Time for more time

Today will be one second longer than a normal day, as the International Earth Rotation Service has declared the need for a leap second to keep everything in sync. This means that 2005 Dec 31 23:59:59 will be followed by 2005 Dec 23:59:60, which will in turn give way to 2006 Jan 01 00:00:00. Cool!

There’s more on this over at JWZ’s place; check it out. Also, how cool is it that there’s something called the “International Earth Rotation Service?”

Merry Christmas from the Onion

They’re on fire this time:

The final entry also includes this gem:

If Rove is responsible for leaking Santa’s identity to the world’s children, it would not be his first political “dirty trick.” In 1988, he was fired from George H. W. Bush’s presidential campaign for sending an unsigned letter to the young daughter of a Dukakis campaign adviser. In the letter, he revealed the sad ending of the film Old Yeller.

Welcome to the roadway panopticon

The Department of Transportation wants very badly to track your car wherever you go all the time with mandatory, tamper-proof GPS transponders. And they’re making progress. Pay attention:

The problem, though, is that no privacy protections exist. No restrictions prevent police from continually monitoring, without a court order, the whereabouts of every vehicle on the road. No rule prohibits that massive database of GPS trails from being subpoenaed by curious divorce attorneys, or handed to insurance companies that might raise rates for someone who spent too much time at a neighborhood bar. No policy bans police from automatically sending out speeding tickets based on what the GPS data say. The Fourth Amendment provides no protection. The U.S. Supreme Court said in two cases, U.S. v. Knotts and U.S. v. Karo, that Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy when they’re driving on a public street.

Be afraid. Then be mad, and — again — pay attention.

What happens to geeks at Christmas

This. We do, however, love how the article ends.

When Timothy Shey, an executive at a local Web applications company, found out that his parents were deciding on a new computer a couple of years ago, he offered to give them free and unlimited tech support, on one condition– they had to buy an Apple Macintosh. […] But the Sheys ignored their son’s advice and bought a Windows-based computer. So a year later when the machine started acting up, he kept his word. “I cut them off,” he said with a laugh.

(Local copy of article.)

President Felon

Back before the turn of the century – heh – our Congress elected to impeach the President because he lied under oath. Regardless of what you think about the Whitewater witchhunt, Clinton did indeed lie, and he deserved to be punished for it. Taking it all the way to impeachment and attempting to remove him from office over that lie still strikes us as pretty ridiculous (far afield of the actual Whitewater land deal as it was), but we’ve definitely learned in the last five years that the Republicans don’t care so much about law as they do power. No impeachment would have been possible if Clinton had not made false statements under oath, and there is no question that he did that.

Well, now we have a real acid test for rule of law — and for our aformentioned theory about Republicans, law, and power. Our president has admitted, in front of a national audience, that he committed felonies, and that he will continue to do so. These crimes are far more serious that lies about a blow job; they strike at the heart of our system of government, and show contempt for Congressional oversight and the rule of law. He’s not saying he didn’t nail someone he shouldn’t have; he’s saying he can eavesdrop on anyone he wants without a warrant, law or no law. He’s saying the law — approved by both houses of Congress and a President — simply doesn’t apply to him.

It couldn’t be much clearer; Gonzales’ tortured reading of the Iraqi war resolution is just plain garbage, and the claims that Clinton and Carter did similar things are lies of the basest sort; the most cursory readings of the documents being selectively quoted by some on the Right makes this clear. The facts remain: there is a law covering precisely the sort of surveilance Bush wanted to do — a law enacted in response to government misconduct in the past! — and he elected to break it.

No one — repeat: NO ONE — with any principle at all can now maintain that Clinton deserved to be impeached and Bush does not. In fact, no one can argue honestly that what Bush has done does not warrant a serious investigation and, quite possibly, impeachment. This is more than party politics. Bush has violated the very Constitution that he has twice pledged to uphold, and for that he must be held accountable. Period.

