Wednesday, October 19, 2005
I was listening to NPR on the way home last night (I think the programme was All Things Considered), and there was a piece on Saddam Hussein’s upcoming trial. A couple of things that were mentioned in the piece, struck me.
The news piece discussed the fact that there may be additional trials that charge Saddam with various crimes, separate from the specific acts he’s being tried for first. It’s vaguely possible that more than one trial may run concurrently, which means Saddam would be shuttled from courtroom to courtroom, or, more likely, any additional cases would take place after the first one wraps up.
Except: in this first trial, Saddam may be sentenced to death if found guilty. The radio news anchor asked the reporter what this would mean for the various groups of people hoping that Saddam will stand trial under separate charges for other criminal acts. The answer was that a special arrangement may be made to keep Saddam alive so that he can appear at additional trials.
A little later in the same piece, there was a discussion about television coverage of the trial, an issue that hasn’t been completely worked out yet. The reporter mentioned that those who support televising the trial would like there to be a substantial delay (around 20 minutes), rather than airing material “live”. The reason for the “tape delay” would be to enable broadcasters to edit or censor material if Saddam should try to use his trial as a “platform” for sermonizing or making speeches, as Slobodan Milošević did during his trial in the Hague.
Now, I’m all in favor of Saddam being brought to trial, but doesn’t it seem like overkill to try the man repeatedly if he has already been sentenced to death, and doesn’t it seem dubious to arrange coverage specifically so that any potentially distasteful protestations can be cut out?
Or perhaps you believe that this man deserves whatever the Iraqis decide to do with him?
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
This is really spooky. The Electronic Frontier Foundation figured out that some color laser printers output tiny dots that indicate when the page was printed, and the serial number of the printer.
The U.S. Secret Service admitted that the tracking information is part of a deal struck with selected color laser printer manufacturers, ostensibly to identify counterfeiters. However, the nature of the private information encoded in each document was not previously known.
“We’ve found that the dots from at least one line of printers encode the date and time your document was printed, as well as the serial number of the printer,” said EFF Staff Technologist Seth David Schoen.
The EFF has broken the dot-code used in Xerox DocuColor prints, and they have a page that will decode the dots in your own prints if you enter them. I guess they’re working on decoding what’s being added to prints by other printer models.
Friday, October 14, 2005
MSNBC has a fluff piece about how Americans are getting ruder to each other. Fair enough. Except:
Peggy Newfield, founder and president of Personal Best, said the generation that came of age in the times-a-changin’ 1960s and 1970s are now parents who don’t stress the importance of manners, such as opening a door for a female.
This is one of my pet peeves. Traditional “chivalry”, it seems to me, is incompatible with the idea that women should be fully-equal members of human society (as they woefully were not for a very long time). I’m all cool with teaching kids that it’s nice to hold open doors for other people, but it’s infantilizing to women to promulgate the tradition of holding open doors for them specifically. I hold open doors for everyone.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Colorado got walloped with snow yesterday, making it the first state to get a proper winter storm this season, I believe.
Come on, snow! Aim a little further west!
Monday, October 10, 2005
CNNfn has a terrifying article about the debt carried by American consumers. It claims, among other things, that:
- Average minimum debt payment as a percentage of disposable income is now 18.4%. This is amazing to me, since minimum required payments on credit cards are usually very low.
- The average credit card debt is $9,312 (from 2004 data). That’s 116% higher than 10 years ago.
- “Americans paid over $127 billion in household bills on credit and debit cards last year, and that number is predicted to top $161 billion in 2005, according to CardWeb.com”. Household bills. Should we really be paying the heating bill on credit?
- The average number of bank cards per household is over nineteen. Nineteen! This is typically “eight bank cards, eight retail cards and three debit cards”
- “Bank card delinquencies reached an all-time high in the past quarter, according to ConsumerFlow.com, with 4.81% of accounts missing minimum payments”
Burn your credit cards!
Saturday, October 8, 2005
MSNBC is running a Reuters story about Boy George being arrested on a drug charge. Nothing surprising there; you have to fluff up your content somehow. However, the tone of the article seems a little odd:
The singer, whose real name is George O’Dowd and who made his name with the 1980s pop band Culture Club, then walked out of the courtroom, sat on a bench and began crying like a baby.
