September 2008

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I feel safer already



I just like that headline and wanted to write it down while it’s still in my front-of-mind. Feel free to re-use it.


The #4 item on Twitter (behind Bailout, McCain and iPhone) is Selamat Hari Raya. #5 is #atlgas, for gas in Atlanta.

The 2012 campaign

Got an email from my sister Jan the other day. She’s a Navy veteran who knew McCain, along with other notables. She’s also quite astute about politics, and follows it more closely than I do. I asked her if it’s cool to pass the email along, and she said yes, so here goes…

After seeing the visuals of yesterday’s (Thursday’s) White House meeting, I came to a conclusion: The Republicans need McCain to lose. Not in a landslide, just narrowly; but they really want and need him to lose.

Why? Well, first of all, because they don’t like him, or Palin. And they don’t think he represents their interests or true conservatism. And they know he is unpredictable and uncontrollable. And old and aging fast in the stress of campaigning, which does not bode well for life in the oval office. So if he dies, there would be Palin, which does not bear thinking about for them: she would set the case for leadership by women and neocons both back a generation and make the GOP the laughing stock of the world.

But the best reason to want McCain to lose is because they know that whoever wins this election will have four years of no-win:

  • even if the bailout works, the economy will be a mess and hard times will hit everyone (but economic advisors and pundits)
  • recovery of Katrina is still stagnant and the real extent of the Texas coast’s devastation is just coming to light; the new President will have to do the recovery right this time, which will cost billions
  • at the best in Iraq all four years will be an expensive extraction quagmire
  • our military will be struggling with recovering from this war’s damage for at least 4 years, if not the next decade
  • Afghanistan is going to be a very hard war and Pakistan is on the brink of radicalism
  • Iran will be very eager to test the next president;
  • Kim will die and North Korea is a great, and dangerous, unknown that will cost us manpower and money to either keep isolated or help restorePutin will take the opportunity of our distractions to expand Russia’s power and influence and control
  • Labor’s time is up in the UK
  • Chavez will challenge the new president for supremacy in Latin America;
  • Global warming will become more and more visible and action more urgent and because of the delays of the last 8 years, action will be more expensive
  • Social security and medicare will be taxed beyond capabilities because bulk of the baby boomers who will become eligible
  • taxes will have to go up, for some folks anyway
  • because there will be no funds for the new President’s promises or programs, education, health care and infrastructure will not be addressed as aggressively as they should and the people will feel betrayed

So whoever is elected this time will, at best and with superb leadership, management and luck, avoid a real disaster and might just be able to start us on the road to recovery. But it will be a time of fingers in the dike, not developing a real flood control system, not visibly anyway.

So in 2012 an opposition candidate will be able to ride in on the white horse of told-you-so and have a good chance of winning.

And right now there are at least two generations of Republicans in congress, governors mansions and the private sector, just salivating at the thought of 2012. And very willing, almost eager, maybe even praying, for McCain to give them that chance.

I think she might be right. On the phone she just told me to notice that Rove is quieting down. Check the trend chart here.


Quote du jour

Shel Israel: I think that should just show the Fail Whale from now through the next inauguration.

Bail Off

The bailout was shot down in the house. Redraw your own conclusions. Mine is that it’s a Bad Thing.


Eric Norlin points (via Howard Linzon) to this piece by Andy Kessler. Eric’s summary: Smile. Think abundance, not scarcity. Get optimistic. I’m an born optimist, so this has an appeal.

Saint Paul Newman

Great remembrance of Paul Newman by Manohla Dargis in the NY Times. (I’d like to beg forgiveness for the annoying login required by the Times, but I won’t. It’s just plain wrong for the Times to retain that friction after it’s bothered to open its content anyway.)

My own favorite Newman moves are later ones: The Verdict, Nobody’s Fool, Empire Falls. As a journalist, I have a special appreciation for Absence of Malice, where the best performance actually belonged to Wilford Brimley, playing himself, essentially. In it Newman is by turns both passionate and, as Dargis puts it, cooler than dry ice.

He was, finally and enduringly, a good man. You knew that. It came across in his acting and his life. He’s a guy I wish I had known. Sad to see him go.

In his comment here, Mike Warot encourages me — and the rest of us — to watch this video by Karl Denninger, whose blog is here.

I did. It’s good. But I’m not sure Denninger is right. Or all-right, let’s say. Just somewhat.

Here’s the problem as I currently see it. (And I’m no economist. This is just me, one citizen trying to make sense of something that I’ve hardly paid attention to in the past. So take this with an acre of salt if you like.)

Yes, the system is rigged and corrupt. Yes, the Fed and Treasury have been messing up for decades. (As Kevin Phillips will tell you.) Yes, federal power has gone over the top here. Whoever heard of the Office of Thrift Supervision before it swooped in and sold WaMu to JP Morgan Chase? At least there’s some common sense involved with banking, and “trift” (a term that now feels euphemistic in a statist way, like “corrections”). Banking got sucked into runaway shell games, in which empty vessels multiplied and divided, as whole institutions with MBA-packed buildings grew to manage and manipulate them. Solidity and liquidity were both replaced by gasseosity — but in sectors of Xtreme Arcana that nobody outside fully understood. Thus we’ve had inflation for years, and have put off facing it, because it was hidden and the System seemed to be working.

Meanwhile the whole country became infected with the sickness of making money only for its own sake, backed by little resembling work or manufacture — a trend we’ve been seeing since the Carter administration.

The “free market” in finance has always been rigged by its Alpha beasts, its lobbied legislators and its regulators, to favor growth. But lost in this long round has been elementary horse sense about what’s actually valuable, what actually produces goods and services, what’s free and what’s not. Growth in this long round has had many costs, and we’re not even close to visiting all of them.

Perhaps it’s in our nature, with economic evidence going back to tulip bulbs. But I think it goes deeper than that. Our species pestilential and rapacious on a scale the planet has never seen before. It can rationalize chewing irreplaceable valuables out of the ground and seas, using them up and spreading its wastes everywhere. This cost-blind nature — is made manifest in a financial system that best rewards games built on games that are almost nothing but rationalizations — worse, of a sort that only its rationalizers can understand. The financial sector has become a casino in which the highest rollers have bought the house and rigged every game to pay off by splitting winnings to bet on other rigged games, while the rest of us say “Great!”, because we’re in there playing too: betting on worthless stocks, buying overpriced houses on easy credit with negative equities, running up credit card bills while thinking nothing of paying monthly interest rates north of 20%.

This “free market” was a free-for-all in which even its hands-off regulators participated. All while the country went from being the world’s leading manufacturer and creditor to the world’s leading out-sourcer and debtor — with the load now running into the dozens of trillions of dollars. Remember that we voted for the people who presided over that.

It’s tempting to blame and punish, but that isn’t what we need now. What we need is for credit to keep moving while the financial sector gradually shrinks to sane dimensions, with value that rises from 1/1 relationships between reality and perception — or at least a fair chance that good ideas will turn into good business. (I don’t want to throw smart investor babies out with the dumb investor bathwater.)

I don’t know if this $.7 trillion bill will do that. I do have a strong hunch about what will happen if it doesn’t. Or if we do nothing and let nature take its course. The entire financial sector will collapse, and the government won’t be able to print enough money to pay off its own and everybody else’s creditors, starting with China. Businesses of all kinds will close, and all but a few public utilities will cease to run smoothly. With weak manufacturing, absent small farming and other graces of traditional functioning societies, we’ll fall into a depression as bad or worse than the Great one. Cities will fail and crime will go rampant. And we’ll bore our grandchildren with stories of what it was like to hike ten miles through the snow to work at the only shit jobs that were left.

I believe this is what Warren Buffett also sees when he compares the current crisis to Pearl Harbor. I believe Buffett because he got wealthy by being sensible and prudent, and very much not of a type with those that have made a mess of the financial system.

Or so it seems to me on a Sunday morning just short of the precipice.

Oh, and I don’t hear either candidate talking about what’s really going on here. Nor do I expect them to.

Fewer degrees of separation

Stephen Lewis latest, New York Women: Self-Vetting, My Aunt Estelle, and Haikus for Sale, visits the locus and origins of his firmly grounded sensibilities — for example, our distinctly New York senses of humor and our mutual stubbornly-held convictions that work involves heavy-lifting and adding of value rather than flim-flam, image building, and manipulation.

The first comment says the post “flows as naturally as anything I’ve read”. Agreed. The second is my reminder to us both that there’s still another connection, through Nathalie Goldman’s Writing Down the Bones.

Quote du jour

James Fallows: After thirty years of meeting and interviewing politicians, I can think of exactly three people who sounded as uninformed and vacant as this. All are now out of office. One was a chronic drunk.

Bonus link.

I think McCain won the thing. Not on substance, but on style. McCain sounded like Reagan, and Obama sounded like Kerry. The CNN talking heads seem to be giving the edge to Obama, but I just saw Guiliani on MSNBC, who made it clear that Obama gave the right wing talk machine a pile of fodder for the next week’s shows. Every time Obama said “John is right,” I winced.

FWIW, I listened to most of it on the radio, so the stuff about McCain never looking at Obama I missed.

Dave supports the bail-out, which many are calling the Splurge. At this point, so do I. That puts me in the company of Warren Buffett and detaches me from Kevin Phillips, who says (below) that it won’t work. Elsewhere Kevin says it just cuts off one tentacle of an octopus. Maybe he’s right. From this report, it appears that McCain and some Republicans agree.

I trust Buffett. His wealth is a red herring here. What matters are his insight, intelligence, and ability to perform for stockholders — qualifications that are beyond dispute. Buffett knows better than anybody how the system works, how it’s broken — and (surely) how to make money on the upswing that inevitably follows the current collapse.

If Obama and Bush are together on this, so be it. Hey, maybe tonight we’ll have a real debate between Splurge (Obama/Bush/Buffett) and Purge (McCain/Phillips). Doesn’t look like it, but if both men are in command of their facts and ideas, it would help the country.

[Later...] Cool: looks like the debate will happen. More from the NYTimes.

A little prep from Sara Silverman.

The other day I was sitting in the company of leaders in one industrial category. (I won’t say which because it’s beside the point I want to make.) A question arose: Why are there so few visitors to our websites? Millions use their services, yet few bother with visiting their sites, except every once in awhile.

The answer, I suggested, was that their sites were buildings. They were architected, designed and constructed. They were conceived and built on the real estate model: domains with addresses, places people could visit. They were necessary and sufficient for the old Static Web, but lacked sufficiency for the Live one.

The Web isn’t just real estate. It’s a habitat, an environment, an ever-increasingly-connected place where fecundity rules, vivifying business, culture and everything else that thrives there. It is alive.

The Live Web isn’t just built. It grows, adapts and changes. It’s an environment where we text and post and author and update and tweet and syndicate and subscribe and notify and feed and — and yell and fart and say wise things and set off alarms and keep each other scared, safe or both. It’s verbs to the Static Web’s nouns. It is, in a biological word that has since gone technical, generative. And thus it calls Whitman to mind:

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess
the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun…
there are many millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand
nor look through the eyes of the dead,
nor feed on the spectres in books.

You shall not look through my eyes either,
nor take things from me.
You shall listen to all sides and filter them for yourself…

I have heard what the talkers were talking.
The talk of the beginning and the end.
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of the dimness opposite equals advance…
Always substance and increase,
Always a knit of identity… always distinction…
always a breed of life.

This is what I see when I look at Twitter Search. It’s what I see in my aggregator, in FriendFeed, in Technorati and Google Blogsearch (and in feeds for keyword searches of both), in IM and Skype, in the growing dozens of live apps — for weather, sports, radio and rivers of news — on my phone. And when I watch myself and others mash and mix those together, and pipe one into another.

And I say all this knowing that most of what I mentioned in that last paragraph will be old hat next week, if not next month or next year. C’est la vie.

Speaking of this week, I just discovered Google InQuotes via one or more of the Tweeters that I follow. And it struck me that the reason Microsoft has trouble keeping up with Google is as simple as Live vs. Static. Google gets the Live Web. Microsoft doesn’t. Not yet, anyway. It’s comfortable in the static. It’s cautious. It doesn’t splurge on give-aways because it doesn’t know that life is one long give-away in any case. We’re born with an unknown sum of time to spend and we’ve got to dump it all in the duration. That’s why now is what matters most. Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans, John Lennon said. The game of business is the game of life.

Years ago somebody said that everybody else was playing hockey while Bill Gates was playing chess. I think now the game has changed. I think now the game isn’t a game. It’s just life. The Web is alive. It’s a constantly changing and growing environment comprised of living and static things. Meanwhile what said long ago still applies: …companies so lobotomized that they can’t speak in a recognizably human voice build sites that smell like death.

I don’t think Microsoft is dead, or even acting like it. Nor do I think Google is unusually alive. Just that Google is especially adapted to The Live Web while Microsoft seems anchored in the static. As are most other companies and institutions, frankly. Nothing special about Microsoft there. Just something illustrative. A helpful contrast. Perhaps it will help Microsoft too.

If you want to participate in the Live Web, you can’t just act like it. You have to jump in and do it. Here’s the most important thing I’ve noticed so far: it’s not just about competition. It’s about support and cooperation. Even political and business enemies help each other out by keeping each other informed. There may be pay-offs in scarcity plays, but the bigger ones emerge when intelligence and good information are shared, right now. And archived where they can be found again later. All that old stuff is still nourishment.

Veteran readers know I’ve been about for . (And credit goes to my son Allen for coming up with the insight in the first place, more than five years ago.) I think Live vs. Static is a much more useful distinction than versions. (Web 1.0, 2.0, etc.) Hey, who knows? Maybe it’ll finally catch. It seemed to in the room where I brought it up.

By the way, a special thanks to , , and the audience at our panel at BlogWorld Expo for schooling me about this (whether they knew it or not). I got clues galore out of that, and I thank the whole room for them. (Hope the video goes up soon. You’ll see how it went down. Good stuff.)


Who nose?

On the right, Charles Krauthamer:

  Paulson is a lame duck. In four months, he is gone. Paulson is asking for the money not for self-aggrandizement but for the same reason Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and the markets are asking for it: to prevent the American economy from going over a cliff.

  Some disdain that assessment as hypothetical. Paulson and Bernanke, who actually peered into the abyss on Black Thursday (September 18), think otherwise. They’re not infallible, but prudence dictates not risking the economy on the opposite bet.

  The stock market dive and the seizing up of the credit markets convinced them that their ad hoc Bear-yes, Lehman-no rescue of investment firms had not only reached a dead end, but was actually making things worse. It had added uncertainty to a situation in which pre-existing uncertainty was already causing panic.

  Hence the need to go below the institutional superstructure to the underlying toxic assets, which Paulson proposes to take off the private sector’s books by having the government buy them for, yes, $700 billion.

  Congress has every duty to be careful with taxpayers’ money and to suggest improvements in the administration plan. But part of Congress’ reaction has nothing to do with improving the proposal and everything to do with assuaging the rage of constituents — even if it jeopardizes the package’s chances of success, either by weakening it or by larding it up with useless complicating provisions designed solely to give the appearance of sticking it to the rich.

  Window dressing such as capping pay packages, which the Bush administration has already caved in to. I’ve got nothing against withholding golden parachutes from failed executives. But artificially capping the pay of people brought in to lead these wobbly companies back to health is a fine way to tell talented executives to look elsewhere for a job. In the demagogic parlance of this election year, it is a prescription for outsourcing our best financial minds to London and Dubai.

  The mob is agitated, but hardly blameless. While the punch bowl — Alan Greenspan’s extremely low post-9/11 interest rates — was being held out, few complained about cheap loans and doubling home values. Now all of the sudden everything is the fault of Wall Street malfeasance.

  I have little doubt that some, if not many, cases of malfeasance will emerge. But what we conveniently neglect is the fact that much of this crisis was brought upon us by the good intentions of good people.

  For decades, starting with Jimmy Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, there has been bipartisan agreement to use government power to expand homeownership to people who had been shut out for economic reasons or, sometimes, because of racial and ethnic discrimination. What could be a more worthy cause? But it led to tremendous pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — who in turn pressured banks and other lenders — to extend mortgages to people who were borrowing over their heads. That’s called subprime lending. It lies at the root of our current calamity.

  Were there some predatory lenders? Of course. But only a fool or a demagogue — i.e., a presidential candidate — would suggest that this is a major part of the problem.

  Was there misbehavior on Wall Street? The wheels of justice will grind. But why wait for justice? If a really good catharsis will allow a return of rationality to Capitol Hill — yielding a clean rescue package that will actually save the economy — go for it.


On the former and future right, Kevin Phillips:

  McCain has never been much on economics, but Paulson’s indicated arrangement with the Democrats — financial firms will get to turn in the toxic debt and financial instruments they can’t peddle for reimbursement by an American taxpayer-funded entity — is so bad that if the former Navy pilot grins and accepts it he will look like a wobbler and a Grade A sap. He’s already lost the edge he had coming out of the Republican convention. Barack Obama, by contrast, can get away with being evasive because the Democrats look like they’re accepting a measure principally authored and promoted by Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

  Now for a little bit of background. We’re not just looking at a real estate mess. Over the last quarter century, the total of public and private credit market debt in the United States — most of it, in fact, is private — has more than quintupled from $8 to $48 trillion, the biggest such orgy in world history. Over that period, domestic financial debt – the money borrowed by the financial sector for expansion, consolidation, empire-building, leverage, exotic mortgages, gambling, you name it – swelled from just $1 trillion to some $14 trillion. Employing these economic steroids, the financial sector ballooned itself from 14-15% of what back in the mid-1980s was the Gross National Product to 20-21% in 2004 of the newer Gross Domestic Product calculation. In the meantime, the once-dominant manufacturing sector fell far behind, dropping to just 12% of GDP. In a nutshell, the economy has been hijacked in recent decades by the very groups who now purport to have remedies – Wall Street, from whence Paulson emerged, and the money-bubbling, don’t regulate the dangerous practices Federal Reserve Board, from whence Bernanke comes.

  The public is finally starting to understand what’s been going on in this perverse milieu of Wall Street socialism where private individuals get the profits and the taxpayers underwrite the bail-outs. It has a long history; in Bad Money I have a chart that lists fifteen or so rescues over some 25 years. Finance has now grown into an octopus, with dozens of debt, speculative, credit card, mortgage, interest group and Washington lobby tentacles that will lock onto any new bail-out proposal and turn it into another food supply. Even as the new “legislation” is being drafted, you can bet all the lawyers, lobbyists and big donors are already on the phone to key people in Congress, the White House, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve. Anybody with a good nose can almost smell the fixes and corruption, and of course, political critics and the public will be told that there’s just no time for debate, no time to go over the details. Don’t pass it tomorrow, pass it yesterday. We can assume that George W. Bush will sign it, possibly with a fleeting smirk.

  Will this bail-out solve the current mess? Of course not. For the last year, Paulson and Bernanke have been Fumble and Bumble. They won’t strike at the roots of the problem – indeed, one could almost say the two men represent those roots — so their rescue gimmicks fail and the crisis extends and deepens.

  Ironically, the best hope for resistance comes not from the left but from free-market elements of the Republican Party. I have not had much good to say about the GOP for years, but recent events may hint at their political and ideological renewal. Sometime back, when Congress passed the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bail-out program, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, ultimately voted against it. He had worked on its early stage, but ultimately voted no because seeing a pay-off to “Wall Street and K Street (the Washington lobbyist corridor)”. Then the Republican National Convention, in a rejection of Bush, Paulson and Bernanke, put an anti-bailout section in its 2008 platform. A few days ago, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama, called on the Fed to reject bail-outs and allow the markets to work even if the consequences are “brutal.” And on September 18, a hundred Republican members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Paulson and Bernanke requesting that the two men “refrain from conducting any additional government-financed bail-outs for large financial firms.”

  I suppose there’s a chance that McCain could decide to oppose the administration and truly fight this latest round of Wall Street socialism. Maybe instead of asking George W. Bush to fire SEC Chairman Cox, McCain could come out against Paulson and Bernanke. But the odds are much greater than an embarrassed McCain will flounder toward November defeat.

  That would mean that the anti-bail-out forces in Congress and at the grassroots will take over the national party helm in 2009, and it’s not too late to start right now. If they strike a tough stance in the next few days, they could expose, delay, amend and even block — by any available means — what amounts to a massive mutation and even perversion of the U.S. economy. The leader of the hundred House Republican conservatives, Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, summed it up quite neatly: “Enough is enough. It’s time to bail out the American taxpayers from bail-out mania.” Hopefully, we’re looking at a September battle cry.


Is that what McCain is up to? Jim Manzi says “it’s hard not to credit him for running a tactically ingenious campaign”.

Palin = Evita?

That’s what Naomi Wolf says. It sounds alarmist and paranoid, and in line with The End of America, but as creeped out as I already am by what I hear on the radio (e.g. ordinary Americans saying Wall Street should fail just because fat cats need to be blamed… ignorant of their dependence on an at least a minimally healthy financial system), I gotta wonder.

Do we want to move beyond Bush-Cheney-Rove? Or do we want four more years of that? There’s your choice, America.

By the weigh…

There will be no debate between McCain and Obama tonight. Odds are there won’t be a debate between Palin and Biden, either. Because either one will burst the McCain/Palin bubble.

Just my hunches.

Bonus guess.

Closer to home

Now J.P. Morgan is the bank that ate the bank that ate my bank.

For what little it’s worth at this point, WaMu — Washington Mutual — was a bozo bank. What can you say about a bank that never got its online banking to work right? Plenty, but it’s too late to bother.

More here.

A press release and reassuring words from the Office of Thrift Supervision.

Who’s next?

Meanwhile, Rome burns.

Circling the drain

Before. After. Best comment under the latter:

  Look, there are times when you put country ahead of party. The Republicans did it in 1974 when they told Nixon to get out. The Democrats did it in 1988 when they agreed to drop all the Iran Contra investigations in exchange for Howard Baker agreeing to clean up the mess as Reagan’s new chief of staff. Some Democrats (myself included) felt that Clinton should have resigned.

  Now is a time for Republicans to accept an Obama/Biden presidency and resolve to fight to win seats back in 2010 and the Presidency back in 2012. Despite what the hysterics say, Obama is not a muslim, he is an American centrist on economic and foreign policy matters and center-left on social matters. Biden is the same. Both are competent consensus builders, and even if you don’t agree with their politics, both are the type of people who lead well in emergencies. McCain, perhaps due to an age-related condition, is now completely self-centered and random in behavior, even worse under stress, while Palin could seriously lead America to the apocalypse — she’s that dumb and crazy (in the extreme religious sense*). For the good of America, Republicans, find a way to lose gracefully this fall, regroup, and fight back with some serious leaders. This is what democracy is about.

Actually, it’s about war. Makes much better television. Also mashups.

Anyway, like Jay said.

Bonus kink: The Ice President. Via Steve Garfield.

* My asterisk. Makes me think of here.

Quote du jour

: The customer really is in going to be in control. Deal with it.

I’ve been obsessing about infrastructure lately, with help from Stephen Lewis, whose experience and scholarship on the matter exceeds mine. The Etymology of Infrastructure and the Infrastructure of the Internet is his latest post on the matter. An excerpt:

Within the concept of urban studies and the contemporary home ownership and loan flim-flam, defaults, and financial disaster in the US, I am looking at the tension between two historical approaches, i.e. housing as infrastructure and housing as commodity. As an analogue, I am also looking at the paradigmatic abandonment of socially financed public transport to privately-owned automobiles.

My own observation — that infrastructure is far more adaptable, plastic, replaceable, substitutable and repurposeable than the word itself implies — is substantiated by the relatively new, changing and variously understood meaning of the word itself:

Infrastructure indeed entered the English language as a loan word from French in which it had been a railroad engineering term. A 1927 edition of the Oxford indeed mentioned the word in the context of “… the tunnels, bridges, culverts, and ‘infrastructure work’ of the French railroads.” After World War II, “infrastructure” reemerged as in-house jargon within NATO, this time referring to fixed installations necessary for the operations of armed forces and to capital investments considered necessary to secure the security of Europe.

It is especially interesting to me that the Net is clearly a form of infrastructure, yet has no physical properties of its own. As a utility it could hardly be more useful (that is, be a utility in the literal sense), yet it is not a utility in the manner of a water or gas service. And while today most of us enjoy the Net thanks to phone and cable companies, the Net is not a breed of telephony or television. Quite the opposite, in fact. Telephony and television are today forms of data that happen to be carried over the Net’s protocols. One no longer requires phone wiring to get phone service, or coaxial cable to get television. But because phone and cable companies bill us for the Net, we think of it as a ‘service’ of those companies. In fact it’s a pile of protocols. Are protocols themselves infrastructure? Seems so.

The fact at hand is that on the whole neither Infrastructure nor the Net are well understood. In fact, they are poorly understood, even though they are widely used.

Do we want the Net to be regulated as if it were something physical? I suggest that we want the Net to be understood first, on its own terms. And to do that, I also suggest we visit anew the nature of infrastructure itself.

Bonus pix.


The G1 gets covered by the Guardian. The new phone was launched today by T-Mobile.

Democracy at Rework

Now you can wonk with the best of them at the very Xcellent

Thank you, Ze

Digging this collection of videos that make you feel better.

With friends like these…

Says Chrisopher Hitchens,

  Why is Obama so vapid and hesitant and gutless? Why, to put it another way, does he risk going into political history as a dusky Dukakis?

Maybe because we don’t need an incautious loudmouth as president?

GACL rolling

My piece is now up to 95 693 713 772 804 1191 2188 Diggs, #6 #5 #5#2 #1 among Tops in Technology. Not bad for something I decided to leave unfinished and just go ahead and put up before I flew out of LAX yesterday, barely making the plane. (The original was much longer, but needed more work.) Anyway, it’s definitely a snowball.

Sold American! I like this one.

I expected the McCain campaign to lie and distort as a matter of course, but (call me naive) I was hoping for better from the Obama campaign — not only because Obama started and stayed on the high road for the most part, but because so much of his support comes from grass roots supporters who have been energized by the prospects of positive change he has been promising from the beginning. No presidential campaign in history has done a better job of engaging voters as participants — especially as sources of funding — than Obama’s.

But now we’re in politics’ Mud Season, and Obama’s road is as low as McCain’s — or maybe even lower. When I look at and PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter, I see Obama shifting strategies. Even if he’s still uttering the uplifting aspirational rhetoric that first nourished his grass roots, it now looks like he and Biden now hope to win by out-fibbing their opponents. For examples look here, here, here and here. If I were a source of Obama funding, I’d be pissed at how my money is being spent.

So I have an idea for a new campaign by the grass roots of the Obama campaign: cut him off until he stops treating the grass roots as a gas well.

Whaddaya think?

Bonus link.

GACL: Google Open Mobile platform

stands for Gears, Android, Chrome and Linux. At that first link — a new post over at Linux Journal — I suggest that Google’s new browser is “cream on the top of a new mobile software stack” that results in an “open season for developers, and an open market for everybody”. Read the rest here.

A High Fly Five…

… to McCarran International Airport, for providing free wi-fi.

And dig the speed:


Guess I can upload some photos while I’m busy with actual work here (at 4:49am).

What knew?

I love , by by G. Nolst Trenite’ a.k.a. “Charivarius”, it says at that link. And I thank , sitting next to me in the speaker room at Blog World Expo, for turning me onto something fun and old that I’m amazed not to have run into before. Speaking of which, I just turned her on to BuzzPhraser, one of the Web’s oldest still-functioning instruments of linguistic fun.


Sarah Palin said yes, thanks, to a road to nowhere in Alaska, a story in Thursday’s LATimes, is one among countless gotcha!s which in sum comprise a sea of bad news across which Alaska’s governor is obliged to walk like Jesus. So here’s a thought. What if the Gravina Island Bridge, the $398 million “bridge to nowhere”, was not much worse than any other piece of pork — just easier for hand-wringers to target?

I mean, hey, if you were a citizen of Ketchikan, where your whole town depends on tourism for its existence, and where your airport is on an island that can only be reached by sea — and where your whole state has always depended on large sums of federal largesse and involvement — this bridge may not have been pork. It was business as usual, and just your town’s turn to score.

Could it be that Senator Stevens was doing his job, and doing it well? Looks to me like the bridge would have gone forward, and never would have been a Big Issue, had Katrina not wiped out New Orleans and required large efforts to rebuild infrastructure there, highlighting porky projects elsewhere in the country.

In other words, what we’re looking at here is Politics as Usual. That is more than enough to explain Sarah Palin’s initial support for the bridge, her change of position after the winds of popular opinion shifted, and her truth-shading after the fact. More importantly, the whole thing says little about her ability to serve the country as Vice President, or as President in the not-unlikely chance that John McCain will fail to serve out his first term.

I won’t be voting for McCain/Palin. But the governor’s porky political past is not one of the reasons.

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Smoke screening

Sitting in a bar raised above the gambling floor at the MGM Grand, killing some fizzy water on ice while clearing time for my room to be cleaned. The bar is comfortable, with thick carpeting and heavy drapes pulled back to view rows of machines where patrons pour coins into slots. I haven’t heard the sound of coins pouring into trays yet. Do they still have that? I wouldn’t know. I hate to gamble on anything that’s not only stacked against me, but where I don’t control at least some of the odds. And I don’t get the thrill either. But hey, that’s me.

