Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Election Reflections: The Power Elite in America

Note: This is cross-posted at my personal blog page over at the Bellman.

I've been reading through the book A World of Ideas: A Dictionary of Important Theories, Concepts, Beliefs, and Thinkers by Chris Rohmann.

Rohmann's entry on elitism is provocative, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Given our last election with two scions of wealthy families both using ideological wedge issues like gay marriage, abortion, taxes, the environment, the economy, social security, and fear of terrorism to motivate their constituents to vote for them, I think elitism is worth discussing.

elite theory
Theory holding that domination of social and political systems by powerful minorities is inevitable. The belief that only a select few, specially endowed or belonging to a particular group or CLASS, are fit to govern society is called elitism. The word "elite" has the same root as "elect" and implies both senses of that term -- those designated by ballot or appointment, or elevated from the multitude by God, chance, history, or natural gifts.

Elite theory, developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the Italian sociologists Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto, arose largely as a response to the MARXIST faith in popular rule.

They argued that all political and social systems, including DEMOCRACIES, are controlled by elites, be they aristocrats or clergy, generals or politicians, bureaucrats or captains of industry.

Elites perpetuate themselves through force, manipulation and legitimating IDEOLOGIES shared by the populace (which, in a democracy, include the promise that anyone may aspire to join the elite).

Revolution, usually resulting from stagnation among the ruling elite, merely raises another elite in its place. In Pareto's view, a regular circulation of elites -- typically alternation between CONSERVATIVE "lions" preserving the status quo and resourceful "foxes" responding to changing conditions -- is necessary to renew executive vigor and renew the public trust.

According to the iron rule of oligarchy, a corollary theory formulated by German political scientist Robert Michels, control of any political organization will unavoidably devolve to a small group because of factors such as the need for efficient action, the leaders' love of power, and apathy of their followers.

Classical elite theory became a justification for FASCISM, with which Pareto and Michels ultimately sympahized.

Modern ellite theorists often take a more PLURALISTIC approach, seeing modern democracies as characterized not by centralized power but by competition among political, economic, and institutional elites representing a variety of interests. However, sociologist C. Wright Mills contended that the upper echelons of political, military, and industrial leadership in the United States constitute an interlocking power elite who protect and promote their common interests.*

Now, elitism can be merely descriptive or prescriptive.

But what do you think of Rohmann's sketch of elitism? Is that descriptive of our current political culture in this country? Does elistism necessarily collapse into fascism? Could elitism be beneficial for creating vigor in the executive branch (or class)?

Should we try to destroy the power elite? Should we install another elite in its place? Is a truly egalitarian system of government possible? What would it look like?

Should we labor endlessly for some democratic old-money blue-blood in the hope that he will be better than the republican-backed figurehead at killing brown people and guaranteeing a good-paying job for every dumbass in America?

Or should we resign ourselves to the dominance of the elites (regardless of political label) and go back to watching TV, drinking whiskey, smoking dope , playing video games, driving our SUVs to the mall to buy more crap for the holidays and otherwise being good little consumers of government propaganda?

The last election reminds of a song by They Might be Giants:

I built a little empire out of some crazy garbage
Called the blood of the exploited working class
But they've overcome their shyness
Now they're calling me Your Highness
And a world screams, "Kiss me, Son of God"

I destroyed a bond of friendship and respect
Between the only people left who'd even look me in the eye
Now I laugh and make a fortune
Off the same ones that I tortured
And a world screams, "Kiss me, Son of God"

* (Terms in all caps are further defined within the book)

Robotics Update: Swarmbots

Using insect life as a pattern, European scientists are working on Swarmbots.

Marco Dorigo, director of the artificial intelligence research lab at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, leads a "swarm-bots" project funded by the EU. As he says, ants are simple creatures that can perform complicated tasks without centralised control. Dorigo and his colleagues are using ant algorithms to help control 20 mini-robots. Working together, these robots can cooperate to complete tasks such as transporting an object too heavy for an individual.

"Applications such as space exploration are envisageable, but the main goal of this project is of a basic research flavour. We want to learn how to design and control swarms of small and relatively simple robots," he says.

