Browse Month: August 2006

08/31/2006

Here’s a direct quote from an e-mail message sent by Radio Shack to about 400 of its employees:

The work force reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated.

Nice. Gotta love how technology makes everything more… efficient.

08/30/2006

So it looks like President Bush is going to tour the country giving a series of speeches about (surprise!) the War in Iraq and the War on Terror. When asked about the speeches, he said, “they are not political speeches.”

Umm, yeah. Right. Remind me again how desperate the Republicans are to maintain their stranglehold on Congress this November.

In another part of his speech about the speeches, Bush said, “We have a duty in this country to defeat the terrorists.”

No, Mr. President, we don’t. We cannot defeat the terrorists– ever. This is a war that can’t be won, and to continue banging away with this tired rhetoric only insults the rest of us.

Sigh.

08/30/2006

It’s funny how music is tied to memory. When I hear certain songs, I can’t help but think of some crazy incident from the distant (or sometimes not-so-distant) past.

Today I was driving to a meeting and listening to a random mix of stuff. Several songs provoked hilarious memories..

Pour Some Sugar on Me (Def Leppard) — The party in Aron’s basement, circa 1989, with a bunch of foreign-exchange babes. His house was always the party house, and we were playing ping-pong and pinball and generally having a grand time. Until, that is, Mike decided to “scratch” with some of Aron’s LP’s and caused quite a reaction from Aron.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (R.E.M.) — Cruising St. Charles, also in 1989 or so, listening to the song over and over, straining to understand the lyrics so we could sing along. Screaming “Leonard Bernstein!” (at the appropriate part of the song) because everyone knows that line.

Crumblin’ Down (John Mellencamp) — The “rewritten” version we sang in 1988 or so, mocking our rather overweight German teacher, Frau Rawls. Our version went something like “When the Rawls come crumblin’ down…” We were so mean.

Thriller (Michael Jackson) — Sitting beside mom and dad’s old radio, tape recorder in hand, just waiting for the DJ to play the song so I could record it. Because it was, of course, the coolest song ever. At least for a week or so.

Good times, good times.

08/29/2006

It looks like Hurricane Ernesto is going to smack into Florida pretty soon, and that means this year’s orange crop could be devastated. That’s bad news for a lot of people down there, but also for me. As a guy who drinks two quarts of orange juice per day, I’m apparently going to have to adjust my budget for the impending rise in orange prices.

Gotta avoid scurvy, you know.

08/29/2006

This morning I woke up with a sore spot on my back. Closer inspection (by Laralee, since I can’t see it very well in the mirror) shows that it’s apparently a bite. There’s a big inflamed red area, with two tiny white dots in the middle. Fang marks, cool!

Now Laralee’s all upset because there are apparently evil spiders living in our bed.

08/29/2006

Last night some friends and I were planning to climb Long’s Peak. I’ve never climbed a Fourteener (with the exception of Mount Evans, which is cheating because you drive almost to the top) so I was pretty stoked. My pack was ready, all of my goodies stowed, and I got the news that an early snowfall had socked in the trail up at the summit. The snow cover was only six inches or so, but it was enough to turn a moderately difficult climb into a highly technical one.

Thus, we had to cancel the trek. The snow won’t melt until next June or July, so we’re going to have to wait until next year to make the trip.

Too bad– it’s really pretty up there. Here’s a shot from two years ago, when Tom and I climbed to Chasm Lake (near the summit).

08/24/2006

It’s official: Pluto is no longer a planet. It’s a “dwarf planet”, along with former asteroid Ceres and former planet contender Xena.

The backlash has been fairly predictable, as well as amusing. Consider this bumper sticker:

Or this billboard:

Or even this t-shirt (“Will all planets please step forward? … Not so fast, Pluto.”)

And, predictably, a milk carton:

Regardless, it’s fun to watch the solar system get re-defined, and wonder how our kids will perceive it as they’re taught these new definitions and theories in school.

08/24/2006

Raed Jarrar is an Iraqi who lives in the United States and was waiting for his airplane flight home from Washington DC to California. He was approached by three law enforcement officers and an employee of JetBlue (the airline he was using) and asked to remove a t-shirt he was wearing.

The shirt said “We will not be silent” in Arabic:

He protested because he didn’t have another shirt to wear (it was in his checked baggage) and he felt it was his Constitutional right to wear a t-shirt with a slogan– even one in Arabic. The agents were unimpressed, refusing even to believe that’s what it said. The English translation is immediately below the Arabic script, but they argued that it could just as well say something threatening. They admitted they didn’t read Arabic, nor did they have a translator handy, so they simply assumed it was some dark, malicious saying.

