The Least Accessible Post Ever

JWZ found what purports to be a lost draft of the Alien novelisation written by J. G. Ballard rather than Alan Dean Foster, from a script to have been shot by David Cronenberg instead of Ridley Scott.

A sample:

As the ovipositor sought out and probed the hollow of her solar plexus, the cat’s hiss framed the moment, a Polaroid of the Hieros Gamos of the once and future predicates of sentience. Reaching out, Ripley, the Madonna of the New Flesh, stroked the elongated head of the creature, her fingerprints in the mucus tracing in an unknown alphabet the names of the children of the dead.

Awesome. Brilliant. But the Venn diagram illustrating the portion of the Heathen audience likely to get the joke is absurdly small.

Things we don’t understand

Twice lately we have encountered boneheaded customer service reps who asked us for information most companies insist they’ll never, as a point of policy, ask for: our username and password. Late last week, we had a billing question for Macromedia Breeze, and after a long dialog attempting to convey what we needed (we’re not sure if the problem was language and stupidity on the other end of the phone, but “we need a detailed billing report” was apparently beyond her), the rep insisted that in order to get the data, they’d need both our site username and password. Um, no.

Then yesterday, whilst travelling, we discovered we had lots of voicemail. We weren’t sure what the PIN was for the manual dial-in number (usually we just use the web page), so we called Vonage — only to be told that they only way they could reset the password for us would be for us to provide them with our username and password.

Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot? It’s never a good idea to give up passwords to anything — even game companies know this; Blizzard makes a point of making sure all its players know that no Blizz employee will ever ask for your password. We wonder what the hell made Adobe and Vonage miss this day of Security 101.

Heathen Endorsement: SomaFM

Here at Heathen HQ, we have lots of music — so much so that Mrs Heathen grumbles about how much space the CD cabinet takes, in fact. Even so, sometimes you need to hear new stuff. Back when we were mere apostates (as opposed to full-growed heathen), that answer could be radio. Alas, with ownership rules relaxed (more accurately: downright slutty, and not in an ironic hipster way), the variety available on radio is sadly lacking even in markets that don’t suck — and the Heathen market, we’re here to tell you, sucks like an Electrolux.

Fortunately, there’s a little bit of cool radio available online. Our current favorite source is the Secret Agent feed from SomaFM: it’s commercial free, listener supported, and available at high enough bitrates that it sounds pretty nice even through the absurd boom-era equipment that graces the Heathen GeekCave. Best of all, if you’ve got the iTunes, you can play it through that — just click on “Radio” in the left-hand area and find the feed; it’s filed under “Electronica,” but that’s really not a fair description of the channel. Don’t like this one? The SomaFM site has plenty others to choose from.

As our occasional spiritual advisor is wont to say: Pick up on it. If you’re so inclined, send ’em some money.

As it turns out, facts still rule. GAO smacks down Bushite sex-ed.

The General Accounting Office has issued a legal opinion affirming that sex ed materials must include accurate information about both sexually transmitted diseases and condom use. Heretofore, HHS has insisted that materials coming from abstinence-only sources didn’t have to include such pesky facts because of some loophole; thankfully, the GAO is calling bullshit. Sex education, like all education, is worthless unless it’s fact-based, and the AO crowd just can’t stand to tell the truth.

GOP Ratfucking in Alabama

So, my friend Lowell Ray Barron’s father (also named Lowell) is a longtime democratic state senator in Alabama. For reasons that probably need no explanation, the state GOP is attempting to get Sen. Barron’s name dropped from the ballot, and the local radio news station has an online poll that is currently trending toward Evil.

I therefore ask all of you to take my word for it and head on over to to express your studied opinion that Sen. Barron’s name should NOT in fact be removed from the ballot. Vote early, vote often.


Why we miss what MTV used to be

Twenty years ago, MTV showed videos. Lots of them were crap, but some, a tiny but measurable fraction, were the inspired minifilms that defined the genre. Sometime in the 90s, though, they stopped being a music channel and started being a lifestyle channel, which is why we’ve never before today seen Michel Gondry‘s utterly brilliant video for Bjork’s “Bachelorette,” off her 1997 record Homogenic.

If they still played stuff like this, we’d have it on all the time.

We want one, but we’d prefer it in PDF

We’ve talked for years about wanting to build a dynamic, omnibus historical timeline, with just about every kind of event mapped onto it — nation-states, dynasties, empires, global events, wars, advances, discoveries, etc. — so that when someone says something about, say, the Hundred Years War, you could consult the timeline and see the historical context. Oh, and, by the way, what was happening in China then? The way we’ve been kicking it around, it’d be a database-driven tool that would allow filtration by geography, subject, etc., for dynamic views of history at a glance.

