Sour Grapes
Of course we're Fair and Balanced!


Unbelievably clueless over-reaction

And that's an understatement. What was called for was no reaction at all. Declan McCullagh's Politech list pointed me to this Boing Boing entry:

Jailed for using a nonstandard browser

A Londonder made a tsnuami[sic]-relief donation using lynx — a text-based browser used by the blind, Unix-users and others — on Sun's Solaris operating system. The site-operator decided that this "unusual" event in the system log indicated a hack-attempt, and the police broke down the donor's door and arrested him. From a mailing list:

For donating to a Tsunami appeal using Lynx on Solaris 10. BT [British Telecom] who run the donation management system misread an access log and saw hmm thats [sic] a non standard browser not identifying it's type and it's doing strange things. Trace that IP. Arrest that hacker.

Armed police, a van, a police cell and national news later the police have gone in SWAT styley [sic] and arrested someone having their lunch.

Out on bail till next week and preparing to make a lot of very bad PR for BT and the Police....

So just goes to show if you use anything other than Firefox or IE and you rely on someone else to interogate [sic] access logs or IDS logs you too could be sitting in a paper suit in a cell :(


Who owns National Weather Service data?

A prior question should perhaps be, "Who pays for National Weather Service data?" The answer is, not surprisingly, "U.S. taxpayers." A lot of NWS data is available on their Internet site. These are popular desinations for Internet users.

During the three months last fall when four hurricanes struck the South, weather service sites received nine billion hits — breaking a government record of six billion hits on NASA sites in the three months after the Mars rover landing last spring.

Last fall the government invited public comment on the NWS policy of making such information freely available. Support was "overwhelming." Shortly after the election, the NWS announced "it would officially embrace an open-information policy."

But some are not happy.

[T]he Commercial Weather Services Association, the industry's trade group, has complained that such sites violate an agreement from the pre-Internet era. By their argument, the taxpayers should continue to pay for all the weather balloons and monitoring stations — but should not be allowed to get the results directly from government sites.

This would be outrageous. I'm sorry to read that Senator Rick Santorum, who represents me — as well as others &mdash in Washington agrees with the trade group's position and will introduce legislation to allow commericial for-profit organizations to "continue providing meteorological infrastructure, forecasts and warnings, rather than providing services already effectively provided by the private sector. In other words, taking down those Web sites...."

This isolated item is discussed in the broader context of the Bush administration's impact on technology (taking a basically positive view, I might add) in an article from the New York Times entitled "Bush Didn't Invent the Internet, but Is He Good for Tech?" [via Dave Farber's IP list]


Taking advertisers at their word

I quote in its entirety a letter to The Times of 19 Jan 2005 [via the Plain English Campaign's weekly newsletter]:

Sir, I have received an insurance company leaflet which suggests that I could save over £200 on my car insurance. The small print then explains:

All price saving comparisons included in this leaflet are based on a 44 year old female living in the Darlington area, with Comprehensive cover but zero No Claims Discount, driving 12999 miles per year in a 2002 Rover 25 1.4.

If she would like to get in touch with me I will pass the leaflet on to her.

Yours sincerely,


24 Harestone Hill,

Caterham, Surrey CR3 6SX.

January 14.


Making Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 look really good

Picture this: it's a week and a half till the election. Almost all the candidates are anonymous, there have been no debates and there is virtual no information about candidates' positions. Furthermore, you won't know where to go to vote until the last minute and you can't see a sample ballot. You can't drive to the polling place, assuming you find out where it is, because most vehicles are banned from the streets.

What a farce this is going to be!


Because 2005 is 21 years too late

That's the motto of the Students for an Orwellian Society. Their home page links to news stories under three categories

  • War is Peace
  • Freedom is Slavery
  • Ignorance is Strength

It would be très amusant if it weren't so frighteningly reality-based [via Dave Farber's IP list].


Patent hypocrisy

On a related note, Michael Geist has a column (, password=thestar) in today's Toronto Star arguing that the World Trade Organization's intellectual property provisions are unfair to developing countries [via Geist's Internet Law News]. It contains the very interesting—at least to me—assertion that developed nations resisted legalizing pharmaceutical patents until their pharmaceutical industries were mature.

