Posts tagged ‘iraq’

California Supreme Court backs gay marriage! and other news, too

Whoa! It seems I was totally wrong when I expected the California Supreme Court to uphold the ban on gay marriage. Instead, they struck down the ban as unconstitutional, allowing same sex marriage in the state. Conservatives are already rallying to try to get a constitutional amendment banning it on the ballots in November, but it seems pretty unlikely that they’d be able to get the two thirds majority needed to pass it. Edit: it only takes a simple majority, which seems much easier. I don’t know if it is likely to pass. Hooray, progress!

Also, there is currently some finegaling in Congress these days over funding the Iraq invasion. It would be awesome if the legislators finally grew a spine and started passing bills that would, you know, stop wars of aggression and ban torture and provide education and medical benefits to veterans (admittedly, that last one is not related to Congress, but it’s despicable enough to mention along with the rest of this crap). but unfortunately I doubt this will actually go anywhere, and even if it did, Bush would almost certainly veto any such measure.

In natural disaster news, the cyclone that hit Burma and the earthquake in China have each left tens of thousands dead. Burma is in trouble because it is a poor country that doesn’t have the infrastructure to help the refugees or to rescue the people still trapped. China is in trouble because the areas worst hit are in hard-to-reach mountainous areas, and the earthquake coupled with heavy rains the next day wiped out most of the roads and airports, so it’s hard to send aid to the victims.

Hooray, getting my blog back onto the “Civil Liberties and World News” bit, rather than the “and computer science and stuff” part. I had begun to wonder if I needed to change the title of this blog.

Bill Richardson: “It’s called diplomacy”

Today I got to hear New Mexico governor Bill Richardson speak about his aspirations to be president. He has lead quite a distinguished life of public service: he has also been the ambassador to the United Nations, and the US Secretary of Energy, as well as serving in the House of Representatives. With the possible exception of John Dean, Richardson has impressed me more than any other political candidate I’ve heard of. More about Bill Richardson than I ever imagined I’d write →

A bad news day

To get it out of the way, 32 people were killed today by a gunman at Virginia Tech. No one seems to have any more details yet, and I really can’t speculate on anything here.

The Democrats have tied military funding to a withdrawal of troops in 2008, though Bush plans to veto this bill. Expectations are that the Democrats will then try to tie such funding to measurable progress in Iraq itself. This seems unlikely to happen, however, because six Iraqi cabinet members resigned in protest of Prime Minister Al-Maliki’s close ties to the United States. These resignations were called for by Moqtada Al-Sadr, who also organized rallies in Baghdad in protest of the current government. This is a pretty big blow to Mr. Al-Maliki, but the government is expected to remain intact.

The European Union has reproached Russia for its heavy-handed crackdown on protesters, which ostensibly included beating reporters and passers-by, as well as arresting chess legend Garry Kasparov. I’ve caught bits of Russia becoming more USSR-like, but this has brought the issue to a head. President Putin has been locking down the country slowly but surely, with the latest move to pass laws of questionable constitutionality restricting the rights of protestors. Russia is gearing up for an election, and I honestly don’t know how these measures will affect it.

Finally, some good news for a change: the former Duke lacrosse players have been found wholly innocent of raping a stripper at a party. Unfortunately, they have already been found guilty in the eyes of the media, have received death threats, and can no longer safely return to Duke. Can anyone at Duke comment on how the student body has perceived these events?

News dump

There’s been a lot of news recently, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

Despite the inaction of the country as a whole, the western states have banded together to reduce carbon emissions, thereby joining the rest of the world in combating global warming. It’s pretty cool to watch the whole world (with a couple idiotic exceptions) come together to work on this stuff.

A battle has moved through the British courts over how far the freedom of the press extends: there is currently a scandal over a deal made by Tony Blair’s fundraisers, wherein they offered honours to various people in exchange for off-the-record loans during the campaign season, and then tried to cover up the whole thing. The government, claiming it would mess up the police investigation of the events, repeatedly tried to bar newspapers from discussing the evidence. However, it looks like the high court has sided with the press, and they can publish stories about the scandal. Much of this hinges on an email between Lord Levy and Ms. Turner discussing their deal, but I can’t seem to find a copy of the text online. I suspect this will damage even Tony Blair’s reputation, though I could be wrong about that.

