Friday, December 30, 2005

Wex: A Legal Wiki

Cornell's Legal Information Institute (LII) has a a project to create a collaborative legal encyclopedia called Wex.

While the founders of Wex claim to agree with Wikipedia's philosophy that open editing is a good solution, they have chosen a different path.

Any collection of information that is collaboratively edited, as Wex is, has to strike a balance between the scale and quality of its offerings. That balance is affected strongly by the way it conceives and governs its pool of author/editors.

We agree with the founders of Wikipedia that materials that are left open for the world to edit will, in general, evolve into better and more authoritative resources over time. However, this approach raises serious policing issues in the short term. Some are quality-related; others have to do with problems of objectivity or of inappropriate use of the encyclopedia as a platform for advertising. The LII has a very small staff, and would find such problems difficult to control. |Link|

Monday, December 26, 2005

How to Slip a Bribe

I've been adding some safety & survival links on the right hand toolbar and National Geographic's Adventurer's Handbook is a colorful new addition.

My favorite advice so far is to never travel without whiskey and cigarettes.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

When Christmas was illegal

Law Librarian's blog has a post discussing when private celebrations of Christmas were banned in America. And by the Christians no less...

More background here.

The Minnesota Shuffle

Sarah and I are relaxing a bit in between bouts of unpacking and putting together Ikea furniture.

It's quite warm here by Minnesota standards, but this is creating its own complications. There's approximately six inches of snow on the ground and it's all turning to slush.

When the air temperature gets below freezing, the entire neighborhood becomes a huge sheet of ice. Our car slid down the driveway last night and this morning I had to go out and scrape all the slush off.

And I've learned from the Minnesotans that you the best way to travel on ice is to shuffle along...the Minnesota shuffle.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Blog confession nets 5 years in prison

A Florida teen has plead guilty to manslaughter charges after he confessed to causing a fatal accident on his blog.

Blake Ranking wrote "I did it" on his journal three days after the October 2004 crash that caused a friend's death and left another seriously injured. He had previously told investigators he remembered nothing of the crash and little of its aftermath. |Washington Post|
I think this reveals an interesting phenomenon about privacy in general. For some reason, many people seem to operate under the premise that if you do not see their face, then they are anonymous.

How else can you explain the countless stories of people who commit online sexual harrassment or blog about starting riots or commit online hate crimes or look at child porn on their computers when they must know somewhere in the back of their minds that all Internet traffic can be traced?

One of my fellow students at UCLA did a study where she asked people in a survey if they thought their email was private and most said yes. A few questions later she asked these same people if they were aware that IT people could access their email and most of these people said yes. It's a textbook case of cognitive dissonance!

I think this is part of the reason why people tell pollsters that online privacy is a serious concern, but these people will rarely do anything to improve their online security and privacy.

To my mind, it's similar to an ostrich sticking it's head in the sand. If you can't see my face, you don't really know me...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Video Games and Emergent Social Reality

On December 12th I attended a presentation focusing upon the educational aspects of video games, titled:

Retooling Libraries for the Digital Age: What Gamers Can Teach Us About Knowledge Production and Consumption
by Dr. Kurt Squire and Dr. Constance Steinkuehler.

Massively Multiplayer Online Games

The first type of video games discussed were Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG). MMOG’s are persistent real-time game worlds where individuals create characters and develop complex interactive worlds. These worlds are typically a fantasy or science fiction setting.

The game discussed most was Lineage II, which is a fantasy game, similar to the Lord of Rings world.

While these games are largely escapist fantasy, they exhibit elements of emergent social reality, which is to say that players exhibit many of the characteristics that we associate with real life. Characters in the game world get married and divorced, save money to buy houses, join social clubs, have meetings, etc.

These game worlds are richly textured and are populated by real people controlling a single character (or avatar). There are a few computer-controlled characters, but most interactions are between real people acting through their avatars.

Due to the complexity of these games players develop cognitive models of the world and use collective intelligence and to discover how to beat the game.

Players band together in groups (called guilds) and develop databases of topics ranging from military tactics to virtual manufacturing (which require balancing raw materials, labor, and capital).

Expert players assume leadership positions in these guilds and become executives in this virtual world responsible for the training and organization of 100’s of individuals in order to make their guild a success in the competitive world of gameplay where battles and hostile takeovers are commonplace.

Thus players exhibit managerial skills and an implicit understanding of cross-functional teams that have real-world applications.

These virtual communities typically initiate newcomers into the etiquette and customs of the virtual worlds through apprenticeship and information sharing. Each Guild hosts its own website with extensive proprietary game documentation.

Players also exhibit nascent scientific reasoning by developing hypotheses about how the game operates and then testing these hypotheses through experiments. This is especially significant because the educational literature indicates that this method of scientific inquiry is difficult to cultivate through classroom learning.

Gamers develop a functional language (or gamespeak) that allows them to communicate very quickly and efficiently in a fast-moving setting with 10-20 other players while multi-tasking game actions.

While gamespeak is a pidgin of English (and other languages), Gamers also create “fan fiction” that exhibits creative writing skills and a proficiency with grammar and dialogue.

There is a significant community of MMOG players. World of Warcraft currently has approximately 5 million players (at the time of this writing) and Lineage 2 has around 2 million players. The presenter analogized it to the populations of the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago playing these two games.

Typically the time investment is 20 hours per week for gamers and a subscription fee of $15 per month. While addiction is an issue for some players, most players are well-adjusted.

Studies indicate that gameplay time replaces television viewing for most individuals.

The Ethos of Games

The presenter asked why is it that people find these fantasy worlds so much engaging than the real world?

She outlined an ethos of MMOG’s as meritocratic and a participatory culture which encourages collaborative problem-solving and empowers people as needed individuals and not as cogs in a faceless bureaucracy.

Historical Simulation Games

The second type of game discussed was Civilization 3 which is a turn-based game where players lead a civilization from the Stone Age to the Space Age. There are a variety of victory conditions and multiple paths players can take to achieve victory.

For instance, players can achieve a cultural victory through trade and commerce or a diplomatic victory through global democracy. Players can win the game by building a colony on another planet. Finally, players can achieve a military victory by conquering or dominating all of the other civilizations.

The game has a built-in encyclopedia function called the Civilopedia that allows students to learn about the game, but also to learn about how societies function. The civilopedia covers civics, religions, technologies and other game features.

Players learn about the relations between politics, economics, and geography in the course of playing the game.

However, the researchers were interested in a site created by game fans called Apolyton University through players could increase their understanding of the game.

The players became so sophisticated that the game’s production company asked them to beta-test the newest iteration of the game, Civilization 4.

The Apolyton player community submitted an edited, comprehensive set of suggested changes that was longer than the Old Testament.

This is interesting for many reasons. First, this University is a self-organized educational venture. Second, it asks players to move to the next level and think about the game not as users, but as designers.

The presenters at one point described these video games as being a gateway drug to higher technology and a significant number of these expert players go on to write computer code to alter (or mod) the behavior of the games.

Games like Civilization 3 are essentially simulations of the world. By changing the code of the game, these expert gamers can see how the simulations react. This implies that as citizens these individuals will have a more sophisticated understanding of computer modeling and its inherent limitations.

It also suggests that these games are a design space for creating a better society and many of the gamers see analogies between gameplay and political contexts, such as the War in Iraq.

The gamers actually set up different historical scenarios and try to re-play history and see how different variables affect the outcome.

Why Libraries Matter

The presenters are both in the department of education at University of Wisconsin at Madison.

However, due to the strict statutory construction of school curriculums, schools have very little room to innovate and bring the insights gained from gaming into education.

The current elementary and high school pedagogical model is based upon a factory model that does not lend itself to individually driven educational plans and “out of the box” thinking. (The Montessori model is more amenable to self-driven and flexible instruction.)

Libraries therefore become better venues for pedagogical innovation. Libraries allow individuals to guide their own learning at their own pace and to make choices about what interests them.

The presenters suggest a new direction for libraries, along the lines of Wikipedia, in an article they wrote for Library Journal:

It is impossible to resist imagining a library built on gamer principles, where patrons decide which materials and services are offered and which are not. All discussions of the library's future direction would be open, with full transcripts digitized, searchable, and part of the permanent record. Mechanisms would be put in place so that patrons are welcomed as new users but encouraged to participate in decision-making and, eventually, contribute their own materials. Library users would be linked to their relevant social networks through a variety of tools. |Link to PDF|
It was a fascinating presentation. If you’d like to learn more, visit the presenter’s websites:

Dr. Kurt Squire and Dr. Constance Steinkuehler

We don't have to tell you a thing

Over at the Bellman, Jason has a great post about the administration's inability to foresee the logical implications of their policies.

