Thursday, March 31, 2005

Doggy Diet

I took my dog, Halle, to the vet today and it turns out she has put on 8 pounds in the last 9 months. She's now up to a whopping 30 pounds.

Definitely going to have to cut back on the between meal snacks and junk food.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

New World Order with fries and a shake

Martin Jacques has an interesting piece in the Guardian Unlimited discussing the methods and strategies of the Bush administration in trying to change the world.

The withdrawal of the US from international treaties does not condemn international law to the dustbin of history. It is evident, however, that the Americans are determined either to render these treaties redundant simply by ignoring them, force them to be renegotiated or perhaps both. In effect, what the Americans are intent on doing is reordering the world system to take account of their newly defined power and interests. Every part of the world is likely to feel the consequences of this geo-political earthquake, but some much more than others.

The restless determination of the Bush administration to reorder global affairs is well-illustrated by a classified document prepared by the US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a prelude to a massive review of Pentagon spending. It requires the military to build a far more proactive force focused on changing the world rather than responding to specific conflicts such as the Korean peninsula. |Link|

His thesis is that the Bushies are only unilateral when they think they can get away with it and asserts that the multi-lateral approach to North Korea proves this.

So he's suggesting that part of the reason this administration treated Iraq different than North Korea is that not only were they trying to set up a new political order in the Middle East, but they also intended to slap down Old Europe at the same time.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


The other day my boss asked me to work on a book acquisition project, she just wanted a basic price survey and I asked a few questions before she stopped me by saying: "Don't overthink it."

And the lightbulb went on over my head. That's been my problem my whole damned life! I'm an overthinker. Tell me to do something and I'll instantly try to decide if it's the right thing to do. Ask me a simple question and I'll ask for more context. How did your information need arise? (It's called the reference interview...)

I rarely leap without looking. I rarely do anything without considering the implications of my actions. Is it moral? Is it expensive? Is it racist coming from me? Will it offend anyone? Do I care what those *&%$* people think?

I don't write an email without including metadata anymore. I don't write things without citing the work of others.

But maybe I need to curb my ponderous habits. I need to become more spontaneous, more impulsive, less analytical. Maybe I need to be less of an overthinker.

I'll think it over for a day or two first. :-b

Thursday, March 24, 2005


I'm very grateful for the webspace provided to me by blogger, but because it is web-based, it does odd things sometimes. You may have noticed a double-post from time to time.

What typically happens there is that I submit a post and an error is returned saying the page could not be found. I will typically log off and log back on and look for the post autosaved as a draft. Sometimes this happens, but usually not. So I will go ahead and recreate the post. The next morning, the lost post reappears magically.

The magic of TCP/IP.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Must See TV: MI-5 on A&E...and a few thoughts on the CIA

MI-5 is the agency responsible for internal security and counter-intelligence in the UK. It's also a TV show produced by BBC/Kudos and shown in the States on A&E. (It's called Spooks in the UK.)

I've been favourably impressed with the episodes I've seen so far. The season 3 finale was fantastic. Seasons 1 & 2 are out on DVD already.

I was also reading this article on reforming U.S. spying operations over at GovExec.

The secret to improving American spying "is blindingly simple," says John MacGaffin, a 31-year veteran of the clandestine service. The transformation must come from both the top and the bottom, he argues. At the top, the director of national intelligence will need to define the unique role that each of the 15 intelligence agencies ought to play in human-intelligence collection and will need to make sure that every agency performs its assigned role. And clear directions from on high will need to be accompanied by commonsense ground-level changes, he says, such as rewriting the rules that govern the recruitment and promotion of spies, getting more serious about language training, and being more clever about how and where spies are deployed abroad.

Bush has responded to the CIA's manifest shortcomings by directing the agency to develop a plan to increase
its roster of spies -- currently estimated at 1,100 -- by 50 percent. Yet, former CIA agents warn that simply pushing more recruits through the existing pipeline will do nothing to ensure that the CIA or its sister agencies will be able to collect information that is
any more reliable.

"Fifty percent more gets you to 'Stupid,' " MacGaffin grumbles. "You'll get 50 percent more of what you've got now." The problem, he insists, is quality, not quantity.

Indeed, an important lesson from the U.S. failure to properly gauge Saddam's weaponry is that ensuring that the information Washington was getting from its spies and their paid contacts was accurate and complete was not given enough priority. Human spying needs to become more-precisely targeted -- toward obtaining only information that is absolutely essential and that cannot be gotten any other way. The vacuum-cleaner approach of sucking up and sending along every piece
of "information" -- verified or not -- that's in the air in a targeted country just hasn't worked.

