Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Useless Airport Security

Brush Schneier has a posting Airport Screeners Still Aren't Any Good. "Screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport, one of the starting points for the Sept. 11 hijackers, failed 20 of 22 security tests conducted by undercover U.S. agents last week, missing concealed bombs and guns at checkpoints throughout the major air hub's three terminals." What's the point of not letting toothpaste on board if people can bring bombs and guns on board? As Schneier says, "Remember this truism: We can't keep weapons out of prisons. We can't possibly keep them out of airports.".

The first comment to his post is "The good news is that the TSA has responded quickly to the report. The bad news is that their response is to start an investigation to find out who leaked the test results."

Monday, October 30, 2006

You're Voting Against Rendtion

Remember that one of things you'll be voting about next Tuesday if you want your country to responsible for this kind of torture of innocent people. That's right, we don't just torture terrorists as Cheney claims, we've also tortured innocent people. That's (one of the reasons) why torture is wrong.

Cooking With Fish

I'm taking a cooking class at my local adult education program. It's called Cooking With Fish and we've had one class where we broiled salmon and bluefish and learned how to tell when fish is done. There were a bunch of others we learned too and so far the class is good (1 class so far out of 5). My instructor has a blog, Beyond Salmon which I looked through today and was impressed by. I also found out she went to Carnegie-Mellon too, I'll have to ask her about that tomorrow.


I liked this post by Paul Abrams in the Huffington Post

Analyzing Bush's Smirk

Leonard Shlain in Why Bush Smirks on the Huffington Post, speculates that: "President Bush has a disconnect between the right side and the left side of his face. While the right side of his mouth and the corner of his right eyes portray a smile, the left side of his mouth and the corners of his left eye convey a scowl. The result is a twisted smirk that has become his trademark expression."

He goes on to say "Psychologists have studied the phenomenon of the split face for many years and have accumulated a reservoir of studies that conclusively indicate that the expression of the left side of an individual's face is far more revealing concerning their emotional state than is their whole face."

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bush's Failed Presidency

Niall Ferguson has a good article in the Sunday Telegraph called The Road to Delusion on Bush's failed presidency.

Bush's New Power to Declare Martial Law

You might start seeing articles about Bush and declaring Martial Law, here's the scoop. I first saw this referenced Saturday on slashdot and then I saw it on Boing Boing on Sunday. They point to this article dated October 26. Bush Moves Toward Martial Law by Frank Morales.

First off, the article is on uruknet.biz, a Saddam Hussein support site. Second, Frank Morales is a New York activist priest and member of the Campaign to Demilitarize the Police. This doesn't make the article wrong, but that extremest tone you read, wasn't your imagination.

So what happened? On October 17, 2006 Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (known as H.R.5122), he also put out a Signing Statement on it which is mostly irrelevant to this topic. Every year there is a National Defense Authorization Act, it sets the budget of the Department of Defense.

Of course Congress puts a lot more into the bill and it's mammoth. The part in question is Section 1076, titled "Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies". It's nestled between Section 1075, "Patent Term Extensions for the Badges of the American Legion, the American Legion Women's Auxiliary, and the Sons of the American Legion." and Section 1077, "Increased Hunting and Fishing Opportunities for Members of the Armed Forces, Retired Members, and Disabled Veterans."

Section 1076 modifies The Insurrection Act, in particular, Title 10, Subtitle A, Part I, Chapter 15, Insurrection, Section 333. Interference with State and Federal law which until now read:

The President, by using the militia or the armed forces, or both, or by any other means, shall take such measures as he considers necessary to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy, if it--
(1) so hinders the execution of the laws of that State, and of the United States within the State, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law, and the constituted authorities of that State are unable, fail, or refuse to protect that right, privilege, or immunity, or to give that protection; or
(2) opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.
In any situation covered by clause (1), the State shall be considered to have denied the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution.

For a good brief history of the Insurrection Act see this New Yorker commentary by Nicholas Lemann. The gist is that the president can only bring in the military to supress an insurrection or if the rule of law isn't functioning. For more background on this see:
  • One of the charges against King George III in the Declaration of Indepence is "He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power."

  • Article I Section 8 of the US Constitution gives Congress the power "To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;" and of course the militia is under the control of the President.

  • The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which says: "Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both".

  • This article on Martial Law

  • The US Supreme Court case Ex parte Milligan from 1865 which found that suspending habeas corpus was legal but not while the civilian courts were open. "It has been said that martial law, and its execution by trials by military commission, is fatal to liberty and the pursuit of happiness; but we are only asking for the exercise of military power, when necessity demands and prudence dictates."

I think most people never heard of this stuff before Hurricane Katrina. The National Guard is different from the military in that they are under the control of the state and only the state legislature or governor can relinquish control to the federal government. Bush wanted this to happen but Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco for some reason refused (and the Louisiana legislature wasn't in session). So Bush considered sending in troops under the Insurrection Act but it wasn't clear it allowed him to do so. After all it wasn't an insurrection, it was a natural disaster.

So Section 1076 was supposed to correct this. It changes the title of the law from "Insurrection" to "Enforcement of the Laws to Restore Public Order". However, instead of just adding "natural disaster" someplace, they rewrote the entirety of section 333 to be as follows:

  • (a) Use of Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies-
    • (1) The President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to--
      • (A) restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that--
        • (i) domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order; and
        • (ii) such violence results in a condition described in paragraph (2); or
      • (B) suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy if such insurrection, violation, combination, or conspiracy results in a condition described in paragraph (2).
    • (2) A condition described in this paragraph is a condition that--
      • (A) so hinders the execution of the laws of a State or possession, as applicable, and of the United States within that State or possession, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law, and the constituted authorities of that State or possession are unable, fail, or refuse to protect that right, privilege, or immunity, or to give that protection; or
      • (B) opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.
    • (3) In any situation covered by paragraph (1)(B), the State shall be considered to have denied the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution.
  • (b) Notice to Congress- The President shall notify Congress of the determination to exercise the authority in subsection (a)(1)(A) as soon as practicable after the determination and every 14 days thereafter during the duration of the exercise of that authority.'.

See how much clearer that is? Ugh. Anyway, notice the "when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident," part? That's the point, if one of these happens, the President wants to be able to intervene even if the state refuses. You may think that allowing the President to override the local government is a bad thing. "In 1957 and 1963, however, Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy sent troops to the South to enforce the civil rights of African-Americans without gubernatorial invitations."

The problem with the new law is I think the phrase "or other condition" but I think (a)(1)(A)(i-ii) cover that pretty well. Paragraph (2) is basically what was there before. So you might wonder how this law passed Congress without much fuss. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) did speak about it in September before it passed, but apparently no one listened.

I'm no lawyer, but I think this is one of those cases where it's hard to write a law that gives extraordinary powers to be used only when it's "the right thing to do". Protecting people after hurricanes and enforcing civil rights when states won't are good things. Sending in the military to do the president's bidding is not.

One option is to require both Congress and the President to agree. Maybe that's what people are complaining about, that Bush can do this on his own decision and merely has to inform Congress (which he's not very good about and that signing statement lists 12 parts of the law (though not Section 1076) calling for "the executive branch to furnish information to the Congress or other entities on various subjects" which the President says is optional. However the existing Insurrection Act didn't require the consent of Congress so this is nothing new.

All in all, I think it's a wash. Then again, someone on slashdot posted this quote by William Adama from Battlestar Galactica (the best show on TV) from the second episode, titled "Water": "There's a reason why we separate military and the police: one fights the enemy of the State, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the State tend to become the people."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cheney on Torture

It's not like we didn't know he supported torture, but it's more disheartening to hear the VP of the US come out and say it directly. Here's the interview if you want to read it.

