A Farewell

Dec. 10th, 2013 09:03 am
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Many people have toppled old nations. Many people have raised new ones. But few have done both without leaving a great trail of blood behind them. No eulogy is sufficient, but we say goodbye to Nelson Mandela knowing that he was one of the few people about whom we can safely say that he left the world a much better place than he found it, and knowing that we may never see his like again.

A Death

Oct. 5th, 2013 02:02 pm
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So, Vo Nguyen Giap died this week.

Giap was probably the most respected and most accomplished military leader alive until his death. He fought against and ultimately triumphed against the Japanese in Indochina, he fought against the French and eventually cornered and defeated them at Dien Bien Phu. He commanded North Vietnamese forces throughout the Vietnam War, and was at least nominally involved in the final triumph of North Vietnam. He died as one of the most accomplished leaders in guerrilla warfare in history.

Giap is an interesting figure. Good books on history will mention him. Some of them will laud him, others criticize him, both with justification. Bad books will ignore him almost entirely. One of the ways to determine who is really serious about something is to see who is willing to learn from people they dislike both personally and ideologically. It's a good distinction to look for, and it's strange how applicable it is.
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So in case you were having trouble with having to sleep all the time, and were spending the day wondering "I wonder if there's some way that I can stay up all night clutching at my blankets instead of sleeping", we now have the perfect solution. You will be happy to know that the "zombie drug" has now made it to the United States.

(Those of you wanting only happy news today may want to stop reading).

Apparently Krokodil, a cheaper but dirtier and much more dangerous alternative to heroin for the hard drug market, may now be in the United States. Originating in Russia, Krokodil is derived from codeine, which is fairly widely available, and can be produced in your kitchen. Unfortunately, because most people making drugs in their kitchens do not have access to expensive and precise chemicals, they tend to use common hydrocarbons, such as gasoline, for use as a solvent. The end result, which users inject into their body, is an impure mix with hydrochloric acid floating amid a variety of other toxic substances.

Over time, users begin to suffer necrosis as the toxic brew kills the flesh beneath the injection point, suffering from the effects of gangrene and the characteristic green, scaly appearance in the skin that caused Russians to name the drug after the crocodile. Of course that's before the flesh dies completely and sloughs off, in some cases going deep enough to reveal the bone. Yes, the user actually has their flesh rot and physically fall off their body. Not only that but some users also suffer motor coordination issues, leaving them stumbling around with impaired speech and walking ability while their flesh literally rots and falls off of their body. A horde of Krokodil users differs from a zombie apocalypse only by their inevitable mortality. It can only be hoped that the drug doesn't take root in the US, for the sake of possible users.

And if I'm not going to sleep well tonight, neither are you.

(If you really want sources, here's a rather old and tame article from Time on the drug in Russia. The US content comes from this probably NSFW article from Mother Jones. If you want to see real horrible images, then the article on io9 is a good start. This is something I do not recommend.)
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There are a lot of myths flying around about Syria, from both sides, which annoys me. Everyone seems to believe things that I find false. I’m not an expert, but even I get annoyed by some of the myths I’ve seen floating around. Here are some I find especially false:

Myths and Confusions )
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So, just something I’ve noticed over the years. When someone tells you that there’s no time to consider something, that we have to make a decision right now, chances are that what they’re asking you to make is a bad decision. Maybe it’s buying something you don’t need, or succumbing to some kind of peer pressure, but when someone wants you to make up your mind about something without taking time to consider it, chances are that they’re afraid that if you take your time to consider it you’ll find good reason to do what they don’t want. If they need to shout at you to get you to make up your mind, chances are what they want is a bad idea.

This goes double when they’re asking you to bomb someone else’s country.

Now, sometimes you have to make up your mind in a hurry. Sometimes there’s a rock falling towards your head, or you need to decide whether to brake or swerve, or fight or flight. But that implies a window that is going to snap shut on you, that if you don’t do something your ability to do something will be taken away.

In Syria there doesn’t seem to be a deadline looming. Yes, it will be much harder to do something about chemical weapon attacks after the Civil War is over, but the war has been raging for over two years. It’s not like if we don’t bomb someone by Sunday the war will be over. Media hype aside, there hasn’t been a decisive change in the flow of the war for over a year. You can wait for the UN inspectors before bombing. You can wait for more information before bombing. You can wait to be sure that you have to bomb before bombing. It’ll just increase the time the Syrians have to be nervous.

And it’s not like the Syrian opposition is going to roll over because of a chemical attack. Yes, the death of possibly more than a thousand civilians is a terrible affair - but the war has killed over a hundred thousand people already. A hundred thousand. This isn’t a tragedy, it’s one percent of a tragedy, a horrible punctuation in a background of continual killing. The opposition didn’t fold for any of that, they’re not likely to fold now. We’re not going to end the killing, we’re not going to end the war, we’re just going to punish people for one little part of it that is probably lost in the morass and in the end will barely even matter.

So there’s no real downside to waiting. Which leads to the question of why certain people are pushing this decision so hard and so fast. What are they afraid we’re going to realize if we wait? Are we going to come to our senses? No, this is fundamentally a bad decision, and we should be smart enough not to let the hucksters take us for a ride.
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I've liked Al-Jazeera English for some time. It's a good news channel if you want to know something about what's going on overseas. So I was cautiously optimistic about their Al-Jazeera America launch.

I'm not impressed so far. I have to say that the front page to AJA, to which all American network traffic is routed, looks like a clone of CNN. Visually it's different, but if I wanted to read stories about American domestic issues, I would just use an American network. AJE's strength was always in the network of contacts they had in certain portions of the world that brought a different variety of stories to American viewers. Attempting to make it into a clone of an American news network is disappointing, or perhaps a testament to what American television audiences want as opposed to American internet audiences.

Oh well, not everything can be good.
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Letter published as received:

To the members of the American Intelligence Community,

I feel I should say a few words of introduction to establish the seriousness of this complaint. Unlike most of those hippie protesters who have been sending you daily mail with half the words misspelled, I am a man of both import and business. Over the years I have single-handedly moved Lexcorp into a position of dominance in the business world, not only establishing a world-renown technological industry with the fruit of my own research, but also guiding my company through a series of deals and mergers that eventually turned us into the keystone of the American economy. Frankly, if it were not for that meddling Kryptonian alien, I would probably be President of Earth by now.

I say this not to brag, because I have no need of such, but because I want to establish the depth of experience that I am bringing to this question. Unlike you people, who have barely managed to figure out how a telephone works, I have invented entire surveillance networks, run a Fortune 500 company, dominated the American economy, and managed to retain enough public support to even be elected President of the United States, while at the same time engaging in a long string of unsavory experiments, destructive public works projects, and the occasional day when I tried to take over the world while fighting the entire Justice League using a suit of alien battle armor. Suffice it to say, I am an authority in almost every field where you are authorities in basically none.

So, I am writing to you regarding your new “PRISM” project, whatever it may be. I can understand the impetus behind it; there was a time when I also entertained notions of such minor petty projects to overthrow the rulership of the foolish masses. Of course with me it was when I was twelve. I had moved on to better projects by the age of fifteen, but not everyone can be so gifted. And of course I can understand why you hate and despise freedom, and applaud the fact that you recognize that the world would be better off in the hands of its natural leaders (which, by the way, does not include you. You will be informed of your position in the New World Order once we get around to it). But regardless of the intent and effects of your little scheme, I must inform you of a simple fact.

You are bad at Powerpoint. Stop. Just Stop. You’re giving perfectly reasonable self-respecting villains a bad name.

Continuing... )
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You know, Tokyo used to have the 'crazy uncle' mayor, the guy who would sit down at the table and then suddenly erupt in a racist diatribe involving everything from Nathan Bedford Forrest to the KKK as a public service organization.

Well, Ishihara's not around anymore, but now it looks like (Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault) Osaka is getting into the race. How do we explain this? Is there some hidden article in the Japanese Constitution that requires at least one mayor to be so batshit they can mine him for guano? Is there some sort of crazy hat that they pass around? Is there a mayor's party where people get drunk and make bad bets, of which this is the result? Or more reasonably, is there something in the Japanese political system that requires these people to say outrageous things about subjects they have no control over to get noticed?

Either way, the lesson here is never trust a Japanese mayor. Because you never know when they're going to go around the bend, over the hill, and into the quicksand.
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This letter is published as received:

Kim Jong-Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea, First Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, etc., etc.


Look, you have problem. Major problem.

Hulk knows your problem. Hulk have many problem as well. Same as Kim Jong-Un. Always there are many tanks and many airplanes shooting at Hulk and buzzing around Hulk and causing Hulk problems. They are annoying. Like Korean dictator Kim, all Hulk want to be is left alone, but the army keeps coming. Never let Hulk get moment quiet.

So Hulk understand what you going through. You saying big words. You not want be bothered by American Army so you always up there shouting, saying that you gonna cancel the arm-is-tice thingy. Those real big words.

Hulk say big words too. Always these people come along, they be saying that they bigger than Hulk, stronger than Hulk, smarter than Hulk. Well, maybe last one true, but who cares? And Hulk shouts back, "Hulk is strongest there is!". Hulk say "Hulk getting mad!" because whole world knows, the madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets.

