Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The late Kurt Vonnegut lived in Manhattan as if it were a village in which nobody was a stranger to him, and he arranged his days to increase his chances of running into all sorts of people. He wrote in Technology and Me (Harper's, September 1996) that he refused to draft his stories and novels on a computer, and typed his rough drafts using a typewriter, then blue-penciled the pages, because it meant he'd have to depend on a typist to produce final drafts.
He'd call his typist to check on her availability, and on the phone they'd digress into the pleasures of idle conversation. Then, needing to buy an envelope in which to mail her the draft, he'd visit the newsstand across the street where, he wrote, "I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them."
After sealing his draft in the envelope he'd amble over to the post office annex down the block. "One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it," he fondly reminisced. "And I go home. And I've had a hell of a good time. I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you any different."
Just last week, multi-talented entertainer and general all round good guy Stephen Fry confirmed what everyone had secretly hoped he would, that he pirates TV shows with BitTorrent. Now, to immortalize those momentous occasions, a new game featuring Fry himself has been released entitled 'Stephen Fry and The Quantum of Torrents.'
Last week Stephen Fry admitted to downloading TV shows for free using BitTorrent. Speaking at the iTunes Festival in London, Fry told the gathered audience that he previously downloaded episodes of 24 and the series finale of House, starring his former comedy partner Hugh Laurie.
Fry also took the opportunity to have a swipe at the music industry and criticize the Digital Britain report. But enough of the boring stuff already.
Stephen's antics haven't gone unnoticed by Glasgow based games design company, T-Enterprise. Inspired by Stephen's confession, they created a new Flash game entitled Stephen Fry and the Quantum of Torrents in which the player takes control of Stephen in his trademark black London taxi, dodging the law and downloading copies of House.
"When I heard about Stephen Fry's admission of guilt about downloading illegally at the iTunes Festival I could not believe it! Especially not given the fact he was supposed to be speaking out about piracy in the industry!" said T-Enterprise's Managing Director Sadia Chishti.
"So he had downloaded the rest of the [House] series legally but it seems that there is always the temptation to take the easy route. At least he has admitted it and not gone down the hypocritical one. What a refreshing change…"
The game is available from iTunes for just £9.99.
Yeah, right…. ;)
Full flash game can be played here
On Thursday July 16, AFP photographer Ahmad Gharabli snapped this photo of one such protester.
His caption is straightfoward enough:
An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man gestures during clashes with Israeli forces following demonstrations against the arrest of a woman accused of child abuse in Jerusalem on July 16, 2009. Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews clashed with police for a third day in protest at an 'unjustified' arrest of a religious woman and the opening of a parking lot on Saturdays, the Jewish holy day of rest. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images
On Monday July 20, the same photo appeared in The Australian's coverage of -- the US-Israel disagreement over construction in eastern Jerusalem. The caption's Down Under version doesn't even state what the demonstration is about:
An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man gestures during clashes with Israeli forces following demonstrations in Jerusalem.
So Australian readers could assume this is an example of Israeli defiance of the US. This, despite the fact that the demonstration that the caption refers to has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the published story in The Australian.
Now why would an editor juxtapose a story about Jewish development in eastern Jerusalem with an unrelated image of an ultra-Orthodox demonstrator? What subtle message does The Australian convey here?
Ask The Australian by sending your e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Shaun Usher
I've seen my fair share of insane buildings over the years but I reckon I just stumbled across one of the strangest yet in the form of a Chinese hotel. What's also interesting is that, to my knowledge, very few English speaking websites have seen or mentioned what has got to be one of the most bizarre pieces of hotel architecture on Earth.
Without further ado, I give you Tianzi Hotel...
Image Credit: Panoramio User bbqi
Image Credit: godeyes.cn
Image Credit: godeyes.cn
6 Ideas For Those Needing Defensive Technology to Protect Free Speech from Authoritarian Regimes and 4 Ways the Rest of Us Can Help
Introduction: The Internet remains one of the most powerful means ever created to give voice to repressed people around the world. Unfortunately, new technologies have also given authoritarian regimes new means to identify and retaliate against those who speak out despite censorship and surveillance. Below are six basic ideas for those attempting to speak without falling victim to authoritarian surveillance and censorship, and four ideas for the rest of us who want to help support them.
