Nixon Was Unavailable

OK, so it’s like this.
The good news: fourteen months later, there’s finally going to be an investigation of intelligence failures which permitted the September 11th attacks to succeed.
The bad news: It’s being led by Henry Kissinger.
No, I’m not making that up, what kind of sick bastard do you take me for?
What is it with the Bush crowd? First Poindexter lurches back into the public spotlight like some deranged zombie from a Sam Raimi flick, and now we’re giving Kissinger work?
Kissinger enjoys the reputation of an elder statesman because of his experience as a national security adviser and secretary of state during the time of the Vietnam War, the Cold War and the U.S. opening up to China. But he has limited experience in domestic security matters, such as visa operations and airline safety, that the commission will handle. And he has a large number of critics who accuse him of dishonest diplomatic actions regarding Cambodia, Vietnam and Chile. He is also considered too close to the intelligence community and the Bush administration to permit an honest appraisal of their failures.
“Dishonest diplomatic actions”? You don’t say?
Other than that, I’m speechless kids. Some things just boggle the mind…

A Challenge to All Americans

As a red-blooded, patriotic American bear, I find this simply unacceptable:
Americans have sex an average of 138 times a year, according to a survey released Monday by condom manufacturer Durex. The British have sex more often than Americans, but are outdone by the French, Dutch, Danes and Canadians…

[continued at the Weblog Action Center]

A Holiday Week With Family for a Bear

Folks –
An early warning: the free bear-flavored ice cream will be light this week. It’s a family holiday week, so this bear will be distracted with non-bloggerly pursuits.
Might get a few posts in here and there, but if you don’t see updates; well, that’s why…
-NZB
PS – But if you haven’t already, go read my posts from last week. Thought it was a pretty solid week overall, some decent stuff down there, if I do say so myself.

Launch is Go

Shuttle launch looks like a go for tonight — in just about 25 minutes (4:50 PM PST). Tune in via the links below to watch & wish the crew a safe journey.

Shuttle Launch Today!

There’s a shuttle launch scheduled for today, although they are worried about a weather delay. Current launch time is 5:15pm PST; see here for info and here for a live NASA TV feed which will (presumably) carry the launch.
WARNING! I posted the time incorrectly the first time around; the launch is 5:15pm PST, not EST. Sorry about that….

Open v. Closed Security and Software v. Reality

Jane Galt bravely wades into the debate on open v. closed security, which Stephen den Beste and Aziz Poonawalla have engaged on (oddly, den Beste’s piece on the subject has vanished from his site; will change to a specific link if it comes back.)
Jane highlights the central problem here:
So on the one hand, releasing potential security holes to the entire population and allowing the giant processor that is the hearts and minds of the American public is an order of magnitude more likely to produce an innovative way to plug your hole than is asking a small team of experts to come up with the solution.
But on the other hand, some security holes don’t have fixes; or at least, many of the cures are worse than the disease…At that point, releasing the information doesn’t enhance your security; it gives the terrorists ideas, without producing new solutions.
The problem is, there’s no way of telling in advance which problems have solutions that just haven’t been discovered yet, and which are insoluble. They’re all insoluble to your little team of experts.

I think Jane comes real close here, but slightly misses a key point about what open efforts are good at by not distinguishing clearly enough between the two distinct phases of problem solving — the identification of a problem and the resolution of that problem.
Jane seems to argue that naturally, the American public in an open effort is better at solving problems than any one group of expert would be. And I think that’s likely true. But I would argue that the huge advantage that an open effort has in finding problems does not apply nearly as much when it comes to solving problems — open is better, but the gulf is not nearly as dramatic as with problem identification.
I admit freely I’m simply extending my own expertise — of software development — to a problem domain that it may not perfectly apply to here. But in my experience, finding the actual cause of a bug is the truly hard part. Most defects, in software, turn out to be very, very simple at their core — a variable misallocated here, a missing bracket there. And many of them are actually “wrong” — meaning, there was a clearly correct way to do something based on the rules of the software language being utilized, and those rules were violated.
What this means is that generally, fixing a software defect that has been clearly identified doesn’t usually require much creativity. Anybody competent in the language and technologies being used can do it.
And this may point to a key distinction that makes arguing from software development principles dangerous (Aziz in particular takes this approach to defend the idea of an open approach); because when discussing the real life system of “American Security”, I don’t think most of the bugs are terribly simple at all. There are no universal “rules” to be checked against. So, a degree of creativity may well be of benefit.
That caveat granted, though, I still believe that there is reason to conclude an open approach to identifying problems gives a greater gain than an open approach to solving them. Mainly, I would argue that this is because identifying problems in a wide-open domain benefits greatly from an inherently parallel approach. Having lots and lots and lots of people looking at the system just increases the likelihood that you’ll find more defects, because more people can cover more ground more thoroughly.
This benefit doesn’t apply as much to solving problems, though. Once the specific problem is identified, then expertise in that problem’s exact area becomes more valuable — and therefore the untrained masses of an open effort become less useful. Not useless — I still agree that they can provide benefit — but I don’t think it is as dramatic as the benefit added in the identification phase.
So what to do?
My recommendation is to try to get the best of both worlds. Drive the problem-identification piece as an open effort — but then funnel all the identified problems into a closed effort to solve them. I’d like to see a formal push from the government to encourage every citizen to think about their workplace; their home town, their areas of expertise — and come up with possible terrorist threats. Then have them call an 800 number where a task force is sitting in a room, receiving the ideas and routing them out — securely — to the appropriate government agency that should have responsibility for solving them.
Could this result in ‘leakage’ which would give terrorists new ideas? Quite possibly. But I think the benefit would outweigh the risk; it seems about as good a compromise as can be found. And it would have the added benefit of genuinely involving the public in fighting terrorism. Some folks might argue that no politician will suggest this plan, because it will just scare the heck out of folks when they actually start thinking this way.
To me, of course, that’s part of its appeal. We should be scared, and the sooner the public as a whole realizes that, the more serious we’ll get about actually doing what we can to fix our security problems — and taking the fight to the enemies who would exploit them.

Preventing Cervical Cancer

Scientists have developed a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer:
Scientists are reporting today that they have created the first vaccine that appears able to prevent cervical cancer. The vaccine works by making people immune to a sexually transmitted virus that causes many cases of the disease.
The vaccine is experimental and will not be available to the public for several years.

They appear to have a working vaccine for one type of the virus which causes the majority of cervical cancer now, and will eventually produce a final vaccine that will add additional types, including the virus which causes genital warts (some of my information comes from this To The Point radio program, not the Times story).
This is great news given how widespread this virus is, but you should expect a rather interesting — and ugly — argument about this vaccine when it is released. The debate will likely become politicized because, like with condoms, the argument will be made that vacinating young adults simply encourages sexual behavior.

Rank Your Rights!

I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of rights, and the unavoidable tradeoffs that must be made in society to balance and prioritize various rights against each other. It occured to me that it would be interesting to learn explictly what rights folks value the most — and indeed, to go through a more formal process of identifying my own priorities.
So, a meme for you: Rank the Bill of Rights!
Take the first ten Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and present them in your order of priority, with the most important first and least important last. Comment if you like to explain your rationales, and post your results here in a comment, or on your own blog (and don’t forget to TrackBack).
So here’s my list:
Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
It’s the classic; if you had to pick one Amendment that sums up the American ideal, this would be it.
Amendment V: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In a nutshell: The State is not allowed to just screw you over for no reason.
Amendment VI: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Translation: No kangaroo courts here. If the State wants to lock you up, there are rules it must follow to ensure you get your fair say.
Amendment IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Despite my endorsement of the TIA system, the Fourth Amendment is indeed an important one. Although honestly, the ‘seizure’ part is of more concern to me than the ‘search’ part.
Amendment II: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Ah, the Bart Simpson of Constitutional amendments: so misunderstood, and such a damned troublemaker. But important…
Amendment VIII: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but human history says it does: No torture.
Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
A classic Founders moment: Hey, they say, just because we might have left some stuff out, don’t be thinkin’ that means the State can just do what it pleases about that stuff.
Amendment VII: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Trial by jury is a good thing…
Amendment X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
Federalism; also a good thing.
Amendment III: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Doesn’t quite seem as relevant to me as I’m sure it did in the Founder’s time… then again, I might feel differently if a platoon showed up on my doorstep tomorrow and told me they were going to crash at my place for a few months…

