How they police in Minnesota

Last year in their fine snowy state, a SWAT team raided an innocent family’s home unannounced; they threw in flash-bang grenades and ended up in a shooting match with the homeowner, who thought he was being attacked by some armed gang. Fortunately, no one was killed.

Guess what happens if you raid the wrong house and shoot at innocent people in Minnesota? Yep, that’s right: you get a commendation. No one was held accountable at all.

Someone geekier than I about football should comment here

Football offense is an evolving beast, but perhaps the last major evolutionary step came with Walsh’s “West Coast” quick-short-pass plan, which has since become the de facto standard for the NFL and college and even some high schools. But apparently not at Piedmont High in California, where a combination of factors led two coaches to create something entirely new that involves two quarterbacks and all 11 men carrying the ball.

No, really. They’ve had it reviewed by rules committees, too, and it’s apparently been determined to be legal. And the college coaches are already interested.

There’s a story here, and a whole site about it at

(Via Kottke.)

Another fine Scalzi smackdown

Herein, he provides a nice twofer. Mostly, he’s ripping into the conservitards in California who are upset that a state constitutional amendment to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry will be listed on the ballot as a measure to “eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry.”

Yeah, I had to read it twice, too. Apparently, they think it’s “inflammatory.” Go figure; it’s a measure to nullify thousands of currently-legal marriages.

Secondarily, he takes Orson Card — aka fandom’s second-biggest buffoon, behind the inimitable Dave Sim — to task for his singularly obtuse “OMG! TEH GAYS!” anti-gay-marriage editorial. Card’s been a fucking hack for pretty much ever, but his fundie politics have only be public for the last decade or so. The way I see it, the more folks know what a freak he is, the better.

Today’s Needlessly Inflammatory Summary

Programmers today are mostly idiots because they’ve only been taught the Java link-a-library cargo-cult development method that’s little more than connect-the-dots.” Discuss.

Note: if you happen to be a non-idiot programmer — which is to say, you actually understand things like pointer math and stacks and interrupts, and you’ve actually written more than a dozen instructions of assembler or, god forbid, machine code, and you’ve actually attempted to work around operating system limitations like “DOS isn’t re-entrant,” and you understand endian concerns, then this development probably means you can command a higher salary and enjoy better job security. As a friend of mine once said, “I love stupid people. They make me look even smarter than I actually am.”

Not only that; sometimes, we just throw shit away without even using it ONE time

NYT: Houston resists recycling, and independent streak is cited.

While most large American cities have started ambitious recycling programs that have sharply reduced the amount of trash bound for landfills, Houston has not.

The city’s shimmering skyline may wear the label of the world’s energy capital, but deep in Houston’s Dumpsters lies a less glamorous superlative: It is the worst recycler among the United States’ 30 largest cities.

Houston recycles just 2.6 percent of its total waste, according to a study this year by Waste News, a trade magazine. By comparison, San Francisco and New York recycle 69 percent and 34 percent of their waste respectively. Moreover, 25,000 Houston residents have been waiting as long as 10 years to get recycling bins from the city.


The city picks up garbage at some 340,000 households, and fewer than half have recycling bins. About 25,000 households are on the waiting list for the bins, but the city says it cannot afford more bins.

Those without the special bins must cart their recyclable garbage to one of just nine full-service drop-off depots in the city.

But when Monica Pope, a locally renowned chef, approached a city-run recycling depot in her silver pick-up truck full of containers, she was turned away.

“They said my truck was too full,” Ms. Pope recalled, laughing. “There are cultures that just don’t get it, and, unfortunately, Houston is one of them.”

Now, Ms. Pope recycles at what she says is a safer, cleaner and more convenient drop-off center operated by an autonomous city within Houston, saving $6,000 a year in trash fees.

So. Proud. Oh: Unsurprisingly, this story — which quotes our mayor, even — isn’t mentioned at all at our local paper. The Chron is, however, all over the sudden shutdown of hundreds of “Bennigan’s” restaurants, so we have that going for us.

You never heard of him, but he’s dead

Guitarist Hiram Bullock died yesterday, most likely of throat cancer. He was 52.

You probably have no idea who he was, but it’s just as likely (if not moreso) that you’ve heard his work. Bullock played widely on some pretty serious records throughout his career, including Steely Dan’s “Gaucho,” Sting’s “Nothing Like The Sun” (that’s him soloing during “Little Wing”), and Paul Simon’s “One Trick Pony.” Additionally, Bullock was the original guitarist for Letterman’s — really Schaeffer’s — band on Late Night back in 1982. Over his career, he also played with his share of giants — Miles Davis, Al Jarreau, Pete Townshend, Gil Evans, Clapton, Al Green, and Jaco Pastorious are all on his resume.

Via MeFi. The Letterman link at MeFi — one of many on YouTube — is to a performance on Letterman of a track from his first solo record.

Yer Brane Is Lying To You

Listen to this, and then listen to it again. The tone will continue to sound like it’s getting higher and higher, when — obviously, since you’re just replaying the same clip — it’s actually exactly the same over and over.

Randy Pausch died.

Really, I got nothing here. Metafilter has many links.

Actually, I do have something: Jesse goddamn Helms lives to be a wrinkled old racist prune, spreading misery and bigotry from his deathbed, and this guy, this shining example of what a teacher — or just a human — can be checks out at 47. That’s fucking raw.

Barack in Berlin, July 24, 2008

[T]his is the moment when we must give hope to those left behind in a globalized world. We must remember that the Cold War born in this city was not a battle for land or treasure. Sixty years ago, the planes that flew over Berlin did not drop bombs; instead they delivered food, and coal, and candy to grateful children. And in that show of solidarity, those pilots won more than a military victory. They won hearts and minds; love and loyalty and trust – not just from the people in this city, but from all those who heard the story of what they did here.

Now the world will watch and remember what we do here – what we do with this moment. Will we extend our hand to the people in the forgotten corners of this world who yearn for lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and justice? Will we lift the child in Bangladesh from poverty, shelter the refugee in Chad, and banish the scourge of AIDS in our time?

Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words “never again” in Darfur?

Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law? Will we welcome immigrants from different lands, and shun discrimination against those who don’t look like us or worship like we do, and keep the promise of equality and opportunity for all of our people?

People of Berlin – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time.

I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we’ve struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.

But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived – at great cost and great sacrifice – to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom – indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What has always united us – what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America’s shores – is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.

These are the aspirations that joined the fates of all nations in this city. These aspirations are bigger than anything that drives us apart. It is because of these aspirations that the airlift began. It is because of these aspirations that all free people – everywhere – became citizens of Berlin. It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation – our generation – must make our mark on the world.

People of Berlin – and people of the world – the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.

Attack of the Road Stupids

I’m traveling this week. Stupid abounds.

  • Starwood seems to be in a race to the bottom of customer service with, well, itself. The Westin Peachtree is charging for in-room internet, which is par for the course with so-called “full service” hotels (despite the fact that, in general, one’s customer service experience is far better at a business-focused hotel like a Homewood Suites). However, they’re doing it with real fuck-you aplomb here: it’s part of a $15 per day “unlimited phone and Internet” plan. The kicker? The “unlimited” phone refers only to local and toll-free calls; long-distance calls are charged at an exorbitant rate, of course, and never mind what someone might think “unlimited” means. The gotcha is only apparent if you’re cynical enough to ask (like me), or lawyerly enough to read the fine print. It’s tricks like this that make it clear what Starwood really thinks of their guests.

  • Starwood gets a twofer here: the Omni at CNN center is utterly devoid of service as well, but in new and interesting ways. They’re now charging $7 every 15 minutes to use their business center, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a guest or not. Once again, the biz-class chains are all over the so-called full-service joints on these points, leading me to once again declare the big lodges utter ripoffs hell-bent on nickel-and-dime policies that are completely customer hostile.

  • The security checkpoints in the building housing the Client this week are inconsistent with themselves. In the morning, at the front door, I was told not to worry about x-raying my wallet; after lunch, at the back door, much was made of the requirement to do exactly that. “Why?” your intrepid correspondent asked. “Well, because someone might have a razorblade or a handcuff key in there!” Fair enough. They x-rayed my wallet. They didn’t find the spare razorblade I keep in there. Nice job, guys.

  • WAIT THERE’S MORE: the Westin room-service menu is, by default, delivered on the TV only like some bizarre 70s-era vision of what the 21st century might be like. Ordering, however, must still be handled with the telephone. Fortunately, a print menu is available by request. I did, and I didn’t tip the bellman, and I’m not sorry, because this whole thing is just stupid.

How To Tell If You’re An Idiot

You set educational policy in Louisiana, where matters of personal conscience, not scientific consensus, determine whether or not creationism is taught in the classroom — under the guise of “academic freedom.”

The term “academic freedom” has historically been used to refer to the ability of tenured research faculty to work on whatever it is that interested them within their field (and that can be supported on its merits with publication). It ought not be used as a smokescreen for a bunch of non-publishing, non-researching halfwit redneck “educators” hell-bent on keeping wicked Darwin at bay.

Dear Emmy People:

You all completely and totally suck. You just had one final chance to reward the best show to ever be on television with proper recognition, and you blew it. Instead:

“The Wire,” the just-ended, critically acclaimed HBO drama about police and drug dealers in Baltimore, lost its last shot at a best-drama nod after years of Emmy snubs. It received one nomination Thursday, for writing.

What got best drama nods? Lost, Mad Men, Damages, Boston fucking Legal, Dexter, and House. The Wire makes all those look like high-school plays. Seriously.

What’s the Matter With Kansas? And What Can We Do About It?

Give this guy ten bucks. He’s running for the state house against a regressive fundie idiot, and so far he’s managed to pull within a few points of the incumbent in local polls. I gave him his $10; you should, too. Skip a latte or two. By the way, he’s currently got 2,326 donations. No candidate for state rep in Kansas has ever had more than 644 donors. Netroots isn’t just about Obama.

(Via BoingBoing.)

Dept. of HOLY CRAP

This isn’t really a celebs-in-swimsuits kind of blog, but for Helen Mirren in a bikini at 63, we’ll make an exception.

Holy Christ. I’m reminded of a conversation I I had with Mike years ago, after seeing then-70-year-old Paul Newman in something.

Mike: I hope we look that good when we’re 70.

Heathen: Mike, we don’t look that good NOW.


I just had occasion to re-read Hunter S. Thompson’s post-9/11 column, and holy shit was he ever on top of things:

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive “figurehead” — or even dead, for all we know — but whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.

Nothing — even George Bush’s $350 billion “Star Wars” missile defense system — could have prevented Tuesday’s attack, and it cost next to nothing to pull off. Fewer than 20 unarmed Suicide soldiers from some apparently primitive country somewhere on the other side of the world took out the World Trade Center and half the Pentagon with three quick and costless strikes on one day. The efficiency of it was terrifying.

We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.

This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed — for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won’t hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.

I’d give an awful lot to read what he’d have written during this campaign.

How To Tell If You’re An Idiot

You set USB cable prices for OfficeMaxDepot. Actually, this may be an “asshole” and not an “idiot,” but either way they’re worthy of contempt.

I went over at lunch to get an extension cable to facilitate more comfortable Rock Band play in the Steel Heathen Lounge, and discovered all they had was a Belkin six-foot for twenty clams.

“Gee, that seems a little high, and plus I’d like a longer cable. What does Amazon have?” Enter the glorious iPhone, and I discovered they stock the same Belkin cable for less than six bucks. The local price is 333% of the Amazon price (and we have Prime, so there’s no shipping cost).

I expect a local premium in pricing to account for brick-and-mortar convenience, but I expect it to be ten or twenty percent. 233% more is “we see you coming, and we’re gonna fuck you” territory, and that’s the sort of thing people don’t like.

Information is easy to get. People don’t like being taken advantage of. Do the math.

SF to real life, via Florida

Some dude in Florida has built a working, autonomous sentry gun. The site includes prior prototypes as well as a video demo of the latest iteration. This one shoots paintballs, but the design is clearly intended to be flexible; he notes that the system will work with any gun with a pistol grip.

Paintballs, though, would be plenty to discourage nocturnal patio incursions. Mmmmm.

Wacky Cult Goes Bananas Over Magic Cracker

The story’s here, there’s followup here, and I found it here, with commentary I consider more or less spot on.

For the lazy: A student at the University of Central Florida left an on-campus Mass without eating his Jesus biscuit. Mayhem — including assault and death threats, and of course including apoplexy from fundies and mealy-mouthed commentary from halfwit university administrators — ensues. Note the absurd headlines and ledes in the Fox affiliates’ stories, by the way; they’d have us believe he was stealing something and holding it hostage, when in fact all he did was take something that was freely given and then not swallow it. Wack. O.

Dept. of Excellent Customer Service

Back when Mrs Heathen and I tied the knot, we had the mandatory Williams-Sonoma registry. We got lots of lovely gifts, and some dupes, so after gift orgy subsided we took our excess bounty to the local shop to reconfigure. After we got everything we definitely wanted, we had some excess, so we did something nobody ever thinks they’ll do: we spent a bunch of money on a very attractive stainless-steel garbage can that, even worse, takes proprietary bags.

I don’t want to hurt any feelings, but this thing may be our best and most useful wedding gift, and anybody who gave us something from Wm-S can lay claim to a portion of our ongoing thanks. Bachelor that I was, I refused to spend money on something I was only going to put garbage in, so I had a nasty white plastic can from Target. It was white, and seemed to attract stains. The new one made a huge difference in the style of the kitchen, and definitely signaled some grown-up-ness. Plus, its wonderful lid is so adept at sealing in trash odor that it’s no longer obvious what we had for dinner. It’s amazing, really, and means that you needn’t waste bag capacity by immediately emptying the garbage just because you threw away fish heads, for example.

So we like it.

Anyway, it came from Wms-S, but it’s made by SimpleHuman. A couple weeks ago, it broke. Not horribly, but enough to be annoying. The lid is a tap-to-spring open kind of affair, and the mechanism to make it spring open stopped working. The seal’s still good, but you have to open it manually, which means more gross things tend to end up on the lid. Mrs Heathen called to inquire about repair, and something wonderful happened.

First, she got a real human in about 45 seconds.

Second, the real human interrupted her story to find out our mailing address. “Why?” “So we can send you your new lid.” “Don’t you need a receipt or store or a credit card number or something?” “Oh, no. You should get your replacement in a couple weeks.”


We love this a whole lot

You’d think that, in a post-Borat world, it would get harder for Sacha Baron Cohen to pull of his stunts, but apparently not, at least in Arkansas:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Crowds in Arkansas came for the lure of cage fighting and $1 beer, but police say what they got instead was men ripping each others’ clothes off and kissing … a stunt suspected of being orchestrated by Sacha Baron Cohen of “Borat” fame.

“We had a contract for cage fighting. We were deceived,” said Dwight Duncan, president and CEO of Four States Fair Grounds in Texarkana, where the first of two Arkansas fights raised suspicions last month.

This guy is my new hero

From the News &Observer:

RALEIGH – L.F. Eason III gave up the only job he’d ever had rather than lower a flag to honor former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms.

Eason, a 29-year veteran of the state Department of Agriculture, instructed his staff at a small Raleigh lab not to fly the U.S. or North Carolina flags at half-staff Monday, as called for in a directive to all state agencies by Gov. Mike Easley.

When a superior ordered the lab to follow the directive, Eason decided to retire rather than pay tribute to Helms. After several hours’ delay, one of Eason’s employees hung the flags at half-staff.

Bravo. His email message to co-workers is also worth reading:

“This is in no way a political decision. I simply do not feel it is appropriate to honor a person whose epitaph of government service was to have voted against or blocked every civil rights issue that came before the US Congress. His doctrine of negativity, hate, and prejudice cost North Carolina and our Nation much that we may never regain.”

Excerpts from an e-mail message that Eason sent later that same day to Gov. Mike Easley and state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler:

“I made a decision to refuse to lower our flags at the NC Standards Laboratory to half mast in honor of Jesse Helms as soon as I heard of his death. I cannot in good conscience honor such a man who fought so hard against Civil and Human Rights throughout his life. Even to his death bed, he refused to apologize for the damage he caused. Now, I stand by this decision. It is a personal decision, but obviously affects my job at the lab. It has been over ruled by Division and Departmental Management and as I look out my window, I’m ashamed to see the flags lowered.

North Carolina and the US cannot escape that, at the end of the day, Jesse Helms stood for evil. It made me angry to see local flags at half mast after his death, Senator or no. I’m glad at least one person was willing to stand up to that madness.

(Hat tip to Rob.)