The swarm-bots communicate by coloured lights, sounds, or by pulling or pushing each other. Russell says using chemicals, as insects do, might have some advantages. "Biology shows us that in all the large groupings of insects, chemical communication is very important for organisation." |Link|

Monday, November 29, 2004

RFID Update: RFID ushering in the age of sensors

Distributed sensor networks are the wave of the future. And RFID will probably help build the infrastructure for them. Read Mark Roberti's article at RFID Journal.

Selected quote:

Sensor networks consist of wireless sensors that detect heat, light, movement and many other environmental factors. Also known as motes, the sensors gather data and transmit it from one node in a network to another and another until it reaches a node connected to a computer that can store and analyze the data....

Mulder believes that sensor technology will transform the way companies manage their assets. He gave examples of BP using sensors on railcars and motors on an oil tanker (see BP Eyes New Opportunities for more on the oil company's use of wireless sensors). Intel put sensors on some pumps within one of its own semiconductor plants and put sensors on grapevines in a California vineyard. Data was gathered and analyzed to try to improve maintenance and, in the case of the vineyard, ensure that the vines received the right amount of sunlight, water and other things necessary to the vines’ health and growth.

"It's all about productivity and efficiency," Mulder said. "Sensor networks have a transformational power that could boost world GDP by 10 percent or more."

I think distributed sensor networks have great potential for helping us manage the impacts of climate change as well as responding to industrial accidents and forest fires.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Surveillance and Privacy: The Legacy of Northern Ireland

The British government' s long occupation of Northern Ireland led them to experiment with a variety of electronic surveillance methods for tracking crime and terrorism. The British have now applied that expertise to their own domestic law enforcement practices.

Towards that vein, the BBC's Tom Geoghegan is reporting on a new product that takes 3-D pictures of faces for identity confirmation.

Interestingly, the US Department of Homeland Security last year appointed a privacy officer to do privacy impact analyses mandated by the E-Commerce Act of 2002. Her name is Nuala O'Connor Kelly, and as you might have guessed, she is from Northern Ireland.

She took the job partly because of her childhood experiences with Irish snipers, she told the USA Today.

She recalled getting caught in a sniper attack in Belfast when she was 7 or 8 years old, playing in her aunt's front yard. On Sept. 11, she says, she felt the same "fear that someone is trying to kill me, andit's not because of anything I've ever done to them." That, she says, "is something I don't want my child toever have to go through." |Link|
Snipers can be awfully pesky, as the Beltway Sniper taught our nation's Capitol.

Wired Magazine has an interview with her from 2003 available here.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Social Network Theory and Bloggers

In my Information-Seeking Behavior class we've been discussing Social Network Theory quite a bit. I decided to look it up on the web, and found this page applying Social Network Theory to bloggers.

This (rather long page) has more background on Social Network Theory.

New Facade and Inner Workings for the Bellman

My friend the Bellman (with the invaluable assistance of the Monkey) have re-tooled the Bellman. Have a look.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Biodiesel: Boon or Boondoggle

George Monbiot has a piece in the Guardian on the potential negative impacts of growing enough biodiesel to replace petroleum use.

He suggests that the cultivation of land for crops to produce biodiesel will lead to massive starvation around the globe and increase deforestation.

Selected quote:

Road transport in the UK consumes 37.6m tonnes of petroleum products a year. The most productive oil crop that can be grown in this country is rape. The average yield is 3-3.5 tonnes per hectare. One tonne of rapeseed produces 415kg of biodiesel. So every hectare of arable land could provide 1.45 tonnes of transport fuel.

To run our cars and buses and lorries on biodiesel, in other words, would require 25.9m hectares. There are 5.7m in the UK. Even the EU's more modest target of 20% by 2020 would consume almost all our cropland.

If the same thing is to happen all over Europe, the impact on global food supply will be catastrophic: big enough to tip the global balance from net surplus to net deficit. If, as some environmentalists demand, it is to happen worldwide, then most of the arable surface of the planet will be deployed to produce food for cars, not people.