As John Gannon, former chair of the National Intelligence Council, puts it, "The solution is strategy and discipline. It's going to mean fewer human-intelligence resources, not many more." In Gannon's vision of a revitalized intelligence community, human spies would make up a "smaller but richer piece" of the pie, not 50 percent more filler. |Link|

Sounds like the U.S. has a long way to go to get to stupid.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Safety Neal's Living Will from 2005

Living Will....Euthanasia Directive

Wikipedia has a page on living wills. They link to the U.S. Living Will Registry. The Wikipedia entry makes the point that living will is a biased term. In the Netherlands they call it a Euthanasia Directive.

I gave my parents copies of an advanced health care directive this summer. My parents are Christians and far more conservative than I am and I hope they wouldn't try to keep me alive long after my spirit had died, but you never know for sure.

So let this blog serve as notice to the world that I do not want to be kept alive
by means of life support. I do not want to live as anything other than a highly-functioning, fully contributing member of society.

Pursuant to California Probate Code sections 4701 et seq.

1. RECITALS: I, Neal R. Axton, being of sound mind and free from duress, on this 21st day of March, 2005 do hereby grant a power of attorney for health care decisions to the following agents and make explicit my desire for my life not to be extended unreasonably through life support technology.

2. DESIGNATION OF AGENT: I designate the following individual as my agent to make health care decisions for me:

Sarah Deer, my wife, and a member of the Kansas bar.

If I revoke my agent's authority or if my agent is not willing, able, or reasonably available to make a health care decision for me, I designate as my first alternate agent:

Christopher Roderick Coons, a close personal friend, and a member of the Kansas bar.

If I revoke the authority of my agent and first alternate agent or if neither is willing, able, or reasonably available to make a health care decision for me, I designate as my second alternate agent:

Mark Ray, a close personal friend, and a member of the Texas bar.

3. AGENT'S AUTHORITY: My agent is authorized to make all health care decisions for me, including decisions to provide, withhold, or withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration and all other forms of health care to keep me alive.

4. WHEN AGENT'S AUTHORITY BECOMES EFFECTIVE: My agent's authority becomes effective when my primary physician determines that I am unable to make my own health care decisions. My current primary care physician is Dr. Joseph DeFoto.

If I do not have a primary care physician at the time of my death, then my agent's authority shall become effective when two out of three physicians surveyed determine that I am unable to make my own health care decision.

5. AGENT'S OBLIGATION: My agent shall make health care decisions for me in accordance with this power of attorney for health care and my other wishes to the extent known to my agent. To the extent my wishes are unknown, my agent shall make health care decisions for me in accordance with what my agent, in his or her sole discretion, determines to be in my best interest. In determining my best interest, my agent shall consider my personal values to the extent known to my agent.

6. AGENT'S POSTDEATH AUTHORITY: My agent is authorized to make anatomical gifts, authorize an autopsy, and direct disposition of my remains.

7. NOMINATION OF CONSERVATOR: If a conservator of my person needs to be appointed for me by a court, I nominate the agent designated in this form. If that agent is not willing, able, or reasonably available to act as conservator, I nominate the alternate agents whom I have named, in the order designated.

8. END-OF-LIFE DECISION NOT TO PROLONG MY LIFE: I direct that my health care providers and others involved in my care provide, withhold, or withdraw treatment in accordance with my choice not to prolong my life. I do not want my life to be prolonged if (a) I have an incurable and irreversible condition that will result in my death within a relatively short time, (b) I become unconscious and, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, I will not regain consciousness, or (c) the likely risks and burdens of treatment would outweigh the expected benefits.

9. RELIEF FROM PAIN: I direct that treatment for alleviation of pain or discomfort be provided at all times, even if it hastens my death.

10. DONATION OF ORGANS AT DEATH: Upon my death, I give any needed organs, tissues, or parts.

11. My gift is for any and all of the following purposes: Transplant, Therapy, Research, and/or Education. Note: This living will was superseded by the Five Wishes Declaration executed by Neal R. Axton on April 16, 2012.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Organize Your Life: Personal Records Management

Earlier today I ran across a webpage suggesting a personal records retention program, which they suggest as a way to help prevent identity theft.

I've been to a couple of presentations by Aura Lippincott of the UCLA Rosenfeld Management Library on Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) that were very interesting. Maybe I'll post a thumbnail sketch of PKM later for your reading pleasure.

