Saturday, December 29, 2007

Just plain wrong

I saw this little piece of elven mirth over at Sean's blog.

Season's Greetings.


the gift of the moose, originally uploaded by Steve took it.

Home at Last

Sarah and I arrived home tonight. The eight hour drive back from Kansas was uneventful, but upon arrival we found our driveway counted in four-five inches of snow, so the car is still at the bottom of the driveway.

We're supposed to be getting even more snow over the next two days. Welcome to Minnesota.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday Blogging

I'm in Kansas having a great time, but blogging will re-commence in a few days when I'm back home. Happy holidays.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Feliz Navidad

Moyers and Olberman

Bill Moyers interviews Keith Olbermann here. Quite a few interesting observations in 20 minutes. I didn't realize Olbermann started as a sportscaster, and he argues that being a sports journalist was good prepartion for covering national politics.

The Future of Body Armor: d3o

Tough on Crime Rhetoric as Political Fantasy

Anyone trying to deal with the reality of crime, as opposed to the fantasies peddled to win elections, needs to understand the complex suffering of survivors of traumatic crimes and the suffering and turmoil of their families. I have impressive physical scars...a broad purple line from my breastbone to the top of my pubic bone, an X-shaped cut into my side where the chest tube entered...But the disruption of my psyche is more noticeable.

For weeks, I awoke each night agitated, drenched in perspiration.... Though to all appearances normal, I feel at a long arm's remove from all the familiar sources of pleasure, comfort and anger that shaped my daily life...

What psychologists call post-traumatic stress disorder is, among other things, a profoundly political state in which the world has gone wrong, in which you feel isolated from the broader community by the inarticulable extremity of experience...As a crime victim and a citizen, I want the reality of a safe community--not a politician's fantasy land of restitution and revenge.

- Bruce Shapiro

Torture Myths

While it isn't scholarly, Darius Rejali has a short article in the Union Leader where he responds to five common views about torture that he thinks are mistaken.

It’s surprising how unsuccessful the Gestapo’s brutal efforts were. They failed to break senior leaders of the French, Danish, Polish and German resistance. I’ve spent more than a decade collecting all the cases of Gestapo torture “successes” in multiple languages; the number is small and the results pathetic, especially compared with the devastating effects [on] public cooperation and informers. |The Five Myths about Torture - Union Leader|

N.B. Cross-posted at the Bellman.

Cannibal Christmas


This has got to be the scariest mannequin I've ever seen.

If she came to life, she'd roam through the streets feasting on human flesh.

-Peggy Archer

Satan Claus

In some rustic parts of Europe and probably in Kansas, Santa retains traces of his carnivorous past. Children are told that if they are "good" all year, Santa will reward them, but if they are "bad" he will EAT THEM ALL UP.

Santa’s Crimes Against Humanity by Robert Anton Wilson @ 10 Zen Monkeys

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterward.

- Theodore Roosevelt

Just for the record, I would apply this sentiment to anyone who serves the country regardless of gender or sexual orientation.


Sacramento cops pull over good drivers

I wonder if this is going to turn out the way they intended...

Motorists may be in for a surprise if they spot flashing red lights in their rearview mirrors in this Sacramento suburb during the holiday season.

Police are stopping law-abiding motorists and rewarding their good driving with $5 Starbucks gift cards.

A traffic officer came up with the idea to "promote the holiday spirit and enhance goodwill between the traffic unit and the motoring public," police Sgt. Tim Curran said.

Local businesses donated money to buy the gift cards.

"They raised a substantial amount of money," Curran said. "They'll be pulling over a lot of people." |AP|

Poverty Crisis in Iraq Deepens

Who said things were getting better in Iraq?

Iraq is set to halve essential items covered by rations and subsidies because of insufficient funds and spiralling inflation, in a further threat to an already deteriorating ration system.

The plan has prompted criticism from those who have already warned of social unrest if measures are not taken to address rising poverty and unemployment...

"In 2007, we asked for $3.2 billion for rationing basic foodstuffs. But since the prices of imported food stuff doubled in the past year, we requested $7.2 billion for this year. That request was denied."....

The impending move will affect nearly 10 million people who depend on the already fragile rationing system.

Ibraheem Abdullah, a professor and social affairs analyst at Baghdad University, said the government has inadequately measured the alarming rise in poverty since the March 2003 US-led invasion.

"Urgent measures should be taken to prevent the possible chaos that will lead to worsening conditions in the lives of millions of Iraqis when the food ration is reduced," he said.

"The government should give priority to this issue. Where do they expect unemployed families to find the means to purchase food now?"...

Yet up to eight million Iraqis still require immediate emergency aid, with nearly half this number living in "absolute poverty", according to the latest report by Oxfam and a coalition of Iraqi groups, including the NGO Coordination Committee of Iraq.|Iraq set to slash food rations - Al Jazeera|

According to the CIA World Factbook, Iraq only has $27 million people, so almost one in three rely on food subsidies simply to survive.

Just Desserts

If [Stalin] was not in fact poisoned -- as has sometimes been alleged -- he probably should have been.

- Axis of Evel Kneviel

Patriotic Mohawk

Fighting the good fight

I have earned my disillusionment, I have been working all of my life and
I am a patriot, I have been fighting the good fight!

-ani difranco

Monday, December 17, 2007


Logan's Run, here we come

I ran across this cheerful piece of information today.

For decades, spending on Medicare and Medicaid—the federal government’s major health care programs—has been growing faster than the economy, as has health spending in the private sector.

The rate at which health care costs grow relative to national income — rather than the aging of the population — will be the most important determinant of future federal spending. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that under current law, federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid measured as a share of GDP will rise from 4 percent today to 12 percent in 2050 and 19 percent in 2082 — which, as a share of the economy, is roughly equivalent to the total amount that the federal government spends today. |Long Term Budget Outlook in PDF - Congressional Budget Office|

To resolve this situation, there are only three possibilities: "To prevent deficits from growing to levels that could impose substantial costs on the economy, revenues must rise as a share of GDP, or projected spending must fall — or some combination of the two outcomes must be achieved." |Id.|There will be many unexpected problems along the road in the future, but it's disheartening when you don't have a good solution for the problems you can foresee.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Addict & the Enabler

The Addict & the Enabler, originally uploaded by M1khaela.

The Republican Hypocrisy on Drugs Revisited

Juan Cole brings together several elements of our political culture and demonstrates the total lack of credibility the Republicans have on drug policy and why they should not be taken seriously when it comes to steroid use either.

But in this [Hillary-Obama drug] controversy, what is forgotten is that our current incumbent also admitted to youthful drug use:
Bush has said that he did not use illegal drugs at any time since 1974, but he has declined to discuss whether he used drugs before 1974.