I also don’t get the appeal of cigarette smoke. I grew up at a time when smoking was standard. My father was a heavy smoker, and I’m sure our house and car stank of it, but I don’t remember. I do remember hating it, and vowing that I would never take up the habit. (And I never did.) Meanwhile I lived with it, as do all people in cultures such as this casino, where smoking is the rule rather than the exception. Back home in Boston and California, I live and work in places where smoking is exceptional, exiled to the outdoors or to “designated smoking areas”. That’s why I picked out my own little “designated nonsmoking area” in a corner of this bar, as far as I can get from other patrons, about half of which are either smoking or have packs and lighters parked next to their drinks.

I think in the long run smoking will become a fringe practice. Even in Europe and Asia, where smoking is still standard, the percentages of people who smoke will come down, both for the obvious reasons and because in the long run rationalizations tend to fail. Think of smoking as a bubble that will eventually burst and crash.

We’re only beginning to face the problems exposed by the failures of giant financial institutions such FreddieMac, FannieMae, Bear Stearns and AIG — and government bail-outs backed by the continuing ability to borrow from China and other creditor nations. Of which we used to be the biggest. Quite the opposite now.

If you’re looking for a far-sighted bubble-burster, Kevin Phillips is your man. He launched his career as a Senior Strategist for Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. There he led Nixon’s successful “southern strategy” and followed that with The Emerging Republican Majority in 1969. In that book he not only predicted forty years of future, but named the Sun Belt as well. His latest book is Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, which Tim Rutten in the LA Times calls “a rhetorical shot across the bow of the current presidential campaign, which Phillips convincingly argues is failing to address the causes and implications of our current distress”.

Here he is on Chris Lydon’s Open Source program, on May 8 of this year:

  There’s a growing sense in the United States that the Imperial Era is over almost before it started. We’re seeing the weakness that is the United States allowing the financial sector to take over the private economy. That is now the largest portion: 21-22% of the GDP is finance, pushing manufacturing way down. I don’t think that the financial sector is responsible enough, safe enough, broad-minded enough to fill that position. I think what you’ll see happen to the United States is over-financialization: too much debt, too much over expansion and a degree of an implosion that will involve everything from too much debt and collapsing home prices to rising oil prices and the declining dollar. It’s all converging. It’s all trouble. It doesn’t spell the end of the United States, but it does spell the end of the United States as the Total Big Cheeze in the world. And we are going to lose some of the yardsticks that everybody enjoyed for a long time.

About “financialization”, he says,

  You’re looking at the transformation of the American economy from one that produced things to one that moves money around. But it didn’t happen overnight. One of the major relationships is between the rise of debt and the rise of the debt culture. The debt culture meant rising deficits and “spend now and play and pay later”, the public’s debt tolerance to an extraordinary degree, and this general lackidasicalness of putting a framework around your culture and your economy — they’ve all sort of gone to seed together. And I think that the net outcome of this is a country that is in every way living beyond its means. We used to be the leading world creditor, the leading world manufacturer and the leading world producer of oil. Now we’re the world’s leading debtor, the largest inporter of manufatures and the world’s leading importer of oil. It’s a disastrous transformation. The only part of the economy that has profited is the financial sector, because an awful lot of the transition is toward more debt, more credit, more living on things you can’t afford, more keeping up pretenses, and more ambition around the world with less to back it up. And the consequenses of this in many ways is the George W. Bush administration.

Not that Phillips thinks the Democrats are any better. About Paul Krugman, for example, he says,

  There is a good reason for Paul and the Democrats in general to be upbeat here. Maybe to an extent if things were a lot further advanced in the decay process, you could just flip a leaf and say all of a sudden that we are ferociously concerned about this decay. But they think that liberal policies and the Democratic approach can turn it around. Frankly, I don’t… The Democratic magic is more of the old razmatazz, and government will step in and there’s going to be a Green Deal as well as a New Deal, and we’re going to have five million new jobs for things relating to the Greening of America… The Democrats don’t want to admit that what they di8d for the most part in the two Clinton administrations was for the most part a continuation of the Reagan and first Bush administration — and then was continued and built upon by the second Bush administration. You had a lot of financial deregulation under the Clinton administrations. They repealed Glass-Stiegel, they deregulated credit cards, lots of stuff. They stepped on the gas in terms of private debt. The increase is extraordinary. So I can’t separate out the Clinton years from what preceded them and what came after them. And of course the Democrats need to be able to tell America in this election that … they have the answer. I understand that. But I don’t agree with it.

As for Obama, he says “I don’t think he’s raised enough of these issues to have a mandate… They’re not acting now like people who understand that there’s a problem.”

He also adds, “That clearly goes for the Republicans. It’s hard to believe McCain. His economic program is almost a non-program.” That’s on top of George W. Bush: “I don’t want to do another number on George W. after American Dynasty, but he’s the wrong person at the wrong time andin the wrong place — and unqualified essentially for having been president of the United States during these eight years.

I could go on, but a bunch of smokers just parked at the tables on either side of me, and I’m sure my room is done now. Meanwhile, go check out that podcast.


Jeff Jarvis:

  Newspapers and newspaper companies are about to die. The last remaining puddles of auto, home, job, and retail advertising are about to be sucked down the drain thanks to the economic crisis and credit is about to be crunched into dust. So any newspaper or news company that has been teetering will fall. If Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG can fall, so can a puny newspaper empire — and there’ll be no taxpayer bailout for them. When this happens, will it be Sam Zell’s fault? Hardly.

  The Times veterans should not be suing Zell. They should be suing themselves...

  Want to see who’s to blame for the state of your paper? Get a mirror.

I’m not quite so pessimistic, although I agree about the direction of history’s vector. Meanwhile, in respect to this…

  When the internet came, did you all – every one of you as responsible, smart journalists, on your own – leap to get training in audio and video? Did you immediately hatch new ways to work collaboratively with the vast public of bloggers able and willing to join in local journalism? Not that I saw.

… credit where due to the LATimes for hiring Tony Pierce to run the paper’s bloggig and blogging-outreach operation. It might be a matter of deck chair rearrangement, but at least it was one good move.

Just arrived at LAX, taking a few minutes before flying off to LAV (to which I would like to append oratory) to post a couple of pointers to what I read and heard on the plane.

First is A Conservative for Obama, by Wick Allison, who actually gave the maximum sum to McCain earlier this year, “…when there was still hope he might come to his senses”. A few grafs:

  Liberalism always seemed to me to be a system of “oughts.” We ought to do this or that because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of whether it works or not. It is a doctrine based on intentions, not results, on feeling good rather than doing good.

  But today it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to political programs when they clearly don’t work. The Bush tax cuts — a solution for which there was no real problem and which he refused to end even when the nation went to war — led to huge deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt. Facing this, John McCain pumps his “conservative” credentials by proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once fought for limited government has presided over the greatest growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.

  Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who talk with alarming bellicosity about making the world “safe for democracy.” It is John McCain who says America’s job is to “defeat evil,” a theological expansion of the nation’s mission that would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth.

  This kind of conservatism, which is not conservative at all, has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse.

  …I disagree with him on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

  Most important, Obama will be a realist. I doubt he will taunt Russia, as McCain has, at the very moment when our national interest requires it as an ally. The crucial distinction in my mind is that, unlike John McCain, I am convinced he will not impulsively take us into another war unless American national interests are directly threatened.

The other is this interview with Tom Friedman on Fresh Air. I’m not sure he’ll succeed at making green “the new red, white & blue”, but if you don’t have enough reasons to vote against McCain already, he’ll load you up with a few more good ones.

Bonus link.

Canon has unveiled the 5D Mark II SLR. Whoa: 21.1 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor; ISO range from 100-6400, and expandable to 25600 (that is, shooting under appoximately no light); 1080p HD video shooting with live view on the back (3″ across), HDMI and USB connectivity…

Also welcome: a sensor-cleaning system (my 30D is constantly plagued with sensor dust).

