Dave.

The tributes are coming fast and furious this week, which makes sense: Letterman’s swan song is tonight, easily the biggest talk show event since Carson’s retirement over twenty years ago.

Two of the most moving I’ve seen so far are from other, younger comedians who grew up idolizing Letterman.

The first was from Norm MacDonald, who was on Letterman a couple nights ago to do a final standup set there. He’s funny, but he gets real towards then end as he talks about seeing a young Dave as a standup comic when he was a teenager in Toronto.

The second is from Jimmy Kimmel last night, who is no less choked up at the prospect of Letterman’s retirement. He talks openly of watching Late Night as a teen, just as everyone in our generation of a certain bent did.

He closes with something kind of awesome: he announced that tonight’s show will be a rerun, and that all his viewers should watch Dave’s final show instead.

The final bit of Kimmel’s tribute includes a segment from early in Dave’s career that I remember quite clearly, though my memory doesn’t have tracking problems.

The finest son of Itta Bena

I saw him, once.

It was 27 years ago, when I was a lad of 18. In those days, he’d play with some frequency in a Palmer’s Crossing juke joint called the Hi-Hat Club, which was under ordinary circumstances not a place a skinny white kid would likely be welcome. Shootings there weren’t unheard of. Only four years later, a policeman would be hailed as a hero for killing a gunman there, which I remember only because the cop was married to a high school acquaintance. PTSD nearly did the cop in, too.

It was that kind of place, except when it wasn’t. And one of the times it wasn’t was when BB was in town.

Then as now, Mississippi doesn’t have a whole lot to be proud of, but music is something we do well, and BB has been a jewel in the Magnolia crown since the 1940s. He toured tirelessly, playing both fancy venues and dodgy clubs like the Hi-Hat (which, violent reputation or no, is also a stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail).

Anyway, so I went out there. I don’t remember my mother protesting at all, which is either selective recollection or evidence that she didn’t realize exactly where he was playing — and the latter seems really unlikely, because the Hi-Hat wasn’t exactly obscure; even going to Palmer’s Crossing at night was probably enough to worry some folks. Still, out I went, in a 1971 Chevy pickup.

As I recall, I tried to take my girlfriend, who refused to even ask her parents about going. Her relationship with them was weird, I guess, but she was clearly wrong because after I paid my cover and walked in — past the bar, where they served me a Michelob as quickly as I could ask for one, drinking age notwithstanding — I was immediately hailed by her father. In the absence of anyone else I knew, I sat with him and enjoyed the show in a room that was surprisingly mixed. We were absolutely the minority, but BB was BB, and I guess people who loved the music were welcome regardless of shade.

BB has been old forever. He was 89 when he died, which means he was “only” 62 for this particular gig, not that you could tell — the man knew how to work a crowd even though he played from a chair. He was famous for his guitar’s beautiful tone, but let me tell you no recording I’ve yet heard really captured it like I heard it that night. I was thrilled and a little shocked at how blue his stage patter was, but I suspect he tailored that to the room. At the Hi-Hat, where he’d played for decades, my guess is he probably did a lot less editing than he’d do in fancier clubs.

I’ve never sought out another set for whatever reason. I’ve had opportunities, sure, but truth be told my own blues preferences are a little louder and a little later — more Buddy Guy, say. But I’m awful glad I got to see the King, and do so in a small room in a no-shit Mississippi juke joint, illegally drinking beer with my girlfriend’s dad, late into a warm Mississippi night in 1988.

More DEA Criminality

Imagine you’re a small business owner, and one of your employees ends up needing to be a DEA informant. His handlers entice him to take one of your company trucks, fill it with weed, and haul it back to a place where they can bust the buyers.

Bad shit happens. Your driver is killed, and your truck basically destroyed in a gun battle with Mexican gangsters.

I wouldn’t even be blogging this if the next step weren’t obvious, but: clearly the DEA is refusing to take responsibility for the truck or the death, and a judge has backed them.

The government argued that it is neither culpable for the damage nor under any obligation to inform the owner of any property that it wishes to use in its operations, because “clandestine.”

