Sour Grapes
Of course we're Fair and Balanced!


Al Gore's -16,022 (that's negative 16,022) vote count in Volusia County, Florida

The magnitude of this negative vote count is almost 30 times the size of George Bush's final margin of victory in Florida. I have cited this occurrence to a number of people. Now I can point to the e-mail thread in which Diebold employees discuss what might have gone wrong. There are a couple of interesting—and very enlightening—things contained in the thread, including a reminder—rather ironic in hindsight—from one employee warning "that the boogie man may me [sic] reading our mail." If you don't want to read the whole thing, I've quoted the relevant highlight below.

Two months after the November 2000 election, Lana Hires, who has a Volusia County government e-mail address (leading me to believe that she's actually an employee of the County) wrote an e-mail to some people who were, at least at the time, apparently associated with Diebold Elections Systems. Diebold was the manufacturer of Volusia County's voting machines. Ms. Hires e-mail said, under the subject line 2000 November Election, in part (at the bottom of the e-mail thread referenced above),

I need some answers! Our department is being audited by the County. I have been waiting for someone to give me an explanation as to why Precinct 216 gave Al Gore a minus 16022 when it was uploaded. Will someone please explain this so that I have the information to give the auditor instead of standing here 'looking dumb'.

Do I detect a note of exasperation in her request?

Some people have pointed out as well that among this body of Diebold internal correspondence is the statement, "If voting could really change things, it would be illegal.' Yes, an e-mail containing this statement really does exist; however, it's somebody's tagline. It is undoubtedly the expression of a extremely cynical position, but to quote it without context is very misleading.

(On on personal note of little import to anyone but me, I was disheartened to discover that I'll be voting on a Diebold voting machine tomorrow and probably have been for several elections. Sorry! I was mistaken; they're actually from Sequoia Voting Systems.)


Gertrude M. Jones, R.I.P

Note, the last sentence of this obituary, published in The Times—Picayune (New Orleans) on 2 Oct 2003:

Word has been received that Gertrude M. Jones, 81, passed away on August 25, 2003, under the loving care of the nursing aides of Heritage Manor of Mandeville, Louisiana. She was a native of Lebanon, KY. She was a retired Vice President of Georgia International Life Insurance Company of Atlanta, GA. Her husband, Warren K. Jones predeceased her. Two daughters survive her: Dawn Hunt and her live-in boyfriend, Roland, of Mandeville, LA; and Melba Kovalak and her husband, Drew Kovalak, of Woodbury, MN. Three sisters, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren, also survive her. Funeral services were held in Louisville, KY. Memorial gifts may be made to any organization that seeks the removal of President George Bush from office.


The definition of casuistry

I found an article titled Taking license that concerns a trend among bars of increasing collection and storage of detailed personal information as a way of verifiying the age of their patrons. About 80% of the way into the article is the following statement:

Proponents... assert that any invasion of privacy is not alarming because there's not much privacy left to invade.

What absolutely bizarre logic! It's like saying it's okay for me to rob people who have already been robbed since they don't have much left for me to take. Amazing!

Sometimes late is hardly better than never

A man is tried for a felony, convicted, sentenced and serves his whole term.
Then the DA's office that prosecuted him admits that it misunderstood the law and will ask the court to overturn this man's conviction.
I suppose this clears his record of the felony, but I can't imagine that he's particularly grateful.
This seems like a case where the DA's office ought to be liable for damages, but I'm guessing they're probably immune from such lawsuits.

Hu's on first

I find this très amusant.
Reading today's stories about Lt. Col. Yang Liwei's foray into space, I saw a quote from China's President Hu and immediately thought, there must be a parody somewhere on the net based on the old Abbot & Costello routine.
Plugging "Hu's on first" into Google yielded an estimated 17,300 matches, of which this was the highest ranked.


USA Patriot Act - A Warning From Your (if you live in Santa Cruz) Library

How scary is this notice, posted on the Santa Cruz Public Libraries web site?

USA Patriot Act - A Warning From Your Library


Although the Santa Cruz Library makes every effort to protect your privacy, under the federal USA PATRIOT ACT (Public Law 107-56), records of the books and other materials you borrow from this library may be obtained by federal agents. That federal law prohibits library workers from informing you if federal agents have obtained records about you. Questions about policy should be directed to:

Attorney General John Ashcroft,
Department of Justice,
Washington D.C. 20530.

In response the Library Joint Powers Board passed the following Resolution on the USA Patriot Act.


British Airways threatens free speech, promotes guilt by association

John Gilmore, who refuses to show any ID in order to fly domestically (and therefore doesn't fly domestically), reports on what happened to him and his sweetheart when they tried [unsuccessfully] to fly British Airways from San Francisco to London.

I would be hard pressed to come up with a security measure more useless and intrusive than turning a plane around because of a political button on someone's lapel.

I hope you're as appalled as I am.

Because he believes requiring an ID amounts to requiring an internal passport, he has take action against a couple of airlines and parts of the Federal government.

John Gilmore filed a lawsuit on July 18, 2002 against United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, the heads of the Federal Aviation Administration, the new Transportation Security Administration, FBI, the new Homeland Security agency and also the Attorney General. He does so "because he believes persons have a right to travel by air without the government requiring that they relinquish their anonymity."

You can follow his lawsuit by following the links on this page, which is where this last quote came from.


Justice Department attacks the 6th amendment

The New Times has a story headlined "Justice Dept. Asks Court to Reconsider Ruling on 9/11 Suspect."

The Justice Department has asked a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision declining to prevent Zacarias Moussaoui from interviewing captured people linked to Al Qaeda to support his defense that he was not involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist plot.