Then read this two part article from MSNBC (part 1 and part 2) and be disgusted. They are both really worth reading.

"It was two years before the photos emerged from Abu Ghraib, the Pentagon cops said, when they began arguing that coercive or abusive interrogations would not serve war-fighting or justice. 'No. 1, it’s not going to work,' said Col. Brittain P. Mallow, the commander of the task force from 2002 to 2005. 'No. 2, if it does work, it’s not reliable. No. 3, it may not be legal, ethical or moral. No. 4, it’s going to hurt you when you have to prosecute these guys. No. 5, sooner or later, all of this stuff is going to come to light, and you’re going to be embarrassed.'"

One of the alleged 20th hijackers Mohammed al-Qahtani probably can never be tried for his alleged crimes. "We were told by the Office of Military Commissions, based on what was done to him, it made his case unprosecutable," said Mark Fallon, the deputy commander and special agent in charge of the Criminal Investigation Task Force from 2002 to 2004. "It would taint any confession if obtained under coercion. They were unwilling to move forward with any prosecution of al-Qahtani."

Great, our administration's policy makes it impossible for alleged hijackers to be brought to justice, and what I find particularly disgusting is that it wasn't even necessary. "The cops argued that the al-Qahtani plan not only was illegal and unreliable, but also unnecessary. Mohammed al-Qahtani was not alleged to be a leader of the Sept. 11 plot. He was not trained as a pilot. If he was involved, he was one of the 'muscle' hijackers. Everything known about al-Qaida, they said, suggests that information is compartmentalized."

Justice Clarence Thomas on the ACLU

Justice Clarence Thomas on the ACLU: "You know, I'm not one who gloms on to the ACLU’s arguments," he said. But, he added, "They are pretty principled about the positions they take, and they're well-informed and pretty helpful." The rest of the article was pretty interesting too.

If We Caught bin Laden Would the War Be Over?

In Hunting Bin Laden?, Michael Smerconish in the Huffington Post wonders how hard we're actually working to find bin Laden. He was one of 45 civilians to visit the region for a week:

"The daily agenda was packed and the presenters were stellar. We heard from the defense secretary, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the vice admiral of CENTCOM and other high-ranking war commanders. Our days began at 5 or 6 a.m. and didn't end until 10 or 11 p.m. We traveled 15,000 miles and spent time in four nations. We ate meals with soldiers, fired the best of the Army weaponry in the desert, toured classified Air Force surveillance aircraft and were educated about the latest in efforts to counteract the dreaded IEDs (improvised explosive devices)."

But when he asked about finding bin Laden, he didn't get any details and he got the impression we weren't doing everything possible. He couches everything by saying he could be completely wrong, but he also raises this question:

"More than one individual with whom I spoke - and no one that I have named here - raised with me the question of what would happen to public support for the war against radical Islam if we were to find and kill bin Laden and al-Zawahiri?"

This is wrong on so many levels I don't know where to begin.

Hacking an Election

ars technica has a good article How to steal an election by hacking the vote. It's a long and detailed explanation of the many flaws in our current voting system and how the move to electronic voting machines has made things very very bad. Here's the beginning of it:

What if I told you that it would take only one person—one highly motivated, but only moderately skilled bad apple, with either authorized or unauthorized access to the right company's internal computer network—to steal a statewide election? You might think I was crazy, or alarmist, or just talking about something that's only a remote, highly theoretical possibility.

So what if I told you that one highly motivated and moderately skilled bad apple could cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to America's private sector by unleashing a Windows virus from the safety of his parents' basement, and that many of the victims in the attack would never know that they'd been compromised? Before the rise of the Internet, this scenario also might've been considered alarmist folly by most, but now we know that it's all too real.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Movie Review: The Last King of Scotland

I think it's very clear that Forest Whitaker will get an Oscar nomination (if not a win) for his amazing performance as Idi Amin. The Last King of Scotland shows us this brutal dictator through the eyes of his Scotish doctor. It seems Amin really did have a Scotish doctor, but this character (Nicholas Garrigan, played by James McAvoy) is fictionalized.

The movie starts with the graduation of Garrigan. He's a doctor but not ready to join his dad in practice. After a literal spin of the globe he goes to Uganda and works in a small clinic. He's naive and a bit reckless. After a chance meeting, we find out that Amin loves the Scots and hires Garrigan as his personal physician.

The film is structured around two simultaneous arcs. Amin goes from charasmatic leader shown through the eyes of Garrigan to the brutal dictator we know. Garrigan goes from naive twenty-something not ready to begin his own life, to someone who's made some stupid choices with tragic consequences and trying to save himself (or maybe not caring).

There are some parallels to and commentaries on British colonialism thrown in too but the strength of the movie is Whitaker's performance. Amin is simultaneously magnetic, unpredicatable and terrifying. The weakness is that you don't really care about Garrigan, nevertheless that didn't bother me at all. The film also gives a strong sense of the seventies without ever parodying it.

We're mostly spared scenes of Amin's evil as Garrigan merely hears them from a British representative. However, I found the two brief shots of sadistic mutilation to be much more disturbing than say the execution-style shootings of The Departed. It's probably because this is based on a real life monster as opposed a fictional story that seemed a bit gratuitous.

If you can handle it, go see this film. It has one of the best performances you'll ever see.

Movie Review: The Prestige

Two films about 19th century magicians came out this fall. The first was The Illusionist and the second The Prestige, it's hard not to draw parallels.

The Prestige is written and directed by Christopher Nolan who also made Memento and Batman Begins. Christian Bale and Michael Caine must like working with him since they are both in this and Batman. Bale and Hugh Jackman are two rival magicians. After an accident caused by Bale takes the life of Jackman's wife, each tries constantly to sabotage the other.

There story is well told and you learn a fair bit about magic tricks. The acting is strong and believable but not showy. The plot unfolds as a magic does and there are good twists, not all that I saw coming. I saw it with a group of people and whether you like this or the The Illusionist better seems to depend on if the twists surprised you. The Illusionist was obvious to me and aside from Giamatti I thought the characters (not the actors) were stiff. I thought The Prestige was much more fun.

Democrats Getting Money

This is encouraging, apparently lots of people are giving money to democrat senate races. Hopefully that means people will vote for change.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Chuck Norris: Creationist

By now you've all see the Chuck Norris Facts, but you might not have known that Chuck Norris has his own column now. It sounds like he's born again, and he clearly doesn't believe in evolution:

"Alleged Chuck Norris Fact: "There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live." It's funny. It's cute. But here's what I really think about the theory of evolution: It's not real. It is not the way we got here. In fact, the life you see on this planet is really just a list of creatures God has allowed to live. We are not creations of random chance. We are not accidents. There is a God, a Creator, who made you and me. We were made in His image, which separates us from all other creatures."

I never thought he was an intellectual, but I didn't realize he was an idiot.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How Many in US Secret Prisons?

If you start seeing things like 35,000 in Secret US Prisons, this is where it comes from. You'll note it's hearsay and there's no evidence backing it up. If true, it's horrifying. Now how to find out the real number?

To Stay or Not to Stay

Ugh, so the issue of the day seems to center on the phrase "stay the course" See Bush has used this phrase to describe his Iraq policy (vs the cut and run approach of evil-doers). But now, he's not so into it. The Washington Post and Media Matters are writing lots about this.

Tony Snow yesterday was saying that the policy hasn't changed but "he stopped using [stay the course]" in speaches. But that's ok because the policy was never stay the course it was just a misunderstood term. Snow also lied and said they went back and looked and Bush only used the term 8 times, when in fact it's at least 30 times.

Laura thinks it's still stay the course.