Speaking of scandals and cover-ups, “Scooter” Libby has been found guilty of obstructing justice in the whole CIA leak thing (remember, the one with Valerie Plame?). It’s nice to see that his comeuppance has arrived, but it’s kinda too bad that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald couldn’t get enough evidence to try others; I strongly suspect Libby was the “fall guy,” and there are others who are equally guilty but will go free.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have been trying to put a timetable on the Iraq war and bring our troops home before Bush leaves the oval office. I strongly doubt this will actually happen, but it’s nice to see that they’re trying to hold him accountable, if only symbolically.

As usual, Bush has been greeted with violent protests every where he goes, because most of the world is reasonable and sees this man is a greedy warmonger. This is happening pretty consistently across all of Latin America, on top of Hugo Chavez’s scathing words against him (Bush is on a tour of the area at the moment).

Finally, the UN is beginning to consider an embargo against Iran over its nuclear programme, but China and Russia are expressing their doubts. We’ll see what happens, but Iran will probably not be faced with strong penalties.

As always, remember to use BugMeNot if you can’t access these or other articles.

Bush’s speech on troop levels

This evening, President Bush gave a speech about his new strategy in Iraq (link goes to the full text). This strategy basically seems to involve sending in 20,000 more troops and doing the same thing they’ve been doing all along. I seriously doubt this is a viable strategy, particularly when a significant part of the “extra” troops will come from simply extending the tours of the soldiers who are currently over there. Anderson Cooper had some interesting analysis, however: pulling out of Iraq would cause the country to break out into a Sunni/Shia civil war, rather than falling back into a state similar to what Saddam’s reign was like. Perhaps the US is actually doing a fair amount to help by keeping this war from bubbling to the surface. Perhaps it would be best to keep our noses out of their business, and let them fight their own wars without our intervention. Either way, it was a point of view I hadn’t heard before.

However, the thing that struck me most about the speech was that it didn’t end in “God bless America.” This is the first speech of his that I have heard that didn’t end that way (for instance, every State of the Union address he has given as well as his inaugural address ended with that or a similar phrase). Instead he hoped that the “Author of Liberty” would “guide us,” which is at least slightly less Christian. Perhaps he has realized that bringing fundamental Christianity into politics, particularly when he’s talking about a Muslim civil war, is a bad idea? Here’s hoping!

Different news

Things are at least beginning to change a little in American politics. The Democrats, since taking over the legislative branch of the government earlier this month, have already started passing ethics legislation to try to curb the problems Washington has been having with lobbyists. This is part of their larger plan to make changes now that they’re in power. We’ll see how far these measures actually go, but it’s at least a start. In particular, I hope they actually create an independent investigative group for ethics violations; it seems like many ethics problems in Congress get brushed aside because the people involved are also the ones in charge of policing such actions. Time will tell.

As part of rethinking the Iraq policy, President Bush has begun rearranging the military staff, and is considering sending in 30,000 more troops to the country. I don’t think adding in more troops is a good move; I imagine it would be more demoralizing for Iraqi civilians and give the insurgents hope because they were able to thwart the 140,000 US troops already over there. However, from what I’ve heard from Anderson Cooper’s interviews of soldiers in Iraq, they really need more troops, or else the country will never get out of its current troubles. I’m becoming more and more convinced that there is no way to get Iraq into a better situation in the foreseeable future, and the “best” thing for everyone might just be to pull out and let it sink into civil war for a couple years. I know it sounds heavy-handed, but I still haven’t heard of a strategy that doesn’t eventually degenerate into that anyway.

On a related note, the US death toll in Iraq broke 3,000 over New Years. I realize it’s not much compared to the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed (or the conflict in Darfur, or the Falun Gong persecution in China, etc), but it’s still worth noting.

