Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Thursday, November 21, 2002

If this doesn’t scare you,

you weren't paying attention. The gov't wants to monitor every single purchase made by every single American.
Aldridge said the database, which he called another "tool" in the war on terror, would look for telltale signs of suspicious consumer behavior.

Examples he cited were: sudden and large cash withdrawals, one-way air or rail travel, rental car transactions and purchases of firearms, chemicals or agents that could be used to produce biological or chemical weapons.

It would also combine consumer information with visa records, passports, arrest records or reports of suspicious activity given to law enforcement or intelligence services.

Now, in order to combine the two information sets, there must be a wat to correlate them. In other words, your name will be associated with every transaction. Think about that for a second. Every purchase will have to have your name on it, and will be stored in a data base somewhere.

Scared yet?

Then think about this. How are they going to get your name on cash transactions? We're getting to the point where you will have to show ID to buy a pack of gum, unless you use a credit card. Can a national ID card be too far behind?

How is it that the right to privacy allows a woman to abort her unborn child, but doesn't allow me to spend my money without reporting to the feds?

This cannot be allowed.

I can't wait to see what SKB has to say. We disagree in a lot of areas, but I'm betting we're together on this one....

UPDATE: I just sent the following to Senators Frist, Thompson, and Senator elect Alexander, as well as to the Knoxville News Sentinel.


The Pentagon wants to monitor every single purchase made by every single American. They say that they need this information to combat terrorists. I fail to see how tracking my purchases at WalMart is the key to defeating Al Qaida.

The report goes on to say that consumer information will be added to passport, arrest, visa, and other information. Now, in order to combine the two information sets, there must be a way to correlate them. In other words, my name will be associated with every transaction I make, and that information will be stored in a giant database somewhere, accessible to God only knows whom. That information will be analyzed, looking for “suspicious activity” like large cash withdrawals, car rentals, etc. So, if I decide to take a trip to Washington DC, and rent a car to carry my family, and pay with cash because I don’t have a credit card, I might be a terrorist?

I don’t think so, yet a software algorithm just might reach that conclusion, and my life would be open to increased scrutiny, and a complete violation of my rights against unreasonable searches. How is it that the right to privacy allows a woman to abort her unborn child, but doesn't allow me to buy a pack of gum without reporting to the feds?

I haven’t even begun to talk about the abuses possible through the expansion of this system. As an example, it was expressly forbidden to use the Social Security number as an ID number, but last time I checked, it was required to get a driver’s license; to join the military, where it became your serial number; it is used to identify your credit worthiness; many companies use it as your employee number. In short, it has become a de facto national ID. Now imagine the parallel for this new system. The IRS will instantly be interested in this system to investigate tax fraud; tracking and analyzing cash transactions would be an excellent weapon for them. Imagine the uses local law enforcement would have for this system, tracking stolen merchandise and so on.

There are many possible noble uses for this information, I’m not arguing that, but it goes against the grain of everything we stand for as Americans. It is a massive intrusion on our rights as enumerated by the US Constitution.

It cannot be allowed.

I urge you to act now to stop this rape of our fundamental rights, before we lose the very thing we are fighting to protect.

Our freedom.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Retailers stuck n the past…

and they want to keep us there too. States are working together to develop plans to allow taxation of items sold over the internet, and traditional retailers couldn't be happier.
In a meeting in Chicago, lawmakers and tax officials from 30 states -- including Virginia and the District of Columbia - endorsed a proposal to simplify their tax laws and enter into a voluntary pact to collect online sales taxes. Maryland officials present at the meeting abstained from today's vote.

"This is a 21st century system that will dramatically improve the morass that currently exists," said Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R), a key leader in the states' effort. "I'm confident that this agreement....will mark the beginning of a new phase of this process."

Here's what one trade group rep had to say:
Today's vote is a welcome development for the nation's largest main street retailers, who have argued for years that the current system gives online vendors an edge over so-called "bricks-and-mortar" stores.

"Our ultimate goal is that everybody will have to play by the same rules," said Maureen Riehl, state and industry relations counsel for the National Retail Federation, a trade group that represents nearly 1.4 million stores.

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. At least, until retailers of the traditional mousetrap lobby your advantage away.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, November 01, 2002

From Headlines to Pick-up Lines

From the latest "Trial of the Century!"
<"At one point she was explaining that she was getting in character for a role as a kleptomaniac," Parker testified. "She wanted to see what it was like to shoplift."

