Sunday, February 29, 2004

Billy Crystal: Still got it

No, I didn't watch the Oscars, but I did read a story on it. Billy Crystal was the host and, as usual, managed to show he's still got it. The comment he made while talking with best actress nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes regarding his own first show 13 years ago is priceless. Even if you're a fan of President Bush, you have to admit this was funny:

Space Here"Things were different. Bush was president, the economy was tanking and we were at war in Iraq," he said.Space Here

That's funny!

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Who's making the unsubstantiated claims now, Hans?

In the wake of allegations that other members of the UN have had their offices and phones bugged, Hans Blix is now claiming that the US was spying on him. He explicitly states that he has no evidence of any kind that any such bugging went on. The story even relates that a telephone problem at his house prompted him to get the UN anti-surveillance team to come in to check for bugs. Obviously they didn't find anything, but that's not stopping Mr. Blix from saying we were doing it anyway. I guess it's OK to make the baseless claims when he's the one doing it.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Blatant Racism in Congress - Updated

You know there are racists out there. Most of the time it's even a subtle thing. The obvious ones are usually shunned and dismissed, as they should be. You almost never see it in publicly-elected officials because there's just too much oversight by the press and constituents for it to go unchallenged. So it's with great surprise that I read about comments made by U.S. Representative Corrine Bown directed at Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega during a hearing yesterday. From the article:

Space HereU.S. Rep. Corrine Brown verbally attacked a top Bush administration official during a briefing on the Haiti crisis Wednesday, calling the President's policy on the beleaguered nation "racist" and his representatives "a bunch of white men."

Her outburst was directed at Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill. Noriega, a Mexican-American, is the State Department's top official for Latin America

....

Brown sat directly across the table from Noriega and yelled into a microphone. Her comments sent a hush over the hourlong meeting, which was attended by about 30 people, including several members of Congress and Bush administration officials.

Noriega later told Brown: "As a Mexican-American, I deeply resent being called a racist and branded a white man," according to three participants.

Brown then told him "you all look alike to me," the participants said.
Space Here

These comments should be loudly and publicly condemned, both in Congress and in the Media's editorials. I can assure you that any white official making a similar comment about a black official would be hearing howls of anger and calls for removal from office. The added fact that Mr. Noriega is clearly Latino, not Caucasian, only adds to the mess. Ms. Brown should be making a serious, serious apology for her racist remarks. And that apology had better not include anything remotely like "but I was only thinking about the Haitians", etc., etc. It should be an apology - one felt seriously - and nothing more.

I don't expect her to step up and do the right thing, but it should be interesting to watch what happens next in any case.

Update - As expected, Rep.Corrine Brown issued the standard "I apologize but not really" statement in response to the comments made to Mr. Noriega. She didn't mean to offend Noriega by telling him that he and all other white men "all look alike to me." She doesn't say that she didn't mean it, mind you, only that she never intended Mr. Noriega to be offended. One wonders just what Mr. Noriega's response was supposed to be. Oh, and to the rest of the white men out here: you're all racists anyway, so who gives a flip if you're offended?

The remainder of the statement is nothing more that the aforementioned "I was only thinking about the Haitians" crap. I note that her statement goes to great lengths to accuse the administration of being racist, racist, racist for staying out of Haiti. This from the same woman who voted against sending troops into Iraq. Her statement invokes the human suffering of the Haitians when she says, "Indeed, there is a terrible crisis on the island, and the U.S. government is sitting idly by while thousands and thousands of Haitians will likely be slaughtered when the rebel groups reach the Capitol." She is less concerned, apparently, for the millions of Iraqis that suffered quite similarly. Now why is that?

Of equal interest is the literal silence on the matter in the mainstream media. Go check out CNN, the Washington Post, CBS, ABC, and MSNBC and guess what you'll find on the subject? Nothing. Not a single word. If this had been Trent Lott speaking to Jessie Jackson you wouldn't have been able to escape the firestorm of media attention on the topic anywhere. For all the badmouthing they get, Fox News was the only national news source to carry the story (and a follow-up). Even the Miami Herald, which carried the original story I linked to, doesn't have the follow up and doesn't produce the article when you search for Ms. Brown's name! No media bias? I see plenty of bias here. A Democrat black woman mouths off like this and no one issues a peep. A Republican white guy makes a comment that doesn't come half this distance to being blatantly racist and they're all screaming for his head. Totally expected but pathetic and inexcusable nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Repeating the lie: saying it over and over doesn't make it so

I caught this story regarding comments made by Senator Clinton critical of the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Her reference to the President's "go-it-alone" policies and belief in independent action flies in the face of the facts. Once again, a Democratic official is trying to paint the actions in Iraq as "Bush's war" and a "unilateral action" on the part of the administration. As the President himself so eloquently replied to such criticism in his State of the Union address:

Space Here"Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be internationalized. This particular criticism is hard to explain to our partners in Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the 17 other countries that have committed troops to Iraq."Space Here

Get it through your head, Senator. We are not in Iraq alone. We have allies there, they're just not the allies you're wishing were there. Just because France, Germany and Russia have declined to be part of the Coalition doesn't suddenly make our alliances with other nations go poof. We have some fine friends in there with us, and your constant repetition of a factually incorrect statement doesn't make you right. It's also insulting to the efforts of those allies working with us, not that you care, obviously.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

MyDoom still running around

In case any of you have grown complacent, be advised that MyDoom is still around. I just had the MyDoom.F worm knock at my door. Fortunately, a combination of vigilance and updated anti-virus software kept the little vermin from doing anything. Are you as prepared?

Monday, February 23, 2004

RH-66 Comanche Helo Cancelled

Twenty years in the making, $6.9 billion spent, and the Army has cancelled the RH-66 Comanche helicopter program. The Comanche was to be the replacement for the Apache attack helo with added capability to perform as a recon ship as well. The decision today means the Apache will be required for several more years.

The Army has said they will use the money that had been going to the program to purchase helicopters for the Guard and Reserve and also for technology updates to existing birds. Boeing & Sikorsky Aviation, the contractors building the Comanche, were apparently quite surprised by the announcement. Between this cancellation, the halting of the A-12 Avenger II aircraft for the Navy, and the Crusader artillery weapon for the Army, there's been an awful lot of expensive weapons systems getting the axe in the last several years. Guess all those combat flight simulators for the Comanche will have to be re-packaged, eh?

NEA = Terrorists? UPDATE

Education Secretary Rod Paige described the largest teachers' union in the country, the National Education Association, as a "terrorist organization" on Monday. He was referring to the Union's "obstructionist tactics" and the observation that it sometimes acts contrary to the wishes of its rank-and-file. He later released a written statement calling the remark "an inappropriate choice of words."

No, Rod, calling an androgynous lesbian a "bull dyke" is an inappropriate choice of words. Saying a woman with light hair and a less-than-stellar IQ is a "dumb blonde" is an inappropriate choice of words. Calling the NEA a terrorist organization is factually incorrect, vehemently insulting, and - in every sense I can mean it - wrong. Following the now-familiar practice of issuing an apology that doesn't apologize doesn't make things right, either. I would imagine if someone referred to you, Mr. Paige, as loudmouthed black who got where he was because someone higher up felt they needed to darken up the cabinet a little, you'd be less than impressed with a statement from that person saying his words should have been chosen better. You chose the words you did because you obviously can't differentiate between what a terror group is and a group of Americans who happen to disagree with your politics.

President Bush should come out and flatly state that the comment was uncalled for and dead wrong. He should say that he's had a talk with Mr. Paige and made sure the Secretary understands precisely what direction he should be going in and that if anything even remotely like this happens again, he'll fire Mr. Paige using a cannon. It likely won't happen, but that's what he should do.

Update - As of this morning, no action from the President but there's plenty of other stuff flying over this issue. Now, the concept that the comments were a "joke" is being offered. No sale. This wasn't a joke and anyone who thought or thinks it was is simply being an idiot. Mr. Paige should depart public service. If he can't muster the courage and honor to resign on his own, the President should show him the door.

Friday, February 20, 2004

DC Sniper Denied Second Trial

In a bit of good news that raises my estimation of the judiciary of late, Manassas, Virginia Circuit Court Judge Millette denied a retrial to John Muhammad, one of the 2 convicted DC snipers. He also denied a defense motion to acquit him. Muhammad is slated to be sentenced on March 9 and the jury that convicted him recommended the death penalty.

Can't happen soon enough.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Warning to employees: stand well clear of the milk steamer!

As reported on WTOP News Radio in DC:

Space HereMADISON, Maine (AP) - Tired of the same old Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts? The Madison Planning Board tonight takes up a man's application to open a topless coffee shop on Main Street.

Normand St. Michel says his plan to employ partially nude waitresses is intended to boost the establishment's chances of success. He says the idea is to do something different to attract coffee drinkers.
Space Here

Guess it's time to take up that daily latte habit again!

"Passion" raising passions

I am amazed at the number of people out here who have not yet seen the new Mel Gibson movie "Passion" yet are screaming that it's anti-semetic. Why is it anti-semetic, you ask? Because it portays Christ as having been killed by the Jews.

OK, let's examine that for a moment. The records, both in the Bible and in whatever secular records we've been able to recover, very clearly show that it was the Romans who actually crucified Jesus. I can't imagine anyone claiming any different. But why did the Romans do that? The secular records aren't entirely clear - there's not that many of them - but it is generally accepted that the Hebrew Scribes and leaders didn't care for what Jesus was advocating. They did not like that he taught religious topics and was yet not one of the priests. While they weren't the ones who nailed Jesus to the cross, they were the ones that got him put there to begin with. In our legal system here, that certainly qualifies for someone to be charged with some variant of murder. The concept that they "killed" Christ isn't too far a stretch.

So is that anti-semetic? If the then-Jews actually were involved and did what it's claimed they did, how can saying they killed Christ be anti-semetic? The truth is the truth and if it hurts, oh well. Every culture on earth has moments its present members would rather forget. No one currently living had any say in what went on back there, and that's the important thing. Gibson's movie sounds to be as close a representation of what really happened as he can achieve. I will likely go myself (if my 2-year-old lets me...) and then I can say for sure. In the meantime, here's a suggestion to the Jewish community: get over it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Soldier Formally Charged With Attempting to Aid the Enemy

Ryan Anderson has been formally charged with attempting to aid the enemy after trying to pass sensitive data to Al Qaeda via an internet chat room. From the article:

Space HereAccording to a charge sheet released by the military, Spc. Ryan G. Anderson, a 26-year-old tank crew member from the National Guard's 81st Armor Brigade, was charged with four counts of attempting to give intelligence to the enemy by passing information to people he believed were part of al Qaeda.

