August 31, 2005

My mother's hurting, and the emptiness is awful.

The CallerID information on my cell phone guaranteed I wasn't going to enjoy the interaction.

I received a call today from my mother. Now, normally, I enjoy talking to her. However, she's been having a bit of a tough time recently for a number of reasons. To cap it off, a couple of weeks ago, her favorite cat vanished. This is something that all owners of 'outside cats' dread. I had told her numerous times that this was a possibility - not to prepo an 'I told you so' but because I knew it was something she wasn't really prepared for, despite her nightly almost-panicked session of calling for the cats to come in the house.

My parents live in a rural area, next to the main two-lane highway through the region (and only main road). There are hunters in season, there are tractors on fields around the house, and there are occasionally just mean-spirited jerks with .22s or shotguns and not much to do. There are predators of all kinds. There are all manner of poisonous things a cat might eat - or that its prey might eat.

In short, it's not that the cat did anything stupid (for a cat) or even made a mistake. The odds are stacked against them, up there.

However, this cat had made it a couple of years, after her predecessor had been hit by a car almost immediately after being adopted as a kitten. She was a proud (and fierce) hunter, bringing field mice, shrews and birds into the house to play with until they stopped moving - and then, always, she ate what she caught. We'd started treating Mom's predictable nightly cat-calls with amusement and (I am guilty to realize) some derision - on the premise that 'if you're going to have an outside cat in the boonies, deal.' My mother is a crazy cat lady; when did that happen?

A couple of weeks ago, the cat didn't come home.

My family searched everywhere they could, and found no sign. There were several cats missing from the village they live in, and they had seen a fox in their front yard a couple of times. Normally, foxes would avoid cats (and vice versa) since they're both after roughly the same prey - but the Fish & Wildlife department explained to Mom that in the midsummer, foxes are teaching their kits to hunt. Thus, August is the only month of the year, typically, where 'domestic animals' might suffer their privations.

Not good.

Mom tearfully told me that a couple of times, she'd heard faint meowing when in the front yard. She'd searched every time, and found no sign of Sweetie (yes, the cat is named Sweetie; I was scandalized by this until I met her, because...well...that was her name). I attempted to comfort my mother a few days ago, because she was suffering tremendous guilt that the night Sweetie had gone, the other cat had been anxious in the kitchen - usually a sign of trouble - and Mom hadn't gone into the yard to check in the middle of the night when she was getting a glass of water. Had she done so, she was sure, she would have been able to save the cat.

Now, my mother is, in fact, 'loading' an enormous amount of her current problems onto this straightforward real-world one. She's ascribing guilt to herself enormously and has her emotions bound up in her cats - too much, perhaps - because she's under stress, is working hard, and for any number of other reasons I don't know or understand right now.

I explained that if a fox had taken Sweetie, there's no doubt she (or he) could have killed the cat - but that there was very little likelihood that s/he could have done so silently. Sweetie was a night hunter - and while a fox could certainly kill her in a straight fight, there's no way I can conceive of that she could have been surprised. The noise would have been awful, and there would have been no doubt what was going on. I've been in the yard when Sweetie's brother tried to sneak up on her, leading to a catfight - and a couple of times, it's escalated to a racket that no-one would be able to sleep through a mere fifteen feet away with open windows.

But today she called me.

She was crying again, and she told me that she'd heard the meows (she realizes) near one area of the house every time - near where there is a fairly large porch, walled off from the foundation. Today, there's a 'smell' near there.

When trying to comfort her over the past two or three weeks, I didn't dwell on the tendency of cats to come home and hide when injured. I've seen other relatives' cats do that when hit by a car, for example.

I just spoke to my father. They pulled the siding off the porch area, and there's a stench. They're very, very sure the cat is in there.

I don't know what to say. If my mother wasn't hearing things, then the cat was alive under the porch and unable to come out for at least a week and a half after she went missing. She would have died literally underneath her family's feet.

I know, intellectually, that it's not our fault. I know that this is the kind of thing that happens. I know that this cat, adopted from a barn, had two and half (three?) years of perhaps the happiest life I've seen a cat live.

None of that is going to make a difference when I think of her under the porch, dying.

I'm worried about my Mom. I love her, and I know this is hurting her terribly.

Posted by jbz at 9:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Where have all the scientists gone?

They're sick of being ignored in policymaking.

I'm actually of two minds about this. On the one hand, I applaud Dr. Wood for having the courage of her convictions and refusing to participate any further in a process which she feels runs counter to the welfare of women. On the other hand, I can't help but wonder - if those who prefer scientific evidence and methods who have convictions all resign, who will be left minding the store?

Posted by jbz at 7:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Transparency, responsibility and the Internet

Schneier on Security has a posting up which contains a neat dilemma regarding the internet's ability to foster transparency versus its ability to cause harm via disclosure. Although I've commented, I'm a bit more conflicted than I sound - I approve of Cryptome's mission in general, but I am deeply uncomfortable naming and identifying persons whose identities and information is not already generally openly available.

