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Weblog Archives for December 2001

Saturday, 1 December 2001

Crashing a Nokia net-enabled phone with an SMS message.

This obituary for the Cypherpunks mailing list led me to the Cryptome.org web archive, which is where I found a list of 93 identified detainees the government has charged in connection with its terrorism investigation. Many of them are charged with (relatively) innocuous crimes like credit card fraud or lying to investigators, but there's a big cluster of Fraudulent HAZMAT (hazardous material) licenses in Pennsylvania.

The return of Cointelpro: Ashcroft plans to loosen the restrictions that limit the FBI's ability to spy on American religious and political organizations.

Jerry Falwell has accepted the ACLU's legal aid to fight a Virginia law restricting the amount of land a church can own.

I should either resubscribe to Phil Agre's Red Rock Eater News Service, or get into the habit of checking his archive regularly. He recently sent out a collection of links to stories about the Carlyle Group and the Bushes, including a Guardian story about how the FBI and military intelligence was forced by political pressure (during both Clinton and Baby Bush administrations, with more pressure in the latter) to break off investigations of members of the bin Laden family.

A followup in the Sydney Morning Herald brings up further details about investigations into the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a suspected terrorist group that at least one bin Laden is involved with, and that the FBI started to look into but then stopped. The Herald also reports that, as of 7 Nov., WAMY's assets had not yet been frozen, and mentions long-time shady dealings between the CIA, the State Dept., and the Saudis:

The former head of the American visa bureau in Jeddah [Saudi Arabia's big commercial city] from 1987 to 1989, Michael Springman, told the program: "In Saudi Arabia I was repeatedly ordered by high-level State Department officials to issue visas to unqualified applicants.

"People who had no ties either to Saudi Arabia or to their own country. I complained there. I complained here in Washington to Main State, to the inspector-general and to Diplomatic Security and I was ignored."

He added: "What I was doing was giving visas to terrorists - recruited by the CIA and Osama bin Laden to come back to the United States for training to be used in the war in Afghanistan against the then Soviets."

The US wanted to keep the pro-American Saudi royal family in control of the world's biggest oil spigot, even at the price of turning a blind eye to any terrorist connection -- so long as America was safe, the program said.

Sunday, 2 December 2001

The Bush administration is seeking still more surveillance powers for the FBI and CIA:

A senior U.S. official said this second wave of anti-terrorism measures reflects the administration's belief that it can harness the political energy of wartime to gain even more power and autonomy for federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

"A lot of this is not being driven by problems that prosecutors or investigators are having," the official said. "It is just a good time to get everything. It is totally politically and public-perception-driven."

"It is turning FISA into a one-stop shop for wiretaps," said Jerry Berman, a lawyer with the Center for Democracy and Technology who participated in the drafting of the FISA statute in 1979. "Joe Six Pack thinks they [FISA wiretaps] are carefully targeted on foreigners and terrorists."

Tuesday, 4 December 2001

New Natter: I Hate Television

The horrifying thing about Bruce Sterling is that even when I disagree with him, his writing style just sucks me in and triggers all my "this guy knows what he's talking about" reflexes. Here's a note from his Viridian mailing list, tying together crypto, intelligence, terrorism, Microsoft, intellectual property, the future of innovation, and freelance surveillance, not quite as well as it ought:

And the answer is that the frame of mind that can produce a wondrous document like Tim's ANARCHIST MANIFESTO is entirely different from the kind that can support a stable civil society. That is a pirate utopia! It lacks any means of production! It is parasitic and cannot earn a living. There's no constitution, no civil order, no checks and balances and no rule of law there. The guys who are into this nutty schema couldn't run a lemonade stand, much less establish a world-changing pirate republic. We're not talking Oz; we are talking like five soggy hackers sitting in SEALAND, eating sardines and powdered scrambled eggs on a rusty gun emplacement.

(And for some reason he uses double equal signs (==) to represent em-dashes.)

Sterling also does a little MST3K routine on a bunch of news stories about the collapse of Enron.