No statute, regulation, or policy “specifically prescribe[d]” or prohibited the course of action Patty alleges the DEA agents followed. The DEA derives its authority from the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 801, its implementing regulations, and various executive orders…

In this case, Task Force Officer Villasana submitted a similar declaration. He states that the DEA’s decision “to proceed with such an operation is entirely discretionary, and not mandated by any statute, rule, or policy.” Whether and how to conduct such an undercover investigation and operation is “necessarily discretionary in nature.” Villasana did not try to give advance notice to Patty that the Task Force would be using his truck because of operation’s covert nature, the risks of injury and potential for damage if something went wrong, and the uncertainty about whether other individuals (including Patty) could be trusted.

The business owner’s attorney summarized it thusly:

A federally deputized corporal from the Houston Police Department decides to pay your small company’s driver to drive your truck to the Mexican border, load it up with illegal drugs, and try to catch some bad guys. He knows that the driver is lying to “the owner” – although he doesn’t know your name or identity and doesn’t bother to find out. The bad guys outwit the cops. Your company’s driver is killed. Your truck is riddled with bullet holes.

Query:   is our federal government liable to pay for the damages to you and your property?

Answer:   Nope.

The DEA and the court have taken the position, apparently, that the government can come and take your stuff, fuck it up, and bear no responsibility afterwards if they say “clandestine operation” enough. You’d think the Takings Clause would have something to say about this, you know?

Republican refuses insurance, now blames Obama. Shocker.

This story is floating around this week. You ought to look at it, because it’s sort of a distillation of know-nothing Republicanism, and it’s the rare sort of such example that illustrates how far they are from reality.

The gist: a South Carolina Republican handyman has found himself facing both blindness and financial ruin because of a health problem — and he’s blaming the ACA for it.

As the Charlotte Observer explains, Lang is a self-employed handyman who works as a contractor with banks and the federal government to maintain foreclosed properties. He was making a decent living, enough to be the sole breadwinner in the family. As the Observer puts it, Lang “he has never bought insurance. Instead, he says, he prided himself on paying his own medical bills.”

All seemed good until this February when a series of headaches led him to the doctor. Tests revealed that Lang had suffered a series of mini-strokes tied to diabetes. [...] He now also has a partially detached retina and eye bleeding tied to his diabetes. The initial medical care for the mini-strokes ran to almost $10,000 and burned through his savings. And now he can’t work because of his eye issue and can’t afford the surgery that would save his eyesight and also allowing him to continue working.

More from the Charlotte Observer story:

That’s when he turned to the Affordable Care Act exchange. Lang learned two things: First, 2015 enrollment had closed earlier that month. And second, because his income has dried up, he earns too little to get a federal subsidy to buy a private policy.

Lang, a Republican, says he knew the act required him to get coverage, but he chose not to do so. But he thought help would be available in an emergency. He and his wife blame President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats for passing a complex and flawed bill.

“(My husband) should be at the front of the line, because he doesn’t work and because he has medical issues,” Mary Lang said last week. “We call it the Not Fair Health Care Act.”

Anyone who’s remotely familiar with insurance knows there’s no system that lets people skip payments while they’re healthy and cash in when they get sick. Public systems tax everyone. Private ones rely on the premiums of the well to cover the costs of those who are ailing.

And Democrats might point out that the ACA was designed to provide Medicaid coverage for people whose income falls below the poverty line. The federal government pays 100 percent of the ACA expansion to cover low-income, able-bodied adults, but 21 Republican-led states, including North Carolina and South Carolina, declined to participate. Emph added.

Lang’s position is utter bullshit on its face, but I’m not here to point and laugh. The good news is that many donors have stepped forward to help him out, despite the fact that this shitstorm is of his own making.

The bigger issue here is that the conservative media, which we may safely assume Lang consumed voraciously given his positions, was so foursquare against the ACA (and, really, any health care law, and anything espoused by Obama) that he came away from the public debate thinking his path was a safe and rational one. That’s completely fucking criminal.

