Monday, December 27, 2010

Bradley Manning - a prisoner of conscience.

There's no question that Bradley Manning violated military law when he, allegedly, leaked a treasure-trove of documents out into the great interwebs in April of 2010. Caveat emptor - his anonymity was guaranteed. It's not as if we've not seen supposed privacy on the internet stomped on by heavyweights before. The case of Seingenthaler certainly proved that in 2005. The trouble, I think is that reading just Mr. Manning's Wikipedia entry lays out a clear picture of a true American - a constitutionalist seeing the constitution of the US wronged, greatly and systematically, by the very government he was serving. As long as that same government stands in judgment over him, his goose is pretty much cooked, but was he treasonous to the ideas laid out in the US Constitution - I doubt it. Contrary to histrionics by tools like Hillary Clinton & Sarah Palin, Manning's disclosure never put anyone at risk - and honestly, if one soldier died to safeguard the lives of two civilians, that soldier would have done his country good, yet the US does not count that way. Despite empty talk of human rights & equality, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians could attest to that - their lives are rarely mentioned in the cloying eulogies for the 4000 (and counting) US service-people dead in that invasion. Yet the true nature of their deaths is rarely discussed. I remember reading death-rolls early on in the invasion, and seeing a staggering number of drug overdoses, drunkards falling into empty pools, and drunk-driving accidents - yet these are now all heroes, while someone who took a truly brave stance and disclosed filmic evidence of the true work of his brethern in Iraq stands ready to be guillotined by a marshal court. Reading Mr. Manning's brief biography on Wikipedia, I suspect he is so brave that he would not take it back were he given the chance, and just that is what makes him Paul Revere ten times over.

Today, in regards to the Wikileaks scandal, all eyes seem to be on Assange, and few on Bradley Manning, the man who made this debacle possible. The world will owe Bradley Manning a debt as great as that owed to another unsung hero in the battle for democracy over corporate corruption, Frank Willis.

Let's hope & work to insure that Manning is not forgotten in the same way.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Next Chapter in Corporate Bio-terrorism.

The potato, originally from Pisac in Peru, is an amazing enabler of animal life. Not only do people benefit from potatoes, but so do many other animals that eat it. It has been suggested that the Industrial Revolution owes as much to the potato as it does to the steam engine, as this crop made it possible for shrinking farmlands to support swelling urban populations. If I remember correctly, a potato is a more efficient converter of agricultural nutrients into digestible calories than any other domesticated plant, including rice, by a large factor. What's more, a diet of potato and milk is a complete diet, containing adequate quantities of all the essential nutrients and vitamins that humans need to thrive, according to Michael Pollan. This means that an acre (why is such a British spelling preserved in American English - ought it not be 'an acer'?) of potatoes produces more food than an acre of rice, a gallon of water likewise. As urban centers spread around factories that put worker productivity into a sort of hyper-drive, supply chains struggled to keep up with demand. Food for workers, obviously, would have been one of these.

Monsanto saw this opportunity, and manufactured a resistant potato, BT, in 1985, that produced a protein which killed these bugs. But in 2001, responding to pressure in the form of public protests, and fearing a public relations disaster, McDonald's stopped selling BT potatoes, effectively killing the lion's share of that market. Strangely, the survival of genetic diversity of potatoes owes a lot to McDonald's marketing acumen, because this one public relations decision fostered an environment where potato farmers interested in biodiversity and the 'organic' label were able to become profitable in the face of the profit turbocharging that chemical & bioengineered farming techniques offer at first blush.

It is my feeling that this battle is far from over, and safeguarding the continuing health of the agricultural planet against the depredation of business engineering might be one job that needs doing and that it's not too late to do so well that it won't even be recognized as bringing anyone back from the brink. Will it be possible to safeguard the potato from, for example, the type of damage that Monsanto has done to the biodiversity of corn already?

A Week Without the Interwebs...