Jarrar agreed to wear his shirt inside-out if they could prove to him that there’s a law prohibiting the wearing of shirts with Arabic sayings. Of course there is no such law, but the men persisted and eventually Jarrar agreed to wear a shirt that said “New York” from a nearby kiosk.

Adding this incident to other recent ones– like the man who was removed from a plane last week for saying an Islamic prayer, or the two Middle-Eastern men who were refused entrance to a plane because they “looked threatening”– and a very ugly picture is being drawn. People of Middle Eastern descent are being singled out and unfairly identified with terrorism.

Personally, I’m going to buy a shirt with Arabic on it.

08/24/2006

“Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we’re terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists’ actions, and increase the effects of their terror.”

— Bruce Schneier

08/23/2006

Chalk up another sleazy business practice: they send you a check (for three bucks?!) and if you cash it, you’ve automatically signed up for their idiotic service.

No thanks, chumps.

08/23/2006

A friend of mine just called because he’s helping one of his clients with their web site, and their domain just vanished from the internet. Apparently it was registered with a company called 1DNI, and they’re not returning phone calls or e-mail. He’s very frustrated because he can’t do anything to help his client, and 1DNI is completely non-responsive.

Out of curiosity I checked their web site and was amused to see a little quote in their page header:

I guess they have a lot of customers who are angry at them, so they encourage you to remember the Bible and restrain that anger.

08/21/2006

Bush speaks to Congress on March 19, 2003:

Action against Iraq is consistent with continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

Bush speaks to reporters on August 21, 2006:

BUSH: The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

QUESTION: What did Iraq have to do with it?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

QUESTION: The attack on the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing. Except it’s part of– and nobody has suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a– Iraq– the lesson of September 11th is take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody’s ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.

Which is it, Mr. President?

08/21/2006

Two men with dark skin boarded a plane last Wednesday to fly to Manchester, England.

After some nervous shuffling and whispering, many of the passengers left their seats and returned to the boarding area, refusing to fly with the pair. Someone overheard the men speaking a foreign language that “sounded like Arabic”. The men were also apparently dressed in jackets (admittedly a bit unseasonable in August) and one woman said she heard “something that alarmed” her. The airline escorted the men off the plane, seized their passports, and prevented them from taking the flight.

They were interrogated for several hours, and then their passports were returned and they took a different flight (later in the week) to England. Apparently nothing was amiss.

It’s official. The terrorists have won.

If there’s any doubt whether we have gone completely and totally overboard with our “security procedures”, this example demonstrates admirably how absolutely fanatic some people have become. It’s not enough that the government act like idiots with their non-sensical screening procedures; now we have common citizens refusing to fly because someone else on the plane looks suspicious. And– horror of horrors– speaks a language that “sounded like Arabic”.

It no longer even matters if a terrorist group wants to attack us– they don’t need to do anything at all to ground a plane or close a building. They merely watch (in infinite amusement, I’m sure) as our government and its terrified citizens do the job for them. It’s tragic that we’ve come to this point: a point where the color of your skin, or the language you speak, is enough to condemn you as a terrorist.

08/20/2006

For reasons Laralee and I still don’t really understand, the public schools in this area don’t teach multiplication tables to the kids. Instead of having the students memorize multiplication tables from one to ten– like I remember doing in Mrs. Schroer’s third grade class– they encourage “grouping”. That means when you’re multiplying, say, four by eight, you draw four groups of eight objects on the paper and count the total. It’s great if you’re just starting to learn the concept of multiplication, but it doesn’t make much sense if you understand how it works and just want to get 32 without drawing and counting.

So, being the conscientious parents we are, we decided that if Alex and Kyra can memorize their tables (up to ten times ten, which is really all they need) we’ll give them a reward. We’ve been working on it during the summer, but admittedly we haven’t been very consistent about it. Thus, school will start in a few days and we feel like we need to finish this little project.

Thinking it would help if they had a way to test themselves, I looked around the web for some fun multiplication programs. To my surprise, there really aren’t any that are (1) simple, and (2) free. Schools buy software, sure, but it’s fairly complicated and of course costs money. I guess I expected to find all kinds of funny kids’ math programs for the taking, but it’s just not so.

Luckily I’m a programmer.

I just sat down for an hour and whipped out a terribly simple (and somewhat boring) little web application that picks twenty random multiplication questions, prompts for an answer, and shows a little history of their work. It’s nothing magical or special, but hopefully it’ll give them the practice they need.

