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.