Saturday, December 31, 2005

Silly Insulting Wall

Rigoberta Menchu: US Wall Is an Insult - Prensa Latina

Who am I to criticize a Nobel Peace Prize winner or a head of state, but this business of Latin Americans taking insult at the prospect of the United States building a wall along the border with Mexico is just silly. Worse, it's just pandering.

Insult? The real insult is that humanity thinks it is different from a colony of bacteria in a petri dish. Neither can outgrow its environment, but both are destined to ruin their environment in the rush to outgrow it.

What I hear these insulted ones saying is that people should be free to ruin their neighbors' commons, which is what unfettered illegal immigration will accelerate. What they're really saying is whatever they think their respective constituencies want them to say, whatever serves their political aims.

What is even sillier than the insult these people say they perceive is the very idea of the wall itself. Anything less than a coordinated package of measures, maybe including a wall but certainly including politically impossible sanctions on businesses and individuals who exploit immigrants' cheap labor and facilitate their migration, is as useless as the War on Some Drugs. (Useless with respect to stated aims, that is; the immigration wall and the War on Some Drugs are both very useful to unstated aims.)

So what's the solution?

There is no politically practicable solution to the problem of illegal immigration, but pretending that there is a solution along these lines serves certain political purposes. Get used to it, y aprendan a platicar en Español.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Emergency Contraception: Congratulation Massachusetts

Hear! Hear! I'm so happy to see social conservatives slapped down for once. Twice. Dover and "intelligent design", Massachusetts and emergency contraception... Maybe there's hope after all.
Compassion in the ER

By Dianne Luby | December 25, 2005

THIS MONTH women and sexual assault survivors in Massachusetts marked a major victory when the Commonwealth's new emergency contraception bill went into effect. The new law is a compassionate, common-sense measure that requires hospital emergency room staff to help rape victims avoid pregnancy by providing them with emergency contraception. It also allows specially trained pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception without a prescription. Full implementation of this law will provide important new protections for women's health by preventing unintended pregnancies. It will also help reduce the need for abortion.

Emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, can be taken up to five days after rape, contraceptive failure, or unprotected sex to reduce the risk of pregnancy. It is most effective if taken within the first 24 hours. A form of progestin, one of the hormones found in regular birth control pills, emergency contraception works most often by inhibiting ovulation and/or fertilization. It is not RU486, the abortion pill, and it will not harm an existing pregnancy.

Despite promising to support broader access to emergency contraception when he was a candidate in 2002, Governor Romney blocked passage of this law until the Legislature overrode his veto. Last week he tried again to undermine the law when his administration declared its intention to exempt religious hospitals from the obligation to provide emergency contraception to rape survivors. Confronted by a public outcry, strong opposition from the attorney general, and the advice of his own legal counsel, Romney abruptly reversed course and announced that all hospitals will, in fact, have to comply with the new law.

This political fracas has been widely covered. What gets lost, however, in all of the politics are the real experiences of sexual assault survivors, women and girls who have been traumatized and need access to emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. An estimated 7,000 women and girls are raped every year in Massachusetts. Rape victims who receive emergency contraception within the first 24 hours reduce their risk of pregnancy by roughly 95 percent. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Many rape survivors do not seek care, and some who do seek it are denied emergency contraception by their providers.

The patient stories we hear all too often at Planned Parenthood shed light on what it can mean in the life of an individual when she is denied appropriate medical care, whether it is a college student who experiences date rape, but is denied emergency contraception because her college health center does not stock it, or a rape survivor taken to the local emergency room who is not told about emergency contraception because the hospital or individual practitioner is opposed to family planning. When women and girls in this situation become pregnant, they are victims twice.

In the face of this kind of tragedy, it's time for the politics to stop. All hospitals, religious or otherwise, should follow the law and provide the most effective medical care available. That includes providing emergency contraception to rape survivors. The fact is that hospitals enjoy tax-free status and receive substantial amounts of public funding. As a result, taxpayers have the right to expect that all hospitals will adhere to the laws of the Commonwealth and provide high-quality care for patients.

At Planned Parenthood, we hope that all of the debate surrounding this law will help increase public officials' appreciation of the compassionate care that rape victims need and deserve. As Governor Romney finishes the balance of his term, we also hope he will stop using this issue to build his national profile among social conservatives and start putting the interests of women and girls ahead of his own.

Dianne Luby is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Impotent disgust

Whenever I see a Hummer I envision it on fire.

When I read that Norway has increased its whaling kill quota or that Japanese whalers are on research expeditions, I visualize the whalers sinking into the cold waters and the bastards who promulgate these policies choking to death on whale meat.

Within a few minutes, though, I'm back to my normally resigned self.

After all, deforestation and loss of biodiversity, fleet fishing and 90 percent of large fish already gone from the oceans, nature preserve drilling in the face of oil depletion and Hummers, melting permafrost already releasing greenhouse methane to the atmosphere, receding Greenland glaciers freshening the ocean and threatening the thermohaline circulation, decreasing sea ice and drowning polar bears, increasing global haze, and so on and on and on, tend to overwhelm.

Impotent disgust succumbs once again to sad resignation. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Black Box Voting Forums: 12-13-05: Devastating hack proven - Leon County dumps Diebold

Paper trail, paper trail, paper trail, paper trail, paper trail... BlackBoxVoting.org
UPDATE Dec. 16: Volusia County (FL) joins Leon in dumping Diebold. Due to contractual non-performance and security design issues, Leon County (Florida) supervisor of elections Ion Sancho has announced that he will never again use Diebold in an election. He has requested funds to replace the Diebold system from the county. On Tuesday, the most serious “hack” demonstration to date took place in Leon County. The Diebold machines succumbed quickly to alteration of the votes. This comes on the heels of the resignation of Diebold CEO Wally O'Dell, and the announcement that stockholder's class action suits and related actions have been filed against Diebold by four separate law firms. Further “hack” testing on additional vulnerabilities is tentatively scheduled before Christmas in the state of California.

Finnish security expert Harri Hursti, together with Black Box Voting, demonstrated that Diebold made misrepresentations to Secretaries of State across the nation when Diebold claimed votes could not be changed on the “memory card” (the credit-card-sized ballot box used by computerized voting machines.

A test election was run in Leon County on Tuesday with a total of eight ballots. Six ballots voted "no" on a ballot question as to whether Diebold voting machines can be hacked or not. Two ballots, cast by Dr. Herbert Thompson and by Harri Hursti voted "yes" indicating a belief that the Diebold machines could be hacked.

At the beginning of the test election the memory card programmed by Harri Hursti was inserted into an Optical Scan Diebold voting machine. A "zero report" was run indicating zero votes on the memory card. In fact, however, Hursti had pre-loaded the memory card with plus and minus votes.

The eight ballots were run through the optical scan machine. The standard Diebold-supplied "ender card" was run through as is normal procedure ending the election. A results tape was run from the voting machine.

Correct results should have been: Yes:2 ; No:6

However, just as Hursti had planned, the results tape read: Yes:7 ; No:1

The results were then uploaded from the optical scan voting machine into the GEMS central tabulator, a step cited by Diebold as a protection against memory card hacking. The central tabulator is the "mother ship" that pulls in all votes from voting machines. However, the GEMS central tabulator failed to notice that the voting machines had been hacked.
The results in the central tabulator read:

Yes:7 ; No:1

This videotaped testing session was witnessed by Black Box Voting investigators Bev Harris and Kathleen Wynne, Florida Fair Elections Coalition Director Susan Pynchon, security expert Dr. Herbert Thompson, and Susan Bernecker, a former candidate for New Orleans city council who videotaped Sequoia-brand touch-screen voting machines in her district recording vote after vote for the wrong candidate.

The Hursti Hack requires a moderate level of inside access. It is, however, accomplished without being given any password and with the same level of access given thousands of poll workers across the USA. It is a particularly dangerous exploit, because it changes votes in a one-step process that will not be detected in any normal canvassing procedure, it requires only a single a credit-card sized memory card, any single individual with access to the memory cards can do it, and it requires only a small piece of equipment which can be purchased off the Internet for a few hundred dollars.
More.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Siriana (shrug)

I saw Siriana with my son last night. Frankly, I was disappointed. I was hoping that peak oil would somehow shine through as a critical issue, but it didn't.

Aside from that, I thought the movie was worthy of a shrug. I liked it about as much as I liked The Deal, which isn't saying much. Government bad. Oil company bad. Idealistic reformer good. Idealistic reformer dead. Shrug.

Catch it on video.

WorldOil.com - Shaping the peak of world oil production

The bell curve has a sharp crest, and you can't see it coming.
...
SUMMARY

To understand the possible character of the peaking of world conventional oil production, oil peaking in a number of relatively unencumbered regions and countries was considered. All had significant production, and all were certainly or almost certainly past their peak. The data shows that the onset of peaking can occur quite suddenly, peaks can be very sharp, and post-peak production declines can be comparatively steep (3 - 13%). Thus, if historical patterns are appropriate indicators, the task of planning for and managing world conventional oil peaking will indeed be very challenging.
Hat tip: Kurt Cobb - Resource Insights:
Comedian Richard Pryor, who passed away last week, was famous for saying, "Who you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?" In a way, those who believe that a peak in world oil production is not far away (or possibly already here) are asking the American public the same question.

A somnolent and self-satisfied American citizenry awakens each day to a world with no gas lines, warm homes in winter (or cool homes in summer), an economy which appears to be gaining speed and a gasoline price which has dropped below where it had been before it spiked to record levels.

...

Is our hypothetical speaker not asking the audience to deny the evidence of their senses? Is he not asking them to believe him rather than their lying eyes?

...
Hear! Hear!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Kurt Vonnegut: Your Guess Is as Good as Mine

Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long -- —for all of human experience so far -- —that it is wholly unsurprising that most of the leaders of this planet, in spite of all the information that is suddenly ours, want the guessing to go on, because now it is their turn to guess and be listened to.
It seems to me that Kurt Vonnegut has had the great good fortune of living his life a couple of minutes before midnight. Too bad there weren't more of him around when it might have done some good.

We must acknowledge, though, that persuasive guessers -- —even Ivan the Terrible, now a hero in Russia -- —have given us courage to endure extraordinary ordeals that we had no way of understanding. Crop failures, wars, plagues, eruptions of volcanoes, babies being born dead -- —the guessers gave us the illusion that bad luck and good luck were understandable and could somehow be dealt with intelligently and effectively.

Without that illusion, we would all have surrendered long ago. ...

I did surrender long ago, when it became crystal clear to me that humanity is incapable of behaving sustainably and that, as a result, we would face the consequences of exponentiation against limits.

It is easy to envision scenarios in which I am lucky enough to die realizing my outlook was wrong all along, that faith in seemingly outlandish technologies was justified, that Ehrlich and the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth were all wet.

Optimistic scenarios, though, seem bloody unlikely to materialize in the time required.

Humanity needs a miracle. Unfortunately, I'm not a man of faith. I'm just one who seems to have found a measure of serenity in resignation, like some of the characters in On The Beach.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Monster

I watched Monster, the Charlize Theron film about the life of Aileen Wuornos, the Daytona Beach prostitute and serial killer, for the first time today.

All I can say is that this film richly deserves every bit of praise it has received. It wasn't a fun movie to watch, but it is an awesome film. More power to Charlize Theron and everyone associated with it.

I've had an approach avoidance thing going with this film since it was released, similar to my reactions to Schindler's List, Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan, Reservoir Dogs and a few others. (Black Hawk Down, this review of which won a Pulitzer Prize, was, for me, especially hard to watch, just as was reading the Philadelphia Inquirer's series when it was published after the Battle of Mogadishu.) All of these films were amazing, though, and I'm glad I've seen them.

Now I think I'll take a chance on Natural Born Killers, which comes highly recommended.

[Update: Natural Born Killers was a boring, pointless piece of shit not redeemable by some good performances. I wound up turning it off some time before the end, having briefly dozed off and not caring whether I missed some grand finale. I fail to understand how or why a guy like Tarantino (yeah, it's an Oliver Stone flick but the story is by Tarantino) can turn out gems like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction on the one hand, but crap like Natural Born Killers and Kill Bill on the other. Maybe some day I'll get it. Maybe it's just as simple as dollars generated via pointless violence.]

If I'm going to watch a movie for recreation I generally prefer to watch something a little lighter. Among my favorites are Office Space and Paulie, though I'm only slighting many other fine movies by mentioning any at all.

Once in a while, though...

Violence and street drug markets

Mark Kleiman notes that in New York City cocaine dealing has been driven indoors by the felony status of dealing the stuff. Meanwhile, dealing in pot and untaxed cigarettes is a midemeanor and the dealers aren't afraid of the cops. The result, Mr. Kleiman reports, is that violence around cocaine dealing is substantially decreased while violence around pot and untaxed cigarette sales is substantial.

Kleiman says that a nasty, illicit market is facilitated by a high tax, then says the right policy response to the problem is not obvious.

Excuse me?

The right policy response is completely obvious: legalize the stuff and subject it to reasonable taxation, not sin taxation the way cigarettes are being taxed more and more.

How much more obvious can it be? Drug prohibition and the War on Some Drugs produce only ill effects.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Exit Strategy for The War (on Some Drugs)

kingcountyjournal.com - Local attorneys tout exit to war on drugs: "An Exit Strategy for the War on Drugs"
...

Goodman presented the decriminalization message in Seattle this week at a two-day conference titled, ``An Exit Strategy for the War on Drugs: Toward a Legal Framework.''

He hosted many of the country's most outspoken critics of U.S. drug policy, including former Seattle police Chief Norm Stamper, travel writer Rick Steves and Canadian Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin.

Most of those in attendance at this week's conference agreed that locking people up for nonviolent drug offenses simply doesn't work. Where they disagreed was on what should be done instead.

The regulation models offered by the Bar are sketched out in a report called ``Effective Drug Control'' by Goodman's Drug Policy Project. Since he started bringing the blueprint to legal circles across the country, Goodman said, a growing number of legal scholars are taking the ideas seriously.

...

Supporters of the plan -- including the Seattle League of Women Voters, the Washington State Public Health Association and the Washington State Pharmacy Association -- say current drug policy has failed miserably by creating a high-profit black market that's impossible to stop.
Unfortunately, the War on Some Drugs is one of those issues dominated by unreason, propaganda, entrenched power and money interests, and geopolitics.

It's all just nuts - so damned predictable.

I am a conscientious objector in the War on Drugs.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Prometheus: Tom Yulsman on Religion and Science

Here's an interesting thread if your interests include the question of whether or not religion and science are compatible.

Apparently Roger Pielke Jr., Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was impressed by this piece in the Denver Post: "Science and religion face off - The two really aren't incompatible". The author, Tom Yulsman, is co-director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

In a nutshell, in his Denver Post piece Yulsman argues that science and religion are not incompatible. He invokes Stephen J. Gould's nonoverlapping magisteria, then goes on to point out that we don't need Gould to show that science and religion are compatible because millions of people, including many scientists, experience no conflict between the two. He cites the likes of Einstein, Hawking and Primack, Einstein by way of his Spinoza quote, Hawking via his "mind of God" comment, and Primack by his likening of the big-bang afterglow to the "handwriting of God".

Yulsman concludes by noting that the religious views of these distinguished ones differ wildly from those of people who think that humans co-existed with dinosaurs, and with those whose god is a bearded white guy on a cloud. That would include the huge proportion of Americans who say they believe a god created mankind in its present form some six or ten thousand years ago.

So far so good, and I agree completely with Yulsman that Intelligent Design is "motivated not by a desire to seek empirical truth about nature but by a pre-determined Christian agenda."

Then come the thread's comments.

Eli Rabett thinks that Yulsman is taking an easy out and confusing religion with awe. Eric Wilcox agrees, and writes that the greater challenge is in convincing religious people that evolution is not in conflict with the biblical special relationship between God and humanity or the lessons in morality that follow.

Next, Yulsman defends himself against Rabett's charge that he's confused religion and awe by writing that it was Einstein who described his experience as a "cosmic RELIGIOUS experience." At this point I think he's splitting hairs because there clearly is a difference between Einstein's "religious" experience and the religious feelings of American fundies. "Religion" is like any other word - you have to define it. I think the definition relevant here would have Einstein experiencing awe as compared to fundie religion, which "religion" seems more relevant to the discussion. Whatever. Moving right along...

Next comes David Roberts of Grist Magazine, who asks, "So what?", and points out that the beliefs of the majority of US christians are *not* compatible with science, and suggests that Yulsman pick sides.

Next, Pielke responds to Roberts by, essentially, saying that Roberts' thinking is too black and white, and that Yulsman has taken sides by dividing the world into those who think science is compatible with religion and those who do not, and by then placing himself on the side of those who do.

Roberts responds that Pielke and Yulsman are dividing the world alright, but they're doing it along theoretical lines about what is possible rather than by what is actual. Roberts seems to want Pielke and Yulsman to get more "in their face" with fundies and like folk, saying it is they who are thrusting the arguments on science, not the other way around, and asking whether we shouldn't rise to the occasion.

Next, Yulsman responds to Roberts, apparently having taken offense at Roberts' comments about "vaporous" religion, choosing sides and rising to the occasion. Yulsman's apparent offense might have been sparked by Roberts' unfortunate use of the term "vaporous" in describing awe-religion. I don't think Roberts intended to insult; rather, he simply used a descriptive term that can convey negativity. Maybe "ethereal" would have been a better term. Whatever... Yulsman goes on, apparently having interpreted Roberts as implying that he (Yulsman) should give up his religious beliefs and abandon his core values. Yulsman concludes by commenting that his "vaporous" and "theoretical" religion seems pretty real to him when he reads Torah.

At this point, I think Roberts gave up hope of further dialog, as I think I would have, too. No offense, but what more could either of them have written in the moment? That conversation probably needed to move to the bar for a beer.

Finally, Kevin Jones weighed in with a comment that was particularly interesting to me because he apparently doesn't have any use for Richard Dawkins, who is one of my heroes for having sparked memetics. Jones also thought Yulsman's piece was a bit weak. Jones' first paragraph seems to agree with Grist's David Roberts with respect to the nature of awe-religion. Roberts wrote "vaporous" whereas Jones wrote "warm and fuzzy", but I think they mean pretty much the same thing. Jones also seems to not have much use for Stephen Jay Gould's nonoverlapping magisteria, but doesn't seem as hostile to Gould as he is toward Dawkins.

Jones refers the reader to a review of the book, "The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism", by Phillip E. Johnson, the christian lawyer whose book is one of the foundations of the ID movement. The review Jones refers to is by Catholic theologian and priest Edward T. Oakes, who considers some of the people I hold in highest esteem, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker, to be sleight-of-hand artists and masters of ledgerdemain who dupe the public with the trick of persuading the world of what is false by urging upon it what is true.

What??

I'll have to go back and try to make more sense of Oakes' review, which concludes with a quote from a contemporary of Darwin, Cardinal Newman, which includes the following: "I believe in design because I believe in God, not in a God because I see design."

So, having spent my morning on this interesting exchange, what do I come away with?

I've reinforced my belief that there is a possibly infinite variety of ways in which the necktop computer can be configured with internally self-consistent programming, and that frequently such configurations are externally incompatible, sometimes violently so, with those of others. (There's no violence in this thread, of course, but just look around for many examples of physical violence associated with incompatible worldviews.)

I've also reinforced my confidence in the relevance of the quote at the top of my blog, "For every expert there's an equal and opposite reexpert."

I've learned some things from this thread, too, which is why I read Promethius from time to time. Thanks Roger!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

WSJ vs. MXC

Stephen Moore [1][2] and I do not think alike. I suppose I should defer to him, though, on the basis of all his credentials and accomplishments. Who am I to question the sanity and morality of a man with titles such as CEO, President, Senior Fellow, Senior Research Fellow, "member of the Board of Scholars", "adjunct scholar" and so on? Hell, I'm just an aging engineer who can't even punctuate correctly. What do I know?

Moore recently published a piece in the WSJ, "The War Against the Car". You have to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal to access the source, but others have cached it as you'll see on the link to Google in the title of this post. (I was a WSJ subscriber for a while, but I came to regard their editorial stance as insane so I left. I assume the caches I've seen of Moore's screed are accurate.)

Moore compares second-graders' "indoctrination" with the arguments of "presumably educated adults", calls those adults Luddites, paints global warming and peak oil worriers and their "tirades" with the "Malthusian" label.

He actually writes that if all those poor people had just had cars they wouldn't have had to be warehoused in the New Orleans Superdome. As if that weren't enough, he invokes the memory of Rosa Parks and credits the hundreds of cars owned by black voluneers ferrying people around the city with the success of the bus boycot Ms. Parks sparked so few years ago.

Moore refers to the call to conserve energy as a "maniacal obsession", and ridicules recent oil company ad campaigns, comparing them to a MacDonald's campaign to promote less beef on the basis that cows are terrible things to lose. He writes that "simplistic notions" regarding the car reflect ignorance of the history of masses of horse shit in the streets. Ewwww!

And so on. What an ass.

Moore concludes:
Americans are rugged individualists who don't want to cram aboard buses and subways. We want more open roads and highways, and we want energy policies that will make gas cheaper, not more expensive. We want to travel down the road from serfdom and the car is what will take us there.
Moore's "rugged individualist" is a myth, proof of which is readily apparent in areas as diverse as fashion, suburban architecture, media preferences, marketing maleability, you name it. That we want this, want that and want the other is undeniable; we behave like the second-graders he considers some of us to be. His statement that the car will deliver us from serfdom, though, is a dangerous delusion at best, a flat-out lie at worst.

Moore is one of the founders of something called the "Club for Growth". The hard place this rock runs into lies in the exponential consequences of steady growth, something to which Mr. Moore seems oblivious.

So what does the MXC have to do with this? MXC is a hilarious (if you like that sort of humor) adaptation of a Japanese show called Takeshi's Castle. One of the games in the show is called Wallbangers, and features contestants whose success lies in racing through a number of walls, each with several doors, one of them of paper, the rest solidly closed. Contestants run headlong into the doors they select, passing through paper if they selected correctly or crashing violently if not. Funny as hell!

Moore reminds me of a Wallbangers contestant. Skanky's about to get him.

Seriously though, I don't know much about Wolfgang Sachs, but this quote seems spot on: "The world will no longer be divided by the ideologies of 'left' and 'right,' but by those who accept ecological limits and those who don't." That seems exactly right for Stephen Moore and yours truly.

Hat tip: Energy Bulletin. AF is correct about Moore's piece almost reading like parody.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Evolution is a fact.

In any developing science there are disagreements. But scientists—and here is what separates real scientists from the pseudoscientists of the school of intelligent design—always know what evidence it would take to change their minds. One thing all real scientists agree upon is the fact of evolution itself. It is a fact that we are cousins of gorillas, kangaroos, starfish, and bacteria. Evolution is as much a fact as the heat of the sun. It is not a theory, and for pity’s sake, let’s stop confusing the philosophically naive by calling it so. Evolution is a fact.
--Richard Dawkins

So there.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Explain me this

Update Nov 22 2005:

Well, that was a waste of good bile. I guess I am too sensitive to the impossibility of achieving confidence in my computer security.


My friend Ken wondered whether there might be some function in Firefox or the Adobe Acrobat software that would interpret the text, "www.shadowcrew.com" as a link even though it is not set up as, and did not appear to be, a link.

It seems that the version of Adobe Acrobat that I'm using on this Linux box does that, or maybe the text was actually set up as a non-apparent link when the pdf was composed. Why they would do that escapes me, especially when there were plenty of other links in the document that were plainly identifiable as links. I tend to think it's a function of Acrobat to interpret text like that as a link. Maybe I'll test that some time.

What remains unexplained is why there were two browser windows open to that site when I closed the Adobe Acrobat window. I don't know about that part, but it could be that my finger was resting too heavily on the mouse button when I happened to pass the mouse over the text of interest, though it certainly seems unlikely after I've checked my mouse's condition, which is just fine.

Whatevuhrrrr...

--------------------------------------

Goddamn it! Maybe I'm just too sensitive to the impossibility of achieving reasonable confidence in my computer security, but explain me this:

A couple of minutes ago I was reading the Department of Homeland Security's "DHS Daily Open Source Infrastructure Report 21 Nov 2005", which I receive from them via email as a pdf attachment. The pdf report can also be downloaded at the link in the title of this post.

In the report was the item below (the formatting below is fucked up but I'll leave it as it came across from the Adobe copy to the Firefox paste):

7. November 18, Associated Press — Website operators admit role in phishing ring. Six more
people pleaded guilty Thursday, November 17, to operating a Website that investigators
claimed was one of the largest online centers for trafficking in stolen identity information and
credit cards. With others who pleaded guilty in recent weeks, that brings to 12 people who
acknowledged roles with the site, www.shadowcrew.com, which had about 4,000 members
who dealt with at least 1.5 million stolen credit card numbers and caused more than $4 million
in losses, federal prosecutors said. "The losses incurred were to the issuing banks and
3
MasterCard, Visa, American Express, who reimbursed those who were victimized by these
crimes," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Dowd said. The site used techniques such as phishing
and spamming to illegally obtain credit and bank card information, which were used to buy
goods on the Internet.
Source: http://www.informationweek.com/showArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=
L5OTYLHXHJJ02QSNDBOCKHSCJUMEKJVN?articleID=174400097
So, why the hell, when I closed the Acrobat window where I was viewing the DHS daily report, were there TWO browser windows open to the shadowcrew.com web site?

Nothing like this has ever happened before. I did NOT click on any links while I was viewing the DHS pdf, on top of which there is no link to that site in the DHS report. Nothing that looks like a link, anyway.

I'm running Firefox 1.0.7 (the latest version), on a Linux (Linspire 5) machine with no other OS on board. I am not running as root.

This just pisses me off. First, what caused those windows to open to that site? Next, if the site is an ID theft site, why the hell is it still on line?

Then there's that Sony rootkit shit (from what I'm able to tell is not on my Windows machine, which may be because I just don't buy CD's any more, and I'm certainly not going to buy any CD's any time soon, especially bearing any brand I can associate with Sony, and I'll not buy anything at all from Sony (or that even smells like their horse) any time soon. Rant rant rant!).

Well, that's off my chest. NOT!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Irreconcilable Difference With Buckley

... whatever one feels about the right of a woman to put in for an abortion, that right is not asserted in the Constitution of the United States, nor is it implicit in any reasonably argued defense of individual privacy.
Buckley's piece is actually about the distinction between a judge's allegiance to the law vs. a judge's political philosophy, and I can go along with him on that. I suppose Alito is as good a candidate as is likely to be nominated by the Republican administration or approved by the Senate. The Senate should confirm the man and get on to other vitally important matters presently being ill addressed if addressed at all.

However, I disagree vehemently with Mr. Buckley's opinions about the lack of a Constitutional foundation for abortion and privacy.

Thirty years ago, when I was in Army counterintelligence agent training, one of the most important training topics was the law. I don't recall the trainer's name, but he impressed me greatly. One of the things I recall was that lawyer's opinion that the Soviet constitution was a beautiful document but that it was just pretty window dressing - not applicable to real life.

Well, that's how I'm coming to view the US Constitution.

Mr. Buckley says above that the US Constitution does not contain the foundations of an abortion right.

I'm no lawyuh, but I say Bullshit.

The Ninth amendment says, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." As far as I'm concerned, THAT's where the foundation of the right to privacy lies, and by extension where the right of a woman to make her own choices about abortion is established.

Unfortunately, it seems to me the Ninth Amendment has been turned around such that the lack of enumeration of certain rights is construed to disparage them. That's exactly what Buckley is doing when he writes that the "right is not asserted in the Constitution of the United States". It doesn't need to be explicitly asserted, Bill. That's the whole purpose behind the Ninth Amendment.

I guess it's a question of picking your trumps.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Going To Prison

My favorite scumbag is going to prison.

This is the one who caused me a fair measure of grief a couple of years ago. I am suppressing the urge to wish upon him some awful things I wouldn't wish on anyone if I believed in the myth of inherent human dignity. Let's just say I hope Peter Francis-Macrae dies in prison.

My favorite Tool song, "Jerk-Off", is going through my head as I type.

Here:
The scam I fell for and what I tried to do about it
The retaliation I suffered for trying to stand up to the scam

Moving along now...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | Drugs charges for Guatemala tsar

Mr Castillo [the head anti-drug official in Guatemala - sls] was in the US state of Virginia for a training course on how to fight drug trafficking through ports when he was arrested, Guatemalan Interior Minister Carlos Vielman said.
It gets tiresome to again and again write about the so-called drug war and the folly of prohibition. Over and over and over again the clear case is made by better people than me against this national stupidity, and yet it goes on.

Here's an illustration of one of the many reasons to end prohibition and the war on some drugs: corruption of officialdom.

Whether it be a dirty cop or a dirty drug czar/tsar, the facilitating element is prohibition. Prohibition, in addition to doing this kind of harm, does no good.

Oh, well... There's always another crook where the previous one came from.

UPDATE: Pete Guither is wondering what else might be going on. He's got some good questions.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Such Nonsense: "Planned Parenthood Sanctifying Murder: Who Would Jesus Kill?" by Brian Melton

If the baby should be considered human at conception then all other questions must be framed in light of that one fact. And yet it is that one fact that Planned Parenthood is most desperate to avoid.

Well, I don't speak for Planned Parenthood, but I do support them with my money. One of the ways I chose to donate to charities is through my employer's yearly United Way drive, from which contributions are disbursed according to donors' wishes. I generally split my payday deduction between the Red Cross and Planned Parenthood. It irritates me that Planned Parenthood is not included among the standard charities from which one can select. Every year I have to write them in.

The reason Planned Parenthood is not included in the United Way program is similar to the reason Flemming Rose has to test taboo: religious bullying. One can easily imagine the uproar should the United Way solicit funds for Planned Parenthood!

Mr. Melton thinks that a fertilized egg is a person. He believes in a soul that exists separate from the brain. This idea leads some to think Terri Schiavo was murdered by her husband and the state. It makes them think Susan Torres died after the feeding tube prolonging the functions of her vital organs (which were kept going in a failed attempt to rescue the child she was carrying) were withdrawn.

Both of these unfortunate women died long before the feeding tubes were removed. They died when their brains were no longer capable of generating their souls.

There is no soul separate from the brain. When you're brain dead, you're dead. You no longer exist. Until someone can prove otherwise, assertions to the contrary are simply religious dogma.

The same Truth (I'll capitalize it, too) holds at the beginning of life. Insisting that abortion is murder on the basis of an immortal soul independent of the brain, and driving that religious position down the throats of other people, is the same sort of nonsense that Flemming Rose is reacting to in Denmark: religious bullying.

The piece I object to asks whether "the baby should be considered human at conception". The answer is clearly "No". If he wants to believe the answer is "Yes" then so be it, as long as he doesn't shove it down other peoples' throats.

Unfortunately, he writes that "Christians, in America and elsewhere, must understand that it really is an all or nothing issue; it allows no [...] wiggle room[.]" Islamic prohibition of images of their religion's founder also allows no wiggle room. Religious bullies don't like wiggle room.

Unlike fertilized eggs, the American slaves and Hitler-victims Mr. Melton refers to were all living human beings defined by the souls emergent from their brains. Invoking their memory in opposition to abortion is nonsensical.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | Guatemala faces hunger 'timebomb'

This is not the first time starvation has loomed over the less fortunate in Guatemala. Guatemala currently has the highest rate of chronic malnutrition in Latin America, affecting 47 percent of children under five.

The current crisis, subject of the BBC story, was precipitated by the recent hurricane. Hunger and malnutrition, though, have been a big problem all along.

I remember being 9 or 10 years old, growing up in Guatemala where, at the time, my Mother worked for the Instituto de Nutrición de Centro América y Panamá, INCAP. (Translation hardly seem necessary, but that's the Nutrition Institute of Central America and Panama.) I learned very early in life what kwashiorkor is and how lucky I was.

The founding director of INCAP was Dr. Nevin Scrimshaw, whom my Mother admired very much. Under Dr. Skrimshaw INCAP developed a low-cost high-protein food called Incaparina, which is sold today in parts of the United States, while variants are used to help the hungry elsewhere. The most striking success of Incaparina-type weaning food is in India,
where a formula utilizing the Incaparina principle and named Bal-Ahar (literally "nutritious child food") has played an important role in Government nutrition programmes. It is produced today in plants in several different parts of India. It is noteworthy that Bal-Ahar is provided by the Government of India without cost to the consumer, whereas Incaparina in Guatemala has received no Government subsidy and only sporadic Government purchases. Bal-Amul, a pre-cooked version at a higher price, has been commercially successful and largely displaced imported weaning foods sold by foreign companies.
My recollections are from more than 40 years ago. It seems little has changed, except that the population of Guatemala has increased from about four million souls to today's level, which approaches 15 million.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Depressed Bushie Reaganite

Peggy Noonan seems depressed. She says that America is in trouble and that our elites are merely resigned. She writes that things are broken and that tough history is coming. Her piece in the Wall Street Journal, "A Separate Peace," is an interesting read. If you can't find it at the link there's a Fair Use copy in the first comment to this post.

Noonan thinks things have gotten too complicated, that the presidency and the government are overwhelmed, and that the people know it. Half the people won't trust the president and federal government, whe writes, to do what has to be done or to tell the truth in the face of something major like a terrorist event.

She cites an event from Christopher Lawford's book, "Symptoms of Withdrawal," in which Lawford quotes his uncle, Ted Kennedy, who, at a family affair of some sort reflected to the effect that he was glad he would not be around when the rest of the assembled group reached his age because "the whole thing is going to fall apart." Noonan's reaction: "If even Teddy knows..."

So Noonan is depressed, but she's not sure why. She opens her piece: "It is not hard and can be a pleasure to tell people what you see. It's harder to speak of what you think you see, what you think is going on and can't prove or defend with data or numbers. That can get tricky. It involves hunches. But here goes."

That's what strikes me the most. I think there's plenty of reason for depression if you pay attention to the world, but she's focused on things that don't really matter in the grand scheme. So the US takes a fall, so what? The Soviet Union did and the world went on. The United States could follow suit and the world would go on. I would not want that, but it would not be the end of civilization.

Unlike Noonan, who regrets that she can't back up her funk with numbers and data and has only hunches, my depression is backed up by the simple arithmetic of steady growth and its exponential implications (which are right there for anybody to see if they pay attention).

You're right Peggy. We're almost certainly fucked, but your blues-triggers are for nothing in comparison with the consequences of exponentiation against limits (to which you and your economist/capitalist/religionist ilk are blind).

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Nobelist Richard Smalley dead at 62

Nobel winner who discovered 'buckyballs' dead at 62 - Yahoo! News

Smalley was an important man who was taken well before his time. His death is bad news for everyone, whether they've heard of him or not.

My condolences to his family, friends and colleagues, and to the rest of us, too.

The Smalley Group - Rice University

Check out Dr. Smalley's presentation, "Our Energy Challenge", as delivered at Columbia University. Smalley's message is among the most important messages of all time.

Smalley's presentation is available from Rice University in Windows media format in low and high bandwidth versions. It is linked right at the top of The Smalley Group's web page. Might as well save it to your computer - it's a keeper.

Black Ribbon Week

Red Ribbon Week is a DEA ongoing program using the memory of Kiki Camarena, the agent tortured and killed back in early 1985 by drug runners in Guadalajara, Mexico, after having been kidnapped by Mexican cops in their employ.

What the poor man suffered was awful - anyone treating another human being as Camarena was treated is a monster who should be killed. Period. In fact, anyone who treats any creature as Camarena was treated is a monster who should be killed. Period. What was done to Camarena proves (yet again) the falsehood of "inherent human dignity" dogma.

Using Camarena's gruesome death to tug at people's heart strings in a "let him not have died in vain" manner is to be expected from those who benefit from the continuing symbiotic farce of a "drug war".

Read Michael Fitzgerald's piece, Bleak News From the Drug War. [Updated link]

Read I Volunteer to Kidnap Ollie North by Mike Levine, one of Camarena's fellow drug agents.

The drug war produces nothing but ill effects. Red Ribbon Week uses Camarena's memory to propagandize for the continuation of this farce. This dishonors Camarena (who did, in fact, die in vain).

I am a conscientious objector in the war on drugs.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Prompted by "The Ethics of Belief" by Peter Singer

Singer notes:
Even if 90 percent of Americans share Bush's naive beliefs (and I hope that the figure is significantly lower than that), the rest of us need to ask what we are to think, ethically, of someone who bases his or her life on unquestioning faith.
Yes, well...

Everybody supposes that President Bush's faith is real. "The Jesus Factor" episode of PBS' Frontline seemed to depict a genuinely faithful individual. I have yet to see one syllable questioning the President's faith among all the other critiques of him. He seems like a genuine guy.

Somehow, though, I just don't buy it. I tend to think it's more likely that he's just another Machiavellian:
A prince must take great care never to let anything come from his mouth that is not full of [saintly bullshit], and he must appear to all who see and hear him to be completely pious, completely faithful, completely honest, completely humane, and completely religious. And nothing is more important than to appear to have that last quality.
I'm not blasting Machiavelli or Machiavellians; rather, I'm wondering whether it's more likely that:
1) President Bush is a talented Machiavellian, or
2) President Bush is a type of useful idiot.

Mr. Singer's question assumes the latter (in far different terms, of course). Seems I tend toward the former (though at times it seems nobody could be that good).

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Discrediting and Lies

Arianna Huffington says that Plamegate is worse than Watergate. Nobody died in Watergate but thousands have died in Iraq.

Huffington's piece is about all the lies. What I'm interested in, though, is how does letting it be known that Mr. Wilson's wife is a covert CIA operative discredit Mr. Wilson? Plame was supposedly outed to discredit her husband, right? How exactly is Mr. Wilson supposed to be discredited by this news about his wife? I have a hard time believing Mr. Cheney is that stupid, especially given that Cheney is the smartest man besides Bill Gates that John Perry Barlow had ever met.

Maybe the question of how Mrs. Wilson's outing discredits Mr. Wilson has to be considered in light of among whom was Mr. Wilson to be discredited?

I can see where Mr. Wilson might be discredited among a certain type of cretin who would have preferred Wilson to keep the li'l woman at home, barefoot and pregnant rather than be an anti-war pussy. What I didn't realize was that there might have been enough of this type of person among the pro-war crowd to make it worth the trouble.

No, I don't think so. Everything about this story reeks, and not all of the stench is from the White House.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Buckley: Is it stupid when Christians feed the hungry?

The question is actually Andrew Sullivan's: "Is it stupid when Christians feed the hungry?"

Buckley's piece describes how Bill Maher made Andrew Sullivan look stupid for being religious or something like that. That's the context for Sullivan's question in response, Is it stupid when Christians feed the hungry?

It's a good question.

I don't think a Christian feeding the hungry is necessarily being stupid, I think he's being human.

I think the Christian feeding the hungry is trying to ease suffering in the hungry while oblivious or even resistive to the awful truth that he might be making the problem much worse down the road. The idea that by saving one person today you're condemning four others to die tomorrow that wouldn't have died otherwise is certainly uncomfortable.

I wonder how Christians feeding the hungry deal with Hardin's The Tragedy of The Commons? I think faith tends to shield one from having to deal with The Tragedy of The Commons in the first place.

A General Statement of the Tragedy of the Commons, by Herschel Elliott

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sheer Stupidity

Arkansas Mother Gives Birth to 16th Child

There oughta be a law.

Energy Minister vs. Neanderthals

I think I like this guy! I'd like him even better if he said, "And no more gas burners either! Renewables - especially nuclear - only."

Coal power plants out, energy minister says
By CP

TORONTO -- Ontario has no plans to listen to "Neanderthals" who want the province to keep its coal-burning power plants operating, even if that's what a report being prepared for the government recommends, says Energy Minister Dwight Duncan.

Duncan offered an emphatic "no" when asked whether he'd be willing to revisit the Liberal government's promise to stop burning coal for electricity even if the Ontario Power Authority calls for exactly that in a report expected in December.

"We are moving to close the coal plants, period, full stop," Duncan said.

More than 80 per cent of the province's power generation needs to be rebuilt or replaced over the next 20 years. The OPA has been meeting with energy industry stakeholders to determine what sources of new power generation the province should invest in.

Ontario is powered 49 per cent by nuclear reactors. Twenty-five per cent is supplied by hydro, 17 per cent by coal, seven per cent by gas and the remainder from wind and other alternative energy sources.

Duncan has said the government will agree to build new nuclear reactors should the OPA recommend it. But he says those lobbying the authority to recommend so-called cleaner coal technology and keeping the plants open are a century behind the times.

"I say to the Neanderthals . . . we're moving forward responsibly to ensure that we clean up our air," Duncan said. "We're in the 21st century. They're in the 19th century."

Air pollution remains a key concern in Ontario. Fifty smog advisories have been issued for the province this year, including a rare October advisory issued last week.

"I am sick and tired of having smog days in October," he said. "We had a smog day in February. We've had smog days in Algonquin Park."

He's also unimpressed with a report by Energy Probe, a national energy and environmental research group, which last week listed two Ontario coal-fired plants as among the cleanest in North America.

"So we may have among some of the better of the worst forms of energy producers in North America. Who cares?" Duncan said. "We want to get rid of them. It's the equivalent of taking every vehicle, every car and every light truck off the road in this province."

Duncan's resistance to coal is a mistake, argues Energy Probe executive director Tom Adams.

Adams wants the province to keep at least two units at its Lambton station at Courtright, which rank fourth and ninth out of 403 in the report's list of the cleanest plants on the continent.

Adams argues closing the units would end up requiring the province to import coal-fired power from the United States.

Secretary of The Future

KURT VONNEGUT: Look, I'll tell you. It's one thing that no cabinet had ever had, is a Secretary Of The Future. And there are no plans at all for my grandchildren and my great grandchildren.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: That's a great idea. In other words a Cabinet post--

KURT VONNEGUT: Well, it's too late! Look, the game is over! The game is over.

Secretary of The Future. That is a great idea. I hate to admit, though, that I agree with Vonnegut. It's too late.

Even if there had been a Secretary of The Future it would have been futile. The Secretary would have had to go up against too many unmovables. Such a Cabinet Secretary would have had to disabuse us of the idea of perpetual, or even steady, growth. That immediately implies conflict with religion and politicians always wanting to grow us out of economic challenges. The hopelessness of it all becomes quickly apparent.

Great idea, Secretary of The Future. Kind of like Secretary of Peace. Nice fantasy.

A Man Without a Country - Kurt Vonnegut

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Phoenix Sunrise 9 October 2005

=======nice picture===========
UPDATE 200510090051Z: For some reason the second and last pictures don't download properly. Maybe it's lag at Blogger. I'll see if I can figure out what's wrong. I was afraid that they'd be full-sized downloads,which would have been a couple three meg or more, but Blogger has nicely sized them for display on the screen. They're on the order of 40k each.
==========================
UPDATE 200510102307Z: Still don't know what the problem is/was with downloading the images by clicking on them. Last night I noticed that they downloaded fine in Internet Explorer, thought the continued to have problems in Firefox. This morning I tried with Konqueror and Mozilla 1.7, and both browsers had trouble. Konqueror kept throwing up a dialog asking if I wanted to open this text file and which text application to use.

So later on I downloaded and saved the images to my desktop using Internet Explorer in order to see if Firefox would open the files, which it did. Even later on I went back to this post with Firefox, and this time it downloaded the images no problem. So I don't know what the problem was/is, except that now everything seems to be OK. Maybe I'll do an experiment later on to try to pin it down.

I forgot to crop the pictures, but this way you can see how many images I stitched together with AutoStitch to create the panoramas. Practice makes perfect, they say. Next time.
==========================

These panoramas were taken of the Phoenix sunrise on 9 October 2005, using an Olympus Stylus 300 digital camera.








This camera comes with software, Camedia Master, that will make panoramas from appropriately spaced shots if you put the camera in panorama mode and if (and only if) you have the Olympus brand SD card. Strangely, you can use another SD card that claims compatibility with the camera, but there's something about the Olympus brand SD card that enables the automatic panorama function of the software.

You can also upgrade the Olympus Camedia software for twenty bucks and get a "free stitch" function that works adequately, but does not allow you to retain full resolution.

This is not what I used to assemble these panoramas, though. Since I got the camera and software I found a program (hat tip Wikipedia) called AutoStitch which is a so-far free offering from Mathew Brown at UBC, where it is part of his Doctoral work and a prospective commercial venture. All I can say to Mr. Brown is, "More power to you, Sir." His panorama software works wonderfully for what I have tried.












Brown's AutoStitch has some settings I don't quite understand, and it doesn't do cylindrical or planar projections (only 1-D), but I guess I have not tried anything where these were required.

If you look at Brown's web site you'll see a graphical description of what his software does, but you don't see the graphical stuff when you use the software. The first time I used AutoStitch I thought my computer had frozen when in reality it was just working really hard. This is apparently very processor intensive stuff, especially the way I've been doing it (full size, 100 percent JPEG fidelity).

AutoStitch only takes JPEGs as input but that has not been a hindrance to me. I've either converted what I've wanted to stitch into JPEG or used JPEG to start with. Actually, the Olympus Stylus 300 I'm using only does JPEG anyway.



I've posted a picture or two in my blog before, but never several in one post. It has not been as straightforward as I'd have thought. For instance, the first time I uploaded the pictures, I uploaded all four at once. I was then unable to place text as usual, and the pictures flowed themselves into the text of the following post on a different topic, forcing that text off to the side of the pictures.

So I deleted that post and tried again, this time uploading the pictures individually rather than as a group. Again the formatting was off. I'd been composing the post using, naturally enough, the "Compose" tab of the Blogger user interface. Finally I took the hint presented in the "Edit Html" tab right beside the "Compose" tab, and here I am editing the HTML.



I'm not really editing the HTML so much as moving stuff around, checking the preview to see what happened, then moving stuff around some more, etc. Slowly the post has taken the shape in which I (and I hope you) see it. Along the way, as I mentioned before in a probably-now-deleted comment, the pictures appeared in reverse order from what I expected, i.e.: the last one uploaded appeared at the top of the post, the second-to-last picture uploaded appeared next, and the last picture I uploaded appeared at the top of the post.

I don't know why things worked that way, but using the "Edit Html" tab I was able to move the HTML code blocks around so that they appeared correctly, so that the earlier picures appear above the later ones.

So, Mr. Mathew Brown, congratulations on some fine software, and thanks for letting me use it. I hope you are able to get it adopted into a Google Picasa or something commercial like that and make some bucks from your good work.

Google, thanks to you, too. Picasa is great, Blogger is great, and GMail is great. More power to Google!

Olympus, I like your little Stylus 300 snapshot digital camera, too.

HEY! It looks like we're about to get another great sunSET here in Phoenix. It it's spectacular I'll try to get some shots of it.

Over...

Citroen 'goddess' feted in Paris

Citroen DSAs the BBC piece says, France has marked the 50th anniversary of one of the great design icons of the last century - the Citroen DS, or Deesse, saloon car.

A deserving observance it is.

My Mother bought one of these things back in the late '60s (this was in Guatemala - I don't know if the car was ever brought to the United States). I thought it was a great car. Not perfect, just great.

My Mom's car looked just like the one in the picture here except for the lights. I think the one in the picture is a '68 or '69 model, whereas my Mom's was one year earlier, before Citroen put in the directional headlights. The larger light was stationary while the smaller, inboard lamp followed the steering.

This article says: Citroen DS: They Said it Was 20 Years Ahead of its Time - 20 Years Later it Was Still Ahead. When Would the Others Catch Up?

Well, the car certainly was ahead of its time.

As far as I know, the Citroen DS was the first car to incorporate a crumple zone for occupant safety. The steering wheel had one large, curved spoke that pointed out the driver's door when the wheels were in center position, the idea behind which was to prevent the driver from becoming impaled in the event of a head-on crash (the wheel would deflect inward and the driver would tend to slide toward the center of the vehicle.

The suspension on this vehicle was wonderful, like riding on a cloud. In the "road" position you could drive over railroad tracks and never know it, and yet somehow the driver retained a very good feel for the road. "Road" position? Yes, the suspension was configurable from inside the vehicle, with five positions on the lever. The "road" position was the lowest of the three driving positions, while the two higher positions were for off-road and really-off-road. In the upper two positions the ride became more like that of a Land Rover - pretty rough - but the ground clearance became like a Land Rover's, too.

The car was very, very stable with the suspension in "road" position. Some said you couldn't flip it if you tried. I never tried to flip it, but I can attest to the car's stability.

The car had no jack for changing tires. Rather, you'd put the suspension in the highest position, put a post under the side with the flat, and then drop the suspension to the lowest position. The flat tire would lift up off the ground and you'd change it. If you had no spare, you just made sure the flat was on the rear and drive the car on three wheels with the suspension in the high position.

Want to take the doors off for some reason? Easy! Just unscrew the pin hinges and off they came.

Want to ford a river without flooding the engine, or drive in arctic conditions? Pull the chain to close or damp off the radiator air intake.

Even the radio was cool: a Blaupunkt with short-wave and whatnot. In the evenings we'd drive up to the top of the mountain and listen to radio station KAAY from Little Rock, Arkansas, which in those days played great rock and roll (which we didn't necessarily get the best of down in Guatemala). On short-wave we'd tune to the Voice of America to hear how many commies we'd killed in Vietnam, and Radio Moscow or Havana to hear the other side.

For tax reasons, the car my Mom bought had been imported to Guatemala as an ambulance, and it came with a stretcher. I drove my Grandfather to the hospital in that stretcher the day he died. All of the other memories of that car are better than that one.

The engine was a four cylinder thing with enough power to maintain a good highway speed, but insufficient power for the drag strip. Twenty second, 60 mph quarter miles anybody?

I remember driving down the Pan American highway near Guatemala City one time (racing is probably the better term for what I was doing). I rounded a turn and there was a Guatemalan Army rat patrol (two jeeps with machine guns mounted on posts in the rear) stopping traffic. Well, there was no way I could stop before going past them, and I think the soldiers were kind of pissed off at me for that. (I'll never forget the feeling I got from seeing the machine gun swing around at me in the rear-view mirror as I'm braking to a stop way too far down the road from them.) After they searched the car I got on their good side by showing them where they had missed a big hiding place in which a bad guy could hide all kinds of weapons in the Citroen.

There was one bad thing about the car: the same hydraulic system ran the steering, the brakes and the suspension. It so happened that the year after my Mom's car came out they changed the hydraulic fluid formulation. At one service they changed the hydraulic fluid and put in the wrong kind, which wound up blowing out all kinds of seals. Later on I found myself driving down the highway when all of a sudden the steering got hard, I had no brakes and the car sunk all the way to the lowest suspension setting. That was a little dangerous! The same thing happened another time when a filter clogged in the hydraulic system, probably from residue left over from the wrong-fluid fiasco.

All in all I really like the "Sit-tron" (as my friends called it). Most people thought it was plug ugly, but I thought it was cool looking, all aerodynamic and such. I'd like to have one today.

Maybe I can some day. I just found the The Citroen Club Of America!

I had some really good times in and with that car. Some of them would have curled my Mother's teeth, but hey, I was a teen-ager, OK?

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Oil Drum on Deepwater Oil and Related Things

The Oil Drum featured a particularly interesting post, made so largely by comments following. Starts out about deepwater oil and continues on into economics, politics and so on. Very interesting, with some interesting links to follow, including to a Morgan Stanley piece on "optimists vs. pessimists" and "A PEDestrian's GUIDE to the ECONOMY" among others.

The crowd didn't seem to like economists much, though there are some good comments of appreciation and a caution about what might lie on the fringes if economics is dismissed.

Good stuff.

Capt. Ian Fishback - A Matter of Honor

[Hat tip to Mark Kleiman, The Washington Post, and of course to Captain Fishback.]

A Matter of Honor

The following letter was sent to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sept. 16:

Dear Senator McCain:

I am a graduate of West Point currently serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army Infantry. I have served two combat tours with the 82nd Airborne Division, one each in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On 7 May 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's testimony that the United States followed the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and the "spirit" of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan prompted me to begin an approach for clarification. For 17 months, I tried to determine what specific standards governed the treatment of detainees by consulting my chain of command through battalion commander, multiple JAG lawyers, multiple Democrat and Republican Congressmen and their aides, the Ft. Bragg Inspector General's office, multiple government reports, the Secretary of the Army and multiple general officers, a professional interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, the deputy head of the department at West Point responsible for teaching Just War Theory and Law of Land Warfare, and numerous peers who I regard as honorable and intelligent men.

Instead of resolving my concerns, the approach for clarification process leaves me deeply troubled. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is a tragedy. I can remember, as a cadet at West Point, resolving to ensure that my men would never commit a dishonorable act; that I would protect them from that type of burden. It absolutely breaks my heart that I have failed some of them in this regard.

That is in the past and there is nothing we can do about it now. But, we can learn from our mistakes and ensure that this does not happen again. Take a major step in that direction; eliminate the confusion. My approach for clarification provides clear evidence that confusion over standards was a major contributor to the prisoner abuse. We owe our soldiers better than this. Give them a clear standard that is in accordance with the bedrock principles of our nation.

Some do not see the need for this work. Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable.

Both of these arguments stem from the larger question, the most important question that this generation will answer. Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America."

Once again, I strongly urge you to do justice to your men and women in uniform. Give them clear standards of conduct that reflect the ideals they risk their lives for.

With the Utmost Respect,

-- Capt. Ian Fishback
1st Battalion,
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment,
82nd Airborne Division,
Fort Bragg, North Carolina


Captain Fishback seems to be the sort of officer I remember most from my time in the Army back in the '70s, a good man.

Now Slate thinks the US Army has dumbed down since Iraq. Maybe so, but it seems to me the process started long ago, before Iraq, when the all-volunteer military came about.

Among many other things,we need a universal draft. A fair draft. I think we'll get a draft, but I wonder whether it'll be a fair draft.

Google Search: "It is no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse"

Oct 05, 2005 -- 02:30:01 PM EST
Remarks by Al Gore as prepared
Associated Press / The Media Center
October 5, 2005

I came here today because I believe that American democracy is in grave danger.
...
At first I thought the exhaustive, non-stop coverage of the O.J. trial was just an unfortunate excess that marked an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. But now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time.
...
The coverage of political campaigns focuses on the "horse race" and little else. And the well-known axiom that guides most local television news is "if it bleeds, it leads." (To which some disheartened journalists add, "If it thinks, it stinks.")
...
Decades ago Walter Lippman wrote, "the manufacture of consent...was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy...but it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technique...under the impact of propaganda, it is no longer plausible to believe in the original dogma of democracy."
...
Make no mistake, full-motion video is what makes television such a powerful medium. Our brains - like the brains of all vertebrates - are hard-wired to immediately notice sudden movement in our field of vision. We not only notice, we are compelled to look. When our evolutionary predecessors gathered on the African savanna a million years ago and the leaves next to them moved, the ones who didn't look are not our ancestors. The ones who did look passed on to us the genetic trait that neuroscientists call "the establishing reflex." And that is the brain syndrome activated by television continuously - sometimes as frequently as once per second. That is the reason why the industry phrase, "glue eyeballs to the screen," is actually more than a glib and idle boast. It is also a major part of the reason why Americans watch the TV screen an average of four and a half hours a day.
..

Part of me wants to applaud Al Gore for what is a good speech and a noble effort.

Unfortunately, the bigger part of me is restrained by what I think is a correct realization that it simply doesn't matter, because there is nothing that can be done to stop the general slide we're in - the overshoot we're in and the dieoff we're apparently headed for - on account of our natural, human inability to arrange our affairs sustainably, to understand such messages as those of Hardin and Tainter, all the while embracing such things as religion and a belief in perpetual growth.

Oh, well... Good luck Mr. Gore. I'll be on your bus as the caravan heads for the cliff. I've added your "Current TV" to my link list, and I've put a full "Fair Use" cache of your remarks in the first comment below.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Expecting Disappointment - Supreme Court hears arguments over Oregon's assisted-suicide law

I fully expect to be disappointed when this decision is announced. I expect the Court to please the right-to-lifers, but it'll take a miracle for me to ever agree that end-of-life decisions like these are any business of the Federal government's.

A court that rules intrA-state, non-commercial, LEGAL, medically prescribed provision of marijuana to dying people is the Federal governments business under the interstate commerce clause of the constitution, or that finds it's OK to steal someone's property because someone else's use of it for private purposes would be better for the community, is not one that I have much use for.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

USATODAY.com - Cocaine blight spreads in Colombia

That we continue to believe in prohibition and place the blame for its side effects on the objects of prohibition marks us as FUCKING IDIOTS.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Responding to Yamauchi's Paradox

Peaknik posted at The Oil Drum that he'd like some opinion on what he'd written on his own blog, so I followed him there and posted what follows:

At The Oil Drum you mentioned writing this piece, and that it would be nice to hear some opinion about what happens when your mind and your job go in different directions.

It's not just gamers or Mr. Yamauchi. I think the majority of brilliant people don't seem to acknowledge the problem of peak oil, because brilliant people are just a subset of people, and of the various personality types among people, only a small number seem to see this problem. I read somewhere that someone had looked at this and concluded that of the 16 Myers-Briggs types, peak oilers came from just two of those types. Personality-types and population proportions are two different things, but peak oil worriers are in the minority in either case.

Someone observed that people tend to reject uncomfortable truths in favor of comfortable falsehoods. It's just the way most of us are. You can see the same workings in other arenas like religion or belief in perpetual growth against limits.

Michael Shermer (of Skeptic Magazine among other things) thinks that smart people believe weird things because they are very good at rationalizing. Sounds plausible to me.

So what do you and I do in the face of all this? Have you read "On The Beach" or seen the movie(s)? What would you do if presented with the fact of impending catastrophe? Well, it's not radiation, but it sure seems to me that for various reasons the fairly near-term future is rather likely to be catastrophic. What to do when there's no real hope? Pretend or act as though there is hope and aspire to be proven wrong in the end? Why not; it's probably kinder.

Don't let me stop you, but I don't think you'd be likely to accomplish much by starting a dialog among gamers because gamers are just people, too. Some number of them are already aware or could be made aware, but I think the population of gamers would break out in similar proportion to the general population on this and similar issues. Gamers might even be worse than the general population if the Google crowd's reaction to Kunstler is a guide. "Yo, Dude, you're so, like, wrong! We've got, like, technology!"

I don't think there are any tipping points to be reached before their time here, and their time probably won't come until it's too late, unfortunately.

To each his own, I guess. As for me, I like the line from that Tom Hanks movie about being stranded on a desert island where he says something like, "You've just got to keep on breathing, because you never know what tomorrow might bring."

Guess I'd better go post this comment on my own blog now. Thanks for giving me something to write about.

Salud, amor, pesetas, y el tiempo para disfrutarlas! Steve

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Microsoft Addressing Consequences of Pernicious Complexity

Following up on my earlier post, Pernicious Complexity:

WSJ.com - Battling Google, Microsoft Changes How It Builds Software:
"With each patch and enhancement, it became harder to strap new features onto the software since new code could affect everything else in unpredictable ways." (Fair Use archive in the first comment below.)

I don't know if Mr. Allchin had read Tainter by this time, but it sounds fairly likely.

This is a great article from the Wall Street Journal. Their editorial stance pissed me off a while back so I dumped them, but I always thought their reporting was good. Maybe I'll go back the next time they send me one of their "come back" emails. This also bodes well for Microsoft.

Money available for diversion to Katrina and Rita

Hey! Here's some "wasteful spending" money available for Katrina! Hey! Look! Here, right here!

Ah, never mind then.

Son of a bitch...

TIME.com: Pattern of Abuse

Hat tip. And another.

The abuse we keep hearing about from Iraq has been a real shock to me.

I was an enlisted Army counterintelligence agent for five years back in the mid-'70's, and clearly remember the training we received on the Geneva Convention. There would have been no excuse for participating in such things, or for failure to report such things. "Following orders," it was stressed over and over and over again, was no excuse. Training on these things was not delivered with winks and nods, either. It was serious and sincere.

Though atrocities occurred back then, too, I'd come forward from that time with the clear impression that the chain of command at least tried to stay on top of things like this.

As little as just two or three years ago I was moved to write a letter to Russia's President Putin to protest the actions of Russian soldiers in Chechnya. One particular story had Chechen people forced to crawl gauntlets of Russian soldiers, who would beat them as they passed. One particular Chechen victim had been partially paralyzed and permanently tortured by a hammer blow to the spine. I was outraged, and the thought of such a thing happening at the hands of American soldiers didn't even cross my mind.

How stupid of me.

Along came Abu Grabass and stories like this, and I am disgusted and ashamed. It's not so much that these things happen as that the command structure seems so clueless. Complicit, even.

I would like to think that the officer class of the US military, being all christian and shit, would have a good handle on things like this, but apparently not.

During my time in the Army I met some of the best people in the world, and some of the worst. The latter seemed vastly outnumbered, though. Now I'm not so sure.

Friday, September 23, 2005

BBC NEWS | Europe | Vatican 'to ban new gay priests'

'
Hey Pope!
http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_molestation.html
Conclusion

The empirical research does not show that gay or bisexual men are any more likely than heterosexual men to molest children. This is not to argue that homosexual and bisexual men never molest children. But there is no scientific basis for asserting that they are more likely than heterosexual men to do so. And, as explained above, many child molesters cannot be characterized as having an adult sexual orientation at all; they are fixated on children.

Faith is belief absent evidence, so I guess they can believe that homosexuals have a higher tendency towards child abuse than straights if they want. But then, I don't think the church really believes this; rather, they're scared of the fundies and facts are irrelevant.

The real problem has been the church's failure to deal with child molestation when it happened. They preferred instead to bury the problem and shuffle the guilty off to another parish.

In any event, the real aberration is celibacy. They don't even want you to jack off. Don't they know that prostatitis is called "monks disease" for a reason, or that masturbation prevents prostate cancer?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

That's enough <-- The Museum of Left Wing Lunacy

I've had enough of this right-wing shit thank you very much. For starters, they should can the sound effects.

In the introduction to his lecture, Our Energy Challenge, [here] [here], Dr. Richard Smalley refers to "right-brained" and "left-brained" people in the context of political tendencies, alluding to the same sort of Mars-Venus differences some say exists between men and women.

I think he's right. Whatever the case, the people behind this so-called museum of left-wing lunacy are wired differently from me. Looking at the site repels me, which is unfortunate because we need more not less accommodation across this divide. I enjoy Brooks and Buckley, but not these guys.

(Everybody should see Smalley's lecture, by the way. Very highly recommended.)

Bennett reverses: He's foe of Yucca

"The entire issue needs to be rethought, Bennett said. The fundamental principles of that new policy should include unqualified support for more nuclear power, that the nation work toward the technology that would allow reprocessing of waste and that all nuclear waste be left where it is until reprocessing can proceed, he said.

"If it is safe to transport nuclear waste, and it is safe to store nuclear waste at an interim storage site like Skull Valley, "by definition it is equally as safe to leave it where it is," he said."
Sounds like a punt to me.

Reprocessing of "spent fuel" is the way to go. Were it up to me, there would be absolutely no dumping of "spent fuel". So-called spent fuel still contains the vast bulk of its original fuel value. It should be reprocessed both to recover that fuel value and to radically reduce the amount, and lifetime, of nuclear waste ultimately needing disposal. Reprocessing "spent fuel" makes a great deal of sense.

On the other hand, leaving spent fuel at the plant in spent fuel pools or in dry casks, as is now the practice, is hardly as safe as putting it underground or gathering it from hundreds of scattered interim locations to one interim location.

Had Bennett said, "Reprocessing is now an option in this country" rather than " the nation [should] work toward the technology that would allow reprocessing of waste", I'd have been encouraged. Had he said, "Reprocessing is now an option and this bill mandates reprocessing over dumping" I'd have been very happy with it.

Reprocessing is already more than an option. It's a reality. The French, Japanese and Russians do it all the time. We should, too.

As it is, though, Bennett's stance is just pandering to anti-nukes and NIMBYs. As someone said, perfect is the enemy of good enough. Yucca will be good enough for now. Reprocessing would be better, but the energy situation is dire and we have to get a move on. All Bennett's stance does is shield him a bit from anti-nuke activists and NIMBYs at the expense of reduced prospects for nuclear energy.

Reducing the prospects for any relatively benign, massive-scale, non-intermittent renewable energy source is exactly the wrong thing to do to our modern industrial society, especially on the eve of peak oil and at a time when the reality of anthropogenic global climate change is acknowledged by all but the blind and self-interested. And yes, nuclear energy is relatively benign, massive-scale, non-intermittent and renewable.