I turned my face away / and dreamed about you

In a surprise move, Shane MacGowan is still lucid and blogging, which suggests the degree to which he’s said to have become a derelict may be slightly overstated. In any case, the aforelinked entry is about the other voice in Fairytale of New York, Kristy MacColl, who’s been gone now six years (and was recently lionized at Gawker, which is in fact where we picked up MacGowan’s blog).

In the entry, Shane mentions those who’ve sung Kristy’s part at the inevitable live renditions of Fairytale since her death:

When we do the song live these days, there are people in and around the Pogues who nominate guest singers for the Kirsty part. I leave it to them to argue it out. I can’t be bothered with the politics any more than Machiavelli could. To say I have any favourites for that role other than Kirsty is to sully her name. I’m old fashioned like that. Besides, it’s hearing the original group playing it that keeps me happy.

The role – and it is a role – frequently goes to Ella Finer, daughter of Jem in the band who co-wrote the song with me. It works fine with Ella, partly as it keeps it in the family, and partly because Fairytale is meant to be a song from an older man to a younger woman. And I knew her before she was born.

In Irish pubs where they still sing together, Fairytale has become as much a standard as Danny Boy or The Fields of Athenry or whatever. So I’m now like the writers of all those other traditional standards, except I’m not anonymous. Or dead. The best surprises in life are the ones you never dream about.

We like that last sentence rather a lot.

Anyway, go back up to “inevitable live renditions” link above, which is an MP3 of just such a live performance, from Brixton (we think from 2001; it lacks Kristy). Hearing the crowd sing along is wonderful and raises the hair on our Heathen necks. Enjoy, and toast Kristy. We certainly are.

He Is Spartacus

Kirk Douglas issued the following press release on the occasion of his 90th birthday:

My name is Kirk Douglas. You may know me. If you don’t … Google me. I was a movie star and I’m Michael Douglas’ dad, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ father-in-law, and the grandparents of their two children. Today I celebrate my 90th birthday.

I have a message to convey to America’s young people. A 90th birthday is special. In my case, this birthday is not only special but miraculous. I survived World War II, a helicopter crash, a stroke, and two new knees.

It’s a tradition that when a “birthday boy” stands over his cake he makes a silent wish for his life and then blows out the candles. I have followed that tradition for 89 years but on my 90th birthday, I have decided to rebel. Instead of making a silent wish for myself, I want to make a LOUD wish for THE WORLD.

Let’s face it: THE WORLD IS IN A MESS and you are inheriting it. Generation Y, you are on the cusp. You are the group facing many problems: abject poverty, global warming, genocide, AIDS, and suicide bombers to name a few. These problems exist, and the world is silent. We have done very little to solve these problems. Now, we leave it to you. You have to fix it because the situation is intolerable.

You need to rebel, to speak up, write, vote, and care about people and the world you live in. We live in the best country in the world. I know. My parents were Russian immigrants. America is a country where EVERYONE, regardless of race, creed, or age has a chance. I had that chance. You are the generation that is most impacted and the generation that can make a difference.

I love this country because I came from a life of poverty. I was able to work my way through college and go into acting, the field that I love. There is no guarantee in this country that you will be successful. But you always have a chance. Nothing should interfere with it. You have to make sure that nothing stands in the way.

When I blow out my candles — 90! … it will take a long time … but I’ll be thinking of you.

Fundamentalists are still in control and still stupid

In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology.”

Yep; the National Park Service is still prohibited from stating the actual age of the Grand Canyon, as the fundies are unhappy with anything older than 6,000 years; the park shop still sells a book that describes the Canyon in fundamentalist (i.e., unscientific and flat-out wrong) terms, a move that one park geologist described as the “equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan.”

This is what voting for Republicans gets you.

Warning: More Suckage Ahead

Or, rather, there is if you plan on upgrading to Vista. Bruce Schneier points us at an exhaustive review of all the ways Microsoft is removing functionality and making Windows less useful as part of the changeover to Vista. Here’s it in a nutshell: Vista is going to be chock full of Digital Rights Management “features” that no user would ever want, let alone pay for. There’s more analysis of the paper elsewhere, but only the really geeky of you will read the whole thing, so I’ll include the executive executive summary as a teaser:

The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history.

Word.

Get up, get on up

James Brown died this morning in an Atlanta hospital, probably of pneumonia. Brown needs no introduction; he belongs in the musical pantheon with folks like Elvis, the Beatles, Ray Charles, and Bob Dylan. It’s sad to note how few of these folks we still have walking among us — basically, just two Beatles and Bob.

