Saturday, December 09, 2006


Disappearing the freedom to travel

I have still to write the definitive post on this topic, but from my perspective the greatest freedom that Americans are losing is the freedom to travel. The government's move to keep tabs on your butt is subtly orchestrated so that as each component of this freedom is lost, the loss is never so dramatic that it excites a problematic portion of the public.

Last week Michael Sniffen of the AP reported,

Without notifying the public, federal agents for the past four years have assigned to millions of international travelers computer-generated scores rating the risk they pose of being terrorists or criminals.

The travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments, which the government intends to keep on file for 40 years.

Whenever the government is no longer required to justify itself in taking away your rights, the temptation becomes overwhelming to exercise that power for political rather than security purposes.

The scores are assigned to people entering and leaving the United States, including Americans, after computers assess their travel records, including where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered.

The program's existence was quietly disclosed in November when the government put an announcement detailing the Automated Targeting System, or ATS, for the first time in the Federal Register, a fine-print compendium of federal rules. Privacy and civil liberties lawyers, congressional aides and even law enforcement officers said they thought the system had been applied only to cargo.

How do you say "stupid" in legalese?

On January 23 a new rule will apply to Americans wishing to exit the United States—a passport will be required to fly. If the government decides not to issue you a passport, you stay home, drive or take the boat. The following year those routes will be cut off.

From the State Department's website—

  • Beginning January 23, 2007, ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be required to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, or an Alien Registration Card, Form I-551, if applicable.
  • As early as January 1, 2008, ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or sea (including ferries), may be required to present a valid passport or other documents as determined by the Department of Homeland Security.

Barbara Correa offers this chipper assessment—

So, the next time you're traipsing through the airport with the feeling that you're being watched, relax. There isn't a darn thing you can do about it (well, except write your senators), and you'll probably never know one way or the other.

Which makes me wonder about the value of the Freedom of the Press, when you consider the press that we have.

Meanwhile, in South America...

Yahoo News reports (hat tip to Media Girl),

Nationals from all 12 South American nations will soon be able to travel freely throughout their region without needing visas, a regional foreign ministers summit in Chile has agreed.

The decision exempts the visa requirement for nationals from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Notice that citizens of that "totalitarian" democracy Venezuela are freer than ever to travel.

Related posts
Another reason I won't be supporting Hillary for President in 2008 (12/13/04)
If you're thinking of leaving the U.S., be careful (8/4/05)
First American graduate from Cuban medical school (8/26/05)
Religious activists and mainstream churches under government control (3/8/06)



Sad Tune of the Day

[I]n a period of broad economic stagnation, the populism of working-class Southern whites, like a record stuck in a groove, remains targeted more against cultural than economic elites —Columnist Harold Meyerson writing in "The GOP's Southern Exposure"

So far as I know Harold Meyerson remains the only socialist writer in the mainstream media.

Let me add to Meyerson's comment that the majority of the American "Left" constitutes a kind of negative image of Southern whites. Their efforts are focused on the same cultural issues, only from an opposing side. This is both a strategic and tactical mistake.

Related post
Gasp! Socialists in the press (2/2/05)


Friday, December 08, 2006


Understatement of the Day

Public corruption is the top criminal priority for the FBI.... If we do not investigate these cases, they perhaps will not be investigated. —FBI Director Robert Mueller as reported by Dan Eggan in "FBI Focus Yields Spike in Corruption Cases"

This must be contrasted with the idiotic comment of Sen. Dianne Feinstein—

The FBI's shift toward public-corruption cases has come at the same time that it has dramatically decreased its role in investigating violent gangs and crime. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told Mueller that the FBI needs to focus more resources on violent crime amid evidence that national crime rates are on the rise.

Most violent crimes are matters for state and local law enforcement. Only the FBI has the independence (at least at the state and local level) to investigate public corruption.



Unwed Mother of the Day

Mary Cheney, a daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, is expecting a baby with her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe —Office of the Vice President, as reported by Jim Rutenberg

Related post
The Republican party's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy (8/31/04)



Belated Conclusion of the Day

[L]ast week federal technology experts concluded for the first time that paperless touch-screen machines could not be secured from tampering. —Ian Urbina and Christopher Drew writing in "Changes Are Expected in Voting by 2008 Election"


Thursday, December 07, 2006


It's the hole that matters!

Conservative Jews are trying to inch back to sanity after millenia of befuddlement. As you will see, they have by no means reached the goal but should be praised for the effort.

