January 14, 2006

Lithwick on Alito

My friend, Brad, points me to the latest from Dahlia Lithwick about the Alito hearings, with the following admoniton:
I know you described this writer as a "screecher" last time around, but I think she's pretty on point here.
While this latest certainly qualifies as a more clever exposition than the previous column he pointed me to (which, for the record, I believe I labelled "hysterical" rather than characterizing the author, herself, as a "screecher"), I think her entire mildly sarcastic argument stumbles on this point:
Federalists espouse a view of the Constitution and the allocation of government powers that largely differs from yours; it may indeed differ from that of most Americans.
That, I believe, is the root of the problem. Liberals don't want to believe that these Federalist creatures have views that are actually in the mainstream. They try to pretend that spousal notification of abortion (with significant outs for risk of abuse, etc.) are beyond the pale because they threaten the gospel of Roe v. Wade — while 70% of the American populace supports them. Many of the positions that they try to portray as "out of the mainstream" are, for better or for worse, very much in the mainstream right now.

If Dahlia Lithwick got out of the back offices of Slate (and perhaps Washington, DC as well) she'd realize that the Federalist, domesticated or wild, is not such an unusual creature.

Finally, her return to the tired (and bogus) talking point about the strip search of a 10-year old proves where she's coming from (the left) and what she's interested in (the polemic). So while it's more interesting in style and more readable than her earlier work, it's ultimately.... kind of lame.

Posted by richard at 12:25 AM | Comments (2)

January 13, 2006

FISA and the NSA

The NSA surveillance story has been in the news for a while now, and there has been a great deal of commentary in op-eds and on law blogs about whether the actions taken were legal or not. There are actually two questions about the program's legality: was it unconsitutional (i.e. did it violate the Fourth Amendment) and did it violate statute — specifically the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). (There are secondary questions about Article II powers and the Authorization to Use Military Force passed after September 11th, but those questions aren't reached unless one of the first two is answered in the affirmative).

Now, wanting to understand the issue, I actually read the law and it turns out that a great deal hinges on the definition of "electronic surveillance" in 50 USC 1801(f). Suffice it to say that it's not a simple definition. In fact, it's been likened to Swiss cheese – the idea being that after the Nixon fiasco Congress wanted to be seen as doing something but also wanted to leave enough holes for national security to be protected.

Since understanding the definition of "electronic surveillance" is so central to determining whether the NSA program violated FISA, I decided to parse the definition:

FISA Electronic Surveillance

As you can see, there are lots of scenarios (assuming I've read the law correctly) where FISA does not apply. While I'm not sure we currently know enough about the actually workings of the NSA program to know where it falls out in the chart, as more becomes apparent, hopefully this will be useful.

Posted by richard at 04:05 PM | Comments (2)

January 02, 2006


In case anyone was wondering, the faces at the top of the page are pencil drawings that I did about 12 years ago on a trip to Europe. I scanned them and converted them into icons. Both, if I recall correctly, are copies of sketches by Leonardo da Vinci — the latter a self portrait, I believe.

All in all, I was pretty happy with how good these full-sized drawings looked after that much manipulation.

Posted by richard at 01:13 AM | Comments (1)

The Name

So, I've relaunched the blog with a new name. I've gotten rid of the somewhat silly Just-in-casionally and the very silly Not-so-oftenally, as well. And I've replaced it with what I hope will be a more permanent name: Quicksilver Sulfide.

Why this name? Let's just say that this particular chemical compound, mercuric sulfide, has particular resonance with me. But beyond the eponymous reasons, I also like the fact that it combines two alchemical elements: Quicksilver, or Mercury; and Brimstone, or Sulfur.

Quicksilver was believed to transcend both solid and liquid states and is one of the seven metals of alchemy. It also represents Hermes (or Mercury) — the messenger of the gods — and is called Hydrargyrum ("silver water") leading to it's modern abbreviation: Hg.

Sulfur is one of three heavenly alchemical elements, but is also associated with Athena (and, in that weird way of Greek mythology, with Hecate and Demeter too via their shared name, Brimo). And so, eventually, it is linked with Hades or Hell.

Alchemist believed that if they could "marry Hermes and Athena" — or, in other words, combine Mercury and Sulfur in the right way — that they could create gold. But no one succeeded.

And now, we know better. We know that all you are likely to get from HgS is Vermillion.

Posted by richard at 12:56 AM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2006


So I decided that it was worth trying to relauch this blog again. It's been over a year since I posted last and much has changed in my life. I certainly don't have more time for this brand of nonsense, so this experiment may be even shorter-lived than the first time around.

But, I reckon, with low expectations from us all it should at least be fun. More on the new name when I have time. Or, take it as a challenge to figure it out. I'll also continue to update the look-and-feel of the site as I have time.

Posted by richard at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)