According to Rainey's testimony on Wednesday, the upcoming movie was, alternately, Shopgirl, based on the Steve Martin (news) novel, or White Jazz, based on the James Elroy novel. Both movies are indeed being produced. Neither happens to star Ryder.

New definition: Pulling a Ryder, v. attempting to use your occupation to cover up extremely stupid actions. see doing a Clinton.
ex. "Excuse me miss, but I have a role in an upcoming movie playing Hugh Hefner, and you'd be wonderful way for me to research my character."

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, October 29, 2002

FedEx truck explodes on the I-270

This just came over on the FoxNews site
They don't think it was a bomb because the blast wasn't big enough.

We'll see.
UPDATE: The driver fell asleep and ran over a light pole, igniting the gas tank.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, October 28, 2002

James, Jesus, and a box of bones

Ha'aretz has a very interesting article on the recent find of an inscription on an ossuary which contains a reference to Jesus.
The discovery of an ossuary (burial box) bearing the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," which was reported last week by the Biblical Archaeological Review, is firing the imagination of scholars and Christian believers. If the James (Ya'akov) in question is indeed the brother of the Jesus (Yeshua) of the New Testament - though this point will probably remain unresolved - this will be the first physical evidence of the existence of the person whose teachings led to the emergence of one of the world's most widespread religions.

The article goes on to examine the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. Worth reading.

Posted by Rich
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That’s news to me!

I just found this little gem on Debka.
NATO, Greek and Israeli navies are scouring three seas - the eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Aegean - for a cargo ship, the 1,600-ton Tonga-flagged Cristi, which is believed to be carrying a band of al Qaeda terrorists to a fresh target.

Why haven't we heard about this here? Isn't this news?
Debka goes on to report:
DEBKAfile’s maritime and counter-terror sources report that the Cristi , like the Sara, which was detained in Italy carrying suspected Pakistani terrorists, and another suspect vessel, Twillinger, is owned by the Greek ship-owner, Dimitris Kokkos, and a Pakistani-American, Rifat Muhammed.

Kokkos, who also owned the Palestinian arms-smuggling ship Karine-A captured last January by the Israel Navy, is said to live in Romania. He is wanted by the Greek authorities for smuggling.

Our investigation reveals that the pair head Nova Spirit Inc., a company registered in Delaware, US, which runs al Qaeda’s shipping operations from the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanza and Nador on Morocco’s Mediterranean coast.

I typed "Cristi" and "Twillinger" into a search engine, and got this:
"The USS Monterey conducted a compliant boarding of the merchant vessel Tara" at around 4 am (0200 GMT) on Wednesday, Commander Bob Ross, spokesman for the US Sixth Fleet in Gaeta, Italy, told AFP.

"The Monterey was directed to conduct an interception after the merchant vessel displayed suspicious behaviour," Ross said, declining to outline what that behaviour was. The Tongan-registered Tara was found to be in order and allowed to proceed following the search which was "likely to have lasted several hours", said Ross.

On Monday Italian anti-terrorist police working closely with the US naval intelligence service said the Tara, formerly known as the Cristi, was associated with two other ships stopped by Italian authorities earlier this year.

A full day before Debka posted their story, the ship in question was found, boarded, searched, and released. So much for breaking a story.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, October 27, 2002

Sleeping gas, or nerve gas?

According to this Reuters report, the Russians may have used a nerve gas to icapacitate the terrorists at the Moscow theater.
London-based security expert, Michael Yardley, said he believed the gas used was BZ, a colorless, odorless incapacitant with hallucinogenic properties, first used by the United States in Vietnam.

He said the symptoms displayed by the hostages in Moscow -- inability to walk, memory loss, fainting, heartbeat irregularities, sickness -- all pointed to BZ. According to the U.S. army the side effects last 60 hours, Yardley said.

"The Russians wouldn't want a big shout about it because it (BZ) is just the sort of stuff they are not supposed to have," he said. "It's not specifically banned, is in a sort of gray area."

115 hostages died from exposure to the gas, along with about 50 terrorists.

I'm having a hard time with this. On the one hand, the Russians had to use something fast acting, to prevent the terrorists from blowing up the theater, slaughtering all of the hostages. On the other hand, the actions of the Russian government directly killed more hostages than the terrorists. This isn't like getting caught in a cross-fire between rescuers and kidnappers; assuming the Russians knew what they were doing, they deliberately chose to kill some hostages to save the lives of others. I'm a little leery of playing numbers games when the numbers represent lives. At the same time, the terrorists' tactics leave little choice.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, October 21, 2002

Sniper is talking

The sniper is talking to the police, although they won't tell us what he is saying.
"[I] just want to ask the indulgence of the media that the message that needed to be delivered is that we are going to respond to a message that we have received," Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said. "We'll respond later. We are preparing our response at this time."

