The Emperor Has No Clothes (and is a criminal)

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit ruled not long ago that:

The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these Amendments, has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well.

Here’s the kicker: FISA is a criminal statute.

(a) Prohibited activities
A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally—
(1) engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute; or
(2) discloses or uses information obtained under color of law by electronic surveillance, knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained through electronic surveillance not authorized by statute.

(b) Defense
It is a defense to a prosecution under subsection (a) of this section that the defendant was a law enforcement or investigative officer engaged in the course of his official duties and the electronic surveillance was authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order of a court of competent jurisdiction.

(c) Penalties
An offense described in this section is punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.

(d) Federal jurisdiction
There is Federal jurisdiction over an offense under this section if the person committing the offense was an officer or employee of the United States at the time the offense was committed.

Judge Taylor was ruling on a civil lawsuit, but her finding is that the President violated a criminal statute. This is not equivalent to a criminal conviction, but it is a judicial ruling that the President’s conduct is criminal.

To put it another way, a federal judge has issued a ruling that, among other things, concludes that the President has committed multiple felonies.

Now, let me ask you: doesn’t this fact seem significant? If the NSA program is illegal, it will need to stop, and that’s important. But the law that makes it illegal is a criminal law, and if the program is illegal (as most analysts now seem to conclude is obvious), then that makes the President a felon. This seems very significant and newsworthy to me, but tell me: how much attention has this crucial fact received in mainstream coverage?

Glenn Greenwald has some discussion of this strange state of affairs.

This has been the most bizarre part of the NSA scandal all along: the President got caught red-handed violating an extremely clear law — he admitted to engaging in the very behavior which that law says is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine — and yet official Washington (the political and pundit classes) simply decided to pretend that wasn’t the case.

They agreed to acquiesce to the administration’s fiction that there are some sort of complex and difficult legal questions with which one must grapple, and that only shrill partisans say that the President is violating the criminal law. And thus, a Washington ruling class which reveled in subpoenas and criminal investigations over such towering matters as Whitewater, Vince Foster and Monica Lewkinsky has collectively decided that talk of criminality on the part of the President for how he is spying on Americans is imprudent and unserious.

I added the bold. This is a criticial point, I think: it does seem, at least to me, that the subtext in the non-coverage of the president’s criminal liability is that it’s unserious to frankly confront the possibility that our President is a felon, and that anyone who brings this up is, frankly, not to be trusted.

But the facts are the other way around: the President has, on national television, admitted to personally authorizing and re-authorizing, no less than thirty times, a wiretapping program that was consciously and deliberately constructed in violation of a federal criminal statute. No Democratic partisan trickery can be blamed for creating the possibility that the President is subject to thirty or more criminal felony charges; he did that all on his own.

It is remarkable that the Republicans have managed to frame the public debate over the President’s actions so effectively that a public admission that the President deliberately violated criminal law has led to virtually no discussion of the obvious question of whether there can now be any doubt that he is, in fact, a criminal.

Glenn:

But Judge Taylor’s ruling — with its very un-Beltway irreverence towards the President, and free of the fear of describing the President’s lawbreaking as what it is — is forcing that question out into the open, which is what explains so much of the hostility towards Judge Taylor. This judge, unknown to the Important People in academia and the political power centers, sitting in her little Detroit courtroom, has broken the rules. She used language which is uncouth (she pointed out the obvious — that this President has pretenses to being a King) and refused to pay homage to the false orthodoxy that there are really difficult questions triggered by the President’s refusal to abide by the criminal law. How irresponsible, unscholarly and unserious she is.

This is the way in which control of the debate is achieved. The President can’t be acting criminally, by definition. Although it would appear obvious and straightforward that the President deliberately broke the law, we are instead to believe that there are weighty and complicated issues of unresolved law that we cannot hope to understand. When a judge, whose job it is to analyze those questions of law, says that the issue is indeed straightforward and that the President’s actions are criminal, she must be mistaken. By definition.

Oh, and We Have Always Been At War With Eurasia.

Obey!

Despair

This latest civil-rights outrage has me really depressed. Not only does the current government assert the unreviewable, absolute right to unilaterally label US citizens as “enemy combatants” and then hold them indefinitely, without charges or a trial, but it now asserts the ability to unilaterally banish citizens, rendering them stateless, without charges or independent review of any type.

In this New World Order being erected by Bush, what does it even mean to claim that we have the right to remain silent, if you can be barred from the country unless you submit to police interrogation? What does it mean to claim that we have the right to a speedy and fair trial by our peers if the label of “enemy combatant” lands you in prison until the government decides it’s done with you? What does it mean to claim that our structure of government guarantees impartial judicial review and oversight, when the government insists that its actions are immune from review?

Here’s what I think: I think these rights are hollowed out and made meaningless when the government can ignore them with impunity, as it has been doing. I’m not particularly prone to alarmism or hyperbole, but I think it’s no exaggeration to say that we are witnessing the overt and rapid dismantling of Americans’ basic civil rights. This is being done right before our eyes, and what is worse, with the tacit consent of many of us.

Every time we accept the government’s lie that it has become necessary (in its sole evaluation) to shred our basic liberties to “keep us safe”, we have failed in our crucial role as a sovereign people. In this country, the populace is the wellspring of power, not the government, but we are being led around by our noses by officials whose mantra is secrecy and whose claim is that they alone hold absolute and unreviewable authority over all of us.

I am honestly so alarmed and appalled that I’m not really sure what to do anymore. In a world where Bush explains that a Federal District Court ruling is wrong, not because it mis-analyzes or mis-applies the law, but because it does not reflect “the world in which we live”, it looks to me like the basic pillars of American society are being dynamited. From where I’m sitting, the last bastion still remaining of our three-branch system of government is the fact that the Bush administration has not overtly declared that they will ignore judicial rulings. All their efforts to strip or evade jurisdiction, along with the contemptuous theories of unfettered authority that they foist on the courts, though, come awfully close to accomplishing that final breach.

We are now, I firmly believe, demonstrably and verifiably close to having a king in this country. The grudging and superficial respect still granted to judicial rulings is the last levee standing, and it is being chipped away at on all sides. We will have a king when something akin to “The Supreme Court have made their ruling; now let them enforce it” passes the lips of a Bush official. Of course, as a last slap to a society previously constructed and run by reason, the final calamity will sound nothing like that. It will sound like jurisdiction-stripping legislation passed by a rubber-stamp Congress, such as the measures already being discussed to immunize the military against prosecution for war crimes. It will sound like ever-more preposterous claims that the government’s current actions aren’t actually forbidden by judicial rulings. We can see this already in the nonsensical claims made by the so-called Department of Justice that the Hamdan Supreme Court Ruling, which flatly rejected the government’s claims of unfettered power, has no bearing whatsoever on the government’s ongoing criminal, warrantless wiretapping of Americans.

The death knell for our secular, balanced-power democracy will be sounded before a somnambulant, unconcerned, and flaccidly assenting silent majority. To pass off the final outrage, it will only be necessary to whip up the basest xenophobic terror. The Final Dismantling will be performed by bureaucrats promising liberty from a “new fascism” by imposing one. They will promise peace through war. They will promise freedom through arbitrary detention, and human rights through torture. They will label thoughtful discussion as treason, and careful analysis as unserious.

Sound familiar? That’s because most of their work is already done.

Have a nice day.

The Bush Administration Progresses to Banishment

This is almost too awful to believe, but it appears to be true.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Sunday that two American citizens had been barred from re-entering the United States after a trip to Pakistan. Why?

Muhammad Ismail, a 45-year-old naturalized citizen born in Pakistan, and his 18-year-old son, Jaber Ismail, who was born in the United States, have not been charged with a crime. However, they are the uncle and cousin of Hamid Hayat, a 23-year-old Lodi cherry packer who was convicted in April of supporting terrorists by attending a Pakistani training camp.

They’re related to a terrorist, see. Is that actually the reason the government is giving for not letting them back in? Not really…

Federal authorities said Friday that the men, both Lodi residents, would not be allowed back into the country unless they agreed to FBI interrogations in Pakistan.
[...]
“They’ve been given the opportunity to meet with the FBI over there and answer a few questions, and they’ve declined to do that,” Scott said.

This is already pretty bizarre, since it’s apparently unprecedented and extraordinary to prevent a US citizen from re-entering the country, but all the more strange because one wonders why the two men couldn’t simply be questioned in the US.

But wait! The two men were questioned by the FBI, but:

Mass said Jaber Ismail had answered questions during an FBI interrogation at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad soon after he was forced back to Pakistan. She said the teenager had run afoul of the FBI when he declined to be interviewed again without a lawyer and refused to take a lie-detector test.

Just to be clear, there are multiple outrages here:

  • US citizens have been banished from the country on the flimsiest suspicion and the say-so of the administration, with no due process.
  • The government’s story is that they banished these people because they wouldn’t agree to interrogations in violation of their rights. It’s illegal in the US to force a suspect to be questioned without an attorney, or to submit to a lie-detector test involuntarily. The government’s stated pre-requisites for letting these people back into their own country is that they agree to waive their rights.

It would seem perfectly sensible for this to be a plot point in an Orwell or Kafka novel, except it’s happening in real life.

“They want to come home and have an absolute right to come home,” said [Julia Harumi Mass, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union], who has filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security and a petition with the Transportation Security Administration.

They can’t be compelled to waive their constitutional rights under threat of banishment,” Mass said. “The government is conditioning the return to their home on cooperation with law enforcement.”

So much for the right to remain silent.

Glenn Greenwald offers further analysis, including:

Anyone for whom there is reason to believe that they are working with terrorist groups ought to be aggressively investigated by the Government. If there is sufficient evidence to believe that they have some affiliation with terrorist groups, they ought to be arrested and charged with crimes. All of that goes without saying.

But what possible authority exists for the Bush administration — unilaterally, with no judicial authorization, and no charges being brought — to bar U.S. citizens from entering their own country? And what kind of American would favor vesting in the Federal Government the power to start prohibiting other American citizens from entering the U.S. even though they have been charged with no crime and no court has authorized their exclusion?

An article yesterday in the New York Times picks up the story and adds some extra color:

Jaber Ismail, who was born in the United States, was questioned by the F.B.I. at the American Embassy in Islamabad, but his father, a naturalized United States citizen from Pakistan, declined to participate, Ms. Mass said. Jaber Ismail has refused further interrogation without a lawyer and has declined to take a polygraph test; Ms. Mass said the men were told these conditions had to be met before the authorities would consider letting them back into the United States.
[...]
“If the government had evidence instead of innuendo,” Ms. Mass said, “then they would be charged with a crime instead of being held hostage in a foreign land.”

Eugene Volokh offers:

If the government has probable cause to believe that the Ismails are guilty of a crime, then it can certainly arrest them. But to my knowledge, the government can’t bar citizens — both Ismails are citizens — from returning to the country. The government generally may not strip citizens of their citizenship (subject to narrow exceptions not relevant here); and it seems to me that the right to return to the country of your citizenship is one of the most basic aspects of citizenship.

Let’s hope, for all of our sakes, that the courts get involved Pretty Damn Quick.

Scariest housing-price graph ever

Own a home?

Look at this.

Or not.

Plan B is not an abortifacient. Pass it on.

Plan B is widely opposed. Why? Well, if you’re a fundamentalist Christian, you might be under the impression that Plan B either prevents the implantation of a fertilized embryo (which you regard as a Human Life), or that it dislodges an implanted embryo.

The latter is certainly false. The former is almost certainly false as well.

A science blog explains. The full post has nice graphics and lots of detail, so I encourage you to go read it.

[Plan B] is a form of birth control that tells the woman’s ovaries to hold off on releasing any eggs for a short while. It’s called emergency contraception, because it is used by a woman who has, for whatever reason (rape, a broken condom, misplaced enthusiasm, second thoughts, anything) had unwanted sperm in her reproductive tract, and she wants to make sure that this isn’t the moment her ovaries happen to pop a follicle.

Plan B is not an abortion.

Plan B doesn’t help if one is already pregnant, and it doesn’t affect any implanted zygotes. Pregnant women produce progesterone naturally.

Straightforward enough, right?

Well, so why does the FDA material on Plan B say this?

3. How does Plan B work?

Plan B works like other birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. Plan B acts primarily by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation). It may prevent the union of sperm and egg (fertilization). If fertilization does occur, Plan B may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb (implantation). If a fertilized egg is implanted prior to taking Plan B, Plan B will not work.

And why does the Canadian Physicians for Life group say this?

[Plan B] may prevent ovulation or, if fertilization has occurred, it may ruin the implantation of a newly conceived human being.

Everyone agrees that Plan B has no effect on an implanted embryo. But what about the possibility that it can prevent implantation?

Although it could possibly be the case that Plan B interferes with implantation, our best current evidence is that it does not. Since it’s pretty darn difficult to prove a negative, it’s misleading to go around saying that Plan B may prevent implantation.

This Population Council report has a summary of an animal study done by Reproductive physiologist Horacio B. Croxatto
of the Chilean Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Santiago, Chile:

The researchers found that levonorgestrel inhibited ovulation totally or partially, depending on the timing of treatment and the dose administered. However, the drug had no effect on fertilization or implantation when it was administered shortly before or after mating or before implantation.

(also available as HTML)

The American Academy of Family Physicans sums it up this way:

Some individuals may consider these hormones to be abortifacients if they interfere with implantation. However, the proven mechanisms of action consist of inhibiting or delaying ovulation. These hormones will not dislodge an implanted embryo.

Wikipedia says:

Recent studies in rats and monkeys have shown that post-ovulatory use of ECPs do not have any effect on pregnancy rates. Studies in humans have shown that the rate of ovulation suppression is approximately equal to the effectiveness of emergency contraceptive pills, suggesting that might be the only mechanism by which they prevent pregnancy.
[...]
Because of the difficulty of studying pre-implanted embryos inside the uterus and fallopian tubes, both sides of this debate concede that completely proving or disproving the theory may be impossible.

It seems fair to conclude that our current best evidence is that Plan B does not interfere with implantation.

Why is this important? In a nutshell, it obviates any principled objection to Plan B from anti-abortionists. Even if you believe that human life begins at fertilization, which is a pretty extreme view to take in the first place, there is still no reasonable objection to Plan B being widely available, since all available data suggests that it does not interfere in any way with implantation.

And if you believe that human life begins at implantation, the case is even more open-and-shut. Plan B does not interfere with an implanted embryo. It never causes an “abortion”.

So there.

P.S.: Don’t confuse Plan B, an emergency contraceptive, with RU-486, a genuine abortifacient, which causes an emplanted embryo to be dislodged.

To go with your gel-filled bras…

The TSA clarifies that you are specifically allowed to take up to 4oz of “personal lubricants” into an airplane cabin. Plus, of course, you’re basically required to own a gel-filled bra.

Man, I always get the boring flights.

Via Unfogged.

ChezLark now officially authoritative

I was wondering why there were referrals to ChezLark from Wikipedia in my web server log, so I went to take a look. It turns out, the Ted Stevens article on Wikipedia now links to my post offering a partial transcript of Ted Stevens’ infamous “Series of Tubes” comments from a Senate speech.

Since ChezLark is now cited by Wikipedia, I expect you all to take everything I say as the utter truth.

Your next passport will be wirelessly readable. Will it be secure?

The next US passport you get from the government will contain an RFID chip that lets the passport data be read off wirelessly by border guards. The first wave of “e-passports” is going out to citizens now.

Why is this a big deal? If the State Department had chosen to use a “smartcard” design, which would involve exposing physical contacts to the chip embedded in the passport, then the passport could only be read by someone with physical access to it. Instead, they chose to go with an RFID chip, which can be read wirelessly. The danger of this approach is that people other than border guards could read off the passport data. That would let miscreants collect your passport information simply by being near your passport. The collected data could be useful for identity theft, or for producing forged passports in your name.

Some questions immediately arise:

  • From how far away can the RFID chip in the e-passport be read?
  • Assuming you are close enough to the passport, is there any secondary mechanism to prevent you from reading off its full contents?

From a Wired News article by Bruce Schneier, discussing the State Department’s initial design:

The State Department downplayed these risks by insisting that the RFID chips only work at short distances. In fact, last week’s publication claims: “The proximity chip technology utilized in the electronic passport is designed to be read with chip readers at ports of entry only when the document is placed within inches of such readers.” The issue is that they’re confusing three things: the designed range at which the chip is specified to be read, the maximum range at which the chip could be read and the eavesdropping range or the maximum range the chip could be read with specialized equipment. The first is indeed inches, but the second was demonstrated earlier this year to be 69 feet. The third is significantly longer.

In the State Department’s original design, the RFID data was unencrypted, so if you could get close enough to the passport (say, within 70 feet!), you could read off its entire contents. When the State Department sollicited public comments on this design, it received 2,335 replies, 98.5 percent of which were negative.

In response, two improvements were made:

  • Passports will now contain a thin radio shield in their covers, so (it’s claimed) the RFID chip won’t be readable, from any distance, when the passport is closed. If the shield functions correctly, this obviates most of the concerns about “skimming” data off the passports of passers-by.
  • Data on the RFID chip will be encrypted. Border guards will first physically swipe the passport through an optical reader, as they do today. The information read off the printed ID page supplies the key necessary to decrypt the RFID contents. This should ensure that, even if the RFID chip is reachable, the passport data can’t be acquired without being in physical posession of the passport.

If you don’t trust the radio shield in the passport, you can buy one of these things:

If the radio shield in your passport doesn’t work perfectly, or the passport is left open, a variety of Bad Things can happen:

  • “Black Hat” hackers demonstrated that your passport data can be “cloned” to produce a counterfeit passport that carries your information. They didn’t figure out how to alter the data, though, and the data includes a copy of your picture, so this is only useful if the person using the cloned passport resembles you.
  • It would almost certainly be possible for people with RFID readers to determine that you’re carrying a passport.
  • Bruce Schneier worries that, because each passport RFID chip has a unique serial number, it may be possible to track you individually by your passport’s serial number.
  • The hackers that cloned a passport suggest that RFID passports could, at a minimum, be “fingerprinted” to determine what country they’re from. So, for example, it may be possible to rig a bomb so it detonates when someone carrying a US passport is nearby.

The hackers recommend buying a shielded pouch like the one above. That, or:

Alternatively, Grunwald said, due to some problems with the RFID tag in the German passport, the government decided that the passport will still be valid, even with an inoperative RFID tag. The Chaos Computer Club, a German hacker club, came up with a creative solution, Grunwald said.

The CCC is recommending to just microwave your passport,” he said.

Walker Evans: Utterly perfect?

There’s a review in the New York Times today of an exhibition of new prints of Walker Evans photos.

It turns out, Evans produced many of his famous shots on assigment for the Farm Security Administration, so the images are now public property, and anyone can make new prints from the negatives.

The new Evans prints are made by John Hill, a friend and colleague of Evans’s at the Yale School of Art, in collaboration with Sven Martson, who printed photographs for Evans during the 1970’s.

The new prints were produced digitally; I gather that the negatives were scanned, and then carbon pigment on cotton paper was used to produce the final work. Pigment ink on cotton rag is the current state-of-the-art for high-quality digital printing (it’s how I produce prints for chromalark).

So, what are the prints like?

[The prints] are so seductive and luxurious — velvety, full of rich detail, poster-size in a few cases and generally cinematic — that they raise some basic issues about the nature of photography.
[...]
The digital process allows Mr. Hill and Mr. Martson to uncover details embedded in the negatives, outside the tonal range of the old silver gelatin prints: a shadowy girl in the doorway of a roadside stand near Birmingham, Ala.; numbers painted on a telephone pole beside a gas station in Reedsville, W.Va.; penny-picture faces in a window of a photographer’s studio in Savannah, Ga. The new prints modulate and unify the midranges of grays in these pictures to soften contrasts and give a warmer ambience to photographs that were often sharp and austere in Evans’s gelatin silver prints.

Well, that sounds pretty good.

But does this improve the pictures? No. For one thing, it is not possible to improve on the quality of Evans’s originals, only to emulate it.

Huh?

What kind of nonsense is this?

I wrote recently about the flavor of artistic elitism that holds that there is intrinsic artistic value in producing something that is difficult to achieve, as though that’s what makes a piece of art interesting, as opposed to, say, its actual aesthetic appeal.

I’m not sure what to make of the flavor of elder-reverence demonstrated by the NY Times piece, though. It seems to declare that somehow, Walker Evans achieved a kind of transcendental perfection in his prints, such that even though we now have greatly superior materials and tools, we can only hope to approach his work, never surpass it.

Nonsense, I say.

In fairness, the article goes on to criticize the printers’ choice of size, arguing that Evans’ original, smaller format prints produced a more intimate and appealing effect. That may well be so, and for that reason, Evans’ prints may have been, on the whole, more appealing.

[T]he image produced by the camera, whether it’s a negative or a digital file, is only the matrix for the work of art. It is not the work itself
[...]
Is photography closer to music and theater, or to painting? A painting is what it is, and copies of it are not the same. Music and theater exist through their variety of interpretations.

I have always liked the music analogy. Ansel Adams famously said that

The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways.

I think this is apt. Hill and Martson have reinterpreted Evans’ work, and there’s no reason why it should be impossible for them to render a superior performance to Evans’ original efforts. After all, skill in visualization and capture are often very different from superior printmaking ability, and Evans “notoriously disdained darkrooms”. We shouldn’t be surprised if a modern performer with modern materials can surpass Evans’ halfhearted attempts with silver-gelatin.

These latest prints, beautiful though they are, will no doubt be superseded by further technological inventions claiming to extract still more signs of the artist’s genius.

They will come and go. Technology isn’t timeless. Evans is.

Evans’ negatives are timeless, as Mozart’s scores are. But I’ll bet there have been modern performances of Mozart’s compositions that surpass the originals. And although I’ll reserve judgment on whether the new Evans prints are better than the originals, I think it’s foolish to pretend that that’s simply impossible.

Digital camera sensor geekiness

Are you an incorrigeable geek? Do you manage to drain photography of its creative energy by obsessing, engineer-like, about the technical aspect of the gear? Come on, admit it.

There is an “interesting” (and by “interesting”, I mean “interesting to geeks”) white paper by Canon on its digital camera sensor technology. It’s mostly pro-Canon propaganda, but it manages to convey some interesting information about sensor tradeoffs and design.

Read all about it.

And you thought crossing the street in NYC was hard…

Keep an eye on the pedestrians.

(this is Iran, BTW)

Legal differences between same-sex and polygamous marriages

I found this post on the Volokh Conspiracy very interesting.

David Link, an attorney who has worked in the California legislature for eight years and has written for Reason and the L.A. Times, has followed the recent exchange among Professor Robert George, Jon Rauch, Maggie Gallagher, and me over gay marriage and polygamy. He has emailed me his thoughts on some practical differences between recognizing dyadic same-sex marriages and recognizing polygamous/polyamorous marriages.

I had never really thought about the issue in depth before. In fact, I had tended to believe that if the legal establishment accepted same-sex marriage (which I think they should!), then I wasn’t sure there was any remaining sensible argument to be made against polygamous marriages. On the other hand, I’m not sure that a properly progressive society should forbid multi-partner marriages, either.

David Link, however, points out many ways in which these arrangements would be very different, from a legal perspective, than same-sex marriages:

In the dominant form of polygamy, where one man is married to several wives, he is, in some way, “married” to each one of the wives individually.
[...]
But what about the relationships of the wives to one another? Are they similarly “married” to all the other wives in the marriage? Specifically, as a matter of public policy, are they legally married to one another the way a husband and wife are under current marriage law?

Stay with that question. If the answer is “yes,” then if the husband died, would the wives continue to be married to each other? Why or why not?
[...]
And every question like these leads to others. Assume the husband is alive, but relationships with him sour. Could some or all of the wives divorce the husband, but continue to be married to one another? Could they divorce one another? Again, why or why not? And if the answer is “yes,” how would that work? Who files what papers, naming whom? Would the various partners choose up sides in the ensuing divorce proceedings, and how would a court deal with that?
[...]
Another question related to divorce: Could an individual wife file for divorce of only herself, or would a divorce petition dissolve the entire marriage? What about if it’s the husband who wants a divorce? Should the rule for him be different than the rule for the women – i.e. could his successful petition for divorce dissolve the entire marriage, while a wife’s successful petition only removed her from the marriage? Or consider the situation where one woman is married to several husbands – or where several women are married to several husbands. Again, who would be able to divorce whom, and why? How would such actions affect other spouses?

David raises lots more questions: what about children? Who gets custody? Who is responsible for child support? On and on.

Conclusion?

The fact that we do not know the answers to these questions – and thousands of others – is at the core of why polygamy is dramatically different, as a matter of public policy, from same-sex marriage.

If anyone wants to argue in favor of polygamy – and for the present such advocates still remain either imaginary or well out of the political mainstream – they will have a lot more questions to answer than advocates for same-sex marriage do.

Whatever you may think about whether it would be a Good or Bad thing for the law to accomodate multiple-partner marriages, these seem like sound reasons why such a marriage would be very different, at least legally, from either hetero or gay, two-person marriages.

I suppose this means that those uncomfortable with multi-partner marriages can duck the issue for a while by insisting that these questions be answered to their satisfaction. Will we face a push for legitimizing polygamy in our lifetimes? If we do, what would be the proper response? Is it unjustifiable to legalize same-sex marriage but not polygamy? I’m still not sure of the answers to any of these questions.

Fox news calls for Muslim-Only lines at airports

This is… uh… unusual.

A Fox News guest proposed having a “Muslims only” line for airport travelers, an idea that “Dayside” co-host Mike Jerrick called attention to it so that viewers did not overlook the proposal.
[...]
Let’s have a Muslim-only line,” Gallagher said, as [constitutional lawyer Michael] Gross [who opposed Gallagher] started to talk.

Jerrick asked Gallagher to repeat what he said.

It’s time to have a Muslims check-point line in America’s airports and have Muslims be scrutinized. You better believe it, it’s time,” [Conservative radio host] Gallagher said [during a segment Tuesday (August 15, 2006)], garnering tepid audience applause.
[...]
Most Americans want prejudice. Let’s be prejudiced against those who want to slaughter innocent American men, women and children. It’s time we start exercising some prejudice and stop these bloody terrorists,” Gallagher said, this time drawing more robust applause.

The segment had all the attributes of a typical “fair and balanced” debate. Although Gross was effective with his comments, Fox News did all it could to favor Gallagher. Jerrick’s set-up downplayed the significance of the issue by labeling opposition to racial profiling as merely “politically incorrect” rather than unconstitutional, creating a larger burden for Gross.
[...]
And when it came time for the wrap-up, Jerrick went first to Gross, allowing Gallagher to go last so that his fear-mongering rhetoric could go unrebutted.

It’s hard to know where to begin commenting on this; I think Michael Gross actually did a good job on the show:

“It’s not just a matter of political correctness, please,” responded Gross. “It’s illegal, it’s unconstitutional, unethical, immoral, it shouldn’t be done. We do not in this country prejudge a person based upon their race, creed, color, country of national origin and it’s wrong to do so and it addition it’s not effective. It doesn’t work. It actually perpetuates the problem. That is, it separates us.”

Via Bitch, Ph.D.

Behold the Decider

This man leads our government:

Feel any better now? There are so many quips to choose from, but I think my favorite from this particular video is Bush’s observation that “The best way to do hope is with a form of government”.

Ah, wisdom.

Via Shakespeare’s Sister.

Elitism, chemicals, and art

Tony Long offers a curious opinion piece in Wired. In it, he explains why traditional photography in a darkroom is “art”, but digital photography is definitely not.

In many instances, the darkroom was where the real art was made. The negative was your raw material — I worked in formats from 35 mm to 8×10, depending on the subject matter and the equipment at hand — but what you did with it once it was in the enlarger determined whether or not you walked out of there with a “photograph” or merely a “snapshot.”
[...]
In other words, it was hands-on. It required some honest sweat. It required time. When you were finished, and assuming you had done sterling work, you had produced a piece of art.

Which is why it’s so hard for me to work up any passion for digital photography.
[...]
It’s like “painting” a picture using your computer. It’s kind of fun to do and what you have when you’re done may be superficially terrific, but unless you’ve actually applied brush to canvas you’re no artist. You are merely a technician with a good eye.

It is often debated whether digital photography is “real photography” and/or whether it’s “art”. In his piece, Tony points to the fact that digital photography no longer involves “hands-on” darkroom work as the reason it can’t be taken seriously. This is curious, because for many old-school photographers, digital can’t be taken seriously for precisely the opposite reason: digital makes “post-production” work much easier and more powerful.

Traditional darkroom work is hit-and-miss, slow, and technically demanding. Many basic adjustments that are trivially easy in the digital realm are difficult or impossible by hand. Because of this, traditional photographers made sure to get an image as close as possible to perfect at the moment of exposure. With digital, an image can be much further from its intended final “look” when it’s captured.

This often leads grumpy old-timers to insist that people wielding digital cameras aren’t “real” photographers, since they haven’t had to learn (and don’t care about) various advanced techniques for perfecting an image at the moment it’s taken.

Tony is taking a different tack, though. For him, the darkroom work was what was genuinely artistic, and it’s “not the same” if you use a computer. Applying “brush to canvas”? Real art. Spending the same time in front of a computer? Not real art.

These are really the same sort of criticism. They both hinge on the idea that because digital makes it easier to accomplish work that was previously very difficult, using it is cheating, and the result isn’t genuine.

This is hopelessly backward Luddism.

It adds interesting depth to a piece of art when we learn that it was particularly difficult to produce, but difficulty of production isn’t the defining value of a piece of art. A piece’s power to speak to its audience stands independently of whether it took hours, days, or months to produce.

But the difficulty in producing a piece does control something else: scarcity. In the earliest days of photography, it took enormous effort just to get a muddy, blurry, marginally recognizable image. Today, I can produce a vastly superior image, instantly, with a camera that fits in my shirt pocket. The old guard of photography invested countless hours in wringing out respectable results under challenging circumstances. Digital makes their hard-won skills obsolete.

Does this mean that digital photography is “cheating”, or that it’s impossible to produce “art” with it? Not at all. It just means that photographers slaving over toxic chemicals in a darkroom have to compete with a new generation who work in Photoshop while sipping coffee. This doesn’t mean that the new guard’s work is any less (or more) “artistic”, but it does mean that the difficulty and inconvenience of darkroom work is no longer an obstacle to new talent getting into photography. So much the better!

While Tony and his cohort of washed-up large-format stick-in-the-mud traditionalists are insisting that using a computer is cheating, the next generation of artistic talent (of which I do not pretend to be a member) will be, quite rightly, using any tool at their disposal to produce the landmark art for this generation.

I look forward to the results.

LarkFamily now online for friends and family

It’s been weird having baby pictures of little Ryan Marie next to political diatribes. The tension between family news and political observations has meant that I have put less energy than I should into updates about Ryan.

I’ve finally done something about this and broken out the family news into a separate blog, LarkFamily, which is at http://www.chezlark.com/family. I encourage friends and family to check that address, and/or subscribe to LarkFamily’s RSS feed, to keep up-to-date with family news. I will now stop posting family news to ChezLark!

Self-tooting

I promise, this post is safe for work.

I am particularly fond of this image I just put on chromalark:

That is all.

Bush would like to continue wiretapping

Q: Mr. President, the federal ruling yesterday that declared your terrorist surveillance program unconstitutional — the judge wrote that it was never the intent of the framers to give the President such unfettered control. How do you respond, sir, to opponents who say that this ruling is really the first nail in the coffin of your administration’s legal strategy in the war on terror?

THE PRESIDENT: I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live.

See, the world which lives — in which — where we’re doing the living, is a world where I am the decider. I get to decide when to wiretap. So to not see — to think that I can’t decide, see — isn’t right. It just isn’t right.

You might remember last week working with the — with people in Great Britain, we disrupted a plot. People were trying to come and kill people.

Be afraid!

This country of ours is at war

Be very afraid!

and we must give those whose responsibility it is to protect the United States the tools necessary to protect this country in a time of war.

That’s me, the Decider.

In conclusion, 9/11.

Winning the attention lottery

Seth Godin of Long-Tail fame writes:

Every blog, every site is invisible… until it comes up on shuffle. The shuffle of reddit or digg or a cross-reference in someone else’s rss feed.

The page that Ron and I did was #1 on Digg and Delicious yesterday, at least for a little bit. And the traffic was huge. It really is like winning the attention lottery.

And that’s what has happened to all of us. The local newspaper never had to worry about an attention lottery–everyone in town read the paper. Today, because it’s become molecuralized, our attention flits around, shuffled by one automated (or handbuilt) editor or another.

This is actually bad, I think. The current crop of meta-portals like reddit, digg, del.icio.us et al are mass-popularity contests, and mass-popularity contests seem to always end up emphasizing flashy novelty, curious factoids, inflammatory extremism, or tales of freakish happenings or people.

I admire projects like Findory that aim to build personal lenses through which to filter the Web. I think we will inevitably need something much better than popularity contests to surface material we are each actually interested in reading.

All Americans now encouraged to own gel-filled bras

When the government says “jump”, your correct response should be “how high”. Here is a verbatim extract from the Transportation Security Administration’s Travel Tips:

We encourage everyone to pack gel-filled bras in their checked baggage.

You heard The Man. Go stock up on gel-filled bras, dammit!