Sunday, December 21, 2003


 This article by Julian Borger and James Meek of the Guardian implies that this whole "Operation Iraqi Freedom" thing is just a cover to allow George W. Bush to authorize those early "decapitation" strikes to get back the guy who tried to kill his dad. Actually, I'm being too generous, as the article does not even mention that Saddam attempted to assasinate his dad, but I digress. Here's the zinger:

    By declaring war, Mr Bush legitimised the apparent assassination attempt against President Saddam. In a state of war, the congressional prohibition on the assassination of leaders is lifted.

This statement is extremely silly, on two levels. First of all, U.S. Const. art. I, sec. 8 cl. 11 makes it pretty clear who can, and cannot, declare war on behalf of the United States. Here's one hint: it isn't George Bush. Here's another: it isn't Al Gore, Ralph Nader, or Pat Buchanan, either. If last year's congressional "authorization of the use of force" constituted a valid declaration of war, then we've been technically at war with Iraq since at least October, 2002, if not much longer than that - the only thing that changed is that Bush is now acting on it. If the "authorization of force" was not a declaration of war (i.e., if crackpots like Gore Vidal are right to argue that Congress can't declare a war without using those magic words "we declare war"), then we're not technically at "war," now, either, and there's nothing GWB alone can do to change that. Either way, the notion that GWB can "legitimise" anything by purporting to "declare war" is just plain silly. I don't expect the average Brit to know this, but I do expect the average journalist of any nationality to figure this out before reporting on it.

The other problem lies in the Guardian's statement that there is a "congressional" prohibition on the assassination of leaders during peacetime. Congress has never prohibited the President, or anyone in his chain of command, from assassinating anyone. Nor, I might add, could it do so even if it wanted to, as this would almost certainly violate the separation of powers. The only thing that generally makes it "illegal" for government officials to go around bumping off foreign heads of state is a series of executive orders, dating back to the Ford Administration, that prohibit them from doing so. To argue that the executive himself must abide by these executive orders is one part odd and one part Kafkaesque. If President Bush refuses to follow his own orders, do we try him for insubordination toward himself?

Thursday, June 5, 2003

The New Germany

UPI reports that more Jews are flooding into Germany than any other country, including Israel. Meanwhile, Germany's top Jew-baiter and all-around Idiot-Aryan, Jürgen Möllemann, has died in a well-timed skydiving "accident" that smacks of suicide.

Coincidence? Not to the Tinfoil Hat Brigade, of course. Rumors already abound that the Mossad had something to do with this. Then again, I can think of a more innocent explanation for the timing of these two stories. Maybe the reason the Jews think it's safe to go back to Germany is that they know the last Nazi is finally dead? That could explain why they pick Germany over, say, Austria, whose own version of Möllemann (Jörg Haider) is alive and well. Or, conversely, maybe Mölleman himself got an advance copy of the forthcoming UPI report on Jewish immigration, read it, and decided he just couldn't take it anymore?

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Putting Blog*Spot Out Of Our Misery

If you were able to find this page without cheating, then your nameserver has found my new domain. Goodbye and good riddance to Blog*Splat, the AOL of blog hosting "services."

For those unfortunate souls left behind on B.S., Dean Esmay has extended a very generous offer you can't shouldn't refuse. My guess is that he's pretty swamped by now, though, so today I am officially joining his jihad with a slightly less generous offer of my own. Any regular readers of this blog ("regular" as defined by me) who would like to leave B.S. behind once and for all are invited to drop me a line. [Irregular readers are free to request the same, but I may have to say no if I get too many requests.] Your job is to find a host that supports Moveable Type (I can vouch for Hosting Matters), and email me a temporary password for your old BlogSpot account and your new host. My job is to get you up and running with MT and help you move your blog to the new site. All I ask for in return is the benefit of being able to read your blog without waiting hours on end for pages to open. Deal?

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

TiVo: The Best Marketing Department Replay Ever Had

TiVo, the company whose digital video recorder (DVR) was praised by FCC Chairman Michael Powell as "God's machine," appears to have sold its soul to the devil. According to today's A.P. wire, TiVo proposes to sell information about its customers' viewing habits to the very advertisers whose annoying ads the devices were intended to help us avoid. Oh wait, did I say "avoid?" I meant almost avoid. For all their ads about the joy of skipping commercials, TiVo is the one DVR manufacturer whose unit does not actually do that. All you can do about a commercial on TiVo is to speed things up. If you were planning on skipping commercials entirely, you'll need Replay instead. Or, if you like satellite TV, there's always the Dish PVR, which I use. No, the "P" in that name wasn't a typo. Everyone in the industry except Dish may call these things DVRs, but Dish calls them PVRs instead, based on the name "personal video recorder." I guess they figured a name like "Dish DVR" would have too much alliteration to be taken seriously.

Anyway, as DVR/PVRs go, I've been using Dish for almost two years now, and I'm very happy with it. My only complaint about the PVR is that the system could be made a little smarter, so as to track shows by name rather than blindly recording whatever starting and ending times you've programmed. Nine times out of ten, that doesn't matter, but once in a while a programming anomaly can come back to bite you. For example, Mrs. Xrlq and I missed the second and final hour of The Practice, that way when we forgot to reprogram it to catch the two-hour season finale. That may be the downside to not having to pay an extra fee for programming as our DVR happily recorded the same one hour segment that would ordinarily have covered the entire show. I don't know if this is an inherent limitation in that unit's technology, or just a programming feature Dish hasn't gotten around to adding yet. I hope it's the latter. Whatever it is, I'm sure it's not a crass, P.T. Barnum move akin to TiVo's deliberate decision to leave the 30-second "ZAP" feature off the menu.

If you're considering any of these devices, I really can't think of any reason to prefer TiVo over Replay, though admittedly I've never used either of them myself. I do know that TiVo's retail prices sound much cheaper than they are, while their competitors' units are priced more honestly. For example, you can buy a TiVo DVR for $249, but plan on spending an additional $299 if you are thinking of actually using it. By contrast, Replay is currently offering its basic DVR for $329, and that includes the programming fees. Similarly, the DishPVR goes for $299 (assuming you actually pay full price rather than wait for the right promotion) and has no associated fees beyond the cost of receiving satellite TV at all.

It may be true that DVRs generically warrant such a superlative moniker as "God's machine." I'm not sure why Chairman Powell saw fit to single out TiVo in particular, however, unless he was trying to convert us all to atheism.

Monday, June 2, 2003

Another One Bites the Dust

MSNBC reports that Yosif Salih Fahd Ala'yeeri, one of the top 20 al-Qaeda operatives and the top operative in Saudi Arabia, was killed over the weekend. It seems that Mr. Ala'yeeri, who was also known as "The Swift Sword, may not have been so swift after all. Then again, maybe he was plenty swift, but just didn't see this raid coming. As President Bush might put it, "Either way, he's not a problem anymore."

UPDATE: Note to Maureen Dowd: Yes, this means that Mr. Ala'yeeri was an al-Qaeda member until he died. Yes, it also means that he did in fact die. And yes, most importantly of all, it also means that now that he is dead, he is not a problem anymore. Now the tricky part, which I will type really slowly: no, this does not mean that al-Qaeda as a group is not a problem anymore. Jeebus.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Eugene Volokh, Closet Gun Control Supporter?

I've blogged a lot about gun control in the recent past, and have also blogged about the bias of L.A.'s premire legal newspaper, the Los Angeles Daily Urinal Journal [whose articles frequently overlap with those of its sister publication, the San Francisco Daily Journal], in the more distant past. This entry combines the two themes; the only thing missing was for Jennifer Reisch and/or her attorney, The Insufferable Laura Stevens, to get involved in the debate. The article at issue ran in the May 9, 2003 edition of the Daily Journal, and concerned the case of Maxfield v. Bryco Arms, a politically motivated anti-gun lawsuit brought on behalf of Brandon Maxfield, a paraplegic teenager, against Bryco Arms, a Costa Mesa firearms manufacturer.

Like most of the other tort lawsuits brought against firearms manufacturers, Maxfield concerned not a genuine manufacturing defect, but a creative theory alleging a design defect based on but-for reasoning: if the gun had had a chamber indicator and been designed to allow a person to unload it without disengaging the safety, the idiot babysitter charged with caring for Maxfield, William Moreford, might not have shot Maxfield. Unlike the lion's share of these cases, however, Maxfield actually prevailed, and got hit with a $51 million verdict.

Now we get to the part where the Daily Journal utterly blows it: quoting Eugene Volokh. Here is everthing the Daily Journal had to say about Professor Volokh (the middle paragraph does not relate to Prof. Volokh but has been left in to avoid the appearance of my having yanked anything out of context):

    Professor Eugene Volokh, who teaches a firearms regulation seminar at the UCLA School of Law, said [H.R. 1036] would allow general product liabiltiy claims but could disallow a case with the specifics of Maxwell because the shooter could have been charged with criminal negligence.

    No industry has ever tried to get such sweeping immunity," said [attorney Daniel] Vice, whose organization [the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, f/k/a Coalition to Prevent Handgun Violence f/k/a National Coalition to Ban Handguns] opposes the legislation.

    The bill as written provides several exceptions and would expressly allow state and federal firearms regulations to take precedence, Volokh said. He generally supports statutory, rather than judicial, firearms control, he added. "The law is jsut clearer and fairer."

    [Emphasis added.]

Suppose you knew nothing about Professor Volokh's extensive research on gun control. Going on nothing except what you just read from the Daily Journal, what would you assume about his general views on gun control?

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Der Spiegel

 It seems that Der Spiegel, a German weekly news magazine patterned after Time Magazine, may be going the way of the New York Times. As bad as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the various stupor-DMCA state bills may be, none of them are anywhere near as bad as this article makes them out to be. Parts of the article are interesting indeed, while the not-so-useful portions are so over the top as to be self-fisking. Thus, I'll keep my comments to a minimum.

    Television Viewing Prohibited
    By Michael Voregger

    A growing number of U.S. states is demonstrating what the world may look like if lobbyists for industry get their agendas through the legislatures. There, anyone who watches T.V., makes a telephone call or uses email without a permit can be fined.

    In Colorado, anyone who turns on his television set can be fined, unless he has a license from the state. This state in the American heartland is one of six that have passed laws restricting the use of television sets, computers, telephones and other communications devices.

Brilliant analysis, apart from two minor details. First, the bill in question, H.B. 1303, does not require license to use a telephone, a computer or a TV set. Second, H.B. 1303 doesn't require anything at all, as Governor Owens vetoed it today. Other than that, the analysis is right on.

    Before operating any of these devices, each citizen must obtain permission from a regional "Communication Service Provider," if he does not want to be in violatin of the law. Even answering machines, fax machines and cellular phones fall under this regulation. Anyone who fails to register is a potential violator.

    Behind this development is the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents every film company from Warner Bros. to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

    Lobbyists see this legislation as a minor change to existing rules intended to combat Internet pirates and people who steal cable or satellite service. Since 2001, representatives of the studios have been working to strengthen state laws around the country. With this goal in mind, the MPAA has developed a bill to submit to every legislature.

    While the details of thse laws vary from state to state, their basic effect is always in line with the recommendations of the MPAA. The legislation is intended to prohibit the production, possession and use of any communications devices that allow the theft of services and television signals.

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation sees these laws as redundant and unnecessary. According to these virtual civil libertarians, the public interest is being sacrificed to the self-serving demands of the mass media.
    Consumers as Suspects

    "These measures are special interest legislation, which endanger use, innovation, free expression and competition," explains Fred Lohmann of the EFF. "Communications service providers, i.e. Internet service providers, cable TV providers and digital entertainment companies, can use these laws to restrict Internet connections, cable TV receiption, and satellite TV connections. They can prohibit a multitude of uses of their services, which are necessary to the protection and the security of the Internet."

    Meanwhile, the MPAA has lobbyists pushing similar legislation in every other state. Thus far, similar laws have passed in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Arkansas.

    The next state on the MPAA's list is Massachusetts. Violations of this law will be punished with fines up to $2,500 and up to 2 1/2 years' imprisonment. Violators in Illinois can even be fined for $25,000 and imprisoned for five years.

    Computer Scientist Edward Felton [sic, Felten] of Princeton University believes that these laws criminalize technologies that are intended to protect Internet surfers from their all-too-curious contemporaries. "Many common measures taken to protect one's sphere of privacy, such as public key encryption and firewalls are illegal under the terms of these laws, the professor worries. If a device can be used for illegal purposes, the device itself would prohibited also.

    The laws hold computer owners responsible for any components to which a cable connection can be made accessible, even if that device is used for a totally different purpose. "If the device can be used for illegal purposes, it's illegal."

    John Palfrey, the director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Harvard, has likewise gone on record in opposition to the law in Massachusetts. He is concerned that the publicization of any weaknesses in the telecommunications security systems may be prosecuted criminally. "I haven't heard from anyone who wants this law enacted, not even among prosecutors," Palfrey said. "The only people who say that we need these laws are representatives of the MPAA."

    Critics did not become aware of this dvelopment until very late in the game, and nine more states are already working on strengthening their laws, as well. This will be a boon to the real pirates, who will barely be noticed when attention shifts to the masses of illegal television viewers.

For what it's worth, here is a more sensible critique of Colorado's failed stupor-DMCA bill.