Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Dubya's Tortured Truth

Just in case I haven't made this crystal clear, I hate the fact that my tax dollars support a government that tortures people and then lies about it. They could at least own up their sins and misdeeds. Instead they lie and lie and lie as if anyone is fooled. Amnesty International's press release today puts this administration front and center of a web of deceit that radiates from its decision to endorse the use of torture.

At Guantánamo, the US has operated an isolated prison camp in which people are confined arbitrarily, held virtually incommunicado, without charge, trial or access to due process. Not a single Guantánamo detainee has had the legality of their detention reviewed by a court, despite the Supreme Court ruling of last year.

At Guantánamo, the US has operated an isolated prison camp in which people are confined arbitrarily, held virtually incommunicado, without charge, trial or access to due process. Not a single Guantánamo detainee has had the legality of their detention reviewed by a court, despite the Supreme Court ruling of last year.

"Guantánamo is only the visible part of the story. Evidence continues to mount that the US operates a network of detention centres where people are held in secret or outside any proper legal framework -– from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond," said Amnesty International.

US interrogation and detention policies and practices during the "war on terror", have deliberately and systematically breached the absolute prohibition of torture and Ill-treatment. Individuals held in US custody have been transferred for interrogation to countries known to practice torture.|Link|

Sunday, May 29, 2005

SIMILE, Piggy Bank and the Semantic Web

Phil Agre mentioned Piggy Bank to me and I've added it to Firefox, but haven't really explored its capability's yet. I'll report my impressions here as I try it out. If you use Piggy Bank, let me know your impressions in the comments or by email.

Piggy Bank was created by SIMILE.

SIMILE stands for Semantic Interoperability of Metadata and Information in unLike Environments

SIMILE is a joint project conducted by the W3C, HP, MIT Libraries, and MIT CSAIL. SIMILE seeks to enhance inter-operability among digital assets, schemata/vocabularies/ontologies, metadata, and services. A key challenge is that the collections which must inter-operate are often distributed across individual, community, and institutional stores. We seek to be able to provide end-user services by drawing upon the assets, schemata/vocabularies/ontologies, and metadata held in such stores. |Link|
All of these schemata/vocabularies/ontologies are part of the Semantic Web, which is a method for allowing automated tools to make inferences about data as I understand it. I like XML as a platform for marking up data. The Semantic Web is built upon XML at a very low level. XML is very similar to HTML which makes it seem familiar to me. The class I'm taking with Phil (IS 277) has really demystified XML for me as well as introduced me to the Semantic Web.

I do think Extensible Stylesheet Language ( XSL) is a more consistent way of creating XML than using a Document Type Definition (DTD). Ok, enough nerd talk for now....

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Green Fairy

Danger Bob and I were drinking coffee yesterday and he told me a story about this crazy guy they had to subdue last month so the paramedics could take him to the hospital. When Bob showed up the guy was fighting with the paramedics. Bob said they pretty well had to beat him down to get him strapped into the gurney. Bob likes using the baton, but was a little pissed about ripping his uniform pants in the struggle. Apparently the guy was screaming and totally incoherent. Not a real big guy, but solid.

The crazy guy's name turns out to be Robert and his roommate was the one who called the paramedics because Robert wasn't responsive, just staring out into space. After the paramedics left with Robert, Robert's sister Juanita showed up at the apartment. The roommate called her and Bob was nice enough to give her a ride down to the hospital. Juanita was apparently gorgeous and she really hit it off with Bob. They've been seeing each other some ever since. I'm still not sure if the police department approves of Bob's methods of meeting women, but I'll let him worry about that.

Anyway, crazy guy (Robert) has pretty much recovered now, but when he showed up at the emergency room that night the doctors thought he was a suicide because there was so much poison in his system. They pumped his stomach and hooked him up to a dialysis machine. They think the dialysis is what saved his life.

