Monday, July 30, 2007

Self-fulfilling Prophecies: Paying Ransoms for the Kidnapped

The German government is currently debating the prudence of paying ransoms for German nationals who are kidnapped abroad.

"We have to consider whether we can justify paying money for a hostage with money which is eventually used to buy weapons which are used to kill our soldiers in Afghanistan," a high-ranking security expert in the interior ministry told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The German government is reportedly considering whether to abandon its approach and follow the US, British and Israeli policy of refusing to negotiate with kidnappers....

British officials believe that ransom payments by Britain's European partners endanger all westerners. The Nato secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said in March he would begin talks within the organisation on a common response to hostage-taking....

There is a growing awareness in Berlin that the failure to take a tougher position is increasingly endangering German nationals, including the nation's 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. Spiegel magazine yesterday detailed the debate within the interior ministry of Wolfgang Schäuble, a rightwing Christian Democrat. "Should the state allow itself to be blackmailed and continue to pay millions in ransom for its citizens?" it asked. |Germany may end ransom payments for kidnap victims - Guardian|
To add more fuel to the debate, the EU recently paid Libya millions of dollars to wint he release of a Bulgarian medical team who were sentenced to death on what appear to be trumped up charges of infecting children with HIV.
[The] European Union paid the Libyans US$460-million [to release a Bulgarian medical team], in addition to other valuable considerations, such as an undertaking to "normalize" relationships between Europe and Libya.

The French President helped to negotiate the deal but shrugged it off as being all in a day's business. He called it "a new pragmatism in foreign affairs."

New? Personally, I'd call it a very old pragmatism. Old enough to have not only gone out of fashion, but then turn around and come back....

"The Ottomans in the 16th century made [hostage-taking] a national money-maker," writes the historian Victor Davis Hanson, "by sweeping over the Mediterranean to intercept any Italian or Spanish galley they could." As an industry, hostage-taking requires two conditions: One, the captive's kin or country must have the money and willingness to meet the demands -- "valuing life more than honour," as Hanson puts it -- and two, the abductor must deliver by keeping "the prize alive" and letting it go "after concessions or money are granted."
|Deals from the Dark Ages - National Post|
I recall from history class studying the Barbary Wars and the XYZ affair with France and the collective American viewpoint was summed up as:

Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.

- Robert Goodloe Harper

Iraq: A Bargain at Any Price

The Iraqi Parliament is heading off to a month-long vacation next week. If you are wondering how much [Iraq's occupation and reconstruction] will cost [US taxpayers] while they are away, key members of Congress are being told $200,000 a minute. |I'll Never Get Used To Iraq - CBS News|

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Future Crime foreseen by Aussie Chief

The head of the Australian Federal Police, Commissioner Michael "Mick" Keelty, recently testified before the Australian parliament on an inquiry into the threat posted by organized crime in the future.
Mr Keelty said the police force would have to use experts from the private sector to fight tech-savvy organised criminals, because it lacked the necessary skills.

Technology-enabled crime was "a new area that's growing exponentially", he warned yesterday.

A feature of serious organised criminal networks was their ability to be flexible and quickly adopt new techniques, and police forces would have to move quickly to keep up.

"And I think a lot of those skills don't exist in policing today," Mr Keelty told a parliamentary inquiry into the future impact of organised crime in Canberra.

"A lot of [high tech crime-fighting] skills will have to be imported into policing and probably exist more so in the private sector."

Mr Keelty said it was hard to estimate how much money the AFP would need to combat technology-based crime. But he identified the use of robotics and cloning as future challenges.

"Our environmental scanning tells us that even with some of the cloning of human beings - not necessarily in Australia but in those countries that are going to allow it - you could have potentially a cloned part-person, part-robot," [or cyborg] he said.

"You could [also] have technology acting at the direction of a human being, but the human being being distanced considerably from the actual crime scene." |Top cop predicts robot crimewave - The Age|

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I sing of Arms and the Man: Middle Eastern Arms Sales

Talk about strange bedfellows, Israel is now arming Fatah against Hamas, according to Al Jazeera.

The US is also saying that it will sell $20 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia. Interestingly, Israel apparently approves of the arms sales.

Debka has some interesting analysis about how the Saudi's figure into the US plans for a strategic theatre defense against those evil Persians.
The function assigned Saudi air fighters in the integrated US defense program is to take on the Iranian air force in an emergency, and prevent its antiquated, low-performance air force from providing support for Iranian naval forces and Iranian marines and saboteurs, should they attempt to seize territory in the Arab emirates.

Iran is known to command 600 bomber-fighters in operating condition...

