Saturday, January 28, 2006

"I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country"

"I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country.." - G.W. Bush in the wake of an unexpected landslide victory by Hamas in the latest Palestinian elections. Hamas has been a bloody terrorist organization, but has recently turned to political action and has now won the elections in the Palestinian territories.

It seems the U.S. is two-faced about wanting democracy. We say we want democracy, but then when democracy turns up an unwanted result then there's only complaints. In this case the election chose Hamas, but no sooner than the results were in than the complaints began. President Bush, I label you HYPOCRIT.

In case it's not obvious -- what's really galling about the above quote is that GW Bush himself laid out a call for the destruction of another government. Which? Iraq's government under Saddam Hussein. That's what the phrase regime change means, the destruction of another government. Further the NEOCON strategy for the middle east is to destroy not just the Iraqi government, but also that of Syria and Iran.

Oh, and apparently the U.S. government was meddling in the Palestinian election by giving huge funding to Hamas opponents:

Palestinian Groups Accuse U.S. of Meddling in Elections: And in the Occupied Territories, the Bush administration is being accused of meddling in this week's Palestinian parliamentary elections. On Sunday the Washington Post reported the U.S. has clandestinely funneled $2 million into public service projects ahead of the elections in an effort to increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority and its governing Fatah party. Officials from Hamas have questioned whether the aid violates rules barring Palestinian political parties from receiving funds from foreign sources. Independent candidate Mustafa Barghouti warned the Bush administration's efforts could backfire and end up helping Hamas in the elections. Barghouti said, "Every time the United States says it doesn't want Hamas, they boost Hamas. Let us do our elections entirely on our own. These interventions run counter to our efforts, and they hurt the Palestinian people. This effort was completely counterproductive." -- Democracy Now, Jan 24, 2006

But the Bush administration has demonstrated anti-democracy tendencies in the past. For example all the actions taken to undermine Hugo Chavez's rule in Venezeula, including a U.S.-backed coup attempt against the Venezuela government. For example the U.S. backed coup that tossed Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of Haiti. In both cases it's a democratically elected government that wasn't to U.S. liking. But this isn't new to the Bush administration, as the U.S. government has been toppling democratically elected governments for decades.

Bush sees vote proving 'power of democracy' But he urges Abbas to stay in chief post (Boston Globe, By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff, January 27, 2006)

Hamas invited to form government (BBC, Jan 27, 2006)

Hamas’ victory upends Israeli politics Opposition politicians blast government for failing to stop group's ascent (By Scott Wilson, The Washington Post Updated: 5:29 a.m. ET Jan. 27, 2006)

Hamas victory explodes Middle East peace plans (

Voters did not elect Hamas because its charter commits it to the destruction of Israel; indeed, that goal was dropped from its election platform, an implicit acknowledgement of public opinion by an increasingly pragmatic political force. Hamas has observed a ceasefire for the past year, after carrying out about 60 suicide bombings since the second intifada began in 2000. Only a minority of Palestinians subscribe to its hardline Islamic ideology; instead, they rejected Fatah because of its divided and ineffective administration and its entrenched corruption. Hamas has quietly attended to the practical side of community politics, providing services to the poor and building a reputation for discipline, efficiency and integrity. Its officials in Gaza, where Hamas first won municipal elections, have even co-operated with Israel on administrative matters, out of necessity. Hamas has sent out mixed signals on broader co-operation, and even the taboo matter of peace talks, which it may decide to let President Abbas pursue, as this was the platform on which he was elected.

All politics is local, eh?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Susan Pynchon: Diebold in Florida

There's been big questions from the 2000 and 2004 elections about whether the election system is rigged. In the 2004 elections a big sideshow formed around electronic voting machines, especially those from Diebold. The electronic voting systems (a.k.a. touchscreen voting) was supposed to fix the glaring problem with the 2000 election fiasco, which centered on the punch card system. But that's presuming touchscreen voting is the only alternative, which it is not.

"I Saw It Hacked": Diebold in Florida by Susan Pynchon relates a test performed in Leon County Florida of the Diebold voting system installed there. This test has become rather infamous as the "Harri Hursti Hack".

What she describes is a staged test. They ran a small mock election in which Harri Hursti demonstrated a vulnerability with the Diebold voting software.

Her article contains this very powerful paragraph:

And there, on the central tabulator screen, appeared the altered results: Seven "Yes" votes and one "No" vote, with absolutely no evidence that anything had been altered. It was a powerful moment and, I will admit, it had the unexpected result for me personally of causing me to break down and cry. Why did I cry? It was the last thing I thought I would do, but it happened for so many reasons. I cried because it was so clear that Diebold had been lying. I cried because there was proof, before my very eyes, that these machines were every bit as bad as we all had feared. I cried because we have been so unjustly attacked as "conspiracy theorists" and "technophobes" when Diebold knew full well that its voting system could alter election results. More than that, that Diebold planned to have a voting system that could alter results. And I cried because it suddenly hit me, like a Mack truck, that this was proof positive that our democracy is and has been, as we have all feared, truly at the mercy of unscrupulous vendors who are producing electronic voting machines that can change election results without detection.

