Wednesday, November 30, 2005

[geek] 30-second science blogging - Face/Off come to life

Surgeons in France have performed the first ever face transplant:
In the controversial operation, tissues, muscles, arteries and veins were taken from a brain-dead donor and attached to the patient's lower face. Doctors stress the woman will not look like her donor, but nor will she look like she did before the [dog] attack - instead she will have a "hybrid" face.
It is unclear if either Nicolas Cage or John Travolta was the donor - though given the necessity of the donor being braindead, I'll go with Travolta... (initially seen in my RSS feed from /. this morning...)

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

[politics] Better late than never?

Or perhaps not...
The administration is under pressure to convince increasingly skeptical Americans that the president’s strategy for Iraq is headed in the right direction nearly three years after the U.S.-led invasion. The president is to give a speech on the subject Wednesday at the Naval Academy and the White House is to release a 35-page document titled “Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.”
Hey guys, it's only been three years! What have you been waiting for? Oh yeah, the flowers and open arms, right? Hmmm. Too bad you can't admit that maybe people like Shinseki (Remember them? The career soldiers y'all told to go pound sand up their collective asses?) knew what they were talking about. And WTF's up with Bush being only able to give speeches to the military? Is he practicing to be Caligula or something? (Update (5 minutes or so after initial posting): Jane at firedoglake wonders the same thing...)

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[politics] "...those Washington bullets again"

Stop me if you've heard this one before:
Although no one knows exactly how many militia members have been integrated into the national force, witnesses described undocumented arrests and torture by police. Two of the witnesses said they were present when detainees died. This month, U.S. forces raided a secret Interior Ministry detention facility in southern Baghdad operated by police intelligence officials linked to the Badr Brigade, a Shiite militia that has long-standing ties to Iran and to Iraq's leading Shiite political party. Inmates compiled a handwritten list of 18 detainees at the bunker who were allegedly tortured to death while in custody. The list was authenticated by a U.S. official and given to Justice Ministry authorities for investigation. It was later provided to The Times. The U.S. military is investigating whether police officers who worked at the secret prison were trained by American interrogation experts. An Aug. 18 police operations report addressed to Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, who has ties to the Badr militia, listed the names of 14 Sunni Arab men arrested during a predawn sweep in the Baghdad neighborhood of Iskaan. Six weeks later, their bodies were discovered near the Iranian border, badly decomposed. All of the corpses showed signs of torture, and each still wore handcuffs and had been shot three times in the back of the head, Baghdad morgue officials said.
From what I remember, it goes kind of like this:
As every cell in Chile will tell The cries of the tortured men Remember Allende, and the days before, Before the army came Please remember Victor Jara, In the Santiago Stadium, Es verdad - those Washington Bullets again -- The Clash, "Washington Bullets" (1980)
My guess? We don't really care who's killing who, so long as a.) the corpses are all Iraqis and b.) Iraq stays out of Iran's hands. Too bad our half-assed occupation and so-called reconstruction is making both of those less likely. And if these are rogue elements within the Iraqi police and military (and not some ham-fisted black ops cowboy scheme gone sadly wrong), do we really have the moral authority to tell the Iraqis to not engage in torture or extrajudicial killings? Really? I didn't think so. updated 9:30 AM PST 29-Nov-2005 Addendum: lest anyone think the "it's only the Shiites doing it to destabilize the country for an Iranian takeover" line survives a sniff test, consider these bits: the murder of Shiite teachers covered here; the Pentagon's discussion of the "Salvadoran option" here and here. It seems that I'm not the only one who was far from comforted by John Negroponte's involvement in Iraq, given his background (official bio here; more jaundiced views may be found here and here)... Oh, and remember my previous posting about expanded DoD spy activities? Guess who's running that show? I'll give you a hint: Who is a controversial career diplomat with a dubious human rights record? Feeling safer yet?

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

[random][geek] The 3 best things about Making Light

The comments, the comments, the comments:
When you measure a sock's quantum state, does that change its spin cycle?
I'm not worthy...

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[politics] I'll take "Black Helicopters" for $200, Alex

What is "domestic surveillance with no oversight"?
WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- The Defense Department has expanded programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, it was reported Sunday. The moves create new agencies, add personnel and seek additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world, the Washington Post said. The White House is reported considering expanding the power of a little-known, three-year-old Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA. In addition to coordinating Pentagon security efforts, CIFA would have authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.
Coz' you know - 9/11 changed everything, including turning the Constitution into toilet paper. Don't you feel safer now? I stumbled across this on UPI this AM; Atrios links to Democratic Veteran, who links to the WaPo article in question.

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[random] L'enfer, c'est les autres

We're back in town, having survived turkey day. And for the non-Francophones (or non-Francophiles, I suppose), that'd be a quote from Sartre - "Hell is other people"... That is all. (Thanks to billmon for the link to the quotes page...)

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Friday, November 25, 2005

[random] Wax off

Pat Morita is dead at 73. Another bit of 1980s ephemera lost... The loss of '80s cultural moments, good thing or bad? Discuss. Seriously though - Morita's life reads like a Horatio Alger story:
Born in northern California on June 28, 1932, the son of migrant fruit pickers, Morita spent most of his early years in the hospital with spinal tuberculosis. He later recovered only to be sent to a Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona during World War II. "One day I was an invalid," he recalled in a 1989 AP interview. "The next day I was public enemy No. 1 being escorted to an internment camp by an FBI agent wearing a piece." After the war, Morita's family tried to repair their finances by operating a Sacramento restaurant. It was there that Morita first tried his comedy on patrons. Because prospects for a Japanese-American standup comic seemed poor, Morita found steady work in computers at Aerojet General. But at age 30 he entered show business full time. "Only in America could you get away with the kind of comedy I did," he commented. "If I tried it in Japan before the war, it would have been considered blasphemy, and I would have ended in leg irons. "
So long, Mr. Miyagi...

