Friday, January 30, 2009

Thin Skin and Snarky

The thing is, when you're President everything you do is under a microscope. Thus it follows that if you say one thing and do another, people are going to notice, maybe even throw the H-word.

If you make promises or express your opinion it is going to get dissected ten ways to Sunday. And if you're snarky, you just made it worse.

First, a little background. A promise:
Candidate Obama spoke back in May:
“We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,” Obama said.

“That’s not leadership. That’s not going to happen,” he added.
Then, on his first full day after becoming President 10 days ago we get this hypocrisy:
The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

“He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”
And then finally on Thursday, we get snarky:
"We're going to have to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town," Obama said this morning. "I'm saying that when it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things."
This from the guy who jacked up the temperature so high he could grow orchids in the Oval Office? That's an example of "flinty Chicago toughness"?

Or perhaps he was referring to the toughness of his thin-skin by sparring with talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, or his magnanimity in rubbing the election results in the face of Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona by saying, "I won. I will trump you on that."?

To quote him: "That's not leadership."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Carping on the Stimulus

Today the House approved a $816 billion economic stimulus plan along party lines with 11 Democrats and all 177 Republicans voting against it. Next week the Senate considers a separate bill for $900 billion. A final bill would undoubtedly be hammered out in joint committee. This is on top of the so-called TARP bank bail-out bill which already passed to the tune of $700 billion. (Which to date hasn't freed up the credit markets one little bit, or recovered any "troubled assets" either, unless you happen to be the bank itself.)

How much of our money is that, exactly? Let's see, $700 billion plus another -- let's split the difference between the House and Senate bills -- $850 billion, carry the trillion, bring down the $50 billion ... that's at least one and a half trillion dollars. I can't honestly imagine that much money other than an abstract number, and I doubt you can either.

The entire U.S. GDP measured $14.33 trillion in 2008. So that's about 9.25% of our entire GDP that we have or are about to allocate before the rest of the economy, public and private, does anything at all. For comparison, the U.S. Government has averaged about 20% of GDP since 1980.

Now I'm sure someone who is better at both math and economics will pick apart these numbers, but the indisputable point is this: that's a whopping large amount of money which is coming out of the U.S. taxpayers' pockets.

I just don't think that creating more Government jobs will solve the problem; it just kicks the can down the road because it drives us deeper into debt as a nation which actually weakens our national security.

I dislike these huge omnibus bills, because there's always enough pork in them to put Jimmy Dean to shame. It's getting rammed down our throats due to the "emergency conditions"; all or nothing, and we can't do nothing. Feh.

And no, I don't have a better idea; but the day of reckoning will be hard. Who knows, maybe the Parousia will come first.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mischmasch and Snarge

Mischmasch: n. a hodge-podge; a mixture of dissimilar ingredients; a jumble.

Everyone has probably heard the latest on the Vatican embracing technology and that it now has its own YouTube channel. The channel has been live for about 5 days now and it already has about 20 videos. All of them are very short (maybe due to our attention spans?), ranging from 30 seconds to 2.5 minutes.

The always interesting Language Log has an entry on this interesting new(?) word: snarge. (I can't find a pronounciation guide -- is it hard "g" or soft "g"? It looks like it ought to be soft, but I would prefer the hard "g".)

Apparently it means "the residue of birds that have struck an airplane" as used by the people at the National Museum of Natural History. This, of course, was inspired by the amazing story of the pilot who successfully crash landed his plane on the Hudson with all 150 people aboard surviving.

Another use of the word snarge appeared in the 1925 book Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases meaning "any ugly or unpleasant person", which could be applied to the attitude displayed by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who defends contraceptives being added to the economic stimulus bill. She was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos as saying, "contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government." And that from a "devout practicing Catholic". Ha!

On the other extreme, the LeFebrite SPX bishops narrowly avoided excommunication when Pope Benedict XVI lifted the ban in favor of dialog with the schismatic traditionalist group in the hopes of affecting a reconciliation. Remember guys: excommunication is not a punishment but a remedy for the wayward soul.

