Wednesday, December 13, 2006 11:02 PM

Hamdan a harbinger of things to come?

The first results are in. Jurisdiction: D.C. district court. Ruling part 1: The MCA does not suspend the writ of habeas corpus generally; if that was the intent of Congress, then that attempt fails as unconstitutional, given that there is no rebellion or invasion at present (nor when the MCA was passed). Ruling part 2: Hamdan, as a non-citizen who was apprehended outside of the U.S. and is being held outside of U.S. territory in Guantanamo, has no constitutional right to the writ. Therefore, the court has no jurisdiction to hear his claims.

Summary: there may be due process claims that are valid, or equal protection claims that are valid, but none of them can be reached, because the MCA requires the case be dismissed. See the full ruling.

In the meantime, the federal government has subpoenaed a document in the ACLU's possession. A grand jury is apparently investigating the leak of this document, which is classified. But the government isn't asking the ACLU to produce the original, or to produce emails and notes in connection with the acquisition of the document; rather, the subpoena is for "any and all copies", including those in electronic form, presumably so that the document itself can disappear from public dialogue.

Apart from a certain lack of trust that I have in the current administration's use of classification to hide documents that could prove politically embarrassing, things like this spark my concern:

' The group’s lawyers have agreed for now not to disclose the contents of the document, but hyperlinks to the papers posted yesterday on its Web site include the word “torture.” '

(Source: NYT,

I am long past the point where I can believe that the government is not involved in something nefarious, and that this isn't related to another attempt to hide techniques related to torture, because they have already argued that torture is legal and they are now arguing in another case that all details of interrogation techniques must remain hidden from the public and from detainees' lawyers.

And so, at this point, I must believe the worst. On such days it is difficult to remember that the sun still shines, yes, on the just and unjust alike...


Thursday, December 07, 2006 2:25 PM

Plan for Iraq (not!)

Hey, I have an idea. Let's invade a country, overthrow its dictator, let folks loot various artifacts and trash the infrastructure, let's go door to door to root out the bad guys, making more enemies as we go, and let's help set up a government that will be responsive to us and our needs. As violence gets worse, let's impose some cray checkpoints, put all our officials inside a safe zone, hold over ten thousand folks in military detention centers for the indefinite future, and pay contractors way too much money for fraudulent rebuilding plans. When people make noises about us being an occupying force, we'll just ignore them; it's for their own good. Now...

Let's go tell that same government what to do, without checking *with the folks who actually live there*. Am I just wankers? Or don't the Iraqi people have some say in what happens to their country?

ISG report, my *ss. The Iraqis should just vote no confidence in the govt and tell *us* what to do. Although in the most recent poll I guess they already did: i.e., get the fsck out.


11:11 AM

Specter and Leahy get a move on (S. 4081)

You can't even find the text in Thomas yet. But it's in the Congressional Record. What text is that, you say?

Why, the text of the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2006, of course. Here it is, so you can read it and go notify your Senators about it:

S. 4081

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in 
Congress assembled,


    This Act may be cited as the ``Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2006''.


    (a) In General.--Section 2241 of title 28, United States Code, is amended by striking  
subsection (e).

    (b) Title 10.--Section 950j of title 10, United States Code, is amended by striking
subsection (b) and inserting the following:

    ``(b) Limited Review of Military Commission Procedures and Actions.--Except as otherwise 
provided in this chapter or in section 2241 of title 28 or any other habeas corpus provision, and 
notwithstanding any other provision of law, no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction 
to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever, including any action pending on or 
filed after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, relating to the 
prosecution, trial, or judgment of a military commission under this chapter, including challenges 
to the lawfulness of procedures of military commissions under this chapter.''.


    The amendments made by this Act shall--

    (1) take effect on the date of the enactment of this Act; and

    (2) apply to any case that is pending on or after the date of enactment of this Act.

This bill was introduced by Senator Specter on Dec 5th, and Senator Leahy joined him as a cosponsor. Leahy's statement is available on his web site; Specter's statement is only in the Congressional Record for the moment, so here are a couple of highlights:

The administration has taken the position now that someone who is making a charge of having been 
tortured, which is a violation of U.S. law, may not be permitted to disclose the specifics of his 
interrogation which he says constituted torture because al-Qaida will find out what our 
interrogation techniques are and will move to train their operatives so they can withstand those 

   It is unthinkable, in my opinion, to have a system of laws where someone who claims to have 
been tortured cannot describe what has happened to him to get judicial relief because al-Qaida 
may be able to educate or train their operatives to avoid those techniques.

But that is just what the United States government argues, and will continue to argue, unless the laws are changed. And frankly, even if the laws are changed, I expect the administration will continue to insist that its views are valid until both Congress and the courts assert themselves through court rulings, oversight with teeth, and withholding of funds that can be used for the administration's various indefinite detention programs.

And, lest you believe that the tribunals that determine a detainee's enemy combatant status are sufficient, here's Specter's description of them:

Combatant Status Review Tribunals, commonly referred to as ``CSRTs,'' are not an adequate and 
effective means to challenge detention in accordance with the Supreme Court's decision in Swain 
v. Pressley (``the substitution of a collateral remedy which is neither inadequate nor 
ineffective to test the legality of a person's detention does not constitute a suspension of the 
writ of habeas corpus.'').

   CSRTs are not adversarial, but consist of a one-sided interrogation of the detainee by the 
tribunal members. The proceedings do not comport with basic fairness because the individuals 
detained do not have the right to confront accusers, call witnesses, or know what evidence there 
is against them. As Justice O'Connor wrote in her plurality opinion in the Hamdi case, ``[a]n 
interrogation by one's captor, however effective an intelligence-gathering tool, hardly 
constitutes a constitutionally adequate factfinding before a neutral decisionmaker.''

   According to the September 25, 2006 Judiciary Committee testimony of the former U.S. Attorney 
for the Northern District of Illinois, Thomas Sullivan, who has been to Guantanamo on many 
occasions and has represented many detainees. Mr. Sullivan cited hearings where individuals were 
summoned before the tribunal, but did not speak the language, did not have an attorney, did not 
have access to the information which was presented against them, and continued to be detained.

   For example, in the case of Abdul Hadi al Siba'i, a Saudi Arabian police officer who came to 
Afghanistan in August 2001 to build schools and a mosque, Mr. Sullivan described how Mr. Siba'i 
had no lawyer, spoke through a translator, and was read the charges against him, but with no 
access to the underlying evidence. According to Mr. Sullivan, his client was returned to Saudi 
Arabia after a prolonged detention without a trial, compensation, or apology. Mr. Sullivan 
received no notice that his client was to be returned to Saudi Arabia. 

Additional news: Senator Leahy has joined on as a co-sponsor of Senator Dodd's bill, described earlier. Still no word on movement to stop extraordinary renditions^W^Wshipping prisoners to other countries to be tortured.


Monday, November 27, 2006 8:09 PM

T + 1 week

100 mg shot, to last two weeks. Day 0: slightly metallic taste for about a half hour after the shot. Day 3: body scent more acrid and intense. After a week's consideration, I seem emotionally calmer and happier since the shot. (For those who know me, you may think that emotionally calmer = comatose. But it ain't so!) I didn't think I was all that stressed out to begin with; I know they say that a lot of folks who start hormone therapy are happier because it resolves some psychological issues for them, but I didn't think that would apply to me.

No 'roid rage, though, and nothing else to speak of, except *maybe* a slightly higher energy level. I'll be more sure of that if I have more than one data point.

In the meantime, I had two medical anxiety dreams about taking T, once about my doctor calling to say T was off the market and that avenue was closed to me (but in real life, later that day she in fact called to say it was available very very cheap!), and the day of the first shot, when I dreamed that I had missed my appointment and would have to wait a long time for another one. I was in some unpleasant institution in that dream, either military or prison (I've been in both in real life and can't recall which sort of unpleasantness it was).

I *never* have medical anxiety dreams. I didn't have them when I couldn't eat for three months; I didn't have them when I had limited mobility for three years because of my foot; but I had them about (not) taking T. Funny how the subconscious can let you know what's really going on.

Then a couple days ago I went to bed ruminating about how, or rather why, some of us have so much privilege to choose to change our bodies, and about adding muscle mass and short cuts and all that sort of second-guessing stuff, and I awoke from a dream of happily doing leg lunges with dumbbells to get stronger. Once again, the subconscious telling me to quit worrying and get on with it.

Guess I will :-)


Friday, November 17, 2006 12:34 PM

Are you sitting comfortably?

Two branches of our government have conspired to hold people for *the rest of their lives* under whatever conditions are deemed useful for interrogation, and to block the intervention of the third branch of government, just in case the courts might not have the same view of things. Here are some questions for you.

How much useful information can you get from someone after you've tortured them off and on for four years[1], anyhow?

What happens if you wait for the Democrats to act, and they don't get a bill past Bush's veto?

Why do so many folks hope that the courts will fix it (including Senator Specter!), when the courts "fixed" the internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII by... upholding it in the Korematsu decision?

While we wait for someone in power to do something, what is happening to the folks in detention now?

Here is one very small thing you can do: go read Senator Dodd's bill that undoes some of the worst parts of the MCA^H^H^HIndefinite Detention and Torture Act, call his office, call your representatives' offices, write them, and get them on board. Ask them about extraordinary rendition too. Find out what they are doing to get the bill past Bush. Odds are they'll tell you they... can't tell you. Enough of us call 'em, they gotta get the message....

[1] Average length of stay of Guantanamo detainees


12:33 AM

thirty-three years ago

In an era of creeping fascism...

This is what democracy sounds like.

Then and now. Think about it.


Thursday, November 16, 2006 10:53 AM

Don't fall asleep to the radio

Because while you may go to sleep listening to this (*), a reminder of dark times in our past...'ll wake up to the sounds of tear gas from the present. More of that story today at Athens Indymedia, and tomorrow in the papers...

(*) In case the link disappears, find the lyrics here (Η Επιστολή, στίχοι του Μάνου Ελευθερίου, μουσική του Θεοδωράκη).


Wednesday, November 08, 2006 5:59 PM

No Fear of the Unknown

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know."

Bye, Bye, Rummy. Have a nice trip into the great unknown.

For the rest of us, we can contemplate Rummy's collected wisdom on a number of web sites. Here's one to get you started.


5:44 PM

Math is Fun!

MR. ROVE: Yeah. Look, I'm looking at all these, Robert, and adding them up. And I add up to a Republican Senate and a Republican House. You may end up with a different math, but you're entitled to your math. I'm entitled to "the" math.

The folks over at NPR have got to be pretty happy right about now. They just replayed an excerpt from this interview where Rove browbeats Robert Siegel for suggesting that the Republicans might lose. Transcript available at Raw Story.

Gloat while you got 'em. :-)


Monday, October 16, 2006 8:43 PM

How the presumed innocent become guilty

During the public debate over the rights that detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere ought to have, I've noticed a disturbing tendency to morph a terrorism suspect into a convicted terrorist. On today's NPR news broadcast of All Things Considered, Melissa Block interviews several Missouri voters. When they talk about security and civil liberties, they say what many folks must be thinking in the privacy of their own homes. Their comments cover the spectrum from civil libertarian to right wing hardliner.

