Sunday, December 31, 2006

Olbermann on Newt Gingrich's call to destroy freedom of speech

First they came for the fourth amendment, then they came for Habeas Corpus, and then they came for Freedom of Speech but there was no-one allowed to speak up. This is Olbermann dissecting a recent speech by Newt Gingrich in which he spins a terror tale, and uses that fictional tale to justify eroding freedom of speech and freedom of association. Newt Gingrich describes Destroying Dangerous Free Speech

The Gingrich terror tale is told at 1:00 minute into the video. He proposes "they" want to destroy an American city, and that they're using freedom of speech, freedom of association, and especially the freedom of association over the Internet, as a cover under which to plot their nefarious schemes.

But, consider, what proof does Newt have that this danger even exists? We know from recent years that the Republican party, and most especially the Bush Administration, has been making a lot of hay by selling us on terror. That we are in danger of vague threats from the Islamics lurking behind every corner with a dirty bomb or worse ready to blow us up. Once they've scared us good and well, they spring on us an answer ... a solution to the danger ... Generally these solutions have made for a step-by-step destruction of our civil liberties and what makes America great.

Pres. John F Kennedy on secret societies etc

JFK Speech on Secret Societies and Freedom of the Press is audio of a speech JFK gave to a meeting of news editors. He's talking about the dangers of secret societies, the dangers of secret justice, the value of government transparency, etc.

The person who did this video married the audio with pictures from todays scary situation, our government is practicing secret justice and more. JFK extolls the value of criticism of official actions, while the Bush administration slams those who give criticism.

One questionable thing about this video is the choice of images. By juxtaposing images of the Nazi Germany regime with images from the Bush administration, the maker of the video is sending a clear message about his or her opinion. That they want us to equate the Bush Administration with Hitlers Nazi regime. It's worth considering whether that's a fair comparison.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Ecoterrorism? Environmental Activism? Oh, and online community

Police blotter: Web at heart of ecoterror lawsuit is an interesting view into environmental activism that probably went too far. It concerns a group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, specifically the Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty USA organization based in the U.S.A.

SHAC USA was targeting Chiron, a biomedical research company in the SF Bay Area. While Chiron has a history of developing nice and useful medicines, they must have also been having a history of medical research that's cruel to animals, and probably has outsourced some of their research to Huntingdon Life Sciences.

Their activism went well over the line of civility to include vandalism of corporate properties, posting home addresses, home phone numbers, and other personal contact details of high ranking Chiron employees, and vandalism of some of the homes of those Chiron employees. This was posted on the SHAC USA web site, and part of the legal action referenced above caused the SHAC USA web site to be shut down.

It would be one thing to post a call for action against individuals .. and then innocently say that any later action against those individuals are independent decisions by the people who perpetrated those actions. But SHAC USA clearly posted plans concocted by SHAC USA to vandalize certain homes, and when people showed up at those homes they were carrying banners giving the SHAC USA web site address.

Hmm... I say that political activism, environmental activism, etc .. those are valid and worthy activities to engage in. It helps raise awareness and garners some attention. But when these actions cross the line to causing actual damage they start being a criminal act.

A friend told me a useful analogy. "Your right to swing your fists stops at my nose". Applying that analogy here, their right to make protests, to raise awareness, to do activism, all that stops when they cross the line into private property and start causing damage.

An interesting thing here is the use of an online message board to discuss issues, make announcements, etc. This occurred on the SHAC USA web site, but we can no longer see that site because it's been taken down. However the Internet Wayback machine has the history for us.

For example their Jan 19, 2005 web site has links to several articles of criminal animal rights activism actions against several people and organizations.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chaos is an order we don't understand yet

Cars gone wild is a CNN news report about a change in traffic laws in Holland. The architect of the change is quoted in the report saying "Chaos is an order we don't understand yet, and order is a chaos where we put in the order later on". What they've done is to undo most of the traffic laws, take away most of the traffic lights, flatten the street curbs, and institute a pair of simple rules. First, drive on the right side of the road, and second those coming from the right have the right of way. The idea is to encourage self responsibility as much as possible.

Towards the end they quote a few people who are worried, they think this increases their danger, and (they say) they have to pay more attention.

Well, that last idea, that they have to pay more attention, will actually increase their safety. But most people don't understand it. Instead the populations have bought into this idea that it's externally imposed order (traffic laws) which create safety for us.

This last year I've been learning to ride a motorcycle, and it's reinforced an idea I'd already learned from elsewhere. In the motorcycle safety training class I took they reinforced over and over, when on a motorcycle the best way to create safety for yourself is to pay attention to what's going on around you. To look, evaluate, and plan your riding path and speed based on what you evaluate in the traffic around you.

In my life I've been in a couple dozen traffic accidents of all kinds. While riding bicycles, while being a passenger in someone elses car, while driving a car, and once while standing in the middle of the road. What I learned from those accidents is that the key common feature to all of them is this: That someone wasn't paying attention.