08/20/2006

La and I have been playing in the Grass Roots Ultimate league for seven years. For the first time, our team won the league tournament! Yesterday’s eight-hour ultimate marathon included wacky weather (constant drizzling rain in the morning, hot sun around noon, and more rain in the evening) but our playing was absolutely top-notch. We finished fourth in the regular season, but completely dominated in the tournament. None of our opponents scored even half as many points as we did.

(It actually reminded me of my UMR days, when I hosted one or two ultimate tournaments a year and my team absolutely crushed everyone else.)

It was a bucketload of fun to play with these guys the past few months, and certainly a blast to finish the season on top.

08/17/2006

Today, the U.S. District Court handed down a ruling regarding the NSA wiretapping lawsuit– and in a nutshell, it categorically denied all facets of the Bush administration’s defense.

As near as I can tell, the court decision covers the following (and probably more):

1) It negated the administration’s invocation of “state secrets” to prevent evidence (and the lawsuit) from being brought to light. The court says all relevant information– including the knowledge that the wiretapping occurred– has been exposed, and thus there’s no reason to conceal it for national security reasons.

2) Warrantless wiretapping violates the Fourth Amendment. Period.

3) It also violates the First Amendment, apparently because it “chills” the expression of free speech since American citizens don’t know whether the government is listening to their conversations.

4) Since warrantless eavesdropping is unconstitutional (see #2 and #3), Congress cannot enact legislation to make it legal. This would effectively kill the Specter bill. I realize that Congress can make laws that *later* face challenges on constitutional grounds, but once something is declared unconstitutional, Congress cannot intentionally create laws to support it.

5) The President cannot act beyond the law or the Constitution, even in times of war, and even when dealing with vague “terrorist” threats to national security.

6) Perhaps most extraordinarily, the court issued an injunction preventing the administration– and the NSA– from continuing to perform warrantless wiretaps. For the reasons above, it declared that the NSA program directly violates FISA *and* the Constitution, and must be discontinued immediately.

Now, this doesn’t make the problem go away, since the administration can continue performing wiretaps at will… but under this court order, they must do it through the FISA court, which has been established as the proper mechanism for this sort of thing.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this, at least in my mind, is that with this decision it’s made clear that Bush, Gonzales, and various other leaders who initiated and directed the NSA program are apparently guilty of criminal activity. They broke the law– that much was clear before, although the administration quickly rattled off a list of reasons why it wasn’t really breaking the law. Now, the constitutionality (is that a word?) of their actions has been brought to question, and the court has ruled on it.

Quoting Glenn Greenwald:

Judicial decisions are starting to emerge which come close to branding the conduct of Bush officials as criminal. FISA is a criminal law. The administration has been violating that law on purpose, with no good excuse. Government officials who violate the criminal law deserve to be– and are required to be– held accountable just like any other citizens who violate the law. That is a basic, and critically important, principle in our system of government. These are not abstract legal questions being decided. They amount to rulings that our highest government officials have been systematically breaking the law– criminal laws– in numerous ways. And no country which lives under the rule of law can allow that to happen with impunity.

What next? Of course the administration will appeal the decision, and I imagine it will float all the way to the top and end up on the Supreme Court docket soon. But with their earlier decision in Hamden v Rumsfeld, it’s clear that the Court is taking a dim view of the expansive executive powers being claimed by Bush.

I wonder if criminal charges will ever be brought. I doubt it, of course, but it begs the question: is the President above the law? As a “common citizen” of this country, I could hardly go around breaking a law, claiming I wasn’t *really* breaking the law, and waiting for legislation (as the Specter bill would have done) to magically make my activities legal. If I can’t do it, why can Bush? Gonzales?

I’m sure I’m oversimplifying the court’s findings, as I’m no lawyer, and I’m sure there’s some legal sleight-of-hand that will exonerate Bush and his gang. But this is certainly a major win for those (like me) who want an end to the endless power play of the executive branch.

08/17/2006

Tonight was another crazy weather night for ultimate. Right when we pulled into the parking lot for the fields, it started to sprinkle a little. By the time we’d walked over to the game, it was raining pretty hard. The kids were griping about getting wet, despite the fact that last week they intentionally went out in an absolute downpour and ran around the yard laughing.

Five minutes later, the rain stopped and the sun was blasting the fields again. Go figure.

I did manage to catch a nice shot of the sun shooting through the clouds– this was prior to the rain, on the way into Boulder.

And this was after the game, on the way home.

08/16/2006

“We achieve Middle East peace with war, stability with chaos, pro-American alliances with elections of intensely anti-U.S. regimes. And, like God himself did, we re-make their world in our own Good image– through air attacks, proxy wars, and ground invasions.”

— Glenn Greenwald