28 June 2005

Explain this


A family, riding in a car near Tokyo, gets into a car accident. The three-year old son is thrown from the car. The husband gets out of the car to find him; both are then struck and killed by traffic.

What of Mom, you ask? Well, she's still in the car, not getting out to help her husband and son, because she's been dead for at least a day before the accident.

This world is stranger than we can know.

27 June 2005

The Pentagon says the US is letting al-Qaida soldiers go free


The AP sez:
Pakistanis freed from Guantanamo Bay claimed they saw American interrogators throw, tear and stand on copies of Islam's holy book, and one former detainee said naked women sat on prisoners' chests during questioning.

The Pentagon denied the accusations and said al-Qaida training manuals instruct prisoners to make such false charges.
Um, OK, so these guys were trained by al-Qaida, so presumably they were members of al-Qaida? And the US military let them go? We're supposed to believe this?

These former detainees tell stories of Qurans getting ripped apart and dunked in urine. I'd say that, based on their word alone, these are unproven allegations. But not because al-Qaida trains its soldiers to make up such stories.

I help get the news out


Not through this blog, though. It turns out that an NPR reporter stationed here in Bangkok is a friend of a friend, and I got a rather panicked call saying she was having trouble getting her laptop to communicate, and her deadline was fast approaching. We met at a Starbucks, and I verified the problem. (Anyone know why a Windows computer wouldn't be able to get DHCP info? It would get to "acquiring network address" and then hang there.) After a couple of minutes of trying to fix that, I shared my Mac's WiFi connection to the Ethernet port and connected the two machines with a patch cable, and now you can hear this. Fun, huh?

The world is becoming more dangerous


The Bangkok Post today is running a Reuters story that says that technology from Kh-55 cruise missiles, sold to Iran by Ukraine, may have then been transferred to North Korea. And now the newly-elected Iranian president has said that he plans to resurrect Iran's nuclear program.

These seem to support the idea that these countries learned from the Iraq war that they need to continue to develop nuclear weapons if they want to avoid being attacked by the US. (I think they should have learned not to become a neocon obsession.) Their desire for such weapons can only have been strengthened by the Bush administration's "if you're not with us, you're against us" rhetoric. Since they knew they weren't going to be with the US, they needed to become nuclear powers as soon as possible. And so belligerent, antagonistic, tongue-tied, hamhandedness hasn't had a good effect on others, and has degraded US national security. Who'd a thunk it?

Once again, Microsoft jumps on an already-full bandwagon


Microsoft has announced that it will include RSS support in the next version of Windows, to be released, oh, any year now.

As I sit here, tapping away on my Mac, I have two web browsers open (Safari and Firefox), both of which have built-in RSS support, as well as a dedicated RSS aggregator (NetNewsWire Lite).

Microsoft is coming jes' a bit late to this game, but I expect it to do its usual "we'll add a few proprietary features, and make it so all RSS feeds from Windows servers include those features by default, thereby breaking everyone else's aggregators". Embrace, extend, and extinguish. Hate it.

Dengue — coming soon to a mosquito near you


Very bad news from the Bangkok Post today — male mosquitoes here in Thailand have been found to carry the dengue virus. (It had been found in male mosquitoes in Singapore in 2001.) Previously it had been found only in the female. The male mosquitoes pose no direct threat to humans, since they don't bite us, but they are able to transmit the virus to females, who then pass it on to humans. So I would expect the virus to spread much faster through the mosquito population, and human infection rates to increase.

In its milder forms, such as my bout with it, dengue is pretty unpleasant. Repeated infections generally get progressively worse, and can lead to death. In fact, dengue kills more Cambodians than malaria does.

26 June 2005

Give this doctor more funding


From the AP:
"Epidemiological studies suggest that high flavonoid intake confers a benefit on cardiovascular outcome," Dr. Charalambos Vlachopoulos, of Athens Medical School in Greece, and colleagues write in the American Journal of Hypertension.
Translated into English, this means that eating dark chocolate is good for you. Unfortunately, I'm sure there's an "in moderation" rider attached to that.

Cambodia Crime Compendium


The fortnightly roundup of mischief and mayhem by the Mekong! As usual, all the stories are taken from the Phnom Penh Post, which in turn translates them from stories in the Khmer press.
Police are looking for a man who committed a murder during a robbery at midnight... [The victim] was axed four times in the head while sleeping on a bed downstairs, as he had been drunk earlier in the evening. ...the thief went upstairs and robbed [his wife] of one million riel after killing her husband.
It's probably just the translation — I'm pretty sure the victim's having been drunk led to his sleeping downstairs, rather than being the cause of his getting axed in the head. And once again — one million riel is about $250, or more than a year's income for many people here.
Police arrested three gunmen after a robbery...in...Phnom Penh. One of the robbers...tried unsuccessfully to escape after aiming a K-54 handgun at a man sitting in the park and stealing his two mobile phones. Police confiscated the phones from the thieves and handed them back to the victim.
Cell phones are often people's most valuable possessions, and, as in other parts of Asia, are a status symbol. This is the Cambodian equivalent of someone carjacking an American's Jaguar.

I do like the way firearms are always carefully identified in these reports. Many Cambodians are, of course, very familiar with weaponry from from the war.
A woman...was sentenced to five years in prison after being charged in a robbery... During the hearing...[the] Judge...said [the woman] was arrested...last year after [a man] accused her of using a trick and stealing his motorbike. [The man] said [the woman] and her two adopted sons persuaded him to her guesthouse and gave him sex while he was drunk. [He] said that while he was having sex, [her] adopted sons took off with [his] motorbike.
The family that robs Mom's johns together, stays together.
...an activist from the Sam Rainsy Party was knifed to death while drinking alcohol with his neighbors... A witness said [he] was stabbed in the bladder with a bayonet by...a supporter of the Cambodian People's Party. The witness said the men argued over a political issue.
The CPP is Hun Sen's party, which is well known for its willingness to use violence to persuade others of the error of their ways. Unfortunately, there's little indication the Sam Rainsy party would be any different if it were somehow to take power. And, a bayonet? How many people have one of those lying around? (I mean, I own one, but it's Crimean War-era and would have trouble cutting warm butter.)
A farmer...was taken to a provincial hospital after being poisoned with insecticide... His wife said [he] tried to commit suicide after arguing with her. She said [he] was angry because she had bought 200 riel worth of soya milk for herself but didn't buy any for him.
This kind of story breaks your heart, and shows just how poor many Cambodians are. 200 riel is about US$0.05.
Police are looking for [a man] who escaped after killing his wife during a domestic dispute... Police said [he] was angry after his wife... accused him of stealing 500 riel. [He] killed [her] with a heavy knife and he later cut her head off.
Really. 500 riel = $.125. It's difficult to imagine, being so poor that that amount can prompt such a brutal murder.
[A man] was found dead... [Police] said [he] had his arms and legs tied up and that he had been electrocuted. [Police] suspected the murder involved... a son of... a member of the National Assembly from the Cambodian People's Party who died recently from illness. A witness told police that [the son] had fired his gun in the air when [the victim] was present to demand ownership of the villa after his father died.
Again with the CPP. But really, this is a good illustration of why a strong court system is a good idea. That way, property disputes can be settled by litigation rather than electrocution.
...a village security guard accidentally shot himself while beating one of two robbers he apprehended... ...a motorcycle taxi driver said he saw [the guard] try to hit the thief on the head with a rifle while holding the barrel, but the gun discharged, shooting [the guard] in the stomach.
It's hard to feel a whole lot of sympathy for anyone here. Stupidity and brutality are never a good mix.And that's it for this edition. Stay safe out there, and always, always use your nightstick when beating people you arrest.

25 June 2005

Light blogging today

Net connections being excruciatingly slow. I'll be in Bangkok tomorrow, and things should be much better.