Speaking from my individual self, I can't control what the other drivers do around me. What I can do is control what I do, and at least if the other drivers aren't paying attention, I can do so if only for my safety. But it's interesting how people tend to zone out while driving in a car. I don't know what they're thinking because if they really think about it, driving in a car, going 70 miles/hr or more, that carries a tremendous amount of inertia, and if the car is in a collision that inertia becomes potential damage to the occupants of the car. I think of driving on the road, even very safe roads, as a very dangerous thing to do. The separation between cars on the highway is very small, most people are ignoring the safe following distance recommendations, and the rise of chatting on cell phones while driving is even further distracting the people from safe vehicle usage.

I think the best mechanism to increase road safety is for everyone to pay more attention.

And that's what these people in Holland are attempting to do. To remove the traffic laws and thereby causing the people to pay more attention.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The sliming of Barak Obama

It's still 2006 but the 2008 national elections have already begun. It seems silly that we're already sizing up the Presidential candidates when we're still 2 years from the election. But here we are. Maybe it's a reflection of the revulsion we have for the Bush years that we just want to get them over, but time ticks at it's own pace and we're left with over 2 years until the inauguration.

The story I'm interested in is the sudden popularity of Sen. Obama, and at the same time the sliming that's coming from the vast right-wing conspiracy, as Hillary Clinton called them. While that phrase was laughed off it's clear there is a right wing who has an evil narrow minded agenda that would lock down the country into fundamentalist Christian ideals, and outlaw anything else. And of course the person who Sen. Obama is would be so far outside the scope of what those people want, that they're going to target this guy and wear him down.

Consider: Obama... Osama

Gimme a break. The worst they can come up with is similarity in names? And in any case The Hussein name is obviously widely used in the middle east. One thing this video clip does show is how much out of touch typical Americans are, if they cannot realize a non-issue when they see it.

Next: CNN Analyzes Barack Obama's Clothing

Because of his choice of clothes they're going to slander him with a connection to the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So, uh...?

Next: The swiftboating of Obama begins considers itself with a rather minor land deal with a shady real estate dealer in the Chicago Area. The story is covered in a Washington Post article. The series of events is that a Syrian born businessman, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, whose primary business is running a chain of Panda Express restaurants and real estate developments, and who is politically active serving on some commissions, bought land adjoining a mansion that Sen. Obama bought in 2004. The only suspicious item in the story is that Obama's purchase price was $300,000 below the asking price, which one might consider to be a political favor, or one might consider Sen. Obama a good negotiator, or one might consider that the asking price was inflated.

In any case this story appears to be blown out of proportion with trying to overly connect Obama to Rezko's shady dealings.

Next: Revving Up For 2008, Carl Cameron Files Hit Piece on Barak Obama is a report from NewsHounds, a group founded by Director Greenwald as one of the research arms for his movie Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's war on Journalism. This is a group of bloggers who have continued scrutinizing Fox News reporting, documenting all the slanted stories which appear on that network. This posting details a profile by Carl Cameron on Barak Obama, which apparently tried to depict Sen. Obama as disconnected from the people and instead living in the circles of the Elites.

The profile also trotted out this supposedly shady land dealing, and in the same piece reminded the viewers of the Clinton's supposedly shady deal with the White Water group which we were all subjected to in the mid-90's.

Something to watch is their Barak Obama category, as no doubt they'll publish further stories on him.

Next: How Long Will The Right Let Us Love Obama? gives us the question.. how long before the vast right wing conspiracy really lets loose with the cannons and sinks Obama? What of the fate of John Kerry, for whom the Swift Boat campaign was named. John Kerry came to the campaign full of zeal as a Vietnam veteran, but the Swift Boaters unleashed a series of lies which Kerry was unable to counter. And the stench of that sliming operation still clings to Kerry when he should really be honored for almost beating a sitting wartime President.

The article contains an interesting point about psychological manipulation.

And then there's Al Gore. Al Gore is one of the most remarkable leaders our country has had over the past twenty-five years. A Vietnam veteran, Congressman and Senator, Al Gore was visionary on Global Warming and the environment, actually did lead the development of the Internet, was an active Vice President fully participating in the administration that gave this country its finest years of the last forty.

Next, look at the background of Gore's opponent in the 2000 Presidential Election. And imagine that, remarkably, when all was said and done character emerged as the dominant theme of the 2000 campaign and it was Vice President Gore's character that was being called into question!

Just think about that for a minute - consider what kind of psychological manipulation of the public had to happen before that could be the case.

What kind of Character does Al Gore have? Consider his performance following the 2000 election. Rather than lead the country into a constitutional crisis he followed the letter of the law. He has moral standing, moral will, and on and on, far more than Bush and his cronies demonstrate.

So, I agree with that claim, that for it to have been Gore's character quality that was called into question, massive psychological manipulation of the public had to have been perpetrated. Which just calls to my mind the faked scandals of the Clinton era, because it was those scandals which dogged Gore as well. But most of that scandalry was either fake, propped up by false claims, or else so completely minor in comparison to the highly impeachable acts by the Bush Administration. Which is worse, to lie about sex or to lie about the justifications for a war?

Another form of this psychological manipulation, the depiction of the Democratic party as weak on national defense:

Did you know that George McGovern was a World War II bomber pilot? And remember, in the debate on Iraq, we have John Kerry, Jack Murtha, Max Cleland, Joe Sestak, Chris Carney, Patrick Murphy, Richard Holbrooke, Wesley Clark, and more - all veterans. Our party collects war heroes as leaders. Their leaders collect deferments. And yet? They're perceived as the party of National Security. Why? Because they have spent billions telling us that it is so.

He didn't mention Pres. Kennedy and his experiences as a PT Boat captain and his survival of his boat being shot out from under him.

To be sure the Republican party has some honest war heros. Dwight Eisenhower for one, and Pres. G.H.W.Bush (#41) for another. But the current crop of Republican leaders including the whole of the current administration has not one iota of actual military experience.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Eavesdropping through your cell phone

FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool discusses a federal court case that has scary implications. In a recent court case it was disclosed the FBI has developed a new form of eavesdropping: remotely activating a mobile phone's microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations. Further the eavesdropping works even if the phone is turned off, because some phones do not turn fully off unless you remove the battery. That's because some phones have an alarm feature that wakes the phone even if it's turned off.

This was disclosed in a court case against two alleged mobsters, John Ardito and his attorney Peter Peluso. Further details are in an opinion written by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. The judge ruled this was legal under U.S. Code TITLE 18, PART I, CHAPTER 119, section 2518. And they did get proper wiretapping approval from the judge.

The ruling doesn't state how the "roving bug" got installed, simply that it was. Hover the CNET article refers to a Financial Times article, Use of mobile helped police keep tabs on suspect and brother describes several privacy vulnerabilities which were exploited by European law enforcement in a different case.

First, cell phone operators are able to track the location of a phone to within 2-3 meters (about 5-10 feet for American readers). They do this through triangulating based on signals from three or more cell towers. Law enforcement can request tracking of a cell phone, and tracking is done in real time.

Second, cell phone operators can tap any phone call.

Third, cell phone operators can remotely install software into a handset, without the knowledge of the owner of that cell phone.

While it's nice and interesting that law enforcement can do this, this has to be a vulnerability that nefarious third parties can also exploit. This is because the mechanisms the cell phone operator uses are probably not secured well enough to prevent others from also using those mechanisms. As one of the experts quoted in the Financial Times article says:

"We have inadvertently started carrying our own trackable ID card in the form of the mobile phone," said Sandra Bell, head of the homeland security department at the Royal United Services Institute.

The CNET article gives some convincing evidence that the case they're reporting on must have relied on remotely turning on the cell phone. For example the Mafioso involved in this case were already suspicious of being tailed, so any attempt to physically borrow their cell phone to implant a physical "bug" would have been doubly suspicious.

This BBC article, 'This goes no further...', discusses routine use of remote monitoring through a cell phone. It has even been used to listen to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's conversations through his cell phone. There is no way anybody had an approved wiretap order to legally listen through his cell phone.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

"Don't forget about the real world"

Which world is the real one? Philosophical questions aside the common answer is that the world our bodies inhabit is the real world. It is our bodies that must be fed, housed, will get cold so therefore have to be clothed, has sexual drives, and so on. It is hard to ignore the reality which contains our bodies.

Second Life escapists told to wake up: Concerns a campaign launched within Second Life by the World Development Movement to raise consciousness about global poverty. They have taken this campaign into Second Life because it seems a lot of people are paying more attention to a virtual paradise rather than the physical one.

Second Life equal with First Life: "Nearly half of all Americans who belong to online communities claim that the virtual world they inhabit is as important as the real world." Well, okay, I'm not sure if they're making this out to be a bad thing or not.

On the one hand the Internet offers us a way to connect people based on their interests rather than their location. In the past society had bad communications and travel capabilities, and the only people you could connect with were the ones who lived next door or in the next town over. But what if your interests went to speed skating, but you lived in an equatorial town that had no skating rinks and nobody else cared about ice skating much less speed skating? You might get laughed at just like the Jamaican Bobsled Team earns weird looks every time someone talks about them.

At the same time we have this real world that our bodies inhabit. What are we ignoring when we ignore that world?

There actually is an analogy in the real world inhabited by our bodies. Think of the way mainstream news often gets distracted by unimportant events. For example the Scott Peterson story where he killed his wife in a gruesome, covered it up in a gruesome way, professed innocence, etc. It was a huge story in the media, and it was a tragedy, but in truth lots of wives are killed by their husbands every year, and for that matter lots of husbands are killed by their wives every year. Why did that story get the coverage and the others did not? Further, what important stories were skipped over because the available time in the evening news was spent examining minutae of Scott Peterson's life?

In other words, there is a lot going on in this world which distracts us from what is really going on around us. Online communities, especially the immersive online virtual worlds, are just one of them.

World Development Movement


The World Development Movement (WDM) tackles the underlying causes of poverty. We lobby decision makers to change the policies that keep people poor. We research and promote positive alternatives. We work alongside people in the developing world who are standing up to injustice.

The world has the wealth and means to end poverty. Yet nearly half of the world's population live on less than £1.40 a day. And over 11 million children will die from poverty-related illness this year alone.