Dept. of Excessive Business Travel

Since the long engagement last year (almost exactly — I was in Maryland from 2/25/07 through 6/1/07, except for weekends), my travel has been mostly sane. I’ve had trips, and even back to back trips, but at no point were things nutty like the two-flights-a-week deal last winter.

Until this month.

  • 2/5 – 2/11: Colorado for ski & strategy retreat with management
  • 2/14 – 2/16: Austin for premier of Speeding Motorcycle
  • 2/19 – 2/23: Washington (DC) for meetings and client service
  • 2/23 – 2/24: Austin (again)
  • 2/25 – 2/28: Daytona for conference

All told, I spent 16 nights of February in non-Houston locations. Ow.

Happy Leap Day

In junior high, we were tested on the proper way to calculate leap years. The popular assumption is that it’s every 4 years, but that’s not quite right. Actually, that’s just the starting point.

It’s a leap year if:

  • The year is divisible by 4, and it’s not a century year
  • The year is divisible by 4, and it’s a century year also divisible by 400.

In other words, 1900, while divisible by 4, is not divisible by 400, and so was not a leap year — nor will 2100 be one, either. However, 2000 was.

What’s sort of funny about this is that, to a first approximation, everyone in the sound of my voice could spend their whole life living on the simpler “every 4 years” rule and not miss a single one. From 1901 through 2099, it’s every 4 years, but only because we happen to be living through a once-every-400-years exception to the exception.

Dept. of You’ve Got To Be Shitting Me

A couple writers — Paul Farhi at WaPo, and Maureen Ryan at the Chicago Trib — are whining that Saturday Night Live has done something racially insensitive in casting Latino-Asian Fred Armisen as Obama in last week’s cold open, and that it would have been more appropriate to cast a black actor.

Oh, please. Fred Armisen is a profoundly gifted physical mimic (though his verbal skills aren’t a match for castmate Bill Hader), and is the natural choice for a whole host of political and cultural targets. He’s been Prince, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, George Carlin, David Gregory, Vicente Fox, Steve Jobs, and Tony Danza, for crying out loud. The right person to impersonate anyone is the person who can most bring humor to the skit. Darryl Hammond did a wonderful Jesse Jackson, and he’s white as Wonder Bread. Billy Crystal made us all laugh as Sammy Davis, Jr. It’s not about race. It’s about the funny — and on a deadline. Farhi and Ryan are at best missing the point, and at worst grasping at racial straws to create controversy and therefore draw attention to themselves.

We’re pretty sure they’re only using that word because it’s Bill Buckley

From the NYT Obit:

William F. Buckley Jr., who marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse, died Wednesday at his home in Stamford, Conn.

The oil heir, father of the American conservative movement, defender of fascists and McCarthyites, prototype of countless rhetorical bullies, vanity publisher, and general reactionary tool died today in his office. He was 82.

More: Alex Balk, writing at Radar, reminds us of Buckley’s civil rights record with his brilliant headline: William F. Buckley goes to White People Heaven.

Even more, from Making Light:

“The central question that emerges…is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.” –William F. Buckley, National Review, August 24, 1957

There’s your “refined, perspicacious mind” for you. The one that, we’re told, “elevated conservatism to the center of American political discourse.” Racism and power-worship–and, from first to last, uncompromising defense of the idea that society should be structured into orders and classes.

Preach on, Patrick.

Experiments with MicroMobileBlogging

There are now official Heathen channels at Tumblr and Twitter wherein I will make occasional short comment. Both are very amenable to mobile posts, which is a good idea given my travel schedule of late.

The latter can be followed on your mobile, if you like; in fact, I encourage it. Twitter is mostly about the text-message conversation, so it seems the value of Twitter grows dramatically as more people participate in the same mob. It’s necessarily a short-form kind of deal, though.

Tumblr (note Web 2.0 de rigueur lack of penultimate vowel) is a more pure web thing, and will be present in some form here (see sidebar for first experiment), or seen on its own at the site linked above. It’s likely to get more traffic first, since I just signed up for it — also, it supports longer posts, pictures, etc., which I can’t do with Twitter.

Secret Laws are Undemocratic

Check out this discussion of the FISA debate, which ends with:

…[T]he senators engaged in a debate over surveillance laws are legally barred from explaining how the nation’s surveillance laws work, because part of the law is public, but another part that supersedes the published part remains secret. (Emphasis added.)

On the other hand, McConnell and the vice president and president are equipped with declassification powers and thus are free to say whatever they like about the rulings — including inducing journalists to mislead people and describing the dire consequences of the rulings.