According to Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post, rabbis who constitute the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards have issued a teshuvot (answer) to the question of "whether Jewish law allows homosexual sex" that permits same-sex unions and the ordination of gay men and lesbians. The decision to perform such unions and ordinations is left to the individual rabbi or seminary.

Ah, but wait!... The Committee has also issued two other teshuvots condemning gay people—which brings us abruptly to notice that our culture is far more Hellenic than Judaic in the matter of moral argument. Ever since Aristotle asserted "the law of the excluded middle," we have insisted that actions be conclusively considered right or wrong. This has led to all sorts of horrors that a more multi-valued approach might have avoided.

I wouldn't lay money on there being an ontological basis for morality. But it is clear that most of us will insist upon a moral guide. That being the case, blogger David Schraub appreciates the humility of permitting multiple points of view—

A long-standing Jewish practice (dating back to Hillel and Shammei) known as the "these and these" principle allows for more than one interpretation (including mutually exclusive interpretations) to be considering equally valid and legitimate in the Jewish community. I agree with Rabbi Kula: there is beauty in this type of humility and refusal to declare only one interpretation to be ultimate or dogmatic.

For myself I rather like the notion that our moral precepts are "emergent" along with the rest of human experience.

But the teshuvot supporting same-sex unions and ordinations didn't toss out all convention—

[It maintains] a ban on anal sex. It argues that the verse in Leviticus saying "a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman" is unclear, but traditionally was understood to bar only one kind of sex between men. All other prohibitions were "added later on by the rabbis" ....

Now I really don't give a hoot about the prohibitions of Leviticus, but the conclusion of this teshuvot (if reported correctly) is simply bizarre.

Think for a moment. What is Leviticus forbidding? If, as the teshuvot suggests, Leviticus is not forbidding all gay male sexual activities, then it must be forbidding some particular activity. And if that activity is a specific technique of heterosexual intercourse, I bet you didn't think of anal sex right off the bat, now did you? So if that is the "true" meaning of Leviticus, you have to wonder what Jewish men have been up to lo these many centuries.

But what I think I sense here (and don't tell me I'm projecting!) is that the rabbis are instructing us to avoid the hole in the middle. I know it's a stretch, but what else can they be saying? It is simply the Jewish version of the Law of the Excluded Middle.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Quote of the Day

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.Mrs. Patrick Campbell, first actress to play Eliza Doolittle in Shaw's Pygmalion

So true and so apt for the demoniacal minions of the Bush administration.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Poem of the Day

Once upon a time in Washington, DC, there was a wonderful bar where a tile plaque and I hung. By about the fourth brandy I would grow pensive and puzzle over that plaque. Caminante, no hay camino....

The problem—and this was completely aside from the brandies—was that my Spanish was little more than a grunt. I was pretty sure I understood that first phrase, but the second would lead me into the sort of tantalizing speculation that's so available to the ignorant but so elusive of the well-informed.... Se hace camino al andar.

The poem has been on my mind lately, as I’m sure it’s been on everyone’s, so I’ve decided to translate it, hoping thereby to conserve some of the hours consumed by those who otherwise might sit in cantinas and stare at poems in a language they do not understand.

In fact the poem of the plaque is part of a poem within a poem by Antonio Machado—#29 from his “Proverbios y cantares.” We’ll consider only that inner poem, since the larger work will not easily fit on a bar room wall.

Wayfarer, the way
is nothing more than your footprints;
Wayfarer, there is no way,
you make the way as you go.
Going you make the way,
and behind as you turn
you see the path
you’ll never tread again.
Wayfarer, there is no way—
only wakes in the sea.

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.

There is a small but interesting reference to this poem in the Wikipedia entry for constructivist epistemology.


Monday, December 04, 2006


Prediction of the Day

The West will eventually tire of the expense, casualties and futility of it all. Then, after face-saving negotiations, the West will once again quit Afghanistan. —Christian Parenti, correspondent for The Nation, writing in "Afghan Autopsy"

Parenti's piece is a must-read on the history and current situation of Afghanistan.



Dysfunctional Government of the Day

[S]oon the Afghan government had 32 huge dysfunctional ministries—all-subsisting on foreign aid. In fact, these ministries are so dysfunctional that despite all the graft and theft and leakage of funds, many ministries actually have 30 percent of their funds unspent. In other words, the chaos at the ministries is so deep they can’t even steal their full allotment of aid money.Christian Parenti, correspondent for The Nation, writing in "Afghan Autopsy"



Psychological Profile of the Day

A daylight holdup typifies "the kind of bold, fearless, risk-taking, thrill-seeking personality suitable to the Rangers. It's probably ideal for the Rangers." —Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association, as reported by Rick Anderson


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