How Geeks Get Distracted

Notice this site that allows the user to create an animated gif that scrolls a favorite phrase. Decide to troll (quickly) through our folder of amusing quote text files for possible candidate phrases. Become frustrated with the need to actually load each one into an editor to see it. Wish for OS X version of a tool we used 15 years ago. Remember that a commercial tool existed that was very similar, and then that an open source version exists in the Linux world. Surf around to find a ported version for OS X. Locate instructions for a source build that nevertheless still requires — or at least encourages — fink. Attempt first step of install, which is glib, which fails. Discover local copy of fink is outdated. Attempt upgrade, which fails, as the versions of gcc & etc. on the new Powerbook are way outdated, because gcc_select has no 4.0 option. Search Apple’s Developer site for new disk image to upgrade dev tools. Download new dev tools (833MB). Wait. Install. Wait. Retry fink upgrade. Discover that fink wants 4.0.0 of gcc, and no amount of poking will make it happy with 4.0.1. Go to dinner. Come home. Google some more. Discover, at long last, that there’s a known problem between Xcode 2.2 and fink, and that the easy option is to drop back to 2.1 (which is still newer than what we installed above). Delete 2.2, and download 750MB of 2.1. Wait some more. When it’s finally here, do a fink selfupdate. More waiting, but less failing. Do fink install glib. It works. Finish instructions. Decide you’re too tired now to do justice to the whole “find a clever quote” thing. Go to bed. Realize you may never actually use the thing you just installed. Sigh.

Ghosts of Gadgets Past

BoingBoing reports that the Newton Museum is closing its doors — and is selling its entire collection on eBay. We’re very sorry we cannot bring ourselves to bid on the whole lot, which includes samples of nearly every Newton device made (wasn’t there a non-Apple licensed model?); we’ll console ourselves with the two Newtons (110 and 2100) we already own. The Treo is nice, but it’s a crappy Palm — and even a great Palm is pretty dumb compared to a Newton.

It’s a shame Apple totally gave up that space, since the mojo they’ve brought to the music market makes it clear they could have done well, had they stopped pushing the Newton in the wrong direction (“Bigger! More expensive! Less sync!”, while the Palm guys were quietly doing small, cheap, and effortless multi-platform sync).

Java is stupid.

Well, not Java in and of itself, but the way Java is typically handled in a development environment. It’s all “install sixty-eleven different packages and hope they play nice.” The trouble is, you end up with dozens (literally) of packages installed to accomplish a relatively simple task, and nobody understands how they all work. Each package, of course, has its own verbose XML file full of vague settings unburdened by such niceties as proper documentation. Configuration files are sprinkled throughout the project tree like so much tinsel. It goes without saying that nothing is ever simple.

Today’s gripe is just a symptom of this metastatic approach to development: for license reasons, we switched from MySQL to Postgres. Postgres typically outperforms MySQL, but that sort of thing only matters with way more data than we’re using, and we weren’t leaving MySQL for performance reasons anyway. For some reason, though, Hibernate then became glacially slow — like, “go get a cup of coffee, and then get another one, and take a nap” slow. Why? Nobody knows! Now the developer is up to his ass in half a dozen configuration files and a googleplex of Google searches trying to figure out what the hell the problem is, and I’m sitting here wondering why the devil we didn’t do this thing as a simple web app in the first place.

Security and Presidential Power Examined

Security expert Bruce Schneier examines the implications of the wiretapping scandal and the presidential power doctrine behind it — and what it means in terms of our real security. Our Founders created a system of government that included checks and balances on the power of any one branch; Bush & co. are openly contemptuous of that. Remember, this is the doctrine:

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.

It’s a power grab, plain and simple, and one that must be slapped down with all possible speed and, if at all possible, serious consequences for those involved.

More from Bruce:

…[A]ccording to the Yoo memo, the president can define war however he chooses, and remain “at war” for as long as he chooses. This is indefinite dictatorial power. And I don’t use that term lightly; the very definition of a dictatorship is a system that puts a ruler above the law. In the weeks after 9/11, while America and the world were grieving, Bush built a legal rationale for a dictatorship. Then he immediately started using it to avoid the law. This is, fundamentally, why this issue crossed political lines in Congress. If the president can ignore laws regulating surveillance and wiretapping, why is Congress bothering to debate reauthorizing certain provisions of the Patriot Act? Any debate over laws is predicated on the belief that the executive branch will follow the law. This is not a partisan issue between Democrats and Republicans; it’s a president unilaterally overriding the Fourth Amendment, Congress and the Supreme Court. Unchecked presidential power has nothing to do with how much you either love or hate George W. Bush. You have to imagine this power in the hands of the person you most don’t want to see as president, whether it be Dick Cheney or Hillary Rodham Clinton, Michael Moore or Ann Coulter. Laws are what give us security against the actions of the majority and the powerful. If we discard our constitutional protections against tyranny in an attempt to protect us from terrorism, we’re all less safe as a result. (Emph. mine.)