$2700 or so.

No price yet from Amazon, but you can pre-order it.

Time to exhale

Yesterday Calvin Dodge said,

  I look forward to seeing your posts on your disappointment with the Obama campaign’s ads, as well as his attempts to silence people who are reporting on his associations with the radical Left. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for those posts.

… later mentioning how the “…Obama campaign has urged people to swamp WGN’s switchboard when guests on the Milt Rosenberg show…”

Looked that one up, and sure enough, here’s Andrew Sullivan — a conservative Obama supporter — telling his man to Leave Fredosso Alone, pointing for sourceage to this piece in Reason about David Fredosso, author of “the lone decent anti-Obama book”, and a scheduled guest on WGN. The Chicago Tribune takes it from there:

  Chicago radio station WGN-AM is again coming under attack from the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama for offering airtime to a controversial author. It is the second time in recent weeks the station has been the target of an “Obama Action Wire” alert to supporters of the Illinois Democrat.

  Monday night’s target was David Freddoso, who the campaign said was scheduled to be on the station from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Chicago time.

  “The author of the latest anti-Barack hit book is appearing on WGN Radio in the Chicagoland market tonight, and your help is urgently needed to make sure his baseless lies don’t gain credibility,” an e-mail sent Monday evening to Obama supporters reads.

  “David Freddoso has made a career off dishonest, extreme hate mongering,” the message said. “And WGN apparently thinks this card-carrying member of the right-wing smear machine needs a bigger platform for his lies and smears about Barack Obama — on the public airwaves.”

I’m not familiar with Fredosso. (Look him up if you like.) But there’s a difference between responding to critics and choking them.

John McCain was once — no, for many years — one Republican in Congress that Democrats and independents could like, if not love. Why? Because he was truly bi-partisan. Far more, in fact, than Barack Obama.

It’s hard to square his campaign with that.

Is the difference just raw ambition, political hardball, do-anything-to-win? I’m sure that’s true. Still, disappointing. The promise to the counrty of McCain vs. Obama was a campaign based on ideas and ideals. That at last we might rise at least a few inches above the mud. Alas, not this time.

Les Misbarack.

Here’s JuiceTorrent. Here’s how it works.

I like that it’s a grass roots project to create a new and less centralized advertising economy. (Or maybe it’s decentralized. I’m not sure which, because the site doesn’t yet say what happens behind the curtain. Is it like BitTorrent in its architecture? If so, does it use the BitTorrent protocol in some way? And what’s actually centralized? Who sells the advertising? How is relevance determined? How is pricing determined?)

I also like anything that can start breaking what amounts to a near-monopoly on advertising by Google. At U.S. v. Microsoft, 10 Years Later, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s top legal honcho, became impassioned at just one moment during the 1.5 day event: when he was asked about an advertising deal between Google and Yahoo. This would combine the #1 and #2 online advertising companies, leaving Microsoft a distant #3. Disregarding the irony of crying “waah” because Microsoft is losing at a game it failed to buy (or innovate) its way into, Brad still has a case.

What I don’t like is the corrupting influence of the advertising economy itself.

Right now online advertising is a river of gold flowing out of the ground in California, and millions of bloggers — along with countless new and traditional businesses — are rushing to grab some. In addition to the other economy-distorting consequences of this rush, it is corrupting blogging’s original nature, which is amateur in the best sense or the word. Amateur is derived from amatorem, the Latin word for lover.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with making money by blogging. I am saying there’s something wrong with blogging mostly to make money, or to let advertising determine the purpose of your blog and what you say with it. If your business is the latter, you’re flogging, not blogging.

There is an old and subtle distinction here. Businesses and professions at their best are ways to pursue passions and organize talents — not just to make money. Of course they can’t thrive unless they make money. But few of us go into business just saying “I can’t wait to return value to my shareholders.” Investors are the main exceptions, but the best of those know that human passions other than greed are at the heart of every good business.

And it’s a distinction I’ll be making at BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas at the end of this week, somewhere in the Citizen Journalsism Workshop.

Meanwhile, check out JuiceTorrent. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes, since right now it’s single mention on the Web comes from Emil Sotirov of People Networks, which created the service. (I discovered Emil and his work through a comment here.) If this be a snowball, we can mark where it started.

[Later... Emil answers many questions above in the comments below.]

Seems like last millenium

Sitting and shooting at U.S. v. Microsoft, 10 Years Later, at Austin Hall in Harvard Law School. Extremely interesting, and free as well. If you’re nearby, stop by.

Smarty pants

Apple has applied to patent the ‘smart garment’.

Nick Carr explains:

  Apple views tennis-shoe DRM as a way to head off what it sees as a potential plague of sneaker hacking. “Some people,” the patent application observes, “have taken it upon themselves to remove the sensor from the special pocket of the [iPod-linked] Nike+ shoe and place it at inappropriate locations (shoelaces, for example) or place it on non-Nike+ model shoes.” Oh my God: Geeks are ripping the sensors out of their sneakers and sticking them on their shoelaces! Unleash the shoe nazis!

Quote du jour

“What G.E. ought to do is give MSNBC its freedom and the authority to kill its Mama…” — Terry Heaton

Say ______?

Twice in the last half hour, John Wayne Airport asked everybody to observe a minute of silence in honor of the airplane strikes against the World Trade Center exactly seven years ago, to the minute. On the way here I heard on the radio that this is now a regular thing in New York, but it’s the first time I experienced it at an airport.

I looked around to see what people did after they heard the message, announced following what must hold the record for Most Loud And Annoying Alert Sound (MLAAAS) at any airport on Earth: three long blasts that sound like a brontosaurus bellowing into a bad microphone. The answer was, mostly, nothing different. People in conversation kept talking, to each other or their phones. People behind counters continued to deal with pressing issues. A page for a list of passengers also came on immediately after the call for silence by the PA announcer.

Is it just how it goes here? Dunno. Just thought it was worth observing.

It can happen

Ordered a double short decaf cappuccino at the Starbucks in John Wayne Airport a few minutes ago. “I’ll have to charge you for a tall,” the woman behind the counter said. “Okay”, I replied. Turned out to be perfectly made and much more tasty than I tend to expect from decaf. The ratio of espresso, milk and foam was close to ideal. The foam still in the cup, ten minutes later, looks like coffee-marbled shaving cream, and still tastes delicious, cold. I don’t think I’ve had a better cup from an airport coffee vendor, including Peets. Was it worth the $4.85 I paid for it? ($3.50 for the cap, $1.00 for the extra shot and $.35 tax, the receipt says.) Guess so.


How the world changed, seven years ago today.

Framing wins

Here’s an interesting piece on framing by Rickard Linde. I think he and George Lakoff are both right about the expert framing job that the McCain campaign is doing on Obama, and that Republicans since Reagan have done in major elections. Rickard also has some excellent framing advice for the Obama campaign.

Both Rickard and George, however, are discounting the importance of bullshit. The Onion nailed it months ago. It doesn’t matter if Sarah Palin is unqualified as a presidential candidate (and remember, that’s what she’s running for — sitting on the bench behind an elderly president). She’s a star. A celebrity. That counts in America. A lot.

Who’s running for VP on Obama’s side? Nobody. Not compared to Palin’s celebrity, name recognition and face time on TV and magazine covers. Suddenly Obama’s got half a ticket.

