Category Archives: Life in the USA

Security vs. Privacy

Every time I come face to face with the useless airport security mechanisms employed in this country, and being adopted in others, I grind my teeth in frustration at how stupid the whole charade is. We’ve been told that we need to surrender privacy to increase security, but is that really true? As Bruce Schneier writes in his latest Crypto-Gram newsletter:

Security and privacy are not opposite ends of a seesaw; you don’t have to accept less of one to get more of the other. Think of a door lock, a burglar alarm and a tall fence. Think of guns, anti-counterfeiting measures on currency and that dumb liquid ban at airports. Security affects privacy only when it’s based on identity, and there are limitations to that sort of approach.

Since 9/11, approximately three things have potentially improved airline security: reinforcing the cockpit doors, passengers realizing they have to fight back, and — possibly — sky marshals. Everything else — all the security measures that affect privacy — is just security theater and a waste of effort.

By the same token, many of the anti-privacy “security” measures we’re seeing — national ID cards, warrantless eavesdropping, massive data mining, and so on — do little to improve, and in some cases harm, security. And government claims of their success are either wrong, or against fake threats.

The debate isn’t security versus privacy. It’s liberty versus control.

HOWTO: Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction

IT Conversations recently released an interesting and informative interview with Scott Ritter, the man charged with finding and destroying Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Ritter maintains, among other things, that the US had a policy of regime change in Iraq as far back as the first Bush administration and that weapons inspections , from the US point of view and for political reasons, could never be seen as completed. Whether or not you believe Ritter’s point of view on those matters, the actual mechanics of surveying a country for weapons of mass destruction is interesting and worth listening to the interview.

Not-So-Safety Kit

LL Bean is recalling a series of safety kits that they sold under a variety of names.

From the text of the CPSC recall announcement:

Hazard: The products have a flashlight that relies on a powerful magnet and copper coil for manual recharging. The magnet adversely affects the polarity of the compass rendering it unreliable. The magnet could be powerful enough to disrupt a heart patient’s Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD). The product’s packaging lacks appropriate warning information.

Yep. That’s a safety kit, alright. If you’re lucky, it merely renders your compass worthless. If you’re not lucky, you end up with a heart attack.

Registered Traveler: Certified Idiocy

The Registered Traveler program about to be expanded by the TSA only further exposes the joke is airline security in the US.The theory behind the Registered Traveler program is that certain individuals can be pre-approved for an expedited security screening at the airport. People who want to participate in the program provide an array of information about themselves to TSA. TSA then screens applicants based on that information, and if the agency approves of an applicant, TSA issues them an ID card that includes some sort of biometric information.

People who are approved can take their fancy-schmancy ID card to the airport and move through lightly screened, expedited security lines.

This whole program is really pushed by the airlines because their best customers (business travelers) are really peeved about waiting in long security lines. So, while the airlines don’t want the liability of running the security checkpoints, they do want to push their best customers through the lines faster. Enter Registered Traveler.

Of course, the program will do nothing to enhance the security of air travel. If anything, it will further erode the already negligible benefits of the current airline screening program. The working theory appears to be that only legitimate business travelers will pony up $80 per year, in addition to some information about themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The 9/11 hijackers, for instance, flew cross-country several times in first class to scout the airlines and plan their attacks. It isn’t like they flew from Boston to Nashville a couple of times on Southwest to save a few bucks. Clearly, the terrorists we are fighting in the so-called War on Terror are well funded and are unlikely to be deterred by a lousy $80 fee.

In addition, the 9/11 terrorists had done enough to establish legitimate identites in this country to avoid the kind of screening that Registered Traveler would provide. Remember that some of the 9/11 terrorists even had gone so far as to acquire drivers licenses. Is the cursor screening provided by Registered Traveler really going to dig deep enough to penetrate the shell erected by a determined covert cell?

No, Registered Traveler is just another way for airlines to seperate Us (coach, low fare, low profit travelers) from Them (business and first class travelers). Of course, the whole idea is sold to us as a security measure in the hopes that we’ll just shut-up and take it, like we do so often in this country.

What About The Little Guy?

When was the light time that a legislative body in this country honestly did something to benefit the little guy?Recent history is replete with examples of Congress and state legislatures speaking out of both sides of their mouths. They routinely pass legislation that benefits only industry and the rich, while claiming that the rest of us will benefit as a result.

