Who Forged These Chains?

For someone who works with computers, I have very little respect for them. Perhaps that’s left over from a programming class where the teacher reminded us that the computer only does what we tell it to do. It’s mindless. Or more likely it has been experience reinforcing this: the computer program is only as good as its author, and I’ve seen so many that aren’t. What this results in, however, is prejudicial treatment of the machines. I simply assume that my experiences with them will be even worse than experiences with human, so I despise voice mail jail (Press 0 for an operator.), interactive voice response systems (Hi, Siri!), time-sheets, and resume sifting by keyword. This disrespect is misplaced; it’s no fault of the computer’s own that it is incompetent and hard to deal with. It’s the fault of those humans who designed it. But they are anonymous and the computer sits there, refusing to take what I give it until I alter my behavior to suit its inflexibility. I’m not the one wrong; it is. Why? Because I am not the computer’s accessory. It is doing a task for me. Why does it end up being the other way ’round?

Speaking of Hate

I really hate that the rhetoric of liberty is perverted in the service of illiberal causes. And I hate this not just because of the hypocrisy of it. I hate this because now that the language of liberty is indeliably associated with those wishing to deny liberty to others, it is relatively simple for all who wish to deny liberty to others to argue that it is in fact those who wish to defend liberty who are in reality attempting to suppress it.

For example, it is well-known that the Ku Klux Klan would deny liberty to blacks, Jews, and Catholics, among others. Yet in rallying people to their cause, they speak of defending their freedoms. Now any who would defend liberty can be discounted as fellow travelers, tarred by association.

This rhetorical identification allows those who would expand their power at the expense of liberty greater discretion. You don’t really want to be like them, do you?

What, Me Worry? I’ve Done Nothing Wrong.

One thing I’ve never quite understood is how advocates for expansive government power never quite seem able to imagine themselves as being on the unpleasant receiving end of that power.

Take, for example, Michelle Malkin, who has been a vocal and enthusiastic proponent of the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act but is now, finally, concerned that her liberty might be at risk. I’m not alone in seeing the irony in this.

It would, however, be a crying shame if the people whose party was until recently the token opposition conveniently forgot their defense of liberty now that they are in power.

Somebody Watching Over Me

In Sleeper (1973), there is discussion between Miles and Luna over belief in God. Luna starts, asking Miles. Miles responds in a typically Allen fashion. After Luna complains that she doesn’t understand anything Miles says, he asks if she believes in God.

“Well, I believe there is somebody out there who watches over us.”

“Unfortunately it’s the government.”

Angling for Satisfaction

excerpts from, and an interview with the author of, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency are disturbing, and reinforce what we already suspected.

In what I hope is not a quixotic exercise, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has brought suit, Jewel v. National Security Agency, et al.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government agencies today [September 18, 2008] on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal, unconstitutional, and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records. The five individual plaintiffs are also suing President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington, former Attorney General and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and other individuals who ordered or participated in the warrantless domestic surveillance.

Go Wake Up the Judge

You know how in the movies, when the cops want to bust in on the mob doing their dirty deeds, first they go wake up the judge in the middle of the night, or drag him out of his poker game or away from his mistress, and have him issue a warrant?

Oh, wait, those aren’t current movies.

In an otherwise interesting post, Jeff Jarvis writes

“It so happens that I agree with Obama on this issue (and I know my view is as unpopular as his). When government forces you do to something then that force must come with immunity. The problem is not the telcos going along but the government making the demand and there being no check on that. But that’s a different debate.”

There was no force. There was willing participation without a warrant. Contrast with Qwest, which refused. The remaining telecommunication providers went along because it was their Patriotic Duty, even though their participation was illegal without a warrant. If there was force, it was a kind peculiar to regulatory regimes: trading dirty deeds for FCC merger approval.

There was a check, even if a pathetic one of Top Secret paperwork known only by handful of amenable judges. The administration ignored it.

The revisions supplant that paperwork check with an even flimsier one, the ipse dixit clause, which lets the Executive do anything as long as the Executive says the Executive says it is ok.

That’s not a check. That’s a blank check.

Remember, They Are Your Representatives

Dear Congressman Hall:

Thank you for your thoughtful and considered response to the concerns expressed in my mail of February 15th this year. Unfortunately, I read this evening that the House passed a compromise bill (H.R. 6304) that contained language permitting the Executive and abetting telecommunication firms to escape responsibility for their actions over the past seven years, as well as granting permission to this and future Executives to peak into our bedroom windows, listen to our most intimate conversations, and learn far to much of our habits without the simple pleasure of a warrant.

Thank you for voting against this bill. I do wish that your fellow members of Congress would show the intestinal fortitude necessary to defend Liberty from Power these days. Perhaps your party’s presumptive nominee for President might remind the Senate that these additional powers are unnecessary and undesirable — and that the citizens of this great Nation do not desire that the Executive enjoy them.


C. William Cox, Jr.

Every Now and Again a Writer Takes a Plane

Peggy Noonan is tired of the security theater at the airport.

Why do we do this when you know I am not a terrorist, and you know I know you know I am not a terrorist? Why this costly and harassing kabuki when we both know the facts, and would agree that all this harassment is the government’s way of showing “fairness,” of showing that it will equally humiliate anyone in order to show its high-mindedness and sense of justice? … All the frisking, beeping and patting down is demoralizing to our society. It breeds resentment, encourages a sense that the normal are not in control, that common sense is yesterday.

