Sunday, September 24, 2006

I like to see the birds moonwalking.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Yoo-Tang Clan

Listen to this mashup of the Wu-Tang Clan, John Yoo, and el presidente (.mp3)

The ongoing fight between our various branches of government over the use of torture is heating up as Senator McCain squares off against the Bush administration.

Recently, Matt Lauer went toe-to-toe (literally) with Bush over recent CIA leaks about secret prisons in Europe where terrorist suspects have been subjected to a variety of techniques that anybody who watches 24 would probably consider to be "torture." Bush's emphasis here, as with most of the speeches he has given recently, rests firmly on the "lawful" nature of these interrogations. Lawful as determined by lawyers in the Justice Department.

Meanwhile, the mainstream press is finally starting to have a hard time understanding how exactly waterboarding, a technique first used in the Spanish Inquisition, is legal under the Geneva Convention. The article notes that, in prior wars, including Vietnam and the Spanish-American war, US solidiers were in some cases either discharged or jailed for using this technique.

Is there something different about this war? Where did the Bush administration get the idea that, regardless of the morality or effectiveness of the tactics, they have legal support?

Enter John Yoo, currently a professor at Berkeley, but formerly an employee at the US Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Yoo authored a number of memos shortly after 9/11 pointing out that, under a textual analysis of the Geneva Convention, many of the prisoners we've captured in our war on terror do not qualify for protection under the Geneva Convention at all. They aren't fighting under command of a nation-state, they've attacked civilians deliberately, etc, etc.. A brilliant move on his part, since the need to define torture was sidestepped altogether.

In playground terms, it becomes - if they don't play by the rules, we won't play by the rules.

Even if there are valid arguments as to why the Geneva Convention, as a whole, could be outdated, that still begs the question. What are the rules?

Apparently, there aren't any. In Mr. Yoo's universe, the president may, in a time of war, do whatever he wants.

If you think I'm exaggering, listen to this interview from last December. The quote below is starting to get visibility in the blog world. No major paper has the guts to run it. If you think it might be taken out of context, listen yourself.

Doug Cassel: If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?
John Yoo: No treaty.
Doug Cassel: Also no law by Congress -- that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo...
John Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

(emphasis added)

Wait, this reminds me of a song by the Wu-Tang Clan...."Method Man."

The intro goes something like this:

Yeah, I'll fuckin
Yeah I'll fuckin lay your nuts on a fuckin dresser
Just your nuts layin on a fuckin dresser
And bang them shits with a spiked fuckin bat
Whassup? BLAOWWW!!

So the message from Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bush is that, in times of war, the President ain't nothin to fuck with. No, not the U.S., which also includes Congress and the Supreme Court. Just the President.

For a brilliantly concise explanation of just how legally wrong Mr. Yoo's arguments in light of the Constitution, read Glenn Greenwald's article.

For the non-lawyers, just consider these quotes from a few people who Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bush probably think are hopelessly out-of-date:

"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."
Winston Churchill

To bereave a man of life, [says he] or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government.
Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

So one of my tenants got drunk last night, blacked out, and went a bit nuts. Starting throwing large chunks of firewood at another tenant's head. Sane tenant ran outside and called the cops while crazy tenant broke beer bottles on the ground inside and basically stomped around like a Viking. Four cop cars came to sleepy Beacon Hill. Six cops with shotguns on the lawn. Crazy tenant won't leave the house. Cops run the name. Turns out he has a gun registered (which nobody knew), and, that he's been arrested before for minor assault charges before (bar fights, etc.)

Under these conditions, cops won't enter the house - the guy who may have a gun needs to come out. He won't come out. More cops come. They establish a "command post" down the street. Cop in charge tells sane tenant that only S.W.A.T. can enter the house, and if they do, they will use tear gas. Sane tenant says, whoa, whoa, let's take a deep breath, I can sleep somewhere else for the night, will you go in and get him tomorrow morning, without S.W.A.T., when he's sober or asleep? Cops agree.

I have to learn how to evict a tenant quickly. What a sad sad hassle.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

If you want to know what I think of the war on terrorism, read Bruce Schneier's newsletter. Bruce is a legend in the world of cryptography and computer security, but more recently has become interested in a broader range of security issues. I agree with him on most of his criticisms of our administration's current tactics.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

BlockRocker is my favorite mashup. It combines Windows Live Expo (craigslist-esque) classified ads with Google Maps geotagging....if they could get a critical mass in a particular city, I think this would be pretty useful for finding deals.
You might look at the page and go...wha? Instead of searching for a particular thing or browsing a category, try searching in the map first for your neighborhood and seeing everything available there.

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Why you probably didn't get Snakes on a Plane

Snakes on a Plane is not what you think it is. It is not a campy movie with dialogue and acting unintentionally awful that we could mock it on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It is not a straight ahead gorefest, even though it was directed by the director of Final Desination 2. It is not a comedy of one-liners like Airplane.

Snakes on a Plane is a self-aware genre mashup - a metafilm. It shares more in common with Adapatation than any of the above movies. It starts with a ridiculous premise, but then populates the movie with characters who realize just how ridiculous the premise is, make comments indicating their awareness of media and how it relates to their current situation, and who behave in a suprisingly realistic manner in response to the absurd starting conditions.

You probably didn't get Snakes on a Plane because you went through so many levels of - "Ah, I know what kind of movie that will be" based on the incredible and unforeseen guerilla marketing explosion. And then you decided that you didn't need to see it because the marketing must have been the message. You were probably wrong. The paradox is that, although the movie may be complimented for being, in terms of plot, exactly what it says it is, odds are you will appreciate it more for how it makes you think about movies in general. It's an interactive film. Go watch your 4th Fellini film instead if you want, and you'll find yourself led down the exact equisitely emotional arc that you expect. At the end, you will have been entertained, but will have learned nothing new about why you watch movies in the first place.

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I warn you now, this is going to seem overly technical to many, but this new Dapper service is going to have a big impact on the superinformationhighway. What this does is allow a moderately technical user, without actually writing code, to rapidly create mashups of multiple web sites. It collects information from any site, and spits out XML, RSS, or whatever sort of "feed" one needs to create charts, personalized portals, metasearch engines, etc...without permission of the original sites. The legal implications alone are interesting, but the reason why you should care is that, (1) this makes personalization a commodity, and (2) it opens up content sources far beyond those currently available for consumption in a newsreader or on a personalized home page by Google, Yahoo, etc...

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