It should surprise no one that Scalia is not exactly consistent

I’ve contended for years that the justice’s much-discussed “originalism” was little more than a thin veneer over a legal mind more than happy to rule based on outcome rather than principle; he’s done it over and over.

So this development won’t surprise you at all. More here.

Serious question, though: Does anybody know an Originalist who isn’t pro-life? There’s nothing about the positions that should join them at the hip, and yet pretty much everyone I’ve ever encountered who claimed the former was also actively using it the further the latter. It’s almost as if they picked a doctrine to support their point of view! Which is convenient, since, like Scalia, it’s likely they don’t really mean Originalism anyway.

Of little consequence to us. Of enormous consequence to New Yorkers. And, presumably, Mole Men.

Twice this week I’ve encountered some amazing photography of the tunnel-building process underneath Manhattan. I urge you to check these out:

  • First, over at JWZ’s blog. Really fantastic, plus technically excellent — the depth of field and sharpness is sorta shocking, given that light is probably hard to come by down there.
  • Then the Atlantic’s In Focus feature got in on the act.

Let’s hope they avoid awaking any ancient & unspeakable horrors.

Now’s when I hassle you for donations: the MS150

As it turns out, I really AM riding the MS150 this year. Here’s my personal page, wherein you may support my efforts. Expect periodic hassles, and some of you will be getting email.

A special to loyal Heathen, and in the style of Kickstarter, I am offering the following entirely ephemeral and intangible benefits:


Grudging acknowledgement.


For each donor at this level, I will post to the Internet one picture of me after a training ride, sun- and wind-burned, covered in road grime and sweat, and wearing cycling clothing.


Lovelorn admiration (silent).


For each donor at this level, I will remove from the Internet one picture of me after a training ride, sun- and wind-burned, covered in road grime and sweat, and wearing cycling clothing.


Lovelorn admiration (effusive, on this blog).


I will kiss you SQUARE ON THE MOUTH (no tongue)

Books of 2013 #8: Bad Luck & Trouble, by Lee Child (Reacher #11)

What the hell, Farmer, a series book?

What of it, Judgey McJudgerson?

But don’t you usually read SRS LITRATURE?

Mostly, yeah. But I also travel a bunch. There’s a place for junk food in one’s diet.

Aren’t these books mostly all the same, though?

No idea what you mean. See, this is the one where Reacher ends up investigating an improbable conspiracy, and then has to take it down more or less single-handledly.

And this is different from the other ten you ready because?

Um. Right. Still, good fun. This one was mildly different because it was the first written post-9/11, which forces some changes on Reacher’s behavior. Also, I was on vacation. There was drinking. And a beach.

Books of 2013 #7: Horns, by Joe Hill

I’m so behind on this; I actually finished Horns before the cruise.

I’d read one of Joe Hill‘s books before — Heart Shaped Box, his debut novel — but somehow missed out on Horns when it was released, and then it went into the perennially sifted “I’m gonna read that…” pile. I shouldn’t have delayed.

Horns is great fun from the start. Instead of slowly building to a monstrous development after hundreds of pages of hinting, Hill drops us right into the mess from page one. Ig Perrish wakes up with devil’s horns. They have odd effects on people. Given the immediate past circumstances of his life — everyone thinks he murdered his girlfriend Merrin a year before — there’s plenty of opportunity for these effects to create amusing developments.

It’s only after you’re hooked on the story that Hill paints the rest of the picture — Ig’s childhood, his family, his friends, his relationship with the dear, departed girlfriend, etc. — and if I have a complaint here it’s that these sections kind of drag a bit, and I felt at times like I really wanted to get back to the first story thread, which I was sure would be full of righteous retribution. And then, in those moments, you realize that you are reading a book that has you rooting for the devil.

Nice work.

Here’s a little bonus, btw: Horns is already being made into a film, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Ig and Juno Temple as Merrin. Principal photgraphy started last September.

More Shit That’s Got To Stop

This is ridiculous, and MUST be protested and stopped:

The Department of Homeland Security’s civil rights watchdog has concluded that travelers along the nation’s borders may have their electronics seized and the contents of those devices examined for any reason whatsoever — all in the name of national security.

The DHS, which secures the nation’s border, in 2009 announced that it would conduct a “Civil Liberties Impact Assessment” of its suspicionless search-and-seizure policy pertaining to electronic devices “within 120 days.” More than three years later, the DHS office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties published a two-page executive summary of its findings.

“We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits,” the executive summary said.

Seriously? Without SUSPICION? Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.

Because they hate you, that’s why

In years past, when you bought a piece of software, you owned a perpetual license. If your computer died, you could install it on your new computer without a hitch, because of of this license.

Microsoft has decided not to do it that way anymore; new versions of Office will now be bound to the machine they’re installed on, so that when you move to a new computer you are expected to buy another copy.

Fuck. That.



We have returned from the mountaintop. We will now resume normal shenanigans, just as soon as our inner ears stop telling us that our townhouse is gently rolling in the blue, blue seas of the Caribbean.


This month, it has been ten years since this happened. Accompanying us on our pilgrimage was John Roderick (among other amazing artists), who performed (among other things) this terrific, and terrifically moving, song apropos of 1 February 2003:

(Updated: Replaced original video with actual footage of the performance we saw last Tuesday.)


Go do this right now

From Twitter:

Even if you’re not a Unix junkie, open a Terminal and type this: traceroute DNS tells a story… /via @gravax @AlecMuffett

Right now. Immediately. (On Windows, use the CMD prompt and “tracert” instead, I believe.)

Things you can’t normally say without getting into a LOT of trouble

Hey, these 1930s syphilis posters remind me of my wife!

Astute Heathen will recall Mrs Heathen’s affection for unusual lunchbox purses; one of her favorites is decorated on all sides with reproductions of some of the posters included in the story above. Our favorite is the excruciatingly correct “WHOM have you exposed to syphilis?”, but they’re all great art-deco delights despite (because of?) the subject matter.

There’s a whole other story of how Erin ended up taking this purse to a super-proper, super-fancy baby shower in Memorial soon after moving to town; neither of us clicked to where the address was, and I had forgotten that K’s parents were rich. Erin showed up in Doc Martens carrying a syphilis purse; it was AWESOME.

This one’s big. It’s still worth looking at.

Metafilter pointed us to The True Costs of Health Care back in November, and I’ve been trying in vain to write intelligently about it since then.

I’ve given up. I don’t think I can add much to the work already done here, other than to suggest you take a look. The so-called Obamacare improves our health care system in terms of access, but it doesn’t do much about costs. That’s the next step. Understanding how the system works now is imperative if we want to figure out how to be more efficient. And becoming more efficient isn’t optional; the growth curve for health care costs under the current system is unsustainable.

Books of 2013 #6: Supergods, by Grant Morrison

Comics geeks know who this guy is already, but for the uninitiated I’ll simply note that he’s one of the most influential comic book writers of the last 25 years. In addition to groundbreaking work on titles like Doom Patrol and Animal Man, Morrison has been a part of some of the biggest names in mainstream comics — he’s penned Superman, Batman, and the X-Men at one point or another, and has generally succeeded both critically and commercially across the board.

He’s a big deal, on par with more mainstream-famous types like Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. I’ve enjoyed his work for years, so when I discovered — a bit late, as it turns out — that he’d written a sort of combination memoir/history of modern comics, it went right into the to-read pile.

That book — Supergods, which is an awesome title — absolutely delivers, but it does so in a style I can best describe as well-meaning but chronically overwritten. Morrison never uses 5 words when he could use 10. He’s the anti-Hemingway here, and it drags the book down a full letter grade, unfortunately. Even so, for dedicated fans of the medium (and of his work), it remains great fun. I came away with a greater appreciation for the development of the modern form and better understanding of how the Silver Age/Bronze Age stories of my youth functioned as part of the greater whole.

