Don’t mince words, Papa.

In this letter from Hemingway to Archibald MacLeish, he has a little to say about Ezra Pound:

Thanks for sending the stats of Ezra’s rantings. He is obviously crazy. I think you might prove he was crazy as far back as the latter Cantos. He deserves punishment and disgrace but what he really deserves most is ridicule. He should not be hanged and he should not be made a martyr of. He has a long history of generosity and unselfish aid to other artists and he is one of the greatest living poets. It is impossible to believe that anyone in his right mind could utter the vile, absolutely idiotic drivel he has broadcast. His friends who knew him and who watched the warpeing and twisting and decay of his mind and his judgement should defend him and explain him on that basis. It will be a completely unpopular but an absolutely necessary thing to do. I have had no correspondence with him for ten years and the last time I saw him was in 1933 when Joyce asked me to come to make it easier haveing Ezra at his house.

To Some Arrant Knaves I Know, and Those That Came After

Ten years is a long time.

If that old saw is true about how our whole bodies regenerate every 7 years, then a decade ago we were all literally different people. Same or not, we certainly lived in a different world ten years ago; for one thing, when I flew back then, I took a Swiss Army Knife on board with me, and everyone treated airport security drones with the respect they deserved and not as some crucial imaginary barrier between us and Mooslim hordes.

There’s more than that, though, obviously. While the greater Heathen cast carries many long-term members who date to the early nineties or even before, we have many tribemembers today that we hadn’t even met in November of 2000. Even better, more than a few proto-heathen didn’t even exist back then. One Heathen in particular was known to us, but it didn’t become clear until a year later how important she’d turn out to be. ;)

Today is the tenth anniversary of Miscellaneous Heathen as a weblog. For some time prior to 27 November 2000, I maintained a mailing list for amusing items collectively called “Some Arrant Knaves I Know,” a reference to Hamlet (III.1) appropriately drawn from my English major background. The title of the weblog itself was taken from a photo (by, I believe, cartoonist Tom Tomorrow) of a clearly insane protester at a location now lost to memory; said protestor’s sign, taller than the holder, listed a catalog of hellbound miscreants and concluded with our eponymous phrase.

I happily join that category, today more than ever, and thank you all for reading my yammerings for ten whole years. Here’s to ten more.

Small Comfort, but still nice

Perennial pretender Boise State lost to underdog and clear powerhouse Nevada yesterday, ending the Broncos’ perfect season and relegating them to another halfass bowl.

(For the somewhat rare Football-Heathens expecting commentary on the Iron Bowl today: I have nothing nice to say, and will therefore say nothing at all about the unremitting FAILBOMB that was Alabama’s play after midway through the second quarter. You do have to score after the first period to win, boys, and turnovers don’t help against a team like Auburn.)

(Also, memo to Aggie Nation: I’m not that sure that dancing around to celebrate wins over Baylor and a Longhorn squad that’s notching a losing season put you in the best possible light.)

What an actual security expert thinks of the TSA

Bruce Schneier is a renowned security professional; his editorial in the Times on the TSA begins thusly:

A short history of airport security: We screen for guns and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters. We confiscate box cutters and corkscrews, so they put explosives in their sneakers. We screen footwear, so they try to use liquids. We confiscate liquids, so they put PETN bombs in their underwear. We roll out full-body scanners, even though they wouldn’t have caught the Underwear Bomber, so they put a bomb in a printer cartridge. We ban printer cartridges over 16 ounces — the level of magical thinking here is amazing — and they’re going to do something else.

This is a stupid game, and we should stop playing it.

It’s not even a fair game. It’s not that the terrorist picks an attack and we pick a defense, and we see who wins. It’s that we pick a defense, and then the terrorists look at our defense and pick an attack designed to get around it. Our security measures only work if we happen to guess the plot correctly. If we get it wrong, we’ve wasted our money. This isn’t security; it’s security theater.

