Obama and Tire Pressure

Via Steve — this is nearly perfect. It is immensely satisfying to see a Democratic presidential candidate  gracefully obliterate frivolous attacks rather than cower under them.

[Tags]Politics, Obama, Energy[/Tags]

Security and Privacy

It’s probably impossible to get too much of Bruce Schneier, although I honestly wouldn’t mind if he stopped Friday Squid Blogging.

His latest Wired.com article on the false dichotomy between security and privacy is an excellent counterpoint to a recent Lawrence Wright profile in the New Yorker on Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. The Lawrence Wright article was surprisingly uncritical, considering the New Yorker’s usual zealous approach. Check out, for example, his description of the “Clipper” chip:

In the nineties, new encryption software that could protect telephone conversations, faxes, and e-mails from unwarranted monitoring was coming on the market, but the programs could also block entirely legal efforts to eavesdrop on criminals or potential terrorists. Under McConnell’s direction, the N.S.A. developed a sophisticated device, the Clipper Chip, with a superior ability to encrypt any electronic transmission; it also allowed law-enforcement officials, given the proper authority, to decipher and eavesdrop on the encrypted communications of others. Privacy advocates criticized the device, though, and the Clipper was abandoned by 1996. “They convinced the folks on the Hill that they couldn’t trust the government to do what it said it was going to do,” Richard Wilhelm, who was in charge of information warfare under McConnell, says.

(emphasis added). Compare, for example, EPIC’s Clipper Chip information page.

Schneier, by contrast, sees right through the core:

We’ve been told we have to trade off security and privacy so often — in debates on security versus privacy, writing contests, polls, reasoned essays and political rhetoric — that most of us don’t even question the fundamental dichotomy.

But it’s a false one.

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.

Read the whole essay. And send it to your mother, as well.

[Tags]Schneier, Privacy, Security[/Tags]

Political Blogging

The Frontal Cortex provides an astute explanation as to why he shies away from political blogging in this election season:

My hypothesis is that political judgments are like moral judgments. When you see a candidate, you experience a visceral, instinctive, inexplicable response. Your brain generates an emotion РObama is uplifting, Hillary is commanding, McCain is honorable, etc. Рand then the rest of your brain goes about explaining your emotion. The inner interpreter gathers together bits of evidence, post hoc justifications, and pithy rhetoric in order to make our automatic reaction seem reasonable. But this reasonableness is just a fa̤ade, an elaborate self-delusion.

Personally, I haven’t done much (any?) such blogging lately for lack of time, but I also generally agree with his conclusions.  “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

[Tags]Politics, Elections, Neuroscience[/Tags]

MBTA Followup

This Universal Hub thread and Boston Globe article sum up my several MBTA complaint postings nicely (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11). The “work to rule” comments are particularly interesting.

Okay, if I’ve really written twelve entries on this topic, I’m done for now.

[Tags]MBTA, Boston[/Tags]

Please Leave Me Alone John Connolly

Up until recently, I’ve been supporting John Connolly as candidate for city council. In addition to the recent concerns about anonymous mailings, I’m now getting hammered by his auto-dialer. I’ve received four prerecorded phone calls today and yesterday reminding me to vote for Connolly. (By contrast, I got one real human phone call from a Michael Flaherty supporter.) Now with a few hours left to vote, I’m on the fence. I wish this guy would leave me alone.

In the meantime, a WBUR interview claims that Felix Arroyo is the most vulnerable candidate (something I’ve never heard elsewhere). If that’s the case, I’m tempted to just bullet-vote for Felix.

I hope this last-minute vacillation doesn’t make me an idgit voter.

5pm update: three more automated phone calls! One for Murphy from Consalvo; and two for Connolly (one from Tobin, the other I forget). They’re pulling out all the stops, only at the last minute. I wonder who the dismal weather (and poor turnout) favors.

7pm update: three or four more calls, now including real humans! My wife figured out part of the reason we’re getting so many — separate calls each for her and me, even though it’s all on the same phone number.

In any case, we’ve all voted now. I did end up including Connolly in my votes despite these over-the-top tactics. I guess it shows, at least, that he’s well organized.

[Tags]Boston, City Council, Felix Arroyo, John Connolly[/Tags]

Catch-22 <> Poor Organization, and City Council Endorsements

I was quoted in a recent Needham Times article regarding my complaints with the T:

But Adam Rosi-Kessel, a Roslindale resident who takes the Needham Line to his job in the financial district, said 15- to 20-minute delays have kept him from getting to work before 9 a.m. since May.

Now Rosi-Kessel, a lawyer who biked to work when he lived in Jamaica Plain, is thinking about trading in his Charlie Card again.

“It used to be, living here in Roslindale, the train was always the fastest way to get in,” he said. “Now, it’s slowed down to the point where it’s starting to get competitive with biking again.”

I’m glad they got my biking quote. Here’s the part I don’t understand (emphasis added):

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority spokeswoman Lydia Rivera said Needham Line delays have been caused by construction work and speed restrictions on tracks that don’t go anywhere near Needham.

In order to maximize train use, the T often transfers trains between tracks, rather than leaving underused trains empty in the MBTA yard. The method helps the T get trains where they’re needed most, but it also means a delay on one track can slow service on a seemingly unrelated track.

“It’s a Catch-22,” Rivera said.

I don’t think the T spokesperson knows what a “Catch-22” is. I refer those interested to the Wikipedia article on the subject, but it is nicely summarized there as “heads I win, tails you lose.” The T’s problem is not a logical paradox, but some combination of inadequate resources and poor organization. Can someone please help them out?

Also on Boston local topics: I’ve received several unattributed mailings lately related to the city council election that do not facially promote any particular candidate. Today’s mailing attacked Stephen Murphy for repeatedly trying (and failing) to win some other office or get some other job than City Councilor. The return address was 31 Milk Street, which is the address of many different businesses.

A few days ago, I received another unattributed mailing bemoaning how long it has been since an at-large city councilor came from the Parkway Area (my neighborhood), but not mentioning any candidate in particular.

My guess is these mailings are all meant to support John Connolly, a West Roxbury resident, attorney, and ostensibly good guy. I was feeling pretty happy about the possibility of Connolly replacing Murphy on the Council (I have to admit some unfair prejudice in that the only house in our neighborhood I’ve ever seen prominently posting a sign in support of Bush also features a Murphy billboard). But these questionable campaign tactics are giving me pause. Does anyone know anything more about this?

In any case, here are my endorsements for next week’s election, notwithstanding the concern outlined above: (1) Felix Arroyo, (2) John Connolly, and (3) Sam Yoon. I have no pick for a fourth candidate. I’ll also throw in a vote for Matt Geary. I really wouldn’t want the socialists running the City, but a broader spectrum of political opinion within the council wouldn’t hurt. Incidentally, it is remarkably hard to find any information summarizing all of the candidates’ positions and records. It’s almost as if the election isn’t even happening. (A commenter properly points me to Brighton Centered as a good resource.)

11/3/07 Update: More discussion here.

[Tags]Boston, City Council, Elections, Felix Arroyo, John Connolly, Sam Yoon, Stephen Murphy, Politics, MBTA, Transportation, Roslindale, Needham, Matt Geary[/Tags]

Headline Dissonance

Observed simultaneously via Google News:

CNN: Brzezinski: U.S. seems to be on course for Iran war

Al Jazeera: Iran ‘not headed for war with US’

More typically the Google News groupings contain many articles with nearly the same content.

Parmet on Public Health and Individualism

Via Jason, my brilliant former Constitutional Law professor Wendy Parmet weighs in on the XDR-TB scare. Unlike most coverage, Professor Parmet brings out the big picture of how the incident fits into a larger flawed public health policy:

…It is trite but true that in America we admire individual self-sufficiency and rugged individualism. Not only do we admire this “taking care of number 1” attitude, but public health has encouraged it. Over the last several decades, public health has emphasized the role that individuals can and should play in determining their own health. Indeed, every day of week, we are bombarded with messages about how we can do this or that to take care of ourselves. Sometimes the message extends to what we can do for our families. Seldom are we told what or how we can do for unnamed others.