The right wing media worked themselves into a goddamn frenzy about the ACA and spouted such amazing fountains of bullshit that people still think death panels are a risk. In deciding to become the propaganda arm of the GOP, though, these people abandoned their public mission: inform and protect the public with information. In their rush to deny the President and his party a victory, they refused to engage the bill on its merits and instead obfuscated any real points with hyperbole and outright lies while fueling the idea that having insurance isn’t even necessarily something you want.

The saying points out that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. The story of Luis Lang is an example of what happens when knowable facts make clear the opinions you’ve held are bankrupt. Sure, it’s partially on him for not doing his own research, but Americans have traditionally been able to trust “news” organizations not to lie to them. That you and I know this is no longer true is probably cold comfort to someone like Lang.

Can we just admit that the DEA is a criminal organization?

How is this not just straight up highway robbery?

The agents found nothing in Rivers’s belongings that indicated that he was involved with the drug trade: no drugs, no guns. They didn’t arrest him or charge him with a crime. But they took his cash anyway, every last cent, under the authority of the Justice Department’s civil asset forfeiture program.

[...]

There is no presumption of innocence under civil asset forfeiture laws. Rather, law enforcement officers only need to have a suspicion — in practice, often a vague one – that a person is involved with illegal activity in order to seize their property. On the highway, for instance, police may cite things like tinted windows, air fresheners or trash in the car, according to a Washington Post investigation last year.

[...]

Once property has been seized, the burden of proof falls on the defendant to get it back — even if the cops ultimately never charge them with a crime. “We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty,” an Albuquerque DEA agent told the Journal. “It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.”

This means that the DEA can basically steal any cash they ever find, and the onus is on their victims to prove the money was legitimately theirs. Because the DEA overwhelmingly target young, poorer people, they rarely have the means to contest the seizures.

Frankly, I’d like to see a RICO action against the DEA generally. Maybe not everyone there is actively involved in these sorts of thefts, but by working they they enable what has become a fundamentally criminal enterprise — and by getting paid, they receive benefits at least in part because of these crimes.

What’s in YOUR wallet?

A couple years ago, when United ruined Continental and ended the carrier’s relationship with Amex, I picked up a fancy United-branded Chase Visa in order to retain some status with United. I don’t fly much anymore, and when I do I prefer Southwest, but carrying the card gets me into the club if I need it, and just having it makes me the equivalent of their lowest elite flier tier (which is something my Amex Platinum didn’t do).

Anyway, so, fancy Visa. When I got it, I was stunned at how oddly heavy it was. I assumed they used some denser plastic for it and didn’t really give it any thought beyond that. And since I mostly just have the card for travel, I don’t pull it out of my wallet much, and so the oddness was mostly forgotten.

Yesterday I got a replacement card in the mail, as the initial one had expired (without me noticing, actually). The new one is just as heavy, which renewed my curiosity a little — but not nearly as much as what came next.

I pulled out the heavy scissors to destroy the old card, as you do, and found the card basically un-cuttable. The scissors had no shot at all. In retrospect, I’m super glad I wasn’t downstairs in my office, where I would have blithely dropped the old card into my shredder and probably ruined it in the process. I didn’t really even get very far doing the bend-it-back-and-forth thing.

What did Chase use to make this demon card? Well, the scissors WERE game enough to scratch it deeply, and this is what I found when I pulled on the top layer:

IMG 7273

The damn thing is heavy because it’s made of metal with a thin layer of plastic on either side. WTF?

“The Mayor’s head is, in fact, a giant and conceivably edible cheeseburger.”

A brilliant TBT from the Onion: McDonald’s Drops ‘Hammurderer’ Character From Advertising:

Responding to widespread public outrage, McDonald’s executives defended the coloring book as “not nearly as violent or socially irresponsible as it has been made out to be, given that the Mayor’s head is, in fact, a giant and conceivably edible cheeseburger.”

Read the whole thing; they finish strong.

Updated: Link fixed. Thanks, Gar!

Well, I’ll be damned.

First time back out with the Ride Formerly Known As West End (Reform Congregation), and lookie here:

Screen Shot 2015 04 30 at 9 28 13 PM

IOW, I rode that segment faster tonight than I did in September, when I was at nearly peak form. Flatline speed is there, it’s just the explosive acceleration I have trouble with. I’m pretty amazed, and very pleased.