Rumsfeld says of course it's still stay the course

And don't get me started on setting a timeline for the transistion which I was told would just embolden our enemies. But apparently this isn't a big change in policy.

Dilbert Creator, One of Kind

I had no idea that Dilbert's creator Scott Adams lost his voice 18 months ago to a rare disease called Spasmodic Dysphonia. And amazingly he is the first person to ever recover from it.

New MacBook Pros...

Hmm, the new MacBook Pro's look very nice. My PowerBook is almost 2 years old now. The comparison is looking compelling (sorry, don't see an easy fix to all this whitespace):

PowerBookMacBook Pro
1.67 GHz PPC G42.16GHz Core 2 Duo
1280 x 8541440 x 900
128MB ATI 9700ATI X1600
8x SuperDrive6x SuperDrive

and there's the builtin iSight, the remote with FrontRow, and the MagSafe power adaptor. Can I hold out for one more generation so it would come with Leopard....

Movie Review: The Departed

The Departed is Martin Scorcese's remake of a 2002 Hong Kong film called Infernal Affairs. It's being widely praised as his best film in a long time and a return to form. I found myself about an hour into it thinking it just grips you and pulls you along and never pauses, it was a lot of fun. But by the end of the film I thought it never coalesed into a point and therefore was merely about the violence so purvasive throughout. That was a real shame because this film could have explored a lot and been fun like its predecessor, but it's almost like there was a conscious effort in the script to dilute it.

The Departed is set in Boston and deals with the Irish mob led by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) and pursed by the police. Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) head special police unit of undercover agents and recruit recent police academy graduate Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) to become a deep undercover mole in Costello's organization. Ellerby (Alec Baldwin) heads a more traditional police unit trying to catch Costello and using information that Queenan's informant provides. However they don't know that Costello has his own mole in the police force, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). And to make things a bit ridiculous, Sullivan is dating Madolyn (Vera Farmiga) a police psychiatrist who Costigan starts visiting.

See there's a lot going on here and deep undercover moles are interesting and it's really interesting to have one on each side. DiCaprio's character should be the most interesting, what crimes must he commit to convince the bad guys he's one of them? Theft? Intimidation? Beating people? Murder? While they show him in a few difficult situations and looking sullen a few times there isn't much more. Nicholson would only do the film if they beefed up his character and he's in a disproportionate number of scenes (he even gets a few Satanic shots). He's good in them, but I think as a result everyone else is neglected. Baldwin and Wahlberg just deliver invective, Sheen's only character development is saying his son is going to Notre Dame. Farmiga's psychiatrist develops a few interesting storylines but then they're just dropped.

All the acting is very strong, the direction is strong too, the movie is absorbing, but the script (or maybe the editing) watered things down. The original had more cat and mouse as the two moles tried to find each other and had more drama about the toll their jobs were taking on them, so it must have been a conscious decision to remove that while making the movie an hour longer. They also introduced more holes in the plot. If you enjoy this, go rent the original and enjoy that more. If you want to see what exploring parallels between the police and criminals looks like, watch The Wire.

The Departed is a good film, but certainly not great. For Scorcese's last great film you still have to go back to Goodfellas


When I saw the original, they made a big point that only the police captain knew about DiCaprio's character being a cop. I thought it would be interesting if they killed the captain and what would the mole do? Well that's exactly what happened in the film. The Wahlberg character wasn't in the original and seems added to be there for the last scene, but it completely dilutes the significance of Sheen's death. There are many ways for DiCaprio to get his identity back, talk to Wahlberg (he was just suspended), talk with the police psychiatrist he was visiting, or check Sheen's cell phone records. Also, I never believed that Costello would leave his tapes to Costigan as opposed to Mr. French or even Sullivan. I was also bothered that Madolyn She finds out Sullivan is bad and does nothing about it.

Photoshopping Contest

Another Photoshopping contest, this time Slice 'n Dice cross-sections of everyday things. E.g.,

Monday, October 23, 2006

Bush Officials Were ‘Rooting’ For North Korea to Test Nuclear Weapon

Some senior Bush officials were rooting for a North Korea nuclear test I'm not sure which bothers me more, the actual fact, or that I'm not surprised by it.

Israel Used Phosphorus Weapons and Cluster Bombs, Loses Moral High Ground

This doesn't seem to be in the US media (except the Washington Post). If you didn't think Israel went overboard in its attacks on Lebanon you're wrong.

Israel admits using phosphorus bombs during war in Lebanon. White Phosphorus weapons aren't illegal but that's because Israel and the US haven't signed that treaty. Some would call them chemical weapons. At the very least, are they really needed? Israel also used a large number of cluster bombs in Lebanon

It's tactics like these that cause Israel and the US to lose the moral high ground and allows the other side to accuse us (rightfully) of terror tactics. This isn't helping anything.

Why Political Ads Suck

The National Republican Congressional Committee is running an ad that Michael Arcuri the Democratic candidate for a House seat from NY, which says he made calls to a sex hotline while at a conference in New York City.

"Arcuri said that number was dialed by accident by Sean Byrne, the executive director of the New York Prosecutor Training Institute, who was meeting with him and others in the hotel room. Byrne also said that was the case, and records show immediately following the call to the sex line, he called the same seven digits, but with a 518 area code, not an 800 prefix."

This is political debate in this country. Meanwhile Claire McCaskill is a Democrat running for the MO Senate seat. She's running this heart-wrenching ad, but at least it's not a lie.

Newsweek Misses that Half of Country Want Impeachment

Newsweek reports on their latest poll but seem to have missed something very significant. Here's the last paragraph of the article:

"Other parts of a potential Democratic agenda receive less support, especially calls to impeach Bush: 47 percent of Democrats say that should be a “top priority,” but only 28 percent of all Americans say it should be, 23 percent say it should be a lower priority and nearly half, 44 percent, say it should not be done. (Five percent of Republicans say it should be a top priority and 15 percent of Republicans say it should be a lower priority; 78 percent oppose impeachment.) Rolling back some of the Bush tax cuts would be contentious too: 38 percent of Americans say the Dems should make that a top priority; 28 percent say it should be a lower priority; and 28 percent say it shouldn’t be done at all."

28+23=51% of Americans think the President should be impeached! 20% of Republicans think he should be impeached! And this is the last paragraph!

It's The Economy Stupid

It's debatable how much effect a president has on the economy, but if someone tells you Bush is doing a good job because the Dow is at a new high, here's some ammunition for you.


Cool Pumpkins

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Bush Wants to Kill Miners

Ok, the title is harsh but it might be true. Bush has made another recess appointment, you know those are the ones that he does while Congress isn't in session so they don't get a chance to vote on it. Remember when Republicans demanded merely and up or down vote? The position in question is the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) this is the organization that's supposed to protect mine workers (40 miners have died so far this year, the worst year since 2001). Bush has appointed Richard Stickler to this spot.

"The UMW had opposed Stickler’s appointment to the Pennsylvania job, citing MSHA data showing that Bethlehem mines managed by Stickler had injury rates that were double the national average."

“The mines he ran when he was in the industry were some of the most dangerous and the most frequently cited for safety violations in the entire industry,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. “In fact, despite broad bipartisan support for new, more aggressive mine safety laws, Richard Stickler said in his Senate nomination hearing that no new laws were necessary.”

"At a Senate hearing in March, Stickler explained that if U.S. mines were unsafe, it wasn't an 'enforcement problem,' merely a 'compliance problem'." I'm not even sure what that could mean, you enforce laws to ensure compliance.