I. Ideas for Activists and Others Facing Authoritarian Regimes
1. Understand Risk Assessment
The first step in trying to defend yourself against digital surveillance and censorship is to understand the concept of risk assessment. Risk assessment is the process of deciding what threats you face, how likely and serious they are, and how to prioritize the steps you can take to protect yourself. EFF's section on risk assessment in Surveillance Self-Defense can help you with this assessment.1
2. Beware of Malware
Malware is a catch-all term for computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, keystroke loggers, spyware, rootkits and any other kind of software that makes a computer spy on you or act against your interests.
If a government is able to install malware on the computer you are using, then it doesn't matter what other steps you take: your files and communications will be subject to surveillance.
If you have your own computer, you need to be sure to install security updates and run anti-virus or rootkit scanning software. You also need to understand that these measures only offer limited protection. For one guide to anti-virus and firewall software, see the Tactical Technology Collective's "Security in a Box" guide.
It is important to note that if you are using a shared computer, such as a computer at an Internet cafe or a library, the risk of surveillance by malware may be greater. If you need to use a public computer for sensitive communications, you should use a bootable USB device or CD (such as Incognito) to mitigate the risks posed by malware.
You can use a bootable USB or CD for the most sensitive things you do with your own computer, too.
3. Choose the Least-Risky Communications Channels
You should be careful in choosing the channels through which you communicate with other individuals and activists.
Talking in person is usually the safest way to speak (unless others are watching you, or your location is bugged).
Understand the risk associated with phone calls. Most governments are able to record who calls whom, and when, all of the time. Currently, most governments outside the US/EU have a more limited, albeit unknown ability to record and listen to the phone calls themselves. For instance, it is believed that they will be able to tap phones, but only a limited number (perhaps a few thousand) at any given moment. You should always assume that a call to or from a phone belonging to an activist, or regularly used for activism, may be bugged.
Avoid SMS text messages. These pass unencrypted through major telecommunication providers and are easy for a government to harvest and analyze on a massive scale.
Protect Internet communications by using encryption2 and by choosing (preferably offshore) service providers that are trustworthy and unlikely to cooperate with your government.
Here are two channels which are easy to use and which offer some protection:
Use the OTR instant messaging plugin. This is easy if you and the people you communicate with can install the Pidgin or Adium X instant messaging programs on your computers. Details on how to do this are available here. Disable logging to ensure that if your computer is seized, your communications aren't on it.
Use a webmail provider that supports https encryption. Services like RiseUp.net place a premium on their users' privacy. Gmail supports encryption, but you must enable it in your settings and consider whether you can trust Google not to hand your communications to your government.3 Make sure every that time you send or receive an email, the pages uses https — otherwise, your messages could be intercepted.
There are many other ways to arrange for secure communications, although many require more technical expertise. See SSD for further detail with respect to securing email.
U.S. oil company Chevron said Monday that it expects to lose a case which charges the company's Texaco branch with polluting Ecuador's rain forest with oil-contaminated water for nearly two decades.
An expert appointed by Ecuador's courts assessed the damages to the locals' health and environment to be $27 billion: A sum which Chevron spokesman Don Campbell bluntly told The Wall Street Journal, "We're not paying and we're going to fight this for years if not decades into the future."
It will be the largest award ever in an environmental lawsuit, even if it goes uncollected.
"Chevron intends to fight enforcement by claiming the trial was unfair, in part because Ecuador's president has publicly supported the plaintiffs," noted Business Insider's Erin Geiger Smith.
Since 1998, the drug czar has been mandated to lie to the American people. So what would a fact-based drug policy look like?
Give up? It's the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a.k.a. the drug czar, who in 1998 was mandated by Congress to oppose legislation that would legalize, decriminalize, or medicalize marijuana, or redirect anti-trafficking funding into treatment. And the drug czar has also—here's where the lying comes in—been prohibited from funding research that might give credence to any of the above. These provisions were crafted by Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and pushed for by then-czar Barry McCaffrey, best remembered for being somewhat comically obsessed with the evils of medical marijuana. A few Dems complained that the bill, which set "hard targets" of an 80 percent drop in the availability of drugs, a 60 percent decrease in street purity, and a 50 percent reduction in drug-related crime and ER visits, all by 2004—whoops!—was "simplistic" and "designed to achieve political advantage." Though the vote count was not recorded for history, it got enough bipartisan support to be signed into law by Bill "Didn't Inhale" Clinton.
