Category Archives: Uncategorized

Too Young to Die

The Supreme Court nixes the juvenile death penalty. What that says about the Justices’ thinking–and ours

Monday, Mar. 07, 2005
In his Norman, Okla., law office, attorney Steven Presson stores two unusual keepsakes. One is a leather pouch that holds the ashes of Sean Sellers, the only person executed for a crime committed as a 16-year-old since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S. in 1976. Sellers–who murdered his mother, his stepfather and a store clerk–was dispatched by lethal injection in 1999, when he was 29. Presson’s other memento is a plastic box containing the ashes of Scott Hain, who, it now seems fair to say, was the last juvenile offender to be executed in the U.S. Hain, sent to his death in 2003 at the age of 32, was 17 when he and a friend committed a grisly double murder.

Presson, who represented both boys, found it “very bittersweet” when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that it was cruel and unusual to sentence anyone to death for crimes committed before the age of 18. “I’m happy for those on death row, but it came six years too late for Sean and two years too late for Scott,” says Presson. “We’ve been arguing for decades that kids don’t have the same moral culpability that adults have, and finally, finally, they listened.”

It took 16 years for the high court to come around to Presson’s point of view, by a narrow 5-to-4 vote. In 1989 the court ruled 5 to 4 the other way. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the 1989 decision, argued that there was neither a “historical nor a modern societal consensus” forbidding capital punishment for 16- or 17-year-olds (though the court had found such a consensus for those under 16 a year earlier). Last week, however, Scalia was on the short side of the decision.

What changed? The views of Justice Anthony Kennedy, for one thing. While Kennedy voted with Scalia in 1989, he wrote a very different majority opinion this time around. Why did Kennedy change his mind? Legal tradition invites him to do so. Since 1958 the court has applied a flexible standard to interpreting the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments.” What we mean by the phrase, wrote then Chief Justice Earl Warren in Trop v. Dulles, depends on “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

How do you know that society no longer believes in sentencing a 17-year-old killer to death? Kennedy’s argument mirrors his reasoning in a 2002 decision that outlawed death sentences for the mentally retarded. He notes that since 1989 five states have banned capital punishment for juveniles, making the practice illegal in 30 states, including the 12 with an outright ban on executions. Second, Kennedy cites scientific literature showing that, like the retarded, adolescents lack mature judgment and a full appreciation of the consequences of their actions. They are also more vulnerable than adults to peer pressure. Third, Kennedy points out that only seven other countries have executed juvenile offenders since 1990, and all seven have repudiated the practice: “The United States now stands alone in a world that has turned its face against the juvenile death penalty.”

“This reference to international practices is a very big deal,” says Cass Sunstein, a constitutional scholar at the University of Chicago Law School, and is part of a surprising new trend in Supreme Court thinking. Overseas legal practices were also cited by the court in the 2002 ruling on the mentally retarded and in a 2003 decision overturning a Texas law banning gay sex. For his part, Scalia blasted his brethren for suggesting that “American law should conform to the laws of the rest of the world” and pointed out that the U.S. has unique legal traditions.

In the 12 states where juvenile offenders have been languishing, death sentences will be lifted for 72 offenders. That brought dismay to many victims’ families. Martin Soto-Fong was 17 in 1992 when he and two accomplices robbed the El Grande Market in Tucson, Ariz., for $300 and shot three workers. Richard Gee, who lost a brother and an uncle that day, is not happy to see the murderer exit death row. “We had him at the gates of hell,” he says, “and he got kicked back.” –With reporting by Eric Ferkenhoff/ Chicago, Wendy Grossman/Houston and Stacy J. Willis/Las Vegas

Minors spared death

Cox News Service
Wednesday, March 02, 2005

ATLANTA — A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court declared Tuesday it is unconstitutional to execute killers under age 18, a landmark ruling that is expected to remove 72 inmates from death row.

The 5-4 decision forbids death sentences against killers who committed their crimes before turning 18. The court found that a growing “national consensus” opposes the practice and that juveniles, because of their immaturity and vulnerability, should not be subjected to the state’s ultimate punishment.

“The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. “It is, we conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest.”

The ruling furthers the steady narrowing of the use of the death penalty since it was reinstated in 1976. Three years ago, the Supreme Court ruled out capital punishment for the mentally retarded. It had previously banned the execution of those who committed their crimes before age 16.