And finally, the FDA approved human embryonic stem cell trials on humans to see whether the cells are safe to use in spinal injury patients. "But it will happen soon, and it would have happened sooner if it weren't for the ridiculous Bush policies", said a ridiculous Dr. Okarma who stands to make a lot of money from the associated patents.

Let's see: human embryonic (baby humans) ... trials on humans. Hello! It's Soylent Green!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mnemonic: The 12 Apostles

I have always had difficulty in memorizing the names of the 12 Apostles; my Dad whips them out at a moment's notice 50 years later.

I guess I should have had that Baltimore Catechism training instead of the California Catholic school one.

Here's a mnemonic: h/t James Hahn Real Life Rosary Weblog

Mark 3:13-19

I found this little device to help memorize the 12 Apostles in the Ignatius Faith & Life 2nd Grade Teacher's Manual.

Peter, Philip
Thomas, Thaddeus
John, James, James, Judas
Matthew (Matthias)

Double Digit Wynken

Wynken made it to double digits a couple of days ago. I can't believe it; where does the time go? Don't Wynk, Blynk, or Nod off, or you'll miss it!

Happy Birthday, boy!

Nub Needs Filling

Ugh. Nub had a dentist appointment today and it confirmed what we thought: he has a cavity that needs filling.

That can be difficult enough to accomplish for any kid, as evidenced by the growth of dentists specializing in kids' teeth and sedation dentistry. (Myself, I'm completely neurotic about it.) But for kids with DS, it can be especially tricky.

First off, Nub's only 3 years old, so he's not going to hold still for 1) a shot in the mouth, and 2) a drill in the mouth. Plus, he'd be too uncontrolled and violent if we tried. (Heck, I feel violent at the dentist.) Normal sedation doesn't work for him, so he requires an actual general anesthesia IV sedation, which can only be done by a M.D. not a D.D.S. Just to make it interesting, Nub's veins tend to be too small to stick in the arm or leg, and they roll; therefore the stick (for blood draw, anyway) is in the forehead.

There is exactly one dentist in the area who has an agreement with a M.D. from the hospital to come out one day a month to do anesthesia for kids like Nub. Oh, and the M.D. doesn't take any kind of insurance.

To top it off, I was forced to spend all my flex dollars when I quit my job last week, so that's not an option. So that's gonna cost me big: $$$$. Grrr!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Life Principles

This will be the first year in a long time that I will miss the annual March For Life in Washington, D.C. (I would like it if no one ever had to go again.) Anyway, my prayers are with you all; stay warm, Godspeed.

For those of us who can't make it here is a repost of the Life Principles taken from the March For Life site: "Equal Care" with No Exceptions.
These Life Principles express the ideals motivating prolife Americans and indicate the purpose of the MARCH FOR LIFE:

* We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all human beings are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which is the right to life, and Therefore

* The right to life of each human being shall be preserved and protected by every human being in the society and by the society as a whole, and

* The life of each human being shall be preserved and protected from that human being's biological beginning when the Father's sperm fertilizes the Mother's ovum, and

* The life of each human being shall be preserved and protected from the biological beginning throughout the natural continuum of that human being's life by all available ordinary means and reasonable efforts, and

* The life of each human being shall be preserved and protected at each stage of the life continuum to the same extent as at each and every other stage regardless of state of health or condition of dependency, and

* The life of each human being shall be preserved and protected to the same extent as the life of each and every other human being regardless of state of health or condition of dependency, and

* When there is any doubt that there exists a human being's life to preserve and protect, such doubt shall be resolved In favor of the existence of a human being, and

* When two or more human beings are in a situation in which their lives are mutually endangered, all available ordinary means and reasonable efforts shall be used to preserve and protect the life of each and every human being so endangered:
* WHEREFORE, Pursuant To These Principles, we recommend and urge the adoption of a Mandatory HUMAN LIFE AMENDMENT to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Almost As Predicted

Yesterday, I predicted inaugural gridlock, and for those who went downtown on the Metro that may have been true. Father out in the Virginia 'burbs, gridlock was actually dramatically decreased, but only because nobody showed up to work.