Over at the Law Librarian's Blog, there a link to a report sent to Sen. Feinstein by Congressional Research Services about the duty of the Executive Branch to share (or withhold) intelligence with the Legislative Branch.

Absent a court ruling more clearly defining executive and legislative branch authorities in this area, which most observers view as unlikely, the executive branch has contended that it is under no legal obligation to provide Congress access to all national intelligence. By contrast, Congress, through its congressional intelligence oversight committees, has asserted in principle a legal authority for unrestricted access to intelligence information. The Committees, historically, have interpreted the law as allowing room to decide how, rather than whether, they will have access to intelligence information, provided that such access is consistent with the protection of sources and methods. In practice, however, Congress has not sought all national intelligence information. Unless there has been a compelling need, the intelligence committees generally have not routinely sought access to such sensitive intelligence information as intelligence sources and methods. When they have cited such compelling need for access, the committees generally have reach an accommodation with the executive branch usually, but not always. (footnotes omitted)|Link to PDF|
Of course, this administration seems to think that executive privilege gives it carte blanche to do anything it wants from authorizing torture to conducting illegal surveillance operations.

Maybe Jason's right and it's just a lack of imagination rather than megalomania.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bush admits to breaking the law...again

Paul Harris describes Bush's admission that he authorized an illegal wiretapping campaign this way for the Observer:

President George W Bush yesterday admitted that he personally authorised a secret spying programme on American soil and vowed to go on approving such operations.

The existence of the monitoring scheme by the National Security Agency was first revealed in news reports on Friday and triggered a storm of criticism over whether it violated civil rights.

Previously, domestic surveillance by the agency has only involved foreign embassies or needed the permission of a special court. But the new scheme, put in place after the attacks of 11 September, 2001, allowed the NSA to track the phone calls and emails of people in America without going to to court.

The President robustly defended the secret operations and said the agency's powers were reviewed every 45 days. The spying was vital in fighting terrorism and he would continue to authorise such operations.

'The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws to protect them and our civil liberties and that is exactly what I will continue to do,' he said. (emphasis added) |Link|
For once, President Bush put it well. I, personally, expect him to do everything he can do to accomplish his assigned duties that is countenanced by the law.

The court charged with oversight of intelligence monitoring is popularly known as FISA.
FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which establishes a legal regime for "foreign intelligence" surveillance separate from ordinary law enforcement surveillance. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, Pub. L. No. 95- 511, 92 Stat. 1783 (codified as amended at 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1811, 1821-1829, 1841-1846, 1861-62).|EFF|
Now, if there was any suspicion of US citizens collaborating with terrorists, the FISA court would grant an order to surveil these individuals.

The FISA court is basically a rubber stamp for intelligence operations. Why is Bush so hostile to the tiniest vestiges of separation of powers that he isn't even bothering with FISA warrants?

This administration has no respect for the rule of law.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

3 more years of Dubya

The Guardian has an anthology of reviews of Dubya. Some positive, some negative. Here's a choice tidbit:

Behind George W, there are four generations of Bushes and Walkers devoted first to using political networks to pile up and protect personal fortunes and, latterly, to using absolutely any means to gain office, not because they want to do good, but because they are what passes in America for hereditary aristocrats. In sum, Bush stands at the apex of a pyramid of privilege whose history and social significance, given his animosity towards scholarly thought, he almost certainly does not understand.|Guardian|

Monday, December 12, 2005


Our possessions finally showed up Saturday morning. We're in the process of unpacking and our apartment is littered with boxes, but it already seems more like a home already.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Disaster Map has a disaster map that shows some impending crises nationally. I was disappointed that they didn't show my two favorite disasters waiting to happen: LA and San Francisco's propensity for earthquakes.

The New Malthusians

Kate Ravilious reports on new research that indicates that approximately 40% of the Earth's landcover is being used for agriculture.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison combined satellite land cover images with agricultural census data from every country in the world to create detailed maps of global land use. Each grid square was 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) across and showed the most prevalent land use in that square, such as forest, grassland or ice....

"The maps show, very strikingly, that a large part of our planet (roughly 40%) is being used for either growing crops or grazing cattle," said Dr Navin Ramankutty, a member of the Wisconsin-Madison team. By comparison, only 7% of the world's land was being used for agriculture in 1700. |Guardian|

With the human population continuing to expand at an exponential rate, where will we grow food for future generations? (Especially given that we now have more elderly members of the population than at any other time in human history.)

Perhaps we will be able to grow food on top of our buildings...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

On liberty and subway searches

Interesting conversation going on among the bloggers over at Concurring Opinions regarding the advent of subway searches by the NYPD. This is as good an entry point as any.

Monday, December 05, 2005

My poor car

I am dealing with the cold quite well, even if the wind chill is 10 below today. The dog likes the snow and romps around, although at a certain point she will get chilled and just stand and shiver until I scoop her up in my arms and carry her for a while. After she warms up a bit she goes back to romping through the snow.

But my car is not dealing with the cold weather so well. The gas cap cover refuses to release anymore. If I warm it with a hair dryer it will open, and if I get Sarah to pull up on the lever while I push on the lid it will open, but otherwise it is stuck tight. And now one of the windshield wipers has stopped working. The car does not seem happy about the change in climate. At least it's still running.

Friday, December 02, 2005

You know you're in Minnesota...

You know you're in Minnesota...when you get scolded for suggesting that 12 degrees Fahrenheit is cold.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Above the law

It appears that a former senior U.S. State Department official also believes the Dick Cheney is guilty of war crimes.

Asked [on a BBC program] whether the vice-president was guilty of a war crime, Mr Wilkerson [Colin Powell's chief of staff from 2002 to 2005] replied: "Well, that's an interesting question - it was certainly a domestic crime to advocate terror and I would suspect that it is ... an international crime as well." In the context of other remarks it appeared he was using the word "terror" to apply to the systematic abuse of prisoners. |Guardian|

As if we needed more proof that our government is run by those who feel themselves above the law, it also has come to light that our fearless leader wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera.

The one indisputable fact, though, is that part of the memo - 10 lines to be precise - concerns a conversation between Bush and Blair regarding Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite television station that the US accuses of being a mouthpiece for al-Qaeda. According to those familiar with the memo's contents, Bush floated the idea of bombing the Qatar-based station. The Daily Mirror, which ran the story last Tuesday, claimed the Prime Minister talked Bush out of the plan.

As they attempted damage limitation last week, government officials suggested Bush's comments were nothing more than a joke. It was preposterous to suggest Bush would countenance such an idea, the officials said. The White House described the allegations as 'unfathomable' although according to those who have seen the memo 'there is no question Bush was serious.'|Guardian|
These people are totally out of control.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Why don't they flee?

Gary Wolf has a fascinating article in Wired magazine titled Reinventing 911. The article provides an insightful analysis of the failure of disaster response in this country despite the best of intentions and gobs of money being thrown at the problem.

During a large disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, warnings get hopelessly jumbled. The truth is that, for warnings to work, it's not enough for them to be delivered. They must also overcome that human tendency to pause; they must trigger a series of effective actions, mobilizing the informal networks that we depend on in a crisis. |Wired|

An innovative program in Portland, Oregon is taking a metadata scheme for disaster and crime information and making it open to the public to download and upload information.

As a disaster nerd and a library geek, I think the disaster and crime metadata protocol discussed is interesting and innovative, but the whole article is worth a read.

The Common Alerting Protocol, designed by Botterell in discussion with scores of other disaster experts. CAP gives precise definitions to concepts like proximity, urgency, and certainty. Using CAP, anyone who might respond to an emergency can choose to get warnings for their own neighborhood, for instance, or only the most urgent messages. Alerts can be received by machines, filtered, and passed along. The model is simple and elegant, and because warnings can be tagged with geographical coordinates, users can customize their cell phones, pagers, BlackBerries, or other devices to get only those relevant to their precise locale. The EDIS system proved itself in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, carrying more than 2,000 news releases and media advisories, and it has only grown more robust in the decade since. |Wired|

Monday, November 28, 2005

Blog confessions have real world consequences

It is simply amazing who may end up reading your blog.