The one-sided nature of global intellectual property law is best illustrated by the legal protections granted to pharmaceutical products. Developed countries that are now home to pharmaceutical giants persistently resisted providing patents for pharmaceutical products until their industries were well developed ? France introduced pharmaceutical patents in 1960, Germany in 1968, Japan in 1976, Switzerland in 1977, and Italy and Sweden in 1978.

Copyright effects

On this Martin Luther King Day in the U.S., consider the consequences of recent changes to copyright law described in this story in the Boston Globe:

... [D]on't plan on celebrating King's birthday tomorrow by going to your local video store to buy a copy of "Eyes on the Prize." Thanks to rights restrictions on archival material used in the documentary, the 14-hour chronicle tracing the civil rights movement from the Montgomery bus boycotts in the 1950s to the rise of black mayors in the 1980s can no longer be released in new editions or shown on television. PBS's right to air the film expired in 1993. Meanwhile, the VHS edition has gone out of print and a DVD release would require relicensing. (Complete sets of used videos are currently going for as much as $1,000 on Amazon.)

The problem goes beyond one documentary....

[Via Dave Farber's IP list. As of this posting, bids on eBay for the two 7-tape, 14-episode box sets of Eyes on the Prize, including both part I and part II, are for $220 and $660.]


Hooray for Barbara Boxer!

I have to say I admire what Barbara Boxer did yesterday. I also admire what Stephanie Tubbs Jones did. But it was Ms. Boxer who made history. So what if it wasn't going to change anyone's mind? We have to start talking about such things before we'll ever do something about them.

You don't need a weatherman...

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer has an editorial titled "Bush and the New Congress An ill wind is blowing." I could hardly be in more wholehearted agreement:

Republicans in the U.S. House are congratulating themselves this week for reversing one hypocritical power play. But as Washington gets down to business again, GOP leaders still show every intention of abusing their expanded power and burying the art of compromise.

Republican lawmakers did come to their senses in undoing the rule change that would have allowed House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R., Texas) to keep his post if he were indicted in a fund-raising probe in Texas....

But rescinding that ill-advised rule change doesn't alter the fact that the House GOP still has relaxed ethics standards in the new Congress....

This flexing of partisan muscle in the House still pales next to the raw display of power that President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.) are planning in the Senate....

Curious as to what a conservative point of view might be on these issues, I looked at what the Washington Times and Fox News had to say about this matter. Granted, these are two news stories while the Inquirer piece is an editorial. Still, I was interested that I didn't see anything in either story that seemed to blunt the Inquirer editorial.


Tsunami redraws maps

This is amazing. Especially the part about the Straits of Malacca, although I suspect the earthquake might be more responsible than the tsunami.

Water depths in parts of the Straits of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping channels off the coast of Sumatra, reached about 4,000 feet before last month's tsunami. Now, reports are coming in of just 100 feet - too dangerous for shipping, if proved true.

I read somewhere — it might have been on the USGS web site — that the 9.0 earthquake on 26 December involved the ocean floor lifting something like 15 meters along 100 km of the subducting plate. But 3,900 feet is more like 1,200 meters! Maybe a lot of it was the tsunami rather than the earthquake. The same source said the aftershocks resulted in — or were a result of, I'm not sure which is the more accurate terminology — movement along a total length of 1,200 km of the subduction zone.

The first thing I noticed about this earthquake is that it was not so far from Krakatoa, which I had thought was the biggest such event in recorded history (in 1883). Maybe not, it turns out. Tambora (1915) was probably bigger. Santorini (or Thira, c. 1650 BC) likely was also, though no written accounts survive. Prior to recorded history there was Toba (73,000 ± 4000 years ago) and Yellowstone (600,000 and 2,000,000 years ago), which has covered half of North America in up to two meters of debris. These last two are examples of supervolcanoes, a vague and non-technical term, eruptions of about a dozen of which have been deduced.

