June 5, 2002

How does your nation’s flag stack up? Timeless example of iconography? Boring tricolor? Well, one man has taken it upon himself to assign letter grades for our planet’s national flags, and the results are… illuminating. (The United States’s flag gets dinged for being “too busy” and having “too many stars”.) (via Cory Doctorow) #

(Also from that day’s Boing Boing is a pointer to H4x0r Economist, a series of comics constructed from photographs of Alan Greenspan and dialog written in “l33t” speak. Like Mr Doctorow, I can’t help but smile.) #

Misdirection and missed opportunities

One of the common refrains we’ve heard in America since the World Trade Center attack is that we’ll have to sacrifice some of our freedoms in order to prevent another attack from happening. There are plenty of reasons to disagree with this line of argument (such as Ben Frankin’s saying that those who trade freedom for security deserve neither), but the biggest problem seems to be that our government can’t even use the powers it already has effectively.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has recently granted new powers to the FBI (without public comment or Congressional review, incidentally). These powers, it is claimed, are necessary if the FBI is going to prevent further attacks. Fortunately, people like William Safire are able to point out the holes in that argument:

They had the power to collect the intelligence, but lacked the intellect to analyze the data the agencies collected. The FBI’s failure to absorb the Phoenix and Minneapolis memos was compounded by the CIA’s failure to share information it had about two of the Arab terrorists in the U.S. who would become hijackers (as revealed by Newsweek today).

Thus we see the seizure of new powers of surveillance is a smokescreen to hide failure to use the old power.

It gets even worse when you look at what those powers are. Mr Ashcroft likes to describe it as allowing agents to do things anyone else can do (like enter public places or search the Internet), but agents already had those powers, as long as they had some reason for doing so. Now, apparently, they’re free to spy on people for no reason at all.

I firmly believe that the proper way to move forward after a disaster like the terrorist attacks is to learn from what happened and make it less likely to be attempted and less likely to succeed (those are two different goals, with different methods needed to achieve them). Sadly, it seems that these lessons are not being learned. It’s becoming increasingly clear that our security forces, as a whole, knew enough to predict the attacks, but their methodologies prevented them from putting the pieces together. The proposed solution is not to make better use of the tools they have, but to give them new, more powerful, more easily abused tools. #