Tuesday, January 31, 2006


The State of the Union address is tonight. For some reason, whenever I see that abbreviated as SOTU, I immediately think of STFU. Whatever.

Would anyone like to take part in my poll on how many times the word "terror" or "terrorism" will be used in tonight's speech? My vote is for 25. The winner gets a cookie. Put your guesses in the comments. I'll even accept entries after the fact, as long as you swear you didn't cheat. This is an honor system blog.

One of the other major topics Dubya is expected to opine about is health care costs. I'm not very informed on this topic (but that doesn't usually stop me from having an opinion). I've been reading Angry Bear a lot lately; they seem smart. Kash had this to say today:

If he addresses the question of high medical spending at all in his State of the Union address tonight, Bush is likely to focus solely on the medical liability insurance explanation (though I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised on this). His proposed solution to this problem is tort reform. Unfortunately, as I’ve written about previously, non-partisan estimates suggest that tort reform is likely to produce only a small decline in health care costs, of perhaps $6 billion per year, out of total medical care spending of $1,878 billion in 2004. That's not much of an impact.

... A more recent study in the International Journal of Health Services found that in 2003, administration costs in the US health care system ate up about $400bn, or about 25% of total health care spending.

... The NEJM study estimated that hospitals and doctors devote roughly one-fourth of their resources to dealing with insurance paperwork

I have a blog entry I've been meaning to get around to that shows for-profit insurance companies are inherently poorer than not-for-profits. Maybe this is why. Twenty-five percent of our health care spending is unproductive overhead. Holy hell.

Update: I just can't bring myself to actually watch. I'll see the important parts on the Daily Show, I suspect.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Can you shame those who have no shame?

You know, the Internet is a wonderful thing. It puts a truly mindboggling amount of information at your fingertips, and it's all accessible at lightning speed. Some use that power for good. Others, for evil, or at least money-grubbing unethicalness.

A few days ago, I received this comment spam, probably the first since turning on Bloggers CAPTCHA. It advertised www.abrams-california-health-insurance.com. I'm pissed off by the fact that they're spamming my blog to advertise what I figure is crappy health insurance, but I'm really pissed off by the fact that they're doing it in sub-eighth-grade English.

It wasn't just me, this spammer hit over 250 other blogs with this crap. In my case, the spam was left by someone who came to the blog after Googling for "general health care." His IP address was (adsl-68-123-236-84.dsl.irvnca.pacbell.net). The spam payload domain is registered to:

Abrams & Associates
23232 Peralta Dr #119
Laguna Hills, California 92653

Interestingly enough, if you go to the website, there isn't a single email address to be found anywhere. Not one. Not even at their "Contact Us" page. For an Internet-based business? I guess they don't want to get spam, but don't mind foisting it off on the rest of us. There is one in the domain registration entry, however. So it would just be terribly tragic if dan@insuresaver.com got picked up by some other spammer's spider and poor dan@insuresaver.com started getting a bunch of spam on his own. (See what I meant about a staggering amount of information?)

I am not the only one to take umbrage at this sort of behavior. One of the other spam victims was this guy on whose blog the spammer actually left his email address. (So it would be terrible if vpatel@acsseo.com got spidered as well.) So he called Advantage Consulting Services, the spammer, and left a message, and they actually called him back and confessed to being the blog comment spammer. God, if you're going to run your business in a horribly unethical manner, shouldn't you at least lie about it?

The implementation of the various CAPCHAs means that this wasn't an automated process. So I guess the good news is that some poor spammer was kept up until 2:30 in the morning cutting and pasting his spam into little blog comment forms.

Just to be abrasive, I sent this little missive to vpatel@acsseo.com:

To: vpatel@acsseo.com
Subject: Please stop spamming blogs with your advertisements

My blog is not a medium for you to advertise on. If that's what you're looking for, go spraypaint it on someone's building.

"We use industry best practices and ethical standards" my foot.

It was considerably more polite than the first draft.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Wooden ticking coolness

I'm not usually one much for do-it-yourself projects (although I have been known to pick up a hammer now and then if I know some people renovating their house...), but this wooden clock project looks cool. This guy put one together, and has some interesting photos and details on making one. I'm tempted to give it a try, but do I really need another project?

