Delay compares Houston to Iraq…

…in a Houston Chronicle story. The story includes this paragraph:

“You know, if Houston, Texas, was held to the same standard as Iraq is held to, nobody’d go to Houston, because all this reporting coming out of the local press in Houston is violence, murders, robberies, deaths on the highways,” DeLay said.

Which prompted this exchange between Chet and I:

(11:13:32) Michael Alan Dorman: Shit, I didn’t know you needed a $35K escort to get to and from the airport. That’s gonna make getting to the wedding a whole lot more expensive.
(11:13:59) Chet Farmer: yeah, yeah, yeah. I got guns I can loan.
(11:14:22) Michael Alan Dorman: Guess we’d better get the full coverage on the rental, though.

I will also note that this paragraph:

“Everybody that comes from Iraq is amazed at the difference of what they see on the ground and what they see on the television set.”

can be easily interepreted in two ways. The desired interpretation, no doubt, is that everyone comes from Iraq and is amazed at how negative the coverage is. But it can also be easily interpreted as people being amazed at how coverage glosses over the level of death and destruction.

So everyone knows that in the real world, vegetables are seasonal

That is, it is only because of inordinate use of petroleum products to ship produce from wherever it might be growing that you are able to get tomatos (yes, yes, I know they’re actually a fruit) in January in North Carolina.

What you might not realize is that milk is seasonal, too.

Bean Traders uses milk from Maple View Farm, a local dairy. When I walked into the shop on Monday, Christy, the owner told me not to be surprised if my cappuccino was a little less foamy than normal, because the cows had changed feed for the summer.

Let’s just say that I wasn’t expecting this–but if you think about it, this is just a natural consequence of buying locally.

Instead of getting milk that has been shipped from who knows where–and perhaps from cows that don’t get to graze in pastures and do get high doses of antibiotics and growth hormones–and mixed together with milk from some number of other sources, you’re getting milk from a herd of under 200 cows that’s processed and bottled on-site and shipped no further than the next county.

In fact, the really interesting part was that when the barrista’s noticed the change, they were able to contact the dairy and actually talk with someone, who was at least willing to think about what things the dairy might be able to do differently to try and minimize the change.

If you’re using SpamAssassin and PostgreSQL for Bayes data

You should know that you can see increased performance by making some small changes to your database schema.

Specifically, you should run the following set of SQL commands on your bayes database:

alter table bayes_token drop constraint bayes_token_pkey;
alter table bayes_token add constraint bayes_token_pkey primary key (token, id);
drop index bayes_token_idx1;
analyze table bayes_token;

If you are running SpamAssassin <= 3.0.4, that last statement will probably complain that bayes_token_idx1 doesn’t exist–in which case you should fasten your seat-belt because your bayes database is probably going to get a lot faster very suddenly.

What this change does is modify the primary key to make the token column the first part of the key, meaning the index that is implied by the primary key (to guarantee uniqueness) can now also be for most queries, and the now-redundant additional index (which is on the token column alone) can be dropped.

As a result, with each insert or update on the database, you will do one fewer index modifications, so you should see some performance increase (albeit perhaps a modest one, if you are running a low-traffic installation) and some disk space savings.

The reason this is all important is simple.

Most queries made by SpamAssassin have a where clause of the form “where id = 1 and token in (…)”–looking for rows with a particular token, associated with a particular user (represented here by the id).

With the old primary key definition (and without the additional index on token), PostgreSQL would look at its available indices, and see that it could match the id and token (in that order) against the primary key index…but, in most cases, the id is likely to have very low selectivity–that is, there are many rows with the same value–so it doesn’t help cut down the number of rows that must be examined very much, and PostgreSQL opts to do a sequential scan of the table.

On the other hand, the token column will probably have relatively high selectivity–meaning querying for a given token against an index is likely to produce relatively few rows–so, realizing the problem, someone did the obvious and added an index just on the token column.

However, the same result could be achieved by switching the order of the columns in the primary key, and without introducing the overhead of maintaining a second index. I have, in fact, opened a ticket in SpamAssassin’s Bugzilla, but I don’t have time to jump through their benchmarking hoops right now, so I’m making this entry here in the hopes that people who need the benefit can find it until such time as I can setup the infrastructure to run their benchmarks.

The Lavender Hill Mob

I caught this listed on TCM, mostly because of it’s proximity in the listings to The Ladykillers. I’ve not finished it yet, but it occurred to me to look it up on IMDb, which led me to look at some of the external reviews, which led me to this review.

Now I really have no complaint about an organization with a particular bent doing its own film reviews–as long as they don’t mind me mocking them if I feel it to be necessary. And, in fact, the review is actually pretty reasonable, even if it does seem to contain some mild moralizing.

(Well, I might mock their list of things-that-might-offend. Where, say, HBO tells you, “Violence; Nudity”, they tell you “Brief comic drunkenness; comic depiction of grand larceny.” It’s really the second that makes me want to laugh.)

No, what mildly surprises and maybe a little confuses me is the notation that this film is:

One of the 15 films listed in the category “Art” on the Vatican film list. A National Catholic Register “Video/DVD Picks” film.

This is, ultimately a film that centers around a crime and its perpetrators and it’s on the Vatican film list?

Weird.

Incidentally, I am guessing this is one of the movies that led Robert Heinlein to write, in Double Star (1956):

I needed a face as commonplace, as impossible to remember as the true face of the immortal Alec Guinness.

Well, OK, maybe that was actually about Kind Hearts and Coronets, wherein Alec Guiness plays as many characters as there are other actors.

A Pretext For War

Hmmmm, what to say, what to say. The picture James Bamford paints, both of the failures leading up to 9/11 and of the failures leading up to the Iraq war are depressing. If you feel some need to go over this material again–if, say, you’ve been living under a rock for the last four years (in which case, good on you!)–this is a book you might consider.

That said, this, like his last book Body of Secrets (and perhaps his first book The Puzzle Palace, though it’s been long enough since I read that that I don’t have a clear memory of the prose) seems to be in need of some more careful editing. Not so much copyediting, or even structural editing (in the sense of stringing things together in a way that makes sense), so much as redundancy editing.

It’s as if the book that was originally presented serially (which I don’t think was the case), and only later (and hastily) stitched together to be a stand-alone book–there are places where you will read very similar paragraphs giving you roughly the same background on the same thing a couple of pages apart.

I mean, my memory can be crap these days, but it’s good enough that this annoys me.

There is some interesting information I had not been aware of, with regards to the Iraqi National Congress–it was apparently setup in the early 90’s as a front for the CIA to try and destroy Saddam Hussein’s support at home. And then, a decade later, we were listening to these people tell us about the opposition situation in Iraq.

That seemed a little strange.

Oh, well, spilled milk and outrage fatigue, quite a combination.

Anne Bancroft died

I wouldn’t generally note this except, well, first, she was in The Graduate, and second, she was Mel Brooks’ wife for the last 40 years.

Interestingly, in doing the inevitable searching around IMDB that one might expect, I learned that Richard Pryor helped write the screenplay for Blazing Saddles. This is not surprising, in retrospect, but I certainly had no idea until now.

Debian 3.1, “Sarge”, is released

It seems obligatory that I should note this, even though I’m currently an inactive developer. Lots of people put in lots of time to make this happen, and as I sit here using a machine that is running Sarge, responsible for something on the order of 20 machines that run Sarge, I don’t have much else to say than, “Thanks.”

Stranger Than Fiction

On the trip to Atlanta, I took along Chuck Palahniuk’s Stranger Than Fiction, a series of odd essays and stories. I enjoyed it, though it’s not the most substantial book I’ve ever read.

But, you know, where else are you going to read about the Rock Creek Lodge Testicle Festival?

Other than the web, of course.

Hmmm, feeling old.

So I went to my cousin Ben’s wedding in Atlanta. It was nice to see people, it seemed to be the ceremony they were looking for, boy, the suit I was wearing sure was hot, hotter than it was when I wore it in New Orleans in May a couple of years ago, etc.

The odd thing for me is that it was the first wedding I’ve been to that actually made me feel old. Not decrepit or anything, just…old. I think this is because this is the first wedding for someone I actually remember as an infant.

Chris and Jennifer are close enough to my age that I really don’t remember them as infants at all–my memory just doesn’t go back that far. I remember them when they were young, certainly, but I suspect that even a lot of that is matching (or even constructing) memories to pictures I’ve seen in the intervening time span.

Ben, however, was born in 1981, just a few months before we moved to Germany, and I actually remember him as an infant. In fact, I am now only a few years younger than his parents were when I got married (not, as I was reminded repeatedly, that I told them for a couple of years–this, I hypothesize, is why I will never get asked to be part of any wedding party).

So. Old.

I suspect another part of it is that another cousin of mine, Nan–a contemporary of Ben’s mother, Dru (my Dad’s younger sister), and a close friend of hers, who I called Aunt at least until I was in college and figured out what the real relationship was–is gravely ill with cancer. She wasn’t able to attend the wedding–and was much missed–because she was just starting another round of chemotherapy. It is to the point that I think they’re just hoping that it will allow her to hang on until her daughter’s wedding in December.

And that really makes me ache.

Now I don’t have a feel for whether I’ve lost more or fewer family members than most people my age–only a handful, really, which seems like it’s probably about par for the course–and while I have a deep affection for my extended family, we’re not absurdly close–I grew up away from the center of my parents’ families in Birmingham, and now as an adult I generally only see them at Christmas (generally at Nan’s house, in fact) or at weddings, just because of the demands on everyone’s time and energy.

But the fact is, if I search back as far as I can, my earliest discrete memories are actually–sorry Mom, Dad–of Nan and Dru.

I remember, oh so vaguely, visiting the Grand Canyon when while we were stationed out West in 1973/1974, and being very very concerned that Dru and Nan were far too close to the edge of the canyon.

I also remember, sometime the next year, while Mom and Chris (then an infant) and I were living in Birmingham–Dad having been stationed for a year in Korea, where we were not allowed to tag along–spending one (of many, I suspect, but I only remember the one) night at my Dad’s parents house, and Nan had come to spend the night as well.

So anyway, this is someone whose presence I have, as they say, taken for granted–and while this is in many ways true of the other relatives I’ve lost, they had all had more time, time to see their children and often even grandchildren grow up. They had had, in the end, a good run, while Nan’s time seems all to…short.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, I guess I owe you something amusing, so let me try this: Ben’s sister just graduated from High School, and is going to Barnard College this fall to study dance. It should not be a surprise–though I suspect it will still be amusing–to find that she is also slated to be in a show in December with the Rockettes.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

I’ve been a big fan of Umberto Eco since reading Foucault’s Pendulum (which I really must re-read soon) in ’92 or so. I find his shorter non-fiction pieces incredibly funny, and I’m fairly certain I own all of his novels.

That said, I never actually finished The Island of the Day Before, and although I did finish, and even enjoyed, Baudolino, it was not the compelling read I had expected. Still, hope springs eternal, so when I happened across The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana just before we were going on vacation, I picked it up, even though it was hardback (and I was going to have to schlep it around).

You can check the links at Barnes & Noble or Amazon for plot information–I don’t feel like recapitulating it, nor do I have anything particularly unique to add as far as discussing the plot.

Mostly I want to say that I found it a very compelling read, even though it seemed a most un-Eco-like work–that is, there is little of the outright fantastic, as in Baudolino, and there is none of the vertiginous fluidity of truth that characterizes Foucault’s Pendulum. I mean, it is still obviously an Eco character, with his love of books in general and pulp fiction in particular, but any seeming uncertainty about what is happening is a result of the main character’s condition, rather than some grand plot element.

One passage had some amusing commentary about poetry:

Mixed in with the school notebooks was another, which began with the date 1948, but the handwriting gradually changed as I turned the pages, so perhaps it contained texts from the subsequent three years as well. They were poems.

Poems so bad they could have been no one’s by mine. Teenage acne. I think everyone writes poems when they are sixteen; it is a phase in the passage from adolescence to adulthood. I do not remember where I read that there are two kinds of poets: the good poets, who at a certain point destroy their bad poems and go off to run guns in Africa, and the bad poets, who publish theirs and keep writing more until they die.

And an amusing comment about a certain sort of relationship with God:

And yet he was not mean, he loved the people around him. He had it in only for God, and that must have been a real chore, because it was like throwing rocks at a rhinoceros–the rhinoceros never even notices and continues going about its rhino business, and meanwhile you are red with rage and ripe for a heart attack.

Really, not a good movie

I mean, let’s be honest, Charlie’s Angels isn’t really a good movie by any rational standard. But, the image of Bill Murray and Tim Curry wrestling in padded sumo suits is, as far as I’m concerned, worth the rest of the two hours.

I don’t generally enjoy Memorial Day very much

I don’t generally go to barbecues or the beach or whatever it is that people tend to do on Memorial Day, in large part because, well, my dad was in the Air Force from before I can remember until I got out of college–I knew too many people in the military to feel like a day meant to honor the fallen was a day you could really devote to fun.

Monday was, perhaps, a bit more present than most, though. Partly, of course, it’s that we’re currently embroiled in a war whose pointlessness seems surpassed only by its continuing brutality and assault on the humanity of those participating.

But I also watched a National Geographic special on Arlington National Cemetery.

While some of it was about the history of the cemetery, there was also a lot of material about the guards there, and what they go through and how they feel about their duties–they’re pretty intense about it, if you couldn’t guess–and another organization, the Arlington Ladies.

And that really got to me.

It’s hard for me to say without irony–because Irony is The Modern Condition, and I am Deeply Afflicted–but in my yoga classes the instructor will talk about keeping your actions life-affirming. Now sometimes this is even said with a little irony: “So you might ask yourself if it is life-affirming to stay one more second in chaturanga dandasana?”

(Given that the question is often presented after you’ve been there for five seconds or more, the answer is often, “No.”)

But still, there’s a lot of seriousness in it, too, and it’s not just about yoga, it’s ultimately about how you live your life, and considering how the actions you take and the decisions you make play out.

But that’s all a digression, really, because what got to me was the fact that there was this virtually unknown corps of women who took it as their duty to affirm the lives of every one of the people buried there–to be present when they are buried, so that none will go to rest unmourned.

It’s things like this that make me think there may be hope for humanity after all.