Okay, so she managed to put together a powerful paragraph, but I don't see her report demonstrating what she claims. Nowhere in her report is this claim substantiated:

However, the Hursti hack is individually significant because the flaw it exposed is a planned vulnerability in the system, not something that is accidentally there. It had to be PUT there (programmed) on purpose.

I work with software and software quality in my job. I know very well that every piece of software has bugs in it. The existance of a bug doesn't constitute proof that the author purposely put that bug there.

She has not demonstrated that Hursti's hack is anything more than a bug in Diebold's software.

It's easy to point a finger at the Diebold corporation and claim they're evil. Their CEO was widely quoted before the 2004 election as boasting about how GW Bush would win the election. And of course it's easy to think, that might not have been bravado, but knowing that he can go in and twiddle the election results and ensure that GW Bush would win the election.

I agree with her theory -- it's very possible for Diebold or any other election hardware vendor to be selling machines which contain backdoors allowing elections to be rigged. For our democracy to succeed we have to ensure that's not the case, and that has to involve independant auditing of the voting machines. The secrecy surrounding the election hardware is troubling as it impedes the public from independantly verifying the voting machines are trustworthy. Unless the people can trust the voting machines, how can the people trust that our representatives were properly elected?

But that's just a theory until you can prove the assertion. In her story she brushes over the proof, jumping from describing the test to concluding that therefore Diebold purposely implanted the backdoor which Hursti walked through.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Search engines cooperating with the police

Microsoft Confirms Turning Over Search Data to Feds: This covers not just Microsoft but the other search engines as well. The story is there's an obscure court proceeding going on, under which the Department of Justice (DoJ) has subpoenad records from the search engines as to search terms. MSN, Yahoo and AOL have apparently cooperated with the request, while Google has refused to cooperate.

Let me bring into the conversation this: Re: Do Internet companies need to be regulated to ensure they respect free expression ? In that case some organization is organizing a move to require "Internet Companies" to impede cooperation with repressive regimes who want to surveil what their citizens are doing. But with this request from the DoJ, I wonder just how you want to define "repressive regime"?

And then we have Microsoft's side: Privacy and MSN Search posted by the MSN Web Search general manager.

As the eWeek article suggests, this is a very worrisome privacy issue. Suppose the government surveillance system were to know about every search query you were to make? It's easy to think you're just searching around the Internet, and the search results are very ephemeral and disappear very quickly. But when you're Googling or MSN'ing or Yahoo'ing, the search engine is able to make a record of your searches. The search engine might even remember searches you did before, the items you clicked on before, and helpfully rank the results based on what you searched for previously. This is information the search engines already collect.

It's important to note that the search engines are unable to identify YOU. Instead they know specific IP addresses, and are able to track which IP address did what. Or, in some cases the search engine installs a long-lived cookie, and with data in the cookie is able to correlate activity you do from day to day even if your ISP gives you a different IP address each day.

The MSN general manager says all they turned over was IP addresses and search queries. No personal identifying data.

It would be up to the government surveillance system to correlate IP addresses with people. This isn't easy, but is doable. For example my ISP assigns me a fixed IP address, and therefore the governmnet surveillance system might have an arrangement to query my ISP to retrieve the identity of people to which specific IP addresses are assigned.

Police store DNA records of 24,000 innocent kids

Police store DNA records of 24,000 innocent kids provides an alarming overview of police surveillance activity in the UK. As the article says "Britain already has the largest network of CCTV cameras in the world", and they intend to go further. The main issue in the article is DNA profiling, where it's known the police have DNA records of 24,000 young people who have never been even accused of anything. Where there's great room for concern, the article claims "most people are already resigned to the whole population having its DNA held in police and government databases". SIGH

The article details several projects which, taken together, amount to the same end goal as the Total Information Awareness System (TIA). Since that's in the UK, this would be the British equivalent to TIA. And perhaps since some aspects of British and American government are joined at the hip, maybe MI5/6 and the NSA/CIA/DOD are working together to implement TIA?

You, the reader, may have believed the TIA project was shut down. What happened is that one of the sub-projects in TIA (it was either FutureMap or Wargaming the Asymmetric Environment) was unveiled to the public, and it offended officialdom, and enough of them went on a harumphing storm that the DoD made a show of shutting down TIA. But it's obvious that most of the subprojects to TIA continued on being funded, as they would be very useful to a surveillance system.

Now, let's go through the projects reported by The Register and align them with the TIA projects which I recorded back in 2002.

