The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Barney Fife lives in Marine Corps Absentee Collection Center

You've got to hand it to USMC Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart: he's doing his part in the war on terrorism by tracking down Vietnam-era deserters:

A man was being held in a US military prison yesterday for deserting from the marines 38 years ago after being caught on the American-Canadian border amid a new drive to track down Vietnam-era deserters.
Since he took over the marine corps Absentee Collection Centre in 2004, Averhart has reopened cold cases and claims to have tracked down 33 deserters. "I have a different leadership style than the guys who have had this job. My job is to catch deserters. And that's what I do," he told Florida's St Petersburg Times.
Legal observers said the new drive to hunt down Vietnam deserters is designed as a deterrent for soldiers being sent to Iraq.

I mean, really.

If this isn't civil war, what is?

Larry Johnson over at Talking Points Memo Cafe posited what Sunday's activity in Baghdad might look like if it were in New York instead. I have changed the numbers to reflect the relative sizes of Iraq and the U.S.:

03/12/06 AP: A roadside bomb hit a police convoy in White Plains, New York, 35 miles northeast of New York City, killing 8 patrolmen and wounding 32 others, police said
03/12/06 AP: U.S. forces also clashed with gunmen Sunday afternoon in New York City's upper West side, Interior Ministry Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.
03/12/06 AP: In Newark, about 20 miles south of New York City, gunmen ambushed and killed a police major as he headed to work, police said.
03/12/06 Sixty four bodies were found with their hands tied and gunshot wounds to the head in Mineola, a suburb in eastern New York City, police said.
03/12/06 Reuters: Gunmen ambushed and killed a local football player (Vinny Testaverde) in Elizabeth City 40 km (25 miles) south of New York City, local police said.
03/14/06 Reuters: At least 320 people were killed and up to 1,000 wounded in three apparently coordinated car bombs at two markets in the Jewish section of Brooklyn on Sunday, police said.

These events actually happened in Baghdad on Sunday. This is our legacy in Iraq. The image of massed armies wearing blue and grey uniforms clashing on the fields outside Manassas should not guide our views of Iraq. It is a real civil war: neighbor against neighbor, multiple factions struggling for control, deaths by the hundreds.

President, forgetting something important, blames Iran

Yesterday the President apparently blamed Iran for supplying some of the explosives that are being used in the ongoing Iraqi civil war:

"Iraqis have shown the world that they want a future of peace," Bush said.
Bush also accused Iran of providing material support to the insurgency in Iraq and vowed to continue to pressure Iraq's neighbor.
"Such actions, along with Iran's support for terrorism and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, are increasingly isolating Iran, and America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats," he said.

Apparently he forgot that 350 tons of explosives went missing after we invaded, because the battle plan didn't leave time to guard them.

Occam's razor, Mr. President.

This habit he has of treating the American people like idiots may explain his 36% approval rating.

Athiesm as the best friend of religion

Very interesting op-ed in today's New York Times: Slavoj Zizek calls athiests "Defenders of the Faith":

Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God's will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God's favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God's existence.

Amayn.

Flying without ID

I lost my ID case last week here in New Hampshire, and had Anne overnight my passport to me so I could go home. It turns out, I needn't have been so paranoid, as reported on Bruce Schneier's security blog:

According to the TSA, in the 9th Circuit Case of John Gilmore, you are allowed to fly without showing ID -- you'll just have to submit yourself to secondary screening.

Here's a link to the 9th Circuit decision (pdf).

PINs stolen from retailer; thousands of debit cards recalled

MSNBC is reporting today that thieves have stolen a batch of PINs from a retailer—PINs the retailer shouldn't have stored in the first place:

Criminals have stolen bank account data from a third-party company, several banks have said, and then used the data to steal money from related accounts using counterfeit cards at ATM machines.
The central question surrounding the new wave of crime is this: How did the thieves managed to foil the PIN code system designed to fend off such crimes? Investigators are considering the possibility that criminals have stolen PIN codes from a retailer, MSNBC has learned.
In recent weeks, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual and Citibank have all reissued debit cards after detecting fraudulent activity. Smaller banks, such as Ohio-based National City Bank and Pennsylvania-based PNC Bank, have taken similar steps.

Bruce Schneier reported on this Monday, but now the scope of the crime is becoming more apparent.

So how did the thieves get the customers' PINs? It appears that a retailer stored them along with other credit-card data in its database, and the thieves stole the database:

[Gartner analyst Avivah Litan] says many merchants incorrectly store PIN information they should be destroying after customers enter the secret code on PIN pads in stores around the country. While the information is often encrypted into something called a PIN block, the keys necessary to decrypt the information are often stored on the same network, she said. That makes stealing the PINs as easy as breaking into an office computer using a password a careless employee has taped to the screen.

The thing is, the retailers have no need to store the PINs:

While storing PINs is against network rules, many retailers inadvertently store the information, said Mike Urban, who runs Fair Isaac Inc.'s ATM fraud detection program called CardAlert. It ends up accidentally saved in temporary files and other software nooks and crannies.

ZDNet has this story too.

The solution to this problem, long known to concientious software developers, is never to keep secrets unless they're absolutely necessary. I tell my clients all the time that neither I nor anyone else should ever know their passwords, for for example.

It will be interesting, and important to every consumer, to see how liability for this event is apportioned. Sadly, most courts and legislators are woefully ignorant of the technology, which should lead to some fascinating legal work in coming months.

Until this issue gets resolved, which could take weeks, I urge people to be very careful using point-of-sale debit card readers. And if you suspect unauthorized activity on your bank account, call your bank immediately.

Dumb school administrators: the continuing story

Ah, the Peter Principle rears its ugly head once again, in its purest form.

MSNBC is reporting that a Costa Mesa, Calif., middle school has suspended students for viewing a Web page. They're also trying to expel the student who put up the page (internal links mine):

A middle school student faces expulsion for allegedly posting graphic threats against a classmate on the popular myspace.com Web site, and 20 of his classmates were suspended for viewing the posting, school officials said.
Police are investigating the boy's comments about his classmate at TeWinkle Middle School as a possible hate crime, and the district is trying to expel him.
According to three parents of the suspended students, the invitation to join the boy's MySpace group gave no indication of the alleged threat. They said the MySpace social group name's was "I hate (girl's name)" and included an expletive and an anti-Semitic reference.
... "With what the students can get into using the technology we are all concerned about it," Bob Metz, the district assistant superintendent of secondary education, said Wednesday.

Putting aside the somewhat complicated question about whether or how the school district should discipline the page's author, what are they thinking disciplining the kids who just viewed the posting? One of two things seems to be happening here: either MSNBC's reporting is sloppy (e.g., the kids didn't just view the posting, they committed an affirmative act endorsing it), or Metz is just not a very smart man. (As one snarky friend once put it, he Can't Understand New Technology.)

I'm thinking, it's a little of both. This comes not too long after a kid got expelled for a doodle in McHenry, Ill. The similarity is that a kid is getting disciplined harshly for expressing something. Now, it seems like this could be a valuable "teachable moment" for the kids involved, but it also seems like expulsion won't teach them anything helpful.

What is it about school administrators? Getting tough on free speech isn't exactly an American value.