When I wanted to come back to NYC, I was obviously stopped and interviewed by US Customs and Border Security people at the Buffalo border, like everyone else on the bus.

But when they realized I was going to the States to speak at a blog-related conference (ConvergeSouth) they googled my name right in front of me. Two of them, actually.

They carefully scanned the results and found this English blog. One of them, a very sharp guy in fact, started to read every single post on my blog. And it didn't take long until he shocked me: "So you live in New York, right? That's what you've written in your on blog."

I had no idea googling people at the border had become a possibility...

He was ecstatic. My blog made his day, or in this case, his night. He kept reading my posts and asking questions about a lot of them: Why did I go to Iran, what are my feelings about Bush administration, why I separated from my wife, what did think about Iranian politics, etc.

The guy was so in love with his job he wanted to get me into deep trouble so ultimately I could never go back to his lovely country, apparently. So he started to look for evidence that I'd also worked in the States and were paid by them. |Editor: Myself|
Seen on the Guardian Newsblog.

Pentagon pushes for bigger domestic spying role

Walter Pincus discusses legislative initiatives by the administration to give the Pentagon unprecedented access to surveillance information on U.S. citizens.

The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts -- including protecting military facilities from attack -- to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.

The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

The proposals, and other Pentagon steps aimed at improving its ability to analyze counterterrorism intelligence collected inside the United States, have drawn complaints from civil liberties advocates and a few members of Congress, who say the Defense Department's push into domestic collection is proceeding with little scrutiny by the Congress or the public....

The Silberman-Robb panel found that because the separate military services concentrated on investigations within their areas, "no entity views non-service-specific and department-wide investigations as its primary responsibility." A 2003 Defense Department directive kept CIFA from engaging in law enforcement activities such as "the investigation, apprehension, or detention of individuals suspected or convicted of criminal offenses against the laws of the United States."

The commission's proposal would change that, giving CIFA "new counterespionage and law enforcement authorities," covering treason, espionage, foreign or terrorist sabotage, and even economic espionage. That step, the panel said, could be taken by presidential order and Pentagon directive without congressional approval. |Washington Post|

Sunday, November 27, 2005

2300 miles later

We arrived in St. Paul last night, safe and sound. The car performed beautifully and the dog never even got carsick. We are feeling a bit haggard today but are recuperating. We made a pilgrimage to Ikea to buy some new home furnishings but were somewhat frustrated by items being out of stock. On balance, though, Ikea is a godsend.

The only real excitement of the trip was when I got pulled over for speeding, but the state trooper was very friendly and didn't even check me for warrants.

We did stop briefly in Wamego and Topeka to see our families. They are all doing well, but they have also been busy changing locations, so lots of new things to see.

Sarah's still adjusting to the new locale, but I'm so happy that I don't mind much of anything. I feel like I've been paroled from prison now that I no longer live in LA.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The long road home

I'm currently in LA packing the last few of my possessions into boxes. Fun stuff, I tell ya. But we are 95% done, so at this point it's mainly trying to decide whether to donate it or just toss it. The movers were supposed to be here Monday morning, but they called Friday to tell me they couldn't make it until Tuesday morning.

My landlord was pissed, but he's tempermental to begin with. It really just means we'll have less time to stop and see friends and family on our drive to St. Paul.

Hope you're having a better weekend.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Trial by Frostbite

It was 20 degrees when I left the house this morning, but I've actually been wearing less clothing for my bike rides. Once I start biking I generate so much heat that a heavy coat is just too much.

As long as your face, hands, and feet are well insulated, you don't really need to wear much on your torso and legs.

I did take a spill on my bike before I'd made it 100 feet from my house. Just nature's way of reminding me that you cannot make wide, lazy turns on ice...not even with fat, knobby tires.

After that wake-up call, the rest of the trip was uneventful.

I met a first year law student (or 1L)the other day named Shelby who has been biking to work and school year-round in St. Paul and it was good to discuss the issues with him. He told me how several years ago the Twin Cities received around 8 inches of snow in a day and he was still able to bike. Actually, he was passing cars the whole time b/c they were unable to plow through all of that snow.

His heart rate was redlined and it took him 3 times as long to get home, but he made it.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Please do not feed the deer

Did you know that it is a crime to feed deer in the City of St. Paul?

Sign the petition against torture

If you want to speak out against torture and ensure that you will get more spam from well-intentioned liberals, please sign the petition hosted by Congressman Charles Rangel of New York.

Torturer-in-Chief should get prison

90 Senators recently voted to re-affirm the ban in US law on the use of torture, which Bush is threatening to veto if it reaches his desk. And now it turns out that the CIA's own inspector general warned the administration that the use of torture was illegal last year.

The CIA's inspector general warned last year that interrogation procedures approved by the Bush administration could violate the UN convention against torture, it emerged yesterday.

The leaking of the inspector general's classified report represented an embarrassment for President George Bush, only a few days after he emphatically declared: "We do not torture." It also comes at a sensitive time when the vice-president, Dick Cheney, is lobbying to have the CIA exempted from legislation establishing stricter interrogation rules.

According to the New York Times, the 2004 report by the inspector general at the time, John Helgerson, expressed particular concern over an approved technique known as "waterboarding", which involves strapping a detainee to a board and submerging him until he believes he is drowning....

CIA officials made no comment on Mr Helgerson's report, but former CIA officials say most agents are unhappy about the blurred rules and doubt that harsh techniques are productive. "Americans do not join the CIA to commit torture," Jeffrey Smith, a former agency legal adviser, wrote in the Washington Post yesterday. |Guardian|
I hate to tell them that torture does not come under the category of "other duties as assigned". Torture is illegal. The Nuremburg trials established the precedent that just following orders is not a defense. Everyone who committed torture is a war criminal without a legal defense. We should punish them right after we impeach and imprison Bush and Cheney.

It is time for all people of conscience to demand the end of this illegal regime.
Nota Bene: I posted this as a comment over on The Bellman, but I felt the need to vent my political frustrations even more.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Polyamorous: the love that knows no bounds

I ran across this article in the Guardian and it reminds me of the renewable marriage-like multiparty contracts the Robert A. Heinlein used in his books like Friday.

What distinguishes the poly community from swingers is that we want to make multiple emotional bonds. Most people in the poly community won't have casual sex,' [Justen Bennett-MacCubbin, the founder of Polyamorous NYC] said....

To bored husbands or wives who might think being a poly means uncomplicated, carefree sex with multiple partners, Philippides has a stern warning. 'If you can't manage one relationship healthily, you are not going to be able to manage two. For polys, relationships are like a consuming hobby: they take up a tremendous amount of time,' she said.

Polys say that for many people, monogamy is unnatural. They point to spiralling divorce rates and widespread infidelity among monogamous couples. Polys, they say, are honest about the human condition. It is monogamists, they say, who live in a fantasy land.|Guardian|

But if they're so out of the closet, why is the first time I have heard of this in a British newspaper? Anyone else read about this elsewhere?

Of course, Wikipedia has an entry and Polyamorous NYC's website is here. And there's a FAQ from alt.polyamory if you want to learn more.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Biodiesel makes inroads as home heating oil

Gretchen Cuda reports in Wired that the biodiesel revolution is gaining a foothold as a home heating oil.

BioHeat has several advantages over conventional heating oil: The fuel burns cleaner and releases fewer harmful emissions, and it relies on domestic sources of renewable energy -- mostly soybeans. That means BioHeat is less harmful to the environment and reduces national dependence on foreign oil. Switching all heating-oil customers to 5-percent biodiesel could reduce oil consumption by more than 330 million gallons a year; changing to 100-percent biodiesel (B100) would decrease it by 6.7 billion gallons a year. |Wired|

Biodiesel is still more expensive than regular heating oil, but the price gap has narrowed due to the damage to oil production in the Gulf Coast.

For the do-it-yourselfers, this forum helps you convert your own furnace to biodiesel.

Moderate Republicans defer ANWR drilling

While the battle to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is far from over, the Refuge got a reprieve today as moderate Republicans refused to back Bush's plan to drill in the wildlife sanctuary.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Global Warming and Minnesota

Doing some research on the Minnesota legislature, I ran across a webpage by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency discussing the impact of global warming on Minnesota. It suggests that Minnesota's climate will come to resemble that of Nebraska's current climate over the next century, but with potentially negative consequences for native Minnesota flora and fauna.

So it is true, Minnesota is getting warmer every year.

Old man winter and bicycling

Today when I biked to school the temperature was 29 degress according to my thermometer. According to, the temperature as I write this (several hours after my bike ride) is 38 degrees in St. Paul, but with wind chill it feels like 33 degrees.

I was perfectly comfortable while biking today...although I was wearing wool pants, wool socks, hiking boots, a fleece top under a winter coat, a face mask, and motorcycle helmet.

But it's supposed to snow next Tuesday! I'm new enough to Minnesota that I'm really looking forward to the snow. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Although I haven't tried biking in snow before, I'm told that some Minnesotans bike year round. I'll let you know how it goes.

My biggest problem while biking today was that my glasses kept fogging up. Bicycling magazine suggests smearing toothpaste on your glasses and then washing it off....but I haven't tested that out yet.

Does anyone have an anti-fogging remedy they want to suggest?

Captain of my own ship

Ok, it's not really a ship, but I am now the proud owner of 13 foot kayak! I just need to wait for Spring now.

Monday, November 07, 2005

French Riots Spread

Not only are the riots spreading throughout France, but sympathy or copycat crimes are popping up in Belgium and Germany.

Apparent copycat attacks spread outside France for the first time, with five cars torched outside Brussels' main train station, police in the Belgian capital said.

German police were investigating whether the overnight burning of five cars early Monday in Moabit, a Berlin neighborhood with a large Turkish immigrant population, was a copycat crime.

The mayhem started as an outburst of anger in suburban Paris housing projects and has fanned out nationwide among disaffected youths, mostly of Muslim or African origin, to become France's worst civil unrest in more than a decade.

``This spread, with a sort of shock wave spreading across the country, shows up in the number of towns affected,'' Gaudin said, noting that the violence appeared to be sliding away from its flash point in the Parisian suburbs and worsening elsewhere.

It was the first time police had been injured by weapons' fire and there were signs that rioters were deliberately seeking out clashes with police, officials said. |Guardian|

The Logic of Social Control

James Boyle has an op/ed piece in the Financial Times discussing why the powers that be would never have let the web develop if they'd had any idea what was possible with the Internet.

Why is the web amazing? Because of what people have built on it. Some might remember when the most exciting sites on the web had pictures of coffee pots in universities far away. (“See,” one would proudly say to a neophyte, “the pot is empty and we can see that from here! This changes everything!”) But now? When is the last time you looked in an encyclopedia? When is the last time that your curiosity – what is the collective noun for larks? Is Gerald Ford alive? Why is the sky blue? – remained unsatisfied for more than a moment? (An “exaltation”, yes and look it up for yourself.) Much of that information is provided by volunteers who delight in sharing their knowledge. Consider the range of culture, science and literature – from the Public Library of Science and Wikipedia, to Project Gutenberg and the National Map. The web does not bring us to the point where all can have access to, and can add to, the culture and knowledge of the world. We cannot ensure global literacy let alone global connectedness. But it brings us closer....

Why might we not create the web today? The web became hugely popular too quickly to control. The lawyers and policymakers and copyright holders were not there at the time of its conception.

What would they have said, had they been? What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network. Beforehand, the logic of control always makes sense. “Allow anyone to connect to the network? Anyone to decide what content to put up? That is a recipe for piracy and pornography.”

And of course it is. But it is also much, much more. The lawyers have learnt their lesson now. The regulation of technological development proceeds apace. When the next disruptive communications technology – the next worldwide web – is thought up, the lawyers and the logic of control will be much more evident. That is not a happy thought.

[James Boyle] is professor of law at Duke Law School, a co-founder of the Centre for the Study of the Public Domain and a board member of Creative Commons |Link| (emphasis added)

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Future of the Twin Cities

The Brookings Institute has some hard data on why the Twin Cities is one of the best places to live in the country, but also reveals the challenges facing the region in the future.

Thanks to Debby for the link.

Death of the Fourth Estate

There's an interesting video piece about the future of (mis)information dissemination here that predicts the death of media as we know it by 2014.

Thanks to John Mayer and the Teknoids listserv for the tip.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Riots in Paris

It looks like the zero tolerance policy adopted by the French government has backfired and Paris has been convulsed with riots.

[French Interior Minister] Sarkozy maintained his hardline stance, saying policing would be stepped up to ensure every resident of France's poor immigrant estates - where unemployment can be five times the national average - had "the security they have a right to". He said 17 companies of CRS riot police would be assigned permanently to difficult neighbourhoods, along with seven mobile police squads. Plainclothes agents will be sent on to some estates to "identify gang leaders, traffickers and big shots," he added, promising a "national plan" to deal with delinquency by the end of the year.

Opposition politicians, human rights groups and even some members of his own centre-right UMP party have accused Mr Sarkozy of being more interested in high-profile repression than long-term prevention. They are also upset at his use of words such as rabble, yobs and louts, which they say is likely to stoke tensions further. "This isn't how we resolve these problems," a former Socialist prime minister, Laurent Fabius, said on French radio. "We need to act at the same time on prevention, education, housing, jobs ... and not play the cowboy."

But Mr Sarkozy, citing statistics that show 30 police patrols are stoned and as many cars burned every night on France's low-income housing estates, is unrepentant. "There are some gangs and traffickers who are living off the underground economy, off drug trafficking, who seem to think these neighbourhoods are beyond the authorities' reach, " he said on television on Sunday. So far, France's voters seem to back him: he is by far the most popular politician and is seen as a leading presidential candidate in 2007. |Guardian|
It shall be interesting to see what the long term results of this crackdown are because the short term results aren't encouraging.

Sunny Minnesota

I've been enjoying the weather in Minnesota for the last few days. It's been unseasonably warm and I've been doing some biking around after work. I came all bundled up in fleece and wool when I arrived Sunday night and had to rapidly start shedding layers to avoid overheating. Minnesotans' reputation for friendliness is well-deserved in my experience, although they have crime here too.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

GTA Retrospective

In case you aren't familiar with the video game Grand Theft Auto, or are a high school student writing a term paper on the history of video games, UnderGroundOnline has a retrospective. I didn't realize until I read this that the creators of GTA also created the game Lemmings, which was a great little puzzle game.

Exit Scene Left

Today was my last day at the UCLA law library. I'm a huge library nerd....but it is almost universally acclaimed as the nicest library at UCLA. But the building is just a shell, it is the staff who give it life. And I will miss my co-workers there. But now I am off to the snows of Minnesota...

Kansas is boring

Or so my wife told me in an email yesterday. Sometimes I miss boredom. Ok, enough blogging. Off to work.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Surviving a Riot

Hugh Muir and Riazat Butt report on the race riots in Birmingham. The violence was apparently started by a rumor of the rape of a young Carribean girl by Pakistani men. A pirate radio DJ reported the rumor on his station and then led a protest in front of the store where the rape allegedly occurred. It turned into looting and rioting pretty quickly, but when the local mosque was attacked, 300 men from a neighboring area moved to join the fray but were held off by police in full riot gear. At least one man is dead.

I've never been in a riot and with any luck I will never see one first hand. Riots present a fluid and chaotic situation and you'll have to trust your own gut instincts more than any set of pre-defined suggestions. But these are my general impressions:

1. If you can blend in, do so. Join the riot but escape at your first chance. Unless you're having a blast...

2. If you are a target of the riot, flee as best you are able. Don't worry too much about running people down. You may have to answer for it later, but it's better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.

3. If you can't flee the area safely, hole up in a room and bar the door.

4. If you are attacked by a large number of people, curl up in a fetal ball and play possum.

It goes without saying, but I welcome suggestions and first-hand experience of riots.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A riot by the police

The French are going to use riot police in an attempt to assert control over lawless areas. This sounds rather draconian, but perhaps they have good reasons for taking the police state route. There is something of an arms race between law enforcement and criminals. Perhaps this is a bad translation of riot police, I'll keep an eye out for more information on this development.

Being nearby when the police get all bent out of shape can be hazardous to your health. After Dan White was not convicted of Harvey Milk's murder on the Twinkie Defense, the gays in San Francisco rioted. In retribution, police from all over the Bay Area descended on SF and meted out punishment. They covered their badges with tape and beat the stuffing out of anyone they caught ahold of. It was a police riot. The 1968 Democratic National convention is another good example of a police riot.

I'll be interested to read more about how this tactic works out for the French.