DNA Profiling: There isn't a direct analogue to a TIA project. One problem with DNA profiling, however, is the expense of doing DNA testing. Doing a full sequencing of the DNA in a tissue sample currently costs many thousands of dollars. Perhaps forensic DNA testing doesn't do full sequencing, but it still isn't going to be cheap. Be aware, though, that the government is funding research to decrease the cost of DNA testing.

The currently understood methods of DNA testing involve tissue culturing steps. For example, they take a tissue sample, grow a tissue culture in a laboratory, then kill the tissue sample, and study it under microscopes. That means identifying someone from DNA in a tissue sample will take several days.

The Bio-Surveillance project in TIA is very different from any DNA profiling system.

CCTV cameras on the roads and streets: Associated with this is number plate recognition, and face recognition. This is clearly associated with Human ID at a Distance with the addition of number plate recognition.

Implementation involves installing closed-circuit TV cameras (CCTV) in desired areas. The more cameras, the more intrusive and comprehensive is the monitoring system. You might think "oh, monitoring TV is manual, there's going to be a human looking at every video feed". No, if you have a city full of video cameras, there's no way a staff of humans can effectively scan them all. The cameras might be ignored most of the time, and only used when a call arives in the neighborhood of a given camera.

But what's possible is for the video feeds from these cameras to be analyzed by computers. That's what the Human ID at a Distance project is intended to be doing. And face recognition systems have been under test for several years. For example a public test was performed at a Super Bowl game a couple years ago, but apparently the test results were very disappointing.

The technique is to use image analysis to look for patterns that let the computer software zero in on the information of interest. The problem is computers are rather dumb. Human bodies have zillions of years of evolution to our image recognition hardware, and we recognize such things very readily. But computers have only 60 years of development (or so) behind them, and all they can deal with are numbers. It may look like they deal with words, and pictures, and sounds, and movies, and whatnot, but the software developers have to invent ways to turn all that into streams of numbers, because computers only know how to deal with numbers. This makes image analysis tricky.

Take face recognition. There's probably some pattern of pixels that usually indicate a human face. There's a small range of skin pigmentations, and then the shape of a face is generally the same with two eyes, nose, mouth, etc. It's made tricky because faces have a lot of variability, even when there's a lot of similarity. Recognizing license plates (number plates, as the British call them) would be simpler. There's a fairly well known set of colors to look for, and you know ahead of time what shape the license plate will have, and its location on a car.

Once you've got software that can reliably recognize what you're looking for ... car license plates ... you connect a fleet of computers to the CCTV cameras. They'd constantly be looking for motion, when they see motion the software looks for a license plate, and records whatever it sees. Assuming reliable software the computers can register all cars that pass by a CCTV camera.

The next step is to install multiple cameras throughout the city. Each camera gets connected to the computers. The computers register each car that passes by each camera. Or, if reliable face recognition software exists, the computers can also register each pedestrian as they pass by each camera. Hence, these computers could easily track the movement of every car or every pedestrian where-ever they (we) go in the city.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Cool Tool: 1491

Cool Tool: 1491 -- What happened to the native peoples of this land after Europeans arrived can only be described as genocide and ethnic cleansing. There were advanced civilizations, cities, culture, everything. All wiped out because of the arrival of Europeans. Some of it was accidental, due to diseases the Europeans carried for which the native peoples did not have biological immunity. But in many cases it was ruthless cold-blooded murder.

1491 : New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

1491 is not so much the story of a year, as of what that year stands for: the long-debated (and often-dismissed) question of what human civilization in the Americas was like before the Europeans crashed the party. The history books most Americans were (and still are) raised on describe the continents before Columbus as a vast, underused territory, sparsely populated by primitives whose cultures would inevitably bow before the advanced technologies of the Europeans. For decades, though, among the archaeologists, anthropologists, paleolinguists, and others whose discoveries Charles C. Mann brings together in 1491, different stories have been emerging. Among the revelations: the first Americans may not have come over the Bering land bridge around 12,000 B.C. but by boat along the Pacific coast 10 or even 20 thousand years earlier; the Americas were a far more urban, more populated, and more technologically advanced region than generally assumed; and the Indians, rather than living in static harmony with nature, radically engineered the landscape across the continents, to the point that even "timeless" natural features like the Amazon rainforest can be seen as products of human intervention.