A conversation between Bush and an old friend and author, Doug Wead, touched on the subject of use of illegal drugs. In the taped recordings of the conversation, Bush explained his refusal to answer questions about whether he had used marijuana at some time in his past. “I wouldn’t answer the marijuana questions,” Bush says. “You know why? Because I don’t want some little kid doing what I tried.” When Wead reminded Bush that the latter had publicly denied using cocaine, Bush replied, "I haven't denied anything."
I'd say that we know from this recorded interview that Bush 1) used marijuana in his youth, 2) used "blow" or cocaine in his youth, and 3) is deliberately dishonest about both in public.

We also know that Bush was an alcoholic until he was 40 years old, would go up at parties to little old ladies and ask them how sex is after 50, and fancied himself a ladies man (I think the evangelicals have words like fornication & adultery for that sort of thing, but the evangelicals seem to be selective in choosing the target of such vocabulary).

Of course, if you say you later got religion, and if you are a Republican, all these sins are suddenly forgiven and the nation's newspapers and t.v. pundits and Baptist preachers immediately stop even remembering that they happened.

So everyone reported Bush's condemnation of drug use by athletes on Friday with a straight face, and without making reference to his own drug use. (There is evidence that the alcoholism continued while he was in the White House).

I don't doubt that what Bill Shaheen said is correct, and that the Republicans will play all sorts of dirty tricks on Barack Obama if he is the Democratic nominee. The Republican Party is about velociraptor politics.

But if they did come after Obama for his honesty, I'd reply that they have been led for the past 7 years by someone who did the same things and then stonewalled the public about them. Bush seems to think it is better to teach little children to lie than to be honest with them about the temptations they will face in this society during adolescence.

And the corporate media will never even notice, when they collaborate in the future swiftboating of Obama, that they gave W. a pass because he is a Republican and an elite white male from an old-established political family.

Obama did the right thing in coming clean. Bush did the wrong thing in obscuring the truth. Obama demonstrated leadership. Bush showed himself a political and moral coward, and a hypocrite| Obama vs. Bush, On How Honesty is the Highest form of Leadership - Juan Cole (emphasis added, hyperlinks omitted)
There is an incredible amount of hypocrisy by the Republicans in the war on drugs and no one seems to give a damn except for criminal defense attorneys.


Cross Country Skiing

I went cross country skiing for the first time today. My friend Alex is a long time skier so we went to Como Park and I rented some skis. It was a lot of fun. I made quite a bit of improvement just in two hours, although the downhills are still pretty tricky.

I'm a bit sore already and may be even more sore tomorrow, but it was a good workout and it was nice to be out in the Alpenglow.

Update: I'm really sore today between my shoulder blades and the sartorius muscle that runs from the inside of the thigh to the outside of the knee. I think my back muscles are sore because at first I was relying on arm power since I hadn't figured out the leg motion for cross country skiing. I think the sartorius soreness comes from pushing out my heels to steer and stop, those are simply muscles I don't use much in everyday life and I'll need to do frequent skiing to tone them up.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Legalize Steroids Already

We live in the day and age of better living through chemistry. Half the population is on anti-depressants, sleep aids, or treatment for ADHD. Caffeine is a performance-enhancing drug.

Can we just legalize steroids and quit the charade?

And a note to television news producers, I could not care less what some random twelve year olds think about steroid use in baseball and how it affects their naive, white bread ideas of what is fair and right.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Through the looking glass

Whither the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

The Supreme Court recently gave federal judges a great deal more discretion in deviating from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in Kimbrough v. U.S. (Docket number 06-6330) and Gall v. U.S. (Docket number 06-7949).

While this seems like a great day for judicial sentencing reform, Jason Harrow, author of a treatise on sentencing, cautions that this change may actually set sentencing reform backwards by ameliorating the most obvious injustice (the crack cocaine sentencing disparity) while leaving the system fundamentally unjust and hostage to "tough on crime" election-year hysteria.

I strongly suspect that the Blakely-Booker-Rita-Gall-Kimbrough line of cases will let all the steam out of the movement for significant reform of the federal sentencing system....

Conversely, I suspect that the “advisory” character of the Guidelines will only exacerbate the tendency of Congress to meddle in the specifics of guidelines rules.

The pre-Booker system had become a one-way upward ratchet as Congress consistently urged or commanded the Commission to raise penalties in response to the national crime du jour or the electoral needs of particular members.

But in the pre-Booker world, responsible legislators, at least, were checked by the knowledge that guidelines adjustments necessarily produced real sentence increases across the board to virtually all covered defendants.

In the post-Booker-Gall-Kimbrough universe, not even that modest check remains. Micro-managing congressmen proposing yet another two-offense-level increase for spitting on a federal sidewalk can salve any incipient pangs of legislative conscience with the thought that judges will redress any case-specific injustices by exercising their expanded sentencing discretion.

My rueful prediction is that, with only occasional exceptions, Congress will, on a congenially bipartisan basis, continue to bloat guidelines sentencing levels whenever electorally convenient...

Those district court judges now on the bench have, with few exceptions, become accustomed to the guidelines. The guidelines sentencing process is familiar and the sentence lengths prescribed by the Guidelines... have largely been internalized as an acceptable, or at least democratically sanctioned, norm.

For the few cases where applying the guidelines kept judges up at nights, Booker, Rita, Gall, and Kimbrough have given them a safety valve. And thus one should not expect either open or covert agitation from the federal bench for fundamental reform.

It remains a mystery to me why so many people whose basic position is that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are a disaster and that the sentences imposed in federal court are a travesty are so enamored of the Apprendi-Blakely-Booker-Kimbrough line [of cases.]

I understand that the loosening of the reins these cases command makes judges and defense lawyers feel better because they allow judges and lawyers to act more judge-like and lawyer-like during sentencing. And (to be fair) the practical consequence of these cases is that some defendants, and maybe some thousands, will receive lower sentences than would have been the case before.

But from a systemic perspective, it is very hard to avoid the conclusion that the primary result of these cases will be to ensure the continued survival of the Guidelines much as they have always been.

|Commentary: Gall and Kimbrough From Three Perspectives - SCOTUS Blog|

So there you have it, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sarah's Christmas Present

Sarah wanted a piano for Christmas, and here it is. It's an antique overdamper action (or birdcage mechanism) made in 1884 by the company Con & Con.

It's made out of rosewood.


You know you're getting old when you hurt yourself while sleeping.

- Lou Sgroi

Monday, December 10, 2007


Emergency Vehicle Accidents

Doing a research project on Homeland Security, I had read that LA was having a significant problem with emergency vehicles getting into accidents, partly due to LA's traffic congestion and partly due to people following emergency vehicles too closely, which is related to the appalling level of driver stupidity in LA...

But I just read this item about an increase in the number of emergency vehicles running into each other.

Many cities across the United States have experienced an increase in emergency vehicle accidents. These accidents can be attributed to departmental training issues, misunderstanding of the right-of-way laws for emergency vehicles, better soundproofing of vehicles, and increased traffic volumes, among other factors.

But departments also have also an increase in the number of apparatus-to-apparatus collisions at intersections. Today's technology can help prevent these accidents, make sure a firefighter's seatbelt is properly used, control traffic signals from inside the cab with preemption technologies....

It is often difficult for the occupants of one emergency vehicle to hear the siren of another because of their own. And it is impossible to see around an intersection. Use of this radio technology would warn an emergency vehicle driver of an impending collision up to three-quarters of a mile in advance. |Crossing Guard - Fire Chief|
Turns out the technology that turns signals green for emergency vehicles previously hasn't been able to deal with multiple emergency vehicles approaching the same intersection, but it looks like the manufacturers are working the bugs out of the system.

No Escape

Hamas has torched confiscated cannabis and cocaine in Gaza said to be worth $4 [million]....The Gaza Strip suffers widespread poverty, unemployment and overcrowding and has suffered under Israeli and European sanctions.

Residents are subject to border closures and Israel recently moved to cut fuel and electricity supplies in response to the firing of homemade rockets into southern Israel.|Hamas torches $4m drug find - Al Jazeera|
So now there won't even be a poor man's vacation in Gaza. Poor bastards.

Base Jumping

Carpe Diem

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.

-Anaïs Nin

Friday, December 07, 2007

God Is A Gamer

This cracked me up. It would be one answer to the problem of theodicy.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dubya Sings!

Thanks to Jim for the link!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Loose Ends

Killing In The Name Of by stublog

Now thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house
Or covet thy neighbor's wife
But for some
Murder is the only door through which they enter life

- Murder in the Red Barn|Rhapsody|Lyrics|Live|

In case of gunfire...

Sarah and I were talking about the Omaha mall shooting today and Sarah asked me what I'd do if we were at the Mall of America and there was a shooting.

Without taking a breath, I told her that I'd push her to the ground, pull out my pepper spray, locate the sound of the gunfire and then move to nearby cover (not just concealment, cover is something bullet-proof).

If the shooter came nearby I'd attempt to pepper spray him. I'd probably die, but the shooter would have difficulty killing anyone else after being blinded by my pepper spray.

Sarah was surprised by my response and a bit shocked that I'd thought this through already.

I had assumed everyone gamed these situations out in their head. Public shootings happen almost every week in this country, it's good to have a plan... it at least gives you a base to improvise upon during a crisis.

Do you have a plan?

War and Peace

Monday, December 03, 2007

Blood Oaths: are we obligated to stay in Iraq?

I was watching this week's edition of Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria and he interviewed the Kurdish ambassador to the United States.

Towards the end of the interview, the Kurdish ambassador stated that all three of the major factions in Iraq want the United States to stay in Iraq.

The Sunnis are afraid that if the US leaves, the Shiites will decimate them.

The Shiites are afraid that if the US leaves the rest of the Arab world will invade Iraq to keep them from decimating Iraq's Sunni minority.

And the Kurds are worried they'll get screwed by everyone (including Turkey).

Fareed Zakaria agreed that this was probably true, but asked why the Kurds were the only ones who would mention this publicly and the Kurdish ambassador suggested that the recent negotiations to maintain a permanent US presence indicated the true feelings of the Arabs.

If this is true... then it shows what a horrible mess Bush has gotten the US into in Iraq.

The Iraqis want us to stay not because they like our presence, but because the potential alternatives are even worse.

Too bad none of this was foreseeable...

Do you have a license for that?

The police refuse to let a pedal powered car on the road.

Not a totally irrational decision, but I think it shows an excessive concern over liability rather than a real interest in safety. If the police had escorted the vehicle it surely would have returned to the gallery safely.

Unfortunately, it would probably be impossible to make this vehicle street legal because it doesn't fit into the administrative categories of car or bicycle.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Lady Liberty

On a clear day, you can almost see freedom.

Can I get some comic relief over here?

Recently I was reading an interview in the Metro Times with Scott Ritter, the former weapons inspector, who was smeared by the Bush administration when he questioned how dangerous Saddam Hussein actually was. I like Ritter because he sticks to his guns for what he thinks is correct, regardless of how unpleasant that may be.

[Metro Times Interviewer (MT)]: But it is now clearer than ever that our invasion of Iraq has been a disaster. How do you explain the lack of opposition?

Ritter: It's difficult to explain. First of all you have to note, from the public side, that very few Americans actually function as citizens anymore. What I mean by that are people who invest themselves in this country, people who care, who give a damn.

Americans are primarily consumers today, and so long as they continue to wrap themselves in the cocoon of comfort, and the system keeps them walking down a road to the perceived path of prosperity, they don't want to rock the boat. If it doesn't have a direct impact on their day-to-day existence, they simply don't care.

There's a minority of people who do, but the majority of Americans don't. And if the people don't care — and remember, the people are the constituents — if the constituents don't care, then those they elect to higher office won't feel the pressure to change.

The Democrats, one would hope, would live up to their rhetoric, that is, challenging the Bush administration's imperial aspirations. Once it became clear Iraq was an unmitigated disaster, one would have thought that when the Democrats took control of Congress they would have sought to reimpose a system of checks and balances, as the Constitution mandates. But instead the Democrats have put their focus solely on recapturing the White House, and, in doing so, will not do anything that creates a political window of opportunity for their Republican opponents.

The Democrats don't want to be explaining to an apathetic constituency, an ignorant constituency whose ignorance is prone to be exploited because it produces fear, fear of the unknown, and the global war on terror is the ultimate fear button.

The Democrats, rather than challenging the Bush administration's position on the global war on terror, challenging the notion of these imminent threats, continues to play them up because that is the safest route toward the White House. At least that is their perception.

The last thing they are gong to do is pass a piece of legislation that opens the door for the Republicans to say, "Look how weak these guys are on terror. They're actually defending the Iranians. They're defending this Ahmadinejad guy. They're defending the Holocaust denier. They're defending the guy who wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth." The Democrats don't want to go up against that. They don't have the courage of conviction to enter into that debate and stare at whoever makes that statement and say they're a bald-faced liar. They're not going to go that route.

[Metro Times Interviewer (MT)]: Do you think there is anything that can happen at this point that will stop this attack [on Iran]?

Ritter: You have to take a look at external influences, not internal ones. I don't think there is anything happening inside the United States that's going to stop that attack. I do believe that, for instance, if Pakistan continues to melt down, that could be something that creates such a significant diversion the Bush administration will not be able to make its move on Iran.

