Another reason we love Jon Stewart and The Daily Show

Stewart hosted a coffee for journalists at the convention. Then he let them have it:

Stewart, host of The Daily Show on cable’s Comedy Central, invited reporters for coffee Monday at the start of the Democratic convention. It was billed as an early morning yuk-fest, but it wasn’t all that funny. At least not for the reporters, who were the subject of his monologue. In a poll this year by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 21% of viewers ages 18 to 29 named The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live as places where they get news about the presidential campaign. Does it bother Stewart that so many potential voters are relying on a joke show for information? “I’m concerned about the incredible number of people who say they get the news from you guys,” Stewart shot back. Sensitive scribes scowled. The tightly wrapped comic’s harangue included a blast at the media’s “absolute acceptance of being stage-managed” and an attack on Washington as a city of “absolute self-delusion and arrogance.” When Howard Kurtz, who covers the news media for The Washington Post and CNN, protested, Stewart stopped him with, “Your network is silly.” Stewart blames boring coverage for low voter turnout. “We have wrung every ounce of inspiration out of the process because we are parsing strategy,” he said. He wouldn’t say how often he votes or whether he’s registered with a party. In the end, Stewart apologized for his own vehemence. He said that’s the way he and his staff begin the mornings when they are writing their show. “We spend our day trying to take the anger down and trying to turn up the volume of the humor.” USA Today/Kathy Kiely

Finally, someone slaps these lazy fucks around and tells them to do their job. It’ll do no good, but at least it’s been said.

In which something unusual happens

We here at Heathen Central enjoy the gadgets, the toys, the geegaws, the technological marvels. We have several computers, half a dozen dead PDAs, two iPods, a Tivo, three kinds of wireless phones, and a device devoted to the deep-frying of WHOLE LIVE GOATS. You know the drill; certain Other Household Members have even opined — blasphemy! — that we should get rid of some of this crap, but so far we’ve kept it all safe.

This is all a long way of saying that it took us COMPLETELY BY SURPRISE that this Other Household Member insisted this morning that we procure, with all speed, another gadget: an XM satellite radio. Why, you ask? Well, because NPR-exile Bob Edwards is getting a show set to run against Morning Edition (delicious!), and we miss him.

‘Nuff said; off we went to the local non-asshole retailer where we bought one of these (~ $140 walking out the door). This particular device is a fine choice for flexibility as well; right out of the box, it’s ready to use in the car (via an FM transmitter), but a home kit is available (free for now) that includes the bits you need to hook it directly to your home stereo (really just another antenna, a 6V power adapter, and a mini-to-RCA cable; it’s got normal jacks for power and line-out). Service is a reasonable $9 a month.

We’ve only have it an hour or so, but already we’ve heard more cool shit than you’ll get in six months from any dozen Clear Channel stations. The X-Country channel is particularly fine, free as it is of Nashville taint — think Gourds, Billy Joe Shaver, Bob Dylan, and Joe Ely, all of which have been played in the last 15 minutes. It probably doesn’t hurt that this channel is hosted by the Last of the Full Grown Men, the Idol of Idle Youth, Webb Wilder, either. And this is just ONE channel of 68 or so available, virtually none of which play the pablum that now dominates the FM dial (unless you live in range of KGSR). We’re actually looking forward to our next long car trip; anybody who spends any time in the car needs one of these things. Seriously.

(We were just kidding about the goats.)

Dept. of What the HELL?

The Bush administration has moved to block lawsuits by consumers against drug makers when those drugs were approved by the FDA. This must be what they mean by “tort reform:” elminating the ability of wronged parties to sue for damages. We’re pretty sure this is a bad idea, but we must admit that the sheer balls involved in doing YET ANOTHER favor for Big Pharma after the Medicare drug bill is probably worthy of note. Or something.

In which we point out the value of critical thinking

An opinion piece in Design News by Dan O’Dowd asserts, rather blindly, that Linux and open source software represents a national security risk when used in critical applications because some of the code comes from foreign programmers who might slip in some sort of trojan horse that goes undetected until it’s too late.

