30 November 2005

Summer ski trips to Europe, anyone?

If this turns out to be something other than a temporary anomoly, it could be the news of the century. To see why, look at where Northern Europe sits on a globe. Then look at the areas that lie at the same latitude in North America:

The Atlantic Conveyor, a life-giving ocean current that keeps northern Europe warm, is slowing down, scientists said on Wednesday.

If the 30 percent slowdown seen over the past 12 years is not just a blip, temperatures in northern Europe could drop significantly, despite global warming, they added.

Scientists have long forecast that the Atlantic Conveyor that carries warm surface water north and cold deep water back to the equator could break down because of global warming.

Do as we say, not as we do.

It's always fascinating to hear where our tax dollars are going. According to a recent FT article, the U.S. is secretly paying the Iraqi press to run favourable stories about the U.S. mission in Iraq. The articles, written by U.S. military “information operations” troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor. Many of these articles are then presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The entire operation has been designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military.

We learn this as the State Department is training Iraqi reporters in basic journalism skills and Western media ethics, including one workshop titled “The Role of Press in a Democratic Society.” In fact, Rumsfeld, that tireless protector of democracy and freedom, recently cited the proliferation of news organizations in Iraq as one of the country’s great successes since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

To the defense establishment's credit, some notice the glaring hypocrisy. A senior Pentagon official, commenting on the practice, point out:

“Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we’re breaking all the first principles of democracy when we’re doing it.”

New Orleans offers free wireless

This is exciting news:

To help boost its stalled economy, hurricane-ravaged New Orleans is offering the nation's first free wireless Internet network owned and run by a major city.

29 November 2005

It ain't cool to be cruel

Hiram Hover has a hilarious post on one of those poor abused conservatives on a college campus. Perhaps with a few more cream pies tossed in the faces of our foes (or a few more Xs over their visage on TV) we'll be able to take this country over.

28 November 2005

Classical 80s nerd

I just took the Nerd/Geek/Dork test. Fortunately, my nerdiness still dominates my dorkiness.

Tri-Lamb Material
69 % Nerd, 17% Geek, 60% Dork
For The Record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.
You scored better than half in Nerd and Dork, earning you the coveted title of: Tri-Lamb Material.

The classic, "80's" nerd, you are what most people think of when they think "nerd," largely due to 80's movies like Revenge of the Nerds and TV shows like Head of the Class. You're exceptionally bright and smart, and partly because of that have never quite fit in with your peers or social groups. Perhaps you're realized, or will someday, that it is possible to retain all of the things that you like about being brilliant and still make peace with the social cliques around you. Or maybe you won't--it's really not necessary. As the brothers of Lambda Lambda Lambda discovered, you're fine just the way you are and can take pride in that. I mean, who wants to be like Ogre, right!?

X-rated comments? Again?

The internets are abuzz with condemnation of the X that appeared over Cheney's face as he was addressing the nation. Personally, I don't see what all the hullabaloo is about. It's obvious as can be that CNN was simply trying to follow the law. Taking into account Cheney's penchant for shouting lewd remarks in public, the network was trying its darn best to comply with the stricter laws that have been passed regarding decency on TV. It's a relief to know that CNN execs are on the ball and will flash a rating as soon as the political discourse starts to get raunchy. That way we can tell our young school-aged children to run into the other room before Dick's four-letter lexicon appears. Evidently, it was a pretty good night for CNN. (At least they didn't have to flash the triple-X rating). But I still can't figure out why they don't just put these people on late at night after the kids are all in bed.

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27 November 2005

Holographic disks

The technological leaps in computer technology are truly amazing. Holographic disks are aparently just a year away from commercial production:

InPhase Technologies, based in Colorado, has developed a commercially viable version of a holographic disc which can hold 300 gigabytes of data and can be used to read and write data 10 times faster than a normal DVD.

Stay to support our ally, you say?

When Your Ostensible Ally Says That Blowing Up Your Troops Shouldn't Be Called Terrorism, It's Time to Head Home by Dave Lindorff

If anything should have Americans of all political stripes calling for an immediate return of all US troops from Iraq, it would be the Iraqi summit conference in Egypt earlier this week, hosted by Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, at which it was decided that attacking and blowing up US, British and other occupation troops should not be called "terrorism," but rather "acts of resistance."

That's pretty shocking, wouldn't you say?

And yet, there has been nothing but silence from the right-wing yak shows, little in the mainstream media, and nothing from the White House.

And how about the "support our troops" crowd? So far, not a word.

And what about the "noble mission" for which over 2100 American soldiers have so far died--the one Bush keeps citing as a reason to keep on sending more soldiers over to die?

Turns out our troops aren't being killed by terrorists, as President Bush and Vice President Cheney have been saying, but by noble Iraqi resistance fighters. Take it from the Iraqi leaders who we have installed as Iraq's puppet government.

According to them, it's only terrorism if you blow up other Iraqi citizens. Blowing up Americans or Brits is okay. It's even patriotic, apparently.

Man, if I was an American soldier in Iraq right now, I'd be ready to pack it up. I mean, doing your duty is understandable to a point, but this is getting ridiculous.

What I want to know is, where's the outrage?

I want to hear now from some of the parents of active-duty troops in Iraq who were trashing Cindy Sheehan for saying not one more mother's son should die in Iraq, now that they know how much the Iraqis want their sons and daughters over there.

25 November 2005

Don't follow misleaders, watch your parking meters

Check out the latest Slate article (the Misleaders) that chronicles the long list of lies leading up to Shrub's War. (Hat-tip to ISOU.)

24 November 2005

Hypocrisy on High

I saw this post at Redwood Dragon. My own additions are in red:

Via Balkinization, an important story from ABC News: the details of the interrogation techniques the Bush Administration does not consider torture, describing them instead as "enhanced interrogation techniques":

1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him. (Perhaps someone can try this one out on Bush during the next press conference.)

2. The Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear. (Hmm. The UN defines torture as: "an act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person" to gain a confession, etc.)

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions. (The Answers.com definition of torture: "Infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion." Are we to believe that these 40 hour standing marathons aren't coerced.)

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

Number 6 is especially violent: "According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess." As a human rights activist said, this amounts to a mock execution.

So I have a question for President Bush, and even more so for Vice President Cheney: if this is not, as you insist, torture, is it then OK for the enemy to subject American POWs to the same six techniques? If not, why not? (Because these people are busy fullfilling America's Manifest Destiny! How dare you weak-willed liberal imply that America need to base its actions on principles! America's righteousness is axiomatic!)

Of course, as Larry Beinhart points out (via Body and Soul), what's sauce for Al Qaeda is definitely not sauce for Americans: On Sunday, March 23, 2003, captured US pilots were shown on Iraqi TV. They didn’t have hoods over the heads. They were completely dressed. None of them wore leashes. Neither then, nor afterward, were they threatened with sodomy.
American reaction was instantaneous.

Donald Rumsfeld got on CBS and said to the world, “The Geneva Convention indicates that it's not permitted to photograph and embarrass or humiliate prisoners of war. And if they do happen to be American or coalition ground forces that have been captured, the Geneva Convention indicates how they should be treated.”

President George. W Bush, in a press conference said, “I expect them to be treated, the POWs I expect to be treated humanely. And -- just like we're treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals.”

From this, we at least know that the president and the secretary of defense know what the Geneva Conventions are. Indeed, Mr. Rumsfeld seems to have a very fine appreciation of the niceties and the details, an understanding that even embarrassment and humiliation are wrong, even in such a seemingly innocuous way as photographing them. Both the president and the secretary expected the rules to be observed. In the spirit and in the letter. The president clearly understood that people who violate the Geneva Conventions could be tried for war crimes and was announcing his intention to do exactly that.Although, at the moment that they made those statements, they were running a war in the country next door and they had decided that over there the Geneva Conventions did not apply.

So tell me why Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and various of their minions shouldn't have to go in fear of the Hague for the rest of their lives? They make me ashamed to be an American.

23 November 2005

Shrub's visit to Korea

The U.S. media's telling us that Shrub's Asian visit met the exceedingly low expectations that preceded it. My Korean friends says that the visit was met with massive anti-American protests in South Korea. Judging from the lack of such coverage in the Western press, no Western reporters based in Seoul ventured outside of the bars.

22 November 2005

Dirty Bomb Suspect Jose Padilla Indicted

Jose , a U.S. citizen who was kidnapped by U.S. government personnel while in the U.S. and then held on a Navy brig without trial or representation for more than three years, has now been charged with being part of a North American terror cell that sent money and recruits overseas to "murder, maim and kidnap." Somehow absent from the indictment were the sensational allegations made earlier by top Justice Department officials: that Padilla sought to blow up U.S. hotels and apartment buildings and planned an attack on America with a "dirty bomb."

How the government's kidnapping of a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil is deemed legal according to the Constitution is completely beyond me. I always thought that quaint statement about citizens having a right to a trial by their peers meant something. Evidently such rights can all be nullified by means of a circular argument claiming that the kidnapee is simply too evil to be considered a U.S. citizen.

Are we recreating the two-tiered justice system--one for brown people and another for suburban whites? We have the case of John Walker Lyndh who was arrested in Afghanistan fighting with the Taliban. The government evidently felt that he had a right to a trial. (As do serial killers and cannibals). But not Padilla? I don't get it. Someone help me out here. Is my copy of the Constitution missing a footnote or something? This is the way my copy reads:

U.S. Constitution: Article III

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

And from the Sixth Amendment

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Can one of you rightwing wiz-kid sacred protectors of the Constitution explain to me how in the hell Padilla's criminal prosecution somehow doesn't fit within the scope of "all"?

Other blogments about the Padilla case can be found on Scott's Shots, Room 88, and I'm Waiting for the Robot Invasion.

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Ray McGovern on the cooked intel

Ray McGovern, a former high-ranking CIA agent, recently appeared on C-Span and discussed the cooked intel leading up to the war. Anyone buying into Cheney's assertion that Shrub's War was justified should watch this (available at this site, third link down).

21 November 2005

Was Bush mis-elected?

Having just watched Bush's Brain (the documentary on Karl Rove), little can surprise me anymore about the Shrub Misadministration's dirty tricks. In particular, Rove's use of friends within the FBI to carry out political assassinations is quite chilling.

So any more, the idea of a fixed election in 2004 strikes me as completely plausible. After all, if it were at all possible, Bush and Rove would be precisely the people who would try it. Along these lines, Where We're Bound recently linked to a GAO report. The report is discussed elsewhere, inlcuding in the ever-reliable Consortium News. The findings are startling to say the least:

    The GAO report confirms that:
  1. Some electronic voting machines "did not encrypt cast ballots or system audit logs, and it was possible to alter both without being detected." In other words, the GAO now confirms that electronic voting machines provided an open door to flip an entire vote count. More than 800,000 votes were cast in Ohio on electronic voting machines, some seven times Bush's official margin of victory. "It was possible to alter the files that define how a ballot looks and works so that the votes for one candidate could be recorded for a different candidate." Numerous sworn statements and affidavits assert that this did happen in Ohio 2004.
  2. "Vendors installed uncertified versions of voting system software at the local level."
  3. Falsifying election results without leaving any evidence of such an action by using altered memory cards can easily be done, according to the GAO.
  4. The GAO also confirms that access to the voting network was easily compromised because not all digital recording electronic voting systems (DREs) had supervisory functions password-protected, so access to one machine provided access to the whole network. This critical finding confirms that rigging the 2004 vote did not require a "widespread conspiracy" but rather the cooperation of a very small number of operatives with the power to tap into the networked machines and thus change large numbers of votes at will. With 800,000 votes cast on electronic machines in Ohio, flipping the number needed to give Bush 118,775 could be easily done by just one programmer. Access to the voting network was also compromised by repeated use of the same user IDs combined with easily guessed passwords. So even relatively amateur hackers could have gained access to and altered the Ohio vote tallies.
  5. The locks protecting access to the system were easily picked and keys were simple to copy, meaning, again, getting into the system was an easy matter.
  6. One DRE model was shown to have been networked in such a rudimentary fashion that a power failure on one machine would cause the entire network to fail, re-emphasizing the fragility of the system on which the Presidency of the United States was decided.
  7. GAO identified further problems with the security protocols and background screening practices for vendor personnel, confirming still more easy access to the system. In essence, the GAO study makes it clear that no bank, grocery store or mom & pop chop shop would dare operate its business on a computer system as flimsy, fragile and easily manipulated as the one on which the 2004 election turned.
The GAO findings are particularly damning when set in the context of an election run in Ohio by a Secretary of State simultaneously working as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Far from what election theft skeptics have long asserted, the GAO findings confirm that the electronic network on which 800,000 Ohio votes were cast was vulnerable enough to allow a a tiny handful of operatives -- or less -- to turn the whole vote count using personal computers operating on relatively simple software. The GAO documentation flows alongside other crucial realities surrounding the 2004 vote count.

For example:

The exit polls showed Kerry winning in Ohio, until an unexplained last minute shift gave the election to Bush. Similar definitive shifts also occurred in Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico, a virtual statistical impossibility.

A few weeks prior to the election, an unauthorized former ES&S voting machine company employee, was caught on the ballot-making machine in Auglaize County
Election officials in Mahoning County now concede that at least 18 machines visibly transferred votes for Kerry to Bush. Voters who pushed Kerry's name saw Bush's name light up, again and again, all day long. Officials claim the problems were quickly solved, but sworn statements and affidavits say otherwise. They confirm similar problems in Franklin County (Columbus). Kerry's margins in both counties were suspiciously low.

A voting machine in Mahoning County recorded a negative 25 million votes for Kerry. The problem was allegedly fixed.

In Gahanna Ward 1B, at a fundamentalist church, a so-called "electronic transfer glitch" gave Bush nearly 4000 extra votes when only 638 people voted at that polling place. The tally was allegedly corrected, but remains infamous as the "loaves and fishes" vote count.

In Franklin County, dozens of voters swore under oath that their vote for Kerry faded away on the DRE without a paper trail.

In Miami County, at 1:43am after Election Day, with the county's central tabulator reporting 100% of the vote - 19,000 more votes mysteriously arrived; 13,000 were for Bush at the same percentage as prior to the additional votes, a virtual statistical impossibility.

In Cleveland, large, entirely implausible vote totals turned up for obscure third party candidates in traditional Democratic African-American wards. Vote counts in neighboring wards showed virtually no votes for those candidates, with 90% going instead for Kerry.

Prior to one of Blackwell's illegitimate "show recounts," technicians from Triad voting machine company showed up unannounced at the Hocking County Board of Elections and removed the computer hard drive.

In response to official information requests, Shelby and other counties admit to having discarded key records and equipment before any recount could take place.
In a conference call with Rev. Jackson, Attorney Cliff Arnebeck, Attorney Bob Fitrakis and others, John Kerry confirmed that he lost every precinct in New Mexico that had a touchscreen voting machine. The losses had no correlation with ethnicity, social class or traditional party affiliation---only with the fact that touchscreen machines were used.

In a public letter, Rep. Conyers has stated that "by and large, when it comes to a voting machine, the average voter is getting a lemon - the Ford Pinto of voting technology. We must demand better." But the GAO report now confirms that electronic voting machines as deployed in 2004 were in fact perfectly engineered to allow a very small number of partisans with minimal computer skills and equipment to shift enough votes to put George W. Bush back in the White House.

Personally, I find the statistical discrepancies particularly odd. Having studied statistics, I know that the chance of large bodies of data running completely against statistical probabilities for no apparent reason is virtually impossible. (In a technical sense of course, it's always "possible" but so is someone's statistical ability to walk through a brick wall according to quantum physics.)

19 November 2005

Worst album covers

On Tangled Up in Blue, John has a hilarious post on the worst album covers ever.

The latest

A suicide bomber detonated his car in a crowd of Shiite mourners north of Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 36 people and raising the death toll in two days of attacks against Shiites to more than 120. Five American soldiers died in roadside bombings.

And we're supposed to believe that things are improving in Iraq?

Sympathy for the devils

About a week back, I remember running across something (via PSOTD) complaining about the French police picking up bloggers who were publicly calling for people to take to the streets and kill police. This sort of uncritical sympathy for the underdogs (with emphasis on the dogs) is an example of the bone-headed analysis haunting much of liberal politics. There are countless people in the world who are innocent and oppressed--countless people worthy and deserving of our sympathy, yet some people choose to defend someone calling for the murder of the police!

The left, when it chooses to support a cause (and particularly when it elevates such a cause to a cause célèbre) should ensure that the object of its righteous concern is fully worthy of support. We should never make the mistake (which is a hallmark of the right) of thinking that the enemy of our enemy is our friend.

17 November 2005

Wal-Mart Diagnosis

I like to give the management at Walmart a bad time. But I must say I was impressed by this new technology they're introducing to their stores:

One day, in line at a company cafeteria, Joe said to Stan behind him, "My elbow hurts. I guess I better see a doctor."

"Listen, you don't have to spend that kind of money," Stan replied. "There's a diagnostic computer down at Wal-Mart. Just give it a urine sample and the computer will tell you what's wrong and what to do about it. It takes ten seconds and costs ten dollars... a lot cheaper than a doctor."

So Joe put a urine sample in a small jar and took it to Wal-Mart. He deposited ten dollars, and the computer lit up and asked for the urine sample. He poured the sample into the slot and waited. Ten seconds later, the computer printed out the following message: You have tennis elbow. Soak it in warm water and avoid heavy activity. It will improve in two weeks. Thank you for shopping @ Wal-Mart.

That afternoon, while thinking how amazing this new technology was, Joe began wondering if the computer could be fooled. So when he got home, he mixed some tap water, a stool sample from his dog, urine samplesfrom his wife and daughter and his own sperm sample for good measure, and hurried to Wal-Mart, eager to check the results. He deposited ten dollars, poured in his concoction, and awaited the results.

The computer lit up, and ten seconds later printed the following:
1. Your tap water is too hard. Get a water softener kit. (Aisle 9)
2. Your dog has ringworm. Bathe him with anti-fungal shampoo. (Aisle7)
3. Your daughter has a cocaine habit. Get her into rehab.
4. Your wife is pregnant, twins. They aren't yours. Get a lawyer.
5. If you don't stop playing with yourself, your elbow will never get better.

Thank you for shopping @ Wal-Mart

16 November 2005

X does not equal X

The convoluted logic of recent political squabbling between the Democrits and Republicons is producing even more grist for the comedic mills of late-night television. We, the Sheeple, are supposed to seriously ponder whether it was Shrub who misled or the Dems who misfollowed.

The fracas over torture is equally bizzare. When we find out (over and over) that torture is common practice among both the U.S. troops and the Shiites they've installed in power, we're told to turn a blind eye. When U.S forces engage in this sort of thing, after all, it really isn't torture. (And then with a wink), even if it were, we're surely torturing people for a good purpose--to maintain order in a country ready to fall into civil war. (Wait a minute . . . Isn't this the same reason that Saddam was using torture?)

It's taken two and a half millennia but the Orwellian forces of spin and obfuscation have finally overturned Aristotle's basic rule of logic--the idea that something is identical to itself. In the current version of NewSpeak, torture isn't torture and leaders can somehow all escape guilt by blaming each other. Within this verbal and conceptual morass, the sheeple can hardly be blamed if they feel misenfranchised.

15 November 2005

Counter-attack dog mode

Bush is now moving into a cornered dog's counter-attack mode:

"They spoke the truth then and they're speaking politics now," Bush charged. Bush went on the attack after Democrats accused the president of manipulating and withholding some pre-war intelligence and misleading Americans about the rationale for war. "Some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past," Bush said. "They're playing politics with this issue and they are sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy. That is irresponsible."

The problem with this, is it's true. When Shrub was calling for war using intel that we all knew was bogus, and when we on the left were protesting in the streets against this war--full knowing that it was an idiotic idea, the Dems were following behind the "war" president like a bunch of well-trained puppies. So we're now left with a choice between the Republicons (the party of bad schemes) and the Dems (the party that has decided to tag along for the ride and see how things turn out before making a decision.) But ultimately the power rests with We the People. And the people who created this mess through deception should have to face us and tell us the truth. (The calls for Blair's impeachment--essentially for the high crime of following Shrub--should inspire us to put our house in order.) To Shrub's recent ranting, all I can say is "Yes, we realize the Dems are idiots. But the reason we think they're idiots is because they sided with you."

14 November 2005

Hadley: The latest laughing-stock

Stephen Hadley, Shrub's National Security Advisor, now says that while "we were wrong," there was no attempt to manipulate intelligence going into Shrub's War. This must be getting hard to say with a straight face. There is, at this point, an entire army of ex-CIA types, diplomats, and top military brass who were directly involved with the war who say that Hadley's statement holds about as much water as Shrub's shot glass. If there's anyone out there who has been lost in the Alaskan wilderness for the last 3 or 4 years and hasn't had to listen to expert after expert, and read document after document, attesting to Shrub's lies leading up to war, I'd suggest that they get the documentary Uncovered: The War on Iraq. And then try to explain how we lefties somehow managed to convince virtually everyone who was in a place to know anything about the lead up to the war (people who are probably 99% Republican conservatives) to "lie" about the lead-up to the war and repeat our "vicious unpatriotic Islamo-fascist-commie propaganda." You can't figure it out can you? We actually hypnotized them with our demonic lefty-ray. (The whole plot can be "uncovered" if you look at some old episodes of Get Smart.) Waa-haa-haaaaa.

12 November 2005

The (cough cough) Beijing Games

The 2008 Chinese Olympics is set to break a record--it will be the most polluted Games in history! This hardly surprises me. I've been to Beijing several times, and everytime have contracted an odd cold that persisted until I left the city. I'm convinced now that it was simply a reaction to the pollution. And this was years ago, prior to China's current love affair with the automobile.

There's no denying that China, through rapid industrialization, has achieved an economic miracle of sorts or that capitalist economies have successfully created massive amounts of small plastic trinkets and gizmos to fill Walmart stores. But there appears to be something out of kilter about the current system--it seems to be inherently antithetical to long-term, rational thinking about the impact of externalities such as pollution. Since we know how to switch to alternative energy sources, I can't understand why we don't. I fully realize that wind and other alternative energy sources are currently more expensive (in other words, require more human man-hours to produce), but who cares. There are probably a billion or so people on the planet who are unemployed or under-employed. So why not create the infrastructure now. A massive building project focused on alternative sources could effect a huge transfer of wealth from oil-rich regions and the small groups that monopolize these resources to the large numbers of hard-working people who would create and maintain alternative sources of energy.

For anyone who thinks such concerns are overblown, check out the following stat. Experts estimate that "improving air quality in 210 medium and large cities across China from "polluted" to "good" levels could save 178,000 lives a year" (Mercury News). About 300,000 Chinese citizens are thought to die annually from outdoor pollution.

The Australian has a good article on the Games and Beijing's pollution.
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Angry happy faces

I found this interesting illusion over at Ming the Mechanic. If you look at the pictures from up-close, the one on the left looks angry and the one on the right calm. Now step back and look at the pictures. Cool, eh?

I'm sure this is a great metaphor for something and I would have made some profound remark at this point if I had my blogging mojo going, but hey, it's after 1 a.m., so you'll have to be happy with the optical illusion.

10 November 2005

I am concerned about what goes on . . .

There's something terribly amiss when a story breaks about secret U.S. prisons around the globe and the only words the Senate Majority Leader can think to mutter are, "I am not concerned about what goes on and I'm not going to comment about the nature of that." This is indeed indicative of the "state of the union" at this point. If America were a person, the patient's heart would have stopped beating (and there'd be no vision of a compassionate presence or a "great white light.") Even if someone were of the view that the state should have the right to pick up anyone anytime and put them anywhere and do anything to them (in other words, that the state should become all-powerful), you'd think that they might feel the need to justify such a preposterous belief to those naive members of the citizenry who still believe we're in Kansas.

9 November 2005

La la land

Raed in the Middle has a nice sarcastic post on all the good news coming in from Iraq these days. To take just one snippet:

Little bush announced today that "we don't torture", so I realize that all the lies and exaggerations about Abu-Ghreib and Guantanamo were mere hoaxes. This was making me feel bad in the last couple of years; so it makes me feel happy to know what really is going on now. But just for the sake of double-checking, when he said "we" that didn't mean "Laura and I", right?

I'm more and more convinced that no one cares any more. When the American sheeple have become so wonderfully loyal and patriotic that news of torture or a network of secret American prisons fails to elicit a response, we've really entered rightwing la-la land where spoiled and corrupt plutocrats are really rough-n-tough cowboys on horses, and where truth is nothing more than a list of talking points.

8 November 2005

Why is France burning?

Direland has an excellent post on the latest French Riots titled Why is France Burning: The Rebellion of a Lost Generation. (Posts like this renew my confidence in the blogosphere.)

Curbing Shrub's dictatorial powers

The Supreme Court will rule on the legality of Shrub's military commissions for detainees accused of terrorism. I'm hoping that five people on the court have enough sense to say hell no when it comes to giving the president such power. While many of you might be afraid of Middle Eastern men with mace and box-cutters, I'm equally afraid of a government that's setting up secret prisons all over the world and detaining who knows who for who knows what reason.

7 November 2005

MacDonald calories

The calories in MacDonalds meals are unreal.

6 November 2005

Snake oil or oil's replacement

While we've been through this before when cold fusion went cold, we can only hope that this new scheme for cheap power pans out. The article comes from the Guardian:

Fuel's paradise? Power source that turns physics on its head
· Scientist says device disproves quantum theory · Opponents claim idea is result of wrong maths.

It seems too good to be true: a new source of near-limitless power that costs virtually nothing, uses tiny amounts of water as its fuel and produces next to no waste. If that does not sound radical enough, how about this: the principle behind the source turns modern physics on its head.

Randell Mills, a Harvard University medic who also studied electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims to have built a prototype power source that generates up to 1,000 times more heat than conventional fuel. Independent scientists claim to have verified the experiments and Dr Mills says that his company, Blacklight Power, has tens of millions of dollars in investment lined up to bring the idea to market. And he claims to be just months away from unveiling his creation.

The problem is that according to the rules of quantum mechanics, the physics that governs the behaviour of atoms, the idea is theoretically impossible. "Physicists are quite conservative. It's not easy to convince them to change a theory that is accepted for 50 to 60 years. I don't think [Mills's] theory should be supported," said Jan Naudts, a theoretical physicist at the University of Antwerp.

What has much of the physics world up in arms is Dr Mills's claim that he has produced a new form of hydrogen, the simplest of all the atoms, with just a single proton circled by one electron. In his "hydrino", the electron sits a little closer to the proton than normal, and the formation of the new atoms from traditional hydrogen releases huge amounts of energy.
This is scientific heresy. According to quantum mechanics, electrons can only exist in an atom in strictly defined orbits, and the shortest distance allowed between the proton and electron in hydrogen is fixed. The two particles are simply not allowed to get any closer.

According to Dr Mills, there can be only one explanation: quantum mechanics must be wrong. "We've done a lot of testing. We've got 50 independent validation reports, we've got 65 peer-reviewed journal articles," he said. "We ran into this theoretical resistance and there are some vested interests here. People are very strong and fervent protectors of this [quantum] theory that they use."

Rick Maas, a chemist at the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNC) who specialises in sustainable energy sources, was allowed unfettered access to Blacklight's laboratories this year. "We went in with a healthy amount of scepticism. While it would certainly be nice if this were true, in my position as head of a research institution, I really wouldn't want to make a mistake. The last thing I want is to be remembered as the person who derailed a lot of sustainable energy investment into something that wasn't real."

But Prof Maas and Randy Booker, a UNC physicist, left under no doubt about Dr Mill's claims. "All of us who are not quantum physicists are looking at Dr Mills's data and we find it very compelling," said Prof Maas. "Dr Booker and I have both put our professional reputations on the line as far as that goes."

Dr Mills's idea goes against almost a century of thinking. When scientists developed the theory of quantum mechanics they described a world where measuring the exact position or energy of a particle was impossible and where the laws of classical physics had no effect. The theory has been hailed as one of the 20th century's greatest achievements.

But it is an achievement Dr Mills thinks is flawed. He turned back to earlier classical physics to develop a theory which, unlike quantum mechanics, allows an electron to move much closer to the proton at the heart of a hydrogen atom and, in doing so, release the substantial amounts of energy he seeks to exploit. Dr Mills's theory, known as classical quantum mechanics and published in the journal Physics Essays in 2003, has been criticised most publicly by Andreas Rathke of the European Space Agency. In a damning critique published recently in the New Journal of Physics, he argued that Dr Mills's theory was the result of mathematical mistakes.
Dr Mills argues that there are plenty of flaws in Dr Rathke's critique. "His paper's riddled with mistakes. We've had other physicists contact him and say this is embarrassing to the journal and [Dr Rathke] won't respond," said Dr Mills.

While the theoretical tangle is unlikely to resolve itself soon, those wanting to exploit the technology are pushing ahead. "We would like to understand it from an academic standpoint and then we would like to be able to use the implications to actually produce energy products," said Prof Maas. "The companies that are lining up behind this are household names."
Dr Mills will not go into details of who is investing in his research but rumours suggest a range of US power companies. It is well known also that Nasa's institute of advanced concepts has funded research into finding a way of using Blacklight's technology to power rockets.
According to Prof Maas, the first product built with Blacklight's technology, which will be available in as little as four years, will be a household heater. As the technology is scaled up, he says, bigger furnaces will be able to boil water and turn turbines to produce electricity.
In a recent economic forecast, Prof Maas calculated that hydrino energy would cost around 1.2 cents (0.7p) per kilowatt hour. This compares to an average of 5 cents per kWh for coal and 6 cents for nuclear energy.

"If it's wrong, it will be proven wrong," said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace USA. "But if it's right, it is so important that all else falls away. It has the potential to solve our dependence on oil. Our stance is of cautious optimism."

Windmills: 80 per cent more power

I think wind is the energy of the future (hopefully, the near future). After all, it's an energy source that's clean and already proven. For this reason, I found the following article particularly encouraging:

[Excerpt] Officials at Terra Moya Aqua Inc. unveiled their new turbine Friday, saying the design already had attracted interest from both domestic and foreign buyers.
"We have people nationally and internationally who want to buy this turbine now," said Ron Taylor, TMA's founder and chief executive officer.

Company officials said traditional propeller-driven turbines are able to convert 25 percent to 40 percent of wind power into transmittable energy. But TMA's design is 43 percent to 45 percent efficient, creating up to 80 percent more power from the same wind.
That power is generated even though the blades are moving slower than on traditional propeller models, meaning the turbines are less noisy and less dangerous to birds, the company said. And since they stand no taller than 96 feet, the turbines can be used in industrial areas where taller propeller-driven models are not allowed.

Patridiot Act Under Fire

Wyoming's Star Tribune carried the following story (my highlights):

Lawmakers expressed concern Sunday that the FBI was aggressively pushing the powers of the anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act to access private phone and financial records of ordinary people."We should be looking at that very closely," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It appears to me that this is, if not abused, being close to abused."Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, agreed, saying the government's expanded power highlights the risks of balancing national security against individual rights."It does point up how dangerous this can be," said Hagel, who appeared with Biden on ABC's "This Week."

Under the Patriot Act, the FBI issues more than 30,000 national security letters allowing the investigations each year, a hundredfold increase over historic norms, The Washington Post reported Sunday, quoting unnamed government sources.The security letters, which were first used in the 1970s, allow access to people's phone and e-mail records, as well as financial data and the Internet sites they surf. The 2001 Patriot Act removed the requirement that the records sought be those of someone under suspicion.As a result, FBI agents can review the digital records of a citizen as long as the bureau can certify that the person's records are "relevant" to a terrorist investigation.

Calling the recent growth in the number of letters a "stunner," Biden said, "Thirty thousand seems like an awful, awful stretch to me."Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Sunday that he could not immediately confirm or dispute the 30,000 figure, but he said the power to use the security letters was justified."The Department of Justice inspector general in August 2005 found no civil rights violations with respect to the Patriot Act," he said. Issued by the FBI without review by a judge, the letters are used to obtain electronic records from "electronic communications service providers." Such providers include Internet service companies but also universities, public interest organizations and almost all libraries, because most provide access to the Internet. Last September in an ACLU lawsuit, a federal judge in New York struck down this provision as unconstitutional on grounds that it restrains free speech and bars or deters judicial challenges to government searches. That ruling has been suspended pending an appeal to the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a hearing last week the court suggested it might require the government to permit libraries, major corporations and other groups to challenge FBI demands for records. (What a novel idea! Giving U.S. citizens the right to present grievances in a court of law!) The Patriot Act provision involving national security letters was enacted permanently in 2001, so it was not part of Congress' debate last summer over extending some Patriot Act provisions. As the Dec. 31 deadline has approached for Congress to renew provisions of the act, the House and Senate have voted to make noncompliance with a national security letter a criminal offense.The ACLU did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Sunday.

Why Spy On Us?

This article, copied from Cut to the Chase, is worth quoting in its entirety. In her preface to the article, Katherine asks:

Seriously. Why? They can't catch the obvious suspects, so do they have to watch us just to have something to hold over our heads if we happen to catch them at something nasty and feel like reporting it to someone?

Remember: it's not paranoia if someone IS out to get you.

The FBI came calling in Windsor, Conn., this summer with a document marked for delivery by hand. On Matianuk Avenue, across from the tennis courts, two special agents found their man. They gave George Christian the letter, which warned him to tell no one, ever, what it said.

Under the shield and stars of the FBI crest, the letter directed Christian to surrender "all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person" who used a specific computer at a library branch some distance away. Christian, who manages digital records for three dozen Connecticut libraries, said in an affidavit that he configures his system for privacy. But the vendors of the software he operates said their databases can reveal the Web sites that visitors browse, the e-mail accounts they open and the books they borrow.

The FBI came calling in Windsor, Conn., this summer with a document marked for delivery by hand. On Matianuk Avenue, across from the tennis courts, two special agents found their man. They gave George Christian the letter, which warned him to tell no one, ever, what it said.

Christian refused to hand over those records, and his employer, Library Connection Inc., filed suit for the right to protest the FBI demand in public. The Washington Post established their identities -- still under seal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit -- by comparing unsealed portions of the file with public records and information gleaned from people who had no knowledge of the FBI demand.

The Connecticut case affords a rare glimpse of an exponentially growing practice of domestic surveillance under the USA Patriot Act, which marked its fourth anniversary on Oct. 26. "National security letters," created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, originated as narrow exceptions in consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret the customer records of suspected foreign agents. The Patriot Act, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed those letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters -- one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people -- are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.

Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.

In the Time of the Butterflies

I just watched In the Time of the Butterflies. The movie, starring Salma Hayek, portrays the General Rafael Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Salma plays Minerva Mirabal who attempts to take down the vicious ruler with the help of a small rebel faction.

Those who have read the book will tell you to skip the movie, but the movie, while somewhat predictable (except for perhaps the ending) is entertaining.

November 25th, the anniversary of the day of the murder of the Mirabal sisters, has been designated the annual date for the "International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women." Trujillo was assassinated in 1961. After watching the movie, I was surprised to learn that some of the more unbelievable events are in fact historic. The Mirabal Sisters did in fact attend a party, expressly invited by the dictator, and this did lead to an order being put out for their arrest.

5 November 2005

French rioting

It sounds like France is coming apart. The phenomenon has parallels everywhere in the world where cheap workers are brought in to keep the economy humming. It'll be interesting to see the French (and European) reaction.

AUBERVILLIERS, France - Marauding youths torched nearly 900 vehicles, stoned paramedics and burned a nursery school in a ninth night of violence that spread from Paris suburbs to towns around France, police said Saturday. Authorities arrested more than 250 people overnight — a sweep unprecedented since the unrest began. For the first time, authorities used a helicopter to chase down youths armed with gasoline bombs who raced from arson attack to arson attack, national police spokesman Patrick Hamon said.


Via Where We're Bound, I just found the site Off-grid that describes some hands-on practical ways to use alternative energy sources. On one posting, someone describes setting up a solar-powered system for $600. In the comments, someone talks of using solar for a full-time living arrangement, paying around 2 grand for the entire system.

4 November 2005

Bipartisan misleadership

As the Republican Party goes slip sliding' away under the misleadership of Shrub, the Dems are fast on their heels in the race to irrelevance. There's rarely been a better opportunity for the formation of a broadbased movement overturning the current duopoly.

From P!, we find a long post on the subject:

[excerpt] I say about the Democrats, "there's no there there."To those who still cling to the fantasy of a "revived, reformed" Democratic Party, I say "rediculous." Where is your evidence? You say you're "reality-based", but I think you're as delusional and/or misinformed as the end-times evangelicals. I mentioned here a short while ago that Democrats are not interested in change, only in power. There's as much difference between the two as there is between governing and ruling. If you wanna taste of what the "progressive left" is really doing, check out the New Progressive Coalition's website.

Semantic congruity

This article's interesting. The article basically says that certain basic math abilities vary depending on what we're counting, and that this contextual constraint is also found in monkeys.

Monkey Math Mirrors Our Own

If you show someone a mouse and a cat and ask which is smaller, they'll quickly reply, "the mouse." Ask which is bigger, and it takes most people slightly longer to respond.

Conversely, if the two animals are large, such as a cow and an elephant, the typical person will be quicker at saying the elephant is larger than saying the cow is smaller. This rule, known to scientists from actual tests on people, is known as "semantic congruity," and it also holds true for comparing numbers and distances.

Until now, scientists thought the rule was rooted in our language abilities. But in a recent study by researchers at Duke University, a group of monkeys have shown a similar ability to tell the difference between large and small groups of dots.

Researchers showed macaque monkeys two arrays of randomized numbers of dots on a computer touch screen. Instead of asking the monkeys to choose the larger or smaller array of dots, the researchers gave cues by changing the color of the background behind the dots.
If the background was blue, the monkeys were supposed to touch the larger array. If it was red, they were to choose the smaller one. If they did a good job, they were rewarded with a sip of a sweet drink.
"Clearly, even though their capability has nothing to do with language, it is nevertheless semantic in that the red and blue color cues carry meaning for the monkeys," said study co-author Jessica Cantlon. "Our results showed a very large semantic congruity effect. For example, when the number pair was small, such as two versus three, the monkeys were much faster at choosing the smaller compared to the larger of the pair."

This finding is the most recent in a series of discoveries that indicate our primate cousins display human-like characteristics. Monkeys like to gamble and enjoy looking at other monkeys' bottoms. (I wonder what they think. "Wow! Check that out! She's got a hairy ass!" What's a sexy bottom for a chimp?) Chimpanzees have been found to crack under social pressures. "This is another piece of the puzzle showing us that the comparison mechanism that the monkeys use is, as far as we can tell, the same mechanism that humans are using," said study co-author Elizabeth Brannon.

This work was detailed online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

2 November 2005

Reigning in the Leviathan

Is it just me or does anyone else feel that something just may perhaps be amiss when the U.S. government claims the right to arrest anyone, deny them a trial, and then hold them at secret sites around the world? I would especially like to ask this question to those who consider themselves conservatives, who so oft repeat the mantra that the government that does least, does best. While we can quibble about which activities governments should or should not be engaged in, the ability to incarcerate, torture, and kill people strikes me as an area where the government should have to go to the furthest lengths to justify its actions. But if these actions are taken secretly in foreign countries, what glimmer of hope is there that there will be public oversight of the government. Basically, the Leviathan has been let loose. And now we have before us the task of reigning in this beast.

CIA holds captives in secret prisons abroad: report
By Joanne Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA has been hiding and interrogating al Qaeda captives at a secret facility in Eastern Europe, part of a covert global prison system that has included sites in eight countries and was set up after the September 11, 2001, attacks, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The secret network included "several democracies in Eastern Europe" as well as Thailand and Afghanistan, the newspaper reported, but it did not publish the names of the European countries at the request of senior U.S. officials.U.S. government officials declined comment on the report, but it was likely to stir up fresh criticism of the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners in its declared war on terrorism since the September 11 attacks.

Russia and Bulgaria immediately denied any facility was there. Thailand also denied it was host to such a facility. The newspaper, which said its report was based on information from U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement, said the existence and locations of the facilities were known only to a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.

The CIA has not acknowledged the existence of a secret prison network, the newspaper said. Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, principal deputy to Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, declined to comment when asked about the report at a news conference in San Antonio where he delivered a speech about intelligence reforms. "I'm not here to talk about that," he said. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "I'm not going to get into specific intelligence activities. I will say that the president's most important responsibility is to protect the American people."

The Bush administration's policy toward prisoners taken in Afghanistan and Iraq has come under heavy criticism at home and abroad. Inmate abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison was strongly condemned in the Muslim world and among U.S. allies while many have called for more openness about those being held at a U.S. navy base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spurned a request by U.N. human rights investigators and denied them the opportunity to meet with detainees at the Guantanamo prison for foreign terrorism suspects.

But the administration also faced problems at home. In an October 5 bipartisan vote, the Senate approved 90-9 an amendment to regulate the Pentagon's handling of military detainees by establishing rules for their interrogation and treatment despite strong White House opposition.


According to the Washington Post, the prisons are referred to as "black sites" in classified U.S. documents and virtually nothing is known about who the detainees are, how they are interrogated or about decisions on how long they will be held.

About 30 major terrorism suspects have been held at black sites while more than 70 other detainees, considered less important, were delivered to foreign intelligence services under a process known as "rendition," the paper said, citing U.S. and foreign intelligence sources.
The top 30 al Qaeda prisoners are isolated from the outside world, have no recognized legal rights and no one outside the CIA is allowed to talk with or see them, the sources told the newspaper.

The paper, citing several former and current intelligence and other U.S. government officials, said the CIA used such detention centers abroad because in the United States it is illegal to hold prisoners in such isolation.

The Washington Post said it was not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program at the request of senior U.S. officials who argued that disclosure could disrupt counterterrorism efforts or make the host countries targets for retaliation. The secret detention system was conceived shortly after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, when the working assumption was that another strike was imminent, the report said.

Russia's FSB security service, the main KGB-successor agency that leads the country's battle against militant violence, denied any such facilities on its territory. "You can say for sure that this is not in Russia," said FSB spokesman Nikolai Zakharov. Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsanchev said, "We do not have any such facilities and there are no foreign detainees kept secretly in Bulgaria." Thai government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee said, "There is no fact in the unfounded claims," but added Bangkok was probably mentioned because it helped catch Hambali, an Indonesian accused of being Osma bin Laden's key link to Southeast Asia, in 2003. Thailand's security cooperation with the United States would have to be done "in an open and legitimate manner," he said.

One small step for sports, one giant step . . .

North and South Korea have agreed to field a unified team for both the 2006 Asian Games and the 2008 Olympics! I wonder what the plan is for practicing together. I would hope the players aren't expected to suddenly come together at the last moment.

1 November 2005

Walmart CEOs rejoice!

It's always interesting to see how easily people are duped by images of the Shrub-riding-his-pony variety. I guess we shouldn't expect too much from a generation that has essentially been raised by a TV set. Even so, you'd think that Joe Five-pack might notice that his end of the stick is consistently shorter after 3 or 4 decades of stagnant wages. Denis de Kat brings up this point in his discussion of the Alito nomination:

In the 800-plus opinions he has penned during his 15 years as a federal judge, Alito consistently has come down on the side of limiting corporate liability, limiting employee rights, and limiting federal regulation. “He would be a liability restrainer,” says Stan Anderson, legal-affairs lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

So I guess that means that soon we will be completely owned by big business. I love it how Americans can be so content with big business considering a) this is the first generation to not be better off than the previous one ever in the history of the USA, and b) the working class in america has not had a wage increase (if you include the reality of inflation) since the early 70’s.
Sometimes when I think of the American worker, I can’t help but think they deserve it. As in, if you don’t stand up for yourself, and ally yourself with the guy who abuses you, then it will be hard to feel sorry for you. So when you think about these facts, it means that the American working class, after 30 years of decline, re-elected George Bush completely against their economic interest.

Around the internets

PSB talks about the incompetence of the Department of Homeland Security.
Fatcat Politics discusses OPEC and Shrub's War.
Obsidian Wings discusses Bush's proposal for Health Savings Accounts.
And Rua offers a Samhain blessing.