I had always believed that it was up to the government to decide whether the trade-off in national security vs. disclosure of information to a defendent in the hope obtaining a conviction was worthwhile. There are extremely good reasons for the 6th amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing rights to public trial, to judgment by an impartial jury, to being confronted by the prosecution's witnesses and to being able to compel favorable witnesses to testify. Without these rights, we are all potentially subject to retribution on the part of the government—that same government that has been granted the power, after following due process, to forcibly take our possessions, our ability to live freely and even our lives. This power is granted by we, the people, and ought not to be given up by us.

Moonie psychological boot camp cult

A post on the Interesting People list pointed me to this horrific story in the Observer. The poster, one Tim Dedopulos, abstracted it this way: "Rather than accepting that parenting plays any issue in teen behavior, wealthy US parents are imprisoning their kids in a Caribbean brain-washing camp (amongst almost 2000 other similar sites) that would make the Moonies proud."

The Observer article abstracts itself this way:

When you have a teenager on the rampage, who are you going to turn to? In America, parents send their troubled offspring to Jamaica's Tranquility Bay - a 'behaviour-modification centre' which charges $40,000 a year to 'cure' them. Decca Aitkenhead, the first journalist to gain access to the centre in five years, wonders if there isn't too high a price to pay.


The Hartford Advocate has a piece called We're Not Making This Up: You can't talk back to the Office of Homeland Security, the basic jist of which is as follows:

...[T]his reporter was confounded last week at the arrival of several faxes, here at the Advocate's office, from the United States Department of Homeland Security, the Cabinet department created by President George W. Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, to consolidate America's defenses against future and potential terrorist attacks.

The faxes failed to include contact information for the agency's press offices, and did not include details concerning from where, specifically, the fax had come. The fax claimed to come from the Office of the Press Secretary, but that person wasn't named. There were no names or phone numbers or addresses on the fax.

As the article points out, this is against the law:

...[E]very fax transmission must include what is called "identifying information," to allow recipients of said faxes the opportunity to respond to the whoever had sent it. That's the law -- the Federal Communications Commission, an independent United States government office requires that, at the top of all fax transmissions, the name and telephone number of the fax's originator be displayed.


What we need now is a public public hearing [my emphasis]

An article with the above title has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

What we need now is a public inquiry that makes clear the extent of public information available before the war. We need to compare that information to statements coming out of officials' mouths, to discover, where there are differences, which was more likely to be accurate at the time. At issue are not just questions about the administration's honesty in dealing with the public; the discrepancy between the public record and the "evidence" officials cited raises serious questions about their competence as well.

I couildn't agree more.

WMD trailers? Or are we being misled?

The New York Times reported today that the State Department disagrees with the CIA about whether or not the trailers that President Bush cited constitute the proof he claimed they did that the Iraqis had had weapons of mass destruction. The article is entitled "Agency Disputes C.I.A. View of Trailers as Iraqi Weapons Labs":

The State Department's intelligence division is disputing the Central Intelligence Agency's conclusion that mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making biological weapons, United States government officials said today.

In a classified June 2 memorandum, the officials said, the department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research said it was premature to conclude that the trailers were evidence of an Iraqi biological weapons program, as President Bush has done. The disclosure of the memorandum is the clearest sign yet of disagreement between intelligence agencies over the assertion, which was produced jointly by the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency and made public on May 28 on the C.I.A. Web site. Officials said the C.I.A. and D.I.A. did not consult with other intelligence agencies before issuing the report.

The report on the trailers was initially prepared for the White House, and Mr. Bush has cited it as proof that Iraq indeed had a biological weapons program, as the United States has repeatedly alleged, although it has yet to produce any other conclusive evidence.

Enlarging the public domain

Two Congresspersons introduced a bill that would loosen the ever-tightening grip of copyright law on creativity, the Wahington Post reported yesterday in an article titled "Bill Seeks to Loosen Copyright Law's Grip":

Two members of Congress today introduced legislation they said would ensure the American public's access to the nation's intellectual and artistic heritage.

The Public Domain Enhancement Act would require the owners of copyrighted works -- such as songs, books and software -- to pay a $1 fee to maintain their copyrights once 50 years have transpired from the work's original publication. If owners failed to pay the fee, the work would enter the public domain, and the public would be free to reproduce, republish or alter it.

Boycott the RIAA!

Found a site that lets you install a radar bookmarklet that checks to see if a CD [album] was released by a member of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). That way you can know whether purchasing it will help support the RIAA, which I for one certainly do not want to do.

The RIAA Radar is a tool that music consumers can use to easily and instantly distinguish whether an album was released by a member of the Recording Industry Association of America.

George Orwell's 100th birthday

Yesterday was his birthday and the New York Times published a commemorative article, The Road to Oceania by William Gibson.

This is not to say that Orwell failed in any way, but rather that he succeeded. '1984' remains one of the quickest and most succinct routes to the core realities of 1948. If you wish to know an era, study its most lucid nightmares. In the mirrors of our darkest fears, much will be revealed. But don't mistake those mirrors for road maps to the future, or even to the present.

We've missed the train to Oceania, and live today with stranger problems.


Converting deference into acquiescence

The Financial Times has an editorial today bemoaning the way the U.S. Courts have been capitulating to the Bush Adminstration's ongoing erosion of civil liberties:

Case by case, week by week, a complaisant US judiciary is gradually abdicating its responsibility to uphold basic freedoms guaranteed by the constitution and the law.

Why isn't the U.S. media raising similar warnings?

Former cabinet ministers accuse Tony Blair of WMD deceit

I've had this awful feeling all along that there was no reasonable justification for a War on Iraq.
Now here, to my knowledge, is the most damning evidence yet to that effect, from the Independent:

Tony Blair was charged with deliberately misleading the public over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction yesterday as two former cabinet ministers revealed that MI6 believed Saddam Hussein's arsenal posed no immediate threat.

