It’s like a late Christmas present to people who like facts

Giant swinging dick and all-around smart guy Zbigniew Brzezinski lays the smackdown on Joe Scarborough on his own show during a discussion of the Gaza conflict in the larger context of mideast relations in the last 20 or so years. Among other things, Z pointed out that under Clinton, we had a policy of engagement and discussion for both sides of the issue, and kept Israel and Arafat at the table — which cut down on violence. Until 1/01, when Clinton left office and Bush more or less abandoned that approach. Anyway, Joe said something stupid, to which ZB replied “You know, you have such a stunning superficial knowledge of what went on that it’s almost embarrassing to listen to you.” HuffPo has video. Don’t miss it.

Dept. of Early Bloomers

The Foodie at Fifteen blog’s most recent entry recounts the author’s third trip to Per Se, wherein he blew the last of his summer job money.

Dude. All I bought was a guitar and some weed. Also, I didn’t eat any of Keller’s food until I was 30. Go read this; it’s delightful. And not at all overdone; if Per Se is on par with Keller’s other kitchen, if anything this kid undersells the experience.

Alberto Gonzales remains a Douchebag

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that “for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror.”

WTF, Gonzo? This blogger sums it up:

This is pretty much the most clueless statement I can imagine. The treatment Gonzales received concerned the program of politicizing the department he was in charge of, the Department of Justice. It came after a string of answers which showed Gonzales either didn’t know at all what was happening in his own DOJ, or was purposely misleading Senators with a string of “I do not recall” answers. Gonzales now doesn’t just fail to recall, he fails to understand the enormity of his incometencies. Look for no responsibility taken in this book.

Worse here is that Gonzales compares himself to the real victims in the War on Terror, the men and women who died on 9/11, the soldiers who died because of Bush’s policies, the tens of thousands of Iraqi dead. . . those are victims of the “War on Terror.” Mr. Gonzales is at worst complicit in some of those deaths in that he helped justify some ugly policies. At best, Gonzales is merely a bumbling incompetent.

More on the interview over at TPM; the TPM excerpt includes this heartwarming quote:

The Harvard Law School graduate, onetime corporate lawyer and Texas judge also hasn’t been able to land a job. He has delivered a few paid speeches, done some mediation work and plans to do some arbitration, but said law firms have been “skittish” about hiring him.

Some small justice, I suppose.

The most football fun I’ve had all year

Courtesy of a certain longtime Heathen, I attended the Texas Bowl this evening with a cadre of Rice alums I haven’t seen in some time — most of them have moved to Austin (or, worse, the suburbs) in the 14 years since we all used to drink too much at the Marquis, so it was a fun group to watch a game with no matter what was going to happen.

However, what actually DID happen was pretty great, as the Rice Owls (astoundingly 9-3 going into this) trounced Western Michigan (also 9-3 pre-game) 38 to 14 — and it wasn’t that close. Both the WMU TDs came well after the game was mathematically over. Rice, for its part, bags its first bowl win since the 1954 Cotton Bowl, when they beat a certain western Alabama team all right-thinking Heathen know and love.

To say the accumulated Owl faithful were gobsmacked by the win — and the dominance of the performance — is to understate by several orders of magnitude. “Rice kids” from 18 to 80 stood outside the stadium watching the postgame fireworks, slackjawed at the spectacle of it all. I feel bad for the WMU folks (nobody likes getting routed), but their day will come; Cubit’s a good coach, and he’s doing good things up there. Rice, though, has been waiting a long, long time, and I’m glad I was there to see it.

Cary, one more time

The Chronicle’s list of stars who died in 2008 is made of national or international luminaries like George Carlin, William Buckley, Bo Diddley, and David Foster Wallace — and also our friend and local artist Cary Winscott, who died in September after a battle with cancer.

I’ve complained about the Chron’s theater coverage a whole lot over the years, but this is a really fine gesture that I know Cary’s friends appreciate deeply.

Update: The Houston Press does one better. Here Cary makes their top 5 biggest Houston losses, a list that puts him in the same room with Michael DeBakey.

Cary Winscott. Not a big name, to be sure, but a big part of the antic and edgy goings-on at Infernal Bridegroom Productions (Notable death, 2007). He was only 38, and his death hit hard in the alt-theater community.

We miss you, man.

They always kill the dog

What is it with cops killing unthreatening dogs? Radley Balko explores the issue, along with its strong correlation with absurdly out-of-scale paramilitary tactics. One anecdote involves plainclothes cops skulking around a private home with no warrant, and then killing the dog anyway.

Nothing, of course, ever happens to the cops who do this.

I’m too lazy to check, but..

…I’m reasonably sure there’s a post about It’s A Wonderful Life for very nearly every year this site has existed. This is the 2008 version, spawned largely by this excellent piece from the New York times that points out something I’ve long kinda kept under my hat:

Capra’s film is really about the loss of dreams, and making do with what you get.

George wanted nothing in his life more than to escape boring old Bedford Falls, and is thwarted at every turn. He was denied even his generational globe-trotting (if harrowing) war-travel birthright because of his ear. Moreover, it’s not just the Universe giving George the finger; it’s his own family — his brother welshes on their deal, and instead of returning after college to run the B&L (and allow George to get his degree, too), he runs off to get married and work for his new in-laws somewhere else. When the crash comes, even hopes of a temporary escape collapse as George and Mary use their seed money to keep the B&L afloat.

From the NYT piece:

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

He’s right. And yet still we watch it. It’s a horror film in many ways, but one where the monster isn’t Jason or Freddie; instead, the thing under the bed is a stultifying hometown filled with people who love you. How twisted is that?

(Also amusing: I followed that article to the Wikipedia article about Gloria “Violet” Grahame; hers was a sordid Hollywood life, and included a number of paramours — as well as the distinction of spawning children by both Nicholas Ray and, later, Tom Ray — her former stepson. Wild!)


I’ve never bothered with one of these things before, but there’s a first time for everything. Also, I’m watching my Windows Server VM update itself so I can do some testing, and that drastically limits what I can do besides “write text” for the moment.

So, seven random things about Chief Heathen, which turns out to be harder to make interesting if you’ve got eight years of blog posts illuminating most of your life.

  1. I wish I could sing. It turns out I have excellent pitch, but (apparently) neither the disposition to gain technical mastery of an instrument nor vocal cords that will do anything other than my normal speaking voice. It’s annoying.

  2. I hate old movies. Not all of them, just most of them. Generally speaking, if it was made before 1965, I probably have little interest in watching it. I’m not sure why this is — certainly the vocabulary of film became drastically more subtle and interesting in the auteur era of the 70s, and certainly too films made since I was born have more to offer me in terms of cultural resonance, but other than that kind of generality I can’t really explain my distaste for old movies. Obviously, there are exceptions for giants of the film canon, but for popular movies it’s a pretty hard and fast line.

  3. My most recent passport — sadly now expired — was issued in a city and country that no longer exist. On a student tour of the Soviet Union in 1991, we all got royally hammered more or less at every opportunity, and certainly before every Aeroflot ride. Between Moscow and Tbilisi, my passport must’ve slid out of my jacket as I napped (or was taken by a nefarious thief; it doesn’t really matter). This generated some great consternation for the tour leader (my Russian prof), but imposed no actual inconvenience aside from an early-morning trip to a photomat in Kiev for a replacement pic (where our Intourist guide forced the shopkeeper to take me immediately, and to hell with the 40 or so Ukrainians waiting in line). The actual passport wasn’t put together until our last city, where there was a U.S. consulate, and where I delighted myself by stepping back and forth across the threshold (“I’m in the US! I’m in the USSR! I’m in the US!” etc). Consequently, said passport — containing what must be the least flattering photo of me ever taken, and that’s saying something — is stamped “Issued by United States Consulate, Leningrad, U.S.S.R.”