Here's a transcription of that excerpt (done by me, so any mistakes are mine):

Melissa Block
When voter Mindy Lawrence thinks about homeland security, she sees an erosion of civil rights, and she brings up this issue, the suspension of the right of habeas corpus for terrorism suspects.
Mindy Lawrence
"The problem with that is, that's going to start leeching down to who do they think is a terrorist, who do they suspect is a terrorist. It's a really nasty little problem that's about to happen if they suspend habeas corpus for anybody. You're [We're?] losing the rights that our Constitution and our Bill of Rights gave us, in the name of fighting terrorism. There's gotta be a fine balance in there, and I don't think we've reached that balance at all. In fact I think we're losing that balance."
Faye Adams
"I don't really believe that the terrorists should be looked at in the same way that an American citizen should be looked at. I don't think that the freedoms that I enjoy should be applied to a terrorist who wants to kill me, who has sworn to kill me, who would even give up his life to kill me, simply because I'm a Christian. That's nuts."
Dorry Pease
"We've lived in fear since 9/11. It's constantly right there in front of us, terrorists. Our government makes us constantly focus on this type of thing. Personally I don't think we will ever totally eradicate terrorism, and I, I'm not saying we should stop fighting them, I'm not saying that at all. But I am saying that what our government is doing is not solving the problem. In fact it's making it worse. I would like to see us working towards, towards getting at the root of the fanaticism and the Islamic radicalism that's occurring. We're not doing that, we're just we're putting bandaids over a wound. I don't see us healing the wound at all, or even working towards it. I don't see where we're going at all. I feel less secure now, not necessary for myself and my husband, but I feel less secure for my children and my grandchildren, because I think they're going to be living in a much more dangerous world than what we have lived in, and that's what my concern is."

How many of us are like Mindy, or like Dorry? How many are like Faye?

A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly discusses the Lodi terrorism case in the context of religious awareness and identity. Umer and Hamid Hayat were charged with lying to FBI agents, and Hamid was further charged with providing material support to terrorists by attending a terrorist training camp. Hamid was convicted, and Umer's jury could not reach a verdict.

The Atlantic article, though long, is well worth the read. But I want to highlight one portion of it here, a discussion with the foreman of the jury, ex-military retired salesman Joseph Cote. The government's strategy in that case was to prosecute in order to prevent acts of terrorism from being committed; this means that the jury had to find that the government had proven that Hayat had provided material support or resources “knowing or intending that such material support and/or resources were to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, terrorism that transcends national boundaries”.

But Hayat hadn't taken any concrete steps apart from providing the "material support" (attending a training camp--if even that were true). So the jury was left trying to discern whether Hamid had the intent to carry out a terrorist act, or not. Here's what the article says about how they made that decision.

This was their conundrum: Do you send a man to prison—ostensibly for training and lying—when the real question is whether he is a threat, and most of you don’t think he is? "That’s what made the verdict so tough," Cote said. "Because we thought in the gut, 'Maybe he may not do it.'" But what Cote called the "literal world," defined by the boundaries of law and evidence, did not allow for shades of gray.
During our interview, Cote said several times that the jurors were not asked to decide whether Hayat was capable of engaging in terrorism. "Believe it or not, that’s the only way I can sleep nights," he said. And yet they did decide it, Cote said, concluding that the evidence suggesting that Hayat would act—the scrapbook, the prayer, and so on—was stronger than the evidence that he would not. In essence, the prosecution’s strategy had paid off: there were no details of a plan, but Hayat’s purported predisposition—his words, more than his deeds—had become decisive. >

There you have it: there is no longer room for reasonable doubt, but only for "more likely than not". The risk, it seemed, was just too high to let a possible terrorist go free, even if he might be innocent after all.

I close here with the final words of the Atlantic article's author.

[Cote] argued that it was "absolutely" better to run the risk of convicting an innocent man than to let a guilty one go. "Too many lives are changed" by terrorism, he said. "So shall one man pay to save fifty? It’s not a debatable question."
I left his house and started back to Sacramento, passing the grounds of Folsom State Prison along the way. In the aggregate, at least, Cote’s instinct seemed to offer an appealing surety. Only when I was back on the highway did I see its practical flaw: prosecuting and imprisoning one innocent man would do nothing, in fact, to save the fifty at risk.


6:47 PM

RTFB (Military Commissions Act)!

I've heard that Americans work more hours every week than workers in various European countries, or at least, that we have less free time. So that probably explains why so many people have not taken the time to actually *read the fine bill* that will be signed by President Bush into law tomorrow. For all of those folks, I have decided^Wbeen prodded into doing the following public service. I'm posting a description of the major parts of the bill, with text excerpts. Enjoy... err, so to speak.

First things first: the bill defines what the term "unlawful enemy combatant" (UEC) means. Any person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the U.S., *or* any person so designated by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) or a competent tribunal designated by the President or Secretary of Defense. Here's the text:

     (1) UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT.—(A) The term ‘unlaw-
>ful enemy combatant’ means—
           (i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who
     has purposefully and materially supported hostilities
     against the United States or its co-belligerents who is
     not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who
     is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces);
           (ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of
     the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006,
     has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant
     by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another com-
     petent tribunal established under the authority of the
     President or the Secretary of Defense.

That second part of the definition does seem pretty broad, doesn't it? It doesn't set forth any requirements upon how a CSRT or other tribunal makes that determination; it seems to say that the act of designating someone as a UEC makes them one, for the purposes of this Act.

I expect that folks will make the legal argument that this cannot be what was intended when the bill was passed. However, given that, in the past, the current Administration has claimed the power to designate any person of its choosing as a UEC, to hold that persosn indefinitely, and to hold that person without any judicial review of the person's status or conditions of confinement, including U.S. citizens, perhaps this broad definition may well be intentional. (The claim of unchecked power of the executive in a war context has been labelled the theory of theunitary executive.)

Part 1 of the definition is troubling in and of itself; "purposefully and materially supporting hostilities', I suppose, means "purposefully and materially supporting" terrorists, if we are talking about the War on Terror. This sounds pretty reasonable, but the problem is that supporting terror seems to be used these days to depict folks who don't agree with or support the current Administration's agenda. Here are some representative examples from the press:

During Kerry's campaign for president, Bush, Orrin Hatch, Dennis Haster, and various others all charged that Kerry and his backers were giving comfort to terrorists. In March of this year, Sen. Wayne Allard argued that Feingold has time and time again taken on the side of the terrorists when Feingold introduced a resolution to censure Bush. Most recently, the National Republican Senate Committee said that two Repbulican Senators who voted for Specter's amendment to the MCA to put habeas corpus back into the bill had "sided with trial lawyers and terrorists, even though they voted for the final version of the bill.