If it turns out that the U.S. public was similarly mislead by President Bush, does that not constitute sufficient grounds of "high crimes and misdemeanors" for impeachment and conviction?

2003-06-10 - Microsoft says iLoo not a hoax, but project dead anyway

From USA Today:

Microsoft and its public relations firm have changed their story -- again -- about whether its United Kingdom division had been developing an Internet-enabled portable toilet....

On Monday, three representatives for the Redmond software giant told news agencies, including The Associated Press, that an April 30 news release trumpeting the "iLoo" was a hoax and apologized for "any confusion or offense" for the joke.

But on Tuesday, the company reversed itself, saying the iLoo had been real -- only it's now been killed.


Thomas L. Friedman's Theory of Everything

CNN has published A Theory of Everything:

During the 1990's, America became exponentially more powerful -- economically, militarily and technologically -- than any other country in the world, if not in history. Broadly speaking, this was because the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the alternative to free-market capitalism, coincided with the Internet-technology revolution in America. The net effect was that U.S. power, culture and economic ideas about how society should be organized became so dominant (a dominance magnified through globalization) that America began to touch people's lives around the planet -- "more than their own governments," as a Pakistani diplomat once said to me. Yes, we began to touch people's lives -- directly or indirectly -- more than their own governments.


Making Guantanamo Bay into a death camp is one possibility, according to General

The Courier Mail, an Austrailian newspaper reports that the U.S. may be planning a death camp.

Prisoners would be tried, convicted and executed without leaving its boundaries, without a jury and without right of appeal...

That's a frightening thought!

A Do-It-Yourself Cruise Missle


A Military Version of Junkyard Wars

A fellow in New Zealand is attempting to build a $5,000 Cruise Missile (I don't know if that's $NZ or $US).
This has already been discussed extensively on Slashdot, starting more than a month ago.
I may be the last guy on the Internet to learn of it:

Some time ago I wrote an article in which I suggested that it would not be difficult for terrorists to build their own relatively sophisticated cruise missiles using off-the-shelf components and materials....

I've received quite a number of emails from former and currently serving US military personnel who acknowledge that the threat is one they are very much aware of and for which there is little in the way of an effective defense available.

However, there have also been a number of people who claim I'm overstating the case and that it's not possible to build a real cruise missile without access to sophisticated gear, specialist tools and information not readily available outside the military.

So, in order to prove my case, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and build a cruise missile in my own garage, on a budget of just US$5,000.


Is driving a privilege?

Most of us have heard that is. As a matter of fact I was just wondering about this the other day. According to Eugene Volokh,

You do have a right to drive, but it's a statutorily recognized and regulated right, not a constitutionally secured one.

The InstaPundit explains why people are always saying otherwise:

... because it's in bold-face type in every "driver's handbook" issued by every state Department of Safety. (Which shows that the people who write those handbooks understand the value of early indoctrination.)

They both make a lot of sense.


An Admission of Guilt?

Microsoft agreed to the settlement of a lawsuit brought on behalf of Netscape, now owned by AOL Time Warner, in the wake of a Federal Court's finding that it had monopolized the Web browser market (story in the New York Times).

The cooperation agreement includes a $750 million payment from Microsoft to settle a private antitrust suit brought by the Netscape unit of AOL Time Warner in January 2002. The private case followed a ruling by a federal appeals court in the long-running suit against Microsoft, brought by the government in 1998; the judge ruled that the company had repeatedly violated antitrust laws by thwarting competition to preserve its monopoly in personal computer operating systems. In the government case, Netscape was portrayed as the principal corporate victim. Microsoft, the court ruled, repeatedly bullied PC makers and others to favor its browser over Netscape.

I'd like to think that this amounted to an admission of guilt by Microsoft, which only had to pay legal fees and agree to change its practices as a result of being found guilty. I'm sure they'd say otherwise. Similarly, AOL Time Warner agreed to open up instant messaging services in certain ways as a condition of coming into existence via a merger of AOL and Time Warner. Now they say it's unfair. Boo hoo!


Under the Boot Heel

Early in May, the Los Angeles Times printed a frightening example of the government's use of the Patriot Act: "Feeling the Boot Heel of the Patriot Act," by Jason Halperin (the link is to a republication by the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace). A brief excerpt:

In pre-9/11 America, the legality of this would have been questionable. After all, the 4th Amendment states: "The right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. "

"You have no right to hold us," said Asher. But they explained that they did: This was a homeland security investigation under the authority of the Patriot Act.

The whole thing turned out to be a mistake and, as Haperin says, "according to the ACLU, a perfectly legal one, thanks to the Patriot Act."


Lingering questions from the war on Iraq

Spinsanity, a resource noted here at the top of the leftmost column and who I believe do a good balanced job of detecting and pointing out spin (i.e. untruths, half-truths, and partial truths) from both the left and the right, has published an article, "More myths, misconceptions and unanswered questions about the war in Iraq:"

In the wake of the war in Iraq, a number of questions have arisen about events during the war and Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. As in our earlier columns about the Iraq debate, this article is intended to deal only with claims that have been addressed definitively or near-definitively in the public record. It is our hope that this column will serve to clarify some of the key issues being debated in the aftermath of the war and correct some of the most pervasive myths in circulation.

The questions it addresses are:

  • Have weapons of mass destruction been found in Iraq?
  • Has evidence of links between Saddam Hussein's regime and Al Qaeda been found in Iraq?
  • Were thousands of items looted from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad?
  • Where did the American flag come from that was placed on the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad?
  • What actually happened to Pfc. Jessica Lynch?

"blacklist" vs. "blocklist"

Neil Schwartzman makes a good point about this terminology. So I've updated yesterday's post, "Unclogging the Information Artery," to reflect this.

