Thursday, March 23, 2006

Looking for the next best thing

Google screenshot
Why am I first?

This post is the latest in an irregular, navel-gazing series on searches that brought visitors here. Also, I predict the next wave in spam sites.

1. bush appoints chief justice

Google coughs up more than twelve million pages on this query, and my satirical blog post is number one. "Bush Appoints His Mountain Bike as Next Chief Justice" sits ahead of pages from unimportant sites like,,, and I don't understand. I did do a few things Google likes:
  • I've written on the subject before (when I suggested someone Bush was even unlikelier to appoint);
  • the post has the search words in the right order;
  • even better, the search terms are in both the page's title and url;
  • and there are links to authoritative sources (like Slate, several newspapers, and, especially, Wikipedia).
But the post also has something Google dislikes: there are no external links to it. Zero. Once upon a time, I complained that Google hated me. But this is a little more Google-love than I'm comfortable with, at least for this search. I suspect they're playing with their ranking algorithm, and things will soon return to normal.

2. what does riding shotgun mean
Second out of 1,300,000. The post title is "Riding shotgun", and the post's body has the word "mean", so the post's words are in the same order as the search.

3. ANWR map
4. chicago crime map
My top search referrers. The search term is in the post title, and there are links from other sites. Yes, I am a map geek.

6. beedogs
Sixth out of 24,000. Post title, and Wikipedia link.

7. grandiose behavior
Why third out of 583,000? Because I am such a good example of it! I am the bestest example of it EVAR! (Well, third bestest.) "Grandiose behavior" isn't in the title of my post, but is at the start of a list. Also, there's a Wikipedia link.

8. hermione elf liberty
First out of 22,000. The search words appear in tables. And there's a W-pedia link.

9. anders celsius college education
First of 24,000. Yeah, there's a Whiskeypedia link. But the keywords are in two different posts. The posts are consecutive, but Google may need to improve its recognition of implied delimiters, since horizontal lines, <div> tags , and dates are often used to separate fields and records (but not always, because that would be too convenient). A good implied record separator for blogs is a link to a page on the same host containing all the text immediately preceding (or following, depending on layout).

10. gold smelter design
Fortieth out of 256,000. I mentioned a gold smelter in one post, and two weeks earlier I had blogged on intelligent design. Another separator problem. If I'd stuck in a Wikipedia link, it would have been fourth instead of fortieth, I betcha.

11. Famous incidents of book burning
Second out of 7.1 million. I haven't written on this topic, but I write about books a lot, and I've mentioned book-burning in passing. This looks like Google teasing out meaning that isn't quite there.

12. sucka dj's who think they're fly!
Fourth of 26,000. I'm glad to rank so highly on such a crucial issue.

13. tom delay mugshot
Twelfth of 146,000. Another case where Google likes post titles — alt text, too. Tom DeLay is not my favorite mugshot, though. Cops suspected this guy of huffing spraypaint. What do you think gave him away?

Not a lot of suspense here. The next wave in spam sites is gratuitous Wikipedia links. As spamdexers and splogs grow more evil, their links will become ever more useless. We just have to come up with a name for their tactic. Wikipedophelia? What do you think?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


two wingnuts

The Illinois primary is today. The Republican candidates in the 8th congressional district have been running hard. The historically-Republican district (Philip Crane for decades, before him, Donald Rumsfeld) is represented by freshman Democrat Melissa Bean, and is considered a top pickup opportunity for the Republicans. I doubt the Republicans will take the seat back, because the tide is against them, but the winner would have a good start in the Republican House — the primary campaign is expensive, vicious, and stupid.

The two major candidates, Kathy Salvi and David McSweeney, are trying to win the primary by running to each other's right. The result is that they get bunched up together, almost indistinguishable on the fringe. They're afraid to attack each other for being too conservative. And there may be no such thing, at least in the primary. But they are so far out on the edge that every attack makes its target sound reasonable and responsible — almost like a Democrat. This rosy picture isn't reliable, though. If you look at what they say about themselves, each snaps back into focus as your standard wingnut.

Most of the charges and counter-charges have been broadcast on TV and radio. Ad nauseam: Each candidate has dumped more than a million dollars of personal money into the race. They don't have the guts to put their own hit pieces online, though. From their opponents' advertising, it sounds as though

• McSweeney isn't insanely opposed to abortion. (He actually is, though. He's just slightly less anti-choice than Salvi.)

• Salvi might show insufficient deference to the whims of big corporations. (She's a personal-injury lawyer. But she supports tort "reform".)

• Neither Salvi nor McSweeney is true to the legacy of Ronald Reagan. (Wrong. They were both baptized in the festering juices of Reagan's corpse.)

If, instead of relying on their opponents' attack ads, you look at their own material, you'll see them both parrot the failed Republican orthodoxy:

• Fix the deficit by cutting taxes.

• Fix Social Security by killing it.

• Fix Iraq by wishing for a pony — wishing really hard.

It's as formulaic as spam email promising you a naked, eighteen-year mortgage, but not as well-crafted.

Just as spammers who depart from their templates become even more obviously fake, Republicans who depart from their templates become even less convincing. When Salvi and McSweeney don't follow the blueprint, they show how confused they are by taking stands that feel good, but don't tie in with the rest of the message. Salvi takes a controversial stand on traffic congestion. She's against it. McSweeney hates child molesters almost as much as he hates trial lawyers like Salvi. These programs (well, implied programs; they're too savvy to offer any specifics) may sound good, but neither fits with its candidate's alleged principles. Salvi doesn't explain how she'll bring home major pork while cutting spending to the bone everywhere else — and we're talking huge gobbets of pork to address the district's traffic problems, the kind of pork that brand-new congress-critters don't get anywhere near. McSweeney wants to introduce federal laws for state crimes, yet he claims he wants to return power to the states. And he will somehow reduce the burden of pointless federal regulation by passing unnecessary laws.

Most of what the Republican candidates say is either horrid or inane. But there's also what they don't say. They talk about the deficit. They talk about getting the troops in Iraq the materiel they need. They talk about cleaning up the mess in Washington. But they never mention whose fault it all is. They never mention the elephant in the room, the Republican party. The Republicans created the mess in Washington. Sending more Republicans will only make it worse.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Driving blind

In the Bush administration, bureaucratic stupidity can be a design feature (you don't really need me to give examples, do you?). Elsewhere, bureaucratic stupidity is usually a bug, an emergent property when a well-intended program gets poorly-considered implementation.

My old favorite was a classic example. A classmate had reported on a questionnaire that his family sometimes spoke Spanish at home. So he got pulled out of class for testing, to see whether he would benefit from instruction in English as a Second Language. So far, nice and proactive. But he got yanked from an advanced placement English class, which means he was pulled from a subject where he was in the 98th percentile so that he could be tested for a program designed to improve his skills, in that very area, all the way up to maybe the 25th percentile. It was a complete waste of time, both his and the tester's. Plus, there was the opportunity cost of not using the resource for a kid who actually needed it. But my friend only missed one class, so all in all, the waste was small, cheap, and amusing. Every bureaucratic foul-up should be like that.

I have a new favorite bureaucratic foolishness. The state of Illinois requires that all high school districts offer driver's education. Given the large number of people who apparently don't know what a red octagon means, this can only be considered a good thing. Chicago Public Schools go further, requiring driver's ed for graduation. Since a car crash is the likeliest cause of my accidental demise, and I would prefer to avoid such an event, making driver's ed mandatory is even better. But CPS might be just a liiiittle too enthusiastic. They require everybody to pass driver's ed, even the blind kids. Yes, the blind kids. Read the story in the Chicago Tribune.

The chairman of the Illinois High School/College Driver's Education Association says it's not a waste of time. But even he, presumably a big booster of driver's ed, concedes that it may lack "a little common sense." I suppose you could argue that it also teaches the kids a healthy disrespect for authority, but high school already does that, and splendidly.

There's actually something surprising about this whole incident — a positive outcome. This silliness is being used as a teaching moment. The kids are writing to their aldermen and other elected officials. The requirement will surely be eased. So the kids will have the experience of petitioning the government for redress of grievances and of making a difference, however small, in their own lives. Nice.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Media watch

So, the spouse and I are about to break our media fast, and we're kinda bummed out. There are so many movies we've missed lately, and it's so hard to know whether a given movie is any good. By "good", I mean "yes" answers to little questions: "Does the film fulfill the dramatic unities?" And to big questions: "Does the movie score high on the Patty-meter?"

To rate high on the Patty-meter, a film has to have lots of things that are cool (fights, frights, and explosions; wonder and joy; stuff that's shiny). It must present them in an interesting and original way (to avoid the classic Onion headline "Movie Praised For Not Being As Bad As It Could Have Been"). And it must have a minimum of stuff that sucks (You know: stuff that isn't cool.).

It's a simple idea, but nobody's doing it quite the way we'd like. Joe Bob Briggs does some of it — noting body counts, breast counts, quarts of blood, and varieties of fu —, but not all, and anyway, he doesn't seem to be very active lately.

There's lots of other quantitative film criticism. The helpful reviewers at Family Media Guide count all the profanities in a film and list the highlights. The censorial bible-thumpers at are even more systematic. They rate every movie from 0 to 100. CAP's quantitative, "objective" methodology is so scientifical that it has its own acronym:
  • Wanton Violence/Crime
  • Impudence/Hate
  • Sex/Homosexuality
  • Drugs/Alcohol
  • Offense to God
  • Murder/Suicide
It looks like a great idea, although giving lower scores to better movies makes their scale seem backwards (like Anders Celsius' original centigrade system). But CAP isn't measuring the amount of neat stuff in a movie; really, they're measuring how hot and bothered it gets them. A funny, heartfelt movie whose theology they dislike bothers them a lot more than a pious snuff film. When a good movie pushes their buttons, it's a hoot: check out their "analysis" of Sin City. Unfortunately, they sometimes like good movies and hate bad ones — so they're not a reliable contrary indicator — rendering their exegeses more entertaining than useful.

Talking about metrics in film criticism reminded me of Wikipedia's List of films ordered by uses of the word "fuck". Which linked to a handy category, Lists of films, which in turn included such useful compendia as List of films by gory death scene and List of films about independent body parts. So there's still hope for the Patty-meter.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Riding shotgun

By now everybody knows that Dick Cheney accidentally shot a fellow hunter Saturday. Harry Whittington was shot at fairly close range — he took over 200 pellets to the face, neck, and torso. And Whittington contributed to both Bush/Cheney campaigns!

The initial spin (from the ranch owner, a big-time Republican fundraiser) tried to blame Whittington, saying he snuck up on Cheney from behind. That explanation doesn't wash for two reasons. First, you're supposed to approach shooters from behind because you certainly don't want to approach from the direction they'll be shooting in. Second, the hunter has an absolute responsibility to know where he's pointing his gun (hint: not at other hunters).

This incident isn't really a big deal. Cheney won't even have to pay a fine, unlike Bush did when he shot a killdeer in 1994 (That's because lawyers aren't a protected species.). Mostly, it's an excuse for good, mean jokes: Steve Gilliard reports on Cheney's other hunts; and The Angry Sicilian points out ten ways Dick Cheney can kill you without a gun.

The shooting incident isn't a big deal, but a couple of things around it are. First, it reinforces the Bush administration's "ready, fire, aim" approach to problem-solving. More importantly, it underlines the Bushies' penchant for secrecy. Michael Froomkin points out that Cheney took much longer to talk to the law than Teddy Kennedy did after the the Chappaquiddick accident. Steve Benen says

I'm hardly the type to give these guys the benefit of the doubt, but I wasn't the least bit suspicious about the incident until the White House started dissembling. Leave it to the Bush gang to take a story in which the Vice President shot a guy and make it look worse.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

With corruption poster-child Tom DeLay under indictment, House Republicans had to pick a new majority leader. Showing their deep and abiding commitment to reform, they chose John Boehner (R-OH). Boehner — whose name, unfortunately, isn't pronounced the way it looks (instead, it rhymes with "complainer") — has demonstrated his belief in responsive government by handing out tobacco lobbyists' checks on the House floor. He is also one the leading recipients of luxury travel from lobbyists.

Bonus corruption: Josh Marshall points out that the Republicans had to re-vote because, "the first count showed more votes cast than Republicans present at the Conference meeting." One of his readers comments, "That's right, the Repubs are so corrupt they can't even hold an honest INTERNAL election." This tidbit isn't in the most of the news coverage because it isn't really news, since it's such an old, dog-bites-man kind of story by now. For example, it's how Karl Rove got his start.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


I didn't watch President Bush's State of the Union speech yesterday. I wanted to see a realistic assessment of America's problems and plausible approaches to solving them. And I knew I wouldn't get any of that from Chimpy.

Instead, I watched a DVD from season 4 of Alias, a much better choice. Alias makes a lot more sense than anything from the Bush administration, and this was an especially choice episode. Marshall, the tech wizard, is the main character in "Tuesday" because everybody else is either under biohazard quarantine or buried alive. The episode features a novel use for a spork (even better than fomenting revolution). And it has the best lullaby EVAR:
Hush, little Mitchell, don't you cry.
Daddy's gonna teach you about lanthanides.
Cerium is first, yes it leads the way.
Hexagonal structure and it's iron gray.
Praseodymium is next and it looks like brass...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Concrete achievements

I can geek out on a variety of subjects, the range of which is a little distressing (or, if you hold your head just right, rather comforting). I usually think of geekery as relating to high tech, perhaps because folks in computer subcultures were among the first to claim "geek" as a compliment to their interest and expertise — rather than the traditional comparison to the lowest sideshow performers. Or I may see geekery as high tech because because technology is involved in many of my enthusiasms, most of which which are formed by technology (science and technology), or informed by technology (science fiction), or transformed by technology (books and maps).

Today's Trib has a nice obit describing a low-tech geekery that's new to me. Gordon Ray was a civil engineer who was "an expert in concrete road and runway design". He literally wrote the book on it.

"He would talk passionately about concrete paving to anyone at any time, whether it was at a lecture or in a social setting," said George Barney, a senior vice president with the Portland Cement Association. "He was easygoing, but he was very intense in whatever he was focusing on at the time, whether it was concrete pavements or how to sink a putt on the golf course."
"He had all of these pictures of Paris, and his favorite slides were of Charles de Gaulle International Airport," his daughter said. "He was so proud of everything you could do with concrete."

Go read the whole obituary.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Another fine meth: a whine

An annoying law goes into effect in Illinois today. The state will try to combat illegal methamphetamine production by hassling innocent allergy sufferers. The Methamphetamine Precursor Control Act is Illinois' latest move in the ritual panic over the drug du jour. The new law requires retailers to keep products containing pseudoephedrine behind the pharmacy counter. Consumers purchasing them must show ID and sign a log. Additionally, a consumer cannot buy more than 2 packages at once, and no more than 7500 mg per month. I'm sure the law is well-intentioned, but, as the owner of overly-productive sinuses, I don't like it. It will inconvenience me, cost me money, and possibly make me a criminal — all without really affecting the illegal drug trade.

