The Evil Start Early

Talking Points Memo is all over the Republican war on voting.

They’ve completely embraced the fact that, when more people vote, they do less well. So they’re actively working to make it harder to vote. How do they sleep at night?

Dear FBI: Are you idiots?

The FBI raided a Virginia server colocation facility this week to seize some servers belonging to some investigation target. They had a warrant for this, presumably issued by a judge.

What they did not have was permission to steal dozens of other servers in the process, but they did anyway because either (a) they’re too stupid to know the difference between “server” and “rack” or (b) they just didn’t care about the effect this would have on several innocent businesses.

Instapaper was among those hurt by the FBI’s egregiously unprofessional behavior here; he’s got much to say (read his followup, too; the servers were returned, eventually, but that doesn’t excuse their taking in the first place). The hoster, Digital One, clearly didn’t handle this well either, but they’re quoted extensively in the NYTimes coverage:

In an e-mail to one of its clients on Tuesday afternoon, DigitalOne’s chief executive, Sergej Ostroumow, said: “This problem is caused by the F.B.I., not our company. In the night F.B.I. has taken 3 enclosures with equipment plugged into them, possibly including your server — we cannot check it.”

Mr. Ostroumow said that the F.B.I. was only interested in one of the company’s clients but had taken servers used by “tens of clients.”

He wrote: “After F.B.I.’s unprofessional ‘work’ we can not restart our own servers, that’s why our Web site is offline and support doesn’t work.” The company’s staff had been working to solve the problem for the previous 15 hours, he said.

There’s more coverage at the LA Times.

Law enforcement in general is not sufficiently accountable for overreaches, so I doubt anything will actually happen to the the agent or agents who so cavalierly stole these servers. (Yes, “stole.” The warrants for adjacent boxes do not impart legal authority to remove the unnamed servers; ergo, theft.) That’s wrong: the agency and agents should be liable for criminal and civil penalties when seizures like this go so far awry. There are too many “innocent mistakes” and too little accountability. I’m not talking about innocent mistakes; I’m talking about willfully being jackasses and not caring about the repercussions.

Of course, that will never happen. And without accountability, there’s no reason for the FBI to care that their methods are outdated, that they’re harming innocent businesses and users, and that they’re showing everyone how little they understand about modern computing.

But a man can dream.

In which we remind you that “marketing” means “lying”

As it turns out “all-natural” Snapple Apple contains no actual apple.

Here’s the thing: If you want juice, just drink juice. If you want water, just drink that. Drinking some goofball concoction that’s meant to taste like juice, but isn’t, is just silly — and its sheer existence is a symptom of our larger food problem. Food companies exist to process ingredients into something else, and call it adding value — even when they don’t actually add value. If we ate fewer processed foods, and more foods in their natural or less-processed state, we’d all be better off.

Well, all of us except the lying “food” companies. But we can do without them.

Dept. of Friendly Warnings

Many people don’t understand this, but even a “secure” wireless network is pretty much an open book to anyone who’s ON that network. Your network traffic, unless encrypted, is clearly visible to anyone on that network who takes even the most basic steps towards reading it. There’s even a Firefox extension that makes doing this utterly trivial.

What does this mean? It means that, if you’re bloody minded, you can sit in a Starbuck’s and monitor people’s Facebook and Amazon activity in order to spoof it later. By the same token, it means that anything you touch on wifi that doesn’t have an HTTPS in front of it is an open book that anyone around you can see and review if they want. Banks, for the most part, understand this; they mostly use the encrypted connections. But Facebook’s https://www.facebook.com just redirects to the unencrypted version by default. Security? What’s that?

If you’re nerdy, or know someone who is, you can easily set up ways to avoid getting compromised by this by using something like a VPN, or even Tor. But if you’re not, the absolute least you can do is avoid using insecure sites in public places. This goes for phones and tablets on wifi, too, by the way (you can probably assume your 3G connections are more secure, however).

Seriously. Don’t do it. Be careful. This goes for coffeeshops, airports, hotels, etc. Identify theft gets mighty easy if people can read all your network traffic, don’t you think?

Google vs. The Culture of Aggrieved Victimhood

So this past weekend, in addition to its usual holiday doodle, Google commemorated Father’s Day by adding a “call your dad” reminder on the bottom of the main search page plus a “Reminder: Call Dad” entry in the web-based GTalk interface. It’s both the sort of cute holiday schtick we associate with Google and, it should be noted, a subtle bit of marketing (it’s now possible to call folks from GTalk).

Apparently, some folks were offended, and started calling this a “Google social media fail,” because, you know, some people’s dads are dead, or some people don’t have dads, or are estranged, or whatever.

