Friday, June 25, 2004

via, well, I'm not sure where, the best Photoshop job I've ever seen. And if you can't tell how it differs from the somewhat familiar image which the guy started with, well... that's kinda the point.
One of the lines you hear about why typical commercial, closed source software is a better deal for the customer than open source stuff is that there's someone standing behind it, to support it if it breaks, and to accept liability if it goes egregiously wrong. The warranty disclaimers in typical software licenses seem rather incompatible with that second point, but you do hear it anyway.

Well, Microsoft Internet Explorer has a couple of security holes which are being widely exploited -- and even people who visit only web sites they trust may still be at risk. There are now reports of criminals cracking web servers at banks to use them as a platform for launching attacks on home computers which are at risk from IE bugs.

If you want to use IE, there isn't really much you can do to protect yourself -- Microsoft has not yet put out a fix for the bugs in question. Even the antivirus folks, who are effectively in the business of protecting users of Microsoft software from the security holes that Microsoft themselves won't be bothered to fix, haven't caught up yet.

So, if you want software which is immune to these problems you have two choices. One is to download an alternate browser without the problems, perhaps one of the open source offerings from the Mozilla folks. Or, if you really believe in having someone to sue, you could try suing Microsoft. But do be sure your lawyer reads through those warranty disclaimers first...

via Slashdot, which also offers Microsoft's suggested workaround: set the IE security setting to "high", which breaks a lot of sites -- and if you need to use one of those, you can mark it "trusted", and hope it hasn't been cracked...

A few brief notes on blog comings and goings: Jeff Cooper, who quit blogging nearly a year ago to make more time for his son, reports good news on that front, and so is back, albeit at a reduced pace. Also, the near silence from the blogsphere treasures at is at least explained -- they had to find a new apartment in a hurry, and it sounds like they found a good one. I hope once they settle in, they'll be back in the swing of things...

Thursday, June 24, 2004

I just want to start this post by saying that I'm outraged by the recent conduct of the Illinois Republican candidate for Senate, Jack Ryan. Hiring a cameraman to follow his opponent around 24/7, however quickly he cut it out, is way beyond the pale, and shows an abiding disrespect not just for the guy, but for the small-d democratic process.

On the other hand, some folks in the lefty blogsphere are wallowing in his divorce, and the revelation that he -- shock! horror! -- wanted to do very racy, kinky stuff that his ex-wife found, with some justification, to be extreme and humiliating.

Well here's the significance of that: they weren't compatible. They split. It happens. That's it.

And personally, I happen to think there's a zone of privacy which people deserve to keep if they want it. Not everything's inside it. Not even everything sexual is inside it -- powerful pols forcing their tongues down the throats of strangers, or breaking up other peoples' marriages with "youthful indiscretions" that began at the age of 41 (to cite two prominent Republicans, one still in office), deserve public censure. But the only individuals directly concerned in this business were Jeri and Jack, both of whom were arguing in court to keep the divorce papers containing the kinky stuff under seal. I have a real hard time seeing how this is anyone's business but theirs.

Besides, I think most people can agree that contrasting Ryan's missteps with Bill Clinton's more "honest" handling of the Lewinsky affair is not generally going to be a winning rhetorical gambit...

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Mark Kleiman is praising the right-leaning Daniel Drezner for facing the facts about the CPA in Iraq: that it was staffed by people chosen solely for ideological purity, with results that even they recognized as dismal. Drezner quotes one, from a Washington Post piece:

Within the marble-walled palace of the CPA's headquarters inside Baghdad's protected Green Zone, there is an aching sense of a mission unaccomplished. "Did we really do what we needed to do? What we promised to do?" a senior CPA official said. "Nobody here believes that."....

Drezner laments this. Not so his commenters. Replying to another observation from newspaper pieces, that

Passed over, in some cases, were diplomats and foreign policy specialists with backgrounds in Middle East issues or nation-building....

one David Thomson ripostes, in the first comment on Drezner's post:

The Bush administration should be congratulated on keep these fools outside of Iraq. They cannot be trusted. Their knives are ready to stab the President in the back. Many of these “foreign policy specialists” are Arabists and follow the ideological beliefs of Edward Said. These people are not worthy of respect and must be marginalized as quickly as possible.

and in response to Drezner's own

“It's still worth keeping in mind that despite these missteps, the situation in Iraq is still not hopeless.”

Thomson goes further:

On the contrary, the situation looks fairly bright. Very soon we are likely to hear how President Bush is so “lucky.” Iraq is already a success. The only remaining question is how much brighter is this country’s future. And yes, dangerous days admittedly lay ahead. Suicide bombers will not disappear for a number of years down the road. Americans and other westerners must remain very cautious. Still, the good vastly outweighs the bad. The disgustingly immoral media elite are finding it difficult to hide the booming American economy. They are rapidly also unable to lie about the good news coming out of Iraq.