Such is the state of debate in a country with secret laws.

I’m not sure how we got here, nor am I sure exactly how to fix it, but I do not believe there is any reason sufficient in our republic to justify the creation of any law that every citizen may not inspect for themselves. Period. Democracies require transparency. Period.


Check out this unboxing of a brand new Apple computer.

Note that I did not say Mac. I said Apple. As in Apple //c. The photographer took delivery of a new-in-box //c, obviously in mint condition. It still works. Lode Runner, anyone?

That may be true of some jobs, but we don’t think it’s something to brag about in yours

Clarence Thomas hasn’t [asked a single question](“One thing I’ve demonstrated often in 16 years is you can do this job without asking a single question,” he told an adoring crowd at the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.) during a Supreme Court case in more than two years. Quoth he:

“One thing I’ve demonstrated often in 16 years is you can do this job without asking a single question,” he told an adoring crowd at the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.

We find this both disturbing and, ultimately, unsurprising. Why ask questions when Scalia will tell you how to vote?

New Frontiers in Stupid Ideas

Over at TechDirt, we find information about an idea from ABC to combat DVRs by providing the bulk of their programming via video-on-demand, with embedded commercials and no ability to fast-forward.

Read that again. We’re not kidding. The quote:

Anne Sweeney, the president of the Disney-ABC television group, claims: “You don’t need TiVo if you have fast-forward-disabled video on demand. It gives you the same opportunity to catch up to your favorite shows.”

It gets better:

Then there’s Ray Cole, who owns some ABC affiliates. He says: “As network and affiliates, we both have an interest in slowing down the explosive growth of DVRs. This is about combating DVRs. As we developed this at every stage, there was an agreement that however we put this together, disabling the fast-forward function was key.” I’m curious as to how Mr. Cole thinks offering a product that does much less and deliberately takes away a key feature will “slow down” the “explosive growth of DVRs.” You don’t compete by offering a worse product. You compete by offering a better product. Taking away one of the key selling points of a product is not exactly a major selling point.

We own Tivo at our house in no small part BECAUSE we can skip commercials easily. Why on earth would we pay money for a device that does less? Clearly, the quality of the dope at ABC is stellar.

What “due process” means to the Bushites

Via Atrios, from The Nation:

When asked if he thought the men at Guantánamo could receive a fair trial, Davis provided the following account of an August 2005 meeting he had with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes–the man who now oversees the tribunal process for the Defense Department. “[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time,” recalled Davis, referring to the Nazi tribunals in 1945, considered the model of procedural rights in the prosecution of war crimes. In response, Davis said he noted that at Nuremberg there had been some acquittals, something that had lent great credibility to the proceedings.

“I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process,” Davis continued. “At which point, [Haynes’s] eyes got wide and he said, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can’t have acquittals, we’ve got to have convictions.‘”

Chickpea and Sausage Stew: We keep trying, and they keep being lame

Let me preface this with our current position on the source: Real Simple‘s aversion to spice is so profound as to make Food & Wine look like an Emeril disciple. It’s a problem nearly universal in cooking mags, or some reason, presumably so they don’t offend the delicate and unchallenged palettes of the midwest or wherever. Down here in Texas, we like flavor in our food, and react accordingly.

Anyway, the text, which we prepared as-written the first time around:


From Real Simple, 2/2008, p 169:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 12 oz Italian sausage, thawed, casings removed
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 c parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 c cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 c low sodium chicken or veggie broth
  • 2 15-oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 10-oz package frozen leaf spinach
  • Salt and pepper
  • Rustic bread

Serves 4.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, crumbling it with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the parsley and cilantro and cook for 1 minute more. ADd the broth and chickpeas and bring to a boil. Add the frozen spinach and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with a fork to separate the leaves. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Divide the toasted bread, if using, among individual bowls and spoon the stew on top.

We used veggie broth, which may have cut the flavor a bit, but in general the formula is lacking in panache. The resulting stew was hearty but bland (again, as nearly everything from RS is). We’ll make it again, but only with a bit more adjustments. It could profit from more onion, some garlic, twice the measure of tomato paste, and perhaps a smattering of cayenne — to start.

  • Ease: 4/5 — little prep and a short cook cycle make it a good choice when time is a factor
  • Mess: 5/5 — it’s a one-pot wonder
  • Flavor: as published, 2/5, but it’s got potential thanks to the simple ingredients to go much farther.

New Category!

