Lack of Dulles Train is DC's Shame: Nothing says apathy like a failed rail link

The clean and attractive train you see on the left is the one that whisks you from the basement of Amsterdam airport to the heart of the Dutch capital for $3. Yes, you read that right, $3 give or take an exchange rate fluctuation or two.

The fact that you can't catch a train from Washington Dulles airport (IAD) to the heart of America's capital is a sad reflection on the lack of resolve to 'do something' about road congestion, automobile pollution, and oil addiction. Now, IMHO, the DC Metro is one of the best in the world. So there should be a Metro terminal in Dulles, or better yet, a direct high speed line right to the heart of the capital, with heavily-subsidized tickets that shout "We know how to reduce traffic and pollution and oil addiction."

Nissan Can Do Better Too: Almera comfortable at 80+ mph, gets 50 mpg

Ford isn't the only global car maker than is under-supplying small cars to the US (a crime of which I recently accused Ford, which is stingy with the US Focus, not to mention downright missing in action with the Fiesta and Ka).

On my last trip to the United Kingdom I rented a Nissan Almera. I cruised the motorways at over 80 mph in this vehicle, a comfortable 4-door (with hatchback). And I got the equivalent of 40 mpg doing so (slightly less in town, but I reckon close to 37 mpg overall). I can think of no reason that you can't buy one of these today at your local Nissan dealer here in America.

BTW, remember to do the math when comparing UK and US mpg numbers. There are 160 fluid ounces in a British gallon versus 128in a US gallon. So when the Brits say a car gets 50 miles to the gallon over there, that's like 40 mpg over here.

Focus? Come on Cobb, where's the Ford Focus?

Some readers complained that my recent comments on low mileage cars excluded the thrifty Ford Focus. If you read carefully you will see I was highlighting cars that had recently been introduced in the US to provide more options for mpg-conscious buyers. I give credit to Ford for offering the Focus in the US for many years BUT the US automaker gets a big de-merit for limiting the Focus offerings to models with low-end trim. The big market in small cars is "small-but-perfectly-formed" of which the VW Jetta would be one of the best examples if it was reliable. Folks want all the bells and whistles in a small fuel-efficient package. The models of Focus that you can buy in the UK for example, like the leather-trimmed Ghia, are what we need over here. Check the cool interior above.

And note that the Ford Fiesta and Ford Ka, sold in the UK for over 5 years at least, are smaller and more efficient than the Focus, and not sold in the US.

Is the War on Drugs About to End? Respected voices speak out

Harry E. Klide is a retired Stark County Common Pleas Court judge in Ohio. Not exactly the sort of person or place that comes to mind when you think about legalizing drugs. But check out this column he just wrote for the Canton Repository (hardly the place you would expect to see sentiments of this sort) under the headline "We have lost the drug war."
I don't know whether America is going to win the war in Iraq, but I do know that we have lost the war against the use of drugs, which we have pursued for the past 30-plus years. The war on drugs has been a dismal failure. It is not truly a war against drugs, but a war against us - our people, our children, ourselves.
I came across this right after reading about another respectable member of society, a former warrior in the war on drugs, who is not just calling for an end to that war, but full legalization of drugs. He is Jerry Cameron, former police chief of Fernandina Beach, Florida. There is an excellent profile of Cameron by Susan Cooper Eastman in the December 19 issue of Folio Weekly, one of the best regional magazines I've come across in a long time (old-fashioned too--they do not post their content online, although they do have a blog).

Cameron is a member of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. This is a great title for an organization dedicated to educating society about the futility of the drug war because "prohibition" is exactly what Nixon's war on drugs has become, and every objective student of American history knows what a disaster the first prohibition was for this country. The LEAP web site is worth a visit. You can't fail to be impressed by the credentials of its endorsers (such as the late Milton Friedman and the thankfully not-late Walter Cronkite). Here is the LEAP mission statement:
Founded on March 16, 2002, LEAP is made up of current and former members of law enforcement who believe the existing drug policies have failed in their intended goals of addressing the problems of crime, drug abuse, addiction, juvenile drug use, stopping the flow of illegal drugs into this country and the internal sale and use of illegal drugs. By fighting a war on drugs the government has increased the problems of society and made them far worse. A system of regulation rather than prohibition is a less harmful, more ethical and a more effective public policy.
And this organization is a lot more than a web site. Checking the speaking schedule--these folks are speaking to Rotary Clubs and business groups around the country. When a guy like Cameron, who has kicked in his fair share of doors making drug busts, stands up and says this war is not winnable, it is hard to argue he has it all wrong. I predict a lot more politicians will poke their heads above the parapet in 2007 and at least question the war on drugs. That will embolden others and at least allow a serious debate without proponents of drug legalization being dismissed as dope fiends and baby killers.

p.s. I'm not running for office myself, but I just made a donation to LEAP, so you know where I stand on this issue.

Technology and Security, Crime and Punishment

I blogged this over on my computer security blog but it is worth a mention here also. The 25 year-old-kid who breached USC's online student application system in June 2005 and compromised 275,000 records, causing the university to shut down the site for 10 days, got sentenced to 6 months home detention.

Suppose he was a black kid who got pulled over by police who then found one twentieth of an ounce of crack is his pockets. What would the sentence be then? Home detention? Six months in jail? Try 5 years in jail. Mandatory. No discussion. That's the law in this country. It helps explain why 25% of all the world's prisoners are in America's jails.

Was the hacker let off lightly? I think so. What do you think? And do you think it is just to impose 5 years for less than .20 of an ounce of crack? If you're tempted to answer in the affirmative, I suggest you first spend some time with families whose loved ones are serving mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes. See the devastation first-hand. Look into the eyes of the kids who have lost their parents and their childhoods to the war on drugs. I think there's a good chance that you'll agree with me that there has to be a better way.

No, It's Not My Imagination: Spam is on the rise (again)

I thought it was just my imagination, a big and fairly rapid increase in the amount of spam I've been getting these past few months. I was wondering what I had done to deserve this. But it turns out I was not alone, according to the Washington Post:
More than 90 percent of all e-mail sent online in October was unsolicited junk mail, according to Postini,...Spam volumes monitored by Postini rose 73 percent in the past two months as spammers began embedding their messages in images to evade junk e-mail filters that search for particular words and phrases. In November, Postini's spam filters, used by many large companies, blocked 22 billion junk-mail messages, up from about 12 billion in September.
What a waste of technology! And you know what I'm going to say. First, a more widespread deployment of Symantec's TurnTide technology would reduce that number (and no, I don't make a penny off that technology and I own zero shares in Symantec). Second, someone ought to sue the three companies that could have stopped spam 5 years ago if they had listened to reason and agreed to work with each other: Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo.

p.s. Mr. Gates, are you ready for the one year anniversary of the end of spam (as predicted by you) coming up on January 24, 2007, I believe?

Not Talking Only Makes Things Worse

Looks like George W. Bush is hell bent on not talking to Iran. Not talking has a history of making things worse. A lot of Americans don't like to talk about some things, like birth control, race relations, or the policies of the government of Israel. In my experience, not talking is not good. It is not good for one's personal relationships, the welfare of one's society, or the security of one's country.

For example, parents who don't talk to their kids about birth control do them a great disservice (as does a president who appoints an opponent of birth control to the federal post responsible for birth control). Those parents sometimes end up having much harder conversations forced upon them.

Sometimes, not talking may seem easier than facing up to a tough subject. Some people would rather not talk about racial inequality. Some white folks don't feel comfortable talking to black folks, even when they really do want to talk to them, and vice-versa.

Over time, a lack of communication creates a communication gap, literally. I have to concentrate sometimes to understand what some of my black friends are saying, but I am happy to make the effort. The more we talk, the better we understand each other. The better we understand each other, the smaller the gap between us. The smaller that gap, the greater the hope we will reach the point where we can live in harmony and not hegemony.

The folks who pushed for the invasion of Iraq talk hot and heavy about exporting democracy as though democracy were the bedrock of our society. It is not. Democracy is a structure built on the bedrock of any society: trust. And you can't have trust without conversation.

You can't solve conflicts without conversation. For example, the British government never defeated the IRA. It talked to the IRA as both sides de-militarized the conflict. America should talk to Iran. And terrorists. And anyone who wants to engage in dialogue.

Refusing to talk now only makes it harder to communicate when we talk later. And sooner or later we will talk.

Palestine: Peace or Apartheid? First read the book

A lot of people were quick to pounce on former president Jimmy Carter recently, with no more provocation than the title of his latest book: Palestine: Peace or Apartheid. Some people assumed Carter was accusing the Israeli government of practicing apartheid. And some of those people seem to think anyone who would say such a thing has to be anti-Semitic, on a par with holocaust deniers. Which is clearly ridiculous. If citizens of the world are not free to criticize the governments of the world then we are in big trouble.

I have read Carter's book and found it to be an even-handed examination of the history of peace efforts in the Middle East, told from the unique perspective of someone intimately involved in some of those efforts and well-acquainted with many of the past and present players, including Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas. I flatly disagree with the Washington Post review that appears on the book's Amazon page. There Jeffrey Goldberg writes "Carter makes it clear in this polemical book that, in excoriating Israel for its sins--and he blames Israel almost entirely for perpetuating the hundred-year war between Arab and Jew--he is on a mission from God."

To me that is a gross over-statement of Carter's position. I'm not a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim. I think I have pretty good "pray-dar" when it comes to detecting preachy people on a mission. Carter's perspective does not strike me as religion-based. Indeed, it seems highly pragmatic in many respects, such as the numerous reminders that America has always officially opposed West Bank settlements but failed to prevent them.

And Carter strikes me as highly objective when it comes to conveying the changing realities of daily life for Palestinians. The book is worth reading for that alone. The decline he describes from his first visit in the seventies to the situation today is dramatic and clearly explains a lot of the anger that Arabs feel right now. At the same time, Carter makes it clear that he does not think--and neither do I--that it excuses any of the violence against civilians that Arabs commit.

I read the title as describing the crossroads at which Israel now stands with respect to Palestine. The Israeli government can pursue a path of peace, achieving long-delayed compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is America's official policy, or it can down a path that will lead to state of apartheid in which Palestinians live under Jewish rule, segregated by their ethnic background, deprived of the rights of full citizenship, of movement, association, ownership, by an array of laws and physical barriers erected to keep Jews separate from Arabs.

Florida Recount Vital: Otherwise voting is a farce

If the incoming Democrats don't demand a recount in Florida, you might as well kiss democracy in America goodbye. With your help there can be a full-page ad in the New York Times soon, urging action, run by You can contribute to help get the word out. For the record, I sent them $35. The meat of the ad is this:
Electronic voting machines have apparently lost 18,000 votes in a House race where one candidate is leading by just 369 votes. Despite warnings about paperless voting machines, Congress failed to require a paper record of every vote. Now, there’s no way to recount the votes short of holding a new election. Congress has the power and the obligation to order a new election—and they have done it before...Only a new election will dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the Sunshine State.
You can view an Acrobat pdf of the ad here. I can honestly say that I would feel the same way if the Republican candidate was on the losing end of the electronic snafu. Take it from someone who has spent more than 25 years in computer fraud and abuse, these machines can be rigged. Want to learn more, check out Black Box Voting.

More on Israel's Nukes: Olmert equates Israel with higher power

As reported by AP and a lot of other sources: "Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when you are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?" -- Prime Minister Olmert.

And the answer is? Yes! There was this guy Nikita Kruschev beating his shoe against his desk at the United Nations in 1956, remember? He shouted at the US representatives: "We will bury you." Later his country smuggled nukes to within spitting distance of Florida. What level was that Olmert?

Russia and America both acquired nuclear weapons under belligerent circumstances and made threats with them. How is Iran different from them? Suppose the biggest military power in the world, a power that had earlier backed your enemies in a war where 1 million men died, was sitting just outside your borders, with over 100,000 troops and enough ship-borne nukes to blow your world apart 100 times over. Wouldn't you want a nuke too? When they feel threatened, nations tend to arm themselves. Iran has been openly threatened, as has Israel.

But when will Israeli politicians accept that Israel is just one country among all other countries? There is no way the world community can accept one country pleading a holier-than-thou attitude to nukes which ordains it with the right to possess them without the same regimen of oversight and scrutiny that other nuclear nations submit to. Israel should sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as should Iran when it finally gets the bomb, which I predict it will.

The point is, I don't object to either Israel or Iran having nukes. Just have them openly. Have them regularly inspected by the IAEA and the UN. The only country in the world that has used nukes in anger is America. After that demonstration, history tells us that the possession of nukes has tended to bring conflicts to closure.

If India and Pakistan reconcile next year, as it appears they might, I think we will have yet more proof that arming two sworn enemies with weapons that guarantee mutual destruction is a pretty good peace plan.