PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.

Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.

I have a day job. So every word of this is my opinion, not that of my employer. This offer IS void in Wisconsin. Except, of course, that some material in this column comes from incoming e-mail; such material is usually reproduced in the Sans Serif type font to distinguish it from the (somewhat) original material.

To Pay For This Column Voluntarily
Tales of Teaching 2004
Tales of Teaching 2005

May 10, 2004: P.S. A Column On Things

May 10, 2004 Vol. 6, No. 18

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Pneumonia, Continued
  • Guest Commentary: War on Terrorism
  • Guest Commentary: Fernald and MIT
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs


  • None


  • 13 Going On 30


  • Bush Conspiracy Generator, Seattle Strip-Club News, Bugmenot, Dan Grobstein File

General News

Pneumonia, Continued

I skipped band on Wednesday. Then I took a half day off from school on Thursday and spent all day Saturday sleeping and not leaving the house. That helped some, but I still whistle from the lungs at night and cough during the day, a deep hacking cough. When will it all end?

Marlow is back home! Rae is coming home this week! The house will ring with peals of childish laughter. I'm just sorry I'm working and being sick and can't spend more time with Marlow.

Guest Commentary: War on Terrorism

By Steve Coquet

A war on terrorism is about as useful as a war on rain: you might make a whole lotta noise and maybe have some fun (if violence is your pleasure), but you aren't going to change anything for the better. There are many reasons for this aside for the fact that killing someone's neighbors isn't going to make that person love you even if he hated his neighbor.

First, it's impractical to try to take their weapons. Centex (a popular plastic explosive -- the commercial version of C4, I think) cost less than $50/pound the last time

I heard. Anyone with a little imagination can cobble together a timing device or a remote detonator. At these prices anyone who is motivated can cause a lot of damage even without the help of (your favorite bogeyman here; al Qaida, Hamas, IRA) And that's just the flashy stuff; a bottle of gasoline and a match are much cheaper.

Second, every time you kill one, you make a martyr. While not all Muslims believe this, a significant minority probably do. And if you think Christians and Jews don't, let me mention two names, one a place, the other a person: Masada and David Koresh.

Clearly, to stop a terrorist, you must take, not his weapon, not his life, but his motivation. How would you do this? The answer is not easy, but it should be obvious. First determine just what that motivation is. That is, what makes a person willing to do the things a terrorist does, at great personal risk or even certain death ? Now I don't work for a prestigious think tank, so all I have to back up my opinion is the fact that I believe it, but here it is: these people believe that they are right. That they have almost nothing to lose and that anything less than an all-out effort will not improve the lot of their people. They also believe that we, i.e. America, the west in general and less fanatical members of their own (nation, ethos, religion, tribe -- pick one) are the authors of their misfortune. Note that this last item does not have to be true, and that is the key. Fifteen years ago, it could be said that Palestinians had more rights in Israel than in most Arab countries. They were safer there, too. It is only after the various Intefadas and other actions and the increasingly repressive reactions to them that things have become really horrible for the average Palestinian. The people only have one source of information that they trust. Believe me, it isn't CNN or the New York Times.

So what do you do? You make things better for him. How do you do that? A foreign policy informed by something other than a slavish devotion to corporate profit would be a good start. A foreign aid program which insisted that some of the aid actually got to the people it was intended for would be nice. And you make it obvious who this potential terrorist's real enemies are: poverty, ignorance and demagoguery. Like I say, it wouldn't be easy. Considering the fact (demonstrable fact, not opinion) that powerful factions in this country, including the resident of the White House, are doing their best to make this nation a theocracy run by demagogues, it may well be impossible. Why would anyone in the Arab world believe anything we say? We've been inconstant friends. We've been hypocrites. We shut down newspapers. We torture prisoners.(Remember -- it doesn't matter if we only did it a little bit, or if it wasn't our military, but the mercenaries we call civilian contractors. All that matters is that he believes it.) Who will we get to push our party line? Egypt, Jordan, Iran -- virtually all nations in the area, including our putative allies are dictatorships. Do you think Qatar wants Al Jazeera to broadcast positive stories of a pro-western democracy? I don't think any government in the region will look kindly upon any news organization that does. So, It may be obvious, but it won't be easy.

Guest Commentary: Fernald and MIT

Sixty Minutes had a segment last week about "experiments" at the Fernald "school" in Massachusetts in which my alma mater, MIT, feed the kids radioactive cereal. Here's what MIT told The Tech, the MIT student newspaper:

Task Force Reports on Fernald Studies
... MIT and Harvard University researchers in the early 1950s were not exposed to dangerous
levels of radiation.

MIT to Pay Victims $1.85 Million in Fernald Radiation Settlement
Richard Dalton had this to say:

Those articles indicate there was some apology and compensation but I didn't see any statement that the Institute believed it did something wrong in proceeding without consent, or that it had taken steps to insure that this kind of ethical lapse didn't occur in the future.

We are living in such a troubling environment of secrecy followed by minimal admission of any wrong-doing, followed by full disclosure--only if investigation forces the truth into the open. That's not MIT's problem alone. God knows there are multitudes of examples in business and government.

How do you teach children honesty when they grow up in an environment where public and private leaders will only admit to actions that give a predictably positive response? That's the easy half of honesty.

Political Notes

Sick joke from Robert Malchman: Hey, did you hear John Kerry is going to pick Max Cleland to be his running mate? Cleland is supposed to be great on the stump.


Former Portland mayor and Oregon governor, Neil Goldschmidt, whom many of us thought would be the first Jewish US President, admitted last week that he had six with a 14-year-old girls back in 1975. Which probably explains why he disappeared from public life after his first term as governor.


Craig Reynolds liked Lowering Our Sights by Robert Kagan in the Washington Post, about how we may have to redefine victory in Iraq if we want to win. He also found an article on Bush's pathological inability to apologize, or even admit mistakes were made: Why Bush Didn't Apologize. Also from American Progress, 100 Mistakes for the President to Choose From.


This from Richard Dalton:

Time to check in with the folks at again. When I looked at the site (4/5/04), the cost had reached $113 billion The costofwar folks use Congressional Budget Office estimates as the basis for their numbers.

They also show what other benefits these staggering costs could fund, like:

One year in Head Start for 16 million kids
A year's health insurance coverage for 48 million kids
Annual salary of 2 million more teachers
Nearly 3 million four-year college scholarships
1.6 million new public housing units

So we'll wind up with more poorly-educated, less-healthy children, who could be homeless, as well. That seems a small price for the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, right?

P.S. That doesn't include the ongoing cost of the war in Afghanistan or the $100+ billion authorized and expected to be authorized this year for further Iraq war costs.


Did the NY Times get the headline and caption wrong on Saturday, May 1, 2004, on the top of the front page picture and story of the U.S. Marine Corps. surrendering positions in and near Falluja, Iraq (paid for with the blood of our fellow citizens) to a "former Iraqi Army major general" wearing the uniform of Saddam Hussein's army? The story, caption, and headline read as if the Iraqis were helping the Americans rather than accepting a surrender and withdrawal by the Americans. Other reports made it clear that as far as the Americans were concerned the people to whom they surrendered control of Falluja could have been killing Marines and attacking U.S. convoys a few days ago. Later reports indicate that the major general (Jasim Muhammad Saleh) was a general in the feared and hated Republican Guard, one of the key forces upon which the dictator relied to control the country and its citizens. Even later reports indicate that perhaps Saleh was unacceptable and was being replaced by another general. Precisely whom did the Americans think was behind the professional military tactics used against American forces in the month of April (other than people with professional military training)?

In a classic case of buck-passing, Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, speaking from Qatar declined to discuss Saleh's background and referred reporters to Baghdad. The Baghdad spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, referred reporters to the Marines in Fallujah.In Fallujah, Marine Col. John Coleman said of Saleh: "He has his own methods that he will employ in the city." Are those the same Republican Guard methods U.S. troops have given their lives to stop?

One wonders if after one more successful Mission Accomplished as in Fallujah, George W. Bush will advocate surrendering Houston to the Iraqi Army.

* * *

Today's selection from the "Those who would surrender liberty for security deserve neither" chronicles:

For some really warped logic (or an editor asleep at the switch), try "Lesser Evils; What it will cost us to succeed in the war on terror" by Michael Ignatieff in The NY Times Magazine (p. 46, Sunday, May 2, 2004) in which one can find: "A lesser-evil approach permits preventive detention, where subject to judicial review; coercive interrogation, where subject to executive control; pre-emptive strikes and assassination, where these serve publicly defensible strategic goals. But everything has to be subject to critical review by a free people: free debate, public discussion, Congressional review, in camera if need be, judicial review as a last resort. The war needs to be less secretive, not more."

Hello? Anyone home? In camera (that means secret) Congressional review is not free debate or public discussion. The "coercive interrogation" is at the pleasure of the President (or perhaps the Attorney General). The "assassination" he advocates allowing is also at the pleasure of the President apparently acting in secret and perhaps subject to some new Congressional legislation.Any such legislation would appear to violate the Fifth Amendment. Which five Supreme Court justices are willing to say so and can be relied upon to say so? Precisely where does Michael Ignatieff, advocate of assassination as a "lesser evil", work? At the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.


Jackson Diehl wrote an interesting column in The Washington Post (May 2, 2004, p. B7) about the possible appeal of Ralph Nader in the election ("The Power Of a Peace Candidate").


Was it about WMD or oil?

"The easing of sanctions against Libya allows American oil companies to revive their participation in decades-old production ventures in the country, and already, Occidental Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil, and Amerada Hess have moved to renegotiate their old leases. But the new projects Libya is preparing for auction would let American companies catch up to European rivals like Agip and Total that have moved in over the last 20 years to help develop Libya's reserves." (See " Libya to Open 8 Oil Projects To Bidders in The NYTimes, by Neela Banerjee.)


