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A Good Man Needs Help
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
This guy is one of my heros:
This is why:
Remember that? That's a DC-10 with 285 passengers on board, cartwheeling across the runway.
This aircraft suffered a catastrophic control failure while in-flight. With no stick, no rudder, and no flaps, Captain Haynes and his crew had nothing left to work with except for the engine throttles. They miraculously managed to turn their craft around and line it up, and even made an incredible landing approach right down the center of the runway. They literally did all that was humanly possible, and their efforts saved 185 lives.
Subsequent simulator tests showed that other DC-10 crews were unable to repeat the effort of the crew of 232. Investigators concluded that, in its damaged condition, it was not possible to land the aircraft on a runway.
In the years following the accident, Captain Haynes has made some money on the talk circuit and he's donated most, if not all of it, to charity. This is an honest to god stand-up guy.
Now he needs our help. His daughter is dying, and he is collecting money for the bone marrow transplant that can save her life.
He's already lost his son to a careless driver and his wife to a sudden illness. This man deserves a break. He's earned it.
Go here, select "Arguello (Haynes), Laurie" from the pulldown menu and donate a couple of bucks. How often do you have a chance to say "thank you" to a guy like this, in a way that really matters?
Update: Check this out!
Due to an overwhelming response, our system is having difficulty accepting online donations. Please call Toll Free: (800) 489-3863 or in the Memphis Area: (901) 684-1697. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .We apologize for any inconvenience. Please try again at another time.
Tax-deductible donations for Laurie may be made by mailing a check to:
Court Orders Padilla Released
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Abdullah al-Muhajir, aka "Dirty Bomber" Jose Padilla, is an American citizen who has been held for over a year without charges. A federal appeals court just ordered his release within 30 days.
I have mixed feelings about this.
On the one hand, obviously, every citizen is entitled to due process. However, I believe that wartime does provide for some appropriate wiggle room in cases like this.
For example, if we suspected that Bin Laden was riding, right now, in a particular car, we'd blow it to pieces. If we could take him alive we would, and we'd interrogate him for as long as we saw fit.
Would this change if we were to discover, to our horror, that Osama was actually an American citizen? Would this mean we couldn't kill him on sight, that he could demand a lawyer and simply refuse to talk when captured?
I'd hope not.
Now, the law here is vague and I honestly have no idea what the precedents are. I suppose we'll see this issue sorted out by both sides in the coming days.
I don't know how I feel about it right now.
The Administration is apparently developing a parallel law enforcement system in which alleged murderers and their associates, instead of being arrested by the police and tried by civilian courts, are simply killed by the military. What's more, even if they're arrested rather than just killed, they're kept locked up, rather than being tried in accordance to the Constitution [...] This system -- which incidentally was the policy of many Administrations and not just Bush's -- is technically known by the name of "war."
Instapundit weighs in. He's inclined to support the court's decision.
Volohk predicts it will be overturned.
Digital Security: It Has To Be Hard To Be Good
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Longtime readers know that I'm a big Clay Shirky fan. He offers some typically excellent insights in his latest article, The RIAA Succeeds Where the Cypherpunks Failed. It seems that after years of neglect, the public has finally begun to embrace encryption because an emerging threat - fear of music-downloading lawsuits - has finally motivated them to do it.
Until now, it seems, nobody really seemed to care. I'd bet that not one in ten of my readers even has a personal encryption key.
This is something that used to bother me a lot. I don't know anyone who would care to see the contents of their email folder made public, yet virtually all of us exchange email across what is essentially an open network. Anybody with a mail server can read the traffic going by. Even worse, many of us use email at work on locally-networked computers, which are often left logged in and unattended on our desks. Anybody can come by and copy off that single directory which contains all our secrets. Yet somehow, nobody really seems to mind.
Shirky suggests apathy as the prime reason for this, and I think he's mostly right. "[T]he average user", he says, "has little to hide, and so hides little". The other side of this equation is the effort demanded of the average user in order to use encryption properly. Even the simplest of the good encryption programs have a real learning curve. When the perceived costs are high and the benefits are low, it's no surprise that people will find other things to do with their time.
Effort, I believe, is an unavoidable aspect of good security. Security is work, and people generally don't do work without good motivation.
Why can't a secure system be easy to use? Why can't it just be transparent and effortless?
I'll answer those questions with a few of my own:
When I lock myself out of my house and need help to get back in, why can't that process be transparent and effortless, too? Why do I need to identify myself first, which requires that I carry around that damn drivers license, which required all that annoying paperwork there at the DMV? Why do the policeman and the locksmith always have to ask all those personal questions before they let me in?
The thing is, you really don't want it to be too easy to get the keys to your house. If it's too easy for you, it's too easy for a bad guy to take advantage of it.
People don't like it if they have to type passwords a lot. They don't want to know the details about weird things like trusted third parties and signed keys. So, sure, we can make it so you only have to log in once, but then anybody can impersonate you if when your machine is left unattended. We can hide the details of who you trust and why, but then bad people can abuse that trust and slip in under the radar. You can't automate the whole process and hide it from view, because the system demands good human judgement in order to properly work.
Only you know who to trust. No machine can sort that out for you.
Microsoft Outlook Express has encryption built right in. In typical Microsoft fashion, it is laughably insecure and primarily designed to raise money for their business partners, who put themselves in the business of selling "certificates" to prove that users are trustworthy. The certificates, of course, are not worth the imaginary paper they are printed on. The whole system is based on a lie. It is, however, fairly easy to use... once you pay your fee, of course.
PGP represents the other end of the spectrum. It's free, and quite secure, but you'll need to take the time to read the manual and understand it. You'll also need to convince others to take that time, too, or else you won't have anyone to send encrypted messages to.
Shirky suggests that secure networks are now emerging which require less effort to use. I suppose we could see some real improvement, a fair middle ground where ease of use and acceptable security can co-exist. That'd be nice, but I don't have my hopes up. Easy-to-use systems have generally not survived for very long.
The worst-case outcome is that these file-sharing networks can become traps. People sign on, expecting privacy, only to find that the security is one day broken and all their misdeeds are laid bare. There is a grave risk in making things too easy to use. There is grave risk in misplacing your trust.
If you want practical security, PGP is still your best choice. Suck it up, and take the time to learn what you need to know, and it will serve your needs well. If you cannot motivate your partners to put the effort in, perhaps you really don't need that level of security after all. It's OK to fall back on unsecured communication, just so long as you remember that it is unsecured, and you always behave accordingly.
...And There Was Much Rejoicing
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Ho Ho Ho!
Maybe we can ask him about this:
Iraq's coalition government claims that it has uncovered documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the US, was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist.
Details of Atta's visit to the Iraqi capital in the summer of 2001, just weeks before he launched the most devastating terrorist attack in US history, are contained in a top secret memo written to Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
Update: This document is probably fake:
A widely publicized Iraqi document that purports to show that September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta visited Baghdad in the summer of 2001 is probably a fabrication that is contradicted by U.S. law-enforcement records showing Atta was staying at cheap motels and apartments in the United States when the trip presumably would have taken place, according to U.S. law enforcement officials and FBI documents.
[...] "It's a lucrative business," says Hassan Mneimneh, codirector of an Iraqi exile research group reviewing millions of captured Iraqi government documents. "There's an active document trade taking place... You have fraudulent documents that are being fabricated and sold" for hundreds of dollars a piece.
Severe IE Security Problem
Thursday, December 11, 2003
Think I'm kidding? Check this out:
Most recent versions of IE are probably compromised. Heads up.
Looks Like I'm Fixin' To Get Arrested
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Campaign finance law is complicated, and easy to misunderstand. That doesn't stop me from getting all pissed off about it, though.
The court decided today to uphold virtually all of McCain-Feingold. One of the more galling aspects of this law is a prohibition against running political ads for 60 days(!) prior to an election. If you are an official "media outlet" - say, a newspaper, or a magazine, or a television station - you can say whatever you want about the candidates, whenever you want to say it. But if you are just an ordinary citizen, you may no longer buy television time or ad space in your local paper to offer your opinion about the election. You just lost your right to do that sometime early this morning.
So, here's my question: suppose you were to make a nice little poster expressing your political views. Suppose you paid me a dollar to print out a few copies and hand them to passersby on the street just a few weeks before the election. That sounds a lot like a paid political advertisement, doesn't it? That'd be illegal now.
I'd bet it would even be illegal if you did it yourself, with your own money, and handed the posters out personally. Just because you pay for the media yourself, and distribute it yourself, doesn't mean it's not a political advertisement. Hell, I bet that telemarketing for that purpose would count, too. Personally call a hundred strangers on the phone, say "Please vote for George Bush", and you've broken the law, haven't you?
It's not only candidates, but issues as well. Your poster might just say "Repeal Campaign Finance Reform" and you'd still be in trouble.
Well, I'll tell you what. If the law really does mean what I think it means, this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to make a nice poster that says "Repeal Campaign Finance Reform" over an image of the First Amendment of the Bill Of Rights, and I'm going print that motherfucker out and hand it to as many people as I can the day before the election.
I'm a citizen, not a subject. These people can go fuck themselves, is what.
If any of you know where I can get a definitive answer to my questions I'd appreciate it.
Shop At Sears
Wednesday, December 3, 2003
A friend forwarded the following message. I'm satisfied that it's true:
Assume you have all seen the reports about how Sears is treating its reservist employees who are called up? By law, they are required to hold their jobs open and available, but nothing more. Usually, people take a big pay cut and lose benefits as a result of being called up...
Sears is voluntarily paying the difference in salaries and maintaining all benefits, including medical insurance and bonus programs, for all called up reservist employees for up to two years. I submit that Sears is an exemplary corporate citizen and should be recognized for its contribution.
Suggest we all shop at Sears, and be sure to find a manager to tell them why we are there so the company gets the positive reinforcement it well deserves.
Pass it on.
Damn straight. They've done the right thing by standing up for our soldiers, and we can do the right thing by seeing that they are richly rewarded for their effort. Don't forget to let them know why you stopped by.
And you thought you had a bad day:
This is really interesting, on a lot of different levels. My call?
This guy seems like a decent sort. A lot of people would freak out over something like this.
The article dances around the question of affirmative action for his college-age daughter, Kenya. Does she receive it now? Will she continue to get it? We have no idea.
Anybody who treats this man any differently now is a punk. Any law that changes how his daughter is treated is a disgrace.
It's In The New York Times
...so it has to be true, right?
An examination of what has grown into a multibillion-dollar contract to restore Iraq's oil infrastructure shows no evidence of profiteering by Halliburton, the Houston-based oil services company [... s]o far this year, Halliburton's profits from Iraq have been minimal. The company's latest report to the Securities and Exchange Commission shows $1.3 billion in revenues from work in Iraq and $46 million in pretax profits for the first nine months of 2003.
If I did the math right, that's a whopping 3.6% profit. Pretax.
They'd have done better selling shoes at the mall.
A Quick Word About Mad Cow
As you probably heard, we might have a case of mad cow in Washington state. Mad cow disease turns your brain into swiss cheese. There is no cure, and you can contract it just by eating the meat of an infected animal.
The bad news - which is not generally understood by the public - is that mad cow is caused by a special sort of disease entity. It's not a virus or a bacteria, but something called a prion. Prions are not living things.
Generally speaking, prions are not destroyed by cooking. They cannot be prevented with antibiotics. They are not rendered harmless by ordinary disinfectants.
Hopefully, we have this under control. If this disease gets away from us, it's going to be a multi-billion-dollar disaster. Remember, this disease recently killed 143 people in Britain and wiped out their entire beef and dairy industry there. It's no joke.
Quote Of The Day
Aw, geez... we went and destabilized the whole region:
A spokesman for Mr Berlusconi said the [Italian] prime minister had been telephoned recently by Col Gaddafi of Libya, who said: "I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid."
Naw, it couldn't be that. It must have been because the Europeans had lifted their sanctions... that small act of kindness was all that was needed to break the cycle of violence.
Credible, Imminent Threat To NYC?
Sources say the threat involves a suicide bomber, possibly a female. The information was received through communication intercepts, and no specific target has been identified. Discussions between local and federal law enforcement officials are currently under way to develop a response.
These folks tend to use words like "credible" and "imminent" rather carefully. This is the most serious warning about an attack on US soil that I've seen in some time.
Hanukkah begins at sunset this evening.
Foxnews reports that this has been overblown:
ABC News originally reported that U.S. intelligence had received information about a credible and imminent threat to the city, involving a possible female homicide bomber. But U.S. law enforcement said there wasn't much to the report and said there were two separate threats picked up, neither of them corroborated.
Cool Site Of The Day
RealKnots.com! Just in time to help keep your christmas tree from blowing off the roof of your car.
A fraction of my misspent youth was devoted to rock climbing, where knowledge of knots is a serious business. You can do a hell of a lot with a rope, if you know how to use it.
Send A Gift To A Soldier In Iraq
I believe these folks are legit. Show some class and help them out.
They gave Michael Jackson his passport back. It seems he had a prior engagement in Britain.
