Thursday, March 30, 2006

UAV's coming to the U.S. for more spying on U.S. Citizens

Okay, that's possibly the most alarmist title I could have chosen. But this is what the government is moving to doing.

What's a UAV? Unmanned Air Vehicle, a.k.a. Drone. They are being used widely in Iraq and Afghanistan against "the terrorists". There's pointers to various articles at the end of this. This has been a long time coming, and it clearly fits into the general government strategy to install broad surveillance.

My first thought is -- the C|NET and AOPA articles (linked below) are only looking at regulatory issues. One example is a tiny surveillance aircraft, that weighs all of 14 pounds, and was used to buzz a couple biker rallies in North Carolina. A point in one of the articles is that an airplane hitting a bird causes a lot of damage to the aircraft (and kills the bird), so what would this thing, at 14 lbs weighing much more than the typical bird, do to an aircraft? These things don't carry transponders, so how are pilots going to detect them and avoid running into them? They are unmanned, and so won't have an in-built ability to avoid other aircraft.

So, yeah, there's some clear air safety considerations. The AOPA is doing their job in raising those concerns.

But, that's as far as they're going. I get the impression that if the FAA enforces some set of rules against UAV's the AOPA will be happy. But what about the rest of us, the ones who are going to be spied upon?

On the one hand the government and industry representatives are portraying this as being used for border security. Again, the danger of terrorists lurking in every corner ready to kill us if we don't deploy eternal vigilance. But on the other hand these were used to monitor a biker rally. It was used to watch for "unruly behavior". Yeah, you can expect "unruly" behavior at a biker rally alright, but does that warrant spying on the people?

It seems that yet again I'm coming up with the same question that's turned up before.

Technology is giving us more and more capabilities. But is the world that's being created around us the one we want to live in?

Is the technology getting away from us and creating a monster that will be difficult to reign in?

Resources and articles

Drone aircraft may prowl U.S. skies discusses regulatory concerns about the depoloyment of UAV's in the U.S. for border surveillance, detection of marijuana crops, and buzzing biker rallies.

AOPA acts to keep unregulated UAV operation out of navigable airspace and AOPA questions FAA's 'stealthy' UAV TFR on Mexican border discussing actions by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association to cause the FAA to review UAV usage for safety considerations.

Electric airplane (UAV) stays aloft for 48 hours and High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) - 'Eternal Planes' to watch over us and Aerovironment tests a hydrogen powered airplane -- my previous UAV coverage.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Not Optional - a nice rant about the oil situation

Not Optional by Jim Kunstler with Clusterfuck Nation is right on the money, so far as I can see. Enjoy -- warning, it gets a little ranty.

The topic he's writing on is collective blindness on several angles. For example, how can the people really believe we can just pull out of this misbegotten war in Iraq. Regardless of how illegal that war is, we started a total mess there and pulling out now would only make matters worse.

The other blindness is about oil. The war is for oil, despite the protestations of the Administration. The Bush Administration has taken lying to the public to a fine art, and for that I must applaud them.

It's about oil because Iraq has a huge chunk of it, and the U.S. has very little. In order to keep our standard of living, which is one of the meme's the Bush Administration keeps mouthing, we must grab the oil wherever it is.

The problem is this is a fools quest. There's not that much oil left in the world anyway, and there are plenty of alternatives. The better route is to invest in alternative energy research in a big way. Not these piddly little bits here and there the Administration has been throwing out to keep the environmentalists happy. There's a real problem here, and with the direction the Bush Administration is leading the country the only result is a kind of world described in the Mad Max movies.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Theocracy in America, an "Unholy Alliance"?

Kevin Phillips is one of the political operatives who helped bring the Republicans into power in the 1960's and 1970's. He's billed as a Republican Strategist, and eventually worked in the Reagan White House. With that as background we have a very interesting book from him, warning of the danger of the neo-Theocracy we find ourselves with today in the United States.

Here's some resources:

American Theocracy : The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21stCentury

Interview with Democracy Now, March 21, 2006

The Unholy Alliance Kevin Phillips believes the U.S. is threatened by a combination of petroleum, preachers and debt

This gives a sense of where the book is going:

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Phillips, you talk about radical religion, about debt, and about oil, about this being an oil war. You also talk about peak oil. That's not talked about very much in the mainstream. Explain.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: The peak oil idea is that just as the United States oil production peaked in 1971, that we have a limited amount of oil globally, and that it’s something that can't be re-created. It’s running out. And the expectation of some is that the oil production of the non-OPEC countries will peak at some point during the 2010s, and that then the production of OPEC itself will peak in the 2020s or 2030s. Now, some people think that Saudi production has already peaked.

Now, if you believe this, and it’s possible, then we face an enormous convergence, again under specific oil-related circumstances, of a global struggle for natural resources as the price of oil climbs, as we turn the armed services into a global oil protection service, which has been happening, and as we see the administration refuse to grapple with the need to really curb oil consumption in the United States, which is mostly through transportation and especially motor vehicles.

And I just have a sense, as many others on the conservative side do, this administration has no strategy to deal with these converging problems, be they foreign policy, military, oil, debt. They are like the three little monkeys on the old jade thing – the one sees no evil, one speaks no evil, and one hears no evil. Do they know anything? You know, that's an open question.

But, it just goes on and on. Such as an assertion that: "that the Bush electorate is probably 50 to 55% people who believe in Armageddon and probably more or less the same numbers who believe that the Antichrist is already on earth. And when you have this backdrop and you have a president who got his start in national politics as his father’s liaison with the religious right back in 1987 and ‘88, you just have an enormous exposure to this whole psychological context and an awareness on the part of people in the White House that this huge constituency interprets the Middle East in this very unusual way."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Archbishop of Canturbury backs evolution over creationism

Archbishop of Canterbury backs evolution ... Apparently the Intelligent Design quandry has been raised in England as well as here in the U.S. I shouldn't be surprised since it's clear the political strategists behind this are international in scope. In any case it's interesting how Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canturbury, have all announced that it's a mistake to teach creationism in schools, and how we should accept evolution into religious peoples view of the world.

The Intelligent Design crowd are fundamentalists who seem to be at odds with leading religious figures. Hmmmm.... Interesting.

Here's the Guardian article: Archbishop: stop teaching creationism ...or...
"I think creationism is ... a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories ... if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories ... My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it," he said.
The debate over creationism or its slightly more sophisticated offshoot, so-called "intelligent design" (ID) which argues that creation is so complex that an intelligent - religious - force must have directed it, has provoked divisions in Britain but nothing like the vehemence or politicisation of the debate in the US. There, under pressure from the religious right, some states are considering giving ID equal prominence to Darwinism, the generally scientifically accepted account of the evolution of species. Most scientists believe that ID is little more than an attempt to smuggle fundamentalist Christianity into science teaching.
It's clear these religious leaders aren't saying to ignore the Creation story and only look at Science and Evolution. The Archbishop's words seem to center on guarding the specialness of the Biblical Creation story.

In my eye the story isn't as simple as Evolution is superior over Intelligent Design. And, for that matter, its disturbing that the Archbishop seems to be saying we shouldn't be questioning or debating the validity of the Creation story.

First, consider this: Establishing control over a society ... the gist is that religion is easily be used to control the beliefs of society. The Intelligent Design debate is precisely an example of religious claims being pushed by political operatives to establish some control over society. And, further, it's an example of the people in society being expected to suspend their power of critical thought just because their church tells them to do so.

Why shouldn't the claims of religion be tested? We have the power of critical thought. We have the power of independant reasoning. Why not examine spiritual practices, experiences and beliefs?
Okay, one problem with that leaps immediately to mind. Scientists have regularly tried to test religion and ended up bashing religion, largely because they're testing it in the wrong way. Religious folk are expected to lean on "faith" and to not ask questions, leading to a dependency on something other than rational critical thought for making decisions. Scientists, on the other hand, are expected to trust only logic and equations and critical thinking, and to distrust subjective experience.

The problem is the nature of the religious claims. God is said to be something which created the universe and everything within it. God is said to be everywhere. How can a scientist hope to measure such a claim? The proof of God comes from subjective experience, the thing scientists are taught to distrust.

For example, when you pray what happens? Do you feel good when you pray? Most do. Is that a subconscious thing firing off some brain chemicals, and that because you believe God is helping you feel nice when you pray, therefore the chemicals your subconscious fires off will help you feel good? Or is there a divine presence that reaches inside you?

What about miraculous healing? What about prayer for someone who's sick? It's been shown in several studies (double-blind etc) that intercessionary prayer helps the ones who are prayed for.
It seems to me the critical mind, the dependence on logic, can easily go too far. And that the dependence on logic interferes with subjective experience. That the way to experiment with the divine is to operate with both subjective experience, and the critical mind. Subjective experience is not to be pushed away but to be embraced. Just as we are wired for the critical mind so are we wired for subjective experience.

Hmmm... I seem to have strayed from Intelligent Design versus Evolution. Sorry....

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Establishing control over a society

I want to share a realization that recently came to me. It is a way of establishing control over a society, allowing you to bend them to your will. However in practice this will take generations to really lodge into society, so you probably won't have direct benefit but your heirs will.

