Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Busy Again

Sorry for the delay in blogging - work is pure stress these days. Look for another post within the next few days.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election Aftermath

The election has passed, and the Democrats have won a majority in both the House and the Senate. What will this mean for the next two years?

On the short term, it may well mean an old fashioned Mexican Standoff. The Democrats control both houses, and thus can pass any legislation they like, or defeat any Republican-introduced legislation. However, they lack the two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, which they would need to override a presidential veto on legislation the Democrats may pass. Thus, the Republicans can't get any legislation through either the House or the Senate without Democrat blessing, while the Democrats can pass any legislation they want, but can't override Bush's veto of it.

In short, neither party can get anything done without the consent of the other. Either the two parties can either play nice with each other in the "spirit of bipartisanship", or we have ourselves a classic Mexican Standoff. And, judging by the volume of attack advertising, smear jobs, and negative campaigning by both parties in this election, I think we are about as far from "bipartisanship" as we can get.

Over the next two years, I expect the US Government will be largely mired in deadlock, fruitlessly debating bills only to see them fall to either defeat or veto. Very little real work will get done, as the two main parties will use each bill as its next move in a grand chess game leading up to the next election. The Republicans will introduce bills they hope the Democrats will defeat, so they can score points with some constituents. Meanwhile, the Democrats will create "omnibus" bills, tacking their favorite elements of their political platform onto critical, popular, or politically sensitive bills - and since the President lacks a line-item veto, Bush can either sign the bill, or veto the whole thing, risking the damage this could do to the Republicans in the next election.

I expect the next two years will likely be very unproductive for the US government, and will likely be regarded as Bush's lame duck years.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Iraq On Edge

Tomorrow is the day the verdict against Saddam Hussein will be announced. No matter which way the verdict goes, there are likely to be some people who do not like it, and thus an upsurge in violence is likely.

Many mainstream news organizations (such as this BBC article) paint the biggest risk tomorrow as being, "violence from [Saddam's] Sunni Arab supporters". However, I personally think the biggest risk is either Saddam being found not guilty, or Saddam's sentence being less than the death sentence many people are expecting. If this occurs, we may see an Iraqi reaction similar to what we saw here in the United States 14 years ago when the police officers who were caught on videotape beating Rodney King were acquitted.

If Saddam is found not guilty, or given a lenient sentence, the people who felt the most victimized by Saddam (the Shia and Kurds) would start cooking up various conspiracy theories - that Sunnis somehow rigged the trial in favor of Saddam - and would create a backlash against the Sunnis in reaction to this perceived injustice. Since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarrah earlier this year, some Shia militias in Iraq have been all too quick to foment conspiracy theories and exact their revenge on their Sunni brethren. Saddam getting off for the Dujail case would certainly make a convenient excuse for more of the same mayhem.

If, however, Saddam is found guilty and sentenced to death, I would expect the reaction would be much more muted for a couple of reasons. Saddam has been imprisoned for the past two years, and has generally ceased to be a relevant factor to the current war on the ground. As such, most Iraqis have more current things to worry about than the fate of Saddam. In addition, while Saddam does still have his loyal followers, he was not nearly as popular among the Sunni Iraqis as the news media here make him out to be. Many paid lip service to Saddam - attending rallies and pledging loyalty to Saddam without actually meaning it. Now that Saddam is no longer the big guy with the big guns backing him up, whatever feigned loyalty many of these folks had towards him is gone.

Tomorrow will be an interesting day - and for the sake of all the friends I know in Iraq, I pray that everything will be okay for them.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Week from Hell

This week has been a week from hell for me. I was supposed to be on vacation for the first part of the week - a vacation that I was forced to cancel for a couple of reasons.

The Aborted Trip to Canada

I was supposed to be taking the family to Canada for a few days. So, we spent a few hours on Saturday packing suitcases, and on Sunday, we loaded the family into my wife's car and we started our drive towards Toronto.

The weather was extremely windy on Saturday.

About halfway between Albany and Syracuse, my wife (who was driving) asked me about a light flashing on the dashboard: the "overdrive off" light. Normally, this light would be on steady if overdrive is switched off, and off otherwise. This time, it was flashing. I checked the car's manual and it didn't say anything about what a flashing overdrive light would mean, but I inferred that it must have something to do with the transmission. So, I told my wife we'd stop at the next rest area and check the transmission fluid level.

When we were exiting for the rest area, my wife commented, "wow, it's really windy, look at all the dust it's kicking up."

It didn't take long for me to realize what the dust was: "That's not dust, it's smoke, and it's coming from our car. Park the car and shut off the engine NOW!" After we parked the car and opened the hood, there was transmission fluid all over the place under the hood, and the distinctive smell of burnt oil.

We had the transmission of my wife's car rebuilt back in August and this was the first long trip we'd taken with it. Fortunately, this meant it was still under warranty. Unfortunately, though, we were way out of town.

So, I opened up my laptop computer in the rest area and looked up the nearest location for the company that serviced my transmission back in New York: it was in Albany, about 85 miles away. So, I called the American Automobile Association (AAA), which I'm a member of, and had them tow the car for an hour and a half along the highway (with me and my family crammed in the tow truck cab) back to Albany to the parking lot of the transmission shop, shoved my key under a door in an envelope, called a taxi to take me and my family to the Albany airport (where I figured I could get a rental car), and rented a car.

By this point it was after 5:00 in the afternoon, and I figured by the time we got to my parents' house it would be 2:00 AM. So we scrapped the trip and started the drive back home, and I got to listen to the sound of two crying kids in the back seat complaining they weren't going to see their grandparents.

The Mail Bombing

I still don't know exactly who my employer pissed off, but we seem to have pissed off someone.

Sometime in mid-morning on Monday, my helpdesk started getting calls from users that they could not get incoming mail from the Internet. After rebooting the email gateways and SPAM filters failed to correct the problem, my staff called me, and I looked at the problem. I soon realized that we had a denial-of-service attack being launched against us. We were getting hundreds of thousands of bogus messages coming in from hundreds of sources on the Internet, paralyzing our email gateways.

After several hours of work, and redeploying a powerful server as a temporary email gateway, we were able to get ahead of the flood after two days of disrupted email to the entire company. Now, email is flowing normally.

In short, a week from hell for me.