The charge sheet said Anderson, who also went by the name of Amir Abdul Rashid, communicated with U.S. military personnel posing as members of al Qaeda. The charge sheet paraphrased Anderson's message to the supposed al Qaeda members as "I wish to meet with you, I share your cause."
Space Here

This carries a potential death penalty. This treasonous bastard was trying to instruct terrorists in the fine art of killing his fellow soldiers. Again from the article:

Space HereThe charge sheet said Anderson knowingly gave intelligence to the enemy by disclosing information about "U.S. Army troop strength, movements, equipment, tactics and weapons systems" to the members of the sting operation.

Anderson is also accused of attempting to pass information on how to kill Army personnel and where to find vulnerabilities in Army weapon systems, as well as drawings of M1A1 and M1A2 tanks and a computer disk containing his passport photo and military identification.
Space Here

Now, unless someone hosed up mightily and managed grab some guy at another computer, this sounds pretty open and shut. Being literally the wrong guy is the only defense this clown has, and barring that he should face a firing squad. In public.

More as more arises...

Network Security: It's Not Just For Corporations Anymore

15 years ago, the average household didn't have a computer in it at all. Those that did were mostly not connected to any type of network in any fashion. That means that in 1989, most folks weren't dialing into anything. There were stand-alone electronic bulletin board systems (the term was "BBS") but each was basically an island. E-mail sent on a given system didn't travel to any other system, so most users who were dialing them up tended to hit 2-6 BBS's a day. Most BBS's had only 1 or 2 inbound lines although some of the larger ones could support dozens of users. AOL was a service that had been launched for Mac's and Apple II computers only, and that was just launched that year. The PC version - running under DOS - wouldn't be released for another year and some. The Windows version was 2 years after that. The average speed of such a connection was 2400 baud. That's just a hair over 2K. Compare that to the average dial-up speed of 36-56K today. Broadband runs between 128K and 768K for most homes, higher than that for some.

Suffice it to say that most computers weren't attached to a network for any length of time. Those times that they were connected, they sure didn't have the bandwidth to allow a hacker to get much done and he surely would have eaten up too much capacity and gotten noticed.

Today, statistics show that the average household does indeed have at least 1 computer. This one has 5 if you count the business laptops. While broadband is still in the realm of "likely not" when a survey is considered, those that do have broadband almost always have a network in place, meaning more than 1 computer in the house connected together via a switch or hub of some type. The latest rage is all about wireless connectivity. Companies like Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, Cisco, Apple, and others have produced devices that not only allow a connection to a broadband service, but allow the PC's in your house to connect to it and each other wirelessly. Just like magic, John W. Public can buy himself a wireless router, hook the cable from the wall into the plug on the router that says "wall", fire it up and have access shared between the computers in minutes. It's a great tool. What once required some technical sophistication and ability to run cables through your walls can now be done completely cable-less and by people who can't figure out how to set the clocks on their VCR's. Ah, but with simplicity comes a price.

The fact of the matter is that corporations have hired network engineers for years because there's a difference between just deploying a network that connects devices and putting one up that does so without exposing the company's systems to attack. If you're one of the many new network owners who slapped in a device right out of the box in your home, then you should listen carefully. Unless you took the time to read the instructions on how to secure your network, you are very likely wide open right now. No, this isn't hysterical rhetoric and I'm not trying to sell you something. That wireless router might be granting access to anyone in range to your entire network, and that includes your PC.

OK, here's the technical part: the wireless "cloud" that all your PC's use to connect to your router doesn't stop at your walls. It extends out to the range allowed by the router's power and how much stuff it has to "punch through". Big, heavy stone walls will shorten the range a lot more than the average sheet of drywall. Whatever range is being achieved by your router, everyone located within that cloud can connect wirelessly. Everyone who does so is connected via that same cloud and that means everyone connected to it is visible to everyone else so connected. That router can have the world's best firewall built into it and that does precisely zero for your PC if someone connects to your network via the wireless cloud. That's because they can see your PC directly without ever going to the router. If the system you're using isn't inherently secure - and MS Windows products aren't - then your PC has little protection against some very commonly available programs. These programs can access your hard drive, especially if you haven't password protected access to them. They can monitor the traffic being sent. They can... Well, they can do all kinds of things, but that's not the point. The point is, why make it easy on them?

The wireless routers allow traffic being sent across the cloud to be encrypted. A very weak but commonly available encryption is called "WEP". It's not great, but it's a lot better than nothing. Better still is the ability to designate permission based on the physical address (called the MAC address) so you only allow PC's that you specifically say can access the network. Running both protections is even better and doesn't require all that much effort. Check your router's instruction manual for details.

I bring this up tonite because someone here in my neighborhood brought up a new wireless router here last week. I don't know who since I can't tell what direction they're in. All I do know is they took a Linksys router out of the box and plugged it in without securing it. My computer has been attached to another Linksys before, so when I turned the computer on tonite, it attached to their network instead of mine. I noticed the issue but decided to run some of my diagnostic tools on the connection, since that's what I do for a living. In less than 2 minutes this 1 program I have (freely available for download) was able to locate 2 PC's attached to the same Linksys router. Neither was asking for any passwords to attach to their hard drives. I had complete access to the data contained there and could have downloaded or deleted it at will.

Don't make it easy, folks. Learn to secure.

So much for fatwa

As predicted, the no-violence against other muslims fatwa issued Sunday appears to be having little effect in halting the attacks that are killing Iraqi citizens. Coalition soldiers repelled a suicide car-bomb attack yesterday against Camp Charlie in Hilla.

Space HereAccording to Polish Maj. Andrzej Wiatrowski, the attack was staged around 7:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m. Tuesday ET) when a car loaded with explosives tried to run the gate to Camp Charlie -- a multinational coalition base in Hilla. Soldiers opened fire, killing the driver. A second vehicle following close behind ran into the first car, causing both to explode, he said.Space Here

The assumption at this point is that the first car was trying to clear a path for the second in hopes they could get into the heart of the camp before detonating. The story also talks about a number of insurgents and foreign fighters that have had rewards put on their heads. That raises an interesting question for me: do fatwas issued by Iraqi clerics have any meaning for non-Iraqi muslims? Put another way, are those fatwas the Iraqi equivalent of the Emancipation Proclamation which mandated the freeing of the slaves in a part of the United States not then under the control of the Union and, therefore, under no obligation to obey it? History shows us that the Proclamation did, indeed, serve an important strategic purpose in the US Civil War but that it did not and could not do what it explicitly stated. Are fatwas "legally" ignorable by muslims who are not a member of the given cleric's domain?

Time for some research.

Update - Well, that didn't take long. From the Wikipedia (which is rapidly becoming my favorite resource):

Space HereA fatwa is a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by a religious law specialist, on a specific issue. Usually a fatwa is issued at the request of an individual or a judge to settle a question where fiqh, "Islamic jurisprudence," is unclear. Because there is no central Islamic priesthood, there is also no generally accepted method to determine who can issue a Fatwa and who cannot, leading some Islamic scholars to complain that too many people feel qualified to issue a fatwa.
...
In nations that do not recognize Islamic law, religious Muslims are often confronted with two competing fatwas. In such a case, they would follow the fatwa of the leader in the same religious tradition as themselves. Thus, for example, Sunni Muslims would not hold by the fatwa of a Shiite cleric.
Space Here

So, in effect, a fatwa really has no power at all to change the behavior of someone who doesn't agree to that change. It is far less a "law" than it has been presented as in the American Media.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Items of note from Iraq

I've gotten behind in my reading, but I really wanted to point everyone over to entries from 14 Feb 2004 over on Healing Iraq. Take specific note of the fatwa issued jointly by Sunni and Shiite clerics ordering an end to intra-Muslim violence in Iraq. It'd be nice to think that would do the trick, but perhaps it will snap some of the more casual advocates of the so-called "resistance" back to re-think things.

Also note that the Ministry of Justice has repealed Resolution 137! This was the resolution ending the secular handling of family affairs cases and replacing them with the Islamic Sharia law. Quoting from that blog:

Space HereThe Ministry of Justice officially announced that the GC Resolution 137 can be considered annulled, and that all future family affairs cases would be dealt with according to the former Personal Circumstances ahwal al shakhsiya code which has been in effect since the fifties, and which the GC unilaterally abolished more than a month ago replacing it with Islamic Sharia law.Space Here

This was especially good news to me. I feel that guaranteeing the Iraqi women their rights under the law in Iraq will prove to be a larger stabilizing force in the longrun than almost anything else.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Analysis of a malicious E-Card

Warning: techie news approaching. Readers with phobias regarding high-tech material, a lack of desire to know more, and/or sweaty palms should dive for their browser's "Back" button immediately! You've been warned...

OK, now that that nonsense is out of the way, let's talk about the security of your system. According to industry studies on the matter, better than 80% of all computer system intrusions and "infections" are incurred when the user(s) authorized to use the machine manages to execute hostile code themselves. Put in something closer to English, the likelihood of some hacker targeting your machine and managing to force his way in without your assistance is growing exceedingly small. The hackers these days are relying on you to get them into the front door. The latest MyDoom worm and it's spawn are prime examples of the hacker using an e-mail attachment and reliance on the average user's lack of knowledge to infect a machine. For the rest, they rely on the fact that most of these users are running the well-known Microsoft Windows operating system. In case you've been hiding under a big rock recently, then you know that MS's code appears to be buggier than upstate New York in the spring.

In any case, here's a write up of a perfect example of the kind of attack that MS's products make you vulnerable to. Simply clicking on the link takes you to code that enables a download. It also tries to drop that code on your system via uncontrolled buffers and the like. The article isn't that technical and it makes a really good suggestion: find alternative software.

My personal recommendation is the "Mozilla" set of software, specifically Firefox for the browser and Thunderbird for the e-mail client. They function every bit as good - better in some cases - and you'll sleep easier knowing they can't be fooled like MS's products can.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Records have been released - now shut up about them.

After weeks of unsubstantiated accusations and outright baldfaces lies, the issue of whether or not President Bush actually served his National Guard tour of duty is settled. The records dealing with his service were released this week, including his medical and dental records. He was in the Guard when he said he was, he completed his tour, and he was honorably discharged. He was not "AWOL", he is not a deserter, and the people who were explicitly saying that he was are either mouthing off about a topic they know nothing about or they're liars. The matter is concluded and everyone who was pointing an accusing finger can now shut the hell up about it. Find something real to discuss for a change.

Comments had been made about this guy or that "not remembering" seeing Mr. Bush at a given base or during a given training session. I've got a pretty good memory, folks, and I guarantee you there were people sitting right next to me - and possibly even speaking with me - during events 30 years ago that I can't recall. It happens all the time and to everyone. That's why I can't understand the flap that got generated about comments like that. Unless you're grasping at something to turn into a scandal, it's just not that newsworthy.

Mr. Kerry's got some not-very-nice moments in his past from the same time period, too. I think they are equally irrelevant to the decision we've got coming in November. Can anyone say they're exactly the same person they were 30 years ago? I'm sure not. I'm willing to let Mr. Kerry off on his stance on the Vietnam war. I share some of his sentiments on it. I'm far more concerned about his consistency regarding issues addressed in the last 10 years. I'll even narrow that to 5. Let's get talking about those issues instead.

And actually, I'm even going to wait on that one until after the Democratic Party has selected their nominee. It's not my call who they pick and it's premature to start really analyzing them until they've got their party's nod.

Friday, February 13, 2004

National Guard Soldier Suspected of Trying to Pass Information to Al Qaeda

As reported by various agencies, National Guard Spc Ryan Anderson has been arrested after allegedly attempting to pass sensitive data to the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. This is, to put it mildly, some serious shit.

I know all about the word treason being bandied about and it's usually just a mechanism for getting a rise out of people. People on the right claim the Democrats and liberal Hollywood are "traitors", people on the left accuse the Bush Administration of treason against America... It's all pretty much just flash and the intentional use of emotively charged words. This time, however, the term is going to be applied for real. IF this soldier has done what he is accused of doing, then he was attempting to directly aid a known enemy in conducting warfare and attacks in general against American citizens, military personnel, and interests. The textbook definition of "treason" is:

Space here"... the crime of betraying a nation or a sovereign by acts considered dangerous to security. In English law, treason includes the levying of war against the government and the giving of aid and comfort to the monarch's enemies."Space here

In the United States, "treason" was codified into the Constitution to avoid some of the abuses noted in the English application of the crime. From the Wikipedia:

Space here"...treason was specifically defined in the United States Constitution. Article Three defines treason as only levying war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies, and requires the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act or a confession in open court for conviction."Space here

The law provides for the punishment for treason, ranging from a prison term of no less than 5 years and a fine of no less than $10,000 and going up to the death penalty. Given the current state of affairs, I don't think you need to guess which penalty is going to be leveled at Mr. Anderson should he be found guilty of the crime. If he is, you'll find me in the group looking for him to get stood up in front of a firing squad.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Gay Marriage back in the spotlight

Not long after the MA Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to block same-sex couples from marrying, there was talk about a US Constitutional Amendment to address that very issue. The President indicated he would consider such a move but that announcement was fairly lukewarm at the time. Clearly, he wanted to signal his acceptance of that kind of amendment, but not so strongly as to risk a backlash if one were to come. True to form in American society, there were 3 reactions to his preliminary support: the ultra-right-wing conservatives applauded and wanted it passed the next day, the left-wing and gay communities shook their collective fists at the White House vowing to fight such a proposal to the death, and the huge majority of Americans in the middle... well, they got their cup of coffee at Starbucks, made a "hmmm"-ing noise at the headlines and moved on. Such is the state of political involvement here in the US.

The amendment is apparently going to be put forth by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.). Backers of the bill say that it will ban gay marriage but not stop state legislatures from allowing civil unions and other same-sex partnerships such as currently exist in Vermont and California. If I read the story correctly, then I must disagree with that assessment. From the Reuters article:

space hereMusgrave's proposal, called the Federal Marriage Amendment, states: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."space here

Now, if we're going to deny the status of "married" to same-sex couples, then those couples are permanently placed in that "unmarried couples or groups" category and are not, in the language of this amendment, required to be granted either marital status or "the legal incidents thereof". So how can you say that civil unions offer a similar set of legal protections, since they aren't required to grant those protections? And without those protections, what's the point? I'm sure it'll make a lot of bakeries and wedding shops happy, but what does it do for the couples? Not much.

Now, the amendment does leave open the possibility for states to make civil unions that do have those protections. The question would be, will states that sign on for this amendment ever do such a thing? I think not and this is what's worrying opponents of this amendment.

When all is said and done, my marriage isn't a commodity sitting on a shelf. Someone else putting up a marriage of their own does nothing whatsoever to degrade mine in any way. It's not "cheaper" and it's not suddenly worth less because Ken & Ron decided to tie the knot. There are all manner of things that could use a Constitutional amendment and I think that putting energy into something that won't really help anyone is a waste. We have so much of importance that needs good, rational, public debate that this issue just pales beside. We shouldn't waste the resources pursuing it.

French pass head-scarf ban

In fact, the so-called "head scarf ban" passed by the French National Assembly actually covers "conspicuous religious symbols" and not just head scarves. Since the head coverings worn by Muslim women are the most visible, however, it's certainly gotten the lion's share of the news. I have been amazed that the ban seemed headed for passage until I read that there appears to be widespread support for the ban. Even among Muslim women, support for the ban is supposedly 49% vs 43% opposed.

Kerry wins in Virginia, Clark to quit the race

As I'm sure will be reported to death today, John Kerry has won primaries in Virginia and Tennessee. Seems Wesley Clark has realized he's got no chance now and will announce his withdrawl from the race today.

Yet another Australian swimming hazard.

Um..... Ouch. As a certified diver, this one's just a wee bit too painful to contemplate. Good to know that Aussie sense of humor stuck around, tho.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

No, No, it should read "The Three Fairly Sagacious Persons"

The Anglican church, in spite of their assurances to the contrary, have become the latest victims in the political correctness insanity sweeping the world's supposedly more educated countries. It now seems they do not want to refer to the 3 Magi who showed up at the birth of Jesus Christ as "men." Why's that?

space hereThe revision committee said: "While it seems very unlikely that these Persian court officials were female, the possibility that one or more of the Magi were female cannot be excluded completely."

There is no theological dispute about the gifts they brought -- gold, frankincense and myrrh -- but the prayer has been changed to use the word Magi on the grounds that "the visitors were not necessarily wise and not necessarily men."
space here

OK, now let's get back into reality, folks. First, unless you were physically present at the event, you can't exclude completely the possibility of a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g. The birth of Jesus Christ might have been attended by a flock of talking seagulls with background music provided by the Mos Eisly Cantina band for all you know. That possibility can't be "excluded completely", either. We are, however, pretty confident that it didn't happen that way. And there's the crux of the situation, even acknowledged by the Anglican revision committee.

It's not what's possible that we consider in our daily lives, it's what's probable. It's a possibility that you're about to be horribly electrocuted by a weird power spike shooting up through your keyboard, but I'm betting you didn't just jump away from the computer. Is it possible? Sure. It is probable? Nope. The quote from the Anglicans even notes that it's "very unlikely" that the Magi were female. If you've studied history, you know that "very unlikely" is an understatement. So why, unless you're simply bowing to some political correctness pressure, would you change how you pray to include items which it is very unlikely were included in the event? No good reason I know.

And that crack about the Magi being "not necessarily wise" is just a cover to make them feel better about the change. "Wise" is a subjective label, and I'd recommend the Anglican revision committee not tarry too long in talking about who's wise and who's not. The Anglicans can pray any way they like but it's "very unlikely" this change has anything to do with anything but some PC drivel.

Not making tax increases permanent = tax hike?

I'm a Republican and a fiscal conservative and I'm not embarrassed by either association. Unfortunately, I'm also not someone willing to let soundbites serve as rational thought. I'm certainly not going to allow someone to get away with calling a table a chair even if they're arguing for my side of the fight. That's what a number of my fellow Republicans are doing these days with regards to this temporary tax cut issue. They claim that if Congress does not make them permanent, then Congress is actually increasing your taxes.

Ridiculous.

Say you walked into my bakery yesterday and bought a dozen donuts for the normal price of $5.00 a dozen. You come in today and see that I've offered you a special - today only - on donuts selling them at $1.00 a dozen. Would my charging my normal price tomorrow mean that I raised my prices? Of course not. The normal price is my normal price. I granted you a special lower price for a given period of time, but you can't say I've run a general price increase when I return to my normal charges.

The tax cuts President Bush championed were quite specifically granted for a finite period of time. When that time period runs out, the taxes will return to normal. They will not be raised. All of that is just smoke, anyway. The real question is whether or not the tax cuts have done the job they were intended to do. Have American businesses seen an increase in demand and orders as a result of people having their taxes cut? I believe they have, yes. Speaking from my own profession - which has seen a huge hit in jobs due to the offshoring of IT positions - I am seeing larger numbers of companies increasing their spending on networking needs. They do that because they are able to afford it and they see that it will help them provide their goods and services to their clients. Their clients are consumers who clearly have more money to spend. In general terms, the tax cuts appear to be doing what they were intended to do.

Now, how effective have they been? That's a question I can't answer. Have we seen an increase in demand and therefore production that is consumerate with the costs of those cuts? I don't know yet, but that's where our debate should be focused. It should not be stolen away by shouted propaganda and misdirection.

"We were raised like animals," says DC Sniper's siblings

Yeah, and he made the most of it, didn't he? Cry me a river, kids. That his siblings are now saying that John Muhammad, one of the convicted DC Snipers, had a rough childhood does nothing to mitigate Muhammad's actions over a year ago. I personally know people whose childhood was quite similar and grew to despise their parents. These are people who left home as soon as they were able and have done nothing but spit and flip the bird back toward their childhood homes. Speaking to one of them about my father's death last year, he offered condolences and said I had been granted a gift beyond price in having a father I could mourn. When his died he didn't go to the funeral. In fact, he said, he went to a local pub and bought a round for the bar in celebration. I can't imagine what he must have endured to develop that kind of feeling.

He most certainly did not pick up a rifle and start blowing peoples' heads off at range.

Muhammad's lawyers are now asking a judge to set aside both the death sentance and the conviction and are attaching the sibling's comments by way of giving force to their petition. If this judge has an ounce of sense, his immediate comment is going to be "so what?" That they will come for him one day after a steak dinner or some such and take him down a hall to a gurney where he will drift off peacefully into that long, long night is already too kind a fate. It is my fervent hope that the judge see through this one and toss it out of his office.

Monday, February 09, 2004

New Browser in Town

For those of you still using Internet Explorer, there's a new browser out that might finally get you to switch. Now I understand that many of you use IE without any issue at all. There's no denying, however, that it's a security nightmare and that between it and Outlook you've had more security breakages in the past 18 months than in the previous 5 years. And this is after Microsoft decided to make security it's #1 priority.

The browser is called Mozilla Firefox. Mozilla is a browser based on the same engine (called Gecko) that's used in Netscape. Unlike Netscape, which seems to be late on the draw and weak on the punch these days, the folks at Mozilla are working hard to put all the features into their browser that everyone's looking for while at the same time keeping it fast and secure. They've done an admirable job.

Firefox has built-in pop-up blocking and tabbed browsing. If you've ever needed to browse 2 or more sites at the same time (comparison shopping, for instance) then you know you need to launch a completely separate instance of IE to get that job done. When you get up to 3-4, it can get confusing on the task bar. Firefox handles all that by allowing you to create a new tab in the same application window. If you've never had a tabbed browser before, Firefox will make you wonder how you ever got along without it.

All the details are available at www.mozilla.org/products/firefox so go have a read. There's quite a demand for this browser so getting the download might take a while for the next day or so. Glad I got in there early! I'm taking a look at their e-mail client next and I'll write again soon.

Get Firefox

Technical Difficulties, Please Stand By...

Technical Difficulties, Please Stand By... Update!

I'm having difficulty uploading my blogs via the w.bloggar tool so I'm a bit behind in posting. I'm working on figuring out the problem and will let you know ASAP. Thanks!

Update - the folks over at w.bloggar found the issue. It appears the "load point" for blogger.com was changed. That's why the API clients like w.bloggar weren't working - they were loading to the wrong place. Anyway, we're back with it again...

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Frivolous lawsuit spawned from Super Boob incident

As much as I was hoping to be wrong, I knew it was only a matter of time before some brain-dead idiot filed a lawsuit claiming injury sustained in the now-infamous boob-baring event at this year's Super Bowl. Tennessee resident Terri Carlin has filed a lawuit against Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, MTV, CBS, and their parent company Viacom claiming that she "and millions of others saw the acts and were caused to suffer outrage, anger, embarrassment and serious injury."

The suit doesn't state exactly what injury was sustained. Whatever it was, it failed to cause any of the dozen or so people I know who witnessed the event to bleed or bruise anywhere obvious. And where does it say that we get to bump through life completely free of feeling (and notice that I feel these things, not suffer from them) outrage or anger? I'm outraged and angered by this woman's audacious stupidity in filing this suit. Does that mean I can launch a class-action lawsuit against her?

It's one thing to disapprove of what was shown on the air. From the sounds of it, the NFL and CBS have done what was right and appropriate in response. To now say that they're culpable (oh, and that they need to pay up billions of dollars, natch) is ridiculous. Either Ms. Carlin knows that and she's just an opportunistic gold-digger or she's blissfully unencumbered of common sense and should be taken out and neutered. Either way, this case should be tossed out the second it hits a judge's desk. As for the attourney who filed it....

Can you say big fine? If this clown actually thinks this case has merit, he clearly doesn't know enough to practice law and should have his license revoked. Permanently. As for Ms. Carlin, she needs to grow up and realize that life brings you situations that you sometimes don't enjoy. Learn from it, blog about it, and carry on.

Friday, February 06, 2004

President Bush names members of intel panel

President Bush has named the members of the panel investigating the intel used to justify the war in Iraq. The panel is to be chaired by former Senator Chuck Robb of Virginia (a Democrat) and retired federal judge Laurence Silberman. From the story:

Other members are:

  • Lloyd Cutler, who served as White House counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton

  • Former appellate court judge Patricia Wald, a Democrat

  • Rick Levin, president of Yale University, Bush's alma mater

  • Ret. Adm. Bill Studeman, a former deputy director of CIA


Certainly sounds bipartisan to me, so anyone who was sure we'd see a bunch of Republican committee members can rest more assured, I hope. Let's see what happens now.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

BBC says MyDoom the work of Linux Advocates

That paragon of unbiased reporting, the BBC, has posted a story clearly linking the MyDoom virus attack (which is currently beating up both Microsoft and SCO, in case you hadn't heard) with advocates of the Linux operating system. The author of the story tosses in a line there saying that there's no proof that the Linux community had anything to do with it, but clearly advocates the idea as an obvious truth.

The fact of the matter is that MyDoom (a.k.a. Novarg) in both its "A" and "B" variants isn't really about launching denial-of-service (DoS) attacks against a couple of web pages. The program, which is actually a worm as opposed to a virus, is installing backdoors into every computer system it infects. It opens up a whole bunch of "ports", or backdoors, into the computer system which will then allow someone to later upload more instructions. The infected computer can be made to do literally anything you'd use a computer to do. It can launch further attacks against someone else, or send out spam e-mail. It can store files and programs for other people to download at a later time, turning the machine into a hidden file-server. (And wouldn't that be a hard thing to explain when your boss finds 6 megs of kiddie porn on the laptop you take home with you every night?)

You see, having a bunch of computers turned into DoS zombies and beating up on a company web page so bad they have to take it down temporarily is bad enough, but it's a diversionary thing. The widespread opening of computer systems to these hackers who give the rest of us IT people a bad name is the real threat. And the Linux community has nothing to gain from such an action. You'd think the BBC would be thoughtful enough to realize that. Or ethical enough to present that as an equally important fact to their suspicions. They didn't.

Who would gain, you ask? Spammers, who are constantly being chased out of the servers they use to launch their mail-bomb crap all over the Internet come to mind. Hackers interested in other targets would, too. And if you thought having a nuke in Al Qaeda's hands was bad (it is, I agree), then think what they could do with something like half-a-million computers standing by to attack information assets. Not all weapons spray shrapnel.

In any case, the story is an opinion piece, not a news story. It's a letter to the editor that got out onto another page and the BBC ought to be doing things better than that.

Change can be a bummer
Well, I changed my blog name, as you know. The previous blog, however, appears to remain standing. While that's not an incredibly bad thing by itself, it does pose 1 little problem. Anyone who comes to read my stuff (yeah, sure Ric - how often does that happen, anyway?) will go to Ric James' Blog and not see that I'm not there any more. I tried to add a link from there to here, but I just wind up changing this blog instead. Oh, well.... If you're here, I welcome you!

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

New place for the thoughts

Yes, I'm changing the name of the place. HoodaThunk? is that unspoken thought that passes through my head in cases of both genuine admiring surprise and genuine feelings that someone should get a clue. I do promise not to actually use the phrase in every post, but you might see it every so often. Thanks especially to those of you who followed me here...

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Virginia Abortion BanDeclared Unconstitutional

As expected, a federal Judge has ruled that Virginia's abortion ban is unconstitutional for exactly the same reason that the same law was ruled unconstitutional in Nebraska. When Virginia lawmakers were putting this one together I was one of several hundred people who wrote in telling them they were wasting their time. The law as proposed had no exception for the health of the mother and that was precisely the point that shot down the Nebraska law. The court ruled - correctly, I believe - that the law prioritized the health of a non-viable fetus over the mother, which was an unacceptable trade-off. In the face of that ruling, Virginia's General Assembly went right ahead and passed the same thing. Lo and behold, it got overturned the same way.

Whoda thunk? (Damn, doesn't that sound like a great name for a blog? Hmmmm....)

I feel better about being in Virginia today knowing that law is in the trash can where it belongs.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Accidental baring at Super Bowl? - UPDATED

Nah, don't think so. I certainly did think so before I saw this over at the Drudge Report. Now, if Janet was fully convinced that her right boob was going to stay completely covered during the show, why would she have a hunk of decorative metal on there big enough to alert the TSA? Not that it's not an interesting piece. (The jewelry, you pervo....) Tell me there was an identical one on the other side (which I don't believe for a minute) and you might have a case. I think they planned this one to try to up the ante off the Madonna-Spears-Aguilera tongue-twisting last year.

Not a bad show, kids, but how about we save that stuff for the MTV music awards where people are expecting it, hmmm?

Update 2/3/2004 - Janet Jackson has suddenly changed the story about what happened. It was now a last minute, post-final-rehearsal planned event and she's now sorry if she offended anyone. She's also very quick to point out that MTV knew nothing about it.

Yeah, right. I'm supposed to believe you now? The fact is I was far from offended by the action and I think that America, as a society, is far too easily offended by the human form. However, as a parent, it's my job to decide what shows my kid watches and at what point she's ready for seeing certain things. (Which means I don't really get to watch too much TV with her around these days, except for the non-stop home improvement shows my wife loves.) I've spoken with several colleagues who had their kids around the TV for the show not expecting it to be something they had to monitor for adult content. I agree with them. As I said before, these MTV personalities need to leave that kind of antic on MTV where we all expect it.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

US to probe pre-war intel on Iraq

As reported by just about every news agency on earth, President Bush is expected to annouce the formation of a formal inquiry into the pre-war intel that indicated Iraq had WMD. The stories are likening the inquiry to a Warren Commission-type event with members of Congress and outside experts making up the panel. They will have a year to report.

This is a good thing, folks. For those of us who have been crying foul and demanding an inquiry to reveal what they are sure is a corrupt administration and for those of us who have been convinced that sufficient evidence was there to support the war, answers should be forthcoming. I'm sure there will be slitted eyes about the length of time the panel will be investigating along with the obvious accusations that they're being given a year to avoid having the answers come up before the election. Good investigations take time and, frankly, I'd feel they were rushing to a conclusion if they took less time. Not everything is wrapped up neatly in 60 minutes, 42 minutes not counting commercial breaks.

I'm of the opinion that the evidence will show sufficient cause was there to think - even if it turned out to not be true - that WMD were present in Iraq. We actually know they were just after the Persian Gulf War. The question has been were they there recently? It's my position that they were and even if they weren't there when the Coalition went in, there was plenty of reason to think they were. I look forward to the Commission's report. (I have been writing to my elected reps at least once a month on this issue for 4 months. Did you?)

Stampede at Hajj kills 244

Several news agencies are reporting a stampede during the Islamic religious observance the Hajj has killed 244 people and wounded many others. Details are still emerging...