Thursday, August 30, 2007

SUVs are more symbol than solution to problems of climate change

John Edwards today asked Americans to give up their SUVs in order to demonstrate their commitment to environmental protection. While I hate the cretins who drive Hummers as well, the cars are only a small part of the problem.

One of the most signficant problems is coal-powered powerplants, especially in the developing world.

The ubiquitous reduction of green politics to ethical consumerism means we'd probably rather carry on talking about cars, thermostats and lightbulbs. Faced with a resurgence that spans most of the planet, even the most righteous green activist could be forgiven for feeling powerless. No matter; what with skyrocketing gas prices and the fractious state of geopolitics, the stuff responsible for a quarter of the world's CO2 emissions is on a roll, which surely represents our biggest environmental headache of all. |The great global coal rush puts us on the fast track to irreversible disaster - Guardian|

I have a longish post on this topic over at the Carbon Copy.

All the makings of a Disney love story

A bull elephant escaped from a zoo and found his way to a circus in India where he led away a female circus elephant into the jungle. |Guardian|

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Secularism: Basis of the Republic

Secularism - one of the main principles of our republic - is a pre-condition for social peace as much as it is a liberating model for different lifestyles.

As long as I am in office, I will embrace all our citizens without any bias. I will preserve my impartiality with the greatest of care. |Link|

- Abdullah Gul, Turkey's new President

I'd love to hear George Bush (or any of the Presidential candidates) utter those same lines.

Favorite Books: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed...

The always engaging Danah Boyd has put together a web page of her favorite books.

It's an interesting list, but the title that really caught my eye was
Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before
|Amazon| Worldcat|

The author provides a brief overview at MS-NBC.

[For today's] young people... The individual has always come first, and feeling good about yourself has always been a primary virtue. Generation Me's expectations are highly optimistic: they expect to go to college, to make lots of money, and perhaps even to be famous.

Yet this generation enters a world in which college admissions are increasingly competitive, good jobs are hard to find and harder to keep, and basic necessities like housing and health care have skyrocketed in price.

This is a time of soaring expectations and crushing realities.
Joan Chiaramonte, head of the Roper Youth Report, says that for young people "the gap between what they have and what they want has never been greater." If you would like to start an argument, claim that young people today have it (a) easy, or (b) tough. Be forewarned: you might need referees before it's all over. |Link|
I'll have to check that out when I get down with my current book.

Right now I'm reading Best Practices for Legal Education. |Worldcat| It's a damning indictment of the current system of legal education... but that's probably not much of a surprise to anyone who's been to law school in the last half century.

A couple of years ago I was asked to list my favorite books which I collected here, it's still a pretty good snapshot of my favorite books.

I haven't read the Combat Leader's Field Guide as one of the commenters to that post suggested, but I did read the Combat Infantryman's Guide when I was twelve. As a kid, I read everything I could lay my hands on, and my father had a lot of field manuals laying around.

For my CERT class this summer we had a class on Weapons of Mass Destruction, but I was already familiar with many of the topics from when I was 15 years old and and I read the Army field manual on Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical warfare, but it's always good to brush up on your decontamination protocols....

Always remember to block off the sewer system before you start decontamination lest you poison your local waterways during the decontamination process.

Monday, August 27, 2007

For Sale: Amnesiac Attorney General

Now that Gonzales has resigned, the big question is who is going to succeed him. There is some evidence that current Homeland Security chief Chertoff is being considered for the position by the Bush administration.

White House Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend has turned down a request that she consider being the next Homeland Security Secretary, stoking speculation that former prosecutor and federal judge Michael Chertoff may be the front-runner to replace Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Chertoff also has impeccable legal credentials. He was a federal judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles appeals from New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and the Virgin Islands. Before that, he was assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice's criminal division from 2001 to 2003. |Speculation grows about Chertoff as attorney general - Newsday|
I think Chertoff is the logical candidate since he'll have such a shorter learning curve on all the wiretapping programs.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Save the Earth, Kill Yourself

Doing some research, I ran across this list of the Top Ten Policies Necessary to Pursue Global Ecological Sustainability:

Following are the most urgent policy prescriptions necessary to maximize the likelihood of a habitable biosphere and minimize human death as a result of collapsing ecosystems. They are listed in order of importance. To have any chance of averting global apocalypse these sorts of policies must be implemented with all haste. Your comments are welcome regarding this list and avenues for implementation - which will be enumerated further as the project progresses.