I don’t know if the McCain campaign actually intended for this to happen, but the way it looks to me right now, it’ll work. Palin is single-handedly turning Barack Obama into John Kerry: a policy wonk quarantined to the bottom end of the FM dial. It’s amazing to watch.


New fashion in hardware: PCs that appear built to eat other PCs. Or chew your leg off under your desk. ht to jy.

Capitol Reef and its amazing rock suite

I shot more than 500 pictures out the pitted and blistered windows of the United Airbus 320 I took from Chicago to Orange County, day before yesterday. The shot above is one of them. It’s part of this series here, all of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

What I’m hoping is that somebody somewhere has troubled to identify all the rock strata on display here. If not, I’ll do it eventually. Meanwhile, I’ll at least tell you that the lightest color rock — the spine of the “reef” that stands out most in the larger feature known locally as the Waterpocket Fold — is Navajo Sandstone. Read more about it at that last link.

Credits where due

Here’s more reason I still love blogging. Not only did I find the telling graphic above, but discovered its source, GraphJam, via Tom McMahon, Chris Blattman, Scarlet Lion and Jillian C. York — in that order. That is, Tm credited Chris, who credited Scarlet, who credited Jillian, who credited GraphJam.

Some bloggers don’t credit their sources; but the good ones — who blog to exercise and share their curious hearts and minds, and not just to make a few bucks off SEO or whatever — do. So here’s a high five to every blogger who keeps doing what made blogging worthwhile in the first place.

Bonus fact.


I’m at O’Hare, en route from Boston to Orange County for DIDW, where I’ll be speaking on Wednesday. Beautiful day in Chicago, just like it was in Boston when I left at dawn. In the plane now with one of those rare bulkhead seats that give you lots of legroom and room to store a carry-on under the seat in front of you. The only bummer is the windows, which are not ideal for shooting. I actually have three of them, but they’re all pitted and blistered.

Interesting to observe an unintended consequence for airlines now charging for checked luggage: everybody is carrying on board the largest possible bags. This slows things down and screws the people last on board. That was me out of boston. My carry-on bag was taken from me and checked as luggage. Hope it gets there. I kept my back pack, though.

The lesson: get as close to the front of the boarding line as you can.

See ya on the far coast.

For a while now the Firefox URL address bar has also served as a shortcut to Google search. I’ve never liked that default, even though I found it handy, and have wanted to change the setting from time to time. But I never got around to it, mostly because I didn’t know how — and still don’t. (I also wanted to get rid of — or at least find the option to get rid of — the gray shade that comes down when I click on the little icon to the left of a URL, and says “This website does not supply encrypted information. Your connection to this site is not encrypted.” For all sites, pretty much. So, if I want to copy a URL by first clicking on the icon, I have to do that twice. I think this “feature” showed up around Firefox 2.5, but I forget. It predates 3.0, I’m pretty sure.)

Anyway, now suddenly my Firefox address bar’s default search engine is no longer Google but , with results identical to Yahoo’s. Why is that? I’m thinking it might be due to activating , which is a Yahoo property. Could it be that I’m using OpenDNS name servers? (Been doing that for a while, actually.) There’s also this in Wikipedia’s OpenDNS entry, under Privacy Issues and Covert Redirection,

While the OpenDNS name resolution service is free, people have complained about how the service handles failed requests. If a domain cannot be found, the service redirects you to a search page with search results and advertising provided by Yahoo.[citation needed] A DNS user can switch this off via the OpenDNS Control Panel...
Also, a user’s search request from the address bar of a browser that is configured to use the Google search engine (with a certain parameter configured) may be covertly redirected to a server owned by OpenDNS without the user’s consent (but within the OpenDNS Terms of Service).[12] Browsers configured to omit this parameter do not get redirected and address-bar searches are sent to Google as normal.[12] . Firefox and Flock users can fix this problem by installing an extension.[13]

That extension is the Feeling Lucky Fixer, from Cotcaro. While the two reviews of the thing both give it five stars, it’s still an “experimental” add-on, which requires a log-in (and has had only 170 downloads as of this moment).

So now I’m slowing to pass through that detour (not an instant process, since I run mail to my main address through Gmail for spam filtration, which can delay mail for up to several minutes)… but now I’ve done it and restarted Firefox… and encountered Glitch #1: Firefox didn’t remember my tabs, even though I told it to. Grr.

Also, the extension doesn’t work. When I type cotcaro, for example, in the address bar, it takes me to the OpenDNS search page.

So, does anybody know what’s going on here? I feel like my address bar has been hijacked, but I’m not sure that’s what’s going on. Yet.


I had a long list of I wanted to run down over at the VRM blog, but lost them (at least for now… I’m sure they’re around). Meanwhile, I covered the latest high points with VRM Catch-up.

In response to my last political post, the subject of High Road vs. Low Road was brought up. One comment suggested that I thought Obama’s was the former while McCain’s was the latter. In fact I was suggesting that both roads were tactics used by both candidates, and that I feared the election would be won and lost, as it usually is, by fighting along the low road to election day.

My current favorite reporting about road-taking comes from the St. Petersburg Times, which keeps up with both campaigns via the Truth-o-Meter. To each statement by each candidate and their campaigns (including emailings by candidates and parties), they sort statements into True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True, False and Pants on Fire. Currently those3 sort out this way :

Obama Biden McCain Palin
True 39 7 25 4
Mostly True 23 4 19 0
Half-True 20 4 19 3
Barely True 12 3 19 0
False 18 4 22 0
Pants on Fire 0 2 4 0

Some of the rulings are generous. For example, they found Sarah Palin’s claim that she put the state’s jet up for sale on eBay is true, even though it wasn’t sold on eBay.

As H.L. Mencken said, Looking for an honest politician is like looking for an ethical burglar. (More good quotes — all correct — here.*)

For what it’s worth, I favor Obama for two main reasons. One is that I’d rather see the country run on the ethics of empathy rather than those of fear. The other is that McCain and Palin are both warriors at heart (McCain was ready for war with Iraq right after 9/11, and Palin preached that the Iraq war was part of God’s “plan”) — and we’ve had eight bad years of that already.

I also think Obama is more likely to nominate top-notch non-ideological judges and to reform government in general. Also that he is less likely to screw up the Internet, which is the single best thing the world has going for itself. Finally, that he’ll restore the faith of the rest of the world in the sanity of the U.S. electorate and its government.

As for the economy, I think McCain understands the private sector — and the good it does — far better than Obama. If I were voting by my economically consevative and Libertarian sympathies alone, I’d favor McCain. But this election isn’t about that. This election is about throwing the old bums out and trying some new ones.

Back to the War Issue.

A few decades back Penelope Maunsell said of a former employer that “His management style was to find a problem and intensify it”. Same goes for politicians. There are exceptions, but that’s close to a rule.

I don’t doubt that John McCain is a first-rate military man. His experiences as a prisoner of war obviously strenghtened his character and equipped him with a high degree of sympathy for those suffering injustice, as well as for members of the armed forces. But John McCain shared with George W. Bush the urge to solve the problem of terrorism with the use of force, and lots of it. I don’t doubt that this response was exactly what Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist leaders were looking for.

Even if the Surge is working (and I’m inclined to agree that, on the whole, it is), that does not excuse McCain from having supported the Iraq War in the first place. That war has not only killed countless thousands (beyond the counted thousands of our own casualties), but put the country terribly in debt, weakened our military positions elsewhere, and diminished our reputation throughout the world. It was strategically wrong, in a huge way. McCain’s bad judgement on this count alone is reason enough not to elect him.

[Later...] Calvin Dodge points to RedState’s take on’s take on Palin’s acceptance address.

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Moving along

From The Long When:

  Either we get green or our layer of the lithosphere wraps early. We have to learn to respect a scope of time that geologists and too few others even begin to conceive. That’s why I love what the Long Now folks are trying to do. Our species has been operating on a free lunch program for the duration. We’re a start-up species, exploiting everything we found when we came here, and giving back approximately nothing. If we don’t come back from lunch pretty soon, lunch is what we’ll be.

Wrote that 7.5 years ago.

The Publican Convention

I love Dave Barry. A couple of random paragraphs:

  The Democrats pounced immediately on the choice of Palin, charging that she is unqualified, especially compared to the ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who have a total of nearly 40 years of experience in the U.S. Senate, or, if you subtract Biden, nearly four years of experience.

  But the McCain camp is defending Palin’s résumé, which, aside from being a governor and a mayor, includes being a mom, playing basketball, hunting moose and being runner-up for Miss Alaska 1984. There was some grumbling among Republican insiders that McCain would have been better off choosing somebody with a thicker résumé, such as Mitt Romney, who actually won Miss Alaska 1984.

But seriously, it’s disappointing to see the GOP present itself as the War Party. The most sensible Republican I heard tonight was Ron Paul, talking to Tavis Smiley on the motel TV. The least sensible was Rudy Giuliani, whose mockery of Obama’s work as a community organizer pissed me off. I was once a community organizer. I wasn’t very good at it, but I developed enormous respect for those who were. It’s good, hard and important work.

Obama is still doing it. And he’ll need to do a lot more if he’s going to win in November.

Between now and then it’ll be high road vs. low road. Hate to say I’m betting on the latter.

Lighten up

“We need solar power as cheap as paint, and a way to store it.” Overheard in conversation today. Just wanted to get it down.

Cloud cover

The Bigger Switch is my Linux Journal column on Nick Carr‘s The Big Switch. It concludes:

  I don’t see utopian ideals behind what Alvin Toffler called the Information Age (in The Third Wave, which came out in 1980). Rather, I see practical ones, modeled on the construction industry, complete with “architects”, “designers” and “builders”. The difference is in the materials. In the physical world, we are bound by the laws of physics and the periodic table. In the networked world, we are bound by what the human mind can produce. We have no equivalents of rock and wood, because our raw materials are far less limited and far more abundant than both. This creates new problems and opportunities in equal profusion.

  But, for better and worse, the source is us.

Bonus link: Nick on Google’s Chrome browser.

Flight hackers guide

I fly a lot, and I’m delayed a lot, including now, sitting in the terminal at Santa Barbara (waiting to take a redeye that will land me in Boston at dawn tomorrow). So I’ll take a few minutes to share some of what I’ve learned along the way.

First, dig . Not the best UI, but a very handy resource. It was via FlightAware that I found that my plane wasn’t only “delayed” (as the board said at the airport), but that the plane that would become my Denver flight was still on the ground in San Francisco, and would be an hour and thirty-seven munutes late taking off. Since I only had an hour layover in Denver, I had to seek alternatives.

Second, and . Since the Long Tail fills in blanks that the airlines miss, I was able to get a seat with extra legroom on the United Airbus 320 I’ll be taking tonight.

Third, if you’re waiting on line, call the airline and get business out of the way while you’re idle. I was able to do that in this case, and it was a merciful break for the passengers queued up behind me.

Fourth, dig All the links are interesting and rich with informative maps. There’s even a space weather link. Handy if there’s an aurora going on and you’re flying a route within sight of a magnetic pole. Here’s an example, complete with Space Weaher screen shots.

It’s the Mind, stupid

George Lakoff:

  …the choice of Sarah Palin as their vice presidential candidate reflects their expert understanding of the political mind and political marketing. Democrats who simply belittle the Palin choice are courting disaster. It must be taken with the utmost seriousness…

  …the Palin nomination changes the game. The initial response has been to try to keep the focus on external realities, the “issues,” and differences on the issues. But the Palin nomination is not basically about external realities and what Democrats call “issues,” but about the symbolic mechanisms of the political mind — the worldviews, frames, metaphors, cultural narratives, and stereotypes. The Republicans can’t win on realities. Her job is to speak the language of conservatism, activate the conservative view of the world, and use the advantages that conservatives have in dominating political discourse.

Either it’s nuts or political jujistu of the first water. And even if it’s the former, it could turn into the latter. Obama and the dems can’t wonk their way to victory, even if that’s their nature. (And it is.)

Power Trip

(Note: this post was made mistakenly as a page, and didn’t go up at first. Now it’s here. Thanks to commenters for the help.)

I’ve flown over these coal in New Mexico and Arizona many times, but never checked to see what was up with them. Or down. Or choose your direction.

Turns out the one above, a giant W in the Arizona landscape, is the Black Mesa Mine, and it has been mothballed since 2005 when the destination of its coal (via an unusual route), the Mojave power plant, was shut down. The Kayenta Mine is still running, as are the other mines I saw off to the east around the Four Corners areas.

I’m flying back to Boston today. Weather looks bad for shooting over the West. It’ll be dark over the rest of the trip anyway, though sometimes I get some good city shots at night.

Flying out here on the 19th, I sat on the sunny side of the plane, which never makes for good shooting, but I still got some decent shots of Gloucester Bay, Mt. Blanca in Colorado’s Sagre de Cristo range, Great Sand Dunes National Park, center-fed farms (such as the one above) in the San Luis Valley, the San Juan River running through a hogback, Shiprock, the painted desert, the Black Mesa Mine, the Kayenta Mine, the Grand Canyon, salt evaporators, Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. San Gorgonio, mountains of coastal southern California and Los Angeles freeways. Some are good. Enjoy.

Steve Lohr in the NYTimes:

  That challenge, legal experts say, is one of several for trademark policy and practice in the Internet age. Instant communication, aggressive business tactics and an unsettled legal environment, they say, mean that trademark disputes on the Internet will increase in number and intensity...

  The new areas of conflict, according to legal experts, include trademark owners trying to assert their rights to stifle online criticism of their products, and to stop trademarked brands from being purchased as keywords in Internet search advertising.

For example, live mesh.

Value subtraction

, which has amazingly bad PR chops, has done it again. Comcast to Place a Cap on Internet Downloads, headlines the NYTimes story. An excerpt:

  Until now, Comcast had not defined excessive use, but it had contacted customers who were using the heaviest amount of broadband and asked them to curb usage. Most do so willingly, the company said. The ones who do not curb their usage receive a second notice and risk having their accounts terminated.

  Although the 250 gigabyte cap is now specified, users who exceed that amount will not have their access switched off immediately, nor will they be charged for excessive use. Instead, the customers may be contacted by Comcast and notified of the cap. The company did not say how 250 gigabytes was selected.

  According to Comcast, a customer would have to download 62,500 songs or 125 standard-definition movies a month to exceed the caps,

So then, why bother? Why give customers one more reason not to use Comcast?

For what it’s worth, at our apartment near Boston I have a choice of Comcast, RCN and Verizon FiOS. I use FiOS because I get 20Mb of symmetrical service from a fiber optic line to the house, minimal technical restriction (they block port 80, but so does everybody) and rock-solid service. Far as I know Verizon doesn’t care how much data moves in either direction from my house. Comcast doesn’t compete with that. At least not yet.

All they did with this move is give me one more reason not to switch.

Maybe one of ya’ll can explain to me why this post I put up last night does not appear in the blog. Nor does it appear among my list of posts in the WordPress admin dashboard. Yet clearly it exists. Strange.