Saturday, December 31, 2005


A good, relatively short Op-Ed from T.J. Rodgers for the San Jose Mercury News (choice quote):

Why should law-abiding citizens fear these trends? Because the government cannot be trusted. I don't trust President Bush to honor my rights, nor did I trust President Clinton, who was caught with secret FBI files on his political enemies.

It's not that I'm unpatriotic. The founders of our country did not trust any government -- either that of George III or an uncontrolled democracy. That's why we have the Bill of Rights to protect American citizens from their own government -- by demanding, for example, that ``Congress shall make no law abridging the right of free speech.''

Our property is also protected from illegal search and seizure, and we are not to be put in jail without knowing the charges against us or having the right to confront our accusers in a public trial. Secret courts are inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, the defining document of American freedom.

What's the worst thing that Al-Qaida can do to America? We have probably already seen it. Of course, the government can talk about bigger things, like the use of weapons of mass destruction, to justify its use of totalitarian tactics.

I would much rather live as a free man under the highly improbable threat of another significant Al-Qaida attack than I would as a serf, spied on by an oppressive government that can jail me secretly, without charges. If the Patriot Act defines the term ``patriot,'' then I am certainly not one.

By far, our own government is a bigger threat to our freedom than any possible menace posed by Al-Qaida.

Windows Security flaw update

I've been following a lot of the recommended advice on how to deal with the latest Windows vulnerability. This is a tough one and it's going to take some time to address. The exploit is spreading quickly and in a variety of ways and locations. There is advice out there on how to secure your system. I am passing along some of this, but I do NOT vouch for the advice nor do I think it is perfect. As one blogger notes, there is a LOT of bad advice floating about on this.

Said blogger is security expert George Ou from ZDNet blogs. He passes along Microsoft's advice and, in fact, got them to update their advice. George thinks that they didn't update the advice appropriately, so he suggests the following:
They should have left the following portion in: "By default software-enforced DEP applies to core operating system components and services. This vulnerability can be mitigated by enabling DEP for all programs on your computer. For additional information about how to “Enable DEP for all programs on your computer”, see the product documentation."
Basically, George is suggesting the following steps:
1) Right click on My Computer
2) Go to Properties
3) Select the Advanced tab
4) Under the Performance header, click Settings
5) Select the Data Execution Protection tab
6) Select the button marked: "Turn on DEP for all programs and services except those that I select"
7) Hit the Apply button
8) This will require a restart

In addition to this, Microsoft is recommending that people uninstall the dll that is at the heart of the exploit. To do this, click Start>Run and type in "regsvr32 /u shimgvw.dll" (without the quotes). This will prevent the problem in IE, but it will also disable viewing thumbnails of photos in IE. On top of that, it doesn't work for some programs such as MSPaint, LotusNotes, and Google Desktop. Plus, the user will have to re-register the DLL after Microsoft issues the fix, which means many won't because they won't remember to do it and probably don't know how (easy to do, go to Start>Run and type in "regsvr32 shimgvw.dll" without the quotes). Gee, think that Microsoft could issue a little executable to do that for the customer and then re-register it when they issue the fix?

Sunbelt Blog reports that they have a fix that seems to work with their firewall. It's a rules update.

F Secure's blog reports that Firefox and Opera browsers aren't as vulnerable as IE in that they at least ask the user if either MS Paint or MS Fax and Picture Viewer should be opened. If true, it's another knock against IE and regular readers will note that I've encouraged people to drop that software for a couple of years, now.

F Secure also reports on a hotfix from another developer that is downloadable as an executable. Writes F Secure:

Here's an alternative way to fix the WMF vulnerability.

Ilfak Guilfanov has published a temporary fix which does not remove any functionality from the system (all pictures and thumbnails continue to work normally).

The fix works by injecting itself to all processes loading USER32.DLL. It patches the Escape() function in GDI32.DLL, revoking WMF's SETABORT escape sequence that is the root of the problem.

Now, we wouldn't normally blog about a security patch that is not coming from the original vendor. But Ilfak Guilfanov isn't just anybody. He's the main author of IDA (Interactive Disassembler Pro) and is arguably one of the best low-level Windows experts in the world.

I've loaded Ilfak's fix and haven't noticed any problems yet. If it does work as described, then it's a better solution than Microsoft's. Note that Ilfak asks on his blog whether or not this affects any other programs (meaning, he's not sure), so caution is advised. He also notes that his program should be removed as soon as Microsoft issues an official patch. Finally, his program only works on the Windows XP operating system.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Friday Art Blogging

Drink and draw is as advertised.

Pau Ross captures a strange, often beautiful, but sometimes disturbing world. This is not the clean world of Hollywood or porn films. It is stylized, but it's much more grimey and real.

Aaron Hawks produces some fantastic art photography.

Eric Martin combines fetish photography with fashion photography. The results are stunning.

Alva Bernadine
won the UK's Erotic Photographer of the Year Award in 2002. As you can see, his latest work is having an impact.

Windows Security flaw - serious

In case you haven't heard, there is a new Windows Security exploit out on the web. It's a nasty bug that takes advantage of a hole in Windows via a Windows Meta File (WMF). Basically, it exploits a hole in Windows Picture and Fax viewer which renders images on the Windows-based PC. This bug (and it currently has over 50 variants) can be exploited through IE, Firefox, Opera, Mozilla, Netscape, Outlook, Outlook Express, Lotus Notes and, presumably, Thunderbird. Current reports also note that a new version exists that will install rogue spyware that masquerades as anti-spyware. This exploit is an autoinstall, meaning users who are infected don't get an option to opt out of the infection (there are reports that Firefox will ask first, but those are not confirmed). Ugh.

Bottom line: this is a Windows flaw and Microsoft and various security companies are working on it. Users of Macs and Linux-based PCs are not affected.

For more info, see Security Fix, Sunbelt Blog, and Spyware Confidential. Warning: Not all fixes listed will actually "fix" the problem. Particularly, unregistering the "shimgvw.dll" as mentioned in the articles will not only NOT fix the problem, but it will cause you to not view most images on the web. As mentioned in that last link above:

Folks, unregistering the SHIMGVW.DLL is not a foolproof solution.
More from Techweb:
The SANS Institute's Internet Storm Center also tossed in its two cents of bad news.

Although some security firms on Wednesday advised enterprises to block WMF files at the network edge, that may not be a decent defense for long.

"Windows XP will detect and process a WMF file based on its content, and not rely on the extension alone," wrote analyst Chris Carboni on the center's blog. "[That] means a WMF sailing in disguise with a different extension might still be able to get you."

Hackers could simply rename a malicious WMF file with, say, a .gif or .jpg file extension, attach it to an e-mail message, and assuming a user opens the file, infect a system.

At the moment, say the experts, exploits are "only" installing spyware and/or fake anti-spyware software. That's bad enough, said two security firms, including one that specializes in combating spyware.

"Now we're seeing many more using this to install bad stuff," said Alex Eckelberry, president of anti-spyware developer Sunbelt Software. "This is a really bad exploit. Be careful out there."

Here's a video (Windows Media File) of the virus infecting a machine.

Random Next Ten

iTunes is on fire today, so I'll post the tracks 11 through 20 to make up for the times I've missed:

11) The Knife - One For One
12) The Spongetones - Christmasland
13) Jimmy Cliff - Bring Out The Love
14) Joseph Arthur - All Of Our Hands
15) Arvo Part - Spiegel Im Spiegel (Violin and Piano)
16) Martha and the Muffins - Garden In The Sky
17) Radio Spots from the Blaxploitation Movie Era - Mandingo
18) William Orbit Vs. The J. Geils Band - Water From A Centerfold (DJ Mike W's Mash-up Mix)
19) Tin Hat Trio - Fire of Ada
20) Afrocelts - Rise Above It

The Jimmy Cliff tune is live. Joseph Arthur is making my best of list this year (again). M+M is an old fave. I've got a lot (60 or so) of those Blaxploitation radio spots from the 70s. Afrocelts' new CD is excellent.

