What the crap is this!? Here are some of today’s headlines:
If you just glanced at today’s headlines, would you think Iran was building a nuke and was likely to have it very soon? I certainly would. It’s only after you read the articles that you find out the actual “story” is that Iran theoretically has enough uranium atoms to make a bomb but would first need to enrich them to become weapons grade, and they won’t have the technical capability to do that for years to come. What the articles don’t even mention is that the uranium is part of Iran’s civilian power program, it’s purified enough to be used in a nuclear power plant but not a bomb, Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty under which it is given the inalienable right to civilian nuclear power but pledges not to pursue nuclear weapons, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has signed off on the whole program.
What kind of bullshit is this!? This is not newsworthy and will only confuse people more about Iran. It’s like saying that by living near the beach, I’ve amassed enough silicon to build my own computer from scratch (something I’ve thought would be cool to do for years: I want to start with raw materials and make a 2-function calculator or something). Except that when you get down to it, I’d still need to purify and dope the silicon, create transistors and then connect thousands of them in the right order to get anything close to the results I want. So, while it’s technically true that I’ve got access to enough silicon, I’m actually still years away from results (and not actively working on it in the first place). It’s a non-issue.
It really irks me that the press picks up on this drivel while ignoring things like, say, the terrorist building a dirty bomb on US soil, which seems far more interesting, relevant, imminent, and dangerous (original source on page 11 of this leaked FBI document). Bruce Schneier suggests that this isn’t pressworthy because the terrorist wasn’t Muslim. Hooray, anti-Muslim bias in the media!
To be fair, I’ve found three articles on Iran today whose headlines don’t seem overly misleading: Reuters’ Iran “not close” to nuclear weapon: Gates, Politico’s Gates and Mullen disagree on Iran (which at least mentions that not everyone in government thinks Iran is getting a nuke tomorrow, though it does sow the seeds of doubt), and the Tehran Times’ IAEA officials: All materials at Natanz under control (though honestly, no one is going to believe the Tehran Times if it’s the minority dissenting voice about Iranian operations).
and people wonder why I get so frustrated with the media.
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.
Today the California Supreme Court began considering the constitutionality of gay marriage. The overwhelmingly Republican court is expected to deny the pleas of dozens of plaintiffs hoping the state will sanction their marriages. A decision is expected in about 3 months, so this shouldn’t drag on forever and with any luck I’ll remember to follow up on it when the results are in. In the meantime, I can hope against hope that the court will extend the same rights and liberties to everyone.
I need to stop editing this and post it before it becomes out of date again.
Finally, after seven years, it appears that some of the democrats may have grown a spine. Congress has been fighting over surveillance bills concerning wiretapping and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court. Although everyone in Congress unfortunately seems to think that warrantless wiretaps are a good idea, the main battle is currently over whether the telephone companies should be granted retroactive immunity for allowing such warrantless wiretaps back when it was illegal according to Federal law. You may recall that the Protect America Act of 2007 allowed the government to wiretap phones without court oversight, but it was set to expire in February 2008. Congress recently spent a lot of effort trying to renew it, but the retroactive immunity has become a sticking point. Bush and his cronies say that without it, the telecoms will be afraid to help the government with this stuff in the future (never mind the fact that if they just got the FISA court to review it, it’s very easy to get a warrant and then the telecoms are happy to comply). Consequently, the Senate passed a version of the bill that granted retroactive immunity to the telecoms (note that Obama voted against the immunity, while McCain voted for it and Clinton didn’t bother to show up; all three have claimed they were against such things when asked about it in the past). The House of Representatives, however, passed a copy of the bill that did not grant immunity. The two bills went to reconciliation (where they’re merged into one law that goes back to both groups again), and the version decided upon included the immunity. However, again the House did not pass the bill. In response, Republicans staged a walk-out in protest. Consequently, no bill was sent to Bush to be signed, and the PAA expired! We’re back to the (mostly sane) wiretapping rules described under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. I earnestly, desperately hope that the Democrats continue to hold strong, and I have written to my Representative to say this (he wrote back with a canned response about how he intends to fight this, but that doesn’t actually mean he’ll carry through). We’ll see.
