Friday, September 7, 2007

Did I Miss This?

President Doofus is in Australia, for a high-powered economic summit. Naturally, with so many world leaders in the city, security is tight. So tight, in fact, that a TV show was able to drive a limo with someone dressed as Osama Bin Laden to within a few feet of the hotel where the President is staying.

There's a video report at Crooks & Liars. The harrumphing commentator at the end gets my vote for the "unintentionally funny clip of the day" award... Apparently the problem isn't the lax security, the problem is how much they crossed the line in even trying something like this because, well, we're never really told why. Because maybe this makes the president's security detail look foolish? Because it raises questions about the millions that's being spent on security? Because it reveals our government as fallible? Those are all reasons to applaud this stunt, not condemn it. Security that can be breached that easily deserves to be lampooned... Or, in the words of the Australian talking head, "bums will be kicked all up and down the line." Apparently the police really didn't twig that something was out of the ordinary until the actor dressed as Osama got out and asked to see his 'old friend,' and explain what a misunderstanding all of this was...

Funny, though. I can't seem to find any U.S. news outlet that's picked up this story. I could be missing something, I suppose... After all, they'd never suppress a story to help out the Commander Guy or his minions, would they?

Nice to get confirmation

A new study shows that certain food additives can increase hyperactivity in ADHD children. This was old news to me.

My younger brother was ADHD. And until he was at least in junior high, we could tell if there'd been a party at school that day and he'd had anything purple to drink. He was a wildman for the rest of the day. We didn't keep most kids' drinks in the house, because he got very hyper after even a little bit.

Still, it's nice to see it's not just an urban legend or one anecdotal case. The study looks like it was well-designed, so the conclusions are probably reliable.

And life goes on.

Protecting Our Contributors

The regime Administration has come out opposing network neutrality. Remarkably enough, the position of the Justice Dept bears an amazing resemblance to the standard line of the telcos:

The Justice Department said imposing net neutrality regulations could hinder development of the internet and prevent ISPs from upgrading networks.

The agency said it could also shift the "entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements onto consumers".

And of course, once they've rolled out the new networks, the ones that don't carry any data from the competition, they'll be prevented from raising, exactly?

A lot of companies have made a lot of money off the Internet. It's the open, flat, neutral architecture that made it successful in the first place. Strange how many companies in Japan are offering all sorts of whiz-bang services that are way ahead of anything available here, and they didn't need their own walled garden to do it.

The one bright spot is that by this point, the Justice Dept is so thoroughly and so obviously politicized that fewer and fewer people take it seriously. Unfortunately, they do still have plenty of raw power, which shouldn't be underestimated.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Life's little ironies

It's been a busy week, haven't had time to check in, but I did have something happen today that's worth wondering about. The question came to mind while walking through the halls on my way to class, passing a group of undergrads, and hearing rather more of their conversation than I cared to. But I wondered...

Why is it that the most metrosexual frat boys, the ones with the hairstyles and bead choker-necklaces that wouldn't look at all out of place in most gay bars, are the most likely to give each other crudely homophobic nicknames?

OK, I guess I don't have to think about it all that much...

Monday, September 3, 2007

Al-Jazeera Reports Peace Breakthrough

Wow. This is potentially very good news:

Iraqi Sunni and Shia representatives have agreed on a peace plan during secret talks in Finland.

"Participants committed themselves to work towards a robust framework for a lasting settlement," said a statement issued on Monday by the Crisis Management Initiative, a conflict-prevention group that organised the meeting.

In an agreement released by CMI, the participants "agreed to consult further" on a list of recommendations to begin reconciliation talks, including resolving political disputes through non-violence and democracy.

The recommendations also included the disarming of factions and forming an independent commission to supervise the disarming "in a verifiable manner."

The four-day meeting which ended on Monday brought together 16 delegates from the feuding groups to study lessons learnt from successful peacemaking efforts in South Africa and Northern Ireland.

It's very early, of course. But if this holds, it's very good news indeed.

Of course, we'll be hearing from President Doofus that it's all because of the surge...

[h/t: Paddy over at Cliff Schecter's blog.]

"Wave of the future"--not.

