The Tragedy of the American Military

The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win.

More punk, less hell!

An extraordinary political experiment took place in Iceland: anarchists governed the capital city of Reykjavik for four years – and the amateurs achieved some astonishing successes.

We need more “amateurs” in government.

Inside the Mind of Edward Snowden

“I may have lost my ability to travel,” Snowden said. “But I’ve gained the ability to go to sleep at night and to put my head on the pillow and feel comfortable that I’ve done the right thing even when it was the hard thing. And I’m comfortable with that.”

Project Wizard: Dick Nixon’s Brazen Plan for Post-Watergate Redemption

Determined and methodical as usual, with the help of aides who had gone with him to San Clemente at government expense, Nixon made a plan. This secret plan, codenamed Wizard, was one to regain respectability. He would show ’em again. What would have crushed most people to Richard Nixon was another crisis to be overcome.

But this was a new kind of struggle—not for something as tangible and requiring such fairly conventional means (even for him) as political office, but to rehabilitate his reputation. How, exactly, does one in this unprecedented situation go about that? Most people wouldn’t have dared to try. But Richard Nixon was as driven about this struggle as he had been about those that had gone before.

I continue to be amazed that he managed to have the impact he did, after his fall.

Unreasonable Seizures

In a republican government based on popular sovereignty, the people are the principals or masters and those in government are merely their agents or servants. For the people to control their servants, however, they must know what their servants are doing.

The secrecy of these programs makes it impossible to hold elected officials and appointed bureaucrats accountable. Relying solely on internal governmental checks violates the fundamental constitutional principle that the sovereign people must be the ultimate external judge of their servants’ conduct in office. Yet such judgment and control is impossible without the information that such secret programs conceal. Had it not been for recent leaks, the American public would have no idea of the existence of these programs, and we still cannot be certain of their scope.

Randy Barnett, The NSA’s Surveillance Is Unconstitutional
MR. Barnett is a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University and wrote Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty.

Democracy and the Cult of Ignorance

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Isaac Asimov

Sadly, painfully true.

Found via Daring Fireball.

Warren Buffett on Tax Breaks

for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Warren E. Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

His full editorial, Stop Coddling the Super-Rich, is an excellent breakdown of the current state of tax breaks for the ultra-rich.

Visualizing the Debt Crisis: Layers of Passion and Opinion

Screenshot Taken on

I love how the New York Times uses user-generated content with real-time(ish) visualization for this piece title The Debt Crisis: What Should Congress Do?

The spread of opinion and the level of passion for each point is instantly visible at both an individual and aggregate level. The requirement that each submissions must also include a comment adds further depth and understanding.

The American Dream

“We would not have become a global superpower without the contributions of immigrants who built the railroads and canals that opened up the west, who invented ground-breaking products that revolutionized global commerce, and who pioneered scientific, engineering, and medical advances that made America the most innovative country in the world.

“But make no mistake: we will not remain a global superpower if we continue to close our doors to people who want to come here to work hard, start businesses, and pursue the American dream. The American dream cannot survive if we keep telling the dreamers to go elsewhere.

“It’s what I call national suicide – and that’s not hyperbole. Every day that we fail to fix our broken immigration laws is a day that we inflict a wound on our economy. Today, we may have turned away the next Albert Einstein or Sergey Brin. Tomorrow, we may turn away the next Levi Strauss or Jerry Yang.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

This is far too true, and it saddens me to see the growing anti-immigration drive and calls for isolationism. The United States is powerful because of the risk and work of the brave men and women who came to our shores over these last few centuries.

To turn away the next generation only serves to weaken our future on every possible front.

Simply put, it is a betrayal of our core principles as a nation.

It’s a betrayal born of complacency and fear.

We can do better.

Fair Use and Creativity

The value society places on creativity means that fair use needs to be expanded and inadvertent infringement should be minimally penalised. None of this should get in the way of the enforcement of copyright, which remains a vital tool in the encouragement of learning. But tools are not ends in themselves.

Copyright and wrong in The Economist

Electoral Prediction: 353 Obama – 185 McCain

I’ll go out on a limb here and throw out my prediction for tonight’s election. As Noted in the post’s title, I think Senator Obama will hit 353, while Senator McCain will gain 185 electoral votes. The odds of my numbers being exactly right probably aren’t prefect, but I think I’ll be close. We’ll see.

Election '08 Prediction

Election '08 Prediction

I created this map with the Pick Your President tool from The Washington Post. It was a convenient way to visualize my picks and tinker with the results of the states that are hard to call (I put North Carolina in Obama’s column, but gave Missouri to McCain). I tinkered with the color values in Photoshop as the original map were a bit muted.

This Ain't Right: Fight the Orphan Works Act

Jeffrey Zeldman pointed out the dangerous Orphan Works Acts making their way through Congress. This act has far-reaching implications for everyone, but the impact is even larger for those who work or publish on the ‘Net. Ultimately Congress is attempting to reduce your rights as a creator (whether you write, draw, design Web sites or sing), by allowing the infringer to make the distinction as to whether or not they tried hard enough to find the owner of the work and reducing the rights of the artist, designer or author.

As noted by Mr. Zeldman, so called “orphaned” content “will be made legally available for use by commercial interests, even when the copyright holder is alive, in business, and licensing the work.”

That strikes the very heart of our society. You work hard to create something, you have every right to maintain ownership and be compensated for that work. If someone steals from you, you have recourse.

It’s Easy to Fight this Law

Luckily there is an easy way to contact our representatives in Congress to educate them on the dangers of this law and to inform them that we expect each and every one to oppose the bad legislation: Go to the Legislative Action Center tell them where you live (so they can match you with your representatives) and choose a letter that you want to send – click and go.

Here’s a snippet of the letter I sent to Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison and Representative Lloyd Doggett:

I am told that the Copyright Office conducted a study of Orphan Works and that these bills are based on that study. I understand that an orphan work is a work whose owner can’t be located. I am alive, working and managing my copyrights. I can be located. My clients locate me all the time. But that does not mean that anyone anywhere can find me. And frankly, why should the failure of any one person to find me be the measure of whether or not I can be found?

What if 10 people can find me but one can’t? Why should that one person get a free pass to use my work? Won’t that give infringers an incentive not to find me? And why should I be obligated to go into court to prove anything about the diligence of the searcher or the value of my work? What if the same work is found an orphan in one legal proceeding and not in another?

Join the list of groups opposing this bill, spend three minutes to protect the basic rights of those who create what you enjoy.

Austin Twitter Blood Drive

Blood Transfusion
Photo courtesy of makelessnoise

An amazing group of people getting together to give a little of themselves. It’s a simple as that.

A lot may be made of the social media aspects of this event (organized and advertised via Twitter, by people who may know each other online far before they met in person), the important thing to remember is that the technology served to help good people do a good thing.

My vein will be tapped at 11:45 tomorrow alongside friends old and new. I hope you can spare some time and a pint of blood to help save a life. If so, please sign up and join us.

Here’s How to Sign up for the Austin Twitter Blood Drive

  1. Register or log into the Blood Center of Central Texas’s web site.
  2. Choose the location at 4300 North Lamar.
  3. Be sure to pick a time slot from 10 am-4 pm on Thursday, July 3rd.
  4. Show up at the appropriate time.
  5. Give blood. Eat a piece of the sammichometer. Give thanks that you are healthy and can offer health to someone else who needs it.

UPDATE: Here are a few photos from the event that I uploaded to Flickr. I expect that Michelle will post many more soon:

My Vein is Tapped, the Blood’s a’flowin
Austin Blood Drive Tweetup: Tapped Vein

Blood Bag
Austin Blood Drive Tweetup: Filling the Bag

It’s a Wrap
Austin Blood Drive Tweetup: It's a Wrap

Sold Out Digital Downloads

I was looking forward to purchasing the full version of the Spore Creature Creator, so after following the appropriate links, I ended up on the purchase page hosted on GameTree. After pressing the green Buy button, my cart remained empty – no matter which browser, no matter how I reached the page. Better than that – there wasn’t an error message to be seen.

So, I e-mailed the people at GameTree Online asking them to fix the problem. I came back an hour and a half later to see if it was working yet (hope beyond hope that they’d fix it on a weekend), and when I reloaded the page, this was presented to me: Sold Out of Spore Creature Creator (a Digital Download) - GameTree Online

They have sold out of a digital download.

Let me repeat that – I cannot give them money because they have sold out of a digital download.


UPDATE: The situation appears to have been corrected. Woohoo! I wonder if they’ll write me back?
UPDATE 2: They wrote me back after the problem was fixed, though the support guy told me that it seems to work now, so I don’t know if they found the problem in parallel to my correspondence or if the techs fixed it behind the scenes and didn’t communicate with their frontline support staff. Either way, I’m having much fun with the Creature Creator.

Politics and Open Source

Whurley has created a poll to gather feedback on the question of who would be an ideal candidate for those of us who rely upon and value source software. As he says, “Assume for a moment that a knowledge of open source is prerequisite (or integral) in solving issues like patent reform. Who would you vote for? In other words, who would be the best candidate for the open source community?” I should have posted this sooner, but I’ve been distracted.


A quick note, Whurley picked the top candidates from each party, prior to Mitt Romney dropping out.

Your Billion Dollar President

It’s estimated that the 2008 presidential election process will exceed $1,000,000,000 when all is tallied up. NPR has a new set of specials “crunching the numbers with you over the next few months on public radio and on this website.” The specials, and the daily morning shows, which will start in early ’08 are “designed for an audience interested in real dialogue, up-to-the-minute news, global perspectives and engaging conversation on and off the air. I really enjoy the clips asking folks of all ages (including children) and levels of expertise (normal citizens and political scientists) how they would redesign the election process.

IE to Eliminate the Click to Activate Requirement for Flash & ActiveX

About six months back, Microsoft was forced to hobble the usability of Internet Explorer as a tactic in their legal battles with Eolas. This lead to much consternation within the Web development community and too much time and money spent implementing a JavaScript workaround that ensured that user’s aren’t forced to click every bit of Flash they encounter in order to use the functionality. Without the workaround embedded Flash apps that perform an action when the user hovers over the app do not work in Internet Explorer until the user clicks the app to “enable” it. Dumb, but not really Microsoft’s fault. While some clever quickly built a JavaScript workaround, too much time and money was wasted on something that shouldn’t have been an issue.

Well, good news has come today in the form of Microsoft’s announcement that they have licensed the “technology” required to (re)enable this functionality! Great news, though oddly enough it will take another six months to roll out!? This is a feature that was in the app, taken out against everyone’s wishes, including Microsoft, and now, when they have the go-ahead to re-add the feature they are prolonging the rollout until April of 2008. Microsoft is missing out on an opportunity to make the dev community very happy while simultaneously making the Web a better place for everyone. Here is their plan:

The first chance will be with an optional preview release, called the Internet Explorer Automatic Component Activation Preview, available in December 2007 via the Microsoft Download Center. Additionally this change will be made part of the next pre-release versions of Windows Vista SP1 and Windows XP SP3. After giving people enough time to prepare for this change, we’ll roll this behavior into the IE Cumulative Update in April 2008, and all customers who install the update will get the change.

Well, that said, this is a good thing, even if it means bad patents are being rewarded. This is yet another example as to why our patent system needs a major overhaul.

The DMCA and You

As noted on Copyfight, the Cato Institute has released Circumventing Competition: The Perverse Consequences of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which takes the law to task for being anti-competitive and derides “Congressional interference in the market for digital rights management technologies.” As noted in the report:

Why won’t iTunes play on Rio MP3 players? Why are viewers forced to sit through previews on some DVDs when they could have fast-forwarded through them on video? Why is it impossible to cut and paste text on Adobe eBook? In a just released study for the Cato Institute, Tim Lee, a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute, answers these questions and more.

The new legislation’s most profound effects will be on the evolution of digital media technologies. We have grown accustomed to, and benefit from, a high-tech world that is freewheeling, open-ended, and fiercely competitive. Silicon Valley is a place where upstarts like Apple, Netscape, and Google have gone from two-man operations to billion-dollar trendsetters seemingly overnight. The DMCA threatens to undermine that competitive spirit by giving industry incumbents a powerful legal weapon against new entrants.

This is yet another clear sign that the DMCA affects every single one of us, no matter what our political leanings may be.

Intellectual Property and the Public Sphere

I haven’t had a chance to read Intellectual Property and the Public Sphere from the “UK’s leading progressive think tank”, but I hope to over the weekend. It should be interesting to read the take of a non-US based group as so much of my perspective is shaded by matters here in the States.

This looks at why the politics and economics of online information has become so fiercely contested, especially around intellectual property, and the nature of the dilemmas this creates for policy-makers. The paper stands back from this to ask why things have reached this impasse, and presents an analysis that positions all these competing visions within a broader understanding of what constitutes ‘the public sphere’. It concludes by out-lining the possibilities available for Government.

View the full paper (PDF)