To elaborate: if a government official is locatable via verified and/or avowed public information, say a freely available directory, then the decision to repost that information is fairly academic - after all, the decision to make that information available has already been made. I see this sort of activity as positive - Cryptome and its ilk existing to 'even the informational playing field' and make easily locatable and available information which the Government or other central players are relying on being hard to find even if legally available. That form of transparency I fully agree with - it's sheer stupidity to run any form of government activity, much less one designed to protect lives, on the notion of 'security by obscurity' if that information is available in verifiable form somewhere someone can find it with a little (or a lot) of effort.

However, if information is not officially available, then the question becomes to what extent does it serve the polity (and remain responsible) to post it - even if it is most likely true? Essentially, the posting of that information shortcuts any possibility of responsible and informed debate over whether such information should be made available - and worse, because the government/agency is more than likely unable to comment on it even to point out incorrect inclusions, it risks making innocents into targets. The people who could avoid doing that are the ones who aren't talking.

This post, in sum, strikes me personally as a radicalization of the transparency motive - one far past that which I'm comfortable supporting.

Posted by jbz at 7:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 30, 2005

I Love the 'Why Didn't I Publish This' self-flagellation

It's not often I get to read something in the New York Times that talks about an idea I was kicking around a couple of years ago as 'The Hot New Thinking.' But (if I might be excused for blowing my own horn) I got to do that today.

Any of my MIT colleagues who argued with me about that idea are welcome to start arguing again. :-) :-) Dave? Chris? :-)

Let's be fair: this is not new. It's part of an ongoing debate between 'kill count' and 'zone control' that's been going on in counterinsurgency circles since, oh, the first colonial wars, probably.

But the only reason this article is 'now making the rounds' in Washington is because the solution runs directly counter to the 'transformative way of war' that Donald Rumsfeld etc. were busy selling during the initial Iraq war planning. Their problem (as some folks outside the Washington agency navelgaze have always yelled) is that that 'new way of war' was really a 'really good way to fight militaries that looked like ours.' It speaks not at all to the problems of actually handling nation-building (oh right, we weren't going to do that) or of providing after-war stability(see, that would have required having a plan other than 'Iraqis will throw roses at us').

Posted by jbz at 4:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Welcome to Bush-sponsored retaliation for doing one's job.

Bunnatine Greenhouse has been fired. The fact that I have to link to a non-US newspaper for this post makes me incredibly ashamed.

This despite recent revelations that at least one KBR employee has admitted to cookin the books in Iraq.

Nice example you're setting there, Mr. Rumsfeld.

Posted by jbz at 4:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BREAKING NEWS: Ann Coulter 'Shrill, bombastic and mean-spirited.'

All hail the INVESTIGATIVE PROWESS of th'ARIZONA DAILY STAR who, in their recent redesign of their opinion section, discovered that (gasp) even conservatives don't like her! Oh, well, if they don't like her, out she goes then.


What amazes me is that it takes a redesign, soliciting feedback, and investigation to discover this.

Posted by jbz at 2:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mississippi coffee drinkers

Jimmie L. Morgan, a '70 year old coffee drinker' from Amory, MS says that the civil rights workers killed in MS described in the Killen trial were "northeastern carpetbaggers, infiltrated by communists, down here to stir up trouble."

Mr. Morgan: I can't speak for the first two adjectives, nor the second part of that statement, really. But I can tell you that as long as you and your coffee-drinkin' friends are a public face of Mississippi, you're damn skippy somebody should go down there and 'stir up trouble.' The status quo is too horrific to let slide.

Welcome to the twenty-first century, America.

Posted by jbz at 12:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 27, 2005

Virtual worlds and real science

This sort of inquiry is the only way I'll ever admit that political science can be considered a 'hard science.' This is economics, but it's experimental economics - and it takes place in a MMOG, which is the only way I believe you'll ever get 'hard' results in political study. Still, personally, I find it quite and interesting question - I've certainly observed the trend described, and have idly wondered several times why it appears to be going in the direction it is. The discussion here introduced numerous ideas of factors I hadn't even begun to consider.

Posted by jbz at 12:39 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 25, 2005

Utah Rave: An NPOV infodump

Wikinews has information on the Utah Rave bust, including a nice links collection.

Posted by jbz at 6:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why bother addressing the issues when you can just spinwhore?

Don't get me wrong. This isn't in any way addressed at Mrs. Pruett. But I find it fairly contemptible that the White House's only substantive response to the concerns of Cindy Sheehan - who, whatever else she may be, is a mother who lost her son in Iraq - is to find a mother who has four of her own sons there and trot her out on stage.

While her (and her family's) views on the war are completely legitimate, what bothers me is that instead of addressing Ms. Sheehan's concerns, the White House instead chooses to put on a song and dance to remind us that there are people that hold views opposite hers.

