Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Give me convenience or give me death...

I've been thinking about DRM and I've come to the conclusion that it isn't entirely bad. I realize this will make me a heretic in some circles, but I think there is a place for digital rights management.

As a matter of principle, people should have control over their own intellectual property.

For instance, when I post a paper on the Web, I don't want some 9th grader plagiarizing my paper and submitting it as his own intellectual work product. So I restrict copying. Is that so evil?

If we lived in a perfect world there wouldn't be any plagiarism and there wouldn't be any DRM. But I try to keep at least one foot firmly planted in the real world where cheating is rampant. High school students freely admit to cheating and graduate students aren't much better. See or this CNN article for some statistics. My guess is that high school students admit cheating more readily and that older students are simply more guarded in their responses.

I'm not out to make it impossible for someone to plagiarize my work, just less easy. If someone wanted to type it out long-hand, I cannot stop that. But I can at least make it less likely that I will be the one they plagiarize. Maybe that's a silly moral distinction.

Speaking of silly moral distinctions, a while ago I read Richard Stallman's attack on open source DRM, and I don't find it very persuasive. Stallman is widely credited with starting the Free Software movement and helped the original GNU public license.

In an interview with the Register he said:
[If Digital Rights Management (DRM)] is open source, it might actually be worse than proprietary DRM, and he issued a rallying cry for free software campaigners that DRM is incompatible with freedom....

[Stallman draws] a sharp distinction between "open source" and the free software movement. This is more than mere semantics...because it's a distinction that reflects very different philosophical and moral approaches to writing software.

"The values of the Free Software Movement are the freedom to cooperate, and the freedom to have control over your own life. You should be free to control the software in your computer, and you should be free to share it," he sums up.

"The weakness of the 'Open Source' approach, is that it has been designed as another way to talk about the issues, one that cites only practical values. It agrees with the conventional attitude that what matters about software is what job it does, and how much money it costs. That's exactly the same attitude Microsoft wants you to take."

"Both 'open source' and proprietary developers are saying that convenience matters - but we're saying freedom and community matter more. We're not saying convenience doesn't matter, but there's more than just having a reliable and powerful program."

"I'm willing to undergo the tremendous inconvenience to create a free program that's a replacement for a proprietary program. That's why we have the GNU/Linux system, because a lot of people were prepared to make practical sacrifices so we can have that freedom."

Now here's where this underpins the DRM discussion.

Stallman says that the if you accept the proposition that 'open source' is good because it results in more powerful and reliable software, this makes 'open source DRM' worse than proprietary DRM. As he explains -

"If you think that the important thing is for the software to be powerful and reliable, you might think that applying the OS development model to DRM software is a way to make DRM powerful and reliable," he explains.

"But as far as I'm concerned, that makes it worse - because it's job is restricting you. And if it restricts you reliably, that means you've been thoroughly shafted. |Register| (emphasis added)
I think my first problem with Stallman's rant is that it assumes that freedom is the highest good and that any incremental encroachment on freedom is to be resisted absolutely. But freedom is a broad concept.

The traditional analogy made in property law is that ownership is a bundle of sticks. And you can give some of the sticks away while retaining others. This is especially true with good DRM software. You can give people the ability to view and print, but not copy. Or you could give them a 30 day trial or you could limit the features on a free trial.

As a consumer, I always wish to be given stuff for free. But as a producer of content, I want to be valued and recognized for my contributions whether that is academic prestige for a clever argument, my copyright respected for a well-written piece, or remuneration for a fancy piece of software.

Living with other people is always a negotiation and we give up some freedoms for the sake of the community, such as not being allowed to yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre due to the negative consequences. For most of us, that's not a huge imposition on our freedom, we don't even miss it.

If it really bothers a person, then they can go live on a mountain by themselves. Stallman strikes me as the hermit on the mountain yelling down to me that my simple-minded acceptance of open source DRM will spell my doom and I obviously don't value my freedom if I surrender it so easily.

I think Lawrence Lessig strikes a more balanced approach later in the article.
"If all one says is (a) 'Sun's openDRM is great,' that's praising DRM," says Lessig . "But if one says (b) 'we should live in a world without DRM, and we should be building infrastructure and laws that render DRM unnecessary, but if we have DRM, then Sun's is better than Hollywood's,' then that's not 'praising DRM' but identifying a lesser evil. Again, what I did was give a speech at Sun conference where I said (b)...

"There's no disagreement about where we should end up - No DRM."

"The only real disagreement is about the dynamic consequences - how this new kind of DRM affects the ecology for DRM generally. About this, I think honest people have to say no one knows, but we each have our own hunch. My view is openDRM pollutes the control freaks' plan so significantly that it can't achieve what they want - a general infrastructure of control built into the technology. Of course, I could be wrong about that."...

"There is no doubt some version of DRM is with us over the next 5 years at a minimum. I want it to be possible to wage the war for free culture in that space as easily as it can be waged in this world."

