QUOTE  A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me.
- George W. Bush
I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat! Steve Bates,
The Yellow Doggerel Democrat
I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat!

for September 2006 (cont'd)


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Habeas Corpus

The Great Writ? Yes. John McCain's military commissions bill will suspend it, as surely as Bush's bill, for U.S. noncitizens in U.S. custody outside the United States. Media Freeze has the details of the letter from the nine former federal judges who oppose it... as indeed you should. From the judges' letter, via Media Freeze's diary:

We applaud Congress for taking action establishing procedures to try individuals for war crimes and, in particular, Senator Warner, Senator Graham, and others for ensuring that those procedures prohibit the use of secret evidence and evidence gained by coercion. Revoking habeas corpus, however, creates the perverse incentive of allowing individuals to be detained indefinitely on that very basis by stripping the federal courts of their historic inquiry into the lawfulness of a prisoner's confinement.

In other words, under either Bush's or McCain's proposed laws, someone could be imprisoned indefinitely on executive order and denied the right to challenge the legality of their imprisonment... and no court in the land could challenge that denial. That is wrong. That is un-American.

Without habeas corpus, we are a government of men, not of laws.

(HT to Fallenmonk.)

Off-topic, and I don't have time to write a separate post about it now: Generalissimo George speaks to the U.N. Can war with Iran be far behind? Or can Bush be tamed by the international community?

Again off-topic, again no time, but I always said that if regular commenter ellroon ever started blogging, I'd blogroll her instantly. She's done it, and so I've done it: please see her Rants from the Rookery. Welcome, ellroon!


Ahoy, Mateys!

Ye know what day this be. Avast, ye lubbers, cease thy prattle in common English, lest we blindfold ye an' make ye walk the plank!

Arrr, by me daddy's eyepatch, an' he were one right fine sailor, a man to have on the bridge o' your ship in fair weather an' foul, in peace an' in war, this be the day to Talk Like a Pirate!

'n if ye be Pastafarian, this day be one for ye, as well. What? Ye would mock those touched by His Noodly Appendage? Belay that, mate, or feel the steel of those who fly no nation's flag! Fewer of us there be, as the sea grows hot an' the storms they blow, but we shall not be mocked!

(Miss ye not Pharyngula today... his video be grand!)


GM, Ford Merging?

Really? Hasn't novelist G.M. Ford beaten them to it? (If you need a starting place among his novels, you couldn't do better than Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca? but apparently it's out of print. Here, borrow my copy...)


Natural Selection Cleared

Darwin would be pleased. But only Natural Selection Foods organic brands have been cleared. The company makes both organic and non-organic (what strange terms!) brands in separate facilities; only their non-organic brands have been shown to be connected with the E. coli outbreak. Still, the advice now is that you should avoid all spinach, not just bagged spinach. Life is hard for salad-eaters!

(I really don't have time to do this post, but I felt I should tell everyone that at least organically grown Natural Selection was vindicated.)


eSlate Voting Machines Questioned

Here in Harris County, TX, we use eSlate voting machines. They're made by Hart Intercivic, an Austin company, and our Harris County Clerk, Beverly Kaufman, once actually filmed a testimonial video for them... yes, she was already county clerk at the time. Can you say "conflict of interest," children? I knew you could!

Are eSlate machines clean, unlike those by the infamous Diebold, which have been hacked multiple times in demonstrations? Who knows. The Houston Chronicle headline writer obviously thinks not (and I'll bet this headline is changed before the day is out, because there are no actual unequivocal accusations against eSlate in the article):

The eSlate may not be so clean
Like punch cards, electronic ballots vulnerable to mistakes and fraud, experts say
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

     ...     [chatty intro removed - sb]

But along with the computer terminals are a horde of computer science experts who swear the ability to cheat — and especially the opportunity to foul up — is just as strong as ever.

More than 20 percent of the nation's counties will be using new systems this fall, according to Election Data Services, a political consulting firm that tracks election equipment.

That raises the potential for beginner mistakes by voters and election officials. Some see darker possibilities.

At Princeton last week, a professor and his students released a report and video showing how they could break into one brand of machine and corrupt it to switch votes in less than a minute. The bug they inserted by replacing a memory card was not detectable, they said, and erased itself when the election concluded.

Some Rice University professors include a project called "hack-a-vote" in their team-taught curriculum. Groups of students spend two weeks devising ways to switch votes and then one week trying to catch the other groups in the act.


I like the notion of turning a bunch of CS students loose in a competitive effort to hack voting systems. That's my alma mater for you! Of course, the task would be eased... as it should be... if all voting systems were made open source, not proprietary with secret program code. (Bryan of Why Now? mentions in my previous post's comment thread that the government of Australia has done exactly that. I'll address the virtues of open source in another post, or in the comments if you like.)

This largely introductory article contains a few quotes of Beverly Kaufman as well. Here's a sample:

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman said she appreciates that critics are driving machine vendors and election officials to get better at security.

But she also voiced a reservation. "I'm afraid they're proliferating a distrust among the voters that's not justified," she said.

What would one expect her to say, considering she endorsed the system on Hart Intercivic's web site a couple of years ago. And this, regarding the frequent proposal that printers be attached to all voting machines to provide a paper record in the event of a recount:

Kaufman says Hart's printers have not been certified by the Texas secretary of state, and that printers are simply another moving part that can break and cause chaos.

A major national panel on which Wallach served said this summer that printers should be used. But one computing professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology agrees with Kaufman. Ted Selker designed a study showing that volunteer subjects almost never caught errors he deliberately inserted in their printouts.

Um, why have they not been certified in Texas? There must be a reason... Still, I agree with Kaufman about one thing: printers will not save our elections from electronic inaccuracies and fraud. Only old-fashioned paper ballots can even begin to do that, imperfect as they are. But that would leave voting systems manufacturers... the last time I looked, most of them were major Republican contributors... out of a contract. We couldn't have that, could we?

Speaking of contracts, mine is at peak intensity right now. We have multiple customers running the beta live, in real time, and I'm standing by to field the bugs they inevitably will find. Well, actually, I'm sitting by, and I'm not idle; there are plenty of known small bugs, feature requests, etc. to keep me busy. In any case, chances of blogging today, after this post, are pretty small.


And So It Begins

Actually, it began a long time ago, but it hasn't gone away. WaPo:

Major Problems At Polls Feared
Some Officials Say Voting Law Changes And New Technology Will Cause Trouble

By Dan Balz and Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 17, 2006; Page A01

An overhaul in how states and localities record votes and administer elections since the Florida recount battle six years ago has created conditions that could trigger a repeat -- this time on a national scale -- of last week's Election Day debacle in the Maryland suburbs, election experts said.

In the Nov. 7 election, more than 80 percent of voters will use electronic voting machines, and a third of all precincts this year are using the technology for the first time. The changes are part of a national wave, prompted by the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 and numerous revisions of state laws, that led to the replacement of outdated voting machines with computer-based electronic machines, along with centralized databases of registered voters and other steps to refine the administration of elections.

But in Maryland last Tuesday, a combination of human blunders and technological glitches caused long lines and delays in vote-counting. The problems, which followed ones earlier this year in Ohio, Illinois and several other states, have contributed to doubts among some experts about whether the new systems are reliable and whether election officials are adequately prepared to use them.

In a polarized political climate, in which elections are routinely marked by litigation and allegations of incompetent administration or outright tampering, some worry that voting problems could cast a Florida-style shadow over this fall's midterm elections.


Under what circumstances are computer-based systems a good idea? That's a valid question.

I'm involved in developing a system on which people's lives will depend. Moreover, the status of parts of our emergency response system will depend on it. Am I confident it will do the job? No, not today, but by the time it is fully tested and released, yes, I am confident it can be used to safeguard lives. This is not the first time I've written software on which people's health and safety depends. It is possible to craft such systems.

So... why not electronic voting systems? If you can bet your life on a technology, why can't you bet your vote on similar technology?

Here's the difference: with the system I'm helping to develop right now, every single customer, indeed, every single user, has a strong incentive to help make the system work. Potentially hostile users... ex-employees and such... can be passworded promptly, and everyone else has an incentive to help assure the best possible outcome.

Can you say the same about electronic voting systems?

No, of course not. Anyone with the capacity to cheat has the potential to be an adversary of any voting system, electronic or otherwise. In politics, not everybody is honest. Today, Democrats are the victims of the dishonesty, but it might not always be that way; history is full of examples of election fraud by all major parties that have ever existed in America. Election theft is generally a very shortsighted practice with at most short-term gains... pursued nonetheless by shortsighted people with no love for democracy.

Today's situation notwithstanding, if one truly believes in the long-term benefits of democratically elected representative government, election systems need to be fair, and moreover, they need to be perceived as fair. Most of all, the results of elections must be verifiable. Today's e-voting systems aren't even close. If you have electronic voting in your county, try an experiment which I actually did myself: ask your precinct judge what would happen in the event of a call for a recount. You won't like the answer.

Today's e-voting systems are neither fair or verifiable. There are plenty of ways to steal an election other than through electronic voting systems, but they are one gaping hole through which I suspect trucks have already been driven.

At least one manufacturer, Diebold (pronounced "dee"-bold, by the way), has been shown in at least three studies I know of, by university computer scientists expert in computer security, to be full of holes. Faculty members at Stanford, Rice and most recently Princeton (at least; there are probably more of which I am unaware) have listed dozens of security vulnerabilities, and in some cases (again most recently at Princeton) have hacked a sample voting machine to prove it could be done. The manufacturers claim the researchers have laboratory conditions not available to the would-be hacker in the field... but when all it takes is a few minutes and a replacement memory card available over the counter at Office Depot, how can that possibly be so? The risk of being caught is very low, and the rewards are not merely power but power with the apparent approval of the electorate. That's diabolical, isn't it.

With nothing more than anecdotal evidence, I believe it has already happened. Other than deliberate disenfranchisement of likely opposition voters... "voter suppression," as at least one Republican consultant (Ed Rollins, several years ago) has called it in public... voting system fraud has to be one of the most effective ways to steal an election, and I suspect strongly it has been done already.

What will happen on November 7? I think it requires no stretch of the imagination to say that

  • voters will be automatically and illegitimately removed from the voter rolls as they have been in Florida (and possibly Ohio) in recent elections,
  • duly qualified voters will be turned away from the polls in areas with a history of voting Democratic,
  • Republicans will mount endless challenges to voters whose registrations mysteriously disappeared from the voter rolls, resulting in "provisional" votes that are ultimately never counted,
  • electronic voting equipment will mysteriously malfunction in known predominantly Democratic precincts, or else inadequate quantities of voting machines will be provided to those precincts,
  • "expert" help at the polls from companies such as Diebold on Election Day will turn out to have been hired the week before and trained for all of six hours, and thus totally incapable of assisting volunteer poll workers with any problems with the equipment.

In other words, I'm predicting business as usual, in the manner of the last three major elections. Not all of these flaws could be remedied by using old-fashioned paper ballots, but the last two items, the vulnerabilities specific to e-voting systems, could most certainly be remedied that way.

It's one thing to scare the daylights out of people in pursuit of their votes. It's another thing altogether to steal the votes of those who cannot be scared in that way, or to intimidate people into not voting. The only thing standing between the American government and utter chaos in the wake of every election is well-based confidence in the system by which elections are held and votes are counted. Absent that confidence, firm and widespread, Americans and their government are in for some rough times.

Early in my life, I committed, as did most Americans, to abide by the outcomes of all legitimate elections. That commitment has not changed, but my confidence in the election process has diminished dramatically in the last few years. I am not alone in that loss of confidence. And Americans who have lost confidence are not all of one political party. If the flaws in the 2000 presidential election (to put it politely) turn out not to be a fluke but rather an institutionalized practice, all of us need to start reading Jefferson's writings again.


Spinach Revisited

I know I shouldn't laugh, but there's some irony in the name of the company that produces the bagged spinach suspected of being the primary source of E. coli contamination: Natural Selection Foods. Yep! Better, stronger, more deadly E. coli brought to you by Natural Selection! But here's what I wanted to warn you about, though most of you have probably heard already:

[FDA medical officer Dr. David] Acheson said consumers should avoid all prepackaged spinach and mixed salad products, and throw out any products that have already been purchased. Rewashing spinach and salad mixes may only worsen the problem by spreading the contamination, Acheson said.

Forget Popeye's message. If you've got bagged spinach on hand, throw it out.


Ah Want Clarity

Heh. Ah wanted Clarity way back in ninth grade, but she wouldn't have nothin' ta do with me. Ah bet she's sorry now. Why, if she could see me in front o' this podiatrium... this 'lectron... whatever... why, Ah bet she'd expose her pretty lil'... oh, is this thang on? (Ahem) ...

My fellah 'Merkans, Ah want clarity. Ah want clarity on 'terragatin the terraists. These folks want to attack us again. D'ya hear that, moms in the Heartland? the Homeland? Whatever... they wanna attack you. Be afraid. Be as scared as Ah tell you to!

'N' tell your Congressman to gimme what Ah want. Ah want a new type o' military tribunal, with no rules, so Ah can do whatever Ah wanna when we try a terraist. Ah want new rules for 'terragation of terraists. Why, Ah'd tor... uh... 'terragate 'em myself if Ah had the time. Fix 'em good. Ah remember one time in college, we held ol' Joe Bob down 'n' ripped off his shirt 'n' ... uh, where was Ah? Oh, right... 'terragatin terraists. We gotta be able to terraize the terraists. If we don't, they'll come after us with a nukular bomb. Yes they will; they'll come after yer sister with a nukular bomb!

Y'know, there's Democrats that say we shouldn't tor... uh, 'terragate terraists rough-like. Well you know they're a bunch of lily-livered cowards 'n' traitors 'n' appeasers that love the terraists. Why, if another war came along, not that it will, but if it did, they'd try to get outta fightin' in it; that's how cowardly they are! Now a few Republicans in Congress are sayin' the same thing, so they're no better than the Dems; fu... uh, to heck with 'em. See if they git any money from the RNC next time they run. 'N' that fella Colon, the one sayin' bad things about my strategery in the War on Terra... you jes' ignore him. Why should you believe him? He's bla... uh, he's untrussworthy.

So you jes' gimme what Ah want, 'n' Ah'll take care o' you. God Bless 'Murca! 9/11! Terra! I-raq! 9/11! I-ran! I-raq! 9/11! Terra! Terra! Terra! God Bless 'Murca!

(How'd Ah do, Karl? Damn, Ah need a beer. Shee-it, is this thang still on?)

A big thank-you to Mad Kane, whose "Dubya's Dayly Diary" I remember very fondly, for the inspiration.

If your members of Congress, Democratic or Republican, are anywhere nearly reasonable, please contact them and urge them not to support this awful legislation. Do it because torture is immoral. Do it because torture doesn't gain valid information. If for no other reason, do it for the sake of American troops, who are most liable to be tortured when captured, in response to American torture. Do it for the sake of America's judicial principles enshrined in the Constitution. Whatever your reason, just do it.


Don't Eat Your Spinach -- UPDATED

UPDATE: Please see the latest Bushism in the banner quote above. Who knew that Dubya would actually admit it. Original post follows...

And other curious things from today's Houston Chronicle:

  • U.S. consumers told not to eat bagged spinach

    WASHINGTON -- Consumers nationwide should not eat fresh bagged spinach, say health officials probing a multistate outbreak of E. coli that killed at least one person and made dozens of others sick.

    Food and Drug Administration and state officials don't know the cause of the outbreak, although raw, packaged spinach appears likely. "We're advising people not to eat it," said Dr. David Acheson of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

    Bagged, pre-washed, pre-dismembered spinach... yuck! Stella loves it. We all have our weaknesses. I just emailed this article to her.

  • Texas gasoline prices fall again; hit $2.44 a gallon

    Retail gasoline prices have fallen for the sixth week in a row as lower demand and a calm hurricane season continues to translate into lower pump prices, according to a weekly survey.

    Lower demand, a calm hurricane season (for the U.S. at least), and... is there another reason for the falling prices that they neglected to mention? Remember a couple of years back, when the Saudis took care of their good buddy Dub Bush, dropping oil prices just before the 2004 election? I'm betting on a skyrocketing increase beginning November 8.

  • Ford announces $5 billion in cost cuts

    DETROIT — Ford Motor Co., said today that it plans to cut 10,000 more salaried jobs, offer buyouts to all of its U.S. hourly workers and shut down two more plants as it expands its restructuring plan designed to rein in expenses and restore the struggling automaker to profitability.

    The company said in a news release that it would shutter a stamping plant in Maumee, Ohio, in 2008 and an engine plant in Essex, Ontario, in 2007. That is in addition to previous plans for 14 plant closures.

    In addition, Ford said an assembly plant in Norfolk, Va., will close in 2007, a year earlier than previously announced and will see a shift reduction in January. Also, an assembly plant in St. Paul, Minn., which is scheduled to close in 2008, will have a shift reduction in 2007.

    Ford said it would complete its cuts of 25,000 to 30,000 hourly jobs by the end of the 2008, four years ahead of its previous target.

    Do you think old Henry Ford (with all his faults and foibles) would be pleased? I don't either. One of his stated goals was to make it possible for his line workers to afford to buy a Ford... and that was in a day when most ordinary working people didn't own cars. Henry is probably spinning in his grave. My car is a 12-year-old Chevy. I had fully planned to buy an American-made car next time, in support of American workers. I still intend to buy an American-made car, made in America by American workers, but it may well be a Honda or Toyota; they have plants here. If theoretically American manufacturers can't get their act together to provide workers a steady job, why do I owe those businesses my loyalty?

Here ends the miscellany for the moment. But only for the moment...


Fortune Cookie

Yes, I'm still awake. Too much coffee during the daytime has its effects, quite beyond sharpening the mind for tapping code. I received a fortune cookie a couple of nights ago at a Chinese restaurant Stella and I go to occasionally because there is not only good food to be had, but also peace and quiet. Here is the fortune in the cookie I received:

You shall soon achieve perfection.

Actually, I had planned on living in this world a bit longer. And if there's another world after this one, I doubt seriously I'll achieve perfection there, either.

My fortune is indeed tied up with cookies lately. Today I finally solved a problem which should have been obvious, having to do with cookies used (as so many commercial web sites do) to save a user's login on a particular computer. The problem is simply stated: this application is supposed to run 24x7, updating the main page to display continually changing information. Think of those displays at airports on which arrivals and departures are monitored on an ongoing basis. This is similar, though the volume of information is probably considerably smaller.

The problem is that all web servers eventually time out sessions, often after 20 minutes or so of no actual human input. An application such as the one we're developing must recognize when this happens, and login again using the info the user saved in the original login... i.e., the info stored in cookies.

In this case, my fortune cookie notwithstanding, my code was not exactly approaching perfection. I think it's fixed now, but with some kinds of bugs, it's hard to tell.

For the less technologically intense, what's a cookie, in the web sense of the word? A cookie is a tiny file on your computer in which a web site you visit is permitted to store a small amount of information... a very small amount indeed. You can turn off cookies in your browser's options, but a lot of web sites will break if you do that. Cookies are very nearly harmless, and the few that are malicious... those that some advertisers occasionally use to attempt to track your surfing across different sites... are pretty easily defeated by modern antispyware software, such as the excellent and free Spybot Search and Destroy, or the latest version of Symantec Norton Antivirus. The YDD uses cookies to track your preferences: those checkboxes at the top of the page, indicating where you want clicked links to open and whether to show some of the banner material, are made "sticky" from one visit to the next using cookies. Sticky cookies... mmm!

That's the lesson for the day... like Queen Elizabeth I's bath, you got it whether you needed it or not. Excuse me, but if I'm going to achieve perfection tomorrow, I'd better get some sleep.


Almost Friday Cat Action Blogging

Here's Tabitha in an action sequence with Stella:

  1. Unmoved by her fame as a web star on the YDD, Tabitha wishes Stella would quit looking at the picture on the computer and pay attention to the living, breathing feline;
  2. Tabitha descends to Stella's lap, which is her natural place in the world;
  3. Stella is properly distracted by her presence;
  4. Tabitha receives the attention she sought and is certain (with good reason) she richly deserves!

It's been a long, hard workday. The bug list dwindled (though of course never went to zero), the last-minute features were added, and I'm doggerel-tired. Tomorrow is (or was, I'm not sure which) the scheduled release of a preliminary beta to a selected small customer with a great deal of fortitude. As fresh-baked as much of this code is, I expect another busy day tomorrow, whether or not my client gets the beta out the door. In honor of the occasion (or not), I'll quote some very old doggerel I wrote well over 10 years ago while working for another client:

An app deployed in greatest haste
Is made with lots of copy-paste.
So everything that's wrong or odd, you'll
Have to fix in every module.

- SB the YDD


Ann Richards 1933-2006 - UPDATED

I hope you had a chance, at least once during her lifetime, to hear her speak. No one rivaled her on the stump.

From the Houston Chronicle obit:


Richards was the quintessential Texas woman, with a sassy homespun charm, sharp wit and tough pioneer spirit. With bright silver hair, a weathered face and an affinity for cobalt blue suits and pearls, Richards was instantly recognizable to national television audiences.


Richards labeled her administration the "New Texas," appointing more Hispanics, blacks and women to state boards and commissions than any previous governor. She pushed for increases in public education funding and promoted business expansion in the state.


Late in her term as governor, the Houston Chronicle asked Richards how she viewed her gubernatorial legacy.

"How about, 'She changed the economic future of Texas,'" Richards replied. "And that really beats what I feared my tombstone was going to say, and that was: 'She kept a really clean house.'"


Rest in peace, Ann. We miss you already.

UPDATE: I noticed, in the Houston Chronicle forum about Ann's death, that a few commenters used the opportunity to make nasty, tasteless and occasionally ad feminam remarks. Somewhere, Ann is smiling to herself, regarding it as a badge of honor that she stirred up so many Texans that, even on the occasion of her death, they feel a need to be derogatory to her memory. Now that's power!

Oh, and an afterthought: they call Gov. Perry "Goodhair," but can he pile his hair a good four inches above the top of his head? No, not with any amount of hair spray!


Olbermann Again

Keith Olbermann, writing as Bloggermann, once again has something intelligent and well-framed to say, this time about the ongoing emptiness at Ground Zero. He used to work there, and for him it's personal. It's worth your time to check it out.

(HT: NTodd.)

Blogging will be light today and probably through Friday. My client intends to get a beta out the door no matter what; I'm trying to help make that happen. I'll blog when I can.



Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign is accusing opponent Phil Angelides's staff of "Web site hacking" for retrieving two audio files of Schwarzenegger's conversations in March with his chief of staff. The conversations were highly embarrassing to Schwarzenegger, as he made racial generalizations about Blacks and Latinos, specifically Cubans and Puerto Ricans:

"I mean, they (Cubans and Puerto Ricans) are all very hot... they have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them and together that makes it," he said.

One can debate whether the statement is offensive on its face or not, but that's not the point here. Here's the proximate issue:

Katie Levinson, communications director of Californians for Schwarzenegger, denounced the acquisition of the audio file in a statement Tuesday.

"Sadly, the actions by the Angelides campaign come as no surprise and the treasurer should denounce the unethical actions taken on his behalf," Levinson said. "Phil Angelides has a long history of gutter politics, and it is clear this most recent example was a calculated effort to smear the governor's reputation."

Hacking? Crap. The files were

  • on a California state web site
  • in a directory marked "speeches"
  • which was not passworded or in any other way secured.
Would you call downloading such files "hacking"? If your answer is yes, I have to wonder what you think public files on a government web site are there for. If the files were of private conversations, WTF were they doing on a government web site in the first place? Whoever put them there, and whoever left the directory vulnerable to listing, should be sacked.

An opposition candidate whose staff did not listen to every speech made by the incumbent would be derelict in his or her duties.

And I would be derelict in mine if I did not point out that Schwarzenegger is right to be embarrassed by his statement. I wouldn't call the statement racist per se, but there's a broad racial generalization in it that is hard to deny. It reveals more about Arnold than I ever really wanted to know, though it hardly surprises me. It's not Angelides's fault, nor his staff's, that Arnold put this out where the public could find it with very little trouble.

By the way, ZDNet links an alleged Google cache copy of the original. No such luck: someone got to Google, and the link appears to point to one of the governor's press conferences on the state budget. (I have not listened to it; perhaps it does contain the statement in question. Does someone out there have 19 minutes of their life to sacrifice to the task of finding out? I thought not. I don't either.)

Afterthought: Arnold himself has quite rightly apologized. Yet some of his supporters seem determined to make an attack point out of a mistake that is very clearly the governor's, not his opponent's. What's with that? Hand me a lantern; I'll go looking for an honest California Republican... other than Arnold, who, however little I like him, at least appears to be candid about his screw-up.


Collective Guilt

People are just plain nuts:

SYDNEY, Australia -- At least 10 stingrays have been killed since Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin was fatally injured by one of the fish, an official said today, prompting a spokesman for the late TV star's animal charity to urge people not take revenge on the animals.

Irwin died last week after a stingray barb pierced his chest as he recorded a show off the Great Barrier Reef.


Michael Hornby, the executive director of Irwin's Wildlife Warriors conservation group, said he was concerned the rays were being hunted and killed in retaliation for Irwin's death.

"It may be some sort of retribution, or it may be fear from certain individuals, or it just may be yet another callous act toward wildlife," he said.

He said killing stingrays was "not what Steve was about."

"We are disgusted and disappointed that people would take this sort of action to hurt wildlife," he said.


Disgusted and disappointed? Me too.


I See The Sun Peeking Over The Hill

Well, OK, it's peeking over the apartment complex, and this morning isn't from Peer Gynt by Grieg, as the mnemonic has it...

... and the focus isn't as sharp as I might have hoped. But as mornings in Houston go, this one is actually pleasant.


HaloScammed Or Firefoxed?

HaloScan has been giving me endless grief over the past few days when I attempt to post a comment using Firefox for Windows. I get frequent "Bad Request" messages in the comment popup and occasional "500 Internal Server Error" messages on the forum. If you have similar problems, try using Internet Explorer instead to leave your comments.

I don't know the actual cause of this problem, but Firefox has not failed me in this way on any site other than HaloScan, and even on HaloScan only intermittently. Jeevan doesn't need another byte-head like me breathing down his neck, but I have (with some difficulty) filed a report on the forum, alongside someone else who had the same problem but gave few details, because it is a royal pain to deal with. As I said, if you have similar problems commenting here, try using IE. It may be only coincidental, a matter of timing, that I have had better luck commenting using IE. Firefox is inarguably a more standards-compliant browser than at least IE 6.x, but we do what we have to.


September 11

  • is Mad Kane's birthday!
  • is the 12th anniversary of Stella's adopting Samantha.

And I thought I drew a bad lot in having the anniversary of the Hiroshima A-bomb for a birthday. Unlike 9/11, that event killed only, um, wait, never mind... they weren't Americans anyway, right? In any case, Samantha has been an unmitigated blessing to the Stella household, and Mad Kane deserves every good birthday wish you can send her way. She may be Mad, but she helps preserve my sanity!

Troll prophylactic: as the right wing seems utterly incapable of comprehending irony, I mean no disrespect to anyone when I point out that the Original Child Bomb killed not fewer than 70,000 people immediately, more than 140,000 in the long term, destroyed an entire city, and ushered in the era of nuclear warfare, the genie that will never return to the bottle. And America dropped it on someone else. Spare me your rationalizations: I am forced to think about this once a year, on what should be a joyous occasion for me, and I have very low tolerance for self-justifying rhetoric. The blood is on your hands and mine. Cross me on this matter, on my own site, at your peril.


Who Does He Think He Is, FDR?

Bush has delivered another radio address. In this liar-side chat (should I trademark that term? nah... feel free to use it) he urged Congress to pass a plan drafted by the White House for prosecuting terrorist suspects, presumably including those he is moving to Guantanamo from the formerly secret CIA prisons for trials that will probably take place, only coincidentally of course, just in time for the November elections. Here's what Mr. Bush said:

"As soon as Congress acts to authorize these military commissions, we will prosecute these men and send a clear message to those who kill Americans: No matter how long it takes, we will find you and bring you to justice," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "As we bring terrorists to justice, we're acting to secure the homeland."

As we approach the dreaded anniversary, let's remember that Bush said something very similar about Osama bin Laden:


"I want justice," Bush said. "And there's an old poster out West… I recall, that said, 'Wanted, Dead or Alive.'"


"We're going to find those evildoers, those barbaric people who attacked our country, and we're going to hold them accountable," Bush said. "We're going to hold the people who house them accountable. The people who think they can provide them safe havens will be held accountable. The people who feed them will be held accountable.


Well, that's worked out really well, hasn't it. Osama bin Missing for a loooong time now, and will remain missing until his actual capture, not merely a vague intimation of his imminent capture, is politically useful to Mr. Bush. Or maybe Osama will be one of the many things that, as Mr. Bush has repeatedly reminded us, will be on the plate of the next president.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. My concern at the moment is Bush's proposed legislation:


The president's new plan for trying detainees would authorize the defense secretary to convene military tribunals to prosecute terrorism suspects and omit rights common in military and civil courts, such as the defendant's right to access all evidence and a ban on coerced testimony.

Bush has said the plan is both fair and tough enough to ensure dangerous terrorists can be brought to justice. However, some GOP moderates on defense issues, including Sens. John Warner, R-Va., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have agreed with Pentagon lawyers that Bush's plan may go too far.

The plan is constitutionally questionable, and both military lawyers and senators of Bush's own party have acknowledged that.

There are two systems of justice in the United States, military and civilian. Both of them approach the most egregious of violations of law with well-established procedures designed to assure defendants a fair trial.

Bush, claiming that terrorist suspects are somehow neither prisoners of war nor criminals (had anyone heard the term "enemy combatants" before Mr. Bush took office?), proposes setting up a third system of justice, one in which the defendant has far fewer rights than in military or civilian courts... in other words, a system rigged in favor of the prosecution, a system in which the state always wins. Whether or not this would be found constitutional, I think it's a fair assertion that it would be contrary to deeply held principles of American justice from the earliest days of the Republic. Our founders fought the Revolutionary War for many reasons, but one of the greatest was the fact that another man named George appointed men who rigged the British system of justice in the American colonies.

Aside: you may argue that most of these people are not U.S. citizens. Rather than point you at those American citizens whom Bush has summarily imprisoned on his own authority, with none of the common rights of accused American citizens such as access to attorneys, knowing the charges against them, a speedy and public trial, etc., I'll ask you instead to find your copy of the Bill of Rights... you do have one, don't you?... and determine how many times those rights are said to apply to "citizens" and how many times to "person[s]" or "people." Have you done that? Good! How many times are "citizen[s]" mentioned in the first ten amendments? Right... zero. Even in the Fourteenth Amendment, which defines citizenship so as to prevent states from denying it to people born there, very carefully uses the word "person" in the following clause:

... nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In other words, to assert that noncitizens may be denied due process when under U.S. control is to assert that the trials must not take place in any state. That's why Bush is moving people to Gitmo: he intends to do things that cannot constitutionally be done within any state in the United States. That's deplorable on its face... but can we please at least leave off with the crap about noncitizens having no rights? It's right there in the Constitution: "people," whether citizens or noncitizens, have all the rights Bush proposes to violate here.

Bush is in essence repeating the old line, "extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures." To agree with him about that, one must be willing to forsake in (purported) wartime the judicial principles that have carried us through war and peace for over 200 years.

Another aside: No, Bush is not the first president to propose or even implement infringements on the rights of citizens and noncitizens alike, usually during actual war and usually in response to a sense of fear among the public, but every time the U.S. public has gone along with such infringements, it has done so to its long-term regret and often enough its shame. Even Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War is not a clear-cut case; the power to do that during "Rebellion or Invasion" is mentioned in Article I, and I presume from that fact that it is a power held by Congress. In general, suspension of rights and liberties, whoever does the suspending, is a bad idea, and an American public that tolerates a president's doing so on his own authority is placing at risk far more than its own safety.

Either we are committed to our time-tested fundamental principles as laid out in the Constitution, in times of war and peace, in good times and in terrible times, or we are hypocrites unworthy of the great nation our founders bequeathed us. I've made my choice. And apparently Mr. Bush has made his. I hope Congress chooses to go with America's founding principles regarding matters of justice and reject Mr. Bush's proposal. We don't need a third, rigged system of justice... no matter who is to be tried.


Atlantis - At Last!

After all the delays, they're finally on their way, and as I write this, everything looks good. As often as I see that sight (thanks, Stella, for reminding me of this morning's launch), I never get over the thrill. Godspeed, Atlantis and crew.


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Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.
  - FDR

I belong to the Democratic Party wing of the Democratic Party.
  - Paul Wellstone

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