Well, duh. Of course there are. That's the whole point of having a free society, which is what they claim they're protecting. Demonstrating this means absolutely nothing. All it does is to use the bully pulpit of the White House PR machine to provide an opposing image to Sheehan - in other words, do absolutely nothing of substance that even considers her position. Rather, actively expend energy showing the American public cherry-picked supporters of their own position. Oh, wait - that's what they've been doing since day one, right? Heaven forfend they actually deal with the fact that people disagree with them.

Posted by jbz at 2:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Touched by his Noodly Appendage - MARK II

One advantage of working where I do - I work with all manner of people who are way better at everything I try to do than I am (er, well, except being an Op...yeh...that's right...don't fire me). Thus, the inimitable tigert took my poor attempt at graphical humor and created a way better version.

Gaze upon his noodlyness as he rocks, and be amazed.


There's also a PDF version for your delectation.

Posted by jbz at 12:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 24, 2005



Woo. I am t3h awful with t3h bits.

All hail snorp for the idea

Posted by jbz at 2:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bill Moyer (no S) is my hero.

Here's why.
Posted by jbz at 11:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 23, 2005

With all due respect to my colleagues who live there...

Fucking Utah.

More information available from the Utah County Sheriffs here. Without even going into the wondrous spelling and grammar of our government officials, I love tidbits like 'Security personnel were arrested for possession of drugs.' Given that the security personnel were required to be there by Utah law, and that one of their tasks would have been the confiscation of any illegal substances they found, it would make sense that they'd have illegal substances in their possession now, wouldn't it? I can't wait to hear the outcome of this one.

"A 17 year old was found overdosed on Ecstasy and was returned to her parents." That's nice. How about the girl we see three armored cops stomping on in the video of the incident? Was she returned to her parents? In what state? Was she the one 'resisting arrest'?

I realize that I don't have 'all the facts' as to what happened. I am a suspicious bastard, and I acknowledge that. I will say that whenever I see law enforcement demanding that a witness 'turn off the camera' whenever force is being used (excessive force, from what I can see, at that) I find it very difficult to take anything that organization says at face value.

And anyway, we alllll know what a threat to life and limb those Ex users are. Regular hoodlums.

Here's a good one: "A safety sweep was conducted after the crowd was ordered to disburse and numerous narcotic items were located scattered on the ground which included: cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, mushrooms, alcohol and large amounts of drug paraphernalia." Yep, yep. Because marijuana, mushrooms and alcohol are narcotics, oh, absolutely. BZZZZT. Wrong. Narcotics are a specific schedule of substance, with a specific set of penalties. Lumping those others in there with them is a completely idiotic (and negligent) generalization, serving only to demonstrate the lack of care for actual specific law enforcement that appears to have been going on. Furthermore, finding the stuff 'scattered around the ground' after you 'disburse' (sic) the crowd seems to simply indicate how badly you fucked up. Wouldn't you rather figure out who had the stuff, rather than wade in, beat the crap out of several folks, and give them all a chance to dump the shit in the dirt? What if, in fact, those drugs had been confiscated by event security - those same security you arrested for possession? The message there is that any attempt to actually make dance events safer by enforcing rules of conduct is pointless, because those doing the enforcing are simply the ones who the police can find when they come stomping in anyway.

Just. Fucking. Ridiculous.

If you're so concerned about people taking drugs at raves, send in undercover officers. Observe them doing so, arrest them, and haul their asses out. Station police officers at the security checkpoints - from the sound of it, I'm sure the event organizers wouldn't have objected, if they had gone to the trouble of applying for all the permits and had security working the entry. Work with the community to police it! Gain the trust and assistance of those who run these events, allowing police personnel to work on weeding out the actual problems (drugs, weapons, violence) rather than simply trying to smash flat the entire scene - which will only serve to drive such events further underground and out of official view, where it will be even harder to ensure that those problems are dealt with.

All in all, a pathetic piece of policing. And for whatever's holy, have someone who can write write up your press releases, at least.

Coverage at DailyKos, Utah Indymedia. Video footage of the incident.

I would fully expect the renouncing of modern medicine those involved in this shameful set of events, were I not utterly convinced of their smug hypocrisy. All I can say is that I would imagine they should be glad gun laws (and traditions thereof) in Britain are much more restrictive than, say, in the rural U.S.

Still, a good shotgun and load of rock salt...

Posted by jbz at 9:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Religious idiots and foreign policy II

Again, words just don't do it.

Posted by jbz at 8:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2005

In completely other news, Friday nights are awesome.

If only, that is, because Battlestar Galactica has been managing to keep up the level of tense drama which has characterized it so far.


Posted by jbz at 2:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Intelligent Design and the classroom

My recent screed was pinged by a much more thoughtful post over on Atlas Blogged. Although my rant is not mentioned specifically (which is probably a good thing) the point of that ping and post seem to be that one needs to teach ID in the classroom in order to properly address its failings and to put it in perspective.

My problem with this approach is the precedent. For two different reasons. First, there is the typical argument that if you begin teaching about this set of ideas in a science classroom, you open the door to being forced to add additional subject matter based on the preferences of strong believers, as opposed to the inclusion based on tested evidence. While I enjoy variety quite a bit, eventually your discussion of the core science will be overwhelmed by time spent addressing the options.

The second problem I have with it is that if one assumes that, having gotten discussion on ID allowed in the science curriculum, its proponents will stand for allowing it to be taught as a negative example, I believe one is being naive. I'm not saying ID shouldn't be addressed at all in science classes; far from it. What I am saying is that allowing mob preference to dictate policy on what is taught in science classes is the 'tipping point' to allowing approval and disapproval of ideas being dictated by non-scientist, non-educators. The anti-rationalist movement is not small, nor will it 'settle.'

That's the real danger.

In the post, the author (Wulf?) states:

We must explain what other beliefs exist to explain an observation, and why one is better than another, or why certain beliefs should not be considered scientific by the students. If you don’t tell them what “Intelligent Design” means, they won’t ever know why they should not believe it. I have found that to actually give more credibility to a belief - if you simply say "that's beyond the scope of this course", you do not challenge the weaknesses of the belief, and you do not show the student why the belief is not scientifically valid.

I have no problem with this at all. What I do have a problem with is assuming that when the true proponents say 'ID should be taught in schools' that they will accept 'taught' to include 'compared with evolution and other beliefs even if found wanting.' Read the BoingBoing post again, especially the attitude of the letter writer towards evolution. Then tell me with equanimity that allowing that person to have input (any input) into the public school science curriculum is a good idea. They're not taking your approach towards alternative ideas. While the approach itself certainly should be part of the lesson plan, assuming that 'include in the discussion' will end with 'we include it as a discussion of the alternatives' is to ignore the nature of this attack on the method itself - not evolution as a subject area.

Posted by jbz at 1:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

And another thing...

Where the fuck do Christian religious types get off claiming 'persecution' in this country? I mean, seriously? If anyone tries to make that claim to me, in my presence, they're gonna see persecution.

You can't be President of this nation without subscribing publicly to some form of Christianity.

That, alone, is enough to make me highly desirous of slapping the living fuck out of the next well-heeled Conservative mouthpiece who blurts this line of crap.

As a secular Jew atheist (parse that, bitches) I have no patience for any of you claiming this terrible assault on your rights. Claim its existence to me at your fucking peril.

Posted by jbz at 4:51 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Intelligent Design and other Fuckwittery

See, things like this really, really piss me off.

Not the post's main subject, which I find fairly hilarious and a worthy use of $1mil.

No, the letter from the Boing Boing reader. I have no problem with her personal beliefs; they are her own. But it's representative of the entire ID farce. Specifically, I have a problem with the semantic usurping of an equal (if not superior) spot in 'science'.

What is not being said nearly often enough, and needs to be said much more clearly and frequently, is that the current spat over 'evolution' vs. 'intelligent design' is not, at its core, a conflict between two competing views of the origins of human life. It's something much more basic and frightening which needs to be emphasized.

It is in fact the ages-old conflict between reason and the power of personal belief.

That's it.

ID is a cleverly executed attempt to clothe Creationism in the guise of a 'scientific' idea. The sudden use of words like 'evidence' and 'theory' and 'hypothesis' by its proponents, well-schooled by strategists whether they like it or not, is indicative. What is telling, however, is how far up the actual underpinnings stick out.

In the letter shown, the writer rants on with the following:

Certainally not evolution considering there is not one single fact that proves it. No missing links, not even common sense. Lies are still being printed that were proven wrong in the late 1800's but they're still taught as fact.

'Not even common sense.'

See, there's a problem. The problem is that if common sense was an adequate guide to how the world really worked, we wouldn't have technology. We'd never have bothered sailing off into the unknown to determine if the world wasn't flat. On a much less anecdotal plane, we wouldn't have several esoteric and completely non-common-sense branches of science, which nevertheless work and provide us with the standard of living and frontier of technology we have today.

Let's take quantum physics. I defy anyone to label the axioms of quantum physics 'common sense' - especially at the time they were being proposed. Things that are in more than one place at once? Come on, be serious! Yet quantum physics is not a lie. It's not a myth. It's an experimentally verifiable set of propositions which allow us to enjoy such phenomena as the transistor and all of electronics.

But let's be clear: 'experimentally verifiable' does not mean 'common sense.' It doesn't even mean 'understood.' Why do electrons sometimes jump across empty space? Why or how do entangled photons flip states when separated by kilometers, triggered only by observation? We don't know. But we can rely on the phenomenon.

One common objection to this line of thought is that 'the entire point is that evolution is not experimentally verifiable.' While I'm not going to claim expertise enough to tell you that it is (simulation and stochastic experimentation notwithstanding!) that's not the point. The point is that ID is an attempt not to elevate a body of knowledge based on its verifiability or utility to the human race. Rather, it is strictly an attempt to discredit a particular body of knowledge and thought. Not because that knowledge and thought actively harms anyone - quite the contrary.

Simply because that body of knowledge and thought is dangerous to a set of beliefs held by those attacking it.

In other words, comfort in one's beliefs is more important that the investigation of reality.

That is the true conflict here, and the true danger. Defenders of evolution do not always (and in my opinion should not) attempt to fight the ID attack on the basis of actual experimental evidence; that is, in fact, playing the game the ID movement wants. To do so is to elevate ID to the status of an actual competing scientific paradigm. Once you've done that, you've lost - because the entire point of this fairly sleazy attempt to attack the science curricula in this country is to simply provide those who can't handle their beliefs being questioned a support structure based on stolen logic.

At stake here is not evolution, but the scientific method. The method which has given humanity's science and technology the structure on which to move forward and discover - the method which has given thinkers the ability to throw out ideas that haven't met standards. Publicity stunt calls to 'prove evolution' for a prize are something much more pernicious - they are an attempt to destroy the entire notion of operating on a hypothesis while searching for the means to make it a theory. "You can't prove it, therefore it isn't true."

One handicap the scientific community appears to have been operating under (from personal experience alone) is that the sheer illogic of the ID attack has prevented those within it from taking it seriously enough to combat. But that is a mistake. The key is not to take the content of the ID platform seriously - but to take the motives and methods seriously.

Those are what will, if left unchecked, turn the United States from a rational and science based power (and make no mistake, rationality and science are what made the US a superpower) into a weak and rigid shaow of its former self, with an entire generation denied the chance to learn the proper scientific method.

Why are the ID proponents so afraid? Why are they so virulently against evolution? It's not because the actual origins of humanity is a question that has current importance from a reality basis. It's because the acceptance of evolution is implicitly the acceptance of the notion that reason and method determine how the world works - and that reason sometimes tells you that 'common sense' is wrong, as is what you were taught by your elders or predecessors. Flat Earth was once a 'common sense' and 'theory.' Purely Newtonian physics was once a scientific and experimentally verifiable picture of 'all of reality.' However, the ability (and desire) to explain some holes therein, or just simply the desire to test these ideas against observed reality, led humanity to discoveries that moved it farther onward and upward.

But according to Intelligent Design, if you can't prove it, it's a 'lie.' If you can't justify it according to 'common sense,' it's a threat. To what? To a particular set of beliefs and way of life.

Well, my personal response is this: I don't believe the universe was created by an intelligent/sapient entity. I don't believe humanity was either. I believe, based on what evidence I have been shown and based on things I can touch, that the existence of myself and my surroundings are the result of path-dependent stochastic chance.

If you tell me that I'm wrong and that in fact the universe was created by an intelligent entity, then you are trampling my beliefs.

This brings me to my final point. Please note that nowhere in the mainstream has anyone stated that ID or creationism should not be taught. Quite the contrary. If a church, or private organization, wishes to instruct people in the tenets and ideas of the ID movement, that's fine. What is at stake is the curriculum in the publicly funded, government based education system. This system has a responsibility to teach the scientific method in order to further the continuance of science and technology in and by those it teaches. ID is a set of ideas and beliefs. If churches, clubs, or what-have-you want to apply those methods to Creationism on their own time, that's fine. Send your child to church school. Send your child to an after-school group. But don't deny my child the right to learn about science without bending the entire structure of the methodology in order to include a minority, constructivist belief system. Do that on your own time.

If you force me to remove my child from public science classes because what is being taught no longer permits skepticism of 'common sense,' then you have used a religious belief to deny that child the benefits of secular taxation and schooling.

And then I'm going to have to come for you. I supported taking down the Taliban for the same reasons. Not because of their beliefs - but because of their willingness to squash dissenting worldviews.

I'm not saying you can't believe in Intelligent Design all you want. What I'm saying is that any attempt to change my child's science education in a a secular school based on it, because you don't like the possibility that common sense is wrong, or random chance can produce Shakespeare, will make you my opponent. You have chosen to elevate a belief set over a methodology, and to (explictly) set 'intelligence' and its 'own beliefs and ideas' over rational examination and observation of reality - and you're damn well not going to do the same to me.

Be warned.

Posted by jbz at 4:16 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 17, 2005

This is what happens when religious whackos think about International Security.

Comments fail me.

Posted by jbz at 4:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 16, 2005

How many things can we find wrong?

I was pointed to this story by a friend, who reminded me that I in fact had met the toddler shown there when she was an infant. The story points out several things that just make me crazy. Here's what and why.

