Thursday, April 30, 2009

Interesting Article On Far Right Thinking

Orcinus has a hugely interesting article up regarding the thought-and-act process that radicalized groups go through to eventually arrive at their apocolyptic vision... and how there is plainly visible evidence of the beginnings of that thought-and-act process going on all around America today.

The outline of the process that all fringe groups (cults, racist organizations, extremist militias) take to go from "back burner" to "full boil" is this:
  1. "Ready" (The foundation. Always there.)
    1. There is a belief of upcoming calamity... The end of their world as they know it.
    2. Their world is divided into "us versus them."
    3. Their reality and information have been manipulated in order to confirm their worldview.
    4. They posess a feeling of being persecuted.
    5. They posess strong desires to implement their worldview.
  2. "Set" (The indicators. What is being seen now.)
    1. Shifts in rhetoric that indicate tentative attempts at rationalizing violence.
    2. Disinformation begins to spread that requires further warping of worldview.
    3. A sense of humiliation begins to bubble up.
    4. A new sense of urgency is expressed.
    5. Demagogues and polemicists seize control of the dialogue.
    6. Members place themselves in direct opposition to state power, and declare government the enemy.
    7. Begin purchasing weapons.
    8. Begin flexing muscles with threats and petty violence.
  3. "Go" (The result. What happens next.)
    1. Further (physical) separation... The "compound".
    2. Overt lawlessness... answering to a "higher law".
    3. And ultimately: Picking fights with authorities.

Note: The links above that demonstrate evidence of "indicators" are not all links to extremists themselves, but links to events and examples that extremists watch as fuel for and evidence of their "time is now" decision-making progress to move to the "go" stage.

Why I Wouldn't Worry About The Swine Flu

(Well... we'll know in a week or so... but...)

The last great flu pandemic to hit the world was in 1918. That flu killed 2.5% of all people it infected. This new swine flu is killing 6%.

So why not worry?

Think about 1918. There were no anti-flu medicines. There were no widely-available face masks. There were no quick diagnostic tests. There were no governmental early warning systems. There was no widespread knowledge of how to avoid infection, or quick access to medical personnel if one did have an infection.

Today, people — even in the relatively poor country of Mexico — are being screened weeks earlier, preventative measures are being taken, quarantines are being put up when they can still be effective, and information about this situation and how to prevent it is a knowledge that pretty much everybody on the planet now possesses. We are a cleaner and healthier race than we were 90 years ago, and the immediacy and quality of our medical care is vastly improved in even the poorest corners of the planet. The United States alone handles millions of flu cases per year, and while the swine flu is a specially bad version of the flu, it is still the flu.

Can a disease still come along that will again wipe 40 million people? Possibly... but if it does, it will be something new and unexpected to which the tried and true methods of infection avoidance prove to be ineffective.
UPDATE:

A little swine flu humor added in for levity's sake:

Daily Report: Jungle Jumpers

An old friend from Thailand is visiting Epril: Honey Mae. She arrived today and will be leaving tomorrow to go home to her parents in Osamis City. She is back in The Philippines for her birthday. She and her hubby Geoff are now living in Viet Nam, having left Pattaya about 4 or 5 months ago.

There are regular basketball games going on at the local pavilion in the town square near my house. It's a regional thing I guess, with various local towns competing. I stopped by and watched a little bit the other night while I was walking Tyson. I think the teams could give my old high school team a run for their money... or at least the JV squad.

Anyway, it's drawing several hundred people per night, with announcers and cheerleaders and everything. Constant cheering and screaming.

They asked for donations for uniforms: The first person to donate $60 gets to name the team. Can anybody think of something better than "Jungle Jil's Jasaan Jumpers"... or "Jungle Jumpers" for short?

I've got a bad stomach again. Probably undercooked chicken at dinner last night. I spent the afternoon in bed moaning about it.

J.M. is home from the hospital. Seems Fanny Adams is skewiff in the bonce. (That's British for "Apparently nothing is wrong with his head.")

The Thomas Hunt Saga Hits A New Low

I was going to stay out of the dirty details of the sad case of Mr. Hunt because they didn't bear directly on the survival and rescue of Thomas Hunt, a foreigner who recently died penniless and without needed medical treatment here in The Philippines. However, certain people involved in this man's situation have stooped to a truly low level, and I cannot stand by without shining a spotlight on their actions.

The reason that Mr. Hunt received no help from the American government was because he was not officially destitute. (We'll get to that part.) Thomas Hunt had a Filipino wife, named Janelaze Hunt. Thomas Hunt left Yuma, Arizona for The Philippines by himself to try to find a home for himself and his wife. His wife stayed behind in America because she was supposedly waiting for her green card to "mature" at which point she would be able to follow along.

Instead, as best as can be determined, after Mr. Hunt left for The Philippines, his wife immediately left Arizona and went to live with another man in Virginia.

Janelaze never got on a plane to visit her dying husband. Thomas Hunt died without ever discovering his wife's infidelity. All parties involved decided that was best for Mr. Hunt.

If someone ever was guilty of "green card fraud", it would be Janelaze Hunt. She obviously married this poor old man for no other reason than to get residency in America. That was bad enough in and of itself, but according to one report,
"After speaking to the family of Thomas, they stated that since Janelaze arrived in 2006 she spent money recklessly and traveled to a number of states visiting friends and left Thomas in Yuma. It is my understanding that to accommodate the excessive spending Thomas re-financed his home of many years a couple of times and sold vehicles and equipment. Apparently he had adjustable rate loans that after about one year he could no longer afford and lost his home."
So after Janelaze purportedly took this man for everything he had, she then left him on his deathbed while she shacked up with another man... Frankly, that's morally criminal.

So that was the tawdry story of what went on in America. Now we come to The Philippines...

Janelaze Hunt's family here in Cagayan De Oro was taking care of Thomas Hunt. He stayed at their home until his condition deteriorated to the point where he needed hospitalization. From that point, Janelaze's family visited Mr. Hunt occasionally in the hospital, and reportedly paid certain expenses from money that Janelaze was sending from America... though exactly how much of Janelaze's money (and Thomas Hunt's social security money) made it to Thomas Hunt's care is open to debate, and will probably never be known since no record exists either of what was sent or what was received by Janelaze's family.

However, records or no records... it was enough money to keep the American Government from getting involved: Thomas Hunt had people here in Cagayan De Oro that were responsible for him, and therefore he was not officially destitute. However, Mr. Hunt's in-laws were not able or not willing to contribute substantially to Mr. Hunt's medical bills. His condition deteriorated.

Along came The Expatriates' Ladies Charity ("The ELC"). They started raising money for Mr. Hunt's care. They started buying everything that Mr. Hunt needed out of their own treasury funds. (They provided regular receipts and expenditures by e-mail to all involved parties.) They scoured websites and legal sources and government agencies for information to help Mr. Hunt, and pleaded with Janelaze to get more involved. (I'll make a personal hat tip to Janelaze's new boyfriend in Virginia, because he was actually somebody who did get involved to help Mr. Hunt.) The ladies of The ELC got in contact with everybody they possibly could to help Mr. Hunt.

To no avail.

Mr. Hunt finally succumbed last week. The ELC made one final effort on Mr. Hunt's behalf to try and arrange to have the body shipped back to Arizona for burial, but Janelaze's family here in The Philippines insisted on burying the Mr. Hunt here. (I won't argue with that: An old man wouldn't move to The Philippines without the expectation of dying and being buried here.)

Now is when things take a turn that is truly remarkable: The ELC ladies tried to go to Mr. Hunt's funeral yesterday, and were yelled at by Janelaze's family, called awful names, accused of somehow making a profit from Mr. Hunt's illness and death, escorted out of the funeral home by security, and threatened with a lawsuit.

These wonderful ladies who spent weeks of their time helping a dying man — with no expectation of anything other than the results of their good works — were repaid with insults and threats. If evil needs an example, that is it.