Green Machines: Hybrid Scooters and Motorcycles

Yamaha has unveiled a variety of electric and hybrid vehicles at the Tokyo Motor Show. Green Car Congress has a preview here.

I've been thinking about getting a scooter or moped for myself next spring. I will be living 2 miles from work, which is a quick bicycle ride, but it's hard to ride in a suit and not get all sweaty. But an electric scooter would be perfect for my needs and it would pollute minimally.

Welcome to Los Angeles

So I was training my replacement today. She only moved to LA a couple of weeks ago, in that time she has received two parking tickets, been towed once, and was rear-ended once. The person who rear-ended her fled the scene leaving her to pay for the damage to her car.

I've been lucky, since I've been in LA, I've only been hit once by a car and that was on my bike. I came away from the accident relatively unscathed, but I think the car ended up with a dent. I don't know for sure as that person also fled the scene.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Anti-Scam Toolbar

Earthlink and Equifax are offering an anti-phishing and anti-pharming toolbar. Any interesting thought, at least.

You can read more about pharming at Wikipedia.

Customer Service Blues

My friend the Strawman suggested an innovative tactic for dealing with sprawling corporations and their shitty customer service. Just keep calling customer service back until you get a person who has the knowledge and the desire to help you. He told me about a friend of his who talked to 6 computer customer service rep's in quick succession before he got one who finally gave him the inside scoop.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Endless energy from space

Wired has an article by Michael Grebb on the potential for wired power and also discusses its use in the space elevator. I particularly like the idea of turning the moon into the universe's largest solar array.

In November 2003, David Criswell, director of the Institute for Space Systems Operations at the University of Houston, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee's subcommittee on science, technology and space to pitch a Lunar Solar Power system. LSP would use colossal solar arrays on the surface of the moon that would beam microwave energy down to Earth.

Criswell's concept is massive in scale: It would involve building 20,000 to 30,000 reception stations on Earth to accept the power beams and convert them into electricity that could be distributed to the population (The solar panels would be constructed on the moon with raw materials in the soil in "basically a glass-making process," he said).

Meanwhile, a series of moon bases housing up to 5,000 human beings (but possibly only a few hundred because of recent advances in automation and robotics) would be required on the lunar surface. "I hope they're Americans," Criswell told Wired News. "We'd be extending ourselves off of the Earth permanently."

Criswell predicts that the LSP system could produce a steady 20-terawatt stream that he predicts the estimated 10 billion people living on Earth by 2050 will need. "It actually provides you with such clean, sustainable energy that we can correct our past errors," he said.

Of course, Criswell's enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. One problem is the price tag: Criswell said the project would cost at least $500 billion before it started to break even, after which it would start paying for itself and increasing global wealth exponentially. Still, it's a hefty bill for an untested concept. |Wired|
I would much rather see a moon base than a silly space station anytime. The moon should have a permanent human presence as we prepare our Mars expedition, if you ask me.

I actually think it's more likely that the Chinese will build a moon base before the U.S. They have the money, an excess population to propel them to develop off-planet colonies, and a much higher tolerance for the loss of life in the pursuit of space exploration.
"China is expected to complete its first exploration of the moon in 2010 and will establish a moon base just as we did on the North and South Poles," promised Ouyang Ziyuan, head of China's moon exploration programme as he launched the country's national science and technology week in Beijing.

After its first man in space, China plans a space laboratory, a lunar orbiter to look for valuable elements and minerals, robot landings on the moon - and then the human touchdown.

The price of space exploration is enormous. Russia and the US - the only two states to have achieved manned flight - are struggling to keep their brand-new investment, the international space station aloft. Britain abandoned its own plans for a launcher 30 years ago, and until recently refused to join Europe in developing the successful Ariane series of launch rockets.

But China has a long tradition in physics, mathematics and engineering, and its doctoral graduates have been welcomed in the US and Europe for decades. A centrally directed state, it can throw huge resources at technical problems, and it has been able to learn from 40 years of pioneering triumphs and mistakes by the USSR and the USA. |Guardian|

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Re-evaluating the UN

The Human Security Centre has published a report creatively titled War and Peace in the 21st Century. The report contradicts the Bush administration's charges of the UN is obsolete.

In looking at the reasons for the decline of conflicts, [the author, Professor] Mack noted that most of the wars over colonialism ended by the early 1980s and the end of the Cold War ended the tensions between capitalism and communism. But he said the single, most important factor was the liberation of the United Nations.

"With the Security Council no longer paralyzed by Cold War politics, the U.N. spearheaded a veritable explosion of conflict prevention, peacemaking and post-conflict peace-building activities in the early 1990s," the report said.|CNN|
You can download the report here or order a copy from Oxford University Press.

New contact info for Neal

Since my UCLA homepage will be discontinued in the near future, I posted my new contact information at the Deer Sanctuary.

12 days left

I am leaving LA in twelve days. I'm so happy, I could kiss George Bush.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Neal the Necromancer

Demostrating my addictive personality, I used to play the card game Magic: The Gathering in college. It was a lot of fun and the form of gambling I enjoy most. But my friends won't play with me any longer b/c their spouses and friends see the game as anti-social. What's anti-social about friends getting together to try to suck the lifeforce out of one another?

Germany's First Female Chancellor

In case you haven't been keeping up on international news, Angela Merkel is taking over the reins of German government. And there was a huge earthquake in Pakistan.

Israeli Supreme Court bans use of human shields

Israeli politics are complex and my understanding of them is imperfect, but that anyone would endorse coercing Palestinians to act as human shields is hard for me to fathom.

The court ruled out both the placing of civilians in front of soldiers on operations and as well as an "early warning" procedure employed by the army.

In this practice the army forces local Palestinians to flush out wanted militants by making them approach their homes first and asking them to surrender.

The state argued that its rules were necessary to arrest wanted militants and did not endanger Palestinian civilians who - it argued - gave their consent to take part in the operations.

But that was disputed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Israeli Arab human rights organisation Adallah, who brought the case.

Adallah submitted an affidavit by one Israeli reservist who said: "No civilian would refuse a 'request' presented to him at 0300 [hours] by a group of soldiers aiming their cocked rifles at him." |BBC|
Israel's long experience with urban warfare has led to some innovative approaches, but this tactic seems egregiously immoral.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Happy Genocide Day

Today is Columbus Day. The arrival of Spain in the new world signaled a new stage in the genocide of the indigenous people of North and South America. I really like Howard Zinn's treatment of Columbus in A People's History of the United States.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

New Base of Operations

We've found our new place to live in Saint Paul! It's less than a mile from the bike trails that run along the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. It's approximately two miles from my new workplace and three miles from Sarah's new workplace.

The rent is reasonable and it has a working fireplace, which will be nice on those winter nights so that we can curl up with the dog in front of the fireplace. It'll give me an opportunity to actually do my blogging at the fireside. ;-)

I dropped by William Mitchell as well on Friday and they had a little party in my honor. They've even printed up my business cards already and are getting my office ready for me.

I purchased a new road bike to tool around St. Paul on Friday and put in about 20 miles of biking. I purchased a 2004 Trek 1000-C. I like aluminum bikes quite a bit, although my hybrid (a Giant Cypress) is a steel alloy. The extra weight does help to soak up bumps and potholes, but slows you down for long biking sessions.

The road bike probably won't see much use until next Spring, but then I will be able to use it to explore the bike paths around of our new base of operations. Our new place also has easy access to the Twin Cities' highway system and 7th street, which runs straight into the airport. Given how much Sarah travels, that is going to be really handy.

If I purchase a canoe next spring, I will have ready access to the rivers from my new locale as well.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Great White North

I am off to shop for apartments in St. Paul over the next few days. Blogging will resume upon my return.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Anti-Gun Irrationality

FEMA dismissed a Phoenix search and rescue team from working on Hurricane Katrina disaster response because the team had several law enforcement officers with them who carried firearms into the disaster.

Phoenix officials are threatening to refuse deployments in the future or possibly pull out of the federal agency altogether unless the rules are changed to allow teams to bring their own security, even if that means police with guns.

Phoenix police were added to the team about a year ago, and officials say they are essential to protecting firefighters and FEMA's $1.4 million worth of equipment.

Assistant Phoenix Fire Chief Bob Khan said his department also is questioning the federal agency's ability to manage working conditions, security and communications.

``We have an obligation to provide the safest environment as we can,'' Khan said.

U.S. Marshal David Gonzales said he was dismayed by the suspension because the setup with the police officers seemed ideal.

``We think this was a model,'' he said. ``We think all rescue teams should have armed escorts wherever they go, and we think this is something they should adopt nationwide.''|Guardian Unlimited|
This strikes me as particularly myopic and foolish. Police officers are highly trained and typically very disciplined in the use of firearms.

Mixing armed officers with rescuers during search and rescue operations in highly fluid situations strikes me as very prudent.

However, the last sentence of the article is also quite interesting.
Twice, Phoenix's team was confronted by law enforcement officers who refused to let them pass through their communities and told them to ``get out or get shot,'' Gordon said.
This comports with the accounts of the EMTs from LA that I wrote about previously who said they were threatened by Gretna county deputies when trying to flee New Orleans on foot. So in the Katrina debacle there were armed looters and rogue police officers running around.

Some might contend that this last quoted sentence is an example of why we should disarm the search and rescue teams. But this ignores the fundamental realities of America today. 200 years of the 2nd amendment means that this country has one of the world's highest rate of private gun ownership. No one can disarm all of the bad people....So at least let the search and rescue teams carry a little deterrence with them.

I've also read accounts of military officers who do not trust young Marines with live ammo in combat it's not just FEMA that has this problem. Significant segments of American society are virulently anti-gun.

I support reasonable restrictions on firearms (including a firearms training requirements and personality tests for first-time gun owners), but firearms (and bullet proof vests) are a necessity for many of those who go in harm's way to rescue others.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Ecological Sustainability

[C]urrent problems are largely rooted in the following circumstances:
The prevailing economic and development paradigms of the modern world, which place primary importance on the values of the market, not on Nature. The conversion of nature to commodity form, the emphasis upon economic growth as a panacea, the industrialization of all activity, from forestry to farming to fishing, even to education and culture; the drive to economic globalization, cultural homogenization, commodity accumulation, urbanization, and human alienation. All of these are fundamentally incompatible with ecological or biological sustainability on a finite Earth. |Deep Ecology Mission Statement|

Now you find religion....

The Bush Administration has now decided that energy conservation is good public policy as well as virtuous. And it only took two hurricanes for them to start giving lip service to conservation.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they're no longer encouraging conspicuous consumption and buying gas guzzling SUV's...but I don't think they're really interested in conservation. They just want Americans to give the non-renewable energy industry a little bit of time to get back on its feet.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Silk Road Re-Opens

China and India have resumed trade along the Silk Road according to this report by Randeep Ramesh:

What's happening [along the Silk Road] is only part of what is now being called the "Chindia effect", a phrase that has gained currency as it dawned on analysts that if the current growth rate persists in China and India, by 2050 the two nations will account for roughly half of global output. The "Chindia" region's potential of huge domestic markets - encompassing a third of humanity - cheap highly skilled labour and governments pursuing capital-friendly policies have led many to conclude that the world is at a tipping point in history.

In Mapping the Global Future, a report by the National Intelligence Council, a division of the CIA, analysts concluded: "In the same way that commentators refer to the 1900s as the 'American Century,' the 21st century may be seen as the time when Asia, led by China and India, comes into its own."....

Despite its reputation as a software superpower, India's exports have been driven by the export of one item: iron ore. Last year the country shipped 60m tonnes of iron ore to China, whose voracious construction industry is gobbling up the world's raw materials.

Chinese officials have long insisted that if their country is the workshop of the world then India is the globe's office.
The logic is that both can work together to corner markets. Many Indian IT firms already employ hundreds of programmers in China. |Guardian Unlimited|(emphasis added)
You can find Mapping the Global Future here.

Santa Ana's burning desire

The entire UCLA campus smells like one giant bonfire tonight thanks to the forest fires. The closest fire is at least 10 or 15 miles away, but you couldn't tell it by the smell.

The Santa Ana winds make September a hot time in Los Angeles.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

RFID to stop hit and run drivers?

This site proposes a new method of using RFID chips to document accidents and allow police to catch hit and run drivers. I think this is a great idea and a clever use of the technology. Actually, it could work just by stamping the VIN number on the chips, but RFID would make it easier to scan the information quickly.

In theory, if a system like this were implemented it should deter people's impulse to flee the scene of an accident since they'll be leaving a digital fingerprint at the scene of the crime.

Although leaving the scene of a crime is a undoubtedly an irrational, fearful thing in many cases...the marker tags probably wouldn't be a total deterrent, but over time they seem like they would reduce the practice of hit and run. I wonder if someone's done a study on reasons people flee the scene of traffic accidents...

Impaired drivers might not even notice that they ran someone (or some thing) down on their way home. This system would certainly net some people who were too drunk or too sleepy to be driving.

Murphy's Law: Peak Oil and Global Warming Together

Zwichenzug in his comment to my last post suggested the global warming poses a far greater threat to civilization as we know it than oil depletion. I agree.

Even if global warming doesn't change the basic climate model, global warming is adding a great deal of energy to the environment and storms are going to become more powerful and we will be seeing many more environmental refugees over the course of this century.

And Z is absolutely right that market forces cannot contain global warming. Truth is, there's absolutely nothing we can do to stop it. Even if we stopped producing any greenhouse gases at all today, global warming will continue to accelerate as evidenced by the the melting of the arctic sea ice.

[M]elting sea ice accelerates warming because dark-coloured water absorbs heat from the sun that was previously reflected back into space by white ice. "Feedbacks in the system are starting to take hold. We could see changes in Arctic ice happening much sooner than we thought and that is important because without the ice cover over the Arctic Ocean we have to expect big changes in Earth's weather." |Guardian Unlimited|
The process of global warming has been set in motion and there is no going back.

Global warming will undoubtedly change the climate model and our traditional system of agriculture will have to adapt as growing temperatures and growing seasons change around the planet. Food yields will probably drop (at least for a while) and problems of feeding people will mount.

So...compared to that Peak Oil doesn't seem like a big deal. I think of Peak Oil more as adding insult to injury.

Just when our global civilization will need all of its resources to meet the changes ushered in by global warming, the availability of oil will start to decline and prices will increase precipitously.

Natural gas is also used as a feedstock for fertilizer, so it will be more expensive to use ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the future as well.

That's why I think we need to think about how best to make our society global-warming resistant. Now I'm not an engineer, but I have a few ideas.

First, we should develop a more distributed power system rather than our centralized power grid. We should encourage alternative fuels and fund the installation of solar cells onto houses, especially in areas like LA and Phoenix where there are tons of people and very few houses with solar arrays.

Second, we should try transport more things by rail and fewer things by air and truck.

Third, we should develop mass transit systems and encourage bicycling. We should give tax incentives to employers to install shower facilities and lockerrooms at places of business along with adequete bicycle parking.

We should also implement a national service requirement for 18 to 20 year olds and put them to work building up infrastructure like railways, levees, designated floodplains, solar arrays, windmills, and wave power to help us deal with the coming storms.

I know I'm not the only one thinking about these issues, so feel free to let me know if you have other suggestions or send me links to other suggestions.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Peak Oil Puzzle

George Monbiot sums up the Peak Oil puzzle well when he writes:

Are global oil supplies about to peak? Are they, in other words, about to reach their maximum and then go into decline? There is a simple answer to this question: no one has the faintest idea.|Link|

He goes on to make an argument for switching to fossil fuel alternatives sooner rather than later to lessen the trauma to society when the oil does start to run out. I concur heartily.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Management Techniques: Balanced Scorecard

Amelia Gruber writes:

The balanced score card [management method] encourages managers to concentrate on five areas when trying to improve program performance: ensuring that the program has a clear mission; attracting resources and support; developing internal expertise; aligning resources; and allocating funds to areas where money would make the most difference....

Organizations that excel at the approach have strong leaders, apply the technique consistently, involve all levels of employees in strategic planning and can translate paper plans into action, Kaplan said. |Govexec|(emphasis added)
That's sounds easy enough...of course the devil is always in the details.

Hunting going the way of the Dodo?

The number of people hunting has been declining for over a decade according to the Christian Science Monitor's Marc Clayton. But the NRA and the hunting lobby are working to change that.

The National Wild Turkey Federation's new Families Afield program is targeting 33 states that currently make it illegal for youths to go deer hunting before age 12. It also is deploying new youth programs like Xtreme Jakes, which combines elements like rock climbing and mountainbiking with target shooting in triathlon-style events.

"We're just starting a new generation of programs based on solid research - not just things that feel good," says Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, a Harrisonburg, Va., opinion research firm serving wildlife agencies and hunting groups.

These programs - built on the research of psychologists like Jean Piaget, who pioneered the study of children's intellectual development, focus on the psychological requirements to build an inclination toward hunting starting at an early age.

Hunting groups have gotten the message. "We decided to use those [extreme sports] as a hook to get them interested first, then involved in the outdoors - and then tell them about hunting," says Mandy Harling, Xtreme Jakes program manager for the Wild Turkey Federation.|CSM|
I'm pretty ambivalent about hunting. If you're actually eating what you hunt, that's cool. But trophy hunting seems superfluous to me. Take up bird watching or something.

While I enjoy shooting guns, I don't see the need to kill animals to have a good time. And hunting is dangerous. I'm not sure I want people under the age of 12 hunting while I'm out in the woods with them. Both for my safety and theirs...

It is true that we've almost eradicated the natural predators for deer and that deer now are damaging some ecosystems with overgrazing, but that strikes me as a good reason to bring back the natural predators.

It is true that permitting brings money into conservation, but there are a zillion different ways to fund conservation. How about taxing gasoline or bullets or SUV's or suburban sprawl or any of the other totally superfluous anti-environmental things Americans buy?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

KSU professor seeks IED detector

The Associated Press' Carl Manning has an article about research being done by Bill Dunn, a professor of Nuclear Engineering at Kansas State University, to develop a detector for explosives and improvised explosive devices (or IED's).

With some modifications here and few tweaks there, Dunn believes technology routinely used to figure soil density or measure muscle fat in meat can detect explosives.

Dunn envisions two types of sensors. One would be large and transported in a van, capable of detecting explosives several yards away. The van could be at a vehicle checkpoint and data could be fed into a computer a safe distance away.

Right now, the sensors can work up to a couple of yards, but Dunn’s goal is to extend that range to at least 10 yards and be able to detect an explosive in less than 10 seconds.|Lawrence Journal World|
I graduated from K-State back in the 20th century and I'm pleased to see K-State making a contribution to saving the lives of our service men and women.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Augmented reality and law enforcement

In my post about the Posse Comitatus Act earlier this week, I was discussing the militarization of the police. Haggerty and Ericson have a great article on this topic in the Journal of Military and Political Sociology that is well worth looking up:

Michel Foucault has suggested that the eighteenth century was shaped by a military dream of the perfect society, a dream which consisted of the "meticulously subordinated cogs of a machine," "permanent coercions," "indefinitely progressive forms of training" and "automatic docility." Contemporary transformations in military technoscience have augmented, and to some degree supplanted, this disciplinary vision. The twenty-first century also promises to be shaped by its own militaristic dream, one that involves a quest for immediate, perfect and total knowledge, absolute command at a distance, all combined with the ability to transcend human limitations on perception.

Kevin D. Haggerty and Richard V. Ericson, The Militarization of Policing in the Information Age, 27 Journal of Military and Political Sociology 233, 237 (Winter 1999) (citations omitted).
Simon Davies has also observed that closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) have had a profound effect on law enforcement and how we define the urban landscape in this post-modern age.
CCTV is quickly becoming an integral part of crime-control policy, social control theory, and "community consciousness." It is widely viewed as a primary solution for urban dysfunction. It is no exaggeration to conclude that the technology has had more of an impact on the evolution of law enforcement policy than just about any other technology initiative in the last two decades....The effectiveness of CCTV in preventing crime is not certain, but it would be difficult to deny that the technology is quickly changing the face of crime prevention and social control.

Simon G. Davies, Re-Engineering the Right to Privacy: How Privacy Has Been Transformed from a Right to a Commodity. Technology and Privacy: The New Landscape 147, 151 (Philip E. Agre and Marc Rotenberg, eds., MIT Press: 1998)
It's hard to discuss these issues dispassionately. David Lyon summed it up well when he wrote:
Several years ago, when I first started researching and writing about surveillance, I endeavored to maintain an appropriate stance that was neither paranoid nor complacent. I argued (and still do) that surveillance of some kind is both socially necessary and desirable but that it is always ambiguous. The dangers and risks attending surveillance are as significant as its benefits. In contexts where I felt people were being alarmist and shrill I cautioned restraint and pleaded for more careful analysis. In contexts where complacency seemed to reign I tried to show that surveillance has real effects on people's life-chances and life-choices that can at times be very negative.

Since 9/11, however, the pendulum has swung so wildly from "care" to "control" that I feel compelled to turn more robustly to critique. While I still insist that attitudes towards surveillance should be ambivalent, the evidence discussed in this book obliges me to observe that oblique dissent will no longer do. Some instances of early twenty-first century surveillance are downright unacceptable, as they directly impugn social justice and human personhood. They help create a world where no one can trust a neighbor, and where decisions and policy are made behind closed doors or within "smart" systems.

David Lyon, Surveillance after September 11 143 (Polity: 2003).
Of course, cameras aren't only being used by the state, video vigilantes are using cameras to document abuses by the state. The ubiquity of camera phones and camcorders means that any event could be recorded. Anything you do may be recorded by someone with or without your knowledge. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase: "The whole world is a stage."

Thursday, September 22, 2005


I ran across the Skijor site while searching for mountain bike trails in St. Paul. Turns out you don't need a dog sled, just a dog and a pair of skis. See for yourself.

Domestic crises sap Iraq support

Opinion polls are showing that Americans support for the occupation of Iraq is waning and most now think we should spend more money on hurricane reconstruction and less on Iraq, according to the CSM's Tom Regan.

Unfortunately for Bush, his foreign policy team has bungled Iraq's reconstruction badly and how he's running out of time and money to build a sustainable democracy there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Anonymous Lawyer

Just ran across Anonymous Lawyer blog tonight. I laughed so hard I think I wet myself.

Now that's reality TV

Jon Henley reports on a new reality TV show in the Netherlands that will involve illegal drug use and quite a bit of sex.

Main presenter Filemon Wesselink, 26, is billed to go on a pub crawl, take heroin in the form of a pill, and try LSD at home on the sofa under the watchful eye of his mother. He will also retire into a locked room and try to establish whether oral sex is better from a man or a woman.

Meanwhile, his co-presenter, Ties van Westing, will interview both Wesselink and guests about their sexual and/or narcotic practices. "We just want to explain really clearly what all this stuff actually does to you," Mr Van den Broek said.

News of the show has caused a fuss even in the liberal Netherlands, where marijuana is sold and used openly and red light districts display near-naked prostitutes in shop windows."This is dangerous and sets a bad example," a spokesman for the governing Christian Democrat party told the Associated Press.

A justice ministry spokesman said that parts of the show were "probably illegal", but it was not yet clear whether anyone could be prosecuted.|Media Guardian| (reg'n req'd)
You have to admit, it's not boring.

Resources wars update: the folly of Iraqi oil

Tom Englehardt reminds us that controlling strategic energy resources is not as easy as it sounds and that Iraq is showing just how deluded the Bush administration was in thinking they could protect and control Iraq's oil infrastructure.

Energy is a strange thing to control militarily. As Iraq showed and Katrina reminded us recently, its flow is remarkably vulnerable, whether to insurgents, terrorists, or hurricanes. It's next to impossible to guard hundreds, not to say thousands, of miles of oil or natural gas pipelines. It's all very well to occupy a country, set up your "enduring camps," and imagine yourself controlling the key energy spigots of the globe, but doing so is another matter. (As the saying went in a previous military age, you can't mine coal with bayonets.) In the case of Iraq, one could simply say that the military conquest and occupation of the country essentially drove Iraq's oil deeper underground and beyond anyone's grasp. Hence, the signs should indeed say: "BLOOD FOR NO OIL." It's the perfect sorry slogan for a sad, brainless war; and even the Pentagon's resource-war planners might consider it a lesson worthy of further study as they think about our energy future. |Common Dreams|
Michael T. Klare, also printed in today's edition of Common Dreams, provides support for this viewpoint when he writes:
Clearly, gaining control of what Wolfowitz once described as a country that "floats on a sea of oil" was one of the Pentagon's highest priorities in the early days of the invasion. As part of its planning for the assault, the Department of Defense established detailed plans to seize Iraqi oil fields and installations during the first days of the war. "It's fair to say that our land component commander and his planning staff have crafted strategies that will allow us to secure and protect these fields as rapidly as possible," a top Pentagon official told news reporters on January 24, 2003. Once U.S. troops entered Iraq, special combat teams spread out into the oil fields and occupied key installations. In fact, the very first operation of the war was a commando raid on an offshore loading platform in the Persian Gulf. "Swooping silently out of the Persian Gulf night," an over-stimulated reporter for the New York Times wrote on March 23, "Navy Seals seized two Iraqi oil terminals in bold raids that ended early this morning, overwhelming lightly armed Iraqi guards and claiming a bloodless victory in the battle for Iraq's vast oil empire."

This early "victory" was followed by others, as U.S. forces occupied key refineries and, most conspicuously, the Oil Ministry building in downtown Baghdad. So far, so good. But almost instantaneously things began to go seriously wrong. Lacking sufficient troops to protect the oil facilities and all the other infrastructure in Baghdad and other key cities, the military chose to protect the oil alone -- allowing desperate and rapacious Iraqis to go on a rampage of looting that fatally undermined the authority of the military occupation and the U.S.-backed interim government. To make matters worse, the very visible American emphasis on protecting oil facilities while ignoring other infrastructure gave the distinct -- and not completely inaccurate --impression that the United States had invaded Iraq less to liberate it from a tyrannical regime than to steal, or at least control, its oil. And from this perception came part of the anger and resentment that constituted the essential raw materials for the outbreak of an armed insurgency against the American occupation and everything associated with it. The Bush administration never recovered from this disastrous chain of events. |Common Dreams|

Profanity as coping mechanism

The New York Times (reg'n req'd) has an interesting article by Natalie Angier discussing the evolutionary psychology of profanity.

Yet as much as bad language can deliver a jolt, it can help wash away stress and anger. In some settings, the free flow of foul language may signal not hostility or social pathology, but harmony and tranquillity.

"Studies show that if you're with a group of close friends, the more relaxed you are, the more you swear," Dr. Burridge said. "It's a way of saying: 'I'm so comfortable here I can let off steam. I can say whatever I like.' "

Evidence also suggests that cursing can be an effective means of venting aggression and thereby forestalling physical violence.

With the help of a small army of students and volunteers, Timothy B. Jay, a professor of psychology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams and the author of "Cursing in America" and "Why We Curse," has explored the dynamics of cursing in great detail.

The investigators have found, among other things, that men generally curse more than women, unless said women are in a sorority, and that university provosts swear more than librarians or the staff members of the university day care center.

Regardless of who is cursing or what the provocation may be, Dr. Jay said, the rationale for the eruption is often the same.

"Time and again, people have told me that cursing is a coping mechanism for them, a way of reducing stress," he said in a telephone interview. "It's a form of anger management that is often underappreciated." |Link|

It is certainly true that sometimes the best way to get the point across is with a well-chosen profanity. It's all about context...

Ask for an Independent Commission on Katrina

I have to give props to Bush for finally accepting responsibility for something the federal government hasn't done perfectly. I know he was doing the best he could....but the response to Katrina was thoroughly bungled. And since it looks like we're in a very active hurricane cycle for the next few years, it's prudent that the Fed's learn everything they can from this total meltdown.

The Democrats aren't perfect, but allowing the Republicans to run the show by themselves on the investigation into the Katrina debacle is just asking for a whitewash.

That's why I signed Common Cause's petition here. You can read Common Cause's blog here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Send in the cavalry: the militarization of law enforcement and the Posse Comitatus Act

The bungled response to Hurricane Katrina has led many in Washington to question the value of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., has asked the Pentagon to review laws governing the use of the active military for domestic operations, including law enforcement. Warner, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, wants a review of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act and the insurrection statutes written in the 1860s and 1870s.

"That framework of laws has served us well for the history of our country, but our nation is faced with some unusual threats today unlike anything we had when these laws were devised," Warner said. He said he wants a "careful review" and did not put a timeline on when it should be done.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said a review is warranted, adding that it is "probably time for a change."

"We may, in some situations, want to give a president ... the opportunity early on in a crisis to federalize the operation," said Lieberman, who is ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and also sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"The fear ... of federal military usurping state and local authority and, in the worst case, martial law imposed by a president has to give way to the reality of lives on the line that in many cases only federal authorities will save," Lieberman added.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said the military might be the only option when first responders and local infrastructure are wiped out.

"I think that mobilization of sufficient resources with a strong command and control structure and good communications is something our military can provide. If it can't be provided locally or at the state level or with the [National] Guard, active military will be deployed," he said.

Frist added, however, that he does not know if any changes to the law are necessary.

But Allen acknowledged that giving the federal government greater control over disaster response operations might present legal complications.

"This country was made to have constitutional challenges," he said. "The organization and the execution of government in the United States was made messy on purpose." |GoveExec|

The Bush Administration has long wanted to dispense with Posse Comitatus and Katrina has given them a very powerful argument for dispensing with the act.

President Bush suggested a larger disaster relief role for the armed forces in his national address last week, and Congress has indicated it will take up the issue this autumn. Though the topic has emerged at other troubled times - most recently 9/11 - Congress has always avoided amending Posse Comitatus, the law that has kept active-duty soldiers out of civilian law-enforcement affairs since Reconstruction.

Anger over the scenes of chaos in New Orleans in the days after the hurricane, however, seems to have shifted the political landscape. It is an issue of profound importance both to the Pentagon and to the country at large, raising questions about the boundaries between the armed forces and American society - as well as the military's ability to press the war on terror abroad if it receives a new homeland mission.

"There's a strong historical precedent against doing this," says Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution here. "But now we've got a real reason."

The difference is the scope of the destruction and the dire results of the delayed response, scholars say. During previous disasters, local responders were able to help many victims, while others were able to manage without power or shelter. Katrina, however, completely incapacitated local first-responders, and in the days before help arrived, New Orleans was beset by anarchy. |CSM|
Of course the militarization of the police has been a continual process. The Clinton administration actively sought to transfer cold war era technology to the police as part of the peace dividend. A lot of the urban surveillance technology was pioneered by the British as a way to control Northern Ireland. The infra-red camers watching citizens from bullet proof domes are directly military spin-offs. London used to be the most observed city in the world with all of its cameras, and they're adding more after the attacks on the Underground. But I'm sure other cities (like DC) are catching up in terms of surveillance cameras.

After the end of the cold war, defense contractors increasingly marketed their products as dual use meaning they could be used by the military or police. The fact that you see police officers with M-16s and Kevlar helmets jumping out of former military helicopters is not an accident.

I bring this up to point out that the militarization of the police has been a process and this move by the Bush administration takes a long process of militarization to the next level.

As I've commented elsewhere, I think we should modify the Posse Comitatus Act, but not do away with it entirely.

It would be more prudent to amend the Act to allow use of the military in disaster situations or terrorist attacks or any other case where the President and Governor agree.

I'd probably put some nominal safeguards as well, such as neither the Speaker of the House (or agent) nor the Governor of the State(s) involved must have any objection to the deployment of U.S. troops in a domestic law enforcement role.

If there were an objection, I'd send it to a randomly selected Circuit Court of Appeals for an expedited ajudication.

As to reversing the militarization of the police, I don't think it will happen. I think that the Second Amendment and the prevalence of firearms almost requires the police to go to the next level to keep up. The threat of terrorism (as much as the reality) will also push law enforcement to adopt ever more sophisticated and militant tactics.

What's $2 billion among friends?

Bush and his puppet Allawi may have presided over the greatest theft in human history.

The Bellman has some analysis of the story here. Of course, we may never know how much was actually stolen.

This revelation coming on the heels of the mismanagement of the Katrina disaster really makes me fear that there is no strong hand steering the ship of state in this country.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Come on coppers...

Dan Merkel has some thoughtful commentary on the news that Governor Jeb Bush's son was arrested for public intoxication and resisting arrest.

I, for one, will be curious to see what kind of leniency young John Ellis Bush receives in Austin. It appears that Gov. Bush's daughter, Noelle, has already benefited from judicial largesse. |Prawfsblog|

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Hundred Handed Ones

I recently re-organized my left hand links and added some labels to make it easier to browse.

One of my friends is a sculptor and metalsmith and he makes some incredible art. The armor that he makes just boggles my mind.

He has images up of a custom motorcycle gas tank that he sculpted out of 16-gauge steel. Very impressive stuff.