Thursday, 6 December 2001

According to an ACLU press release on local police department non-cooperation with Ashcroft's massive dragnet, one such locality is Dubya's old hangout of Austin, Texas. (That better, Patrick?)

Friday, 7 December 2001

Phil Caracas is Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter -- Let the power of Christ impale you!

Sunday, 9 December 2001

Another thing I was just telling Chris the other day -- Microsoft has the worst ads in the world.

I stayed up till 6 AM finishing the Watchmen screenplay; it doesn't end as well as it begins. While it does manage to get as many of the important bits in as is probably possible in a movie, makes some minor changes that fix some of Moore's implausibilities, and even manages to squeeze in a couple of pieces of info from the written interstitial material from the comic, there are also considerable changes for the worse.

Most glaring (outside of the alteration to the ending) is how badly Hamm treats Rorschach. Moore's Rorschach is insane, but mostly keeps a cool, controlled aspect (when he isn't actually beating the crap out of someone), and displays a dark, ironic wit. He's a madman, but a vastly compelling and interesting one. Hamm's Rorschach is a crude boor, forever hissing and snarling. Here's a clear example of the difference. It's the prison-break scene; Rorschach has chased the Big Figure (whom Hamm has renamed Little Bigger for no discernable reason) into the men's room; Night Owl and Silk Specter find Rorschach just as Rorschach is about to enter the restroom. Here's Moore's version, from the comic (Chapter 8):

NIGHT OWL: Rorschach? Is that...? Yes. Yes, it's you. Come on, man. We came to bust you out and we better hurry before, uh... Uh, we're not interrupting anything?

RORSCHACH: No. Excuse me. Have to visit men's room. (Enters men's room.)

SILK SPECTRE: Oh, for Christ's sake...

NIGHT OWL: Uh, look, it's okay. I mean, it happens to everybody, right? I remember once I lost a big arrest like that... I was closing on this dope dealer and I needed to take a leak. By the time I'd gotten in and out of my costume, he'd vanished. I redesigned it since then.

SILK SPECTRE: Oh, sure. Everybody's done that... What pisses me off, we came to rescue him, he doesn't even thank us! Doesn't even say hello! Hell, what's he doing in there? That bumping...

NIGHT OWL: It's okay... I think I just heard him flush...

(Rorschach emerges from the men's room. We can just barely see that the floor is flooded inside the room; the water puddle expands over the next few panels.)

SILK SPECTRE: At last!

NIGHT OWL: Shhh.

RORSCHACH: There. Did what had to be done. Can leave now.

SILK SPECTRE: Really? I mean, are you sure? We don't want to get too reckless and go diving head-first into things!

(The three of them walk off. Behind them, the puddle expands into the hall.)

RORSCHACH: Hurm. Good advice. Sure there are many who'd agree with you.

Now here's Hamm's version, from the screenplay:

198. INT. PRISON - CROSS CORRIDOR - A MOMENT LATER The terrified LITTLE BIGGER realizes he's just hit a dead end. He throws a glance over his shoulder, sees RORSCHACH moving up on him. Desperate, he ducks into a MEN'S ROOM.

RORSCHACH follows, his pace measured and deliberate. Behind him, LAURIE and DREIBERG have just rounded the corner into the cross corridor.

LAURIE
Rorschach! Is that you??

He turns and holds up a finger: one moment, please. Then, calm and dispassionate, he enters the MEN's room. DREIBERG and LAURIE stand at the end of the corridor, mildly boggled.

LAURIE
What's he doing?

DREIBERG
I think he's going to the john.

LAURIE
My God! We bust him out of jail, in the middle of a riot, and he stops to take a --

Before she can finish, RORSCHACH reemerges, wiping his hands on a paper towel. He wanders up to join them without so much as a "howdy."

DREIBERG
. . . That was quick.

RORSCHACH
Toilet clogged. Short fat turd. (beat) Let's get out of here.

In Times Square today, Chris and I saw the opening sentence of this AP story scroll by on a news display:

President Bush pressured Congress on Saturday to take up his domestic agenda, saying Americans are worried not only about terrorism, but a host of other issues too.

Sure. One of the things we're worried about is Bush's domestic agenda.

Didn't we have some kind of crisis recently with an infectious agent being sent through the mail? I could have sworn that we did, but then how to explain US Scuttles Germ War Conference:

An international conference on germ warfare disbanded in chaos and anger last night after the United States sought to cut off discussions about enforcing the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.

The 1972 treaty, ratified by the United States and 143 other nations, bans the development, stockpiling and production of germ warfare agents -- but it has no enforcement mechanism. The purpose of the conference, held in Geneva, was to discuss the progress of a group that has been trying for six years to negotiate legally binding measures to enforce compliance.

I assume by now that my readers are familiar with John Ashcroft's reprehensible performance in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday:

And with public opinion behind him, he took the offensive by lashing out at "those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty." Their tactics, he said, "only aid terrorists ... give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends."

Implying an inability on our parts to understand simple English, the Justice Department troweled on another layer of double-speak on Friday:

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said Friday that Ashcroft wants public debate about the anti-terrorism measures but opposes the "spread of misinformation" about the policies. She said it is wrong to suggest that Ashcroft was critical of those who don't agree with him.

"Ashcroft was very clear he wanted public debate," said Tucker. "Anyone who reported that he criticized anyone who opposed him was absolutely wrong and in doing so became part of the exact problem he was describing."

Election reform in Florida isn't going much of anywhere:

Ignoring the Legislature's wishes, the secretary of state recently awarded a $1.6 million contract to an Atlanta consulting firm, Accenture, to design a database system for the state's election offices. By great coincidence, Accenture is represented by the Fort Lauderdale lobbying firm of Poole, McKinley and Blosser, which has long-standing ties to Ms. Harris' Republican party. The larger concern, though, is that, by again relying on a private company rather than public servants, the state is repeating a mistake that undermined the legitimacy of the 2000 election.

Apple may be coming out with a flat-panel iMac.

In 1989 Sam Hamm wrote a draft screenplay for a movie adaptation of Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbon's comics masterpiece Watchmen. The movie was never made (though a new project along those lines is currently in the works).

Hamm's script is available on the web. I've downloaded it into my Visor, and started reading it. So far it seems pretty faithful. It was a bit jarring to see the Crimebusters called "the Watchmen," but I can understand that moviegoers would expect a superhero movie called "Watchmen" to be about a superhero group called the Watchmen. On the negative side, Hamm blows Rorschach's secret identity right off the bat.

Monday, 10 December 2001

Here's yet another example of the press letting Dubya get away with things they crucified Gore for. On 5 December, the NY Times ran a story about Dubya visiting Florida. Towards the end, he recounts his experiences first hearing about the 9/11 attacks:

The president responded by talking more personally about his thoughts on that day, when he was at a school in Sarasota, Fla. "I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower -- the TV was obviously on," Mr. Bush said. "And I used to fly myself, and I said, 'Well, there's one terrible pilot.' I said, 'Must have been a horrible accident.'"

I don't fault him for the reaction; that's more or less what a lot of people were probably thinking. (By the time I heard, both planes had hit.) But notice -- he's claiming to have seen the first plane hit either live on TV as it was happening, or very shortly after it had happened. The first plane hit at 8:45 AM, the second at 9:03 AM. According to Ari Fleischer (as reported by FOXNews.com) Bush's chief of staff told him about the first plane when he arrived at the school around 9 AM, and Bush was in the classroom when the second plane hit. So we must be talking about that 18-minute span between the two plane crashes, and Bush must be claiming he saw footage of the first plane during that span, and not footage of the second plane, because footage of the second crash wouldn't have been available until after he'd entered the classroom.

But the TV networks weren't showing footage of the first crash. They didn't have cameras pointing at the WTC until after the crash! The footage they did eventually get was shot by someone who happened to have video camera out and pointing in the right direction at the time, and it took them time to get it:

Hundreds of times on Tuesday, networks aired footage of the jetliner piercing the south tower of the World Trade Center as the north tower burned from a previous attack. In the overnight hours, a film clip of the first strike also emerged.