  4. I’m shocked I’ve stayed in Houston 14 years. When I moved here in 1994, it was a lark — the idea was hatched in a drunken party weekend, and executed less than a month later. I assumed I’d live here for a bit, and then branch out. Except cool things kept happening, and I eventually bought a house, and my career turned into a travel-heavy thing (thereby rewarding me for living in mid-country), and I got involved in local nonprofits, and built a great network of friends, and here I am still. I still don’t think I’ll be here forever, but we sure do have good friends here. I just hate the summers.

  5. I’m coming to grips with my 20 years of science-fiction-fan apostasy, and have actually begun delving into the pool a bit more. I read piles and piles as a teen, but was pretty much done with it by late high school. Real books — and I still think of them as such — were more rewarding to me. In my thirties, flying as much as I do and in need of more reading material, I started sampling again, first with the Dresden novels and then with Scalzi’s work, but also with bigger bits at a friend’s suggestion. It’ll never be what I read by default again — too much of it is utter crap, poorly imagined and badly written, and in willful violation of this law — but it’s fun to include as part of my literary diet.

  6. I never really planned this technology career, so I still don’t really know where it’s going. There’s a lot to unpack there, but I mostly decided against going to grad school in creative writing because I didn’t want to be poor, and I liked hacking with computers as much as I liked writing. But I didn’t really give it much more thought than that. I sort of thought I’d keep writing, and while in some ways (e.g., here) I have, I really pretty much retired from fiction and poetry a long time ago. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. It’s also pretty obvious my nonprofit arts activities are attempts to scratch this particular itch by being close to art being done instead of really making any of my own, and (like most such replacements) that’s unlikely to be satisfying in the long haul.

  7. It will surprise no one for me to say that I’m a deeply cynical bastard; I trust people in general to be dumb as posts and venal besides, and to act stupidly in their own interests, or based on superficial lies. This cynicism extends to an utter disgust ar the willful and ham-handed emotional manipulation that is part and parcel of so much of pop culture, and said culture’s inability to separate sentiment from sentimentality. So it may actually surprise people to learn that “It’s a Wonderful Life” completely has my number, and that Sam Wainwright’s telegram makes me tear up every single year: MR GOWER CABLED YOU NEED CASH STOP MY OFFICE INSTRUCTED TO ADVANCE YOU UP TO TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS STOP HEE HAW AND MERRY CHRISTMAS SAM WAINWRIGHT

Seven people? You must be joking. Virtually none of my people blog. But I’ll try: Dorman, Christina, Patrick, JoAnn, Chris and Cathy, Noel, and Erin, for whom this is a surprise soft-launch. (Sorry, honey; your idea is too good not to push.)

Overexposure, 28 years later

It seems we’ve landed on some sort of comedy variety show planet.” Kottke’s found the whole Star Wars appearance on the Muppet Show in 1980. Bonus: their appearance is sold as an “accident,” wherein they bump the formerly scheduled guest, Angus McGonagle the Argyle Gargoyle (who gorgeously gargles Gershwin).

I remember watching this in 1980, shocked and amazed at the whole idea of Luke and 3PO on TV.

Update: I do not actually recommend watching all three parts, lest you inadvertently watch the dance number in the third act.

In re: the auto bailout

From Signal vs. Noise, who got it from Andy Sullivan, who was quoting Peter Klein:

The proposed bailout of GM, Ford, and Chrysler overlooks an important fact. The US has one of the most vibrant, dynamic, and efficient automobile industries in the world. It produces several million cars, trucks, and SUVs per year, employing (in 2006) 402,800 Americans at an average salary of $63,358. That’s vehicle assembly alone; the rest of the supply chain employs even more people and generates more income. It’s an industry to be proud of. Its products are among the best in the world.

Their names are Toyota, Honda, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Subaru.

Interview with an Empty Suit

BoingBoing interviews Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, with predictably bullshit results, for example:

Chertoff: What I can tell you is that in the period prior to September 12, 2001, it was a regular, routine issue to have American aircraft hijacked or blown up from time to time, whether it was Lockerbie or TSA or TWA 857 [I believe he meant TWA 847 – Joel] or 9/11 itself. And we haven’t had even a serious attempt at a hijacking or bombing on an American plane since then.

