Monday, May 29, 2006

Weird Religious Attitudes

The LA Times published a story on Sunday that just strikes me as the most absurd situation. Some time ago, the pope decided that it was not necessary to kneel at the point in the mass where the priest consecrates the wine and the wafers. Instead, the choice would be left to the local bishop. Well, in several US churches, the bishop decided parishioners should NOT kneel. And some of them are disobeying that order, and sticking with their traditional act of what they consider to be adoration. And the bishop has told them it is a MORTAL SIN to disobey his order! They must stop, or they must leave the congragation. Now it's not clear that anyone will actually BAR them from attending services. But this just seems to me like an exercise in RAW POWER - "I have made a decision, and you MUST OBEY, at the risk to your MORTAL SOUL."

Never mind that the bishop in the next diocese may have made a decision that it was OK to kneel. And its not the kneeling that is the sin - it's disobeying the bishop! This just seems like an exercise in RAW POWER. Or maybe it's simply an attempt by bishops to exercise control in a place that they can - in church - when they find that have so little ability to exercise control over congregants in other, more important areas - birth control, abortion, etc.

My Letter in the LA Times

A couple of weeks ago, the food column in the LA Times' West Magazine had an article about making tamales. I wrote a letter about this, and about Angel and Tootie and the family, and was fortunate enough to have it published:,1,5872166,print.story?coll=la-headlines-west

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bush's plan

Well, based on all the talking heads on the news yesterday, it does not seem like Bush has convinced any of the conservatives to change their positions on "border control before anything else." He probably doesn't have the troops or the $'s - but I wonder what would have happened if he had been bold and said he was going to send 20,000 or 25,000 troops - would that have broken the stalemate?

The other thing that was interesting was they said he had originally consider 10,000 troops - then talked to Vincente Fox - and settled on 6,000. Was he really concerned that Fox would say "you are militarizing the border"? Now, I can believe he was concerned that Latino voters would feel that way.

After the speech, Larry King had a group of people - including Edward James Olmos and the guy who founded the Minute Men - and BOTH said "this immigration won't stop until these people have jobs in Mexico."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Unnecessary Secrecy

I have a tough time with the Bush administration's position that they cannot discuss some of these things - for example, to change the laws so they would be in compliance - because it would help the terrorists. This article makes it clear why and how the law should be changed, without revealing anything that isn't common knowledge.

Another example is the leaked story about the CIA secret prisons. How does that story help the terrorists? What will they do differently now that they know about the prisons? Maybe they will worry that someone they thought was dead, is actually being interrogated, and so they need to change their plans? Wouldn't they do that anyway if someone is simply missing, and they could not confirm the death? I think the only reasons the prisons are secret is because the administration does not want US - the American people - to know about them - because WE might change what we do - like vote differently.

On the other hand - I doubt that a Democratic administration would act any differently - do anything differently in terms of spying - because THEY don't want to be blamed for a terrorist attack.

A good explanation of why and how to change FISA

This is an interesting article about how technology has evolved and forced changes in the way we monitor (notice I did not say "spy") on telephone calls. Here's one particular section:

In an essay published next month in the New York University Review of Law and Security, titled "Whispering Wires and Warrantless Wiretaps: Data Mining and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance," K. Taipale, executive director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology Policy, points out that in 1978, when FISA was drafted, it made sense to speak exclusively about intercepting a targeted communication, where there were usually two known ends and a dedicated communication channel that could be wiretapped.

With today's networks, however, data and increasingly voice communications are broken into discrete packets. Intercepting such communications requires that filters be deployed at various communication nodes to scan all passing traffic with the hope of finding and extracting the packets of interest and reassembling them. Thus, even targeting a specific message from a known sender today generally requires scanning and filtering the entire communication flow in which it's embedded. Given that situation, FISA is clearly inadequate because, Taipale argues, were it to be "applied strictly according to its terms prior to any 'electronic surveillance' of foreign communication flows passing through the U.S. or where there is a substantial likelihood of intercepting U.S. persons, then no automated monitoring of any kind could occur."

Taipale proposes not that FISA should be discarded, but that it should be modified to allow for the electronic surveillance equivalent of a Terry stop -- under U.S. law, the brief "stop and frisk" of a person by a law enforcement officer based on the legal standard of reasonable suspicion. In the context of automated data mining, it would mean that if suspicion turned out to be unjustified, after further monitoring, it would be discontinued. If, on the other hand, continued suspicion was reasonable, then it would continue, and at a certain point be escalated so that human agents would be called in to decide whether a suspicious individual's identity should be determined and a FISA warrant issued.

The complete article is here: This story came from the excellent newsletter, Crypto-Gram, by Bruce Schneier. You can subscibe here: