Tag Archives: news

Iraq War Logs

I was planning to get some work done tonight, but ran into a link about the release of the Iraq War Logs by Wikileaks, and got absorbed by the initial summaries and info-graphics from the news organisations with early access.
In short, the situation in Iraq is pretty fucking reprehensible, particularly because no one, except for a probable source, is likely to be punished for what has happened.

I’m also deeply unimpressed with the DOD Response, which I will paraphrase as “We don’t understand how the Internet (that we helped spawn) works. Also, we’re unrepentant about the various shitty behavior we’ve been caught covering up.”

One thing I am impressed with is the presentation by some of the media outlets, especially the interactive infographic from Der Spiegel (Link to English version), and the Google Map from the Guardian.

The important findings can be summarized in a single passage from any of the basic analysis (The Guardian’s is nice and succinct):

Although US generals have claimed their army does not carry out body counts and British ministers still say no official statistics exist, the war logs show these claims are untrue. The field reports purport to identify all civilian and insurgent casualties, as well as numbers of coalition forces wounded and killed in action. They give a total of more than 109,000 violent deaths from all causes between 2004 and the end of 2009.

This includes 66,081 civilians, 23,984 people classed as “enemy” and 15,196 members of the Iraqi security forces. Another 3,771 dead US and allied soldiers complete the body count. [src]

Which hits the three key facts: 1. “Coalition Leaders” have been blatantly lying to the public, 2. 109,000 violent deaths, 3. More dead civilians (as defined by people with a vested interest in not reporting killing civilians) than combatants by almost a factor of two.

The last round on Afghanistan actually did change my attitude toward continued American involvement over there, despite the constant talking point that they wouldn’t:
Before I saw the leaks, I was willing to accept the argument that, like a child, we (collective for United States) made a mess and have to stay until we were done cleaning it up. After seeing the leaked material, it’s clear that a more apt analogy is a child that got into paint, and the only thing we can do to help now is get the fuck out and focus on cleaning ourselves up before we make the mess even worse.

As much as the Wikileaks folks are probably not saints, anyone shining lights into dark places and exposing the vile things that live there is doing the world a service.

Can we start gutting the DoD for cash to use on things that aren’t shameful now? Maybe redirect large fractions of the military budget over the next few years to things that will actually reduce net suffering?

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I just ran into this article, which basically states that the rise of walled gardens and locked-down proprietary devices are bringing about the end of web interoperability. It’s an interesting premise, and I’m not sure how much I agree with it.
On one hand, every time I hear “It’s on Facebook,” try to actually pay for music downloads only to find the album I want is only offered through iTunes (and piracy), or run into a service who’s mobile device path is carefully structured to fit the iPhone’s (tiny, awful) capabilities, I get a little more willing to believe it.
On the other hand, most of the examples are built heavily on said interoperable standards; what everyone really wants is content (and a shiny, shiny toy) so over time, most things are going to normalize in a way that allows everyone to more or less use the mechanism of their choice to get to the content of their choice. This may not result in formal standards, but will at least create de-facto standards which allow for reasonable interoperability (possibly with Flash-like issues). Google’s continued role in making that process happen is a major part of why I am so tolerant of their various obnoxious behaviors.

On the flipside, I wonder if there is going to be a new Eternal September effect if some of these things ever come to interoperate with the rest of the Internet. Imagine a mass exodus from Facebook, or a defection from the iPhone platorm; it seems like everyone in those systems should be able to take their skills elsewhere, but both systems are designed to actively prevent the user from forming an accurate mental model of what they are using, and people’s capacity for being selectively cognizant of technology never fails to amaze me.

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A Week’s Worth of Interesting News

I’ve built up a week or so of news blurbs I was meaning to comment on/ draw attention to, and never got to posting, so I’m just going to link dump:

The Entourage Edge really is an interesting concept. It sounds like it’s still half baked from the review, and I think the low-power translative screens are probably more promising than e-ink for that sort of application, but I’d love a carry-able device with enough, responsive enough pixels to be decent computer AND the contrast behavior for a decent e-reader. I’d be more impressed if the input and battery life looked better on this one.