Watch Real Time With Bill Maher

This weeks episode of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher was very very good. First off Barney Frank (D-MA) pummeled Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal. It so was effective Jason Alexander basically didn't say anything. Moore looked like a laughing idiot that reminded me of Arnold Horshack. David Kuo was also on pushing his new book Tempting Faith which also sounds good. Maher ended the show as he always does with New Rules, this was my favorite:

"New rule in two parts: (A) you can't call yourself a think tank if all your ideas are stupid and (B) if you're someone from one of the think tanks that dreamed up the Iraq war and predicted that we'd be greeted as liberators, and that we wouldn't need a lot of troops, and that Iraqi oil would pay for the war, that the WMDs would be found, that the looting wasn't problematic and the mission was accomplished and the insurgency was in its last throws, that things would get better after the people voted, after the government was formed, after we got Saddam, after we got his kids, after we got Zarqawi, and that the whole bloody mess wouldn't turn into a civil war; you have to stop making predictions."

Maher's delivery was good, rather than just read it, catch it on HBO this week or wait for it be on You Tube.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Election Made Simple

I think this DailyKos post is right.

US Military Lies to Get US Citizen Death Penalty in Iraq

So here's the frightening story of Mohammad Munaf. He was born in Iraq and immigrated to the US, he's a US citizen. In 2001 he moved to Romania with his family. In March of 2005 he travelled to Iraq with 3 Romanian journalists as their guide. All 4 were taken hostage for 2 months before US forces rescued them in May of 2005.

Last year Munaf was arrested by US troops and charged with kidnapping. He's held in a US-run prison in Baghdad. His trial came up in an Iraqi court and according to Munaf's lawyers the Iraqi judge was prepared to dismiss the case because there was no evidence against him.

"But then came a strange intervention. Two US military officers appeared in court to advocate giving Munaf the death penalty. One of the officers claimed to be acting on behalf of the Romanian embassy and said Romania 'demanded' Munaf be put to death. The two officers then held a private meeting with the judge -- without the defense in the room. When he returned, the judge ruled Munaf was guilty and ordered his execution. The Romanian government says it did not authorize any US official to speak on its behalf and that it is not seeking the death penalty."

Munaf's lawyers appealed to the US District Court in Washington DC on the basis of the bizarre and unfair court procedures, but yesterday Judge Royce Lamberth ruled he had no jurisdiction on the case.

"This case is shocking because it deals with an American citizen who is being stripped of his rights under a foreign legal process, including the right to a trial, at the insistence of US Forces."

What's going on? US Military Officers having secret meetings with judges and apparently changing their minds? And also falsely claiming to be representing other countries? Why isn't the US media covering this? Search Google News for this and notice very few articles on it. I have no idea if Munaf is guilty of something or not, but this judicial process is wrong. Kafka would be proud.

Rolling Stone: Worst Congress Ever

Rolling Stone's cover story The Worst Congress Ever looks good. It's long and I've only just begun it, but I have to agree.

Chernoff on the Internet and Terrorists

On Monday DHS head Chernoff spoke about people who train themselves to be terrorists via the Internet, saying they could be a threat. No kidding, but this is nothing knew. It's always hard to find self-trained criminals, especially before they strike, since they aren't actually criminals yet. But why is this different with the Internet? Was the Unabomber any less of a threat because he didn't use the Internet? How about Timothy McVie?

Terrorists and criminals use planes, cars, cell phones, books, pens, knives and shoes and we don't talk much about preventing them from doing so. So they also use the Internet, so what? The point is virtually everyone uses all of these things, that's what progress is. So can we stop being afraid of the most recent communications revolution?

Understanding the Weather is Difficult

This years ozone hole is the largest ever. It's larger than North America! And yet, Paul Lehmann of the Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre in Melbourne said "There is mounting evidence that the ozone is slowly recovering" and he wasn't joking.

He also said: "The (yearly) size of the hole is due to the effect of atmospheric influences like wind and temperature...There are less ozone-depleting chemicals but they are more effective (when it's cold)..This is the coldest year ever." I thought it was the warmest year ever, that whole global warming thing. So that's probably on a global average and this is probably just for Antarctica. Still a clarification would be nice.


Tangerine is a new app from Potion Factory that's in beta. It analyzes songs in your iTunes library to determine beats per minute and beat intensity. The idea is that knowing this will help you create better playlists with songs of similar tempo. It analyzed my 5600 songs in a little over an hour and my PowerBook was very usable during that time. It's a pretty app, looking a fair bit like iTunes and you can play songs and create playlists from within the app. It's still in beta and I found a few glitches in the UI and I'm not all that confident about the computed beat values, but if these are corrected, this could be useful.

Shatner to Lucas

Very funny:

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Speed Up Mac Dashboard

I was just starting to get annoyed at Dashboard taking a long time to come up when this hint was posted. Worked like a charm for me. Just go into ~/Library/Caches/DashboardClient/ and delete everything there. No need to stop or restart anything, just bring up Dashboard and marvel at the speed increase.

Quieting Navy Lawyers

Think Progress has a little more on Lt. Commander Charles Swift.


This blog will be quiet for a few days. I'm traveling to a friend's wedding and will be back on Tuesday the 17th. If you have Google Earth this might work.

Why Does Habeas Corpus Hate America?

Keith Olbermann did a Daily Show worthy segement yesterday on MSNBC called "Habeas Corpus 1215-2006". Crooks and Liars has the video and transcript. Apparently Bush still hasn't signed the Detainee bill into law, what's up with that?

Olbermann ends by crossing out the amendments in the Bill of Rights that no longer apply if we lose Habeas Corpus. All but the third go. "So as you can see, even without habeas corpus, at least one tenth of the Bill of Rights, I guess that's the Bill of Right now… remains virtually intact. And we can rest easy knowing we will never, ever have to quarter soldiers in our homes… as long as the Third Amendment still stands strong. The President can take care of that with a Signing Statement."

Suitcase Nukes: Not So Much

Richard Miniter writes about the myths of suitcase nukes.

Hidden Things in Images

Some images with hidden things from subliminal advertising to clever logos.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Remember Padilla

Glenn Greenwald writes a recap of The Bush administration's torture of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla.

McCain Blames Clinton For North Korean Nuke

When McCain ran in 2004 I kinda liked him. His social issue positions were too conservative for me but he did come across as a "straight talker". No longer. His caving on the torture issue was inexplicable and now his blaming Clinton for the North Korean Nuke is deranged. I'm sorry, after 6 years, it's your fault, not your predecessor's.

You Negotiate with Enemies, Not Friends

Glenn Greenwald writes well about the obvious in What is left once diplomacy is eliminated?

Here's a good example. in Iraq the Shiites and Sunnis have been negotiating and now "every security checkpoint in Baghdad will have an equal number of Shiite and Sunni troops in an effort to ensure the security forces do not allow sectarian attacks".

US Humanitarian Aid only to Christian Groups?

The Boston Globe had an article of how as aid, the US is funding faith-based hospitals in Pakistan and other Muslim nations.

"Christian groups are running health care, education, and disaster relief in many Muslim nations, and USAID has awarded about $53 million from 2001-05 to fund projects by Christians in Pakistan, Indonesia, and Afghanistan alone. Both the aid organizations and the US government hope the projects will sow good will in a region growing increasingly wary of the West."

The obvious question is obliquely addressed: "The problem with faith-based funding, whether domestically or internationally, is that their orientation is often proselytizing. We may be funding them in one area, but they are using other funds for proselytizing," said Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), senior Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, which does oversight and investigations. "If it's a Christian hospital in a Christian area, then I think that would be helpful [to the United States] for the public to see us supporting it. But if it's a Christian hospital in a Muslim area and we're not helping the Muslim charities, it's a bit of an insult," Waxman said.