This prospect sounds, at first, ridiculous. Surely if there were unmet demand for food, the market would ensure that crops were used to feed people rather than vehicles? There is no basis for this assumption. The market responds to money, not need. People who own cars have more money than people at risk of starvation. In a contest between their demand for fuel and poor people's demand for food, the car-owners win every time. Something very much like this is happening already. Though 800 million people are permanently malnourished, the global increase in crop production is being used to feed animals: the number of livestock on earth has quintupled since 1950. The reason is that those who buy meat and dairy products have more purchasing power than those who buy only subsistence crops.

Green fuel is not just a humanitarian disaster; it is also an environmental disaster. Those who worry about the scale and intensity of today's agriculture should consider what farming will look like when it is run by the oil industry. Moreover, if we try to develop a market for rapeseed biodiesel in Europe, it will immediately develop into a market for palm oil and soya oil. Oilpalm can produce four times as much biodiesel per hectare as rape, and it is grown in places where labour is cheap. Planting it is already one of the world's major causes of tropical forest destruction. Soya has a lower oil yield than rape, but the oil is a by-product of the manufacture of animal feed. A new market for it will stimulate an industry that has already destroyed most of Brazil's cerrado (one of the world's most biodiverse environments) and much of its rainforest.

Oil is finite, and we will soon pass the peak of oil production (if we haven't already). Monbiot discusses voluntary simplicity in another article, but I cannot see even a tiny fraction of Americans choosing a less consumerist lifestyle.

Personally, I think the end of the oil age with rapid climate change brought on by global warming and overpopulation which will ultimately doom human civilization.

Modernists assume that we can use new technology solve the problems created by older technologies. Postmodernists think this faith in technology is irrational. There is no reason to believe that we can fix problems faster than we create them. Indeed, I think there is mounting evidence of just the opposite....

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Police Practice Update: tasers being used on children in Miami

The Guardian reports on two recents uses of tasers against children. The second use sounds remotely reasonable, using the taser to disable a child who is injuring himself with a piece of broken glass and may be suicidal. The first use discussed was on a fleeing 12-year-old and is beyond the pale.

Tip for the future, if someone you love is despondent and suicidal, don't call the cops. Cops tend the think with their guns and are more than happy to oblige those who wish to commit suicide by cop.

And to be fair to cops, the literature indicates that a peson within 21 feet of a cop with a knife drawn will be able to critically injure the officer 80-90% of the time regardless of what the officer does. Handguns actually have little stopping power regardless of caliber and while the knife-wielding assailant may ultimately die, that won't prevent injury to the cop.

Friday, November 19, 2004

My wife the author

My wife's first two books just came out in hardcover and paperback. They're published by Altamira Press.

The first book is Introduction to Tribal Legal Studies.

Her second book, Tribal Criminal Law and Procedure also just came out in print, it's in the same series.

Read more about them both at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute.

I'm very proud of Sarah and all the great work she does.

Safety Neal's other hobbies include editorial assistance

I'm on the student advisory board of InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies , a progressive education and information science journal. FYI.

* * * * *
InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies is a peer-reviewed electronic journal that is committed to the promotion of scholarly work that examines areas of education and information studies via interdisciplinary and critical perspectives. The journal seeks to link diverse theoretical and practical projects, as well as provide a space to record the voices of emerging scholars (graduate students and postdoctoral fellows), activists, and practitioners.

As education and information institutions continue to face challenging times, we seek to promote submissions that engage alternative, liberatory possibilities informed by creative theories, methodologies, practices, and visions. In particular, we encourage submissions that:

· Utilize an interdisciplinary framework: Draw upon traditional fields of study (such as policy, sociology, information-seeking and retrieval, pedagogy, evaluation, psychological development, etc.) or provide insight from diverse disciplines (e.g., legal theory, ethnic studies, women’s studies, technology studies, etc.).

· Incorporate critical frameworks and address issues of social inequities:
These frameworks may include, but are not restricted to, feminism, critical race theory, Marxism, post-colonialism, critical pedagogy, queer studies, disability studies, etc. Whether or not submissions utilize these specific lenses, they should demonstrate innovation and commitment to advancing current analyses and discourses in progressive directions.