I'll bet actual money that the rat-bastard pulls a Roman Polanski and never comes back.
OK, So Maybe It's Not Over Just Yet
I think it's important to maintain perspective. Stories like this can help:
[...] The charge of acting against national security normally carries a hefty prison sentence and in some cases has led to the death penalty being imposed. [...] After being kept blindfolded in solitary confinement for 53 days he now suffers psychological problems...
Psychological problems, huh? He's not the only one.
Hopefully, he'll live to someday put a slogan like this on his cab:
Freedom: It's Not Just For White People Anymore.
This concerns me:
Why? Because I believe we've crippled the bad guys' ability to project force over distance, at least for now. They are still able to blow things up in their own back yard, but they are unable to hit targets that are far away.
If this pans out, that means that they have reconstituted the capabilities, and that means that we once again face an immediate threat here in the states.
Keep an eye on this one...
I Gave These Folks Twenty Bucks
...and I don't even have a fucking job.
So stop by and help out. These guys need the armor plate more than you do.
Looks like they got the money they needed, and are no longer accepting donations.
Early Xmas Present
Here you go, Dennis - the latest Kucinich For President campaign ad, all ready to go.
Don't say I never gave you anything.
Quote Of The Day
Powerline comments on the logic of the Supreme Court:
It is true, as many commentators are observing, that pornography now has broader First Amendment protection than advocating the election of a particular candidate in an election. This most certainly is not what the authors of our Constitution intended.
I'm still pissed off.
Don't Let Anybody Tell You It Was Easy
The LA Times is running a great story about how US troops fought their way into Baghdad. These are some brave, scary guys we got out there.
The LA Times also has the most obnoxious user-registration demands of any newspaper on earth. It took me 15 minutes just to get into their goddamn site. It's 2003, people! Hire somebody who understands what the internet is, eh?
Fortunately, I did the hard work so you don't have to. Feel free to just log in as suckmyasscocksucker, password zzzzzz, with my compliments...
It's A Hoax
The item below is bogus. Ah, well... it was still pretty funny.
(Thanks to alert reader Wendell Sego)
Thought You Had A Bad Day Today?
From Yahoo News:
A practical joker has stirred up trouble by publishing a Japanese-to-English phrase book with incorrect definitions for every phrase... "The man who compiled this dictionary clearly went out of his way to wreak havoc"...
A 29-year-old Tokyo man visiting San Francisco for the first time meant to ask a female store clerk, "May I please have film for my camera?" But what he actually said was, "Would you place your copious breasts in my mouth?" He was slapped in the face, then got tossed out by the manager.
Four family members from Osaka were thrilled see their favorite American singer coming out of a ritzy store in Beverly Hills. While waving frantically, they shouted out what they believed to be, "We love you so much." Unfortunately, what they really said was, "We're here to take your head." The four were arrested and detained for six hours by police.
A 45-year-old tourist from Okinawa looking for the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem thought he was asking a group of young men, "I am lost. Which way is uptown?" In reality, he said, "I know martial arts. May I kick your ass?" He was chased five blocks before being rescued by police.
It's a hoax. Too bad.
That's Because You're Not A Lawyer
Here, read this. I'm sure you've seen it before:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
You probably have the impression now that congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. You are such a dolt.
Read it again, carefully. See that part about not broadcasting the political opinions of ordinary people 60 days before the election? It's in the small print, right over there.
What, you still can't see it? Ask John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer to explain it then. They are obviously much smarter than you are.
No Soup For You!
It's sort of embarassing, actually, but this made my whole day today:
Citing national security reasons, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has ruled that prime contracts to rebuild Iraq will exclude firms from nations such as France and Germany that opposed the U.S. war.
By "national security", I think he means that the administration dosen't want mobs of American citizens coming after them with pitchforks.
The Dow just hit 10,000.
Yes, it's just an arbitrary number. It still makes me feel good.
Change Of Address
The spammers have finally discovered my "MikeSpenis@ FecesFlingingMonkey.com" email address, so it's time to retire that one and dream up another. The new address is now "Mike@ FecesFlingingMonkey.com".
For what it's worth, I do not believe that spammers actually harvest address posted on pages like mine. I've had other addresses posted here that have gone unmolested for years. They will find you, however, if you leave an email address when you post a comment. I'm pretty sure that's how they got me this time.
Hey Howard, Here's Something To Keep In Mind
Remember that old saying about not picking fights with "people who buy ink by the barrel"?
Keep that in mind next time you're about to say something this stupid.