What Microsoft Wants

Take a look at what the boys in Redmond want to do with Vista’s follow-up: basically, charge for every little aspect of the OS, and ensure you have no control of the hardware YOU paid for.

We remind you at this time that OS X is far more open, and that Linux is actually both free and Free:

The message is clear. Get out while you can. Microsoft’s only interest is to empty your pockets and keep your computer hostage. It wants to turn computing into a monopoly content distribution channel and sell you to the highest bidder. Choose freedom and switch to Free/Open-source software.

Random Observations in Jacksonville, January, 2007

None of this is worth its own post, but:

  • This morning, in response to this story, the CNN “American Morning” weatherdroid made appropriate Monty Python references.
  • In the new category of largely miserable “business” hotels — which is to say, low-frills motels with kitchenettes you won’t use — the list of “shit we don’t have to give you” has apparently expanded past “restaurants” and “bars” to include “ice machines.” In response to one of the former, we picked up a half-pint of client whisky for a nightcap, but found we had no ice bucket. Upon consulting the front desk, we were cherrily informed that the kitchenette’s fridge had an icemaker we had but to enable to enjoy frozen water in 20 to 30 minutes. We suggested that perhaps at a hotel, we should be able to have ice whenever we wanted, and Charming and Cute Front Desk Girl agreed, whereupon we treked to the back-of-the-house kitchen, where she prevailed upon Gruff Kitchen Worker to supply me with ice forthwith. We received said ice in a plastic bag. We think we like the loud-as-a-goddamn-car-crash machines out on route 1 better, in retrospect.
  • Said hotel has forced us to re-examine our theory of television choices varying inversely with hotel quality. In the past, we’ve found crappy hotels trying to make up for it with 40 or 50 channels, while nicer properties were able to get by with decidedly pedestrian cable packages. Here, however, we find both no amenities to speak of and a whopping two dozen options, mostly crap. Therefore, we figure it varies by rate, not actual quality, because these fuckers are charging a buck-seventy a night for this ersats palace.
  • In Florida, ice can still form on your car windshield overnight, but it’s a way bigger pain to remove because, you know, FLORIDA.

The UC system has balls, and we like it

They have declined to accredit some course from right-winger Christian schools that use profoundly questionable source materials; of course, the school is suing.

UC seems to be in a good position; from their own fact sheet:

Some of the courses rejected by UC used certain textbooks published by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books as primary instructional materials. Although UC has approved courses that use other textbooks from these publishers, these books were reviewed by faculty who concluded they did not meet UC’s guidelines for primary textbooks. Had the courses at issue used these textbooks as supplementary, rather than primary, texts, it is likely they would have been approved.

The question the University must confront in reviewing these texts is not whether they have religious content, but whether they provide a comprehensive view of the relevant subject matter, reflecting knowledge generally accepted in the scientific and educational communities and with which a student at the university level should be conversant. In the books in question, the publishers themselves acknowledge that the primary goal is to teach religious doctrine rather than the scholarship that is generally accepted in the relevant fields of study. For example, the introduction to the primary textbook for the science courses in question states clearly that it teaches students that their conclusions must conform to the Bible, and that scientific material and methods are secondary (emph added.)

Um, holy cow. That’s right; it’s a science textbook that places the Bible and issues of faith over that of the scientific method and the observable world. If you’re in a science class that does that, it’s not a science class. It’s Sunday School. UC should be under no obligation to treat such courses the same as genuine work done at a real school.

The stakes here are high, but dammit, somebody has to take a stand for actual education. The fundie POV is explicitly anti-intellectual and anti-science; the whole idea that a course like that could get you into college is laughable, and we pray (yes) that the courts see that.

The ASCI and Calvary lawyers have framed this as outright religious discrimination, and an abridgement of freedom of speech. According to them, UC is reaching its Orwellian hand into their classrooms and dictating what they can and can’t teach. They can’t seem to distinguish the difference between someone saying, “We have standards, and this book or course doesn’t meet them,” (according to UC, between 10 and 15% of all high school courses they vet fail to make the grade; yet Calvary offers 43 other courses that UC accepts without issue), and outright religious discrimination.

UC is not telling them what to teach. They are still free to choose whatever curriculum they deem appropriate to a Christian education. What they’re asking for is freedom from facing the consequences of those choices. I can’t spend a semester reading whatever books I choose, and then accuse the university of discrimination when they flunk me for not knowing what’s in the syllabus. But that’s pretty much what Calvary is trying to do.

