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January 2008 Archives

January 4, 2008

Jack Goldsmith, The Terror Presidency

Lessig's blog entry about Jack Goldsmith's "Terror Presidency" made me curious enough to get and read the book.

Goldsmith - a staunch conservative, who ultimately believes that most of the things that the Bush government actually does are right and appropriate - was propelled from academia first into the Pentagon, then to heading the Office of Legal Counsel, a position in which he was effectively the chief legal arbiter of what the executive branch is allowed to do by law, and what it isn't. There, he found himself revoking a set of legal opinions (the torture memos) that asserted quasi-absolute presidential power, in order to authorize practices that Goldsmith believes were appropriate under applicable law. This revocation put him at the center of a struggle within the Bush administration, where the fear of the next attack meets arrogance and a desire to not consult.

The book, then, has two main threads of discussion: On the one hand, the mentality and working environment within the Bush government; on the other, the comparison of Bush's political strategy with Roosevelt's during World War II: In Goldsmith's view, Roosevelt, like Bush, had to step to the edges of what was legal, and sometimes beyond. But where Bush's asserted presidential authority is often based on shoddy legal reasoning, Roosevelt's authority was based on building broad political and public support for his actions. Where Roosevelt strengthened the presidency by building authority, not asserting it, Bush weakens it, by asserting authority, and deliberately not building broad support.

Overall, an illuminating (though chilly) read, in particular to this reader who is neither American, nor a lawyer.

January 5, 2008

From Schengen to Berlin

High water marksMy colleagues Ivan Hermann and Richard Ishida are sharing some experiences from the "old time", when traveling into (and out of) Hungary meant crossing borders and facing guard dogs and Kalashnikovs. Hungary is now a Schengen state, which means that crossing its border toward Austria is as easy as crossing the borders between Luxembourg and Germany, or Luxembourg and France, or France and Germany -- in short, the borders that meet around the little village of Schengen that has given its name to the contract, just a few dozen kilometers south of where I now live. I often tell of the marks that remind of past floodings in nearby Sierck-les-Bains, and how they change languages, testimony to just often war ravaged this area, how often borders moved here, and how absurd they are to the people who live on them.

While I never crossed the Hungarian part of the iron curtain when it was still up, the most lasting memory of my first time in Berlin - a school trip, in the last week of August in 1989, just weeks before the DDR started collapsing - was our one-day visit to the eastern part of the city. I believe that we took the subway from somewhere in Western Berlin (not the S train from Zoo as we did last week, coming back from chestnuts and Glühwein and a look at Kurfürstendamm). I remember our passing (in 1989) through badly-lit, machine gun and camera infested, but otherwise abandoned, stations on the Eastern side (without even slowing down); finally, the train stopped at Friedrichstrasse, which I once again remember as a fairly colorless affair. What I remember of the border controls that followed are grey and somewhat claustrophobic corridors, and a distinctive sense of fear; the details have all become fuzzy. We were all glad when we finally emerged from Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse. Back then, it was known as the palace of tears: This was where Eastern and Western relatives would kiss good-bye, and where following across the border was suicidal for those from the East. (Needless to say, we were rather happy when we made it back to the West that night.)

This New Year's eve, we passed through Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse many times, by subway, S train, and walking. Going from Friedrichstrasse toward the Reichstag (and further along what's now known as the street of 17 June), we walked across what was once the deadly strip around the Berlin wall. That night, the Brandenburg gate was off limits only because there were too many people there.Berlin 1989 It's normal like that now, and it has always been like that for those who will first attend an election this year.

The accession to Schengen of Hungary and other countries that used to be on the eastern side of the iron curtain means that, soon, not having to show one's papers when one crosses a border will be normal for them, too. And that's really great.

Yet, it's important to remember that the world hasn't always been like this. That there were times when borders were insurmountable, when moving from one country into another meant risking one's life, for those who had ended up on the wrong side of that border; and that there are indeed borders in this world of which that's still true.

That's why stories like Richard's and Ivan's are so important, and why I dug out that almost 20 year old photo of the Brandenburg gate from a pile of old pictures.

January 6, 2008

Robert Harris, The Ghost

Robert Harris' "Ghost" reminded me a lot of the anonymously published "Primary Colors", at least during the first few chapters: Where Primary Colors is obviously a roman a clef about the Clintons, the Ghost as obviously deals with the Blairs. Where Primary Colors is told from the perspective of a political aide who gets suddenly drawn into the maelstrom of primary politics, the Ghost is told from the perspective of a ghostwriter who is called in to finish the former prime minister's memoirs (for a premium), after the previous ghost (formerly a political aide to the prime minister) has mysteriously deceased.

In both novels, the narrator emerges on a journey that brings him closer to his political couple of choice than he'd ever have dreamed. But where Primary Colors tells of mostly credible abysses and explores personalities, Harris' thriller takes its reader on a different trip, along with the ghostwriter who tries to understand his "author": Just how far, you believe, does the special partnership between the US and the UK go? Just how little do you trust that former prime minister to have served his own country's interests? And, just what kind of motives are you willing to accept for that?

In other words, where precisely do you think Harris crosses the line from a fairly plausible roman a clef into pure, James Bond like fiction?

Besides being a well-written, captivating, and entertaining thriller, the Ghost also leaves its reader with quite a bit of uneasiness. It's a book of our times.

January 17, 2008

Waiting for the Treo replacement

I've been a happy user of my Palm Treo 650 for quite a while, but -- let's face it -- it's starting to be old. Too bad that there doesn't seem to be a device out there that has quite the edge over that old brick that would make me buy it.

Here are the requirements that I'd like to see combined in one device, but can't seem to find combined:

  • Decent full keyboard -- anything that uses T9 and similar predictive technologies seems to deal badly with mixing languages. And yes, I type both German and English into my mobile.
  • 3G, please. I want to be able to use a single device in Europe, the US, and Japan. That's not possible with either the Treo or the iPhone.
  • GPS and maps, please. I regularly use Google Maps for the Treo; a phone with a built-in GPS receiver would be great.
  • Decent web browser -- neither Blazer nor Opera Mini really cuts it on the Teo.
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, of course.
  • Third party applications.
  • Not bound to a particular carrier, and certainly not bound to a particular carrier's more expensive contracts.
  • Smaller form factor. The Treo is quite heavy; I wouldn't want the next one to be as heavy or thick.

Anybody know a device that fits the description?

January 23, 2008

MacBook wireless woes

It seems like the combination of a somewhat dated Linksys WRT54G and the MacBook wasn't made in heaven. Every once in a while, I find something like this in my laptop's log files:

Jan 23 11:04:27 iCoaster kernel[0]:
 ath_reset: unable to reset hardware; hal status 3
Jan 23 11:04:28 iCoaster kernel[0]:
 ath_chan_set: unable to reset channel 1 (2412 Mhz)
Jan 23 11:04:29 iCoaster kernel[0]:
 ath_chan_set: unable to reset channel 6 (2437 Mhz)
Jan 23 11:04:30 iCoaster kernel[0]:
 ath_chan_set: unable to reset channel 11 (2462 Mhz)
Jan 23 11:04:30 iCoaster kernel[0]:
 ath_chan_set: unable to reset channel 7 (2442 Mhz)
Jan 23 11:04:30 iCoaster configd[50]:
 posting notification com.apple.system.config.network_change
Jan 23 11:04:32 iCoaster kernel[0]:
 ath_chan_set: unable to reset channel 13 (2472 Mhz)
Jan 23 11:04:33 iCoaster kernel[0]:
 ath_chan_set: unable to reset channel 52 (5260 Mhz)
Jan 23 11:04:34 iCoaster kernel[0]:
 ath_chan_set: unable to reset channel 56 (5280 Mhz)
Jan 23 11:04:35 iCoaster kernel[0]:
 ath_chan_set: unable to reset channel 60 (5300 Mhz)

These effects occur once or twice a week, and aren't really helpful in the middle of trying to work. Overall, this has the stink of a driver issue. Googling around shows that there have been dropped connection issues between Linksys routers and Apple wireless cards for a long time, without Apple coming up with a useful fix.

Update, 2008-02-13 -- the woes continue on MacOS 10.5.2. They seem strangely correlated to the presence of a "secure" ad-hoc network here which, I believe, is caused by some Philips entertainment electronics. The name is WASC-.....

About January 2008

This page contains all entries posted to No Such Weblog in January 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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