Even infectious disease policies perpetuate this myth of self-control. We are told to vaccinate our children to protect them. We are told to help ourselves by getting a flu shot. And the federal government provides us with information about how we should prepare to help ourselves and our family in the event of an influenza pandemic.

This “privatization” of infectious disease control is even evident in the U.S. approach to quarantine. During the SARS epidemic, governments in Canada and in Asia quickly realized that quarantines would not be effective without income protection. So laws were passed to assure that people would receive compensation while under quarantine. In the United States, in contrast, despite all the efforts that have been made at public health preparedness and public health law modernization, income replacement remains off the table (the Family and Medical Leave Act only guarantees unpaid leaves for some ill employees). Perhaps even more astonishingly, in its proposed quarantine regulations, the CDC failed to ensure that it would provide all necessary health care to those it quarantined. …

Christopher Hitchens vs. God

Christopher Hitchens goes to war against religion–on a recent episode of Radio Open Source: “Religion does not say that there is a mystery. Religion says there is an answer to a mystery.” It’s an interesting observation, but, I think, wrong.

For a hyper-rationalist, Hitchens resorts to a lot of irrational attacks. If nothing else, his caustic approach is probably not winning many converts.

Although he refuses to admit it, I think his problem is really with fundamentalists, not with religion. By taking such a polemical approach, though, he is probably selling more books.

Check out his appearance on the show, as well as the follow-up on a later show (and comments).

Radio Open Source is a rare example of a successful melding of old and new media. Often traditional media efforts to create a web-based “community” around an existing show fall flat. Open Source was started as a multimedia show, though, and maybe that’s why it works.

Lawyer Bashing: Bad Politics?

The New York Times reports that the Pentagon has gone on the offensive against the pro bono attorneys representing Guantánamo detainees. Although there is a lot to criticize in U.S. detainee policy, these attacks represent a new low:

The senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism said in an interview this week that he was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties.

The same point appeared Friday on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, where Robert L. Pollock, a member of the newspaper’s editorial board, cited the list of law firms and quoted an unnamed “senior U.S. official” as saying, “Corporate C.E.O.’s seeing this should ask firms to choose between lucrative retainers and representing terrorists.”

In his radio interview, Mr. Stimson said: “I think the news story that you’re really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks is this: As a result of a FOIA request through a major news organization, somebody asked, ‘Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there?’ and you know what, it’s shocking.” The F.O.I.A. reference was to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Monica Crowley, a conservative syndicated talk show host, asking for the names of all the lawyers and law firms representing Guantánamo detainees in federal court cases.

Mr. Stimson, who is himself a lawyer, then went on to name more than a dozen of the firms listed on the 14-page report provided to Ms. Crowley, describing them as “the major law firms in this country.” He said, “I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.’s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.’s are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.”

Perhaps the worst part is the following statement, which as best I can tell has no basis in truth:

When asked in the radio interview who was paying for the legal representation, Mr. Stimson replied: “It’s not clear, is it? Some will maintain that they are doing it out of the goodness of their heart, that they’re doing it pro bono, and I suspect they are; others are receiving moneys from who knows where, and I’d be curious to have them explain that.”

Deval Patrick, the recently-elected governor of Massachusetts, endured similar attacks for his work representing criminal defendants. Fortunately, that strategy backfired and Patrick was elected in a landslide.

Although others in the administration have attempted to distance themselves from Stimson’s comments (including the Attorney General), the suggestion that large corporate clients should boycott these attorneys as punishment for representing detainees remains disgusting. The right to counsel is not a political issue. You could hold the unlikely belief that each and every Guantánamo detainee is a confirmed terrorist and still advocate for fair treatment. These attacks represent a new brand of McCarthyism. I hope that this strategy is as unsuccessful nationally as it was in Massachusetts.

It strikes me that attacking the partners of some of the largest firms in the country is also bad political strategy. These attorneys are the type of people who may be major campaign donors and well-connected in both parties. I would think twice before attempting to vilify them. They are unlikely to drop their representation (and might be ethically barred from doing so) in light of these statements. If anything, I suspect their determination to ensure the detainees are accorded due process will intensify.

Update: abovethelaw.com speculates that this may be an intentional good cop/bad cop strategy.