Friday, July 30, 2004

While in Japan, I was quizzed by someone who wanted to know why Americans are so hard on cigarette smokers these days, when it's still so easy to get guns here. I tried to explain that the places where there's tight smoking regulation -- New York, Boston -- are also places where it's difficult for ordinary citizens to get a gun permit (much less concealed carry).

My interlocutor was presumably unaware of Alabama, where it seems, as Xeni at BoingBoing says, that you could walk down the street selling assault rifles and dildos, and be arrested for the dildos.

This is not helping, folks. This is not helping at all...

A little news from Boston: Other folks are blogging the convention itself, so I don't have to. As to the aftermath -- we've got one last bit of flailing from Mayor Menino:

With businesses howling about broken promises of a convention bonanza, Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday tried to lure people back into a deserted city, announcing three days of free parking and public concerts, as well as discounts at restaurants, attractions, and theaters to cap off convention week in Boston.

Menino said the discounts tomorrow and this weekend -- whose costs are being absorbed by the businesses offering them -- are intended as a "thank you present" to Boston-area residents who have endured unprecedented security and transportation disruptions during the Democratic National Convention. They are also aimed at keeping delegates, or anyone else who will bite, in the area over the weekend to salvage some sales for disappointed merchants.

Now, the idea of some kind of festival weekend to attract business isn't necessarily bad. But this was announced yesterday -- too late for anyone to change plans to take advantage. Who's supposed to show up?

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Many people are worried about how their personal information may get spread around when they submit it to a web site. And so they rely on privacy guarantees like this, from the privacy policy at Northwest Airlines' web site,, which as I write offers the following assurance:

3) With whom do you share my information?

When you reserve or purchase travel services through Northwest Airlines Reservations, we provide only the relevant information required by the car rental agency, hotel, or other involved third party to ensure the successful fulfillment of your travel arrangements. We also use information you provide during User registration or as part of the reservation process to customize the content of our site to meet your specific needs and to make product improvements to Northwest Airlines

We do not sell individual customer names or other private profile information to third parties and have no intention of doing so in the future. We do share User names and email addresses with our WorldPerks partners only for specific and pertinent promotional use but only if our customers have opted to receive promotional emails from Northwest and our WorldPerks partners.

Sounds pretty tight, huh?

Well, before you're completely reassured, you might want to look at this court ruling concerning a massive data dump which Northwest gave to NASA, of all government agencies, giving among other things the names, travel dates, credit card numbers, and traveling companions of everyone who flew on Northwest. In Minnesota, at least, the case was dismissed, though there may still be similar litigation ongoing elsewhere. Much of the commentary on the decision has focused on the part of the judge's ruling that says you can't rely on a privacy policy unless you can prove that you read it. But even if they had, quoth the judge, it wouldn't have mattered:

The language used vests discretion in Northwest to determine when the information is "relevant" and which "third parties" might need that information.

In other words, Northwest's assurance that they "provide only the relevant information required by the car rental agency, hotel, or other involved third party" is not only unenforcable, but despite appearances, it means absolutely nothing. According to the arguments of Northwest's own lawyers.

It's good to know how seriously they take their commitments.

(via, of all online publications, LWN).

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Lenin was at least half right: When Ariel Sharon decided it was time to pen the Palestinians in with a concrete wall, he got the Palestinian Authority to sell him the cement.
A little more news from Boston.

Most ridiculous security measure spotted yet: the two cops on evening detail in a parking lot on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, at least three miles away from the convention venue, keeping Mahoney's Garden Center safe from terrorist attacks.

A couple of blocks away, the road closures started.

And it ain't just the restauranteurs in my neighborhood feeling the pain. The North End, the neighborhood nearest the convention center, is particularly hard hit -- it gets a lot of business from tourists ordinarily this time of year, and the security measures have made it nearly inaccessible by car.

The result?

On Salem Street, Bova's bakery opened a new streetside sales window this week with a sign to welcome the DNC. By late yesterday afternoon, the window was shuttered. Inside, cannoli -- the bakery's most popular item -- were not selling. Bakers usually refill five trays at least three times a day. "Today, I'll be lucky to fill it once," said Diana Bova, an owner, adding that sales had tumbled 50 percent.

Down the street, Ernesto's Old World Pizza had sold 70 pies by 4:30, down from a daily average of 200. "It's awful, and I'm angry about it," said the owner, Rocco Anciello. "The convention is not benefiting us at all."

But it's nice to see that political accountability in America is not yet dead:

Business owners who had supported bringing the convention to Boston said yesterday they felt especially betrayed by the turn of events. They faulted Mayor Thomas M. Menino for agreeing to security measures they thought were too extreme, and the media for hyping the extensive road closures.

"We thought that according to the mayor, business was going to be good around here. But we got absolutely nothing," said Albert Scaperelli, manager of the Euno Ristorante in the North End. "We were so supportive of the city that we even changed our hours to cater the DNC. But we haven't seen one person from the DNC."

What we need now is a good opposition candidate...

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Remember the stories about soldiers who couldn't get bulletproof vests or armor for their Humvees? Well, they've tried to take care of those problems, but you know how it is. There's always one more damn thing. Le Monde reports that the thing now is bullets:

The Pentagon is spending tens of billions of dollars to develop the weapons of the future, but today it has to deal with a shortage of bullets. The American Army expects to lavish itself in future years with a battlefield communication system for all field personnel, and with intelligent uniforms which can change color, tend the soldiers' ills, and react immediately to a biological or chemical attack. But while waiting for that, the GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan risk finding themselves short of small caliber munitions for their M16 rifles. To the point that the Pentagon has had to urgently import cartridges from Great Britain and Israel.

Le Monde goes on to report that we're down to one sole factory for the ammunition, which can't keep up with demand. (Though they also report that there's a billion-bullet strategic reserve -- about 8 months' supply at current rates; the purchases from Britain and Israel are to avoid dipping into that). Le Monde also reports that many in Congress are rather upset about this situation. But if you surf over to your friendly neighborhood warbloggers, I'm sure you can find someone to point out the truly important part of this story -- that the United States Army has once more been insulted by the French.

Bugmenot is a site for folks who want to avoid "registration required" prompts at web sites like the New York Times. But just for kicks, they have a registration form of their own. As you might expect, it's an interesting read...
Well, now that I'm back, a little news from Boston... Other folks are blogging the convention, so I'll just mention what it looks like from the outside, on the basis of one evening here, a taxi ride from the airport, and a little walking around; the city is dead. I talked to one of the guys who runs a local Indian restaurant (one of the better ones in town), and he's not pleased -- the convention is supposed to be good for his business, but he'd rather just keep serving his regulars. The problem, of course, is the security precautions, which have gone way, way overboard. On highway closures, for instance, I can sort of understand wanting to close Storrow drive east of, say, the Longfellow Bridge, where it actually does sorta kinda get near the convention venue. But closing the whole thing just makes it hard to get into neighborhoods which are a mile or two away -- it just inconveniences the residents. On Japan, by the way... if you can go to only one city, make it Kyoto. I might do a bit more travelog later, but I had a very nice time...