Monday, March 29, 2004

Neal on Vacation

Sarah (my wife) and I are going to take a week off and visit some friends in Tumwater, Washington. We'll be driving up the California coast and seeing some of the sights such as Big Sur and the Redwood National Forest.

Check back in next week to hear how the trip went.

Invading Iraq was a National Security mistake

The USA Today has an article by Dave Moniz and Steven Komarow explicating how the Invasion of Iraq siphoned off important resources from the Afghanistan occupation and the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.

I'm glad the mainstream media is finally starting to figure out that there was a massive opportunity cost to invading Iraq and that the US is less secure because of Bush's little foray into the Middle East.

Selected Quote:
Even before the invasion, the wisdom of shifting resources from the bin Laden hunt to the war in Iraq was raised privately by top military officials and publicly by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and others. Now it's being hotly debated again following an election-year critique of the Bush administration by its former counterterrorism adviser, Richard Clarke.

"If we catch him (bin Laden) this summer, which I expect, it's two years too late," Clarke said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press. "Because during those two years when forces were diverted to Iraq ... al-Qaeda has metamorphosized into a hydra-headed organization with cells that are operating autonomously, like the cells that operated in Madrid recently." . . . . Still, the question lingers: Did opening a second front hurt the main effort to defeat terrorism?

Bob Andrews, former head of a Pentagon office that oversaw special operations, says that removing Saddam Hussein was a good idea but "a distraction." The war in Iraq, Andrews notes, entailed the largest deployment of special operations forces — about 10,000 —since the Vietnam War. That's about 25% of all U.S. commandos.

It also siphoned spy aircraft and light infantry soldiers. Iraq proved such a drain, one former Pentagon official notes, that there were no AWACS radar jets to track drug-trafficking aircraft in South America.

Saddam was not an immediate threat. "This has been a real diversion from the longer struggle against jihadists," especially in the intelligence field, he says.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Richard Clarke is a Republican who has no faith in the Bush Administration

Paul Harris' Guardian article of Sunday March 28, 2004 is titled:

Terror Backlash Begins to hit Bush's Votes
The damning testimony of former terrorism adviser Richard Clarke has left the President's team in disarray as their approval ratings begin to fall

Harris goes on to say that Bush's approval rating is at an all time low according to Zogby.

I read an AP article in the NY Times that Richard Clarke considers himself a political independent but is registered Republican.

Clarke, who is single, is known as a voracious reader, from science fiction to history to the latest tutorial on al-Qaida, and as someone who enjoys relaxing with friends over dinner. The native New Englander loves seafood, follows the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Capitals, enjoys jazz and has a room in his Sears catalogue home packed with duck decoys and prints. He describes himself as a political independent registered as a Republican.

Information Week has a background piece on Clarke's resignation from Jan. 29, 2003, stating Clarke is the one who made the call to ground all airliners on September 11th, 2001. That was a good call.

Selected quote:
Clarke is known for his aggressive--sometimes abrasive--personality and for his willingness to bypass bureaucratic channels. Under Clinton, he was known to contact Special Forces and other military commanders in the field directly, irritating the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon.

Clarke was "a bulldog of a bureaucrat," wrote former national security adviser Anthony Lake in a book two years ago. He said Clarke has "a bluntness toward those at his level that has not earned him universal affection."

Some senior CIA officials under Clinton complained that Clarke pressed them to launch covert programs without adequate preparation or study, said Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief.

"He gave the impression he was somewhat of a cowboy," Cannistraro said. "There was no love lost between Clarke and the CIA."

Clarke managed largely to avoid Washington's finger-pointing over failures to anticipate the Sept. 11 attacks, even though he was the top counterterrorism adviser and he was replaced by the White House in that role less than one month later.

"Dick in both the Clinton and Bush administrations was the voice pushing this forward, calling out about the dangers," said William Wechsler, a former director for transnational threats on the National Security Council.

"There's an easy reason why no one is pointing the finger at him."

The security council's director for counterterrorism under Clinton, Daniel Benjamin, described Clarke as "a visionary in terms of pushing hard to recognize the dangers of al Qaeda; certainly the new administration should have attended to his thoughts a little more."

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Landmines remain a scourge

In an earlier post I wrote about a genetically-engineered plant that has been developed to help detect landmines. The Guardian has a follow-up article that points out some of the limitations of the plant.

Selected quote:

[O]ther groups criticised the project because it would make arid areas attractive to local livestock which, along with their human minders, might wander over mined land they would otherwise have avoided.

And there are other criticisms. 'These crops will not take root on land already covered with vegetation, as is the case with much land-mined ground,' said Sean Sutton, of the charity, the Mines Advisory Group. 'That will limit their use. Also many mines are sealed in plastic cases that will not let nitrogen dioxide seep out [which is what turns the plant's leaves red]. The [land-mine sensitive plant] would remain green, but there would still be mines underneath.'

Still, I think this mine-detecting plant is an amazing example of genetic engineering. I think genetic engineering will be really valuable in allowing humanity to shape a better future.

The Sustainable House

I've been reading The Natural House by Dr. Daniel Chiras. The book provides a wealth of information of building houses that are more friendly to the planet.

Chiras argues for building natural, sustainable homes from natural materials and recycled materials for reasons of intergenerational equity and ecological justice.

While I am very much in favor of both intergenerational equity (or a moral obligation to future generations and ecological justice (or respecting all life on earth)...I think there is a much more pragmatic reason for building sustainable homes.

