Friday, August 01, 2008

So Now They Have to Ignore a District Court, Instead

From today's New York Times:
    Judge Rules Bush Advisers Can’t Ignore Subpoenas

    Published: August 1, 2008

    WASHINGTON — President Bush’s top advisers cannot ignore subpoenas issued by Congress, a federal judge ruled on Thursday in a case that involves the firings of several United States attorneys but has much wider constitutional implications for all three branches of government.

    “The executive’s current claim of absolute immunity from compelled Congressional process for senior presidential aides is without any support in the case law,” the judge, John D. Bates, ruled in United States District Court here.

Read all about it here. But understand it ain't over, by a long shot.

Apostrophe Catastrophe

It's one thing when ordinary citizens can't bring themselves to put an s on the end of a word without sticking an apostrophe in front of it. (I wish I had a firecracker to put in every mailbox in town that has Anderson's on it. But it's another when "professional" products are so afflicted, and when the "professionals" who produced them can't manage to check a style and usage guide...or ask a clever junior-high student.

Here's a screenshot from, which I checked to see when Doctor Who is on tonight (7:30, in case you're interested):

For the record: The lackluster Flash Gordon reincarnation, which was on SciFi last season but now has moved to Ion, is on at 7/6 C on Fridays. Not Friday's. Fridays. I know it's difficult, Ion marketing/advertising people, but with practice you too can learn to put the letter s at the end of a word without an apostrophe.

I put it to my students thusly: The apostrophe-s indicates either possession or contraction:

    It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood = It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood = Correct!

    The ball belongs to Spot = It is Spot's ball = Correct!

    Members of the Nelson family are coming for dinner = The Nelson's are coming for dinner = Incorrect!

    The lackluster Flash Gordon is on every Friday at 7 = The lackluster Flash Gordon is on Friday's at 7:00 = Incorrect! (Except for the lackluster part.)

So as I told the class, if you can't rephrase the sentence to indicate a contraction or possessive (and still have the sentence make sense!), then you need to ditch the apostrophe.

We will save for another day the matter of forming possessives when the word ends in s already!

Addendum A: I do wonder, however, about the mailbox mentioned above. It is, I suppose, possible that the labelers of said box intended to indicate that it belongs to Anderson, in which case Anderson's would be correct. But I rather suspect it's meant to indicate that the box receives mail for members of the Anderson household, in which case Andersons is what you need. Of course, you can save time, confusion, and a sticky metal letter if you go with Anderson and hope the letter carrier can figure it out from there.

Addendum B: Some years ago I worked for a company called The Webb Company in St. Paul, Minnesota. It no longer exists. The company, I mean. Anyhow, some time after I left there I communicated to a former co-worker that I would be meeting a friend of his who also had worked at Webb but had left shortly before I joined. My friend told me not to be alarmed when the other fellow referred to the place as Webbs, as my friend rendered it in his letter to me. And sure enough, when I introduced myself to the other fellow, mentioning our mutual friend, he in turn introduced me to his wife and said that I too had worked at Webbs...except that, as I later expressed to my friend, I think it was in fact more properly rendered Webb's. I have often noticed a local tendency to incorrectly render various business names as
possessives. One of the most common around here is the John Morrell meatpacking plant, which is universally referred to ('round here) as Morrell's...even though none of their signage or labeling has ever, to my knowledge, said anything except John Morrell or Morrell. I don't know why this should be, unless it goes back to a time when many if not businesses carried the proprietor's name: Bob's Grocery, Foley's Garage, etc. (Sure, names like that are still around, but my guess is there are fewer than in bygone times.)

McCain's Ugly Campaign

Eugene Robinson in this morning's Washington Post ("So Much for St. John") got me thinking, which is about par for the course with him:

    It's awfully early for John McCain to be running such a desperate, ugly campaign against Barack Obama. But I guess it's useful for Democrats to get a reminder that the Republican Party plays presidential politics by the same moral code that guided the bad-boy Oakland Raiders in their heyday:"Just win, baby."
    The latest bit of snarling, mean-spirited nonsense to come out of the McCain camp was the accusation, leveled by campaign manager Rick Davis, that Obama had "played the race card." He did so, apparently, by being black.