Consequences of Anti-SPAM Laws

Tim May has a letter today on Declan McCullagh's Politech list on unintended consequences of "anti-spam" laws. More important than these pragmatic considersations, I'm unwilling to have the courts get into the issue of what might be "protected" speech, vs. "unprotected" speech. May talks around this point without actually making it. [I wish I had included this First Amendment point in yesterday's post "Unclogging the Information Artery."]


The May 3 Washington Post has an article, Firms Want Refunds Of Tax on Fake Profit, regarding Enron, MCI and other corporations that inflated their profits and now want tax refunds:

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said it is "disturbing that the very corporations that deceptively inflated their earnings to boost their stock prices are now requesting that the taxes they paid on fictitious earnings be refunded."

Sure it's disturbing, but wouldn't it be even more disturbing if the stockholders—the innocent ones, anyway—were not refunded income tax paid on phony profits?

Briefly noted

Your ICANN $ At Work

Fighting "the most dangerous agency of government" (so named by Dick Armey)

On 8 May I wrote about the surprising coalition of conservative and liberal groups trying to stop CAPPS II. The Village Voice has a good piece by Nat Hentoff titled Conservatives Rise for the Bill of Rights!

A significant development in the movement to resist the Ashcroft-Bush dismembering of the Bill of Rights is the growing coalition between conservative groups and such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way.

The Warnings of History?

In March, the Common Dreams News Center—"Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community"—published an article titled When Democracy Failed: The Warnings of History by Thom Hartmann. It describes a pivotal period in a nation's history.

Terrorists had initiated feeble attacks against a few symbolic targets. There were warnings of an imminent attack that might well succeed. The nation's leader, whose legitimacy was questioned by many--a Southerner elected by a minority vote and ridiculed for his inability to understand the nuances of running a nation in a complex and increasingly internationalist world--ignored the warnings. When the attack came, it was against one of the nation's most prestigious buildings. He went to the site of the attack, called it "a sign from God" and declared an all-out war on terrorism and its sponsors in the Middle East, citing in particular the religious basis they had for their evil acts. Within four weeks, the newly popular leader had pushed through legislation reducing constitutional protections, in part by agreeing to a four-year sunset provision. Legislators would later say they hadn't even had time to read the bill. The legislation permitted police to intercept mail and wiretap phones; imprison suspected terrorists without charges and without access to lawyers; and sneak into people's homes without warrants. He proposed a new agency to protect the security of the homeland, consolidating dozens of previously independent police, border, and investigative agencies under a single leader. He then appointed a trusted associate to lead of this new agency and made it the equal of the other major departments. This agency started a program encouraging people to phone in tips about suspicious neighbors. The leader began to try to convince the people that a small, limited war was needed. Some students began protesting, and leaders of other nations spoke out against his bellicose rhetoric. A second nation harbored many of the suspicious people of Middle Eastern descent and, even though the connection was tenuous to the terrorist who had set one of the nation's most important building ablaze, it held resources the nation badly needed. He delivered an ultimatum to the leader of that nation, provoking an international uproar, and claimed the right to strike preemptively in self-defense. In less than two years, his military had overcome two independent nations with surprising ease. By then he had become enormously popular and was named Time magazine's "Man of the Year."

This leader was not, of course, George Bush. The events I've described are only highlights of many more parallels cited in the article. The publication of the Common Dreams article followed shortly after the 70th anniversary of the successful terrorist attack.


Crypto-Gram is "[a] free monthly newsletter providing summaries, analyses, insights, and commentaries on computer security and cryptography." The best such that I've seen. The most recent issue has a interesting short blurb explaining
why you should ask for a receipt. [Bruce Schneier, Crypto-Gram's writer/publisher doesn't say this; I do.]

Assassination, kidnapping & torture: surely not by the U.S. government!

The Memory Hole—"rescuing knowledge, freeing information"—has put a collection of Documents from the Phoenix Program online. What is the Phoenix Program?

Created by the CIA in Saigon in 1967, Phoenix was a program aimed at "neutralizing"--through assassination, kidnapping, and systematic torture--the civilian infrastructure that supported the Viet Cong insurgency in South Vietnam. It was a terrifying "final solution" that violated the Geneva Conventions and traditional American ideas of human morality....

The CIA destroyed its copies of these documents, but the creator of Phoenix gave his personal copies to author Douglas Valentine. They have never previously been published, online or in print.

This is the kind thing I think of whenever someone in the government says, "Trust us! We're not going to abuse our powers." As of this writing, there are fourteen documents online, with more planned in the coming months.

Unclogging the Information Artery

The New York Times has a more-interesting-than-most article concerning what might be done about SPAM.

Everyone in the world of the Internet is thinking about spam. Following are excerpts from conversations with seven people who have some ideas for a solution...

The seven are

Surprisingly, I found the ideas of the first of these to be the most interesting. One key thing that has to be dealt with a e-mail lists. I belong to several, and I'm sure the moderators are unwilling to take individual human action or pay much of a per-recipient cost of any kind in order to assure that their subscribers continue to receive their free mailings. Certainly, nothing I've seen proposed in any legislative body seems reasonable. I doubt the legislative proposals I've seen would help; in many cases they would only legitimize stuff I don't want.


Blinded by the light

The April 2003 issue of Consumer Reports has a brief article on one of my pet peeves: HID headlights.

Odds are, you love high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights if they're on your vehicle.... But drivers on the receiving end of that light describe it in less-than-glowing terms.

When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it was looking into complaints about glare from HID lights, high-mounted sport-utility-vehicle lights, and fog lights, most of the roughly 4,000 responses that poured in complained about HIDs.