I hate finding myself in the “oh, go shut the fuck up” crowd, but doesn’t it really seem like this is an example of people waiting around to be sad about something? Both Heathen HQ dads shuffled off this mortal coil long ago, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to get up in arms about the whole idea of Father’s Day.

Mostly what we have here is the intersection of a tech press without enough actual meat to cover (I’m looking at you, Techcrunch) combined with some free-floating anti-Google sentiment and agitated to a froth by the eternal presence of people who are, apparently, going through life looking for things to become upset and put-upon about.

The official Heathen position on this? These people should go piss up a rope. Google has a personality, unlike many corporate behemoths. They do interesting, fun things. And they are discovering that, at a certain point, anything they do that is at all out of the ordinary results in some X number of hundreds of people online getting all whiney. THEY SHOULD NOT CARE. This comment at the Metafilter thread is pretty spot on:

This is why corporations retreat to bland, impersonal, inoffensive personas that become indistinguishable from one another.

Dept. of People Cooler Than You

Roger Ebert calls our attention to this bit with his tweet “The obituaries in London newspapers are rarely boring.” An excerpt:

John Kingsley-Heath, who has died aged 84, ran African safaris for more than half a century, and as a big-game hunter survived many hair-raising encounters with the fiercest beasts of the bush.

One such occurred in August 1961, when Kingsley-Heath was leading a private safari along the Kisigo river in Tanganyika. From inside a blind (a shelter for hunters), he turned to see a huge, maned lion crouching behind him not 15ft away. As it gathered itself to spring, Kingsley-Heath shot it, and the lion fled. He and his gunbearers gave chase and found the wounded creature lying on its side, breathing heavily.

It was down, but not out. When Kingsley-Heath’s client opened fire, the lion made a single bound of 22ft towards the two men. Kingsley-Heath dropped to the ground and smashed the barrel of his .470 rifle over the animal’s head, breaking the stock at the pistol grip; the lion staggered. As his gunbearers and client ran for cover Kingsley-Heath struggled on to his elbows to get clear.

“Too late,” he recalled, “the lion was upon me, I smelt his foul breath as, doubling my legs up to protect my stomach, I hit him in the mouth with my right fist as hard as I could. His mouth must have been partly open as my fist went straight in.”

With a single jerk of its head, the lion broke Kingsley-Heath’s right arm; as he punched it with his left fist, the lion bit clean through his left wrist, breaking the left arm and leaving the hand hanging by its sinews. Next it clamped his foot in its jaws, crushing the bones in it by twisting his ankle.

One of the gunbearers arrived, threw himself on the animal’s back and stabbed it repeatedly with a hunting knife. With Kingsley-Heath’s foot still locked in its mouth, the lion was finally shot dead. The client reappeared, and with his rifle blew the creature’s jaws apart so that Kingsley-Heath’s foot could be removed.

“I was bleeding heavily … shaking uncontrollably, felt cold, and was likely to lose consciousness,” he wrote later. “I knew that if I did so, I might die.” Instead, after an agonising and protracted medical evacuation, followed by surgery and a bout of malaria, he eventually recovered.

It goes on from there. Kingsley-Heath comes off as the sort of guy the Most Interesting Man in the World might find intimidating.

Best Concert Review We’ve Read Lately

From our new acquaintance Alexander, who wrote this review of the New York Dolls/Poison/Motley Crue show, which blessedly included this bit in the voice of SNL’s Stefon:

Houston’s hottest night club is Püé. Impressario Pamela Tranderson Lee, back from touring with Cirque de Sogay, has done it again. Located at the edge of EaDo, this club has it all: explosions, pyrotechnics, a two-story stripper pole, a kick drum bigger than Vince Neil’s waistline, a drum kit mounted on a 40′ ring that straps the drummer in upside down, two albino cat-women, and a Ben Afflict. That’s that thing where you pretend you earned it on merit, show up to political rallies uninvited and wear Affliction shirts to fit in…

Duke Followup

The PR firm working on Duke Nukem Forever tweeted yesterday that some reviewers “went too far” in their reviews, and that they are “reviewing who gets games next time.”

This is the state of game journalism; the blacklist is a clear and everpresent threat. It’s a clear signal to everyone paying attention when a new movie isn’t screened for critics ahead of release, so I suppose the big money in gaming wants to avoid that by bullying reviewers into only and always saying nice things. Nobody trusts online reviews from most of the gaming press, and this is the reason (n.b. that the reviews I linked yesterday were from a general tech news site and a mainstream British news paper, not gamer press publications).

Photos Inside the Mothball Fleet

The mothball fleet in Suisun Bay, California is a collection of a couple hundred essentially abandoned ships (at one point, the site had over 2200) once awaiting reactivation, and now awaiting the shipbreaker (with at least one exception, asa the USS Iowa is there, too, as it waits its turn to be a museum).

