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September 30, 2008
Oh Dear God
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:08 AM * 144 comments

There exists a Twitter election feed. It scans the Twitter stream for candidate names and echoes them in a single list, to which users can also deliberately post tweets.

Usually it’s full of talking points, scrolling slowly by. I note that the McCain ones tend to worse grammar and spelling than the Obama ones, and more often posted from users who haven’t even bothered to attach a picture to their profiles*.

The feed also includes a section at the top for “Hot election topics”, with the phrases that are appearing most often in the stream at the moment.

The current ones are “Latest Palin, Kathleen Parker, Tina Fey, National Review, Oh Dear God, Couric, Republican, SNL, Bush, House”

I think somebody’s in trouble.

This entry is not affiliated with any previous entries of a similar name, and any likeness is entirely coincidental.

* Update: for clarity, what I mean by this is that the people in question had created Twitter accounts with normal-sounding names, but with none of the peripheral details that make the accounts plausible as ordinary ones; the lack of userpics was only one aspect of that. I should also have mentioned that the accounts I was looking at had no apolitical tweets, nor any history before the election. The overall impression of these accounts was that they were astroturf, and very poorly constructed astroturf at that.

I apologize to anyone who felt that my use of this phrase was indicative of my attitude to people who choose not to use userpics.

More dirty work than ever I do
Posted by Avram Grumer at 03:21 AM * 66 comments

Jim Henley blogged a few days back about how the world’s navies (led by ours) have been falling down on the job of keeping the international sea lanes safe from piracy. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney wants to shift the burden to the shipping industry. I hadn’t realized just how much piracy was going on around Somalia:

The Malaysian ship MT Bunga Melati 5 has been released by its Somali pirate captors after the payment of a US$2 million ransom. Another Malaysian ship is still being held.

The luxury yacht Carre d’As, and the retired French couple who own it, were seized by pirates earlier this month, and freed in a surprise raid by French commandos. A larger yacht had been captured earlier this year, and after the ransom was paid and hostages released, the same commandos captured the pirates.

Somali pirates have captured a Ukrainian cargo ship, the Faina, loaded with Russian tanks en route to Kenya, and demand US$20 million ransom. Apparently US dollars are still worth something in certain circles.

The most interesting pirate story, via BoingBoing: Yet another group of Somali pirates has captured an Iranian ship, the MV Iran Deyanat, supposedly carrying “minerals” and “industrial products”. Some of the pirates are coming down with strange symptoms — burns and hair loss — within days of taking the ship. Some have died.

Almost as strange is the group of pirates claiming to be acting in the name of environmentalism.

This BBC story from January 2006 says there had been 35 incidents of piracy off Somalia’s coast in the previous nine months. This story from the Atlantic Council of the US says there have been at least 60 attacks in the area so far this year, at distances from the coast of up to 250 nautical miles.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the other hand, have been having a lousy year.

September 29, 2008
Pearls of great price, not to be devalued
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:11 PM *

We are torn between anxiety and hope, wondering what that is precious today will have value tomorrow. It’s a bad time. But I am reminded of something Rilke once said: no poet would really mind going to jail, since he would at last be in a position to plunder the treasure-house of his memories unhindered. In that spirit, I think it’s time for a parlor game with a difference. Let’s plunder our memories together, and string together our favorite anecdotes like pearls.

The rules:

  1. Each person tells a true story from their own experience. (Obviously, we can’t tell if you’ve made things up. That is between you and your conscience.)
  2. Keep it brief; we’re looking for vignettes and koans, not epics
  3. Each story has to be linked to a previous anecdote by some shared concept, some common theme or element.
  4. Cite the element you’ve used as a link. Try to go for solid links: physical objects, specific words (punning encouraged).
  5. This is a multi-stranded string of pearls, like one of Elise’s necklaces. A single story can spawn more than one successor, and an anecdote can combine more than one antecedent.
  6. Poetry is, of course, encouraged
  7. Do I need to mention that this is a non-political thread? If your story is political, try not to make it partisan.

I get to start.

While walking in the woods one day, in the hills behind his monastery, my friend and I came upon a single volume of an encyclopedia lying neatly closed on the ground. I opened the front cover and found a map of the United States. As always when I look at maps, I sought and found the tiny spot in Northern California where two rivers join and a small cabin stands among the Douglas firs. I placed my finger on it. “If I could be anywhere in the whole world right now,” I said, “I would be there.”

He took the book from my hands and peered at the map. “If I could be anywhere,” he replied, “I would be right here.” And he placed his finger on the spot where the woods grew thick behind his monastery, on just the sort of hillside where a person might leave a neatly closed encyclopedia.

Tell me a story about monasteries, hiking, encyclopedias, maps, or cabins, or any other matter touched on above.

September 26, 2008
First debate 2008
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:41 PM *

Didn’t get home till 9:30 or so.

9:52 PM: Lurking behind every presidential-level discussion of military matters is the unspoken worry about maintaining the self-esteem of our troops. It’s as if the world’s most powerful fighting force were a bunch of sulky grade-schoolers.

9:56 PM: Also, of course, the ridiculous notion that we should be willing to invade any country in the world that fails to take its hat off when we walk into the room.

9:57 PM: McCain really likes to start sentences with “I think Senator Obama fails to understand…”.

10:00 PM: Now they’re talking about their bracelets. Perhaps the debates should include a fashion accessorizing competition?

10:04 PM: John Sidney McCain III, you motherfucker! How dare you invoke the holocaust to justify your goddamn war-loving scare-mongering!

10:06 PM: Obama’s at least got the sense to realize that the Iraq War strengthened Iran. He’s still buying into the nuclear scare-talk.

10:08 PM: When did talking to foreign leaders become such a political football?

10:10 PM: Hey, Obama mentions that Ahmadinejad isn’t actually the leader of Iran!

10:13 PM: Apparently the US president can’t sit at the same table with the president of Iran because the Iranian said something mean about our friend Israel. This really is just high school writ large, isn’t it?

10:19 PM: Russian “aggression” against Georgia. Neither one of them mentions that South Ossetia is nominally independent.

10:24 PM: Nuclear? Obama says we’re going to need to use nuclear energy. That could get interesting.

10:29 PM: Obama says that a suitcase nuke is a more likely threat than a nuclear missile, then turns around and says he supports missile defense.

10:32 PM: Both of them acknowledge that we’re spending too much money. Both of them want to solve our problems by spending more money.

OK, over. My off-the-cuff impression is that McCain probably came off better than Obama, at least from what I saw. I think he did a better job of pushing Obama onto the defensive. I don’t know if this’ll help him in the polls, since he’s already polling as more capable in foreign policy.

The man who saved the world
Posted by Patrick at 03:38 PM *

Charles Stross notes that many of us are alive right now only because, 25 years ago today, Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces lieutenant colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov exercised judgment under pressure. For which he subsequently lost his job and suffered a nervous breakdown.

His story has been covered before, but you know, I think “saving the world from thermonuclear annihilation, with seconds to spare” merits more than one attaboy.

September 25, 2008
Let’s not always see the same hands
Posted by Avram Grumer at 02:46 PM *

Via Nick Mamatas, I see that Forbes has given us a bit of background about that big bad check the government is trying to get us to cash:

“The secretary and the administration need to know that what they have sent to us is not acceptable,” says Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn. The committee’s top Republican, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, says he’s concerned about its cost and whether it will even work.

In fact, some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

“It’s not based on any particular data point,” a Treasury spokeswoman told Tuesday. “We just wanted to choose a really large number.”

I guess we should be relieved that they didn’t consult any mathematicians or physicists for advice about really large numbers.

Open thread 114
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:43 PM *

Psalm 114, King James version:

1 When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;
2 Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.
3 The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back.
4 The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.
5 What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?
6 Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs?
7 Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;
8 Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.

I would just like to remind all readers of this blog that if the skipping of mountains like rams and hills like lambs is followed by a sudden retreat of the sea, it’s time to find some higher ground.

I am not a exegetist. I can neither interpret nor analyze. This post is presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular translation or denomination.

September 24, 2008
Cheating: The American Way
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:10 PM * 113 comments

No need to rig voting machines. The best way to rig an election is to keep voters away from the polls in the first place.

Democrats: GOP clerk discouraging Colorado students from voting

WASHINGTON — Colorado Democrats accused a Republican county clerk Wednesday of falsely informing Colorado College that students from outside the state could not register to vote if their parents claimed them as a dependent on their tax returns.

At a news conference in Colorado Springs, Democrats also charged that county clerk Robert Balink took several steps to dampen voter registrations among college students, who are likely to favor Democrat Barack Obama. Balink was a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

“When election officials spread false information about who is eligible to vote and remove, not add, polling places, we need to be concerned that eligible voters will be denied their right to vote,” said Pat Waak, chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party.

Balink’s actions marked the second time in recent weeks that local election officials have sought to discourage college students from voting. Democrats recently have made a series of accusations that Republicans are attempting to suppress the Democratic voter turnout in the November presidential election.

The New York Times reported on Sept. 8 that a local registrar at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., issued two releases that incorrectly suggested dire consequences for students who registered to vote, including the possibility they no longer could be claimed as dependents on their parents’ tax returns.

Martha Tierney, an attorney for the Colorado Democratic Party, said she obtained emails showing that Balink’s office sent to the Colorado College president’s office a flier to provide students with voter-registration information.

The flier stated: “What this means is that if your parents still claim you on their income tax returns, and they file that return in a state other than Colorado, you are not eligible to register to vote or vote in Colorado.”

Balink didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

Last week, Democrats filed a lawsuit in Michigan, seeking a court order barring Republicans from using lists of people facing mortgage foreclosure proceedings as a basis for challenging their voting eligibility. Michigan Republicans denied using foreclosure lists to cast doubt about voters’ qualifications.

And in Ohio, a pivotal state that was mired in allegations of voting irregularities in the 2004 presidential election, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has taken several steps to safeguard residents’ voting rights. On Wednesday, Brunner advised county election boards across the state that the listing of a voter’s name on a foreclosure list is insufficient, on its own, to sustain a challenge to his or her residency status.

“Ohioans faced with the pain and turmoil of a home foreclosure should not be targeted by the forces of disenfranchisement on Election Day,” Brunner said.

Brunner also recently took action to prevent a tactic known as “vote caging,” in which returned mail sent to a voter’s home is used to challenge the voter’s eligibility. Brunner advised counties that the return of a non-forwardable notice is not enough to sustain a challenge on its own, and she has ordered that all challenged voters have rights to hearings before the election.

September 21, 2008
Brian Thomsen
Posted by Patrick at 12:26 PM * 68 comments

On Martha’s Vineyard to teach the twelfth Viable Paradise, Teresa and I are shocked to hear of the sudden death of longtime SF and fantasy editor Brian Thomsen. We were young in the industry with him—he was the junior SF editor at Warner Books in 1984 when Teresa worked a long-term temp job in their promo department. He gave us both a lot of freelance work, most notably the job of writing a “readers’ guide” to Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. Later he ran the fantasy line at TSR, and more recently was one of Tor’s many consulting editors. He was a genuinely good egg, an enthusiast for his authors, and startlingly creative in the collegial give-and-take of figuring out how to sell particular books—I treasure his description of one of my projects, Jo Walton’s Farthing and its sequels, as “dark cozies.” He was also a passionate political liberal; for the last several years, whenever he visited Tor, we would converse hilariously about the latest outrages of the right.

He evidently died today of a sudden heart attack. Good God.

Have a Dysfunctional Families Day
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:16 AM *

If you all recall, back in May we identified a glaring gap in the holiday market. There are a plenitude of days for celebrating your parents and getting together with your family. There aren’t a lot of days when you can admit that your parents actually drove you completely bats, or that you’d rather learn autotrepanning with a Black and Decker than sit down with the people who made your first 18 years a misery. And some people need that, because that’s the truth of their lives, and pretending otherwise is poison to the soul.

Today is the autumnal equinox. Things are in balance, but shifting toward the darkness. What better day to use for this purpose? (For Southern Hemisphere readers, today is yet another day when your experience is overridden by the thoughtless majority, which is an equally valid reason.)