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

[geek] Moments in geek history

According to an email I got from The Scotsman (they're a great source of stories for this other blog I post at) this morning, today is the anniversary of Dr. Who:
On 23 November 1963, the first episode of the BBC TV serial "Dr Who", starring William Hartnell, was screened in Britain. The show was resurrected in March. To read about Dr Who click here.
And geek culture was never the same. Happy T-day, all...

1 Comments:

Anonymous Wong Online PoKér Hu said...

I never knew that information. Well, at least geeks have another thing to be thankful for.

11/24/2005 11:20:00 PM  

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Monday, November 21, 2005

[politics] There is no God

Penn Jillette, gettin' right down to it:
So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power. All the people I write e-mails to often are still stuck at this searching stage. The Atheism part is easy. But, this "This I Believe" thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life's big picture, some rules to live by. So, I'm saying, "This I believe: I believe there is no God."
[thanks, Mitch]

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[random] Great (?) band names

I'll take Jet Orifices for $200, Alex.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

[politics] Well... This is going to get... interesting.

Anyone have any prognostications re: Abramoff's associate Scanlon's guilty plea? I'm guessing that 'shockwaves' or 'ripples' will be entirely inadequate descriptions of what will follow Monday's court appearance of Scanlon.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

[politics] Iraq is not Vietnam

Keith Olbermann mentioned something in passing the other day that squares with a thought I've been thinking for a while: that the Iraq War resembles nothing quite so much as the Spanish American War:
With the political picture finally focused - oh, I see, Iraq isn’t a 21st Century Vietnam War, it’s the 21st Century Spanish-American War (national post-traumatic stress disorder, international scapegoats required, most villainous enemy nominated, evidence massaged to make it seem plausible, everything except the title "Operation Remember The Maine!") - let me digress again.
No such digressions here, of course. Personally, I'd agree with Keith on everything except his last statement - our version of 'Remember the Maine!' has been to repeat '9/11!' over and over. Something else Keith leaves out is that the Spanish-American War was arguably our first 'real' Imperialist war, and the conduct of it was driven at least in part by the profit motives of large corporations. So, if Iraq is the Spanish-American War, what is Afghanistan? The fight against the Moros in the Phillipines? Or the Punitive Expedition to Mexico? While both of these conflicts come after the Spanish-American War, both are classic low-intensity warfare, neither is well-remembered today (both were pretty quickly forgotten by everyone except those who served), and, in the case of the Punitive Expedition, the stated target of the Expedition (Pancho Villa) escaped unscathed because of other political considerations (the onset of WW1). Of the two, I'd vote for the Punitive Expedition as being closer to Afghanistan - it even has the elements of superior military forces against an irregular enemy, cultural and linguistic differences, reliance upon local assets to augment your force structure, and so on. They're far from perfect analogies, but there are probably some valuable lessons to be learned from the outcome/aftermath of both of these conflicts... First, the Spanish-American War resulted in our occupation and administration of Cuba - and we all know how well that turned out. Second, neither are really seen as shining moments in our history, militarily or diplomatically. Are these the sorts of misadventures we're asking our military to engage in? Ill-concieved Imperialist land grabs that end in an anti-American revolution 50 years later? Failed cat-and-mouse games where we are unable to capture or kill our number one target? The precedents do not look good. Update 17-Nov-05 10:45PM PST In discussing this with a friend of mine over lunch today, another similarity was arrived at: the Spanish-American War is also known for obscene and rampant profiteering by the suppliers and contractors. Hmmm... When was Halliburton founded again?

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[politics] WP - (hopefully) my last word

