     1116      4 std  R+   12:23PM   0:00.00 grep BBEdit

The date column is what you want to look at; Safari, easily the best browser I’ve yet used, has been running for better than a week. The real standout, though, is BBEdit, which is where I spend most of my time: it’s been running since October 10th. Try that with Word.

Things I Learned at Carl and Joy’s Wedding

  • A martini ice sculpture is a deceptively evil thing, and joins my car in the list of things we may describe as “a bad idea, done very very well.”
  • When the chips are down, my ex-girlfriend is more than happy to help Erin with emergency dress adjustments & repair.
  • “Fuck ’em and feed ’em fish heads” is the sort of thing I should probably say more often.
  • It’s possible to go to a reception, not dance with your girlfriend, and somehow not get into trouble. It must be a very, very good reception, though.
  • La Colombe d’Or will throw your sorry drunk asses out at half past two if you’re so loud you keep the other guests awake, even if the set of sorry drunk asses includes those belonging to the bride and groom.
  • Voice mail messages left by the groom on your cell phone at about that time in re: the location of the after-party and his own plans for the immediate future can be a source of great amusement at breakfast the next day.
  • One half of the wedding couple singing to the other half needn’t be awkward or tacky; in fact, it can be beautiful, moving, and hilarious all at once. Especially if the groom took 7 years to propose, and the bride sings “At Last” with a full swing band backing her up.
  • I cannot drink like I could in college, even if several college friends are here. Maybe that should be “especially.”
  • A black tie wedding affords guests the opportunity to retain some dignity upon being ejected from ritzy hotel bars at 2:30AM because, hey, we may be drunk and loud, but at least we look good.
  • It is handy to have attended college with an opera-singing voice major willing to perform at your wedding, as Carl’s friend Julie did.
  • A member of the groom’s party should always have a kit including:
    1. Painkillers
    2. Heartburn remedy
    3. Breath mints
    4. Contact lens solution, if appropriate
    5. Bourbon
    6. Lint brush
    You could be surprised at how many of these prove useful. Trust me.
  • In a pinch, it is possible to get by with only #5.


  • There’s just about nothing so cool as seeing two dear friends fall in love and get married. Congratulations again, guys.

Someone up there really hates the Power Station

Unless you live under a rock, you know Robert Palmer shuffled off this mortal coil back in September. With the passage Wednesday of drummer Tony Thompson (formerly of Chic, and then a very much in-demand session player), the only surviving Power Station members are, well, the least musically interesting: those two guys who were in Duran Duran. He was 48; renal cell cancer got him.

Thompson got what might be the rock drummer’s gig of a lifetime in 1985, when the remaining members of Led Zeppelin drafted him to fill in for John Bonham in their Live Aid appearance.

Even so, I reckon them Taylor boys oughta be careful. Seat belts, food tasters, etc. And be careful of vomit. You can’t dust for vomit.

Have they no shame?

Bush has called on Democrats to stop the ugly politics” at work in their 30-hour filibuster.

This, of course, from the head of an administration that:

  • has used 9/11 for political gain for 2 years;
  • leaked the name of a CIA operative because her husband disagreed with the President on WMDs in Iraq;
  • that is bent on dismantling social programs while creating enormous tax breaks for the rich;
  • continues to use the “war on terror” as an excuse for just about anything, including a de facto suspension of habeas corpus;
  • characterized dissent as unAmerican (“you’re either with us or against us”);
  • is spending every dime it can get its hands on and more despite being from the “fiscally responsible” party;
  • used 9/11 as an excuse to go to war in Iraq, risking and losing hundreds of American lives for nebulous gain, and pissing off just about every ally we have in the process; and
  • seems bent on stuffing every Federal bench with folks somewhere to the right of Pat Buchanan, and without the customary review by the American Bar Association, despite having the thinnest of majorities in the Senate and holding office based on a vote of 5 to 4.

So, yeah, I’d say “ugly politics” is a problem, but I’m pretty sure this problem is on your own side of the aisle, George.