Mann is well aware that much of the history he relates is necessarily speculative, the product of pot-shard interpretation and precise scientific measurements that often end up being radically revised in later decades. But the most compelling of his eye-opening revisionist stories are among the best-founded: the stories of early American-European contact. To many of those who were there, the earliest encounters felt more like a meeting of equals than one of natural domination. And those who came later and found an emptied landscape that seemed ripe for the taking, Mann argues convincingly, encountered not the natural and unchanging state of the native American, but the evidence of a sudden calamity: the ravages of what was likely the greatest epidemic in human history, the smallpox and other diseases introduced inadvertently by Europeans to a population without immunity, which swept through the Americas faster than the explorers who brought it, and left behind for their discovery a land that held only a shadow of the thriving cultures that it had sustained for centuries before. --Tom Nissley

A 1491 Timeline

Europe and Asia Dates The Americas
25000-35000 B.C. Time of paleo-Indian migration to Americas from Siberia, according to genetic evidence. Groups likely traveled across the Pacific in boats.
Wheat and barley grown from wild ancestors in Sumer. 6000
5000 In what many scientists regard as humankind's first and greatest feat of genetic engineering, Indians in southern Mexico systematically breed maize (corn) from dissimilar ancestor species.
First cities established in Sumer. 4000
3000 The Americas' first urban complex, in coastal Peru, of at least 30 closely packed cities, each centered around large pyramid-like structures
Great Pyramid at Giza 2650
32 First clear evidence of Olmec use of zero--an invention, widely described as the most important mathematical discovery ever made, which did not occur in Eurasia until about 600 A.D., in India (zero was not introduced to Europe until the 1200s and not widely used until the 1700s)
800-840 A.D. Sudden collapse of most central Maya cities in the face of severe drought and lengthy war
Vikings briefly establish first European settlements in North America. 1000
Reconstruction of Cahokia, c. 1250 A.D.*

Abrupt rise of Cahokia, near modern St. Louis, the largest city north of the Rio Grande. Population estimates vary from at least 15,000 to 100,000.

Black Death devastates Europe. 1347-1351
1398 Birth of Tlacaélel, the brilliant Mexican strategist behind the Triple Alliance (also known as the Aztec empire), which within decades controls central Mexico, then the most densely settled place on Earth.
The Encounter: Columbus sails from Europe to the Caribbean. 1492 The Encounter: Columbus sails from Europe to the Caribbean.
Syphilis apparently brought to Europe by Columbus's returning crew. 1493
Ferdinand Magellan departs from Spain on around-the-world voyage. 1519
Sixteenth-century Mexica drawing of the effects of smallpox**

Cortes driven from Tenochtitlán, capital of the Triple Alliance, and then gains victory as smallpox, a European disease never before seen in the Americas, kills at least one of three in the empire.

1525-1533 The smallpox epidemic sweeps into Peru, killing as much as half the population of the Inka empire and opening the door to conquest by Spanish forces led by Pizarro.
1617 Huge areas of New England nearly depopulated by epidemic brought by shipwrecked French sailors.
English Pilgrims arrive at Patuxet, an Indian village emptied by disease, and survive on stored Indian food, renaming the village Plymouth. 1620
*Courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Collinsville, Ill., painting by Michael Hampshire. **Courtesy Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, N.M. (Bernardino de Sahagún, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, 1547-77).

Friday, January 20, 2006

Less waiting, fingerprint check coming to your bank - Yahoo! News

The hook to get us to give up privacy is through dangling convenience in front of us. The common wisdom is it's easier to get someone to do something via bribery than intimidation. It's the old carrot-or-stick approach.

Less waiting, fingerprint check coming to your bank (Jan 19, 2006, Reuters via Yahoo!News!) and via

The plan is to have RFID chips in some kind of identity card associated with the bank. e.g. embedded in your ATM card. The bank will have RFID readers in the doorway into the bank, and they'll be able to instantly identify which of the people entering the building have accounts with the bank, instantly identify who they are, etc. This will be done simply by reading the RFID chip in the ATM card, running a check in the computers, etc.

The movie Minority Report gives an interesting approximation of how it will work. Except it won't involve retinal scans. Well, not initially. If you remember from the movie, there are several scenes where people are entering a store or other public place, and everybody stops for a moment, looks up, has their eyes scanned, and then a computerized welcoming voice says something like "So nice to see you again Harry" and they enter the store to go about their business.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a technology being developed by retailers that should migrate to banks. Customers would be automatically identified by the RFID-encrypted card in their wallet as they pass through the door, prompting a personalised welcome to flash up on a computer screen.

By the time the customer reaches the counter all his or her details are on the screen of the teller, who can discuss specific requirements without asking a lot of redundant questions.

"The bank wants to be able to identify the customer the minute they walk in and understand why they are there," said Mike Redding, head of development for Accenture Technology Labs.

"The most innovative banks will then combine the data they already have and the new information they get and simplify it and make it usable."

RFID is also likely to feature in bank cards, key rings or mobile phones as a payment option. The process is already under way in many countries and oil major Exxon Mobil has issued 6 million SpeedPasses to allow users to pay for gasoline easily at the pump, Redding said.

This will be interesting to see how it plays out.

A couple years ago certain retailers began to put RFID chips in clothing etc. That caused a huge uproar, and so the chips were taken back out. But that hasn't stopped the retailers and others from moving forward with RFID plans. They're just taking this as requiring some finesse to get the public to accept the chips.

