Monday, August 30, 2004

Charity Watch: Modest Needs gets Safety Neal's Seal of Approval

Sarah, the love of my life, volunteers at Modest Needs. They give very small grants to working families to help them through a small financial crisis. Their average grant is $180.

To date, Modest Needs has kept 1264 working families from entering the public welfare system by remitting payment for $236,215.71 worth of unexpected expenses on behalf of the families we've had the funding to assist.

Those expenses have ranged from the fee for a GED test to the bill for an auto repair to the cost of burying a stillborn child.

Modest Needs' average grant is just over $180.00 per family. But because our grants keep working families working, they've now returned more than $7.7 million in earned income to the pockets of families who have remained self-sufficient because of them. [Link]

It's a worthy charity if you are looking for some way to help your fellow human beings, really into philanthropy, or just looking to shelter some money on your taxes.

Random RFID Update: The politics of chipping humans

Michael Kanellos' Idea of implanting ID tags raises Orwellian fears lays out quite a few salient issues in the privacy vs. accountability debate.

Selected quote:

As such tagging systems become more widely known, some industries that hadn't been expected to use the technology are considering innovative applications of it. A South Carolina firearms maker, FN Manufacturing, is evaluating the technology for use in "smart guns" equipped with grip sensors that would allow only their owners to use them.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Expatriates are voting this time

This election matters and we all know it. If Bush wins this one, then people all around the world will assume that Americans support the Bush War Machine.

From Anna Nelson's article in SwissInfo:

According to both Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad, expatriate voter numbers appear to be four times higher than they were at this time in 2000....Both Buchman and Valladeres cite the war in Iraq, as well as a rising tide of anti-Americanism, as the main reasons many expatriates are calling for a shift in US foreign policy and a change in administration. “It’s getting to the point that little old ladies on the tram are hitting me with their umbrellas, saying ‘You bad American, what are you doing?’” said Buchman. “Even in a US-centric country like Switzerland, we’ve seen how our image has eroded in a frightening way since September 11,” she added. “We don’t like it, so we’re voting.” It seems that the Bush administration’s domestic and foreign policies have even prompted some diehard Republicans to switch camps. Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, a Cuban-born American and professor of international law living in Geneva, says he is encouraging his fellow party members to “think twice” before voting for Bush. (emphasis mine)

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Eating Acid...what?

This is a bizarre story that involves both Manhattan, Kansas and and Omaha, Nebraska. Manhattan is my home town and Omaha is where eBohn hails from, I've visited Omaha with him several times.

I'm puzzled by this news item. Why would anyone eat acid after a minor fender-bender? Why would anyone carry acid with them? And why would anyone want a master's degree in apparel and textiles?

Friday, August 27, 2004

Bush pressures Japan to militarize

Democracy Now has an interview with Chalmers Johnson about the US force realignment issue.

More interesting to me was Johnson's revelation that this crazy fucking administration has been trying to get Japan to take up offensive military operations.

Selected quote:

Article IX of the Japanese Constitution, in which Japan renounces the use of armed force in international relations, was in fact Japan's form of apology for World War II to the nations of East Asia, that it victimized. We have now had our -- Richard Armitage, Powell's deputy and then Powell himself now come out and say, we regard Article IX, which by the way is in the Constitution that General MacArthur wrote, we regard Article IX as an obstacle to our global strategic imperial plan. And if you want us to back you up in going into the U.N. Security Council, we want you to amend your Constitution and get rid of it. Well, this has produced unbelievable outrage in Japan, even from conservative politicians that say it's simply flagrant interference in the domestic affairs of Japan, and I hope it will actually energize the defenders of Article IX, who are getting few in number as we get further and further away from people who remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki and World War II.

I'm sure the rest of Asia is delighted by this plan.

How stupid is this administration? Just when I think they have done the most idiotic thing on Earth, they go and do something even less intelligent....

Maybe they aren't stupid. Maybe they're totally insane.

You know, we have drugs to treat insanity. But there's still no cure for stupidity.

Bush the flip-flopper

Four years ago Bush thought 527 organizations were an essential part of free speech. Or at least that's his handlers told him to say...Thanks to Joshua Norton for pointing this out to me.

The Bush administration now admits that global warming exists. Of course, after four years of delay, things aren't getting any better for the environment.

As George Monbiot points out, there are severe consequences for ignoring climate change:

Climate change is a non-linear process, whose likely impacts cannot be totted up like the expenses for a works outing to the seaside. Even those outcomes we can predict are impossible to cost. We now know, for example, that the Himalayan glaciers which feed the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the other great Asian rivers are likely to disappear within 40 years. If these rivers dry up during the irrigation season, then the rice production which currently feeds over one third of humanity collapses, and the world goes into net food deficit.

We've also recently had Cheney differing from the Dubya on gay marriage.

Rove must be getting really nervous if he's trying to appeal to environmentalists and gays. Hopefully no one out there will be stupid enough to see these as anything but desparation tactics.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Bush fails to Defend the Homeland

Mother Jones' cover story this month by Matthew Brzezinski is a expose of the failings of the Bush administration to adequately address Homeland Security issues.

Selected quote:

Defending America has been a pillar of President Bush's reelection campaign. Only the president, argue his backers, has the resolve and strength of leadership to prevent another 9/11. This campaign tactic has proved surprisingly effective. Even as public opinion polls show that increasing numbers of Americans are wondering whether the White House has been fighting the right battle in Baghdad, many remain convinced that President Bush will be tougher on terror than his Democratic opponent. This view has been a mainstay of Republican campaign commercials, conservative talk radio shows, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, and, of course, the folks at Fox. Unfortunately, like a lot of "popular" notions generated by concerted public relations drives, it's a myth not rooted in reality.

The war on terror has many fronts, not the least of which is the one right here at home. But as I learned in more than two years of reporting on the often neglected domestic front lines of the war on terror, defending the homeland simply doesn't appear to have captured the imagination of the White House the way, say, a firefight in Falluja does.

Hamstrung by special interests, staffed with B-team political appointees, and crippled by a lack of funding and political support, DHS is a premier example of how the administration's misplaced priorities—and its obsession with Iraq—have come at the direct expense of homeland security. (Emphasis mine)

Fred Six has another article in Today's Sunbeam that discusses our precarious port security and how the Bush administration has been shortchanging port security by its tax cuts and lavish spending on Iraq.

Selected quote:
An expert on homeland security and border control said Wednesday that the federal government is spending more every couple of days for the war in Iraq than it has spent in three years on port security grants. "We're a nation at war," said Dr. Stephen Flynn, a Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies with the Council on Foreign Relations.....Wednesday's hearing was to hear from Flynn and others about recommendations for port and maritime security made in the report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, otherwise known as the 9/11 Commission. With 26,000 miles of commercially navigable coastline, three million square miles of water and eight billion tons of freight trade for the U.S. Coast Guard to watch -- and less than 10 percent of Homeland Security funds being appropriated for port security, a real danger exists for what Flynn called "a catastrophic terrorist attack" in the United States. Flynn told the sparsely attended hearing in Washington, D.C. that an attack carried out using a cargo ship -- or even just one of the many containers that a ship carries -- could have the effect of halting shipping trade until a response could be formulated. "They'd have to shut it down and sort it out," he told the subcommittee. "A two-week shutdown of U.S. ports would collapse the global trade system. That's what we're talking about," Flynn said. "This is an extremely soft target for America's enemies to exploit," he said. (Emphasis mine)

Mother Jones has an interview with Matthew Brzezinski where they ask him what is the biggest threat to the Homeland that is being totally ignored right now, he answers:

Clearly [the biggest risk is] the petrochemical industry. We have [] plants in numerous high-population centers, and because of special interests, we are not defending them properly. I purposely decided to go see how the Israelis treat their heavy industry and I’m telling you [it's] like Fort Knox. I couldn’t get within 50 feet of these things without underground sensors already pick[ing] me up and hidden speakers were screaming at me. This was a natural gas reservoir, and they protected these things the way we protect our nuclear silos. But a few months before I visited Hamas had tried to blow it up.

We definitely have the potential for a chemical Chernobyl in this country and we knew this right after 9/11. There were measures in Congress to increase security at plants and better regulate the transportation of chemicals. A single tractor-trailer that you see on the highway or rail car full of chlorine can kill tens of thousands of people. Imagine how many tens of thousands we have every day traversing the country. But the American Petroleum Institute lobbied to stop the bill from passing in Congress, so we’re just as vulnerable today as we were on 9/11.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Random RFID Update: China to adopt RFID National ID cards

The Chinese are rolling out RFID in mass for the Olympics, for a national ID card, and for Wal-Mart, according to Asia Times' Jayanthi Iyengar.

Selected Quote:

Rocky Shi, a Chinese government official, told the RFID World Conference held in Denver in April that the Middle Kingdom was set to launch several major RFID-linked initiatives. Shi estimated that Chinese suppliers would end up using about 5 trillion tags annually to supply to Wal-Mart alone during the next two years. (Emphasis mine)

Wrestling with Secrecy, Privacy, and Transperancy

The Bellman pointed me to this article by David Brin, the author of the Uplift Trilogies. I'm in the process of reading his book, the Transparent Society, but Brin lays out quite a bit of his argument for transparency at his webpage.

Brin poses the thought experiment of a totally transparent society where the citizens can see every arrest, every interrogation, use any camera in the world freely. He acknowledges that reasonable restrictions would have to be imposed, such as felons not being able to see into police headquarters.

They totally transparent society is perhaps not possible. So the question becomes what principles do we use to determine the limits of transparency. Brin is very persuasive and I think there should be a presumption in favor of transparency in a democracy.

I ran across this article by Knight-Rider's Philip Dine discussing the need for secrecy for intelligence operations and the dangers of information being disseminated too widely, especially by politicians seeking political gain.

I think democracies must always struggle with these questions of transparency and secrecy. The failure to prevent 9-11 and the the repudiation of the Geneva Accords by this administration (which I feel led to the torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay) has led for the current push to break down barriers in sharing classified information and increasing transparency and oversight in the U.S. intelligence community.

Abu Ghraib really pissed me off. I think this administration's hostility to international law and lack of respect for human rights contributed to that and that makes me want more oversight of intelligence, but I think Mr. Dine also makes a few good points. Abolishing our intelligence apparatus is certainly not a good idea and neither is hamstringing it. So where to draw the lines and under what principles is the important question, I think.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

George Herbert Hoover Bush

The Guardian's Ashley Seager has a fun little article explaining just how badly Bush has messed up the American economy. He turned the $100 million per year surplus he inherited from Clinton into a $400 million per year deficit. And unless three-quarters of a million people get jobs before the November election, Bush will go down in history as the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net loss of jobs for the economy.

I don't think the US or world economy can stand another four years of this sort of economic ineptitude.

Neal the Stump Killer

I used my ax and shovel to destroy a stump today. That's hard work. The stump fought back too. Once, when I whacked at it with my ax, a fist-sized piece of wood shot out and smacked me in the tibia. I'm gonna have a bruise there for sure.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Lou Dobbs on Now with Bill Moyers

I've been watching more PBS of late. Spammy T highly recommends it. I watched a very persuasive interview tonight. Lou Dobbs of Moneyline was the guest this evening on NOW with Bill Moyers. Dobbs has written a new book called Exporting America in which he laments the outsourcing of jobs from the United States over the last fifteen years.

He agreed with Moyers that corporations have taken control of both parties of government and he is very opposed to the outsourcing of US labor and the "race to the bottom" in labor costs going on globally.

Dobbs also argued that organized labor used to be a check on the power of corporations, but as they have become less powerful, corporate control of government has gone out of control and Americans should demand their interests be considered alongside the interests of major corporations. At least that's what I took from his interview. Maybe I'll find time to read his book...

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Sport Utility Vehicles are Destroying the Planet

The Guardian's Paul Brown has a story about the role of SUVs in Africa in increasing dust storms worldwide and the ecological impact of the "Toyotarisation" of desert travel.

The Evolution of Privacy: Ad-ID and RFID...coming to your home soon?

From Michele Gershberg at Reuters UK:

In about five years, Ad-ID and RFID could be used together, [Peter Sealey, adjunct professor of marketing at the University of California at Berkeley] said. "Then we could measure whether we delivered the commercial to you, and, as I am monitoring your pantry, whether you bought the product, too," he said.

So when my refrigerator is reading the RFID tags on my food packages to help me make a grocery list and remind me to throw out that wilted celery, it will also be secretly narcing me out to agri-business and its advertising lackeys.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Drinking and Biking

I've always thought it odd that you can be cited for driving under the influence on a bicycle in some jurisdictions.

But then I saw that almost one bicycle death in four during 2002 involved bicyclists too drunk to drive.

Although my personal experience representing DUI's has made me believe that it isn't until a person's BAC reaches about .13 that they begin swerving so much that police notice.

Neal's Safety Tip of the Month: Buy a car with daytime running lights

Daytime Running Lights reduce accidents according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

On a related note, the NY Times has an article indicating that SUV's are still more dangerous than cars. SUV's are more dangerous to their owners and to other cars. In fairness, the article does note that newer SUV's are getting better.

I prefer to call SUV's shit pig expresses.

But what about anti-lock brakes?

Anti-lock brakes don't make you any safer according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Of course, most people surveyed think you are supposed to pump anti-lock brakes. So human error probably plays a large role.

If you can afford them and can remember not to pump them in an emergency, anti-lock brakes are probably a good idea for the stability factor. If you've one tire on dry pavement and one tire on wet pavement and you hit the brakes, you could go into a spin in the middle of the road.

Of course, if you've a motorcycle, anti-lock brakes make much more sense.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Red Dead Revolver by Rockstar Games San Diego rules

I just finished the story mission through the first time and unlocked Bounty Hunter mode with special victory conditions. Time to take a break now.

But if you like video games where you get to shoot people in the head, I recommend it. Video games are becoming more and more like interactive movies. I like the trend personally.

Network Woes

Someone else in my building has a wireless network and it's interfering with my access to the Internet. I must have access to the Internet to self-actualize. The Internet is the greatest information sharing invention ever. I love having access to the OED electronically.

How did people ever find their way around before online maps and GPS?

I suppose they just got lost more often.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

So long, Kansas

Tomorrow I fly back to Los Angeles. I'll spend tonight with my youngest brother, Kyle, in Kansas City.

Compared to California, Kansas seems lush and almost tropical. Los Angeles blooms with stolen water wherever they install sprinklers. But the dry patches are nothing by kindling this time of year.

As much as I despise Los Angeles, it will be good to be back with Sarah and our little dog, Halle.

I'm even looking forward to going back to work at the UCLA law library. I think librarianship is the ideal lifestyle. I really enjoyed my internship at the University of Tulsa. All of the librarians were very nice. I felt more like an adopted member of an extended family than an intern. I enjoyed the two archival projects I worked on. I'd never done any work on an archival project before, so these two projects really helped to broaden my experiences.

I also learned quite a bit about international intellectual property, which is always useful for making small talk among librarians and other techno-geeks.

A week after I get back I have jury duty for the City of Los Angeles. The division I'm assigned to only does traffic cases. I'll let you know if I get to sit in judgment on anything interesting.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Welcome to the Blogosphere

Another one of my friends started blogging recently, Istvan the Mad.

On a recent post, he has a link to the Freeway Blogger. An interesting way to communicate your message to the masses as they file by in their personal pollution machines.

My favorite poster is: "We're all wearing the blue dress now."

Back, back to school

My internship at the University of Tulsa is over at the end of this week and I'll be heading up to Kansas for a few days before making my way back to Los Diablos. While I've enjoyed being in Tulsa and learned quite a bit in my internship, it will be nice to be back home with my wife and my dog. I do miss certain of my creature comforts, like my bed. And my PC. And my bicycle.