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December 24, 2003

Saddam and Iraqi Debt

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Donald Sensing has an interesting post in which he asserts that the important part of trying Saddam is to bring out the truth of his crimes, and of those who supported him, in order to allow Iraq to move on from their past.

I concur, but I think that there may be a further point to such a trial: should Iraq be able, via such a trial, to fix the amounts or proportions of debt owed to foreign countries in connection with crimes against Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and humanity generally, such amounts or proportions of debt could simply be declared odious and thus invalid. This, too, would help Iraq in moving on to a better future.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

December 22, 2003

About Time, and While You're at It...

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Congress is apparently beginning to notice that we don't have enough troops, and is going to fix the problem even if the Pentagon objects. Good.

Call-ups of part-time troops from the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve to fill the ranks in Iraq have intensified the bipartisan sentiment that the Pentagon doesn't have enough troops to fight an extended war on terrorism while keeping enough well-rested, well-trained troops ready for an emergency.

"Momentum is building in Congress for" an increase, says Harald Stavenas, a spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "Finally, everyone has come around to see enough is enough."

"This recognizes the reality in the strain and the stretch in all the services," says Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Skelton promises "positive action by our committee early next year."

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld strongly opposes increasing the size of the military on the grounds that the services are not efficiently using the personnel they already have, and increasing the number of troops is enormously expensive. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says Rumsfeld "hasn't seen any analysis that convinces him there is a need" for a large increase in active-duty troops.

If Congress forces the administration to add troops, it would mark a turning point in the downsizing of the active-duty military that began before the end of the Cold War. These forces peaked at 2.2 million in 1987 and fell back slightly because of budget concerns. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 speeded up the cuts, shrinking the force to just under 1.5 million troops in 1998, where it has remained.


While they are at it, there is one other area that the Congress needs to fix, over administration objections: intelligence. While the failure to foresee the Black Tuesday attacks was regrettable, it has to be realized that some things are just going to be missed. Our intelligence services were organized to prevent another Pearl Harbor, not this kind of attack.

On the other hand, the failure of NRO, CIA and others to pin down Iraq's WMD capabilities is unforgivable and unacceptable. This is, in fact, exactly the kind of thing we were primed to look for, and Iraq was almost our sole immediate strategic focus for more than a year before the war started. In all of that time, we were unable to reliably identify what weapons and programs Saddam had, and where he had them. I do believe that we will eventually find the evidence of the programs, but clearly the intelligence failed to find anything of significance that could be trusted, in that what was publically released (which presumably would be the easiest material to prove) has not held up at all.

This is a serious breach, because we will need good intelligence in the future. At what point do we invade Iran? How will we know the state of their nuclear programs? Will Congress believe the administration (any administration) that tells them it's time, if they were publically embarassed this time?

The President has refused to take action against the director of the CIA, who is ultimately responsible for that intelligence. I applaud the President for his loyalty, but not for his common sense: we need to be able to trust our intelligence services. The President won't fix this problem, but Congress can. It is time, I think, for the Congress to impeach and remove the senior intelligence officers for dereliction of duty in regards to pre-war WMD intelligence on Iraq. It would have a practical effect of concentrating the attentions of these officers' successors, as well as rebuilding Congressional trust in our intelligence services.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

December 21, 2003

Credit and Credibility

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Steven Den Beste has a post on "who's next" in the war on terror. His point, in very brief overview, is that we are fighting a war of ideals and ideas, not guns and bombs, and that bringing representative free-market self governance (he doesn't use those exact words) to Iraq is a larger threat to terror-supporting nations than is the possibility of our use of force.

By and large, I agree. Barbie and MTV will be bigger weapons than JDAMs and the 4ID, in the long term. But I do feel that we need to conquer more than just Iraq, and soon. If we don't, we may win the war while setting up the next.

It is not sufficient for Arab and Muslim nations to reform, though it is necessary. It is also necessary for at least the largest of the Arab and Muslim nations in the Mid-East (Iraq, Iran, possibly Syria) to democratize under Western occupation. Should the Arab/Muslim world reform itself, there would be a significant chance that the US would be seen as an obstacle to that change, which would have happened anyway (after all, countries we didn't invade reformed, yes?), rather than the instigator of it.

