30 January 2006

Digging tunnels

While surfing the blogosphere today, I came across Torpark, a program that can be used to create "an encrypted tunnel from your computer indirectly to a Tor exit computer, giving the appearance of having the Tor exit computer's IP." I'm not geekful enough to grok the intricacies of such technologies but it gives me hope that the anarchists in hackerville will turn their energies away from cyber-vandalism and instead work on providing some way for us to keep our cyber-lives away from the prying eyes of our big brothers in the employ of government and big-business.

15 months with no food or water!

When it comes time to send the first living beings to Mars, we should perhaps consider sending scorpions instead of human beings:

A scorpion lived for 15 months without food or water inside the plaster mold of a dinosaur fossil, breaking free only when a scientist broke open the mold. Don DeBlieux, a paleontologist for the Utah Geological Survey, said he was sawing open the plaster mold when the scorpion wriggled from a crack in a sandstone block.

DeBlieux is still chipping away at the 1,000-pound rock to expose the horned skull of an 80-million-year-old plant eater — a species of dinosaur he says is new to science. The scorpion "must have been hanging out in a crack the day we plastered him," DeBlieux said Thursday.
He discovered the two-inch critter on Jan. 5 after spending two months carefully removing the plaster mold. DeBlieux said he'll spend more than 500 hours cutting the fossilized skull out of sandstone using tiny pneumatic jackhammers.

It took three and a half years to cut the sandstone block in the field, where researchers encased it with plaster. They moved it by helicopter from the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument to a laboratory in Salt Lake City. Scorpions, which eat insects, are capable of surviving for months without feeding or moving in a sleep period known as diapause, said Richard Baumann, a Brigham Young University zoologist. Under other circumstances, the scorpion might have met an untimely end, but DeBlieux said he wanted respected the creature's will to survive. He set the scorpion free in a field on the west side of Salt Lake City.

28 January 2006

Jailing those nursing mothers

Evidently the democracy that we export is a bit different from the domestic variety:

The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show. In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family's door telling him "to come get his wife."

26 January 2006

Polling of American Public on Impeachment

The latest poll is out. The results ==> a lot of people disagree with the president's view that he's above the law:

Among American adults, 53% agreed and 42% disagreed with the statement:

"If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment."

Among American adults 52% agreed and 43% disagreed with the statement:

"If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment."

Among American adults, 50% agreed and 44% disagreed with the statement:

"If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable by impeaching him."

Many felt strongly: 39% strongly agreed, while 30% strongly disagreed.

A June 23-26 ABC/Washington Post poll found 52% of Americans believe the Bush administration "deliberately misled the public before the war," and 57% say the Bush administration "intentionally exaggerated its evidence that pre-war Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons."

Historical Comparison

In August and September of 1998, 16 major polls asked about impeaching President Clinton. On average, 36% of American adults supported hearings to consider impeachment, and 26% supported actual impeachment and removal.

Don't choke on them preztels

We all love to watch contortionists but the Shrub's mis-administration has taken the artform to an entirely new level with its countless mis-statements, self-contradictions, and good-ol' bullcrap. But we're at war against drugs, poverty, misedjumication, and uh ... oh, that's right .... terrorism, ya know, so I spose we oughtta just sit back and enjoy our pretzels. Unfortunately, there are a few folk in the blogosphere who still choke on Shrub's pretzellian logic. Unclaimed Terroritory is a good example. Let's eavesdrop on an excerpt from one of his recent diatribes:

The Administration finally provided a coherent explanation for the first time on Tuesday when Gen. Hayden claimed that the "probable cause" requirement for getting a warrant under FISA was too restrictive and therefore did not allow them to engage in the eavesdropping they wanted. But the important point here is that Gen. Hayden's excuse for why the Administration decided to eavesdrop outside of FISA is transparently false, and -- in several different ways -- the Administration’s own statements from DoJ official James A. Baker made in connection with the DeWine legislation directly contradict the explanation it is now giving for its conduct:

(1) According to Baker's June, 2002 Statement, FISA’s "probable cause" standard was not creating any problems for the Administration in obtaining the eavesdropping warrants they needed.Baker's Statement directly contradicts the explanation which the Administration sent Gen. Hayden to give on Tuesday as to why the Administration decided to eavesdrop outside of FISA – because, according to Gen. Hayden, the "probable cause" standard was too stringent. The fact that the Administration in 2002 clearly said that they were not aware of any problems presented by FISA’s "probable cause" showing -- and therefore perceived no reason to change FISA -- demonstrates that the explanation they are now giving as to why they eavesdropped without FISA oversight is simply false.This, by itself, is an enormous story – the Administration finally, for the first time, offered a clear and coherent reason why they eavesdropped outside of FISA, and that explanation is clearly false, as proven by the Administration’s own statements in 2002 which directly contradict that explanation.

(2) Ever since this scandal was first disclosed, the Administration claimed that it had to eavesdrop outside of FISA because it needed "speed and agility" when eavesdropping, and -- without ever explaining why -- implied that FISA lacks this "speed and agility" (even though FISA allows warrantless eavesdropping for up to 72 hours). The President in his first Press Conference on this issue claimed (with no rationale given) that FISA was inadequate because "We've got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent." And in his Press appearance, Gen. Hayden claimed that the 72-hour window for warrantless eavesdropping was insufficient because the requirements for invoking it were still too cumbersome.But, in his Statement to Congress, Baker expressly singled out the 72-hour window for warrantless eavesdropping (which was created by the Patriot Act) and specifically praised it for giving the Administration the speed and agility it needed to track terrorists:

One simple but important change that Congress made was to lengthen the time period for us to bring to court applications in support of Attorney General-authorized emergency FISAs. This modification has allowed us to make full and effective use of FISA's pre-existing emergency provisions to ensure that the government acts swiftly to respond to terrorist threats. Again, we are grateful for the tools Congress provided us last fall for the fight against terrorism. Thank you.

Now this doesn't sound too swift. If you're in politics, aren't you supposed to argue with your opponents? On the other hand, I guess if you take both sides of an issue, it's hard for people to disagree with you. One can agree with your current stance or your former stance. (If only my highschool teachers would have let me pick true and false in response to each question. Things could've gone much smoother in my classes.)

24 January 2006

Domestic spying

Presidential hubris has reached new heights with Bush's recent claim, regarding the domestic spying program, that he's essentially above all checks and balances. Let's review some of the facts:

1. Bush claims authority from Article II of the Constitution, which says "the president shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." But there's a long trail of twisted logic from there to domestic spying. For one, let us imagine for the moment that the spying wasn't ordered by the "commander in chief" of the military but was instead ordered by, let's say, an Army captain. According to this argument, there should be nothing wrong with it. The Army captain's authority may only be over his local unit, but it seems to me that he should be able to use it to spy on Americans if such spying were (notice the counter-factual subjunctive) legal and if it were to protect Americans.

2. Bush argues that the extreme state of war we're in (his idea not mine) justifies extreme measures. Yet the "war on terror" is hardly a war in any conventional sense of the term. "Wars" are by definition situations that are atypical. They have clear objectives after which a country can expect to convert to a normal way of doing things. The nebulous "war" of the present is destined to go on forever. The only conceivable way of ending the current war is not through the achievement of some overseas victory but by stringing up Bush and his minions below a cherry tree on the White House lawn. It follows that the granting of supposed war-time powers extending indefinitely by Congress was un-Constitutional. (In light of such negligence, 95% of those in Congress should not be re-elected next term.)

3. The Fourth Amendment guarantees people the right to be secure from "unreasonable searches and seizures." No court shall issue a search warrant, it says, except upon demonstrating that there's "probable cause" to think that a law is being broken and the warrant seeker describes the specific place to be searched and the person or things to be seized. The Constitution is the highest law in the land. It hardly seems reasonable to think that its provisions can be trumped simply by the president's judgment that some action is necessary to protect Americans from harm. As Justice Sandra Day O'Conner wrote in a decision a couple years back, "We have long since made it clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

4. Bush and his advisers contend that Congress "confirmed and supplemented" the president's constitutional power by authorizing the use of force against terrorists three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Washington Post recently had a op-ed article claiming that the eaves-dropping actually occurred before this. Not that it would matter, but the contorted logic and constant shifts in position in trying to find an excuse for illegal acts is forming the leitmotiv for this mis-administration. Since Congress expressly forbid such powers when passing initial legislation, it seems like Bush would have the decency to tell the American people that he had decided to disobey the law.

5. Congress passed the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 expressly to prevent presidents from using eaves-dropping on citizens. FISA asserts that electronic surveillance within the United States requires court oversight to avoid violating the Constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches. If Bush believed that FISA was unConstitutional, why didn't he say so? Why has he kept such views secret? FISA is said to tie the government's hands, but it actually provides enormous loop-holes to allow for searches, to include a 3-day period during which the government can monitor people without a warrant after which a warrant is necessary. If FISA is unConstitutional, it's because of this provision--not because it excessively limits presidential power. FISA expressly makes it a crime to engage in electronic surveillance outside the statute's framework unless another law authorizes it. This means that all NSA employees who are assisting Bush in breaking the law as well as Bush himself are subject to arrest and imprisonment--even after Bush leaves office.

6. As has been pointed out by a number of top legal experts, if Bush is allowed to simply ignore laws everytime he decides that his actions are justified to protect the nation, it's hard to see where such actions would stop. Bush could easily decide tomorrow that a CIA assassination of a U.S. citizen was necessary to protect Americans. And anyone who discussed such an assassination would, in the current political climate, be arrested as a whistle-blower who violated their security clearance.

7. For these and so many other reasons, it's absolutely necessary that we impeach and imprison Bush. We also need to arrest and imprison all intelligence personnel who have complied with illegal orders.

The Daily Background had this on the issue:

WaPo: President Bush pushed back Monday at critics of his once-secret domestic spying effort, saying it should be termed a “terrorist surveillance program” and contending it has the backing of legal experts, key lawmakers and the Supreme Court.

I guess if the President says the program only spies on terrorists, then is he accusing Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore (a Quaker peace group) of terrorism. Since they were extensively spied upon under the President’s “terrorist surveillance program.” Apparently the Center for Constitutional Rights is also a terrorist organization. As is the American Civil Liberties Union. And Greenpeace. Since they’ve been spied on (mirror) by the NSA’s terrorist surveillance program, all of them are terrorist organizations– since the NSA never makes mistakes.
Anybody noticing a pattern in the types of groups that are being spied on? Nixon
was brought down for spying on his political enemies too, you know.

Post Script--After posting this, I came across this odd news from a WaPo article. The intelligence community is evidently refusing to discuss programs with the very members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees who are responsible for watching over them. We need to change the civics textbooks we have our children read in school. Our system is definitely not based on a notion of "checks and balances."

Former intelligence officer Russ Tice wants to tell Congress about what he believes were illegal actions undertaken by the National Security Agency in its highly sophisticated eavesdropping programs.

But he can't. He's been warned by the NSA that the information is so highly classified that even members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees - who are charged with overseeing the work of the intelligence community - don't have clearance to hear about them. If Mr. Tice talks at the hearings early next month, he could face criminal prosecution.

Other blogments on the issue can be found at The Whisper Campaign, Martin's Musings, The Poor Man Institute, and The Corpus Callosum (on talk of impeachment hearings).

17 January 2006

Super-duper wisdom from Tom DeLay

And we thought Shrub was funny! Here are 10 fine examples of the wit and wisdom of Tom DeLay:

1) "So many minority youths had volunteered, that there was literally no room for patriotic folks like myself." --Tom DeLay, explaining at the 1988 GOP convention why he and Vice Presidential nominee Dan Quayle did not fight in the Vietnam War.

2) "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?" --Tom Delay, to three young hurricane evacuees from New Orleans at the Astrodome in Houston, Sept.9, 2005.

3) "I AM the federal government." --Tom DeLay, to the owner of Ruth's Chris Steak House, after being told to put out his cigar because of federal government regulations banning smoking in the building, May 14, 2003.

4) "We're no longer a superpower. We're a super-duper power." -Tom DeLay, explaining why America must topple Saddam Hussein in 2002 interview with Fox News. (This guys been listening to far too much Abba on his iPod.)

5) "Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes."--Tom DeLay, March 12, 2003.

6) "Guns have little or nothing to do with juvenile violence. The causes of youth violence are working parents who put their kids into daycare, the teaching of evolution in the schools, and working mothers who take birth control pills." --Tom DeLay, on causes of the Columbine High School massacre, 1999. (Isn't this 99% of the American population?!)

7) "A woman can take care of the family. It takes a man to provide structure. To provide stability. Not that a woman can't provide stability, I'm not saying that... It does take a father, though." --Tom DeLay, in a radio interview, Feb. 10, 2004. (Someone needs to teach DeLay that plausible deniability functions best when invoked a little after the initial remark. Americans suffer from long-term memory loss and are basically stupid, but come on now!)

8) "I don't believe there is a separation of church and state. I think the Constitution is very clear. The only separation is that there will not be a government church." --Tom DeLay (date unspecified)

9) "Emotional appeals about working families trying to get by on $4.25 an hour [the minimum wage in 1996] are hard to resist. Fortunately, such families do not exist." --Tom DeLay, during a debate in Congress on increasing the minimum wage, April 23, 1996. (A first step towards balancing the budget should be to reverse DeLay's salary to $4.25 an hour.)

10) "I am not a federal employee. I am a constitutional officer. My job is the Constitution of the United States, I am not government employee. I am in the Constitution." --Tom DeLay, in a CNN interview, Dec. 19, 1995.

15 January 2006

All your information--for a small fee

Cyberkitten points to a story that I also find deeply disturbing. It appears that people at phone companies and elsewhere are selling our call information and anything else they know about us for a very affordable fee. Along a similar note, I've heard that even public institutions such as the U.S. Postal Service often sell addresses and other information. The trend is even more disturbing in light of the fact that identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. I think there should be strict laws in place stating that any specific information that a company sells about an individual should require prior signed consent that is written on a separate form (not in small letters on the 18th page of some agreement). I encourage all of you to write your representatives and get them working on this.

It amazes me that we now have a government that is so extremely secret about every detail of its work yet believes that both the government or its corporate sponsors should have the ability to delve into (or sell!) every detail of our lives. This is ass-backwards. It's the government that should be scrutinized while our own information should be nearly inaccessible.

Pornography and exploitation

Kate Chase from the famous Cut to the Chase blog has an interesting article on Associated Content titled Women and Pornography: Exactly Who is Being Exploited? Kate questions the assumption that it is necessarily women who are being exploited by pornography.

14 January 2006

Further support for a Chinese Columbus?

I came across this news story, which leads further credence to the idea that the Chinese discovered America prior to Columbus. I've read Menzies' book 1421 and find his argument very plausible. Menzies points out the Europeans had maps showing what looks like the Americas (and various other "undiscovered" lands) in the decades prior to the Columbus voyage. While the northeastern Canadian coast was probably known to the Norse and perhaps to some Basque cod-fishing fleets, this knowledge wouldn't explain how maps could show Australia and South America as well. We do know that a giant Chinese fleet was sent out in the early 1500s. It'll be interesting to see if further evidence for an early Chinese discovery turns up in the years ahead.

A map due to be unveiled in Beijing and London next week may lend weight to a theory a Chinese admiral discovered America before Christopher Columbus. The map, which shows North and South America, apparently states that it is a 1763 copy of another map made in 1418.
If true, it could imply Chinese mariners discovered and mapped America decades before Columbus' 1492 arrival. The map, which is being dated to check it was made in 1763, faces a lot of scepticism from experts. Chinese characters written beside the map say it was drawn by Mo Yi Tong and copied from a map made in the 16th year of the Emperor Yongle, or 1418. It clearly shows Africa and Australia. The British Isles, however, are not marked.

The map was bought for about $500 from a Shanghai dealer in 2001 by a Chinese lawyer and collector, Liu Gang. According to the Economist magazine, Mr Liu only became aware of the map's potential significance after he read a book by British author Gavin Menzies. The book, 1421: The Year China discovered the World, made the controversial claim that a Chinese admiral and eunuch, Zheng He, sailed around the world and discovered America on the way.

Zheng He, a Muslim mariner and explorer, is widely thought to have sailed around South East Asia and India, but the claim he visited America is hotly disputed. The map is now being tested to check the age of its paper and ink, with the results due to be known in February. Even if it does prove to have been drawn in 1763, sceptics will point out that we still only have the mapmaker's word that he copied if from a 1418 map, rather than from a more recent one.

12 January 2006

Green ham and eggs (or "Pigs from Oz")

Taiwanese scientists have created pigs that glow green in the dark by injecting a protein extracted from jelly fish into the nucleus of three male pig embryos. How long will it be before someone creates humans that glow different colors in the dark? I suppose such enhancements could be given to kids destined for neighborhoods with high accident rates.

10 January 2006

My Gila hike

I recently went on a week-long camping trip in Gila National Wilderness so I figured I'd write a description of my travels. Located across the Arizona border in northwestern New Mexico, Gila’s one of the larger wild areas in the southwest and is contiguous with Aldo Leopold Park. The two-park system would be one of the wildest areas in the lower 48 were it not for a road that runs up into the heart of Gila National Park, terminating around Gila Hot Springs and some famous native-American cliff dwellings. (As I've mentioned in other posts, the best way to ruin a wild area is to increase accessibility--in other words, people's ability to bring in trash.)

I went with a close friend. We began at Rain Creek Trail (accessible from 147—a dirt road at the southwestern end of the park). Except for a friendly old rancher on a horse at the Rain Creek Trailhead, we didn’t see anyone else the entire week we were hiking! The rocky Rain Creek Trail rises and falls several times before hitting West Mogollon Creek. At this point, we turned north up the West Fork Mogollon Trail, which follows a crystal clear stream for 4 or 5 hours before veering off to the right. The stream’s home to numerous native Gila trout—a beautiful fish with a yellow-green underbelly. These trout are evidently accustomed to bears. Each time we approached a deep pool, the dozen trout living there would dart under a rock, competing for the most secure spot. As the trail veers away, there are a couple of deep pools below the trail that would be nice spots for a swim in the summer.

We’d planned to take the Snow Park Trail to Mogollon Baldy (10,770 feet) but ended up missing the trail fork (a consequence of hiking into the night). So after camping in a thicket of thorny bushes, we went up to the Crest Trail which we took back down to the peak. At Mogollon Baldy, there’s a park service cabin and a fire look-out (both closed to the public). From the peak, we walked down to Snow Park, which offers excellent views of the area’s rock formations and the flat mesas on the horizon. On the back side of Snow Park, there’s a small spring that was unfortunately frozen when we went. We were out of water at this point, so we melted ice and had a single cup of hot cocoa (which tasted a bit too much like frozen leaves).

From Snow Park, we took the Trail Canyon Trail down to White Creek and the Gila River. The initial portion of this trail is flat and very pleasant. At several points, we came across deer and we also noted numerous signs of bear and other critters. Where the trails all meet up before the Gila River, there’s a Park Service cabin and horse corral. The Gila River, while picturesque, was completely dead. (Was it poisoned in order to reintroduce the native Gila trout?)

Backtracking to the cabin, we took the trail towards McKenna Park and Hell’s Hole. We eventually made it to the Mogollon Creek Trail. This was the most picturesque section of our trip. Here, the trail follows Mogollon Creek as it winds down a deep canyon full of impressive rock formations and clear pools. During our last two days, we did some very rough up and down climbs past Bud’s Hole and then back out the Rain Creek trail.

For the hike, I bought Hiking New Mexico Gila Wilderness by Bill Cunningham. The book's good, but it was a bit misleading in some respects. Cunningham, who evidently hiked the area during a year with significant snowfall, describes seeing snow-drifts in June. We traveled in December and only ran across ice and a thin layer of frozen snow in a few locations. For the most part, the temperatures were perfect for hiking, reaching the mid-50s during the day. Due to the odd micro-climates of the area, the higher elevations felt much warmer, with our coldest nights spent at the bottom of valleys where the cool air came down at night. The high areas were extremely windy but weren’t especially cold.

All told, the area's very beautiful and definitely worth a long hike. The trails can be rough, strewn with loose fist-sized stones, so bring a good pair of high boots. In the higher elevations, you should have enough water to last a day. There's plenty of wood for campfires but the dry grass, high wind, and deep forest floor at higher elevations makes a good fire pit essential. We didn't run across any ticks or poison ivy---perhaps because it was winter.

9 January 2006

Shrub's War: The rising price tag

I remember reading months back that the cost of the Shrub's War would far exceed current estimates and reach a trillion bucks. A recent study has revised even that astronomical estimate, saying that the war will top $2 trillion (far above the White House's pre-war projections). The study takes into account long-term costs such as lifetime health care for thousands of wounded U.S. soldiers. I have no idea what a trillion dollars looks like but it doesn't strike me as a trifling sum. It's twice the GDP of all of Canada after all, and represents about two months of the U.S. GDP. I think we should have had a vote at the beginning of Shrub's War giving people the choice between a sustained war that will probably make the Iraqi situation worse, or an all-expenses-paid two-month vacation.

Bush before the sex-change

For all of you who wonder what the prez looked like before his sex-change: Click here.

8 January 2006

I'm baa-aa-aaak

I've reluctantly returned from the mountains. I'll write a description of my trip after I remove some more grime and soot from nightly campfires.