"We can win the [war] against it without eradicating DRM from every corner of cyberspace. Instead, I view 'the battle' about DRM much like I view 'the battle' over free software. Free software (in the Stallman sense of that term) 'wins the battle' when it is the major platform upon which software development is done. In that sense, free software has already won in certain important fields of battle, and in that sense, I certainly think free software will 'win the [war].' |Link|
I have to side with Lessig on this one. I think Stallman needs to come back down to Earth.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Full-Pipe Surveillance, Carnivore eat your heart out

It has recently been revealed that the FBI is now monitoring wide swaths of the Internet using a method referred to as full-pipe surveillance.
The technique came to light at the Search & Seizure in the Digital Age symposium held at Stanford University's law school on Friday. Ohm, who is now a law professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Richard Downing, a CCIPS assistant deputy chief, discussed it during the symposium.

In a telephone conversation afterward, Ohm said that full-pipe recording has become federal agents' default method for Internet surveillance. "You collect wherever you can on the (network) segment," he said. "If it happens to be the segment that has a lot of IP addresses, you don't throw away the other IP addresses. You do that after the fact."

"You intercept first and you use whatever filtering, data mining to get at the information about the person you're trying to monitor," he added.

On Monday, a Justice Department representative would not immediately answer questions about this kind of surveillance technique.

"What they're doing is even worse than Carnivore," said Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who attended the Stanford event. "What they're doing is intercepting everyone and then choosing their targets." |C-Net|

I've blogged previously about Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez suggesting Data Retention should be used to stop child predators or prevent terrorism.

However, as I pointed out last June, data retention doesn't prevent any crimes, it is a tool for following the electronic trail of criminals after they've committed the crimes, but it doesn't serve to prevent crimes.

The revelation of full-pipe surveillance indicates that this administration is forging ahead with their citizen surveillance plans without any explicit congressional authorization or any significant societal debate.

I won't go so far as to say what's been done is criminal...but I do think it's poor public policy and shows tremendous disrespect for the Constitution and its system of balance of powers.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Weep not

Milton Demory was a surrogate father to me in many ways and I was saddened to hear of his passing last week. His obituary is available here.

WEEP not, beloved Friends! nor let the air
For me with sighs be troubled. Not from life
Have I been taken; this is genuine life
And this alone--the life which now I live
in peace eternal; where desire and joy
Together move in fellowship without end...
Small cause there is for that fond wish of ours
Long to continue in this world; a world
That keeps not faith, nor yet can point a hope
To good, whereof itself is destitute.

- Wordsworth

Dragon Skin

The newest innovation in body armor is a high tech version of scale armor called Dragonskin. It's amazing that it'll stand up to repeated hits with 7.62 NATO or 7.62x54mm rounds.

Just hope they don't go for the headshot.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Safety Tip #34: Staying Warm in a Power Outage

In any emergency, your threshold decision is whether to shelter in place or evacuate. If your power goes out, you'll probably want to move to an emergency shelter if you can. But sometimes the conditions are so bad you'll shelter in place rather than get lost in a blizzard and blackout.

In case your power were to go out and you couldn't leave, there are some items you'll want to assemble. First, a space blanket is a great layer. Pair it with a sleeping bad, blankets, and quilts and you've a decent little nest. In a pinch, use a trash bag as a sleeping bag. Layer it with newspaper or blankets and poke a hole or two to let out perspiration. For an emergency kit, a plastic liner for a 55-gallon drum (especially in orange) is a great choice. Some of the camping stores also sell giant orange bags as plastic groundcloths.

Chemical handwarmers are great in these situations, especially in your car. Drop one into your nest, move around a bit and you'll stay warm. Breathe into your blankets and you'll be a lot more comfortable.

If you don't have chemical handwarmers, a candle is another small source of heat and might keep you live in a blizzard. A candle is a much better choice in a house than a car. Either way you need to bring in some air, but a candle will suffocate you pretty quickly in a car...and there's always the risk of immolation. Immolation is faster than frostbite, but immolation's not the route I'd choose to go out.

You can use the plastic bags to hold snow, put them in your nest and they'll melt. That keeps you from having to eat snow for water, which chills you rapidly.

Don't neglect the water. You do have a few gallons of water tucked away somewhere, right? Maybe some in lexan bottles?

Cognac is good for a jolt of sugar and warmth if you're in dire straits (such as getting drenched in the cold). Any hard liquor will do in a pinch, but cognac or schnapps are best for a survival kit (or bug-out bag) because they're so strong it's almost impossible to just drink the whole bottle the way you can with a good bourbon.

Thanks to Sarge for the kibbitz on this post.

DRM Wars: The Middle Ground or No Man's Land?

Russell de Pina suggests there is a middle ground in the music DRM wars. I think he makes a compelling point.

In all fairness, it would be irresponsible for music companies to not manage digital rights. However, the industry's pursuit of zero piracy is stunting its growth. The popularity of music is such that the market will never go away, but it could just as easily never come anywhere close to its true potential, which would be just as bad in my book. In the [often heated] debate surrounding digital rights management, there is some middle ground where digital rights can be effectively managed while at the same time preserving consumer's right to enjoy legally purchased content in any manner they please. If the major players in the music business don't get their collective act together soon, they will miss the forest for the trees and find themselves confronting the enemy they feared when the industry was fighting hard to shut down Napster 1.0 – new competitors. |EURweb|(emphasis added)
I think the technical difficulties with DRM are such that it will always be a leaky dike, you cannot stop piracy any more than society can stop drug addiction....perfect enforcement is unattainable.