In one sense, this doesn't matter: we will still have ended the terror threat. However, we will not have broken the pride of the Arabs and Muslims, and this we must do. Otherwise, the Arab and Muslim world, free and economically vibrant and likely armed with nuclear weapons over most of its major states, will see us as the enemy still. And as long as the Arabs and Muslims see us as their enemy, instead of their friend and natural ally, they will remain a threat. Unless, that is, we break their pride, and show them convincingly and completely that the Caliphate will never return.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

December 20, 2003

Steve Jobs at Disney?

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According to Peeve Farm, there are rumors that Steve Jobs might be tapped to head Disney - or at least be on the board. Speculation on what that would mean then follows, but one key point is missed in the speculation: No more "Mighty Ducks" sequels? Could we survive such a tragedy?


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

LotR Reaction

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If you don't want spoilers, don't read this. However, this excerpt (no horrible spoilers, I think) sums up my reaction to the worst part of the film:

VICINITY OF CIRITH UNGOL
GOLLUM: Dead hobbitses...(mutter mutter)...won't be long now...(mutter mutter)...will try wearing Ring on toe this time; yes, precious; very beautiful...
SAM: Hey! I heard that!
FRODO: Heard what?
GOLLUM: Nothing, Master! Fat hobbit wants Ring; yes, Master.
SAM: I do not!
FRODO: I think maybe you do. Gollum wouldn't lie to me, after all.
SAM: He's trying to kill us! We're walking straight into a trap. I'm not going one step further.
FRODO: Leave, then. I'm sick of your paranoid delusions anyhow.
SAM: But I...
FRODO: Go on - get out of here. Good riddance.
SAM: But you...
FRODO: Have a nice death.
FRODO stomps off. SAM stays behind, weeping piteously.
PEOPLE WHO HAVE READ THE BOOK: ...the f**k??


CREEPY CAVE
FRODO gets tangled in a gigantic spider-web.
FRODO: Egads! Does this mean a gigantic spider lives here?
GOLLUM: Ha ha! Smeagol tricked you, ssstupid hobbit! Did Master know "gullible" was not in dictionary?
FRODO: Oh, dear. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to send Sam away.
AUDIENCE: Duh!
SHELOB appears and starts pounding down the tunnel. FRODO lights up the star-glass and gives us an all-too-clear look at her.
ARACHNOPHOBES IN AUDIENCE: Oh...dear...God.
FRODO cuts himself loose and runs like hell - but, being FRODO, falls down. GOLLUM jumps on him.
GOLLUM: Jussst kidding about "ssstupid" comment! Nice master! Hold still so spider can eat you, yes yes.
FRODO: I have a different plan, actually.
FRODO flings GOLLUM down an abyss.
PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE BOOK: You know, it's interesting: even though I've read the book, I have no idea what's going on.


(Actually, it's a great film. They just annoyed me in a few places.)


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

December 19, 2003

Two Excellent Articles

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Michael Crichton examines environmentalism as religion:

Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday---these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don't want to talk anybody out of them, as I don't want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don't want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can't talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.

And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren't necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them.


Meanwhile, Orson Scott Card questions whether Democrats can rise above domestic politics even when it comes to national survival:
Watching the primary campaigns among this year's pathetic crop of Democratic candidates, I can't help but think that their campaigns would be vastly improved if they would only rise to the level of "Death to the Republicans."

Instead, their platforms range from Howard Dean's "Bush is the devil" to everybody else's "I'll make you rich, and Bush is quite similar to the devil." Since President Bush is quite plainly not the devil, one wonders why anyone in the Democratic Party thinks this ploy will play with the general public.

There are Democrats, like me, who think it will not play, and should not play, and who are waiting in the wings until after the coming electoral debacle in order to try to remake the party into something more resembling America.

But then I watch the steady campaign of the national news media to try to win this for the Democrats, and I wonder. Could this insane, self-destructive, extremist-dominated party actually win the presidency? It might--because the media are trying as hard as they can to pound home the message that the Bush presidency is a failure--even though by every rational measure it is not.

And the most vile part of this campaign against Mr. Bush is that the terrorist war is being used as a tool to try to defeat him--which means that if Mr. Bush does not win, we will certainly lose the war. Indeed, the anti-Bush campaign threatens to undermine our war effort, give encouragement to our enemies, and cost American lives during the long year of campaigning that lies ahead of us.

