Columbia Lost
Saturday, Feburary 1, 2003


Interesting speech tonight. I'll offer three brief observations.

1) The first half of the speech was usual, peacetime SOTU fare - a promise not to spend too much money, followed by a long, expensive wishlist of all the great shiny new toys that the president would really like to buy for us this time around. The wishlist included a massive AIDS abatement effort in Africa, which was both surprising and seemingly heartfelt. (Personally, I'd rather spend that money on the health and safety of Americans, but that's just because I'm a heartless prick).

2) He made me really happy when he suggested getting the bureaucrats, lawyers, and HMOs out of the forefront of healthcare in this country, and then pissed me off again when he promoted his plan to move old people INTO HMOs as the price they'd have to pay in exchange for prescription drug coverage. Hollow environmental promises, a pledge to outlaw all human cloning, opposition to partial-birth abortion and some expensive-sounding horseshit about hydrogen-powered cars reminded me of why I would probably be pissed off at this guy already, if he weren't such an excellent wartime president. For me, the war trumps just about everything else, and I wouldn't trust anybody else in that position right now. But as far as I'm concerned, his entire domestic agenda could stall like a ten-year-old K-car and I wouldn't mind a bit.

3) Then he talked about the war and he was splendid again. He said a lot that was quotable, but there was one line that stuck in my mind, one line which is probably going to rattle around in there for awhile until I have to write a few dozen paragraphs to sort it all out. The line was this:

[...] we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men; free people will set the course of history.

My first-order approximation of the significance of this statement is as follows: Regimes that are not free are no longer considered legitimate. They have the choice of being inconsequential, or of being overthrown.

The implications of this line of thought are pretty interesting. Gimme a few days and I'll get back to it.


The Garofalo Effect
Monday, January 27, 2003

UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix finally delivered his report to the Security Council today:

[... Newly provided documents indicate] that 13,000 chemical bombs were dropped by the Iraqi air force between 1983 and 1998, while Iraq has declared that 19,500 bombs were consumed during this period. Thus, there is a discrepancy of 6,500 bombs. The amount of chemical agent in these bombs would be in the order of about 1,000 tons.

[...] I turn to biological weapons. I mention the issue of anthrax to the council on previous occasions, and I come back to it as it is an important one. Iraq has declared that it produced about 8,500 liters of this biological warfare agent, which it states it unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991. Iraq has provided little evidence for this production and no convincing evidence for its destruction. There are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared and that at least some of this was retained over the declared destruction date.

[...] As I reported to the council on the 19th of December last year, Iraq did not declare a significant quantity, some 650 kilos, of bacterial growth media, which was acknowledged as reported in Iraq's submission to the Amorim panel in February 1999. As a part of its 7 December 2002 declaration Iraq resubmitted the Amorim panel document but the table showing this particular import of media was not included. The absence of this table would appear to be deliberate, as the pages of the resubmitted document were renumbered. In the letter of 24th of January this year to the president of the Security Council, Iraq's foreign minister stated that, I quote, "All imported quantities of growth media were declared." This is not evidence. I note that the quantity of media involved would suffice to produce, for example, about 5,000 liters of concentrated anthrax.

[...] While Iraq claims, with little evidence, that it destroyed all biological weapons unilaterally in 1991, it is certain that UNSCOM destroyed large biological weapons production facilities in 1996.

[...] The nerve agent VX is one of the most toxic ever developed. Iraq has declared that it only produced VX on a pilot scale, just a few tons, and that the quality was poor and the product unstable. Consequently, it was said that the agent was never weaponized. Iraq said that the small quantity of [the] agent remaining after the Gulf War was unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991. UNMOVIC, however, has information that conflicts with this account. There are indications that Iraq had worked on the problem of purity and stabilization and that more had been achieved than has been declared. Indeed, even one of the documents provided by Iraq indicates that the purity of the agent, at least in laboratory production, was higher than declared. There are also indications that the agent was weaponized.

However, noted comic and antiwar activist Janeane Garofolo begs to differ:

Fat, ugly, and stupid is no way to go through life.

"There is no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. You never even get that idea floated in the mainstream media. If you bring it up, they hate the messenger. You've ruined everyone's good time."

She insists, however, that she is not being taken seriously. "I'm being treated like a child" she says.

Jesus christ, Janeane, you don't say.

Why do you suppose people would treat you that way?