Janelaze, this is a personal message to you: You make for a poor human being, and your family is truly despicible. If this situation continues on without abatement and apology, the full force of a united and insulted expatriate community will be brought to bear upon the legal defense of our wives and to make a concerted effort to ensure any condign punishment the judicial system may inflict upon your family for their awful actions.

Even if these threats and animosity against The ELC die quietly, I personally still hope that as a result of your actions, you and yours come to regret that you were ever born. If disease and cancer were ever to be attracted by moral turpitude, I am sure they will infect each and every one of you.

I'm not a religious man, but if there is a God I hope he hears this imprecation: may he punish you and your family with sorrow and misery beyond imagination. Fuck you all.

God bless the poor Thomas Hunt and his real friends and family.
UPDATE:

Janelaze and her boyfriend write an apology on behalf of Janelaze's shit-for-souls family. As far as I'm concerned, apology not accepted. Apologizing for that kind of behavior is like spraying air freshener at a fart: It doesn't change shit. That woman's family said what they said, did what they did, and threatened what they threatened... and they meant every word of it when they said it... with full knowledge of who the people they were saying it to were, and the good deeds that those people did. And it still doesn't change the person that Janelaze is, what she did, who she did it to, and why.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More Fun From Great Republican Spokespeople

They are really racking up the hits this week. Republican columnist and author Byron York had the following to say about Obama's popularity:
On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.
Of course, the solution to this is simple: If you want to get a true measure of the real American opinion of President Obama, stop including black people in surveys. I mean, of course they skew the results away from what Americans are actually thinking. Better yet... just stick to surveying white male land owners*. Then we'll really know where America stands on Obama.

When I realized that America's next president would be a Democrat, one of the things I was looking forward to most was the daily dose of schadenfreude I'd get from listening to Republicans complain about the new president. But honestly? Even if you told me this is what it would be like, I wouldn't have anticipated it would be this f**king awesome.

* thanks for the line.

Oh Wow

Listen to this kid and then I dare you to try and make the argument that he is a less-skilled vocalist than Bocelli or Pavarotti himself, or that his talent is any less rara avis than theirs.

Daily Reports: Accidents and Mishaps

Puppy Tyson got a bath today, and now the kid is all wound up and ready to party. He's definitely a water dog.

My new $25 phone got stolen again, along with Epril's old $25 backup phone. Three houses in the neighborhood have been broken into recently. Susan and Ednil and Epril's best friend Fatima are now doing shifts standing watch overnight until we can hire a night watchman. Three out of the last 4 houses I lived in have been visited by thieves... but this is the first repeat visit we've had. One of the locks on the doors in the living room is broken, but the girls didn't realize it (and I never checked) because the roller on that door is also broken so it can't be opened without a strength which the girls lack.

It's pretty easy to get a picture of the kind of thief we have though: He walked past Epril's $800 laptop computer, my $500 Playstation 3, and stole 2 phones that were (very obviously) worth $25 each, plus a loaf of bread and chicken out of the refrigerator.

Mike Bird's 2-year-old nephew, J.M., took a header over the railing of Mike's porch today: That's about an 8-foot drop onto hard packed dirt... head first as best Mike can tell. Kids bounce well, but even for a rubbery toddler, that's a pretty fair distance. No broken bones apparently, but the hospital is keeping him overnight and is going to do a CT scan in the morning. (BTW: $150 for a CT scan here.) Why they are waiting until the next morning to find out what injuries this child's brain may have is beyond me: Fire that damn thing up and start checking now.

Well, not my call... though I did tell Mike my opinion.

Other than that, things are plodding along.

Interesting How We All Do That From Time To Time

I was reading an old high school friend's blog today. We've kept in touch... although I suspect that this is only until he gets back the Men In Hats album I stole from him. I value my friends, which is why I will keep his album until I die. (He's been supplying me with dog training tips for Tyson, which have been fantastic.)

He talks about nostalgia. I've been a bit nostalgic lately myself... looking around my grandparents old house yesterday.

The day before that, I did a Google Search for an old high school friend. (I do that sometimes... think of somebody from my past, and then Google their name to see what comes up. Don't we all do that though?) I only got one hit on this old and close friend: A police report that he was arrested for DWI... passed out in his car in a ditch. I'm sad to say I gave him his first beer ever. Sorry about that.

One thing my friend's blog brought up was the subject of "going back and doing it all over again knowing what you know now" if you could. I've always been a part of the majority "hell-yeah" group of respondants when asked if I would go back and live my life over again getting to keep my complete memory and knowledge... with all of the missteps and missed opportunities.

One thing has changed recently though... I still daydream about going back and becoming a billionaire by the age of 20 with memorized lottery numbers and stock tips, but now I always think, "and then on September 1, 2007, I'd make sure I introduce myself to Epril."

Aww... you weren't expecting that sappy ending were you? Heh.


Cybersex Den Operators... What Crime?

I was reading through the relevant statutes here, and to my surprise, Cybersex establishments are very much illegal in The Philippines.
Sec. 4. Acts of Trafficking in Persons. — It shall be unlawful for any person, natural or judicial, to commit any of the following acts.
(e) To maintain or hire a person to engage in prostitution or pornography;
I have to admit, that's pretty straightforward.

But... don't expect the local government to ride this cybersex-busting parade float for too long:

The Philippines earns $1 billion per year from the sale of pornography. That's #8 in the world, for those of you keeping score. That means that almost 1% of all the money earned in The Philippines is earned through pornography.

To put that in perspective, more money is paid for pornography in The Philippines every year than is spent at Jollibee. (And that doesn't include go-go bars.)

So, although this whole "cybersex den" thing is illegal, do not be surprised, dear readers, when the local government discovers that they have hooked a fish larger than their boat can hold, and these Swedes and their "rescued models" who were rounded up all go home with without the slightest slap on the wrist.

Swine Flu Can Cause Headaches

An emergency room doctor from my work:
"This patient presents having just come back from Spring Break. She says that the media tells her that she should come to the hospital because she has a cough.

She has no fevers, no chills, no runny nose, no diarrhea, light-headedness, dizziness, or headaches. She has absolutely no symptoms other than a cough. She coughed 3 times today, she said.

Medical Decision Making: This patient presents with absolutely nothing concerning. She is discharged from triage. She refused to sign her discharge papers because she said that it was not worth the money she was charged."
Heh: It's going to be a long and frustrating couple of weeks for emergency room doctors around the world.

Seriously people, don't freak out. Save your money and some nice doctor's sanity. At least wait until you have some of the symptoms that the doctor was looking for (fevers, chills, runny nose, diarrhea, light-headedness, dizziness, or headaches) before you run out to the nearest emergency room for your salvation.

The Irony and Hypocrisy Is Lost On These People

Here is Michelle Malkin complaining about the recent "Air Force One Photo Op" over Manhattan. Yes... one of the "great pundits" of the Republican party really wrote this... in earnest... with no sense of irony:
"Using military resources for a cheap photo-op. Scaring the pants off the public. Exploiting 9/11 imagery for self-aggrandizement. Keeping secrets and causing mass panic.

Um, can you imagine if a GOP administration did this?

Can you imagine?!"
Hmm... lessee...

"Using military resources for a cheap photo-op..."
"Scaring the pants off the public...""Exploiting 9/11 imagery for self-aggrandizement...""Keeping secrets...""and causing mass panic...""Um, can you imagine if a GOP administration did this?"

No Ms. Malkin... I tried. I couldn't imagine such a thing.

Dog Training Problems Specific To The Philippines

Problem #1: Filipinos refuse to talk to dogs. I don't know why this is, but getting Epril and her family to talk to Tyson is impossible. Even when I'm sitting there telling them to talk to the dog, they won't do it. Perhaps they think it's like talking to rocks: A sign of mental illness.

Problem #2: Houses here merge the inside with the outside much more than in the west. When the doors are always open, when the floor is tile and the front porch and walk are tile, when the sounds and smells and breeze from outside are found in equal amounts on the inside, it is going to be a real pain to housebreak Tyson.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Here's One To Make You Stop And Think

From one of Sully's readers:
I sort of think of torture like rape: It may not kill the victim, but it gives so much power to the person inflicting it and causes so much trauma to the victim that it's obviously beyond moral second-guessing: it's wrong beyond the pale. Rhetorically, I suspect that if we were officially raping females suspected of terrorism, there would be legitimate outrage.

Though one can't be sure. I'm constantly surprised by what we tolerate in this country.

Specter Switches Party, Gives Dems 60 Senators

Moderate Republican Senator Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania has switched his party affiliation to Democrat.

His unstated-but-obvious reasoning for his switch was simple: He was too moderate a Republican to survive his upcoming primary fight against the very immoderate Pat Toomey. What is left of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania has moved so far to the right now that polls showed they prefer as their candidate someone who toes the Republican party line over somebody with 30 years Senate experience. As a Republican, Specter would have been voted out of office by his own party in the election primary, even if the entire voting population of the State of Pennsylvania would have easily reelected him in the general election.

Senator Specter can see what is obvious: He faces a better chance of winning a primary challenge by taking his moderate record into the ring against a Democrat primary challenger with Democrat primary voters... and then fighting Toomey in a general election that involves all Pennsylvanians.

Also, although Senator Specter gave the usual party-switcher pablum about "not being an automatic vote for Democrats", we all know better: If his next stop is Pennsylvania's Democrat party senate primary, he better show up with at least a pretty big pocketful of "I'm-one-of-you-isms" to throw out to doubtful Dems.

To sum it up: The filibuster has officially been broken*. The job of governance can now move forward at its proper plodding pace.

Let the party begin.

Oh... Quote for the day goes to John Cole at Balloon Juice:
"At this point, the GOP might want to re-introduce the Schiavo legislation, just replacing the name "Terri Schiavo" with Republican."
And Republican leaders are telling the GOP faithful to clap louder, that Arlen Specter's departure is a good thing. (Or, to parapharse one commenter at SadlyNo, "Republicans on their sinking ship: 'Yay! No more rats!'")

* once Al Franken shows up.

"Staggering Numbers" Are Really Tip Of The Iceberg

In yet another example of poor description, The Sun Star calls the 50,000 traffic citations issued in 2008 in Cagayan De Oro a "staggering number."

I will say without hesitation (and I can't imagine that anybody would disagree with me) that for every ticket that was handed out in CDO in 2008, another 199 traffic violations went unpunished.

Get this: From those 50,000 traffic citations, the police department collected 2.4 million in fines. In case you're a little slow in math, that is 50 pisos... $1... per violation. Holy shit!

I talked with Mike Turner about this very subject. You could solve police corruption, bad traffic, and the city's empty coffers in the simplest way possible: The same thing they do in Pattaya, Thailand. Give every police officer in Cagayan De Oro a ticket book of 50 tickets, and send him out to a street corner for the day and have him write tickets on any traffic violations he sees. Have that police officer take the keys to the vehicle of the driver that broke the law, and keep those keys until the driver returns with a receipt from the police station saying that the fine is paid. Let the police officer keep 20% of every fine paid on tickets he writes.

One police officer writing fifty 200-piso tickets per day, 5 days per week, would make an extra 50,000 pisos per month.

If, instead of 1-in-200 traffic violations were cited in the city, that level rose up to 1-in-20, and every ticket fine was an average of 200 pisos, instead of 2.4 million, the police department (and the city) would write 500,000 tickets for a total of 80 million pisos (after the citing officer gets his 20%)... a 40-fold increase... definitely an amount of money that would probably do some good in CDO.

And, of course, all of those shitty drivers would instantly clean up their act, and traffic would flow better.

So, to my friends at The Sun Star: 50,000 tickets written is not staggering. What would be staggering is to implement my plan: Enforce the law for real, give every police officer in Cagayan De Oro an extra 50,000 pisos per month (earned legally), put an extra 80 million pisos in city coffers for civic programs, and clean up the godawful traffic snarls and dangerous driving of Cagayan de Oro caused by the other 199 drivers who didn't also get tickets.

A Place From My Dreams

We all have places that we recurrently visit in our dreams. For me, one of those places is a beach. I walk it with my father. We walk down this beach with a thick forest on our right. Then we come to grand houses in the distance, with a huge sloping lawns coming down to the beach. We have to scramble up a wall and scamper across the lawn and past a dock to the other side without being seen by the people in the houses. Then there are more woods on our right. The trees press in close and hang low, making the beach thin, thrilling, and just a little scary, like we might be pushed into the water.

Finally, the woods give way and there opens up a huge lawn with a house in the distance. I'm convinced that the farther you walk down this beach, the more thrilling it will become. But right at that point, the beach ends and we are faced with a drop into an eerie, broad, slow-flowing river of thick black water. Beyond that is a foreboding empty field of marshland.

I know that we have now reached the end of the explored world. Nothing exists beyond this point. I remember thinking turning around meant having to go back through the part where the trees come close to the water, which wasn't something I wanted to do.

I never knew why I dreamed of such a place. Now I do:

I just discovered that beach while wandering around the online version of the twisting coastline near my grandparents old home. I must have gone for a walk on it with my father in my earliest childhood and had no memory of it anyplace but in my deepest subconscious, where it still lives after almost 40 years.

It was a cool feeling: Sitting there realizing that I was looking at the real-world version of a place from my dreams, and I thought I'd share it with you.

Monday, April 27, 2009

To Those Who Defend The Torturers

A quote posted without further comment:
Every apology for torture is a denial of the separation between us and them, and between the modern and ancient West. Every attempt to re-define what constitutes torture is an attempt to re-define what makes us American. Every denial of wrong-doing is an admission that the very forces we seek to defeat have in fact sullied with fear our higher ideals, have achieved a terrible victory at a terrible cost.

That’s the point of terror, after all — not to merely kill, but to transform the world through fear.

Beyond that, it seems very foolish — very short-sighted — for torture apologists to continue this charade. It may seem necessary now, to many of them, to rewrite history or clean the slate or whatever — but in the end can this really be anything more than political suicide? Maybe for the architects — the Cheney’s and the Yoo’s — it makes sense. They face a real (if unlikely) chance at prosecution. When the media finally starts using the word "torture" instead of "harsh interrogation tactics" and all of this comes spilling out — the pictures, the video recordings, etc. — is this the side you want to be on? Standing over there in the spotlight with Cheney and Bush and Bybee and Yoo?

History is merciless.
And this from Newsweek:
But Soufan had poured through the bureau's intelligence files and stunned Abu Zubaydah when he called him "Hani" — the nickname that his mother used for him. Soufan also showed him photos of a number of terror suspects who were high on the bureau's priority list. Abu Zubaydah looked at one of them and said, "That's Mukhtar."

Now it was Soufan who was stunned. The FBI had been trying to determine the identity of a mysterious "Mukhtar," whom bin Laden kept referring to on a tape he made after 9/11. Now Soufan knew: Mukhtar was the man in the photo, terror fugitive Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and, as Abu Zubaydah blurted out, "the one behind 9/11."

As the sessions continued, Soufan engaged Abu Zubaydah in long discussions about his world view, which included a tinge of socialism. After Abu Zubaydah railed one day about the influence of American imperialist corporations, he asked Soufan to get him a Coca-Cola — a request that prompted the two of them to laugh. Soon enough, Abu Zubaydah offered up more information — about the bizarre plans of a jihadist from Puerto Rico to set off a "dirty bomb" inside the country. This information led to Padilla's arrest in Chicago by the FBI in early May.

But the tenor of the Abu Zubaydah interrogations changed a few days later, when a CIA contractor showed up. Although Soufan declined to identify the contractor by name, other sources (and media accounts) identify him as James Mitchell, a former Air Force psychologist who had worked on the U.S. military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training — a program to teach officers how to resist the abusive interrogation methods used by Chinese communists during the Korean War. Within days of his arrival, Mitchell — an architect of the CIA interrogation program — took charge of the questioning of Abu Zubaydah. He directed that Abu Zubaydah be ordered to answer questions or face a gradual increase in aggressive techniques. One day Soufan entered Abu Zubadyah's room and saw that he had been stripped naked; he covered him with a towel.

The confrontations began. "I asked [the contractor] if he'd ever interrogated anyone, and he said no," Soufan says. But that didn't matter, the contractor shot back: "Science is science. This is a behavioral issue." The contractor suggested Soufan was the inexperienced one. "He told me he's a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works." Mitchell told NEWSWEEK, "I would love to tell my story." But then he added, "I have signed a nondisclosure agreement that will not even allow me to correct false allegations."

You Almost Knew This Would Be Coming

No... not a flu pandemic. You knew that the The Party Of No always winds up regretting their consistently poor luck in choosing the wrong things to say "no" to at the wrong time. Thus spake Karl Rove 3 months ago in The Wall Street Journal complaining about the Democrats crazy-ass budget bloat:
"There's also $4 billion for health programs like obesity control and smoking cessation, $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health, $462 million for the Centers for Disease Control, and $900 million for pandemic flu preparations."
And if that isn't bad enough, this Karl Rove paragraph managed to convince Republican Senators to crow about their own efforts to strip pandemic flu preparations out of the new budget just a month before the newest "everybody-freak-out and do the you flu bugaboo" craze.
After meeting with Mr. Obama, Sen. Collins expressed concern about a number of spending provisions, including $780 million for pandemic-flu preparedness.
These guys couldn't catch a break if it hit them in the head.

Just to add a little bit of extra oops as a kicker? The Republicans bitched enough about this particular expenditure that they succeeded in getting it yanked out of the budget. Yup: The Republicans managed to strip the government budget of funding for flu pandemic preparation a month before another season of the face mask as fashion accessory came to town.
UPDATE:

Touché: Democrat Schumer took at jab at the same funding himself. Too bad Republicans didn't find and publish that zinger earlier: This is an example of the "look who" tit being better than the "you too" tat.

Thomas Hunt Died

Thomas Hunt, the old American who had the bad fortune of becoming desperately ill and penniless in The Philippines at the same time died last night.

Unfortunately, this was really an inevitable thing: The efforts of The Expatriates' Ladies Group and other friends were never going to be enough. The help that Mr. Hunt needed was thousands of miles — and tens of thousands of dollars — away.

Could better planning have saved Mr. Hunt? Let's take a lesson from this and say "yes" with certainty... even if we might think or find otherwise. Expatriates everywhere need to plan for this type of thing: As demonstrated by this sad affair, The American Government will not help you, and (from the archives of discussions about the efforts to save this man) getting a trip back to The United States in an "ambulance plane" is only possible if you have $150,000 in your pocket.

Keep it in mind.

That reminds me: Blue Cross Philippines has health insurance for less than $2,000 per year. Check out the "Select Access" version, and chose "no discounts". It wants to charge Epril and me 90,000 pisos per year for what seems to be full coverage with no deductible or limitation on location.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Interesting Graph That Matches My Thinking A Bit

I'd say this chart reflects reality and most people's understanding and expectations of global warming. I don't think global warming would effect me in any significant way because I don't believe that major effects of global warming will be seen in the next 30 years. (Minor effects, yes... if you can consider things like the loss of the tiny island nation of Tuvalu "minor".) Maybe by the time I'm 80 or 90, Miami will be a huge coastal swamp like they have in Lousiana, with half of the city's electrical supply used to power a massive pumping system. Maybe New York city will have huge dikes around the 5 boroughs to handle high tide. Obviously places like Bangladesh will be gone, but most villages there can be moved in an hour.

I don't know how many species will be gone from global warming. I understand that only a 2 degree rise in the average temperature of the ocean off the coast of Australia would kill the Great Barrier Reef (Stan? What light can you shed on that? [UPDATE: Stan responded via e-mail which I have posted in comments]), but I personally doubt that many species would be wiped out directly by global warming because most can just migrate and adjust against slowly creeping inclement conditions. (If the Great Barrier Reef dies in location A because of water temperature or change in sea level, it will begin to grow again in location B. The remnants of old reefs shows that it's happened several times before.) Most species face their principal threat from a complete loss of habitat, which comes primarily from the actions of man in the form of deforestation, over-development, and pollution.

I'm not an "eco warrior" by any measure: I ride an electric motorcycle because I think it looks cool, is totally quiet, and gets noticed. It's convenient, doesn't need to have the oil changed, or require stops at the gas station. I use energy saving lightbulbs because they save me about 2,000 pisos per month over a similar number of regular 75-watt incandescent bulbs. I want jeepneys to stop spewing out huge amounts of black smoke because it gags me and a lung full of burnt oil is probably as carcinigenic as cigarette smoke, not because I want to save Bangladesh. I want there to be less pollution and trash, and more parks and trees in places like Cagayan De Oro because I think that will make it a nicer place for me to live. These are all selfish reasons that have nothing to do with earth on a grand scale. (Well, I would like the internal combustion engine to become obsolete so that I can watch all the crazy people in Saudi Arabia eat sand, and make places like Iraq and Iran as unimportant to American political and military interests as Burkina Faso... so I suppose there is a bit of global-mindedness.)

Like I said before: I enjoy chaos if it doesn't affect me personally (and, I should add... doesn't result in massive pain, death, or human rights abuses). I think that watching London fall below sea level over a period of a decade would be cool. (If you live there, sorry: I'll pay for your Wellies.) I think that watching the evening news and seeing million-dollar beach houses get knocked over by waves during a particularly high tide would be cool. Hell: I'll be 70 or 80 when that happens; I'll need some excitement in my dotage.

What I really want is good quality air, quiet streets, a pleasant and clean town, and no electricity or gasoline expenses. What I really want is technology to hurry up and give those things to me. If it "saves the planet" (which means "saves us" by the way... the planet can get along fine without Boston, and within 20,000 years — the blink of an eye in geologic time* — a new planetary equilibrium will be found) well that's just an added bonus.

* If the planet were a 40-year-old person, a 20,000-year span would represent 4 hours of adjustment.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

From Fail Blog

To most worldwide viewers, this photo is just amusing. To certain people, however, we can say, "Oh, I know precisely what country that photo was taken in."

NIGHT WATCHMAN FAIL
fail owned pwned pictures

Smith Cleared Of Charges In PI Rape Case

Originally — given a lack of any other facts — I thought that there was a 50% chance that politics, and not evidence, was the reason why Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was cleared of all charges after being convicted of raping a drunk Filipino girl in a van outside a nightclub. I read now that it was the Court of Appeals in Manila who pondered the evidence and decided that a jury could not have arrived at a rape conviction without harboring reasonable doubt... a requirement for conviction.

I couldn't agree more.

Women bear the burden of all marks and remnants of sexual encounters... whether tender, passionate, or violent. However, when those marks can come from either passion or violence, they must become nugatory evidence when determining guilt in the charge of rape. When the only primary evidence left to ponder is the two parties' state of mind, and the unwitnessed and unprovable actions they claim to have taken, and words they claim to have spoken, by definition doubt must exist. Further, when actions preceding the encounter itself that are witnessed and provable demonstrate two people displaying more than a passing interest in having sex with each other, that doubt has to increase even more.

Did the rape not happen? I don't claim that. I claim to not know. I claim that anybody other than the two parties involved can not know based on the evidence that was presented at trial. That's obviously a sad fact for Nicole if indeed she was raped as she claimed, but that is the way that a logical and fair justice system works. It may occasionally not be fair to one, but it is always fair to many.

Regardless of the method of our arrival at the coda of The Rape of Nicole, the political sore spots — rubbed rough by angry protesters and jingoistic cries to chase the Yankee Imperialists out — have been soothed by the convenient expunging of Smith's record, and victim Nicole is enjoying suburban America as we speak with a guy who almost certainly treats her better than the Mr. Smith of her infamous parking lot encounter.

There is a very simple lesson that I'd like to impart to the younger folks out there:

Guys, if you are in the habit of going out to a bar or nightclub alone and getting really drunk, it's a certainty that eventually you are going to wind up with a broken jaw, cracked skull, and 4 broken ribs when some guy you mouth off to and his friends catch you in the parking lot and give you a working over.

Girls, if you are in the habit of going out to a bar or nightclub alone and getting really drunk, it's a certainty that eventually you are going to wind up experiencing a violent or traumatic sexual encounter with a guy that, if sober, you would have had enough common sense to avoid.

Don't get in a situation where you find yourself drunk and alone, and be prepared to accept some responsibility when life charges you The Stupid Tax if you do.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Drivers Angry That Law Breaking Will Cost More

Local public transportation drivers are going to go on strike next week, angered that an increase in traffic fines means that they will have to pay more to break the speed limit, block traffic, make illegal turns, drive without licences, drive unregistered vehicles, drive vehicles without headlights or brake lights, and run people over.

Cybersex Girls "Rescued" From High-Paying Jobs

OK... let's get this out of the way first off: CDO Sun Star reporter Annabelle L. Ricalde is a twit. How else would you explain this opening sentence?
Seventeen female "models" — some believed to be minors — were rescued Wednesday from a suspected cybersex den in Cagayan de Oro allegedly owned by two Swedish nationals.
Rescued. Got that?

It turns out that the "models" were getting paid 15,000 pisos per month (more than the average high school teacher makes in The Philippines) to get naked on webcams and take requests from customers on what to do with their sex toys.

Of course all the models were free to come and go as they wished... and of course they all came back to work in the "cybersex den" every day. Why? Because they were slaves? Forced? Blackmailed? No: Because they liked the money. Because they could support their families. Maybe because it was paying for their college tuition or something.

Rescued. Yeah, whatever. Twit.

The way I see it, the upshot of this story is that 17 poor Filipino families just lost their major breadwinner and are going to have to find new ways of supporting themselves... or at least new cybersex dens for their daughters.

Maybe instead of finding another cybersex den where the only thing these girls have to deal with is changing the batteries in their sex toys, maybe they'll have to turn to working at one of the local CDO gogo bars, trying to deal with sweaty drunk Pinoys who refuse to wear condoms; or worse, walking the streets, trying to make a few hundred pisos in dark corners while trying to avoid AIDS, violence, and drug addiction.

Then... and only then... might "rescue" be a word worth using.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Let The Door Hit You In The Ass On Your Way Out

Half of all Republicans in Texas would secede from The United States if given a chance.

So that they could pay less taxes.

I know that Texas has a lot of Texas-sized stoopid inhabiting it's amber waves, and that longhorns actually occupy only the second lowest rung of the IQ ladder there, above certain elected officials... but really? Half?

Have these people pondered for a New York Minute how much creating the Nation of Texas would cost? Forget about the expense of patrolling that Mexican border yourself, or buying your own military, or upkeeping your own highways and infrastructure. You'll also have to form Texas versions of all of the executive cabinet (departments of state, treasury, justice, interior, education) and pay their budgets. Who is going to help out when tornadoes flatten a mile-wide strip of suburban Lubbock? How about paying import duties on pretty much everything except oil, beef, and Shiner Bock? How about absolutely guaranteeing the loss of your Medicare, Social Security, and veterans' benefits? Will you still have access to the national weather service and U.S. air traffic control, or will you be building your own version of those as well? You'll be in charge of regulating your own medications and food and broadcasters and alcohol as well, as you form your own FDA, FCC, and ATF.

Oh... and don't forget: Say goodbye to NASA.

And don't believe for an instant that Exxon-Mobil, Texaco, and Shell (as well as about 50 more of the Fortune 500 companies) are going to stick around and (a) pay for all of this stuff, and (b) give up all of that federal support they're getting from the American government. They'll be in Oklahoma City and Little Rock faster than an armadillo can cross the I-10.

Well, at least all of the jobs that will be lost as all those companies flee your new country can be replaced by the thousands of jobs that your new government will create... with salaries paid for by the taxes that you didn't want to pay.

There is also a benefit for America as well if Texas leaves: The number of rednecks prancing around claiming to be "True American Patriots" will go down by about 57%, and all those ladies with big hair and appliqué shirts will have to go out and get passports if they ever want to visit Branson or Nashville again. We'll get to claim that George Bush really isn't one of us, and we will never have to worry about Tom Delay making a comeback. Also, we will have the bonus of getting to cheer for America each time the Cowboys and Astros lose.

America will lose its claim to be the world capital of masked chainsaw-wielding psychopath movie stars though, which is sad.

Seriously though? I'd love to see this happen. All apologies to my Texan readers out there, but handing over management of the asylum to the crazies is always a good idea if it isn't going to have a negative impact on me personally.



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Daily Report: Crossing More Shit Off My List

Some new information came to light about the camera that went missing. It appears it was an "outside" job as opposed to an "inside" job. That's good: If there is one thing I rely on for my peace of mind, it is my ability to know who to trust. The possibility that I had actually been so gravely mistaken about somebody was unsettling.

I left two of the three walkie talkie chargers in the living room. As they are 110 volts instead of 220 volts (being from America), I had to plug them into the power converter behind the TV which runs the Playstation 3. However, I didn't have a spare power strip so I made the plan to go out and buy one. Susan apparently didn't bother to let my explanation sink in about how electrical items from America explode when you plug them in to Filipino electrical sockets, and plugged in both chargers to the 220 volt outlets while I wasn't looking. Jesus F-ing Christ. Fortunately the walkie talkies themselves weren't fried. Now we only have one charger left (up in my office on the 220-110 converter there) to charge all 6 walkie-talkies.

I failed to realize, by the way, just how "line of sight" walkie talkies are. The range on these Uniden units I bought is 28 miles... but apparently only if you're standing on a mountaintop 28 miles away from another person standing on a mountaintop. When Epril and I went to a restaurant about 1500 feet away from the house, we couldn't reach Susan sitting in the living room. However, when Susan went three stories up to the rooftop to transmit, she came through loud and clear. Same for talking to MaNila's house in Kimaya, one mile away: From the rooftop, loud and clear... otherwise nothing. (Fortunately we have a three-story house at the highest point in the village... or we'd be limited to a few hundred feet at best, it seems.)

When I was growing up, my father had a 2-way radio in his car for his job, and he could go anywhere within 10 miles of town and still talk to everybody else loud and clear. I thought that was going to be the same for these... especially with 25 years of technological advances powering them. Nope.

The girls just haven't been scolding Doberman Puppy Tyson or correcting him or guiding him at all, and he's getting into "the terrible twos" now. I put it to the girls bluntly: When Tyson grows up, he'll be able to kill anybody he gets angry at... even me. If he isn't trained before then, he'll be deadly, and we'll probably have to have him sent away... either figuratively or literally.

I've given Houseboy Kirko the job of training Tyson. I've given him priority on the computer downstairs to look up dog training information, and he's going to be working with Tyson constantly from now on. (Or he better be if he wants to get paid.)

I made some Jil's World Famous Cagayan Cocktail and put it in a glass pitcher in the freezer. When it was finally frozen, I took the pitcher out and stirred the mixture (alcohol doesn't freeze, so it turns into a slushie). The pitcher shattered from the stress of stirring and hitting the warm air.

It's amazing how much of what is sold in The Philippines is junk. My brand-name microwave went stupid after 4 months (just the beeper noise wouldn't stop... it still cooks, but we have to unplug it every time after use to shut it up). The office chair I bought lasted a year. The wood veneer is peeling off my desk. One of the lamps I bought a year ago is broken. Two of the 4 fans I bought are broken. Five of the 30 energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs I bought just two months ago have burned out.

Hell: Even the silverware I bought is falling apart.

Is it really that hard to make stuff that doesn't break? Is it really that hard to sell stuff that doesn't break? All of those things mentioned above were purchased at SM Department Store... the swankiest joint in town. It used to be the same case in Thailand too: No matter what I bought, name brand or just cheap... it always broke. I've gotten used to it now really, which is sad in its own way: I don't expect anything I buy to last more than a year anymore. At least with that thinking I'm not let down (most of the time).

Missing The Point

John Hinderaker is a law professor, graduate of Harvard law, and author of the blog "Powerline." Today, he wrote about the possibility of President Obama prosecuting the authors of The Torture Memos:
The idea of prosecuting a lawyer because a wrote a legal analysis with which the current Attorney General disagrees is so outrageous that I can't believe it would be seriously considered.
When some non-lawyer know-nothing blogger like me can quickly see through a Harvard grad law professor's B.S. legalese, it probably isn't a good sign, but here goes:

If you are a lawyer, and your client comes to you and tells you that he wants you to write a memo explaining to him why it is legal for him to murder his wife, and you write that memo... and then that client goes out and murders his wife, it is highly possible that you, as the lawyer, might have done something wrong. I have no idea what the exact charges might be... maybe malpractice? But given the circumstances...

So, if you are a lawyer who writes a memo explaining how it is legal for people to torture a prisoner, and then those people go out and torture that prisoner, breaking the law... it's the same flavor of oops.

Fact Check Of The Day

One of the "tricks" that people use to make somebody look bad is to take quotes from that person, where they don't say what they intend to say, and come across saying something that would/should/could prove them to be stupid. (Obama's often-ridiculed quote from when he was campaigning that he had "visited 57 states" when it was plainly obvious he meant "47 states" is a good example. John McCain's "veto every single beer" quote where he mashed up "veto every single bill with earmarks" is another.)

When misquotes are taken for what they are and a little teasing ensues, that's fine. We all get tongue-tied from time to time, and can laugh at it.

However, when somebody tries to take a misquote and claim that the person who made that misquote actually believes what they said, that is not fair.

Today, Michelle Malkin is claiming that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano believes that illegal aliens crossing the border into the United States illegally are not commiting a crime.

What Janet Napolitano said: "What we have to do is target the real evil-doers in this business, the employers who consistently hire illegal labor, the human traffickers who are exploiting human misery. And yes, when we find illegal workers, yes, appropriate action, some of which is criminal, most of that is civil, because crossing the border is not a crime per se. It is civil. But anyway, going after those as well."

This quote is obviously a little bit more in depth and difficult to explain away than the "veto every single beer" quote, but going back and reading the entire conversation, it quickly becomes obvious that the point Janet Napolitano accidentally made was not the point she was intending to make.

What she was attempting to say... and ultimately missing the mark... was part of a discussion about the possibility of criminal prosecution of every illegal alien apprehended in The United States. In her misspoken statement, she was continuing on with an earlier point she made that the U.S. Justice system doesn't have the manpower to handle the millions of criminal prosecutions that would result, and that (a) America has to use its judicial resources on the prosecution of serious immigration crimes first and foremost, and (b) the simple crime of crossing the border illegally is something that could be tried in a civil court. She was just trying to channel too many thoughts at once into the conversation.

(Let's face it: What she was trying to say was correct. Could you imagine how many judges and lawyers and years it would require to try and convict 10 million illegal aliens? Also, our jails are already overcrowded. Could you imagine if we added to our current prison population an additional 10 million people?)

Anyway, the lesson to take away from this is that whenever you read a quote from somebody that leaves your jaw on the floor, take a minute to go back and see if the quote was really unambiguous, and whether it really reflected the course of the conversation up to that point, and the speaker's intentions.

And if, ultimately, you cannot decide one way or the other on the speaker's intentions, ask yourself — with an honest assessment of the speaker's intelligence — whether the person really could have meant what he or she said. (Hint for this instance: It's probably a pretty safe bet that the person most responsible for protecting America's borders knows that it is a crime to cross them illegally.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Daily Report: Batman Rocks

We got the family together tonight, and watched The Dark Knight on Blu Ray on the 60-inch screen. Absolutely the best movie I own on Blu Ray... and only the second movie I own so far that I would recommend specifically be purchased on Blu Ray.

One thing that I failed to appreciate until after watching the movie and making my way through the "Making Of" documentary: Very little of that movie is computer-generated. Nothing in the entire big chase scene that ended with the tractor trailer flipping end over end had any computer-generated visuals added to it.

It's probably gotten to the point now where it would benefit an audience and film makers to specifically make an action movie with zero CGI effects, and then put at the beginning of the movie a splash screen that says, "All live action. No computer generated images are used in this movie."

It's true: We've gotten so used to seeing Lord of The Rings fully-computer-generated scenes, or The Matrix visual effects, that we now fail to notice truly amazing live-action sequences (like the tractor trailer, Batman's motorcycle, or an entire building exploding).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rambling

I admit that I spent $120 on 2 seasons' worth of Blu Ray discs for the television show Heroes. Not the best use of my money, I'll admit. However, I just can't wait to shell out $250 ($100 off the suggested retail price) for the entire Battlestar Galactica series! Okay... not really. It's an interesting thing though: We'll shell out $10 or $15 for a 2-hour movie without blinking ($7 per hour), but the opportunity to buy 80 one-hour episodes for $250 ($3 per hour), we couldn't imagine doing something that dumb.

In other "ways to waste money" news, the infamous Joe The Plumber has become Joe Plumb Crazy: If you pay $1, you can vote on whether or not to abolish the IRS. (T-shirt available while supplies last.) For some reason I can't quite explain, I suspect that more people will be stupid enough to "vote" than buy the Battlestar Galactica series.

Subtracting And Adding To Our Stash

Kid sister Ednil woke up and her phone was missing on Saturday morning. On Sunday, we discovered that Epril's camera was missing. We have a thief in the house.

Actually, simple deductory logic brought me instantly to the culprit. However, as nobody in Epril's family has ever stolen anything in their lives, Epril is just insisting it was a ghost that stole the stuff. I get the picture: Let it slide. Ednil's phone was barely worth 200 pisos, and in a way, I'm glad to be rid of that camera as it was costing me almost $20 per month in AA batteries. Let it slide.

We got a new set of purchases from America today: Six walkie talkies for the family. (Let's hope that they don't... no... let it slide.) We spend so much money on text messages because this house is so convoluted you can't shout from one place to another and be heard, and it's easier to text than navigate up and down. Also, with MaNila being nearby, she is always texting back and forth as well... so I decided Walkie Talkies for everyone. Their theoretical distance is 30 miles, so they should reach 20 miles across the bay to Cagayan De Oro from my jungle perch. My mother gets the appropriate thanks for putting some money in my PayPal account for the purpose of buying those walkie talkies. Three cheers for mom.

We also got Blu Ray discs for Iron Man and Batman The Dark Knight. I considered The Dark Knight to be one of those rare movies I would buy on Blu Ray because I thought it was a special, landmark movie. Epril wanted Iron Man. I also got "Cirque de Soleil, Corteo" on Blu Ray but we haven't watched it yet. I got the Sony Playstation 3 game "Heavenly Sword" for myself and "Uncharted: Drakes Fortune" for Epril. Both games are really gorgeous to look at... although Heavenly Sword is the best. I've never seen WII or XBox 360 gameplay, but the PS3 is such a major leap forward from its predecessor, it's simply awe-inspiring to me. (I'll consider video games to have truly arrived when they combine the go-anywhere expansiveness of World of Warcraft with the graphic quality of Heavenly Sword.)

It rained like a mo-fo today. The rooftop got so flooded that it threatened to crest 3-cm threshold up to my office entryway. Fortunately, Epril, Ednil, and Susan were in the mood for some wet frolicking and came to the rescue with brooms and unclogged the deck drains, and swept the water off the roof while getting soaking wet and sliding around on the wet tiles. Oh: I will add that in that huge downpour the cellular internet only went out once for about 10 seconds. The SmartBro internet is the most consistent and fastest internet I've had since moving to Asia... for $20 per month.

I watched the biography of Chiang Kai-Shek on The History Channel tonight. I loves me some History Channel.

More Bombs

Illigan, the next large town / small city you come to as you move west along the coast of Mindanao from Cagayan De Oro had two bombs go off there last night. I've heard more than a couple of foreigners ponder or espouse the benefits of living in Illigan. Not me, thank you.

That reminds me: I've often wondered why Cagayan De Oro has never seen any terrorist attacks. Now I have my answer, given to me in hushed voices behind cupped hands by a couple of people who claim to know. I'll beat around the bush: The Mayor of Cagayan De Oro is purported to possess special magical powers that keep the terrorists away from his city.

Fact Check Of The Day

What you are told: The fact that President Obama released "The Torture Memos" has made America less safe, because now terrorists know what interrogation methods to expect if captured by The United States.

What you are not told: The interrogation methods authorized for use on terrorists have been public knowledge for over two years now (published first in this Red Cross report in pdf format). The only thing the release of the memos brought to light was the legal-slash-logical acrobatics that Bush administration law advisers used to make their claim that those interrogation methods didn't violate The Geneva Conventions. This ultimately was why people fought against having the memos released: The legal reasoning in the memos was so spurious and laughable that it would be plainly obvious to everyone reading that they were nothing more than a flimsy CYA effort created by people who knew they were breaking the law.

Also, in related news, there are three interesting tidbits about the interrogations of terrorists detained in The Global War On Terror.

The first revelation is that "The September 11th Mastermind", Khalid Sheik Mohamed, was waterboarded 183 times in a single month... and he never gave any useful information. (To get an idea of how over-the-top that is, watch this video and read this article about Chistopher Hitchens being warterboarded. He lasted less than 10 seconds before losing it.)

The second revelation is that after CIA interrogators reported that they believed that Abu Zubaydah, a high-level Al Queda captive held in Thailand, had told them everything he knew under (what we will call) normal interrogation techniques, CIA bosses apparently thought they could get more out of him and set about with a long and brutal series of enhanced interrogation techniques. No further credible information was ever obtained.

The third revelation is from the guy who actually gets paid by the American Government to torture U.S. Special Forces troops in order to teach them survival skills when in enemy hands: He says that not only are the "harsh interrogation techniques" from the memo and Red Cross Report called "torture" when he teaches them, but also that the best tool to resist breaking under torture were tools that terrorists have in spades:

Worst of all was that an agency advising the Justice Department, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, knew that these coercive techniques would not work if captives devoutly trusted in their God and kept faith with each other. Yet those two characteristics are pre-qualifications for being allowed into al-Qaeda. Other non-coercive methods — the central focus of which is humanely deprogramming them of their religious ideological brainwashing — are now turning al-Qaeda members in Indonesia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. But they were never considered. Perhaps they were not macho enough.
Here is my "If I Were The President" take on torture:

The only prisoner I would torture is:

  1. a prisoner whose captors have at least some specific knowledge of what he knows in advance (i.e. they aren't just 'fishing' for information that might not be there);
    You already know what he has details about.
  2. a prisoner who is the only person who can supply that information (i.e. he's not just confirming something the captors already know or suspect, or could obtain elsewhere);
    Nobody else has these details.
  3. a prisoner who possesses information that cannot just be assumed without confirmation (i.e. he has required details that simply are not in any way optional to a mission's success);
    You cannot act until you have these details.
And then only after consideration of the timeframe of the particular situation (i.e. how long 'normal' interrogation techniques can be used before 'time runs out'), only after advice from neutral and experienced interrogation professionals, and only with the knowledge by all parties involved in the torture that what is being done, while in America's best interest, is illegal and all parties, President included, will be held responsible, would the decision to torture be made.

And, if I were President, and I did decide to torture a prisoner, I would be keeping a very close eye on things (perhaps even real-time monitoring) to make sure (a) I fully understood and continued to agree to what was being done, (b) to make sure that the goals of the torture were being met, and (c) to preemptively put a stop to it if my morals or scruples or compunction or common sense dictated it.

Ban On Filipino Sailors In Gulf Of Aden: Bad Idea

The government of The Philippines has issued a new rule that Filipino commercial sailors are no longer allowed to deploy on commercial ships that sail through the area off the Horn of Africa because of the threat of pirates. (Today, over 100 Filipino sailors are being held for ransom by African pirates.)

First, there are two points that need to be understood:

Point 1: There are more Filipinos on commercial vessels worldwide than any other nationality.

Point 2: Huge quantities of ships sail past the Horn of Africa.

Combine those points together, and what you have is "huge quantities of ships sailing past the Horn of Africa are being manned by Filipinos." What this ban would mean is throwing the worldwide shipping system into disarray as huge portions of Filipinos are relocated to "safer" routes, and replacement crews are found to traverse the Gulf of Aden. (The number of Filipino sailors who would find themselves out of work is not known, but it is probably greater than "just a few".)

My new landlord is one of the 350,000 Filipino sailors working the world's oceans on commercial ships, and he says that he gets paid a very nice bonus for sailing past the Horn of Africa. I'm guessing that he, like 349,999 of his compatriots, will be ignoring this rule from the government of The Philippines. Let's hope that the shipping companies do the same.

I'm sure this ban on sailing past the Horn of Africa was made with good intentions... but the repurcussions of such a ban are so enormous, deep, and wide, that it simply has to be ignored by default.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why China?

I put up Google Analytics on my blog the other day, and I've discovered that this blog is getting a large number of visits from China. All over China, not just one place.

So, if you are one of the 20% of my visitors who come from China, do tell me in the comments section what brought you to my not-really-about-China-in-any-way blog. I'd like to know.

First a Fact, Then a Lie, Then a Court Record

Tragic story.

Scott Beauchamp (wikipedia) is a American Army Private in Iraq. For a while in 2007, he was submitting articles to The New Republic that talked about what his platoon was doing. Unfortunately, the things he described his platoon doing in those articles were terribly unflattering: Episodes of being cruel to Iraqis, killing dogs for fun, arrogance, callous disregard for human remains, and bullying were described.

Many people considered the articles as anti-American, mischievous screeds designed to weaken the U.S. military's position in Iraq.

Many people (notably Army personnel in Iraq, including members of Private Beauchamp's platoon) also leapt in to discredit Private Beauchamp, tearing apart things he described as factually inconsistent, unlikely, or even impossible... charges which The New Republic admitted it had no ability to refute [edit] even though 5 members of Private Beauchamp's platoon confirmed his claims [/edit]. No further articles from Private Beauchamp were published and Private Beauchamp ultimately recanted the content of his articles (although pressure from the Army to do so could not be ruled out as a factor) (this was incorrect... sorry).

Anyway, almost two years later, Private Beauchamp's platoon sergeant, as well as several members of his platoon, have just been convicted of war crimes, including the execution of four captive POWs.

I'll speculate that if someone higher up in the Army had pulled those soldiers aside way back when, and warned them that while there was no evidence that the content of Beauchamp's articles ever happened, it would lead to disciplinary action if such things ever did happen (instead of only spending time discrediting and disproving those things), perhaps those soldiers might not have possessed a sense of immunity that endowed them with the capability to engage in murder.

All in all, a sad thing to hear about.

The World's Worst Columnist**: Jeremy Clarkson

I love the BBC car fanatic show Top Gear, and my favorite host on the show is Jeremy Clarkson. When it comes to cars, he is witty, wise, and engaging. (My favorite YouTube video of all time, in fact, is here.) Based on these qualities, and a fair degree of writing skill from his original stint as a newspaper reporter, it seems he was given the job of writing a weekly column for The Sunday Times on whatever subject tickled his fancy. Those columns have been accumulated into books, the third fascicle of which is called "For Crying Out Loud!" which I just finished reading, containing 82 weeks' of different subjects that Mr. Clarkson found noteworthy... or, more accurately, annoying.

Among the subjects that annoy Mr. Clarkson are:

Christmas
The Olympics
Sardinia
The word "beverage"
Sunday lunch
Environmentalists
Short people
Gift shops
Private planes
Pubs and darts
Sleeping pills
People on horses
British expatriates
Blue whales
Zippers on tents.

But, mostly what Jeremy Clarkson likes least are poor people. What Jeremy Clarkson likes most is that he is not one of them. He throws in so many countless japes at poor people and fleeting references to his own un-poorishness that it quickly becomes clear that he's just doing it to get attention and get people riled. Upon finding out that Labor Prime Minister Gordon Brown was up in recent polls after going to see flood victims in Gloucstershire, he opined, "Are you really saying that we must endure another five years of Labour's bossiness and bullying simply because its leader went to see some fat old crow in Tewkesbury whose ghastly button-backed DFS furniture had got a bit soggy?" (His "Stop real tennis fans from going to Wimbledon because they are all fat, ugly, and poor... wealthy corporate clients only, thank you" column was particularly fetching.)

How the man ultimately comes across is as the school bully who grew up to be very rich and popular, and believes that he should carry on thinking about things and people just the way he did when he was twelve because of that fact. He says the things he says not because he really believes that people should eat pandas, but because it gets him the attention he desires.

I'm guessing that Mr. Clarkson isn't really some wannabe royal huffing his way through life about how difficult it is to tolerate the unwashed masses. What I suspect is he just plays the part of a jumped-up toff in his column for lack of coming up with better things to write about. Indeed, he isn't a bore. His writing style and subject choices are at least not so bad that a few 'graphs into it you just skip forward; however you are left with the impression that for many of these columns, he sat at his desk the night before deadline rubbing his temples, reminiscing his week, trying to think of something to complain about... or at least something that would generate enough angry letters to The Sunday Times to confirm to him that people are actually reading.

There are people who have become much appreciated and beloved through professional complaining: When Andy Rooney manages to put together a 5-minute whinge about breakfast cereal box tops, it's amusing and his viewers eat it up (pardon the pun) and can jive with his zany point of view. When Jeremy Clarkson does it: Not so much, I think.

Well, I'm sure certain people mutter an "amen" as they set down their newspapers after reading Mr. Clarkson's column, agreeing with the fact that only celebrities and royalty should own land in the English Countryside. The rest of us say, "For crying out loud!"

** He's not really the world's worst columnist. He is really, really crappy, but "The Worst Columnist" honor really belongs to Ann Coulter. However, I've discovered that if you start any blog title with "The World's Something-ist", it gets tons of hits. So excuse the (slight) hyperbole.

A Neat Little Experiment In Human Kindness

This woman in New York City started creating little toy robots that could only travel in a straight line at a slow, steady pace. She put little flags on them to let people know where the robot should go. If the robot ran into something along the way, it would require a stranger's intervention to continue its trip.

She set out the robots from various points A, and then went to the points B and waited. Much to her surprise, every robot arrived safely, having navigated hundreds of hurdles and turns via hundreds of nudges and redirections from hundreds of New Yorkers.
Hat tip Sully.
UPDATE:

Stan made a funny comment (in the comment section on his own blog, unfortunately) that this is a rather twisted way to send IEDs around New York City: Load one of those little buggers with a kilo of high explosive, put a flag on it for Times Square, and send it on its way. Hmm... That changes my thoughts about this experiment a little bit, doesn't it?

Friday, April 17, 2009

News Anchor In Trouble After Wife's Suicide


Anchorman Ted Failon is in
legal trouble after trying to
cover up his wife's (eventual-
ly successful) suicide attempt.
After the initial emotional impact of seeing your wife lying critically injured from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the bathroom... after getting her bundled up and rushed to the nearest hospital in an attempt to save her life... and as you are one of the country's more recognizable faces and well-liked personalities — anchorman for the national nightly news... I suppose that it wouldn't be unthinkable that the next step you take is to try to keep people from finding out about your wife's... your family's situation.

Unfortunately, gunshot wounds are a police matter. When ABS-CBN News Anchor Ted Failon failed to contact the police about this tragedy... when he got his relatives and household staff to clean up the bathroom — the crime scene... when his wife subsequently died a few hours later... Mr. Failon's day found a way to literally add insult to injury as everybody wound up in a jail cell, held for obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence.

Poor guy. That's a rough thing to deal with. And in a way, Mr. Failon was right in his thinking: The Filipino media is a ghastly wolfpack fixated on the lives of the rich and famous, and this story was a buffalo-sized chunk of red meat for them: There was two hours of live coverage on the networks tonight.

It goes without saying that about two-thirds of the newshounds feast came from the actions of Mr. Failon himself. That he deserved it? No... not so much.

Oh, and p.s.: When you've got one of the country's most beloved journalists, champion of the little guy, foe of corruption, facing a tragedy of immense proportions — along with his grieving family — in custody, in a huge media spotlight, and you are the PNP (the police), do you make extra sure not to come across as brutal, callous, insensitive, and vindictive? Oh hell with that.

Define Irony

On the same day that the United States is trying to deport an 89-year-old Nazi prison guard for engaging in torture and following orders he shouldn't have, President Obama says that CIA agents will not be charged for engaging in torture and following orders they shouldn't have.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Brick Factor

This is something that you have to be careful about, now that many electronics are being sold with an electronic umbilical cord still attached to their manufacturer: The manufacturer could come to the conclusion that you should no longer be a customer, and suddenly you are in posession of a very expensive paperweight.

Look what happened when online bookseller Amazon decided that one of their customers (apparently because he returned too many items for a refund) was too much of a pain in the ass, and cancelled his account and banned him from future purchases as well.
As you may already know, Amazon's electronic reader, the Kindle (and newer Kindle 2) is linked to the owner's Amazon account where the inventory of purchased books is managed. In addition, although there are a few other sources, it is primarily the only way to buy books for the device. When this user's Amazon account was closed, he also lost access to all the books he had purchased, as well as the ability to shop for new material.

This situation brings the bigger picture of Digital Rights Management (DRM) to the forefront. When you purchase any form of media from a company, do they have the right to deny you access in the future (presuming it was not purchased on a subscription basis)? The above mentioned user ended up with a $360 device that was totally worthless to him. He couldn't even access books he had already paid for.
Your IPod, your Wii and Playstation, even your computer (via Windows)... they are all very similar to your cable box now (except that you shelled out hundreds of dollars to have them in your living room): Step out of line, and somebody back at headquarters might just flip a switch and you are out in the cold.

Preemptively Foiling Burglaries In The Philippines

I never thought of this... but it is funny and might just work as a way to keep burglars from considering my house as a target in the future. Posted by First Sergeant Mike on my Yahoo CDO Group:
If you remember when I first moved to Mega Heights, I borrowed a pistol and fired three shots into the ground about 2 a.m. When the neighbors came out, I was scouring the ground. "No blood. I missed him THIS time, I'll get him next time." Things were peaceful in Mega Heights for the next six years.
I think that "the crazy Kano who lives on the corner has a gun and almost killed a burglar" story would be on every tongue and in every ear in the village by mid-morning the next day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Funny

In case you didn't know it, "teabagging" not only refers to what some people around the country will be doing tomorrow to protest President Obama's raising of their taxes with his middle-class tax cut... or something... but in ruder circles (i.e. everywhere except in certain Republican grassroots meetings) it also rather humorously refers to [mouse-over so mom doesn't have to read if she doesn't want to].

With that in mind, enjoy this double-entendre-laden video discussing tomorrow's teabagging festivities.