Osama bin Laden's military strategy is: If you make a war cost enough, Americans will give up and go home. Now, bin Laden isn't actually all that bright; his campaign to make us go home is in fact what brought us into Afghanistan and Iraq. But he's still telling his followers: Keep killing Americans and eventually, antigovernment factions within the United States will choose to give up the struggle.

It's what happened in Somalia, isn't it? And it's what happened in Vietnam, too.


Hat tip for both: Porphyrogenitus.

I think it's sad that the Democrats are rapidly becoming the CPUSA, reincarnated, with extra spicy anti-semitism thrown in. And really, with the stand the Democrats have taken on the war, the only way to ensure that you'll be able to vote for a Liberal in the future is to vote for a conservative today. (Actually, the prominent "conservatives" in the US are not really very conservative in any case.) What a terrible ruin the party of Truman and JFK has become.


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December 15, 2003

Guess we Won't be Moving to Cleburne

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Not that there was much danger of it anyway, but this is certainly a bad choice of priorities on the part of the Cleburne Police Department.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

December 14, 2003

Automatic Updates of Threat Level

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Here is a simple perl script I wrote to update the threat level in the right-hand sidebar. It is in perl, and should work just fine on NT machines as well as on UNIX systems, so long as perl 5.004 or better is installed. Feel free to steal it.

This requires you to have a graphics file for each of the threat levels. It reads the DHS website to get the threat level, then copies the appropriate graphic. I have this scheduled to check once per hour, but you can schedule it as you like. (Note that this doesn't change your webpage - you still have to have a reference on the webpage to display the current threat level image file.)


#!/usr/bin/perl -w

# 2003 by Jeff Medcalf, http://www.caerdroia.org/oldblog/

# This script detects the current threat level by scanning the DHS site, and
# updates the current threat graphic accordingly. This graphic can then be
# included in web pages as an image.

use LWP::UserAgent;
use File::Copy;

%threatgraphics=(
'severe' => '/var/www/images/hs/dhs-advisory-severe.gif',
'high' => '/var/www/images/hs/dhs-advisory-high.gif',
'elevated' => '/var/www/images/hs/dhs-advisory-elevated.gif',
'guarded' => '/var/www/images/hs/dhs-advisory-guarded.gif',
'low' => '/var/www/images/hs/dhs-advisory-low.gif',
);

$currentgraphic='/var/www/images/hs/threatlevel.gif';

$dhswebsite='http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/index.jsp';

$ua=LWP::UserAgent->new;
$ua->agent('getthreatlevel/1.0');

# get the DHS home page
$response=$ua->get($dhswebsite);

# process it to determine the threat level
if ($response->is_success)
{
$response->content =~ /src=.\/dhs\/images\/dhs-advisory-(.*?)\.gif./;
$level=$1;
}
else
{
die "failed to get DHS website at $dhswebsite\n";
}

# update the graphic
copy ($threatgraphics{$level},$currentgraphic)
or die "could not copy $threatgraphics{$level} to $currentgraphic\n";


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Suffer the Children

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For a perfect example of why no compassionate person should ever consider giving fiscal, moral, politcal, legal, or even rhetorical support to the Palestinian cause, just read this, and consider that the Palestinians believe that Israeli children are legitimate "military" targets, because they could one day grow up to serve in the Israeli Army.


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you're brainwashed about the Palestinian/Israeli issue. to say this:

"For a perfect example of why no compassionate person should ever consider giving fiscal, moral, politcal, legal, or even rhetorical support to the Palestinian cause, just read this, and consider that the Palestinians believe that Israeli children are legitimate "military" targets, because they could one day grow up to serve in the Israeli Army."

you express a wholesale ignorance as if you've never freed yourself from the psychic leash of CNN, Fox , seeBS etc. this is the most heavily denied subject in the US because Israel is umbilically tied to US tax money.

see: http://ifamericansknew.org

http://jewsagainstzionism.com/links.htm

and yes, the clear channel article is online. that's what i'm doing here, was looking for it--this:
http://www.peak.org/mailing-list/archive/grc/msg04166.html

here's a discussion i got in about suicide bombing with someone else. it includes another segment from the readings in that same issue of Harpers, beneath which i'll paste another woman's reply that adds further perspective. sorry for the overload. and this below is an email exchange with the top being the reply to what's beneath, until the last bit which is a replay following all this immediately below:


there'll be no capiche until we're done talkin', y'hear?!

after i clik'ed to send this last night and settled down i got to
thinking some. then i did a little reading and found direct support
material in maybe a not so likely place.

i think i argued from not a good an angle as that if i'd stayed on
choice. the Palestinian people are, yes, free to choose. But Israel
has narrowed their choices into a VERY tightly compressed corner. So
it is Israel then that creates the motivation in the Palestinians.
that's a direct link too, not a leap, by any stretch.