I know this because I actually went to work at my new job. Other than signing a few forms, I got exactly nothing done because everyone who could have done something useful was enjoying a four day weekend.

So I guess I was half right: for some of us who were able to go to work, the day was wasted by the people who didn't.

Update: Fully half of the people who did show up to work were streaming the inauguration to their desktops instead of working (ironically in violation of most employers IT use policies).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inaugural Gridlock

If what they are predicting traffic-wise for the Presidential inauguration is anywhere close to correct, this is going to be one crazy rush hour: a whole day of gridlock.

Our area traffic has grown to the point where if there is anything more serious than a fender-bender on any part of the Beltway, all the feeder routes back up into Virginia, Maryland, and DC. Our traffic ecosystem is a precarious one indeed.

Already in anticipation, many businesses and almost all school systems have closed down for the day in Northern Virginia. All the bridges into DC are closed to vehicular traffic, the Metro will be maxed out, and all the streets on or near the parade route are closed, closed, closed. (Not to be left out Baltimore has decided to close the schools to mark the historic occasion).

Both as a Catholic and a political scientist I understand the importance of rituals and the marking of important events, symbolism, and such; however, I am dismayed by the absolute paralysis this inauguration is causing to two states and the District of Columbia. Sure, I expect that sort of thing in DC (that's why we have a District), but the same thing in Northern Virginia is a bit overblown, and for Baltimore it's just plain silly.

To purposely put our highway system through this amount of stress even for an important day like the Presidential inauguration seems a bit thoughtless, given how many businesses and schools are being shut down. With the economy in recession, we need people to keep working, not to spend money we don't have. I say this regardless of who is occupying the White House.

My vote is: have it indoors where it's warm (since it's always cold in January in DC), limit the attendance by random lottery to reduce the impact to the area, and just show it on TV where millions will get a front row seat. Think of all the time, money, and loss of productivity we'll save.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

W, and the Sanctity of LIfe

On the verge of the annual March For Life, the President proclaims National Sanctity of Human Life Day 2009:
All human life is a gift from our Creator that is sacred, unique, and worthy of protection. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place and purpose in this world. We also underscore our dedication to heeding this message of conscience by speaking up for the weak and voiceless among us.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 18, 2009, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third. “

Duct Tape Redux

I talk about it, but no one ever seems to take it seriously. Looks like it isn't an isolated thought.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Flex Spending Spree

Today is the last day of my old job. We bid it a hasty farewell on this cold, cold January day.

Coincident with this last day of work is the last day I can incur costs for my medial flex spending account. That's right: the tax-deferred dollars that are paid out of my own paycheck for medical expenses expire right now as opposed to the end of the year.

I find it fascinating that my money can expire; what is this, some kind of Government budget? And who exactly gets the money? The company? The plan administrator? That was real money when it went into the account, it sure as shootin' doesn't evaporate like the dew on the morning grass.

I also find the situation somewhat irritating. Since the money that was left in the account was not inconsiderable ($$$$), I decided to do something about it. I spent it.

All of it.

I went to my local (pro-life) pharmacy and said: I'll take one of everything. I now have the largest supply of band-aids, ointments, pain relievers, and first-aid kits you have ever seen.

Everybody who visits my house gets a free sample.

On Sleep and Mesmers

The terrible toddlers, Nib and Nub, have taken to screaming and crying. This is to say: they won't nap, and they won't go to bed anymore.

Whether they are not getting enough exercise or stimulation during the day, or whether it's been the perennial cough and cold this season brings, or something else completely is anyone's to guess. What I do know is that the old stand-bys are not working anymore.

This gets to be a little nerve wracking after a while, as you may imagine. Couple this with a steady moaning from about 4pm onward, and you start to get that look in your eye.

Enter the video. Now I hate as a matter of habit to put on a video just to turn their brains off, but now and again, it's your only defense. Until we transition to the "new" routine, whatever that may be, this will work as a backstop.

Nib and Nub are fascinated with the Baby Signing Times video series, which is designed to teach pre-verbal, deaf, or developmentally delayed kids simplified sign language. Heck, the older kids are fascinated by it too and they speak just fine. It aims to cut down on a lot of the frustration that kids feel when they can't communicate.