The numbers are especially significant considering that HID-equipped vehicles account for only about 1 percent of U.S. cars and trucks sold.

Automakers note that HID headlights meet current federal standards and attribute the complaints about them to a tendency for drivers to stare at the lights' distinctive blue-white hue.

But our research and headlight tests of 41 vehicles--some with halogens, some with HIDs--show that HIDs do produce more glare, which is the temporary annoyance or blindness caused by bright light in your field of view. Dirty glasses or contact lenses can increase glare. Experts also say its effects become more noticeable after age 50. While HIDs' blue hue is part of the glare problem, much of it lies in how their brighter light is distributed.

I'm over 50 and I do wear contacts. Driving over the rolling hills and pothole-filled roads of SE Pennsylvania, I find these headlights particularly prone to brief but blinding flashes as the cars they are attached to crest hills or bounce over uneven pavement. And I really hate being followed by an SUV or truck with them. I drive a Honda Accord, which puts me pretty close to the ground. The headlights on these big vehicles illuminate the inside of my car as though it were daylight and make my rearview mirrors unusable--no, actually these mirrors produce so much glare that they become downright hazardous.

Do you agree? Do you want to let the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration know? If so, you can go to the NHTSA web site, click on "Comment/Submissions," log-in, register or click on "Continue" and, sooner or later, you'll get to a page where you can enter the "Docket ID." Enter "8885" and click on "Continue," then you can make a comment.


FBI agent runs over scientist for photgraphing his SUV?

This is really scary stuff. I saw it by virtue of subscribign to Declan McCullagh's Politech list. I couldn't agree more with Declan's comment:

Anyone want to bet that if a civilian had been driving an SUV that struck a pedestrian in Georgetown and then took off, the driver would have been arrested and charged with a hit and run crime? But federal police apparently live by different rules, or, put another way, are above the law. Or take a case a few days ago when police screwed up and raided the wrong apartment in a no-knock-flash-bang-grenade drug raid, causing its lawful occupant to die of a heart attack. If a civilian had committed a similar mistake, wouldn't you expect to see a manslaughter or some type of murder charge filed? Again, different rules.

Albert Einstein Archives Online

The Einstein Archives came online on Monday. Below, for example, is the well-known "E=mc2" in Albert's own handwriting, one of only three existing manuscripts that contain the formula (click on the image to see a 541 KB, high quality image of the whole document).

Take a picture, go to jail?

In a brief e-mail to Dave Farber's Interesting People list, Ole J. Jacobsen, editor and publisher of The Internet Protocol Journal reports,

I had about an hour to kill today in Washington, so I decided to wander down towards the White House and check out the latest security measures.

On my way, I passed the Department of Commerce, so I crossed the street and took a picture, figuring I could use it in some future PowerPoint presentation describing the DNS root and all that.

I managed just one shot... before I was told by a police officer that "you cannot photograph the entrance of any Federal building."

So, there you have it. It's obviously very dangerous to allow a tourist like me to just go around taking pictures in public places. Since the picture actually doesn't show the entrance (if it did it's been cropped ;-) I feel my Greencard is probably safe, but you and your readers have been warned.

I am not making this up!

"It's official: politicians just can't help telling lies."

The Observer reports the startling results of a study authored by Glen Newey, reader in politics at the University of Strathclyde and published by the government-funded [!] Economic and Social Research Council. Mr Newey is quoted as saying, in part,

When journalists or other parliamentary colleagues start to probe at that area which the Government wants to keep secret, you are likely to be pushed further and further towards the territory of lying.

I don't think there's any good way around that problem. Politicians need to be more honest about lying.

The study itself avers, "[V]oters even have a 'right to be lied to' about things where they would rather not know what had happened..."

Don't go gaga for Google!

The BBC asks, "Is Google too powerful?"

Google is a privately-owned US company that has a policy of collecting as much information as possible about everyone who uses its search tool.

It will store your computer's IP address, the time/date, your browser details and the item you search for.

It sets a tracking cookie on your computer that does not expire until 2038.

This means that Google builds up a detailed profile of your search terms over many years.

Google probably knew when you last thought you were pregnant, what diseases your children have had, and who your divorce lawyer is.

It refuses to say why it wants this information or to admit whether it makes it available to the US Government for tracking purposes.

And the much-loved Google toolbar tells Google about every web page you look at.

Google's privacy policy says,

Google does not collect any unique information about you (such as your name, email address, etc.) except when you specifically and knowingly provide such information. Google notes and saves information such as time of day, browser type, browser language, and IP address with each query. That information is used to verify our records and to provide more relevant services to users. For example, Google may use your IP address or browser language to determine which language to use when showing search results or advertisements....

Google may share information about you with advertisers, business partners, sponsors, and other third parties....

By using the Google Search Services and our web site, you consent to the collection and use of your information as we have outlined in this policy and to our Terms of Service Policy....

The two sources don't seem contradictory to me, except the BBC article does say, "[Google] refuses to say why it wants this information or to admit whether it makes it available to the US Government for tracking purposes" while Google's privacy policy does say something about what they do with this information and that they don't disclose any personally identifiable information to any third party (except "if required to do so in order to comply with any valid legal process such as a search warrant, subpoena, statute, or court order."

"Killer Ds" flee Texas to protest gerrymandering

Fifty-three of the sixty-two Democrats in the Texas House fled across to the state line to Ardmore, OK:

The revolt was spurred by the introduction of a GOP-backed congressional-redistricting bill that Democrats believe would unfairly tilt the balance in favor of Republicans for years to come. They blamed US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R) of Texas for forcing the issue long before it was required.

Typical reprehensible politicians? Or heroes? Note that the Christian Science Monitor article says that "delighted constituents have shown up with cookies, balloons, and cheers." On the other hand, the American Heritage Dictionary definition says specifically that to gerrymander is "to give unfair advantage to one party."