For example my employee badge with Sun has an RFID chip in it. The badge gets waved over a reader, and it proactively checks with a computer who I am etc. It's a very short range RFID reader (about 2 inches) but RFID chips can be read at long distances given enough power.

Here's a thought which may be scary. Suppose government issued ID cards (driver licenses, etc) had an RFID chip in them, and they were to install RFID readers in sidewalks, in streetlight poles, etc. If the RFID reader had enough range to read the chip as you drive by, you could be tracked "everywhere". Certainly it would be easy to track pedestrians as they walk around on sidewalks with embedded readers.

There's a whole literature of books and movies about Big Brother (e.g. 1984: book, DVD, Audio CD; Brave New World; Fahrenheit 451) ... these books, and their kin, and the long term popularity of them indicates a serious concern among the people about overly intrusive governments. We value our freedom.

Is this the future we want?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Re: The price of gasoline could get ugly in 2006

The "Hybrid Cars Blog" suggests that in 2006, the price of gasoline could get ugly. That is, the high gas prices seen in the U.S. last year could be as bad, or worse. See: The price of gasoline could get ugly in 2006

The story seems to be that the cause for last years oil price surge can be found in the gap between China having increasing oil use and weather related outages in oil delivery. This year China's surging oil demand is still there, plus we have several possible outages in oil delivery such as "rebels" in Nigeria attacking oil platforms, and the situation in Iran from which there could be several ways oil delivery could be blocked.

While that story is very true, it is also an example of short term thinking.

In the long term picture the price for oil can only go up. In the short term there will be fluctuations, but long term is a different story. Why? It's because the demand continues to go up in an unabated curve, and the Peak Oil scenario is looming out there.

The Peak Oil scenario is a model developed by oil company scientists that describes production capacity over time. The model shows that the world oil production capability will peak. Already discoveries of new oil fields has dried up with discoveries not at all meeting the growth in demand for oil.

UPDATE in December 2006 ... the price for oil and gasoline did get very high up until September. Then it curiously dropped just before the election, and then has curiously risen a little since the election. Makes one wonder if some kind of price manipulation was being tried by the oil industry to prop up the Republicans? If so, it didn't work.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Public meeting on Iraq, Iraq policy, Rep. Murtha, and the possibilities to impeach the President

I just watched a 2 1/2 hour long meeeting recorded from C-SPAN, which I learned about from here: American Foreign Policy, Part Deux. It was an opportunity for Representative Murtha to explain and discuss a proposal he's made to withdraw from Iraq. The Republicans and Neocons have been jumping all over him, calling him a coward, unpatriotic, etc (note: he served in two wars, in the Marines, and has a ream of medals to show for his service). The action towards Rep. Murtha is just following the prior pattern when anybody dares to say the slightest thing against the Administration, that out of the woodwork comes various kinds of attacks and most especially to question the patriotism of the person who made the criticism.

Are so insecure that they can't stand a little scrutiny and criticism ...??

Anyway, here is what Karen Kwiatkowski has to say about the C-SPAN show:

A lot of Americans are waking up to this Part One, as the recent standing room only town meeting co-hosted by Virginia Democrat Jim Moran and Pennsylvania Republican Jack Murtha. Watch the video. It is shock television at its best, courtesy C-span. Murtha and Moran say they want troops out soonest, and both insist we are not building permanent military bases in Iraq. Like I say, it's shock TV - see for yourself!

(The video is linked above -- you will need the Real Video player to view it)

They held a "town hall" meeting that was jam-packed, where they turned away more people than could actually attend the event, etc. It was a very spirited event from what I can tell via the recording.

Rep. Murtha's suggestion is that we should withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq NOW. That we should let the Iraq government take over. That we should keep U.S. troops in the vicinity (e.g. Kuwait), I suppose so that troops are easily redeployed if the situation were to flare up.

I'm not so sure that's a good idea. Much as I am angry over the war in the first place, at how unnecessary it is, how it is a distraction from the real problem, how the administration lied to the world and the American people in order to launch the war, that withdrawing would leave a power vacuum that would simply result in a civil war as the different factions compete with each other to grab all the power. At least, that's what I am afraid of. Which just leaves me highly conflicted because we have no ethical, legal, or moral right to be in Iraq doing what we are doing.

Rep. Murtha also talked at length on the corruption (e.g. "no-bid" contracts which simply means the U.S. is being ripped off by defense contractors) and the horribly underfunded Veterans Administration (paid for by the tax cuts).

Many times the questions were "When are we going to Impeach the President". It was enlightening to hear both Rep. Murtha and Morin basically agree with the sentiment. It's basically been proved that the President and all the Presidents People lied us into this war, that it was premeditated back to 1992 (at least), that it has been horribly mismanaged, that the insurgency that is killing so many U.S. and Iraq people is directly attributable to the mismanagement, that the administration is criminally culpable in this, and that it is a reprehensible situation. Both of the Representatives basically agreed with this, but they kept saying how Impeachment was basically impossible.

They pointed to an investigatory hearing held by Rep. Conyers meant to explore the same issue. He just barely got approval to hold that hearing, in the first place, and the space he was given to hold it was in the basement. Relegated to the basement. See, the practical fact is that the Administrations party controls the Congress, and so long as the leadership is as it is, there is practically zero chance of Impeachment.

What Rep. Morin kept returning to is that we, the people, the ones for whom this most perfect union of a government exists, it is we who need to organize. The solution is in the ballot box, and it is in organizing the democracy for which we stand to stand up and take back the reins of government.

Friday, January 13, 2006 - Laura Bush: Rice in '08? - Jan 13, 2006

Impeach Condi before she has a chance to run!!! Laura Bush: Rice in '08? First lady would 'love to see' secretary of state run for president -- They're getting ready to travel to Africa to attend the inauguration ceremony for the first female leader of an African government. In an interview Laura Bush said that while Condoleeza Rice has denied she is running for President, that Laura Bush is in support of her candidacy.

So I suppose Laura Bush doesn't have enough wisdom to recognize a liar when she sees one?

But, well, look who she's married to.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bush Crimes Commission

The President of the U.S. has broken the law, as has member of the Cabinet etc. I wonder why the people aren't rising up in protest against this? Well some are, but the infractions by the Bush Administration are so completely obvious the people of the United States have to be fools to not see it.

The Bush Crimes Commission is working to illustrate the crimes of the Bush Administration. They have been holding public "hearings", and recently delivered a set of indictments to the White House.

In the indictments they cover Wars of Aggression, Torture and Indefinite Detention, Destruction of the Global Environment, Attacks on Global Public Health and Hurricane Katrina.

In March 2004 I called for the Impeachment of GW Bush. In my case I focussed on the lies told to "justify" the war in Iraq, the fact that the UN Secretary General has called that war "illegal", the damage the conduct and justification of that war has done to U.S. credibility, etc.

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Re: Do Internet companies need to be regulated to ensure they respect free expression ?

Reporters sans Frontiers has made a call for action/change about Internet companies that do business with repressive countries. Do Internet companies need to be regulated to ensure they respect free expression ? They cite several cases of Internet and Technology companies cooperating with repressive countries, for example Google and Yahoo filter search results based on blacklists provided by the countries in question.

In case you don't grasp the significance of this ... In the 1930's and 1940's IBM gave a lot of help to Hitlers government in Nazi Germany. They used the just-developed punched card machines (not quite computers, but close) to record and track information about Jews, so that they could more efficiently perform the Holocaust.

Todays computer equipment and technology are far more efficient and capable than the crude toys IBM used to help Nazi Germany commit the Holocaust. And, of course, that means any country that deploys their technology for repressive purposes, will be able to do so much more effectively than did Nazi Germany.

In a sense this is very simple. If these companies want to do business in those countries -- e.g. China is among these repressive countries, and China is a huge and burgeoning market which any technology company would be foolish to ignore -- then they have to do so within the laws of the country in question. In particular, under what justification would some company have the right to ignore the laws of some country in which they do business? None. Countries are supposed to trump companies.

But RSF makes a very interesting point. They cite several instances where technology companies cooperated with repressive countries, and claim those are violations of article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was proclaimed by the United Nations when it was founded and which is supposed to apply to everyone, including business corporations.

They offer several proposals that would limit "U.S. Companies" in what they can do inside a repressive country. For example

No US company would be allowed to host e-mail servers within a repressive country*. So, if the authorities of a repressive country want personal information about the user of a US company’s e-mail service, they would have to request it under a procedure supervised by US.

The activities seem geared to keeping equipment and services outside the repressive countries, so that repressive countries have to abide by U.S. law in order to take certain repressive actions. And, they say the list of repressive countries will be defined by the U.S. State Department.

I think they're pissing into the wind, but you have to admire the integrity with which they are approaching this.

However, as a practical matter, how can we trust the U.S. State Department to be a fair arbiter of repressive governments? We, the U.S., are actively engaged with China as a business partner, for example. And there is the matter of Indonesia where the U.S. actively helped them in repressing the East Timor peoples.

Also discussed by:

Dan Gillmor: A Dangerous Question and Smart Mobs: Regulate internet companies to make them respect freedom of speech: Reporters Without Borders

Friday, January 6, 2006 | Let us prey

Joe Conason, Salon.COM, is providing us this think-piece about the role of Religion in the Halls of Power. Let us prey Jack Abramoff and his deeply religious right-wing cronies express their "biblical worldview" by swindling Indian tribes and bribing legislators. Verily, mysterious are the ways of the Lord.. There is an array of scandals hitting Washington circling around illegal bribery, and other schemes to defraud and lie. The people doing these illegal acts also claim to be led by the Voice of God, and to be leading the fight to reintroduce Morality into American life.