Misty Irons runs a blog I check occasionally. I don't always agree with her, but her opinions seem well thought-out, are respectfully stated, and are usually worth taking seriously. However, her latest entry makes me wonder. Referring to the press release by the Log Cabin Republicans about the Larry Craig matter (she's got the entire text on her site, you can read it there), she comments:

Principled, patriotic, and taking the moral high-ground. These gay Republicans know how to speak a language that most straight Americans can relate to and understand--which is why I think the Log Cabin Republicans are the wave of the future.


If by "principled" you mean "decrying the closet while actively working for a party that wants to keep them there," I suppose so. I couldn't help noticing they didn't come out with this statement until after the senior Republican leadership started saying the same thing...this is essentially the Republican talking-points list, worked over. Maybe it just took a while to get the press release edited...The story had been going on for days by that time, and their silence was obvious. A cynic would think they were waiting for instructions.

Patriotic? I suppose so. They hardly have a monopoly on it. And "flag-waving" is not a synonym. [I'm not attributing such beliefs to Ms Irons...merely commenting that I see nothing here any more 'patriotic' than any other political press release.]

Moral high ground? I'm not convinced. From where I sit, they appear to be willing to accept second-class status and work for a party that wants to lock in such status, in exchange for tax cuts. (Some of their press releases about the wave of anti-marriage amendments getting passed were truly hilarious.)

If this is the future, we're in serious trouble. Yes, we have to move beyond Planet Hillary, and the sooner the better. But being a Log Cabin Republican requires the kind of doublethink and willful acceptance of a second-class status that no self-respecting citizen, gay or straight, should have to accept, let alone find desirable.

They just don't learn

Sony is in trouble, once again, for putting virus-like "security" software on its products and not letting anyone know it's there.

What's interesting is that this "vulnerability" is being compared to the XCD fiasco. That "vulnerability" was a botched implementation that weakened security, was impossible to remove, and--coincidence of coincidences--even though it used many of the same techniques as viruses, leading antivirus software ignored it. The AV companies just said they worked with "industry partners." Uh huh....

At one time, Sony defined cool in consumer electronics. Today, they're not only user-hostile, they're incompetent.

Read Schneier's book. Or Schneier's other book. Security by obscurity is inherently insecure. And in this case, once again, using products that relied upon it put users at risk.

Yes, security is hard to get right. But you'd think after getting burned on a fundamentally flawed approach that outraged users, outraged regulators, and cost the company millions, they'd have learned their lesson.

Apparently not.

Cart Here, Horse There

A NYT article on the evils of AdBlock manages to be insulting while completely missing the point. The problem, you see, is that this evil program actually gives the user some control.

What happens when the advertisements are wiped clean from a Web site? There is a contented feeling similar to what happens when you watch a recorded half-hour network TV show on DVD in 22 minutes, or when a blizzard hits Times Square and for a few hours, the streets are quiet and unhurried, until the plows come to clear away all that white space.

But when a blizzard hits Times Square, the news reports will focus on the millions of dollars of business lost, not the cross-country skiing opportunities gained.

Likewise, in the larger scheme of things, Adblock Plus — while still a niche product for a niche browser — is potentially a huge development in the online world, and not because it simplifies Web sites cluttered with advertisements.


[T]he program is an unwelcome arrival after years of worry that there might never be an online advertising business model to support the expense of creating entertainment programming or journalism, or sophisticated search engines, for that matter.

First of all, the purpose of the web, and the internet in general, is not to make money. No matter how many latecomers want it to be.

Second, most online advertisers should be grateful I'm blocking their ads. If I don't see their ads, I don't know anything about them. But seeing their ads gives me an impression of the company, and most of those impressions are overwhelmingly negative. Dancing aliens, jarring flashing colors, suddenly getting a sales pitch blaring over my speakers and having to hunt for the ad that's causing it, then the purposely-obscured mute button on the ad, popovers, scroll-bys...

Look, it's really quite simple. If you go out of your way to annoy me, and I have to go out of my way to shut you up, you're not making me want to buy your product or service. Your crackhead tech-school-dropout web designer may be proud of himself for coming up with code that keeps your ad on top no matter what, but all you're really doing is driving people to seek out ad blocking software and to avoid you entirely.

And as for the websites that block FireFox entirely...well, again, I think we should thank them for self-identifying about their priorities, so a boycott is simplified. FireFox offers a valuable, almost uniquely valuable, service. Very few websites do, and even fewer online merchants do. So if I need to choose between FireFox and yet another widget-seller, it's an easy choice. Almost a no-brainer. Just as easy as the decision was in the first place to install AdBlock Plus.