But lest you think these sort of remarks are simple grandstanding, I direct your attention to a collection of documents obtained by the ACLU about Pentagon and Homeland Security surveillance of various anti-war or other student groups. The documents date from 2001 through 2006, and include coverage of such groups as Students Against War from UC Santa Cruz, and an antiwar group that protested at the Oakland Docks in 2003, where police opened fire with so-called "less-than-lethal" weapons, resulting in worldwide coverage and subsequent inclusion of the incident in that year's UN Human Rights report.

That's all for today. Part two coming soon...


6:43 PM

Foot foot (How quickly we forget)

On Friday, after three weeks of crutches, three weeks of not being able to carry my own food from the kitchen to the living room (let alone downstairs to the bedroom), I finally got my cast off. I'm in a special wrap "shoe" which is basically a stiff piece of sole with a cloth piece on each side and velcro to strap it on.

Now I'm discontent because, after an hour of sweeping up leaves in the front yard and pulling up ivy, even though I was moving very slowly and carefully, my foot hurt enough that I had to stop and elevate it for an hour. There's no pleasing some people--namely, me.


6:39 PM

T party

Real Soon Now. I haven't set the date, but sometime in late November or early December, be looking for an announcement. Why?

Because on November 20, if nothing goes wrong, I'll be getting my first shot of testosterone. Woo hoo!

So here's the deal. My insurance company will not cover hormone therapy for cases of gender reassignment (or half-assignment, as the case may be, for us genderqueer folks). This means that I can use the local pharmacy at the clinic I attend, which has no contract with the insurance company. The local pharmacy has very cheap rates. So cheap, that, without insurance, I can actually afford the treatments, and with it, I probably couldn't. Go figure!


Thursday, September 28, 2006 6:59 PM

No Comment

The results speak for themselves.

Grouped By Vote Position

YEAs ---65

Alexander (R-TN)   Ensign (R-NV)      Murkowski (R-AK)
Allard (R-CO)      Enzi (R-WY)        Nelson (D-FL)
Allen (R-VA)       Frist (R-TN)       Nelson (D-NE)
Bennett (R-UT)     Graham (R-SC)      Pryor (D-AR)
Bond (R-MO)        Grassley (R-IA)    Roberts (R-KS)
Brownback (R-KS)   Gregg (R-NH)       Rockefeller (D-WV)
Bunning (R-KY)     Hagel (R-NE)       Salazar (D-CO)
Burns (R-MT)       Hatch (R-UT)       Santorum (R-PA)
Burr (R-NC)        Hutchison (R-TX)   Sessions (R-AL)
Carper (D-DE)      Inhofe (R-OK)      Shelby (R-AL)
Chambliss (R-GA)   Isakson (R-GA)     Smith (R-OR)
Coburn (R-OK)      Johnson (D-SD)     Specter (R-PA)
Cochran (R-MS)     Kyl (R-AZ)         Stabenow (D-MI)
Coleman (R-MN)     Landrieu (D-LA)    Stevens (R-AK)
Collins (R-ME)     Lautenberg (D-NJ)  Sununu (R-NH)
Cornyn (R-TX)      Lieberman (D-CT)   Talent (R-MO)
Craig (R-ID)       Lott (R-MS)        Thomas (R-WY)
Crapo (R-ID)       Lugar (R-IN)       Thune (R-SD)
DeMint (R-SC)      Martinez (R-FL)    Vitter (R-LA)
DeWine (R-OH)      McCain (R-AZ)      Voinovich (R-OH)
Dole (R-NC)        McConnell (R-KY)   Warner (R-VA)
Domenici (R-NM)    Menendez (D-NJ)

NAYs ---34

Akaka (D-HI)       Dodd (D-CT)        Levin (D-MI)
Baucus (D-MT)      Dorgan (D-ND)      Lincoln (D-AR)
Bayh (D-IN)        Durbin (D-IL)      Mikulski (D-MD)
Biden (D-DE)       Feingold (D-WI)    Murray (D-WA)
Bingaman (D-NM)    Feinstein (D-CA)   Obama (D-IL)
Boxer (D-CA)       Harkin (D-IA)      Reed (D-RI)
Byrd (D-WV)        Inouye (D-HI)      Reid (D-NV)
Cantwell (D-WA)    Jeffords (I-VT)    Sarbanes (D-MD)
Chafee (R-RI)      Kennedy (D-MA)     Schumer (D-NY)
Clinton (D-NY)     Kerry (D-MA)       Wyden (D-OR)
Conrad (D-ND)      Kohl (D-WI)
Dayton (D-MN)      Leahy (D-VT)

Not Voting - 1

Snowe (R-ME)


12:31 PM

One chance left

I'm watching the debate on the Military Commissions Act on C-Span 2. As the debate winds down, the outcome seems inevitable. I've made my futile phone calls, sent my unread letters, and now I wait for the end.

Here's the text of the letter I sent to Senators Boxer and Feinstein. Let these words stand as a bitter memorial.

I'm writing to you about the Military Commissions Act (S 3930) currently being debated on the floor of the Senate. I'm out of time to print this and send it via U.S. mail, so here it is in email form. Nonetheless, I hope you or your staff persons will read this and consider it.

I was going to list the things that are problematic about this bill, but that would imply that if we just pass a series of amendments, the bill will be acceptable. At this point, I believe that we are not going to get those amendments through (having just seen the Specter amendment on habeas corpus defeated), and the only responsible and moral stand left to us, I believe, is to oppose this bill in the short term and to introduce a bill that works in the long term.

Here is what I want to see in such a bill:

Specific standards are set forth to determine who is an unlawful enemy combatant. Any competent tribunal (as per the Geneva Conventions) that makes such a determination must do so in accordance with those standards.

(The current bill allows the executive branch to make this determination unilaterally, with no specified standards. See section 948(a)(i)(2) for the specific language.)

Citizens and non-citizens alike shall have the power to challenge their detention via habeas corpus.

(The current bill denies noncitizens this ability, which in practical terms means that a noncitizen may be seized, determined by fiat to be an enemy combatant, and the held infinitely, without hope of release.)