The G-Tec Intendix is a $12,250 “consumer” EEG toy. Most of the headband “Brain Computer Interfaces” on the market in the <$250 range are really using secondary indicators (skin potentials, muscle twitches, etc.), this is the first consumer packaged EEG I’m aware of, which is a good step toward getting BCIs into real user applications. Now it just needs to become more usable and cost about two orders of magnitude less…

I’m still hunting for something that is actually equal or better than my N810 (which is slowly falling behind the curve) in every way, so the news that there will be at lest 50 new tablets by the end of the year is pretty encouraging. I haven’t seen anything with an ~4” 800×480 touchscreen, hardware keyboard, open *nix-like OS, and WiFi. Phone is optional; I’d pay for real cellular service if the platform were compelling enough.

In a non-tech bent, This makes me almost incoherently angry. In conjunction with the problems with constantly revising educational standards (which is a topic of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, one of the recent additions to my ever-expanding reading list that I don’t have time for), this is infuriating because it is going to widely alter school curriculum to suit the bizarre beliefs of some unqualified assholes, in disagreement with qualified experts and reality. Genuinely believing the experts on various topics (and/or reality) are “biased” because they don’t agree with your beliefs is psychotic, and should be treated as such.

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We Have the Classiest Grad Students

Man Charged With Attempted Murder In Plot To Kill Witnesses

Yeah, that Polish Mike is the Polish Mike from the ECE department, that I did a Digital Controls project with a couple semesters ago, and who was TAing EE222.

I’m hoping the unnamed passenger in the article wasn’t his girlfriend, who is a recent graduate from our department, bright, and to the best of my knowledge uninvolved in Mike’s shadier behaviors.

Strangely enough, he was a competent engineer and a cool guy — aside from the drug dealing, apparent mob connections, and murdering, obviously. He was always very honest about his various fuckups, and would sometimes warn us that he had a court date coming and might not be back. We’d always just wish him good luck and make sure not to get involved, because, frankly, what else can you do? We were always kind of impressed that he kept coming back, he must have had some damn good legal representation. I suspect this latest incident is going to break the cycle of reappearances for quite some time.

EDIT: Folks in the department have talked to the girlfriend, she wasn’t involved. Also, you can check out Mike’s status on the LFUCG Division of Community Corrections page.

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The Rest of the World is More Interesting

While most of America was staring at burly men charging at each other and ads for things they can no longer afford, the rest of the world was being interesting yesterday:

  • * Iceland Elected (imagine the Super Mario coin sound with each word when you read this) a(n?) Apparently Qualified, Gay, Green, Leftist, Social-Democrat Woman as prime minister of their interim government while they restructure after their recent financial crisis. Good job Iceland, Congratulations Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir.
  • * Someone in The West noticed that China is imploding MUCH faster than Chinese officials claim (via BoingBoing). Surprise everyone! Or not. This should at least slow the paranoid ramblings about China getting hegemonic aspirations in the near future, they’ll be busy dealing with their own internal unrest. Couple this with the Satyam scandal news of late; all the favorite threats to America’s ridiculous (but comfortable for a substantial fraction of Americans) international dominance are going to be defeated by their own incompetence. I’m not sure how that makes me feel.
  • * France has decided to prop up their print newspaper industry by buying newspaper subscriptions for all French teens on their 18th birthday. In related news, a few days ago, we learned that its so inefficient to print and distribute traditional newsprint that the New York Times spends at least twice as much each year printing copies for subscribers than it would cost to buy each one a Kindle (For the non-nerds, a Kindle is Amazon’s “Wireless Reading Device”. I’m not particularly found of the implementation, but the idea seems sound. I use my N810 this way.). I shouldn’t have to explain why these facts are incongruous. Death to print media.

This collection of interesting news (and discovering a new musical guilty pleasure) probably contributed to my not getting enough done over the last few days, but isn’t it all interesting?

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No Dubya

Before the day is over, Happy Inauguration Day everybody. We’re rid of Dubya permanantly. I’m sure we’ll be finding out about all the horrible things the previous administration did/allowed to happen for years to come, and I’m sure the incoming administration won’t be perfect, but it’s quite an upgrade… Good luck with your new mess, president Obama.

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