Liars for Jesus

It's always worth checking up on the more outlandish claims.

So what are we left to conclude? PFOX claims to have been attacked verbally and physically on public fairgrounds by one or more unnamed attackers, yet no one we can find who is in a position to know about such an attack has any idea what PFOX is talking about. And though we tried to contact them, PFOX representatives have offered no evidence at all to support their own claims.

Of course, the entire incident is already being treated as unassailable fact among the right-wing set, and will no doubt form the basis of many, many fundraising letters...

Disappointment in Washington

Some people must be terribly disappointed about North Korea.... Diplomacy worked.

The foreign ministry statement, carried by the state news agency, follows a meeting in Geneva this weekend between nuclear envoys from both nations.

Washington said the talks resulted in a pledge by the North to disable its nuclear facilities.

But...but... how will we keep up threats of endless war?

Oh well... we'll always have Iran.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Bad ideas, probably ready for import

From the BBC we learn about a plan in Germany to plant spyware onto suspect's computers via spam email.

The e-mails would contain Trojans - software that secretly installs itself on suspects' computers, allowing agents to search the hard drives.
There would only be "a few" of these (no specification of how many) and for a limited time (no hint of how long).

I don't know what the situation is with German law, though news reports are cited that privacy laws may be violated by this. In the US, of course, there would (in theory) need to be court approval, but as we've seen lately, that's not really required; it's more of a suggestion, just being in the constitution and all.

I give it 6 months before it's done here, and 6 months after that before the story breaks and we find out how many cases it's been used on. And it'll be a much higher number than anyone expects.

And of course, this raises some questions. Will antivirus software be "updated" to ignore "official" spyware? If I find it and delete it anyway, is that taken as proof of malicious or criminal intent? Is it interfering with an investigation?


Such blissful ignorance

A guest editorial at NYT on the Craig follies makes a couple of astounding conclusions:

Clearly, whatever Mr. Craig’s intentions, the police entrapped him. If the police officer hadn’t met his stare, answered that tap or done something overt, there would be no news story.
Um, no. Entrapment involves enticing someone to commit a crime they wouldn't have been predisposed to commit. How, exactly, was Craig "entrapped," encouraged to do something he wouldn't have done ordinarily? As the article itself states, a straight man would have been left alone after the first unanswered cough, gesture, whatever. Craig participated willingly. He was many things, but not entrapped. The question of why Minneapolis is spending public resources sending cops out to deal with these kinds of things is a legitimate question...but a charge of entrapment is risible.

Quoting the first study looking at these questions, "The Tea-Room Trade," she goes on:
“The only harmful effects of these encounters, either direct or indirect, result from police activity,” Mr. Humphreys wrote. “Blackmail, payoffs, the destruction of reputations and families, all result from police intervention in the tearoom scene.” What community can afford to lose good citizens?
Except the only harmful effects don't result from police activity. Unsuspecting spouses are exposed to STD's. Adultery is not victimless. The men themselves are trapped in a cycle of shame and self-loathing. Men who are able to be out don't spend much time cruising the parks and men's rooms. (Some do, of course; but most don't. They have other options.)

She does get one thing right, though:
[L]et’s stop being so surprised when we discover that our public figures have their own complex sex lives, and start being more suspicious when they self-righteously denounce the sex lives of others.

Thrown Under The Bus

A good summary of how quickly the GOP moved to get Larry Craig out of the Senate after his little, um, incident. The difference with the Vitter case, of course, is nothing short of astounding. And while I've argued that it's more due to political consideration than anti-gay animus, well, let's not be completely naive here.

"It's because Craig was charged & convicted." While Vitter avoided being charged due to the statute of limitations, but publicly admitted he'd done the deed. Solicitation is a crime, and according to the "moral values" people, adultery is a serious sin. (Except in the case of presidential candidates, of course.)

The part that pegs the irony meter is that Mitch McConnell delivered the bad news to Craig. There have been rumors about McConnell for years.... poor Mitch has got to be wondering if there's some hustler out there just waiting until the election gets a little closer.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, the hypocrisy reeks to heaven.