The footage came from a camera operator who was making a training film for firefighters in the street near the World Trade Center. When he heard a low-flying plane, the cameraman aimed his lens up at the tower just in time to catch the impact, said J.P. Pappis, editor of the Gamma Press agency, which bought the footage for an undisclosed price.

I turned CNN on at 9:45 AM, and had it on continuously into the afternoon (and often after that), and if they'd had footage of the first crash they'd certainly have shown it dozens of times in those first few hours, as they did their footage of the second crash and the tower collapses. It was hours before I saw footage of the first crash; it certainly wasn't available when Bush says he saw it. He may well have seen footage of North Tower burning, and heard that it was caused by a plane crash, but I'm pretty sure couldn't have seen the crash itself as he's claiming.

So, Bush lied. This isn't an important lie, like his perjury in the SCI case, or his father's lies about involvement in Iran-Contra. But it is the kind of lie that the press accused Gore of telling, and used to paint him as a habitual liar.

'Starry Night'

If I were a work of art, I would be Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night.

I am a tiny village at peace while overhead rages the tumult of the heavens. Objects whirl and flash around me in a fevered haze only partially reflected in reality while I remain grounded and secure in my isolation.

Which work of art would you be? The Art Test

Thursday, 13 December 2001

I don't understand why Bush is invoking executive privilege in connection with a decades-old Boston murder case.

Some evidence that the anthrax is of US origin:

An Army biological and chemical warfare facility in Utah has been quietly developing a virulent, weapons-grade formulation of anthrax spores since at least 1992, and samples of the bacteria were shipped back and forth between that facility and Fort Detrick, Md., on several occasions in the past several years, according to government officials and shipping records.

The Utah spores, grown and processed at the 800,000-acre Dugway Proving Ground about 80 miles from Salt Lake City, belong to the Ames strain -- the same strain used in the deadly letters sent to media outlets and two senators in September and October. No other nation is known to have made weapons-grade Ames.

Saturday, 15 December 2001

The role-playing game Kill Puppies for Satan lacks capital letters, but has some great guidelines for gun use:

different guns are good for shooting people under different conditions. a glock 19 is good for shooting people under normal, reasonable shooting people conditions like when the fucking jocks have been pushing you around for four nightmarish years and you can't fucking take it anymore, plus they're wicked reliable. a pump shotgun is good for making that noise before you shoot people in fucking half. a colt 9mm submachinegun is good for when you want to kill everybody in the room but you don't really want to kill the people in the next apartment, while an m16 is good for when you don't care who the fuck you kill.

Also check out the other cool RPG ideas, like Matchmaker.

Google's new mail-order catalog search is in beta. (You folks do know about the various other faces of Google, right? Image search, Usenet archive, specific web searches for Macintosh, Linux, BSD Unix, US government sites, and universities, as well as their Yahoo-like directory?)

Patrick pointed me at some of what the FBI's done that Bush is trying to cover up.

Sunday, 16 December 2001

The tenth annual P.U.-litzer prizes go to journalists who said or wrote particularly idiotic things in 2001:

PROTECTING READERS FROM THE NEWS PRIZE -- Panama City News Herald

An October internal memo from the daily in Panama City, Florida, warned its editors: "DO NOT USE photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan. Our sister paper ... has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening e-mails... DO NOT USE wire stories which lead with civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan. They should be mentioned further down in the story. If the story needs rewriting to play down the civilian casualties, DO IT."

Tuesday, 18 December 2001

The latest MIT Great Dome hack.

A new student group at Columbia University -- Students for an Orwellian Society.

Will Pitt on George W. Bush's history managing other people's money -- King Midas in Reverse:

In the present we must attend to the central truth: any time George W. Bush gets within shouting distance of a company, it collapses. This is a troubling fact when one considers that Bush is currently at the helm of the American economy. In this, the axiom once again holds. Since the beginning of his tenure, the economy has begun to fall apart.

I'd link to this at its original WillPitt.com URL instead of Smirking Chimp, but the form of the URL (http://www.willpitt.com/WillPitt.htm) makes me doubt that the same content will remain there. But I felt I had to mention that it's "powered by" (I think that means "hosted on servers owned by") something called "Laughing Squid." Not that I'm in a position to mock silly site names.

Thursday, 20 December 2001

I saw the Lord of the Rings movie today. It's good. I wish Jackson had kept more of Tolkien's dialog, and that he'd relied on letting the actors depict their temptations by acting instead of having them sprout special effects, but still, it was good. The fight scenes were amazing, and the landscape breathtaking, and most of the actors are really good.

I'll probably see it again with Chris next week or two.

A suspected al Qaeda member has claimed that the terrorist group infiltrated Microsoft and planted "trojans, trapdoors, and bugs" in Windows XP. Microsoft is, of course, denying it. You'd think they'd welcome having someone else to blame their bugs on.

Friday, 21 December 2001

Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is working on a science fiction series called Firefly for Fox. It sounds interesting, and very unlike Star Trek:

Whedon explains, "I wanted to make something that's about a guy who fought for the South, lost and doesn't like anybody anymore. This show isn't about the people who made history; it's about the people history stepped on. It's about their lives and their struggles to keep their ship alive -- as well as the search for meaning in a very dark place."

The show may run on two networks, with episodes premiering on Fox and then being rerun the same week on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Oh, and there's an animated Buffy series in pre-production.

Looking for Osama bin Laden?

The Washington National Cathedral finds your lack of faith disturbing.

I had high hopes for the behavior of my countrymen in the weeks immediately following 9/11. Afghan restaurants were packed, most people were going out of their way to be nice to Muslims (though there are always a few assholes), and in general it looked like our country might come through with its spirit frayed but more or less intact.

Now I'm not so sure. Janis Besler Heaphy (publisher of The Sacramento Bee), in a commencement speech at Cal State Sacramento, spoke up in favor of civil rights, free speech, and questioning authority, and was booed off the stage. But now it seems a distressing number of Americans agree with John Ashcroft, and equate criticism of the Bush administration with support of terrorists. Jon Carroll sums it up nicely:

SHALL WE CALL an entrenching implement a spade? Heaphy was booed for her opinions. This is the reality of life after Sept. 11, that a patriotism litmus test is being applied to just about everyone, and those of us who fail get called traitors. And the test is stiff; if you do not agree with everything the Bush administration is doing, you're not a patriot.

Saturday, 22 December 2001

A man on a flight from Paris to Miami was caught trying to light a fuse to an improvised explosive concealed in his shoe. Here's the part that makes my day:

Passengers subdued the man, some taking off their own belts to secure him into his seat, officials said. Two doctors used the airplane's onboard medical kit to sedate him, and the man's shoe was removed.

Airplane-based terrorism got a lot harder on 11 September. I don't expect to hear about any successfully hijacked planes for a good long while.

Sunday, 23 December 2001

The Register's Andrew Orlowski is tired of MacOS X, and has gone back to the classic MacOS. I'm still using MacOS 9.2, so I'm in no position to argue, but Orlowski claims that Henry Norr has come to the same conclusion:

I'll confess that after two months of 10.1, and eight months of X in general, I switched back to MacOS three weeks ago, and haven't regretted it for much more than a moment. Henry Norr confessed to the same in his The San Francisco Chronicle column on Monday. He's gone back to MacOS after using OS X for serious work.

But after digging up the Chronicle column, I find that Norr is complaining about Microsoft's upgrade of Office for OS X:

Eye candy aside, though, Office v.X doesn't deliver on Mac OS X's key promises, stability and performance. Just the other day Word "unexpectedly quit," as the dialogue box put it, and wiped out a document I'd just spent 10 minutes creating. And two smaller programs installed with the suite -- an Office v.X version of MSN Messenger and a new utility that puts reminders of calendar events on the screen -- have blown up on me several times.

The FBI and Secret Service are starting to investigate "anti-American" activities -- like art that's critical of war:

"They said they had several reports of anti-American activity going on here and wanted to see the exhibit," she says. The museum was running a show called "Secret Wars," which contains many anti-war statements that were commissioned before September 11.

"They just walked in, so I went through with them and gave them a very detailed tour. I asked them if they were familiar with the artists and what the role of art was at a critical time like this," she says. "They were more interested in where the artists were from. They were taking some notes. They were pointing out things that they thought were negative, like a recent painting by Lynn Randolph of the Houston skyline burning, and a devil dancing around, and with George Bush Sr. in the belly of the devil."

What, are they afraid that paintings are going to explode and kill people?

Monday, 24 December 2001

I'm pissed. PvP is one of the two online-only comics I read consistently (the other is Bruno), but for the past few days I've been unable to connect to the server.

Kiba Rika wrote to tell me that she's keeping track of news about Firefly (Joss Whedon's upcoming SF series).

Tuesday, 25 December 2001

Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit points out something that feeds right into the fantasies of every wargamer and role-playing gamer. (Actually, he pointed it out three months ago, but I just ran into it via Ginger Stampley's What She Really Thinks weblog, which I found via Patrick's Electrolite, which I found via ... um, directly from Patrick.) Y'know how we gamers like to fantasize that if we ever found ourselves in a nasty situation our long years of gaming experience would have prepared us to take charge of things and come out on top with some brave bit of derring-do? Well, the heroes of Flight 93 were largely tech-geeks, and most of the tech-geeks I know are gamers....

Oh, and Ginger also has a gaming weblog, which is how I found "Designing Your Team the Scooby Way!"

John Sutherland of The Guardian lists "Fifty-two things they do better in America", though some of them I take issue with:

9. Overtaking on the left or right on the motorway.

Um, no. We're supposed to overtake only on the left. What Sutherland's complimenting us on here is the poor state of driver's ed in the US, or perhaps just good old fashioned American disdain for driving laws.

33. Ubiquitous 24-hour 7-Eleven convenience stores.

Not quite as ubiquitous as all that; I've never lived within walking distance of a 7-Eleven. I do have a 24-hour Korean deli nearby, which may be even better. (Can you get frozen edamame at a 7-Eleven?)

39. Fierce loyalty to illogical Fahrenheit, mileage, gallon and pound avoirdupois measurement.

That's a bug, not a feature.

Wednesday, 26 December 2001

My old college roommate Jeff Loomis wrote to tell me that overtaking on the right (see yesterday's entry) is actually legal in Massachusetts, and probably some other states. The horror!

Thursday, 27 December 2001

Nude robbers menace Bangladesh:

"The womenfolk were so embarrassed by the nudity of the well-built men that they ran away from their homes giving a free hand to the robbers to decamp with their valuables," said eyewitness Ashik Sowdagar in the village of Islampur.

Friday, 28 December 2001

SatireWire — “Enhanced Airport Screening to Include Mammogram”:

"When it comes to passenger safety, you can treat the luggage, or you can treat the whole passenger," explained FAA Security Director Alicia Axill. "Certainly, we are addressing complaints that weapons are still making it past security, but frankly, terrorists are not the number one killer of women between the ages of 35 and 54."

Monday, 31 December 2001

A man from Florida has been arrested with attempting to board an airplane with a concealed gun a loaded 9mm semiautomatic pistol in his carryon luggage. Was it found by airline security in Florida? No, he apparently carried it with him from Florida to Atlanta, and switched flights to Memphis. It was found when he tried to board his return flight back to Atlanta. But they probably checked his shoes.

Meanwhile, another man seems to have waltzed right on through a security checkpoint in Atlanta's Hartsfield International airport with six rounds of handgun ammo illegally in his bag.

The last three payphones I've tried to use have all eaten my quarters. I think what's going on is Verizon is deliberately failing to maintain their payphones, hoping to encourage people to get cellphones instead. Note to self: Try to avoid signing onto a Verizon cellphone plan.

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