Saturday, May 29, 2004

cameras banned in the military?

I found a more coherent story on this in Wired, of all places. According to this story, "the Defense Department said it hasn't banned the devices and doesn't plan to". However, there is a new directive signed by Wolfowitz in April which has a more plausible justification: "the directive tells all soldiers, contractors and visitors to Defense Department facilities that they can only carry wireless devices that conform to the military's security standards." The article also says that:

While Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may not have signed a ban on new consumer digital-imaging technologies, he did express clear concern about the unforeseen impact of such technologies during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 7.

"People are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon," Rumsfeld said.

Camera phones have been banned in many other places - school locker rooms for example - on privacy grounds, so the story's far from absurd. And it may yet turn out that the milspec restriction effectively does ban most camera phones. But for now this looks like it was a nascent urban legend.

Maybe those Ozzie reporters were confused by humorists, who were again ahead of the curve on this one.

ok, maybe it's not funny

That camera-phone story (banned in Army installations) seems to have been picked up by Yahoo! news - but generally placed in under "technology" rather than politics. So maybe it's true, in which case it's certainly less funny.

A Hole in Texas

No, not more's the title of Herman Wouk's latest book, which I just finished and loved. As a soft-money academic, I found it refreshingly's basically about getting grants funded, a rather unusual topic for a novel. Except with hearings on TV and beautiful congresswomen and Chinese spies and national honor at stake and stuff like that, to make it more interesting.

These days, people argue about everything...

Start looking at Google news and blogs, and you'll find bitter arguments about everything, even what are normally considered facts. And boring facts at that.

Here's a great example - you should really look at it, but the punch line is that that this blogger violently disagrees with Reuter's choice of adjectives in one of those financial-news bulletins that I always skip over (thinking "who reads this stuff? CPAs?"). Apparently, Reuter's isn't fully on board in convincing us that the US economy is in, great shape, really, and this brings them up to a "Clear and Present" danger, and I guess also reveals them as one of "forces that are trying to destroy civilization as we know it". Not that Reuter's doesn't spin the news occasionally, but really, isn't this overstating things just a bit?

Meanwhile my morning paper's op-ed column sends me to a 10-year graph on job growth to emphasize its point, that job growth the last few months is only average by the standards of the 90's. Which seemed misleading to me also - after all weren't the 90's just great, economically? But fiddling with the graphing options is pretty easy to do...make you're own call, but I'd say the numbers confirm my impression from talking to friends...that things are on their way back to normal, but that the health of the economy is nothing earthshakingly exciting - it just feels that way, in comparison to the last three years.

My main economic worry now has to due with uncertainty about Iraq, and oil prices---I'm not sure what economists have to say this time around, but ever since I was a kid (think '75, late 80's, last few years) high/uncertain prices and/or instability in the Middle East have always been a huge drag on the economy. The really bad news has only just hit, and it's never clear exactly how much all this matters to the increasingly service/science oriented economy of today, but the historical pattern is so clear to us 40-somethings it may have an effect simply due to psychology.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Doesn't anyone remember what happened last time?

Forget Iraq - what's really annoying is all those disgusting gays, wanting to take part in the ultimate perversion - getting married. I mean really. If you feel this way, take heart, you can join a new sovereign nation that absolutely won't allow that sort of stuff, according to this story:

Calling the approval of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts "the straw that broke the camel's back," a group of Christian activists is in the beginning stages of an effort to have one state secede from the United States to become its own sovereign nation.

Their target location is South Carolina, which civil war buffs will recognize as a rather prone to succession anyway, historically speaking.

Monday, May 24, 2004

more auto-satire....

So my "God is an iron" submission for today is this news story from "correspondents in London" via Apparently, the US is finally getting serious about prisoner abuse, and prevent further occurences of the horrors we've all seen in the press lately, no less a man than Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself has called for a ban, in all US military installations in Iraq, of ... and from the same source, a "total ban throughout the US military is in the works" ... a ban of (the secret of comedy - timing! but it's so hard to do in text) ... cell phones with cameras.

Now, true or false, that's funny.

So who do you believe?

Not too long ago, I was struck by an editorial: Jack Kelly's story Kerry's Free Pass in the May 9th Pittsburgh Post Gazette, which discussed a group of veterans "including 19 of the 23 officers who served in Kerry's swift boat squadron" which "endorses nobody at all for president", but feels that John Kerry is "unfit to be commander in chief".

Like many of us, I really know very little about Kerry, so I read the article quite closely. Kelly described at length certain "doubts" about whether Kerry's first Purple Heart was deserved, and goes on to remark: "It is remarkable that so many of Kerry's peers and superiors have such a low opinion of their former shipmate."

This was an opinion piece, not a news story, but I more or less respect the PG as a news source, and in spite of the author's clear bias the story seemed to have important information: that many vets who apparently knew Kerry well don't want him as president.
Unusually for me, I decided to research this organization, called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. I found a bboard on their web site, I posed a few questions, which I'm summarizing below:

1) If your group is nonpartisan, as you claim, why wait until May to make your case?

2) Kerry's web site is packed with military records - which specifically do you feel are missing, and what would it show if they were there?

3) You want Americans to "hear the truth about his service and about his charges about war crimes", but your letter and website give no details about what this "truth" is. What exactly makes Kerry "unfit"?

The claim your group makes is that his old comrades in arms by and large do not support him. I would definitely like to hear from those that knew Kerry and have something concrete to say about his service record and/or leadership skills. What was it exactly in your personal interactions with Kerry 40 years ago that makes you believe he is unfit to be president?

There were no answers to most of these questions, but one reply was this:

You both misconstrue the member class and mis-state their goal, probably intentionally, but I could be wrong.

While a few might qualify, this gathering of Swift Vets isn't limited, as you imply, to those having had direct contact with Kerry during his Vietnam/post-Vietnam activity. His direct "comrade-in-arms" number in the thousands (the Swifties), and his extended "comrade-in-arms" number in the MILLIONS (the Vietnam Veterans). This IS a gathering of those who are more than familiar with Kerry and what he was about in his disgraceful, politically opportunistic smear upon the honor of ALL Vietnam veterans, the Swifties in particular. That KNOWLEDGE was no secret to those of us who experienced it, and will NEVER be forgotten. Nor will it be diminished by disingenous, mitigating, self-serving apologetics from that same lying mouth.

A triumph for Google, the web, and concerned citizenry! Now that I know that "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" is no more composed of John Kerry's "former shipmates", than the New Jersey is populated by my former housemates, with only a few minutes of time invested. The disturbing thing is - why didn't the newspaper do this for me? You can check the articles I've cited to see I'm not exaggerating - Jack Kelley doesn't ever lie, exactly, but surely if he says that a man served on the same boat as John Kerry, I'm expected to infer he means "and at the same time"? If I was editing a technical paper I'd surely call the author on nonsense like that - is it fair for a paper to publish material this blatently and deliberately misleading?

BTW I did send in a letter to the editor, and no, it didn't get published...but to be fair, they published another rant of mine fairly recently.

Three weeks later (now that is) there's a nice section on the organization in the Disinfopedia, which looks like a wonderful resource for those who like to check their facts.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

and in the "God is an iron" category

Things that really shouldn't be considered funny:

1. Slashdot's May 10th post on "a reclusive millionaire [who] had formed a terrorist group" but who turned out to be character in Sega's Headhunter video. This would be funny if I was the one that was mixed up, but it's even more funny that this made the "item on the government's daily threat matrix". Except....

As someone that's spent more time than most thinking about the technical side of matching names/addresses and so on, I'm very concerned about the practicality (aside from privacy) issues involved. Basically, there is no way to track people by name without a substantial number of errors: either false positive (e.g., those poor saps that can't fly, because they're on the wrong list) or false negaive (e.g., the famous visas issues to Mohammed Atta). At this point, I suspect most of the errors are due to use of inappropriate technology and miscommunications, but errors will always be made---and the more watching is done, the more errors will be made. In other words, you might wake up one year to find out that not only are you in a total survaillance state, but you're in an imperfect one at that.

I heard from a colleage that the current watchlist has over 10 million entries. This seems to me to be way too many for effective counter-terrorism, by at least 4 orders of magnitude.

2. The Onion's wonderful satire, "Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is Finally Over'" - I missed the original, but recently saw this annotated version. Does anyone recall if the date (Jan 2001) is correct? It's hard to believe that humorists could be this prescient - I guess no-one else was cynical enough.

3. A recent NYT story, which starts out:

Like many of its predecessors, the Bush White House has used the machinery of government to promote the re-election of the president by awarding federal grants to strategically important states. But in a twist this election season, many administration officials are taking credit for spreading largess through programs that President Bush tried to eliminate or to cut sharply...

There's material for a great satire on the political process here, except of course for the reality issue. Come to think of it, this is a great example of why recognizing good satire is difficult for so many people - if you saw this in the Onion, wouldn't you laugh?

I finally yield to temptation

I blame Natalie Glance for this. She and the rest of Intelliseek's ARC crowd have seriously lowered my productivity with Blogpulse. That and the news lately...much more interesting than working on my research.