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December 27, 2003

Padilla v. Rumsfeld

A recent Opinion Journal entry illustrates for me what has gone so horribly wrong with America of late:

Court Backs Dirty Bomb Plotter
A pair of judges on the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have ordered the Pentagon to release enemy combatant Abdullah Al-Muhajir, né Jose Padilla, from military custody. Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was picked up in May 2002 at O'Hare International Airport after flying back from Pakistan; the following month, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced and explained the arrest:
On several occasions in 2001, he met with senior al Qaeda officials. While in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Muhajir trained with the enemy, including studying how to wire explosive devices and researching radiological dispersion devices. Al Qaeda officials knew that . . . as a citizen of the United States holding a valid U.S. passport, Al Muhajir would be able to travel freely in the U.S. without drawing attention to himself. . . .

In apprehending Al Muhajir as he sought entry into the United States, we have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive "dirty bomb."

In today's decision, Padilla v. Rumsfeld (link in PDF form), a split three-judge panel holds that "clear congressional authorization is required for detentions of American citizens on American soil," and that the September 2001 declaration of war does not constitute such authorization.

Under the court's order, the Defense Department must release Al-Muhajir from military custody within 30 days. The court leaves open the possibility that he can be held in the criminal-justice system--either as a suspect or as a material witness--but he "will be entitled to the constitutional protections extended to other citizens."

One can expect the government to appeal the ruling, either to the full Second Circuit or to the Supreme Court. But perhaps it's also worth asking Congress to take up this issue. Some lawmakers, notably Sen. John Edwards, a presidential candidate, have been championing the civil liberties of would-be terrorists, as if setting off a dirty bomb in an American city were a matter of no more gravity than an ordinary mugging or embezzlement. Why not force all members of Congress to go on record for or against this proposition?

Meanwhile, the notoriously liberal Ninth Circuit, in Gheredi v. Bush, holds that noncitizen terrorists at Guantanamo Bay also are entitled to lawyers. Given the Ninth Circuit's batting average in the Supreme Court, this preposterous ruling seems highly unlikely to stand.

Re-read the next-to-last paragraph especially carefully:

Some lawmakers, notably Sen. John Edwards, a presidential candidate, have been championing the civil liberties of would-be terrorists, as if setting off a dirty bomb in an American city were a matter of no more gravity than an ordinary mugging or embezzlement.
Let's review the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, shall we (italics mine)?
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.
Clearly Jose Padilla has been deprived of his liberty. According to the court ruling:
For the past eighteen months, Padilla has been held in the Brig in Charleston. He has not been permitted any contact with his counsel, his family or any other non-military personnel. During this period he has been the subject of ongoing questioning regarding the al Qaeda network and its terrorist activities in an effort to obtain intelligence.
So if he has been deprived of his liberty, has he had the due process of law? Has the government made its case against him in court, with a jury empowered to hear evidence and make a decision as to his guilt or innocence?

Jose Padilla is not a person with whom I would want to associate. He "was convicted of murder in 1983, and remained incarcerated until his eighteenth birthday. In 1991, he was convicted on a handgun charge and again sent to prison." But this is irrelevant to the matter at hand. Whatever his past transgressions, he is a human being with certain inalienable rights. Moreover, as a US citizen, our Constitution places a special obligation on the government to avail him of those rights.

Besides, whatever any of us may think of Padilla as a person, the words of Abbie Hoffman ring true:

You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.
Two letter writers to the New York Times put it well. One wrote:
The president claims that he has the right to seize any American citizen, hold him indefinitely and apply psychological pressure until the citizen cracks and tells his captors what the president wants to hear.

Furthermore, the president argues that no court should be able to review his actions, under any circumstances. It is hard to imagine a more direct attack on the rule of law.

And from the other:

As an immigrant to this country, I found that my proudest moment was to serve on a jury. A person is innocent until proved otherwise by a jury of one's peers. It is not sufficient for the police, the prosecutor, Attorney General John Ashcroft or the president to be convinced of a person's guilt. It is the jury that counts.

