February 15, 2008

Congress Is Pissing Me Off

Author's note: I am a registered independent. I support no political party financially or in any other way. I support people, and I support my rights and the rights of everyone else as American citizens. If it were up to me, there would be no political parties, but such is the current nature of the beast.


Why does Congress continuously bend to whatever Bush says? Why are they so incredibly weak? When the Democrats gained control of Congress, I thought that they were going to reign the Bush Administration in a bit, especially in terms of the civil liberties of our own citizens. Instead, the Senate has passed a FISA bill that grants immunity to the telecommunications companies who complied with illegal wiretaps on this country's citizens.

How in the world can this possibly make sense to anyone in Congress? The only thing I can think of is that the people who are voting for this have something to lose, like campaign dollars. Although the amounts donated to campaigns have significantly decreased since 2000, both the Democrats and the Republicans have received similar amounts in campaign donations from the telecom industry for the last 20 years.

You can see who in the Senate voted to keep telecom immunity in the bill by going here. A couple of notes: YEA means they voted to REMOVE immunity and NAY means they voted to KEEP immunity. For those of you keeping score at home, Obama doesn't want to let the telecoms off the hook, McCain thinks they are entitled to a Get Out of Jail Free card, and Clinton is conspicuously absent from this vote (???).

If that wasn't bad enough, the Republicans stormed out of the House yesterday when the Democrats wouldn't immediately schedule a vote on this disgraceful piece of legislation. The Democrats instead wanted to vote on whether or not Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten should be held in contempt for refusing to respond to a subpoena to testify regarding the attorney firings. Seriously, what are you people, like five years old? You are the lawmakers of the United States of America. This is your job. Grow up. If you were at any other job, you would be fired for just walking out of work. If it were up to me, you would be fired. You don't get to take your ball and go home just because you don't agree with the way things are being scheduled. You accuse the Democrats of grandstanding and then turn around and do the exact thing that you are decrying. Instead of making some kind of point, you just end up looking like immature children.

On the plus side, it looks like the FISA bill in it's current state will die, and I'm all for that. As much as the Bush Administration may whine about this endangering the US, that is simply not true. In fact, this bill is not even necessary. Paraphrased from the House Intelligence Chair:

  1. The NSA can invoke Executive Order 12333 to conduct surveillance of any known (or suspected) terrorist overseas. They don't need a warrant, and they don't even have to have probable cause. This is how they get most of their data anyway.

  2. The NSA can use powers granted under the Protect America Act to conduct surveillance here in the U.S of any foreign target. This will not "expire" on February 16th, as Bush would have you believe. Any orders authorizing surveillance under this act are valid for a year until at least August of 2008. These orders cover any terrorist group, and if a new member of such a group is discovered, the NSA may add that person's email, phone, etc to the existing orders and continue with surveillance. These orders will not suddenly and magically cease to exist.

  3. In the remote situation where a completely new terrorist organization is discovered that hasn't been previously identified by the government, the NSA could still use existing authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor them. Yes, this does require getting a warrant through the FISA court, but in an emergency, the NSA or FBI can start surveillance immediately as long as they get the warrant within three days. These warrants can be issued in a matter of minutes.

Basically, the bill as it stands is NOT about National Security and/or Protecting The Children. It is about consolidating power. It is about the Bush administration trying to cover its ass. And it is about further deceiving the American public with more scare tactics. (You're not safe if this bill doesn't pass!) I can't for the life of me understand how this bill passed a Senate controlled by Democrats. This is just further proof that, for the most part, there is no difference between these two parties when it comes to things that really matter. If you think we actually have a two party system, you are incredibly naive. The way things are turning out this election season, it looks like Obama may be this country's only hope for real change. I just hope he's not all talk. I fear that if he turns out to be just another politician that this country may never recover.

Of course, I don't think the majority of the American public is even aware that this is going on. Get this boring political stuff off my TV! Britney's in the hospital!