The Saudi air force, with 350 warplanes organized in 17 squadrons, is much smaller than Iran’s and not much more advanced...Washington plans to double the Saudi combat air fleet, by selling the kingdom front-line fighters, including F-16 C and D and F-15 E - or even possibly the F-22 Raptor stealth plane, to which Israel is strongly opposed, although most Saudi Arabian operational aircraft are piloted by Western aviators, some American....

Since April 18, when deputy secretary of state David Satterfield met King Abdullah in Riyadh and they went through the list of hardware on sale - marking down the king’s comments against each item - things have changed in US-Arabian relations; so too has the nature of the Iranian military menace hanging over Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and the Middle East.

These changes are marked in four aspects:

1. Washington and Riyadh are at odds on Iraq. In the beginning, the Americans approved of Saudi financial assistance to Iraqi insurgent groups to give them an incentive to pull away from al Qaeda. In recent weeks, however, the Saudis are equally active in undermining the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, calling him an Iran’s agent. This has brought the oil kingdom in direct conflict with the Bush policy.

2. A similar conflict has developed on the Palestinian question. King Abdullah strongly disapproves of US-Israeli backing for the Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad and imposition of an economic boycott against Hamas to overturn its rule in Gaza. The Saudis strongly advocate Palestinian reconciliation, unification of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and acceptance of Hamas as a dominant factor in shaping Palestinian destiny.

3. As oil prices roar towards $80 - and the price of $100 not too far over the horizon - the Bush administration is increasingly critical of Abdullah’s refusal to raise sustained capacity production past its permanent 2.1 million barrels per day. If only Riyadh would relent, they say, world markets would be reassured and demand would cool.

4. Responding to the Bush administration’s Gulf plans for the Saudi air force and Bush’s plan to maintain a post-withdrawal military presence in Iraq, Russian president Vladimir Putin has stepped in with a move of his own: the sale of 250 long-range SU-30MKM fighter-bombers to Iran...

|America Refurbishes its Gulf-Red Sea Defenses against Iran Menace - Debka|

I'm always a bit skeptical of Debka's analysis and quite often they end up being totally wrong, but their analysis is always provocative.

Who you callin Nerd, white boy?

Don't screw with people on the internet, as they aren't all pasty, spineless nerds. Just most of them. If you're unlucky, you'll be like John G. Anderson. He had his trailer burned down after he called Russell Tavares a nerd online...Tavares apparently really, really hates being called a nerd, as he drove 1,300 miles from Virginia to Texas [to commit the arson]. |Gizmodo|

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Was Pat Tillman fragged?

The Bush Administration has already admitted to lying to the public about Pat Tillman's death, but just how much are they covering up?

Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described,"...
The doctors...said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away....

It has been widely reported by the AP and others that Spc. Bryan O'Neal, who was at Tillman's side as he was killed, told investigators that Tillman was waving his arms shouting "Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat (expletive) Tillman, damn it!" again and again.

But the latest documents give a different account from a chaplain who debriefed the entire unit days after Tillman was killed.

The chaplain said that O'Neal told him he was hugging the ground at Tillman's side, "crying out to God, help us. And Tillman says to him, `Would you shut your (expletive) mouth? God's not going to help you; you need to do something for yourself, you sniveling ..." |New Details on Tillman's Death - Washington Post| (emphasis added)
If he was fragged, that would put an even more ironic twist on Tillan's end.

If only it were that easy

Some of my best friends are systems librarians...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Blacking out: Not Just for Alcoholics

Last night we lost power for a couple of hours at home. Over the summer I've been at the library twice when the power went out. I blame it on living & working in the old part of Saint Paul and our antiquated electrical grid.

In all three cases the entire neighborhood lost power, but not the larger city. There is some precedent for people rioting when an entire city loses power, but not necessarily.

Popular Mechanics has a blackout survival guide with good advice such as turning off you A/C and when to empty the fridge.

Sarah was surprised that I could only lay my hands on five working flashlights last night, but I think that's a reasonable number. We burned tealights to make it easier to get around and I decided that an empty sink is almost as good as a firepit, so that's where I put several of the tealights last night.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Misinformation and the Bush Administration - video collage

Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

- John Harrington

Arming Sunnis Provokes Outcry in Iraqi Congress

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks arming Sunnis on the premise that they will use the weapons against Al-Qaeda is an explosive proposition.

Radio Sawa reports [in Arabic] that the United Iraqi Alliance bloc in parliament met and rejected the new US policy of arming Sunni Arab groups to fight "al-Qaeda" in Iraq.

The UIA, the leading bloc in parliament, is a coalition of Shiite fundamentalist parties. They insisted that arms be only in the hands of state forces....