Redistricting has always been one of the uglier aspects of politics in the U.S. (not as ugly as the roadblocks thrown up by Democrats and Republicans that make it virtually impossible for any third party to succeed, but that's another story). Its specific intent is to help the majority party stay in the majority. The solution has been obvious to me since I read, at a fairly young age, about Elbridge Gerry's redistricting antics when he was governor of Massachusetts (1810-1812). Let each party (preferably not only the Republicans and the Democrats, but all parties) submit its own redistricting plan to a Court. The Court would then determine which plan had the lowest total distance in district boundary lines and this would be the plan put into effect. The effect of this would be to push political parties toward the opposite of gerrymandering, since gerrymandering, in effect, is a deliberate effort to increase this total distance to absurd heights.

False accusations based on "anonymous administration sources"

France's ambassador to the U.S. has published an open letter to "Congressmen, Administration Officials and Media representatives." In it he accuses the media of publishing "false information" based on information from "anonymous administration sources" and gives eight examples. He says in part,

I would like to draw your attention to the troubling--indeed, unacceptable--nature of this disinformation campaign aimed at sullying France's image and misleading the public. The methods used by those propagating this disinformation have no place in the relationship between friends and allies, who may disagree on important issues but should not engage in denigration and lies.

Should those of us in the U.S. who have been wondering about France's intentions really be wondering about whether our taxes have paid for a campaign of disinformation?


Just Say No to Nukes!

I came across a short piece by Retired Vice Admirial Jack Shanahan, in which he explains his position that "...there is no such thing as a 'usable' nuke and [we] shouldn't try to build any." I found it remarkable to be hearing this from a former Admiral of the Navy. I found his argument regarding the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to be particularly telling:

America signed the global Non-Proliferation Treaty with over a hundred other nations. The deal was simple: If you don't have nuclear weapons, you can't build them; in exchange, those of us who do will work to get rid of ours. How can we complain that countries like North Korea shouldn't build new nuclear weapons in violation of the treaty when the Bush Administration proposes doing the very same thing?

As the UN's Brief Background on this Treaty says,

The [Non-Poliferation Treaty] is a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. The Treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States. [Emphasis added.]

[Updated 20 May 2003: see also the Los Angeles Times commentary, "A Nuclear Road of No Return," by Bruce Scheer.]

The link to Adm Shanahan's piece was sent to me in connection with an request from (founded by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's fame) asking me to fax Congress opposing these "mini-nukes," which I not only did, which I often do, but also forwarded the request to several friends, which I hardly ever do.

I was reminded of the book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, which I recently read. It won several awards: The 1988 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, the 1987 National Book Award for nonfiction and the 1987 National Book Critics Circle Award for general fiction. William J. Broad reviewed this book for the New York Times, and said, in part,

''The Making of the Atomic Bomb'' offers not only the best overview of the century's pivotal event, but a probing analysis of what it means for the future....

The book illuminates not only scientists and their insights but also the times they lived in, showing how these often eccentric individuals were shaped by the philosophies and atrocities that shook the first half of the 20th century. Happily, Mr. Rhodes avoids the sermons and apocalyptic overtones that often mar the subjects of nuclear arms and atomic creativity. Nor does he point accusatory fingers. Short on heroes and villains, his book is populated instead with complex figures in a compelling plot....

As I was reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb, I kept thinking, "I'm really enjoying this book, but what qualifies it for the Pulitzer Prize? It isn't that good!" I got to the end still having the same thoughts. "I can't believe people without my interest in nuclear physics would find this book to be worthy of the awards it received," I thought. "It's an excellent book, for me, but not for just anyone!"

Then I read the Epilogue. It was truly outstanding. I doubt that it would have struck me that way unless I had read the whole book. It puts the Bomb in broad historical context. It also puts nationalism, the nation-state and the possibility (or is it the necessity?) of supra-national government into the same context. Very, very powerful and thought-provoking. Mr Broad concludes:

In the book's epilogue, he points out that for the first time in history science in 1945 became a force strong enough to challenge the power and authority of the modern nation-state, itself an institution which has not been an unalloyed power for good....

In all this Mr. Rhodes sees a glimmer of hope. Even though an instrument of terror, science may one day prompt the birth of a supranational order. ''The preeminent transnational community in our culture is science,'' Mr. Rhodes writes. ''With the release of nuclear energy in the first half of the twentieth century that model commonwealth decisively challenged the power of the nation-state. The confrontation is ongoing and inextricably embedded in mortal risk, but it offers at least a distant prospect of felicity.

''The different country that still opens before us is Bohr's open world.''


A Weapon of Mass Distraction?

SF Indymedia reports on a story from the Montreal Gazette—a story apparently no longer available on the Web—"Nursing Canadian Mom Threatened with Terrorist Charge Against US Citizen:"

Deborah Wolfe, a Canadian citizen who was just breast-feeding her son and changing his diaper while en route between Houston and Vancouver, says her "subversive" actions led to her being threatened with detainment, RCMP involvement and legal charges for terrorist action against a U.S. citizen in international airspace while on an American flight during a time of war.

This is the most bizarre breast-feeding incident since Jacqueline Mercado and her boyfriend, Johnny Fernandez, lost custody of their two children for photographing Jacqueline in the act of suckling one of them, one-year old Rodrigo. According to the Dallas Observer, the two were

indicted for "sexual performance of a child" (though the case was later dropped by Dallas County prosecutors), and Child Protective Services took away their two children and ordered all sorts of onerous counseling and tests.

I must admit that, like the writer, I sympathize with the State agency, and, also like the writer, think a simple apology would probably do wonders.

What? No Weapons?

