From Pine View Farm

November, 2005 archive

First Son Is Home from Baghdad 1

He arrived in New Jersey today from Kuwait.

I look forward to talking with him about his experiences once he is in a secure undisclosed location.


A New Political Tactic: Sue the SOB’s. 0

Just up the road in Philadelphia, beleagured politicians are exploring a new way of dealing with their critics:

Vernon Anastasio does not dispute that he has said some harsh and unkind things about Councilman Frank DiCicco and his son, Christian.

When he labeled the councilman mentally ill last year, Anastasio insists, he was merely expressing an opinion and engaging in free speech. Same again when he accused DiCicco’s son of a conflict of interest in a business-development project.

The DiCiccos do not see those remarks as the exercise of free speech. They see them as defamation.

And they are suing Anastasio, a fellow Democrat and a political opponent of DiCicco in South Philadelphia, in two defamation lawsuits in Common Pleas Court.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If they win, perhaps it will be possible, when a member of the current Federal Administration accuses a poliltical opponent of treason for having the effrontery to question the policies of the current Administration, for said opponent to sue the SOB Spokesman of Bushies.


Don’t Look Back (Updated) 0

I did it.

I ported the laptop over to Linux last night.

The laptop is not just a computer. The desktop that Second Son uses to play his games is just a computer. The laptop is mine. You hear me!! Mine!!

So I’m going to have a fun weekend making everything work. I’ve got the basics: Opera and F-Prot. Now to make everything else work.

(Update, 11/26/2005)

Both DVD/CD drives work for reading discs. The USB Mouse works. The speakers work.

The firewall works.

The newsfeed and the email work.

Two things left:

Get the CD burning features to work.

Get Open Office loaded (unfortunately, v. 2. right now is just in RPMs, and they need a couple of Gnome libraries I don’t have yet).

(Update. 11/27/2005)

I gave up on xcdroast and got K3B for the K Desktop Environment. It works great.

I also installed PAN and am happily back on Giganews.

Open Office is still not cooperating with me, but I still have KWord to process words. OO came in RPMs, and Slack doesn’t like RPMs all that much. Plus there’s some more Gnome stuff I have to get to make the install work.

Next major task is to get CUPS working.

(Updated 12/4/2005)

I installed Gnome and have all the Gnome libraries.

I have CUPS working and can now print and the USB floppy drive is on line. Two major tasks remain: getting my digital camera to mount and getting HJSplit to work. The minor remaining task is get my USB thumbdrive to mount.

Oh, yeah, Open Office is working, thanks to this script.


This Reminds Me of the Railroad 3

I worked for the railroad for 24 years. From time to time, an employee would pass away and two wives and families would turn up–one at each end of his run.

After the surprise died away, since neither family knew of the other, great battles would ensue over the death benefit and railroad retirement survivor benefits.

Seeing this story took me back to those days:

Two ‘wives’ fight over sergeant’s remains

November 23, 2005

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. –The final resting place for a retired sergeant may be determined by a judge as two women battle over which was his wife at the time of his death.

John E. “Sarge” Burrell died in July. His body has been stored at Wiseman Mortuary in Fayetteville since then, while the women fight over whether to bury him in a veterans cemetery in Spring Lake or in Atlanta.

Whenever this happened in my previous gig, I would always have the same reaction: “One spouse is enough trouble. Why would anyone want two?”


Requiem for a Turkey 0

All gone, except for the turkey’s ghost that will haunt our next few meals. I forgot to set out the cranberry sauce (the traditional kind, with the rings), but no one noticed and it was still nice. The sweet potato pies turned out far better than I feared, good enough that I gave one away.

And the fire that started in the oven when the roasting sheet overflowed with turkey grease burned itself out nicely.

Logic indicates that the ignition point of turkey grease must be somewhere between 325 F (the turkey-cooking temperature) and 425 F (the sweet potato biscuit cooking temperature).

One unwelcome holiday tradition did rear its ugly head (oven fires are not a tradition around these parts).

In the two decades I’ve lived here, I’ve had to have the drains roto-rooted twice.

Both times, they backed up on a holiday–Christmas Day, as it happened.

This year, they picked today, Thanksgiving Day, to back up.

They have never chosen to back up on a Monday evening when I could call the boss and take Tuesday morning off to wait for the plumber. No, they only back up on double-overtime extra-charges-out-the-ying-yang days.

