Politics, Games, Movies, Books, Music and many other observations.
Friday, April 23, 2004
Stomping on free speech John Leo
April 12, 2004
'Canada is a pleasantly authoritarian country," Alan Borovoy, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said a few years ago. An example of what he means is Bill C-250, a repressive, anti-free-speech measure that is on the brink of becoming law in Canada. It would add "sexual orientation" to the Canadian hate propaganda law, thus making public criticism of homosexuality a crime. It is sometimes called the "Bible as Hate Literature" bill, or simply "the chill bill." It could ban publicly expressed opposition to gay marriage or any other political goal of gay groups. The bill has a loophole for religious opposition to homosexuality, but few scholars think it will offer protection, given the strength of the gay lobby and the trend toward censorship in Canada. Law Prof. David Bernstein, in his new book "You Can't Say That!" wrote that "it has apparently become illegal in Canada to advocate traditional Christian opposition to homosexual sex." Or traditional Jewish or Muslim opposition, too.
Since Canada has no First Amendment, anti-bias laws generally trump free speech and freedom of religion. A recent flurry of cases has mostly gone against free expression. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ruled that a newspaper ad listing biblical passages that oppose homosexuality was a human-rights offense. The commission ordered the paper and Hugh Owens, the man who placed the ad, to pay $1,500 each to three gay men who objected to it. In another case, a British Columbia court upheld the one-month suspension, without pay, of a high school teacher who wrote letters to a local paper arguing that homosexuality is not a fixed orientation but a condition that can and should be treated. The teacher, Chris Kempling, was not accused of discrimination, merely of expressing thoughts that the state defines as improper.
That anti-free-speech principle, social conservatives argue, will become explicit national policy under C-250, with criminal penalties attached. Religious groups say it would become risky for them to teach certain biblical passages. If a student says something that irritates homosexuals in class, the student's parents might be held legally liable. Some Canadians worry that, for instance, discussions about gay men giving blood will be suppressed. Robert Spitzer of Columbia University, a longtime supporter of gay rights and an important figure in the American Psychiatric Association, published a study finding that many gays can become heterosexual. Would that study be banned under C-250 as hate speech? And since C-250 does not mention homosexuality but focuses broadly on "sexual orientation," Canada's freewheeling judiciary may explicitly extend protection to many "sexual minorities." Pedophilia and sadism are among the conditions listed by the American Psychiatric Association under "sexual orientation."
Church foes? The churches seem to be the key target of C-250. One of Canada's gay senators denounced "ecclesiastical dictators" and wrote to a critic, "You people are sick. God should strike you dead." In 1998, lesbian lawyer Barbara Finlay of British Columbia said "the legal struggle for queer rights will one day be a struggle between freedom of religion versus sexual orientation."
It's starting to be defined just that way in other countries. In Sweden, sermons are explicitly covered by an anti-hate-speech law passed to protect homosexuals. The Swedish chancellor of justice said any reference to the Bible's stating that homosexuality is sinful might be a criminal offense, and a Pentecostal minister is already facing charges. In Britain, police investigated Anglican Bishop Peter Forster of Chester after he told a local paper: "Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorientate themselves. I would encourage them to consider that as an option." Police sent a copy of his remarks to prosecutors, but the case was dropped. In Ireland last August, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties warned that clergy who circulated a Vatican statement opposing gay marriages could face prosecution under incitement-to-hatred legislation.
In the United States, the dominance of anti-bias laws and rules limiting free speech and free exercise of religion is clear on campuses, not so clear in the real world. Still, First Amendment arguments are losing ground to antidiscrimination laws in many areas, and once stalwart free-speech groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union, have mostly gone over to the other side. An unlikely split has occurred. In the interest of fighting bias, liberal groups reliably promote laws that limit First Amendment principles. The best defenders of free speech and freedom of religion are no longer on the left. They are found on the right.
One sucks and another blows April 20th, 2004
Sergio A Lobo-Navia
The great comedian Lewis Black once said, “What’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans? One blows and the other sucks”
I find it pretty sad that the Democrats nominate the most “elect-able” (that’s not even a word) instead of the most qualified. The best part is that the Republican candidate only clams to fame before he became president is that he drove a oil company into the group, sold a baseball team, and became governor of one of the most polluted states and the one with the most executions. Of course Kerry can’t really tell you what his platform is because he changes a lot.
The Entire point of me writing this is why can’t we elect people who aren’t total douche bags? Where are the candidates who have the balls to go against party lines and vote for what they think is right? Why isn’t John Mc…err sorry. I’m not going to endorse anyone right now. Of course one man can’t fix our problems.
George Washington said in his farewell address "Let me...warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of Party…” He basically said that political parties would divide us. They sure have. The Civil war was between the Democrats in the South and the Republicans in the North (there were some Democrats in the north but you had trouble finding a Republican in the South). Flash forward to the elections of 2000. America is almost 50-50 between two parties. There is a small amount of people who either belong to a 3rd party or have no party affiliation. There is frankly no viable 3rd choice. Ralf Nadar courts these people mainly based off the fact he is Ralf Nadar and he thinks he is the man. He is just an egomaniac. Plus the green party is way too liberal for most Americans.
America needs to change the way we elect people to office. We need to switch to a European style parliament where if a party gets 35% of the vote, it gets 35 seats. The party that gets the most seats chooses a Prime Minister who also serves as the head of the Legislative branch. We also need to toss out the Electoral College. It was first created because we were a nation of farmers whom our nations founding fathers thought they would elect an idiot. We need a direct election. Person, who gets the most votes, wins.
We should also disband (!) the Democrats and the Republican parties. People should be encouraged to start parties, which hold their unique views, and not be pigeonholed into 2 different choices. I for example, am Pro-Life. I think Abortion is wrong and I think the Death Penalty is wrong. Most republicans share my opinion on Abortion but disagree with me on executions. While most Democrats think women should have a choice, but they think that the Death Penalty is wrong. I am also for socialized medicine and privatizing social security. What party should I vote for? Most Americans (I hope) do not share same exact views as both parties.
Right now, the only choice is would you rather blow or suck.
Shhh! The FBI's listening to your keystrokes
April 19, 2004, 4:00 AM PT
The FBI is trying to convince the government to mandate that providers of broadband, Internet telephony, and instant-messaging services build in backdoors for easy wiretapping.
That would constitute a sweeping expansion of police surveillance powers. Instead of asking Congress to approve the request, the FBI (along with the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration) are pressing the Federal Communications Commission to move forward with minimal public input.
The three agencies argue that the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) permits the FCC to rewire the Internet to suit the eavesdropping establishment.
"The importance and the urgency of this task cannot be overstated," their proposal says. "The ability of federal, state and local law enforcement to carry out critical electronic surveillance is being compromised today."
Unfortunately for the three agencies, CALEA, as it's written, would not grant the request.
When Congress was debating CALEA, then-FBI Director Louis Freeh reassured nervous senators that the law would be limited to telephone calls. (CALEA was intended to let police wiretap conversations flowing through then-novel services like cellular phones and three-way calling.)
"So what we are looking for is strictly telephone--what is said over a telephone?" Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., asked.
Freeh replied: "That is the way I understand it. Yes, sir."
A House of Representatives committee report prepared in October 1994 is emphatic, saying CALEA's requirements "do not apply to information services such as electronic-mail services; or online services such as CompuServe, Prodigy, America Online or Mead Data (Central); or to Internet service providers."
Freeh, who has a sincere appreciation for wiretaps, had included Internet services in an earlier version of CALEA--but Congress didn't buy it. "Unlike the bills previously proposed by the FBI, this bill is limited to local and long-distance telephone companies, cellular and PCS providers, and other common carriers," Jerry Berman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Congress during a September 1994 hearing.
But now that more conversations are taking place through audio-based instant-messaging and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, the FBI and its allies are hoping that official Washington won't remember inconvenient details.
"These (wiretapping) problems are real, not hypothetical, and their impact on the ability of federal, state and local law enforcement to protect the public is growing with each passing day," the police agencies say in their proposal to the FCC.
It's true that the FBI has a difficult job to do, especially after Sept. 11, 2001, but is this proposal necessary, let alone wise?
Police have long been able to intercept Internet traffic. In 1996, then-Attorney General Janet Reno announced that investigators were successfully tapping the Internet without any problems. Even earlier, the Secret Service's "datataps" of Masters of Deception members helped bust that hacking group in 1992. Efficient Internet wiretapping is exactly what the FBI's Carnivore system, also called DCS1000, is designed to accomplish.
Then why is the FBI so emphatic? The bureau's not talking, but it seems to be all about ease of eavesdropping. Sorting through an intercepted stream of data is difficult and means that Carnivore must be updated to unpack the Session Initiation Protocol used to set up VoIP and instant-messaging conversations. Ordering those companies to include a backdoor for police is a lot easier.
It's worth noting that the FBI is hardly alone. The National Sheriffs' Association, the Police Executive Research Forum, the Illinois State Police and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have petitioned the FCC to grant the FBI's request.
They're even sharing talking points: Each of the groups included an identical paragraph in its letter to the FCC. "State and local law enforcement do not have the financial or personnel resources to develop costly ad hoc surveillance solutions for each new communications service," their letters said.
Maybe they're right. New technologies do present police with new headaches, and perhaps that justifies additional wiretapping powers. But the question will be: Who gets to make that call--elected representatives in Congress or well-meaning but unelected bureaucrats at the FCC?
Review: Beyond Good and Evil
PC, Xbox, Gameube, PS2
Review by Zengamer.com
Every once in a while a new game comes along that manages to be so fresh, so creative, and so fun that even cynical reviewers can sit back and just enjoy the experience of playing a game rather than reviewing it. Beyond Good and Evil (hereinafter BGE) is one such game. While in some ways a derivative take on the action-adventure genre that the Zelda games seem to have a stranglehold on, BGE is the rare game that manages to be much more than the sum of its parts, and a true challenger to Zelda’s dominance.
BGE is a fairly standard action-adventure game with regards to gameplay. You play Jade, a young girl and a budding photojournalist on the planet of Hillys. Jade lives in a lighthouse with her uncle, Pey’j, a curious man-pig hybrid, and acts as a surrogate mother to several orphaned children. The game begins with Hillys under attack by the Dom’z, an evil alien race intent on conquering the planet. The game immediately throws you into combat, which is somewhat misleading as the majority of the game will be spent avoiding fights. Regardless, after you beat off the Dom’z attack the Alpha Section arrives to ‘help’ after the fact. It appears that the Alpha Section is a special unit created by the government to protect against Dom’z attacks, but it quickly becomes obvious that there might be more to the Alpha Section and the Dom’z attacks than meets the eye. Jade is soon contacted by a mysterious stranger who recruits her for a dangerous mission, and the adventure into BGE begins.
There are two primary ways to get around on Hillys. The first is by foot, walking from place to place and exploring new areas. The only way to get to some new areas, however, is to use your hovercraft. The hovercraft can be used to take you to the capital city, visit shops, deserted islands, pirate coves, and much more. Control on land and in the ship is a breeze, with responsive controls and a simple layout of the XBox’s many buttons. The hovercraft also has a useful compass feature, which puts markers that show you what direction to travel in to get to most of the major landmarks in the game. Combat in BGE is simple and relatively basic. When you approach an enemy, Jade automatically pulls out her combat staff and assumes a combat stance. There are only two attacks, one a basic move by pressing the attacking button and letting go, and the other a super attack by pressing and holding the attack button to power up your staff. The basic attack can be chained together by rapidly pressing the attack button, but disappointingly through the game you will never learn another attack, and only find one other weapon. Your super attack can be upgraded, but it makes only minimal difference to the way the game plays. Fortunately combat is pretty fun and entertaining. It is easy to move between targets, the basic attack is easy to pull on off, and Jade maneuvers well in combat. While there are only a handful of different enemies in the game, they are creative and fun to fight. Jade will also be accompanied by her Uncle Pey’j early in the game, who will tag along on missions, fight with her, and interact with the environment with Jade to help solve puzzles.
Another element of the game is Jade’s camera (in keeping with the whole “budding journalist” theme). Early in the game you will be contacted and told that you will be paid for each picture of an organic creature that you take. Taking pictures is easy and actually surprisingly fun, and I only missed a couple my first time through the game. It adds a pleasant challenge where you always consider taking pictures before randomly killing your enemies, and each new area you explore offers the opportunity to find new creatures. With the money you earn through photographs, killing enemies, and other things, you can purchase a number of different items, including health packs for Jade, repair kits for your hovercraft, turbo boosts, and others. The final element of the gameplay are pearls. Pearls are an illegal and rare form of currency that are highly valued on Hillys, and to buy the cool gadgets that you will need to advance to the key areas of the game you must have plenty of pearls. You can buy pearls from a few locations, you can win a few playing mini-games, you receive several for completing missions, but you will get most of your pearls by visiting certain areas in the game and collecting them. The whole collection process is seamlessly integrated into the rest of the game (much like the photography), and fortunately never becomes a burden or turns the game into an unbearable collect-a-thon.
Graphically BGE looks excellent on the Xbox. The characters are well animated with a cartoonish feel, the monsters are all well designed and creative, and many of the NPCs are creatures based on animals. Really, who doesn’t like talking to a Jamaican hippopotamus or a pig with a southern accent. BGE also makes good use of bright, vibrant colors, and while you spend plenty of time wandering through bland factories, the ground levels are all spectacular, with many small islands, airplanes flying overhead, ships meandering along in the ocean, birds flying overhead, fish swimming and jumping out of the water, people wandering around the cities, and more. The added touches make the small portion of Hillys we are introduced to seem alive, and helps create the tremendous atmosphere that makes BGE so memorable.
Sound is often an overlooked and underappreciated aspect of any game, but the sound in BGE is so good that it will be difficult for anyone to overlook. The voice acting is top notch, with a variety of different accents, ages, and deliveries that make BGE just a joy to listen to. In many ways it sounds like a very well-acted cartoon, with appropriate immaturity mixed with deeper issues, and tongue in cheek melodrama and overacting that brings a smile to your face. The music is also superb, with a variety of original tracks that all seem appropriate for their settings and are both clever and appealing. Ambient sound effects are also top notch.
BGE is a game that appears simple on the surface, but it simply oozes charm and atmosphere. It is witty, endearing, sad, and exciting all at the same time. The story is interesting and clever even though it is short on detail and novelty, with excellent writing, superb voice acting, and high production values. In many ways BGE simplifies the games that it tries to emulate, eliminating many of the annoying puzzles, reducing but retaining the stealth elements, and keeping item collection an integral part of the game but making it less immediate and in many ways, more fun. The result is a game that is only marred by its brevity. It would have been fun to explore the world of Hillys and get to know Jade for longer than the 12 or so hours that the game took me, and I am not particularly adept at these types of games. Other editors have finished the game in around 8 hours, but with the recently reduced price, BGE is still an exceptional value. There is no reason for any gamer on any system not to give BGE a try-if only to lend their support to the idea that publishers can take risks on new, stylish games that may not get the same coverage as some other titles. BGE was one of the best games of 2003, and maybe if enough people realize that in 2004 we might yet see a sequel.
If anyone reading this wants to write a editoral, free free to messege me on AIM (tehgloaming) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org remove no spam when you send the email). I'll publish anything. Even if Logan writes it.
Splitting society, not hairs By John Leo
December 7, 2003
The more polarized American society becomes, the more we see intellectuals explaining that this polarization isn’t real -- it’s just the swordplay of media and political elites.
Each new bundle of evidence saying "We’re deeply divided" is closely followed by some prominent commentator saying, "No, we’re not." Last month, the Pew Research Center released a major survey of today’s political landscape. The title of the study said it all: "Evenly Divided and Increasingly Polarized." Andrew Kohut, director of Pew, told me the anger level is so high that if the demonstrators of 1968 had felt like this, "there would have been gunfire in the streets."
Not so, wrote Robert Samuelson, one of our best and most balanced columnists. He thinks the polarization of the 1960s was much worse, while stridency today is in large part an attention- grabbing strategy adopted by commentators, academics and advocates. This would not seem to account for the upsurge of bitterness and angry rhetoric, though the appearance of two polarizing presidents in succession is clearly a factor.
Behind the smoke and fire, Samuelson thinks, most Americans are tolerant, moderate and in broad agreement on many issues. That was the conclusion of the chief spokesman for the no-polarization argument, sociologist Alan Wolfe of Boston College. After a broad study of middle-class Americans, recounted in his influential 1998 book, One Nation, After All, Wolfe concluded that the culture war is "being fought primarily by intellectuals."
Is this really so? If polarization is essentially confined to a small numbers of actors clashing swords in front of klieg lights, why do polls show that the number of centrists and swing votes are dwindling? This would explain why both parties seem to spend so much time and money appealing to their base -- they are no longer convinced that there is much of a middle to appeal to. I’m told by a reliable source that Karl Rove is working with data showing that true swing voters are down to 7 percent of the electorate. (Kohut says nothe percentage of legitimate swing voters is at least 20 points higher.)
Like most analysts who say they see no polarization, Samuelson cites America’s great improvement in racial attitudes and increased tolerance for homosexuals. True, but left unsaid is that a fierce and apparently growing majority of Americans oppose gay marriage (up 6 points to 59 percent, according to Pew) and an even larger percentage of the public opposes racial preferences. (Wolfe found that 76 percent of blacks and 83 percent of whites oppose preferences even when the euphemism "priority" is used in the question). These are not random findings but hot-button issues in a continuing war over basic values. If the left keeps using the courts to impose minority opinions on unwilling majorities, conflict will broaden and intensify.
Consider too the growing polarization that pits secularists against religious people. In the 2000 senate race in New York, two-thirds of secularists voted for Hillary Clinton and two thirds of religious people voted for Rick Lazio. This kind of split showed up in House races around the country in 2000, says Louis Bolce, an associate professor of political science at Baruch College in New York City. The Pew study shows that the most religious states vote Republican, the least religious go Democratic.
More and more, religiously committed people tend to vote Republican, largely because of "the increased prominence of secularists within the Democratic party and the party’s resulting antagonism toward traditional values." That’s the judgment of Bolce and his Baruch colleague, Gerald De Maio, in "Our Secularist Democratic Party," an article in the conservative intellectual journal, The Public Interest.
The gap started opening at the 1972 Democratic convention that nominated George McGovern: a third of the white delegates were secular, compared with 5 percent of the general population. By 1992, the year the culture war is said to have broken into the open, 60 percent of first-time white delegates to the Democratic convention were secularists or nominally religious people who said they attend services five times year or less.
The secular-religious gap, larger than the gender and class gaps journalists like to focus on, is simply not on the media radar. Bolce and De Maio think the Republicans became the traditionalist party almost by default -- it had less to do with Republican efforts than the impact of secular progressives on the Democratic party. Many secularists in the Republican party are leaving to vote Democratic. The most intensely religious Democrats are heading the other way. The obvious word for a shift like this is polarization.