Previous month:
January 2006
Next month:
March 2006

February 2006

Violent Dragons of future....


  Violent Dragons of future.... 
  Originally uploaded by dharmesh thakker.

A vision inspired by the motion of lights in Mumbai, as seen on Flickr, a photo shot by an architecture student who lives there. The caption reads:

grungy evening in mumbai.... the lights have become violent dragons, and they want to be free souls.. so that they can fly and be on their own... see the energy which they possess... see their will to be free from rigid society around... the young brains of today wont remain silent spectators... their energies will blast someday soon... they too will fly like these violent dragons.. burning off everything what comes in their way.....


Guns & Christianity in Uganda

WaldronAlex of Yorkshire Ranter has just emailed me a link to my kind of blog post from  Bartholomew's notes on religion: US Christian Right Activist in Ugandan Jail over Illegal Guns. Anyone have any idea what's up with this? This seems like a narratively interesting situation if there ever was one. I know that certain segments of the American evangelical far right have a sweet tooth for the idea of mercenaries in Africa. I wonder if this situation has anything to do with the evangelical mercenary fetish.

Could face terror charges


Strange news from Uganda. The Kampala Monitor reported two days ago that

police in Kampala are holding an American national who was allegedly found with four illegal guns and 184 rounds of live ammunition. Police Spokesman Assuman Mugenyi told journalists at a press conference at Kibuli Police headquarters yesterday that Dr Peter E Waldron was arrested at about 8pm on Monday.


Waldron, 59, works as an Information Technology consultant for the Ministry of Health and has been living in Uganda since 2002. He was arrested at his home in Kisugu near International Hospital after a tip off.


Documents found on him indicate that Waldron is also an advisor to the President of Rocky Mountain Technology Group, Contact America Group Inc and Founder of City of Faith Ministries in Kampala.

(Actually, according Waldron’s website that should be “Cities of Faith Ministries”)

Apparently three men were seen near Waldron’s home dropping a bag; when a passer-by asked them what they were up to, he had a gun waved at him for his trouble. This rather unfortunate move led to an alarm being raised, and a hostile crowd forming:

They pleaded with the mob not to lynch them saying they would show them where more guns were hidden. "The suspects led the police to Waldron's house in Kisugu and on conducting a search, two more SMG rifles were recovered with 94 rounds of ammunition in a wardrobe in his bedroom and copies of The Africa Dispatch newsletter," he said. One of the men who were arrested was a Congolese national.

The Monitor also reports that

…Some of the pictures in the magazine show Waldron with diplomats in the High Court during the trial of [Dr Kizza] Besigye.

This raised the spectre of terrorism at the high court; however, a Reuters report says that this was incorrect:

Police mistakenly identified Waldron on Tuesday as being in a picture taken at the trial of opposition candidate Kizza Besigye and this, they said, was proof of a terrorist threat.

 

But on Wednesday they said they had been mistaken and the man in the picture was a senior diplomat, not the suspect.

This is a bit curious, given that Waldron’s appearance is somewhat distinctive (he has a large moustache). Reuters also provides some extra information:

An American evangelical and IT consultant, arrested in Uganda with assault rifles this week, planned to set up a political party, police said on Wednesday.

… Major-General Kale Kayihura, Inspector General of Police, told a news conference Waldron was suspected of links to a group in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and "planned to set up a political party here based on Christian principles."…

See also Jesus' General: Faith-based covert ops? 

Dr Peter E Waldron of Cities of Faith Ministries is the latest victim of Christian persecution in Africa. The former GOP operative, ex-President of The Save The Family Foundation, and member of the secretive Council for National Policy was arrested recently in Uganda for selling illegal "SMG rifles" (sub-machine guns).

Although such persecution is not unusual in Africa, this is the first case involving an arms dealer of the Lord. It is unclear whether Dr. Waldron was operating under a faith-based covert operations grant. There is no record on the Central Intelligence Agency website of anyone receiving such funding.

Just what is it about elections in places with fragile democracies that seems to draw the secretive American nutcases, anyway?

On his web site, Waldron explains his plan for Uganda: he plans to change the place through the miracle of branding (as in products, presumably, not irons). Exactly why he needed weapons to accomplish this is a bit mysterious.


McDaid on the Boskone Blogging Panel

John McDaid's Boskone trip report has a good write up of the blogging panel I moderated. I was hoping someone would do that, since it was a panel I was proud to have moderated. I thought it went really well: Boskone trip report: Doctorow rips IP a new a-hole, Cramer is the Eye in the Sky

It's always a pleasure to hear Cory Doctorow testify, and he was in great form this weekend for his special guest speech. He excels at expressing intellectual property issues with an sf-writer's eye for the telling moment. Discussing the corporate desire to plug the problem of analog to digital conversion (or, as he puts it, the 'a hole') he imagines a future camcorder that respects IP: a parent is videoing their child's first steps. Child walks in front of the TV, and the image goes black. Yes, the proposals are that dire, and without folks like the EFF out there fighting, this is the future we may well end up with.

Also wonderful was a panel on blogging with Cory, Kathryn Cramer, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Teresa warned that as the military-industrial complex increasingly takes blogging seriously, we can expect to see more "astroturf," or faux-grassroots sentiment being seeded into the blogosphere. And Kathryn provided a case in point of why blogging is worrisome to powers that be: she's increasingly using tools like Google Earth and Flickr to monitor hotspots, and finding that people gravitate to the site and feed her info not seen in the mainstream media. (She also just made the cover of Nature in a piece on mapping for the masses.)

FURTHER TO THE SUBJECT OF "INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY," see Teresa's new post, What perpetual copyright means to me:

It is right that what’s new and unique in a writer’s work be recognized as peculiarly their own. That’s fine. But copyright is not a statement of inalienable natural right. It’s a social convention, intended to reward (and thus encourage) writers and publishers to produce more books. To pervert it into a claim of perpetual ownership, especially when that claim is being forwarded by large entertainment conglomerates, is the moral equivalent of driving a fence around the commons.

In the comments of that post, Charlie Stross makes a point that I think cannot be made often enough:

The semantic framing of the whole debate fascinates me.

Pet peeve: "pirates" and "piracy". It's a pretty extreme label to pin on a practice which is, on the small scale, about equal to shoplifting, and on a large commercial scale roughly equivalent to any other form of forgery (watches, scent, designer handbags, whatever). But it's an example of how the folks who pin the label on the donkey get to define the debate. Piracy, after all, is a Serious crime, and deserves draconian sentencing (twenty years! life!) ... which is a whole lot harder to argue for in the case of shoplifting. And indeed, the next time the MPAA or RIAA accuse one of their profit centers -- excuse me, infringers -- of shoplifting, it'll be the first.

If people who copy DVDs for their friends are pirates, what then shall we call the entertainment executives who insisted our electronic rights must belong to them even when they had no viable plans for developing these rights in a way that would benefit us? I know who the pirates are.

MEANWHILE, Octavia Butler has died suddenly and unexpectedly. I last Octavia at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, where she was attending the ceremony to induct Philip K. Dick into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. I think I took her picture sitting on a bench next to Charlie Brown of LOCUS.  I did not know her well, though I encountered her socially from time to time and  although I know her work.

This is hard for me to think about. I keep bouncing off it to think about somethng else. The manner of her death -- a fall, bleeding in the brain, maybe a stroke -- reminds me of what I'm afraid of. David's mother died of a stroke in November; and I still haven't entirely come down from the ceiling from David's emergency angioplasty a few years ago. My incomprehension in the face of the suddenness of it remind me also of my reaction to the death of SF editor Jenna Felice in early 2001.


CAG's got a blog!

I just discovered this morning that the strange, secretive private intelligence company Consultants Advisory Group (CAG) has a blog. I'm trying to figure out how to stuff it and mount it properly to be hung on my wall.

Cagblog
I have a letter in to UN Legal inquiring about the relationship between MINUSTAH and CAG. The CAG site (including blog) is sitting on a Yahoo server in Sunnyvale, CA, near as I can tell.


Watermarking as a Strategy for Insisting on Corporate "Creators": Is DRM the Killer App for Corporate Authorship?

Ed Felton at Freedom to Tinker has a good post on the problem of digital watermarking, How Watermarks Fail (via BoingBoing), in which he concludes that watermarking schemes (such as Koplar's VEIL technology, discussed in my post VEIL Technology: Four Patents & an Application the other day) are not well suited for Digital Rights Management (preventing unauthorized copying of copyrighted material).

The discussion in the comment section is particularly interesting. Consider this comment, for example:

Let’s imagine a case where Microsoft’s post-Vista OS, codenamed Blacksheep, will only work with video cards that require a watermark in order to play Super-HD video (2048-4096 lines of resolution). Then such videos could be distributed in encrypted form with the watermark embedded. The decryption and watermark detection algorithm could be public; however the encoding/embedding algorithm would be secret.

Users could use the public decryption algorithm to create raw MPEG files with the watermark stripped, but would not be able to play them on commercially available video cards (similar to how video cards are now requiring monitors with HDCP support in order to play HD video). Users would not be able to create new videos with altered watermarks because the algorithm to do that is secret.

If digital watermarking schemes for DRM are put into practice, they may have little effect on the problem of bootleg versions of mega-corporate products. However, as discussed in the comment section, they may be quite effective about keeping digital artistic productions by individuals out of the distribution system: in the end, what DRM may accomplish is forcing individuals to give big corporations a cut for distribution just to get the authorized watermarking.

My experience in the early-mid 90s teaches me that part of the purpose of setting the production standards of early CD-ROMs absurdly high was to promote corporate authorship over individual authorship with the idea that digital products could be authored like film and TV, not like books, thus empowering the executive level and disempowering the actual creators, or rather reconfiguring relations such that executives become part of the creative "team."

Now computers are being sold that allow individuals, and small groups of individuals, to produce works to very high production standards on very low budgets. This also threatens the rise of corporate authorship. So watermark-style DRM may do very little to prevent the "piracy" about which the big media corporations are up in arms, it may be the killer app of corporate authorship.

It needs to be said over and over that in the early '90s, corporations did not own or control most of these digital rights they now claim the right to defend. In large part, these rights were taken, without additional compensation, from the artistic creators. (I know who the real pirates are!)

Transitioning from a world where art is created by individuals to a world where it is "created" by corporate "creative teams" is the second part of an overall stratgey to consolidate corporate control over the revenue that can be extracted from the popular arts; for creating a future in which consumers remain consumers and don't try to horn in on the revenue due to producers of artistic commodities.

(See also Dr. K.)


Chile's Sensible Proposal on Intellectual Property made at the World Intellectual Property Organization meeting in Geneva

WipologoThe Electronic Frontier Foundation has an interesting write-up of the proceedings at the meeting of WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization, in Geneva. Apparently, Chile has a particularly sensible proposal on the table that consists of three specific suggestions:

  1. Appraisal of the public domain
  2. Emphasize importance of complementary systems to and in intellectual property
  3. A study for assessing what are the appropriate levels of intellectual property, considering the particular situation in each country, specifically its degree of development and institutional capacity

The full text of the proposal is below the cut. The EFF remarks:

In the afternoon of Day 2 of the WIPO Provisional Committee on Proposals Related to a Development Agenda we finally got down to business: discussing Chile's thoughtful proposal on the Public Domain. Chile had actually put forward three suggestions, but it was the proposal for WIPO to undertake a study of the value of "a rich and accessible public domain" that drew comments from a slew of Member States, the Committee Chair and public interest non-governmental organizations. And rightly so. As Chile's proposal notes, the public domain is essential for ensuring access to knowledge,  and provides the foundation for technological innovation.

Intellectual property rights are supposed to promote the same goals, but you'd never know it from the comments of some participants who seemed to fundamentally misunderstand the essential relationship between IPA and the public domain.  Apparently under the mistaken impression that the public domain is the opposite of intellectual property, these participants claimed that the proposal was outside Wop's mandate.