After reading the great article on how Clearchannel Programs America
last night in the December Harpers, i flipped thru the readings and
came upon this:

"ALL THE NECESSARY TOOLS
The following suicide notes were left by Japanese schoolchildren, aged
ten to fifteen, who killed themselves within the last several years.
Some of them met in suicide chat rooms, which are becoming
increasingly popular in Japan."

It is clear from the notes, which i'll paste below, that the main
source motivating these children to suicide was "schoolyard" bullies.
And who are clearly the most bullied and openly bullied, humiliated
people in the world? Yes, the Palestinians by the Israelis.
Interestingly, the state played a supporting role in giving these
small children more homework than their parents got from their work,
as one child complains in great detail. here are the letters with URL
at bottom:


translated from the Japanese by Patrick Luhan.

Left by a ten-year-old boy who killed himself after being harassed for
having an american father:
My blood is tainted and corrupt. I will fly from my apartment window,
fall, and die. Why have I not died already? Because I have been
waiting for tomorrow.


Left by a fourteen-year-old boy who hung himself:
I've always had my money taken from me. I could never have enough
money to meet their demands, so they would hold me underwater until I
agreed to do what they wanted. They'd always make me run errands for
them. They forced me to dye my hair once. Getting bullied has become
harder and harder, and I cannot go on with this life. Hopefully my
death will excuse my failure in this life.

Left by a fifteen-year-old boy who hung himself in his family's garden:
I am already tired.

Left by a fourteen-year-old boy who hung himself:
When I was in seventh grade, I was always bullied. Now in eight grade,
the bullying has become worse. They make fun of me, throw things at
me, kick me, hit me, and do other violent things. It was a waste of
time complaining to the teacher when I couldn't tolerate it. They'd
throw my textbooks at me and harass me for telling the teacher. I have
no friends who sympathize with me in class. My close friends in clubs
outside school have learned to hate me, too. I'm too tired to hold out
any longer. The world's not right for me.

One of three suicide notes left by a fourteen-year-old girl before she
threw herself off a high building:
I've been bullied with words and violence almost every day, but no
one's been nice enough to even notice my situation. I've been hurt
every day with words like " dirty" from all the boys in my class. They
will finally get what they want and I will die. I can't take this life
anymore. Mama and Papa, I'm really sorry, but I'm finished. I'm afraid
of death, but I know this will be a lifelong torment. I'm very sorry.
Goodbye forever.

Left by a fourteen-year-old girl who hung herself:
Ive continued to be bullied by the boys in my class. They say
humiliating things. I can't help how I was born. Their bullying became
too much, though. I've had so many humiliating experiences whenever
any of the girls ask me, "did you dye your hair?" They only want to
laugh at me too. I hate everybody in my class.

Left by an eleven-year-old girl and an eleven-year-old boy,
respectively, who met in a suicide chat room and both hung themselves:
I think I might die now. I've prepared for all the necessary tools.
Bye-bye.

I don't understand why I have to study more hours than adults work
while also going to school and cram sessions after school. There are
many times when I want to die. Over the course of two days, an adult
works twenty hours and rests twenty-eight. But children like me study
for twenty-seven and a half hours while resting for only twenty and a
half hours. I have no idea why adults have more free time than kids.
Homework is like a mountain. I'll have an eleven-page assignment this
weekend and fourteen pages of arithmetic homework. I already want to
quit school. I want to be free, like a fish.