For example, Morrison pulls together lots of sources to give a solid narrative arc to the Golden AgeSilver Age transition, which was mostly just confusing to me as a kid. Back then, reading only the modern, post-Silver Age books, I considered the Golden Age versions of heroes like the Jay Garrick Flash (i.e., the one with the tin hat), or the Alan Scott Green Lantern (the one with the purple cape), to be goofy knock-offs — a huge injustice, since in fact those were the originals. The ones you think of as normal — Green Lantern as a cosmic policeman using alien technology instead of a railway engineer with magic powers — were “re-inventions” done after the more or less wholesale collapse of superhero comics in the late 1940s.

The stories he’s able to tell — by virtue of having been there — about the changes in comics in the 1980s and 1990s are no less interesting, especially when he lays into the Image boys (“The dial was never turned to anything less than total bugfuck hysteria in any given Spawn story”). What he says of Rob Liefeld’s art is too longwinded to retype here, but I laughed out loud several times.

Supergods bogs down a bit in the last portion as Morrison delves a bit too deeply, perhaps, into his own weird occult thing, but in truth it’s a minor sin. It is, after all, his book, and that period of his life shows up on the page as part of The Invisibles, which I’m now meaning to re-read. (Great quote from this era: “By the time I realised I’d become semi-fictional it was too late to defend myself.”)

I can’t really say this is a book for everyone, but it’s definitely worth your time if you are, or have ever been, a devoted fan of modern superhero comics or of Morrison’s own work — which I suppose is par for the course with a memoir like this. Being both, I had a great time despite his sesquipedalian tendencies.

This is. . . unnerving

Motion capture has long been a part of gaming and special effects, but the next-generation process used in the game LA Noire didn’t require weird reflective suits; instead, the cameras just captured the actors. This resulted in shockingly real motion in the game, obviously, but a by-product is an actual outtakes reel that is both fascinating and a little disturbing.

Bonus: Mad Men’s “Ken Cosgrove” is the lead character.

This is really, really, really not okay.

Obama has continued, and expanded, Bush’s position that on Executive say-so, it was okay for them to kill people — Americans — on the grounds that they’re terrorists.

A new memo obtained by NBC paints the broader picture of the thinking involved here, and it is a perfect example of the sort of power you don’t want governments to have. All you have to do is imagine how the worst possible person would abuse such a power.

My kingdom for a better Twitter client!

Right, so, Twitter is fun. I like it. I enjoy the long-term async chat it gives me with my friends near and far, and I enjoy the amusement gained from following assorted famous people.


Some of these famous people — whom I enjoy! — have a tendency to go a little bananas on the RT front, either with “real” retweets or quote-style retweets. Twitter itself will allow you to opt out of receiving a given user’s RTs at all, but this only catches the first kind; if some likes to RT posts with commentary attached, it’s not a RT by Twitter’s definition and it gets through.

The other aspect of the “disable RT” feature that makes it unsatisfactory is that it’s all or nothing, when in fact I like getting the occasional RT of some clever bit shared by someone, or the signal boost of a good cause that someone like Wheaton or Gaiman can provide.

My dream Twitter client is one that allows me to set a threshold for each person I follow (or overall; I won’t get greedy) such that I only see X tweets over Y minutes period, resetting only after the user has been quiet for Z minutes. That way, I’d get the one-off RTs and signal boosts, but I’d be spared the I MUST SHARE EVERYTHING explosions that some people (God love ’em) have been prone to.

Granted, no one is going to write this, let alone now. Something I’d settle for, though, would be the ability to apply new mutes, unfollows, or RT-blocks to the list of tweets already downloaded. That alone would salvage the experience once someone goes RT-happy.

Books of 2013 #5: Going Clear

Going Clear is award-winning journalist Lawrence Wright‘s new book about Scientology, and holy crap should you ever read it. Actually, you should probably read a couple of Wright’s books; the hype and anticipation about this particular book are due in no small part to Wright’s resume — among other things, he wrote The Looming Tower, which is absolutely the definitive history and analysis of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the mid-east and central Asia in the years before 9/11. (Seriously; if you haven’t read this book, whatever opinions you have about the sources and causes of modern terrorism in the region — and how it affects us — are absolutely incomplete. Go check it out. For bonus points, read Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game first; it’s the definitive study of empire gamesmanship in central Asia, and it’s that backdrop that leads into the hornet’s nest the region has become.)

There are other reasons for hype here, too. Most proximately is the celebrity-gossip “what a bunch of kooks” buzz that surrounds modern Scientology, thanks in part to the antics of Tom Cruise. More specifically, though, Wright’s 25,000 word New Yorker (14 February 2011) profile of screenwriter and director Paul Haggis set some pretty high expectations for the book — expectations which I believe are met handily.

Haggis spent 34 years as a Scientologist, starting in his early twenties. He raised his children in the church, and was a vocal supporter and financial backer even after gaining access to the infamous OT III information (famously detailed on South Park). What finally broke his faith, though, was Scientology’s overt support for California’s Proposition 8. As it turns out, Haggis’ two daughters are gay.

After making this break, Haggis had a bit of the zeal of the un-converted, if you will: he was willing to speak in detail and at length about the church, its doctrine, its internal workings, its misbehavior, and the changes wrought within by the ascendency of David Miscavige after the founder’s “departure.” (By the way: they still think he’s coming back.)

I promised a friend of mine I’d write a bit about this one, and then read it in 48 hours and promptly got hyperbusy such that, weeks later, I’ve still said nothing. Fortunately, there are others talking about this book, too; Michael Kinsley’s New York Times review begins with an excellent point:

That crunching sound you hear is Lawrence Wright bending over backward to be fair to Scientology. Every deceptive comparison with Mormonism and other religions is given a respectful hearing. Every ludicrous bit of church dogma is served up deadpan. This makes the book’s indictment that much more powerful.

That’s it, in a nutshell. Wright goes out of his way to be fair, knowing full well that you need only Scientology’s actual words and deeds to paint an accurate picture. This is far and away a different league than, say, the rants of an atheist about Christianity; the core of Scientology is the ravings of a lunatic science fiction author, and it makes the provably fraudulent pronouncements of Joseph Smith look positively tame by comparison. But it’s worse than that, because within this prison of belief operate what are effectively prison camps for backsliding members too afraid to cut ties, where they are held in isolation in fear of violence. More than once, Wright talks to ex-Scientologists who speak of the total isolation and information blackout at work for core Sea Org members — some, upon exit, have never read a book not authored by L. Ron Hubbard.

That kind of isolation alone is an excellent cult hallmark, but it’s not the only thing that marks the CoS as something other than a “regular” religion. To tell the story properly, though, it’s necessary to tell the story of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, which Wright does in great detail. What becomes immediately clear is that Hubbard was a legitimately brilliant, fascinating and accomplished guy — but also a megalomaniacal compulsive liar, even when the truth wasn’t damaging. He exaggerated his military exploits, his accomplishments, and his education, to hilarious degrees. He was a serial philanderer, and by all accounts a terrible father. There’s more than a hint of narcissism. And, like Joseph Smith before him, when he sought to found a religion for his own benefit, he had the poor planning to make pronouncements that were trivially easy to disprove even within his lifetime (such as the conditions on planet Venus).

Not, of course, that this has limited the Church, apparently. Scientology has become a quintessentially American cult, focussed as it is on Celebrity and wealth. The explosion of celebrity-worship in the late 20th century in some ways seems to have made Scientology almost inevitable, especially since it was really getting started in a period of time when many baby boomers were actively seeking new meaning and structure. There remain no small number of “ordinary” Scientologists who insist the church’s methods — auditing, e.g. — have helped them overcome challenges, meet goals, and achieve success. But the church’s underbelly is a seedy and awful place, so it’s hard not to view even that as the fruit of a poison tree.

The most fascinating fact about this entire phenomenon may be the existence of dedicated Scientologists who have “escaped” the clutches of the mainline church, but who persist in auditing and meeting and study as “independent Scientologists.” For them, the problem is not the church or its doctrine (even Xenu and the intergalactic war); the problem is the cult of personality surrounding Miscavige. They may have a point, but they can’t explain away Xenu, or the thus-far undemonstrated powers supposedly granted to those who have “gone Clear.”

Read this book.