From Pine View Farm

May, 2006 archive

Sony Rootkit Settlement 0

I first mentioned Sony’s nefarious little rootkit in November.

Now the case has reached a settlement (from El Reg):

Federal courts have decided the penalty Sony BMG must suffer for exposing thousands of music fans’ computers to hackers with dodgy DRM software last year. District court judge Naomi Reice Buchwald granted final approval for a settlement yesterday.

Consumers will receive new malware and vulnerability-free CDs, a patch to remove the offending XCP or MediaMax code, and Sony will be dishing out free downloads.

By the way, if you or anyone you know had trouble with this software, follow the link to the story; it contains links about how to file a claim.


The Party of Privilege 4

Still making the rich richer, the poor poorer, and destroying the middle class:

A decades-long campaign by right-wing activists (brilliantly documented by Yale professors Michael Graetz and Ian Shapiro in their book “Death by a Thousand Cuts”) has convinced many Americans that the estate tax poses a threat to countless hardworking families. That was always nonsense, and under the estate tax revisions that almost all Democrats support — raising the threshold for eligibility to $3.5 million for an individual and $7 million for a couple — it becomes more nonsensical still. Under the $3.5 million exemption, the number of family-owned small businesses required to pay any taxes in the year 2000 would have been just 94, according to a study by the Congressional Budget Office. The number of family farms that would have had to sell any assets to pay that tax would have been 13.

Nonsense is the wrong word.

Lie would be better.


Secret Chimp 0

Today’s Deep Thought from Jack Handy, in the sidebar, suggested, “There should be a detective show called ‘Johnny Monkey,’ because every week you could have a guy say ‘I ain’t gonna get caught by no MONKEY,’ but then he would, and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of that.”

Which reminded me of this great old show.


Personal Note 1

My older daughter got married today. She found a good man, and a good man found a good woman.

I’ll be back blogging soon.


Yes, Virginia, There Is a Lady Justice. At Least, Sometimes. 0

A federal jury today convicted former Enron chairman Kenneth L. Lay of each of the six counts with which he was charged and convicted his protege Jeffrey K. Skilling of 19 of 28 counts, holding the top executives accountable for fraud on their watch.

Now, of course, they will tie the damn thing up in appeals for years. Remember that appeals are about procedure, not about truth.

Twelve good persons and true saw through their lies and recognized that they sacrificed the hard work, good will, dedication, faith, and personal worth of their employees and shareholders for their own personal games–er, gain.

Hope they look good in orange.


Eleven Reasons To Take It Down and Pass It Around 0

Yeasty reasons from the brewery:

In ancient times beer was named liquid bread. Today we possess the evidence that this is the truth. Depending on the extract, one litre of beer has 400-500 kcal. Of this, 250-390 kcal are the calories which come from the alcohol that is in beer. The rest of the calories come from the part of the extract the human body can use for its own maintenance.

With a tip to El Reg.


If You Use MS Word, Take Care 0

Hackers have developed malicious code designed to exploit an unpatched vulnerability in Microsoft Word 2002 and 2003.

Maliciously-constructed Word documents containing the Mdropper-H Trojan have begun to circulate on the net in messages that pose as internal emails. The malware contains a number of objects (such as PowerPoint slides and Excel charts) along with Backdoor-Ginwui, which opens a back door that allows hackers to control compromised Windows PCs.

The article has links to more information about the Trojan and methods of defending against it.

Better, get Open Office.


E. J. Dionne on the Language Po-leece 3

As it considered the immigration bill last week, the Senate passed an utterly useless amendment sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) declaring English to be our “national language” and calling for a government role in “preserving and enhancing” the place of English.

There is no point to this amendment except to say to members of our currently large Spanish-speaking population that they will be legally and formally disrespected in a way that earlier generations of immigrants from — this is just a partial list — Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, Norway, Sweden, France, Hungary, Greece, China, Japan, Finland, Lithuania, Lebanon, Syria, Bohemia, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia were not.

But why should his opinion matter? After all, as he tells us in the column, his father spoke a furrin lingo, and those who speak furrin lingos are most likely subversives, ain’t they?


A Noble Experiment . . . Success! 0

It’s been a long week here at the beautiful and luxurious Marriott Residence Inn Oyster Point/South San Francisco.

I’ve been here all week with my dog and pony show. Here is a picture of all my dogs and ponies:

Shipping Containers

This morning, big silver bird awaits. I shall be hermitically squeezed into the tube, united with the other human tennis balls, only to pop free later today back in PHL.

Yesterday, the hotel housekeeper forgot to leave filters for the coffee pot.

I can report with great confidence (and no small amount of gratitude) that paper towels work just fine. I’m starting to wake up now.


George Will Gets It. This Time. 0

As I believe I’ve said before, I respect George Will’s reasoning and intellectual discipline, though I seldom agree with his conclusions. But on this issue he gets it.

No party monopolizes “values”:

It is odd that some conservatives are eager to promote the semantic vanity of the phrase “values voters.” And it is odder still that the media are cooperating with those conservatives.

Conservatives should be wary of the idea that when they talk about, say, tax cuts and limited government — about things other than abortion, gay marriage, religion in the public square and similar issues — they are engaging in values-free discourse. And by ratifying the social conservatives’ monopoly of the label “values voters,” the media are furthering the fiction that these voters are somehow more morally awake than others.

Today’s liberal agenda includes preservation, even expansion, of the welfare state in its current configuration in order to strengthen an egalitarian ethic of common provision. Liberals favor taxes and other measures to produce a more equal distribution of income. They may value equality indiscriminately, but they vote their values.

Among the various flavors of conservatism, there is libertarianism that is wary of government attempts to nurture morality and there is social conservatism that says unless government nurtures morality, liberty will perish. Both kinds of conservatives use their votes to advance what they value.

Regular readers know that I the political positions I favor are often the ones liberal ones. They spring from strong values about the meaning, course, had destiny of the United States of America; about fairness; about the intent of the Founders and the meaning of the United States Constitution; and about criminal, civil, and social justice.

Sadly, on the national platform, we do not seem to have anyone who can articulate those values, who has the courage to take stands and the leadership ability to translate those values into political victory and national policy.

Those who take stands don’t seem to articulate liberal values so as to reach others, and those who seek political value have become frightened of their own shadows from the rightwing’s tactic of painting them as traitors and wusses.

The right is right; many politicians who believe in liberal values, values of justice, cooperation, and honesty (a value notable missing from the current Federal Administration) are wusses. They fear speaking the truth–and, by that, I do not mean calling names–and are incapable of showing vision.


BellSouth’s Weasel Wording 0

BellSouth wants USA Today to take it back and Verizon tries to say “not me” without actually saying “not me”:

El Reg points out the convolutions of BellSouth’s and Verizon’s statements:

Previously, following last week’s USA Today exposé, BellSouth had issued a statement claiming that it does not have a contract to supply the NSA with call records.

“Based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract exists, and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA,” the statement said.

Notice that the statement did not say BellSouth had not supplied any call records to the NSA. If it had, perhaps the retraction would already be in print.

But the statement is crafted to be letter-of-the-law accurate, even if there should be an informal agreement rather than a contract, or if something other than “bulk customer calling records” have been handed over, such as “pretty big piles of customer calling records”. It could also mean that a BellSouth billing contractor or other partner has supplied the information.

Meanwhile, Verizon has said that it “does not provide any government agency unfettered access to our customer records or provide information to the government under circumstances that would allow a fishing expedition”.

Another nice bit of Legalese. This could mean that almost anything is going on. Not providing “unfettered access” might mean that Verizon simply delivers the records to NSA, rather than letting them set up camp on its premises, as AT&T has been accused of doing. Also, as with the BellSouth statement, the wording leaves open the possibility that a contractor is delivering the data.


Sense on Immigration 4

I don’t know the right answer, but I know the wrong answers.

Here are some thoughts I’ve read recently that I find worth thinking about:

Illegal immigration is an entirely predictable consequence of a market economy. People go where the jobs are; employers go where cheap labor is. If you want to solve the problem of illegal immigration, solve that problem. Eliminate the minimum wage; that might do it. (But probably not; Americans don’t do jobs Americans don’t do, particularly for even less money than before.) Confiscate the assets of any company found to be using illegal laborers or confiscate the homes of anyone found to be employing illegal laborers as lawn-care specialists or nannies. That might make an impact, but it won’t happen — somehow, we’ve managed to work it around so employers are not the problem. Employers are citizens, and the problem is with people who are not citizens.

Does anyone think that the several thousand National Guard troops ordered to help the Border Patrol will have any impact at all on the flow of illegal aliens? Does anyone think that, a year from now, we’ll all be mopping our foreheads and saying, “Whew, that was a close call. Thank God those National Guard troops got there in time. At last, no more illegal immigrants”?

There are people who want to build a wall along the border with Mexico. What will that do? First, it’ll make the border with Canada a lot busier. Second, it’ll make the cost of getting across the border higher. Here’s the secret: Any form of smuggling depends on bribes. Customs agents, Border Patrol officers, owners of property along the border — they can all make money from illegal immigration, and a lot of them do. ‘Twas always thus; corruption is as old as society.

–Jon Carroll

But my view of sending in the troops hasn’t changed in the 15 years that I’ve covered this issue. As a solution to our self-induced immigration woes, I give it a “D” — for dumb, drastic and dangerous.

It’s dumb because — although this may come as a shock to the television personalities who parachuted into the San Diego area this week for live shots in front of barbed-wire fences — the front line in the immigration battle isn’t the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s the parking lot of the mega-hardware store in Indianapolis where people pick up day laborers. It’s in the restaurant in Las Vegas, and the hotel in Denver and the construction site in Atlanta. It is in American households where easy access to cheap labor lets middle-class families have nannies, housekeepers and other luxuries that were once the sole province of the upper class.

It’s drastic because, as a practical matter, the National Guard is already spread too thin thanks to the war in Iraq and natural disasters at home. It also makes Bush look desperate, as if he’s caving in to reactionary bullies on the far right who want — as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson put it — a “repressive” immigration policy. It was just a few years ago that Bush, during an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, pooh-poohed the idea of putting the Guard on the border. Now Bush has flip-flopped.

Finally, it’s dangerous because the roles served by soldiers and the police aren’t interchangeable. Ask any law enforcement officer who served in the military. Whereas the Border Patrol can — through techniques such as vehicle stops in border communities — tactically remove illegal immigrants, the National Guard is a blunt instrument. When that instrument is used indiscriminately, people can get hurt.

–Ruben Navarrette

Most of those funds (to pay for a fence as voted by the Senate–ed.) would be in addition to $1.9 billion the Bush administration is requesting from Congress for its “Strategic Border Initiative” for the coming fiscal year.

This huge investment would be justified if there was solid proof that it would work.

But there isn’t.

The United States has already spent billions of dollars fortifying the U.S. border during the past decade. Yet the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border has tripled during that period. “Fences are proven failures,” said Judy Golub, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco.

–San Francisco Chronicle editorial

I do not doubt the president’s sincerity in wanting to humanize and regularize the lives of America’s estimated 12 million illegal aliens. But good intentions are not enough. For decades, the well-traveled road from the Mexican border to the barrios of Los Angeles has been paved with such intentions. They begat the misguided immigration policy that created the crisis that necessitated the speech that purports to offer, finally, the “comprehensive” solution.

Hardly. The critical element — border enforcement — is farcical. President Bush promises to increase the number of border agents. That was promised in the Simpson-Mazzoli amnesty legislation in 1986. The result was more than 11 million new illegal immigrants.

–Charles Krauthammer

The vast majority of people caught smuggling immigrants across the border near San Diego are never prosecuted for the offense, demoralizing the agents making the arrests, according to an internal Border Patrol document obtained by The Associated Press.

“It is very difficult to keep agents’ morale up when the laws they were told to uphold are being watered-down or not prosecuted,” the report says.

The report offers a stark assessment of the situation at a Border Patrol station responsible for guarding 13 miles of mountainous border east of the city. Federal officials say it reflects a reality along the entire 2,000-mile border: Judges and federal attorneys are so swamped that only the most egregious smuggling cases are prosecuted.

–Associated Press

And, finally, the wages of heroism:

The widow of a man who died while trying to rescue two boys off San Francisco’s Ocean Beach on Sunday is facing another crisis: She could be deported to Kenya, in part because her petition for legal residency had not been filed before her husband’s death.


Language Po-leece 0

It must be most distressing to Jesus’ General that his beloved Republican party has gone over the French side and started down the road to becoming language police.

The Senate voted Thursday to make English the “national language” of the United States, declaring that no one has a right to federal communications or services in a language other than English except for those already guaranteed by law.


Lawn Armament 0

Are your weekends held hostage to your lawn? Or, worse, are you paying some outfit like Chemlawn to soak it with noxious chemicals and to cut it every week, even in August when it hasn’t grown an inch?

Today’s Radio Times has a fascinating segment on the history of the lawn in the United States of America. It was a drive-way moment.

I commend it to your attention.


My Little Gas Price Survey, 5/11/2006 0

It’s been almost five weeks since I last sampled gas prices. In that period, I’ve spent lots of time on airplanes and in the classroom and just haven’t had the energy to sample prices. Heck, for a couple of weeks there, I didn’t have the energy to blog.

But I finally took the sample in my little corner of the world, and this is what I found yesterday:

Way up since early April, about half a dollar. Highest price observed: $3.03 in Delaware (at a Gulf station that is usually among the lower-priced stations); lowest, $2.83 at two stations in New Jersey, one of which was a Gulf Station. Gulf seems to be burning the candle at both ends.

The wierd thing I saw was that prices in Delaware and in area of New Jersey where I now work were about the same, but prices in the portion of Gloucester County, NJ, that I traverse on the way to my new office were 13 cents higher than prices on either end of my drive.

New Jersey taxes gas at $.145 per gallon; Delaware, at $.23 per gallon, which pretty much accounts for the typical difference between Jersey and Delaware prices–but this week, Jersey and Delaware prices have been about the same, meaning the stations (or, more likely, the wholesalers) in Jersey are racking in an extra 10 or 11 cents per gallon.

Runnemede, NJ, Gulf, $2.83; Wawa, $2.87.

Bellmawr, NJ, Power Plus, $2.89 (up from 2.83 on Wednesday); Citgo, $2.83; XTra, $.2.84; Texaco and Valero, $2.85.

Woodbury Lukoil, $2.85.

Gibbstown, NJ, Valero, $2.96.

Paulsboro, NJ, Lukoil, $2.87; Exxon (TA Truck Stop), $2.88; BP, $2.89.

Claymont, Del., Exxon, $2.99; Sunoco, $2.87; Getty and Gulf, $2.87; BP, $2.89; Gulf (Cumberland Farms), $3.02; Wawa, $2.85.

Holly Oak, Del, Mobil, $2.87.


Adventures in Linux, Graphics Viewer Department 1

For years, I’ve used a little Windows graphics viewer called “Vueprint.” Unlike most Windows programs, it’s small, fast, and easy to use.

When I started using it, the release version was v. 3 for Windows 3.1. Now it’s up to v. 8 for Windows XP, 2000, NT, and 9x.

It’s not an editor: you can’t use it to take, for example, George Bush’s head and put it on Pinto Colvig’s body (George Bush managed that himself).

The Linux world does offer the GIMP for complete image manipulation, as well as a number of other graphics viewers (the GIMP can do anything you want to do with a picture; the GIMP is the cat’s meow in Linux/Unix). (The GIMP is also available under the Open Source license–that means it’s free as long as the terms of the license are observed–for Windows and Fruits, so you can stop those $$$$$ for PhotoShop.)

Vueprint enabled me to move through a directory of pictures with single keystrokes or mouse-clicks, adjust white-points, contrast, and brightness, crop with the mouse and hot-keys, and all kinds of other neat stuff. In fact, I found it better for editing my digital photographs than the software that came with any of my cameras.

Since I do a lot of stuff with images (the training materials I write are full of illustrations, as is my boating website), the only Windows program I have missed since moving to Linux is Vueprint–Ed Hamrick has developed a great scanner program which he ported from Windows to Linux, but seems to have no interest in a Linux version of Vueprint. The best thing I’d found until today was XV: it’s cropping routine is easy, but it’s file-open and file-save routines are rather cumbersome.

So it was with great pleasure that I found XnView, which provides functionality similar to Vueprint in a native Linux program. I can crop my pictures with the mouse-click and a CTRL-C, resize them, adjust the color quality, and all that other stuff just as easily as in Vueprint.


The installation went smoothly.

Sort of.

I untarred the .tgz file, ran the install script (I did have to chmod the install script to run it–I got a “permission denied”), and bingo–the program . . . didn’t . . . run.

It was looking for a library file I didn’t have, at least not in the right place; I did a search and found a copy in my Open Office directory (/opt/openoffice.org2.0/program) and copied it to /usr/local/lib (XnView installed to /usr/local/bin) and bing-bang-boom, I was looking at pictures.