The Yahoo Obit was the first one we found, and the NYTimes is still running an AP obit, though presumably they’ll have one of their own soon. The Wikipedia article is worth your time, too.

What’s this? People in Dallas with more money than sense? Horrors!

Heh. The DallasFood web site takes on a firm claiming — fraudulently, as it turns out — to be actual chocolate makers.

Noka had hoped to establish itself as a superpremium confectioner, with prices far, far north of folks like Godiva (hundreds of dollars a pound). They intimated they actually “made” the chocolates, but it turns out they’re just buying and remolding another brand (Bonnat, which is good chocolate, at leaest). This is what chocolatiers do, and is a recognized trade, but it’s not being a manufacturer, and doesn’t command superpremium prices. Also, they aren’t even very good at that: “Noka’s truffles and molded chocolates are exactly what one might expect from a pair of accountants with limited experience and no formal training.”

Nevertheless, they got on shelves at Niemans and Dean and Deluca and the like, though this 10-part series may well put the kibosh on that, even in Dallas.

Seriously, it’s ten parts, but it’s great. Read all 10. DallasFood.org is definitely getting a bookmark based on the strength of this and their chicken-fried steak coverage alone.

They like ‘em Goode in Virginia. Goode and Bigoted.

Rep. Virgil — Virgil! — Goode, R-VA, has a problem with all Muslims, which we’re guessing plays pretty well to his base. This is the dufus who’s been on the warpath about the new Muslim member of Congress taking his oath on a Koran rather than a Bible.

I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.

Our Stupid Government Employees, Again

Can anyone enlighten us on the snowglobe menace?

snowglobe menace

We note again that there is not a damn thing that makes sense about any of the TSA regs that have gone into effect since 9/11, and that they probably make us LESS safe. Binary explosives of the sort thought to be planned for the London non-attack-attack won’t work; nail files aren’t dangerous; the ID requirement is for the airlines, not security. It’s all bullshit, and nobody in a position to change anything cares. Hell, most citizens don’t care; they’re fat and happy and complacent, and naively assume this theater makes us safer.

And people wonder why we’re misanthropic.

Best News Quote Today

From the LA Times:

Today, Hacienda Napoles is in ruins, taken over by jungle foliage and bats. The sprawling Spanish-style mansion has been gutted, scavenged by treasure hunters looking for stashes of gold and cash buried under the floors. Escobar is long gone, cut down in a hail of police gunfire.

But the hippos are still here.

Case in point on why judicial review of even military incarceration is important

The military locked up a whistleblower for 97 days in a maximum security facility in Iraq.

One night in mid-April, the steel door clanked shut on detainee No. 200343 at Camp Cropper, the United States military’s maximum-security detention site in Baghdad.

American guards arrived at the man’s cell periodically over the next several days, shackled his hands and feet, blindfolded him and took him to a padded room for interrogation, the detainee said. After an hour or two, he was returned to his cell, fatigued but unable to sleep.

The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold. And when he was released after 97 days he was exhausted, depressed and scared.

Detainee 200343 was among thousands of people who have been held and released by the American military in Iraq, and his account of his ordeal has provided one of the few detailed views of the Pentagon’s detention operations since the abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib. Yet in many respects his case is unusual.

The detainee was Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the F.B.I. about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.

But when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents.

They did this to an American citizen who could not have been more emphatically a good guy. And he had virtually no recourse. Trusting people in power is never a good idea; they need oversight, which is why we have a system of checks and balances in our government. This administration has sought from the very first to dismantle these failsafes and create an imperial presidency; stories like Vance’s are the inevitable result.

(Local PDF because the NYT links rot.)

Slow and steady wins the race. They’re not kidding.

Over the weekend, a couple NFL records were broken. Most famously, Brett Favre broke Dan Marino’s career passing completion record (4,974 and counting), which is pretty cool. However, a sexier-sounding record fell this weekend, too: Most Career Points.

You’d sort of think this would be a running back or a receiver, but no, not really: it’s a kicker. Morten Andersen (perhaps the only Dane in the game) of the Atlanta Falcons took the title on Saturday night with two extra points against the Cowboys. Andersen, who is forty fucking six years old, now has 2,435 points in his 24-year career, edging past the former record-holder, Gary Anderson.

Andersen had previously broken another of the prior Anderson’s records last week, when he kicked his 538th career field goal. He’s 538 for 679 on field goals, and 821 of 831 on PATs. Also, he’s old enough to have fathered the last few seasons’ rookies, which is just cool.

Coolest. Model. EVAR.

Pierre Scerri loved Ferraris, specifically the legendary 312PB.