The Shiite parliamentarians are alarmed at the US military's plan to arm Sunni Arab guerrillas to fight "al-Qaeda." Unlike clueless US pundits such as Charles Krauthammer, these UIA MPs know that being against "al-Qaeda" does not mean being for the al-Maliki government.

The Sunni Arabs willing to fight the foreign volunteers are just as anti-Shiite and anti-government as ever, and, armed, will pose new problems for the al-Maliki government as the US draws down its troops over the next couple of years

|US Airstrike Kills 15 Children, Women, Men; Mosul Rocked by Death Squad, Roadside Bomb Killings; Shiite UIA Rejects Arming Sunni Arabs - Informed Comment|

Bringing the Executive to Heel with the Contempt Power

Frank Askin, a law professor at Rutgers, brings together two seemingly disparate topics that have allowed the Bush Administration to stymie justice and transparency and suggests that Congress may be able to compel testimony through its civil contempt power and that this contempt is beyond the reach of the President's pardon power.

So long as Congress is investigating issues over which it has the power to legislate, [Congress] can compel witnesses to appear and respond to questions. That power has been affirmed over and over in prosecutions for contempt.

In modern times, this congressional power has been enforced by referring contempt cases to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia for indictment and prosecution. That, of course, is the rub. It allows the president to exercise his plenary power under the Constitution to issue pardons "for offenses against the United States."

But no law says that indictment and prosecution by the Justice Department is the exclusive means to enforce congressional prerogative.

Indeed, in an 1895 case ( United States v. Chapman), the defendant unsuccessfully argued that Congress could not have such cases of contempt prosecuted through the courts but must punish such defiance on its own, without judicial assistance. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that judicial enforcement of Congress's inherent power was optional.

This power of Congress to punish contemptuous behavior itself was reinforced in 1934. In Jurney v. McCracken, the Supreme Court denied a writ of habeas corpus to a petitioner who had been taken into custody by the Senate sergeant- at-arms for allegedly destroying documents requested in a Senate subpoena.

The limitation on the president's pardon power was most comprehensively discussed in a 1925 opinion by Chief Justice (and former president) William Howard Taft in the case of Ex Parte Grossman.

Grossman had been accused during Prohibition of the illegal sale of liquor and was enjoined by a federal court from further sale of alcoholic beverages. When he violated the order, he was accused of contempt and sentenced to prison -- and then pardoned by the president.

Despite the pardon, a federal judge in Chicago ordered him to jail on the theory that a charge of criminal contempt was not an "offense against the United States" because it was a judicial act, and a presidential pardon would violate the separation of powers.

In an analysis of the pardon power that Taft traced back through English parliamentary history, the opinion concluded that the power did reach contempts -- but only criminal contempts, the purpose of which is to vindicate offenses against the dignity of public authority.

The opinion distinguished civil contempt, whose purpose is to enforce a third party's rights by coercing compliance with a court order.

The distinction between criminal and civil contempt is well recognized. The punishment for criminal contempt is a set fine or jail term.

A civil contempt punishment is framed in terms of either/or: either the defendant does X or suffers daily consequences until X is done. That concept is often explained by the aphorism that the defendant has the keys to the jail in his own pocket. He can free himself by obeying the court order. (The jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller for refusing to answer questions during the Scooter Libby investigation is a recent example.)

Thus, the congressional alternative.

Instead of referring a contempt citation to the U.S. attorney, a house of Congress can order the sergeant-at-arms to take recalcitrant witnesses into custody and have them held until they agree to cooperate -- i.e., an order of civil contempt.

Technically, the witness could be imprisoned somewhere in the bowels of the Capitol, but historically the sergeant-at-arms has turned defendants over to the custody of the warden of the D.C. jail. |Congress's Power To Compel - Washington Post| (edit HTML)

I like this idea. There could be a mini-Bush administration reunion in the bowels of the Capitol. They could have a prayer group and talk about their belief in the Unitary Executive.

Via Concurring Opinions.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Turkish Elections Loom

Turkey is an important country because of the way it bridges Europe and the Middle East, this election may be an important bellwether.

Update: Erdogan's AK party has won control of the parliament.

Some see the ballot as a battle between Islam and secularism, others as a referendum on the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Or a contest between competing visions of Turkey - an open, more confident, more democratic place or an isolated Turkey locked in a siege mentality that sees the outside world as conspiring against it.

"This is an election between those who want more democracy and those who want less," says Egemen Bagis, an adviser to the prime minister....

"Freedom and democracy are being used against our country to weaken us. We need to stand alone and fulfil our potential. The national consciousness is awakening," claims Erol Gul, a leader of the MHP party of extreme nationalists, which looks likely to re-enter parliament tomorrow.

With the country highly polarised after months of showdown between the governing camp and the military, Soli Ozel, an Istanbul political scientist, says the stakes tomorrow are high. "This has worldwide implications," he said. At issue is whether Turkey can succeed in becoming "a secular, capitalist, democratic country with a Muslim population" enjoying greater liberties. |Election fever grips nation riven by great divide - Guardian|
If you aren't up on your Turkish politics, scroll down to the end of the article for a list of key players and their roles.

Turkey bombs Iraq

Turkey's elections seem to be propelling the nation onto a collision course with the US over Iraqi Kurdistan.
Turkey has massed troops on the Iraqi border, and threatened to move into northern Iraq unless Iraq and the United States crack down on the PKK, listed by Washington as a terrorist organization.

Iraq complained Wednesday that Turkish artillery and warplanes bombarded areas of northern Iraq, and called on Turkey to stop military operations and enter dialogue. |Turkish prime minister warns of Iraq incursion after elections - International Herald Tribune|
Maybe the Bush administration will be able to pull off the militarist's hat trick and be at war in Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey all at once.

UPDATE: Add Pakistan to the list of places Dubya is considering invading.

Back in March I blogged about the prospect of a Turkish invasion of Iraq.

One Laptop Per Child program bested by Porn

The One Laptop Per Child program is going to install content filters on their laptops because the urchins given the computers are using them to surf the Internet for all its salacious material.

Of course, this shouldn't be a surprise. It strikes me as perfectly normal information-seeking behavior of pre-teen boys.

But the content filters are a pretty poor solution, they both under-block bad sites and over-block good sites. It will take the kids about thirty minutes to find work-arounds to the filters is my guess.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

mother nature, revealed

This photo, mother nature, revealed by nice + smooth ultramedia has the best description I've seen on Flickr so far.
[Either] this is the makings of a new pink floyd cover or somehow a 3xp shot processed in photomatix can turn a raging electrical storm over west toronto into a floating deity.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Disaster Psychology & Vicarious Trauma

Today in my CERT class we discussed disaster psychology. Not only did we discuss the psychological stages that disaster survivors go through, but also vicarious trauma experienced by first responders, rescue workers, counselors, and other staff.
For persons who work with trauma survivors, the most important part of coping with the intensity of the work is to acknowledge it will affect you. If you've been trained in crisis intervention and empathic, active listening skills, this work will affect you. If you really listen to what the client is telling you, this work will affect you. Recognizing that it is "normal" to be affected by this type of work is the most important coping skill that you can give to yourself. You're not alone. It's okay to feel outraged, horrified, shocked, saddened, or vulnerable.

Coping with the feelings and reactions to your clients' trauma is the next step in addressing vicarious trauma. We may try to cope in many ways. In general, people deal with crises and trauma in different ways as do the persons in the helping profession. Some of the ways we get through the experience are health and productive, such as having peer consultation about a difficult case. Other ways we try to face the trauma are unhealthy and unproductive such as seeing all men as potential child molesters. |Vicarious Trauma: Bearing Witness|
Watching this video by the Guardian's Sean Smith brought home to me the trauma that soldiers go through when they are in combat for extended periods of time. The video opens with a soldier saying that his battalion been in almost constant contact with the enemy during his fourteen month tour.

The following article discusses the many conflicting emotions that PTSD counselors go through in trying to care for their charges.
It is not uncommon for seasoned therapists, advocates, or caregivers to experience a sudden feeling of incompetence and hopelessness when dealing with a traumatized patient. The experience of vicarious symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may challenge the caregiver's basic faith, heighten a sense of personal vulnerability, distrust and cynicism about the human condition.

The therapist may experience profound grief and feel as though he or she were in mourning with the victim. As well, the caregiver may feel caught between identifying with the perpetrator and the victim. There may be moments of frank hate and contempt, and a wish to be rid of the victim.

These may be indicative of the therapist's difficulty in coming to terms with the possibility of their own capacity for violent behaviour. For these reasons, those who work with traumatized people need an ongoing support system to deal with the intensity of their reactions in their relationship with the victim, or perpetrator. No survivor can recover alone, and no therapist can work with trauma alone.
|Trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Secondary Trauma| (citations omitted)
This helps explain why the American mental health system is being overwhelmed by the number of troubled soldiers returning from Iraq.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ready! Set! Freak Out!

"TORCH? Check.

Maps? Check.

Sense of impending doom? Check."

Sydney's new disaster planning initiative attracted the scorn of the Sydney Morning Herald's Sunanda Creagh in this article.