I cracked my sternum a couple of days ago, or possibly a rib right next to it. Goes without saying that it makes me cranky. It happened sparring with a mate, and yes, I was being a little over the top with my exercise routine at the moment. Every breath hurts, and reminds me that every breath I take in the next 3 weeks will hurt. I can no longer make the Chilean Empanadas that were maintaining me afloat and making a lot of people here quite chipper, but at least I have a syndicated blogging gig, which is a lot less romantic than you could possibly imagine, to generate income once I carefully place my shooting-pain-factory arm on the keyboard & get going online for the day. Four days ago, the landlady, once again, as is her custom every month, defaulted on her internet connection, so I am without. Annoying, even more so because of the 'technical problem' story I hear every month around this time when the internet goes out for 5 days, and it makes me ever more conscious of the radiating electric pain down to my elbow - and I would say 'down my ulnar', except not without verification; well, there's no internet.

That might seem like a non-sequitir, but it's not. I have just figured out a way to get OS/X systems to effectively read ReiserFS devices. A topic that has almost been exhausted without result in the MGB(Mac Geek Blogosphere), this is of some interest to me because I've been living in the Wild West for 6 months, and the Wild West is not a great place to try to keep a server running. The story of why I would travel overland through Central America carrying a linux server, of all things, is another. Suffice it to say that I could not find a single good reason not to. So when I got here, I plugged mine in, and enjoyed the fruits of its richness for some weeks. Mine died, killing my 2TB movie archive, and another small disk (I think it was the swap partition), and leaving me in an ugly limbo where I have no change-control, no bug-tracking, no movie archive, killing my dream of showing wonderful movies in remote areas, and worst of all, no backup of pictures & documents. This is not comfortable. My MacBook runs hot all the time, FanControl notwithstanding, in this tropical, heat-laden, Nicaraguan night-air.

I mentioned being in the Wild West, and Nicaragua may not seem like it to the uninitiated, so let me explain. I am in an especially integrated beach-town, where Nicas and Gringos and Ticos and everyone else get along with a nice, better-than-paper-thin veneer of acceptance and joyful co-existence. The streets, all of 5 years old, are buckling: all six of them. There are no addresses, lying & stealing are epidemic, and people fight dirty - sand in the face dirty. If you get an infection, break a bone, or worse, mangle a limb getting run over by a Bhrama bull, an ATV, or a rabid bus on its way to the big town, you're more likely here than many places to kiss that limb goodbye. When there is an accident, he who pays the police most comes out on top. Fault is an arbitrary decision. There are doctors here, and there are facilities. These facilities you would not use to warm a cup of noodles, but for local medical emergencies, they will have to do. Unless someone can actually see a recognizable piece of your anatomy falling off, or something completely unfamiliar issuing from your mortal coil, you are SOL, and will need to look elsewhere for some programmed analysis to attend to your ailment. There are deaths, seems like more than one a month; in a town of maybe 20000, it adds up quickly, but not as quickly as young people are having babies.

There are many amputees, and many stories about using the machete without the stick, flipping the car with an arm hanging out the window, or getting an infection they did not want to stop them working until the tissue was too far gone to rescue. The moral of the story? If you're hurt, this is no place for you, physically. Emotional damage, on the other hand, is better tolerated and cared for here than in many places I've been. That single feature of the landscape makes me stay, without a clue as to what I would do to get by if I continued to be disabled with my cracked sternum, and consequently making me reconsider the extent of my pain.

If I just buck up, surely I can continue to get along. No doubt, my right cross is useless, which sucks because I used to have an ungodly strong right cross, having learned & developed waist-whipping skills & strength thanks to master Tat Mau-Wong in San Francisco, and learned to fight entirely reliant on taking a few quick hits, but getting that right cross in, a roundhouse, or certain more elaborate strike sequences whose names I have no idea how to spell, and then getting stylized about my flamboyant 'conclusion to the negotiation'. No more. That little trick is unavailable to me, and the loss makes me feel as if it had always been 'Five Easy Pieces' with me - playing to my strength in a dissolute way, and reveling in the success of steering others in that direction, especially opponents, but never being without that direction to steer in that would be preferential to the outcome in my favor. So be it. I will learn.

