Sour Grapes
Of course we're Fair and Balanced!


[First annual?] Hookie awards

I've decided to create the Hookie Awards. Named after the great public intellectual Sidney Hook, they go to the authors of some of the most important essays written in 2004.

So says David Brooks in the New York Times in introducing the first batch of them.

A warning: if you read these pieces you will be so intimidatingly well informed it may cramp your social life.

From his introduction to the second batch. I must admit that I haven't yet read any of them, but I'm looking forward with enthusiasm to doing so [via Dave Farber's IP list].

Satellite images of 26 Dec 2004 tsunami

Via my daily viewing of the Earth Observatory's daily image, I found a whole page of 'em. I was disappointed in the 6-page analysis [PDF], which had minimal information. Photo credit: DigitalGlobe.


A series of dubious electoral stories?

I don't know what to make of the following links gleaned from a series of posts to Dave Farber's IP list. All but the last three — which are the ones I ran into first — were written by Wayne Madsen. If it were just he, I'd be more skeptical. The Star Tribune is a reputable newspaper; their executive editor is a friend of mine.

As I was reading and thinking about these, I got to thinking. Didn't the difference between vote totals published by the government and the results of exit poll constitute the primary evidence that the original vote for President in the Ukraine was rigged? If so, why wasn't the same kind of difference [PDF, HTML here] in the US Presidential election treated as similar evidence? Not to get carried away with this, but I'd sure like to know the difference between the two cases.

Protect your privacy!

Check out the Electronic Privacy Information Center's Top Ten Consumer Privacy Resolutions for the new year [via Dave Farber's IP list]. The executive summary follows.

  1. Engage in "privacy self defense."
  2. Pay with cash where possible.
  3. Install anti-spyware, anti-virus, and firewall software on your computer.
  4. Use a temporary rather than a permanent change of address.
  5. Opt out of prescreened offers of credit.
  6. Choose Supermarkets that Don't Use Loyalty Cards.
  7. Opt out of financial, insurance, and brokerage information sharing.
  8. Request a free copy of your credit report by visiting
  9. Enroll all of your phone numbers in the Federal Trade Commission's Do-Not-Call Registry.
  10. File a complaint.

ACLU wants stories of TSA sexual harassment

The American Civil Liberties Union is solicting complaints of sexual harassment by employees of the Transportation Security Administration:

A September 2004 TSA directive granting airport security screeners broad leeway to conduct "pat-down" searches has led to numerous reports of sexual harassment and abuse.

Victims are reporting that they are not being offered private searches or searches by screeners of the same sex, and that "private" searches are being conducted behind screens that provide no privacy. Passengers are reporting rough, rude, and humiliating manhandling and groping of their breasts and crotch areas, demeaning sexual comments, and being forced to remove business jackets in full view of crowds, despite the fact that it is a widespread convention in our society for women to wear only bras or other undergarments underneath such jackets.


File a complaint with the ACLU

The ACLU is assessing possible responses to this policy. In doing so, it is extremely helpful for us to gain a sense of the kinds of abuses that are taking place. If you have experienced a problem with pat-down searches at airport security, you can help us end this problem by reporting your story.


Google & Harvard to make public domain books available online

Very cool! Google and Harvard University are collaborating to digitize the text of 40,000 public-domain volumes (out of 15,000,000 volumes altogether) in Harvard's libraries and put them online. Google has similar agreements with Oxford, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the New York Public Library [via Bob's Junkmail]..

An attempt to further erode the 1st Amendment

This is very odd. It might be called "muzzling the enemies of our enemies" [via Bob's Junkmail].

In an apparent reversal of decades of U.S. practice, recent federal Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations bar American companies from publishing works by dissident writers in countries under sanction unless they first obtain U.S. government approval.

The restriction, condemned by critics as a violation of the First Amendment, means that books and other works banned by some totalitarian regimes cannot be published freely in the United States, a country that prides itself as the international beacon of free expression....

Violations carry severe reprisals — publishing houses can be fined $1 million and individual violators face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Get the weather via RSS/XML

The National Weather Service is offering several RSS & XML feeds — Forecasts, Watch/warnings, Current Observations, Tropical Cyclone Advisories and Change Notices [via Bob's Junkmail].

How to land a commercial jetliner after being hit by a ground-to-air missile
or, The ultimate in on-the-job training

Bob's Junkmail points to a rather gripping article, which he introduces thusly:

A little over a year ago I remember reading about a DHL plane that was hit by a missile shortly after takeoff at Baghdad. They returned to land. It didn't seem like too big a deal to me at the time. The other day I ran across the details of that flight, and I was very impressed. Those guys are good AND lucky.

The best interrogation money can buy

Bob's one-sentence summary in his Junkmail of the article he points to:

It looks like the U.S. is still flying people around the world to offer them the best interrogation money can buy.

Proposed patent system reform

Bob's Junkmail points to a very good article in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' IEEE Spectrum on what's wrong with the US patent system and how it might be improved.

ALBIE'S FOODS INC., a small grocery and catering company in Gaylord, Mich., received an unusual letter in 2001 from the law firm representing jelly giant J.M. Smucker Co. The letter accused Albie's—which sells pastries and sandwiches in northern Michigan—of violating Smucker's intellectual property by selling crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

In particular, Smucker's claimed that Albie's had infringed Smucker's recently granted U.S. Patent No. 6004596, which gives the Orrville, Ohio, company broad protection on its "sealed crustless sandwich." In a move that undoubtedly surprised the jam magnates, Albie's decided to defend itself in federal court. Albie's law firm noted in its filings that the "pasty"—a meat pie with crimped edges—has been popular fare in northern Michigan since the immigration of copper and iron miners from Cornwall, England, in the 19th century.

A battle in federal court over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches may seem merely funny and a little pathetic. But it is symptomatic of the larger and more profound problems with the U.S. patent system. We have reached the point where serious lawyers are being paid serious fees by a big company to shut down the PB&J operation of a grocery store.

There goes separation of powers!

Another item from Bob's Junkmail:

Attorney General John said that federal judges are jeopardizing the national security by ruling against the Bush administration. I wonder of John read that part of the Constitution where it discusses the separation of powers? Maybe they declared martial law and didn't tell us.,,SB110028854741272803,00.html
(This site requires a subscription.)

(My subscription the the online Wall Street Journal expired a while ago so I wasn't able to peruse the first of these two links.)

Turning off GPS

The latest issue of Bob Webster's Junkmail e-mail list has or points to a lot of interesting stories. I wish this was a representative sample of the junk mail I get. It's not. If it was, I wouldn't have time to read it all, even if I did nothing else.

Anyway, the next item I've stolen1 from Bob is about the government laying plans to disable the Global Positioning System.

The President has ordered plans for disabling the GPS system. The White House said this will only be done in a national crisis to fight terrorists. That is just about the stupidest thing I've heard in a long time.

At any given moment, there are thousands of planes, ships, boats, and other improvised terrorist weapons using the GPS system. Some of these are even being used by non-terrorists. Many are in critical stages of operation relying on GPS.