So he made one of his own at 1:3 scale. That works. It took him 15 years and 20,000 hours, but his model includes not just faithfully recreated body and interior work (the trademark shift grate is there!), but also a fully functional 1:3 scale 12-cylinder engine, transmission, and exhaust system — which means his tiny car even sounds like a Ferrari.

Mr Scerri has his own website now, detailing additional models he’s working on, including a Ford GT40.

NYT on the TSA, our Naked Security Emperor

The Times piece is called Theater of the Absurd at the T.S.A., so you can imagine the content. We’re sure some at DHS and TSA will whine about the piece, but it’s hard to fault its conclusions. We’re doing the wrong things for airport security, and for poor reasons, and nobody in power seems to have the balls to admit it even though everyone outside the system seems to know that it’s all bullshit.

The root problem, as some experts see it, is the T.S.A.’s reliance on IDs that are so easily obtained under false pretenses. “It would be wonderful if Osama bin Laden carried a photo ID that listed his occupation of ‘Evildoer,’” permitting the authorities to pluck him from a line, [Security expert] Mr. Schneier said. “The problem is, we try to pretend that identity maps to intentionality. But it doesn’t.”

What’s worse, the TSA is actively hostile to attempts at improvement:

Ostensibly interested in what security specialists and legal authorities on privacy issues thought of its Secure Flight plans, the agency convened an advisory group in January 2005. (Mr. Schneier was a member.) Nine months later, when the advisers turned in their final report, it showed that the T.S.A.’s planners had given little or no thought to basic security issues, such as the problem of stolen identities.

Expressing frustration, the T.S.A.’s advisers said in their report that the T.S.A. had been so tight-lipped when talking to them that they never received the information they needed to make a single substantive recommendation.

Professor Blaze [CS at the University of Pennsylvania] has a great deal of experience publicly discussing the most sensitive of security vulnerabilities. He acknowledged that disclosure of a security weakness prompts “a natural and human response: ‘Why should we help the bad guys?’” The answer, he said, is that the bad guys aren’t helped — because they almost certainly already know a system’s weak points — and that disclosing the weaknesses brings pressure on government agencies and their suppliers to improve security for the good guys.

Emph. added. This isn’t news; anyone worth a damn in cryptography knows that knowledge of an encryption algorithm shouldn’t give you an advantage in trying to crack it — or, at least, it won’t if the algorithm is sound. Secret encryption methods are assumed to be insecure.

The article concludes:

The issues raised by the discovery of security vulnerabilities are not new. A. C. Hobbs, a locksmith who in 1853 wrote the book on locks and safes (the title: “Locks and Safes”) knew that “many well-meaning persons” assume that public exposure of a lock’s insecure design will end up helping criminals.

His response to this concern is no less apt today than it was then:

“Rogues are very keen in their profession, and know already much more than we can teach them.”

It’s not any different now, but apparently the TSA thinks it is. It’s horrifying how wrong they are.

Dear Major Labels: Please Read This

Techdirt points out how well the number-2 online music provider, eMusic.com, is doing. A bit:

The idea that DRM-free music might just make good business sense smolders along, as eMusic is announcing they’ve managed to sell 100 million unprotected songs without the world coming to an end. As part of the promotion, the customer who purchased the milestone track will have a song written about him by the Barenaked Ladies, who’ll include the song on as a bonus track for their upcoming album. The record labels have consistently claimed you can’t be successful selling music that isn’t copy-protected — but eMusic’s second place showing (behind iTunes) shows that’s clearly not the case. They continue to sell more music than Rhapsody, Napster and MSN Music combined, all while catering to indie music fans by avoiding major label content.

We added the emphasis, but that’s a big point. eMusic has a subscription model; you pay ‘em X dollars a month for the right to download Y number of unprotected MP3 tracks in any given month. Plan costs and volumes vary, but they’re all quite reasonable. Content’s fresh — for example, they’ve got the new Tom Waits. Check ‘em out.

Ahmet Ertegun, 1923 – 2006

The Atlantic Records founder, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, and all-around music industry legend fell and hit his head at a private Rolling Stones show in October, and never recovered. He was 83. The Guardian has a comprehensive obit; they open with this:

The word “legend” is liberally bandied about in the sphere of popular music, but it is a term which can truthfully be used to describe Ahmet Ertegun, the co-founder of Atlantic Records. Ertegun’s death, at the age of 83 following a fall, severs a vital link to some of the most significant chapters in the development of soul, rhythm & blues and rock. He helped to discover or nurture many of the most influential musicians of the last half century, including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, The Drifters, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Bobby Darin, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills & Nash and the Rolling Stones.