I’m inaugerating a new category here at Heathen in order to share and document kitchen stunts for later perusal. Enjoy. First substantive entry follows…

Things that would be funny if they weren’t so sad

Companies Baffled by iPhone’s Success:

One direction, advocated by Lucia Predolin… is to manipulate users by identifying their “need states” — including such compulsions as ‘killing time,’ and ‘making the most of it’ — and fulfilling them subliminally.”

How about this: make a product that doesn’t suck, and that aggressively creates a better user experience than what was previously available. Profit. I particularly like that they’re confused why all the good mojo is accruing to Apple and not AT&T. Could it be that it’s because nobody is confused about who actually made the iPhone?

Happy Valentine’s Day: The continuing legacy of Lawrence v. Texas

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled unconstitutional a Texas statute banning the sale or promotion of sex toys.

Regular Heathen will recall that a Mississippi TV station tried to stir up a controversy over a similar law there not terribly long ago; as Mississippi is part of the 5th circuit, it seems unlikely said law will be enforced anymore. That leaves Alabama (in the 11th circuit) alone in its ongoing prohibition of such devices.

Harry Reid Can Eat My Shorts

The Senate has capitulated on retroactive telecom immunity. Of our three Senatorial candidates:

  • McCain voted for immunity;
  • Obama opposed it; and
  • Clinton did not bother to vote.

If your Senator is a Republican (all of whom voted for immunity), or a crossover Democrat (list in link), call them and let them know what douchebags you think they are. For what it’s worth, the House version of the bill still lacks this provision, so there’s some hope left.

More via BoingBoing.

Just so you know

Bush continues to enjoy an Imperial presidency, untroubled by the rule of law:

*No, the Justice Department will not be investigating whether the now-admitted-to waterboarding of US prisoners was against the law.

*And, no, the DoJ will not be investigating whether the Bush Administration’s warrantless surveillance was illegal. Nor will the AG appoint a special prosecutor to investigate.

  • And, no, the Department of Justice will not enforce any contempt citations that Congress might bring against administration officials that have failed to honor subpoenas for testimony.

What AG Mukasey is claiming–and what he is establishing unless Congress does something quickly to contradict him–is that there is effectively only one branch of government, and that is the Executive Branch. The AG’s statements do not allow for congressional oversight, and they do not allow for judicial oversight. It does not even allow for the rule of law, since the law is whatever the President instructs his Office of Legal Counsel and Attorney General to say it is. How can we know what he instructed? We can’t–that’s a state secret or subject to executive privilege. What if a member of Congress, or a judge, or any US citizen has a problem with that? Tough luck–you have no effective recourse beyond the whims or benevolence of the President/Emperor.

This doesn’t just trample on the United States Constitution–it abrogates the Magna Carta.

More at TPM.


From here, we find perhaps the only bluster-free, 100% accurate advice ever issued by PC and technology pundit John C. Dvorak:

I called John C. Dvorak, a prominent columnist for PC Magazine and a podcaster on the Podshow network. “I advise everybody to buy a Macintosh because Apple products are the easiest to use,” he said. “If you own a PC, you have to find a local nerd, a kid, maybe a relative. Every family has one unless they’ve just moved here from a foreign country. That’s the only solution.”

Go and do likewise.

Ah, Microsoft

MS is deliberately preventing the new version of its Hotmail property from working on Linux.

Firefox 2 works on Windows, OSX and the Mac. Firefox 2 on Linux is blocked — but gets through just fine as soon as you adjust the user agent.

Nice. I imagine we can expect similar fuckery with Yahoo, Flickr, etc., should their buyout attempt succeed.

The Onion RULES.

Their Super Bowl coverage sums it up:

As the once-invincible, still-insufferable Patriots attempt to come to grips with their 17-14 Super Bowl loss to the Giants, the death of their dream to go undefeated, and the possible end of their dynasty, almost every other person in America is reveling in what they consider the perfect ending to New England’s season.

Geek Nostalgia

Mark Pilgrim has his version of the perennial “Incoming Freshmen’s Worldview” list up, but focussed mostly on computing. Some picks:

An “Apple computer” has always meant a “Macintosh computer.”

Apple computers have always had USB ports and never had floppy drives.

Windows has always supported long filenames and pre-emptive multitasking.

Vladimir who?


LONDON (Reuters) – A chain of retail stores in Britain has withdrawn the sale of beds named Lolita and designed for six-year-old girls after furious parents pointed out that the name was synonymous with sexually active pre-teens.