Lessons for a Small Planet: Move to Higher Ground

As I've mentioned previously, it's time to stop pretending that climate change is not a fact and start moving our civilization to higher ground.

We should move the capital of the United States to Denver. Right after we nuke the District of Columbia.

Ok, that was a joke. But rising sea levels are no joke as Peter N. Spotts reports in the Christian Science Monitor.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Graduating in December

I've decided to take an extra six months to work on my thesis more as well as write some articles for publication before I get out of school. Thus, I will graduate in December of this year rather than June.

I guess I don't hate LA that much....

Monday, March 14, 2005

Anti-Landmine Ad

The UN is trying to help Americans understand why the landmine treaty is important on a visceral level, but the fascists who run the televisual media are having none of it. Shame on them.

Drain America First

The Secretary of the Interior, Gale A. Norton, has written an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times claiming that we have the technology to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) without harming the environment.

I'm dubious. Like the Bushies give a damn about the enviornment, the caribou, the Gwich'in culture, or the rule of law.

But even if we take her at her word, why is that a reason to drill now?

Norton writes:

In 1980, when Congress created the refuge, it set aside the 1002 area for possible future energy development. To date, Congress has not approved this development because of environmental concerns. In the meantime, America's domestic production of energy has declined and we have become more and more dependent on imported oil.

As part of a comprehensive energy strategy of promoting conservation and reducing dependence on foreign oil, we must increase our energy production here at home. The 1002 area is potentially the largest untapped source of oil and gas on American soil. While we cannot promise that there will be no impact on the wildlife and habitat of the 1002 area, we can promise no significant impact.

The oil is ANWR is at most a six month supply for the US. One large sip of oil and it will be gone. Like that's going to do anything to reduce our long-term dependence on foreign oil.

Sure, oil is $55 per barrel, but let's wait 20 years until oil is $355 per barrel and the technology is even better before we drill in a pristine nature area.

Better yet, let's spend some of our money on renewable energy resources and leave ANWR alone.

The problem isn't our dependence on foreign oil, the problem is our dependence on oil.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


My friend, Dallas, got mugged earlier this week. I went over and saw him today.

The mugging happened when he was leaving one of his favorite coffee shops late at night and two guys approached him. One asked for change and when he told the guy he was broke the other one hit him in the face with a brick.

They stole his bag and all his stuff, but an alert citizen followed the two muggers to their home and called the LAPD. The men were arrested and Dallas got all his stuff back.

Dallas had to get stitches in his forehead, and he has a black eye, but he's doing pretty well for being hit in the head with a brick, I think. He seems like his usual self at any rate.

Of course, I had to give him some pepper spray and a flashlight. That's why I'm Safety Neal.

BTW, one of the muggers was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up. I'm always suspicious of people wearing hooded sweatshirts with the hood up if it isn't damned cold outside.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Of Maps and Metadata

MAGERT has a quick overview of metadata and digital maps (or Geographic Information Systems).

Selected quote:

Rather than attempt to decide on a single metadata standard, we would suggest that various types of metadata may be appropriate for various file types, and that librarians in different situations may need to work with one or more kinds of metadata. What is perhaps most important is to maintain as much consistency between various types of metadata as possible. If that is done, records can readily be interchanged using "crosswalks," and can be displayed in a single database.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Atlanta Executions and the Madrid Bombings: The Impact of Violence and Trauma on a Community

I woke this morning to news of the murder of Judge Rowland Barnes in Atlanta. His court reporter and at least one deputy were also killed.

While this is dramatic news, I wonder what it must be like to live in Iraq where there is low grade civil war going on as I write this.

Spain is honoring the Madrid Bombing of March 11, 2004 with a moment of silence today.

The execution of Judge Rowland Barnes and the manhunt for Brian Nichols pushed the anniversary of the Madrid bombings out of the television news entirely today, but the Guardian covered it.

Spain was today holding a national day of mourning to mark the first anniversary of the al-Qaida Madrid train bombings in which 191 people died and more than 1,500 were injured.

People across the country observed five minutes silence as a main memorial service began in Madrid's biggest park at midday local time (1100GMT).

A grove in the park, where 192 olive and cypress trees have been planted to honour the victims of the bombs and a special forces officer who died while trying to arrest suspects three weeks later, has been named the Forest of the Absent. |Link|

Bonnie Burstow of the Ontario Instutite for Studies in Education has written a fascinating piece called Towards a Radical Understanding of Trauma and Trauma Work. It's published in the journal Violence Against Women, Vol. 9, No. 11, page 1293-1317.