Georgia was one of 19 states that, before Tuesday’s ruling, allowed executions of killers who were juveniles at the time of their crimes.

The Supreme Court found that such executions run afoul the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The narrow majority of justices noted that the United States is the only country in the world to sanction the execution of individuals who committed crimes as juveniles and that it applies the punishment infrequently. For those reasons, the court said, the practice offends “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

“It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime,” Kennedy wrote. “In sum, it is fair to say that the United States now stands alone in a world that has turned its face against the juvenile death penalty.”

Since 1990, only Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and China have executed juvenile offenders. But in recent years, those countries have halted the practice or publicly disavowed it, wrote Kennedy.

He was joined by the court’s more liberal justices — John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Kennedy’s opinion rested in large part on the fact that 30 states, including the 12 that have no capital punishment, forbid the death penalty for offenders who committed their crimes when younger than 18. The number of states was an increase of five since 1989, when the court — including Kennedy — upheld the death penalty for juvenile killers who committed their crimes when 16 or older.

Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas, accused the majority of finding a national consensus against the juvenile death penalty “on the flimsiest of grounds.”

By ruling the way it did, the majority “proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation’s moral standards — and in the course of discharging that awesome responsibility purports to take guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislatures,” Scalia wrote.

The meaning of the Constitution should not be determined by “the subjective views of five members of this court and like-minded foreigners,” Scalia said. How can the court’s justices, he asked, “presume to be the authoritative conscience of the nation?”

Writing her own dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said case-by-case determinations of a young offender’s maturity is the better approach. “An especially depraved juvenile offender may nevertheless be just as culpable as many adult offenders considered bad enough to deserve the death penalty,” she wrote.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who had urged the court to forbid the juvenile death penalty, said he and his wife, Rosalynn, applauded the decision.

“This ruling acknowledges the profound inconsistency in prohibiting those under 18 years of age from voting, serving in the military or buying cigarettes, while allowing them to be sentenced to the ultimate punishment,” he said.

Dianne Clements, head of Justice for All, a Houston-based victims’ advocacy group, condemned the ruling. “The Supreme Court has opened the door for more innocent people to suffer by 16- and 17-year-olds,” she said.

Citing the ruling, prosecutors in Prince William County, Va., said Tuesday they will not pursue a pending capital murder case against one of the nation’s most notorious juvenile killers, Lee Boyd Malvo. He is already serving life in prison in two of the 10 sniper killings, committed when he was 17, that terrorized the Washington area in 2002.

Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, said most juvenile death sentences handed down in the past decade have been in Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia.

“It’s a practice that has been virtually abandoned by the rest of the world, except for those four states and occasionally some others,” he said.

The other states, in addition to Georgia, were Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Utah.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the juvenile death penalty for Christopher Simmons. He was a 17-year-old high school student in 1993 when he and another teen broke into the home of a Missouri woman, bound her with duct tape and electrical wire and tossed her off a bridge.

Bill Rankin writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. E-mail: [email protected] The Associated Press and the Washington Post contributed to this article.

Ancient Hominid Found in Ethiopia Is Yielding Teeth Like the Apes'


Published: January 20, 2005

Paleontologists working in Ethiopia have discovered bones and teeth up to 4.5 million years old from at least nine members of a little-known hominid species that was a primitive ancestor of humans.

The specimens are from Ardipithecus ramidus, a transitional creature with significant ape characteristics. The fossils are mostly teeth and jaw fragments, with some hand and foot bones, according to nine researchers from universities in the United States and Spain.

Their findings appear today in the journal Nature.

These are not the first such specimens but they are the latest in a growing collection of early human fragments that help explain the evolutionary history of humans.

The discoveries were made over a four-year span beginning in 1999 in digs at As Duma, a site in the Afar region that has yielded many important fossils. Among the tooth specimens, the canines are small and blunt, similar to those of other human ancestors. But most of the teeth, including molars, are like those of great apes. The size and wear of the teeth suggest that A. ramidus ate a plant-based diet, the researchers reported.

Scientists know little about A. ramidus. A few skeletal fragments suggest that it was even smaller than Australopithecus afarensis, the 3.6-million-year-old species widely known through the nearly complete “Lucy” fossil, which is about four feet tall.

Evidence from other A. ramidus specimens shows its skull rested directly atop its spinal column, rather than in front like apes. This suggests it could walk upright, or at least on two feet.

