Monthly Archives: May 2012

Today’s Cool Fact of the Day (Double Bumper Edition)

At first I thought this was surely the cool fact of the day: Global subway systems converge on common topologies. For example,

Patterns emerged: The core-and-branch topology, of course, and patterns more fine-grained. Roughly half the stations in any subway will be found on its outer branches rather than the core. The distance from a city’s center to its farthest terminus station is twice the diameter of the subway system’s core. This happens again and again.

But really, I think this is the cool fact of the day: the opinion in Hedges v. Obama, in which a fairly newly appointed District Court Judge, Katherine Forrest, holds that a § 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act is unconstitutional. That vague provision could be read to give the US government authority to put US citizens in military detention for meeting with terrorists and writing about them.

It’s a nicely written opinion; the key move seems to be that the court described the plaintiffs’ activities in speaking, meeting and writing to the government, gave them plenty of time to consider the facts before the hearing, and the government was unwilling or unable to say that these first amendment activities were outside the scope of the statute. This tactical choice by the government also caused the Court to find that the plaintiffs had standing — not commonly the result in such cases. Similarly, the government’s unwillingness to give definite much less narrowing constructions to key statutory terms led the Court to hold the statute unconstitutionally vague.

This is really something — even though it’s just a preliminary injunction. That means there’s still the next round in the District Court, then an appeal to the 2nd Circuit, and perhaps beyond.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Guantanamo, National Security | 2 Comments

Time for Major Corporations to Sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty?

You learn a lot of strange stuff on the Internet. Some of it is even true.

Of things I have learned online that appear to be true this one, if it is true, has got to be among the strangest: Kodak Had a Secret Nuclear Reactor Loaded With Enriched Uranium Hidden In a Basement.

It really gives a whole new possible meaning to ‘too big to fail’. Do we need to inquire of major corporations if they have signed the Comprehensive Nucclear Test-Ban Treaty? What if CitiBank or JP Morgan have nukes?

Kodak, now in bankruptcy, says it had the reactor in order to do radiological tests of the purity of materials. And it dismantled the whole thing under government supervision in 2006. Just a few years later Kodak went into Chapter 11.

Could this explain why Kodak isn’t getting a government bailout? I kid, I kid. I hope.

Posted in National Security | 2 Comments

Should Be Obvious, But Apparently Isn’t

Juan Cole, Top Ten Ways the US Military can Avoid Teaching Hatred of Muslims recites stuff that I would have thought would be obvious, yet it clearly needs saying.

Given that the field/senior grades of the US officer corps is, in my admittedly limited experience, usually pretty smart (or better), it’s especially mysterious to me how they (or at least a number of them) can be so dumb about some of these things.

Posted in National Security | Leave a comment

Congratulations Law Graduates

On the occasion of your graduation, I offer you these Ten Tips for a Successful Transition from Law School to Law Practice, from Business Law Today.

(But first, pass the bar.)

Posted in Law: Practice | Leave a comment

Obama Evolves

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic, with the best reaction I’ve seen tonight to President Obama’s announcement the he now supports equal-opportunity marriage:

Obama Evolves:

I know what the polls show, and I know he was pushed into it, but I still credit the president with doing the right thing. So much of this process reminds me of Lincoln weighing emancipation, even as he knew, in his heart, that slavery was a sin.

Moreover, regardless of the push, I think this is really heartening timing after North Carolina, where a ban on gay marriage and civil unions triumphed by some 20 points.

So what if there is an element of calculation here. It’s still the right thing to do; it is nice even just once in a while to get that from the White House.

Posted in Law: Con Law: Marriage | 1 Comment

Gregory Koger Tries to Head Off the Death Star Construction Program

U Miami Political Science Professor Gregory Koger knows how to get way ahead of the curve, and has published a comprehensive treatment of what will someday be a major political issue — Should we build a Death Star?:

I wish to address the most important policy question of the millenium: should we build a Death Star?  This debate picked up this year after some Lehigh University students estimated that just the steel for a Death Star would cost $852 quadrillion, or 13,000 times the current GDP of the Earth. Kevin Drum suggests this cost estimate is too low but, in the context of a galactic economy, a Death Star is perfectly affordable and “totally worth it.” Seth Masket and Jamelle Bouie highlight the military downside of the Death Star, suggesting that more people might rebel against the wholesale genocide of the Empire, and that the Death Star would be the prime target of any rebellion. I have two thoughts to add. First, the Death Star is a bit misunderstood. It is primarily a tool of domestic politics rather than warfare, and should be compared to alternative means of suppressing the population of a galaxy. Second, as a weapon of war, it should be compared to alternative uses of scarce defense resources. Understood properly, the Death Star is not worth it.

And there’s lots more where that came from.

I look forward to subsequent articles about the costs, benefits, and ethical ramifications of building a time machine, a Stargate, and a transporter.

Posted in Econ & Money, National Security, Sufficiently Advanced Technology, U.Miami | 2 Comments

Key Cryptography Concept Explained

I thought this video explanation of Public Key Cryptography: Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange [or, if you prefer, Diffie-Hellman-Merkle key exchange] was unusually clear. Secure key exchange is really important, because exchanging keys securely with someone is an essential prerequisite to creating a secure communications channel with them.

This video is great for people who want an intro to one of the central ideas in modern cryptography:

OK, there was a little math in there, but not so much.

Posted in Cryptography | 1 Comment