How far will we let him go?

Bush Challenges Hundreds of Laws:

WASHINGTON — President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ”whistle-blower” protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research. Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush’s assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ”to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to ”execute” a law he believes is unconstitutional.

Seriously, go read the whole thing. We use to get in — the login that worked was with the password “bugmenot”.

Bush has made clear his contempt for the rule of law and the idea of separation of powers. What must we do to remind him of the oath he took to uphold the Constitution?

We call bullshit

Incoming Sun CEO Schwartz has a nice long ass-kissing blog entry up claiming that Scott McNealy is directly responsible for the creation of the millions of jobs associated with the Internet.

Um, no.

McNealy is a big-iron salesman who managed to ride the boom up, and should be given all the credit and blame for Java that Gosling can spare, but the Internet is built not on his pronouncements and hardware but on 30 years of work that happened before the mid-90s. The network Schwartz gives credit to McNealy for was already there. His famous line about “the network is the computer” was a description of fact, not a call to arms. It was already true when he said it, and the world of online business was already off and running.

McNealy’s true claim to fame these last 6 or 7 years is less attractive: He led a company with enviable market position and products to almost complete commercial irrelevance. It’s not easy to see how he could have avoided this — after all, Sun is synonymous with expensive and high-performance hardware no longer required in light of the advances in the “white box” world — but with the kind of war chest he ended the 20th century with, it seems like a fair bet he could have at least tried something else. Instead, he made Sun a target for spot-on jokes like this (image from ArsTechnica):

Our government, fucking us over

So remember that EFF lawsuit against AT&T brought because, apparently, AT&T has been surreptitiously allowing the Feds to eavesdrop on pretty much everything for years?

Yeah, the Feds have weighed in</>, and are bringing a motion to dismiss this lawsuit under the state secrets privilege.

This is more or less proof that (a) the Feds have been doing some naughty things and (b) are deeply committed to continuing to do said naughty things no matter what the law says and (c) are willing to use all the power of the state to get their way.

Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

Bad Idea Jeans branches into film

You remember that SNL commercial for “Bad Idea” jeans, where the actors just kept having terrible ideas? Some were “Even thought he affair’s over, I think I’ll tell my wife about it” and “I thought about wearing a condom, but when am I ever gonna be in Haiti again?”

Add to this “How about a film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged starring Brad and Angelina?” Seriously, there’s no way this won’t make “Snakes on a Plane” look like “Citizen Kane.”

What happens when Hertz gives Heathen a Lincoln

“What, you mean you gave away all the other shitty cars already?”
May it be known that our stored profile mandates midsize and NeverLost, and that therefore the Lincoln is a total accident presumably based on local inventory issues. We once got a Volvo station wagon under similar circumstances.
How we can tell Detroit is doomed, pt 1.
Even working on a platform designed to be a Jaguar initially, they still manage to make it feel cheap, half-assed, and plastic. The mealy-mushy button feel we associate with American cars — and have heretofore assumed was due to lack of attention to detail — is present in enough quantity in the LS to make us think it’s deliberate.
We assume this is because most Lincoln drivers are fat old men, but still
The seats, covered in cheap leather, are like bench seats on the bottom and crappy buckets on the top, thereby creating a wholly new category of uncomfortable seating.
How we can tell Detroit is doomed, pt 2.
While this is clearly an attempt to compete with, say, the 5-series BMW, the overall fit and finish is a joke. The car has 10,000 miles on it, but some buttons are already falling off. Only so much of that can really be attributed to “it’s a rental.”
Love that American car transmission!
Despite having a beefy V-8, the automatic tranny in the LS provides virtually no way to exploit the power and torque available in a hurry. You end up with just as much transmission lag and jerk as you would in a mid-80s Buick.
How we explained the LS to Mrs. Heathen
“It’s like a BMW as designed and built by retarded Detroit schoolchildren. For their grandfather.”
How we can tell Detroit is doomed, pt 3.
Our boss showed up with a rental car this week, too, having started the trip in Orlando. His car was apparently created by some lameass division at GM that thinks people might accidentally come to a Chevy dealer and be confused enough to buy their knock-off of a PT Cruiser instead of the real thing.
Dept. of Dubious Achievements in Ergonomics
Despite being about the same size as any 4-door sedan, somehow the Lincoln folks managed to make visibility in the LS as bad as it was in our grandmother’s yacht-sized Mark V.
The LS: Safe for the BeGutted
Whenever we turn the LS off, the driver’s seat moves back and the steering wheel retracts and tilts up. This is all well and good, but there’s PLENTY of room to get in and out without this little bit of fat-man-accommodation theater; frankly, it just makes the LS look even more ridiculous.
So: squishy ride, sloppy transmission, uncomfortable seats, and a nameplate that makes people want to ask about your grandchildren…
All this for forty grand. Right.