The first A. ramidus fossils were reported in 1994. With the nine additional specimens, labs now have fragments from as many as 60 individuals. The specimens were dated with geological and radiocarbon tests.

Fierce mammal ate dinos for lunch

From BBC News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, 18:20 GMT

An astonishing new fossil unearthed in China has overturned the accepted view about the relationship between dinosaurs and early mammals.

The specimen belongs to a primitive mammal about 130 million years old and its stomach contents show that it ate young dinosaurs called psittacosaurs.

A US-Chinese team of researchers has described the find in Nature magazine.

In the same issue, the group reports discovering the largest known primitive mammal from the same locality.

Mesozoic mammals were thought to have lived in the shadow of the dinosaurs. But the picture is quite different now
Meng Jin, American Museum of Natural History

The team found the Early Cretaceous specimens in the famous fossil beds of Liaoning Province in north-eastern China.

The mammal with the dinosaur in its stomach belongs to a carnivorous mammal called Repenomamus robustus, which was about the size of an opossum.

“At first, we thought it was a placental mammal carrying an embryo. But then we looked more closely and saw it was a dinosaur,” said co-author Dr Meng Jin, curator of palaeontology at the American Museum of Natural History.

“The position was also interesting; it was located in the lower left side of the fossil – exactly the position where the stomach is located in extant mammals.”

Dog-sized predator

The new species of mammal, also found by the researchers in Liaoning, was probably about 50% larger – weighing about 13kg (30lbs). It has been named Repenomamus gigantus.

But fragmentary evidence from Liaoning suggests even bigger mammals may prowled the region during the Cretaceous.

“This find has helped to break a stereotype about early mammals,” said Dr Zhe-Xi Luo, a palaeontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, US, who also studies early mammals.

Most mammal fossils from the time of the dinosaurs are about the size of mice and rats. As such, they were at a distinct size disadvantage compared with predatory dinosaurs.

The combined discovery of a dinosaur in the stomach of R. robustus and the dog-sized R. gigantus suggests mammals were not the timid insect-eaters they have been portrayed as in the past.

“Mammals at this time were thought to have lived in the shadow of the dinosaurs. But the picture is quite different now,” Dr Jin told the BBC News website.

Dr Jin and Dr Luo both agree that the general picture that primitive mammals were small, nocturnal prey animals still holds true.

But, said Dr Luo: “We have always suspected the feeding niches of early mammals were more diverse, but we never had the proof.”

Interestingly, many small dinosaur fossils have been found in the same beds as the new mammals. The researchers cannot yet say whether mammals dominated their reptilian counterparts at this location.

Big mammals like Repenomamus could have been prey for larger dinosaurs that have not yet been seen here. But broadly speaking, carnivores usually reside at the top of food chains.

The wonderfully preserved specimens were pulled from the Yixian Formation, a class of fossil beds in the Liaoning Formation.

This formation has produced an abundance of amazing fossils, including feathered dinosaurs, early birds, fish and mammals.

Dr Jin thinks the astounding preservation of these fossils may be down to how the animals died.

“The bottom section of the Yixian Formation is sandstone with a lot of volcanic ash in it. Many of the fossils are preserved in a resting position. Some of them look as if they are sleeping.

“It could be that poisonous gas produced by volcanism killed many animals while they were asleep.”

King Tut Treasures Will Return to U.S., but Won't Stop at the Met

(From the New York Times)

Published: December 1, 2004

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 30 – For the first time since 1979, the treasures of the legendary Egyptian boy king, Tutankhamen, will tour the United States next year, but will bypass the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York because of a disagreement, Egypt’s chief archaeologist said Tuesday.

Zahi Hawass, the head of Egyptian antiquities, said the exhibit, which is now touring Europe, would open in June at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and go on to at least three other American cities.

The exhibit will allow the American public the first glimpse in a generation of the ancient Egyptian treasures, he said.

“Twenty-six years ago King Tut captured the hearts of everyone,” Mr. Hawass said in an interview. “This will capture the hearts of people again. It will bring peace, and strengthen relations between America and Egypt. King Tut is back.”

The tour after Los Angeles would include Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chicago and one other city. Mr. Hawass said he was negotiating to take the exhibit to Boston, Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Museum, but hoped it would be shown in Manhattan.

