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November 2005

RFID News of the Weird

From Bruce Peren's Journal, via the Yorkshire Ranter: Richard Stallman Gets in Trouble with UN Security for Wearing a Tin-Foil Hat

Here's Alex at thet Yorkshire Ranter remarks, by way of introduction:

At the World Summit on the Information Society in fun-loving Tunisia, it seems the goons tried to make Richard Stallman wear an RFID tag. Yes, that Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and hammer of digital injustices of every kind. Apparently he wrapped it in tinfoil (see! it works! the MIT study is a stinking lie!) to stop it working...

Peren's account begins:

Richard Stallman, Mark Shuttleworth, and I are in Tunis, Tunisia for the UN World Summit on the information society. We've had an interesting day :-)

Richard is opposed to RF ID, because of the many privacy violations that are possible. It's a real problem, and one worth lobbying about. At the 2003 WSIS in Geneva, there was objection to the RF ID cards that were used, resulting in a promise that they would not be used in 2005. That promise, it turns out, was not kept. In addition, Richard was given a hastily-produced ID with a visible RF ID strip. Mine was made on a longer schedule, it seems, and had an RF ID strip that wasn't visible. I knew it was there because they clearly had us put our cards to a reader at the entrance gate.

You can't give Richard a visible RF ID strip without expecting him to protest. Richard acquired an entire roll of aluminum foil and wore his foil-shielded pass prominently. He willingly unwrapped it to go through any of the visible check-points, he simply objected to the potential that people might be reading the RF ID without his knowledge and tracking him around the grounds. This, again, is a legitimate gripe, handled with Richard's usual highly-visible, guile-less and absolutely un-subtle style of non-violent protest.

During his keynote speech at our panel today, Richard gave a moment's talk about the RF ID issue, and passed his roll of aluminum foil around the room for others to use. A number of people in the overcrowded-to-the-max standing-room-only meeting room obligingly shielded their own passes. UN Security was in the room, not only to protect us but because of the crowd issue, and was bound to notice. Richard and I delivered our keynotes, followed by shorter talks by the rest of the panel and then open discussion.

At the end of the panel, I went out in the hall to be interviewed by various press entities including Al Jazeera. Another item for my CIA dossier, but I'm sure my association with Richard would have caused more notes to be taken today. I was busy with the press for two solid hours. So, I didn't see what happened with Richard. But a whole lot of the people in the room did, and stayed with Richard for the entire process.

Apparently, UN Security would not allow Richard to leave the room.

Good fun. Read it all.

(Photo of Stallman via Flickr user Tiago Madeira; it was taken a while back, but I see that Stallman has a way with hats.)

UPDATE 12/1: And have a look at Boingboing to see more of his wardrobe!


A Haircut in the Rubble


  PIC_0439 
  Originally uploaded by ejazasi.

I think there's something very poignant about this photo from Balakot in Pakistan of a barber giving a haircut in the rubble: an attempt at civilization in the face of the disaster, made more meaningful by the everydayness of the act.

MEANWHILE, the incidence of pneumonia in the quake zone skyrockets.

UPDATE: The photographer, Ejaz Asi, sends a few more shots from the same sequence:

Pic_0450

Pic_0425_1

Pic_0444

About the pictures, he says

Just thought to send few more shots from the same series as well as two more 279 and 744. I thought both of them make the same point stronger.

He also send along several from the sequence of people cooking, with the remark:

Just like any other family, this man and boy were also provided food by the camp but they rather chose to make their own, I think, only because they are not used to sitting idle and this is only how they are going to move on with their lives.

Pic_0279_1

Pic_0744_1


 


Cruise Ship Adventures

Sometimes you read a line in a news story, and you just don't believe what you just read, it just seems so off-the-wall. I had that experience today.  The news story was Congressman plans cruise disappearance hearings on MSNBC, apparently picked up from The Business Journal of Jacksonville. The context was the emerging problem of people disappearing from cruise ships.

At least 16 people have gone overboard or missing from cruise ships since 2000, according to research by The Business Journal. Three were rescued, two were confirmed dead and 11 remain missing.

OK. That's sort of odd. But then we come to the next line of the article:

Officials with Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. have said their companies do not track such incidents.

Cruise companies don't track reports of physical disappearance of passengers on cruise ships?  Weird. Really weird. It would seem like something their insurers would require, even if no one else was interested.

But there have been several weird news reports about cruise lines lately. However did Carnival end up with a candidate for FEMA's most controversial contract following hurricane Katrina? From the Washington Post: $236 Million Cruise Ship Deal Criticized

But the Carnival deal has come under particular scrutiny. Not only are questions being raised over the contract's cost, but congressional investigators are examining the company's tax status. Carnival, which is headquartered in Miami but incorporated for tax purposes in Panama, paid just $3 million in income tax benefits on $1.9 billion in pretax income last year, according to company documents. "That's not even a tip," said Robert S. McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. U.S. companies in general pay an effective income tax rate of about 25 percent, analysts say. That would have left Carnival with a $475 million tax bill.

Carnival's public records boast "that substantially all of our income in fiscal 2004, 2003 and 2002 . . . is exempt from U.S. federal income taxes," largely because it maintains that its operations are not in the United States but on the high seas.

Carnival does not want to see that tax status jeopardized just because three major ships are clearly operating in the United States. After it won the FEMA bid, Carnival appealed to Treasury Secretary John W. Snow for a waiver of U.S. taxes. "We do not want to jeopardize our tax exemption, nor do we want to interrupt our relief efforts for failure to secure this assurance from the Treasury Department," wrote Howard Frank, Carnival's chief operating officer.

(And who knew that they were headquartered in Panama to avoid taxes? And, yes, sure, their campaign contributions were munificent; but they also gave generously to the Democrats.)

And then there was the pirate adventure, on a ship owned by one of Carnival's subsidiaries. If those waters were so dangerous, why was the expert crew of the ship careless enough to let the ship wander off course off Somalia, of all places? Looking for adventure? Or, on the other hand, if cruise ship attacks are so rare, just what was the crew of the ship doing with their handy dandy military-grade LRAD sonic blaster? Communicating with whales?

And is that even legal? I mean, what if the pirates had gotten the LRAD rather than just an earful? And won't the public announcement that a cruiseship carried an LRAD attract upwardly-mobile pirates who'd really like one of their very own? And what other fine munitions might be available for the taking on post-9/11 cruise ships? Aren't there some really good reasons for passenger ships not to pack this kind of heat?

I breathlessly await the next installment of this amazing tale of adventure. (But, um, guys, it would be a really good idea to start keeping track of vanishing passengers.)


Topcat Marine Security: A Very Crowded Office Space, a Shell Corporation, or Just a Scam?

545_8th_2Who could resist the tale, not long ago, of a cruise ship fending off Somalian pirates with its handy sonic blaster? Well, someone somewhere just had to do something about those blasted pirates!

Today the BBC announced that the American firm Topcat Marine Security, of 545 8th Ave. Suite 401, New York, NY 10018, had gotten the job! Now you might think that chasing pirates would be too scary, but these guys at Topcat (or Top Cat, depending on which bit of their web site you look at) have strong motivation: a VERY crowded Manhattan office! Wouldn't you rather go chase pirates if you had to share an office with The Center for Risk Communication, a magazine called "Animal Fair", and a bank, Liechetensteinische-Amerikanische Union Bank Corp. (which apparently conducted unauthorized banking activities in the state of NY in 1999), a "home income" business called Maychic, a web site called NY Club SceneMyHealingPrayer.com, HotDynamite.com, an online video store (not PTA safe, so I won't post a link), The Law Office of Gary Ruff “Defending Consumers Against Electronic Piracy Claims”TM, and much more! What a racket they must make! If I shared that office, I'd go to sea to fight pirates, too!