Dept. of Birth Announcements, 22 Years Later

Here is the complete 1984 Newsweek ad insert for the newly-launched Macintosh. Looking at them side by side, it’s hard to understand why they didn’t take over completely — in 1984, PCs had no mice, no GUI, and next to no graphics. They were big and clunky and typically used green- or amber-on-black displays.

We didn’t realize, though, that there was ever a time that Macs had no-kidding RS-232 ports. That’s kinda funny. Funnier is how young the software kings look in the brochure.

Via MeFi.

Dept. of Wholly Unsurprising and Probably Overdue News

Scott McNealy is stepping down as CEO of Sun. He will stay on as chairman.

Once a silicon darling, Sun has fallen on hard times since the dot-com bust. Their problems weren’t dot-com related, though; they’ve been torpedoed by some very basic business problems.

Their bread and butter was proprietary systems running their own version of Unix called Solaris (oddly named, given that the book and movie entity named Solaris drives people insane). Solaris was, in its heyday, easily the best such animal available. Sun’s hardware, too, was impressive at the time, and for a while at least was synonymous with computing power in a time when Intel hardware was barely capable of running Win3.1. We remember being amused and amazed when, in 1997, we helped deploy one of the first web stores with Oracle, Netscape Application Server, and the Netscape web server all on one fairly low-end Sun (an Ultra 5 — just like the one we use a doorstop in Heathen World HQ now). Of course, now the much-cheaper Xserve that runs Heathen is completely capable of running all that and more, and in fact does.

The the world changed. Intel hardware got much better, and did so very quickly. Linux came out of nowhere and caught all the expensive, proprietary Unixes flat-footed; the combination has been huge for Sun. Other firms were caught, too, but some managed to be more agile; IBM in particular adopted Linux as its own, and has been busily giving back to the FOSS community. Sun, on the other hand, became convinced that they could give away hardware and make it up on software — i.e., the still proprietary Solaris — and survive. They were, and are, wrong. Sun hardware may still be an acceptable choice for HUGE database applications, but those jobs are few and far between, and Sun no longer owns the market. For 95% of the applications, there’s no reason to buy fancy hardware or software, and that’s the problem. For 100% of the applications, there’s no reason to use Solaris and be tied to Sun when choosing a supported enterprise Linux keeps your options open.

Sun has given the world Java, of course. Their vision for Java has never been completely in line with reality, but that’s Silicon Valley for you. Java remains a solid contender for server-side development (and even the occasional client-side app); aspects of the language make it a much better choice than almost any other compiled language. However, you still need a pretty big app to justify it over options like the stack, or Ruby on Rails, or other open source offerings. The world of Java is often an overly complex one full of cargo-cult dogma and huge codebases nobody actually understands; more recent approaches tend toward the simple, with attendant increases in maintainability. Java was and is free, however, so it’s not about to fix Sun’s bottom line issues; the minute they try to charge for it is the minute the FOSS options bury it.

So that’s what Sun’s got: expensive hardware of dubious value, a white-elephant operating system, and a language/technology they gave away for free. Vanishingly few people want the first two, and the third can’t save them. And all this has been true for years. The surprise isn’t McNealy’s departure; the surprise is that it took the board this long to do it.

Congress may yet destroy the Internet

But it’s not over, and if you stay informed, you’ll be better able to help save it.

The Internet is a giant open network that, basically, no one has been allowed to exert much control over, even bandwidth companies. They’re expected to carry all traffic, and treat it equally, and this is how we’ve gotten this far. If the telcos had their way, the Internet as we know it would never have happened; now they’d like to be able to block traffic they don’t like, or charge more for some kinds of traffic, because they think they can make more money that way. Is your ISP also your cable company? Maybe they’d rather you didn’t get to watch TV at iTunes anymore. Is your ISP also your phone company? Kiss Skype goodbye, and ditto any other competitive VOIP service.

This is real. Pay attention.

Dept. of Strange Assortments

Things Introduced Into Heathen World HQ As A Result Of Errands Completed Moments Ago:

  1. 1 inflatable neck pillow;
  2. 1 replacement briefcase strap for rollaboard suitcase;
  3. 1 colored handlewrap to increase identifiability of said suitcase;
  4. 1 new shaving kit;
  5. 2 Alien ALR-9800 RFID readers;
  6. 2 Alien linear antennae;
  7. 2 Alien circular antennae;
  8. 1 case Halal-certified MREs

I am Curious, Geeky

Are there two cities in the world farther apart than Barcelona, Spain, and Wellington, New Zealand? This calculator says they’re 12,338 miles apart, and if the circumference of the earth is 24,901 (at the equator), this suggests a theoretical max of 12,450.5 miles, or only 112.5 more than these two.

Update: Here’s a better calculator that reports slightly different figures (Wellington to Madrid is now 12,327, and also-ran Quito to Singapore is 12,248), but seems a bit more serious.

Nostalgia Overload

This guy has posted a huge list of YouTube links to Sesame Street clips, including some fine celebrity appearances (Robert DeNiro, Norah Jones, Johnny Cash) as well just plain sweet bits that make even Heathen smile or, maybe, feel a little sad.

Do NOT miss the funktastic song by Stevie Wonder in a bit that can’t be from much later than 72 or 73.

Oh, and in a related development, it looks like the commercials Gladwell mentioned that we blogged about a few days ago are also on YouTube, and elsewhere we turned up an MP3 and transcript of the long-lost “Lower Case N” segment.

Et Tu, Rupert

FOX — Fox! — has Bush’s approval rating at THIRTY THREE PERCENT, or several bucks less than half the cost of a barrel of oil today.

The Heathen wonder what the floor is. We mean, presumably, there exists a hardcore cult-of-personality segment who will approve of Bush’s administration even if he and Rove do a televised tag-team gang-rape of the Olsen Twins in prime time (like they haven’t been doing that to Lady Liberty for 6 years already…). What is that chunk? 30% 25%?

(Via TPM.)

Anderson v. Corrupt Government, Posthumous Division

The jackbooted government thugs are desperate to sift through the papers left by muckraking journalist — and therefore agent of liberty — Jack Anderson. They’re insisting he may have gotten some secret papers, or something, and that they have the right to review, remove, and redact that which constitutes the most valuable segment of his estate. Fortunately, his heirs are none to pleased about this, and are fighting the demands in the courts.

The F.B.I. is seeking to go through the files of the late newspaper columnist Jack Anderson to remove classified material he may have accumulated in four decades of muckraking Washington journalism. Mr. Anderson’s family has refused to allow a search of 188 boxes, the files of a well-known reporter who had long feuded with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and had exposed plans by the Central Intelligence Agency to kill Fidel Castro, the machinations of the Iran-contra affair and the misdemeanors of generations of congressmen. Mr. Anderson’s son Kevin said that to allow government agents to rifle through the papers would betray his father’s principles and intimidate other journalists, and that family members were willing to go to jail to protect the collection. “It’s my father’s legacy,” said Kevin N. Anderson, a Salt Lake City lawyer and one of the columnist’s nine children. “The government has always and continues to this day to abuse the secrecy stamp. My father’s view was that the public is the employer of these government employees and has the right to know what they’re up to.”

(Local PDF.)

Surely Jacksonville is not a pit of culinary despair

However, we’ve seen no evidence of this. Have any Heathen any idea where we might go in this might-as-well-be-south-Georgia burg to get a decent meal? The hotel (see prior entry) has suggested both Ruby Tuesday’s and an execrable Texas-themed steak chain called Longhorn, so we’re not starting off well.

Sure, it’s a great book and all, and it’s chock full of fascinating information, but this is our favorite part

From Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point:

Part of the appeal of Jim Henson and the Muppets to the show’s creators, in fact, was that in the 1960s Henson had been running a highly successful advertising shop. Many of the most famous Muppets were created for ad campaigns: Big Bird is really a variation of a seven-foot dragon created by Henson for La Choy commercials; Cookie Monster was a pitchman for Frito-Lay; Grover was used in promotional films for IBM. (Henson’s Muppet commercials from the 50s and 60s are hysterically funny but have a dark and edgy quality that understandably was absent from his Sesame Street work.) (p. 117, paperback edition)


Go Read This

There’s a stellar slam of the religious right over at Kos called If I Were Christian. Here’s a bit:

If I was a Christian, I’d guess Christ wouldn’t really give a hoot about gays or abortion, and would in fact minister healing and grace to those people in God’s name, and shower them with His love. There’s only one or two verses in the entire Bible even mentioning homosexuals or abortion, as opposed to so many telling us to help the poor and sick and even those we might not approve of if we want to honor His Name. So if I was a Christian, I’d also shower anyone persecuted by religious opportunists with all the love they could stand, and tell them God loved them deeply and forever, no matter what they do or did. I would tell them that nothing they can do will ever stop God from loving them dearly. If I were Christian, I’d have to guess that Christ, who was after all beaten to a bloody pulp and then nailed to a cross to die a horrible, lingering, death, for our sins, wouldn’t think very highly of a party, a faction, a group, a pharaoh, a Caesar, or a President, that thinks they should be able to legally whisk people off to torture chambers to foreign shit-holes run by despots, with no trial or charges ever held for them! And were I a Christian, I’d have to guess that any beliver would and absolutely should be very nervous about being associated with torture in any way, shape, or form.

No word of it a lie.

Bill Nye speaks at a community college, and Slacktivist is there

Fred notes that Nye made some commentary about how the “lights” mentioned in Genesis are actually (a) the sun, one of billions of stars and (b) the moon, which isn’t actually a light source on its own at all. Predictably, some literalist idiots left. Fred:

This sad, angry woman has somehow been convinced that it is impossible to believe in God without also believing in an illiterately literal reading of Genesis 1:16. She’s painted herself into a corner in which she must reject not only evolution, but the existence of the dark side of the moon. She is forced to regard Neil Armstrong as the pawn of Satan.

Awesome. Read the whole thing.

In which we discuss certain ratings with Captain Telescope

The Money article published today listing the Best Jobs in America resulted in the following exchange with one of our far-flung correspondents:

Telescope: you see that money magazine rated software developer the #1 job?
Heathen: yes. they were not thinking of the part where you fuck with ant.
Telescope: obviously they didn't consider "bait shop owner" either


In re: “fuck with ant:” Ant cannot be bothered to check for normal environment variables, since cell phones don’t have them (fuck cell phones; just sniff for the goddamn things and use ’em if they’re there, and fail back to a config file or command line args if not). Ergo, if you need to do your http lookups through a proxy, just setting the http_proxy environment variable gets you precisely nowhere.

Ant has a setproxy task you can use, but it apparently isn’t honored by some things, like javadoc and saxon. Nor are -D parameters sent on the ant command line honored by said miscreants, nor are settings followed. To get the javadoc/saxon standard to use the cocksucking proxy, you have to actually insert the parameters in the target stanza.

Not, of course, that this is documented anywhere. Fucking cargo-cult Java bullshit.


Where To Eat

At least according to Restaurant Magazine, which provides this handy list of the 50 best restaurants in the world. Number 1? El Bulli, in Spain. The top US spots include The French Laundry (Napa, no. 4), Per Se (NYC, no. 8; Keller therefore has two of the top 10), Jean Georges (NYC, 16), Daniel (NYC, 18), Chez Panisse (Berkeley, 20), Charlie Trotter’s (Chicago, 26), Le Bernardin (NYC, 32), and Gramercy Tavern (NYC, 45). We can vouch for the awesomeness of the Laundry, the Tavern, and Chez Panisse (which is easily the best buy among the US spots). As for the rest, we reckon it’s time for another few nights in NYC, plus a rendezvous in Chicago with the Legal Department.