Obviously, there is the objection that Hallmark is inventing enough holidays without our assistance. But I think we need a day like this, when it’s OK to admit that the bonds of blood can be bloody awful, without anyone telling us to give things just one more chance.

No discussion of this would be complete without a reference to Mary Dell’s excellent Harkonnen card for the occasion (warning: Dune series spoilers), plus this nifty letter generator I found while Googling around the topic.

Now, I’m not really qualified to discuss this matter, because, well, I kinda like my family My mother, in particular, broke the patterns of a difficult upbringing to give me nothing much to talk about on days like this. So let me yield the floor to those whose day this really is. What are you doing today, to either live with your past or transcend it?

September 20, 2008
Melanoma and narcissism
Posted by Teresa at 08:27 AM *

Patrick, Jim, and Fragano say I’m doing it wrong, and that the long comment I posted in the thread following Jim Macdonald’s entry Obeying the Law Is for Wimps should have been a separate front-page post.

I can go along with that, though I’ll keep my original format. The first part of my essay, about John McCain’s melanoma, began as a response to Kelly McCullough (#24). The second half, about Sarah Palin’s personality disorder, was a response to Paula Helm Murray (#2). Jim Macdonald’s entry, the background to all this, is about a story on the McClatchy News website—Palin fires back in ‘troopergate,’ calls official insubordinate—and the descriptive chronology of Troopergate posted in the story’s comment thread by a reader who goes by “DobermanTracker.”

Just read. It’ll all come clear.

Kelly McCullough (#24): “I’ve got a third option. McCain and his vetting team are so incompetent he didn’t know (or understand) she was under serious investigation.
Kelly, I’ll take “Arrogance and Bad Vetting” for $600. Their vetting process seems to have only taken a few days, and to have been conducted from Washington and on Google. The centerpiece of it was a long questionnaire they went over with Palin in person.

I take their belief that Palin would self-report any problems as evidence that they didn’t know the woman. The same goes for expecting her to know what happened to Thomas Eagleton when he failed to report a lurking problem.

There are multiple reports from people in Alaska (big state, small community), and particularly people in the Alaskan government, who said they’d never been asked anything, and that they didn’t know anyone else who’d been asked either. In addition, one of the employees at the Wasilla newspaper (which is only partly available online) let drop that prior to Palin being named the Republican candidate for Vice President, no one had looked at the newspaper’s hardcopy archives in months

If you want to set yourself up for unpleasant surprises, that’s one way to do it.

For a different and grimmer take on McCain’s reasons for selecting Palin, check out Maggie Jochild’s John McCain: Dead Man Walking? at Group News Blog. She makes a good case for McCain having terminal cancer, an Après moi, le déluge attitude, and a deal with the Council for National Policy: the fundies give him their support, and he in turn accepts their hand-picked choice of his successor. A couple of quotes:

Last week, when I got the letter from Robert Greenwald talking about John McCain’s refusal to release his medical records to fair scrutiny, the fact that there are 1,000 pages of them (I create medical records for a living, 1,000 pages is EXTREME), and the news that he has had malignant melanoma, deep primaries with removal of lymph nodes, my immediate thought was “Then he’s dying.” If he were to be elected, he’d have an almost 2 out of 3 chance of having a recurrence if he doesn’t have one already. This is not the kind of cancer you count on escaping from. This is not Stage II, as it has been reported: Stage II by definition does not have lymph node involvement. By definition, it must be either Stage III or Stage IV.
At the beginning of this next section, Jochild is quoting an article by Kathy Geier:
“For years, releasing a candidate’s complete medical records has been standard practice for major party presidential candidates. The way the McCain has dealt with the medical records issue is highly unusual, to say the least. …[I]f the medical records really were unproblematic, they wouldn’t hesitate to release the whole enchilada to any reporter who asked, with no conditions and no strings attached.”
If he is in fact a Dead Man Walking, then the choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President also becomes more than a Hail Mary pass intended to destroy any bounce from the wildly successful Democratic Convention. It becomes reckless in the extreme: Choosing an heir apparent who lies, engages in petty revenge, wants to know how to ban books, faithfully attends a church which believes dinosaurs were around 4000 years ago and Jews are punished by God for not believing in Jesus, has less foreign policy experience than a Delta flight attendant, doesn’t know what the Bush Doctrine is, and has less than two years experience governing a state with a population less than that of Wichita, Kansas or Raleigh, North Carolina.

We know that the secret cabal, the Council for National Policy, who hopes to replace American democracy with religious rule (THEIR religion, not yours), are the people who investigated Sarah Palin and “chose” her for McCain as his VP. Since he accepted their decision, fundamentalist organizations have thrown themselves behind his campaign in a way they had not before. It raises the question of a deal: What would a dying man have to offer power brokers in order to have their backing for the U.S. Presidency?

I posted a comment in their thread (as is only polite):
…[I]f McCain were as chock-full of pride, integrity, and truth as he pretends to be, he would never have spoken to Bush again after the South Carolina primaries in 2000. What Bush did there was utterly dishonorable. Instead, McCain sulked for a while, then did a 180 and became the good little toe-the-line Bush supporter he never was before the 2000 race. It’s an easy guess that Bush promised to back him for the 2008 race. At this very moment, McCain’s organization is full of Bush’s old people.
There’s always that temptation to refer to them as Bushpeople, but it would be unfair to the real ones.
(If I were really speculating, I’d say the reason the Republicans have had Joe Lieberman on a string all these years was because he was promised the Vice-Presidency under McCain.)

Eight years of going down on his knees for Bush, Cheney, and their cronies must have irked the hell out of McCain. Whatever the truth of the matter, he’d put a lot of work into cultivating the appearance of integrity. Bush spent his reputation as recklessly as he spent Tony Blair’s, Colin Powell’s, and all the others. I can imagine McCain laboring to suppress his gag reflex while silently repeating his mantra to himself: “Shut up, go along with it, and you’ll get to be president.”

Then, after all those years of lip service, he discovered he wasn’t going to live long enough to collect his payoff. Such irony! Did he accept the news with resignation? Of course not. Are you kidding? McCain’s a senator, he’s the son and grandson of admirals, and he’s married to Arizona’s answer to Meadow Soprano. He never takes a fall if he can make someone else take it for him. (In this case, I think it was Joe Lieberman.)

So there it is: McCain thinks he’s got the presidency coming to him, and he’s damned well going to see that he gets it—no matter how much ruination it brings on the country he claims to love.

I won’t claim I conveyed any great insights, beyond “McCain has turned into something you’d fish out of Dubya’s private office wastebasket.”
Paula Helm Murray (2): “Sounds like if they get elected, it will just be the same old same old. She sounds either dumber or more blindly self-centered than the Shrub. Or maybe both.
My instant reaction to the Troopergate chronology was that we’re looking at a clinical personality disorder, located somewhere in the immediate vicinity of narcissism. If I’m right, Palin is basically out of control, and unlikely to improve.

Have you ever dealt with a full-blown narcissist? “Self-centered” is too mild a description. They’ve got a weirdly information-deprived worldview; they can’t process criticism, failure, or noncompliance; and they have a constant need for external validation of their grandiose self-images. It can lead them to do amazingly stupid things.

What I immediately noticed was that Palin hasn’t bothered to keep track of the stories she tells. It’s not that she can’t; she’s not that stupid. Rather, it hasn’t occurred to her to do so. She isn’t thinking about other people’s reactions. That isn’t bad judgement, or an absence of judgement. It’s a pathological lack of interest in the subject.

Here are my comments on the Troopergate chronology that “DobermanTracker” posted at McClatchy:

* First she would not tell us (Anchorage, Alaska) why she fired Monegan
He was in a high-profile position; he’d already had a middlin’-distinguished career; Palin appointed him in the first place; when she fired him, she offered him another state job; and there just doesn’t seem to be much evidence of general dissatisfaction with his work, or of preexisting disagreements between Palin and Monegan that didn’t involve Wooten. It was bizarre of Palin to not realize she’d be expected to explain that, or that there might be repercussions. I’d expect a candidate for county dogcatcher to know better than that.
* Then, finally, she said she wanted to take the department in a new direction.
* Took forever (week at least) to get her to state what that direction was.
“Taking the department in a new direction” is not the same thing as “firing for cause.” It’s one of four unrelated issues Palin has cited as her reason for firing Monagan. She dropped the second one—that he was not adequately filling state trooper vacancies—after Monegan pointed out that the police academy was about to graduate its largest class ever. The third, that he wasn’t doing enough to fight alcohol abuse problems, is problematical in light of the fact that the state job she offered him at the time of his firing was Executive Director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The fourth, that he “did not turn out to be a team player on budgeting issues,” could mean anything. (Subsequent, equally meaningless accusations—viz., “egregious insubordination,” “obstructionist conduct”—are irrelevant to this discussion, since they were cooked up by the legal attack dogs the McCain organization sicced on the case.)

Oh, and Palin also said, early and often, that it had nothing to do with repeatedly pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law, which she never did, and didn’t know about either.

Now, the thing about (1.) taking the department in a new direction, (2.) attracting more recruits, (3.) focusing more on alcohol abuse, and (4.) being a team player on budget issues, is that whether or not Monegan mishandled them (evidence: still not in evidence), they shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise to him when he first heard about them; i.e., after he was fired.

Those are all policy and structure issues. Any one of them would have required Palin to do a fair amount of talking and memo-exchanging with Monagan before she could even tell they were a problem, much less a problem on whose solution she and Monegan were irreconcilably opposed.

When you’ve got a guy who by all-but-one accounts was doing a good job, only you want him to take things in a different direction, the first thing you do is talk to him about taking it in a different direction. Firing him comes a lot later, after flurries of memos plus maybe a few F2F tiffs, tizzies, and scenes. By the time it finally happens, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

Next point: what are the odds of anyone having four different large-scale administrative problems so serious that every one of them warrants firing him on zero notice, yet none of the problems are interrelated? It’s improbable, is what it is. Also, what are the odds that someone could be screwing up his job like that without pissing off an underling so badly that they’d be willing to talk about it to a friendly and understanding reporter? Should be news stories. Aren’t.

And one more bit about that “taking it in a new direction” thing. Palin replaced Monegan with Chuck Kopp, former police chief and acting city manager of Kenai. Whoops! Turns out Kopp had been suspended, investigated, and given a letter of reprimand by the City of Kenai for sexually harassing an underling. Kopp departed, clutching his $10,000 severance package. (Monegan got no severance.) Palin then appointed Joseph Masters, a former security director for a private petrochemical firm. Asked in an interview whether Gov. Palin had discussed her vision of the department with him before hiring him, Masters said “Gov. Palin didn’t give me any guidance or direction or mandates for the department.” It appears that Palin’s “new direction” is as unfindable as evidence of Monegan’s misdeeds.

Oh, who are we kidding? She didn’t fire him for cause. She ran out of patience one day with his continuing refusal to proceed illegally against her ex-brother-in-law, fired him, and only afterward realized that people would notice and have opinions about it. Even then, she didn’t realize that giving four or five different excuses would present a problem.

Every time I try to imagine Sarah Palin at work, what comes out of her mouth is Glory’s dialogue from Season Five of Buffy.

* Finally she said Monegan was not doing a good job of working on bootlegging in the villages and in recruiting new troopers—she forgot that 3 weeks prior to this announcement she had stated on TV news that he was doing a great job in both of these departments.
* She even stated she had offered him a job on the Alcohol Board (while firing him as commissioner) simply because he was doing such a good job in this area.
* Then, couple of days ago, she stated, he was not fired at all, that he quit.
“I did it in self-defense—and besides, I didn’t push him, he jumped. Furthermore, I can prove I was in another city when it happened.”

If you stack up too many stories, you eventually reach a point where they all fall over.

* Now, she is stating he was fired and it was because of “egregious insubordination.”
That’s one of the accusations cooked up by McCain’s people. If you don’t buttress it with details, all it means is “He didn’t do something I wanted.”
* She is asking the Personnel Board - 3 people appointed by Palin - to dismiss the ethics complaint which she filed against herself in order to get it before the Personnel Board - because some out-of-context e-mails sent to Monegan prior to his having been (fired/quit) “exonerate the Governor totally and completely, once and for all.”
The story gets complicated. I highly recommend the Wikipedia entry, Alaska Public Safety Commissioner dismissal: a first-rate piece of work that’s like a vision of what Wikipedia could be in a better world than this.