· Extend conventional areas of study through critical and interdisciplinary frameworks: These areas include, but are not limited to: bilingual education, affirmative action, special education, standards and testing, teacher education, school violence, higher education, social research methodology, information retrieval, access, systems and institutions, etc.

Deadlines: Currently, we are accepting papers for Volume 2, Issue 1. The deadline is January 6, 2005.

Submission Guidelines: All articles undergo a double-blind peer-review. Please visit the website for detailed submission guidelines. Manuscripts that do not abide by the submission guidelines will be returned to the author. Please contact interactions@gseis.ucla.edu for more details.

Please send an electronic version of your submission in Word or Rich Text (rtf) format to: interactions@gseis.ucla.edu. Send FIVE paper copies of your submission to: InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies
UCLA - Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
8328 Math & Sciences Building - Box 951520
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1520

City of Mosques lies in ruins

I saw this at the NY Times from Nov. 18th, written by Robert F. Worth and Edward Wong:

Almost all of [Fallujah] has been pulverized, and the biggest question facing American and Iraqi officials is how residents will react to seeing the vast swaths of destruction. Residents of the city were generally supportive of the mujahedeen and did not want the Americans to enter. American commanders say rebuilding efforts will win over the Fallujans, but reconstruction efforts by the Americans in other urban battle zones in Iraq, like Najaf, have stumbled badly.

Falluja is known as the City of Mosques, but the landscape is
now dotted by broken minarets, many destroyed by airstrikes.

Falah al-Naqib, the Iraqi interior minister, said at a news conference in Baghdad that families who fled would receive food rations and 150,000 dinars, or about $110, on their return.| Link |

Make that Fallujah was known as the City of Mosques.

Arkangel is an active-duty service-member who also seems to think we are fucking up badly in Fallujah, see his post Hearts and Minds.

Iraq seems more like a quagmire to me every single day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Augmented Reality: allowing the blind to navigate the world using RFID

Augmented reality is the process of using the virtual world to provide information on the tangible world. I usually use the example of a heads up display where one would see additional information for items, like the names and addresses of buildings just by looking at the building.

Over at Surpriv, I saw this really cool NSF grant summary for a system using RFID and XML to provide an augmented reality system for blind people.

Even in an ideal academic setting in which a University has unlimited resources to reduce the challenges in the classroom, blind students will miss out on the numerous educational opportunities outside the classroom.

This project proposes a navigation and location determination system using an RFID tag grid.

The retail industry has developed a low cost tagging system to electronically monitor products from manufacturing, warehouse and to the consumer. The design requirements to satisfy the needs of the retail industry are low cost per unit, reliable, powerless and the ability to transmit a wide range of data. By leveraging advances in RFID technology it is feasible to develop a system that utilizes RFID tags as a location based information grid.

Each RFID tag is permanently installed under carpet, wood floors, behind trim in hallways, along sidewalks and as part of any pedestrian path. Each RFID tag is programmed upon installation with its X,Y coordinates and information describing the surroundings. This allows for a localized information system with no dependency on a centralized database or wireless infrastructure for communications. For under $1 per tag it is possible to store 250 bytes of information that can be read as the user approaches the tag. Using proposed compression and flexible XML based protocols, an RFID grid in a room can store a complete inventory and location of the room objects and information about neighboring rooms.

Upon entry into a room the RFID tags at the door provide a summary of the room's content and the location of each object. This information is then read into the student's cell phone or PDA and when the student needs to find the electrical outlet, telephone, desk, vending machine, etc., the system - knowing its current location based on the RFID tag coordinates - can give the path to the object through voice prompts.

Now that is a really nice example of thinking outside the box.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Random RFID update: Do you know where your child is?

NY Times (reg'n req'd) has 2 articles on RFID today.
School kids are being tracked with RFID
and RFID is being used to track pill bottles for Oxycotin and Viagra.

Susan in the comments to my last post inserted a link Zombiewire, which is an interesting anti-RFID website.