Not that anyone cares, but I'm extremely disappointed in John McCain. I was one of those naive souls who, eight years ago, thought he would be okay on Pennsylvania Avenue should he arrive there...which at the time seemed a disctinct possibility. He struck me than as someone who, as my father would have said, had his head on straight. He was, after all, a moderate. A maverick. A straight-talker. Even an unrepentant leftist like me found him the least-worrisome of the field of GOP contenders that summer.

(The GOP, of course, went and nominated the most worrisome of the contenders, but we all know that story.)

I'll be the first to admit I'm naive...but I'm not completely naive. I don't think that Straight-Talk McCain was a complete
fabrication. If so, he was pretty damn good at it. But the McCain we see today, Mud-Sling McCain, quick to disparage, quick to cast aspersions, quick to imply, quick to lie, seems so completely formed that I have to wonder about the man's personality. I mean, he didn't seem phony eight years ago when he was Straight-Talk McCain, and he doesn't seem phony now that he's Mud-Sling McCain.

So which one is real and which one the mask?

Or are they both real?

Or are they both masks?

Or is it simply that, having missed the brass ring the last time around, McCain this time decided to follow that time-honored tradition of doing anything--any...damn...thing--in order to win?

We wouldn't have dirty politics if it never worked.

As Robinson rightly points out:

    Negative campaigning is not a pretty thing, and it should be beneath John McCain to stoop so low. But Democrats would be foolish to forget that sometimes it works.

Meanwhile, over at the New York Times, Paul Krugman has this to offer:

    Most criticism of John McCain’s decision to follow the Bush administration’s lead and embrace offshore
    drilling as the answer to high gas prices has focused on the accusation that it’s junk economics — which it is.

    A McCain campaign ad says that gas prices are high right now because “some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America.” That’s just plain dishonest: the U.S. government’s own Energy Information Administration
    says that removing restrictions on offshore drilling wouldn’t lead to any additional domestic oil production until 2017, and that even at its peak the extra production would have an “insignificant” impact on oil prices.

    What’s even more important than Mr. McCain’s bad economics, however, is what his reversal on this
    issue — he was against offshore drilling before he was for it — says about his priorities.

    Back when he was cultivating a maverick image, Mr. McCain portrayed himself as more environmentally aware than the rest of his party. He even co-sponsored a bill calling for a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions (although his remarks on several recent occasions suggest that he doesn’t understand
    his own proposal). But the lure of a bit of political gain, it turns out, was all it took to transform him back into a standard drill-and-burn Republican.

    And the planet can’t afford that kind of cynicism.

Whichever McCain is the real one--if either of them is, or if there even is a real McCain--the one who currently is running for president is exactly the one we don't need. And when I say "we," I don't mean just the United States.

Bet They Now Wish They Had Given it a Different Name!

This from BusinessWeek's Tech Beat:
    Cuil: Another Google Challenger Launches--to a Cool Reception

    Posted by: Rob Hof on July 28

    Just weeks after the last highly touted Google challenger, Powerset, was snapped up by Microsoft, a new one is launching Sunday night. Cuil (pronounced “cool” and previously sporting an additional “l”), boasts a Web index three times the assumed size of Google’s (though I’m not aware of Google admitting to a particular index size lately), a management team with an impressive pedigree (several people from Google), a different set of algorithms that in part analyze the content of pages, and a radically different presentation of search results.

Read the whole article here.

Yet Another Reason to Avoid Wal-Mart. As if I Needed Another Reason...

This from this morning's Wall Street Journal Page One:

Wal-Mart Warns of Democratic Win


August 1, 2008; Page A1

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies -- including Wal-Mart.

Yes, that's right: If the scary no-good godless bleeding-heart Democrats succeed in reclaiming the White House and/or Capitol Hill, they'll make it easier for workers to protect themselves from predators like Wal-Mart. The scurvy scoundrels!

I especially love this paragraph:

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized. (Emphasis added)

That's right, kiddo--if you join an organization that has the potential to protect you from me, that would be very, very bad. Um, for you, I mean. Yeah--bad for you. Me, I don't care. I'm just looking out for you. Like always. Heh-heh-heh.

