The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The pendulum starts to swing back

The New Jersey legislature yesterday voted to abolish the death penalty, becoming the first state to do so formally since executions were re-instated in the U.S. in 1976:

The Assembly voted 44-36 on Thursday to approve the legislation, which passed the Senate on Monday by a 21-16 vote. Gov. Jon S. Corzine said he will sign it within a week.

New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982, six years after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions, but nobody has been executed in the Garden State since 1963.

New Jersey has been barred from executing anyone under a 2004 court ruling that declared invalid the state's lethal injection procedures.

A special state commission found in January that the death penalty was a more expensive sentence than life in prison, hasn't deterred murder, and could kill innocent people.

Economist profile of Lawrence Lessig

The Stanford law professor is focusing on corruption as a way of combating creeping copyrights:

Mr Lessig has concentrated for a decade on copyright law and its interaction with the internet. So he left some people feeling confused earlier this year when he announced a new focus for his campaigning efforts: tackling corruption. Not everyone understood that this change in academic and activist emphasis is more of a shift in strategy than in substance.

For years Mr Lessig has presented legal arguments against excessive copyright extensions. But he says lawmakers are so in thrall to big-media lobbyists that they do not even realise that counter-arguments to copyright extensions exist. Even though Britain's Gowers Review, published in 2005, argues against such extensions, and eminent economists such as the late Milton Friedman have declared the importance of copyright limits to be a “no brainer”, Mr Lessig says legislators are clueless about “an issue that any rational policymaker has no problem understanding.” Swayed by campaign contributions from vested interests—such as film studios, music companies and book publishers—America's Congress has lengthened copyright terms 11 times in the past four decades, he observes.

Officially a quagmire

Via Talking Points Memo, the White House is planning to stay in Iraq indefinitely:

When last we left the Bush administration's so-called benchmarks for strategic progress in Iraq—that is, the political progress that military success allows—they weren't being met, and the White House didn't care. Now that the year's almost over and the administration is beginning to bring the "surge" troops home, it's worth asking: what happened to the benchmarks? The New York Times reports that the administration has quietly given up on them, preferring nebulous goals for which it's easier to claim success.

We still have (up to) 420 days, 22 hours, and 30 minutes left in the worst presidency in history.

British nuclear security

Via Bruce Schneier, apparently the physical security of British nuclear weapons until around 1998 consisted of, essentially, a bicycle key:

To arm the weapons you just open a panel held by two captive screws - like a battery cover on a radio - using a thumbnail or a coin.

Inside are the arming switch and a series of dials which you can turn with an Allen key to select high yield or low yield, air burst or groundburst and other parameters.

The Bomb is actually armed by inserting a bicycle lock key into the arming switch and turning it through 90 degrees. There is no code which needs to be entered or dual key system to prevent a rogue individual from arming the Bomb.

Oh. Well. Of course. Why use a hard-to-forge sequence of letters and numbers like the U.S. or U.S.S.R. when a little key will do?

So what prevented an accidental (or deliberate) British detonation until Tony Blair fixed the problem? Why, tradition, of course, what what!

The Royal Navy argued that officers of the Royal Navy as the Senior Service could be trusted: "It would be invidious to suggest... that Senior Service officers may, in difficult circumstances, act in defiance of their clear orders."

(Insert nervous laughter here.)

Alma mater to host debate

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Monday that my undergraduate alma mater, Hofstra University, will host the final debate in the 2008 general election cycle:

"We are extremely pleased and proud that the Commission has chosen Hofstra University for one of America's most important political events," said Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz. "The presidential debates are pivotal events that can shape the course of the election, and our students and community will be able to witness, first-hand, the democratic process."

President Rabinowitz will soon announce plans for a series of academic programs to be held in the months leading up to the debate that will provide students and the community with insights into the process and workings of the national election. "With Hofstra's unique academic strengths, particularly with our Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency and our vibrant academic programs in political science, journalism and mass media, and law, we are uniquely poised to take advantage of the special opportunities a presidential debate offers. We plan to maximize every opportunity to involve students, faculty and the community in this historic event."

The debate will air Wednesday 15 October 2008 at 9 pm EDT.

No word yet on who will attend, but several qualified people have applied for the job.

Not sure what to do with this information

Via Talking Points Memo, Donny and Marie have endorsed Romney. They also endorse the idea that the Angel Moroni spoke to Joseph Smith and told him that the word of God was written on a collection of golden plates buried (conveniently) near his home; that native Americans spoke European languages and were white; and that white men quite literally rule all others.

Lest you think I'm inflating the religious issue, perhaps drawing too close an inference that having a world-view based on the demonstrably irrational and fantastic writings of a deeply disturbed individual is somehow incompatible with having nuclear launch codes handy, here is Donny Osmond's rationale for his endorsement:

Donny Osmond said Romney's candidacy has been "absolutely wonderful for the Mormon Church" because it has made many more Americans curious about their faith.

Marie added punctuation:

And Marie Osmond had this to say when asked whether Romney should give a speech on his religion similar to the one that John F. Kennedy gave during the 1960 campaign before becoming the nation's first Catholic president: "I hope we've grown up since then. I hope people look at the person and what they've done."

You're right, Marie, Mitt Romney is not John F. Kennedy. Romney supports theocracy, Constitution be damned, while Kennedy quite famously told the country "I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me." So the Osmonds' endorsement, couched as it is in religious terms, and Romney's refusal to distance himself from it, may not be the triviality it seems to be. And I'm not sure that sauntering toward religious rule, no matter what the religion, means we've "grown up."

Don't even start me on Romney's record.