Monday, December 22, 2008

A machinima introduction to machinima

In Defense of Smart Drugs

Charles Huckabee describes the controversy over a recent article suggesting that smart drugs were an ethical goal for science.

A year after a commentary in the journal Nature ignited a debate about the use among academics of drugs to enhance their mental energy and ability to work long hours, a group of scientists and ethicists write in the same journal that they believe, in theory, that healthy people should have the right to use “smart” pills...

[T]he authors assert that “we should welcome new methods of improving our brain function,” and that doing it with pills is no more morally objectionable than eating right or getting a good night’s sleep...

While some health experts agreed that the issue deserves attention, Leigh Turner, associate director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, took issue with the essay: “It’s a nice puff piece for selling medications for people who don’t have an illness of any kind,” he told the Associated Press.

The essay, “Towards Responsible Use of Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs by the Healthy,” is available online... |PDF| |Healthy Adults Should Have Right to Take 'Smart' Pills, Scientists Contend - The Chronicle of Higher Education (sub'n req'd)|
The article does call for increased regulation of smart drugs, so I'm not sure what substantive objections are being made, but I am totally in favor of the development of smart drugs. This is one aspect where we can quickly and easily take evolution into our own hands.

The Six Million Dollar Man was better, stronger, faster.

Smarter, faster, and better is my goal.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tilting at Windmills


Sunset at the Mill, originally uploaded by Boich.

Product Review: Molle Pouches

Blackhawk currently has a sale on molle pouches. I've been using a three pistol magazine pouch of theirs for over a year and it's fantastic.

Of course, I never carry pistol magazines in it. I typically use it to carry a tactical flashlight, a multi-tool and a pair of snips (small cutting pliers) or scissors, depending on the task at hand.

I also have pair of magazine pouches from 5.11 Tactical, but I find them really uncomfortable to wear on the front or side of my duty belt. The Blackhawk magazine pouches, on the other hand, sit much lower and have very versatile security straps that can be removed or reversed depending on your application.

The Blackhawk pouches also have a curved plastic insert to prevent items from shifting (or falling out) but the inserts are removable to make the pouch larger.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Riots in Athen still smolder

Riots still fascinate me. How civil order can break down to the point where people destroy their homes and face off against the police is something I have trouble understanding. It sounds as if Greek youth are largely responding to an already dire economic situation and out of total despair for the future.

Helena Smith provides an interesting first hand account of the trouble in Greece.

Athens is in a mess and it's not just the rubble or burned-out buildings or charred cars... I have looked into eyes full of anger and despair. At night, as marauding mobs of Molotov-cocktail wielding youths have run through the city's ancient streets, I have closed the shutters of the windows to my home. My friends have done the same.

[T]his beautiful land masks a deeper malaise. It is a sickness that starts not so much at the top but at the bottom of Greek society, in the ranks of its troubled youth.

For many these are a lost generation, raised in an education system that is undeniably shambolic and hit by whopping levels of unemployment (70 per cent among the 18-25s) ...

If they can find work remuneration rarely rises above €700... never mind the number of qualifications it took to get the job. Often polyglot PhD holders will be serving tourists at tables in resorts. One in five Greeks lives beneath the poverty line.

Exposed to the ills of Greek society as never before, they have also become increasingly frustrated witnesses of allegations of corruption implicating senior conservative government officials and a series of scandals that have so far cost four ministers their jobs...

The ferocity of the riots has numbed Greeks. Yet I write this knowing that the protests are not going to end soon. Greece's children have been startled by their own success - and by reports of copycat attacks across Europe - and almost unanimously they believe they are on a winner.

'It's like a smouldering fire,' says Yiannis Yiatrakis who preferred to leave his study of abstract mathematics to take to the streets of Athens last week. 'The flames may die down but the coals will simmer. One little thing, and you'll see it will ignite again. Ours is a future without work, without hope. Our grievances are so big, so many. Only a very strong government can stop the rot.'

So how did it come to this? ...

It began with one death, one bullet, fired in anger by a hot-headed policemen in the heart of Athens' edgy Exarchia district...

Exarchia, however, is Athens' answer to Harlem [where] anarchists, artists, addicts, radical leftists, students and their teachers rub shoulders in streets crammed with bars and cafes that are covered with the graffiti of dissent. It is Athens's hub of political ferment; a backdrop of tensions between anti-establishment groups and the police.

Within an hour of the boy's death thousands of protesters had gathered in Exarchia's lawless central square screaming, 'cops, pigs, murderers,' and wanting revenge. At first, it is true, the assortment of self-styled anarchists who have long colonised Exarchia piggy-backed on the tragedy, seeing it as the perfect opportunity to live out their nihilistic goals of wreaking havoc.

But then middle-class kids - children had got good degrees at universities in Britain but back in Greece were unable to find work in a system that thrives on graft, cronyism and nepotism - joined the protests and very quickly it became glaringly clear that this was their moment, too. Theirs was a frustration not only born of pent-up anger but outrage at the way ministers in the scandal-tainted conservative government have also enriched themselves in their five short years in power.

Now the million-dollar question is whether protests that started so spontaneously can morph into a more organised movement of civil unrest. |In Athens, middle-class rioters are buying rocks. This chaos isn't over - Guardian|(emphasis added)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hopes and Prayers


Good deeds, originally uploaded by Szczur.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More good news!

World oil usage dropped this year, and the economy is a huge factor. But I'll take good news any way I can get it.

The world's population will use less oil this year than it did last year, according to a new forecast from highly-regarded International Energy Agency.

Global oil demand hasn't dropped since 1983 when the world's developed economies were struggling on the tail end of a recession. This time around, it's not just the old, big economies that are struggling. China, which has experienced the greatest boom in history, appears to be in economic trouble. |Wired|
Global warming is an order of magnitude more important than the economic crisis, but that's not how people act.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Farming amidst climate change

The Guardian's John Vidal has a cheerful story about a Brazilian farmer who received a development grant from an NGO called Diaconia which provided the farmer with the information he needs to prosper in an unpredictable climate.

Connections


The Web that is Us, originally uploaded by ecstaticist.

Monday, December 08, 2008

For you daily depression

If you're having a good day, don't read this article by the Guardian's David Adam about global warming.

If you're having a bad day, you probably don't want to read it either.

But the silver lining is that the loss of your savings in the stock market is the least of your worries.

Blow-Out Kits: Trauma & Gunshot Treatment

Within the last year I read an article in Combat Handguns on Blow Out Kits (BOK). I thought I'd blogged about them, but I cannot find the post, so maybe I dreamed it.

Blow out kits are first aid kits for dealing with traumatic, life-threatening bleeding. You hope you never need this, but if you do, a standard first aid kit is fairly worthless.

The essentials of a BOK according to the article's sidebar are:

1 pair Rubber Gloves
1 Crinkle gauze
2 Emergency bandages, 4 by 4 inches
1 10 by 30 trauma bandage, aka Israeli dressing
1 Roll cloth tape
1 Sling or cravat
2 3 inch by 9 inch petrolatum gauze bandages (for sucking chest wounds)
1 Tourniquet (author prefers the NATO tourniquet)

I’ve added a magic marker to mine (for writing on a victim when a tourniquet was applied).

Borelli Consulting has a review of some new products for stopping arterial bleeding here.

ProStores will sell you a pre-made BOK and a pouch for it.

You can buy also buy trauma bandages from Armed Forces Merchandise Outlet.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Myopia and the Auto Industry

Don't get me wrong, I think the auto industry ought to be rescued, not because I like autos, but because of the ripple effect on the economy.

The US auto industry is getting its just desserts, as the Guardian's Will Hutton points out:

Detroit has resisted every regulatory measure aimed at making more energy-efficient cars for decades, but it was particularly successful during the Bush administration. It avoided introducing the fuel-efficient cars the big three manufacture in more tightly regulated Europe, opting for high-margin gas guzzlers for the US domestic market. Now it is paying a fearful price....

Detroit has mocked climate change, assumed cheap petrol is an never-ending and unchallengeable American right and shared the neo-conservative agenda that government is necessarily and always bad. Now, as GM's submission to Congress acknowledges, the lack of an American welfare system means that American companies have to assume crippling obligations that their competitors do not. Moreover, the dysfunctionality of free American finance means that the reviled federal government must become Detroit's banker.

Moreover, it was only a few years ago that GM's vice chairman Bob Lutz could pronounce that the theory of climate change was 'a crock of shit', a view that animated Detroit's resistance to developing energy-efficient cars. Detroit's world view, like Wall Street's, has proved cataclysmically wrong. GM's chief executive Rick Wagoner acknowledged last week that he was in Washington because his company 'had made mistakes'. It was an understatement.|Detroit has run out of road. The car's future lies in Europe - Guardian |
I totally agree. The handwriting has been on the wall for decades about oil shocks and the need for alternative energy and an improved transit system.

But the US auto industry has been surviving strictly on the oversized profits from SUVs and trucks and has been designed vehicles to be more massive, not less.

Captains of industry indeed.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Viva La Difference


Female Soldiers in Short Shorts, originally uploaded by Davi24.

The New European Militancy

Interesting article on the EU's military branch, the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP).

The French undoubtedly see the fight against piracy as an ideal venue for the application of EU military force. To put it crudely, nobody likes pirates, and nobody—legal niceties aside—really minds too much if you shoot them. Pirates represent a classic “enemy of humanity,” such that few of the messy questions associated with peacekeeping and peace enforcement (who’s the bad guy, are we doing more harm than good, and so forth) arise. Pirates excepted, everyone benefits from cracking down on piracy. And though pirates do shoot back, they present no serious challenge to a modern naval warship, meaning that the EU pays no price in blood. If the EU can conduct successful antipiracy operations, the military prestige of the organization will grow both inside and outside Europe.... For European domestic constituencies and international audiences, the EU presents a less menacing profile than the U.S.-led NATO, increasing its likelihood of success.|Europe vs. the Pirates - Foreign Policy|
It certainly seems that NATO is a political hot button issue and I wonder if Russia's invasion of Georgia was, at least in part, a signal to Russia's neighbors that Russia will not tolerate NATO countries on its borders.

It is also interesting how piracy can affect nations. Robert Goodloe Harper's statement of “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute,” in reference to the Barbary Pirates was one of America's first overseas operations and also reflects our national disdain for corruption.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sunset


Hold me close, under the sunset, originally uploaded by aliraza*.

State within a State

I'd never heard of LET until the Mumbai massacre over Thanksgiving, but the New Yorker provides some insight:

[Lashkar-e-Taiba] is akin to Hezbollah or Hamas; it is a three-dimensional political and social movement with an armed wing, not merely a terrorist or paramilitary outfit.) As part of its earthquake relief work, Lashkar ferried supplies to remote villages isolated on the far side of the churning Neelum River, one of the two snow-fed canyon rivers that traverse the area. I asked to take a ride with its volunteers, and their media officer (yes, they have media officers) agreed.

We rode in a van to the river’s edge, scrambled down a rocky hillside and boarded one of Lashkar’s rubber pontoon boats, about fifteen feet long, with a large outboard motor—useful for carrying relief supplies, but not coincidentally, also useful for infiltrating militants into Indian-held Kashmir. It has long been an open secret, and a source of some hilarity among foreign correspondents, that under the guise of “humanitarian relief operations,” Lashkar practiced amphibious operations on a lake at its vast headquarters campus, outside Lahore. The events in Mumbai have taken the humor of these “humanitarian” rehearsals away. That day on the Neelum, I chatted with our thick-bearded captain in my very poor Arabic. He spoke Arabic as well—from his religious studies, he said, although he conceded, too, that he had travelled to Saudi Arabia, where it is well understood that Lashkar has raised money. I was also told that around the time of the earthquake they set up fund-raising operations in Britain, to tap the Pakistani diaspora there.|NYer|
It is interesting how these new organizations provide services that the state does not and become woven into the fabric of life, making it very difficult to attack them. They have truly won the hearts and minds of the people they serve, who protect them, of course. And the status of LET and Hezbollah within a larger nation-state makes it difficult to attack them due to the political consequences of the host government's sovereignty.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Get a rope!

The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens asks why don't we hang pirates anymore and his answer is that we've indulged in "legal exquisiteness".

I think this response is too superficial. The problem is that we live in a global society with no functioning global government. States are becoming less relevant, but we've no new legal regime to deal with these developments.

John Robb put it this way:

Our traditional approach views the [nation] state as a hermetic entity... that clearly isn't the case anymore. Globalization has changed the landscape. States are no longer singular nation-states, but rather (meta?) organizations in competition with within a globe-spanning marketplace. |Brave New War, page 165 (2007)|


For more reviews and criticism of Brave New War, see this blogpost at MountainRunner.

Rock Doves in Flight


Elements of the Soul, originally uploaded by Pensiero.

Post Thanksgiving Stretch

It's always an interesting time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas around the workplace as people take vacations and holiday parties vie for attention. As a reference librarian, I find that students are generally not interested in learning anything new, rather they are trying to memorize what they've already discovered.

Except for those few (damned) souls who wait until the last minute to start their research papers...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bush gives America the finger

I hope Obama's team is ready to undo Bush's voodoo. I don't really use the terms good and evil because I think they're simplistic and outmoded... so I'll settle for calling Bush corrupt and without any sense of commonwealth and no inkling of what constitutes good public policy.

The flurry of new rules - known as midnight regulations - is part of a broader campaign by the Bush administration to leave a lasting imprint on environmental policy. Some of the actions have provoked widespread protests such as the Bureau of Land Management's plans to auction off 20,000 hectares of oil and gas parcels within sight of Utah's Delicate Arch natural bridge.

The Bush administration is also accused of engaging in a parallel go-slow on court-ordered actions on the environment. "There are the midnight regulations that they are trying to force out before they leave office, and then there are the other things they are trying not to do before they go. A lot of the climate stuff falls into the category of things they would rather not do," said a career official at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Other presidents have worked up to the final moments of their presidency to impose their legacy on history. But Bush has been particularly organised in his campaign to roll back years of protections - not only on the environment, but workplace safety and employee rights.

"This is Bush trying to leave a legacy that supports his ideology," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, an independent Washington thinktank that monitors the White House office of management and budget. "This was very strategic and it was in line of the ideology of the Bush administration which has been to put in place a free market and conservative agenda." |President for 60 more days, Bush tearing apart protection for America's wilderness - Guardian|

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dubya gives women the finger



The Bush administration is on the verge of finalizing a controversial regulation that would just muddy employment law in the hopes of discouraging women from exercising their freedom of reproductive health.

"It's unconscionable that the Bush administration, while promising a smooth transition, would take a final opportunity to politicize women's health." The regulations will hit low-income women seeking reproductive health care the worst, allowing pharmacists to refuse birth control to Medicaid recipients and literally undo state laws that require hospitals to dispense [emergency contraception to rape survivors. |Image and text from Feministing|


What's surprising about this proposed regulation, is that even Bushies oppose it.
The protest from the [federal EEOC] commission comes on the heels of other objections to the rule by doctors, pharmacists, hospitals, state attorneys general and political leaders, including President-elect Barack Obama.

Mr. Obama has said the proposal will raise new hurdles to women seeking reproductive health services, like abortion and some contraceptives. Michael O. Leavitt, the health and human services secretary, said that was not the purpose.

Officials at the Health and Human Services Department said they intended to issue a final version of the rule within days. Aides and advisers to Mr. Obama said he would try to rescind it, a process that could take three to six months. |NYT|

I'm not surprised at this final (largely futile) gesture from the Bush administration. I wouldn't be surprised if Bush tried to get the Secret Service to burn the White House down before he left office...

The Grass Isn't Always Greener...

Open Source Government

Norway is moving to OpenOffice and encouraging government agencies to adopt open source solutions according to the Associated Press. |Reprinted in WaPo|

That's another idea that I would encourage the Obama administration to emulate.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Reslient communities & saving the automakers

In my last post I suggested we needed more resilient communities, one approach would be to have the automakers re-tool to produce giant windmills and solar cells and install them in every community in America as part of Obama's smart-grid proposal.

The new Fireside Chat



Barack Obama asks: How can we make this country better?


I think John Robb's idea for resilient communities is key to changing America for the better, see for instance this post on geothermal.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Seemingly Harmless

What Doesn't Kill The Far-Right Only Makes Them Crazier

What Doesn't Kill The Far-Right Only Makes Them Crazier is the title of Bob Cesca's article for the Huffington Post.

[O]n Monday, Michelle Malkin posted an item in which she referred to the president-elect as the "overlord-elect." And on Tuesday, Congressman Paul Broun told the AP, "You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I'm not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I'm saying is there is the potential." Uh-huh. On the scale of probability, "Obama is a fascist dictator" is about as likely as "Broun is a Jedi Master." But it doesn't matter. Reality is irrelevant.

The obvious intention here is to cobble together an abuse of power meme against President-elect Obama, despite President Bush and Vice President Cheney having, you know, spent the last eight years consolidating executive power, authorizing torture, suspending habeas corpus, illegally invading sovereign nations, ignoring congressional subpoenas and eavesdropping on American citizens.

Whoops. There I go again, talking about facts and treating the crazy like it's real. |Link|


Back in college I learned that trying to reason with religious people can cause them to abandon reason altogether and wrap themselves in their faith (or reality denial, as I like to call it).

So I rarely even talk to people I consider borderline crazy anymore. I avoid them.

Or I pepper spray them.

Just kidding.

Bailing out the auto makers

If the Fed's bail out the automakers, it will only postpone their inevitable demise unless dramatic action is taken.

The first action should be to kill the Hummer and all its progeny and the second action should be to license innovative technologies like plug-in hybrids and carbon fiber cars, like the Aptera.

What these startup [green] auto companies are lacking is the manufacturing and marketing muscle to bring their products to a wide public. Even in a weakened condition, GM, Ford and Chrysler still have the ability to adopt new technology and place electric or hybrid cars in showrooms across the US and around the world.

This should be part of the bargain if the US government steps in to help the automakers. The large-scale impact of the collapse of the US auto industry may be too horrible to contemplate. But, as Friedman and many others are suggesting, the companies cannot and must not try to keep going as though nothing happened.

The Big Three may not be as nimble as the startups, and change may be wrenching. But one approach that could accelerate innovation would be for the automakers to buy new technology from the startups...

If the federal government is going to sink money into US automakers, it should go to developing future technology, not propping up past failures.
|Innovation can save the auto industry - Guardian|

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Gathering Storm

Economic Treason

The audacity of the Bush administration knows no bounds. Murder, torture, and theft on a grand scale are their legacy. But it's become abundantly clear that they cannot leave office without raiding the Treasury one last time.

Secretary Paulson announced on Wednesday that the $700 billion that Congress authorized under the Troubled Asset Reclamation Program for the purchase of asset-based securities will not be used to purchase any asset-based securities. Instead, the Treasury will continue to pump money into banks. This follows on the announcement of a renegotiation of the loan to AIG on terms much more favorable to the company - and much less favorable to the taxpayer - than had been negotiated earlier. That announcement follows on the gift of $125 billion to nine large, unnamed banks. At this point it seems salient to ask, what the hell is going on? |What the Hell is Paulson Thinking? - Huffington Post|


Barney Frank is out front openly denouncing Paulson's actions:

Barney Frank, the Democratic head of the House of Representatives financial services committee, said he was "disappointed in Paulson" and called the shift in policy "an abandonment of the bill" negotiated between congress and the White House last month. |Paulson calls for US bailout change - Al Jazeera|
The funny thing about the bailout is that everyone knew it was stupid, and now Paulson is just admitting that he knew it was stupid as well.

So now he's just handing out money to banks and refusing to disclose to whom even.

Then there is the nearly $2 trillion that America's central bank, the Federal Reserve, has handed out in emergency loans. Incredibly, the Fed will not reveal which corporations have received these loans or what it has accepted as collateral. Bloomberg news service believes this secrecy violates the law and has filed a federal suit demanding full disclosure.|Ditch the smooth transition. The people voted for change - Guardian|


I doubt the Dem's will have the balls to do it, but I personally vote to see this administration tried for their crimes either here or at the Hague.

Traitors.

Delusion

The attempt to make a distinction between recovery and reform is a narrowly conceived effort to substitute the appearance of reality for reality itself.

- Franklin D. Roosevelt (1935)

Mutt


Wild Dog, originally uploaded by mngl.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Unforgiven

Unwanted as workers, underfunded as students, and undermined as citizens, minority youth seem wanted only by the criminal justice system.

- Dick Hebdige, Hiding in the Light (1988)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day in Time of War

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

As most of my reader's already know, my father was in the US Army for over 20 years and that has strongly colored my view of the world. I don't believe that might make right, more often than not the reverse is true.

But I think intellectuals neglect the threat of force at their peril. Cruelty is as common among young children as lying and much of human history has been written in blood. Despite its many faults, the US is a great nation and our military (and law enforcement) do a great service by defending us from those who would prey upon the weak or hollow our our government for their own nefarious ends.

There are worse things than death. Live free or die.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Evolve or Die : Transhumanism and the online bookworm

My friend Z recently mentioned the new book iBrain to me. | HarperCollins | Amazon |

There are no reviews on Amazon yet, but from talking to Z and looking at the table of contents, this book is written by a neuroscientist and explains how the web creates addictions and stimulates our brain, including the learning and pleasure centers.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bandits


too cute...baby raccoon, originally uploaded by Kreative Capture.

Mens rea and child murderers

In criminal law, a criminal intent (or mens rea) is typically required for criminal liability.

A boy in Arizona recently killed his father and a boarder with a rifle. |AP|CNN|

First, police don't press charges, only a prosecutor does. Second, I wonder if an eight-year-old could possess the mental state necessary for a double murder.

People UK has more information here including some other recent murders/accidents involving children:


Seven years ago, 12-year old Lionel Tate was jailed for life for murder after a jury decided he beat to death a girl of six he was baby-sitting in Florida.

He was freed on appeal in 2004 and given ten years' probation...

A boy of 13 killed his mum last week as he moved a car at their South Carolina home.

In September a lad of seven killed a pal while playing with a golf club in Detroit.

A boy of four shot dead his gun collector dad when a weapon went off accidentally in California last year...

In Britain, baby Rashid Rullah died after being shot accidentally by his five-year-old sister in their Birmingham garden in September.

|Boy of 8 murders dad & pal - People UK|

Weapons are inherently dangerous and firearms are incredibly lethal, danger is their utility and their threat.

Children, on the other hand, are typically benign but bear watching.

The lesson I take away from this most recent story is that (if you own guns) it's smart to have a gun lock or gun safe and keep your guns (and/or ammo) there.

Survivalism Voting @ Wired

Wired has a top 10 list of items for outdoor survival. You can also suggest items and readers vote them up or down.

I certainly agree with the suggestion of a knife. I rarely leave the house without a folding knife. It's actually illegal to carry any sheath knife in the city of St. Paul... and they wouldn't let me bring it to work anyway, so a folder is the best I can do.

Heat


Heat, originally uploaded by myrtepeert.

Safety Propositions: Gas Stations

Police refer to convenience stores as stop-and-robs and this description fits gas stations as well, but robbery is not the greatest safety hazard at a gas station.

Accidental combustion is the greatest risk posted by a gas station, IMHO. Nobody wants to die in a conflagration. Surviving with a massive third degree burn would be torturous, as well.

Last week I pulled into a gas station and noticed that the pump's dispenser nozzle was locked into the on position. Luckily I checked it before I started the gas. I started checking the nozzle after I once saw a guy accidentally spray gasoline all over the side of his truck prior to refueling.

This habit may have saved me from being drenched in gasoline last week, which is toxic and highly flammable (of course). You would have to decontaminate before you got back in your car. Water is the natural decon agent, but you wouldn't want to pollute the sewers and ground water, so I assume you'd need to call the local FD to contaminate you... never had to do it. Knock on wood.

Only morons smoke at gas stations, but I've seen it done before. (Drive away as fast as you can.)

I don't get back in my car during refueling b/c of a risk of static discharge. If you do get back in the car (b/c of cold) be sure to touch a metal surface before putting the gas dispenser nozzle back in the gas pump.

And always turn the car completely off before fueling.

Cross-posted at my Civil Defense (CD) blog.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Follow the Leader


Waddling through a puddle..., originally uploaded by NoOtherOne.

In Utero Drinking is Good for Children?!?!

A recent study |PDF|published in the International Journal of Epidemiology turns conventional wisdom on its head by
suggesting that light drinking during pregnancy could actually be beneficial to a child's long term health and development.

From the abstract:

Children born to mothers who drink lightly during pregnancy – as defined as 1–2 units per week or per occasion – are not at increased risk of behavioural difficulties or cognitive deficits compared with children of abstinent mothers... [The study] uses data on 12,495 three year-old children, looking at the mothers’ drinking patterns during pregnancy and assessments of the behavioural and cognitive outcomes of their children... “The link between heavy drinking during pregnancy and consequent poor behavioural and cognitive outcomes in children is well established. However, very few studies have considered whether light drinking in pregnancy is a risk for behavioural and cognitive problems in children.

“Our research has found that light drinking by pregnant mothers does not increase the risk of behavioural difficulties or cognitive deficits. Indeed, for some behavioural and cognitive outcomes, children born to light drinkers were less likely to have problems compared to children of abstinent mothers, although children born to heavy drinkers were more likely to have problems compared to children of mothers who drank nothing whilst pregnant.”

The study data shows that boys born to mothers who drank lightly were 40 per cent less likely to have ‘conduct’ problems and 30 per cent less likely to have hyperactivity, even when a range of family and socioeconomic factors were taken into account. Boys born to light drinkers also had higher scores on tests of vocabulary and whether they could identify colours, shapes, letters and numbers compared to those born to abstainers.

Girls born to light drinkers were 30 per cent less likely to have emotional symptoms and peer problems compared with those born to abstainers, although this appeared partially explained by family and social backgrounds.

Dr Kelly continued: “The reasons behind these findings might in part be because light drinkers tend to be more socially advantaged than abstainers, rather than being due to the physical benefits of low level alcohol consumption seen, for example, in heart disease. However, it may also be that light-drinking mothers tend to be more relaxed themselves and this contributes to better behavioural and cognitive outcomes in their children.” |Light drinking in pregnancy not bad for children, says UCL study|(emphasis added)


I think it's important to distinguish light drinking from binge drinking, binge drinking is not healthy for the anyone... much less a developing fetus. But it seems correct to me that reasonable amounts of alcohol should be well tolerated by fetuses given the importance of alcohol to many societies across the history of humanity.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Next Steps

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Morning in America


Sparrow Berry Harvest, originally uploaded by J Bespoy.


I'm so delighted that Obama was elected President, and by a sizable majority at that!

I thought his victory speech was moving, as it reminded us of a century of American accomplishment.

I'd like to believe that the US is still a meritocracy and Obama's victory is some evidence of that, which has to be weighed against the corruption of the democratic process that we saw back in 2000.

In January we will move beyond the slogans to dealing with our problems as a nation, but I am optimistic because Obama is an impressive leader, and our only chance as a nation is if we select our best and brightest to lead us into the 21st century.

Further, John McCain's concession speech was gracious and I hope that he and President Obama will be able to work together for the good of the country.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A different kind of plumber


watergate, originally uploaded by SarahDeer.

Palin So Dumb it Hurts

Somehow, in Sarah Palin's brain, it's a threat to the First Amendment when newspapers criticize her negative attacks on Barack Obama. This is actually so dumb that it hurts... |Sarah Palin speaks on the First Amendment - Glenn Greenwald|

Drug War Dividends: the Colombianization of Mexico

When we will end this ridiculous war on drugs? We not only could pad the Treasury with taxes from drug production, but we would deprive the narco-terrorists of the golden goose that funds their operations.

15 people murdered [in Tijuana, Mexico] during less than 72 hours in this frontier city that acts as a portal from Mexico to California ... drug cartels are waging [a war] between each other and with the authorities. The war has claimed some 2,700 lives this year, and more than 6,000 since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderón launched Mexico's first serious offensive against the cartels who have traded for decades under a measure of government protection.

The battle has been fought mainly along the 2,100-mile border between the United States and Mexico, the world's busiest frontier. As the body count has increased, so has the brutality of the killing. Corpses have been found severely tortured or decapitated, castrated, dipped in sulphuric acid or with their tongues cut out.

Dr Hiram Muñoz, chief forensic medical expert assigned to the homicide department in Tijuana, told The Observer how 'each different mutilation leaves a clear message. They have become a kind of folk tradition. If the tongue is cut out, it means they talked too much. A man who sneaked on someone else has his finger cut off and maybe put in his mouth. If you are castrated, you may have slept with the woman of another man. Decapitation is another thing: it is simply a statement of power, a warning to all. The difference is that in normal times the dead were "disappeared" or dumped in the desert. Now, they are displayed for all to see.' |Tijuana streets flow with the blood of rival drug cartels - Guardian|

Bolivia expels DEA for regime change operations

When Evo Morales was elected as Bolivia's president he made news because he was the first fully indigenous head of state in nearly 500 years, but he's making news again because he has ordered the DEA to get suspend all operations in Bolivia, on the charge that they were supporting his opposition using espionage techniques and inciting riots.

Bolivia's president has suspended the work of agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), accusing them of spying inside Bolivia.

Speaking in the coca-producing region of Chimore in central Chapare province on Saturday, Evo Morales said the US agency had supported the opposition and encouraged political violence that left 19 people dead.

"From today all the activities of the US DEA are suspended indefinitely," Morales said.

"There were DEA agents that were doing political espionage ... financing criminal groups so that they could act against authorities, even the president."

He also directly accused DEA officials of disrupting government activities during the unrest in five of the country's nine departments in September by "funding civic leaders with the aim of sabotaging airports in eastern Bolivia ... to prevent visits from officials". |Bolivia halts US anti-drug efforts - Al Jazeera|
I've no idea if any of this is true, but it doesn't strike me as implausible. Given the total lack of respect for the rule of law evinced by the Bush-Cheney administration, I wouldn't doubt for a moment that they would try to effect regime change in Bolivia.

On the other hand, I wouldn't put it past Morales to use this as a pretext (true or false) to try to stop the US's war on drugs from further damaging his country.

And good for him. The war on drugs is an incredibly misguided, harmful policy in my view.

Mother Jones also has some background on these issues, with an article, a photoessay and a documentary video.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Legacy of Dissent

I think the Bush administration did its best to create a vast [cultural] wasteland. At the same time, because of the perfidy and corruption and utter lawlessness it created a very interesting backlash of politically oriented materials that were inspiring. Unintentionally, the administration provoked a lot of political art that I think was very valuable.


- Alex Gibney, Film director |Link|

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fruitful


famtree_dees, originally uploaded by illuminating9_11.


I do like this photo and there's definitely some truth to it. I thought George H.W. Bush was a good president all things considered, but he was head of the CIA and the CIA does unpleasant things to people. Admittedly many of these people are unpleasant to begin with and opposed to the United States.

Sold down the river yet again

From yesterday's New York Times' editorial staff:


The problem is that the Treasury has refused to put conditions on the banks’ use of the bailout funds, allowing them, in effect, to make purchases of banks that are not on the verge of failure. That could help to maximize the banks’ profits — a worthy goal when the capital they are using is from private investors.

However, when they’re using taxpayer-provided capital, as they are now, Congress and the public have every right to require that the money be used to benefit the public directly, even if doing so crimps the banks’ profits. If Treasury won’t impose conditions, Congress must, including a requirement that banks accepting bailout money increase their loans to creditworthy borrowers and limit their acquisitions to failing banks, such as those listed as troubled by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The bailout should not be an occasion for banks to make a killing.

An even bigger problem is that the bailout was sold as a way to spur loans. If that never was — or no longer is — the primary aim, Congress and the public need to know that. Lawmakers should not release the second installment — $350 billion — until they have answers and guarantees that the bailout money will be spent in ways that put the public interest first. |Loans? Did We Say We’d Do Loans? - NYT|
This is what happens when you let a former Wall Street banker run Treasury and give him the ability to dole out taxpayer money to his buddies in the banking industry. I knew the Bush administration would screw the bailout up with its aversion to oversight and forethought.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Credit crunch hits oil investment

Interestingly enough, falling oil prices are setting up a situation which will lead to less oil in the future, not more.

Output from the world’s oilfields is declining faster than previously thought, the first authoritative public study of the biggest fields shows.

Without extra investment to raise production, the natural annual rate of output decline is 9.1 per cent, the International Energy Agency says in its annual report, the World Energy Outlook, a draft of which has been obtained by the Financial Times.

The findings suggest the world will struggle to produce enough oil to make up for steep declines in existing fields, such as those in the North Sea, Russia and Alaska, and meet long-term de­mand. The effort will become even more acute as prices fall and investment decisions are delayed.

The IEA, the oil watchdog, forecasts that China, India and other developing countries’ demand will require investments of $360bn each year until 2030.

The agency says even with investment, the annual rate of output decline is 6.4 per cent.

The decline will not necessarily be felt in the next few years because demand is slowing down, but with the expected slowdown in investment the eventual effect will be magnified, oil executives say.

“The future rate of decline in output from producing oilfields as they mature is the single most important determinant of the amount of new capacity that will need to be built globally to meet demand,” the IEA says. |World will struggle to meet oil demand - FT|


I'm not too worried, though. A little technological devolution might be good for the human race.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Domestic Terrorism


The skinheads plotting to rampage through a Memphis school killing African Americans starkly illuminates the threat of domestic terrorism in this country.

The fact that they targeted a school is telling. Schools are soft targets in many ways and these racist fuckheads were going to exploit that vulnerability.

The local Memphis news channel has an interesting article looking at the skinheads' MySpace pages.

I just happened to be looking at Title 18, Chapter 113B of the United States Code with respect to terrorism today. Section 2332 only refers to murder and conspiracy to commit murder outside the United States, so perhaps it isn't terrorism as defined by the US Code, but it's certainly terrorism as I use the term.

One odd thing about the Memphis news article, though, is its reference to a FASI .308 rifle. The rifle in the picture above is clearly a Heckler & Koch Model 91, with a 50mm scope. If anyone knows what FASI refers to, please add a comment.

Safety Tips: Conquer the Night

Conventional wisdom suggests that most crimes occur between dusk and dawn.

High powered lights (80 lumens or more) can function as an excellent self-defense tool at night. Shining a light in someone's eyes at night will cause them to turn away from you, it's that physically painful. It's difficult for someone to do you harm if they're incapable of looking at you.

The effect is only momentary, which is your cue to run like hell.

Also, put some reflective tape on the end of your flashlight. This way you can use it as a signal tool. Shining your light at drivers is not very effective, but reflective tape really makes one stand out, which is useful if your car breaks down at night.

Safety Neal does not approve of skydiving

I'm not saying skydiving should be illegal. People should be allowed to risk their fool lives any damned way they please, so long as it doesn't put others at risk.

But I personally think skydiving is risky to the point of foolhardy.

Roller coasters strike me as a much better trade-off between adrenaline rush and safety.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Make Believe

Global Unemployment projected to top 200 million

The financial meltdown is having many victims, but no one is likely to shed many tears for Russia's oligarchs.

Russia's rich are experiencing a moment of historical catharsis. After a giddy decade characterised by the acquisition of yachts, football teams, villas in Kensington, west London and the South of France, and even submarines, there is a distinct sense that Russia is moving into a different, more chastened, epoch....

Asked how Russia's oligarchs are bearing up, [Oligarch Alexander] Lebedev is almost puckishly cheerful. He says: "They are suffering." He adds: "I think material wealth for them is a highly emotional and spiritual thing. They spend a lot of money on their own personal consumption."

Lebedev is a patron of the arts and last week met Tom Stoppard, John Malkovich, and Kevin Spacey to discuss a new Chekhov festival in Crimea, Ukraine. In general, he is scathing of oligarchs as a class - describing them as a bunch of uncultured ignoramuses. "They don't read books. They don't have time. They don't go to exhibitions. They think the only way to impress anyone is to buy a yacht," he observes.|Twilight of the oligarchs - Guardian|


While it's hard not to feel a bit of schadenfreude at the oligarch's woes, many people are losing their retirements in this country and there are bound to be lots of unemployed in the financial sector, not just the MBA's, but people at all economic levels.

The concentration of wealth in exotic securities and hedge funds is certainly a tragedy of the human imagination. Of all the things we could do with our wealth... and the rich just play games with it, chasing their own tail.

A new UN report indicates the global economic crisis will hit the world's poor the hardest.
Twenty million jobs will disappear by the end of next year as a result of the impact of the financial crisis on the global economy, a United Nations agency [the International Labour Organisation (ILO)]....

The ILO does not yet have a regional breakdown of projected job losses, which [ILO Director-General Juan Somavia] said would take global unemployment to 210 million in late 2009 from 190 million last year, the first time it has topped 200 million.

But countries with large domestic markets that do not depend heavily on exports would be able to weather the crisis better, he said, citing as an example China, where exports make up only 11 percent of the economy.

It was alarming that global unemployment had stayed at the same levels despite the strong economic growth seen between 2002 and 2007, said Somavia, who files to New York this week for talks with the heads of all U.N. agencies, chaired by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

He said resources should be pumped into the economy to stave off or mitigate recession, concentrating on employment-intensive sectors including small enterprises. The financial sector should also be steered back to its fundamental function of lending to entrepreneurs, according to the Chilean lawyer and diplomat.

Somavia said the financial sector's share in the profits of U.S. companies had risen to 41 percent last year from 5 percent in 1980. As a result, banks preferred to invest in financial transactions rather than lending to other productive sectors.

"So this system began to siphon off resources from the real economy process," he said.|U.N. says crisis to cost 20 million jobs - Reuters|
So, if there are 6.7 billion people on Earth and 200 million are unemployed, that's roughly 1 person in 35, approximately 3% of the global population. That doesn't seem to bad too me. Of course, this says nothing about the quality of those jobs, or whether they pay starvation wages.

Bush Mischief

I wonder if the military regularly violates Syria's borders, but it was considered newsworthy this time because of Syria's recent rapprochement with the West.

Joshua Landis, an American expert on Syria, commented last night: "The Bush administration must assume that an Obama victory will force Syria to behave nicely in order to win favour with the new administration. Thus White House analysts may assume that it can have a "freebee" - taking a bit of personal revenge on Syria without the US paying a price."

The attack comes as Syria takes another step in from the cold today when its foreign minister, Walid al-Mualim, visits London to hear praise for its newly conciliatory policies in Lebanon - and to be urged to distance itself from Iran.

In recent months Syria has established diplomatic relations with Lebanon and held several rounds of indirect talks with Israel, with Turkey acting as broker. In July, President Assad was invited to an EU summit in Paris.
|US forces kill eight in helicopter raid on Syria - Guardian|


As low as my opinion is of Bush... I find Mr. Landis' analysis questionable. If the Bush administration really wanted to punish Syria, surely they could do more than kill half a dozen individuals.

Say what you want about Bush, he knows how to give the order to raze a country.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fighting Words

In some ways it is a relief to see the racist wing of the Republican party showing its true colors in public, even as it makes my blood boil.

Last Friday, in North Carolina, Sarah Palin told a rally that she was proud to be "with all of you hard-working, very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation".

She means here of course that there are anti-American areas of America, and they are where the liberals live, and the people there are voting for Mr Anti-America.

|The Republicans have lifted the lid off their rightwing id - Guardian|


Obama effigy hung with noose in Ohio


Racism and Ignorance at Palin Rally

Saturday, October 18, 2008

US Child kidnapped by Mexican Mafia

The NYT recently had an article discussing whether a weak economy will lead to an increase in crime. The economy isn't the only factor, but certainly a significant one.

However, the kidnapping a of child because of a drug trafficking debt in Las Vegas is probably not related to the economy, but old-style capitalism.

Police believe [six year old Cole Puffinburger ] may have been [kidnapped] because his grandfather, Clemens Fred Tinnemeyer, 51, owed Latino methamphetamine dealers between $8m and $20m ....

The abduction happened when three men knocked on the door of the house where Cole Puffinburger lived. After tying up his mother and her boyfriend, they ransacked the house and then took Cole....

Investigators said traffickers usually seized cars and other assets to recoup money. But they also fear Cole's abduction is a sign that the grotesque violence that characterises the battle for control of Mexico's drug trade could be seeping across the border into the US.

An attempted crackdown by authorities since August appears to have triggered a dramatic escalation in violence, with 387 people killed in the first two weeks of October and gangs resorting to torture and beheadings. Even women and children are targets in the daily ritual of revenge killings.

Rugged


Poboktan Creek, originally uploaded by 21LTD.

Safety Propositions: Injured on a Mountain

My friend Dave sent me a link to this CNN article about a climber, Derek Mamoyac, who survived in freezing conditions with a broken ankle for five days until he was rescued.

According to the article he drank from streams and ate centipedes and bugs to stay alive which explains how he obtained food and water. I know centipedes are poisonous, but apparently most species are only mildly poisonous, according to this eMedicine entry.

While bugs don't sound very appetizing now, if you get hungry enough, they might be delicious. Captain Scott O'Grady survived for six days largely subsisting on ants while evading capture by Serbian forces.

The most important part of survival is the will to survive. When life shits on, you have to shrug it off and keep fighting back.

If you only carry 3 items for survival, I'd suggest:

  • a sturdy knife
  • a lighter and/or firestarter
  • several plastic bags


Small plastic bags can be used to collect snow and then put in between layers of clothing to melt, generating drinkable water. Never eat snow if you can avoid it, it consumes too much energy to melt it internally.

Large plastic bags can be emergency sleeping bags or ponchos and can be used to make solar stills in arid areas. I've seen recommendations to carry orange 55-gallon drum liners in your emergency kit, which seems like a good idea.

You should be carrying plastic bags when hiking anyway to collect your trash and pack it out.


I always recommend a first aid kit, and not just one that has band-aids. Get some 4 inch by 4 inch pads at the very least to control bleeding.

For broken bones, a Sam Splint is a great thing. They're a bit bulky, but just throw them in the bottom of your pack if you're going hiking. I've cut a large one up with a multi-tool before to make a smaller wrist splint before. They also come in small sizes for finger splints.

How to carry a first aid kit has been an issue that I've struggled with in the past. I try to pre-place them. So I've one in the car, one at work, one under my bed (in a fanny pack), one in my search & rescue kit, a small tub of sundry supplies, and I've recently added a Blackhawk Omega drop-leg medical pouch to my kit which I like to wear when I work with power tools or go hiking.

That may seem a bit obsessive, and it is. But I think it never hurts to have too much first aid gear... although Sarah has been grumbling about the overflowing disaster hutch recently, so I may have to re-think that opinion.

Haunted


Vampire Season, originally uploaded by Annadriel.

Love and Horror

Below is a trailer for the movie, Let the Right One In. Age assertion is required to watch the trailer... the preview makes me want to see this movie.

It is being released October 24th, according to the Wikipedia post.



Here's a review from IGN.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Consensual Mass Delusion

Volatility frequently occurs when everyone suddenly realizes that the stock market is just a consensual mass delusion based on fictitious valuing of abstract assets.

- Wyatt Cenac





The world is a strange place and sometimes I have to wonder if the inmates aren't running the asylum.

Kabul Ruins


Kabul Kids, originally uploaded by mknobil.

Where do we go from here in Afghanistan?

Robert Kaplan's recent Op-Ed in the New York Times asks some trenchant questions about the war in Afghanistan.

[A]fter seven years of war in [Afghanistan], it’s time to ask a very impolite set of questions:

If we did, by chance, capture or kill Osama bin Laden... would Afghanistan still matter?

Would there be public support for sending more American troops to stabilize a country that has rarely in its history enjoyed strong central government and that abuts a tribal area in Pakistan that neither the British nor the Pakistanis have ever been able to control?

Is the war in Afghanistan, deep down, anything more than a manhunt for a handful of individuals?

And if it is, how do we define victory there?...

So, here’s [Kaplan's] answer: In fact, Afghanistan is more than a manhunt, and it does matter, for reasons that have not been fully fleshed out by policy makers or the military. | A Manhunt or a Vital War? - NYT|


Kaplan makes a compelling strategic argument without offering any operation or tatical advice. He does outline the difficulty of the task...

We can only hope that the next President has a better grasp of the role of diplomacy and the limits of military power than Dubya possessed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Open Arms

Illini Campus Political Speech Ban Dubious

At the University of Illinois, an opinion has been issued by the Office of Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor ("OEIG"), indicating that students, faculty and staff at the University must refrain from all political speech while at work.

The University of Illinois has sparked outrage by telling faculty, staff and graduate students that a 5-year-old state law designed to prevent state workers from campaigning for candidates on state time or with state resources meant they could not express support for candidates or parties through pins, T-shirts or bumper stickers while on campus. Nor could they attend any political rally or event on campus, the administration said.|U. of I. debate arises over campaigning on campus - Chicago Tribune|


While I found some discussion of these events at the Workplace Prof Blog, I couldn't find the Illinois statute at issue listed anywhere, so I went perusing the OEIG's website, and I think this is the statute at issue.
(5 ILCS 430/5‑15)
Sec. 5‑15. Prohibited political activities.
(a) State employees shall not intentionally perform any prohibited political activity during any compensated time (other than vacation, personal, or compensatory time off). State employees shall not intentionally misappropriate any State property or resources by engaging in any prohibited political activity for the benefit of any campaign for elective office or any political organization.

(b) At no time shall any executive or legislative branch constitutional officer or any official, director, supervisor, or State employee intentionally misappropriate the services of any State employee by requiring that State employee to perform any prohibited political activity (i) as part of that employee's State duties, (ii) as a condition of State employment, or (iii) during any time off that is compensated by the State (such as vacation, personal, or compensatory time off).

(c) A State employee shall not be required at any time to participate in any prohibited political activity in consideration for that State employee being awarded any additional compensation or employee benefit, in the form of a salary adjustment, bonus, compensatory time off, continued employment, or otherwise.

(d) A State employee shall not be awarded any additional compensation or employee benefit, in the form of a salary adjustment, bonus, compensatory time off, continued employment, or otherwise, in consideration for the State employee's participation in any prohibited political activity.

(e) Nothing in this Section prohibits activities that are otherwise appropriate for a State employee to engage in as a part of his or her official State employment duties or activities that are undertaken by a State employee on a voluntary basis as permitted by law.

(f) No person either (i) in a position that is subject to recognized merit principles of public employment or (ii) in a position the salary for which is paid in whole or in part by federal funds and that is subject to the Federal Standards for a Merit System of Personnel Administration applicable to grant‑in‑aid programs, shall be denied or deprived of State employment or tenure solely because he or she is a member or an officer of a political committee, of a political party, or of a political organization or club.

(Source: P.A. 93‑615, eff. 11‑19‑03.) |Link (emphasis added)|
If this is indeed the statute in question then it strikes me that the interpretation given this statute is highly suspect.

The first four sub-sections prohibit campaigning while on duty or ordering subordinates to campaign while on duty, but doesn't reach mere symbolic political speech while on duty.

Indeed, subsection (e), which I've bolded above, carves out an exception for normal political speech such as wearing buttons and putting bumper stickers on cars.

I think someone in the OEIG's office has either misread the statute or taken a laughably conservative position on the legal implications of this statute.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Frozen


Gone!, originally uploaded by imapix.

Safety Tips: Winter Preparation

Put a snow shovel and ice scraper in your car now and that way you'll need it when we get the first freezing rain. I also carry cat litter in my car for providing traction, it's remarkable effective and much lighter than sand. Be sure to double bag it.

Having your car checked by a mechanic is good, buy new tires if you need them. Freeze resistant windshield washer fluid is also important for safe driving in winter. It's the only kind I buy, but I live in Minnesota.

I never needed a scraper when I lived in LA, but I carried a small one anyway in case I traveled to someplace further north on business or pleasure.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I'll drink to that...


KGB Hipflask, originally uploaded by Stevie-B.

Fighting the Last War

In both debates McCain's stated that he looked into Putin's eyes and saw the letters KGB. I think this is supposed to differentiate him from Dubya, who claimed to see into Putin's soul after a 2001 meeting.

As a rhetorical move, I think the KGB reference falls flat... it isn't funny and it makes him look old and paranoid. The KGB is one for the history books, McCain may as well invoke the NKVD.

It does make me fear that McCain never laid down his arms and wants to fight the cold war all over again. I'm all for supporting democracy in Ukraine, but I think we have to realistic about their proximity to Russia and our ability to actually help them.

I worry that McCain hasn't really adjusted his worldview to accept the ambiguities of a new multi-polar world where America has many competitors/collaborators in the Chinese, Russians, EU, and Indians and we have to figure out how to work with them not practice brinkmanship with them.

Hear my cry, Apollo!


Sanctuary of Apollo, originally uploaded by Nick Wilson NZ.

What if the Gods don't play politics?

Every time I hear someone ask God to bless America, it makes the philosopher in me wonder if God (or Goddess) actually plays politics or has favorites among countries.

It seems more plausible to me that a Supreme Being or Beings would find our little human countries quaint and amusing, at least until the bloodshed begins and then our little geographic and ethnic fiefdoms must seem destructive and unnecessary.

Unless the Gods are vengeful and warlike and quarrel among themselves like the Gods of ancient Greece.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Jerusalem


Jerusalem, originally uploaded by N i c o_.

Civil War in the Holy Land?

Troubling news from Israel. I only vaguely understand Israeli politics, but there's always something interesting going on there.

A growing number of ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers in the Palestinian West Bank are threatening Israel's security, according to the military chief responsible for their protection in the occupied territory. Major-General Gadi Shamni, whose role includes stopping Palestinian attacks and protecting Jewish settlements in the West Bank, said the rising level of violence from militant settlers is 'impairing our ability to carry out missions in the territories'.

He said that the number of [Jewish] extremists who attack Palestinians, Israeli soldiers, police and left-wing activists had grown from a core of a 'few dozen' troublemakers to at least several hundred.

'We are forced to divert our attention elsewhere,' said Shamni in an interview published in Haaretz newspaper. 'These are fringe elements that are gaining support because of the tail wind they enjoy and the backing afforded by certain parts of the leadership, both rabbinical and public, whether in explicit statements or tacitly.'

His comments follow [a pipe bomb] attack on a high-profile critic of the settlements, Professor Zeev Sternhell, [Wikipedia] a Holocaust survivor and expert on fascism.... Police found posters in Sternhell's neighbourhood offering [a reward] to anyone who killed a member of Peace Now, an Israeli group that campaigns against settlements in the West Bank....

Last month, after a Palestinian entered a Jewish settlement, burnt a house and stabbed a boy, dozens of settlers raided a nearby Palestinian village, throwing stones, firing guns into the air, breaking windows, damaging property and daubing the Star of David on the walls of homes.

Tactics such as burning orchards, blocking roads, rioting and stoning have become a routine part of the settlers' arsenal in their attacks on Palestinians. Police and soldiers are also being targeted amid lingering bitterness after clashes between the settlers and security forces when Israel removed its settlements from Gaza in 2005.

The settlers' aim is to deter the government from dismantling settlements in the West Bank, which Israel could be required to give up if a peace deal is struck with the Palestinians.

Elyakim Haetzni, a founding father of the settler movement, warned of civil war if Israel attempted to remove more settlements from the West Bank. He said that about 100,000 Israelis were ready to fight for the land. 'Every clash between the settlers and the police, the police get a beating and the army doesn't want to be involved any more. A great number of them are religious,' he said.

|Israeli army chief slams settler attacks by Toni O'Loughlin- Guardian|

Garmin Nuvi: The Pedestrian GPS

Sarah and I just bought a Garmin Nuvi 200, we're impressed so far. It has three modes, automobile, bicycle and pedestrian, which is nice added value.

The voice is loud and clear and it doesn't wash out in the sun.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Mexican Drug Decriminalization Proposal

The proposal to decriminalize small quantities of cocaine in Mexico just might squeak through amid the election year hub-bub in the US.

The Mexican army currently has its hands full amidst an escalation of the drug war there and this strikes me as a sign of sanity by the Mexican government.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Purple Rain


Capitol Dawn, originally uploaded by andertho.

Professionalism and Politics

The current credit crunch and bailout bungle reminds me once again of the need for our country to be guided by educated people.

I've suggested previously that higher education ought to be required for political candidates.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to have some economists in Congress about now?

When the Constitution was written, over two hundred years ago, graduate degrees were uncommon. But now they are so common that many of the people working in restaurants in college towns either have a graduate degree or are working on one.

The system wouldn't be foolproof, (Dubya allegedly has an MBA, but is a total dumbass) but I think it would be a step in the right direction.

Ignorance: American Style

Read more about it here.

My friend Sean used to say that one of these days there would be war between the white supremacists and the "mud people".

I hope not, but if so, I'm on the side of the mud people.

Push Polling Smears Obama as a Muslim

Karl Rove's bag of dirty tricks are coming into play for McCain. As McCain falls farther behind these tactics are bound to become more widespread and I'm sure they will sway many low-information voters.

An Obama campaign organiser in one of the swing states said there had been lots of complaints about push polling in his patch. Callers said questions frequently included a reference to the widespread belief that Obama is a Muslim, even though he has repeatedly said he is a Christian.

The organiser said another question was: would you be less likely to vote for Obama if Israel had to give up all of Jerusalem? "They make this shit up. They are good at it. The unassuming listener will not realise it is untrue," he said.

Minden, a school psychologist, received a call on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of last month. Living in a swing state, she was not surprised to be polled. "It sounded like a normal poll. Was I voting? Demographics? Age? Where we live? Then a question about which party I supported, who I preferred on the economy, on foreign policy, questions like that.

"They said; 'Are you Jewish?' and I said 'Yeh'. Then they said 'if you knew Barack Obama was supported by Hamas, would it change your vote? Would it change your vote if you knew his church had made antisemitic statements?'. All the hot button issues on Israel." She said she will vote for Obama as planned.

In Key West, Florida, another swing state, Joelna Marcus, 71, a retired professor, had a similar experience. She was asked if she would be influenced if she learned that Obama had donated money to the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

|Fake pollsters' scare tactics target Obama - Guardian|

The corrective subconscious

My friend Lindsay is a true librarian. She shushes people even in her dreams.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Best Title Ever

Most meetings are pointless and boring, so why not spend the time planning a funeral or an orgy?

Reflection


Reflected Wood Duck, originally uploaded by dbuk2.