I’ll have them rooted Saturday, since I’ll be away tomorrow. And whatever extra a Saturday call costs, it can’t be as bad as a Thanksgiving Day call (plus I don’t ruin some poor long-suffering plumber’s Thanksgiving). (Frankly, since I’ve been a homeowner, I’ve learned a lot more about plumbing and electricity than I ever wanted to know, and enough not to begrudge competent plumbers a cent of what they charge–a competent plumber earns every penny.)

All in all, an okay day. I hope everyone reading this (all two or three of you) and everyone not reading this also had nice Thanksgivings and lots of things for which to be thankful.


Senator Carl Levin Calls Cheney Out 0

Mr. Levin contrasts Mr. Cheneys recent statements with the truth:

“Because of the many serious issues surrounding the Administration’s use of pre-war intelligence, the Vice President should hold a press conference and address the legitimate concerns of the American people. The Vice President needs to answer questions, not just attack the questioners.

“In that press conference, the Vice President should explain why he said: ‘It’s been pretty well confirmed that [lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the [9/11] attack’ even though the CIA’s pre-war assessment was that ‘Reporting is contradictory on hijacker Mohammed Atta’s alleged trip to Prague and meeting with an Iraqi intelligence officer, and we have not verified his travels.’ The CIA also concluded that ‘the most reliable reporting to date casts doubt’ on the possibility of such a meeting.

“The Vice President should also answer why he said: ‘Specifically aluminum tubes….We do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon’ when the Department of Energy’s intelligence experts concluded before the war that the tubes were probably not intended for that purpose and the State Department’s intelligence bureau concluded that ‘the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.’

“The Vice President said today that ‘any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped or fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false.’ In fact, the President needs to explain why he said ‘You can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam’ and why he said, after Saddam was removed, ‘We’ve removed an ally of al-Qaeda’ when the Defense Intelligence Agency had said prior to the war that ‘Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements.’

And, in a similar mode, retired Senator Bob Graham puts the lie to the current Federal Administration’s claim (“talking point”? “lie du jour”?) that the Congress, before the resolution supporting war against Iraq, had access to the same intelligence information as did the Federal Administration:

In the past week President Bush has twice attacked Democrats for being hypocrites on the Iraq war. “[M]ore than 100 Democrats in the House and Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power,” he said.

The president’s attacks are outrageous. Yes, more than 100 Democrats voted to authorize him to take the nation to war. Most of them, though, like their Republican colleagues, did so in the legitimate belief that the president and his administration were truthful in their statements that Saddam Hussein was a gathering menace — that if Hussein was not disarmed, the smoking gun would become a mushroom cloud.

The president has undermined trust. No longer will the members of Congress be entitled to accept his veracity. Caveat emptor has become the word. Every member of Congress is on his or her own to determine the truth.

Not surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal today reported that

A majority of U.S. adults believe the Bush administration generally misleads the public on current issues, while fewer than a third of Americans believe the information provided by the administration is generally accurate, the latest Harris Interactive poll finds.

Courtesy the Huffington Post.


I wonder why.

Could it be because the current Federal Administration wouldn’t recognize the truth if it arrived gift-wrapped at their front door accompanied by trumpeting heralds?

(For a detailed description of Mr. Cheney’s issues and concerns with veracity, go here.)


Why Do Suburbanites Rake Leaves? 2

I would be curious to know.

Anne Applebaum raised the issue in her column today:

It’s a peculiarly suburban problem, autumn leaves. True urbanites never think about leaves, and in fact I have friends in New York who howl with derision at the mere mention of a rake. True country-dwellers don’t bother about leaves either. As the philosophers would ask, if leaves fall in a forest and no one is there to see them, do they need to be raked? Certainly they don’t have the same kind of social significance that they have in the suburbs, where an abundance of leaves is a sign of sloppiness, of inadequate concern for the community, or simply of a bad attitude.

I grew up in the country. As Ms. Applebaum accurately points out, country-dwellers do not rake leaves. They ignore them, knowing that the leaves will go away by springtime.

I googled “Why rake leaves.” I got a bunch of hits on how to rake leaves, but nothing on why. Though there was one voice of almost sanity here.

So, help me out here. What’s the point of raking leaves?

(By the way, I no longer rake leaves, at least not since I became single again. I mulch, with the help of Murray.)