So I am still delighted that I figured out how to read ReiserFS filesystems on a Mac, but that is a process that is not the subject of this diatribe, mostly, that is because it is technically involved for anyone who has not been trying to find solutions to the same problem in the past weeks, and I will detail it in the near future in bugdujour. The trouble is that I need to look something up on the interwebs to really take advantage of this solution, and the safeguarding of my small photographic legacy to my children is still impossible if I cannot rsync what I need up to a proper hosted environment - the 'cloud' for the kids...

I did not really finish the job of figuring out how to productively read a ReiserFS disk on a Mac, because now I can see this disk in all its glory in a virtual machine environment where I do not seem to have access to the local disk wherein the information resides, which is the object of my desire to back up. Dammit! I know this is easy, but without interwebs, it could take days of sifting through documentation to discover hidden mappings for fancy FUSE devices representing declaratively expressed shared folders. Obviously, the dirty trick is that without kernel primitives on-board, it does not work, because VBox additions require recompiling the kernel to work as they were intended to. Postponed until I can connect again.

So I'm off to read documentation. It actually feels like a little time-travel: I have a simple question which will require an exceptionally accurate answer which can only be derived from a long time with manuals and a shell, or from a simple Google query. The former is suddenly not the preferable answer, since it means spending an entirely impractical amount of time solving a problem that has been solved 1000s of times before, and that's frustrating because the bottom line is that I will simply not spend the time researching the materials in my hard-disk when I know that 5 or 10 quick queries on Google would yield up the answer and let me move on.

Now, late at night, after many pain-pills have taken effect, I strike out walking the streets, laptop in tow, to find a bar with interwebs, and here it is! The beauty of it is that they cater very nicely in the Café del Barrio - it's quiet tonight because it's freezing at 80°F - really - one gets used quickly to a certain average temperature, and this is not it. On top of the freezing temperature, there's a wind gusting to 20 or 30 mph - which makes it seem even more extreme. You have to wach out for falling coconuts. Yet on arrival here I sit down & find that there are at least two other people busily clacking away on their macs, and some writing in notebooks. A shot of rum, a double espresso, connect, and I'm in hog-heaven.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A crisis of conscience.

A piece from the NY Times.

It's distressing to see the propagandist thrust of the flood of articles like this, making reference to "antisecrecy radicals", and drowning out discussions of the US blocking Human Rights initiatives and murdering journalists and teens from the sky.

This is circling back to the very concept of civilization, which Freud described, albeit in his own terms, very well. There is a fiction predominant in Western culture of an absolute objective reality, and that is perhaps the west's most dangerous disease, buttressed by the artifice of enlightenment rationality and the nasty subsequent habit of discarding evidence that does not fit into a dominant paradigm or convenient mathematical model. In short, it's bad science. Rationality has made the west exceptionally unreasonable. The pearl in all this was constitutions, i.e. expressions of the moral nature of a state independent of the winds of mob politics. The crisis in the US is not unlike that in Nazi Germany - a culture of fear, sponsored by corporate interests engendered by the Industrial Revolution, with masses becoming wholly unreasonable, and subverting the very constitution that may have been the soul of a state.
Today, the US is a war criminal second to few. Certainly Soviets, Chinese, Liberians, Ugandans, and many others can be blamed of equally atrocious behavior, but none on this scale of mayhem or hypocrisy, and none there today profiting from genocide in the interest of shareholder dividends and wearing the shield of a false 'democracy' quite as visibly as the US.
It is clear that there are many sides to the Escheresque fence of political divides. We are human, and context changes our reality violently. As Whitman wrote: "I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." Many among us have innocent ideals, and many others are irreversibly scarred by the reality of what can happen on the ground when the interest of 'good' from a given perspective is not backed by outright despotism to stem the 'savage horde'. It is impossible to deny sympathy to the soldier who has killed an unarmed person in the grip of panic. The same ideals that might have driven that person to become a soldier will never, ever, forgive that action, yet we turn our backs on them because they are unlikeable and remind us of our own human fallibility.
I read somewhere an opinion piece (I believe it was German) about how the US cannot set itself right without a great national recognition and atonement for the crimes of the past three decades, like Germany did during its reconstruction. It makes sense. To rediscover common values instead of limping around damaged and fractured, it has to be recognized: the massacres, the murder, the xenophobia, the stealing, lying, and killing of democracy, the trading of human presence and rights for 'security' of profits, the extra-judicial assassinations.
The real challenge is that when one has been radicalized by the crimes of a state, it is hard to visualize a positive way forward. Subversively, without ever mentioning it directly, Obama promised that to the US, and clearly he has become mired in this new "hot war", compromising ideals in an illusory democracy and horse-trading away what we all believe to be inalienable human rights to a feudal plutocracy that will not see its wealth dwindle at any cost, especially when that cost is to others.
Assange is a criminal in the dominant interpretation, and Bradley Manning is a hero of conscience no different from Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dali Lama, or Frank Wills.

Do you know that name? He died in poverty and obscurity, despite having done a job well, and caused a house of cheating cards to crumble. No one cares that Hillary Clinton lied outright when claiming that US national security was put at risk by the revelations despite very probably being aware of the Pentagon's memo stating that this was not the case, or that Sara Palin called for Assange's death. These are real crimes of conscience, yet they go unacknowledged by a deeply compromised establishment.
This is, indeed, doing my best to rain on an obscene parade. The time for parades is not now. This is the time to figure out how to make things right.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Way Out of Line"

Apparently, last week Jon Stewart complained on air that calling George Bush a War Criminal was technically correct but politically incorrect. He called it "way out of line", charging that it's "a conversation-stopper, not a conversation-starter".
First, let me hasten to point out the traditional American weasel words "way out of line", which merit some notice. In a context with established rules of propriety, describing an inappropriate action in a social situation, this might be an OK idiom to use, but in political speech, even commentary, it seems simply intended to ignore an inconvenient point of view.
I don't think I'm in a minority when I take "Way out of line" to mean "I disapprove and I'm not going to discuss why." I find that sort of ad hominem censorship counterproductive to political freedom.

Nevertheless, this single blurb on mainstream television has raised a lot of awareness about Bush and the US Government's extensive record of Human Rights violations, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in the past decade, but these crimes are not without antecedent. One can directly attribute more killing, terrorism sponsorship, and squelching democracy outside its borders to the US than just about any other nation. The term "Banana Republic" describes repressive regimes sponsored by the US specifically to stamp out democracy and individual rights to create a climate more favorable to exploitive corporate operations like the United Fruit Company. In 1910, Sam Zemurray of the Cuyamel Fruit Company, which along with United & Standard controlled the market in Honduras and interfered, often violently, in politics there, simply hired merecenaries and had a coup.

In 1933, during a hostile takeover of the United Fruit Company, Zemurray assumed control. It was not long after that, during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, that the United Fruit Company persuaded the US Government to form the CIA, and promptly in 1954 they sponsored a coup in Guatemala against Jacob Arbenz Guzman, effectively ending representative democracy there. This democracy had to be ended because Guzman's government did not take kindly to the United Fruit Company's antitrust hoarding of land, and expropriated lands the company was buying and not cultivating to retain their banana monopoly. Technically, then, at that moment Truman, Eisenhower, Zemurray, and the US Government became war criminals and criminals against humanity.

If we step gingerly around WW2, the Korean War, Viet-Nam, Iran, Greece, Yugoslavia, Uruguay, China, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Egypt, Lebanon, Grenada, and the many other places where American troops were deployed in the name of Capitalism during the intervening years, and fast forward to 1991, once again, Bush Senior's administration, following in the footsteps of the Gipper, perpetrated some very serious war-crimes against Iraq & Afghanistan. Here is a complaint filed with the ICC against Bush Sr. & his cabinet in 1991. It is a good summary of what that administration gave the world.

That his son's administration, arguably not even a legitimately elected one, has raised the stakes in the game of violating humans in the service of corporate profits, is an understatement. Bush was put in office to commit crimes against humanity, to make the rich richer, and to make the poor more exploitable. Essentially, it was time to make a banana republic out of the US - favorable to corporations and less fettered by pesky individual rights. He certainly did what he was told to do. For a roadmap showing the engineering of 9/11 and the events that have followed, check out the PNAC, an extension of the Wolfowitz doctrine published in September 2000 that advocated raising the military budget by up to $100 billion, reneging on international treaties like the Geneva Convention and organizations like the ICC. But the PNAC was realistic and included these words: "The process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor." In 1999, the budget was $298 billion. By 2006 it was up to $535 billion.

Along the way, several ugly things happened to the US under the thumb of Bush's cabinet. John Yoo, an administration lawyer, issued a memo stating that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the US, and further that no international treaty on war or the treatment of prisoners was in any way legally binding for the president of the US. Then in May of 2002 the US reneged on the ICC. What a coincidence.

The story of Americans torturing and murdering civilians all over the world since then is by now well-known outside US borders, though many Americans are completely misinformed about that and many other things. The Lancet's account, perhaps the most scientifically sound, places responsibility on the US for the death of around 650,000 civilians in Iraq alone for the time period ending in June 2006. Remembering for a moment that Bush unilaterally and in direct violation of UN resolution 141 declared war on Iraq because some Saudis had flown planes into the WTC, which subsequently became the first, second, third, and only buildings in history to implode after being hit by planes, or in the vicinity of buildings being hit by planes, responsibility for each & every one of those deaths falls squarely on that administration's shoulders.

So to Jon Stewart's pandering that calling Bush a war criminal is excessive, I say, look in the mirror. Dishonest political speech in America is a plague. You know that calling Bush a war criminal is not just not incendiary, it is not enough. Stewart saying that it's over the top is reminescent of that other high hypocrite, Hillary Clinton, condemning Wikileaks for showing us the real face of America abroad.

In May of last year, the president of the ICC stated they would not prosecute Bush. I'm guessing that it may have been a traded absolution in exchange for the US rejoining the ICC - a very Obama-ish sounding deal. In January, Lawyers Against the War filed a complaint with the ICC against the Bush cabinet members directly involved in the torture and probable death of some 100 political prisoners. Now, there is also a brilliant move domestically to try these people for their crimes against humanity, though I do not know how this Jackson Conference has progressed, but justice does exist, despite the US. Italy has arrest warrants for 25 American terrorists - CIA operatives involved in the kidnappings and assassinations of people inside Italy. As an extra added bonus, Spain, which has been the most effective defender of Human Rights worldwide in the past 30 years, at least, is pressing criminal charges against at least 6 Bush administration members. Whether warrants will follow, I do not know, but I am happy to see that some people are still committed to a civilized humanity, still care about the principles of Human Rights, and do not horse-trade them away like the US has for the past decade. Put that in your pipe & smoke it, Mr. Stewart.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Difficult Proposition for Next Season in MotoGP

The past season in MotoGP has not been very interesting in terms of the rivalry for the top spot - barring a couple of dirty Rossi moves unpunished - fairly typical for the Florentine politics of the FIM - the contest for the top spot was just not that gripping, as it seemed that Lorenzo had it coldly in-hand, like a seasoned hit-man. There were wild and truly superhuman competitions for fifth, eighth, and double-digit ordinals on occasion, but the battle for #1 was like an old-style game of pong - obviously gripping to do, but not so much a spectator sport, if you will. Heroic at times, Lorenzo mostly did not get rattled; he did not waver. He lost out a few times, and he was a real gentleman about it, but mostly he was a convincing equal to most every challenge thrown his way, showing an almost monotone climb to the top spot, especially compared to the "I'm in; I'm out; I have superpowers; they lost my suit at the cleaners" kind of season that seems to have plagued Rossi, Pedroza, Stoner, and Hayden.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that as of this instant I have not watched the last race of the season, but I'm not so buried under a rock as to not know what happened - but the troubling thought came to me this morning as I watched the 125 race: Marquez is a very young guy, who is personable and engineered more for literature than business. He has a certain human flair and charm - there's more than raw speed behind his eyes: there's wit and joy. Watching his English fail post-race at Valencia today, and his easy way of not getting stuck on that failing, instead expressing himself non-verbally, reminded me of Rossi before he was trademarked, and made me think this: The arc of Marquez ascendancy is almost a given - we can quibble about whether he'll be on the top spot in MotoGP in 2012 or 2015, but he will doubtless be there - or I will have been dead wrong yet again (highly unlikely - my quota is used up...) - sooner or later. When he gets there, Lorenzo will have, with some difficulty, held pretenders at bay for several years, and will say of Marquez that "He's been racing against me for a lifetime while I've only just got the chance to race against him" or some such Biaggiesque remark - I sincerely hope, for Jorge's sake, that Marquez's easy professionalism does not make Lorenzo play Biaggi to Martquez's Rossi when the two finally meet on-track!

Friday, October 29, 2010

It starts here.

It's been a bumpy ride, but that's not important. I am here now, and that is the best thing about me. Finding myself far away from a home I will not return to, robbed of much of the vestigal cache of junk that remained after the immigration fraudster & the trustafarian got done clearing out my place, my savings, and my children's souls, I am in the awkward situation of needing to figure out how to make some money, and Nicaragua is no place to do that unless you have some capital or are really not bothered by becoming one of the bad guys.
Enter syndicated on-line writing brokers! Demand Media seemed like a cute idea when I first saw it on Mashable a few weeks ago. "Of course, I am a greta writer! Just ask me! Why, I love my writing, on occasion, and my loving fiancee once in a while actually sits & reads something I've written, making a special effort to turn grimaces into smiles."
I got down to reading guidelines, and the more I read, the clearer it became that I am not a writer, and that it's hard, brow-breaking work! Efficiency. Separate your research from your writing. Don't dawdle! Get in, do your work, follow all the rules (is that Oxford or AP style?), focus 100%, watch out for accidental plagiarism, black-listed references, meandering prose, commas in the wrong place, articles, conjunctions, dangling participles, split infinitives, straying topics, topics that are too similar, topics that are too different, being too technical, being too general, being too specific, not having quotable references, or having too many quotes, then get out!  This is the gist of most advice from sage & experienced syndicated content writers out in the cloud, and it makes sense.
I am afraid to try. Today, maybe tomorrow, or the next day, I need to get that first article in. I know I don't remember the 50 pages worth of rules, let alone the 432 pages worth of AP Stylebook that I, of course, already know (ahem..). I won't insult the reader's intelligence by even suggesting that either of us might not have Strunk & White memorized chapter & verse, of course. Thankfully, it's easy to find online as well as in the baggage we brought with us.
I am feeling timid. I understand that Demand Media is, well, very demanding of its beginnign writers. Rejections are easy to get, and detailed explanations are hard to come by. Three strikes and you're out, like a Rastafarian at a Nancy Reagan tea-party...
So the greatest gift of all is the gift of opportunity. After reading these guidelines for a week, I think I need to try. I see that I had no idea, and mostly still don't, but I believe that it's possible, and that all the good ideas in my head will not fall out just because I am writing how-to's for changing hard-disks and distributor-caps. On the contrary - if I cannot do that, then it is much less likely that I can tell a simple story, let alone from more than one virtual point of view. Anchors aweigh, then.