Leaving aside just exactly how unlikely this is — code is examined by maintainers pretty rigorously, and the sheer number of eyes involved, not to mention testing, strongly suggests that such a backdoor wouldn’t make it to official releases — let’s examine who O’Dowd is, and what he may have at stake here.

Actually, we don’t even have to look far: the article bills him as the CEO of a company called Green Hills Software which makes — wait for it — embedded systems software, an area where Linux is making substantial inroads. We trust that this makes clear precisely how trustworth Mr. O’Dowd is on this point.

We think we may find the word “president” before his name in a few years

Last night, Illinois state senator and US Senatorial candidate Barack Obama delivered a rousing keynote at the Democratic National Convention. He’s a serious rising political star, and appears to be the real deal. The New Yorker did a profile on Obama back in May which is well worth your time. In the meantime, here’s a bit of the speech:

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.

In which we catch up

We’ve been busy this week, and at night we’re busy watching the DNC speeches, which have been pretty damned fine (where was THAT Al Gore 4 years ago?). President Carter came out swinging, which is great — what’s the GOP going to respond with? “Uh, that Nobel-prize-winning guy who founded Habitat for Humanity? Completely full of shit!” Right.

One of our favorite moments came during President Clinton’s speech:

For the first time ever when America was on a war footing, there were two huge tax cuts, nearly half of which went to the top one percent. I’m in that group now for the first time in my life. When I was in office, the Republicans were pretty mean to me. [Laughter] When I left and made money, I became part of the most important group in the world to them. At first I thought I should send them a thank you note — until I realized they were sending you the bill. They protected my tax cuts while:
  • Withholding promised funding for the Leave No Child Behind Act, leaving over 2 million children behind
  • Cutting 140,000 unemployed workers out of job training
  • 100,000 working families out of child care assistance
  • 300,000 poor children out of after school programs
  • Raising out of pocket healthcare costs to veterans
  • Weakening or reversing important environmental advances for clean air and the preservation of our forests.
Everyone had to sacrifice except the wealthiest Americans, who wanted to do their part but were asked only to expend the energy necessary to open the envelopes containing our tax cuts. If you agree with these choices, you should vote to return them to the White House and Congress. If not, take a look at John Kerry, John Edwards and the Democrats. Quoted at Slacktivist

If it weren’t for term limits, this man would still be president.

Dept. of Brilliant Correspondence

Atrios’ proxy gave us the heads-up on this letter written by Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill to her Bush/Cheney counterpart Ken Mehlman, apparently partially in response to GOP whining about the recent NYC Kerry/Edwards fundraiser.

Dear Ken: Over the past several months, allies of the President have questioned John Kerry’s patriotism while your staff has criticized his service in Vietnam. Republicans and their allies have gone so far as to launch attacks against his wife and your campaign has run $80 million in negative ads that have been called baseless, misleading and unfair by several independent observers. Considering that the President has failed to even come close to keeping his promise to change the tone in Washington, we find your outrage over and paparazzi-like obsession with a fund-raising event to be misplaced. The fact is that the nation has a greater interest in seeing several documents made public relating to the President’s performance in office and personal veracity that the White House has steadfastly refused to release. As such, we will not consider your request until the Bush campaign and White House make public the documents/materials listed below:
  • Military records: Any copies of the President’s military records that would actually prove he fulfilled the terms of his military service. For that matter, it would be comforting to the American people if the campaign or the White House could produce more than just a single person to verify that the President was in Alabama when said he was there. Many Americans find it odd that only one person out of an entire squadron can recall seeing Mr. Bush.
  • Halliburton: All correspondence between the Defense Department and the White House regarding the no-bid contracts that have gone to the Vice-President’s former company. Some material has already been made public. Why not take a campaign issue off the table by making all of these materials public so the voters can see how Halliburton has benefited from Mr. Cheney serving as Vice-President?
  • The Cheney Energy Task Force: For an Administration that claims to hate lawsuits, it’s ironic that the Bush White House is taking up the Courts’ time to keep the fact that Ken Lay and Enron wrote its energy policy in secret behind closed doors. Please release the documents so that the country can learn what lobbyists and special interests wrote the White House energy policy.
  • Medicare Bill: Please release all White House correspondence between the pharmaceutical industry and the Administration regarding the Medicare Bill, which gave billions to some of the President’s biggest donors. In addition, please provide all written materials that directed the Medicare actuary to withhold information from Congress about the actual cost of the bill.
  • Prison Abuse Documents: A few weeks ago, the White House released a selected number of documents regarding the White House’s involvement in laying the legal foundation for the interrogation methods that were used in Iraq. Please release the remaining documents.
We also wanted to wish you a happy anniversary. As we are sure you and the attorneys representing the President, Vice-President and other White House officials are aware, today marks one year since Administration sources leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent to Bob Novak in an effort to retaliate against a critic of the Administration. In light of the fact that the Administration began gutting the laws protecting the nation’s forests yesterday, we hope you will accept the paper on which this letter is written as an anniversary gift. (The one year anniversary is known as the “paper anniversary.”) Sincerely,
Mary Beth Cahill
Campaign Manager