So, the people on the scene have an "aching sense of a mission unaccomplished" -- but that doesn't keep ideologues at home from proclaiming a smashing success... any day now.

More: on Arabist fools stabbing Dubya's crew in the back: Some neocons have been alleging that an Iraqi intelligence agent was doing scutwork for al Qaeda in Malaysia. Distinguished expert Juan Cole points out that these are two people with two different names that sound vaguely alike, at least if you don't know Arabic. Clearly an expression of his ideological bias...

Speaking of Dubya's policy initiatives, his crew has a new diplomatic approach towards North Korea, offering aid in return for disarmament. And folks from the River in Egypt Party will surely be along any time now to explain how it differs from the Clinton policy of "appeasement." The Poor Man offers his own take:

Good thing we didn't do this three years ago! That would have been appeasement! Now, however, no one can accuse the Bush Administration of submitting to blackmail, because the North Koreans are going to look at this offer for a few weeks, gaze lovingly at their growing nuclear arsenal, review what folks are offering them to sign on to the Nuke-of-the-Month Club, and tell us to go fuck ourselves. They will do this because they can, and because there's nothing we can really do about it.

Or, he goes on, if we're really lucky, we get back the status quo ante Dubya, except that instead of maybe one or two carefully hidden nuclear warheads, the psychotic North Korean regime has maybe a dozen. If we're lucky.

Isn't it nice to have the grownups in charge?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Ah, Republican dignity. In the wake of Reagan's funeral, his speechwriters are getting into a public catfight about which of them Ronnie loved more.

Which wouldn't even be remarkable, among all the other tawdry Republican idiocy out there. (Denny Hastert was pushed from back bench obscurity to Speaker of the House because no one had any dirt on him, unlike his predecessors, Gingrich and the barely-there Livingston). What makes it remarkable is their hubris. I think most people would readily acknowledge that Lincoln's inaugurals, and the Gettysburg Address, were a few really good speeches -- but not that Lincoln won the war with them. Compare and contrast:

The saga of how the speechwriters got around senior Administration officials to get speeches President Reagan wanted to give in his hands is one of untold heroism.

Folks like George Schultz and James Baker desperately tried to prevent Reagan from uttering the most famous lines of his presidency, such as Reagan’s calling the Soviet Union an Evil Empire or demanding, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The speechwriters were the focus of the effort to advocate and implement the Reagan Doctrine, the strategy that brought down the Soviet Empire.

When you've got speechwriters, who needs diplomats?

Which, come to think of it, may explain a bit about the place of the Department of State in Dubya's administration...

Monday, June 21, 2004

A bit of a historical note:

When we look back at 1938, there was a whole lot of bad national leadership at the heads of most of the great powers at the time. To summarize briefly: the French, having allowed Hitler to retake Alsace-Lorraine with barely a protest, were allowing their army to rot behind the Maginot Line; Chamberlain in England was arranging to give away large chunks of Europe to Hitler and babbling about "peace in our time"; Japan was engaged in rapacious conquest that would end in disastrous overreach; the Kuomintang in China were mired in corruption and utterly ineffective; Germany had Hitler; and Russia had Stalin. Quite the collection.

And then there was FDR. Between unions that were openly sympathetic with Communism, and industrialists that were openly sympathetic with the Fascists, he managed to steer a middle way that preserved democracy. And when war broke out, he was able to do what needed to be done despite a populace with a thoroughly isolationist bent. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that from a modern perspective, he looks like the only leader of a major power anywhere on the planet who had his head screwed on even approximately right in the late 1930s.

But that wasn't obvious at the time. Roosevelt hadn't looked like a great man to a whole lot of people around him as governor of New York. (Robert Moses, then running the state's parks and highways -- as he would for decades after -- called him "the feather duster"). And once he was President, plenty of respectable people in the American upper class dismissed him as a failure and thought someone like Hitler to be, if anything preferable. Hitler was getting things done. The economy was doing great in Germany. And no labor trouble. Charles Lindbergh was openly friendly with the Nazi leadership, and a whole lot of industrialists contributed to fascist groups within the U.S., either directly or through umbrella groups like the American Liberty League -- which funded just about every reactionary element they could find, be it racist, anti-semitic, or just plain nuts, that was opposed to Roosevelt on the right..

And they were wrong. Alfred Sloan, who had lots of nasty things to say about Roosevelt during the 1930s, and wrote a few fat checks to the Liberty League himself, had the grace to say as much after the war, more or less. But at the time, he was writing friends that if Roosevelt was the best that democracies could do, then they were prety much all washed up.