(Digression: an interesting subplot: If you read the whole entry, pay attention to how many of the charges and complaints made against Mike Wooten, the ex-brother-in-law, turned out to not amount to much; how few of them are based on testimony from people who aren’t close to Sarah Palin; and how much time passes between Wooten’s supposedly scary and threatening words and deeds, and the dates on which Sarah Palin and her sister Molly get around to mentioning them to anyone else. I’m not saying Mike Wooten is a suffering saint; I’m saying the case against him shrinks considerably when you examine it. Three under-reported facts: (1.) Part of the basis for Mike Wooten being made an Alaska State Trooper in 2000 was the fulsome character reference provided him by Sarah Palin. (2.) The Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) granted Molly McCann (Palin’s sister) at the time she filed for divorce was later quashed because McCann’s counsel was unable to produce any evidence of acts of physical or implied violence. In fact, McCann told police at the time of filing that Wooten had never physically abused her. Sarah Palin has since lied about the episode, saying the DVPO was lifted after Wooten’s supervisors intervened. Both Palin and the McCain campaign have subsequently cited the DVPO as evidence that Wooten was violent towards Molly McCann. (3.) At the McCann/Wooten divorce trial,

a representative for the Alaska State Trooper’s union testified that the union viewed the dozen complaints filed by McCann and her family against Wooten as “not job-related” and “harassment”. Judge Suddock repeatedly warned McCann and her family to stop “disparaging” Wooten’s reputation or risk the judge granting Wooten custody of the children. At a court hearing in October 2005, Judge Suddock said “disparaging will not be tolerated - it is a form of child abuse … relatives cannot disparage either. If occurs [sic] the parent needs to set boundaries for their relatives.”)
(Another interesting subplot: Keep an eye on Todd Palin. The guy isn’t a state employee, but he accesses confidential files, sits in on personnel meetings, and generally works Sarah Palin’s will. Just yesterday he announced that he was also going to ignore his subpoena. If you think Executive Privilege is a shaky theory, try Executive Privilege by Marriage.)

Back to the main thread: The only reason Troopergate isn’t a bigger mess is that McCain sent a legal team to Alaska in order to obstruct justice. Once they were up and running, Palin’s words and deeds got a lot less random, ditto candid. Still, the uncontaminated pre-legal-team sample of her behavior is enough to establish that her emotional reactions are way off normal.

I’m going to bring up a touchy subject: the early reports suggesting that Trigg Palin is the son of Bristol rather than Sarah Palin. That was a nasty episode. Whose fault is that? Sarah Palin’s, first to last. She didn’t give birth to Trigg all alone in a cave. There have to have been multiple witnesses to the labor and birth. None of them could step forward without violating patient privacy. All Sarah Palin had to do was give a couple of them permission to say they’d been there, and that she was the mother.

But she didn’t do that. Why not? IMO, because it made her look like an injured party (she obviously enjoyed that, and got loads of mileage out of it), and drew attention away from the rest of her problems. The other consequence of leaving the story in play was that seventeen-year-old Bristol Palin got dragged through a cubic mile of mud, then paraded in front of the RNC on primetime television as a Moral Example. It’s fatuous to claim it was Bristol’s choice. Even grown men who have the law on their side would think twice before crossing Glorificus Palin; and Bristol is her resourceless minor child.

* She filed this complaint against herself because she felt the legislative committee investigation (10 Republicans and 4Democrates) is politically motivated even though the investigation was started before McCain selected her.
* There is another ethics complaint filed against her for “demonizing” Trooper Wooten. A judge —in the child custody case—hard warned Palin’s family that their constant attacks on Wooten were becoming a form of child abuse.
* During all this, Monegan stated he was pressured to fire Wooten while Palin denied ANY pressure from ANYbody was put on him I.E SHE HAD NO KNOWLEDGE OF ANYONE CONTACTING MONEGAN ON THIS ISSUE
Yup! All those people on her immediate staff, plus her husband, independently took it upon themselves to try to pressure the Alaska Public Safety Commissioner into firing Palin’s former brother-in-law from his job as a state trooper. That was amazingly brave of them, considering that one of the accusations McCain’s legal team has cooked up against Monegan is that he failed to get Palin’s explicit permission to petition the feds for additional funds for law enforcement.

As of this August, months and months after Troopergate started, Palin finally got around to saying “Pressure could have been perceived to exist, although I have only now become aware of it.” So, which is it? Liar, or incapable of running her own staff, much less anything bigger?

* Palin repeats her campaign promises of “open and transparent” governing policy—-while Poll by TV station shows 87% no longer think she is open and transparent—so much for the supposed 80% approval rating!
* Palin states, “Hold me responsible.” Regarding the legislative investigation, “Bring it on!”
A person with a normal sense of potential consequences would be more prudent at every step of the way.
* Legislature hires independent investigator
I believe this is the investigation the majority-Republican voted unanimously to undertake, long before Palin became McCain’s running mate.
* Palin suddenly has Atty General ( who, it ends up also pressured Monegan) start investigating and immediately finds phone call from her staffer Frank Bailey to Troopers - Bailey claims it was his idea and govenor had no input. He is put on PAID leave and remains that way today.
And survives to this day with no worse blemish on his honor than being the recipient of Sarah Palin’s approval.
* Seems approximately 24 contacts were made with Monegan, from Todd Palin, Bailey, Attorney General, other staffers and PALIN HERSELF.
Consider the implications. Sarah Palin had already fired Monegan on zero notice, denied him severance, publicly traduced him, and hired substandard replacements to fill his position. He had absolutely no reason to cover for her. On top of that, he’d had many years of administrative experience, and he’d been aware for some time before he was fired that Palin and her staff were pressuring him to take improper action in re Mike Wooten. Of course he’d be keeping a record of these contacts.

I take it as further strong evidence of a grandiose and unrealistic worldview, and an abnormal absence of basic human empathy, that Palin didn’t expect this story would come out.

* Despite having previously denied anyone contacted Monegan ( Todd did so in the Governor’s office !) Palin states these contacts did NOT constitute pressure on Monegan.
If they weren’t intended as pressure, why were they made at all? If Palin and her staff are in the habit of taking completely ineffectual actions, she’s too incompetent a manager to hold important positions.
* Palin has done nothing but refuse to cooperate with legislative investigation and now states she will not submit to questioning, i.e. she is “totally and completely exonerated” by Monegan’s supposed “egregious insubordination.”
Nope. First, even if she (or rather McCain’s legal team) has come up with decisive evidence in her favor, everyone still has to observe the normal legal procedures. Having the evidence may curtail those procedures, but the system still has to establish (to variable levels of precision) what happened, who did what to whom, and which rules (if any) were violated. (Note: this is a very rough description.) Palin’s evidence can then be examined in that context. She doesn’t get to declare that her evidence is so good that it doesn’t have to be looked at. That’s like saying you’ve been dealt such a killer Bridge hand that you should just be awarded maximum points without playing out the round.

Second, as I’ve already pointed out, “egregious insubordination” is close to meaningless if you don’t establish what that insubordination consisted of, the state of understanding between Palin and Monegan, and whether his actions were in fact egregious. This is not going to be established without going through normal or near-normal procedures, and Palin is going to have to be involved.

If she’s so incapable of taking responsibility for her actions that she can’t even answer for herself at a state-level inquiry, she’s not fit for high office. Leaders take responsibility. It’s part of the basic spec.

* While Palin makes public the selected e-mails to Monegan, she illegally witholds other e-mails (there is legal action to obtain them) which may show her direct and intentional participation in the pressuring of Monegan to fire Wooten.
After all these successive instances of the story coming out, she still thinks the next part of the story won’t come out.

You can’t have it both ways. Either the woman is so stupid that Dan Quayle has to phone her long distance to tell her to come in out of the rain, or she’s wired wrong for assessing and predicting the consequences of her actions, and how others will react to them.

One more datum and I’ll quit for now. This is a parallel story, like Troopergate writ small:

Palin Fired Aide Who Dated Wife of Todd’s Friend

The Politico reported Friday that a longtime associate and former gubernatorial aide to Sarah Palin says he was asked to leave the governor’s office after the Palins discovered that he was dating the soon-to-be-ex wife of a close friend of Todd Palin.

Let’s get this straight. Todd Palin isn’t a government employee. He’s just the spouse. A buddy of his is being divorced by the buddy’s wife. A longtime aide of Sarah Palin’s was dating the soon-to-be-ex wife. I assume Todd Palin’s buddy felt bad about that. Result: the aide got fired.

This behavior wouldn’t pass muster in a junior high school student council.

John Bitney, who grew up in Wasilla with Palin, told the paper cum website:
I wanted to stay with the governor and support the governor—we’re talking about someone who’s been a friend for 30 years—but I understood it, and I have no ax to grind over the whole thing.”
He’s been her political ally and full-time aide. He’s been her friend for thirty years. Now he’s out in the cold, and unemployed, because he dated the former main squeeze of a friend of Todd Palin? Yeah, I’ll bet he has no hard feelings.

I think we should start keeping track of this kind of unnatural docility in people who’ve been screwed over by Sarah Palin. I think they’re afraid of her.

Today, the Wall Street Journal added more to the story, reporting that seven weeks after publicly praising Bitney, Palin fired him for what her spokeswoman now describes as “poor job performance.”
That’s not just mean-spirited, vindictive, and mendacious; it’s stupid. Any organization is going to generate a few disgruntled ex-employees—it’s inevitable—but you have to try to keep their number as low as possible, because they can be dangerous to your operation. It’s especially important to avoid publicly humiliating them and/or rendering them unemployable, because it leaves them with nothing to lose, and a lot of time to think about it.

When you make a habit of arbitrarily praising your employees one month and firing them another, you also screw up relations with the rest of your staff, because there’s no way for them to feel secure. Some will leave. The others will spend more time and energy worrying about where they stand with you than they do on their actual jobs.

During that time, Palin had found out from Scott Richter, a friend of Todd Palin’s, that Richter’s wife, Debbie, was having a relationship with Bitney.
And what does this have to do with the business of the State of Alaska? Absolutely nothing.
The Journal notes that Palin’s office seems to have had trouble keeping its story straight on the reason for Bitney’s departure.

At the time, the governor’s office cited “personal reasons” for Mr. Bitney’s “amicable” departure, according to contemporaneous news reports.

“He wanted to spend more time with his family” is the usual line.
Last week, Sharon Leighow, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said “John Bitney was dismissed because of his poor job performance.” She declined to provide further details.
Months into Troopergate, they still haven’t learned to keep their mouths shut.

If you go back to the original story on Politico, things get even weirder:

WASILLA, Alaska—While Sarah Palin’s supporters tout her personal warmth and openness, the newly minted Republican vice presidential nominee can be brusque to allies, advisers and employees who fall from her favor.

Palin has unceremoniously ended relationships with an aide who was dating a family friend’s soon-to-be ex-wife, a campaign adviser whose mother-in-law fought Palin’s legislative agenda, a local political mentor who she felt represented the “old boys’ network,” a police chief who she said tried to intimidate her with “stern look[s]” and a state commissioner who refused to fire her sister’s ex-husband.

When she first became Mayor of Wasilla, she fired so many employees that she had trouble getting information on how things had been run:
After upsetting the three-term incumbent Wasilla mayor in 1996, Palin quickly eliminated the position of one city department director and asked five others for a letter of resignation, a résumé and a letter explaining why they should be retained.

Though five of the six department heads had supported her opponent, John Stein, Palin insisted the housecleaning was not politically motivated. Only two directors kept their jobs and one of them — city planner Duane Dvorak — left on his own eight months later.

“After all the excitement, I kind of felt like the ax could fall any time and just never felt like the situation warmed up,” said Dvorak, who had worked for Stein for more than two years and is now a planner for the far away Kodiak Island Borough.

Dvorak, who did not back either Stein or Palin, recounted being asked to brief the new mayor and her top aide on a wide variety of topics related to the city and state codes “that really didn’t have a whole lot to do with planning. But because they let everyone else go, they didn’t have anyone else to call on,” he said. “It’s one thing to take the city in a different direction and try to work with the staff that you have and maybe make a few key changes over time, but to just precipitously let people go and then restaff — it didn’t go over well.”

One of Palin’s biggest and most expensive snafus as mayor was building a hockey rink on land to which the town didn’t fully hold title. If she thought she didn’t need the people who knew how things were run, she was wrong.

What kind of crazy do you have to be to start your term as mayor by firing almost everyone who could help you do your job?

See also Albert Bernstein’s The Smartest, Most Talented, All-Around Best Person in the Universe Test, a.k.a. The Narcissistic Vampire Checklist, and Joanna M. Ashmun’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder website.

Trip Planning
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:28 AM * 53 comments

In planning routes and figuring times from Hither to Yon, my favorite site is It is, IMHO, much better than or Mapquest.

September 19, 2008
Talking like a pirate
Posted by Avram Grumer at 06:54 PM * 24 comments

Twenty years ago I used to hang out in Greenwich Village. You couldn’t walk through (or alongside of) Washington Square Park without some guy walking past you mumbling “Smoke, smoke.” I never took any of them up on their offer, so I don’t know how many were honest drug dealers and how many undercover cops.

Nowadays I often find myself in Chinatown. I can’t walk down Canal Street without Asian women coming up to me mumbling “DVD, DVD.” If I were a woman, the come-on would be “Prada, Coach, Vuitton”.

And I was planning to leave it there, but check out this five-year-old NY Times story on the investigation of the Chinatown counterfeiting scene, with its mazes of underground catacombs:

While exploring a basement room in the mid-90’s, Mr. Holmes found a tall cabinet against the wall. He opened the cabinet and pushed the back, which sprang open into another room. There was a man chopping chickens with a meat cleaver.

“When we came through, he raised the meat cleaver,” Mr. Holmes said. “But once he saw who we were and that we weren’t bad guys, he put it down.”

There was a big crackdown earlier this year on the “Counterfeit Triangle” (actually an irregular trapezoid), but it hasn’t kept away the offers of counterfeit DVDs.

September 17, 2008
Obeying the Law is for Wimps
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:58 PM * 220 comments

Palin staff won’t comply with subpoenas

Aides to Gov. Sarah Palin won’t comply with subpoenas issued by state lawmakers investigating the firing of Alaska’s former public safety commissioner because Palin “has declined to participate” in the probe, her attorney general says. The chairman of the bipartisan panel behind the probe said the attorney general is breaking a week-old agreement

Yes indeed, friends, dramatic proof that Sarah Palin will be Ready On Day One. It took months for Dick Cheney to start ignoring subpoenas.

The legislature, of course, has the full right to investigate the executive branch. That’s part of the checks and balances that are the foundation of American democracy. Ignoring a subpoena is denying the basis of the rule of law; all by itself it is grounds for impeachment.

Over at McClatchy, there’s a commenter from Anchorage. Here’s what the poster has to say in response to the story Palin fires back in ‘troopergate,’ calls official insubordinate

Submitted by DobermanTracker on September 16, 2008 - 8:42pm.

I live in Anchorage and have observed Trooper-Gate from prior to it’s actual beginning. What follows is a chronology of what Palin’s has stated are the reason(s) for Monegan’s firing. Only a textbook narcassist can lie like this in the face of all prior recorded (newsprint and TV news video) contradictory statements from her own mouth.

Walt Monegan is a standup guy—the kind of law enfocement officer that cares for people and actively promotes programs and funding to help end rape and violence against women in Alaska, which has the highest incidence in both areas over all other states—-his subordinates loved him and respected him.

All of the following statements are supported by Anchorage Daily News articles and TV news videos that reported these facts as they occurred.

  • First she would not tell us (Anchorage, Alaska) why she fired Monegan
  • Then, finally, she said she wanted to take the department in a new direction.
  • Took forever ( week at least) to get her to state what that direction was.
  • Finally she said Monegan was not doing a good job of working on bootlegging in the villages and in recruiting new troopers—-she forgot that 3 weeks prior to this announcement she had stated on TV news that he was doing a great job in both of these departments.
  • She even stated she had offered him a job on the Alcohol Board ( while firing him as commissioner) simply because he was doing such a good job in this area.
  • Then, couple of days ago, she stated, he was not fired at all, that he quit.
  • Now, she is stating he was fired and it was because of “egregious insubordination.”
  • She is asking the Personnel Board—-3 people appointed by Palin—to dismiss the ethics complaint which she filed against herself in order to get it before the Personnel Board—- because some out of context e-mails sent to Monegan prior to his having been (fired/quit)”exonerate the Governor totally and completely, once and for all.”
  • She filed this complaint against herself because she felt the legislative committee investigation (10 Republicans and 4Democrates) is politically motivated even though the investigation was started before McCain selected her.
  • There is another ethics complaint filed against her for “demonizing” Trooper Wooten. A judge —in the child custody case—hard warned Palin’s family that their constant attacks on Wooten were becoming a form of child abuse.
  • During all this, Monegan stated he was pressured to fire Wooten while Palin denied ANY pressure from ANYbody was put on him I.E SHE HAD NO KNOWLEDGE OF ANYONE CONTACTING MONEGAN ON THIS ISSUE
  • Palin repeats her campaign promises of “open and transparent” governing policy—-while Poll by TV station shows 87% no longer think she is open and transparent—so much for the supposed 80% approval rating !
  • Palin states, “Hold me responsible.” Regarding the legislative investigation, “Bring it on !”
  • Legislature hires independent investigator
  • Palin suddenly has Atty General ( who, it ends up also pressured Monegan) start investigating and immediately finds phone call from her staffer Frank Bailey to Troopers —-Bailey claims it was his idea and govenor had no input. He is put on PAID leave and remains that way today.
  • Seems approximately 24 contacts were made with Monegan, from Todd Palin, Bailey, Attorney General, other staffers and PALIN HERSELF.
  • Despite having previously denied anyone contacted Monegan ( Todd did so in the Governor’s office !) Palin states these contacts did NOT constitute pressure on Monegan.
  • Palin has done nothing but refuse to cooperate with legislative investigation and now states she will not submit to questioning.i.e. she is” totally and completely exonerated” by Monegan’s supposed “egregious insubordination.”
  • While Palin makes public the selected e-mails to Monegan, she illegally witholds other e-mails (there is legal action to obtain them) which may show her direct and intentional participation in the pressuring of Monegan to fire Wooten.

This site is collecting good wishes for Monegan and his family, to be forwarded to him.

Please support this good man and his family.

Contradicting herself. Denying the grade-school-civics level basics of the separation of powers.

Yes, McCain is the pig, Palin is just the lipstick and we shouldn’t get distracted from the main point, but this is part of the main point: McCain selected someone for his vice president who is obviously corrupt.

Register to Vote
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:40 PM *

We’re about a month-and-a-half out from Election Day in the USA.

Register to vote. Help someone else register to vote. If you’re already registered, make sure that you’re still registered and no one’s pulled any hanky-panky.

Know where your polling place is.

If you’re going to vote absentee, make sure that you know what your state requires, and don’t miss the deadlines.

September 16, 2008
Making things, as well as light
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:42 PM *

A few weeks ago, I made a dress. I wore it to work today.

It’s nothing fancy: a chocolate brown linen jumper* with a fitted bodice and a flared skirt. It required the usual amount of alteration from the basic pattern†. It’s quirky and a bit young, stopping a couple of inches above the knee, which is shorter than usual for me. I wear it with tights, biking shorts, and a T-shirt underneath. It goes well with boots.

It’s good, though I say it, good enough that one of my male and clothing-blind colleagues commented on it. Good enough, too, that the woman who prepares our lunch of a Tuesday finally bridged the language barrier between us, specifically to compliment me on it.

Now, I work in a technology company, where we make things all the time, albeit in the virtual world. The guy who talked to me about my dress writes wonderful code that does marvelously creative things, but confessed that he wouldn’t even know where to start sewing a garment.

This mirrors my own current problems with learning to program. I have the same feeling of being overwhelmed by all the details, the same anxiety about messing up and looking foolish, the same utter loathing of the first, clumsy products of a half-aquired skill, displayed before the discerning gaze of experts.

And yet we are driven to make things, and to improve our making of things. Why is this? And what are you all making, or learning to make, or wanting to make these days?

This is a non-political thread.

* pinafore dress, O Brits
† In this case, the primary one was moving the zipper from mid-back to under the arm, because the only one I had was skirt length, and I haven’t figured out where to go zipper shopping nearby yet.

That’s how it goes / Everybody knows
Posted by Teresa at 11:59 AM * 121 comments

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows.

Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”

Wesley’s comment (#35)—we’ll get to it in just a moment—came up in the discussion of Jim Macdonald’s post, Just When You Think McCain Has Hit Bottom, which is about McCain’s use of attack ads that are based on known lies. As Jim said in it: “You’d think that false, misleading, deceptive advertisements—in which McCain repeats smears that had already been discredited when Alan Keyes used them four years ago—would take the cake. But now, here comes some frosting…”

It’s a good thread. You should check it out. Here are some of the comments leading up to #35:

John Chu (3): How does McCain do this and still maintain his reputation of being a man of honor and integrity? The best attack ad against McCain right now may be one that paints him as a whiny, dirty trickster who is plying the same old Republican tactics that they trot out every time.

On one hand, yes, these are the actions of a desperate man. On the other hand, these actions have a disturbing tendency to work.

I hope the public sees them for what they are this time …

TNH (5): Why don’t his supporters understand that someone who’ll lie like that is not your friend and never will be? Why do they think he’s on their side?
Kouredios (12): At least Obama isn’t ignoring it, like Kerry tried to do.
Syd (13): I am appalled, but not at all surprised, since I keep hearing/seeing comments that a good portion of Obama’s campaign funding is coming from radical Islamists in the Middle East and elsewhere—this is just the flip side of those comments. McCain should be bombarded with questions about this tactic at every public appearance until he either denounces it and demands his supporters NOT do it (yeah, right), or he flat-out publicly agrees with it, at which point the media ought to pillory him as he deserves.

I know it isn’t going to happen, but I can dream …

Larry Brennan (22): On Friday, I was in a movie theater waiting for the show to start, chatting about the campaign with some friends. A woman sitting behind us invited herself into our conversation to ask how she could check out allegations that Obama had sexually assulted a minor that she had been emailed.
Which brings us to:
Wesley (35): There was a short story a few years ago by Howard Waldrop, called “Calling Your Name.” It ended up in a couple of Best-of-the-Year anthologies. There’s this guy, see, and after getting a shock from a badly wired power tool he learns Richard Nixon was never president. And then it turns out the Beatles never got together. And then JFK turns up alive, married to Marilyn Monroe. And then even members of his family have different names. Little bits of his reality keep shifting away from him.

I feel like the guy in the story. Except instead of history, it’s civilization that’s shifting. It seems like every few days I wake up and find another thing that was once beyond the pale is now normal, and considered unremarkable by everyone except some blogs somewhere. The lies are a little more blatant. The standards of behavior and intellect we expect from our leaders are a little lower. And hardly anyone cares, or even notices. Maybe I’m misremembering, but twenty years ago, before George W. Bush lowered the bar, wouldn’t somebody like Sarah Palin… who ran Alaska by filling important positions with old unqualified high school buddies and subadolescent sycophants who could in cold blood email things like “YOU ARE SO AWESOME” … wouldn’t someone like this have been a national laughingstock?

I keep expecting, someday, to wake up and on my way to work pass a handcart selling baby seals on a stick, freshly clubbed, skewered while still writhing. And everyone will be like, where have you been, dude? Everybody’s always eaten live baby seals for breakfast. It’s how things are, in this great country of ours! And then they will splash me with the excess blood, laugh terrible shrieking laughs, and wander off to relieve themselves in the nearest park.

How did we come to this uneasy acceptance of blatant falsehood, corruption, and incompetence? I think a major factor is that our our leaders haven’t stood up and called it for what it is, naming names and giving specifics, in plain and straightforward English.