(Via BoingBoing.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Who cares about an old piece of paper?

I just caught the end of a briefing on C-SPAN by Michael V. Hayden, the Principal Deputy Director for the Office of National Intelligence. The briefing was, of course, all about the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping of US citizens.

He was asked about the standard of evidence for the wiretapping that's been one of the main topics in the news lately. After stating, "If there's one amendment [his office] understands, it's the Fourth Amendment," he reiterated the claim that the administration can now bypass the FISA courts because the searches are "reasonable," and that's the only standard required by the Constitution. He responded to this reporters question, before leaving the room, that no warrants were required by the law.

I'd just like to briefly quote:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

-- The Fourth Amendment

On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson was probably a terrorist.

UPDATE: Via Eschaton, I found a transcript of the session:

LANDAY [reporter]: I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures.

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But the --

GEN. HAYDEN: That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable --

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says --

QUESTION: The court standard, the legal standard --

GEN. HAYDEN: -- unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: The legal standard is probable cause, General. You used the terms just a few minutes ago, "We reasonably believe." And a FISA court, my understanding is, would not give you a warrant if you went before them and say "we reasonably believe"; you have to go to the FISA court, or the attorney general has to go to the FISA court and say, "we have probable cause."

And so what many people believe -- and I'd like you to respond to this -- is that what you've actually done is crafted a detour around the FISA court by creating a new standard of "reasonably believe" in place of probable cause because the FISA court will not give you a warrant based on reasonable belief, you have to show probable cause. Could you respond to that, please?

GEN. HAYDEN: Sure. I didn't craft the authorization. I am responding to a lawful order. All right? The attorney general has averred to the lawfulness of the order.

Just to be very clear -- and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you've raised to me -- and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one -- what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe -- I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.

Look, I'm just a scientist. I'm not even particularly a history buff. And even I instantly knew that the Fourth Amendment requires probable cause and a warrant. Are we really supposed to believe that the second-highest intelligence guy in our country really doesn't know what the Constitution says?

Blogging, explained in 30 seconds

Yeah, this pretty much sums it up.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

How not to kill your fish

One of the Franks died yesterday after the weekly water change. After talking it over with Guy at Fish Shop (what is it with the cute guys working at Sailfin?), it looks like it was chlorine that did it. It turns out adding dechlorinator to the tank, then adding the appropriate amount of tap water is not the way to do it, unlike what I read online. Add the dechlorinator to the bucket of water, wait 15 minutes or so, and add it to the tank. There is something like 1-2 ppm of ammonia in Champaign tap water, which is what I initially thought did it, but that wouldn't have worked nearly as fast as this.

Some useful fish, plant, and aquarium links, in case anyone is interested, or comes across this page after Googling:

  • Sailfin: The Champaign fish store. Accept no substitutes. They have a large inventory, and everyone there seems to know their stuff.
  • PlantGeek.net: Lots of good information on planted tanks. I think I like plants in aquariums almost as much as the fish. Since they also help keep the water quality up, I don't know why anyone would want to bother with the plastic ones.
  • The Age of Aquariums: A lot of profiles on different fish species. Pretty pictures, too.
  • FishProfiles.com: More fish profiles, separated by category. You can also search on size, diet, etc.
  • Freshwater Aquariums: The About.com section on freshwater tropical aquariums. Annoyingly ad-filled, but some good, basic information there.

If anyone knows any other good sites, please let me know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A mountain of publicity

A Mormon theater owner in Utah pulled the movie Brokeback Mountain from his theaters, only two hours after a reporter mentioned what the movie was about. (Two gay cowboys in love, in case you've been living under a rock.) He's since refused to say exactly why he pulled the movie, but, since he's also pulled the showing of Transamerica, I think we can make a pretty safe guess.

It's not because the movie has any graphic sexual content. It's R-rated for "sexuality, nudity, language and some violence." That's "sexuality," mind you, not the "some sexual content" of Casanova, the "strong language throughout, strong crude and sexual humor, and nudity" of Grandma's Boy, the "nudity and brief language" of Mrs. Henderson Presents, the "strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language" of Munich, or the "violence and language" of Syriana. Those are most of the other R-rated movies shown at Megaplex Theaters. So just showing that gay people exist is enough to get you banned from this asshole's theater.