The lawsuit has already been in process for 18 months, and has survived preliminary hearings. It looks as though it will be coming to trial sometime this year. If UC wins (and their case looks good), it may set a powerful precedent that will allow other universities to take a stand for real science in the future. If they lose, all bets are off: no university anywhere will be allowed to set or maintain admissions standards. Such a ruling could undermine the foundations of merit-based secular education as we’ve known it — which may, in the end, be exactly what the plaintiffs are looking for.

Godspeed, UC.

Arar Update

Canadian citizen Maher Arar — the poster boy, if you will, for extraordinary rendition — will be compensated by his government to the tune of $10.5 MM (CN) for its role in his year-long ordeal. Arar was arrested at JFK en route from Tunisia to his home in Canada in 2002; after 11 days, the US officials sent him to Syria, where he was frequently beaten and kept in solitary confinement for the better part of a year before being released.

This is better than nothing, but the real problem is that the true architects of his torture and imprisonment are the US, who still refuse to remove him from their watch lists despite his having been cleared by a 2-year inquiry, and despite the fact that the only reason he was on US watch lists in the first place is because of the original Canadian error.

In case you forgot: AG Gonzales is an EVIL FUCK

Here he is insisting there’s no such thing as a Constitutional right to habeas corpus:

This is really beyond the pale. From the Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel:

“While Gonzales’s statement has a measure of quibbling precision to it, his logic is troubling because it would suggest that many other fundamental rights that Americans hold dear (such as free speech, freedom of religion, and the right to assemble peacefully) also don’t exist because the Constitution often spells out those rights in the negative. It boggles the mind the lengths this administration will go to to systematically erode the rights and privileges we have all counted on and held up as the granite pillars of our society since our nation was founded.”

(Quoted at Slashdot)

Honestly, this sort of absurd statement ought to be grounds for his removal and, frankly, disbarrment.

How Not To Be A Dick

So, Second Life, a weird sort of massively multiplayer game, has been getting an awful lot of press and hype lately, which led some pranksters to create GetAFirstLife.com, a somewhat obvious but still funny satire site.

The fun part is what comes next. In the comments of the parody site, they jokingly invite the almost-inevitable-today “Cease and Desist” letter from Second Life’s publisher, Linden Lab. That’s kind of funny.

Funnier, though, is that Linden Lab replied in order to reject the invitation. In part:

We do not believe that reasonable people would argue as to whether the website located at http://www.getafirstlife.com/ constitutes parody – it clearly is. Linden Lab is well known among its customers and in the general business community as a company with enlightened and well-informed views regarding intellectual property rights, including the fair use doctrine, open source licensing, and other principles that support creativity and self-expression. We know parody when we see it.

Moreover, Linden Lab objects to any implication that it would employ lawyers incapable of distinguishing such obvious parody. Indeed, any competent attorney is well aware that the outcome of sending a cease-and-desist letter regarding a parody is only to draw more attention to such parody, and to invite public scorn and ridicule of the humor-impaired legal counsel. Linden Lab is well-known for having strict hiring standards, including a requirement for having a sense of humor, from which our lawyers receive no exception.

In conclusion, your invitation to submit a cease-and-desist letter is hereby rejected.

Nice move. They get it. Now, to educate the rest of corporate America.

The Brits Understand: Terrorism is a crime, not war

Via BoingBoing, this quote from Sir Ken Macdonald, British director of public prosecutions:

It is critical that we understand that this new form of terrorism carries another more subtle, perhaps equally pernicious, risk. Because it might encourage a fear-driven and inappropriate response. By that I mean it can tempt us to abandon our values.

London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war.

We wouldn’t get far in promoting a civilising culture of respect for rights amongst and between citizens if we set about undermining fair trials in the simple pursuit of greater numbers of inevitably less safe convictions. On the contrary, it is obvious that the process of winning convictions ought to be in keeping with a consensual rule of law and not detached from it. Otherwise we sacrifice fundamental values critical to the maintenance of the rule of law — upon which everything else depends.

Ah, the loonie right

They’re making shit up about Barack Obama. Fortunately, CNN remembered it used to be a NEWS organization and more or less obliterated the “story” promulgated by the Moonie Times (Washington Times and Insight Magazine) organization and Fox News. (The Moonie mag Insight is still insisting their unsourced story stands despite CNN’s actual investigative coverage, and they end up looking pretty stupid because of it.)

Even better: Obama himself isn’t taking this lying down.

From comedy relief to over-arching lynchpin: R2-D2 Reconsidered

Whoa. This is at once incredibly nerdy and very well-considered.

If we accept all the Star Wars films as the same canon, then a lot that happens in the original films has to be reinterpreted in the light of the prequels. As we now know, the rebel Alliance was founded by Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Bail Organa. What can readily be deduced is that their first recruit, who soon became their top field agent, was R2-D2.

Go read it. It’s not long. (Widely linked; we got it from JWZ.)

(Patrick: Email me your response to avoid the suckery that is the heathen comment engine.)

Dept. of Polite but Scathing Rebuttals

Anant Raut, an attorney with the white-shoe (and known Aussie-employing) firm of Weil, Gotshal, and Manges, responds to the DoD’s sniveling goatfucker Charles Stimson in Why I Defend ‘Terrorists’, an open letter running in Salon. A bit:

Mr. Stimson, I don’t defend “terrorists.” I’m representing five guys who were held or are being held in Guantánamo without ever being charged with a crime, some of them for nearly five years. Two have been quietly sent home to Saudi Arabia without an explanation or an admission of error. The only justification the U.S. government has provided for keeping the other three is the moniker “enemy combatant,” a term that has been made up solely for the purpose of denying them prisoner-of-war protection and civilian protection under the Geneva Conventions. It’s a term that was attached to them in a tribunal proceeding so inherently bogus that even the tribunal president is compelled to state on the record, in hundreds of these proceedings, that a combatant status review tribunal “is NOT a court of law, but a non-judicial administrative hearing.”


[…] the question I get asked more than any other is, “How can a place like Guantánamo continue to exist?” I think it is because we as a nation are afraid to admit we’ve done something wrong.

There is a widespread belief, as well as a need to believe, that the men we’re holding in Guantánamo must be bad people. They must have done something to end up there. They couldn’t just be, in large part, victims of circumstance, or of the fact the U.S. government was paying large bounties in poor countries for the identification and capture of people with alleged ties to terror. If the bulk of the detainees are guilty of nothing but being in the wrong place at the wrong time, if there’s no evidence that some of them did the things of which the government has accused them, then it would mean that we locked innocent people in a hole for five years. It would mean not only that our government wrongfully imprisoned these men but that the rest of us stood idly by as they did it. (Emph. added.) It would mean that we have learned nothing from Korematsu v. United States, that we have learned nothing from the McCarthy-era witch hunts, and that when we wake up from this national nightmare, once again we will marvel at the extremism we tolerated in defense of liberty. It would mean that even as we extol the virtues of fairness and due process abroad, we take away those very rights from people on our own soil.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It is my belief that the true test of a nation’s commitment to liberty occurs not when it is most readily given, but rather when it is most easily taken away.

Mr. Stimson, that is why I do what I do.

Nice job.

Sort of inevitable, really

Eventually, it was a given that someone who came of age in the 70s would run for office, and that pictures like this would surface. About this, we can only say that we hope he remembers Lavon when it comes time to pick a running mate. Awwwwwww, yeah. Shut up and put your butt in the puddin’.

Paul Ford Redeems Himself

We’ve long found Ford tedious, precious, annoying, but this bit redeems just about everything. On the misuse of the phrase “guilty pleasure:”

[But] Justin Timberlake is not a guilty pleasure. Putting oven cleaner in your daughter’s Similac is a guilty pleasure, or smearing birdseed on your balls and visiting an aviary. Having a thing for Sting’s lutework —

Goddammit. As I was drafting this my web server, which resides in Texas, was hacked into by Spaniards. Spamming Spaniards, or at least someone coming in through a machine in Spain. Off I go to set up a new, clean, new device that will present more of a challenge to intruders.

Dept. of Creepying Moronism, FedEx Division

You can’t ship made-up things, apparently:

The FedEx guy then grabs cans of nitrogen (N2) and neon (Ne), with their store-advertised “purity” of 78.084 percent and 0.0018 percent respectively (which was our way of being clever about selling cans of normal air, since that’s their percentage in the atmosphere — which, of course, was our way of making more money for 826 Seattle by selling products that cost almost nothing to produce). Here’s what the atmospheric gas cans look like on the shelf:

FedEx guy: Nope. You can’t ship these either.

Me: But… they’re empty! It’s just air. And… nitrogen? It’s, like, almost 80% of the atmosphere. There’s nothing dangerous about nitrogen, even if it were pure.

FedEx guy: They look too much like bomb-making materials.

Me [going into dumbfounded mode]: Bomb… Neon? What? Is there anything here I can legally ship? How about this bottle of tap water?

I hand him a bottle of Certainty (tagline, “For when it’s preferable to think you know more”), which looks like this: [pic elided]

FedEx guy: Nope. It still looks too suspicious, too much like bomb-making materials.

Me: But it’s “Certainty.” That’s not even a thing. I just made that up. [That’s not strictly true. It’s a scientific term/idea, and we sell it alongside bottles of “Uncertainty.” But it’s like having a bottle labeled “Friendship.”]

FedEx guy: It’s just too suspicious.

[long pause]

Me [going into post-9/11, TSA-style super-dumbfounded mode]: So what you’re saying is you can’t ship any sort of containers, even if they’re empty? You know that we originally ordered these empty cans and jars from a company, and they shipped them to us.

FedEx guy: They must have used a different vendor [“vendor”? I can’t remember, some word like that, like a “service”].

Which I imagine he said because he couldn’t bring himself to say, “It’s the words that are on the containers that are dangerous” — even after I had opened them all and demonstrated the utter harmlessness/emptiness of the containers themselves.

(Via BB.)

Our kind of chef

David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar in NYC takes no shit from the veggie hordes:

Back before Momofuku Noodle Bar was a certified hit, before it won widespread critical acclaim, before there was a rabble of foodies parked outside its door every night at 5:30 sharp, clamoring to get in, Chang remembers receiving a phone call. “It was a lady who said she was a vegetarian,” he says, “and that she got something to go, and there was broth on the side, and she drank it.”

“I said, ‘We don’t have any vegetarian broths,’ and she said, ‘Well, you should, and anyway, somebody said it was,’ and I said, ‘Well, that must have been a miscommunication.'”

“You can’t do this to the vegetarians!” the lady bellowed, before threatening to sue Chang and put Momofuku Noodle Bar out of business.

“I got so pissed off,” says Chang.

So pissed off, in fact, that the very next day, in a public-relations gambit that would give Danny Meyer night sweats, Chang and his co-chef, Joaquin Baca, removed every vegetarian dish from the menu (back then there were still a few) except the ginger-scallion noodles. (Emph. added.)

“We added pork to just about everything else,” says Chang, giggling like a schoolgirl.

“We said, ‘Fuck it, let’s just cook what we want.‘””


How to tell if you’re a big ol’ dork

While on a business trip, you buy (a) the WoW expansion and (b) a new mouse to play it with, as you left your travel mouse at home and find playing games with the trackpad on your laptop unsatisfying.

Amusingly, in the utterly anonymous shopping center where our hotel is, there’s an EB Games. EB was sold out, unless you’d thought to pre-order the expansion at this particular podunk pissant hole-in-the-wall shop. However, around the corner there is an Apple store.

The Apple store had a shelf full. Blizzard has, for most of its history, shipped Mac and PC versions of their games on the same day, and on the same media. We expect many folks have left the EB shop disappointed with no idea they could get their jollies just 100 yards away.

Freebie or honeypot?

We post this from gate B-62A at IAH in Houston, where an open wireless access point called “co_crew_wireless” allowed us in, presumably a Continental network. We reckon either they know it’s open and don’t care, or don’t know it’s open and intend for it to be a corporate network only, or it’s someone’s attempt to sniff traffic and such for nefarious purposes.

If the latter, good luck, buddy. We do everything over SSH anyway.

Mainstream Media Picks Up Law Firm Boycott Story

The good news: the Pentagon is explicitly disavowing the statements made by Charles Stimson.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Brian Maka, said Stimson was not speaking for the Bush administration.

Stimson’s comments “do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the thinking of its leadership,” Maka told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Stimson’s “shameful and irresponsible” remarks deserve condemnation, said Neal Sonnett, a Miami lawyer and president of the American Judicature Society, a nonpartisan group of judges, lawyers and others.