The Washington Post reports that the 75th Exploitation Task Force, charged with locating the weapons of mass destruction that precipitate our invasion of Iraq, is giving up and going home. Imagine that!

The story, headlined "Frustrated, U.S. Arms Team to Leave Iraq" and sub-headlined "Task Force Unable to Find Any Weapons," begins:

The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants.

Collateral Damage

Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in the New York Times on 6 May about another bit of collateral damage from the recent War on Iraq: "Missing in Action: Truth." While not startling the way that Patrick Buchanan's article on WMDs was, Kristof voices the a part of the concerns I have regarding what the current Administration is all about.


Remember the independent commission that was appointed to investigate 9/11? The Miami Herald reported last week that the Bush administration won't allow the release of the complete report:

The Bush administration and the nation's intelligence agencies are blocking the release of sensitive information about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, delaying publication of a 900-page congressional report on how the terrorist assault happened.

Intelligence officials insist the information must be kept secret for national security reasons. But some of the information is already broadly available on the Internet or has been revealed in interim reports on the investigation, leading to charges that the administration is simply trying to avoid enshrining embarrassing details in the report....

Nobel Peace Prize for Bush & Blair?

Reuters reports, "Bush, Blair Nominated for Nobel Prize for Iraq War." As Dave Farber said about this story, "Hard to believe."

"Potty surfing" story was a hoax

The story referred to in my posting from 6 May turns out to have been a hoax perpetrated by Microsoft UK.


Too Close to Call

The thirty-six day battle to decide the 2000 election

[Full disclosure: while I did not vote for Gore, I would have much preferred seeing him become President, especially in light of subsequent events.]

I recently read the book of this title by Jeffrey Toobin. At least one good review already exists on the Web. I read it after my friend Dinah said that she found some of what Toobin reports very alarming.

Sure, some of it is alarming. The Bush camp comes off as vicious and ruthless. The Gore forces appear foolish and somewhat naïve, especially Gore himself. Human nature being what it is, an election with an so much power—an almost obscene amount—at stake is bound to bring out some very bad qualities in people. While denying that the Republicans "stole" the election or that Bush's presidency is not "illegitimate," Toobin concludes,

The wrong man was inaugurated on January 20, 2001, and this is no small thing in our nation's history. The bell of this election can never be unrung, and the sound will haunt us for some time.

What struck me though—and not for the first time either—was the fact that the vote in Florida was, in any practical sense, a tie. With all the randomness and abitraryness that is amply document in this book, there is no way that anyone could ever have known, within a few hundred votes, which candidate got what number of votes. No one could probably even know with a few thousand votes. Yes, the evidence points to Gore having received more votes. But the point is that we will not and cannot ever know who won the actual vote on Tuesday, 7 Nov 2000. It's not even clear to me that "who won" is even a rational concept. What I mean is, did more Floridians who voted want Gore to be President, or Bush? That is what we can't know. In any practical sense I can think of, the election resulted in a tie.

If it was a tie, then somebody had to toss a coin. That fell to the Supreme Court. While IANAL, I read their decision, including all dissents, the day it was available online. I was horrified by the majority opinion. So seemingly were the dissenting Justices, Justice Ginsburg, in particular. Extraordinarily, he decined to include the word "respectfully," as is customary, to the final sentence of his dissenting opinion. Instead, he wrote, "I dissent."


Strange Bedfellows

I was not surprised when I saw that Molly Ivins asked last week in WorkingForChange, "WMDs? What WMDs?" I resonate to the sarcastic tone of her opening joke:

"Of course we know the Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction. We have the receipts." At this point, the administration would probably be delighted if it could find the WMDs the Reagan administration gave Saddam Hussein. At least it could point to some WMDs.

Then I was surprised to learn that the Free Congress Foundation, the Eagle Forum and the Christian Coalition joined the ACLU in an attempt to stop CAPPS II.

But then I was even more surprised to find myself agreeing with Pat Buchanan when he asked yesterday in WorldNetDaily, "Where are they, Mr. President?"

Trusting the president, believing that he had information we did not, a majority of Americans approved of pre-emptive war. But where, now, are the thousands of artillery warheads and terror weapons the president and secretary of state told us Saddam had?

We have scoured Iraq for a month. No Scuds have been found. No chemical or biological weapons. No laboratories or production lines. No evidence that Iraq was building nukes or seeking fissile material.

From his logical conclusion of what Saddam would have done if he had had such weapons to his scorn for Congress's abdication of power, I am completely in tune with him. There were just two sentences I had trouble with. Or only half agreed with:

Both the president and [Colin] Powell are honorable men. If they misled us, surely it is because they themselves were misled. It is impossible to believe either man would deliberately state as fact what he knew to be false.

I wish I could agree. There's no good reason not to believe this is true of Powell. But I find myself really wondering about Mr Bush's honor.


Could Your Secret Security Profile Stop You from Traveling?

The ACLU has put up a web-based quiz you can take that supposedly will give you some idea of whether you'll be allowed to board the plane next time to head to the airport to fly out of town.

The next time you go to the airport, your name could be entered in a secretive new government database, and depending on your threat rating -- red, yellow or green -- you could be prevented from flying or even detained.

This new background check program, called Computer-Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System or CAPPS II, would assign a rating to every American based on information from secret intelligence and law enforcement databases and even commercial data such as purchase history and banking records.

Innocent Americans have already been stopped and banned from flying because their names erroneously appeared on government "no fly" lists. Take the ACLU's new quiz to find out who's being stopped from flying, and whether you could become one of them.

It seems to me to be more a test of how much one knows about this system. I got 7 out of 8 right. How will you do?

Everything bad about GWB

Here's a site to reinforce all my preconceived ideas about the current Bush administration!

