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Of course we're Fair and Balanced!


Freedom of speech vs. the FEC

The U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC) has been court-ordered to extend some campaign finance and spending limits to Internet-based political activity. has a story, "Bloggers use mainstream methods to fight government regulation," about some fears this has generated among bloggers and what they are doing about it (via Michael Geist's Internet Law News):

Acknowledging the Internet's growth, a federal judge last year ordered the FEC to extend some of the nation's campaign finance and spending limits to political activity on the Web.

Bloggers fear that will mean new, unique limits on their activities, even though several of the commission's six members have indicated they have no desire to go beyond what the judge has ordered them to do.

The FEC plans this summer to decide how far to go. Bloggers view whatever happens at the commission as just the first step in their quest to remain free of government oversight.

"The FEC isn't the end of it," [Markos] Moulitsas [Zuniga, founder of the Web log] said. "We still have Congress, and beyond Congress we still have the courts."

Personally, I'm ambivalent. On the one hand, moneys play far too important a role in U.S. elections. The overwhelming amounts required to be competitive, for all practical purposes, rule out anyone like me from being able to run (not that I'd want to even if I had the money) without becoming beholden to so-called special interests1. But on the other hand, the idea of restricting the freedom to make political speech, which is a large part of what is done with all this money, is extremely abhorrent to me.

This is one of the reasons why I'm becoming more and more attracted to some kind of parliamentary system (PDF, via Steven Aftergood's Secrecy News). The feature of such a system that tends to reduce the influence of money is that the party (or coalition) in power can call elections anytime during the term of office (e.g. five years in the U.K.) and that those elections are generally held within 30 days of calling for them. Compared to current practice in the U.S., this would effectively limit the time of actual campaigning from about one year to about one month. How much influence can money have in one month? Probably still too much, but certainly less than it has now.

1special interest, n.: a group with money and political influence that has views contrary to one's own.


Justice undraped at Dept. of Justice

I have something good to say about U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez: he's allowed the Spirit of Justice and her companion, the Majesty of Justice, to come out from behind the curtains that former Attorney General John Ashcroft hid them behind. Here is the BBC story.


Hunting via Internet?!

I don't like guns, although I did do some target-shooting when I was in the Boy Scouts. I've never understood the appeal of hunting. Especially since as a teenager, I casually threw a rock at a bunny rabbit near Ted Trevarrow's house and — much to my amazement — hit it. It fell over, dead.

But really, hunting live captive animals over the Internet? It seems particularly bizarre, yet as reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press (login using ''), Wisconsin is apparently not by any means the first state to ban the practice (via Michael Geist's Internet Law News):

Hunting via the Internet would be banned in Wisconsin under a bill the state Senate approved Thursday.

The bill would prohibit hunters in Wisconsin from shooting at captive animals unless they have physical possession of their weapons....

The bill adds Wisconsin to a list of states that took action after a San Antonio entrepreneur created a Web site,, designed to let hunters shoot exotic game animals or wild pigs on his private ranch using guns controlled by remote control via the Internet....

"Hunting is about being outdoors and a part of nature," [Rep. Scott] Gunderson [the bill's author] said in a written statement. "Using a computer and a Web site flies in the face of all of those things that true hunters believe in."

Silly me! I thought hunting was all about killing defenseless animals!


Federal Agency Collected Extensive Personal Data About Airline
Passengers Despite Pledge

A great example of how government cannot be trusted (quoted directly from Dave Farber's IP list, slightly edited).

Remarkably, I think [this] AP story understates the extent of the privacy violations by TSA and its contractor.

According to TSA's revised "system of records" notice and privacy impact assessment, they didn't just get more data about June 2004 air travelers.

They took 42,000 of those names and for each "created up to twenty variations of a person's first and last names" — then submitted both the 42,000 real names and an extra 240,000 new names to three commercial data brokers (Acxiom, InsightAmerica, and Qsent).

TSA didn't say how many of these 282,000 names yielded commercial dossiers. But it's clear that personal information about many tens of thousands of people who didn't even fly in June 2004 must have been turned over.

This goes way beyond a "routine" change in the official definitions.

Note that under the Privacy Act, willful violation of the law regarding "systems of records" notices is a criminal misdemeanor. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(i)(2) ("Any officer or employee of any agency who willfully maintains a system of records without meeting the notice requirements of subsection (e)(4) of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not more than $5,000."). I'm not aware of any prosecutions under this provision, however.