Dickie's Quickies

Having trouble keeping up with the players in the Abramoff scandal? Not sure what it's all about? No problem as the Washington Post has a concise and thorough list.

While we're talking politics, the BBC News reports on what Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, had to say about the troubled politics in the region. Choice quote:
There will be more big decisions to be taken in the future, not least on policing and criminal justice, and those decisions should be taken by politicians elected by those who will be most directly affected by those decisions. That is the point of devolution.
That's the point of "devolution"?!!? Someone better explain that to these guys.

Speaking of speaking, I'm sure that a talking vibrator qualifies as devolution. Yes, you can record your own messages in the vibrator. I don't recommend doing this while you're drunk. Nor is it funny to leave a prank message on your friends vibrator. Other tips from the site:

1. Be relaxed, have fun—this is not a job interview.
2. Take a risk—be creative.
3. Personalize your recording—call your lover by name or pet name.
4. Be descriptive, your not there so create a fantasy with your voice.
5. Don’t malign your partner—stay positive, don’t be mean or negative.
6. Be giving—focus on your partners desires, not your own.
7. Speak slowly and clearly—don’t whisper, it will sound fuzzy and distorted.
8. Create new messages using more than one chip for different moods and occasions.
9. Reminisce—you can never go wrong being romantic.
10. Don’t be degrading towards your partner—it only promotes unhealthy sexual attitudes.

Friday Random Ten

Thank goodness I was reading blogs this morning while listening to tunes on shuffle. I got the random ten done on time! Oh, and thank goodness that I have audioscrobbler on and that keeps a list of the tunes for me otherwise I would have completely forgotten. That said, here's your random ten:

1) Paul Weller - Roll Along Summer
2) Martin Denny - Pearls (Mexican Pearls)
3) Queen - Drowse
4) Okkervil River - For Real
5) Little Axe - Grinning In Your Face
6) RIAA - Bop Don't Run
7) Mariza - Transparente
8) Balla Et Ses Balladins - Banbo
9) Isaac Hayes - Do Your Thing (live)
10) Alka Yagnik & Udit Narahan - Taal Se Taal

Quite a good list this week. Paul Weller's a mainstay. We were just listening to Martin Denny last night - he died this year and we were mourning the loss. Okkervil River is making some top ten lists this year (not mine, but good stuff). Little Axe is amazing blues meets electronic dub. RIAA's track is from a mash-up album from him. Lots of world music (for once! - those not in the know, I listen to a LOT of world music). Isaac Hayes - the world is a better place when he's on your list.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sony rootkit settlement

From Sunbelt Blog:

Under the terms of the settlement, Defendants agree to:

stop manufacturing SONY BMG CDs with XCP software (“XCP CDs”) and SONY BMG CDs with MediaMax software (“MediaMax CDs”);

immediately recall all XCP CDs;

provide software to update and uninstall XCP and MediaMax content protection software from consumers’ computers;

ensure that ongoing fixes to all SONY BMG content protection software are readily available to consumers;

implement consumer-oriented changes in operating practices with respect to all CDs with content protection software that SONY BMG manufactures in the next two years;

waive specified provisions currently contained in XCP and MediaMax software End-User Licensing Agreements (“EULAs”);

refrain from collecting personal information about users of XCP CDs or MediaMax CDs without their affirmative consent; and

provide additional settlement benefits to Settlement Class Members including cash payments, “clean” replacement CDs without content protection software, and free music downloads.

According to ZDNet:

Customers who exchange their XCP CD can either download three albums from a list of over 200 titles, or claim a cash payment of $7.50 and a free download of one album. To claim this compensation, customers must return their XCP CDs to Sony or provide the company with a receipt showing they returned or exchanged the CD at a retailer after Nov. 14.

Sony is not recalling MediaMax CDs, but has agreed to compensate buyers of these albums by allowing them to download one free album, as well as offering them MP3 versions of the music on the MediaMax album.

Project Shamrock

Bruce Schneier discusses the NSA plan from the 1960s to spy on Americans using telegrams. It's abuse eventually led to the FISA laws requiring court orders. History repeats. From the article:

A lot of people are trying to say that it's a different world today, and that eavesdropping on a massive scale is not covered under the FISA statute, because it just wasn't possible or anticipated back then. That's a lie. Project Shamrock began in the 1950s, and ran for about twenty years. It too had a massive program to eavesdrop on all international telegram communications, including communications to and from American citizens. It too was to counter a terrorist threat inside the United States. It too was secret, and illegal. It is exactly, by name, the sort of program that the FISA process was supposed to get under control.

Twenty years ago, Senator Frank Church warned of the dangers of letting the NSA get involved in domestic intelligence gathering. He said that the "potential to violate the privacy of Americans is unmatched by any other intelligence agency." If the resources of the NSA were ever used domestically, "no American would have any privacy left.... There would be no place to hide.... We must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is an abyss from which there is no return."

Bush's eavesdropping program was explicitly anticipated in 1978, and made illegal by FISA. There might not have been fax machines, or e-mail, or the Internet, but the NSA did the exact same thing with telegrams.

We can decide as a society that we need to revisit FISA. We can debate the relative merits of police-state surveillance tactics and counterterrorism. We can discuss the prohibitions against spying on American citizens without a warrant, crossing over that abyss that Church warned us about twenty years ago. But the president can't simply decide that the law doesn't apply to him.

This issue is not about terrorism. It's not about intelligence gathering. It's about the executive branch of the United States ignoring a law, passed by the legislative branch and signed by President Jimmy Carter: a law that directs the judicial branch to monitor eavesdropping on Americans in national security investigations.

It's not the spying, it's the illegality.

P2P extension comes to Firefox

Well, almost. It's not quite here yet. As reported on Slashdot, though, a P2P extension will be released for Firefox. AllPeers will allow Firefox users to connect with each other and share files over an encrypted network. This is exciting news as it really moves Firefox into a realm that IE can only dream of at the moment. By using a peer network of some sort, Firefox will exploit the publicity surrounding this functionality which has the potential to multiply the number of people exposed to the Firefox application tremendously. This could be huge.

AllPeers :. Share exactly what you want with exactly who you want!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Keith Olbermann goes off

Whole thing at Crooks and Liars. Videos are 18MB in size. That's because the segment is over 7 minutes long. In it, Olbermann takes on Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson of Fox News. It's an excellent clip and Olbermann sounds sincerely pained over what he has to say about Gibson. Partial transcript:

Olbermann: "It is awfully painful. Whether he thinks me insincere or not, I really did like Gibbie. Hard working here, always there to cover a shift or help out in any way he could. Now, instead, he's denying he said some truly despicable things...things that were recorded for posterity. And worse, he's now trying to blame these hateful things on me. Ordinarily when someone gets caught saying something as intolerant as this, their choices are a) to apologize, b) to resign, or c) to make sure there's no tape and to lie their way out of it. John, unfortunately, chose d) blame it on somebody else.

The audio clip is the definitive answer, and I would hope John would now have the self-respect to acknowledge what he said, and to leave the airwaves for good. Because, between the remark and denial he has, sadly, forfeited his right to stay here."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Two More Quickies

When it comes to protecting the public from frivolous lawsuits, this administration has no equals...which explains why it is involved in Anna Nicole Smith's suit over money from her dead millionaire husband's will. - Anna Nicole Smith gets White House boost - Dec 26, 2005
The Bush administration's filings in the case are technical. Without
getting into the details of the family squabble, Solicitor General Paul
Clement said that the justices should protect federal court
jurisdiction in disputes.
Um, much for state rights, eh?

On more serious news, the CIA is investigating "fewer than 10 cases" where persons may have been caught up in botched "renditions". More here:
The CIA’s independent watchdog is investigating fewer than 10
cases where terrorist suspects may have been mistakenly swept away to
foreign countries by the spy agency, a figure lower than published
reports but enough to raise some concerns.

Some 100 to 150 people have been snatched up since 9/11. Government
officials say the action is reserved for those considered by the CIA to
be the most serious terrorist suspects.
No word on investigations into the kidnapping and possible torture of the 100-140 others. I'm sure Anna Nicole Smith's lawyer will be looking into it since he now has some free time.

Dickie's Quickies

According to the Abstinence Clearinghouse, the above item is perfect as a giveaway for your next presentation:

These suckers, in cherry flavor, are a fun way to get the message to teens: Don't Be a Sucker! Save Sex For Marriage.

Um, insert your own double entendre. Thanks to feministing for the head's up on this one.

Speaking of abstinence, a principal in Culver City, CA now prevents touching of any kind on campus - including holding hands - Andy Griffith would even be appalled. Hat tip to Hit and Run.

If Assistant Principal Hiram Celis saw them, they'd get an earful.

"When I'm out there and see something inappropriate, I'll let them know. I don't think parents know they have boyfriends and girlfriends," he said, adding that he believes holding hands could "lead to more intimate situations."

(Principal)Kosch agreed. "You let them hold hands, next thing they're on the grass" kissing, he said. When he sees two students holding hands, he said, he usually gives them a funny look or simply says, "no contact."
As Bill Maher noted in Salon:
New Rule: Abstinence pledges make you horny. A new eight-year study just released reveals that American teenagers who take "virginity" pledges of the sort so favored by the Bush administration wind up with just as many STDs as the other kids.

But that's not all -- taking the pledges also makes a teenage girl six times more likely to perform oral sex, and a boy four times more likely to get anal. Which leads me to an important question: where were these pledges when I was in high school?

Seriously, when I was a teenager, the only kids having anal intercourse were the ones who missed. My idea of lubrication was oiling my bike chain. If I had known I could have been getting porn star sex the same year I took Algebra II, simply by joining up with the Christian right, I'd have been so down with Jesus they would have had to pry me out of the pew.

For a bunch of teens raised on creationism, these red state kids today are pretty evolved -- sexually, anyway, and for that they can thank all who joined forces to try and legislate away human nature, specifically the ineluctable urge of teenagers to hump.

Yes, the "What do we tell the children?" crowd apparently decided not to tell them anything. Because people who talk about pee-pees are potty-mouths. And so armed with limited knowledge, and believing regular, vaginal intercourse to be either immaculate or filthy dirty, these kids did with their pledge what everybody does with contracts: they found loopholes. Two of them to be exact.

So, maybe a sucker is exactly the right thing to be giving out? It's code.

Over in Iraq, they are giving the U.S. a lesson in democracy by ousting the Interior Minister who is in charge of troops that torture. The great irony being that Donald Rumsfeld will probably take credit for this since the Pentagon headed up the investigation of the charges.

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, whose ministry is accused of operating clandestine prisons where some detainees were tortured, will vacate his job shortly, security and political sources in Baghdad said yesterday.
Mr. Jabr has been under pressure to step down since a Nov. 15 raid by U.S. forces of a secret prison in the Baghdad neighborhood of Jadriyah, where 166 prisoners were discovered, most of them Sunni Muslims and some showing signs of torture.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Bush Administration continues to interfere with free press domestically

First we found out that the NY Times sat on a story for a year because the administration asked them to do so out of alleged national security concerns. Now we find out that Bush attempted to quash a story in the Washington post regarding secret CIA prisons in Europe.

Bush Presses Editors on Security

President Bush has been summoning newspaper editors lately in an
effort to prevent publication of stories he considers damaging to
national security.

The efforts have failed, but the rare White
House sessions with the executive editors of The Washington Post and
New York Times are an indication of how seriously the president takes
the recent reporting that has raised questions about the
administration's anti-terror tactics.

Rather, the "effots" as far as know about "have failed". These are recent disclosures. Have other media given into these demands? Can we trust other media when they say that they haven't been approached? This is just one aspect that is troubling about this issue. How about: How can we possibly pretend to extol the virtues of a free press in other areas of the world when our politicians do not respect the same at home?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Iraqi troop draw down

Before the 2004 election, I mentioned that Bush would begin to seriously withdraw troops from Iraq in 2006. Why? It has nothing to do with the Iraq elections. Does anyone seriously think that the Iraqi police/military is sufficiently trained and free of corruption to take over the country? No. And without that force or the U.S. forces, the election is just a puppet show.

What is really going on here is politics - plain, simple, cynical, and ugly. The draw down of troops from Iraq was planned long ago. It was designed to happen in 2006 in order to help Republican members of Congress to get re-elected. By doing that, Bush hopes to retain some power to control or negotiate with the Legislative branch of government as his administration enters it's lame duck period.

The trouble is that some Republican members of Congress have gotten cold feet about the plan. They are beginning to balk and in doing so, they occasionally cause drama and embarrassment for the White House (ie, the McCain amendment on torture - not that McCain is balking, but the overwhelming support for it shows that other members certainly are because they aren't towing the White House line as much). When George W. Bush states that he is resolute and that we must stick to the strategy, he's speaking as much to members of his own party as he is to the public at large. He's encouraging Republican congressional representatives to stick to Rove's re-election strategy more than he's saying anything about his strategy for Iraq.

To exacerbate this problem, some Democrats have figured out the Rove strategy. In recent months, they've turned up the heat on getting out of Iraq soon. They've done so ahead of the Republicans in order to claim some hand in bringing the troops home. What else explains Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi's recent position changes regarding the war. Jack Murtha provided the initial cover. The whole "we got different intelligence" thing is just a cynical scam. Do I think that they got different intelligence? Sure, but they didn't look for outside sources either - again, another example of politics trumping policy.

The Republicans and the Democrats are both playing cynical politics. Their positions are getting and have gotten many people killed. Sadly, they are likely to get more people killed. Bush will stick to the Rove strategy. He will bring many more troops home next year. He might bring more home than he originally anticipated as he sees that things aren't turning out as well as he had hoped (in order to bring approval ratings up for the election). Democrats will assist by pounding away on the issue as things get worse and will provide the cover Bush needs. Iraqi insurgents will see through these positions. They will understand the strategy and realize that there really is and has always been a timetable for withdrawal. This will incite increased insurgent attacks and more deaths for civilians and military forces. Iraq will slip into civil war and dictatorship. Republicans will blame Democrats for pressing so hard to get out early. Democrats will blame Republicans for going in under false pretenses and not having a strategy in the first place.

The sad thing is that many of our troops as well as Iraqi civilians are going to die due to the cynical strategies outlined by our politicians who care more about getting re-elected than they ever did about brutal dictatorships, democracy, freedom, human rights or national security. A pox on both parties. Will the American public fall for it? Or will they finally realize that they've been played from the start and revolt at the polls? Hard to say at this point, but a lot of people are going to die unless the public presses hard for better morals and ethics from our politicians.

NSA spying without a warrant more vast than originally reported

From the NY Times:

The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.

...A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the leading companies in the industry have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists.

"All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and shared with them, and since 9/11, there's been much more active involvement in that area," said the former manager, a telecommunications expert who did not want his name or that of his former company used because of concern about revealing trade secrets.

...Historically, the American intelligence community has had close relationships with many communications and computer firms and related technical industries. But the N.S.A.'s backdoor access to major telecommunications switches on American soil with the cooperation of major corporations represents a significant expansion of the agency's operational capability, according to current and former government officials.

Phil Karn, a computer engineer and technology expert at a major West Coast telecommunications company, said access to such switches would be significant. "If the government is gaining access to the switches like this, what you're really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data," he said.

Does anyone else find this particularly troubling?

Saturday art blogging

Art blogging is a day late due to Blogger having some problems not uploading pictures yesterday. Hopefully, the art will make up for the tardiness.

James W. Johnson's site features over 700 examples of his work. The breadth and depth is terrific. I can spend all day looking through it.

Audrey Kawasaki does beautiful work using wood as her canvas (second illustration). She also works in the digital medium (first illustration). Just some amazing stuff combining the modern with a touch of traditional Asian art.

Dan McCarthy's work seems rather childish and sometimes haunting and yet, very organic.

Robert Carter's site uses Flash. It's got some great work on it, particularly his portraits.

The Patent Room features drawings filed with the U.S. patent office in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. Featured above are two views of buildings. They also have cars, toys, and trains.

Lennard Schuurmans, whose site is a pain to navigate, but whose work is terrific.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The O'Grinch Factor

Featuring Bill O'Reilly as the Grinch...go read the whole thing (snippet below):
Rosa Brooks: The O'Grinch factor (sorry, Dr. Seuss)

"Here's just how I'll do it:

I'll tell each Who Christian

That the liberal Whos have devised a new mission

To take away Christmas!

To mock and destroy

Till no little Who Christian is left with a toy!

And when secular Whos -- most likely Who Jews --

Attempt to deny it? Why,

I'll just SPIN THE NEWS!

"I'll bluff and I'll lie; I'll sow seeds of mistrust.

Soon they'll form battle lines into

Who 'THEM' and Who 'US,'

Based on which Whos prefer

To sing out, 'Merry Christmas'

And which Whos say, 'Kwanzaa!'

Or 'None of your business!'

"They'll get so confused and so MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD

That they won't even notice the way

They've been HAD!

They'll be so busy squabbling

They won't notice the war!

They won't care if Who rich

Start to trample Who poor!

"Forget torture, and terror, and taxes and health!

They'll waste all their time on some red-hatted elf.

"And the Who Consti-Who-tion?

They'll stretch it or burn it!

If it came as a gift, they would try to return it!

"The Who Christians will think that they fight the good fight,

They won't know that they're puppets of the Fox-ville Far Right.

Hat Tip to Albatross for the link!

Friday Random Top Twenty

Once again, I've been neglectful on the random music front. In order to try and make amends, I've poster to the left my Last.FM weekly most played list. I'm also giving you the random Twenty for today:

1) Queen - Sweet Lady
2) Joe Johnson - Fly ho
3) Asian Dub Foundation - Round Up
4) Lou Reed - Science Of The Mind
5) The Blue Method - All In Time
6) Edie Sedgwick - Sigourney Weaver
7) David Bowie - Sense of Doubt
8) Felt - Evergreen Dazed
9) Vic Mizzy - On Shroud No. 9
10) Isaac Hayes - Ike's Rap V
11) Curtis Mayfield - Superfly (Single Mix)
12) Neil Young - Tonight's The Night, Pt 1
13) Thievery Corporation - Delroy WIlson - Better Must Come
14) Instituto Mexicano Del Sonido - Cha Cha No. 29.3.1416
15) Prozak For Lovers - Love Will Tear Us Apart Again
16) Alter Ego - Beat The Bush
17) John Cale - Magritte
18) Bloodthirsty Lovers - Telepathic
19) Mommy and Daddy - Confection
20) Les Baxter - Barbarian Games

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Amarillo Martini

In a blog comment below, John asks about the brand name of the vanilla cognac and the recipe for the Amarillo Martini that I blogged about earlier. The cognac is called Navan. It's part of the Grand Marnier line of products. It's the only vanilla cognac sold in Washington state and may be the only one made. The liquor store that I was in yesterday displayed it in a locked case with other fine cognacs. The price was $39 for the bottle. Don't worry. Even if you don't just love the martini recipe, this vanilla cognac is a fine after dinner sipping drink. It's a little sweeter than your average cognac, but the blend of cognac and vanilla is rather heavenly.

Now, for the recipe. Note: I used the juice of half a small lime rather than muddle the three slices. Shawn later mixed a small (1/4 ounce) of brandy in with her last drink to take away some of the sweetness.

3 lime slices, plus one for garnish
1.5 ounces Navan vanilla cognac
1.5 ounces fresh pineapple juice

Muddle the limes, then shake with ice, cognac and juice. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lime.

Mozilla Thunderbird 1.5 RC 2 out now

You can look at the release notes and download it from the link below. If you have earlier versions of 1.5, then you will receive it via software updates.

Mozilla Thunderbird 1.5 RC 2


With guests coming by this Saturday, I was expecting to spend a good chunk of the day cleaning up the house. If I could get a chunk of the housework done before Friday, then that day would be spent doing last minute shopping and some cooking for Saturday. Well, that was the plan at least. Also part of the plan was to get at least some of the shopping done earlier in the week so that at least part of Friday could be spent cooking and decorating the tree (lights are on, but little else). She who would be named "Queen of Lists" had already assisted in this area, helping me gather my thoughts and organize my route so that shopping would be a brief and successful experience.

So it was, with master list in hand, that I set off yesterday morning to do a bit of shopping in Seattle as well as locally. Traffic was heavy. The holiday season has come and with it extra people on the roads. To add to the congestion, we're having our annual Xmas rains which are causing slick streets and are assisting in accidents. My short jaunt turned into a 4.5 hour journey.

That's not to say that it was entirely the fault of traffic. Nor was it the fault of the Queen of Lists, as her route and directions were superbly plotted. No, I'm afraid that I am the one entirely at fault. You see, I love this time of year to shop. I'm not one who gets off on "retail therapy". Frankly, the crass commercialism of the season and the lack of feeling behind so much gift giving appalls me.

Rather, what I love is the hustle and bustle of humanity. I love walking into the shops, seeing and hearing the people. Some of the people are kind, generous, and walk around with good cheer. Other people are stressed and likely to snap at clerks. Still others are quite mad and display it in both their driving and lack of direction. For once, the stores seem to be packed with all of these types of folks and more and they are, for better or worse, interacting. Despite the stress and the push and shove, the whole scene has a calming effect upon me which is the opposite of what I would expect.

I've never understood it. It doesn't matter whether, like this year, most of my shopping was done early. There have been years where I've been finishing my present purchases on Xmas Eve - walking around making last minute decisions - and yet, I still feel that calm euphoria. It puts a smile on my face. Granted, I often walk around with a smile on my face which, depending upon one's perspective, can emote a Zen-like quality or the image of the town fool. For this time of year, it is a sign of my contentment.

My first stop yesterday was PFI (Pacific Food Importers). My mission, according to Queen of Lists, was marzipan. PFI sells fresh marzipan in a cooler at a much discounted price compared to fancy grocers. The parking lot was full and the place was packed. I heard several languages spoken, including Italian, Indian, and 2 others that sounded East European. A young boy speaking Italian ran through the aisles showing off the candies and cookies to his mom. Two young men, clearly not familiar with the store, asked if there was a number system for the deli counter (there isn't). An older woman at the register explained/apologized that she doesn't get to the store often any more now that she's alone. The patient clerk listened to her tale then suggested that she get some girl friend's together to come down with her more often.

Uwejimaya was the second store on my list. Well, to be honest, it wasn't on my list. This was my excursion exclusively. The Queen could not know why I was going there for it was to be the place where I picked up her major gift - the last I needed to buy this year. While there, I also picked up a few other items, including Ryuichi Sakamoto's '05 album (his second release of solo piano recordings by him featuring mostly songs from his back catalog, Note: I did NOT pay Amazon's price on that). Going to Uwejimaya is often a treat. It's a huge Pan-Asian grocery with a food court, Hair Salon, optical store, book store, florist, and more. It features food items that cannot generally be found anywhere else. It's often busy, but at this time of year it is packed with people. A busy manager at the bookstore, spoke in a Japanese accent to his clerk, asking her to get the phone. She replied, with her American accent, in mocking, teasing tones, "Yes, Mr. Big Boss Man". But the phone stopped ringing and she offered to help me instead. At another counter, a clerk with a heavy Chinese accent, asked the woman behind me in line if she wanted her package gift wrapped. The customer didn't understand the clerk, so after the third "What? I don't understand", spoken in louder, slower syllables each time, I intervened with "translation".

A quick trip to the liquor store was next. The Queen did not have the store on her list, but we needed Kirsch for fondue this weekend. I also wanted to surprise her with a new martini recipe that I saw in the newspaper earlier. It used limes, pineapple juice, and vanilla cognac (and it was GOOD - email if you want the recipe, or just stop by on Saturday and I'll make you one).

After driving back to the east side of Lake Washington, I stopped at Costco. This was a Queen approved stop. We needed eggs for the eggnog and Costco has the best prices. I also grabbed a couple of other items, including cheese for the fondue and salad mix for us. Costco is always a zoo. Most people seemed very patient there. Some frantic souls wandered through, but it was overall relaxed. A woman with a French accent was cutting samples of pears and told me it was "very French" to enjoy pears with cheese for dessert. I took a sample of pear, but told her I could not use 6 pounds of pears. She started naming off ways to prepare pears for dessert. But, I only need 3 pears, I told her, for my Pear Upside Down Cake that I plan to make. She had never heard of such a thing and so we chatted about what went into it. She was good and really tried to work me into buying the bag, but I wasn't going for it. Still, the chat was pleasant.

Costco was followed by a quick stop at Coast to Coast hardware for some cleaner for the stainless steel range. Then I ran to the Grocery Outlet store (they sell smoked salmon for $7.99 for a's not top range quality, but it's still delsih and one helluva price). Finally, a quick stop at Albertson's for limes and pineapple juice.

Despite the traffic, the lines, and mad people I came home and still had a smile on my face. With good cheer, I wrapped my presents for the Queen and placed them under the tree. I cleaned house a little less than I expected, but it was progress. I listened to the beautiful Ryuichi Sakamoto album that I purchased earlier, then I switched to Xmas music from our collected. When Shawn came through the door, I had a drink waiting for her. The new martini went over well: she enjoyed 3 before the night was done!

Today will be spent catching up on the cleaning and beginning to decorate the tree. Tomorrow, Shawn is off work. We'll do last minute grocery shopping for Saturday and Sunday, then we'll do some prep work for our Xmas Eve guests. Everything is on schedule and I'll get to enjoy that euphoric feeling in the crowds one more time before the weekend.

Yep, I love it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


George W. Bush quote (video and transcript),
from December 18, 2000, is just too surreal not to reprint: "If this
were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long
as I’m the dictator."

Giving voice to the powerless

Strong words from Obsidian Wings on the powerless and on those who experience rendition. From the first link:
At some level, I think we read these things and think: well, they can't really mean that.
But by now we know that they mean it enough to have shattered a number
of lives. Right now there are a limited number of people who have
gotten to experience the absolute powerlessness that is the flip side
of the president's assertion of absolute power. I would guess
there are relatively few of them, compared to some other wars in our
history. But they certainly exist; I can rattle a litany of the worst
cases off the top of my head by now. Maher Arar, A'del Abdu al-Hakim, Saddiq Ahmad Turkestani, Sean Baker, Muhammad Saad Iqbal, Sami al-Laithi, Dilawar and Habibullah, Abed Hamed Mowhoush, Manadel al-Jamadi, Benyam Mohamed, the Salt Pit case....This is nowhere, nowhere close to exhaustive. Again, this is only a partial list of the cases that I could name off the top of my head.
Read those links, and think of the stories I could tell after an extra
half hour on Google, let alone a thorough look through the relevant
news stories and government documents. And for every case we know about
there are probably many more that have never been publicly

...As far as I'm concerned, writing some overheated blog comments about
how the administration are fascists and this is the end of American
democracy does NOT cut it. As far as I'm concerned that's actively
counterproductive. If you can't think of anything else you could start
with writing your Congressman. You could also donate to Human Rights
Watch, Amnesty or the ACLU. More than any of those things,
though, I would say: start with learning as much as you can about this
stuff, and telling other people what's going on. It sounds pathetic, in
the face of all this. But speaking from experience, you'd be surprised
how far it can take you.
And, from the second link:
It wasn’t the descriptions of physical torture in Syria that made
it difficult. I have read many, many reports about what goes on in
Egyptian, Syrian, and Uzbek prisons by now. They’re still
horrible of course, but they are no longer even a little surprising,
and so it is easy to fall into a sort of clinical detachment. What I
found much more upsetting were the descriptions of the continuing
psychological effects on Arar. Even reading them felt like a
gross violation of privacy at times. Quoting from them felt
downright exploitative.

Fascinating article from a hacker on rootkits and security

Email Battles features an article today from a person claiming to be the author of the rootkit, Hacker Defender. He makes the case that he authors these malicious pieces of software in order to raise the bar on security. While it is impossible for me to judge his true intentions from this post, I do agree with some of the insights he provides on the anti-virus business.

Antivirus companies sell a fake sense of security, but they do not
bring real security to your computer. Antivirus just fights programs
that are visible to common users. They don't care about the cause.

If I publish Hacker Defender's antidetection code, antivirus companies
will do nothing but add a few bytes to their databases of virus
patterns, or simply fool my engine in some way. They show their
customers they can handle rootkits based on my antidetection engine,
but they won't solve the problem. So there would be easy ways to bypass
them again and again.

This attitude brings money to security companies because their users
download upgrades and buy new versions of their products. This is why
these security companies don't want to change the situation.

Yes, antivirus products will protect you against wildly spreading
threats like destructive worms. But the real danger for users is from
pointed attacks, where private tools are used. These tools use the same
methods as my tools. They are not detected because security companies
have no chance to download them and add those few bytes to their
databases. Security companies catch only the tools they know and do not
solve the cause. So attackers will succeed with their tools.

This has to be changed. Hacker Defender and other rootkit projects
force security companies to care about the core of the problems, to
develop better and better products. And after years, I see the results.
The situation is better. But there is still a lot of work to be done
with rootkit detectors and antivirus products.

This is why I will continue in my work to try to find ways to bypass
their poor products until antivirus companies come with the real
solution. And this is why a lot of my customers are security guys who
offer penetration testing etc., not bad (or blackhat) guys.

...If you think about it, simple code scrambling in what is called
dangerous or malicious software results in a clean scan report. It is
really as easy as changing one byte here and there to fool your
expensive antivirus product.

This fact forced us to think about how antivirus products are implemented and what all those powerful heuristics engines that reveal even unknown future threads
really mean. Just visit some antivirus vendor website to see what they
offer. Then modify a few bytes in your favourite destructive malware
and create your own opinion.

The antidetection engines in more advanced paid versions of Hacker
Defender also evade the latest versions of all well known modern
rootkit detectors like BlackLight, RootkitRevealer, IceSword, UnHackMe

It is curious that Hacker Defender's antidetection was implemented
months ago and hasn't changed (except some minor bugfixes) since then.
In spite of this fact, no security product is able to beat it today.

The world is still waiting for the first real rootkit detector that
would bypass Hacker Defender's antidetection engine. Hacker Defender is
just there to show they have to improve their products.

Continuing discussion on spying

Bruce Schneier weighs in on the topic here:

Schneier on Security: The Security Threat of Unchecked Presidential Power

It's an excellent article with plenty of choice quotes such as:

This is indefinite dictatorial power. And I don't use that term
lightly; the very definition of a dictatorship is a system that puts a
ruler above the law. In the weeks after 9/11, while America and the
world were grieving, Bush built a legal rationale for a dictatorship.
Then he immediately started using it to avoid the law.

This is, fundamentally, why this issue crossed political lines in
Congress. If the president can ignore laws regulating surveillance and
wiretapping, why is Congress bothering to debate reauthorizing certain
provisions of the Patriot Act? Any debate over laws is predicated on
the belief that the executive branch will follow the law.

This is not a partisan issue between Democrats and Republicans; it's
a president unilaterally overriding the Fourth Amendment, Congress and
the Supreme Court. Unchecked presidential power has nothing to do with
how much you either love or hate George W. Bush. You have to imagine
this power in the hands of the person you most don't want to see as
president, whether it be Dick Cheney or Hillary Rodham Clinton, Michael
Moore or Ann Coulter.

And that is exactly to the point and exactly why my conservative friends are up in arms and why my Republican friends should be as well. Schneier continues further after the editorial with links to many other sites as well as quotes from those sites such as:

NSA watcher James Bamford points out how this action was definitely considered illegal in 1978, which is why FISA was passed in the first place:

When the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was created
in 1978, one of the things that the Attorney General at the time,
Griffin Bell, said -- he testified before the intelligence committee,
and he said that the current bill recognizes no inherent power of the
President to conduct electronic surveillance. He said, ‘This bill
specifically states that the procedures in the bill are the exclusive
means by which electronic surveillance may be conducted.’ In
other words, what the President is saying is that he has these inherent
powers to conduct electronic surveillance, but the whole reason for
creating this act, according to the Attorney General at the time, was
to prevent the President from using any inherent powers and to use
exclusively this act.

Also this from Salon, discussing a 1952 precedent:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales argues that the
president's authority rests on two foundations: Congress's
authorization to use military force against al-Qaida, and the
Constitution's vesting of power in the president as commander-in-chief,
which necessarily includes gathering “signals intelligence”
on the enemy. But that argument cannot be squared with Supreme Court
precedent. In 1952, the Supreme Court considered a remarkably similar
argument during the Korean War. Youngstown Sheet Tube Co. v.
Sawyer, widely considered the most important separation-of-powers case
ever decided by the court, flatly rejected the president's assertion of
unilateral domestic authority during wartime. President Truman had
invoked the commander-in-chief clause to justify seizing most of the
nation's steel mills. A nationwide strike threatened to undermine the
war, Truman contended, because the mills were critical to manufacturing

The Supreme Court's rationale for rejecting Truman's claims
applies with full force to Bush's policy. In what proved to be the most
influential opinion in the case, Justice Robert Jackson identified
three possible scenarios in which a president's actions may be
challenged. Where the president acts with explicit or implicit
authorization from Congress, his authority "is at its maximum," and
will generally be upheld. Where Congress has been silent, the president
acts in a "zone of twilight" in which legality "is likely to depend on
the imperatives of events and contemporary imponderables rather than on
abstract theories of law." But where the president acts in defiance of
"the expressed or implied will of Congress," Justice Jackson
maintained, his power is "at its lowest ebb," and his actions can be
sustained only if Congress has no authority to regulate the subject at

In the steel seizure case, Congress had considered and rejected
giving the president the authority to seize businesses in the face of
threatened strikes, thereby placing President Truman's action in the
third of Justice Jackson's categories. As to the war power, Justice
Jackson noted, "The Constitution did not contemplate that the Commander
in Chief of the Army and Navy will constitute him also Commander in
Chief of the country, its industries, and its inhabitants."

Like Truman, President Bush acted in the face of contrary
congressional authority. In FISA, Congress expressly addressed the
subject of warrantless wiretaps during wartime, and limited them to the
first 15 days after war is declared. Congress then went further and
made it a crime, punishable by up to five years in jail, to conduct a
wiretap without statutory authorization.

Daniel Solove has more to say on this topic. He approaches Bush's arguments for this power from a legal position:

4. Article II of the U.S. Constitution

Article II of the U.S. Constitution delineates the power of the
Executive, and Bush's argument appears to be that he has the power, as
Commander-in-Chief, to ignore any law he deems a hindrance to his
exercise of that power.

As Marty Lederman describes Bush's argument:

The AG claims that the President has the constitutional
power, under the Commander-in-Chief Clause, to ignore FISA's
prohibition in this context. "There were many lawyers within the
administration who advised the president that he had an inherent
authority as commander-in-chief under the constitution to engage in
this kind of signals intelligence," said Gonzales, speaking on CNN.

I'm not an Article II expert, but this argument strikes me as quite
dubious. If this is true, then what becomes of FISA? Or other laws that
regulate the power of the Executive? Orin Kerr writes that he was "unable to find any caselaw in support of [Bush's Article II] argument."

Speaking as someone who is not trained in the legal profession, I rely heavily on scholars to research and discuss these topics. The Orin Kerr link is a more detailed analysis of the same arguments Solove is making. So, if you wish to delve even further into this topic, then you can certainly do so. Such scholarship is crucial to forming opinions in a democratic society. We know the Bush team's legal positions. It's good to get opposing opinions (note: such opinions are being set forth by both liberal and conservative scholars).

The Washington Post today has an article on how Presidents have often sought to expand the power of the Executive branch of government. From their article:

The tug over executive power traces back to the early years of the
republic, and presidents have traditionally moved to expand their reach
during times of war. John Adams, fearing a hostile France, presided
over the imprisonment of Republican critics under the Alien and
Sedition Acts. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil
War. Woodrow Wilson jailed Socialist Eugene V. Debs, who had run
against him for president, for protesting the entry into World War I.
Franklin D. Roosevelt sent Japanese Americans to internment camps
during World War II. And Ronald Reagan circumvented a Cold War
congressional ban on providing aid to contra rebels in Nicaragua.

...Speaking with reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force Two to
Oman, Cheney said the period after the Watergate scandal and Vietnam
War proved to be "the nadir of the modern presidency in terms of
authority and legitimacy" and harmed the chief executive's ability to
lead in a complicated, dangerous era. "But I do think that to some
extent now we've been able to restore the legitimate authority of the

For Cheney, the post-Watergate era was the formative
experience shaping his understanding of executive power. As a young
White House chief of staff for President Gerald R. Ford, he saw the
Oval Office at its weakest point as Congress and the courts asserted
themselves. But scholars such as Andrew Rudalevige, author of "The New
Imperial Presidency," say the presidency had recovered long before
Cheney returned to the White House in 2001. The War Powers Act, the
legislative veto, the independent counsel statute and other legacies of
the 1970s had all been discarded in one form or another.

living in a time warp," said Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer and
Reagan administration official. "The great irony is Bush inherited the
strongest presidency of anyone since Franklin Roosevelt, and Cheney
acts as if he's still under the constraints of 1973 or 1974.

John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) said: "The vice president may be the only
person I know of that believes the executive has somehow lost power
over the last 30 years

...Even before the NSA surveillance program, the Bush administration
has asserted its war-making authority in detaining indefinitely U.S.
citizens as enemy combatants, denying prisoners access to lawyers or
courts, rejecting in some cases the applicability of the Geneva
Conventions, expanding its interrogation techniques to include harsher
treatment and establishing secret terrorist prisons in foreign

"The problem is, where do you stop rebalancing the
power and go too far in the other direction?" asked David A. Keene,
chairman of the American Conservative Union. "I think in some instances
[Bush] has gone too far

Yes, he has and that, my friends, is grounds for impeachment.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Performancing for Firefox

I just downloaded and tried out a new blogging tool plug in for Firefox. Got to admit, it's pretty cool: | Helping Bloggers Succeed

Well, despite falling asleep on the job last night, Performancing for Firefox
is finally here! Jed and I worked all night on this, and we're finally
happy to put our new blogging firefox extension out in beta for your

You can see a bunch of screenshots and download instructions on the Performancing for Firefox page.
Enjoy, and please give us your feedback. This tool will be built upon
rapidly, and we'll be posting more about how it works, and what we'd
like to do with it in the future when we've both got some rest.

For now, use the Performancing for Firefox Forums to report any bugs, make feature requests or ask for help.

Have fun, see you in a while :)

Bush spying

From Charles Lane:

President Bush and top administration officials said his authority derives from a congressional resolution and a Supreme Court decision, as well as the president's constitutional powers as commander in chief.

...The Supreme Court spoke at the height of the Korean War on the president's authority to override Congress. In 1952, President Harry S. Truman ordered a federal takeover of the steel industry to prevent a strike that would have disrupted the supply of weapons to troops at the front. He cited his authority as commander in chief.

By a vote of 6 to 3, the court rejected Truman's claim. In an influential concurring opinion, Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote that the president's power is "at its lowest ebb" when he "takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress."

"With all its defects, delays and inconveniences, men have discovered no technique for long preserving free government except that the Executive be under the law, and that the law be made by parliamentary deliberations," Jackson wrote.

Former Congressman Bob Barr (a conservative with whom I sometimes agree) from a CNN transcript:

BARR: Here again, this is absolutely a bizarre conversation where you have a member of Congress saying that it's okay for the president of the United States to ignore U.S. law, to ignore the Constitution, simply because we are in an undeclared war.

The fact of the matter is the law prohibits -- specifically prohibits -- what apparently was done in this case, and for a member of Congress to say, oh, that doesn't matter, I'm proud that the president violated the law is absolutely astounding, Wolf.

Astounding, indeed. But is each revelation of some violation of law or trust from this administration astounding? I mean, my ability to be astounded by this crook ended a long time ago - back during the first term - so I'm a bit jaded. Apparently, the media and the general citizenship are not so jaded as I.

Consider: This administration either cooked the intelligence on Iraq or it turned a blind eye to opposing points of view. This administration, through it's own words, continues to confuse the Iraq War with the so-called War on Terrorism. This administration has attempted to brand opponents as "unpatriotic" when the heart gets turned up on the poll numbers. This administration revealed the identity of an active covert CIA agent. This administration consistently upgraded the terror alert status of the country prior to last year's election when ever it's poll numbers flagged. This administration hired and supported a political flack for FEMA (it's one thing to put someone incompetent in the role and something quite different to continue supporting that appointee when the evidence is overwhelming that he is incompetent). This administration has nominated 3 people to the Supreme Court who are more interested in maintaining Executive Branch and corporate power than they are about maintaining Constitutional checks and balances (in fact, I bet Harriet Miers had a hand in Bush's legal advice on spying on Americans). This administration has aggressively sought to extend Executive Branch authority without Congressional or Judicial oversight. This administration says it supports democracy in the Middle East, then it plants propaganda written by contractors working for the Pentagon. In fact, this administration plants stories on U.S. television stations and in U.S. newspapers touting it's domestic policies. This administration repeatedly claims in the Plame case that it cannot discuss on-going legal investigations, but then turns around and states that it thinks Tom Delay is innocent.

And, whenever someone in this administration gets caught, s/he blames someone else. The latest we're hearing from the President himself is that he asked his lawyers for advice. He's going to run with that excuse. He'll claim that it's his lawyer's fault and that he got bad advice. He's already laying the ground work for that excuse. This is the guy who, while running in 2000, claimed he was the type of man who took responsibility for his actions and those of the people who work for him. He said that on the campaign trail, but his actions and words since then have portrayed a different person. So, I expect to hear him say that he got bad legal advice. He will not note, however, his own responsibility in accepting the mistakes of his administration.

Hopefully the public will not stand for this latest revelation of breaking the law. Hopefully, even members of the Republican party, will realize that it cannot abdicate the Constitutional authority to provide a balance against Executive branch tyranny.

I doubt it and, as Bob Barr noted, that's "astounding".

Monday, December 19, 2005

Criminal Acts

Commentary by Jonathon Alter in Newsweek online:

No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting,
but one can only imagine the president’s desperation.

The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists—in fact, all American Muslims, period—have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations. Bush claimed that “the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.” But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a “shameful act,” it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.

No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.

What is especially perplexing about this story is that the 1978 law set up a special court to approve eavesdropping in hours, even minutes, if necessary. In fact, the law allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify it to the court, essentially obtaining a warrant after the fact. Since 1979, the FISA court has approved tens of thousands of eavesdropping requests and rejected only four. There was no indication the existing system was slow—as the president seemed to claim in his press conference—or in any way required extra-constitutional action.

This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It Can't Happen Here

From the Boston Globe:

PICTURE THIS: A folksy, self-consciously plainspoken Southern politician rises to power during a period of profound unrest in America. The nation is facing one of the half-dozen or so of its worst existential crises to date, and the people, once sunny, confident, and striving, are now scared, angry, and disillusioned.

This politician, a ''Professional Common Man,'' executes his rise by relentlessly attacking the liberal media, fancy-talking intellectuals, shiftless progressives, pinkos, promiscuity, and welfare hangers-on, all the while clamoring for a return to traditional values, to love of country, to the pie-scented days of old when things made sense and Americans were indisputably American. He speaks almost entirely in ''noble but slippery abstractions''-Liberty, Freedom, Equality-and people love him, even if they can't fully articulate why without resorting to abstractions themselves.

Through a combination of factors-his easy bearing chief among them (along with massive cash donations from Big Business; disorganization in the liberal opposition; a stuffy, aloof opponent; and support from religious fanatics who feel they've been unfairly marginalized)-he wins the presidential election.

Once in, he appoints his friends and political advisers to high-level positions, stocks the Supreme Court with ''surprisingly unknown lawyers who called [him] by his first name,'' declaws Congress, allows Big Business to dictate policy, consolidates the media, and fills newspapers with ''syndicated gossip from Hollywood.'' Carping newspapermen worry that America is moving backward to a time when anti-German politicians renamed sauerkraut ''Liberty Cabbage'' and ''hick legislators...set up shop as scientific experts and made the world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution,'' but newspaper readers, wary of excessive negativity, pay no mind.

Given the nature of ''powerful and secret enemies'' of America-who are ''planning their last charge'' to take away our freedom-an indefinite state of crisis is declared, and that freedom is stowed away for safekeeping. When the threat passes, we can have it back, but in the meantime, citizens are asked to ''bear with'' the president.

Sure, some say these methods are extreme, but the plain folks are tired of wishy-washy leaders, and feel the president's decisiveness is its own excuse. Besides, as one man says, a fascist dictatorship ''couldn't happen here in America...we're a country of freemen!''

. . .

While more paranoid readers might be tempted to draw parallels between this scenario and sundry predicaments we may or may not be in right now, the story line is actually that of Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel ''It Can't Happen Here,'' a hastily written cautionary note about America's potential descent into fascism, recently reissued by New American Library in a handsome trade edition with a blood-spattered cover design.

Sound familiar?

Gaim 2.0.0beta 1 released

I use Gaim as my instant messaging client because A) I like having one client open instead of 3 open (Google, MSN, and Yahoo) and B) it's open source and therefore, free. They've just released a beta version of their next release and it is nice. They've added display pictures to the Google chat. I haven't tried out their send files yet, but am looking forward to that working. Also, you can now set separate status messages for each client. For a complete list of changes, check out the change log.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Harold Bloom in The Guardian

Writing on Whitman, Emrson, Melville, and others while discussing the fading American empire. It's a must read:

In 2005, what is self-reliance? I can recognise three prime stigmata of the American religion: spiritual freedom is solitude, while the soul's encounter with the divine (Jesus, the Paraclete, the Father) is direct and personal, and, most crucially, what is best and oldest in the American religionist goes back to a time-before-time, and so is part or particle of God. Every second year, the Gallup pollsters survey religion in the United States, and report that 93% of us believe in God, while 89% are certain that God loves him or her on a personal basis. And 45% of us insist that Earth was created precisely as described in Genesis and is only about 9,000 or fewer years old. The actual figure is 4.5 billion years, and some dinosaur fossils are dated as 190 million years back. Perhaps the intelligent designers, led by George W Bush, will yet give us a dinosaur Gospel, though I doubt it, as they, and he, dwell within a bubble that education cannot invade.

Contemporary America is too dangerous to be laughed away, and I turn to its most powerful writers in order to see if we remain coherent enough for imaginative comprehension. Lawrence was right; Whitman at his very best can sustain momentary comparison with Dante and Shakespeare. Most of what follows will be founded on Whitman, the most American of writers, but first I turn again to Moby-Dick, the national epic of self-destructiveness that almost rivals Leaves of Grass, which is too large and subtle to be judged in terms of self-preservation or apocalyptic destructiveness.

Some of my friends and students suggest that Iraq is President Bush's white whale, but our leader is absurdly far from Captain Ahab's aesthetic dignity. The valid analogue is the Pequod; as Lawrence says: "America! Then such a crew. Renegades, castaways, cannibals, Ishmael, Quakers," and South Sea Islanders, Native Americans, Africans, Parsees, Manxmen, what you will. One thinks of our tens of thousands of mercenaries in Iraq, called "security employees" or "contractors". They mix former American Special Forces, Gurkhas, Boers, Croatians, whoever is qualified and available. What they lack is Captain Ahab, who could give them a metaphysical dimension.

Ahab carries himself and all his crew (except Ishmael) to triumphant catastrophe, while Moby-Dick swims away, being as indestructible as the Book of Job's Leviathan. The obsessed captain's motive ostensibly is revenge, since earlier he was maimed by the white whale, but his truer desire is to strike through the universe's mask, in order to prove that while the visible world might seem to have been formed in love, the invisible spheres were made in fright. God's rhetorical question to Job: "Can'st thou draw out Leviathan with a hook?" is answered by Ahab's: "I'd strike the sun if it insulted me!" The driving force of the Bushian-Blairians is greed, but the undersong of their Iraq adventure is something closer to Iago's pyromania. Our leader, and yours, are firebugs.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Forgot to mention

The Seven Deadly Sinners in my art blogging. Damn, they're even local.

Friday art blogging

Starting off this episode with 2 from Ragnar. Classy work. He has a blog, too.

Greg Simkins is one seriously warped man. His work often mixes imagery from innocuous childhood cartoons with pieces taken straight from nightmares.

Sterling Hundley is one of those artists whose work I can stare at for hours. Therefore, he is one of 3 people whose work gets two postings today.

Ryan Boyd Photography has lots of photos aimed primarily at the gay market. Some nice work here if you like your men chiseled.

Atomic Pin-Up has both vintage and modern varieties, but it's the modern ones like above that keep me going back.

Tsunami Art. Indian Folk Art.

Tsunami Art # 2. Just amazing scrolls.

The Big news today

has got to be this NY Times story on how the Bush administration has authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and foreigners in the U.S. without court approved warrants. From the article:

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

...The officials said the administration had briefed Congressional leaders about the program and notified the judge in charge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret Washington court that deals with national security issues.

The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.

...Mr. Bush's executive order allowing some warrantless eavesdropping on those inside the United States - including American citizens, permanent legal residents, tourists and other foreigners - is based on classified legal opinions that assert that the president has broad powers to order such searches, derived in part from the September 2001 Congressional resolution authorizing him to wage war on Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, according to the officials familiar with the N.S.A. operation.

...Some of those who object to the operation argue that is unnecessary. By getting warrants through the foreign intelligence court, the N.S.A. and F.B.I. could eavesdrop on people inside the United States who might be tied to terrorist groups without skirting longstanding rules, they say.

The standard of proof required to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is generally considered lower than that required for a criminal warrant - intelligence officials only have to show probable cause that someone may be "an agent of a foreign power," which includes international terrorist groups - and the secret court has turned down only a small number of requests over the years. In 2004, according to the Justice Department, 1,754 warrants were approved. And the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court can grant emergency approval for wiretaps within hours, officials say.

...The N.S.A. domestic spying operation has stirred such controversy among some national security officials in part because of the agency's cautious culture and longstanding rules.

Widespread abuses - including eavesdropping on Vietnam War protesters and civil rights activists - by American intelligence agencies became public in the 1970's and led to passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which imposed strict limits on intelligence gathering on American soil. Among other things, the law required search warrants, approved by the secret F.I.S.A. court, for wiretaps in national security cases. The agency, deeply scarred by the scandals, adopted additional rules that all but ended domestic spying on its part.

...Several senior government officials say that when the special operation began, there were few controls on it and little formal oversight outside the N.S.A. The agency can choose its eavesdropping targets and does not have to seek approval from Justice Department or other Bush administration officials. Some agency officials wanted nothing to do with the program, apparently fearful of participating in an illegal operation, a former senior Bush administration official said. Before the 2004 election, the official said, some N.S.A. personnel worried that the program might come under scrutiny by Congressional or criminal investigators if Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, was elected president.

In mid-2004, concerns about the program expressed by national security officials, government lawyers and a judge prompted the Bush administration to suspend elements of the program and revamp it.

For the first time, the Justice Department audited the N.S.A. program, several officials said. And to provide more guidance, the Justice Department and the agency expanded and refined a checklist to follow in deciding whether probable cause existed to start monitoring someone's communications, several officials said.

A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, helped spur the suspension, officials said. The judge questioned whether information obtained under the N.S.A. program was being improperly used as the basis for F.I.S.A. wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department, according to senior government officials. While not knowing all the details of the exchange, several government lawyers said there appeared to be concerns that the Justice Department, by trying to shield the existence of the N.S.A. program, was in danger of misleading the court about the origins of the information cited to justify the warrants.

And this from EPIC:

Documents obtained by EPIC in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit
reveal FBI agents expressing frustration that the Office of
Intelligence Policy and Review, an office that reviews FBI search
requests, had not approved applications for orders under Section 215 of
the Patriot Act. A subsequent memo refers to "recent changes" allowing
the FBI to "bypass" the office. EPIC is expecting to receive further
information about this matter.

Under Section 215, the FBI must show only "relevance" to a foreign intelligence or terrorism investigation to obtain vast amounts of personal information. It is unclear why the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review did not approve these applications. The FBI has not revealed this information, nor did it explain whether other search methods had failed.

Congress is now considering whether new safeguards are necessary for 215 investigations before the Patriot Act is renewed. These documents raise important questions about the sufficiency of oversight of the FBI's expanded investigative authorities.

Why is this important? Because what is being addressed is the possibility of eliminating the check against a police state without oversight. I'm not questioning the right or desirable effect of allowing the law enforcement agencies to track down possible terrorists. However, in return for that right, I want some system of oversight that will act as a check against abuse. The courts should provide that and should exercise maximum skepticism to law enforcement's claims in order that it protects the rights of the citizens who, in a democratic society, allow it (the court and law enforcement) to practice in the first place. We have seen in the past how without such checks and balances, agencies or some of their personel have run amok and spied on citizens for no reason what-so-ever. Do we really need to have a discussion again about J. Edgar Hoover, the closeted homosexual head of the FBI, who spied on and persecuted citizens just because they were gay? His example is egregious, but there are plenty like him in law enforcement and plenty more who might "cross the line" just because they feel they might be serving a greater good in society. What else explains, for instance, the behaviour at Abu Ghraib prison?

Also, there is probably plenty to be said about having separate agencies operating in the same area, possibly spying on the same citizenry. We know that the Pentagon does this, we know the FBI does this, and now we know that the NSA is doing this (and the CIA wants to do it). That's 4 agencies spying on Americans and foreign nationals in our own country. I realize that the Fatherland Security department is supposed to oversee and coordinate this, but I'm not confident that it does have control over these areas. Could we, for instance, have spies competing against each other for the same data? Where is the efficiency in that? If I were a terrorist cell, I'd set up the agencies to track one group of people while simultaneously planning and executing my attack. Bait and switch. It's done all of the time.

To add to this long post, I'll note this story which reports that lawmakers want to fence in the U.S. Given the broad police state powers discussed above, is the fence to keep foreigners to the south out of the U.S. citizens in? It doesn't matter, really. In East Germany, the fence was built to keep it's citizens in and west European culture out. In Rome, the walls were built to keep the armed foes out. In the end, both barriers crumbled and empires fell. An empire struggling to keep power at all costs, especially in it's crumbling days, attempts several tactics. Amongst them, they expand police state powers and actively wage a war of fear on their own citizenry. They also build barriers that will "protect" and "comfort" the citizenry, but which does neither as the state is busy continually working it's citizens into a fearful frenzy. Both methods are part of a loop and remind me much of the pictured of the snake that feeds on itself.

Still, there is hope. We do live in a form of democracy in the U.S. We can, if we have the will, snap out of this madness and turn it on it's head before the whole shithole caves in. By nature, I'm a cynic about process and an optimist about the end. In other words, I think we tend to put ourselves through needless suffering and pain before we get to a better spot than we were. My hope is that this is the most painful era of this process and that we'll soon see a turn around. However, seeing as Congressional leaders have been informed of these police state maneuvers, how Congressional leaders have tended to lock, stock, and goose stepped along with this administration into war and the so-called Patriot Act, I fear we're in for a long painful period before it will get better.