The copyright and patent regimes have historically recognized that the creation of intellectual property requires a robust public domain. Material from the public domain forms the building blocks on which new creations are built. As the Chilean delegate eloquently put it:  "Our starting premise is that nothing is created out of nothing. The greater the works in the public domain, the greater the creation." The public policy underlying the grant of time-limited exclusive copyright and patent rights is that the public domain will be continually enriched, to the benefit of all society.

Precisely because of the public domain's importance,  recent encroachments upon it - such as Technological Protection Measures, new sui generis database rights for non-copyrightable data,  exclusive rights for test data in the patent arena, and extensions of copyright and patent terms - deserve careful scrutiny.

Chile also proposed that WIPO analyze complementary systems to intellectual property that incentives creative activity, innovation and technology transfer, including free and open source software and creative commons licenses, and a study or set of case studies assessing the appropriate level of intellectual property protection based on different countries development status.

The NO coalition's notes of day two's proceedings are after the jump. There are also great summaries of the debate at the blogs of IPA-Watch, Georg Greve, and Kirsten Karloff of Free Software Foundation Europe, GAV Brazil, and Thieu Balasubramaniam of Consumer Project on Technology.

Cory Doctorow remarks, in his post How the US is boning the developing world at WIPO:

EFF and other public interest groups are back at the United Nations this week, at the World Intellectual Property Organization's meeting of the "Provisional Committee on Proposals Related to a Development Agenda." This is the meeting where the nuts-and-bolts of how WIPO will turn itself into an actual humanitarian agency, instead of what it has done traditionally: help rich countries and their multinationals screw the developing world.

The public interest groups continue to subversively write down what's going on and publish it, something that  WIPO's Secretariat once described as "abusing WIPO's hospitality" -- normally, the Secretariat would release a report six months after the fact, once everyone quoted in it had the chance to revise the report of what they'd said. EFF and others publish their account of the WIPO deliberations daily -- twice a day, when it's going hot and heavy -- and it gets slash dotted, read by delegate's bosses in their capitols, and distributed. It has a genuinely disruptive effect on the orderly dividing-and-conquering of the world that's underway there.

Technologically, it's dead simple: the public interest groups make an ad-hock WiFi network, open up the group-editing program SubEthaEdit, and collectively write down as much of what's being said as they can keep up with, along with explanatory text.

Keep on transcribing! Good work, people.

FromGeneva has a colorful bit from yesterdays's proceedings that I find quite delightful, because indeed the whole debate centers on desire, that term so popular in literary criticism when I was in grad school:

Nearly one hour was devoted to whether to structure this list "horizontally" or "vertically". The Ambassador of Argentina proposed that this list be structured in horizontal clusters in a table or matrix format. This he suggested would be a better way to visually see the common threads binding the proposals. Different delegations could then identify which cluster or column they felt their proposals belonged to. This initiative was supported by Brazil, Pakistan, and Venezuela. Many other members including the United States noted that this process was time consuming and was not the most efficient way to proceed.

The delegate from Pakistan had an inimitable quote on these discussions,

We can't resist the temptation to recite this line while we are looking at your proposal; a dance is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire. It is somehow relevant to the discussion we are having here. The desire is horizontal because we want to have a common ground. We have received from you a vertical expression.

Continue reading "Chile's Sensible Proposal on Intellectual Property made at the World Intellectual Property Organization meeting in Geneva" »


Mozambique Earthquake Surpise: Who knew that Mozambique had the toughest building codes in Africa?

Because I was focused on other things and was in New York City yesterday, I missed the fact that Mozambique just had a big earthquake until late yesterday. I didn't get a chance to look into what the situation was until this morning, though I called my friiends last night to see whether the collective "we" were working on map help for this one. The results of my search were a pleasant surprise. Who knew that Mozambique had the toughest building codes in Africa? Hooray!

From the Chicago Tribune:

Colonial past aids Mozambique in surviving quake

By Laurie Goering
Tribune foreign correspondent
Published February 24, 2006

MAPUTO, Mozambique -- When a major earthquake rocked central Mozambique early Thursday morning, a remarkable thing happened.

Only a couple of homes collapsed. Just two people died, one of a heart attack. No one needed to rush emergency aid to the area.

That's mainly because the magnitude 7.5 quake hit one of the most thinly populated regions of the country, near Espungabera, a town of fewer than 10,000 people near the Zimbabwean border. But two peculiarities of Mozambican history and culture also helped the nation come through its first earthquake in a century virtually unscathed.

In 1755, an enormous earthquake rocked Portugal, Mozambique's former colonial power, killing 60,000 to 90,000 people. In its aftermath, Portuguese authorities began insisting on tough safety codes for building construction, codes that eventually made their way to the country's colonies in Africa.

Today, more than 250 years after Lisbon's disaster, Mozambique, which has little history of tremors, retains some of the toughest building codes in southern Africa, rivaled only by South Africa, which has regular small quakes as a result of mining activity rather than tectonic movement.

(Once again, I learned about an earthquake through the Flickr photofeed in my sidebar: someone had posted a screen shot of the quake data.)

Here's the USGS data on the quake:

Magnitude    7.4
Date-Time    Wednesday, February 22, 2006 at 22:19:07 (UTC) = Coordinated Universal Time
Thursday, February 23, 2006 at 12:19:07 AM  = local time at epicenter
Location    21.211°S, 33.439°E
Depth    11 km (6.8 miles) set by location program
Region    MOZAMBIQUE
Distances    215 km (135 miles) SW of Beira, Mozambique
230 km (145 miles) S of Chimoio, Mozambique
535 km (330 miles) N of MAPUTO, Mozambique
990 km (620 miles) NNE of Durban, South Africa
Location Uncertainty    horizontal +/- 10.3 km (6.4 miles); depth fixed by location program
Parameters    Nst=169, Nph=169, Dmin=859.2 km, Rmss=1.34 sec, Gp= 25°,
M-type=moment magnitude (Mw), Version=8
Source    USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)
Event ID    usjlca


VEIL Technology: Four Patents & an Application

Cory Doctorow GoH speechAfter hearing Cory Doctorow's terrific guest of honor speech at Boskone, an updated version of his Microsoft DRM speech, I have become interested in finding out about this VEIL technology which is in proposed legislation (Digital Transition Content Security Act, HR 4569) intended to "plug the analog hole" aka the "a-hole." (This rhetoric reminds me of the joke about why the asshole is the body's most important organ. Someone in this process forgot to hire a writer.)

What made my little ears prick up at the discussion of VEIL is the unreasonable secrecy surrounding the technology. It is summarized nicely at Freedom to Tinker:

VeilagreementI emailed the company that sells VEIL and asked for a copy of the specification. I figured I would be able to get it. After all, the bill would make compliance with the VEIL spec mandatory — the spec would in effect be part of the law. Surely, I thought, they’re not proposing passing a secret law. Surely they’re not going to say that the citizenry isn’t allowed to know what’s in the law that Congress is considering. We’re talking about television here, not national security.

After some discussion, the company helpfully explained that I could get the spec, if I first signed their license agreement. The agreement requires me (a) to pay them $10,000, and (b) to promise not to talk to anybody about what is in the spec. In other words, I can know the contents of the bill Congress is debating, but only if I pay $10k to a private party, and only if I promise not to tell anybody what is in the bill or engage in public debate about it.

Worse yet, this license covers only half of the technology: the VEIL decoder, which detects VEIL signals. There is no way you or I can find out about the encoder technology that puts VEIL signals into video.

DevicesThis secrecy screams SCAM to me, and regular readers of this space know that I have been finding certain kinds of secrecy and scams entertaining of late. So I'm taking a look. Koplar Communications International, home of VEIL technology, seems to be a real company with a real address and real execs and all that (unlike certain companies I've lately looked into). But the response Freedom to Tinker got to their inquiry is just wrong wrong wrong. And in my experience, when you find something like that and start picking at the threads, things get interesting pretty quickly.

So lets pick at threads. I mean, it's not like a technology to be used this widely for consumer applications ought to be classified, is it? This sort of thing is supposed to be open for public debate, i.e. debate by the public.

Here's the opening of the VEIL Wikipedia entry:

Video Encoded Invisible Light (VEIL) is a technology for encoding low-bandwidth digital data bitstream in video signal, developed by VEIL Interactive Technologies. VEIL is compatible with multiple formats of video signals, including PAL, SECAM, and NTSC. The technology is based on a steganographically encoded data stream in the luminance of the videosignal.

The Veil Rights Assertion Mark (VRAM or V-RAM) is a DRM technology combining VEIL with a broadcast flag. It is also known as "CGMS-A plus Veil" and "broadcast flag on steroids."

This morning, I added some listings of the patents plus an application probably associated with this to the Wikipedia entry. (There was one there; I added a few more.)

(There also seem to be some Australian patents I haven't looked into yet.) What do we make of this? As Alex points out in correspondence, t certainly seems possible that the key to this isn't in the patents at all; rather it is in the proposed legislation making it mandatory. Techies, help me out here!

I think I understand the implications of this last one. If we were all chipped like dogs, then the screens could regulate their content based one whomever is standing nearby. Imagine that!

TedtvI cast around a bit looking into the company and its CEO. He strikes me as the very Ghost of Television Past, echoing the ideas about how the digital revolution experience could become ever-so-much more like your television. My favorite piece on Koplar is in Business Week and discusses the toy applications of the technology. I LOVE the last line:

Toys and TVs threaten to become intertwined as never before.

Pariseurodis5The implications of all this remind me of my one and only visit to Disney. I went on the "It's a Small World After All" ride full of dancing dolls in international costumes. When we came out of the tunnel, there was a little sign that said, You're never far from a Bank of America!

Who knew that the ride was more Futuristic than Epcot?

And meanwhile, Freedom to Tinker has another really fine post up on the subject: Analog Hole Bill Requires “Open and Public” Discussion of Secret Technology.

Pick at those threads! This is gonna be fun.

RfidA FURTHER THOUGHT ON THE PATENT APPLICATION: If you assume that the user is chipped and not just the devices, the implications of a mandatory VEIL standard combined with embedding device positional data in video signals are absolutely Phildickian. What appears on the screen of your computer is a video signal, so control of that signal should be understood as control of the reality coming in through the computer, tailored to a specific user or set of users in proximity to the device.

Why assume that the user is chipped? Because, first of all, human RFID is already on the table. The graphic to the right is swiped from the Wikipedia RFID entry. The section of the entry on Human RFID ends:

Cincinnati video surveillance company CityWatcher.com now requires employees to use VeriChip human implantable RFID microchips to enter a secure data center.

Is it a plausible scenario that this might become widespread? Extrapolate a mandatory system for controlling video signals which can tell how close you are to a device and can read your RFID chip. Great system for keeping kids out of online smut, yes?

Now, what other pieces of consumer electronics might also read this chip as, say, part of the consumer-level watermarking process? Can we extrapolate as part of an extended VEIL system the possibility of video cameras watermarking your video and photos with the IDs of everyone nearby when something was recorded ? I don't see why not.

Am I being unfair to a technology evolved to make your favorite cartoon character toys interact with the television? If this were just about toys, yes. But it's not. It's about mandating a potentially repressive standard in the US for which the entertainment industry will provide munificent R&D money. Then, using its international leverage, the US can force these  technologies down the throats of every repressive government in the world where, to paraphrase William Gibson, the street will find its own uses.

But with all the surrounding secrecy of the VEIL technology, there is also no particular reason to believe that it would really function at the most basic level advertised, securing "content" for "content providers" and defending it against "piracy." So again, we need to take a close look at what those patents actually describe.

Also, I think we need to interrogate the notion of the "piracy" of "intellectual property": it seems too me that what may potentially happen to the Internet bears a much closer resemblance to "hijacking on the high seas or in similar contexts; taking a ship or plane away from the control of those who are legally entitled to it" than a bunch of kids sharing music with their friends. If this all goes through and the Internet is transformed, who are the REAL pirates?

MEANWHILE, a reader provides a defense-related link: Koplar registered with the Defense Contracting Command as an "interested party" in bidding on the Iraq Media Network.

TOP DONORS TO THE CAMPAIGNS OF HR 4569's SPONSORS: This info comes from OpenSecrets.org, which explains how to read these charts:

This chart lists the top donors to this member of Congress during the election cycle. The organizations themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organization's PAC, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.

The strong presence of entrenched media and entertainment industries is present in both charts below.

Sensenbrenner

 

Conyers

I wonder if either of the sponsors or ANY of the big donors are actually familiar with the super-secret technical specs of VEIL. (Bet they aren't! How 'bout it guys? Does anyone who does not actually work for Koplar know the specs? Let's see some hands.) There is something unpleasantly consistent about a proposal to use a secret technology to suppress the release of information. I have the suspicion that those supporting this have bought into the idea that they personally don't need to know the details.

At present, the status of HR4569 is listed as "Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary."

Meanwhile, the EETimes reports that someone named David Birch has had a very entertaining outburst at a 3GSM World Congress panel. (I'm going to ignore the gender rhetoric because of the general validity of the point.)

In a rant that awoke all the participants in this end-of-the-day session, Birch of Consult Hyperion, a U.K.-based independent IT consultancy, reminded the panel of mobile operators, device-makers and standards developers that the telecommunications industry is at least 15 times larger than the Hollywood "content" industry. Yet, Hollywood is prevailing in its demands for embedded technologies designed to prevent illegal sharing of music and video by mobile phone users.

"Why are you such a bunch of big girls?" asked Birch. "Why don’t you tell the content owners to just get stuffed?"
. . .

The panelists, nonplussed by Birch's outburst, left it to Willms Buhse, vice chair of the Open Mobile Alliance to attempt a response. He said that the imbalance between Hollywood’s size and its power was a matter of glamour, and its effect on public policymakers.

Citing the comments of an unnamed professor, Buhse said, "With any politicians who make laws, you’re going to do much better with Christina Aguilera than you are with a handset."

IMG_0239.JPGI say for the record that, speaking as a thin blonde content provider (and a girl), I heartily support the idea that politicians and the tech industry should tell megacorporate entertainment to get stuffed.

(Via arstechnica.)

LEGISLATIVE DETAILS

I've been looking at the house.gov site trying to find statements from the bill's sponsors on what the heck they think they're doing. Here is Sensenbrenner's press release from December 16, 2005:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.) today introduced legislation strengthening intellectual property protections by securing analog content from theft. The use of devices to convert analog content into digital versions which can easily be uploaded onto the Internet is a significant technical weakness in content protection. H.R. 4569, "The Digital Transition Content Security Act of 2005," is cosponsored by Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.).

Chairman Sensenbrenner stated,"This legislation is designed to secure analog content from theft that has been made easier as a result of the transition to digital technologies. Although many of those who convert analog content into digital form are not engaging in any illegal conduct, there are a good number of criminals who take advantage of existing weaknesses in legislation and technology to obtain copyrighted content and then redistribute for profit at the copyright owner's expense. This practice is nothing short of theft."

"There is no doubt that pirating intellectual property can be a profitable criminal activity. Just this week, a software pirate pled guilty in Alexandria, Virginia to making $20 million in sales of counterfeit intellectual property. New technologies have made the widespread redistribution of copyrighted content significantly easier," added Chairman Sensenbrenner. Ranking Members Conyers said, "As one of our most successful industries, it is important that we protect the content community from unfettered piracy. One aspect of that fight is making sure that digital media do not lose their content protection simply because of lapses in technology. This bill will help ensure that technology keeps pace with content delivery."

H.R. 4569 mandates the use of two technologies to limit and frustrate redistribution of video content. This legislation builds upon existing law by mandating the detection and response to two separate technologies that work together to defeat pirates. The two technologies are the Content Generation Management System - Analog (CGMS-A) and Video Encoded Invisible Light (VEIL).

The legislation would require that devices that convert analog content pass through the CGMS-A and VEIL content protection signals contained in the original version. To ensure that the technology used does not become outdated, the Patent and Trademark Office is authorized to conduct ongoing rulemakings to update the technology.

"I urge all interested parties to continue to negotiate to see if a private sector solution can be fully developed to secure analog content from theft. This issue is simply too important for parties to avoid negotiations. Nonetheless, I look forward to working on this legislation next year," Chairman Sensenbrenner concluded.

I also found something from Conyers from April 2005:

Content owners and the high-tech industry should be commended for responding to consumer demand for digital music. For years, consumers have been clamoring for access to digital content. Because content protection technology and content owners had not caught up with the Internet, music lovers turned to illegal download sites like Napster and Kazaa for digital content.

We had heard that, if the content industry would just create a legal avenue for obtaining digital music, consumers would embrace it. The premonition was largely true. The record industry and high-tech worked together to develop digital content protection, to clear the rights needed to get music online, and to get music on the Internet. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the response to legitimate digital content has been overwhelming: in 2004, only twenty-four percent of music downloaders had tried legitimate download sites; in 2005 to date, the number jumped to forty-three percent.

It is probably safe to say that the reason for this overwhelming response is the late 2003 launch of Apple iTunes. In business for a little over a year, iTunes has sold a record-breaking 300 million songs through its online store. Other download sites, like Napster and Rhapsody, are gaining speed by offering alternatives such as monthly subscription services instead of just downloads and allowing transfers to numerous digital music players. No matter how you view it, the marketplace is working.

Digital piracy existed long before legitimate services like iTunes came onto the market and, unfortunately, it likely will continue no matter how much easier the songwriters, recording artists, and record labels make it to obtain music digitally.

Here's the thing: There is really a whole lot more at stake here than whether record labels or film studios live or die. The Internet offers utopian possibilities borne of a kind of transparency that the world has never before experienced, transparency that can save lives and make for better governments worldwide. And through DRM initiatives we are being asked to part with those possibilities for the sake of record companies and film studios. I don't think so. No. Here in the 21st century, things are going to be different and better.

Here is the membership list for the House Committee on the Judiciary, where HR 4569 sits currently. Let's kill it:

Housecommitteeonthejudiciary_1

Coverage of the hearing Thursday 11/03/2005 - 2:45 PM on Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property Oversight Hearing on "Content Protection in the Digital Age: The Broadcast Flag, High-Definition Radio, and the Analog Hole" is available HERE. Included is a link to a webcast of the hearing and pdfs of the testimony.  The witnesses at the hearing were:

  • Honorable Dan Glickman, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)
  • Mitch Bainwol, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
  • Gigi B. Sohn, President, Public Knowledge
  • Michael D. Petricone, Vice President, Government Affairs, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) on behalf of CEA and the Home Recording Rights Coalition.

I have been letting the sound of the hearing wash over me while I do other things. Ten years ago, publishers started demanding of authors electronic rights in contract negotiations for no additional compensation. The authors had very little leverage with which to resist. My personal reaction, listening to the entertainment executives complaining in the Anelog Hole hearing about the potential for uncompensated "creators" (by which they mean corporations) is Cry me a river! I don't know how the details of this were worked out in film and music, but in print publishing, the very digital rights that it is claimed need protection were demanded of authors by over-powerful corporations over the author's collective objections, in large part without additional compensation. Was that piracy?

But -- regardless of whether pushing authors into the position of involuntarily surrendering their digital rights a decade ago was piracy -- the whole issue of exactly how corporations will be compensated for administering the creative properties under their control pales into insignificance when considered in the context of the loss of worldwide transparency the industry proposals would entail.


Cory Doctorow plays with David's Skylark Award at Boskone.


  Me and Skylark, Boskone, Boston.jpg 
  Originally uploaded by gruntzooki.

(I shot the photo with Cory's camera.) 

My husband, David Hartwell, was awarded the Skylark last night.

The Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction (the Skylark) is presented annually by NESFA to some person, who in the opinion of the membership, has contributed significantly to science fiction, both through work in the field and by exemplifying the personal qualities which made the late "Doc" Smith well-loved by those who knew him.

And here's a nice shot Cory took of my hand, and of my eyes, both taken through the magnifying glass on the award.

Oh, yeh, I should probably also show David actually receiving the award:

IMG_1313.jpg

As should be obvious, this was an event of deep seriousness.


René Préval Declared the Winner of Haiti's Election

NytprevalFrom the NYT around 10AM:

A high-ranking official from the Organization of American States, who insisted on anonymity because of the fragile nature of the agreement, said on Wednesday night that loopholes in Haitian electoral law allow the government to discard an estimated 85,000 blank ballots included in the original tally. By excluding them, Mr. Préval's lead would increase from 48.7 percent of the votes to slightly more than 51 percent.

Under election rules, the winner needs 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a run-off.

From the San Jose Mercury News first thing this morning: Winner declared in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Officials of Haiti's interim government and electoral council announced early today that they had reached agreement to declare front-runner René Préval the winner of Haiti's presidential elections.

"We have reached a solution to the problem,'' said Max Mathurin, president of the Provisional Electoral Council. "We feel a huge satisfaction at having liberated the country from a truly difficult situation.''

"We acknowledge the final decision of the electoral council and salute the election of Mr. René Préval as president of the republic of Haiti,'' Prime Minister Gerard Latortue told the Associated Press.

Former President Préval was just a hair short of the 50 percent-plus-one majority he needed to win the Feb. 7 vote without a runoff, and the discovery of thousands of crumpled ballots at the municipal dump diminished hope that a vote recount would offer Haitians any greater confidence in the electoral process. Only political negotiations, foreign experts said, could resolve the situation.

"The margin of uncertainty is larger than the margin of victory and defeat,'' said a fraud specialist for the International Mission of Evaluation of Elections in Haiti, who asked to remain anonymous because the group leaders have been prohibited from speaking publicly about the balloting.

"The only solution now is a political solution,'' the specialist told a Knight Ridder reporter who went to the city dump Wednesday morning.

Preval pulled more than four times the votes of any other candidate.


Google Earth in Nature: See my picture on the cover! Wanna buy five copies for my mother!

The announcement of the contents of the February 16th issue of Nature is out, and I went and checked, and sure enough, they did use the image I supplied them with as the COVER of the magazine. See that super-cool Google Earth collage of a map showing landslides near Muzaffarabad in Pakistan? I made that!

Mypictureonthecover

Surekotelevee_1Inspired by some of the collage-effect Hurricane Katrina images created in Google Earth by Shawn McBride  and other members of the GE Current Events Community (samples: 12, & 3), and Hiroshima images created by Earthhopper, I crumpled the DLR image of landslides over the cliff like that, trying to hit a balance between 3-D realism, and the legend of the map, with the intention throwing you out of the frame into the artifice involved. It's an image I'm really proud of.

Randy Sargent of the Global Connection project had to recreate it in a high-end version of Google Earth to rez it up to 300 dpi. My original from November 19th is HERE. Randy's hi-rez recreation is HERE (for the full-rez version (4668 x 4797), click HERE). Should anyone have failed to notice, I'm elated!

And, oh, yeah. There's an article that goes with it which is part of the feautured Mapping for the Masses section:

Editor's Summary

16 February 2006

Mapping for the masses

Google Earth's integration of satellite images, maps and models, and the neat way it zooms around, have quickly found it a place on countless computer desktops. As well as making sure where you live is on the planet, there is fun to be had looking for curiosities (tinyurl.com/9xl3z is one). But the 'democratization' of mapping by virtual globe systems is more than a novelty: it will have far reaching implications for the way that scientists use spatial data. Declan Butler charts the future in a News Feature on page 776. Google Earth has already proved its worth during relief efforts in New Orleans and Pakistan. In a Commentary on page 787, Illah Nourbakhsh et al. argue that this technology can have great humanitarian benefit by revolutionizing the response to natural disasters. The cover image of earthquake-hit Pakistan combines material from Google Earth and MDA EarthSat. Overlay courtesy DLR, the Global Connection Project, and Kathryn Cramer.

News Feature: Virtual globes: The web-wide world
Life happens in three dimensions, so why doesn't science? Declan Butler discovers that online tools, led by the Google Earth virtual globe, are changing the way we interact with spatial data.
doi:10.1038/439776a

Full Text | PDF (747K)

Commentary: Mapping disaster zones
Google Earth software proved effective during relief efforts in New Orleans and Pakistan, say Illah Nourbakhsh and colleagues. Is there more to be gained than lost from opening up disaster operations to the wider public?
doi:10.1038/439787a

Full Text | PDF (365K)

I am part of the et al in Illah Nourbakhsh et al, a co-author of "Mapping Disaster Zones." Here is the full list of authors: Illah Nourbakhsh (CMU), Randy Sargent (CMU), Anne Wright (NASA/Ames), Kathryn Cramer, Brian McClendon (Google Earth), Michael Jones (Google Earth).  It is my first scientific publication.

Declan Butler of Nature tells me, "we have put all the articles on free access, so anyone from the general public can access."

See also Declan Bulter's blog post: Google Earth on the cover of Nature

What on Earth is Google Earth doing on the front cover of Nature, the international weekly journal of science?

This week’s issue contains several pieces on virtual globes, and all are on free access. I’ve written a three-page feature — Virtual globes: The web-wide world – on the various ways scientists are beginning to use virtual globes, such as Google Earth and Nasa’s World Wind.

I discuss the feature in an accompanying podcast.

There is also a two-page Commentary — “Mapping disaster zones” –on the use of Google Earth in humanitarian disasters. It’s authored by Global Connection scientists — Illah Nourbakhsh and Randy Sargent, Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania,  and Anne Wright, NASA/Ames, California — Brian McClendon and Michael Jones at Google Earth, and Kathryn Cramer.

Nature itself has its lead editorial — Think Global — devoted to a look at spatial thinking in science.


Burned Ballots Found in Haiti

From Reuters: Burned ballots inflame Haitian election tensions

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Haiti's electoral council said on Tuesday it would launch an investigation after burned ballots, many cast a week ago for former president Rene Preval, were found still smoldering in a state dump.

Preval, a one-time ally of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide opposed by the same wealthy elite who helped drive Aristide from power two years ago, said on Tuesday that only "massive fraud" had prevented him from winning a first-round victory in the February 7 election.

A few hours later, reports that hundreds and maybe thousands of ballots had been found discarded in a massive garbage dump in Port-au-Prince rippled through the ranks of Preval supporters, triggering anger and demonstrations after nightfall.

"That's absolutely unacceptable," said Rosemond Pradel, secretary-general of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) charged with organizing the impoverished Caribbean country's presidential election -- the first vote since Aristide was ousted by an armed revolt and international pressure to quit.

"The CEP was not handling the ballots," Pradel said. He said securing the ballots after they had been cast was the responsibility of the 9,000-strong U.N. force trying to keep the peace in Haiti, known by its acronym MINUSTAH.

"I cannot answer to those problems but we are going to set up a commission to investigate the problem," Pradel said.

U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst said ballots were supposed to have been sealed in bags and placed in a container, protected by U.N. troops. "It's not normal to have these ballots there."

Post mirrored from Jeb Sprauge at Free Haiti:

Election manipulation in Haiti is no joke. Only a few in the mainstream press, as of yet, have covered these burned/trashed ballots. Today vote monitors and members of AUMOHD discovered piles and piles of burned and trashed ballots marked for Preval. Here are some photos. AUMOHD writes, "Thanks to our volunteer accompanier, Jared Sibbitt, here are three of pics of the burned ballots.  Our information is that these were found in an area called Marcial near Cite Soleil.  I have placed more pics on our website since this listserve has some limits on size of messages."

From AP:  "We expected these MREs to do anything in their power to steal the elections and they did not disappoint us. Guy Delva of Reuters News Agency reported that hundreth and possibly and possibly thousands of burnt and still smoldering ballots, many cast a week ago for Preval, were found on a Port-au-Prince garbage dump, outraging Preval supporters and setting off demonstrations after nightfall.     "Steve Jacobson of AP also reported Local Telemax TV news Tuesday night showed smashed white ballot boxes in a garbage dump, with wads of ballots strewn about. Ballot after ballot was marked for Preval."

Corbbet Lister Patrick Tortora writes, "On Haitian Television Channel 5 this evening a cameraman was following Haitians who were taking him through a rubbish dump near Citi Soleil. The people leading the cameraman around were showing hundreds if not thousands of presidential ballots that had been marked for a presidential candidate and signed on the reverse by an official of the Electoral Council. All the ballots that were shown to the camera were marked for Preval. There were also many cardboard ballot boxes littering the dump. The inference was that legally marked ballots were dumped in the landfill. Even if these ballots were counted before being discarded, what were they doing in the dump before all ballots were counted and before election result were announced, not to say anything about a possible recount?"

Meanwhile, David Wimhurst, of MINUSTAH continues his attempts at covering up this mess. Wimhurst said it was possible someone dumped the ransacked ballots to create an appearance of fraud. Wimhurst also said there was no evidence of fraud. The U.N. provided security for the vote (much like they provided "security" for the Haitian National Police while they have massacred poor Haitians for the last two years) and helped ship election returns to the capital but is not directly involved in counting ballots. Coup President Boniface Alexandre's chief adviser Michael Brunache announced the votes will be reviewed by a commission which will include presidential candidate Rene Preval's attorneys.

Why were these ballots thrown in the trash heaps and why are so many of them burned? Haiti's interim CEP has some explaining to do.


GoogleNewsHaiti021506


Year's Best Fantasy 6, edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer: Table of Contents

TachsmallOur anthology Year's Best Fantasy 6 will be published by Tachyon Publications this year, moving from HarperCollin. They're giving us a truly fine David Bowers cover. (Our Year's Best SF 11 will still be appearing from HC.)

Here is our table of contents:

Eating Hearts · Yoon Ha Lee
The Denial · Bruce Sterling
The Fraud · Esther Friesner
Sunbird · Neil Gaiman
Shard of Glass · Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Farmer’s Cat · Jeff Vandermeer
Crab Apple · Patrick Samphire
The Comber · Gene Wolfe
Walpurgis Afternoon · Deliah Sherman
Monster · Kelly Link
Robots and Falling Hearts · Tim Pratt & Greg van Eekhout
Still Life with Boobs · Ann Harris
Heads Up, Thumbs Down · Gavin J. Grant
Newbie Wrangler · Timothy J. Anderson
Being Here · Claude Lalumière
Mom and Mother Theresa · Candas Jane Dorsey
The Imago Sequence · Laird Barron
Magic in a Certain Slant of Light · Deborah Coates
Single White Farmhouse · Heather Shaw
Read It in the Headlines! · Garth Nix
Niels Bohr and the Sleeping Dane · Jonathon Sullivan
Mortegarde · Liz Williams
Inside Job · Connie Willis


A Quick Survey of the Blog Manifestos

This is part of an ongoing series on blog methodology.

First, a little more on what I'm up to. I've had a really amazing past four of five months, during which my blogging has undergone some transformations, and I'm preparing to try to bring together what I think I've learned. But first I'm casting around for what other people have articulated along these lines.

On Day One, I searched around for what people had to say about blog methodology. (Wrong question.) On Day Two, I looked at what people said a blog is for. (What en extraordinarily fine navel I have here! Um. Another wrong question.)

In the comments of the second post, though, a reader gave me a list of links to blog manifestos. (And, yes, I should have thought to google blog manifestos myself.) I'm going to go through the list he provided in the order of appearance, and may tack on a few more at the end.

Manifesto

First on his list was Andrew Sullivan's 2002 piece, Why online weblogs are one future for journalism. I had read it before, quite a while back. I don't really think of what I do in this space as journalism, though it is some related creature, and I have received occasional mentoring from real journalists when they thought I was onto something really good. I had filtered out the whole blogging-is-the-future-of-journalism trajectory. But the reader comment caused me to revisit the Sullivan essay, where I do indeed find a highly relevant passage:

I remember trying to fathom some of the complexities of the Florida election nightmare when I got an email from a Florida politics professor explaining every detail imaginable. If I'd been simply reporting the story in the traditional way, I'd have never found this font of information. As it was, I found myself scooping major news outlets on arcane electoral details about chads and voting machines. Peer-to-peer journalism, I realized, had a huge advantage over old-style journalism. It could marshal the knowledge and resources of thousands, rather than the certitudes of the few.

My personal shorthand for this phenomenon is build it and they will come. If I find some really good questions to ask, high class help tends to show up to help find the answers. This is a key piece of my personal blog methodology.

Scoble's Corporate Weblog Manifesto (2003): Heaps of good advice that generalizes nicely from the corporate blog to many other kinds of blogging; but also not exactly what I'm after. (But read it anyway.)

A Norwegian blog manifesto (2004): This seems to have been written as a launching point for a group effort, trying to generalize from what could be learned from American blogs to the Norweigian context. It is interesting for the articulated vision:

What is our goal? A broad, open public sphere that includes amateur online media. A place where all issues are discussed freely, where all views are represented, where for every large media there are ten smaller ones scrutinizing it and keeping it in check. A place where the border between professional punditry and amateur punditry, professional reporting and amateur reporting, is blurred, where it matters more whether you are right than whether you're being paid and have a diploma on your wall.
. . .
This is not a media revolution. There will be no eternal land of milk and honey on the other side, just a more open media community. It will be way short of perfection, but better able to investigate and discuss political issues. These are realistic and moderate goals.

This generated a discussion of whether the involvement of amateurs improves the media.

The Libertarian Blog Manifesto by Russ Stein (2002), for the most part, isn't a manifesto. It is more an expression of enthusiasm for the medium of the blog. But it does have a passage worth quoting:

And blogs are where the power is. Seriously! The future belongs to those who prevail in the political debates on the web. Right now the political ideas that will govern the future are being sharpened & polished on the world's computer networks. And the right basically owns the web. Where in the world wide web is the left? Where are the people who staff the government agencies, the diversity and affirmative action theorists, the Marxists, teachers, socialists, commies, mural painters, greens, tax grabbers, democracy and human rights activists, and the defenders of the ruling establishment? They are no-where! They are fat, happy, stupid, complacent, computer illiterates with nothing but clichés and conventional wisdom to add to the debate, if they could even log on. They do nothing as we busily mock and de-legitimize them on the web.

This passage is an interesting mixed bag: an idealistic statement about the web as a venue for ideas combined with the rhetoric of a mean-spirited intellectual land-grab. The political landscape of the web has changed a bit since then.

Chris Pirillo's 2002 The Blogger's Manifesto is not so much a manifesto as a set of instructions to readers on how he wants them to regard his blogging; it is a literary descendant of the FAQ.

The Blogging Manifesto (2003) from the Aardvark Speaks mostly avoids the real issue of the purpose of blogging and the political implications of the act.

The Poor Man provides his own summary of his sort-of-manifesto, Blog Dogme 2003:

I am laying out the following blogging manifesto/art statement, a list of "do nots" - a Blogma, if you will - which will hopefully improve the quality, enjoyability, and purity of the reading and writing experience.

I'm going to skip the Audioblogging Manifesto, though you might want to listen to it.

And finally, there is Rebecca Blood's 2002 essay Weblog Ethics. Its key passage is:

Let me propose a radical notion: The weblog's greatest strength — its uncensored, unmediated, uncontrolled voice — is also its greatest weakness. News outlets may be ultimately beholden to advertising interests, and reporters may have a strong incentive for remaining on good terms with their sources in order to remain in the loop; but because they are businesses with salaries to pay, advertisers to please, and audiences to attract and hold, professional news organizations have a vested interest in upholding certain standards so that readers keep subscribing and advertisers keep buying. Weblogs, with only minor costs and little hope of significant financial gain, have no such incentives.

It is a widely influential essay. I agree with most of what she has to say but completely disagree with her fourth point: "Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry." The commercial publishing industry has a whole infrastructure devoted to making this possible with print publishing. To pretend that a person with a blog can perform up to this standard without recourse to rewriting, correction, and deletion if foolish, seems to me. But, other than that, a good piece. But it is more a guide to what she feels are best practices, rather then an examination of what this is all for.

