Monday, September 29, 2003

They came for the hackers...

There's an old fable that begins, "The came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak up." Nowadays they come not for the Jews but for the (alleged) drug dealers and terrorists and now, hackers.

(The "drug dealers" link above, by the way, is to a 60 Minutes story about an undercover narcotics agent named Tom Coleman who arrested 46 people -- all of them black -- on charges of dealing cocaine and got them sentenced to a combined total of 750 years in prison with no corroborating evidence whatsoever. Of course, anyone stupid enough to be black in Texas deserves whatever they get, right? This travesty is also described in more detail here.)

Telling it like it is (and paying the price)

Seven renouned and courageous computer scientists tell it like it is in a paper entitled Cyberinsecurity: The Cost of Monopoly. It's a bit technical, but well worth a read.

One of the authors, Daniel Geer, was fired for his association with this report.

Friday, September 26, 2003

What's wrong with this picture?

Today's Los Angeles Times sports the following headlines, one right after the other:

"Poverty Rate Increased in 2002"

"Economic Growth Picks Up Pace"

Oh, and then there's this:

"Recall Spending Tops $50 Million"

Some days I worry that American's will not come to their senses until the entire economy comes crashing down around them in a burning heap. Today is one of those days.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

We're number one!

Los Angeles is back in the top spot as the nation's smoggiest city after being briefly overtaken by Houston a few years back.

I'm not surprised. You can cut the emissions of individual cars by 90%, but that only helps until you end up with ten times as many cars (which you inevitably will because for a while the cleaner air will make LA a more attractive place to live which will draw more people). No emission control measure (in fact, no environmental protection measure of any kind) can be anything but a temporary fix in the face of exponentially increasing populations.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Disgraceful indifference

The LA Times reports:

"A Louisiana man [named Calvin Willis] was released from the state penitentiary Friday after spending nearly half his life behind bars for a rape that DNA evidence now shows he did not commit."

It should come as no surprise that Willis is poor and black.

What is shocking is that Hugo Holland, chief of the sex crimes unit at the district attorney's office in Shreveport, refuses to admit that Willis is innocent, saying only that there is now enough "reasonable doubt" of Willis's guilt that the DA's office will not retry him. Holland's indifference to the fact (and it is a fact) that the real rapist is still out there offends human decency. (To say nothing of the fact -- and it is a fact -- that an innocent man was imprisoned for over twenty years.)

Hugo Holland, you digust me. You are a disgrace to the human race.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Getting in touch with reality

This is a promising sign. George Bush is beginning to get in touch with reality:

"President Bush said Wednesday that there was no proof tying Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks."

So are the American people.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

We hold these truths...

The United States is holding 10,000 Iraqi prisoners.

Brigadier General Janis Karpinski is quoted as saying, "It's not that they don't have rights ... they have fewer rights than EPWs (enemy prisoners of war)."

Given that "enemy combatants" (not clear whether "enemy prisoners of war" means the same thing or not) have no right to council, no right of habeus corbus, no right of the presumption of innoncence, it is hard to imagine what sort of meaningful rights these prisoners might retain.

Once again the Bush administration demonstrates their contempt for the bedrock principle that our country was founded upon, that it is self-evident that all men, not just Americans, are created equal, and that they are endowed, not by the Constitution, but by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these rights are life and liberty.

The only truth that the Bush Administration considers to be self-evident is that there are terrorists everywhere, and that they must be eliminated by any means necessary. Go watch Terry Gilliam's movie Brazil (or read Orwell's 1984) to see the result of building a society on that premise.

Monday, September 15, 2003

The cost of civic duty

For the first time in my life (which is shocking considering how old I am) I had to report for jury duty today. The process is so apallingly inefficient that I was astonished despite the fact that I expected it to be apallingly inefficient.

I had to show up at the courthouse at 8 AM. We finally got through the preliminaries (sign in, watch the orientation videos, get the orientation pep talk from a judge) by 10 AM. I was among the first group of jurors called. 100 of us (about half the total pool) were sent down two floors, which took about half an hour because some of the elevators weren't working and there were no stairs. (The only stairs were emergency exit stairs, and once you're in the stairwell you can't get back into the building, presumably for security reasons.)

Finally, by 11:00 or so all 100 of us were inside the courtroom and learned why so many of us had been called down for this particular case: it was expected to last four weeks. For the third time that day the judge went down the list of jurors in order and asked each one if there was a reason why they couldn't serve on a trial that long. Most people, myself included, said that their employers wouldn't pay their salaries for that long a period of time, and were promptly sent back up to the jury room.

By the time I got back (after another long wait for the elevator) it was nearly lunch time, and because of the way the timing worked out, the normal 90 minute lunch break was extended to nearly two hours. Because I had so much time I was actually able to drive home for lunch!

I got back to the court house at about 1:30, found a quiet corner in the jury room and started reading. About twenty minutes later it was announced that we were no longer needed and we could all go home. Time was I would have had to go through this for ten days. As it stands, because I did not get empaneled on a jury my service is complete for a year.

Still, I and nearly two hundred other people more or less wasted an entire day. And this was a relatively small courthouse. I don't know if anyone has ever bothered to figure out what the overall cost to society is of having so many people twiddling their thumbs waiting for a judge or an elevator or whatever we were waiting for, but it must be a staggering sum.

There has to be a better way (notwithstanding that by comparison to the way things used to be this is a better way). And I'm afraid that if we don't find it our legal system will collapse under its own weight.

An honest man in Washington?

Reading the news from Washington sometimes makes me feel like Diogenes on his futile quest for an honest man in Athens. Luckily, I have found Dick Cheney, who has finally admitted:

"Yeah, I did misspeak," Cheney said. "I said repeatedly during the show, 'weapons capability.' We never had any evidence that [Hussein] had acquired a nuclear weapon."

"Misspeak" is, of course, Washington-speak for "lied."

Unfortunately, this is the only scrap of honesty in a maelstrom of frantic spinning:

"'That's physical evidence that we've got in hand today,' Cheney said. 'So to suggest that there is no evidence that [Hussein] had aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons, I don't think is valid.'"

No one ever doubted that Hussein had aspirations to acquire a nuclear weapon. But every two-bit thug in the world has aspirations to acquire a nuclear weapon. What matters is whether he had the means to acquire one quickly because that was (part of) the rationale that was given for invading Iraq now. And it is becoming quite apparent that he did not.

The bankruptcy of the pro-war position is made starkly evident in the discussion following this essay by Rand Simberg, the latest in a series of faux-news stories that cast the arguments of those opposed to the war in Iraq into the context of World War II. In the course of defending this untenable and offensive comparison Rand is forced to resort to theories like "Iraq and Saudi Arabia are allies," a claim so ridiculous as to hardly merit refuting.

What those on the right don't get is that we who oppose the war are not "appeasers". We share the goal of defeating terrorists. What we differ on is the means by which this is best accomplished. But when one has backed onesself into a rhetorical corner it is always easier to start spewing nonsense and attacking straw men than to admit that you were wrong, especially when you've been acting like an arrogant prick.

Good news

More signs that Microsoft's hegemony in the software market may be drawing to a close.

"FORD is joining the ranks of governments and local authorities across the world that have switched from Microsoft software to the free open-source alternative Linux. The car giant will run its sales operations, human resources, customer relations management and the rest of its infrastructure operations on the upstart technology."

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

A problem

Sacramento City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond had this to say about their local schools:

"The school district has done some wonderful things ... but (on state tests) half the students are still below the 50th percentile. That's a problem."


This is justice?

The LA Times reports that former Enron Treasurer Ben Glisan today was sentenced to five years in federal prison.

Five years is also the Federal mandatory minimum sentence for possession of five grams of crack (but not powder) cocaine..

Does posessing five grams of crack really do as much damage to society as stealing billions of dollars?

Friday, September 05, 2003

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Mixed feelings

A terrorist has been brought to justice.

"Nine years after he calmly shot and killed an abortion doctor and his volunteer escort outside a Pensacola clinic, Paul Jennings Hill died by lethal injection here today as his supporters declared him a martyr and warned that his actions might be replicated."

I can almost understand the twisted logic that leads someone to kill an abortion doctor and feel no remorse, but the magnitude of the denial needed to justify the killing of his bodyguard is beyond my comprehension.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

No conflict of interest here

The Plain Dealer reports:

"The head of a company vying to sell voting machines in Ohio told Republicans in a recent fund-raising letter that he is 'committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.' "

No conflict of interest here. No threat to democracy either. Nope. No sir.

Prepare to be assimilated

Microsoft, after years of honing the process to perfection, is about to squash one of the last remaining vestiges of competition in the software market.