Friday, April 30, 2004

Wal-Mart begins RFID rollout today

Saw this over at Slashdot.

11 questions for Dubya

Mark Morford says it all. And quite well.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Ok, now I'm pissed...

The GAO is reporting in Report GAO 04-623 that the country's nuclear reactors have still not been adequately secured and will not be by 2006. (Link goes to highlights in pdf)

(Link to full document in pdf)

Can't this administration get anything accomplished?

Ok, I realize that the terrorism threat is truly broad and it's hard to know where to start protecting our infrastructure...

Allow me to make a humble suggestion. Let us begin by securing the nation's nuclear reactors. There aren't that many of them really and a terrorist incident at any one would be very bad for... 10,000 years.

MS-NBC has some coverage of the report here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Crime Mapping comes of age

This article by Tracey Logan from the BBC discusses how police and fire departments in the UK are sharing geographic data to help track down arsonists. The article also discusses how geoprofiling was used to catch a notorious serial rapist (Antoni Imiela) in England recently.

Word for the day: Analemma

Analemma in context:
The analemma is the figure-eight-shaped image on a globe that gives information about the location of the sun.

Maps are cool.

US rejoins UNESCO after 20 year absence

I just learned in class today that the US agreed to rejoin UNESCO in late 2002. The US dropped out in 1984 under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, that most absent-minded of US Presidents. Here's the official White House press release about our return to UNESCO. You just know the First Lady was behind this. It is nice to have a librarian in the White House, although there are serious trade-offs with the current situation.

Interestingly enough, I saw this quote from the UNESCO constitution while cruising around the web:

Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defenses of peace must be constructed. [Link - pdf]

The lecture today was actually on the World Summit on the Information Society.

Here's a link to the Global Knowledge Partnership.

Librarians try to make the world a better place by organizing information and knowledge. I really like being/becoming a librarian. I'm in good company.

Must See TV

I watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart every night. Anyone else with me on this?

Neal's Biking Rules

1. Own a bike.

2. Bike like mad.

3. Lock your bike up when you're not using it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Word of the Day: insouciant

Insouciant in context:

It was easy to spot the site that bore the brunt of American firepower.

The scattered bricks, the gaping hole in the wall, the observation tower perforated by bullets - fired by the American tank that rolled insouciantly down the avenue of date palms and eucalyptus trees. [Link] (Luke Harding in the Guardian, Wednesday April 28, 2004)

['s American Heritage Dictionary]

Monday, April 26, 2004

No One Else Wants the Job of World Policeman

Max Hastings has written a thought-provoking opinion piece in the Manchester Guardian.

Selected quotes:

Jim Steinburg, former deputy national security adviser to President Clinton, remarked to me a few months ago that for the cautious Clinton, policy-making was an intellectual game. "He'd try something, see how it played, push on if it seemed to work, pull back if it looked rough or the polls went wrong." The contrast with George Bush could not be more striking. He and his associates are driven by a set of primitive visceral convictions, from which they refuse to be budged by persuasion or evidence.

Samuel Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, writes of the Bushies in this month's Foreign Affairs: "Key strategists ... appear to believe that, in a chaotic world, United States power - and especially military power - is the only real force for advancing United States interests, that as long as the United States is feared, it does not matter much if we are admired."

* * * * *

To quote Berger again, the Bush administration believes the US "does not need to seek legitimacy from the approval of others. International institutions and international law are nothing more than a trap set by weaker nations to constrain us."

Yet the most likely outcome of the forthcoming presidential election is still a Bush victory. There is no reason to suppose this president will behave any differently in a second term. Unlike Clinton, the cynic and adulterer, Bush is a true believer. We are learning the hard way that, in power, true believers can be far more frightening and dangerous than cynics.

* * * * *

Yet I suggested two years ago that it is wrong to perceive Iraq as the real focus of this crisis, even if it is the proximate cause. What we really need to debate is the issue of how the world manages the United States, the world's only superpower. The matter of Iraq will some day be resolved, however unsatisfactorily. It will fade from the headlines. But the matter of America will not go away. Somehow, the world, in general, and the British, in particular, have to consider anew our relationship with the power of the US, granted the less-than-godlike nature of most of the presidents elected to exercise it.

* * * * *

Britain's defence policy today rests on the avowed presumption that we shall never have to engage in conflict without the Americans. This may represent reality, but it is also a huge European abdication of responsibility. If we are really fed up with Bush, if we recognise that no future US president is likely be entirely to our taste, we should surely get on with creating credible European armed forces. As it is, no European nation - with the possible exception of France - shows the smallest interest in spending money or displaying spine for this purpose. [Link] (emphasis mine)

Do you ever feel like you're trapped in a Phillip K. Dick novel? Am I the only one? I feel like a character in Clans of the Alphane Moon surrounded by councils of paranoids, schizophrenics, meglomaniacs, religious fanatics, sociopaths and fools.

Who was it that said that a sane man in an insane world is insane?

Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Thought Police are Coming

The Guardian has an article on Robin McKie on what is being called brain fingerprinting. This sounds like science fiction to me.

Selected quote:

Unlike discredited lie-detecting techniques, which measure changes in breathing, heart rate and other variables to determine if suspects are trying to deceive their interrogators, brain fingerprinting is designed to discover if specific information is stored in a person's brain. The technique exploits the fact that the brain emits an electrical signal known as a P300 exactly 300 milliseconds after it is confronted with a stimulus that has special significance to that individual - for example, a victim's face.

'The fundamental difference between the perpetrator of a crime and an innocent person is that the former has the details of it stored in his brain,' added Farwell. 'The innocent suspect does not.'

Thus a robber will inadvertently emit a P300 signal - which can be picked up using electrodes fitted to his skull - when shown an image of his victim or the gun he used to rob him. An innocent person who has never met the victim or used a gun will not emit such signal.

What a fascinating technology. It doesn't sound like a mature technique yet, but it certainly has a lot of promise. Of course, this means that Orwell's thought police will soon be a reality.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

UN Peacekeeper from Jordan kills 3 American Peacekeepers

On April 17th, 3 US soldiers who were assigned to the UN as peacekeepers in Kosovo were killed by another UN peacekeeper from Jordan. I haven't seen much definitive on it so far, but this story by the AP's Danica Kirka fills in some details. The killer was Sergeant Major Ahmed Mustafa Ibrahim Ali. The Sergeant Major knows how to set an ambush. The death toll would have been much higher if the Sergeant Major's M-16 hadn't jammed on him. (As an aside, I think M-16's are really too finicky to be a good battle rifle.)

Kirka's article raises more questions than it answers. If the killer was a member of Hamas, then it would mark an ominous new direction for Hamas which has previously avoided attacks on the US military.

This news item doesn't appear to be getting much play in the US media.

Is this because 3 dead service members is not a big news story compared to Iraq and Afghanistan? Is it because the Administration has asked the press to not run a story that might embarrass Jordan, a very vulnerable ally?

Friday, April 23, 2004

Honoring our Dead and the suppression of images of service member's coffins

I read that Bush has not attended a single military funeral. I think he ought to acknowledge those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan more publicly.

Russ Kick, editor and publisher of the Memory Hole is trying to publish photos of the coffins of fallen American soldiers on the web. The Bush administration is resisting these images allegedly out of respect for the fallen.

But this story from last year by MSNBC's Martha Brant reports that this administration has allowed some remains to be filmed when it suited their purposes.

Showing remains sometimes seems to depend less on policy than politics. When CIA operative Johnny “Mike” Spann was killed in Afghanistan in December 2001, the DOD had no problem letting the media in to witness the return of his remains to Andrews Air Force Base. But then, his death only stoked support for the war in Afghanistan.

Attempts to change the policy at Dover have failed. Numerous news organizations have complained, but the one lawsuit brought by the ACLU back in 1991 was dismissed. The U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington said that First Amendment rights did not grant the media access to government property even if it would give people a more accurate—and literal—picture of what’s going on. [Link]

The Seattle Times has a story by Hal Bernton and Ray Rivera about the contractor who was fired for releasing the photo of flag-draped coffins that it ran on the front page.

According to this Bernton and Rivera, the ban on photographing coffins is 13 years old, making the ban prior to the Bush administration.

What's the big deal about the images of coffins, you might ask?

In a separate article, George Lawson wrote the following in the Guardian.

George Bush has so far struggled to locate his chosen photo: the turkey he was pictured serving in Iraq proved embarrassingly to be fake, the "Mission Accomplished" banner under which he parked his plane on an aircraft carrier now looks ludicrously premature. President Bush's handlers might have consoled themselves that there was at least no risk of a bimbo picture coming out but, this week, there was much worse. America started to see the photographs Bush was dedicated to suppressing.

* * * * *

But, in a development which must have made Bush wish he lived under the British system of state secrecy, 350 of these censored images of the dead have been released to an internet lobbyist under freedom of information legislation.

This is a defeat for what was surely one of the most brutish manoeuvres of modern politics. The White House has claimed that they were protecting the dignity of the dead and the privacy of their families, but many families were desperate for their lost to have their moment on the evening news.

The truth is that the invisibility of the military fallen was a decision driven purely by spin. A governing belief of US politics is that the Vietnam war failed partly because news coverage made President Johnson resemble some kind of national funeral director, presiding over the obsequies of young men. Accordingly, Bush's image-handlers quite deliberately decided that neither he nor his war in Iraq would become associated with long, low boxes draped with the American flag. [Link]

I wonder if the authorities will make an exception for the return of Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who was just killed in action.

Counting the cost of Falluja

The Guardian's Rory McCarthy has an interesting piece on the violence in Falluja. Rory cites Ibrahim Younis, the Iraq emergency coordinator for Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Frontiers) for saying that the US used a hospital as a command center and sniper location, turning it into a military target in violation of the Geneva convention.