A more fundamental departure from the dominant trauma discourse comes with the community trauma theorists. General community theorists such as Erikson (1995), Native theorists such as Duran and Duran (1998), and Holocaust theorists, such as Danieli (1998) point out that it is not only individuals who are traumatized. Whole communities can be traumatized. In making this claim, community theorists are not simply meaning that all people within the community are traumatized but that the community as an integral whole is traumatized. [p. 1297]

It's a great article if you have the time to track it down. I found the viewpoint of the community theorists to be underpinned by my experience of September 11, 2001. Even one of the pacifists I know expressed an (irrational?) desire to bomb the shit out of the person or persons responsible for the destruction of the Twin Towers.

The entire United States was traumatized on September 11, 2001. Since for many white people in the United States, the U.S. is a place of safety and privilege, I think that feeling of rage and despair that we all felt on Sept. 11, 2001 is worth remembering. When atrocities are committed anywhere, the entire community feels that sense of despair...and rage. Americans would do well to remember that feeling when they listen to the news in order to understand the suffering of the people who are the victims of U.S. foreign and military policy.

The people of Spain responded very differently to their tragedy that we did to ours. They didn't suspend their civil rights and engage in widespread racial profiling. I won't even get into the torture scandals among the U.S. military in this post....

I think America has conducted itself badly since September 11, 2001. But I think much of that was the result of trauma and I am hoping that we have healed to the point where we can participate in the world community as a positive force rather than as a rogue state hostile to international law.

I'm not a pacifist. I believe there are times when violence in self-defense is necessary on the personal, local, national, and international level. I wholly approve of violence calculated to stop obvious harm. I would approve of pre-emptive action to prevent contingent harm if I could be convinced that the harm was real and that the benefits of pre-emption were likely to be greater than the negative outcomes.

I am dubious of any claim of pre-emption of violence. Too often, history indicates that bias, ignorance and self-interest are the bulwarks of U.S. foreign policy. Remember the USS Maine?

But enough of my politics. I don't pray...but I will light a candle for survivors the Madrid Bombing and the survivors in Atlanta today. May the odd gods of the universe take pity on us all.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

High on Canada: Decriminalization of Marijuana

The Christian Science Monitor's Susan Bourette has an article following up on the killing of the four Mounties by a deranged gunman who also grew marijuana. Apparently, this business is thriving in Canada.

Once hidden in farming communities and well-heeled suburbs, grow operations - indoor nurseries with high-tech lighting and temperature controls - have been thrust into the national spotlight. Thursday Canada buried four young Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers who were killed during a bust in rural Alberta March 3.

The Alberta grow house was just one of thousands across Canada. Here in Ontario, police say indoor pot operations have risen 250 percent in the past four years. And Vancouver is home to some 7,000 "grow ops" at any time, police say...

Criminologist Patrick Parnaby says the events of last week are likely to lead to stiffer penalties. When something like narcotics is intimately tied to violence, there is going to be a powerful public backlash, says the associate professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario. "Stricter laws will make the public feel a whole lot better," he says.

But many users pushing for decriminalization couldn't disagree more. Blair Longley, leader of the federal Marijuana Party, says legalization would wipe out criminal enterprises across the country.

"They've just used this [the Alberta shootings] as an excuse to crack down and enforce outdated laws," says Mr. Longley. "In reality, liberalizing the laws would mean you would get rid of almost all the profits and, therefore, all the crime." |Link|

Personally, I think it's ridiculous that marijuana is illegal. Alcohol is far more socially harmful than marijuana, yet it's legal.

The dangers of drugs should not be underestimated, but nor should they be exaggerated. With the exception of heroin, drugs contribute to far fewer deaths among their users than either nicotine or alcohol. In America, for instance, tobacco kills proportionately more smokers than heroin kills its users, and alcohol kills more drinkers than cocaine kills its devotees.|Link|

And that neglects all of the bar brawls, stabbings, and gunplay associated with alcohol. And then there's drunk driving, as well.

The public policy test to be used in evaluating whether a drug should be legalized (or at least decriminalized) is whether the drug is more harmful when legal than the harms associated with its criminalization.

There are certainly costs and benefits associated with prohibition and legalization of any drug. And we are a society of drug users from oxycotin to paxil to halcyon to viagra to alcohol.

Remind me again why marijuana is illegal? I think the case for legalizing marijuana is pretty clear.

