13 February 2009

Chemical Interlude

If you have any interest at all in wonderfully strange and absurdly dangerous compounds, peruse this hilarious set of articles, entitled "Things I Won't Work With", by the chemist Derek Lowe

Among the lovely substances mentioned: chlorine trifluoride (hypergolic with most conventional fuels, virtually all organic compounds, and things like rock and sand); titanium tetraazide; anhydrous dichlorine heptoxide ("a liquid with a boiling point of around 80 C, and I'd like to shake the hand of whoever determined that property, assuming he has one left"); carbon diselenide (so mephitic that, when first synthesized, "the vapors [ . . . ] escaped the laboratory and forced the evacuation of a nearby village"), usw.

27 January 2009

The glories of YouTube

The Nixon tapes, 30 April 1973: Nixon, clearly drunk, telling Haldeman that he loves him. I'm not making this up.

20 January 2009

Great news

Marty Lederman, a very bright man and first-rate lawyer, has joined OLC under Obama.

09 January 2009

What do we talk about when we talk to the CIA?

For all its limitations, the Freedom of Information Act is one of the jewels of the American political system.

But I wouldn't want to be the person at the CIA charged with fielding FOIA submissions. The logs of recent requests (here, here, and doubtless many other places) make for amusing reading. Alongside serious demands for information, there are dozens of people asking for their own files, the obligatory questions about UFOs, the Kennedy assassination, and mind control, and requests for things that are already public and easily available (the CIA Factbook and the like). But that's just the tip of the iceberg. I pity the poor fellow who has to write responses to the requests summarized as:

"impact Visa card holders" (3 Jan. 2000) [recte visa holders?]

"assassination of President William McKinley or Leon Czolgosz" (12 Jan. 2000)

"clear worms" (19 Jan. 2000)

"information in connection with spontaneous human combustion" (29 Feb. 2000)

"'a copy of the U.S. and the Louisian [sic] State Constitution'" (16 Mar. 2000)

"Noah's Ark" (3 Apr. 2000)

"CIA reports from 1972 to the present" (3 May 2000)

"any data from any data file" (8 June 2000)

"research on sex pheromones" (23 Aug. 2000)

"'request a CIA agent to visit him and the complete mailing address of the CIA unit in San Diego, California'" (18 Sept. 2000)

"autographed photo of George J. Tenet" (17 Oct. 2000)

"pilots in pyjamas" (24 Oct. 2000)

"seeking location of biological father" (1 Oct. 2004)

"Agency's employment policy for ex-felons" (2 Mar. 2005)

"mind reading/control implants and who to contact if NSA intends to murder requester using such implants" (4 Mar. 2005)

"children's media showing CIA is looking to alter its public image to younger U.S. consumers under the age of 13" (29 Mar. 2005)

"all domestic individuals holding assets exceeding 10 million U.S. dollars" (11 Jan. 2006)

"James Bond" (7 Jul. 2006)

"www.nowthatsfuckedup.com" (5 Jan. 2007)

"how much money we receive back for all taxes" (26 Jan. 2007)

05 January 2009

That was fast

Eric Posner is wrong about virtually everything involving politics or the law, but the opening sentence of his analysis of this op-ed by John Bolton and John Yoo in Sunday's New York Times expresses my feelings perfectly:
It didn’t take long for conservatives to rediscover limits on executive power. You’d think something — if not philosophical consistency, then at least manners — would cause them to hold off until, say, inauguration day.

04 January 2009


(Walking in the snowy metropole.)

Helvidius: I might just give up and become a wandering iterant.

Alix: Don't you mean itinerant? I think you've been spending too much time programming. ...

03 January 2009

Alix's recipe corner

The legendary Rôti sans pareil:
Farcir une belle olive avec des câpres et des anchois ; après l’avoir fait mariner dans l’huile, l’enfermer dans un becfigue, ou tout autre oiseau dont la délicatesse est connue, pour le mettre ensuite dans un plus gros, tel qu’un ortolan ; prendre une mauviette, dont on supprimera les pates et la tête, pour entourer les deux autres, et la recouvrir d’une barde de lard très mince. Mettez la mauviette dans l’intérieur d’une grive, parée et troussée de même, la grive dans la caille, la caille dans un vanneau, celui-ci dans un pluvier, pour l’envelopper d’un perdreau ; enfermez ce perdreau dans une bécasse, celle-ci dans une sarcelle, pour passer dans un pintadeau, ensuite à un jeune canard sauvage, de là dans une poulade, arrivez au faisan que vous recouvrirez avec une oie, après quoi vous mettrez le tout dans une poule-dinde que vous enfermerez dans une outarde. Que si, par hasard, il se trouvait quelque chose de vide à remplir, vous auriez recours aux truffes, marrons et saucisses, dont vous feriez une farce. Placez le tout dans une casserole de suffisante capacité, avec des petits oignons piqués de clous de girofle, des carottes, du jambon coupé en petits morceaux, du céleri, un bouquet garni, mignonnette, quelques bardes de lard, poivre, sel, épices fines, coriandre, une ou deux gousses d’ail ; mettez cuire sur un feu doux continué pendant vingt-quatre heures, ou, mieux encore, dans un four un peu chaud ;dégraissez et servez sur un plat chaud.

Abstraction faite d’une complication aussi grande, on peut varier à l’infini, suivant les lieux et les saisons, cette manière de préparer plusieurs objets dans un seul.