No. 1 - POPULATION - Human populations surpass what the Earth can bear. We must stabilize and then reduce human population to at most a third current levels. Global limits must be placed on the number of children born, using incentives at first such as tax benefits for smaller families. Humanity can reduce population on their own accord or the Earth will do so for us.

No. 2 - GREENHOUSE GASES - Abrupt runaway climate change is happening now as energy costs the Earth dearly. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by at least 70% as soon as possible. Maintaining an operable atmosphere requires phasing out coal and oil, introducing a substantial carbon tax, investing in renewable energy, and rigorously pursuing conservation and efficiency. No large-scale new energy systems such as nuclear or biofuel until shown to be environmentally benign in the long-term.

No. 3 - PROTECT ECOSYSTEMS - Large, connected and strictly protected ecosystems over much of the land and sea are a prerequisite for provision of air, water, biodiversity, soil and other services upon which life depends. Large protected marine areas must be established, ending industrial fishing. And ancient forest logging must end, strictly protecting remaining intact natural habitats.

No. 4 - CONSUMPTION - Excessive resource use to meet frivolous human wants must be restricted by promoting a consumption ethic that stresses voluntary simplicity and a sense of "enoughness", and laws that minimize impacts. Simple reforms such as standardizing consumer packaging and making all waste recyclable will reduce necessary consumption's impacts.

No. 5 - AGRICULTURE - A transition must be made to sustainable agricultural practices and eating habits with the emphasis upon organic, non-GMO, low meat diets that are locally produced. Eating habits impact virtually all ecosystems, resulting in natural forest clearing, toxic food chains, depleted water, soil loss and reduction of ecosystems' ability to hold carbon.

No. 6 - SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIES - Economic systems are a subset of ecological systems and as such all economic activities must maintain or expand natural capital. Growth that destroys natural capital is not sustainable, and growth as a measure of economic activity is an ecological malignancy. A steady state, sustainable economy must be business, industry and humanity's goal.

No. 7 - GREEN TECHNOLOGY - Technology by itself cannot bring sustainability, but clean and green technologies are important and provide huge economic opportunities. There is tremendous potential for development of energy efficient, more sustainable and fully recyclable buildings, products and services (including hybrid cars and fluorescent lightbulbs). But the use and trade of toxic chemicals must end.

No. 8 - ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION - Too many ecosystems have already been lost and diminished for humanity to persist. Achieving sustainability and preparing for post collapse societies depends upon targeted restoration of important ecosystems. Priorities for ecological restoration include watersheds, establishing ecological core areas and urban environments.

No. 9 - POVERTY- Billions living in desperate poverty is unethical and damages the environment. All cannot live like Americans, but if the Earth's wealth is shared we can all live well. The focus must be upon the overdeveloped world living more simply, sustainable development, equitable and just political and economic systems, and green technology transfer.

No. 10 - DEMILITARIZATION - Increasingly conflicts over resources fuel militarism and insurgency. Military budgets divert resources from crucial social and environmental investments, and must be slashed. Lasting security that is equitable, just and sustainable is best achieved through greater international law and investments that nurture global ecosystems.|Top Ten Policies Necessary to Pursue Global Ecological Sustainability - Ecological Internet| (emphasis added)
I think this is a fabulous list. The writing is on the wall, all we have to do is read it and implement it.

But we don't have the collective will and people continue having children despite the fact that the future is going to resemble Soylent Green, but they convince themselves it will all look like the Jetsons.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Gun violence exploding in the UK

Skull by xeni
Gun violence in the UK is interesting to me because of the many similarities between our legal systems, but the great divide on citizen ownership of firearms.

The British do not recognize a right to personal ownership of firearms. They do allow some guns, but the licensing restrictions are significant.

Pistols and assault rifles are strictly forbidden. Shotguns and rifles are pretty mush all you can get and that's tough. Air guns are pretty common, but there are even moves to make air guns difficult to own.