Sydney residents (charmingly called Sydneysiders) have a new website for disaster planning they can consult when they feel that sense of impending doom.

I think their four step process seems quite reasonable:

  • Develop a Plan
  • Put Together a Go Bag
  • Know How to Respond
  • Tune In and Follow Instructions |Pocketguide in PDF|
Here in the U.S. we have Ready.Gov, which has a resource that allows you so search by state for emergency planning resources and information here.

On their guide, Ready.Gov lists your steps to preparedness as:

Ready.Gov Image with readiness steps

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Pardon for you and you and you and you

Have you heard about Representative Duncan Hunter's proposal of a Congressional pardon for Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, who were sentenced to prison for shooting an illegal immigrant in the back as he fled towards the Mexican border?

I know what you're thinking, Congress doesn't have the power to issue pardons, right?

That's true, only the President may issues pardons in the federal system. That doesn't mean Congress can't give them, just that they aren't very useful. Think if it as Congress giving away unicorns to anyone who asks. Isn't Congress fun?

The best comment I've seen on this was made at the NY Times' Caucus blog:

Congressional Pardons — now there’s an idea every Republicon politico can appreciate.

Just make sure you get a blank one before entering office. Then, when you pull a Duke Cunningham, you just fill in your name and exercise your God-given right to get out of jail free. |Link|

Another fine theory blown to bits

Looks like I spoke too soon in my last blog post as a devastating series of bombings took place in northern Iraq today. Terror doesn't take holidays.

More than 80 people were killed and 150 wounded in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, today as the debate intensified in Washington over a US exit plan.

That debate was further complicated by a claim by the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, that Iraqi security forces were ready to take over and the US could leave whenever it wanted... The attacks resulted in one of the highest death tolls this year and the highest in Kirkuk since the invasion in 2003....

The attack came as Mr Maliki sparked consternation in Washington by saying Iraqi forces were ready to take over responsibility for security and the US forces could leave "whenever they want". That is not helpful to Mr Bush, who claims a premature departure would produce more bloodshed.

|Kirkuk carnage fuels calls for US exit - Guardian|
Bill Maher in every single episode of his show last season asked his guests if they believed Bush's claim that violence would result from a US withdrawal and if they responded in the affirmative, he would basically ask them why they think Bush is right this time, when he's been wrong about everything else.

As much as I despise Bush, I think he is right that a bloodbath will likely result from a US withdrawal. However, I'm not confident that such a thing can be avoided, rather we are merely delaying it by staying in Iraq.

One of the talking heads on CNN the other month was saying that the reason the Iraqi legislature cannot come to any sort of agreement is because they are convinced that the problems will be solved by a contest of arms and that they are simply waiting the Americans out. Once we leave, the bloodbath and begin and everything prior to that is just delaying the inevitable.

If men recognize no law superior to their desires, then they must fight when their desires collide. - R.H. Towney

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reasons for cautious optimism in Iraq?

I'm guessing I'm not the only American who has learned a lot about Iraq's geography and demography in the last six years. This article indicates that in the North of the country violence is on the decline, which gives me some hope that all of our blood and treasure spent on this war hasn't been a total and utter tragedy.
After four years of war, perhaps more than 650,000 Iraqi dead, it has finally come to a single question of accounting: which of the two Iraqs is winning, the Iraq of death or an Iraq that looks to peace?

It is a false dichotomy. For the two Iraqs - for now at least - are co-existent. It is a dangerous one too.

For the expectation that America may be crumbling over Iraq - and may leave soon - has acted as an accelerant where the violence is worst, leading General David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq, to warn that in the worst areas the summer may see a mini-Tet offensive designed to push US politics over the brink.

In practical terms there is a gulf between the politics in Washington and the views of the generals on the ground. For while the Democrats are pushing for rapid withdrawal that would see most US troops out by April next year, the commander of the forces in the country's north, General Benjamin Mixon, has made clear that it would take 18 months to safely reduce just half of his forces. However, he believes Nineveh could be handed over by this autumn.

In his office in the northern city of Mosul, Mixon's deputy, General Frank Wiercinski, is convinced that, in his divisional area at least - if not in Baghdad - a long sought-for stabilisation is finally occurring. 'There is a line I think that separates the areas that are becoming more secure from those where there is still heavy fighting. And I think that line is moving slowly south now through Diyala.'

'In my personal opinion it is not the time to pull out. We are at the apex. The war out there that is going on is with Iraqis in the lead and I don't feel we can just say: "See you!"'

And while in Iraq it has usually been the best policy to deal with officials with a strong dose of scepticism following the years of pronouncements of victory around the corner, for now at least there appears to be corroborating evidence that in the north [of Iraq], the war may be drawing, ever so slowly, towards some kind of close.

In Mosul, which once hosted 21,000 US soldiers in the city, now only a single battalion, in the mid-hundreds, remains inside the city, matched by an equivalent drop in attacks. And it is not only in Mosul that security is improving. The sense that things are getting better is reflected in Nineveh Province. In two years US troop levels around Tal Afar, once the heartland of al-Qaeda, have been reduced from 6,000 to 1,200.

|Violence ebbing. Wealth returning. Can this be Iraq? - Guardian|

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Made in China

Andrew "bunnie" Huang has an interesting website and Boing Boing picked up his blog entries about working as an American engineer in China. Bunnie is a tech advisor for Make magazine and even has his doctoral dissertation from MIT on his website.

I love the Snowcrash reference in one of his recent blog posts.
Foxconn is where all of the iPods and iPhones are made. It’s a huge facility, apparently with over 250,000 employees, and it has its own special free trade status. The entire facility is walled off and you apparently need to have your passport and clear customs to get into the facility…just short of the nuclear-powered robotic dogs from the nation-corporation franchulates of Snowcrash. |Bunnie's Blog|

Urban Combat, the American Experience in Iraq

The Nation has an interesting piece where they interviewed fifty soldiers about their experiences in Iraq and how common for US forces o accidentally kill civilians during operations in Iraq and how little remorse is felt about these accidental killings at the time.
The Iraq War is a vast and complicated enterprise... Fighting in densely populated urban areas has led to the indiscriminate use of force and the deaths at the hands of occupation troops of thousands of innocents.....

Much of the resentment toward Iraqis described to The Nation by veterans was confirmed in a report released May 4 by the Pentagon. According to the survey, conducted by the Office of the Surgeon General of the US Army Medical Command, just 47 percent of soldiers and 38 percent of marines agreed that civilians should be treated with dignity and respect. Only 55 percent of soldiers and 40 percent of marines said they would report a unit member who had killed or injured "an innocent noncombatant." ...

The mounting frustration of fighting an elusive enemy and the devastating effect of roadside bombs, with their steady toll of American dead and wounded, led many troops to declare an open war on all Iraqis.

Veterans described reckless firing once they left their compounds. Some shot holes into cans of gasoline being sold along the roadside and then tossed grenades into the pools of gas to set them ablaze. Others opened fire on children. These shootings often enraged Iraqi witnesses....

Spc. Patrick Resta, 29, a National Guardsman from Philadelphia... recalled his supervisor telling his platoon point-blank, "The Geneva Conventions don't exist at all in Iraq, and that's in writing if you want to see it."

|The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness - Nation| (emphasis added)
A gun is a powerful tool, but power without knowledge is just plain dangerous.

From the article, it sounds like all of Iraq is a free-fire zone for the troops. This is probably an overstatement, but in a counter-insurgency operation, civilian deaths tend to undermine the entire enterprise.

I think everyone knew that urban warfare was a nightmare before the U.S. entered Iraq, so it shouldn't be surprising that urban warfare is devestating to the troops and the civilian populace.

Tragic for everyone involved, I just wish the war could have been avoided somehow...

Via Informed Comment.

Worldcat Plug-in for Firefox

Ok, you know you're a nerd when you get excited that Worldcat now has a search plug-in for Firefox, but that's exactly what has happened...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lawrence Lessig on the Corruption of the Political Process

Lawrence Lessig has an interesting post on his blog in which he talks about the new direction for his scholarship in the next ten years. One issue that is motivating him is the corruption of our political process. He singles out copyright extension and the denial of climate change as two examples where our political system has chosen to further corporate interests at the cost of the common good.

After talking about the basic inability of our political system to reckon the truth about global warming, Gore observed that this was really just part of a much bigger problem. That the real problem here was (what I will call a "corruption" of) the political process. That our government can't understand basic facts when strong interests have an interest in its misunderstanding.

This is a thought I've often had in the debates I've been a part of, especially with respect to IP. Think, for example, about term extension. From a public policy perspective, the question of extending existing copyright terms is, as Milton Friedman put it, a "no brainer." As the Gowers Commission concluded in Britain, a government should never extend an existing copyright term. No public regarding justification could justify the extraordinary deadweight loss that such extensions impose.

Yet governments continue to push ahead with this idiot idea -- both Britain and Japan for example are considering extending existing terms. Why?

