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This is a draft of something I'm going to email to the office of Howard Kleinhelder, and maybe see if I can turn it into a local letter to the editor.

Howard Kleinhendler, I wanted to vote for you. Not that I knew who you were before you left that automated call I found on my answering machine last night, but I have voted against Chris Smith in every election since I moved to NJ's fourth congressional district. As the Democratic candidate this time around, you would have gotten my vote simply for standing against him.

When I got home and listened to the first 15 seconds of the pre-recorded message you'd left on my answering machine, I swore and punched the delete key; I wish now I'd saved it so that I could quote it to shame you. Have you become confused about what race you're running in, and maybe think you're now running for a seat on the New York City Planning Commission? Are you perhaps an expert in Islamic theology when it comes to the location of religious centers?

If not, why is it any business of yours where Muslims in New York choose to worship? Have you forgotten that this is America, where we are supposed to have higher standards for religious freedom and tolerance than anywhere else on the planet? Did you really want my first introduction to you to be a robocall assuring me that you're at least as full of anti-Muslim bigotry as your opponent?

Don't tell me about September 11th. I remember it well. I remember what a gloriously bright blue the sky was that morning. I remember the news stories on the radio that morning ("Mad Cow disease discovered in Japan"). I remember the minutes between the planes when we could think it was some terrible accident, and the shock of the revelation, after the second plane hit, that this was a deliberate attack. I remember frantically trying to find news websites that were still up to tell us what was going on. I remember over the next several days deliberately avoiding the TV and its endless replay of people jumping from the collapsing towers. And I remember how over the course of the following months and years our country went collectively insane.

I'm sure that the rest of your message, had I listened to it, would have calmly used language about the difference between having the right to do something and whether that's a good idea; that's the usual middle ground politicians attempt to carve out here. But there is no middle ground to be had there - you have declared that the anti-Muslim sentiment of people who were not actually there in Manhattan on that Tuesday trumps America's historic commitment to freedom of religion. You have joined with those who would class Muslims as non-American by definition. As a consequence, I cannot press the button next to your name this November.

I still can't bring myself to vote for Rep. Smith - his long commitment to a reactionary position on reproductive rights guarantees that - but when you see the full breakdown including write-in votes know that the "George Washington" write-in is from me. I know he's ineligible being dead and, more than that, a Virginian, but I'd point you to his letter to the Jewish community in Newport, RI as an example to follow. "To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance" - that's how politicians speak when they want my vote.
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So today I got an email message on my work account titled "FW: EAP Support: Coping with Tragedy at Virginia Tech" and with the text:
Our EAP provider, Horizon Health, has provided the attached articles to help support us in the aftermath of the incident at Virginia Tech.
(with an attached word document I haven't opened yet)

Now, the shootings at VT were awful, and surely traumatic for those who witnessed them or knew one of the victims. And yes, they will eventually lead to a national dialogue about how our society approaches guns and mental illness. (though probably not much serious discussion about the visible have/have-not divide at some undergraduate institutions)

And for those directly affected, psychological counseling and support is now vital. However, that kind of support isn't going to come from a brochure. Presumably, then, this brochure is directed at the rest of us, who need something after 30 college students are killed in Virginia but are expected to take news like this completely in stride:
April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Car bombings in Baghdad killed at least 166 people in the worst violence in the capital since the U.S. military began a troop ``surge'' two months ago aimed at ending attacks.
Or this: (from over the weekend)
Two months into the U.S.-led Baghdad Security Plan, at least 289 people were killed and injured across Iraq on Saturday, including 36 dead in a car bomb attack in the holy Shiite city of Karbala. The carnage of a crowd teeming with women and children set off an angry mob of hundreds against the governor and police.
Or this: (from April 7th)
McCloud was the 105th homicide victim this year in Philadelphia, where the death toll is outpacing last year's by about 20 percent.
You'll forgive me if I don't receive this emailed brochure as convincing evidence that our corporate-contracted Employee Assistance Program really truly cares.
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So this morning with it snowing, my wife and I saw how a morning ritual from our youth has translated into the present day: we saw the snow outside, then sat infront of the web browser trying again and again to load kywschools.com. (Which was naturally only responding intermittently since everyone else was going there too)

Not any faster than the old way, really.

(And then when we finally got through, we couldn't remember the number for Katherine's daycare after all)
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So as I may or may not post about later, yesterday I spent an unexpected several extra hours in CWA (Central Wisconsin Airport).

Among the other things I discovered (such as that the gift shop closes at 6 pm, and that after it closes there's nowhere to buy anything in the airport) was the fact that whoever programs the blinking sign above the baggage claim doesn't understand scare quotes. In among the standard "find this service at this location" messages and a cutesy "Happy Holidays" message, was a message presumably meant to express general patriotic support of some sort for our military.

The sign showed this:

Followed by this:

(The images were made by manipulating the output of signbot to join the message into one long banner)


Nov. 29th, 2006 02:46 pm
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This is a story about an exploit that didn't happen. Mostly, because I chickened out.

The short version is this: for a while, there was a bug in the way google accepted user preferences that meant that it was possible to create an <img ...> tag such that anyone who looked at a page containing the image would have their google preferences changed. Think about this for a second. See that blank box above the smiley face? If Google were still vulnerable to this exploit, you'd see a second little smiley face in that box. Also, merely by loading your friends page with this entry on it, your google preferences would have been changed to whatever I picked. In this case, to have the google buttons and all explanatory text switch to Arabic, to search only for pages in Chinese or Japanese, and to display only one result per page. You'd see this when next you used Google, whether you used it directly by visitng http://www.google.com or through some browser plugin.

Now, freerepublic.com (no, I'm not linking to them) is frequently visited by people who would at the least be freaked out by something like this. Furthermore, it's full of people I wouldn't mind freaking out. Also, it encourages semi-anonymous users to post images in the comments. At least as of Halloween, Google hadn't fixed this exploit. Think about it: right before the election some of the more rabid online right-wing activists have their ability to use Google taken away from them in what looks like an islamofascist plot...

Anyway, as I said, I chickened out. I don't know if there's some sort of moral or lesson here - except that web application security is so difficult that even Google can get it wrong in potentially embarrassing ways - but it kind of seems like there ought to be. If anyone cares about the technical details behind the flaw you can read about it by googling "google setprefs xsrf" and see more details about my specific way to exploit it by looking at what http://xrl.us/rv5j/smile.gif gets you when you feed it through wget.

(And yes, I'd reported this to Google on September 25th, but I wasn't the original discoverer of the flaw itself. Encoding the evil into an image tag was my own creation, as was the exploration of how much evil could be encoded into one little picture.)
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So I was reading though old livejournal entries of mine looking for other missed comments, and I ran across a post of mine from 2003 talking about the State of the Union speech, and got freshly pissed off at our President. That killed the nice nostalgic buzz I'd been getting from posts about Katherine learning to talk and walk.

Let me preface this by saying that I recently read Terry Pratchett's book Men at Arms, which is pretty much yet-another-discworld-novel. Not generally deep, but enjoyable. However, Pratchett has this habit of occasionally having his characters utter deep wisdom about the world. One such quote from this book was this:
“If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power... they will talk, they will gloat. So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.”
Now, this transcript doesn't entirely do it justice, (for that we'd need video) but here's something from Bush's 2003 State of the Union address. Where I've inserted the smiley face, our president paused for dramatic effect and smirked:
“To date we have arrested or otherwise dealt with many key commanders of Al Qaida. They include a man who directed logistics and funding for the September the 11th attacks, the chief of Al Qaida operations in the Persian Gulf who planned the bombings of our embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole, an Al Qaida operations chief from Southeast Asia, a former director of Al Qaida's training camps in Afghanistan, a key Al Qaida operative in Europe, a major Al Qaida leader in Yemen.

All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries.

And many others have met a different fate. ☺ Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.”
I'm not sure what the proper response is to news that a very bad person (or a suspected very bad person) has been killed, but I'm certain that “Heh. Cool.” isn't it.
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One of the ways to get back into something you've abandoned for a while (I haven't posted here since December) is to look back over old business and see if there's any followup. And so I'm happy to report that the story I mentioned last May has come to a good conclusion. (Actually, had come to a good conclusion last August) Briefly, a divorce court judge had issued a decree that a divorcing couple was not to expose their child to any "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals" over the strong objection of both parents, who both wanted to raise their son Wicca, but now:
An Indianapolis father can share his Wiccan beliefs and rituals with his 10-year-old son, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday in a unanimous decision upholding parents' rights to share their religion with their children.
More here.

The odd thing here is that the original judge seems happy with the appeals court ruling too; I can't help but wonder whether he realizes he screwed up in a big huge fashion and is now making nice. If you take him at his word, then he approved this provision despite the strong objections of both parents after only a cursory overview; I can't help but wonder if such carelessness is considered standard practice.
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In fact, I barely qualify as someone who keeps a livejournal, seeing as how my posting rate seems to be about once/month now.

So what follows is not the start of a trend.

With that said, here's a story to make you livid.

Summary for those who don't want to click through: man and woman get married, have kid, get divorced nine years later. The parents both practice Wicca, and agree that they wish to continue practicing Wicca although they also agree that they want their son to attend a Catholic school. The divorce judge orders the parents not to expose their son to any "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals," apparently since the dissonance caused by going to Catholic school while practicing that evil Wicca stuff at home would not be in the best interests of the child. (Note that this is not a fight between the parents about what religion to raise the boy as; they both agree on Wicca, and the judge is saying "no")

I've been trying several times to get out a post that adequately conveys the struck-speechless shock/rage/denial this evokes. I write out a few paragraphs and get bogged down. I've already run into Godwin's Law three times, though the last may not count unless a reference to "A Handmaid's Tale" is equivalent to a Nazi reference. Instead, then, I'll just leave you with your own sputtering and rising blood pressure.
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I don't quite know why I'm still awake as I really should be asleep, since I have to wake up in about 5 hours to make my weekly commute to NYC, but I am. Since I am awake anyway, I thought I would share something I ran across today while tidying up my personal web account. This is something I wrote September 18th, 2001, according to the filesystem. I don't know if I ever linked to it from anywhere except possibly a few posts on slashdot, so you can't go find it in the internet wayback machine - you'll just have to trust me that I wrote it then. I've cleaned up a typo or two, added an lj-cut tag, and reduced the level of the heading tag, but it's otherwise as I wrote it then:

September prayers

Many people recently have been saying "our prayers are with the victims and their families". While that is good, and proper, that's not where prayers should end. Prayer is powerful, and praying that one phrase over and over changes us in ways I am finding gradually more and more ugly.

Therefore, I thought that I should share where my prayers have been this past week.

My Prayers for September )
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So going back to my post about pow.png, I find myself in the odd position of hosting an image file that occasionally shows up in the comments section of freerepublic.com.

Now, wanting to tweak the freepers, and considering that I have at my disposal the full power of mod_rewrite (which would, I suppose, allow me to redirect to a cgi script, and could therefore do anything), I ask you: what should I do?

I'm thinking that really effective tweakage would require me to replace pow.png only selectively; say, once per day per client IP address, and of course only if the referrer setting was either missing or something on freerepublic.

For instance, what should pow be replaced with in this thread?

I was also thinking that before I did this, I'd place nice little circle-C mark on pow.png, just to make it absolutely clear when someone does rip it that they're committing copyright violation. Not that they're likely to care, but people should at least make their own stupid little word balloons. It's not hard.

Update: I was lazy, and just went with the antimagnet image. I also haven't put a little circle C on pow.png because, well, what I really want is to annoy the freepers out of my access logs, and I don't think it's worth it going to extraordinary lengths to beat them about the head. Besides, the circle-C hasn't been required to confer copyright for years.
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In a comment on [livejournal.com profile] carelessflight's page, I posted this and thought it would make for an interesting meme if it caught on.

The basic idea is this: many people in the U.S. believe that they pay too much in taxes, and so are very ammenable to calls to cut federal income taxes. The fact is, federal income taxes are a small part of the story for people making less than $100K/year, and even for people making more than that, the federal taxes are less significant than might be suspected. The interplay between federal income tax rates and state and local taxes makes cutting federal income taxes an even more dubious proposition for many people.

So, to spread this meme, take out your last paycheck of 2003 (with the annual totals on it) and then post all the deductions from it, taken as a percentage of the gross pay line.

Here are my numbers:
Federal Income tax    10.5%
Social Security tax    5.9%
Medicare tax           1.4%
NJ State income tax    1.9%
NJ SUI/SDI tax         0.25%

Now the non-tax expenses, for completeness:

Disability insurance   0.12%
Medical insurance      4.7%
401K                  13.4%

I should also note that we routinely get a federal income tax refund of about 1.5% of the gross pay line. Since we start to get extra income tax (but not social security tax) reductions this year(*), I'm sure my numbers for 2004 will show even less federal income tax.

An interesting outcome of this exercise is the conclusion that a 40% across-the-board federal income tax hike that also eliminated my medical insurance costs would be a net gain for me, and we're in the top 25%.

I wonder what Bill Gates' numbers look like?

(*) Katherine Grace Martin, born 2004-01-03.
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Having found this via Wil Wheaton's blog, I feel compelled to point other people to http://www.AmIGovernorOrNot.com/.

I must admit that I like one of the proposed taglines for the Cthulhu campaign: "Why settle for the lesser of the evils?"
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Patriotic fervor for fun and profit:

  1. Propose anti-flag burning amendment. Get enough legislative action behind it to be taken seriously by the media.
  2. In the media furor that follows, spread the message far and wide that burning the American flag is deeply, deeply offensive to Americans, especially the Americans in power.
  3. Sell highly flammable American flags to enemies foreign and domestic.
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I haven't blogged about the current situation in Iraq because, really, I don't think I have anything good to say -- others have expressed truly elegant anti-war opinions, opinions of ambivalence and worry, and prayers for peace. Attempting to add to that list only leaves me frustrated and angry.

So I'm just going to drop this little gem I was pointed to by a discussion on the Carleton alumni mailing list. From http://www.snopes.com/quotes/goering.htm comes a quote that reminds me a bit of Machiavelli's Prince:

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

Remember when it was Congress's job to declare war? Neither do I.

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So I've been trying to decide how upset I should get over the remark that caused me to turn off the state of the union. Frankly, the prepared transcript doesn't do it justice, and because of how late it is, I can't really trust my memory to not distort it in my mind.

So tell me - in this great digital democracy, where is the site from which I can download a complete copy of the audio of the state of the union address in an open, documented format?

Maybe it's just as well that I can't find the audio - I need to be able to sleep.
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So listening to NPR is really depressing this morning - not shocking, like it was a year ago, just sad.

I was looking at something I put up about a year ago (on the 12th), and I realized that it probably doesn't mean anything to anyone but me, but I'll repeat it here anyway.

First, though, a bit of explanation: one of our machines at work gets data from Reuters; this data is coming in all the time throughout the day, and at one point an automatic process at Reuters' data center would log in to our system and send data pretty much once every five minutes or more. Anyway, here's what I found in the logs when I looked on the 12th:

# pwd
# ls -t xfer* | head -1 | xargs tail -1 | cut -c 1-20
2001-09-11 09:06:17

Translation: in the ftp logs, from the most recent log, from the last entry, the last timestamp was 2001-09-11 09:06:17. After that, nothing.

I then checked the possibilities of pulling the data from reuters instead of having them push it to us:

# ftp datascope.reuters.com
ftp: connect: No route to host

That's a bit of an understatement; Reuters had during August moved their data center to their offices in the world trade center.

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Yesterday I left the house at about 7:55, and got in about 8:40. Not too bad, really, but I should really be here by 8:30 in the morning, so I decided to leave early this morning. Or rather, I intended to leave early this morning, and actually left around 7:50.

I got here at 8:45, and got to spend over a mile on the shoulder of 295 waiting in line with all the other people trying to turn on to US1. I think I've given up trying to figure out how my commute needs to be timed to avoid that mess.

While sitting in that line, I was behind a car that had one of those "proud parent of a YOUR DISTRICT NAME HERE honor student" bumper stickers on it, and I wondered - what could homeschooling/unschooling parents put on their cars? "Proud parent of a student free of the tyranny of compulsory factory education" seems just a bit long.
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