The BBC boils down gun laws in the UK this way:
It is much more difficult to get a gun in the UK [than in the US]. It is completely illegal to own a handgun unless you can prove you use it to kill vermin like rats, or it is an antique type gun.

You need a licence to buy a gun. Depending on what type of gun you want, you need to do different things to get a licence.

You need to prove you will store your gun properly, and give the police lots of information about yourself, including your medical records.

You also need to get two people to say to the police that they think you are a good person to own a gun. |BBC|
Despite these laws, gun crime in on the upswing in the UK.
According to government figures, in 2007 gun-related murders are up 18 per cent from the previous year...

A growing gang culture and gang-related violence are part of the problem. There's a perception among some young people that guns mean status and protection.

Although gun deaths are rising, knife-related killings still occur four times as often. In the capital alone, 12 teenagers have been stabbed to death so far this year. |UK shooting re-opens guns debate - Al Jazeera|
The absolute number of shooting victims in the UK this year strikes me as incredibly low. Given the level of gun violence we experience in the United States, I'm pretty desensitized to it, to be honest. A single person being shot hardly makes the news unless it was a child or happens in a wealthy neighborhood.

I understand why the uptick in gun crime is getting the Brits up in arms (so to speak), I just can't relate.

I rarely feel threatened by violence, but I do live in the most violent developed nation on Earth.
We invented Social Darwinism and we'll be damned if we're going to give it up after all these years.

Further, my daily media dose of shootings, bombings, assassinations, and torture from Iraq makes me think the US is a safe and tranquil place to live at the moment...

In Iraq, the coalition government allows every family to keep an AK for self-defense. Mandatory gun ownership is the first step towards the American dream...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Contrasting Viewpoints on Taser Use

"The use-of-force training and procedures and policy are up to the individual agencies, based on their community standard, their expertise and their own policies."

- Steve Tuttle, spokesman, Taser International.

"It's simple. If you do what you're told and you comply, you won't be Tased."

-Richard Leighton, police chief in St. Johnsbury, Vt., where two men who were shocked with stun guns in a 2005 incident won a $10,000 settlement after claiming police used excessive force.

"I'm interested in changing the policy so that Tasers are not used on non-violent people, particularly protesters taking a dignified stance. I see the points police make in using Tasers as an alternative to lethal force. But it seems like they're lowering the threshold so they can use [Tasers] for a wide variety of uses."

- Jonathan Crowell, who was shot with a Taser during a peaceful demonstration in Brattleboro, Vt. ||(emphasis added)

"Even though the person is receiving volts of electricity, and cramping up the muscles, that causes so much less damage then going hand-to-hand with the officer or using a baton."

- Forks Police Department Chief Mike Powell |Peninsula Daily News|

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Terrorism is so bourgeois

While catching up on last week's RSS feeds, I ran across a round robin of reaction to
Barack Obama's August 1st speech on terrorism and national security at the Washington Post. All of the reactions were interesting, but Peter Bergen's commentary stopped me dead in my tracks.
Peter Bergen, author of "The Osama bin Laden I Know: [An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader]" [on Obama's approach to terrorism]:

Overall it was a very strong speech. Here is a minor criticism: While there is no doubt that conflict zones can breed terrorism, the 9/11 plot was actually planned in Hamburg. The idea that weak and [failing states] are causes of terrorism is wrong.

There is in fact overwhelming academic literature that demonstrates the reverse is true. Terrorism is a sort of bourgeois endeavor.

On a related point, the idea that madrassas are a big problem for violence against the United States is also wrong. Madrassas lead to problems regionally, and are a big problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not in terms of terrorism against the United States. |Obama on Terrorism:The Experts Weigh In - WaPo|
Zounds! If that's a minor quibble, I'd hate to see a telling critique from Mr. Bergen.

If Peter Bergen is right, then the entire premise of U.S. foreign policy for the last seven years is dead wrong.

If terrorism is undertaken primarily by privileged youth, we should be looking for terrorists in the Saudi Arabia and Paris, not Afghanistan and Yemen.

Some evidence to support Bergen's assertion is the following:

Several studies of individuals have failed to find any direct connection between education, poverty, and the propensity to participate in terrorism (Russell and Miller, 1983; Hudson, 1999; Krueger and Maleckova, 2003; Berrebi, 2003, Atran, 2003). If anything, those who participate in terrorism tend to come from the ranks of the better off in society.

Poverty theorists could respond that at least on the micro level, well-to-do citizens become terrorists out of public spiritedness for their impoverished fellow citizens, and they are chosen by organizations to perform these tasks due to their reliability and skill. Consider the anecdotal findings of Nasra Hassan (2001), for example. |Kto Kogo?: A Cross-Country Study of the Origins and Targets of Terrorism - NBER|

Perhaps this is Bush's masterplan, to reduce Iraq and Afghanistan to the stone age so that no one in those societies will have the leisure to contemplate how wronged they have been as they struggle to eke out a meager living.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hearts, minds and video games

Hezbollah's internet division has developed a video game called Special Force 2: Tale of the Truthful Pledge |Wikipedia| CNN|MSNBC|. The video game allows players to re-fight the 2006 War in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah.

The Anti-Defamation League takes a dim view of this video game (as you might imagine) and points out that the same open-source game engine was used by a white supremacist group to create a video game called Ethnic Cleansing.

The United States Army has long has a video game called America's Army |Wikipedia| which simulates life as an infantryman in the U.S. Army.

The fact that governments and terrorist groups both use video games to influence young people illustrates the influence of video games in the modern world.

Below is a movie of Hezbollah's first video game from 2003, a trailer for the new game is available here, which dramatizes the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers which started the hostilities in 2006.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Cyber Eye Implants have Arrived

The Scientific American has an article on new miniature eye implants that are being used to help people with macular degeneration see.

The optical prosthetics, tiny enough to be balanced on a fingertip, dramatically improved the vision of about two thirds of the 206 patients studied in a 24-month clinical trial, according to a new study published in Archives of Ophthalmology. |Link|
That is so cyberpunk!

Via Boing Boing

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Padilla found guilty

Jose Padilla, (the American citizen who sat in prison for 22 months without even being able to talk to an attorney) has finally had his day in court, and he was convicted. He faces life in prison.

The key piece of physical evidence was a five-page form Padilla supposedly filled out in July 2000, to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan, which would link the other two defendants as well to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida.

The form, apparently recovered by the CIA in 2001 in Afghanistan, contains seven of Padilla's fingerprints and several other personal identifiers, such as his birth date and abilities in Spanish, English and Arabic.

"He provided himself to al-Qaida for training to learn to murder, kidnap and maim," said Brian Frazier, the assistant state prosecutor, said in closing arguments.

Padilla's lawyers insisted the form was far from conclusive and denied that he was a "star recruit," as prosecutors claimed, of a North American support cell intending to become a terrorist. They said he traveled to Egypt in September 1998 to learn Islam more deeply and become fluent in Arabic. |US citizen guilty of aiding al-Qaida cells - Guardian|
I'm glad that Padilla was given due process. I don't know if he had a fair trial, but at least it was a trial. The American legal system isn't perfect, but it's the best we have at the moment and all we can do is work to make it better.

As to Padilla, I won't be losing any sleep over him. It sounds to me like he was a bad man before he converted to Islam.

Padilla's story reminds me a little bit of My Jihad by Aukai Collins. NRO has a decent book review here.

I'm inclined to think that religious extremists of all stripes are a serious problem, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or Shintoist.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Iraqi Tourism Renaissance?

The secret of the Iraqi tourism renaissance is that it is confined to the northern Kurdistan region, which is independent from the rest of the country in all but name. It has its own flag, its own passport stamp, its own army and no fighting. As the advertising blurb puts it, it's "the Other Iraq". "It's spectacular. It's joyful. It has an experienced security force. Fewer than 200 coalition troops are stationed here," the ad campaign promises. |Holidays in Iraq, no armoured car required - Guardian|
With all the places in the world to visit, it seems to me that only the most die-hard of adrenaline junkies would take their vacation in Iraq.

Never an Archangel when you Need One

A small sect in Iraq, called Yazidis, were recently bombed using Vehicle-Born Improved Explosives Devices (VIEDs). I'd never heard of the Yazidis before, but Al Jazeera describes them this way:
Yazidis are a primarily Kurdish sect that believes in God the creator and respect the Biblical and Koranic prophets, but the main focus of their worship is Malak Taus, the chief of the archangels. |Scores die in attacks on Iraqi sect- Al Jazeera| (emphasis added)

Debka described the attack as "one of the most savage single terrorist attacks in the four-year Iraq war. Some 30 houses were leveled..." In a country where bombings are daily occurences, this is a grim distinction. (emphasis added)

Being Kurds and members of a small religious sect made these people easy targets for Al Qaeda.

It's interesting to me how many different religious sects there are in the middle east, especially ones that meld Islamic and Christian views.

The Druze religion is another one that borrows elements of Christianity and Islam to create a unique religion.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hell's Angel shot to death in UK

A member of the Hells Angels in the UK was shot to death (while riding his bike) recently. The victim was shot in the back of the head. The article says he was shot with a pistol. I think all one could know for sure is that he was shot with a pistol round, it strikes me as more likely that a submachine gun or pistol-caliber carbine was used.

"Astonishing is the best word to describe this case," said Det Supt Ken Lawrence of Warwickshire police yesterday. "It is an incredible story. This man was travelling [at] about 70 mph [when he was shot]...

[T]here was no obvious motive. The dead man had been in a stable relationship, was known as hard working and of good character....

Julian Sher, a Canadian investigative journalist and author of Angels of Death, a study of biker gangs across the world, said: "When a Hell's Angel gets executed, it's one of two things: an internal cleansing or a rival gang." On the Bulldog Bash website forum, fellow-bikers expressed their anger at the murder. "To you yellow-backed murderers, hope the police find you first," said one posting. |Hell's Angel killed by hitman travelling at 70mph, say police - Guardian|(emphasis added)
I didn't realize that the Hell's Angels were an international group of thugs until I read this article.

Monday, August 13, 2007

With 20/20 Foresight... the worst still prevailed

I don't know why I haven't seen this before, but it's incredible to see Dick Cheney describing the trap he would later step into in Iraq.

Via Concurring Opinions.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Need for Real Leadership in America

Ronald Reagan's famous Morning in America commercial struck a chord with Americans who were dispirited by the malaise of the Carter administration and the ongoing hostage crisis in Iran.
The current crop of presidential contenders have absorbed the lessons [of the Reagan-Carter campaign] well. They know a bullish sense of American pride is required of them, and they express it at every opportunity.

The Republicans are, on balance, more jingoistic and determinedly upbeat than their Democratic rivals. But even the Democrats take care to wrap their complaints about the Bush era in overtly patriotic garb...

But in the present moment relentless proclamations of America’s greatness run the risk of concealing more than they illuminate. They numb the capacity for self-criticism. They distort the picture of the world and exaggerate the U.S.’s dominance. And they downplay the nation’s problems and push solutions farther out of sight.

The truth of the matter, unpalatable though it may be, is that the U.S.’s recent track record across a range of areas is mediocre. And it is getting worse. |Note to Candidates: It’s Not Always Morning in America - New York Observer| (emphasis added)
The Bush Administration's record of incomptence, foreign and domestic, is truly stunning. The botched response to Hurricane Katrina will always stand out in my mind as a milestone, who was the last American President to lose an entire city?

In phone conversations with several of my friends over the last week, we've been discussing the signs that America is a nation in decline. The growing inequality in America, the taxpayer revolt, the lack of affordable health care, the crumbling infrastructure,the botched reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military stretched to the breaking point...

In all fairness, many of these problems predate Bush and his incompetence. But I think Bush deprives us of any hope that these problems can be tackled. When our leaders are corrupt and infantile, what hope is there?

Hopefully some of the candidates in the race can at least give us hope...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Libraries are Not for Burning

During the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the Serbs destroyed the Bosnia's National and University Library with incendiary rounds. The goal was not only to destroy not only the Bosnian people, but any evidence that they ever existed, some have suggested this should be called memecide.