Selected Quote:

"The Americans put a sniper position on top of the hospital's water tower and had troops in the single-storey building," said Mr Younis, who visited Falluja during the fighting two weeks ago. "The hospital had four operating theatres, which could no longer be used. If they had been working, it would have saved many lives."

He said MSF wanted an independent inquiry to determine why the US military used the hospital as a military position - a violation of the Geneva convention....Only a handful, the young doctor included, were prepared to criticise the guerrilla fighters. "The mojahedin are brave and fear nothing," he said. "But is it wise to do all these things? Who is responsible for those who died: the Americans for sure, but the mojahedin too." [Link]

Thursday, April 22, 2004

A Tribute to Comedian Bill Hicks

I found this Bill Hick's fan site. If you aren't easily offended, Bill Hicks is a hoot.


I was reading this essay about racism by Tim Wise. I thought it was well written, but I thought his signature was hilarious:

Tim Wise is an antiracist activist, essayist and father. He can be reached at Death threats, while neither appreciated nor desired, will be graded for form, content and originality.

Management and Human Resources discussion

I attended a talk given by Janice Lachance today.

She is now director of SLA. She gave a very interesting talk on leadership and management in libraries. Ask me about it, if you're curious.

One thing she related was an interview she'd seen with an executive at Google and the executive stated that Google hoped the search engine would be good enough to replace reference librarians in 300 years. 300 years? Sounds like reference librarians will be earning their keep well into the future.

Upcoming SLA events

For anyone at UCLA who may be reading this blog, there is an upcoming event called
Reversing Vandalism.

29 April 2004 ~ Information Studies Colloquium Series ~
Guest Speaker: Jim Van Buskirk, Director of the James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center, San Francisco Public Library
~ co-sponsored by the California Center for the Book and the SAA UCLA Student Chapter ~
3:00-5:00 p.m., GSEIS Rm. 111
Jim van Buskirk will speak about the vandalism of this special collection and the "Reversing Vandalism" art exhibit subsequently produced. From the SFPL Web site: "Reversing Vandalism: An exhibition of over 200 original works of art created from books mainly on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender topics, women's issues and HIV/AIDS, that were destroyed by a vandal and withdrawn from the San Francisco Public Library's collection. Artists and concerned individuals from around the country worked to turn the damaged books into works of art. The wide variety of responses to this hate crime targeting GLBT, HIV/AIDS and women's communities vividly demonstrates the transformative power of art."

The SFPL Web Site

[copied from the SLA bulletin]

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Supreme Court hears arguments on Guantanamo detainees has an article by James Vicini on the arguments before the Supreme Court. Next week the Supreme Court will take up the case of Jose Padilla, which is the one that I am most interested in personally.

See this CNN article by Phil Hirschkorn for more background on Padilla.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Dogs of War

The Bush Administration is hiring mercenaries and we're paying for it. The New York Times (reg'n req'd) has an article by David Barstow discussing this. In all fairness to the executive branch, Congress did require the government to outsource all duties that weren't strictly governmental. Rumsfeld has merely decided that security in a military occupation isn't an inherently governmental task.

Think of it as Rumsfeld's way of actually getting the troops more money by putting the Spec Ops people on the payroll as consultants rather than soldiers.

Environmentally Friendly Building Techniques: Earthbags

The earthbag concept is quite simple. The concept is the same as the "sandbag", except the earthbag is filled with a mixture of soil and sand. Some techniques also use cement in the mixture, while others cover the earthbags with a layer of stucco to increase strength. Strands of barbed wire are often used (internally) to keep the layers of earthbags aligned. Rebar can also be added to the earthbag walls to increase rigidity.

The earthbag concept is also called Superadobe and is being considered by NASA for use on the Mars or Moon according to the post.

You can read more about earthbags in this post from Green Home They also have information on a variety of sustainable building styles.

This construction technique requires no heavy equipment and is very fast compared to other home construction techniques. This makes it ideal in places where labor is cheap and high energy embodiment building materials are expensive.

High energy embodiment materials are those that require a great deal of energy to produce and must be transported to the site over long distances, including materials such as steel, gypsum board (drywall) and lumber.

Earthbag construction uses materials excavated from the building site to construct the building, thus eliminating most transport costs (and related pollution).

Here's a book on Amazon about earthbag construction as well.

Martial Law: Coming to a city near you?

Tacitus has a post suggesting that the warnings about a terrorist attack this summer are a prelude to the Bush administration declaring martial law after an attack. See this Boston Globe article by the AP's Curt Anderson or this Buzzflash article by Maureen Farrell.

I'm not sure what to think. But I do fear that the end of the Republic is nigh. Then again, most of the things I spend my time worrying about never come to pass.

I guess it's my egotism that makes me feel that if I stop trying to fix the world, things will fall apart. Things seem to be falling apart anyway, so I'm not doing very well here...

