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One Of Life's Little Lessons
Friday, Feburary 27, 2003

Here's a small, stupid issue that serves as an excellent example of a large, important point: Recently, the FCC leaned on Clear Channel, the folks that seem to own half the major radio stations in the US. Clear Channel leaned on Howard Stern who, after being Howard Stern for a few minutes, found himself fired from their network. People got upset with the FCC for enforcing broadcast standards.

Now, here's the lesson: suppose Clear Channel replaces Howard Stern with Birch Barlow, The Simpson's fictional Rush Limbaugh clone, and Birch uses his time on the air to talk about how much he hates niggers...

Bzzz! Somebody get that filth off the air! My children might hear it!

You want standards? Then somebody has to make them. It won't always be you.

You don't want standards? Then somebody is going to push the limits. It won't always be the guy you like.

For future reference, I've taken the trouble to reduce the entire field of political philosophy into three simple maxims. Study these, and never be surprised again:

1) The Fundamental Problem Of Government: Who watches the watchmen?

2) The Fundamental Problem Of Democracy: Voters get exactly the government they deserve.

3) The Fundamental Problem of Democratic Government: You think this sucks? The alternatives will curl your hair.


Suppose you run a nice blog somewhere, or maybe you just like to add thoughtful comments on other blogs that you like. You are insightful and honest, and people start to recognize your name. You develop friends you've never met, people who know you only though email and comment boards. You've earned a small place in a small community that you enjoy.

It may not be much, but it matters; this sort of thing is important to most of us.

Of course, anybody can post a comment using your name. Anybody can send an email that seems to have come from your address. Anybody can tear apart your identify, or worse, slowly poison it in ways you may never notice.

One of the sad side effects of the web is that it seems to attract a peculiar type of person who delights in doing exactly this sort of thing. It also attracts hackers, spam peddlers and scam artists, people who make a living feeding on trust and on the access to other people that it offers.

Happily, we have a nice way to protect this trust, a free, proven, nearly bomb-proof technology that really works. The good news is that some folks are doing the hard work, right now, to build this technology into the popular comment boards. The bad news is that we are ignoring them.

I've written repeatedly about PGP, pointing out that most people do not use it because they believe they have little to protect. For most people, this is probably correct. However, if you have an identity here that you care about, then you do have something to protect, and you ought to bring yourself up to speed so you can be ready when these tools finally hit the market.

The bad news is that PGP is kind of a pain in the ass to learn. That's the truth. It's a great program, well-written and friendly, but it is meant to solve a serious security problem in a grown-up, serious way. That means that a certain amount of complexity is unavoidable. You need to learn about this stuff, and you need to understand it, before you can safely use this technology. That's just the way it is.

The good news is that there is nothing at all difficult about it. Everything is quite accessible, and honestly, most of it is really pretty interesting. You just need to read the manual and go through all the steps. Once you've got it, you've got it, and it becomes almost transparent from then on.

What do you get for your trouble?

1) Anything that you write can be 'digitally signed'. This means that it came from you, not somebody else. It also means that it has not been tampered with. Every word is kept exactly as you wrote it.

2) Anything you write can be encrypted. This means nobody but the intended recipients can read it. This may not be of much use on a comment board but it can be of great use if you care to protect sensitive files on your computer, or if you prefer to send your private email in a private way.

3) You can authenticate yourself. Nobody else can pretend to be you.

4) You control everything. You may create as many identities as you like, and you may use or discard them at will. No one else holds your keys or issues certificates for you. You don't ask permission of anyone. You generate these things yourself, and you do with them what you wish.

I can't imagine that our community will exist for long with this sort of thing becoming necessary. Perhaps we will have to wait for a clever spammer or especially nasty troll to raise havoc in our world before we really come to embrace it. I'd be better if we just got out in front of this, and started building it into our systems now.

As PGP-protected comments become available, will you use them? Will you be able to? You must have a key, of course, and you first must learn all these new ropes. If too few of us are able to embrace these tools, they will wither, and we will all pay a price for that down the road.

Here's my promise - I'll help any of you, as much as I can, to get you set up and running. I'll answer all of your questions. The PGP application that we use on PCs and the Mac was written by Network Associates, the guys who wrote McAfee Antivirus. It's safe, it won't crash, it doesn't have any real bugs. It won't mess up your computer.

Besides, it really is kind of cool, in a secret-decoder-ring kind of way.

You want in? Start here, and follow the easy instructions. And ask me if you need any help.


Free Speech Zones Piss Me Off
Monday, Feburary 23, 2003

The first time I heard of these things was when Clinton was president; I don't think he started them, and perhaps if his predecessors used them, they went by a different name. I remembered it then because that name instantly irritated me, and still does; what's next, a "civil rights zone"?

I got yer special zones right here, pal...

Now I understand that the right to assemble and the right to protest ought to be (and always have been) restricted to a sensible degree. There is always a balance. Security concerns, when legitimate, are a perfectly good reason to keep protestors a stone's throw (or a pistol shot) away from a public figure. Parade permits and other such rationings of public space are also legitimate, so long as they are fairly administered and not too obstructive.

I also realize that the President clearly requires extraordinary physical protection. If his safety were my responsibility, I'd see to it that he never came within 200 meters of an unsecured car, much less a protester. If you must move protestors away from the President, that's fine; just do me the favor of calling the President's area a "security zone", so they we may imply that the whole rest of our nation comprises the "free speech" section of the grid.

But this is going a bit too far (Via IP):

Convention plan puts protesters blocks away

Protesters at this summer's Democratic National Convention in Boston may be confined to a cozy triangle of land off Haymarket Square, blocked off from the FleetCenter and convention delegates...

The zone would hold as few as 400 of the several thousand protesters who are expected in Boston in late July.

This is a fucking political convention, for chrissakes. This is exactly the sort of place where the rights of protest and assembly are most closely protected.

Yes, public officials have unusual security concerns, but so to ordinary celebrities. Do actors and athletes enjoy such protections? Hardly. This is more than just unfair - public officials are the people who should be most accessible to petitioners, not the least.

If we can secure something like the Superbowl against terrorist attack, I have to believe we can secure a much-smaller convention with equal or greater confidence. Furthermore, I'd go so far as to say we have a constitutional duty to do so.

I'm sure the Republican convention will be held under similar rules, and, if the apparent spread of these things is any indication, we can soon expect that every senator, congressman, mayor and city alderman will take advantage of them as well. It's a matter of balance, and in this case, I think, the balance has slid too far.

It's not right to hold protestors out of the sight of public officials as a matter of routine. It's not right to restrict protest, to this degree, during a major political convention. Search us, scan us, watch us and track us if you must, but allow us within sight of the people sworn to represent us. The President, arguably, gets a pass here. Ordinary politicians do not.


Right now, this is my favorite graph:

I selected this date range because that's all the data they had.
(I discovered it here)

The pink bars are recessions. That squiggly blue line is the unemployment rate.

I like this graph because it tells you a lot, and it doesn't lie. One of the first things it tells you is that when people say that recessions are associated with unemployment, they aren't kidding! There is an incredibly strong relationship here.

The second thing is tell you is that both Clinton and Bush inherited recessions just as they took office. Here's a close-up:

(The latest recession, shown here as starting in 2001, probably started late in 2000. Not that it really matters anyway).

The third thing is tell you is that the unemployment rate did really well under Bill Clinton, and, as it turns out, the overall economy performed wonderful during that time. It wasn't Clinton's fault that he had a recession to deal with when he took office, and after a few shaky years, the economy recovered very nicely. People can argue until they die as to how much Clinton was actually responsible for the good news, but fair's fair. Presidents always deserve some credit, and some blame, for how the economy performs.

Similarly, it is not Bush's fault that he had a recession dropped in his lap when he first took office, either, and it is not his fault that nine months into his term that recession was made much worse by 9/11. The economy took a serious dive, the dow falling from almost eleven thousand to a mere seven-something, and millions of jobs were lost (including mine).

Happily, we are in the midst of another nice recovery right now. Go ahead - look at the graph again and tell me how much you would be willing to bet that there will not be a huge improvement in the unemployment rate. It's already been falling for months.

There are two ways to look at this. The first way - and I think, the fair way - is to say that both Bill Clinton and George Bush were not to blame for the recessions at the start of their term, and that they ought to be given some credit for the recovery. The second way - now favored by the president's opponents - is to simply point out the loss of jobs and the other serious results of the recession, and pronounce George Bush a miserable failure.

There is, of course, more to this picture. Much more. Bush, like Clinton, is racking up debt in his first years. Good people, arguing in good faith, can make excellent cases for both of these presidents having been either geniuses or fools, or, just as easily, to have been little more than passengers all along. There are hundreds of variables here we might draw into the discussion, and we might interpret these variables in dozens of different ways. We have good people representing several different fields of thought who can look at exactly the same data and give you entirely different answers.

Sadly, this complexity makes people reluctant to form any sort of an informed opinion at all. Yes, you must be careful to limit your assertions to that which you can defend, but you cannot become so intimidated that you fail to trust your own judgement.

I am making a simple point here, and I think it is well-supported: Bush, like Clinton, cannot fairly be blamed for the recession that greeted him early in his term, and both deserve their share of credit for the recoveries that clearly followed.

This is not rocket science. You do not need to be an expert to remark on the obvious, any more than you need be an expert to note that 1.5% is rather smaller than 6.0%.

You want to blame somebody for three million lost jobs? Blame Bin Ladin, or blame the business cycle. If you must blame a president, blame the guy who steered the economy into this latest recession. It wasn't Bush.


Another Load Of Crap Gets Debunked
Friday, Feburary 20, 2003

Any of you who care about such things have probably heard all about the Bush Deficit - how reckless it is, how it's the largest in the history of the world, how it threatens the economic recovery and imperils the very futures of our children.

Well, I'll be blunt: that's just a giant load of crap. The national debt is smaller now than it was during Clinton, and the yearly deficit is utterly unremarkable.

Think I'm kidding? See for yourself...

First, go here, and download the official numbers:
www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2004/pdf/hist.pdf [2.25 MB PDF]

Let's take a look at that big scary Bush deficit first. Go to page 298, and find the column labeled "Total Federal, as Percentage of GDP", and you'll see the 2002 deficit staring right at you: a whopping 1.5% of GDP. Between 1980 and 1995, every single yearly deficit was larger. During Clinton's first term, his deficits hovered around 2.5%.

Sure, I'd rather see a surplus, too, but a 1.5% deficit? Gimmie a fucking break. It's nothing.

Now let's look at that debt. The debt is the real villain of this story, because it's the accumulation of all the deficits that have gone before. The debt is larger than any one deficit, and it's the big hole that your children will have to fill with their tears and broken dreams.

Go to page 117, and find the column marked "Gross Federal Debt, As Percentage Of GDP". The evils of the Bush years are there for everyone to see: 57.6 and 60.0%.

Under Clinton? 66.3, 66.9, 67.2, 67.3, 65.6, 63.2, 61.3, and 57.9. Ouch.

Now, I'm not any sort of expert here, but I am a grown-up and I can read. These are the official numbers, in context. None of this is in dispute.

Seems to me we're being lied to, and that's pissing me off. Am I the only guy who's bothered to look this stuff up?


A few people have pointed out that I should have identified the Clinton budget years as 1993-2000, and Bush from 2001 onward. Fair enough. I've changed all the numbers to reflect this, but the outcome is essentially the same.

Also, I've been told all about how misleading these data are, and have been offered many helpful contexts in which to better interpret them. That doesn't change my point. I made two straightforward assertions here - "The national debt is smaller now than it was during Clinton, and the yearly deficit is utterly unremarkable." These assertions remain true. The "monster deficit" stuff is a lie, and it remains a lie, even if you correctly point out that Clinton did do a pretty good job later in his presidency.


A reader points out that it is not mathematically correct to "average averages", or, as I did, to average ratios. The deficit as a percentage of GDP is a ratio, so when I say things like "deficits averaged 2.6%" that's not really the case. I have, again, corrected the text.


Good lord, another tit got loose on national television.

The FCC is going to look stupid, again, running this nonsense down but it's really not their fault. They are just doing what they are told, just enforcing the law like we expect them to. C'mon, we all know the drill - No Tits On Prime Time On Network TV. That's the rule. That's always been the rule.

Don't like it? Find the people responsible and give them a piece of your mind. It won't help, of course, but it might make you feel better. Just make sure you are yelling at the right folks.

Well, it's the conservatives, right? In part, yes... Ashcroft and Bush and their whole uptight, controlling, emotionally-retarded, sensuality-fearing culture that can't stand the simple beauty of the female form. Stick it to the man! Free Janet!


What will the feminists say? These people can't pick up a damn Barbie Doll without having a fucking stroke over how it oppresses their daughters, and they are supposed to put up with this? How about that legion of self-appointed liberal nannies who fought for V-chips in our televisions and complain, to this day, about rock lyrics and suggestive video games? Tipper Gore was once their queen, and Joe Lieberman their conscience; the left tried to put them both in the White House not long ago.

Now, I'm still waiting to hear what John Kerry has to say about this, but I strongly suspect that a broad loosening of broadcast restrictions is not in the works. Here's a hint: he's not leaning that way to better court the republican vote.

You know these people. They are the ones who will make a federal case out of it - literally! - if you put a bikini calendar up at the office. You're causing harm. You'd be discriminating, you see, and making for a Hostile Environment. Tits in public are hate speech now, and besides, they set up an unrealistic body image for our children.

Be honest. It's not like the conservatives thought this shit up.

Now don't get me wrong. Like Dennis Leary, I am pro-tit all the way. As he puts it:

I love tits. I'd like to be the mayor of Tit Town, if I could, OK? I'd like to drive a big truck full of tits down the Tit Turnpike right into the middle of Tit Town! I'd like to have my own talk show about tits - Tit Talk, OK? That's how passionate I am about the tits, I love 'em all...

You wanna show titties on my TV? Bring 'em on! I look forward to the day when a bare, handsome body is seen as a feature, not a scandal. I think our kids can deal with it, and I think they'd grow up healthier if they did.

You know what? I think it's disgusting that network TV can show a man driving a knife into a woman's breast, but they can't show a man kissing it. You want to strangle a prostitute, well, that's OK, but jesus christ, don't let them see you put your hand on your girlfriend's ass - it might give the little ones the wrong idea.

I'd love to see this all change, but of course, it's not up to me, and it's not up to Bush, either. It's up to all those uptight, freaky people out there on both sides of the aisle, liberal and conservative alike.

You've almost certainly voted for some of them. The least you can do is to be honest about what they've done in your name.


Odds And Ends
Monday, Feburary 2, 2003

Remember when Bush was running for office and the democrats discovered he'd been a member of Skull And Bones at Yale? Remember how they freaked out? No? Well, google does:

Skull and Bones: The Racist Nightmare at Yale

The occult Bush family 'dossier'

... a provable racist, elitist, homophobic, anti-democratic and anti-Semitic cult...

Ready for the punch line? Turns out that John Kerry is a member, too.

Hear that? That's the sound of three hundred intellectually dishonest, partisan hacks shutting their mouths all at once. (Not all of them though... several of them still seem pretty freaked out).

Here's a new one... if you are using Windows XP, it turns out that you can set up an ordinary folder in such a way that a program - any program - will run whenever that folder is opened.


Presumably, your program would run with the privileges of the person who launched it, which means that you can quickly take control of an entire network by simply asking the local sysadmin to open a folder on a shared drive. He or she could execute a small script for you that would grant elevated privileges, and maybe even install a keyboard logger on their own account.

"Dave, I found this really weird log file in my system folder. Can you have a look at it when you get a minute? I put it on the H drive for you..."

Of course, no fix is available yet. In the meantime, Sysadmins can protect themselves by simply not opening any folders at all. Where do you want to go today?

I forget where I first learned of this - probably from James or John, who seems to find all the good military links - but my first impression of the TIS-1 Gas Dynamic Laser Rifle was something along the lines of "Yeah, right. In your dreams, pal."

Weeks pass, and I eventually bring this to the attention of a buddy of mine who actually knows a thing or two about lasers. "Could work" he says. Hmm...

This thing is supposed to have a range of 1500 meters (about a mile), and, if it does actually work someday, it would revolutionize military sniping in ways that you might not expect.

Suppose I set up a few man-sized targets about 800 meters away, and gave you one of our current-issue M40A1 sniper rifles. To make it easy for you, I'll bolt the rifle right to the ground to hold it perfectly steady. You can just turn some little wheels to aim it exactly where you want, and furthermore, you know the exact range to your targets. I'll even give you a little table that shows exactly how much the bullet will drop over that distance. Easy, right?

Not at all. Unless you are very, very good at this sort of thing, you're not going to hit anything.

Why? Two reasons: wind drift, and mirage. The wind will push your bullets around - typically, you can expect your bullets to drift several feet at that range - and the wind will be blowing with different strengths, and perhaps even in different directions, between you and your target. How do you sort it all out? You look at the grass and the leaves moving around, and you guess.

Mirage is even worse. Look over an open field during a summer day with a pair of binoculars. See how everything shimmers and dances around? Difference in the optical properties of the air, which is usually caused by differences in temperature, cause the light to bend. Because heat rises, the light doesn't just bend, it shimmers, and you get to watch the apparent location of your target wander all over the inside of your scope. Where is the real target? You guess. If you are very, very good, you'll sometimes guess right, otherwise you'll have to hope that your spotter sees where your shot went, and tells you how to correct it before the conditions change again.

Now think about that laser rifle... sure, there is no bullet drop at any range, and the wind won't have any affect, either. The big thing, though, is that it would also be immune to mirage - you are shooting a beam of light, which will follow the same distorted path as the light reflecting off your target! You just center the crosshairs and touch it off. Yes, different frequencies of light will be bent differently. I'm assuming you are viewing the target using the same wavelength of light that your rifle is emitting, probably something in the IR band.

Mount that sucker on something steady, get them little wheels to aim it for you, and any idiot can knock things over out to a mile away. You could put them on hummers, tanks, sandbagged positions, buildings, anywhere you want, and you can have ordinary troops running them. This would free up your snipers for the sort of crawling-around-at-night, recon-type stuff that they are really good at.

Now that's progress.


Live In New York State?
Thursday, January 29, 2003

The Governor has proposed a serious change to the laws regarding NY state pistol permits. This is a real threat.

In addition to some obnoxious new fees, this bill would cause your permit to expire every five years, and would allow local governments to impose any fee they desire on permit renewals and amendments.

This means that any county judge can simply decline to renew your permit, and it's gone. It also means that the local town government can decide to impose, say, a $1000 fee every time you want to add a new gun to your permit, or when your renewal comes up. Think I'm kidding? This is what they did to the Federal Firearms Licenses (the FFLs), and they did it expressly with the purpose of reducing the number of people who could afford to hold them.

This is a serious back-door gun ban. Get off your ass, right now, and call your representitive in the state senate. If we don't stop it in the senate, it won't be stopped. Remember, the Governor proposed it himself.

Click here, and enter your address down near the bottom of the page; it will tell you who your representive in the state senate is, and what phone number to use to reach them. Call - do not use email! They have the same spam problems we do, and email messages are often discarded unread. Tell them that you are opposed to the part of the Governor's budget that amends Section 400.00 of the Penal Law to impose fees on pistol permits.

Local reps often do listen, and a few dozen phone calls really can change their behavior. Do this now.

Note: Remember, you want to talk to your representive to the state senate, not the federal senate. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer are not going to help us here!


More details here.


Feces Flinging Monkey

Gee, That Didn't Take Long

Revolution in Haiti? A CIA plot, of course.

I bet we did it so we could seize Haiti's abundant material wealth.

Invention Of The Week

Pretty damn good idea, if you ask me. All they gotta do it work the switch into the clasp, so it comes on and off like a refrigerator.

(Via BB)

Kerry Supports The Amendment!

OK, this surprised even me. Bush recently said that he'd support an amendment banning gay marriage, so long as it protected the state's option to allow civil unions.

John Kerry Agrees:

I believe... that marriage is between a man and a woman. That's my belief. If the amendment provides for partnership and civil union... that would be a good amendment.

If this is true - and I have no reason to believe it's not - this is going to clobber a lot of the people who were expressing such outrage only hours ago. Listen... they've fallen silent now, their outrage gone. Nobody's calling Kerry a bigot, not one of them.

Fucking hypocrites.

I proudly support gay marrage, and I proudly support this war. Kerry can kiss my ass.

(Via IP)

Update: I was wrong - Kerry does not support the amendment after all.

Kerry was apparently referring to an amendment to his states constitution, not to the amendment that President Bush proposed. Here's the transcript, and here's Andrew Sullivan's interpretation. Kerry has stated that he opposes the amendment which Bush supports.

He can still kiss my ass, though.

(Via The Corner)

Todays Civics Lesson

The President called for a constitutional amendment the other day. Many people seem to have overlooked that the President has no official role in this process. When you are president, saying you'd like to see the constitution amended is like saying you'd be happy to see the Mets win.

To propose an amendment

Two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to propose an amendment, or

Two-thirds of the state legislatures ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendments.

To ratify an amendment

Three-fourths of the state legislatures approve it, or

Ratifying conventions in three-fourths of the states approve it.

That's it; he dosen't even get to sign the thing. It all comes out the same, with or without his support.

I Just Gave This Guy Ten Bucks

Ralph Nader is running - contribute here, every dollar helps.

Some people have said that Nader is irrelevant because he's running as an independent this time, not as a Green. This means he probably won't get on the ballot in every state.

I disagree. He doesn't have to get on every state ballot, he only has to get on a couple of them - the ones that are both pivotal and close. Even if he's worth just one percent of that vote, there is a very good chance that it will make a difference, maybe a very, very big difference.

This guy is an excellent force multiplier; do your part to help him out.

Impressive ATM Scam

I've heard about similar attacks, but this one takes the cake. Great photos, too.

This Just Seems Kind Of Sad, Somehow

For the first time in decades, they have officially added a new character to the morse code character set: the '@' sign.

It seems there is a significant demand for... using morse code to exchange email addresses. Sounds sort of like the old "solar-powered flashlight" joke to me, but there you have it.

Still no exclamation point, though. Maybe next year.

Take Your Pick

Is she lying? Or is he astonishingly stupid?

Here's the sad part: suppose you could collect every potential Kerry-voter in the country and put them into a big room. Have Kerry admit he had his little affair, and ask "OK, everybody, how many of you will go and vote for Bush now?"

Do you think even a dozen hands would be raised in the air? Nobody who supports this guy gives a crap about this. There is no lawsuit, no perjury, not obstruction of justice. It's just a goddamn affair.

And it looks more and more like he lied about it, and now that's going to cost him his head.


More Proof That I Rule

Here's a cool on-line test: can you tell fake smiles from real ones?

I got 17 out of 20 correct - including 16 of the last 17! I tell ya, once the kid gets warmed up, he's unstoppable.

(Of course, I learned the secret about this a while ago - a genuine smile involves the muscles of the whole face, especially the eyes. If only the mouth moves, look out).

Damn. I Wish I'd Thought Of This.

Porn and cats. It's perfect.

I've about had it with this...

I really get a kick out of that put-upon look he has in every shot. "Aw, c'mon, dad... another naked chick?"

(Via FB)

-- not safe for work --

Why Money Matters

The always excellent Marginal Revolution nails it in this post.

Leader Of The Pack

I'm proud of this guy, and frankly, I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't accomplished even a twentieth of what he has.

I suppose the best way for me to express my appreciation is to get off my own ass and start doing more.

James, ya done good.

Medic Wins Silver Star

This guy and 49 of his close friends find themselves in a firefight. He's shot twice and critically wounded, and 21 others are wounded as well.

He saves 16 of the wounded himself and everybody gets out alive.

You earned it.

"Nobody was going to die on my watch".

Excellent Google Tutorial

I thought I knew my way around google pretty well, but this excellent tutorial just blew me away.

For example, have you ever used the "~" operator? It matches words that are similar in meaning:

The search term "~inexpensive" matches "inexpensive," "cheap," "affordable," and "low cost".

I had no idea you could do that! There is also a good discussion of wildcards, stemming, stop words, and other expert-type stuff. Check it out.

(Via BB)

What They Left Behind

Museum curator visits 100-year-old psychiatric ward, finds long-forgotten stash of 200 suitcases, abandoned or lost by their former owners - the patients.

Fascinating stuff.

None Shall Provoke Me With Impunity


Day By Day, by Chris Muir. Used with permission.

Day By Day, by Chris Muir

Cox And Forkum, Used with permission.

Achewood, by Chris Onstad. Used with permission.

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