Fed Up With The Stupid

A Talking Points Memo reader writes in with his thoughts on the TSA checkpoints. A taste:

I’m a lawyer. I go through security checkpoints all the time. Went through one at the local criminal courthouse this morning. They x-rayed my stuff, sent me through a metal detector, and then had me come back through it to pick up my stuff when they were done looking at it on the monitor. Done. 30 seconds. The lawyer’s line at the courthouse is ever-so-slightly less rigid than the general public line (if it’s obviously my belt buckle setting off the detector, they’ve never made me take it off; they’ve learned to accept that lawyers often keep calendars on their smartphones so we don’t have to check them before entering the building, though they check to make sure the ringer is off), but even the general public line is pretty much what we were used to pre-9/11. X ray machine. Metal detector. Wand if they can’t quickly figure out what’s setting off the detector. Pat downs only if you’re still setting off the detector and nothing’s visible. 45 seconds or a minute, tops. And you know, a rather substantial percentage of the people who go through the line to get into a criminal courthouse are people out on bail, some of whom are actual dangerous criminals. And a lot of the others are people who are witnesses to crimes whose presence is not exactly welcomed by the criminal element. Honestly, this new TSA genital-feeling stuff goes further than I’ve ever had to go through to even go into a prison. They cavity search prisoners for drugs and weapons, of course, but lawyers and other visitors? Not in my experience. Not in this northeastern state. Not unless they’re pretty damn sure you’re carrying contraband. And we’ve had, what, 3 attempted bombing incidents post-9/11? Out of how many scheduled flights? I just did the math. Over 150 million worldwide. That’s one attempt per 50 million flights.

Go read the whole thing.

Yet Another Reason to Love Houston

The following tweet from our Democratic mayor:

Today I visited our SWAT facility. Great layout. Spent my lunch with my pistols on the academy shooting range.-a

Said mayor is also of note for being the first (out) gay mayor of a US city over a million residents. That’s our Houston: confounding stereotypes every chance we get.

Your Daily Naturalist Link

The NYT on the New Zealand tuatara:

[T]he animal that may well be New Zealand’s most bizarrely instructive species at first glance looks surprisingly humdrum: the tuatara. A reptile about 16 inches long with bumpy, khaki-colored skin and a lizardly profile, the tuatara could easily be mistaken for an iguana. Appearances in this case are wildly deceptive. The tuatara — whose name comes from the Maori language and means “peaks on the back” — is not an iguana, is not a lizard, is not like any other reptile alive today.

In fact, as a series of recent studies suggest, it is not like any other vertebrate alive today. The tuatara, scientists have learned, is in some ways a so-called living fossil, its basic skeletal layout and skull shape almost identical to that of tuatara fossils dating back hundreds of millions of years, to before the rise of the dinosaurs. Certain tuatara organs and traits also display the hallmarks of being, if not quite primitive, at least closer to evolutionary baseline than comparable structures in other animals.

The article goes on to state that the tuatara can live in excess of 100 years. More at Wikipedia.

Oh, Hollywood. Do you ever STOP sucking?

They’re really remaking Buffy without Joss.

IO9 has his reaction, which is characteristically funny and classy while also bringing the snark.

WB’s release says some ridiculous things, like

“There is an active fan base eagerly awaiting this character’s return to the big screen. We’re thrilled to team up with Doug and Roy on a re-imagining of Buffy and the world she inhabits. Details of the film are being kept under wraps, but I can say while this is not your high school Buffy, she’ll be just as witty, tough, and sexy as we all remember her to be.”

Uh, no. What made her witty and fun was Whedon and his team, not the simple idea of a teen vampire hunter. Compare and contrast the original film (which Whedon wrote, but was not otherwise involved in) and the hit TV show (which was Whedon’s through and through); it’s obvious what made the television version a hit and the movie a “cult fave” at best, and it’s equally obvious that there’s no chance a Whedon-free reboot will be anywhere nearly as charming. It’s a transparent cash-in move that could very well fall flat on its face, given how loyal the Buffy fan base is to Whedon.

You’ll believe what they tell you to believe

Interesting bit over at Washington Monthly about recent dramatic shifts in Republican positions — and how they likely came about:

A few years ago, Republican voters, by and large, believed what the mainstream believed when it came to climate science. Then their party, its candidates, and its media outlets told these voters to stop believing the facts — and rank-and-file Republicans did as they were told. In effect, partisans on the right outsourced their evaluation of evidence to their party, and Republicans decided climate science is no longer worthy of support.

This happens more than it should. If I had to guess, if you asked regular ol’ Republican voters several years ago whether the United States should engage in torture, they probably would have said no. But then their party told them to change their mind, and they did. If you asked these GOP voters whether a health care mandate, in line with Republican proposals, was a reasonable policy, they probably would have said yes. But then their party told them to change their mind, and they did.

“Artfully Concealed Objects”

TSA weasel John Pistole notes that the new pornoscanners are supposed to turn up artfully concealed objects not previously discovered, and which the TSA’s own testing showed were easy to get on planes. I assume he means things like small knives or razorblades too small to trigger the metal detector.

Here’s the thing: I’m sure hundreds or thousands of such objects, if not more, make it onto planes every day. And I’m equally sure it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to my safety. It’s impossible to hijack an airliner today. That game is over for the bad guys. The 9/11 trick didn’t even work all day on 9/11, and now it’s completely impossible — you can’t get to the cockpit. And the TSA, bless their empty little heads, hasn’t even managed to stop the attempts at airborne violence that have been attempted since then — it was passengers who caught Richard Reid, lest you forget. And the London plot that gave us the bullshit baggie rule was broken up by law enforcement, and probably wouldn’t have worked anyway.

But the TSA has been busily confiscating scissors and screwdrivers and razorblades and pocketknives for 9 years, and they’ve mistaken that for their mission. NONE of the objects they’ve taken were part of terrorist plots. You can’t hijack a plane with a Leatherman, and the TSA knows this; the confiscation is just a giant con on the American people. Taking away pocketknives is busywork. It makes us LESS safe, because it obligates resources that could be better spent elsewhere.

And now they’re going to do MORE of it, with their bullshit scanners pushed on them by lobbyists and completely unlikely to enhance our safety. And they’ll keep doing this until we the people — for whom every bellycrawling TSA jackass works — insist, loudly and repeatedly, that they stop. Write your congresspeople. Yell at your airlines. Opt out of this pornoscanners, and be unpleasant when they touch your junk.

Dept. of DAY-um

My Sprint Overdrive is doing very, very well today; it wasn’t too many years ago that home connectivity of 4Mbit down/1 up was considered speedy, and plenty of people never bother buying anything faster even today.

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While we’re at it…

Here’s something else made of bullshit fail:

Screen shot 2010-11-09 at 7.17.43 PM.png

This is the price matrix for a book I’d like to read. Note that the paperback is listed.

Problem number one is that it won’t actually be released until April, so fuck you very much, Amazon, for that bait and switch.

Problem number two is that the Kindle price is higher than the paperback price, but delivers drastically less value on a number of fronts:

First, you don’t really own it — Amazon can decide one day to simply delete it from your Kindle on a whim. There’s no way to back up your purchases separate from Amazon; the whole thing is a giant exercise in “Trust me!” that successful digital music plans have never replied upon.

Second, a digital book (while cute and trendy) still lacks some key factors. You can’t read it during take-off or landing on a plane, for example. You can’t read it in the bath unless you feel like endangering your $100+ Kindle. Taking it to the beach is a bit of a bad idea, too.

Third, a digital book has no residual value. You can’t sell it to Half Price, you can’t pass it on to your pal at work, etc. It’s locked to you, and that means you get less value for your money.

This is not to say that Kindle books, or e-books in general, don’t have their place. They do. But publishers need to realize that consumers are not stupid (at least not all of them), and price them accordingly. Their business model isn’t my problem; with the current crop of DRM-locked e-books, I can’t see paying more than 50% of the cost of a physical book for any e-book.

And yes, this means that when the paperback shows up, it depresses the value of the electronic version. A $9 e-book sold in concert with an $18 hardback makes sense, but the introduction of a $10 paperback of the same book changes the math. A $9 e-book “lease” is a lot less compelling if I can actually own the thing for $10.

Things That Need To Stop

Differing release schedules for books in the UK vs. the US. It’s completely ridiculous, and makes us want to figure out how to pirate a BOOK.

A well-reviewed SF novel I’d like to read is not currently slated for US publication until May, at which point it’ll be $24 plus shipping from Amazon in hard-to-tote-around hardback.

Instead, I just ordered the paperback from Amazon’s UK store for just under $20 (and about half that is shipping), and will have it in a week or so.

I might’ve used the Kindle option, and read it on my phone, except Amazon won’t sell me the Kindle edition because I live in the US, and that’s where the bullshit alarm goes off. Seriously, publishers, get your shit together and stop doing things like this just because you can. Silly availability decisions drive people to find ways to get your content without paying you at all. Don’t be that guy.

I love this: Pilots’ Org Opting Out of Nudie Scans

The Allied Pilots Association is advising its members to refuse the x-ray scanner on the grounds that they get too much radiation already.

The great backscatter boondoggle is costing half a billion dollars, will slow air travel even more, and will do virtually nothing to catch anything that’s actually dangerous. We have no one’s word but the manufacturer’s — and the TSA’s — that these things are actually safe, and we’re just supposed to trust the TSA that their employees aren’t saving the images for their own amusement.

No thanks, jackasses. I’ll skip it.

LOL Dallas.

Jones has fired Wade Phillips after yesterday’s delightful Cowboys collapse (this week, it was Green Bay’s turn to whip the gimp).

It’s of course his prerogative, but note the stat box in the linked story. Phillips leaves with a cumulative record of 34-22, or about .607. That’s stronger than any coach since Barry Switzer (’94-’97, .625 record), and matches St Landry’s career numbers. Sure, a 1-7 start and a five-game slide is bad news, but — and I can’t believe I’m defending the Cowboys here — they were losing close games until Romo got hurt; it’s only after then that we see margins bigger than a TD.

Of course, with 38-year-old Kitna in as the de facto first string, it’s gone to hell. And it’s not hard to see why — they didn’t give him any playing time at all in 2009, and he apparently didn’t take a snap this year until Romo went down. That’s called putting all your eggs in one basket, and while it’s still Phillips’ fault, it’s also epidemic. How often does Peyton’s backup see playing time? Or Eli’s? Or Favre’s?

So, sure, my hatred for the Cowboys loves this move. They’ll bag an unspeakably shitty season, stay out of the playoffs again, and do it while burning a metric ton of money. Without Romo and with a temp for a skipper, there’s no way they’ll bag more than 2 or 3 wins before Christmas. (Their next 8 include the Giants (6-2), New Orleans (6-3), Indy (5-3), and Philly (5-3) twice, with only Arizona (3-5), Detroit (2-6) and the Redskins (4-4) tossed in to even it out.)

But me loving it doesn’t make it smart.

Maddow on the Right Wing Lie Machine

Herein Rachel Maddow explains how we got to a place where lies and rumors are treated as fact in the self-confirming world of the well-funded right-wing media.

It’s not just the fringe accepting bullshit like “Muslims are exempt from Obamacare” or “Obama is smuggling muslims into the country” or “the Presidential trip to Asia costs $200 million a day.” Actual elected officials are encouraging and spreading these things that are easily disprovable, and that they know to be incorrect, because it’s politically useful. Facts have no place on the right.

So much to love here

The Onion completely nails the Cowboys’ collapse:

IRVING, TX — As the Dallas Cowboys struggle with a 1-6 season, sports fans nationwide have been saddened by the bad fortune that has befallen the franchise long revered as one of the NFL’s crown jewels, and known throughout the football world as America’s Team.

Actually, the U.S. populace immediately confirmed, the Cowboys’ pathetic collapse has brought with it nothing but pure joy and happiness.

“It’s really been tough to watch, especially for a team that had so much potential heading into the season,” Appleton, WI shopkeeper and longtime Packers fan Erik Hoyer said. “Ha! I was almost able to say that with a straight face. Honestly, this Cowboys team has made watching football more fun than it’s been in years. They can’t run the ball, they can’t defend anything, and they’re imploding so bad that their owner doesn’t even know how many games they’ve played.”

“I can’t think of a better team for this to happen to,” he added. “I literally can’t stop smiling.”

Go read the whole thing. It’s delicious.