Harper's Magazine, New York NY www.harpers.org, 01. December 2003

http://www.helnwein.com/presse/international_press/artikel_1423.html

may we all one day break free like fish, but into life, not death, Nick

Staci wrote:
> Palestinians are absolutely struggling for survival -- but that does
not
> excuse suicide and murder of innocents carried out by a few of the
militant
> organizations there. I understand where the rage and hopelessness
comes
> from, and I also understand how intolerant religious organizations
feed off
> of it. Resistance to brutal oppression is of course natural; "using
their
> bodies to deliver crude bombs" is nothing of the kind IMO (meaning
not a
> legitimate act of resistance, just wholly destructive). If it was, it
> would have happened in this particular case long before the first
such act
> in (I think) the mid-nineties. Besides being morally opposed to it, it
> harms the whole Palestinian population (spiritually and because Israel
> collectively punishes them all for the acts of a few) and is also a
> horrible tactic for gaining support -- it makes it very easy for the
> unaware to think that Palestinians "hate Jews" in lieu of what's really
> going on. A comparison could sort of be made to anarchists, who still
> suffer from the reputation from some who many years ago resorted to
> "propaganda by deed". If you don't want to question or deplore the
methods
> of the meek, that's your right. But I'll retain mine to live and think
> according to my own conscience. Capiche? :-)
>
> Staci
>
>
> At 04:49 AM 3/25/04 +0000, nasf_reachout wrote:
>
> >i'm not sure exactly what we're disagreeing on here. i agree people
> >have a choice. but i'm not sure if i'm speaking or would, if i weigh
> >it carefully, speak in terms of 'justifying'. with the ongoing
> >pressure and violence, closure, wall going up, settlements acting as
> >walls, imprisoning our Pals, it is exactly as if their survival, as a
> >people togther there is up against the wall.
> >it is natural they come
> >out fighting and with no tech, not just low tech, having to use their
> >bodies to deliver crude bombs--it's natural. there's no need to
> >justify nothing. it's just there and if it can't be understood,
> >there's something, brainwash, denial whatever, standing in the way.
> >
> >i don't believe we should buy in, to any degree, questioning or
> >deploring the methods of the meek in their resisting superpower
> >terror. what everybody is doing, from liberals thru to anarchists are
> >extressing their resistance to this madness of gratuitous overkill,
> >naked aggressive overrun of peoples everywhere, here included, to
> >whatever ever degree that feels comfortable, as per need. i only wish
> >those more free to act would do so, taking risks ahead of need,
> >before no one will be free enough to resist their momentous onslaught
>>>>>>>>

It is the age old wisdom of not cornering someone with nothing left
to lose.

I always told my kids that. One day my son got popped in the nose.
The school wanted to know if I wanted to press charges. My son had
the audacity to ridicule a girl on the bus who was always ridiculed
by others. When her brother punched him, I felt it was the least he
deserved.

So, I would say that in my son's case the stakes were not so high,
and he learned a good lesson, but in the case of nations and loss of
life, it feels different.

Do not mistake my words as a claim that I know what could be done or
should be done, or should have been done, but it all spirals out of
control.

I wish the rest of the world really cared to solve the problem, and I
wish that Israel did not think it deserved Palestine to the detriment
of the Palestinians.

What we need is an army for peace that would swoop in and force a
solution with those willing to solve the problem, and there are
plenty of Jewish folks who wish so too along with the Palestinians.
I had a professor who went back to Palestine in the mid 90's. He was
an awesome guy, and I wonder if he is ok.

You make a very good point about choices and the narrowing of
choices. This is also an argument made by others who talk about
marginal groups. You can probably find a lot of reading and
literature on this very topic.

Am I really free if my choices are narrowed by poverty, war, and
other factors. I'd like to see this discussed here.

Mags

Posted by: nick on March 25, 2004 10:27 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

December 12, 2003

What is our Real Constitution?

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I wonder what our real constitution is? Not our Constitution, since that is ignored roundly by all branches of government and by the public at large, but the one we actually live under. It seems to me that if we were to start with the written Constitution, add in important Supreme Court decisions (including the one where the justices decided that they alone could be the final arbiter of the Constitution's meaning), take account of the circumstances under which laws and their enforcement have deviated from the written Constitution, consider the aggregate feelings of the citizenry on what should be in the Constitution, and subtract out those parts that are no longer effectively in force, we would be close. So, how close can we get with the minimal number of changes?