An example cited is the era of the Clinton Impeachment. Tom DeLay claimed his justification for seeking impeachment was Clinton held the "wrong worldview". In another context he explained the worldview thusly:

Several years ago, at one of many fundamentalist meetings he has addressed, DeLay explained: "He [God] has been walking me through an incredible journey, and it all comes down to worldview. He is using me, all the time, everywhere, to stand up for biblical worldview in everything that I do and everywhere I am. He is training me, He is working with me."

So one wonders how bribery, cheating, etc is something God is leading DeLay to do?

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

G.O.P. Lobbyist (Abramoff) Pleads Guilty in Deal With Prosecutors - New York Times

I haven't been following this story, but it's been developing for awhile. Jack Abramoff is a high-stakes high-flying lobbyist who has specialized in working with the Republican Party, Conservative causes, and most especially with Indian tribes. He's apparently crooked as they come, and has apparently bought off a huge portion of Congress. He has pleaded guilty to a bunch of charges, and will turn states evidence in further trials against others. Presumably a large portion of Congress will be resigning over this, and some Congresspersons will be going to jail.

This is a big deal.

G.O.P. Lobbyist Pleads Guilty in Deal With Prosecutors (NYTimes, By ANNE E. KORNBLUT, Published: January 3, 2006)

Mr. Abramoff, 46, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion, setting the stage for prosecutors to begin using him as a cooperating witness against his former business and political colleagues. In exchange, Mr. Abramoff faces a maximum of about 10 years in prison in the Washington case.

... At a news briefing this afternoon, Alice Fisher, an assistant attorney general, said Mr. Abramoff offered up gifts to government officials that included an all-expense paid trip to Scotland "to play golf on a world-famous course, tickets and travel to the Super Bowl in Florida, tickets for concerts and other events in Washington, repeated and regular meals at his upscale restaurant, and campaign contributions."

Lobbyist admits to kickbacks, fraud Abramoff agrees to cooperate in Washington corruption probe (CNN.COM, Tuesday, January 3, 2006)

Poll: Half believe Congress is dirty (CNN.COM, Tuesday, January 3, 2006)

Abramoff won't go down alone After a career of stealing from his clients and corrupting lawmakers, the one-time Republican golden boy is set to destroy the political machine he helped create. (Salon.COM, By Michael Scherer)

The investigation, which spans at least four law enforcement agencies and 12 FBI field offices, is now clearly targeted on members of Congress and their staffs. Already prosecutors have won pledges of cooperation from two of Abramoff's former partners, Michael Scanlon, a former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Adam Kidan. "The corruption scheme with Mr. Abramoff is very extensive and we will continue to follow it," said Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher at a Justice Department press conference hours after the plea. "We are going to follow this wherever it goes."

In his plea, Abramoff appeared to tighten the prosecutorial noose around Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, a one-time friend of Abramoff who has long since disavowed the relationship. Abramoff detailed the perks he provided Ney and his staff in exchange for political favors -- the golf trip to Scotland, the Super Bowl bash in Tampa, the free meals at Abramoff's Washington restaurant and the sports stadium box seats. In a statement released after the plea, Ney's spokesperson, Brian Walsh, said the lobbyist exerted no "improper influence" on Ney. "Congressman Ney has never done anything illegal or improper and the allegations in this plea agreement do not change that fact."

The plea also claims that Abramoff corruptly influenced another unnamed congressional staffer by paying his wife's nonprofit company $50,000. The allegation matches press reports of a relationship Abramoff had with Tony Rudy, another aide to former majority leader DeLay, and Rudy's wife, Lisa. A person who matches the description of Neil Volz, a former chief of staff to Ney, is also mentioned in the plea agreement for corrupt dealings with Abramoff. Rudy and Volz, who both work as lobbyists, did not return calls for comment. But the specific targets in the plea account for just a fraction of the investigation, which continues at full speed, said Fisher. Of Abramoff's testimony, she said, "We have not attempted to list each and every statement" in the plea.

The man who bought off Washington Lobbyist's guilty plea set to expose bribery scandal at the heart of US political system (The Independant (London), By Rupert Cornwell in Washington, 04 January 2006)

Abramoff pleads guilty in casino case Admits using fake wire transfer to secure $60 million loan (CNN.COM, Wednesday, January 4, 2006)

How far will Abramoff scandal reach? A number of lawmakers are under investigation for their connections with Jack Abramoff. (By Gail Russell Chaddock | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor)

It's not a crime to accept contributions from lobbyists. It's a bribe only if there's evidence of an agreement to perform an official act in exchange. But the political damage can go further.