The state already requires pseudoephedrine to be kept behind the counter, which is annoying enough. Signing a log means that now there's more to do, so buying it will take longer. Another gripe is that packages don't come larger than ten days worth, so I can't even get a month's supply at a time.

And it will become more expensive. Over-the-counter drugs with pseudoephedrine have gone up fifteen or twenty percent since last year's round of state restrictions. The new rules will drive costs up and volume down, so prices will ratchet up again.

The new law may turn me into a criminal. I'm allergic to everything, including the nitrogen in the earth's atmosphere. Without allergy drugs, I am a veritable geyser of mucus. With recommended doses, I am still a fountain of snot. It takes more to get my flow down to a reasonable level. The new law will criminalize ordinary behavior by regular allergy sufferers, too. If you pick up medicine for both yourself and a family member, you will probably purchase more than 7500 mg in a month (a month's worth for one person is 7440 mg). The first time you do it, it's a Class A misdemeanor, you criminal. Third time is a Class 4 felony (and you're eligible for the House Republican leadership).

The new law won't do much to reduce illegal meth production. In the short term, it will have the same effect as crackdowns in other drug panics: there may be a brief drop in supply as the as small-timers (like this amazing loser) get forced out, but the big guys will consolidate, and end up bigger than ever. In the long run, they'll find another process to make speed. That's exactly happened when phenylacetone became a controlled substance: crooks started making meth from pseudoephedrine. The next wave in crank manufacture may involve brewer's yeast, which suggests a new selling point: organic meth. (So what if organic meth is nasty, processed, harmful shit that goes against everything the organic movement stands for? So are organic Cheetos.)

There's only one difference between today's meth mania and other drug panics. Previous crackdowns targeted drugs associated with minorities and city folks. Meth tends to be a larger problem in rural areas.

This isn't a complete and utter whine, because I still have something to be grateful for. I'm just glad the authorities haven't restricted every meth ingredient with an innocent use. For example, dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) is still widely available. DHMO is essential for meth production (and is also used to increase marijuana yields). But DHMO is necessary for legal industry and agriculture, and so — despite the many dangers associated with DHMO — it is pretty easy to get. I take DHMO every day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

We're number one!

Men's Fitness magazine recently named Chicago the fattest city in the country.

I'm doing my part. I'm on the Fatkins diet:
Nestle Crunch + Mr. Goodbar = complete protein.

Does "W" stand for "wasted"?

Bush with big cut on his face
It's symmetrical: Bush cuts brush; brush cuts Bush.

President Bush is often described as a "dry drunk", an alcoholic who has stopped drinking, but whose mind still travels in ruts eroded by booze. Dry drunk behavior is characterized by
  • Grandiose behavior
  • Pomposity
  • Exaggerated self-importance
  • A rigidly judgmental outlook
  • Impatience
  • Childish behavior
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Irrational rationalization
  • Projection
  • Overreaction
That sounds just like our Fearless Leader, doesn't it?

But at Bottle of Blog, Ricky suggests that Bush isn't so dry. The president recently appeared with yet another facial injury, a cut on his face from clearing brush. Ricky reminisces:

when I was in college, it wasn't unusual for me and my friends to cut and clear so much "brush" that, by the next day, we couldn't even remember where we cut that brush.

Sometimes, we'd wind up, in the early hours of the morning, holding onto a toilet, just vomiting up all the "brush" we had "cut". That's called "clearing" "brush", I guess.

And he points out that

there are only two kinds of grownups in modern American life who show up in public with as many contusions, lacerations, and bruises on their faces on such a regular basis as George W. Bush:

1. Prizefighters; and

2. Falling down drunks.

He makes a case that's all too convincing.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone.

A minor typographical joy of the new year gets a little less common with each calendrical rollover, a casualty of better education and better access to fancy fonts.

Many businesses, hoping to appear more cosmopolitan —— or simply extending good fellowship to every customer with a spare buck —— festoon their advertising with holiday wishes in many languages. Since Spanish has the second-most speakers in the U.S., there's a lot of "Feliz Año Nuevo" out there. What you see less of now is "Feliz Año Nuevo" rendered without a tilde (~), "Feliz Ano Nuevo", which means "happy new anus."

In related news, astronomers have discovered a faint ring around Uranus.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Off Target, or: which decade is this?

Target's suggested toys for girls are boring and cheap.
Target rhymes with "garget".

Walmart is still the most evil of the big retailers, but Target tries hard. P is unhappy about a promotional email she received:
I'm not sure I feel so good shopping at Target anymore. Look at the "Girls' Toys": Horse World, Dolls & Accessories, Arts & Crafts. "Boys' Toys" are Science & Nature, Trains & Train Sets, and Tech Toys. Girls get doll strollers and cribs, quiet pastoral play with the horsies, and jewelry making, while boys get a head start on well-compensated careers in science and technology with cool stuff like "Snap Circuits Jr." I would expect that kind of gender norming in the '70s and maybe '80s but in 2005? Why not just call them all "toys" and leave it for grandma to decide that little Sally needs yet another item from the Pink Aisle?
Target doesn't just short-change girls in the career department and the all-important fun department — Target literally short-changes them. The pictured girls' toys total a mere $85 vs. $180 for the boys ' stuff. The girls' toys average less than the cheapest thing Target recommends for boys.