Antonin Scalia is a lying liar who lies

From the SSM arguments yesterday:

Scalia wondered aloud about ministers being required to marry same-sex couples. “I don’t see how you could possibly allow that minister to say, I will only marry a man and a woman,” Scalia said. “I will not marry two men. … I don’t see any answer to that. I really don’t.”

Because, you see, we don’t already live in a world where ministers routinely refuse to perform weddings that do not accord with their faith. Most famously, the Roman Catholic Church won’t marry you if you’ve been married before and haven’t paid them for an annulment. You’re still free to marry civilly, of course.

Scalia knows this, and is lying when he suggests he doesn’t, and is doing so to bolster his bigotry. Slacktivist has more.

Antonin Scalia is also fully aware of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching and practice on divorce and remarriage. He is fully, completely aware that any Catholic with a valid civil divorce has every legal, civil and constitutional right to remarry. And he is fully, completely aware that this has never in any way, shape or form ever meant that a Catholic priest could be legally compelled to consecrate such a wedding.

Justice Scalia knows this. Everyone knows this.

And yet, today, Justice Scalia chose to pretend he doesn’t know this.

As they say, “Christ, what an asshole.”

Mitch McConnell Loves Him Some Unconstitutional Domestic Spying

He’s introduced a bill to reauthorize the PATRIOT act.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill Tuesday night that would reauthorize a controversial surveillance authority of the Patriot Act until 2020, a push that comes just as a group of bipartisan lawmakers is preparing a last-minute push to rein in the government’s mass-spying powers.

A McConnell aide said the majority leader is beginning a process to put the bill on the Senate calendar but said that the chamber will not take the measure up this week. That process, known as Rule 14, would bypass the traditional committee process. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr is a cosponsor.

Under the bill, Section 215 of the post-9/11 Patriot Act would be extended until December 31, 2020. The core provision, which the National Security Agency uses to justify its bulk collection of U.S. phone records, is currently due to expire on June 1.

The bill appears to be an attempt to thwart efforts to rein in the National Security Agency’s expansive surveillance powers, which came under intense scrutiny nearly two years ago after the disclosures spurred by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A bipartisan group of lawmakers were expected to reintroduce on Wednesday a comprehensive surveillance-reform bill that would have effectively ended the NSA’s dragnet of Americans’ call data.

What a jackass.

This is delicious. You should make this.

Yesterday, Mrs Heathen and I were on deck for our usual Sunday “Violence, Boobs, and Food” party over at Chez Kirst, in which we eat and then watch Game of Thrones.

I’d spied this recipe in Garden & Gun earlier in the week, so we set about preparing it.

While it takes a while to actually cook (~4 hours), the prep time is almost unfeasibly short. I think we may have spent 30 minutes doing, no kidding. In retrospect, I think I’d:

  • Cut more slits into the leg, to allow for better marinade penetration;
  • Shorten the cook time, which will be required if you give it more surface area;
  • Retain some of the marinade to use as the base of a sauce; and
  • Have some queso fresca on hand to use in the resulting tacos.

It probably wouldn’t hurt any to throw some spicier peppers into the sauce as well. There’s effectively no heat involved as written.

The yield on a 5.25 pound bone-in leg was pretty huge. Five adults and two kids ate, and we have enough left over that I just sent Erin a joking meal plan for the week that had lamb in every slot. HIGHLY recommended.

Direct recipe link.

In the absence of accountability, you get stuff like this

The TSA destroyed Cory Doctorow’s suitcase because it looked like it might be locked.

  1. It was not locked; and
  2. Even if it was, the case was one with the “TSA locks” on it, which TSA agents supposedly have a master key for.

The TSA cannot be held responsible for the destruction, though, because terrorism. Accountability is anathema to this organization; just look at the distance they went to keep their serial gropers from being prosecuted.

Hey Chief Heathen! Re: The laptop I didn’t buy

It’s an upgrade year in the Heathen Office, and so I recently ordered a new laptop from Apple. What I didn’t buy is their new super-sexy 2-pound MacBook, but I admit I was very tempted.