"Careers usually end when the indictment is brought, whether [the accused] are cleared or not. Very few survive an election, once an indictment has been brought," says Stanley Brand, a Washington defense attorney who advised House Speaker Tip O'Neill during the 1978 ABSCAM bribery case, an FBI sting operation that convicted five House members and a senator.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Blogging may be hazardous to your job - The Clarion-Ledger

If blogging can be hazardous to your job (as this article says: Blogging may be hazardous to your job By Amy Rosewater, The Baltimore Sun) just how is that so? And, don't we have freedom of speech engraved in the U.S. Constitution?

What the article talks about is bitching about co-workers etc on the blog. That people get fired over that.

Well... okay...

A lot of people feel irritated etc over their job. No doubt bitching about your boss or coworkers has happened throughout history. Maybe that's why Judas turned Jesus in to the authorities?

Seriously, what's important is to consider how you handle the inevitable irritation you have over co-workers and your boss. For example, therapy? There's a zillion ways of working through emotional duress that don't involve bitching in public.

When you're writing a blog it may seem you're in private. Maybe you've locked the door to the room, it's late at night, etc and nobody is around and you can pour out your deepest thoughts. But, really, who is your audience? Once that blog posting hits the web, it's public.

If you want to use writing as therapy, get one of those blank journaling books.

Do you really want to post your therapeutic writing for the whole world to see?

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Hyped up panic on Jeremy Hermanns dot org about Alaska Flight #536 - Rapid De-Pressurization and Panic at 30K Feet

Boy what a mountain formed out of this mole-hill. Jeremy Hermans was on an Alaska Airlines flight that experienced sudden cabin depressurization shortly after takeoff and made an emergency landing safely without anybody being hurt. But what made this emergency different is that Jeremy took a few pictures and wrote about it on his blog. His blog posting is full of emotion we who weren't there can only guess at. If we haven't been through something similar, how can we gauge the validity of his emotions? In any case a stir of controversy is swirling around this blog posting, and a couple professional advisors of business blogging have weighed in.

From Dave Taylor we have: Alaska Airlines and the death of truth and from Teresa Valdez Klein we have: Alaska Airlines Attacked by Blog Mob with Pitchforks and Torches ... the two of them seem to be their own mini-echo-chamber.

What I see in the responses by Dave Taylor and Teresa Klein is a nutty attempt to corral bloggers into a journalistic mold. Say what? Blogging is an individual thing and is practiced by each blogger in their own way. Blogging does not have to be a journalistic endeavor, but someone can certainly approach blogging in that way.

For example they talk about fact checking. You expect professional journalists to do fact checking, but that's too much to expect of bloggers. If there's any commonality to the practice of blogging, it's that a blog posting is very much about what's known in the present moment. One of the commenters to Dave Taylors posting said it very well:

Debbie seems to be suggesting that bloggers have some sort of obligation to contact companies to get their side of the story, but I don't think that flys very far in the blogosphere. For most of us, Blogging is 110% about expressing our *own* opinions. If we *happen* to mention a few odd facts interspersed in our opinions, then of course we should do a diligent job of verifying facts, to the extent that it is easily within our means. But if time or other constraints preclude a thorough vetting on facts vs. suspicions, we do the best we can. That's a key difference between blogging and journalism, regardless of whether you consider either to be a professional or amaeur activity.

Another meme being tossed around is about "the credibility of the blogosphere is lowered a couple of notches". That's treating the "blogosphere" as one whole, and expecting all bloggers to be tarnished or polished the same way. But blogging is practiced (generally) by individuals acting on their own. Each individual blogger has their own reputation and approach to truth. How can there be a "credibility of the blogosphere" when it's a mass of individuals?

An example rumbling in my head is one which Dave is going to be very aware of. I know of Dave from his Usenet background (especially on and have met him once many years ago at a event in the Bay Area. The point is I know that Dave is very intimately familiar with Usenet history, if only because he had a big role in making part of that history.

Jeremy's blog posting just reminds me of the same kind of rambling threads of discussion. One persons posting might somehow incite a long thread of followups, debating fine points of the truth of the original posting, devolving into name calling, or nitpicking over spelling, or accusing each other of being a shill, etc. It was typical of Usenet, and it is very interesting seeing it all distilled into one page like this. In a way Blogs are to this Internet era what Usenet was to the 80's version of the Internet.

Having lived through the 80's and some of the 90's on Usenet (I used to be in the Usenet backbone committee), I'm sure there's something about human psychological processes that make this kind of discussion thread. To wish that the public would act in a more truth-centered fact-checking mode is like pissing into the wind, or like that apocryphal story of the old King of Norway (Canute?) yelling at the ocean waves to be quiet.

Dave Taylor, with your Usenet history, you should know better. But maybe you were one of those who always took the fact-checking-demander-of-citations side of the argument?

One of the frequent debate techniques on Usenet was for someone to demand "what is the citation that justifies the assertion you made"? Usenet, like blogging, is more akin to people chatting in the hallway. Since when do people chatting in the hallway give citations?

On the other hand some bloggers clearly try to be journalists. Again, we all approach our blogging in different ways.