"This is indefinite dictatorial power. And I don't use that term lightly."

Are you starting to sense a trend?

This isn’t about the spying, although that’s a major issue in itself. This is about the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search. This is about circumventing a teeny tiny check by the judicial branch, placed there by the legislative branch, placed there 27 years ago — on the last occasion that the executive branch abused its power so broadly.

In defending this secret spying on Americans, Bush said that he relied on his constitutional powers (Article 2) and the joint resolution passed by Congress after 9/11 that led to the war in Iraq. This rationale was spelled out in a memo written by John Yoo, a White House attorney, less than two weeks after the attacks of 9/11. It’s a dense read and a terrifying piece of legal contortionism, but it basically says that the president has unlimited powers to fight terrorism. He can spy on anyone, arrest anyone, and kidnap anyone and ship him to another country … merely on the suspicion that he might be a terrorist. And according to the memo, this power lasts until there is no more terrorism in the world. …

The result is that the president’s wartime powers, with its armies, battles, victories, and congressional declarations, now extend to the rhetorical “War on Terror”: a war with no fronts, no boundaries, no opposing army, and — most ominously — no knowable “victory.” Investigations, arrests, and trials are not tools of war. But according to the Yoo memo, the president can define war however he chooses, and remain “at war” for as long as he chooses.

There’s lots more. As they say, read the whole thing. But it doesn’t matter, because Michael Moore is still fat.


The latest spin, overheard in a couple of different places, is that this domestic spying stuff is just Echelon in drag. And really, if you’re not bitching about Echelon (and really, who is?), there’s no sense in getting upset about the latest from No Such Agency.


If I wanted to find something funny in all of this — if I were even inclined to try finding something funny in all of this — it’s that the opinions and ideas of people who’ve been paying attention to privacy, security, and cryptographic issues for years pale in comparison to those of the shouting heads. Who are you going to listen to on this topic: Guys like Bellovin or Metzger or Gillmore, or some random dude with a blog who misrepresented what’s actually in FISA? Are you more inclined to believe Schneier, or Powerline?

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised about all of this; since the blogosphere became more or less instant experts on typography and font design last year, why can’t they become instant experts on this stuff, too?

"… and our nation will fall into despotism. I mean that sincerely."

At the risk of channeling my old blog, Perry Metzger hits it out of the park:

The FISC may be worthless at defending civil liberties, but in its
arrogant disregard for even the fig leaf of the FISC, the
administration has actually crossed the line into a crystal clear
felony. The government could have legally conducted such wiretaps
at any time, but the President chose not to do it legally.

Ours is a government of laws, not of men. That means if the President
disagrees with a law or feels that it is insufficient, he still must
obey it. Ignoring the law is illegal, even for the President. The
President may ask Congress to change the law, but meanwhile he must
follow it.

Our President has chosen to declare himself above the law, a dangerous
precedent that could do great harm to our country. However, without
substantial effort on the part of you, and I mean you, every person
reading this, nothing much is going to happen. The rule of law will
continue to decay in our country. Future Presidents will claim even
greater extralegal authority, and our nation will fall into
despotism. I mean that sincerely. For the sake of yourself, your
children and your children’s children, you cannot allow this to stand.

Of course, you might be tempted to think that Perry is shrill and unbalanced, and that he’s got a bee up his ass about cryptography and privacy, and that really, they had to destroy and ignore the constitution in order to preserve, protect, and defend it. You might be tempted to defend this action as being necessary to prosecute the war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on pornography, or anything, really. You might be tempted to say that the innocent have nothing to hide, and if you’re feeling uneasy about being spied on, maybe the government should be looking at you. You might be tempted to brush this off, because the prospect of dying in a terrorist attack scares you more than the thought of the National Security Agency listening to your phone call. Anything goes, right?