First of all, while the story points out (correctly) the stupidity of having a 1 year old's name trigger the no-fly list, it doesn't mention what I consider to be the real stupidity exposed. Namely, that the system is so proceduralized (or fraught with penalties for stupid infractions) that people who are otherwise likely competent aren't simply allowing the toddlers in question to go through when the name triggers a warning. If, say, you're an airport security official (or ticket agent) and you are faced with a couple or single parent whose name is not on a no-fly list, but have an infant or toddler whose name (which they have given you voluntarily) is on a no-fly list, do you really think this child is a security risk because of their name?

If you answered yes, then please don't join the service industry, or God forbid, take any job where my future safety might depend on your decisionmaking.

Second: when contacted for comment, the TSA informed CNN that in fact these stoppages were incorrect. Although that might be cause for relief, let's look at why: according to CNN it's because " the Transportation Security Administration, which administers the lists, instructs airlines not to deny boarding to children under 12 -- or select them for extra security checks -- even if their names match those on a list."

In other words, there is a rules-based hole in the security system. Bad enough that they're trying to fix an incredibly stupid failure with a blanket policy - however, they've gone a step farther and 'fail-open'-ed the process with that policy. I'm not saying that a 1-yr-old is going to be a security risk. However, if someone is willing to bomb an aircraft with children on it, what are the odds that they would stop at using a willing (or unknowing) child to help them get a device onto the plane?

I have no way of actually rating the likelihood of that threat, but the point is: in order to fix a false positive (which occurred for stupid reasons, namely that for some reason there is not enough individual judgement allowed for a 1 year old to pass through security because simply of a no-fly list entry) the TSA has resorted to blanket policies which in fact weaken the (already laughable) system.

And this agency is part of the department that thinks it shouldn't have to put up with Congressional oversight over its attempts to control the rights of Americans to travel or to acquire their personal information for unspecified ends.

More here is broken than a security system. Much, much more.

Posted by jbz at 11:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The little things that make them people

One of the joys of living with cats is learning what makes them individuals - watching their personalities develop as they grow from kitten into older companion. This process is occasionally its own bright reward when one of them decides to let you know something very distinctive about his or herself - something that can't be explained by 'normal predator behavior' or other dry-sounding theory, and really can only be looked at as a streak of individuality.

Despite her carnivore purity of heritage, Rory likes watermelon.

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August 15, 2005

Cindy Sheehan doesn't get to 'go on with her life,' Mr. President. That's the whole point.

So our Commander-in-Chief apparently thinks that Cindy Sheehan having something to say to her President is 'part of the job.' "But," he added, "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life."

Cindy Sheehan, and most importantly Casey Sheehan, won't ever be able to 'go on with their lives,' Mr. President. Whether you can 'go on with yours' frankly isn't the fucking point. This isn't about you. I know it's hard to cope with.

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DHS doesn't like oversight, seeks patsy.

Bruce Schneier comments on a story in Wired documenting the latest attempt by the Department of Homeland Security to avoid not only complying with any reasonable attempt at protecting your identity and associated data, but in fact to escape any Congressional oversight over their actions.

Read this. Let your representative know that the Domestic Surveillance arm of the United States Government is seeking to evade his or her oversight.

Didn't we once castigate the USSR for organizational behavior like this? Where are the 'Real Republicans' now?

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August 14, 2005

Tasty redundant bad-for-me-ness

I can now state following experimentation and without reservation that this is, in fact, delicious.

Very bad for you as well, thank the lords of fat.

I recommend doubling or tripling the described garlic allowance. :-)

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TIME Viewed Askance

TIME magazine is running a story in which it purports to have evidence, gained as part of an investigative report, documenting widespread Iranian interference in Iraq both prior to and since the U.S.-led invasion. The report, breathless in terms of what's going on and extremely light on specific evidence (many "classified documents state that..." and "military intelligence sources say...") leads up to some troubling questions, and not just those offered by TIME.

First of all, why this coverage now? Is it because the evidence was not available earlier? If so, where is this evidence - or, if I can't see it, who can in order to verify it?

Second, what comments has TIME sought from U.S. policymakers, if any? The report does not mention any official requests for comment, or any attributed sources of information or responses.

Third, if Iran is acting in the manner described, is it a monolithic policy? Or is it the actions of multiple interest groups/actors inside Iran's government and military?

With respect to TIME (well, some) and more to other journalists who present this, I am forcibly reminded of the media blitz involving other 'intelligence sources' and non-attributed folk, who assured us that Iraq contained WMDs and 9/11 links. While this story serves to point out an area of trouble, it comes across (to me) as dangerously vague - it is too vague (or light on evidence) to support serious prodding of the policy establishment. At the same time, it is a serious enough description of a problem that it could certainly be used to galvanize support for punitive action versus Iran, even without further verification.

That's where we got into all this trouble last time.

Given Iran's current nuclear games with the IAEA and the world community in general, along with other disturbing hints of the U.S. Executive's preference to extend punitive measures to Iran, this story really raises more suspicion in me of domestic agendas than of Iran. If the world's only superpower had just taken down my next door neighbor, you can damn well bet I'd have as many assets as possible inside it.

I should state, in expectation of the wingnuts, that I don't in any way support Iranian assistance to the Iraqi insurgency - although I can certainly understand it. Oh, and if any of them have trouble figuring out how someone can 'understand' something without 'supporting' it, they can fuck off right now as too half-wit to begin arguing with (yes, this has come up via email).

TIME needs to produce this evidence, not a broad-brush set of assertions. I want to see this evidence, or (minimally) I want as many people as possiblenot employed by the Bush Administration to view it and declare it genuine.

Posted by jbz at 9:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Don't shop at Wal-Mart.

If they ask you why, give them this.

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August 11, 2005

I remember laughing at stuff like this...

...back in 1983. Now, well, privacy implications notwithstanding, I have to admit's still funny as hell.

(via MeFi)

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August 10, 2005

Sweetie, please be OK.

A few minutes after I wrote the prior entry, my Mom called tearfully to tell me that her youngest cat, Sweetie (I know, I know, but you have to know the cat, she's actually perfectly named) has been missing for a day and a half from their home in Vermont. Normally I wouldn't be all that concerned, but a fisher cat has been seen in the neighborhood and one of the neighbor's cats vanished two weeks ago. Sweetie, I hope you're OK and come home soon. I know you've stayed out all night before but Mom is a bit fragile where her kittens are concerned.

Posted by jbz at 12:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


From the 'wet cats are funny-lookin'' department crossed with the 'OMFG how do these people still have skin????' department, we bring you...

...bathing cats.

(via the excellent Bitch, Ph.D.)

August 8, 2005

Tow trucks and problem resolution.

Argh. So, I was out of town last Friday, and my memory glitched the 'side of the street' parking regulations. As a consequence, my TR6 was towed. I went to pick it up this morning, fearing what I'd find; the TR is really too small to be handled by standard wreckers without damage. I paid the $130 ransom for the car at the office, and the manager said "Oh, the green TR? Yep, I wantcha to know, we used a wheel lift on that...can't tow 'em from the frame, we know that."

I was heartened by his assurances, and thanked him before heading out to pick Amanda up from the tow lot.

Unfortunately, there's a massive gouge in her front fender, all the way down into the metal, and the fender (up near the headlight) is dented in from the impact.


I pointed this out to the manager, who really did seem quite upset that after the lengths he'd gone to reassure me, there was damage to the car. As I am a firm believer that the best way to sort things out is up front and amongst the parties involved, I let him check his paperwork to verify the gouge hadn't been there (well, I knew it hadn't, and it was clearly fresh, but I'm not going to begrudge him the check).

He has asked me to take the car to his associated body shop, where they will 'make things right.' I checked with the police to make sure I didn't lose any documented rights by accepting the car (after taking cameraphone pictures of it), but shook his hand on it and drove off the lot.

Part of me thinks I may get screwed. But on the other hand, it's one fine thing to rant and bitch that not enough people in the world just make the effort to fix things without resorting to lawyers and all manner of measures like that. He treated me civilly and offered a solution which would result in no paperwork, and no out of pocket expense to either of us. While I may have less recourse if I'm not happy with the results, I have no reason to state ahead of time that I won't be, and it's in both our best interests for me to be happy with the repair. Given that, and given his courteous treatment of me given this offer to amend the situation, then I'm going to say it's my burden to take him up on his offer.

We'll see how it goes.

If the repair is well done, then I'll buy him a bottle of whatever he's drinking, on the theory that when problems like this are solved with both parties shaking hands and doing the right thing, we're all better off. There's too much crap in the world for our blood pressure to suffer from things that go right. I do hope that's what ends up happening; I'll add the cost of the bottle to the cost of the tow in my mental "YOU IDIOT" budget.

Then I'll apologize to my car for leaving her on the wrong side of the street. :-(

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Disappointment with one's alma mater... not an unfamiliar feeling, unfortunately.

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August 1, 2005

Cory Doctorow misses the point.

Mr. Doctorow appears to be on the verge of having a full-blown snit over Apple Computer's use of TCPA/TPM (Palladium?) DRM inside the kernel in the Mac OS X for Intel developer kits that have so far been released. I (personally) think he's (again) entirely missing the point, in a frenzy of Copyfighter Open-My-Information kneejerk.

Allow me to state for the record: I think DRM is a bad thing. Especially when applied to anything in my data. Especially when applied to anything without my permission. But in this case, take a careful look at what's going on.

