Saturday, December 31, 2005

Silly Insulting Wall

Rigoberta Menchu: US Wall Is an Insult - Prensa Latina

Who am I to criticize a Nobel Peace Prize winner or a head of state, but this business of Latin Americans taking insult at the prospect of the United States building a wall along the border with Mexico is just silly. Worse, it's just pandering.

Insult? The real insult is that humanity thinks it is different from a colony of bacteria in a petri dish. Neither can outgrow its environment, but both are destined to ruin their environment in the rush to outgrow it.

What I hear these insulted ones saying is that people should be free to ruin their neighbors' commons, which is what unfettered illegal immigration will accelerate. What they're really saying is whatever they think their respective constituencies want them to say, whatever serves their political aims.

What is even sillier than the insult these people say they perceive is the very idea of the wall itself. Anything less than a coordinated package of measures, maybe including a wall but certainly including politically impossible sanctions on businesses and individuals who exploit immigrants' cheap labor and facilitate their migration, is as useless as the War on Some Drugs. (Useless with respect to stated aims, that is; the immigration wall and the War on Some Drugs are both very useful to unstated aims.)

So what's the solution?

There is no politically practicable solution to the problem of illegal immigration, but pretending that there is a solution along these lines serves certain political purposes. Get used to it, y aprendan a platicar en EspaƱol.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Emergency Contraception: Congratulation Massachusetts

Hear! Hear! I'm so happy to see social conservatives slapped down for once. Twice. Dover and "intelligent design", Massachusetts and emergency contraception... Maybe there's hope after all.
Compassion in the ER

By Dianne Luby | December 25, 2005

THIS MONTH women and sexual assault survivors in Massachusetts marked a major victory when the Commonwealth's new emergency contraception bill went into effect. The new law is a compassionate, common-sense measure that requires hospital emergency room staff to help rape victims avoid pregnancy by providing them with emergency contraception. It also allows specially trained pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception without a prescription. Full implementation of this law will provide important new protections for women's health by preventing unintended pregnancies. It will also help reduce the need for abortion.

Emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, can be taken up to five days after rape, contraceptive failure, or unprotected sex to reduce the risk of pregnancy. It is most effective if taken within the first 24 hours. A form of progestin, one of the hormones found in regular birth control pills, emergency contraception works most often by inhibiting ovulation and/or fertilization. It is not RU486, the abortion pill, and it will not harm an existing pregnancy.

Despite promising to support broader access to emergency contraception when he was a candidate in 2002, Governor Romney blocked passage of this law until the Legislature overrode his veto. Last week he tried again to undermine the law when his administration declared its intention to exempt religious hospitals from the obligation to provide emergency contraception to rape survivors. Confronted by a public outcry, strong opposition from the attorney general, and the advice of his own legal counsel, Romney abruptly reversed course and announced that all hospitals will, in fact, have to comply with the new law.

This political fracas has been widely covered. What gets lost, however, in all of the politics are the real experiences of sexual assault survivors, women and girls who have been traumatized and need access to emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. An estimated 7,000 women and girls are raped every year in Massachusetts. Rape victims who receive emergency contraception within the first 24 hours reduce their risk of pregnancy by roughly 95 percent. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Many rape survivors do not seek care, and some who do seek it are denied emergency contraception by their providers.

The patient stories we hear all too often at Planned Parenthood shed light on what it can mean in the life of an individual when she is denied appropriate medical care, whether it is a college student who experiences date rape, but is denied emergency contraception because her college health center does not stock it, or a rape survivor taken to the local emergency room who is not told about emergency contraception because the hospital or individual practitioner is opposed to family planning. When women and girls in this situation become pregnant, they are victims twice.

In the face of this kind of tragedy, it's time for the politics to stop. All hospitals, religious or otherwise, should follow the law and provide the most effective medical care available. That includes providing emergency contraception to rape survivors. The fact is that hospitals enjoy tax-free status and receive substantial amounts of public funding. As a result, taxpayers have the right to expect that all hospitals will adhere to the laws of the Commonwealth and provide high-quality care for patients.

At Planned Parenthood, we hope that all of the debate surrounding this law will help increase public officials' appreciation of the compassionate care that rape victims need and deserve. As Governor Romney finishes the balance of his term, we also hope he will stop using this issue to build his national profile among social conservatives and start putting the interests of women and girls ahead of his own.

Dianne Luby is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Impotent disgust

Whenever I see a Hummer I envision it on fire.

When I read that Norway has increased its whaling kill quota or that Japanese whalers are on research expeditions, I visualize the whalers sinking into the cold waters and the bastards who promulgate these policies choking to death on whale meat.

Within a few minutes, though, I'm back to my normally resigned self.

After all, deforestation and loss of biodiversity, fleet fishing and 90 percent of large fish already gone from the oceans, nature preserve drilling in the face of oil depletion and Hummers, melting permafrost already releasing greenhouse methane to the atmosphere, receding Greenland glaciers freshening the ocean and threatening the thermohaline circulation, decreasing sea ice and drowning polar bears, increasing global haze, and so on and on and on, tend to overwhelm.

Impotent disgust succumbs once again to sad resignation. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Black Box Voting Forums: 12-13-05: Devastating hack proven - Leon County dumps Diebold

Paper trail, paper trail, paper trail, paper trail, paper trail...
UPDATE Dec. 16: Volusia County (FL) joins Leon in dumping Diebold. Due to contractual non-performance and security design issues, Leon County (Florida) supervisor of elections Ion Sancho has announced that he will never again use Diebold in an election. He has requested funds to replace the Diebold system from the county. On Tuesday, the most serious “hack” demonstration to date took place in Leon County. The Diebold machines succumbed quickly to alteration of the votes. This comes on the heels of the resignation of Diebold CEO Wally O'Dell, and the announcement that stockholder's class action suits and related actions have been filed against Diebold by four separate law firms. Further “hack” testing on additional vulnerabilities is tentatively scheduled before Christmas in the state of California.

Finnish security expert Harri Hursti, together with Black Box Voting, demonstrated that Diebold made misrepresentations to Secretaries of State across the nation when Diebold claimed votes could not be changed on the “memory card” (the credit-card-sized ballot box used by computerized voting machines.

A test election was run in Leon County on Tuesday with a total of eight ballots. Six ballots voted "no" on a ballot question as to whether Diebold voting machines can be hacked or not. Two ballots, cast by Dr. Herbert Thompson and by Harri Hursti voted "yes" indicating a belief that the Diebold machines could be hacked.

At the beginning of the test election the memory card programmed by Harri Hursti was inserted into an Optical Scan Diebold voting machine. A "zero report" was run indicating zero votes on the memory card. In fact, however, Hursti had pre-loaded the memory card with plus and minus votes.

The eight ballots were run through the optical scan machine. The standard Diebold-supplied "ender card" was run through as is normal procedure ending the election. A results tape was run from the voting machine.

Correct results should have been: Yes:2 ; No:6

However, just as Hursti had planned, the results tape read: Yes:7 ; No:1

The results were then uploaded from the optical scan voting machine into the GEMS central tabulator, a step cited by Diebold as a protection against memory card hacking. The central tabulator is the "mother ship" that pulls in all votes from voting machines. However, the GEMS central tabulator failed to notice that the voting machines had been hacked.
The results in the central tabulator read:

Yes:7 ; No:1

This videotaped testing session was witnessed by Black Box Voting investigators Bev Harris and Kathleen Wynne, Florida Fair Elections Coalition Director Susan Pynchon, security expert Dr. Herbert Thompson, and Susan Bernecker, a former candidate for New Orleans city council who videotaped Sequoia-brand touch-screen voting machines in her district recording vote after vote for the wrong candidate.

The Hursti Hack requires a moderate level of inside access. It is, however, accomplished without being given any password and with the same level of access given thousands of poll workers across the USA. It is a particularly dangerous exploit, because it changes votes in a one-step process that will not be detected in any normal canvassing procedure, it requires only a single a credit-card sized memory card, any single individual with access to the memory cards can do it, and it requires only a small piece of equipment which can be purchased off the Internet for a few hundred dollars.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Siriana (shrug)

I saw Siriana with my son last night. Frankly, I was disappointed. I was hoping that peak oil would somehow shine through as a critical issue, but it didn't.

Aside from that, I thought the movie was worthy of a shrug. I liked it about as much as I liked The Deal, which isn't saying much. Government bad. Oil company bad. Idealistic reformer good. Idealistic reformer dead. Shrug.

Catch it on video. - Shaping the peak of world oil production

The bell curve has a sharp crest, and you can't see it coming.

To understand the possible character of the peaking of world conventional oil production, oil peaking in a number of relatively unencumbered regions and countries was considered. All had significant production, and all were certainly or almost certainly past their peak. The data shows that the onset of peaking can occur quite suddenly, peaks can be very sharp, and post-peak production declines can be comparatively steep (3 - 13%). Thus, if historical patterns are appropriate indicators, the task of planning for and managing world conventional oil peaking will indeed be very challenging.
Hat tip: Kurt Cobb - Resource Insights:
Comedian Richard Pryor, who passed away last week, was famous for saying, "Who you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?" In a way, those who believe that a peak in world oil production is not far away (or possibly already here) are asking the American public the same question.

A somnolent and self-satisfied American citizenry awakens each day to a world with no gas lines, warm homes in winter (or cool homes in summer), an economy which appears to be gaining speed and a gasoline price which has dropped below where it had been before it spiked to record levels.


Is our hypothetical speaker not asking the audience to deny the evidence of their senses? Is he not asking them to believe him rather than their lying eyes?

Hear! Hear!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Kurt Vonnegut: Your Guess Is as Good as Mine

Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long -- —for all of human experience so far -- —that it is wholly unsurprising that most of the leaders of this planet, in spite of all the information that is suddenly ours, want the guessing to go on, because now it is their turn to guess and be listened to.
It seems to me that Kurt Vonnegut has had the great good fortune of living his life a couple of minutes before midnight. Too bad there weren't more of him around when it might have done some good.

We must acknowledge, though, that persuasive guessers -- —even Ivan the Terrible, now a hero in Russia -- —have given us courage to endure extraordinary ordeals that we had no way of understanding. Crop failures, wars, plagues, eruptions of volcanoes, babies being born dead -- —the guessers gave us the illusion that bad luck and good luck were understandable and could somehow be dealt with intelligently and effectively.

Without that illusion, we would all have surrendered long ago. ...

I did surrender long ago, when it became crystal clear to me that humanity is incapable of behaving sustainably and that, as a result, we would face the consequences of exponentiation against limits.

It is easy to envision scenarios in which I am lucky enough to die realizing my outlook was wrong all along, that faith in seemingly outlandish technologies was justified, that Ehrlich and the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth were all wet.

Optimistic scenarios, though, seem bloody unlikely to materialize in the time required.

Humanity needs a miracle. Unfortunately, I'm not a man of faith. I'm just one who seems to have found a measure of serenity in resignation, like some of the characters in On The Beach.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I watched Monster, the Charlize Theron film about the life of Aileen Wuornos, the Daytona Beach prostitute and serial killer, for the first time today.

All I can say is that this film richly deserves every bit of praise it has received. It wasn't a fun movie to watch, but it is an awesome film. More power to Charlize Theron and everyone associated with it.

I've had an approach avoidance thing going with this film since it was released, similar to my reactions to Schindler's List, Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan, Reservoir Dogs and a few others. (Black Hawk Down, this review of which won a Pulitzer Prize, was, for me, especially hard to watch, just as was reading the Philadelphia Inquirer's series when it was published after the Battle of Mogadishu.) All of these films were amazing, though, and I'm glad I've seen them.

Now I think I'll take a chance on Natural Born Killers, which comes highly recommended.

[Update: Natural Born Killers was a boring, pointless piece of shit not redeemable by some good performances. I wound up turning it off some time before the end, having briefly dozed off and not caring whether I missed some grand finale. I fail to understand how or why a guy like Tarantino (yeah, it's an Oliver Stone flick but the story is by Tarantino) can turn out gems like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction on the one hand, but crap like Natural Born Killers and Kill Bill on the other. Maybe some day I'll get it. Maybe it's just as simple as dollars generated via pointless violence.]

If I'm going to watch a movie for recreation I generally prefer to watch something a little lighter. Among my favorites are Office Space and Paulie, though I'm only slighting many other fine movies by mentioning any at all.

Once in a while, though...

Violence and street drug markets

Mark Kleiman notes that in New York City cocaine dealing has been driven indoors by the felony status of dealing the stuff. Meanwhile, dealing in pot and untaxed cigarettes is a midemeanor and the dealers aren't afraid of the cops. The result, Mr. Kleiman reports, is that violence around cocaine dealing is substantially decreased while violence around pot and untaxed cigarette sales is substantial.

Kleiman says that a nasty, illicit market is facilitated by a high tax, then says the right policy response to the problem is not obvious.

Excuse me?

The right policy response is completely obvious: legalize the stuff and subject it to reasonable taxation, not sin taxation the way cigarettes are being taxed more and more.

How much more obvious can it be? Drug prohibition and the War on Some Drugs produce only ill effects.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Exit Strategy for The War (on Some Drugs) - Local attorneys tout exit to war on drugs: "An Exit Strategy for the War on Drugs"

Goodman presented the decriminalization message in Seattle this week at a two-day conference titled, ``An Exit Strategy for the War on Drugs: Toward a Legal Framework.''

He hosted many of the country's most outspoken critics of U.S. drug policy, including former Seattle police Chief Norm Stamper, travel writer Rick Steves and Canadian Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin.

Most of those in attendance at this week's conference agreed that locking people up for nonviolent drug offenses simply doesn't work. Where they disagreed was on what should be done instead.

The regulation models offered by the Bar are sketched out in a report called ``Effective Drug Control'' by Goodman's Drug Policy Project. Since he started bringing the blueprint to legal circles across the country, Goodman said, a growing number of legal scholars are taking the ideas seriously.


Supporters of the plan -- including the Seattle League of Women Voters, the Washington State Public Health Association and the Washington State Pharmacy Association -- say current drug policy has failed miserably by creating a high-profit black market that's impossible to stop.
Unfortunately, the War on Some Drugs is one of those issues dominated by unreason, propaganda, entrenched power and money interests, and geopolitics.

It's all just nuts - so damned predictable.

I am a conscientious objector in the War on Drugs.