Wikipedia points out that this Ahmet is why Zappa named his kid Ahmet.

Michael Crichton: World Class Jackass

Crighton, uberwealthy author of crappy potboilers, is also a well-known global warming dissenter. He’s none to fond of his critics, either, as he appears to have gone and put one of them in his latest book as a pedophile. The critic? Michael Crowley, a Washington-based political columnist and Yale graduate (and author of recent TNR cover story critical of Crichton’s environmental pontification). The charcter? “Mick Crowley,” a Washington-based political columnist and Yale graduate.

Classy.

Worst news we’ve heard in weeks

Continental is apparently in talks to merge with United, according to the Wall Street Journal (registration required; AP blurb here).

Continental typically ranks very highly in terms of customer service, on time performance, perqs, etc. They’re the only major not to hit serious trouble after 9/11 (Southwest, while bigger, is not usually called a “major” for some reason). United, on the other hand, is infamous for their customer-hostile behavior, baggage problems, and performance in virtually every category. But they’re big, so there’s that. Every single time we’ve flown on an airline that isn’t Southwest or Continental, we’ve had some sort of problem — lost or delayed baggage, cancelled flight, overbook, rude employees, something.

If this goes through, we suspect we’ll be on Southwest a hell of a lot more.

Perhaps our last post on the BCS nightmare

From the Onion: BCS Determines No Team Worthy Of Facing Ohio State In Championship Game:

COLUMBUS, OH — In what many BCS officials are citing as “proof that their flawless system indeed works,” no Division 1-A college football team was found to possess the sheer excellence required to face Ohio State, the No. 1 ranked team since the season began, in this year’s BCS Championship game.

[...]

Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer agreed with [Michigan head coach Lloyd] Carr, saying that even if his team had been offered a chance to play Ohio State, he may not have taken it.

“We don’t deserve to play Ohio State. Period,” Meyer said, adding that though Florida had a tough schedule, being the SEC champion was not the same thing as being Ohio State. “Every coach that I know voted for Ohio State in the coaches’ poll, or at least had them second after their own team. In any case, I can certainly see why no one who votes in the BCS wants the national championship to be decided by a mere football game.”

All coaches interviewed supported Meyer’s claim, with the notable exception of Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, who said that despite his team’s two losses, weak schedule, and unremarkable defense, he still felt in his heart that Notre Dame deserved a chance at the title — a feeling that, according to a BCS official who wished to remain anonymous, was not completely overruled.

“First of all, I should note that although Notre Dame is an independent, and a highly regarded independent at that, it does not have its own special set of rules as far as determining its football team’s rankings,” the official said. “Instead, we use a special set of mathematical algorithms to determine its football team’s rankings, which the BCS specifically determines only after ranking all the other teams. And though I shouldn’t say this, we — er, the computer — would have dearly loved to have seen Notre Dame in the championship.”

Perfect.

What shocks us is that people PAY for this analysis

So, in a real “sky is falling” sort of piece, the Register reported yesterday that iTunes Music Store sales were “collapsing,” purportedly based on research from one of those “never in doubt, seldom right” firms (this time, it was Forrester). Predictably, the story was picked up by some big blogs. Trouble is, it’s bullshit, as several have pointed out.

We’re sure that the idea of something like iTMS sales tanking is a great way to drive traffic to your site, but wouldn’t it be nice of researchers and tech journalists cared about whether what they ran was accurate? As the aforelinked debunking noted, iTunes is still one of the biggest music vendors in the country — online or off. They rival the Best Buys of the world, something that no other online vendor can claim, and have sold better than a billion tracks. That’s not exactly “collapse,” now, is it?

Update: Techdirt has more. Unlike Forrester, et. al., they seem to mostly be right.

Dear Bill: You Suck at Software

It’s no secret that, here at Heathen, we prefer Macs and Open Source tools to the Microsoft juggernaut. We didn’t care all that much until about 1998 or so, when we realized how awful Windows was on a laptop — for example, sleep never worked right, and if recent experience is any indication, it still won’t, even on XP — and how much easier things seemed to be for our Powerbook-using colleagues. We were doing project management consulting at the time on Internet software, so we lived in Office, which meant we could make the jump with little or not trouble. We jumped, and were MUCH happier — even moreso when Apple went to OS X, which gave us our geekiest heart’s desire: Unix with a good front end.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying it’s been a coon’s age since we actually had to DO something with Windows. “Get a Mac” has been our advice to friends and relatives for years, and we back it up with a growing inability to troubleshoot “modern” Windows installations (not that the tech support people are much better; “nuke it from orbit,” a/k/a “wipe and reinstall” seems to be the standard bit of advice for a Windows machine with some odd problem).