Dept. of Amusing Things Read

We’ve started Positively Fifth Street, Jim McManus’ participatory study of the World Series of Poker, and it’s pretty darn good; we’re particularly amused by this bit, taken from an early part of the book wherein McManus is trying to convince his wife that he needs to gamble his Harper’s advance in order to get the $10,000 buy-in needed to play in the tournament himself:

Plus a responsible journalist needed actual table experience to capture the rhythms and texture of the hair-raising brand of no-limit Texas hold’em that decides the world championship, right? Krakauer on Everest, I mentioned. McPhee in Alaska. Bill Buford rioting in Sardinia. Susan Orlean slogging through the Fakahatchee Strand…

We giggle because, of course, we read and loved Krakauer’s Into Thin Air as well as Orlean’s Orchid Thief, not to mention the bizarre film it inspired. Buford’s Among the Thugs, wherein the writer sets out to explore the phenomenon of soccer hooliganism and ends up participating, was one of our favorite books a couple years ago when a mad Scotsman loaned it to us; it’s out of print, but you ought to find it anyway. The only one we don’t know is the McPhee refernece, but we’re sure someone will help us.

Read This If You Know Me

Somebody out there with my email address in their Outlook address book has some variant of W32.Bagle.* (or something like it) on their machine. I know this because longtime Heathen Ms. “Boom Boom” Brown phoned a couple hours to ago to let me know that I might have this buggar myself, a wholly reasonable suspicion on her part.

Of course, that cannot be the case for a variety of reasons. First, I don’t use Outlook. Second, I don’t even run Windows [1]. These two facts make me almost completely immune from the current crop of virii; few bother to write worms and such for non-Microsoft platforms, and even if they did it would be very, very hard to create the sort of chaos things like Bagle, Blaster, et. al. leave in their wake because of the vastly superior security model at work on Unix-based operating systems (i.e., the other two real choices, Macs and Linux). Frankly, you’re dramatically safer even on Windows if you just stop using Outlook, which is the preferred environment for most of these malware mailings.

Why, then, did she think I was infected? Simple; she got mail that looked like it was from me. Well, here’s where I tell a big secret us Internet people know, but most other folks don’t: just because a mail SAYS it’s from doesn’t mean it actually IS from It is trivially easy to send a mail that appears to be from anyone you like, even from addresses that don’t actually exist. [2]

So, what happened? Someone — probably someone reading this, even — got Bagle in their Outlook, and it did its dirty work by sending mail on the sly out to folks in the victim’s address book. The worm, whatever it was, could and did send copies of itself to those folks, but hid its real origin by using other addresses from the list as the forged “from” entry. (Bagle itself may not have this behavior, some combination of email virus infection and propegation produced the aforementioned forged mail in Ms. Brown’s mailbox.)