The Wisconsin Legislature is now considering a bill that would require beer brewers to sell their products to distributors, who would then be the only ones allowed to sell to retailers. How, exactly, does that benefit me? Why is it in my best interest to make beer more expensive by writing the middleman into the law? We don’t make Nike sell their shoes first to a distributor, who then turns around and sells them to Wal-Mart. We don’t make it illegal for farmers to sell directory to retailers, so why should brewers be punished? Is there really that much of a threat posed to society if New Glarus Brewery or Lake Louie Brewing sells a few thousand barrels of beer directly to retailers?

Of course, that’s all driven by the distribution industry. They gave thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to the beer distribution industry last year and now they want what they purchased; they want their business written in to law.

The Wisconsin Legislature has dutifully bowed down by rushing the bill through a hearing, taking a vote less than twenty-four hours later in the Assembly, and scheduling a Senate hearing less than twenty-four hours later. Apparently, the threat posed by the sale of Tailwagger Barley Wine directly to retailers is one that brooks no delay.

In addition, the Wisconsin legislature seeks to make a photo ID mandatory for voting. For years, and years, and years, Wisconsin has had remarkably open and transparent voting procedures. All of those are made to work by hard working poll workers. Now, the Republican controlled Legislature has decided that too many low-income Democrats in Milwaukee are voting and the easiest way to prevent them from doing so is to impose strict voting regulations that increase the burden of proof on those voters.

This is a complete paradigm reversal. Before, all voters were given the benefit of the doubt. You were allowed to vote, and your vote was counted on the day of the race. Your vote could be challenged, but you couldn’t be prevented from voting. If it was later determined that you voted fraudulently, the matter would be referred to the District Attorney’s office.

Republicans want to rig the system so that you can’t vote unless you jump through a large number of hoops beforehand. Essentially, the burden will be on the voter to prove that they should be allowed to vote, rather than on the city, county, or state to prove that the vote cast by the voter shouldn’t count.

Congress has been no better. I’d challenge anyone of any political stripe to show me how the recent change in bankruptcy filing will help anyone but the credit card companies. There is no little guy alive, anywhere, who benefits from a law that discourages people to take a chance forming a business. I’ve worked for people who started their business by financing it on a couple of credit cards. Does the new law encourage that sort of risk-taking? Of course not. Given the documented difficulty of minority Americans to benefit from the so-called traditional banking system, those folks are often left financing their businesses with credit cards. They are now doubly at risk because the barriers into the traditional banking system haven’t been removed, and the safety net of bankruptcy has been torn asunder. How does the law help those people?

How does it benefit the little guy to lose his bankruptcy protection if he suffers from sudden medical maladies? Given the lack of universal health coverage in this country many people are stuck paying their expensive medical bills with their credit cards. One refrain thrown out again and again by the talking heads and the Republicans paid by the credit card companies is that this law will only hurt those living above their means. So if you get cancer or need emergency surgery and have to pay for treatment with credit cards are you living above your means?

The Medicare drug “benefit” generally showers benefits on drug companies and does little to help the elderly. It does nothing to help the rest of us.

In short, I’m tired of legislative bodies telling me that they represent the rest of us. They are bought and paid for by companies and special interests all across the nation. The least they could do is tell us the truth.

Bogens to Visit Grocery Store in Newer, Safer Vehicle

MADISON, WI -- The Bogen Household today announced a bold new plan to revisit the grocery store in 2018 in a newer, safer vehicle, named the Bogen Vehicular Traveler, that will replace the current Bogen Wagon which was purchased from Saturn, a division of General Motors, in 1998.Bogen Household spokesman, David Bogen, called the plan, "grocery shopping on steroids."

"We will use many of the same technologies that were used in 1998 to get us to the grocery store and back," said Bogen. "Our new vehicle, which will enter service in 2018, will be bigger, however."

In addition to safely transporting Household members safely to the grocery store, the new Vehicular Traveler will have multiple utility uses. The Bogen Household predicts that its members will also use the Vehicular Traveler to shop at the hardware store and visit far-flung friends and family.

Safety experts predict that with the ever increasing mileage on the current Bogen Wagon, risk of failure grows ever larger each day. With the new Bogen Vehicular Traveler, the odometer will read near zero and the failure rate is predicted to be far less frequent.