In an earlier post, I listed information that I thought was a reasonable summation of current US military policy on the legitimate uses of white phosphorus (WP) munitions. RTO Trainer, an Army National Guardsman, left some comments that raised issues with my documentation and/or conclusions. R.T. raised some objections over a line in a training manual for senior command staff (ST 100-3: "It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets."), and also pointed out that if Forward Observers (FOs) were properly employed in Fallujah, then the odds of war crimes having been committed were slim. So I went back and reread both documents in their entirety, ST 100-3 and the Field Artillery article, and I must say that while the case is less clear, I still have my doubts. Serious doubts. First, FOs. According to the Field Artillery piece, FOs were deployed in the city with some operational difficulties. The article also states that they had one observer outside the city who had a commanding view of their entire area of operations. The article runs down the ways in which the in city FOs were operationally degraded, but it is unclear from the article what effect, if any, that had on their fire missions. There are also conflicting accounts as to the numbers of civilians left in Fallujah as well - my own take on it is that the numbers will be impossible to ever nail down. Can we agree that the numbers are larger than what the Pentagon reports (only 10% of the population remained behind, so approx. 30,000 people) and less than what the more extreme reports are from various human rights organizations? Even if the number is 'only' 50,000 people (which seems reasonable to me), the use of WP in such an environment with less-than precise accuracy can be criminal. I will cede that some of the documentation being cited as 'proof' that WP was used indiscriminately really isn't. For instance, Darrin Mortenson's account of mortar fire:
Another first-hand account from the battlefield was provided by an embedded reporter for the North County News, a San Diego newspaper. Reporter Darrin Mortenson wrote of watching Cpl Nicholas Bogert fire WP rounds into Fallujah. He wrote: "Bogert is a mortar team leader who directed his men to fire round after round of high explosives and white phosphorus charges into the city Friday and Saturday, never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused."
A mortar is an indirect-fire weapon - you don't point the business end of it directly at a target, you rely upon called-in coordinates to fire it in an arc up over the battlefield. A mortar team is highly unlikely to ever see their targets unless their position is about to be overrun... Ditto for the Paladin 155mm howitzers described in the Field Artillery article. But the above account doesn't exonerate either - from it, we have no way of knowing at all how well-directed those fire missions were. Now, on to ST 100-3. While I agree with R.T. that the statement occurs within the context of discussing large-tube artillery, I disagree that the statement is limited to that context. Why? Because first of all, in no other place does ST 100-3 go into the other uses for WP munitions. Second, it is the first mention of WP in the manual (actually, it is the only place in the manual where the differences between different kinds of munitions are explicitly spelled out). Third, its tone strikes me as very definitive, particularly when there are clearly some nuances in the battlefield use of WP. Fourth, the discussion of mortars in ST 100-3 seems to implicitly differentiate between WP and other fire support (FS) missions:
The FSO should plan and control mortar fires to ensure they are integrated into the overall fire plan. Mortars are very effective against lightly protected personnel and for obscuration, illumination, and close-in defensive fires. Mortars:
  • Are the most responsive FS assets of the battalion.
  • Provide highly responsive WP and illumination to the T[ask ]F[orce] commander.
  • And there's a fifth - the Field Artillery article talks about the 155mm howitzers providing WP fire as well. That's large-tube artillery, providing the same kind of mixed WP/HE (high explosive) anti-personnel fire support as the mortars. I won't dispute that WP is a legitimate munition; I won't even dispute that it can be used as a weapon without breaking the law. What I will say is that reading these articles still suggests to me that international law may have been broken by choosing to use WP in a primarily anti-personnel role. It's like this: tracer ammunition (phosphorus-tipped bullets used for target acquisition and, to a much lesser degree, setting things on fire) is a legal munition. On the other hand, if you decided that you were going to have your troops armed with tracers as every other round, you might have committed a war crime. Why? Because the intent with which you're using the weapon has changed. You are no longer using it in the manner that is protected under law - you are using it because it inflicts greater damage and/or fear, and that starts to edge out of the realm of protected behavior. To the folks who are reading this who share R.T.'s point of view, let me say this: I do not think that our troops are all criminals. I know that most soldiers want to do the right thing, so it is entirely understandable that folks like R.T. will want to come to their defense. My own military experience is over 15 years old, and is charitably described as partial at best, but I do think I have more than a little understanding of the motivations of people who want to serve. And as an RTO (Radio/Telephone Operator), R.T. has more than likely participated in fire missions (I haven't read enough of his blog to know), so he certainly brings hands-on familiarity to this debate, something all-too often lacking. That said, I think that this administration's actions have made it much easier to believe that we are operating with much less regard for international law. If the Geneva Conventions covering torture are 'quaint', what about the rest of them? Are those Conventions and Protocols quaint, as well? From the circumstances under which this war was prosecuted to our conduct regarding detainees to our initial official denials that WP was even used on the battlefields of Fallujah - our actions are certainly convincing a lot of people around the world and at home that we regard international law as irrelevant. This continued course of behavior makes it more and more likely that war crimes will be committed, if they haven't already. And it will take a long time for us to repair that damage to our reputation.

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    Tuesday, November 15, 2005

    [geek][politics] And for Sony, the hits keep coming

    Sony/BMG has infected more than half-a-million networks worldwide. Not individual computers - networks. And that's a conservative estimate... Oh, and Sony's tool to remove their DRM tool malware? It actually compromises the user's computer and potentially exposes it to even worse exploits. Good job, guys.

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    [politics] Praise electric cars, go to jail?

    Or at the very least, wind up on an FBI watchlist... Newsweek has a disturbing look at how the FBI is building profiles of alleged eco-terrorists (of course, why they never did this to abortion clinic bombers with the same degree of thoroughness and enthusiasm is beyond me, but there you go...). Short version of the article? "Big Brother's listening" Creepy. And reprehensible regardless of the domestic terrorists being targeted, be they on the left or right.

    1 Comments:

    Blogger Kristina said...

    Wow, between that and O'Reilly's promised enemies list, it's a banner week for the new McCarthyism, ain't it?

    11/15/2005 10:23:00 AM  

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    [geek][politics] Talk about bad timing...

    via MSNBC's 'Clicked' column today, I caught this tidbit: Sony has been awarded a patent for technology that would disable game discs, preventing them from being played on any console except for the first one they are played on. The implications are obvious: it eliminates game rentals, such as GameFly.com or GameSpot; it eliminates the used game market; and it prevents you from bringing your game over to a friend's house to use on their console. Coming as this does on the heels of Sony/BMG music's DRM-cum-malware fiasco, this is potentially really bad news for Sony's coming launch of the PlayStation 3. Content owners and distributors are trying to change centuries of legal precedent and custom regarding (as I understand it - IANAL, so YMMV; if I've made any gross errors, feel free to let me know in the comments, and I'll try to adjust this piece accordingly) Fair Use, Personal Use, and the doctrine of First Use. Fair Use covers the circumstances under which protected material may be reproduced for non-personal use, ie. redistribution in some other form; Personal Use is just that; First Use is kind of related to Personal Use, and among other things allows you to give or sell your copy of protected material to someone else. These moves are being driven by greed and fear, pure and simple. Greed in that they're trying to maintain their hold over their material as long as possible, even if it restricts your rights to do so; fear in that the road ahead is uncertain for content owners and distributors, particularly in that business models, technology, and access to technology is changing all the time. In short, they're trying to use technology to circumvent the law (or at least to force everyone to operate in the areas where the law gets fuzzy) in order to generate the largest possible profits. In my opinion, the only thing that they are going to successfully generate is enough customer ire that they may very well sink themselves. This focus on short-term profit gain is such that they're undermining their chances of long-term survival - it's evolve or die time, and right now the Sonys of the world are looking more like dinosaurs and less like small mammals... And the spread of broadband access, inexpensive storage, and duplication technology are looking more and more like a large meteor... Sure, the initial impact took some species out, but now that the shockwaves have passed, we'll be okay. Hey, where'd the sun go? Is it getting chilly in here? And we all know how that one turned out, don't we?

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    Monday, November 14, 2005

    [politics] What he said...

    If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen. -- Samuel Adams The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become instruments of tyranny at home. -- James Madison
    How come quotes like these never get mentioned in the discussions in praise of 'originalism'? Just askin'... [both quotes courtesy of Scrutiny Hooligans]

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    [politics] So, George - do we torture or don't we?

    Because your words were pretty emphatic: we do not torture. Right? Not much wiggle room there, is there? Right. Silly me. What bullshit:
    In an important clarification of President George W. Bush's earlier statement, a top White House official refused to unequivocally rule out the use of torture, arguing the US administration was duty-bound to protect Americans from terrorist attack. The comment, by US national security adviser Stephen Hadley, came amid heated national debate about whether the CIA and other US intelligence agencies should be authorized to use what is being referred to as "enhanced interrogation techniques" to extract from terror suspects information that may help prevent future assaults.
    Oh, my bad. It isn't 'torture' (evidently, that word is as quaint as the Geneva Conventions), it's "enhanced interrogation techniques". So we don't torture anyone - we merely employ enhanced interrogation techniques. For actual torture, we outsource to those countries that have 'real' secret police agencies. I got it. Thanks guys, you're doing a heckuva job. [thanks, Pam]

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    Friday, November 11, 2005

    [politics] 11/11

    Armistice Day. Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light has a great collection of links posted today that will remind you (in painful detail) why today is a holiday, diminished though it may be. These links will also show you why we should never forget, even as the Census Bureau and VA estimate that there are fewer than 30 or so American vets of WWI still living; the Brits call it Remembrance Day for a reason, and the red poppies seem so much less jingoistic there than here.

    2 Comments:

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Notice how the corpse's body is still in reasonably good shape, while all the exposed areas, the head and hands, are already down to bare bone?

    Rats.

    -tnh

    11/14/2005 11:47:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    brrrrrrr...

    I hadn't thought of that, Teresa...

    Funny how details like that somehow make war more horrific, eh? It's almost as if a petty grotesquerie is easier to comprehend than all those sacrificed millions.

    11/14/2005 12:07:00 PM  

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    Thursday, November 10, 2005

    [politics] More on Willie Pete

    First off, let's clear up a few things: white phosphorus (WP) is not a chemical weapon - it is an incendiary device that happens to be categorized as a chemical weapon in an international treaty that the US has not signed:
    White phosphorus is not banned by any treaty to which the United States is a signatory. Smokes and obscurants comprise a category of materials that are not used militarily as direct chemical agents. The United States retains its ability to employ incendiaries to hold high-priority military targets at risk in a manner consistent with the principle of proportionality that governs the use of all weapons under existing law. The use of white phosphorus or fuel air explosives are not prohibited or restricted by Protocol II of the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention (CCWC), the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects.
    Of course, this puts us in the same league as North Korea and China; pretty much every other nation has signed this treaty. Second, I'm not buying the 'carmelized' corpse skin or burned skin with the clothing untouched as evidence of the use of WP - WP burns everything it touches, including clothing, so if such burns exist, they were caused by some weapon in the US aresnal of which I am unaware. Third, there are some legitimate reasons to question describing the use of WP as criminal. Compare and contrast these two excerpts from US Army Field Manuals (FM), the bibles, if you will, of a soldier's day-to-day existence. First, FM 6-30: Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Observed Fire, Chapter 4, Section II, Paragraph 16 (1991):
    4-16. SHELL WHITE PHOSPHORUS Shell white phosphorus (WP) has four uses: incendiary, marking, obscuring, and screening. It can be used to destroy the enemy's equipment or to limit his vision. It is used against the following: Vehicles. Petroleum, oils and lubricants (POL) and ammunition storage areas. Enemy observers. Also, shell WP can be used as an aid in target location and navigation. It can be fired with fuze time to obtain an airburst.
    Compare that with this from FM 7-90: Tactical Employment of Mortars, Appendix B, section 10 (1992):
    c. The bursting WP round can be used to produce casualties among exposed enemy troops and to start fires. The casualty-producing radius of the WP round is much less than that of the HE round. Generally, more casualties can be produced by firing HE ammunition than by firing WP. However, the WP burst causes a significant psychological effect, especially when used against exposed troops. A few WP mixed into a fire mission of HE rounds may increase the suppressive effect of the fire.
    On the one hand, the first manual does not mention WP in an anti-personnel role. On the other, the second manual clearly indicates that WP may be used as part of a 'fire mission', ie. dropping artillery shells on someone's head and blowing the shit out of them. Now, compare that to this, taken from the US Army Command and Staff College's "Battle Book", ST 100-3 (1999), Chapter 5, Section 3
    b. Projectiles. [...] (4) Burster Type White phosphorus (WP M110A2) rounds burn with intense heat and emit dense white smoke. They may be used as the initial rounds in the smokescreen to rapidly create smoke or against material targets, such as Class V sites or logistic sites. It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets.
    [emphasis mine] This document is more significant than you might realize - the Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS (I bet you thought they only had a prison there, eh?) is responsible for training senior officers of the US Army for leadership in staff positions - command positions, ie. generals and those who work with them, both officer and enlisted. If you are a senior grade service member serving in the US Army, this is part and parcel of your training. You need to know this stuff if you're going to lead, or you're out. IMO, this trumps any field manual: the leadership of the US Army has been taught the use of WP is illegal when employed in an anti-personnel role. So, what is the "law of land warfare"? For this, there is (of course) another field manual, FM 27-10 Law of Land Warfare (1976), Chapter 2, Section III, Paragraph 36:
    36. Weapons Employing Fire The use of weapons which employ fire, such as tracer ammunition, flamethrowers, napalm and other incendiary agents, against targets requiring their use is not violative of international law. They should not, however, be employed in such a way as to cause unnecessary suffering to individuals.
    There you have it. Personally, I think that constitutes a clear case that using WP rounds in an offensive, anti-personnel capacity is illegal. So, how did the US State Department respond to last year's claims that WP and other proscribed arms were used in Fallujah? With bullshit, of course:
    Finally, some news accounts have claimed that U.S. forces have used "outlawed" phosphorus shells in Fallujah. Phosphorus shells are not outlawed. U.S. forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters. There is a great deal of misinformation feeding on itself about U.S. forces allegedly using "outlawed" weapons in Fallujah. The facts are that U.S. forces are not using any illegal weapons in Fallujah or anywhere else in Iraq.
    How did the spokespersons for the US military respond? Again (and I know this will surprise you), with bullshit:
    AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read to you from the Geneva Convention on certain conventional weapons, protocol three. "Protocol and Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons. Geneva, October 10, 1980. Article I, definitions for the purpose of this protocol. One, incendiary weapon means any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target. (a) Incendiary weapons can take the form of, for example, flame throwers, fougasses, shells, rockets, grenades, mines, bombs and other containers of incendiary substances." Lieutenant Colonel Boylan? LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: I know of no cases where people were deliberately targeted by the use of white phosphorus. Again, I did not say white phosphorus was used for illumination. White phosphorus is used for obscuration, which white phosphorus produces a heavy thick smoke to shield us or them from view so that they cannot see what we are doing. It is used to destroy equipment, to destroy buildings. That is what white phosphorus shells are used for.
    Okay, let's parse these, shall we? The weapons themselves are not illegal - this is true. They are, however, illegal to use against civilians, and are specifically referred to as such in the context of WP in urban warfare. And there were lots of civilians left in Fallujah. They are also illegal to use where they might cause 'unnecessary suffering to individuals' - this means using WP in an anti-personnel role. Next, do either of these statements about the proper use (and the stated use!) of WP jibe with the description of 'shake and bake' fire missions? No. They do not. Whatver you want to call it, 'shake and bake' missions are clearly anti-personnel missions. They were regarded as so successful that troops wished that they had more WP rounds to deploy, remember? "for lethal missions" was the phrase used in Field Artillery, was it not? This violates a central tenet of the international rules of war (damn, that sounds strange, doesn't it?): proportionality. Much as you as an individual are not allowed to blow the fuck out of an unarmed burglar in your home, the military is not allowed to respond to the enemy with disproportionate force. This is part of why the bombing and strafing of the 'Highway of Death' was stopped during Gulf War I: the means exceeded the ends, the response was no longer proportional to the threat. Some will continue to argue that given the presence of dug-in fighters in Fallujah, the use of WP was definitely proportional, otherwise the only alternative would be house-to-house fighting. I would argue that given the presence of civilians in Fallujah, the use of WP was illegal but was seen as a cheap way to inflict maximum casualties. In other words, it was illegal but so what? This "so what" attitude is entirely in keeping with the attitude that Bush II has brought to our nation's leadership - damn the law, we're going to do whatever we feel like. This has been their approach to torture, it has been their approach to domestic law enforcement, and it has been their approach to this war in Iraq. I stand by my initial piece: we have committed war crimes in Fallujah. The use of WP in Fallujah exceeded the limits allowed under international law, it exceeded the limits of covenants that we are party to, and as such we are committing war crimes. Period. War crimes.

    3 Comments:

    Blogger RTO Trainer said...

    Actually, White Phosphorus isn't banned by any treaty, nor has it been classified as a chemical weapon, signed by the US or otherwise. You've misread the document at the link you provide.

    FM 6-30 is discussing only shell white phosphorus which is not an offensive munition. 7-90 discusses completley differnt munitions. ST 100-3 discusses yet another muntion, one fired by artillery rather than a mortar. It is prohibited from use on personnel because it's blast radius is too large to be "proportional" in that use. IOW, firing the M110A2 round at troops in a building is quite likley to cause other damage to civilians, civilian structures, or otehr prohibited targets. Its simply too indiscriminate for that use.

    White phosphorus is not used for illumination. That's magnesium.

    So long as the mortar crews are being controlled by competent and well-trained Forward Observers who are directing fire onto legitimate military targets, there is no foul. If you or anyone else finds evidence that FOs were nto used, or that the FOs improperly directed fire then there's an issue.

    11/10/2005 11:16:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    FIrst, I didn't think WP could be used for illumination - if you'll note, that was the official word from Foggy Bottom, which I've already dismissed as bullshit.

    Second, I'd have thought that ST 100-3's wording was pretty clear, regardless of the specific munition being discussed: "It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets."

    Period. That doesn't seem to leave much by way of wiggle room.

    My reading of the manuals was that while WP of all classes could be used offensively (as opposed to its other roles in screening or marking missions) to attack POL or installations, it is never intended to primarily be an anti-personnel weapon. That thread seems to run through all of the manuals I read, regardless of the tube size of the weapon involved.

    Where there is some more wiggle room is that in an urban environment almost all of your OPFOR are going to be under cover or concealment - in that instance, it seemed to me that WP might be a legitimate munition, as I conceded in my piece.

    Your point about FOs is an interesting one - I need to go back and re-read that Field Artillery article, as I seem to remember that a fair amount of space was devoted to discussing the problems that they had with observers...

    11/10/2005 11:46:00 PM  
    Blogger RTO Trainer said...

    Please note that ST 100-3 is organized by (more or less) Battlefield Operating Systems and then by type. This reference is in the chapter on Fire Support and a section Field Artilery. there is a separte section on Mortars. This reference is specifically on Artillery muntions. Further the specific refrence denotes a specific round, the M110A2. I can't see it supporting a blanket policy. It appears very specific to me.

    11/11/2005 07:13:00 AM  

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    Wednesday, November 09, 2005

    [politics] "...an effective and versatile munition."

    White phosphorus. WP. Willy Pete. It's an incendiary round that produces massive clouds of white smoke - the rounds are supposed to be used for providing smoke cover, for illumination, or for target identification. Any other use is banned under international law. WP is a horrible anti-personnel round - it burns viciously, and cannot be extinguished with water. And we used it in an anti-personnel role when we razed Fallujah. This is a war crime. I don't write this lightly - I've defended the actions of the military against their detractors before - but to deliberately employ white phosphorus rounds in an anti-personnel role is nothing less than a war crime. This is not coming from al-Jazeera or another foreign news source that could be spun as having anti-American motives - this is the United States Army's own Field Artillery magazine (Adobe PDF) published by the Field Artillery school at Fort Sill, OK. Go to the fifth page of the linked PDF and read section 9. paragraphs b. and c. at the bottom of the first column:
    b. White Phosphorous. WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired "shake and bake" missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out. c. Hexachloroethane Zinc (HC) Smoke and Precision-Guided Munitions.We could have used these munitions. We used improved WP for screening missions when HC smoke would have been more effective and saved our WP for lethal missions.
    Think about that for a second. What are the implications of the phrases "shake and bake" and "lethal missions"? HE is 'high explosive', your traditional indirect-fire artillery round. So let's review that second paragraph, for I find it particularly damning. They wished they'd had more non-lethal smoke rounds (HC) so that they could have "saved [their] WP for lethal missions" (emphasis mine). I have no illusions about war or the military. Their job is to break things and kill people, period. Field artillery does that in short order, hence its nickname "King of Battle". But war, for all of its grotesqueries and horrors, does have rules. One of those rules states that you may not employ WP rounds in an anti-personnel capacity. It is a special-purpose round - you do not save it "for lethal missions". That's a crime. And the Army's complicity in it has been spelled out for you in black and white by the Army itself. This has been all over the 'net today - Atrios, AMERICABlog, Daily Kos, and I know there are others I'm forgetting. Mine is a small-time blog - I don't have the clout or cachet of any of those others - but much like the anti-torture message, news of this outrage must be spread far and wide by as many voices as possible. This is not just. This is not right. This can not stand.

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    [politics] Ayuh, no bigots heah

    Big news out of Maine regarding yesterday's defeat of an atttempt by the American Taliban to roll back Maine's civil rights protections for gays and lesbians. At this time, with 75% of all precincts reporting, the initiative to remove references to sexual orientation from Maine's anti-discrimination laws looks like it has been defeated soundly - by a 12-point margin, no less. Quite the change from 7 years ago. The initiative failed everywhere, not just in Portland (where it was defeated by a 3:1 margin), but according to Joe & John of AMERICABlog (Joe has been volunteering in Maine) in the more conservative cities, and many of the rural precincts as well:
    The margin of victory in Portland was 77% - 23% -- super, but that's not the best part. Maine Won't Discriminate won in all the bigger cities in the state -- even the more conservative places like Bangor, Biddeford and Lewiston. Our side won in small towns like Skowhegan. Across the state, Mainers rejected discrimination and the vitriol spewed by Michael Heath of the Maine Christian Civic League.
    There are no results posted on the Maine Secretary of State's website yet, so I can't verify those numbers, but still - this is a major shift in peoples' thinking, regardless.

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    Tuesday, November 08, 2005

    [politics] I guess it all depends upon what the word "torture" means

  • Bush: We do not torture. Period.
  • Cheney: Uhhh... Not so fast.
  • TORTURE. There's only one meaning of the word, and we either do it or we don't. So now, repeat after me: Torture is un-American unacceptable. Period. How is that difficult to understand? And these were the fuckers complaining about Clinton's parsing of "is"? [Updated to reflect the fact that simply decrying torture as 'un-American' was indulging in cheap, unseemly, ingrained nationalism. Torture is unacceptable, by any country, culture, or creed. I don't care what you're fighting for - the use of torture tarnishes whatever ideals you claim to hold dear. It is a clear abuse of power by the state, which does not engage in torture to extract information: it indulges in torture to validate forgone conclusions and to terrorize those who would stand against it. Do we need to use smaller words? Louder voices?]

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    Sunday, November 06, 2005

    [politics] The party of fiscal responsibility, my ass

    How's this for a shocker?
    Washington, D.C. - President George W. Bush and the current Administration have now borrowed more money from foreign governments and banks than the previous 42 U.S. presidents combined. Throughout the first 224 years (1776-2000) of our nation's history, 42 U.S. presidents borrowed a combined $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions according to the U.S. Treasury Department. In the past four years alone (2001-2005), the Bush Administration has borrowed a staggering $1.05 trillion.
    It speaks for itself, I think...

    2 Comments:

    Blogger MichaelBains said...

    So THATS how the neo-cons make Tax Breaks work! Forget about all that small government mumbo-jumbo of your classical Conservative philosophers.

    You can't run a Fascist Corporation on a shoe-string budget now, can you...

    Nice stat ps.

    (Found you thru PZ's Pharyngula...)

    11/07/2005 04:01:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    Thanks - I'd be interested in seeing how they ran the numbers (what year did they choose for baseline, how did they calculate foreign borrowing, etc.) but I can't say I was shocked when I read it...

    11/07/2005 09:34:00 PM  

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    Saturday, November 05, 2005

    [random] Yet another developmental milestone

    So, one of our neighbors wanders over this morning and says, oh, by the way, we hadn't gotten around to inviting our daughter's friends from the neighborhood to her birthday party this afternoon; sorry about the short notice, but would The Boy like to come? Sure - what's not to like? He's right across the street being supervised by Some Other Adults We Trust for 2 hours: woo-hoo! The 2 hours fly by, and what does he come back from the party with? (wait for it) A whoopee cushion. No one is safe. A five-year-old boy held in thrall by the seductive and mind-altering power of fart noises is quite the sight to behold. Who knew that rude noises could rival Lovecraft's infernal geometry in their ability to destroy one's mind?

    2 Comments:

    Blogger Stephen Spencer said...

    Could be worse... he could combine a knock-knock joke and the whoopie cushion.
    *grin*

    11/09/2005 04:34:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    sadist.

    11/09/2005 04:39:00 PM  

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    Friday, November 04, 2005

    [geek][politics] In defense of Free Beer

    Mike Olson, CEO of Sleepycat Software, was kind enough to share some thoughts related to my earlier post on Open Source in Africa, and my remark that sometimes the advocates of Free/Open Source Software (FOSS hereafter) get bogged down in the notion of 'free as in speech, not free as in beer':
    None of us here disagrees that zero-dollar software is a great thing for users. If 10g Express is useful to emerging economies, that's wonderful. We're glad to see it, and I bet that Oracle would be proud of it. They ought to be. The point is that giving away the software for free isn't the same as building an open source community. Just for (simple) example: What about high school and college students in Africa who want to learn about the way that database systems work? Are they better off with a sealed-box binary that is entirely opaque, or with the complete source code to the MySQL engine? Both of them are free beer already; only one is free speech now.
    Apart from a quibble about whether or not source code is the best way to learn how something works (best left as a rant discussion for another day), I'd like to focus on this point: is 'free speech' what the developing world needs first? And I don't mean this in a patronizing "they've never had free speech before, so we shouldn't expect it" kind of way - I mean trusting that free speech will emerge once you've provided an ecosystem in which it will survive. A lot of the fire that drives the FOSS movement is resistance to closed systems; it's a philosophical debate, an intellectual challenge, and a moral problem all wrapped up in one package. Okay, that's great; believe me, I grok the appeal, and I do believe that information wants to be free. From an emotional and intellectual perspective, I agree 100%. Okay, it's probably closer to 90%, but still - here's where I see the shortcoming in this approach: if you read the Black Looks posting that inspired me, you will see that one of the reasons that FOSS advocates have had problems making cultural inroads is widespread piracy of proprietary software. This piracy is a form of economic rebellion, of taking and subverting the tools of the master, so to speak. Need software? Steal it from The Man! Screw the Western Imperialist Capitalists with their own technology - rip and burn gleaming CD after gleaming CD of widely-used, proprietary software! So I ask you, which is going to be the more satisfying form of rebellion? Standing up against FacelessSoullessTechnology Corporation by providing a free and open version of their own product, or illicitly burning copies of LargeSoftwareCompany Widget Pro SP3? Which will be the more practical form of rebellion? You see, we have the luxury of deciding on a philosophical basis that we do not want to purchase a given piece of software. We in the developed world have an infrastructure that already supports that idea. The developing world, largely, does not. The developing world sees our existing tools that we market so well abroad - and it wants a part of that. It wants our commercial software, as much as it wants out other consumer goods (the degree to which this 'want' is fueled by actual vs. created demand is deliberately being left as an open question). It should come as no surprise then, that the first impulse in the developing world is, then, piracy. We see it with other consumer goods: Nike, Coca-Cola, Louis Vuitton, whatever; why should software be any different? I see this as being akin to the dilemma that the Peace Corps faced: at the time of its founding, the Peace Corps focused on meeting basic human needs, such as irrigation or literacy; no effort would be explicitly expended to create 'free' societies. The early work of the Peace Corps provided a framework around which an infrastructure of 'free society' could evolve; as a result of their success in meeting these basic needs, by the time I was old enough to join the Peace Corps I was turned away because I didn't have any real-world business or managerial experience! The Peace Corps today expends a lot of energy addressing the 'how' and 'why' of developed nations, not the 'how' (and only 'how') of developing ones. It would seem to me that
    PeaceCorps.Early = FreeBeer; PeaceCorps.Current = FreeSpeech;
    Given the FOSS movement's origins as an intrinsically philosophical movement, I think that it will have problems moving into the developing world until such a time as the developing world has the luxury of debating the merits of closed vs. open systems; to believe otherwise is to embrace a cart-before-the-horse position. The harsh reality is that the 'free beer' factor is what the FOSS movement has going for it in developing countries - in all cases that I've followed where governments mandate the use of FOSS products, the selling point has been the cost savings; the thumb-in-the-eye to the Microsofts and Oracles of the world is a happy byproduct of the cost savings, and is (IMO) driven more by a nationalist impulse to control one's culture and economy than by any commitment to thinking 'free as in speech'. In some instances - China leaps to mind - the politically-motivated embrace of FOSS occurs for reasons that are entirely antithetical to the very free speech philosophy that defines the movement. It seems to me that if one provides access to 'free beer', free speech will follow (bet you never thought you'd see a keg party provide a positive example, eh?) of its own accord. And it would be a terrible mistake for the FOSS movement as a whole if ideological and intellectual purity prevents them from taking advantage of the strengths of free beer as just that: free beer.

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    [random] Should we talk about the weather?

    Today's weather: Partly crappy with intermittent bleah Yuck. It's only early November, and already things like this are starting to sound like a Good Idea. I shudder to think what February is gonna feel like. (Hey... hey, hey/Should we talk about the government?)

    1 Comments:

    Blogger Kristina said...

    Oh, I like! Yeah, the only good coming of it is all the snow in the mountains. Ski season, here we come!

    11/06/2005 11:31:00 PM  

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    Thursday, November 03, 2005

    [geek][politics] Open Source in Africa

    Black Looks, an excellent blog by Sokari Eskine that I've mentioned before, has an article up today that provides an overview of the state of Open Source software (OSS) in Africa. Seeing as how technology isn't her primary focus, I thought it was still a great look at how Sub-Saharan activists view OSS and are using OSS. She also touches upon some of the challenges facing OSS advocates in the developing world, one of which really caught me off guard: OSS is undercut by the widespread piracy (and therefore, widespread availability) of proprietary software. It seems to me that all-to-often, OSS advocates in the US get wrapped up in righteous indignation and moral superiority about "Information want[ing] to be free". What they often forget is that there are lots of people wanting to be free as well, and that their freedom - be it political, economic, religious - could be facilitated through better access to technology. Take, for instance, the reaction of Open Source advocates to Oracle's announcement that they plan to provide a stripped-down free version of their database software:
    Oracle told CNET News.com, Builder UK's sister site, that it hopes that developers and students will choose the Express Edition over alternatives like MySQL or SQL Server Express. Users could then migrate over time to Oracle's higher-end products. "Even though the database is initially free, standards progress and those university students who are playing with the database today will eventually be working at corporations and making product decisions," he said. "We want to have mind-share with those people," said Andrew Mendelsohn, senior vice-president of Oracle's server technologies division. But Oracle does not appear to understand the benefits of free and open source software, according to Adrian Jones, the managing director of Sleepycat Europe, which makes the open source Berkeley DB. "When it comes to the open source market, Oracle still doesn't get it," said Jones. "Oracle is confusing free beer with free speech. There are many reasons why the open source database market is growing so healthily. Price is certainly one reason, but equally important is the fact that the open source vendors are progressively adding functionality to their products, improving product quality and building the community around them," he said. Oracle is not the only large technology company that has been accused of misunderstanding free and open source software (FOSS). Earlier this year, Jonathan Schwartz, the president of Sun, angered some in the free software community when he claimed that the most important feature about FOSS is the price.
    It may be that Oracle is "confusing free beer with free speech" - but what may be more important in developing nations is free bread - or the technological version thereof. Free speech will follow... I know there are at least a few OSS supporters or advocates who are semi-regular readers of this blog - your thoughts?

    2 Comments:

    Blogger Mike Olson said...

    I'm Sleepycat's CEO, and the quote you cite was made by the Managing Director of Sleepycat Europe; full disclosure!

    None of us here disagrees that zero-dollar software is a great thing for users. If 10g Express is useful to emerging economies, that's wonderful. We're glad to see it, and I bet that Oracle would be proud of it. They ought to be.

    The point is that giving away the software for free isn't the same as building an open source community. Just for (simple) example: What about high school and college students in Africa who want to learn about the way that database systems work? Are they better off with a sealed-box binary that is entirely opaque, or with the complete source code to the MySQL engine? Both of them are free beer already; only one is free speech now.

    11/04/2005 11:55:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    Mike -- first off, thanks for stopping by to respond. Second, I've been reflecting on this some more, and I've got a post coming.

    Short version: in principle, I agree with you; in practice, I think too much gets lost in focusing on the 'free as in speech' part of the FOSS... As I said above, I have another post brewing - I'm just not sure when I'll get a chance to post it today.

    11/04/2005 12:05:00 PM  

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    Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    [politics] Um... could y'all please define "great"?

    Okay, so - there's this Newsweek article, see? Talking about second-term slumps, see? And it goes on and on in some almost-helpful ways about the difficulties that many presidents have had with their second term, see? It also points out that the crux of Bush's current problem isn't his slump per se, but how he deals with it, that bad news today doesn't mean he'll be viewed harshly by history, blah, blah, blah. Personally, I'd think that someone who manages to get his approval among Black Americans lower than the margin of error for the survey itself has some, uh, institutional problems to deal with, but hey - who am I to question the judgement of political scientists and published authors, right? Now, where I do feel entirely qualified to judge is this - the front page of MSNBC has this as the link to the above article: 'All' great presidents? WTF? Okay - given that this article was written in the context of Bush's ratings slump, doesn't this headline include Bush with the 'greats'? Personally, I think a better headline would have been "2nd term slumps: Even great presidents had them". Or am I just being fussy?

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    Tuesday, November 01, 2005

    [politics] A random musing on the occasion of Alito's nomination

    Does anyone else find it interesting (and by 'interesting', I mean 'really fucking frightening') that if Alito is confirmed, the Supreme Court will start resembling an Opus Dei conclave as much as anything else? Or should I just look for the bright side of things, and take the reaction to Alito's nomination as more evidence for America's acceptance of Catholics (and by 'acceptance of Catholics', I mean 'willing to overlook their Hell-bound Papist heresies so long as we can finally start public executions of abortionists, sodomites, and fornicators')?

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    [random] Hope everyone had

    a happy Halloween - ours was on the cold side for these parts, and while it was only intermittently rainy, we still got far fewer kids this year than last. Oh well, we still had a good time. image copyright Jim Cline (2004)

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