Failure Is Impossible
"Failure is impossible." With these final words to the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Susan B. Anthony exhorted her fellow suffragists to continue fighting for the goal to which she had dedicated her life. An ardent abolitionist as well as suffragist, she was world-famous for her crusade to extend freedom and legal rights, particularly voting rights, to all United States citizens.

As my contribution to defending voters' rights, which were so widely assaulted during the 2000 Presidential election, this site is dedicated to "Aunt Susan" and to all her spiritual nieces and nephews who continue the crusade.

Can anything be done about SPAM?

Here's an article that comprises a good summary of Larry's bet, an interview with Declan and a bunch o' links.

ReadMe, Issue 4.2—What Larry Doesn't Get
Experts say there isn't a single anti-spam law on the books that works, but Stanford Law professor Larry Lessig is betting his job that a new law will. Declan McCullagh will be the judge of that.

I hate SPAM but love free speech, and I regard the latter as more important. I hope somebody comes up with a workable scheme that doesn't infringe upon people's right to say what they want. But I'm skeptical. I have taken certain steps myself and, so far—knock on wood!—get relatively small numbers of unsolicited mass e-mails.

Long-term memory on the Web

The Memory Hole "exists to preserve and spread material that is in danger of being lost, is hard to find, or is not widely known." I just found out about it, being referred there to a story about someone who

...caught United Press International yanking a story and replacing it with an altered version. Around 5 PM Eastern on 02 May 2003, UPI ran a story headlined "Rice Blocked Plan for Raids on Syria" on its Website. But that link now brings up a story headlined "Rice Actions on Syria Disputed," which is datelined 02 May at 7:54 PM.... The two outlets that pick up many of UPI's stories--the Washington Times and Newsmax--quickly pulled the original story and replaced it with the new one.

The heavily-rewritten new article reiterates the high points of its spiked predecessor, but the whole thing is framed as a probable media misfire. The headline says that Rice's actions are being disputed, and the article opens with a vehement three-paragraph denial by a White House communications counselor, who calls the meeting a "complete fabrication."

The Memory Hole has the original story (if it's not in the current blog, you may have to search for it). This is great fodder for us conspiracy theorists. You really have to wonder about how much truth there is in each version of the story.

Big Brother is watching!

This is the kind of story that sends shudders down my spine:

'Smart Park' Is Keeping Watch To civic planners in Glendale, Palmer Park has everything a recreation area needs -- kiddie swings, walking trails and infrared sensors concealed in the shrubbery.

What country are we living in? Must we rush into the vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet Union?

May Day? or Loyalty Day?

Ah, the government! Did you know that May 1st was
Loyalty Day?

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2003, as Loyalty Day. I call upon all the people of the United States to join in support of this national observance. I also call upon government officials to display the flag of the United States on all government buildings on Loyalty Day.

GWB did not invent this. It has a history that goes back at least to 1947 and, in part at least, was intended to subsume May Day as an international day celebrating the labor movement. As the linked article says, "Today, the United States stands virtually alone among the industrialized nations in officially ignoring the historical and political significance of May Day for the Labor movement." Sometimes I'm so embarrassed to be an American.


Valerie Ghent: With You

Saturday my wife, Roslyn, and I saw four women perform at Common Ground. They call themselves the Woodstock Ladies' Auxiliary Singing Club, a.k.a. the Goosebumps, a.k.a. the Saladheads. One is a doctor, two are professional musicians--one married my first cousin--and I'm not sure about the fourth. These putative names belie their entirely professional demeanor and talent. Yes, they were quite fun. But the music ranged from sacred to zany, and was all quite beautiful.

Part way through the first set, Valerie Ghent performed a solo piece called "With You" at the piano, which she dedicated to her father. Its subject was the presence of those who have passed away. It blew me away. It opened with a slow and very simple progression of four three-note piano chords, with two of the three notes the same for all four chords, each chord played one ascending note at a time. This she repeated several times. Then she started singing on top of this melody. I thought, "There's nowhere for her to hide!" She sang powerfully, dynamically, intimately, ranging over at least two octaves, maybe three. Gradually she embellished the piano playing until it was a full-fledged accompaniment. When she finished, it was difficult as a listener for me to go back to their other music, as exquisite as it was, that comprised the rest of their show.

At the break between sets, I told her how impressed I was. So did my brother, who was as blown away as I. Turns out her father died a month ago, although she had written it nine months earlier. She didn't say so in the dedication because she was afraid she'd break into tears and be unable to finish the piece if she did. When I made the comment that there was no place to hide, she told me she had started out with a big back-up band, then gradually shed more and more players, till it came time for her to go solo. When she finally did, she said those exact same words had come to her about how it felt.

Very rarely do I react to a performer like that. My reactions are not usually typical. The last time I remember doing so was the first time I heard Martin Sexton at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 1996. The only thing I didn't like of his was a song called, "Diner," which is the one that was getting all the air play. To me it was entirely unrepresentative of his style, which I loved. BTW, he too came to Common Ground, probably the following season.

Potty surfing?

Are these for real? Or is a hoax being perpetrated on both these sources?

PC Pro: MSN goes down the pan

c|net's News.Com: Sit and surf: MSN UK tests portable potty

O Canada! Let freedom ring!

It's a sad, sad day when the home of the free and the land of the brave can say this about any nation!

U.S. says Canada cares too much about liberties

The United States says the lack of funding for police and restrictive privacy legislation in Canada are frustrating probes of political extremists.

The comments in an annual report on international terrorism were the latest critical remarks from the U.S. apparently aimed at prodding Canada to bring its security measures in line.

The State Department report on global terrorism for 2002 suggests that while Canada has been helpful in the fight against terrorism, it doesn't spend enough on policing and places too much emphasis on civil liberties....

Blog home
Blog archives