Some critics have questioned the program and where the funds will come from in the Bogen Household's relatively tight budget. Bogen Household spokesman David said that the new Vehicular Traveler will not take funds away from the Pet Maintenance or People Clothing programs. In addition, others have questioned whether funding such a program is smart given the recent pace of spending on Hurricane Katrina, and the War on Terrorism.

"You don't cancel Christmas when there is an important football game on television. You don't cancel Labor Day when the house needs to be painted. We're not about to cancel trips to the grocery store," said David.

Representative Tom Delay (R-Texas) said of the program: "It is extremely important that the Bogen Household continue to travel to the grocery store well into the future. If the Bogen Household stops eating, the terrorists win!"

The Bogen Household's current plan calls for the continued operation of the current Bogen Wagon until the new Vehicular Traveler is purchased and delivered.

That is essentially the mesasge coming from NASA these days. While newspapers across the country print front-page stories about NASA’s plans (including the story upon which this satire was based), the real news in the story is what isn’t being asked.

  1. Why is it considered great progress to build a vehicle using technology that was widely understood in 1969?
  2. Why will it take six or so years to build a vehicle using technology widely understood and implemented in 1969?
  3. Why is it such a big deal that NASA is going back to a place in 2018 that they visited just less than fifty years earlier? I don’t issue press releases when I travel back to South Dakota, Massachusetts, or California. Why should NASA?
  4. Why does the American public have such low expectations for NASA that it is news when they promise to use forty year old technology to not go boldly into the unknown?

The American public ought to start asking very hard questions about NASA and whether or not we’re getting our money’s worth from that institution.

"Bureaucracy has committed murder"

From a newspaper story in today’s paper:

The strain was apparent in other ways. Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, dropped his head and cried on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“It’s not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans,” Broussard said. “Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now.”

Broussard said, “The guy who runs this building I’m in, emergency management, he’s responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home, and every day she called him and said, ‘Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, Momma, somebody’s coming to get you. Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody’s coming to get you Thursday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday’ – and she drowned Friday night. She drowned on Friday night.”

“Nobody’s coming to get her, nobody’s coming to get her,” Broussard said. “The secretary’s promise, everybody’s promise. They’ve had press conferences – I’m sick of the press conferences. For God’s sakes, shut up and send us somebody.”

A Challenge For Everyone

The more I read or hear about Hurricane Katrina relief, the more questions and concerns I have.Yesterday, President Bush and others vowed again to rebuild New Orleans. But does that make any sense? There is no way to simply rebuild the city so as to make sure that such a disaster does not happen again. Sure, we could make the buildings capable of withstanding the fury of a Category 5 hurricane, but that wouldn’t make them impervious to flooding. In fact, many of the buildings in New Orleans are still standing. They just happen to be filled with water.

So, yeah, we could rebuild the buildings, but the chances that they would flood again are quite good. Unfortunately, channelization of the Mississippi by the Army Corps of Engineers has destroyed most of the wetlands that provided a natural barrier against flooding. Almost nothing man builds as a replacement for Mother Nature works as well as her designs. The levees that surround New Orleans are a prime example. The wetlands provided a natural first line of defense against flooding and hurricanes by absorbing massive quantities of water like a huge sponge. A combination of wetlands and levees might have saved the city–a defense in depth that needs to be rebuilt before the city is submerged again. But doing so will be incredibly complicated, expensive, and slow. And how will people take it if the Federal and state governments spend millions upon millions of dollars restoring swampland primarily inhabited by gators, slop, and mosquitos? Do you honestly think they will find that to be a good use of money, especially once someone characterizes it like I just did? As a politician, it’s probably hard to run for office once you’ve been characterized as pro-swamp and pro-gator while your citizens live in refugee camps.

That leaves the city relying on things that people can see and easily understand: levees. Relying on levees alone, without restoring the wetlands, returns the city back to a single-point-of-failure model. Even the Corps of Engineers acknowledges the fact that living behind levees pretty much guarantees that, at some point, you will pay the price. “‘Levees fail. People need to realize when they make a decision to live behind levees that there’s a risk that comes with that,’ said Jason Fanselau of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Sacramento office. ‘They can fail on warm sunny days like we saw last year with Jones Tract (San Joaquin County), and they can fail with huge wet storms like this week’ along the Gulf of Mexico.” So, the levees get rebuilt, but taller this time.

Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to prevent the city from flooding again. With most of the city below sea level, and now behind gi-hugic levees, it will simply be a matter of time until the whole place is one giant swimming pool again.

So, maybe the vast majority of city should be raised up. Again, it would be obscenely expensive, but maybe the city needs to be built 12 feet higher than it currently is. That would at least get the vast majority of it 6 feet above sea level. To do so, however, would require an exercise in earth movement that I cannot begin to comprehend. It would take billions of loads of fill to raise the city up. And, doing so might mean that all of the infrastructure currently underground is abandoned. Again, can you even begin to calculate how much it might cost to install all the utilities for a major American city, from scratch, at once? But, if we don’t raise the city up above sea level, then what’s to stop it from flooding like this again?

If we step back a bit from the geographic problems, we can see some other major problems. First, most of the city’s structures will need to be razed once the flood waters recede. Most building contractors worth their salt are as busy as they want to be. It’s not like there are several million building contractors and construction workers just sitting around, waiting to first raze, and then rebuild an American city from scratch. All those people have to come from somewhere. And if they don’t, who is going to rebuild? Someone suggested to me that the residents of the city will do the majority of the building. Sarah responded, “That’s how Third World shanty towns get built.” And that’s very true. Just because there are thousands and thousands of people sitting around with nothing to do, it doesn’t make them qualified to frame a house, plumb a bathroom, or install electrical outlets. They may be able to perform some small subset of those tasks, but most likely they’d just be in the way of the people doing the real work of rebuilding.

Some people have suggested that we could ship them manufactured homes. Yeah, some very small percentage of them. But where are the thousands of idled manufactured homes factories that were just waiting to crank out several thousand manufactured homes in just a couple of months? They don’t exist.

Even if they did exist, where will the building materials come from? Most likely the building materials that comprise the current buildings will not be salvageable due to mold. So, billions of board feet of lumber will be needed; plywood sheets beyond count will be ordered; shingles, pipes, electrical wire, windows, gutters, siding, paint, and all the other bits that go into a home will all have to come from somewhere. And, while I have no doubt they can be procured eventually, it will take some time for manufacturing to provide them.

Another problem is that factories simply won’t be willing to expand rapidly to provide all this stuff. After all, what do they do with it once New Orleans, Mississippi’s shoreline, and the like are rebuilt? It doesn’t do them much good to invest huge quantities of money in equipment, buildings, and employee training only to run out of markets in a matter of months or a year. Then they’re sitting on this huge production capacity which isn’t useful to them and is costing them money in the form of upkeep.

Looking at the human factors, there are equally difficult problems. What on Earth are the 25,000 people in the Astrodome going to do with themselves? What about the hundreds of thousands of other people scattered across the US who fled from Katrina? It’s not like they can all run down to the grocery store and get part-time jobs bagging groceries to earn money for a couple of months. The nation has no shortage of people who work part-time for low wages; they’re called teenagers and they’re everywhere. Maybe the government will be forced to create a Civilian Conservation Corps-inspired agency to employ these people and give them something to do with their time. Get them started on projects where manpower is key and necessarily skills can be taught. Clean up parks and shorelines; paint civic buildings; build bicycle and hiking trails; sweep streets; create civic gardens. All of these tasks are the sort that require strong backs, a will to work, and some very basic know-how.

How will the people in the Astrodome get around Houston, a city notorious for its car-centric lifestyle? They don’t have cars so they certainly can’t drive. Who would sell them a car? They don’t have money and jobs. How will people stuck in small towns without any public transit infrastructure get around? What money will these people spend? How will they keep from going crazy or getting violent for months on end with nothing to do? Are they all going to sit around learning how to knit so they can knit some new curtains for their homes which don’t exist? There are already towns in Louisiana that have doubled in size as refugees wash up on their shores. How will the infrastructure of those towns handle the sudden doubling of need for clean water and sewage disposal?

It is clear that there are very real and very serious questions facing not just New Orleans and Mississippi, but the United States as a whole. These questions go far, far beyond getting people out of New Orleans. If we all just sit around, thinking, “Well, we got them to the Astrodome, now back to American Idol,” the United States will fail this very real and very serious challenge.

Garage Sale Tips

I go to far more garage and yard sales than the average person. I don’t go to every garage sale, and there are certainly people who go to more than I do. However, for anyone who is contemplating a garage sale of their own, let me offer some advice to get more people to your sale and sell more of your items.