Little things can mean a lot. This is one of those little things that might permanently change your relationship to the internet:

Toshiba has teamed up with Unocal and Circle K to provide wireless Internet access points at Union Oil gas stations and Circle K mini-marts around the country. This means you'll be able to drive up to the station or store, power up your 802.11b-equipped laptop, and get on the Web. This idea is sheer genius. Why would you stop anywhere else? I suspect that it will force other companies such as 7-Eleven and Standard Oil to consider offering the same. When the whole country is giving away free Web access for casual travelers, you can thank Toshiba.

People with portable computers have money. People with portable computers are typically young, educated, and at least middle class. They are not terribly likely to shoplift, pay with bad checks, pick fights with your staff, or trash your bathroom.

People with portable computers are good customers, and retailers with good sense and foresight will want to attract and retain these folks as best they can. So I predict that in five years, free wireless access will be as common in retail environments as pay phones used to be. I expect it will become common in apartments and hotels, too, and in the outdoor areas around the business districts of most cities.

Soon, it will probably make more sense for me to buy a portable and websurf for free from the food court at the mall, then spend the money for a DSL line to upgrade the 56k modem I have here at home.

What a world, huh?


Sex Offender Registry For Your State
Thursday, January 23, 2003

True Story:

Several years ago, when my wife and I moved into our current house, we had a discussion about which roads we should follow to get around town. The most obvious route involved a dicey intersection that I preferred to avoid, so we decided to choose a safer route that we could just get into the habit of using, right off the bat.

One option involved a longish section of isolated road that ran past a trailer park. I remember the comment I made to my wife at the time: "I don't like it. If your car broke down, there's not one house on that road I'd want you to go to for help".

Twelve years later, I find we are using this road on an almost daily basis anyway. Last week, an unrelated train of thought leads me to the New York State On-Line Sex Offender Registry. This registry is currently hamstrung by pending court action, so it only lists the most dangerous offenders.

Two of these guys live within a couple miles of my house. Both of them, coincidentally, are on or near this very same road. Both of these guys are high risk.

Imagine my surprise.

Now, once we decided to let these creatures out of prison, we sort of accepted the fact that they would have to live next to somebody, and that this somebody would have to shoulder the risks, knowingly or not. That's the way it has to be, and I understand it.

But you can bet I know exactly what these guys look like now, and I remember where each of them lives. That's also how it's going to be.

If you live in New York state, follow the link above; I've found the 'search by county' method most useful. If you live in another state and do not know how to access this information, try a google search for "MyStateName Sex Offender Registry". If that doesn't help, here are some other links to get you started (I haven't explored them much myself, but they look useful):

You have a right to know. Use it.


RFIDS And The Bright Line Test
Wednesday, January 22, 2003

A friend of mine sent a link to an interesting article today: Michelin Embeds RFID Tags in Tires.

The short version of this story is that we will soon be seeing tires that have a little ID chip imbedded in them. Presumably, you could put chip readers at places like toll booths and gas stations, and track the motion of individual cars without a great deal of difficulty or cost.

Of course, that's not what they are designed for. The good folks at Michelin are much more interested in making a few bucks than they are in contributing to a climate of world domination, and they built these things because they expect that people who own fleets of vehicles - and who are under new federal maintenance guidelines to monitor the wear on the tires on their vehicles - would see this as a welcome labor-saving device. I know I would.

But, of course, there's no getting around the fact that these little chip thingies are going to be everywhere soon, and that of course this information will start to be collected and used. In the last few years, it's become routine to watch a murder investigation unfold on TV, while the police track down everything from credit card receipts, ATM withdrawals, EZ-Pass data at the tollbooths and cell phone transmissions, and sometimes even correlate it with security camera footage taken from across the street by a nearby business. Over time, these sources of information tend to coalesce, to converge, to become more accessible and more integrated. Nobody really plans it that way, but for various reasons, it just sort of happens. (Similarly, the various safeguards that we put in place to limit access to this information invariably erode. Anybody remember the days when your social security number was private)?

When we enter a world with RFIDS embedded in a typical tire, there will be readers, and there will be people accessing the data. Build it, and the snoops will surely come.

Of course, some of the snooping is not a bad thing - it's nice when the police are both effective and accurate in their work. Similarly, you can reach a point where the snooping becomes terrifying. After all, a police state is largely defined as a place where the police are, well, both effective and accurate in their work.

RFIDS, and related technologies, are not going away because they are simply too cheap, reliable, and useful to pass up. I have two that I am aware of - one is embedded in my cat, and one dangles from my keychain so I can pump gas into my car without the bother of swiping a credit card first. Many new cars have these devices embedded in the ignition keys as an antitheft measure, and I have seen very credible discussion of embedding RFIDS in cash as a means of controlling counterfeiting. They will almost certainly become ubiquitous within the next several years.

So we have a dilemma, and we have typically managed this dilemma by drawing a line. The brighter and clearer the line is, the safer and happier everyone seems to be.

One of the brightest and clearest lines we draw concerns free speech - my personal favorite is the phrase You can't shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theater. Just eight words that anybody can understand, which lay out the basic line between protected and unprotected speech. Each of us can get an intuitive grasp of what the rules are, and what our rights are. The line is as bright and clear as it's going to get, and everybody is pretty happy with the result.

So what the basic rules for privacy? Where's that bright line that the government can't cross?

Here's an early attempt:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Here's eight words for you: in their persons, houses, papers, and effects...

I always wondered why the IRS can randomly audit me and require me to keep receipts - and present them on demand - if my "papers" are constitutionally protected against arbitrary, warrantless search, without so much as probable cause. Furthermore, if my "papers" are protected, why are my email messages fair game for the FBI while my snailmail messages are not?

Not much a bright line here, I'm afraid.

Perhaps I can offer a few bright line tests of my own:

1) I have the right to visit a friend and not have the police find out about it, without a warrant.

2) I have the right to purchase legal goods and not have the police find out about it, without a warrant.

3) I have the right to private communication, even electronic communication, which cannot be violated without a warrant.

So far as I know, I actually have none of these rights that I just mentioned. Much of the privacy I now enjoy is simply an artifact of the practical difficulty of information collection, a difficulty that is rapidly evaporating.

So where should the line be? I have no idea. I do know that the technology is not going to stand still, and that the government, in it's own slow, lumbering way, is going to take advantage of as much of this technology as it can. I would very much like to see a bright-line test to define the right to privacy in the electronic age, and the brighter and clearer than line is, the better.

Any thoughts?


You Can't Make This Stuff Up
Monday, January 13, 2003

The situation in Venezuela is really getting out of hand:

Acting on orders from President Hugo Chávez, armed soldiers raided the Coca-Cola and local beer bottling plants Friday, seizing soft drinks and alcoholic beverages that the government said it would distribute "to the people."

In televised scenes broadcast nationwide, rifle-toting soldiers stormed the Coca-Cola bottling plant, roughing up employees and driving away in trucks filled with beverages.

In a similar raid at the Polar beer bottling plant, soldiers grabbed company managers by their shirt collars and tossed them off the company grounds.

[...] "This is not a question of a court order. This is a question of orders from the president," said National Guard Gen. Luis Felipe Acosta, who led the search of the Coca-Cola plant in Venezuela's Carabobo state. "Collective rights come before individual rights."

Communists. They arrive like locusts, and leave nothing but wreckage and poverty in their wake. You'd think that after eighty fucking years, people would start to catch on.

Of course, Venezuela is one of the world's largest oil producers (or was, before the recent amusements started) so I suppose that anything we might do would, of course, be "for the oil" and therefore totally unacceptable.

My call? The people of Venezuela elected this assclown, and they have earned a valuable opportunity to learn all about the alternatives to American-style capitalisim and democracy. Let them learn their lesson, and let them learn it real good.

When they finally do ask for our help, perhaps then they will be ready to actually accept it.


Pete Townshend of The Who is in some very serious trouble in Britain; he's been caught using the internet to view child pornography that he purchased with his credit card. Various media are reporting that he admits viewing the images, but that he claims he was only doing research for his book. Townshends friends have come forward to point out that he has been active in support of child protective groups, and that he really was writing a book about his own experiences as an abused child.

Long-time readers will remember that I have very mixed feelings about these laws. While, on the one hand, I recognize that it is necessary to criminalize real child porn - that which involves actual children - I had made what I thought was a pretty good case against the draconian approach we (and the British) are taking now in criminalizing everything, even line drawings or short stories comprised entirely of text. Various legitimate artists have run afoul of these laws, as have innocent parents who have photographed their own children in states of undress.

Child porn also has the distinction of being perhaps the only thing commonly available on the internet that you can go to jail for, just for looking at it. Simple curiosity can get you your ass handed to you if law enforcement stumbles across your IP logs, something that is not exactly uncommon anymore in today's world.

But then we have that forest...

Assuming that the news reports are correct, Townshend paid money for images of a tortured child, which is but a hairsbreadth away from paying for a child to be tortured. The "I was just doing research" claim is perhaps the lamest excuse in the book (Polly Klaus's killer tried the same stunt just recently) and an unusual interest in child welfare is hardly a pattern of behavior that separates pedophiles from ordinary people.

Is he really a pedophile, or a haunted, talented man making an honest effort to understand all sides of a terrible issue, or just a dumb curious schmuck with the worst luck on the planet? I dunno, and the bottom line is, it doesn't matter. This stuff is illegal for a reason, and he paid money to the worst people on the planet in order to get it.

I'd be the first to defend him if it turns out that there were no actual children involved here, but I suspect that this will not be the case. If that's the way it is, then to hell with him. He should have known better.

I realize that this is a terrible, unyielding position for me to take, but I ask you - what's the alternative? How much money shall we funnel into the torture chambers of the world in the interests of curiosity and research?

Update: Townshend's own words:

This was reportedly posted to Townshend's site on January, 2002, and has since been removed (mirror).


The Clock Strikes 13
Monday, January 13, 2003

Now this pisses me off.

I have a lot of respect for John Lott, and I have a lot of respect for what I have always believed to be the excellent work that he has done. But now I have to question if my faith in the man has been misplaced.

I have not heard his side of this yet, and I will reserve judgement until the facts are in. However, if he lied about this - even if his lie doesn't change the outcome of his work - then his credibility is shot and everything else he has published ought to be questioned as well.

We are not the Brady Campaign. We have standards, goddamnit, and we do just fine once the truth is out and all the cards are on the table. We don't have to tolerate liars making our case for us.

I like John Lott just fine, but if he fucked this up I'll toss him like a three-week-old loaf of bread. Let's hope he's able to make this right, and lets hope he does it soon.


Unqualifed Offerings has a nice list of additional links.


Link Of The Day

It's incredible, the sort of shit people will sell on the internet.

I especially liked the photos of Dennis at work.

Are YOU an Organ Donor?

Are you sure?

The Gruntdoc has a thoughtful post on the topic. It's a much more complex process than I thought.

Label Maker


More fun stuff from Acme Labs.

Post Of The Day

The Handbasket is in good form today.

What, Did Microsoft Build These Things?

Here's a new one - a severe security vulnerability has been exposed by cryptographers... in ordinary keyed locks!

Most locks which are set up to open with a master key are vulnerable, and there is no easy fix. Every hotel, apartment complex, locker room and warehouse is potentially vulnerable.

Ordinarily I wouldn't broadcast something like this, but the New York Times already spilled the beans. (I also have a link to the technical details, and if it becomes widely known through other sources I'll provide that link as well.).

Crypto is cool. It's amazing how often computer security stuff applies to the real world, too.

Update: If you travel...

A simple wooden or rubber doorstop, applied to the hotel room door from the inside, is quite effective in securing your room while you are in it.

Personal door lock

This little gizmo looks useful, too, and it only costs seven bucks.

Here's another version for about ten.

Of course, a shotgun might be a good idea, too...

You Make The Call

Which public figure just emitted this pearl of wisdom?

"Yes, we want to be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin. But what makes up character? If we don't take race as part of our character, then we are kidding ourselves."

A) Robert Byrd
B) Strom Thurmond
C) Hillary Clinton
D) George Bush

Dr. King was just kidding himself, boys and girls. It really does matter what color you are, and don't you forget it.

(Via IP)

Cloned Cat: One Year Update

After one year has passed, we've learned that the world's first cloned cat remains happy and healthy. We've also learned that she is little like the cat she had supposedly duplicated:


Rainbow the cat is a typical calico with splotches of brown, tan and gold on white. Cc, her clone, has a striped gray coat over white. Rainbow is reserved. Cc is curious and playful. Rainbow is chunky. Cc is sleek.

Repeat after me - A clone is not a copy. A clone is not an unstoppable cyborg, either. It's just a clone...


Better pictures are available here. It's amazing how little these animals resemble each other.

My Last Words On Scott Ritter

Here's Scott in 1998:

Iraq today is challenging the special commission to come up with a weapon and say where is the weapon in Iraq, and yet part of their efforts to conceal their capabilities, I believe, have been to disassemble weapons into various components and to hide these components throughout Iraq. I think the danger right now is that without effective inspections, without effective monitoring, Iraq can in a very short period of time measure the months, reconstitute chemical biological weapons, long-range ballistic missiles to deliver these weapons, and even certain aspects of their nuclear weaponization program.

But now he says that Iraq is fully disarmed. In fact, he says

I haven't seen any facts to back up the allegations that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

So which Ritter should we believe? The one who agreed with the other hundred or so people involved in the earlier inspection process, or the new, renegade, lone wolf Ritter, howling the truth in the wilderness? Well, here's a clue...

Fox News recently broke a story that Ritter had been arrested on a minor sex charge in June of 2001. Ritter instantly denied it, claiming some other guy named Ritter had been arrested, not him. It was just a case of "mistaken identity".

Then his mug shot turned up, and even his lawyer admitted the truth.



If anybody else sends me an email quoting Iraqi Arms expert Scott Ritter, explaing how he was the only member of the original inspection team that we should trust, I'm going to toss it unread.

Enough of this asshole already. Go ahead... just find another member of the inspection team who can back him up, and quote him instead. I'll be waiting.


Maybe the sex charge wasn't so minor after all.

14 years old? Sick bastard.


Fun Stuff

Modern Drunkard is one of my favorite new sites. That 'Risk' poster will soon being hanging above my desk.

Now here's something you don't see every day.

The New York Public Library's ImageGate image collection is pretty damn cool. The browse features are incomplete, but you can navigate around by searching for common words and browsing through the results. (I found this image while searching on the word 'bone' - it's the grave of an unknown soldier on the Little Bighorn battlefield).

Excellent Link Of The Week

Wow. A fascinating, heartbreaking account of teaching in an inner-city school.


Tiny Guns Threaten Europe

Lawmakers Aghast - France Surrenders - Can Teeny Tiny Terrorists Be Far Behind?

This is not fair. Why do Europeans get all the cool toys?

Now This Is Just Horrible

I mean, it's pretty cool and all, but it's just horrible.


We Got A Favicon! Whoo-hoo.

desktop icon

Well, Random Jottings made one, so now I had to have one... and something like five hours of my life got flushed down the toilet.

So, if you want to see what five hours of my life looks like (and if you are running IE5 or higher) simply add this page to your favorites menu. Hopefully, you should see a little icon on the left-hand side of the bookmark... and if you drag it to your desktop, it should look sorta cool once it gets there.

And yes, I'd trade it all to have those five hours back...

(Created with IconMaker freeware)

Quote Of The Day

Most people I've shown this to don't believe these numbers are really accurate. They are.

Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men - the poorest - would pay nothing;
The fifth would pay $1:
The sixth would pay $3;
The seventh $7;
The eighth $12;
The ninth $18.
The tenth man - the richest - would pay $59.

That's what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement - until one day, the owner threw them a curve. "Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20." So now dinner for the ten only cost $80. The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other six - the paying customers?

How could they divvy up the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his "fair share?" The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being *paid* to eat their meal. So the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay. And so the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in $2, the seventh paid $5, the eighth paid $9, the ninth paid $12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of his earlier $59. Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free.

But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a dollar out of the $20," declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth. "But he got $7!" "Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got seven times more than me!" "That's true!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $7 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!" "Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!" The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn't show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They were $52 short!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college instructors, is how the tax system works.

The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table anymore.

The data are quite interesting. The poorest half of Americans are paying even less of their share now then they did ten years ago, while the richest are paying more - and keep in mind, this data reflects money actually paid by people after all the tax breaks and deductions have been taken.


Excellent Site Of The Week

Gruntdoc recently clued me in to the excellent Image Of The Day page at The images in the archives range from amusing, to informative, to touching, to utterly horrific.

Personally, I found this image just mindblowing. Incredible stuff.

Another Vendor I Like

Every now and again, I am happily surprised by the quality of a product or by the service of a vendor. When that happens, I like to spread the good news around.

Tanners is now my first stop for things like knives, flashlights, and multitools. Their website is a little clunky but their prices are great, and the shipping is inexpensive and prompt.

None Shall Provoke Me With Impunity