24 June 2005

The general didn't read his talking points


The insurgency in Iraq is in its last throes? So says Dick Cheney, but Gen. John Abizaid disagrees:
The Iraqi insurgency is as active as six months ago and more foreign fighters are flowing in all the time, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East said... "When my soldiers say to me and ask me the question whether or not they've got support from the American people or not, that worries me. And they're starting to do that."
So why don't we take a look at the average coalition deaths per day and see (this has been smoothed a bit with 30-day rolling averages):

It's a little hard to see that insurgency winding down there, isn't it? And remember, this is just coalition deaths.

Doesn't look much like last throes to me.

23 June 2005

They pave paradise, and put up a parking lot


Eminent domain always been one of those necessary evils — say, traffic has increased on a road, and the road needs to be expanded to handle it, so the government seizes property for the expansion. This is often very bad news for those who lose their homes, but it's done for a clear public good, and so as a society we've accepted this.

But this goes well beyond that, allowing government to take your property for the benefit of private property developers, with the only public benefit being a possible increase in tax revenues. It does make clear that the government's goal is economic development, benefiting those who need it least, rather than what's best for the people as a whole. They're usually not quite so obvious about it.

Oh, Karl


The AP is reporting that Karl Rove, speaking at a New York Conservative Party dinner, had this to say:
"Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," Rove said Wednesday night. "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war."
He is, of course, being utterly mendacious. The administration he's part of saw 9/11 as the perfect excuse to attack Iraq. They did this by pandering to and encouraging people's natural desire for revenge, without considering if it would be effective. (Ask the Israelis and Palestinians how well revenge has been working out for them.) Using war to punish the acts of a few is "collective punishment", and is a crime.

What this liberal wanted was the arrest, trial, and punishment of those responsible for inciting, funding, planning, and executing these attacks. I wanted a thorough investigation of the intelligence and leadership failures that allowed the attacks to happen. I wanted changes to address the results of that investigation. Just as I did before 9/11, I wanted the United States to stop its unjust, unfair, and counterproductive policies in the Middle East.

And yes, I wanted Saddam Hussein gone. I wanted democracy, freedom, and justice for the people of the Middle East. I wanted religious leaders to stop promoting hate. I wanted Islamic culture to open the gates of ijtihad, and once again become the wellspring of ideas it long ago was.

But here's the thing — none of those things can be forced on people. You can't create a real democracy at the point of a gun. At one time, the United States could have encouraged democratic movements and promoted freedom of thought and religion. Instead we chose to suppress democracy and support tyranny. As a result, it will be a very long time before we have enough credibility to be a positive force in the Middle East.

If Bush's policies and the war wind up creating a free democratic Iraq, and if other Middle Eastern countries follow (dare I say "like dominoes"?), no one will be more delighted than I. But also, no one will be more surprised.

Update: Democrats think Rove should apologize; Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman "said there was no need to apologize because 'what Karl Rove said is true.'"

The flag-burning amendment is un-American


Once again, the US Congress is considering this Bad Idea That Just Won't Die — a constitutional amendment to restrict free speech by banning flag-burning. It's already passed the House, which isn't too surprising, because the house has, for some time now, contained more than its fair share of vicious, thoughtless people. But the Senate may be only one vote away from approving this, too, in which case it would be up to the states to stop this.

Lots of smart, well-respected people have said a lot of great stuff on the free speech side of things, and I'll quote some of them below, because it's easy.

But I'd like to look at another aspect of this misbegotten amendment. Here's the proposed text:
The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.
This means that they could, for instance, prohibit Bush from signing more flags. But what about flag burning, which is the main impetus for this amendment?

Well, I used to be a Boy Scout, and one thing I learned there was that the proper way to respectfully dispose of a flag was — burning it. So any law regarding burning of flags is going to have to distinguish "bad" flag-burning from "good". This might seem easy enough in some cases. But suppose a group of people organizes, and each of them burns a ragged old flag in their front yard at 3pm on Sunday, and watches quietly and respectfully while it burns. Is that OK? I think most everyone will say yes. Now suppose that they're all wearing shirts that say "I'm disposing of this flag because it was besmirched by Bill Clinton". Still OK? I'm going to guess that many — I hope not most — supporters of the amendment would say yes, because it's being done respectfully and besides, they agree about Clinton. But replace "Bill Clinton" with "George W. Bush" and I think all amendment supporters will say it's an act worthy of punishment.

And there's the biggest danger. What's going to be punished is not the act of burning a flag; what will be punished are the thoughts you're having as you do it. Nothing could be more totalitarian. Nothing could be more anti-American.

But I'm straying into that free speech territory I said I would leave to others:
Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.— William Orville Douglas

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is afraid of its people. — John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Free speech is intended to protect the controversial and even outrageous word; and not just comforting platitudes too mundane to need protection. — Colin Powell

Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where people are themselves free. — Theodore Roosevelt

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all. — Noam Chomsky

You have not converted a man because you have silenced him. — John Morley

Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself. — Salman Rushdie

I would rather starve and rot and keep the privilege of speaking the truth as I see it, than of holding all the offices that capital has to give from the presidency down. — Henry Brooks Adams

The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing. — John Adams

Letting a maximum number of views be heard regularly is not just a nice philosophical notion. It is the best way any society has yet discovered to detect maladjustments quickly, to correct injustices, and to discover new ways to meet our continuing stream of novel problems that rise in a changing environment. — Ben Bagdikian

Thought that is silenced is always rebellious. Majorities, of course, are often mistaken. This is why the silencing of minorities is necessarily dangerous. Criticism and dissent are the indispensable antidote to major delusions. — Alan Barth

What's right with America is a willingness to discuss what's wrong with America. — Harry C. Bauer

We are more especially called upon to maintain the principles of free discussion in case of unpopular sentiments or persons, as in no other case will any effort to maintain them be needed. — Edward Beecher

There is tonic in the things that men do not love to hear. Free speech is to a great people what the winds are to oceans...and where free speech is stopped miasma is bred, and death comes fast. — Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

Purveyors of political correctness will, in the final analysis, not even allow others their judgments... They celebrate “difference,” but they will not allow people truly to be different — to think differently, and to say what they think. — Mark Berley

The first people totalitarians destroy or silence are men of ideas and free minds. — Isaiah Berlin

In order to get the truth, conflicting arguments and expression must be allowed. There can be no freedom without choice, no sound choice without knowledge. — David K. Berninghausen

What finally emerges from the ‘clear and present danger’ cases is a working principle that the substantive evil must be extremely serious and the degree of imminence extremely high before utterances can be punished…It must be taken as a command of the broadest scope that explicit language, read in the context of a liberty-loving society, will allow. — Justice Hugo L. Black

All ideas having even the slightest redeeming social importance – unorthodox ideas, controversial ideas, even ideas hateful to the prevailing climate of opinion, have the full protection of the guarantees [of the First Amendment]. — Justice William J. Brennan

If there is a bedrock principle of the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. — Justice William J. Brennan

It is sometimes said that toleration should be refused to the intolerant. In practice this would destroy it... The only remedy for dogmatism and lies is toleration and the greatest possible liberty of expression. — Joyce Cary

Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing Freedom of Speech... Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech... — Cato

You make men love their government and their country by giving them the kind of government and the kind of country that inspire respect and love; a country that is free and unafraid, that lets the discontented talk in order to learn the causes of their discontent and end those causes, that refuses to impel men to spy on their neighbors, that protects its citizens vigorously from harmful acts while it leaves the remedies for objectionable ideas to counter-argument and time. — Zecharian Chafee, Jr.

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all. — H. L. Mencken

22 June 2005

You gotta think your scams through


The Cambodia Daily is reporting that a man has been arrested for impersonating a member of Hun Sen's bodyguard. He told a group of villagers, who have been staging a protest here in Phnom Penh over a land dispute, that for $2,000 he would take their petition to Hun Sen and their problem would be solved.

So far, so scammy. He made his big mistake, though, when he asked for a $300 down payment. This prompted the villagers to report him to the police because the amount was too low.

So bribery? OK. The prime minister intervening in legal disputes? OK. The requested bribe not being big enough? Problem.

More humane than humans


Long-time readers will remember my post about two homeless men who, on finding two children who had been thrown out of a window, had summoned help and taken the shirts off of their backs to help keep the children warm in the meantime.

Now we have this story:
A 12-year-old girl who was abducted and beaten by men trying to force her into a marriage was found being guarded by three lions who apparently had chased off her captors, a policeman said Tuesday.

It's something to remember the next time you look at someone your culture has taught you to regard as brutish. Judge them by their actions, not by their appearance.

Jack Kilby, dead at 81


It's always amazing when you find out that you don't even know the name of someone who helped create much of the world you live in.

I remember when I first read Kilby's name, I wondered why he wasn't more famous — he'd won a Nobel prize and was an inventor of the calculator, which would have been laurels enough for most of us to rest on. But he also invented the integrated circuit, thus making him an indirect creator of everything electronic.

Even here in Cambodia, glancing around my office I see a laptop, mouse, headset, cell phone, desk phone, air conditioner, remote control for the A/C, and a laser printer. Every one of those things has at least one integrated circuit in it; the laptop has many. Jack Kilby changed my life, and yours, too.

Timely news


If you're one of the few, proud readers of this blog you'll have noticed that postings have been light for the last few days. It's because I have bronchitis. I'm blaming it on the kids at my office, who are fun to have around, but like all kids pick up bugs at school and bring them home.

I thought perhaps I should go off to the pharmacy (aka "candy store") and get some abx, but then I read this. So everyone's just gonna have to put up with my hacking a few more days yet.

21 June 2005

Quick snips


Cardinal Sin has died. There is no truth to the rumor that he is survived by his brothers Mortal and Venial.

Researchers discovered that parts of women's brains shut off during orgasm. I think it's hardly confined to women.

That short, sweet period when it was cool to be a geek is over.

And Saddam Hussein misses his old arms supplier, Ronald Reagan.

Can you say "injectable nicotine"?


This should come as no surprise — it turns out that nicotine works its magic through the same mechanism as heroin (at least in mice it does). If also true in humans, it should mean that treatments for one addiction — the article mentions naloxone — should also work for the other.

It would be nice if this meant that more research could be done into extreme treatments for addiction, such as ibogaine. It would be even nicer if it meant that addiction could be medicalized, and drugs in general could be either medicalized or legalized and regulated (depending on the drug).

But in today's orgy of repression, I wouldn't expect either to happen.

19 June 2005

If you don't know what you're doing online, be careful


Several news items today relate to online privacy issues, and as we all put more and more information on the net, it's a good idea to stay aware of who has what, and what they're doing with it.

We've all done things like this at one time or another, yes? Made a snide comment about the boss's grammar, but hit "reply to all" by mistake? Remember, when writing to a lot of people, to Bcc them rather than putting them as recipients. If nothing else it'll help keep their spam down.

Spokane's mayor, James West, has been incredibly stupid online, and really needs to resign. He failed to hide his identity well enough in a online gay chat room, which was simply stupid. But he is alleged to have then offered jobs to young men he was chatting with there. Unfortunately for him, one of those "young men" turned out to be the local newspaper. Oops. The lessons here are first, don't assume you can hide online, and second, don't assume anyone is who they say they are online.

And let's not miss this story — a secretary returned to work after the death of her mother; she accidentally spilled some ketchup on a co-worker's trousers; the co-worker asked the bereaved to immediately attend to his dry-cleaning bill. Said co-worker, I barely need mention, was a highly-paid lawyer. His e-mail to the secretary, and her reply, in mock apology, immediately made their way around the web. The moral of this story is to always remember that the recipient of your e-mail can share it with anyone, so be careful what you write to whom. Oh, and try to be a decent human being, 'kay?

Tokyo trains


When I lived in Tokyo, I was always very grateful that my company paid for my housing, so I was able to live near Meguro Station on the Yamanote line, which meant that I only had to go a few stops to get to work. So I never had to resort to the tricks detailed in this book.

I do remember getting on a train at my station one day, and then waiting for 45 minutes before the train started moving. This was unusual, to say the least, and when I got to work my colleagues told me that someone had been pickpocketed in another station on the same line, and to prevent the thief from using the train to escape, they had shut it down — this was in central Tokyo, mind you, during rush hour. Everyone also made sure I knew that the pickpocket was Korean, because of course no Japanese person would ever do such a thing.

I guess it isn't "old news" to some people


As I write, AP lists their story on Memos Show British Fretting Over Iraq War as their most e-mailed story. Please note, Mr Corporate Media — people would not be e-mailing this if this story was "old news".

From those memos:
In one of the memos, British Foreign Office political director Peter Ricketts openly asks whether the Bush administration had a clear and compelling military reason for war.

"U.S. scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and al-Qaida is so far frankly unconvincing," Ricketts says in the memo. "For Iraq, `regime change' does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam."
I heard this theory a lot before the war, along the lines of "Dubya has been a pathetic screw-up all of his life, and now he wants to get Saddam Hussein's head and lay it at the feet of his father, to show that there's something Dubya was better at".
The documents confirm Blair was genuinely concerned about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, but also indicate he was determined to go to war as America's top ally, even though his government thought a pre-emptive attack may be illegal under international law.

"The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September," said a typed copy of a March 22, 2002 memo obtained Thursday by The Associated Press and written to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

"But even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programs will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW (chemical or biological weapons) fronts: the programs are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up."
Yes, OK. Given Hussein's history, keeping a close eye on him was absolutely advisable. But he was not a threat to the US, no matter how many times Bush said without qualification that he was.

Blair knew what the Bush administration kept themselves from knowing, that the aftermath of a war in Iraq was not likely to feature flowers or the declaration of Bush's birthday as an Iraqi national holiday:
A July 21 briefing paper given to officials preparing for a July 23 meeting with Blair says officials must "ensure that the benefits of action outweigh the risks."

"In particular we need to be sure that the outcome of the military action would match our objective... A postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. As already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point."
Thanks to AP for their coverage of this, no matter how belated.

17 June 2005

Some thoughts on the Siem Reap tragedy


For me, the most telling item to come out of the kindergarten hostage taking in Siem Reap was that the criminals asked for only $1000, but demanded rather extreme weapons — rocket-propelled grenades. It points to a complete lack of comprehension as to just how much money most expats have. For the hostage-takers, $1000 was all the money in the world; I think it would have shocked them to discover that many of the parents of the children spent $1000 every month on housing alone.

The men also could not have had any understanding of what was likely to happen to them when they crossed the border into Thailand.

Their desperation — possibly fueled by drugs — and their ignorance of the world, combined to create this tragedy.

16 June 2005

The 'I' word


At long last — six weeks after it became public — the Downing Street memo, which clearly indicates that the Bush administration was lying when it said that it would go to war with Iraq as a last resort, has become a lead story on CNNi.

As far as anyone can tell, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Iraq had no WMDs. Saddam Hussein was an odious tyrant, and Iraq is indeed well rid of him. But, this wasn't the US's war to fight. Regime change is best accomplished when the subjects of that regime do it.

Bush, and many other members of his adminsitration, repeatedly lied in order to get the United States into an unjust war, against international law. Soon, 2000 coalition troops will have died, and many tens of thousands of Iraqis. If this slaughter isn't grounds for impeachment, what is?

Siem Reap hostage situation is over


CNN is reporting that the hostage situation in Siem Reap (the town next to Angkor), has ended, with one student and two of the six hostage-takers dead. It's still not known what their motive was — the gunmen were demanding money, weapons, a vehicle, and safe passage to Thailand.

From the Arab media


For those who think that the Arab world is a medieval anti-American monolith, I recommend reading the Arab media. You don't read Arabic? Luckily, there's Watching America, which contains translations from the non-English press around the world. It's interesting, to "see oursels as others see us". Today I recommend an article by a Saudi woman, writing in the Qatari Al-Watan, entitled "Wake Up Arabs! America is Not the Enemy!":
Gone is the age of colonization: The age of globalization is here. This is the truth that the Arabs still reject, insisting on the same old imaginary conspiracy of a Western plan to eradicate Islam.

This is getting ridiculous


Let's set aside, for the moment, the question as to whether John Bolton is the least diplomatic person ever nominated to be a diplomat. Instead, let's look at the games the White House is playing with the Senate. Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee requested some documents on Bolton from the White House, and are refusing to let his nomination go to the floor until they see those documents. They have said that it would be enough to be told if any of a few dozen names appear in those documents. Presumably, if they don't appear, that'll be the end of it. Now, Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has offered to ask John Negroponte to look at the documents and see if a subset of seven names — chosen by Roberts — appear. Somehow, I think that he already knows that those seven do not.

The big question is, what's in those documents that the White House is so underhandedly trying to protect?

15 June 2005

Some things have to be believed to be seen


The autopsy results have been released; the report says that Terri Schiavo "was severely and irreversibly brain-damaged and blind as well". That is, she could not have been responding to stimuli the way her parents, but not the medical personnel who cared for her, claimed she was.

Why, then, did her parents insist that she was conscious of them? It's almost certainly a case of their seizing on every coincidental movement that seemed like a reaction, and just not seeing everything that didn't. The filter of their hopes let through only those things that reinforced those hopes.

It's a common problem, and we're all subject to it. Evangelical missionaries here in Cambodia have to believe they are converting people in order to continue their missions; they are unable to see that most people in their churches are there for the snacks they hand out afterwards. Liberals believed that the Killian memo (about Bush's Nat'l Guard service) was legitimate, despite many discrepancies. Conservatives believe that Bush is an extraordinarily popular president, despite abysmal poll results, and that the war in Iraq is going well, despite the continuing problems there.

One great achievement of science was the development of methods that minimized these problems. Careful experimental design gives generally reliable results. But such methods can only determine fact, and facts are unconvincing to true believers. No amount of measurements and statistics will ever give the Schiavos any peace.

Gay marriage! Ack!


He comes at it from a different direction, but John Cole's position on gay marriage winds up being essentially the same as mine.

I think it's a basic human rights argument. That is, you should avoid, as much as possible, discriminating against people based on what they are, such as race, gender, etc. Experience has taught me that that list includes sexual orientation. So I think it's wrong to deny homosexuals access to their life partners in hospitals, or to prevent them from adopting children, or joining the army, or anything else.

"Separate but equal" won't work, we learn from history. Besides, the opponents of gay marriage are also opposed to civil unions for gays.

I would also oppose forcing churches to legitimize unions they don't agree with, on freedom of religion grounds.

And so I think that the best solution is to separate out the religious side of marriage from the civil aspects. The state can sanction civil unions for all couples, goy and straight, who want them. These would confer inheritance, hospital visitation rights, joint tax returns, and all of the rest of the legal ramifications.

Churches, though, could marry couples, which would confer the blessings of their god(s), but would not imply any change in legal status.

That way, everyone but the would-be theocrats can be happy.

Internet in Cambodia


Even as the debate over free municipal broadband is going on in the US, Internet access in Cambodia continues to be very expensive, and thus limited to a fortunate few.

The 128 K connection I'm using at the moment, for instance, costs $70/month, plus $75 for 1GB of transfers; anything over that is charged at $1.20/10MB. I'm going to use about 1.5GB this month, so the total bill will be $205, or about as much as my rent, utilities, and housekeeper combined. There are unlimited data transfer plans available, but they start at $400/month.

This is in contrast to nearby Bangkok, where even at hotel prices I can get a connection that's 8 times as fast, with unlimited transfers, for $75/month.

It's hard to see this changing anytime soon. The kleptocracy here certainly doesn't consider it a priority, and lowering prices would make it harder for the minister in charge to afford his villa, so unless the World Bank or some other big donor forces the change it won't happen.

The Khmers stay in touch using SMS. For you Americans, this is short messages, sent over cell phones, and it's very popular in the non-US world. These are very cheap and fall somewhere between text chat and e-mail in immediacy.

What I wonder is, why not build an information system based on SMS? The classic example of how information could help the developing world is a farmer who needs to decide which of two cities to sell his produce in. It seems it would be easy enough to set up a system where a farmer (or, more likely, the village chief) would send an SMS with a request in it, and get market quotes in return. The providers of the information could make a small amount on each SMS. Much of the text-based information on the web could be accessed this way — if you can get to it using Lynx, you should be able to get to it via SMS.

This project would require a Khmer version of the cell phone software, agreements with the cell phone providers, and a little software & hardware infrastructure. Google? Want to advance from "do no evil" to "do some good"?

As long as I'm ranking stuff


This article is titled "States Ranked: Smartest to Dumbest", but it's really a ranking of their public education systems. Massachusetts comes in at #1; New Mexico, for the third year in a row, came in last (that'd be #50, for those of you in New Mexico).

I've lived in places ranging from #4 (New Jersey, and very briefly) to #43 (California, again briefly). My duration-of-residence-weighted ranking is 28.5. So, like my senators (see below), middle-of-the-pack.

I did look at the states' rankings versus their political leaning, but it turned out there's not much correlation there.

This doesn't look good for the Republicans


SurveyUSA has posted approval ratings for all 100 US senators.

The senators from my most recent state of residence, Washington, come in right in the middle of the pack.

But what's most interesting is the distribution of Democrats and Republicans. Nine of the top twelve, including the top three, are Democrats; nine of the bottom twelve are Republicans. Of the top 51 (sorry about the asymmetry — there were lots of ties), 29 were Democrats, 1 Independent, and 21 Republicans. In the bottom 49? 34 Republicans and 15 Democrats.

Of course, this might just reflect the usual American dislike for one-party politics. But it will be interesting to see what happens in the next elections.

Software piracy in Cambodia


The Economist, via Corante, gets it right:
They dubiously presume that each piece of software pirated equals a direct loss of revenue to software firms.

To derive its piracy rate, IDC estimates the average amount of software that is installed on a PC per country, using data from surveys, interviews and other studies. That figure is then reduced by the known quantity of software sold per country-a calculation in which IDC specialises. The result: a (supposed) amount of piracy per country. Multiplying that figure by the revenue from legitimate sales thus yields the retail value of the unpaid-for software. This, IDC and BSA claim, equals the amount of lost revenue.
I would guess that 99+% of the software in use in Cambodia is pirated. (The remainder represents the few NGOs which really care about this.) It is, in fact, extremely difficult to buy a legitimate copy of, say Microsoft Office. The few places which offer licensed copies don't stock them; instead, they must be ordered from Singapore.

So what would happen if unlicensed Windows and Office suddenly stopped working? Very few people here would buy them — the $600 for both represents a couple of years' income for most Khmers. Instead, people would either do without computing, or switch to Linux.

The idea that the rampant piracy here is costing Microsoft money is patently absurd.

14 June 2005

Technical rant


As NGOs here in Cambodia get a little more tech-savvy, some of them want to go legit with their software. They're willing to pony up the money for a Windows license, but they don't see why they then have to go through a lengthy re-install process.

So here's my question. If Microsoft really wants people to stop using pirated software, why don't they make it easy to do so? As far as I can tell, there is no simple, fast way to change the Windows license code in use by a computer.

I bet this'll be announced on a Friday evening


Those of you who live in the US might not have heard about this, but those of us who go through a passport a year or so certainly have. The US has been saying it would require foreigners who can travel to the US without a visa (basically, people from rich, friendly countries) to have passports containing biometric data. It was never stated how this was going to make the US safer, especially given that the 9/11 hijackers, whoever they might have been, were in the US on valid visas.

Anyway, Ireland has now said it's dropping plans for the high-tech passports, expecting the US to drop the requirement because the technology is not reliable. I would expect a quiet announcement from the Department of Homeland Security any Friday now.

It's been said before, but it bears repeating — computers pretty consistently are good at things people are bad at, like remembering reams of numeric data, and bad in the areas where people shine, like recognizing faces. There's not going to be a technological silver bullet to identify "bad" people.

The myth was too simple


Remember the Cedar Revolution? Described in mythic terms as the Lebanese people finally throwing off the shackles of Syrian oppression and breathing the sweet air of freedom? Well, it seems it isn't that simple. The pro-Syrian forces did well enough in the latest round of elections that they might win a majority in the parliament this next round.

Every report I've heard on CNN so far has described this as "surprising" (as does the article I linked above). Apparently they're not reading the Angry Arab, who's been writing that this is all much more complicated than the Bush administration, and the US media, would have you believe. Here's his latest.

Why is this administration so reluctant to do the right thing?


El-Baradei's appointment to a third term as head of the IAEA has been approved, after the US dropped its objections to him. Why, you might ask, did they not want him?
Administration hawks accuse ElBaradei of...trying to obstruct America's invasion of Iraq by questioning U.S intelligence that asserted Saddam Hussein had a nuclear arms program.
In other words, El-Baradei was right, and the administration was wrong.

As far as this adminsitration is concerned, it's perfectly OK to be egregiously wrong, so long as you're toeing the White House line. Tommy Franks, who led the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, George Tenet, who as CIA director told the White House that the case for WMD in Iraq was a "slam dunk", and Paul Bremer, who oversaw the occupation for its first year, all won the Medal of Freedom. In other words, a man who misrepresented the case for invasion, a man who mishandled the invasion — which delivered munitions into the hands of the insurgents, and allowed the looting of Iraq's national treasures — and a man who completely bungled the occupation, were all rewarded for their incompetence with the nation's highest civilian honor.

On the other hand, there are few things the administration regards with more disfavor than disagreeing with them and being right. Just ask Paul O'Neill, Larry Lindsey, Anthony Zinni, Eric Shinseki, and Richard Foster. This administration values loyalty above honesty, above integrity, above the truth.

So no one should be surprised by the Downing Street memo. Of course the "facts were being fixed around the policy" — doing anything else would have been thought disloyal.

It's hard to break old habits


From AP:
The new National Intelligence Director, John Negroponte, is not yet heeding a top recommendation of the Sept. 11 Commission to tear down barriers that divided U.S. spy agencies, one of the panel's Republican commissioners said Monday.
This is exactly what everyone should have expected from Negroponte. There is credible evidence that he knew about, and supported, the "death squads" in Honduras. He was involved in operations to secretly funnel arms and money to the contras in Nicaragua. He knew about, and apparently did not object to, serious violations of human rights on the part of the Nicaraguan government.

Negroponte's whole career has been based on secrecy and the hiding of criminal activity. Why would anyone think that he would encourage the sharing of information? He is an embarrassment to the United States, and was exactly the wrong choice for this job.



If you really want to leave public life, you just do it. You don't hold a press conference to announce it.

One nice thing about living in the developing world is that you can avoid some of the sillier aspects of American culture. My cable provider recently started carrying The Simple Life, and I seriously did not know who those women were, or why I should care about them.

Sometimes you return to the developed world and learn that there are some parts of what's allegedly your home that you will never get. Like the time I went to the US and found everyone saying "where's the beef".

Yes, travel can give you things nothing else can. But if you do enough of it, you'll find that you're no longer fully part of any single culture.

Feeling lonely? Not getting enough phone calls?


Here's one way to fix that: first, get elected president of your country. Then give the public your cell number.

And OK, I just linked to that so I could mention this — does anyone else think that a man named Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should have remained Minister of Defense? Not quite as good as Cardinal Sin of the Philippines, but still.

13 June 2005

Star wars (no, not ROTS)


What a shock. The "Star Wars lite" system rushed into deployment in Alaska, despite never having succeeded a real-world test, isn't working.

<digression> Way back in college, one of my programming classes did a segment on ethics (the only class I ever took, aside from philosophy, which talked about ethics), and one of our case studies worked on the question of whether we, as individuals, would be willing to work on the SDI. Many people's reaction was that of course they would — they would work for whoever paid them. Others went the other way, refusing to accept military money, no matter how good the cause. Those of us in between came up with a secondary question, which was this: given that the system was estimated to need some tens of millions of lines of computer code, which could never be tested in real-life conditions (nuclear explosions going off, etc) until it was needed, what was the likelihood that the system would work? Nearly everyone agreed that the probability was vanishingly close to zero. OK, fine, given that, we asked, would you still be willing to work on it? Some still were, thinking that the basic research towards an unattainable goal would still be useful. In the end, though, a clear majority of the class said they would not be willing to waste the taxpayer's money that way. </digression>

At least the Pentagon's panel is correctly identifying the root problem with the Alaska installation:
In any case, the panel makes clear that the U.S. decision to press ahead with the antimissile system in the face of production and testing delays has come at considerable cost in assurances of its reliability. Pentagon officials have blamed a recent string of system flight-test failures on minor technical glitches. But the panel argues that the setbacks reflected a larger preoccupation with deadlines.
This sounds about right to me. When I advise managers on fixing problems with engineering development, I always ask them when the last time they spoke with an engineer, and why. Invariably they say it was because of a late project. If asked if they've ever spoken with an engineer about the quality of his work, they usually say no.

There's a very good reason for this. It's dead easy to tell if a project is late, and very difficult to see if it's of poor quality. But no manager should ever be surprised by a poor-quality engineering product if the manager has never demonstrated their awareness of quality.

So when the president promised an installation by the end of 2004, a poor outcome should have been expected. It's no wonder he was a failure as a businessman.

11 June 2005

Let him have his license plate


Yet more idiocy in the name of "political correctness" — the Department of Motor Vehicles in Vermont doesn't want to let a guy put "JN36TN" on his license plates because it "contains a religious viewpoint". (The "JN36" refers to "John 3:16" — "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." )

As I've written before, I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state. If the state were proposing to put "John 3:16" (or "All Hail Chthulhu") on everyone's license plates, I'd object strongly. But in this case, it's his car, and his license plate, and I think he should be able to put anything he wants to on it.

And if it offends someone, so what? "Not ever being offended" isn't a right, which is something everyone needs to remember. In fact, having one's beliefs challenged is a good way to sharpen one's thinking.

(I ran across this on iBurlington.com.)

10 June 2005

Newcomers notice 3


A friend who used to live here said that he could tell how long someone had lived in Cambodia by how many people there had to be on a motorbike before they would make note of it. Four was the sign of a fairly recent arrival; five lasted a couple of years. My friend, who had been here for several years, was at the point where he only noticed six or more on a moto.

For a pic of this, see this week's Scene From My Life — the picture shows only five on a moto, and some of them are very small, so Katie Hisert probably hasn't been here all that long.

Math isn't just useful


Vektor has got his knickers in a twist over a teaching-college text that says "that mathematics instruction should be re-architected to 'teach social justice'".

He's disgusted, he says, because it takes a value-neutral subject and politicizes it. There's also his disgust that it was written from a left-wing perspective. I doubt he'd have been moved to write about it had the "pro-life" brigade produced their own version of the same.

I'm annoyed by it, but for a different reason. I think Vektor is right in saying that math is value-neutral, at least within the realm of rational thought. And the thing is, math is practical and useful. It's just as useful for cooking Enron's books as it is for cooking a meal for 30.

My problem with the book (as reported by Vektor — I haven't read it) is that it misses the whole point of mathematics. People don't become mathematicians because they are "good with numbers" — many superb mathematicians are bad at arithmetic. They become mathematicians because they are drawn to its beauty. Nothing is more essential to the student of mathematics than a feel for the kind of esthetic which gets called "elegance" in math. Nothing in math is more satisfying than knowing that you have discovered an elegant proof. That's why people work in areas which have no practical application. They do it for love of the sublime.

Update: The latest issue of Edge talks about this topic.

My congressman is actually representing me


House Democrats, including John Conyers and, perhaps, my very own Rep Jim McDermott, will be holding hearings on the "famous" memo and corroborating evidence. There's more:
Directly following the hearing, Rep. Conyers, Members of Congress, and concerned citizens plan to hand deliver to the White House the petition and signatures of over a half million Americans that have joined Rep. Conyers in demanding that President Bush answer questions about his secret plan for the Iraq war.
My (virtual) signature is on that petition. Yours could be, too.

Freedom to force others to pray


I can't believe that school prayer is still an issue.

My Houston-area high school would broadcasting prayers over the PA system every morning when I was a student in the early '70s. This was in flagrant violation of court decisions, something I pointed out to the principal one morning when I insisted on chatting with my friends during the prayer. (I got to know the principal pretty well that year.)

In retrospect, I should have instead formed the Church of Jimi Hendrix and played Purple Haze after the school-sponsored prayer and insisted that no one speak for the duration.

Just to be clear, I'm not against prayer in schools; I would never try to stop anyone who was, for instance, engaged in a little silent prayer before a calculus test. What I am against is prayer in which others are forced to participate — even by being forced to hear it, or having to be silent for the duration — or where it is promoted by any arm of government, including school teachers. Prayer circles in the quad at lunch? Fine by me. Coach leading the team in prayer before a game? Not so much.

Freedom of religion means freedom for all, or no, religion, or it means nothing.

09 June 2005

The third oldest monkey profession


The oldest? Gambler. Second oldest? Thief.

Amazing But True: Researchers at Yale have been teaching monkeys to use money, looking to see if a) it's possible, and b) how they act with money. The first surprise was that the monkeys did learn to use tokens as a medium of exchange, and were even able to make rational choices that changed as the prices of things changed.

They also learned to gamble. Interestingly, they exhibited the same loss-aversion that humans do.

And, then, well:
Then there is the stealing. Santos has observed that the monkeys never deliberately save any money, but they do sometimes purloin a token or two during an experiment. All seven monkeys live in a communal main chamber of about 750 cubic feet. For experiments, one capuchin at a time is let into a smaller testing chamber next door. Once, a capuchin in the testing chamber picked up an entire tray of tokens, flung them into the main chamber and then scurried in after them -- a combination jailbreak and bank heist -- which led to a chaotic scene in which the human researchers had to rush into the main chamber and offer food bribes for the tokens, a reinforcement that in effect encouraged more stealing.

Something else happened during that chaotic scene, something that convinced Chen of the monkeys' true grasp of money. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of money, after all, is its fungibility, the fact that it can be used to buy not just food but anything. During the chaos in the monkey cage, Chen saw something out of the corner of his eye that he would later try to play down but in his heart of hearts he knew to be true. What he witnessed was probably the first observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex immediately traded the token in for a grape.)
I would bet large sums that the researchers did not list, under experimental risks, the possibility that they would be training monkeys to be prostitutes.

The best defense is a good neighbor


From WaPo, in an article entitled Guantanamo Bay Prison Could Close, Bush Hints (said title is inaccurate, but I'll let Kos have that one):
"We're exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America," Bush told Fox News Channel...
No, they're not. One excellent way to protect yourself is to reduce the number of enemies you have, and the Bush administration, by rushing us into a war based on lies (see that Downing Street memo), has dramatically increased the number of enemies we have in this world.

The policies of the Bush administration have made America, and Americans, less safe. It's time for those policies to change.

Diversity — it's not just a good idea


What's happening to the Tasmanian devil right now is a good example of why diversity in a species is a Very Good Thing.

The animals are suffering from facial tumors which grow so large that they are unable to eat. Interestingly, and devastatingly for the Tasmanian devil, these tumors seem to be infectious, with the agent being the tumor cells themselves.

This doesn't, as far as I know, happen with cancer in other species, because the immune system will normally recognize a foreign cell and destroy it. But Tasmanian devils have very little genetic diversity, and so the invading tumor cells aren't recognized as foreign.

Half of the Tasmanian devil population has already died from this disease; the species may be wiped out in the wild. As the biodiversity of our food supply diminishes year by year, thanks to the efforts of the agro-giants, it becomes more and more susceptible to the same kind of system failure that the Tasmanian devil is dying from.

Think about it the next time you walk into a grocery store and see the rows and rows of identical produce.

08 June 2005



When I was living in the US I didn't watch CNN much. Most of my news came from various print media. But here in Cambodia, with the International Herald Tribune costing $2.50, no net connection at home, and not a whole lot to do in the evenings, I found myself getting more of my news from TV — mostly BBC, but my cable company recently booted them in favor of HBO. (CCTV, if you're listening, your pirated movies show on four different channels. Why not put BBC on one of them?) So I've been watching much more CNN.

I have to say, I wasn't finding them too terrible, certainly not bad enough to justify the scorn heaped on their heads by the blogosphere. Sure, there wasn't enough in-depth coverage, and they were ignoring some stories I thought should get more attention. (Hello? Downing Street memo?) But some of that was just the limitations of the medium. Besides, they're my only source of The Daily Show, so I'm willing to forgive much in return.

What I didn't realize was that CNNi (that's CNN International) is rather radically different from the parent channel. I mean, I knew that World Sport, for instance, bore no resemblance to the US counterpart, if only because it regularly, and rather reasonably, devotes much of the show to the world's most popular sport.

But I didn't realize just how different the news content was until I read CJR Daily's Thomas Lang's article CNN Stuns U.S. With Actual News. He's clearly shocked at what he saw in "Your World Today", which I regard as an ordinary news show.

I had no idea network news was getting that bad in the US. Maybe CNN should offer CNNi there?

Buy our product — approved by God himself!


There's a new wrinkle in selling long-distance service. Turns out that some services are Godly, and others, well:
Customer: Basically God hates AT&T, MCI, and Verizon.

UAT: (pause) Yes. And, Mr. Mirman, do you make a lot of long distance calls or just a few every month?
And no, the article isn't dated 1 April.

Vote early, vote often


And vote in pencil so we can correct mistakes.

In the wake of Hezbollah's pro-Syrian coalition's sweep in southern Lebanon, Kos asks what the "wingers" will do if the "wrong" people win elections in the Middle East.

I don't think we need to wonder; the case of Algeria tells us. When it became clear that the Islamic Salvation Front was winning an overwhelming electoral vistory, the military, in a move supported by the US, stepped in and took over. The resulting struggle cost over 100,000 lives, and the country is only recently returning to something approaching normalcy.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is another example. He has won two elections, and survived a recall election. Although he has certainly made what Americans would consider anti-democratic moves, he remains the elected leader of the country and enjoys wide popular support, except among the elite. And for this, there was a coup attempt against him, in which the US may have had a hand.

And let's not forget Chile, Iran, and possibly Haiti.

I think it's clear that the US will simply do their best to overturn election results it doesn't like. This is no way to support democracy. The US should support democratic process and recognize duly elected leaders, no matter how repugnant they seem to us. And the US should also make clear that such support will continue so long as human rights are respected, and free and fair elections, in which the will of the people is expressed, are regularly held.

But that habit of meddling in other's affairs will, I fear, prove hard to break.

Heh. Snark.

From Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly, Int'l., this item:
The Thomas More Law Center’s “The Battle For American Values” cruise with Bill O’Reilly has been canceled. ...the response was surprisingly poor. The organization ultimately renegotiated with Holland America Cruise Line in an attempt to pare down the expected guest list but maintain the event as scheduled. Sales continued to trickle in and finally, after two more negotiations with Holland America to reduce the group size, the event was finally scrapped.
I actually am a little surprised that they couldn't find 800 smug jerks willing to spend a week with the über-smug jerk himself. Clearly, they should have advertised on some of the blogs I read.

07 June 2005

Murdered by the state because he was gay


Despite the higher profile given him recent books and movies on Bletchley Park and the WWII effort to crack the Enigma cipher, Alan Turing remains familiar only to computer scientists and mathematicians.

His work, which led to the breaking of Enigma — considered unbreakable by the Germans — probably saved more lives than the efforts of any other single person in WWII. (This always makes a good answer to those who say that higher mathematics has "no practical application".)

In my field, computer science, he has a good claim to the title of "founder". He proved many of the most basic ideas in computer science, most notably the essential equivalence of all modern computers. Without his work, modern computing would not have the theoretical footing that it does.

He was a great asset to humanity. He was also a homosexual. The British government, to its enduring shame, convicted him of "gross indecency and sexual perversion", and forced estrogen injections on him. Probably as a result, he shortly thereafter ate a cyanide-laced apple and died, 51 years ago today.

Think of him the next time you see a fundamentalist carrying a "kill all fags" sign.

Good diving. Pity about the conspiracy.


I spent a few days in Belize several years ago. It seemed a pleasant sleepy place, with a laid-back Caribbean culture mixed with a few Christian fundamentalist homesteaders and the occasional online casino.

I would never have guessed the place is the object of a worldwide conspiracy to destroy it.

Intel inside my Mac


After all the years of rumors, it seems it's finally going to happen. The Mac OS will be running on Intel chips.

This makes no sense if you're just thinking about the technology; according to my friends who do wires (I'm a software geek) the PowerPC line has much more room for growth than the basic Intel design, which has many more limitations.

But if you're thinking about digital rights management (DRM), the purpose of this becomes clear. New Intel chips will have DRM built in, and new releases of movies and Windows and, oh, your company's travel policy will only be readable on computers with built-in DRM.

This seems bad for the rich world — it's hard to think of a development more likely to stifle innovation in computing. But it will be disastrous for places like Cambodia, which will not be able to afford the price of licensed software. Piracy here does not take money from Microsoft and its ilk; if forced to pay for software licenses and authentic DVDs, people just won't buy either. DRM will lead to no computing in the developing world, or to a form of computing (Linux on non-DRM hardware) which will be utterly incompatible with the rich world. The greed of Hollywood and Microsoft would destroy the dream of the interconnected planet.

The best hope, ironically enough, comes in the form of yet another monolithic company. I'm speaking, of course, of Google. They seem to have plans to serve as the gateway to the web. Their computers would render and cache pages, and then serve them to your desktop, which would need little capability, since the computing resources would be at Google.

Google could expand this to web services, where, for instance, your word processor could be a program on the Google server. Given the popularity of Google, this could become the default computing mode for much of the world. As long as you're in a place with good network connections, this could free you from buying software, upgrading hardware, and worrying about system problems.

But we'd all better hope that Google sticks to its "Do No Evil" corporate policy.

Hee, hee


The SCOTUS has ruled that growing pot in your own home, for your own use, with no intent to sell, let alone transport across state lines, is covered somehow under the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. On the face of it, this seems a reach.

I think it's a bad decision mostly because I think US drug policy is insane. The major beneficiaries of that policy are the drug dealers, whose profits are massively inflated as a result, and law enforcement, whose drug budget is truly enormous. The policy has resulted in more, higher-quality drugs, available more and more readily. It has clearly failed. The reason it continues is that both the cops and the criminals want it to, and when their interests are aligned it's very hard to move against them.

The ever-cogent John Cole doesn't like the Supreme Court's ruling either, but he bases his objection on state's rights grounds.

In other news (and this is where the title of this entry comes in) the Dutch Government may be stopping its medical marijuana program (that link is to Salon, so you'll have to be a member or watch a short commercial). Not for any medical reason, mind you, but because even when selling drugs, the government couldn't make a profit. Seems that the regulated medical-grade stuff was too expensive, and wasn't promoted. It's almost as if they wanted it to fail. If I were a little more of a conspiracy theorist, I'd suspect the heavy hand of the US drug monolith.

06 June 2005

I love it when I'm right


I just wish it would happen a little more often.

I walked into the Apple store in Bangkok's Siam Discovery Center about a year ago and asked for a USB headset. "Don't have any." "I think you should get some — Internet telephony is about to get really big." "I don't think so."

Skype just passed 100 million downloads.

Hah. So there.

Seriously, Skype is going to be transformative in places like Cambodia. Not in Cambodia itself, mind you, since lowering the cost of international calls also lowers the cut which goes to the minister of telecommunications, and thus VOIP is, technically, illegal here. But in other places, yes. E-mail cut message turnaround time to the US from weeks to, at most, a day. Now it's possible to have real-time voice communication for a price local businesses can afford. This means, for instance, that a Cambodian company can set up a number in the US for order-taking. It's one important piece of puzzle for companies here that want to sell to rich markets. And for companies that sell virtual products, that's great. For others, though, shipping charges remain a big problem. It costs much more, and safe delivery is far less certain, here in Cambodia than next door in Thailand. And the final piece — credit cards — will arrive here soon.

When $20 m is not enough


Ticket prices to Angkor are going up by $3/day. The excuse given is that the shoes of a million visitors a year are damaging the monuments, and thus they need to start wearing special slippers, and the $3 is meant to cover the added cost.

Well. To begin with, the most heavily-traveled routes, such as some of the passageways in Angkor Wat, already have wooden walkways to protect the stone. Expanding that system would seem to be the best way to prevent damage.

The truth, though, is that this is a tale of corruption and avarice. Angkor is one of the world's premier tourist destinations. It comprises hundreds of major temples over a very large area, and is "managed" by the Apsara Authority, a government agency. The ticketing, however, is handled by Sokimex, best known as a gasoline company. It in turn is owned by Sokha, which is the personal fiefdom of Sok Kong, friend to the Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Tickets to Angkor were $20/day, or $40 for three days. With approximately one million visitors a year, that's somewhere between $13-20 m annually. Only about $6 m is given to the Apsara Authority, and the remainder is used to print tickets and pay for the people at the ticket booths. Right.

OK, so $7-14 m goes to Sok Kong each year now. Next year, they're expecting 1.6 m visitors, which would increase that to $15-26 m. Let's say the new slippers cost $1/pair. The new charges will add another $3.2 m, for a total of $18-29 m, nearly all of which is profit.

Nice work if you can get it.

A connection between terrorists and Republicans! Um, kinda.


This is getting a little weird. The headline in The Cambodia Daily — story from the LA Times — is "CFF Leader Raised Funds for US Republicans".

For those who are just catching up to this story, the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) are a group opposed to Hun Sen's regime here. They have an armed force of perhaps 100, and in November 2000 (just before my first visit here, because it's all about me, you know) they launched a nighttime attack on government buildings in Phnom Penh. Eight people died in those attacks.

The "coup attempt" was then used by Hun Sen as a convenient excuse for getting rid of people he didn't like. They got accused of being part of the CFF, convicted by pliant courts, and sentenced to jail terms ranging from five years to life.

The CFF was duly noted in some State department documents — but not in others — as a terrorist organization. The leader, Chun Yasith of Long Beach, CA (home to many Khmer-Americans), nevertheless was not arrested until 1 June 2005.

In the meantime, it seems he's been raising thousands for the Republican Party, and was even on their Business Advisory Council.
[Rep. Dana] Rohrabacher [R-CA] said he was aware of the State Department's concerns about the Cambodian Freedom Fighters but remained a supporter of Chhun and his allies because of their passionate efforts to topple the Cambodian government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
So it seems that, once again, one man's (or State Department's) "terrorist" is another man's "freedom fighter".

The Cambodians I talk to think that the whole "coup" was simply a way for Chun Yasith to earn some money. He collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from fellow Khmers in the US, promising that the money would be used to fight Hun Sen. Then he brought some rural Cambodians into Phnom Penh, put guns in their hands, and had them attack. There's some reason to think this might be true:
Many of those arrested in the wake of the November 2000 raids said that they were farmers who had been lured to Phnom Penh with the promise of construction jobs, only to be given guns upon arrival, the FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW reported at the time.
For the record, I think Cambodia could use a much better government than Hun Sen's kleptocracy. But the change in government must come from the Cambodians. Whatever the CFF's purpose was in attacking government buildings, it hardly qualifies as a serious attempt to bring that about. The Republican party would do well to distance themselves from this group as soon as possible.

Where is the "Downing Street memo" famous?


Tim Russert, interviewing Ken Mehlman, referred to the "now-famous" Downing Street memo.

My question is this, where is this memo famous? Certainly not in the corporate media, which has largely ignored it as "old news". And certainly not in the right-wing blogs. My guess is that this memo is being talked about in Washington, but few are willing to make it public. Let's hope that changes.

05 June 2005

Kerry calls for impeachment of Bush?


Al-Jazeera is reporting that John Kerry is planning to call for the impeachment of Bush, based on the information in the "Downing Street memo" which said that, in 2002, the Bush administration had already decided to attack Iraq and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy".

Neither the US nor UK government has disputed the authenticity of the memo. It's been very big news in Britain, but has hardly been mentioned in the US media — and as far as I can tell, the right-wing blogosphere has been ignoring it as well. Only on the lefty blogs has it made much of a splash.

Even if Kerry is really going to call for impeachment, I think it's very unlikely to happen, given the political makeup of Congress. Most of the House Republicans seem to feel that it's really OK for Bush to have lied the country into war. The ends, whatever they may be, are seen to justify the means, which include tens of thousands of bodies, the trashing of our international reputation, and the squandering of our nation's wealth.

But I think Kerry should go ahead. At least it'll raise the visibility of this memo, and maybe the next time a President wants us to go to war, we'll ask for more and better evidence.

04 June 2005

These were our allies

Remember the US war in Indochina, called the Vietnam war? The Hmong in Laos, who the US recruited to fight against the Pathet Lao, have finally started to come out of hiding to surrender, more than 30 years after the US departure from Saigon.

They've been on the run all this time, trying to avoid Lao troops. This drove them so deep into the jungle that they were entirely cut off from the rest of the world:
The Hmong had been in such remote areas that most of the children had never seen a motor vehicle, he said. When a big truck pulled up to the village, they were astonished at the sight.
Happily, those who have surrendered have been welcomed and fed, and the Lao military has so far stayed away. Let's all hope that continues.

I wish they'd listen to their own rhetoric sometimes

From AP via Yahoo:
The White House on Friday played down a report in which U.N. weapons inspectors documented additional materials missing from weapons sites in Iraq.
OK, fair enough. They say they're doing OK; the UN says they're not. He said, she said, at least until the UN can get in there and look.

The report quotes Scott McLellan as saying the following:
We have been working closely with the government in Iraq to ensure that Iraq's former weapons of mass destruction personnel and proliferation materials do not contribute to proliferation programs in other countries.
... any looting was the work of uncoordinated elements rather than directed at an effort to try to export equipment to a country that might obtain or have a weapons of mass destruction program.
[McLellan] also noted that Duelfer had concluded that, since the looted materials are easily obtained elsewhere, "other governments are not likely to look to Iraq to buy used versions of it."
Notice anything missing here?

That's right, the biggest danger from this is not that the materials would go to other states; it's that they would go to non-state actors, aka terrorists. This, after all, was the nightmare scenario that this Bush administration wanted us to be scared of. Have they now decided it's not worth worrying about?

Laptops for everyone!

It's finally happened — more people are buying laptops than desktops.

It's easy to see why. I'm in an office with about 15 desktops, and this laptop is more capable than any of them. It's got a bigger screen, bigger disk, more RAM, WiFi, microphone, gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, S-video and digital video out, optical audio, and a backlit keyboard. It doesn't have a floppy drive, though. (Yes, of course it's a Mac — the 17" PowerBook.)

The only reasons I would get a desktop these days would be for gaming, serious video work, or really heavy-duty number-crunching.

So that's where they are

US intelligence sources are saying that many terrorists are living in Iran.

This always seemed much more likely than the "Iraq! Terrorists! 9/11!" nexus relentlessly promoted by the Bush administration. After all, in contrast to the almost total lack of common ground between Saddam Hussein and, say, al-Qaeda, there's a fair amount of ideological overlap between the Islamic fundamentalists who control Iran and the Islamic fundamentalists who are engaged in terrorism.

It's unclear what options the US has with Iran at this point. Military attack other than bombing seems out of the question: the US Army is already overstretched. Besides, Iran is a much larger country than Iraq, and it hasn't been already devastated by sanctions, as Iraq was. So it wouldn't be the, um, cakewalk that Iraq has been.

So, what? Sanctions? Convincing countries other than Israel to join in either military or economic attacks may prove difficult; the US's credibility at this point is pretty low.

I expect a lot of rhetoric, but little action.

Cambodia Crime Compendium

Once again, it's time to recap the misdeeds from the Phnom Penh Post's police blotter (itself translated from Khmer newspapers)! Sharp-eyed readers will notice it hasn't been two weeks since the last one. That's because it was late. So sue me.
A group of ten masked gunmen escaped.. [The victim] said the robbers entered his house and aimed a long gun at him, then they stole [some jewelry], one camera, and one million riel.
One million riel. It's about $250. Still, it has a nice ring to it.
A 34-year-old woman...was chopped four times in the head and her body dropped downstairs by a male neighbor...[who] told police that he thought [she] was a thief because she walked upstairs silently. [The neighbor] escaped after talking to police.
So the lesson here is to make noise when you go upstairs. Oh, and police? When you have the perp in custody, keep him there, 'kay?
A crowd killed a 35-year-old man...with heavy knifes [sic] and axes after he was accused of stealing cows...
Again with the cattle rustling. I tell you, it's just like the Wild Wes...no, no, it really isn't at all.
[A 26-year-old man] and his 5-year-old son...were killed instantly when a 57mm artillery shell exploded...after [the man] tried to open it to sell the scrap metal to a steel-recycling vendor. Police said the explosion injured three other people who were watching...
This kind of thing is all too common in this part of the world — a result of the enormous amount of materiel dropped during the wars. People will insist on opening UXOs (unexploded ordnance) so they can sell the casings; stand well away when they do, no matter how fascinating it seems.
Three passengers died instantly when their motorbike crashed into a container truck... Police said that [they] were struck from the front while trying to overtake a car. The truck swerved into a nearby canal and its driver...was arrested.
This'll be three adults on a single 125cc (max) motorbike, passing on a highway, betting they can get past the car before the truck arrives, and losing. Motorized vehicles haven't been common here for long enough for a strong culture of good judgement on this stuff to have developed. And why arrest the truck driver? Couldn't find anyone else to arrest?
[A man] and his wife...were sent to a provincial hospital...after being severely injured. Police said the couple were attacked with a heavy knife by the woman's older sister...who later committed suicide by hanging herself with a krama [traditional Cambodian scarf]. ...the oldest sister of the two women said [the suicide] was angry because her brother-in-law...had extra-love with [his sister-in-law] but had left when she was eight months pregnant with his baby.
Now you know where soap opera writers get their stories.
A Thai national...was found hanged with a rope at the Star Vegas casino in Poipet... The reason of the suicide was not known, but [his] family reported to police that he had high blood pressure.
I don't think the reason given is adequate. Having hypertension in Poipet might be enough, though, especially if you've just lost everything at the casino.
[A 30-year-old man] was sent to a district hospital...after being axed during a drunken argument... [He had] criticized [a neighbor] for only harvesting 20 kilograms of soybeans per hectare. [The neighbor] said he was angry with [the] comments because he had in fact harvested 200 kilograms per hectare.
People take agricultural yields very seriously indeed in Cambodia.
....a deputy chief of the provincial court...filed a complaint...after the front tire of his car was shot out as he drove home... [He] said four policemen, who worked at the...toll booth shot at his car with an AK-47 and ordered him to return to the toll gate because he had paid 800 riel less than the full toll.
I wish I knew the rest of this story. Police aren't so much in the habit of shooting at officials here, unless they represent the opposition. And using a bullet to recover $.20 in tolls? Not cost-efficient, guys.

And that's the CCC! See you in two weeks for another round of murder and mayhem on the Mekong.