  1. Keep your prices realistic.

    I cannot emphasize the point enough that you will not get rich selling all the trash in your basement to the public at large. It quite simply will not happen.

    That small, underpowered microwave you bought ten years ago for $80 and let moulder in the basement is not worth $50 today. It might be worth $5 to a starving, broke, and desperate college student. If you insist on getting $50 dollars for it, I hope you are prepared to give it a good home because you’ll still own it at the end of the sale no matter how long your garage sale runs.

    Used books are a classic example. If I can buy used books from a used book store for $0.50 cents per paperback, why should I pay you $1.00 per paperback?

    Rusty tools from the sixties aren’t antiques; they are simply rusty tools. Furniture made out of particle board and veneer isn’t worth more than $5-10 a piece, no matter how big it is.

    People go to garage sales to find bargains; people don’t go to garage sales to get ripped off.

  2. Price items clearly.

    Unless you want to spend all day answering the eternal question, “How much do you want for this garden gnome made out of macaroni and styrofoam,” put obvious prices on your items.

    If you don’t have prices on your items, many people will just leave without buying a single thing. They figure you have unrealistically high notions about how much your crap is worth but didn’t have the guts to put those notions into print. They’ll simply leave without asking the price of a single item.

  3. Use the word “firm” if you are not willing to negoiate on price.

    If you absolutely must have $60 for Aunt Nellie’s prized doily collection, then put a price tag on it that reads, “$60 firm.” Otherwise, you’ll waste everyone’s time and patience. People will spend all day offering you $20-$40 dollars for the doilies and you’ll be frustrated with time and time again having to state that you want $60.

    Even if we think you’re crazy for asking the price you are, we can at least respect and understand that you’re not willing to negoiate on price.

  4. Don’t use those stupid pre-printed price stickers.

    Are you so lazy that you can’t write on masking tape? You won’t make much money having a garage sale, but you want to reduce your net even more by purchasing little pre-printed stickers?

  5. Surliness does not sell.

    Yes, I’m a stranger on your property. However, you invited me here to peruse the physical remnants of your youthful indiscretions (Yanni and Barry Manilow CD’s anyone?). If you’re lucky, I’ll hand over a few greenbacks in exchange for that odd kitchen gadget you not only don’t remember how to use, but don’t remember why you might want to use it.

    However, if you treat me only slightly better than you might a strung-out, home-invader thief, chances are I’m not going to do you the favor of purchasing your trash.

    There’s a reason that surly doesn’t sell in the retail world: people don’t like giving their money to people they don’t like. Faking friendliess for a total of fifteen minutes over the course of two hours has never killed or blinded anyone.

  6. Put big, eye-catching stuff where we can see it.

    If the furniture and sporting goods are all in the garage, and I drive up to the sale and see a set of rusty pots and pans and a well-used scratching post near the curb, I won’t even slow down or get out of the car. Put things people might want to buy where they can see them. While it is a nice idea to force people to walk by all the garbage you’re selling to see the one or two interesting items, you need to get people out of their cars first. The only reason we’ll get out of our cars is if we see something interesting.

  7. Have plenty of change on hand.

    If you can’t break a twenty, you shouldn’t be in business.

  8. Decide ahead of time if you’ll take a check.

    Nobody likes to ask if you’ll take a check and see you hemming and hawing. Decide before you open up shop in the morning whether or not you’ll take checks.

  9. Inventory your stuff to see if having a garage sale is worth your while.

    There are any number of people who would do better to place a classified ad in the newspaper and save themselves the trouble of sitting in their garage for six hours on a beautiful Saturday. If all you have to sell is a Rotato,a stack of thirty broken Commodore 64′s, a coffee cup from an out-of-business convenience store, and a complete set of 1987 National Geographic magazines, you don’t have a garage sale; you have a compulsive-urge-to-save-useless-items problem. Place a classified ad or hang some fliers on bulletin boards at local grocery stores for the Rotato and the magazines and call it good.

  10. Put up signs.

    Just because you know to take a right off of Raymond Rd, onto Lindeman Rd, bear left at Russian Kale Cir, turn left at Crawling Stone Dr., and your house is the second one on the right doesn’t mean I do.

    You’re going to get people from all over town who might as well be driving in Africa for all that they know their way around your neighborhood. Put up a few signs to guide us to your sale.

