Stuff on the Cheap

Government Liquidation is a one stop website for all your used government surplus needs. Need 10,000 feet of copper wire? How about a used floor scrubber? Need parts for you F-18? This is the place. You can search by product type or simply select a government/military installation in your area and find out what they are getting rid of. A buddy of mine buys old computers from them and rebuilds them to sell on ebay. Pretty cheep stuff.

Why Iraq

I found a article by Haim Harari that was posted in “The Free Republic” (which has now been taken off-line.) The copy I have is from a cached Google page. But that article is only part of the reason for this post.

Lets talk candidly about Iraq. At least about my own views. I believe the United States operated on the best intelligence that it had at the time of the decision to invade Iraq. France, Germany, Russian, Great Britain, and even the U.N. believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD.) If (in some unknown alternative history) a dirty bomb had been set off in New York with its origins being traced back to Iraq, I am 100% sure that the same people who yell and scream at the United States for invading Iraq would be yelling and screaming that we had solid intelligence that Iraq had WMD and we did nothing. All of that said, I don’t give a dam about WMD; and never did.

For 12 years Iraq had been shooting at our troops, violating their ceasefire terms, and trying to get WMD. The Gulf War I surrender agreement gave the U.S. the right (under inter-nation law) to invade Iraq for any of the above listed violation. We should have finished the job the first time; that is the real mistake of the Iraqi war. But that is only the justification for freeing Iraq (the opportunity in legal speak), not the reason (i.e. not the motive.) The real motive, and the best reason, for being in Iraq is 9/11. No, I am not some patriotically binded rat following the piper of U.S. propaganda. I know that there was no connection between Saddam and Bin Laden. But I am not so short sighted to think that Saddam and Bin Laden had to be friends for their to be a unifying problem that connects these two individuals.

No, the issue that was brought to the forefront by the 9/11 attacks is the problem that stems from extremist Islamic/Arab terrorism. The Middle East is in many ways dysfunctional and the problems that arise from it are destructive to the civilized world. It is ideological ignorance to say we can somehow make “friends” with this part of the world. Bin Laden began his war on the U.S. because we had the audacity to save Saudi Arabia from Iraq. We give more money to the Palestinians than almost any other country in the world. Hell, we gave more money to Taliban controlled Afghanistan than anyone else, anywhere in the world. As long as the United States remains a free country we will always be seen, in the eyes of militant Islamic fundamentalists, as a bastion of evil and a direct representation of the failure of Islam.

I know of only two ways to solve this problem. The first it total eradication of either us or them. As long as the U.S. continues to exist (as the most powerful country in the world) we will be an insult to their beliefs and a target of their hatred. Getting rid of the U.S. will not stop their fighting . The Middle East has been in almost constant state of civil unrest for the last 400 years, long before either the U.S. or Israel existed. So, we can eradicate them. Nuke the Middle East (the innocent with the guilty) and terrorism will stop. That is option #1.

Option #2 is harder, and requires a great deal of work on our part. But the end result is better for the Islamic world (obviously) and, in the long run, better for us also. The only other option I know of is to FREE the Middle East. Free it from the tyranny of dictators and minority militant fundamentalists. The Middle East must become a democracy! Democracy will not remove terrorism from the world; just ask Timothy McVeigh and the IRA. What democracy does do is turn terrorism from an international problem to a intra-nation problem. If Islamic fundamentalism in the form of terrorism is really the actions of a minority (and not the majority) then trusting the people with their own future will ensure the safety of our people.

Now democracy generally has problems starting itself up. It takes a lot of work from its own citizens and (sometimes) a little bit of help from the outside. The United States would not be the democracy it is today without the help of the French during the American Revolution. The Japanese and Germans would not have the democracy they have today without the U.S. So the only way I see to get democracy in the Middle East is for some outside force to begin by implanting the seeds of democracy. Before the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions there was only two countries in that region that were democratic; Israel (not likely to inspire Arabs towards democracy) and Turkey.

Now we are back to Iraq. Regardless of how one feels about the Iraqi invasion, the results can hardly be ignored. There are now four (arguably four and a half) countries that have made direct movement towards democracy. Iraq has just had their election, Afghanistan completed a spectacularly successful election process late last year. The most dangerous fundamentalist country in the world (and probably responsible for the majority of inter national Islamic terrorism) is now surrounded by fledgling democracies. Public pressure to move towards a more democratic process in Iran (by its own people) has never been greater. Most international insiders are saying that Saudi Arabia will most like have some form of democratic reform after the U.S. military has left the area (not wanting to look like they were pressured to do so by the U.S.) Libya is has moved away from terrorism and is under pressure for democratic reform from within. Even the Palestinians have had an election voting in a leader promising to end terrorism and bring about true democratic reform. In an attempt to stop the tide Syria and Iran are pumping Iraq full of suicide bombers and militants. Democracy has a toe-hold in the Middle East and we can thank the U.S. for that.

Now I totally agree that torture is wrong, under supplying the military forces was wrong, not having a solid post-invasion plan was wrong, ignoring the Geneva Convention is wrong, and invading anther country, who we have no international legitimacy to do so, would be wrong. But invading Iraq was (and remains) the right thing to have done. We had motive, and opportunity; and we took advantage of that because was (and remains) the best way to stop international terrorism. Like it or not; without democracy in the Middle East, another 9/11 WILL happen! And we didn’t need WMD for 9/11 to be the worst attack on U.S. soil in our history.

A Concise Review

I started reading “A Concise History of the Catholic Church” because my friend Matt, who went through RCIA with my wife, decided that he knew very little about the history of his new faith and wanted to do some informal study on the Catholic Church.  Now, my knowledge of early Catholic history consists of what I have read in the New Testament and a general assumption on my part that there was probably a Pope John Paul the first and that, just maybe, there was a prequel to Vatican II (although I was not entirely sure.)   “A Concise History of the Catholic Church” was the book we picked up to enlighten our historical Catholic viewpoint.

The book was pretty good.  It gave a high level overview of the major historical trends and treaties of the Church over the last 2000 years or so.  It tries to go into more depth on topics that the author feels are a good barometer of Church trends at the time.  These “low level” views were helpful to get a better picture of the place of the Church at a given historical period.  In addition the book was good about covering a good balance between the, admittedly rocky, political history of the Church and its spiritual progress.

I thought that most of the book was fairly balanced (as balanced as you can expect a book about the Catholic Church to be.)  The only disappointment I found was an obvious bias on the part of the author toward the modern progressive Catholic Movement (i.e. liberation theology, historical literalism, etc.) and a fairly vocal disappointment in the lack of support from the current Pontiff for these ideas.  I am a huge supporter of the Church’s current position on world social issues; something the author is evidently not.

Overall I would rate the book as a good read, especially if you want to learn about the pre-twentieth century Catholic Church. The shear number of references and quotes make it an excellent “start point” for further Catholic study.  The history of the Catholic Church is not a study in perfection; but any institution whose historical linage can be traced back almost 2000 years is bound to be interesting.

The School of Andrew Jackson

I found this link to a mirror of an old article by Walter Russell Mead in “The National Interest.”  In the article Mead argues that there are four schools of American cultural identity.  The three that many people are familiar with (the Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, and Jeffersonian schools of thought); and a fourth one he calls the Jacksonian school of thought.  The article then goes on to describe some of the shared values and ideas of the Jacksonians’, and how they affect everything from American foreign policy to how we pick our candidates.  These values are decidedly “American” and help to explain the particular singularity of American politics, especially when interacting with the rest of the world.

The article is pretty freaking interesting on a number of points.  First, because it was written in the winter of 1999-2000; almost two full years before 9/11.  In spite of this the article has the feeling of being written after 9/11 or even during the 2004 presidential election.  And Second, the article (although not entirely so) reverberated with a great deal of accuracy in my own world views and political though process.  Great article and one that I would recommend to anyone interested in politics.

My Desktop

I have posted two pictures of my current Linux system in my Desktop Image gallery. Generally these pictures are for reference (say forum posts on ArsTechnica ) but I also enjoy the nostalgia value of them. Some of those desktops are five years old.

Both images are my current SuSE 9.2 desktop running on my Dell Latitude D800 laptop. The first of the new pics is shown with three of my more commonly used applications showing. The applications running are:

  • amaroK — Possibly the best audio application available for any OS. Notice the album covers and album information sidebar. amaroK has a quick tool for downloading the covers and music meta information.
  • Kontact — A Personal information Management Suite (i.e. Outlook XP for Windows) for KDE. Notice the contact pictures used for address book icons.
  • digiKam — A photo album and digital camera management application. Think iPhoto for Linux.

The second new desktop picture is the same desktop without any applications showing.

Free as in Employed

This article from heise.ds (German site, English translation) has put to print something that many of us in the Open Source world have been thinking for a while.  That Open Source Software (OSS) may be useful as a tool for keeping development jobs in country.  Like it or not, most of the innovation that has occurred in the computer world sense before the dot com boom is a direct or indirect result of OSS.   I think this can mainly be attributed to few usage restrictions, lots of available code that already exists, and generally small number of legal hassles involved in the OSS world.  Who would have thought that the “evil open source world” (to quote Mr. Gates) would end up being the savor of the America’s tech industry?

Hack This List

If you got nothing to do for the weekend and have a couple extra YEARS to spend trying to solve a problem here is a great place to start. It is a list of many of the worlds most famous unsolved codes, ciphers, and languages. Solving any one of these will bring you fame and fortune (as I guarantee you will be able to find a security job somewhere!)

…and just a quick word of advice, don’t bother trying to solve the Voynich Cypher.


Politically, I consider myself socially liberal and economically conservative. If I was to ascribe to a particular political party it would most likely be the libertarians. For example I am opposed to the Patriot Act I & II, opposed to the DCMA, generally favor legalizing drugs, oppose the death penalty, etc..

One of the social issues that has most upset me over the last half decade or so is the issue of copyright law and its implementation in the digital world. So, for anyone who would like to learn more about this subject; I strongly recommend to you Larry Lessig’s presentation Free Culture. Larry worked for the Electronic Frontier Foundation ( for a number of years. If you are not willing to fight for your rights, be ready to loose them.

Of Eldar and Silmarils

I first read The Silmarillion when I was 12.  For someone who has been a Tolkien fan for almost his entire life,  The Silmarillion is not simply a good book.  It is required reading.  Admittedly more difficult to follow than The Lord of the Rings; yet it, in many ways, more completely fulfills the depth of culture and history that Tolkien has always tried to bestow.  The Silmarillion coves the long history of the Elves and the first age of Middle-Earth.  It is the Bible of Middle-Earth.  It’s as glorious as it is heartbreaking.  It is easily one of the most “unique” books I have ever read, combining fantasy with history; biography with myth.

If you are a fan of Tolkien’s world, and not simply a fan of the movies, then I strongly recommend reading this book.  It will leave you in awe of the “completeness” of the world that Tolkien created.  Its one of my most prized books.