Topcat seems to share a web designer, and probably a few boats, with Cobra Boats. Compare the following screen shots from each site's "Reviews" page:
Cobra_reviews Topcat_reviews

I wonder who's providing the guys with the guns.

In all seriousness, it seems obvious that [if this isn't just a scam] a boat company has found a private military partner who wishes to remain anonymous, and that the boat company has perhaps just made half of fifty million dollars for providing a front. I don't think the Topcat execs have ever set foot in that office any more than I believe that the babe on the HotDynamite.com site would answer if I went there and knocked. Also, it appears that Peter Casini, the executive quoted in the BBC story, has been involved with a number of corporate bankruptcies.

Who is going to provide these security services in Somali waters? Employees of these other dotcoms? Very experienced boaters? Who can tell? Why are they hiding behind a fake address? Manhattan rents are expensive, but you can rent a lot of office space for that kind of money.

Would you give fifty million to someone who can't be bothered to rent a real office and misrepresents their street address? If there's no office, how can anyone be sure actual security services will be provided?

UPDATE, 11/26: It gets better, or worse, depending on your perspective. In April, 2004, Topcat moved to Berekely County, SC. Six months later, they left:

The apparent failure of Top Cat is "very disappointing. We're in an economically depressed area when you look at the job losses balanced with what's created. It's like having the rug pulled out from under you," Mayor Hoffman said.

Rozier and Berkeley County Economic Development Director John Scarborough said it appears the finances didn't work out for Top Cat. Hoffman said he didn't know what happened to the company after its promising debut.

"I went to investigate myself a couple of times, just to drop in and see what was going on, and I haven't been able to find anybody there," Hoffman said.

He's not the only person who's been interested in Top Cat.

"A lot of law enforcement people are looking for them, and I don't think it's about buying a boat," Crosby said.

Vendors and others who find the Top Cat door padlocked often stop at the Onyx office to ask if the boat company still is in business or when its employees will be there, she said.

Nobody from Top Cat showed up Monday in small claims court in Moncks Corner to contest a complaint Onyx filed against the company for nonpayment of services, including providing electricity. Judge David Brown entered a default judgment of $5,960.45 against Top Cat.

Top Cat's vice president of sales and contracts, Marianne Gillard, 36, is due in magistrate's court in St. Stephen today following her arrest last week. Gillard is accused of writing a $650 bad check drawn on a New Jersey bank. Gillard said the day after her arrest that she didn't want to comment and referred questions to company attorneys, who couldn't be reached for comment.

It does occur to me to wonder if any actual setting up of bases or training or pirate fighting will take place even if Somalia pays out all this money. I hope Somalia hasn't cut any actual checks yet.

MEANWHILE, the EU has pledged to help foot the bill.

Queries on Somali dealFURTHER 11/26 UPDATE. The Nation in Kenya has picked up on Top Cat's financial problems, and their reporters called both Casini and his publicist:

On whether the company had failed to meet its payroll, he said: "No. You may be talking about the wrong company. Our company is Top Cat Design.''

However, contacted via e-mail for comment, Maryann Johnson, Top Cat's vice president for public relations, said the story "was written years ago, by a small town reporter whose sole source of information was a convicted felon. Topcat was never contacted directly for comment on this article".

Ms Johnson said: "Topcat remains financially secure and stable, with contracts around the world with some of the largest defence contractors."

(The Nation has a tortuously difficult registration procedure. Here is a screen shot of the article.)

2TopCatsAccording to court papers I linked to earlier today, Casini actually has two corporations called Top Cat: Top Cat Design, incorporated in 2000, and Top Cat Marine Security, incorporated in 2002. (UPDATE 12/2/05: Karl E. Meyer, of Egg Harbor, the attorney that represented Casini in that case and through who Casini registered the copyrights of a number of his boats, was on on the New Jersey State list of attorneys ineligible to practice law until two weeks ago.)

CharlestonThe unfavorable news stories in South Carolina date from 13 months ago. These folks really have a way with words, don't they?

UPDATE, 11/28: It does occur to me to wonder how they plan to work around both a US and a UN arms embargo when providing these services. Even if all they brought to the table was really fast boats designed for security use, this looks to me like it runs afoul State Department regulations, since there is a subsection covering boats on the United States Munitions List.

FROM THE MAIL BAG: A number of people have written to me with questions that they would like to see answered.

One of the biggies is, who is paying for this? Several people have raised this point, as does Reuters. I had speculated earlier that the EU funds mentioned in the news earlier this week might go towards paying Top Cat, but I am told that is not the case. So if not the EU, then who?

Given the scope of the project Top Cat is taking on, is fifty million too much? Or is it too little? (This also gets into the question of exactly what the contract specifies that they will do, an issue about which there appears to be some confusion. Are they going to fight pirates or not? Most of the headlines about the deal take the form "American company to fight pirates off Somalia," but the guy in the comments who claims to be in the know claims there will be no guns and that Casini will provide no training.)

What ports does Top Cat plan on operating out of? (Note that this is a country in which the transition government declines to locate in Mogadishu because of security concerns.) So what will they use for ports? (Who is going to keep Top Cat's fine boats from being stolen, for that matter? I'd think an ultra-fast boat would be really useful to the pirates!)

Also, I'm told that usually when a contract of this nature is awarded, there is recruiting of ex-special forces from various countries, and that no recruiting is going on. (This is not something I'd know about one way or another.) Anyone flowing in from Defensetech know about this?

And finally, has Top Cat registered with the Dept. of State's Office of Defense Trade Control, as required? (Dotmil & PMF folks: Is there a public registry that one could check?)

11/29, AN INTERESTING THOUGHT ON THE DEAL FROM THE STRATEGY PAGE:

While no one is saying it, the United States is basically taking over coastal security duties for Somalia. The Transitional Government there has no money for this sort of thing, so it appears that the U.S. is picking up the tab. This could get interesting, for the Somali warlords who operate along the coast are not going to take kindly to some foreigners trying to interfere. The first priority of the new coast guard is to put the pirate gangs, and especially the two larger "mother ships", that are supporting attacks far out at sea, out of action.

See also The Bow Ramp and its discussion of using privateers to fight pirates; and also Eaglespeak, which remarks of the Top Cat-Somalia contract, Must be an interesting contract to read. I'll just bet.

AND FURTHER: Untravel also has a good post:

There are several reasons I think this little story is important:

First, a private military company (PMC) is engaging in independent military action. In the controversy over PMCs a few years ago, the claim was that they served a support role and did not wage war on their own. In this instance, this is clearly not the case. Topcat Marine Security is not helping the Somali coast guard. They were hired to be the Somali coast guard.

Second, American mercenaries (Topcat) have been hired to wage war at the behest of a foreign government (Somalia), independent of the foreign policy of the US government. As the practice of hiring PMCs for independent action becomes more commonplace, at what point has the nation-state lost it's monopoly on the legitimate use of force? What happens when an independent PMC and their government have conflicting objectives? If the interests of the PMC are taken ahead of that of the government, who is in charge?

Third, the Somali Transitional National Government is hardly a government in the strictest sense. They are set up in Kenya and are still debating over when and how to return to Mogadishu. Where did they get 50 million dollars? Or any money at all, really? I don't know enough about world politics to know how these sort of 'governments in exile' operate, but that 50 million has to come from somewhere. I'd like a journalist to ask who. A concerned alliance of rival warlords? One of Somali's neighboring countries, simply trying to protect itself? A country or countries concerned with keeping the link between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean free and safe for shipping? Or a government interested in fighting terrorism without necessarily going through all the legal steps necessary to engage in military action?

This last question is not meant as a conspiracy theory, but something, from a journalistic point of view, that might be worth investigating as a possibility.

UPDATE 11/30/05: I came across a brand new blog started yesterday, consisting only of an interview with Somalia's Prime Minister. It discusses the piracy issue but does not seem to address this deal specifically.

Mountain Runner is also interested in Top Cat's profile:

Top Cat Marine Security is registered under Laura Casini, Esq. at what seems like a residential location. I mention the location because there are some interesting circumstances surrounding this company. It had moved its operations to St Stephen, South Carolina, to the great expectations of the locals. But, then in Oct 2004, things changed . . .

(According to court documents linked to earlier, Laura Casini is Peter Casini's cousin. She is registered with the New York Bar at a different [probably residential] address in Queens.)

FURTHER UPDATE, 11/30: Mountain Runner has a long, thoughtful follow-up post that I won't attempt to summarize, and suggest instead you go read.

After considering many less elaborate alternatives, he ends on a speculative note:

Or, has TopCat become a necessary cover for regional operations of the US armed forces or intelligence services? This would mean the anti-piracy line is either a cover or a secondary mission. The public diplomatic efforts of the US are meaningless in the region without virtually zero contact or interest with outside media. With media coverage nearly nil, even the humanitarian orgs are mostly gone, sightings of "US military-style" personnel would be adequately covered by this story.

If this were to be true, it would mark the end of the Bremer-style use of PMFs, out-sourcing -- perhaps excessive outsourcing, as I have argued previously -- things that are essentially government functions to private enterprise, with the (perhaps unexpected) benefit of increased secrecy and deniability. This would be a recognition that, no, using PMFs didn't really save that much money, no, re-hired contract Special Forces people were not somehow better qualified for the job that Special Forces folks already on the government payroll, that private enterprise didn't really have the bucks to have an infrastructure ready for whenever Big Government felt it needed something. But boy oh boy, was the secrecy and deniablity nice! Can you just imagine the genius, who in a different life would have been a studio executive in Hollywood, saying something like "Can't we just have a PMF that's staffed with our own guys and uses our own equipment?" Much as I dislike Bremmer's grand vision, this would mark its end.

UPDATE, 12/1: There's an interesting news story this morning that I'm sure ties into this whole subject. Another agreement signed by the Transitional Government: Ethiopia, Somalia pledge to fight terrorism in Horn of Africa

Addis Ababa - Ethiopia signed a comprehensive agreement with the transitional government of Somalia, covering security cooperation, trade and investment, transport and port services, the official Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) reported Thursday.

It was the first agreement to be signed with a neighbouring country for the transitional government of Somalia, which operates from Johar, some 90 kilometres north of the capital Mogadishu as it was unable to operate from the capital for security reasons.

The agreement was signed Wednesday between Ethiopian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Tekeda Alemu and Somalia's Foreign Minister Abdulahi Ismael on the sidelines of a council of ministers meeting of member states of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Cooperation and Development (IGAD) in the Horn of Africa.

And then there's this bit of damage control from Top Cat's backers, posted at the Conservative Voice, austensibly authored by Jim Kouri but with material mostly from Top Cat's press releases. (Or is it merely a late entry to the field? It also appears at Voices Magazine, and in three other venues.) The prose that is new is interesting:

In response to this latest attack, the Somali government -- a government practically in exile because of warlords, Al-Qaeda and Wahhabi terrorists -- has signed a contract with an United States-based security company that specializes in marine special operations. The hope is that the security firm will put an end to the proliferating piracy in that African region.

New York-based Topcat Marine Security signed a deal worth more than $50 million with the Somali Transitional Federal Government, which is temporarily based in Nairobi, to escort ships traveling through Somali waters.

Topcat is one of the world's foremost private security agencies offering clients law enforcement, counterterrorism and marine combat specialists. Topcat's client list includes the US Department of Homeland Security. They use state-of-the-art weaponry and equipment in order to mount offensive operations against pirates or terrorists who use the high seas for their acts of terrorism and piracy.

I've highlighted the interesting bits in bold. Kouri's remarks, which probably originate with Casini or his backers, support the notion I've heard floated that our story starts with the pirate attack on the cruise ship. Also, Kouri provides a new and different account of what exactly Top Cat is going to do for this fifty million. Escort? So now they're and escort service? But if they escort, they are actually going to fight pirates, right? With, like, weapons? Right? That's what the viewing audience really wants. So, back to the subject of arms embargos, are they importing these weapons?

I believe that the third paragraph I quoted originates with Top Cat's online brochure which I can't seem to get at this morning. Interesting is how the rationale for the contract is slipping from fighting pirates to fighting terrorism. While these activities may be intertwined, the first big PR bang on this story focued exclusively on piracy.

Also, it is interesting how Kouri describes the way the pirate attack on the cruise she was repelled. The ocean liner was able to escape the attack using security countermeasures. Why doesn't he say it was an LRAD that was used? Does he have a security clearance that prevents him? And if the LRAD belonged to the cruise lines, why would its use be classified? Elsewhere, he throws a few more words at the subject, but is similarly evasive:

They assailants were repelled by the ships crew who implemented their security measures which included setting off electronic simulators which created the illusion the ship was firing back at the terrorists.

Spit it out man: Can you say sonic blaster?

And then there's this bit of entertaing reading, Somalia: National government or kids in a candy store? which begins:

Somalis all over the world celebrated wholeheartedly when the new Somali interim government was established in nearby Nairobi, Kenya last year. Likewise, it was another historic moment when it finally relocated to Somali soil. Now, the honeymoon is over and Somalia’s elected president and prime minister are at the helm without any opposition of any kind. There’s no authority above the duo to oversee and scrutinize their actions. The international community gave them a blank check with no strings attached.

Spending other people’s money is very sweet. Confined in Jowhar town limits with its members unable to visit next door towns and villages like Balcad, the interim government is signing multimillion contacts silently. No advertised tenders, biddings, and of course no independent watchdogs. There's no National Supreme Court or any other independent court for that matter.

And Mountain Runner has a meaty new post which gets into such issues as Somalia's oil resources, competition in the region with China, and much more.

Of course TopCat will be providing more than boats in this contract. Where they will base, if its in country, and remain littoral? Then won't TC be just like the pirates USED to be before they acquired their "mother ship"? Will TC acquire an expensive but highly suitable ship (probably not that expensive) for blue water operations?

If security was really a big deal, the Yemeni arms market might gain greater attention. Still, some problems continue to linger over this deal:

  1. Transparency. There is none. This provider has a checkered history. Purpose and design of this contract ($50m+ barrier for example) makes this opaque if anything.
  2. Fair play. Was TC really the best candidate for the job? Did the "local" "government" really come to the finding that this provider was superior or were there other contributing factors?
  3. Money and Morals. $50m+ is a lot of spending money for some boats. There is something else here.

One last comment. If active duty will be deployed, then again, it should and could have been done more discretely. If however, this is a completely private operation, then further "foreign policy by proxy" is not going to help when the our chief for Public Diplomacy is amazed that countries are larger than her state. The world is looking and so is our own military. Trust in the Executive branch is waning from abuse. Intelligence and military services are direct reports to the Executive branch. In effect, they serve at the whim, the intelligence services especially, of the President. The buck stops there, except in this Administration.

He also has a good Pirate Primer.

UPDATE 12/2: From The Strategy Page:

December 2, 2005: Somali pirates are raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransoms for hijacked ships. This is big money for poverty stricken Somalia, and the warlords are not going to readily give it up because of some foreign mercenaries. There is likely to be some sharp fighting before the Topcat organized coast guard gains control of the coast with its naval and air patrols. Six ships are still being held for ransom.

And Matt Armstrong ar Mountain Runner has a good, long meditatio, Accountability of Non-State Force, which begins:

The issue of private military companies, private security companies, or private military firms brings up the question of accountability. This question can be asked in different dimensions: moral, legal, ethical, and command and control. This is a brief draft on the legal accountability of private military forces, divorced from any profit motives. It is my belief that private military forces fall into the same "loophole" (really a misnomer, it is an intentional gap) in regulation in which non-governmental forces "approved" by the international community, namely Blue Helmets, are also found.