For example, right now, this instance, there are probably dozens of aircraft using GPS guidance for an instrument approach to an airport. At this instance, there are ships are using GPS to navigate into and out of harbors, under bridges, and between rocks. Even though it may not be advisable, there are hikers and hunters out right now, relying on GPS to get back to their car....

One of my favorite media quotes in this was, "'Any shutdown of the network inside the United States would come under only the most remarkable circumstances,' said a Bush administration official who spoke to a small group of reporters at the White House on condition of anonymity."

First, any shutdown of the GPS system in the U.S. would CREATE the most remarkable circumstances. Second, how can a Bush Administration official speak to an entire group of reporters at the White House anonymously? What is going on around there, anyway? Why would he have to speak anonymously, and how could he get away with it?...

In case you couldn't tell, I think shutting down the GPS system is a bad idea. I believe would cause more casualties that it could ever prevent.

Apparently, Bob and I think alike.

1At his behest, I might add:

(~) no rights reserved. Any unauthorized duplication or distribution of this fine piece of tripe will be met with vigorous apathy. Copy the heck out of it!

The times they are a-changin'

From Bob Webster's Junkmail:

In 1981, IBM created today's personal computer. In 1994 (and maybe later, I don't remember), it was against U.S. law to export most personal computers to China. Ten years later, IBM, the creator of the "PC as we know it," is selling its entire PC business to China.

Things change.


New disease: Gonorrhea Lectim

Max sent me a warning about this:

The Center for Disease Control has issued a warning about a new
virulent strain of sexually transmitted disease.

This disease is contracted through dangerous and high-risk behavior.

The disease is called Gonorrhea Lectim (pronounced "gonna re-elect him").

Many victims contracted it after having been screwed for the past 4 years, in spite of having taken measures to protect themselves from this troublesome disease.

Cognitive sequelae of individuals infected with Gonorrhea Lectim
include, but are not limited to:

  • Anti-social personality disorder traits;
  • Delusions of grandeur with a distinct messianic flavor;
  • Chronic mangling of the English language;
  • Extreme cognitive dissonance;
  • inability to incorporate new information;
  • Pronounced xenophobia;
  • Inability to accept responsibility for actions;
  • Exceptional cowardice masked by acts of misplaced bravado;
  • Uncontrolled facial smirking;
  • Ignorance of geography and history;
  • Tendencies toward creating evangelical theocracies;
  • A strong propensity for categorical, all-or nothing behavior.

The disease is sweeping Washington. Naturalists and epidemiologists are amazed and baffled that this malignant disease originated only a few years ago in a Texas Bush.

Max says he's "stopped telling political jokes. They kept getting re-elected."

A true-life skunkworks story

This is an interesting and short story about the development of the Macintosh Graphing Calculator software, by it's principal developer [via Dave Farber's IP list].

People around the Apple campus saw us all the time and assumed we belonged. Few asked who we were or what we were doing.When someone did ask me, I never lied, but relied on the power of corporate apathy. The conversations usually went like this:

Q: Do you work here?
A: No.
Q: You mean you're a contractor?
A: Actually, no
Q: But then who's paying you?
A: No one.
Q: How do you live?
A: I live simply.
Q: (Incredulously) What are you doing here?!

At that point I'd give a demo and explain that the project had been canceled but that I was staying to finish it anyway. Since I had neither a mortgage nor a family, I could afford to live off savings. Most engineers at Apple had been through many canceled projects and completely understood my motivation.


Language as a weapon of war

I read an interesting adaptation of a speech by one Deroy Murdock. I liked some ideas — "Quote Islamo-fascist [his term] leaders to remind people of their true intentions" — better than others — "Specify the number of human beings whom terrorists destroy" — but one in particular struck me as particularly important:

Daniel Pipes of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum believes terror is a tactic, not an enemy. Calling today's conflict "a 'War on Terror' is like America in 1941, after Pearl Harbor, declaring a 'War on Surprise Attacks.' We really are engaged in a war on radical Islam."

I think calling it a war on radical Islam would lead to a much better focus on what needs to be done, especially if it's clearly named to be a defensive war against Islamic theo-fascism [my term]. That would make it very difficult, for example, for a cabinet member to call the National Education Association (a union of US teachers) a terrorist organization and be taken seriously (though I'm not sure anyone did anyway).


South Africa's Day of Reconciliation

December 16 is a national holiday in South Africa. According to,

Afrikaners traditionally celebrated 16 December as the Day of the Vow, remembering the day in 1838 when a group of Voortrekkers defeated a Zulu army at the Battle of Blood River, while ANC activists commemorated it as the day in 1961 when the ANC started to arm its soldiers to overthrow Apartheid. In the new South Africa's [sic] it's a day of reconciliation, a day to focus on overcoming the conflicts of the past and building a new nation.


Economic gloom and doom

I've been reading more and more and hearing more and more expressions of concern over the possibility of an economic disaster in the short term in the US. I'm no economist and know next to nothing about the credentials of W Joseph Stroupe, but I found his opinion piece in Asia Times on 26 November to be quite an interesting read. His heavy reliance on the metaphor of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers doesn't strike me as particularly appropriate or enlightening, but he's still worth reading, I think [via Dave Farber's IP list].

... [T]raditional international support for the dollar and the US government's foreign and economic policies is beginning to waver. Why? Because al-Qaeda has lighted a fire of sorts in the vicinity of the dollar framework. It has succeeded in instigating the US to take economic and foreign policy measures that have resulted in a loosening of the firm "girders" of international support for dollar and US policies. Al-Qaeda has indirectly lit the fires of controversy over the rightfulness and permanence, and even the desirability, of continued US global dominance in the diplomatic, economic and military spheres.

Now that fire is raging, and ferociously eating into the girders. Controversial and ill-advised unilateral US economic and foreign policies since September 11 are only fueling that fire. In the immediate aftermath of the re-election of President George W Bush, international support for the dollar and for related US economic and foreign policies is noticeably weakening, at a time when it is most needed to support an unprecedented and mushrooming mountain load of debt. Recently, voices from within the government of Norway have called for a switch from the dollar toward the euro for international petro-transactions. The governor of the Bank of Japan has recently stated that having the dollar as the sole global currency is a marked disadvantage and danger, and recommended moving toward adopting the euro as a global currency alongside the dollar. The appetite of the big Asian economies to continue buying dollar assets is waning — last month the US barely achieved the $60 billion of foreign cash inflow required each month to keep it afloat. Hence the possibility of a Twin Towers-like vertical collapse of the US economy is becoming greater, not lesser.

The following highlight the extent of the mounting debt and the risk involved:

  • The total US public national debt now exceeds $7 trillion.
  • When Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, military and government pensions are added in, the total national debt exceeds $51 trillion, according to Fortune magazine - that's nearly five times the gross domestic product (GDP) .
  • The current year's deficit alone approaches $1 trillion when you add the off-budget items.
  • Derivatives (highly leveraged and enormously risky instruments such as interest-rate futures, options and swaps) now total $180 trillion, 17 times the GDP. Warren Buffet calls derivatives "instruments of mass destruction". Many financial institutions have become highly invested in derivatives. Government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp) use derivatives heavily. Because of the inherent nature of derivatives, these instruments and those using them are extremely sensitive even to small and moderate interest-rate increases.
  • The total US consumer debt is more than $8 trillion....

Is international support for the dollar and for US policies eroding? Yes, it most certainly is. A powerful case can be made that it has been US policies and actions since September 11 that have resulted in a powerful upswing in terrorism worldwide along with an equally powerful elevation in Middle East instability resulting in sustained crude oil price hike and a resulting dollar decline, both of which are threatening to render serious damage to the big Asian economies. Firm international support for the dollar is certainly flagging. The largest Asian central banks have gone on record that they are curbing their purchases of US debt. And they are also diversifying their huge reserves, steadily moving away from the dollar. The risks have simply become too many and too serious.

Bill Moyers scares me

He generally doesn't, but when he accepted the fourth annual Global Environment Citizen Award from the Center for Health and Global Environment at Harvard Medical School (presented by board member Meryl Streep), he said some things [HTML, PDF] that disturbed me [via Dave Farber's IP list].

Remember James Watt, President Reagan’s first Secretary of the Interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." [Link added.]

I well remember Watt, and have made reference to his ummm... rather, shall we say, interesting philosophy, several times to friends. I always thought of him as a sort of aberrant exception, but if Moyers is accurate this philosophy is much more mainstream than I had thought.

One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts....

James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots out across the country. They are the people who believe the Bible is literally true — one third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup poll is accurate. In this past election several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture index....
These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative that has captivated the imagination of millions of Americans.

Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre.... Once Israel has occupied the rest of its 'biblical lands,' legions of the antichrist will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the Messiah will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of tribulation that follow.

I'm not making this up.... I've read the literature. I've reported on these people, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious, and polite as they tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That's why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. It's why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelation where four angels 'which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man.' A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared, but welcomed — an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The last time I Googled it, the rapture index stood at 144 — just one point below the critical threshold when the whole thing will blow, the Son of God will return, the righteous will enter heaven, and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire.

As Grist makes clear, we’re not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent election — 231 legislators in total — more since the election — are backed by the Religious Right. Forty-five Senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian right advocacy groups. They include Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Conference Chair Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and Majority Whip Roy Blunt. The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian Coalition was Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, who recently quoted from the biblical book of Amos on the Senate floor: "The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land." He seemed to be relishing the thought.

And why not? There’s a constituency for it. A 2002 Time/CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the Book of Revelation are going to come true. Nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks. Drive across the country with your radio tuned to the more than 1,600 Christian radio stations or in the motel turn to some of the 250 Christian TV stations and you can hear some of this end-time gospel. And you will come to understand why people under the spell of such potent prophecies "cannot be expected," as Grist put it, "to worry about the environment." Why care about the earth when the droughts, floods, famine and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar when the same God who
performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a word?

I consider myself a Christian but I most assuredly do not read the Bible, especially books like the Apocalypse literally. I feel what Moyers expresses near the end of his acceptance speech.

This brings me back to the Center, to Dr. Chivian, and to all of you gathered here this evening. You are the antidote to despair, the cure for cynicism, the answer to the faces of my grandchildren looking back at me from those pictures on my desk. Your work for the science of human health is reinforced by what the ancient Israelites called hochma — the science of the heart — the capacity to see, feel, and then to act as if the future depended on you.

Because it does.

Our gift

My wife, Roslyn, and I are both Swedenborgians. We are, nominally at least, members of the branch known as the General Church1. The General Church does not ordain women, although, if it did, Roslyn would probably be one of the first to be ordained. She earned an M.A. in Religious Studies at the Academy of the New Church Theological School (seminary for the General Church), completed a course of study in Clinical Pastoral Education, is ordained by two online churches and is an Adjunct Staff Chaplain for the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center2. All of which is merely background for what follows.

Roslyn has been contributing for years to the Priests for Equality — a project of the Quixote Center — in support of their Inclusive Language Project to completely re-translate Hebrew and Christian Scripture in a way that "eliminate[s] sexist language"3. If I understand correctly, their translations are now complete in four volumes: the Inclusive New Testament and the 3-volume Inclusive Hebrew Scripture (Torah, Prophets and Writings). Roslyn decided it would be nice to donate a complete set to the Theological School and the co-located Bryn Athyn College. She kindly asked if I would like this gift to be in both our names and I enthusiastically agreed (even though she's done all the contributing — also in both our names, ordered and paid for it).

She spoke separately to the Dean of the Theological School and to the College Chaplain. Both seemed pleased with the idea. One came up with the idea of announcing the availability of this Inclusive Scripture at a convocation, which Roslyn thought was great. However, next thing we knew, a meeting had been held with the two of them, the Dean of the College and the President of the Academy of the New Church (to whom all the Deans as well as principals of the affiliated secondary schools report). Apparently, the purpose of the meeting was to decide whether or not to accept our gift. Or maybe it was only to discuss whether to make an announcement and how much fanfare should accompany it. I'm quite sure there was some concern about the potential subversiveness of having such volumes available, more specifically perhaps, giving the appearance of endorsing this particular translation.

In the end, they are indeed accepting the gift. Roslyn took it over to them today [9 Dec]. I think it's going to be on display in the Commons or some such place for a little while before taking up its place in the Theological School library.

I'm mostly amused by the little bit of drama that we generated. But there's also a small part of me that's annoyed at what I see as the paternalism and narrow-mindedness that required having to consider this small gift at the highest levels of the institution. If I were in charge, I'd probably4 be happy to accept of gift of Manifesto of the Communist Party, Quotations of Chairman Mao Tsetung
(Mao's Little Red Book) or even Mein Kampf. But maybe that's just me.

1Our membership was more or less inherited. In my case, both parents, all four grandparents and all eight great-grandparents were members of the General Church or, before the split in the late 19th Century, of the parent body, then known as the General Convention and today as the Swedenborgian Church. My readings of the history of that split have led me to believe that, had I been alive at the time, I would have remained with the General Convention.

2She also earned a B.S. in Nursing at Thomas Jefferson University and is a registered nurse (RN). She works full-time as a clinical nurse in the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit at Temple University Children's Medical Center.

3Roslyn's observation is that the resulting translations are inclusive in a much broader sense than simply avoiding sexism. Their translations speak, for example, of "people with leprosy" rather than "lepers."

4The only reason I say probably is because I think the Swedenborg Library, rather than trying to be all things to all people, as it seems to, would be better off focusing on having an outstanding collection of material related to Swedenborgianism, or religion, or religion and spirituality. I can go half a mile down the street to the Huntingdon Valley Library to get a much wider and more up-to-date selection of secular material.


Announcing Comet Machholz

I first learned of this on the Astronomy Picture of the Day website, yesterday. They say it's "already visible to the unaided eye." I also got an e-mail from They quoted one Jimmy Westlake as saying, "The comet was immediately visible to the naked eye," and adding

Comet Machholz (C/2004 Q2) has been nearing Earth for weeks, brightening day by day, and now it looks like a fuzzy 5th-magnitude star near the feet of Orion. Look for it in the southeastern sky a few hours after sunset: sky map. Astronomers expect Comet Machholz to reach peak brightness (3rd or 4th magnitude) in January 2005...

I looked a couple of times last night but didn't see it. We've got a lot of light in the night skies this near to Philly and the conditions were not the best, so I'll keep trying. But 5th-magnitude is fairly dim.


Darfur: What can one person do?

A friend e-mailed me today.

My daughter gave me a green bracelet for Channukah. It says: Not on My Watch, Save Darfur. I have dreams about talking to God about Darfur. God says people can solve it, I can't solve it.

Where do I send money? What can one person do?

Feeling entirely inadequate, I wrote back.

My understanding is that the big problem is getting food and supplies to those in Darfur who are actually suffering. Not to say that sending money or contributing in other ways is pointless.

My first answer as to what to do would be to pray, although you are obviously doing so already and getting pretty much the same answer I am. I don't expect it will solve anything, but it will certainly help you be in touch with Reality.

My second answer would be to stay informed. I like these web sites, for different reasons: (seems well-informed) (I trust them) (ditto)

My third answer would be to write to your political representatives and tell them you want the U.S. involved in solving these problems. The more informed and personalized your letter is, of course, the better. You might also contact Senator Sam Brownback and Congressman Frank Wolf, who visited Darfur last summer and produced this report, which includes recommendations:

Somewhere in all of this there may be a better place to contribute money, but Human Rights Watch seems like the best recipient at the moment on Darfur, from what little I know.

I'm sure none of this is particularly earth-shaking, my friend. If you find out anything more substantive, please let me know.

Although I didn't say so, whenever I consider tragedies like this, I wind up praying that someday, I might be in a position to actually do something, like go and put food in the hands of people who are starving. My life is too damn easy! (And if I really believed this, I tell myself, I'd have to acknowledge that I'll probably never be in a better position than I am today!)

Mangled English gem of the week

As a full-fledged subscriber to the Plain English Campaign's weekly newsletter, I try to have a ear for both notably good and notably bad attempts to use my native language. Unfortunately there are many more of the latter than there are of the former. Here's the least illuminating of the gems I heard this week. It's from yesterday's [RealPlayer file, transcription of 1:57 - 2:28] Marketplace on Public Radio International. Scott Tong set the scene:

Since 1956 when President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway law, the Feds have been in charge of freeways: where they're built, how they're maintained. Gas taxes pay for the roads, but revenue can't keep up with all the traffic. The White House solution: have private firms build and design new toll roads and take a cut. Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters says they could even build toll lanes.

No surprise: it's a government official. Ms. Peters explains:

This would be taking an express lane that you would pay an increment of cost more for, but you know that you would get there in a congestion-free manner.

Translation: This would be paying extra to take an express lane without congestion.1

1How could any tollway proprietor promise "congestion-free" lanes? Dynamic toll rates might be a start, but are a long way from a guarantee. Or maybe you get your money back if you encounter congestion.

Cell phone telemarketing hoax

I've gotten a couple of e-mails like the following lately:

In a few weeks, cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies and you will start to receive sales calls on cell phones. Call this number from your cell phone 888-382-1222. It is the national Do Not Call list. It blocks your number for 5 years. Please pass on,

Or, here is the online form:

Apparently I'm lucky to have gotten only a couple. It's a fast-spreading hoax. Hoax is the one-word summary for a status that is actually somewhat more complicated than that. The toll-free phone number and web link are good and can be used to register phone numbers with the FTC's National Do Not Call Registry. Over the last few weeks the rate at which people are registering phone numbers there has gone up by more than an order of magnitude (200,000/week to over 2,000,000/week), presumably due in large part to the prolificacy of this hoax. It probably does no harm to register, although some suspect otherwise.

We won't get fooled again.


Sign Sibel Edmonds' petition!

I strongly urge anyone who wants to find out about intelligence failures that might have led up to 9/11 to sign this petition to unclassify the Department of Justice Inspector General's report on Ms Edmonds' allegations of misconduct and incompetence in the FBI. If you don't know or don't remember who Sibel Edmonds is, have a look here. When asked, "I know you can't name names, but can you tell me if any specific officials will suffer if your testimony comes out?" she replied, "Yes. Certain elected officials will stand trial and go to prison." However, we, the people of the US, are not allowed to hear what she has to say.

The petition was created by Ms Edmonds herself and, as of this writing, has 907 signatures, the 897th of which is mine [via Steven Aftergood's Secrecy News, at the end of the story titled "Justice Dept Inspector General Reviews Polygraph Policy"].


Reality vs. prediction from 50 years ago

My friend Max Lebow sent me this image from a 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics. It shows what someone thought a home computer would look like in the year 2004. Notice the steering wheel. The captions reads

Scientists from the RAND Corporation have created this model to illustrate how a "home computer" could look in the year 2004. However the needed technology will not be economically feasible for the average home. Also the scientists readily admit that the computer will require not yet invented technology to actually work, but 50 years from now scientific progress is expected to solve these problems. With teletype interface and the Fortran language, the computer will be easy to use.

BTW, to give you an idea of what they had in mind by "easy to use," here's a small sample Fortran program to calculate the area of a tank (further documented here):

10 READ(5,FMT=1,END=99)R,H
1 FORMAT(F4.2,F4.2)
11 FORMAT(1X,'RADIUS= ',F6.2,10X,'HEIGHT= ',F6.1,10X,'AREA= ',
; F8.1)
900 PRINT 21
99 CLOSE(5)

Like Mac said, in the comment, it's a hoax. Mea culpa, mea culpa!

Congress cuts NSF funding

The New York Times reports that in 2002 Congress voted to double the National Science Foundation's budget over the next five years, but now they've actually cut the amount from what it was last year [via Dave Farber's IP list].

[T]he cut came as lawmakers earmarked more money for local projects like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Punxsutawney Weather Museum in Pennsylvania....

Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the cut was "the most Luddite provision" in the entire bill.

Republicans who helped write the measure said the reduction was a necessary part of an overall effort to hold down domestic spending.

Congress, with bipartisan support, doubled the budget of the National Institutes of Health from 1998 to 2003, and Mr. Bush often takes credit for completing that increase. But Mr. Obey said that biomedical research was "heavily dependent on basic initial research done by agencies like the National Science Foundation."...

While cutting the budget of the science foundation, Congress found money for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham, the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, bathhouses in Hot Springs, Ark., and hundreds of similar projects.

The science foundation helped finance research that led to Web browsers, like Internet Explorer and Netscape, and to search engines like Google. Its research has produced advances in fields from astronomy to zoology, including weather forecasting, nanotechnology, highway safety and climate change....

Todd C. Mesek, a spokesman for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is receiving $350,000, said the money would be well spent on education programs to teach children about language, the mathematics of music and geography ("cities where rock and roll was fostered"). Some of the money, Mr. Meek said, will be used for "toddler rock," a music therapy program.

Imagine yourself in Molly's shoes for a couple of minutes

Is this the way we want to live here in the US? I certainly don't!

At the Delta ticket counter, the attendant asked if she was in the military because she was on a list for an extra security check. The attendant spent some time on the phone but could not tell her why she was on the list....

She says she was patted down and scanned with a metal detector. Her carry-on bag was emptied out, and her textbooks and journal were flipped through by a security person. Again, she could get no satisfactory answer as to why she was being singled out....

At the airport in Atlanta for the flight home, she was once again directed to a separate room and patted down. The people who did it were very nice, she says.

But still, she is angry about her treatment. She was never told why she made the list. "The idea that I could be dangerous, that I could hurt other human beings, is preposterous," Little says.

Assault on student privacy

The US Federal government — specifically, the Department of Education — has proposed keeping a database of all students enrolled in post-secondary education programs[via Michael Geist's Internet Law News]:

Until now, universities have provided individual student information to the federal government only in connection with federally financed student aid. Otherwise, colleges and universities submit information about overall enrollment, graduation, prices and financial aid without identifying particular students.

For the first time, however, colleges and universities would have to give the government data on all students individually, whether or not they received financial assistance, with their Social Security numbers....

Supporters say that government oversight of individual student data will make it easier for taxpayers and policy makers to judge the quality of colleges and universities through more reliable statistics on graduation, transfers and retention.

The change would also allow federal officials to track individual students as they journey through the higher-education system....

For colleges to hand over information on individual students, Congress would have to create an exemption to existing federal privacy laws, said Sarah Flanagan, vice president for government relations at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

"The concept that you enter a federal registry by the act of enrolling in a college in this country is frightening to us," Flanagan said.

She said that officials from some states had already announced they would like to match the data against prison records. In states where such data is already collected from public universities, she added, there has been pressure to check the school data on students against housing records, driver's licenses and employment records.

What a bad idea!


Political opinion deemed "inappropriate" for school

Thirteen-year-old Stephen Truszkowski wore a white T-shirt to Everett Meredith Middle School in Middletown, Delaware. Hand-written on the front was "The Real Terrorist Is In The White House" and on the back "End the Tyranny." The situation is described in an article in the News Journal [via Dave Farber's IP list]:

School officials told him the shirt was inappropriate and if he didn't cover it up, he would be suspended....

Truszkowski covered it up, like he did earlier in the week when he wore the shirt to school, as well as another time two weeks ago. But this time, he confronted the principal with a copy of the school dress code in hand.

"I told him that based on the school code, he had no right to tell me to cover it up," he said. He said the shirt does not violate the school's dress code because it's not profane or violent.

The teen feels the school is infringing on his first amendment right to free speech.

"I think they violated my rights because I wore the shirt to express my opinion, that we shouldn't have gone to war," Truszkowski said. "I'm not saying I don't respect the soldiers, but I think what Bush is doing is inappropriate."

The school's principal, Claude McAllister, did not return calls for comment.

According to the Delaware Code, the school board of each public school district has the authority to establish and enforce a dress code to "promote an orderly, disciplined school environment and to encourage uniformity of student dress."

Student apparel that is distracting, hinders the educational process or "advertises, glorifies or symbolizes any illegal substances, contains derogatory phrases, profanity or glorifies violence or criminal behavior" is not permitted to be worn, according to the Appoquinimink School District dress code. Other Delaware school districts have similar dress codes.

I don't like the ease with which the term terrorist is used to describe anyone or any organization we disagree with or don't like. I wish Mr Truszkowski had stuck to the issue of his First Amendment right to free speech and not dragged the dress code in to cloud the matter. But I fully support his right to wear such a shirt in public, and that includes in public schools.

My nephew, Diccon Hyatt, is a reporter for the Middletown Transcript, the hometown paper where these events took place. At the time of my original post, his coverage of this story was not online, but it is now. Good job, Diccon!

US a banana republic?

Paul Krugman was interviewed by Reuters earlier this week. He explicitly compared the US to a banana republic [via Dave Farber's IP list]:

Krugman... said he was concerned that Bush's electoral victory over Sen. John Kerry earlier this month would only reinforce the administration's unwillingness to listen to dissenting opinions.

That, in turn, could spell serious trouble for the U.S. economy, which under Bush's first term was plagued by soaring deficits, waning investor confidence and anemic job creation.

"This is a group of people who don't believe that any of the rules really apply, said Krugman. "They are utterly irresponsible."...

In the meantime, however, he worries the Bush administration's fiscal policies are going to push the world's largest economy into a rut.

The most immediate worry for Krugman is that Bush will simultaneously push through more tax cuts and try to privatize social security, ignoring a chorus of economic thinkers who caution against such measures.

"If you go back and you look at the sources of the blow-up of Argentine debt during the 1990s, one little-appreciated thing is that social security privatization was a important source of that expansion of debt," said Krugman.

In 2001, Argentina finally defaulted on an estimated $100 billion in debt, the largest such event in modern economic history.

"So if you ask the question do we look like Argentina, the answer is a whole lot more than anyone is quite willing to admit at this point. We've become a banana republic."


Three people's letters bring $1.2 million fine against Fox network

Read all the sorry details of this FOIA-based discovery at BuzzMachine [via Dave Farber's IP list]:

With not much original reporting, I discovered that the latest big fine by the FCC against a TV network — a record $1.2 million against Fox for its "sexually suggestive" Married by America — was brought about by a mere three people who actually composed letters of complaint. Yes, just three people.

Oppose the Intellectual Property Protection Act!

18 November 2004

Dear Senators Arlen Specter & Rick Santorum,

I write to you today to ask that you oppose the omnibus "Intellectual Property Protection Act," both as a whole and in its parts, and ask that you also oppose allowing it to come to the Senate floor for a vote.

I believe that intellectual property plays a critical role in the United States as a means of fostering both artistic expression and technological innovation. However, the IPPA, which is comprised of a number of individual bills, contains provisions that may harm my long-established rights as a legal user of content. Additionally, the bill may harm the development of new technologies.

There are a number of sections of the bill that particularly concern me:

Title II:

The Piracy Deterrence in Education Act (formerly H.R. 4077): This section establishes "offering for distribution" as basis for criminal copyright violation and "making available" for civil violation, regardless of whether there is any distribution or copying, let alone infringement. This bill drastically lowers the standards for what constitutes a criminal copyright violation. The standards are far too vague and could include as targets for prosecution material passively stored on computers or shared on networks.

The ART Act (formerly S. 1932): This is a bill that prohibits the unauthorized use of a video camera in a movie theatre. While I do not support movie bootlegging, I believe that under some limited circumstances the public needs the fair use protections granted under traditional copyright law, which this bill would eliminate.

The Family Movie Act (formerly H.R. 4586): This bill was originally intended to protect the my right to use technology to skip-over and mute parts of a movie that my family may find objectionable-- a proposition which I fully support. Unfortunately, the broadcasting industry and Hollywood added a section to take away my right of skipping over ads in DVDs and recorded broadcasts with a TiVo like device.

Title III:

The PIRATE Act (formerly S. 2237): This bill would allow the Justice Department to file civil suits against copyright infringers. Especially with the record profits that the media industry is making, it doesn't seem appropriate that I as a tax payer should have to fund a corporation's private right of action. The Justice Department has even said it did not want this authority.

There is too much in "The Intellectual Property Protection Act" that harms market innovation and my rights as a consumer. For the reasons above, I respectfully ask that you oppose H.R. 2391.


Hugh Hyatt

Public Knowledge provides an easy way to fax a similar message to your U.S. Senators.


I may be the last anti-Bush blogger in the world who links to the web site (BBC news story here).

Secret laws: we're not allowed to know what they say, but we still have to obey them

This is really disturbing. I quote Steven Aftergood from the 14 Nov edition of his Secrecy News:

Last month, Helen Chenoweth-Hage attempted to board a United Airlines flight from Boise to Reno when she was pulled aside by airline personnel for additional screening, including a pat-down search for weapons or unauthorized materials.

Chenoweth-Hage, an ultra-conservative former Congresswoman (R-ID), requested a copy of the regulation that authorizes such pat-downs.

"She said she wanted to see the regulation that required the additional procedure for secondary screening and she was told that she couldn't see it," local TSA security director Julian Gonzales told the Idaho Statesman (10/10/04).

"She refused to go through additional screening [without seeing the regulation], and she was not allowed to fly," he said. "It's pretty simple."

Chenoweth-Hage wasn't seeking disclosure of the internal criteria used for screening passengers, only the legal authorization for passenger pat-downs. Why couldn't they at least let her see that? asked Statesman commentator Dan Popkey.

"Because we don't have to," Mr. Gonzales replied crisply.

"That is called 'sensitive security information.' She's not allowed to see it, nor is anyone else," he said.

Thus, in a qualitatively new development in U.S. governance, Americans can now be obligated to comply with legally-binding regulations that are unknown to them, and that indeed they are forbidden to know.

This is not some dismal Eastern European allegory. It is part of a continuing transformation of American government that is leaving it less open, less accountable and less susceptible to rational deliberation as a vehicle for change.

Dave Farber also posted this to his IP list and got a response from Scott Mace concerning a secret directive issued by the TSA regarding train travel:

Another secret TSA directive which Amtrak implemented on November 1, 2004, requires Amtrak passengers to produce I.D. during random I.D. checks on board the train. I called TSA on Friday and was informed that the directive was secret. I asked for further elaboration on why TSA took this step, and a TSA press official said she would check and call me back.

To the best of my knowledge, and having consulted with some rail transportation buffs, such on-board I.D. checks don't exist anywhere else in the non-Communist world.

I don't want to live like this! Do you?


Democrats poised to embrace states' rights?

With a somewhat cynical view of the integrity of some politician's commitments to or against states' rights, Michelle Goldberg argues in "If at first you don't secede" that it may be time for liberals and Democrats to take another look at the possibilities of Federalism [via Dave Farber's IP list].

Having lost any say in how the nation is run, liberals may be about to discover states' rights — for better or worse....

Liberals have long opposed the growth of state power, and for good reason. The century's most significant clashes over federalism have been over civil rights, with the national government forcing the South to submit to desegregation. Since then, fights over everything from abortion to school prayer have pitted Northern liberals, who want to use the federal government to enforce individual rights, often in the face of hostile majorities, against Southern conservatives, who believe that communities should be free to set their own norms.

Now, though, it's liberal enclaves that feel threatened by the federal government, and who will likely need to muster states' rights arguments to protect themselves from Bush's domestic policies.

Scalia: Dogs are not new technology

Seriously. The Supreme Court Justice is reported to have said, "This is not a new technology. This is a dog." More to the point, Justice O'Connor said, "A dog sniff is not a search." The question before them was whether the police can use a dog to sniff for drugs during a routine traffic stop. I myself am sympathetic to Justice Souter's point of view:

If the use of a sniffing dog is not a search, "why can't police go up to the front door of every house on the street?" asked Souter. When the homeowner comes to the door, the dog could sniff for drugs inside, he said.

And as Bruce Schneier pointed out in sending this to Dave Farber's IP list, where I first saw it,

I'm afraid that this has some scary implications for technological searching as well. If the court argues that a drug sniffing dog is not a search because dogs aren't people, then by extension computers aren't people either.

The full article is from last week's Los Angeles Times.

The Imperial Presidency

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote a book by this name, a book about the gradual accumulation of power in the executive branch of the U.S. government. Bruce Schneier, my security hero, has posted a blog entry titled "The Security of Checks and Balances" on a related topic. In he talks about the threat posed to the U.S. form of government by the response to the 9/11 attacks.

Over 200 years ago, the framers of the US Constitution established an ingenious security device against tyrannical government: they divided government power among three different bodies. A carefully thought-out system of checks and balances in the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch, ensured that no single branch became too powerful. After watching tyrannies rise and fall throughout Europe, this seemed like a prudent way to form a government.

Since 9/11, the United States has seen an enormous power grab by the executive branch. From denying suspects the right to a trial -- and sometimes to an attorney -- to the law-free zone established at Guantanamo, from deciding which ratified treaties to ignore to flouting laws designed to foster open government, the Bush administration has consistently moved to increase its power at the expense of the rest of the government. The so-called "Torture Memos," prepared at the request of the president, assert that the president can claim unlimited power as long as it is somehow connected with counterterrorism....

This is not a partisan issue; I don't believe that John Kerry, if elected, would willingly lessen his own power any more than second-term President Bush would. What the US needs is a strong Congress and a strong court system to balance the presidency, not weak ones ceding ever more power to the presidency.

I could hardly agree more. BTW, I was alerted to this by way of Schneier's highly readable, generally entertaining and thought-provoking Crypto-Gram newsletter


The future of hydrogen car

One reason I like Bob Parks so much is because, in What's New at least, he reassures me that I'm not alone in my cynicism. From this week's issue:

They installed the nation's first public hydrogen pump in the Shell station at 525 Benning Road in Washington, DC, just 5.2 miles from the U.S. Capitol Building. We thought you'd like to know just in case you're in town driving your hydrogen powered car. Oh! I forgot — you can't buy one, can you? GM has six hydrogen prototype minivans in Washington, parked by the Capital for what a GM executive calls "educational outreach." Parked, because a round trip to the Shell station will use a third of a tank of hydrogen. No matter, GM isn't trying to sell hydrogen cars. Here's a WN educational outreach: the Bush administration points to the hydrogen car to show that while other countries sign treaties, we do something about the environment. Here's more education: even if they solve all the problems with the hydrogen car, it won't do squat for the environment. Pollution comes from making the hydrogen. GM will turn out a handful of hydrogen concept-cars with government subsidies while selling thousands of profitable SUVs, and Shell's gasoline sales will climb filling up those SUVs, at the cost of putting up with a few little-
used hydrogen pumps, paid for with government subsidies.

So long, Mr Ashcroft

I can't say I'm all that thrilled. I'm no fan of Mr Ashcroft, but from the moment I heard he had resigned, I worried about who might be our next Attorney General. Ah, what do you know? It's Mr Gonzalez, who seems to have had a hand in justifying the use of torture in Iraq. Into the fire?

I read Mr Ashcroft's short resignation letter. His claims of credit amaze me.

Americans have been spared the violence and savagery of terrorist attack on our soil since September 11, 2001....

... [O]ur violent crime rate has plunged to a 30-year low.... Drug use among America's young people has fallen and continues to fall significantly....

Corporate integrity has been restored...

The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved. [my emphasis]...

Isn't that tantamount to a declaration of victory in the so-called War on Terror? So I guess we can dismantle the Department of Homeland Security and cut all the anti-terror budgets, right? Mr Gonzalez should have an easy time of it: nothing to do but put his feet up on the desk and wait for a Supreme Court vacancy, eh?

Guns and butter

In this same issue of Secrecy News, Steven Aftergood resurrects an 23 April 2003 Bush Administration price tag for the War on Iraq of $1.7 billion.

"You're not suggesting that the rebuilding of Iraq is gonna be done for $1.7 billion?" asked an incredulous Ted Koppel in a 2003 ABC News Nightline interview with Andrew Natsios, then-administrator of the Agency for International Development (AID).

"Well, in terms of the American taxpayers' contribution, I do, this is it for the US," Mr. Natsios replied.

"The rest of the rebuilding of Iraq will be done by other countries who have already made pledges, Britain, Germany, Norway, Japan, Canada, and Iraqi oil revenues, eventually in several years, when it's up and running and there's a new government that's been democratically elected, will finish the job with their own revenues. They're going to get in $20 billion a year in oil revenues. But the American part of this will be 1.7 billion. We have no plans for any further-on funding for this."

The transcript of this April 23, 2003 Nightline interview was quietly removed from the AID web site last year (as reported by the Washington Post on 12/18/03). But a copy is preserved here (thanks to BY).

The [relatively] good news is that as of this writing, the total estimated cost of the war remains less than 100 times that $1.7 billion figure. The bad news is that even by the Office of Management and Budget's own estimate, the actual cost will soon exceed 100 times $1.7 billion.

Mr Bush still seems to believe we can get away without paying for this war and make his ill-advised tax cuts permanent.

Besides the example quoted at the beginning of Mr Aftergood's piece, which I did not know about, I am reminded of President Lyndon Johnson's unwillingness to trade butter for guns — or at least his unwillingness to admit that that's what the U.S. was doing — during the era of the War on Vietnam.

Truisms in "Strategic Communication"

Steven Aftergood, in the latest issue of Secrecy News reports on "a new study from the Defense Science Board on... how the United States could more effectively 'communicate with and thereby influence worldwide audiences.'"

The report presents implicit criticism of the Bush Administration, albeit in homeopathic proportions.

Thus it notes that "Good strategic communications cannot build support for policies viewed unfavorably by large populations. Nor can the most carefully crafted messages, themes, and words persuade when the messenger lacks credibility and underlying message authority."

Further, "Words in tone and substance should avoid offence where possible; messages should seek to reduce, not increase, perceptions of arrogance, opportunism, and double standards."

While my reaction to the substance of this report is, "Doh!" I must say I really, really admire Mr Aftergood's use of the term homeopathic. I actually laughed out loud.

Blogger, Firefox 1.0 & Win98: a less-than-robust combination?

My post of a few minutes ago was the first I've made in ten days. Not for want of trying.

Not that I've attempted a huge number of posts either. But the half-dozen or so attempts I have made have all ended in failure1. I'm still not sure what happened.

Two days ago I upgraded to Firefox 1.0. Being an avid single-window fan, I was disappointed that the Single Window extension has not only not been upgraded to work with this latest version of Firefox, but has apparently been dropped from the list of available extensions. Then, almost by accident, I discovered that Tabbrowser Extensions, though advertised as only working with versions up to 0.10, actually does work with 1.0. That solved my biggest frustrations with Firefox. Now I am left only with Firefox hanging on my laptop when I visit my personal home page at the MyWay portal. It's got to be some kind of anomaly since I have no trouble loading that page from the same Firefox 1.0 on my desktop [Win2K] system. As for my difficulty for posting to this blog, it doesn't seem very likely that software I installed just two days ago could have been giving me trouble for the last 10 days.

Then there's Win98 and its own set of frustrations that I've already posted about. But I started using the laptop running this OS for blogging over a month ago. While never fun to use, I must reluctantly conclude that Win98 is not solely to blame.

What about Blogger? Hmmm. For a long period of time prior to these ten days, I've had an awful lot of trouble posting. I would write a entry and then try, over and over and over, to post it. 90% of the time, it would fail. Only persistence enabled me to get these entries posted. I contacted Blogger support and they only said there was nothing wrong that they knew about or could see. Truthfully though, I have less insight to what's going with Blogger than I do with either Firefox or Win98.

Consequently, I've decided to write my entries offline (using my ultra-favorite text editor UltraEdit) and then copying them online. I started with the post prior to this one. This method should at least prevent me completely losing whole long posts, even if I still have difficulty getting them posted online.

1Of course, they were probably the best and most interesting entries I've written thus far! ;^)

The Architects of Defeat

This article, by Arianna Huffington, analyzing the failure of the Kerry campaign, resonates with me. It's the easiest kind of armchair quarterbacking there is, but I sure would have liked to see less caution from Sen. Kerry [via Dave Farber's IP list].

Twelve days before the election, James Carville stood in a Beverly Hills living room surrounded by two generations of Hollywood stars. After being introduced by Sen. John Kerry’s daughter, Alexandra, he told the room — confidently, almost cockily — that the election was in the bag.

"If we can’t win this damn election," the advisor to the Kerry campaign said, "with a Democratic Party more unified than ever before, with us having raised as much money as the Republicans, with 55% of the country believing we’re heading in the wrong direction, with our candidate having won all three debates, and with our side being more passionate about the outcome than theirs — if we can’t win this one, then we can’t win shit! And we need to completely rethink the Democratic Party."

Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly what should be done....

Vallely, together with Kerry’s brother, Cam, and David Thorne, the senator’s closest friend and former brother-in-law, created the "Truth and Trust Team." This informal group within the campaign pushed at every turn to aggressively take on President Bush’s greatest claim: his leadership on the war on terror.

"When Carville and Greenberg tell reporters that the campaign was missing a defining narrative," Thorne told me this week, "they forget that they were the ones insisting we had to keep beating the domestic-issues drum. So we never defended John's character and focused on his leadership with the same singularity of purpose that the Republicans put on George Bush's leadership. A fallout of this was that the campaign had no memorable ads. In a post-election survey, the only three ads remembered by voters were all Republican ads — and that was after we spent over $100 million on advertising."