The Economist in 2001 wrote:
It may seem distasteful to think of drugs as a business, responding to normal economic signals. To do so, however, is not to deny the fact that the drugs trade rewards some of the world's nastiest people and most disagreeable countries. Nor is it to underestimate the harm that misuse of drugs can do to the health of individuals, or the moral fury that drug-taking can arouse. For many people, indeed, the debate is a moral one, akin to debates about allowing divorce, say, or abortion. But moral outrage has turned out to be a poor basis for policy.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the United States. Here is the world's most expensive drugs policy, absorbing $35 billion-40 billion a year of taxpayers' cash. It has eroded civil liberties, locked up unprecedented numbers of young blacks and Hispanics, and corroded foreign policy. It has proved a dismal rerun of America's attempt, in 1920-33, to prohibit the sale of alcohol. That experiment—not copied in any other big country—inflated alcohol prices, promoted bootleg suppliers, encouraged the spread of guns and crime, increased hard-liquor drinking and corrupted a quarter of the federal enforcement agents, all within a decade. Half a century from now, America's current drugs policy may seem just as perverse as Prohibition. |Link|

Personally, I blame the current poor public policy regarding drugs on the Republicans. I think they're in bed with the pharmaceutical industry which wants to keep its monopoly on prescription tranquilizers and anti-depressants.

Just look at the huge windfall the Republicans gave the pharmaceutical industry with their misguided prescription drug plan in 2003.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Israeli Army frowns on Dungeons and Dragons

Ynetnews article reports that playing D&D will get you a low security clearance. However, the article seems to conflate D&D with recreations.

We're going to need a bigger cell

Daphna Baram, an Israeli, recently wrote an opinion piece in the Guardian arguing that if Ariel Sharon is a war criminal, then by any reasonable standard, so is Tony Blair.

I tend to agree. Let me add my two cents by saying that George Bush is probably also a war criminal. I hereby call for an independent tribunal to investigate what Mr. Bush knew when about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the torture of foreign nationals by US agents.

There is overwhelming evidence at this point of high level approval of torture. The only question in my mind is how skillful Bush has been at insulating himself from Rumsfeld's obvious encouragement of torture.

Rumsfeld, at the very least, should be imprisoned. Bush should have to defend himself before the International Criminal Court.

I'd love to see a cage match between Saddam Hussein, Ariel Sharon, George Bush and Tony Blair. I'll bet Sharon would eat the rest of them alive, since he used to be an Israeli commando. Sharon may have slowed down due to age, but I don't think he's lost any of his fighting spirit.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Canadian Homicides and the Future of Canada's Drug Policy

The recent murder of four Mounties by a gun-toting, marijuana-growing psychopath is tragic. The Canadian Press' Dean Bennett has more information on the attack.

[Canadian Royal Mounted Police Regional Superintendent] Cheliak labelled the attack an "ambush" but wouldn't elaborate, except to say: "The investigation has shown that that's exactly what took place. That's why we're releasing that at this time."

He said Roszko managed to slip back into the Quonset hut while police were watching it in the hours prior to the Thursday-morning shooting, but investigators weren't sure how he did so.

Cheliak did not make it clear if one of the four officers shot Roszko or whether it was two additional officers who arrived minutes after the shooting and exchanged gunfire with Roszko.

Roszko, 46, was a convicted child molester, a community menace and a known cop-hater.

It was common knowledge that he had weapons on his farm. An application to search the property for stolen goods and a marijuana operation indicated Mounties were well aware they were dealing with a volatile individual. The application by Cpl. James Martin expressed concern about officer safety. |Link|

The Guardian's Anne McIlroy's article points out that these murders have sparked even more debate about proposed changes to Canada's drug laws.

Amid the shock and grief over the deaths of the four young Mounties have come calls for Ottawa to back away from a bill now being considered by the House of Commons that would punish pot smokers with fines similar to those handed out for speeding tickets while cracking down on large-scale growers.

"They are going to increase demand, but they are going to choke off supply," Bradley Trost, a Conservative MP, told the Globe and Mail newspaper. "It is going to make the suppliers even more dangerous, even more willing to take risks, because the profit margins will be even higher."

That bill, introduced in November and now before a Commons committee, was designed so that people caught with small amounts of cannabis - enough for 15 to 30 joints - would not be penalised for the rest of their lives. They would not go to jail or even get a criminal record - which can make it hard to get jobs or travel to the US. |Link|

It seems from the facts outlined in that the murderer was mentally unbalanced and hated police. The fact that he was growing drugs in addition to several other suspected crimes seems incidental.

But this incident is likely to inflame the passions of the police to crack down on drug growers with potentially explosive consequences.

