Security Choice

Bruce Schneier wrote recently about airport security after a screener seized a 6-oz jar of past sauce from his luggage:  “the official confiscated it, because allowing it on the airplane with me would have been too dangerous. And to demonstrate how dangerous he really thought that jar was, he blithely tossed it in a nearby bin of similar liquid bottles and sent me on my way.”  He goes on to discuss “the two classes of contraband at airport security checkpoints: the class that will get you in trouble if you try to bring it on an airplane, and the class that will cheerily be taken away from you if you try to bring it on an airplane.”  Airport security need not catch all of the former as long as the risk and consequences of detection are enough to deter one from attempting to bring them aboard.  That’s not true of the latter type of contraband:  “[b]ecause there are no consequences to trying and failing, the screeners have to be 100 percent effective. Even if they slip up one in a hundred times, the plot can succeed.”  He concludes that airport security should choose:  “[i]f something is dangerous, treat it as dangerous and treat anyone who tries to bring it on as potentially dangerous. If it’s not dangerous, then stop trying to keep it off airplanes.”


Here’s a companion piece to the Schneier article from The Atlantic:  The Things He Carried

Spam Reduction

I received this news alert today from GigaLaw:

“The volume of junk e-mail sent worldwide plummeted after a Web hosting firm identified by the computer security community as a major host of organizations engaged in spam activity was taken offline.  Experts say the precipitous drop-off in spam comes from Internet providers unplugging McColo Corp., a hosting provider in Northern California that was the home base for machines responsible for coordinating the sending of roughly 75 percent of all spam each day.”

75% of spam!?  Here’s the link to The Washington Post story that prompted the GigaLaw alert.  It doesn’t answer the questions hiding in GigaLaw’s use of the passive voice, such as who took McColo Corp. offline?  On what authority?

Another Post story answers some of those questions:  two “Internet Providers”–Global Crossing and Hurricane Electric–pulled McColo’s plug on Tuesday.  Why Tuesday?  A spokesman for Hurricane Electric said “We looked into it a bit, saw the size and scope of the problem [ was] reporting and said ‘Holy cow!’ Within the hour we had terminated all of our connections to them.  It appears Hurricane Electric acted unilaterally, although McColo has been on Internet security companies’ watch lists for some time. Why Tuesday and not, say, last month or last year?  The timing is unclear.  McColo reportedly was “hosting at least 40 different child pornography Web sites or sites that collect payment for the illicit content.”

Ironically, shutting down McColo may make it harder to track the illegal activity it hosts.  The Post quotes a security consultant:  “”Everything will just be more spread out and harder to mitigate . . . We rather like knowing where the bad activity is coming from, so protecting our networks is easier.”

Party Like It’s 1949

For South, A Waning Hold on National Politics in today’s NY Times, and the excellent accompanying interactive graphic, provide more data on the marginalization of the Republican party.  Obama’s victory without support of the deep south marks the end of 36 years of the Southern Strategy pioneered in Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign.  A Democrat victory without monolithic southern support diminishes the importance of the red-state south in national politics “for some time to come.”  The parts of the south that “have experienced an influx of better educated and more prosperous voters in recent years” went for Obama.  The article goes on to say:

Southern counties that voted more heavily Republican this year than in 2004 tended to be poorer, less educated and whiter . . . Mr. Obama won in only 44 counties in the Appalachian belt, a stretch of 410 counties that runs from New York to Mississippi. Many of those counties, rural and isolated, have been less exposed to the diversity, educational achievement and economic progress experienced by more prosperous areas.

Continued Republican focus on these voters has the effect of “alienating voters elsewhere.”

The article goes on to look at Alabama and the impact of race on its white voters. It quotes an historian from the University of Alabama, who says “Alabama, unfortunately, continues to remain shackled to the bonds of yesterday.”  Lest there be any doubt the article visits Vernon, Alabama, “the small, struggling seat of Lamar County on the Mississippi border.”  They turned out in greater numbers for McCain than for Bush in 2004 because “any time you have someone elected president of the United States with a Muslim name, whether they are white or black, there are some very unsettling things.”  A city employee stated that anyone who is not upset that Obama was elected “needs to be at the altar” because his election is offensive to “Christian folks.”  One white resident is concerned about a black man “over me” in the White House.  Another said ““I think there are going to be outbreaks from blacks . . . From where I’m from, this is going to give them the right to be more aggressive.”

Vernon, Alabama:  The Land that Time Forgot.  This is the future of the Republican Party?

Party of the Past

Not so long ago the Republican Party was ascendant.  More new voters registered Republican than Democrat and Republican clubs sprouted on college campuses.  Karl Rove spoke of a “permanent Republican majority,” the institutionalization of us-versus-them exclusivity at all stages of electoral politics.

No more.  The media is filled with stories of the inroads Obama made in supposedly impregnable Republican camps–yesterday’s NY Times reported on Obama’s courtship of young white evangelicals.  He didn’t capture a majority of their vote, but did make sizable gains over recent Democratic presidential candidates.  The results are the logical outcome of years of divisiveness:  continue to pit “Real Americans” against those you deem less worth and wind up in a half-empty hall with deflated victory balloons and a puzzled expression on your face.  Frank Rich’s Op-Ed captures it:

The post-Bush-Rove Republican Party is in the minority because it has driven away women, the young, suburbanites, black Americans, Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans, educated Americans, gay Americans and, increasingly, working-class Americans. Who’s left? The only states where the G.O.P. increased its percentage of the presidential vote relative to the Democrats were West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas. Even the North Carolina county where Palin expressed her delight at being in the “real America” went for Obama by more than 18 percentage points.

I also recommend Nicholas Kristof’s Op-Ed, Obama and the War on Brains.  Kristof sees Obama’s election as a reversal of the Republican worship of anti-intellectualism.  While electing intelligent leaders is no automatic cure–Jimmy Carter was smart–we are living in the wreckage wrought by eight years of proud ignorance.

The Real America

Timothy Egan’s post on the NY Times Blog captures some noteworthy facts on Tuesday’s election.  It begins “[g]uess who won Joe the Plumber’s vote.  Not Joe the symbol and unlicensed tax-dodger coming soon to a garage sale near you, but the ral people about $42,000 a year, the median income for plumbers and pipefitters.  Barack Obama carried hard-working Americans of that income stripe by 10 points . . .”  And her carried those who make more than $200,000 a year, and Latinos, and the young, and the suburbs . . .

The election results rejected the recent trend in Rove-inspired Republican electioneering, the character-assassination-by-association that replaced substantive discussion at the highest level of the party.  Enough voters saw through the Republican assertion that Obama is “too radical.”  McCain’s concession speech and Obama’s victory speech revealed the truth of their respective appeal in stark terms.  The audience for McCain’s dour luxury-resort address looked like a Junior League party hosting the members of Augusta National.  The camera’s strained to find even once face of color in the crowd.  Other than the range of ages represented, Obama’s audience reminded me of a photo taken when a friend’s daughter graduated from West Point, a cross section of skin colors, ethnicities, and melting-pot origins that truly is, despite Palin’s sneering assertions, Real America.  Republicans can either broaden their appeal and re-establish relevance or continue their sour, mean-spirited migration to the right.

Harmful Effects of Violent Video Games

Does playing violent video games increase tendencies toward violence?  Researched published today in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, states that it does.  As reported here, “[c]hildren and teenagers who play violent video games show increased physical aggression months afterward.”  The research is based on two studies performed in Japan and one performed in the U.S. and finds consistent results despite the cultural differences in the two countries.  “The study in the United States showed an increased likelihood of getting into a fight at school or being identified by a teacher or peer
as being physically aggressive five to six months later in the same school year.”  The author of one of the studies put the findings in context:  “A healthy, normal, nonviolent child or adolescent who has no other risk factors for high aggression or violence is not going to become a school shooter simply because they play five hours or 10 hours a week of these violent video games.”

This brings me back to last week’s discussion in Internet law about Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Child Pornography Prevention Act which, among other things, banned virtual child pornography.  The Court relied in part on the lack of a demonstrated causal link (not merely a correlation) between viewing child pornography and engaging in pedophilia.  Based on the reporting about this study, the link may be less tentative than I thought.


It has been many years* since I cast a vote for the President-elect.  I have watched my candidates concede, accepted that I was out of step with the electoral vote, and taken four more years of the other guy.

Not tonight.  I am amazed and pleasantly stunned.  Barack Obama is President-elect.



*I voted for Clinton in ’92 and ’96 but was not elated to do so.  The last eight years have been so bad that 1996 feels like it was many lifetimes ago.


I anticipated a long wait but waited only twelve minutes to vote this morning. The poll was crowded but the lines moved briskly and efficiently.  People chatted with neighbors and caught up on their family news while we checked in and checked out.  I went with a friend and we made the smart decision to park a few minutes away on a side street.  Had we tried to park closer it would have taken as long to find a space as it did to vote.

Now comes the long wait.  I’m hoping this is over before midnight.

Best Consumer-Friendly Initiative of 2008

I just visited and on the front page was an announcement about Amazon’s initiative with counter “wrap rage”–the frustration of struggling to open almost-impenetrable product packaging.  Amazon is “working with leading manufacturers to deliver products inside smaller, easy-to-open, recyclable cardboard boxes with less packaging material (and no frustrating plastic clamshells or wire ties.”

Finally.  Aside from the frustration and risk of physical harm involved in trying to open today’s packaging with scissors or razor knives, it is absurdly wasteful to purchase products wrapped in plastic armor.


I’ve lived in and around Boston for a long time but, until Friday, I had never seen Halloween on the Hill.  On October Beacon Hill is transformed by spooky lighting, cobwebs,  Jack-O-Lanterns glowing in Louisburg Square, and dummies hanging from lampposts into a giant haunted walk.  Thousands of folks in costumes go from house to house, where residents sit on the their stoops or lean from service windows to pass out treats from large buckets.  Barricades and police prevent automotive access from Mt. Vernon, Pinckney, and other streets and the mood is a stew of street fair, Mardi Gras, and old-fashioned trick-or-treating.  Friday evening’s weather was particularly kind and the streets were crowded.  A particularly large traffic jam formed on the corner of Louisburg Square and Pinckney Street where John Kerry greeted revelers on his stoop, under Theresa’s watchful eye.  A strict one-candy-per-visitor was in effect at the Kerry’s, and they passed out the same “fun-sized” candy as everyone else, not full-sized bars.  It’s expensive even with the  mini-candy.  Our friends spent hundreds of dollars on treats and still ran out around 7:30.