Today, though, we’re working with a piece of software our firm wrote to integrate our main product with client back-end systems. It’s Java, so it’ll run anywhere, but we’re testing on an XP machine because that’s the target platform for the current client.

Holy CRAP XP sucks ass. Just a few fun things we’ve discovered:

  • Can’t find the Control Panel window you just opened? That’s because the Control Panel is actually an instance of the “Windows Explorer” file manager. This in contrast to, say, the Services manager, which IS a program. Is interface consistency somehow antithetical to the Windows worldview?

  • XP Pro and XP Home have drastically different expectations user-wise; among them are the location of the home directory for the system user. Why is this? What the fuck, Bill?

  • WTF is the Windows equivalent of “tail -f”? Is there such a thing? How else do you watch a goddamn log?

Grrrr.

Sometimes, people ask us why we don’t take WorldNet seriously

And, oddly, sometimes they don’t quite get it when we say, truthfully, “because they’re like the bastard child of right-wing loonies and the Weekly World News.”

I mean, how else can you explain them running a story on how soy milk makes kids gay? The headline is, we shit you not, “A Devil Food Is Turning Our Kids Into Homosexuals.” Where do they FIND these nutbirds?

“Good and evil bores the shit out of me” — David Simon

David Simon‘s The Wire wrapped up its fourth season last night. If you haven’t seen this, you’ve missed the best goddamned thing to ever be on television, and we say that knowing full well how strong contenders like Deadwood and the Sopranos are. They’re not even in the same league; in a real sense, they’re not even playing the same game.

You can’t start the Wire in the middle, though. If you haven’t seen this, get ye to Netflix and put the first season in your queue. You won’t be sorry.

If you’re hip, though, go read Heather Havrilesky’s column on the final episode and the fourth season in general over at Salon. Havrilesky’s a damned fine TV writer — she’s the one who did a column all in Milchian Deadwood-speak, brilliantly. Don’t read it if you’re not caught up; it’s full of spoilers. If you’re watched, though, it’s a great reverie.

There is one more season of the Wire coming. We have no idea when it’ll air — 2008, probably, which gives you all plenty of time to catch up on the world of the Barksdales and Stanfields; the Greek, the port, and 13 dead girls in a can; Royce and Carcetti and Davis; the collapse, rise, fall, and resurrection of Prez; McNulty and Bunk; Omar and Brother Mouzone; and the sad tale of Bubbles. Do yourself a favor. Seriously.

(The Wire ran June to September in 2002 and 2003, but slipped to September to December in ’04 and ’06. Since HBO is already running promos for what’s happening on the network this year, and said promos have no Wire goodness in them, smart money says to look for the final installment of Simon’s opus in June or September of 2008.)

Distrust of the Police is Natural and Good, Part II

New York State Troopers made a game of DUI arrests so much that they openly arrested people they knew weren’t drunk. The goal was “the 100 club,” meaning 100 arrests in a year.

According to the report, it took serious misconduct for the troopers to log that many DUI arrests. The report said troopers were discouraging people from taking breath tests.

The troopers told people that if they took the breath tests they would have to stay in police custody longer before they could post bond and be released, the report states.

Subsequent laboratory tests showed that many of the people arrested did not have drugs or alcohol in their systems, or had amounts well below the legal limit.

People with authority and power must be watched even more closely than normal citizens. They should get no pass at all an the abuse of this power, because if they do, they’ll just become bigger bullies. We have to have police, but we don’t have to tolerate this kind of bullshit.

Dept. of HOT HOT HOT

A pepper grower in Dorset has managed to create the hottest chile ever, based on a pepper plant from Bangladesh. The Dorset Naga, as it’s called, weighs in at nearly a MILLION Scovilles. For comparison’s sake, pepper spray is only 5M, and a “normal” habanero is about half a million. (A jalapeno is a paltry 2500 to 8000, depending.)

We sort of want some. Sort of.

DRM on the way out?

RoughType.com has an interesting bit on why Digital Rights Management — i.e., copy protection for music — is completely and utterly doomed. Hint: EMI is actually looking into selling unrestricted MP3 files. Why? Because right now, that’s the only format other than the iTunes protected format that works with iPods, and selling online music that you can’t put on your iPod is a nonstarter at best.

DEA vs. AMA

The drug warriors think they know better than doctors how to manage pain, and have been locking up pain management specialists for prescribing painkillers in volumes the DEA (not the AMA) thinks of as excessive.

Great. Consider for a bit whether or not it’s a good idea for thugs as the DEA to have veto power over medical decisions made by highly trained physicians.