Does it? Does it really? How far is “anything”? We’ve got arbitrary detention, officially-sanctioned torture, and spying. We’ve got summary conviction on secret evidence, and surveillance without your knowledge. Hundreds of thousands of names are on lists, but no one knows what the lists or for, or how they got on the list, or whether they’re on one at all. To paraphrase , I think we’re well past the slippery slope and have stumbled into the dark pit at the bottom of the slope. And what amazes me is that there are some people — you know who they are — who are still going to defend Worst President Ever, call it “necessary” and “unfortunate” and “justified,” and call the rest of us objectively pro-terrorist, or soemthing.

Fuck that shit.

Perry’s right: Americans need to wake the fuck up to what’s going on here. They need to grow a pair, stop being afraid because Dick Cheney comes out from time to time to go “booga booga!” in an attempt to scare the nation, start demanding some accountability, and run these assholes out of town on a rail. I’m not sure what I’m more upset about: The fact that this desperately needs to happen, or the fact that it probably won’t happen.

This is a scandal, to be sure, but it’s not an impeachable scandal. It’s not like anyone had sex with an intern here.

Indecision 2005^H6: Stop making sense

I can’t stand the present election campaign, and I really can’t stand it when the Traitors say something that not only makes sense but is good politics too:

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe noted that the House of Commons had already held a vote on the marriage issue.

“We shouldn’t have a free vote on something that has already been decided. We should not have to have one every six months,” he said, adding “the religion of some should not constitute the law for everybody.”

Why, Jesus, why? Why can you not give me an opposition party that can win, makes sense, and runs in my ridings?

Meanwhile, the Tyee has some details about how the Hippies aren’t really Hippies. I can’t decide whether this constitutes a strike against them or not.

The most wonderful time of the year?

Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”

“Don’t be cross, uncle!” said the nephew.

“What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

This is normally how I feel about this time of the year, more or less. Cranky and bitter, mostly, and deeply sympathetic to the people who find this an enormously stressful time of the year. This year, though, there’s a lot more sympathy and a lot more sap, and a lot less self-pity. Driving home from work thisyesterday morning, Scott Walker was talking about people who get nothing for Christmas, and while I’m sure the story was about the homeless (I got home and went to bed and didn’t hear how the actual story related to the teaser), I felt kind of weepy at the thought of people who spend this time by themselves and who have few real friends out there. And then I felt kind of lucky, because I’m not one of those people. And then I felt like a shit, because I should really point that out to my friends more often.

Maybe there’s a reason Thanksgiving and Christmas are so close together in the US. I dunno.

Because this is an odd year for me, in terms of how I feel about The Season, I’m doing some strange things. Like, I’m in the midst of putting together an album of Christmas tunes. It’s an interesting project: Not the world’s biggest fan of Christmas music, and therefore not owning a whole bunch myself, I’ve been using — I can’t believe I’m about to type this — iTunes to build the album up. And, much as I hate to admit it, Apple’s got a bit of a winner on their hands with the damn thing.

Admittedly the interface sucks, and it took me an hour to figure out how to do anything. Fr’instance, why the hell do I need to import files into my library, and then copy them over into a playlist? This isn’t rocket science; Notmad gets this exactly right — you present a unified view of the file library, and use context menus to allow people to move files back and forth. (Notmad, by the way, is hella awesome; you must own a copy if you have a Creative player.) Or you use drag and drop. Neither of which work in iTunes, so far as I can tell. You have to select, copy, then paste. Yecch. Also, because I had to import all 10-something GB of my music library in to make the thing go properly, I’m now absolutely terrified of making any changes to the library for fear that I’ll accidentally blow something away on my hard drive. Part of me understands how this works — iTunes is actually doing a good thing here, in that it’s divorcing data management from the filesystem, and for 99% of users I think that’s probably to their benefit. But in my case, because my data management tool is the filesystem, I’m not so thrilled.