And Target has little excuse for "wen only" and "Snap circuts". I guess the same nine-year-old boy who chooses the toys also proofreads outgoing email.

The busy lad may have been in charge of Target's web design. P concluded
I'm also pissed that there doesn't seem to be any way to easily provide feedback on this to Target thru their website, even once you wade through their "Commitment to Diversity" statement.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Just like Watergate?

Increasingly, President Bush has been compared to Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Shoot, I implicitly did it in my last post. But that's really unfair — to Nixon. Bush could just as easily be likened to any recent Republican president.

George W. Bush is like
  • Nixon, without the ethics and sense of fair play.
  • Ford, without the grace and quick wit.
  • Reagan, without the intellect.
  • Bush I, without the common touch.

And Cheney ... Dick Cheney is like Spiro Agnew without the sex appeal.

Election Predictions 2005

Democratic donkey kickin' it

This is a little late to make an election prediction, but I haven't consumed any media today. I predict a near-sweep for the Democrats. Any race that's even vaguely close, the Democratic candidate will win. Same thing with propositions: if there's a chance for a Democratic proposition to carry, or for a Republican one to be defeated, that's what'll happen (Texas Proposition 2 will probably pass, despite the fact that as written, it wouldn't just ban gay marriage, it might prohibit all marriage.). And 2006 will be a Democratic tidal wave, like 1974, for much the same reason.

My predictions are tinged by partisan hope, and my record as a prognosticator reflects this. For example, I called the last presidential race in June 2004 for Kerry. It seemed so obvious. The Bushites frantically tried to claim Ronald Reagan's conservative mantle. But as Reagan ascended bodily into heaven, He failed to give W the necessary benediction. The way the Busheviks carried on, I expected Ronnie to say, "Well, this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." But Reagan didn't say a thing! After that, I expected the voters to realize that W was no folksy conservative, but an out-of-touch radical — and they would reject his sorry ass. Maybe I was just a little early ...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Worse than killer bees: beedogs

Remember killer bees? Aggressive wild bees were threatening to hybridize with mellower domesticated bees. Killer bees turned out to a minor threat that was amusingly overhyped.

Now there's a new type of hybridization, and the results are frightening. As you can see from the images below, bees have begun hybridizing with a number of dog breeds. Many more are documented on, which has over 20 pages of photos on this emerging ecological threat (via The Wisdom of the Illiterati). There are several pages on Flickr, too.

Beware of beedogs.

beedogs.comBeedog Howiebeedog Buster beedog Alfiebeedog Lemonbeedog dakotabeedog Snicker

Friday, November 04, 2005

Ooooh, that smell

One of the things I most enjoyed about living in Chicago was the smell. Really. Not every smell — not the sharp tang of ozone and burnt oil from an El train running through a tight curve, not the scent of corruption wafting from the fifth floor of City Hall. But there's one particular smell ...

If you're in the right place (it's not far from the fork of the Chicago River), especially in the wee small hours of a still night, you'll get a good whiff of the Blommer Chocolate Co., one of the country's biggest chocolate manufacturers. If you're expecting the odor, it's one of the minor pleasures of life in the big city. But if you're not expecting it, the cocoa smell just slams you. Imagine a brick, made of joy and life —— hitting you upside the head. It's a sweet surprise that can brighten a whole day.

Naturally, some sorehead hated it and complained. The EPA cited Blommer for particulate emissions. Sounds like an amusing anecdote of bureaucracy run wild, right? But there's a context: the EPA has not cited Midwest Generation, which has six coal-burning power plants (of which five are in the Chicago area) that have over 7,000 violations (documented by the Illinois Attorney General's office).

Midwest Generation produces electricity and sells it to power companies. It was spun off from one utility and sold to another, a product of the Enron-ization of electric power markets. A little search through shows that when Midwest Generation executives donate to candidates or parties, over 90% goes to Republicans. Suddenly, something smells, and not sweetly.

I think I need to wash off. Either

Bush's popularity: falling like autumn leaves

falling leaves, by Mark Twells
Down, down, down. (Photo by Mark Twells, used under a Creative Commons license)

The American people are becoming ever more unhappy with President Bush. The latest CBS poll puts his approval rating at just 35%. That makes him the most unpopular president since Nixon during Watergate. Thirty-five percent means he's down to his hardcore conservative base.

Avedon Carol points out that Cheney's approval rating is only 19%. That's worse than Nixon's when he resigned. Even conservative true believers are beginning to abandon the veep. Cheney is down in Agnew territory.

The proximate cause of all this love is Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and his investigation into the unmasking of CIA agent Valerie Plame. He indicted Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, last week, and continues to investigate Karl Rove, Bush's alleged "brain". Most Americans think Scooter Libby is a mascot for canned peaches and have no idea who Karl Rove is. But among those who have an opinion, 78% disapprove of Rove and 86% disapprove of Libby. More Americans think the Plame affair is a big deal than were upset by Watergate at a similar stage of its investigation.

The partisan part of me wriggles in post-Fitzmas glee. But the nonpartisan part is unhappy. Bush and his gang being so unpopular is a good thing only in the limited sense that it's harder for them to arrange more bold fuck-ups: no Social Security phase-out, no more tax cuts for billionaires, and no more wars under false pretenses. On the whole, it's bad to have a leader who can't lead. Far better to have a president who's both popular and competent. Like the last one.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Halloween fun!

Life is tougher for kids today than it was back in my day. Nowadays, cartoons aren't as funny, penny candy costs a nickel (or a dime!), and the Earth's gravity is a lot stronger than it used to be. But one thing has gotten a lot better: Halloween candy. Sure, there are still problems — like candy corn (In The Onion, Brach's CEO tells us that Generic Candy Corn Will Give You AIDS[*]).

Although some perils remain, Halloween candy has improved dramatically. When I was a kid, there wasn't anything a tenth as cool as "Dr. Scab's Monster Lab".
Chocolatey treats from Dr. Scab's Monster Lab.
You get chocolate versions of five different external organs: crunchy fingers, toes, and ears; peanut butter–filled lips; and fudge-filled eyeballs. Note the attention to detail on the foil wrappers: the eyeballs have several iris colors, and some of the ears have hair sticking out. And the price is pretty good, too (The link is kinda expensive, but at Jewel, Dr. Scab's confections are cheaper than Hershey or Nestle.). Even better, there is tons of other body-part snackage for young Donner Party animals.

More Halloween treats:
[*] That's really an old problem, though — all brands of candy corn cause disease. That's why flu season begins right after after the period of peak candy corn consumption.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Some good news for a change

Joy in Mudville

Sox win! Sox win! Sox Win!

Bill Veeck smiles down.

Oy in Dudville

Harriett Miers withdrew her nomination. You can express your sympathies at her blog. John at AMERICAblog has a good post on what happens next.


I'm sure you've seen it elsewhere: 2,000 Americans have been killed in Iraq.

It looks like this.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks, R.I.P.

Rosa Parks, who wouldn't stand for discrimination, died. Steve Gilliard has a nice post. Billmon has her mug shot.

Friday, October 21, 2005

ANWR map conveniently "lost"

The official USGS map of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was lost, just in time to expand the area to be drilled. Today's NY Times tells the story:

Arctic Map Vanishes, and Oil Area Expands

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 - Maps matter. They chronicle the struggles of empires and zoning boards. They chart political compromise. So it was natural for Republican Congressional aides, doing due diligence for what may be the last battle in the fight over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to ask for the legally binding 1978 map of the refuge and its coastal plain.

It was gone. No map, no copies, no digitized version.

The wall-size 1:250,000-scale map delineated the tundra in the biggest national land-use controversy of the last quarter-century, an area that environmentalists call America's Serengeti and that oil enthusiasts see as America's Oman.

The map had been stored behind a filing cabinet in a locked room in Arlington, Va. Late in 2002, it was there. In early 2003, it disappeared. There are just a few reflection-flecked photographs to remember it by.

All this may have real consequences. The United States Geological Survey drew up a new map. On Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee passed a measure based on the new map that opened to drilling 1.5 million acres of coastal plain in the refuge.

The missing map did not seem to include in the coastal plain tens of thousands of acres of Native Alaskans' lands. On the new map, those lands were included, arguably making it easier to open them to energy development.

How conveeeenient for the Bush administration.

"People have asked me several times, 'Do you think someone took this intentionally?' " said Doug Vandegraft, the cartographer for the Fish and Wildlife Service who was the last known person to see the old map. "I hope to God not. So few people knew about it. I'm able to sleep at night because I don't think it was maliciously taken. I do think it was thrown out."

I can understand why he thinks that. People who archive information are appalled by the idea of destroying it. It's the same as book-burning to them — and they're right. But the Bushites have censored ANWR information before. They have even censored ANWR maps before.

In 2001 a USGS cartographer, Ian Thomas, posted maps showing how ANWR drilling would affect caribou. He followed the same procedures he had followed for 20,000 other maps. This time, though, he was fired. And Thomas's caribou maps, and thousands of others, disappeared from the web.

We know they've done it before. Why should we believe they didn't do it again?

Plame wars

Patrick Fitzgerald will wrap up his investigation of the Valerie Plame leak by October 28th, when his grand jury expires. Unlike Kenneth Starr, who leaked like a firehose, Fitzgerald and his crew have kept very quiet — he has said only that he won't issue a report. (For background on the scandal, see the excellent Wikipedia article; for info on why it's not just politics as usual, Steve Gilliard excerpts a Stratfor piece on why it's really, really bad to uncover secret agents.)

No report means one of two things. Either Fitzgerald will finish up next week and say nothing, or much more likely, he'll issue indictments. His near-silence has just fueled speculation. It looks like Fitzgerald is hunting some big game: Karl Rove, Deputy White House Chief of Staff, aka "Bush's Brain" (was there ever a more left-handed compliment?); and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff.