Step 1: Beg, borrow, steal or forge a set of spiritual writings

Step 2: Present those writings as the Word of God

Step 3: Present the writings as being the infallible source of truth

Step 4: Appoint a group of people as the official interpreters of Gods Infallible Words as written in those writings

It helps to have an authentic spiritual guru deliver the writings you are going to start with. That's not an absolute requirement. The other steps serve to separate the individuals in the society from their own authentic ability to determine the truth.

The other steps make it so Truth is determined only from the spiritual writings, and that Truth is so difficult to understand that only the select anointed ones can tell what's right or wrong. Hence when someone has a question, they won't be able to answer it for themselves but instead have to turn to the official interpreters of Gods Infallible Words to tell them the truth.

Once the official interpreters of Gods Infallible Words are established with credibility, then can claim literally any idea as being Gods Infallible Truth. Of course this assumes the official interpreters become corrupt, and no longer be serious students of spiritual truth.

In the ideal the priesthood's role is to explore the divine and to have the freedom to devote their lives to authentic spiritual practice. But we can think of dozens of religions throughout history where it began as an authentic spiritual practice, then devolved into corruption and power mongering.

I believe we all have access to divine truth. There are many spiritual teachings which say so, and which say we can look within for the divine truth. They tend to encourage us to explore and experiment for ourselves divine truth. In my experience the confidence this gives is stronger than "faith".

Friday, March 17, 2006

Be in command of your life

A SPAM email I just received had the title "Be in command of your life, process judgements...". Hmmm... I thought, their appeal is for independence. But what kind of independence are they offering? Just another job, "processing judgments".

I didn't read the SPAM but there's a million offers like that. Some kind of "earn megabucks working from home" which often turns out to be a job stuffing envelopes, or door-door sales, or maintaining marketing materials in stores, etc. A lot of us want more money and it's that desire these offers are exploiting.

But ... stop and think about this. Is it money that's desired or freedom?

Speaking for myself, the dream I hold is being able to travel regularly, to see the world, greater ease, etc.

Do these get-rich schemes offer a way to be in command of ones life? I don't think so. The offer tends to make one just as beholden to some activity that earns money. What would change is the activity to which one is beholden.

Typically people hold a job and that job provides the money with which they live, and if they want to continue living they must continue holding that job. Hence, the typical person is beholden to their job and they could not live without that job. Is that typical person in command of their life? Nope, because to a large extent their life is dictated by the job.

Here's a great question to ponder ... What would it be to be in command of ones own life?

I think that to be in command of my life, I would be choosing for myself my daily activities. Rather than having to go to the office every day, I could choose from a whole pallette of possibilities.

There's a couple ways of approaching this ...

For example if one were to be independantly wealthy then one wouldn't have any required activities. The independantly wealthy don't have to work, and hence aren't beholden to a job to provide their living. They have more freedom than the typical person to choose their life.

It's possible for the "typical person" to develop independance. I wrote up a personal finance plan which nearly anybody could use to build up financial stability and freedom. The key to the plan is for your spending to be less than your income, and to salt away that difference into investments. It's called "living beneath your means" and it's the opposite of the Keeping Up With The Joneses which ties most of us into the rat race.

I think there's another way of being in command of your life. Question: What is it you most wish to do in your life? What would you do with your life if you had the freedom?

In other words, why do you need to stay in the job you are in? You could be in a job you would enjoy, one where you believe fully in the results of what your job has you do, etc.

In such a scenario you would still be working to earn the money you live on. The difference is your work would be more in alignment with your values and desires.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Inside the US's regime-change school

For a couple years the Bush Administration has been rattling war against Iran (and Syria). (see here, here, here, and background material for the Iraq war for some of my previous coverage).

The justification is said to be Iran's plan to build out nuclear weapons ability. Except Iran says their plans are for peaceful nuclear power production, just for electricity. And, in any case, Iran is a Non Proliferation Treaty signatory and apparently they haven't done anything to violate that treaty. It's more than a little contradictory that on the one hand we are threatening Iran, who has yet to violate the NPT, while we are making a broad deal with India to support their nuclear power program, and India has never signed on to the NPT and is known to have (today) nuclear weapons.

Logic has never been a strong suit of the Bush Administration. And given their clear goal of toppling Iran after toppling Iraq we shouldn't be surprised to have them invent some kind of justification for launching a new war.

Inside the US's regime-change school offers an interesting glimpse into a "regime change school". It's clear to me the article isn't highly verifiable, instead it's an account of one person who "accidentally" attended a secretive U.S. backed program to train activists in methods that can be used to topple a government.

The "school" was a week-long session held at a Holiday Inn in Dubai. Sessions were led by members of the Otpor democratic movement that overthrew the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. And, given the secretive nature of the "school" the hotel advertised them as "Griffin Hospital".

In class, the Serbian instructors organized role-playing games in which the participants would assume the personas of characters such an Iranian woman or a Shi'ite cleric. Throughout these exercises in empathy and psychology, stress was laid on the importance of ridiculing the political elite as an effective tool of demythologizing them in the eyes of the people.

"They taught us what methods they used in Serbia to bring down Milosevic," Nilofar said. "They taught us some of them so we could choose the best one to bring down the regime, but they didn't mention directly bringing down the regime - they just taught us what they had done in their own country."

Hurm... your tax dollars at work, I suppose.

Later in the article Nilofar described the activists as mahrum, a Farsi word for deprived. Apparently the ones inside Iran most clamoring for change are "lower-class families who have been deprived of everything and now they've decided to overthrow the government".

Saturday, March 4, 2006

A meditation on the speed limit

Who was it that sang "I can't drive 55"? A Meditation On the Speed Limit is a project launched by a group of college students who wanted to prove 55 is a ridiculous speed limit.

I like this because I myself do the same thing, which is to drive the speed limit regardless of what speed the nutballs behind me want to drive. They are in Atlanta, and did this on the perimeter highway, getting four cars together to cooperatively drive the speed limit. And by cooperatively driving the speed limit, they could block all lanes and keep everybody at the speed limit. And, they filmed everything posting the result to the web.

They wanted to prove 55 is a ridiculous limit, but for me I think highway speeds are ridiculously fast. My thought is that at highway speeds death can come very quickly. Which just shows I'm in a different place than they are.

What was astonishing (well, not really) is the offensive reaction they got and the dangerous driving others got into. Apparently american drivers are addicted to driving fast on the highway. Watch the video for more details.

Friday, March 3, 2006

Employee free speech, and a VA nurse being investigated for Sedition

In September 2005 a pair of hurricanes hit New Orleans and the surrounding land. As a result much of New Orleans has effectively been destroyed. The government response to help the people of New Orleans and the surrounding land has been egregiously bad.

Shortly after the hurricane, a VA nurse in Albuquerque wrote a letter to her local newspaper complaining of the bad government response to the hurricane. Immediately afterward she was referred to the FBI and since then has come under investigation by the FBI for "sedition". Sedition being the legal word for advocating the forceful, violent overthrow of the government.

The story is here: V.A. Nurse Accused of Sedition After Publishing Letter Critical of Bush on Katrina, Iraq (as presented on Democracy Now)

The story is astonishing and alarming. The nurse, Laura Berg, acted under belief she was protected by the First Ammendment gaurantee of freedom of speech. In the interview she reiterates her claim of first ammendment gaurantees of freedom of speech.

The government is threatening her with years of jail time, the sentence for "Sedition". But how could her letter to the editor be taken as advocating violent overthrow of the government? This is the U.S. and we have a long history of the right of citizens to criticize their government.

As she says:

LAURA BERG: Amy, I did not sign away my First Amendment rights as a citizen, you know, by choosing to serve in the federal government and choosing to serve veterans and care for people that have been wounded like this, you know. And this letter sounds like something from a totalitarian regime, you know, that we are supposedly going in and share our democracy. This is way out of line. This was way out line. I have a right to speak my opinion. I have a right to say I'm a V.A. nurse. I do not speak for the V.A. I speak as a public citizen....

In my mind the case is open and shut, but for one thing.

Blogging may be hazardous to your job - The Clarion-Ledger

Should your company have a corporate blogging policy?

FOX Sics its Dogs on "Un-American" Professors

The general principle in the articles I've linked is -- employers have the right and ability to restrict the speech of their employees.

How so? For example, what is proprietary information? It's information a corporation wants to keep secret, that gives the corporation competitive advantage, and if an employee is caught revealing proprietary information the employee can very likely be fired for having done so.

That's just one example of many sorts of ways an employer can limit what an employee says.

There have been instances of people being fired for blogging about aspects of their job, even when doing that blogging from home on their own computer onto their own blogging account. For example a teacher with DeVry was fired over comments she blogged about her students. Someone else, who worked in a customer support job, was fired for derogatory comments she wrote on a blog talking about the people who came to her for support were dweebs etc.

The issue with Laura Berg is that her employer is the U.S. government. Specifically, the Veterans Administration. The U.S. government has more options at its disposal for threatening its employees. e.g. trumping up charges of Sedition.

With the tradition of employers being able to control the speech of their employees, what happens when that employer is the U.S. government?

And, I think the bigger question is, why is there such a blanket acceptance of employers controlling the speech of employees? Clearly it represents a huge blanket of suppressed rights to free speech.