It's times like this I wish I shopped at Wal-Mart so I could boycott them.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Reading Materials

I composed this as e-mail to my friend Jerry, with the warning that he should expect it to show up here at some point.

He replied, "Blog, hell, you should submit the piece to the National Review."

Nevertheless, here it is. If you're with the National Review, we can discuss reprint rights.

Now, this is interesting: "O'Reilly, Savage, Hannity on accused church shooter's reading list" (see below), the gist of which is that the guy who shot up a UUC children's program in Tennessee had in his personal library such classics as "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder by radio talk show host Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by talk show host Sean Hannity, and The O'Reilly Factor, by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly."

    Adkisson targeted the church, Still [Bad editing on the part of TRS: "Still" is a Knoxville cop who is never ID'd in the story] wrote in the document obtained by WBIR-TV, Channel 10, "because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets."

[The complete article is here]

Now, I put it to you this way: From time to time, you may have noticed, our right-wingnut friends will get all frothy on the subject of pornography (which they know when they see it). Despite any number of studies which might cause thinking people to question the existence of any causal link between the consumption of pornography and the commission of crimes, sexual or otherwise (and indeed I've read of studies that seem to indicate such misdeeds occur in greater frequency at times and in places where pornography has been tightly censored), our right-wingnut chums know--with that deep and unshakable and frighteningly single-mindedness which only they can master--that pornography will compel its consumer to act out that which he sees on the page or the screen.

After all, they will and have argued, there is agreement that people are positively influenced by "good" material like the Bible and other inspirational or motivational works. It is, then, only logical that they would be negatively influenced by "bad" material.

(I know plenty of people who have vast libraries of "Christian" books, CDs, DVDs, and bumper-stickers and who are, in practice, shits, which tends to belie the idea that reading/viewing/listening = behavior, but let's leave that for another time.)

So if we accept the "logic" expressed by the right-wingnuts who are on the prowl for every opportunity to scuttle the First Amendment, then we have to conclude that the works of Savage, Hannity, O'Reilly, et al., must be suppressed!

They are, after all, slanderous hatemongering tracts, which have, demonstrably, incited violence.

This sort of mentality--"they" are all bad; "they" are responsible for everything that has gone wrong; "they" are ruining "our" country; it's "us" against "them"--sounds dangerously familiar, does it not? Just replace the word liberals with the word Jews.

We would not, as a society, tolerate the mass production of books, television programs, radio broadcasts, and websites that suggest that Jews are responsible for everything bad in the world, Judaism is a mental disorder, Jews are godless sub-humans who need to be wiped out by any means. (Such things exist in the shadows, of course, but not on the bestseller lists.) Why would we not so tolerate? Because of the fear that such incendiary hatemongering might lead the mentally imbalanced to conclude that they must "do something"--burn something, blow something up, kill someone--in order to "solve" the "problem."

Well, golly...look what's happened in Tennessee.

The phrase "accessories before the fact" keeps percolating to mind...

Look for this to show up on the blog sooner or later...

Man Bites Dog!

I'm as keen as anybody to see an end to excessive early-termination fees on cellphone contracts, but let's not get ahead of ourselves!

This is the headline on G4's The Feed ("The Only News You Need to Know") in re the preliminary ruling by an Alameda County, California, Superior Court Judge that orders Sprint Nextel to pay California customers $18.2 million as part of a class-action suit over early-termination fees:

Sprint Nextel Paying Back Termination Fees

Which sort of implies that Sprint Nextel has started writing out all those checks. Which it isn't. In fact, yours truly can hardly make himself believe that Sprint Nextel won't appeal the decision. Which, by the way, is a preliminary decision. In one state.

The Feed's article's opening paragraph is more measured, and more accurate:
    Sprint Nextel just got ordered to refund $18.25 million to California customers who paid early termination fees to get out of their mobile contracts. A judge is also requiring the company to relinquish $54.75 million in early termination fees it charged that went unpaid by Cali consumers.
Read the whole thing here.

This is hardly the first time I've wondered whether the writers of headline even read the item in question.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Alternative Energy Sources

Ben Sargent, 7/11/08

Okay, but What About Helping Teen Girls Avoid Drugs, Alcohol?

