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 situations...so 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.