We didn’t figure we were inventing the idea of an omnibus timeline, and we were right: Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools weblog points out Rand McNally’s Histomap of World History (crappy name, neat idea). It’s a 4-foot-high chart showing much of what we’re talking about, though of course in dead-tree form it’s not possible to filter; you’re stuck with the view they give you. Still, it seems awful darn cool, and we’d love to put one on our office wall. At ten bucks, why not?

(Oh, by the way: we’re pretty sure this is the 4,000th installment of Heathen. Yay!)

After Pat’s Birthday

Pat Tillman’s brother, who enlisted with him after 9/11, has written a piece on the mess we’re in, and what you can do about it. Read it. Now. A bit to get you started:

It is Pat’s birthday on November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we get out.

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:

Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.


Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

(Hat tip to Rob.)

Yet another reason why we don’t bother with Cnet or

Via TechDirt, editor explains why Google is Immoral. Seriously, these people are idiots. The story is mentioning concerns the similarly boneheaded Belgian press organs that insisted, via lawsuit, that Google stop indexing them. And they won.

Think about that for a minute. Google indexes them, which makes it easier for people to FIND and READ their stories. And they sued to stop it. Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot, right?

Well, not in CNet-land, where Charles Cooper thinks the Belgians are on to something. Whatever. CNet’s been a waste of time for a while now; we think it’s time to finally out-and-out delete ’em from our feedreader.

Your Government At Work

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) (no, not the famous one) has been under investigation as part of the Duke Cunningham affair for quite some time; the powerful Appropriations Committee chair has spent nearly a million bucks on legal fees already.

No surprise, right? In bed with Duke, odds are you got a bit dirty in the process.

Well, Ol’ Jerry apparently got tired of defending himself, so he’s decided to shut down the investigation. On Monday, he fired 60 contract investigators working for his committee and charged with rooting out fraud, corruption, etc., and then yesterday tried to claim said dismissal was a bipartisan move, contrary to confirmable facts.

Can you say “culture of corruption?”

They move fast.

WaPo via Atrios:

Moving quickly to implement the bill signed by President Bush this week that authorizes military trials of enemy combatants, the administration has formally notified the U.S. District Court here that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider hundreds of habeas corpus petitions filed by inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

In a notice dated Wednesday, the Justice Department listed 196 pending habeas cases, some of which cover groups of detainees. The new Military Commissions Act (MCA), it said, provides that “no court, justice, or judge” can consider those petitions or other actions related to treatment or imprisonment filed by anyone designated as an enemy combatant, now or in the future.

Gartner Proves Their Head Is Still Up Their Own Ass

We’ve been shaking our heads at Gartner for years now, but this one really takes the cake. Via /., we hear that Gartner thinks Apple should get out of the hardware business. Er, right. How about their record breaking quarter just now, or the runaway success of the iPod? Failing the obviousness of those, how about something that should be clear to people who bill themselves as analysts: Apple kit just works because they own the whole product. Making the hardware gives them control of far more aspects of the product, which translates into the overall better user experience common to Apple products.

But it’s actually even stupider that just missing all those points: Gartner actually thinks Apple should outsource to Dell. We don’t know what they’re smoking (or how they’re making money), but we sure would like some. Have the folks at Gartner compared an Inspiron to a Powerbook lately? We’re guessing not.

Update: Mac pundit John Gruber of Daring Fireball agrees.

Olbermann on the Military Commissions Act

As always, Keith speaks the truth:

…on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:

A government more dangerous to our liberty than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

We have been here before — and we have been here before led here — by men better and wiser and nobler than George W. Bush.

He closes address the President:

Did it ever occur to you once, that in just 27 months and two days from now when you leave office, some irresponsible future President and a “competent tribunal” of lackeys would be entitled, by the actions of your own hand, to declare the status of “Unlawful Enemy Combatant” for, and convene a Military Commission to try, not John Walker Lindh, but George Walker Bush?

We have limitations on governmental (and especially executive) power for very good reasons. An excellent rule of thumb when contemplating expansion of those powers it so imagine how someone completely at odds with one’s own political values might utilize such an expansion. The GOP in general and this Administration in particular have completely missed this lesson, and we pray that a wiser Congress may see this folly, and correct this travesty sooner rather than later.