As luck would have it, I’ve noticed in the last couple days that another of our cronies, Mr. CEJ, appears to also be the victim of email malfeasance; I’ve gotten mails apparently from him containing what I presume to be destructive-on-Windows payloads; a cursory examination of the mail headers makes it clear that they’re not REALLY from CEJ, but that’s a bit beyond most folks’ ken. [3]

Of course, these terse mailings included weird attachments and none of CEJ’s trademark wit, so it was also obvious without looking at the headers that these were virus-generated mails; what we couldn’t tell from that, though, was where they came from. Had CEJ been the localized “patient zero,” I’d have the same mail, but with headers that showed it coming from Roadrunner. Mr. CEJ may not even have the bug; we can’t tell.

What we can tell is that somebody he knows probably does, and a bit of deduction suggests that this person is known to both of us, and to Ms. Brown as well. This isn’t a particular short list of people, of course, but a good portion of the possible victims read this site. No matter who you are, though, if you’re running Windows and Outlook, make sure you’re not infected. And if you’re running Outlook at all, please don’t put my name or email address in your Contacts list. Use my business card, a Post-It, your Dayrunner, a strategically-placed tattoo, or anything else, but not Outlook. Thanks.


  1. What do I run? My full-time working environment is a Macintosh Powerbook G4; it’s a great machine for ubergeeks, and a great machine for Aunt Millie as well. I keep a PC around for testing and gaming, but I never read mail on it.
  2. This is part of the basic operating system, if you will, of the Internet, and isn’t likely to change anytime soon. It’s also potentially useful; I and others use this aspect of the system to automate newsletters, for example.
  3. Though your mail program probably hides it from you, all emails come with a couple dozen lines called “headers” that document its path through the Net. Real mails from CEJ start at the outgoing mail server available to him inside the local Roadrunner network (i.e., the one his ISP lets him use — typically you may only use the SMTP server of your ISP, and you cannot reach said server from outside their network); the forgeries have no such entries, and in fact feature incomplete headers.

Not to jinx anything, but…

Armstrong cemented his lead in the Tour de France today, utterly smashing his remaining rivals in the individual time trial. From the linked story:

Armstrong finished the 9.6-mile climb through 21 hairpin turns to the L’Alpe d’Huez ski station in 39 minutes, 42 seconds — the only rider under 40 minutes. He was 61 seconds faster than second-place Jan Ullrich and actually passed his closest challenger, Ivan Basso, even though the Italian started two minutes ahead of the Texan.

He’s now something like three minutes ahead of everyone else, which makes it look an awful lot like Win Number Six is right around the corner. All Hail Lance!

In which we rant about T-Mobile

A couple months ago, I signed Erin and I up for T-Mobile service, carrying our old phone numbers with us. We got snazzy new Sony T610 phones, which are Bluetooth-equipped, therby allowing me to get to the Net via my similarly-equipped Palm. T-Mobile’s internet service was more or less the same as any ISP, and they allowed me unfettered access to their outgoing SMTP server (which, of course, you have to be on their system to use) since I can’t use my “normal” one associated with Earthlink without being on the Earthlink network.

Today, without warning, T-Mobile changed the rules. I can still get web, shell, and incoming mail on my Palm, but I can’t SEND mail. I called tech support and escalated a couple levels until I was no longer dealing with the idiot fringe, whereupon I discovered a new “feature.” In order go send mail from my normal account (at, I needed to go to the T-Mobile website (horror that it is) and configure the account there, supplying T-mobile with my username, password, and mail server address so that they can mirror my mail on their servers. Only then would I be allowed to send using their SMTP server.

I’m sorry, but: What. The. Fuck?

It took a bit for my initial tech-support person to ferret this out, but she and her supervisor both confirmed this setup, as does the site itself. When they planned to notify their subscribers, however, was unknown. No one with half a brain should give up their mail password, nor should anyone similarly en-brained consent to mailbox mirroring. I pointed these facts out, and (no surprise) discovered the tech support people thought it was precisely as good an idea as I did.

My next call was to Brent, my corporate rep with T-Mobile. I explained the situation, and he understood immediately how unattractive their new plan was, and promised to get back to me next week about what workaround are available. I’m not terribly optimistic.