Signs of Hope?

The GWB-appointed judge has given the (since ousted by voters) Dover, PA school board a serious bitch-slapping:

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources. StCynic

More here; PDF of decision here.

Damn right.

Truth, from MSNBC’s Jonathan Alter, via Atrios:

Dec. 19, 2005 – Finally we have a Washington scandal that goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power. President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate — he made it seem as if those who didn’t agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda — but it will not work. We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president’s desperation. The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists — in fact, all American Muslims, period — have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations. Bush claimed that “the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.” But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a “shameful act,” it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab. No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story — which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year — because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.

What’s wrong with Wikipedia

We don’t know where this is from, but it’s funny as hell. (Click for full size.) He-man cartoon

(If you know, tell us, and we’ll provide proper attribution.) It’s from Penny Arcade, as we probably could have surmised had we bothered to read the copyright thing on the right. Thanks, Tom!

Bush, Translated

From this CNN piece:

  • “So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorized the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.” Translation: “I’m wholly ignorant and contemptuous of the Constitution and US law, and FISA be damned.”
  • “I’ve reauthorized this program more 30 times since the September 11 attacks and I intend to do so for so long as the nation faces a continuing threat from an enemy that wants to kill American citizens”. Translation: “Expect the NSA to be eavesdropping on American citizens forever.”
  • “My personal opinion is, it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war . . . The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.” Translation: “I’m very upset that the press is finally doing its job with respect to examining and investigating the actions of the government, and, in so doing, acting as a check on the power thereof. Also, it’s utterly impossible that terrorist operatives might have assumed we were listening in anyway.”

We have displeased the television gods somehow

We thought we were about to watch a Law & Order rerun from the Tivo, but as it turns out, it’s some sort of Oak Ridge Boys Christmas Special, featuring occasional ice skating with Dorothy Hamill to the “no, we’re not dated at all” sounds of — and we’re not making this up — Mannheim Fucking Steamroller. It is apparently new, not a rerun.

It’s like Christmas Special Hell.

He broke the law, and he’s admitting it. Shouldn’t jail be next?

Via Atrios, we find these paragraphs from Digby:

Look, the problem here, again, is not one of just spying on Americans, as repulsively totalitarian as that is. It’s that the administration adopted John Yoo’s theory of presidential infallibility. But, of course, it wasn’t really John Yoo’s theory at all; it was Dick Cheney’s muse, Richard Nixon who said, “when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.” This was not some off the cuff statement. It was based upon a serious constitutional theory — that the congress or the judiciary (and by inference the laws they promulgate and interpret) have no authority over an equal branch of government. The president, in the pursuit of his duties as president, is not subject to the laws. Citizens can offer their judgment of his performance every four years at the ballot box.

The problem with this “theory” is that in our republic, no one is above the law. Not even Bush.

Update: Links fixed. Oops.


Tell me again how enhanced surveillance powers don’t automatically lead to bullshit like this. Precis: college senior requests the “Little Red Book” via interlibrary loan for a paper on communism and is visited by Feds as a result. Watch what you read, kid.

THIS is what Bush wants for America. You can put a crisis face on it by chanting “9/11! 9/11! 9/11!” over and over, but that just makes it more Orwellian. Next week? Two Minutes Hate!

Here they come again

Those Hollywood jackasses are at it again, and Congress is behaving like a wholly owned subsidary of the MPAA. The House Judiciary Committee has introduced legislation that would effectively kill the “analog hole,” fair use be damned. In other words, they want any piece of electronics that can play or copy something being played to pay attention to some special watermarking scheme that keeps copies from being made. Want to dub that CD to tape? Not anymore.

Techdirt has a great roundup of links on this.

Damn right.