She also has a suggestion for Barack Obama.

Compulsory Education

via Arnold Kling, we learn that the State of California does not like home-schooling by parents who are not also teachers, on the assumption that certification ensures quality. Mr. Kling pulls out this quote from the article.

“Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children,” wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed by the two other members of the district court. “Parents who fail to [comply with school enrollment laws] may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program.”

I’m not sure what interest the State has in compelling schooling, but I am sure that I have an interest in not being compelled.

You Made Your Bed, Now Lie in It

I read Joel Spolsky’s “Martian Headsets” post a while back, in which he discusses Microsoft’s about-face with regards to Internet Explorer 8 in terms of balancing backward-compatibility with standards compliance, as if they are necessarily incompatible. Mark Pilgrim followed up with this funny translation into colloquial English.

So I was reading Spolsky’s piece, and nodding, and sort of agreeing that his central premise was correct, and then I got to this part, the conclusion.

98% of the world will install IE8 and say, “It has bugs and I can’t see my sites.” They don’t give a flicking flick about your stupid religious enthusiasm for making web browsers which conform to some mythical, platonic “standard” that is not actually implemented anywhere. They don’t want to hear your stories about messy hacks. They want web browsers that work with actual web sites.

Damn straight we want web browsers that work with actual web sites. But I must beg to differ about 98% of the world installing Internet Exploder 8 of their own volition. If they’re not using Firefox 3.0 because their friends told them it’s the bomb, they’re still using AOL, or Internet Explorer 6 on Windows 2000, or maybe Internet Explorer 7 on Windows XP — but the only reason they switched to IE7 is because it just happened, and unless IE8 offers some compelling advantage, that is the only reason they will switch to IE8.

Oh, and the reason IE8 won’t work with some websites is not standards. Opera and Firefox and Safari do just fine. It’s Microsoft. Site developers have been kowtowing to Internet Explorer’s quirks for years, and have come up with tricks to make Internet Explorer display the site the way that they want the site to be displayed. Either they fork their content so that IE gets the “good stuff,” or they’re willingly putting in more effort to please those customers who just happen to be stuck with a browser older than my kids. (And, no, I don’t mean Netscape Communicator 4.0.) The way around that impasse is to quit being Internet Explorer. Quit asking for special treatment. Quit demanding a segregated web.

We want web browsers that just work with web sites. And we want them to just work whether we’ve chosen to use Microsoft Windows Vista, Apple iPhone, Nintendo Wii, or Ubuntu Linux.

Low Opinion of the Press?

Would you like your opinion of the Fourth Estate lowered further? Thought it couldn’t get any worse? Suspect that journalists on deadline have less scruples than a Congressman on a junket? Then read Glenn Greenwald‘s series on how the chattering classes have disconnected their brains from their mouths.

On the one hand, criticism of the media is a bit much like navel gazing, since one can find exceptional coverage of important matters. The Associated Press did notice that footnote, after all. But it is exceptional. The vast bulk is trivial. Where Greenwald errs is in asserting that this is exclusively a “right-wing” or Republican phenomenon. Perhaps the Democrats, as a party, are simply less competent in their manipulation, but all in power attempt to distract the People from their actions.

Bread and circuses, my friends, bread and circuses.

Yoo Hoo! Cato! Over Here!

I’m surprised that Cato hasn’t mentioned the stink around the latest memorandum from John Yoo [part 1, part 2]. Perhaps they are as shocked, shocked!, as I am to learn that the Executive has been up to no good.

There are more memoranda, which are perhaps just as shocking, in the same vein. The Associated Press noticed one mentioned in a footnote which blithely remarked that,

Our office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.

Excuse me? Come again?

Domestic military operations?

The Castle

At the age of 19, Murat Kurnaz vanished into America’s shadow prison system in the war on terror. He was from Germany, traveling in Pakistan, and was picked up three months after 9/11. But there seemed to be ample evidence that Kurnaz was an innocent man with no connection to terrorism. The FBI thought so, U.S. intelligence thought so, and German intelligence agreed. But once he was picked up, Kurnaz found himself in a prison system that required no evidence and answered to no one. [CBS News]

Kick the Ankle Biters

One Howard Kurtz appears to be employed by The Washington Post to read the web and regurgitate it with perspective. Must be nice. A while back, in evaluating whether Hillary Clinton had any hope against the swell of support behind Barack Obama, he wrote:

Here’s another example [of how Obama has not faced tough criticism from the press], from the conservative side. How many stories even took note of Obama’s vote on a Bush-backed bill to expand the government’s surveillance powers?

“As good of a campaign as Obama has run,” says Bull Dog Pundit, “you do wonder if he’s really given any thought to the fact that he actually might become the president. How else to explain his ‘No’ vote on a bill that was overwhelmingly supported 67-31.”

Perhaps he voted that way because the bill is wrong and unnecessary.

But why does Mr. Kurtz assume that Senator Obama would be pilloried for not giving the Executive everything it wants? Perhaps this vote appeals, not, as the ankle biter suggests, to “his far-left base,” but to his far-right base, and to innocent Americans world-wide.