The only good part of the whole deal is that T-Mobile appears NOT to filter outbound SMTP traffic, so I can, if I can find one, use an external SMTP server. I don’t know of one, but I do have a box I can run one of my own on — except I’m not terribly excited about the additional hassles and such that this implies. However, I may not be able to escape it, at least in the near term — i.e., between now and when I show T-Mobile the door. Which SMTP package ought I use, and how can I lock it down tight enough that I don’t become Spam Central?

Technology vs. Copyright

Tivo has announced plans to allow users to share programs between their devices and computers, not unlike the way users may take videotapes and DVDs with them to play on other devices. It’s an attractive option for people; we can imagine sticking an episode or two of our favorite programs on our laptop before heading off on some tedious business trip, for example.

Predictably, of course, Hollywood hates the idea and wants the FCC to stop Tivo from doing it. Their arguments sound just like those used by Jack Valenti when the MPAA was terrified of the Betamax, a fact whose irony seems to have escaped the current crop of movie-making drones.

In which we discover yet another of our friends is knocked up

We hear this a lot. “We’re havin’ a baby,” they say, or “<name> knocked me up!” or “We’re pregnant!” or whatever. It’s sort of like that time in our twenties when everyone was getting married, but messier, and with lots of screaming when it’s over. (Actually, that describes some of the weddings, too.)

So this week, when an as-yet-nameless set of friends (it’s very early) mentioned their mutual status, we were amused and pleased. Then when we found this piece by another woman — someone with whom we started this magazine at this university — it made us feel a little weird.

Underwear advertisement-cum-music-video as psychosexual-political commentary

You heard me. This music video produced by high-end lingerie maker Agent Provocateur includes the following:

  • Actors pretending to be Tony Blair and George W. Bush;
  • A sexy dominatrix in impractical yet compelling undergarments;
  • A fair chunk of what passes for S&M play in…
  • …a facsimile of the Oval Office which includes, heretofore unknown to the general public…
  • …a secret closet stocked with a cornocopia of sexual apparatus and accessories presumably not on hand in the genuine White House, at least in this administration;
  • Faux-Dubya receiving the attentions of said dominatrix while the Secret Servcie guards the office;
  • All to the dulcet dones of a cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control.”

What more, we ask, could you ask of us on a Friday?

Dept. of Shit We Couldn’t Possibly Make Up

The BBC has a story running that begins:

A man in the US state of Florida was arrested after he allegedly used his pet alligator to hit his girlfriend. David Havenner, 41, faces misdemeanour charges of battery and possession of an alligator, said the authorities.

We wish to make clear that while certain Heathen staffers are in fact Floridians, at no point have they threatened Chief Heathen with any sort of reptile. Also, this is in no way related to occasional-Heathen Yvonne, who gots a lizard.

“Hysteria” in the truest sense of the word

A couple weeks ago, a truely shockingly banal and ridiculous tirade appeared at, authored by one Annie Jacobsen. The piece itself is worthy of a Lifetime movie; seriously, it’s on par with “Baby Monitor: Sound of Fear.” The gist of the thing — which is terribly irritating to read both for its absurdly overwrought prose style and the awful design of the site — is that she was on a Northwest flight from Detroit to LA that included some Middle Eastern people who did all sorts of scary things on board. By “scary things,” of course, she means “talking,” and “moving about the cabin” and “carrying oddly shaped bags” and, worst of all, “using the lavatory.”

Now, enough people were freaked out, apparently, that an investigation was done, and the 14 men turned out to be — shock! — innocent musicians hired to play a gig in LA. Not that this changes Jacobsen’s mind, of course, nor the minds of the thousands of critical-thought-impaired lemmings who shared her freakout via the WomensWallStreet story.

I read her piece about a week ago, about the third time it showed up in my mailbox from well-meaning friends. Turns out, I’m not the only one who thought it was hysterial fear-mongering from some suburbanite bitty who doesn’t get out much; Salon’s Patrick Smith, author of the ongoing column “Ask the Pilot,” had a similar reaction that’s far more eloquent and clear than my post here. Read it.

Because, you know, for those prices, you expect filtered WATER, don’t you?