The exhibit will include King Tut’s diamond crown, his gold coffin and a chair from his tomb, along with 47 other objects. An additional 81 objects from King Tut’s ancestors, including Akhenaten and Queen Ti, would also be part of the exhibit, to be co-sponsored by Anschutz Entertainment Group and National Geographic. The exhibit has been in Basel, Switzerland, and is now in Bonn.

Tutankhamen was crowned at age 8 and died mysteriously in 1325 B.C., at age 18. The discovery of his tomb in 1922 was one of the most spectacular finds in Egyptian archaeological history.

Mr. Hawass said a major reason Egypt had decided on the exhibit was to raise money for its crumbling antiquities: the Pyramids, the Sphinx and the priceless statuary and treasures in the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.

“There are no free meals anymore,” he said. “We have a task. These monuments will be gone in 100 years if we don’t raise the money to restore them.”

Money was the central reason that Egypt was unable to reach an agreement to bring the new exhibit to the Met, one of the central organizers of the landmark exhibit in the 1970’s.

Mr. Hawass said he received a letter from the Met’s director, Philippe de Montebello, last week saying he had been unable to persuade the Board of Trustees to break the museum’s policy and charge a separate admission for the show. Mr. de Montebello, reached by phone on Tuesday, reiterated that policy.

Mr. Hawass said Egypt made no money on the original exhibit, which from 1976 to 1979 displayed 55 pieces from the tomb. The show, which toured six cities, was a cultural sensation in the United States, attended by millions of people. It opened the era of blockbuster museum shows.

But when the exhibit was transferred to Germany in 1981, one artifact was damaged and the Egyptian Parliament recommended that the treasures not leave Egypt again.

Mr. Hawass and the Egyptian culture minister, Farouk Hosni, went to Parliament last year and persuaded the legislators to allow the treasures to travel again as a way of raising money, both for the antiquities and for a $500 million museum beside the Pyramids in the Giza district of Cairo.

Mr. Hawass said he hoped to raise about $10 million in each city on the American tour. The exhibit is to be announced in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

More Believe in Creation Than Evolution – Poll

(WBUR.ORG) 11-23-04

A federal judge in Georgia is expected to rule soon on a case about disclaimers that were placed inside biology text books in suburban Atlanta. The disclaimers reads: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”

The Georgia case is one of several challenging the teaching of evolution, Raja Mishra of the Boston Globe has covered the story. He writes that evolution is considered by scientists to be among the most important and supported scientific theory of all time.

The debate between evolutionists and creationists is being played out in schools, and in the six bookstores in the Grand Canyon National Park. A faith-based book called “Grand Canyon: A Different View” is being sold in the park’s federally funded bookstores.

It reflects the young earth theory of creationism that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Grand Canyon was formed as a result of Noah’s great flood.

Critics say a faith based book should not be sold in federally funded bookstores.

Elaine Sevy, a spokesperson with the National Park system, said in a written statement that government attorneys are reviewing the matter. Sevy wrote: “Our nation values freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Because park bookstores carry books presenting a variety of ideas and perspectives, does not mean the park system endorses those viewpoints any more than a public library endorses all the views of the books it contains.”

Tom Vail is the books author, and a rafting guide who runs Canyon Ministries, rafting trips with a creationist point of view. Here & Now asked Vail to explain his view of the Grand Canyon’s genesis.

In Annual Rite, Shopper Mob Holiday Sales

(From the New York Times 11-27-04)

Surrounded by hundreds of shoppers grabbing bargain-priced flat-screen television sets and portable music players early yesterday morning, Jill Mulhere was trying to figure out what happened to her shopping cart, heaped with presents, at the Best Buy store in Paramus, N.J. She had paused to look at just one more deal – an Allegro DVD-VCR combination for $59.99 – before joining the long checkout line.

“Somebody actually stole my shopping cart!” Ms. Mulhere said. “I said, ‘That’s it; this place is a zoo.’ ”

Instead of returning home, though, she drove to Circuit City, about a mile away along Route 17, a slow-moving highway lined with strip malls. Circuit City was only slightly less chaotic, but she ended up buying the DVD-VCR player, a Sony, for $134.

“You know,” she said, “my brother asked me at Thanksgiving, ‘Was there really all this Black Friday pandemonium when we were growing up?’ ”

Across the country yesterday, millions of Americans – most of them taking the entire day off from work – rushed into suburban malls, filled downtown shopping streets and department stores and mobbed discount stores everywhere.

