Blacknell.net

Politics, technology, and society. And the seasonal incursion of pro cycling.

Month: February 2007 (Page 1 of 3)

Sgt. Eric Alva: Still Fighting

Sgt. Eric Alva finished his career with the Marines (and a life with two legs) when he stepped on a land mine on March 21, 2003, the first day of "Operation Iraqi Freedom."  As the Washington Post notes, he was widely honored as the first American casualty of the war, with personal visits from Rumsfeld and Bush.  I wonder if they'll be seen with him now that he's come out:
[I] can almost hear it now -- "Oh, yeah, he's that gay Marine." I'm okay with that. The truth is, something's wrong with this ban. I have to say something. I mean, you're asking men and women to lie about their orientation, to keep their personal lives private, so they can defend the rights and freedoms of others in this country, and be told, "Well, oh, yeah, if you ever decide to really meet someone of the same sex and you want the same rights, sorry, buddy, you don't have the right."
Fighting over here, so we can fight over there.  Or something like that.   Thank you, Sgt. Alva. ~ Today, Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) introduced - with 109 cosponsors - a bill to finally get rid of the abomination that is the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.  It's not a matter over which reasonable people can disagree - it's long past time to end it.

The First Passport

Went to Atlanta this weekend for a brief visit with my parents. While I was there, I came across my very first passport:

Not quite sure

I have to admit to some disappointment with it, though. We did an extraordinary amount of travel while it was valid, but it seems that I rarely received any interesting visa stamps. For example, I'd hoped that the interminable waits at the East German border had at least resulted in some nifty bits of Cold War officialness. What did I get? An unimpressive American stamp and some civic boosterism:

That's it?

CYA Security

Bruce Schneier, as usual, is dead on in his analysis of government security theater:
In short: Much of our country's counterterrorism security spending is not designed to protect us from the terrorists, but instead to protect our public officials from criticism when another attack occurs.
Schneier provides plenty of examples in support of this, but does come up a bit short in considering solutions. Which prompts Paul McNamara to ask - are we just stuck with this? Wouldn't our politicians respond to a public demand for more common sense, and less cover your ass security? Well, I fear we are stuck with it. For quite some time, actually. As Schneier points out, it's human nature to CYA, and that will be the default, unless there's a great incentive to do something more. And while McNamara understandably looks to the public to provide that incentive in terms of public pressure on politicians, I really don't think we'll see that any time soon. As we've seen over the past few years, the US public will treat as credible almost any fantastically ridiculous threat (Liquids on a Plane! Plastic Utensils for (Some) Passengers! Target: Rappahannock, er Tappahannock, er . . . nevermind!). And the vast majority of people that I talk to about security issues (often while waiting in a TSA line, natch) seem to pretty much follow the "well, if it keeps us safe . . ." line. And it just makes my head explode (wait, maybe *I'm* a security threat . . .) that they appear to believe that it *does* keep us safe. So, absent real public pressure, what will be done? Very little. There is an enormous industry devoted to selling snakeoil/"homeland security solutions", and plenty of snakeoil salesmen who have absolutely no compunction about hard selling us totally useless products for millions of dollars in the name of "security." Worse, securing contracts for these pushers also happens to be an excellent way for a Congressman to bring home some pork (how's that working for you, Virgil?). In sum, we've got complacency in the public, motivated salesmen in the industry, and eager buyers in government. It will get much worse before it gets better. (And as I finish this up, with CNN on the tv in front of me, the TSA announces further deployment of "backscatter" x-ray machines, which will make involuntary exhibitionists out of all of us . . . )

Math is Hard

But this is fun. (from Dave Farber's IP, the most interesting and useful listserv out there)

Update on Call Congress: Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Well, it looks like the Washington Post was actually useful for once: repair/renovation work has started on some of the buildings mentioned in the story. Also? George Bush still doesn't give a shit.

DOJ: Wouldn’t know terrorism if it . . .

So, it seems that the DOJ has "counted immigration violations, marriage fraud and drug trafficking among anti-terror cases in the four years after 9/11 despite no evidence linking them to terror activity." Put another way - we've been "protected" by an Administration that can't tell the difference between arranging a marriage for a green card and procuring material for an actual attack . . . I sure feel safer.

I love George Takei

This is just brilliant.

Call Congress: Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Hopefully, you've read this Washington Post story on the conditions some soldiers face at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In case you haven't, this is why you should:
Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses. [ . . . ] The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.
This is unacceptable. Not unacceptable as in, yes, Congress should make improving care a priority, and candidates should make it an issue. It's unacceptable as in this needs to be fixed tomorrow. Now. Call your Congressional rep and tell him or her that if they want to make their words in these inane "support the troops" debates mean a goddamn thing, then they'll jump on this now. I'm serious. Call them. And don't take anything less than "Yes, I will do something." for an answer. We owe it to ourselves, to our country, and to every single soldier that's had his or her life shattered for this obscene adventure that is Bush's war. He might not give a damn about these soldiers, but we certainly should.

Bye, Hillary

So, rather than admit a mistake, Sen. Clinton tells us we can shove it:
“If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from,” Mrs. Clinton told an audience in Dover, N.H., in a veiled reference to two rivals for the nomination, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.
Great. Didn't think much of you as a presidential candidate in the first place, but I'd said I'd be willing to listen over the next year, and see if perhaps I was wrong about you. But this? This nails the door shut. Thanks for wasting our time and money over the next year.

Recommended: River of Gods

Based on a solid recommendation, I picked up (and just finished) Ian MacDonald's River of Gods. A really well done bit of speculative fiction that combines global politics, believable tech, and an education in Hindi slang. It's what William Gibson would have written, had he moved to Mumbai instead of Vancouver.

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