Suffice it to say: the Baby Signing Times videos are a mesmer. I put it on for Nub while he was in the crib -- zonkers in 20 minutes. I put it on for Nib in her high chair (at 11pm when she refused to sleep) --- ka-pow! Sleeping like a ... well, baby.

So there you go: educational, entertaining, and sleep inducing -- a parent's dream.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Pointer Sisters: Pinball

Ok, ok, one more ... I just can't help but reminisce. This is probably the King of them all: the Pointer Sister's Pinball song on Sesame Street. Man, I still hum this thing under my breath 30 years later.

This one is nice because it is a compilation of ALL the numbers 1-12; the quality varies, but come on it's the pinball song! Now if I could only get that pinball game for myself ...

The Electric Company: Letterman

Another awesome video that I remember so well from watching The Electric Company: The Adventures of Letterman.

Taking a "C" from his varsity sweater ...

The Electric Company: LY

Here is one of the excellent teaching songs from my childhood on The Electric Company: Tom Lehrer's LY song.
You enter a very dark room / and sitting there in the gloom
is Dracula / so how do you say goodbye?

Immediately! Immediate-LY! Bye, bye!

Foot In Mouth Disease

You'd think the foot-in-mouth disease was mine, but it wasn't. Today, we had the carpets cleaned. About an hour before the guy was due to show up the phone rang -- it's the plumber, he's come to fix the sink -- no, wait, wrong joke; it was the carpet cleaner guy.

Before we get much beyond "hello", he starts reaming me out about how I just turned his technician away and owed him $99 for an emergency visit. I calmly explained that he must be mistaken, since no one has come to the house yet.

He doesn't listen, and continues yelling at me that "Yes, 3 guys just left there, and you owe me $99, whether or not the carpets were cleaned, since it was an emergency call". I calmly explained again that he was mistaken, since he was not due to my house until 11:00 and we have been looking out the window waiting for him.

He insistently tells me that "Yes, we were there, the lady of the house turned them away and I've got measurements of your entire house -- all 2700 square feet of carpet. And you owe me $99 bucks." I'm thinking: if you can find 2700 square feet of carpet in my house, you're a magician.

At this point Mrs. Nod who had been listening to me on the speakerphone is about ready to blow her top and give the man what-for. Now, Mrs. Nod generally does NOT blow her top at vendors and servicemen; kids, maybe, but not strangers. She doesn't mind mistakes, but she hates it if you won't listen. Yelling at the service man is usually left to me, not that I enjoy it.

However, I'm genuinely amused, because I know exactly what happened: he got his previous customer mixed up with his next call, which happened to be me. I stay cool and polite, using words like "sir" and "mistaken". It just takes all the wind out of the sails of angry people when you refuse to answer in kind.

I say, "My 2700 square foot carpet? At what address?". He tells me somewhere I've never heard of; I tell him my real address.


This guy suddenly feels like the biggest heel ever. Three apologies later -- one over the phone, one from the home office, another one in person -- he shows up for his real appointment at my house. I make him apologize to my wife, while I just look on amused.



Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchmen?

Now a major motion picture. I was going to post a review of the novel, but instead here are some stream of consciousness observations.


Alternative reality graphic novel. Gritty. Not for children. Has a reality feel about it that other graphic novels like Dark Knight don't (alcoholism, rape, homosexuality, mental illness, sociopathic tendencies, greed, sex, guilt, vigilantism, manipulation, politics, law-and-order). Circa 1980; President-for-life Nixon is featured. All the super-heroes are really just costumed adventurers (except for Dr. Manhattan [Jon] who makes every one else irrelevant). Psychological profile; rather deep for a comic/graphic novel. Characters are complex and have conflicting emotions. Among other themes the book explores the question: is peace to be obtained through any means possible? Reminiscent of the Peacemakers: declare peace or we'll kill you all (Timekeepers series).

There are a few deus ex machina moments; even though we witness Jon's origin, it remains unexplained; suspension of reality is required. Jon is a god-like creature for whom time is present as a continuum: past, present, future -- yet he is not omniscient and is ultimately manipulated by the "smartest man on earth". Jon has power, but no conscience, no moral framework for that power to operate within.

Characters: Comedian, Rorschach, Nite Owl, Ozymandius, Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan, Moloch (among others).

Comedian: violent, sexist, amoral, jaded, Government tool, presented as "seeing/understanding the most"
Rorschach: narrator, violent, sociopath, mother/abandonment issues, patriot, black-and-white morality
Nite Owl: sensitive, intelligent, wishy-washy, conflicted
Ozymandius: "smartest man alive", manipulative, rich, successful, Alexander the Great complex, law unto himself
Silk Spectre: sex kitten, idealistic turned jaded, rebel, emotional sounding board, representative of humanity, only link for Dr. Manhattan
Dr. Manhattan: man turned cosmic wanderer, ethereal, disconnected from humanity, god-like powers, scientific, power without conscience
Moloch: Evil arch-nemesis-turned-old-man-with-second-thoughts, pity figure
Hooded Justice, Dollar Bill, etc.: Minor characters, bit players, scenery

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


President Bush gave his last press conference yesterday. Mr. Bush was gracious to the last -- and quotable. He said of the news media:
“I didn’t always like the stories you wrote or reported on…sometimes you mis-underestimated me,”
I'm going to miss him.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reverse Momentum

Cool enough to repost. H/T Anna Arco via CMR.

What If?

Blynken is my questioner; always she is the one who will ask the far-flung questions ... What if I died? What if I did that thing you said not to do? What if you won the lottery? I wonder what would happen if I took this bag of marbles and knocked it on the floor? ... and so on.

She was so excited to make her first Reconciliation that she had another question:
What if after making my Confession, I never sinned again?
I laughed; but it is a great question for all of us. What if we never sinned again after making our Confession?

What a superb attitude! Of course we're all fallible (that's why we have Confession in the first place); but isn't that what we all striving for with the Grace of God?

C'mon: what if?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Overheard In My House

Today my girl Blynken made her first Reconciliation. She came out beaming from ear to ear. "I feel so good!", she said.

Nod-girl watched the whole proceedings with great interest. Resting her chin in her hands she exclaimed:
This is so convincing!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wry Observations

Have you noticed a trend these days with people who were the founders of an idea or movement? A lot of them are coming back to say that their idea maybe wasn't so hot.

The latest news blurb has the co-inventor of the contraceptive pill calling its effects a disaster.
Eighty five year old Carl Djerassi the Austrian chemist who helped invent the contraceptive pill now says that his co-creation has led to a "demographic catastrophe."

In an article published by the Vatican this week, the head of the world's Catholic doctors broadened the attack on the pill, claiming it had also brought "devastating ecological effects" by releasing into the environment "tonnes of hormones" that had impaired male fertility, The Taiwan Times says.
Other famous retractions include Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, and Oppenheimer, father of the Atomic Bomb. "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.", he said, quoting the Bhagavad Gita.

I'm sure I could come up with others if I thought about it.

Requiescat In Pace

A convert from Lutheranism and from the liberalism of his youth, American conservative Catholic icon, Fr Richard John Neuhaus, has died at 72.
God Rest his soul.

The Opposite of Peach Is ...


Today Illinois lawmakers voted 114-1 to impeach embattled Illinois Governor Blagojevich. Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat, to use influence to fire the Chicago Tribune editorial writers, and extort money from Children's Memorial Hospital among other offenses.

Widely cited as evidence of Blago's misconduct are the FBI wiretaps of his profanity laced phone conversations. What strikes me as odd is that one guy voted against impeachment, and one lady voted "present" (apparently, she is following Obama's example here; I wonder how widespread that practice actually is.)
The one lawmaker voting against impeachment was Rep. Milton Patterson, a Chicago Democrat who represents the South Side. Rep Elga Jefferies, also a Chicago Democrat, voted present.

Patterson said he wasn't defending anyone, but that he read the impeachment committee's report and wasn't comfortable voting against the governor. "I have no firsthand knowledge of any of the evidence," he said.
No firsthand knowledge of any of the evidence? No kidding; the only people who would have firsthand knowledge are a) the guilty parties, or b) the FBI.

When you are the lone dissenter, you are guaranteed to get your name in the news. I suspect this has more to do with garnering some spotlight for himself than any pangs of conscience for Miltie.

Jefferies voting "present" is a lot like entering a plea of "No contest"; don't we elect these people to take a stand and vote?

The Illinois legislature is doing the only thing they can do to stop the three ring circus that has become their government: in ring one, the Law-Defying Blagojevich; in ring two, No-Honor Burris; in ring three, the Chicago South Side Glory Hounds.

It's distasteful, but necessary; kind of like a legal pooper-scooper. Get that crap off of our lawns.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rocking Romans

I was listening to a Catholic Rockers podcast, and in it the host mentioned a new Music web site/store that am thinking about checking out called Rocking Romans. From the title I'd guess that they specialize in Catholic music artists. There are a couple of these Catholic music sites out there including:

* After Mass Records
* Catholic Assn of Musicians
* Catholic Jukebox
* Disciple Records
* Family Land
* GIA Music
* Grapevine
* Heartbeat Records
* Icon Music Studios
* Spirit Wing Records

... and so forth. In the past I've wanted to use some music service (other than iTunes), but the catch has always been: how do you pay for it? I don't use PayPal, and I'm picky who I like to give my credit card to online. (It's not a matter of IF but rather WHEN your personal info is lost or stolen, despite all efforts to the contrary.)

Just for grins I clicked on the "Add to cart" button and it took me to ... Google Checkout?? It claims:
Stop creating multiple accounts and passwords.

With Google Checkout™ you can quickly and easily buy from stores across the web and track all your orders and shipping in one place.

Shop with confidence.

Our fraud protection policy covers you against unauthorized purchases made through Google Checkout, and we don't share your purchase history or full credit card number with sellers.

Control commercial spam.

You can keep your email address confidential, and easily turn off unwanted emails from stores where you use Google Checkout.
Yet another offering from Google, fast becoming the next online Evil Empire, despite their motto. Don't get me wrong, I love Google, but where's the tipping point?

The real question I have for you, dear readers, is has anybody actually tried it? How well does it work? If you don't use it now, would you?

Or for that matter, have you used any of the above listed Catholic/Christian resources? Some feedback would be great!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thieves and Heists

Well, there goes the month of January ... the hugely fun time sink known as MacHeist is kicking off again.
The following outlaws are guilty of stealing away all your free time with fiendishly difficult puzzles, free Mac apps, and the best deal in Mac software:

John “johnred” Casasanta, Boss; Phill Ryu, Big Brother; and Scott Meinzer, That Other Guy

This is fun, hard, and rewarding if you own a Mac. I frequently "cheat" when I get stuck by trolling the forums for hints and clues. There is a serious worldwide following for this stuff. To solve the puzzles takes a computer, a search engine, a bunch of free software, and a wide depth of knowledge (or a worldwide forum). The puzzles are almost universally clever, themed, and multi-layered: easy enough to get started, hard enough to get stuck. The perfect time-waster!

And the best part is that you end up with free software and an opportunity to buy additional software at steeply discounted prices. It's so good, you feel like you got away with something!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Your PKI Is Showing

Another geek-out moment: Researchers have known for a while that the MD5 hash is "broken", but attacks have remained theoretical -- until now. Here's why you care:
We have identified a vulnerability in the Internet Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) used to issue digital certificates for secure websites. As a proof of concept we executed a practical attack scenario and successfully created a rogue Certification Authority (CA) certificate trusted by all common web browsers. This certificate allows us to impersonate any website on the Internet, including banking and e-commerce sites secured using the HTTPS protocol.

This successful proof of concept shows that the certificate validation performed by browsers can be subverted and malicious attackers might be able to monitor or tamper with data sent to secure websites. Banking and e-commerce sites are particularly at risk because of the high value of the information secured with HTTPS on those sites. With a rogue CA certificate, attackers would be able to execute practically undetectable phishing attacks against such sites.

The infrastructure of Certification Authorities is meant to prevent exactly this type of attack. Our work shows that known weaknesses in the MD5 hash function can be exploited in realistic attack, due to the fact that even after years of warnings about the lack of security of MD5, some root CAs are still using this broken hash function.

The vulnerability we expose is not in the SSL protocol or the web servers and browsers that implement it, but in the Public Key Infrastructure. This infrastructure has applications in other areas than the web, but we have not investigated all other possible attack scenarios. So other attack scenarios beyond the web are conceivable, such as in the areas of code signing, e-mail security, and in other areas that use certificates for enabling digital signatures or public key encryption.

Chk B4 U TXT

A moment of technical geek-out: Joanna at Invisible Things Labs has a very exciting attack on Trusted Computing Technology forthcoming at this year's Black Hat Conference in DC this February.

LaGrande, recently renamed Trusted Execution Technology (TXT), is Intel's response to the Trusted Computing trend.

The sole purpose of Intel TXT technology is to provide a trusted way for loading and executing system software, e.g. Operating System kernel or Virtualization Machine Monitor. What is extraordinary here is that TXT doesn't make any assumptions about the state of the system before loading the software, thus making it possible for a user to ensure secure load of an OS or VMM, even in a potentially compromised machine.

In other words, our system can be all full of boot sector viruses and BIOS rootkits, and god-knows-what-else, and still TXT should allow to load a clean VMM (or OS kernel) in a secure way, immune to all those rootkits present in the system in a moment just before the load process. This TXT-supported load process is called Late Launch, and is implemented via a special new CPU instruction called SENTER.

Attacking Intel TXT!
Ok, not in this post today, but rather at the upcoming Black Hat conference in Washington, DC in February. Over the recent months, Rafal and I have been looking at the Intel TXT technology as part of a work done for a customer, to see if this could be used to improve security of a product, from a typical user's perspective. We figured out that it definitely could, but that there are also some issues…

And those "issues" gave us a starting point in developing a proof-of-concept (albeit very reliable) exploit that shows how we can bypass trusted boot process implemented by Intel's tboot.

Tboot, which is also part of (scroll down to the end of the page) the Xen hypervisor, can be though of as a reference implementation of TXT-based system loader, that could be used to securely load either the Xen hypervisor or the Linux kernel, when run on a vPro/TXT compatible hardware.

Press release here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cold Blarg

In what seems to be an annual event, the Nods are sharing a family cold. Said Nod,
"Economic times being what they are, we couldn't afford to go out and get everyone in the family their own cold for Christmas. We're sharing this one really big one, so that everyone feels like they got their own piece."
The cold the Nods got is a doozie and comes with its own geographic features: first you run the River Snot, which flows to the Head Pounding Falls; farther downstream the Stuffy Mountains loom at a rarefied height, at least two or three atmospheric pressures more than the Scratchy Throat Lowlands; sneezing reveals the Starry Eyed Wonderland and Arora Corporealis: "Look, Nub, colors!"

When asked to comment, Mrs. Nod said, "Jus cub eye hed ov." which was taken to mean:
"Just cut my head off."
Whee! First one with antibiotics wins!

Epiphany: Three Gifts

It is now the Feast of the Epiphany. Everyone knows the three gifts of the Magi: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The happy thought remains that the Christmas season continues until the 11th of January. One more time -- Happy Christmas!

This year we rejoice; on the feast of the Epiphany the three gifts I received were not gold, frankincense, and myrrh; but rather time off, time ending, and time starting. That translates to: two weeks Christmas vacation, two weeks notice to the old job, and a start date for the new job!

God is good!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Button Masher

I'm a button masher.

There, I said it. When it comes to video games, let it be known that I am one of those hopeless guys who can't figure out what button to push when. That, paired with a stupendously average hand-eye coordination leads to video game mediocrity.

Therefore, when faced with a fast paced game and a half a dozen buttons, I just mash them until something cool happens; either that, or I pick one button for each thumb and just push those two no matter what. When I play fight games with my brother, I am a button masher. I have no idea what the moves are, but I'm sure as shootin' gonna mash a bunch of buttons.

The other downfall I have is that I grip the controller too hard which ends up making my fingers hurt. I have learned not to lean my body or wave the controller during racing games as if that would help me dodge and weave better.

The secret ace that other videocrities like me have is the sheer number of hours they are willing to put into practicing their game. After a few hundred hours, the muscle memory kicks in. I have never been willing to be that guy -- I have never actually enjoyed it quite enough to endure the training to get competent.

That is, until now. With a little bonus money, I decided to bite the bullet and get a Nintendo Wii. Now I am having a Wii bit of fun. The Wii was made for guys like me who are much more likely to wave the controller and jump about rather than push a complex set of buttons. It's addictive and fun, very different from your average "console", much more natural.

I'd also seen the game Rock Band played and had a blast remembering all those songs that I liked.

It's the music that did it; I bought the game and have started training my anemic video skills and rhythmically challenged self to play the Wii guitar and drums. I have improved in just two days and am loving it.

Don't ask me to play in front of you, but if you sneak over to my basement in the Wii hours, you'll see me mashing those buttons.

Shimmy Shake

On the tenth Day of Christmas ... I was admiring the Christmas tree, the lights, and the ornaments.

How the lights shine! How the ornaments gleam! How the tree ... shimmies? No wait, that's my toddler shaking the tree. Again.

Sigh. All the shatterproof ornaments have been removed by little hands, or fallen due to the "rolling thunder". Only the top third of the tree has anything left, with a few ribbons cascading forlornly down the branches.

And I realize: this is normal in a house with little feet.

Next year in Jerusalem, eh?

Capital, I Say!

A big shout out to my good friend Kardinal, who invited me to go to the Capital's hockey game on Thursday.

There's nothing like live sports. It also doesn't hurt that the Caps are on a tear and winning like there's no tomorrow.

In a town where a "winning" team is difficult to come by, it was nice to see a convincing victory rather than a nail biting squeaker. The game had a little bit of everything: great scoring, low penalties, an amazing blocked penalty shot, a minor fight, and a frightening injury where a player got accidentally knocked out on a board check.
Heward Hurt -- Ex-Caps defenseman Jamie Heward, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent last summer, was carried off on a stretcher in the seventh minute of the third period. Heward went into the corner after a loose puck and absorbed a hit from Ovechkin, who was not penalized on the play.

According to postgame reports, Heward has a concussion and he will stay overnight at Sibley Memorial Hospital for observation.

"He was moving his arms," said Lightning coach Rick Tocchet. "He was unconscious for about a minute and a half. So we made sure that we called his wife. I don't know for sure, but it seems that it's hopefully positive. We'll keep him overnight."

Once we got past that, everything was fine and the game resumed. The beer was cold, the seats were fine, the company was better, and a good time was had by all.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Falling Tree Kills Priest

In a bit of sad news, a local diocesan priest has celebrated his last Christmas Mass. May God rest his soul.
Father Michael C. Kelly, 53, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Purcellville,VA died suddenly Wednesday morning after a tree fell on him.

According to published reports, the tree fell on him as he and another driver were trying to remove a large branch that had fallen onto Harmony Church Road in Loudoun County. High winds knocked out power throughout the region Wednesday.

Father Kelly had served as administrator of St. Francis de Sales from June 2006 to June 2007 when he was named pastor. Funeral arrangements are pending.
The winds we had the last two days were incredibly strong, up to 50-60 mph. Considering that there was no "storm", the incredibly gusty winds were a force unto themselves. Today I helped put the roof back on the Church's Nativity scene which is constructed out of sturdy 4x4 posts and large sheets of plywood. The wind storm simply lifted the roof off like a sail; the angel on top was somehow undamaged.

Purcellville is very woody; so it is completely plausible to assume that the wind was strong enough to knock down power lines, trees, and limbs. We need to pray for our priests, especially for the repose of the soul of Fr. Kelly, whose life and last act were a gift of service.


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