Selected quote:

Michael Reynolds, a New Mexico builder of alternative homes called Earthships sums up the [contemporary] situation...[when] he likens the modern home to a patient in a hospital's intensive care unit. Reynolds observes, "A person on a life support system in a hospital has to always be within reach and 'plugged in' to the various systems that keep him/her alive." The modern home is connected by pipes and wires to its own life-support systems, consisting of the electrical power grid, gas lines, water lines, sewage lines, and so on, which provide energy, water, and a host of vital services. As Reynolds points out, there is a dark side to this dependence. When systems fail due to some natural event, such as a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake, existing housing becomes non-functional. The modern house is as vulnerable an any intensive-care patient.

Our society has become entirely dependent upon a functioning electrical grid and our society is increasingly dependent upon the Internet.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Internet. I'm even pretty fond of electrical appliances. But I do not think we should assume that reliable electricity will always be the case. The rolling blackouts in California a couple of years ago and the blackout in New York city last year should give us all pause.

By building homes that are Earth friendly we can save energy and have homes that are less vulnerable to interruptions in the power supply.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Rosetta stone of human evolution uncovered?

The New York Times (reg'n req'd) has an article by John Noble Wilford about how a mutation has been discovered that decreased jaw muscles in humans.

Selected quote
The researchers' new discovery involves a gene called MYH16, which had apparently gone unrecognized because of a small mutation that had rendered it inactive for producing some jaw muscles for chewing and biting. The scientists found that this myosin gene was still intact today in other primates, like chimpanzees and macaques, which have correspondingly strong jaw muscles. An analysis of DNA samples showed the gene-inactivating mutation to be present in all modern humans worldwide. The analysis further traced the mutation's occurrence to a range of 2.1 million to 2.7 million years ago, probably 2.4 million.

That happens to be just before the appearance of major evolutionary changes in hominid fossils, the research team noted in the journal article. Some hominids with protruding jaws and small brains were soon to evolve into the first species of the genus Homo, with significantly smaller jaws, larger brains and a modern human body size. After a point some two million years ago, Homo erectus was able to strike out for lands far beyond Africa.

"The mutation very possibly initiated an evolutionary cascade," said Dr. Nancy Minugh-Purvis, a Penn paleoanthropologist involved in the project.

Dr. Stedman's group said the findings "raise the intriguing possibility that the decrement in masticatory muscle size removed an evolutionary constraint on encephalization." In short, it may have been the decline of the strong, stoutly buttressed jaw muscles that allowed the skull to develop a new shape and structure, giving the brain room to grow.

I like the phrase evolutionary cascade.

49 retired admirals and generals sign open letter to Bush asking to delay implementing Missle Defense Program in favor of Domestic Preparedness

Reuters is reporting that 49 retired US admirals and generals have written an open letter to the Bush administration suggesting that the US should spend its finite defense budget on homeland security rather than a ballistic missle defense shield.

I've long thought that the ballistic missle shield was a boondoggle. Far too much money for too little protection. Looks like I am in good company on this one. The generals and admirals think we should harden our ports and nuclear facilities rather than work on a missle defense shield.

I think this is going to be one hell of an election year! Every other day some new group of concerned citizens or world leaders come forward to diss Dubya. And the election season has hardly begun...

I think this open letter is a stunning indictment of the Bush administration, especially coming on the heels of Richard Clarke's revelations. It makes me think these 49 admirals and generals have totally lost faith in this administration.

I applaud them for having the courage of their convictions and making this letter public.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

The metaphysics of Indian-hating

Richard Drinnon has written a book called Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating & Empire Building. It's impossible to do an entire book justice in a few lines, but let me give you a broad outline. Drinnon claims that Manifest Destiny didn't stop at the California coast line. Drinnon argues that American foreign policy was intially designed in the 1700's when dealing with eastern First Nations (or Indians) and culminated in 1880's in dealing with Mexico and the western First Nations. Simply put, the paradigm has been to kill people, make treaties you never intend to obey, and take people's stuff while enslaving them and committing genocide. And the US government doesn't seem the least bit interested in reforming this paradigm of foreign policy. The US government likes to call this process making the world safe for democracy. After the First Nations were conquered the US moved on to Japan, the Philippines, and the Sandwich Islands, as well as Korea and Vietnam.

I don't claim that Drinnon is 100% correct, but I think it is a provocative thesis.

Here's a link to Amazon's page on Drinnon's book.

One voice, one vote

I have been referring to this blog as my soapbox. This is the place where I come to voice my thoughts and ask my questions. Some are rhetorical, some truly inquisitive.

In an earlier post, I opined that if Bush gets elected, the draft is coming back. I was talking to my friend Keith at the law school the other day and Keith persuaded me that even if Kerry gets elected the draft might come back.

I count myself lucky that I have a vote and am a fully enfranchised citizen.

At 31, I doubt I will be drafted without prior military service unless things get really nasty. But maybe.

I love the US and if I were drafted I would serve my country. But probably not from the frontlines. People who know how to type are too valuable to issue rifles. And if you can practice law and know HTML...other people would probably be put in charge of my security during my time of service to the military. I doubt all my time spent playing the PS2 is going to earn me a sniper's rifle.

Zwichenzug has an interesting post about how the world wants to have a voice in the US elections. I can respect someone's desire to participate in an election even if they are not enfranchised. Let me assure you that I will vote in the next election, as many times as they'll let me.

I'm curious what my readers think about world government? A total pipe dream? Something to fear? Something to embrace?