Ottawa lawyer Eugene Oscapella, one of the founders of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, fears some dangerous repercussions as a result of the swift finger-pointing at marijuana grow-ops last week.

"You are going to see more violent raids now as police point to what happened in Alberta as proof that the people operating grow-ops are armed and dangerous and possibly crazy," he said.

"That may lead to the militarization of the illegal drug trade - police have bigger weapons and use more violent tactics, so growers may then arm themselves. And all the state really has to do to end this insanity is get rid of the lucrative black market that encourages large grow-ops. The economies of prohibition are pretty plain - you don't have to be a brilliant economist to get this." |Link| has an overview of the arguments for and against marijuana decriminalization in Canada here.

The Sun has Come Out

It is supposed to be 80 degrees in LA today. I'm wearing shorts today and am in a much better mood than when last I posted.

Sarah is in DC on doing peer review of grant applications, so me and the dog will be bach'ing it for the next several days.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Why I hate the LA Marathon

I've had all I can take. I'm simply going to kill the organizers of the LA Marathon. With a rusty machete. Over the course of three days.

Every year these nitwits run their marathon in a closed loop. If you live within that loop, you just can't go anywhere that day. My neighborhood will be cut off from 4:30 AM tomorrow until 1:30 PM. The map of the event can be found here.

They brag on their site:

The streets that make up the Marathon route are major arterials and have ample space to accommodate the thousands of Marathon participants. |Link|

This isn't something to be proud of. They can put this on their tombstones. Cutting off the major arterials in LA makes the typically congested LA traffic totally hellish. There is a ripple effect from this marathon that affects the entire west side of LA.

Unfortunately for Sarah and I, Sarah has to catch a plane at noon tomorrow from LAX. I thought I would outwit the marathon planners and park my car beyond the reach of marathoners. Unfortunately, every block within almost 3 miles of my house is a Permit Only Parking Zone. And parking tickets in LA average $45 in my experience.

Of course, this is really moot because there isn't a single free parking space within two miles of my house outside the marathon zone. I live too close to the bars of boytown. I'll go back and try again after the bars close.

Untill then I'll be sharpening my machete.

Friday Fiction Blogging: The View from Slate's Window, Chapter 1

I'm working on a science fiction novel. I don't claim to be a great novelist, but the feedback so far is good. I made a few more edits today (March 30).

Slate sat hunched against the wall of his cell. He rubbed the stubble on his chin and assessed his injuries. He sighed. And then sighed again. Slate's bruises came from a run-in with a gang member, but that wasn't what was really on his mind. He was thinking about his interview with the homicide detective, Callaghan. Slate'd been in prison for three years and had learned how to do time. Slate had found his calling as an identity thief during his sophomore year of college. He'd spent twenty years and several trillions of World Corp's carbon and fuel credits before he'd made his first (and last) mistake. That mistake had landed him in Canada’s highest security prison. The prison didn't need locks on its doors because every prisoner carried the prison on his or her person. Two grams of the world's most hypo-allergenic explosives laid on the brain stem of every inmate. Slate thought that the burden was much heavier than its two gram existence would otherwise lead you to believe.

* * *

Callaghan hunched his coat tighter against the wind off the lake and walked out to stand in front of the prison's solar cell array. It was much warmer in the sunshine. This prison sure was a hellhole. Located in Yellowknife under a transnational agreement, this is where Canada, the United States, and Mexico kept their least favorite citizens.

No one had ever escaped from this prison. Even if they made it past the motion sensors, the heat sensors, the minefields, the automated guard tower and cybernetic dog teams, the climate would kill a man without the proper equipment and clothing. This time of winter it was damned cold.

Callaghan had never visited this prison before and hoped he never would again. Travel was much less common since the price of fossil fuels had moved beyond the reach of most working people. Now only governments could afford oil and coal.

A nuclear-powered sled had been dispatched to bring Callaghan to this icebox. Callaghan's charge was simple, figure out how someone had detonated Twyxla Harkins' head. No one would be losing any sleep over the demise of Harkins. He'd been serving a life sentence with hard labor for rape and aggravated indecent liberties with a child when someone had detonated the synthtech explosives on his brain stem.

The kill command was only supposed to execute at the direction of the warden or the captains of the guard. *Or* if one of the inmates left the reflective box of the prison for the frozen wasteland where Callaghan now paced.

As Callaghan shivered in the cold, he reflected on the path that had brought him to this place with its rugged beauty and bone-chilling cold. Callaghan had spent twenty years in law enforcement before becoming a High Commissioner for National Security, or a Hicomm as the newsies called him.

As a Hicomm, Callaghan rarely left his apartment except for social occasions. He had full investigatory powers for everyone up to and including the Prime Minister and could have anyone detained by invoking his national security powers. Callaghan had three support staff and could request support from any agency or branch of the military necessary to conduct an investigation.

For Callaghan to be summoned to this nameless prison referred to only as E-12, then someone in the upper reaches of government was quite concerned about persons unknown bypassing all of the safety protocols built into the Authority to prevent system-mediated murder.

Callaghan spent most of his time connected to the Authority through his mindjack, eavesdropping on the communications traffic generated by Suspicious Individuals or SIs as he usually thought of them. Callaghan had full access to the Canadian public observation network or PON. Canada's PON was not as impressive as the one in the UK or the US, but it was better than many countries' and Callaghan could usually get an auditory and visual record of people in public places anytime he wanted and, of course, he had access to all their voice and electronic communications. All communications were recorded by the Authority, but only those with a high enough security clearance could access real-time communications as well as the electronic archives.

In the latter parts of investigations, Callaghan would receive approval from the Authority to have tracking nanites placed in the SI's food which would create an even more solid evidence trail for the tribunal.

The predecessor to the Authority was the the UN and WiCTA, the World Counter-Terrorism Authority. Under the powers granted to him as a HiComm, Callaghan could eavesdrop on anyone within the territorial confines of Canada. And if he learned anything suspicious, he would have the SI tracked, arrested, charged, tortured and brought before a tribunal for violations of the existing order and being a threat to the Authority. These types of violations could be punished by death, imprisonment, more torture or banishment to a corporate work camp on Mars or in the asteroids.

The annual fatality rate for asteroid miners had averaged fifty percent for the last several decades. Mars was safer only by comparison.

Of course, most of what Callaghan documented were more pedestrian felonies like conspiracy to commit corporate theft. Callaghan had hoped he was done with fieldwork at his age. He was only fifty years from retirement age after all.

As Callaghan paced in the snow and reminisced, he noticed that his pipe had gone out. The pipe was an eccentricity, one of his many anachronisms. Callaghan stopped and fished out his new wind-proof lighter and relit his pipe. Then he resumed pacing as best he could in snowshoes. He didn't mind the cold so much, it focused the mind. And Callaghan was sure that if he could just focus on the facts closely enough, he could figure out who had killed Harkins.

* * *

Callaghan had already gone through the facility's location logs for all the prisoners. The prison had 10,000 occupants and five full time staff. Callaghan was focusing his investigation on the five full time staff and three prisoners. Slate, his current top suspect, was an electronics genius who'd been almost perfect. Then he'd screwed up and a Canadian data mining program had uncovered his identity after twenty years of total anonymity.

Anonymity had been made illegal under the Patriotic Acts after eco-terrorists blew up the space ferry Atlantis with her full complement of crew and passengers. Nowadays under international law, all citizens were implanted with identity chips at birth. Their identity chips allowed them to interface with the Authority and participate in society.

Callaghan was old enough to remember what life was like before the Authority, if only briefly. Thanks to anti-aging treatments, Callaghan didn’t look like an old man, but on days this cold, he sure felt like an old man.

Talking to that creep Slate reminded Callaghan of the time he’d gone swimming with sharks. Way too much cunning and violence lurked behind Slate’s eyes. But Callaghan wasn’t sure that Slate was the culprit in this murder. He turned his attention to his next interview, which was with the deputy warden of the prison, an American named Doug O’Connor. O'Connor had the means, motive, and opportunity to kill Harkins. O’Connor’s youngest child had been murdered by a paedophile ten years earlier. The strain of the murder had shattered his marriage and led O’Connor to apply for his current position in this frozen wasteland.

The only problem with this theory was that there would be a record if O'Connor had ordered the detonation of Harkin's head. But there was no record in the system of who had ordered the detonantion, which wasn't supposed to be possible.

O’Connor was a bright guy with advanced degrees in law and prison administration; O’Connor wasn't stupid enough to murder one of his charges at the prison. Nothing in O'Connor's background indicated much technical expertise. O'Connor just didn't seem cunning enough to pull off a murder like this without leaving a trace.

No, Callaghan was pretty sure that O'Connor wasn't the murderer. Why use the explosives at all? Hundreds of men in this prison would murder anyone for a few of the privileges O'Connor could dole out. O'Connor could re-draw the boundaries of the prison at will and had control over everything from food distribution to pain infliction through the tiny generator located on every inmate's spinal cord. The min-gen, as they were called, produced negligible amounts of power that fueled the locator system that reported the position of every inmate to the Authority. Tracking nanites were too expensive to expend on prisoners, so they had hardwired track-and-kill systems powered by the min-gen.