If your use case runs to web, email, and Office apps, though, and you don’t mind the unusual port configuration, it may well be the laptop for you. Anandtech has a long review of the new machine. I’ve seen them in person, and while they’re not as shockingly small as the original Air was, it’s a pretty damn svelte computer. The keyboard feels fine (but unusual), and the display is shockingly good.

At this point, the lower end (well, non-Pro) laptops at Apple come in two flavors: the now-venerable Air platform (in 11″ and 13″ varieties), and the new Retina Macbook. Assuming you want 8GB of RAM (and you do) plus at least 256GB of storage (and you do), the pricing looks like this:

  • 11″ MacBook Air: $1,199 with 256GB; $1,499 at 512GB.
  • 13″ MacBook Air: $1,299 / $1,599, or basically $100 over the 11″ model.
  • 12″ Retina Macbook: $1,299 /$1,599, or the same as the 13″ Air.

So which one do you buy if you don’t need the Pro?

It’s not a simple answer. The Air models still come with a “normal” complement of ports, and are technically faster, but are saddled with the non-Retina display. You probably think, as I once did, that the display isn’t that big of a deal, but once you see a Retina screen it’s super hard to go back. Trust me.

Also, the speed thing isn’t a slam dunk for the Airs, owing to the novel characteristics of the new Intel chip in the Retina model. Basically, it can “sprint” for short bursts very well, so it punches above its weight in situations where that’s indicated. If your workload includes long, computationally intense tasks (e.g., video rendering, or gaming), the Retina model will fall behind the Airs, but this does not describe most people.

That leaves the port situation. Having a single port (plus headphones) allowed Apple to make this thing way, way thinner than they would have been able to otherwise, but this has costs. First and foremost is that you’ll need an adapter to plug in so much as a thumb drive, since the port is the new USB-C, not the regular USB you’re familiar with. This port type is absolutely NOT proprietary to Apple, and we’ll start seeing it in normal peripherals very, very soon now — every manufacturer will want to support it, for the same reasons Apple used it: it can simplify design dramatically.

In real terms, though, buying a Retina Macbook now means you need at least one and probably more adapters. Apple sells three:

  • One, for $19, that converts the fancy new port to normal USB;
  • Another that “splits” the port into regular USB, USB-C (for charging), and HDMI (think of this as the desktop dock) for $79; and
  • Another splitter (also $79) that swaps out regular VGA for the HDMI, in case your monitor has the older connector.

Realistically, there’s no way you can use the new Retina Macbook without dropping coin for at least one of these, and probably two of them — the simple USB one, plus the multiport one of your choice. That’s not a HUGE deal, but it matters.

For me, if I were in a mode to buy a web/email/Office computer, I think I’d probably bite the bullet and get a Retina, but if goofy ports scare you, getting a Macbook Air at this point is still a defensible move. If you’re more mobile and spend less time at a desk plugging things in, the Retina starts to look even better, though.

Books of 2015, #11: Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

There is little I can add to this bit, from my friend Mike:

[L]et me now say that the book is entertaining, and yet transcends entertainment, in the way that most people’s attempts to understand themselves are able to do. It’s funny, but with only a couple of moments that made me laugh out loud—but those were really good: Louis C.K.’s comments on how to approach visiting Amsterdam, and his brother’s description of a scene in The Phantom Menace that continues to make me laugh just thinking about it.

Enjoy.

(No, this is not cheating.)

Books of 2015, #10: The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

No, I’m not late to the party; this is a re-read. Frankly, I almost never do this, but I was so underwhelmed by The Goldfinch that I bought a new copy of History — a fancier, literary edition, compared with my falling-apart paperback from 20+ years ago — to bask in what I remembered as her best work.

I did this with some trepidation, obviously. Often we go back to works we though amazing, only to discover our tastes have changed, or that we remembered it better than it actually was, or some combination thereof. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed here, though — frankly, the book is probably better than I remembered it. I’m certainly better educated at 45 than I was at 22, so more of her classical references landed with me the second time around.