Anyway. Interface and data model annoyances aside, it was quite cool to sit down for a few hours, pour through ITMS’ selection of Christmas music, and pull the stuff I thought I wanted. Ended up with a couple of duds that were obvious within about five nanoseconds of listening to the full track (rather than just the 30 second extract), which pissed me off mildly, but whatever; it’s not that big a deal. The convenience is hilarious. I fear, though, that the convenience lead me to make some pretty odd selections of artists I normally wouldn’t even let come within 500 yards of my speakers: Michael Buble? The Ronettes? Andy Williams? Some people — hi, mom! — will be highly disappointed with some of my choices, including picking Holly Cole’s version of “Santa Baby” over Eartha Kitt’s “authoritative” version, or Charlotte Church’s cover of “The Christmas Song” over Nat King Cole’s original. I did, however, stick with Elvis’ version of “Blue Christmas,” since, well, everyone else’s sucks.

One track I did go back and forth on, for quite a while actually, was “The Carol of the Bells.” This is maybe one of my top five Christmas songs, but for reasons I don’t fully understand, the only version I could think of was.. you guessed it, Mr. Mackey’s. You know, the one that goes, “Hark hear the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say “ding-dong mm-kay.”” What can I say? I am that much of a loser. And I think the reason I love this song so much is because of the way it builds and builds and builds, and seems so damn menacing, when in reality it’s not menacing at all. (Most people don’t know that it’s actually a Ukranian carol, based on a Slavic legend that every bell in the world rang upon Jesus’ birth.) When you hear it in a cathedral, with a full orchestra blasting away, it’s damn impressive — one of the few pieces of Christmas music that can actually move me to tears, and I can’t figure out why. And, weirdly, I didn’t own a copy, other than Mr. Mackey’s, and you can’t put that on a serious Christmas album. So I went hunting. It took me about 45 minutes test out different versions, and I finally settled on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s version from Joy to the World, which is Just Right. Not too quiet, not too slow, not too watered-down.. it’s great. I’ve listened to it a half-dozen times since it arrived on my hard drive, and while I might have made some compromises elsewhere in the album to get the variety I wanted, I feel 100% certain this one was the right choice. Highly recommended.

It's still a damn cult

I’ve lately become more and more pissed off at my collection of computers and have been, in my more idle moments, contemplating throwing them all into a swamp and buying a Mac. Then I wake up, shake off the dream, and realize that (1) I don’t want a Mac, (2) I don’t want a Mac, and (3) A Mac won’t play Grand Theft Auto, so I don’t want one. (An XBox would, but I don’t want an XBox, either.) It’s been a while since I said anything disparaging about my least favorite toy computer, or any computer, really, so it was nice to come across a damn funny article about Apple, media hype, and, uh.. well, that’s about it. Bonus points:

The Apple Polishers
Explaining the press corps’ crush on Steve Jobs and company.
By Jack Shafer
Posted Thursday, Oct. 13, 2005, at 7:04 PM ET

Download the iPod-ready audio version of this story here, or sign up to get all of Slate’s free daily podcasts.

Isn’t machine-generated templating great? Oh yeah.

Jack Shafer is a seriously funny bugga.

Enough is enough

I like cops. I count many many cops among my friends, and I’ve always enjoyed working with them, especially their relatively sick sense of humor. They do a difficult job that I could never in a million years do, and would not want to do (mostly because I can’t stand the people you have to deal with as a cop). For the most part, they’re decent folks who work hard and have a strong, if at times misplaced, sense of loyalty and duty. It’s difficult to fault people like that.

I also like the Taser. It saves lives. I’ve been around enough that I have first-hand knowledge of at least a dozen cases where people got Tasered; without it, these guys would have gotten shot. And it’s a lot more fun to pull prongs out of some yo’s clothes or skin than bullets out of the body (though not being a pathologist, you shouldn’t consider that an authoritative statement). But I have a problem with the Taser, and it goes something like this: Before the Taser came along, cops had two options — “talk” and “kill.” But now there’s a third option — call it “maim” — that isn’t nearly as much work as “talk”ing, and isn’t nearly as awful as “kill”ing, so it gets used more often. This is a hilariously simplistic explanation, and yet I see people who’ve been Tasered for no apparent reason whatsoever. Obviously its use is always a judgment call, and I’m sure no cop goes out planning to Taser anyone, but I’m skeptical of the need for it to be employed as much as it is.

One of the worst moments of my professional life over the past couple of years was watching a drunk belligent guy get Tasered in front of me. It’s really hard to describe — there’s a loud bang, a lot of snapping, and then somebody’s screaming very loudly, and then someone else is yelling. I say it was one of the worst moments because I feel as though I could have prevented it, if I’d been more assertive and more definitive about how I wanted to manage the whole situation. The cops involved were friends, and that makes this an especially troubling event for me. (The guy was fine. He was an asshole, but he was fine.) Was it necessary? At the time, it could be justified. But there’s a nagging sense that if we’d tried to talk him down, worked harder on the communication thing, it might not have gone quite as far.

On the other hand, I distinctly remember a case where a guy had shot at the cops, tried to run one of them over, and then threatened the ERT boys with a big pipe. I’m impressed with, and thankful for, the fact that he was only Tasered and ended up with dog bites to his face, rather than four rounds center mass.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have very mixed feelings about the Taser as a law enforcement tool. Part of me says, “yeah, great”; part of me says, “hey, hold on a second.” It has its uses. It also has its misuses. It’s like any other technology out there, I guess, with the big difference that I have to deal with the aftermath of its use.

Nothing in this story has caused me to change my mind about this device. Nothing at all.

ow ow ow ow ow

I followed a couple of links that lead me back into the deep, dark recesses of the blog past, back when words like “fisk,” “idiotarian,” “objectively pro-[whatever],” and “fact-check your ass” were employed widely and indiscriminately, much as words like “shrill” and “unpatriotic” and “assmaster” are used today. Ow, ow, ow. It was a mistake; I had managed to repress all that nonsense in the intervening 2.5+ years. It was an embarrassing time for on-line punditry (not that there have been many non-embarrassing moments for on-line punditry, mind), a time when we all took ourselves a little too seriously and thought we were going to change the world.. again. Meh. You were there, you know how it went.

On a totally unrelated note, the etymology of fisking relates to, of course, Robert Fisk — who is widely revilled within the jingosphere for failing to clap hard enough, and for pointing out unfortunate and inconvenient truths. I confess to never having read a Rober Fisk column, nor ever having been familiar first-hand with his work, but, judging by the reaction from the more prominent members of Outrageoholics Anonymous, he’s a pretty crazy piece of work. So it was a surprise when he showed up on The Current last week, talking to Anna Maria Tremonti about his new book (audio allegedly here in the Devil’s Own Streaming Media format), and sounding like.. well, me and just about everyone who isn’t totally blinded to the realities of Mess O’ Potamia. And, believe it or not, it’s not just about the current iteration of the Gulf War, either..

It’s interesting — I had sort of assumed that Fisk was this weird, deranged bozo with a serious hate on for all things western, and it turns out he’s a very smart, very articulate guy, with some really important historical insights that are at least as valuable to figuring our way out of this nightmare as any random blogger. My own fault, I guess; you really do have to, as they say, read the whole thing.

Memo to rms

Dear Richard,

I know you’ve done wonderful things for the Unix community and your computational skills are beyond reproach. However, it has come to my attention that you are engaging in activist behavior on behalf of an anti-digital rights management organization with the stated goal of, uh, eliminiating DRM from the marketplace. This is, of course, a laudible goal, and I commend you for your intellectual consistency, if nothing else. But really, Richard, you need to consider precisely what message you’re sending when you stand around looking like a dirty GNU hippie with a sandwich board.

I mean, seriously. Dude. You don’t look like an activist, you look like a crazy homeless guy. Although, to be fair, you usually look like a crazy homeless guy, so it’s not like you went out of your way to make this work, or anything.

When your opponents enjoy portraying you as a bunch of dirty, smelly anticapitalist hippies, it’s probably not a good idea to show up looking like the product of central casting. Yeesh.

Dr. Hazmat, non-hippie nerd

PS: Please find enclosed a razor, some soap, and free instructions on how to use them.