Apple is a company that has always made its money on hardware. Sure, people may buy the hardware because of the OS - but the margins are on the hardware, and the higher-end, the better. While this may change in the future, and may be changing as I write this, it's still true. If it weren't true, I don't think Apple would be bothering to produce Intel-based Macs - they'd be producing Mac OS X for your PC. The problem is that that's what Steve Jobs' last company did - remember NeXTStep? Sure you do. Look what happened to them? They had to get bought out by a company that made hardware (Apple) because they fell into the ground trying to survive only making software.

No, I'm not claiming the companies are in similar situations. However, they are both companies with 'different' OSes, headed by Steve Jobs, who doesn't forget things. Apple is spending a great deal of time and money to build a Macintosh product line that runs on Intel chips - to the point of being rumored to be trying to poach Sony engineers to help them build out Intel-based sexy products. So they're going the hardware route.

Given that, anyone running OS X on a non-Apple box is cutting into their survival. They're denying Apple the profit margin on an Intel-based Mac (Note, Mr. Doctorow - I don't say 'stealing'). This isn't something that Apple thinks is illegal, or should be legislated against, or should be punished - yet - but it's something they would like to prevent if possible. So they have started taking steps.

Let's have a look at precisely what, so far, that TCPA/TPM stuff is being used for. As far as I could tell by reading the forum thread that Mr. Doctorow references in his post, the stumbling block to those folks attempting to run their versions of the Mac OS X for Intel Developer's CD on non-Apple hardware have come up against is that the OS seems to be using TPM when instantiating the Rosetta kernel.

The Rosetta kernel is the piece of code that performs on-the-fly translation between PPC binaries and the x86 instruction set. It was (IIRC) a piece of commercial software that Apple purchased via the acquisition of the firm that produced it. Ergo, it's fully theirs. So the TPM is being used to protect the running of the Rosetta code.

This, in turn, is a problem because the GUI for OS X (the ATSServer) apparently hasn't been ported to x86, and is a PPC binary. The GUI code from OS X (at least in the Dev kits) lives in PPC, and thus requires the Rosetta kernel to start up in order to run. No Rosetta, no Mac OS X interface. Thus, if your Mac OS X Intel can't properly authenticate against the TCPA/TPM hardware on the motherboard, it won't be able to start Rosetta, which means it won't be able to start up its GUI, which means - bam.

Mr. Doctorow states that this is an unacceptable foray by Apple into DRM, and goes on to explain that he worries about his data, stored in proprietary programs like Apple's and the like, and that this use of TCPA/TPM means that he will no longer be recommending or purchasing Apple's products.

I wish him well.

I'm personally unsure what has him in such a twist. If, in fact, we find out that the TCPA/TPM is being used anywhere in the OS which handles the loading and unloading of actual userspace data, or in the filesystem routines, or in any place in fact where user data or user code might run up against it, then I could see and possibly agree with his concern. But not at this point. Here's why.

Rosetta is proprietary software, and it is being protected against execution. As far as I can tell from reading the thread, the TCPA/TPM is only being invoked in the specific bit of loader code that invokes Rosetta for the purpose of translating PPC code to x86. NOTE: I am not a coder. I may well be wrong. Ergo, there doesn't seem to be any way (to me) for that to be used to encrypt or otherwise 'lock in' a user's data. The only way it would prevent users from accessing data is if they have data written by a PPC-only program which they then move to an Intel-based mac and cannot access - but that is a compatibility issue, not a DRM issue, since there is no way to retroactively 'lock down' that user's data. It simply means that they cannot transfer it to the new system (voluntarily) and have it work. If they copy it back over, it'll work fine. The data has not been encrypted, and they are free to write an OS X/Intel version of the program which can read it.

Moving on the fact that Apple is locking the GUI of an OS 'based on free software' up behind DRM - yes, so what? I recall quite clearly some diagrams of the structure of OS X. Darwin (the Open Source base of OS X) does not include the GUI. The GUI is proprietary Apple software, just like Rosetta. It is why people want to buy Mac OS X, rather than download Darwin (which they have been able to do for x86 for years).

If we discover that Apple is putting routines inside OS X that allow the TCPA/TPM to be accessed from inside Quicktime, or from inside filesystem modules - then, yes, I would be concerned. I am not even saying we won't discover these routines. I'm not defending Apple. What I am saying is that the fight against DRM is a serious one, and that knee-jerking responses to it weaken our ability to make reasoned arguments against its use. Mr. Doctorow's throwing up his hands at the very mention of TCPA/TPM and DRM and the word 'kernel' and threatening to never buy an Apple product again are a perhaps laudable statement of his commitment, but they are also an easy way for those in the industry to dismiss his statements as hyperbole or ignorance or just plain rabble-rousing. Whether I approve of him or not, he has significant influence in the Copyfighter community - and I would hate to see that influence wasted by firing shots too early, without proper information, on issues that sidetrack from the real problem.

Posted by jbz at 12:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack