23 February 2007

You know your country is in trouble when:

The UN has to open a special branch just to keep track of the chaos and bloodshed, UNAMI.

Abovementioned branch cannot be run from your country.

The politicians who worked to put your country in this sorry state can no longer be found inside of, or anywhere near, its borders.

The only thing the US and Iran can agree about is the deteriorating state of your nation.

An 8-year war and 13-year blockade are looking like the country's 'Golden Years'.

Your country is purportedly 'selling' 2 million barrels of oil a day, but you are standing in line for 4 hours for black market gasoline for the generator.

For every 5 hours of no electricity, you get one hour of public electricity and then the government announces it's going to cut back on providing that hour.

Politicians who supported the war spend tv time debating whether it is 'sectarian bloodshed' or 'civil war'.

People consider themselves lucky if they can actually identify the corpse of the relative that's been missing for two weeks.

Source: Riverbend

Derailment

The Wallstreet Journal last week had an article on how China has started a massive project to extend their train system throughout the country, with numerous highspeed tracks as well. I also recall the line in An Inconvenient Truth about how the mileage requirements for new Chinese cars are far below even those being proposed in the U.S. This all makes me think that the U.S. leadership has really been moving the country in the wrong direction. If some poor, overpopulated, totalitarian nation on the other side of the globe can do this, why can't we? The half-trillion that we've sunk into Iraq thus far would buy a hell of a lot of train track and high-speed lines. And yet the U.S. finds it hard to keep even their limited Amtrak trains running on schedule. A half-trillion-dollar mass-transit overhall would also create an enormous demand for domestic labor (Even in the case of China, the large project is creating something of a boom in certain U.S. industries. You can just imagine what it would be like if the construction were going on here.) The U.S. is definitely not on track.

20 February 2007

True Heroes

I found this gem over at Alicia's blog (Last Left Turn Before Hooterville):

Little by little, bit by bit...flashes of sunlight are appearing through the dark, oppressive clouds of the Bush Administration.The court-martial of First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, who refused to deploy to Iraq because he believed that the Iraq war was illegal, had been charged with missing a troop movement and with two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, based on his public statements criticizing the war and President Bush, has ended in a mistrial.

Because Watada neither caused nor agreed to the mistrial, it is possible that he may not be retried because of double jeopardy.The Army, of course, plans to retry Watada in March. But in asking for a 'do-over', the prosecution may have made a fatal mistake. At issue was a pretrial stipulation in which Watada admitted to the fact of failing to deploy, but did not admit guilt for that fact because he felt justified by his belief that the Iraq conflict was illegal. "The judge was concerned that the stipulation amounted to a confession by Watada to an offense to which he intended to plead not guilty," said Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek.

The implications of this trial may go far beyond that of Watada and into the realm of the debate on free speech in the military.

But regardless of the outcome of the trial, the moral victory already belongs to Lt. Watada and his refusal to commit war crimes. When we ask ourselves "Could another Holocaust happen here?", if the answer is "Hell, no!", it will be because of people like First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, a real American patriot.

17 February 2007

Italian indictments

Italy has indicted 33 people, including two dozen CIA operatives and a top Italian spy.

"Judge Caterina Interlandi ordered the 26 Americans and seven Italians to stand trial in connection with the February 2003 abduction of a radical Egyptian cleric who was snatched in broad daylight on a Milan street and whisked away to an Egyptian jail, where he says he was tortured. "This is an important moment," lead prosecutor Armando Spataro said.

I would heartily agree that this is an important move. It demonstrates an attempt by civilian authority (which is at least partially responsive to public oversight and pressures) to reign in secretive psuedo-governmental groups (miniature CIA cabals, contractors with elite connections, and so on) that have been acting like a fourth branch of government under Bush. The U.S. would benefit greatly from a similar trial on U.S. soil. Of course, Bush would be suspect #1 in this case. Even though the Italian indictment doesn't lead to extradiction, if it stands, it will at least cause some apprehension among CIA ops who hope to travel to Italy or through Italy at some point in their lives. They could, I suppose, be picked up and imprisoned by some stubborn Italian judge.

Bionic eyes

We've finally entered the era of bionic eyes (that cost less than 6 million dollars!) Maybe the U.S. can spend its next half trillion on providing the blind with sight instead of on a war that the majority of Iraqis, Americans, and other denizens of the planet oppose. At around 30 grand per operation, how much sight could the government restore (where are the mathematicians when you need them?)

[Excerpt] “The first phase began in 2002, and the results were not what we expected: we thought they would only see light and dark, but they have done far better than that.

“They can differentiate between a cup, a plate and a knife. They can see motion. They can avoid stumbling around into large objects. That is just with 16 electrodes, and we’re now going up to 60. The models suggest 1,000 will be enough for face recognition, and we hope to get there in five to seven years.”

The bionic eye consists of three elements. First, a miniature camera worn in a pair of dark glasses, which transmits images to a radio received implanted next to the patient’s eye.
This then sends a signal on to a tiny chip of silicon and platinum, about 4mm square, that sits on the retina. The chip’s electrodes stimulate the ganglion cells that transmit visual information to the optic nerve and onwards to the brain, which can then construct a visual image.

16 February 2007

Learning and longevity

This is interesting . . .

Ongoing Learning Increases Longevity, Researchers Say

Education may be the long-sought-after fountain of youth. After decades of studies, researchers continue to find that those who keep their minds engaged in active education live longer and stave off the ravages of aging, such as memory loss and lethargy. The New York Times recently reported that having money or good health insurance "paled in comparison" to education as a crucial factor in graceful aging. "If you were to ask me what affects health and longevity," said City University of New York researcher Michael Grossman, "I would put education at the top of my list."

Comprehensive studies on the effects of ongoing learning on aging have been conducted for decades, and more recent studies by researchers called "health economists" only seem to support the contentions of 3rd Century BC philosopher, Aristotle, who said, "Education is the best provision for old age."

In 1999, Columbia University grad student Adriana Lleras-Muney focused her dissertation on 1969 research by three health economists who found that investing in education over the long haul yielded greater anti-aging effects than good medical care. In her ground-breaking study, Lleras-Muney found that when people reached age 35, their life expectancy was increased by 18 months if they completed an extra year of education.

Lleras-Muney's findings were supported by research conducted by Princeton's Anne Case. Case reported that "each additional year of schooling for men in the U.S. is associated with an 8 percent reduction in mortality, a result consistent with those found in many European countries. In surveys run in both the developed and developing world, people with greater levels of schooling report themselves to be significantly healthier."

Education and Brain Aerobics

Only two decades ago, most physicians and researchers felt that aging and its deleterious effects on the brain were inevitable. However, these recent findings offer hope to maintaining lifelong mental health. The Alzheimer's Association now sponsors "Maintain Your Brain" workshops throughout the country, encouraging people to stay physically and intellectually active. The workshop advises people to "enroll in courses at your local adult education center, community college[,] or other community group."

What is it about learning that arrests aging? Campus-based learning increases socialization and lessens loneliness and depression common among seniors. But that's only one factor. Even the very practice of taking online classes seems to activate parts of the brain that slow aging and increase memory, emotional engagement, and intellectual curiosity.

Dr. Gary Small, Director of the UCLA Center on Aging, has found a research niche in what he calls "Mental Aerobics." Using physical fitness training language, Small encourages everyone to "cross train" their minds to keep them in peak condition. Dr. Small's popular anti-aging book, The Longevity Bible, proposes an eight-step game plan to keep your body supple and your mind in peak condition. Number one on the list: "Sharpen Your Mind. Mental aerobics cross train your brain to significantly improve memory skills and brain efficiency. If you fix your brain for longevity, your body will follow in kind."

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in 2003 revealing that seniors over 75 years old who continued to read actively along with engaging in other physical and artistic activities had demonstrably lower rates of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

Lifelong learning combined with exercises to stimulate the mind builds what Small calls a cognitive reserve. Small says, "It's the use-it-or-lose-it theory. If you keep your brain cells active it improves their efficiency."

Education and Memory

A landmark 2005 study conducted by Toronto's Mellanie V. Springer and Cheryl Grady, Ph.D. revealed that the brains of older adults rely on the frontal cortex for memory and cognitive activity. Grady reported, "The higher the education, the more likely the older adult is to recruit frontal regions, resulting in a better memory performance."

Researchers have showed that the idle mind, like muscles in the body, atrophies from nonuse. With the exponential explosion of online colleges and classes, even homebound adults can keep their minds at play in the fields of learning. A 2006 Harris Poll found that of the 172 million American adults online, some 14 million were over the age of 65. Now more than ever, people of all ages can access a wide variety of educational choices to help keep their minds active and engaged.

Back in School

Seniors can get discounts for online and traditional study--even seniors who pursue a high school diploma or GED. Readily available online, education programs give those who always meant to finish high school the chance to do so--even if they've meant to finish for decades now. Even with a few years (or decades) on those wide-eyed high school grads, a non-traditional student can find a lot of satisfaction in an investment in him or herself rather than just trying to advance a career.

Adult learners can expect to find plenty of company in a classroom--online or on campus. A U.S. Department of Education report found that 84% of students in higher education are non-traditional, meaning that they haven't gone straight to college after high school. Subsequently, returning to school a little bit later in life for a diploma or beyond--an associate's, bachelor's, or other degree--has become the norm rather than the exception.

Graduate or Ph.D. programs can also be avenues to fulfill lifelong dreams or interests for older Americans, and this upper-level academic delivers the metal challenges that keep the brain young. But here's the bottom line: Ongoing learning helps keep the mind in shape and can increase longevity. As such, education is proving to be the crucial ingredient in healthy living and long life.

14 February 2007

Iran

A number of blogectuals (Lenin's Tomb, Ddjango, Catherine, and Pilger over at Z-Net) claim that the U.S. is gearing up for an attack on Iran. I must confess that the current mis-administration's calls of "Wolf!" fail to get my adrenaline running at this point. These are, after all, the same people who had farmers in North Dakota sealing their windows with duct-tape in preparation for the coming chemical attack.

But I have a hard time reading between the lines of the state propaganda on this one. My prediction on Iraq is that we're just seeing (or to be more precise, "hearing about") the tip of the iceberg at this point. Iraq's falling apart and there's absolutely nothing the U.S. can do to stop it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the current numbers of refugees and Iraqi civilian casualties would, projected over time, predict the complete depopulation of Iraq if the U.S. were to maintain the occupation for a couple decades. The only hope Bush now has is to bring in more troops and attempt to maintain the perception of control until the Republicans get tossed out of office. That way, after the fall of Iraq, Fox news "experts" can pontificate on how it was the whimpy Democrats who took all the fun out of the adventure.

But I digress. Let's return to the original question--whence the war-drumming over Iran? One interpretation is that it's a bluff meant to keep Iran on its toes and mollify Uncle Sam's current bed-partners--the Sunni dictatorships in the region (especially Saudi Arabia). Another scenario is that there are plans for a bombing (carried out by Israel?) of various facilities in Iran so as to weaken and destabalize the Iranian regime. (Americans, having watched far too many James Bond flix, have an undying faith in the power of technology to vanquish the foe without the need to get their hands too dirty in the trenches.)

I personally can't imagine a full-scale invasion. The fall-out of such a move would be extensive. As the Iraq debacle has demonstrated vividly, there is so much anomosity towards the U.S., Israel, and Britain on the Arab street that the U.S. will find it increasingly difficult to play wedge politics through open support for various factions within a destabalized Iraq or Iran. At the same time, a further attack on Iran would flood the recruitment offices of every anti-U.S. guerrila faction in the region. (And Iran is culturally much more cohesive than Iraq or Afghanistan--it won't succumb to divide and conquer tactics.)

But I would suggest even more radical consequences. From a cynical geopolitical perspective, expanding power tends to encourage the formation of opposing coalitions. I cannot imagine that a rapidly expanding China is going to passively allow the U.S. to sit atop the number 2 petroleum reserve (Iraq) and a leading supplier of both natural gas and petroleum (Iran) while maintaining close alliances with Saudi Arabia.

In the end, I think we'll soon witness first hand the inability of military might to secure hegemony within a world of global economic networks. Unfortunately, the current group of wizened wise-guys steering U.S. policy are intently focused on political survival at this point, and aren't behaving very rationally even when evaluated according to their own stated objectives.

9 February 2007

The tail that wags the dog...

More stories are emerging about how the Bush administration has systematically misled both the public and other government officials in the run up to the war. This story is just out from MSNBC:

A special Pentagon office created in the run-up to the Iraq war engaged in "inappropriate" activities by providing misleading intelligence to policymakers, according to the US Department of Defense.

The Pentagon inspector-general on Friday said the Office of Special Plans set up by Douglas Feith, then undersecretary of defence for policy, provided senior policymakers with "alternative intelligence assessments" on alleged links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that were "inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community".

Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the armed services committee and senior member of the intelligence committee, said the report was a "devastating condemnation" of senior Pentagon officials.

"The bottom line is that intelligence relating to the Iraq/al-Qaeda relationship was manipulated by high ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the administration's decision to invade Iraq when the intelligence assessments of the professional analysts of the intelligence community did not provide the desired compelling case," said Mr Levin.

I still strongly believe that the President should be impeached for his involvement, along with Cheney and others.

The report comes at a critical time for the White House as President George W. Bush struggles to keep Republican support for the war in Iraq.

Democrats have long argued that Mr Feith was engaged in helping Dick Cheney, vice-president, build the case for war based on inaccurate, or misleading, intelligence.

Before the 2003 invasion, Mr Cheney often referred to the alleged links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, which subsequent investigations confirmed never existed.

I think al-Qaeda has been linked to pretty much every country that we're allied with in the Middle East. Saddam, on the other hand, (if you go back enough years) is linked to the U.S. CIA--not to Al Qaeda.

While the report said the actions of Mr Feith's office were not "illegal or unauthorised", it concluded that they were "inappropriate" because they "did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community".

Mr. Feith, who now teaches at Georgetown University, told Associated Press that the allegations of inappropriate activity were "bizarre".

Why is Georgetown hiring such scumbags. You'd think they could attract better talent.

"The policy office has been smeared for years by allegations that its pre-Iraq-war work was somehow 'un­lawful' or 'unauthorised' and that some information it gave to congressional committees was deceptive or misleading," AP cited Mr Feith as saying.

Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, in Seville for Nato meetings yesterday, said he had not read the report, which referred to activities that occurred under his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.

So much reading to do, I suppose. Why read a report about administration lies?

But the former Central Intelligence Agency director said: "Based on my whole career, all intelligence ­activities need to be carried out through established institutions where there is oversight."

Separately, yesterday, Mr Gates said the US had "pretty good" evidence that Iran was providing groups in Iraq with sophisticated explosive devices called "explosively formed projectiles" [EFPs].

Not another acronym! Can't he just say "bombs" or "hand-grenades"?

He said the evidence included serial numbers and markings on fragments of exploded devices. But Mr. Gates again dismissed suggestions that the recent increase in anti-Iranian rhetoric in Washington was a prelude to war. After the Iranian supreme leader threatened on Thursday to respond to any US attack on Iran, Mr Gates responded that it was "just another day in the Persian Gulf".

Asked yesterday whether that response was aimed at ratcheting down the US rhetoric, he replied: "In the last few weeks there's been an effort in Washington actually to tone down everybody else.

"I don't know how many times the president, Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran, that the second carrier group [recently dispatched to the Gulf] is there to ­reassure our allies, as well as to send a signal that we've been in the Persian Gulf for decades and we intend to stay there. And I think these are fairly modest statements."

7 February 2007

Vista

So what are your thoughts on the Vista release? Personally, I'm not to happy with software that deletes programs on my hard-drive without my permission.