My first cut requires one amendment with six parts:

a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, or any other circumstance or position in law, the Congress may make any law on any subject whatsoever, provided that it declare said law to be in the compelling interests of the United States.
b) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution or of their respective State Constitutions, or any other circumstance or position in law, the legislature of any State may make any law on any subject whatsoever, provided that it declare said law to be in the compelling interests of that State.
c) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, or any other circumstance or position in law, the President or any executive agency of the Federal Government may undertake any act, provided that the President declares said act to be requisite to the security needs of the United States.
d) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution or of their respective State Constitutions, or any other circumstance or position in law, the Governor or executive agencies of any State may undertake any act, provided that the Governor declares said act to be requisite to the security needs of that State.
e) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, or any other circumstance or position in law, the Supreme Court of the United States shall have the sole authority to determine what constitutes a "compelling interest" or a "security interest", or to modify or negate any law or act of the United States or of any State.
f) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution or of their respective State Constitutions, or any other circumstance or position in law, the Supreme Court of any State shall have the sole authority to determine what constitutes a "compelling interest" or a "security interest", or to modify or negate any law or act of that State.

Stephanie challenged me to write a Constitution, then, if I think our desire to actually follow ours is so far off. I probably should. Not that I'm convinced it will do any good, but at least I'd be doing something other than just complaining.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Mmmm....Farscape

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One of the best, if not the best, science fiction series will return to television, in some form or other. Three cheers are in order.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

WTC Reconstruction Begins

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\"\;

Bite me, Osama bin Laden.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Must Stop Reading Democratic Underground

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I went to DU to read their take on the capture of Saddam Hussein. I'd like to write about what I found, but my IQ dropped so low just from reading that drivel that I am now incapable of forming a coherent thought. Clearly, I need to drink more before reading such dreck.


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I happened to stumble onto the DU for a bit on Monday as well. Needless to say, I concur with your assessment.

Posted by: Glenn on December 17, 2003 07:58 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

December 10, 2003

We'll Get Right on That

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Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and other Democrat candidates for President claim that we should turn Iraq over to the UN ("internationalize" the situation, they usually phrase it, as if there weren't a dozen countries with troops on the ground in Iraq). Yeah, we'll get right on that.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

December 9, 2003

Heh heh heh

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Before going to see Return of the King, it might be wise to keep in mind these handly tips from Instant Karma:

1. Stand up halfway through the movie and yell loudly, "Wait... where the hell is Harry Potter?"
2. Block the entrance to the theater while screaming: "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" - After the movie,
say "Lucas could have done it better."
...
5. Point and laugh whenever someone dies.
...
9. At the end, complain that Gollum was offensive to Ethiopians
...
11. When Shelob appears, pinch the guy in front of you on the back of the neck.
12. Dress up as old ladies and reenact "The Battle of Helms Deep" Monty Python style.
...
15. In The Two Towers when the Ents decide to march to war, stand up and shout "RUN FOREST, RUN!"
...
19. Start an Orc sing-a-long.
20. Come to the premiere dressed as Frankenfurter and wander around looking terribly confused.

OK, on point 20, you might go unnoticed.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

If You're Not Worried Yet...

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Dan Darling at Winds of Change has a post examining some of the war on terror stories that are currently going by under the radar. Some of this was new to me, and some not. Much of it is pretty scary, in that these stories form part of a tapestry, and indicate how much unravelling we will have to do (and how difficult that will be) to eliminate the terror networks.

I suppose what concerns me most - what has most concerned me for a while - is the continuing tendency to treat terrorists as criminals. Take this story, for example. Once we identify these targets, we need to go after them. Unless there's some intelligence value we are getting from them, we should be taking out terrorist financial nodes, just like we're taking out operational terrorist assets.

At some point, we have to start killing the enemy in depth, instead of just on the battlefield.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

The "Ownership Society"

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At first sight, this is promising. If the government is going to encourage certain behaviors by policy, it should do so directly.

For example, health insurance is currently tax-deductible - for companies. Were that deduction given to individuals instead, it would completely reshape the health care debate. For example health care portability and the problem of pre-existing conditions would be solved. Incomes would go up, as businesses stopped providing health benefits, and it is likely that not all of that increase would be absorbed by personal insurance costs at least for many workers. The debate over HMOs and such would be vastly different when people were voluntarily choosing who would provide them health care.

If done right, the idea of government giving options to people, rather than to companies (and rather than giving mandates to people) could be a great improvement. I am interested in seeing the proposal.

UPDATE (12/23): Forgot a space in the link tag, so no link. Fixed now.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

December 1, 2003

Internet Tectonics

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It appears that the UN wants to take control of the Internet. (And they are already acting predictably anti-freedom about it.) Clearly, this would presage a major shift in the way that the Internet works, and I'm inclined to think that it won't be a change for the better.

But it's also irrelevant, in a way.

You see, when I got on the Internet in 1988, there wasn't a world wide web. We kept notes of the useful FTP sites where we could get software and information, and later there was the short-lived gopher, but communication similar to what the web provides was then accomodated through email lists and network news. (Network news is now pretty useless - more chatterbox than information or entertainment conduit - but mailing lists are still with us.) This was not long after the introduction of DNS - which replaced unwieldy lists of host-address mappings in text files - and was also before the consolidation of Internet backbones and the widespread use of firewalls.

I said all of that as preface to this statement: the Internet is not magic, and because of that, it is not static.

Let's say that the powers that be decide to censor the Internet, or to tax it heavily. For that matter, let's say that spam levels keep increasing at the present rate. In that case, the Internet as we know it would become less and less useful. What would happen? Would we just accept it?

I have no doubt that many would, because to them the Internet is magic. But in reality, the Internet is a set of INTERconnected NETworks. In other words, I have a network in my home, and it connects to Verizon's network. (I can't justify having a separate connection to second network, so my network connects to only one other.) Verizon's network connects to many, many networks, because Verizon's network is a backbone on the Internet. (That is to say, it exists primarily to connect other networks, as opposed to my home network, which exists to connect my computers to each other).

I don't have to connect to Verizon. I could connect to several backbone providers, singly or in combination, if that was the best deal for me. I could, in fact, buy a dedicated network connection to, say, my friend Nathan's network, another to my parents' house, another to my wife's parents' house, another to amazon.com, and so on. Clearly, this is less efficient than connecting to a backbone, which connects to other backbones, which in turn are connected to the leaf networks of interest to me. It also requires a higher level of skill at each of those end points than connecting via backbones and local providers (which local providers offer assistance to their users as part of the fee).

But if it was sufficiently onerous to me to use the public Internet, I could create a private internet, connecting those networks that are of use to me, provided that those networks agree to have me connect to them. (It would have to be pretty onerous to get me to shell out for that many dedicated data lines.)

Assuming that I was able to raise the capital, and was not otherwise employed, I could in fact start a backbone network, and set my own rules. I could use the existing protocols and equipment and software, or I could set up my own. (For example, the IPv4 addressing scheme is too limited, email has no built-in method for verifying the sender, there is no standard on-the-wire encryption, there is only a primitive concept of trust (you trust the router on the other end of the line; that's it), and so forth - any or all of which could be fixed, at some cost.) Presumably, in order to get people to attach to my backbone, I'd have to offer something that they can't get from the public Internet, and it would have to be something that they need enough to put up with having two connections (one to me and one to the public Internet), or only connecting to me, or connecting to me and relying on some translator somewhere to bridge their traffic to the public Internet as needed (with associated performance hit and loss of function).

So let's say I were able to come up with a series of changes to the basic foundations of the Internet that were a compelling alternative to the public Internet, and one part of that package would be that every end-to-end connection were encrypted to hide the content. In that case, it would not be possible to censor individual content (even the protocol in use could be hidden, with proper design). Governments or other organizations would have a choice: block all traffic to/from the new internet, or allow it. (There would be another large advantage as well: cracking computers remotely would become much, much harder, and in turn open source routing would become reasonable again.)

I suspect that, should the Internet get too disconnected, censored, overloaded or otherwise not useful, some smart person somewhere will come up with the details to make this kind of situation work.

The Internet doesn't really route around censorship as damage now, nor could it survive the nuclear war it was designed to survive, but sufficient censorship or disruption could give rise to a new internet that would survive those circumstances.


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Community 802.11 using soup can antennas could handle some aspects of this, the old Fidonet protocals could readily be updated with PGP to handle other aspects. I pray we'll never need this fact, but 802.11, being spread spectrum, will take a lot of effort to hunt down with radio direction finders as long as everyone keeps their signal up.

Posted by: triticale on December 16, 2003 04:28 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Uh Oh

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Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack