Tricksy Tricksy

Wow, what a shrewd political move by the president. “Syria, we have proof that you crossed that red line and I totally have the authority to order military strikes on you because of it and I’m totally going to … but not until Congress authorizes it because we’re an awesome democracy.” So if Congress says no, he can say to the Syrian people and the world, “Well I tried.” And if Congress says yes, he can say to any political opposition, “Hey, Congress authorized it, I just executed it.” Tricksy, tricksy. It sounds like something you would see in a dramatic movie moment.

Syrian Intervention

I’m generally not in favor of going into Syria — the U.S. has a spending problem, ya know? — but I have to wonder what the rest of the world would think of us for intervening in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Egypt (did we do anything in Egypt? I forget), then ignoring the problems of Syria. Also, when the president says we’re definitely going to intervene if Syria crosses a red line, and then Syria (allegedly) crosses that red line, then the president doesn’t intervene, it kind of makes us look like idiots. (By the way, I strongly suspect that some Syrians are trying to make it look like that red line was crossed (via. unverifiable video etc.) just to goad us into intervening.)

UPDATE: I guess they weren’t goading after all.

A Unique Observation On Moving

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but moving sucks. I’ll soon be moving from one rental house to a bigger, better rental house, and despite having thrown out tons of stuff in the past year, I’m still surrounded by oppressively large stacks of boxes that need to be moved.

If moving boxes was the only part of it, that wouldn’t be so bad. But there’s also a thousand little errands to deal with, like hooking up utilities and FIOS, updating your driver’s license and credit cards, and forwarding your mail. (Woe be unto those who make a mistake in forwarding your mail, as I – and my neighbor – learned from painful experience. Though I’m still not convinced that *I* made the mistake of transposing a 6 and a 9.)

Comments, Huh, What Are They Good For

Given that a) Nobody actually reads this blog, and b) I constantly have to mark comments as spam because stupid WordPress is a massive vector for spam bots, I think I’m going to disable comments altogether. I’m not much of a community-building sort of person anyway.

Bradley Manning Sentenced

Bradley Manning Army Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Bradley Manning Army Photo from Wikimedia Commons

I mentioned Bradley Manning in a previous post, so to follow-up on that, and to let you know that I have not yet been murdered by the strange late-night knocker I mentioned in another previous post: Manning was sentenced to 35 years. The news report that I heard (from CBS News I think) said that he might only serve 7 of those years.

While I’m definitely not in the camp of people who think this guy is a hero, I’m also not sure that copying some files of dubious value deserves a 35-year sentence. It seems rather less treasonous than, say, a ring of German spies operating in the U.S. prior to World War II. Yet strangely, the Duquesne Spy Ring got considerably shorter sentences.

The moral of this story is: If you’re going to speak truth to power, make it a good speech.

Weird Knocking

So someone knocked on my front door last night at about 10 PM. It’s extremely rare that I feel physically threatened, even more rare inside my own house — threatened enough that I wish I had one or more grenades, rocket launchers, or miniguns at hand, that is — but that was definitely one of those times. Whoever it was didn’t knock again, so I’m assuming they tried the door to see if they could walk in and rob the place, and then moved on. I say that because clearly there could not be any innocent explanation for someone knocking on doors at 10 PM, right? Anyone that knows me even a tiny bit should know that knocking on my door even in broad daylight is unlikely to get a response unless they call first. If someone needed help, they would have kept knocking. I even considered that I might have dreamed it, since I was half-asleep at the time, but my dog also heard it. If whoever knocked on my door happens to be reading this, for the love of God, call me or email me first, unless you *want* to be treated like a hostile threat.

Codefellas

Ripped from today’s headlines…

Codefellas. John Hodgman is in it. That is all.

UPDATE: There might be an ad up there below the YouTube embed. It is not mine and I do not endorse it. Unless it’s for something cool.

Who Is This Edward Snowden Guy?

Edward Snowden, NSA whistle-blower. From Wikimedia Commons.
Edward Snowden, NSA whistle-blower. From Wikimedia Commons.

Today I decided to figure out why I keep hearing the name Edward Snowden so much. I had always assumed it was just another made-up media witch hunt, and I didn’t need to pay any attention. I changed my mind when I recently heard a story about President Obama (supposedly) cancelling a meeting with President Putin because of him.

