Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sarah publishes again

My wife, Sarah Deer, is turning into quite a prolific writer. She has an essay being published soon, but this time it's not in a stuffy law review, but in a book that will be sold on Amazon called The Color of Violence : INCITE!

Safety Tip: Always keep [defensive] weapons in the same place

My friend Mun recently took a job in a less desirable part of town and was talking to me about carrying a defensive spray. I prefer pepper spray over mace personally. In Los Angeles, mace is far more regulated. Mace is essentially tear gas and people can develop a limited immunity to it. Pepper spray is more basic; essentially just cayenne pepper in a liquid medium.

But regardless of whether you carry a gun, a knife, a taser, a stun gun, or a chemical spray for self-defense, I think it's important to be consistent in where you keep it. I always keep my pepper spray in my left hand pocket and my knife in my right pocket.

When things head south, they will go there in a hurry and it's important to be able to locate your defensive items in a hurry and without requiring you to recall where you stashed it today.

Quote of the Week: Electronic Hezbollah


Geeks by DdR`.
The other week I was making fun of the EFF. Recently EFF's John Perry Barlow said this while talking to the BBC:
[The music industry is one of those] aging industries run by aging men, and they're up against 17-year-olds who have turned themselves into electronic Hezbollah because they resent the content industry for its proprietary practices. And I don't have a question about who's going to win that one eventually.|BBC|

Barlow seems to be aligning himself with youthful terrorists, probably the best PR move since Bush told the terrorists to "bring it on!"

Seriously, I do think Barlow has a point. The current intellectual property regime has lost its legitimacy among a majority of the younger population and once the law loses its legitimacy, trying to enforce it becomes an uphill battle.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Crazy, just like me...

One of the local radio stations has been giving a lot of airplay to Gnarls Barkley's song Crazy.

You can see the video at Virgin, the video is rather clever.

You can also hear the song on Gnarls' MySpace page.

Wikipedia has some obsessive coverage if you're looking for more information.

I don't usually blog about music, but I think Gnarls has a great sound, reminiscent of Motown.

New on SSRN: Tribal law & Mass Murder

A new article on SSRN caught my eye the other day. Punishing Genocide in Rwanda by Mark A. Drumbl of Washington and Lee University School of Law

From the author's abstract:

This Article explores how and why national courts and traditional community institutions punish perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda. It forms part of a much broader research project that investigates the punishment of extraordinary international criminals generally. Thus far, published aspects of this project have analyzed the judgments and positive law of international legal institutions in order to present data on sentencing, diagnose shortcomings, and recommend reform.

The data presented in this Article, which consists of an entirely original qualitative review of hundreds of genocide judgments of national institutions, represents the second stage of the project. This empirical review helps address a gaping lacuna in the English-language literature.

It provides a basis to deeply interrogate the rationales of punishment of extraordinary criminals and the harmonization of customary law with the dominant meta-narrative of liberal legalism. These interrogations offer broader lessons with regard to the potential and limits of criminal trials for perpetrators of mass atrocity. These lessons from Rwanda's painful experiences are salient to a broad array of places currently subject to judicialization, from Sudan to Cambodia to Iraq, in particular the prosecution of Saddam Hussein.|SSRN|(emphasis mine)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Painting

This weekend just flew by. I spent Friday weeding in the garden and then Saturday I taped up our kitchen and then painted it on Sunday morning. Much of Sunday was taken up with the quest for the perfect couch, but we've now ordered a couch and it should be here in six to eight weeks.

It's not the perfect couch, but it's a pretty good one (I hope) and will serve us well for many years...because I'm so tired of moving.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

China exalts pedal power...again

The Guardian is reporting that the Chinese government has changed its mind and is now encouraging people to bicycle more and to forsake the lure of resource guzzling automobiles.

It's nice to see sanity in government, at least every once in a while.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

On the purpose of government

Over at Slashdot, there was a recent post on discussions of mining the moon, which I think is a pretty good idea...but what caught my attention was a discussion about the relative merits of governmental action versus private enterprise. Planesdragon's comment seemed to kill the discussion, but was amusing:

[Quoting previous post]...because we have forgotten the true purpose of a government...

Balderdash. The Romans thought the purpose of government was to bring glory to the people. The medieval christians thought the purpose of government was to spread the gospel. The chineese thought the purpose of government was to maintain the celestial order.

Our own founding fathers may have had their own ideas about what they were forming our government for, but today that same structure is seen both as a way to make a profit, a way to protect unintelligent things, an avenue for power, and a thing to be avoided -- depending on who you talk to.

The purpose of a government is to do whatever those that give the government power want it to do. Anything more is just [philosophical] "should"-ing, and should always be dismissed until the points so made are [affirmatively] proven. |Slashdot|

Hummer sales triple; SUV sales unfazed by gas prices

I love my country, but there are days when I hate most of my fellow Americans.

National Hummer sales nearly tripled from 2,220 sales in March 2005 to 6,125 in March 2006, according to research by Autodata Corp., a Woodcliff Lake, N.J., company that tracks automotive statistics. Sales increased each month this year, the data showed.

One out of every four vehicles purchased from January to March had an eight-cylinder engine, a study by J.D. Power and Associates, a global market research firm based in California, found. Six cylinder vehicles made up 41 percent of all new vehicles sold since August 2005, the study said. Most SUVs, trucks and sports cars have six- or eight- cylinder engines, while most sedans and compact cars run on four. The larger vehicles -- built for speed or towing -- use more fuel to support the bigger engines.

Gas prices have not made an impact on buying habits, the research group concluded. New car, sport utility vehicle and truck sales for the first three months of 2006 remained consistent with sales from July to September 2005. |Baltimore Business Journal|

The River Styx

The blog is back after being down for nearly a week. From perusing the help forums I gather that Blogger did some upgrades and thousands of blogs went offline as a result. Being down for a day isn't a big deal, but a whole week sucked!

Anyway, it appears that we are back among the land of the living again. Now, as soon as I get some projects taken care of, there will be blogging again.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Nothing to Hide?

Apophenia makes an interesting move in the privacy debate in this post.

An argument that people make is that you should have nothing to fear if you've done nothing wrong. This is sooooo irritating. First, this is only true if you are interested in upholding hegemonic cultural norms. The adorable gay couple next door are doing nothing wrong in my eyes, but their kissing is all sorts of problematic to a government that wants to ban their right to love each other. Aside from queer life, think about all of the decisions you made that aren't necessarily "normal" even if many of us live a pretty privileged life. Second, there's a difference between illegal and not exactly the best impression. I want the ability to pick my nose when i don't think anyone's looking and i don't want a camera to capture me scratching my ass on a cigarette break outside of work. That's just plain embarassing. I don't want to always smile or stand up straight or pretend like i'm in a good mood just because an image might go down on my permanent record. That's just plain exhausting. Third, everything is context dependent. I've done nothing wrong when i stumble out of 1015 drunk as hell and hail a cab, but my drunken stumble is not something that i want to expose to my advisor or, frankly, the government...

I will never forget sitting in the courtroom when my stepfather countersued my mother and accused her of cheating on him. We were all dumbfounded - i didn't think my mother had cheated and she was pretty sure she hadn't so we were all curious what this magical evidence was going to be. Apparently, he had hired a PI and he'd snapped photo after photo of... *my* high school boyfriend. |Apophenia|(emphasis added)

Environmental Refugees & Congressional Power

The Congressional Research Service has a new research paper on the plight of environmental refugees and the implications for Congress, which is available through the US State Department.
The complications and suffering associated with Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that the evacuation and the relocation of tens of thousands of residents pose enormous challenges for public officials after catastrophes occur...The flooding of New Orleans and the widespread destruction of infrastructure in Mississippi and Louisiana...may possibly lead to the permanent relocation of entire communities. The issue before Congress is the scope and reach of federal policy regarding the evacuation of civilians and their resettlement and the implementation of that policy in light of the traditional role exercised by state authorities. |CRS|

On the topic of environmental refugees, the Wall Street Journal recently had an article by Sharon Begley titled: How Melting Glaciers Alter Earth's Surface, Spur Quakes, Volcanoes |WSJ (sub'n req'd)|. The article appeared June 9th, 2006 on page A11.

The article's thesis is that global warming causes not just wild weather, but also earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Because the earth's tectonic plates essentially float in a sea of magma, the melting of the glaciers will cause the plates to rise up in the crust, thus rising sea levels won't be a problem for Alaska as it will literally rise out of the water.

What Begley's article points out is that the plates don't just rise up, but sort of bounce (isostatic rebound is the scientific term), and this bouncing gradually slows over 1000's of years. But the effect is that this bouncing causes more earthquakes and volcanoes, not only along the edge of plates, but within plates as well.

Or at least that's the geologists current understanding. Who could have guessed that global warming would be so destructive?

Surely even global warming skeptics will have to admit that given the potential calamitous effects of global warming, a prudent approach should be taken and mitigation strategies should be investigated and implemented immediately.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Quote of the Week: The Importance of Humor

If someone had told me years ago that sharing a sense of humor was so vital to partnerships, I could have avoided a lot of sex!

- Kate Beckinsale

Wheelchairs get a makeover

The BBC reports on a new off-road wheelchair called the Trekinetic K2.

Diversifying our Energy Sources

To follow up on my last post, I think there's an analogy between stock portfolios and energy portfolios. Just like you want your stock portfolio to be diversified to deal with economic downturns in one sector or region, so should our nation's energy supplies be diversified to increase our ability to weather adverse political and ecological changes.

Currently most of our energy comes from fossil fuels. Coal is very dirty and bad for the environment with lots of nasty chemicals like carbon dioxide, sulfur and mercury being released.

Oil comes with a host of political issues in places ranging from Saudi Arabia to Bolivia. It also presents ecological problems. And it's going to run out.

Therefore we should diversify our energy holdings. We should keep coal and oil in reserve and increase our share of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, and wave power.

It just seems only prudent to diversify our energy holdings and seek cleaner, more reliable, and renewable forms of energy.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Portugal to Build World's Largest Sunfarm

This photo is of the Kramer Junction Solar Electric Generating Station in San Bernadino, California. Portugal is now planning a solar plant that will be even larger.
Construction work has begun in southern Portugal on what is set to be the world's largest solar power station.

The 58m euro (£40m) plant near Serpa, 200km (125 miles) south of Lisbon, will produce enough electricity for 8,000 homes when it starts next January.

The 11-megawatt solar power plant, to be made up of 52,000 photovoltaic modules, will cover a 60-hectare (150-acre) southern-facing hillside.|BBC|
Kudos to them. Solar power may not be the entire answer to replacing fossil fuels, but solar power is a step in the right direction. It's clean, reliable, and available. It makes so much sense in areas like the Southwestern US where they have lots of sunlight and a lot of empty space. Western Kansas would be another great location for solar arrays.

Previously, I blogged
about a new technology that harnesses ultraviolet light for solar power as well.

Business Week predicts that this ultraviolet solar technology is at least 10 years off, but that it will be a disruptive technology when it hits the market.
The work is far from done, of course. Sargent's still-unnamed material will have to be improved before it's used in commercial products. So far, it can convert only a very small amount of infrared light into energy -- about 1,000 times less than what's needed for commercial use....

It will probably take Sargent and the industry up to 10 years to get this technology to become a significant commercial product. But many venture capitalists and solar-cell companies believe it's worth the wait. "I view this work to be groundbreaking," says Josh Wolfe, managing partner at New York-based venture-capital firm Lux Partners. "There's an opportunity for a disruptive breakthrough technology with major social implications."

Indeed, with its potential to be used in power-generating garments, the day may not be that far off when the term "power suit" takes on a whole new meaning. |Business Week|

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The American Dream

Sarah and I acquired the right to possess the cutest little house in all Saint Paul today. Of course, the bank really owns the house. And they pretty much own us too for the next thirty years.

But isn't that what the American dream is all about?

All sarcasm aside, Sarah and I are very happy about this new chapter in our lives. Not only is the house cute, but there is a sizeable garden behind the home with limestone retaining walls going up the hill. The previous owner was an avid gardner and did a marvelous job with the yard. Stay tuned for more photos.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Quote of the Week: EFFing yourself

The Register really knows how to put things in perspective.

So watching the [Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)] swing into action against a bill that weakens the [Recording Industry Association of America] and paves the way to seeing the EFF's lofty goals realized is rather like watching a dog fruitlessly hump a table. The table too may have four legs, but nothing productive will result from this union. |Register|

Microsoft discovers the joys of spyware

In an article about Microsoft's newest product, Windows Live Onecare, David Frith recounts the following story about Steve Ballmer:
[Microsoft] platforms vice-president Jim Allchin told [a story] at a recent Windows Vista reviewers conference about chief executive Steve Ballmer.

It seems Steve was at a friend's wedding reception when the bride's father complained that his PC had slowed to a crawl and would Steve mind taking a look.

Allchin says Ballmer, the world's 13th wealthiest man with a fortune of about $18 billion, spent almost two days trying to rid the PC of worms, viruses, spyware, malware and severe fragmentation without success.

He lumped the thing back to Microsoft's headquarters and turned it over to a team of top engineers, who spent several days on the machine, finding it infected with more than 100 pieces of malware, some of which were nearly impossible to eradicate. Among the problems was a program that automatically disabled any antivirus software.|Australian IT|
I don't know whether that story is supposed to be a testament to the tenacity of spyware or a vivid illustration of the ineptitude of Microsoft's technocrats. I guess it's both...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Overheard at the law library

This guy tried to build a fence through his lake...can you imagine...?!?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The sins of empire


I haven't written anything about the recent spate of allegations of war crimes by US troops in Iraq, because I frankly didn't even know where to start.

A quick technorati search reveals the vast divide among the blogosphere. Personally, I think that there are some problems that can be solved by the tactical application of high explosive. But other problems are only exacerbated by the application of force.

Wisdom is knowing the difference. Unfortunately, this administration's handling of the war on terror is anything but inspiring. Chris Floyd sums my feelings up well when he writes:

Many observers have compared the methodical murder of 24 innocent civilians by U.S. Marines in the Iraqi town of Haditha ... to the infamous My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when American troops slaughtered hundreds of civilians in a bloody rampage.

But this is a false equation, one that gravely distorts the overall reality of the Coalition effort in Iraq. For it is not the small-scale Haditha atrocity that should be compared to My Lai: it is the entire Iraq War itself.

The whole operation – from its inception in high-level mendacity to its execution in blood-soaked arrogance, folly, greed and incompetence – is a war crime of almost unfathomable proportions: a My Lai writ large, a My Lai every single day, year after year after year.

Details of the Haditha killings are finally emerging after months of official cover-up and heated denunciations of anyone who questioned the shifting, conflicting stories issued by the Pentagon....Like Abu Ghraib, Haditha is not an aberration by a few "bad apples" but the emblem of a wider, systemic crime, the natural fruit of an outlaw regime that has made aggressive war, torture, indefinite detention, "extrajudicial killing," rendition and concentration camps official national policy. This moral rot is Bush's true historical legacy. |Empire Burlesque|(emphasis added)(links omitted)


Occupying a country whose language and culture is foreign is a daunting task. The uncertainties of urban warfare and the constant deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a toll on our military.
Allegations [of war crimes], regardless of how they are borne out by the facts, can have [a detrimental] effect on the ability of US forces to continue to operate," Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham of the military's Joint Staff told the Pentagon briefing this week.

[T]he armed services are openly struggling with the...inevitable [civilian deaths] in fighting a counterinsurgency. The problem becomes greater with more lethal weaponry and multiple deployments. (The Marine Corps battalion was on its third deployment to Iraq when the killings at Haditha occurred)....

Purposely killing civilians
, states an Army training manual, is especially likely in guerrilla warfare where the enemy combatants do not wear uniforms and in fact may include women and children.|CSM|(emphasis added)


Julian Borger reports on the breakdown in morale among the Marins accused of the murders at Haditha:

The marine unit involved in the killing of Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November had suffered a "total breakdown" in discipline and had drug and alcohol problems, according to the wife of one of the battalion's staff sergeants.

The allegations in Newsweek magazine contribute to an ever more disturbing portrait of embattled marines under high stress, some on their third tour of duty after ferocious door-to-door fighting in the Sunni insurgent strongholds of Falluja and Haditha.

The wife of the unnamed staff sergeant claimed there had been a "total breakdown" in the unit's discipline after it was pulled out of Falluja in early 2005.

"There were problems in Kilo company with drugs, alcohol, hazing [violent initiation games], you name it," she said. "I think it's more than possible that these guys were totally tweaked out on speed or something when they shot those civilians in Haditha." |Guardian| (emphasis added)


The truth of these allegations is almost beside the point, they are devestating to our national image and the ultimate goal of defeating the wellspring of terrorism. The Bush administration surrendered any pretense of credibility long ago and few are going to believe the Pentagon regardless of its conclusions on these claimed atrocities.

Spice Up Firefox with Wizz RSS


Chillis by DrQ.
I think RSS is a great idea, but I haven't found an RSS reader that I really liked, until last week. I found the Wizz RSS reader as a Firefox extension and allows me to toggle an RSS feed window.

Wizz Computers has a variety of versions, if you're interested.

They also accept OPML lists like this and this.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Chipping Immigrants

It's not surprising to me that the head of the company that makes the Verichips would suggest using them in guest workers.

It is surprising to me that the President of Colombia would suggest the same thing to US Senators.

Truth truly is stranger than fiction.|LiveScience|

Quote of the Week

When elephants rage, it is the grass that suffers.

- Kĩkũyũ Proverb

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Why data retention is a bad idea

I recently posted over at the Law Librarian Blog about data retention proposals in Congress aimed at securing our children from online predators. Now, I read that fearless Attorney General Gonzalez is telling us that we also need a data retention law to protect us from terrorists. This is the same rationale that succeeded in getting the EU to adopt a data retention law, but it's equally imbecilic here in the States.

The problem is not data, the problem is analysis. We are drowning in a sea of data. And the cost/benefit analysis of these proposals is wacky. Who is going to pay the huge costs of warehousing all of this data (most of which is totally innocuous)? You and I are. Whether the ISPs are forced to pay for it or the government picks up the tab, ultimately it will come out of our pocketbooks.

Data retention will never prevent an attack. Data retention merely makes it easier to read terrorist's email after the deed is done.

After 9/11 the FBI was able to track the terrorists' emails because the data was already stored by the ISP, we didn't need a law requiring data retention. But even with this data we weren't able to prevent the attacks because we know where to look and we didn't have the analysts to connect the dots.

I've been reading Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier and he does a good job of laying out the weaknesses with our approach to security in this country.

And this assumes that terrorists communicate by email and are part of a larger organization. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not part of any larger plot, but they were certainly domestic terrorists.