It’s like working in an office where half of upper management is visibly (if you’re paying attention) falsifying expense reports, using company accounts to order home furnishings, giving lucrative consulting gigs to their ne’er-do-well buddies, and altering the file copies of old performance evaluations in order to justify firing anyone who gets in their way. Meanwhile, the rest of upper management is issuing generic statements about how we need integrity in our everyday practices if we’re going to become the truly great company we have the potential to be—when they’re not issuing memos expressing vague conventional regrets that yet another one of their number has been taken down by the bad guys.

That’s how you get the kind of situation Wesley describes in comment #35. When we’re trying to figure out the current rules of the current game, we take our cues from the people around us. If bad stuff is happening but no one in authority is standing up to it in a clear and immediate way, we don’t stand up to it either. Most people will go quiet, do their jobs, keep their heads down, and hope nobody targets them. They may console themselves by picking out one or two execs and telling themselves they aren’t as bad as the rest.

Others will try to get in with the bad-guy faction, and assert their hoped-for in-group status to other employees by showing off how crudely and blatantly they can wield inappropriate power, and engage in corruption, without getting penalized for it. (Note: They don’t actually have an in. The bad guys just find it temporarily useful to let them get away with those specific kinds of bad behavior. Later on, the wanna-bes will get screwed over just like everyone else.)

What I know is that in a situation like that, someone who notices and asks about the corruption will get hit with the pent-up anger and confusion of the employees who’ve been keeping their heads down, and jeered at by the wanna-bes. They’ll all tell him that he’s naive, and that this is how things always work.

It is not.

Addendum, from the comment thread:

Rosa (#12), 16 September 2008:

I have a friend who has argued for years that the general talking down of the government (and unions, esp. civil servant unions) is a deliberate right wing tool to gain political power & funnel money to contractors/lower taxes on business and rich people.

It’s an excellent double-edged sword. First, you argue that government is inherently bad at things, regardless of intent. Do it from a bunch of columnists, think tanks, campaign speeches, etc. Use it to block funding for social welfare programs and to get your industries deregulated so you can rob everyone with impunity.

Then, when you are in power, mess everything up. Doesn’t matter if it’s by design, by cronyism, or by plain stupidity - at the end of your term you can blame it on the nature of government. Lower the bar so nobody blames you for failure.

I used to think she was wrong, but more and more I’m believing it.

Agreed. I’ve been convinced for years now that there’s a deliberate disinformation campaign aimed at giving people the idea that government can do no good. Who fought and won WWII, put a man on the moon, and created the internet? The government, that’s who. And furthermore, FEMA worked just fine under Clinton. Governments are inherently complex and frustrating, but when they’re well-run they benefit us all.

Badly-run governments can do a lot of harm and waste a lot of money, but the small number of people they benefit wind up richer than Midas. That’s why the same guys who keep telling us that our shares in our democracy are worthless are crouched there, just waiting for us to let go of the power we hold as voters, so they can grab it for themselves.

Mmm, “good people”
Posted by Patrick at 10:00 AM *

Sarah Palin, accepting the nomination of the Republican Party for Vice President of the United States:

A writer observed: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.” I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman.”
Who was this anonymous “writer”? Funny you should ask. Evidently, as Thomas Frank points out, it was the avowed anti-Semite Westbrook Pegler, a newspaper columnist popular from the 1930s to the 1960s, whose many distinguished accomplishments included publicly regretting that would-be FDR assassin Giuseppe Zangara “hit the wrong man,” writing in 1963 that it is “clearly the bounden duty of all intelligent Americans to proclaim and practice bigotry,” and, when Robert F. Kennedy first began considering a run for President, expressing his hope that “some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies.”

Honesty! Sincerity! Dignity! Good people!

(Thanks to Stephen Leigh for pointing out this story, which I missed entirely while falling behind on the news.)

(Oh, and for what it’s worth, Harry Truman regarded Pegler as a “guttersnipe.”)

McCain’s Health Care Plan
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:31 AM *

“Make it more expensive, make it riskier, and for some people, make it nonexistent.”

The more you look at McCain’s health plan, the worse it gets.

Even the people who like McCain’s plan (Why McCain has the best health-care plan over at CNN Money) have noticed that:

To his credit, McCain does have a plan for relatively young, low-income Americans who can’t afford insurance. “We would increase the tax credit according to income so that poor families could buy insurance,” says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain’s policy director. But McCain sorely lacks a plan for people in their 50s without corporate benefits, and Americans with pre-existing conditions, who would be brutally stripped of coverage if insurance crosses state lines. “For his plan to work, McCain has to tell us how he would deal with the old and sick,” says Jon Gruber, an MIT economist. “If McCain doesn’t tax the healthy to pay for pre-existing conditions, as happens under community rating, he has to tax the taxpayer. That means his plan will require huge subsidies he’s not talking about.”

If you’re interested in why they think McCain’s plan is better than the Democratic plan, it’s because under the Democratic plan even people who can’t afford insurance would get insured.

Let’s talk about tax credits. You know something? If you offered a $100,000 tax credit on yachts, most people still couldn’t afford a yacht. With the average family insurance plan running $12K a year, a family that’s making $26K is going to have a hard time buying health insurance, and telling them that they’ll get a $5K tax credit at the end of the year—that they can just cross off $5K from their tax bill come April—isn’t going to help.

And just try getting insurance at all if you have a pre-existing condition. Go ahead, try. I’ll wait.

Here’s a fact: People who don’t have health insurance don’t get health care. Sure, if they’re unconscious or spurting blood they can come to the Emergency Room, but that’s a cruddy way of getting basic health screening that keeps things from getting to catastrophic conditions.

I’ve seen this myself. I’ve seen a man in his mid-forties die, choked on his own vomit, unconscious from undiagnosed diabetes. Why undiagnosed? He didn’t have health insurance to cover physicals. He was working three jobs—but they were all part-time jobs with no benefits.

McCain’s health care plan is to tax job-based health insurance as income, and to remove the incentives for employers to offer health insurance. The obvious result will be for employers to drop health insurance, forcing everyone to buy insurance on the economy, or do without. The result of that won’t be healthy competition that will lower costs for everyone. It’ll be higher costs and fewer options for the poor, the old, and the sick. That is, the people who need health care. Young, healthy, rich people won’t be affected—until they get old, sick, and subsequently poor.

Several health care policy analysts said the plan could expand insurance choices for some people but has the potential to backfire by undermining employer-based coverage for many workers.

“If you’re not careful, it could lead to a substantial decrease in the number of people with coverage,” said Stuart Altman, the dean of the Heller Graduate School for Social Policy & Management at Brandeis University, who has frequently advised politicians on health care reform.

Individual health insurance plans are often more expensive - or include major exclusions - for sick and old customers, because they don’t spread out risk like group plans.

“What we’ve found is that the individual market doesn’t work very well,” Altman said.

According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, an average family health insurance policy cost more than $11,000 last year. McCain indicated in his speech that states might develop means to help lower-income individuals buy insurance, but critics said $5,000 would not bring many uninsured families much closer to affording coverage.

“If you think about what an average premium is right now for employer-based coverage - it’s about $12,000 per family - then a tax credit is obviously going to fall short,” said Sara Collins, an assistant vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that sponsors research on health care policy.

The health care plans that have been offered by Democratic candidates for president have been focused on providing universal health insurance coverage, but McCain said he believes health care costs are the main barrier for many who have been pushed outside the market. Rather than government plans and mandates, he said, the government can increase coverage by lowering the costs of care and encouraging competition.

If a foreign power attempted to impose the McCain health care plan on America we would consider it an act of war.

September 15, 2008
Update on Teresa
Posted by Patrick at 03:15 PM * 145 comments

She’s still in the hospital. They’ve been giving her heparin and Lopressor. The heparin shots burn like hell and leave a nasty bruise, but that’s evidently a normal reaction. She’s also been through a bunch of tests, including the classic treadmill stress test.

She’s chipper, if rather tired, and very eager to go home. We’re hoping to get her sprung today; we’re just waiting to hear from the attending physician, who at last report was muttering “more tests.” “I’ll do them as an outpatient!” she says. “Lots of people need this bed more than I do! I don’t want to go on the cart!” Okay, she tends to say that last after the hospital people leave the room.

Since 1 AM Friday, I’ve only been in this hospital a few hours a day, and I’m ready to commit homicide in order to get out. She’s been here 24/7. Ay yi yi.

We’re just beginning to think about how we need to change our lives in order to keep this from happening again. Some commitments are going to have to go.

UPDATE, 4:17 PM EDT: They’re going to let her out today. Hallelujah.

Just When You Think McCain Has Hit Bottom
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:14 PM *

…he breaks through the crust and keeps on going.

After a series of TV ads that are farragoes of shameless lying, Straight-Talk McCain has surpassed himself.

Let’s look at those ads, first. Three ads in two days, last week. The references are from

Belittling Palin?
A McCain-Palin TV ad accuses Obama of being “disrespectful” of Palin, but it distorts quotes to make the case.
McCain-Palin Distorts Our Finding
Those attacks on Palin that we debunked didn’t come from Obama.
Off Base on Sex Ed
A McCain campaign ad claims Obama’s “one accomplishment” was a bill to teach sex ed to kindergarten kids. Don’t believe it.

You’d think that false, misleading, deceptive advertisements—in which McCain repeats smears that had already been discredited when Alan Keyes used them four years ago—would take the cake.

But now, here comes some frosting for the cake. From Crooks and Liars, today:

Rovian Push Polling In Florida Links Obama To PLO
By: Nicole Belle @ 9:00 AM - PDT

It is stories like this that make me weep for my country. When people so low, so completely divested of a moral compass, can impact an election to the detriment of the whole nation. John McCain knows only too well how these kind of sleazy, win-at-all-cost tactics work and should be the FIRST person to stand up and speak against them.

Key West resident Joelna Marcus received a phone call today. She was asked if she is Jewish, and she replied in the affirmative.

She was asked if she was religious.

She was then asked if her opinion of Barack Obama would change if she knew that Obama had given lots and lots of money to the PLO.

There are no perjoratives strong enough to describe the kind of slimeball that would do this.

From this day forward: a toast to the happy couple
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:04 PM * 55 comments

After twenty one years together, George Takei and Brad Altman have married.

The ceremony took place yesterday, at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Los Angeles. Nichelle Nichols was matron of honor; Walter Koenig was best man. The grooms wore white.

I do not have the honor or either of their acquaintances. I am, however, proud to welcome yet another couple into the community of married people. Anyone who has fought as hard and as long for the right to marry as they have can only strengthen the institution.

I am sure that somewhere, someone is attributing today’s financial news, the devastation of Hurricane Ike, and the tendency of bread to land butter side down to this happy event. The Grinch we have with us always, but the traditional remedy is close at hand.

Laddies and gentlewomen, let us rise up, and raise up our glasses* to George and Brad. May the future bring them the happiness they so richly deserve.

* Or mugs, or whatever drink containers we have handy. Distributed toasts do not require matching glassware.

The Most Terrifying Six Words In the English Language
Posted by Patrick at 12:03 PM *

“President Bush tried to calm investors.”

The war on Oprah
Posted by Avram Grumer at 01:18 AM * 76 comments

My friend Harold Feld wrote a piece on Sunday about the emerging propaganda attack on Oprah Winfrey.

Hadn’t heard about it? Neither had I, nor had Teresa when I told her. But Drudge started pushing the story on Sep 5, and the NY Post picked it up, and Harold predicts that the matter will be dominating news and talk shows this week. Here are the basic facts:

  1. Oprah had Barack Obama on her show a couple of times.
  2. This was back in 2005-06, before Obama became a presidential candidate.
  3. Oprah has publicly declared her support for Obama.
  4. Oprah has also publicly stated that she will not have any of the candidates for president or vice-president on her show until after the end of the election.
  5. Sarah Palin, who is just the sort of person Oprah would normally have on her show, has not been invited to appear.

The right-wing propaganda version of this story leaves out items 2 and 4, of course. (The Post story does include them, but somehow still claims that this counts as a snub.)