Best process monitor EVAR.

BoingBoing points us to The Device, a handcrafted cherry box with two analog dials and a USB interface. With host software, you can have it display whatever you want on the dials and lights that festoon this mad-scientist-worthy gadget.

We want one, but only after they release the OS X and/or Linux software.

So, as we wait for a build to test, we’re cleaning out our email

And what do we find? Law and Order: Special Letters Unit. We love that the detectives actually resemble Stabler, Benson, and (most obviously) Richard Belzer‘s John Munch (whose name is actually Munch in the skit).

Munch-being-Munch in the skit makes the character the most crossed-over one in TV, with appearances on 8 different shows. Wikipedia suggests that Belzer only played him in 7 of those, which is a record on its own. Belzer as Munch appears in 122 episodes of Homicide, 158 and counting on L&O:SVU, plus crossovers on “regular” Law & Order, L&O:Trial By Jury, The X-Files, Arrested Development, and the something called The Beat; someone else voices the muppet.

(With this many crossovers, obviously Munch plays into the Tommy Westphall Hypothesis.)

We’d really like to test software now.

What opposing gay marriage means

Former Rep. Gerry Studds married his partner, Dean Hara in Massachusetts, but the Feds don’t recognize that — so Mr Hara is therefore ineligible for any portion of Studds’ Congressional pension.

Opposing gay marriage means this theme will be repeated over and over again. Inheritance and survivor’s benefits happen automatically for married heterosexuals, and are capriciously denied to homosexuals seeking the same union. It’s petty and sad, and speaks to a profound moral blindness from our supposed “Christian” Right.

We knew it was coming, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable

Bush signed the torture-and-no-Habeas bill today. See also the Washington Post:

President Bush this morning proudly signed into law a bill that critics consider one of the most un-American in the nation’s long history. The new law vaguely bans torture — but makes the administration the arbiter of what is torture and what isn’t. It allows the president to imprison indefinitely anyone he decides falls under a wide-ranging new definition of unlawful combatant. It suspends the Great Writ of habeas corpus for detainees. It allows coerced testimony at trial. It immunizes retroactively interrogators who may have engaged in torture.

and the ACLU:

The president can now — with the approval of Congress — indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions. Nothing could be further from the American values we all hold in our hearts than the Military Commissions Act.

So doomed.

Dept. of Telling Statistics

MAD points us to this bit over at the American Prospect, which is really just a pointer to Krugman:

There are two reasons why party control is everything in this election.

The first, lesser reason is the demonstrated ability of Republican Congressional leaders to keep their members in line, even those members who cultivate a reputation as moderates or mavericks. G.O.P. politicians sometimes make a show of independence, as Senator John McCain did in seeming to stand up to President Bush on torture. But in the end, they always give the White House what it wants: after getting a lot of good press for his principled stand, Mr. McCain signed on to a torture bill that in effect gave Mr. Bush a completely free hand.

And if the Republicans retain control of Congress, even if it’s by just one seat in each house, Mr. Bush will retain that free hand. If they lose control of either house, the G.O.P. juggernaut will come to a shuddering halt.

Yet that’s the less important reason this election is all about party control. The really important reason may be summed up in two words: subpoena power…

The current Congress has shown no inclination to investigate the Bush administration. Last year The Boston Globe offered an illuminating comparison: when Bill Clinton was president, the House took 140 hours of sworn testimony into whether Mr. Clinton had used the White House Christmas list to identify possible Democratic donors. But in 2004 and 2005, a House committee took only 12 hours of testimony on the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

The official Heathen position has always been “keep either party from controlling both the White House and Congress,” but even our cynical hearts couldn’t predict how bad it would get once that happened.

How many?

The Lancet says, probably correctly (since they’re, you know, scientists), that the Iraqi war has cost 600K+ Iraqi lives. That’s a pretty big number, and it makes the war look even worse than it did already, so the reaction of the right wingers isn’t surprising at all. Also unsurprising is how unconvincing their reactions are; they pretty much all boil down to the sort of denial we’ve grown to expect from Bush: “I don’t consider it a credible report.” From Billmon:

Well of course Bible Boy doesn’t think it’s credible. After all, what do Johns Hopkins University and The Lancet know about faith-based epidemiology? Nothing. They’re just a bunch of doctors. Now if the study had been conducted by a committee of evangelical chiropractors from Oral Roberts University, that would be different.

Exactly. We’d laugh, but it’s too depressing.