Citizens and noncitizens alike shall have the ability to challenge the conditions of their confinement; in particular, Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions shall provide a basis for these challenges.

(The current bill denies everyone this ability, which means that someone can be subjected to various abuses and tortures with no recourse. I can't believe I'm actually writing this. How can we be about to legalize torture and inhuman or degrading treatment by employees of the American government? How?)

Persons who are tried before these military commissions shall have the right to examine and respond to the evidence against them. Classified or not.

(The current draft of the bill, as widely reported in the press, allows defendants to "respond to" the evidence but not to examine it. An earlier draft included the word "examine", and that or its equivalent needs to go back in.)

Specific guidance shall be given to the executive branch as to the interpretation of which sorts of interrogation techniques are in compliance with the Geneva Conventions, particularly Common Article III.

(The current bill allows the executive branch to make that determination for an entire class of techniques, including arguably all of the techniques used by the CIA secret prison interrogation program, and there is no judicial oversight possible, in effect making that determination final.)

And finally, members of the Congress shall have enough information about programs such as extraordinary rendition, detention in secret prisons, and interrogation techniques, that the Congress can exercise genuine oversight. I don't ever want to read about horrors like those at Abu Ghraib again, and I don't ever want to see another press report about another innocent person picked up on some unreliable informant's say-so, sent off to another country to be tortured, and then eventually released when it became apparent that the person was in fact not connected to terrorism in any way. (Example: Maher Arar, Canadian citizen, cleared by his own government, sent to Syria for a year over Canadian government objections.)

As I understand it, if the press reports are to be believed, there are some 14,000 people held under exactly these conditions right now, most of them in Iraq. The case of one of them has been recently brought to light, an AP photographer named Bilal Hussein. From that report: "Hussein is one of an estimated 14,000 people detained by the U.S. military worldwide 13,000 of them in Iraq. They are held in limbo where few are ever charged with a specific crime or given a chance before any court or tribunal to argue for their freedom." We cannot let these people languish indefinitely under such conditions. In a war that is expected to last generations, we need more oversight, not less.

Now, I've been listening to the same rhetoric as you about how terrorists have been given a "boatload of rights" (Representative Duncan Hunter, Armed Services Committee Chairman), or how opposition to this bill is the equivalent of "coddling" terrorists (House Speaker Dennis Hastert). We need to remember, though, that we afford these basic rights (and more) to the meanest, most despicable mass murderers; we afforded these basic rights (and more) to Timothy McVeigh! And no one charged us then with "coddling" McVeigh or being soft on domestic terrorism. Rather, the fact that we insisted on following fair and just procedures was something that we were and are proud of. It sets us apart from other governments and other societies; it provides an example to the rest of the world.

There is an implication I hear in these debates -- I am listening even now to C-SPAN2 via the Internet -- that we must use any means necessary to defeat the terrorists, because the threat is so grave. But we all know better than this. We know that some means are not acceptable, no matter the ends; for this reason, we prohibit some actions in all circumstances. We prohibit rape, murder of noncombatants, and various other evils, with no exceptions. Some means are not acceptable, and I strongly believe that the legal framework that would be legalized in this bill, including the legalization of torture or "almost torture", is among them.

The alternative, if the current bill is passed instead, is that thousands of people will be held in secret locations, without oversight, without access to the courts, unable to effectively challenge the evidence against them (if indeed they are ever tried), interrogated using who knows what methods, whether they be terrorists or innocents.

We won't know the details, We won't know who's innocent or guilty. But we will know enough to be ashamed.

Thanks for reading, and good luck.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006 8:43 PM

If I can't dance...

It means I'm keeping my foot elevated per my doctor's orders.

Seriously, though, he looked at the X-rays, said it all was healing well, and told me I could start getting around for up to 2 hours a day this week and 3-4 hours a day next week. This meant my first trip to the living room in a week! It was very exciting.

I haven't needed pain meds in a couple of days, so now I just have to have patience with the recovery process. Or rather, my friends have to have patience with it. It's been nice, getting all my meals in bed and all, but I"m sure we'll all be happier when that's over.

Cast off date: October 13.


8:20 PM

Everyone loves a winner

In a recent NYT article (free registration required, or use BugMeNot), Jim Rutenberg discussed the way the Republicans are winning the war of words. A couple of choice examples:

“I need members of Congress who understand that you can’t negotiate with these folks,” Bush said recently at a fundraising dinner. The implication, which Democrats were quick to react to, is, of course, that the Democrats are all about negotiating with terrorists, which, as we all know, is a no-no.

Or there's the interview where Bush recently said that in Iraq, "Most people want us to win." The implication is that the Dems are losers. They didn't take too kindly to that either.

I figure that there's plenty of room for other players in that arena, though. Here's a sample: "Most people thing the Iraqis should have the final say about how their country is run." Okay, it's not quite as as short, but someone can clean it up, maybe use the buzzword "democracy" in there and nail it. Then, when an Administration official says that, why, the U.S. is there to ensure this very thing, we can point to the Washington Post article, aptly titled: "Most Iraqis Favor Immediate U.S. Pullout, Polls Show". Who conducted these polls? The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. And, oh yeah. The State Department. Whoops!

Here's some other kick-'em-while-they're-down soundbites you can try on your friends: "Most people want *de*-escalation of the violence in Iraq." (After that, cite the BBC overview of just how bad things are getting over there.)

Or "We need a foreign policy that doesn't breed new terrorists." Seen the NIE report lately?

p.s. Yes, I know that it's damn quaint of me to use * instead of actual HTML markup for emphasis. Shut up and go micromanage your own damn blog :-P


Friday, September 22, 2006 11:26 AM

Best foot forward

Yes, it's another cheesy posting about my foot surgery. Completed yesterday, and the biggest pain is the one in my *ss from sitting in a funny position with my foot elevated and my Dell XPS Gen 2 laptop on my stomach. It's not all that light after a few hours of typing.

Anyways, the foot doesn't hurt at all. It just feels funny, a bit numb I guess. They had to cut the whole first metatarsal bone off and slide it over, so you'd think it would actually be uncomfortable. But not so far.