Often, they were waving colorful circulars and shopping lists, hungry for the hundreds of bargains promised to those who got there first.

Merchants, eager to lure crowds of buyers wielding credit cards, opened even earlier than last year – in some places well before dawn.

Any specific figures on how much people bought yesterday will not be available until the end of the weekend at the earliest – and maybe not even then. Nonetheless, based on anecdotal evidence and some initial soundings, retailers generally were optimistic about the coming holiday shopping season.

“We’ve never had so many early birds come out for the specials, not in numbers like this,” said Karen MacDonald, a spokesman for Taubman Centers, which owns or manages 22 shopping centers across the country, including the high-end Short Hills mall in New Jersey.

And with just about every store promising an unbeatable deal, the day after Thanksgiving – which had lost its status as the highest spending day of the year a decade ago to the Saturday before Christmas and regained it just last year – looks likely to hang on to the distinction another year.

Not far from Union Square in San Francisco, Pam Donohue, 49, an aide at a senior citizens’ food delivery service, said she was buying the brand items coveted by her two teenagers: Ugg boots, an Ugg black purse and BCBG black shoes. But she was also comparison shopping to get the really big present for this Christmas: a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion desktop computer the girls need for school.

In Chicago, Tammy Jowers, 40, and her family braved a snowstorm Wednesday night, going from their home in Dyersburg, Tenn., to line up in front of Marshall Field’s at 5:30 a.m. “Everybody wants an iPod,” Ms. Jowers said. “Instead of a cruise, we’re getting iPods.”

For this year’s Black Friday – called that because it is the day retailers traditionally expected to break into the black, or profitable territory, for the year – the emphasis was on electronics, according to retailers, analysts and a host of shoppers interviewed yesterday.

Part of the reason, according to pollsters like Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research, a survey firm in Charleston, S.C., was that toy manufacturers had failed to come up with any must-have new toys to compete with the MP3 players, high-definition television sets and heavily promoted new computer games that seemed to be on millions of lists. And no particular articles of clothing were creating much buzz either, retail experts said.

At the Sears stores in the New York region, John Ford, the district manager, said consumer electronics was definitely the top-selling category yesterday. Larry Costello, a national spokesman for Sears, Roebuck, said foot traffic was significantly higher than last year in every major market, probably because Sears tripled its number of sales promotions over last year. The chain gave out $10 gift cards to the first 200 people in line at each store, along with offering early shoppers digital cameras for $49.99 and DVD players for $19.99.

Wal-Mart, by far the nation’s largest retailer, has decided not to release one-day figures for the day after Thanksgiving, as the company did in the past.

“Although we expect to have one of the best days of the year, it’s not fair to use it as a barometer for the whole season,” Karen Burk, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said last night. She added that the company was “cautiously optimistic” for the holidays.

Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, repeated his trade group’s projections for the holiday season: a rise of 4.5 percent over last year, slightly down from the 5.1 percent increase over 2002. This year, pollsters and consultants, in e-mailed predictions, are using words like “respectable” and “decent” to describe expected sales for the 2004 holidays. Ever since 1999, when sales increases reached double-digit levels at most retailers, the industry has been forced to live with much more modest gains.

Fire and Motion

(This test was found on a website blog- it’s kind of inspiring)

Sometimes I just can’t get anything done.

Sure, I come into the office, putter around, check my email every ten seconds, read the web, even do a few brainless tasks like paying the American Express bill. But getting back into the flow of writing code just doesn’t happen.

TetrisThese bouts of unproductiveness usually last for a day or two. But there have been times in my career as a developer when I went for weeks at a time without being able to get anything done. As they say, I’m not in flow. I’m not in the zone. I’m not anywhere.

Everybody has mood swings; for some people they are mild, for others, they can be more pronounced or even dysfunctional. And the unproductive periods do seem to correlate somewhat with gloomier moods.

It makes me think of those researchers who say that basically people can’t control what they eat, so any attempt to diet is bound to be short term and they will always yoyo back to their natural weight. Maybe as a software developer I really can’t control when I’m productive, and I just have to take the slow times with the fast times and hope that they average out to enough lines of code to make me employable.

Go read The Onion for a while.

What drives me crazy is that ever since my first job I’ve realized that as a developer, I usually average about two or three hours a day of productive coding. When I had a summer internship at Microsoft, a fellow intern told me he was actually only going into work from 12 to 5 every day. Five hours, minus lunch, and his team loved him because he still managed to get a lot more done than average. I’ve found the same thing to be true. I feel a little bit guilty when I see how hard everybody else seems to be working, and I get about two or three quality hours in a day, and still I’ve always been one of the most productive members of the team. That’s probably why when Peopleware and XP insist on eliminating overtime and working strictly 40 hour weeks, they do so secure in the knowledge that this won’t reduce a team’s output.

But it’s not the days when I “only” get two hours of work done that worry me. It’s the days when I can’t do anything.

I’ve thought about this a lot. I tried to remember the time when I got the most work done in my career. It was probably when Microsoft moved me into a beautiful, plush new office with large picture windows overlooking a pretty stone courtyard full of cherry trees in bloom. Everything was clicking. For months I worked nonstop grinding out the detailed specification for Excel Basic — a monumental ream of paper going into incredible detail covering a gigantic object model and programming environment. I literally never stopped. When I had to go to Boston for MacWorld I took a laptop with me, and documented the Window class sitting on a pleasant terrace at HBS.

Once you get into flow it’s not too hard to keep going. Many of my days go like this: (1) get into work (2) check email, read the web, etc. (3) decide that I might as well have lunch before getting to work (4) get back from lunch (5) check email, read the web, etc. (6) finally decide that I’ve got to get started (7) check email, read the web, etc. (8) decide again that I really have to get started (9) launch the damn editor and (10) write code nonstop until I don’t realize that it’s already 7:30 pm.

Somewhere between step 8 and step 9 there seems to be a bug, because I can’t always make it across that trip For me, just getting started is the only hard thing. An object at rest tends to remain at rest. There’s something incredible heavy in my brain that is extremely hard to get up to speed, but once it’s rolling at full speed, it takes no effort to keep it going. Like a bicycle decked out for a cross-country, self-supported bike trip — when you first start riding a bike with all that gear, it’s hard to believe how much work it takes to get rolling, but once you are rolling, it feels just as easy as riding a bike without any gear.

Maybe this is the key to productivity: just getting started. Maybe when pair programming works it works because when you schedule a pair programming session with your buddy, you force each other to get started.

When I was an Israeli paratrooper a general stopped by to give us a little speech about strategy. In infantry battles, he told us, there is only one strategy: Fire and Motion. You move towards the enemy while firing your weapon. The firing forces him to keep his head down so he can’t fire at you. (That’s what the soldiers mean when they shout “cover me.” It means, “fire at our enemy so he has to duck and can’t fire at me while I run across this street, here.” It works.) The motion allows you to conquer territory and get closer to your enemy, where your shots are much more likely to hit their target. If you’re not moving, the enemy gets to decide what happens, which is not a good thing. If you’re not firing, the enemy will fire at you, pinning you down.

I remembered this for a long time. I noticed how almost every kind of military strategy, from air force dogfights to large scale naval maneuvers, is based on the idea of Fire and Motion. It took me another fifteen years to realize that the principle of Fire and Motion is how you get things done in life. You have to move forward a little bit, every day. It doesn’t matter if your code is lame and buggy and nobody wants it. If you are moving forward, writing code and fixing bugs constantly, time is on your side. Watch out when your competition fires at you. Do they just want to force you to keep busy reacting to their volleys, so you can’t move forward?

Think of the history of data access strategies to come out of Microsoft. ODBC, RDO, DAO, ADO, OLEDB, now ADO.NET – All New! Are these technological imperatives? The result of an incompetent design group that needs to reinvent data access every goddamn year? (That’s probably it, actually.) But the end result is just cover fire. The competition has no choice but to spend all their time porting and keeping up, time that they can’t spend writing new features. Look closely at the software landscape. The companies that do well are the ones who rely least on big companies and don’t have to spend all their cycles catching up and reimplementing and fixing bugs that crop up only on Windows XP. The companies who stumble are the ones who spend too much time reading tea leaves to figure out the future direction of Microsoft. People get worried about .NET and decide to rewrite their whole architecture for .NET because they think they have to. Microsoft is shooting at you, and it’s just cover fire so that they can move forward and you can’t, because this is how the game is played, Bubby. Are you going to support Hailstorm? SOAP? RDF? Are you supporting it because your customers need it, or because someone is firing at you and you feel like you have to respond? The sales teams of the big companies understand cover fire. They go into their customers and say, “OK, you don’t have to buy from us. Buy from the best vendor. But make sure that you get a product that supports (XML / SOAP / CDE / J2EE) because otherwise you’ll be Locked In The Trunk.” Then when the little companies try to sell into that account, all they hear is obedient CTOs parrotting “Do you have J2EE?” And they have to waste all their time building in J2EE even if it doesn’t really make any sales, and gives them no opportunity to distinguish themselves. It’s a checkbox feature — you do it because you need the checkbox saying you have it, but nobody will use it or needs it. And it’s cover fire.

Fire and Motion, for small companies like mine, means two things. You have to have time on your side, and you have to move forward every day. Sooner or later you will win. All I managed to do yesterday is improve the color scheme in FogBUGZ just a little bit. That’s OK. It’s getting better all the time. Every day our software is better and better and we have more and more customers and that’s all that matters. Until we’re a company the size of Oracle, we don’t have to think about grand strategies. We just have to come in every morning and somehow, launch the editor.

Tennessean article: Suspect arrested in weapons sting by terror task force. (Local news overreacts)

Suspect planned to ‘go jihad,’ friend said

Staff Writer

Tip leads to Iraqi native’s arrest here in weapons sting

For almost three months, law-enforcement agents have kept a close eye on an Iraqi-born man they say was scheming to purchase machine guns, hand grenades and anti-tank missiles as part of a plan to ”go jihad” in Nashville.

Ahmed Hassan Al-Uqaily, 33, made his initial appearance yesterday before U.S. Magistrate Clifton Knowles to face federal charges of illegal possession of machine guns. He was taken into custody Thursday after allegedly accepting the guns from someone he thought was a weapons dealer. Knowles ordered him held in custody.

An undercover agent posed as the dealer, according to U.S. Attorney Jim Vines.

Al-Uqaily came to the government’s attention in early August with a tip from ”a vigilant individual,” an old acquaintance of the suspect who was startled by Al-Uqaily’s angry tone, Vines said.

That chance encounter took place Aug. 4, when ”Al-Uqaily expressed anger about the state of affairs in Iraq and stated that he was ‘going jihad’ and he was going to blow up something,” a federal affidavit says.

The worried acquaintance alerted members of the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force the next day. Soon Metro police, the TBI, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and state Homeland Security officials were all participating with the FBI in the investigation, according to Vines.

Federal authorities said Al-Uqaily did not come to their attention until Aug. 5 when the friend told them about the threats.

Al-Uqaily had been in the public spotlight before.

In May, while standing hooded on Lower Broadway in a public re-enactment of one of the infamous pictures taken at Iraq’s Abu-Ghraib prison, Al-Uqaily told The Tennessean that his brothers and mother had been killed during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and that his father had been jailed.

His family, he said then, was from the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

In September the acquaintance updated agents about Al-Uqaily’s intent, court records state. Al-Uqaily told the acquaintance that he wanted to purchase four grenades and two handguns. The acquaintance, acting with the agents’ knowledge, told Al-Uqaily that he knew of a weapons dealer, affidavits show.

The government says it has recordings of Al-Uqaily making arrangements Sept. 10 to purchase the hardware for $1,000.

Eight days later, he said he also wanted two or three machine guns, ammunition and ”missiles.” He also said he needed more time before buying the weapons, court records show.

On Oct. 4, in another recorded conversation described in an FBI affidavit, Al-Uqaily talked about wanting an anti-tank weapon, and he discussed getting the acquaintance’s help to go on his ”mission.” The acquaintance asked where.

”Al-Uqaily responded by ex-pressing animosity towards the Jewish community,” states the affidavit. ”Discussion ensued about two Jewish facilities in the Nashville area, but Al-Uqaily gave no indication of specific plans in connection with those facilities.”

The next day, the acquaintance and an undercover agent who was posing as the weapons dealer discussed terms for a deal involving grenades and machine guns.

The planned transaction did not go through as expected Wednesday, when the suspect expressed worries that he was under law-enforcement surveillance.

They decided to make the cash-for-weapons exchange at a southeast Nashville food business on Thursday, according to Vines. After the exchange, Al-Uqaily was arrested in the parking lot. Vines would not name the business, but Uqaily was wearing a Krispy Kreme doughnut shirt at his court appearance Friday.

A manager at the Krispy Kreme store on Thompson Lane said yesterday that he was aware of the circumstances but could not comment.

Last night, at 1923B Laurinda Drive — Al-Uqaily’s most recent address, according to an Internet records service — a hand-painted van sat parked.

Nearby were the remnants of crime-scene tape from a recent search. Inside the van was a plainly visible utility bill addressed to Al-Uqaily.

Painted in black letters across splotches of bright colors on the van were a series of slogans that echoed Al-Uqaily’s Lower Broadway demonstration in May: ”I pray all soldiers lay down their guns.” ”War won’t work.” ”Stop killing kids for oil.” And, ”Moses, Jesus & Mohammed all talk peace.”

Staff writer Ian Demsky contributed to this report. Rob Johnson can be reached at 664-2162 or at [email protected]

Political and Religious Propaganda Intersect

Associated Press Writer

September 17, 2004, 8:24 PM EDT

WASHINGTON — Campaign mail with a return address of the Republican National Committee warns West Virginia voters that the Bible will be prohibited and men will marry men if liberals win in November.

The literature shows a Bible with the word “BANNED” across it and a photo of a man, on his knees, placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word “ALLOWED.” The mailing tells West Virginians to “vote Republican to protect our families” and defeat the “liberal agenda.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Friday that he wasn’t aware of the mailing, but said it could be the work of the RNC. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we were mailing voters on the issue of same-sex marriage,” Gillespie said.

The flier says Republicans have passed laws protecting life, support defining marriage as between a man and a woman and will nominate conservative judges who will “interpret the law and not legislate from the bench.”

“The liberal agenda includes removing `under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance,” it says.

It does not mention the names of the presidential candidates.

Jim Jordan, a spokesman for America Coming Together, described the mailing as “standard-issue Republican hate-mongering.”

Gillespie said same-sex marriage is a legitimate issue in the election. President Bush has proposed amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage. Democratic Sen. John Kerry also opposes gay marriage but said a constitutional amendment is going too far.

The RNC also is running radio ads in several states urging people to register to vote.

“There is a line drawn in America today,” one ad says. “On one side are the radicals trying to uproot our traditional values and our culture. They’re fighting to hijack the institution of marriage, plotting to legalize partial birth abortion, and working to take God out of the pledge of allegiance and force the worst of Hollywood on the rest of America.”

“Are you on their side of the line?” the ad asks before making the plea to “support conservative Republican candidates.”

* __

There may be just a handful of presidential candidates on the ballot come Election Day, but until then, thousands of people will be running against President Bush — literally.

The “Run Against Bush” effort marks its national event on Saturday with an estimated 10,000 people running, walking and cycling to protest Bush administration policies.

From Missoula, Mont., to Nantucket, R.I., the volunteers will cover more than 100,000 miles. Overseas gatherings are planned in Paris and Tokyo as well.

The biggest event will be in Washington, with a morning gathering outside the White House for runs anywhere from two to 15 miles.

The event will raise $100,000 for the Democratic National Committee and state parties in 10 swing states, organizers say.

Eight teachers formed the PAC last year in Washington. It has raised more than $330,000 so far.

* __

If a desire to have a say in politics or sheer peer pressure doesn’t convince them, now college students have one more reason to vote: They could get a call from their favorite writer.

A group of authors has launched “Operation Ohio” to encourage voting among students in that battleground state, along with Wisconsin and Florida.

Dave Eggers, author of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and Ann Packer, writer of “The Dive From Clausen’s Pier,” and other writers will call students on Nov. 2, reminding them to hit the polls. They and about 10 other authors will visit Ohio campuses at the end of the month to hold nonpartisan voter registration readings. Students, or any first-time voters under 25, can either sign up in person or send an e-mail from their university accounts. They’ll know who will be calling one week before, so they’ll have time to read up.

The effort is nonpartisan, so writers can say anything they like, said Stephen Elliott, the author organizing the effort. Other writers who plan to make calls on Election Day include: Tobias Wolff, best known for his memoir “This Boy’s Life,” and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon.

* __

Associated Press writer Emily Fredrix contributed to this report.

* __

On the Net:

Republican National Committee —

Operation Ohio:

Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press