The story the roommate told the doctors was that he and Robert had been drinking absinthe the night before and smoking lots of marijuana. Robert swears up and down to this sister that all he'd had that night was absinthe and marijuana, nothing else. I don't know whether to believe him or not, but it's certainly made me think twice about ever trying any concoction with wormwood in it.

The doctors think that the marijuana might have prevented his body from breaking the wormwood down and the longer it stays in the body the more toxic it becomes.

I haven't met Juanita or Robert personally, so this is all secondhand from Bob, but I thought I would pass this cautionary tale along. I've told this story to several people now and they tell me they tried absinthe and didn't have any problems, but I haven't talked to anyone yet who was smoking weed and drinking absinthe.

I guess Robert's roommate had some absinthe and some weed, but he didn't have as much of either as Robert did. I found this information about wormwood, which may be of interest. Turns out wormwood makes a good poultice and is a natural insect repellant.

[This page was edited on May 29, 2005 by Safety Neal]

Sunday, May 22, 2005

RFID Watch: CA SB 682 to ban RFID in CDLs

I just read in RFID update that the SB 682 passed the California Senate 29-7. According to the California Legislature's Bill Info Center, the following is the current text of SB 682.

If you want to read the bill, just select Senate Bills from 2005-2006(Current) and then put in the bill number. The interface is really poorly designed with the clear button in front of the search button, so be sure to click search.

The State Senate yesterday approved a bill with broad bipartisan support ( 29:7 ) that would prohibit state and local governments from issuing identification documents containing a Radio Frequency Identification ( RFID ) tag, a device that can broadcast an individual's most private Information including their name, address, telephone number, and date of birth. The bill will be heard next in the State Assembly. It is the first bill of its kind in the country and has drawn national attention following the federal government's decision to embed RFID tags in new U.S. passports.

Known as the Identity Information Protection Act of 2005, SB 682 was authored by State Senator Joe Simitian ( D-Palo Alto). The bill would also make it unlawful for a person to read or attempt to read an identification document without the owner's knowledge.

"This is a milestone for a very important measure to protect people's privacy, personal safety, and financial security," said Simitian. "RFID technology is not the issue, the issue is whether and under what circumstances should the government be allowed to use this technology. SB 682 will help encourage a thoughtful and rational conversation about that question." |Link|


RFID is a cool technology with great potential, but it's expensive and a good business case has to be made for any IT application. I don't think a serious business case has been made for putting RFID in DL's or passports, not yet anyway. It's a nifty technology, but why the rush to implement it? I think it's more a fad than anything else right now.

I don't think RFID should be banned, but I don't think it should be implemented in any particular context without a good reason in terms of efficiency, ease of administration, or even surveillance. If surveillance is the goal, let's at least be honest about it and discuss it like adults.

I don't hate people who are fundamentally dishonest. But I refuse to do business with them. Unless they are my elected representatives.

Any proposed RFID application should also consider the privacy, security, and social implications of tagging as well as the cost-benefit analysis. The more heuristics the better, if you ask me. But I'm a nerd.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Beijing gains 20,000 cars per month

If you don't own a car in LA, people think there is something wrong with you. Apparently the Chinese have also adopted this ridiculous notion.

A few years ago, Beijing was probably the most bicycle-friendly capital on Earth. A flat, dry city with broad, tree-lined cycle lanes patrolled by protective traffic wardens was perfect for two wheels. The streets teemed with so many bicycles that they became as much a symbol of China as the giant panda.

* * *

These days, the air of Beijing is choked with exhaust emissions. Along with the grit and dust from building sites and sandstorms, that makes bike riding tougher on the lungs than the legs. It is not the only hazard. Drivers frequently invade the bike path, blaring their horns at anyone who gets in their way.

The closer to the city centre, the lower the status of the bike. Soon after the fifth ring road, the bicycle lane halves in width, even though the number of users (which sometimes include horse-drawn carts) more than quadruples.