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Happy Thoughts

On a lighter note, here are pictures of a mother duck and her baby ducks.

I really like ducks. You can also go visit Ducks Unlimited, which promotes wetlands conservation.

They also support duck hunting...but I'm trying to think happy thoughts today and I'm not going to get into that issue.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Neal's Soapbox: Kill your TV

Next week is the 10th annual TV turn-off week. Read more about it here.

I have long been an opponent of television. I think television has replaced religion as the opiate of the masses. Television has so many subtly nefarious effects on people's lives.

There is so much evidence out there documenting the negative effects of television, but my favorite anti-television diatribes are those written by Harlan Ellison. If you have time, I suggest the introduction to Strange Wine or the Other Glass Teat. (Links to You can also find these great titles at your local library or buy them from Powell's City of Books.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Activists takes over the Administration Building at University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana to demand removal of racist mascot and apology to Native Americans

My friend, Zwichenzug, is taking part in civil disobedience as I write this. Here's a story from the local paper.

This was the first post to mention the takeover at the Bellman.

Pop over to the Bellman and read Zwichenzug's updates.

Neal's Public Policy Corner: Cell Phones and Automobiles

Walking the dog tonight I saw a pick-up truck rear-end a station wagon at low speed. There were no injuries, it appeared. I couldn't help but notice that the driver was talking on his cell phone.

I think that using the cell phone while driving is a coping mechanism for many people in LA. When you spend 3 or 4 hours commuting every day, undoubtedly at some point will need to talk on your cell phone.

A student I studied with at UCLA lived with his parents a couple of hours away from campus. He told me that the only time he could talk to his friends was when he was on the freeway. (I assumed for reasons of privacy and just as a matter of making time.)

So I wonder if something should be done to regulate cell phone use by drivers here in California.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has an interesting piece here, if a bit dated. I think it takes pains to present both sides of the story.

"California, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas require police to include information about cellular telephones in accident reports." Id.

Selected quote:

Telecommunications companies say that new technology in cars not only will improve commerce but highway safety as well. Already, an estimated 98,000 emergency calls are placed by cell phone users each day, and billions of dollars of business may be transacted by drivers each year. Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have concluded that cellular phones often reduce emergency response times and actually save lives. New technology also may make it easier for people to drive more safely on the road.

State policymakers, however, must weigh the promises of wireless technology in cars against the growing evidence of the potential dangers. The 1997 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that the distraction caused by phone use in motor vehicles quadrupled the risk of a collision during the brief period of a call, a rate equivalent to the impairment caused by legal intoxication. Other studies - conducted in the United States as well as in Great Britain and Japan - have similarly concluded that speaking on mobile phones, even if they are hands-free, can make drivers a risk on the road. The basic conclusion of these studies is that the distraction of the call, not the actual act of dialing, impairs a driver's ability to safely operate the vehicle. (emphasis mine)

I will admit that I do sometimes answer my cell phone while driving. Ok, so not even Safety Neal is 100% safe. Actually, I'm not even sure there is such a thing as safety. As soon as you start to feel safe, you let your guard down. Thus, safety seems like a comforting illusion.

But what should public policy be on cell phone use in cars? My father has suggested to me a "bright line rule" that the government should restrict cell phone use to emergency use only.

Perhaps that is too draconian. I think exceptions could be made for other circumstances. But which ones?

I found this 1997 NHTSA report that addresses these issues as well.

Selected quote:

Americans spend substantial amounts of time commuting and members of the public place high importance on keeping up with their tasks and activities. It is therefore not surprising that individuals will attempt to optimize their time in the automobile by doing other things concurrently. It may be unrealistic and perhaps ill-advised to conclude that drivers should have no advanced in-vehicle information systems at their disposal because they might be a source of distraction. A number of intelligent transportation system (ITS) initiatives intended to improve the highway safety and efficiency, are, in fact, focusing on increasing such information availability. These initiatives, however, have heightened NHTSA concern over possible synergistic effects of the various technologies that might increase driver workload beyond acceptable levels.

I was also over at and they have some interesting suggestions for adding teeth to laws banning cell phone usage. This post is already getting kind of long, so I'll leave that one as a link for you. See Volume 12 if you want some more recent analysis.

Annals of the Criminally Stupid

I'll admit, I read Fark just for this sort of story. Perhaps it reveals some inner insecurity. Anyway...

According to this AP story, in Fontana, North Carolina, one Richard Eppard was arrested for shooting the driver of the car he was riding in. It is thought this resulted from a drive-by shooting gone terribly wrong.

Mr. Eppard reportedly doesn't have a criminal record. Perhaps there is some perfectly innocent explanation for all of this.

I wonder if perhaps Mr. Eppard actually has a criminal record in another jurisdiction and it hasn't been uncovered yet.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Neal's Safety Tip of the Month: Smoke Detectors

Change the batteries in your smoke detector at least annually.

Changing your smoke alarm's batteries when you update your clock for daylight savings time isn't a bad idea.

You can also get smoke detectors that are wired into the general electrical system of your house or apartment. Of course, if the power goes out, so does your smoke detector.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Sex in America: Pornography and the State

Over at the Cato Institute, I saw this article by Eugene Volokh. Volokh is a law professor at UCLA, and I recognized his name since I work in the law library. So I thought I'd give it a read.

Selected quote:

So [for the Administration's war on porn] we really have three possible outcomes:

(1) The crackdown on porn is doomed to be utterly ineffective at preventing the supposedly harmful effects of porn on its viewers, and on the viewers' neighbors [because of the easy availability of international porn on the Internet].

(2) The crackdown on porn will be made effective -- by implementing a comprehensive government-mandated filtering system run by some administrative agency that constantly monitors the Net and requires private service providers to block any sites that the agency says are obscene.

(3) The crackdown on porn will turn into a full-fledged War on Smut that will be made effective by prosecuting, imprisoning, and seizing the assets of porn buyers.

How the US should deal with pornography from a public policy perspective is a very complex issue. And I don't claim to have the answers. I have a lot more questions than answers.

But I think it's an interesting issue, so I'm going to give you some of my thoughts. And please let me know what you think.

At the outset, it may be useful to distinguish between erotica and pornography. erotica involves acts of mutuality and consensual sex while pornography involves acts of debasement and subjugation of women and/or men. Essentially, erotica is good smut and pornography is bad smut.I think this is an interesting distinction, but a difficult one to apply.

There is so much porn/erotica out it really practical or fair to try to ban all of it or none of it? Do we need to develop a more sophisticated social discourse before we make public policy about sexuality? I think so.

Currently the law distinguishes between child porn and adult porn in the United States. But that is as sophisticated as the discourse usually gets.

I think much of our inability to develop good social policy on pornography and the sex industries involves a typically white, christian, middle-class inability to talk about anything sexual in public. That's just crazy, if you ask me.

Sex is a part of our lives and we ought to discuss it like adults. I live in West Hollywood, California, which is a very gay friendly city. Gay men seem to like porn quite a bit, so I am not infrequently greeted by pictures of nude men while walking down the street. So my perspective is perhaps out of sync with most people's views.

(BTW, I'm not gay, but I heartily support full political and legal enfranchisement for gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, transgendered people, gender queer, etc.)

My wife, Sarah Deer, is also a nationally known expert on sexual assault, domestic violence, and violence against American Indian (or First Nation) women. We have often discuss issues of pornography and sexuality.

(As a side note, Sarah was recently honored with a Vagina Warrior award by the Spirits of Hope Domestic Violence Prevention coalition. That's an interesting way of addressing the sexuality issue, by talking about Vagina Warriors. The award ceremony took place before the Vagina Monologues in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Eve Ensler was also given a Vagina Warrior award.)

One of the central questions from a public policy perspective involves whether pornography leads to violence against women. Catherine MacKinnon wrote a law that banned the sale of pornography, but it was struck down on First Amendment grounds.

I think Jane Caputi was rather insightful when she wrote:

[O]nce again the feminist connection between violence against women and pornography is potentially discredited by its association with [Christian] fundamentalism. Yet few feminists would agree with the religious Right's claim that pornography is the sole or root cause of violence against women. Rather, pornography (as well as its diffusions through mainstream culture) is a modern mode for communicating and constructing patriarchy's necessary fusion of sex and violence, for sexualizing torture. Clearly, that imperative has assumed other forms historically: the political operations of military dictatorships, the enslavement of Africans in the "new world," witch hunting and inquisitions by the Christian church and state, and so on. The basic elements for a gynocidal campaign --- an ideology of male supremacy, a vivid imagination of (particularly female) sexual filth, loathing of eroticism, belief in the sanctity of marriage and the family, and the containment of women in male-controlled [institutions] --- structure [Christian] fundamentalism's very self-serving opposition to pornography.

Source: Caputi, Jane. The Sexual Politics of Murder, Violence Against Women: The Bloody Footprints (Sage Publications: Newbury Park) c1993, page 18.

I think Ms. Caputi's writing help provide a context for the pornography debate.

And it is an issue that isn't going away. In mainstream politics, the whole V-chip debate, the Meese commision, John McCain's pledge to stop Internet pornography, and now Ashcroft's suits against pornographers keep bringing this issue into the news.

Feminist scholars, as evidenced above, are also very interested in the role of pornography and violent, sexual fantasies.

I know that New Zealand has a commission that views all the pornography and censors what it finds to be objectionable.

Of course, determining what is objectionable in this country runs into the First Amendment as well as the practical difficulty of getting any two people to agree on what is good porn (or erotica) and what is bad porn.

On the other end of the spectrum, many European countries have much more relaxed views on pornography and have far lower rates of sexual assault than the United States.