To attack Iran, they're going to need a nice lull period. That's what they're pushing with this whole surge right now. They're creating the perception that things are quieting. I don't know how many people picked up on it, but one day we're told that 2007's been the bloodiest year for U.S. forces in Iraq, the next day we're told that attacks against American troops are dropping at a dramatic pace. So, what's the media focus on? The concept of attacks dropping at a dramatic pace. No one's talking about the fact, wait a minute, we've just lost more guys than we've ever lost before.

They are pushing the perception that Iraq is now stable. If you have a situation in Pakistan that explodes out of control, where you suddenly have nuclear weapons at risk of falling into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, that could stop it. If Turkey attacks Kurdistan and that conflict spins out of control, that could put a halt to it. These are things that could overshadow even Dick Cheney's desire to bomb Iran.

And there could be some other unforeseen meltdown globally that's not on the radar at this time, that, unfortunately, we have to be hoping for to stop an attack on Iran. And that says a lot, that we have to hope for disaster to prevent unmitigated disaster.|Bombs Away? - Metro Times|(emphasis added)
I think Ritter's analysis is persuasive, if a bit depressing. Waiting for this administration to leave office we're all in damage limitation mode, especially the Dem's.

But Ritter makes a good point that I should heed. The Bush administration couldn't dismantle our democracy if the American public weren't so apathetic about the loss of fundamental liberties and the end of transparency in government.

This theme goes largely undiscussed in a recent piece in the Guardian discussing the negative reaction of the movie-going public to movies about the Iraq war and the recent policies of rendition and torture.
Audiences have voted convincingly that they do not want the war in Iraq depicted at all - or at least not yet. As Variety editor Peter Bart recently noted in one of his columns: 'I applaud filmmakers for dealing with real issues in the real world. At the same time the feel-bad genre (which is only in its early stages) is becoming downright oppressive. Filmgoers have a right to ask: When are we going to get some comic relief?' |America shuns Hollywood's take on Iraq - Guardian|
The American people will get exactly the government they deserve.

Friday, November 30, 2007

On epistemological etiquette

The Web is a hodgepodge of ideas that violates every rule of epistemological etiquette.

Much of what's posted is wrong. It's expressed ambiguously. But it also returns knowledge to its roots in the heated arguments in the passageways of Athens.

Knowledge is what happens when people say things that matter to them, others reply, and a conversation ensues. In many Web conversations, we've given up certainty. But certainty isn't a requirement for believing something. |Internet 101- Fast Company|

A splash of color on a cold day

I am no Superman, I have no answers for you

Recently the Chiquita fruit company plead guilty to a felony for making payments to a right wing paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, commonly known as the AUC.

Chiquita paid protection money to the AUC to ensure that their employees and operations were not attacked. They continued to make these payments until they were charged with MURDER.

What makes this story even more bizarre is the dithering role played by Michael Chertoff, the current head of Homeland Security, who wasn't sure what to do with the case.

[L]egal sources on both sides [of the case] say there was a genuine debate within the Justice Department about the seriousness of the crime of paying AUC.

For some high-level administration officials, Chiquita's payments were not aiding an obvious terrorism threat such as al-Qaeda; instead, the cash was going to a violent South American group helping a major U.S. company maintain a stabilizing presence in Colombia. |In Terrorism-Law Case, Chiquita Points to U.S. - Washington Post| (emphasis added)

Chiquita self-reported in this case, which they hoped would protect them. It didn't. Will this outcome discourage self-reporting in the future?

If companies don't pay off these armies and death squads, how do they operate in these areas?

Do they just pull out? Should they hire their own private military companies (like Blackwater and Dyncorp) and turn the region into their own corporate fiefdom, a literal banana republic in Chiquita's case?

Or maybe, they should pull out of the U.S. They could base themselves in Bermuda instead.

What makes this all the more complex is the Military Commissions Act, Public Law 109-366 which allows the President to declare anyone (citizen or no) who materially aids a terrorist as an enemy combatant and with limited judicial review.
[Military Commissions Act] broadens the definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” to include not only those who fight the United States but also those who have “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” The latter group could include those accused of providing financial or other indirect support to terrorists, human rights groups say. ....

Bruce Ackerman, a critic of the administration and a professor of law and political science at Yale University... said the bill “further entrenches presidential power” and allows the administration to declare even an American citizen an unlawful combatant subject to indefinite detention. |Detainee Bill Shifts Power to President - New York Times| (emphasis added)
But enough of the hypothetical questions, let's get back to what happened to Chiquita and how the recent court case came to pass.
[On September 10, 2001, the day before 9/11], the AUC's legal status changed. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell added the AUC to the roster of "specially designated foreign terrorist organizations." Being placed on this list, which contains mostly Middle East-based groups like Al Qaeda and Hamas, means that U.S. companies cannot legally do business with them....

[In 2003, discovered the AUC's terrorist status and Chiquita's] board decided that the company should disclose the payments to the Justice Department and seek its guidance. So in April of 2003, [Chiquita's attorneys met] with Justice officials led by Michael Chertoff, then assistant attorney general for the criminal division at the Justice Department, now the secretary of Homeland Security.

[Chiquita] told Chertoff that if the company simply stopped paying the terrorists, Chiquita would be endangering its employees. Moreover, suddenly pulling out of Colombia would have serious economic and political repercussions for that country, a close U.S. ally. Chiquita suggested that Chertoff consult with the U.S. Department of State and other federal agencies concerned about Colombia's stability.

Exactly what Chertoff told the Chiquita executives became a hot-button issue in the case. The Justice Department admitted in the plea deal that Chertoff said the payments were illegal and "the issue of continued payments was complicated."

According to [Chiquita's attorneys], Chertoff told the Chiquita officials that "this is a heavier meeting than I expected," and that he would get back to them.

[Chiquita claims] there was an "unspoken but clear understanding" with Chertoff that they could temporarily continue the payments while Chertoff considered the options.

Chertoff declined to comment for this story.

[Chiquita's lead defense attorney, Eric Holder Jr.] told the sentencing court that he suspects the government did not want to explicitly say to stop the payments "and then have blood on its hands if someone was, in fact, killed." So Justice took what Holder called a middle position-acknowledging that the payments were illegal, but not explicitly saying "stop."

Holder was clearly outraged by the department's waffling. He said in court that if Chiquita's disclosure had occurred under his watch as deputy attorney general, and if his Justice Department staff had failed to act on it, "heads would have rolled."

But Chertoff failed to act. Records show that [Chiquita's attorneys] reported back to Chiquita's board of directors that there would be "no liability for past conduct," but there was "no conclusion on continuing the payments." They said Chertoff would get back to them. But he never did.

The executives did, however, eventually hear from the U.S. Attorney's Office. Chertoff handed off the case to U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard Jr., then the U.S. Attorney in D.C., just before Chertoff left office in June 2003. Howard opened the Chiquita probe as a murder investigation. Murder?

"They [terrorists] were capturing American citizens in Colombia and holding them for ransom or killing them. What would you call it?" asks Howard...

|Blood Money Paid by Chiquita Shows Company's Hard Choices -|(emphasis added)
Roscoe Howard taught my criminal procedure class in law school and it sounds like he enjoyed nailing Chiquita to the wall on this one. Chiquita paid a $25 million fine but no executives were held personally criminally liable.

The Wall Street Journal had some interesting earlier coverage as well.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Another argument for Single Payer Health Care

"I do not deny that our charges look insane," says Dr. Pont, [California Pacific Medical Center's] chief medical officer. But all hospitals operate the same way, he says. "It's the reality of the industry." Once its operating costs are factored into an item's charge price, Dr. Pont says the hospital marks up that price by threefold to account for the fact that it only collects on average a third of what it bills in any given year. |WSJ|

Laws Schmaws

Read an interesting little piece in the Wall Street Journal about the Special Investigator who is reviewing the actions of Karl Rove to see if he illegally used federal government agencies to assist in 2004 election contests.

Mr. Bloch's investigation of the White House political operation began after a Rove deputy gave a series of political presentations to government agencies on Republican prospects in specific congressional races. Mr. Bloch's office wants to know whether such presentations violated the Hatch Act, a law forbidding the use of federal resources to back candidates for office...

In one email...disclosed this summer, an official quotes Mr. Rove as being pleased that officials at the Commerce, Transportation and Agriculture departments went "above and beyond" the call of duty in arranging appearances by cabinet members at Republican campaign events...

The special counsel's probe has already found one alleged violation, at the General Services Administration, where Rove deputies gave a presentation on Jan. 26. At the end of the presentation, according to a report by Mr. Bloch's office on the incident, GSA Administrator Lurita Doan asked, "How can we help our candidates?" Twenty participants in the meeting recalled substantially the same words, the report said. |Head of Rove Inquiry in Hot Seat Himself - WSJ|(emphasis added)
Compared to the many war crimes, felonies, and systematic corruption engineered by the White House in the past seven years, this doesn't surprise me... but it's still pretty lousy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


People For the American Way, originally uploaded by pfaw.

Open Source Political Party

RU Sirius has proposed an Open Source Party with a seven plank platform.

1: Let's Have A Democracy
2: Let's Have Civil Liberties and a Bill of Rights
3: Let's End the Imperial Foreign Policy
4: A New "Energy Task Force"
5: Let's Explore The Possibility of an Open Source Monetary System
6: Let's End Corporate Personhood and Other Rules that Unfairly Advantage Corporations
7: Let My Web People Go!

Read more about it at 10 Zen Monkeys.

Rip, Mix and Burn: Copyright, Privacy and Participatory Culture

A recent law review article on copyright titled, Infringement Nation: Copyright Reform and the Law/Norm Gap, illustrates the way that culture infiltrates our lives and how we are all on the front line of the copyright wars.

Copyright law is playing a profound role in shaping our very identities. Copyright’s regulation, propertization, and monopolization of cultural content determine who can draw upon such content in the discursive process of identity formation.

Thus, the contours of our intellectual property regime privilege certain individuals and groups over others and intricately affect notions of belonging, political and social organization, expressive rights, and semiotic structures. In short, copyright laws lie at the heart of “struggles over discursive power—the right to create, and control, cultural meanings.”

As Madhavi Sunder has powerfully argued, we are in the midst of a “‘Participation Age’ of remix culture, blogs, podcasts, wikis, and peer-to-peer file-sharing. This new generation views intellectual properties as the raw materials for its own creative acts, blurring the lines that have long separated producers from consumers.”

In the digital age, we are all regular consumers and producers of copyrighted content. |Infringement Nation: Copyright Reform and the Law/Norm Gap|
The author uses a hypothetical to illustrate how ridiculous the claims of copyright hardliners is (or at least how it criminalizes all sorts of everyday activity).
By the end of the day, John has infringed the copyrights of twenty emails, three legal articles, an architectural rendering, a poem, five photographs, an animated character, a musical composition, a painting, and fifty notes and drawings. All told, he has committed at least eighty-three acts of infringement and faces liability in the amount of $12.45 million (to say nothing of potential criminal charges).

If copyright holders were inclined to enforce their rights to the maximum extent allowed by law, he would be indisputably liable for a mind-boggling $4.544 billion in potential damages each year. And, surprisingly, he has not even committed a single act of infringement through P2P file sharing. Such an outcome flies in the face of our basic sense of justice. Indeed, one must either irrationally conclude that John is a criminal infringer—a veritable grand larcenist—or blithely surmise that copyright law must not mean what it appears to say. Something is clearly amiss. Moreover, the troublesome gap between copyright law and norms has grown only wider in recent years.Id.
One final point, the article concludes by invoking loss of privacy as a leading enabler of the ability of the copyright holders to track down (and punish) infringement, which is an interesting combination of two seemingly disparate topics.

The loss of privacy is often mentioned in the context of criminal law or national security, but it is less often invoked in the civil damages context.

The author illustrates how copyright has embedded itself in the public imagination, unfortunately it's such an arcane topic that few seem sure of the contours of intellectual property law anymore.

As I've noted elsewhere, the fear mongering of the RIAA and MPAA seems to be intimidating quite a few people, including educators.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Iraq: Designed to Fail

Feisal Istrabadi, Former Deputy Ambassador to Iraq, recently pointed out how the entire political system in Iraq, reinforces the divisions between Iraq's different religious and ethnic groups.

Fundamentally, [Iraq's political] parties ...posited themselves, on all sides, either as [ethnic] parties, which is what the Kurds did, or as confessional parties, sectarian parties, which is what the Arab Shia and Arab Sunni of Iraq did.

And these were the parties that unfortunately in the system that we inherited from the Bremer vice regency, these were the parties that were then elected.

And so, in a sense, they were -- each of these parties was elected based upon their differences. And so once they get to power, they find it very difficult to make the compromises necessary. And a lot of it is personal, and a lot of it is very petty... |In Iraq, Violence Falls but Political Gridlock Remains - Online Newshour|(emphasis added)
Now that's my definition of a clusterfuck.

There isn't going to be any political solution in the near term. The current political system is untenable and after the US leaves it will tear itself apart and something new will be established in its place.

Imperial Life in the Emerald City illuminates how the Bush administration's devotion to neo-conservative dogma over pragmatism assured that no lasting political order would be established in Iraq.

I really wish it were different, I want to see Iraq settle down and for the US to salvage some honor from this ordeal, but wishing doesn't make it so.

[Professor Hugh White, the head of Canberra's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre] says the US cannot win in Iraq, but nevertheless is unlikely to pull out.

"I think that's the tragedy of the American position," he said.

"I think they're in the situation where the scale of resources that America has available, and the nature of the problems that it needs to deal with, simply preclude the United States achieving the kind of outcome that we all hope that we could find in Iraq - a stable government that controls the whole territory that governs more or less justly in the interests of all Iraqis, and so on.

"That just seems to be, to me, beyond reach.

"And even though... there may be, as some reports suggest, short-term improvements in security, for example, I think the chances of that leading to a long-term political evolution that would achieve our long-term objectives is very low." |Coalition 'cannot win' in Iraq or Afghanistan - ABC News|

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Ignoring the Wicked

Denial of the harsh, violent, or dangerous aspects of the world is a commonly used psychological defense that allows us to go about or lives without constant fear of harm.

If we are unsuccessful at "blocking out" unpleasant parts of our world, the horror we would feel each day at the violence and suffering that are always taking place would overwhelm us.

We depend upon the police to keep such horrific sights, sounds, and smells away from our lives and our experience of the world. Our ignorance can be catastrophic, however, for police departments, individuals officers, and their families.

| Stoning the Keepers at the Gate: Society's Relationship with Law Enforcement by Lawrence N., Ph.D. Blum |Amazon| Google Books|

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. - George Orwell

Friday, November 23, 2007

Colombine style shootings go Global

You can add school yard massacres to the United States' contribution to global culture. Apparently in the wake of the recent Finnish school attack, authorities have uncovered chatrooms where disaffected youth encouraged one another to plan and carry out their own bloodbaths.

On Friday, police in Cologne [Germany] apparently foiled another plot by two students to launch a massacre in their school using crossbows, air guns and molotov cocktails, which was also planned to coincide with the Emsdetten anniversary. The police have come under criticism for sending the two students home after questioning. The younger boy later committed suicide by throwing himself under a tram.

German police and education authorities have pointed to a worrying growth in copycat incidents as well as a sharp rise in the number of pupils sharing information on the internet, and goading and inspiring each other into carrying out attacks.

The Finnish killer Pekka-Eric Auvinen was believed to have been in touch via the internet with a Pennsylvania teenager who had been planning a Columbine-style attack. This week a British woman alerted police in Norway to a massacre threat against a school in Askoey near Bergen after seeing a suspicious video of on YouTube.

The Columbine massacre in Littleton, Colorado, in which two students killed 13 people before killing themselves, has served as a catalyst for a series of attacks across the United States and abroad, particularly in Germany.

"The phenomenon of massacres by young people in schools in Germany has only existed since Columbine," said Frank Robertz, a Berlin criminologist and author of a book on violence in schools.|School Massacre Plots Hatched on Internet - Guardian| (emphasis added)
From my CERT training and the law enforcement periodicals that I read, I know that police are concerned about terrorist attacks on schools, but it really makes things more complex if the terrorists are students at those schools.

Loren Coleman discusses the pattern of school shootings (including some I had not heard of) over at his blog Copycat Effect.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

November Snow

It snowed on Thanksgiving, we enjoyed a white Thanksgiving, although it was not quite as breathtaking in Saint Paul as the photo above. It's hard to compete with the Grand Canyon.

Giving Thanks

As I count my blessings this Thanksgiving, I consider myself and our country blessed that Dick Cheney has not ascended to the Presidency and he still has to run his decisions through that bumpkin.

Read more about Dick Cheney at the Dickipedia.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Transgender Day of Rememberance

Tuesday, November 20th is the Transgender Day of Rememberance.

Dylan Vade writes of the double standard society sets out for the transgendered.

Why do some folks feel that transgender people need to disclose their history and their genitalia, and nontransgender people do not? When you first meet someone and they are clothed, you never know exactly what that person looks like. And when you first meet someone, you never know that person's full history.

Why do only some people have to describe themselves in detail -- and others do not? Why are some nondisclosures seen as actions and others utterly invisible? Actions. Gwen Araujo was being herself, openly and honestly. No, she did not wear a sign on her forehead that said "I am transgender, this is what my genitalia look like." But her killers didn't wear a sign on their foreheads saying, "We might look like nice high school boys, but really, we are transphobic and are planning to kill you." That would have been a helpful disclosure. |No issue of sexual deception: Gwen Araujo was just who she was - SF Chronicle|
I once attended a presentation by a genderqueer youth who suggested that gender, far from being binary, is an infinite plan and I think that is probably the truth.

It's so sad that people who do not fit into someone's pre-conceived notion of gender are subjected to so much violence and hostility.

Via Feministing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

I really am a sucker for non-corporate corporateness.

- Danah Boyd |Link|

Ghost in the Machine

Rubin is iTrapped, originally uploaded by Stillframe.

Personal Safety: Gadget Crime Increasing

A recent report from the Urban Institute, Is There an iCrime Wave? |PDF|, suggests that the recent spike in violent crime is can be tied to the explosion of Ipods in our society.

The study suggest several reasons why Ipods are special targets of theft.

There are [five] reasons iPods may be especially criminogenic (crime creating).

First, they contain almost no easily accessible antitheft protection.

Second, unlike cell phones, there is no subscription associated with iPods, so the offender can continue to use them even after the robbery is reported.

Third, iPods are high-status items and may be stolen for their status, not as items to be resold....

[Fourth], since iPods transmit sound to both ears, rather than just one in the case of cell phones, iPod users may be less aware of their surroundings than users of other consumer products.

[Fifth,] iPod users are easy to identify... and iPods are typically worn in public places (44 percent of robberies occur on public streets),

[T]he device is a lightning rod for criminals.| Is There an iCrime Wave? (PDF)|

I think all of these reasons make sense, but the authors also outline some some statistical data to support their arguments. (I think only philosophers write articles these days without statistics.)

Anecdotal evidence [of a link between Ipod sales and thefts] is strong...

In the first three months of 2005, major felonies rose 18.3 percent on the New York City subway—however, if cell phone and iPod thefts are excluded,felonies actually declined by 3 percent....

The increase in iPod robberies on the [San Francisco] BART [subway system] between 2004 and 2006 accounts for 23 percent of the increase in robbery in the entire city [of San Francisco]over that time.

The increase in iPod-related crime appears to be an international phenomenon.

Britain’s Home Office reports a 10 percent rise in gunpoint robberies from 2005 to 2006. The BBC quotes British Home Secretary John Reid as identifying devices like iPods as the cause, stating that the increase in robberies “is largely driven by a rise in the numbers of young people carrying expensive goods, such as mobile phones and MP3 players.”

Likewise, Ian Johnston, chief constable of the British Transport Police and spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the rise had “a lot to do with the products that are available to be stolen these days. The mobile phone explosion is continuing. The iPod explosion is continuing. All of these gadgets that people carry around with them are very attractive to robbers, so that puts the opportunities up. We’ve obviously got to respond to that in a very positive way.”

The scale of iPod sales and the increase in robberies also lend credence to this hypothesis. Increases in robbery in 2005 and 2006 translate into about 40,000 more robberies than in 2004; during that period, 78 million new iPods went into circulation. In order for iPod robberies to explain all of the recent increase in robberies, just 1 in 1,960 iPods would need to have been stolen in a robbery, a rate of less than one-tenth of 1 percent.

The relationship between the release of the iPod and the recent rise in robberies is purely correlational, and our conclusions should therefore be interpreted with caution.

That said, the properties of the recent crime increase — a rise in robbery and homicide with a corresponding decrease in other types of crime, an increase in juvenile arrests for robbery, and temporal increases in robbery that mirror trends in iPod sales — are all consistent with the iCrime hypothesis. Moreover, observational data from New York City; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; and the United Kingdom (jurisdictions where some iCrime data are available) suggest that iPod robberies are on the rise.

Finally, the magnitude of the increase in iPod-related crimes (in the U.S. cities) is consistent with increases in robbery rates. |Id.| (emphasis added)

The argument is much stronger when expanded to cell phones. Actually, it's getting harder and harder to distinguish between phones, PDAs, and music players.

London's metropolitan police reports here that roughly 10,000 cell phones are stolen every month in London.

The authors of the report contend this was all quite foreseeable and suggest that we should focus more on prevention and less on retribution.
[T]he iCrime wave was predictable and could have been prevented or mitigated, and yet little was done, or is being done, to slow the wave before it washes out on its own. U.S. crime policy is overwhelmingly focused on increasing the cost of committing crime for would-be offenders and pays little attention to the behavior of potential victims. As technology races ahead, we should expect to see more iCrime-like waves. | Is There an iCrime Wave? |PDF|

My own experience as a criminal defense attorney led me to the conclusion that most of my criminal clients were simply not able to plan ahead and did not even consider what the consequences of their actions would be, they simply acted on impulse and then had to deal with the consequences as they came.

So it's important not to act like a victim. And blocking out all auditory input certainly increases your chances of being a victim. I use my Ipod in public, but I make sure when I do that I keep my head on a swivel and I try to keep a wall to my back.

Via the Law Librarian Blog.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Give me that old time Patriotism and a joystick

Jingoism tastes even better in digital.

Thanks to Paul for the link.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On Clusterfucks

To err is human, but it takes an MBA-laden consulting firm to create a true clusterf@#& ...

- Barry Ritholtz |Link|


If that's how you want it

Leadership requires walking the line between telling people what to do and giving them the space to decide for themselves to do what you were going to tell them.

- Jesse James Garrett |Link|

Must. Remain. Calm.

So, just in case there was any doubt about whether or not our government commits torture, Gitmo's operating manual has been leaked and the government is hiding prisoners from the Red Cross.

And our government condones torture as a recently redacted Court of Appeals decision indicates.

Oh, and the Iraq war (that was supposed to pay for itself) is going to cost $3.5 trillion.

And it's only Wednesday...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Repent cried the Tick Tock Man!

Talking 'Bout a Revolution

The Bellman asks who would you put up against a wall and shoot, based on a post at Unfogged. The author suggests killing the smarmy John Yoo.

While I would certainly put a bullet in Yoo, he strikes me as a small part of the debacle that is our current excuse for a foreign policy.

The first person I would line up in front of a wall would be Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 2001-2005.

Feith was ostensibly in charge of planning for the occupation of Iraq. Feith is also the individual who actually implemented the torture policy (at least in the Department of Defense) that Yoo attempted to legitimize.

While the invasion of Iraq was never a good idea, Feith is the man whose incompetence ensured that no real planning was done.

I'll sleep better when that son of a bitch is dead.

Who do you think would be greatly improved by death?

Feel free to answer here, at the Bellman, or Unfogged.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Broadcast Yourself meets Fair Use

The Electronic Freedom Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge, and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School has created Fair Use Principles for User Generated Video Content to enshrine the principles of Fair Use and protect free expression by providing guidelines to content publishers (such as YouTube).

The principles are designed to protect transformative, creative uses of copyrighted material and ensure that filters are not set to automatically delete any content that might be uploaded with pre-existing material without some review to see if the content is combined in a new, creative manner.


blog reading level

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The cyborg future is here

[T]he line between where my memory leaves off and Google picks up is getting blurrier by the second. Often when I'm talking on the phone, I hit Wikipedia and search engines to explore the subject at hand, harnessing the results to buttress my arguments.

My point is that the cyborg future is here. Almost without noticing it, we've outsourced important peripheral brain functions to the silicon around us.|Your Outboard Brain Knows All - Wired|
I don't think the cyborg future will have arrived until I have a subdermal computer implanted in my body, so that I'm never out of contact with the Net.

My cell phone/PDA is certainly a wearable computer, but it's clunky and strikes me as soooo 20th century.

And resistance is futile.

Thanks to Joe Hodnicki for the link.

Treason by any other name

Above is a clip from a 2006 documentary Iraq for Sale. Watch the whole thing at Free Documentaries.

On a related note, earlier I discuseed Naomi Klein's observations in her new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

I think this can ony be described as treason. I think impeachment is the very least that is required.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Suckled on Iron

At the feet of Your Excellency, most worthy representative of the public majesty, the craftsmen of Gardone bow down.

Born among the mountains, suckled on iron, raised in the smithies, from all of which they draw the sustenance that maintains them, bronzed by the endless heat of the fires, they can earn their living only by labouring with heavy hammers on the anvils.

If this work is lacking, they are deprived of life itself.

- Letter from gunsmith Giovanni Beretta, then Mayor of Gardone, Italy to the Capitanio of Brescia, forwarded to the Italian Senate in in April 1683, as found in the foreword to R.L. Wilson's World of Beretta.


Unsaved, originally uploaded by melfeasance.

Private Disaster Response: the Well-Off get Whisked Away

Naomi Klein reports on the rise of private disaster response companies.

I used to worry that the United States was in the grip of extremists who sincerely believed that the Apocalypse was coming and that they and their friends would be airlifted to heavenly safety. I have since reconsidered. The country is indeed in the grip of extremists who are determined to act out the biblical climax--the saving of the chosen and the burning of the masses--but without any divine intervention. Heaven can wait. Thanks to the booming business of privatized disaster services, we're getting the Rapture right here on earth. |Rapture Rescue 911: Disaster Response for the Chosen - Nation|
In some ways it is comforting to me that these incredibly anti-democratic trends were forecast in the science fiction I've been reading since middle school.

Robert Aspirin's Cold Cash War published in 1977 foresaw much of what we're seeing today with the rise of Blackwater. Gibson's Count Zero also deals with this topic well and Morgan's Market Forces is an interesting take on our impending future as well.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

TSA stole my pocket knife

So when we traveled this past weekend, I put my pocket knife in my checked suitcase along with a larger, fixed-blade knife (just in case...)

When we arrived in Wichita, my pocket knife was missing although the fixed blade knife was still there. I went through the suitcase a couple of times and then decided that a TSA employee must have stolen my pocket knife. Sarah thought I'd left it at home, but I was certain I'd put it in the suitcase.

Upon returning home, I checked the drawer where I keep my pocket knife when I'm not carrying it... and it's not there. Those bastards stole my pocket knife.

Apparently, my loss is just the tip of the iceberg.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Living La Vida Minnesota

I just returned today from Kansas. I was in Wichita for a couple of friends getting married and then we visited with Sarah's grandparents for a day. Flying into Wichita, I realized that I'd forgotten how incredibly flat that part of Kansas is.

The eastern part of Kansas is beautiful, it was good to be back in Kansas.

But I Minnesota is now my home. Even though it snowed today and Old Man Winter has moved in for a bit.

Time to break out the wool clothing...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Licensing the Supernatural

China has decalred that Tibetan Buddhists must obtain state permission before identifying the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. |WaPo|

This proves to me that there is nothing that a government won't criminalize for its own fascist motives.

Socrates Died for Your Sins

Danah Boyd has an interesting post on the social costs of technology and social policy.

[P]olicy can cause just as many social externalities as technology. Consider the implementation of compulsory high school in the U.S. and Europe. While we can certainly say now that schooling is a good thing (even if we devised schooling for imperial, colonial, and corporate purposes), we often fail to consider the externality of age segregation and what that has meant for so many aspects of civic and social life. We consciously devised a system that would stall growing up and now demonize children for not maturing. What a mess!


I'm concerned that our contemporary business narratives of progress often fail to reflect on the social externalities caused by innovations and organizational shifts. Of course, this is not about techno-determinism or fear mongering. We do that all too well. Propagandized mythical headlines like "Violent games make kids kill" are not what I'm talking about.

I'm more interested in work like Mimi Ito and her colleagues' studies on how youth's lives are reorganized by the mobile phone and how not being easily accessible means being written out of social life. STS scholars and other academics are definitely researching how innovation and structure affect broader social life, but this work often fails to get out in the public.

More problematically, it seems to me that business and the public think that progress is a one-directional path to the future and that we're on that train. Why are we so invested in innovating anything that can be innovated, regardless of the consequences? |innovation's social externalities - apophenia|
Culture evolves often without any consideration of whether this is the type of society we want to have. Even when culture is reviled, it often spreads (sometimes because it is reviled, like early rock n roll.) The entire Stop Snitching social meme is one that police and prosecutors abhor, but cannot stop.

I think the real tragedy of the United States is our anti-intellectualism. We punish geekiness with social exclusion in high school and we refuse to elect policy wonks (that would make too much sense) and instead elect morons. Sarah Vowell writes about this eloquently in her essay on the Nerd Israel, but it's a theme I think all intellectuals in this country comprehend.

I love this country, but it is screwed up and if we keep electing morons, the situation will only get worse.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The decline of the reality-based community

More and more, empty “science” stories are being generated by public relations companies, who team up with academics, and commission some spurious piece of “research” that will be attractive to the media...

None of Dr Curry’s doubtless excellent scholarly work in political theory has ever generated media coverage like his silly futuristic essay [on human evolution]. I spoke to friends on other newspapers... who told me they had stand up rows with news desks, explaining that this was not a science news story.

But the selective pressure on national newspapers is for journalists who compliantly write up this kind of commercial puff nonsense as "science news", while religious fundamentalism of all varieties is conquering the world. Bravo! |All Men will have Big Willies - Bad Science|
This rather amusing story is just another example of why information literacy is more important than ever and how the main stream media has become little more than infotainment.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The decline of antibiotics

A virulent strain of [antibiotic resistant Staph infection] appears to be killing more people annually than AIDS, emphysema or homicide, taking an estimated 19,000 lives in 2005, according to a study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The recent death of a 17-year-old high school football player in Virginia is a tragic reminder that methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, can prey on otherwise healthy people.

The best defense against the potentially deadly infection is common sense and cleanliness. “We need to reinvent hygiene for the 21st century,’’...“You go to a grocery store, and hundreds of thousands of people have touched those surfaces every day. Microorganisms are evolving very rapidly.’’|Drug-Resistant Staph: What You Need to Know - NY Times|

The abuse of antibiotics is tragic and the coming century is going to see many more humble microbes killing people off in record numbers. Of course, there is no shortage of people...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Brave New World of Urban Air Support and Counterinsurgency

The Presidency of George W. Bush will be remarkable for several reasons, but one of this administration's innovations that hasn't received much attention from the media is the development of the tactic of urban air support. Urban air support is using jets and bombers to support US troops in urban areas. No other administration has been willing to use urban air support because it is too powerful and imprecise for the urban setting, there is a tremendous of collateral damage from the unrestrained use of air power in urban settings against insurgents.

Chris Floyd is guest-blogging for Glenn Reynolds and discusses this new tactic at Salon.

Monday, the Pentagon acknowledged a long-unspoken truth: that the bombardment of civilian neighborhoods in Iraq is an integral part of the vaunted "counterinsurgency" doctrine of Gen. David Petraeus. The number of airstrikes in the conquered land has risen fivefold since George W. Bush escalated the war in January...

What we are also seeing with this strategy is, to put it plainly, an attempt to terrorize a civilian population into submission. |Salon|

Floyd links to a post at the Winter Patriot who dissects the conflicting news accounts over one incursion into Sadr City by US forces where multiple airstrikes were called in on the crowded streets of Sadr City.

Floyd feels that this escalation of force is not the issue, but the use of urban air support in an illegal war troubles him.

The military tactic of close air support in a firefight is not the issue here. The issue is why the U.S. military is engaged in this Iraqi urban warfare, with its inevitable killing of civilians, in the first place. And the reason is that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their cohorts have made the deliberate, conscious decision to engage in state terrorism in order to advance foreign policy and energy objectives they held long before 9/11 "changed the world."|Salon|

Here I must disagree with Floyd. I think this tactic of urban air support is evidence of a relaxing of the standards for using excessive force, airstrikes inevitably kill civilians by wiping out entire blocks. In the long run, I think this tactic must surely work against the US in Iraq and diminish our national standing even further in the eyes of the world.

Add to Floyd's analysis urban air support is being employed in an illegal, elective war.... and it makes my blood boil.