If the president can round up people based on evidence that no one else can judge, have we not lost our democracy and gained a king?

How Americans can not be worried to their very cores about this is beyond me.

Is it possible that we, the citizens of the United States, are no longer deserving of the freedoms our forefathers fought and died to gain for us?

December 26, 2003

Civics Test

While writing my recent entry on Paul Martin becoming Prime Minister of Canada, I wondered to myself, "How many Americans know who the Prime Minister of Canada -- either the current or his predecessor -- is?" But then I wondered, "How many Americans know who their own political leaders are?"

Off the top of my head, I came up with my own list of the 15 most powerful elected or appointed officials in the US government. Of course, the contents and order of this list are an opinion only, but I'd guess most people would agree with most of my choices:

  1. The President of the United States
  2. The Vice-President of the United States
  3. The Secretary of Defense
  4. The Secretary of State
  5. The Speaker of the House of Representatives
  6. The Senate Majority Leader
  7. The National Security Advisor
  8. The White House Chief of Staff
  9. The Secretary of the Treasury
  10. The Attorney General
  11. The Secretary of Homeland Security
  12. The Senate Minority Leader
  13. The House Minority Leader
  14. The Director of Central Intelligence
  15. The Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Of these 15, how many could most Americans name? How many can you name?

By the way, I got 14 out of my own 15 choices -- I'm embarrassed to say that I hadn't a clue who the Director of the OMB was.

I'll add the answers in a comment to this entry.

December 25, 2003

Thankful at Christmas

I normally don't write in this blog about the company I helped to found and continue to work for, 3Dsolve. I can be passionate about my beliefs when it comes to political and social issues, and many of those beliefs conflict with the stated practices of our current US Administration (as well as any other likely to be in power anytime soon). Given that much of 3Dsolve's business is in government contracting, it has seemed best to me to maintain a separation between my business and personal lives. With that said, I've been thinking lately about how fortunate I am when it comes to my job, and I don't want to let those thoughts go unwritten. I'm therefore making an exception to my general rule and writing about 3Dsolve today.

3Dsolve is the second company I've helped found. (We'll call the first "Company A." If you're motivated, you can easily figure out the name, but to provide a modicum of protection to the innocent and the guilty alike, I'll leave it out of this entry.) 3Dsolve is as different from Company A as night and day. At Company A, we had what amounted to guaranteed funding. At 3Dsolve, nothing has been guaranteed; we've had to fight for everything. Company A was overwhelmingly owned by non-employees. 3Dsolve is primarily owned by its founders (and, naturally, all new employees receive options). Company A's CEO was chosen for us and brought in from outside our industry. At 3Dsolve, we chose our CEO from among the founders because we felt he was the best person for the job. Although the core technical and creative team at the Company A had worked together for some time, the company quickly grew with new hires unknown to us. At 3Dsolve, only once have we hired someone we hadn't worked with before (and we were very careful about that).

At 3Dsolve, we do our best to treat our partners as friends and our co-workers as family. We work hard to build the best possible products for our customers -- that's not just a saying; it's the truth. In short, 3Dsolve is the company I've wanted to help build for a long time now. I hope and believe that I'm helping to create exactly the kind of company at which I'd want to work -- and I do. It hasn't always been easy, but nothing worth having ever is.

Why say all this now? Because in this holiday season, I want to recognize my co-workers for the opportunity they give me every day to work with them -- the opportunity to work with people whose passion for their jobs, loyalty no matter what the challenge, humor in the face of adversity, and concern for their fellow human beings make me excited to come into work each morning. To these co-workers, thank you all for this wonderful gift -- the value and uniqueness of which I try to keep in mind every single working day.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

December 24, 2003

Big Eastern Syndicates

Somehow, this seems more relevant to me than ever this holiday season:

At Lucy's "PSYCHIATRIC HELP" booth:

Charlie Brown: [M]y trouble is Christmas. I just don't understand it. Instead of feeling happy, I feel sort of let down.
Lucy: You need involvement. You need to get involved in some real Christmas project. How would you like to be the director of our Christmas play?
Charlie Brown: Me? You want me to be the director of a Christmas play?
Lucy: Sure, Charlie Brown. We need a director. You need involvement. We've got a shepherd, musicians, animals, everyone you need. We've even got a Christmas queen.
Charlie Brown: I don't know anything about directing a Christmas play.
Lucy: Don't worry; I'll be there to help you. I'll meet you at the auditorium. Incidentally, I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys, or a bicycle, or clothes, or something like that.
Charlie Brown: What is you want?
Lucy: Real estate.