Via Atrios again, this fine bit from the Washington Monthly site, concerning the extralegal domestic surveilance Bush ordered the military and NSA to do:

This is against the law. I have put references to the relevant statute below the fold; the brief version is: the law forbids warrantless surveillance of US citizens, and it provides procedures to be followed in emergencies that do not leave enough time for federal agents to get a warrant. If the NY Times report is correct, the government did not follow these procedures. It therefore acted illegally. Bush’s order is arguably unconstitutional as well: it seems to violate the fourth amendment, and it certainly violates the requirement (Article II, sec. 3) that the President “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” I am normally extremely wary of talking about impeachment. I think that impeachment is a trauma for the country, and that it should only be considered in extreme cases. Moreover, I think that the fact that Clinton was impeached raises the bar as far as impeaching Bush: two traumas in a row is really not good for the country, and even though my reluctance to go through a second impeachment benefits the very Republicans who needlessly inflicted the first on us, I don’t care. It’s bad for the country, and that matters most. But I have a high bar, not a nonexistent one. And for a President to order violations of the law meets my criteria for impeachment. This is exactly what got Nixon in trouble: he ordered his subordinates to obstruct justice. To the extent that the two cases differ, the differences make what Bush did worse: after all, it’s not as though warrants are hard to get, or the law makes no provision for emergencies. Bush could have followed the law had he wanted to. He chose to set it aside. And this is something that no American should tolerate. We claim to have a government of laws, not of men. That claim means nothing if we are not prepared to act when a President (or anyone else) places himself above the law. If the New York Times report is true, then Bush should be impeached.

Update: Rep. Miller (D-CA) agrees.

Just how far will we let them go before we reclaim our country?

Via Atrios, we point you to this NYT story:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 – Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials. Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible “dirty numbers” linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications. The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represents a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

(N.B. that the John Yoo defending this surveillance in that story is the same John Yoo who, in his capacity as a DoJ lawyer, advised that the President need not comply with the Geneva Convention and could in fact act as he pleased with respect to torture, extraordinary rendition, and the indefinite detention of persons declared by the Executive to be “enemy combatants.” The values this guy exhibits in opinions like these are not American values, and they scare the bejesus out of me.)

The Post has more on this, and on the Administration’s justification for these actions:

The law governing clandestine surveillance in the United States, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, prohibits conducting electronic surveillance not authorized by statute. A government agent can try to avoid prosecution if he can show he was “engaged in the course of his official duties and the electronic surveillance was authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order of a court of competent jurisdiction,” according to the law. “This is as shocking a revelation as we have ever seen from the Bush administration,” said Martin, who has been sharply critical of the administration’s surveillance and detention policies. “It is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans.”

In which we discuss what comes after “Hrm, it’s a weird time for fireworks…”

So last night about 1230 we were lying in bed. Mrs Heathen was asleep. The cat was asleep. I was reading until I heard some very loud, sharp noises that most anyone would take for firecrackers, except New Year’s is weeks away, and firecrackers are not generally accompanied by the sound of breaking glass.

There’s an ugly sort of feeling in your gut that happens when you realize you’ve just heard a fairly serious exchange of small-arms fire — easily a dozen or more shots, quickly, in a way that meant more than one gun was involved — in the middle of the night that sounded close enough that you imagine you can smell cordite. Mrs Heathen woke up and looked at me as if to say “Um, those weren’t fireworks, were they?” We lay in the bed, very still, and listened, and in about thirty seconds I began to hear faint sirens, far off, but getting closer quickly.

Soon the sirens were damn near in our bedroom, and we could see the cruisers’ lights splashing against the buildings behind our house. I peeked out the front window to see a cop blocking West Drew and Taft; five or six more cars blew south down Taft, tearing off onto sidestreets. Then the helicopter showed up, flying low and slow, and playing a spotlight around the neighborhood.

This went on for some time. We soon remembered we hadn’t locked the backyard, which is of course precisely the sort of thing you want to remember in a situation like this. After a long time, it seemed, events outside calmed down enough that we drifted off back to sleep, but I’m pretty sure the cops were still roaming around when we did.

Turns out it was a drug sting gone bad; during a buy attempt, four dealers apparently decided to rob the undercover officers, who took exception thereto. An HPD officer is in the hospital; one of his assailants is dead, another in the hospital, and the other two are in custody.