RFID brought to you by Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility
The Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility has quite a few RFID links available. They also have a press release on Verichip, the new implantable RFID.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Death Penalty Standard...Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt

One of my classmates at law school, the inimitable Sean Rogers, suggested that perhaps we should use a different standard for the death penalty, the standard of beyond a shadow of a doubt. The criminal conviction would lie upon the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. But to execute a person, a jury would need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt in his or her guilt.

Sean suggested the case where we have a bank robber on camera shooting hostages in a bank. Seems pretty clear cut.

But in the cases of merely circumstantial evidence....perhaps a jury would convict, but wouldn't feel the were certain beyond a shadow of a doubt, and thus spare the life of the defendant while sending him or her to prison for life.

I think it's a provocative thesis.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Neal's Safety Tip of the Month: Own a Flashlight

Of course, it's no good owning a flashlight if:

a. The batteries are dead
b. You can't find it when you need it.

Several months ago I bought a couple of Russian Dynamo flashlights. I keep one in the house and one in the car. I got mine from NitroPak, but Sahalie is also selling them.

I've been using this dynamo flashlight while I walk the dog. It isn't a third as powerful as the D-Cell maglites I own. But I 've found it to be sturdy and it works well enough for me to scoop the dog's poop at night. (Too much information?)

These little dynamo lights can also be used to improve your grip strength, but you can strain your wrist if you overdo it, as I discovered. :-(

I keep both battery-powered flashlights and hand-crank flashlights on hand as well as glow sticks. And then I also have my half-dozen bike-lights that I use when I bike at night....

So I probably have all the lights any person could ever need. But can you ever have too many flashlights?

It's good to be able to see in the dark. It stands to reason that emergency's will occur at night half of the time....and the dark puts you at a severe disadvantage psychologically as well as tactically during a crisis.

I suggest that you buy a good flashlight, if you don't have at least one already.

Do you have a favorite flashlight? If so, let me know why you like it so much in the comments section.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Moving to Canada redux

My wife sent me Ten Reasons Not to Move to Canada, and they are all good reasons. But I still think Canada sounds nice. I should go visit and get to know our neighbor to the North better. DiGRA's conference is in Vancouver this year.

Justine over at Bellman also posted this article on liberal migration from the BBC.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Consume, review, consume

I bike a lot and I am amazed at the huge number of items for sale to bikers. Looking for product reviews, I ran across Gear Review.com. If you're looking to buy an altimeter watch, some climbing gear, or a new fork for your mountain bike, check it out.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Random RFID update: RFID as an Anti-Theft Device

The British government has been funding anti-theft intiatives using RFID. The case studies are a sign of things to come.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Falling Dollar

The Guardian has information on the falling dollar presented in the FAQ format.

George Bush is spending our children's inheritance right and left.

Our grandchildren will have to learn Chinese to better serve their masters.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Networked City

Wired has an article by Steven Johnson on how NY City has added geo-referencing to its 311 service.

Selected quote:

[T]he government learns as much as the callers do. That's the radical idea at the heart of the service: Every question or problem carries its own kind of data. Menchini's system tracks all that information; just as the heralded CompStat system mapped problem crime areas with new precision, 311 automatically records the location of each incoming service request in a huge database that feeds info throughout New York City's government. Think of 311 as a kind of massively distributed extension of the city's perceptual systems, harnessing millions of ordinary eyes on the street to detect emerging problems or report unmet needs - like those worries about unrefrigerated insulin. (Bloomberg himself is notorious for calling in to report potholes.)

Already, 311 data is changing the government's priorities. In the first year of operation, noise was the number one complaint; the Bloomberg administration subsequently launched a major quality-of-life initiative combating city noise. Today, geomapping software displays streets with chronic pothole troubles and blocks battling graffiti - all integrated into custom dashboards on city officials' laptops. (emphasis added)

That's a nifty idea. Although I still have absolutely no desire to ever come within 100 miles of New York City.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Life Lessons from Video Games

I saw this over at Ludology.

post US Election day post
Friday, November 05 2004

damn Wario! I can't believe he got a bonus life.

here's the only theory you'll ever need: you learn the game by having the monsters beat the crap out of you.

does anybody ha[ve] an extra quarter?

A Democrat's Guide to Canada

Tom Regan has written a Democrat's Guide to Canada. Pretty cool, eh?

