The Onion, on Salinger.

Bunch of Phonies Mourn J. D. Salinger:

CORNISH, NH—In this big dramatic production that didn’t do anyone any good (and was pretty embarrassing, really, if you think about it), thousands upon thousands of phonies across the country mourned the death of author J.D. Salinger, who was 91 years old for crying out loud. “He had a real impact on the literary world and on millions of readers,” said hot-shot English professor David Clarke, who is just like the rest of them, and even works at one of those crumby schools that rich people send their kids to so they don’t have to look at them for four years. “There will never be another voice like his.” Which is exactly the lousy kind of goddamn thing that people say, because really it could mean lots of things, or nothing at all even, and it’s just a perfect example of why you should never tell anybody anything.


This is amazing and awesome

Some raving-nutbird-loonie right-winger fundie Texans are all upset that Houston has elected Annise Parker as mayor (the longtime city controller and councilperson is openly gay) and is “allowing” Planned Parenthood to build a large new facility in town, so they’re trying to arrange a boycott of Houston, the 4th largest city in the country and one of the largest economies in the state.

Good luck with that, goofballs. 29-95 has more.

Apple’s Original Tablet

The net has been all a-twitter about the anticipated Apple tablet product, but remember that they’ve trod this road before with the Newton. Unfairly maligned at the time, the Newton was actually an absurdly capable device that was simply in the wrong market at the wrong time; proof of its ultimate efficacy is found in the near-complete domination of the PDA market by Palm only a year or two after Newton’s launch — a device that can legitimately be called a smaller, less capable Newton. The experience of using either was very similar, especially in key areas (for example, neither had what you’d recognize as an “OS” visible to the user — you just moved from app to app).

Perennial Apple booster John Gruber has an excellent essay about the Newton you should read if you’re at all gadget-geeky.

Disclosure: I had three Newts: A 110, a 130, and a 2100. They were my constant companions for several years until I could no longer deny the appeal of a perfectly-synced device, and switched to Palm.

Pat Robertson Is Still Reprehensible

The TV moneyvangelist thinks Haiti got hit by an earthquake because, generations ago, enslaved Haitians made a pact with the devil.

However, Digby points out why we still have to pay attention to him. He is not a fringe figure. He has power in conservative circles, and people listen to him:

You want to start to see genuine change in this country? Take Pat Robertson very, very seriously. For example, I doubt there are more than two major universities in this country that bother to teach a course on Pat Robertson and his influence. Until he is given the genuine attention he deserves – and I mean, until Robertson is really held up to intense, withering, and sustained scrutiny by people who seriously care about this country’s liberal traditions – he and his ilk will continue to have a disproportionate input into our national dialogue.

Google to China: Drop Dead

Google has taken some flak for collaborating on Chinese censorship when it opened, but apparently their complicity in the Great Firewall of China wasn’t enough: it turns out, “someone” has been actively hacking Google from a Chinese IP, with a healthy interest in Chinese human rights activists. Hmmm, I wonder who that could be?

Google’s response is stellar; read the whole thing, but the punch quote is:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.

More at Ars Technica, who point out:

Well, we’ve got to hand it to Google—the company’s “don’t be evil” schtick has long worn thin and governments around the globe are already probing its potential monopoly power, but who else would come out swinging against the entire Chinese government and announce an end to its own collaboration in censorship, all while recognizing that it could lose access to the entire Chinese market? And do it in a blog post?

Why do all restaurant web sites suck?

They seem particularly likely to fall prey to the Flash disease, which means their sites are useless to folks on smartphones. They also routinely miss basic shit like keeping a phone number on every page, especially the menu — don’t make a customer look for it!

All-PDF menu sites are nearly as bad, since they’re nearly impossible to reformat for small devices (again, think about your smartphone use cases!). At the same time, though, keeping a PDF download of your menu in a handy header link is a great idea not used nearly often enough — for a frequently-called neighborhood joint, having to wade through a flash menu every time is just ridiculous.

Twofer from Bruce

The esteemed Mr Schneier points out once again how humans tend to vastly overestimate rare risks while downplaying much more common ones; this is especially true where terrorism is concerned.

You are more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to be victimized by terrorists.

From the first link:

The Underwear Bomber is precisely the sort of story we humans tend to overreact to. Our brains aren’t very good at probability and risk analysis, especially when it comes to rare events. Our brains are much better at processing the simple risks we’ve had to deal with throughout most of our species’ existence, and much poorer at evaluating the complex risks modern society forces us to face. We exaggerate spectacular rare events, and downplay familiar and common ones.