If you look at the web forums, you can see a forum post about it from the end of August, which probably marks the start of the propaganda campaign. Further examination forums reveals the usual sorts of crap — hordes of users who sign up just especially to rant about this one issue; users who post the same thing over and over (see these two comments by “peoriagirl”, #6 in this thread and #10 in this thread, posted within six minutes of each other), descriptions of Oprah as a “liberal sheepherder”, etc. (Anyone else ever wonder why sheepherder has a negative connotation while shepherd has a positive one?)

Read Harold’s blog post for more in-depth analysis of why this sort of naked dishonesty works so well.

September 14, 2008
Either a heart attack, or a Greek of the same name
Posted by Patrick at 09:20 AM *

Some kind of “burying the lede” prize has to go to Teresa Nielsen Hayden for using a comment in a downblog thread, rather than Making Light’s front page, to tell her readership that she’d been carted off to the hospital following what was probably a heart attack. This event has since been discussed elsewhere, and we’re starting to get a pile of email (most of which can be summarized as “WTF!?!?”) from friends who didn’t happen to have read 157 comments into a thread from several days ago. So it seems only fair to bring the rest of the world up to date.

A little after midnight this past Thursday night / Friday morning, Teresa and I were talking—about how to code an image in a Making Light post, no less—when she suddenly experienced an unfamiliar and intense pain in her chest, rapidly radiating up into her neck and lower jaw, accompanied by a sensation of powerful pressure deep inside. After a brief discussion we called 911. Impressively well-equipped paramedics arrived in about seven minutes and performed tests on the spot. We were then taken in an ambulance to Brooklyn’s Lutheran Medical Center. As of this morning, Teresa is still there, having graduated from the ER to an actual hospital bed. Further tests have been performed and more are to come. She is not considered to be in critical condition.

Teresa has had odd and hard-to-classify cardio/circulatory events before; among her other health problems, she’s occasionally prone to vaso-vagal spasm. So was this really an Infarction, Class Myocardial? The answer is: it seems probable from everything we’ve been able to find out. It appears to be what the medics assume when they’re not using careful diagnostic-speak. The speed with which the symptoms receded as soon as she was given nitroglycerin (in the ambulance, on the way over) is suggestive. Obviously, we’ll see what Big Medicine has to say when they finally finish all their tests.

Meanwhile, is she okay? Sure; mostly bored. Lutheran Medical Center is a good hospital, but they’re still a hospital, all hurry-up-and-wait, vagueness about what to expect next, and long delays, particularly over a weekend. Since hospitals aren’t really a great place to leave valuables unattended, houseguest Elise Matthesen and I have been bringing her computer to her every morning and taking it home at night. She does have a net connection, but don’t count on her for instant responses to inquiries; for the moment, anything urgent should probably be bounced to me.

What’s next? Well, “lifestyle changes,” no doubt. We do both still expect to teach at Viable Paradise on Martha’s Vineyard a week from now; we will, after all, have an EMT on staff, and we the workshop’s logistics can be adjusted to accommodate physical limitations. Other than that, one day at a time. More when we know it.

September 13, 2008
“Bring it on!”
Posted by Teresa at 12:33 PM * 239 comments

You can’t always understand an idiomatic phrase when you’ve only seen it in a single context. Case in point: George Bush’s “Bring ‘em on!” I now understand that if you’re a Texan, this means “I have no prudence, and am very likely stupid.” The clarifying second example:

Texas holdouts urge Hurricane Ike to “bring it on!”

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) - Hurricane Ike may be taking aim for the low-lying coast of Texas, but grocery store worker Jacqueline Harris is staying put — in a flimsy, wooden beach bar.

“If nature is going to come and get us, bring it on!” Harris said as she sipped a Bud light beer at the Poop Deck, a tavern a stone’s throw from the sandy coastal strip thrashed by white-capped waves. …

Residents of vulnerable coastal areas like Galveston Island are under a mandatory evacuation order. They face 111 mile per hour (177 kph) winds and tidal surges of up to 20 feet (6 metres) if Ike makes landfall as a dangerous Category 3 storm as expected late on Friday. Texas governor Rick Perry urged residents to heed evacuation orders in such low-lying areas of the Gulf of Mexico that face severe flooding from tidal surges and heavy rains.

Some have decided to stay, boarding up their windows and preparing to move to higher floors ahead of the storm’s surge, which is tipped to top Galveston’s 17-foot (5-metre) sea wall and flood the island from end-to-end by daylight on Saturday.

A Category 4 hurricane that made landfall in Galveston in 1900 killed at least 6,000 people, making it the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

The manager of the Poop Deck, Marie Aldrich-Creasy, says she has no plans to leave. She has stockpiled batteries, candles and a few tins of food, but said would not be shuttering her bar, which faces the sea a few yards (metres) across a highway. …

Tell me I’m wrong.

September 12, 2008
Mighty Day
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:15 PM * 102 comments

Hurricane Ike looks like it’s going to be big. According to some sources it has the second-greatest kinetic energy behind it of any Atlantic storm in the past forty years.

Here’s a webcam on the Galveston Sea Wall.

Looks like it’ll come ashore around 0200 tomorrow morning.

Some situations are not survivable. Try to avoid those situations. If y’all aren’t already on the road or holed up somewhere safe ….

Mighty Day

September 11, 2008
I would just to like to say—
Posted by Patrick at 08:01 AM * 99 comments

—that it makes me inestimably happy that there is an RSS feed for

So you don’t have to keep reloading it, see.

Remembrances and anniversaries
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:00 AM * 240 comments

To every thing there is a posting, and a thread to every purpose under our banner:
A thread to create, and a thread to destroy; a thread to speculate and a thread to debunk speculations;
A thread to fight, and a thread to heal; a thread to break down and a thread to build up;
A thread to weep, and a thread to laugh; a thread to mourn and a thread to dance;
A thread to cast away memes, and a thread to gather memes together; a thread to engage and a thread to refrain from engaging;
A thread to learn, and a thread to teach; a thread to keep, and a thread to bury in the archives;
A thread to tear, and a thread to mend; a thread for parody and a thread for originality;
A thread for love, and a thread for hate; a thread for war, and a thread for peace.
What profit have we who work in that wherein we labor?

I’ve been dreading today. No matter how much the candidates say that they don’t want to politicize the anniversary, it’s going to happen on the internet. I am sure that there will be many places to remember the dead, and to debate the lessons they can teach the living. I’m confident that the Making Light commentariat will have a lot to say on the subject.

This thread is not for that. This thread is for defiant normality. If the aim of terrorism is to produce terror, grief and anger, then let us laugh, and rejoice, and love.

In that spirit, I’d like to wish a happy birthday to everyone who began to grace our world on September 11. In particular, many happy returns are due to Xopher, who is well beloved to us.

I should also like to extend my congratulations to everyone who has chosen this date to commit themselves to another person. Among them are my parents, 42 years married today.

Tell us something wonderful about the world today, people.

September 10, 2008
Hurricane Ike
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:17 PM * 81 comments

Stand by, Texas.

Here’s the five-day forecast of the track. Looks like landfall Friday night/Saturday morning, and possibly as a Category Four.

Stay safe, everyone. Property can be replaced. You can’t be.

Someone Wrong On Internet
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:04 PM * 125 comments

McCain blames Obama.

John McCain, aware as he is of the Internet, has launched a new ad. Over a picture of Barack Obama, with a banner reading “completely false”…”misleading.” he compares Democrats to a wolfpack trying to tear down Governor Palin.

Here’s what actually says:

We’ve been flooded for the past few days with queries about dubious Internet postings and mass e-mail messages making claims about McCain’s running mate, Gov. Palin. We find that many are completely false, or misleading.

Yes, indeed! There are some anonymous posts in comment threads on message boards that are not completely accurate! There are anonymous emails that are downright scurrilous!

Not that we haven’t heard more, and worse, about Obama, Hillary, and any other Democrat. The Republicans are no strangers to scurrilous, anonymous emails. It’s Okay If You’re A Republican. (IOKIYAR.)

There’s no reason to think that the slanders and smears are coming from Obama. For all anyone knows they’re coming from Republican operatives who are playing their own game to draw attention away from McCain.

Shall we talk about completely false and misleading? Let’s talk about another one of McCain’s ads, one that claims Obama voted to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergarten kids. That one came out with the voiceover, “I’m John McCain and I approve this message.”

That Voodoo That You Do
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:01 PM * 51 comments

Tired of the record federal deficit? Records were made to be broken!

Uncle Sam: $407 billion in the hole

Deficit up by $246 billion in a year. Federal agency cites ‘substantial increase in spending’ and ‘halt’ in tax revenue growth. Also says it will add Fannie and Freddie to future estimates.

NEW YORK ( — The budget deficit will jump by $246 billion to $407 billion this year, the Congressional Budget Office estimates in a report released Tuesday.

“Over the long run, growing budget deficits and the resulting increases in federal debt would lead to slower economic growth,” the agency said.

Last year, the budget deficit was $161 billion. The government’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30. The agency attributes the jump to “a substantial increase in spending and a halt in the growth of tax revenues.”

Well, duh! Cut taxes, increase spending, borrow from everyone and guess what happens. It’s Weimar Republic time down on the Potomac. Good thing we have those fiscally responsible Republicans in office, isn’t it?

Doubling the deficit in one year. And they said it couldn’t be done!

September 09, 2008
Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:17 AM * 106 comments

Let us talk, dearly beloved, about a reasonable pencil-and-paper crypto system, for those times when you don’t want to use your computer to encrypt stuff that you need to send to some other pal.

Nothing is totally secure. Aside from strong-arm mathematical cryptanalysis, any crypto system has weaknesses. The first of them is this: All pipes leak at both ends.

Someone knows what the message was before it was encrypted. Someone else knows what it is after it’s decrypted. Both of those people are vulnerable to black bag cryptanalysis, to checkbook cryptanalysis, and to rubber hose cryptanalysis. They are even more vulnerable to dumb-shit cryptanalysis. The more people who know the contents of the message the greater the vulnerabilities up.

But leave that aside. Here’re the workshop instructions.

Start with the Straddling Checkerboard. This is a substitution cypher devised by those clever buggers the Jesuits back during the Enlightenment.


Neat little table there. Notice how it’s different from those little 5x5 checker boards that everyone knows. The first thing you’ll notice is that it uses all the numbers, and all the letters are available. The second thing you’ll notice is that one of the rows has no number at all. I’ve stashed the most common English letters up there.

One of the disadvantages of a standard checkerboard is that it doubles the message length. With a straddling checkerboard, that isn’t the case.

Here’s how it works:

Let’s take our message: “Don’t let them scare you.”

D is at the intersection of 1 and 5, so it becomes 15. O is on the first row, so it just becomes 6. N is on the top row too, so it becomes 7. T, similarly, becomes 4.

Proceed in similar manner until you have the entire message:

15674 11344 18312 01458 32962 5

There it is, broken into five-number groups (for ease in transmission). Fill up the last group with random numbers until it, too, is five numbers long.

In order to unambiguously decrypt the message, go through it. Every time you see a 1 or a 2, circle it and the next number. All the remaining numbers will be single letters.

Right. Very good. But still not secure. Let’s do something else with it. This is a wrinkle added to the old Jesuit Straddling Checkerboard by the Red Orchestra, the Soviet spy ring that operated in Berlin during WWII.

We’re going to add pseudo-random numbers to the mix. We’ll get them from an almanac: in this case the World Almanace and Book of Facts, 2008 edition.

Find a page within that contains a Whole Lot of Numbers. For example, take page 160, Non-marital Childbearing in the US, 1970-2004.

We’ll also need to know how to do non-carrying addition. 1+1=2. 6+6 also = 2.

In that World Factbook, on page 160, I’m going to start on line 07. That’s the line that starts “All races.” We’ll just follow the numbers across the page, then down the page, then to the next page, and as far as we need until we have enough numbers to write under our little encyphered text.


15674 11344 18312 01458 32962 51234 (note the padding)

10714 31842 20280 32232 83303 32335 (and so on)

Add the numbers, vertically, with non-carrying addition and you get your final ciphertext:

25388 42186 38592 33680 15265 83569

To reverse this, just subtract the keynumbers from the ciphertext, borrowing as necessary.