Sonnett said in a statement that Stimson had made a “blatant attempt to intimidate lawyers and their firms who are rendering important public service in upholding the rule of law and our democratic ideals.”

Stimson on Thursday told Federal News Radio, a local commercial station that covers the government, that he found it “shocking” that lawyers at many of the nation’s top law firms represent detainees.

Stimson listed the names of more than a dozen major firms he suggested should be boycotted.

“And I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms,” Stimson said.

Asked who might be paying the law firms to represent Guantanamo detainees, Stimson hinted at wrongdoing.

“It’s not clear, is it? Some will maintain that they’re doing it out of the goodness of their heart — that they’re doing it pro bono, and I suspect they are,” he said. “Others are receiving monies from who knows where and I’d be curious to have them explain that.”

What a reprehensible jackass. But he gets worse:

Stimson also described Guantanamo as “certainly, probably the most transparent and open location in the world” because of visits from more than 2,000 journalists since it opened five years ago. However, journalists are not allowed to talk to detainees on those visits, their photos are censored and their access to the base has at times been shut off entirely.

He discounted international outrage over the detention center as “small little protests around the world” that were “drummed up by Amnesty International” and inflated in importance by liberal news media outlets.

Uh, right. Our own court system disagrees, bub:

FBI agents have documented more than two dozen incidents of possible mistreatment at Guantanamo. In one, a detainee’s head was wrapped in duct tape because he chanted the Quran; in a second, a detainee pulled out his hair after hours in a sweltering room.

In a December court ruling, a federal judge in Washington decried the plight of “some of the unfortunate petitioners who have been detained for many years in the terrible conditions at Guantanamo Bay.”

The judge criticized a system in which dozens have been held without charges and cut off from the world for lack of English or knowledge about the law, leaving them no choice but to turn to a fellow prisoner with outside connections for legal help.

Since the detention center opened, the U.S. military has transferred or released about 380 detainees. Some 395 remain in the prison.

Bush to Seniors: Drop Dead

The newly Democratically-controlled House righted a serious wrong in the much ballyhooed Medicare drug plan this week by reversing a clause explicitly preventing Medicare from negotiated with drug companies for the best price.

Yes, that’s right: the GOP bill forbid negotiation. Gee, corporate handouts, anyone?

It gets better. Under the new bill, Medicare will be required to negotiated for the best price. And, of course, Bush has threatened to veto it if it makes it to his desk. Nice one, George.

The Democratic majority may not, in and of itself, be big enough to override a veto, but it’ll only take a few defections to create such a supermajority. And even if that isn’t possible, Bush will make it abundantly clear where he and his party stand on these matters, in front of God and everybody.

Best. Lit Gag. EVAR.

Or, why the New Yorker remains the coolest magazine in the known world. From EmDashes:

Q. Is it true that at some point in the seventies, Goings On About Town used the listings for The Fantasticks to serialize James Joyce’s Ulysses?

Jon writes: Yes. The New Yorker began serializing Ulysses in the November 3, 1968 listing for The Fantasticks […]. That issue quoted the copyright information from the third printing of the novel (London, Egoist Press). The book’s opening words — “Stately plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed” — appeared in the Dec. 21, 1968, issue. The serialization lasted almost three years, ending in November of 1971, and encompassed the entirety of the book’s first chapter. By the end, Ulysses had spread to the listings for other long-running musicals such as Hello, Dolly!, and Fiddler on the Roof. For about six months prior to serializing Joyce’s novel, the magazine had filled the Fantasticks listing with geometry (“The sum of the squares of the two other sides”), grammar (“‘I’ before ‘e,’ but not after ‘c'”), instructions for doing your taxes (“If payments [line 21] are less than tax [line 16], enter Balance Due”), and other nonsense.

In 1970, New Yorker editor Gardner Botsford explained to Time magazine that he began the serialization of Ulysses because he got bored writing the same straight capsule reviews week after week. Asked about reader response to the serialization, Botsford observed, “Many are delighted they can identify the excerpts, but others think we are trying to communicate with the Russian herring fleet in code.”

It’s true; thanks to the Complete New Yorker, we have a screenshot from the 12/21/68 issue:

Stately plumb Buck Mulligan

Click thru for the original 2-page spread; there’s a lovely surprise on the 2nd page.