But it still beats travelling by car, and often is quicker. |Link|
At least in LA the cars usually give you plenty of clearance. I'm back to working days now and so I have been biking to work. For the last seven months I've worked until midnight four days per week. Biking after midnight is fine once in a while, but doing it every day is asking for trouble.
But since I get off at 5 PM now, it is much quicker to bike than to drive.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Repent Harlequin, cried the Tick-Tock Man

I'm a big fan of Harlan Ellison. It turns out that my friend Julie was working in a bookstore in San Francisco when Harlan Ellison was writing short stories in the front window and was introduced to him. Julie and I have been co-presidents of SLA for the last year and it has been a wonderful experience, but it's coming to an end, which is both good and bad. It's interesting that Julie and I are both Harlan Ellison fans. This whole time we've shared this interest and never known it.

It only came up because I posted Repent Cried the Tick Tock Man as a cryptic comment on Olivian's MySpace page. Sean Demory is the one who introduced me to Harlan Ellison and I will forever be in Sean's debt for this. If you haven't read any Harlan Ellison, you're in for a treat. Life is too short to read tepid fiction, treat yourself to some Ellison. If you want a little dark science fiction, read I Have No Mouth, and Yet I Must Scream.

I think what Harlan was really trying to say in that story is that friends are the most important things in life. Who else can you turn to when the chips are down?

I think that friends are the best part of life. It's hard for me to even imagine what life would be like without friends or imagine a concept of the good life that didn't involve close friends.

Soon my entering class will graduate from UCLA. Graduation is always a bittersweet occaision. While you are leaving with an education and a certificate, you are also closing a chapter of your life. Even if you don't move on, your friends will go. Hopefully they stay in touch or at least update their blogs once in a while. The Bellman and Zwichenzug are good friends of mine who keep fantastic blogs. The Bellman's the one who convinced me to start this blog.

I think blogs are fantastic tools for staying in touch. But my plan is to arrange vacations with my friends. I'm going to start planning a trip to the National Boundary Waters Wilderness in the near future. USGS has a site for the Superior National Forest and National Geographic has a page here about the area. I think it would cool to visit Canada by canoe. Here's a map of the Minnesota part of the Wilderness. So if you're interested, drop me a line.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Molly Ivins on Torture and Desecration of the Qur'an

My lovely wife sent me this link to Molly Ivins' article Don't Blame Newsweek over at CommonDreams.org.

Get your minds around it. Our country is guilty of torture. To quote myself once more: "What are you going to do about this? It's your country, your money, your government. You own this country, you run it, you are the board of directors. They are doing this in your name. The people we elected to public office do what you want them to. Perhaps you should get in touch with them." |Link|

Monday, May 16, 2005

Canada Watch: government confidence vote this week

The scandal dogging Paul Martin's government has finally forced him to schedule a confidence vote this week. Canada has been shifting rightward ever since September 11th even under Liberal administration. It will be interesting to see how things turn out with the confidence vote.

University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman says that the atmosphere during recent months may indicate that the Canadian political landscape is shifting from a traditional two-party system toward a European model of coalition government. If an election were held today, Mr. Wiseman predicts that the Conservatives would narrowly beat the Liberals, replacing them with another minority government.

In that case, Stephen Harper would become the next prime minister. Mr. Harper has pushed for leaner government, a more competitive economy and better relations with the United States, partially by [building] up Canada's beleaguered military. |Link|

Cyborg Neal Approaches

Japanese researchers have used blood sugar to power a tiny generator. The prototype only generates a fraction of a watt, but I have high hopes for this technology. Who knows how great we could become as a true synthesis of human and machine?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Of Riots and Revolutions

According to the NY Times (regn reqd) Newsweek has retracted its claims that the Qur'an (or Koran) was desecrated at Camp X-Ray. I do not doubt for a minute that this tactic was used. I believe that they were doing everything short of cutting off fingers to attempt to extract information. Even if you still think their intentions are noble, this administration's tactics are barbaric. I think Newsweek came under extreme pressure from this administration to retract the claims and did.