Fun fact: when you're shivering to death after coming out of general anesthetic, they give you Demerol. Who knew?

Time to shift positions again. At the end of this convalescence I'll be able to tell you all hundred and one different positions you can sit in and still have your foot elevated above your heart. I figure I've done about 5 of them so far. Only 95 + 1 to go.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006 10:32 AM

It's good to be a pirate...

That's right, International Talk Like a Pirate day has finally arrived.

To celebrate, I took the quiz: Which pirate are you?

My pirate name is:

Iron Roger Rackham

A pirate's life isn't easy; it takes a tough person. That's okay with you, though, since you are a tough person. You have the good fortune of having a good name, since Rackham (pronounced RACKem, not rack-ham) is one of the coolest sounding surnames for a pirate. Arr!


Wednesday, September 13, 2006 10:25 PM

Help out the NSA.

Use some talking points today! It's fun, and it's easy. Just read through the talking points, choose one you like, and tell all your friends.

As taken from the Raw Story, choose one.

1. The terrorist threat to this country is real. We need to do everything possible to make our nation safe, and we need to it in a way that preserves our civil liberties. [Hmmm... that might be an argument *against* the wiretap program. Let's see about the next one.]

2. As a member of an intelligence committee of Congress, I am fully committed to that goal. We are the watchdogs of the Intelligence Community, including the National Security Agency that is carrying out the Terrorist Surveillance Program. [Err... I thought it was the Wiretapping Ordinary Americans Program, my mistake! But in any case this talking point isn't any good unless you're a committee member, a lapdog^H^H^H^H^H^Hwatchdog of the intelligence community. How about the next one?]

3. I have been briefed on the Program and stood on the operations floor at NSA to see first-hand how vital it is to the security of our country and how carefully it is being run. [Ok, so you've read articles in the press instead. But that's probably as good as the Congressional briefings. And if you're in the Bay Area, you've probably stood in the street outside the building on Folsom Street to see first-hand how secure it is... n't.

4. It would be irresponsible to reveal details because that would give our adversaries an advantage. My colleagues and I are very serious about protecting our nation's secrets. [Good thing, since Libby and Rove don't seem to be! But, seriously, folks, the only people who don't know these details by now are the... American people. Can't you let us in on the secret?]

All right, I just can't do any more of these with a straight face. But I do notice that the NSA puts in a plug for technology neutrality there at the end of its list. I wonder if we can use that to argue for Net neutrality legislation, maybe piggyback it somehow? No? Shucks, I was hoping to get *something* good out of this.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006 9:17 PM

A chip off the old bone

I went to see the doctor today to talk about foot surgery. This was going to be a very simple procedure to remove a bone chip which was sitting just below the skin, but now, after the MRI, it's going to involve cutting the bone, repositioning it, and a cast and crutches and a lot longer recovery time.

All the complications are probably due to walking on the foot for two and a half years while it's been f*cked up. And much of that is due to having no health insurance for a good chunk of that time.

It's a good thing that we have the finest health care system in the world. Imagine if it was a really *crappy* system. (Yes, that was sarcasm.)


8:34 PM

Five years ago

The first thing I usually do in the morning after opening my eyes is to reach for the on button of the radio right by my bed and turn on the news. It's a bad habit that's gotten me into trouble time after time, but yesterday I was awake enough to turn it back off after about 20 seconds. Not that the coverage was going to be (necessarily) abominable; I just didn't want to hear it.

Five years ago, I'd been gone from New York for six months, living in Montreal. I'd just passed through NYC the night before on my way back from California, and the next morning I crawled out of bed to read the bad news on Slashdot. For the next two weeks I kept my head down and my profile low, avoiding email and anxious about every phone call. In the end, I was lucky; all my friends were untouched.

That's what I did yesterday too: head down, low profile. I don't need media replays to bring back the horror, and I don't want politicians telling me the policies they are promoting and that I should support if I want to honor the people who died. Political opportunism could take just one day off, dammit.

The best thing I can figure, if we want to honor the folks who were killed, is for NYC to give folks the day off, and for govt officials to promise that there will be no political speeches, and no public ceremonies. Give people the space to have their own ceremonies if they want, and let them own their grief, and live their lives. Or is that too much to ask?

And now, having said that, here's the disclaimer: my opinion shouldn't count for much. The opinions that should count are those of folks who lost family members and friends. And if there are ordinary folks speaking up instead of celebrities, so much the better.


Saturday, September 09, 2006 12:25 PM

Birthday Wake

Election time is drawing near. And campaign season is in full swing. I've ignored it until today, when I discovered to my horror that election day is, once again. on my birthday.

That almost guarantees that nothing good will come out of it. Consider: Nixon was re-elected on my birthday. Bush Jr defeated Al Gore (or not, depending on your view of things) on my birthday.

With a track record like that, I feel fully justified in continuing the tradition of the Election-Day Drunk, a bash which will be held at my place around a TV in our living room. If youre reading this and you know where I live, you're invited. Party-o'clock until we know the results, or until we have to kick everyone out so we can sleep before going to work the next day. Bring: booze of your choice, nostalgia for Dan Rather's election night commentary, ("If a frog had a side pocket he'd carry a handgun"), and MST3K-style barbs to sling at the pundits while we watch the results roll in.

In the meantime you can keep yourself entertained with Electoral, the best voting map ever. Based on polls as they come in, it shows which states are red, blue, or some in-between shade in as close to real-time as you're gonna get.

If you live in California, this is also a fine time to dig out your old downloads^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hdvds of South Park and look for Season 10, episode 8: Douche and Turd. Any resemblance to Schwarzenegger or Angelides is purely coincidental...


Wednesday, September 06, 2006 9:36 PM

Long live the Pirate Bay!

I finally got around to viewing the not-quite-documentary about piracy, Steal This Film, which I downloaded (naturally) via BitTorrent. It's not an objective viewpoint; it's unabashedly pro-piracy. There's no analysis of the issues whatsoever, and visually the film could use some work too. Nonetheless, I give it two thumbs up. Why?

Sit back and put your feet up, because I'm going to tell you a story.

A few weeks ago, LinuxWorld Expo came to town. I got my free exhibits-only pass, as I do every year, and checked the schedule. Larry Lessig from Creative Commons was giving the kick-off keynote, and I'd never heard him speak. Only one problem: it was at 9 a.m. Yes, that's right, I'm a geek and so by definition 9 a.m. is *ss-crack of dawn for me. All you bright cheery morning people, Get Over It.

To keep it brief, I dragged myself out of bed the next morning and got to the convention center on time. There was a pretty good turnout, and a lot of folks drinking coffee in the line waiting for the doors to open.

I'm not sorry I got up early. Lessig is a smart and entertaining speaker. He spoke about the value of remixing and mashups, and illustrated his point with some classics like Brokeback to the Future, which I'd seen, and some anime music videos, which I hadn't. He talked about the ways that movie studios and recording labels agressively went after the authors of suck works, which either: a) stifled creativity and obstructed artists working in this a new medium, or b) was ineffective and a waste of effort on the part of the studios, take your pick. His arguments seemed sensible and easy to follow.

But then he took a side turn to talk for a moment about file sharing and piracy. This talk, and the work of the Creative Commons, was not about piracy, he said, but about the ability to create and add to culture using existing cultural materials. In no way, he said, did he support piracy.

I had been nodding my head in agreement until that point. Mid-nod, I realized that I didn't agree with him.

Now if you'd asked me the day before his talk if I though file sharing and music/movie piracy was ok, I would have probably said, "Well, er, uh, you know, it's better to buy the music but if you can't afford it, and the record labels hog the profits of the artists anyways, blah blah blah..." The usual dissembling mess.

But after some reflection, I have come to a different viewpoint. I fully support downloading of music and videos for personal use. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Let me put all the caveats out on the table right now. I support the use of the GPL to enforce the rights of software developers, which means that I support the use of the copyright system for all those cases. (How many GPLed pieces of software are there, I wonder? Thousands, surely. Tens of thousands? More than a hundred thousand? That's a lot of copyright enforcement.) Of course, I could argue that I do this because the copyright system is broken. And I *do* argue that, but that's for another post...

I also support the right of artists to make a living wage and have time to make their music or their films or other art. This means that, in my world view, artists ought to get paid for what they do, whether on a per-work basis or via subsidies for basic living expenses and tools and materials of their trade. In a world where everyone downloads music for free, and no one buys recorded music, or pays to download music, or makes donations to the artists after hearing recorded music, the only means for musicians to make money is by giving live performances, and most musicians can't support themselves that way. It's possible that some groups that currently can dedicate themselves full time to music would be unable to under a system where free downloading was rampant. Oh, but wait: it is. Hmmm...

The other thing that I support is access to music and movies and other art, even by folks who can't afford it. How many people can afford to buy 20 CDs a month? No one I know. But plenty of people can afford to buy one or two, while they download many others. They hear music they would otherwise not have access to, they share it with their friends, and those friends pass it on. The artist is not making money in this transaction. But their work is being heard. And without file sharing, their audience would be a lot smaller.

Think of it this way. Way back in the day, you used to go hang out with your friends at the local pub and some folks would pull out some instruments and before you knew it you'd be in the middle of a jam session. No one recorded those sessions, but there was some pretty good music, not just in your neighborhood but all over. Nowadays the police bust you for busking without a license, you go to work, go home, eat and go to bed, and the campfire is one of the few places left people can go to make music with others if they don't do it for a living. In other words, music is something you hear at a show, not something participatory as a matter of course.

Where are the public spaces where folks go to just hang out? The police are there, hassling some young black dudes. (No joke. This is Oakland; been there, seen that.) If you hang out in a public space, you had better be going to a street fair or a show; in order words, buying something. Watching a sideshow? Go directly to jail. Ah, but that's another post...

Fine. So in this modern age, our meeting spaces are electronic. Then our creative spaces will be too. Our problem isn't that there is too much file sharing; it's that there is *not enough*.

When every garage band can record their work easily, get it on the 'Net, and people can find it without having to know about it in advance, download it, and share it with their friends, then we'll be starting to exploit the real possibilities of the Internet. Right now, we have to go looking for the thing we want to download, and search engine technology is still barely a toddler in Internet years. Internet radio helps, but we've got a long ways to go.

When I can record a track in my bedroom one evening, post it, and three strangers from around the globe can add different instrumentation or experimental background sounds, and the new work comes back around to my mailbox a week or a month later, after passing through who knows how many hands, then we'll be starting to understand what globalization really means. Right now, it's still hard for art to cross borders except for that produced by professionals, and even there, Hollywood wants to dictate which moviews can be viewed by which audiences overseas in which timeframe, so they can maximize their profits.

Artificial barriers like these to a real global flow of information and culture have to be taken down -- by regular folks, because who else is gonna do it? We're starting to see this happen with the proliferation of blogs written by folks all over the world, read and commented on by folks also from all over the world. Perhaps someday, instead of having to find a lost public space to play music with friends who are geographically near, you'll be able to create music in other ways with folks you've never met before but who just happened to show up to the same Internet "jam session". Hey, if we're going to dream, we might as well dream big.

And speaking of dreaming big... We have the capacity, for perhaps the first time in our history, to record and preserve culture produced by regular folks living regular lives: in other words, most of us. We've been able to record audio for a good while now, and video for a somewhat shorter time, but we haven't been able to handle the storage problem until very recently. (Let's not talk about format conversion and preservation problems; we'll burn that bridge when we come to it. :-) )

Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to be able to pick up a recording today of a group of folks getting together for whatever the 15th century equivalent of a hoe-down was, two towns over from where you live now. And then two towns over from that, and then a year into the future, or 5, or 10. We can make this possible for the generations that follow us. But only if we make these recordings. That's you and me, regular folks, hanging out on our porch, playing music or doing street performance, or making mashups on the Net. If most of us are consumers of culture which must be bought, then this vision will not be realized.

Ok. what does all this rambling have to do with supporting piracy, anyways?

Just this: if our goal is really to free the flow of information and culture, and to encourage its creation and transmission to future generations, then we need to make sure that everyone has access, and not just if you have the $$ to pony up. If that means that more artists have work that pays the rent and do their art the rest of the time, we'll adjust. And I say "we", because I do art. I work with metal, a very slow and time-consuming task, and the last object I completed -- oops, not quite done yet -- took over a year. But that's another post... I do other work to get paid, and I feel a bit weird about it when someone asks me whether I sell my work. (The answer is, I make stuff and if you're a friend I might give you some, but as soon as money enters the picture it sours the deal, for me. It stops being fun and starts being a pain in the *ss.)

Yes, most of us want to make it big. We go to school, take special courses, and put in long hours of practice in the hopes that we will be the ones to win the jackpot, to take home the huge signing bonus, the Porsche in the driveway, the Grammy... But, like the lottery, the system is set up so that only a few people can be winners. Most of us can't profit in that system; all we can do is to buy our ticket every week and never see results.

If we get over our lottery addiction and get back to art as a way of life, we'll remember that the more people that hear or see our stuff (and change it!), the happier we'll be, because that is what art was all about for us in the first place: having a vision and sharing it with people who enjoy it.

And that brings me back to access. To sharing. To file sharing. More is better. For everyone. Except the recording and movie studio executives.

Maybe Lessig's outlook on the future (and the present) and mine aren't so different after all. Maybe he just doesn't know it yet.

That's why I give "Steal This Film" two thumbs up: it promotes this same future, although, perhaps... it doesn't know it yet. :-) Long live the Pirate Bay!


12:35 AM

Beta Blogger Bugs

That's why they call it a Beta. I've run into a good number so far. Too bad they don't have bugzilla, or if they do, it's not where the public can use it.

Here's some fun bits so far:

I was cleaning out some of the cruft that CSS templates accumulate over time, figuring that with the conversion to the new system, this was a great time to do it. In so doing, I went through the newly supplied Beta template, added in some divs and some classes, and removed old dead stuff. I also removed an extra div with class ArchiveList from the CSS, thinking I'd put it in a couple days ago when I was trying to get the font in the nested lists for blog archives not to shrink to subatomic proportions.

Some time later I noticed that toggles in the blog archive section weren't having any effect. Oh, they changed the actual toggle, all right, from the "closed" (pointed sideways) position to the "open" (pointed down) one, but the list of posts stayed the same as before, no matter if the toggle was open or closed.

That's right, dear reader, these two are events are connected. As it turns out, you have to have that div, and it has to have that class, or the toggles do nothing.

Now, some divs are auto-generated by Blogger, like the ones that are produced from every <b:section> and <b:widget> tag. You can't actually remove the divs by themselves, but you can remove the tags, and when you do, you know you're removing functionality. But stray markup that the user can remove without removing underlying objects *should not* break a widget. That's poor user interface design. At the very least it should be *documented somewhere*... and now it is, on this blog. Hmmph.

Some other generic bugs: various blog settings don't seem to work. I set "Show 7 pages on main page" and as you can plainly see, there are more than seven showing. Likewise, I can't turn off quick edit icons; I finally commented them out in the CSS because I find them distracting.

And they really have got to get a better template syntax checker, or allow the user the option to see all errors, not just the first one, along with an indication of where the checker bailed out.

I did beat the "Upload a new template and we'll delete all your widgets" syndrome though. They have some sort of automatic renaming system for widgets, so if you call a widget "Blog" (since you have only one of these widgets, why call it anything else?), they'll rename it to "Blog1". Ok, I guess that's not a big deal. But then when you edit your same template file locally using a nice editor (have I said something good about emacs this week?), and upload it with the changes, it still has the name "Blog" that you used. And so Beta offers to delete the Blog1 widget that it created after it rewrote your template file the first time. Not very nice!

The obvious solution, which does work, is to upload your template once, save the rewritten version, format it how you like, and don't ever touch the widget names. You can edit that one locally and upload it without problems.

Until the next update, anyways...


12:20 AM

One left foot

That's what went into the MRI machine today. Actually, both feet went in, but only one was scanned. I asked if I could get a CD and they gave one to me 5 minutes after the scan! Maybe I'll start a personal collection of medical image CDs.

They want you to not move the body part they're imaging, since it'll screw up the pictures. So naturally I had an (almost) irresistible impulse to twitch my foot the entire time I was there, even with the foam they stuffed in around it.

So I asked about the machine itself: is there a huge coil, or permanent magnets, or what? It turns out that the main coil is really small. They place it around the foot before moving you into the machine. I was imagining some really large stack of rare earth magnets from an even larger stack of dead hard drives...

I've now done ultrasound, a CT scan, MRI, and of course X-RAYS. What's left?


Tuesday, September 05, 2006 10:53 PM

Everybody's doin' the Beta

Blogger released a new beta, and pushed their HTML editing tool out a few days ago. I decided to take a look, since maintaining 8 blogs to manage a variant of the old category hack was getting older by the minute. You may not have noticed any new posts lately... like, for about a year.

So, here we are, three long days later, RSS 2.0 feeds now not going through a third party service, and, wonder of wonders, categories that seem to just work. I kept my category color-coding scheme with a bit of CSS, got the post teasaer hack to work, and along the way I found out that you can use *conditional CSS* in your template. Just put it after the <:b:skin> tag in <style> tags, and you have access to all the new data types and template scripting primitives.

Happy coding!


Saturday, March 11, 2006 1:22 PM

One year later...

I finally got the Atom API for post working. Ok, so I took a break for awhile.

It's not necessarily quite working yet, I still have to get the category and main blog thing sorted out, i.e. tested. But the base is there. Tools: curl and bash. Hey, I almost went for the emacs toolkit but it just wasn't as convenient for my purposes.

Unfortunately, some functionality like (re)publishing the blog can't be done through the Atom API, which means that if Google changes their cgi scripts for that, I'm hosed. But they haven't changed it in a year, so it's looking good!