If this tale strikes you as the kind of paranoid fantasy you'd expect from someone who's taken one too many hits off the joint, consider that it isn't the most bizarre, hypocritical, counterproductive moment in our nation's history with drugs. Not by a long shot. Consider that Prohibition came about when progressives got into bed with the Ku Klux Klan, but was rolled back once they'd had enough of the Mob. Or that the precursor to today's drug czar supplied morphine to Sen. Joe McCarthy because he worried about the national security consequences—not of the red-baiter's habit, but of its potential exposure. Or that drug war progenitor Richard Nixon ordered a comprehensive study on the perils of marijuana, and then ignored the study once he learned it recommended decriminalization.
But then, the drug war has never been about facts—about, dare we say, soberly weighing which policies might alleviate suffering, save taxpayers money, rob the cartels of revenue. Instead, we've been stuck in a cycle of prohibition, failure, and counterfactual claims of success. (To wit: Since 1998, the ONDCP has spent $1.4 billion on youth anti-pot ads. It also spent $43 million to study their effectiveness. When the study found that kids who've seen the ads are more likely to smoke pot, the ONDCP buried the evidence, choosing to spend hundreds of millions more on the counterproductive ads.)
What would a fact-based drug policy look like? It would put considerably more money into treatment, the method proven to best reduce use. It would likely leave in place the prohibition on "hard" drugs, but make enforcement fair (no more traffickers rolling on hapless girlfriends to cut a deal. No more Tulias). And it would likely decriminalize but tightly regulate marijuana, which study after study shows is less dangerous or addictive than cigarettes or alcohol, has undeniable medicinal properties, and isn't a gateway drug to anything harder than Doritos. (Watch Clara discuss the Doritos theory at the 00:12:54 mark of this video, and see "The Patriot's Guide to Legalization.")
So why don't we have a rational drug policy? Simple. Forget the Social Security "third rail." The quickest way to get yourself sidelined in serious policy discussion is to stray from drug war orthodoxy. Even MoJo has skirted the topic for fear of looking like a bunch of hot-tubbing stoners. Such is the power of the culture wars, 50 years on.
by Marc Benjamin
California law now allows marijuana with a prescription, and new legislation would make it legal for all adults, raising $1.4 billion in new taxes. But law enforcement officials say one thing hasn't changed: pot farms still illegally use and often scar California's forests.
As part of a massive sweep, more than 300 agents from 17 agencies have spent the past 10 days hiking through and flying over Fresno County's secluded forests to destroy tens of thousands of plants worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Authorities arrested dozens of people and seized dozens of weapons, Fresno County sheriff's deputy Chris Curtice said.
"This is about growing illegal marijuana on public lands and state and federal parks," Curtice said. "This is not about legalization of marijuana, it's about growing illegal marijuana on public lands, the damage it does to the environment and the danger it poses to the public because of the people involved."
By Grace Chung
WASHINGTON — Iraq's national baseball team, which has one five-year-old bat, nine second-hand gloves and no uniforms, is about to gear up.
McClatchy reported last week from Baghdad that the team, which trains on a college soccer field in Chinese running shoes, lacks a rulebook, not to mention spikes, caps and other equipment.
On reading the story, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow launched a nationwide appeal. And now, her "Operation Iraqi Baseball" is about to deliver the goods.
The shipment will include basic necessities, such as bats and gloves, donated by CTG Athletics, a New York-based sporting goods company. Uniforms, donated by Ebbets Field Flannels, will soon follow, once they've been designed and tailored.
"We received a huge response — on Twitter, by e-mail, by phone, from friends and from famous people, regular viewers coast to coast and beyond," Maddow told viewers. "We got offers of everything from money to used gear to new gear to shipping help to contacts in the Iraqi government to contacts in the American government who might be able to help."
Maddow, an avid baseball fan, is personally contributing a baseball manual, balls and helmets. She also organized donations from sporting goods manufacturers.
FSR Star, an international trade company based in Ashland, Ohio, will provide the shipping.
After watching the Maddow show, a Seattle-based manufacturer of vintage baseball uniforms e-mailed Maddow, asking how he could contribute, and Maddow passed the offer on to McClatchy. In Baghdad, McClatchy special correspondent Laith Hammoudi contacted the team.
Soon they'll be in spanking new uniforms. "I just thought this was a great chance to share something when we saw that these guys didn't have anything," said Jerry Cohen, president of Ebbets Field Flannels.
The Iraqis chose a royal blue uniform with the post-Saddam flag for the front and the words 'Iraqi baseball' on the back above the number.
Call Now for Single-Payer Healthcare Vote
Congressman Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.) has introduced an amendment in the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would replace the convoluted please-the-public-and-the-insurance-companies-at-the-same-time healthcare bill with the single-payer plan found in HR 676 and backed by 86 members of Congress. The vote has been delayed beyond Wednesday, support for the measure is growing, people are phoning in constantly, and a whip count is being kept online.
Please help make a few phone calls now:
An amendment introduced by Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D, Ohio) was passed last week by the House Education and Labor Committee that will allow states to create single-payer systems if the federal government does not. So, if Weiner's amendment fails, we could still achieve single-payer state by state, and eventually nationally, if we are able to persuade congressional leadership not to strip Kucinich's amendment out behind the closed doors of a conference committee.
But it is entirely possible that Weiner's amendment will pass, and even if it does not pass the support it musters will nonetheless serve to improve the bill and maintain a useful public option. Weiner is a supporter of the existing bill and the public option, but clearly sees a value in pushing for something better both as a bargaining position and as an attempt to achieve a solution that we can be more confident would really solve our healthcare crisis. Weiner's column in the Politico today is worth reading in its entirety. After reading that, please come back here and watch this video of Weiner addressing the concerns of Republicans in the Energy and Commerce Committee.
While Weiner doesn't say this, I will: Everybody now knows that Republicans will oppose any healthcare bill. Worsening a bill in order to win over a few of them provides not a single person with better healthcare. Republicans are not needed and have nothing to add. But of course to pass healthcare reform you do have to win over all of the Democrats. And are you more likely to do that with a bill that wastes public dollars on an inefficient for-profit system, or with a bill like HR 676 that guarantees significant savings? While HR 676 is an approach that forces congress members to go against the wishes of health insurance and drug companies, the mixed-bad approach allows legitimate criticism of wasting money, and the insurance and drug companies still hate it.
Whichever approach you favor, we're going to be better off with a significant show of support for single-payer. With it, a useful public option becomes a compromise. Without it, the compromise to win over the worst Democrats has to begin with the current bill and move down from there. So keep the phones ringing.
Please help make a few phone calls now:
Americans consistently tell pollsters that they want single-payer. And this is true in Blue Dog districts and Republican districts too. Single-payer is not a tough sell with the public, only with certain Congress members.
Other nations that have public health coverage (government spending on private or public healthcare) provide their people with better care. The U.S. system is ranked 37th by the World Health Organization. The United States is 24th in life expectancy and 29th in reducing infant mortality. Infants who do not survive the U.S. system do not get a chance to enjoy the free market and glory in the absence of socialism.
A single-payer system would cover everyone at all times with no exceptions, allow completely free choice of doctors, invest in preventive care, allow patients and doctors to make their own decisions free of insurance company restrictions, reduce the 30 percent waste in the current system to the 3 percent overhead in Medicare, and create a net gain of 2.6 million jobs, $317 billion in business revenue, and $100 billion in wages. Single-payer is a real economic stimulus, something Washington has been looking for in all the wrong places. Imagine being able to make that argument. We can if we pass Congressman Weiner's amendment.
By Stephen C. Webster
The Violence Policy Center, a Washington, D.C. gun control advocacy group, released a study Monday morning which outlines two years of violence by holders of concealed handgun permits.
The study finds that in 31 incidents from May 2007 through April 2009, legal gun owners killed 44 private citizens and seven police officers. In six of the incidents, the shooter later committed suicide.
"Because most state systems allowing the carrying of concealed handguns in public by private citizens release little data about crimes committed by permit holders, the VPC reviewed shooting incidents as reported by news outlets," the group noted in a media advisory. "It is likely that the actual number of fatal criminal incidents involving concealed handgun permit holders is far higher."
The group's findings comes as the U.S. Congress prepares to consider an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that would create a federal "free to carry" system, allowing licensed concealed handgun owners freedom to travel between states with their firearms. The amendment is sponsored by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and David Vitter (R-LA).