But BoingBoing bothered to do some legwork:

According to, the last flight previous to 9/11 to be hijacked with fatalities from an American destination was a Pacific Southwest Airlines flight on December 7th, 1987. “Lockerbie” refers to Pan Am Flight 103 which was destroyed by a bomb over Scotland after departing from London Heathrow International Airport on its way to JFK, with screening done — as now — by an organization other than the TSA. TWA Flight 847 departed from Athens (Ellinikon) International Airport, also not under TSA oversight.

While Wikipedia’s list of aircraft hijackings may not be comprehensive — I cannot find a complete list from the FAA, which does not seem to list hijackings, including 9/11, in its Accidents & Incidents Data — the last incident of an American flight being hijacked was in 1994, when FedEx Flight 705 was hijacked by a disgruntled employee.

The implication that hijacking or bombing of American airline flights is a regular occurrence is not borne out by history, nor does it follow that increased screening by the TSA at airports has prevented more attacks since 9/11.

In other words, as we might’ve predicted, Chertoff it talking out of his ass, and does nothing here but make noises designed to support the obviously worthless policies his organization has pursued since 9/11.

This is as good a place as any to point out “End, don’t ment, the Transportation Security Administration,” an op-ed from the Christian Science Monitor that ran last week. In it, the author points out the absurdity of the liquid ban as an example case: enacted after the British “liquid explosives” plot, experts have since shown that it’s essentially impossible to fabricate an explosive from components in flight. You need a lab, careful procedures, a lot of time, and significant training. Further, British juries returned ZERO terrorism convictions associated with the “plot:”

The TSA makes it sound as though anyone with a year of high-school chemistry and some hydrogen peroxide can whip up explosives in an airplane’s restroom. But mixing a truly explosive bomb is a delicate operation. It requires exact temperatures, precise measurements and methods, and specialized equipment – all more commonly found in laboratories than lavatories. The procedure takes a while, too. And the fumes are likely to alert the passengers shifting from foot to foot in the aisle as they await their turn in the washroom.

In fact, chemists worldwide doubt that even the most accomplished terrorist can concoct such a combustive cocktail high above the Atlantic. A British jury this summer didn’t buy the allegations, either. Due to lack of evidence, only eight of the plot’s original 25 suspects finally made it to trial. As it turns out, police should have freed all the defendants: jurors refused to convict anyone of terrorism. They exonerated one man, returned no verdict on four others, and settled on lesser charges for the remaining three.

But none of these facts seem to matter to the TSA. It needs something to justify its existence: Despite six years of patting down passengers, it hasn’t reported uncovering a single terrorist. No wonder it latched onto the nonsense about liquid bombs. Ferreting out and confiscating everyday substances not only makes work for 43,000 screeners, it also fools us into thinking this protects us.

The TSA has always been a political, not practical, response to 9/11. It hassles us at checkpoints not because of penetrating insights on security or some brilliant breakthrough, but because politicians handed it power. Specialists in security didn’t invent the TSA; the Bush administration imposed it on us. So we might hope the incoming president would abolish this absurd agency.

Word. So far, Obama has pledged to improve, but not abolish the agency. Let him know what security people actually think.

Now that’s MY kind of smuggler!

In Columbia, they call him Captain Nemo:

Reporting from Tumaco, Colombia — Squat, bull-necked and sullen-looking, Enrique Portocarrero hardly seems a dashing character out of a Jules Verne science fiction novel.

But law enforcement officers here have dubbed him “Captain Nemo,” after the dark genius of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” They say the 45-year-old has designed and built as many as 20 fiberglass submarines, strange vessels with the look of sea creatures, for drug traffickers to haul cocaine from this area of southern Colombia to Central America and Mexico.

(Via BB)

Leia on Lucas

From Lucas’ AFI award ceremony, here’s Carrie Fisher. Stay with it through the end:

How much do you love “I hope I slept with you to get the job, because if I didn’t, who the HELL was that guy?”

Ah, telcos. Will ever stop being craven weasels?