The article never comes out and gives enough facts, but the immediate question is under the faith-based initiative is Christianity the only faith that counts? And if we want to sow good will in Muslim nations and dissuade their belief that the "war on terror" is a "war on Islam", why wouldn't we fund the muslim or secular hospitals in these regions?

Party of Security: Democrats

The Boston Globe has an article today about how "House and Senate Republican leaders stripped $4.5 billion in funds for mass transit security from homeland security legislation, then forced a quick vote on the streamlined bill last month." Among other things Republicans removed funding for: emergency response drills, tunnel evacuation system improvements, transit security research grants, more canine patrols, and subway tunnel protection systems.

Remember all that crap about we're fighting them over there so that we don't fight them over here? "The bombings in Spain, Britain, and India alone should have been sufficient to convince Republicans in Congress that 'US rails are dangerously vulnerable,' said Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT)" I guess fighting them over at our allies doesn't count, umm, wait maybe..."

I suppose you could make an argument that state and local funding should be used for this but I think that's quickly discredited. First we have Amtrak a nation-wide rail system. Then you realize that many transit systems do cross state lines since people commute across the state borders. Then if you think about it, al Qaeda is taking the US, not NY or VA and especially not WY where a lot of security funding is going.

Maybe this is another attempt by the Bush administration to destroy Amtrak.

Between this and securing the ports, and other things, which is the party of security?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bush Polls

The Daily Kos has two roundups (one and two) of the latest Bush polls. "These are terrible numbers for Republicans", maybe the country is figuring it out.

Strange Units of Measure

List of strange units of measurement

Foleygate Update

Here is "a narrative of warnings and interventions before the leadership says it knew about Foley's problem."

A Dud?

Apparently there's some debate if North Korea's test was successful or not.

Ken Mehlman Lies

Glenn Greenwald wants to know Why isn't the Ken Mehlman lie a bigger story?. Probably because they do it all the time.

North Korea and China

Clearly our current threats aren't enough, now Bush is going to weaponize space. See this comes a few days after China beamed a ground-based laser at U.S. spy satellites over its territory and days after Chinese hackers tried to break into Department of Commerce computers.

Bill Scher writes "The neocons want regime change in North Korea, in an attempt to constrict the rise of China. And they see any deal as helping the North Korea dictator remain in power." And of course there's the fairly common view that Bush has done nothing with North Korea to "show" that diplomacy won't work and what's needed is tough action.

Nuclear North Korea

North Korea is now a nuclear power. Last night they performed an underground test of a nuclear bomb. Today the world reacts with...condemnation.

Josh Marshall writes how this is a complete failure of Bush policy. Clinton had a carrot stick approach getting Korea to stop plutonium enrichment in exchange for oil and help with non-weapons reactors. North Korea worked around the Clinton agreement, pursuing uranium enrichment and Bush just made threats and did nothing and now North Korea is testing nuclear bombs. Bush had 6 years to deal with this, he can't blame Clinton for this failure (well he can and probably will but it's wrong).

Genn Greenwald writes "The message we have sent with our foreign policy is clear -- if you are a militarily weak nation, we may invade you or bomb you at will, but if you arm yourselves or, better still, acquire nuclear capability, we will not. That has become the incentive scheme produced by having the world's only superpower announce to the world that it has the right to preemptively invade other countries."

It's also a failure of China's policy and Russia's and others. There are also some reports that North Korea may be preparing a second test.

And of course now we have to deal with Bush mangling the word "nuclear" for a while.

Fareed Zakaria: Staying in Iraq Only Delays Things

Fareed Zakaria has an outstanding article in Newsweek. "At this point, neither [the Shiites nor the Sunnis] believes that any deal would be honored once the United States left, which means that each is keeping its own militias as an insurance policy...President Bush says that if America leaves Iraq now, the violence will get worse, and terrorists could take control. He's right. But that will be true whenever we leave. "Staying the course" only delays that day of reckoning." Read the whole thing

Hamdan's Lawyer Forced to Retire

Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, 44, was the Navy lawyer who represented Salim Ahmed Hamdan (Osama bin Laden's driver) in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case that went to the Supreme Court. Swift won the case when the Supreme Court ruled that Bush's miltary tribunals were unconstitutional. Within two weeks of that decision, Swift was passed over for a promotion and under the "up or out" promotion system, will have to retire from the Navy. If winning a Supreme Court case can't get you promoted, I don't know what will.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Rove Assistant Close to Abramoff, Resigns

Remember when the Abramoff scandal broke and the administration said it had little involvement with him? Well if the 485 contacts didn't kill that lie, Karl Rove's assistant resigning should.

CNN Complicit in Republican Lies

Here's more on my lament of main stream journalism. It seems CNN can't be bothered to point out the Republican lies. Fact checking is apparently a lost art.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Something Lighter: Cartoon Layouts

John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy has a blog where's he's been giving free advise on how to draw cartoons. He's of the very strong opinion that animation today sucks, particularly in comparison to the classics of the 30s and 40s. I'm not trying to draw but I am trying to understand, and I'll admit to being a little slow to understand some of his posts. However, I found yesterday's post on layouts very interesting.

The First 100 Hours

Maybe Nancy Pelosi reads my blog. The Washington Post reports about Pelosi's plan for the first 100 hours. It might not be that useful, but at least it's something.

Terrorist 'Dirty Bomb' Seizures Double

This is troubling: Terrorist 'Dirty Bomb' Seizures Double. "The Times newspaper claims to have seen figures from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showing more than 300 seizures of the dangerous materials since 2002 - primarily in Europe." I'm not sure how to reconcile the statements: "There were 103 cases of illicit trafficking in 2005" and "Western security agencies thwarted 16 attempts to smuggle plutonium or uranium last year alone."

Bush on School Safety

The Amish shooting was one of three in a week in the US. According to Information Please Almanac 34 of the 45 world-wide school shootings since 1996 have been in the US, that's 75%.

Last Tuesday Bush spoke at George W. Bush Elementary School in Stockton CA. "Yesterday, I instructed Attorney General Gonzales and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to convene a meeting next Tuesday, a meeting of leading experts and stakeholders to determine how best the federal government can help states and local governments improve school safety. Our schoolchildren should never fear their safety when then enter to a classroom."

So what do you think they'll come up with? Perhaps a federal program to fund to help prevent school violence? Maybe ways to fund state and local programs? Probably not, since Think Progress points out Bush "has consistently recommended pulling funding for school violence prevention programs" citing 4 instances.

After 9/11 and The Pet Goat Incident I'm surprised Bush goes to elementary schools.

More on Signing Statement

The American Constitution Society (progressive legal organization) comments on the recent signing statement.

Andrew Sullivan on Foleygate

Andrew Sullivan talks on Foleygate:

"Foley was stuck in a past of his own pathology. From an array of different gay sources, informal and formal, these past few days, the picture I have received of Foley (whom I'd never met and knew only as a Republican closet-case) is that, from the minute he got to DC, he was a disaster waiting to happen. How this was dealt with and by whom over the years I don't know. But from what I'm hearing, Foley's online excesses may have truly been pretty well hidden, but the fundamental Foley problem wasn't. It was happening in broad daylight. If the alleged "prankster" page is to be believed, then it must have been common knowledge among the pages as well. Maybe real warnings were given, and ignored. Maybe the truth is in the murky middle. But this much I now believe: if Hastert didn't know, he should have. If he was told, he should remember. It's the kind of thing someone who actually cares about the pages would instantly remember. My guess (and I do not know for sure) is that he chose not to know, because he needed a seat in Florida. If that's true, people are right to be mad."

Administration Failing to Enforce Environment Laws

The Washington Post reports "Using language that suggests they are fed up with the Bush administration, federal judges across the West have issued a flurry of rulings in recent weeks, chastising the government for repeated and sometimes willful failure to enforce laws protecting fish, forests, wildlife and clean air."