Libby, Plame, Etc.

So, remember a while back, when one of the new talking points from the White House was that the Vice President’s powers included the ability to declassify information? People wondered a little about why this was important, but the reason is pretty transparent: if Libby flips on Cheney and says that it was the Veep who told him to link Plame’s identity, their fallback position is that because Cheney is VP, his order to disclose Plame’s classified status means he was declassifying her status. Ergo, no classified leak exists. It’s an end run around the laws concerning classified material, but certainly par for the course with this most mendacious of administrations.

Now the story’s getting more interesting, as Libby is asserting that the order came from Bush. We can assume that the GOP noise machine will immediately start in with a variant of the “if the President does it, it’s not illegal” canard that is so dangerously close to Louis XIV’s (in)famous pronouncement in re: state-monarch unity. However, it ain’t necessarily so, and I pray that won’t fly. Bush deciding to leak Plame’s CIA identity would and should remain a crime. Surely Bush cannot simply decide to declassify her status as political payback and get away with it. At least, I’d be sure of that if we still lived in a country that enjoyed the rule of law a bit more universally; Bush’s imperial presidency has already done substantial damage to that most basic of governmental ideals. It remains to be seen how much more damage he’ll do.

(Thanks for the heads-up, Triple-F!)

Tom DeLay: On the way out of Congress, but still a classless tool

He sent his minions to disrupt Nick Lampson’s press conference in Sugarland. Their clear goal was to prevent Lampson from being heard; one jackass had an airhorn, which (as noted in this photo gallery of the event) is the tool of choice for people who have nothing to say, but want to say it louder than anybody else. These “protesters” weren’t content to just, you know, protest — they actively tried to disrupt Lampson’s speech and, at one point, assaulted at least one Lampson supporter. More at Kos.

This is what the GOP is about, at least in DeLay country.

Dept. of Disintermediation

Wired is running a story on the gradual disintermediation of local NPR affiliates in favor of podcasts, mp3 downloads, and online streaming of the popular shows. NPR is different than, say, the RIAA in that they’re not pretending that their business model doesn’t need to evolve, and Wired makes much of this, but they don’t make one key point quite clear enough.

Lots of affiliates suck unmitigated ass. The Heathen household is a big NPR consumer, but we don’t sponsor the local station. Why? They’re awful. Their programming choices are pedestrian, and their locally produced content is amateurish at best. We view KUHF as a necessary evil, and the only reason we ever tune in is to get the national programming. In that sense, they are indistinguishable from the television broadcast network affiliates; we’d ditch them, too, if it were convenient to just get a national feed. It’s only under very rare circumstances that local broadcast media provide anything of value to us — e.g., during Hurricane Rita — and when that happens, we’ll gladly use rabbit ears. For the other 99.9% of the time, the local stations are the people screwing up our Tivo’s attempts to capture Letterman because they’ve decided people really want a 45 minute evening news show.

But back to NPR. We’d happily pay money directly to NPR for a feed of their national programs — Morning Edition, ATC, Marketplace, Fresh Air, etc. — as long as they were blissfully free of local interruption. They’re worth at least as much as HBO. Disintermediation is happening to the KUHFs of the world now because the internet makes it possible, but also because the affiliates offer nothing of value. It’s not just the pledge drives. It’s pledge drives in service of overwhelmingly half-assed programming. Radio is easy; getting content from the Internet is orders of magnitude more difficult compared to turning on the radio. That people are opting for that despite the higher barrier is an indictment of the local affiliate system. The desire to disintermediate is, in this case, a prerequisite to the actual disintermediation. It’s a choice listeners are making consciously and deliberately; it’s the market speaking. NPR and its affiliates would do well to listen carefully, and act accordingly.

Like this is in any way news

So the MPAA have decided to get on board with this online download thing for movies — sort of. Boing Boing details the utterly craptacular manner in which they’ve executed this notion. Key data points include “IE only downloads” and “twice the price of DVDs” and “DRMed out the wazoo.” It’s enough to make you think they’re trying to ensure the initiative’s failure, but we’re not sure they’re that smart.