Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Taxing Email is Useless

Derek Thompson at the Atlantic blog writes about a NY Times piece on taxing email. He’s not advocating it, or arguing against it but looking at the supposed benefits and negatives, and how it would likely increase instant messaging.

What would be the effects of an email tax? I’m not sure it would make such a big difference. To save my daily pennies, I know I would lean more on Gchat or other instant message programs, and I’m sure everybody else would too.

Would that be taxed next? If email can be taxed, why not aim? However one of the key benefits touted by both the Times article and Thompson is that it would curtail the deluge of spam that we all recieve. You know, hey spammers send a lot of email, let’s just tax email, then we not only get less spam, but make money too! Anyone see any holes? I do. How do you keep track of emails and then send the tax bill?

Such a tax is feasible, he says, since e-mail addresses are easily identifiable by Internet service providers and they could pass on the levy in their monthly bills to users.

The problem with this? This isn’t how spam works. Spam is sent from “zombie pc’s“, meaning unknowing grandparents and non-netsavvy people are going to get a huge bill come due for the spam sent. Furthermore, the government will always be behind in technology, there’s just no way spammers and people wouldn’t be able to get around the tax through forged email headers, botnets, tor networks, ect. This will end up costing the unfortunately honest people and not the dishonest ones it’s targeted to.

Let’s also not overlook the liberal arrogance of the Times piece:

You might gulp at the $3-a-day cost for 100 e-mails, but don’t forget you pay more to gulp your daily large caramel macchiato.

For one thing, $3 a day is a lot of money in a year ($1095), for another, I have no idea what a caramel macchiato is.

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GPS System Could Break Down Next Year

On the bright side, I’ll be able to save battery life on my iphone by turning off the gps. The downside of course being that the gps is increadibly useful.

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Twitter as a Story Telling Medium

Twitter is the social media website that allows users to share updates on their life with others who choose to follow their updates. It’s proved useful for friends to quickly keep in touch, politicians to keep constituents updated on their activities, bands to interact with fans,  place for famous people to be regular Joes and much more.

Well one interesting use that I had not thought of before appears to be play out out right now, partially started by the recent Swine/H1N1/Mexico Flu outbreak. I jokingly that I was going to start calling it “Captain Trips” and that got me added by one . From there I (and others) discovered the stories of Stephen King (namely The Stand and The Dark Tower) unfolding across our very twitter pages. As a fan, this excites me, as an observer it fascinates me.

This presents a very new and unique way for players (actors?) to perform before an audience of millions. Free form, adjustable, personal and interactive, it’s really fun to watch unfold. Each character with an account, interacting with their tweets to create a story. Could we see this move from an homage now, to something more purposeful in the future? A production of actors using twitter accounts as characters to tell their own story or to give, in essence, a twitter-play? Only Ka will tell. Long days and pleasant nights to you.

edit: Also, in talking about story telling on twitter, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention and his on going tale.

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IPhone Blogging

Blogging from the iPhone. This will probably be everyday useful once they get copy/paste but could be great for covering events live and with pictures.

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I’ve recently joined the ranks of the twitterati. If you’re so inclined, you can follow my twitter feed . Content is a bit lighter than on here of course.

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Not only is she a Bonneville record holder, but Leslie Porterfield also used an innovative new skin wrap on her bike. While I would suspect the claims of any company, a personal endorsement such as the following holds weight enough for me. A 3mph gain at top speed with no other change to the bike, that’s incredible.

Where can I get me some of this…

“I had excellent results with the FastSkinz on my motorcycles. Both bikes set records this year. I made several runs on the Honda at the Texas Mile. We had the opportunity to test all weekend, and change bodywork out for comparison. I had a consistent 3mph gain on top speed at the end of one mile.

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Gaza War Arrives in Second Life

And amid the protests, obscenities, and intolerance we find a scene that you’d only find virtual worlds like Second Life:

An American Jew, Canadian Muslim, and a cute bunny

An American Jew, Canadian Muslim, and a cute bunny

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Jon Henke for RNC Communications Director

A good look at how the RNC needs to restructure and how they don’t for the next generation of campaigning. Jon is mentioned as paradigm of what the RNC Communications Director needs to be, I’d agree. You need someone who understands the new media at the top not just a bunch of internet guys stuck on every staff.

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The West as Nuclear Proliferator


The New York Times has a fascinating little chart today, illustrating the primary sources of nuclear weapons proliferation over time. In looking at the diagram, one cannot escape the overall impression that until recently the West has been the main and long-enduring source for most of the world’s nuclear proliferation. Given our traditional focus on authoritarian rouge states when it comes to proliferation threats –and our obsession with Russia and the former Soviet republics as potential proliferating agents– this might prompt us to reexamine some basic assumptions about where the sources of danger lie in technology transfer.

When considered, it shouldn’t really be surprising that the West is or was the top proliferator. There are several factors we could readily identify which would have made getting nuclear secrets in a Western democracy far easier than within the USSR. Among them might be:

  1. Unregulated communications make it easy to operate covert networks with little fear of detection.
  2. Relatively open borders facilitate easy transportation of personnel and material.
  3. Integrated trade alliances dedicated to industrial products make the shipment of advanced technology between countries relatively unremarkable.
  4. A cosmopolitan scientific community which publishes and socializes in a consolidated cross-cultural milieu, in which technical information exchange between countries is also unremarkable.
  5. An educational experience and civic culture that encourages individualism which can create rogue actors more easily.
  6. A shared lingua franca among an international scientific elite that makes it easy for them to converse and exchange ideas one-to-one, without need of translation services.
  7. Being the focal point for scientific and technology origination attracts attention from foreign intelligence services and black market operators.

Closed off and regimented societies prohibit or severely curtail most of these facilitating characteristics, and this fact might represent the disqualifying criteria that made a country like the USSR a virtual non-proliferator. Conditions more commonly associated with proliferation risk in policy debates such as malicious government, poverty and political repression, do not historically appear to be the primary risk points. Indeed, such characteristics might lead us to target the wrong societies for technology transfer such as Russia and North Korea.

But if the above list better reveals vulnerability points to proliferation, the country most likely to proliferate inadvertently or intentionally outside of the West would have to be China, with targets being her integrated East Asian and African alliance states. Increasingly China satisfies almost all of the requirements. Her massive communications architecture is becoming increasingly unmonitorable (even if the government tries), she is expanding her transportation links with the world at a rapid pace and making it easier to come and go, she has a large and increasingly cosmopolitan scientific community that is English speaking and mobile, she is a major commercial technology exporter and an origination point of primary scientific research.

Perhaps it should therefore not be surprising that the most recent proliferation vectors in the diagram above emanate from the PRC. Something to consider.

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When the Future is Boring

It seems the marriage of David Pollard and Amy Taylor is heading toward divorce, due to Pollard’s virtual affair with a virtual prostitute, uncovered by a virtual private detective hired by Taylor.

It occurs to me that the key thing William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and the 80s cyberpunk movement got wrong when they were conjecturing about the future of networked data communications, was that immersive media digital communities would be cool, awe-inspiring and practical.

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Armies of the Obsolete

Light and infrared targeting devices for games. (Photo by Rob Stradling | website)

Al Qaeda technicians have apparently pioneered the use of electronics in old SEGA game cartridges for bomb detonators. A smaller precedent than the use of the airliner as suicide missile, but no less remarkable as a demonstration of the the transnational terrorist group’s acumen and artistry at the reuse of civilian technology for military purposes.

The West, having derived its military advantages from the possession of advanced technology for centuries, has been preoccupied with the security risks of technology transfer perhaps since the classical Greeks. But the emergence of massive civilian technology transfers from modern to relatively underdeveloped cultures, and the accelerating pace of Western technological advance, presents a new challenge that promises only to expand in risk and complexity.


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China Pulls a Lapham – UPDATED

China space mission article hits Web before launch

A news story describing a successful launch of China’s long-awaited space mission and including detailed dialogue between astronauts launched on the Internet Thursday, hours before the rocket had even left the ground.

The country’s official news agency Xinhua posted the article on its Web site Thursday, and remained there for much of the day before it was taken down.


“After this order, signal lights all were switched on, various data show up on rows of screens, hundreds of technicians staring at the screens, without missing any slightest changes …

‘One minute to go!’this claim

‘Changjiang No.1 found the target!’…

“The firm voice of the controller broke the silence of the whole ship. Now, the target is captured 12 seconds ahead of the predicted time …

‘The air pressure in the cabin is normal!’

“Ten minutes later, the ship disappears below the horizon. Warm clapping and excited cheering breaks the night sky, echoing across the silent Pacific Ocean.”

Is anyone really surprised? Hopefully the technician who made the mistake is still healthy.

UPDATE: This story doesn’t inspire any confidence in this claim.

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38 Years Ago…

Bob from Brockley linked to ASHC:

He’s not alone either. Ah the good old days of blogging about détente and Vietnam on ARPANET…or perhaps a slight Technorati bug.

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My Summer Vacation

It was a busy weekend here at the homestead. Although it wasn’t actually at the homestead, we traveled to beautiful , to take in the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days event. Other than being hot, and humid, we had a great couple of days dodging golf carts and scooters, while ogling over the most motorcycles I’ve ever seen in one place.

This was also perhaps the largest vehicular event I’ve ever been to. Estimates are that there were 1000 swap meet vendors over 35 acres, 10’s of thousands of spectators, and I don’t know how many racers. I didn’t know who owned it at the time, but Jay Leno’s Y2K jet bike made a few laps around the track. That was a bit freaky, and thrilling, as a m/c passed by, and then you heard the whine of a turbine. Spent most of the time, taking pictures and wishing we had brought more money and a trailer.

Keith Taking Pictures

Keith Taking Pictures

There was also the added bonus of having Triumph motorcycles be the marque for the event. I’m currently in the market for a new motorcycle, because I like to ride, and the 2 m/c’s I have are in disrepair, I work on them more then I ride them. So, my wife graciously agreed last month that I could get a new m/c once our credit cards are paid off, which will be happening in the next month. Triumph is one of the few m/c’s that I’m interested in. I like the upright position of riding, and the classic look is unbeatable. Plus, it’s tame enough for a beginning rider, I’ve only been riding for 3 years now, and only have a thousand or so miles under me.

Taking a test ride of the Triumph Scrambler

Taking a test ride of the Triumph Scrambler

The test ride was good, I haven’t been able to ride since last spring, between selling our old house, moving into our new one, and trying to repair various cars and motorcycles. I did take a wrong turn, but I quickly realized my error and the tail gunner escort stopped to lead us back to the track. The Scrambler fit me well, and the power, handling and brakes were light years better then the 2 bikes I own. I’m now torn between the Scrambler and the Bonneville.

Yet another added bonus was being able to briefly meet Craig Vetter. If you are into motorcycles, you probably know him, or his products. He produced a line of fairings for motorcycles called the Windjammer. He was there with his new project, the Last Vetter Fairing, which is a full streamlined body for a Helix scooter. He’s aiming to get 100MPG at regular highway speeds, while able to fit 4 grocery bags into it. The thing is remarkable, especially when you realize the skin is made out of plastic notebook cover material, and only has around 18 HP. He is an inspiration to anyone investigating streamlining motorcycles. I’ve incorporated many of his ideas into sketches of things I’ve yet to build.

Craig Vetter w/ Streamlined Scooter

Craig Vetter w/ Streamlined Scooter

That’s Craig Vetter behind his scooter with the denim shirt and shades. He was happily talking about his efforts and hoped more people would get interested in his type of backyard innovation.

He also ran a contest in the early 80’s to see what kind of MPG people could get out of a motorcycle. 470 MPG was the record. Now these were purpose built machines, and the riders were crouched down to lower their wind resistance. His current project is all about practicality. Something a person could take to the store, or drive across country.

Most memorable food of the trip was having dinner at . Great food, but the decor and music were a flashback to the 80’s. If you’re in the area, I’d recommend it.

On the way home, we stopped off to pickup some parts to put disc brakes on my 61 Falcon. Met the guy off a Ford Falcon website, and he happened to have the parts sitting in his garage. So, I have another new project, which I’ll probably wait for the winter to start, to add to my long list of things I do in my increasingly rare spare time. At least I didn’t have to search the boneyards myself.

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Amazing New MPG Breakthrough!!!

Yes, after extensive research I can now offer to the public an almost guaranteed way of decreasing the amount of gas used in a week. While YMMV (Your Millage May Vary) I saw a 13% increase this past week using this new breakthrough.

I’m so confident about this breakthrough, that I’m also going to thrown in another breakthrough, FOR ABSOLUTELY NO CHARGE!!!

The first breakthrough is, get this, driving slower.

I know, who would have thought, that driving slower would bring such incredible results. Yes, while YMMV, mine went up to 34MPG, from a paltry 30MPG. That’s right, by backing off on the skinny pedal, and setting the cruise control a whole 5 MPH slower then I normally do, I achieved such breakthrough millage.

But wait, I promised another breakthrough for decreasing the amount of gas used in a week, FOR FREE!!!

The second breakthrough is, drive less often.

I know, it’s an incredible breakthrough. Why, by planning our trips over the weekend, we only went on 3 trips for errands, where we could have easily made 5 or 6.

So, there you have it, two incredible breakthroughs in driving technology, which will, more then likely, reduce the amount of gas you use in a week. Of course, YMMV.

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Clinton to Keep Defense Jobs Here

Here’s an ad some of you may not have seen. But now (wonder of wonders) since Indiana is a battleground state in the Democratic primary, it’s been getting plenty of air play during the local news programs.

Hillary Clinton:
Right here over 200 Hoosiers built parts that guided our military’s smart bombs to their targets.
They were good jobs, but now, they’re gone to China.
And now America’s defense relies on Chinese spare parts.
George Bush could have stopped it, but he didn’t.
As your president, I will fight to keep good jobs here, and to turn this economy around.
I’m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message because American workers should build America’s defense.

Seems like a simple enough case, doesn’t it. Bush and the Republicans failing to do what she would do.

But wait till you here the kicker about this.

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Abiogenic Oil

Hoystory poses a thought-provoking question with potentially dramatic consequences for the concept of “peak oil”:

What if “fossil fuels” weren’t made of fossils at all? What if the earth naturally made petroleum? What if gasoline was a renewable resource?

Imagine the howls from the environmentalist left if there was no such thing as “peak oil.”

In answer of the questions, Hoystory points to the following:

Lost in the big news last week — the race for the Democratic nomination, the reeling U.S. economy, the ongoing life/death saga that is “Dancing with the Stars” — came word that a new deep-water exploration area off the coast of Brazil could contain as much as 33 billion barrels of oil. How much is that? If estimates are accurate, the Brazilian find would amount to the world’s third-largest oil reserve. In comparison, the U.S. has proven oil reserves of 21.8 billion barrels.

What makes the Brazil find interesting is really the gold; not as in “black gold,” but as in Thomas Gold:

The Austrian-born astrophysicist, who died in 2004, was a renowned maverick in the science community, a brilliant rogue whose anti-establishment proclamations were often proven right. For instance, in the 1960s, as NASA began its assault on the moon, many scientists debated whether the moon’s surface was comprised of hard rock or might in fact be a layer of dust so thick that, upon touchdown, the Apollo lunar modules would sink out of sight. Gold, studying evidence from microimpacts, moon cratering, electrostatic fields, and more, boldly predicted that the astronauts’ boots would sink into the lunar regolith no more than three centimeters. And, give or take a centimeter or so, he was proven right.

What does Gold have to do with the recent Brazil oil find? In 1999, Gold published “The Deep Hot Biosphere,” a paper that postulated that coal and oil are produced not by the decomposition of organic materials, but in fact are “abiogenic” — the product of tectonic forces; i.e., deeply embedded hydrocarbons being brought up and through the earth’s mantle and transformed into their present states by bacteria living in the earth’s crust.

The majority of the world’s scientists scoff at Gold’s theory, and “fossil fuel” remains the accepted descriptor of oil. Yet in recent years Russia has quietly become the world’s top producer of oil, in part by drilling wells as deep as 40,000 feet — far below the graveyards of T-Rex and his Mesozoic buddies.

Is it possible that Thomas Gold was right again, and that the earth is actually still producing oil? It’s tantalizing to think so.

(emphasis added; more on Thomas Gold here.) If Gold was right and oil is abiogenically produced, then the fears of “peak oil” are premature at best. Of course, that assumes that the world does not consume the oil faster than the earth can produce it or that, alternatively, we don’t learn how to create artificially. But according to Gold’s theory, there is a staggering amount of oil to be discovered beneath the Earth’s crust, much more than we could rapidly consume. The following is from an interview Gold did with Wired Magazine (edited for clarity):

WIRED: How much more oil is there in your view of the world than in the view of traditional petroleum geology?

GOLD: Oh, a few hundred times more.

WIRED: But not all of it is accessible at the moment?

GOLD: It becomes accessible by recharging, and the recharging process I think I completely understand. There’s a stepwise approximation of the pore pressure to the rock pressure – that will always be the case if the stuff is coming up from below. You will not just fill up one reservoir at the top in the shallow levels. It will always be underlaid by another reservoir, and that in turn by another, and so on for a long way down.

WIRED: And by pumping out oil from the highest reservoir you release the pressure on the lower ones, allowing more oil to seep up.

GOLD: Yes, the partial seal between the surface reservoir and the one below in some cases appears to break open violently.

The most obvious evidence that Gold’s theory may be correct is that Russia seems to have reaped huge rewards by adhering to it. Hoystory specifically noted this part of the Brazil story:

Yet in recent years Russia has quietly become the world’s top producer of oil, in part by drilling wells as deep as 40,000 feet — far below the graveyards of T-Rex and his Mesozoic buddies.

In his interview, Gold explained why Russia would have set its compass to the abiogenic star of oil production:

WIRED: Were there precedents for your idea that deep hydrocarbons are a normal fact of planetary geology?

GOLD: In the ’60s, Sir Robert Robinson [a Nobel Prize-winning chemist and president of Britain's Royal Society] said that petroleum looks like a primordial hydrocarbon to which biological products have been added.

WIRED: And what was the response?

GOLD: The response was that I quoted his remark in many of my papers. But the profession of petroleum geology did not pick it up. Mendeleyev [the Russian chemist who developed the periodic table] in the 1870s had said much the same thing, but Robinson had done a more modern analysis of oil and had come to the same conclusion. And, in fact, the Russians have in the last 20 years done an even more precise analysis that completely proves the point. The fact that Mendeleyev was in favor of a primordial origin of petroleum had a great effect – you see, to most Russians, Mendeleyev was the greatest scientist that Russia ever had.

So I guess, in reality, it isn’t Gold’s theory at all, but one posited by a Russian scientist from the late 1800’s, and one that was echoed by the founder of Britain’s national academy of science. Yet somehow the term “fossil fuels” has become fixed, and the concept that oil comes from the decay of death rather than the regeneration of life is treated as gospel. The consensus must have been against them …

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The Air Car

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Yuri’s Night

A worldwide celebration is happening tonight. Yuri’s Night!

The local arts organization I am a member of, Art Mob, is supporting our local version. Unfortunately Art Mob’s sight is having trouble, but the temporary site can be found here. I just spent the afternoon at a juried art competition and art walk we organized, “Smock Paper Scissors.” It was raising money to support the arts programs for Baton Rouge’s new Autonomous Schools Network. My job was to take students around to all the exhibits, discuss the art, engage the artists and students, etc. Great fun, the kids were wonderful, the artists eager to discuss their work and art with the kids.

To find your own version of Yuri’s night:

Yuri’s Night is like the St Patricks Day or Cinco de Mayo for space. It is one day when all the world can come together and celebrate the power and beauty of space and what it means for each of us.

You can go here. If there isn’t one, it isn’t too late to start an impromptu one. Ours will be at a local alternative bar downtown, Redstar. I am attached to the place because the jukebox is fantastic (The lovely lady pictured at the Jukebox is certainly a consideration as well.) I think it is the only place in town that I can count on being able to play the Stooges. Sometimes you just need to hear Search and Destroy while you are out drinking beer.

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The Lie of Hybrid Cars

I’ve never understood the hype behind hybrid cars: sure, they look funky, and they have slightly higher mileage numbers than their conventionally-fueled counterparts, but they just never made any sense. An extra $5k for a car that saves a few gallons of fuel won’t ever be recouped over the probable lifetime of ownership… which is one reason why I found the South Park episode “Smug Alert” so damned funny—the people who drive them do so for their own sake, not economics or the environment.

Of course, if we were really interested in high-efficiency vehicles, we’d all be driving diesels. Diesels are so efficient, a BMW 520d, which is neither small nor sedate, gets better mileage than a Toyota Prius (the poster child of hybrids).

The same holds true for many other diesels. Compared to the Prius’ 45mpg, the Volkwagen Jetta TDI gets over 50 mpg, and rumors have it the Rabbit TDI gets upwards of 69 mpg. While VW has kept the diesel flame alive in the U.S. for many years, the 2009 Honda Accord Diesel will get a reported 52 mpg—well above last year’s more expensive Accord Hybrid. Indeed, there is an entire swath of ultra-high mpg vehicles sold in Europe that are simply not available here for a variety of reasons. Hybrids are not an economic way to save fuel costs and reduce airborne pollution; diesels, on the other hand, are. Like many truly amazing cars sold in Europe but unavailable here—like the Ford Mondeo (driven by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale), we either have to make due without, or wait many more years. Which is too bad.

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How Pakistan Accidentally Broke the Internet

Last week, a Pakistani ISP blocked YouTube in response to a video that apparently involved a cartoon pig defecating on the word “Allah.” Fine, whatever—there clearly is no appreciation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone in Islamabad. But the way they did it, which involved replicating a nasty redirect up the chain to several root-level domain name servers, had a cascading effect that overwhelmed their servers and brought the Internet to a crawl. Naturally, it makes more sense as a video:

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We’ll Get To That Wind Farm Application – Eventually

And by eventually, they mean decades down the road.

This is a perfect example of government getting in the way of the innovation we need to dig ourselves out of our fossil fuel dependency.

If you want to build a wind farm in Minnesota right now, you’re in for a nasty surprise. A 612-year nasty surprise in fact.

The Midwest Independent Transmission System (MISO), the organization in charge of the power lines, has to approve every new project that will connect to existing power lines. And MISO is only used to dealing with coal-plant-sized projects. Thus, the current regulations say that they must dedicate 2 years of their time to every project that will connect to the grid.

Not only that, but they’re only allowed to process one application at a time.

This worked fine back when they were approving coal plants. Two years was plenty of time, and there weren’t enough giant fossil fuel plants to fill their docket.

But a system that worked fine for fossil fuel has completely broken down in the face of distributed wind energy. People filing an application with MISO to build a medium- to large-scale wind project (of which there are currently over three hundred) have a heck of a wait in front of them.

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The Muhammad-pedia Controversy

After their success getting the Muhammad cartoons banned, some Muslims have now set their sights on wikipedia. Recently a large group of Muslims have started an email campaign asking wikipedia to remove their images of their holy prophet Muhammad, even going so far as to start an online petition that has received over 80,000 signatures.

“It’s totally unacceptable to print the prophet’s picture,” Saadia Bukhari from Pakistan wrote in a message. “It shows insensitivity towards Muslim feelings and should be removed immediately.”

Thankfully wikipedia says they are staying true to the idealism the site was founded on, and doesn’t find it “unacceptable” to “[show] insensitivity towards Muslim feelings”.

“Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with the goal of representing all topics from a neutral point of view, Wikipedia is not censored for the benefit of any particular group.”

I can only hope that this stays a peaceful online protest and doesn’t descend into an online version of the violence that the cartoon controversy did.


I also want to add what I think is a much larger point about these types of protests. From the Paul Cobb, who teaches Islamic history at Notre Dame, “The idea of imposing a ban on all depictions of people, particularly Muhammad, dates to the 20th century”. This is a very recent phenomenon and does not represent any consensus of world wide Muslims. It isn’t some ancient commandmet being violated, it’s a politicization of a cultural taboo, if you can even call it that.

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What happens to a blog post?

When I finish typing this and hit publish, the blog will send out a ping, and then the enters the strange ecosystem of the internet:

Imperceptibly and all but instantaneously, your post slips into a vast and recursive network of software agents, where it is crawled, indexed, mined, scraped, republished, and propagated throughout the Web. Within minutes, if you’ve written about a timely and noteworthy topic, a small army of bots will get the word out to anyone remotely interested, from fellow bloggers to corporate marketers.

Click here for a interactive, graphic picture of this strange world.

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Visit Death and Destruction Upon Us

I know many of you have always wanted to cause us harm. This is your chance to do it, virtually of course. I’ll start with allowing you to do something more gentle, like a protest!

Then go up to the little bar, select your tool of choice, and rain destruction upon as us you feel fit. Crash a Led Zeppelin through our page, command a chainsaw and mangle the pieces of our posts, have Martians attack, dinosaurs rampage. Get it out of your system before you happen to meet me.

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Begun the Scientology War Has

So making the news today, a group of hackers calling themselves Anonymous, has declared “war” on the Church of Scientology. It started with distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on CoS and CoS sponsored websites, but moved on today to claims that the group had hacked Prolexic, which is a company employed by Scientology to protect them from these DDoS attacks. They seem to have a flair for the dramatic, announcing their attack on Prolexic, and calling for others to join them outside the Church of Scientology in London on a date in Oct. 

Now this sort of thing has happened before but what makes this interesting is the apparent organization of the attackers, the widespread negative media attention Scientology has gotten over the last few years, and the advancement of technology. Each generations war is fought differently, and I think we may see something similar in this “internet war”. This seems to be well thought out, planned and coordinated.

How long will this last? What is the goal? Will they attackers be caught and/or shut down? Or will they just get bored and move on to something else? They seem to be submitting their news to frequently, so check back there periodically for the latest.

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Why is Tide Popular?

Tyler Cowen wants to know:

Eli Lehrer informs me that Tide has a high market share even though it is more expensive than most other brands. This source says the market share of Tide is about forty-four percent, with the sum total of all Proctor and Gamble products (Gain and Cheer are two others) accounting for about two-thirds of the market. Is Tide so good? Does Tide really “know fabric best”? I couldn’t name one supposed feature of the product and I’ve been buying detergent my whole life. I couldn’t even tell you what brand I buy. Maybe it is Tide.

Having read the occasional issue of Consumer Reports, I know that Tide consistently is a star. In fact price does seem to matter, and commenter Kip Esquire gives us an insight to the chemical industry and the money they spend on making these products better:

INTERESTINGLY, although Gain is a midtier brand, it draws on some of the chemistry developed for P&G’s premium Tide brand. For example, Grime says the powdered variety of Gain now contains a proprietary, quick-dissolving alcohol sulfate surfactant developed with Shell Chemical and launched in 2002 in Tide. And Gain powder with bleach contains nonanoylbenzene sulfonate, the high-performance peroxygen bleach activator long used in Tide with Bleach.

Likewise, Gain Fabric Enhancer is a new fabric softener that uses diethylester dimethyl ammonium chloride, the same softener active found in P&G’s premium Downy brand.

Of course, P&G reserves some technologies for Tide and for Ariel, its premium European brand. In France, for example, the company recently introduced Ariel Style, which Grime calls the first detergent to offer a fabric shape retention benefit. The technology, called Fiberflex, was developed in partnership with one of P&G’s chemical suppliers.

The business and science behind this I found surprisingly interesting:

Also being introduced in P&G’s flagship brands is a new enzyme combination of pectate lyase and mannanase. Grime says this combination targets the pectins, mannins, and guars that are present in many food stains, either from the food itself or from thickeners used with them. Not only are these substances difficult to remove, they leave residues after washing that can act as “magnets” and attract other stains during wear, he says.

Another premium brand innovation from P&G is an ethoxylated quaternized sulfated amine that the Tide and Ariel franchises are incorporating as a cleaning polymer. According to Grime, this technology improves cleaning performance on two fronts: through improved soil suspension capability and improved removal of outdoor soil stains, a perennial laundry problem.

But then, I’m a geek.

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Market failure

From Peter Gordon:

This morning’s WSJ op-ed (“Gas Taxes Are High Enough”) by Mary E. Peters, Secretary of Transportation, suggests that this appointment belongs on the plus side of the ledger. She is the highest-ranking federal transportation official to openly embrace electronic road tolls on major highways. Highway congestion is often cited as a market failure in the texbooks. But not pricing when the means to do so at low cost are finally here is clearly a policy failure.

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Sam Zell on what is important

I don’t know if the eccentric Sam Zell can turn around Tribune, but he is always entertaining:

From: Talk to Sam Sent: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 11:03 AM Subject: Censorship, the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate

I learned on the first leg of our tour of Tribune’s business units that some of them were filtering Internet content. I do not see how a member of the Fourth Estate, dedicated to protecting the First Amendment, can censor what its own employees and partners can see. I have instructed that all content filters be removed. You are now exposed to the dangers of You Tube and Facebook. Please use your best judgment.

Let’s focus on what is important, and go for greatness.

Hat tip: Instapundit

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Wordpress News

Good for them:

Automattic, the company behind, just secured a $29.5 million B round of financing. Congrats to Matt, Toni, and everyone else at Automattic. $29.5 million is a monster round, considering that Automattic has so far grown by sipping daintily on a $1.2 million first round secured in 2006. I can’t wait to see what is next. Really interesting to me is that with this round the New York Times joins their investors. One word for that: adaptation. The line between old media and new media blurs further.

I think this bodes well for the further development of our blogging platform. is not Wordpress, but a site which uses Wordpress to host hundreds of thousands of blogs. However, as prime developers of Wordpress oriented technology they will help drive this bus forward.

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40 Hour Laptops!

Via Instapundit we see it may :

Imagine running your laptop nonstop from New York to Tokyo — crunch some numbers, work on a memo pop in a few DVDs — and then do a full day of meetings, using your machine throughout the day and into the night. Imagine doing all this without ever plugging in your computer to recharge its battery.

This scenario may become reality in the near future, if Stanford University scientists succeed in commercializing a breakthrough in the laboratory. Assistant Professor Yi Cui and associates at Stanford’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering said they have developed a method to increase the life of rechargeable lithium ion batteries to a whopping 40 hours.

Publishing in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the Stanford researchers have shown that by using silicon nanowires as the battery anode instead of today’s graphite, the amount of lithium the anode can hold is extended tenfold.

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Planet of the Apes Meets the Matrix

Robot MonkeyScientists have progressed one step closer to my dream of being the laziest person in the world by way of controlling computers and robots with my mind. Neuroscientists at Duke University teamed up with a robot in Kyoto, Japan to take us one step closer. Back in 2003 they were able to hook up electrodes to a monkey’s brain and have it control a robotic arm. This time they went much farther and actually had a monkey in South Carolina, Idoya, make a robot in Kyoto walk simply with her thoughts. The development of a human-to-computer interface would have countless applications in every walk of life. Soldiers controlling robots, mechanized physical enhancements, computers and video games controlled directly by thoughts (no more searching for the “any” key), to any number of applications we probably can’t even imagine.

As for closer to real world applications,

These experiments, Dr. Nicolelis said, are the first steps toward a brain machine interface that might permit paralyzed people to walk by directing devices with their thoughts. Electrodes in the person’s brain would send signals to a device worn on the hip, like a cell phone or pager, that would relay those signals to a pair of braces, a kind of external skeleton, worn on the legs.

Which seems simply amazing to think about. Dare I say, the singularity is near?

(image from Robot Death Monkey)

Update- Others Blogging: The Speculist, Frank J, Instapundit

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Fighting the Mafia with Social Networking

In a bottom-up rebellion in Sicily, a group of Palermo youths have started a social networking site called Addiopizzo, which provides public attention and mutual support for Sicilian businesses which publicly refuse to pay the mafia “protection” money. Evidently it’s starting to deplete the mob of what has long been its most stable revenue source.

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Apple Reshapes Another Industry


A fascinating look at the development of the iPhone and its impact upon the structure of the telecom industry. More than being a snazzy and popular device, the iPhone has changed how the relationship between players in the telecom industry works. There are long term economic, and yes, investment ramifications in this change.

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Firefox Tip

This seems to have really improved the speed at which I browse:

Speed up Firefox. If you have a broadband connection, you can speed up your page loads. This allows Firefox to load multiple things on a page instead of one at a time. By default, it’s optimized for dialup connections (why??). Here is what you need to do:

1. Type “about:config” into the address bar and hit return. Type “network.http” in the filter field, and change the following settings (double-click on them to change them):
2. Set “network.http.pipelining” to “true”
3. Set “network.http.proxy.pipelining” to “true”
4. Set “network.http.pipelining.maxrequests” to 30. This will allow it to make 30 requests at one time. Originally I tried 100 here and it didn’t seem to help. When I went with 30 I noticed an improvement.
5. Right-click anywhere and select New-> Integer. Name it “nglayout.initialpaint.delay” and set its value to “0?. This value is the amount of time the browser waits before it acts on information it receives.

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News Brief, Cake Parade Edition

Cross-posted to The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • What, they’re accused of only murdered 14 people? Let’s see if the White Rabbit can break his weeks-long silence to defend them this time.
  • Well, at least they’ve finally joined the war.
  • Oh great. With friends like these… who says we’ll ever fix Iraq?
  • Max Boot has a problem, and the only prescription is more FSOs confined to the Green Zone. Antonius Block has other essential thoughts on this half-baked essay. Much like my thoughts on Krauthammer… how do these guys still get paid to write on this stuff?
  • More failing upwards in the military.

Around the World

  • A Swiss group is offering anal for crips, and I don’t mean the gang. Possibly related, millions of us now have chlamydia. Gonorrhea and syphillis are on the rise as well. So let’s not have quite as much sex as before, ok? Who am I kidding, just double-bag that sh1t.
  • So sometimes U.S. pressure can have positive effects. Just not in Uzbekistan.
  • LOL! This is like when the Kazakh National Bank misspelled “bank.” But please—no Borat jokes, please.
  • Interesting: Porsche makes more money from options than from selling cars. So does that mean they could sell their cars for less? Obviously not. But it’s nice to dream.
  • Looking at Musharraf’s Ides of March.
  • Péter Marton has another update on the Baghlan bombing.
  • Don’t forget the simmering problem of Nagorno-Karabagh.

Back at Home

  • Wonkette and Red State, united in fury against… Ron Paul? That’s reason enough to support him.
  • This is a compelling reason to support the writer’s strike.
  • Oh, so the weak dollar is why pot is so expensive these days? Actually, my friends tell me it really isn’t, at least around DC—and it’s gotten better in quality. Maybe they don’t have those Canadians supplying the ganj. But I wouldn’t know—I’ve never looked into pot smuggling supply chain management.
  • The recording industry is trying to use federal money to blackmail universities for the behavior of their students. How appalling.
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The City Car

Very Cool:

The City Car, a design project under way at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is envisioned as a two-seater electric vehicle powered by lithium-ion batteries. It would weigh between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds and could collapse, then stack like a shopping cart with six to eight fitting into a typical parking space. It isn’t just a car, but is designed as a system of shared cars with kiosks at locations around a city or small community.

Admitting the problem, unlike many urban planners and transit advocates, leads to a potential solution:

“The problem with mass transit is it kind of takes you to where you want to go and at the approximate time you want to get there, but not exactly. Sometimes you have to walk up to a mile from the last train or subway stop,” said Franco Vairani, a Ph.D. candidate at MIT’s school of architecture. The City Car is his thesis, though it’s now a group effort involving many others at the school.

This isn’t intended as an individual vehicle, though I don’t see why it couldn’t be:

The City Car business model is akin to a shopping cart or a bike-share program where you return the item to a convenient location when you’re done with it. City Car users would be required to swipe their credit card as a form of deposit. The cars could also be tracked using GPS. To protect privacy, the GPS info could then be deleted once the car is safely returned to a kiosk.

It also is put together fundamentally different:

Unlike a regular car–or even another type of electric car–that has a central power system distributed to its wheels, the City Car is envisioned as a modular system. Each wheel base has its own motor, steering, braking, and suspension system. It then taps into a central system for power, computer control, and some mechanical linkage. These “electric robot wheels” as they are called, would allow the City Car to be collapsible, stackable, and spin on a dime for sideways movement and easier parking, according to Lark. “So you really treat this like a Lego brick you snap onto a cabin,” said Lark.

I like Lego’s.

H/T: Instapundit

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Where Are The Memos? (Updated)

Why is it that news sites refuse to publish the documents upon which they report? I mean, even Glenn Greenwald produced the emails he was mischaracterizing. Why can’t The Washington Post do the same with the infamous “snowflake memos” it has managed to obtain? If it did so, it would answer questions such as those from Ann Althouse (HT: Instapundit):

Is the WaPo “running a story based off of selective quotations and gross mischaracterizations from a handful of memos — carefully picked from the some 20,000 written while Rumsfeld served as Secretary”? Or does this story “shed light on [the] brusque management style” of “a defense secretary disdainful of media criticism and driven to reshape public opinion of the Iraq war”?

This is most frustrating since, given today’s technology, providing access to source materials is as easy as creating a hyperlink and reserving a little space on a server. Shifting more and more content away from dead-tree vehicles to online platforms was a great move, but that was just the first step. The MSM needs to produce content in a manner more suitable to the new medium — i.e. provide hyperlinks, source material, and continuously updated content. It’s really not that hard, but for some reason the industry just isn’t catching on.

The MSM approach to online content reminds in a way of the first movies produced. Before the silver screen, entertainers performed on a stage with (mostly) static scenery. Each scene focused on one setting, with a few characters. The first movies were little more than film reproductions of these stage shows. Jump cuts, panning shots, and other techniques that we pretty much take for granted were not in the repertoire of any Hollywood directors back then. At least not until D.W. Griffiths’ The Birth of A Nation (which is why that notoriously racist work is still considered one of the most important movies of all time). Ever since then, the endless possibilities for telling a story through film have been explored and enjoyed.

In my view, the MSM needs to take the same leap into the New Media world or risks being relegated to the dust bin of history along with silent films.

UPDATE ***: Glenn Reynolds links (Welcome Instapunditeers!) and answers the question of why the WaPo doesn’t link the memos: Because then people could make up their own minds. Bingo. ***

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Items To Save During A House Fire

Self – Check
Spouse – Check
Kids – Check
Pets – Check
Important Papers – Checks
Satellite Receiver – WTF

The nerve of some corporations!

When this Azola couple got back from their honeymoon, they had about an hour of matrimonial bliss before being forced to flee as their house was engulfed in flames. So you can understand they had some things on their mind other than the status of their AT&T | Dish receiver as they ran for their lives. When they called to cancel service, the customer service rep asked if they had “remembered to pick up the receiver” as they left the house…

After the couple said no, AT&T told them they would have to pay $300 for the receiver and would not put any forbearance on the bill as the couple tried to get their life back together.

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Shift Happens

Sometimes information like this makes me sit back and think “whoa” (sounding to much like neo in the matrix.) Not only is this a small world (which we often forget,) but it is becoming an exponentially complex and interconnected one.

glumbert – Shift Happens

The Singularity is Near.

Heck, I read sci-fi, and try to keep up with advances in computers and software, and I am often left open mouthed at some of “magic” happening now. One of my favorite course in college had us OO programming in a language I’ve lone forgotten (SMALLTALK I think.) My project was making a virtual robot move around a virtual world, responding to simple typed commands. Now, you can get a LEGO kit to attempt the same.

H/T to my favorite strategic thinker for pointing this out…

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News Brief, Work = Busy So No More Briefings ‘Till Lundi

Still posted first over at The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • More on the internal battle over imperial anthropology.

Around the World

  • Also have you seen the possibly-NSFW Shaolin ? Basically, they are the world’s greatest fighting force—well beyond the ninja. I already knew this from David Carradine. Now I know this from YouTube.
  • Barnett Rubin asks if anyone serious actually agrees with U.S. counternarcotics policy in Afghanistan. The implied answer is “no,” and from where I sit I’m inclined to agree. This comes at a time when NATO is thinking of outsourcing the war in Afghanistan, and the Afghan government is trying to clamp down on PMCs. Expect more from me on this later.
  • Joshua Kucera on Tajikistan after peace.
  • Fashion Week in Bishkek? Why not?

Back at Home

  • Forbes doesn’t get it: the future of music isn’t in finding new ways of selling the same number of albums (though selling albums will never go away), but finding new ways of attracting concert-goers. P2P sharing does that; Radiohead’s model, though not a perfect replication of the “selling discs” model, comes the closest I’ve seen to achieving the album model digitally. It also happens to work off a well-known economic theory about value.
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Data Mining and Domestic Policing

When I first heard about this story about a fugitive being caught after 35 years, I didn’t think twice about it. Until I saw a detail about the Intelligence Fusion Center being involved.

State investigators say the very things that helped a convicted Indiana murderer stay under the radar for more than three decades were what finally got her caught.

When Tennessee police officers saw the 1970s prison photo, they knew Linda Delaney, a well liked, small town grandmother, was in fact Linda Darby, an escapee from the Indiana Women’s Prison. She was a wife convicted of settling a family financial hardship by shooting her husband and setting him and their Hammond home on fire.

So, how was this accomplished, and what is the Intelligence Fusion Center.

McKee runs the Fusion Center under the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. It was just ten days ago its state and federal analysts re-entered the data from the cold 1972 escape case of Linda Darby.

In less than the equivalent of three workdays they were focused on a retirement aged Tennessee wife and mother of two. A woman who shared the first name of Linda, whose registered birthdate and social security number were just a few digits off their suspect’s. Those were changes that might be easy for a fugitive to remember and avoid attracting attention.

McKee adds, “It was her undoing in this case as well.”

Darby never got another driver’s license, another red flag used to pick her from a database of millions of people. Officials hope to follow up this closed case with others. The Department of Corrections brought the Fusion Center analysts another 300 cases of missing prisoners and parolees.

Some analysis of common practices that fugitives must use to hide, and simple data crunching. Not a problem right?

Now, why should this be of any concern to anyone. Well, like any good tool, there is always a potential for misuse. Catching fugitives, terrorists and criminals, is all well and good. But how far can this tool reach? How about tax cheats, and people skipping on child support payments? It wouldn’t be to hard to feed the information in, and find out what current jobs, and assets a person has.

How far reaching is this? The following states have operational centers:

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia

EPIC has a good roundup of information on the issue.

For more info on the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center…

The Mission of the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center is to collect, analyze, and disseminate information and intelligence data regarding criminal and terrorist activity in the State of Indiana while following Fair Information Practices to ensure the rights and privacy of citizens.

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Score One For New Media

Old Media, New MediaThe MSM (or “Legacy Media” or whatever term floats your boat) is suffering at the invisible hands of technology, which has prompted the rise of not just cable news, but also blogs and online magazines. Blogs in particular often draw snarling reactions and comments from major MSM players, mostly because the MSM is routinely berated in the blogosphere for its shortcomings: e.g. “fake but accurate”, “layers of fact-checkers”, etc. Indeed, one famous quip from Jonathan Klein, former CBS News VP, spurred the creation of Pajamas Media, of which ASHC is a member:

“You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances [at 60 Minutes] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.”

To be fair, the relationship is pretty symbiotic. After all, what would blogs write about if not for the comedy of errors that is the MSM?

But what New Media, and especially online media, brings to the table is an extra dimension of interconnectedness that’s lacking in the MSM. Certainly the MSM all take their cues from the same playbooks, and develop their “narratives” in the same laboratory, but that is a different sort of interconnectedness.

What I’m referring to is the way that blogs link to one another, and to primary sources. This simple innovation allows readers to not only view the source material for the topic at hand, but to discover new, independent and often authoritative voices that might otherwise languish in obscurity. However, despite the ease with which linking can be done, and regardless of the fact that newspapers are increasingly placing their content on the web, I have yet to see this simple innovation employed by any of the MSM news articles. Until today.

Following a link to Bob Krumm from Instapundit, I read this truly odiferous Op-Ed from Frank Rich (as if he had any other kind). Here is an excerpt:

There has been scarcely more response to the similarly recurrent story of apparent war crimes committed by our contractors in Iraq. Call me cynical, but when Laura Bush spoke up last week about the human rights atrocities in Burma, it seemed less an act of selfless humanitarianism than another administration maneuver to change the subject from its own abuses.

As Mrs. Bush spoke, two women, both Armenian Christians, were gunned down in Baghdad by contractors underwritten by American taxpayers. On this matter, the White House has been silent. That incident followed the Sept. 16 massacre in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, where 17 Iraqis were killed by security forces from Blackwater USA, which had already been implicated in nearly 200 other shooting incidents since 2005. There has been no accountability. The State Department, Blackwater’s sugar daddy for most of its billion dollars in contracts, won’t even share its investigative findings with the United States military and the Iraqi government, both of which have deemed the killings criminal.

Now, I won’t go into the myriad misstatements and untruths of Rich’s article, but if you wave your cursor over each one of those green underlined phrases you will find that Rich actually provided a link to the source of his statements, even when that source was other than the NYT. For that I say, bravo Frank Rich! Perhaps now other MSM writers will mimic your brave foray into the world of online media and begin linking to the sources of their statements.

As for how this acquiescence to blogospheric formatting reflects on New Media, I can’t decide which phrase fits best: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” or “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

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News Brief, À Cause Des Garçons Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • Dear God. The USAF thinks it will win counterinsurgencies by copying the Viet Cong? These guys are almost as bad as the PMFs. In a must-read analysis, Abu Muqawama concludes, “This, America, is your uniformed military leadership. Be proud.” Oh I am.
  • “The reliable replacement warhead is a symptom.” Of what, you’ll have to read.
  • Interesting take on the leaky spook that led to Al Qaeda going dark.
  • The Instapundit unintentionally demonstrates that chaos is not a given as troops pull out of Iraq.

Around the World

  • For its first few post-Turkmenbashi months, Nathan and I were speculating about what kinds of reform Stomatologbashi might bring to Turkmenistan. There were opportunities for better internet access, more open borders, a better education system, maybe even loosened speech codes. Joshua Kucera went there, and heard some fascinatingly conflicting things about what that might shape up to be.
  • I’ve begun sponsoring small businesses through Kiva. You should too. I also wonder what exactly might be happening in Waziristan—a for real real battle, or another dog and pony show for the reporters? It’s way too early to say, and it’s damned frustrating it’s so dangerous for reporters.
  • Support Craig Murray in his battle against censorship at the hands of a wealthy thug.
  • Kazakhstan’s bid for the Chair of the OSCE, covered in some depth here and here, gets a slightly more insider treatment from Arseny sees something odd: for the first time, the request to postpone the chairmanship has come from Kazakhstan itself, instead of sanctimonious EU insiders. What could that mean? There are also some interesting questions about their national security strategy that are worth reading.
  • Ms. Boyd is back from Costa Rica, giving us the insider scoop on CAFTA. Welcome back!
  • Hahaha! German economists are complaining that chimpanzees behave according to economic models, but people don’t! Of course! That means people are wrong, not those models!
  • All those people who think China is to blame for Burma (including me) are wrong: it is really Thailand.
  • I’m sure this is the first time someone has slacked off at work to edit a Wiki fan page. EVER.
  • Péter Marton gazes into the information black hole of Pakistan’s FATA.

Back at Home

  • Is it possible to be principled and patriotic and still think we should lose a war? McQ doesn’t see how, but I suppose he’s never read Chesterton’s thoughts on patriotism. If your country is behaving immorally, it can be principled to wish for her defeat. Then again, I doubt the people wanting us to “lose” (and the way it’s defined there is awfully sloppy, and falls for the false victory/defeat choice people persist in thinking we face in Iraq) think as deeply about it.
  • The RIAA hates your CD burner and radio station. Seriously. Their successful, “treat the customer as a criminal” business model must be resulting in good profits, right? Right.
  • Everything about this story is shameful. State secrets be damned—this man was abducted off the street, tortured for months, then dumped on a hillside in Albania. By the CIA, or maybe one of its contractors. And SCOTUS refuses to hear his plea, we suspect because the Bush Administration proclaims it would reveal “state secrets.” Like our policy of kidnapping and torturing innocent people? Seriously, when did Bush become Brezhnev>?
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News Brief, Tales of Taboo Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • Finally, after years of occupying their country, we’ve liberated Iraq from the burden of living in fear for collaborating with us.
  • P.W. Singer (again) on the devil’s bargain of PMCs. I like how he wonders how a force can be cost effective when it’s more expensive and so detrimental to the overall mission. Worth thinking about, but too many of the administration are in the industry’s pocket—in a very real sense of the term. More thoughts here. And look who’s throwing around the “M” word.
  • Abu Muqawama asks: “how badly do you have to screw up before you don’t get offered a fellowship at Georgetown or Stanford or Harvard? …these people need to do penance emptying bed pans at Walter Reed for a few years before they’re allowed to take poetry classes and ‘recapture’ their lives.” He’s referring to Meghan O’Sullivan, one of the primary architects of the Iraq War in the White House, and how she’s retiring to pursue more relaxing pursuits and teach undergrads about security issues at an elite university. It’s like when Georgetown hired Doug Feith—can these people take “failing upward” to a more ludicrous degree? And I really hope these universities are only hiring these people for their connections, rather than their capabilities, knowledge, or experience.
  • Does the missile shield actually work? Color me skeptical—IRL, you don’t have advance warning of the launch location and timing of a missile attack. Similarly, the countermeasures defeating system hasn’t been meaningfully tested (and probably never will be, as ensuring China and Russia could still punch through was a big part of Bush’s promise not to “counter” them when he withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2002). That article also notes that, despite five successful test launches since 1999, there have been 3 failures—the true usefulness of a hyper-expensive defense system with a 40% failure rate seems to have escaped them. Shoddy reporting on DailyTech’s part.
  • I had written a blurb here about historical revisionism among the war supporters, but it was long so I turned it into its own post.

Around the World

  • I express skepticism about the conservative crowing over the sham re-election of Pervez Musharraf, the backward logic of our campaign in Afghanistan, and a statement of support for Craig Murray in his battle not to be silenced by a wealthy Uzbek industrialist—in London. All this and more, over at
  • Afghanistanica throws some water on the idea of Hazara riots over The Kite Runner. Good on him—he’s a good counterweight to the just ignorant posting on Afghanistan you’ll find at the Instapundit (whose logic would imply we are at war with the Hazara, instead of just in serious need of the ability to be empathetic to a culture with different pressure points as we occupy their country).
  • Who needs electricity to navigate a series of tubes?
  • The Burma junta knows how to persuade. Word is they’re now seizing UN computers with information on Burmese dissidents.
  • Turkey is playing hardball with the unfortunate reality of the Armenian genocide. As with 2003, they have us by the balls over Iraq, though I don’t think they’re quite ready to invade Kurdistan, not just yet. Reports like , even apart from the excellent reporting on the region by Michael Totten, would make for a PR disaster for Turkey.
  • Villagers in Laos still face the prospect of unexploded U.S. ordinance from the Vietnam War. Hell, farmers in Alsace still face the prospect of unexploded ordinance from World War I. Modern wars have long lasting consequences, which is why they should be fought as an absolute last resort resort.

Back at Home

  • Google is a tricky monkey. Good luck getting cell phone users to buy adware.
  • Eww, drafting Peter Pace for the Senate? Really? Do people just hate this country?
  • Assuming it’s ever legal for me to adopt children in this hateful, expensive state (or jointly own a house, or anything else the Legislature outlawed in the name of Jesus), I’m so going to teach my children that credit cards are like infinite money. You know, to support the GWOT.
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News Brief, Capture/release Edition

Repeated at The Conjecturer.

Defense & the War

  • P.W. Singer on how no one is really asking the right questions about Blackwater and PMCs in general. Contrary to other arguments, it is a question of legality and accountability, since even employees accused of and fired for committing crimes like murder have not been prosecuted for it. But it is more importantly a question of whether their role in the conflict is even proper. Seeing how badly they’ve undermined our goal of “winning over” the Iraqis and lied about the extend of their activities, I think it’s time we made the hard choice to not only establish firm ROE and strict and explicit legal consequences similar to what the regular military faces, but that we need to make a deliberate choice to wean ourselves off the private military industry—especially since it is becoming more and more clear that they were used in the first place not to defray cost but to avoid embarrassing political considerations.
  • Then there is the question of what sorts of contracts Blackwater has with the CIA.
  • Oh, and we can add famous neocon Max Boot as among those who think PMCs like Blackwater exist in legal limbo and need stricter oversight. He finds it “outrageous that almost no American contractors have been held criminally liable for conduct in Iraq or Afghanistan, but hundreds of soldiers have been court-martialed.” Strange so many people think PMCs, even those who are not morally opposed to their use, think they exist in a legal blackhole. We’re all wrong, I guess.
  • David Axe has more on how the Air Force might adapt to more properly fulfill a COIN war.
  • I’m torn on whether it is petty nationalism or legitimate concnern behind Bill Gertz’s piece on a Chinese military contractor snatching up 3Com. It could go either way—nefarious or just good economics. But national defense is one of the few areas where I think it’s okay to break with free market principles.

Around the World

  • Kim Jong-il “warmed” to Roh Moo Hyun during a summit. Whether it turns into anything interesting, or winds up like every other “Sunshine Policy”-era meeting remains to be seen.
  • Zimbabwe is “running out of wheat.” But Robert Mugabe is an anti-colonialist, so I guess that makes it okay to starve your country to death.
  • Back in April, Stephan Faris wrote an article for The Atlantic in which he argued that climate change, rather than official government action, was the primary driver of conflict in Darfur. It is a pattern sadly repeated throughout the Sahel, in which nomads compete with farmers for arable land as the Sahara advances. I think he needlessly downplayed the role of the Sudanese government, but environmental conditions can be a huge source of conflict. Enter the Tuareg and Hausa, who are actually collaborating to avoid desertification turn southern Niger into another Darfur. One of their methods—so-called “water traps”—sounds like something you’d see in Dune. Which I guess is the point. Might we not be too far away from stillsuits?
  • Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the sort-of president of Somalia, is in trouble. It’s too much to summarize, but basically Somaliland—the de facto but not de jure independent region in the northwest of the country—is about to go to all out war with neighboring Puntland.
  • Volodiya Putin will continue to rule Russia as prime minister (though I’m not as certain he’ll falter when oil exports level off in a few years). Meanwhile, Gazprom is going cut Ukraine the frack off from its heating gas if it doesn’t pay up. This seems like as good a time as any to mention Yulia Timoshenko totally doesn’t like it but she’s still a tasty little piece of slavic political hottness (the extra t is for extra hotness). (Lance- Now Josh has done it. I have already explained to him that mentioning Yulia requires a photo. Links are not acceptable. Therefore he is being docked a weeks pay and I am inserting a photo.)
  • The Anonymous Lobbyist sinks her teeth into Burma, and I came out of it laughing, then crying.

Back at Home

  • Since when had soon to be former Wonkette editor Alex Pareene begun banging some dude’s wife? I love that this came out in the comments section of a story about how they let an unarmed robber filch $80 off them.
  • According to Sony BMG, ripping the music I own on CDs I purchased into my unshared iTunes library is stealing. This what I mean when I say the music industry, at least the major labels, need to fracking go out of business, at least if they’re going to treat their customer base as criminals.
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A Brief History of War and Medicine

Joshua brought up this little tid-bit in his last post…

There is also a rather shocking exhibit of an underreported side effect of the war: advances in medical technology now allow survivability after injuries that once were fatal. Which means a new generation of the crippled and maimed are coming home.

There have been “advances” in battlefield medicine in many past wars. So, it shouldn’t be that shocking. And as these advances become mainstream medicine, it improves the field, and our quality of life overall. Also look for improvements in the follow-on care of these soldiers. It isn’t to hard to predict advances in bionics, skin regrowth, and other medicine, as the new members of our “Greatest Generation,” demand more from the VA then a bed in the back ward.

The survivability rate has dramatically improved, with 90% of the wounded being saved.

“You go back to the Revolutionary War and 42 percent of those soldiers who were hit in battle died,” Gawande says. “By World War II, it was under 30 percent who had died from their wounds. And, yet, by the Korean War, Vietnam War and even the Persian Gulf War, it was around 25 percent who died.

“We didn’t make a massive improvement and, yet, in this war we have.”

“Shipping them to Landstuhl (in Germany) and then back to the United States, while they’re still critically ill and on ventilators and in need of further surgeries, that — that was unheard of until this war,” says Colonel Craig Shriver, who teaches battlefield surgery at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

To appreciate the speed, consider this: during the Vietnam war, it took 45 days for the wounded to go from battlefield to stateside.

Today, it takes less than four.

“I believe that necessity is the mother of invention. And as you would probably agree, war provides many necessities,” says Dr. Larry Loughlin, dean of the Uniformed Services University.

Prior to the Civil War, Loughlin says, “The concept of the hospital as we know it did not exist.”

During World War I, the idea of bringing blood to the battlefield for blood transfusions was introduced. World War II marked the first widespread use of penicillin and after debuting during the Korean war, emergency evacuation helicopters became a common feature of medicine’s battle plan during Vietnam.

Shriver says the correlation between advances in emergency care and war stems from the fact that war is “an intense American experience where really the best minds of health care are all coming together for a cause.”

He adds, “And so we’re putting the best people — a lot of them together on a specific issue — and good things come out of that.”

And what has past wars brought us…

* The practice of Triage, by Dominique Jean Larrey during the Napoleonic Wars.
* Advances in surgery – especially amputation, during the Napoleonic Wars and first world war on the battlefield of the Somme.
* The first practical method for transporting blood, by Norman Bethune during the Spanish Civil War.
* Ambulances or dedicated vehicles for the purpose of carrying injured persons.
* The extension of emergency medicine to prehospital settings through the use of emergency medical technicians.
* The establishment of fully equipped and mobile field hospitals such as the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and its successor, the Combat Support Hospital.
* The use of helicopters as ambulances, or MEDEVACs.

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Hi-Tech Extortion and Terrorism

When threats are phoned in, how seriously should they be considered?

At my last company, one of the buildings we had offices in would get a bomb threat called in 2 or 3 times per month. Now, the company gave us the latitude to go wait outside the building until it was cleared, or we could ignore it. After the first couple of times, everyone got to the point of ignoring it (unless you wanted to go pick up Starbuck’s, or something, in which case it was convenient.)

Now, this tactic would seem to be easily spoofed by having a few employees do something odd, like jumping jacks in front of the window. Of course, with Google and others wiring up the planet for live 24/7 video, a potential extorter would still be able to see what was going on.

This seems like cell-phone version of the Nigerian Scam. If they make 100 calls, and only 10% of people wire money, your still talking $300,000

So what happens when that funky new table reads the contents of your wallet, or that key-fob credit card (for the cash-less society) and some one’s hacked into the table. Yep, progress. Sometimes I feel like becoming a Luddite, despite my career in software technology.

Large grocery and discount stores across the country have been targeted by a caller who threatens to blow up shoppers and workers with a bomb if employees fail to wire money to an account overseas, authorities said.

Frightened workers have wired thousands of dollars – and in one case took off their clothes – to placate a caller who said he was watching them but may have been thousands of miles away. The FBI and police said Wednesday they are investigating similar bomb threats at more than 15 stores in at least 11 states – all in the past week.

“At this point, there’s enough similarities that we think it’s potentially one person or one group,” FBI spokesman Rich Kolko said from Washington.

No one has been arrested, no bombs have been found, and no one has been hurt, though the calls have triggered store evacuations and prompted lengthy sweeps by police and bomb squads.

Kapin said the FBI found the call was made from a cell phone registered to a Los Angeles phone number but was leased out from a European company. Investigators determined the call had come from somewhere in Portugal.

Callers also tried to extort money with calls to a US Bank in Boise, Idaho, Wednesday morning; a Wal-Mart in Hutchinson, Kan.; bank branches at Wal-Marts in Salem, Va., and Fairlawn, Va., on Tuesday; to a Vons store in Vista, Calif., near San Diego, on Friday; and to two Giant Eagle grocery stores in the Pittsburgh area, authorities said. The FBI said it was also investigating similar incidents at a grocery store in Orem, Utah, on Monday and a store in McAllen, Texas on Saturday.

Separately, the FBI is looking into bomb threats on college campuses, including two in Ohio – the University of Akron and Kenyon College. No explosive devices have been found. Law enforcement officials said there was no evidence at this time linking the college bomb threats with those at grocery and discount stores.

Kenyon, in Gambier in central Ohio, received six separate bomb threats in a general admissions e-mail account between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. Wednesday, college spokesman Shawn Presley said. Local and federal authorities determined the threats to be a hoax and the school was not evacuated as officials swept buildings searching for the bomb, he said.

The University of Akron closed classrooms, labs and offices in its Auburn Science and Engineering building on Wednesday, after a secretary in a dean’s office received an anonymous e-mail that included a bomb threat.

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News Brief, Little Trouble in Big China Edition

Throwing rocks at HAMAS over at The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • More on what The Surge is accomplishing: “Despite some evidence that the troop buildup has improved security in certain areas, sectarian violence continues and American-led operations have brought new fighting, driving fearful Iraqis from their homes at much higher rates than before the tens of thousands of additional troops arrived.” Naturally, we still refuse to resettle or admit the millions of fearful refugees we’ve unleashed on the region.
  • Meanwhile, outgoing Chairman Pace and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are continuing to be feckless defeatocrats, noting the current deployment is unsustainable and recommending a pullout.
  • I don’t know what version of the NIE Bill Gertz was reading, but he’s pretty much the only one who read it and saw improvement and stability, rather than worries about the new bottom-up strategy (after the top-down one crashed) and Iraq’s political unraveling. Contrast with Greg Miller’s analysis, (or hell, even McQ’s and Lance’s, though I think their optimism is misplaced, it is nevertheless sober and justifiable). Go Moonies, I guess.
  • Interesting, too, to compare Senator Warner and Representative Baird, who essentially have opposite ideas of where the war is headed. I must admit to being confused: aside from anecdotal evidence (that, in the case of Michael O’Hanlon, doesn’t even match his own reports), every measure we have of Iraq is that it is worse off under the surge than before: more violence, more refugees and IDPs, deadlier bombings, and a political meltdown in process. Where does all the optimism come from? Or are anecdotes and the assurances of soldiers that we’re getting it right this time (assurances that have filled the blogosphere since 2003) more meaningful?
  • MRAPs don’t protect from EFPs, but we already knew that. Of course, the best answer the DoD can come up with is yet another acquisition race to the top-dollar: an even bigger MRAP (cleverly called the MRAP II) with thicker armor. This is while the original MRAP is still being purchased and deployed in small numbers. This is illustrating a tactical point that can, I think, be reasonably expanded to a materiel one—a huge, slow-moving industrial machine will never keep pace with a small, highly adaptable insurgent force. At least not anymore, not in the current environment. You defeat IEDs and EFPs with superior strategy, not bigger and bigger trucks.
  • Russia (MiG) is supposedly about to debut a new low-observable UCAV, the Skat. That’s “skate” to you weirdos who don’t do transliterated Russian. This mean anything? Not really—a working, operational, deployable version is many years away… and it has a weird shape, both longer and with a shorter wingspan than the highly successful MQ-1 Predator drone we’ve used for years.

Around the World

  • Still excited about the 2014 winter olympics in Sochi? Just after a rebel leader was killed in Chechnya, other rebels ambushed and killed several Russian troops in both Dagestan and Ingushetia… all three of which are less than a day’s drive from Sochi. Nothing says “spirit of the olympiad” like a good old fashioned separatist movement. More on the horrible tendency of the IOC to award games to human rights abusers here.
  • Again, with The Economist: this time, they’re claiming Vladimir Putin has modeled his presidency after Yuri Andropov, of all people, because they both happened to come from the KGB (and Putin once said something nice about him). Of course, the real implications of this—Andropov was a vicious and brutal man known more for his reckless brinksmanship and the brutality of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 than his reforms—escape The Economist, which sees Andropov merely as a a KGB head. They also miss the crucial element of Yeltsin’s regime: it was unfathomably corrupt, and the reduction of this corruption (at least in its more flagrant forms) is a big reason why Putin has won such popularity. But who needs context, anyway?
  • Questions for the famine study.
  • Oh look, Vietnamese people didn’t like Bush’s comparison of their country to Iraq. They saw their struggle as one of liberation from colonial occupation (ironic, given this context), and many hated the U.S. for prolonging a war that could have otherwise ended a decade earlier—at a human cost we’re unwilling to ponder. See, mass death is just fine when it’s for democracy; when it is for communism, pious conservatives shake their fists in anger. Hypocrites.
  • Next door, news that Cambodia once held the world’s largest pre-industrial city—Angor was almost as large as present-day Manhattan—gave me a quite welcome sense of wonder.
  • I’ll just quote the lede: “A New Zealand-based pizza chain is under fire for a recent advertising campaign that showed Adolf Hitler making a salute with a slice of the cheese pie. After locals protested, the company has replaced Hitler — with Pope Benedict XVI.”

Back at Home

  • McConnell slips, assists numerous plaintiffs suing the government for illegal wiretapping. Jacob Sullum has more on just how despicable this entire episode is, and how poorly it speaks to President Bush’s much-vaunted love of this country whose laws he ignores when he deems fit. As a commenter said, “Remember, “give me liberty or give me death” is liberal sedition.” Sometimes it feels that way.
  • You know, James Madison said something I consider very apropos: “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”
  • Michael Schuer is mad he wasn’t praised in the CIA’s report on how it failed to counter 9/11. Considering he was a reason it failed, I don’t see what his problem is, aside from an inflated sense of who he is and what he accomplished. His brags of the CIA’s awesomeness in tracking down Bin Laden ring more than hollow, and I’ll try to unravel them this weekend (on a macro level: if the Agency was so super awesome at finding and almost killing Bin Laden so many times, how did he magically slip through their fingers in 2002? There is surely more to that story than Schuer allows).
  • While the rest of the article is interesting for describing how my favorite web comic came into being, I was most fascinated with a song, “My Belruel,” which Jerry Holkins, the writer-genius behind Penny Arcade, composed and recorded on his Nintendo DS. The quality is sick (that is to say: really good) and it’s actually hilarious. We live in surreal times, indeed.
  • AT&T, the bane of my existence where the Toll Road meets The Beltway, has finally dropped its clearly false “fewest dropped calls” campaign.
  • Duh: “The Bush administration is now arguing that the White House Office of Administration, which provides the administrative services to the White House including IT services, is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act… Gee, what changed? Oh, that’s right – now there’s an FOIA request for information that could hurt the President politically. Therefore, the Office of Administration is magically no longer subject to the FOIA.”
  • Ending on a happy note: this is a truly touching story about combat vets finding a measure of peace by completing an Outward Bound course in Colorado. Having done a small amount of mountaineering when I lived in Boulder, I can testify to the cleansing power of physical exertion at altitude—for whatever reason, it makes all other stresses in life feel okay. And you feel okay, too, letting go. It’s hard to explain, and I couldn’t possibly hope to compare with these guys… but it does make me resent to a certain degree how much my life has changed since then—stuck inside climate controlled boxes in a nature-hating suburban wasteland. I do miss those mountains.
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News Brief, Just Watch the Fireworks Edition

Cheating on your ex-boyfriend at The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • So, according to President Bush, if we leave Iraq, the communists will triumph? Like how they won the Cold War? I don’t get it. The argument from civil war doesn’t move me much, either—the only thing keeping Iraq from civil war before was a tyrant; short of that, I don’t see how we can prevent the random butchering. We can’t even beat Sadr’s Army, and they are not even the enemy AQI.
  • I guess this free Iraq Bush sees in his crystal ball will have to buy its electricity from the militants in control of the switching stations. That is, if there is a free Iraq leftover once Maliki goes searching for “other friends.” Or, you know, if the entire country doesn’t unravel completely in the next 12 months.
  • It may not be indicative, but this comparison of this summer versus last summer in Iraq doesn’t paint a pretty picture. By every measure of the tactical situation, with the exception of the number of multiple fatality bombings, all over metrics show the opposite of improvement. Even the multiple fatality bombings metric is a bit suspect: the recent mega-bomb that killed 500 people near the Syrian border would go a long way toward making the number of fatalities from multiple-fatality bombings similar.
  • So again, what are we doing there? I hadn’t considered Ron Bailey’s take of the two main justifications for Iraq: Imagine how this sounds to the average Iraqi. “America is fighting this war for your freedom and safety. Also, we’re drawing all the world’s worst terrorists into your backyard so they blow up your markets and police stations, and steer clear of ours.”
  • That, and the historical ignorance on display by Bush becomes more disheartening by the day.
  • Oh, and how great is it that General Cody thinks it is appropriate to blame Bill Clinton for the lack of good general officers running the Iraq war?

Around the World

  • Don’t think I mentioned this, but the Afghan ambassador to the U.S. and I have remarkably similar ideas as to what is most needed in Afghanistan. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not drug legalization.
  • I like how National Review is so glib about things it just doesn’t understand: Kosovo’s current ambiguous status is not the fault of multi-lateral diplomacy, but of outsiders imposing an alien solution through force, and that being followed up not with prudent diplomacy but the blatant choosing of sides in a civil war with no protagonists. There is no reason to cleave Serbia’s territory, nor do the Kosovars have any real claim to independence—the EU wants that because they feel sorry for them, nothing more.
  • Estonia is trying to come to grips with its brutal occupation by Soviet forces by charging former officials with genocide for their role in the mass deportation of 1949.
  • Bangladesh’s military government has been facing protests, so they imposed a curfew. They even shut down cellular networks, in an attempt to stymie the self-organizing protesters.
  • This is an interesting take on the Bush administration’s approach to North Korea: “The portrait that emerges is not one of a confrontational, militaristic administration; what instead becomes apparent is an image of a White House with extremely poor conceptual strategies and decision-making processes.” That works, I think. It explains, too, why they settled for the awful, already-failed Agreed Framework 2.0.
  • But for real, North Korea is getting straight up CLAZY. Well, no more so than usual—it is still, I believe, quite accurately described as the closest conception we have of Hell. OFK has a budding review of what looks like a penetrating book on the numbers behind the Great Famine. Meanwhile, on Channel 4 there was a harrowing story of one family’s escape from North Korea (Kurt Russel has no idea), and a new report about the horrifying treatment refugees face when China illegally repatriates them. Oh, and let’s not forget Kim Jong-il’s nasty stash of biochem weapons.
  • Zimbabwe is a basketcase: inflation hit 7,625% in July, and the IMF predicts it will hit 100,000% by the end of the year if drastic changes are not made. That being said, their stock market is booming… a clever illusion, alas.
  • I’m totally starting a trend with Central Asia blogs doing news roundups. Pride!

Back at Home

  • Oh look, we’re in the habit of covering up (so to speak) big spills of nuclear waste and materials. That is certainly comforting.
  • I LOL when bloggers complain about the media, especially over petty crap. Most are just as bad, if not a good deal worse.
  • Would any of you want to turn your cell phone into a ‘high-powered microwave transmitter?” Don’t those, like, cause cancer and stuff?
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