The Obama-Putin story raised several questions. First of all, when did President Putin replace President Medvedev? I completely missed that. I mean, Putin was always pulling Medvedev’s puppet strings, so he’s effectively been the leader of Russia since 2000, but I guess he finally went and officially become president again. Wikipedia says this happened last May (2012). (Medvedev, incidentally, became the “Leader of United Russia,” whatever that means.)

I also found the story notable because it illustrates again the deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and Russia that has gone on over the last ten or fifteen years, which most people don’t even know about (being distracted by terrorists and economic misery). I can’t help but wonder just how far this relationship is deteriorating.

Back to Edward Snowden. This guy must be somewhat important if presidents are cancelling meetings because of him. So who is he? It all started with an article in The Guardian. Remember a while back when I wondered why everyone was freaking out over the NSA monitoring our phone records, when we’ve known they’ve been doing that since the Patriot Act was first signed in 2001? Well, I still wonder about that. Everyone was blissfully ignorant of their electronic activities being monitored until a June 2013 article appeared in The Guardian. I can only assume that article got the nation’s attention more than any others because it had the words “Apple” and “Google” in the headline, so technology media ran with it, too. The article basically said that the NSA had direct access to the Apple and Google servers (and many others).

I recall that I heard that story … and I immediately thought, “That’s typical government conspiracy rubbish … overblown, misinterpreted, mixed up facts.” I said something like that in that blog post, then I didn’t think any more about it.

But even as I ignored the story, it continued to grow. It turns out that the article was based on “a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.” That document was apparently supplied by one Edward Snowden, who was an NSA contractor. He came forward several days after the initial story. As we’ve seen time and again, our government is utterly incapable of even the most basic of computer security, so he was able to walk out with tons of sensitive information. Once the story stopped being about government surveillance, it turned into a story about this fugitive who stole files from the NSA, a story formula that has worked at least twice in the past. Snowden then rocketed to the top of the government’s most-wanted whistle-blower list, previously held by predecessors Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. (One of those two is now on trial for treason* and the other is still a fugitive.)

I think whistle-blowers in general are an important part of a balanced society. Someone occasionally needs to take one for the team and say, “Hey, you, powerful secret government organization, are you sure you should doing that?” So in that sense I have to admire Edward Snowden. Of course, every situation is different. Sometimes a government needs to keep secrets from its own people.

Mostly I feel sorry for Snowden. He basically ruined his life revealing these NSA programs – but I don’t think our government is technically competent enough to pull off anything that sinister. So he might have wrecked his life for nothing.

As for whether I think he should be arrested and tried … well, technically, he probably did break the law. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime, yadda yadda. Do I think it’s worth potentially wrecking our relations with Russia over this guy? Not especially, no. They still have a lot of nukes over there, you know. And a scary Mafioso of a president.

* UPDATE: My mistake – Bradley Manning was actually found guilty of almost everything except aiding the enemy. He’s now awaiting sentencing. (A high cost for virtually no benefit.)

Throwing Away Batteries

So at work I have a stack of dead laptop batteries from a handful of old Dell Lattitude laptops that I rescued before someone threw them away. In retrospect, I should not have rescued them, because they are about 99.99% useless unless I ever have a need to run Doom on an old installation of DOS. (Okay, they aren’t *that* old, but close.)

One day, someone asked me, “Hey why do you have a stack of batteries on your desk?” I said, “Oh, they’re all dead.” This person then asked, “Why don’t you throw them away?” And I of course said, because everyone knows, “You can’t just throw away batteries.” “Why not?” Um. Well, that was a good question actually. I didn’t really have an answer, except a vague sense of hearing somewhere that you shouldn’t throw away batteries.

So I decided to throw caution to the wind and throw the batteries away. The next morning, when I came in, the trash pickup people had carefully removed the batteries and put them back on my desk. Apparently you *can’t* just throw away batteries.

I did some Googling and discovered that, in Virginia, localities can indeed prohibit throwing away rechargable batteries as long as they provide a recycling program (http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+10.1-1425.39). I can’t tell if the locality of my workplace has a recycling program or not, but I assume they do.

It seems that these batteries are going to sit on my desk, decaying, emiting toxic, corrosive, and possibly explosive chemicals into the air, for the forseeable future.