Recently I've browsing through The Torture Papers by Karen J. Greenberg et al. (available for download over at Powell's Bookstore). Even if Bush didn't put that Qur'an on the toilet himself, he made the climate possible for it to happen.

It is not horror that crushes your spirits when you enter the cells at Camp Delta. Instead, it is an absolute sense of defeat, of being hopelessly caught in a great steel machine, remorseless in its efficiency and patience.

Just a moment inside a maximum security cell - newly vacated for repairs - is enough to bring on despair. The hundreds of terrorist suspects brought to Camp Delta, on its scrubby hillside at the eastern tip of Cuba, were men seething with dreams, fuelled by visions of conquest and hate.|Link|
I think the riots in Afghanistan are just Bush's foreign policy paying its inevitable dividends. I predict that as we release more and more people who've been tortured by our government, things are only going to get worse for our image.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Wikipedia of the Day: Louis Riel

Wikipedia has become one of my favorite places to browse. Their homepage has something new every day. Today they have a post on Louis Riel, who was a Métis who helped organize the province of Manitoba, but was eventually hung for treason after leading the North-West Rebellion.

Jesus the Diet

Christians are so funny. And apparently so fat. Now they are asking What Would Jesus Eat?

Marie Griffith, a professor of religion at Princeton University, said: "The negative part [about religion-based diets] is that people feel they have failed God if they don't lose weight." |Link|
Too funny, I couldn't make this stuff up. But I still want to know who Jesus would bomb, the Iraqis or the Iranians? Maybe he'd split the difference and bomb them on alternate days.

Global Warming: Coming to a Ski Resort near you

One swiss ski resort has taken to wrapping their glacier in plastic to try to slow the melting. Global warming is certainly going to make skiing less common. I think canoeing is a much better hobby to take up because flooding and climate disruption are now facts of life. Who would have guessed that the wetlands would get the last laugh on humanity?

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Evolution of Privacy: Tracking Assets and Employees with RFID

RFID Update's latest article is interesting enough (and well-written enough) to repeat in toto.

A new product from Cisco called the Wireless Location Appliance 2700 uses active RFID and wireless LAN technology to provide device tracking that can be used across a number of industries and environments. Devices as varied as wireless-enabled laptops, forklifts, wheelchairs, and EKG equipment can all be watched remotely via a graphical layout of the organization's premises. Cisco is initially targeting the product at the healthcare industry for the hospital and clinic environment, in which the monitoring and maintenance of expensive medical equipment is key.

For many enterprises, keeping track of physical assets is costly and imperfect. The Wireless Location Appliance will enable these enterprises to locate tagged assets precisely in the moment they are required, saving the time that is currently spent hunting them down. The parallel with RFID in the supply chain is obvious: total realtime visibility will streamline business processes, open up new opportunities for innovative applications, and curb theft, loss, and other sources of shrinkage.

One of the product's touted benefits -- the ability to "rapidly locate key people" -- raised the hackles of some privacy advocates. Dr. Caoilfhionn Gallagher, policy officer at privacy group Liberty, was quoted in vnunet.com as saying, "This latest product undermines employee privacy even further and reinforces the slur that workers cannot be trusted." While some might write this off as an overreaction, it is interesting to note that Japanese company Omron recently enjoyed a big ROI from an internal initiative in which employees were tracked by the use of mandated RFID-tagged cards.

The prospect of employee tracking raises difficult questions about the use of RFID to tag humans. On the one hand, most people would chafe at the notion of employers knowing their precise whereabouts throughout the workday. On the other hand, an employer arguably has the right to monitor the action of its employees while those employees are on the job. With the introduction of the Wireless Location Appliance, Cisco may have unwittingly placed itself center-stage in what is sure to become an increasingly debated issue.

More on the Wireless Location Appliance at Cisco Systems|Link|

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Bush's War on Truth and Human Rights

Erik Saar, a former translator at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has written a book detailing the torture and cover-ups of the Pentagon in the war on terror titled Inside the Wire: A Military Intelligence Soldier's Eyewitness Account of Life at Guantanamo.

You can read Paul Harris' review for the Guardian Unlimited and Amazon's book description.

Democracy Now has an interview with Erik Saar.

Selected quote:

AMY GOODMAN: Erik Saar, [were] the words Geneva Conventions ever used at Guantanamo?

ERIK SAAR: One time, ma’am, I can say, when we were talked to regarding the Geneva Conventions, and there was a meeting that I describe where our leaders of the intelligence group explained to us that the Geneva Convention does not apply at Guantanamo Bay....[This was confusing because] all your training is under the umbrella of the Geneva Convention, and you are told that you never violate the Geneva Conventions as an interrogator, because – for two reasons: Number one, it's illegal; and number two, they're taught that it's ineffective. And if you need to use tactics outside of the scope of the Geneva Conventions, you are going to get bad intelligence anyway. But somehow, no one quite understood how it was determined that now those rules don't need to apply. Plus there's limited, if no training, for how these new rules should be implemented in the interrogation booth, and what is the rationale for why previously, I was taught as an interrogator or one of my colleagues was taught, that these techniques wouldn't work, but now we're saying that maybe they will?

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever have fights with other soldiers there over your feelings about what was happening?

ERIK SAAR: No, ma'am, I didn't. And to be honest with you, the conclusions that I drew was really a process for me. I mean, there were things that frustrated me along the way that I saw, but it's not as though during week three of my time at Guantanamo Bay I came to the conclusion that, wow, this is a terrible place and we should never be doing this, because there was also that internal battle of me saying, look, maybe -- I was saying to myself, maybe this is what's necessary in the war on terrorism. Maybe these are the steps that we need to take to protect ourselves. And it wasn't until the end of my time there that I really reached the conclusions that I drew that it's not necessary, and the techniques are ineffective, and it's not in keeping with who we are.

AMY GOODMAN: Erik Saar, do you think that the abuse was creating terrorists?

ERIK SAAR: I think, Amy, that what I witnessed at Guantanamo Bay was, on a practical level, counterproductive in the war on terrorism. Because, in fact, as we go throughout the Arab and Muslim world and say that we're going to promote values of democracy and justice and human dignity, but at the same time defy those very same values in Guantanamo Bay, I do think in the long run, it could produce more terrorists. |Link| (emphasis added)

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Objectivity

Phil Shiner, an human rights attorney, suggests that the US & UK military cannot be trusted to investigate themselves for human rights abuses.

What do we learn from [the recent torture investigations]? One, that when the prevailing system is threatened, it reacts by throwing a few rank-and-file members to the dogs. Two, that there is evidence that Britain, like the US, now has a torture policy, and this evidence is ignored. Three, that neither the government, the Ministry of Defence nor the attorney general gives a damn - nobody has been charged for the death of [Baha] Mousa [an Iraqi killed by the British] or for other deaths or torture cases in detention. Four, the system of the military investigating and prosecuting itself is fundamentally flawed and must be immediately replaced with an independent system if the international prohibition against torture and protection of civilians under the Geneva conventions or domestic war crimes legislation are to have any meaning. And five, if we fail to protest, we are all responsible for the torture of Baha Mousa and others. |Link|
It seems an obvious conflict of interest to me to have the Army investigating itself. I realize a battlefield is not a great place for a crime scene investigation, but can't we at least someone half-way objective in to look at the matter? Could we get the Air Force to investigate the Army and and the Navy ot investigate the Air Force and the Army to investigate the Navy? Or make the NSA do the investigations or something? But we might be able to recruit volunteer independent investigators from the civilian field...we won't know unless we try. I'm not sure the best solution, but the current systems seems obviously broken to me. Anyone else have some thoughts on this matter?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Oil Dependence is America's Achilles Heel

Some social conservatives are publicly breaking ranks with this administration because their plans will worsen American's security situation and increase our dependence on foreign oil. Bush's so-called Energy Plan is just a give-away to the energy industry that almost totally ignores renewables. Renewable energy is where most of our money should be going, not giving $3.2 billion to the oil industry to offset their drilling costs.

Even security-minded critics worry that not enough is being done. Like President Bush, Mr. Woolsey applauds research into futuristic hydrogen-powered cars, but that won't meet today's security concerns, he says. "Our transportation systems are so locked into oil now and the existing infrastructure, that there's a serious risk of terrorist interruption of that infrastructure in ways that could be catastrophic." He worries that a single terrorist attack on, say, a large Saudi refinery could cut 10 percent of the world's current oil supply - and send prices soaring.

"Even if prices got no higher, or even came down some, sending tens of billions of dollars overseas to people determined to destroy us is crazy, no matter the price of oil," says Frank Gaffney Jr., president of the Center for Security Policy, a national security think tank.

He's not against drilling in ANWR. It's just not enough, says Mr. Gaffney, former assistant secretary of Defense under Mr. Reagan and a signatory to the Energy Future Coalition. That plan pumps money into new technologies like alternative fuels, clean-coal electric generating technology, and a better electric grid.

"I believe we as a country are going to do every single one of the things on that laundry list," Gaffney says of the EFC plan. "The only question is do we do it before we have to - or afterward? The chances are we'll have to do it far sooner than we think. We're on borrowed time as far as people seriously disrupting oil flows." |Link|

Wingnut Roundup

Tom Regan has a blog post in CSM about why morons like Pat Robertson and Tom Delay must be taken seriously and should not be dismissed out of hand as total dolts.


The crusade of people like Robertson, GOP representative Tom DeLay and James Dobson of the Focus on the Family against anyone who doesn't automatically parrot their values, may actually be one of the greatest dangers our country has ever faced. (Unlike Robertson, however, I still think that Al Qaeda and Nazi Germany rank higher on the list.)

Why do I believe that? Because these men and their supporters would take several of the founding principles of this country - in particular the belief in religious tolerance and freedom of thought - and trash them in order to achieve their narrow, right-wing Christian agenda. |Link|

Joshua Norton's response to Bush's energy plans is hilarious, if a bit sad too.
...You know, the events of the last six months have really helped me understand what Republicans were talking about when they railed against liberal intellectual snobbery in the Democratic Party. When Democrats had (any) power they screwed the voters by giving big business breaks through arcane changes in the tax code and accounting rules, or by signing grandiose trade bills on the grounds that they'd be "good for American business". How snobbish! How intellectual and superficial! When a Republican fucks the voters, they do it in broad daylight with a three-foot-long metal-studded dildo wrapped in barbed wire, with the words "THE OIL INDUSTRY" printed down the length of it in giant bright red letters. |Link|

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

State Department Backpedals on RFID Passports

I don't know if the State Department is reading my blog....maybe it's just the NSA at this point...but the State Department has decided to reconsider the issue of unencrypted RFID chips in passports.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Velotaxis, a modern rickshaw

Velotaxis rock. While I love my bicycles, these sound fantastic. Wikipedia has coverage here. (Wikipedia seems to cover everything these days...)

There's a whole page of Velotaxi links here.

Spring in Los Diablos

It's Spring in LA and the bullets are flying on the freeways. Actually, 40 or 50 shootings per year seems really low to me in a county of 10 million aggravated drivers.

The Ohio freeway sniper is on trial now and it appears that he was mad as a hatter. I know that people who've been diagnosed as mentally ill aren't supposed to be allowed to buy firearms. But shouldn't we give them a psychological evaluation before we allow them to buy the firearms?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

A bit touchy...

It's finals week at the law school and we've gone to extended hours at the law library. Today I had a law student come up and aks me if there was anything we could do about all the buzzing noise coming from the fluorescent lights...I suggested she bring earplugs with her next time.

Dressing Like a Whore?

The irascible Joshua Norton has an interesting post about modern styles of dress for women and acceptable social behavior for men in our pedophilic society. The commentary is also quite interesting if you've the time, although I did skip over some of the back-and-forth between Joshua and clew.