What truly shows the hypocricy of this bigot is that his theater is also showing Hostel. That's a movie that starts with "exploitative sex as an appetizer," is about three young horny men that get lured to an Eastern European hotel with promises of loose women, only to be kidnapped and tortured. Graphically tortured. Ultra-violently graphically tortured. The Salon review describes it thusly:

But what's made "Hostel" instantly notorious is not the philosophical questions it raises, such as they are, but the intense and horrifying nature of its violence. You could argue, in fact, that Roth is playing to precisely the kind of jadedness he says he's criticizing. In the last few years horror directors have all but abandoned mood, atmosphere and suggestion for full-on graphic bloodshed, and Roth, a protégé of Quentin Tarantino and one of the most talented filmmakers in the genre, is leading the way.

He has no apologies. "This is a really, really violent and bloody film," he says. "And if people don't want to see that, they absolutely shouldn't go. I think there is absolutely an audience that wants their horror horrific. They don't want it safe. I'm not trying to make movies that appeal to everyone, and I think the advertising makes that clear. This is stuff that really horrifies and disturbs me."

...I tell him the truth about my own reaction, which was that I admired the humor, the tremendous craftsmanship and even the shock value of "Hostel," but found the Grand Guignol torture scenes excessive. (Unless you're a hardcore fan of Italian, Spanish and Japanese gore flicks, you've never seen anything like this.)

So, to sum up: Gay people in love = bad. Graphic, gore-filled depictions of torure = good.

Fundamentalist Christians have their priorities seriously fucked up.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Say hi, everyone

Per Manya's suggestion, I'd like to introduce you to Frank. And Frank. And Frank, and Frank, and Frank, and Frank.

That's Frank, there on the left. I think.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

No soup for you

It seems to me that if you're going to call for a discussion on a rather controversial topic, and then complain that people are making personal attacks, tell them they can't sit at the "adult table," and then refuse to take part in the discussion, you shouldn't go on your blog and call people names.

Go to the kiddie table. Do not pass Go. Do not collect dessert.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Pharyngula (now at his new server) has an interesting little question and pic up on his blog. I suspect the anti-choice coalition people have some magic soul detector that can answer the question for us though.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Perhaps, someday, Iraq will be this enlightened

Arrested gay men "to get hormone treatment"

Gay men arrested at a party in the United Arab Emirates are set to be issued with hormone injections, according to officials in the country, as part of the punishment for homosexuality in the country....

The treatments are used in the country, where homosexuality is illegal, in an attempt to cure gay men and turn them straight.

Again, we see how being gay is equated with being insufficiently masculine. The article doesn't say which hormones are used in the UAE to "cure" gay people. Historically both testosterone and estrogen (as was forced on Alan Turing). And we all know how well that worked.

Even with all the controversy surrounding gay marriage in this country, I'm very glad I live here rather than the more barbaric parts of the world.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Bring on the violence!

Squire ... ahem, excuse me ... The Squire links to a list of new Illinois laws that took effect at the beginning of this year. There is one, however, that won't be coming into play, the Violent Video Games Law and the Sexually Explicit Video Games Law. A judge ruled that the law was written so vaguely that it became unconstitutional. That's fortunately, since it was a pretty stupid law to begin with.

I ranted about that a while ago. It looks like after I wrote that, the law was amended so that the intended penalty for selling an M-rated game to a 17-year-old was actually less than the one from selling him alcohol. That was a small breath of sanity, I suppose. But the whole notion of criminalizing selling games is ridiculous to begin with. Why should they be treated any differently than movies or books or TV? This was obviously just a knee jerk overreaction to a non-problem. Good riddance.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Matt over at his world continues his thoughts on marriage and John Bambanek's column in the DI a few weeks ago. I've long since said that conservatives shouldn't be allowed to play the "queers can't marry because they can't have kids" card unless they're willing to accept the annullment of all straight marriages after menopause. But then again, I'm a liberal. I approve of logical consistency.

Go. Read. Comment.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I'm back (and front)

I'm back from Texas. Hope everyone had a Happy Issac Newton's Day or whatever. Blog posting will now resume on it's regular irregular schedule.