"Federal court rulings in much of the West are appealed to the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Like lower courts in the West, it has often been caustically critical of the Bush administration."

Bush Rejects Law Requiring Qualifications for FEMA Head

The Boston Globe reports today that Bush cites authority to bypass FEMA law. Remember how a year ago Michael Brown completely screwed up the repsonse to Hurricane Katrina and it came out that Brown's previous experience before becoming the head of FEMA "was the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, (IAHA), from 1989-2001"? Well of course Congress would try to do something to correct this in the future..

The Globe article says: "To shield FEMA from cronyism, Congress established new job qualifications for the agency's director in last week's homeland security bill." Check it out for yourself (sorry I can't just provide a link). Go to Thomas and type in HR. 5441 and click the Bill Number button and then click search. Pick the last version of the bill and look for the section "SEC. 503. FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY". The text is:

"(2) QUALIFICATIONS- The Administrator shall be appointed from among individuals who have--
(A) a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management and homeland security; and
(B) not less than 5 years of executive leadership and management experience in the public or private sector."

Seems pretty reasonable doesn't it? Georgetown Law School professor Martin Lederman said "It's hard to imagine a more modest and reasonable congressional response to the Michael Brown fiasco." But Bush said he'd ignore this law, even as he signed it into effect. In the Signing Statement on H.R. 5441, the "Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007" Bush wrote:

"Section 503(c) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, as amended by section 611 of the Act, provides for the appointment and certain duties of the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Section 503(c)(2) vests in the President authority to appoint the Administrator, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, but purports to limit the qualifications of the pool of persons from whom the President may select the appointee in a manner that rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office. The executive branch shall construe section 503(c)(2) in a manner consistent with the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. Also, section 503(c)(4) purports to regulate the provision of advice within the executive branch and to limit supervision of an executive branch official in the provision of advice to the Congress. The executive branch shall construe section 503(c)(4) in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to require the opinions of heads of departments and to supervise the unitary executive branch. Accordingly, the affected department and agency shall ensure that any reports or recommendations submitted to the Congress are subjected to appropriate executive branch review and approval before submission."

The head of FEMA "shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate." Even Bush agrees to that. As it's done before Congress put into law some reasonable qualifications for that position. But Bush says no, I'll appoint anyone I want. Won't Congress just not consent? Then what, Bush will use recess appointments and other tactics as it has with John Bolton?

There are so many things wrong with all of this. First off there's the fact that Bush appointed unqualified people to important positions, Then there's bullshit answer of saying "demonstrated knowledge of emergency management" and "5 years executive leadership" too "limit[s] the qualifications of the pool of persons" for the job. Those qualifications are reasonable, I'm willing to go on record with that fact. There's also the point that Congress and the Executive can talk before a bill is passed so that both branches agree with the text, this obviously isn't happening. And of course there's the whole question of whether or not such signing statements are legal in the first place.

There's also the willingness of Bush to fight this in the abstract. In case you were wondering, the current head of FEMA is R. David Paulison, who aside the infamous Duck tape alert seems reasonably qualified. If he had someone in mind that Congress didn't like it's one thing to push for a particular person, perhaps with different but still valid qualifications (like Bolton who's qualified but just a bad choice) but to bother to do this in the abstract is just picking a fight with another branch of government.

Like it or not Congress is a peer that Bush has to work with, unless this "unitary executive" phrase really is code for "King". There is nothing reasonable in this signing statement. It's a dumb argument, in a dumb form, at a dumb time, supporting a dumb policy.

Oh and is't it odd that the legal qualifications for the head of FEMA are more rigorous then those for President ("a natural born Citizen" at least 35 years old).

The Daily Show: Bush's Job Description

This is one of those Daily Show clips that isn't so much substance as it is flat out funny:

Right-Wing Bloggers Go After Congressional Pages

Cenk Uygur writes how the latest strategy of the right-wing bloggers and media regarding Foleygate is to blame the victims.

"Matt Drudge started the new blame game earlier this week when he flat out attacked the young boys as 'beasts' and said they were 'egging on' the 'poor congressman'."

"Rush Limbaugh, undeterred by the proof offered by ABC News or by any semblance of a conscience, soon picked up on this strategy and started hypothesizing that the kids were the ones who started all this. That they were pulling some sort of prank like he used to when he was kid. Remember, Limbaugh also said Abu Ghraib was nothing more than a prank. What kind of sick pranks did Limbaugh play as a kid?"

"Finally, as if all of this was not enough, right-wing bloggers stepped in to make things significantly worse. A blogger named Wild Bill found one of the victims -- and outed him. I guess the kid had it coming. He shouldn't have egged on that sexual predator. Not to be outdone, some of the top right wing bloggers joined in on the frenzy and they also posted the identity of one of the victims."

Uygur has source links for all of these. What's wrong with these people? Will their followers finally realize they're out of their minds? Sadly probably not.

The No-Fly List is Useless

60 Minutes got a copy of "the secret list used to screen airline passengers for terrorists". As many suspected, it sucks. "It includes names of people not likely to cause terror, including the president of Bolivia, people who are dead and names so common, they are shared by thousands of innocent fliers."

"The names of some of the most dangerous living terrorists or suspects are kept off the list. The 11 British suspects recently charged with plotting to blow up airliners with liquid explosives were not on it, despite the fact they were under surveillance for more than a year. The name of David Belfield who now goes by Dawud Sallahuddin, is not on the list, even though he assassinated someone in Washington, D.C., for former Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini." Ok, now that sounds bad, why have a list potentially dangerous terrorists you want to keep off planes if you don't include the dangerous terrorists you know about?

Get this: "This is because the accuracy of the list meant to uphold security takes a back seat to overarching security needs: it could get into the wrong hands. 'The government doesn't want that information outside the government,' says Cathy Berrick, director of Homeland Security investigations for the General Accounting Office." Yep, it's actually deliberate. We keep the names of potential terrorists off the no-fly list because we don't want their names to get out. This might be the dumbest catch-22 I've ever heard. Is this the culmination of Bush's over-the-top secrecy?

"Gary Smith, John Williams and Robert Johnson are some of those names. Kroft talked to 12 people with the name Robert Johnson, all of whom are detained almost every time they fly. The detentions can include strip searches and long delays in their travels. 'Well, Robert Johnson will never get off the list,' says Donna Bucella, who oversaw the creation of the list and has headed up the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center since 2003. She regrets the trouble they experience, but chalks it up to the price of security in the post-9/11 world. 'They're going to be inconvenienced every time … because they do have the name of a person who's a known or suspected terrorist,' says Bucella." Isn't that brilliant? Maybe they could include photo's with the list, either of the suspected terrorist or of the innocent people with the same name?

Kevin Drum says "I'll bet if there were some senator named Robert Johnson, the FBI would figure out a way to make this list a little more user-friendly. Maybe we should try to elect one." He must have missed that Ted Kennedy is on the no-fly list

Bruce Schneier says "When are we going to realize that this list simply isn't effective?" That may be right, the other choice is when are we going to realize this administration isn't effective.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Securing Airports

Andrew Sullivan had a reader write in about Condi Rice arriving in Baghdad. "I just watched the video of Condi Rice arriving in Baghdad today. She walked down the steps of the airplane wearing a bullet proof vest, along with her security people, also wearing bullet proof vests. After 3+ years of war and close to $500 billion dollars and the Baghdad airport is still not secured?"

My snide comment is that the TSA can't secure our airports, why would we think the Baghdad airports are secure?

MIT Creates Mr. Whoopee's 3D Blackboard

Democrats Acting like Rumsfeld?