O'Connor could have electrical shocks delivered the nervous systems of any of the men in his charge who disobeyed or tried to escape. O'Connor could have tortured Harkins for years before anyone would have ever noticed. The men and women held in this prison had been written off by society and few would care how or if they died.

The only reason most of these prisoners hadn't been sent to the off-planet work camps was because they were seen as too dangerous to be entrusted with mining equipment.

Callaghan's pipe went out again. He decided it was too cold to be outside and headed back into the relative safety of prison E-12.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Never get into a Ground War in Asia

The European Union wants to sell arms to China and Congress is getting a might testy over the idea.

Both the House and Senate, as part of their [displeasure], have come up with resolutions in this new session urging the European Union to keep the China arms embargo in force. Lifting it, states [Senate Resolution 59], "would increase the risk that U.S. troops could face military equipment and technology of Western, even U.S., origin in a cross-strait military conflict" between China and Taiwan...When he introduced the resolution, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said the Europeans are out to strengthen China's military so it "would serve as a more effective counterweight to American power, theoretically strengthening the European Union's hand in international political and strategic decisions. Additionally, European defense industries stand to gain billions of euros in Chinese contracts which, for E.U. leaders, seems too good to resist." |Link|

Senator Smith's words point out the true magnitude of what is at stake here: world hegemony. The world is increasingly arrayed into three large power blocks: the US, the EU, and China. Everyone knows that China is an emerging world power, but Julian Borger illustrates how delicate the balance of power is in Southest Asia when he writes:
The Pentagon is increasingly concerned over an ambitious Chinese military build-up which its experts believe is aimed at threatening Taiwan. The US is committed to Taiwan's defence. "Balance in the Taiwan straits is delicate enough that European military trade with China could tip it," [Daniel Goure, a Pentagon consultant and a vice president of the Lexington Institute, a military thinktank] said.

[Goure] said Beijing was acquiring up to 600 advanced Russian fighter jets, Mig-31s and Mig-35s, and had bought modern Russian destroyers and submarines. But the US was most worried about sales of advanced European communications and sensor systems, like fibre optics, infra-red, sonar and radar scanners.

According to the New York Times, recent US intelligence pictures have painted an even more worrying picture of the Chinese build-up, with the reported construction of 23 amphibious assault ships. |Link|

Of course, the U.S. has been counting on China to blunt North Korea's nuclear ambitions....and trying to cajole Old Europe into helping us get out of our mess in Iraq. Why do I doubt either of these plans will work out well in the end?

Of course, you cannot blame Bush for this, who could have foreseen that alienating our traditional allies while engaging in expensive wars of conquest under false pretenses could turn out badly? Who could have foreseen that a huge trade deficit with China could have negative consequences?
A few statistics from the CIA's World Factbook...industrial production rate of growth: China, 30.4 percent in 2003; United States, minus 1 percent.|Link|
I don't think the U.S. really gives a rat's *ss about Taiwan. We are worried about China gobbling up all of the world's resources that are ours by virtue of the fact that we are the world's sole superpower. Or are we?

Jim Kunstler sees the future this way:
Conclusion: in the next twenty years, China is certain to contest militarily for the world's remaining oil with what has been the prime customer for its manufacturing output. That would be America.

While the US is fraught with multiple economic difficulties -- energy dependence, loss of productive activity, debt meltdown, an ongoing expensive war -- China has problems that are even more fundamentally ominous -- a population much more advanced in ecological overshoot, severe environmental destruction, and a water crisis that is manifesting, among other ways, in steeply falling grain harvests (on top of energy and resource dependence, unregulated banking, and the prospect of huge industrial overcapacity in the face of bankrupt customers).

Those of us Boomers, who were reading newspapers in the 1960s can recall China's capacity for political psychosis. It's been forty years since the "cultural revolution."...As the American consumer / sprawl economy sputters, China will find itself in desperate circumstances: starved for energy, stuck with zillions of unsold coffee-makers and barn jackets, racked with unemployment, and hard-put to feed its own people.|Link|
For good or ill, we live in interesting times.

Note: This is cross-posted over at the Bellman.


Leonard Cohen is a great songwriter and among my favorites is his song Everybody Knows.

Everybody knows the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost

Everybody knows the fight is fixed
The poor stay poor
And the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows....