Just to make sure that the game of moral equivalence is played by fair rules, Steve Benen has a great post about G. Gordon Liddy, to remind folks how incredible it is that McCain has no issue with his relationship with Liddy (“I’m not in any was embarrassed to know Gordon Liddy”) yet has spent the last two weeks vilifying a (non-existent) close relationship between Obama and Bill Ayers. The key bit:

That’s an interesting response. Liddy is, of course, a convicted felon who hasacknowledged preparing to kill someone during the Ellsberg break-in ‘if necessary’; plotting to murder journalist Jack Anderson; plotting with a ‘gangland figure’ to murder Howard Hunt to stop him from cooperating with investigators; plotting to firebomb the Brookings Institution; and plotting to kidnap ‘leftist guerillas’ at the 1972 Republican National Convention — a plan he outlined to the Nixon administration using terminology borrowed from the Nazis.” Liddy also once famously gave his supporters advice on how best to kill federal officials (he recommended shooting them in the head because they might be wearing flak jackets).

Given that the McCain campaign is now pushing out robocalls in Ohio, New Mexico, Minnesota, Colorado, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Missouri with Obama/Ayers allegations (interestingly similar to the robocalls he felt were despicable when used against him in 2000), this seems a bit hypocritical. But given the GOP of the past month, I guess we’re learning that that’s to be expected.

Here’s both Joe Biden’s and Sarah Palin’s answers to Katie Couric asking them about Roe v. Wade, and about examples of Supreme Court decisions with which they disagree:

There really isn’t a molecule in my body that believes that someone can watch this clip, see the difference between Joe Biden’s and Sarah Palin’s answers, and believe that she’s qualified to be the number two on the GOP ticket. In every single media appearance she’s made, it’s hard to believe that Palin is qualified to be a member of the White House support staff, much less a potential resident of it.

My favorite part: where Palin says that there is a Constitutional right to privacy, and then immediately says that the states are best-equipped to handle deciding the privacy rights of their constituents. It’s pretty clear she doesn’t have any idea that Constitutionally-derived rights are inherently the domain of the federal government (or that her belief in a right to privacy is, more or less, at diametric odds with her belief about Roe v. Wade).

Quote of the day, courtesy of Obama campaign spokesperson Bill Burton:

If John McCain hadn’t said that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” on the day of one of our nation’s worst financial crises, the claim that he invented the BlackBerry would have been the most preposterous thing said all week.

Seems to sum it up nicely.

I’m starting to think that a nice paradigm for evaluating the behavior of the candidates for President and Vice President might be what I’m going to call the what-if-it-were-my-kid test: how would I react if I learned that my own kid were behaving the same way? Let’s try this one out:

Imagine that I get a call from my daughter’s elementary school principal, asking me to come down to deal with an issue they’re having with her. I get to her school and learn that every day for the past two weeks, she’s been spending all of recess throwing a kickball at one of her classmates’ heads. I ask her to explain herself, and she says, “Well, I asked Jane to play jacks with me, and she said no, so it’s her fault!” I’m pretty sure I know how I’d react to this attempted justification — with a stern rebuke, followed by a calm discussion of how Jane is perfectly within her right to choose what she wants to do without my daughter beaning her with an inflatable ball.

Or how about this:

For an entire semester, my kid tells me he’s doing his math homework and is sailing along in class. Every night, we go over the work he has to do, and he assures me that he’s all set with math. Then his report card gets sent home, and he has a big F in math; I set up a conference with the teacher, learn that my son only turned in a handful of his homework assignments, and am handed a sheaf of (failing) quizzes he took in class. I ask my son about it, and he swears he did all his homework and did fine on his quizzes, even when presented with the evidence to the contrary. Again, I’m pretty sure there’s only one real response to this: a stern rebuke (this time accompanied by some tangible punishment), followed by an (attempted) calm discussion about lying, trust, and consequences.

Now, why are these the two examples that pop to mind? Well, the first nicely parallels John McCain saying that he’s only running a negative campaign because Barack Obama won’t do town-hall meetings with him; you can even hear him utter this amazing logical leap here, while at at the Service Nation forum (he repeated it again the next morning on The View). The whole thing feels amazing similar to a kid claiming she’s braining classmates because they won’t play jacks with her, and it feels right to treat it with the same amount of approbation.

The second what-if-it-were-my-kid scenario is a reasonable approximation of the outright lies that continue, even today, to be repeated by both McCain and his VP candidate, Sarah Palin. From their claims on their own records to their claims on Obama’s, their campaign is now firmly based in repeating claims that are known to be false in every way one can measure truth. And I’m not being hyperbolic by saying that their lies continue even today — this morning, Palin again repeated that she was against the Bridge to Nowhere (a line that she conveniently omitted from her stump speech for the few days she was actually in Alaska, speaking to the folks who damn well know better), and spokesman Tucker Bounds repeated the lie about Obama raising taxes on the middle class, a lie so egregious that even Fox News dragged him to the woodshed the minute the words left his mouth. And again, when thinking about it through the prism of my own kid doing the repeated lying, my response is simple — the bar for trusting any claims at this point from the GOP candidates is much, much higher.

I’m really liking this new paradigm.

(Oh, and Tom Toles rocks.)

More fun that comes on the back of McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate: getting to hoist Karl Rove on his own petard. (Will that ever get old, though?) When he was on Face the Nation three weeks ago, and the Democratic vice-presidential slot had not yet been filled, Rove was asked whether the chance of Obama picking Virginia governor Tim Kaine would put Virginia into play in the election. Rove’s response will now go into the annals of truly awful foresight:

I think he’s going to make an intensely political choice, not a governing choice. He’s going to view this through the prism of a candidate, not through the prism of president; that is to say, he’s going to pick somebody that he thinks will on the margin help him in a state like Indiana or Missouri or Virginia. He’s not going to be thinking big and broad about the responsibilities of president.
With all due respect again to Governor Kaine, he’s been a governor for three years, he’s been able but undistinguished. I don’t think people could really name a big, important thing that he’s done. He was mayor of the 105th largest city in America. And again, with all due respect to Richmond, Virginia, it’s smaller than Chula Vista, California; Aurora, Colorado; Mesa or Gilbert, Arizona; north Las Vegas or Henderson, Nevada. It’s not a big town. So if he were to pick Governor Kaine, it would be an intensely political choice where he said, “You know what? I’m really not, first and foremost, concerned with, is this person capable of being president of the United States? What I’m concerned about is, can he bring me the electoral votes of the state of Virginia, the 13 electoral votes in Virginia?”

The video of this masterful bit of analysis is here (you can forward to around 6:10 or so for the meat), and the PDF transcript of the Face the Nation interview is here.

(Thanks go out to the Political Animal, Steve Benen, for picking this one up!)

Update: I didn’t realize that Rove has already just gone ahead and contradicted himself on this; yesterday, on Fox News, he said that being mayor of “the second largest city in Alaska” was a great qualification for her. (Nevermind that Wasilla actually isn’t even in Alaska’s top ten list, and if you ranked the entirety of Alaska alongside the nation’s most populous cities, the entire state wouldn’t be in the top ten.)

McCain’s press release announcing Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate might include one of the most baffling paragraphs I’ve read in a press release in a long, long time (emphasis added by me):

As the head of Alaska’s National Guard and as the mother of a soldier herself, Governor Palin understands what it takes to lead our nation and she understands the importance of supporting our troops.

How does being the head of a group of less than 4,000 soldiers (approximately 1,850 Alaska Army National Guard and 2,000 Alaska Air National Guard) get Palin to the point where she “understands what it takes to lead our nation”? This barely gets her to the point where she understands what it takes to lead your average New England university, or Wasilla, Alaska

(By the way, the Alaska army National Guard website is one of the most awful ever. They even kept a bunch of the sample text that came with their content management system… just awesomely awful.)

I know that for the most part, if you read QDN, I’m the proverbial preacher and you’re part of the choir, but I figure I have to point out to those who peeking in the windows that the official Republican Party platform now calls for a ban on all embryonic stem cell research, public or private, derived from existing cell lines or not. This goes even further than Bush’s 2001 law that allows research on embryonic stem cells that weren’t created expressly for the purpose of research (e.g., unwanted IVF clinic embryos that are going to be discarded), and turns its back on an amazing amount of promise. It’s quite a stunning change; the scientist and cancer researcher in me is aghast that this alone might still not be enough to drive folks from the arms of the GOP in droves.

