Random Musings
Friday, January 30, 2004
All Headline News - Jacksonville Tries to Build Around Bowl: "In a year, the city originally named Cowford - an English translation of the Indian name Wacca Pilatka - will find out if it will be perceived as a cow town, or if it really can hang with the big boys.

'We know we're not Houston,' said Peter Rummell, co-chair of the Jacksonville Super Bowl host committee, referring to this year's Super Bowl city. 'We don't have a 2 million-square-foot convention center. The secret in Jacksonville is we need to be great for five days, we don't need to be great forever.'"

That smacking sound you hear are the heads of Jacksonville tourism officials hitting their desks in dismay. "We're Only Great for Five Days!" is not exactly the slogan they wanted to go with, I'm sure.


Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Maui woman's troubles escalated, records show - The Honolulu Advertiser - Hawaii's Newspaper: "Last year she served at least three months in Maui Community Correctional Center after a conviction for stealing a pickup truck and possessing burglar's tools and crystal methamphetamine. Then she failed to show up for a Sept. 10 drug test required of her probation and had her supervised release revoked.
Her problems came to a violent conclusion Friday when she was shot and killed by a police officer. According to police, she was driving a stolen 2004 Cadillac and trying to get away when she was hit in the head by a single bullet, fired by an officer whose life, police said, was endangered by her erratic driving."

It's really a shame that this woman had to die, but unfortunately that is the kind of thing that can happen when you do drugs, steal cars and try to run from police. It's called "assumption of risk." Getting shot and killed by police is an occupational hazard when you're a car thief who doesn't surrender when ordered to.

I feel badly for the family of this woman and for the police officer who had to shoot her to stop her little crime spree. Unfortunately this case just underlines the problems caused in our society by drug abuse and of being soft on crime.

Car theft and burglarly from autos is so lightly punished in Hawaii that it might as well not even be illegal. Just about every story about car thieves getting arrested or convicted reveals that the thieves in question have long records that often include a dozen or more prior convictions for auto theft. As usual they will get sentenced to some months in jail, working out with their friends, a sentence that will inevitably be halved for "good behavior." In the end they'll probably have served what amounts to some weeks in jail, then be sent back onto the street to steal more cars until they get caught again and repeat the process.


Thursday, January 22, 2004
Google spawns social networking service | CNET News.com: "Google tip-toed into the hot market of online social networks with the quiet launch of Orkut.com on Thursday, CNET News.com has learned.
The search company, which is expected to go public this year, is flexing its power with its Internet fans by constantly offering new services, including comparison shopping and news search. Orkut could be the clearest signal that Google's aspirations don't end with search.
'Orkut is an online trusted community Web site designed for friends. The main goal of our service is to make the social life of yourself and your friends more active and stimulating,' according to the Web site, which states that the service is 'in affiliation with Google.'"

These social networks are an interesting idea, but I'm a little wary of any service that wants me to give them a list of my friends and family. It's sort of like dragging your friend to a party full of people without telling them first. It will remain to be seen how Orkut implements their service, of course, but I would want to be very careful to get the consent of my friends first.

Unfortunately Orkut, perhaps because it's still in the very early stages, is a "by invitation only" community - which means that you have to wait for somebody you know to invite you to join. I was hoping to check it out to get a better feel for their implementation.

The other thing with social networks is that too many of us forget that we're already members of a social network. It's called "our neighborhood." One of the signs that you're too addicted to the Internet is that you spend 3 hours a week chatting with your friend in South Africa but haven't said hello to your next door neighbor in 6 months.

I suppose the argument could be made that geographical neighbors are not friends of choice as much as friends of chance -- you can't usually pick and choose who is going to live next door to you and maybe they don't have common interests. Maybe they're not even nice people. I worry sometimes, however, that we're neglecting the people who are proximate in our lives, in favor of people who may even be anonymous across the expanse of the Internet.

Suggestion: One day a year organize a block party of your neighbors. A BBQ, pool party, game of cards or croquet. Maybe for the Super Bowl or New Year's Eve. Or just because it's Thursday. One day a year, invite them all to come together and meet each other. Some of them may turn out to be pretty nice folks.

And you'll have something new to tell your friend in South Africa.


Wednesday, January 21, 2004
CNN.com - Court weighs teenager's sentence - Jan. 21, 2004: "ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- Attorneys for a high school football player convicted of having consensual sex with a fellow student told the Georgia Supreme Court on Wednesday that the teen's automatic 10-year sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. "

While I certainly don't encourage teenagers to have sex, especially on school grounds, this seems incredibly excessive for what was apparently a consensual sexual encounter among two teenagers who were, despite the slight age difference, essentially peers. There doesn't seem to be any complaint of force or coercion.