Dual Citizenship

I've previously discussed that I consider myself a citizen of the world as well as a citizen of the United States. I attempt to evaluate many public policy issues from an international perspective and do my best to read the international media to gather a wide variety of viewpoints on issues.

Take the international land mine treaty ban, for instance. The current US administration opposes it and the Clinton administration opposed it on the basis that we need land mines in Korea. From a strictly US standpoint, maybe the treaty is a bad idea. But from a global viewpoint, the treaty is a fantastic idea.

While there are many great things about the US, an internationalist viewpoint is often lacking from our political discourse.

To take up a related issue, many people on the left often jokingly refer to moving to Canada or New Zealand due to political developments within the US. However, I have recently seen this response derided and mocked as "running away" from problems in the United States.

I am an American and I will continue to try to improve this country. Even if I obtained citizenship in another country, I would still retain my US citizenship. And as long as I live, I will retain my interest in the political process. The phrase running away assumes there is someplace to run to. Unfortunately the US military-industrial-infotainment complex is well nigh unavoidable these days...except maybe in the mountains along with Afghan-Pakistan border.

Actually, I think this idea that you have to physically reside in the US to play a role in the US political process is another example of American exceptionalism. The US would benefit if more of our citizens spent time abroad and gained dual citizenship.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Indian Space Program

Randeep Ramesh has an artilce on India's space program. Ramesh also discusses the Chinese space program and its plans for a manned mission to the Moon.

Selected quote:

In India, the space programme has become a symbol of technical prowess and self-sufficiency. Used to infuse the nation with pride at matching first-world powers in scientific fields, Isro has been feted by all the political par ties as proof that India can transcend poverty. Notably the country's president, APJ Abdul Kalam, started his career as an Isro engineer, although he made his name developing ballistic missiles.

Warming relations between Washington and Delhi are likely to accelerate Isro's development. In September, the Bush administration announced it would remove Isro from a US export restriction list, which regulates sales of dual-use technologies- those that can be used both for civil and military purposes.

Analysts say this decision should result in a three-fold increase in hi-tech imports from the US and speed up collaboration with Boeing to build communication satellites.

The commercial imperative is plain for all to see. Nair points out that Isro pays scientists $600 (£340) a month. "That is a respectable salary in Bangalore and one that gives you a reasonable standard of living. It is not the same for western countries."

Billions of people live on $1 per day and a rocket scientist in India makes $600 per month. Now I really feel like a fat-cat American.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Chief Justice Scalia

I am disappointed with the election, to say the least. Distraught might be a better word.

The most frightening aspect of it is going to the Supreme Court nominations. The words Chief Justice Scalia fill me with so much dread.

We can forget about the right to privacy, the right to reproductive freedom and the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. The Republicans now control all three branches of government. But Bush will be able to fill the Court with right wing ideologues and that will be his true legacy.

The global war between Islam and the West has been given a big xenophobic thumbs up. Time to take up our White Man's Burden and kill some more darkies. On the bright side, all the military spending will probably result in some nice surveillance technology to spin off to the police so they can monitor the population more closely.

I recently watched the movie the Professional again with Jean Reno and Natalie Portman. Natalie Portman plays Mathilda and Jean Reno plays Leon.

There's a scene where Mathilda is nursing a bloody nose because her father has slapped her around (again). Leon comes up and gives her a handkerchief. Mathilda asks Leon if it's always like this, or just when you're a kid.

Leon pauses, and then tells her that life is always like this.

Life is full of heartache and stupidity and there is no getting around it.

Cops and Computers

There's an interesting article available from the Police Foundation in PDF that suggests geocoding NCIC and NBIRS data.

NCIC is the database system used to check for outstanding warrants and NBIRS is what the FBI uses to compile its annual crime statistics.

Geocoding is associating an event with a location through a geographic system, like latitude and longitude . A map datum is a way of gridding the world. Latitutde and longitude is the best known map datum, but there are over 200 of them. UTM is the only other one I'm really familiar with.

I think geocoding NCIC and NBIRS is a good idea. A geocode is a useful bit of metadata.