So we both say big words. But here problem is. See, just like Kim Jong-Un, when Hulk say words to annoying people, Hulk really loud. But then Hulk fuck them up. Hulk Smash! Hulk take puny tanks and pound them flat like pancakes before throwing them at annoying helicopters. Hulk tear apart puny robots that they send after Hulk. Hulk break little tin man Tony Stark with funny tin armor. Hulk clobber Thing. Hulk beat shit out of long haired blond thunder god with his puny hammer. Hulk show whole world: Hulk is strongest there is! Then whole world know well enough to leave Hulk alone, at least until Hulk get new author and new storyline. Then it happen all over again, but that different problem.

But Kim Jong-Un no do this. Kim Jong-Un say words really loud, then do nothing. So whole world go and say 'Kim Jong-Un, he not strong. He weak'. Then they keep annoying him. They never leave him alone. If you gonna say words, you gotta smash. No smash, nobody cares. They make jokes about you and talk like they stronger than Hulk. Nobody stronger than Hulk!

Maybe Kim Jong-Un need new publicist? Hulk need job. Also, Hulk just push over Hollywood Sign, so many people in America not like Hulk right now. Also, American military always hunting Hulk. Maybe Hulk come work for Kim Jong-Un? Hulk teach puny dictator to smash enemies. Just kidding, Hulk humor. Kim Jong-Un not puny, just not as strong as Hulk, because Hulk is the strongest there is. So maybe Kim Jong-Un want hire Hulk?

Also, Hulk look good in publicity photos. Green very popular color these days. Very important for image.

-The Incredible Hulk.
danalwyn: (Default)
So, in your bacon related news, it appears that there's been a positive glut of bacon, not to mention lobster, crab, and possibly steak in distant, landlocked Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (a country that is probably over a thousand miles from the nearest crab). This glut in meat is particularly striking given that Kyrgyzstan usually doesn't cut its pork into bacon-like strips (even though apparently they do belong to the tribe of somewhat-lax-on-the-diet Muslims).

At the same time at nearby Manas Air Base, one of the critical links in NATO's Northern Distribution Network, the network of military bases that provides supplies for forces in northern Afghanistan, officials report the theft of at least $40,000 in food over the past three months. These two facts about Kyrgyzstan are, of course, probably completely unrelated.

(Well, at least your defense tax dollars are going to make somebody happy)
danalwyn: (Default)
The White House has officially responded to the formal petition to get the US to begin construction of a Death Star by 2016. The title alone is worth it. Now if only they could send a copy of the response to the Emperor...
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It wasn't exactly a peaceful 2012, and 2013 doesn't look a whole lot better. Oh, that Afghanistan thing is still going on, but in other parts of the world there's a whole lot of other civil conflict that looks like it could spill over across borders and into the international playing field at any moment.

So here is a quick list of all the powder kegs currently burning today.

Who's shooting at who )
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So, to ring in the new year, here's a little food for thought.

One of the questions a lot of people have asked themselves over the past few years is why violent crime, which in America reached "epidemic" levels in the 90s and terrorized our inner cities, has had such a stunning reversal. What happened? More police? Tougher laws? A better economy? Gentrification? Solar flares?

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum thinks he has a partial explanation, levels of lead in gasoline.



It may not be the true explanation, but it's actually fairly compelling. Which means, hopefully, that levels of crime will continue to stay low. So there's some good news to start your year.

Ads

Dec. 18th, 2012 10:10 pm
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Most ads are exercises in name recognition or quick self-promotion. Amidst the ton of ads featuring flashy product shots and actors explaining to you why exactly this product is worth your time, some companies try to create a more memorable experience.

One way to do this is by trying to portray the world as a great place, an inspiring place, and imply that somehow this company is involved in making it that way. Sports apparel ads are famous for this kind of thing. So are beer ads. Usually it's sappy and overbearing and annoying.

Sometimes it does okay.

Since this is the Christmas season, the season where we are supposed to interpret crass commercialism as heart-warming affirmation of our moral virtues, here is this year's attempt by Google:

Google Zeitgeist )
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For those of you who haven't been keeping track, John McAfee has finally been arrested in Guatemala, after sneaking over the border and applying for political asylum.

It's not really clear what a man who claimed that he hung around in order to investigate the scene and find the real murderer (through such detective tricks as blackening his teeth and speaking German) was doing applying for asylum in Guatemala. After all the effort he went through to make it seem like he was going to fight it out in Belize, running to Guatemala seems like, well, running away.

It's also not clear what Guatemala can do with him besides arrest him for illegal immigration. Belize hasn't even bothered to put out an arrest warrant, McAfee is just a "person of interest", they've got bigger fish to fry these days.

And, of course, the irony of all this is that while McAfee has consistently said that he is being pursued because he tried to stand up to the corrupt local police force, Belize has one of the most trusted police forces in Latin America. Guatemala ... not so much. If Belize is feeling really nasty they may just leave him there.
danalwyn: (Default)
One of the things you have to watch out for if you run email announcements for any sort of organization is to always make sure to put the list of recipients in the bcc column instead of the cc column when you want them to stay confidential. There's no better way to screw up an entire business deal then to let everyone know who's in on it. It's one of the most basic, and the most damaging, mistakes you can make on a computer on a day to day basis.

This goes double if you're doing this not for a corporation but for an international terrorist organization.

As they say, 'heads will roll', although in this case they may actually be doing so literally.
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A lot of computer people have long suspected that anti-virus software was essentially a kind of elaborate scam, not just the pop-up window viruses that promise you 'virus protection' after they've infected your computer, but the kind of anti-virus programs that they sell in reputable stores. Even when they work, they're essentially attempts to fix problems they already know about, when your biggest problem is ones that you don't.

So it comes as no surprise that John McAfee, creator of the company that is probably second- or third-most likely to install their software alongside something entirely unrelated, is a bit of a snake oil salesman in real life. But we were surprised to find out from Gizmodo that McAfee has entered a lifestyle involving 17-year old girlfriends, an arsenal of guns, and a descent full-blown paranoia.

That was then, of course, November 8th. Now the neighbor that McAfee had disputes with, American expatriate Gregory Faull, is dead. McAfee himself, wanted for questioning regarding the incident, is on the run.

The affair has turned into a full-blown internet sensation. McAfee is making regular phone calls to Wired reporter Joshua Davis, claiming that he is now in disguise, and is evading the police. He's already compared the rounding up of his various employees for questioning to Stalin's detentions, has claimed the police are out to kill him, and is presumably doing some wacky stunt right now, probably involving driving an ATV off a cliff. What's drawn people here is not so much the celebrity factor, but the continual amount of crazy that McAfee continues to deliver live through the internet.

If this was the US, this would be pretty cut and dry. The kind of person who has to give live updates on his escape on twitter is not the kind who can stay out of police sight for long. If he managed to escape here he would rightly raise all manner of conspiracy theories. But McAfee has been living in Belize, that small country in South America that doesn't quite fit in.

No Conspiracy Theories Necessary )
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So, looks like everyone's calling it. Not that it's that much of a surprise.

By coincidence, the election map, as of right now, looks almost exactly like the map that Nate Silver projected. My suspicion is that all the people who accused him of being foolish, full of overweening pride, and a moron for trying to predict the outcome of the election will now be busy accusing him of somehow controlling the results. Sometimes some people just need to learn some statistics.
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One wonders whether the announcement of Star Wars 7 in the middle of a disaster that's knocked a good portion of the United States flat is good timing on behalf of the marketing crowd, or an unholy coincidence.

Hope all of you easterners are staying safe today, and that you manage to stay that way.
danalwyn: (Default)
I've been reading a lot of the early commentary from the international relations wonks about the remake of Red Dawn and I've found that some of it mirrors some very perceptive comments made about some video games, like Homefront and Modern Warfare 3. It's a recognition of a trend that I find disturbing in a way that's hard to quantify.

Namely, America really, really, really wants to be the Taliban.

We want to be the ones wearing the ski masks and hefting AK-47s as we fight foreign occupiers from the ruins of our own towns. It matches our view of heroism, of the plucky little guy fighting insurmountable odds though skill, guile, and the willingness to take risks. We don't want to be on the side with all the firepower, or all the people, or all the rules, because that takes the fun out of it. We want to feel the exhilaration of taking incredible risk, of the adrenaline rush of danger after danger. We want to be the perpetual victims, so that our righteousness covers all possible actions and is rarely dimmed. We want to be the ones avenging a family wantonly slaughtered by foreign bombs. We want to sit, huddled beneath an outcropping of rock near our shattered house, and laugh at our latest narrow escape, because that's what heroism is for us, that's the kind of person we want to be. Who wants to be the foreign occupier who has to trudge back to home base and fill out paperwork? Given a fight between an outnumbered band of locals and a well-organized foreign army, we instinctively go for the locals every time.

You could talk about a lot of things here. You could talk about the inherent sexism - righteous revenge requires atrocity, atrocity requires victims, and in American media victims often require women. You could talk about modern racism - the most recent versions of this trope tend to make the enemies uniform in race, and non-white at that. You could talk about the almost pathological need Americans have to be a victim, as it's the only way we can safely dim our moral hazard lights, to ignore that voice of our consciousness. You could even point out that all you would have to do is change some names and digitally add American flags to the occupying, foreign forces and you would turn a Hollywood movie into a Taliban recruitment video.

But it's difficult to talk about the final lesson. This isn't the US. This isn't us. This is not the America that exists in this world. This is no longer what we are. For the foreseeable future America will remain on the other side. And it bothers me to see us continue operations on foreign soil, often in the role of occupiers, when at home we yearn to be the ragtag bunch of civilians, waiting in ambush for the foreign troops to walk by.

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