The fun part is speculatin' on who else is a target. There will almost certainly be some henchpersons, whom I should care about. But I'm more interested in how high up it goes. My money is on Cheney, but ...

My hope is for Monkeyboy. Bush knew about the leak two years ago, and rebuked Rove — not for essentially committing treason (since Rove uncovered a spy in wartime), but for doing it sloppily. (If W were better edumacated, he might recall Talleyrand's quip "It's worse than a crime, it's a blunder." But I suspect the only Talleyrand quotation he knows is "Come Mr. Talleyrand, tally me banana.")

I can't help but feel sweet, sweet joy at the prospect of a little justice. But at the same time, my fear is: how will the Bushites react? They respond to ordinary political setbacks by crying wolf by issuing terror alerts. But this is a lot bigger. So what will they do?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tom Delay mugshot

Tom Delay mugshot
"Dispense with all delay!" Marcus Annaeus Lucan

Tom Delay was just booked on charges of conspiracy and money laundering (from The Smoking Gun via Talking Points Memo).

Which Republican criminal will be charged next?
• Frist?
• Rove?
• Rumsfeld?
• Cheney?
• Bush?

I can hardly wait to find out ...

... but I bet I won't have to wait too long.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

If it wasn't for bad sex ...

... I wouldn't have no sex at all.

At Shatter, Doug Hoffman is running a Bad Sex contest. Rules are here. Read the entries (heh-heh, he said "entries") here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I'm still searchin'

Search engines have been sending a lot of readers to this site lately. A few of the searches match my preoccupations, and on some of them, semiquark scores a little better than I would expect:

Google Images: Chicago maps (#173 of 12,400)

MSN Search: cow farts as source of pollution (#10 of 49).

Searches where this blog ranks high tend to be either typos:

MSN Search: gorge bush farts (#2 of 1514)

or obscure. I'm number one! on this search:

Google Images: bush cake new orleans

out of two results ...

But there are some searches where this site does much better than one would expect.

Google: what happens when knocked unconscious

This site was #2 of 481,000! You can sort of explain that by the odd phrasing of the query. But Google must be fussing with its algorithms and indexes: on retrying the search this site wasn't even in the top 1,000.

But what really surprised me was the number of visitors who came here via Dobby image searches. Out of over 16,000 results for

this occassionally humble blog comes in at number 24. Even more strange, for

Google Images: photo dobby

Google Images: image dobby

out of the same 16,000+ results, this site is first! Something is broken.

Monday, October 10, 2005

What I won't miss, part two: attack of the spambots

Captcha some SPAM
Spam spam spam spam. Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!

I was perversely flattered when this blog began to receive comment spam. At first, I thought it was a sign that I had arrived. Then I realized that it was just another example of Moore's Law in action. Equipment and bandwidth keep getting cheaper, so the marginal cost of a new spam attack keeps getting smaller.

And the latest comment spam here were very marginal indeed:
• a small fraction (who clicks on traditional mortgage-enlargement spam?);
• reduced even smaller (even fewer care about mesothelioma-casino links);
• of a tiny number (this site's readers are a select group, but a small one).

The amount of spam was still small, so it was easy to delete. Unfortunately, the spambots weren't consistent enough for me to set up something like the amusing honeypot for spammers at chez Driftglass. So if you enter a comment (and you should), you'll have to prove your existence with a little Turing test, a captcha, where you'll see a distorted word and type its letters into a box (Blogger calls it
"word verification").

There are problems with captchas. They are really, really bad from an accessibility standpoint: computers can't read the distorted images, but neither can visually-impaired humans. And captchas may not work for long. The obvious tool, optical character recognition, is good enough to decode weak captchas; in the future, OCR will break strong ones, too. And right now, spammers can crack captchas with free porn. So captchas are a flawed and temporary solution.

But they are the best we have for now.

What I won't miss, part one: a key attack


As I was cleaning out the old apartment, somebody took a key to my car's paint job. It was clearly no accident because the scratch goes all the way around the vehicle. What really irks me is that I know who did it, but I can't prove it. And without proof — or a confession from the miserable, skulking bastard — I have no recourse. It's almost enough to make me long for simpler times ...

In an earlier, simpler time, I would have slapped him twice across the face with my gloves (preferably the chain-mail ones), and said, "Sirrah, I find thee a knave, a coward, and a big ol' poopyhead. Make whole your mischief or meet me on the field of honor at dawn." And, craven that he is, he would have forked over the repair cost.

Realistically, though, in an earlier, simpler time, I would have been a peasant(*) — a miserable peasant growing membranes between my toes from living in the bogs. In such a state of webbed serfdom, I would have had scant property and less recourse. So I'm better off now.

(*) Of course, as an Irish-American, I am a descendant of kings — it's difficult to avoid such a blot on one's pedigree. But where my ancestors lived, a man was reckoned a king if he was rich enough to own two pigs, so it hardly signifies.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Timing the market

Mister Housing Bubble

The bubbly housing market(*) has been getting a lot of attention. Writers more perspicacious than I have discussed it often, and in depth.

But my understanding of markets is so complete that I can pinpoint the exact moment when the housing market reached its peak. It wasn't when USA Today published a story about a million-dollar mobile home (although that's a good guess). It was at noon CDT on September 14th.

