31 July 2005

Fantastic Voyage, revisited

For those too young to remember, in 1966 a film named Fantastic Voyage was released, starring Raquel Welch and some other people. The premise was that, in order to save a patient, a submarine containing a medical crew was miniaturized and injected into the patient. It's still a pretty watchable movie, although some of the special effects haven't worn too well.

Anyway, I remember thinking when I was watching it several years after it came out that it would make more sense to just miniaturize a camera and surgical instruments, and have a doctor control them remotely.

Now they've done just that (with the camera at least). They've still got a ways to go before it can travel the bloodstream, but it's still pretty cool.

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Analog is better than digital, sometimes

Residents of sparsely-populated areas of the US are fighting to keep their analog cell phones, as the digital network in those areas doesn't have the coverage necessary to reach them.
"If we phase those people out, they may be in a situation where they have this brand new, state-of-the-art digital phone with all sorts of bells and whistles, but they're not going to be able to complete the call in the first place," Sahr said.
With all the focus on the features that you can provide to consumers with digital, it's easy to forget that digital has a major problem. Digital doesn't fail gracefully. With an analog phone, as you began to go out of range, you might get some static, things might get a little distorted, but it was often still possible to quickly conclude a conversation as the signal died.

With digital, however, it's much more of an all-or-nothing affair, so we just get cut off with little warning, leaving us telling the air that the connection is breaking up.

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30 July 2005

Torturers extend "professional courtesy" to one another

The GAO has issued a report which says that the United States has illegally trained "Indonesian, Filipino and Thai police without determining beforehand whether they had a history of human rights violations". Indonesia has denied any such abuses on the part of the troops they sent to the US.

This should come as no surprise. If this administration thinks it's OK for its own armed forces to violate the human rights of those it deems "terrorists", why should they care if others do the same?

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Bolton's appointment

It now seems likely that Bush will appoint the unbelievably undiplomatic Bolton to represent the United States to the United Nations. There are few people I would be more unhappy about having be my country's public face to the world. Given his lack of qualification, both on his resume and in his persona, I think there must be some other reason why Bush wants him there.

Is it just Bush thumbing his nose at the hated United Nations? Is it to take some of the heat off of Karl Rove? Or is it a reward for keeping his mouth shut about his part in misleading the United States into war?

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Defenestration = "throwing out of a window"

Today is the 586th anniversary of the first Defenestration of Prague. A mob of Hussites threw a bunch of city councillors out of the window, leading to 17 years of war.

In the second defenestration (don't you love that English has such a word in it?), some Protestants threw two Catholic governors and a scribe out of the window, all of whom survived when they fell on a large pile of horse manure.

The Catholics said that it was God showing that their cause was just.

"Horseshit," said the Protestants.

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29 July 2005

Now I've seen almost everything

This "backless thong" has been so popular that it's sold out, in both sizes. Go take a look, and then answer this — the page makes this claim: "Wear anything, anytime - in complete comfort." Does this look like it would be comfortable?

<rant>This page also brings out the Grammar Grrrl in me — they hit one of my pet peeves, using the wrong one of "discrete" and "discreet". The former means "individually separate and distinct"; the latter means "careful and circumspect". So when they say "more discrete than a brief", are they implying that the brief will somehow meld with your skin? Wouldn't that nullify the advantage of their product?</rant>

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Continuous accounting

I worked for a couple of companies during their conversions of their accounting systems from paper-based to computer-based. In one of those I was the IT manager. I vividly remember talking about the conversion project with the executives. They'd listed "reduction in accounting personnel" as a reason to computerize their system, and I was anxious to disabuse them of this. I told them that their expectations would change, and as a result the number of accountants needed would not go down, and indeed might go up. And so it came to pass. Once they realized that they could get new kinds of information in a reasonably timely fashion, they started demanding it.

But one aspect of accounting never made sense to me, at least not once things had been automated. Every accounting department I've ever worked with has a concept of a "monthly close". Now, this made sense with a manual system, where checks were written once a month, and there was a reconciliation to the bank statement, etc. But in today's world, where checks get written just-in-time and bank balances can be checked at any point, there seems to be no justification for the monthly close — companies should be able to show the state of their books at any given point in time.

Finally, decades later, the financial world is beginning to agree. But now that there's the Web available, I would go even further — I think that any publicly traded company's up-to-date books should be available to anyone online at any time. Better information should lead to better investing. And the kind of shenanigans I witnessed at one utility company, where they always deferred taking profits until just after rate hearings, would be much more difficult.

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Who won the GWOT?

Apparently, the Global War On Terror (GWOT) is over. It seems we're now engaged in the "global struggle against violent extremism", which has the virtues of encompassing all aspects of life the government would like to monitor and control — for instance, checking a book out of the library — and having a much better acronym (GSAVE). I gotta wonder, though — isn't "struggle" a commie word?

And if the "private/personal accounts" example applies here, we should expect the administration and its propaganda arms to immediately start using GSAVE rather than GWOT, to deny that they had ever used the term GWOT, and to claim that GWOT was an invention of their opponents.

The irony is, those opponents have insisted from the beginning that military action was no way to combat a tactic, a mindset, or non-state actors, and that a broader approach was needed. Such an approach would include trying to understand terrorism so that future attacks could be prevented, something recently derided by Karl Rove as "therapy" for terrorists.

If this represents a genuine change of heart, I welcome them to the reality-based community, and wish they'd done so before tens of thousands had died for their fantasies.

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Hackers 1, Microsoft 0

I should have expected this: you can run Windows Update without going through the Windows Genuine Advantage (sic) rigamarole by simply entering a simple Javascript command.
It took less than 24 hours for this to get cracked.

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Dust-Off is a drug?

I used to carry Dust-Off around in my toolkit. It just would never have occurred to me to try inhaling the stuff — after all, as far as I knew it was nothing but compressed air. Well, it turns out that not only does it contain a propellant, which seems to give a high via oxygen deprivation, but it has become a popular drug. And at least one person has died after using the stuff. C'mon people! Learn about these things before you decide whether to try them.

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Canada and Denmark in virtual struggle

There was an episode in the original Star Trek series which portrayed a society where war was waged in the virtual realm (although the victims died in the real world).

In yet another example of life imitating art, Canada and Denmark are tussling over a small island, located 680 miles from the North Pole. In which realm is this conflict taking place? Google ads. With any luck, those ads will show up in the column to the right.

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Another way Iraq is like Vietnam

The Vietnam war destroyed many American soldiers, and not just those who were killed or injured. Now the same thing may be happening to the troops in Iraq:
Thirty percent of U.S. troops surveyed have developed stress-related mental health problems three to four months after coming home from the Iraq war, the Army's surgeon general said Thursday.

The survey of 1,000 troops found problems including anxiety, depression, nightmares, anger and an inability to concentrate, said Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley and other military medical officials. A smaller number of troops, often with more severe symptoms, were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a serious mental illness.
This should come as no surprise. In general, having people discard much of their socialization and making them kill is going to cause problems. But the level of problems found in Iraq veterans is much higher than expected. A reason for this is suggested at the end of the article:
Ritchie said mental health cases ebb and flow during a war, and suggested they are sometimes connected to a soldier's sense of success of the larger war effort. During the Korean War, cases increased when U.S. forces were losing ground but decreased as the situation improved, she said.
The fallout from this war will last a very long time, in the US as well as in Iraq.

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28 July 2005

Ebonics is back in the news

Schools in San Bernardino are being encouraged by a sociology professor to incorporate Ebonics into their curriculum.

When I was in graduate school studying linguistics, we looked at black dialects of English. One of my fellow grad students, although Doogie Howser-white, had grown up in a black area of Dallas and spoke that dialect as well as standard English. One thing I learned from him was that his dialect contained verb tenses that mine didn't. For instance, in addition to "he's sick", his dialect also included "he sick" and "he be sick". The first, as in standard English, was a statement about the present, but could imply everything from a headache to Ebola. "He sick", on the other hand, referred specifically to a temporary illness. And "he be sick" referred to a long-term, possibly terminal condition.

It was clear that this dialect had the complete expressiveness of any full-fledged language, and was not a "debased" English, or a result of "laziness" on the part of the speakers.

The fight over Ebonics, and other non-English languages, in the schools seems to me to be over what the purpose of a school is. That purpose includes learning about one's history and culture, acquiring knowledge in "letters, science, and art", preparing for entering the workforce, becoming a responsible citizen, and learning how to learn. Much of that could be done in any language, but if students do not become fluent in the dominant language and culture in which they are immersed, they will forever be at a disadvantage. For that reason, a priority for those students who do not speak standard English must be learning that language, and whatever it takes to accomplish that is what the school should be doing.

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This is priceless — the guy who created the Windows ctrl-alt-delete reboot shortcut talks about inventing it. He goes on to say that Bill Gates "made it famous". Gates isn't amused, not even a little, but the audience certainly is.

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"Millennium bomber" sentenced; trashing the Constitution not necessary

Ahmed Ressam, the man who was arrested in December 1999 with a bomb in his car as he attempted to enter the US at Port Angeles, Washington, has been sentenced to 22 years in prison.

The presiding judge, John C. Coughenour, had this to say:
We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, detain the defendant indefinitely or deny the defendant the right to counsel. Our courts have not abandoned the commitment to the ideals that set this nation apart.


The message I would hope to convey in today's sentencing is twofold:

First, that we have the resolve in this country to deal with the subject of terrorism and people who engage in it should be prepared to sacrifice a major portion of their life in confinement.

Secondly, though, I would like to convey the message that our system works. We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, or detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant, or deny him the right to counsel, or invoke any proceedings beyond those guaranteed by or contrary to the United States Constitution.

I would suggest that the message to the world from today's sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart. We can deal with the threats to our national security without denying the accused fundamental constitutional protections.

Despite the fact that Mr. Ressam is not an American citizen and despite the fact that he entered this country intent upon killing American citizens, he received an effective, vigorous defense, and the opportunity to have his guilt or innocence determined by a jury of 12 ordinary citizens.

Most importantly, all of this occurred in the sunlight of a public trial. There were no secret proceedings, no indefinite detention, no denial of counsel.

The tragedy of September 11th shook our sense of security and made us realize that we, too, are vulnerable to acts of terrorism.

Unfortunately, some believe that this threat renders our Constitution obsolete. This is a Constitution for which men and women have died and continue to die and which has made us a model among nations. If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won.

It is my sworn duty, and as long as there is breath in my body I'll perform it, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
This is what American justice should be. This is what we celebrate. The "Patriot" Act is a besmirching of the ideals that Americans have fought and died for, and a betrayal of our rights.

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Tired of signing up for sites? Getting too much spam?

The next time a site asks you for a username and password, even if it's "FREE, FREE, FREE!" to register, go to BugMeNot, enter the URL you want to visit, and they'll give you a username and password that will get you into the site. As of this writing, they've got usernames and passwords for nearly 80,000 sites, so you may never have to sign up for a "free" site again.

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27 July 2005

What your IT people are saying about you...

True tales of computer catastrophes, IT management mishaps, and the like may be found every weekday at The Shark Tank. Here's a sample from Monday's column:
Contractor pilot fish working at a big suburban water and sewer company installs a user's new PC, and when he tests the e-mail client, he discovers more than 3,000 unread messages. Could that be right? "It is," user tells fish. "When I started here a few years ago, the systems people set me up with an e-mail account, but they wouldn't or couldn't give me a computer. People have been sending me messages for a few years, and I've never read or replied to any of them."

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Microsoft gives Linux a boost in the developing world

It's now official people running bootleg copies of Windows will no longer get anything but security updates. Other Windows and application updates will not be available. When you run Windows Update now (I just tried it), a program is downloaded onto your computer which checks to make sure you're not using a pirated copy of Windows.

If yours turns out to be pirated, Microsoft will give you a free or cheap legitimate copy of Windows — but only if you're in the UK (other restrictions apply). Everyone else is SOL, especially in places like Cambodia where consumer legal protections are a total joke and reporting pirates to the police is most likely to land you, not the pirates, in trouble.

So what do you do if you've got pirated Windows, can't afford to buy it, and your market is too small for Microsoft to create a cheap localized version just for you? This is the situation that Cambodian businesses and many NGOs — not to mention all individual computer users here — find themselves in.

I think the answer has to be Linux. It runs on existing hardware, is likely available in your language (the Khmer version of Linux is expected in 2007, but the localized versions of Thunderbird, FireFox, and OpenOffice can be downloaded now), is supported by an army of developers doing their best work, and is, and will continue to be, free.

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Bongs, subtle insidious implements of slow terror

Remember back when you used to smoke marijuana? Remember using a bong, telling yourself that the water whatever liquid you used helped to clean the smoke, and was thus better for you? Well, it turns out that it's not true. Not only is the smoke still dangerous, but you run the risk of infection, including herpes, TB, and HIV (!?), from sharing the bong with others. And notice that the article is almost entirely about smoking tobacco in Middle Eastern water pipes, known as narghile, which the article says is rapidly becoming more common in the US and Europe. You can do your part to stop this terror — do what Middle Easterners do, and use your own mouthpiece rather than sharing with others.

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26 July 2005

Better computer games


I remember attending a game development panel at a conference once, and being amazed that the entire panel, as well as the audience, was solely focused on technical issues like improved speed, with no attention being paid to game design. When I asked the panel what lessons game designers should learn from what was then — and maybe still is — the most successful game ever, Myst, they looked at me blankly and asked what I thought the answer was. I said that the attention to look and sound, the cleverness of the puzzles, the coherence of the invented world, and a, for computer games, compelling story had made the game appealing to everyone, not just young males.

That was a decade ago. The industry is finally starting to get the message.

20cm! Weren't men supposed to be smaller then?


A 28,000-year-old dildo has been discovered in a cave in Germany. Or so the BBC article would have you believe. It might also have been simply a religious symbol, like a modern-day linga.

They also think it was used for chipping flint.

The wages of spam


Vardan Kushnir, Russia's most prolific spammer, has been murdered. This followed numerous retaliations from those he had spammed. I'm sure it will surprise no one that the murder was particularly brutal.

I wonder, though, if he ever thought to himself that maybe it wasn't good for business to antagonize his customer base? At some point, there is such a thing as bad publicity.



Remember Face/Off, the John Woo film starring Travolta and Cage, where they exchanged faces? Something like it may soon be reality — a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic may soon give a patient a new face.

Dead tree bloggers start to understand


Slowly but surely, newspapers and online portals are beginning to change the way they work with the Web. They're beginning to understand that the important thing about it is not keeping people on their site, it's getting people to return to their site.

A good example of the former is About.com, which puts a branded frame around every link you follow from that site. Sure, there's a "Remove frame" button, but I find it all so annoying that I will only go to About.com as a last resort.

It's understandable why newspapers originally wanted to be your one and only site on the Web; the metaphor they're working from is the printed newspaper. In that world, customers typically buy only one of the local papers. So when the papers went online, they wanted to make sure that people "bought" their site.

The problem is, the Web works best as, well, a web. It's much more like the front porch of the general store in a small Texas town, where several people sit and discuss whatever they feel like. You can sit and listen, join in, and choose who to believe. If you want people to listen to you in that environment, you'd better have a good story to tell and tell it well. If you can do that, people will make sure to be there when you are, and will listen to whatever you have to say.

25 July 2005

Other people's pictures


I could spend hours looking at this — it's the last 50 images uploaded to LiveJournal, and it refreshes every minute.

The secretive White House


Recent news items:
The White House tries to preserve John Roberts's tabula rasa status by being very careful about which of his papers they will release.

Alberto Gonzales gave the White House 12 hours to destroy papers relating to the leak of Valerie Plame's name.

The Pentagon is trying not to release more pictures and video from Abu Ghraib; some have said that they depict rape of a woman and of boys, and murder.

The US military in Iraq has been caught making up quotes from Iraqis to make things seem better there.
And that's just what I saw today. These guys are making sure that the deeds they do remain as hidden as possible, and for a very good reason — they might not last long if Americans knew what they were up to.

The evil that lurks in your iPod


The iPod! Is it the mark of the Beast? Is it home to aliens? Find out at Anti-iPod. Remember, 6 August is Anti-iPod Day!

For the record, this reporter has no personal experience with any of this, as his existence remains iPod-free. If you'd like to change that, feel free.

Better technology through porn


Cambodia's very own star blogger Tharum has a letter to the editor in today's Cambodia Daily which discusses the recent rash of cell phone porn being traded in Cambodia. He writes
This stuff spreads quicker and easier than any computer viruses... But only when technologies are deployed in an appropriate manner can they bring benefits to the people in general. However, people are indulgent and are willing to pay more for entertainment than for education.
One of the dirty little secrets of technology is that improvements are often driven by pornography. VCRs, video cameras, GUIs, computer video, the Internet, the Web, DVD players in laptops, etc, etc — technology has, over and over again, been used to create and distribute pornography, and the success of a technology often largely derives from its usefulness in that regard. As this article puts it,
Pornography, far from being an evil..., is a positive good that encourages experimentation with new media.
He also makes a case for tracing the popularity of English and Italian in part to pornography.

And in general I agree with that article. Porn purveyors are often early adopters of new technology, and push it to its limits. This drives both improvements in that technology, and the creation of newer, better technologies. Vive le porn!

Speciation observed


The creation "science"/intelligent design crowd should have a bit of a hard time with this — researchers, observing butterflies, are seeing speciation through reproductive isolation in butterflies. On the other hand, it may just force the creation "scientists" onto their fallback position of "speciation occurs, but no new 'natural kinds' can arise this way — those have to be created".

24 July 2005



If you have any interest in language at all, go take a look at the Ethnologue. It's a listing of all known human languages. And yes, there's always a problem with distinguishing between a language and a dialect. (Someone once said that a language was a dialect with an army.)

Try this — how many languages from the US can you name? I got to 22, including the one I mention below. The Ethnologue lists 162 living languages, 3 with no native-tongue speakers, and 73 extinct languages. They also list 23 languages for Turkey, but not, as far as I could see, the whistle language used by the Laz for long-distance communication.

Way back when I was a graduate student in linguistics, a class I took in field methods used a language called Monachi as an example. Despite having only about 40 speakers, it's listed in the Ethnologue.

I also found this map, which shows the geographic centers of the languages, pretty interesting. Almost all of the diversity of languages occurs in tropical areas, notably West Africa, the Himalayan foothills, and Papua-New Guinea (which all on its own has 830 languages, 820 of them still living). These last two probably mostly reflect geography, since they're both regions of isolated valleys.

Other little titbits: there are 200-2000 native speakers of Esperanto in France; no other artificial language has native speakers (Trekkers, I'm disappointed that none of you raised your kids as Klingon-speakers!); none of the Autro-Asiatic — a group which includes Khmer — or Austronesian languages, are spoken in Australia (most of Australia's 231 living languages are in the Australian family).

The rising enlistment age


A group of senior citizens was arrested for trying to enlist so their children and grandchildren can come home.

I'm sure what they had in mind was just that — bringing their troops, and everyone's, home. But they had better be careful. The Pentagon is trying to raise the maximum enlistment age to 42. If Bush's disaster in Iraq continues, how high will it go?

Abs of steel


Here's a novel approach to the worldwide obesity crisis:
Police in India forced nearly 200 cinema goers to do ten sit ups each for watching a porn film.
Unfortunately, the police went on to limit the good effects:
The audience, in Balasore, Orissa, also had to promise never to watch porn again, reports the Hindustan Times.

23 July 2005

Good luck, Lance!


I just Lance Armstrong in an interview, and he said he'd been "blessed" by having won the Tour seven times. Um, Lance? I know it seems pretty certain at this point, but it won't be seven until tomorrow. There's no sense tempting fate like that.

That being said, you're a great example of an American, a Texan, and a human being. I'll be cheering you on as you cross that finish line tomorrow.

22 July 2005

Hi-tech Islam


First-time visitors to mosques are often struck by the relatively modern timepieces found there. You might walk into the Sultan Ahmet Camii, built in the early 17th century, to find a clearly 20th century grandfather clock.

The reason for this is that it's important to know the correct times to pray, and if modern technology can give you a more accurate prayer time, then you use it.

Another bit of essential information is the direction towards Mecca (qibla). In mosques, the direction is clearly indicated by the mihrab, but when you're elsewhere, how do you know which way to face? Now, Soner Ozenc (I wonder if that shouldn't be "Özenç"), a Turkish artist, has created a high-tech solution to this ancient problem. (Hat tip to World Changing for pointing me to this.)

Carnivorous caterpillars


They've found a caterpillar which eats snails. Most caterpillars munch on leaves and the like, and a very few eat small insects, but this one is in a class by itself.

There's a picture I wish I had to illustrate this with. Fans of Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo (and I know there's at least one such fan other than myself) may remember an episode where a butterfly got outfitted with false teeth, whereupon he promptly bit the mailman. Mailduck, rather. Anyway, it'd be a funny image to have here. You'd at least smile a little.

Fewer ads, more art


Them.ca, a Toronto artists' group, is trying to get The Beautiful City Billboard Fee (BCBF) passed. It would tax billboards at C$6/year/sq.ft., and the proceeds would go towards commissioning public art.

Now, the group is an artists' group, so this is a bit self-serving, but a large majority of citizens are in favor of this, and I hope it passes, and inspires other places to follow suit.

One nice thing about living in the developing world is the relative scarcity of commercial advertising in public spaces. I just walked out on the balcony of this office here in Phnom Penh, and the only commercial messages I could see were the markings on motorbikes (Daelim and Honda) and a car (Toyota), the National brand on an air-conditioner, a small Angkor Beer sign outside a restaurant, and two things on me — "USA Soccer" on my shirt and K-Swiss on my flip-flops.

Often, too, the messages are accidental, and thus seem less offensive. For instance, my motorbike taxi driver today was wearing a Texas Longhorns gimme cap. I am quite certain that he has never been to Thailand, let alone Texas — the cap may have been made here, and the one he was wearing somehow failed to get exported.

In general, though, people here see many fewer ads, and it makes life more relaxed. Good luck to Them.ca.

21 July 2005

Pretty soon we'll be nostalgic for last week's blog postings


Join CNET, as they take you on their Wayback Machine, all the wayback to 1997 (!), when a CG baby waddled onto our screens (and onto Ally McBeal), and life hasn't been the same since. Remember the Hampsterdance? All Your Base? Mahir? And last on their list (certainly not last in our hearts) is 2004's JibJab. Ah, those were the days.

This ain't no party...


Calvin Klein has created a "live billboard". Models will work in shifts, putting on a display for passersby.
Young models on the billboard have been instructed to create an illusion of a big party 24 hours a day. [snip] They were reportedly told not to drink on the billboard or perform risque behavior.
You would think that the CK people would have been to a party with models before — in my experience drinking and risqué behavior pretty much defines their parties.

I agree with something Ann Coulter says


I know, I'm in shock, too. Ann's (notice how I'm avoiding the pronoun here) most recent column on John Roberts talks about what a bad choice he's likely to be, which I think is just a way to get Democrats to vote for him, since they can say that since Coulter didn't like him, he must be OK. (I used to have a girlfriend who used what I liked in books and movies as a reliable guide to what she didn't like.) Anyway, buried in the column is this line:
Apparently, Roberts decided early on that he wanted to be on the Supreme Court and that the way to do that was not to express a personal opinion on anything to anybody ever.
I happen to think this is true, that he saw that SCOTUS nominees tended to fail due to expressed opinions. If so, very clever of him or his political minder. But it would be nice to have something other than an unknown up for the court.

The keyboard of my dreams


Art Lebedev has posted a design for a keyboard on which not only is each key programmable as to which character it produces, but each key also incorporates a tiny OLED screen, so the character shown on the key cap can change as well. This would be an absolute boon to those who type in more than one language. Unfortunately, it's likely to be too expensive for the developing world, at least at first.

On that page, he credits "Timur Burbayev" with "laying on of hands". Project exorcist? Masseur?

Cambodian bloggers in Wired!


Wired magazine has an article up on bloggers in Cambodia. Our local star Tharum gets a mention, as does the IRI project to get more Cambodians blogging.

That IRI project, however, is having them blog in English, which doesn't really help the Khmer-to-Khmer communication problem much. Why not have them use one of the open-source KhmerOS Unicode fonts? OK, they're not 100% compatible with every computer, but the number of Win95 machines is dwindling fast, even here in Cambodia. And Unicode is clearly the future of digital text representation. No need to stick them with ASCII.

Update: And there's an article on Cambodian bloggers at Harvard's "Global Voices". Thanks, Jinja.

20 July 2005

Identifying terrorists


On Salon, there's an interesting interview with Bruce Hoffman, of the RAND Corporation, on counterterrorism. In it, he says:
European and U.S. intelligence officials have been facing one particularly troubling question since the London attacks: How do you stop an enemy that you can no longer effectively categorize? The inability to profile the enemy — a pursuit deemed essentially impossible by Israeli security experts after extensive experience with suicide attacks there — makes it more critical than ever to take away terrorists' ability to recruit and regenerate, according to Hoffman. "Win, lose or draw in Iraq," he says, "in some respects the damage has been done." Hoffman spoke to Salon by phone from his office in Washington.
Ann Coulter et al would have you believe that profiling makes sense, but the Israelis, with their extensive experience, seem more trustworthy.
...the Dutch intelligence and security service report for 2002 had stated this was an emergent trend and a profound threat. They had noticed that terrorist recruiters and talent-spotters were no longer only hanging around radicalized mosques, but were deliberately seeking out youths, in this case Dutch, who were for all intents and purposes as Dutch and as adolescent as any other teenager — but who also had about them some sense of alienation or cultural dislocation. And they would move in, almost like sharks smelling blood, to exploit and radicalize people who were assimilated, many of whom had been born in the Netherlands rather than North Africa or Southeast Asia or the Middle East, and who hadn't been practicing Muslims.
This made me think of recruiters for religious cults, who target the same demographic. They are able to recruit people who feel they have no place in their own culture, or any purpose to their lives. Religion gives these people both of these things, and can inspire them to write the B-Minor Mass, or to detonate a bomb in a crowded market. It is our job, as a society, to give our members a place to belong and to give them a stake in our society. With that, they will choose beliefs and groups that build and strengthen, rather than those that destroy.

John Roberts, Stealth nominee


Surely no one believes that John Roberts is anything other than a hard-core conservative who the White House expects will vote to, oh, inject more religion into our government, and severely restrict, if not eliminate, a woman's right to choose what happens to her body. But it's difficult to prove this, because he's left a very limited paper trail.

It seems likely that he was chosen for this very reason. If he's careful to say nothing in his confirmation hearings beyond his published words, Democrats will have a difficult time opposing him without seeming to do so for purely partisan reasons. And Republicans will vote for him anyway, since Bush is very unlikely to have appointed a moderate, or even a conservative in the sense of being reluctant to overturn precedent.

Roberts is a smart choice on the part of the administration. Whether he's good for the country will be impossible to tell until after his confirmation. And that's why he was nominated, and why he will be confirmed.

Standardized test scores are rising in both the US and Cambodia


I don't think that the increase in scores reflects any real improvement in math knowledge.

The dramatic improvement in scores on the standardized math test given to all Cambodian students is due to a dramatic dumbing-down of the test, not on any enhancement of the students' skills.

This is, of course, a result of making performance on the test the goal. As usual, the goal was defined in terms of something easy to measure, rather than the presumably desired outcome.

The improvement in the US would seem a little more solid, since it reflects better scores on a test that hasn't changed much. The biggest problem with this approach is that score improvements may only reflect that teachers are now teaching to the test instead of teaching mathematics.

In neither case are we getting any valid answer to the real question of how good students are at math.

19 July 2005

Does your PC have spyware? Throw it out!


The New York Times reports that people are discarding PCs rather than go to the time and trouble of removing spyware. Given this user's experience, that might be a rational choice:
Buying a new computer is not always an antidote. Bora Özturk, 33, who manages bank branches in San Francisco, bought a $900 Hewlett-Packard computer last year only to have it nearly paralyzed three months ago with infections that he believes he got from visiting Turkish news sites.

He debated throwing the PC out, but it had pictures of his newborn son and all of his music files. He decided to fix it himself, spending 15 hours learning what to do, then saving all his pictures and music to a disk and then wiping the hard drive clean - the equivalent of starting over.
If your time is worth more than $30/hour, it's cheaper to buy a new machine. Problem is, spyware infects PCs very rapidly, so you might wind up doing this many times.

On the other hand, you could spend a little more (or a lot more, like the woman pictured in the article) and get yourself a Mac — my Macs, with no anti-virus and no anti-spyware, have not gotten any of that since before I switched to OS X.

And consider consider giving your PC to a charity instead of trashing it — the charity may have volunteers willing to spend the time to fix it up.

Marx, still relevant


When I was living in England, I had a roommate — also an American — who I can best describe by saying that in all the time she lived there, she never managed to visit Greenwich, located a 10-minute walk away. When her boyfriend came to visit, he asked what he should go see in London. One place I mentioned was the British Museum, and I suggested that he not rush past the Library collection, and if he could somehow wrangle a ticket, should definitely take a look at the Reading Room. Besides the architecture, I said, it's famed as the place where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital. He snorted, and said, "Well, I won't be bothering with that, then." I argued that, agree or disagree with Marx, it was hard to dispute his significance, but he was having none of it.

Recently, though, Marx was voted the "greatest philosopher" ever by listeners of Radio 4 in the UK. And the Guardian wrote:
Like Molière's bourgeois gentleman who discovered to his amazement that for more than 40 years he had been speaking prose without knowing it, much of the Western bourgeoisie absorbed Marx's ideas without ever noticing. It was a belated reading of Marx in the 1990s that inspired the financial journalist James Buchan to write his brilliant study Frozen Desire: An Inquiry into the Meaning of Money (1997).

'Everybody I know now believes that their attitudes are to an extent a creation of their material circumstances,' he wrote, 'and that changes in the ways things are produced profoundly affect the affairs of humanity even outside the workshop or factory. It is largely through Marx, rather than political economy, that those notions have come down to us.'

Even the Economist journalists John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, eager cheerleaders for turbo-capitalism, acknowledge the debt. 'As a prophet of socialism Marx may be kaput,' they wrote in A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalisation (2000), 'but as a prophet of the "universal interdependence of nations" as he called globalisation, he can still seem startlingly relevant.' Their greatest fear was that 'the more successful globalisation becomes the more it seems to whip up its own backlash' - or, as Marx himself said, that modern industry produces its own gravediggers.
I have to confess that I've read no Marx, and my knowledge of his theories is limited to a perusal of "Marx for beginners" and whatever I've absorbed from other readings. But I think I'll start reading him.

Just that one niggling detail


I've been waiting for this for a while now — an easy-to-implement wireless mesh. This allows computers with wireless cards to serve as both wireless routers and access points, and to connect to each other. Users can connect to any computer on the mesh, and use the mesh to access other resources on the mesh, including Internet connections.

The great virtue of this is that an area can be blanketed with Net access at fairly low cost. Even in a place like Phnom Penh, much of the city likely has a high enough concentration of computers to run this.

The problem here would be political. Presumably, the shared Internet connection would be government-provided, and this would deprive the minister of his take.

What really intrigues me is the combination of this and WiMax. A relatively few solar-powered WiMax stations could blanket a small country like Cambodia with access to the Internet.

Thanks to WorldChanging for pointing me to this.

The Weather Channel, false prophet of doom


Courtesy The Poor Man, this rant from the pastor of a church "recognized by President Ronald Reagan" (you'd think Reagan would've had more sense):
...we do not need "experts" from a supposedly reputable national weather source making it their life's work to try and scare people half to death!

One must wonder what the purpose of all the hype and hysteria put out by The Weather Channel might be! Are they simply trying to increase TV ratings? Are they trying to herd people like cattle? Do they really believe that Gulf Coast residents are not smart enough to know what to do and how to act in the face of an oncoming storm? Or, perhaps they are attempting to create fear and panic to the point that we lose our will and common sense and become mindless servants to "the experts."
And here I was thinking of the Weather Channel as benign, something placid for Paul & Jamie Buckman to watch in zen-like communion. Now I know better. Now, I can not watch it for much better reasons than before.

Precise nonsense


An alert reader sends this article which reports that an Oxford professor of religion has calculated that "It is 97 per cent certain that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead — based on sheer logic and mathematics, not faith..."

This is a great example of the misuse of seemingly precise mathematical reasoning on nebulous premises to arrive at absurd conclusions, which are nevertheless taken seriously because they've been "mathematically proven". Let's have a look at the argument, shall we?
This conclusion was reached after a complex series of calculations. In simplified terms, it began with a single proposition: the probability was one in two that God exists.

Next, if God exists, the probability was one in two that he became incarnate. Further, there was a one in 10 probability that the gospels would report the life and resurrection of Jesus in the form they do.

Finally, the clincher: the probability that we would have all this evidence if it wasn't true was one in 1000.
Oh, where to start? First up, the probability of the existence of God. I assume the "reasoning" went something like this: either God exists, or not. Two possibilities, therefore the odds are 1 in 2.

Um, no. Either the world will make a quantum leap to an orbit around Alpha Centauri tomorrow, or it won't. Are the odds of this therefore 1 in 2? If you think they are, I want to make some bets with you.

In fact, the only evidence for the existence of God is that most people really want it to be true. The lack of evidence doesn't make it false — rather, the problem is that there's no way to prove or disprove the proposition, no way to settle the argument.

The odds of incarnation seemed to have been arrived at the same way. Any other calculation would have involved knowledge of the, by definition, unknowable. I can't imagine how the one in ten figure for the gospels was arrived at — I think it was invented out of whole cloth. The same for the 1 in 1000 figure for having writings about something that isn't true. (Imagine a future archaeologist coming upon all the writings on MiddleEarth — should he assume it really existed?)

Using these absurd inputs, we get 50% God exists x 50% incarnation x 10% gospels = 2.5% percent all of that happened. Multiply that by 99.9% (since we have so much "evidence"), and we get 2.4975% chance that God exists and became incarnate and the gospels recorded the truth and the preponderance of the "evidence" reflects reality. If the article is reporting the "odds" correctly, the headline is backwards — it's 97% likely that God did not raise Christ from the dead.

If you're going to make an argument this stupid, you should at least get your math straight.

The truth value of the resurrection is a matter of belief, not knowledge; mythos, not logos. Trying to drag it into the realm of the rational debases both reason and belief.

Food preferences


I remember being in a restaurant in Shanghai in 1983, where I asked for the house specialty by using one of the few useful phrases in the official government phrasebook. The phrasebook was so bad that when I pulled it out on trains, people would snatch it out of my hands and flip to their favorite phrases and show me so we could all have a good laugh. One of the "everyday phrases" was "how are the pandas doing?", and another was "thank you very much for showing me the Great Wall, but what I'd really like to know is how the entrance to the Ming Tombs was discovered".

But I digress. The Shanghai restaurant served me a wonderful soup, and it was only after I'd eaten down a ways that I discovered that it was made from chicken feet. Now, I'm not sure that would have put me off, had I known beforehand — I have tried chicken feet by themselves since, and don't much care for the texture — but this researcher assumed that everyone in his experiment (conducted in Australia) would regard chicken feet as "awful morsels".

I suppose every culture has some food that others find repulsive. Those things change over time, too. For instance, when I was a child, non-Americans found the whole idea of peanut butter utterly repulsive, but it has now become at least accepted many places. Mention a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, though, and they'll start gagging. The same with root beer, or breakfast burritos. Non-Australians react the same way to Vegemite — and no, it's not because we're "not eating it right" (every Australian will tell you this when you say you don't like it). Cambodian food has several foods that are off-putting to foreigners, including spiders, but the most extreme reactions are prompted by pro hok, a fermented fish sauce — there's a typical reaction here.

But in general, I think it's worth giving these things a try. You might discover something you really enjoy. If I'd followed my gut instincts, I would never have discovered that I like işkembe çorbası (Turkish tripe soup) or sheep brain (best with garlic and lemon).

Do we really have to wait for a court verdict on Rove?


Bush has flip-flopped on the whole Valerie Plame case, in order to keep Rove around just a little longer:
Bush said in June 2004 that he would fire anyone in his administration shown to have leaked information that exposed the identity of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame. On Monday, however, he added the qualifier that it would have be shown that a crime was committed.
I understand that he would be a little nervous about losing his brain "Turdblossom", but honestly, how much worse could Bush be doing? Record deficits, low employment, his invasion of Iraq leading to a possible civil war there, abysmal poll numbers, and outright contempt from much of the world — "stay the course" and "a leader must not waver" don't seem very comforting in the face of that, do they?

18 July 2005

People search for the strangest things

Someone recently found me via a search for "male nipples" and "dolphin". (I was number 10 on the Google search, thank you very much.) What was this person looking for? I'd like to think it was an answer to the question, "Do male dolphins have nipples?" I'm afraid it was more likely a search for something new to nibble...um, never mind.



Reuters reports:
South Africa has declared actor Wesley Snipes an "undesirable person" after the Hollywood star was found traveling on a forged South African passport.
It goes on to say that Snipes "also had a valid U.S. passport". What the hell? The only reason I can see that he would do this is to avoid leaving a record of his travels, and possibly to avoid attracting too much attention (which obviously didn't work out too well). Why?

Pigs in space


Well, OK, not entire pigs, or even porcine blastocysts, but rather sperm from Chinese hogs. Couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

And on a more sober scientific note, why even do this? The article says it's to study "what effect a period of microgravity will have had on the sperm's activity", but I'd be pretty surprised if it has any effect. At the scale of a sperm cell, gravity just isn't a very dominant force.

Is finding oil good news for Cambodia?


Cambodia might become an oil-producing nation in 2008.

On the face of it, this might seem like good news. Cambodia could sell crude and buy gasoline; the profits could help the country develop.

But the history of developing nations with significant natural resources does not leave one sanguine. In the July/August 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs, there's a good article (subscription required, sorry — full text available as PDF) about this:
In fact, countries often end up poor precisely because they are oil rich. Oil and mineral wealth can be bad for growth and bad for democracy, since they tend to impede the development of institutions and values critical to open, market-based economies and political freedom: civil liberties, the rule of law, protection of property rights, and political participation.

Plenty of examples illustrate what has come to be known as the "resource curse." Thanks to improvements in exploration technology, 34 less-developed countries now boast significant oil and natural gas resources that constitute at least 30 percent of their total export revenue (1). Despite their riches, however, 12 of these countries' annual per capita income remains below $1,500, and up to half of their population lives on less than $1 a day. Moreover, two-thirds of the 34 countries are not democratic, and of those that are, only three (Ecuador, São Tomé and Principe, and Trinidad and Tobago) score in the top half of Freedom House's world ranking of political freedom. And even these three states are fragile: Ecuador now teeters on the brink of renewed instability, and in São Tomé and Principe, the temptations created by sudden oil wealth are straining its democracy and its relations with next-door Nigeria.

In fact, the 34 oil-rich countries share one striking similarity: they have weak, or in some cases, nonexistent political and economic institutions. This problem may not seem surprising for the several African countries on the list, such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that have only recently emerged from civil conflict. But it is also a problem for the newly independent, oil- and gas-rich republics of the former Soviet Union, which have done little to consolidate property and contract rights or to ensure competent management or judicial independence. And even the richer countries on the list, such as Libya and Saudi Arabia, suffer from underdeveloped political institutions. Concentrated oil wealth at the top has forestalled political change.

Can Iraq avoid the pitfalls that other oil-rich countries have fallen into? The answer is yes, but only if it is willing to implement a novel arrangement for managing its oil wealth with the help of the international community. This arrangement should not mimic the much-maligned oil-for-food program set up in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, under which Iraq's oil income was directly controlled and administered by foreigners. Instead, the Iraqi people should embed in their new constitution an arrangement for the direct distribution of oil revenues to all Iraqi households — an arrangement that would be supervised by the international community.
I think anyone at all knowledgeable about Cambodia would predict that any new-found oil wealth would make its way into the pockets of Hun Sen and his cronies, and would provide relatively little benefit to ordinary Cambodians. These guys have found a way to divert funds from almost every major program to benefit themselves, so why should oil be any different?

But imagine if the oil revenues were to be distributed equally amongst all Cambodians. 400 million barrels of crude and 3-5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, at current prices, is about $50 bn. Let's say Cambodia's share is 10% (wild-ass guess); 5 bn is about $400/person, or somewhat more than the average annual wage. It could make a real difference. Instead, I'm sure it's going to fatten some rich people's bank accounts.

Creepy, creepy, creepy


What goes through someone's mind when they make something like this?

Cambodia bloggers in the news


Big congrats to Tharum, who was featured in a front-page article in the Cambodia Daily last week — I'd give you a link, but they haven't put the article online yet. (Hint, hint...)

And The Phnom Penh Post covered the blogger meetup as follows:
Casual observers were at a loss for precise words for how to describe the blogger confab that took place at the Cantina restaurant on the riverfront last Sunday.
Let me suggest that the only reason the "observers" had a hard time with this was due to chemical and/or herbal assistance.
Proprietor Hurley Scroggins was comparing the meeting to a 60s-style Be-In.
I think Proprietor Scroggins just really, really wanted it to be a 60s event.
There were murmurs that it might have lasting import equivalent to the secret central committee meeting that took place at the Phnom Penh Railway Station back in 1962.
I certainly hope not — I think the writer is referring to the 1960 meeting at which Pol Pot started to gain real power.
The name "The First Annual Phnom Penh Bloggers Convention" was tried on for size, but in the end, one of the mysterious bloggers on hand, who said he goes by the code name "Jinja", described it as a "pub night".
We're planning to get together more often than annually. And we're not all that mysterious, even if some of us use our blog names to avoid parental problems.
"We're just mapping out the blogosphere," said Jinja, who added that he thought there were about 20 blogs in Cambodia.
I'm glad they got their quote from Jinja — I wasn't being very coherent that night.
One key item learned at the event was that those who work for newspapers are called "dead tree bloggers".
Yes, well, this was just a throwaway line of mine which got picked up and worried to death by the Proprietor.

Still, we're glad that the Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily covered the event, and look forward to seeing them at the next one.

16 July 2005

More on anti-depressants


There's an article out in the British Medical Journal arguing that anti-depressants don't provide any "meaningful benefit".

As I recently wrote, that was my experience with them.

One of the authors said:
I am skeptical as to whether there is a biochemical syndrome of depression despite the portrayal by the drug companies and some psychiatric literature.
I would agree with that statement. But she goes on to say:
[depression] should be dealt with without drugs, because it's something people need to learn to deal with themselves.
It's my opinion that the entire way that doctors think about depression is wrong. Given the wide range of presentations that it has, that it's known to result from several diseases, and the fact that some drugs work for some people but not for others, I think that depression is more accurately viewed as a life-threatening symptom, not as a disease in itself. If that's true, then there are many unknown or under-diagnosed disorders which have depression as a symptom.

He'd better be careful — he could get bits of himself chopped off

Wouldn't you know it — the first hit I've ever gotten from Saudi Arabia, and did he find me looking for Iraq info, or politics, or even technology?

No, of course not. He found me by searching for "sex". Hmmm.

DRM advocate gets bitten...by DRM


Digital rights management (DRM) is, in essence, a way of ensuring that the creator of a digital object (music, movie, software, Excel file, etc) controls who gets which rights (copy, change, etc) on that object.

This seems OK, yes? If you make something you should get to control what happens to it. There are a few problems with it, though. My clients are already starting to run into some of them. Generally, people want to impose more control than is warranted. Thus, I recently got a call from someone who'd received a spreadsheet from the UN, but wanted to reformat it to conform to Cambodian government requirements. He was unable to do this within the spreadsheet itself, because it was locked. In the end we solved it by doing a "select all", copy (can't change, but can copy?), and paste into a new sheet which could then be changed. Another problem I'm seeing is documents where the change history is included and locked, so that the document can't be given to the recipient without including all the changes, including things like "Minister X is an idiot and won't understand — reword".

And here's what happens when a DRM advocate runs into a DRM problem; he just circumvents it. The creators of software and content, and those who write DRM circumvention tools, are in an arms race, with ordinary users losing at every step.

My readers aren't typical. But you knew that.


Mozilla's Firefox continues to gain market share, mostly at the expense of Internet Explorer. But IE still has 86.56%, while Firefox has 8.71%, Safari 1.93%, Netscape 1.55%, and Opera 0.59%.

Among visitors to this blog, however, IE gets only 51%, Firefox and Mozilla together get 35%, Safari 8%, Netscape 4%, and Opera 2%. This probably reflects the tech-savvy nature of those who visit here.

New depression treatment available


I was diagnosed with depression right around my 18th birthday. In the 30 years since then, I have tried almost every known treatment. Although many made me feel different, and in the triumph of hope over experience I interpreted anything different as "better", none had any lasting effect. Iin all that time, the only relief I had was a two-year period following a long overseas trip. During those two years I returned to school and finished my degree, making the Dean's list every semester, was elected president of my college, made many close friends, and laid the foundation for what became the longest romantic relationship of my life to date. But then what Churchill called the "black dog" returned, and has not left.

In the end, I gave up on psychiatry when I was told that the only thing they had to offer me was ECT, the modern form of shock therapy. I declined, mostly because it's often only a temporary fix, and because of the many problems with memory I'd heard about.

Then a few years ago I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis. Reading online accounts of others' experience of this uncommon disease made me think that I had been misdiagnosed all of those years. Many other sarcoidosis patients feel, as I do, that they've been experiencing symptoms since childhood, and it's only when the disease becomes obvious enough to show up on an X-ray that it gets diagnosed.

Sad to say, there's no "official" effective treatment for sarcoidosis. I'm trying a new experimental treatment, but if it fails I'm faced with the prospect of feeling like this until I die.

Had the sarcoidosis not been diagnosed, I would have welcomed and tried this. From that article, it seems there's still some question about its effectiveness. But I say that even if it works in only part of the treatment-resistant depressive population, it's worth a try. The statistics, and my personal experience, say that population is very prone to suicide.

It's time for the Republicans to disown Limbaugh


Republican party chairman Ken Mehlman is going to apologize for the party's race-based "Southern Strategy". This has Rush Limbaugh in his usual spittle-flecked frenzy:
He's going to go down there and apologize for it. In the midst of all of this, in the midst of all that's going on, once again, Republicans are going to go bend over and grab the ankles. They're going to the NAALCP. This is like going into Hyannisport and apologizing to [Sen.] Ted Kennedy [D-MA] for whatever and expecting him to become a supporter. It's like showing up at the [Sen.] Chuck Schumer [D-NY]-Joe Wilson press conference in 20 minutes and saying, "Okay, Ambassador Wilson, we apologize. We hope you'll support us. We can't become a majority party until people like you are voting for us." It is just -- it's absolutely absurd.
Of course, Limbaugh can't see this in terms of anything but political advantage. The question of garnering more support from black Americans for the Republicans aside, the "Southern Strategy" was racist, was thus wrong, and should be apologized for, simply because it's the right thing to do.

So who's guarding Iraq's borders?


The GAO says the Pentagon has no business handing money, or words to that effect.
The federal government's chief investigator yesterday blasted the Pentagon for its ''atrocious financial management," saying the Defense Department was not able to give federal oversight officials a full accounting of the $1 billion being spent each week on the war in Iraq.

''If the Department of Defense were a business, they'd be out of business," David Walker, comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office, said at a breakfast with reporters yesterday. ''They have absolutely atrocious financial management."

The GAO has been examining the Pentagon's Iraq expenses, and ''we're having extreme difficulty in getting the Department of Defense to provide a full accounting of what they're spending" there, Walker said. ''I can't understand how we're spending $1 billion a week."
When it comes to spending money, drunken sailors ain't in it. These guys are real pros at mismanaging the public purse.

And here's where some of that money is going. Turns out that many of those vaunted Iraqi soldiers don't exist, and their "commanders" are pocketing their salaries. Mahmoud Othman, a member of Iraq's parliament, says that there may be as few as 40,000 in the Iraqi army, rather than the 150,000 the US says there are.

If true, this is gonna make going home just a little harder for the US troops.

Didn't these guys talk to anyone with any experience in developing or post-conflict countries? Of course many are just going to abscond with any funds that don't leave an ironclad audit trail.

Winning shouldn't be this important


This happened in Pennsylvania, but it could just as easily have been about football in Oklahoma, or cheerleading in Texas:
A T-ball coach seeking to keep a player with a mental disability off the field allegedly asked another player to hurt the boy, state police said Friday.
Not only that, but the player did hit the 8-year-old boy with a baseball, twice, leaving him unable to play.

At eight, sport shouldn't be about winning or losing, but simply learning to play, and enjoying it. Anyone who doesn't understand that shouldn't be coaching. And anyone who takes out a hit on a kid should be locked up.

Karl Rove still believes he can spin his way out of this


The AP is reporting that Karl Rove told Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about his conversation with Matthew Cooper. But he's trying to pretend that he didn't understand that what was important about this wasn't the political damage that Joseph Wilson's report could do to the Bush administration's alleged case for going to war. The AP has Rove saying:
When [Cooper] finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn't this damaging? Hasn't the president been hurt? I didn't take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn't get Time far out in front on this.
The article also says:
[Rove] later told a grand jury the e-mail was consistent with his recollection that his intention in talking with Cooper that Friday in July 2003 wasn't to divulge Plame's identity but to caution Cooper against certain allegations Plame's husband was making, according to legal professionals familiar with Rove's testimony.
It goes on to repeat the current Republican position that all of this was OK because Rove got Plame's identity from media sources, something for which there's no evidence other than Rove's statements.

I just don't believe that Rove is as stupid as this all would make him out to be. I think it's clear that Rove is trying to deflect attention from his having leaked Plame's identity by focusing attention on the ancillary issue of his primary purpose in talking to Cooper.

It's unlikely that this investigation would have gone on so long if there's no good reason for believing a serious crime has been committed, whether by Rove or by others. The indictments should prove most interesting.

Of course, this was on the east side of Lake Washington


The things I never knew about Enumclaw: apparently there was a farm there where many people went to engage in bestiality. It seems that a man had sex with a horse there — which is, surprisingly, not illegal in Washington State — and was somehow (the story is unclear on this point) injured badly enough during the act that he died.

All interesting enough in its own right. But then there's this:
The Humane Society of the United States intends to use the case during the next state legislative session as an example of why sex with animals should be outlawed in Washington, said Bob Reder, a Humane Society regional director in Seattle.
Are they arguing that it should be outlawed because it's potentially dangerous to the humans? Couldn't a much better argument be made that it's inhumane to the animals, which are, after all, incapable of consent, as the Humane Society did in the case of a blind man who had sex with his guide dog.

iPods for everyone!


Apple recently reported $320 million in profits for the last quarter, during which they sold 6.2 million iPods. Given a current world population of 6.5 billion, that means that very nearly 1 of every 1000 people in the world bought an iPod last quarter, which is interesting, considering that lots of people have been predicting the iPod's imminent demise due to a) cheaper competition, b) market saturation, and c) lack of compatibility with Microsoft's Media Player.

Just goes to show that people buy on more than just price. And, just maybe, there's been a little disenchantment with Microsoft products.

Molly Ivins gets it right


Anyone who writes publicly is going to get something wrong every now and again. When an error is discovered, you can deny there is any error, or deny that's what you meant, or deny that you wrote what you wrote, or attack those who are pointing out the error. See Ann Coulter for examples. Or you can do the right thing, admit the error, and print a correction.

Molly Ivins made a really big mistake — she claimed that the latest Iraq War has killed more Iraqis than Saddam Hussein ever did — but when called on it she printed this retraction. (You'll have to scroll down until you see "Crow Eaten Here".) Hats off to her.

15 July 2005

I'm not thinking good thoughts about Windows today


Yesterday I was talking to my dad via iChat, and he told me that he'd been trying to install Tiger on his iMac, and the install had failed. The Mac kept on working just fine, albeit under Panther. So I showed him where to find the Console, and he looked at the install log, and discovered that his disk needed repair, and I told him how to do that. Presumably, someday soon he'll actually do that and all will be well.

<digression>Let me just say that Skype and iChat have been a real godsend for expats here, allowing them to talk to people back home for pennies a minute. Now if only the ministry "in charge" of Net access would get more reasonable with their data charges.</digression>

In marked contrast, I've got a client with a computer that has a dead hard disk. OK, I replace the disk, install Windows XP, and that goes fine. Then I install SP2, and the machine will no longer restart. Why? The only clue is a blue screen with white letters that flashes by for about a quarter of a second. So I try some other stuff. It will "safe boot", but not with networking, and the Event Viewer doesn't tell my why Windows isn't booting. I try lots of other things. Microsoft's web site is no help — the SP2 page is mostly full of happy talk about how great it is. Not really what I want to hear at this point. Finally, I create a slipstreamed XP/SP2 install disk, and I can't even format the hard disk with that. Tomorrow I'll try a different disk and see if that helps, but I really don't know why it would.

And it's like that so often with Windows. When things go well, it's an OK OS; not great, not terrible, just mediocre. But when things fail, even an experienced techie like me often doesn't know what's happening.

Give me one of the Unixen (Mac OS, for preference) any day.

Anyway, that's why there's been no blogging today. Tomorrow, though, is another Cambodia Crime Compendium!

Update: Finally found the answer. The HP Vectra XE320 I'm trying to install this on apparently supports 80GB disks under Windows XP, but not under Windows XP SP2. 40GB disks work with both versions of XP. I didn't find this online; rather, it's been established through experiment.

14 July 2005

Please give me all your money


Now comes the story of a bank robber. From his car, he sent a note through a pneumatic tube to the drive-through teller at a Chicago bank, and the teller sent a bunch of money back.

I'm struck by several things. One is the apparent politeness of this transaction. If this were the movies, the robber would have aimed a bazooka at the teller, but it sounds like just a request fulfilled.

I do wonder about that robber, though. The whole point of the pneumatic tube thingy is to make the teller safe; at the ones I've been to, the tellers are behind bulletproof glass. What on earth made the robber think that this scheme might work?

And the teller! Why give the robber the cash, rather than, say, the finger? I can only think that this is the result of a policy that was written for tellers who could be physically threatened by customers, and that the policy never got updated to reflect the new, safer drive-through. I'll bet updating it is now at the top of the manager's to-do list.

Bush learns how to spin the deficit


The big news out of the White House (aside from Bush's refusal to wholeheartedly stand behind Karl Rove) is what's called "the falling deficit". Illustrated with a giant downward-pointing arrow, the Office of Management and Budget announced that this year's deficit will be "only" $333 billion, $100 billion lower than earlier estimates and $79 billion less than the all-time record, which was, um, set last year by this same group of profligates.

Another way of putting this is that your personal share of the national debt, currently about $26,000 for each American man, woman, and child, will increase by $1100 this year, whereas the earlier guesses had the increase at about $1400.

The problem is, it's comparing an earlier made-up set of numbers to the current partly made-up numbers. So if Bush wants to seem fiscally responsible while still doing the drunken sailor imitation, it's totally prudent to make the earlier numbers really terrible, so the current horrific numbers don't seem so bad by comparison.

PBS's liberal bias


Let's take a look at PBS's new shows. I'm sure we'll find lots of egregious liberal bias, just like Fox News told you there would be.

First up (and this makes me pretty annoyed that I can't get PBS here in Cambodia) is six new Monty Python shows. They did, in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, offer this bit of political commentary:
King Arthur: Well I can't just call you "man".
Dennis: Well you could say "Dennis".
King Arthur: I didn't know you were called Dennis.
Dennis: Well you didn't bother to find out did you?
King Arthur: I did say sorry about the "old woman", but from behind you looked...
Dennis: What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior.
King Arthur: Well I am king.
Dennis: Oh, king eh? Very nice. And how'd you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers. By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society.
Sure, it seems like they're making fun of leftist dogmatics, but did you notice that they're not sufficiently showing Dennis's demonic nature? And besides, they were always making fun of kings and lumberjacks (who, like all honest workers, are Republicans), and the Spanish Inquisition. Clear liberal bias here.

Next there's "African-American Lives", and we all know that the history of black Americans is an exclusively liberal concern. They will probably even try to promulgate the idea that essentially all slave owners were white Christians. Need I say more?

Then there will be six episodes of "Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Adventures". If I know PBS and the Cousteaus at all, there will be talk of conservation and trying to keep the oceans healthy and reducing damage from oil spills and nothing at all about the economic opportunities afforded by systematic overfishing and exploitation of ocean resources.

Finally, there's the worst offender of all: "Texas Ranch House", in which a modern family tries to live as an 1867 Texas family would have. Throughout the entire series, there is not a single positive reference to the Bush family. Imagine that, a series set in Texas that pretends the Bushes don't exist! Only in moonbat-la-la-liberal-land.

13 July 2005

Scenes from a Turk's life


This week's Scene From My Life is from a resident of Eskis¸ehir (that cedilla should be under the "s", but I can't seem to get Blogger to do that), Turkey. And for those of you who don't know, I spent much of my childhood in Turkey, so I'm always interested in things Turkish.

Forget WiMax

Topic: Topic:

IBM and CenterPoint Energy will deliver broadband over power lines (BPL) in Houston.

It's an intriguing development for places like Phnom Penh, which have good electricity coverage, but generally crap phone systems, which means limited DSL.

I wonder, though, how clean the power has to be so that the noise doesn't overwhelm the broadband signal.

And wasn't Rolm developing this, oh, about 20 years ago, based on stuff invented by Dr Howard W Johnson?