Tuesday, June 28, 2005

meditations on a bumper sticker

At their worst, bumper stickers are inane, boring, or mere advertising. At their best, their few words open doors to layers of meaning, a sort of western haiku.

Case in point: the car in front of me this morning had a bumper sticker that read:
God, give me the serenity . . . to accept this damn traffic!
The sticker, as I said, was on a car. Traffic, or at least the kind of traffic this person was talking about, is made of cars. So the sticker was really a prayer for
God, give me serenety . . . to accept a problem of which I'm a part!
Certainly anyone would need serenity to accept a problem like that. But as I pondered the sticker further, I wondered what happened to the rest of the AA serenity prayer that it's playing on. Where's the courage to change the things you can, or the wisdom to know the difference? What this driver had accepted was that creating and living in traffic was the only option. Now, maybe for this person it really was, but maybe not.

Maybe you've seen the commercial on TV. There's a woman talking about how she wants to save the environment. But not at the expense of her car -- she loves her car. The commercial goes on to say that's why the car maker is making efficient cars. But the message here, like the one on the bumper-sticker, is clear: your car is such an integral part of your life that you can't give it up.

There's an interesting theory called "peak oil." It says that oil production will peak, and then decline, some time around 2007, give or take a few years. It's based mostly on oil reserves and how expensive it is to get oil out of the ground. The theory's somewhat controversial, and some sites like this one raise the degree of hype to pre-Y2K levels. On the other hand, demand continues to increase as China and India try to move their populations to first world living standards. Consider, for example, PetroChina's size and Chinese company CNOOC's attempt to buy Unocal. China's population is 1,306,313,812. India's is 1,080,264,388. The US? 295,734,134. It might be worth considering what will happen to oil prices when and if the 2.3 billion people in China and India become like the 0.3 billion in the United States and can't live without their cars, either.

Maybe, instead of just asking for the serenity to accept things as they are, we should all consider asking for the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Kelo v. New London

There's much cussin' and discussin' on Slashdot about today's Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. New London. This blog entry is a slight rewrite of a comment I posted there.

First of all, just for some quick background, the Fifth Amendment does not allow the government to take private property for private use at all. When taking private property for public use, it must sometimes compensate the owner.

Past public use cases Court mention in the opinion:

Berman v. Parker (1954) The Court upheld a Washington DC law that allowed the government to condemn and take private lands in blighted areas, compensate the owners, and then lease or sell the land to potential developers. The Court held that renovating a slum was not a "private purpose" under the Takings Clause.

Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff (1984) In Hawaii, a small number of landowners owned almost all the land. Almost everyone else was renting. The Court upheld a Hawaii law that let long-term tenants ask a state authority to condemn the land they lived on, compensate the owner, and then sell the land to the tenant. Again, the Court held that this process was "public use" under the Takings Clause.

Much of the discussion revolved around the fact that the decision seems to be a liberal/conservative split.

At first blush, it looks like the ruling in Kelo v. New London, that the government can condemn and take houses in a non-blighted area, compensate the owners, and give them to a developer for redevelopment in an attempt to rejuvinate the town, doesn't seem to be much of an extension of the other two cases.

On the other hand, I get the feeling there's some maneuvering going on, here. Notice in Hawaii Housing Authority how a very similar interpretation of public use allowed the government redistributed large concentrations of property to "the little guy." Also, keep in mind that property doesn't just mean land: shares of corporate stock are also property. Property rights include things like how you're allowed to use land, too.

On the third hand (the Vorlon hand?) the Court's willingness to defer to the legislature seems to give governments a lot of power. I haven't decided yet whether that's good or bad. The answer may wind up going pretty deeply into why a society chooses to enforce property rights in the first place, and who would be likely to have that power if the government didn't.

Monday, June 20, 2005

updates on the global warming post

Thanks to Maria for this tip-off: the New York Times is reporting that U.S. pressure has succeeded in rewording the draft of the G-8's joint statement on global warming. The Guardian's story is here. According to the Times article, the changes remove the call for prompt action.
Among the changes reflected in the May 27 draft was the deletion of an introductory statement, "Our world is warming." The annotated American copy of the document also offered comments to negotiators for the other nations like "we should avoid the term 'targets' " and "we should leave the definition of what constitutes 'ambitious' to each leader, given their respective national circumstances."
Given the high fraction of global carbon emissions that the U.S. contributes, allowing countries to decide for themselves what "ambitious" means represents a serious de-toothing of the statement, which may have some nasty repercussions as countries like China and India increase their populations' living standards. As I wrote earlier, you can find the U.N.'s numbers on global carbon emissions per capita here.

Also, remember Philip Cooney, the the chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who resigned after allegations surfaced that he had doctored scientific reports to make it seem like global warming was a lot more controversial than it used to be? It looks like he just landed a job at an oil company. Which one? Well, remember the Herald Sun article that said this?
Also yesterday, a British newspaper claimed to have seen official papers showing pressure from oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil partly prompted President George W. Bush to reject the Kyoto protocol on climate change.
You guessed it. Cooney will hire on with Exxon this fall. Honestly, in the wake of the Valdez disaster, I'm surprised Exxon isn't paying more attention to public relations. Thanks to Polizeros for letting me know about the hiring.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

UK memos in context: a timeline

I've put the various British memos into a timeline of events to better understand their context. The timeline draws from two published on the web, at Infoplease and Mideast Web. The memos come from Raw Story and the Times Online. You can also find copies now at downingstreetmemo.com. Since putting this timeline together has consumed most of my weekend, I don't have time right now to write much about the analysis, but the general conclusion is that the Bush administration seems to have made up its mind to get rid of Saddam Hussein by one means or another as of March, 2002, based on a number of factors including a belief that he had a WMD program and "unfinished business" from 1991 (as one of the papers discusses.) This may well be an example of a new-ish administration, flush from a previous victory in Afghanistan, making a policy choice and then selecting the facts to match.

  • 11 Sep 2001 : Attack on World Trade Center.

  • 21 Sep 2001 : US officials tell the Washington Times that Saddam Hussein made contact with Osama Bin Laden days before the attacks.

  • 7 Oct 2001 : US invasion of Afghanistan begins with Operation Enduring Freedom

  • 13 Nov 2001 : Afghan capital Kabul falls

  • 7 Dec 2001 : Afghan city Kandahar falls

  • 29 Jan 2002 : President Bush's State of the Union address lists Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Syria as parts of the "axis of evil"

  • 8 Mar 2002 : British memo: "IRAQ: OPTIONS PAPER" from the Overseas and
    Defence Secretariat Cabinet Office. The paper discusses the policy tradeoffs of continuing a containment policy or moving to a policy of regime change. It indicates that Saddam Hussein was continuing to develop weapons of mass distruction, but that UK intelligence about that was poor. (Para. 4) It indicates there was no greater threat of Hussein using WMDs than there had been in recent years. (Para. 9) It states that the U.S. had lost confidence in the containment policy and that some in the U.S. government wanted Hussein removed. Factors it cites include
    the success of operation Enduring Freedom, distrust of UN sanctions and inspection regimes, and "unfinished business" from the 1991 invasion. (Para. 10) It notes that the U.S. believed the legal basis for an invasion already existed. (Para. 10 and see the legal memo for more.) A full-scale ground campaign would require 4-5 months to assemble, and that the ideal time to start action would be early spring. (Para. 23) Finally, it concludes that the use of force in a ground campaign is the only option that would guarantee Hussein's removal and a return of Iraq to the international community. (Para. 33)

  • 8 Mar 2002 : British Memo: "IRAQ: LEGAL BACKGROUND" (the memo itself is un-dated, but the but the Options Paper, paragraph 28, refers to it as being attached.) The memo discusses the law governing use of force against Iraq. It covers four possibilities. The first is using resolution 678 (1990) directly, the second is 678 (1990) as authorized by 1205 (1998), the third is a theory of self-defence against a threat of WMDs, and the fourth is use of force for humanitarian intervention. The overall conclusion is that, at the present time, the legal climate does not authorize use of force against Iraq. The paper notes that the US has a different view of the law. (Para. 2) There are two governing Security Council resolutions. Resolution 678 (1990) authorized use of force in Iraq. Resolution 687 (1991) established a cease-fire with conditions. If Iraq violated the conditions of the cease-fire, that would revive the authorization for use of force. (Para. 1) The tricky bit is who gets to decide whether Iraq violated the conditions of the cease-fire. (Para. 2) The UK and most of the international community felt that was a decision the Security Council would have to make. The US felt that any member of the Security Council could make that decision by itself, without involving the rest of the Council. (Para. 2)

  • 14 Mar 2002 : British memo: "YOUR TRIP TO THE US" detailing two days of meetings between Condoleezza Rice and UK foreign policy advisor David Manning. The memo mentions a debate in Washington. It indicates that Rice's desire for regime change was "undimmed" but also that there were signs that Washington was developing "greater awareness of the practical difficulties and political risks." It goes on to describe four questions the US had yet to resolve. None of the questions involves whether or not to invade Iraq. Instead, they focus on how to persuade the international community to undertake an invasion, what resources would be available to carry it out, and what would happen afterwards. When discussing Prime Minister Blair's upcoming visit, it expresses the hope that Blair could use the UK's help as leverage both to influence the military planning, because there was a "real risk" that the US underestimated the difficulties, and to get the US to restart the Middle East Peace Process.

  • 18 Mar 2002 : British memo: "IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN: CONVERSATION WITH WOLFOWITZ" from the British ambassador in Washington to David Manning. The conversation occurred March 17th. It also references the March 14th conversation with Condoleezza Rice. Paragraph 4 indicates that Mr. Wolfowitz differed from other administration officials, because he wanted to emphasize Saddam Hussein's barbarism rather than the weapons of mass destruction. Wolfowitz also emphasized the link between Saddam Hussein and terrorism. (Para. 5) This emphasis is noteworthy given the UK's very different beliefs about the links between Iraq and Al Qaida in the other memos. What is striking about the memo is that, as of this date, the momentum in the Bush administration seemed to be decisively in favor of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. The only alternative the memo discusses is arranging a coup. It does not mention additional weapons inspections or other diplomatic solutions.

  • 22 Mar 2002 : British memo: "IRAQ: ADVICE FOR THE PRIME MINISTER" from Political Director Peter Rickets to the Secretary of State. This memo states that the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs had not changed. Instead, what had changed was "our" tolerance of them after the 9/11 attack. (Para. 4) Paragraph 5 characterizes the US attempt to link Iraq with Al Qaida as "frankly unconvincing." Finally, paragraph 6 discusses the public relations problems with having a goal of "regime change," because it sounds like a grudge between George Bush and Saddam Hussein. Instead, it suggests a goal of ending the threat of Iraqi WMDs would be more convincing, and suggests President Bush would do better by showing he was more serious about UN Inspectors as a first choice. Inspectors would be a "win/win" situation since they would either further hinder WMD programs or a refusal to allow them would provide stronger justification for other approaches.

  • 25 Mar 2002 : British memo from Jack Straw, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to Prime Minister Tony Blair about an upcoming meeting in Crawford, TX. It advises Mr. Blair that the UK will have a difficult time convincing its "Colleagues." Paragraph 4 states that there is no credible evidence linking Iraq with Al Qaida. Instead, the main thing that has changed is the international community's, and especially the US's, tolerance for the threat Iraq poses. Paragraph 5 points out that the "axis of evil" speech linked the threats from Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, creating the public relations problem of showing that the threat from Iraq is worse enough to justify an invasion. Paragraph 8 mentions that there are others who say an attack on Iraq would be justified regardless of whether or not Iraq allowed weapons inspectors in, suggesting that views within the UK's government were not uniform.

  • 14 May 2002 : UN Security Council replaces 11 year old sanctions on Iraq

  • 23 Jul 2002 : "Downing Street Memo" summarizing a meeting in which "C reported on his recent talks in Washington." already contains considerable analysis of this memo.

  • 2 Jun 2002 : President Bush introduces defence doctrine of preemption in West Point speach.

  • Aug 2002 : Iraq invites chief weapons inspector to Baghdad for talks on resuming inspections

  • 12 Sep 2002 : President Bush addresses special session of the UN, calling for it to enforce its own resolution on Iraq

  • 22 Sep 2002 : Prime Minister Blair releases dossier showing Iraq has WMD capabilities

  • 11 Oct 2002 : Congress authorizes attack on Iraq

  • 8 Nov 2002 : UN Security Council approves resolution 1441

  • 18 Nov 2002 : UN weapons inspectors return to Iraq

  • 7 Dec 2002 : Iraq submits documentation as required by resoultion 1441

  • 16 Jan 2003 : UN inspectors discover 11 undeclared empty chemical warheads in Iraq

  • 27 Jan 2003 : Weapons inspector Hans Blix submits report

  • 14 Feb 2003 : Second report by inspector Hans Blix

  • 22 Feb 2003 : Blix orders Iraq to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles by March 1 due to illegal range

  • 14 Feb 2003 : US, Britain and Spain submit proposed resolution to Security Council to authorize military force. France, Germany and Russia submit a counter-resolution calling for more intensified inspections.

  • 1 Mar 2003 : Iraq begins destroying Al Samoud 2 missiles

  • 17 Mar 2003 : President Bush delivers ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave the country within 48 hours or face an attack

  • 19 Mar 2003 : President Bush declares war on Iraq.

  • 20 Mar 2003 : US launches Operation Iraqi Freedom with a "decapitation attack."
  • Thursday, June 16, 2005

    Downing Street Memos

    Since the evening's pretty much shot anyway, I figured I'd complete the political triptych and check into the latest on the Downing Street memos.

    Turns out I don't really need to. Technorati's done it for me , at least for the blogosphere.

    Newsweek, via MSNBC, has a fairly lengthy article on newly leaked memos. This passage regarding their authenticity is interesting:
    Smith told NEWSWEEK that nobody in the British government has disputed their authenticity, and he was even threatened last year with criminal investigation for violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act.
    Smith is the news reporter who first obtained the memos.

    At this point, I would very much like to know what American memos exist from Blair's meeting with the Bush administration.

    goings-on with the CPB

    Two news stories about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting today.

    The Chicago Tribune has picked up a Washington Post story that the House Appropriation's Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services and Education has voted to cut the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's funding by 25% this year, and to eliminate all its funding within two years. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is the organization that handles PBS and public radio (one of my own sources for fairly in-depth background news). Rep. Ralph Regula (R), the subcommittee's chairman, assures us there is no political message intended. The ranking democrat on the subcommittee sees things rather differently. You can find the subcommittee's web page here. Here's the membership:

    Ralph Regula, OH (R)
    Earnest J Istook, Jr., OK (R)
    Roger F. Wicker, MS (R)
    Anne Northrup, KY (R)
    Randy "Duke" Cunningham, CA (R)
    Kay Granger, TX (R)
    John E. Peterson, PA (R)
    Don Sherwood, PA (R)
    Dave Weldon, FL (R)
    James Walsh, NY (R)
    David R. Obey, WI (D)
    Steny H. Hoyer, MD (D)
    Nita M. Lowey, NY (D)
    Rosa L. DeLauro, CT (D)
    Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., IL (D)
    Patrick J. Kennedy, RI (D)
    Lucille Roybal-Allard, CA (D)

    I was hoping to put the individual members' votes up there as well, but I'm having trouble finding them. It would be interesting to see how much of a party-line vote it really was.

    In the meantime, the New York Times is reporting that Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the republican chairman of the CPB, signed a $15,000 contract with two lobbyists, and $14K in other contracts -- without disclosing them to the board of directors. This is the same Tomlinson who has caused controversy by trying to further what he believes to be political balance in public broadcasting. One of the lobbyists "briefly served as a top aide to Senator Mel Martinez, Republican of Florida, but resigned after the disclosure that he had written a memorandum describing how to exploit politically the life-support case of Terri Schiavo." Sounds like a great guy.

    flag burning amendment

    Via California Insider (registration required). USA Today is reporting that the Senate is gearing up to vote on a Constitutional amendment to ban flag burning. Five Democrats, including Diane Feinstein of California and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, have co-sponsored the resolution. The House will vote on the amendment next week. If both the House and Senate pass the amendment, then it goes to the individual states for ratification.

    I feel fairly strongly about free speech, because dialog, especially political dialog, is necessary for a democracy to function. One reason we tolerate offensive ideas is that yesterday's "offensive" idea may eventually win out over the currently accepted beliefs and become the new common wisdom. For example, consider once heretical ideas like "women should be able to serve in the military" or "there should be no slavery." Another reason is to provide a safety valve and warning: if someone is angry enough to be offensive, it is often better for the rest of us to let them express that offensive speech or action, both so that we can identify who they are and how angry they are, and so that they don't wait until they're so angry that they take action rather than just express themselves about it.

    There are limits, however. The limits generally come because free speech is in tension with other rights that are also important. Those rights might or might not be listed in the Constitution. For example, free speech rights often come in conflict with a right to privacy: may an employee of a police department tell a newspaper the names of rape victims?

    Currently, burning the flag is protected under the First Amendment as a form of free speech / free expression. While it is a very offensive statement to desecrate the flag, I'd rather that statement stay protected. The reason is that, as I mentioned earlier, if someone is so angry that they're willing to make such an offensive political statement, I'd rather they be able to do it, so that I know who they are and can do something about it.

    It will also be difficult to create an amendment that isn't overly broad: what constitutes desecration, and what is a flag? Those flags people fly out their car windows start looking pretty ratty after they've been flapping in 70mph wind-streams for a few thousand miles. Is that desecration? What about dirty bumper stickers that say "these colors don't run" where the red has completely faded away? Use of the flag in commercials? Political advertising?

    On the other hand, there's a certain irony in the amendment. The flag is the symbol of our country. Restrictions on our civil rights have been increasing lately. Perhaps it's fitting that the symbol represent that fact.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2005

    only sort-of a Michael Jackson post

    I paid very, very little attention to the Michael Jackson trial while it was going on. One more trial, bigger name defendant than most. Once it provided a glimpse into a possible social phenomenon, though, it started to get a little more interesting.

    What social phenonmenon? I couldn't understand why so many people had convicted him even though the jury, which presumably has the best access to solid information and the best opportunity to judge the credibility of the witnesses, found him innocent on all counts. See the exchange in the comments here, for example. A lightbulb turned on when, in a recent conversation, someone said "I was hoping he'd get busted, because celebrities always seem to skate free." I think there might be a perspective shift going on, here. This person wasn't seeing MJ as an individual man who might spend the next 18.5 years of his life in prison, but instead as a member of a privileged class that is less subject to the laws that bind the rest of us.

    On the one hand, MJ, OJ, Martha, etc. are human beings. They're individual people who are potentially innocent or guilty, and the trial is the best mechanism we currently have to determine that innocence or guilt. On the other, they're symbols, tokens in some sort of battle between people with a lot of money and power, and people without. Notice, also, that this is the same perspective shift that occurs in wars: switch from seeing the enemy as individuals to seeing them as tokens. (It may also be one that characterized the 9/11 hijackers. The Al Quaida training manual, as interpreted by Homeland Security, includes a number of passages designed to demonize the enemy.) There's a difference in degree, perhaps, but I don't think the shift is so different in kind. That commonality suggests there's something fairly deep going on here.

    Monday, June 13, 2005

    extreme democracy

    Over the weekend, I was exploring the blogosphere. ("Exploring's" the wrong word. And it was deeper than "surfing." "Diving," maybe?) Over the weekend, I was diving the blogosphere and came across a book review on Smart Mobs[1] for Extreme Democracy. The book is available in both print and as a free download PDF from extremedemocracy.com. It's a fascinating collection of essays discussing the social and political impact of blogs, mobile blogging, text messaging, and other new communication techniques. I haven't had time to get very far into it, but I wanted to get the word out in case others wanted to explore it.

    The essays are not in formal academic style. In fact, the style is closer to The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Wired, or a blog entry, but there are footnotes for further study. The first two essays argue that the structure of blogs, unlike the web in general, allows for emergent behavior, and that the new technologies are allowing new forms -- or at least scales -- of political organization to emerge. My own immediate reaction is that the essays seem somewhat one-sided, but I'll reserve final judgment until I've had a chance to read more. What really has me interested, though, is that they're helping to crystallize some ideas I've been mulling over for a while about tribes that can communicate over long distances, and culture that's no longer tied to geography.

    Check it out if you get a chance. And as you do, it might be worth considering what a culture that values "getting the word out" before mulling over ideas means for these new social structures.

    [1] Thank you, Smart Mobs, for avoiding StudlyCaps. The world has enough names with StudlyCaps.

    Sunday, June 12, 2005

    mobile blogging

    Mobile blogging is an interesting, and potentially very powerful, development. The idea is simple: snap a picture with your camera phone, e-mail the picture with a bit of text to a particular e-mail address, and bingo, it appears on your blog.

    Now multiply by the number of camera phones out there.

    In fact, there are only two things missing to make this scheme a publicly driven surveillance system: a search engine capable of indexing and retrieving the images, and some way to link images to geography. Want a photo of the traffic accident at 5th Ave and 59th street on June 12th? Run a quick search and see if someone snapped one. Want to know where your girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse was Friday night? Plug in an image and you may find out. (Or they might find out where you were...)

    Social effects? I'm not sure. Especially once you throw the occasional Photoshop job into the mix. It's worth thinking about, though, since early image-based search engines already exist, and modern phones already know their locations for 911 service.

    benches with Genuine People Personalities

    The Hitchhiker's Guide fans should get a kick out of this story. Via Slashdot. The BBC reports that a London artist has created and installed a new, solar-powered set of benches and trash bins in one of the parks.
    Andrew Shoben, from Greyworld, said: "At first glance it may look like nothing has changed at all but the bins and benches all have unique personalities.

    "They are what's called "generative" so that over time they develop more and more personality.
    It brings to mind Zaphod's priceless argument with the elevator (make that the Sirius Cybernetics Happy Vertical People Mover) in the radio series.

    The thing about the Guide series of stories that was so powerful is that they really did present a reflection of our lives. It's unfortunate that the recent movie missed this characteristic. The movie was tourism: "look at the funny aliens and their funny ways." The books and BBC radio and TV series were so funny because they took our world and exaggerated it: "look at us and our funny ways."

    As we'll find out just as soon as an artist unveils toilets with "generative" personalities. And a penchant for potty humor.

    Saturday, June 11, 2005

    blogs versus e-mail

    A question recently came my way about the difference between blogs and the various kinds of e-mail lists.[1] The focus here is on organizations, especially politically active ones.

    There are two general kinds of e-mail lists. Announcement lists are kind of like mass mailing, where a small group of people creates content and sends it to a larger group. Discussion lists are similar to a conversation, where everyone can send e-mail to the list. Blogs are more like the pamphleteers of the 1770's, or today's community newspapers: a small groups of people create content, but they hand it out at the street corner, or post it, to try to reach a potentially wide audience.

    Let's start with how blogs are different from discussion lists, because that's probably the clearer distinction. The main difference there is that the blog's conversation is more one-sided. The person or people controlling the blog speak with a louder voice, because they get to decide what the article is going to be. Everyone else can post comments, or they can write their own blog entries, but the focus is on the blog article itself. It's closer to a newspaper and letters to the editor. In fact, similar to a newspaper, the blog's author can selectively delete comments. Since it's a one-sided conversation, the blog is more useful for situations where you want the organization to speak with a unified voice, like when talking to the public. The discussion list is more for socializing, strategizing and building consensus.

    So, how are blogs different from announcement lists? The difference here tends to be about whether the focus is inside the organization or outside. Announcement lists tend to go to an organization's membership, or at least its power base, for a couple of reasons. The first is that it takes several steps to sign up for an e-mail list, so people don't tend to do it unless they're already interested in the organization. Secondly, when you sign up for an e-mail list, you have to trust someone else with your e-mail address and hope they don't spam you. In contrast, blogs are web pages. The search engines index them, and people all over the Internet can browse them and link to them. For instance, here is what you get if you run a Google search for the Dark Star Gazette. That difference makes blogs a useful tool for recruiting. The announcement list is how you get critical announcements to your membership: write your (politician of choice) about (this impending legislation). The blog is for distributing news that's not as time-critical, with occasional time-critical stuff thrown in in the hope that you'll reach people outside your normal power base. With the blog, you want to develop a regular readership that checks in periodically, while at the same time becoming a useful enough source of longer-term information that the search engines will index it.

    So, to summarize:
    • In discussion lists, members talk to each other. They're most useful for socializing, strategizing, and developing consensus.
    • In announcement lists, a small group talks to the members. They're most useful for mobilizing the membership to action, and for announcements that should stay within the organization.
    • In blogs, a small group talks to the public at large. They're best suited for general news, recruiting, developing a public image, and providing information and analysis as a public service.
    [1] Yo, techies: this is a non-technical article. I'm going to make a lot of generalizations. There are, of course, lots of variations on the general themes here.

    Wednesday, June 08, 2005

    global warming news stories

    This is interesting. Two and a half stories break about global warming, a month before the G8 summit.

    First, several science academies around the world have said, uniformly, that global warming is a real thing, humans are doing it, and there's no real controversy about it. You can read the Royal Society's statement here, and their press release here.

    At the same time, Rick Piltz, who just resigned from the office that coordinates federal programs on climate change, has accused Philip Cooney, the chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, of doctoring the administration's reports on global warming. Piltz claims Cooney modified the documents to seem like there's a lot more controversy about global warming than there really is.

    While looking through news articles (Google News is your friend!), I also came across this interesting tidbit from the Herald Sun:

    Also yesterday, a British newspaper claimed to have seen official papers showing pressure from oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil partly prompted President George W. Bush to reject the Kyoto protocol on climate change.

    Citing documents from the US State Department, the London-based Guardian newspaper said the administration thanked Exxon executives for the company's "active involvement" in helping to shape climate change policy, and also sought its advice on what such policies the company might find acceptable. Exxon has maintained it had no involvement in the Government's rejection of Kyoto.

    Finally, for those who are interested, you can find the U.N.'s statistics on carbon dioxide emissions per capita, for several countries, here.

    Update: Thanks to polianna.com for this tidbit: the Christian Science Monitor reports that, in a recent Senate hearing, the FBI and ATF said they were increasingly concerned about eco-terrorists:
    But CNN reports that there was a fair amount of skepticism from some senators about the FBI and DEA's assessment of the threat level from these groups. Independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont noted that the number of people possibly threatened by any action of ALF or ELF numbered perhaps in the dozens, "but an incident at a chemical, nuclear or wastewater facility would threaten tens of thousands."
    Good to know our priorities are in the right places.

    the view from two wheels

    As I biked home today, I went through one of my busier intersections: left turn onto a one-way street, where the right lane is an entrance to the interstate. It was backed up as usual with people trying to fight their way onto the interstate. Following my normal rush-hour strategy of "act like a car," I turned left and stayed on the right edge of the lane to the left of the freeway entrace one. Today, for a change, I got honked at: "the bike lane's on the other side, dumb-ass!" Um, yeah. That would be the shoulder of the road, which becomes a sidewalk, and which is currently blocked by people trying to get onto the interstate. So if I wanted to use it, I'd have to ride up the shoulder of the entrance lane, risking someone from the oncoming traffic turning into me, and then thread my way through the traffic entering the interstate, and then ride along the sidewalk, before I could merge back into traffic. "Thank you for your suggestion. Unfortunately, I receive may fine suggestions and can't accept them all. Your idea will remain on file in case a suitable opening -- or a catastrophic failure of good judgment -- should occur. In the meantime, may I interest you in the fine passing lane to my left?"

    It's actually very rare that I get honked at during rush hour. This particular driver was probably having a bad day, in a hurry, and looking for someone to take it out on. Usually you get the better drivers during the commute times: they know exactly what they're doing and where they're going, and it's easy to merge with the flow. The worst time of day to ride seems to be around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. on a weekday, because that's when the weaker drivers seem to be out: they're less predictable, they hesitate on lane changes, don't check as often, and don't know how to deal with a bicycle. If I'm going to get honked at, or get that ridiculous "get on the sidewalk!" suggestion[1], nine times out of ten that's when it'll happen.

    In any case, I may continue this series about the perspective from atop two wheels. There are a few things that need to be said about some of the bike riders, too.

    [1] Sidewalks are bad. There are pedestrians there, and I move much faster than pedestrians. They're usually bumpy, and sometimes the curbs don't have wheelchair ramps. Oh, and cars turning right rarely check the sidewalk for anything moving faster than a pedestrian.

    Monday, June 06, 2005

    Gonzales v. Raich -- medical marijuana case

    The Supreme Court's decision about the use of medical marijuana is all over the news right now. The majority held that the federal government, under the Commerce Power, trumps state laws allowing the use of medical marijuana, even when the state laws don't allow the growers to barter or sell it. I haven't had time to digest it, yet, so I have very little to add at the moment. However, you can read Gonzales v. Raich, docket number 03-1454 here. (Sorry, I don't have a proper reporter citation, yet.) You can also read a very interesting, detailed analysis by Professor Lawrence Solum here. All I can say at this point is that the opinion seems to have implications for states' rights.

    Sunday, June 05, 2005

    crock pot spaghetti meat sauce

    Since I previously posted a marinara sauce recipe, I thought I'd follow up with this very reliable crock-pot meat sauce recipe. The directions assume you'll make the recipe the night before, put it in the fridge, then start it cooking in the morning for the following night's dinner.

    1-1/2 lb ground meat (I usually use turkey or chicken, but beef will work)
    Store the browned meat in the fridge for the next morning. Store it separately from the other ingredients.

    1 onion
    2 stalks celery
    enough kalamata olives to make 1/4 cup
    Put them into the crock pot along with
    1 can (14-1/2 oz) diced tomatoes
    1 can (12 oz) tomato paste
    2 bay leaves
    3 teaspoons minced garlic
    3 teaspoons capers
    1-1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    1/2 teaspoon thyme
    1 tablespoon dried oregano
    The next morning, mix the meat into the crock pot's contents and set it on low. Let it simmer a good 8 hours, or until you get home. Then cook some pasta, garlic bread, open a bottle of chianti, and feast!

    project update: solar water distillation

    Here's a quick update on the cheap solar water distillation project. Yesterday, I tried adding a simple reflector made of aluminum foil taped over cardboard. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate: solid overcast all day. As a result, the control still without the reflector produced no water, making a comparison impossible. The one with the reflector may have produced water, or I might have spilled some into it -- I'm not sure. I'll rerun the experiment once we get some sunshine on a weekend. (I have to be home all day to periodically re-point the reflector at the sun, which is one drawback of using a simple reflector. A cylindrical reflector would be better about tracking the sun, but it'd also be harder to make.)

    Also, a neighbor turned me on to ceramic filters being made by Potters for Peace, which seem to be a beautiful example of high-tech theory producing a simple, effective, low-tech design. I'd love to get my hands on one of them to check it out.

    Thursday, June 02, 2005

    US bill to ban municipal wireless?

    Thanks to Off the Kuff for this pointer. According to Save Muni Wireless, U.S. Rep Pete Sessions of Dallas has introduced HR 2726, the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005, a bill "to prohibit municipal governments from offering telecommunications, information, or cable services except to remedy market failures by private enterprise to provide such services."

    I've already mentioned that I think municipal wireless might be a good idea. I certainly don't see any justification for taking that choice away from the municipality or state. A quick Google search turns up an interesting page on OpenSecrets.org that lists Mr. Sessions' top campaign contributors. Looks like SBC is getting its $23,750 worth.

    Real Time Resolutions, at $26K, originally also looked like a high-tech firm. However, it looks like they're trying to foreclose on someone in North Carolina. This press release says "Real Time Resolutions, Inc. of Dallas, Texas, which services distressed loans . . . ." Looks like they're in the business of foreclosing on delinquent loans.

    So, it's all you, SBC.

    details, details

    I am slowly building an airplane. Yes, a real airplane. In fact, it's a Vans RV-7a, a two-seat, aluminum airplane that real people get in and fly around. The part I really like about it is puttering around the workshop: I usually don't have to think so much and can mostly focus on doing, which is a nice change from how I normally spend my time. The part I don't like about it is the logistical headaches. Case in point: the compressor.

    Why do you need a compressor to build an aluminum airplane? Well, back in the Old Days, a well equipped carpentry shop that had power tools had The Steam Engine. There was only one of them, it was big, and it sat off to one side making a wheel go round and round. Off that wheel came a series of belts and pulleys that went to all parts of the shop. When you wanted to use your power tool, you'd hook it up to the nearest belt, and as the belt turned, so would your tool. Later on, we made the steam engine even bigger and moved it miles away[1], but instead of running belts we made the engine turn a generator and ran miles of wires. Then we put an electric motor in each tool to turn the electricity back to a wheel going round and round, to turn your electric drill. Today's compressors are a throw-back to the old days: the shop has a compressor in it and air hoses going around. If you want to run your rivet gun, rivet squeezer, high speed drill, or paint spray-gun, you plug into the nearest air hose and off you go.

    Yesterday, I was spraying some stuff on aluminum parts to keep them from corroding when the compressor seized. This is the second time it's done it, so there's probably something broken in the compressor. Now, the compressor is roughly the size and shape of R2D2, black, and weighs something like 75 pounds. And it's got oil in it, so you can't lay it down.

    I know nothing about compressor repair.

    Logistic problem #1: Where do you take a compressor to get it fixed? Especially one you got on eBay? Do compressor repairmen (assuming they exist) make house calls?

    Logistic problem #2: Assuming they don't make house calls, or that it's too expensive, how do you get the compressor to Mr. Fixit? I drive a small convertible with leather seats, thoroughly impractical for hauling. The compressor's a little weighty to hitch behind my bicycle. So it looks like I may have to borrow or rent a truck.

    Logistic problem #3: If a compressor dies, how do you dispose of one? It's basically a huge chunk of steel, so it should be recyclable, but I don't think the curb-side people will pick it up, at least without special arrangements.

    Logistic problem #4: I don't have enough money at the moment to replace a compressor, or to repair one.

    Last night, I was able to get it to un-seize by fiddling with it. So, the current solution is just to limp along with the compressor as-is until I get a bit more money and then worry about repair or replacement. Unless I decide to pull out a socket set and get an education in compressor repair.

    [1] Don't believe me? Take a look at a nuclear power plant some time. It's basically a high tech turbine steam engine that burns uranium instead of coal.