[In 1992], Bosnia's National and University Library, a handsome Moorish-revival building built in the 1890s on the Sarajevo riverfront, was shelled and burned. Before the fire, the library held 1.5 million volumes, including over 155,000 rare books and manuscripts; the country's national archives; deposit copies of newspapers, periodicals and books published in Bosnia; and the collections of the University of Sarajevo.

Bombarded with incendiary grenades from Serbian nationalist positions across the river, the library burned for three days; most of its irreplaceable contents were reduced to ashes. Braving a hail of sniper fire, librarians and citizen volunteers formed a human chain to pass books out of the burning building. Interviewed by an ABC News camera crew, one of them said: "We managed to save just a few very precious books. Everything else burned down. And a lot of our heritage, national heritage, lay down there in ashes." |Libraries Are Not for Burning: International Librarianship and the Recovery of the Destroyed Heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina - IFLA| (emphasis added)
In Iraq, the National Library has been occupied by the Iraqi Army, turning it into a target for the insurgents.
Iraq's national library and archive, one of the country's most important cultural institutions, are in peril after the occupation of the building by Iraqi security forces, the library's director said yesterday.

Saad Eskander, a respected Kurdish historian who has run the library since 2003, told the Guardian that up to 20 Iraqi troops had seized the building at gunpoint yesterday, threatening staff and guards.

"They have turned our national archive into a military target," he said. "Tomorrow or the day after, the extremists will attack the Iraqi forces there.”….

"The reckless actions of the Iraqi forces and the US military, who appear to condone the operation, will put the staff and library and archival collections in real danger," said Mr Eskander…

"We are like many ordinary citizens, caught between the extremists and terrorist on one side, and the Iraqi and US army on their other," he said, vowing he would hold both US army and the Iraqi military responsible for all losses and casualties. |Looting fear as Iraqi state library seized - Guardian|
In Iraq the library isn't being targeted for destruction because of its contents, it is just innocent victim of George Bush's ongoing love affair with the Iraqi people.

Unfortunately, burning libraries has long been a tactic of kings, despots and other opponents of truth.

Libraries have been the targets of censorship since ancient times. History is littered with the destruction of library collections, and libraries themselves becoming flaming pyres on all continents, the deliberate burning of a library recorded in China as early as in 221 BC...

[T]he burning of the entire collection of the University of Oxford library in 1683 was on direct orders from the king. Even in the 20th century, the burning and destruction of libraries has been extensively applied by rulers, as a warning to subversives and a method of ethnic language purging, as was the case in Sarajevo and Kosova.

In 1991 the Serbian government banned Albanian as a language of instruction at all levels of education. During the period 1990- 99, all the libraries in Kosova were subjected to the burning or destruction of the Albanian–language collections, according to reports from the joint UNESCO, Council of Europe and IFLA/FAIFE Kosova Library Mission in 2000. The Serbian governments deliberate cultural ethnic cleansing on the brink of a new millennium will stand as a distressful monument to the enduring tradition of destructive censorship.

Public book pyres were favoured by the Nazi–regime in Germany in the late 1930s as one of their many brutal methods of censorship. The destruction of libraries was systematically applied by the rulers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, infamous for the longest lasting and most extensive censorship in the 20th century. |The long history of censorship - Beacon for Freedom of Censorship|

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Irony or Stupidity? Wiretapping Imperils National Information Security

The law of unintended consequences is always waiting in the wings... especially when the Bush administration is at the helm.

[Because of the new wiretapping law]within 10 years the United States will be vulnerable to attacks from hackers across the globe, as well as the militaries of China, Russia and other nations....

U.S. communications technology is fragile and easily penetrated. While advanced, it is not decades ahead of that of our friends or our rivals. Compounding the issue is a key facet of modern systems design: Intercept capabilities are likely to be managed remotely, and vulnerabilities are as likely to be global as local. In simplifying wiretapping for U.S. intelligence, we provide a target for foreign intelligence agencies and possibly rogue hackers. Break into one service, and you get broad access to U.S. communications. |A Gateway for Hackers: The Security Threat in the New Wiretapping Law - Washington Post|

Via Schneier on Security

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Seamy Side of Second Life

So today a professor mentioned to me that Germany has been prosecuting people for trafficking in virtual child pornography on Second Life.

I hadn't heard about this before, but I quickly discovered this article from May of 2007 on the issue.
Nick Schader, a reporter with the investigative television programme Report Mainz, and a member of Second Life, said he had been "shocked to see" the virtual child pornography meetings, to which he was invited for 500 Linden dollar - around £1.50. He said the same group of people subsequently put him in touch with traders in real child pornography.

Robin Harper, the deputy president of the San Francisco firm Linden Lab that runs Second Life, said: "We will find out who is behind this, and then inform the police." He said that Linden Lab also planned to introduce an age control system.

While in the United States "virtual" child pornography is not a crime, in Germany it is punishable by three months to five years in prison.

Under 18-year-olds are banned from taking part in Second Life, but critics say in reality it is impossible to check the ages of participants because of the virtual nature of the game.

Some players choose to dress up as child figures, but with no sexual motivation, purchasing "skins" to make them look like minors, but that do not as a rule depict the private parts of the body. There are even adoption agencies that offer lonely "children" the chance to have a virtual family.

But the established Second Life practice of so-called "Age Play", in which players request sex with other players who dress up as child avatars, has encouraged a growth in players posing as children in order to make money.

[So we now have virtual child prostitution in Second Life... but perhaps without any real minors!?!? Could this get any stranger?]

It has already attracted much criticism both from inside and outside the imaginary world. Child protection agencies say it has encouraged people with paedophile tendencies to play out their darkest fantasies and could have a knock-on effect in the real world. Bestiality, or sex with animals, is becoming increasingly popular on the site, which now has over six million players and is growing by an average of 800,000 a month. Germans make up the largest single representation of any country, with 209,000 members. |Germany investigates Second Life child pornography - Guardian|(emphasis added)
I popped over to the newspaper of Second Life, the Second Life Herald and found an article which proposed Uri's Law: There is no Real Life fetish such that a virtual counterpart does not exist in Second Life. |Link - NSFW|

The different approaches by Germany and the US highlights the jurisdictional quandries of Second Life. In the US, if no child is involved in the production of faux child pornography, then no crime has been committed. See Ashcroft v. The Free Speech Coalition 535 U.S. 234 (2002) |Cornell||Wikipedia|

For the moment, let's ignore the merits of the case and just focus on the jurisdictional issue. It's quite possible that two people in Second Life could enter into a consensual sexual relationship in Second Life where one is physically located in the US and the other in Germany. During this tryst one individual might morph into the form of a child. One person has committed a crime and the other one has not.

This is why I love the intersection of civil law and Second Life.

Baghdad enters the Stone Age

Colin Powell's famous comment to George Bush about Iraq was that if we break, we buy it. Unfortunately, Iraq was broken down before we arrived after years of war and UN sanctions and things have gone from bad to worse with the occupation, resistance and ethnic cleansing going on there.

Iraq's power grid is on the brink of collapse because of insurgent sabotage, rising demand, fuel shortages and provinces that are unplugging local power stations from the national grid, according to officials....

Power supplies in Baghdad have been sporadic all summer and now are down to just a few hours a day at most. The water supply in the capital has also been severely curtailed by power blackouts and cuts that have affected pumping and filtration stations....

Hazim Obeid, who sells clothing at a Kerbala market stall, said: "We no longer need television documentaries about the stone age. We are actually living in it. We are in constant danger because of the filthy water and rotten food we are having."....

The power problems are only adding to the misery of Iraqis, already suffering from the effects of more than four years of war and sectarian violence. Outages make life almost unbearable in the summer months, when average daily temperatures reach between 43.3C (110F) and 48.8C [120F]....

Fuel shortages are also a major problem. Ghalib al-Daami, a provincial spokesman in Kerbala, said a 50-megawatt power station had been shut down due to a lack of fuel, leaving the entire province without water and electricity for three days.

He said sewage was seeping above ground across nearly half the city because pumping trucks used to clean septic tanks had been unable to operate due to petrol shortages. The sewage was causing a health threat to citizens and contaminating crops in the region.

Many people who would normally rely on small, home generators for electricity could not afford to buy fuel. Petrol prices had shot up to nearly 65p a litre, Kerbala residents said, a price that put the fuel out of range for all but the wealthy. |Power cuts worsen as Iraqi grid nears collapse - Guardian|
This article makes me reflect on how cozy my existence really is.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pandering to the Masses: Moronic US Candidates Roil Muslim Allies

The entire debate between the Democratic candidates about whether we should consider using nuclear weapons against tribal lands situated along the Pakistani and Afghan border reveals to me how impoverished this country's political discourse has become.

The idea that we would use a nuclear weapon to kill one person (even the infamous Osama bin Laden) is so ridiculous that it reveals the limits of the use of force. No one has yet devised a weapon that can destroy an idea, a meme, or a revolutionary cause and even in death, Osama bin Laden will always be the embodiment of the desire for a world-spanning Caliphate.

The entire discussion of this ridiculous proposal is further alienating the few allies America has left after six years of the worst President in our history.
The [Pakistani] government on Friday set a foreign policy debate in the National Assembly for Monday to focus on Pakistan-US ties in a move that seemed designed to demonstrate Islamabad’s unease at some latest developments and also deflect opposition attacks over both internal and external situations....

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Khan Niazi had first proposed that the house pass a resolution to condemn a recent suggestion by one prospective United States presidential candidate [Barack Obama] to send American troops into Pakistan to hunt down Al Qaeda terrorists and one by another [Tom Tancredo] to target Islam’s holiest sites in Makkah and Madina, after the issue was raised by some opposition members.

It was agreed by the two sides to draft a joint resolution, which did not come for some unexplained reasons.

But instead of that, apparently after consulting the foreign ministry, Mr Niazi came up with a motion towards the end of the sitting calling for a foreign policy debate that he said should focus on five subjects: ‘dirty’ statements by prospective US presidential candidates, the India-US nuclear deal, threats of anti-militant US military operations inside Pakistan territory, Pakistan’s role as a front-line state in the war against terrorism and a recently passed US law containing 'double-standards and unreasonable conditions’ for giving aid to Pakistan.

Speaker Amir Hussain Chaudhry set Monday for the debate, which he said could continue for two days, but dismissed a suggestion by Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai that a joint session of both the National Assembly and the Senate hold such a debate.

|[Pakistani] Foreign policy debate to focus on ties with US - Dawn|

While the Democrats idea is foolish, Tom Tancredo's idea of threatening Mecca and Medina is truly insane. It's like the British government threatening to destroy the Vatican for the acts of Irish Catholic terrorists.

It is a move guaranteed to radicalize moderate Muslims and to truly and finally bring on an apocalyptic war of elimination between Islam and the United States.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt: Actual vs. Perceived Risk

Earlier today I watching CNN's Special Investigative Report Road to Ruin about aging bridges and dams throughout the country.

It's certainly timely, I wonder if they had this report in the pipeline before the Minneapolis bridge collapsed.

The report is fascinating in a morbid way, but it strikes me as another example of the media perpetuating fear, uncertainty, and doubt (or FUD)....

I find it bemusing that immediately after the bridge collapsed, many people thought it must be terrorism, not aging infrastructure.

I think this is an example of how it is difficult to evaluate risks dispassionately. Our minds tend to focus on sensational and fantastic risks, rather than mundane and common problems.

And that's one reason why the media often does us a disservice by emphasizing unusual cases which stick in our minds and exert pressure on officials to react to miniscule threats.

Security guru Bruce Schneier discusses this problem on his blog in a post about actual vs. perceived risks.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Minneapolis Bridge Collapses; Neal and Sarah Safe

In case anyone was concerned about Sarah and I, we're fine. We live in St. Paul and travel to Minneapolis as infrequently as possible.

The bridge collapse has garnered quite a bit of international attention from the Thailand to South Africa.

I was actually arriving at my CERT class when the collapse happened and our class was cancelled as the EMTs and deputies teaching our class were called to the disaster.

Google Reader Rocks

I've started using Google Reader for my RSS feeds and I think it's the best RSS reader I've used so far.