As a side note, I find it interesting that many people who think the 1st and 4th amendments should be inviolate, would write the second amendment out of the Constitution, and vice versa.

Actually, I don't have any idea what public policy should be on this issue.

I support legalizing prostitution to provide some regulation and protection to sex workers and their clients. Sex workers should get tested, pay taxes, and be able to expect police protection.

I think Professor Volokh points out some of the practical problems with regulating pornography is this country. Pornography is a huge global industry and local solutions are not likely to be effective. And if we cannot even agree as a country on what our public policy should be, then we are unlikely to even develop a local solution.

So what do you think we should do? Feel free to send me an email or post a comment.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Blair's Labour Party's enrollment is way down

Could this be related to Blair's proscuting a war most of the British public opposed as Bush's lapdog?

Intellectual Property Corner: An article on the convergence of videogames and feature films

David Smith's article points out that the video game industry earned more money last year than the motion picture industry. It also highlights the intellectual property moves made by directors such as Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, John Woo, George Lucas as well as Andy and Larry Wachowski to retain artistic control and video game rights.

As an avid video gamer, I am very impressed with the level of detail exhibited by some video games. I especially like Take Two's Grand Theft Auto series of games.

A discussion of agro-economics and the impending grain shortage

I was recently listening to NPR's Living on Earth program when they interviewed Worldwatch president Lester Brown and Robert Paarlberg, Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College.

Lester Brown wrote a book in 1995 called: Who Will Feed China? Wake-Up Call for a Small Planet. His newest book is called Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble

Here's some more info from Environmental magazine on Brown.

Find the transcript of Life on Earth here (it's 3/5 of the way down the page, or you can search for Paarlberg).

Selected quote:

CURWOOD:...Mr. Brown says his gloomy forecast is based in part on a rapid development that's paving over some of China's best crop land, and on water scarcity.

BROWN: Two things are happening. One, water tables are falling. And when the aquifers are depleted there will be a cutback in the amount of irrigation water, simply because the pumping at that point cannot exceed the recharge. The second thing that's happening is, as water becomes more scarce, is that the cities are pulling irrigation water away from farmers. We saw this most dramatically in the Spring of '94, when the government banned farmers from all the reservoirs in the agricultural region surrounding Beijing. When China runs into water scarcity, when the cities begin pulling water away from farmers, then they have to import grain. When China imports a ton of wheat, it's basically importing a thousand tons of water. This is how countries begin to balance their water books.

* * * *

BROWN: There's going to be an enormous gap developing between the soaring demand and the slowly declining supply. This could lead to imports of somewhere between roughly 200 and 360 million tons of grain by the year 2030. I said imports; I should say import needs, because though China can probably afford to import that much grain, which is nearly twice world grain trade at present, the grain is not likely going to be there on that scale, and what I think we're going to see is much higher grain prices. Now, rising grain prices is good if you happen to be a grain exporter like the United States. But if you're a grain importing country, like most of the low income countries in Africa, if the price of grain doubles, then these countries, many of them, will be facing life threatening situations.

CURWOOD: Rob Paarlberg, you think this threat of massive imports is a false one; am I correct?

PAARLBERG: Yes, you're correct. I expect that China will become a substantial importer of grain into the next century, probably 40 or 50 million tons by the year 2020 or 2030, but I think it will be doing that for a very good reason. It will be converting grain land into the production of higher value crops like fruits and vegetables, and it will be importing grain, especially feed grain, from places like Iowa and Illinois that don't face water shortages or land shortages. It makes environmental sense. So I don't think it's a worrisome trend for China to import. I think they should and I think they will. But I don't think there's any likelihood that they're going to import 200 or 300 million tons of grain. We've heard predictions of scarcity in the past, and they haven't come true in the past.

CURWOOD: But recent corn prices are up by 60%.

PAARLBERG: Grain prices that are 30% or 40% higher than they were a year and a half ago is not the problem; that's the solution. Because of higher grain prices, the United States is now going to take land that the government was paying farmers to keep idle and bring it back into production. And we're going to rebuild the stock levels that were drawn down too low.

BROWN: Let me just say that the situation today, I think, is different, than from any other time in history, in the sense that even though grain prices are rising and may well double shortly, the production response will not be the same. For one thing, back in the 70s when food prices went up, fishermen invested heavily in more fishing trawlers. But if they do that today they're simply going to hasten the collapse of fisheries. And similarly with the use of fertilizer. Farmers poured on a lot more fertilizer in the 1970s when grain prices doubled, but now in many parts of the world more fertilizer simply doesn't have much effect on production.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Democracy as a radical social practice

For one of my classes, I'm reading Matt Manusci and Adam Renne's Reading the Lives of Others: The Winton Homes Library Project A Cultural Studies Analysis of Critical Service
Learning for Education
The authors make several points about the need for critical engagement by citizens to create a better society.

Selected quote:
[D]emocracy can be viewed as a radical social practice that requires one to take a critical inventory of one's social location in terms of power and privilege and by understanding our relationship and responsibilities to others.