(As a related sidenote, how does this principled stand on the part of the GOP not mean that the party should also be strongly and firmly against in-vitro fertilization? The process generally involves creating more than one embryo, and likewise generally does not involve transferring all of them, meaning that there are left-over embryos that are put into liquid nitrogen tanks and saved. After some amount of time, a significant number of these remaining embryos never get used, and end up being discarded by the families and IVF clinics — how is this somehow better than doing research on their stem cells?)

According to NBC’s own Olympics site, swimming would be starting at 3:30 PM today on the main NBC network; imagine our surprise when we found that Michael Phelps’s first qualifying heat was broadcast at 2:56 PM (when NBC’s schedule says they’d be broadcasting road racing). Fortunately for us, we came home before our DVR had erased the 2:00 hour from its buffer, so we were able to see it, but seriously, NBC: whisky tango foxtrot?!? If you’re going to put up a f@#!ing schedule, you should f@#!ing adhere to it.

This post might be the best example of why I occasionally love reading Yahoo Answers, for pure humor value. The question:

How many centimetres is one feet, like if i am 157 cm how many feet i am?

And the best part: not only is the “best answer” totally wrong (5.24 feet?!?), but eight of the 14 following answers are also incorrect. (One of the responders suggests that the answer might be 5’ 6” — a tad over four inches off. Close! And this was penned by a person who has 65 “best answers” recorded, and claims that “I’m graduated from the biggest school in the State of Washington.”) I mean, this isn’t a “what’s the meaning of life” debate… we’re talking about a question which has a no-doubt-about-it correct answer that could be had. The inch has an explicit, non-rounded equivalent length in centimeters, nearly every computer today has a built-in calculator that does conversions, and hell, Google will even do the conversion for you!

I know that picking on Yahoo Answers is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I feel this is my opportunity to point people in the direction of a much more useful site, Ask MetaFilter. There’s a little bit of a higher bar to participation — a one-time $5 membership fee, and a limit of one question a week, but I assure you that the answers are far, far better, and the community there is one of the best on the web.

This would be an example of the wrong messenger for the message; I’d imagine that if I were a world leader, it’d be pretty hard to take seriously any plea from George Bush asking that my nation stop imprisoning political dissidents or take human rights more seriously.

Reason #2,331 why Red Sox fans drive me up a f*cking wall: a mere New York license plate is enough for them to attack you with baseball bats and “accuse” you of being a Yankees fan.

The Red Sox are the only team I’ve ever found whose fans are defined more by their hatred of a team than their love of one.

Update: it appears that the guy who wielded the baseball bat, Robert Correia, will remain in jail for at least the next 90 days awaiting his trial; the judge deemed that he’s too dangerous to release into the community. I’m sure that’ll do nothing to incense his fellow New York Yankees haters Red Sox fans…

This might be the least news-containing news story on the web today. I’m shocked that this story got filed, much less then made its way onto CNN.com.

Anytime an article contains the phrase “These are sweeping generalizations that are intended to provoke a heated debate, so try not to get too offended”, you can be sure that it’s a total piece of crap penned by an intellectually-dishonest author who’s too lazy to put a sufficient amount of coherent thought or reason into his article. Given that truism, Aaron Rowe’s “Top 5 Reasons to Dislike Pre-Med Students” doesn’t disappoint, and in fact, might delight those who discover that it’s an even more steaming pile of crap than you’d have guessed from its title!

On one hand, we have Harriet Miers and Josh Bolton, one the one-time lawyer for the President of the United States and the other the former White House Chief of Staff. Both of them were allegedly involved in the White House’s firing of U.S. Attorneys who weren’t willing to follow along with efforts to discredit or damage Democratic politicians in their districts, and both ignored Congressional subpoenas to provide documents and testify about the dismissals.

On the other hand, we have Roger Clemens, the baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Houston Astros, and New York Yankees. He was allegedly a user of performance-enhancing drugs during much of his baseball career, and gave testimony before a Congressional inquiry into the use of drugs in sports which was directly contradicted by his former trainer.

In what can be said to be one of the most poignant statements about what’s wrong with politics and justice in America, the Department of Justice has agreed to investigate whether Roger Clemens lied to Congress, but has refused to investigate Harriet Miers and Josh Bolton for not complying with Congressional subpoenas. The fact that our Executive Branch isn’t wiling to hold its own people responsible for abiding by the law is abhorrent; the fact that this is all taking place alongside the same Executive Branch spending its time on the private behavior of athletes competing in games is just the icing on the proverbial cake.

This Mozilla bug report thread might very well be the best thread I’ve ever read. There are a lot of developers who truly want to help track down a bug that someone’s reporting, but since they’re unable to replicate the bug, they ask the reporter to test out a few specific other builds, and he totally freaks out, SCREAMS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, and makes various and sundry claims of them ruining his computer. It’s just awesome, a perfect encapsulation of how the internet makes some people go a little batshit insane.

Talk about a fuckup of gargantuan proportions: last night, the co-founder of the webhosting company Dreamhost launched a script to trigger a billing cycle for the 2007 end-of-year, but mistakenly used December 31st, 2008 as the run date, meaning that all accounts had their bills run for the entire year of 2008. And that means that if accounts were set to automatically pay, people’s credit cards were charged and bank accounts were debited for one or two years’ worth of charges, leaving a slew of customers with overdraft and over-credit charges from their banks, not to mention other planned transactions that now can’t take place given hundreds or thousands of dollars in unanticipated charges. (I received over $600 worth of bills from them via email, bills that weren’t auto-paid only because the credit cards they have on file for me are thankfully expired.)

From the sounds of things in the Dreamhost Status comments and discussion forum, despite the fact that the webhosting company is already trying to work through the mistaken charges and reverse them, it’s going to lose a bunch of business over the fiasco — even with reversing the charges, it sounds like most of the folks who’ve been assessed overdraft fees aren’t going to be able to avoid them, at least not without quite a bit of effort and fighting with their individual banks (something for which I’m sure the customers will be oh-so-grateful to Dreamhost). And the scope of the overall problem is made clearest by the fact that Dreamhost’s account management control panel has been down all morning, probably because every single customer is trying to get more information about why their accounts were charged and what they should do about it.

Ironically, the most recent Dreamhost newsletter, written by the same co-founder of the company in his trademark (and tiresome) jokey style, had the following item in it:

4. New Office!
Another important thing I’ve been doing instead of writing newsletters is looking out the window of our NEW OFFICE:
If your next web hosting bill from us is mysteriously tripled, now you know why.

Talk about bad timing on Josh’s part… or perhaps, talk about a good lesson in the error of joking about things that could easily become the catalysts that drive customers into the arms of your competitors.

Call me a cynic, but I’d bet nearly anything that there are a whole chunk of people here in the U.S. expressing outrage over Gillian Gibbons’s Sudanese imprisonment for naming a teddy bear “Muhammad” who wouldn’t have any issue at all with anamendment to the Constitution banning the desecration of the American flag.

Well, this is disappointing: James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, gave a somewhat jaw-dropping interview to London’s Sunday Times in which he declared that African people and their descendants have inherently lower intelligence than caucasians.

The 79-year-old geneticist said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really.”. He said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

Of course, this is scandalous to me only because I appear to not be familiar with some of the other things that Watson has hypothesized in the past, such as the thought that potential homosexuality should form the basis of decisions about aborting fetuses and the intuition of a link between skin color and sex drive. I guess he’s an example of someone who made a fundamental contribution to science in spite of his insane beliefs, rather than as a result of them.

There’s nothing earth-shattering or heretofore-unknown about this Business Week article lambasting the pathetic state of the airline industry, but imagine how awful it’d be if a major news magazine had the following to say about your job performance:

When Marion C. Blakey took over at the Federal Aviation Administration in 2002, she was determined to fix an air travel system battered by terrorism, antiquated technology, and the ever-turbulent finances of the airline industry. Five years later, as she prepares to step down on Sept. 13, it’s clear she failed. Almost everything about flying is worse than when she arrived. Greater are the risks, the passenger headaches, and the costs in lost productivity. Almost everyone has a horror story about missed connections, lost baggage, and wasted hours on the tarmac. More than 909,000 flights were late through June of this year, twice the level of 2002.

Note that I’ve flown enough in the past few years to know that everything said in that intro paragraph is true, so I’m not saying that BW is being unnecessarily mean — my only point is that when something like that is published about you, you know that your failure has been a fantastic one. Of course, Blakey is leaving the FAA to become the head of Aerospace Industries Association (the trade association representing the manufacturers of airplane equipment), so she’ll go from the position of massively failing to lead the FAA to the position of lobbying on behalf of an aerospace trade group. I find that interesting, if only because she spent five years showing that she was unable to advocate for the needs of American air travelers on a federal level, and now she’s being given another chance to do exactly that on behalf of private industry. What makes anyone think she’ll be more successful?

Most of my (two or three) regular readers know I’m a huge Dahlia Lithwick fan, so it’ll come as no surprise that I think her latest missive is pretty freaking amazing. Stemming from when, in 2004, two West Virginians were thrown out of a state-government-sponsored event (attended by the President) when they deigned to show up with anti-Bush T-shirts on — and then were handcuffed, booked, and put in jail — Lithwick then takes a look at our current Administration’s history of preventing any dissenting voices from attending official White House events. She concludes with a look at the actual White House advance manual for such events, finding that it appears to have become the official policy of the United States to only allow those who are supportive of the Administration to be within earshot of the President. I guess, if nothing else, it explains how clueless Bush is that many of us out here disagree with him… but it’s a sad statement nonetheless.

Wow — the entire Windows Genuine Advantage system is currently down, meaning that every single copy of Windows XP and Vista that tries to authenticate as legitimate is failing the authentication. For users of Vista, this means that the operating system then assumes that it’s a pirated installation and turns off functionality (like the Aero interface, DirectX, and a few other things) — all because Microsoft’s own server infrastructure died. The MS Forums appear to be down right now, but there are reports that the company has promised a fix by Tuesday (wow — three days!), and that users who managed to post to the WGA forum are rightfully outraged by what’s happening.

I’m a person who generally thinks that there’s too much bashing of Microsoft out there, but I have to say that when the company’s anti-piracy features start disabling functionality on legitimately-purchased copies of Windows Vista, all because of an outage on Microsoft’s own end, then every cent of lost business and increased customer support costs is richly deserved.

Seriously, this is awesome. This morning, web hosting provider 365 Main announced in a press release that it had provided Red Envelope with “two years of 100% uptime at [its] San Francisco facility.” This afternoon, an outage in San Francisco left 20,000 without power, including 365 Main — and for reasons that are still unknown, no backup generators kicked in, knocking Red Envelope, Craigslist, Technorati, and all the SixApart sites (TypePad, Vox, etc.) offline for over two hours. Talk about the karmic boomerang coming around and smacking you on the ass…

Update: As of about 9:00 PM Eastern tonight, it appears that 365 Main took the press release out of the “In the News” section of their home page — seems like a good move.
Update #2: As of about 9:30 PM Eastern, they’ve also deleted the press release from their archives; seems like an all-out cleansing. Fishy!

Thanks to the Los Angeles Times, we now know that despite President Bush’s proclamation that 30 months in prison was an “excessive” punishment for Scooter Libby, the Bush Justice Department has presided over the sentencing of 198 individuals convicted of obstruction of justice, and the average prison sentence received by those individuals was 70 months. I’d comment on this more if I thought it was needed, but that’s really a finding which speaks for itself.

In light of the President commuting Scooter Libby’s prison sentence yesterday, calling it “excessive”, I figured I’d link to the U.S. Supreme Court decision from two weeks ago which upheld the 33-month sentence of Victor Rita. Rita was convicted of perjury and making false statements — essentially, the same as Libby — and challenged the sentence as excessively harsh and unreasonable; the Court disagreed, saying that the sentence was well within federal sentencing guidelines and appropriate given the crimes of which Rita was convicted. Unfortunately for Rita, he isn’t a friend and confidante of Dick Cheney; I’d assume he’s pretty bitter about Libby walking around a free man…

Ah, the iPhoners now get to see what the difference is between a product Apple controls in every way and a product for which it relies on AT&T to provide some level of service. I can’t fathom why a company with as reasonably great a record as Apple wanted to jump into bed with a company as awful as AT&T… it’s just weird.

Update: Gizmodo gets on the bandwagon and describes the amazingly wide gap between the iPhone-buying experience at an AT&T store and at an Apple store. Guess which store’s staff sucked awfully, treated customers like intruders, and did everything to not give information or assistance to the people who wanted to give them money?

Awesome — Cheney appears to believe that the Office of the Vice President is not a part of the Executive Branch. Does that mean that he’s also no longer the first in the chain of Presidential succession? We can only hope…

This is one of the dumber articles I’ve read online in a while: mothers whose husbands are stay-at-home dads feel badly when the dads become good at parenting. Are you f$!@ing kidding me? These people needed to go to marriage counseling because the mother felt like she was being “blocked” from what she felt was her natural role as gatekeeper of the father’s relationship with the kids? I love all the little vignettes and quotes, like when the mother felt delegitimized because her husband had a bathtub routine with their kid, or when she prided herself on forcing her husband to change his “parenting tactics” to meet her standards. Idiotic.

Comparing this with this, it couldn’t be any clearer how different the criminal justice systems are for the rich and poor.

It’s amazing to me that CNN.com is being redesigned and still defaults the search engine to perform a general web search rather than a search of CNN’s own news content. (The current CNN site has been this way since the beginning of 2003.) Are the folks at CNN’s interactive bureau really under the impression that there are people who go to their site in order to search the web? Do they think that nobody wants to search their own content? It’s just weird.

Andrew Sullivan has an entry over at The Atlantic Online that defies adequate excerpting — it’s a look at the Bush administration’s use of the term “enhanced interrogation” to describe the we-don’t-torture methods our country is using to extract information from the people we’ve rounded up and classified as terrorists. Most importantly, it’s also a historical look at how Nazi Germany coined the exact same (translated) term, to defend what turn out to be many of the exact same practices. And not to jump right to the punchline, the final paragraph of the piece is the anchor:

Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I’m not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn’t-somehow-torture - “enhanced interrogation techniques” - is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

There’s little to no doubt that as a nation, we will look back on what happened to liberty and security in post-9/11 America with shame and embarrassment; I’m just anxious for that collective realization to sink in and lead to enough institutional change up top to allow us to right the wrongs of the past four years.

Well, MSNBC has now joined the esteemed group of websites with home pages that play audio and video on page load, without any user intervention, one of the more user-hostile things I can imagine a site doing. When added to the awful embedded IntelliTXT ads that are now appearing throughout most MSNBC.com news stories, it seems that the entire site took a major turn to brazen suckery sometime over the past few weeks. That actually makes me sad — I used to use CNN’s website as my default for news but moved to MSNBC when CNN decided on providing most of the news on the website via video snippets that can’t be played on non-PCs. The video-without-my-requesting-it problem was enough to get me to stop using ESPN’s website for all but a scant few things; now it looks like I’ll have to find a replacement for MSNBC, as well.

Jesus, as if there weren’t reason enough to think that our current White House has not one whit of respect for the rule of law, Dahlia Lithwick’s Slate column today about the attempt to coerce an ICU-bound John Ashcroft into certifying the legality of the NSA wiretapping program should be enough to cement that fact. It really does play like a Harrison Ford thriller — the acting Attorney General finding out that Bush’s Chief of Staff and the White House Counsel intended to take advantage of Ashcroft’s heavily medicate state and then racing, sirens ablaze, to the hospital to intervene, the President overtly being told that his program was illegal and then deciding to continue it despite that fact, the whole bit. The Post has more on the whole escapade, including a damning editorial and a piece about Alberto Gonzales refusing to retract a 2006 sworn statement that the NSA program had aroused no dissent or controversy within the Bush administration (leading to speculation that there are other surveillance programs we don’t know about).

While I don’t hold a lot of sympathy for those who have been willing to unquestioningly carry Bush’s water over these past six-plus years, I actually do feel a little bad for the rank and file Republicans — I suspect that their party will find it incredibly hard to avoid being defined for years to come by the abhorrent behavior, intransigent lawlessness, and reckless disregard for the truth that’s emanated from the Oval Office since 2001.

It appears that a professor in one of Columbia College’s core curriculum courses (say that five times fast!) gave out the answers to the final exam during the class’s study session, something that came to light when a few questions on the test were changed and yet students still submitted the answers from the leaked version. After warning professors to watch out for the specific answer pattern that would indicate cheating students, and then asking for all the blue books to be submitted to the Core Curriculum office for central review, officials decided to nullify the exam entirely and offer students the option of dropping the test from their grades or retake the exam in the fall. The weblog of Columbia’s undergrad magazine, Bwog, has been on top of the scandal; it’s fun to read the comments on the Bwog post from students who don’t see this as cheating.

Today, I figured I’d do a one-month check-in on the fact that Google Maps is lost when it comes to mapping Washington, DC, and the verdict is: still totally, completely horked! It’s horked in a different way now, though; the link from my original post works, but other ones don’t work worth a damn at all. (And while neither of those is a link to our house’s address, our house is one of the addresses that’s unmappable… meaning that all the various bookmarks for directions we’ve sent people over the past year still don’t work at all.) There’ve been no further replies from the folks at Google, either; Matt Cutts replied to that prior post of mine in the comments and followed up with me by email a few days later, but he now appears to be going on a one-month work hiatus and doesn’t look to be receiving email.

I seriously can’t believe that the folks at Google don’t care about the bug in their address parsing routines, but the truth appears to be evident in the fact that they remain broken.

Update: I just got an email reply from Matt Cutts (too quickly for it to be due to this post!), and in working through some examples, it looks like the breakage might be specific only to the various C Streets in Washington, DC — addresses on C Street SE (and the other four quadrants) don’t work, and addresses on all other one-letter streets appear to map fine. He’s going to bug the mapping folks again, so we’ll see what happens!

A few short takes:

  • Michael Lopp, the man behind the weblog Rands in Repose, has the computer monitor setup I can only dream about. That’s a 30-inch Cinema Display on the left, and a 20-inch Cinema Display — turned vertically — on the right… all I can say is wow. Maybe if I lead a good, clean life from here on out…
  • I’m generally not the largest fan of Walt Mossberg’s, but he’s dead-on in his evaluation of today’s typical first-run experience on new Windows PCs. It literally takes hours to wade through all the crapware that manufacturers load onto a new PC these days, getting rid of trialware and all the other useless dreck that comes along for the ride; it’s one of the biggest differences between the first-run experiences on PCs and on Macs.
  • Mostly as a bookmark for myself: here’s how you tell your Mac to stop creating the annoying .DS_Store files on Windows file shares. Damn, these are one of the more irritating things that come part and parcel with using Macs in a Windows networked environment…
  • ImgRed.com, a new “service” that claims to provide a good cache for images you’d like to link to on the web, has collected a good number of links over the past few days; I’d love to know what their privacy policy is, though, and how the service plans to give webmasters the ability to prevent caching of images on a given site (since it’s fundamentally a whopping copyright violation in the making).

In a little-reported incident, the Chief of the General Services Administration Lurita Doan — the woman appointed by the Bush administration as head of the agency which directs $66 billion a year in U.S. Government procurement contracts — allowed the Deputy Political Director of the White House to come in and give an overtly political presentation to 40 GSA staffers, a presentation which included lists of Democrats the GOP is targeting in the 2008 election and Republicans who would need “defense” in order to hold onto their seats. (The presentation, in PDF format, is available from the House Oversight Committee website.) Worse still, people present at the meeting recall Doan standing up at the end and asking employees for ways in which the GSA could “help our candidates.” Video from her testimony in front of the House Government Reform Committee today is already online, and it’s amazing to watch her stammer “I don’t recall” and “it wasn’t my meeting” repeatedly. If I weren’t so cynical about our current government, I’d also say that the video provides a great view of her career dissolving, but given that our Attorney General is still in command of the DoJ despite being part of attempts to pressure U.S. Attorneys to engage in political prosecutions and then overtly lying to Congress about it earlier this month, Doan is just as likely to be the future recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Those who found themselves in a weblog-free cave for the past 24 hours might have missed the huge storm that erupted over the head of Kathy Sierra, the fantastic weblogger and author of more than a few great programming-related books; in a nutshell, a handful of people in the weblog world have been treating her to death threats and other pretty awful harassment for a few weeks now, and it finally reached the point where she cancelled her presentations at O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology conference out of fear for her own safety. To say that the community response has been overwhelming would be a far, far understatement, and I won’t pretend to have something more profound to say than nearly all the folks who’ve weighed in on this already.

That being said, during my time in the pool today at lunch, I kept returning to a point that I think is worth making, so I figured I’d put it out there. Chris Locke, co-author of the original Cluetrain Manifesto and general crank-about-town, was named in Kathy’s post as involved to some extent, and we’ve learned since that he was one of the founders of meankids.org, a weblog devoted to ripping various internet personalities apart and the home of some of the harassment against Kathy. Similarly, when meankids.org went away, Chris started another weblog (unclebobism.wordpress.com) for the same purpose, and it was there that yet more harassment of Kathy started taking place. And when asked about all this by a reporter yesterday, Chris unrepentantly defended his involvement in the whole situation; his specific justification was that he was never the one posting awful things about Kathy, and that he has a guiding life principle that prevented him from taking down the posts of those that did, the “You Own Your Own Words” principle of the online community The WELL. The point I kept returning to in the pool is that in the 15 years since he was introduced to YOYOW, Locke and many others seem to have lost touch with the first “O” in that acronym, the concept of ownership. The YOYOW ethic at The WELL is rooted in the fact that the community doesn’t allow anonymity in any form, a situation which stands in stark contrast to the anonymity under which everyone participated in both meankids.org and unclebobism.wordpress.com (and sites like Digg, Slashdot, and YouTube). In Locke’s little fetid nests, there wasn’t a single shred of ownership taking place; truly horrible posts were just shat out without a lick of accountability for the shockwaves they caused in people’s lives. And as a result, we all find ourselves here, with a reasonably prominent author and community member literally worried for her own safety due to the behavior of a few people operating under the anonymity granted to them by Locke and the others who ran both weblogs. (Incidentally, it’s also a great advertisement for communities like MetaFilter, where the combination of a reasonable barrier to entry and a strong moderator presence keep things incredibly civil and reasoned most of the time.)

You’d think that Locke, the author of the Cluetrain Manifesto would be able to hear the cluephone ringing loudly at his side, but apparently, his rage has made him deaf to the sounds of reason.

If you live or spend any amount of time in Washington, DC, you might have noticed a problem recently: Google Maps essentially no longer works here. Sometime in mid-February, it appears that the folks behind the previously-amazing mapping service updated the address parser that it uses, and at this point the parser doesn’t have any clue how to understand the one-letter streets and quadrant system that’s used throughout the District of Columbia.

Take this map link, which is supposed to show 500 E Street SE (the address of our local police station). You don’t have to be eagle-eyed to see that that’s not the address the map shows; here’s a MapQuest view of the distance between Google’s mapped location and the true one, nearly five miles away. Try to use Google Maps to locate any address on a lettered street in the District, and you’ll get the same result.

I’ve avoided posting about this for a little bit in the hope that Google would get around to fixing it… but there are a half-dozen posts or threads in the Maps troubleshooting group, dating as far back as the last week in February, that have gone completely unanswered by Google. Similarly, I’ve personally had email correspondence with “The Google Team” which reassures me that “they’re aware of the issue” but neglects to mention anything about whether they care about the issue, despite me pressing the question and getting a similarly cookie-cutter reply. Since our house is on an essentially-unmappable street, none of the map links I’ve sent people over the past year work anymore, and Shannon and I have pretty much stopped using Google Maps for any of our regular direction-finding for trips out and about on weekends.

I know Google is a huge company now, and that it’s hard for them to reply to the concerns of individual users, but when a change they made causes one of their larger products to stop working entirely in a reasonably large and well-traveled city, you’d think that they’d get hop onto fixing that. So far as I can tell, though, you’d be thinking wrong.

Are you kidding me — John McCain, a man who is seriously considered as a potential Republican Presidential nominee isn’t willing to even commit to an answer as to whether condoms are capable of preventing the transmission of HIV?!? It’s behavior like this that is the perfect answer to all the people who keep telling me that their appreciation of McCain stems from his moderate stands and his maverick nature. When the truth comes out, though, he’s just another pandering mouthpiece for both his party and his President.

The Washington Post reported today on a DC-area general contractor which has filed a $6 million lawsuit against two homeowners for posting their bad experiences with the company on Angie’s List. (Both also posted their opinions in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood forum, and apparently, this posting is also cited as a basis for the lawsuit.) It’s hard for me to see the contractor coming out on top here, being that I’d imagine neither homeowner will have a problem describing their own experiences with the contractor, documenting how their renovations went poorly, and how those experiences led to them forming negative opinions of the company, but now both will have to spend time and money fighting for their right to have and share an opinion.

It bears mentioning that it’s precisely because of personal opinions like these that Shannon and I belong to the DC chapter of Angie’s List — I value the opinions of a company’s customers far more than I do the company’s own claims, and I’m not sure I’d ever hire someone to do $30,000 worth of work on my house without finding out how other people feel about the work the company has performed in the past. And because of this, I hate hearing about lawsuits like these, because if consumers become so worried about being sued that the utility of services like Angie’s List or Consumers’ Checkbook is diluted, it’ll be that much harder to figure out which companies are worth trusting with what can be incredibly large investments of money. (It’s sort of like the world of job references these days, where companies more or less refuse to accurately talk about bad experiences they’ve had with ex-employees for fear of being sued.) I guess for the time being, another way that DC-area homeowners can vet potential contractors is by searching the publicly-available building permit database to find other jobs the company has done, and then tracking down and asking those people what they think of the work… it sure as hell beats trusting the few hand-picked references the contractor passes on when asked.

When home users back up their computers, a lot don’t think about the fact that in some scenarios of data loss, those backups won’t do them any good — the scenarios which involve the loss of both their computer and their backups. (Think home fire, or burglary that involves taking the computer and the external hard disk that contains the backup.) For this reason, one tenet of most corporations’ backup plans is that an entire backup set exists off-site from the machines that are being backed up — safety through separation. There are hundreds of thousands of corporations who have the need to manage this process, so as a result, there’s a market of off-site storage providers that’s expanded and matured in a way that supports the importance of the data that’s being moved into storage. The big players have service agreements that stipulate the time frame in which customers can get their data, they provide reasonable guarantees for the safety of the data, and they put quite a bit of effort into meeting these guarantees.

In today’s day and age, home users are installing internet connections with more and more bandwidth, and this has opened up the potential that these users can actually back up their computers to some off-site location over the internet; unsurprisingly, a group of services has popped up to support this potential, services like .Mac, AT&T Online Vault, Mozy, and Carbonite, and even applications like JungleDisk and Amazon S3 which provide the infrastructure to allow users to take a more customized or do-it-yourself approach to online backups. As we’re talking about backups of people’s data, you’d think that these services would provide similar guarantees about the data’s availability and the services’ reliability, yes? Alas, that appears to be a false assumption. Ed Foster, everyone’s favorite griper, took a look at the end-user license agreements for a few of the online backup services back in mid-February, and he was pretty amazed to find that all the ones he investigated disclaimed pretty much any responsibility for the usability or availability of the backups, or even for the functionality of the services at all. (Granted, at least a few of the services he examined were provided for free — so in the end, you get what you pay for — but others are paid services.) That’s a real shame… but I’d imagine that it’s also an indication that there’s a real market niche waiting for the right company to come in and provide the right level of service.

Out of the great Pacific Northwest last week came the story of Jim Zumbo, a well-renown outdoorsman, wildlife biologist, and hunting evangelist, whose career has essentially come to an abrupt halt as a result of him daring to speak his mind and disapprove of the trend towards using military-style assault rifles in hunting. In a nutshell, Zumbo — who wrote his first article for Outdoor Life in 1962, has published over 1,500 articles in outdoor magazines, has authored over 20 books, and has served on a half-dozen forestry and animal society boards over his career — wrote an entry on the Outdoor Life weblog questioning the use of assault rifles in hunting and referring to the class of weapons as “‘terrorist’ rifles.” The backlash was instant and unrelenting; before the weblog post was pulled by the folks at OL, it had apparently garnered 4,000+ comments (most of which called for Zumbo’s firing, and a not-unsubstantial number of which called for much worse for him), and hundreds and hundreds of posts all over the web indicting the man’s opinions. Within a few days, Outdoor Life had fired Zumbo, his show on the Outdoor Channel had been cancelled, most of his corporate associations (like with Remington Arms) had been terminated, the NRA suspended all ties to him, and he’s more or less had to go into hiding. We’re talking about a man who has stumped for the NRA and its causes nearly a hundred times over the course of his career, and a single word in a single opinion piece has led to a hysteria that, in the gun world, appears tantamount to Watergate or Mark Foley’s diddling of Congressional pages.

This is one of the more insane reactions I think I’ve ever seen. It seems odd to me that a publication like Outdoor Life — owned by Time, Inc., one of the more staunch defenders and beneficiaries of First Amendment rights in this country — would suddenly end the career of a storied and prolific writer because he took advantage of the benefits the First Amendment grant him and uttered an opinion that riles people’s notions of what they feel their own Second Amendment protections are. There’s a valid argument to be made that, in writing his opinion on the OL-sponsored weblog, Zumbo bore some increased responsibility to OL for tailoring his opinions appropriate to their restrictions — but within a day of his posting, the magazine added a standard disclaimer to the weblog entry appropriating the views to him and him alone, and yet they still canned him a few days later.

All that being said, I doubt that this has all played out yet, and likewise, I doubt that we’ve seen the final tone this debate will take. I’d hazard a guess that there are a crapload of hunters out there who feel similarly to Zumbo, and by alienating him, organizations like the NRA are increasing the likelihood that when he gets his voice back, he’s not going to be all that friendly to them anymore. Incidents like this tend to expose the true fault lines that run through issues like gun ownership (a quick perusal of some of the more fanatical gun ownership forums even this morning demonstrates how true that is), and as this brouhaha dies down, those fault lines don’t close up.

I mean, who the hell knew that Tim Hardaway was such a complete homophobic jackass? All I can say is… wow.

I admit to not paying much attention to the whole fracas around the Boston Police Department shutting down parts of the city to “disarm” what turned out to be guerrilla art marketing geegaws, but thankfully, a bunch of other have been doing so… and they’re thus now in a position to point out the overt idiocy of the Boston Police and prosecutorial machinery. First stop is Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s post, which puts this event in the context of another genius move by the BPD, the 2006 “bomb scare” arrest of a man who was protesting by reenacting the famous Abu Ghraib photo outside an Army recruiting center. Then comes Bruce Schneier, who reminds us that the only terrorizing that was done came at the hands of the BPD, not the artists; the devices were up for over three weeks in Boston, and over ten weeks in other cities, and all of a sudden the BPD decided that it had to panic and go apeshit. And finally, Wired’s John Browne with a look at the laws involved, concluding that the only way the Boston prosecutors will be able to fulfill their promise to throw the book at the artists is if they demonstrate both that they intended to instill fear and that anyone would reasonably believe the devices to constitute some threat… something that the whole up-for-many-weeks-without-incident thing probably contradicts. (some via the inestimable Rafe)

For a while, I’ve been pretty irritated that the ESPN home page has a video and audio block (part of ESPN Motion) that starts playing without any intervention on my part and blares ads and sports highlights through my speakers. This morning, while looking for this weekend’s NFL playoffs schedule, my second pageview of the site launched a pop-up ad in a way that managed to defeat the pop-up blockers in both Firefox and the Google Toolbar. At this point, it’s clear that ESPN.com is too hostile to users for me to use; there are way too many alternatives to make it worth my blood pressure to deal with the desire of ESPN’s site designers to subvert their users’ preferences.

The government has now officially put more thought into the design of Guantanamo’s court bathrooms than the charges against its prisoners.

Dahlia Lithwick has a great year-ending list of the 10 most outrageous U.S. civil liberties violations of 2006, and it’s a good’un.

I got an email from one of the people who hosts a website on my server today letting me know that she couldn’t get to her site, and investigating the problem, tracked it down to the fact that the company providing DNS services for her domain, ZoneEdit, is having issues today with a few machines, two of which are her primary and secondary nameservers. I can’t get too irritated with this — there are a ton of reasons nameservers can be causing problems, many of which (like denial of service attacks) are no fault of the company which runs them — but I can get irritated by ZoneEdit’s response, reprinted here:

If reliable DNS service is critical for your site, we recommend logging into your account, clicking on “Nameservers” and purchasing a “tertiary” nameserver. 3 nameservers are exponentially more reliable than 2 nameservers.

Are you shitting me? Let’s start with “if reliable DNS service is critical for your site” — are there any websites for which reliable DNS service is not critical? (Put another way: how many times a day do you access a website using an IP address rather than a hostname?) Then, I find the attempt to use the problem to upsell customers to a different tier of service to be pretty sleazy — what would be even more reliable is if ZoneEdit could just provide an automatic switch to alternate nameservers when machines of their were having problems.

All in all, I’m not too surprised that “ZoneEdit is a Dotster, Inc. owned company”; my experiences with Dotster have been pretty awful, the same awfulness that’s reflected here.

As a pseudo-update to my astonishment at the cost of wireless network access in the Orange County Convention Center, I heard an even better story from another participant in the conference. She represents a small publisher, and had reserved a tiny room in the main conference hotel in which she could meet with all her authors and hammer out their business for the year. She asked the hotel to activate the in-room network access, and was quoted the price of $1,200 a day — that’s not a typo. The same hotel offered building-wide access to guests for $8 a day, so she just asked one of her authors who was staying at the hotel to activate their access and used that.

$1,200 a day?!? Seriously, for that daily price, you could get two T1 lines run to the location of your choosing and pay the monthly cost of the lines. That’s simply insane.

I’m in Orlando this weekend for a conference, and the trip has already provided two interesting WiFi-related stories, one awesome and one pathetic.

First: after landing at the Orlando Airport and collecting our bags, a colleague and I headed out to the taxi line and found ourselves waiting with nearly a hundred other people. When not a single taxi had come for about five minutes, I called my hotel to ask if they had an airport shuttle, and they referred me to a local company which has a shuttle that stops at the hotel. We walked over to the company’s desk and saw a line of a few dozen people waiting to book a ride; at the end of the desk was a touchscreen kiosk that allows people to pick up their pre-paid tickets for reservations they made on the web. I had a vague recollection that Orlando Airport has a free wireless network, so I opened up my laptop, and in under five minutes we had reservations on the next shuttle and our kiosk-printed tickets in hand.

Insane WiFi prices at the Orange County Convention Center

Second: the conference is at the Orange County Convention Center, and knowing I’d be spending about twelve hours a day for four days in the place, I was hopeful that there’d be a wireless network I’d be able to hop onto here and there. And a wireless network there is — but the cost is a staggering $25 a day, which is expensive enough to be hysterical.

Seriously, they expect someone to pay the equivalent of $750 a month for a network connection? Are the convention center folks clinically insane? For my four days at the conference, that’d be $100 — twice the cost of a reasonable cable modem (which provides 50 times the bandwidth!) — just to be able to check email and whatnot. I wonder how many people take them up on the service; based on how few people I see with their laptops out in the hallways, I can’t imagine there are very many.

I can’t even begin to imagine the gall it takes for a television network that broadcasts a scant three to six hours of live, relevant programming a week to begin demanding that cable companies offer the network in their lowest-tier basic programming packages… but that’s exactly what the NFL Network is doing this year, and quite a few cable companies are telling the network to go screw itself. And that means that with this Thursday’s first of eight prime-time games that are being shunted onto the NFL Network, nearly two-thirds of the nation’s television-containing homes won’t be able to watch. In that news story, NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky says that these eight games are “the most valuable programming a cable company can offer, and a cable company not carrying live NFL games is like a grocery store not carrying milk”; I’m pretty sure a more accurate analogy would be that the grocery stores are refusing to do business with a single dairy company that only deigns to bottle its product for three hours on eight random days of the year, and the rest of the year distributes three-month-old yogurt and cottage cheese.

Fun fun fun — since Shannon and I will be in the heart of southern New Jersey for the holiday (and almost certainly won’t have access to the NFL Network), I guess we’ll be watching the primetime game via DirecTV and the SlingBox…

Seen in NYC this past weekend:

Don't worry about that illegal parking, Mr. Police Officer...

Don’t worry about that whole no-parking-at-fire-hydrants thing, there, Mr. Police Officer…

From Talking Points Memo today (or maybe Wonkette, I have no idea who had it first) comes a photo that really hammers home the current mess in Washington:

Brown, Bush, and Foley, the whiz kids of the U.S. Government
(image copyright Getty)

(Yep, that’s Michael Brown to Bush’s right, and Mark Foley to his left.) If there’s a more representative image of this presidency out there on the wires, I certainly haven’t seen it; I’d think that it’d have to involve Jack Abramoff engaging in some sort of sex act with Bill Frist while Frist performs telemedicine on Tom DeLay.

On our way back from dropping my parents off at Union Station, Shannon and I noticed that Independence Avenue was closed off by a police car about a block from our house, and there were a bunch more emergency vehicles a bit past the blockade. Being the nosy people we are, we parked our car and wandered over to take a look; when we got there, this is what we found:

accident on Independence Avenue

(Rather than a District police car, that car actually belongs to the U.S. Capitol Police, and is a K9 unit at that.) Chatting with one of the officers, we found out that the gold Camry drove through a stop sign, at which point its right side became intimately familiar with the front end of the Captiol Police car. They cut the top and doors off of the Camry because it was the only way to get the passenger, an elderly woman with pre-existing hip problems, safely out of the car.

The best part of the whole thing was that while we were standing there, a guy in a Mercedes drove up and actually honked at the police to tell them that he wanted to drive through the accident scene. The two officers we were chatting with told us that that happens pretty much every time they work a scene; they’ve even had people ask to drive through firetruck barricades at active fires. People are truly stupid.

Now seriously, I can’t think what would possibly motivate the New York Times to digitally alter this photo (archived here by the good folks at Boing Boing in case the Times takes it down). What’s gained by removing the rest of the microphone cable? Is it some top-secret composite cable that gives our American strippers a strategic advantage? (And possibly of more importance: can’t the Times hire people that know how to use Photoshop better than your average five year-old? That’s the worst pixel pushing I’ve seen in a very long time.)

Update: enough people have pointed me to this now that I’m willing to concede that this might not be a Photoshop job… but it’s still odd to me. Having worked as a photo editor (both the analog and digital variety), I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an artifact of slow shutter speed that has borders quite that sharp, but who knows. In any event, did Wilson really not have any images from the cheesecake event that didn’t require explanation?

In the Philly cheesesteak battle between Pat’s and Geno’s, there’s never been a debate for me — Pat’s is far and away the better of the two. It’s nice to learn that this distinction doesn’t only rest on the quality of the cheesesteak, though; the owner of Geno’s has recently drawn his line in the whole immigration issue, and decreed that English is the only language that can be used to order at his restaurant. (Looking at the sign, it’s unclear that proper use of punctuation matters as much as language.) What a jackass.

I’m usually not one to get all wrapped up in the bashing of someone who’s more of an insufferable character actor than he is a wise political pundit, but when a man douchebag like Bill O’Reilly gets taken apart as effectively as was done by Keith Olbermann today, it’s worth mentioning. At issue was O’Reilly’s segment with Wesley Clark yesterday, in which the two “discussed” the information that’s coming to light about the tragedy of Haditha, Iraq. At one point, O’Reilly cut Clark off and tried to demonstrate that terrible things have happened in other wars, too, and the following statement came out of the jackhole’s mouth:

In Malmédy, as you know, U.S. forces captured S.S. forces who had their hands in the air and were unarmed and they shot them dead, you know that. That’s on the record. And documented.

Anyone who knows their World War II history is probably cringing right now — because O’Reilly got that one totally backwards, it was the German troops of the 1st SS Panzer Division that massacred 84 unarmed U.S. soldiers who had just surrendered.

See the bit from “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” yourselves; it’s worth the seven minutes of your time. (For those who don’t have Quicktime installed, I’ve mirrored a Flash video version of the segment.) Pay attention to the part where Olbermann shows how Fox News has already scrubbed the typed transcript of the show, replacing the word “Malmédy” with the word “Normandy”; I wonder if they’ll do a voice-dub over the video transcript as well.

If this doesn’t make you sad about the hell we’ve wrought with our nation’s supposed war on terror, then I’m not sure anything will. Might I ask what harm would come of us “repatriating” these nine men by offering them instant American citizenship? (Of course, who knows whether they’d take us up on it, being that our military and Executive has chosen to imprison them at Gitmo, without cause, for over four years.)

After excitement turned to disappointment earlier, I decided to do a little bit of investigation with Verizon Wireless as to why Shannon and my RAZR phones will occasionally take pictures that are too large to send as picture messages or email attachments. And after a little bit of on-hold time, I’ve now had confirmed for me that there’s nothing that can be done about it, and that Verizon has no intention of making the decision that can actually fix the root problem. But first, let’s take a step back for a minute, and start from the beginning so as to better understand what’s going on.

Like all other digital cameras, there’s been major pressure on the manufacturers of camera phones to increase the quality and resolution of the cameras that are built into the devices. As a result, while we once had crappy, poorly-lit 320 by 240 images coming out of the phones, manufacturers quickly moved to VGA-caliber cameras (640 by 480), and then beyond, to megapixel-size images. (Hell, Samsung displayed a fairly ridiculous seven-megapixel camera phone last year.) So it’s fair to say that the cameras in phones sold by mobile phone carriers are getting better, and that the size of the image files that are being generated by these phones is steadily increasing as a result.

Now, like any other digital camera, the users of camera phones would ideally like to get those photos off of the camera. For one reason, the displays on most phones aren’t anywhere near the resolution of the cameras, and that means that in order to enjoy the higher resolution of the images, they need to be displayed on something other than the tiny display of the phone. (After all, it was just this past February that the first phone offering a 640 by 480 display was introduced — a phone which offers a camera that takes pictures at 16 times that resolution.) For another reason, people want to share their photos, and a photo which is trapped in the memory of a camera phone is the antithesis of a shared photo. Logically, camera phone manufacturers and wireless phone providers have thus given their users a variety of methods to get the photos off of the phone, methods which include sending them via some communications method like MMS or email, or allowing you to connect the camera phone directly to your computer via a cable or Bluetooth. In our story, here’s where the idiocy begins to creep into the mix.

Verizon Wireless sells camera phones to its customers, and also offers a service named Get it Now through which customers can download photos, ringtones, games, and whatnot to their phones. Most of Get it Now is a pay service; to download a single new wallpaper or ringtone to your phone, you pay somewhere between $2 and $7 to Verizon. Because of this, the company has opted to disable any method of directly connecting some of its phones to computers — such a connection would enable users to put their own images or ringtones onto the phone for free, something which would compete with Verizon’s pay service. In our case, the Verizon RAZR V3C has specifically been crippled, loaded with firmware which disables the Bluetooth protocol that would allow me to share files between the phone and my computer. For the most part, I couldn’t care less — I’m not someone who’s itching to create new ringtones and put them onto my phone. Alas, though, there’s a specific instance in which it becomes much more important to me that Verizon has decided to sell a crippled product.

As I mentioned above, the cameras in phones have been getting better, and with a 1.3 megapixel camera, the RAZR V3C is a testament to this. If you get a good sense of its optimal light conditions, the phone takes reasonable photos, and it’s usually not a problem for me to send them along to my Flickr account or via email to a friend or two. But on occasion (twice in the past 18 photos I’ve taken), the resulting photo file size will be larger than 300 Kb, which turns out to be the limit on Verizon’s network for sending or receiving multimedia files… and in these cases, because Verizon has opted to disable the phone’s ability to connect to computers and exchange files, there’s absolutely no way to get the photo off of the phone. (On the RAZR, you get an instant little dialog box that says “ATTACHMENT TOO BIG”, and that’s the end of that.) So, in the company’s quest to lock users into its own pay service for multimedia downloads, Verizon has created a case wherein there’s no way to upload certain images, images that are created via the ordinary use of the phone’s own camera.

So, I made a few phone calls this afternoon in an effort to see what could be done about all this. I spoke with a customer service woman at Verizon Wireless whose first response was to recommend that I stop taking pictures at the highest-resolution setting on the phone; she didn’t quite get why I wasn’t satisfied with that as an answer. She then promised to look into it and follow up with me, and an hour later called me back to place the blame squarely on Motorola (the makers of the RAZR V3C phone). One phone call to Motorola’s dedicated V3C support line (800-657-8909, for those who want that number) verified that the problem was Verizon’s own limit of 300 Kb on MMS and email attachments — and led to the Motorola tech expressing extreme exasperation that his company was willing to put its products in the hands of customers via a middleman (Verizon) who crippled those products before passing them on. My final call was back to Verizon, wherein a technical support agent verified the 300 Kb limit, and also verified that Verizon has no intention of opening up the Bluetooth file transfer protocols anytime soon. (He specifically made reference to the various internet discussion group threads surrounding the current firmware upgrade, and said that it does not give OBEX back to phones which have had it disabled.) He was sympathetic to the fact that I had photos on my phone that could not be sent anywhere but to the trash can, and promised me that he would submit my complaints via a “Voice of the Customer” process that’s internal to the support division of Verizon Wireless.

I guess this just highlights to me the reality of decisions that are made outside of their relevant contexts. Verizon Wireless chose to provide a revenue-generating multimedia download service, and then opted to protect that revenue generation by modifying the capabilities of its phones. In so doing, its methods of limiting the phones’ abilities has led to loss of functionality outside the scope of the multimedia download service — and made it impossible to work around that loss of functionality. And as an end-user of one of the affected phones, I now have to make choices that just don’t make any sense, like whether I want to take high-resolution photos that might not be usable on the Verizon network, or will settle for taking low-resolution photos that are able to be sent by my phone but look crappy as all hell. It’s just plain dumb.

Tonight, an email to a friend of mine was rejected from the comcast.net mail servers, sent back with a notice that my mail server has been blacklisted by the good folks at Comcast “for abuse.”

----- The following addresses had permanent fatal errors -----
(my cousin's email address)
(reason: 550- blocked by ldap:ou=rblmx,dc=comcast,dc=net)
----- Transcript of session follows -----
... while talking to gateway-r.comcast.net.:
MAIL From: (my email address) SIZE=4602
<<< 550- blocked by ldap:ou=rblmx,dc=comcast,dc=net
<<< 550 Blocked for abuse. Please send blacklist removal requests to blacklist_comcastnet@cable.comcast.com - Be sure to include your mail server IP ADDRESS.
554 5.0.0 Service unavailable

I administer my own mail server, and can tell you with absolute certainty that it’s not involved in any abuse directed the way of Comcast, so this was a bit confusing. I sent off an email to the address in the response, providing the information that was requested and asking for an explanation.

Hello -- I just tried to send an email from my mail server to a colleague on comcast.net, and received a reply that my mail server has been blacklisted. (I am the administrator of the mail server; it's mail.queso.com, also known as fondue.queso.com, IP address Can I please learn why the server has been blacklisted? I'd appreciate logs of any suspicious activity that you've seen, if that's the cause of the blacklist.
Please get back to me at your soonest convenience; this is actually a reasonably large problem.
Thank you.

I then went to my good friend Google to see if I could better understand what had happened, and learned that I’m far from the only one who’s experienced this idiocy. Hidden-Tech appears to have been blacklisted regularly, as has HSH Associates, TechPro, and even the esteemed Wil Wheaton (hell, the TechPro people had to have their attorney participate in phonecalls to Comcast before they were able to get the problem solved!). After reading those, it didn’t surprise me at all to hear my email notification ding and find this in my inbox:

Please do not reply to this message.
We have received your request for removal from our inbound blacklist. After investigating the issue, we have found that you did not include the IP address to be removed.
We need the IP address that you believe is currently blocked to further investigate this issue.
Please verify the IP and resubmit your request to blacklist_comcastnet@cable.comcast.com.

So, what I’ve learned is that not only does Comcast suck at administering its own email system, it sucks at the simple task of writing a tiny app to find an IP address in an email. It’s unfortunate that both my inlaws rely on Comcast for their email addresses — I guess it’s time to move them over to something a bit more competently-managed.

Update: I sent another email, this time with the IP address alone on its own line, and again got a reply saying I didn’t send the address. I hate Comcast; maybe it’s time to just block all incoming email from comcast.net and be done with it.

Update 2: I sent two more emails, trying to decipher the super-secret method Comcast’s using to find the IP address (on a blank line? prefixed by “IP ADDRESS”? on the subject line?), and both garnered replies that claimed I didn’t include it. Seriously, this is the most broken system I’ve encountered on the ‘net ever; Comcast has just essentially guaranteed that I’d rather pith myself than ever become a customer of theirs.

Seriously, I don’t know what to say about this story. The short version: Judith lost her camera during a vacation to Hawaii, and started a weblog about the vacation that was illustrated with other people’s Flickr photos. Earlier this month, she got a call from a park ranger saying that a Canadian family had found her camera, but when she called them, they had decided not to send it back to her because their nine-year-old son had grown attached to it — and ended up stiffing her for even more than that. Unbelievable. (Oh, and no comments here — go comment on Judith’s post, instead!)

I can’t even begin to describe how angry it makes me that many states are considering sanctioning the idea that health care providers can deny people care based on religious beliefs. Forget about pharmacists who exercise their religion at work and refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control medication; the absolute truth — no exaggeration at all — is that “right of refusal” laws like these could grant a doctor the right to put you on a ventilator even if you have a perfectly valid, legal living will stating your preference otherwise, and could allow everyone from doctors to social workers and pharmacists to completely decline care for gay patients. Hell, they’d even let fundamentalist pediatricians and internists refuse to treat sexually-transmitted diseases in unmarried patients, and Jehovah’s Witness physicians could refuse to give patients blood transfusions.

This crap is the perfect illustration of the idiocy of mixing religion and government. With laws allowing medical providers to enforce their religious beliefs on patients, where do you draw the line? What religious beliefs are acceptably covered by these laws? Who determines if some provider’s religious beliefs are worthy of protection? Ultimately it comes down to this: why are a doctor’s religious beliefs more important than the will of the patient?

This morning, while I was slowly waking up and surfing the web (totally uncaffeinated, since the reason I was awake was to wait for our grocery delivery, which contained the all-important milk for my coffee!), I read a news story that woke me up in a hurry by getting my blood boiling. The article is about Sam Beaumont, an Oklahoma rancher who, in 1977, met Earl Meadows, fell in love, and lived for over twenty years with the man and his three children. In 1999, Beaumont had a stroke, and Meadows cared for him until he died a year later. Beaumont’s will left everything to Meadows, but the state of Oklahoma invalidated the will because it had one too few witness signatures — and (as you’d expect) Oklahoma has no common-law rules that would allow for Meadows to remain the rightful inheritor. That left everything (their ranch, all the animals) being auctioned off with the proceeds being split among dozens of Beaumont’s cousins. Oddly, though, this is now a common-enough story that it alone is barely enough to enrage people, and isn’t what made my blood pressure explode — what did that was the fact that all the cousins are now suing Meadows for back rent on the property. (The relationship and controversy are among those profiled in the 2003 documentary Tying the Knot.)

Seriously, for all those out there who feel that gay people are going to hell, my rebuttal is that there’s a very special place in hell for people like those cousins, looking to actually profit from their bigotry and closemindedness (and for certain elected representatives of the fair state of Oklahoma who spout hate on the floor of the U.S. Senate).

In an effort to cut down on spam email, a few years ago I put together a clean little framework for a contact form, and put it up in all the relevant places so that people could still send me the occasional note through the various websites that I host. Lately, I’ve been getting a bit of spam submitted through the forms, more annoying than voluminous, and then tonight I learned from Matt Haughey that he’s even seeing a steady stream of spam submitted through the “suggest a post” function of his website PVRblog. It’s amazing to me, only inasmuch as it’s clear that the content spammers are now literally shoving their bits into any and all <textarea>s they can find on the web, much like that dog in heat that won’t stop humping your lamppost.

My favorite quote from this USA Today article about the growing trend of supersized, SUV-accommodating parking spaces comes Guy Bjerke. He’s the chairman of the planning commission in Concord, California, a town which is considering eliminating compact car spaces in favor of SUV ones, and he said:

“A lot of us are frustrated trying to pull into compact parking spaces. My wife drives a minivan, and I drive a sedan. But even with those cars, some of those compact spots seem pretty small.”

Well, no shit, buddy — one should probably expect that cramming a sedan or minivan into a compact car space would be a bit tight! Next, I’d imagine that he’ll be expressing his surprise that shoving those D-sized batteries into his wristwatch is enormously difficult…

(Interesting: could this be the same Guy Bjerke who has both Radio and TypePad weblogs?)

It makes me a little sad that today, I received what could rationally be called the Redneck Primer as an email forward from my very own grandmother. It’s a tract that claims to be an editorial “written by an American citizen, published in a Tampa newspaper,” and goes on to spout beliefs that immigrants should pipe down, speak English, and stop adhering to any cultural norms but those cultivated right here in America. (I guess that means that immigrants should all eat a lot, give up exercise for television, and rip their way through marriages and divorces like it’s going out of style? It’s a little hard to parse this.)

The vagueness of the statement of origin on the essay made me curious, though, so I put in a little bit of search engine time. Doing a Google search for some key words and phrases brought up 38 unique (and 842 total) hits; out of these, most were authored on dates evenly scattered between January of 2003 and the present. I then found one reference which was posted on September 11, 2002 as an email forward, and it stands as the only reference from 2002 (on the Web or Usenet). This made me wonder why the piece seemed to go on a hiatus for the remainder of 2002, and finding that hard to believe, I changed my search string around a little bit. This led to finding another version of the screed with earlier heritage (July 24, 2002); this version didn’t list Portuguese in the group of languages which somehow offended the author, and since it was included as a direct quote in my initial Google string, my first pass had been slanted towards its derivitave. Eventually, I was able to find the original article, not a Tampa editorial but rather a veteran’s advocacy group magazine piece written by an Air Force veteran, originally published sometime around February 13, 2002, and since removed from the magazine’s website. Sometime between then and the end of 2002, the author’s piece was modified in a few ways — the Tampa newspaper bit was prepended, a swipe was taken at Muslim women, and the aforementioned addition of Portuguese was included — and it became the spam chain email that it is today. (I wonder what the Portuguese did to the person who initiated that change?) And of course, after all that, I finally found the Snopes piece that could have saved me all the work.

In the end, I find it interesting how things like this spread and mutate as they wend their way through the ether. That being said, this specific case is much more sad than it is interesting to me. Trawling through the various places that the essay has landed on the internet was frightening; most are shining examples of the complete and total intolerance that has become a defining feature of certain groups in America, and whenever readers were given the chance to respond to the posting, the typical response was something along the lines of “PREACH IT, MAN! GET OUT OF MY COUNTRY, TOWELHEAD!” Knowing that my own grandmother read the essay and felt a resonance with her own beliefs gave me pause, but in the end, I feel OK knowing that she comes from an entirely different generation that began life with a very different worldview, and that most signs seem to indicate that each generation of younger Americans is more tolerant than the last. And it definitely helps to remember that in less than a year, she’s going to be sitting in the front row of seats watching Shannon and I get married underneath a chuppah and standing amongst a wedding party that includes four people who are Jewish, two people who are Indian, one person who’s half-Chinese, and a gay man!