Because the editorial page of The Washington Post usually reads as if it were written by the staff of Fox News for the Republican National Committee (referring to these last two organizations by two different names does not imply or infer that they are in any way distinct entities), the editorial on Thursday, May 6, 2004 ("Mr. Rumsfeld's Responsibility" on page A34) was significant.

On Friday, May 7, 2004, The New York Times editors also came right to the point with "Donald Rumsfeld Should Go" (page A24).

Usually when the finger of blame is clearly pointed at someone the way it was by George Bush (through thinly veiled anonymous mouthpieces) at Don Rumsfeld on the front page of both The NY Times and The Washington Post on Thursday, May 6, 2004, the pointee is about 24 to 48 hours away from a job change. Whether that is the case here remains to be seen.

However, after Rumsfeld spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday, May 7, 2004, some were left to wonder whether Rumsfeld was far too junior on the chain of command for the responsibility and punishment for the continuation of torture in Iraq to fall solely on him.

In that regard, various newspapers have noted that in his campaign for election George Bush continues to claim falsely (despite clear worldwide photographic evidence to the contrary) that the torture was stopped in Iraq in about April of 2003. Bush claims that "Saddam's torture chambers" have been closed. Given the continuation of torture (including, between Afghanistan and Iraq, two homicides and 10 unexplained deaths), does that mean that George should now be referring to "George's torture chambers?"


Another interesting issue facing John Kerry is discussed in "Kerry's Iraq Choices" by Harold Meyerson in The Washington Post, May 5, 2004, page A29.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Our eVote cup runneth over: State Allows E-Vote for November, High-Tech Voting System Is Banned in California, Voting Software Firm Gets Sued, Who Hacked the Voting System? The Teacher, E-Vote Problems Overwhelm Feds, E-Voting Challenge in California and E-Voting Commission Gets Earful. Background on this issue can be found at

Copyright cloys: Dan Gillmor cites two papers on How Copyright Cartel is Killing Privacy. The EFF seeks your help to defeat the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act of 2004 (PDEA, HR 4077): Don't Fund the War on File Sharing. They suggest you ask congress for a real solution, for example the Voluntary Collective Licensing of Music File Sharing. More on copyright and music: Mashup Artists Face the Music and CNET to Launch Digital Music Services Guide.

Cognitive Radio: I read that EFF had filed comments [PDF] on the FCC's consideration of Facilitating opportunities for Flexible, Efficient, and Reliable Spectrum Use Employing Cognitive Radio Technologies. That last phrase jumped out at me because I just recently read a short science fiction story about cognitive radio: Liberation Spectrum, by Cory Doctorow, author of the the EFF's FCC comments.

Semacodes are real-world hyperlinks: point your camera phone at one and browse the corresponding web page. See the list of potential applications. Remember the ill-fated CueCat? (See also CueCat Resources and :Catricide.) Technology marches on and four years later using standard hardware, semacodes may offer all the benefit without any of the baggage.

Nano, nano two tiny technologies: A Conveyor Belt For The Nano-age and Tiny robot walker made from DNA.

Technobits: FTC: don't worry about spyware --- MPAA's youth indoctrination --- phishing cost 1.2 billion dollars last year --- U.S. Is Losing Its Dominance in the Sciences (this has been a strong trend since the 1990s) --- India's secret army of online ad 'clickers' --- preliminary results of Memespread study (as previously mentioned here) --- random chips --- 5MHz shoe --- robot traffic cones (PI, paper) --- search speed: comparing Google with old school research --- NASA Sci-Fi --- cars: in, out and around.




13 Going On 30

I'm kind of rooting for this film a little, since screenwriter Cathy "What Women Want" Yuspa is related to a friend of mine. Having said that, I find 13 Going On 30 is moderately well done and mildly amusing. Good "back of the business card" concept: a girl, disappointed at her 13th birthday party, wishes she was 30. She wakes up and she's a 13-year-old in a 30-year-old's body, who knows nothing about her life. The more she learns of this life, the less she likes it. She "got everything she wanted" and it didn't make her happy. In the old days, Samuel Goldwyn once said, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." Ignoring that advice, this film suggests you consider that your life is the sum of your choices. Trite but true. Occasionally clever, and not too obnoxious. Not worth a special trip, but if the movie you came for is sold out, you shouldn't mind watching Jennifer Garner do a decent job with the material.


Bush Conspiracy Generator, Seattle Strip-Club News, Bugmenot, Dan Grobstein File

Bush Conspiracy Generator, courtesy of Robert Malchman.

A friend sent along this url: How the Seattle City Council can resolve the strip-club issue and bring about world peace at the same time. An immodest proposal by Dan Savage.

Do you recall the URL of the site that provides logins and passwords to sites like the NY Times and Washington Post that require signing up, for people like me that don't like providing a bunch of personal information just to read an article?

That would be which Craig Reynolds picked up from Dan Gillmor's weblog.

Dan Grobstein File


New York Times:

  • 56 Years Late, New York Can Laugh at Its Image
    The moviemaker Stanley Kramer was always known as an astute businessman. But in 1948 when he produced his first movie, "So This Is New York," a screwball satire of city life,
    previewing it in the Midwest was probably not the best idea.

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