This is a rather provocative statement. I will have to think about it further.

Source:(High School Journal, 84(1): Oct/Nov 2000, p. 36 et seq.)

Friday, April 09, 2004

War President Mosaic

Courtesy of the Bellman, here's a picture of George Bush made out of dead service member's portraits. Another site with the image.

Governator saves man in distress

I didn't vote for Arnie, but kudos to him for helping some guy who may have drowned without the governator's assistance.

Celebrity Watch

I don't get excited about seeing celebrities, but it's one of the few benefits I see of living in LA. I was in getting some new tires for one of my bikes today and Minnie Driver came into the bike shop.

She's very tall, and very thin, of course. I overheard her saying something about a triathalete's bike.

How do Iraqis view the US occupation?

I was over at Al-Jazeera reading what they have to say about the Iraq occupation. I don't believe everything I read, but I think it's a good exercise to see how the Arab media is reporting on the war. I'm not sure I believe in objectivity. Everyone has their own lens they see the world through.

Selected quote from an article by May Ying Welsh:

Ghafil no longer dreams of marrying, as the family can not afford it. "I had many plans but now I've dropped them," he says. Now, his focus is completely on the removal of the occupation.

"The Shia and Sunnis have to unify their resistance more; a joint plan is coming," he says. "When that happens depends on the Americans. If they keep using more and more force against the people, they will push this to happen."

As tanks rumble by in the streets outside, Ghafil and his mother agree that peaceful demonstrations against the occupation are useless. "The US forces just shoot at them," says Ghafil.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Exciting News from the World of Libraries and Archives

Did you know that the head of the United States Archive is the former governor of Kansas, George Carlin? Well, no longer. Carlin is stepping down. Allen Weinstein has been nominated to replace Carlin. Read his bio at the Center for Democracy.

Pat Buchanan uses the word quagmire to describe Iraq

I used to watch Pat B. on Crossfire. He was a speech writer for Nixon and is really conservative. But he is a bright guy and I think he's right on this one. Pat B.'s quoted in Adam Nagourney and Carl Hulse's NY Times article (reg'n req'd).

The Guardian has a news round-up that explores the differences and similarities between Vietnam and Iraq.

Bureau of Indian Affairs continues to hire felons for Indian (First Nation) schools

Given the Rice testimony before the 9/11 commission and the fighting sweeping across Iraq, it isn't surprising that this report about the BIA hiring felons to work in classrooms didn't get much attention from the US press, but the Guardian thoughtfully printed Robert Gehrke's piece on the Inspector General report.

I've read old Senate subcommittee hearings which detailed the sexual abuse of children at BIA run boarding schools. One of the sex offenders put on his job application that he was fired from his previous job for violating a certain statute (without explicitly saying it was about child molestation) and was still hired. What was even more shocking was that the administration refused to act on allegations of wrong-doing by the child molesters for years.

It sounds like things haven't changed much at the BIA in the interim.

Los Diablos

I think Los Angeles is misnamed. I prefer to think of it as Los Diablos.

Spring of Violence

Maureen Dowd writing in the New York Times (reg'n req'd) described the Iraq situation well I thought.

Our troops in Iraq don't know who they're fighting and who they're saving. They don't know when they're coming home or when they're being forcibly re-upped by Rummy. Our diplomats in Baghdad don't know who they're handing the country over to next month. And Bush officials don't know where to go for help, since the military's tapped out, the allies have cold feet, the Arab world's angry and the rest of the globe is thinking, "You got what you deserved."

* * * *

Every single thing the administration calculated would happen in Iraq has turned out the opposite. The W.M.D. that supposedly threatened us did not exist. The dangerous dictator was deluded and writing romance novels. The terrorism that would be thwarted has mushroomed in Iraq and is feeding Arab radicalism.

Nonna Gorilovskaya's essay in Mother Jones for April 8th makes the situation in Iraq sound similarly bleak.

I feel sorry for Kerry if he wins. Inheriting George Bush's blossoming deficit and his debacle in Iraq and Afghanistan is not something I would wish on anyone. The US will never recover totally from the foreign policy disaster that is George Bush.

The April 2004 print edition of Mother Jones has a photo essay about soldiers wounded in Iraq. Since the Dept. of War is not allowing photos of caskets, this is as close as the press can get to the aftermath of Iraq's invasion and occupation.

I'm not a pacifist, I totally support the right of self-defense among individuals and among nations. But I really think this war was a terrible mistake.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Reality Check...did the US really rocket a mosque in Iraq today?

According to the Associated Press' Bassem Mroue and Abdul-Qader Saadi, the US used a helicopter to attack the wall around the mosque in Fallujah today. The US attacked it during prayers, apparently. Now, I know that prayers occur 5 times per day in the Muslim religion. The fact that they pray so often really makes it hard to find a good time to attack a mosque.

Maybe there really isn't a good time to attack a mosque...
Maybe I should take a poll. When do you think is the best time to rocket a mosque (or the wall around the mosque)? Choices could include:

  • before prayers

  • during prayers

  • after prayers

  • any time you damn well feel like

Jerry, my wife's boss, suggests that maybe Bush merely wants to unite the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. Bush always said he was a uniter, not a divider.

Selected quote:

Signs were emerging of growing sympathy between Sunni Muslim insurgents and al-Sadr’s Shiite movement. In mainly Sunni Ramadi, portraits of al-Sadr were posted on government buildings, schools and mosques, along with graffiti praising him for his “heroic deeds” and “valiant uprising against the occupier.’’

Iraq’s Shiite majority has largely avoided anti-U.S. violence, shunning al-Sadr’s virulent anti-U.S. rhetoric as well as the insurgency led by Sunnis in central Iraq. U.S. officials have expressed concern that al-Sadr could start cooperating with the Sunni guerrillas.

Perhaps I should stop being flippant. I'm really amazed by this Administration. I don't see anything in the papers about an apology. Did someone order the attack on the mosque? Did someone in the White House order the attack on the mosque?

My wife doesn't think I should be surprised, there is precedent. The US Cavalry killed many First Nation citizens during the Ghost Dance. Why should I expect this administration to respect the concept of holy ground? Bush flaunts his Christianity all the time. He meant it when he said this was a crusade after 9/11.

After all, this administration invaded Iraq despite the largest world-wide peace protests in history. This war introduced new words into our vocabulary like "urban air support". An administration that drops bombs in cities regardless of civilian casualties and reserves the right to strike pre-emptively and to use tactical nuclear weapons surely isn't afraid of attacking a mosque or killing an Imam.

I hope that Bush realizes that making a martyr out of al-Sadr will only make the situation in Iraq worse.

Just when I think my opinion of this administration could not get any worse, they surprise me with yet another moron move.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Privacy in the Digital Age

Reason magazine is mailing subscribers copies of the magazine this month with a satellite photo of the subscriber's neighborhood, with the subscriber's house circled, according to David Carr's article in the New York Times.

This is a "stunt" to illustrate to readers the degree of information available through public databases.

The article makes the point that these databases are very useful and make our lives easier in many ways, but we have lost a great deal of privacy in the last several decades without anyone really noticing until it was gone.

I've been reading an article by Michael R. Curry titled The Digital Individual and the Private Realm published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (Vol. 87, No. 4, Dec. 1997, pages 681-699).

Mr. Curry makes several points about how we have lost a great deal of privacy through geodemographics and data profiling.

Selected quote:
[T]he practices that define the private [realm] and the public [realm] can best be seen as elements in the spiritual and moral development of both individual and group. Privacy, that is, is fundamental to the functioning of society....Indeed, I would argue that the solution to a large category of the problems raised by geodemographic systems and by certain versions of geographic information systems and the GIS family is to take digital individuals seriously. We need to see them as important, permanent features of our society and ourselves. Once we begin to understand that these individuals -- carrying our names, addresses and social security numbers -- are talking for us, representing us, and making decisions for us, we can see that they are very much like the fragmented parts of ourselves that we present in every part of our everyday life.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Bush is in trouble as new violence flares in the Mid-East

Opinion polls show that Bush's approval rating is dropping. The new violence from the followers of radical cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, is not helping matters for Bush. John J. Lumpkin of the Associated Press reports that even Republican Senator Richard Lugar is suggesting that the security situation in Iraq makes a June 30th turn-over of power to Iraqi authorities a dubious idea.

Neal and Sarah (and Halle) return from Washington state

Sarah and I had a very nice vacation over Spring Break. We took the dog, Halle, with it was a family vacation. We visited Morro Beach and Big Sur. We saw a seal at a lonely lookout near Vista del Mar, which was pretty cool for a couple of kids from Kansas. The Avenue of the Giants and the Redwood National Forest were also very nice.

In Washington State, we visited Molly and Travis. Molly and Travis are friends of mine from high school and college. They have been living in the Olympia area for approximately seven years and are doing quite well.

I thought it was a nice area, but I don't think I could ever live there because of the ubiquity of the mold and fungus. It was really sunny for the two days we were in Olympia and Tumwater, Washingon.

In Oregon, we stopped and visited another friend of mine from high school and college, Francis Fung. Francis lives in Corvallis now with his wife and three children. Francis' wife is a math professor and he works in artificial intelligence.

We also stopped in Portland overnight at the Mark Spencer hotel and took advantage of their bookworm special. If you are a bibliophile and you are going to be in Portland, you have to visit Powell's City of Books.

The Siskiyou mountains along the Oregon-California border were probably the highlight of the trip back from me.

New quarter begins tomorrow

The new quarter begins tomorrow for me. I'm taking three classes: Subject Cataloging; Historical Methodology of Information Science; and Diversity, Ethics and Change.