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02/26/2004 Archived Entry: "Still SEK3"

I am still reeling from SEK3's death. He was a good friend to me, especially during a difficult period, and I don't have friends to spare. Life continues, even if it is a little less rich today than it was yesterday...and life must be pursued with humor and passion, love and truth...or else what's the point? And, so...I offer a full helping of cartoons and other funnies: Mike Luckovitch's latest cartoon "Caught in the Headlights"; Steve Sack's "Now Boarding Air Iraq"; Mark Fiore's animation "The All New 2004 Nader Candidate"; and, GOOD NEWS! from The Onion "Bush to Cut Deficit from the Federal Budget".

Today's blog is a mishmash of items on which I wish to provide updates.

First, More on Rummy's plan for Space Militarization: McBlog 01/21/04 offered a theory (with supporting evidence linked) on why Bush, the self-described "conservative," championing one of the most wasteful and bloated agencies ever to emerge from the capital of waste and bloat? That is: NASA and the "race to Mars". Brad wrote, "I think our friend Gordon P. has the answer. He's pointed out that, apparently, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has bought into the "Vision for 2020" -- sort of a space age "Project for the New American Century" -- that calls for U.S. military superiority (and exclusivity) in space. One thing this would require, which is now sadly lacking, is a "heavy lift" capability....A few billion won't get very far along the road to Mars, but it will pay for a healthy bit of launcher development. And, as it happens, heavy launchers would be the first thing needed by the Moon/Mars program. Moon/Mars is also a lovely 'civilian' cover to develop these heavy lifters, which otherwise can't be justified -- weather and communications satellites need only small launchers." Now a Wired article reports, "An Air Force report is giving what analysts call the most detailed picture since the end of the Cold War of the Pentagon's efforts to turn outer space into a battlefield. For years, the American military has spoken in hints and whispers, if at all, about its plans to develop weapons in space. But the U.S. Air Force Transformation Flight Plan (PDF) changes all that. Released in November, the report makes U.S. dominance of the heavens a top Pentagon priority in the new century." Good initial call, Gordon. Your theory continues to assume the solidity of truth.

Second, an update on news items of interest to privacy buffs, like me:
---from C/Net: California has introduced Senate Bill 1834 which "would apply to any business or state government agency using radio frequency identification (RFID) systems to track merchandize or people--an activity that's on the rise....The bill proposes that businesses and agencies be required to notify people that they're using an RFID system that can track and collect information about them. It would also require consumers to give express consent before businesses or agencies could track and collect information about them via RFID. Lastly, the legislation requires retailers to detach or destroy RFID 'tags' on merchandize before consumers leave the store with it." Although I agree with the content of the law, I can't imagine that involving legislators is a true step toward achieving privacy. The article has interesting hyperlinks, however.
----and now for a more free-market solution: "RSA Security Inc. on Tuesday unveiled blocking technology that would protect consumers from being tracked after buying products that contain radio-frequency identification tags. The technology, called RSA Blocker Tag, would essentially prevent a reader in a retail store from communicating with an RFID tag. The blocking technology would only affect RFID tags within a couple of feet. RFID technology is being used in the retail industry to track inventory. The tags contain microprocessors that store product information useful in monitoring the movement of goods through a supply chain."
---even while California considers the regulation of RFIDs, the Contra Costa Times reports on the possibility of greater state surveillance of medical records...all in the name of "public good," of course. "A group of scientific experts urged [California] state officials .. to set up a statewide surveillance system to track diseases and possible links with environmental hazards. Such a system could save lives by enabling better understanding of ways to prevent asthma, cancer, autism, diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, lead poisoning and chronic fatigue syndrome ..." But would the tracking be (or remain) voluntary on the part of those who must provide personal information?
---and for those who think I am over-suspicious of Californian legislators, consider this piece by Julian Sanchez in Reason Magazine, "Smile, you're on cafe camera": "If you want to check your e-mail in Garden Grove, California, get your ID ready, sign in, wave to the nice security guard, and smile for the camera. Late last month, the state's 4th District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court and upheld a local ordinance imposing a raft of restrictions on when and how Internet cafes in the city may operate, including a rule that, as a bilious dissent put it, "literally forces a 'Big Brother' style telescreen to look over one's shoulder while accessing the Internet." Other communities have enacted similar rules, and more are considering following suit."
---According to the Herald Tribune, a South Carolina man "who has spent years selling urine as a protest against what he says are the erosion of privacy rights was sent to prison .... Kenneth Curtis will spend six months behind bars for his December 2001 conviction for selling urine -- a law written after Curtis tangled with state lawmakers over the issue a few years before."
---meanwhile, in New Mexico, a bill is being considered to require "convenience-store operators to install cameras and alarm systems to make operations safer for employees. The state's Environmental Improvement Board plans a public hearing next month to consider the matter."


Third, I have been lax in not regularly providing a synopsis of Mary Lou Seymour's weekly "Liberty Action of the Week." Happily, this week's Action revolves around privacy in a post-911, terrorist-alert world. Specifically it focuses on the right to reading privacy which is being championed by a coalition of library, civil liberties and bookseller associations. Mary Lou writes, "In October, 2002, the ACLU and American Library Association (ALA) and other groups filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit asking a federal court to order the Department of Justice to account for its use of the extraordinary new surveillance powers under the Patriot Act, including Section 215. Pressure mounted and finally in September 2003, after ridiculing the ALA and ACLU's concerns as 'baseless hysteria,' Attorney General John Ashcroft relented and declassified information about how Section 215 is being used... but claimed it has never been used to snoop in libraries. This was disputed by the ALA: 'The Library Research Center ... [took a] poll last year of more than 1,500 libraries. Sixty libraries said that federal agents had requested information on patrons under the Patriot Act.'

"Over the last year, lobbying efforts have been launched to promote a number of bills which have been proposed to amend Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, including the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157)
and the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act, S. 1709. In early January, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) launched a petition drive ("ABA launches petition campaign for reader privacy") to gather signatures of bookstore customers who supported amending Section 215, which stripped away protections for customer privacy by allowing federal agents to search a bookstore or library patron's reading records without probable cause consent from the court as part of the ongoing "War on Terrorism" and barring shop owners and librarians from alerting patrons if their purchase records have been seized.

"Last week, the American Library Association announced a for Reader Privacy" to garner a million signatures to present to legislators this spring to promote legislation that would strike the controversial provision from the Patriot Act. ("ALA, ABA, PEN launch petition drive to restore privacy safeguards to USA PATRIOT Act") The Campaign for Reader Privacy says "the Government now has the power to obtain secret court orders to learn what you read in libraries, and buy in bookstores. This power has not made one American family safer, and threatens the cherished freedoms American soldiers have fought and died for since 1776." They've launched a web site where you can sign the petition online or download a copy to distribute. So, for this week's action ... let's download a petition and get it out not only in bookstores, but in flea markets, malls, and laundromats. Let's make SURE all our local bookstores and libraries have the petition ... go in and ASK." Amen to Mary Lou. Sing it Sister!


My last thought of the blog concerns the intimately related issue of free expression v. state control. Dangerous forms of censorship are occurring below the radar-level of civil libertarians. Information is being both curtailed and promoted by the State -- depending on the material's slant -- in covert ways that receive far less attention than the suspension of Howard Stern or FBI raids on library cards. In the area of curtailment, consider: "Publishers face prison for editing foreign works." Democracy Now! reports, "The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control recently declared that American publishers cannot edit works authored in nations under trade embargoes which include Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Cuba. Although publishing the articles is legal, editing is a 'service' and the treasury department says it is illegal to perform services for embargoed nations. It can be punishable by fines of up to a half-million dollars or jail terms as long as 10 years." This curtails the flow of information in at least three manners: 1) many articles require translation, which is a service; 2) few publishers of size or reputation would agree to relinquish all editorial control over content; and, 3) publishers who risk printing/posting articles may well be fined or prosecuted even tho' they attempt to satisfy the editing prohibition. For example, they may not traditionally edit the article but who is to say that the Office of Foreign Assets Control will not be "liberal" in its interpretation of editing and include e.g. htmling a piece to be such a service. Every publisher who uses an article originated in Cuba or the like is a target....not of censorship. Heaven's NO! that would invoke the First Amendment. The publisher is a target of the Treasury Department and of the war on terrorism. In the area of promotion, while de facto banning the importation of news and opinions from objectionable areas of the world, the US is tax-financing the exportation of its own worldview. Michael Young explains in a Reason Magazine article entitled "Pay up, for the 'free one'": "In mid-February, the United States government began its latest effort to change hearts and minds in the Arab world, as its new Arab-language satellite news station, Al-Hurra, began broadcasting to a mostly dubious Middle East. ... Almost immediately, critics in the Middle East dismissed the station as a propaganda tool of the United States. Some observers pointed out that the station merely repeated a pattern of American public diplomacy efforts that had already been shown to fail. Indeed, the State Department last year launched a radio station, Radio Sawa, and an Arabic-language lifestyle magazine titled Hi, to offer Arabs a friendlier image of America. The magazine in particular was met with crushing indifference." Neither of these measures seem to be viewed as censorship or the State control of information. And that's what is *really* scarey.


People tell me that they particularly enjoy reading about our bucolic life in rural Ontario, which is filled with dogs, cats, the seasons, traffic (human and otherwise) down our gravel road, colorful but harmless (and sometimes wonderful) neighbors... I think the farm serves for them the same function it serves for me: it imbues a sense of life as normal and a slice of sanity in our overly-political world. So...for today's report: the dogs are cavorting in the above-freezing temperatures; they hardly come in except to hoover food and catch an exhausted night's sleep. The cats are straying into the cedar forest that lies about 200' to the East of our house. The sky is a pure, crystal blue in which Venus has been blazing like a chunk of fire every night. (We have watched it move farther and farther away from the crescent moon over the last few nights.) The local grocery and hardware stores are selling seeds and other products that harbinger "Spring!" The big news of the last few weeks has been an electrical fire that threatened the community center in which the hockey teams play...or played. The fire was detected in the wee hours of the morning by a snowmobiler who used the center's parking lot as a place in which to turn around. He saw something suspicious and phoned the head of our Volunteer fire department. Within several minutes, the volunteer crew was down at the center and put out the fire before it had a chance to endanger the entire structure. The hockey teams will have to play elsewhere for this season (which is almost over) mostly due to smoke damage but the building itself is intact.

Best to all,

Oh...and please do browse the booklist, sales from which support this site. I will have it updated before the end of the day.

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