Am I the only one who finds it a little odd for Reuters to be using the phrase “crying like a baby” to describe a criminal defendant’s behavior?
This paragraph further down forces me to conclude that a distracted 9-year-old wrote this article. Note the broken grammar:
Known for his flowing locks and the lash of his sharp tongue, the boy doll with the asexual image was devoured by British tabloid newspaper who wrote often about his heroin-induced excesses to his pitiful withdrawal.
Saturday, October 8, 2005
Lots of news outlets are reporting this, but it’s pretty amazing. Researchers at the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology documented the genetic code of the 1918 flu virus by sequencing virus fragments found in tissue samples from people who died in the epidemic, including from one body that was buried in the Alaskan permafrost and preserved.
So far, so normal for modern medicine. It was apparently a long and painstaking process to sequence the virus, and the results were published as the work proceeded. The final results were recently published in Nature.
Here’s the impressive part, though: a separate team of researchers at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine took the genetic sequence information and manufactured brand new replicas of the 1918 virus from scratch. They didn’t duplicate intact, preserved virus particles from 1918, or start with a similar virus and poke it somehow; they sat down and used the genetic sequence to manufacture a new copy of the virus.
You can read about it in The Globe and Mail:
Using a technique called reverse genetics, the Mount Sinai researchers used the genetic coding to create microscopic, virus-like strings of genes, called plasmids.
The plasmids then were sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where they were inserted into human kidney cells for the final step in the virus reconstruction.
“Once you get the plasmids inside the cell, the virus assembles itself,” said Terrence Tumpey, the CDC research scientist who assembled the virus. “It only takes a couple of days.”
I gather that viruses are very simple genetic constructs, and aren’t even considered to be alive, but I didn’t realize that we could manufacture even viruses from scratch.
Friday, October 7, 2005
The New Republic Online has a funny article documenting cronyism in the Bush administration (the article counts down the “15 biggest Bush administration hacks”).
It closes with some wise words about what the Bush administration has achieved in this department:
In Federalist No. 76, Alexander Hamilton warned that, in presenting nominations to the Senate, a president “would be both ashamed and afraid” to nominate cronies–or, as Hamilton called them, “obsequious instruments of his pleasure.” Maybe politics was different back in the 1780s, but we have watched Bush appoint many obsequious instruments of his pleasure. It may be his legacy: George W. Bush–he took the shame and fear out of cronyism.
Spoiler: the article cites Harriet Myers as the obvious, runaway pick for #1 hack.
Friday, October 7, 2005
I mentioned some time ago that the independant press was reporting that
In July 2003, during a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Bush told the newly elected leader of the Palestinians that “God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.”
I assumed the mainstream media didn’t want to go near this, but surprisingly, they have finally gotten around to reporting on it. It seems that the reason this finally got widespread attention is that it is mentioned in an upcoming BBC documentary, “Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs”. The BBC quotes are a little different from those previously reported. They have Bush saying:
“I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan’. “And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.’ And I did.
“And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East’. And by God I’m gonna do it”
Reassuring stuff, to be sure. Whitehouse spokesbot Scott McClellan assures us it’s all nonsense:
Q Have you ever heard the President say that God told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, and I’ve been in many meetings with him and never heard such a thing.
Q: Are you aware of the — there’s a BBC broadcast tonight that’s quoting the Palestinian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister as saying that they were in a meeting with the President in June of ‘03, and there are some very detailed quotes here, saying that the President said to them, “God told me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan,’ and I did,” and then “God told me, ‘George go and end the tyranny in the Iraq’” and so forth and so on?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that’s absurd. He’s never made such comments.
Q: Were you in the meeting when that took place?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’ve been in meetings with him with President Abbas; I didn’t travel on that trip, if you’re talking about to Jordan. But I’ve been in many meetings with the President with world leaders where he’s talked about this.
Q: So you don’t know about the June ‘03 meeting?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I checked into that report and I stand by what I just said.
McClellan added, off-mike, “hush, little reporters, don’t fret”.
Thursday, October 6, 2005
I finally got around to turning on comments on chromalark, so the site is now officially out of “beta”. So feel free to go spam me with snide remarks (except that I’m moderating comments).
Thursday, October 6, 2005
Taken at Whistler mid-mountain yesterday!
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
Slate’s Christopher Hitchens tends to bug me; his “Fighting Words” column in Slate tends to present opinion dressed up as purest absolute truth, which is never a good sign if you’re looking for balance and a fair treatment of both sides of an argument.
In his Monday column, “Why ask why?”, Hitchens asks a question worth asking: what motivates terrorists such as those who attacked Bali? True to form, though, he pushes a pre-wrapped, filling, ready-to-eat answer:
Never make the mistake of asking for rationality here. And never underestimate the power of theocratic propaganda.
Consider this, look again at the awful carnage in Bali, and shudder if you ever said, or thought, that the bombs in London in July, or the bombs in Baghdad every day, or the bombs in Bali last Friday, are caused by any “policy” but that of the bombers themselves.
So, what did Indonesia do to deserve this, or bring it on itself? How will the slaughter in Bali improve the lot of the Palestinians? Those who look for the connection will be doomed to ask increasingly stupid questions and to be content with increasingly wicked answers.
I have a lot of trouble with the question of what motivates terrorists. On the one hand, it seems impossible that a well-funded, well-supplied international organization could exist if it were comprised entirely of raving lunatics with no coherent purpose or goal. Attacks such as 9/11 and the synchronized Bali and London bombings require great attention to detail, and careful preparation. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like the work of madmen.
On the other hand, it certainly does most often seem that the only workable explanation that can be advanced for the terrorists’ actions is that they are driven by an intransigent flavor of fundamentalist Islam. The UK Telegraph, for example, has excerpts from an interview with Abu Bakar Bashir, “the cleric regarded as the spiritual leader of Jamaah Islamiyah”, the group currently suspected of carrying out both the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings:
[The West] have to stop fighting Islam, but that’s impossible because it is “sunnatullah” [destiny, a law of nature], as Allah has said in the Qur’an. If they want to have peace, they have to accept to be governed by Islam.”
Is that it, then? Are the terrorists all murderous fanatics with no rational motivation other than to establish an Islamic caliphate over the world? Is the West’s foreign policy completely without effect in either motivating or discouraging terrorist attacks?
A couple more links: the Asian Tribune, a publication I’m not familiar with but that looks pretty leftist, simultaneously denounces Jemaah Islamiah as being headed by “dissident elements of the bourgeoisie, who seek to advance their interests through the demand for an Islamic state and a new accommodation with the major imperialist powers”, and suggests that:
There is no doubt that US crimes in Iraq, aided and abetted by the Australian government, are a major factor in providing a fresh layer of young misguided JI recruits willing to lay down their lives to “defend Muslims”.
[The attacks] are the product of definite social and political conditions which the Howard government, along with the Bush administration, has helped to create. The discontent and frustration engendered by turmoil following the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis has been compounded since 2001 by anger over US-led aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq. The result is a succession of tragedies, of which the bombings in Bali on Saturday are just the latest.
The International Herald Tribune advances a different sort of reason for the attacks, linked to Bali’s precarious economy, a situation brought about by World Bank reforms imposed on Indonesia:
The Bank’s policy error back in the 1970s was to champion a tourism enclave in Bali, on the premise that it would bring in much-needed dollar revenue for the poor country without exposing the island’s Hindu culture to Western influences.
That wasn’t to be. As the project became a success, copycat construction gobbled up a quarter of the island’s land area. Gradually, the entire Balinese economy became narrowly focused on overseas tourists, and hence, prone to maximum disruption by terrorists with minimum effort.
Bali has thus unwittingly ended up offering terrorists the two things they want most: A concentration of easy Western targets and the potential to magnify the human tragedy by causing lasting economic disruption
This isn’t a full explanation of the terrorists’ motivation, of course, since it doesn’t explain why the terrorists are interested in causing “human tragedy” to begin with.
Hoping for a definitive wrap-up? I don’t have one. I can’t pretend to know what motivates the terrorists, and I’m not sure how anyone else can, either.