  11. The only thing worse than no signs is bad signs.

    I see it done time and time again where someone gets a handful of small, free signs from the local newspaper for placing an ad announcing their garage sale. The signs are 8.5″ by 11″. The top two thirds of the sign read (cleverly enough) “Garage Sale.” The bottom third of the sign is a small white box.

    After getting the signs in the mail, these folks carefully write their address in the small white box with a fine tip black marker. They then dutifully trot out to the nearest large intersections, plant their signs in the ground, and hurry back to their houses so they are ready for the innumerable cars that will surely descend upon them any minute now.

    Those folks are crazy.

    How many businesses in the world advertise their location and services on 8.5″x11″ pieces of paper along the side of the road? None. The reason is that signs of that size are TOO DAMN SMALL to read from a car moving along at thiry miles an hour. I cannot believe how many people simply do not make that connection.

    Signs for moving traffic have to be big. The writing on them needs to be big. The writing needs to be uncluttered by other things like more writing, funny pictures, balloon strings, etc.

    So, how can you make good signs? Here are a few suggestions:

    • If you make a sign, make it big. If you make it billboard sized, you’ll probably violate your city’s sign ordinance, but you’ll definitely get customers.
    • Don’t list every item you’re selling on your sign. This happens more often than you might think and quite frankly nobody can read the things because the writing is tiny and we’re all moving along at 30mph. If we can just find your damn house, we can see for ourselves just what you’re selling.
    • Take a lesson from city street signs and business signs. These signs are made by professionals–people with hundreds of years in the sign-making business. You’ll notice that the signs get bigger as traffic gets faster. You might also notice that text is larger than is necessary to read the sign while standing next to it. That’s because the target audience is moving relatively rapidly and needs to start reading the sign from farther away.
    • The absolute best way to get people to your garage sale is to make signs with big bold arrows. Arrows cannot be misunderstood. You’ll notice that curves in the road aren’t marked with signs that read, “Hey, genius. Slow down, there’s a curve coming up ahead. Prepare to gently turn the wheel just a hair to the left for a while.” In instances like that, arrows are used. We can all understand what an arrow is trying to tell us as we motor along at 65 miles an hour. Similarly, arrows tell me which way to turn at a given intersection to make it to your house. A sign reading “Broken Toilet Ln–Multi-family sale” does not. Use an arrow at each intersection I encounter to give me turn by turn directions directly to your house. A big bold arrow is much easier to see and understand while driving in an unfamiliar part of town than “4902 Dead Lawn Ct.”

While I can’t guarantee that following these tips will make your garage sale one that the neighbors and the riot control squad will discuss for years, they can help make the difference between a net profit of twenty bucks and fifty bucks.

Have fun out there and remember, “Just because you’re selling it, it doesn’t mean that I’m buying it.”

Never, Ever Heard That Before

From a news story about the shutdown of the Minnesota government:

“We can’t get to North Dakota fast enough,” Reid said.

Yes, that’s right. An otherwise sane individual just stated that he can’t get to North Dakota fast enough. I can safely say that I have never, ever heard that before. As anyone who has ever visited North Dakota might explain, no one is ever in a hurry to get to North Dakota, and for good reason.

Toothpaste Denied; Fall of Castro Imminent

The Bush Administration recently concluded that it isn’t the Cuban government’s police powers that keep Castro in control of the island. Instead, it is gift packages of toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, and other sundries sent by Americans to their family members in Cuba that perpetuate Castro’s iron-fisted rule.

To hasten the fall of the dreaded Castro government, the Bush Administration righteously formulated new rules denying (unpatriotic) Americans the ability to send gift packages of toiletries to their relatives on the largest island in the Greater Antilles.

The House, inexplicably enough, decided to prolong the Communist threat just ninety miles off our shores by proposing an ammendment that would have limited the Administration’s ability to promote democracy by tightening the embargo of Cuba.
Before the clearly brain-addled House could further damage the spread of democracy abroad, a roll call vote was taken. Fortunately, there are six more patriots in the House than there are flip-flopping, liberals uninterested in the spread of freedom. The vote came up 210-216 against the ammendment. The Administration’s strong stance against Communism had survived.

True American hero and majority leader, Tom Delay (R-Texas), noted that the Castro regime would surely open gift packages sent to Cubans and pilfer the contents. The pilfered items would then be used to continue the brutal repression of the island’s peace-loving residents. Other freedom fighters in the House noted that America cannot afford to lessen its resolve by allowing Americans to ease the burdens of daily life suffered by oppressed their family members.

Surely, Fidel has once again seen what a strong, resolved, nation America is. He has seen that we speak with one powerful, united voice for freedom and democracy. Castro certainly has nightmares about the unbreakable American embargo and how the people will rise up any minute now and end his brutal rule.

FAA: Nail Clippers – Bad; Assault Rifles – Good

As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported:

King, who in civilian life is the Doraville police chief, rolled his eyes at the FAA regulation that requires soldiers — all of whom were armed with an arsenal of assault rifles, shotguns and pistols — to surrender pocket knives, nose hair scissors and cigarette lighters.

“If you have any of those things,” he said, almost apologetically, “put them in this box now.”

The Truth Shall Not Set You Free

Regardless of whether or not there actually is or was a terrorist cell in Lodi, CA (of all places), the FBI’s use of the law should scare anyone and everyone.Two of the men arrested are being held on charges of “lying to the FBI.”

Who, exactly, determined that the men were lying?

It seems that the FBI not only is playing with a stacked deck, but that they have a spare deck up their sleeve, as well. Imagine the following scenario:

The FBI shows up on your doorstep early one morning and says to you, “We think you committed Crime-X. Did you?”

You stop for a second to ponder your options.

  • You can say, “Yes.” This ensures that the grey men will charge you with committing Crime-X, slap government issue handcuffs on you and drive you away to an undisclosed location in unobtrusive, generic sedans. The newspapers the next day will carry stories identifying a “law enforcement source” that claims you confessed to committing Crime-X.
  • You can say, “No.” This ensures that the grey men will charge you with lying to the FBI, slap government issue handcuffs on you, and drive you away to an undisclosed location in unobtrusive, generic sedans. The newspapers the next day will carry stories announcing that you were accused of committing Crime-X by the FBI. Oh, and that you were hauled off on a charge of lying to the FBI.

Well, gollly. Those are two rosy options.

Even if you didn’t commit Crime-X, and if you manage to clear your name months later after a protracted legal fight the government will never apologize for the actions of its agents.

All bets are off if you’re accused of terrorism. If you’re not a US citizen, you will assuredly be held as an “enemy combatant” for years without access to a lawyer or the legal system. Then, if you’re determined to be innocent by some byzantine and largely random process that accepts no input from the outside world, you’ll be quietly released and a one paragraph notice may appear in a few of the larger papers around the nation.

If you’re a US citizen, the government may first attempt to revoke your citizenship so that it can hold you as an “enemy combatant” (see above).

So yeah, it’s a good idea to let the FBI run around arresting people on charges of “lying to the FBI.” That doesn’t seem like a law ripe for abuse or anything.

That’s Where All the Forests Went

After our extended swing to the East Coast and back, Sarah and I are back in Madison. Whenever we leave town for an extended period of time, we always stop our mail to keep it from piling up outside the house. Since we were gone for twelve days, we got quite a delivery of mail from our friendly neighborhood postal worker today.The amazing thing about the mail is how little mail you seem to get if you just get one or two pieces of mail each day. If one or both of those pieces are junk mail, the perception that you don’t get any mail quickly implants itself in your psyche.

When I started sorting through twelve days of mail, it quickly became obvious to me just how much utter crap is sent through the mail. For instance, the breakdown of mail sent just to me is as follows:

  • 3 magazines
  • 2 newsletters
  • 4 bills
  • 1 2004 tax form (?!?!?!)
  • 1 check
  • 3 pleas for money from non-profits
  • 1 offer for a credit card imprinted with the logo of a non-profit organization
  • 2 flyers for an election we missed
  • 1 unsolicited hospital newsletter
  • 8 offers to monkey with my telephone or high-speed data services
  • 1 magazine subscription offer
  • 1 book club offer
  • 8 credit card offers
  • 1 review copy of a technical book
  • 2 catalogs from mail-order companies

Sarah’s pile is at least as tall as mine and seems to contain many of the same envelopes, suggesting that perhaps she got many of the same entreaties to acquire new plastic and donate funds to non-profits far and wide.

It’s hard to believe that the Postal Service is hurting when you take the time to look at the sheer volume of paper shoveled into our mailbox each and every day.