Recently, some intrepid photographers decided to sneak in, explore, and take a few pictures while avoiding patrols. Enjoy.

Posted in Pix

Today in Utterly Decimating Slams

The biggest joke in gaming has been, for 15 years, the ongoing delays surrounding Duke Nukem Forever. Astonishingly, it dropped this month, finally.

Not so astonishingly: it’s apparently awful, awful, awful. The two reviews I’ve read are clinics in brutal-but-deserved takedowns.

From Ars Technica:

In another scene, a woman sobs and asks for her father. You see, the women in the alien craft are being forcibly impregnated by the aliens, and during your journey, you hear a mixture of screams and sexual noises. After I accidentally blew up a few of these female victims in a firefight, Duke made a joke about abortion.

This is what passes for humor in the game. It’s not racy, it’s not funny, and it makes you feel dirty. Every time I put the controller down, I felt the need to rub my hands on my jeans as if the game were making me physically dirty. It’s like watching your uncle tell racist jokes at Thanksgiving and praying someone has the guts to tell him to cut it out, but this time it’s interactive — and you’re the uncle.

[...]

Multiple developers have worked on this game for over a decade, so I don’t know who to blame for the unplayable, glitchy, ugly, offensive mess it has become. No humor can make up for the game’s rampant hatred of women, and the terrible writing and one-liners can’t even be compensated for by good gameplay. The game’s jokes about other titles are laughable when you see how putrid Duke is upon release.

Sure, it may still sell millions of copies due to the name alone, but it will disappoint buyers and make anyone with half a brain feel uncomfortable. I have no clue how a game so all-encompassingly ugly can suffer from so many framerate issues, but Duke finds a way. From a business and gaming history perspective, the fact that the title exists at all is fascinating; for everyone else asked to spend $60 on it, it’s merely sad.

I’m a fan of humor that’s willing to push the boundaries, but nothing is being sent up, mocked, or lampooned here. There’s just no reason for what you see and hear. This is an ugly game that exists to celebrate ugliness. The people involved should be ashamed.

But the even better slam comes at the end of this review in the Guardian:

If this was 15 years in the making, it makes you wonder what they did for the other 14 years and 10 months.

Not quite “I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul,” but it’s about as close as we’ll get in the real world.

“A martin is a member of the weasel family.”

From our far-flung correspondents; there is so much to love about this:

HOQUIAM, Wash.(AP) — Police say a man was carrying a dead weasel when he burst into a Hoquiam apartment and assaulted a man.

The victim asked, “Why are you carrying a weasel?” Police said the attacker said, “It’s not a weasel, it’s a martin,” then punched him in the nose and fled.

The attacker was apparently looking for his girlfriend and had gone to her former boyfriend’s apartment Monday night where the victim was a guest.

KXRO reports he left carcass behind.

Police later found the suspect arguing with his girlfriend at another location and arrested the 33-year-old Hoquiam man after a fight.

He said he had found the martin dead near Hoquiam, but police don’t know why he carried it with him.

A martin is a member of the weasel family.

Books

Seen online:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs. — John Rogers

Ok, Holder, Put Up or Shut Up

David Simon was pleased to hear that Attorney General Eric Holder was a fan of The Wire, and that he wished for another season.

So he’s made an offer:

“The attorney general’s kind remarks are noted and appreciated,” Simon said in an email to the Times of London. “I’ve spoken to Ed Burns, and we are prepared to go to work on season six of ‘The Wire’ if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive and dehumanizing drug prohibition.”

Your move, Eric.

Wow. Just Wow.

It’s pretty easy to see why Palin would consider running for President, or at least consider looking like she might: her leap from backwater civil servant to millionaire was accomplished exclusively through her sudden national exposure via the McCain campaign. More of the same will doubtless line her pockets well even if she bows out early.

What’s less clear to me is why Rick Santorum thinks he’s got a shot at all. His most recent electoral experience was getting voted out of his Senate seat, so he’s got the taint of LOSER on him already. He’s a strident right-winger unlikely to garner much centrist support. I suppose he could be banking on the exposure helping him in a future race, but he’s not telegenic enough to cash in like Palin. The alternative is that he’s self-deluded enough to think he could challenge even Palin or Romney or Pawlenty for the nomination, and that he has a chance vs. an incumbent Obama in the general.

Who really thinks that?

The Marshal rides off into the sunset

The second guy to play Gunsmoke‘s Matt Dillon — and the first on TV — was James Arness, also of note for his role in the original Thing, and for being sadly-also-dead Peter Graves‘ brother.

Arness died today, at 88.

(What I didn’t know: the first guy to play Dillon, who worked only on the radio version, was William Conrad, who later appeared in the 70s cop drama Cannon as well as the TV version of Nero Wolfe and as the latter character in Jake and the Fat Man.)