The answer is a kind of corruption of the political process. Or better, a "corruption" of the political process. I don't mean corruption in the simple sense of bribery. I mean "corruption" in the sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money that it can't even get an issue as simple and clear as term extension right. Politicians are starved for the resources concentrated interests can provide. In the US, listening to money is the only way to secure reelection. And so an economy of influence bends public policy away from sense, always to dollars. |Required Reading: the next 10 years - Lessig Blog|

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Living in Interesting Times

This video was presented at the 2007 CALI conference and is certainly provocative.

Free your mind and your ass will follow. - Funkadelic

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


So today I was strolling through the library when I saw that a patron had perplexed the circulation staff, so I went over to see if I could be of assistance.

The patron was interested in law on the 2nd Commandment. Further inquiry revealed that the patron really wanted to research laws passed by the Illuminati.

I asked him why he thought a secret society would contribute its laws to a public law library. When he didn't have an answer to that I directed him to consult the nearby public library and look up the works of Robert Anton Wilson.

Strange but true.

Monday, July 09, 2007

FN P90 profiled by American Rifleman

To a gun nut like me, this looks like a lot of fun. They're available at Impact Guns, if you've the budget.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Esau's Hairy Thigh

Those cut-ups over at the Register have some unkind things to say about the self-styled terrorists who made news in Britain last week. But their analysis of the implications of the attacks by these Gomer Pyles of the terrorist world is what I find most amusing.

To recap: an exceptionally incompetent group of troublemakers... decided to bring a spot of terror to old Blighty starting last Friday.

These people had no actual explosives, and were apparently too lazy and ignorant to learn how to make them. Instead, they decided to load cars with petrol, domestic gas cylinders and "containers holding nails", and then set fire to them....

Frankly, if this kind of thing is the only backlash the West experiences for Iraq, we've got off pretty much scot-free: we should indulge in a spot of military adventurism any time we feel like it.

Conversely, if this is all al-Qaeda have to offer, we should never have lost a moment's sleep over them - let alone shoved our valuable appendages into the military meat-grinder of Afghanistan...|'al-Qaeda' puts on big shoes, red nose, takes custard pie- The Register| (emphasis added)
If only all terrorists were this incompetent, then they'd be correct. Unfortunately, I think that Homeland Security and FEMA can probably match these guys dunderhead for dunderhead.

Via Schneier on Security

Searching that's good for the soul versus soul searching

I usually evaluate search engines in terms of their functionality, but Goodsearch is a search engine that asks you to adopt it based on its business model.

Goodsearch has an altruistic business model where they give half of their proceeds to charity, and you get to pick the charity and can track the proceeds in real time.

Goodsearch uses Yahoo search as its underlying search engine, at least for right now.

Goodsearch has search plug-ins for Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari through Mac OS so it's easy to start using it for all your web browsing needs.

Around the Deer-Axton household, we're donating our searches to the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR, pronounced mixer).

But there are many good causes out there. Guidestar is a non-profit search engine that gives away quite a bit of information for free. (There are other non-profit search engines, but they're much stingier with their information.)

Google has made "don't be evil" part of its informal corporate philosophy, but Goodsearch goes further and actually has a progressive business model.

Reforming Sic

The signal [sic] serves a useful purpose when you're quoting something and it has an error, so you want to signal the error.

My problem is the lack of precision with [sic]. Sometimes I have trouble figuring out what the person is referring to, is it the spelling or some less obvious grammatical error?

Therefore, I propose that we change the [sic] signal to something more HTML like such as:

[sic] errror [/sic].

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Targeted Amnesia: Coming to a Shrink's Office near You

Anyone who has seen the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, will be a little creeped out by the announcement that scientists have discovered how to wipe away individual memories.

Researchers have found they can use drugs to wipe away single, specific memories while leaving other memories intact. By injecting an amnesia drug at the right time, when a subject was recalling a particular thought, neuro-scientists discovered they could disrupt the way the memory is stored and even make it disappear.

The research has, however, sparked concern among parliamentary advisers who insist that new regulations are now needed to control the use of the drugs to prevent them becoming used by healthy people as a "quick fix". |Scientists find drug to banish bad memories - Telegraph|
Eternal Sunshine is one of my favorite movies and if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it to you.

Via Boing Boing and thanks to Jaimie for the link.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Feed the spammers hot coals with Footard

Ok, I'll admit to having some violent tendencies and a general dislike of spammers, which is why I was pleased to see Footard, a system that generates temporary email addresses.

Registration with most web sites and/or services on the Internet requires a real email address. Of course, not long after registration, the spam flood begins! Well Footard offers a way around the problem.

Using Footard you can create a real email address that doesn't require registration. Thus there is no connection between you and your Footard email address. When spammers get their filthy hands on your Footard email address, simply delete the email account and create a new one.

