Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Licensing the Supernatural

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

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

Socrates Died for Your Sins

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 29, 2007

The decline of the reality-based community

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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

The decline of antibiotics

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Brave New World of Urban Air Support and Counterinsurgency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2007

Down at the heel

I spent 12 hours in the process of returning home today (due to no negligence on my part), mainly pacing around the Dallas airport like a caged rat.

It's good to be home.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Make mine a double

In her book The Partly-Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell wrote:

The more history I learn, the more the world fills up with stories. Just the other day, I was in my neighborhood Starbucks, waiting for the post office to open. I was enjoying a chocolately caffé mocha when it occured to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cocao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle's Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top. No wonder it costs so much.

Thanks to Janelle for lending me The Partly Cloudy Patriot.

Singing it Like it Is

Thanks to Mark for introducing me to Roy Zimmerman's political humor. He used to be in a group called the Foremen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Away on Business

The Grotto, originally uploaded by Stuck in Customs.

I'm going to the Teaching the Teachers conference at the Tarlton Law Library tomorrow, so blogging will be light for the rest of the week.

A light musical number

Sunday was the seventh wedding anniversary for Sarah and me and we decided to take in a movie. We went to see Once, which I really enjoyed.

It isn't a musical so much as a movie about musicians. The ending surprised me, but in a good way. Check it out if you get a chance.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The villian as liberated hero

I recently ran across a meme dealing with "the mad villain archetype as liberated hero" |link| which turns up some interesting discussions of rather unsavory characters. For instance, this is a segment from a discussion of the ravings of Charles Manson.

Is gnosis/enlightenment [always a wholly positive experience]?

How could it be anything else?...

[But] When you’ve transcended the opposites and moved beyond the realm of good and evil, how do you interact with the world?

In mythology we hear a lot about Buddhas or Bodhisattvas who turn back at the last moment to liberate all other beings in the world.

But rarely do we hear tales of the anti-Bodhisattva who transcends the control system, only to become it.

|Super Villains & Super Heroes - Pop Occulture Blog| (emphasis added)
The question interests me and relates to some of my views on law school as well.

As a progressive, I assume that when one learns of a corrupt practice, one would want to stamp it out. But that's not everyone's intuition. Some people think a loophole is there to be exploited.

Some people go to law school because they want to make the world a better place and may eventually become jaded or fall in with bad people.

But I am totally convinced that other people have no morals to begin with and only go to law school to learn the rules, so they can break them with impunity.

This connects with some of Naomi Klein's observations in her new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

[The Blackwater massacre scandal] definitely feels like a watershed moment. There is this collective understanding that this wasn't an accident, it was inevitable: give a bunch of pumped-up guys guns, and send them to a place where they're above the law, and they'll act like cowboys. But what's missing from too much of the analysis is the obvious next point: this is true of the entire occupation.

Give a bunch of contractors billions of dollars with no accountability, while simultaneously eviscerating the Iraqi state (de-Baathification, laying off the army, flinging open the economy with no regulation) and they'll gorge.

Give a bunch of Heritage Foundation interns control of an economy with no oversight and they'll try to privatize everything in sight.

The entire disaster in Iraq was utterly predictable. But what I argue in the book is that not only was this predictable, it was the plan.

The plan wasn't to destroy Iraq; it was to create a market frontier. And the reason you build a frontier is always the same: nothing is more profitable.

Adam Smith wrote about it in The Wealth of Nations: on the colonial frontier, land can be grabbed, taxes are few, and capitalism can exist in its purest, most profitable form. That's why the Wall Street Journal has been comparing Iraq to a "gold rush" from the very first reconstruction conferences in 2003 -- any frontier is a gold rush.

So what frustrates me about the current Blackwater scandal is the attitude of surprise in the media and congress -- surprise that these companies are acting like "cowboys" in a "wild west." Of course they are -- the occupation was built to be the Wild West.

For four years the White House systematically fought every attempt at oversight of the contractors, specifically granted them immunity under Iraqi law and made no serious attempt to monitor their activities. And it's not just Blackwater -- think of all the tens of billions of public dollars allocated to reconstructing Iraq. The money has all been given away to contractors while Iraq is in worse shape than ever -- those contractors are cowboys too. And that's not even including the roughly $9 billion of Iraq's own oil money that has gone missing.

And what's even worse than the feigned astonishment we are seeing is this insistence on framing everything as an individual "corruption" scandal. Companies are built to profit from opportunity -- to do everything they can get away with to make as much money as possible. It's their legal duty.

So the scandal isn't Blackwater or Halliburton or Exxon; it's the vision of politics we have been living with since Reagan that holds that the central role of government is to be the executive chef for this corporate feeding frenzy. In the eighties and nineties, that meant chopping of major limbs of the state -- water, electricity, the airwaves -- and feeding them to corporations.

Today the process has moved into the very core of the state: armies, interrogation, evacuations.

But rampant corruption has always been part of these neo-colonial privatization frenzies -- think of the instant billionaires in Latin America's privatization wave, when Carlos Slim, now the third richest man in the world, made his fortune, or the lawless rise of the Russian oligarchs during "shock therapy."

What I argue in The Shock Doctrine is that privatization is the post-modern frontier. Essentially, what shock therapy means is selling off as much as possible before the law catches up, just as an earlier era of conquistadors grabbed land and minerals and signed treaties after the fact....

The politicians who designed this war are all supposed to be adherents to a philosophy that holds that there is nothing more powerful in the world than greed -- that it should be the governing force in as many human interactions as possible. Isn't that what Milton Friedman wanted? Iraq's occupation was organized by the Bush Administration to unleash that instinct [greed] with absolutely no restraint.

Either greed belongs in a war zone, or it doesn't. You can't unleash it in the name of sparking an economic boom and then be shocked when Halliburton overcharges for everything from towels to gas, when Parsons' sub, sub, sub-contractor builds a police academy where the pipes drip raw sewage on the heads of army cadets and where Blackwater investigates itself and finds it acted honorably. That's just corporations doing what they do and Iraq is a privatized war zone so that's what you get. Build a frontier, you get cowboys and robber barons. |The Real Blackwater Scandal: Build a Frontier, You Get Cowboys - Huffington Post| (emphasis added)
It's a pretty strong allegation. That the neo-cons and Bush administration designed the Iraqi occupation to require massive contractor support in order to funnel money to their corporate backers.

In essence, they sold the American taxpayer and the Iraqi citizens down the river to line their own pockets and never lost a night's sleep over it.

Now, that is as clever as it is despicable.

What is the appropriate punishment for a crime like that?

I'm thinking scaphism...

Death of the Republic Revisited

The recent revelations about the Department of Justice secretly endorsing torture while Bush was explicitly denying the allegations of torture aren't surprising to anyone who has been paying attention.

What is infuriating is that it doesn't seem to be making any real difference. Just like Bush is running out the clock on the Iraq war, so the Dem's are running out the clock on Bush.

I have to agree with the following analysis on how cowardly this is.

And so we ask again: why do the Democrats in Congress – or indeed, any figure in the Establishment, Democrat or Republican – continue to treat this criminal gang as the legitimate government of a constitutional republic? How can any Senator or Representative go about their daily business while these brutal apes in tailored suits degrade the nation with their torture, their tyranny, their war crimes? Why are they not moving heaven and earth, using all the powers and legal procedures at their command, to oust Bush and Cheney and the whole sick crew from office?

The answer, of course, is that they do not really object to torture, tyranny or military aggression. Oh, they may have a few quibbles about how such things are carried out; after all, the great theme of mainstream Democratic "opposition" to the Iraq War is that Bush has "botched" the conquest with his "incompetence," not that it was a monstrous crime against humanity from the beginning, on precisely the same moral level as Hitler's invasion of Poland.

They may object to a few varieties of the tortures being used against the captives being held indefinitely without charge in concentration camps like Gitmo and secret CIA prisons; but they have never registered a single formal protests against these procedures, not even a toothless censure of the president, much less moving articles of impeachment against Bush not only for the flagrantly illegal tortures themselves, but also for brazenly disregarding the few strictures on torture that they did manage to pass. |Unguarded Moment: Another Brake on Tyranny Stripped Away - Empire Burlesque|
As I blogged back in 2005, Bush is a war criminal and belongs in prison for condoning (if not explicity ordering) torture.

I despise the Dem's as spineless, but the Republicans are beneath my contempt. I don't want to reform them, I want to end them.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rise above the sunrise

The Impermanence of Tragedy in a Networked World

Despite the momentary lull, the crackdown bodes ill for the superstitious Than Shwe kleptocracy that has until now been able to rule Burma with an iron fist, because even the military, through its mindful cultivation and supervision of the Buddhist clergy, would be the first to admit that no good karma can come from the killing of monks. By the same token, no good can come of the killing journalists, who collectively, despite individual imperfections and failings, serve as a lay clergy of sorts, moral arbitrers for much of the world outside of closed countries like Burma, from Moscow to Baghdad, from Johannesburg to Japan. |Cunningham: Burma Fades from View - Informed Comment: Global Affairs|
I thought this was a very well-written paragraph. The analogy of the media as the clergy of the information age bemuses me... I'd prefer to think of journalists as pilgrims and information scientists as the high priests of the information age.

Journalists just rush blithely from massacre to mishap without any apparent deeper thought as to the trends underlying these developments.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Rendition by any other name?

UPDATE: Here's a link to the Court's order as a PDF.

A federal court this week told Bush that he couldn't turn a detainee over to Tunisia, a state labeled as a human rights violator by the US State Department. Of course, we surrended the moral high ground on torture long ago.

[On] Tuesday a US federal judge blocked the Pentagon from transferring a Guantanamo Bay detainee to Tunisia where he allegedly faces torture, in a landmark ruling in the treatment of detainees.

District Judge Gladys Kessler granted a preliminary injunction to halt a move by the defence department to transfer Mohammed Abdul Rahman to Tunisia...

Jennifer Daskal, senior counter-terrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch, said: "This is the first time since congress tried to strip court jurisdiction over detainees that a court stepped in and said to the administration, 'Hey wait. You can't do what you say you want to do.'"...

Joshua Denbeaux, Rahman's lawyer, praised the ruling.

"It's the first time the judiciary has given a detainee any substantive right, in this case it is the right not to be tortured by the Tunisian government," he said. |US court dismisses 'rendition' case - Al Jazeera|
Bush's attempt to create an extra-judicial zone in Cuba will take decades to untangle.

Having made these individuals our prisoners and mistreated them, we cannot just give them a bus ticket and $200 and send them on their way. If they didn't hate us before, they certainly will hate the US if and when they're finally freed from Bush's gulag.

Tasers, winning people over with electricity

A recent study presented to the American College of Emergency Physicians' Research Forum was conducted by Wake Forest researchers and this study totally exonerated the Taser.

"This study is the first large, independent study of injuries associated with Tasers. It is the first injury epidemiology study to review every Taser deployment and to reliably assess the overall risk and severity of injuries in real-world conditions."

"The injury rate is low and most injuries appear to be minor. These results support the safety of the devices," he added.

Bozeman said the review covered 100 per cent of Taser use and the study offered the best information to date on the medical risks of using the weapon. He said other studies were limited because they looked either at the effect on animals or healthy police volunteers undergoing training (police officers have to experience the effect of a Taser before they can use one). He said this was the first study to examine the effect of Tasers on "criminal suspects in real-world conditions". |Study Suggests Taser Use By US Police Is Safe - Medical News Today|

While this is a fascinating development, not everyone is convinced that this study will be the last word in the debate over Taser safety.

Dr. Corey Slovis, professor and chairman of emergency medicine at Vanderbilt University, says other recent research suggests that the weapons may be dangerous for some....

Slovis says that the ability of police officers [and others] in prime health to endure a Taser shock would not necessarily represent that of the people most likely to receive such a shock -- many of whom may have systems weakened by drugs, agitation or other factors. |Tasers Safe? New Study Sparks More Debate - ABC News|

Monday, October 08, 2007

The last, best hope of the Republic

These slides prepared for US Navy recruiters has been the object of much derision, mainly at the expense of the US military. (You can see original powerpoint here with the embedded movies).

But I think this slideshow indicates the essential hope for this country and exposes the fallacy of the Project for a New American Century. The geniuses behind PNAC didn't count on the fact that American youth don't want to rule the world with an iron fist.

The slideshow indicates that young Americans are applying to Americorps and the Peace Corps in record numbers (slide 32), but they don't want to join the military, which is one of the few hopeful things that I've heard in recent months.

Americans have finally lost faith in this administration and its never-ending war on brown people and their approvel rating of Bush's handmaidens in Congress is even lower than their opinion of Bush.

There may be some hope for us yet!

Cat Napping

Holiday needed, originally uploaded by Zamm.

Polyphasic Sleep

My sleep cycle has been so abberant for so long that I no longer believe it is necessary to sleep through the night. I am often at most creative late at night and I resent the tyranny of a society that thinks it knows when I should sleep and when I shouldn't.

Turns out that I'm a polyphasic sleeper.

Polyphasic sleep is a term used to describe several alternative sleep patterns intended to reduce sleep time to 2–6 hours daily in order to achieve a better quality of sleep. This is achieved by spreading out sleep into short naps of around 15–30 minutes throughout the day, and in some variants, a core sleep period of a few hours at night. The term "polyphasic sleep" itself refers only to the practice of sleeping multiple times in a 24-hour period....

Claudio Stampi advocates polyphasic sleep as a means of ensuring optimal performance in situations where extreme sleep deprivation is inevitable (e.g. to improve performance in solo sailboat racers), but Stampi does not advocate the polyphasic sleep as a lifestyle....

Buckminster Fuller advocated Dymaxion Sleep, a regimen consisting of 30 minute naps every six hours... he followed this schedule for two years, but after that had to quit because "his schedule conflicted with that of his business associates, who insisted on sleeping like other men."...

Experiments performed at Loughborough University in the UK showed that the sleep-deprived need only a cup of coffee and 15 minutes of shut-eye to feel amazingly refreshed.

1. Right before you crash, down a cup of java. The caffeine has to travel through your gastro-intestinal tract, giving you time to nap before it kicks in.

2. Close your eyes and relax. Even if you only doze, you’ll get what’s known as effective microsleep, or momentary lapses of wakefulness.

3. Limit your nap to 15 minutes. A half hour can lead to sleep inertia, or the spinning down of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which handles functions like judgment. This gray matter can take 30 minutes to reboot. |Cheat on the Need to Sleep - Wired How To Wiki|
While at UCLA I often had multiple, overlapping deadlines every week and end of term projects (on a 10 week quarter system) so I basically was constantly scrambling to conduct research for short-term and long-term deadlines, this combined with a position as an evening librarian (on call until midnight and then biking home) this led to me frequently working at night.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Inflight meal

Republicans turn self-mockery into an art form

[Y]es, this is real, not an extremely clever photoshop job, and truly encapsulates what the Republican Party is all about.

Wide stance? Check.

In Minneapolis? Check.

Prison stripe-wearing? Check.

Starry eyed? Check.

As for the elephant humping the "2008"...

Are they going for a "Still screwing the country in 2008" theme, or is it a reference to hypocritical adulterers like David Vitter and just about the entire Republican presidential field?

All of the above? Check!

Apparently they ran out of space for a collapsing bridge.
|The GOP's new "wide-stance" logo - Daily Kos|

Thanks to Sarah for the link.

Can even the Republicans truly be this out of touch with what is going on in the country?

I suppose that if you'll believe that we're winning in Iraq, you'll believe anything...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Suicide as an act of love

There are several instances where I think the federal government has usurped state authority and I feel that the states should be allowed to experiment in their jurisprudence. One of these issues is in the area of assisted suicide.

The trial of Jack Kevorkian is a travesty to my mind and yet another instance of adults being deprived rights because of a right-wing obsession with the rights of protoplasm.

A French philosopher and his wife recently committed suicide together due to her deteriorating health. This strikes me as courageous and laudable.

An open letter of love and despair written by renowned French philosopher André Gorz to his British-born wife, Doreen, has become an overnight bestseller in France after the couple were found dead in their home east of Paris... They had committed suicide together... by lethal injection.

On the table beside them were piles of letters they had written explaining their act to officials and friends. There were detailed instructions for their cremation...

'He felt he must pay back his debt to the woman who had stood by him in good times and bad, an indefatigable intellectual companion and secretary,' said Serge Lafaurie, a journalist and friend of the couple with whom Gorz co-founded the left-wing weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur

It was last autumn, when his wife was becoming overwhelmed by ill health, that Gorz, then 83, first published his 75-page Lettre a D. Histoire d'un Amour (Letter to D. Story of a Love).

'You will soon be 82. You have shrunk six centimetres and you weigh just 45 kilos and you are still beautiful, gracious and desirable,' it begins. 'It is now 58 years that we have lived together and I love you more than ever,' he wrote. 'I carry in myself a devouring emptiness within the hollow of my chest, which can only be filled by the warmth of your body against mine.' |Love letter that sealed a death pact - Guardian|

The game of chess by ~Madeeha~.

Police use of Tasers on minorities raises concerns

I ran across a recent article that has some fascinating statistics about the use of tasers on minorities in Houston, Texas.

While studies on the use of Tasers [by municipal police is] limited, Houston is perhaps the most revealing.

Houston police data show that in almost 1,000 Taser deployments over a two-and-a-half year span, 63 percent of those Tased were black, while Houston’s population is only 25 percent black.

In fact, the study itself was prompted after professional football player Fred Weary, an African American, was Tased during a traffic stop, and charged with resisting arrest. A judge later dismissed the charges, and Black activists organized to demand a usage study.

Ironically, the Houston Police Department began using the weapon [tasers] after allegations of using unjustified deadly force on Latinos.

Layered on top of the disproportionately high rate of use of Tasers on African-Americans was the remarkably high use on the unarmed – 95% of the recipients of Taser shots were not wielding a weapon. |Tasers Go Mainstream, But Who's Talking About Race? - New American Media|
Giving tasers to police departments with poor records of race relations is an interesting choice.

Decrease shootings at the cost of increasing roadside electro-shock therapy is not exactly what I'd call progress...

Monday, October 01, 2007

Riding into the Sunset

colors that i want., originally uploaded by aliraza.

Yuma Prison Blues

So yesterday I saw 3:10 to Yuma and I thoroughly enjoyed it... right up until the last five minutes when I thought the script totally fell apart.

I just found the ending totally implausible. Other than that, I enjoyed it. Crowe and Bale did commendable jobs and the film has a nice, gritty feel.