I've always thought that a world government might be able to focus on space exploration more seriously than all the independent nations of Earth working in parallel. But if world government decided space exploration was a waste of time...there wouldn't be much room for dissent and that would be the end of space exploration for at least that term of government.

Sovereignty is something that is really hard to get back after you've given it away. Ask any of the First Nations of North America. The cynic in me thinks that US citizens would never vote to relinquish their sovereignty. Not without a civil war or the discovery of extraterrestrial life first.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

World population growth rate slowing...

AIDS is having a dramatic impact on the world population. Better reproduction information has also helped reduce the rate of growth. According to this BBC article, the average life expectancy in some parts of Africa will drop to 30 years of age. I'm simply stunned by that statistic. Lots of statistics are available at the Census.

Kansas town giving away land...

Marquette, Kansas is giving away parcels of land to people who agree to build a house in Marquette and live there for a year.

The Public Policy Corner

Drunk Driving and Drowsiness
Traffic fatalities are a leading cause of death and injury in the United States. As a society, we have made great strides in reducing drunk driving. Here's an article that discusses giving repeat DUI drivers distinctive license plates.

Drunk driving has not been eliminated, but it has been reduced. Driver's education should also focus on driver drowsiness issues. AAA's drowsiness tips can be found here.

Sport Utility Vehicles
I think all SUV's and minivans ought to come equipped with rollbars as well. That would reduce rollover deaths.

I would ban the massive battering-ram style bumper-guards on SUVs in cities. They just cause more intrusion into the passenger cabins of cars during accidents. These bumper-guards are only popular because they give an SUV that urban assault vehicle look.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Yet another reason not to practice criminal law...

You could end up representing this moron who punched his lawyer in the face during his trial for murdering a child.

Update: Co-counsel was held in contempt for not agreeing to take over this case. She was released the next day and the attorney who was punched was also allowed to withdraw. The trial will continue. It's not clear if the scumbag will get another attorney.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad there are criminal defense attorneys in the world. But I'm also glad I'm not one of them anymore.

I once represented a mentally ill woman who vigorously fought with three cops during her arrest. She was 19 years old and outweighed me by 30 pounds of muscle. I thought she was going to attack me at several points during our first conversation at the jail.

I managed to get her out of jail....and she disappeared like water down a drain.

What gives me Hope....

Somedays I get pretty swept up in all of the fighting and political gibbering on this planet.

But there are two things that give me hope for the human race: genetic engineering and space exploration. I hope through recombinant DNA technology, people will soon be able to have genetically-engineered chilldren who are smarter, faster, and healthier than people today. I'd love to see these two sciences converge as we eventually customize humans for space flight and life on other planets.

I also hope that space exploration will give humans a common sense of purpose, a new paradigm, if you will. Rather than squabbling and fighting over the resources of this planet, we will learn to cooperate and work together to explore the cosmos.

I am a science fiction junkie and I really hope NASA can cooperate with other space agencies and start bases on the moon and Mars...and then the rest of the planets in the solar system. I'd like to see us make use of the resources of the entire solar system, not just the Earth. And hopefully by removing the population pressure on the Earth, we can treasure the Earth as the birthplace of humanity, a space-faring race.

Here's a link to NASA's page on Bush's space initiative. I don't believe Bush has any real commitment to space exploration, though. It was just a good photo op because of the Mars Rovers. Here's a link to information on the Mars Rovers.

This article from Space Review discusses how the $1 trillion price tag for a mission to Mars was created by the media. I read about this over at Slashdot.

I think China would be an excellent partner in space exploration. They have a real interest in exporting population and they are willing to take risks in crewed space flight that America would never tolerate.

Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle are two science fiction authors I like. They have cooperated to create the Jupiter series.

Sheffield is married to Nancy Kress, author of Beggars in Spain. Beggars in Spain begins with the premise that geneticists figure out how to remove people's need to sleep. It is an interesting sociological thought-experiment.

Another author who excels at at sociological thought-experiment through science fiction is Ursula K. Leguin. I've read several of her Hainish cycle books.

Dubya's amazing ability to Alienate his Advisors

Paul O'Neill's book certainly didn't portray Dubya in a positive light. And O'Neill's dismal view appears to be reinforced by Richard Clarke's new book. Mr. Clarke was an anti-terrorism adviser to Reagan, the first president Bush, Clinton, and Dubya.

Mr. Clarke claims this administration was fixated on Iraq from the beginning, exactly the same claim made by O'Neill. And Mr. Clarke's professional assessment is that Dubya has done a terrible job in fighting the war on terror.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Aware of the Wicked

As the title of this blog suggests, I have a healthy concern for my own safety. Other people might describe me as a little paranoid. It's all a matter of perspective, really. I like to think that I am aware of the wicked and that I am taking appropriate precautions.

Jasonblog reported on the sodium cynamide bomb uncovered by the FBI near Tyler, Texas a while ago. I liked Jason's post, and I also liked this Guardian article written by Paul Harris.

Selected Quote
'The radical right is going to seek ever more deadly and extreme forms of weapons,' said Daniel Levitas, author of The Terrorist Next Door. Levitas estimates that far-right groups have about 25,000 members, with 10 times as many sympathisers. The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), which monitors hate groups, has identified 708 of them. Since Oklahoma City, more than 30 plots by US terrorists have been uncovered, including attacks on oil refineries, politicians and army bases.

There are a lot of scary people in the world. Eric Rudolph was a racist, Christian terrorist. Why is it that the US media always talks about jihad being holy war, when it only means struggle? And why is it that the media never refers to Rudolph as a Christian terrorist, when he so obviously is?