While I agree that he is technically guilty, 10 years in prison seems very excessive to me. I would think, especially in light of the fact that he is an excellent student with good prospects, that some sort of probation would better serve the needs of justice here.


Yahoo! News - ACLU: Terror Database Threatens Privacy: "NEW YORK - A seven-state crime database launched with $12 million in federal funds is a more powerful threat to privacy than its organizers acknowledge, the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) alleged Wednesday after obtaining documents relating to the program.

The law enforcement officials and private database company behind the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, or Matrix, contend it is merely an investigative tool that helps police quickly gather already-available information on suspects. "

I'm afraid I don't understand the fuss here - it doesn't appear as though any of the information in this system would not already be available to law enforcement. This tool just allows them to gather and utilize it more efficiently. It seems like the ACLU is complaining that this gives law enforcement too much of an advantage over the criminals. What next...are they going to complain about databases of fingerprints, insisting that police should go back to index card systems?

It's not like this is cameras in the bedroom. The police already have this data - unless there's more to this story than I've got.


Tuesday, January 20, 2004
CNN.com - Gephardt formally bows out of Campaign 2004 - Jan. 20, 2004: "(CNN) -- Rep. Dick Gephardt, a fourth-place finisher in the Iowa caucuses where he once had been considered the man to beat, formally announced Tuesday he is withdrawing from the Democratic presidential race. "

As a follow-up to my previous post...this pleases me as well. In the MSNBC debate I watched I thought that Gephardt's response to Al Sharpton's comments and his own remarks about increasing the minority government contracting quotas were the worst kind of racial pandering.

Increasing racial quotas does NOT level the playing field. Racial discrimination is wrong; regardless of who is getting discriminated for/against.


Saturday, January 17, 2004
Workers Assail Night Lock-Ins by Wal-Mart

Looking back to that night, Michael Rodriguez still has trouble believing the situation he faced when he was stocking shelves on the overnight shift at the Sam's Club in Corpus Christi, Tex.

It was 3 a.m., Mr. Rodriguez recalled, some heavy machinery had just crushed his ankle, and he had no idea how he would get to the hospital.

The Sam's Club, a Wal-Mart subsidiary, had locked its overnight workers in, as it always did, to keep robbers out and, as some managers say, to prevent employee theft. As usual, there was no manager with a key to let Mr. Rodriguez out. The fire exit, he said, was hardly an option — management had drummed into the overnight workers that if they ever used that exit for anything but a fire, they would lose their jobs.

I have sympathy for Mr. Rodriguez, but I'm really skeptical that using the fire exit for medical emergencies was prohibited. He claims that he was "locked in" and couldn't get to the hospital, but really...the fire exit was available to him.

If Wal-Mart had fired him for using it in a medical emergency I think they'd have had a massive lawsuit on their hands.

That's said I do agree that Wal-Mart should have somebody on-hand who has the keys.


FOXNews.com - Foxlife - Reporter's Notebook: Inside the Jacko FrenzyThe Michael Jackson (search) case is like nothing you’ll ever see. Jackson is facing years behind bars, or a young boy and his family are lying. On this day, the first of many, the scene felt like someone had just dropped me into the middle of chapter nine of a Grisham novel. Lining the streets outside the courthouse were food vendors, fans from as far away as Norway and Poland, a woman with a portable piano, all sorts of banners, and a U-Haul truck filled with thousands of free T-shirts.

I'm afraid I don't really understand this mentality. It's one thing to enjoy the man's music. I don't understand people who would drop their whole lives and travel thousands of miles, undoubtedly at some expense, just to stand by the side of the road and gape at him as he goes by.

It's really sort of a bizarre culture here in America -- one that makes the National Enquirer successful. One that causes thousands (millions?) of people to idolize celebrities.

Michael Jackson may not be a pedophile, but he's certainly disturbed in his own way. He's an entertainer and he apparently has a cult following that rivals any - for reasons I don't entirely understand.

And of course the media is all too happy to feed the monster - more TV specials, more magazines, more headlines. Sell those papers, sell those ads, rake in that money. Either a little boy who was terribly molested is being trampled in this frenzy. Or an eccentric entertainer who has been wrongly accused is. One way or the other, the media train is rolling over somebody. And the average Americans are shoveling in the coal.

And then there's this...

His entourage includes dad Joe, brother Jermaine, sister Janet and twenty or so sharply dressed men from the Nation of Islam.

Does it seem odd that Michael Jackson, perhaps the most famous Jehovah's Witness in the world, would be getting visible support from the Nation of Islam?