One of the editors of Metafilter discovered that his fancy high-speed hotel Internet access (at the Villa Florence, in San Francisco) came equipped with a filter that prevented him for accessing, among other things, his own site.

Wow. This suggests the IT folks there are both stupid, since they installed filters on their employee network in the first place, and lazy, for not having a parallel, unfiltered network for paying guests. Way to go!

In Praise of

We mentioned these guys before, but in case you missed it, Wired has a story on them. Basically, they’re completely ruining the “you must register to read this story” paradigm hamhandedly adopted by a good chunk of the newspaper industry. Sham logins are nothing new; there are several common-knowledge name/password pairs for the New York Times, for example. BugMeNot takes it up a notch, though: they have logins for some 14,000 sites, and there’s even a Mozilla plug-in to make it even more effortless. What’s not to like?

It occurs to me that this tactic is basically the same as signing up for a grocery store affinity card with a false address (or with someone else’s address); you’re spoofing the system because the “authentication” is meaningless and invasive compared to the payoff. Why should I pay above-market prices for groceries because I won’t give Kroger my home address? Likewise, why give up any data at all in exchange for reading news we can get from a hundred other sites for free?

From Leader to Also-Ran

This Business Week piece on the decline and [expected] fall of Sun covers much of the trouble with the embattled creator of Java, but it misses the most basic point: Sun has bet the farm that people will pay a premium for Solaris, one of the last surviving proprietary Unixes.

This used to be true; in the late 90s, my old firm worked almost exclusively on Sun hardware running Solaris; we delivered that platform to an awful lot of happy customers because it was the best possible choice. Windows, then as now, just wasn’t up to the task, and the other Unixes — HP/UX, IBM’s Aix, etc. — weren’t as popular. Then something weird happened: Linux. Within a few years, it was awfully hard to find a reason to pay for an expensive, proprietary server when Linux on commodity hardware did the job just as well.

The server choice conversation these days pretty much starts and ends with “Windows or Linux?” Unless there’s some other (usually political) reason, though, the right choice is almost always Linux for sheer TCO reasons. You can run on cheaper hardware than an XP system, and you have access to the whole of the Open Source pantheon of software. To choose an expensive Sun machine running a closed OS is to spend even more money than the Windows system requires, which throws far more money at the problem than is reasonable in most contexts.

I won’t pretend that there aren’t some applications that could benefit from Sun hardware, but remember that Google runs on commodity hardware, and their needs probably exceed most. Even if you’re not the world’s index, when you can do 3MM hits a day and support 150,000 users with two commodity boxes running Linux, Apache, and Postgres (like these guys), why exactly would we want to buy Sun machines and software?

The BW piece only mentions this obliquely, but at the end of the day I think it’s the biggest problem facing Sun, and they’re doing little to face it. They sell high-end servers running proprietary Unix, and pretty much nobody else is making money doing that anymore. Their other lines of business aren’t significant on the bottom line. Most folks see that (which helps explain their market position, stock price, and the ongoing departure of key execs). Except, apparently, Sun CEO Scott McNealy.

Because it’s Friday

What we want to know is why it took until TWO THOUSAND AND FOUR to come up with something as obviously useful as virtual bubble wrap. (Use “manic mode,” and be sure to request a new sheet when you’re done.)

Update: And another game, which is dramatically less straightforward. We can’t figure it out, but we trust you Heathen can manage it. Or something. No matter what, it’s kinda fun to play with.

But we’re sticking with the Bubble Wrap.

We love this guy

Once again, Slacktivist posts a winner. This time around, it’s all about Leviticus, the Old Testament book that Fundies tend to use to justify their homophobia. Of course, they conveniently overlook all the other prohibitions of Leviticus, such as — and I’m not kidding — eating shellfish. Why is this?

Fred explains, but the bullet is this: in Acts — an epistolary book after the Gospels in the New Testament — there’s an oft-quoted story about Peter getting a vision wherein God shows him that all food is okay. It’s no surprise that Fundies take this on its face and gleefully eat ham, lobster, etc., while conveniently missing the story’s greater context and message. I’m paraphrasing here, so go read the post.