Culled from recent news, here are some things that have occurred that I can find absolutely no excuse for having happened:

  • Hackers infiltrated computer systems, turning off power to several (foreign) cities. I guess it makes sense that the power grid would now be controlled by computers, but it’s sheer idiocy to have such a system, in any way, connected to the Internet. (And one has to suspect it was, in some manner, an inside job: I can’t imagine there’s a spiffy web GUI with a “Turn off power to Washington, DC” button, but rather some inscrutable interface.)
  • This is actually old news, but it was dug up recently: Mike Huckabee’s son was arrested for trying to bring a gun on an airplane. I’ll buy that it probably wasn’t his intention to hijack the plane, but how you “accidentally” carry a gun into an airport escapes me. Most of us are paranoid about whether our tiny bottle of shampoo is pushing the envelope and whether it’ll result in a cavity search. And yet people keep waltzing in with guns. Furthermore, anyone who doesn’t know where their guns are shouldn’t be allowed to carry them in the first place. (Despite what some have said, this doesn’t change my opinion of Huckabee himself… His statements like, “And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards…” are what influence my views of him.)
  • Another case of a laptop with private data on more than half a million people going missing.


Dear Republican hard-liners: waterboarding is really unpopular. But I have an awesome idea. You can torture detainees even more, while fooling the Democrats into thinking that you’ve had a sudden change of heart.

Give free dental care to all detainees, paying special attention to fill cavities.

They used this huge needle to give me Novacaine. If I were giving an injection to a buffalo, I’d think the needle was unnecessarily large. Furthermore, they weren’t content with merely jabbing me with the needle. They stuck it way in, which was only mildly painful, until they must have jammed it into a vein or something, which caused excruciating pain. As I screamed in pain, the dentist apologized and shifted the needle ever so slightly.

They did one filling, and then the main dentist randomly left for about fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, her partner in crime was left to implement some extremely bizarre torture implement. All I saw was that a blue latex thing–a lot like a rubber glove, only a flat sheet of it, was fit over my mouth, covering it completely, while something sharp was jammed into my gums until I screamed out again in pain. “Oh, does that hurt?” She removed it, and I never saw it again, so I have absolutely no clue what that was all about.

Sick of seeing ridiculously scary weapons being brandished in my face, I kept my eyes closed most of the time. (Actually, it was more the cloud of tooth-dust rising out of my mouth, and a desire to keep it out of my eyes.) I eventually opened my eyes, to find what can only be described as a large metal pipe sticking out of my mouth.  As with a gum-piercer with a latex cover obscuring my entire mouth, that thing couldn’t have served any legitimate dental purpose.

They ended up giving me three shots of Novacaine, as she’d keep drilling into teeth that still had feeling. After the second one, they both left the room, probably to find more torture devices.

Meanwhile, as I sat there bewildered, some lady came in, handed me a small FM radio with headphones, and said, “Here, this sometimes helps.” Between being completely bewildered as to what was going on, and being unable to talk anyway, I nodded in appreciation and took the radio. It only got two radio stations–the same one that they had playing in the room, and a country station. But I figured it would drown out the noise of the drill, even though I think the implication may have been that the excruciating pain was al in my head, and listening to music would cause me to forget the fact that I had a huge hole in my gum and someone repeatedly taking a drill to a tooth that definitely wasn’t numb.

With the third Novacaine shot, the whole right side of my face was numb. And my eye felt really funny. When they left again, I looked in the mirror and saw that it was halfway shut, while the other one was wide open. This was quite a distressing sight, so I mentioned it to torture-assistant lady. She made some neutral comment whose tone indicated, “I don’t want to concern you anymore than you already are, but I’ve never seen that before and it looks pretty scary.” The real dentist came back in and told me it was nothing to worry about.

On top of all of it, the assistant lady had really sharp fingernails that were digging into my cheek through her gloves the whole time. And the filling they used smelled like rubbing alcohol. The smell of rubbing alcohol isn’t that bad, unless it’s wafting directly into your nose, in which case it’s horrible: partially the smell, partially nauseating fumes.

Finally, my interrogators decided I’d had enough and released me. I left unable to really control my lips, with my jaw in excruciating pain, an unexplained cut in my lip, and with my upper lip having a horrible burning sensation.

Moral of the story: floss and brush your teeth! Twenty-seven times a day.


For whatever reason, we’ve been getting a lot of calls asking us to donate money to various causes all of a sudden. My mom did some research and unearthed some interesting information. Most of the calls come from “paid fundraising” companies. They take a percentage of what you donate–usually around 40%, it seems. We had the same person call us today on behalf of two separate charities. Both from the same company.

Should you find yourself in the same position, don’t fall for the irritating, “Can the {starving children, disabled veterans, cute kittens, abused children} count on you for support?” line. Respond by asking where they’re calling from, if it’s a paid fundraiser, and how much they get. If you’re feeling charitable when they call, thank them, and tell them you’ll make a donation directly to the charity.

You could make an argument that it’s simple economics, and that there’s even “good” being done–most charities don’t cold-call people, so they may be bringing in incremental donations. But, in my mind, it’s extremely sleazy to not fully disclose your own fiduciary interests when taking donations.


While I don’t believe Rudy is going to make it far in the campaign, and while I really don’t like the attack ad element of politics, I’m frankly pretty appalled with Rudy Giuliani. I think it’s immoral to try to use 9/11 to your advantage. But Rudy’s use seems particularly insidious. He keeps running ads suggesting that we need to vote for him if we want to be safe from terrorists. Besides the fact that his is creepy fear-mongering, what bothers me most is that there’s an unspoken (in this ad) implication that his leadership on 9/11 is what qualifies him.

It was a really crass comment, but a political commentator someone said something to the effect of, “Giuliani is an expert on terrorism just like the mayor of New Orleans is an expert on flood prevention.” While it maybe goes a bit too far, the point remains the same: what, precisely, about 9/11 makes him a qualified leader?

The IAFF (firefighter’s union) put together a video asking the same question. And if there’s anyone people respect because of 9/11, it’s FDNY. The IAFF essentially blasts Rudy for mis-handling things. One big problem I’d forgotten all about was the radio failures. They knew since the 90’s that their radios didn’t work inside the WTC, but repeated attempts to get it fixed never occurred. (They mention an “upgrade” that was actually so bad that they went back to their old radios, which is what they used on 9/11.) Tragically, more than 100 firefighters, because of these communication failures, never got the signal to evacuate WTC and ended up losing their lives because of it.

Some have also criticized Rudy for his decision to locate much of the city’s emergency communications infrastructure in the World Trade Center. Even if his common sense / expertise on terrorism didn’t tell him that this was an intuitively bad idea, previous attempts by al Queda to blow it up might have.

And if you’re not offended enough, give this a watch. I keep wanting to believe that this is a farce, with a look-alike mocking him. Except that all indications are that this is real. A Parkinson’s victim calls into a program Rudy’s doing on the radio to ask him why he took his food stamps and Medicaid away. Rudy cracks up laughing, mocks him, and offers to send him psychiatric help “because [he] clearly need it.” While Rudy surely didn’t know he was mocking a Parkinson’s victim, why would he treat anyone that way?!

Moral of the story: if you’re going to try to exploit 9/11 to win an election, you’d better make sure your botched leadership didn’t kill our firefighters. And you might want to refrain from going on public radio and cracking up laughing, and subsequently mocking, people who call in to say they have Parkinson’s and can’t afford their medication. But that’s just my opinion. I’m no political consultant or anything.

Update: For those that don’t read the comments, you should at least check out the link in this one for more of Rudy’s radio program.


In the most recent polls, Obama is leading narrowly in New Hampshire. And it’s practically a banal phrase at this point, but Iowa is a crapshoot: the “big three” (Edwards, Clinton, and Obama) are pretty much tied. Right now it looks like Edwards is leading, which people thought was unlikely. Thus I’m not too worried at the moment about Hillary’s triumphs in other places.

But for the first time in a while, I’m feeling really excited. This could actually happen!

I’m starting to get interested in the Republican primaries as well: they’re seeming pretty fragmented. Romney and Rudy both have big leads over each other in many states, but McCain and Huckabee are notable contenders in some states, too. (Somewhat humorously, at least to me, Romney has a pathetic 7% in Massachusetts, although the poll is ancient. Someone ought to do a new poll of Massachusetts voters.)

Plans are still up in the air but I may well end up volunteering over at the Obama headquarters later today. The nation is watching us, and I don’t want to sit by idly in the process. We can do this!

Benazir Bhutto

I confess to being ignorant enough to have not even heard of her, but Benazir Bhutto was a really interesting figure.

Now here’s an interesting video. You learn a few things. The first is that she speaks fluent English. The second is that she was widely aware of plots to kill her, and fingers a number of suspects in the video.

But the person who posted the video makes another interesting point. At one point she speaks of Osama’s son. Later on, she fingers a man “who killed Osama bin Laden,” an assertion which doesn’t seem to phase the interviewer.

The rumor’s existed for a while, but has generally just been peoples’ gut feelings and such. Now I’m intrigued.


I learned two valuable lessons today:

  • Don’t ever create a 500GB FAT partition. No matter how good of an idea it seems, don’t do it. (Not terribly different is the advice, “Don’t ever create one big 500GB partition.”)
  • Mounting a filesystem as “msdos” is not the same as mounting it as “vfat” in Linux. msdos is still constrained by the 8.3 naming system. vfat is not. Unless the disk was literally written with MS DOS, don’t use msdos. It’ll work okay, but boy are you screwing yourself if you make backups with it mounted as msdos. (Fortunately, I realized this before wiping the drive.)

Knots in My Stomach

Thanks Rusty for finding the website, something I’d forgotten about from the 2004 election. The data is in a bit of a confusing layout… Disregard the 2004 map and the first little table. He then has a comprehensive list of polls state-by-state.

My eyes are on Clinton:Obama. And I seriously have knots in my stomach here. Clinton is winning by at least 10% in most places. Arizona is 44% to 14%. In his home state of Illinois, Obama’s winning 37% to 33%.

The good news! Iowa, a key state, is slightly favoring Obama. But really, it’s a crapshoot: Obama, Edwards, and Clinton are neck-and-neck. Romney and Huckabee lead the Republican primary. At this point in time, though, my main concern is on the Democratic primary.

Here in New Hampshire, Obama’s trailing, 26% to 38%. This is not good. We’re #2 after Ohio.

Oklahoma’s weird. Obama’s got 13%, with Clinton and Edwards tied at 29%. (Don’t get me wrong: Edwards is good, but I don’t think he has a chance right now.)

The Republican one is interesting to take a gander at, too. In some places, Huckabee’s an also-ran. In Arizona, he got 3% of the votes. Once. In Iowa, he inches past Romney to take first place at 28%. Surprisingly (to me, at least), he’s doing the exact same thing in New Hampshire. With a quick skim (admittedly, much less than I’ve afforded the Democratic primary), it looks like Giuliani is king of the Republican race.

But a few thoughts:

  • I think the odds of Edwards winning the primary are slim. But he carries a substantial margin in some places. If he were to drop out and endorse Obama, the impact would be considerable. I worry that most of his fans would support Hillary, though.
  • I think we need to review the statistics after the Iowa caucus (January 3) and the New Hampshire primary (January 8). Everyone’s watching these, and the results will have a big impact. A strong lead by Obama may pull out some undecideds. Or, a strong lead by Clinton may freak out some people who will vote for Obama just to vote against her. (While I’d back her if she were our nominee, she is not my preferred Democrat, if you can tell.)
  • My super-early-money is on Clinton vs. Giuliani. And this concerns me greatly, because people voting on first impressions will probably favor Rudy without really doing a lot of research. (It also concerns me because I don’t particularly like either of them.)
  • The Republicans are getting weird results: Giuliani wins some places, Romney wins some places, McCain’s got a few wins (probably the least), and Huckabee, who I initially thought was the Kucinich of the Republicans, is actually leading in quite a few places. I’m really not sure who’s going to get their nomination.
  • As we saw in 2004, polls can be flaky. (I twice typed “pols” instead of “polls.” Freudian slip?) So this doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

One-sentence conclusion: It’s too soon to really have any idea how things will go, but Clinton has a discomforting majority in many states.

A few parting thoughts:

  • Read up on the Iowa caucus process if you’re not familiar. It’s quite foreign, really.
    • Apparently, only once in history (or once in five, put differently: an important distinction!) has the Straw Poll winner not matched the Iowa caucus winner. And this year’s Straw Poll winner was Romney. Both Giuliani and McCain screwed everything up by blowing the event off, and thus polled very poorly. I don’t know what this means: this might still tick off Iowa voters, tanking Giuliani in Caucus as well. But it also means that the data is probably skewed away from them right now, and if Iowa voters don’t have a vengeance, they may take votes away from Romney.
  • The Iowa Caucus is less than two weeks away, and the NH primary is less than three. Pay more attention to the statistics then.
  • Vote!

Catholic Voters’ Guide

The Diocese of Manchester passed out a voters’ guide. As previously mentioned, this immediately worried me.

It begins with a disclaimer that they don’t endorse any candidate, party, or PAC, but outlines seven issues. (Bold captions are their headings, the rest of the text is my commentary on it, unless quoted, in which case it’s quoted from the aforementioned publication.)

The Right to Life and the Dignity of the Human Person.

Of course this covers abortion, but they also include “destruction of human embryos for research,” an “intrinsic evil.” (Of course, one’s “dignity” is the exact terminology used by proponents of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide to promote one’s right to euthanasia when they’re in pain and near death, so it’s an ironic wording choice.)

Curiously, they add “This teaching also compels us as Catholics to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war…”

Of course, I oppose genocide and torture. The “unjust war” bit is interesting: I can think of only one thing that they might be referring to, but I don’t know if they’d be so vague if that’s what they meant.

Call to Family, Community, and Participation

It starts off that family, “based on marriage between a man and a woman” (of course they’d add this), is fundamentally important. While I’m not sure why the families have to be between a man and a woman, I’m also not sure what this one is trying to say. It basically just talks at length about how policies should work on supporting families, their needs, and “the common good.” (Honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is universal health care.)

Rights and Responsibilities

They start off with right to life (anti- abortion and death penalty), but then add “Each of us has a right to religious freedom”–obviously the church isn’t going to oppose this, but I’m a bit proud that they’re eager to support peoples’ rights to not be Catholic, too. And then they add that we all have the right to “those things required for human decency–food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing.” (Emphasis mine.)

Option [sic] for the Poor and Vulnerable


Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

They call for a living wage and “opportunities for legal status for immigrant workers,” which seems to amount to tacit support for affording humane treatment to illegal immigrants.


I’m going to quote this one verbatim because it’s so well-done: “We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. Our Catholic commitment to solidarity requires that we pursue justice, eliminate racism, end human trafficking, protect human rights, seek peace, and avoid the use of force except as a necessary last resort.”

Care for God’s Creation

“God’s Creation” is then implicitly defined as the Earth.

All in all, I’m left with a positive note. One thing that drives me mad is when people try to use the church to justify atrocities. The “moral majority” often seem to be the same ones advocating killing illegal immigrants as they cross the border, torturing suspected terrorists, opposing health care, and fighting living wages. I wish they’d come to their senses about same-sex marriage, but I really can’t fault them on abortion, which is a much trickier issue. I thought I’d be outraged by this guide, but, in actuality, it seems to support many of the things I support, and, for the most part, does so very tactfully in a way that still requires that people think for themselves.

Saving the Auto Industry

My whole family drives Toyotas. We love America and all, but we want good, solid cars. The U.S. is, understandably, concerned about how much oil we’re using. So we’re trying for a requirement that, by 2020, all cars sold get 35mpg at a minimum. Of course, the car companies are complaining that this is going to be incredibly difficult to do.

Two comments:

  • This is utter BS. My mom gets 50 mpg with her Prius. Honda did it in 1987.
  • Why does the government need to get involved? The way I think it should be working is that we say, “$3 a gallon for gas is ridiculous! I want a car that gets better gas mileage!” We stop buying cars that get horrible gas mileage, and, consequentially, Detroit stops making cars that get horrible gas mileage because no one is buying them. It costs me $40 every time I fill up. I wince every single time.

I found this video online. I’m not going to lie: it’s dry, and 20 minutes long. I was kind of proud to follow him most of the time as he talks about internal rates of returns and demand pull and the like. He makes some extremely obscure references, and even now, I’m not sure what he was talking about with oil at $12 a barrel.

And yet, despite it being presented in a technical, academic manner to an audience that’s definitely not normal people, he makes some points that are really, really, really worth hearing. One of the simplest ones: efficient cars are going to be made, the question is who’s going to make them. And, at least right now, it’s not us. (And it really boggles my mind, frankly. Ford makes one hybrid: the Ford Escape Hybrid. 34mpg on an SUV is impressive (I get 20-22). But what the heck market are they appealing to? They manage to completely dilute the effects of a hybrid engine by putting it in an SUV.)

GM developed a “concept car” 16 years ago that, as I recall, got close to 100 miles a gallon. Where is it?

Besides oil, another huge problem we’re facing is a ridiculously huge trade deficit. If we could make cars good enough that we wouldn’t have to keep importing cars, we could certainly help.

He presents some amazing statistics, too. 87% of the energy from fuel used in cars is utterly wasted. Only 6% of the total energy actually moves the car. (And when you figure in that the car weights significantly more than the passengers and luggage, he says that less than 1% actually moves the passengers.)

He says the solution is to lighten the car. I cringed for a minute. Lighter cars, especially on today’s roads, are asking for disaster. You can go drive your 500 pound car, and I’m sorry if I kill you when you crash into my SUV.

But it turns out that this is somewhat wrong. He showed a picture of a McLaren SLR (a $400,000+ car) that was made out of carbon fiber. It’s very light. Some idiot T-boned the car. Their car was totaled. The McLaren driver had to buff out a scratch in the paint. He suggested that, if you were to smash the car head-first into a brick wall, about 25 pounds of carbon fiber is all it would take to absorb the impact and let you walk away unharmed.

He goes on to call heavy cars “hostile cars,” and really, he’s got an excellent point. We’re making heavy cars solely for safety with other cars. But we can increase fuel efficiency, maintain (or increase!) driver safety, and decrease risk to other motorists by simply changing materials.

Oh, and one final point he makes that I thought was interesting: we think of OPEC as a cartel that has tons of power. In actuality, our power of demand far outweighs their supplier power, and we have the power in the equation. Except that we can’t stop buying oil. Years ago we saw a lull in demand, and basically gave OPEC the bird. He suggests doing it again.

I didn’t expect to watch the whole video, which is 20 minutes long. But before I knew it I was done. And it’s pretty thought-provoking.