Sailing to Mars

After 9/11, the U.S. government removed a large number of unclassified documents from public access. Here is one, An Encomium1 on Solar Sailing, written in 1973 about how one might sail to Mars in a spacecraft that requires no fuel. Access to this paper is "restricted to selected government agencies," according to the Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library (at least so says Steven Aftergood in the recent issue of Secrecy News in which I found this). It's an interesting read in its own right, made more so by the fact that the Feds don't want you or me reading it, apparently (though I'll be darned if I can figure out why).

The radiation-produced thrust of a solar sail is not arbitrary in direction, for it may not have a component toward the sun. The reflection of light from a sail surface oriented at an angle to the incident radiation can, however, provide a component of force perpendicular to the solar direction. Since a sunward force is inevitably supplied by solar gravitational attraction, the limitation on thrust direction does not imply a restriction on the ability of a solar sail to travel between arbitrary points in interplanetary space.....

The really striking properties of solar sailing vehicles are consequences of the fact that they require no propellant. The useful propulsive effort that can be obtained from a solar sail is determined only by its freedom from malfunction and wear....

A rough notion of the rate of meteoric attrition of the sail can be based on current estimates of the density of micro-meteorites in interplanetary space. One arrives at the impression that the half-life for decay of sail reflectivity will be measured in thousands of years....

1 en•co•mi•um, n.: 1. Warm, glowing praise. 2. A formal expression of praise; a tribute.


Speaking of digital photography...

Lehigh Gap, Blue Mountain

Early morning June 5, 2005 looking NE toward Lehigh Gap in Blue Mountain, N of Allentown, PA (AutoStitched from two separate photos)

Click on image to see full-size.

Digital photography copyright laws

We common folk and amateurs get screwed again by copyright law [via Dave Farber's IP list]:

Copyright law requires photo labs to be on the lookout for portraits and other professional work that should not be duplicated without a photographer's permission. In the old days, questions about an image's provenance could be settled with a negative. If you had it, you probably had the right to reproduce it.

Now, when images are submitted on CDs or memory cards or over the Web, photofinishers often have to guess whether a picture was truly taken by the customer — or whether it was scanned into a computer or pilfered off the Internet.

The full article, with several examples, is actually much more interesting than this little quote.


Victory criteria

I got an e-mail from Rep. Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this morning. It said, in part,

This Sunday is Father's Day, and many fathers in America are away from home.
They are in Iraq, just as many mothers were on Mother's Day, fighting a war of
choice, where we sent our young people into harm's way without leveling with the
American people about the purpose of the war, without intelligence about what
they were going to confront, without the equipment to protect them, and without
a plan of what would happen after the fall of Baghdad. This is not the way to
win a war.

Today, I have offered an amendment to the defense budget that will say to the

"Within 30 days of the enactment of this legislation, Congress expects an
accounting from you as to what the strategy for success is. What are the
security and political measures that you are putting forth that can lead us to
bring our troops home?"

An accounting of a "strategy for success?" At this point I'd be happy with an accounting of the criteria for success! How will we know when we've "won?" It seems to me that when any nation goes to war and asks its young people to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, that they and all its people deserve to know what the objective is. They deserve to be able to make their own accounting of whether the government has met its stated objective and should bring the troops home.

And I ask the same about the so-called War on Terror. When will it be over? How will we know? This time there may be no troops to bring home, but there will certainly have been — there already has been — real damage done to our civil liberties that the government can no longer be justified in continuing, not even by this Administration. Either that, or we will see just how unjustified these sacrifices were all along and what liars we've put in office.

BTW, what if the criterion for success in the so-called War on Terror was simply no major terrorist attacks on the U.S. for four years?



I was unable to find anything else by googling (both the web and news) on this story, but if it's true — and there's no reason to think it's not — I'd sure like to know more. Some people will be put off by the strident tone of this particular telling, but I'm hoping it will get picked up by others.

Independent filmmaker Jem Cohen shoots movies the old-fashioned way, using a hand-wound 16mm Bolex camera. That alone makes him unique among today’s digitized, computerized crop of indie filmmakers....

On January 7 of this year, Cohen sat in a window seat of an Amtrak train en route to Washington to New York. With his hand-wound Bolex, he filmed the passing scene out the window of the train. Or at least he tried to.

Shortly after leaving New York, the Amtrak ticket taker told Cohen he couldn’t shoot pictures through the window because he was in a "quiet car" and such activity might disturb other passengers.

So Cohen tried to move but was told he couldn’t shoot out the windows of any other car on the train. When the train arrived in Philadelphia, four armed cops escorted him off the train and demanded his film. He rewound it in the camera and turned it over and got back on the train for the rest of the trip to Washington.

At Washington’s Union Station, the FBI and plainclothes officers for Homeland Security questioned Cohen about his motives. He explained he was an independent filmmaker, gave them the names of some of his movies and noted that he has been filming scenes out of the windows of passenger trains for about 15 years....

When Cohen asked about getting his film back, [he was told] the film had been turned over the National Terrorism Task Force. That was five months ago and he is still waiting to get his footage back.


Adults prohibited unless accompanied by children

As one who remembers quite well the early days of the adage, "Don't trust anyone over 30," I found this story from the Northwest Indiana Times quite amusing [via Dave Farber's IP list]:

Adults must be accompanied by children in certain sections of Evansville's public libraries.

The Evansville-Vanderburgh Library Board voted Thursday to bar unaccompanied adults from children's areas as a precaution against "those who might be there for inappropriate reasons," Evelyn Walker, the library's assistant director of public service told the Evansville Courier & Press.

I must say I was surprised by the number of hits I got when I googled for the phrase "Adults must be accompanied by children."

PATRIOT Act renewal

Several provisions in the PATRIOT Act are due to expire at the end of this year. Congress is considering extending these provisions and even adding some more. NPR recently had a good story on why that's Bad News©. To quote Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, "If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch. Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds" [via TrueMajority action alerts].


E-mail divertisements

I generally find SPAM to be unamusing in the extreme. Nevertheless, there have been two or three things that have caught my attention recently. One is the admonition I get regularly these days:

Get a capable html e-mailer

The fact is that I do have an HTML-capable e-mail client; I've just got it configured to show me message bodies in plain-text, thus allowing me to see none of the advertising this spammer wants me read. Why on earth would he encourage me like this to stick with plain-text viewing? LOL!

Another is the first piece of SPAM I've ever saved. I did so because of the sender: the widow of the late Yassir Arafat.

Dear Friend,

I am Mrs Suha Arafat the wife of late palestinians leader organasation ( PLO ).
I must confess that my Agitation is real, and my words are my bond, in this

My late husband diverted this money meant for purchaseing Of ammunition, for
my country, during the civil war in My country, now he had deposited the money
with a security company in Europe as personal iterms but the security company
does not known the content of the consignment, it is on this note That I am
contacting you for help! , all I needed from you is to Furnish me with your
telephone and fax number for you to Assist me claim this money into where it is
in Europe, the said amount is USD75 milion dollars out of the $1.5billions he
kept in a security company.

sating you with 25% of the total money amount, Now all my hope is on you and I
really want To invest this money in your country til when my daughter will
mature because is still 9 years old now,. Honestly I want you to believe that
this Transaction is real and never a joke. My late husband Arafat gave me the
copies of the Certificate of deposit issued to him by the security company on
the Date of deposit, and he wanted to transfer this money With the assistance
of a foreigner as the beneficiary Of the fund, for you to be clarify because,
I do not Expose my self to anybody I see, I believe that you are able to keep
this funds secret for me Because this funds is the hope of my life, it is
Important. Please contact me immediately you must have Gone through my message
through my email address.

That is the reason why I offered you 25% of the total Money and 5% percent for
local and international Expenses, and in case of any other necessary expenses
You might incur during this claim of funds

N.B Try and negotiate for me some profitable blue Cheep Investment opportuni-
ties which is risky free which I Can invest with this money when it is claimed
to Your account, personally I am interested in estate Management and hotel

Email me immediately You receive this message for more explanation. And Promise
me and my children to be a Father considering our situation and not to betray

Best regards

MRS.Suha Arafat

And, finally, who is this guy John who keeps giving my e-mail address to everyone who claims to be calling to offer me too-good-to-be-true mortgage rates?


I'm the Guy They Called Deep Throat

For anyone who's interested and hasn't yet located it, the Vanity Fair article is online, here (printer-friendly format).

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