Later, on the way to the auditorium:

Sally: I've been looking for you, big brother. Will you please write a letter to Santa Claus for me?
Charlie Brown: Well, I don't have much time. I'm supposed to get down to the school auditorium and direct a Christmas play.
Sally: You write it and I'll tell you what I want to say.
Charlie Brown: Okay, shoot.
Sally: Dear Santa Claus: How have you been? Did you have a nice summer? How is your wife? I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I want.
Charlie Brown: Oh, brother!
Sally: Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How about tens and twenties?
Charlie Brown: Tens and twenties? Oh, even my baby sister!
Sally: All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

Later, at the auditorium:

Charlie Brown: That does it! Now look, if we're ever to get this play off the ground, we've gotta have some cooperation.
Lucy: What's the matter, Charlie Brown? Don't you think it's great?
Charlie Brown: It's all wrong!
Lucy: Look, Charlie, let's face it: we all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big Eastern syndicate, you know.

Where is Linus when we need him?

December 22, 2003

BNL's Set

Following up on my previous entries, here's the set that the Barenaked Ladies played last Friday:

It's All Been Done
Pinch Me
Oh! Susanna Rap
Another Postcard
Maybe Katie
Green Christmas
Call and Answer
Testing 1, 2, 3
Too Little Too Late
Alcohol
One Week
The Old Apartment
If I Had $1,000,000
Encore
Do They Know It's Christmas?
Brian Wilson

Now, before this becomes a BNL blog, back to our regularly scheduled content...

December 20, 2003

Heard at the BNL Concert

At the Longbranch Saloon, Raleigh, NC, last night:

Ed Robertson: So I saw The Return of the King here in Raleigh last night. (Applause.) And having seen it, I can say that in terms of excitement, it was somewhere between, well, a combination of the first two Lord of the Rings movies on the one hand, and a really hot three-way with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and... and...

Steven Page: John Stamos?

Ed Robertson: (Laughter.) Yeah, a really hot three-way with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and John Stamos on the other. It's between those in terms of excitement.

December 18, 2003

BNL, Here I Come

Tomorrow night, I have the pleasure of seeing the Barenaked Ladies perform at the Longbranch Saloon in Raleigh. The first (and last) time I saw BNL perform, it was at GM Place in Vancouver, a large venue. From what I've seen, the Longbranch is fairly small, so this should be fun.

According to a fan site, BNL's last two sets on tour have been:

It's All Been Done
Pinch Me
Another Postcard
Maybe Katie
Jane
Aluminum
Green Christmas
War On Drugs
Testing 1, 2, 3
Too Little Too Late
One Week
The Old Apartment
If I Had $1,000,000
Encore
Brian Wilson
Do They Know It's Christmas?
and...
It's All Been Done
Testing 1, 2, 3
Maybe Katie
Pinch Me
Alcohol
Another Postcard
One Week
The Old Apartment
If I Had $1,000,000
Brian Wilson
If their set tomorrow includes only the songs in common from their last two performances, I'll be a happy guy. Anything more than that would be a bonus.

December 16, 2003

Question for the Day

I've always assumed that spicy foods are most often found in cultures centered in hot areas because that's where the ingredients are most easily found. (As far as I know, chile peppers don't grow in Scandinavia.)

But could there be another reason? Eating spicy food makes one perspire. Perspiration lowers the body's temperature. Could it be that spicy cuisine was developed as a response to heat? Has anyone investigated this?

December 14, 2003

"They Give Him Twice as Much"

The other day I was chatting with a friend who is a fluent Russian speaker and has organized and traveled with numerous official delegations to Russia and its former republics. We had been talking about drinking etiquette at Russian dinners, and how for a guest to refuse vodka is taken as a sign that the person is not be trusted, if not an outright insult.

Me: What would you say if you were traveling in Russia with someone, the business dinner commenced, vodka glasses were distributed, and then the person leaned over to you and said, "I'm a recovering alcoholic and can't drink at all?"

Friend: I would smile, pat his arm, turn to the lead Russian and say, "My friend is very upset that he cannot drink with you tonight. He is on strong antibiotics following a somewhat serious operation." (Stop, look Russian in the eye meaningfully, implying a very serious operation.) "You know that he can't drink. Would you mind if he used soda to toast?"

Me: Excellent!

Friend: Yes, the medical approach is always a good one.

Me: Would the person in question never be able to travel to meet the same people again?

Friend: Well, if it's someone who is coming over on a regular basis, I tell the Russian hosts that he's Mormon. They actually clear the table of all alcohol out of respect. They think Mormons are crazy, though. You can't tell Russians that someone is an alcoholic. To them, that just means that he's a regular guy, and they give him twice as much.

I won't even go into the part about what the Russians think of a man if he toasts with wine instead of vodka. Suffice to say it's not good.

December 13, 2003

Thank Goodness for John McCain

I don't agree with him on everything, to be sure, but John McCain has always struck me as the rarest of politicians: one who forms his own opinions, says what's on his mind, and tells the truth as he sees it.

Senator McCain, along with two colleagues, has weighed in on the Guantánamo controversy:

After visiting the military's detention center for some 660 prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, three senators, including the onetime prisoner of war John McCain, sent a pointed letter on Friday telling Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that it was time to release the detainees or bring them to trial.

Mr. McCain, who as a naval aviator spent more than five years held prisoner by North Vietnam, said in an interview that he believed the continued detention of the prisoners violated basic human rights precepts.

"They may not have any rights under the Geneva Conventions as far as I'm concerned," said the senator, an Arizona Republican, "but they have rights under various human rights declarations. And one of them is the right not to be detained indefinitely."

On the tour of Guantánamo, and in the letter to Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. McCain was joined by Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another Republican, and Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington.

I disagree with Senator McCain's comments on the inapplicability of the Geneva Convention, but he sees the fundamental violation of human rights that Guantánamo represents, and that's the important thing.

War hero, distinguished Senate career, known as an honest man, smart as a whip... can someone explain to me once again how he lost the Republican nomination to George Bush in 2000?

Congratulations, Prime Minister

Paul Martin was sworn in as Prime Minister of Canada yesterday. Here's hoping he can continue the success he had as Finance Minister, during which time he drove the Canadian government to consistently run surpluses, while at the same time finding more money -- though not enough, according to some -- for social programs.

A good sign is the Prime Minister's stated first legislative priority: new ethics rules to improve transparency and accountability in government. One of the new rules will ban ministers from the use of non-commercial aircraft except in exceptional circumstances (and such use to be disclosed within 30 days). If only US Cabinet members had to travel that way.

December 08, 2003

Self-Referentiality

I just realized the self-referentiality of my previous entry.

The discovery of a trivial piece of information on a social network led me to write an entry about the impact of the knowledge carried within social networks on interpersonal relationships, with my experience as the catalyst. I myself have added to the "persistent, available, and malleable" information about my life and my relationships -- however abstractly -- using social software (Movable Type). The act of documenting this phenomenon has increased my participation in it.

Too Much Knowledge ≠ Good Thing?

I've spent a good deal of time discussing social networks with people far more knowledgeable than me. I use social networks for a variety of purposes (especially LinkedIn for business networking, with Ryze, Friendster, Tribe, and other social networking services trailing far behind). Until, however, an experience today in which I discovered new information on a social network, I failed to appreciate how personal an effect social networks (as currently instantiated by social networking services) could have.

Some years ago, going through a difficult personal situation, I by chance found another participant's accounts of the situation in a public place. I understood their motivation as well as their right to do so, but this understanding didn't make it any easier for me to read what they had written. What happens as more and more of us capture our interpersonal relationships through social networking services? What happens when the trail of our personal lives is out there, waiting to be followed, always just a click away, for us or anyone else? What will the effect of this be? Will more knowledge empower us? Will transparency in social networks fundamentally improve human relationships? Or is too much knowledge sometimes a bad thing? Is there information we're better off without? I honestly don't know, but I think we're going to find out, and soon. Social networking isn't a fad, it's a huge trend, and we're just at the start of it.

When social networks reach a billion humans through their cell phones, when social networks form the open directories of the future, when we share our words, our sounds, and our images with our social networks on a continuous basis, when we leave behind trails of the experiences that form our lives, when these trails live in multiple networks and are interconnected, persistent, available, and malleable... then we'll begin to comprehend how social networking will change us, how it will change our perception of ourselves and those around us, how it will change the fundamental nature of how we create, sustain, and destroy relationships.

Oh, and this is all going to happen within five years or so. Get ready.

December 06, 2003

"The Last Samurai"

I have never reviewed a movie on this blog, and I don't intend to start now. There are plenty of movie reviewers out there, amateur and professional alike, and unless I can provide a unique perspective, I don't see the point.

Having said that, I do want to take this opportunity to urge everyone to see The Last Samurai.

This is one of only two movies that have ever brought tears to my eyes through their sheer overpowering beauty. As for the other, Lawrence of Arabia, I think the director of The Last Samurai, Edward Zwick, has staked his claim as the modern-day Sir David Lean. It is difficult to think of higher praise to give to a filmmaker.

Don't wait for the DVD; The Last Samurai deserves to be seen in a theater, and a good one.

December 04, 2003

Found Poetry

The North Carolina Museum of History has an excellent exhibit on the history of medicine in the state. One section discusses transplant technology. The humanity of it is brought home with the story of two teenage girls -- one severely injured and near death from an automobile accident, the other dying and in need of a replacement heart. The mother of the injured girl is quoted talking about the moment when she and her husband decided to allow their daughter to be taken off life support:

"It was twelve, one o'clock in the morning,
          when Ricky, my husband, and I were in her room.
I remember looking at her, and Ricky telling me,
          "I haven't given up, but I'm feeling as if--"
And I looked at him and I said,
          'I know what you're going to say.
          It's almost as if she's telling us good-bye, isn't it?
          I feel like she's telling me,
          "Mama, let go. I'm tired now.'"
And he hugged me, and we rocked and rocked
     and rocked.
And he said, 'I'm so glad that you heard her, too.'"
Whoever created the display saw the mother's words for the beautiful poetry they were and set the text appropriately. What a treasure.

December 02, 2003

Canada-US Smackdown!

I've written on numerous occasions (here, here, here, here, here, here, here) about the ever-growing cultural divide between Canada and the US. Now that the New York Times is saying the same thing, does that make it real?

Canadians and Americans still dress alike, talk alike, like the same books, television shows and movies, and trade more goods and services than ever before. But from gay marriage to drug use to church attendance, a chasm has opened up on social issues that go to the heart of fundamental values.

A more distinctive Canadian identity -- one far more in line with European sensibilities -- is emerging and generating new frictions with the United States...

To many commentators the two countries seem to be exchanging their traditional roles, one founded in America's birth as a revolutionary country and Canada's as a counterrevolutionary alternative.

During the Depression, under the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States was the progressive force, while Canada stubbornly held on to conservative economic policies.

By the mid-1960's, though, Canada shifted to a far more activist government, moving to a national health insurance system. Not long afterward, the Vietnam War began siphoning popularity from the Great Society experiment of President Johnson. The trends have only widened since.

From harm reduction to universal heath insurance, marijuana decriminalization to gay marriage, Canada seems to be on the right side of many, many issues. Meanwhile, their murder rate is far lower (32 percent of the US rate), their prisons far less full (17 percent of the US rate), and their budget balanced.

Once again, I ask: are we in the US too proud to learn from Canada?