Read the current stuff on Foleygate and how Republican leadership willfully ignored serious accusations against Foley for years and you see things like "The level of incompetence and mismanagement by the Republican leadership has been so bad it would take an act of God to regain their momentum." said by Frank Luntz, "probably the most influential Republican political consultant". So let's tempt fate and assume the Democrats gain control of one or both houses of Congress, here's my question: then what? They've been so lacking any direction I'm reminded of Rumsfeld's lack of planning for a post-war Iraq.

The Daily Show as News

Two years ago when Jon Stewart appeared on Crossfire he pleaded with CNN to stop airing crap and to start covering things seriously. Tucker Carlson attacked Stewart saying "Why not ask him a real question, instead of just suck up to him?" Jon Stewart came back with "I didn't realize that -- and maybe this explains quite a bit is that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity." and " You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls."

Most people I know that watch the Daily Show are amazed at how informed they can be from watching it. Jon Stewart is always the first to point out that The Daily Show is not a news show but is comedy. A study at Indiana University has shown that The Daily Show is just as substantive as traditional news shows. Isn't that frightening? It's probably more accurate to say that traditional news shows have the substance of a comedy show.

I heard an NPR piece the other day about American politics becoming so fractured that people have their own language and their own sources of news. Conservatives get news from Fox, liberals from CNN. If you talk about Iraq you're a liberal, if you talk about the war on terror you're a conservative.

I think part of the problem is that objective journalism seems to have gotten to the point where they've stopped reporting facts and just present a forum for both sides to present their arguments. If one side lies, it's up to the other to say so, and if they don't, or are cut off for time, or retort with their own lies, then the lies stand. While many things are opinion, many things are actually facts and some things are just wrong. But the news doesn't point that out. As such, people think they can believe whatever they want, whether right or wrong.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Man Arrested for Telling Cheney His Iraq Policies are Reprehensible

Since I'm sure Bush would do what Cheney wants, Cheney now has the power to declare you an enemy combatant, detain you, and torture you, and if you're not a US citizen there's no legal review. But its okay, he wouldn't abuse such power. If Cheney was making a public appearance and you said you didn't like his policies, nothing would happen to you, I mean that's protected free speech isn't it? You wouldn't be arrested for that, right? Wrong.

"Attorney David Lane said that on June 16, Steve Howards was walking his 7-year-old son to a piano practice, when he saw Cheney surrounded by a group of people in an outdoor mall area, shaking hands and posing for pictures with several people."

"According to the lawsuit filed at U.S. District Court in Denver, Howards and his son walked to about two-to-three feet from where Cheney was standing, and said to the vice president, "I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible," or words to that effect, then walked on."

"Ten minutes later, according to Howards' lawsuit, he and his son were walking back through the same area, when they were approached by Secret Service agent Virgil D. "Gus" Reichle Jr., who asked Howards if he had "assaulted" the vice president. Howards denied doing so, but was nonetheless placed in handcuffs and taken to the Eagle County Jail."

The lawsuit is against the secret service agent, Cheney probably had no knowledge of what happened (though I guess he could have given standing orders for how to deal with hecklers) but the law is supposed to protect people from abuses of power at any level. Who else would Bush grant his powers to?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Innocent Man Assaulted on Plane (by Cop?)

Seth Stein, a Jewish architect born in NY, was flying from the Caribbean to NY when someone grabbed him from behind and said "his name was Michael Wilk, that he was with the New York Police Department, that [he'd] been acting suspiciously and should stay calm". He was of course completely innocent but the article is unclear as to what happened afterward on the plane. Afterward, he was "told by airline staff he was targeted because he was using an iPod, had used the toilet when he got on the plane and that his tan made him appear 'Arab'." Wow, we're crazy scared aren't we? Stupid too.

Ok but this gets worse. It seems that Michael Wilk first went to the cabin crew about his suspicions. The captain called and did a security check on Stein and cleared him and Wilk was told this before he grabbed Stein. "In a twist to the story, Mr Stein has since discovered that there is only one Michael Wilk on the NYPD's official register of officers, but the man retired 25 years ago. Officials have told the architect that his assailant may work for another law enforcement agency but have refused to say which one." So a secret cop assaulted a man he knew was innocent on a flight and nothing was done about it? "American Airlines apologised to Mr Stein, but withdrew an initial offer of $2,000 compensation on the grounds it would be an admission of liability."

And Americans are safer.

Declassified NIE - Useless

I finally got around to reading the 4 page Declassified NIE "ìTrends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States from April 2006. Meh.

NIEs "express the coordinated judgments of the US Intelligence Community made up of 16 intelligence agencies, and thus represent the most authoritative assessment of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) with respect to a particular national security issue." They take a while to prepare. They are supposed to be a big deal.

I know this is only the 4 page summary but I'm amazed at how useless and obvious this one is. There are more jihadists, al Qaida is a threat both inside and outside the US and is decentralized and becoming moreso. If the Iraq JIhad is successful it will inspire more fighters. This is intelligence? Sound like common sense.

On page 2 it suggests that to fight the spread of the movement we'll have to do more than capture or kill terrorist leaders and that we should point out that the fundamentalist society the jihadists want isn't what most Muslims want. Shocker.

"We judge that most jihadist groups--both well-known and newly formed--will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics." Oh come on. They'll continue to fight us with IEDs? We need an NIE for this?

And it ends with "We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support." So, the terrorists, like everyone else, will use the fastest growing communications mechanisms in the world. How insightful.

I remember both sides trying to pick individual sentences out of this to prove their points. What a joke.

Fatwa Against Pope

A few weeks ago the Pope gave a now infamous speech in which he quoted a 14th century byzantine emperor who used Mohammed as an example about why spreading relgion through violence was bad.

So today I read: "Acting on behalf of the International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People, which is headed by Osama bin Laden, the Markaz-ud-Dawa (MUD) of Pakistan, which is the political wing of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), is reported to have issued a Fatwa calling upon the Muslims to kill Pope Benedict XVI".

First this reminds me of Monty Python's Life of Brian. Second, how dumb do you have to be to respond to the 600 year old claim your relgion is too violent by wanting to kill a guy now saying "Not to act reasonably is contry to the nature of God"? Third, I hope to hear moderate Islamic leaders decry this fatwa, but I suspect I won't.

Mysterious July 10th 2001 CIA Briefing

Lots more info on the July 10, 2001 briefing.

"One official who helped to prepare the briefing, which included a PowerPoint presentation, described it as a "10 on a scale of 1 to 10" that "connected the dots" in earlier intelligence reports"

"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing" "within a week" of Rice.

However late Sunday Rice didn't remember "the supposed meeting." On Monday, John Ashcroft was disappointed that he never received the briefing. By Monday evening, Rice's spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed that she'd received the briefing and had asked that it be given to Ashcroft and Rumsfeld which is was within a week.

The other part of their "defense" is that the briefing didn't say that al Qaeda was going to attack within the US, just US interests which could be a ship or embassy as had happened before. But it still seems they took absolutely no action as a result of the warning.

Apparently Rice offered to resign after the 2004 election, but instead Bush made her Secretary of State.

In the other part of the mystery, "Former CIA Director George Tenet gave the independent Sept. 11, 2001, commission the same briefing on Jan. 28, 2004, but the commission made no mention of the warning in its 428-page final report." No one seems to know why. Maybe the problem was it a was a PowerPoint presentation.

Monday, October 02, 2006

McCain and the Swiftboaters

Here are interesting details on how the swiftboaters attacked McCain and about 80% through it asks "So what is up with McCain today, turning around and joining up with the very foes who smeared him in 2000?"

Did Abramoff Know about the Iraq War a Year Before?

March 18, 2002 Jack Abramoff sent an email that said "It seems that the President was very sad to have to come out negatively regarding Israel, but that they needed to mollify the Arabs for the upcoming war on Iraq." This was 7 months before Congress authorized the president to go war and at the same time as the Downing Street Memos. It's not a "slam-dunk" but it seems worth gossiping about.

What Rice Didn't Say

The other current scandal involves Condi Rice. Woodward's new book says she was in a meeting July 10th, 2001 with George Tenet and his counter-terrorism chief, J. Cofer Black where they warned her an al Qaeda attack in the US. Tenet and Black felt Rice brushed them off. Woodward got this from Black. Aside from the obvious, the other problem with this is that she never mentioned the meeting to the 9/11 commission. White House records confirm the meeting (but not the contents).


Talking Points Memo continues to cover everything on Foleygate. As is always the case, it's the cover-up that's the problem. Apparently hints to Foley's behavior go back 5 years and the pages knew to avoid him. But the Republican leadership seems to have not bothered investigating. Sure they can say they only heard about the email not the IMs but that's the point of an investigation. ABC managed to find out about the IMs after 1 day of investigation, amazing what those things can uncover (where are you Patrick Fitzgerald?). Foley had $2.7 million in an election war chest and Republicans are hoping that's spread around, but it's up to Foley. Hassert is just trying to keep up with the accusations and claims ignorance on everything. It's nice to know they are distracted from the elections.

Paperweight Pictures

Yesterday I made these paperweights:

My friend Vanessa made these:

This last one shows the first thing we did, a small clear glass ball. You roll the pipe with the glass on the end and use a jack (like tweezers) to pinch some at the end, it forms a narrow section. When the glass gets too hard to mold, you wait another few seconds, put a drop of water on the crease and tap the pipe and it breaks off. You can see the edge. The snowman is the same thing but with two edges jacked in. The paperweights worked the same way, but you had to work harder to jack the edge on the larger piece of glass. After they were broken off, the instructor took 2 blow torches to the break point for about 15 seconds and then pressed down with a flat surface to clean the edge.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Upcoming SCOTUS Cases

"Even if trifling issues like privacy rights and abortion continue to grab the headlines, there are enough business cases on the [Supreme Court] docket to fill up at least an entire Jeopardy category. Herewith, a preview of a quintet of closely watched business cases the [Supreme] Court will consider this term:"

Movie Review: Hollywoodland

With any one critic, a fair amount of the time I'll have disagreements. Rotten Tomatoes aggregates many critics and gives you a percentage of favorable reviews. They give a fresh rating to any film with 60% favorable reviews and a rotten rating if it has less. I've found this to be the most reliable predictor for if I'll like a film. Hollywoodland got a 70% and I figured it would be good. Oh well, I (and Rotten Tomatoes) was wrong.

It had a lot of potential. It's a fictionalized investigation into the real life mysterious suicide of George Reeves who played Superman in the classic 1950s TV show. Ben Affleck plays Reeves shown in flashbacks and it's perhaps Affleck's best role. We learn that Reeves always saw himself as a more serious actor but was trapped by type casting. He had an open affair with a studio executive's wife played by Diane Lane (who does well in the role) and ultimately left her for another woman.

The film explores the 3 most likely causes of Reeve's death via Louis Simo, a fictional private investigator played by Adrien Brody. The film spends more than half the time on Simo's story including his ex-wife and son, other cases, and the various run-ins with people involved in the Reeves case. Brody does a fine job with Simo, but it's an overwritten part and is annoying.

The problem with the film is that Reeves' story is more interesting (probably because it's true) but it spends so much time on Simo. The result is a film that feels longer than it is and is frustrating because it doesn't give us what we want. The movie is at its worst when it tries to draw parallels between Simo's life and Reeves'.

Glass Blowing Class

Today I took a one day glass blowing class at Diablo Metal and Glass in Boston. It wasn't exactly blowing but was Make your own paperweights. We gathered molten glass on a solid rod and spun, colored and shaped it in to those round paperweights you've seen that have cool patterns on the inside.

It was a 6 hour class, though we had time off for lunch. There were four of us in it and one instructor (there was supposed to be an assistant but he didn't show). He showed us how to "gather" molten glass out of the (4000 degree F?) furnace and keep it spinning slowly and how to move it to a bench and shape it with tools.

To make a paper weight you go through a few steps which he showed us in succession. We were manipulating molten glass a few minutes into the class (waste wasn't a problem). First you pull molten glass out of the furnace on a solid pipe. You need to keep it spinning slowly so it doesn't glob off the end. You shape it against a metal table and color the glass by rolling it in pigments in metal trays. The pigments are in forms from fine powders to sand to pebbles. You reheat the glass in another furnace (this one at only 2400 degrees F), and then sit on a bench with two rails that you use to support and roll the pipe while you shape it with tools like tweezers, shears and bowls. You get a swirly pattern you like and then gather another glob of molten glass onto the end to cover it. You shape the glass into a ball and then pinch it so it's on a narrow stem and finally break it off the pipe. After you break off the glasswork you dunk the end of the pipe in water and break off the remaining glass which is waste.

There were a few things that you learned very quickly that I had never thought of before. First molten glass is really hot. Well obviously but there's a lot you have deal with when you're holding something that's at thousands of degrees. First it's really hot just being next to the furnace. Ever put your hand near a fireplace or camp fire? It's a lot hotter. The pipes were about 5 feet long, if you had one hand halfway down it while you're gathering glass from the furnace it's really really uncomfortable, my hand was turning red. The second time you learn to move both hands to the far end of the pipe. Also, just sticking a metal pipe in the furnace for 10 seconds to get the glass, heats the metal very hot. You actually dunk the pipe in a water trough (with the glass sticking out the end) to cool it down before working with it.

You have to keep the glass very very hot to work it. When you take it out of the furance it's like a thick liquid, in less than a minute it will be too hard to work, so you heat it again. While soft enough to mold it glows red hot. As it gets hard to work with it stops glowing, but it's still very very very hot, it just doesn't look it. You learn not to pick up glass on the floor of glass shop with your hands. The glass is so hot we put the "finished" paperweights in a 900 degree F oven to cool! Various kinds of glass have different processes to cool them so they don't crack. Our paperweights will take about 15 hours to cool, in a couple of stages, so I can pick them up tomorrow. While we colored the glass blue and purple and green and other colors, I still don't know what the paperweights look like because when I saw them, they were glowing red hot or the outsides had cooled but the insides were still red.

In the morning we made a couple of small glass spheres and a snowman like shape just to get used to working with the glass. We broke for lunch and then spent about 3 hours making paperweights. I made 4, the last one took about 15 minutes.

At the end of the day 3 guys came into the shop and were blowing vases. It was interesting watching them work together. One was the main guy who sat on the bench, rolled and shaped the glass. Another squated next to this and blew into the pipe, which of course was rolling back and forth (think of a seal blowing musical horns). The third would get additional small blobs of glass and attach them to the main piece so the main guy could shape it. They worked together seemlessly, without needing to speak about what they were doing.

It turns out paperweights are a great introduction to the craft. You can learn to make them quickly and they are very forgiving. If you do something you didn't intend, just heat it again, do something else and it will still look cool. Also, within 15 of the start of the class I was handling molten glass. There were no notes to take, no "what is glass made of" or "these are the stages of cooling glass". I didn't develop the skill to know ahead-of-time how my twists would turn out but I did appreciate seeing the teacher make a glass horse. I could follow how he did it, but I knew I couldn't come close to attempting it. I was dealing with manipulating a big blog! Very cool stuff, I'm looking into other glass classes to take.