So, there’s been a bit of hoopla lately about network neutrality and what the Obama administration’s position might be thereon. NN is the idea that all net traffic should be treated the same, and that telcos shouldn’t be able to prioritize some data over others — just as the phone company doesn’t prioritize party A’s calls over party B’s on the basis of some “Gold Seal” level of service sold to A. This is a good notion for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that we don’t want the increasingly diversely-interested telcos deciding to, say, detain packets of data related to competitors’ services. (The other angle is that in order to deliver better service for some packets relative to today’s mode of work, you’d basically just be degrading everything else. It’s not like they’re gonna roll out a new nationwide fiber network and charge admission to the fast lane; it’s all about putting roadblocks up.)

Anyway, one bullshit argument the telcos love to use — especially when they can have idiot sockpuppet pseudo-analysts do their shilling for them — is that a network-neutral world is why Google gets such a free ride.

Free ride, you say? What’s he talking about? Good question. The idea is that Google, since it’s not paying for the round trip of bandwidth between you and Gmail, is somehow getting a subsidy. Except — first — every Google customer is paying for bandwidth somewhere, and — second — Google of course pays for bandwidth to its data centers. Does Google pay for bandwidth at the same rate you do? Of course not, just as Nestle pays a lot less for sugar than you do:

This is stupid on so many levels I’m almost too stunned to know where to begin. Why would you ever imagine that the per-byte cost of getting upstream traffic out on a few enormous pipes would be the same as the per-byte cost on the downstream side, where the same traffic is dispersed to a bazillion consumers, each with their own broadband connection? (Nestle pays a lot less per pound than you do for sugar; I await a “research study.”) What would possess anyone to posit that there’s some inherently “fair” division of the cost of connecting end users to popular (mostly free) services anyway? Google adds value to the product ISPs sell, presumably helping them to attract customers; should Eric Schmidt be demanding compensation for the “implicit subsidy”?


From a friend and fellow alum, who says “this will never stop being awesome:”

The University of Alabama is set to honor Mobile native James M. Fail by placing his name on a prominent fixture at Bryant-Denny Stadium. A donation by Mr. Fail to the Crimson Tide Foundation will result in the visitors’ locker room being officially named “The Fail Room.”

For once, we can endorse some Republican legislation

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas has introduced a bill essentially mandating a college football playoff:

He said the bill — being co-sponsored by Reps. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, and Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican — “will prohibit the marketing, promotion, and advertising of a postseason game as a ‘national championship’ football game, unless it is the result of a playoff system. Violations of the prohibition will be treated as violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act as an unfair or deceptive act or practice.”


Note iconography under “Wed,” below — as well as the contrasting high temp predicted for Sunday.


Things that are geeky but very, very cool

GoToMeeting has been my, well, go-to virtual meeting/screen-and-app sharing tool of choice for well over a year for very good reason; it Just Plain Works with nearly zero fuss, no matter what sort of firewall my client is behind. They point their browser to the site, click “join a meeting,” and in a moment or two I’m giving them a 9-digit number that connects them to the virtual workspace. (The service has a teleconference option, too, but that’s less often in use since many of my meetings are one-on-one.)

Having something like this Just Work is fucking HUGE, since for years everybody and their brother has been trying to make it happen with often spectacularly awful results. Microsoft’s LiveMeeting/NetMeeting product has eaten more billable time in my career than some projects I’ve been on — people wander into the room, and then everyone spends 20 minutes trying to get the thing to work before giving up and doing without. LM is a little better now — I do business with MS, and they use it — but it’s still awkward and clunky, and completely hostile to any OS that isn’t Windows.

Well, GTM has been Mac-friendly as a participant for a while, but I discovered today that Mac users can now be full-fledged screen-sharing hosts. I don’t typically go this route — I prefer to sandbox my screensharing inside a VM for privacy reasons — but it sure is nice to have the option. I still interact with plenty of other online meeting tools, but GTM seems to be getting better and better all the time. It’s cheap, too — flat fee per month. If you need this sort of thing, it’s a Godsend.