One more step. You’ll need a couple of other five-digit numbers, now, which you’ll have memorized: Say the first one is 12121 and the second is 98765. You and your buddy know these numbers; no one else does. This is how you’re going to tell your chum which page and line to start on.

Page 160 line 07 becomes 16007. When added to 12121 that becomes 28128. When added to 98765 that becomes 04762. Now add in the date of transmission: 090908 (drop the last 8 because you only need five numbers) and you get: 27118 and 03752.

Put those numbers in pre-arranged places in your ciphertext (say second from the start and third from the end), and you’re done.

25388 27118 42186 38592 33680 03752 15265 83569

The only punctuation you use is the period (.) which is also encrypted. The slash (/) is the numeral shift sign. In order to put numbers into your text, you put in the shift sign, then repeat each digit three times, then the shift sign again. Thus “Meet me at 247 Main Street” becomes “Meet me at /222444777/ Main Street.”

Some other notes on craft: Always construct your checkerboard from memory each time you use it, and destroy it immediately afterward. Do not do any work on an electronic device. Stay away from windows. The checkerboard and the plaintext should never be on the same physical sheet of paper. The plaintext and the ciphertext should never be on the same physical sheet of paper. Work on a hard surface that will not take impressions.

Immediately after you’ve created the ciphertext, destroy all the intermediate sheets of paper.

Since the beginnings and ends of messages are often standard, split your message in two and reverse the parts so the beginning and end are together, somewhere near the middle.

You and your pal will need to agree on a book to use. Have several different books of tables in your house (so which one you used isn’t obvious).

All that a crypto system buys you is time. Don’t send anything where the information has a longer shelf life than your cipher.

Assume that the bad guys know everything about your crypto system except the specific keys you used today.

Make all arrangements (keys, etc.) face to face. Nothing by any electronic means of communication. If anything at all makes you feel hinky, change the keys right then.

You can change the arrangement of letters inside the checkerboard, and which numbers are the straddle, regularly. Like, daily. (One way to change the arrangement of letters is to use a keyphrase, writing it into the checkerboard and using each letter only once. One advantage of using keyphrases is that they’ll near-automatically put the most common letters in the top row.) For example, Now is the winter of our discontent yields:


September 07, 2008
Pandemic: The Game
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:54 PM * 70 comments

There’s a nifty little free Flash game out there: Pandemic II. In this game, you’re a disease that’s trying to take over the world and wipe out humanity.

Gameplay is simple and straight-forward, all based on mouse-clicks. Your first choice is what class of bug you’re going to be: Parasite, Bacterium, or Virus. Each has its advantages and drawbacks. One is more infectious, another is less likely to be affected by the environment, and so on.

After that, you’re told where in the world your disease originates., given its starting set of symptoms, and given reign. Your goal is to infect and kill everyone on the planet before public health officials devise an effective vaccine and before governments can take political action.

After people notice your disease (and spectacular symptoms like hemorrhagic fevers, while they kill people quickly, get folks’ attention pretty fast too) they’ll start closing borders, handing out bottled water, burning corpses, and devising cures.

As time goes on, and more and more folks are infected, you’ll earn Evolution Points with which you can buy drug resistance, new routes of transmission, and better effects. Sneezing will spread your disease, but it isn’t very deadly. A combination of diarrhea and kidney failure, on the other hand….

The simulation side has a few problems — no one ever recovers or develops immunities, for example. The playability side has one glaring flaw: Roll 1D6. On 1, you get Madagascar and you win. On 2-6, you don’t get Madagascar, and you lose. Madagascar has no borders for the disease to cross. It has no airports to move the disease in quickly. It only has one shipyard, where a plague ship might, possibly, put in — and the authorities there are pretty quick to shut that shipyard. If they close that one shipyard before the disease reaches their shores, you can’t possibly win. Once closed, borders, airports, and shipyards never re-open. Perhaps there’s a non-obvious way to increase the chances that Madagascar will get infected early, but if so I haven’t found it.

One other annoyance. The music. Fortunately you can turn it off from inside the game.

You can find tutorials on playing Pandemic II here and here. YouTube is also full of videos describing how to hack the game.

Related posts at Making Light:

September 06, 2008
Tropical Storm Hanna
Posted by Teresa at 05:40 PM * 92 comments

The rain comes in bands. The most recent lull is just passing. The eye of the storm ought to get here around midnight.

When it rains hard and the water starts stacking up in the back yard, I go out with my broom to clear the leaves and bits of grass away from the boxy Leaf Straining Device (our landlord built it so I could have my colander back) that sits over the storm drain. During the lull, Elise went out back to sweep all the loose leaves and bits off the back porch area, since otherwise they’ll inevitably get washed down and paste themselves to the Leaf Straining Device.

I should dig out the Shop Vac, in the same spirit you take an umbrella to work with you to keep it from raining.

It could be worse.

Watch this
Posted by Patrick at 10:04 AM * 66 comments

Joe Biden—yes, Joe Biden—demonstrates how to take on McCain and Palin. Hand-wringing liberals, please copy.

September 05, 2008
Years since it’s been clear
Posted by Avram Grumer at 09:21 PM * 33 comments

The NY Sun, the neoconservative daily paper started a few years back as a rival to the not-quite-conservative-enough NY Times, is running out of money. It’s going to need tens of millions of dollars to keep afloat, more than its original backers are willing to spend.

The paper has never been profitable, though I couldn’t tell you whether this is because the early 21st century is a bad time to launch a dead-tree newspaper, or because they over-estimated the demand among New Yorkers for a small-print and high-school-vocabulary version of the NY Post. Eric Alterman has reported on the Sun’s dishonest circulation figures, and speculates that the paper exists solely to be read by journalists and create the illusion of support for neocon causes. (Though he mourns the loss of the paper’s art section and obituaries.)

Some of you may remember the Sun from five years ago as the paper whose editorial board called for anti-war protesters to be prosecuted for treason under Article III of the Constitution. More recently, they encouraged the mass pants-wetting over Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s visit to NYC, still cover up for the Bush torture state, and called for Cheney to run for president.

Gawker has covered the abusive working conditions for interns at the Sun, with a bizarrely over-detailed dress code, and a ban on long subway trips.

I recommend that the Sun’s editors think of this not as the failure of their newspaper, but as the hastening of the day when they can leave what they think of a third-world city. Or just get the hell out now. We won’t miss you.

I knew John McCain was hot for more wars, but—
Posted by Patrick at 04:44 PM * 56 comments

—until I saw today’s New York Daily News, I hadn’t realized he wanted to invade Canada.

You wrote what?
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:54 PM * 297 comments

We are a widely-read crowd, which means by the Sturgeon’s law at least we’ve all read some pretty bad prose. In the spirit of the much-mourned You Knit What? blog, I’d like to see some of the worst you’ve found.

To start you off, a passage from the ever-delightful Fletcher Battershall, writing about the choice of leathers in Bookbinding for Bibliophiles (The Literary Collector Press, 1905):

The goat himself has few virtues; all ages have condemned him. In Attic groves he was ever a terror to the tender nymph, a follower of wine-bibbers, and of general ill-repute. Yearly he wandered in the desert, bearing the sins of a whole people on his horny pate. At some future day we know he is to be divided from the sheep. But this merit, if no other, he has above other beasts: his hide is tough. Properly tanned in sumach he is transmuted to a thing of beauty, suffers a “sea-change” into something fair, and is honored above the very clay of Caesar.

And then to thy once shaggy breast,
Now purified, shalt thou enfold
Frail Manon and fair Juliet

So sings some forgotten bibliomaniac. We despised him living, but we prize him dead. Such injustice is common to us.

Gimme what you got; ransack your shelves.


  1. Only published work. No slush, ye publishing-house people! That’s unfair advantage.
  2. Only commercially published work. Sorry, not Lulu, so no Atlanta Nights
  3. Extra points awarded for the contrast between the subject and the tone, as above

This is an apolitical thread. Violators will be mocked, if they’re lucky, and thrown to the weary masses if they’re not.

September 04, 2008
Slime, and several answers to slime
Posted by Patrick at 04:32 PM *

“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.”
—Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, acceptance speech, September 3, 2008

A. Serwer on Tapped:

[C]ommunity organizers aren’t just those rabble-rousers who help keep people from getting evicted or protest police brutality—they’re basically the ordinary people across the political spectrum who to try hold government accountable to its citizens. Mocking that really shows how much contempt the party has for ordinary people. Republicans look down their noses at alleged “elites” while directing their anger at community organizers, who actually live and work among the people politicians only pay attention to when they’re looking for votes. But it’s not surprising that a party that has spent the last eight years running government into the ground would be irritated by an active citizenry demanding that government actually do its job, rather than simply letting incompetent pols go about their business. If there’s any takeaway from this theme, it’s that the right would rather Americans shut up and fall in line.

If I had spent my mayoralty subjecting people to loyalty tests and trying to ban books, a community organizer might make me nervous, too. If I had been mayor of a town that was left with 20 million dollars in debt after my tenure, I wouldn’t be on TV talking about how well I had handled my responsibilities and how awful community organizers are. Because, after all, community organizers have the responsibility of helping regular people cope with the messes irresponsible politicians leave behind.

Christopher Hayes at the Nation:
[M]y dad is a community organizer, so lemme spell this out: the difference between a community organizer and a politician is that a community organizer can’t tell anyone what to do. They have to listen. So they can’t order books banned from a library to indulge their own religious sensibilities. They can’t fire someone because they didn’t follow orders to fire an estranged family member. They can’t ram through a $15 million dollar sports complex that leaves their local town groaning underneath the debt. Unlike politicians, they don’t have any power other than the power of people who want to see something changed.
Al Giordano at The Field:
Palin couldn’t help herself last night. She had to say, in a few fateful words, “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.”

Translation: I got elected and therefore I am better than all of you!

Joe Klein at Time magazine’s “Swampland” blog:
This morning, I received a press release from a group called Catholic Democrats about the work—the mission, the witness—that Obama performed after he got out of college. Here’s the first paragraph:
Catholic Democrats is expressing surprise and shock that Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech tonight mocked her opponent’s work in the 1980s for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. She belittled Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s experience as a community organizer in Catholic parishes on the South Side of Chicago, work he undertook instead of pursuing a lucrative career on Wall Street. In her acceptance speech, Ms. Palin said, “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” Community organizing is at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching to end poverty and promote social justice.
So here is what Giuliani and Palin didn’t know: Obama was working for a group of churches that were concerned about their parishioners, many of whom had been laid off when the steel mills closed on the south side of Chicago. They hired Obama to help those stunned people recover and get the services they needed—job training, help with housing and so forth—from the local government. It was, dare I say it, the Lord’s work—the sort of mission Jesus preached. (As opposed to the war in Iraq, which Palin described as a “task from God.”)

This is what Palin and Giuliani were mocking. They were making fun of a young man’s decision “to serve a cause greater than himself,” in the words of John McCain. They were, therefore, mocking one of their candidate’s favorite messages. Obama served the poor for three years, then went to law school. To describe this service—the first thing he did out of college, the sort of service every college-educated American should perform, in some form or other—as anything other than noble is cheap and tawdry and cynical in the extreme.

Perhaps La Pasionaria of the Northern Slope didn’t know this when she read the words they gave her. But Giuliani—a profoundly lapsed Catholic, who must have met more than a few religious folk toiling in the inner cities—should have known. (“I don’t even know what that is,” he sneered.”) What a shameful performance.

Christy Hardin Smith on Firedoglake:
Cleaning up a local riverbed or a walking trail with your kid’s scout troop? Republicans think you’re a loser.

Working with a job training or literacy program to help folks move from welfare to work? Republicans think your efforts deserve ridicule. Promoting a spay and neuter program at your local animal shelter? Republicans are laughing at you. Volunteer at your church pantry to help the least of these? Republicans are mocking you.

Christy nails it. If you spend any time whatsoever doing stuff to help other people out, these freaks gathered in the Xcel Energy Center despise you.

No more mercy. These people need to be more than defeated. They need to be driven from our public life.

September 03, 2008
Pay attention to the little man behind the curtain
Posted by Teresa at 06:47 PM * 250 comments

Kenny the Kidney (the most astute and articulate 6’6” kidney on the internet) is calling attention to this story in that right-leaning journal of received wisdom, The Politico:

Mounting a ferocious defense of his embattled running mate, John McCain said he is buying a TV ad arguing that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has more experience than the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama.

In an effort to rev up conservatives, a campaign statement issued a list of critical media mentions that it called “smears” of Palin, who speaks in primetime at the convention on Wednesday night. … The ad is what the campaign calls “a forward-leaning effort to counter the shameless smears that have prevailed during Gov. Palin’s introduction to the American voter.”

This, from the campaign that’s been running a nonstop schedule of attack ads aimed at Obama personally?

What I’m about to say won’t come as news to anyone, but I’ll say it all the same: the far right is a whining bunch of sissies who can’t stand up to one little breath of a suggestion of a hundredth of the abuse they habitually dish out. This goes a long way toward explaining why nobody likes them and they can’t get laid for free.

Senior adviser Steve Schmidt gave Politico a statement saying the campaign will have no more comment about the vetting process, —
The McCain Campaign may announce that they’re going to stop defending their vetting process, but that won’t make the issue go away. It’s painfully clear that Sarah Palin had not been vetted when McCain announced her as his running mate.

Palin’s drawbacks as a candidate are a tertiary issue. The real point is McCain’s unbelievably foolish and impulsive handling of a major decision. The secondary point is that McCain has an incompetent campaign organization, yet heads are not rolling the way they should after a fckup of this magnitude. These are not the kind of mistakes a candidate for the presidency should make.

Compared to the dawning realization of how thoroughly McCain blundered, the gynecological adventures of the Palin clan are a mere footnote in the annals of the republic.

—which was the subject of more critical coverage in Wednesday morning’s papers.
Which has been the subject of increasing amounts of critical coverage since Palin’s candidacy was announced. These are real problems. The right-wing press can’t magic them away. Neither can the campaign itself, though they’re trying hard. They’ve issued a remarkable statement that deserves our close attention. Maybe I’ll append it to the bottom of this post.


Here is a document the McCain campaign sent to reporters this morning:

• Liberal Bloggers Questioned Whether Gov. Palin’s Fifth Child Was Actually Bristol Palin’s Child.

“Bristol Palin … Trig … past year … infectious mononucleosis for between five and eight months … 43-year-old woman … fifth pregnancy … amniotic fluid … eight-hour plane flight to Seattle and then Anchorage … smaller hospital near her home town … flight attendants … no signs of being pregnant …”
(Please excuse the ensmalling. We already know the story.)

The blogger goes on to say a couple of sensible things: (1.) many of the rumors making the rounds of the internet and the press corps are “unfounded and unseemly”; and (2.) “There must be plenty of medical records and obstetricians and medical eye-witnesses prepared to testify to Sarah Palin’s giving birth to Trig,” so let’s please have the real answers so we can lay this story to rest.

I can’t disagree. And if I were going to single out a liberal blogger, that’s not the one I would have picked for public blame. First, it’s a reasonable post. Second, the blogger in question is Andrew Sullivan, writing in

Apparently the problems on the official McCain website weren’t an isolated phenomenon.

The fact that the author of that piece is well-known to be well to the right of center didn’t stop the very far right blogosphere from using it to get their hate on. And why not? It’s what they do. For instance, a blog incongruously called Sweetness and Light made Sullivan’s story its centerpiece outrage du jour, in a post titled Things That Make You Hate All Democrats. I don’t expect the blogger at SAL to repent of their willful stupidity, but if they don’t work on that streak of malice, they’re going to wind up doing hard time for it.

Why did the McCain campaign pick Andrew Sullivan’s blogpost to single out for opprobrium? I don’t know. Maybe they don’t keep track of the centrist and leftward blogosphere, so Andrew Sullivan was the one they knew about. Maybe they googled on blogs that were covering that story, and Sullivan’s came out near the top of the first page. Or maybe they were feeling vindictive about stories like this one.

All I know is that the last time I saw someone called a liberal that inappropriately, it was John McCain himself, and he’d just beaten George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary. When Bush referred to McCain as a liberal in his concession speech, I knew things were about to get extraordinarily ugly. I doubt McCain’s going to do anything that nasty, though—he hasn’t got the necessary attention span or staff on the ground.

Only time will tell. While you’re waiting, consider making a donation to Kenny the Kidney’s cause, which is fighting PKD (only not the one you’re thinking of).

Minneapolis / St. Paul: asking the right questions
Posted by Patrick at 05:42 PM *

Below, a guest post from longtime Twin Cities resident Elise Matthesen, regarding recent violence there.

Who are these people?

Seriously, who are these people? I mean the person breaking that store window and the person or persons who smashed the windows of that police car: who are they? Are they protestors? Are they idiots just pretending to be anarchists, but whose actual agenda is to get their rocks off on breaking things? (I’ve seen one blog post describing how most of the self-described anarchists in the breakaway group yelled at the window-breaker to stop, and asked what the hell the vandals were doing; the observer said that some of the anarchists then went and cleaned up the trash in the street from the dumpster* somebody pushed over.) Are they agents provocateurs, sent in undercover to do something bad and give authorities a reason to gas everybody else?

I’ve been on a business trip since August 20, and have been watching the stories of what’s happening in my home cities from afar, and it’s making me crazy. On the one hand, raids where the people conducting them allegedly don’t show the warrant and won’t identify themselves are completely out of line, and it’s not like the outfit conducting them has been a model of probity and right action lately. On the other hand, if what the affidavit and request-for-warrant says is to be believed, some folks have been practicing some pretty alarming things, including allegedly setting off a practice incendiary device this spring not all that far from my neighborhood. On the other other hand, people from my church were at the protests, and they are shocked and appalled at how the law enforcement personnel are being used, and are forwarding various letters and accounts of it around. On the other other other hand, I’m not there, and I don’t know firsthand what happened, and awful things are going down, and it’s making me crazy.

And somebody I care about is there, working in a building a block away from where that window-smashing photo was taken, and he’s really disquieted—both by the idiots who broke stuff and gave law enforcement the excuse to use tear gas and pepper spray and concussion grenades and who-knows-what-all, and by the overwhelming riot squad and other enforcement presence on the streets of St. Paul and the Mississippi River, which is apparently being patrolled by a Coast Guard vessel with what looks like twin 50-caliber machine guns. (No confirmation on the exact nature of the alleged armaments, so maybe somebody could get a picture and identify that for sure, please? And weren’t the Canadians complaining about armed Coast Guard vessels drilling on the Great Lakes recently?) I’m not real thrilled by the idea of that boat with guns. Or by seeing a photo of his usual smoking porch, full of riot cops.

While I’m mulling all these things over, a report comes in via the comment thread in the Making Light post about the RNC that one of the posters knows the protester in the this story who was tasered while lying down. The poster says this person is nonviolent, is committed to non-violent protest. The tasered guy, who according to his friend has been beaten pretty badly, manages to get word out, while in custody, saying that contrary to reports, medical attention is not being given to injured protesters in custody, and that transgender and queer protesters are being harrassed and that the holding situation is not sufficient to guarantee their safety. My stomach turns over.

And through all of this, I weigh the comments various people I know and care about and trust. I hear from one friend with a brother in the Sheriff’s Department, which conducted the raids before the convention (and is, according to some bloggers, reportedly still holding a number of protestors from those raids without adequately informing either them or the outside world as to the charges and the protesters’ physical condition), and he talks about how protest is one thing, but smashing stuff and threatening people is another. And, you know, I can’t argue with that, but…something’s wrong with the whole picture here.

I cannot help but remember some people I knew in college, one of whom turned out to be an informant and provocateur who infiltrated antiwar and other related groups. I thought of it again, sharply, when I read this LiveJournal post about a past event. I look at that photograph, where the “protesters” being detained and the officers ostensibly arresting them have matching footwear, and I read that no charges were pressed against the “protesters,” even though they were the ones committing acts of vandalism, and I cannot help but think “provocateurs.” Which brings me to the question I started with: Who are these people?

Seriously. We have a lot of people who can look at photos and figure this stuff out. Supposedly the pro-surveillance folks are doing it to us. Let’s put our heads together and figure out who really broke stuff at the demonstration, and then let’s find out if they’re really regular protesters, idiots with a taste for vandalism and no political savvy, or provocateurs. Let’s find out if they even get charged.

Let’s find out who these people are.


(*) From photo #53 in the Minnesota Public Radio photostream.

September 02, 2008
Why RMS Titanic Didn’t Have Enough Lifeboats
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:11 PM * 61 comments

Quite simple, really. A failure of imagination.

The bit of tech that changed everything was the radio.

Up until the invention of maritime radio, if your ship went down no one would know until you were late arriving at your next port, weeks or months later. Get into a lifeboat, don’t get into a lifeboat, and the only difference is a fast death by drowning or a slow one by dehydration. [Raft of the Medusa]

So when would lifeboats be useful? First, if you were within sight of another ship, when their lifeboats, plus yours, equaled enough for everyone, or when you were within sight of shore, and you could ferry folks over then come back for the rest.

Otherwise the ocean is big, you are small, and you could see a sail go by on the horizon and never see it stop because they wouldn’t know you were there.

Radio, though, meant you could send a signal that could get help on the way, and if it arrived in a day or so, you could be rescued. Provided you had a way to stay out of the water (where big hungries and hypothermia could get you before dehydration would), you had a good chance of living.

The standards for lifeboats, however, didn’t take radio and the chance of rescue into account.

Sixteen hundred people died in the Titanic disaster because no one had worked out the implications of tuned circuits.

September 01, 2008
Police at the RNC
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:07 PM *

A Particle reads Massive, warrantless raids on peace protesters in Minneapolis, in advance of RNC, which links over to a story at Boing Boing.

From August 30, 2008: Something Very Bad is Happening in the Twin Cities

Early reports are flooding in of what sound - at first blush - as police state tactics designed to disrupt and intimidate anyone who authorities think might be protesting — peacefully — at the Republican National Convention.

From August 31, 2008: More On Twin Cities - Developing

Bruce Nestor, chapter President of the Minnesota National Lawyers Guild, was present at both locations during the execution of the search warrants. “Police seized political literature, cellphones, computers, cameras, personal diaries, and many common household items such as paint, rope, and roofing nails. These items are present in almost any home in south Minneapolis and are not evidence of a crime,” said Nestor. “Seizing boxes of political literature shows the motive of these raids was political. Sheriff Fletcher has staged a publicity stunt, violated constitutional rights, and misrepresented what was seized during the raids,” he said. Another raid was carried out the evening before on a political meeting hall in St. Paul. Inventory sheets for that raid show that no contraband items were taken. Literature, computers, maps of St. Paul, and banners were the vast majority of the items seized.

Today: Amy Goodman Arrested - UpTake Team Avoids Arrest, Tear Gas Being Used On Children (Hat tip to Terry Karney in Open Thread 113).

Update 4:07 pacific: Lindsay has just called in about an arrest near the bridge - somebody being arrested here - cops are making racist remarks to the guy they are arresting using fake spanish to him and knocking off a hat he was wearing. Lindsay didn’t see a cause for the arrest - just turned around and he was on the ground. As we were talking, she could see them dragging him across the road and a nearby motorcycle cop started taunting Lindsay to “take more pictures - Greetings from the great southwest!” while pointing to his badge.

Just confirmed - Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and two reporters have been arrested in St Paul. (Audio - both raw from the arrest and then a report on it available here.)

Which leads to: Amy Goodman Detained

Getting word as it plays — Amy Goodman and two other crew from DemocracyNow! are being detained by police for “probable cause for riot (?).” Happening now — just got word. Phoned in to other DN! crew to see what we can do. Waiting to hear if it’s an arrest or “detained.” Should have a report on the live broadcast later today. Police scene here over the top. We chased the raids all day Saturday and I’ll blog about some of that later. Meanwhile, in phone contact with DN! and if any help is needed behind the scenes, we’re there.

Paging Martin Niemöller….

Gustav Landfall
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:56 AM * 33 comments

Right about now, Hurricane Gustav is crossing the coast of Louisiana.

Exchange news and views here.

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