You might want to see this as some kind of proof of the ineffable wisdom of the American electorate, clearly seeing what the rich failed to grasp. Me, I'm not so sure.

What these guys were trying to do, in the '30s, was to bend national policy in a direction that favored them, and to win votes to do it, by appealing to, well... the whole Liberty League menagerie, but let's just focus on the racists, because there were, and still regrettably are, quite a few of them.

The Liberty League was trying, in effect, to get racists to vote Republican in the 1940 presidential election. And there is a very good reason that that was not likely to happen, which has absolutely nothing to do with the ineffable wisdom of the American electorate: since the end of Reconstruction, decades ago already at this point, American racists had gotten everything they could reasonably want out of the Democrats. Republican Theodore Roosevelt's appointment of a female black postmaster had been a cause celebre of his administration; Democrat Woodrow Wilson, by contrast, segregated the entire national postal service.

What's happened over the decades since is that the Democrats got a belated case of conscience which drove the racists out of their ranks -- Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond moved first into the effectively pro-lynching "Dixiecrat" splinter group, which ran him as a presidential candidate, and then into the arms of the Republicans, where Thurmond finished his career, and where the heirs of the funders of the Liberty League, like Richard Mellon Scaife, now have the alliance their fathers and grandfathers dreamed of. And as much as Republicans like to talk about the dependance of the current Democratic Party on the black vote, there's also a story to be told about their own dependance on racists. There's a reason that Haley Barbour, Republican governor of Mississippi and former RNC big shot, hangs out with the Council of Conservative Citizens -- if you don't know what they stand for, a little time on their web site will let you figure it all out.

In short, the election of Roosevelt may have had a lot less to do with the ineffable wisdom of the voters, than with, at best, some rather nasty coalition building on the part of the Democrats, and at worst dumb luck.

Which is kind of disturbing right around now. Now, when the Chinese Communists can criticize American human rights abuses with a straight face. Now, when someone inside the Administration is apparently saying that what we really need now is a war of conquest over all Arabia:

Killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Roads and irrigation systems; bridges, power plants, and crops in the field; fertilizer plants and grain mills--all these and more will need to be destroyed to deny the enemy its support base. -- [S]uch actions will yield large civilian casualties, displaced populations, and refugee flows. Again, this sort of bloody-mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world.

(Crikey. Has this guy noticed that the effect of the war, thus far, is to create training grounds for the terrorists? Is he aware that there are more than a billion Muslims, and that the Muslim population, and for that matter, Muslim resistance groups, are found not just in the Arab world, but in places as far flung as Indonesia and the Philipines? Does he expect the governments of Muslim states, and states like India with large Muslim populations, who are already out in the streets, to just stand idly by while we do all this? Has he forgotten that at least one Muslim state -- Pakistan -- has nukes? Engaging these folks in a genuine democratic process is not a foolproof recipe for success, by any means, but it has worked in the past. And the victory in arms sought by "anonymous" could only be Pyrrhic -- and the whole planet would be the pyre. Enough).

In the 1930s, it seems to me, we got kinda lucky with our national leadership. I do hope our luck's not running out.

China link via Sisyphus Shrugged; Thurmond sample ballot via Atrios

Dubya's crew have some interesting ideas about how to show they're winning the War on Terror(TM). The Editors of The Poor Man demonstrate the application of the same ideas to winning at poker:

Colin Powell: Ladies and gentlemen. We have accumulated overwhelming evidence that Mr. Cheney's poker hand is far, far better than two pair. Note this satellite photo, taken three minutes ago when The Editors went to get more chips. In it we clearly see the back sides of five playing cards, arranged in a poker hand. Defector reports have assured us that Mr. Cheney's hand was already well advanced at this stage. Later, Mr. Cheney drew only one card. Why only one card? Would a man without a strong hand choose only one card? We are absolutely convinced that Mr. Cheney has at least a full house.
Sandia National Laboratories used to specialize in the design of nuclear weapons. But they're diversifying, looking into ways to use sugar as an energy source. Not a major one yet, though...

YOU may not be able to refuel your car with corn syrup or charge your computer by plugging it into a bottle of Coca-Cola anytime soon.

So, what are the applications?

Early potential applications of glucose fuel cells would require only small amounts of energy. For example, security systems to detect movement or the presence of chemicals could use sensors that would be plugged into trees, siphoning glucose from sap for energy. ...

Dr. Kravitz and fellow Sandia researchers are developing an array of tiny glass needles, as slim and sharp as a mosquito's proboscis, that could, for example, be imperceptibly "plugged in" to a soldier's arm and used to convert glucose from the human body into energy.

"Suppose you could make a patch that went on the arm and had little micro needles that didn't hurt," Dr. Kravitz said. "Now the soldier just needs to eat an Oreo cookie to keep his radio going."

Well, if you were wondering how those borg implants were powered... now you know.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Steven den Beste has a reputation in some circles as one of the deep thinkers of the right-tending blogsphere. This post, for instance, discusses in great detail subtle points in the application of logical reasoning to political discourse.

He begins by discussing the work of historian Howard Zinn. Den Beste, as it happens, doesn't like Howard Zinn very much, because Zinn fails to appreciate the importance of logic:

Zinn's book is apparently a classic example of the new approach to history, which uses it to support a priori conclusions. (In this case, that America is the root of all evil, and that everything America ever did caused only pain, death, and hardship for non-Americans and for Americans from the lower classes, and that the reason America was and is so awful is because Americans refuse to give up sovereignty and nationalism, and refuse to start thinking of themselves as post-nationalist citizens of the world, and refuse to submit themselves to world governance. [Or was that Chomsky?])

Contradictions don't matter, of course; "logic" is local (the term actually used, I gather, is "situated"). Logic is a tool created by White Men to oppress everyone else in the world. If someone (usually a White Man, please note) tries to claim that an argument in favor of the right lessons doesn't make sense because it is logically inconsistent and because it draws conclusions which are not logically justified by its premises and reasoning, then that's just another demonstration of the way logic is used as a tool of oppression.

A lesser mind than den Beste's might want to be sure which left-wing academic he was trying to criticize. But then again, a lesser mind might want to back up criticism like this with an example or two from Zinn's own writing in which Zinn, well... rejects logical deduction because it conflicts with his own a priori conclusions. To den Beste, this is all unnecessary. In fact, the only claim from Zinn that den Beste bothers to cite, right up at the top of his essay, is that the Red Army was primarily responsible for the defeat of the Nazis in Europe -- a point on which den Beste grudgingly acknowledges that Zinn is absolutely right.

Instead, den Beste goes on to illustrate the use of logic by deriving, from the unattributed claims of unnamed liberals, the logical conclusion that Reagan must have negotiated with the Soviets. Since that conflicts with den Beste's own a priori conclusion that the Soviet's were worn down by Reagan's manly, uncompromising force, the original claims of den Beste's liberal straw men are thus refuted by the classic technique of reductio ad absurdam.

Such is the power of the logic of Steven den Beste.

There's just one loose end which he neglects to tie up. What exactly does he think Reagan and Gorbachev were doing at Reykjavik?

But den Beste isn't the only right wing blogger who has interesting ways of applying logic to political debate. Eric Soskin shows the advanced use of logic in dealing with the apparent contradiction between this:

This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda.
-- President Bush, in an exchange with reporters, June 17, 2004

and this:

[A]cting pursuant to the Constitution and [the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002] is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
-- President Bush, in a letter to Congress outlining the legal justification for commencing war against Iraq, March 18, 2003

There are, apparently, two logical difficulties here, quoth Soskin:

[Slate writer Tim] Noah would like readers to believe these are the President's words. Yet the statement derives directly from the text of Public Law 107-243 (the Iraq Resolution), as it makes clear with its "Acting pursuant to..." language. Indeed, it contains exactly the language that Congress required him to certify 48 hours in advance of military action against Iraq.

So, Congress required Dubya to certify something was true before attacking Iraq. Dubya said it was true, using exactly the language specified by Congress. Therefore, he wasn't speaking in his own words. And since he wasn't speaking in his own words, he's less responsible if the statement was actually false.

Or something like that.

But there's a more important point:

Second, "consistent with." The reason that this statement can't be "unambiguously false" is that one must interpret these words to understand the statement. Do these words mean that action must advance the war on terrorism directly? Do they mean the action may advance the war on terrorism indirectly? Or does it mean the action must not inhibit the war on terrorism? All of these are justifiable interpretations, and the relationship of Iraq and the broader war on terrorism is clearly a hotly-debated topic, not something that can be answered unambiguously.

And in true den Bestian manner, the argument is ended by this application of logic.

Liberals might want to focus on evidence that Dubya's attack in Iraq actually has inhibited the war on terrorism, by for instance diverting critical intelligence resources away from direct attacks on al Qaeda strongholds. We liberals might even want to look into Dubya's diversion of $700 million that Congress had appropriated for Afghan operations to logistical preparation for the Iraq invasion. Rand Beers, once the top anti-terror guy in Dubya's NSC, resigned because he thought that way, as did Richard Clarke, another career anti-terrorism guy, who was maneuvered out of that position earlier by Condi Rice because he was demanding too much attention for anti-terror efforts in general, and al-Qaeda in particular. And apparently they're not the only ones. But that just shows our poor appreciation for the value of logical argument.

This, by the way, via Eugene Volokh who goes on in the same vein for quite a bit more...