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...