Friday, January 16, 2004
BBC NEWS | Americas | Battle over 'dirty bomb' suspect: "The judges said Mr Padilla should be released from military custody within 30 days, but added that the US Government was free to transfer him to civilian jurisdiction.
At the time, White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the court's ruling 'troubling and flawed' and said the US Justice Department would seek a stay on the court's ruling and request further judicial review. "

What's really "troubling and flawed" is the notion that the White House can just order American citizens to be locked away indefinitely without any due process whatsoever. That is a heinous (and unconstitutional) abuse of power, in my opinion, and should frighten all of us.


Thursday, January 15, 2004
Aljazeera.Net - Violence across Iraq costs more lives: "Violence across Iraq costs more lives"

This is a fairly ordinary article about the daily operations in Iraq. In the article they detail a handful of incidents where Iraqi citizens were killed by anti-tank land mines or where American forces killed Iraqi opposition fighters in firefights or while the insurgents were planting bombs.

What is interesting, however, is the side photo of a wounded Iraqi which is captioned "Iraqis are increasingly coming under fire from occupation troops." Seems like a rather inflammatory caption which doesn't appear to be at all supported in the accompanying story.

Ah, journalism.


Slashdot | Star Wars Sequel Trilogy Rumors: "'The actor who played Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy, Peter Mayhew, will be in Episode III. Of course, this has been previously reported and comes as no surprise. However, TheForce is reporting that Mayhew's contract contains a stipulation that he must also appear in Episodes 7, 8, and 9."

Pardon me for getting non-political for a moment...this is very exciting news and confirms a rumor that circulated back even during the first trilogy -- that Star Wars was eventually going to be a 9-film set...in three trilogies.

It seems to just be rumor right now, but I hope it's true.


Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Op-Ed Contributor: Follow the MoneyBut there is another line of questioning officials might pursue — one that depends less on the cooperation of Mr. Hussein than on the assistance of the United States Federal Reserve Bank. Among Mr. Hussein's possessions when he was captured was three-quarters of a million dollars in United States currency in crisp new bills. Whence came the gentleman's stash?

What a fine question. The essence of this piece is that when Saddam was captured he had quite a lot of U.S. currency and that since the bills were, to some extent, sequentially numbered, the U.S. Treasury service should be able to track what bank they went to when they left the mint and that bank should have a record of which customer they went to. Since the bills are sequential they weren't passed out by tellers onesy-twosy but rather in bulk to a large customer.

This investigation could go a long way towards identifying sources of funding for Saddam and his ilk.

Unfortunately it appears as though no such investigation is imminent. For more details...follow the link and read the story.


CNN.com - Leading Baathist caught in Iraq - Jan. 14, 2004: "U.S. officials said Wednesday that a document found when Saddam Hussein was captured warned supporters to be wary of cooperating with foreign jihadists.
The directive, which appears to have been written after Saddam was ousted in April, advises his supporters not to get too close to Islamic jihadists coming into Iraq from other countries, officials said.
The document would seem to contradict the assertion by some Bush administration officials about possible close cooperation between Saddam's government and al Qaeda.
But U.S. officials warned against making too much of the new evidence. "

Indeed. Apparently we're only supposed to make too much of evidence that supports the administration's claims. (Sorry, couldn't resist)


BBC NEWS | Middle East | Hamas woman bomber kills Israelis: "Hamas said it sent a woman because of growing Israeli security 'obstacles' facing its male bombers. "


The BBC's Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says it appears the Islamic movement is putting practical considerations ahead of ideological ones - they are hoping women may have a better chance than men of evading Israeli security precautions.


Israeli officials said the bomber tricked soldiers by saying she had a metal implant in her leg which would trigger metal detectors.

"Because she was a woman, a female soldier was sent for to search her. She used this opportunity to enter the building, a metre or two past the door, and blow up," said Israeli Brigadier-General Gadi Shamni, commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

Indeed - one of the problems with relying upon profiling as the only tool for screening for terrorists is that the terrorists adapt their tactics. When you start concentrating on middle-eastern men, they'll send a woman. Or a person who is not (or does not appear to be) middle-eastern.

Perhaps they'll dress one up as a nun, or hide the explosives in a wheelchair or other apparent medical device designed to get past security.

We should not underestimate our enemies. They are actively looking for ways to successfully attack us.


Bounding the Global War on Terrorism

This is the report published by the Army War College which is raising so many eyebrows. In the report Dr. Jeffrey Record opines that the war in Iraq was a "unnecessary preventative war of choice against a deterred Iraq." Further Dr. Record says that the war in Iraq was a strategic mistake as it has diverted considerable attention and resources away from the war of necessity against Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.