That's when we closed on our new place.


(*) One could argue that housing markets are local, so there must be more than one. Some say that about 300 markets matter, out of more than 3,000 housing markets in the U.S. (if you take this to its logical extreme, there are 80 million housing markets, 'cause every home is unique). Since demand for houses depends heavily on the availability of mortgage money, and since the mortgage market has become increasingly national (contributing factors include the savings and loan crisis of the eighties, the consolidation of evarthang, the rise of Fannie Mae, and the internets), I think it's fair to call it all one market. (Yay! This footnote is longer than the rest of the post.)

Thursday, October 06, 2005


The new place is in Zion, Illinois. We had to meet some special criteria. That's why we're about halfway between a regional airport and a shuttered nuclear power plant.

Blinky, three-eyed fish from the Simpsons The airport is small enough to be free of O'Hare's congestion, but big enough for a Learjet. The nuke plant is right next to a state beach, where the fishing is reputed to be most excellent.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I'm not dead yet.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Scene 2: Bring out your dead!
He says he's not dead.

Tetricus asked, "Is this blog dead?"

No, but after 3½ weeks, it's beginning to smell that way. There have been a few distractions in my personal life.

After our offer on a house was accepted in mid-August, we experienced a stuttering escrow, a slow move, and a long time unwired. Fortunately, I didn't miss much in the wider world. It's not if the past month has seen any hurricanes, pennant races, or political news.

Coming soon: an auspicious location, timing the market, someone I won't miss, a broken mnemonic, and the secret origin of glube — plus the usual kvetching.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Words fail me

I'm so pissed off at this grinning gang of corrupt fools.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Bush Appoints His Mountain Bike as Next Chief Justice

Bikey W.

(09-05) 08:02 CDT WASHINGTON (AP)
President Bush on Monday announced a surprise choice to succeed William Rehnquist as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Following the lead of the Roman emperor Caligula, who tried to appoint his horse as Consul of the Roman Empire, the president has nominated his beloved mountain bike to a seat on the high court. The bicycle, named Incitatus, is expected to face a difficult confirmation in the Senate. Critics charged that the speedy announcement was an attempt to shift attention from the administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina.

Incitatus, a Trek Fuel 98, is best known as the president's favorite workout partner. The mountain bike, if confirmed, will be the most-inexperienced Supreme Court justice in history. Unlike every previous Supreme Court justice, Incitatus is not a lawyer and has never held a job.

In recent decades, most high court justices had served on federal or state courts of appeal — Rehnquist was the only member of the current court who had not. Historically, Supreme Court justices usually have been experienced political figures, and those who weren't politicians or judges were prominent attorneys or legal scholars. However, the Constitution has no minimum qualifications for Supreme Court justices.

The White House portrayed Incitatus's inexperience in a positive light. "Tater doesn't have elite credentials, but he has a good heart," Bush said in a televised announcement. "He'll be a justice for regular American folks. The important thing is, Tater is a strict constructionist, thanks to his carbon frame." The president called on the the Senate to confirm Incitatus before the Supreme Court opens its fall term on Oct. 3.

The president attempted to deflect charges that Incitatus would not be independent. "Tater can stand on his own. He has a kickstand," Bush said. "And he's thrown me off of him twice. Nobody in the Democrat party has done that."

Senate Republicans were quick to praise Incitatus. "He will be the best chief justice of my lifetime, maybe the best ever," Tom Cornyn (R-Tex) said. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, "I don't care that he never attended law school. Neither did Abraham Lincoln." Trent Lott (R-Miss) compared the black bicycle to Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. Rick Santorum (R-Penn) sniffed Incitatus's bicycle seat and declared, "He is an excellent choice."

Senate Democrats had mixed reactions. "That bicycle has never even seen the inside of a courtroom," Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) said. "Incitatus is absolutely unqualified to serve on the Supreme Court."

Dick Durbin (D-Ill) called the nomination "an attempted distraction from the administration's mis-handling of Hurricane Katrina." Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) issued a statement saying that Incitatus's repair records would be carefully examined to ensure that the bicycle did not steer the court hard right. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn) offered support for the nominee.

Advocacy groups geared up to offer their own spin. Liberal groups expressed dismay, and voiced concerns about the bicycle's qualifications and independence. A spokesperson for People for the American Way saw a silver lining, saying, "It could have been worse. We were expecting the president to appoint John Roberts as chief justice."

Most conservatives were enthusiastic, but a spokesperson for the Traditional Values Coalition said, "Incitatus is a bi-cycle, which is just as bad as a gay-cycle. He doesn't belong underneath the president's buttocks or on the Supreme Court."

Ever since he saw the controversial 1979 biopic, Mr. Bush has expressed admiration for Caligula, who historians portrayed as "a crazed megalomaniac given to capricious cruelty and harebrained schemes." When asked why the president did not fully emulate Caligula by naming a horse to the Supreme Court, a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, replied, "That was the original idea. And the president is happy with the leadership of his his horse expert. But the president has always been afraid of horses, even before he tried to milk a male horse."