The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Ann Coulter: who cares?

I think smacking Ann Coulter because of plagiarism is almost the same as getting rid of Al Capone because of tax evasion. It rather misses the point, and it takes her way, way too seriously.

Better: let's all ignore her, the way we would ignore any other clown or annoying child. Commenting on Coulter wastes air. Figuring out what she plagiarised wastes time. Paying any attention to her at all wastes brain cells, and has the unwelcome side-effect of making her seem worth the trouble.

Canadian Privacy Commissioner reports to parliament

Bruce Schneier links to the Annual Report of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. It's possibly more relevant to Americans than Canadians, as almost everything the Commissioner points to in Canadian law, and more, exists in U.S. law. And our government uses the same rationales as theirs:

The fundamental human right of privacy in Canada is under assault as never before. Unless the Government of Canada is quickly dissuaded from its present course by Parliamentary action and public insistence, we are on a path that may well lead to the permanent loss not only of privacy rights that we take for granted but also of important elements of freedom as we now know it.
We face this risk because of the implications, both individual and cumulative, of a series of initiatives that the Government has mounted or is actively moving toward. These initiatives are set against the backdrop of September 11, and anti-terrorism is their purported rationale. But the aspects that present the greatest threat to privacy either have nothing at all to do with anti-terrorism, or they present no credible promise of effectively enhancing security.
The Government is, quite simply, using September 11 as an excuse for new collections and uses of personal information about all of us Canadians that cannot be justified by the requirements of anti-terrorism and that, indeed, have no place in a free and democratic society.

It's good stuff. And, as Schneier also highlighted, it contains this great passage:

Imagine, then, how we will feel if it becomes routine for bureaucrats, police officers and other agents of the state to paw through all the details of our lives: where and when we travel, and with whom; who are the friends and acquaintances with whom we have telephone conversations or e-mail correspondence; what we are interested in reading or researching; where we like to go and what we like to do.
A popular response is: "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."
By that reasoning, of course, we shouldn't mind if the police were free to come into our homes at any time just to look around, if all our telephone conversations were monitored, if all our mail were read, if all the protections developed over centuries were swept away. It's only a difference of degree from the intrusions already being implemented or considered.
The truth is that we all do have something to hide, not because it's criminal or even shameful, but simply because it's private. We carefully calibrate what we reveal about ourselves to others. Most of us are only willing to have a few things known about us by a stranger, more by an acquaintance, and the most by a very close friend or a romantic partner. The right not to be known against our will - indeed, the right to be anonymous except when we choose to identify ourselves - is at the very core of human dignity, autonomy and freedom.
If we allow the state to sweep away the normal walls of privacy that protect the details of our lives, we will consign ourselves psychologically to living in a fishbowl. Even if we suffered no other specific harm as a result, that alone would profoundly change how we feel. Anyone who has lived in a totalitarian society can attest that what often felt most oppressive was precisely the lack of privacy.

Happy birthday, sort of

Not that I'm drawing any meaning from it, but today is the birthday of a famous entertainer who realized early on that he could make a fortune through bamboozlement. Tomorrow is the birthday of a famous person with a nearly-identical philosophy. P.T. Barnum was born 5 July 1810, and G.W. Bush was born 6 July 1946.

I love meaningless coincidences, don't you?

Happy birthday

By traditional measurement, the United States is 230 years old today. Also today, the Freedom of Information Act turns 40, a fact President Carter discusses in his op-ed in yesterday's Washington Post:

[T]his anniversary will not be a day of celebration for the right to information in our country. Our government leaders have become increasingly obsessed with secrecy. Obstructionist policies and deficient practices have ensured that many important public documents and official actions remain hidden from our view.

Let's review: throughout history, government transparency has always correlated with freedom. People keep secrets out of fear that harm will come to them otherwise. More secrets means more fear. So to figure out why people keep secrets it helps to figure out what they're afraid of.

The people who run our government are afraid, rightfully so, that if their actions were generally known they would lose power. So they keep more and more secrets, protecting their incompetence, mendacity, theft, and corruption. But secrets begat more secrets, until it takes significant resources just to keep the secrets. And it permeates the culture.

Stalin didn't fear the Germans. He feared his own people. Same with Mao, the junta in Myannmar, Pinochet, Franco, Nixon, and all the other oppressive governments throughout history. Because when the people find out their governments are lying to them and stealing from them, when they really understand this, they get angry.

Fewer than 931 days and 4 hours remain in the Bush administration.

Disgraceful news stories of the day

Sometimes it's sad reading the morning papers.

The President is reacting to public disclosure of illegal surveillance programs disgracefully:

President Bush offered an impassioned defense of his secret international banking surveillance program yesterday, calling it a legal and effective tool for hunting down terrorists and denouncing the media's disclosure of it as a "disgraceful" act that does "great harm" to the nation.

See, it's the surveillance, wiretapping, eavesdropping, and leafing through bank records that is disgraceful and harmful, but the Administration can admit no wrong.

This comes on the heels of a Republican congressman disgracefully saying troop witdrawals are good politics (as opposed to good policy):

The withdrawal of 20,000-40,000 U.S. troops from Iraq this fall would greatly help Republican chances in the November election, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) said at a fundraiser Thursday at the National Rifle Association.
Souder acknowledged in his remarks that the war in Iraq has dampened support for Republican candidates but added that withdrawing 30,000 troops could have a big impact, said Martin Green, Souder's spokesman.
The congressman said it would amount to an "October Surprise" in its effect, although he dismissed the idea that a U.S. troop withdrawal would begin for domestic political reasons.

Also yesterday, disgraced Republican talk-show host Rush Limbaugh got caught at Palm Beach International Airport with possibly illegal drugs:

Limbaugh was returning on a flight from the Dominican Republic when customs officials found a Viagra prescription that did not bear his name. Instead, the bottle of pills had the names of two doctors on it according to the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office.

In other news, a German hunter (who is probably not a Republican) administered a coup de disgrace to the only wild bear in Germany yesterday:

Bruno, a bear who had romped across southern Germany since migrating over the Alps from Italy six weeks ago, was shot by a Bavarian hunter at sunrise. Government officials had authorized the use of deadly force after they failed to take him alive with an assortment of tricks, including a pack of Finnish tracking dogs, tranquilizer darts and nonlethal traps imported from the United States.

Sigh.

Why Conservatives Can't Govern

In this month's Washington Monthly:

About the only failure more pronounced than the president's has been the graft-filled plunder of GOP lawmakers—at least according to opinion polls, which in May gave the GOP-controlled Congress favorability ratings in the low 20s, about 10 points lower than the president's. This does not necessarily translate into electoral Armageddon; redistricting and other incumbency-protection devices help protect against that. But even if many commentators think that Republicans may retain control over Congress, very few think they should.
...
If government is necessary, bad government, at least for conservatives, is inevitable, and conservatives have been exceptionally good at showing just how bad it can be. Hence the truth revealed by the Bush years: Bad government—indeed, bloated, inefficient, corrupt, and unfair government—is the only kind of conservative government there is. Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.

Big Momma is watching you

Ma Bell, risen from near death like the hydra, now says they own your phone records and will disclose them however they see fit:

The new policy says that AT&T—not customers—owns customers' confidential info and can use it "to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process."
The policy also indicates that AT&T will track the viewing habits of customers of its new video service—something that cable and satellite providers are prohibited from doing.
Moreover, AT&T (formerly known as SBC) is requiring customers to agree to its updated privacy policy as a condition for service—a new move that legal experts say will reduce customers' recourse for any future data sharing with government authorities or others.

I will now begin the process of switching our home-phone service...