The only deficiency I’ve found in the program is that the help file isn’t.

Isn’t there, that is.

But the menus are pretty much self-explanatory and expertise is only 15 minutes of experimentation away.

My Linux box is complete.

(except that I want to compile a new kernel and still haven’t taken the time to find out how to pass my wireless network password to my access point, but that’s another story . . . .)


The Bush Administration Is a Colossal Success . . . 0

. . . using the criteria of today’s Quote for the Day in my sidebar:

Winston Churchill – ‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’

If Mr. Churchill were around today, I suspect he might rethink that statement.


Republican Legacy 0

From today’s Washington Post:

The Republicans’ problem is not simply their inability to run their government and wage their war of choice, it is also their bankruptcy of ideas. On taxes, the Republican legislative leaders’ top priorities are to make permanent the tax cut on investment income and to repeal the estate tax — economics, as ever, for our wealthiest 1 percent. (This at a time when the entire theory of trickle-down has been negated by the propensity of U.S. corporations to use their shareholders’ investments to expand abroad rather than at home.) On energy, the notions of tougher fuel economy standards and mandating a shift to renewable energy sources are so alien to the Republicans’ DNA that they come forth with such proposals as Bill Frist’s $100 rebate, the most short-lived legislative initiative in recent memory.


And so, to stave off the specter of Democratic rule, Rove has decided that the only way to rally the Republican base is to invoke the specter of Democratic rule. Democrat John Conyers, who would become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has spoken of investigating the president for high crimes and misdemeanors. Henry Waxman and Ted Kennedy will get subpoena power if the Democrats win both houses. Unspecified horrors lurk behind every corner if the Democrats take control and hold hearings about the administration’s relations with the oil and pharmaceutical industries. A sea of partisan vendetta, Republicans prophesy, stretches to the horizon if the Democrats are allowed to win.

As if “partisan vendetta” be not the Republican modus operandi.

Note the proper use of the subjunctive.


Mixed Emotions 3

This story in today’s local rag left me with profoundly mixed emotions:

On April 28, Catherine Andreacchio, whose son had shipped out for Iraq on March 23, hung a Stars and Stripes – with a U.S. Marine Corps emblem in the center – from the front of her Montgomery Township home.

A few days later, she said, she took it down at the request of the homeowners’ association at her development.

The association said she was violating its rules by flying what it calls a “defaced” flag. And the American Legion says it violates the U.S. flag code.

But on Monday, Andreacchio put it back up and sent a three-page, single-spaced letter to the association protesting its opposition to that version of the flag.

On the one hand, I have nothing but sympathy for Ms. Andreacchio. My older son returned from Iraq in November, where he was dispatched to defend honorably a dishonorable regime. And no doubt he will be returning, because of the incompetence, venality, and corruption of the current Federal Administration. I know her concern and worry.

On the other hand, I believe strongly in observing proper flag etiquette. And a flag of the United States of America with the Marine Corps emblem–or any other emblem–on it is an improper flag.

So, while I honor her emotions, I must state that I have qualms about her actions.

Which leads me to other musings–about those who would ban burning the flag of the United States of America as a form of protest.

As distasteful as I find that act, I believe it shows more respect for the flag than those who favor “flag-burning” amendments show. After all, those who burn the flag believe it means something, and that, by burning it, they make a statement.

Those who favor “flag-burning” amendments tend to wrap their greasy hair in the Stars and Stripes bandanas, or clothe their fat (rear-ends) in the Stars and Stripes shorts and then sit on it, or put adulterated representations of the Stars and Stripes in the rear windows of their vehicles. and think that, in doing so, they are showing their patriotism.

They dishonor the flag and what it symbolizes far more than Ms. Andreacchio’s adulterated “Marine Corps” flag or those who would burn the flag thinking that it actually stands for something.


Don’t Go Sailing with Bacardi 0

I’ve done a little boating in my time.

I wouldn’t ride with Bacardi on a bet.

They have this nice new commercial–really great graphics of a Bacardi bottle sailing through icey seas to a safe harbor.

Unfortunately, the end is fiction, for, as the bottle enters the harbor, it passes to the left of the green bouy (therefore the green bouy is on its right). It’s out of the channel, crashes on the rocks, and floods the harbor with rum.

For the rule is “red, right, return.”

But the animators left that part out; they covered it up with a scene of the bottle safely arriving at the floating bar . . . .