In the meantime, bastions of freedom and privacy such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation continue to fight against the telephone companies that violated Federal law and our privacy. Sadly, the Supreme Court threw out the ACLU’s case with absolutely no comment about why they did that (a lower court had ruled that they can’t prove they were the victem of the warrantless wiretaps, because the evidence that shows they were was deemed to be a state secret and consequently thrown out of the case). However, I believe the EFF cases are still going through the legal process. This is a tough thing for the Supreme Court to tackle: if they rule in favor of the wiretaps, they significantly weaken the fourth amendment (see Berger v. New York, 1967). However, if the court makes warrantless wiretapping illegal, all hell breaks loose because the Bush administration has been conducting an unconstitutional program for years (and all hell breaking loose is not conducive to orderly government).
We’ll see what happens. If the past few years are any prediction, the Democrats are just going to roll over and grant the retroactive immunity, but I really, really hope this won’t transpire.
Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Prime Minister and frontrunner in the upcoming election, has been assassinated. After speaking to several thousand people at a political rally, her motorcade was shot at and then attacked by a suicide bomber, reminiscent of the attack she survived several weeks ago. Approximately two thirds of the country supported her. The US and Pakistani governments were very quick to blame Al Qaeda (reminiscent of the way the government initially blamed the Oklahoma City bombing on Arab extremists),
but counterterrorism groups say there is so far no credible link between the two groups, and Al Qaeda itself isn’t taking credit for this. Edit: Al Qaeda has taken credit for the assassination.
In the meantime, Pakistan has been plunged into protests and riots, and President Musharraf is considering postponing the upcoming elections and possibly even reinstating the martial law he ended scant weeks ago. Even if the elections are not postponed, many political parties are likely to boycott them.
After a rousing match, the Good News squadron has beaten the Bad News team 2-1!
Bad News got off to an early start when a 1st grade teacher was sentenced to 15 days in jail for allowing her students to name a stuffed animal Mohammed. This apparently counts as blasphemy under Sharia, which seems ludicrous to me. People name their kids Mohammed all the time; I don’t see how this is any different. Although this was a sharp blow against Good News, their defense rallied when the Sudanese president commuted the jail sentence into just deportation back to the teacher’s native Britain.
At this point, the Good News offense kicked into high gear, and scored a huge goal when 17 US intelligence agencies declassified a report saying that Iran halted their nuclear weapons programme in 2003, contradicting the Bush administration’s warmongering and FUD on the topic. This is wholly consistent with what IAEA has said in the past (which I’ve mentioned several times). Bush has claimed not to have known about this report for more than a week, which seems like a lie considering that he’s been blustering about Iran for months.
My coworker commented that some of his faith in the government has been restored since this report came out; he had previously expected that even if such a report existed, it would be suppressed in order to push the hawkish agenda of those in power. However, I think enough people remember what happened with the Iraq intelligence problems and are afraid of repeating those mistakes that they could actually stand up and force the truth to light. Hurrah for some people in government not being totally corrupt!
These events shook up the Bad News team so much that they gave up another small gain to the Good News players in the last round of the match. Facebook has apologized for Beacon, with its poor implementation. Initially, this system would track people’s purchases on third party sites, even if these people were not logged into Facebook at the time, which founder Mark Zuckerberg has deemed, “simply… a bad job.” They have fixed it so that people can actually opt out of Beacon entirely, and thereby keep their private lives private. This is the second time Facebook has screwed up and fixed it several days later. Hopefully this time they’ll get the hang of what people actually want out of their site.
That led to the final score of the match, with Good News beating Bad News by a goal. Good News fans everywhere are rejoicing, as their team rarely beats the Bad News squad these days. Perhaps this is a sign that their new coaches and strategies will lead the team to better things in the future.
I have a friend in the movie business, and he had a very interesting take on the current writers’ strike. The writers’ guild has their contract up for negotiation right now, but the actors’ guild and the directors’ guild are both up for contract renewal very soon. My friend says that the reason the writers guild negotiations went to a strike is because the studio executives want to instill fear into the actors (and to a lesser extent the directors) over this sort of thing. The studios can survive for months if not years with all the scripts they’ve stockpiled (not counting topical TV shows like The Daily Show). However, if the actors strike, the studios will be in trouble. They hope the actors get scared enough from this strike that they’ll make extra concessions in their new contracts.
On the other side, the writers’ demands are a little silly; they are requesting royalties even before the producers have recouped their investment in the movie (i.e., if it cost $10 million to make the movie, the writers are requesting royalties before that $10 million is made up). I suspect this occurred because the guild began by requesting more than they really wanted (so they could be “negotiated down” to what they were actually after), and the movie studios took a hard line to scare the other guilds, and simply didn’t negotiate. My friend expects the strike to be over as soon as the actors guild finishes renegotiating their contract. I suspect it will resolve so that writers get royalties on all electronic media after the studios have gotten their investment back.
On a semi-related note, I had no idea how much money writers earned! Apparently movie scripts are purchased for $250,000-$5,000,000, not counting any royalties that come in after the film has been made. If you manage to sell one script every three years, you’re sitting pretty.
I don’t know how much of this is correct and how much is just my friend’s opinion. However, he has more of an insiders perspective than anyone else I know, so I thought I’d put this out there. Can anyone confirm or deny that this is what’s going on?
The news of the week comes in two different parts, and I think that they both are distressing.
The high court of Maryland held up a law which has banned all gay marriages there. They didn’t, however, say lawmakers cannot repeal the decree if they want. In other words, neither the ban nor gay marriage is unconstitutional there. This nonetheless comes as a setback for anyone trying to legalize it; I fear that repealing the law will not happen for several more years at this rate.
Also, the EU rejected a plea from their parliament asking to cancel the ban of all liquids on flights coming into or leaving from Europe. They claim that the liquids can still pose a threat in the hands of some mythical terrorists (these people, apparently, somehow are able to blow up a plane with the liquids but cannot, of course, simply carry them on in the smaller containers allowed). The problem as I see it lies in the fact that the only known terororists ever considering using a liquid explosive were foiled without such a ban, and instead they were caught using only police and detective work (note that I thought there were older attempts, but I can’t seem to find them again; I recall that they also had planned to use liquids and they, too, were stopped by police work instead. I think this had been in the ’90’s sometime, but it’s honestly just a gut feeling.). However, the EU’s Commission decided that lifting the ban would still “lower its guard” and instead they require “the full range” of (useless and impotent) measures in place. These rules are so stupid; I wish someone there would just tell them they’re being irrational.
It looks like dhalps beat me to it, and linked to an excellent article. Judge Victor Marrero has ruled that the part of the PATRIOT Act discussing National Security Letters is unconstitutional, saying it violates the first and fourth amendments. Ars Technica has a good explanation of what happened. The basic idea is that these are letters which force people (read: ISPs, librarians, bankers, etc) to give information to the FBI, ostensibly so they can fight terrorism. Moreover, they come with “gag” restrictions which make it illegal to tell anyone else that you received such a letter. and there’s no judicial oversight, so it’s basically a way for the FBI to get any information they want while making it illegal to fight back (to bring this to court in the first place, the plaintiff had to remain anonymous and file as a John Doe with the ACLU). The government is likely to appeal; this same thing happened in 2004 with Judge Marrero, the government appealed, and the Secound Circuit sent it back to him after Congress revised the law in question. Nonetheless, this is definitely a (small) step in the right direction.
You know you’re onto something when Bruce Schneier picks it up and calls it “a big deal.” He found a much more eloquent article on the topic, however.