People pay for convenience, quality, and to avoid a hassle. The music industry needs to focus more on convenience and less on the hassle, in my humble opinion.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Of dogs and drink

There's now a beer for dogs. What hogwash. This is an example of anthropomorphizing dogs. I love my dog, but I don't kid myself that she's anything other than a domesticated wolf.

Dogs would prefer to relax with a nice piece of meat rather than a beer made with beef base.

Safety Tip #33: Wet sponge before microwaving

John wrote in to update Safety Tip #32. If you sterilize your sponge in the microwave, be sure it is throughly wetted before putting it in the microwave. |CNN|

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Women of Color blog

Sarah pointed me to the Women of Color blog that talks about some of the issues raised in the last post. For instance, here's a post on concerns of midwives of color, an issue I wasn't even aware of.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The War on Poor Women

I went to a law faculty colloquium today where the speaker (Nekima Levy-Pounds) explicated the myriad ways in which the war on drugs perpetuates a permanent underclass of poverty and drugs and nobody cares. The focus was on poor women of color and disparate sentencing policies for crack and powdered cocaine.

The law professors talked extensively about practical strategies to help alleviate some of the worst harms of our system. And those are great, practical ideas...but they struck me as nibbling around the edge of a corrupt system.

One suggestion was to pass laws so that prisons can't shackle women to the bed while they give birth. Another suggestion was to repeal the federal law that denies public housing to anyone with a drug conviction, which might be 80% of Katrina refugees. Those are nice ideas and I affirm them.

But no one wanted to talk about the real issue and the only rational way to address the problem, which is to end the war on drugs. But that's a pipe dream.

There's no political appetite for reforming the drug laws in this country. It was pointed out by a faculty member who represents prisoners that often when Congress or state legislatures are asked to pass laws improving conditions for prisoners, they instead pass laws that make life worse for prisoners. Politicians fear (not irrationally) that passing a humane law for prisoners will get them labeled as weak on crime and it could also jeopardize donations from the prison guard's union!

I fear that a day will come (sooner or later) when our society will crumble under the weight of our booming prison population, our massive elderly population, the costs of foreign adventurism, the aging infrastructure system, and our looming trade deficit.

The Bible says that the wages of sin are death. What are the wages of legal barbarism?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Protest is for Profit

A German rental firm, Erento is now offering protestors for all of your civil demonstration needs.

German media reported a Munich march had hired protesters because its own adherents were too old to stand for hours waving banners. stresses that no protester needs to offer their services to a cause they object to, and therefore many may genuinely believe in the protest they are joining. |BBC|
Hiring protestors is another one of those things that was just a matter of time.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Life should have a soundtrack, preferably without the DRM

While DRM is generally held in contempt, people get most upset about DRM protected music. Luckily, it looks like things might be changing on that front.

Michael Arrington of Techcrunch recently suggested that Digital Rights Management (DRM) is on death's door. His post only discusses the demise of DRM for songs, but points to larger DRM trends. Arrington asserts that the dominance of Apple's Itunes service (with its Fairplay DRM) and consumer resistance to other forms of DRM will spell the demise of copy protection as we know it. While Arrington's objections to DRM are mild compared to Cory Doctorow's more fundamental objection that DRM is inherently unworkable, his comments illustrate that DRM is at a crossroads.

This recent article suggests that in the next year or two that the recording industry may abandon its model of DRM protected music and move towards a new marketing model. It's about time.

Frank Pasquale has described the stupidity of the music industry's recent rigidness on re-thinking its economic model as the music industry cutting off its own nose despite its face. While I don't support the music tax model that Pasquale supports, the music industry obviously needs to reassess its marketing model and stop suing file-sharers, this does not endear them to anyone except their counsel. |Concurring Opinions|

At the recent International Consumer Electronics Show (ICES), a panel debated the future of DRM and the role different stakeholders should play.

Pundits on various sides of the [DRM] debate weighed in on where the future of DRM is headed, agreeing that the issue that has plagued music downloads will get even more complicated now that digital downloads have moved beyond music to television and films, both of which have their own set of complexities.

The two companies setting the tone for DRM are those who have been most successful at selling and marketing multimedia digital content--Microsoft and Apple Computer....[Apple] may have to revise [its DRM] policy if it wants to be successful in the digital home, where it will likely have to interact with Microsoft-compatible consumer products such as the Xbox 360 game console, IPTV services and Windows Media Center PCs, said Jim Ramo, chief executive officer of movie download service Movielink....

