Tonight on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Jim Lehrer interviewed Marine Corps General Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Pace had something very interesting to say: "...there is no evidence that there is senior leadership giving guidance to the field and there's no evidence of coordinated actions on the battlefield by the various units. So they are getting destroyed in place without much leadership from above." That suggests that either Saddam is dead (and that the tapes that have been shown on Iraqi TV are part of a cover-up), or that he's unable to give orders because our forces have successfully destroyed his communications infrastructure.
Another interesting quote: "The thing that has surprised me individually is the number of war crimes that the Iraqi regime has already committed using hospitals for operational headquarters - putting weapons into schools; dressing in civilian clothes; using women and children as shields on the battlefield - all of those things - and then preventing the troops that want to surrender from surrendering by literally having a rifle pointed at the back of their heads and when they try to surrender, shooting them."
Well, I guess we already knew that Saddam was a Really Bad Guy and that his regime was based on a hierarchy of Really Bad Stuff. This isn't a surprise but it sure is sad. No matter how hard we may be trying to kill only legitimate military combatants, if they hide behind civilians and force the civilians not to run away, it's very difficult to avoid harming the civilians. They're using our own morals and rules of engagement against us. I hate to say it but this reminds me of [what I've read about] Vietnam: the opponent who is most determined, meaning most willing do to whatever it takes, no matter how horrible, has an advantage.
This idea was addressed directly in Apocalpyse Now, in one of Colonel Kurtz's speeches: "Horror has a face...And you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies." (Of course it was at this point that Captain Willard realizes that he is out of control and has to be stopped.) In this respect, the resolve that President Bush keeps affirming is probably an absolute necessity: if Saddam is willing to basically take his whole country hostage, the only thing we can do is to convince him, and the people that support him out of fear of his wrath, that that strategy won't work. When the Iraqi people realize that actually Saddam is not going to win, and that he is not going to dare us into backing down, I think the tide of the war will change dramatically, because those who have been forced to fight at gunpoint will realize that their best chance is to turn and fight against Saddam.
This weekend I decided that I had had enough of the many virus-laden emails that I get every day. Most of them are W32.Klez.H@mm (a.k.a. "Klez") messages, which don't work because I use either Mozilla Mail or Mac OS X Mail. Still, they get through my spam filter (SpamAssassin), and because the payload takes the form of a MIDI or WAV file, it takes a couple of seconds to display because the e-mail program has to load the appropriate plug-in for the fake media type. That means it's even more annoying than a spam email. I got about ten of these on Friday and Saturday and decided to go ahead and install a virus filter on my mail server.
The solution that I chose was AMaViS and AntiVir from H+BEDV. AMaViS takes care of turning an email with an attachment into a file that a standalone virus scanner can scan. It supports a variety of different antivirus programs. H+BEDV very graciously provides free licenses for personal use of their virus checker including virus definitions, so this is a zero-cost solution. I was disappointed to find out that the documented configuration for Postfix (the mail server that I use) requires a newer version of Postfix than I had installed at the time. But, since one's major internet-facing servers updated is generally a good idea from a security standpoint, I decided to go ahead and upgrade to the latest version.
The hardest part of the whole setup was getting all of the stuff that AMaViS requires installed first. Because a virus may be hidden in a compressed file, or maybe a compressed file inside a compressed file inside a compressed file, AMaViS is designed to support a wide variety of compressed file formats. That means that there's something like a dozen different little programs to install first, each of which handles a single format. Whee. Well, a couple of them were already installed as part of my highly-patched Red Hat Linux 7.2 system, but most of them, being archaic and generally inferior to modern compressors like gzip and bzip2, weren't. So, I had to go on a mini-quest for each of them. Enter RPMFind. That made it a lot easier to find RPM versions of the stuff I needed, so I could go ahead and get it all installed without having to try and compile each one of them.
After a few hours and several intermediate test-and-fix sessions (make the new Postfix work; make sure AntiVir works on its own), it worked. How do I know, you ask? Well, clever folks that they are, the people who make antivirus software created a fake virus and added it to their virus definitions specifically for this purpose. (See the AMaViS docs for more info.)
As if that weren't enough effort, I also decided to enable an optional SpamAssassin feature: Razor integration. That required me to install six Perl modules before it would install. That actually wasn't that hard because of the CPAN shell which lets you install, say, Archive::Tar, by typing "install Archive::Tar". Nice, though I remember it was a bitch to get working at first because the default behavior is to use active-mode FTP, meaning not passive, meaning not compatible with just about any firewall, meaning not compatible with my firewall. Once I figured out that that was the problem, and then figured out how to tell it to use passive mode it worked like a charm. I do think it's terribly stupid that the default behavior of the CPAN shell is to fail miserably when it's used on a system behind a firewall. Dur.
Having just watched The Simpsons (the episode entitled "Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky"), I must say that there's really something funny about injured people twitching. Not sure why.
Iraq debate update: protesters and progressive reporters continue to leave the Bush administration's justification for war on Iraq unchallenged, instead putting forth various complaints and ad-hominem attacks. Here's what I've read lately:
Here's a revolutionary idea: why not actually challenge the administration's argument directly, instead of trying to change the subject to other possible motives (most of which cannot be proven - they can just be believed or not believed depending on what your opinion of Bush's personality is)? The administration's argument is that Saddam has WMD (which has not been proven, just repeatedly asserted), that he cooperates with Al Qaeda (the Ansar al-Islam link the administration claims is there has been rejected by the CIA and British intelligence), and therefore that a nuclear/biological/chemical 9/11 repeat is imminent. While I agree that if the WMD claim can be proven and the Al Qaeda link can be proven that we should invade, I have done quite a bit of reading and watching the news over the last 6 months and neither has been proven, ever. They have just been asserted repeatedly which is not the same thing.
But, to use a phrase progressive reporters like to use about the 9/11 attacks, there are many "unasked questions" regarding the justification for the war on Iraq. If the American people are to give any credibility to their claims of "the real reason" for the war, they have to first stand up to the administration and challenge the administration's stated justification first.
If I ever threaten to move to Utah, please clonk me over the head and take me to a cult deprogrammer. I'd have to live with these fascist hicks and that would be bad... really bad.
Important information for your reference, and amusement: Management Techniques of the Bottom 95% of U.S. Corporations
Counter arguments to my friend Pax's anti-war argument, "Why not go to war with Iraq?":
As for the last paragraph: we have isolated Saddam Hussein. He uses the threat (which he has proven is not a bluff!) of WMD over his own people to prevent them from overthrowing him. This, together with his repression of free speech etc. could keep him and his successors in power indefinitely. The best we could hope for if Saddam got WMD and the means to deliver them to Israel or the US would be another cold war, and maybe another 50 years or so until eventually the regime collapsed like the USSR did, and a similar proliferation of these WMD to international terrorists. This best-case scenario is unacceptable. We have taken our time - 12 years - using every diplomatic option, including economic sanctions. He has resisted, using the Oil for Food money to perpetuate his regime at the expense of his own people. Diplomacy has completely failed; it has been made into a mockery by Saddam's twisting of the facts and outright lies to manipulate world opinion. Military containment by the US and military enforcement of the economic sanctions (including ongoing patrol of Iraqi national waters and confiscation of vessels smuggling oil in violation of the economic sanctions) is the only reason that Iraq has not invaded its neighbors. Saddam invaded Kuwait, remember? We stopped him, and have left a military force in place ever since. It was believed until 9/11 that containment was working, and that this could go on indefinitely, and that Saddam couldn't threaten the US as long as we kept funding an occupying military force keeping his forces contained. The key shift in US policy came after 9/11, because with decentralized, nationless/international terrorist organizations, we realized that a rogue nation with weapons of mass destruction could supply such an organization and claim innocence. If a nuclear weapon were to detonate in the middle of Manhattan, how would we prove that it came from Iraq and not North Korea, or Pakistan, or Azerbaijan, or Kansas? This fact eliminates the threat of retaliation, which means that there would be no deterrent for rogue states to do just this. The key to the war on Iraq is the alleged link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. If that is provable, the war is justified now, just as it was in Afghanistan against the Taliban. If that is provably false, the war is not justified now. The problem is, the link has not been proven to the satisfaction of the world community, and that splits us all into the camps of people who believe there is a link, and those who don't. Those who don't are looking for another reason why there is a war - an oil grab, a Zionist war against Islam, or both. Those who do believe there's a link support the war, and dismiss the other reasons, or consider them secondary since the primary stated reason is valid.
It is not possible to set up an inspection regime that guarantees safety from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Inspectors are there to audit Iraqi documentation of WMD disarmament, not to play detective hide-and-seek games against an entire Iraqi government trying to hide WMD. Iraq is a huge, wealthy country (despite the sanctions) that can afford to build secret underground laboratories and mobile labs to manufacture WMD. Think of it this way: The US government has outlawed drugs, some for over 50 years. We have an entire government agency with over one thousand agents dedicated to enforcing these laws. All other US law enforcement agencies also enforce these laws along with their other duties (except in the case of medical marijuana in CA). Our law enforcement agencies have a wide variety of dedicated devices using advanced technology designed specifically to detect drugs, and they use these devices in stationary locations like airports and customs desks worldwide, as well as in ongoing surveillance and raids nationwide. Yet, you can still buy virtually any illegal drug, hide it at home, re-sell it, consume it (even in public!), and avoid detection and prosecution. Why should we believe that an external force made up of unarmed inspectors - auditors, not detectives - attempting to verify documentation of token WMD destruction, working against the entire Iraqi government and many of its citizens, and allegedly some other nations as well who are selling Iraq precursors to WMD, would be able to do better? This would be even less successful than the US's "war on drugs". It would be as successful as if the US's "war on drugs" consisted solely of an amnesty program under which drug users who admitted to having possessed drugs, but who documented their destruction or who turned them in voluntarily. Who would list themselves? Who would turn in their drugs? Why bother? Maybe a few folks would sacrifice some low quality contraband to keep the farce going, but that would be it. Welcome to the UNSCOM inspections. Of course the inspectors would say "Hey look, they gave us some drugs to destroy, it's working! We're taking drugs off the street! Nobody else admitted to having any drugs, and we didn't see them, so there must not be any!"
Hussein has outmaneuvered the Bush administration politically because Saddam Hussein is not stupid (crazy and evil, but not stupid) and because Bush is not a shrewd politician. Bush says extremely foolish things like that his goal is regime change, whether Saddam disarms or not, which eliminates Saddam's incentive to disarm. He also says that we don't need further UN approval to invade, which although legally true from the US's point of view, and true in the "eventually" time frame due to UN resolution 1441, isn't a smart thing to keep bragging about. Chirac made some stupid comments as well, saying that military force was out of the question and that they would oppose any resolution setting any deadline for disarmament, which greatly decreased the power of diplomatic options since without the threat of force they are nothing but words. That left Saddam with the knowledge that actual disarmament wouldn't prevent US use of force, but that not disarming wouldn't result in a UN use of force. Between Bush and Chirac, we divided the UN ourselves. Iraq just took the opportunity to play games with the burden of proof ("we don't have any WMD, stop picking on us, you just want our oil!") and his Muslim neighbors' anger with the US's alignment with Israel ("this is just a Zionist backed act of aggression against a Muslim country, in an effort to take over the Middle East and oppress Muslims"). Guess what - lots of people bought it, and Bush failed to counter Saddam's rhetoric, focusing instead on saying that we didn't need no stinking UN resolution.
The US has been talking about a possible war with Iraq for over a year, since the President's January 29, 2002 State of the Union Address in which he coined the infamous phrase "Axis of Evil". That's not a "rush to war" by any stretch of the imagination. That's longer than the time from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait (August 2, 1990) to the time Iraq accepted the cease-fire terms ending Operation Desert Storm (March 3, 1991). If the link between Al Qaeda and Iraq can be proven, the war is just, and immediately necessary. I'm not sure that the connection is there, but I think it probably is, which is why I am in favor of the war on Iraq. It's not an oil grab (we could have just cut a deal with Iraq and it would have cost a lot less financially and politically); it's not a Zionist plot to take over the Middle East (Bush is a born-again Christian). It's a politically risky, diplomatically clumsy but genuine effort to ensure national security. If not for Bush's poor diplomatic abilities and inability to repeatedly clearly articulate what is actually a logical case for war (if and only if the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection is convincingly made) there would not be nearly so much worldwide opposition.
But... I'm still going to vote against Bush in the next election, because he's a right-wing religious fundamentalist, a Constitution-shredding fascist, an anti-environmentalist, and has ties to lots and lots of white-collar criminals and corporate scandals including Enron. And, he's nowhere near the caliber of statesman that the US deserves to have as President.
When Democracy Failed: The Warnings of History is an interesting comparison of the Bush administration's actions and the actions of Hitler in the mid to late 1930's. The author draws a lot of parallels, and it seems too easy of a comparison to be free of reinterpretation just to make the comparison work. Here is an angry post on Slashdot post refuting the article.
But in general, I agree that Bush is a psycho, that what many Americans are calling patriotism is really naked fascism, and that we are teetering on the brink of becoming a very very evil nation, if only we change our policies a bit more and abridge a few more Constitutional rights and ideas (such as the separation of church and state) in the name of national security. The last thing I want to hear from the President of the United States is that as a born-again Christian he is leading a "crusade against terrorism." Religious fundamentalists with weapons of mass destruction do not make me feel safe, regardless of which country they are leading.
