Cowlix Wearing my mind on my sleeve

Sunday, March 31, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Media flogs phony ice shelf scare story: The New Australian points out some inaccuracies in reporting of the Larsen B ice shelf collapse. [via 2012]

You can't go back, can you?

The time travel paradox: a scientist from the pure research firm Starlab NV examines the paradoxes of time travel, which he says all boil to the a condition that "due to the presense of a time machine a system has a state incompatible with the laws governing the evolution of the system", and looks at their meaning for the feasibility of time machines.


How to turn your computer's cup holder into a catapult LART. [via Flutterby]

The pulps

Bookends: on a visit to Britain's TBS Returns, where books go when no one will buy them. [via Re:Read]


Going Down with the Ship: comparing the 17th century sinking of the Vasa to software project management.

The Vasa's is a story of a project gone awry, taking the project team down with it. Some of the contributing factors that led to the Vasa sinking centuries ago will seem terribly familiar to software folks today.

[via Kalsey]

Afghan quake info

The Afghan Info Center has news on earthquakes in the area, including the most recent disaster earlier this month. [via Undernews]

Astronomy mailing lists

Astro Archive combines numerous astronomy related mailing lists into one searchable archive.

Watching the skys

Sentry: a monitoring system from NASA to the web: Tumbling Stone reports on the development of the Sentry NEO monitoring system and its impact risk page.

It took two years of hard work, but finally, on March the 12th, NASA announced that Sentry, its new automatic asteroid impact monitoring system, was beginning to be operated out of Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Sentry was built largely by Drs. Steve Chesley and Alan Chamberlin with technical help from Paul Chodas. To be more precise, Sentry is a highly automated system, designed to help scientists better communicate about the discoveries of new, potentially threatening Near Earth asteroids (NEAs) and their follow-up observations. While completely independent from other scienitific teams, it is in constant communication with the NEODyS CLOMON impact monitoring system, operated in Pisa, and researchers from the two systems are cooperating to check and improve their results.

NEO collision in 2880?

Asteroid has a date with Earth, but not quite yet: A team led by two NASA scientists using the Arecibo Observatory have found that asteroid 1950DA has a 1 in 300 chance of hitting the Earth in 2880.

The results showed the huge spherical rock swinging in and out of the inner solar system with its highly elliptical orbit bringing it ever closer to impact. Armageddon day comes on March 16, 2880, when the asteroid's path leads it directly across the earth's orbit.

Saturday, March 30, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Indigenous rights

Intellectual Property Regimes and Indigenous Sovereignty: on applying the principles of intellectual property rights to the indigenous peoples of Australia.

In recent years indigenous sovereignty movements in Australia have achieved some degree of success in supranational fora such as UNESCO, who have recognised claims of human rights abuse and cultural heritage violations as legitimate. However, the legitimacy indigenous people have obtained as partially denationalised political subjects has failed to articulate with the national form, particularly under the right wing conservative administration of the Howard Government. Arguably, the possibility for Aboriginal sovereignty has reached an impasse within rational consensus models of democracy, since the claims made by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) - the political body that represents indigenous indigenous interests - constitute an antagonistic field of practices with respect to the cultural, ideological and political economy of government and the business and electoral interests that it represents.

Go west, young man

People, people everywhere

How odd, I thought, to leave the United Kingdom while a storm blows across the English Channel about 'asylum-seekers' trying to break in; and then, after travelling to the other end of the world, to find the same storm blowing over Australia's waters. But it is not really odd at all. Both crises are the product of the same global phenomenon: a prodigious effort by people in poor countries to seek a better life for themselves and their children. Modern communications have brought home to them as never before that the grass is greener across the way.

Everyone's a reporter

Preparing for the Coming Era of Participatory News: on the future of news. [via Snowdeal]

Understanding before demonizing

The Truth about Globalization: an economist defends globalization.

To keep my economist union card, I am required every morning when I arise to place my hand on the leather-bound family heirloom copy of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and swear a mighty oath of allegiance to globalization. I hereby do asseverate my solemn belief that globalization, taken as a whole, is a positive economic force and well worth defending. I also believe that the economic and social effects of globalization are exaggerated by both its detractors and supporters.

In media coverage of anti-globalization protests, "globalization" often becomes a catch-all term for capitalism and injustice. (Indeed, for some protestors, referring to capitalism and injustice would be redundant.) But economic globalization in fact describes a specific phenomenon: the growth in flows of trade and financial capital across national borders. The trend has consequences in many areas, including sovereignty, prosperity, jobs, wages, and social legislation. Globalization is too important to be consigned to buzzword status.

[via Arts & Letters Daily]


What Is Real Security?: on the danger to centralzed power generation and distribution systems.

Tuvalu report

A new report from Australia's National Tidal Facility disputes the notion that Tuvalu is sinking. The report is based in part on the same data referenced by an article zem posted here. [via The Daily Grail]

Friday, March 29, 2002 Permanent link to this day
MMOG developers talk

What's This World Coming To? The Future of Massively Multiplayer Games

Of all the games in the world, the group loosely classified as "massively multiplayer" or "persistent world" games have the most unexplored potential. They're among the oldest of multiplayer games; the very first networked computer users played adventure games similar to EverQuest, but comprised entirely of text. And with the advent of graphical interfaces, these massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs for short) may someday change the way we live and communicate online! least, that's the promise. In the meantime the genre is trying to find legs. Are these products games or are they services? Should they be complex or simple? Should they cater to niches or mainstream audiences? How should people access them? The Game Developers Conference gives game developers the unique opportunity of stepping away from their current projects for a couple of days to put their heads together and hash out the answers to these problems.

[via Fozbaca]

Conspiracies and the Net

Beyond Skepticism: The Rise of 9-11 Conspiracy Theories and the Discourse of Armchair Sleuths

Thanks to the Internet, evocative information spreads faster than kudzu. Whereas in the past only the most dedicated would take the time to spend hours in that dark library microfiche room, it now is remarkably easy to become an amateur stay-at-home sleuth finding what may appear to be inconsistencies in official stories. We no longer need to get close to that strange man on the corner to read his placard or take a pamphlet. The Internet again becomes the whipping boy of modernity, exacerbating the old customs of gossip and credulity as only it can.

Shelf collapse photo

One of the first photos from ESA's new Envisat satellite is of the Antarctic ice shelf collapse. They also have a nice animation of the progressive shrinking of the shelf over the last 16 years.

See also: 'Green' satellite calls home

Filter this

Filtering Software: The Religious Connection: Nancy Willard from CATE's Responsible Netizen examines the relationships between eight companies which produce internet filtering software and conservative religious organizations. [via BookNotes]

Thursday, March 28, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Doomed to repeat?

Peter Clark, Jerry Mitrovica, Glenn Milne and Mark Tamisiea have published research showing that a sudden rise of the sea level several thousand years ago was due to the collapse of an Antarctic ice shelf. Ring a bell? Is it time to start building an ark?

Going up?

The Space Elevator Comes Closer to Reality: on how work on carbon nanotubes, which are now nearing production, is getting us closer to having the ability to construct a space elevator.

For a space elevator to function, a cable with one end attached to the Earth's surface stretches upwards, reaching beyond geosynchronous orbit, at 21,700 miles (35,000-kilometer altitude). After that, simple physics takes charge.

The competing forces of gravity at the lower end and outward centripetal acceleration at the farther end keep the cable under tension. The cable remains stationary over a single position on Earth. This cable, once in position, can be scaled from Earth by mechanical means, right into Earth orbit. An object released at the cable's far end would have sufficient energy to escape from the gravity tug of our home planet and travel to neighboring the moon or to more distant interplanetary targets.

[via Boing Boing]

Wednesday, March 27, 2002 Permanent link to this day
BOFH Excuse Generator

Why isn't it working?

Teach your children well

From U.S., the ABC's of Jihad

In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation.

The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system's core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.

As Afghan schools reopen today, the United States is back in the business of providing schoolbooks. But now it is wrestling with the unintended consequences of its successful strategy of stirring Islamic fervor to fight communism. What seemed like a good idea in the context of the Cold War is being criticized by humanitarian workers as a crude tool that steeped a generation in violence.

See also: USAID press release: USAID Supplies Millions of Textbooks to Afghan Children

These textbooks represent a curriculum produced by Afghans under projects supported by USAID and other donors. The series is based on the Afghan national curriculum, used in the 1970s and recently updated in coordination with the Ministry of Education. Both the Afghan Interim Authority's Ministry of Education and USAID conducted separate reviews of the books. These review panels, made up of leading Afghan educators of both genders, removed outdated or inappropriate content. The resulting edited texts are now being printed and distributed across Afghanistan.

[via justabouteverywhere]

Comet viewing

A week-by-week viewing guide to Comet Ikeya-Zhang.

See also:

Anaconda puzzles

The strange battle of Shah-i-Kot: on the contradictory information coming out about how Operation Anaconda got started and what it resulted in. [via Follow Me Here]

Tuesday, March 26, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Hello, World

Leuschke demonstrates how distributing a two line BASIC program constitutes a felony under the proposed CDBTPA. Sounds like the start of a great code contest: What's the shortest program you can get 5 years in federal prison for? Surely we can do better than 22 bytes?

Long bridge ahead

Bleak future looms if you don't take a stand: Dan Gillmor on trends in big media control over information and entertainment through the DMCA and proposed bills.

This is a quiz about your future. It's about how you view some basic elements of the emerging Digital Age.

1. Do you care if a few giant companies control virtually all entertainment and information?

2. Do you care if they decide what kinds of technological innovations will reach the marketplace?

3. Would you be concerned if they used their power to compile detailed dossiers on everything you read, listen to, view and buy?

4. Would you find it acceptable if they could decide whether what you write and say could be seen and heard by others?

Those are no longer theoretical questions. They are the direction in which America is hurtling.

[via Boing Boing]


Lord of the Riots Rocks Seattle Campus

The cleanup in chess clubs and computer labs are just beginning after a wave of riots broke out this morning at the University of Washington following the defeat of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by A Beautiful Mind in the Academy Awards. The Lord of the Rings won four Oscars mainly for technical achievement while A Beautiful Mind won the "big" awards of Best Director, Picture, Screenplay, and Supporting Actress.

Black water

Photos from SeaWiFS mounted on Orbview-2 show an area of black water moving into Florida Bay, about 50 miles north of the Keys, over the last few days. Scientists at Florida Marine Research Institute and Mote Marine Laboratory are trying to figure out what's causing the change.

See also:

Scientists are baffled by a mysterious "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico off southern Florida, an area normally rife with fish but described by fishermen now as fouled by murky waters and barren of marine life.

And like any good mystery, investigators haven't ruled out any culprit in their search for the cause of the zone, which spans from Marathon Key to Naples.

Samples researchers took Tuesday were in water they said was unusually dark.

"Goodness gracious," said Erich Bartels, a biologist with Mote, "seven feet of water and you can't see the bottom."

That was in water that is usually postcard turquoise with clear water in the shallow parts. This was mostly blackish green and pea green at smaller depths.

Fish spotter pilots were the first to discover the black water in January. Though fishermen didn't find dead fish in its wake, they report an abysmal season for those waters and unusual behavior in the few fish they did find.

While the images from the private company Orbimage's SeaWiFS and a NASA satellite show that the water might be coming from the Shark River, not all the pictures are consistent with that possibility, Muller-Karger said.

[via The Daily Grail]

Monday, March 25, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Get a grip

Big Brother, My Butt: Jonah Goldberg takes issue with media references to Big Brother.

I bring this up to make a simple observation: Big Brother never existed. The book 1984, in which the phrase was coined, was a work of fiction. I say again: Big Brother = Not Real. 1984 was a n-o-v-e-l.

I don't mean to talk to you like you're idiots or uneducated, but there are a lot of people who seem to think that during the 1950s or 1960s, there was some government agency or maybe even a real person named "Big Brother" who intruded on everybody's life. Just last week the Denver Post ran an editorial titled, "Is Big Brother Back?" Again: He was never here!

Novels do occasionally have social relevance and predictive value though, that's part of what makes them interesting. It's called a m-e-t-a-p-h-o-r.

Terror finance raids in Virgina

Finances Prompted Raids on Muslims

Federal agents who searched 16 homes and offices in Northern Virginia last week were focusing on a tightly interconnected, complicated and very private financial empire with worldwide ties that has drawn the suspicion of investigators for at least seven years.

Showing up with warrants and drawn guns, the agents seized computers, financial records and boxes of other documents from some of the nation's most reputable Islamic organizations and leaders -- a coordinated series of raids that outraged many Muslims.

Which war to fight?

Losing the War on Terrorism in Peru: on how the fight in one war, to eliminate drugs, has set back the Peruvian government in their fight against insurgent groups such as the Shining Path.

Faith-based administration

Bad Faith: on the tendency by Bush and Ashcroft to include only the religious in their world view.

A month or so ago, in a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters' annual convention, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the following: "Civilized individuals, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator. Governments may guard freedom. Governments don't grant freedom. All people are called to the defense of the Grantor of freedom, and the framework of freedom He created." And with those words, Ashcroft encapsulated everything that is admirable, and everything that is awful, about the Bush administration's understanding of religion in the United States.

Looking outward

The Politics of Pain and Pleasure: Robert Jensen examines the need to look beyond the comfort of our lives.

In most situations, people tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain, which generally makes sense.

I want to suggest that at this moment in history, U.S. citizens need to invert that. If we want to become human beings in the fullest sense of the term, if we want to be something more than comfortable citizens of the empire, if we want to be something more than just Americans -- then we have to start seeking pain and reducing pleasure.

By that I don't mean we must become masochists who live in denial of the joy of being alive. Rather, I mean that to be fully alive we must stop turning away from a certain kind of pain and begin questioning a certain kind of pleasure. I mean this quite literally, and with a sense of urgency; I think the survival of the species and the planet depends on Americans becoming pain-seeking and pleasure-reducing folks.

Sunday, March 24, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Harappan disaster

US study says quake may have wiped out Harappa: a summary of Manika Prasad's work which indicates that the Harappan civilization, which I mentioned here a few days ago, may have been wiped out by massive earthquakes.

Nobody really knows why the Harappan civilisation that thrived around 2500 BC suddenly disappeared. Many theories have been propounded till date which include sudden floods, drought and even the invasion of the region by Aryans. And now a team of geologists from the Stanford University in California believes that the real blame probably lies with the massive earthquakes that struck the region in the past.

[via Surfing the Apocalypse]

Caste in poverty

Gujarat earthquake: Land of the damned: on the distribution of aid in the aftermath of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake.

Gujarat's poor are Dalits, or untouchables. Before the earthquake, discrimination against untouchables in Gujarat was subtle; afterwards, it was blatant. Their plight has divided Indian opinion: how Gujarat's poorest families were ignored is either a human-rights violation, or the natural order of things according to the Hindu Lord Krishna. (Only very slightly better off than Dalits in this very Hindu state are Gujarat's Muslims.) Through a simple accident of being born lowest in India's caste system, poor Gujaratis are considered so unequal that they have received less food and water, fewer blankets and smaller houses (if they were given one at all) than upper castes.

Some untouchables, like Baba Jogi, are deemed so inferior that aid for them, according to a few higher-caste Indians, is almost unthinkable. Which poses a terrible question for those of us making phone pledges to help poor people in dire distress. Are our disaster-relief efforts only making the gap between the rich and poor greater?

See also:


Other People's Religions: on the attempt by the Los Angeles schools system to remove anti-Semitism from Korans placed in their libraries.

Here's the problem with the Los Angeles school district's fair-mindedness: It fails to grasp an inevitable part of religion. Most world religions originally preached intolerance of other religions. To take its mission statement at its word, the committee would have to expunge from school libraries the holy books of at least the three major creeds in this country, since their primary texts and annotations thereof are often suffused with antipathy toward unbelievers, as well as toward such nationalities as, say, the Egyptians and the Canaanites, and occupations like prostitute, moneylender and tyrant. To scrub even the footnotes to Scripture of intolerance, you have to erase religious history.

See also:
'Creative' approach to teaching religion draws fire: a textbook is causing controversy in California because of perceived bias towards Islam.

"The text specifically displays its bias by only citing Christianity for examples of religious persecution, focusing on church schisms, crusades, and inquisitions," says a statement from the Pacific Justice Institute, which is representing the San Luis Obispo parent.


The publisher, for its part, says that the textbook covers a period of history until 1789, and that modern topics would not be suitable. "We're also not covering the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor when we're talking about medieval Japan," says Collin Earnst, a spokesman for Houghton Mifflin, the Boston-based publisher of the textbook.

Saturday, March 23, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Military commissions

The rules under which the military commissions will operate have been released.

News Flash!

U.S. not center of the world, radicals claim

There were unconfirmed reports yesterday that the United States is not the center of the world.

The White House had no immediate comment on the reports, which set off a firestorm of controversy in the nation's capital.

[via The War in Context]

Speedy dwarfs

Astronomers working with the VLT and the TNG have discovered a binary star system made up of two white dwarfs which revolve around each other every 5 minutes, the fastest yet known. It's thought that these may be causing gravity waves which can be detected when LISA comes online in 10 years.

[via bottomquark]

Costly time

How much does a year in prison cost? $21,601 [via Cryptome]

A paradox's origin

The Present Situation In Quantum Mechanics: a translation of Erwin Schröedinger's 16 page paper, of which one paragraph was devoted to what became the Schröedinger's Cat Paradox.

One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

Palestinian terror

Killers revel in kudos of a US terrorism designation

For three months the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades pursued a relentless and efficient campaign of violence, shooting down soldiers at Israeli army roadblocks and dispatching suicide bombers to the Jewish heartland. At long last, they gloated yesterday, they were recognised: the US state department branded the Palestinian militant group a terrorist organisation.

"We are really grateful and thankful. It is a great honour for us to be called a terrorist organisation by the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world," its joint-founder, Nasser Badawi, said.

Monterrey conference

Globalization Proves Disappointing: a report from the U.N. International Conference on Financing for Development held in Monterrey earlier this week.

Rather than an unstoppable force for development, globalization now seems more like an economic temptress, promising riches but often not delivering, in the view of many of the leaders at the United Nations conference in this Mexican city, an industrial center.

The draft consensus report, which was made available prior to the conference, as well as round table summaries are being made available. [via dangerousmeta]

TDRS trouble

The second in a new series of TDRS communication satellites, which NASA uses to link its operations in orbit, including the shuttle, ISS, the Hubble, and other satellites, has failed to reach the correct orbit. Boeing is still working on the problem, but a shuttle mission to rescue or repair it is apparently being considered.

Friday, March 22, 2002 Permanent link to this day
The ghost of productivity hits you

Nethack 3.4.0 is out. [via leuschke]


The Navy is planning ahead for the continued melting of the Arctic ice cap. With predictions that the ice cap could disappear by 2050, a symposium was held last year on Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic. The report, which was released earlier this month but I haven't found on the web yet, is reported to focus on the challenges to the navy in patrolling a new ocean.

See also: Climate Change and Arctic Sea Ice: a Greenpeace report from 1999 on the non-military implications of the melting ice cap.

[via Follow Me Here]

Thursday, March 21, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Too much LDS

Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies: Mark Young provides an analysis of time travel scenarios in science fiction movies with a bent on explaining why they're not possible. [via Metafilter]

Plato said it, it must be true

Atlantis: No way, No how, No where: Kevin Christopher on the history of the Atlantis myth.

The enduring question, now two millennia old, is whether Plato's account of Atlantis is a description of an actual civilization that sunk beneath the waves, or a tantalizing tale that rose up wholly from the depths of the Athenian philosopher's imagination. In general terms there are three possible conclusions to be made for the Atlantis legend:

1. the account is entirely factual and inerrant;
2. it is a blend of fact, fiction, and error; or
3. it is entirely fictional.

Most cranks and all legitimate scholars alike have jettisoned the first conclusion. Unfortunately these cranks and several scholars agree on the second possibility, but the great pitfall is that each detail of Plato's Atlantis that is cast aside so that it will fit a theory weakens the very premise of having solved the question of whether Atlantis existed. Librarian Rand Flem-Ath thinks Atlantis is really Antarctica; Swiss geoarcheologist Eberhard Zangger thinks Atlantis is Troy. But the more that Plato's dates, location, and other details are changed, the less stands to be proven about the truth of Atlantis. It becomes as ridiculous as arguing that a missing Victorian house in Hackensack, New Jersey was really a Spanish Villa in Mexico City all along, QED.

[via abuddhas memes]


Finally, a use for spam. [via Voidstar]

Simulating society

Seeing Around Corners: on studying society by simulating it.

In 1994 Epstein went back to the Santa Fe Institute, this time to lecture on Sugarscape. He told me, "I came to a run in the Sugarscape that we called the Protohistory, which was really this made-up toy history of civilization, where it starts with some little soup of agents and they go to peaks on the Sugarscape and coalesce into tribes and have lots of kids and this forces them down in between the peaks and they smash into the other tribe and they have all this assimilation and combat and all this other stuff. And I showed that toy history to this typically unlikely Santa Fe collection of archaeologists and biologists and physicists, and I said, 'Does this remind anyone of anything real?' And a hand shot up, and it was George Gumerman's hand. I had never met George. And he said, 'It reminds me of the Anasazi.' I said, 'What the heck is that?' And he told me the story of this tribe that flourished in the Southwest and suddenly vanished. And why did they suddenly vanish? I thought, That's a fascinating question."

See also:

[via Robot Wisdom]

Wednesday, March 20, 2002 Permanent link to this day
This is why I can't navigate

The North Magnetic Pole, which is constantly wandering about, is predicted to be leaving Canada in the near future, probably headed for Siberia, according to scientists from the National Geomagnetism Program.

Zimbabwe suspension

The Commonwealth has suspended Zimbabwe from their council meetings for one year following the report given by their election observers.

See also:
Commonwealth compromise

The partial suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth announced yesterday is plainly a painstaking compromise. The troika of John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia, Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa and Olesungo Obasanjo, the Nigerian President, have pushed Zimbabwe out of the formal councils of the Commonwealth -- which is not the same as formal and full suspension -- and this provision will apply for 12 months before the situation in the country is reassessed and the future status of Zimbabwe reconsidered. This is not exactly the result that intimidation and fraud deserves but it is not an insignificant outcome either. Mr Howard must have deployed considerable diplomatic skill to persuade his reluctant colleagues to go this far.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Data from Terra's MODIS instrument shows that the Larsen B ice shelf of the Antarctic Peninsula collapsed and broken apart during the 35 days starting January 31st, sending 3250 km2 of 200 meter thick ice into the Weddell Sea in the form of thousands of icebergs. This ice was already floating so will not directly result in a sea level rise. This would seem to be close to the climax of a break up that started several years ago.

See also:

[via Excess Bloggage]

Expanding empire

Terror war and oil expand US sphere of influence

As the Roman Empire spread two millenniums ago, maps had to be redrawn to reflect new realities. In similar fashion, the expansion of the British Empire kept cartographers at their drawing boards, reshaping territories from Southern Africa to India to Hong Kong.

Now, as the United States wages its war on terrorism in Afghanistan - and deploys troops for the first time in the energy-rich regions of Central Asia and the Caucasus - the borders of a new American empire appear to be forming.

[via The War in Context]

Believe in this

Oh, Gods!: on the continued evolution of religion and the study of new religious movements.

In 1851 the French historian and philosopher Ernest Renan announced to the world that Islam was "the last religious creation of humanity." He was more than a bit premature. At about the time he was writing, the Bahai faith, Christian Science, Mormonism, the Seventh-Day Adventists, and a major Japanese religious movement known as Tenrikyo were all just coming to life. Falun Gong and Pentecostalism--both of which now have millions and millions of members--had yet to emerge. Whoops.

See also:

[via Reductio Ad Absurdum]

Protecting oil

When exploration rights meet human rights: on the use of national security forces by oil companies to protect their operations.

Earlier this month, 25 senior officers from Burma's National Police College gathered in Rangoon for a two-week training programme on human rights. The event covered areas ranging from international humanitarian law to discussions on the use of force, arrest, detention and interrogation. The course was not, however, taking place under the auspices of the United Nations, the World Bank or a non-governmental organisation - it was being run by an oil company.

The training Premier Oil of the UK has been undertaking in Burma is one example of the way some oil companies - under intense scrutiny from aid agencies and pressure groups - are re-examining the balance between securing their operations and human rights.

[via Reductio Ad Absurdum]

Linked Lisps

From lemondor I found the Free the X3J Thirteen monthly free Common Lisp news page. That led in turn to The Common Lisp Cookbook, a project aimed at creating something along the lines of the Perl Cookbook for Common Lisp.

Secret shuttle launch time

For security reasons, the exact time of the next space shuttle launch, currently scheduled for April 4th, will not be announced until 24 hours before the flight. Until then NASA will only be giving a 4 hour window, somewhere between 2pm and 6pm. This mission will deliver another piece of the Integrated Truss Structure and another piece of the station's robot arm.

Tightening borders

Closing the Borders: on the effects of the post-9/11 immigration crackdown on Mexicans which have already been seen and those that may still be to come.

Until Sept. 11, the U.S. debate about migratory reforms centered on the impact of immigrants on the economy, particularly of unemployed and unschooled workers in the agricultural and service sectors that employ temporary immigrants whether documented or not. There was also discussion about the impact on the environment, among other issues, in addition to the airing of the traditional, recurring xenophobic arguments expressed by some individuals and sectors of U.S. society. After Sept. 11, the debate shifted to the need to control the borders as a measure of national security--and to ensure that fewer immigrants enter. Unfortunately, the trend toward a more open border between Mexico and the United States is going to reverse. Residents on both sides of the border could not have received a worse piece of news as a result of Sept. 11.

Today, the scrupulous inspection of goods on the Mexico-U.S. border has already caused losses in tourism and bilateral trade. Many Americans who make their living from Mexican consumers have watched their sales drop more than 60 percent and, in areas very near to Mexico, up to 90 percent. To temporarily solve this problem, representatives from different sectors on both sides of the border have agreed to begin a process to have the border declared an "emergency area"; to do that they solicited tax breaks and immediate loans from the governments of both Mexico and the United States.

Hussein reviews

The Softer Side of Saddam Hussein: his second novel, The Impregnable Fortress is out and the reviews from Iraqi critics are bubbling.

In a similar manner, the writer Amjad Tawfiq said in praise of Saddam's novel that "what distinguishes this novel from others is its ability to weave a string of pearls on which love and war are strung together. And the way it celebrates the fundamental human qualities that refuse to allow war to be an interruption of the affairs of daily life, bespeak an author with a sensitive heart and mind. As for the author's treatment of love in the novel, it is depicted as a spiritual strength which was bestowed to increase and support the ability of the [protagonist] warrior, who gives of himself in selfless sacrifice in order to perform his duties with distinction and bravery in war."

Sunday, March 17, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Sadly, it's the real thing: a wide ranging discussion of American policy towards countries hosting radical Islamic groups, starting with the hands-off treatment given to Gum Arabic. That Sudanese company has a near monopoly on a main ingredient in soft drinks and has been rumored to have financial ties to bin Laden. It's also one of the few companies with a exemption to the trade ban with Sudan.

Knowledge is in the mind of the beholder

The Pure Thought Manifesto: on the virtues of thinking for one's self and discovering one's own facts.

Pure thought is not tainted by the thoughts of others or by petty "information," which the conservatives deem "knowledge." Intelligence is not the spouting of other people's facts and ideas. Thinking is not agreeing or disagreeing.

It means nothing to me that you memorize the rules of algebra and calculus. Make up your own mathematics while sitting, stoned in your bedroom. That is pure genius.

No connection at all, I'm sure

A Turkish paper has reported that the companies involved in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline will incur lower insurance costs because of the increased security provided by the U.S. military presence in Georgia. Not that I'm implying that was a consideration or anything like that. [via xymphora]

Harappan mystery

The riddle of the stones: on the mystery of the Happaran language, which is apparently related to the Dravidian family. While we've learned much about the early Asian civilization from archaelogical work the language remains a puzzle.

Billed as one of the last great mysteries of the historical world, it has been regarded by some scholars as the most intriguing linguistic riddle since the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt were deciphered in the 19th century. For others - cryptographers and cranks alike - it poses a challenge to rank alongside the Nazis' Enigma code. The writing of the Harappan, or Indus valley, civilisation remains almost as baffling today as when first encountered in 1872 by a British amateur archeologist, Sir Alexander Cunningham, in what is today Pakistan. Despite relentless research and numerous claims of decipherment, no single interpretation has found approval and the signs have still to yield a universally accepted sentence.


Whoever should crack the code, say experts, will be assured of fame and fortune: lucrative book deals, lecture tours and celebratory documentaries on television. But, be forewarned. This is not an undertaking for the faint-hearted. Dozens of great minds have tried and failed. Dozens who have claimed to have decrypted the markings have been dismissed as either self-deluding eccentrics or charlatans.

See also:

Ramping up in the Philippines

Our military in the Philippines seems about to start joining the front line combat there.

Early yesterday two Pave Hawks flew a hazardous mission in darkness to rescue three wounded Philippine army soldiers after a guerrilla ambush in which a fourth man was killed. It was the Americans' closest brush with combat yet.

The American forces are now planning to send 12-man special units into action against the insurgents alongside companies of the Philippine army, each about 120 men strong. Senior Philippine army officers expect official recommendations to that effect this week.

Saturday, March 16, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Good thing we have a spare

How to Change a Spare Government

It's late at night, you're cruising along, perhaps humming a mindless tune, when suddenly you hear a loud bang. A silent curse crosses your lips as you realize your government has gone flat. Fortunately, the United States now comes with a spare. Here's what to do in case of a breakdown.

First, assuming you've parked the country in a safe location, get out and find the spare government. This can be frustrating, as with the United States, the emergency backup is not readily accessible, but is hidden away in a secure, undisclosed location.

Digging deeper

direct search: a huge collection of specialized search engines for the invisible web. These are the places that Google just doesn't get deep enough to find. [via Red Rock Eater]


The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has released a report on secrecy after 9/11: Homefront Confidential: How the War on Terrorism Affects Access to Information and the Public's Right to Know. [via Secrecy News]

NPR excerpts

Excerpts from the Nuclear Posture Review are now available. [via Cryptome]

Nothing new

Just in case anyone thought Bush was being original with the short-lived Office of Strategic Influence, we have this memory from the Foreign Relations of the United States series:

National Security Action Memorandum No. 63

Washington, July 24, 1961.

TO The Secretary of State The Secretary of Defense Director, U.S. Information Agency Director of Central Intelligence

SUBJECT Policy Guidance and Preemption of U.S. Government-Controlled Broadcasting

After consultation with the heads of Departments and agencies concerned, the President has approved the following:

1. The Department of State shall provide foreign policy guidance to all international radio broadcasting and television stations controlled by U.S. Government agencies. This includes stations of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service and the Voice of the United Nations Command in Korea, operated by the Department of Defense, and those stations [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] influenced or financed by the Central Intelligence Agency.

2. This guidance shall be relayed through the U.S. Information Agency, which will provide supplemental information policy guidance as required. The Director, U.S. Information Agency shall establish appropriate procedures for conveying guidance.

3. The Director, U.S. Information Agency is authorized to preempt time on any of these radio and television stations for special programs when he deems it to be in the national interest. The Director, U.S. Information Agency shall establish appropriate procedures for arranging for such special programs.

4. Every effort shall be made to avoid public awareness of the relationship between the various ostensibly non-governmental broadcasting stations and the U.S. Government.

McGeorge Bundy

[via Secrecy News]

Quantum gravity

John Baez scans recent quantum gravity research and gives an admittedly biased preview of Greg Egan's upcoming book, Schild's Ladder.

Between the lines

Causes of Color: an exhibition of the way color is created. [via jerrykindall]

Steps towards colonies

NASA and Purdue are teaming to look at advanced life support technologies which could be used in future colonies in space. [via bottomquark]

Shuttle safety

The NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel has released its annual report which points out the impact to shuttle safety from the budget situation and calls on NASA to plan upgrades to the shuttle now and to implement upgrades which are ready to go in.

The Panel has focused on the clear dichotomy between future Space Shuttle risk and the required level of planning and investment to control that risk. The Panel believes that current plans and budgets are not adequate. Last year's Annual Report highlighted these issues. It noted that efforts of NASA and its contractors were being primarily addressed to immediate safety needs. Little effort was being expended on long-term safety. The Panel recommended that NASA, the Administration, and Congress use a longer, more realistic planning horizon when making decisions with respect to the Space Shuttle.

Since last year's report was prepared, the long-term situation has deteriorated. The aformentioned budget constraints have forced the Space Shuttle program to adopt an even shorter planning horizon in order to continue flying safely. As a result, more items that should be addressed now are being deferred. This adds to the backlog of restorations and improvements required for continued safe and efficient operations. The Panel has significant concern with this growing backlog because identified safety improvements are being delayed or eliminated.

[via 2020 Hindsight]

Lack of faith

A Faith-Based Science Policy?

Americans have a right to expect that the President will have the best possible advice both about facts defining his choices and the values that should be brought to the decision. And they have a right to expect that he can tell the difference. It's a bad sign that the new President is pushing forward on many complex issues _ including preparing his first budget _ without any apparent source of advice from the science community. No Science Advisor to the President has been named (let alone confirmed) and few, if any, of the Cabinet members managing major federal research portfolios come with any experience or instincts in managing science and technology.


Low-Yield Earth-Penetrating Nuclear Weapons

Despite the global sense of relief and hope that the nuclear arms race ended with the Cold War, an increasingly vocal group of politicians, military officials and leaders of America's nuclear weapon laboratories are urging the US to develop a new generation of precision low-yield nuclear weapons. Rather than deterring warfare with another nuclear power, however, they suggest these weapons could be used in conventional conflicts with third-world nations.

[via Blowback]


The Vice Guide to American Foreign Policy

Before September 11th the deal was this: The American people agreed to work their asses off and not ask questions about what the government was up to as long as the government promised to continue to provide the American way of life. As Ollie North put it, "the American people don't want to know." Then on September 11th, everything changed. A group of lunatics had been using foreign policy blunders abroad to vilify America and start a war. All Americans became victims of wrongdoings that none of them had anything to do with and the American way of life had become threatened.

For the first time in decades the American people want to know what's been going on behind their backs and the answers are not pretty.

[via wood s lot]

I must have failed

After failing to obtain publication for his theory, George Hammond, has released his proof of God to the world in the paper Scientific Evidence that God is a Curvature in Psychometry Space. He has also helpfully provided this God Test for readers to determine ahead of time if they are capable of comprehending the proof. [via genehack]

Turning coffee into azaleas

From the Grounds Up, an Idea Grows: a coffee shop owner starts a side business recycling coffee grounds into fertilizer.

The vision emerged gradually. Theuer's no gardener. He's not sure how he grew a patch of ornamental gourds one year. Maybe it was from the gourd he threw out in his backyard the year before. But what he didn't know about coffee and plants, the former child counselor with a master's degree in psychology would soon find out. He learned that coffee grounds have long gone into compost, where the acid grains are neutralized to a benign and nutritious state by busy microbes. But he had only heard of applying straight coffee grounds to acid-loving plants, such as azaleas, and then only in modest amounts.

[via The Obscure Store]

Friday, March 15, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Ticking away

Trying Time Machine: John Derbyshire pans the new Time Machine movie, but has some nice things to say about The Man Who Folded Himself along the way.


Smaller, deeper, hotter - the new nukes: on the return to a feeling that limited nuclear war is acceptable.

When Bush came to power, he brought with him very hard-line security advisers, some of whom had worked in think-tanks that had been diligently investigating new nuclear strategies that were uncannily like those of the early 1990s. Once in power, they were given their head, with the results that have been reported so widely this week.

What has surprised most people is the apparent willingness to consider using nuclear weapons first, using them on a small scale, and doing so on the assumption that this is a reasonable component of an international security policy. In reality, there should be very little surprise at this - a long-term feature of nuclear planning throughout the Cold War years was the idea that a limited nuclear war could be fought, and controlled, even when facing a heavily-armed opponent such as the Soviet Union.

Lessons learned?

'Plan Colombia' and Mission Creep

As peace talks fail and the civil war in Colombia heats up, the White House and members of Congress are considering expanding the U.S. military's role in that troubled country. This major shift comes as the anti-drug effort, known as 'Plan Colombia,' has failed to curb coca production, according to the White House's own reports.

But rather than reconsider military intervention in a country with one of the hemisphere's longest-running civil wars, the Bush administration and Congress are considering lifting long-standing restrictions that limit the U.S. military's involvement in Colombia to anti-drug efforts and impose human rights standards on the Colombian military.

Not militarily solvable

Why the "War on Terror" Won't Work: a former CIA officer lists six root causes of terrorism against the U.S. and explains why he thinks a purely military solution will not work.

These Islamic extremists are not nice people. Those still alive, and other future adherents to their cause, will continue to try to kill innocent people in the U.S. and elsewhere. But what the extremists see themselves as trying to do is to stop the United States from continuing its drive for global hegemony, including hegemony over the Islamic world. I think it's important to understand this, because if people in the United States believe that some enemy is trying to "destroy" the U.S. ­ and actually has some possibility of doing so ­ then waging an all-out war against that enemy can be more easily justified. But what if the U.S. is not trying to prevent its own destruction, but instead is trying to preserve and extend its global hegemony? In that case, I think we should all step back and start demanding of our government a serious public debate over future U.S. foreign policies. We should be strenuously debating the degree to which the people in this country, given all of our own domestic problems, want the U.S. government to continue foreign policies intended to strengthen U.S. hegemony over and domination of the rest of the world in the political, economic, and militarily areas.

Thursday, March 14, 2002 Permanent link to this day
China rates the U.S. on human rights

China responds to the U.S. Human Rights report, mentioned here a few days ago, with a report on human rights in the U.S. [via also not found in nature]

Slavery today

The Social Psychology of Modern Slavery

Less than 100 kilometers away, the land turns flat and fertile. Debt bondage is common there, too. When I met Baldev in 1997, he was plowing. His master called him "my halvaha," meaning "my bonded plowman." Two years later I met Baldev again and learned that because of a windfall from a relative, he had freed himself from debt. But he had not freed himself from bondage. He told me: "After my wife received this money, we paid off our debt and were free to do whatever we wanted. But I was worried all the time--what if one of the children got sick? What if our crop failed? What if the government wanted some money? Since we no longer belonged to the landlord, we didn't get food every day as before. Finally, I went to the landlord and asked him to take me back. I didn't have to borrow any money, but he agreed to let me be his halvaha again. Now I don't worry so much; I know what to do."

[via Liberal Arts Mafia]

Who to support?

Merchants of Morality: on the promotion of causes.

For decades, Tibet's quest for self-determination has roused people around the world. Inspired by appeals to human rights, cultural preservation, and spiritual awakening, tens of thousands of individuals and organizations lend moral, material, and financial support to the Tibetan cause. As a result, greater autonomy for Tibet's 5.2 million inhabitants remains a popular international campaign despite the Chinese government's 50-year effort to suppress it.

However, while Tibet's light shines brightly abroad, few outsiders know that China's borders hold other restive minorities: Mongols, Zhuang, Yi, and Hui, to name only a few. Notable are the Uighurs, a group of more than 7 million located northwest of Tibet. Like the Tibetans, the Uighurs have fought Chinese domination for centuries. Like the Tibetans, the Uighurs face threats from Han Chinese in-migration, communist development policies, and newly strengthened antiterror measures. And like the Tibetans, the Uighurs resist Chinese domination with domestic and international protest that, in Beijing's eyes, makes them dangerous separatists. Yet the Uighurs have failed to inspire the broad-based foreign networks that generously support and bankroll the Tibetans. International celebrities--including actors Richard Gere and Goldie Hawn, as well as British rock star Annie Lennox--speak out on Tibet's behalf. But no one is planning an Uighur Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C. Why?

[via Arts & Letters Daily]

Election results

Zimbabwe's election results.

Reviewing the spies

An Even Deeper Bunker: Tom Vanderbilt reviews Body of Secrets and Total Surveillance

In James Bamford's first book on the National Security Agency, The Puzzle Palace , published soon after Reagan became President, Frank Raven, an NSA official, is asked what happens when someone on whom the NSA is spying enters the US. 'You have intelligence which is entirely foreign and you have intelligence which is entirely domestic,' Raven says. 'But then you have the third category which no one will recognise, which is intelligence which moves back and forth between them.' Twenty years later, another NSA official, quoted in Body of Secrets, explains what would happen if a member of al-Qaida crossed the American border. 'We wouldn't do the guy. It would be FBI who'd do him, because he's a terrorist in the United States.' On the one hand, the NSA, trained to pluck Soviet transmissions from the ether: on the other, the FBI, with its experience of domestic manhunts. Free to operate in the space left between the two are men who are neither official agents of a hostile foreign government nor homegrown criminals.


A chart released by NPA Satellite Mapping & Exploration shows that portions of London are sinking, ever so slightly, in an area around the Jubilee Line Extension. [via Plep]

See also: Johnson's London

Scarce can our Fields, such Crowds at Tyburn die,
With Hemp the Gallows and the Fleet supply.
Propose your Schemes, ye Senatorian Band,
Whose Ways and Means support the sinking Land;
Lest Ropes be wanting in the tempting Spring,
To rig another Convoy for the K--g.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Election update

Mugabe is claiming victory.


When Words Fail: discovered in 1665 and rediscovered in 1912, the Voynich Manuscript still defies translation. Lev Grossman describes the attempts and the claimed successes.

Some of the illustrations are in color: royal blues, watery greens, and red browns that look like dried blood. Faces with oddly wistful expressions are everywhere, peering out from moons and planets and even doodled into leaves and roots. Some pages unfold unexpectedly, centerfold-style, into four- or six-page posters crammed with detail. One poster has been crumpled and wadded up and won't lie flat. Someone, not the original scribe, has added page numbers, and there are gaps in the numbering where pages have been lost.

But as curious as the pictures are, the most unsettling thing about the Voynich manuscript is the text itself. It's written in a mysterious alphabet that exists nowhere else in the world, and after centuries of study, not even the most accomplished medieval historians and military code breakers have been able to figure out what it says, or who wrote it, or when, or where, or why.

[via The Daily Grail]

Tuesday, March 12, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Weapons of mass distraction

French Intellectuals to be Deployed in Afghanistan

The ground war in Afghanistan hotted up yesterday when the Allies revealed plans to airdrop a platoon of crack French existentialist philosophers into the country to destroy the morale of Taleban zealots by proving the non-existence of God.

[via nettime]

What's happening

Now Here's What's Happening in Your World (Even As We Speak): McKenzie Wark on the history of art and culture in Australia.

On the great blue-black ball of the planet, with Antarctica its icy pupil, the Australian landmass is a mote in the eye. Space is the thing. Australian culture is a problem of space. Finding a place in space -- that perhaps is the great Australian desire -- and anxiety.

For starters, Australia is very big. About two-thirds the size of the continental United States. But it has only about as many people in it as the state of Illinois. It is a bit like a very big Illinois --with an army and a navy.

It is also a very, very long way from most other places that speak English. England, which some old folks still call the 'mother country', is about 20 hours from Sydney. New York, which many younger Australian types think of as the capital of the English speaking world, is also about 20 hours away.

Since it appears this is a temporary site, the essay can also be read from the nettime archives. [via nettime]

20 years after TRON

TRON: 20 Years Later and Still Unbelievably Weird

Almost two years in the making, Walt Disney's Tron (1982) was a bona fide media event, complete with Disney's usual array of commemorative posters, lunch boxes, action figures, T-shirts, and a promise that you would be transported to a world unlike any you'd ever seen.

The difference this time around was that the promise was true-- Tron WAS different. The only problem was that nobody seemed to care. Tron jumped out of the gate and landed with a thud. For the first time, Disney found themselves on the difficult "avant-guard" side of the coin as they watched Steven Spielberg's cuddly, Disney-esque E.T. The Extra Terrestrial rake in the money. Even Tron's hope for Oscar vindication was denied when the confused Academy said that Tron "cheated" by using computers to achieve their special effects. It was only years later that the film began to attain cult status, with young people asking each other, "Remember Tron? Wasn't that COOL?"

Thomas links

This set of examples of how to link to a Thomas document should prove quite useful, since the URLs returned from many of their searches are transient. [via Boing Boing]

NPR reactions

Clumsy: on the timing of the Nuclear Posture Review leak.

Is it really a coincidence that a Pentagon document passed to the U.S. Congress in January is just now attracting so much attention? The question being raised again is as old as the atomic bomb itself. Are nuclear weapons only deterrents, in other words, weapons with no meaningful military use? Or does the use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield have to remain an option if they are to remain a plausible deterrent?

It looks very much like political management and the deliberate development of a threat scenario that this question is being revived just when U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is on a tour of Europe and the Persian Gulf states, while President George W. Bush himself is promising Americans -- and his allies in the battle against terrorism -- further information about how Washington proposes to destroy the "axis of evil" Mr. Bush described in his State of the Union address in January. Whether it is good political management is another question.

America as Nuclear Rogue

If another country were planning to develop a new nuclear weapon and contemplating pre-emptive strikes against a list of non-nuclear powers, Washington would rightly label that nation a dangerous rogue state. Yet such is the course recommended to President Bush by a new Pentagon planning paper that became public last weekend. Mr. Bush needs to send that document back to its authors and ask for a new version less menacing to the security of future American generations.

Bush's six month speech

Bush marked the six-month mark past 9/11 with a speech highlighting some of the countries helping in Afghanistan and layout out the next phase. I don't think there's any real news here.

I have set a clear policy in the second stage of the war on terror: America encourages and expects governments everywhere to help remove the terrorist parasites that threaten their own countries and peace of the world. If governments need training, or resources to meet this commitment, America will help.

We are helping right now in the Philippines, where terrorists with links to al Qaeda are trying to seize the southern part of the country to establish a militant regime. They are oppressing local peoples, and have kidnapped both American and Filipino citizens. America has sent more than 500 troops to train Philippine forces. We stand with President Arroyo, who is courageously opposing the threat of terror.

In the Republic of Georgia, terrorists working closely with al Qaeda operate in the Pankisi Gorge near the Russian border. At President Shevardnadze's request, the United States is planning to send up to 150 military trainers to prepare Georgian soldiers to reestablish control in this lawless region. This temporary assistance serves the interests of both our countries.

In Yemen, we are working to avert the possibility of another Afghanistan. Many al Qaeda recruits come from near the Yemen-Saudi Arabian border, and al Qaeda may try to reconstitute itself in remote corners of that region. President Saleh has assured me that he is committed to confronting this danger. We will help Yemeni forces with both training and equipment to prevent that land from becoming a haven for terrorists.

In the current stage of the war, our coalition is opposing not a nation, but a network. Victory will come over time, as that network is patiently and steadily dismantled. This will require international cooperation on a number of fronts: diplomatic, financial and military. We will not send American troops to every battle, but America will actively prepare other nations for the battles ahead. This mission will end when the work is finished -- when terror networks of global reach have been defeated. The havens and training camps of terror are a threat to our lives and to our way of life, and they will be destroyed.

At the same time, every nation in our coalition must take seriously the growing threat of terror on a catastrophic scale -- terror armed with biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. America is now consulting with friends and allies about this greatest of dangers, and we're determined to confront it.

Here is what we already know: some states that sponsor terror are seeking or already possess weapons of mass destruction; terrorist groups are hungry for these weapons, and would use them without a hint of conscience. And we know that these weapons, in the hands of terrorists, would unleash blackmail and genocide and chaos.

These facts cannot be denied, and must be confronted. In preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, there is no margin for error, and no chance to learn from mistakes. Our coalition must act deliberately, but inaction is not an option. Men with no respect for life must never be allowed to control the ultimate instruments of death.

A couple of reactions so far:

Behind the warm words of President Bush lurk some dangerous thoughts

Tone counts for little, however, if the substance does not match. And beneath the more emollient language of Mr Bush lurked several worrying themes. One was the assumed desirability of US "help" for countries with their own terrorist - or insurgency - problems. Another was the startling pledge that: "We will not send American troops to every battle, but America will actively prepare other nations for the battles ahead." Mr Bush has long had a tendency to see foreign countries as would-be Americas, suffering from American problems that are amenable only to American solutions. In six months, he has adjusted his view of the world a little, but not nearly far enough .

Coalition politics

This was hardly a recklessly "unilateralist" speech nor one that displayed an arrogance born of rapid success in ejecting the Taleban from power and pushing al-Qaeda deep into the mountains. It was in stark contrast to the hysterical coverage that a Defence Department study -- which the Administration is mandated by law to present to Congress -- has received since it was first leaked at the weekend. Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President, dealt neatly with that document at his press conference alongside Tony Blair in Downing Street. He observed that America does not target nuclear weapons on a day-to-day basis against any nation at present. The notion of a plan for multiple pre-emptive missile strikes was, he noted dryly, therefore "a bit over the top".

The other Afghan problem

Afghanistan's Environmental Casualties

Amid the ongoing US-led campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, little has been said about Afghanistan's environment. That is a critical oversight, because the landlocked country of 25 million is facing a crippling environmental disaster, one greatly exacerbated by 23 years of war. At this point, another round of civil war could wipe out the country's forests as well as several endangered species.

"Losses of natural resources are beyond estimation," says Abdul Wajid Adil, of the Peshawar, Pakistan-based Society for Afghanistan's Viable Environment (SAVE). "Damage to the environment is second only to human loss."

Zimbabwe voting closes

Votes are being counted in Zimbabwe, with results expected tomorrow. The BBC is posting stories from voters.

Monday, March 11, 2002 Permanent link to this day

The Illuminatus! Trilogy on one (very long) page. It's been a very long time since I've read this. Somehow a browser window doesn't do it justice. [via abuddhas memes]

Voting closes

Polls are closed in Zimbabwe, with numerous "irregularities" being reported by election monitors.

Watch this

How the west helps the vote-riggers: Mark Almond on the history of election monitoring.

Determining the legitimacy of elections is not just an arithmetical exercise in checking that the returns match the declared result. It is a powerful weapon in global politics. I have seen blatantly rigged polls endorsed by official observers, and I have seen honestly conducted elections discredited. This has led me to the conclusion that - to paraphrase Stalin - it doesn't matter who votes, it matters who observes the voting. The international observers' reports form the basis of a new government's acceptability to international organisations; they also determine access to aid and investment from western taxpayers through the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and so on. A popular mandate is good, but a majority among the observers is better.

One man's utopia...

In a review of Utopias: Ideal Cities, Hugh Pearman discusses why utoptian cities rarely get built and do not succeed when they do.

But though the book omits this, it gradually makes clear what the thing is about creating ideal societies: they have to be designed as precision objects, they cannot just (pace Morris) be left to happen by themselves. To design and rule a Utopia, you must be a serious control freak. You must know exactly where everyone is, how many there are, what they are doing, where they are going, and how. The city therefore becomes a machine for life, work, and surveillance. That is why they take the forms they do -- usually grid-pattern, circular, polygonal, or, very rarely, linear. They tend to remain on paper because real life leads to compromise. Brasilia (a built Utopia of original shape that is another surprising omission from this book) quickly became engulfed in messy shantytowns as the normal order reasserted itself.

Intent is not everything, though

Demons in the night: on the reports that Britain ran biological weapons tests in the 60s by releasing bacteria in London trains and the distinction between good people and evildoers when it comes to possessing weapons of mass destruction.

So is there a moral equivalence between "our" willingness to use lethal weapons and "theirs", whether "they" be Soviet Russia or Iraq? Surely not. Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis and others are right to argue that regimes which arbitrarily imprison, murder and torture their own people on a large scale are likely to be just as ruthless towards the nationals of other countries. Nor is it wrong to pose the question: under which regime would you rather live? People try to get out of tyrannies but to get into democracies; and even those who said "better red than dead" during the cold war implicitly accepted that this was not much of a choice. The possession of weapons, in other words, cannot sensibly be separated from the aims they are intended to support.

Zimbabwe voting extension

Zimbabwe voting is in the third day, as polls in areas where lines were the longest were ordered by the High Court to remain open. Lines are reported to be extremely long with waits in some areas ranging between 10 and 15 hours.

Shuttle landing tomorrow

The shuttle will be coming down tomorrow morning at either 4:32 or 6:32 Eastern.

Sunday, March 10, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Players on a rigged grand chessboard: Bridas, Unocal and the Afghanistan pipeline - part 1 and part 2

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Argentine oil company Bridas, led by its ambitious chairman, Carlos Bulgheroni, became the first company to exploit the oil fields of Turkmenistan and propose a pipeline through neighboring Afghanistan. A powerful US-backed consortium intent on building its own pipeline through the same Afghan corridor would oppose Bridas' project.

Spraying Columbia

Drug War Spraying Colombia To Death

Jena Matzen has a carousel of slides from her trip to Colombia, and she's giving slide shows throughout the Triangle. These are not your standard shots of smiling couples standing in front of national landmarks.

One image shows a farmer at the center of his 12-acre field, a former corn crop now utterly decimated. Another shows a white flag raised over a black pepper crop, as a signal to airplanes that this is a legal crop.

According to Matzen, a Hillsborough resident, the white flag did not have the desired effect; the pepper crop was destroyed nevertheless, by planes dropping enormous quantities of an herbicide called glyphosate -- marketed by Monsanto in this country under the brand name Round-Up -- as part of the U.S. war on drugs.

See also: Deadly Fumigation Returns to Putumayo: a report to Congress from Witness for Peace.

On November 13th the first DynCorp spray planes and their helicopter escorts could be heard coming over the horizon. For the people of El Paraíso, a small group of communities in Valle de Guamuez, the sound of helicopter blades signaled everything was about to change. The families of El Paraíso are among the 37,000 families in Putumayo that signed agreements with the national government over the course of the past year. In these "social pacts," as they are called, the small farmers agreed to replace coca with legal crops like corn and rice over a 12-month period. In turn, the government agreed to make the less lucrative crops more viable by creating transportation infrastructure and providing small farmers with the technical assistance, supplies, and market guarantees necessary for a production shift.

[via ghost rocket]

SSSCA reaction

Antipiracy bill a high-tech threat, Hollywood-style

It's possible to fight by adding copy-protection features to the original video and audio files, but such systems are beatable. It'd be much harder to defeat hardware, features built into the digital devices to block illegal copying.

Enter the Hollings bill, which seeks to mandate the inclusion of exactly this sort of technology into every device capable of running digital media. Read it and gasp: "It is unlawful to manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide or otherwise traffic in any interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies."

Yes, that includes your desktop computer, your TiVo recorder, your PlayStation 2 and TV set-top box. Everything. Suddenly, the US government is in the business of designing the next generation of electronic devices.

[via rc3]

Blame the victim

Blaming the Hindu Victim: Manufacturing Consent for Barbarism: on media response to the firebombing attack that started the latest round of religious violence in India. [via little green footballs]

Fusion heat

'Science' Magazine: Researchers Claim Tabletop Fusion Success: Erik Baard describes the controversy over the publication of Talevarkhan and Lahey's fusion results.

Still, that hasn't stopped critics from blasting the paper as cold fusion reincarnate. Dr. Robert Park of the American Physical Society, who has for a decade ridiculed new-energy theorists for not publishing papers in respected journals, broke a Science embargo Friday to lash out against the prestigious publication for going ahead with the paper. Park's What's New weekly e-mail bulletin made reference to the "cold fusion fiasco of 13 years ago" when discussing the "bubble fusion" paper.

Science moved up its publication date to an online edition on March 7 and lifted its embargo today because "the reports were getting increasingly distorted," according to Ginger Pinholster, a spokesperson for the magazine and its publisher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Pinholster specifically cited Park in the decision. "We knew the paper would be controversial, but it went through a rigorous peer-review process. We felt the best service would be to get it out in the public domain and let scientists debate it and try to reproduce the experiment, and assess if it's a viable energy alternative or not," she explained.

Saturday, March 09, 2002 Permanent link to this day

The Revised Book of Genesis

1. In the beginning, there was a bang! And it was a big bang. The big bang was filled with implications for all that would follow. The first consequence was time; the second was space.

2. Time began ticking forward at time "zero" from this initial moment (in constant intervals). The arrow of time is unidirectional (always forward, never backward, despite any scripts of science fiction writers to the contrary).

Defining memes

What's in a Meme? John Wilkins on what meme really means.

Certain terms and notions in both the sciences and humanities are fated to be misunderstood, either because they are first vaguely formulated, or because they are so evocative they generate such immense enthusiasm and are applied to almost everything, coming to mean almost nothing. A classic example is the term of Thomas Kuhn's (1962): paradigm. Originally intended by Kuhn to apply to what changed radically in a scientific revolution, it came to be applied to perceptual and conceptual changes in cases of individual, social, literary, political, economic and even consumer choice. When a term of philosophy of science is used to advertise a new car design, you know it has lost any definite meaning. Eventually its author abandoned it under criticism in favour of notions and terms that were more specific, but "paradigm" is now ensconced in popular parlance, surviving both author and intended theoretical usage. The difficulty now with the term for a specialist in the philosophy and history of science is that calling a theoretical change a "paradigm shift" has become little more than a metaphor. It describes only an impression and implies only a subjective assessment.

The basic and central notion of memetics is, of course, denoted by the term meme, Richard Dawkins' (1977) term for what is transmitted in culture that is analogous to the biological gene. "Meme" is in danger of suffering the same fate as "paradigm". It is used to denote, variously, neural structures, cultural artefacts, practices, economic systems, religions, concepts, phenotypic traits, self-awareness, and epigenetic predispositions. Memes are thought by some to control behaviour, by others to be acquired through a choice or act of will. The term gets applied to all levels of social and cultural structure, from minimal semantic entities like phonemes, through more molecular entities like phrases and snatches of music, to entire traditions and world views. In this blooming buzzing confusion, the usefulness of memes as a category is being lost or degraded.

[via abuddhas memes]

Hubble released

Work on the Hubble has been completed and it's been released by Columbia.

Nuclear Posture Review

Secret Plan Outlines the Unthinkable: William Arkin on the still classified portion of this year's Nuclear Posture Review, part of which was released publicly in January.

The Bush administration, in a secret policy review completed early this year, has ordered the Pentagon to draft contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against at least seven countries, naming not only Russia and the "axis of evil"--Iraq, Iran, and North Korea--but also China, Libya and Syria.

In addition, the U.S. Defense Department has been told to prepare for the possibility that nuclear weapons may be required in some future Arab-Israeli crisis. And, it is to develop plans for using nuclear weapons to retaliate against chemical or biological attacks, as well as "surprising military developments" of an unspecified nature.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has an alternate view of what the Nuclear Posture Review should encompass.

See also:

Quantum computability

Computing the Noncomputable: Tien Kieu looks at the implications of quantum computation with regards to computability theory, in particular the halting problem. Are problems which are non-computable under traditional models solvable with quantum algorithms?

We explore in the framework of Quantum Computation the notion of computability, which holds a central position in Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science. A quantum algorithm that exploits the quantum adiabatic processes is considered for the Hilbert's tenth problem, which is equivalent to the Turing halting problem and known to be mathematically noncomputable. Generalised quantum algorithms are also considered for some other mathematical noncomputables in the same and of different noncomputability classes. The key element of all these algorithms is the measurability of both the values of physical observables and of the quantum-mechanical probability distribution for these values. It is argued that computability, and thus the limits of Mathematics, ought to be determined not solely by Mathematics itself but also by physical principles.

Collecting books

The Buying of Books: Carl Patton, in a 1922 essay, tells why he buys books and how he gets them in the house when he's bought too many.

have always felt that it was commendable to buy books. I grew up with a liking for reading my own books, instead of someone else's. This preference I still have. I have my books strictly for use. I turn down the pages. I even tear out a few, if I need them. Books that I really use are much the worse for wear when I get through with them. I always mark them. When I read one of them a second time, which I seldom do, I generally can't remember what I meant by the marks I put in it the first time. But it gives you a feeling of having dug deep into the book, and it intensifies your sense of the ownership of it, to make big black marks down the side of it as you read. So I have always felt that one should buy as many books as possible. They are not like food, of which one should buy only as much as one can consume at the moment. Nor like clothes, of which a wise man will buy as few and as cheap as he can get by with. But of books he should buy all he can.

I am not defending this attitude toward the buying of books. I am merely saying that I have it. This attitude has met at home a larger indulgence than it has been entitled to. But I have grown a little ashamed of it myself, now and then. And in this mood, hesitating to bring home some literary purchase, I have hit upon several devices which I do not mind sharing with any of my readers who may profit thereby.

Decentralization is good

How Osama won Europe the space race: Will Hutton on the importance of having access to space in general and satellite navigation specifically outside the control of a single country.

Six months ago, such a rash of unanimity of effort over space would have seemed impossible. The Ministry of Defence and the Treasury had firmly overruled the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign Office over the Skynet contract which was set to go to the US-led consortium, and the Europeans were wrangling interminably over the $2.2bn cost of the Galileo project. Then came the Afghan War and the show of US unilateralism - and the stunning demonstration via the interrelated network of predator planes, smart missiles and ground-based special forces, all using satellite technology, that space had come of age.

The Europeans have learned a salutary lesson; this technology is so important that they must have their own access and control of it - and the only way forward is to act together because no single European state can fund space technology itself. The Galileo programme is not yet certain - the key meeting of EU Transport Ministers is at the end of March and Britain is dragging its feet - but its prospects look immeasurably better. The law of unintended consequences has operated with devastating consequences. Osama bin Laden has revived Europe's interest in space.

Galileo funded

Funding is continuing for Galileo, the GPS competitor being considered by the E.U., despite U.S. pressure to cancel the project.

Fusion update

The press release from Science has more details on the reports of cold fusion being achieved by the team led by Rusi Taleyarkhan:

The experiments performed by the Science researchers suggest that nuclear fusion might occur in bubbles created by "acoustic cavitation," a phenomenon studied for nearly a century. In acoustic cavitation, the pressure of a sound wave creates and collapses bubbles in a liquid. The first part of the wave is a tension wave, which stretches the liquid and pulls apart a space for bubbles to form when the liquid is bombarded by energetic particles like neutrons. A second compression wave follows close behind, squeezing and bursting the bubbles, which then emit a brilliant but extremely brief flash of light called sonoluminescence.

Sonoluminescence's exact cause is still somewhat mysterious, but many researchers believe that the shock waves of the collapse generate high temperatures and pressures in the bubble's gas, which releases a burst of energy. Scientists have learned to trap single bubbles within a sound wave, causing them to swell and shrink and emit light in a regular fashion.

Temperatures inside these bubbles can be as high as 5000-7000 degrees Kelvin, about as hot as the sun's surface. But, recent experiments by a number of researchers suggest that bubble temperatures can reach even higher temperatures--closer to the heat needed for nuclear fusion--if the original bubbles are very small and allowed to grow rapidly before collapse.

Note the temperature in the above - this is not cold fusion, as the original news reports were saying.

Subsequent to publication, another team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory attempted to reproduce the results and reported that they have not yet seen signs the neutron emission that would be produced from fusion, but the original team looking at the ORNL data disagrees and says there was in fact fusion detected by the ORNL team. Both agree there is more work to do.

Zimbabwe elections start

Shock Mugabe

Martin Luther King Junior, the slain American civil rights icon, had this to say in 1963, the height of the struggle for freedom by United States civil rights groups:

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

Zimbabwe's long-promised moment of reckoning has finally come.

It beckons all patriotic and valiant citizens to stand up with one voice to tell one Robert Mugabe: Mr President, please go and go now.

The presidential vote on Saturday and Sunday gives all of you, victims of tyranny and madness of two decades, an historic and very last chance to free yourselves from modern history's worst dictatorship and to reclaim your lost sovereignty.

Friday, March 08, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Tuvalu followup

As zem points out in a comment to a post I made a couple of days ago, the verdict is still out on whether Tuvalu will actually turn into the next Atlantis. The article he referenced refers to data from the South Pacific Sea Level and Climate Monitoring Project, which has reports online back to 1995 on the sea level in the region.

In a related followup, back in November I referenced a Washington Times editorial, Spare the tears for Tuvalu, which quickly disappeared into their archive. I found a copy today, in a Yahoo Groups post.

However, sea level around Tuvalu has been falling precipitously for the last half-century. You could look it up in the Oct. 27 issue of Science, which was available for days before The Guardian went to press.

French scientists, led by Cecile Cabanes, used data collected by altimeters aboard the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite, and then compared them to a longer record of deep ocean temperatures that extends back to 1955. Sure enough, where the data overlapped (the satellite went up in 1993), there was very good agreement. The warmer (or colder) the ocean became, the more sea level rose (or fell).

Tuvalu is near the epicenter of a region where the sea level has been declining for nearly 50 years. In fact, the decline is so steep that even using the U.N.'s lurid (and wrong) median estimates of global warming for the next century will not get the Tuvalus back to their 1950 sea level until 2050.

Ever expanding

The aftermath of war: Paul Rogers on the state of the expanding war.

As US forces pound the Afghan government's opponents, military supply and logistical problems augur a lengthier preparation for its planned assault on Iraq. But meanwhile, the tentacles of war are spreading across the globe - from the Philippines and Nepal to Colombia - amidst US research into new types of nuclear weaponry.

Hubble update

The fifth and last spacewalk from Columbia is going on right now as the astronauts work to install a new cooling system for the Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer, which has been out of commission since 1999.

Thursday, March 07, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Condemned to repeat it

The Longest War

The fight we're in didn't begin on September 11; it started thousands of years ago. It's the struggle between East and West, and history can both encourage and help us--if we read it properly.

[via dangerousmeta]

Rogue states

Rogue States? America Ought to Know

We hear a lot about rogue states these days. You know, the rogue states that refuse to ratify important treaties, the ones who refuse to allow international inspections of their weapons of mass destruction, the ones who ignore U.N. resolutions, who violate human rights with impunity and who refuse to sign on to human rights conventions? You know, those rogue states.

Let's get down to specifics. What would you call a country that produces the highest levels of dangerous chemicals in the world but abandons key negotiations aimed at reversing global warming? How about a country whose leader blithely announces that he is abandoning a quarter-century old arms control treaty, one the whole world understands to be the key to preventing complete nuclear madness? And what about a government that walks out of talks to enforce the biological weapons treaty because it doesn't want international inspectors peeking at its own weapons production facilities? That same country keeps rejecting human rights treaties, even the ones protecting the rights of children.

[via wood s lot]

Just training?

US Troops join Invasion of Colombian Rebel Zone

After pictures of US Army Green Berets operating alongside the Colombian military in the invasion of the safe zone appeared on the front page of the Colombian daily El Tiempo, one politician, Liberal Party presidential candidate Horacio Serpa, called the US military presence "very grave" and demanded a clarification from the government.

General Hector Fabio Velasco quickly replied that the US Special Forces had "come simply as observers." Serpa's opponent for the Liberal Party nomination, the rightist Alvaro Uribe Velez, said he welcomed the US presence and would support the sending of US combat troops to fight in Colombia, rather than merely providing aid and training.


Saving Machines From Themselves: The Ethics of Deep Self-Modification: Peter Suber discusses self-modification by artificial intelligence systems.

It is at least possible, then, and even seems likely, that machines will have the tool of deep and precise self-modification long before they have the understanding to use it effectively to achieve the ends they desire. For example, a machine capable of reading and revising its own code could probably figure out in a reasonable time how to enlarge its memory or lengthen its attention span. But what if it wanted to learn foreign languages more quickly or make funnier jokes? It's difficult to imagine that it could discover helpful code revisions, let alone necessary ones, without abundant trial and error. But trial and error in revising one's own code are about as hazardous as trial and error in brain surgery. If machines don't have precise knowledge to accompany their precise tools, or if they simply have incentives to experiment, then their experiments in self- modification will be fraught with the risks of self-mutilation and death.

[via wood s lot]

Freedom of Information

For their eyes only: on the increasing restriction on information following 9/11.

The United States possesses an extraordinary institution which sets it apart from almost every other nation on Earth and helps define America as an open democracy. It is called the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, and it is in serious trouble.

[via The War in Context]

Changing the rules

Tension rises as Mugabe 'dances in the dark': on last minute maneuvering by Mugabe to ensure he wins this weekend's elections.

Hubble update

The fourth spacewalk in four days is underway to add a new camera, the Advanced Camera for Surveys, to the Hubble. Yesterday's power unit replacement seems to have been successful.

Wednesday, March 06, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Tuvalu lawsuit

Tuvalu, the tiny island nation that is slowly disappearing into the sea, is planning to sue several countries for the pollution it claims caused the global warming which in turn caused the sea level to rise.

The nation of 26 square kilometers, most of it only a few meters above sea level, has set the ultimate challenge of wresting control of the global warming agenda before it sinks forever beneath the waves. When that will happen is anyone's guess. But Prime Minister Koloa Talake says the only thing rising faster than the tide around his country's nine atolls is the cost of moving the 11,000 inhabitants elsewhere.

Talake blames the United States and other leading economies for their half-hearted commitment to emissions reductions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its protocols. Washington, the only country to repudiate its signature on the critical Kyoto Protocol, will presumably be the first target of the US law firm that has been engaged to pursue this intriguing legal action. After that it gets a little tricky.

Our choice of friends reflects on us

The 2001 Human Rights Report has been released by the State Department.

While the battle only has begun, we already have achieved significant objectives. Afghan citizens have been released from the brutal and oppressive rule of the Taliban. Afghan women, who suffered violence and repression, are now beginning to resume their roles in society. Indeed Afghanistan is a triumph for human rights in 2001.

There is, however, much more work still to be done. The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001 captures a world still reeling and reacting to the events of last September. Yet the Reports' central mission remains the same--to give voice to those who have been denied the freedoms and rights provided for in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The Reports confirm that the battle of ideas between those who suppress democracy and human rights and those who would see them flourish remains far from over. Only through the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms can the international community be secure from the scourge of terrorism.

What does it say about our new friends?


The Government's human rights record remained poor and worsened in several areas. Numerous serious irregularities in the October 1999 parliamentary elections and the April 2000 presidential election limited citizens' right to change their government. Several deaths in custody were blamed on physical abuse, torture, or inhuman and life-threatening prison conditions. Reports of police brutality continued. Security forces continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse detainees. Corruption in law enforcement agencies was pervasive. Prison conditions remained harsh and life-threatening; however, some steps were taken during the year to address problems in the prison system. Arbitrary arrest and detention increased during the year. Neither the President nor other senior officials took concrete steps to address these problems, and impunity remained a problem. The judiciary was subject to pressure and corruption and did not ensure due process; reforms to create a more independent judiciary were undermined by failure to pay judges in a timely manner. There were lengthy delays in trials and prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Law enforcement agencies and other government bodies occasionally interfered with citizens' right to privacy. The press generally was free; however, security forces and other authorities intimidated and used violence against journalists. Journalists practiced self-censorship. The police restricted freedom of assembly and law enforcement authorities dispersed numerous peaceful gatherings. Government officials infringed upon freedom of religion. The Government continued to tolerate discrimination and harassment of some religious minorities. Violence and discrimination against women were problems. Trafficking for the purpose of forced labor and prostitution was a problem.

There was little information available on the human rights situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia due to limited access to these regions.

But hey, let's train and equip their military.


The Government's human rights record remained poor; there were continued efforts to improve the legal framework and institutional mechanisms, but implementation lagged, and serious problems remained in many areas. A small percentage of total human right abuses reported are attributed to state security forces; however, government security forces continued to commit serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings. Impunity remained a problem. Despite some prosecutions and convictions, the authorities rarely brought higher-ranking officers of the security forces and the police charged with human rights offenses to justice. Members of the security forces collaborated with paramilitary groups that committed abuses, in some instances allowing such groups to pass through roadblocks, sharing information, or providing them with supplies or ammunition. Despite increased government efforts to combat and capture members of paramilitary groups, security forces also often failed to take action to prevent paramilitary attacks. Paramilitary forces still find support among the military and police, as well as among local civilian populations in many areas.

But let's give even more money and equipment to Columbia's military too.

I think I'll stop now.

But can it be ignored?

'This time, Bob, it's personal': Barrie Collins asked if the rest of the world should really be meddling in Zimbabwe?

The European Union has imposed 'smart' sanctions on Zimbabwe - meaning that President Robert Mugabe and his high-ranking officials will be refused visas to travel to EU member states and will have their assets in Europe frozen. The sanctions have generated a lot of anti-colonial rhetoric and gestures of defiance from Mugabe and co, which have dominated news headlines worldwide.

This isn't the first time the international community has meddled in Zimbabwe's affairs. And in Zimbabwe's forthcoming presidential elections, the USA, the UK and the EU have made a list of demands and plan to monitor the elections to see if Zimbabwe passes the democracy test - seeming to have overlooked the fact that democracy imposed from without is not democracy at all.


America's axis-tential crisis

'Rarely can one phrase have caused such confusion and controversy', wrote BBC journalist Jon Leyne in early February, after US senators started asking awkward questions about President Bush's 'axis of evil' speech. 'I was confused by it...I'm not exactly sure what he means...I don't know what the president had in mind', blurted Democratic senator Joe Biden. According to Leyne, Bush's evil axis seems to 'have frightened America's allies as much as it scared its enemies.

It's not only journalists and Democrats who were confused by Bush's rhetoric. Since calling Iraq, Iran and North Korea an 'axis of evil' in his State of the Union address on 30 January 2002, Dubya himself and his secretaries of state seem unclear about where to go next. 'It is both our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom's fight', said Bush in his address, threatening to bring the 'war on terror' to other evil states - but two days later he told journalists that if the three evil states 'showed a clear commitment to peace', 'we would be more than happy to enter into dialogue with them'

[via Voidstar]

Abe's papers

The collection of Abraham Lincoln Papers is now complete at the Library of Congress, with about 20,000 documents scanned and available online. [via CamWorld]

Hubble update

The Columbia crew installed the second set of new solar panels on the Hubble yesterday and are, at the moment, working on replacing the power control unit.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002 Permanent link to this day
U.S. involvement in the Congo

U.S. Military and Corporate Recolonization of the Congo: on the Congo unrest of the late 1990s and the U.S. involvement in the region.

The United States' involvement in Congo since before independence from Belgium in June 1960 has been steady, sinister, and penetrating. Most notable was the CIA's role in the overthrow (September 1960) and later assassination (January 1961) of Congo's first Prime Minister, the charismatic (and socialist) Patrice Lumumba. The full extent of U.S. machinations was not known for years, but the failure at the time of the United Nations to protect Lumumba was patent. And questions continue to linger over the mysterious plane crash in September 1961 that killed U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold as he was flying to the border town of Ndola to meet with Moise Tshombe, president of the breakaway Katanga Province. The plane fell from the sky, killing all aboard. Is it any wonder that in Congo today there is little trust of Washington or respect for the United Nations?

[via abuddhas memes]

Expanding fronts

Following deployment of troops to the Phillipines to support their fight against Abu Sayyaf, the U.S. is sending troops to Georgia, the former Soviet republic. There are reports that portions of al-Qaeda have set up shop there. According to both U.S. and Georgian officials the troops are there to train and equip the Georgian military and won't participate in combat. The focus is on the Pankisi Gorge on the border with Chechnya, where Georgia has had problems for years. Russia raised a fuss at first but they are, at least officially, accepting the U.S. presence. This is due at least in part due to the hope that it will increase the stability in the area.

See also:

First, Georgia could become an important strategic outpost for the US, not only because of its proximity to hot spots in the Middle East and Central Asia, but also because it forms a key link in a chain of US military bases that now encircle Russia.

Second, US troops would be positioned to protect an important petroleum route that runs through Georgia from Caspian oil fields to Western markets. Taken together with new opportunities for an alternative route through Afghanistan and Pakistan, this could freeze current rivals, such as Russia and China, out of Caspian competition. This may account for Washington's concerns about a joint Russian-American operation in the Pankisi Gorge.

Though Georgia and Chechnya themselves contain limited oil and gas reserves, their territory is essential to both existing and proposed pipelines to carry oil and gas out of the Caspian basin west to Turkey and Europe.

The existing Russian pipeline, from Baku to Novorossiysk on the Black Sea, passes through Chechnya. U.S. oil companies, which have had difficulty dealing with the Russians, have proposed two alternative pipeline routes that pass through Georgia and Armenia. These pipelines would allow U.S. companies, and not Russian ones, to control oil and pipeline prices.

As for the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the USA considers it to be very important in the jihad against Saddam Hussein. America is not so much concerned about Al Qaeda militants and Chechens, it can hardly be said feeling guilty for the events in Chechnya, and thus willing to help Russia in the struggle with terrorists. Americans have already stopped talking about "Chechen patriots", but, at the same time, they are reluctant to help Russia. The USA needs Georgia for a victory over Hussein. Georgia is conferred the same role in the anti-Iraq war, as Pakistan had played in the hostilities against Taliban. If the US preparations go like this, experts say, we may expect a blow to be delivered against Iraq in the second part of March / beginning of April. And Georgia may come in handy for it. DEBKAfile reports, the USA will deliver air blows from three directions: Turkey and Georgia in the north, Jordan, Israel and Egypt (a large air base in Sharm-el-Sheikh) in the west, Oman, Bahrein, Yemen and Kuwait in the south.

Monday, March 04, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Globalization is not new

What is Globalization? Arthur MacEwan looks at the history of globalization (not quite as far back as the Garden, as this quote implies) and how today's version is different.

Ever since Adam and Eve left the garden, people have been expanding the geographic realm of their economic, political, social and cultural contacts. In this sense of extending connections to other peoples around the world, globalization is nothing new. Also, as a process of change that can embody both great opportunities for wealth and progress and great trauma and suffering, globalization at the beginning of the 21st century is following a well established historical path. Yet the current period of change in the international system does have its own distinctive features, not the least important of which is the particular sort of political conflict it is generating.

Hubble spacewalks

In the first of five spacewalks, the Hubble was given a new solar panel, smaller than the old ones but more sturdy and powerful. A second one will be installed in a walk starting at 1:30 Eastern Tuesday morning.

Today's friends are tomorrow's enemies

Forgotten Coverage of Afghan "Freedom Fighters": on the change in media coverage regarding the Afghan Mujahiddin between the 80s and today.

There has, in short, been a fairly dramatic and Orwellian shift in the tone of public discourse regarding Afghanistan. While Islamic extremism is now viewed with great hostility, in the 1980s U.S. policy strongly supported such extremism; there is scarcely any recognition that a little more than a decade ago, the U.S. press waxed eloquent about the Afghan "freedom fighters."


There can be little doubt that journalistic partisanship strongly shaped the agenda of news reporting during the Afghan war of the 1980s. Another problem was direct manipulation of reporting by the U.S. government, which was supporting the Mujahiddin guerrillas during both the Carter and Reagan administrations. (Indeed, we now know that U.S. aid to the Mujahiddin was secretly begun in July 1979, six months before the Soviets invaded--International Politics, 6/00.) This press manipulation began early in the conflict. In January 1980, the New York Times (1/26/80) reported that the State Department had "relaxed" its accuracy code for reporting information on Afghanistan. As a result, the Carter administration generated "accounts suggesting Soviet actions for which the administration itself has no solid foundation."

Limits of computing

The Physics of Information Processing Superobjects: Daily Life Among the Jupiter Brains. Anders Sandberg takes a detailed look at the physical limitations to enormous computers.

The laws of physics impose constraints on the activities of intelligent beings regardless of their motivations, culture or technology. As intelligent life begins to extend its potential, information storage, processing and management will become extremely important. It has been argued that civilizations generally are information-limited and that everything intelligent beings do, not just thinking but also economy, art, and emotion, can be viewed as information processing. This means that the physics of information processing imposes limits on what can be achieved by any civilization. In the following I will look at the problems of very large computing systems. They represent the extremes of what an individual being or a culture can become.


U.S. Military Bases and Empire: a look at the history and use of foreign military bases by the U.S.

The United States, which has sought to maintain an imperial economic system without formal political controls over the territorial sovereignty of other nations, has employed these bases to exert force against those nations that have sought to break out of the imperial system altogether, or that have attempted to chart an independent course that is perceived as threatening U.S. interests.

Realities in space

The Political Economy of Very Large Space Projects: John Hickman discusses some of the political and economic realities behind such things as space stations, Mars colonization, and star ships.

Space development enthusiasts typically explain the significance of their favorite very large space projects-whether constructing orbital colonies or cities beneath the surface of the Moon, terraforming Mars or Venus, or launching interstellar spacecraft-in terms of their promise to produce vast new wealth, open frontiers to serve as social "safety valves" for the ambitious or the dissenting, generate the novel problems that drive dramatic advances in science and engineering, provide new sources of natural resources, and permit population dispersal to assure the long term survival of our species. Without question, these are all laudable reasons for the adventure of space and any very large space project would probably meet several of these objectives. However, if the economic and social promise of these projects is so extraordinary, and if the social losses which result from failing to undertake them are so large, why haven't humans embarked on them? Why aren't we even close to beginning one of these great enterprises? Given the assertion made by many space development enthusiasts that the basic technology needed for their favorite projects already exists or can be developed from the available science, asking these questions is entirely fair. The answers must be found in political economy, some rudimentary understanding of which will be necessary before realistic planning for any very large space project can begin.

Bolivian coca production

Bolivia Suffers under Plan Colombia: on the impact of drug eradication under the Andean Counterdrug Initiative to the legal growers of coca in Bolivia.

Beyond this, however, we are also sending increasing millions of dollars to Andean governments, especially Bolivia, in order to coerce them to greatly decrease coca production. Since 1997 coca production has decreased by about 75% in Bolivia, almost eliminating that part of the crop which goes to the international cocaine trade. Now, however, we want Bolivia to further decrease coca production. This is what the peasants are protesting, because hundreds of thousands of them make their living from its cultivation for domestic Bolivian consumption.

Sunday, March 03, 2002 Permanent link to this day
SSSCA debate

The debate over the SSSCA, which would make it illegal to sell computing devices without copy protection technology built in, is heating up. Senate hearings were held last week with primarily media executives testifying. An effort to block the bill has been started at

See also:

Pioneer 10 answers

NASA's attempt to contact Pioneer 10 was successful.

Pioneer-10 was successfully contacted today. Yesterday, about 3pm PST a 200 Kw uplink transmission from Goldstone California, the 70 meter DSN antenna DSS-14, was sent to Pioneer-10 and 22 hours later in Madrid Spain at the DSN 70 meter antenna DSS-63 the confirmation of contact was received. From a distance of 79.7 AU DSS-63 acquired the signal on time at about -183 dbm. They spent an hour peaking the signal (-178.5 dbm) and then they were able to lock up telemetry at 16 bps at an SNR of -0.5 db. Tracking continued until the elevation was about 20 degrees but enough telemetry was received to verify the state of Pioneer-10. Incidentally, the SETI institute also saw the signal from Arecibo in Puerto Rico. For years they have used Pioneer-10 as a reference for their investigations.

The spacecraft is still healthy. The power is still sufficient to support the loads with the bus voltage at about 26 volts (nominal is 28). The uplink from DSS-14 was received by the spacecraft at -131.7 dbm. The spacecraft is extremely cold, with many of the temperature readings at the bottom of their scales. Two commands were sent yesterday from Goldstone and both were confirmed to have been executed by the spacecraft. One scientific instrument is still on, the Geiger Tube Telescope, and Dr. James Van Allen, the PI, will be happy to hear he has some more data to look at.

-- from the ARC press release

Invariance tests

A lot of the physics based around general relativity relies on physical laws remaining the same as rotation and speed increase (Lorentz transformations), and under the combination of Charge conjunction, Parity inversion, and Time reversal (CPT Invariance). Robert Bluhm, Alan Kostelecky, Charles Lane, and Neil Russell are among the people trying to find instances where these symmetries are violated. Their recent paper in Physical Review Letters describes experiments using clocks located in space, like the one scheduled to be launched to the ISS in 2005, to detect symmetry violations.

See also:

India violence

India's dangerous flames: background behind the religious violence which erupted in India over the last week.

India's government has moved firmly in an effort to quell any violent backlash to the latest spate of killings over a controversial campaign to construct a Hindu temple on the site of a demolished mosque. The issue is a flashpoint for religious violence in India. In three days, more than 200 people have died in the western state of Gujarat. More than 50 Muslims died after their homes were torched in a shanty town near Ahmedabad, the state's largest city. Police have been ordered to shoot troublemakers on sight and troops have been sent in to help keep order.

In 1992, 3000 people were killed in the riots that started when the mosque was demolished.

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Has the US lost its way?: Paul Kennedy ponders what America can do to keep its friends abroad.

'By what right,' an angry environmentalist demanded at a recent conference I attended, 'do Americans place such a heavy footprint upon God's Earth?' Ouch. That was a tough one because, alas, it's largely true.

We comprise slightly less than 5 per cent of the world's population; but we imbibe 27 per cent of the world's annual oil production, create and consume nearly 30 per cent of its Gross World Product and - get this - spend a full 40 per cent of all the world's defence expenditures. By my calculation, the Pentagon's budget is nowadays roughly equal to the defence expenditures of the next nine or 10 highest defence-spending nations - which has never before happened in history. That is indeed a heavy footprint. How do we explain it to others - and to ourselves? And what, if anything, should we be doing about this?

Midnight ride

Mugabe opponents forced to campaign at dead of night: a report from a night time expedition to distribute fliers for the MDC.

Cold fusion again?

Cold fusion 'breakthrough' heralds clean nuclear power: on reports that a team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Michigan have duplicated the work of Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons in creating cold fusion.

Lining up to vote

Prepare for a long vote-in weekend: a letter to the editor encouraging opposition voters to turn out for next weekend's election in Zimbabwe despite cuts in the number of polling places.

Please block in the entire election weekend in your diary as "voting", go to the polling station armed with a picnic (especially drink), blanket, umbrella and stool/folding chair, and be prepared for a vote-in weekend, where you simply stay at the polling station until you vote.

Argentine impatience

Running out of Patience

Every Sunday crowds of men, women, and children pack into Centenario Park in Buenos Aires to vent their spleens against banks, corrupt politicians, and judges, to demand justice for victims of political repression, and to organize pot-and-pan banging demonstrations (cacerolazos) and other audacious forms of political protest. They are distrustful of politicians, trade union leaders, government officials, big business... in short, anything that smells of the traditional power structure in this crisis-ridden country. They are not the black-clad anarchists one might imagine. They are middle-class professionals, merchants, office workers, housewives, students, those caught in the corralito--the severe banking restrictions imposed in December 2001 to stop a run on accounts--and voters who cast blank ballots to protest congressional by-elections in October 2001.

Hubble captured

The shuttle has grabbed hold of the Hubble in preparation of the first spacewalk early Monday morning.

Saturday, March 02, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Dissecting birdsong

Syntactic Structure in Birdsong: Memetic Evolution of Songs or Grammars? Is there a grammatical structure to the songs of the House Finch or are they simply composed of memes? We still don't know.

Engineering a world

From Biosphere To Technosphere: Stephen R.L. Clark on the need to be able to create a new world for humanity.

Our climate is set to change irrevocably and unavoidably. It is not possible for all the human population of our present Earth to live as expensively as the Western elite. The Earth is just too vulnerable to be a remotely secure accommodation for humankind and its associates. Whether we retreat inside arcologies, or migrate into the Asteroid Belt, we are condemned to find a technological solution to the catastrophe - unless we are prepared to contemplate the death of our children and grandchildren in the droughts, floods, plagues and famines of the late 21st century (I am being optimistic). We have to find out how things work, and how to build appropriate replicas of a working world, even while the way things work is changing. Where shall we put the peoples driven from coastal and island regions? What shall we do with peoples whose land has been eroded or leached clean of nutrients? What shall we do when antibiotics no longer work, animal diseases and plant blights sweep through our monocultures, and the working human population is too sick or too disillusioned to supply the needs of non-productive peoples? No doubt there is, for some, a certain pleasure in imagining the débacle. Some may even imagine that they can stockpile resources and ammunition enough to last out the time. The rest of us may prefer another future. For at the very same time that we can, with reason, expect these horrors, the same technological inventiveness and cultural versatility - and perhaps the same delusions of grandeur - that have been partly responsible for their likely onset, may promise us solutions.

Ethics of the Net

The Vatican on the ethics of the Internet

Use of the new information technology and the Internet needs to be informed and guided by a resolute commitment to the practice of solidarity in the service of the common good, within and among nations. This technology can be a means for solving human problems, promoting the integral development of persons, creating a world governed by justice and peace and love. Now, even more than when the Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communications Communio et Progressio made the point more than thirty years ago, media have the ability to make every person everywhere "a partner in the business of the human race".

[via NewsTrolls]

Really, you're closed

Closed disinformation agency can't convince staff it's closed

Following Tuesday's announcement that the Pentagon had closed the controversial Office of Strategic Influence , which allegedly was created to spread false information abroad, the agency said it has been unable to convince OSI employees to stop reporting for work.

"We got ya, sir, we're 'closed'," said a winking Major Chad Brumley when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld found him at his desk again today. "There is no one here spreading misinformation now, and certainly there won't be anyone here spreading misinformation daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sir."

Selling fear

Social Fear and the Commodification of Terrorism

The post-September 11 economy of the United States has become a fear-infested and sober landscape. National security and security-related corporations are providing the major visible economic growth. Corporate sectors without any discernable claim on security products nonetheless work to integrate a national security consciousness into their corporate images. Grim, determined, and upbeat patriotism is being used to sell any product that needs selling.

Ad campaigns experiment on how to function within this economic sobriety, as evidenced in those quite successful "Keep America Rolling" auto ads that General Motors rolled out. George Bush tells the country "Let's roll!" and revoices the words of an airline passenger who fought back, while at the same time echoing a General Motors logo. National security fears and durable goods, statesmanship and salesmanship, have been woven together by a fluid consumption-oriented language. To be behind the wheel is to control national fate in the face of international terrorism.

[via ghost rocket]

Pioneer 10, still there?

NASA's Deep Space Network will try to contact Pioneer 10 today for the first time in a year. A year ago the round trip signal took 22 hours. [via dangerousmeta]

Shuttle hanging in there

The shuttle will continue it's mission for now, with mission control keeping an eye on the cooling system that's giving them trouble.

Evolution or design?

Not-So-Intelligent Design (free registration required): Neil Greenspan discusses the push to have intelligent design added as an alternative to evolution in Ohio's biology curriculum.

Some members of the Ohio State Board of Education are maneuvering to have "intelligent design" (ID) taught to Ohio students as an alternative to teaching them about biological evolution. These board members were pursuing the inclusion of ID in the biology curriculum despite unambiguous opposition from the relevant science advisory committee. One board member apparently regards this development as a chance for Ohio "to be on the cutting edge." Unfortunately, this cutting edge will only serve to whittle away a bit more of the collective intellect of the citizenry of Ohio, and the implications reach much farther than the state's boundaries.


A truly fundamental problem with the notion of ID, as a scientific idea, is that, ultimately, it has effectively no explanatory or predictive power. Suggesting that an unknown Intelligent Designer of unspecified attributes designed the eye, the clotting cascade, or the immune system offers no scientific insights into these biologic marvels and suggests no incisive experiments. There is also the nagging issue of how the Intelligent Designer implements designs without being noticed. How do ID proponents explain the existence of defective genes, no longer capable of expression, in one species that are strikingly similar to still functional genes in a related species? What insights does ID provide in accounting for the origin and spread of bacterial resistance to antibiotics? These phenomena are consistent with the principles of evolution, which find application from the molecular level to the level of ecosystems.

He goes on to point out that there was at one point very similar wording to Ohio House Bill 441 tacked on to the No Child Left Behind federal law through an amendment by from Rick Santorum.

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Lately, an "Intelligent Design" (ID) movement has been emerging, trying to steer a course between the inconsequential handwaving of the liberals and the lunatic literalism of the creationists. It too promises more than it has delivered. Phillip Johnson, perhaps their most prominent spokesman, forcefully condemns evolutionary naturalism (1991, 1995) but presents no serious alternative. Michael Behe (1996) claims instances of "irreducible complexity" in biology, which adds up to little more than an old-fashioned incredulity about achieving complex interdependent structures incrementally. The effect of ID on mainstream science has been negligible.

Friday, March 01, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Olympic logos

Did you miss one of Google's Olympic logos? [via rc3]

Filter problem

The shuttle launched this morning for an eleven day trip to the work on the Hubble, but a clogged filter may cause the mission to be aborted early.

Slip slidin' away

In a paper just published in Nature, A team led by Paul Segall and Peter Cervelli describe a silent earthquake which has caused one slope of the Kilauea Volcano to slide almost 3 and a half inches into the Pacific Ocean. That volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983 in an event called Pu`u `O`o. Volcanoes collapsing into the ocean have caused massive tsunamis in the past.

Shadow government

Shadow Government Is at Work in Secret

President Bush has dispatched a shadow government of about 100 senior civilian managers to live and work secretly outside Washington, activating for the first time long-standing plans to ensure survival of federal rule after catastrophic attack on the nation's capital.

Execution of the classified "Continuity of Operations Plan" resulted not from the Cold War threat of intercontinental missiles, the scenario rehearsed for decades, but from heightened fears that the al Qaeda terrorist network might somehow obtain a portable nuclear weapon, according to three officials with firsthand knowledge. U.S. intelligence has no specific knowledge of such a weapon, they said, but the risk is thought great enough to justify the shadow government's disruption and expense.

[via kill your tv dot com]

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Copyright © 2001-2002 by Wes Cowley