Not Just Me

Others were as underwhelmed as I by yesterday's debut of Cuil. This from Time:

    Monday, Jul. 28, 2008

    Why Cuil Is No Threat to Google

    By Anita Hamilton

    Rest easy, Google ... The much-hyped new search engine Cuil (pronounced "cool"), purports to index more Web pages than any of its rivals. But based on its Monday debut, the new site poses little immediate threat to industry leader Google, or even its nearest competitors, Yahoo and Microsoft, in either relevance or breadth of results it delivers.

    "Anybody who thought [Cuil] was this Google killer can really see now that no, that's not going to happen today — and the likelihood is that's not going to happen a year from now," says Danny Sullivan, internet search guru and editor-in-chief of SearchEngineLand.

    Despite its lackluster performance, Cuil (which means wisdom or knowledge in Gaelic) got so many visitors on Monday, that its servers crashed around 3 p.m. E.T. "Due to excessive load, our servers didn't return results. Please try your search again," the site read intermittently throughout the afternoon. But even when it was working, the results were fair, at best. Enter a keyword such as "mint" and the first result that comes up isn't the herb or flavor but the U.S. Mint. ...

Read the whole article here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

No Surprise

Even as I was posting the previous entry in re the new search engine, Cuil, this appeared:

So I think my original conclusion was valid: Give them some time.

Searching Every Which A-way

However many years ago it was, I recall hearing about a new search engine called Google, which threatened to be way better than Yahoo! and Netscape combined, hard to imagine though that was. (Actually, the context in which I first heard about Google was how great it was for finding song lyrics...which it was and is.) But I tested it out, one Saturday morning ten or so years ago, by of course typing in my name. Pretty common, I'm afraid, so not terribly illuminating. So I tried my grandfather's name (my father and I shared a name, so there wouldn't have been much point searching for him), which again was a little too commonplace to be of use. So I tried his grandfather, on the theory that there can't be too many Phineas Bates Reynoldses running around. And to my amazement, up came a number of decent hits. Which is more than I could say for Yahoo! and Netscape.

Those hits led to some good internet contacts that helped me immeasurably when it came to filling in some gaps in the family tree. And Google became my search engine of choice, a tool so helpful that it remains today the home page on my browser of choice, Firefox.

So it was with interest this morning that I heard on NPR's Morning Edition about Cuil, the new search site founded by former Google employees, which went live this morning. Cuil supposedly indexes more of the web than other search engines ("Search 121,617,892,992 web pages"), which may very well be so...but when I had a chance to check it out, repeating the searches indicated above, I came away pretty underwhelmed. If nothing else, I was surprised that the family history pages that I have online--which include, of course, me, my grandfather, and his grandfather--didn't appear among the hits. Indeed, I and my grandfather seem barely to exist in Cuil, and old Phinny shows up in a couple of old genealogical pages that were among those that Google took me to almost a decade ago.

Is that a fair test? Well, you tell me. For my dime, I like a search engine that will help me find the obscure, and in that regard Google has always been the go-to guy.

Here's another couple of oddities:

First, if I put "Phineas Bates Reynolds" in quotation marks--the standard, I think, for searching for an exact term--Cuil shows me one hit but tells me there are 1,066 results for "phineas bates reynolds". I wouldn't mind knowing how to access those results. If Cuil provides a way, I have yet to find it. (The line that tells me 1,066 results for "phineas bates reynolds" is not clickable, though it feels like it should be.)

If I search Phineas Bates Reynolds without the punctuation marks, I of course get more results displayed...but most of them are wrong. And I can't seem to access the 17,056 results its says it found.

Second--and this is inexplicable--if I turn off Cuil's "safe search mode," the single result it previously displayed disappears, as do the alleged 1,066 results it claims to have found but isn't showing...and now it tells me that it's finding nothing! Very strange, no? I assure you, there is nothing pornographic or objectionable in "Whiteside Co IL Township Histories," so I'm at a loss to explain Cuil's apparent issues with it...and the thousand other results it claimed to have once had.

It is also disconcerting to click on "About Cuil" at the bottom of the page and be rewarded with this:

Well, it's all very new and all. I suppose, in fairness, I should pop back in after Cuil has been up and running a week or so and see if these apparent oddities have been addressed. For now, however, I think I'll stick with Google...even though it must be said that Cuil is much prettier.