This report is a very interesting read for those not deterred by 50 pages of policy analysis. I highly recommend it.


TheStar.com - O'Neill backtracks on Bush broadside: "Rumsfeld said if O'Neill thought Bush came into office with a predisposition to invade Iraq, that is a 'total misunderstanding' of the situation.
But he said when the administration came into power in January, 2001, the only place in the world where an enemy fired at Americans 'with impunity' was in Iraq, where pilots were enforcing 'no-fly zones.'
'It was something the president had to address, did address,' Rumsfeld said."

The problem here is that it's something that was addressed. When our planes were targetted by Iraqi radar or shot at frequently we fired back often (and entirely appropriately) destroying the radar and air defense units that had targetted them.


Sunday, January 11, 2004
Yahoo! News - Sharpton Blasts Dean on Race in Debate: "DES MOINES, Iowa - Under fire in a campaign debate, Howard Dean (news - web sites) conceded grudgingly Sunday night that he never named a black or Latino to his cabinet during nearly 12 years as governor of Vermont. "

The logical question here is: How many qualified blacks and latinos were there in Vermont that he could have appointed and who wanted the job? If the answer is "None" then it's hardly Dean's fault for not appointing any. If the answer is that he turned away many qualified minorities for those positions in favor of less qualified whites then Rev. Sharpton has a point.

Update: I've read today that Vermont is about 96% white (CNN) which would seem to explain the lack of minorities in Dean's cabinet. It's entirely possible that with so few minorities in his state there just weren't many qualified candidates who wanted the job.

I realize that Rev. Sharpton says he is just exploiting a door that Governor Dean opened, but frankly it just smells racist when you make race the primary issue in who does or doesn't get appointed.


Thursday, January 08, 2004
CNN.com - Powell on WMD existence: 'This game is still unfolding' - Jan. 8, 2004: "'We recommend the formation of a senior blue ribbon commission to examine this in an independent, nonpartisan way and make recommendations for how to insulate intelligence assessors from political pressures,' Cirincione said. "

Stepping away from who is or isn't at fault and whether or not the Bush administration deliberately exaggerated their claims to make the case for war in Iraq, this one piece of advice is key. Unfortunately it doesn't appear until nearly the very end of the article, but it is key.

We do need to insulate our intelligence community, as much as possible, from political pressure. They must be able to offer objective assessments of the situation in any circumstances in order to provide us with the most accurate picture of what we're dealing with.

I also agree with the proposal that the CIA chief's job should be made into a professional position and not a political appointment.


Yahoo! News - U.S. Spyplanes, Anti-Explosion Unit Going to Iraq: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In the face of sophisticated attacks on U.S. forces, the Pentagon (news - web sites) is sending flocks of unmanned spyplanes and a new unit formed to deal with deadly explosive devices to Iraq (news - web sites) in the biggest rotation of its forces since World War II, a senior Army official said on Thursday. "

My first reaction is that this is a good idea.

My second reaction is to wonder why these sophisticated spyplanes aren't in the skies over Afghanistan looking for Osama Bin Laden.


Yahoo! News - Employers praise Bush's 'guest worker' plan: "President Bush (news - web sites)'s plan to offer legal status to millions of illegal immigrants working in the USA might mean a steadier labor supply for businesses who rely heavily on such employees. "

While I think this idea is basically a good one -- by making it easier for immigrant workers to be here legally it reduces the incentive to sneak into the country -- I'm concerned that a lot of the predictions for it are overestimated. I believe that a lot of the menial jobs "that Americans don't want" that are being done by illegal immigrants are being done in illegal working conditions. Below-minimum wage salaries, no health care, no OSHA supervision...

The announcements of this program have been accompanied by glowing promises of health care and retirement benefits and such for these immigrant workers. But I think a big part of the reason why people, especially in the agriculture and "grey market manufacturing" sectors hire illegal immigrants is because they work cheap, get paid under the table and don't get insurance and other benefits that are costly to the employers. Is it realistic to expect these employers to now gladly accept what may be significant increases in their labor costs -- or will they continue to seek out under-the-table workers who may well be undocumented?

This program is a good idea; not entirely unlike things I've advocated in the past ("Make it easier for them to come in legally") and it's the right thing to do as a matter of public policy and to improve our security. We shouldn't automatically assume that this is going to mean a life in suburbia for those workers, however.


Wednesday, January 07, 2004
France Seeking Passenger Who Missed Canceled Flight: "An official at the French intelligence service, DST, said the no-show passenger was named Abdul Hay and that American intelligence officials were alarmed by the name because it was similar to that of a man who was among more than 40 Taliban prisoners who escaped from an Afghan prison in October."