The Register Spots the Black Helicopters 0



My Little Gas Price Survey, 11/21-22/2005 0

Jersey prices seem to regaining their usual position as being several cents less than Delaware prices:

Observed November 21, 2005.

Woodbury, NJ, Coastal, $1.90.

Woodbury, NJ, Exxon, $2.32 (no, that’s not a typo).

Woodbury, NJ, Enrite, $1.89.

Observed November 22, 2005.

Gibbstown, NJ, Valero, $1.99.

Paulsboro, NJ, Lukoil, $1.97.

Paulsboro, NJ, Exxon, $1.99.

Paulsboro, NJ, BP, $2.01.

Claymont, Del., Exxon, $2.04.

Claymont, Del., Sunoco, $2.01.

Claymont, Del., BP, $2.03.

Claymont, Del., Gulf (Cumberland Farms), $2.01.

Claymont, Del., Gulf, $2.09.

Claymont, Del, Wawa, $1.99.

Holly Oak, Del, Mobil, $2.01.


Bill Moyers Speaks 0

It’s a very long post, reflecting on politics, religion, culture, war, and corruption.

I commend it to your attention. Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions, his thoughts are worth considering. See it here.


Sony’s Rootkit, Still in the News 0

Texas and the EFF are suing:

The state of Texas and consumer activist group Electronic Frontier Foundation filed lawsuits Monday against the music giant, alleging that its copy-protected CDs violate laws against spyware and make computers vulnerable to attack.

But The Register doesn’t see any effect on Sony’s bottom line to date:

The only figure that matters – the bottom line – appears to be unaffected by the fiasco. CNet’s John Borland reports, and as retailers confirmed to The Register, that Sony hasn’t lost sales from popular titles infected with the notorious XCP copy-restriction technology.

The poorly written software leaves a PC wide open to hackers, and attempts to remove it can disable the CD drive. Sony Music reluctantly announced a recall and exchange program for XCP-infected CDs last week.

But the rootkit can be easily defeated:

Sony’s controversial DRM technology – which installs rootkit-style software when users play Sony BMG CDs on Windows PCs – can be defeated easily with nothing more than a piece of masking tape, security researchers have discovered.


Now analyst house Gartner has discovered that the technology can be easily defeated simply by applying a fingernail-sized piece of opaque tape to the outer edge of the disc. This renders session two — which contains the self-loading DRM software — unreadable.

So that (from the same story in El Reg) . . .

“After more than five years of trying, the recording industry has not yet demonstrated a workable DRM scheme for music CDs,” Gartner concludes.

But (still from the same story) . . . .

Placing gaffer tape on the edge of a CD may make it unbalanced and could cause damage to the disc or (worse) drive as it spins at high speed. A better option, as Reg readers point out, might be to disable Windows autorun.

If only Windows listened when we tried to turn off Autorun!

Meanwhile, Sony has given hackers a ticket to a gold mine:

Hacker websites are using Sony’s DRM uninstaller in an attempt to take over Windows PCs. Under pressure, Sony recently released a tool to remove the rootkit technology installed when users play Sony BMG CDs on Windows PCs. This happened after it was shown Sony’s DRM code (First4Internet XCP program) created a handy means for hackers to hide malware from anti-virus scanning programs.


Miscellany 1

I listened to the weather report. The weather this week is supposed to suc–er, be less than desirable.

So I did my outside Christmas decorations Saturday; then, since I had the extension ladder out already, cleaned the gutters. Four hours on a 28-foot extension ladder. Sunday I was sore. Not to mention that, before that, I washed both dogs and mopped a couple of floors.

I won’t turn the decorations on until Thanksgiving, though. I have some standards. Not many, but some.

Monday, I’m still sore.

Sunday, I got out this neato hydraulic log splitter I bought from a neighbor of my boss and split logs for an hour and a half. Given what’s predicted to happen to natural gas prices, I expect I will be using my fireplace a lot over the next four months. I doubled the size of my woodpile Sunday afternoon. And . . .

Monday, I’m still more sore.

I noticed a couple of newspaper columns this weekend that I want to muse about, but I don’t have the energy yet. I’m still letting my brain cogitate on them in the background.

It will be a different Thanksgiving. I no longer have any parents to visit. My father died in May and my mother is in a home. My kids are scattered to the four winds, except for Second Son, so it will just be him and me. (I will go to Pine View Farm and visit my mother on the Friday after Thanksgiving.)

So, instead of a turkey, I got a turkey breast. I’m working on the menu. Turkey, rice, gravy (not out of a can–homemade; it’s so easy to make there’s no point to buying canned gravy), some kind of vegetable, and sweet potato pie. Same color as pumpkin pie, but it tastes good, not bitter. And maybe sweet potato biscuits–depends on how much energy I have on Wednesday. Oh, yeah, and cranberry sauce, the real kind, the kind with the rings around it.

If you haven’t had sweet potato pie and sweet potato biscuits, you have suffered great deprivation.

Oh, yeah, and SWEET POTATOES ARE NOT THE SAME THING AS YAMS! A pox on anyone who thinks otherwise.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!!


The Politics of Character Assassination 2

The Honorable Jean Schmidt, speaking about the Honorable John Murtha’s resolution about the war in Iraq:

Ms. Schmidt: Yesterday I stood at Arlington National Cemetery attending the funeral of a young marine in my district. He believed in what we were doing is the right thing and had the courage to lay his life on the line to do it. A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bop, Ohio Representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body – that we will see this through.

Mr. Murtha has earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Here is part of what Mr. Murtha said:

Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence. U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, Saddamists and foreign jihadists. I believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraqi security forces will be incentivized to take control. A poll recently conducted shows that over 80% of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops, and about 45% of the Iraqi population believe attacks against American troops are justified. I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis.
I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice that the United States will immediately redeploy. All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free. Free from United States occupation. I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for the good of a “free” Iraq.

My plan calls:

To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.
To create a quick reaction force in the region.
To create an over- the- horizon presence of Marines.
To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq

Mr. Murtha is no dove. You can read his official bio here.

Yet, the Republicans have the gall to accuse him of cowardice. They are back to the politics of character assassination, their refuge whenever the truth is not on their side.

Here is the letter I shall post tomorrow to the Honorable Jean Schmidt:

The Honorable Jean Schmidt
238 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-3502

Dear Ms. Schmidt:

I am no great fan of the Honorable John Murtha. I am familiar with him because I lived in Pennsylvania for several years before moving to Delaware. I disagree with many of his positions on a variety of issues.

Nevertheless, for you to accuse a decorated American veteran who sustained wounds on behalf of his country (that is what the Purple Heart means—look it up) of cowardice is an example of the lowest form of the politics of character assassination.

Have you no shame?

Very truly yours,

Frank W. Bell, Jr.


My Little Gas Price Survey, 11/18/2005 2

It’s been about three weeks, and I was playing road warrior for two of them, but this is what I observed today. There have been significant drops:

Claymont, Del., Exxon, $2.09.

Claymont, Del., Sunoco $2.04.

Claymont, Del., Wawa, $2.01.

Claymont, Del, BP, $2.06.

Claymont, Del, Getty, $2.05.

Claymont, Del, Cumberland Farms, $2.03.

Claymont, Del., Gulf, $2.11.

Holly Oak, Del., Mobil, $2.07.

Penny Hill, Del., BP and Getty, $2.09.

Penny Hill, Del., Exxon, $2.11.


Walmart Knows How To Deal with Shoplifters 0

Courtesy the Huffington Post. After being caught out on an attempt to shoplift by changing price stickers, Stacy Clay Driver fled and was pursued by a Walmart Loss Prevention employee:

When confronted, Driver ran into the parking lot, pursued by a loss-prevention employee. According to the suit, the employee wrestled Driver to the ground. Other Wal-Mart employees assisted in subduing Driver as he struggled to get up.

On Nov. 4, the medical examiner ruled Driver’s death was caused primarily by asphyxia because of neck and chest compression while a secondary cause was hyperthermia with methamphetamine toxicity.

If you talk with a policeman, he will inform you that there is a very precise legal definition of what constitutes “restraint” of a suspect. Asphyxiation is not part of that definition.

Mr. Clay’s survivors are reportedly seeking legal redress.

Whether or not they deserve redress is another issue. Somehow, it doesn’t seem right to me that his estate should benefit from his being caught out in wrong-doing, however improperly he might have been treated, but I haven’t thought that through yet.


Blogs–the Other Side 0

Daniel Rubin, in Blinq, points out this story from Forbes, which offers a view of the dangers of blogs and blogging.

Blogs started a few years ago as a simple way for people to keep online diaries. Suddenly they are the ultimate vehicle for brand-bashing, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns. It’s not easy to fight back: Often a bashing victim can’t even figure out who his attacker is. No target is too mighty, or too obscure, for this new and virulent strain of oratory. Microsoft has been hammered by bloggers; so have CBS, CNN and ABC News, two research boutiques that criticized IBM’s Notes software, the maker of Kryptonite bike locks, a Virginia congressman outed as a homosexual and dozens of other victims–even a right-wing blogger who dared defend a blog-mob scapegoat.

Seems to me that the Forbes article is merely a hysterical recognition that frauds and lies happen in cyberspace, not just in the White House.

Seattle P-I Editorial Cartoon, 11/15/2005
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 15, 2005


The Philadelphia Inquirer Speaks Eloquently on Torture 0

From this morning’s editorial page:

. . . It’s an embarrassing standoff, which does untold damage to this nation’s image as a beacon of liberty. As it unfolds, it has a Twilight Zone feel.

Citizens behold a President saying Americans don’t torture, yet unwilling to set policy that would forbid it.

Vice President Cheney appeals to McCain to grant exemptions so that CIA operatives can turn the screws on terror suspects abroad. This, as news reports disclose a network of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere where who-knows-what goes on beyond public view.

Finally, the same Senate that gave slam-dunk approval to McCain’s measure narrowly approves a distressing proposal to bar federal court appeals by detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Uphold constitutional values with one hand, take them away with the other.

Taken together, these moves send the wrong message about America.

Who is better qualified than McCain to explain why:

“The enemy we fight has no respect for human life or human rights,” he said recently. “They don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies, and we can never, never allow our enemies to take those values away.”

In the meantime, the Senate wrestles with Senator Lindsey Graham’s attempt to further dehumanize America’s captives.

I emailed my Senators last night. I kept it short:

“Please oppose any attempt to limit the right to habeas corpus.

“The very attempt to limit habeas corpus signifies how important it is. This attempt is a further effort to hide from the American people, and everyone else, the bankrupt policies of the current Federal Administration.”

Every step this Federal Administration takes towards torture, towards imprisoning persons without cause, towards proscribing the civil liberties of American citizens, towards spying on persons as they go about legitimate and harmless day-to-day activities is another step towards tyranny and away from the ideals and beliefs that this country has stood for, however imperfectly and with whatever fits and starts, for over two centuries.


I’m Glad I Didn’t Know This before My Plane Landed Yesterday 0

We had a graceful approach, turning over Seattle to descend into SeaTac International Airport from the north. Fortunately, we landed on the correct runway.

At least eight times since December 1999, experienced pilots from five different airlines have mistaken Taxiway Tango for Runway 16R.

Three planes, including an American Airlines MD-80 carrying 111 passengers and crew members, actually landed on the taxiway. Five others — most recently in January of this year — either performed last-minute “sidesteps” to shift course and land on 16R, or aborted their landings before circling and touching down safely on the runway.


Lawyer Exodus at DOJ 0

According to today’s Washington Post, the Know-Nothings are cleaning out the Department of Justice:

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which has enforced the nation’s anti-discrimination laws for nearly half a century, is in the midst of an upheaval that has driven away dozens of veteran lawyers and has damaged morale for many of those who remain, according to former and current career employees.

Nearly 20 percent of the division’s lawyers left in fiscal 2005, in part because of a buyout program that some lawyers believe was aimed at pushing out those who did not share the administration’s conservative views on civil rights laws. Longtime litigators complain that political appointees have cut them out of hiring and major policy decisions, including approvals of controversial GOP redistricting plans in Mississippi and Texas.


Whither GOOGLE? 1

David Vise, writing in today’s Washington Post, thinks there is more than just a colorful search engine there:

Google’s colorful childlike logo, its whimsical appeal and its lightning-fast search results have made it the darling of information-hungry Internet users. Google has accomplished something rare in the hard-charging, mouse-eat-mouse environment that defines the high-tech world — it has made itself charming. We like Google. We giggle at the “Google doodles,” the playful decorations on its logo that appear on holidays or other special occasions. We eagerly sample the new online toys that Google rolls out every few months.

But these friendly features belie Google’s disdain for the status quo and its voracious appetite for aggressively pursuing initiatives to bring about radical change. Google is testing the boundaries in so many ways, and so purposefully, it’s likely to wind up at the center of a variety of legal battles with landmark significance.

The article is well worth a read.