Political favoritism and corporate welfare

The above title is a phrase in a well-written and easily understandable piece from The New Yorker about broadcast spectrum and the public interest [via Dave Farber's IP list]:

Instead of auctioning off the digital spectrum..., or simply asking broadcasters to pay for it..., Congress offered it to them free. It was, as Reed Hundt, who was the F.C.C. chairman, said at the time, "the largest single grant of public property to... the private sector in this century." Senator John McCain was a little more blunt. He called it "one of the great rip-offs in American history...."

Local TV stations have consistently been among the most lucrative businesses in the country, but they have never been asked to pay for their use of the public airwaves. In a sense, broadcasters are the modern equivalent of the railroads. In the nineteenth century, the railroads were given tens of millions of acres of land (adding up, eventually, to roughly ten per cent of the country); now broadcasters have been given billions of dollars' worth of electromagnetic real estate.

The government subsidized the railroads because it believed that America’s economy needed a modern transportation system. It has subsidized TV stations because it wanted the media to serve the public interest. Broadcasters get their licenses free, and, in exchange, they’re supposed to keep the citizenry informed. Commendable as this mandate may seem, it has very little to do with the business of broadcast television....

If people would rather watch an episode of "Survivor" than a speech by Al Gore, the network will air "Survivor." This is a sound business decision. But taxpayers shouldn't be footing the bill for it....

We may not be willing to pay for all Americans to have health insurance, but we’re content to pay for them to watch "Scrubs...."

A victory in the War to Keep Our Liberties

A federal appeals court ruled that fear of terrorists is not a good enough reason for government to trample on rights guaranteed by the Constitution [via Dave Farber's IP list]:

Fears of a terrorist attack are not sufficient reason for authorities to search people at a protest, a federal appeals court has ruled, saying Sept. 11 "cannot be the day liberty perished."


Advice on missing absentee ballot

Dave Farber, of Interesting-People-list fame, is apparently registered to vote in Eastern Pennsylvania (Chester County) but since he's currently in Western Pennsylvania (Allegheny County), applied for an absentee ballot. It hasn't come yet. Here's the advice he got from a lawyer friend:

I called the dept. of state and voter services in Chester County. You have
two options. Either, come to Chester County to vote at the usual polling
place (or come to Chester County to fill out an emergency application for an
absentee ballot, which would be pointless) or go to the Allegheny County
Common Pleas judge on duty and request an order allowing you to vote in
Allegheny County. Judges are very generous about giving these orders and it
might be a fun experience.

Campaign 2004 update

My sister, Lisa, pointed out that I was missing some so-called third-party candidates for office. I added them and updated some links to campaign web sites yesterday.


Oh, the irony!

Michael Geist's Internet Law News reports that "Great Ormond Street, a UK children's hospital, is considering legal action against Disney for the publication of a prequel to the Peter Pan story. Disney argues the Peter Pan copyright expired before the 1998 copyright term extension, while the hospital argues that it runs in the U.S. until 2023."

Lunar eclipse tonight

Weather permitting, a good chunk of the populated parts of the planet — South America, most of North America, Western Europe, extreme Western Africa and part of Antarctica — will have a good view of tonight's total eclipse of the moon. The moon will rise in total eclipse for remainder of North America and another part of Antarctica. The moon will set in total eclipse for the rest of Europe, another half of Africa, extreme Western Asia and a third part of Antarctica. Only China, Australia and environs (including the fourth and last bit of Antarctica) will pretty much see nothing [via my long-time favorite home page].

Go outside tonight and see the total lunar eclipse. Tonight's eclipse is easy and convenient for much of the world to see. Anyone who can spot a full Moon can see it fade out as the Earth's shadow engulfs it. No protective glasses or expensive telescopes are needed, just a little moxie. The above illustration shows how the eclipse will appear across the Earth. The total lunar eclipse starts at 9:14 pm Eastern Daylight Time, equivalent to 1:14 am UT in the morning for sky enthusiasts in the United Kingdom. From the moment the first part of the Moon disappears to the moment that the last part of the Moon reappears will be 3 hours and 40 minutes. For those unfortunate enough to suffer clouds, the eclipse can also be followed over several live webcasts.


Political forecast

In the same issue of Capitol Hill Blue, there's piece called "Conditions Right for the Perfect Political Storm" that amused me:

Conditions are right for a perfect storm on Wednesday, Nov. 3, the day after Election Day. Winds of political frustration may combine with aggressive campaign lawyers and hyperactive federal judges to blow the presidential election into a morass of litigation and uncertainty.

Extreme pessimism

Doug Thompson, publisher of Capitol Hill Blue, was feeling pretty pessimistic a couple of weeks ago. To some degree, what he has to say resonates with me:

So where does this [what we learned from the three Bush-Kerry debates] leave those of us who need to make a decision between now and Election Day? Feeling like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis. We know we?ve got a problem but the system we believe in won?t let us solve it.

Obviously, a political system that left us with these two lackluster pretenders is flawed and must be fixed. But how? Where do we start? How do we correct a system that delivers such riff-raff to the election process?

But I'm not to the point of agreeing with his conclusion &mdash not yet, at least — even though I must admit, if a band wagon started rolling, I probably wouldn't be too long in jumping on:

When adherence to a political position replaces loyalty to your country and party dogma replaces the Constitution, it is time for a change.

I?m not talking about changes to a party structure or amendments to a political system but substantial change to a system of government that no longer serves the people. One only has to look at the gridlock in Congress, the absence of truth and honor in the White House and the American public?s deteriorating belief in our elected leadership to know that what we have now ain?t working.

But change — real change — won?t come at the ballot box. We can?t change a thing when our choices are George W. Bush or John F. Kerry. We also can?t change it by throwing our votes away on Ralph Nader or any other fringe candidate.

Instead, we have to rethink what we — as Americans — must do to save our country.

It took a revolution to create a place called America.

It may take another one to restore it.

Despite my partial sympathies with this rant, for the first time in a long time I'm going to vote for one of the two mainstream candidates. Voting for third-party candidates or even prominent people who have not run for President has been my form of protest against "lackluster" choices. But Bush scares me so badly I'm definitely going to vote for John Kerry, though without great enthusiasm. What a sad political landscape we face in the U.S.


Business Week: Are The Copyright Wars Chilling Innovation?

Business Week is not exactly known for being radical. But in this commentary, they express the same concern I have about the current state of copyright law in the U.S. [via Michael Geist's Internet Law News]:

Today's turmoil over copyrights contains a disturbing new twist, however. Digital technology -- from MP3 players to software that makes it easy to build Web pages -- shatters almost all of the technical barriers to duplicating and sharing copyrighted works. That has caused unparalleled anxiety among copyright holders. As a result, music and movie companies have adopted a strategy of targeting digital technology itself as well as those who design it and those who use it.

In time this could threaten the delicate balance between copy protection and technical innovation. The intent of copyright law in the U.S. is to promote learning and innovation while giving artists, musicians, and writers a limited monopoly on their work. The goal isn't to assure that artists or intellectuals make oodles of cash.

RFID-enabled ID

I've posted once or twice recently about RFID-enabled passports. It seems the Commonwealth of Virginia is considering RFID-enabled driver's licenses. I suspect the tinfoil hat trick would work with them as well.

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