I love Big Brother!

Folks are getting mighty worked up about the Total Information Awareness System being proposed over at DARPA, saying it’s the worst Big Brother project to get medieval on the collective ass of our civil liberties since McCarthy.
I see it differently. It’s actually a huge opportunity to protect civil liberties — and provide a potentially valuable anti-terrorism tool.
First, the obvious concessions. Yes, appointing John Poindexter to lead the thing was a fairly boneheaded move. (You could say that “mistakes were made.”) And yes, the Illuminati logo is downright creepy (although not yet quite as creepy as the posters our friends in Britain are dealing with).
But let’s all calm down just a bit. DARPA does long-range research; they’re the folks who invented the Internet, yada yada yada. When I read the project description on the actual DARPA website, here’s what I see:
The goal of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program is to revolutionize the ability of the United States to detect, classify and identify foreign terrorists

Lies, Damned Lies, and SiteMeter Stats

Eugene Volokh points out that InstaGuy‘s traffic statistics are beginning to resemble those of established Big Media outlets:
INTERESTING STATISTIC: The Christian Science Monitor, a respected national newspaper, has circulation of 71,924.
This month, Instapundit — one guy with a Web page — has been averaging 60,000 unique visitors per day.

One quibble with Eugene’s characterization: using the phrase “unique visitors” is misleading, if not downright inaccurate.
What SiteMeter (which InstaPundit uses) tracks is unique visits. From their help page:
Site Meter defines a “visit” as a series of page views by one person with no more than 30 minutes in between page views.
The implication is that while it seems reasonable to assume that the Christian Science Monitor has at least 71,924 unique people receiving their publication it is not reasonable to assume that Glenn has 60,000 unique readers — because his stats likely represent a smaller number of people, some of which check his site many times a day.
Still very impressive, though, and yet another reminder that the line between ‘big’ and ‘small’ media is no longer a line — it’s a very grey, very wide smudge…

More on a Pack Not a Herd

Glenn’s latest TechCentralStation column is up, returning to the “pack not a herd” meme which he explored earlier and I followed up on over at the Action Center. He hits many of the same points (he mentioned we were thinking along the same lines after my post), but does a better job at it, so check it out.
One brief followup though: Glenn touches on the subject of vigilantism (and the fear of it), arguing that good preparation will limit the instances of vigilantism in the event of a new attack.
This is exactly right. Providing structured training and information to citizens on how to react appropriately in a crisis is the best thing we can do to avoid vigilante action. Involving citizens doesn’t mean just handing everyone a gun and saying “go get ’em”: it means providing structured training in the skills that can be of use in the event of an attack (for the list, see Glenn’s TCS column).
It’s the difference between a bunch of guys with guns and a trained army: both are dangerous. But the trained soldiers are both far more effective at doing damage to the bad guys, and more effective at ensuring that they don’t injure anyone else in the process.
Today, without such training programs in place, citizens are on their own to figure out, in a violent terrorist situation, whether it’s the right thing to do to try to resist with force — or whether they should wait for the professionals to arrive. Providing information from law enforcement and military professionals to citizens on how to react in this kind of situation won’t encourage vigilantism or cowboy-like behavior: on the contrary, it will prevent it…