Whoever made this sign is convinced, though.
Salam Pax's Blog, Dear Raed, was mentioned by David Brooks on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer tonight. This is the first time I've heard a blog explicitly referenced in a major news program. He even used the word "blogger"! It is public television, though... I'm still waiting for CNN to reference a blog. Or maybe it's already happened and I missed it. Unfortunately he said it was Raed's blog instead of Salam Pax's blog, which is incorrect, but he's talking about the same blog that I read this morning... before it was on the news. :)
Am I the only one who thinks that "homeland" is an especially creepy word for the Bush administration to be using?
Today, I got heckled at the gym.
Now, I just started going a few weeks ago, and I'm still trying to get my routine figured out (which exercises to do which days) and integrated into my already busy schedule. So, I'm not in screaming bulging vein-popping territory yet. I'm in beginner territory which (from the fairly huge amount of reading I've done on the subject in the last 12 weeks) is all about form, and making sure you don't hurt yourself while your body gets used to the idea that it's going to have to regularly lift heavy stuff.
There I am, doing my first of three sets at a particular exercise. Bear in mind that my goal is to barely be able to the last rep of the third set, with great head-explody effort and ugly grimacing face and all that. I chose the weight accordingly, based on my last few workouts. So on the first few reps of the first set, it's not too hard, because that muscle group hasn't done diddly for several days. There's this dude next to me, probably 35 years old, in better shape than me, sweating like a bottle of Coke that just came out of a freezer in the Everglades, who is demonstrating the worst weightlifting form I've ever seen. I'm no pro but I have done my homework including hiring a personal trainer, so I have an idea what proper form is, and what abominable form is. What he was trying to do is supposed to look like this. This guy was basically flinging the weights with his whole body toward the ceiling, and then as they came back down, stopping them before they dropped out of his hand... more like yo-yo technique than anything else. It's not exactly isolating the shoulder muscles, which is the whole point of doing that exercise.
Anyway, I'm trying to ignore this sweaty guy, thinking "OK so his form lets him cheat but I guess it eventually paid off." Then he turns to me as I'm doing my fourth or fifth rep of my very first set and says, "maybe you could use something heavier, it doesn't look like you're working too hard." My first thought (yes, this really popped into my mind immediately) was to retort, "with form like yours you shouldn't be giving anyone advice." But, instead I was nice, and said, "the truth'll come out in the third set" which probably didn't make much sense. But whatever, he left me alone.
Segata Sanshiro rules.
Today I've been brushing up on some of the more theoretical aspects of database design, looking for ways to improve the design of an application I'm maintaining right now. I came across Database Debunkings which is basically an informational site designed to spread the gospel of true relational database theory as opposed to the popular implementations of SQL DBMSs, and of course to sell some books written about the same topic. In the process I have learned a little bit, and also determined that Fabian Pascal is kind of a dick. He sets up a web site talking about database theory and every answer seems to be, "You're ignorant; buy my book, read it, and come back when you know what you're talking about."
OTOH, his book is on my Amazon wish list now.
On Thursday in my Baroque and Classical Music class at CCSF, the professor played Handel's The Harmonious Blacksmith (18K MIDI file; plays with Quicktime, Winamp, etc.), a.k.a. "the air with variations from Handel's fifth suite for harpsichord". He played it for us as an example of a Baroque theme and variation composition. It starts with the melody (if you can call it that) in eighth notes, then a variation in sixteenth notes... then triplets... then 32nd notes! Aieeeee!! So fast! So many notes! When the song ended the class burst out in laughter because the song is, well, so damn hyper at the end. Love it!
Hmmmmmmmmm. Does this map of Iran and Iraq (38K JPEG image) look right to you? (It was shown on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer today.)
Apparently Satanism isn't devil worship. (Yeah, and I guess next you'll tell me that an abattoir has nothing to do with ABBA.) Apparently this dork disagrees. Ooo, scary crow and everything. For some reason this guy's photo makes me wonder if The First Church of Satan is some kind of low-budget BBC series that loyal fans at cons dress up to imitate. Or some kind of even lamer version of a rennaisance faire. Check out the gallery. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Somebody decided that Bush's march to war needs a theme song: It's Time To Bomb Saddam.
In case you are insulted by a British person and don't understand what they called you, you may wish to consult the Profanisaurus.