Our society should be concerned about militant Christianity and militant Islam. I think we've a lot of militant Christians in this country. According to the Harris article:

Investigators are desperate to work out what Krar has been doing for the two years he lived in Tyler. Plans found on him when he was arrested provided a clue. They included a code for setting up meetings in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. They also include coded warnings to avoid police surveillance.

The Oklahoma City bombing of course comes to mind. And then there was Waco and the Branch Davidians. David Koresh always makes me think of Charles Manson, only better armed and organized. And there are hundreds of these militas in the US? That is truly scary.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Men Can Stop Rape

When I lived in Washington, DC I volunteered with a great organization called Men Can Stop Rape.  Men Can Stop Rape's acronym MCSR is pronounced like mixer.

Men Can Stop Rape does national outreach at universities on sexual assault awareness. They stress how men can work together to stop rape. MCSR also does education at high schools in the greater DC area.

Their focus is on fostering healthy attitudes towards sexuality among men. Their name says it all, men can stop rape. It does not matter what women in our society do, rape will never end unless men as a group can be convinced to stop committing rape. Of course, women tend to be very interested in this work, far more than the men. That's the problem.

I think rape is a serious problem in many sectors of our society. The rape scandal at the Air Force Academy recently is but one example of many military rape scandals. Anyone remember Tailhook?

Rape is also a significant problem on college campuses in this country.

The personal is political
My experience practicing law in Lawrence, Kansas left me with the distinct impression that rape was very rarely prosecuted in my community. Far too often, rapists got away with their crimes. And I know Kansas isn't the only place with problems prosecuting rape. I would like to improve this aspect of our society and the judicial system.

I try to encourage healthy attitudes towards women among the men in my life and I've spoken to groups several times on the importance of changing men's attitudes and stopping rape. Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, I thought I'd make my readers aware of Men Can Stop Rape's excellent poster series.

Posters and other resources
This is my favorite MCSR poster. This one is my wife's favorite poster. Aren't these posters great? You can order them here.

If you are interested in educating men in your community about the prevalence of sexual assault and the attitudes in our society that foster sexual assault, visit Men Can Stop Rape. They are great people who do fantastic work.

I participated in MCSR's Men of Strength campaign back in February 2001. I thought it was very well-designed and effective at reaching young men.

I'm not saying rape is only America's problem. Rape and trafficking in human beings is a problem around the world. But if we want a better society for ourselves and the women in our lives, we must try to change attitudes that encourage violence against women.

We should also try to change attitudes that encourage violence against men...but that's a topic for another post....

Norway: A Winter Wonderland?

According to Aftenposten, the United Nations' Development Programme (UNDP) has declared that Norway has the highest standard of living in the world for the third year in a row. Norway boasts almost total literacy and long life expectancies. Their socialist economy has also allowed them to build an impressive governmental infrastructure.

Word of the Day: Justifiction

My friend Cliff posted this in the comments over at Jasonblog. I liked it so much, I'm reproducing it here.

I've coined a new word:

justifiction n.
1) a Bullshit justification

example. Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and poses an imminent threat

Chairs: A concept that should be revisited?

One of my co-workers told me today that she thinks she's allergic to sitting in chairs. She finds them really uncomfortable and prefers reclining chairs or a lounger.

Anyone who has tried to sit through a 3 hour movie can testify to how uncomfortable chairs can be.

Are chairs designed to be uncomfortable to keep students and workers awake?

I know interior design people and architects have strong views on furniture. Anyone have any thoughts on this issue?

Report Card for the US in Iraq

The Christian Science Monitor has an article discussing how the US has fared in "reconstructing" Iraq.

Selected quote:
If the US were issued a report card on its efforts in Iraq, it would get high marks in basic reconstruction. But in other critical subjects - security, religious and ethnic stability, employment, and building local democratic institutions - it would take home failing grades.

The article also has some interesting color charts illustrating international and Iraqi opinion polls.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Done, done, done.

I just finished with all of my classes for Winter quarter. Whew! Three more core classes out of the way. Next quarter I'm taking Subject Cataloging from Prof. Furner, and a class titled Diversity, Ethics, and Change from Prof. Chu as well as Historical Methodology in Information Studies with a professor I call M-n-M.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Neal's Safety Tip of the Week

I live in earthquake country now. Because of this, I always keep some stored water on hand.

You never know when you might have to go without water for a day or two. Water is far more important than food. Try to store 2 gallons per day for each person in your household. I try to keep at least 3 days worth of water on hand in case of an earthquake.

Probably the easiest way to do this is to get a 5 gallon bottle of water, the type used in free-standing water machines. The manufactures claim water stored this way is good almost indefinitely.

If you store your own water, get a good quality container. Milk jugs and similiar disposable water jugs will leak in about six months. If this is intended for long term storage, you should add 6-8 drops of bleach per gallon to the water to prevent algae.

You can learn more at and at the LA Fire Department's Earthquake preparedness page.

Just click your heels three times and you'll be back in Kansas...

If only it were that easy, I'd visit more often. The Wizard of Oz came up in conversation for me today. I went on a tour of the special collections and rare book section of the UCLA biomedical library today. It was very interesting.

One of the other people who went was the IS Department's visiting scholar. Dr. Yang is from the People's Republic of China. He was very nice. We chatted for a bit. When I told him that I was from Kansas, he mentioned Frank Baum. He had read the Wizard of Oz while growing up in China. I was quietly impressed. Both with the professor and the spread of Frank Baum's work.

I really wish I were more fluent in another language. I've studied German and Italian, but it's so rusty. And it was never that good in the first place.

Exciting career paths in cataloging....
I'm thinking of becoming a cataloger. There are worse things you can do with your time than improve the bibliographic control in the world. Or at least my little corner of the world.

I like maps and map cataloging could be quite challenging and useful knowledge to have. I think I'm going to become a geography geek next.

Is the War on Terror really a war or just a Republican Campaign Strategy?

The Christian Science Monitor tackles the question of whether the "war" on terror is properly a war. The Europeans view terrorism as a law enforcement issue, not a matter for the military. John Kerry appears to share this view.

The article also provides some analysis on the possible fallout to US-European relations of Madrid's decision to withdraw from the occupation of Iraq.

Of course, international reaction will be determined in large part by how that overgrown frat-boy in the White House deals with the situation. I anticipate more jingoistic drum-beating from this administration.

Selected Quote:

Spain may indeed pull its troops out of the coalition in Iraq, but Mr. Sanderson says the US should not assume that means Spain is "turning tail" on the fight against terror. "Spain is not leaving the war on terror. They are leaving a war of choice in Iraq," he says.

In response, the US should work to redirect Spain's efforts - to join other Europeans in stabilizing Afghanistan, for example, where there is virtually no controversy about US intentions, says Sanderson.

He also notes that the US is worried other countries will join Spain in pulling out of Iraq - which is likely to figure in Bush's speech Friday to the ambassadors of countries that the US deems partners in the terror war.

Inhalant Abuse on the Rise among American Teens has an article talking about inhalant use among teenagers. My friend, Cliff, summed up inhalant use well when he said: "Your ticket to instant brain damage."

The article uses a statistic that inhalant users are three times more likely than other teens to use illegal drugs. So, now we know. Silver spray paint is the real gateway drug.

You know what this means, of course.

War on Silver Spray Paint!

Librarians urge Supreme Court to Reject the Government's Claim That it May Conduct the Public's Business in Secret

I like the motto of ALA's Government Documents Roundtable: Documents to the People!

The following is an email I received from the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) today. Since the topic should be of interest to anyone who is in favor of transparency in government.

The U. S. Supreme Court should “reject the government’s claim that it may conduct the public’s business in secret” according to a “friends of the court” (amici curiae) brief submitted by four leading library associations, a national archival association, and five public interest organizations in support of the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, Inc. in the case of Richard B. Cheney, Vice President of the United States, et. al., v. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The case concerns the request by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch for disclosure of whom, outside of the government, participated in the vice president’s National Energy Policy Development Group. Vice President Cheney has refused to disclose any information about the group.

In 2002, the federal district court granted the motions of the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch to proceed with discovery about the makeup of the task force. The government appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which in July 2003 refused to overturn the lower court's order. The government then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case, which it agreed to do in December 2003.

The amici joining in this brief share the conviction that broad access to government records protects values essential to representative democracy and promotes public participation in public policy. They hold that “public participation in government can be meaningful only if the people know what officials are doing, and how they are doing it. Equally, without that information the people can’t hold public officials accountable for their actions.”

The amici are the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Center for American Progress, Common Cause, the National Security Archive, People for the American Way Foundation, the Society of American Archivists, and the Special Libraries Association.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Gay Marriage and Miscegenation

The New York Times (reg'n req'd) has an article drawing parallels between the proposed consitutional amendment banning gay marriage spearheaded by our fearless leader, Dubya, and laws banning interracial marriage.

Back in 1967 the US Supreme Court struck down Loving v. Virginia. Until 1967, interracial couples were not allowed to marry in the majority of states.

Ever since the Defense of Marriage Act was passed by Congress, this has been a non-issue. The GOP isn't worried about the institution of marriage, they are just trying to whip up prejudice and hysteria in an election year. Shame on them.

Survey: What is your favorite food?

If fat and calories were not an issue, and the only consideration was taste, what food would you eat more of? Is this your favorite food? Perhaps fat isn't an issue for you because you love soy and fish so much...

Personally, I love lasagna with a red sauce, cheese and ground beef, sometimes called lasagna di bolognese. There are many varieties of lasagna, and I enjoy most of them. lists several lasagna recipes. I've never had the lasagna col pesto, but that sounds good. I like pesto quite a bit as well. I've had good vegetarian lasagna and even good chicken lasagna. But for me, lasagna smothered in cheese with ground beef and a rich tomato sauce is what I crave.

Let me know what food you reach for when you want to indulge in the comments section.

Monday, March 15, 2004

The Fate of Privacy: Novel Intelligence from Massive Data picks up where Total Information Awareness left off...except with fewer privacy safeguards

The San Diego Union-Tribune has an article about federal data-mining programs after the death of Total Information Awareness (TIA).

Selected Quote:
Late last year, Congress closed Poindexter's office in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in response to the uproar over its impact on privacy.

But Congress allowed some Poindexter projects, including some data-mining research, to be transferred to intelligence agencies. Congress also left intact similar data-mining research begun in the fall of 2002 by the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), a little-known office that works on behalf of U.S. intelligence.

The research sponsored by ARDA, called Novel Intelligence from Massive Data, is so similar to some work done for Poindexter that [Teresa Lunt of the Palo Alto Research Center] offered to adapt her privacy protection software to it. ARDA and other agencies were not interested because Congress had killed the original projects.

Last fall's Intelligence Authorization Act approved continued research on the type of powerful data-mining Poindexter envisioned but said "the policies and procedures necessary to safeguard individual liberties and privacy should occur concurrently with the development of these analytic tools, not as an afterthought."

ARDA said it obeys all privacy laws and has not given its researchers any government or private data. Still, it declined to say whether it is sponsoring any research on privacy protection.

Neal's Safety Tip of the Week
Don't smoke while pumping gas. If someone else at the gas station is smoking while pumping gas, leave as quickly as possible. Then, to make the world a safer place, follow the smoker home and kill him or her. Anyone stupid enough to smoke while pumping gas is genetic garbage.

Demographics and the Beauty of Mountains

I recently read an article called Something in the Way We Move in American Demographics by Glenn Thrush from November of 1999.

While the article is a little dated, I think its premise is still very interesting. The premise, simply stated, is that Americans are moving out of the city to "pretty places" in the countryside.

Selected Quote:
In the 1990s, aesthetics has translated into growth. David McGranahan, an economist with the Economic Research Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has found that there is a very strong correlation between rural-county population and job growth and how each county ranks in terms of its physical attractiveness - or to use the more technical term, its "natural amenities."

Counties with mild climates and interesting terrain features like mountain, rivers, and lakes tend to be attractive to people. Other important factors include the "small town feeling" and proximity to major metropolitan areas.

The areas that have the least amount of growth are flat areas. Places like my childhood home in Kansas and much of the rest of the Midwest. These areas are experiencing a "brain drain". Kids with the ability to go to school elsewhere do just that. And they rarely return. Or they just hop on a bus and move to Los Angeles.

I live in Los Angeles county, and it has a high population density. There are about 33 million people in California, and 9.9 million of them live in Los Angeles county. The city of Los Angeles has 3-4 million people and a population density of about 8,000 people per square mile.

Los Angeles also has the ocean nearby as well as the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains. There are towns in LA with a "small town" feel that I've visited like Pasadena and Whittier, even though they are only minutes from downtown LA. LA should be a desert, but they spread their hijacked water around lavishly and LA is a very green place with tropical plants competing with palm trees and jade plants.

I'm thinking about moving back to the Midwest after finishing up at UCLA. I don't mind the flatlands. And I don't like the high population density (and high car density) in LA. I think Tulsa is a nice place that has lots of opportunities for my wife and I. Tulsa also has a lot of lakes nearby, so it has some "natural amenities". And the climate is mild compared to the upper Midwest.

So while I may not be a great example of the trend identified in the article, I think the idea is still persuasive and explanatory. David McGranahan (the economist quoted above) developed a list of criteria or factors that make an area attractive to people (including rivers, mountains, lakes, and oceans). The most attractive county in the country, using his scale, was Humboldt county in northern California. The least attractive place to live in the country is Red Lake, Minnesota with its frigid winters, flat geography, and its lack of any large body of water.

Second selected quote:
"The old patterns of boom and bust in population growth is pretty much ending in the non-metro West," says John Cromartie, an ERS researcher who tracks national migration patterns.

And, he adds, "It's going to continue to grow steadily because it's such a pleasant place to live."

As for the strapped agricultural Midwest, suffice it to say that America's prairie breadbasket will continue to go stale.

"I have nothing against Minnesota or Iowa or Indiana - and I went to school in Wisconsin," McGranahan says, "but agriculture does well in flat, uninteresting country.

Interesting-looking country makes for crummy farms, but [it's] where people want to go to live."

Source: Something in the Way We Move, American Demographics / Glenn Thrush. November, 1999 [electronic resource, no page numbers, c2003 Gale Group, SN 0163-4089].

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Is the Draft Coming Back?

Spammy T sent me a large number of links about the return of the US draft today. I've already stated in an earlier post my belief that if Bush is re-elected, the draft will be reinstated.

This Buzzflash article does a good job of listing the reasons Bush might reinstate the draft. The author also points out how the government has made it more difficult to evade than draft than in the past.

There are strong indications that the draft is coming back. Two bills are already pending in Congress to reinstate the draft and the Pentagon is staffing the Selective Service Boards.

My previous post was called the Hollow Army, here is a recap:

The Atlantic Monthly has an editorial discussing how the US Armed Forces have become desperately overcommitted.

Selected quote:
Logically speaking, it's easy to see a solution to the military's problems.

But politically, it's hard, because the solution necessarily involves one or more of the following:

The United States can cut back on its promises and commitments.

Or it can spend significantly more money to attract enough soldiers to a volunteer force.

Or it can find ways other than voluntary enlistment to bring them in.

Some advantages and disadvantages of each approach are obvious; others will emerge only with debate.

But the next President will have to take some or all of these steps.

Asian Ladybugs invade Midwest

In more mundane news, yellow ladybugs from China have invaded the United States. These ladybugs don't transmit disease, but they do bite, according to the Omaha World Herald.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Occupational Safety and Mexican Laborers in America

My friend Mun-Mun mentioned to me that she hadn't seen much safety in the fireside chat.

Actually, I think safety is an illusion. You can manage risk and you can mitigate it.

But you can never eliminate it. Some people find the illusion of safety comforting.

Who am I to take their illusions away from them? We must all find the level of risk/reward that we feel is sustainable. Most people don't want safety advice, so I don't usually bother to give it.

I do spend a lot of time thinking about things that never come to pass. But life is full of new and interesting events. If something unexpected happens, I just try to deal with it in a calm, methodical manner. I figure staying calm is the best place to start in an any situation.

I was reading about occupational safety today in the Guardian. According to this article, Mexican workers are much more likely to die in the workplace than workers born in the US.

Selected Quote
Mexican death rates are rising even as the U.S. workplace grows safer overall. In the mid-1990s, Mexicans were about 30 percent more likely to die than native-born workers; now they are about 80 percent more likely.

Deaths among Mexicans in the United States increased faster than their population. As the number of Mexican workers grew by about half, from 4 million to 6 million, the number of deaths rose by about two-thirds, from 241 to 387. Deaths peaked at 420 in 2001.

Chuck Pahalniuk's Twisted Perspective

Chuck Pahlaniuk is the author of Fight Club.

The Guardian has an interview with Chuck Pahalniuk. Pahalniuk recently published a book called Fugitives And Refugees: A Walk Through Portland. He has another book of short stories coming out soon.

One of the short stories is called Guts. The Guardian also has an excerpt from Guts available. It's pretty short, but not for the squeamish.

Medal of Honor: Frontline

I recently turned 31. My birthday present to myself was a video game called Medal of Honor: Frontline (official site).

I pretty much finished two of my three classes this week, so Friday I celebrated by spending a few hours playing Medal of Honor.

What could be more good, wholesome fun than shooting Nazi's in the head and liberating Europe?

Friday, March 12, 2004

National "I'm Embarrassed by My President" Day

Democracy Means You is sponsoring National "I'm Embarrassed by My President" Day.

This April 1st, strap on a brown armband or ribbon to commemorate the horrible joke played on the United States by the Supreme Court in 2000.

Thanks to Sarah for the link.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

US Special Forces deployed to Algeria

I'd never even heard of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, but our government is now hunting them down in the Sahara desert, according to this piece in the Boston Globe.

Selected Quote:
"The US government has an ongoing program known as the Pan-Sahel Initiative which provides training and support to Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania to help them control their borders, interdict smuggling, and deny use of their national territories to terrorists and other international criminals," a Defense Department official said.

The flow of militants from Algeria, however, remains a rising priority for counterterrorism officials. "Conflict there has bred an extremely dangerous foe," said Kohlmann. "Dating back to 1998, there is a continuous trail of these operatives in various terrorist plots around the world."

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Bush expands Patriot Act Powers

The Bush Administration is quietly implementing the Patriot Act II through individual pieces of legislation rather than through a unified bill, according to Wired magazine.

While it is startling that this new law allows the FBI to obtain financial records upon demand without a subpoena or any showing of cause, what I think is more disturbing is the way this administration refuses to discuss these important issues publicly.

Here's another article on the topic from the San Antonio Current which points out the last time Bush signed a bill on a Saturday was more than a year ago.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

The State of Women's Suffrage in Saudi Arabia

Saudi women may be allowed to actually vote in upcoming municipal elections.

They still aren't allowed to drive, though.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Almost two tons of material is required to make a single computer

Spammy T sent me this tidbit about how resource intensive the creation of computer products are.

A car or a computer is a compelling choice.

Human Rights Watch: US Abusing Afghanis

Human Rights Watch is concerned about the US treatment of Afghanis. The overwhelming use of force against civilians and maltreatment of prisoners are discussed.

The Atlantic several months ago had an article by Mark Bowden entitled The Dark Art of Interrogation. Basically, Bowden distinguishes between coercion and outright torture.

This seems like a very fine line to me, but I'm not going to say it isn't a worthwhile distinction. The protocols of espionage and counter-intelligence are far outside of my bailiwick.

Mark Bowden, by the way, is also the author of Black Hawk Down.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Police Practice Update: Taser Use on the Rise

The New York Times (reg'n req'd) has a piece about how taser use is increasing among major police departments around the country.

Adoption of Taser International's M26 and X26 tasers last year was a factor in fewer police shootings last year. For several departments, police shootings were at a 14 year low last year.

This new taser is much more powerful and has a microchip that records every time the trigger is pulled (and a jolt is administered to the arrestee).

So for those of you who are into crime, civil disobedience or even armed insurrection, this is what you are up against: a new and improved cattle prod.

They're also being tested by the US Army in Iraq.

The Seattle PD's report on one-year's use of the taser may be of interest.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Powered Exoskeletons

I think I figured out why the military cannot afford to give our soldiers in Iraq modern bulletproof vests. The reason is that DARPA spends so much money on basic research.

I was browsing over at Fark when I saw this news item about powered exoskeletons being created at Berkeley.

Exoskeletons rock. I've wanted one ever since I read Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

Here's another item about DARPA funding fusion research. DARPA is funding basic research. Who else is funding this type of basic research? OK, the National Science Foundation does quite a bit of that. But not Big Energy. Cheap fusion is the last thing Big Energy wants to see.

Since we're on the topic of panaceas for civilization's ills, here's an article about how industrial hemp works as an all-natural sewage treatment plant. Besides hemps other 12,000 beneficial uses.

VW Jetta best-selling car in China last year

I was reading the BNA International Trade Reporter (in print) from February 12, 2004 and they have some interesting facts about China's burgeoning car market. China's auto product rose 80% last year to 2 million cars. Chinese car sales rose 90% last year. China imported $5 billion worth of cars last year, as well. China is the world's fourth largest auto market currently.

Selected Quote:
The glut of vehicles has also created problems typical to well-developed economies, like air pollution and gridlock on roadways.

The traffic situation in cities like Beijing, which still has underdeveloped subways and roads given its population, are becoming as bad as a metropolis like Bangkok at times.

And China's roads are becoming notoriously fatal.

In the first nine months of [2003], there were more than a half million traffic accidents claiming some 75,700 lives, the State Administration of Production reported.

Body Armor for the Troops becomes Election-Year Issue

The Guardian has an article about the lack of modern body armor for our troops and the lack of armor plating for Hummers in Iraq.

Kerry accuses Bush of failing the troops. I'm not sure that it is totally fair to lay this at Bush's feet. The real problem is the culture at the Pentagon. The Pentagon gets $400 billion per year, but still refuses to issue modern body armor to soldiers until the old body armor wears out. This policy ignores the fact that recent technological advances have made modern body armor much more protective and lighter than the older generations of body armor.

I am very interested in firearms and I've read quite a bit recently on the topic of modern body armor.

Regardless of who is to blame, I hope this old body armor situation is remedied soon. I think Kerry is already doing a service to the troops by making modern body armor an election-year issue.

The bigger issue is how to reform the Pentagon. But that is a Pandora's box that no candidate wants to open. And reforming the Pentagon doesn't make a good sound bite. And sound bites are all the public seems capable of digesting.

Friday, March 05, 2004

The Hollow Army and the Politics of Oil

The Atlantic Monthly has an editorial discussing how the US Armed Forces have become desperately overcommitted.

Selected quote:
Logically speaking, it's easy to see a solution to the military's problems.

But politically, it's hard, because the solution necessarily involves one or more of the following:

The United States can cut back on its promises and commitments.

Or it can spend significantly more money to attract enough soldiers to a volunteer force.

Or it can find ways other than voluntary enlistment to bring them in.

Some advantages and disadvantages of each approach are obvious; others will emerge only with debate.

But the next President will have to take some or all of these steps.

If Bush gets re-elected, I think we'll see the draft make a comeback.

In a similar vein, the Manchester Guardian has an article on the outsourcing of the US military's duties in Iraq. A security contractor, Blackwater USA (official site) is one of the corporations picking up these duties. The article also says that Blackwater has been doing a lot of recruiting of Chilean military personnel to staff their operations in Iraq.

Turning to local news, gas prices are all the rage here in LA. The average cost of gas in the Long Beach to Los Angeles area was $2.20 per gallon over the last week.

There was a lot of discussion prior to the invasion of Iraq about how this show of force would help the US to secure future supplies of oil. It certainly hasn't paid off on the short term. We'll have to wait and see on the long term outlook.

The political instability in Venezuela today is also leading to panic buying of oil, which should serve to drive up prices in the short run.

The Department of Energy has posted an interesting piece on the energy needs and energy policy of China. China is already the world's largest consumer of coal and the second largest consumer of oil. Last year China's oil use grew by 30%. The James Baker Institute in a paper from 1999 argues that China's lack of domestic refining capacity will lead them to have the same interests as the US and Japan in ensuring the free flow of Middle Eastern oil.

It appears clear that in the next decade China will become the world's largest energy consumer and the world's largest polluter.

So, I still wonder when gas in LA is going to get cheaper...

Thursday, March 04, 2004

The Bush Administration's War on Civil Rights

CNN has an article on Jose Padilla, aka the dirty bomber. Padilla is being detained without any charges being filed against him. After 22 months in detention, he was allowed to see two attorneys for the first time yesterday.

The meeting between Padilla and his counsel was videotaped with sound by the government and the attorneys' notes were photocopied. Now, as an attorney, I find this absolutely repugnant.

But the 2nd Circuit had to get involved before the Administration would even let Padilla speak to these attorneys.

Selected Quote:
Last December, the 2nd Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the president, even as commander-in-chief, has no legal authority to indefinitely detain an American citizen without charges, if that prisoner was not captured on a battlefield.

Lincoln did suspend the writ of habeus corpus during the civil war. Bush has just ignored habeus corpus and would continue to do so for the duration of a "war" that will never end.

If Bush can lock up American citizens with no evidence and with no judicial review...then the Constitution is a dead letter and the Republic has come to an end. I don't think I can express my opinion on this too strongly.

The Supreme Court has agreed to review this case. I am eager to hear what they have to say on the matter.

Just to make sure we're all on the same page, habeus corpus is a constitutional protection against illegal imprisonment. See Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391 (1963). Also Findlaw has a page of war on terrorism pleadings and articles here.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Religious Reminder of the Week

It's good to keep your sense of perspective about gay marriage. Therefore, I would suggest you visit God Hates Shrimp.

France hit up for Protection Money

ABC has an article about how a terrorist group calling itself AZF is threatening a bombing campaign against France unless they pay $5 million.

AZF has already planted one bomb on the French underground. So there's reason to take them at their word. I wonder if economic terrorism will become a growth industry in the near future.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Winning over the Hearts and Minds of Radical Islamists

The Guardian has an article about a program developed by a Yemeni judge that engages radical Islamists in theological dialogue to convince them to renounce violence.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Data Mining Information Request made to Homeland Security by member of Congress

The Washington Times has an article on data mining, or "data correlation", as the US Government is now calling it.

The article also discusses the state's initiative which is called MATRIX and has avoiding much public scrutiny thus far.

Selected Quote:

The police database Matrix, short for Multi-State Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, has received $12 million in funding from the Justice Department and Homeland Security Department. The ACLU calls it a "radical new trend toward mass surveillance of the American people."

Matrix can root through 20 billion records on U.S. citizens and connect the records with information from local, state and federal law enforcement to identify terrorists and criminals.

Documents obtained by the ACLU from Matrix describe it as a "data-mining system," but a Matrix spokesman called it a "query-response system."

Video Game News

In more frivolous news, Rockstar Games has set a release date for the next Grand Theft Auto game: GTA San Andreas. If the say October 2004, that means April 2005?