Monthly Archives: September 2009

Fusion center blues

CNN had this spot on this morning as part of a report about potential intrusions on your privacy.  The focus here was on fusion centers.  The report itself isn’t particularly insightful (part of the problem of trying to cram an issue that requires 10 minutes into a 2 minute slot) but the chit chat between the reporter and the anchor afterwards was very interesting.  The report raised the concern that fusion centers might be collecting and distributing information about citizens without any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity apart from their political affiliation or history in engaging in constitutionally protected activities.

So when the report ends, the anchor says something to the effect of ‘Everyone should really make sure they check their privacy settings on all their web pages, blogs, etc. to make sure only the people you want to see your stuff actually see it.’

The reporter replies:  ‘Yes, you really have to watch what you say and do now because you never know when the government or your employer may be watching.’

Whoa…I thought, ‘Did she really just say that?’  How in the world did we get to a place where a reporter can say something like that and then cut to the weather as if they just showed a clip of a water-skiing squirrel?

Kalm digs chicks from Montreal

Peter Kalm’s memoirs continue to entertain.  In between talking about lead and silver ore deposits and lime kilns, he has a two page diversion describing Canadian women.  Apparently, living up to all the negative stereotypes about the French, they take a great deal of pleasure laughing at everyone who doesn’t speak the language fluently.  But then he gets to some good stuff:

One of the first questions they [Canadian women] put to a stranger is whether he is married; the next, how he likes the ladies in the country, and whether he things them handsomer than those of his own country; and the third, whether he will take one home with him.

Wow.  Sounds like Canada was a happenin’ place.  But, hold on there cowboy.  Don’t go picking up the first girl who bats her eyes and sends an ‘Oh, la la‘ your way.  According to Kalm:

There are some differences between the ladies of Quebec and those of Montreal; those of the latter place seemed to be generally handsomer than those of the former…The ladies of Quebec, especially the unmarried ones, are not very industrious.  A girl of eighteen is reckoned very poorly off if she cannot enumerate at least twenty lovers.

So, if anyone ever perfects a time machine, buy a ticket and set it for Montreal circa 1749.

Setting ourselves up for tragedy

I’m not sure I actually have to say that I’m not too sympathetic towards sex offenders but I do think that we should do what we can to prevent them from re-offending.  Some ways to do that include not labeling people for life as dangerous deviants for engaging in consensual relationships while minors, ‘mooning’ or streaking.  For those who are legitimately guilty of crimes against minors, identify those who can be helped with treatment and give it to them.  For those who are the true, irredeemable predators, alter the laws to make sure they can’t endanger the public.

However, stupid laws which push all offenders outside of society are only going to make all of them more likely to commit more crimes.  When you say that offenders can’t live, work or be within some arbitrary distance from every school, bus stop, play ground, etc. you’re going to end up with a whole bunch of ex-convicts congregating together and interacting with no one else.  Take away every option from people other than committing crimes and should we be surprised when they re-offend?

Don’t mess with the Esquimaux

I’m still reading Peter Kalm’s journal of his extended travels through colonial America and I continue to find interesting bits of information throughout.  Case in point, his treatment of the Inuits, or as he calls them, the Esquimaux.  Apparently they were not much liked by either Europeans or other Native Americans.

He says that in Esquimaux lands…

“…it is not advisable for Europeans to go on shore, unless they be numerous, for the Esquimaux are false and treacherous and cannot suffer strangers amongst them.  If they find themselves too weak, they run away at the approach of strangers; but if they think they are an over-match for them, they kill all that come in their way, without leaving a single one alive.”

“If they [Europeans] are ship-wrecked on the Esquimaux coasts, they may as well be drowned in the sea as come safe to the shore…[t]he European boats and ships which the Esquimaux get into their power are immediately cut to pieces and robbed of all their nails and other iron…”

Now, Kalm is no knee-jerk anti-Indian who believes that ‘the only good injun is a dead injun.’  He has spent numerous time discussing the positive attributes of various aspects of Native American culture (with the exception of their living quarters which he describes as overwhelmed with fleas, bed bugs and other stinging insects) and compares without prejudice, the Europeans who have adopted the Native American lifestyle and the dearth of interest among Native Americans in taking up the lifestyle and culture of Europeans.  So, I have to reject the idea that Kalm is attempting to stir up emotions in order to rally some sort of anti-Inuit pogrom.

I also find it interesting that this perception about the Inuits was also shared by many Native Americans.

“This inhuman proceeding of the Esquimaux against all strangers is the reason why none of the Indians of North America ever give quarter to the Esquimaux if they meet them, but kill them on the spot, though they frequently pardon their other enemies, and incorporate the prisoners with their nation.”

Inuit territory wasn’t particularly welcoming to Europeans so I can’t imagine that there would have been much demand to colonize their land even if they were friendly.  I wonder however, if their hostility was an additional factor in allowing them to get a better outcome than Native American populations that got decimated while being pushed across the country.  Does violence pay off when two cultures meet?

The Arctic Sea returns

The Arctic Sea story keeps adding new wrinkles which demand my attention.  Consider:

From Agence France Presse on the 18th of September:

Russia on Friday unloaded evidence from the Arctic Sea ship onto a Russian warship, as mystery still surrounded the identity of its cargo one month after it was recovered from alleged pirates.

“The evidence will be delivered to a Russian port, where the warship Ladny and its escorting vessels will dock,” the investigative committee said in a statement posted on its website.

“It includes ammunition used by the suspected pirates to capture the ship and the speedboat from which they boarded it. The boat was camouflaged on board the Arctic Sea under a wood frame and canvas,” it said.

Now, I’m not quite sure why the evidence couldn’t have been put in one of the three military transport aircraft that were needed to bring the 20-odd crew members and alleged hijackers from the Cape Verde Islands to Russia earlier this month.  Initial reports of the ‘speedboat’ were that it was a Zodiac-type boat, which shouldn’t present any obstacles from being muscled onto an IL-76.  Those reports certainly could be wrong though (this story is riddled with holes so relying on any piece of the story is fraught with all sorts of risks).

From the Times of London:

The Arctic Sea is apparently being towed by a tug and needs repairs, although there was no mention of any damage in the operation to free her fifteen-man Russian crew from the eight alleged hijackers.

And the AFP:

Russian officials said it would be taken to Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, but then without explanation they said it would be taken to the Canary Islands instead.

This may or may not be significant.  The ship’s owner later said that they weren’t going to dock at the Spanish port in Las Palmas because it has members of the Russian military on board and...

“A commercial vessel which has members of the armed forces on board has military status, and as a result, that requires totally different conditions for its entry to a foreign port, primarily, a consent between both countries’ foreign ministries,”

The Russian news agency, however, released a statement from Russian authorities which claimed that the ship can’t be considered to have military status and claims that the ship won’t dock there because it hasn’t paid the necessary fees to the appropriate Spanish maritime agency.

From the Times of Malta:

The Maltese-registered formerly hijacked cargo ship Arctic Sea is unable to call at the Spanish port of Las Palmas after Malta refused to take part in the handover of the ship, Russian investigators have been quoted as saying by RIA Novosti news agency.

The Authority said it instructed the owner of the M/V Arctic Sea that the ship could not proceed to sea until any necessary repairs, surveys and certification were carried out and it was ascertained that the ship was in a seaworthy condition.

And back to AFP:

The port authority on the island of La Palma had earlier granted permission for the ship to dock at 8:00 pm (1900 GMT) but Spain’s merchant shipping department had objected for reasons it did not specify, a representative for the authority said.

Really?  Even on this point we can’t get a straight story?

Wild speculation Alternate Hypotheses:

  1. The ship wasn’t carrying S-300 anti-air missiles but some other cargo that the Spanish don’t want anywhere near their port facilities.
  2. The Spanish have doubts that the ship, once docked in a Spanish port, would ever leave due to doubts about the ability/willingness of interested parties to pay required fees or concerns about the ships seaworthiness.  Spain may believe the latter if, perhaps,serious work had to be done on the ship while it was ‘missing’ (like to remove some bulky cargo), especially if such work was done by a NATO ally.

Landlubbers need not apply…

Peter is doing some interesting work about the use of Private Military Contractors in anti-piracy operations around Somalia.  I particularly recommend these two posts involving interviews with PMC employees about the sorts of skills they look for in their employees.

Forget the tent, let’s go to the V.I.P. room!

At work this morning we were discussing the eccentricities of Mr. Gaddafi when I made the statement that given his nuttiness (like wanting to abolish Switzerland) and his all female bodyguard he might be the dictator that I would most want to party with.

I got to thinking about that and it occurred to me that there are a couple of other strongmen out there who might be fun to kick back with, have some brews and cruise for chicks.  My list (in addition to Mr. Gaddafi):

Kim Jong Il – Has a hefty reputation for being a party animal.  Now that he’s had a stroke I might be able to keep up with him.

Vladimir Putin – Just in case we end up in a bar fight, you want some muscle on hand to take care of business.  The drawback (I suspect) is that you’d always end up playing his wingman.

Any others I might have missed?

In which I find out I’m in the minority

Whoa…it’s so strange to think that a belief I hold pretty firmly to isn’t shared by the majority of my fellow Americans.

Trinity College has a report about the non-religious in America (who they call the ‘nones’ – I’m not really thrilled with that label.  Couldn’t they find something a bit more catchy?)

Nones are much more likely to believe in human evolution (61%) than the general American public (38%).

Less than 4 in 10 Americans believe in human evolution?  That means (putting that 3rd grade math to use – Thanks Mrs. Doback!) that more than 6 in 10 think I’m completely bonkers.  That’s really disconcerting.  I feel like I was just told that the majority of Americans think the world is flat.  I never would have guessed that number was that high.  Just shocking.

Gallup had a poll last election season showing that atheists were the least likely to get votes than any other demographic.

An atheist would seem to have the hardest time getting elected president, as a majority of Americans (53%) say they would not vote for a presidential candidate who was an atheist.

Of course, Rudy Guilliani was also the front runner at the time so take that for what it’s worth.

It’s designed to be complicated

Andrew Sullivan writes about the many frustrations of the U.S. immigration system.

Of course, the system only seems ‘paralyzed’ if you assume the purpose of our immigration system is to assist people in coming to and living in this country legally.  If, on the other hand, you assume our immigration system is designed to keep all but the most motivated/desperate/wealthy out it works perfectly fine.  After our own head-smacking moments of disbelief with INS’s rules I have come to the conclusion that what appears to be bureaucratic red tape is, in fact, a deliberate attempt to get most would be immigrants to throw up their hands in despair and stay where ever they are.

For those dark and stormy nights…

Well, autumn is fast approaching and you need some good horror literature to get you reved up for Halloween.  Don’t wait for the last minute or you’ll find the moment has passed you by and you’ll be accosted by Christmas carols before the first frost hits.

So, I humbly recommend (again) the podcast Underwood and Flinch from Mike Bennett.  In fact, I’d recommend just about anything Mike’s done.  He’s a good writer, but he’s an amazing storyteller.  He has that all too rare combination of abilities:  writing and acting talent.  He does all the voices in some very character heavy stories and you will get addicted to his work.

Underwood and Flinch is a vampire novel he’s written and bringing to audio format.  There are 16 episodes in the hopper which should keep anyone occupied for a decent amount of time but if you find yourself craving more you can check out his short story audio collection Hall of Mirrors.

It is a shame he is not signed with some media outlet (traditional publishing would be a waste of his voice talents) so check him out and if you dig him send a couple of bucks his way.