While I understand that we have to exercise caution and pursue every lead, it would seem awfully stupid for this "Abdul Hay" fellow to use his real name (or something very similiar) if he's truly an escaped prisoner. I guess we shouldn't assume he's smart.


Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Guardian Unlimited | World Latest | Democrat Runners Rap Bush Foreign Policy: "Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said Bush has been ``woefully disengaged'' from efforts to reconcile India and Pakistan, two countries at dagger-point on the Asian subcontinent.. "

Lieberman once again displays a terrible sense of timing; criticizing Bush for his approach to Pakistan and India just as those two nations announce historic efforts at reconciliation.

I hope he didn't leave the debate early to go buy Britney Spears a wedding present.


Yahoo! News - Media Wants Bryant Hearing Open: "EAGLE, Colo. - Media organizations on Tuesday asked the judge in Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case to keep open an upcoming court hearing involving the medical history of the NBA star's accuser. "

Of course they want the case open. This case has basketball, sex, money and crime and for media organizations that spells M-O-N-E-Y. Just like the OJ trial which we were drowned in for hour after hour the media knows that these high-profile cases sell a lot of newspapers and get a lot of people excited and watching their televisions. That means good ratings and that means lots of advertising revenue.

Call me a cynic but I don't buy the old "The public has a right to know" line. In this case I think it's "The public has a right to make us rich."


Lawmakers urge Indian firms to hire in States | CNET News.com: "NEW DELHI--As worries mount over U.S. jobs lost to countries such as India, some members of Congress say one solution would be for Indian companies to hire U.S. workers."

Aside from forestalling potential legislative action I'm wondering what the advantage to Indian companies would be. Certainly not cheaper labor. Are Indian consumers going to start getting their customer service calls routed to Texas, where Texans trained to fake Indian accents will attempt to help them?


NASA Mars Rover Sends Color Photos of Red Planet: "NASA's Mars rover transmitted its first color photographs early this morning from the red planet after a successful landing late Saturday night. The high-resolution photographs showcase the Martian landscape from the rover's landing site in Gusev Crater. "

I'm a big fan of space exploration, but remind me again why we're spending all of these resources to determine if there was water on Mars a thousand years ago? It just seems that in an age when school test scores are disappointing and Osama Bin Laden is still a threat to our nation exploration of Mars, however exciting that may be, just doesn't seem that important.

I think I'd rather see NASA concentrating on improving the International Space Station (http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station/), continuing development on better reusable space transports or looking for other habitable planets.

Just my opinion, of course.


MTV.com - News -Marriage? What Marriage? Britney Was Never A Wife: "The next time Britney Spears gets married, she can, if she wants to, still wear white. Courtesy of the legal loophole of an annulment, Spears has never, technically, been married."

It sort of amuses me that Britney and her friend can stagger into a wedding chapel, get married "as a joke", get it annuled 55 hours later and there is not a peep from the "Save Traditional Marriage" people.

Apparently it's o.k. to make a mockery of marriage just so long as you're not gay.

Dennis Rodman can get drunk and spend 9 days "married" to Carmen Electra and golddigger Darva Conger can "marry" a guy she met an hour earlier on TV because she thinks he's rich...but heaven forbid a gay couple who loves each other and is trying to make a life together wants to get their family legally recognized.

I have a "traditional marriage" who is going to defend it from Drew Barrymore's next 3 month nuptual?


Sunday, January 04, 2004
CNN.com - Dean lumps rivals with Bush in Iowa debate - Jan. 4, 2004: "Another off-the-cuff comment that has drawn criticism from Dean's opponents was his assertion that Americans are no safer with ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in custody.
'I don't know how anybody could say that we're not safer with a homicidal maniac, a brutal dictator, an enemy of the United States, a supporter of terrorism, a murderer of hundreds of thousands of his own people in prison instead of in power,' Lieberman said. "

Lieberman here is making an error that has become rather surprisingly common these days and that is seein the situation as a binary decision: Either Saddam is captured or he is in power.

Every reasonable person I know believes the world is better off without Saddam in power. Every reasonable person I know is also glad that we have finally captured Saddam. However, there is some disagreement about whether or not Saddam's capture (not his ouster from power) really makes us any safer.

Saddam was somewhat contained during his last months in power, and he was VERY contained living in his little "spider hole" under a farm. The only thing about his capture that makes me feel any safer is the hope that he is revealing information in captivity that will lead to the capture of the people who are still dangerous and the seizure of weapons and tools that endanger us.

I'm glad he's out of power and I'm glad we've captured him. Mr. Liberman should know better than to assume that those two things are mutually exclusive.


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