A bit of a rant: the LA Time’s article that I linked to discusses “next week’s announcement next week” that President Bush is expected to give. Don’t they have editors for these articles? They could at least have someone give a quick once-over to these things. Bah.

The United Nations voted to impose sactions against Iran regarding its nuclear programme, and President Ahmadinejad has (I believe rightly) called these sanctions illegitimate, citing the right of all countries, according to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970, to develop peaceful nuclear energy programmes. and as former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter describes in his book Target Iran, the current weapons inspectors in Iran right now can find absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. So, here’s what we’ve got from Iran at the moment: peaceful nuclear development, denial of the Holocaust, vows to destroy Israel, rejection of every trading package which would supply them with nuclear energy without developing it on their own (including Russia’s very generous offer), and now correctly calling the UN on their misguided sanctions. What on earth are they trying to accomplish? They have all the drawbacks of a real programme and an empty threat, without any of the advantages of either one. Any insight would be appreciated.

It seems that AT&T has given up on their anti-net neutrality stance, though I suspect the issue will flare up again in a year or so. Since the last time I discussed it, I have been convinced that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a really good stance on the issue: neither “side” on the issue is particularly meritorious (getting rid of net neutrality is obviously a bad thing, but getting the US government to examine and regulate most of the world’s internet traffic is a privacy problem waiting to happen). I don’t have a good solution to this yet, but I’ll keep watching the issue.

There has been a bunch of other news since I last posted, but this is starting to get pretty long. The condensed version: Saddam Hussein was executed, Bangkok experienced a series of explosions New Years Eve which injured/killed surprisingly few people, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is wanking that his $200,000 salary isn’t enough money, and Microsoft gave nice laptops to some bloggers hoping they would post good stuff about the company, but instead has received a backlash from other bloggers (who I think are mainly jealous that they didn’t get one). Right… I think that’s all the news for now.

News and home

The news everyone seems to be talking about is that former US President Gerald Ford has died, presumably of something related to old age. Although I had always had the impression that he was a bumbling fool and everyone disliked him for pardoning Nixon (which apparently lead to his defeat in the next Presidential election), lots of people seem to be coming out of the woodwork and saying how great Ford was at bringing the nation together and healing them after the Watergate, Vietnam, and civil rights problems the country was experiencing.

In what I consider more interesting news, the Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that the state Senate must vote on the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. The legislature moved to recess without voting on it, which is against the state laws. However, the court aknowledges that they cannot force the lawmakers to vote on the issue (and the lawmakers have done this before). Assuming the amendment gets at least 25% of the Senate’s votes, it would go to a public election. This makes a lot of sense for constitutional amendments; it seems like they should be ratified by the people. However, it seems like a really bad idea to let the often ignorant, stupid, and bigoted masses decide on civil rights issues (can you imagine what would have happened if segregation had been put to a popular vote in 1954, instead of just letting Brown v. Board of Education stand?). We’ll see what happens, and although it would be nice if lawmakers followed the law, I really hope that gay marriages aren’t banned.

Finally, it looks like President Bush is considering changes in his Iraq policy, though I personally doubt he will set any sort of timetable. From what I’ve seen on CNN (Anderson Cooper is so awesome!), we need more troops over there to keep everything from collapsing into civil war (you know, more than it already has), but we don’t appear to have many more troops to send over. The whole thing is a disaster, but at least Bush is starting to consider new options instead of just burying his head in the sand. Time will tell how this turns out.

I’m back in MN for a week, and although it’s great to see friends from high school again (and hopefully play some more bridge with Jim), my mom is already driving me nuts. I think I just need to spend as much time as possible outside of the house, and I’ll be ok. If you’re in town, give me a call; my number is on Facebook (yes, psifer, it really is)!

Wm. Eli Trashes London!

I realize the title is a bit forced. The worst thing is that if you unscramble the anagram, it’s still a bit forced. Oh, well; they’re both cromulent titles/headlines.

First, some heartening news, as horrible as it is: the Iraq Study Group’s report, which says again that we’re losing the war, our troops, and the hearts and minds of all people involved, has made a lot of people unhappy. However, public opinion seems to be pretty much in line with its claims (which seems unusual; typically expert analysis disagrees with “common knowledge”). The UN seems to be pretty upset with this whole imbroglio as well. It appears that even some Republicans are starting to view the situation from a more realistic point of view, and are beginning to search for a way out of this quagmire before it ruins the political party. Could there be a glimmer of hope for a withdrawl from Iraq? I am not aware of any way to do it without leaving Iraq less stable than it was with Saddam around, but it might still be for the best at this point.

How’s this for some really shiny news: a Firefly MMORPG appears to be on the horizon. Assuming this is as cool as I hope it is, it almost makes me wish I owned a Windows box. Almost.

NASA has announced plans to go ahead with Bush’s (perhaps ill-conceived) plan to put a permanent base on the moon by 2020. This could be really cool, or it could be a huge waste of money. I’m not sure anyone knows which it will become, but several other countries are interested in joining in on this project. We shall see what happens.

There has been another ceasefire between the Israelis and Palestinians, even though the Palestinians continued to launch rockets into Israel several hours after the supposed ceasefire began. Ordinarily I wouldn’t put much stock in this, but it has lasted a surprisingly long time. There was a bit of intra-Palestinian violence recently, but the truce has lasted remarkably well. In fact, this seems like the best news in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict since about 1993.

For the first time in a really long while, I don’t have any really bad news to post. Huzzah!

News and typesetting snobbery

It’s worth noting that China has frozen Korean money transfers in protest over North Korea’s recent missile tests. I’m a bit surprised that China is willing to take such a strong action against what I thought was a close ally.

The more interesting news is that more chinks in the Bush administration’s monolithic confidence over Iraq are beginning to emerge. October, despite the observance of Ramadan, is already the most deadly month in Iraq for US troops since April. Most importantly, American diplomat Alberto Fernandez told al-Jazeera that the US acted with “arrogance and stupidity” in Iraq, and is now in a nigh unwinnable position. He was later forced to retract his position. The White House seems to be claiming that his statement was a mistranslation, despite the fact that Fernandez is fluent in Arabic (and presumably English, too).

Finally, I give you a history of Arial and Helvetica fonts, including a reason to like Helvetica and dislike Arial (Helvetica:Arial::Java:Javascript, one might say). I also include a guide to spotting the differences between the two. This was brought to my attention on the tex_latex community. I feel weird saying this, but it’s kinda fun being a typesetting snob and noticing the papers that lack ligatures and do paragraph/page spacing wrong.

Potpourri (and remember to vote!)

There is a fantastic tech talk about how to teach computer science to kids. Too often, they see the name and think it’s about programming, and are consequently turned off to the subject. This kiwi teaches CS without using a computer, but has all sorts of fun, hands-on activities for kids to do as they learn about sorting and compression algorithms, error-correcting codes, DFAs, and other parts of CS. If you ever need to inspire kids, this video is definitely worth a watch!

Speaking of videos to watch, check out this Dove commercial. I’ve gotta give them props for that.

On a newsier topic, Bush has begun to admit that the war in Iraq is going poorly and is starting to accept the parallels between this war and Vietnam. Might this be the beginning of someone in the Republican party taking a look at reality and then accepting responsibility for what they’ve screwed up? Not likely, but a man can dream, can’t he?

By the way, please, please register to vote (and then actually vote) in the elections on November 7. In California, you need to register (which can be done at your local DMV) by October 23 (this coming Monday). As John Stewart once quipped, “this country is run by extremists because moderates have shit to do.” However, voting doesn’t take up much of your time, and can help shape which direction the country will go, even if it’s still being run by extremists. No matter which parties/candidates you support, please vote. and please take 10 minutes and read up on the parties/candidates you plan to vote for, and make sure that they really do represent your interests; too often people are elected by an ignorant population that doesn’t realize what it’s doing. You want to vote for the communist party? That’s fine, so long as you know what they stand for and agree with it. You wanna vote for someone because the politicians tell you to? that’s not so good.

So learn about your favourite party, and then vote for them!