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Mail 351 February 28 - March 6, 2005






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Monday February 28, 2005 

As usual, see weekend mail

An Important Security Announcement:

Subject: IMPORTANT - Phishing Verified by Ebay Script

Dr. Pournelle:

Our mail filter has been catching what I think is a new phishing technique. The message puports to be from eBay, and takes you to a login page that looks like eBay's. And eBay is an unwitting accomplice in this technique.

A simple script allows you to use eBay to verify a valid eBay user name and password. The verification script lives on eBay, and eBay sellers use it on their 'stores' to verify you are a valid eBay user. If you enter an invalid user name / password, you don't get access to the rest of the phisher's pages. That might lure you into thinking you were actually on eBay's site: if a bad user name / password doesn't work, then your valid one should work, and that makes you think that you are on eBay's site.

And even if you recognize a phisher site after your valid login, the phisherman has your eBay user name and password. That's a good start for some financial fraud.

So it's important not to click on links in emails. And users may want to filter out the HTML code of "onmouseover", which is most often used by phishers to hide the real link in an email message. That's how I catch phishing email.

More info on this technique on my pages at http://www.digitalchoke.com/daynotes/2005/2005-02-27.php#monday 

Regards, Rick Hellewell

They get more clever all the time...



Subject: Dude, did I steal your job?


---- Roland Dobbins


Subj: Ordnung Muss Sein!

I wish I knew where to send these guys a donation. I think it would be money well spent.

J Nichols


Underwater bike ride to launch students' eight-week crime spree

Gerard Seenan, Saturday February 26, 2005, The Guardian

As US coast-to-coast crimewaves go, it is not in the league of Bonnie and Clyde. It lacks both violence and avarice and is further hindered by an overabundance of pre-publicity.

Undeterred, a couple of students from Cornwall are intent on making American criminal history by spending their summer breaking as many US laws as possible.

Starting in the liberal state of California, they hope to evade the attention of local police officers when they ride a bike in a swimming pool and curse on a crazy-golf course.

In the far more conservative - and landlocked - state of Utah, they will risk the penitentiary when they hire a boat and attempt to go whale-hunting.

If they manage to outwit state troopers in Utah, and perhaps federal agents on their trail, they will be able to take a deserved, but nevertheless illegal, rest when they have a nap in a cheese factory in South Dakota.

"There are thousands of stupid laws in the United States, but we are limiting ourselves to breaking about 45 of them," said Richard Smith, from Portreath, Cornwall. <snip>





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Tuesday,  March 1, 2005


Subject: Prostitution and unemployment benefits in Germany

I may have a bit more information on the issue of the German waitress who had her unemployment benefits cut because she wouldn't take a job as a prostitute. I ran into a German legal academic at a conference in Edinburgh who assured me that the incident had happened, and provided the following explanation. The German electronic job bank is linked to the database of unemployment benefit recipients, who are required to provide information about their prior job experience. An algorithm is used to match unemployment benefit recipients with new job postings according the job characteristics described by the employer. The entrepreneurial brothel owner mentioned in an earlier e-mail was apparently the first brothel owner to use the system and when she did the algorithm matched the job to the waitress. A letter was then automatically generated informing her of the opportunity. There is a box to check to accept or decline the job on a form which must be returned. When she declined, the system automatically cut her benefits. To this point everything happened without human intervention. She then complained to human authorities who immediately recognized the match as an error and reinstated her benefits. This expains why the incident didn't generate much press -- it represented a technical system design problem and not a policy decision. Apparently the algorithm was also tweaked to avoid this kind of match in the future.

Norman Siebrasse Faculty of Law University of New Brunswick

Which tells us a lot. Bureaucracy being what it is...

Subject: Smart and sufficient luggage.


-- Roland Dobbins

Now if you could only get intelligent luggage...

Subject: The death penalty for copyright infringers!


- Roland Dobbins

Perhaps a bit dramatic, but this is Hollywood...


Subject: MapReduce.


--- Roland Dobbins

The new wave of the future?


Subject: Right on schedule, real-life wireheads.


- Roland Dobbins

Come now, it's good for you.


Hi all,

I just got hit by the "Pluto Data" scam. I called my credit card issuer and they're going to dispute the charge. I should have a credit back to my account in 3 business days. In the interim I've deactivated the card; the issuer said that closing the account would hurt the fraud investigation. Assuming this goes in my favor the account will definitely be closed, though.

Bascially what the scammers do is place a charge on your credit card for $29.99 or $39.99. There's an 888 number for Pluto Data on the credit card statement. Other folks who've called the number get informed it's for a DVD or CD that they didn't order.

the working theory the perpetrators seem to be using is that at $30 - $40 charge when mixed in with a bunch of other items on a statement won't be noticed, or if noticed, ignored. Luckily, I hadn't used the card at all last month so when I saw the Pluto Data charge it immediately raised a red flag.

There is a long, detailed thread about this on the Broadbandreports.com forums:


Feel free to pass this on to anyone you feel should read it, and/or put it on your Daynotes page.

-- Dave Markowitz


Cook County, Illinois, Corrections Officer Arlin McClendon, shot to death February 19 while playing a practical joke on a thus far unnamed fellow Corrections Officer.

McClendon apparently thought it would be fun to play a joke on his buddy and make him think he was being car-jacked. Late at night while both were off-duty, he used his car to stop a vehicle he thought his co-worker was driving and pretended to car-jack it.

Wrong car. The wife of the prank's target was driving the stopped vehicle. The husband was in a different car nearby. Believing his wife in danger he quickly pulled over, got out of his car, and blew the prankster away.

The surviving officer has been suspended with pay pending investigation.


A Darwin Award contender?


Zombies ate the sheriff's lunch--- (See last week)

  There may just be more to the story than we thought. There often is.



They give an entirely different impression. Wonder which will prove out.. Student jailed for alleged school takeover threat By TIM WELDON/Sun Staff Writer Winchester police have arrested a George Rogers Clark High School junior whom they allege was attempting to organize an armed takeover of the school. William Poole, 18, of 426 E. Broadway, was arrested at GRCHS Tuesday. Acting on a tip from a family member, police reported that he was attempting to "recruit a gang to take over the school," according to Detective Berl Perdue. The threat involved the use of weapons, according to Purdue. "He didn't have a gang, but he was attempting to organize one," he said. Purdue added that no threat was made against a specific individual. GRCHS Principal John Atkins said he could not comment on whether Poole has been in disciplinary trouble at the school due to confidentiality reasons. He did comment that, "I know him." Police recovered writings in which Poole allegedly attempted to convince other students to participate in an armed takeover. He was being held this morning at the Clark County Detention Center. During a hearing in Clark District Court this morning, Poole's bond was increased from a $1,000 to a $5,000 cash bond based on a prosecution motion.

Atkins said he has been unable to share some information with students and staff about the incident due to the continuing investigation. Classes continued normally Wednesday and today and there have been no problems, Atkins said. "We did not have any concern that students had weapons at school," he said. "We don't know who's included in this. That's what we're working on, to see if there were other individuals involved. ... We're not sure that there are."

- Managing Editor Jennifer Ginn contributed to this story. https://secure.townnews.com/winchestersun.com/forms/letters/index.php

 Posted by: Rabble Rouser at February 28, 2005 04:50 PM That's my school. Consider this if you're wondering about the boy's creditability: his initial story was that it was a short story for vocational school (yeah, the place where you learn carpentry and welding, not creative writing). Then it switched to an English assignment. Funny thing is, he doesn't have an English class this semester. He's also been involved in a number of fights and assaults on campus. His sister is even worried because she read what he wrote and she says it's no zombie story. He had the sites of the cameras on campus mapped out and had timed out how quickly the police could arrive on campus. Heretofore, his grandparents have done everything they could to keep him out of jail.





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Wednesday, March 2, 2005

And here is a thought

Subject:  the TSA is indeed a test

RE: the TSA is indeed a test

"Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." -- Frederick Douglass, August 4, 1857.

Cordially, John



CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Thursday, March 3, 2005

We learn something new every day...

I have just watched on Australia's ABC TV a science program called "Catalyst" which described research done at La Trobe University (Melbourne, Victoria) on a rat's muscle fibre which was subjected to repeated electrical stimuli after being bathed in lactic acid. It was said that, after 75 years of textbooks saying that the accumulation of lactic acid was responsible for fatigue when aerobic exercise gave way to the anaerobic exercise which produced lactic acid, it seems that lactic acid actually prolongs the ability of muscle fibres to continue responding strongly when electrically stimulated. A couple of Olympic swimming champions who had been taking sodium bicarbonate to rid themselves of lactic acid said they would consider treating lactic acid as beneficial rather than harmful but there doesn't seem to be a practical outcome of this research yet.



He was astonished, too:

The Electronic Telegraph

President Robert Mugabe confessed yesterday that millions of acres of prime land seized from Zimbabwe's white farmers are now lying empty and idle.

After years spent trumpeting the "success" of the land grab, Mr Mugabe, 81, admitted that most of the farms transferred to black owners have never been used.

All but a handful of Zimbabwe's 4,000 white farmers lost their homes and livelihoods when armed gangs of Mugabe supporters began invading their property in 2000.

In the first 18 months of the campaign, eight white landowners and 39 of their black workers were murdered, court orders defied and Zimbabwe's economy plunged into crisis.

Mr Mugabe said this was the price that Zimbabwe would have to pay to redress the wrongs of the British colonial era, which left much of the best land in white hands. He claimed that the seizures would boost production and benefit millions of blacks.

Yet in his home province yesterday, Mr Mugabe chided the new landowners for growing crops on less than half of their land.

"President Mugabe expressed disappointment with the land use, saying only 44 per cent of the land distributed is being fully utilised," state television reported. "He warned the farmers that the government will not hesitate to redistribute land that is not being utilised."

Some 10.4 million acres were seized under a scheme designed to create a new class of black commercial farmer. By Mr Mugabe's figures, 5.8 million acres are lying fallow.

Last year, Mr Mugabe boasted of a bumper harvest and said that Zimbabwe no longer needed help "foisted" on it from the United Nations World Food Programme.

His land grab had made Zimbabwe "self sufficient", Mr Mugabe repeatedly claimed, and the national maize crop was a record 2.4 million tonnes.

The Commercial Farmers' Union said that Zimbabwe grew only 850,000 tonnes of maize last year, not enough to meet domestic demand.





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Friday, March 4, 2005

From another conference:

During a moment of comparative boredom, with Larry Summers' recantation fresh upon my memory, I thought about extensions to his offending remarks that might have brought a cooler resolution to his depressing situation. In particular, I thought a reasoned estimate of feminine expectations vis-`-vis tenure at elite departments of mathematics would calm things down. Google provided these data:

The National Research Council periodically ranks math (and other) departments on the quality of their scholarly output. The last such ranking, in 1995, identified 48 mathematics departments with NRC scores between 3.0 and 5.0. (The two highest ranking departments, UC Berkeley and Princeton each had scores of 4.94.)

As of 2002, the 23 private university departments in the list had 536 tenured faculty of whom 26 were women. In the public universities tenured faculty numbered 1163 and included 87 tenured women. Even benign feminists might be upset by these numbers, but analysis shows them to be about as expected. Larry could have made the following argument.

In most disciplines the most talented scholars eventually find their way into the best departments. Assuming little else, the expected number of tenured female faculty in elite departments can be easily estimated. Recent (2004) SAT data show for the 1.4 million test takers a male-female math gap of 0.310 SD (in male SD units), with a F/M SD ratio of 0.9483.

Assuming these parameters apply to the resident US population, one can fill the 536 tenured slots in the private universities with mathematicians in rank order of ability. Using a pool of all US residents between the ages of 25 and 64, the procedure yields an estimate of 34 tenured women, which may be compared to the 26 women observed. The same calculation for the public universities estimates that of the 1163 tenured faculty 85 will be women, which may be compared to the 87 observed.

These calculations show that mathematical ability manifests at a tender age and persists throughout life.


On Terry Schiavo

Hi Jerry,

Stumbled onto your blog/web site. I too am scared of the slippery slope.

I would like to add that at least in the minds of the physicians I encountered here, ten years ago while I had pneumonia, this slope is already fully traveled.

I had viral pneumonia that didn't respond to the treatments they tried on me and over the course of a month got ill enough to be hospitalized. I had a very small child (Eric was less than two) and Robert was less than five.

The doctor in the emergency room put me on IV antibiotics. The specialists removed it, insisting I couldn't possibly have pneumonia because x rays didn't show it (long story.)

They proceeded to do a ... the word evades me... tube down throat for looking at bronchial passages. I was tachycardic when they did it. When they told me they would use atropine to put the tube down, I went ballistic. As any reader of Agatha Christie I know what atropine does. They told me not to worry my pretty head about it and induced a heart attack.

Let's just say -- because you don't have all day -- that this was the first of many "mistakes". It came down to my husband having to be in the hospital with me round the clock to prevent stupid things being done. So -- just medical errors, right?


Because as soon as Dan left the hospital for any reason -- usually to take care of the kids for two hours when our patchwork of friends and babysitters failed -- this... round... would start. Doctor after doctor and nurse after nurse would come in to convince me to have a particularly risky procedure (that my sister in law, who is a pathologist, was fairly sure would kill me) done. They used arguments like "Your husband is spending so much time with you, he'll probably lose his job." "You're just a housewife, what do you contribute to your family?" and "What good are you to your children in this state?"

Now, all this for a temporary illness -- by and large I've been relatively healthy since -- which disappeared in three days once Dan started screaming at all and sundry (He'd heard about the "round") and got the IV antibiotics re-instated. Miraculously, shortly thereafter, they "found out" my pneumonia was "intracellular" and that's why it didn't show on x rays.

Now, I wonder how many other "housewives" these loonies have convinced to have suicidal procedures on the principle that their life is worth nothing. (I was published by that time, but only in short stories, but never mind. If my pursuit in life were crochet and a better cookie, I fail to see where that would/should make me less valuable to society. In many ways the best thing I do is raise the kids and I could still do most of that from my bed were I unlucky enough to be that incapacitated.) Considering I had a medical "team" of six doctors "working" on me, I wonder how widespread this sentiment is among health professionals. And EXACTLY who made them God to judge someone's worth or ability to enjoy life.

(Should I collapse of a pulmonary complaint in the future, Dan has instructions to drive as fast as he can to Jewish National in Denver which is reputed one of the best lung hospitals in the country. Maybe they'll be just as zany, but at least I can hope they aren't.)

All this to say I can't help sympathizing with Terri and that the last thing I want is for someone either personally hostile or indifferently hostile (the force for elimination of housewives, apparently) to me to have power over my life. I've grown resigned to the fact that I'm surrounded by idiots. I just don't want them to have power over my life.

Sorry for the rant. -- Just wanted to point out how bad it is. I hope few people have encountered this type of medical prejudice while relatively young, relatively compos-mentis, and just temporarily impaired, but I would bet others have. And even one is too many.


I have been told that going to a teaching hospital is not always wise... but that's quite a story. It may be the worst bedside manners I have ever heard of in a US domestic hospital...

(I am aware that parts of this have to be incomplete because viral pneumonia doesn't respond to antibiotics, and my guess is that my friend was cured by old fashioned time and rest; it would be interesting to piece together what actually happened here, since we see this from the pov of an intelligent layperson. But the "I know best, how dare you question me" attitude on the part of interns and residents is not anything like as unusual as we might hope.  Sometimes you just can't tell them anything. One thing my wife and I insist on is choosing doctors who understand that we are intelligent people with access to a lot of information and while we aren't experts in health care or anything like it, we aren't clods either. And believe me, I have had people who resented my being called "Doctor" try to tell me things that made no sense medically, and later found out they didn't make sense; there must have been an acoustic anomaly in the lecture room...

Physicians used to be told that the first rule was do no harm, and for thousands of years that was probably the best rule of all, given that there was little they could do until the discovery of the germ theory of disease; even after that the "do no harm" was more important than actual treatments until sulfa and then antibiotics. Today we have medical technologies that would have been thought pure magic in the Age of Discovery. Physicians in the Napoleonic and Civil War eras would have marveled at the routinely achieved results today.

But physicians today aren't smarter than those who bled Byron to death. Better informed, but not smarter...


Subject: News Story

I thought you would appreciate this one:

And no parachuting by widows, either: Far be it from me to celebrate the breaking of laws with impunity, but you have to admire the resolve of two students from Britain, who have made it their goal this summer to break at least 45 U.S. laws - the stupidest ones they can find <http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1425731,00.html>  . "There are thousands of stupid laws in the United States, but we are limiting ourselves to breaking about 45 of them," said Richard Smith, from Cornwall. He and his friend Luke Bateman plan to spend eight weeks breaking dumb laws such as the one that prevents whale-hunting in Utah (a landlocked state). He says he got the idea while playing a board game called Balderdash, which asks players to complete the phrase: "It is illegal in Florida for a widow to ... " The answer is to parachute on a Sunday.

Regards, Doug Thomas


Subject: Netscape Mail Filers Problem

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

I'm having a problem with Netscape 7.2 email filters for which I cannot find an answer. Maybe you or a reader have a solution.

I have a variety of mail filters to put mail from friends and various mailing lists into appropriate folders. Unfortunately, some of the filters periodically deactivate themselves. I'll find mail that should be in folders, instead still in the inbox and when I check the filters dialog, those filters are unchecked. I recheck those filters and all is fixed until it happens again.

Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.


Chris Morton Rocky River, OH

Not being a Netscape user I can't help.


Subject: Will it soon be illegal to build your own TVs? (The Broadcast Flag)

I'll bet this is not a periodical you usually read, but it has a very important cover article:



quote from article:

What has galvanized this group – made up of TV fans, civil liberties activists, and politically minded hackers – is outrage at what the Broadcast Flag will do to the future of innovative, crazy-dream devices like MythTV. After the mandate goes into effect July 1, it will be illegal for anyone in the United States to manufacture a device that records high-definition television unless it's built to obey a special signal – the flag – emitted by stations broadcasting HD shows. The flag will tell PVRs and other equipment whether they're allowed to copy a show onto some other medium, like a DVD. In short, broadcasters and content owners will actually be able to control your recording habits....

Even more disturbing, the Broadcast Flag mandates that recording devices be "robust against user modification." In plain language, that means consumers can't repair, tinker with, or optimize their own machines. What's more, it will also become impossible for small, upstart technology companies to break into the consumer electronics market for TV recorders. If they can't take apart the devices that output the HD signal, they can't build cool new devices to play with that signal....

Already, small-business owners like Jack Kelliher – who runs a tiny computer hobbyist company called pcHDTV – are being forced to change their business strategies to survive the flag. A longtime hardware hacker and entrepreneur, Kelliher sells a computer component called a PC card that lets computers tune in HD signals like a television (people at the Build-In used his cards to turn their computers into TVs). "We wanted to do something for hobbyists who wanted to build their own HD systems," he tells me by phone from his office in Utah. "But then the FCC did their embargo, and the rule means we can't offer the product next year."

He and his partners are scrambling to come up with other (legal) products to sell next year, in order to make ends meet. Among other things, they're creating a computer card that will receive TV signals and output them to analog devices that aren't affected by the Broadcast Flag. "This whole thing bothers me because I come from an era when we built radios in high school and stuff like that," Kelliher says. "Being able to build your own TV seems really American to me. It's sad that the government wants to halt innovation – it's just un-American."

John Dahlman

Sad, perhaps. Unusual, no.


From: Stephen M. St. Onge            

Subject: Goodbye, Freedom of Speech


Dear Jerry:
        It seems that, thanks to a District Court ruling, and a partisan split on the Federal Election Commission, "political communication" over the Internet will be regulated, just like television ads: http://news.com.com/The+coming+crackdown+
        So start looking for a lawyer, to figure out what your endorsement is worth, and whether your mail page links constitute a political contribution.
        "Freedom of speech?  What's that?"  I'll be hiring my own lawyer, just as soon as I finish stocking up on ammo,
Yours in outrage,


Subject: W in 2009: At the United Nations!

With the other prognosticators among us just now trying to line up the 2008 Presidential election competition – Condi vs. Hillary, for example, as I’ve been hoping for and jabbering about for four years or more now – it is time once more for me to stay way ahead. This time I am concerned with the future activities of our President, George W. Bush.

In 2009, as President W steps down and hands over power to President Condi, what is he to do? Few pundits have given this much consideration. I mean, is he supposed to chop logs and carry brush for the next thirty years of his life down at the ranch? Run around the world spouting liberal nonsense like Bill Clinton? Pretend to build the occasional low-income housing like Jimmy Carter? Dive out of airplanes like his father?

We hope not. Surely the man who freed Southwest Asia and the Middle East from Islamofascism deserves to be honored more than that; surely the man who outmaneuvered all of Europe and half of Asia can put his great skills to use on the few remaining global hotspots. But when he is no longer President, how can he continue to carry out such revolutionary goals?

I am proposing to solve Mr. Bush’s future dilemma with two letters: U. N.

Yes – let us make George W. Bush the next Secretary General of the United Nations!

Let this great uniter take over the bully pulpit in New York, and speak for the whole world, to the whole world. (I mean, W had just one week in Europe, and already the French, Germans and Russians are falling all over themselves to help us get Syria out of Lebanon. This shows tremendous understanding of international relations.)

Mr. Bush will then begin to use the United Nations to bring democracy and freedom everywhere; free minds and free markets will become the mantra of the One World – there will be no more Third World.

The new job would be very significant historically. Where Bill Clinton failed to achieve Middle East peace through dilly-dallying with dictators, W has done it with strength and determination and the hopes of free people. So where Bill Clinton is not being considered for the top post because of his lack of success in anything, W should be ready to step over to the United Nations leadership position in late January 2009 to continue his world-changing mission.

And the liberals should love the appointment because for the very first time, American conservatives would finally be backing the U.N.


-Arlan Andrews, Sr.

Padre Island, Texas

Good Heavens!

The Confederate Constitution gave at-large seats for life to former Presidents of the Confederacy. Not all that bad an idea, actually. But perhaps we can improve on it.

Is UN Sec Gen  --> US President as Augustus --> Caesar?




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Saturday, March 5, 2005

Subject: Ready to Attack?


-- Roland Dobbins

Well at least he tells us how we can avoid being attacked...


The Stewart Case

Dear Jerry:

Imagine three things: that a serial killer is operating in your area; that I'm a neighbor, and that your wife has gone missing.

The Feds come to question me, and for whatever reason - your dog crapped in my yard, you gave me the bird once when I cut you off in traffic, or you've finally driven me insane with your hand-wringing drivel about Empire - I decide to spin them a tale about a suspicious white-haired stranger in the street in a blue SUV. I go so far as to tell them I saw this guy prowling around your yard just before Roberta disappeared, and I even have a partial license plate - a few numbers from a white haired buddy's blue SUV, in fact.

I'm completely credible, of course - never been in trouble, model citizen, just a watchful neighbor doing the right thing. In fact other neighbors remember seeing the car around, too (the guy was visiting me, but they don't remember that). So instead of following other more valuable leads the LAPD and the FBI devote tons of manpower and resources to locating my buddy, while in the meantime the real killer starts sending Roberta home in pieces.

Where's the harm in that? At the time the questions were asked there was no sure proof any crime had been committed. I might be in a spot of bother with God for bearing false witness but under your guidelines I would have done nothing against the laws of the US.

Martha had four choices when the Feds showed up: refuse to answer any questions, plead the Fifth & get a lawyer, tell the truth, or lie her ass off. She chose the latter course. And you feel SORRY for her? Somehow her rights were violated? She didn't have options???

What a crock. My fiction above is perfectly plausible and shows how great harm can be done by making it not a crime to lie to investigators but I know you won't admit it and change your mind; you never do.

Tim Loeb

Crock. An interesting term as is "hand-wringing drivel." Perhaps so.

But if you do not see that there may be dangers in equating unsworn remarks to random Federal Investigators and submitting sworn statements under penalty of perjury, and you are sure that those who are concerned about such things are merely hand-wringing drivellers, then I envy your stay in Neverland.

Every police officer knows that people are not accurate in what they say, even when they are trying to cooperate; sorting out self serving statements and self justifications is part of their job. Random Federal Investigators are not in general trained law enforcement officers, and their attitudes toward the citizens are different. Giving them the power to prosecute people for lying to them is a very bad idea. Moreover, it is a very recent idea: in the Republic I grew up in, one might well face the opprobrium of one's neighbors for misleading the Feds, but unless you submitted a statement clearly marked "I swear under penalty of perjury" you couldn't be prosecuted for it. And in parts of the swampland not far from where I lived, there were mysterious pillars of smoke riding from the willow swamps, and no one in my part of the country would have considered cooperating with the "revenoors" in any event. The local sheriff knew what those fires were, and whose they were, and that was enough for the rest of us. It's part of local government; if you want them cleaned out elect a new sheriff.

Moreover, most of us would make a distinction between an investigation of a serious crime and a fishing expedition about suspicious sales of stock. Your scenario does not: and of course the law knows the difference between malicious slander and a denial of wrongdoing. Martha Stewart told Federal Investigators a story that in essence said she hadn't sold out because of a tip from a broker who had inside information. What she had actually done was no crime, and she was never indicted for doing it. She certainly didn't send them on any wild goose chase involving dismemberment of a kidnap victim. The broker may well have committed a crime; but Stewart acting on that information was not criminal.

By the way, she did get a lawyer, who gave her bad advice. But leave that. Your view is that she ought to be prosecuted at the Federal Level in a People's Court because you don't like her.

What the Stewart case encourages is this: no matter what the crime, no matter what kind of Federal Agent asks you, you would now be well advised to say nothing without a lawyer, and positively stupid to tell them anything outside the presence of reliable witnesses you have reason to believe are not working for the feds. Trusting them to accurately record what you say may work out, but it may not: they need no evidence other than their recollection (not even notes) of what you told them. And if they feel as you do I certainly would not trust them, no matter how important the case they say they are investigating (they can lie to you but you can't lie to them).

It used to be we said "don't make a Federal Case of it" meaning that Federal cases were serious matters. That is before we decided that blowing smoke to Federal Investigators, who are not sworn officers and in fact are minor bureaucrats, was maiastas and a form of treason.

But we were born free.

Subject: Martha Stuart and Audrey Seiler

Dr. Pournelle:

There was a recent case here in Madison where a person got into trouble for telling a tall tale to the authorities. A certain Audrey Seiler disappeared, and when she reappeared told a story of being abducted, resulting in a massive manhunt in the swamps south of the city. A sketch of the abductor appeared on TV. She later admitted that her disappearance and alleged abduction were manipulations or stories meant to bring attention to herself on account of her boyfriend wanting to part company.

The City and County authorities were not amused, although I believe Ms. Seiler entered a plea and had to pay fines but not serve jail time. I believe this to be a just outcome. Not only did Ms. Seiler's statements to the police result in considerable expense to the taxpayer in police overtime, as a Dane County taxpayer I will forgive her, but some man in the community could have matched the description of the sketch. Sending officers and deputies into the swamp on the trail of a supposed dangerous suspect could have had a bad ending.

Ms. Seilers case was a proper application of laws against making false statements to the police or obstruction of justice, and her punishment was in proportion to the circumstances. Can you still get in trouble for turning in a false fire alarm?

But I agree with you that what Martha Stewart did was nothing of the sort, and I am thinking I would be reluctant to provide a reference on a security clearance background check.

Paul Milenkovic Madison, Wisconsin

Precisely. Local matters and local attention. Making a false police report -- which probably requires you to sign a statement -- is a bit different from saying "I didn't do it." If I call the local cops with a story about how my neighbor tried to rob me when none of that happened, I expect there to be consequences. And this is probably enough whining, hand-wringing, and drivel...



Subject: Italian roadblock runner

Dear Mr. President:

I believe you are guilty of disloyalty to the troops. The demand by Italy that we explain why our troops shot at a vehicle running a checkpoint should have been forcefully rejected. The Premier needs to explain why an attempt was made to run a checkpoint in a war where cars running checkpoints are a major weapon against our troops. Had those troops failed to fire, they would have been guilty of dereliction of duty. There needs to be a general review of your first response to any accusation against our troops. To start with an apology is disloyal to those troops. Shame on you.

Walter E. Wallis Palo Alto, CA

I would not rush to judgment. The Premier of Italy is a political figure, a friend to the US and Bush, and will now be very much under pressure; surely there are grounds for cooperation?

As to the actual incident I don't know enough. Was the driver drunk? Fleeing in terror lest the captors change their minds? Why he didn't stop is worth finding out. Meanwhile, given what I know, if these were troops under my command I would tell them "This sort of thing happens in war. You did the right thing."


Subject: Steve Fossett

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I'm surprised that there has been no mention here of Steve Fossett's flight this week. Is aviation no longer interesting? Why wasn't his flight as noteworthy as the SpaceShipOne high altitude flight?

Regards, Jim Young

Well, to begin with this was column week. And unlike the X-Prize situation, this wasn't local to me, and there was a lot of information on the official web site http://www.fossettchallenge.com/ . And my left hand has been in bandages so I haven't written a lot anyway.

Aviation is interesting, and the advances in fuel efficiency more so, but barring that I drop everything else and go at this full time with hired staff, I fear I can't cover everything.

My congratulations to Fossett and to Sir Richard. I discussed this flight with Fossett back in the X-Prixe week: he was out at Mojave. It wasn't clear just how much he wanted published, and he certainly had access to all the media coverage he wanted, so I may have neglected to mention the conversation.

The really interesting events will be reusable sub-orbital flights that achieve actual reentry speeds. Those you may be sure I will cover...











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