Bush's so-called legacy

I've been busy with things for school the last couple of days and haven't had time to write much about this. But President Doofus is thinking about what life is going to be like after he leaves the White House:

First, Mr. Bush said, “I’ll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol’ coffers.” With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, “I don’t know what my dad gets — it’s more than 50-75” thousand dollars a speech, and “Clinton’s making a lot of money.”
Yes, that's true, Clinton is. Of course, people like Clinton. And without Rove, he doesn't even remember to put in terms of "speaking out about the issues" or "working on things he considers important" or something like that... It's about the money. Because 20 million just doesn't go as far as it used to, you know. But wait, there's more:
Then he said, “We’ll have a nice place in Dallas,” where he will be running what he called “a fantastic Freedom Institute” promoting democracy around the world. But he added, “I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch.”
I can see him getting bored, too. After all, boredom is usually a symptom of a lack of engagement. You get bored when there's nothing interesting going on. And this is not a man who engages deeply with the world. Indeed, the last seven years have been short-attention-span theater.
For now, though, Mr. Bush told the author, Robert Draper, in a later session, “I’m playing for October-November.” That is when he hopes the Iraq troop increase will finally show enough results to help him achieve the central goal of his remaining time in office: “To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence,” and, he said later, “stay longer.”
That's the important thing, you see. Keeping troops in Iraq as long as possible. And it's not about the Iraqis. It's about the politics. It's all about the politics. Always has been.
But fully aware of his standing in opinion polls, Mr. Bush said his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would perhaps do a better job selling progress to the American people than he could.
That's right. It's not about the people dying, the chaos, the complete ineffectiveness of the government. It's about how the war's been packaged and sold to the domestic audience.

Aides said Mr. Bush agreed to speak so freely with Mr. Draper only after years of lobbying, in which Mr. Draper said he finally convinced Mr. Bush and his aides that he was writing about him as “a consequential president” for history, not for the latest news cycle. And aides said they saw the book as the first effort to write about Mr. Bush in the context of nearly his entire presidency.
By that measure, he's been a success. They'll be writing about him for years. And I suppose he can't be blamed for finding a suitably sycophantic hack to fire the first volley in the book wars. After all, there are those speaking fees to consider!

Mr. Draper, a Texan like Mr. Bush and a former writer for Texas Monthly, spent hours interviewing Mr. Bush and his close circle of aides in 1998, when he wrote an early, defining article on Mr. Bush’s budding presidential candidacy for GQ magazine.

Mr. Draper’s family also has a history with Mr. Bush’s. Mr. Bush’s father in 1982 was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral of Mr. Draper’s grandfather, Leon Jaworski, a special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal.

Find a loyal family retainer to do your sales job. Classic.
Telling Mr. Draper he likes to keep things “relatively light-hearted” around the White House, he added in May, “I can’t let my own worries — I try not to wear my worries on my sleeve; I don’t want to burden them with that.”
Psssst.... some of us would appreciate some indication that you are worried, just a teensy. We certainly are. In fact, some of us are downright unnerved. And your blithe confidence that everything will be all right if we just let you keep doing what's worked so terribly so far...well, you're not helping. A few signs of worry would be encouraging. As it is, it looks like you're unaware of what's going on.

Oh, and by the way... He's in charge:

And in apparent reference to the invasion of Iraq, he continued, “This group-think of ‘we all sat around and decided’ — there’s only one person that can decide, and that’s the president.”
Except when he isn't:

Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”

But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush’s former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army’s dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ” But, he added, “Again, Hadley’s got notes on all of this stuff,” referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.

Yep, there was a policy. It didn't happen. He apparently shrugged and said "oh well."

And ultimately, the Iraq situation boils down to a problem of politics and PR:

He otherwise addressed his unpopularity as a tactical issue. For instance, in May he said that this fall it would be up to General Petraeus to convince the public that the Iraq strategy is working.

“I’ve been here too long,” Mr. Bush said, according to Mr. Draper. “Every time I start painting a rosy picture, it gets criticized and then it doesn’t make it on the news.”

That's right. Because, of course, the awful biased media only reports the bad things like people dying and troops without body armor and civilian casualties and death squads and ethnic cleansing, but they don't report all the good things that are happening, like, um....well....
“One interesting question historians are going to have to answer is: Would Saddam have behaved differently if he hadn’t gotten mixed signals between the first resolution and the failure of the second resolution?” Mr. Bush said. “I can’t answer that question. I was hopeful that diplomacy would work.”
Given his continual push for war on any old justification at all, this rings pretty hollow.

Absolutely incredible. Completely untroubled by the awful burden of self-awareness. And we put him there.