This isn’t to say it’s not a LITTLE precious. The book does a sometimes-delicate, sometimes-clumsy dance between being timeless and being rooted quite seriously in its era. Her cadre of isolated classics students dress and act as though they could belong to any decade back to the Jazz age, or even the Victorian era, but for occasional references to cars or planes or politics. Their instructor is similarly unmoored in time, in a way that I think academics might envy.

Tartt’s recurring themes and traits are of course here: envy of easy privilege, wastrel figures with big trust funds and family money, an uneasy orbit of New York and wealth, all seen from an outsider who is from the hinterlands and cursed with an inconvenient poverty. Richard is very, very like The Goldfinch’s Theo in all these ways (and, we wonder, not unlike Tartt herself, who left her native Mississippi to attend Bennington, the school that is the transparent inspiration for History‘s Hampden).

The prose here is a bit overwritten, but not in a clangy way, and we would do well to remember how young Tartt was when she wrote it. It’s not really a problem. And you’re made of wood if her descriptions of ur-collegiate Hampden don’t make you nostalgic for your own college years even if you went somewhere not comprised entirely of northeastern university stereotypes.

The story itself has stood up well. It’s not a whodunnit at all; the murder is front and center from page one. The story is how they GET to the murder itself, and remains solidly captivating the whole time. As with my first run through this book, I read it nearly compulsively and finished it in about two days.

I’m rambling, but the point here is that it’s still a solid book well worth your time. I kind of sorry she didn’t get better notice for this one, because I see it as a superior work to Goldfinch despite the latter’s prizewinning resume.

In Which We Bitch About Name Collisions

I’m planning to upgrade my laptop this year, as is my custom. I do so every three years, give or take. Mrs Heathen usually takes my old one as hers for light duty (email, web, the odd Office doc), which also serves as my “emergency backup” machine until it’s recycled or donated when the next new machine enters three or so years later.

Laptops have gotten good enough that the three year cycle is starting to seem a LITTLE extravagant, but two things drive the upgrade this time:

  • First, I’m about to be out of warranty, and it’s my work machine.
  • Second, I have no backup, and haven’t since 2012. That year, we were robbed, and they got my then-2-year-old machine. A month or two later, the then-5-year-old prior machine gave up the ghost as well. We got Erin an 11″ Air, but I can’t work on that for lots of reasons.

There’s actually another factor, too: it seems like CPU power might finally have come to the point where I could buy something other than the top-of-the-line full-size Macbook Pro. Time was, a 4.4 pound laptop was svelte, but that’s just not the case anymore; the 13″ Retina Macbook Pro is a full pound lighter. (The Air and the newly introduced just-plain-Macbook are nonstarters for technical reasons.)

That said, I do worry a little: the 13″ laptop ships with a fast CPU, but it’s only a dual-core chip. The 15″ machines have quad-core chips, meaning they effectively have four CPUs while the smaller one has only two. And it’s not at all clear to me how much difference this makes to me.

I feel like my machine is only rarely CPU-bound despite its fairly heavy duty cycle — lots of Lightroom, plus I run a Windows VM all day every day. Memory is likely the bigger problem, plus I/O. But that’s a hunch, and I don’t want to marry a laptop on a hunch.

Turns out, there’s a tool I could use to watch my CPU usage over the course of the day. It’s an old-school command-line Linux-heritage tool called “sar,” but it comes with OS X. There’s lots of examples online of how to use it, but as is often the case with command line utilities, it looks like there’s some serious differences between the Mac version of sar and the Linux version.

No problem, right? Just ask Google, and be sure to specify the version of OSX!

Well, turns out, that doesn’t work so well.

Screen Shot 2015 04 09 at 9 19 13 AM

Tomorrow should be a holiday

I’ve long considered celebrating anything about the Confederacy to be morally questionable if not outright obnoxious, but I could make an exception for this: Make the Confederacy’s Defeat a National Holiday.

There’s no escaping that those who fought for the South were committing treason at every turn — and were doing so in defense of slavery. They didn’t want to be part of a country where all men were created equal, and so they took up arms to attempt to force the issue. They failed. And we should celebrate their failure.

Tomorrow marks 150 years since Lee’s defeat at Appomattox. Raise a drink to the Union.