Random Parting Thought:
I will be visiting my family in South Carolina until Wednesday of next week. I will try and post on Monday and Wednesday, but if I don't, now you know why.

February 13, 2008

Social Networking Or Data Mining?

I don't think that anyone who reads this needs to be told that you need to be careful what you put online. In today's world of search engines and other web crawling software, the internet has become the world's largest copying machine. But Google archiving isn't the only problem; take Facebook for example. If you want to delete your account from that site, be prepared for the long haul.

The main option that Facebook offers is to deactivate your account, not delete it. They keep an archive of all of your information so that, just in case you didn't really seriously truly want to delete your account, it can be restored with a minimal hassle. At least, that's one reason they keep it; who knows what else they do with the information in terms of deals with their advertising partners. So what do you have to do in order to permanently delete it? You have to go through and manually delete all of the information that you've put up there. Every photo, every comment, every crazy little application you added to your profile. Then, and only then it seems, can you delete your account permanently. (Note: This does not affect any information that any third party applications that you added may have already collected on you.)

Apparently sometimes even that doesn't work. Some other tactics that I've read to protect your information are to start flooding your profile with false things. Un-friend your actual friends. Invite people you don't even know. Change location and personal information. Enough of this and no one will be able to separate fact from fiction; it also has the benefit of looking like your account has been hacked. Another way is to violate as many of the terms of service as possible without doing anything illegal. Start spamming groups and walls and pretty much attempt to be as annoying as possible. Send emails to Facebook mocking their inability to stop you. Account deletion is sure to follow pretty quickly.

Of course, all of this may be a moot point. I think my generation is probably the last generation that will even care about this. The next generation has been raised on the internet. They are not only fully aware that social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are storing all of this information about their personal lives, but they fully expect it. It's going to be pretty interesting in a few years when my generation is interviewing the next generation for job positions and their entire personal lives for the past ten years will be online for anyone to see.

February 11, 2008

What Would You Do For An HDTV?

Apparently, according to a recent survey of 2000 men in the UK, almost half of them would give up sex for six months in exchange for a free 50-inch plasma television. Of course, the article fails to mention whether these men were having sex on a regular basis in the first place. It would be a pretty trivial decision to give up something you don't have in exchange for a free HDTV. As for myself, it would certainly be a tempting offer, but I think it's one of those things where it's fairly easy to say that you'd do it when you don't have to actually make the decision.

What my wife (and subsequently myself) found surprising was the lower rate of women (around 33%) who would make the same sacrifice. Does this speak more for women's enjoyment of sex or for their indifference to technology? Judging by my wife's reactions to my current hunt for a high definition television, I think it's more the latter. However, when asked to choose between chocolate and sex, British women favored chocolate by more than half.

I guess this could be summed up as (Men => HDTV) AS (Women => Chocolate). This just further shows the differences between men and women: men would rather get fat sitting on their butts watching the game and women would rather get fat by ingesting tons of candy. The clincher in that last article, though, is that some of these women chose chocolate instead of sex because "chocolate provides guaranteed pleasure." Ouch. Luckily it was an anonymous survey, or that guy would be in serious therapy.

February 8, 2008

If You're Going To Ban Something, At Least Make Sense!

As almost everyone is aware, carrying more than 3oz of a liquid in an individual bottle (one quart-sized bag total allowed) onto an airplane has been forbidden for a while now. While I applaud the TSA for putting up a blog to open up a dialog with the people (or at least make the appearance of it), I have to laugh at their pathetic attempts to continue to try and rationalize this inane policy. I would go into more details about why their tactics are stupid, but it would just piss me off and raise my blood pressure. Plus, others have done a much better and more thorough job of it. So instead of reading a rant by me, read the article for yourself, and then continue on and read the comments and watch how every point is eviscerated by a knowledgeable public. Educate yourself and don't be deceived by the constant fear-mongering that this agency perpetuates.

February 6, 2008

We Could Do It If We Wanted To

Rob Beschizza has a neat blog post up over on Wired about ten sci-fi technologies we could build today if they weren't so cost prohibitive. Some of these are interesting, a couple of them are out there, and a few just don't make much sense to me. Here are my impressions of the ten technologies that Rob chose to write about.