Apple and Microsoft may have to shake hands over DRM and allow their devices to interoperate. But it's not something the two can do without the blessing of content providers, who are ultimately steering DRM's direction, said Blake Krikorian, chief executive officer of Sling Media. "Part of the responsibility of content holders when they’re [in] negotiation with companies like Apple [is] to focus them to be more open," he said.|CPI|
DRM Watch suggests that copy protection for compact discs may well die out due to the litigation surrounding the Sony rootkit fiasco and continued consumer resistance. The expansion of exceptions to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) for circumventing DRM and legislation passed by the French government last year (Loi sur le Droit d'Auteur et les Droits Voisins dans la Société de l'Information or simply DADVSI) |Francais| are pressuring media companies to make their DRM standards interoperable with third party software and hardware.

There is some evidence that Apple will change course in the face of these recent developments and license its Fairplay DRM to partners which will increase the interoperability of third party software with Itunes content and ultimately advance the interests of consumers.

Diplomacy and Deal Making

Sarah sent me a link to this article |WaPo| where Condi expresses her opinion that diplomacy is more than deal-making. My thought is that she's invoking some sort of game theory that people have different interests and different amounts of bargaining power.

But the article does offer an interesting glimpse into the mindset of this administration that won't even talk to important world players like Iran or North Korea directly because it's seemingly beneath their dignity as the world sole hyperpower.

If I were at the press conference, I would counter that when Dubya was buying countries off so they would send a token force to invade Iraq and thus be part of his (oh-so-ironically titled) coalition of the willing, that was straight deal-making.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

UCLA Student Tasered by Police in Library

The University of California is being sued by UCLA student Mostafa Tabatabainejad who was tasered when he refused to leave UCLA's Powell library (see video above).

On November 14, 2006 Mr.
Tabatabainejad (hereafter Mr. T) was asked for his ID by a community service officer (CSO), the CSO's are UCLA's unarmed campus security service. He was asked for his ID because only students UCLA are allowed to stay after hours at the Powell library. Mr. T refused to show ID and refused to leave. The CSO called the campus police, they arrived and asked Mr. T to leave and he refused. They then cuffed him and he went prone on the floor. So the police used a Taser to get him moving. He's now suing over what happened that night.

Tabatabainejad is suing the officers at the scene, as well as Chief of Police Karl Ross, for battery, excessive force and negligence. He is also suing UCPD and the university for violating his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Hoffman, of the law firm Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman LLP.

Hoffman said the case does not make any claim of racial profiling.

According to the complaint, Tabatabainejad has bipolar disorder, and so Hoffman said the officer's treatment of the student constitutes discrimination under the ADA.

"In this particular case, the officers were informed," Hoffman said, explaining that Officer Terrence Duren, who used the Taser on Tabatabainejad, was told that Tabatabainejad had bipolar disorder and responded by asking what that had to do with standing up.

The case also alleges that the officers' use of the Taser was [contrary to the UCLA police department's policy on the use of force, which helps establish a breach of hte standard of care by the police].

UCPD's Taser policy states that officers can use a Taser to subdue a person who is "violent or physically resisting ... (or) potentially violent and physically resisting." The policy also does not prohibit the use of a Taser against a suspect who has already been handcuffed. |Daily Bruin|
The complaint can be found here I think he has a pretty good case that this is excessive use of force.

I think Tasers should never be used on handcuffed individuals, or only in the most extreme of circumstances. Tasers regularly kill people, like the recent case of an 18-year-old man, Andrew Athetis, in Scottsdale with no criminal record who died after being tased.

Scottsdale-based Taser International faces about 50 lawsuits alleging wrongful death or personal injury. About 20 similar lawsuits have been dismissed.

A March Amnesty International report found many Taser deaths in the previous year had happened when victims suffered at least three Taser shocks, sometimes for extended periods of time. |First Coast News|


Sarah introduced me to Go Fug Yourself. I don't usually get into celebrity gossip sites, but this site is hilarious. I don't always agree with their fashion advice, but their take on any given celebrity outfit is typically scathing.

This sort of wit is bitingly funny, until it's turned on you.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Me and my sewage

I had the plumber over today to see about fixing or replacing one of our toilets. I learned that our toilet is sitting on a lead flange. To replace the toilet, the flange has to be replaced. This quadruples the price of the project it turns out. But is that really necessary, I wondered. Poking around the Internet for information on lead toilet flanges, I ran across this item:

Another interesting idea of years gone by was the way they installed toilets. They would take a shallow, pan-like device (made of our good friend, lead) and pound the flange flat to the floor. The toilet was set over it and screwed into place. All well and good but for one problem: they leaked! The wax seal would allow water to seep out and rot the floor. The screws pull loose and the toilet becomes a rocking chair thus allowing even more water to escape. As if this wasn't bad enough, you can't replace an old toilet with a new one. The old toilets flushed like Niagara Falls. And used nearly as much water. Not much would impede its journey to the sewer. Now we have the new, water conserving toilets. They require a minimum of a 9-inch straight drop from the closet flange. Instead, we have a 3-inch drop onto a nearly flat surface. Without a large amount of water to push things along, they have a bad tendency to stop short of their destination, namely that of the sewer. Wax seals are not made to take pressure so the application of a plunger will push water into places where it doesn't belong. This, in turn, causes more rot in the vicinity of the toilet. You can't win. In fact, you can't break even. The only cure is to replace the offending pieces of your sewer system. |Link|
Being a homeowner has its complications, but it beats the hell out of the alternatives.

Friday, January 19, 2007


When the professor confronted the student about the fact that his paper was copied word for word from Wikipieda, the student responded: How do you know I wasn't the one who posted it to Wikipedia?

Thursday, January 18, 2007


I have found sanctuary in libraries my whole life, and there is sanctuary there now, from the war, from the storms of our families and our own minds. Libraries are like mountains or meadows or creeks: sacred space.

- Anne Lamott

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Genius for Destruction: Railgun Unveiled

The Navy has a new toy that will greatly add to the ease with which we can kill brown people around the world.

The New Courtship

I was over at the Bellman and after following a link, I found myself reading an argument in favor of making sex toys freely available to minors (illegal in most states), especially the strap-on dildo.

A teen girl who possesses a strap-on may suggest to boys that they perform a sex act that is kinkier but far safer than the ones boys usually suggest to girls. Boys can be expected to differ greatly in their reactions to such suggestions. Some are certain to Just Say No. Others will enthusiastically answer, “Yes!” Many, perhaps most, will balk as the girl coaxes (sound familiar?). However, none will get pregnant. No abortions will be performed and no one will suffer through the ordeal of nine months of an unwanted pregnancy because of this practice. No children will be born doomed to inferior care by unprepared parents because a young lady made love with her beau in this manner. |Men's News Daily|

Yesterday I read a news story discussing how marriage is becoming less popular with younger people, people are marrying later, and many women are choosing to either live alone or simply co-habitate.

The institution of marriage in America is in serious decline, and a slim majority of women now live without a spouse, new census data show.

Some 51% of women above the age of 15 were living without a spouse in 2005, a sharp rise from the 35% who were on their own in 1950, the halcyon days of the American family, the census data says....

[William Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution says]the new data was evidence that a tipping point had been reached in American society. Marriage is no longer the social norm. Amid the tumult of the 1960s and 1970s, the institution of the family was a focus of baby boomers' rebellion. Forty years later, that backlash and the growing economic independence of women, have produced a generation of women who see choices other than marriage...

Men and women are waiting until they are well into their 30s to marry, or may choose to live together instead. In 1950, some 42% of women below the age of 24 were married; by 2000, the figure had fallen to 16%, the census data found. |Guardian|

I'm starting to feel kind of old-fashioned...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Lest we forget

Since it's Martin Luther King day, I was browsing around the net and ran across this descripton of aversive racism.

[Some scholars] distinguish between aversive racism or unintentional racism and old-fashioned, or blatant racism. In contrast to old-fashioned racism, which is characterized by overt hatred for and discrimination against African-Americans or other minorities, aversive racism is characterized by more complex, ambivalent racial attitude.

On the one hand, aversive racists are well-intentioned people who typically (1) avoid acting in a racist manner, (2) support public policies that promote racial equality, (3) sympathize with victims of past injustice, (4) identify with liberal political agendas, (5) possess strong egalitarian values, and (6) regard themselves as non-prejudiced.

On the other hand, aversive racists almost unavoidably possess negative feelings and beliefs about African-Americans (it may be built into the social fabric of our minds). In contrast to the old-fashioned racist, however, the negative feelings experienced by aversive racists are not hatred and animosity toward African-Americans, but rather discomfort, uneasiness, or fear in the presence of African-Americans (which may be built on our biologically based fear of strangers). In addition, this negative affect is frequently unacknowledged or dissociated from the self because it conflicts with one’s egalitarian self-concept and value system. || (emphasis added)
I learned about aversive racism a couple of years ago and I think it is a useful mechanism to explain why people can be consciously anti-racist, yet still act in a manner that betrays their good intentions. (And I do not excuse myself from this classification either...)

I do think that aversive racism is better than blatant racism, it's a step in the right direction, although it will be more difficult to root out aversive racism than blatant racism.

And we certainly haven't even done away with blatant racism in most societies.

For instance, I ran across which has to be the most racist piece of trash I've read in quite a while. My favorite part is when they call David Duke a European American civil rights activist. What's really telling is that a the bottom of most pages are links to Stormfront forums, and Stormfront is a neo-nazi group. |Wikipedia|

This site proves that a web address ending in org is not necessarily a good sign.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bush to reverse course on climate?

I just saw this over at the Guardian and I can only hope it's true.
Bush and Blair held private talks on climate change before Christmas, and there is a feeling that the US President will now agree a cap on emissions in the US, meaning that, for the first time, American industry and consumers would be expected to start conserving energy and curbing pollution.

'We could now be seeing the beginning of a consensus on a post-Kyoto framework,' said a source close to the prime minister. 'President Bush is beginning to talk about more radical measures.'

The move will be seen as part of a wider repositioning of the Bush government after its comprehensive defeat in last autumn's mid-term elections. |Guardian|

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Choosing Sides in a Civil War

This entire article is worth reading if you have the time. But here's a teaser.

The teaser doesn't explicitly say that Al Qaeda came to Iraq because the US was there, that is the inescapable implication of what the Sunni commander says.

Abu Aisha, a mid-level Sunni commander, had come to understand that the threat from the Shia was perhaps greater than his need to fight the occupying Americans...."There is a new jihad now,"..."The jihad now is against the Shia, not the Americans."

In Ramadi there was still jihad against the Americans because there were no Shia to fight, but in Baghdad his group only attacked the Americans if they were with Shia army forces or were coming to arrest someone.

"We have been deceived by the jihadi Arabs," he admitted, in reference to al-Qaida and foreign fighters. "They had an international agenda and we implemented it. But now all the leadership of the jihad in Iraq are Iraqis."

Abu Aisha went on to describe how the Sunnis were reorganising. After Sunni families had been expelled from mixed areas throughout Baghdad, his area in the western suburbs was prepared to defend itself against any militia attack.

"[Sunni]areas are becoming part of the new Islamic state of Iraq, each with an emir in charge." Increasingly the Iraqi insurgency is moving away from its cellular structure and becoming organised according to neighbourhood. Local defence committees have intertwined into the insurgent movement.

"Each group is in charge of a specific street," Abu Aisha said. "We have defence lines, trenches and booby traps. When the Americans arrive we let them go through, but if they show up with Iraqi troops, then it's a fight." |Guardian|(emphasis added)

The press keeps comparing our involvement in Iraq to a quagmire or quicksand where every step takes you deeper and the more you resist the further you sink.

It's a descriptive metaphor, but I think a hornet's nest is perhaps a better description. Little insects are attacking us (and each other) from all sides. Individually the attacks are insignificant, but together they are debilitating.

Yet we stand in the middle of the hornet's nest assuring ourselves that we can win the war against the hornets, when probably the best action is the run like hell, knowing some of the hornets will come after us, no matter what we do.

Tokyo, we have a problem

Sarah thinks this video (PS3 vs. Wii) is sexist. It is. But it's pretty funny too.

Sony is stumbling around...will someone call them a cab?

Sony is killing itself. I say this as a friend. I have a second generation PS2 and I really love it. It's a DVD player that's hardly any bigger than a DVD case. I've enjoyed many Sony products over the years and I hope that the PS3 debacle isn't going to kill the company, but some analysts have suggested that that Sony is gambling the entire franchise on the PS3. "Rishad Tobaccowala, [entertainment]specialist at the global ad giant Publicis [declared in late 2006]: [Sony is] betting the company. If this thing bombs, there is no second coming. Everything else about Sony is a sideshow. [The PS3] is the show." |Frank Rose|

Eary evidence is not good. Sony's multiplayer set-up is primitive and disappointing , the PS3s are being returned in droves to stores in North America because they are not moving on Ebay. The Wii outsold the PS3 in Japan over the Christmas shopping season. (NYT, reg reqd). The Xbox 360 outsold the PS3 in the US over the holidays. |Game Info Wire|

Sony is trying to put a good face on it in this press release, but the bottom of the release is telling. The list upcoming games is anemic and Sony is now touting they will have remote access through the PSP, thus shackling one commercial flop to another.

Sharon Fisher at Betanews lists several reasons for the PS3's slow sales.

1. Price point too high at $600.
2. Limited supply early in launch.
3. Wii priced better & had tons of free publicity from wrist strap issue.
4. The PS2 is still popular and selling for $100 with 5 games bundled.

A factor she doesn't identify but that I think is highly relevant is consumer's relunctance to pick sides this early into the battle for the High Definition standards (or the Hi Def War as I'm sure it will come to be known in the media's hyperbolic manner).

I'm a bit sad because I like Sony despite their technological meglomania. In essence, I think their problem is that they have no respect for consumer choice and keep trying to strong arm consumers into products based upon their strategic mission rather than trying to cater to consumers fears and desires.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bad Cop, Worse Cop

Sarah sent me this article about how reality-TV police shows fuel the militarization of our society. While I think the article is well-written, I can't help but think that the author is just wrong. The show COPS is a reflection of trends in society that have been building for decades, not the cause of them. It is certainly possible that there is a synergy where COPS celebrates the militarization of law enforcement and thereby encourages it, but I believe the militarization of the police has more to do with the military-industrial complex than with television.

Today, across America, there is a growing schism between police and the communities they are sworn to serve. Nor is the lot of today's sworn officer a happy one. Police today are caught in a dangerous socio-political riptide: If they exercise too blunt a force, they may end up getting themselves and others unnecessarily injured or killed. If they are too soft, their departments risk landing in the crosshairs of get-tougher-on-crime victim's rights organizations, stirred up by daily doses of reality crime shows such as "COPS."

"COPS" has wormed its way into the marrow of American cultural life since it first aired in March 1989, with more than 600 shows featuring nearly 150 different police and sheriff departments. The program has grossed more than $200 million in syndication and, along with its fugitive-tracking sibling, "America's Most Wanted," made Saturday evening crime and punishment night on the Fox Network.

"COPS" has succeeded spectacularly because it takes us on a titillating ride through trash-heap America. In those blighted, benighted streets, the poor, emotionally maimed, drug-addicted and merely addled, are pulled over, spreadeagled, cuffed, bullied, then made to jump through the hoops of criminal-law enforcement for our viewing pleasure.

As "COPS' " Langley explained to an interviewer, the popularity of the show derives from "the adrenaline rush of not knowing what would happen at any time." So culturally hungry have we become for the kick of televised police chases, dramatic arrests and victim-ventilating psychodrama, that even the miscreants themselves seem untroubled at signing the releases allowing their generally imbecilic actions and law-enforcement reactions to be broadcast on national television. |CommonDreams| (emphasis mine)

I fail to see why the author singles reality TV out after decades of cop flicks and war movies. Does Hollywood produce anything that isn't toxic to society in one way or another?

I'm also suspicious of the author's love for cops who bend the rules. Sure, cops used to bend the rules for kids from the suburbs or "taxpayers" driving drunk...just good harmless fun, no?

Is it so crazy to think that all of this accountability helps keep cops in line? I think videotape makes the police more accountable for the bad they do and it also helps insulate them from vindictive complaints. I think we ought to have more cameras in cop cars, not fewer...

A more sophisticated discussion of this topic can be found in
The Militarization of Policing in the Information Age by Kevin D. Haggerty and Richard V. Ericson, published in the Journal of Political and Military Sociology (Winter, 1999) which I blogged about back in September of 2004. The article also indicates that the militarization of the police is happening in Canada and the UK as well, is that also due to reality TV?

You and what army?

In all honesty, I'm not certain I could locate Uganda on a map (without the aid of Wikipedia) but I found Chris McGreal's article on the people's ambivalence to the establishment of an International Criminal Court for Uganda informative.

Father Carlos Rodriguez, a Roman Catholic priest who has worked closely with the victims of the conflict [in Uganda], said that people lost faith in the [International Criminal Court (ICC)] when they discovered it had no powers of arrest.

"When it became public that the ICC would take up the case of northern Uganda, a lot of people said, we are tired of this killing and let the ICC come and arrest Kony. Then they were told the ICC doesn't have a police force or an army so then they said what's the point?"

He added: "There is also a moral dilemma about the rebels. People say they hate the rebels but then they say our sons are rebels because they were abducted. The real view is anything that stops the war. It's been going on for 20 years. People have gone through social torture. They want an end to this nightmare." |Guardian|
Sometimes goodwill is not enough, results matter and I can see why these war-weary people are more interested in peace than in recriminations. War crimes trials are always going to be contentious and I can see how bungled war crimes trials could fan the embers of hate in a divided country.

It's important to punish war criminals, but wars are messy affairs and it's often hard to tell the good guys from the bad in the aftermath of a war, especially a long-standing civil war.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Second Life Hype

I just saw this on TechCrunch and I think it illustrates how overhyped Second Life is.
I’m a Second Life fan, but sometimes the hype gets to be a little too much. At any given time up to 20,000 or so people are logged in to the service…. Today, it’s the playground for just a few hard core users who can live with an annoying server lag…Second Life is a really fancy hosting business, since their main revenue source is renting servers for people who buy islands and other real estate. |TechCrunch|

I played with Second Life for a while, but as someone who is used to video game responsiveness, I thought the server lag was beyond infuriating.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

EU gains neo-nazi caucus

Just to show that racism isn't dead, Europe has added a new caucus, one formed of racists that was made possible by the addition of Romania and Bulgaria.

"Europe of the Fatherlands", [is] expected to form [a] transnational organisation next week by establishing a formal caucus in the European parliament.

The development is an early result of the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. Ironically, given the hostility of the west European far right to expansion, to immigration, and to eastern Europe, it is Romania's entry that has made the caucus possible: the EU parliament's rules stipulate that an official caucus in the chamber needs to have representatives from at least five countries, and a minimum of 19 MEPs. They now meet this requirement....

Bulgaria's quota of European parliament seats includes one held by the extreme Ataka party of Volen Siderov, which campaigns against Gypsies or Roma and Turks, while Romania has supplied a breakthrough for the hard right by gaining five seats for Corneliu Vadim Tudor's anti-Hungarian, anti-Semitic and anti-Roma Greater Romanian party....

By establishing a formal caucus, the extreme right will benefit from greater EU funding. A priority, said Mr Moelzer, will be to fight any German-led attempts to revive Europe's comatose constitution. |Guardian|

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Plan B for Iraq: the Bosnian Model?

Until I saw criticism of Senator Biden's comments that Bush is running out the clock on Iraq, I didn't realize that it was controversial, it seems so obvious to me. These guys have never had a real plan and they won't take advice, so that whole thing's an exercise in futility.

The Christian Science Monitor has a piece on how we might move forward in Iraq, essentially with a forced migration and ethnic separation policy.

[S]ome experts in Washington are looking beyond the question of US troop levels to what might happen if worst-case scenarios come true. Call it Plan B: How the United States might handle Iraq's partition....

[E]vents in Iraq now may be running at a speed that outpaces the US ability to respond....

[Some] experts, including Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, have been increasingly vocal in calling for the US to help Iraqis resettle in areas of safety....

Resettled refugees might, in the end, blame America for their plight. The US could be accused of abetting ethnic cleansing. All plausible, says O'Hanlon of Brookings - but the problem is, the ethnic cleansing is happening anyway. The question, therefore, is really a humanitarian one: How to save lives?

In a recent piece titled "A Bosnia Option for Iraq," published in the journal American Interest and co-authored with Edward Joseph, a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University, O'Hanlon proposes a "soft partition" of Iraq....

Ethnic relocation may be distasteful, but with Sunni insurgents and Shiite death squads now attacking even hospitals and schools, what is the alternative?

"If US and Iraqi forces cannot protect civilians, there is little moral dilemma about facilitating their movement to safer areas," says the article....

The key to making the relocation work might be a division of oil money. It should be split a number of ways, the article says, with individuals, provinces, and the overall government receiving allocations.

"The Bosnia option has a much higher chance of success than anything resembling current strategy ... although I can still see the case for one last big push [with more US troops]," says O'Hanlon.

Other experts say that a surge in troops will serve a purpose only if tied to a comprehensive approach of bringing stability and security to Iraq. |CSM|
I think forced migration is a lot more likely to succeed than Bush and McCain's surge strategy.

Heard in Passing

Every institution is a prisoner of its own history.
- Said in a staff meeting

I'm a marshmallow, a combat marshmallow, but a marshmallow.
- Inmate in Seward, Alaska

And if you've a moment, you should check out this found art. It's a letter to whoever masturbated in the dorm shower...

If the link goes down and you still want to see it, let me know and I can email you a copy.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Word of the Day: Formication

Formication is the delusion that bugs or snakes are crawling on your skin. This phenomenon is common among stimulant users and is so common among meth addicts that it's frequently referred to as crank bugs.

I was curious about formications's etymology given its similarity to fornication. Formica is the Latin word for ants, it turns out, while fornication comes from the Latin fornicis meaning brothel. |Online Etymology|

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

You call that a Riot?

CourtTV is getting really trashy. You used to be able to watch real trials with professional legal commentary and actually learn something. Don't get me wrong, I like some action and I enjoy a smattering of Cops and World's Wildest Police Videos now and again, I think this sort of reality TV helps keep me from becoming too theoretical in my discussion of the law and public policy.

But I knew it had reached a real low tonight when I told Sarah that I'd already seen the upcoming gun battle, but I'd be back up when the show about riots came on....the show claimed to be about riots, but riots were only a small fraction of the content.

Speaking of riots, earlier today I was talking to one of my colleagues who was a in the midst of college in 1969 at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She was there the day that the Madison police department was summoned to campus to break up a sit-in against the Vietnam War. The police went on a rampage and bludgeoned all the protestors they could lay hands on. Much of the rest of the University rioted. Classes were canceled and the students were sent home with pass/fail grades.

I've been thinking about what DR said about the necessity of the police use of force. DR suggests that police cannot justify use of force as self-defense as a civilian would. I will concede that the police are in some ways the living, breathing embodiment of the state and they carry guns and radios and (at least theoretically) have the entire apparatus of the state (up to use of the National Guard and military) to help enforce order.

Not only that, but police thrust themselves into violent encounters, and thus deserve a different moral & legal standard for their use of force than that we employ for civilians who are not necessarily looking for trouble, but find themselves in a violent encounter.

Police, by contrast, must defend the rule of law and in the process themselves. DR may not find self-defense a reasonable rationale for police use of force, but it is difficult at times for them to assert order without protecting themselves.

There is no doubt in my mind that sometimes the police conduct themselves as ruffians with impunity from the law and strike out against those they dislike or despise. What happened at Wisconsin - Madison in 1969, I believe, it was a police riot where they saw an opportunity to kick the shit out of some dirty hippies and took it.

Another incident that has been described as a police riot took place in San Francisco when the police brutally re-established order after the White Night riots. The gays were pissed and they rioted, the police from the entire Bay Area moved in and were pretty brutal in putting down the gay riot.

The question really is then how to distinguish the appropriate use of force. From a legal perspective the answer depends upon a review of the totality of the circumstances.

The police are an institution in our society and there is some much granularity looking at different crimes and different policing methods as well as the differences between geographical regions of the United States, that I think it's hard to generalize about police use of force.

Monday, January 01, 2007


After giving the matter a great deal of thought, I think the most enjoyable reference resource I used last year was Wookiepedia.

It's startling all the things I didn't know that I didn't know.

New Year's Snow

On New Year's Eve it snowed here in Saint Paul and we received a nice coating of snow, thankfully not too much. Here's a photo of our home this morning with snow covering everything.

Sarah and I both had headaches most of the day and I found this article suggesting that weather changes frequently cause migraines. Sarah and I are both prone to migraines although recently I've been having ocular migraines more than the traditional head-splitting migraine.