And, in the context of the more speculative aspects of this story, I found this post from Josh Marshall interesting:

In recent days we've being seeing a lot of stories about various top-secret or 'black' programs being run out of the Pentagon. The reports about fake stories being planted in the Iraqi press are just a single example. I'm told that this matter of top secret Pentagon spending -- stuff free of almost all oversight -- may connect up with the Duke [Cunningham] investigation and may reach up higher than we might imagine in the Pentagon.

Also, Casini was on FOX News on the 27th talking about the contract. There's a little info in the TV interview, but not much. Casini is not very articulate.

Petercasini

FROM THE MAILBAG, someone writes in from Herndon, Virginia, IP #68.175.80.218:

If any checking of facts should come to be - it should be checking on kathryn cramer 's totally weird interest in destroying a boat company. So many questions about you kathryn- but a simple one is this- pictures of your family?  Thou dost protest too much!   Who and what are you really? A coast guard? If one sells a police car to a town's police force does the seller become the police?

Oh, no. My cover is blown. Since my picture shows a thin white blonde with kids, I must be none of the above. ;-)  (Also, blogging about this has brought about an increase in the Nigerian Spam making its way to my inbox.)

Also, I should say that there seem to be a fair number of people to whom Casini and his operation owe a lot of money and they are very interested in having his current address. Somewhere in Virginia is my best guess at present.

AND from the Voice of America:

Energy experts say by the year 2020, about one-fourth of the oil the United States consumes could come from Africa.  With this anticipation, African and U.S leaders are joining forces to help Africa reach its potential as a world energy leader.

Africa currently supplies the United States with 12 percent of all the oil it needs, but energy experts say that could jump by 25 percent over the next two decades.  The Corporate Council on Africa, headed by Steven Hayes, organized an international oil and gas conference this week on exploring Africa.

Mr. Hayes says one of the goals of the forum was to give U.S. companies an opportunity to better understand a very rapidly-changing environment in Africa.

"We don't quite realize -- the broad population -- how strategically important Africa is to us, not simply on energy, but clearly more and more of our needs are going to come from Africa," said Mr. Hayes.

Mr. Hayes says he is urging the United States to recognize the importance of the U.S.-African energy partnership, especially as competition from China grows.

Regarding Somalis oil reserves, a geologist from Marathon Oil in and interview in 1993, fills us in:

Presenting their results during a three-day conference in London in September, 1991, two of those geologists, an American and an Egyptian, reported that an analysis of nine exploratory wells drilled in Somalia indicated that the region is "situated within the oil window, and thus (is) highly prospective for gas and oil." A report by a third geologist, Z. R. Beydoun, said offshore sites possess "the geological parameters conducive to the generation, expulsion and trapping of significant amounts of oil and gas."

Beydoun, who now works for Marathon Oil in London, cautioned in a recent interview that on the basis of his findings alone, "you cannot say there definitely is oil," but he added: "The different ingredients for generation of oil are there. The question is whether the oil generated there has been trapped or whether it dispersed or evaporated."

Interestingly, Somalia is emerging at the moment as an organizing issue for Republicans, trying to distinguish themelves from those "cut and run" Democrats. Whatever could the authors of Republican talking points have in mind? To send in the Marines to show that Bush is Man enough? Surely they can't think that Bush has the public support to start a third war? On the other hand, those generous folks at Marathon did give over fifty-eight thousand dollars to the Republicans in the last contribution year, and campaign contributions do make this administration frisky! 

And, um, isn't the Manager of Global Security for Marathon Oil, the very same Bernie McCabe who was Bernie McCabe, U.S. Representative, Sandline International a while back? Maybe the folks in the comment section suggesting a connection with the remnants of Sandline aren't as far off the mark as I thought. It can't be. Can it? Somalia isn't supposed to be the New Iraq?

UPDATE 12/3: Matt at Mountain Runner has an interesting new post, which begins:

More information on the Somalia, Oil, and possibly TopCat continue. Reporting from Oil and Gas Investor indicates Marathon Oil, of Texas, and possibly other firms have taken over the Conoco claims, or at least is moving in on them, and bumping yet another company to boot.

SEE ALSO MY POST: Top Cat Has Security Personnel After All . . . or Do They?

UPDATE 12/6: New govt's move to tackle piracy hits a snag  from NationMedia.com: In gneral, the article covers some of the same information covers here about Top Cat's financial problems. But here is Maryann Johnson's fallback position when cornered on Casini's bankruptcies:

ut the company's vice president for public relations, Maryann Johnson, said the article was written years ago, by a small town reporter whose sole source of information was a convicted felon. "Top Cat was never contacted directly for comment on this article, but rather the reporter chose to undertake a smear campaign to camouflage small-town corruption."

She said Top Cat remains financially secure and stable with contracts around the world with some of the largest defence contractors and that an employee's personal information has no bearing on the stability and structure of the company. "Mr Casini is head of research and development and has been awarded the notable honour of being named one of the top three boat designers in the world. He is an employee of and not the owner of the company. There are over 50 major stockholders," she said.

In signing the deal with Somalia, Mr Casini said his company would target a mother ship off the Somali coast that is launching smaller craft to attack commercial vessels.

Several questions come to mind:

  1. If Casini is not the President or CEO of the company, who is?
  2. If he is neither president or CEO, what authorization does he have to enter into such a contract on Top Cat's behalf?
  3. If Casini doesn't own Top Cat, who does? Who are its "investors"?
  4. How are Top Cat's investors distinct from its creditors?

UPDATE 12/6: See my new post Top Cat Marine Security Ordered to Cease & Desist. Busted.


There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than at any point during the last 650,000 years, plus Mt. Belinda errupting.

Science112505BubbleYesterday, after Thanksgiving dinner, I watched all of David Attenborough's Life in the Freezer, and so have a pretty good visual idea of what it's like to do research in Antarctica. This morning, I woke up to this disconcerting AP story, based on the cover story from the new issue of Science magazine: Old bubbles back global warming theory. Scientists drilled core samples of Antarctic ice and analyzed the gas content of the bubbles in them.

There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than at any point during the last 650,000 years, says a new study that let scientists peer back in time at greenhouse gases that can help fuel global warming. By analyzing tiny air bubbles preserved in Antarctic ice for millennia, a team of European researchers shows how people are dramatically influencing the buildup of these gases.

ThomasstockerThe researcher is Thomas Stocker, Professor of Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Switzerland, Co-director of the Physics Institute. Here's the press release related to he article. (The article is in the issue of Science with a cover date of today, but as of this moment, they have not yet updated their website from last week's issue.)

(See also Michael Hopkin's article in Nature, Greenhouse-gas levels highest for 650,000 years: Climate record highlights extent of man-made change.)

FURTHER TO THE SUBJECT OF ANTARTICA, NASA has a really cool picture of Mt. Belinda, near Antactica, errupting:

Belinda_ast_23sep05_15m

From NASA. Image from September 23, 2005. (NASA write up.) See yesterday's story in Nature: Fire and ice caught on camera: Volcano on Antarctic island flips its lid. On Google Earth, it just looks  like a while lump. This image would make a lovely overlay. (-58.399804, -26.386895) (Here's a rough KML; image.)


Happy Thanksgiving

This is a selection of our photos tagged "Thanksgiving." More photos from today will begin to appear as the day goes on.


Freedom of the Press, 21st Century Style: Freedom to Stop the Presses?

From the Christian Science Monitor: British paper: Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera. And just so the press gets the idea of where it stands in the 21st century pecking order, the British government responds by invoking the Official Secrets Act. God, what a mess!

A leaked memo in Britain has once again caused an uproar. This time, the British government has acted to prevent any further publication.

The Times of London reports that the attorney general of Britain has warned British papers that they will be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act if they publish details of a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush in which Mr. Bush is alleged to have suggested bombing Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite TV channel based in Qatar.

Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, informed ... editors including that of The Times that “publication of a document that has been unlawfully disclosed by a Crown servant could be in breach of Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act.”
The Guardian reports that this is the first time the British government has threatened to use the Official Secrets Act to prevent publication of the details of a leaked document. "Though it has obtained court injunctions against newspapers, the government has never prosecuted editors for publishing the contents of leaked documents, including highly sensitive ones about the run-up to the invasion of Iraq."

On Tuesday, the British paper the Daily Mirror published the details of a government memo, marked Top Secret, that recorded a conversation between Bush and Mr. Blair that took place in the White House last April 16. The Daily Mirror's editor said he informed Downing Street that he was going to print details of the memo, but was not told at the time to stop. That order did not come until the day after the first story appeared in the paper.

Operation Iraqi Freedom: Freedom to Stop the Presses?


Scared of what?


  Scared of what? 
  Originally uploaded by mbukhari_prm.

A photo taken across the Line of Control from the pakistan-controlled side of Kashmir to the Indian-controlled side. The caption reads:

These little girls -- who live across line of control (LOC) near Titwal Sector, of AJK, thought that my long L-shaped camera (Sony F727) was a sort of Gun and they expected to here a big bang sound out of it, so they were scared.


White Thanksgiving, Pleasantville, New York

Taken at 6:53 AM, just after I put the turkey in the oven.

Here are a few more:


QuakeHelp.net Drop Off Locations

From Jon Schull of QuakeHelp.net, a professor of Information Technology at Rochester Institutes of Technology, here is a new way to help with the collection of relief supplies for earthquake victims. It is organized through a CommunityWalk Map (map; KML network link):

Do you know of a regional (not a big chain) store that sells sporting goods and would be willing to act as a drop-off location for people donating sleeping bags, tents, and other goods for the earth quake relief efforts?

If so then you and your community can save lives this week, by helping rush donated sleeping bags and tents to earthquake survivors in India Pakistan and Kashmir before the harsh winter sets in.

One drop off location in each city is enough, but identifying the right the one requires local knowledge. A regional Sporting Goods store is ideal, because the owner can just say "sure, its a no-brainer. I get customers and and good will in the store and I save lives. I'll even offer a discount on replacement goods." Sporting Goods companies do well by doing good.

Who is that person in the cities you know?

Schools, churches, synagogue, and mosques are another obvious location.

Use this new page (login as "QuakeHelp.net" with the password "QuakeHelp.net" by clicking "Login" at the bottom right hand side of the screen and then click "Add Markers" at the bottom left hand side of the screen) and the wiki to identify yourself as someone willing to help and your location to suggest stores and store owners to contact to report on any contacts you have made. Go to QuakeHelp.net

And then, help us organize donations in your community! Use your initative. Go to QuakeHelp.net for details.

This is a rare opportunity to use the net to help people in where we desperately need to make friends.

Click HERE for more on Thanksgiving gear-drops.


Breastfeeding on the BBC

I was just on the BBC Radio Show Have Your Say a few minutes ago discussing (or perhaps debating) the topic of public breastfeeding. The segment was apparently prompted by an incident in which a UK policeman stopped a woman, named Margaret Boyle-White, from feeding her baby:

A woman in the UK was asked by police to stop feeding her baby as she sat on a bench in Watton town centre, after another shopper complained.

BoylewhiteHere's the whole story from the London Times. My favorite bit is that the officer suggested that a pub might be a more appropriate venue for breastfeeding than a public bench. Woohoo.

Needless to say, I was advocating the position that a woman should be able to take care of her baby without interference, as was the member of a Scottish parliament who introduced the bill passed earlier this month making it an offense to stop mothers breastfeeding in public. (I didn't catch her name, but I think it was Elaine Smith.)

(Public breastfeeding is legally protected in the State of New York, where I live.)

The opposition, while I was on, was this guy who just kept saying over and over that "public nudity is not socially acceptable." He was pretty funny. Someone should take him to the beach from time to time. It would improve his disposition. When we weren't taking his point, he finally said, "If it is OK for women to breastfeed their babies it public, why isn't it OK to make babies in public?" (On second thought, maybe he shouldn't be taken to the beach.)

I was pleased to have the opportunity to strike a blow for Motherhood!

Gotbreastmilk_1MEANWHILE, a photographer named Amber Parmley in Tennessee, along with a friend of hers, has just launched Project Got Breastmilk?, a site with a really lovely breastfeeding photogallery. The photo to the right is one of my favorites from her site. She's doing a Got Breastmilk? calendar which you can preorder. Beautiful work!

AND MEANWHILE, a huge recall of Nestle infant formula has been ordered.

A FURTHER THOUGHT, 11/23: For those tempted to buy into the argument that bodily functions are private, I'd like to point out a couple of thing. First of all, if you think about what the person on the park bench would have to be doing for you to call a cop and ask for them to be stopped, asking for police action, or expecting police intervention is actually a pretty extreme remedy. and that is specifically what was at issue in the situation with Margaret Boyle-White.

Secondly, while a certain number of specific bodily functions are expected to be private, most of them are expected to be private with babies as well. (No one is asking you to watch babies poop.) And many other bodily functions, like sneezing and farting do not (except in extreme situations) confine people to their homes for fear they might sneeze or fart in public. And some things, such as public smoking, continue as common practice long after their practitioners have been informed that many people find smoking objectionable.

If the general rule were that one must stay home if there is a  risk that one might offend someone or make someone uncomfortable, pretty much no one could leave their houses. And for the mothers of small children, the greater risk of offending is in fact the possibility of a crying child. While I have had very little negative social feedback from my hundreds of hours of public nursing, I can say with some authority that most people object to a crying or screaming child. The claim that the mom should stay home if she might need to nurse because she might offend is absurd in the face of the number of times she has to face public disapproval because her little bundle of joy is screaming at the top of its powerful little lungs.

And finally, why should nursing mothers be singled out?


First Snow

A storm was predicted, and we have definitely got a storm here. To the right is a nice shot of our umbrella on the porch being torn to shreds. (It has a manufacturing defect that makes it very difficult to take down, and so has withstood several winters open.) It is snowing out, at 39 degrees Fahrenheit, with flake an inch or more across.

Here's the weather radar. The red blotch is where we live.

The red blotch on the map indicates that the weather rader thinks things are pretty bad here just now.


Viewpoint for the Burgess Shale at Emerald Lake

Here is an attempt to recreate the view of the Burgess Shale near Field, BC as seen from Emerald lake, BC. (Click here for overlay.)

Google Earth could really do with some better satellite photos of the Canadian Rockies. Also, I'm not sore how good their data for generating the terrain is, in that the mountains still didn't look quite right, even if you took the fuzzy satellite imagery into account.

However, the most significant problem was that the tools for adjusting viewpoint didn't work the way I expected. I couldn't get Google Earth to let me raise my gaze enough to see the mountain ridge when I seemed to be in the right spot to see the Burgess Shale from the lake side.


And here is what the view actually looks like. The Burgess Shale is located where the ribbons of snow are on the upper right of the ridge.


  The actual view of the Burgess Shale from the shores of Emerald Lake 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

(By the way, I have more photos of the Canadian Rockies than you could possibly want to see in a Typepad photo album. And further to the subject of the Burgess Shale, the Royal Ontario Museum sells marvellous plastic Burgess Shale creatures. We collected the whole set.)


Muzaffarabad Landslides


  Muzaffarabad Landslides 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

Landslides outside Muzaffarabad as seen in Google Earth overlays. I've seen them in the background of photos taken from the city itself, but looking at it this way gave me a different sense of scale. Also, the collage effect of the perspective give a sense of the mashed provenance of the information, and adds a touch of surrealism.

The fullsized image is HERE. Note the houses by the compass rose for scale.

(Location: 34.400753, 73.483660)


Bring the SETI at Home model back home

Grid Project Puts Unused PCs To Good Works

IBM and several of the world's leading scientific and philanthropic groups Tuesday launched a project that would put millions of PCs to work on research problems ranging from Alzheimer's to disaster forecasting.

Dubbed the World Community Grid, the distributed computing-style project would split complex computing chores into millions of pieces, then parse them out to idle personal computers for the heavy lifting. IBM estimated that there are more than 650 million PCs in use worldwide, each a potential participant in the project to harness the power of large numbers of individual computers in a giant "virtual" system.


Never Try to Redesign Your Websites When You Get Home from a Funeral

ElizabethSome of you may have noticed this web site go through a few unexpected changes over the past day. After we got back from Massachusetts last night, where we had attended David's mother's funeral, I set about to make a few design changes to my kids' web sites. (Peter & Elizabeth)

In the process, I seem to have overwritten the template for my site with the new one for my daughter's. So if you were treated to lots of cute toddler pix in the sidebar instead of the usual info, that's why. I think i have everything put back where it belongs now.


A Try at a Solution

IMG_3469.JPGAs we were leaving the funeral home this afternoon, my daughter Elizabeth (age 3) announced she had arrived at a solution to the death of her grandmother: that we should go to Disneyland and get her father a new mother. She said she thought she had "a really very good idea."

After strapping the kids in their car seats, I went back into the funeral home for a moment to see why David hadn't come out yet. When I came back to the car, Elizabeth looked grim. She said, "Peter says it wouldn't work."


How to Put Your Wolfram Tones in Your Sidebar on Typepad

ZiporpsTheme.jpgCurrently, if you save a bunch of Wolfram Tones, you can go back and listen to them, but if your friends go to the "My Tones" page, they get theirs, not yours. So lets say you want other people to be able to listen to them, and you want this accessible from your blog's sidebar along with the results from your latest Quizilla experience. Here's how you can do it on Typepad:

First, go to Wolfram Tones and create a bunch of compositions which you save as "My Tones." Then, using Typepad, create a Typelist which you might want to call something like "My Wolfram Tones." (You will want to select the "Link" kind of list. This means that you need to go to the Typelist's Configure page and tell it to "Display Notes as Text," but the advantage is that you can specify the number of tones to disply.)

Modify_1On the My Wolfram Tones page, click on the Modify button on the tone you would like to add to your sidebar.

This will take you to the page for the individual tone. Copy  the URL and then go to your My Wolfram Tones Typelist. Click on Add a New Item. Then paste the URL of your tone into the Box that labeled "Enter a URL to quickly add a new link." This will add your link to the Typelist, but it will come out with the name "Wolfram Tones: Generate a Composition." You want yours to have a better name, something evocative that is going to make your friends want to click there. So call it something like REVENGE OF THE ANDROIDS! and click "Save Changes."

Repeat this process until you've added all the tones you want in your sidebar.

Then, go to the "Edit Current Design" screen for your blog and click on "Change Content Selections." Check the box to add your new Typelist to the sidebar, and then click "Save Changes." This will take you back to the "Edit Current Design" screen. This time, click "Change Ordering" and drag your Wolfram Tones sidebar to where you want it. Then click "Save Changes." And when you are back to the "Edit Current Design" screen, republish your weblog.

Once you've go the Typelist placed, you can add your new Wolfram Tones whenever you want.

WtsidebarHere's a screen shot of my Typelist. How I added the graphics is left as an exercise for the reader.


Distinguishing Between Military Action & Natural Disaster


  Dusty Air 
  Originally uploaded by ejazasi.

This photo of collapsed mountainsides in Kashmir, posted on Flickr by ejazasi, has the interesting caption:

Kashmir: Many believed that they have been bombed by U.S or Indian planes when actually earthquake hit. It was only hours later when the survivors took a view of the whole valley and the destruction earthquake caused that they got to understand bit of the reality.

Looking at the consequences of natural distaster, I'm having an increasingly hard time stomaching the idea that people could contemplate and plan for the possibility of doing such things on purpose. Why are people who can still think like that in 2005 in positions of power in government and not in mental institutions?


Constance Nash Hartwell,
September 14, 1913 – November 11, 2005

At HomeDavid's mother, Constance Nash Hartwell, died this morning, a week after suffering a severe stroke. She visited us for a week in September and we were hoping to have her back soon. Also, we vacationed with her in Maine this past August.

Here she is on the front page of the sports section of USA Today last January, admiring the Red Sox World Series trophy. (She was also interviewed on this occasion by The Duxbury Clipper.) She was a life-long baseball fan. 

Thursday, January 20th, 2005

Constance Hartwell with World Series Trophy Tour Stops in Duxbury: At the Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier, Kittery Point, Maine.Last summer, when we were on vacation, she was trying to teach Peter and Elizabeth how to watch baseball on television by showing them the Little League World Series.

In Kittery.


Pakistan Earthquake Dynamic Overlays (VBR) available!

VbrcoverageGlobal ConnectionFrom Anne Wright & Randy Sargent:

New satellite imagery overlays for Pakistan earthquake are available. Release 3: This is now a dynamic (VBR) overlay, containing a large amount of imagery from:

  • Google/Digital Globe, in red to the right (KML file)

Big thanks to Kenson Yee at Google Earth for his round-the-clock efforts in making image overlays. Thanks to Kathryn Cramer and Declan Butler for their critical help in getting these together, and Google Earth for supporting our efforts.

For more information about the overlay, please see http://jaga.gc.cs.cmu.edu/rapid/pakistan/

 


Get Out Your Credit Card

Yes, I'm looking at
YOU!

You know you need to do this, don't you? If not, click here. And here is a soundtrack to move you forward, if you need to be stimulated in yet another sensory modality to take action.

Also, ahem, bloggers: (Don't click away yet, I'm not done.) Even though only about half of the number of tents needed by earthquake victims have actually been distributed, leaving a shortfall of about 250,000 tents, it seems that as of now blogs are discussing subjects like "earthquake" at about the same frequency as prior to the October 8th quake.

Eqtrends

Come on, people! Make some noise!

(Cool CSS tricks via Mandarin Design.)


Sad News

At Duxbury Beach.

Friday, David's mother, Constance Nash Hartwell, suffered a severe stroke. She turned 92 in September.  Whatever happens from here, it's pretty clear that the person we knew isn't coming back. I have set up a Flickr photo set for pictures of her. If you have pictures you would like to contribute, email me for an invite to the related photo pool.


Young Jonathan Post on Whether to Duck and Cover

Bert2In the comments section, in the context of whether one is more likely to survive the collapse of a building using the duck-and-cover technique or the triangle of life technique (taking refuge next to furniture, not under it), Jonathan Post tells the following story:

When we had "duck & cover" nuclear drills at my Robert Fulton elementary school (P.S. #8), in the late 1950s, I refused to get under my desk, and got sent to the principal's office. I explained to him that we were directly across the East River from downtown Manhattan, and that Wall Street could be ground zero. I explained that the radius of the fireball varied with the 2/3 power of megatonnage, and that the desk would not give even a microsecond of protection. He agreed, and told me not to tell all this to the other students, as it might frighten them. For that matter, he advised me not to scare the teachers. I did not leave my baby teeth for a "tooth fairy." Rather, I had my Mom snailmail them to someone who was researching Strontium-90 levels in teeth, for fallout research.

Duckandcover_bert_the_turtle_6k_1


Avian Flu Outbreak Maps

UnknownDeclan Butler, my current favorite science journalist, has updated his avian flu outbreak maps and added a network link. He says:

I'm getting the entire outbreak database soon, which is much richer in detail as to sizes of outbreaks etc, which I can extrude [from] the maps, so the who thing should be substantially better soon.

Declan Butler's Avian Flu Outbreak Map

And avian flu is a story that really needs good science journalism. Systemic health risks are very hard to understand for people without a good command of statistics.

Examples of health scare stories that were widely mispereived: When West Nile reached the New York area, Westchester moms panicked and for several weeks of glorious Indian Summer, wouldn't allow their kids to play outside. The real health risk in yards like mine was not West Nile, but Lyme Disease. Also, I had a severe lung infection requiring hospitalization just as the anthrax scare was peaking. I knew I didn't have anthrax, but very carefully went to my regular doctor an not to the ER because I was concerned I might be turned away as an anthrax hysteric. (At the time, NYC ERs were alleged to be turning away peole who said they had difficulty breathing.)

Butler has been tracking down the facts of the matter and putting a lot of them into his overlay.

UPDATE:  Here is his Connotea Avian Flu links page.


The Pakistan/Kashmir Earthquake Zone: Getting the Picture

ValleyGlobal ConnectionIn the interests of expediting the Pakistan relief effort, Google Earth sprang for a whole bunch of Digital Globe images of the Pakistan quake zone most needed by relief organizations, and the folks at Google Earth have worked very hard to get the images processed into an overlay and now it's out! Hooray! Good work!

From Anne Wright at the Global Connection Project:

Got some happy news from Google Earth: They've got some static overlays of a strip of fresh Digital Globe satellite images from after the quake up.  The strip runs North/South from a little above the Naran Valley, past Muzaffarabad (misses it to the east), and ends up about level with Rawalpindi.  You've got to click on an individual red dot to pull in the overlay texture.  I've attached a netlink KML and a couple of placemarks containing nice views of the Naran slice.  If you click on the red dot right next to the placemarks it'll pull in the texture you see in the screenshots. Hopefully we'll have VBR of this up in the not-too-distant future, though we've got some technical challenges to overcome first...

KML files available here: http://www.kathryncramer.com/kathryn_cramer/DG_quake1-netlink.kml (the main KML file) http://www.kathryncramer.com/kathryn_cramer/dg-naran-valley-places.kml (a couple of placemarks corresponding to the screen shots).

UPDATE from the hard-working Kenson Yee at Google:

We have 3 scenes at:

Extents are lat/lon approximations.  These images are the 2k x 2k static overlays.

(Updated screen shots of the area covered are here and here.)

Dgnaranvalley3dmedium

 

Dgnaranvalley3dfar

Dgnaranvalleyclose

Dgnaranvalleymedium

Dgeastplacemarkswithdlrvbr051106

Dgeastplacemarks051106

We hope for dynamic overlays of the same images soon, but to make it a little easier on you to use these current ones, Randy Sargent of Global Connection makes this helpful suggestion:

These are static overlays.  To use, load the KML into Google Earth  and click on the red dot over the area of interest.  In the bubble  which pops up you have the option to load a 2k x 2k overlay.

Depending on the RAM in your machine, you may notice your machine  slowing down after you load a number of these 2k x 2k images.  You  can unload images by going to the Places pane on the left and  scrolling until you're at the top of the "Temporary Places" folder,  where you'll see your loaded overlays like this:

DG-N-NNNNN-NNNNN   (not DG-N-NNNNN-NNNNN.kml)

Right-click in the pane on these and choose delete.

(Don't delete the entries of form DG-N-NNNNN-NNNNN.kml, with the  red dot to the left;  these are the dots on the globe which let you  load and reload the overlays).


Yes, I could do with a change of climate, too, but I don't think that's what we're talking about.

The following passage nearly made me snort my coffee out my nose, except it seems the poor fellow is serious. The best way to prepare yourself for this is to get out your old Monty Python soundtrack albums (there must have been soundtrack albums?) and put on the little number from The Life of Brian, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." (OK, I don't have the record either, but imagine you do and you've just put it on.) Now we're ready:

Greens need to be more positive: Blair adviser

Porritt, who is now an adviser on sustainable development to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, makes the comments in his new book, "Capitalism: As if the World Matters", seen by The Observer and to be published this week.

The book argues that all sides should embrace capitalism as "the only economic game in town" and thus search for ways in making free markets work for a more sustainable future, the newspaper said.

Without change by environmentalists, "a continuing decline in (their) influence seems the most likely outcome", Porritt says in his book.

In an interview with The Observer, Porritt added: "Environmental organisations for many years (were) saying 'no' and protecting and stopping because in a way that became part of the culture of the movement.

"There's still a lot of criticising and blame-laying and not enough saying what solutions are available."

Instead, he argued, the movement must emphasise the positive, worldwide benefits of issues such as using clean energy to help tackle climate change.

"If you consider the way the environmental movement portrays climate change, it's the end of the world as we know it," Porritt told the paper.

"In reality, climate change could provide a stimulus to an extraordinary shift in the economy (and) it could improve people's quality of life. You never hear of all that," Porritt told the paper.

Regardless of one's opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism, Porritt's punchline is, um, really strange. He's trying to tell us to look at the upside to Global Warming, isn't he? My personal quality of would be improved by migrating to the garden spots of the world at planned intervals over the course of the year. (I really could do without experiencing a harsh Northeast winter ever again.) But that isn't what's under discussion.

But if we are to take him at least a little seriously, I suppose we should imagine all the marvelous species that might evolve in time to replace us. I hear some species of squid are pretty smart.

(And yes, it is possible that he's been comically misquoted. Porritt sounds a lot more sensible here.)


Pandemics: ". . . and Federal coordination goes to -- drum roll -- Homeland Security"

From Effect Measure, the progressive health blog, a scenario that reads like black comedy: Homeland Security in charge of pandemic?

DHHS has lead on the medical response, Agriculture on the veterinary response, State on international activities, and the overall domestic incident management and Federal coordination goes to -- drum roll -- Homeland Security.

Don't you feel better, now? The folks who brought us color coding, Katrina, Michael Brown and so many other museum pieces of incompetence will be coordinating a public health emergency.

The same blog has a subsequent post on the Federal plan for pandemics. The post concludes:

So that's what the planners were planning for. Straightforward. Correct. None of it news. It says, in essence, what many have known for years. If a pandemic strikes, we're screwed.

A 1918-like influenza pandemic would tax the resources of the best prepared nation. It is an overwhelming natural catastrophe. But like other natural catastrophes (e.g., hurricane Katrina), adequately preparation makes a world of difference in mitigating the consequences. And we are not a best-prepared nation. Our government hasn't gotten us ready, and in fact, has pursued policies that severely weakened us. The Iraq mistake was an ideologically based experiment that failed in spectacular and tragic fashion, its failure affecting almost everything else. As we generate anti-American feeling abroad, we spend more at home to cope with the anticipated effects. This diverts existing resources to topics like "biodefense" which have severely distorted and weakened our public health system. The gigantic $200 billion war cost has run up an even larger deficit (caused by give-to-the-rich tax cuts) which in turn prompts budget cuts which further weaken public health.

We hear daily about "the war on terror," a war we are losing and whose vague outlines are often contrived or worse. Until now we heard almost nothing from our "leaders" about the pandemic threat public health scientists knew was ever-present. Even our preparation for terrorism was a botched job, so with the expenditure of countless billions, we are left worse off than before.

Hence the stark reality of the Pandemic Flu Plan, which has no real plans in it except to say to the states and localities, "Watch Out. Here it comes. Good night and good luck."

MEANWHILE, Declan Butler writes in Nature about how a drug cocktail could extend supplies of Tamiflu. Wartime tactic doubles power of scarce bird-flu drug: Use of common drug could stretch world stocks of Tamiflu.

Doctors think they have hit on a way to effectively double supplies of a drug that fights bird flu. Administering Tamiflu alongside a second drug that stops it being excreted in urine means that only half doses of the treatment would be needed.

Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) is the main antiflu medicine recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO suggests that, in anticipation of a flu pandemic, countries should stockpile enough for at least a quarter of their population. But although Swiss drugmaker Roche, the sole supplier, has quadrupled its production capacity over the past two years, the current supply is thought to cover just 2% of the world population.

Last week, Joe Howton, medical director at the Adventist Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, suggested a way to double supplies, after browsing basic safety data from Roche for a talk on avian flu.

The technique was invented during the Second World War to extend precious penicillin supplies. Scientists found that a simple benzoic acid derivative called probenecid stops many drugs, including antibiotics, being removed from the blood by the kidneys. Probenecid is readily available and is still widely used alongside antibiotics to treat gonorrhoea and syphilis, and in emergency rooms, where doctors need their patients to have high, sustained levels of antibiotics in their blood.
. . . [And the article closes:]
Like many scientists, Fedson is stumped by the apparent lack of interest from Roche, and the relevant authorities. "It's stupefying," he says.


Asim Khwaja: “The nice thing about computers is that they don’t go into shock."

AsimkwajaA while back I noticed this interesting site called RISE-PAK which I've featured prominently in my sidebar for about a week.  The site provides and gathers demographic, disaster, access, and assistance data and maps on all earthquake affected villages to help coordinate relief efforts. I had the vague impression it was run to of Pakistan, so I was surprised when Harvard Gazette article about RISE-PAK noted that the project was co-founded by a professor, Asim Khwaja, an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. That's Khwaja to the right, as shown in the Harvard Gazette.

KSG prof starts earthquake relief Web site

As an urgent call goes out for relief supplies to aid those homeless and hungry from Pakistan's Oct. 8 earthquake, a Kennedy School professor is using cyberspace to get relief supplies where they're most needed. Assistant Professor of Public Policy Asim Khwaja, with collaborators Jishnu Das and Tara Vishwanath from the World Bank and Tahir Andrabi from Pomona College, has rushed to create a Web site that can help coordinate relief efforts. The site, complete with a list of affected villages and satellite maps, aims to ensure that places off of main roads and in other less accessible locations aren't forgotten.

The site, http://www.risepak.com, gathers information from census data, maps, satellite photographs, and other sources together with real-time postings from relief workers, government agencies, and individuals visiting the affected areas. It was created with the help of the World Bank, WOL (Pakistan's largest Internet service provider), and dozens of volunteers in Pakistan.  . . .

"People [relief workers] go to the most accessible areas. They may not realize that right behind the mountaintop there's another 60 homes," Khwaja said. "Our motto is 'no village left behind.'"

RISE-PAK's approach seems to me one of the most sensible on the Internet, in that it is very obvious to me, sitting here in Pleasantville, that people in rural agricultural areas must be having a terrible time. And following the New Orleans experience (also over the Internet), it is morally unacceptable to me that the world might decide that some of those in jeopardy just aren't worth rescuing. (I am also a fan of the Citizen's Foundation's plan, in collaboration with the Institute of Architects Pakistan, to build earthquake-safe housing following the initial relief effort.) So I had been trying to help get out the word.

I called him up. Asim Khwaja is this high-octane fast-talking intellectual who is at the same time deeply compassionate and respectful of the people he's trying to help. He had a good idea fast and acted on it fast. And within that context he was able to visualize a situation in which rescue would not be a luxury reserved for those in urban areas, unavailable to the rural poor.

There's also a nice piece on RISE-PAK in the Harvard Crimson:

Khwaja added that in the wake of a disaster, relief efforts tend to be somewhat disorganized.

“It is like a dartboard. If you blindly throw all the darts at once, you might miss something,” he said. “It doesn’t work. . . . You might get 10 to 20 percent of an area, but who is doing the rest?” . . .

RISE-PAK’s frequently-updated Top 100 Villages list provides information about the location of villages that need help and informs relief workers about exactly what is needed. The website gleans information from a network of villagers, volunteers, and student call center workers in Pakistan.

This kind of technology would have been useful in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when ordinary people wanted to help but didn’t know where to go, Khwaja added.

“You and your friends get together and rent a van, decided to buy some tents and some food. This website can tell you where to go and what to take,” Khwaja said.

Although Khwaja said the effectiveness of the RISE-PAK initiative is still unclear, he thinks that the technology could be used in the event of future disasters.

He said that part of the reason relief efforts are often uncoordinated is because people are in shock.

“The nice thing about computers is that they don’t go into shock,” he said.


Weaponizing Sound the Old Fashioned Way

photo of a US plane making a sonic boom from the NASA websiteFurther to the subject of sonic weapons, Noah Schachtman at Defensetech writes about how the Israeli military is blasting the old fashioned way: with sonic booms produced by jets: Israeli Jets in Gaza Soundclash (This is contrast to the newer, more, shall we say, energy efficient technique available: using sonic blasters, aka "Long Range Acoustic Devices.") Photo to the right: US plane producing a sonic boom; from the NASA website.

(I'm a Seattle girl so I remember when the Seattle economy went down the tubes with the cancellation of the SST; I remember that billboard on I-5 that read Will the last person out of Seattle please turn out the lights? Accidental sonic booms were not permissible over inhabited areas and so Boeing had a huge layoff. Surely the world shouldn't be expected to accept the idea that it's OK to boom some of the people some of the time on purpose?)

The BBC has an interesting article on the problem: Medics condemn Gaza sonic booms

Doctors' groups have filed a petition at the Israeli Supreme Court seeking to halt air force jets from breaking the sound barrier over the Gaza Strip.
The UN says the tactic is an abuse of human rights, causing widespread fear especially among children, and medics say it induces miscarriages.

The sonic booms from Israeli jets are designed to be a show of force to militant groups, correspondents say. . . .

The joint Israeli-Palestinian petition filed in the Supreme Court by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel says that according to international law, "the booms are collective punishment against the civilian population and thus illegal."

In my previous post on sonic weapons, I argued that such use violates the UN Convention Against Torture.

(For more on sound used as a weapon, see Noah Schachtman and Xeni Jardin. UPDATE: And see Xeni today.)

11/6 UPDATE: Defeat pirates with sound!
11/7 UPDATE: See also Noah Schachtman's new post, Sonic Boom Redux.


A Dermabond Evening

LizwcutI had other things I was going to blog about, but I've had my first direct experience with Dermabond -- the topical skin adhesive -- this evening. I was fixing dinner. My son was carrying a small bowl of cornchips into the livingroom, since he said he was too hungry to wait. My daughter, apparently, was running down the hall at top speed.

I didn't see it, only heard it. There was a collision as my son went out the kitchen door. Entirely by chance, the bowl he was carrying was ceramic, rather than the plastic ones I usually give the kids. Entirely by chance, it had a chip out of the side. Entirely by chance, the bowl impacted my daughter's face just to the right of her right eye. When I went to investigate, she had her face turned, so I didn't see the blood. At first I thought she wanted chips, too, and that that was why she was crying.

When I saw the other side of her face, I knew we needed to go to the ER. Our local emergency room now has a "Fast Track" system whereby those with minor injuries can be seen quickly by nurse practitioners. So we were in and out in an hour. The wound is glued shut with what is essentially superglue. It's got a bandaid over it to keep her from picking at it.

I feel extremely calm. But at 43, I also know that this calm is an illusion. Soon our delayed dinner will be ready and we will eat it and go to bed. Ah, motherhood.

I just looked at the Dermabond website:

Nodiscomfort

I don't think Elizabeth would agree that there was "no discomfort."  But there are a lot of nerves in the eye area. Also, I'm sure glueing the cut shut probably hurt a lot less than stitching it would have. She had been very brave up until the glue was applied, but she cried the whole way home.