I have been citing some interesting facts about Krakatoa to my friends (sometime erroneously mixing them up). The tsunami it generated was nearly 40 meters high. This wave was measured around the world. It did not, as I recently asserted in meat-space, travel around the world several times. That was the barometric pressure blast [sound wave]; the sound of the explosion was heard over one third of the globe. It was measured in numerous places all over the world for the following five days and was determined to have traveled around the world seven times! I also asserted that it was responsible for the Year Without a Summer, but that was Tambora. Temperatures did drop measurably after Krakatoa, but only 1.2° C.

To think that one these or any other really BIG disasters could happen anytime. Anywhere.


Bush's anti-missile defense unapt?

Scott Ritter, former US intelligence officer and weapons inspector in the Soviet Union and in Iraq and Time magazine's person of the week for 13 Sep 2002, wrote an article for the Christian Science Monitor alleging that the Bush version of 'Star Wars' would have to be completely redesigned to be effective and that this was likely proven by the recent test of a Russian missle [via Dave Farber's IP list].

On Christmas Eve 2004, the Russian Strategic Missile Force test fired an advanced SS-27 Topol-M road-mobile intercontinental ballistic Missile (ICBM). This test probably invalidated the entire premise and technology used in the National Missile Defense (NMD) system currently being developed and deployed by the Bush administration, and at the same time called into question the validity of the administration's entire approach to arms control and disarmament....

To counter the SS-27 threat, the US will need to start from scratch. And even if a viable defense could be mustered, by that time the Russians may have fielded an even more sophisticated missile, remaining one step ahead of any US countermeasures. The US cannot afford to spend billions of dollars on a missile-defense system that will never achieve the level of defense envisioned. The Bush administration's embrace of technology, and rejection of diplomacy, when it comes to arms control has failed.

My previous posts related to this subject are here and here.


Sunshine Week — 13-19 March

Also from Steven Aftergood's Secrecy News:

Several major media organizations are working to promote a public
dialogue on the value of open government during what they call
"Sunshine Week" beginning next March 13.

The initiative seeks to encourage press and public attention to the
virtues of openness and to communicate "why open government is
important to everyone, not just to journalists." See:

With a few important exceptions, national political leadership in
defense of open government has been lacking. But in many parts of
the country there is a dawning recognition that something is very
wrong with current government information policies, and that
something vitally important to America is at risk.

"To a disturbing degree, we've abdicated our individual sovereignty
since the [9/11] terrorist attacks," the Valley Morning Star in
Harlingen, Texas editorialized last week.

"National security springs from capable intelligence and military
organizations, not from autocratic, secretive government that cows
ordinary citizens and muzzles the media on which those citizens
depend to keep them informed."

See "Liberty Can't Be Traded for Security," Valley Morning Star,
December 31:

Secrecy idiocy

It's hard enough to believe that there's any good reason for the President's Daily Briefs from the Lyndon Johnson presidency more than 35 years ago to be kept classified. The CIA believes these PDBs — and all others — should never be reviewed for possible declassification. This despite the well-known fact that a couple of them were published in the 9/11 Commission's publically available report.

Apparently though the CIA was willing to declassify at least one Johnson era PDB, merely because it took the form of a cable and did not carry the letterhead announcing "President's Daily Brief." Sheesh [ via Steven Aftergood's Secrecy News]!


The rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket

Isn't it nice the way advertising enriches our lives [via Dave Farber's IP list]?

[I]t's standard now for programs to select ads for a given page (e.g., on Google pages) to match the content of that page, supposedly to attract the attention of people interested in the content. If at this hour (7:52 p.m. EDT) you were to read the story on the International Herald Tribune front page about Swedish reaction to loss of probably over 1000 Swedish tourists in the tsunami, the four ads on the page you get are these:

  • bargain tour to Thailand (ad in English)
  • bargain tour to Thailand (ad in French)
  • Swedish private-eye service (for missing persons?)
  • bargain tour to Thailand again (different ad, in English)

The 'bots don't know good taste yet, any more than Charlie the Tuna did.

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