I'm sure there have been more manifestos since, but the general impression I'm getting is that while exploring manifestos comes a bit closer to what I'm seeking regarding an explication of blogging methodology, the form of the manifesto also falls short and does not give me what I am looking for.

What shall I try tomorrow?


What is a blog for? 25 Answers

Yesterday, I tried googling "blog methodology," and was dissatisfied with what I found. Today, I tried approaching the "blog methodology" question from a different angle. Instead I tried searching on "what is a blog for." The following are a selection of what I found out there on the Interweb, in order of Google ranking:

  1. It is a place to just vent and release what you are feeling at the time.
  2. . . .  after all, if not to promote one own's work?
  3. . . . if not personal opinions and preferences?
  4. . . .  if not distracting one from more pressing work?
  5. . . . if not to publish things that will be unpublishable anywhere else until after you are dead and have received a posthumous Nobel Prize for literature.
  6. . . .  if not to kvetch about one's annoying classmates?
  7. . . . if not reflection?
  8. . . . if you can’t rant when you need to?
  9. Is it a place to write what happens in your day, or a place to express your views on certain issues? From what I have observed, most people use it as a medium for them to express their feelings.. be it about something or someone.. and mostly, they express hatred.
  10. . . . if not to taunt a sibling on the other side of the world about treats you just found on a Chinatown expedition?
  11. . . . but to let people know how you feel and what your beliefs are? At least some of them . . .
  12. . . . if not self-indulgence?
  13. . . . if not to spout my own political beliefs?
  14. . . . except for angsting?
  15. . . . if not for a bit of fun?
  16. . . . if NOT to show pictures of your detached bones?
  17. . . . if not to for me to complain? here: i have this weird post-nasal drip cold thing going on right now.
  18. You know blogs aren't always supposed to be meaningful.
  19. I am using Blogs on ecademy as an opportunity to ask for advice that will assist my business.   
  20. . . . if not for posting personal stories and comments in a highly emotional moment that later destroy everything you work for in personal, professional or social life, leaving you regretting having posted in the first place, wishing you were dead and following up by posting something just as bad all in the same week? I mean really, haven't you learned anything?
  21. . . . if not Poaching News from Other Websites?
  22. . . . if not to expound upon the pointless?
  23. . . . if it is not for annoying the hell out of complete strangers?
  24. I am a Star Trek lovin, Pres Bush hatin' geek. Anyone out there like me?
  25. pl sure ask abt this, lar! dumb! [This last one seriously attempts an answer.]

Um. OK. Many of these have truth to them and some are funny. But.  I mean, sure, I confess that I've used my blog for some of the purposes on the list. (My personal list of trivial answers to the question would have to include, " . . . if not to give words away for free that I might otherwise get paid for?".) 

I was hoping for more.

OK. I'm by nature overly intellectual and overly theory-oriented. But I'm thinking maybe blogging needs a manifesto.


Haitian Election: "two of nine members of the elections council have themselves alleged fraud, blaming the council's director general, Jacques Bernard."

A post mirrored from Babylon Project:

Haiti: Letter to CBC Radio - Connie Watson

Connie Watson has distorted the truth in her reports consistently on CBC radio, one of the few outlets that you would expect to find a more serious commitment to the facts. Reproduced here is a letter of complaint from Dr. James Winter.

CBC Radio News:

Your correspondent in Haiti, Connie Watson, reported this morning that dissatisfaction with vote counting and allegations of fraud are  coming entirely from the poor and disenfranchised in Haiti, who  support Rene Preval for president.

Nowhere to be found was mention of what Reuters reported yesterday: two of nine members of the elections council have themselves alleged fraud, blaming the council's director general, Jacques Bernard.

"Pierre Richard Duchemin and Patrick Fequiere, two of the nine  members of the elections council, said the vote tabulation was being  manipulated and blamed Bernard," Reuters reported.

"There is an unwholesome manipulation of the data," concluded Duchemin.

You do a disservice to your listeners when you omit crucial information such as this from your report.

Indeed, CBC News On line has an excellent report on this, which apparently your correspondent has not read.

Must we go on line to get the news, or can we rely on radio news to  give us a complete report?

Sincerely,

Dr. James Winter

Dr. James Winter,
Professor,
Communication Studies,
The University of Windsor


Happy Valentine's Day

Last year, Peter made these amazing monster valentines. Here is my favorite:

Valentine_anna

The whole set is up on his Monster Gallery (petersmonsters.com) along with more of his monster drawings.

For this year's Valentines, he scanned in interesting fabrics and printed out the patters on paper and then used them to make Valentines. Herre's a shot of the one's he's organizing now:

Img_1187


The Hotel Montana as a setting for the Haitian Election Drama: "This is a wonderful day to see the children of Cite Soleil swimming in the pools of Hotel Montana."

Hmpool

"un site unique, une histoire d'atmosphèrs . . ."

—the Hotel Montana website

There is a movie to be made of the Haitian election drama, and one of the key settings in this movie will be Port-au-Prince's Hotel Montana. I first heard of the place on December 15th  in correspondence with Valerie Sendecki of the mysterious security contractor Consultants Advisory Group. She wrote:

I wish we could talk about this over a fine cup of  Haitian coffee so that you could enjoy the beautiful [view] from the Hotel Montana.  It’s breathtaking.

HotelMontana2The hotel is the scene of the alleged suicide of General Bacellar, head of MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping forces on January 7th. It's my impression that it's the hotel where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stayed as they passed through. And it's where that guy "David Reuther," who was trolling in my comment section a while back claimed to be staying.

Watching the Haiti feed on Flickr, I've watched guests come and go at the Montana. I've seen guest's shots of the pool, the restaurant, and that view of which Val Sedecki spoke so highly.

About a week ago, just before the election, I wrote a fictionalized account of the Haitian election drama, revolving around one "Hotel California," entitled "Duck Soup in the 21st Century." It is currently on submission (as fiction) to a major magazine. The ending of this first draft involves a crowd bursting into the hotel lobby and shots being fired (just as Mrs. Teasdale is checking out).

So, imagine my surprise to read in Forbes, of all places, the AP story, Violence Erupts Over Haiti Vote Count:

Supporters of Haitian presidential candidate Rene Preval erected smoldering roadblocks across the capital and occupied a luxury hotel Monday. At least one protester was killed, but U.N. peacekeepers denied witness accounts that they had shot him.

Now. Who speaks for the UN Peacekeepers? My God, if it isn't David Wimhurst. (For anyone who has been following this space, Wimhurst has zero credibility with me.) And was it the Hotel Montana? Oh. Yes. It was.

"MINUSTAH killed my brother. MINUSTAH, killed my brother," a woman wailed.

Meanwhile, in the Petionville neighbourhood above Port-au-Prince, protesters converged on the upscale Montana Hotel where election officials have announced results of Tuesday's elections.

UN peacekeepers kept close watch from a driveway and rooftops as protesters squeezed into the hotel's lobby and down the steep sloping driveway, waving posters and tree branches and chanting: "Now is the time! Now is the time!"

South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, who had appealed for calm at church services Sunday, was seen on a balcony surveying the crowd as helicopters landed on the roof to evacuate people.

But of course life is stranger than fiction: I never could have anticipated Desmond Tutu on the balcony calming the crowds. (I wonder if they gave him Bacellar's suite.)

Desmond Tutu on the balcony of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-PrinceTo those staying at the Montana: I know you've all got digital cameras. Please go up to your rooms and upload your pictures of the incident to the Internet. David Wimhurst needs to know that the whole world is watching; that now all of us are the Eye in the Sky; that in the 21st Century, things will be different and better.

Also from AP, via Forbes:

With about 90 percent of the vote counted, Preval was leading with 48.7 percent, Haiti's electoral council said on its Web site. His nearest opponent was Leslie Manigat, another former president, who had 11.8 percent.

But of the 2.2 million ballots cast, about 125,000 ballots have been declared invalid because of irregularities, raising suspicion among Preval supporters that polling officials were rigging the election.

Another 4 percent of the ballots were blank but were still added into the total, making it harder for Preval to obtain the 50 percent plus one vote needed.

Jacques Bernard, director-general of the nine-member electoral council, denied accusations that the council voided many votes for Preval.

Council member Patrick Fequiere said Bernard was releasing results without notifying other council members, who did not know where Bernard was obtaining his information. And another council member, Pierre Richard Duchemin, said he was being denied access to the tabulation process.

"According to me, there's a certain level of manipulation," Duchemin said, adding that "there is an effort to stop people from asking questions."

Here's a photo of the pool scene today:

Hmpool2

Anyone got GPS coordinates of the Hotel Montana? I would love to be able to mark some of this stuff one Google Earth.

FROM JEB SPRAUGUE at Free Haiti:

This is a wonderful day to see the children of Cite Soleil swimming in the pools of Hotel Montana. Today, after officials within the CEP have criticized other officials for vote tampering and one demonstrator was killed (reportedly by UN MINUSTAH forces), the Haitian masses from Bel Air, Cite Soleil, Delmas, and other neighborhoods have marched on Hotel Montana. UN troops were landed by helicopter on the Hotel's roof. Here are some photos from Yahoonews.
The people came down the road meaning buisness. They demanded that their vote be respected.

Citesoleil

Please post links to additional photos in the comment section. (See also the Yahoo photo feed.)


Blog Methodology

There has been an overarching structure to the diverse things I've been thinking about over the past five months or so. And today, when I was going over my notes and correspondence, trying to impose the unity I feel upon the disorder of my hard drive, it occurred to me to Google "blog methodology," since that's part of what I think this has all been about. It seemed an obvious search term, but I came up with surprisingly few results, and most of those seemed to pertain to the methodology for creating software for blogging, rather than the methodology of the act itself.

The chitchat about Web 2.0 seems more to the point, but again that discussion seems to quicky devolve into advocacy of specific software tools, not a discussion of what we're really trying to do and why we're trying to do it, and how we plan to get there.


Cyber Storm?

I have been combing through the reports on the Department of Homeland Security's war game "Cyber Storm" looking for any accounts of how they actually handled the blogger "problem" in the simulation. I haven't found one. Anyone know of a good account?

But following some of my recent adventures, I could write a handbook on What Not to Do when dealing with a blogger. Someone should give me a consulting gig. But, being me, I'll probably write it up and give it away for free, as is my usual practice.

I'm curious about what courses of action were pursued in the simulation, because I'm pretty sure some of it would make my What Not to Do list. (Suggestions for such a list are welcome.)

UM. SPEAKING OF WHAT NOT TO DO: We in Pleasantville understand that everyone up to and including Dick Cheney realizes that sitting Vice Presidents should not shoot people by accident and so have not been making merciless fun of our Vice President.

Nonetheless, we find outselves unable to resist this graphic entitled Ten Ways Dick Cheney Can Kill You  (via BoingBoing).

Ten ways Dick Cheney can kill you

(See also the Liberal Avenger.)


Perhaps those advocating that the US act crazy to get things done aren't as sane as they'd like us to believe.

Two worthy blog posts mirrored in their entirety:

From Belle Waring at Crooked Timber:

One Lee Harris, quoted by Glenn Reynolds, on Iran and its nuclear capability:

There is an important law about power that is too often overlooked by rational and peace-loving people. Any form of power, from the most primitive to the most mind-boggling, is always amplified enormously when it falls into the hands of those whose behavior is wild, erratic, and unpredictable. A gun being waved back and forth by a maniac is far more disturbing to us than the gun in the holster of the policeman, though both weapons are equally capable of shooting us dead. And what is true of guns is far more true in the case of nukes.

Reynolds: “A corollary is that the United States probably needs to be scarier and less predictable itself.”

Umm, not to dispute the basic point, which is sound enough in its way, but how much scarier and less predictable is the U.S supposed to get?

From Alex Harrowell at The Yorkshire Ranter:  The fools, the stupid crazy fools..

Oh Lord. Apparently Glenn "Instawhatsit" Reynolds has been advocating some fool's paean to the Madman Theory, that wonderful old idea that you can and should get your way in international politics by deliberately projecting the impression of irrationality. The Crooks have (of course) already made the point that the current US government would have to work hard to be any more dangerous and unpredictable - perhaps they should do something sensible in order to get the point over? But that's just low-grade snark, really.

18 months ago I wrote an MSc thesis for Steve Haines's IR course on exactly this subject, and specifically the 1973 superpower crisis arising from the Yom Kippur/Ramadan war. (You can read it here.) A couple of relevant contemporary points. First of all, the principles. As someone on the CT thread points out, deliberately appearing irrational and dangerous requires that the other party is rational enough to be scared of your bizarre behaviour. If they're faking it too, following the same strategy you are, this is wildly dangerous. But if they are genuinely mad, it's even worse. It's more complicated than that, though.

If you are trying to induce them to accept some sort of negotiating proposal - which is after all the point - you have to leave yourself an out. You have to be barking enough to scare them, but not so barking that your barkingness obscures the prospect of a reasonable solution. In fact, you have to pretend to be mad enough that they will give in rather than risk your madness whilst simultaneously demonstrating that you aren't mad at all. Which is itself arguably insane. Mr. President, we only needed to be mad enough so that they see we are not mad but will go mad if they don't come to their senses! The risk being, of course, that if you overdo the madness they may decide there is no point talking to you and that it's high time to whack you over the occiput with something long and leaden before you go ape. Of course, you see that one coming and go madder earlier.

There's also a negative side. The practicals. Just as you have to ensure that your display of creative psychopathy is recognisable as a display, you have to ensure that any signals you use to demonstrate it are recognisably signals. It's rather like the distinction between the latent and manifest content of the dream. Yes, it looks like a B-52, but really it's..a symbol! Something which looks very different when you see the bugger on the radars. Even words can do this. You ask that cartoonist. Oh, we were only upholding the principle of freedom of sp..

Applying anything like this to Iran would be incredibly stupid. First up, the whole argument for attacking Iran is based on the assumption that there can be no stable deterrent relationship between Iran and Israel, because the Iranians aren't logical, Captain. Well, if they are really, genuinely mad, pretending to be mad in order to scare them is not very sane. Second, if we then say that, well, they sound mad but they are smarter than they let on, we run up against the problem of assuring what might be termed credible implausibility - after all, it's no good if they decide we really are mad after all, being surrounded by hostile or semi-hostile states as they are, and initiate their own madman defence. And there's no point anyway, as if they are sane enough to recognise our madness they are sane enough to be scared by 200+ Israeli nukes.

Finally, once you are sure you've secured that credible implausibility, the other side are free to recognise that you aren't really mad and ignore your ravings (as Brezhnev and at other moments Golda Meir did in 1973).

It's just not worth it, although it was a fun thesis and contained the only MiG-25R in the year.

To demonstrate the basic reasonableness of his position, Reynolds links to a guy who suggests that we nuke the moon. (Should these guys be allowed sharp objects? Perhaps not.)


Dubya's Heck of a Job: NYT reports White House knew of a levy break the night of the storm

From the New York Times, February 10, 2006

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.

Investigators have found evidence that federal officials at the White House and elsewhere learned of the levee break in New Orleans earlier than was first suggested. But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.

The full NYT story is HERE.


Dimbulb Psyops Trolls

In the comment section of my most recent Top Cat Marine Security post, I've had two strange trolling incidents today, both involving condescending sexist comments.

The first instance (69.182.171.102) was someone positing with a fake name and a fake email address with the name of a company known to have aviation contracts with the CIA. The company in question does not have a domain name nor do they have an employee of that name. I suspect I was meant to look into this and fall into fits of paranoia at the possible CIA connection. Nice try.

The second (83.138.147.68) was someone posting as "John Young" of Cryptome.org, a site that hosts documents that governments want to suppress. It didn't seem like something the real John Young would write. I picked up the phone and called him. Sure enough. He didn't write that. 83.138.147.68: that is fraud, you know.

NOTE TO TROLL: The real John Young takes real exception to his name being used this way.

Add 150.101.8.197 to the troll list.

Haitians Voting by Candlelight

I think this photo has such amazing atmosphere. It makes voting seem like a sacred act, which I suppose in some sense it is. The caption reads:

Haitians vote late into the night by candle light at a polling station on February 7, 2006 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Many voting stations were overwhelmed by the amount of people showing up to vote and stations had to be kept open all night to make sure everyone could vote. For the most part, the first election since Aristide went off with little violence. (Michael Orin Kleinfeld)

Here is the rest of the photoset. [UPDATE: I'm not sure what happened. That whole photoset vanished. here's the photostream it came from; maybe the photographer found a buyer.] FURTHER UPDATE: Now the photo is back up. HERE is a link to a big version, and HERE is a link to the photoset.


Polling for War: What Fools these Pollsters Be

I've been marveling at the idiocy of the LA Times and Bloomberg for commissioning a poll asking the American people if it is OK to go to war against Iran. Was that push-polling for war, or what? The Iran situation hadn't even been referred to the UN Security Council yet, and they were out there asking permission for a new war. What kind of nonsense is that?


Somalian TFG Cabinet minister Hassan Abshir insists Top Cat Marine Security, with which his government signed a two-year $55 million deal, is not only real, but also that TC is ready for combat

This is part of an ongoing series on the private military company Top Cat Marine Security, which is intertwined with a series on Consultants Advisory Group; both companies lack a valid street address and & refuse to disclose the identities of their management or owners.

From The Daily Nation in Kenya: Doubts over US firm in deal with Somalia

Story by KEVIN J. KELLEY in New York and STEPHEN MBURU in Nairobi
Publication Date: 2/5/2006
Mystery surrounds the operations of a US-based company, two months after it struck a controversial multi-million dollar contract with the Somali Transitional Federal Government to end piracy off the Horn of Africa's coastline.

But a TFG Cabinet minister Hassan Abshir insists Top Cat Marine Security, with which his government signed a two-year $55 million deal, is not only real, but also ready to combat persistent insecurity along the country's 2,000-kilometre-long coastline.

Mr Abshir, the Fisheries minister, sealed the deal in Naiorbi, with Top Cat's head of research and development Peter Casini.

Among those who witnessed the pact was Somalia's Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi.

Telephone disconnected

But investigations by the Sunday Nation found that Top Cat's office in Manhattan is actually nothing more than a call-answering operation. There's no indication of Top Cat officials working there. The company's telephone number at its former headquarters in South Carolina has been disconnected.

A State Department official suggested that the TFG's contract with Top Cat for anti-piracy operations may well result in violation of the United Nations' arms embargo against Somalia.

While declining to comment specifically on the case of Top Cat, another State Department official said the US does not license exports of military items to countries that are under a US arms embargo. The ships that Top Cat says it will use in pirate interdiction actions would probably qualify as military items. The ships would also presumably be equipped with guns and other weapons.

A US-based company such as Top Cat would be subject to export licensing requirements regardless of where its military hardware would be imported from, the official added.

If a US company is found to be in violation of the licensing rules, it would be subjected to penalties under the US Arms Control Export Act. The official said the penalties would be financial and "of other sorts".

The Sunday Nation left four messages with Top Cat's answering centre in New York for Maryann Johnson, the company's vice president for public relations, but despite assurances that she, or another Top Cat official, would get back to us regarding the status of the Somalia contract, we never received a response.

And in Nairobi, Mr Abshir declined to discuss the deal with the Sunday Nation.

We wanted him to shed light on a number of issues including the existence of Top Cat, its capacity to carry out the contracted operations, when the work would begin, the procedure Somali government used to select the company, whether some consultants had been engaged, who would fund the deal and if it would be possible to implement the project as Somalia is under the UN and US arms embargo.

He only said: "They (Top Cat) are ready to come. When they come, I will call and give you all the details."


Understanding Pakistan Earthquake Damage: Two More Photos from Jishnu Das

Here are two more pictures from Jishnu Das with long, informative captions. (Bigger view with legible captions is HERE.)

He says:

I wanted to put this picture up to show the dramatic differences between a "mohalla" (settlement) and a "mauza" (village). The entire photo shows a SINGLE village---Basantkot (as an aside, the village is named after a Sikh woman who used to live here before partition and means "the home of spring"). This is the largest village in the area. The way the road goes, it leads directly to the big pink house in the main settlement, and a consistent complaint is that more relief goes into this settlement compared to the other. We tried to see whether people in one settlement knew the others, and they do not. So for instance, starting from the right corner, people in Lavanseri could name the people in Jabarseri (the abandoned settlement in another photo), but no one else could. These village structures are leading to 2 problems--first, we are embroiled in a nightmare trying to sort out geo-locations of villages, since we have different readings at different points from different sources, and we have no way of knowing from the data that settlement "Jabarseri" is part of mauza "Basantkot". Second, and perhaps more critically, relief agencies in the area where we were would visit the main settlement. We consistently find that this is not enough, both for information and equitable targeting of relief.

He says:

One of the tasks in the near future is further compensation for housing damage, which may require further verification of structural collapse. A hard job at best, this picture suggests that the task may be harder given the way people have used material from damaged houses during the winter. The picture shows a small area that contained FOUR structures prior to the earthquake (I had gone in December, when these were clearly marked). The debris from these had been cleared up and stacked, and a lot of the wood had already been used for fuel and warmth. The circle on the left shows the debris from 2 structures, the one in the middle from a 3rd, and incredibly, the 3 pieces of wood in the right circle a fourth (the pile was much larger in December). The two intact structures were constructed AFTER the earthquake to take families through the winter. At this point, figuring out how many structures there were is completely dependent on accurate answers from the people living there.


Suspicious Incident in Chappaqua

This notice was just sent me by the Chappaqua school district:

We were just alerted to an incident in Chappaqua. An 11- year old boy was approached on Hamilton Road by a white, male, approximately 40-45 years of age with some grey, cut short (not crew cut) hair, no facial hair, wearing blue, button-down, collared shirt. The suspect drove a Red Ford Explorer who offered the boy a ride. The male subject then stated that he had candy. The boy declined his offers and walked away.

New Castle Police Department is aware of similar incidents occurring throughout Westchester County and this subject / vehicle description appears similar to a recent incident in Harrison, New York. Please contact New Castle Police Detective Division if you have any information. (238-4422)


Haitian elections "off to a stumbling start";
One would-be voter dead of asphixiation; another dead of a heart attack; Polls to extend hours

From Reuters this morning: Haiti election off to stumbling start

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Haiti's presidential election got off to a rocky start on Tuesday after repeated delays as thousands of people trekked to polling stations in the capital only to find them still closed.

At a large voting center outside the sprawling Cite Soleil slum, at least 5,000 people milled about but there were no ballots or other voting materials to be seen an hour after the polls were scheduled to open at 6 a.m. (1100 GMT).

At least seven other polling centers across the capital were closed, but a U.N. official said some had opened.

Cite Soleil residents walked by the thousands to voting centers outside the teeming seaside shantytown, many determined to return ex-President Rene Preval, a protege of the exiled Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to the National Palace.

A couple of days ago, I set up a CommunityWalk map for the Haiti elections was a way of organizing information in case things get weird. You, dear reader, can annotate this map and add your own information, including adding pictures, links to websites, audio or video, etc. Also, the CommunityWalk map is exportable as a Google Earth KML file which will retain these annotations. It's there should anyone want to use it.

Also, keep an eye on the Flickr photofeed for the tag "Haiti." (See also my post Earthquake in Tokyo, plus How to Document Human Rights Violations Using Flickr.)

UPDATE from AFP via Yahoo: Crowds storm voting centers in Haiti; one dead

A 65-year-old man died of asphyxiation on Tuesday as crowds rushed the gate of a voting center in the Petionville suburb of Port-au-Prince, Radio Caraibes reported.

At another voting center in the capital, a woman suffered burns as she fell over the hot exhaust of a police motorcycle as mobs stormed into the building which police desperately tried to keep closed until electoral officials completed preparations.

Anger mounted among the massive crowds that showed up early to vote but still faced closed gates two hours after the balloting officially started.

Similar situations were reported in other parts of the country.

Tension was particularly high around the notoriously violent Cite Soleil slum, where voters voiced their anger chanting "open up, open up."

Many voters around the country had to walk for hours to reach the voting centers.

UN troops in full combat gear were positioned in key areas of Haiti to prevent any violence during the elections held to replace Jean Bertrand Aristide who resigned the presidency and fled the country on February 29, 2004.

UPDATE from the Mail & Guardian in South Africa. One would-be voter dead of a heart attack: Crowds storm polling stations in Haiti, two dead

Voting got off to a rough start in volatile Haiti as angry mobs stormed voting centres that failed to open on time, with one person dying of a heart attack and another of asphyxia.

Several more people were injured or fainted as they were trampled or shoved by crowds that rushed voting centres.

Many voters rose well before dawn, walked for several hours only to wait in long lines to cast their ballot in the first election since former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the violence-wracked country two years ago.

There were no reports of violence overnight.

UPDATE from Associated Press:

Haiti extends hours of presidential vote
MICHAEL NORTON
Associated Press
Port-au-Prince — Polling stations opened late – or not at all – and scuffles broke out Tuesday as Haitians cast ballots in the first presidential election since a bloody revolt two years ago pushed this bloodied, impoverished nation toward total collapse.

Although polls were scheduled to open at 6 a.m. EST, some did not open until hours later. Because of the organizational problems, voting hours originally set to end at 4 p.m. EST were extended by at least two hours, Rosemond Pradel, the secretary-general of Haiti's nine-member Electoral Council, told the Associated Press.


Jishnu's Photos from Pakistan's Neelum Valley

Jishnu Das of RISE-PAK is just back from another trip to Pakistan for earthquake relief. I published his report of his previous trip not long ago. He's set up a Flickr account and uploaded pictures. Jishnu's day job is as an economist for the World Bank, so there's some fairly sophisticated information conveyed by the photos and their captions. Here's a brief selection:

Caption: In the union council where we were, all the schools, public and private were destroyed. While only one public school was semi-functional, all the private schools were back up and running within a fortnight, often in desperate conditions. We visited 4, all of which looked the same--a single tent, no books, no desks--but trying hard.

And here's another shot from the same school:

Caption: The bags were given by a relief agency (unfortunately with nothing in them...)

This picture was taken in Basantkot:

Caption: Sitting at one of the settlements. A lot of men in the area used to migrate to towns/cities during the winter months. The man on the bottom right for instance, has spent some time in the Middle East and used to work in Karachi. All of these people have come back--they feel that they cannot leave their families during the winter in tents to fend for themselves. One repercussion is that earnings in the area have dropped remarkably: in our surveys, we find that earnings are roughly a third of what they were the year before.

Caption: In food rations, all the villages in our area received either 75Kilos (165lbs) or 50Kilos of flour from the WFP and some additional rations from the army. They received the flour around December 8th or so and have not received any additional rations after. As a calculation: if flour is the only staple, 50 kilos for a family of 7 (average) finishes in around 12 days. Some complained about the quality of the flour, but this was not a consistent complaint...


A Deer with an Arrow in its Side: Stop Hunting in Old Farm Hill Park

Driving home from my really ugly visit to the Apple Store, on Old Farm Road South, near our house, I saw three deer cross the road ahead. One of them had a large yellow arrow dangling from its side. When I got home, I called the Mt. Pleasant police and reported (a) an injured deer, and (b) that someone was probably hunting in Old Farm Hill Park, a block from our house. Here are a few pictures I took there a week or so ago.

My son Peter trying to climb up to a hunting platform in the park:

Peter tried to climb up to the hunting platform.

. . . and a shotgun shell I found on the ground.

Shotgun shell on the ground below a hunting platform in Old Farm Hill Park, Mt. Pleasant, NY.

Understand that because of their propensity to devour anything I plant in the yard I am not a big fan of deer, which I am known to refer to as "rats on stilts."   But this is not the wilderness. This is suburbia with one-acre zoning. Hunting in my neighborhood could kill someone.

MEANWHILE, best kid's lines of the day:

ELIZABETH (3): Let's pretend that daddy's a lady, so he can be one of us!

PETER (8): We accidentally set the corner of the desk on fire, but it was OK.

PLUS, great line overheard in the halls of pre-school:  One mother says to the other: When my child does that, I always blame it on my husband.

AND FINALLY, the question I should not have asked: Are you accustomed to having a mother who puts up with such nonsense? (Guess what Peter's answer was.)


Apple Redefines Genius

According to Apple, "genius" is a necessary precondition for someone being able to take an equipment repair order. (So sayeth my local Apple store: I've got a call in to Apple's PR department to ask for confirmation.)

This afternoon, I naïvely set off for the Apple Store with two pieces of broken equipment: a dead wireless mouse which I'd had sitting around for a couple of months and a PowerBook that just recently stopped talking to its keyboard. I learned upon my arrival, to my dismay, that I needed an appointment with the Genius Bar to make a drop-off of two broken pieces of equipment. A friendly fellow immediately signed me up for an appointment, almost two hours away, but suggested I just take a seat and I would be helped a whole lot sooner than that.  Needless to say, a mom who arrives with a three-year-old in tow cannot wait two hours.

When, after 35-minutes, a man was willing to take my repair order, he began immediately to complain about the condition of the wireless mouse I'd brought in. Yes, it was kind of gucky. I use my machine very heavily. He claimed he could tell that somehow liquid must have gotten into the mouse. I have two kids—one of whom had been very good in their store for going on 40 minutes at this point. I would not swear that the mouse had never seen liquid. But some of what he was talking about looked to me like the results of summer humidity if it was anything other than very heavy use. The strong implication was that I was lying about the purchase date of the mouse. The ship date of the computer it came with was 5/11/05. I just use it a lot. (And using it a lot, unfortuantely also meant that I changed the batteries a lot, up until it broke.) I never owned a wireless mouse prior to the arrival of that computer.

After not very long, there ensued the following dialog:

ME (in a loud voice): It does NOT take a genius to take a repair order.
GENIUS™: According to Apple, it does take a genius to take a repair order.
ME (still in a loud voice): That's got to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

(I did tell GENIUS™ that "this was one for the blog" since this was a completely new one on me!) The GENIUS™ did not take well to this conversational gambit.

The GENIUS™ went to get a manager GENIUS™ and together they tried to bully me into the idea that the mouse should not be covered by warranty with the manager GENIUS™ occasionally making reference to the possibility of calling security if I didn't accept their judgment that the mouse covered by the Apple Care Agreement was not covered by the Apple Care Agreement. (The fact that I came with a blonde toddler must have made me look like an easy mark. Or maybe they didn't believe that a mommy who looked like me could have the computer usage patterns that I do.) I suppose I should point out I am not accustomed to being threatened by customer service people. I don't think that's ever happened to me before.

SO, OK, I'm a really irritated customer who feels she was ripped off on her Apple Care agreement because the local store refused to make good out of pettiness. Can I say anything positive about these people?

Well, yes, actually. Once I managed to get the assembled GENIUSes™ off the subject of what a dirty rotten lousy wireless mouse I'd brought them that couldn't possibly be honored under the warranty I'd paid EXTRA MONEY FOR, let alone under the boilerplate warranty that came with the computer—a subject that they clearly wanted to discuss at great length until long past when my son's school bus was set to arrive—the initial GENIUS™ fixed the keyboard problem with the PowerBook in about 30 seconds: a loose cable inside.

These WERE competent technicians, and competent technicians with some actual people skills. But what the Apple Genius Bar is at the Westchester Mall in White Plains, New York, is a woefully understaffed repair department in which everybody's dirty laundry gets aired in front of all the other customers also waiting their turn. In the hour I spent there, there was no one who came for arcane information available only from highly skilled technicians. There were only tense, angry customers who had waited way far too long for the most basic level of service. There was also the occasional person who wandered in with a piece of equipment, stood around looking tense for ten minutes or so, and then left again when he or she truly understood the full horror of the situation. And I was not the only mom to get borderline hysterical about missing kids at the school bus because of an unexpected wait. A pair of blonde women left shortly after I arrived muttering about needing to do 80 mph up 684 and trying to triage whose kid might not get met at the bus stop. (Not meeting your kid at the bus stop is a very grave mommy offense with dire consequences for mommy's social standing.)

SO. What is to be done? Both the guy I first yelled at, and his boss, who threatened to call security, are people I'd probably even like if I encountered socially. But at the White Plains Apple Store, the Genius Bar concept just ain't happenin'. What should happen is that if the Genius Bar is supposed to be the repair department servicing all those who own Apple equipment, then they need to double the staff. (I don't own an iPod, but my impression from being there for an hour is that iPods break a lot. There was a parade of dead iPods.)

Did Apple make a wise financial decision by making me hang out and nickle-and-diming me on replacing a $40 mouse that goes with a $3,500 computer? Well, no. I'm not going to try to bring the company to its knees by swearing never to buy another Apple. I'm one of their more loyal customers.

But, um, guys: After I did the quick repair drop off, my plan was to blow a couple of hundred bucks in your store buying a badly-needed external hard drive. But between keeping track of my three-year-old, and sitting at the Genius Bar to make sure I was seen as soon as possible, I didn't have time. Sorry.

And oh my God am I glad I managed to revive my G5 myself without recourse to the Apple store—it was out of commission for a week following the blackout. I can't tell you how upset I would have been if I'd hauled my G5 all across the rather large Westchester Mall and up to the 3rd floor where their store was to encounter these terms of service. (And I had such a positive image of the Genius Bar before today!)


"You watch my back and I'll say cheese"


  You watch my back and I'll say cheese 
  Originally uploaded by Tampen.

MINUSTAH in Port-au-Prince, Haiti,  as seem on Flickr this morning. The photographer's caption reads:

Self-portrait with Brazilian peacekeeper, taken with my little Canon point-and-shoot. Though shoot is probably the wrong word....

The photographer is Tony Allen-Mills, a journalist for the Sunday Times of London.

He's also got a shot of the view from the terrace of the Hotel Montana:


Peter & Elizabeth dancing at the Kittle House

My stepson, Geoff Hartwell, played the Kittle House in Mt. Kisco last night. The kids danced. At the particluar moment this was taken, they were outside in front of the restaurant. (It was unseasonably warm, which is why Peter doesn't have a coat on.)


A Response to MINUSTAH's February Report on Haiti to the UN Security Council: Get CAG Out of Haiti

This is part of an ongoing series on Consultants Advisory Group.

ScrMINUSTAH's just-published report to the UN Security Council begins:

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which expires on 15 February. After a very bad month for both MINUSTAH and Haiti in January the Council will also be looking to bolster the electoral process, reinvigorate MINUSTAH and encourage a reduction in violence.

Recent Developments
Haiti's presidential elections were postponed for the fourth time in late December on the grounds that technical difficulties were unresolved and that insecurity was hampering the electoral process. The Council, increasingly concerned at the performance of the Transitional Government, adopted a presidential statement on 6 January, urging the quick announcement of another election date no later than 7 February. Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council subsequently declared 7 February as the date of the first round of elections, with a run-off on 19 March if necessary. The official transfer of power to a newly elected leader is scheduled for 29 March.

In January:

  • The security situation deteriorated dramatically, with many kidnappings and assassinations as well as the death of two UN peacekeepers.
  • Sectors of the local business community mounted a campaign to discredit MINUSTAH. The campaign was condemned by the UN Secretary-General.
  • MINUSTAH's Force Commander, General Urano Bacellar of Brazil, committed suicide.

WimhurstSince MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst has accused me of participating in the alleged campaign to discredit MINUSTAH, I'll throw in my two cents.

MINUSTAH has involved itself in some capacity with Consultants Advisory Group, a company

If MINUSTAH wishes to pretend that rumors of CAG's activities are part of a campaign by others to discredit MINUSTAH, here are two important action items:

  1. Stop providing CAG with Internet access via IP# 200.2.128.3, which (though they use it more sparingly than in the past) they continue to make use of. And . . .
  2. Get CAG out of Haiti.

I have no idea of whether the business community there is trying to bring down any unfair criticism on MINUSTAH's head. But just days ago, MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst refused to answer my questions about CAG, choosing instead to threaten me with UN legal action.

No good purpose can be served by a United Nations organization associating itself with an outfit with the furtive habits of CAG. If MINUSTAH continues to associate with and cover for CAG, they are discrediting themselves.


Further to the Subject of PowerPoint

Now that I completely dumped on PowerPoint yesterday, I did want to remind people of our friend Peter Watts' brilliant piece of very dark humor, "Vampire Domestication."

I'm not sure we could say that "Vampire Domestication" redeems PowerPoint. It would probably be more accurate to say that it exploits what's wrong with the program to artistic effect.

Fizerpharm

MEANWHILE, from Reuthers (non-fiction):

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb 2 (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers are ready to secure Haiti's oft-delayed election with a rapid-strike force to put down any violence at polling stations, their commander said on Thursday.

Wonder what the PowerPoint plan might look like.


Earthquake in Tokyo, plus How to Document Human Rights Violations Using Flickr

I just noticed via my Flickr photo-feed for the tag earthquake that there has been an earthquake in Tokyo (5.1 magnitude). I looked at my earthquake Flickr badge and saw all these photos of the Tokyo subways, And sure enough, there was an earthquake today.

This reminds me of something I've been meaning to mention for a while: how easy it would be to document human rights violations using systems like Flickr. And to some extent this is already being done. I wrote this up a while back in private correspondence, meaning to revise. But I think I'll just put this out there now. The world needs to know that there are much better ways to document human rights violations than sending documents via email to Westchester housewives like, say, me. Here's a rough outline of what I was thinking:

I am working from how I tracked info on the situation in Pakistan following the earthquake, but  this would work just as well for human rights violations. There's some really gruesome stuff in Flickr documenting the arrival of medical teams in remote places weeks after the earthquake that had had no relief whatsoever. I had never seen three week old untreated wounds before. And the people in the pictures look so grateful to finally be getting help.

To document human rights violations, all they have to do is take digital photos and upload them to Flickr; tag them with relevant tags, like say HAITI and MASSACRE and such; geotag them: i.e. give lat and lon coords, or street address, or other really specific info. The photos come in date stamped in the first place with the data from the camera, but sometimes the camera is set wrong, so they want to be sure. And my additional advice to any one doing that wold be to add little or no political rhetoric, because what is important is for the objective observer over the Internet to ascertain that something happened and what it was.

In Flickr, one can make what are called Flickr badges. I have a couple on my site. You can make Flickr badges with feeds for specific tags. I've got one for "earthquake", and one for "Google Earth" and also that's how the photos at the top of my page work.

So you get the photos uploaded to Flickr. Then you can set up blogs all over the place with Flickr tags that will broadcast those pix. You can, at your leisure, add info to those blogs to go with the pix. Also, you don't have to have just one Flickr account. You can set up a new one each time you want to upload if your really want to. And there are other photo uploading services. That's just the one I know best and used to get hard info out of Pakistan after the earthquake and out of NOLA before that.

One of my new years resolutions is that certain things are going to be different and better in the 21st century. This is a start, and it's only February 1st.


A Response to MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst

This is part of an ongoing series on Consultants Advisory Group.

After having been provided with the email address of David Wimhurst of MINUSTAH in Haiti yesterday morning, I sent Wimhurst a polite note asking him if I might submit to his office questions concerning Consultants Advisory Group. The response I received from him -- not befitting an employee of a "Communications and Public Information Office" -- was intended to intimidate me. I was duly intimidated. But now I've had a good night's sleep and I'm over it.

The main purpose of this post is to discuss the two slides Wimhurst submitted to me as the "originals" by way of claiming the PowerPoint presentation in my possession has been doctored. I will address that presently. [Note that Wimhust submitted only two slides, not an entire presentation that might be compared to the one in my possession.]

Part 1: Addressing WImhurst’s Questions

First, however, I will attempt to address the questions Wimhurst claims I must answer. In the course of his unprofessionally rude and threatening letter, which I will show him the mercy of not publishing for the moment, what he seems to demand is any evidence in my possession that the PowerPoint presentation downloadable from my web site was altered by anyone for the purpose of undermining the UN operations in Haiti. Let me say unequivocally, for the record, that there is no evidence whatsoever in my possession that anyone doctored the PowerPoint presentation for the purpose of undermining the UN operations in Haiti. None. Zip. Zero. Sorry to disappoint.

HOWEVER, there is an abundance of evidence in my possession, much of it unpublished, that the Consultants Advisory Group is an amateurish operation which changes its story whenever convenient; an outfit that makes the Keystone Cops look like pros.

As nearly as I can tell, CAG's Valerie Sendecki initiated communications with me last month for the purpose of finding out how I learned of CAG and their connection to Top Cat Marine Security. Despite Sendecki's claims to have had lunch with Jordan Sage and later to have had her arrested and deported, my current thinking is that access to Sage's email account was gained by keystroke logging on UN-owned computers and that Sendecki and co. never knew her identity. What they had access to was her correspondence and her address book. My suspicion is that someone found Mariely Puello's name and phone number in Jordan Sage's email account and used the name to create a gmail account under her name.

The Mariely Puello, whose phone number appears in the email I received, is not the author of the letter I was sent. How do I know this? She doesn't have the English skills. When I called her number and got her on the phone, we were unable to have a conversation. She and I have no common language. A third party has contacted me on her behalf and explained her situation, but it is frustrating because I am unable to converse or correspond with her. From what I understand, while she was visited by some police, she has nothing to do with the sending of the PowerPoint presentation. I'm told that she is a very good girl and that she is terrified. Further, Sendecki could not have had her detained in Haiti as Sendecki claimed, because Puello was not in Haiti at the time. There is no reason to expect that Puello even knows the identity of "Jordan Sage," even if she has corresponded with that person. Other than Valerie Sendecki's claim to have lunched with Sage, no one has yet come forward to say they know her. The name was not contained in the email address under which "Sage" wrote and is, I suspect, an alias.

CAG may well, as they claimed, have had a few people in Haiti arrested. But if their intel was based on keystroke logging, CAG has no way of knowing if they arrested the right ones.

So. Why do I think access to Jordan Sage's account was obtained by keystroke logging? Because otherwise CAG's whole clown circus of incompetent psyops operatives would not be after information that should already be in their possession. It is my belief that CAG's operatives have not been candid with their employer about the full extent of their attempts to do damage control on my discovery of their existence. Inasmuch as I have any evidence that a document might have been altered, this evidence suggests that it was an inside job conducted in the interests of CAG.

Interestingly absent from Wimhurst’s letter is any hint that he is aware that I provided the “Puello” letter plus the PowerPoint presentation to two other people immediately upon receipt. It is my strong impression that CAG has communicated to Wimhurst neither the identities of these two people nor the contents of CAG’s communications with them. Wimhurst would be much more uncomfortable involving the UN legal office in this affair if he had received full disclosure from CAG.

MEANWHILE, I hear through the grapevine that CAG's Jay Fullerton claims Sendecki has resigned. If Wimhurst were receiving full disclosure, Fullerton would also need to resign.

Part 2: Thinking with Bullets

TufteA few years ago, Edward Tufte published a book entitled The Cognitive Style of Power Point which I have been meaning to read some time. While I am a heavy user of both Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, until I got an enormous hard drive I used to routinely throw PowerPoint off my hard drive because I think it is a mostly useless and actively pernicious program.

Here’s a little snip of how Presentations.com summarizes Tufte’s objections to PowerPoint and the reactions to them:

Another reason for PowerPoint's sudden spike in notoriety is that the program finally caught the attention of Edward R. Tufte, a professor of information design at Yale University. Often referred to as the world's leading guru of information design, Tufte's books – The Visual Display of Information, Envisioning Information, and Visual Explanations – redefined the art of presenting information in visual form (charts, tables, graphs, etc.). No one knows more about effective data design, and no one in the field is more respected.

So when, in March 2003, Tufte published a 23-page denunciation of PowerPoint entitled "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint," many people who had never before taken PowerPoint seriously began paying attention. It was Tufte who brought NASA's now infamous PowerPoint slide to the public's attention. It was Tufte's work that emboldened The New York Times to suggest that information manipulation via electronic slides may have helped Secretary of State Colin Powell make his case to the United Nations for declaring war on Iraq. And it is Tufte, in his 23-page screed, who uses such words as stupid, smarmy, incoherent, witless, medieval and dementia to describe the trivializing effect of PowerPoint slides on pure, defenseless data. Tufte doesn't stop short of calling PowerPoint evil – he does call it evil, most visibly in an excerpt published in Wired last year succinctly titled "PowerPoint is evil." Indeed, the photo on the pamphlet's cover is of a 1956 Russian military parade in which a statue of Stalin is depicted saying, "Next slide, please."

If there is something right with PowerPoint, it is the program's ability to combine either images and text, or a sequence of bulleted items, in order to make an argument.

The UN-restricted PowerPoint presentation I was provided with initially seems to make several layers of argument, a couple of which I am unhappy with. Though the authoring info on the document listed the author as “pkf” and the company as “UN,” the implicit narrative voice is that of CAG; one of the document’s arguments is how useful CAG is making itself. Though perhaps composed on UN computers, my sense is that the docment's author works for CAG.

Now, let us turn to the two slides provided by Wimhurst which he claims are the “originals.”

Slide 1: What might the point of this slide be?  

Slide1

It seems to be lacking a point, but I’ll have a go at it: For those of you Peace Keepers fresh off the plane, Waaf Jeremie and Cite Soleil are on the coast, not in the mountains, and the coastline between them is completely surrounded by WATER!

Click. Next slide, please!

Slide 2: This page is a little sparse, too. Um, and why bullet something that’s all alone on the page?

Slide2

I’ll have a go at the voiceover: And men, remember, when creating PowerPoint presentations for military use, it’s very important to leave plenty of room to allow space for others to add their thoughts, so be sure to push the text as high up as you can. Also, the resulting expanse of blue will subliminally remind your audience that the Haitian coastline is completely surrounded by WATER!

Ahem.

Look. Um. Wimhust. This is embarrassing. Are these really the originals from an actual PowerPoint presentation? The best face I can put on this is that these are the materials from which a final presentation might have been made, not the final presentation itself. It is also possible that these really are slides from a real presentation. But if that is the case, the presentation’s author is incompetent to use the program and perhaps should explore some other mode of communication.

This does not prove that the presentation I was emailed was in fact presented or that its contents mean what they appear to. But the incompleteness of Wimhurst's "originals" does call into question the plausibility of the only actual information I have received from MINUSTAH.

In Wimhurst's one communication to me his prose style suggests his background is in yelling at people in uniform, not in answering questions. Who hired this Wimhurst guy, anyway?  What I find most peculiar about Wimhurst's letter to me is that he seems to take the attitude that CAGs Clown Crew had already said what he had to say to me by proxy and that he had nothing further to add. Were Sendecki-Fullerton-Reuther really speaking for Wimhurst?

(Thanks for the support, Alex!)

UPDATE 2/2/06: Rereading our exchange, I note that in my email to Wimhurst I specifically expressed concern that CAG " may be under contract to the Brazilian Peacekeeping Forces and may have been using their office computers." It occurred to me this morning that Wimhurst's reply that he had "no intention of answering any of [my] questions" was in fact Wimhurst declining comment on

  1. Whether CAG is under contract to Brazilian Peacekeeping Forces, and
  2. Whether CAG is using the office computers of the Brazilian Peackeepers.

All right then. He has no comment. I'll probably revisit that subject in a subsequent post.