Footard offers safe and secure access to as many email accounts as you'd like to create. Sent and received emails can be deleted manually, or they will automatically delete when more than four days old. Email accounts will automatically be closed after thirty days of inactivity, and none of it costs you a cent! |Footard|

The Dawning of the Cyborg Age

The BBC is reporting that scientists have developed a tiny generator that is powered by vibration.

A tiny generator powered by natural vibrations could soon be helping keep heart pacemakers working....Using the tiny generator also made it possible to use larger numbers of sensors because there was no longer the need to visit them to replace or recharge batteries, said Dr Beeby...In a pacemaker the beating of the human heart would be strong enough to keep the magnets inside the device wobbling. |Good vibes power tiny generator - BBC|

Sweet, I like that even better than the blood sugar generator I blogged about earlier.

Via Slashdot.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Fourth of July

Sarah and I went canoeing to celebrate our Independence from those British bastards.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Postmodernity: MetaModernism and Antimodernism

I recently ran across a reference to Professor Stephen M. Feldman's taxonomy of postmodernists. He contends that there are postmodernists who are best described as anti-modernist. They dislike anything modern, they distrust scientific and all universal propositions. Then there are the metamodernists.

Metamodernists are moderate postmodernists who use the tools of postmodernism for a better understanding of the world. Postmodernism can be a liberating construction that allows for a bridge between the rigidity and normalization of modernity and the fluidity and flux of postmodernity.

Postmodernism does not need to be reduced to nihilism nor must it eliminate the ethical and moral foundations produced under modernism.

Instead, postmodernism grants a license for flexibility and multiplicity. It removes the necessity of privileging one position over another and can allow multiple positions and interpretations to exist simultaneously. |Neither Dead nor Dangerous: Postmodernism and the Teaching of Legal Writing - 58 Baylor L. Rev. 893|
I like this formulation since I have many friends who I consider postmodernists... but they exist along a wide spectrum. I think American society is still strongly modernist and so most of us borrow constantly from both the modernist and postmodernist schools of thought and Feldman's distinction helps capture the nuance of these different positions.

Amputees go Cyberpunk

Wired has an article on a new prosthetic for finger amputees.

Invented by Dan Didrick of Naples, Florida, the device has no batteries, electronics, servos or actuators. Instead, each digit incorporates a simple mechanism which, when pushed by the surviving part of the wearer's finger, curls a set of artificial phalanges.

"Having a body-powered device leaves little room for mechanical failure," Didrick said, adding that there aren't any robotic medical alternatives. "Many people assumed a device such as mine already existed."....

About one in 150 people have lost a digit to war, misadventure or misfortune. |Mechanical Fingers Give Strength, Speed to Amputees - Wired|

It looks quite cyberpunk to me. I've always thought that amputees would be the first ones to go cyberpunk, then it'll be the punks and finally the plastic surgeons will be turning people into walking sculptures that resemble Star Trek's 7 of 9 for art and profit.

Via Boing Boing

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Zotero: Citation on Steroids

Another thing Safari doesn't support is my new search tool, Zotero, it's captures webpage snapshots and stores them on your hard drive with citation information. Sort of Endnote on steroids for the web. It doesn't due Bluebook (yet). I think it's pretty neat, but it's only on Firefox for now.

I'm gonna need a bigger spear for this Safari

Safari for Windows and Blogger don't play nice for me, so I'm back blogging in Firefox again. I like Firefox, but Safari is so shiny... I installed a new theme for Firefox, few things in life are as shiny as Safari. I'll use 'em both, I'm sure but Firefox goes back to being my sturdy workhorse.

Google attacks Michael Moore's Sicko

Google has now apparently rescinded the offer to counter-program against Michael Moore's movie Sicko that a Google employee, Lauren Turner, made on the Google Health Care Blog.

Many of our clients face these issues [of horrible PR because of evil practices?]; companies come to us hoping we can help them better manage their reputations through “Get the Facts” or issue management campaigns. Your brand or corporate site may already have these informational assets, but can users easily find them?

[Google] can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for [mis]educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company’s assets while helping users find the information they seek.

If you’re interested in learning more about issue management campaigns or about how we can help your company better connect its assets online, email us. We’d love to hear from you! Setting up these campaigns is easy and we’re happy to share best practices. |Does Negative Press Make You Sicko? - Google Health Care Blog| |Emphasis and Sarcasm mine|
Good to see that Google is taking sides in this debate.

Back when Network Neutrality |Wikipedia| was a hot potato in Congress, I used searches on network neutrality to demonstrate Google bias before. Searching other sites like Clusty or Exalead returned quite different results in Clusty and Exalead during these exercises.