We can see the effects of this all the time. We fear being murdered, kidnapped, raped and assaulted by strangers, when it’s far more likely that the perpetrator of such offenses is a relative or a friend. We fear school shootings, even though a school is almost always the safest place a child can be. We worry about shark attacks instead of fatal dog or pig attacks — both far more common. In the U.S., over 38,000 people die each year in car crashes; that’s as many deaths as 9/11 each and every month, year after year.

Overreacting to the rare and spectacular is natural. We tend to base risk analysis on personal story rather than on data. If a friend gets mugged in a foreign country, that story is more likely to affect how safe you feel in that country than abstract crime statistics.


I tell people that if it’s in the news, don’t worry about it. The very definition of “news” is “something that hardly ever happens.” It’s when something isn’t in the news, when it’s so common that it’s no longer news — car crashes, domestic violence — that you should start worrying.


And once we’re scared, we need to “do something” — even if that something doesn’t make sense and is ineffective. We need to do something directly related to the story that’s making us scared. We implement full body scanners at airports. We pass the Patriot Act. We don’t let our children go to playgrounds unsupervised. Instead of implementing effective, but more general, security measures to reduce the overall risk, we concentrate on making the fearful story go away. Yes, it’s security theater, but it makes us feel safer.

How you can tell a Republican is lying

His lips are moving. Seriously, how is it that Mr 9/11 Rudy G can say such crap with a straight face? Given that this is at least the second Republican functionary to insist that no terror attacks happened on Bush’s watch, I think it’s clear that this is a talking point being pushed by the GOP leadership. It’s not possible that these people have forgotten about 9/11, anthrax, and Richard Reid. They Are Lying in a deliberate attempt to bamboozle the American people. Pay attention.

(That Rudy eventually recanted doesn’t excuse this crap.)


Roll Tide.

This isn’t how I wanted them to win — granted, to build one’s team on a single player is folly — and I’ll certainly celebrate it, but Alabama didn’t beat the Longhorn’s best game. At the same time, though, a win is a win. At this level of football, you have to be able to play, and play well, after losing starters. Gilbert eventually came around, but not soon enough.

The 2009 national title game is an object lesson in the old saw about defense winning championships. McElroy had a crappy night, and depended largely on the running game — which is by definition less productive than today’s high-flying, high-scoring passing attacks. The forced turnovers, though, sealed Texas’ fate.

The final note is this: The SEC remains undefeated in BCS title play at 6-0:

  • ’98 Tennessee over FSU
  • ’03 LSU over Oklahoma
  • ’06 Florida over Ohio State
  • ’07 LSU over Ohio State
  • ’08 Florida over Oklahoma
  • ’09 Alabama over Texas

The Big XII has played for the title more times (7), but only brought home the trophy twice (OU over FSU in ’00, and Texas over USC in ’05).

The SEC has also sent more teams to the title game (4: Tenn., LSU, UF, UA) than any other conference. Again, the runner-up is the Big XII (OU, UT, Neb.).

Outside the SEC-Big XII sphere, things drop off quickly: No other conference has sent more than one winner, and only one (Big East) has even sent more than one team (they’re 1-2; Miami won and lost, and VaTech lost). The much-ballyhooed Pac10 has only ever sent USC, and it doesn’t look like that’ll happen again soon. The Big 10 has only ever sent Ohio State, who (prior to this year) appeared largely content to lose in the postseason.

Roll Tide. Hail Saban. Praise Ingram. See you in August.

The slow death of office supply retail

Amazon alone wasn’t quite enough to kill it, but Amazon and ubiquitous computing and connectivity might.

My printer needs toner (not ink; it’s a laser). OfficeMax has the cartridges, but they’re $70 each, which seemed high. I checked the Amazon iPhone app, and found that yes, that IS very high; I’ll have one by Friday for $36 delivered.

Andy Sullivan Points Out Where Bush Took Us, and Where We Still Are

Take a peek at his email of the year, in which a DoJ trial attorney discusses our detention policies in general and a particularly egregious one in particular, in which a US interrogator said to a detainee:

There is nothing against you. But there is no innocent person here. So, you should confess to something so you can be charged and sentenced and serve your sentence and then go back to your family and country, because you will not leave this place innocent.

The attorney continues:

This was not a statement pulled from the transcripts of the Nuremburg trials, nor archival evidence taken from reports smuggled out of one of Stalin’s gulags. This was a statement made by an agent of this government less than 7 years ago to a detainee. The enormity of that is nearly incomprehensible.

But even worse – far worse – is the fact that the government would nevertheless still seek to convict based on the resulting confession.

The word for this is obscene.