1) Gundam Mecha

For those of you not familiar with the Gundam Universe, a Gundam Mecha is basically a giant military robot. I guess building this robot would be possible, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't function like the one from the anime series. It would probably be very easy to overwhelm one of these and destroy it, as it would be incredibly slow. We can barely build a robot that can walk up stairs (see #8), so I don't really think one of these would be feasible. It would probably look damn cool, though. You can see a non-functioning life-size replica of one of these robots here.

2) Moon Base

Now this idea would be a bit more useful. Honestly, I'm pretty surprised that at least one country hasn't already established a permanent base on the moon. I suppose we can thank the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the Space Race for that one. I think a moon base would be a great scientific achievement, and it could serve as a point of origin for any number of experiments. At the very least, the lack of an atmosphere would enable much better deep space observation than anything earth-based. Also, if you manage to take enough materials with you, it would be a lot easier (and less expensive) to launch satellites, ships, etc off of the moon than it is to launch them from earth due to the moon's smaller gravitational force. The problem of course, is getting the materials to the moon. I'm not sure what kind of mineral content the moon has, but I'm guessing it doesn't contain most of what we'd need to build satellites and rockets. Maybe we should establish a moon base to look into that...

3) Orbital Hotel

I'm not sure how practical this would be, but then again, extravagance and practicality never did go well together. This space hotel would almost certainly be exclusively for the earth's super-wealthy. Not only do you have the enormous cost of building this thing, you also have the enormous cost of launching people up there, so I would expect a vacation package to such a place to be a tad pricey. Of course, I would love for them to build something like this, though. On the off chance I end up winning the World Series of Poker Main Event or the lottery at some point in the future, I could blow all my winnings by spending a week in space!

4) Transatlantic Tunnel

This is one of the items on the list that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Exactly what benefit would this provide? Are you going to use it just for shipping or for transporting people too? If there's some kind of accident or breakdown, exactly what is your backup plan here? I'd think you'd need a minimum of six tracks, widely separated in order to avoid any incident on one rail affecting another. It just seems to me that using cargo ships for shipping and airplanes for people is already the most efficient way to move things. I'm not sure this would be very useful.

5) Supersonic Transport

Now, this would be useful. Cutting the trip from London to New York by 75% would be a boon to the business world. Sure, it would be more expensive than subsonic flight, but the companies would pay for it. In fact, they already were paying for it. Remember the Concorde? I think that a revival of a project of this nature is not out of the question. The only question I have is whether or not a standard supersonic jet would be more efficient than a suborbital glider (pdf). I definitely see something like this going commercial within the next thirty years or so.

6) New York to LA Maglev

This, like the undersea tunnel, is not something I see a huge benefit in creating. I suppose the greatest advantage would be for shipping cargo, as opposed to transporting people, as you would be able to get time-sensitive consumables like fruits and vegetables to their destinations faster than by using trucks. Of course, the environmentalists would have a fit if you even breathed a word of a project of this nature in any seriousness. I think it could have benefits, but would those benefits out-weigh the cost to create it? I don't think so, not now or even in the foreseeable future.

7) A Floating City

We've had much smaller versions of this around for a while. Granted, an oil derrick meets the bare minimum in terms of supporting those who live on it, but the concept is very similar. A floating city would certainly be nothing more than a novelty and an attraction for people to visit and spend vacations on. I can't say the idea isn't intriguing, and if this city were able to float around the world to different ports of call, it would probably be the greatest place on earth to live. As long as you don't run into any hurricanes...

On a side note, while it's not a floating city, the Dubai Palm Island Resort on a man-made island in the Persian Gulf is pretty cool, too.

8) Android Armies

Yes, the Japanese have built a human-sized robot, but it's not especially useful at this point. I mean, the damn thing can't even handle walking on stairs. Somehow I doubt the military application of humanoid robots is in the near future, unless it's just as distracting targets. Of course, a huge group of androids all doing The Robot dance would be the best application of such an army by far.

9) Blasters and Railguns

This technology is actually the one that is probably the furthest along, aside from supersonic transport. We don't have any hand-held blasters, but we do have plane-mounted laser-based missile defense systems! It's only a matter of time before we can strap one of these things to our Civics for the morning commute, and finally to sharks' heads. As for railguns, well, just take a look for yourself. The use of these in modern warfare is not far at all.

10) Interstellar Exploration

This is the one that would love to see succeed the most. Ever since I was a kid, I've been enamored with the exploration of outer space. The fact that we might be able to send a small probe to a neighboring star is fascinating to me. I just hope that this becomes plausible in terms of cost within my lifetime. I would love to be able to log on to a website to follow the progress of a probe that we sent to another solar system and see what cool things it discovers along the way.

February 4, 2008

Corporate Media Is DANGEROUS

Many of the people that I know personally who visit this blog are not fans of the mainstream media. I'm not either, and I voice that opinion all the time. They're constantly spinning the truth in order to serve their own agendas. This goes for all corporate media; Fox News is just as guilty of this as CNN. But do you know how scary it really is? It's been happening for the past few months, and I bet most of you haven't even noticed.

Throughout the entire 2008 presidential campaign, the big media companies have been heavily modifying the content that you are shown in an attempt to influence your vote in the primaries and in November. They are doing this by issuing media blackouts on candidates who do not meet the corporate media agenda and referring these candidates as "not viable" or a "dark horse". It has even gone so far as to EXCLUDE ELECTION RESULTS from being reported on television. For example, when CNN reported on the Iowa Caucus, they didn't label Ron Paul's slice of the pie in terms of the results. In fact, both liberal and conservative media have been blacking out anything to do with Ron Paul, including "Live" debate coverage. MSNBC/Newsweek didn't even report on or discuss Ron Paul even after he beat McCain in the Iowa, Maine, and Nevada primaries.

This doesn't just apply to Ron Paul, though. On the Democratic side, Dennis Kucinich was experiencing the same problems before he dropped out of the race. Just Google "Dennis Kucinich blackout" and you will get a very large number of hits. Note that none of the sites that you get will belong to big media. The same goes for a search of "Ron Paul Blackout".

If this doesn't scare the hell out of you, then I don't know what will. Sure, you can find the real facts if you search online and put some actual effort into researching your presidential candidates, but what about the huge number of people who vote entirely based on party lines and what they can see on the news? It's frightening to me how much corporate media is going to be influencing the election of the next president. This information needs to get to as many people as possible. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Don't let corporate media make your decisions for you!

Do your part. USE YOUR BRAIN!

February 1, 2008

One Month And A Link Dump

I managed to keep my New Years Resolution (posting to this blog on a regular schedule) for an entire month! I'm really enjoying myself, and this blog has definitely been great in giving my creative and rational sides a collective outlet. I'm also interested in what you all think of it so far. Are the topics interesting to you? Do you think I should write about anything in particular? Let me know what you think of this little experiment up to this point.

In celebration (and partially because of Friday laziness), I leave you with a compilation of interesting links I've stumbled upon in the past few weeks but either thought I couldn't come up with enough for a post, or it didn't fit the overall theme of the blog. Have a good weekend everyone!

  • A leaked UK government document that discusses how the government plans to coerce the people into accepting a National ID project. It has been annotated by a group which is opposed to the ID who are trying to spread it around the net. Interesting reading.

  • Three hours of MTV from 1983. It contains some awesome stuff, and some stuff that is so bad that it's awesome.

  • The Library of Congress put up thousands of photos on Flickr in two sets, news in the 1910s and the 1930s and 40s in color. There's some really interesting pictures in there.

  • Tired of only being able to copy and paste one item at a time? Try out ClipX. It saves all of your copies to a history which you can access by hitting ctrl+shift+v instead of just ctrl+v. This thing is a lifesaver at work.