Interesting quote. The police are trying to keep things quiet for two reasons. The first, and most important, is that by keeping the details quiet, they reduce the amount of noise generated by wanna bees, and can focus on the sniper. Since nobody knows what the message said, impersonators can be weeded out, reducing increasing the signal to noise ratio. The second reason is related to the first. By not tipping their hand, they give the sniper less to go on. We are already seeing signs that he is adapting is tactics to law enforcment action.
  • They started military reconnaisance flights; he moved further down range.
  • They noted a pattern in his timing, i.e. no weekend shootings; he waited for a weekend for his next attack.

By not letting the sniper know whow much they know, they reduce his ability to countermove.

The police have valid reasons for maintining a high level of secrecy, reasons which have nothing to do with avoiding public hysteria over a possible Middle Eastern terrorist link.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, October 18, 2002

Did he really say that?

Did he really say that?
According to this story in the Independent, Philip Roth doesn't like how America has reacted to 9-11. Here are some of his reactions:
  • To me, New York had become interesting again, because it had once again become a city in crisis, particularly in the weeks that followed, with everybody waiting for the next explosion.
  • It was a strange time and the first time that New York interested me again since I left the city to go and live in Connecticut in 1993. And I thought, well, this is great, I'll stay, and I did.
  • It's almost embarrassing, the kitschification of 3,000 people's deaths. Other cities have experienced far worse catastrophes.
  • One wouldn't dream of slighting these people, it is awful, but we need to keep a sense of proportion about these things. What we've been witnessing since September 11 is an orgy of national narcissism and a gratuitous sense of victimisation that is repellent.

Enough already. Philip Roth finds New York boring, unless it is a city in crisis? It takes the wholesale slaughter of 300 people, and financial losses in the billions to make New York interesting? Talk about your ivory tower! Mr. Roth, I hope east Tennessee never becomes "interesting" to you. You know what's really sad? The fact that a man renowned for his abilities with the English language, famous for his insight into the American character, could be blind enough to say these things. Stick to writing, Philip, cause off the cuff, you're just embarrassing...

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, October 17, 2002

‘Axis of evil’ validated!

'Axis of evil' validated!
President Bush took a lot of heat for identifying three nations as comprising an "axis of evil," hearkening back to WWII. His critics said he was overstating his case, that there was no call to lump Iran and North Korea in with Iraq. Indeed, some said that even Iraq did not deserve the designation.

Today, those critics just took a sucker punch to the gut, as North Korea admitted to carrying out a nuclear weapons research program in direct violation of the 1994 agreement.
WASHINGTON (AP) - In a startling revelation, North Korea (news - web sites) has told the United States it has a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of an 1994 agreement with the United States, the White House said Wednesday night.
Spokesman Sean McCormack called the North Korean disclosure a serious infringement of the agreement, under which Pyongyang promised not to develop nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said North Korea told U.S. officials that it was no longer bound by the anti-nuclear agreement.

Chalk one up for the President. Now, what are we going to do about it?

McCormack said the United States is consulting with it allies, South Korea (news - web sites) and Japan, and with members of Congress on next steps.

"We seek a peaceful resolution of this situation," McCormack said. "Everyone in the region has a stake in this issue and no peaceful nation wants to see a nuclear-armed North Korea."

"The United States and our allies call on North Korea to comply with its commitments under the nonproliferation treaty and to eliminate its nuclear weapons program in a verifiable manner."

That'll teach 'em!

Here's the scary part:
Until now, the United States' main concern with North Korea has been its sale of ballistic missiles to Syria, Iran and other countries. Now North Korea's nuclear program is added to the mix.

The United States has been suspicious about North Korea's nuclear intentions for some time despite the agreement.

A CIA report in January said that during the second half of last year, North Korea "continued its attempts to procure technology worldwide that could have applications in its nuclear program.F

"We assess that North Korea has produced enough plutonium for at least one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons."

Ballistic missiles and enough Pu for 1 or 2 bombs. If you have the Pu, and you have the delivery vehicle, what's left ain't rocket science folks. N Korea will have a nuclear missile within the year, if they don't already. Something to consider: Why would they admit to a research program, unless they had alredy completed the research?

Posted by Rich
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