30 September 2005

Friday Non-Random 10: Sorrow And Regret

I got friends who are in prison
Friends who are dead
I'm gonna tell you something that I've often said
You know these things that happen
That's just the way it's supposed to be
And I can't help but wonder
Don't you know it coulda been me

-- Social Distortion, "It Coulda Been Me"
Sorry for such a depressing post. I was going to do Friday Random 10 this week, but instead I'm going to post 10 not-so-random songs I'm listening to in my usual way of coming to terms with shocking news. I won't insist on boring you with the details, but the words quoted from the song above are accurate. I'm just going to ramble a bit, probably incoherently, so feel free to ignore me here.
Oh well, things crumble to an end
Hell, we all die in the end

-- Dead Kennedys, "Dead End"
Beyond the sorrow of finding out that someone you know is gone, even if you haven't had contact with them in years, the surreal shock of it is overwhelming. It may be numbing at first, but once the reality sinks in, every bit of unrelated regret comes to the surface with it. You really do realize that it could have been you, and with that remember - no, feel - every choice you ever made that you would have done differently. Maybe the feeling is so strong simply because no-one is supposed to die so young. Maybe it's because I realize that this is all there is. No-one 'goes on to a better place', nor do they get a second chance; for them, it's like they never existed. It certainly isn't because I've never had to come to terms with something like this before - I have, though in the past it's left me just plain numb. But still, it's a forceful reminder that you have to make the best of each and every day, because you never know when your time will be up.
See the safety of the life you have built
Everything where it belongs
Feel the hollowness inside of your heart
And it's all
Right where it belongs

-- Nine Inch Nails, "Right Where It Belongs"
Of course, I know I am far from alone in this experience, and far from being the most affected. A while back, paperwight noted that "understanding that your grief and loss is the same grief and loss that every other person feels is one of the truths at the heart of real morality." I hate to make this at all political, and really, it shouldn't be that such an observation is controversial, but this really brings home the enormity of the loss experienced by so many over the last few years. Hundreds of soldiers just as young have died, leaving behind friends and family; probably tens of thousands of others still younger have had their lives cut short, no less real simply because they aren't American. Who knows how many have died just because they were poor, something that happens so frequently one must be desensitized to it simply to remain sane - a desensitization that endangers one's humanity. I actually feel guilty now listing all of these individuals as numbers. Even pictures of the fallen quickly blend together, while each and every one was an individual with hopes and dreams and plans for the future, with friends and family and even long-estranged acquaintances who are deeply affected by their loss.
We see you try
We see you fail
Some things never change
We hear you cry
We hear you wail
We steal that smile from your face

-- Soundgarden, "Head Down"
Anyway, I'm sure nobody is interested in reading more of my self-indulgent existentialist angst, so here's the non-random 10:
  1. Social Distortion - "It Coulda Been Me"
  2. Dead Kennedys - "Dead End"
  3. Bad Religion - "To Another Abyss"
  4. Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra - "No Leaf Clover"
  5. Pearl Jam - "Deep"
  6. Soundgarden - "Head Down"
  7. Pink Floyd - "Sorrow"
  8. Nine Inch Nails - "Right Where It Belongs"
  9. Soundgarden - "The Day I Tried To Live"
  10. Bad Religion - "Slumber"
I'm not good at giving morals
And I don't fear the consequence
If life makes you scared and bitter
At least it's not for very long

-- Bad Religion, "Slumber"

Germ Bombs Redux

In my previous post about stockpiling of anthrax and bioweapons production equipment at Dugway Proving Grounds, I was remiss in failing to note one of the excuses offered: testing of "agent defeat warheads." Now, via The Poor Man, I'm reminded that these warheads might be the real reason for bioweapons production. Lest you think this might make everything a-ok, the military name for these warheads is RNEP: Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. That's right, nuclear bunker busters. This would explain why the Pentagon wants a ton of anthrax at a weapons testing ground in the middle of nowhere. The frightening thing is that nukes are the most innocent explanation; they could be using the anthrax as a target and working on biowarfare weaponization, so this is certainly not an improvement. In fact, the RNEPs are worse than useless (click through to PDF) and the given justifications for their use bogus according to the Federation of American Scientists (emphasis added):
Attacking "hard and deeply buried" targets is the chief justification for developing new capabilities for nuclear weapons or even a new generation of nuclear weapons. The proposed Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) and possible future nuclear weapons are specifically designed to destroy underground facilities. This paper very briefly examines the concept of how and why nuclear earth penetrating weapons would be used, a possible countermeasure, and the consequences of their use. We find that attacking underground targets with nuclear weapons is conceptually unsound, countermeasures are available, and the consequences of an attack would be grave.
When evaluating any new military system, we have to ask: what military problem it is meant to solve, what are the different ways of solving that problem, and how does this proposed system compare to alternative approaches? When applying these questions to nuclear earth penetrators, it quickly becomes apparent that the problem used to justify them is contrived and implausible. The problem is contrived because it is artificially constrained to make nuclear earth penetrators appear to be the only solution. The problem is implausible because it assumes a cooperative enemy, it assumes knowledge we cannot have, and it ignores deadly consequences.
Keep in mind, also, that despite popular belief, even among many opponents of RNEPs, these are not small nukes:
Much of the public debate, and many nuclear advocates, confuses earth penetrators with the Administration's discussion of research on "small" nuclear weapons. (Keeping in mind, that on nuclear scales, the definition of "small" is the equivalent of ten million pounds of TNT, or one third the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, or thousands of times larger than the Oklahoma City bomb.) The proposed nuclear earth penetrators are large nuclear bombs. Small nuclear weapons would not be able to destroy deep targets.
And in case you don't feel like reading through 30 pages of wonky, technical national security discussion (no, I didn't just read this today -- the paper came out in April), here's why "agent defeat" is an excuse, not a justification:
A good statement of a military requirement specifies the desired outcome but not how best to accomplish it. The "deep target problem" should be presented as a requirement to neutralize a particular type of threat. Neutralization could be accomplished, for example, by isolating the facility. But an additional constraint that is essential to justify nuclear earth penetrators is that the deep facility must be destroyed, not merely isolated. To know that a deep underground facility even exits, intelligence will have to detect at least one of the entrances. Yet attacking and sealing up the entrances, something that can be done with precision conventional munitions, presumably is not adequate. "Functional defeat," that is, cutting off the electrical power, the cooling, the communication links, and the water, fuel, and air supply is, for some reason, not adequate. It is difficult to imagine a real situation in which this condition obtains, but this assumption is essential if nuclear weapons are to be deemed essential. One reason presented for target destruction is that the facility might contain dangerous chemical or biological weapons: if a cache of such weapons were attacked with conventional weapons, the chemical or biological agents might be spread around, harming the surrounding civilian population, whereas the heat of a nuclear explosion would supposedly destroy the agents. This scenario does not apply to deeply buried targets because neither the nuclear weapon nor the nuclear fireball penetrate very far into rock; a shockwave does and that shockwave might crush the walls of a tunnel but will not produce enough heat to destroy anything. This sort of attack would be effective only against chemical or biological weapons stored on the surface or only shallowly buried.
So why are we developing these nukes when they won't work for the stated purpose, conventional bombs can neutralize underground bunkers by sealing the entrances, and an enemy can use countermeasures as simple as digging deeper? Simple: Rummy want to SMASH!

[UPDATE (10:43): Oh, yeah. About Brad DeLong's defense of Bill Bennet that The Editors linked to in that post... what Dr. Laniac said.]

29 September 2005

Plausible Deniability

Two items from yesterday (both via Secrecy News) explain just how those at the top of our government have maintained plausible deniability of torture, ensuring that American soldiers will carry out their wishes to commit war crimes while distancing themselves enough to hang those soldiers out to dry. First is a powerful (but I believe ultimately futile) letter to John McCain from Captain Ian Fishback of the 82nd Airborne Division:
While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On 7 May 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's testimony that the United States followed the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and the "spirit" of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan prompted me to begin an approach for clarification. For 17 months, I tried to determine what specific standards governed the treatment of detainees by consulting my chain of command through battalion commander, multiple JAG lawyers, multiple Democrat and Republican Congressmen and their aides, the Ft. Bragg Inspector General's office, multiple government reports, the Secretary of the Army and multiple general officers, a professional interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, the deputy head of the department at West Point responsible for teaching Just War Theory and Law of Land Warfare, and numerous peers who I regard as honorable and intelligent men.

Instead of resolving my concerns, the approach for clarification process leaves me deeply troubled. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is a tragedy. I can remember, as a cadet at West Point, resolving to ensure that my men would never commit a dishonorable act; that I would protect them from that type of burden. It absolutely breaks my heart that I have failed some of them in this regard.
So they let the troops know what was desired (wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more) but would never actually come out and say it, and sure as hell weren't going to make the mistake of putting such orders in writing. Captain Fishback has a few choice words for sadistic monsters who use the NABA excuse:
Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable.

Both of these arguments stem from the larger question, the most important question that this generation will answer. Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America."
Second is FMI 3-63.6 which is supposedly a clarification of Army doctrine (and, to be fair, it does at least say that from now on those in charge are responsible), but reads more like an excuse for why nobody up top could be held accountable before (warning: PDF):
Several of the investigations into detainee operations in Iraq identified a lack of clear command and control of detainee operations. Overall responsibility for detainee operations (both detention and interrogation of detainees) never came together under one person, short of the joint force commander himself, until assignment of MG Miller in April 2004. Additionally, roles and responsibilities of those involved in detainee operations were not clearly defined, and the command and control of, and relationship between, elements conducting detainee operations at a given echelon or location were not unmistakably established.
The updated Field Manual looks promising at first, but careful reading is required. When scrutinized, much of it falls apart. For instance, in fn. 1, it states:
Within this document, the terms "humanely treating" and "humane treatment" include compliance with all applicable
aspects of the Geneva Conventions.
The document goes on to stipulate that detainees are to be treated humanely. Good, right? Sadly, if you read to the end, under the glossary definition of "detainee operations" you will find that the first footnote is effectively inoperative (emphasis added):
operations that keep selected individuals in custody to control their activity and possibly to gain intelligence. Detainee operations extend from the point of capture to the time of release from military control. These operations ensure humane treatment, protection, custody, evacuation, administration, and interrogation of detainees is in accordance with international law and US policy. (This is an interim definition. When revised, FM 3-19.40 will establish the Army definition.)
How much do you want to bet the revised definition will ignore the Geneva Conventions as "quaint"?

I really wish those in charge would listen to Captain Fishback, but seeing as we have a sadist for president and that John McCain only cares about image, I doubt anything will change.

Security Through Transparency

I'll just come right out and say it: I am not opposed to electronic voting systems. The problem is that corporations making them have motivation to rig the results, and with proprietary software, they can hide behind 'intellectual property' to cover up their fraud. It is not impossible to make electronic voting secure and reliable, though. A wonderfully simple solution is open source code. Of course, that's just part of it, but it's a step in the right direction. A secure, dependable, and inexpensive solution might work something like this (there are other ways to do it):
  1. An off-the-shelf computer, selected from some random government insitution (say, schools), is booted directly from read-only media running open source software and never connected to a network. It is, however, connected to a printer. With open source software on read-only media, the inner workings are publicly known and the lack of a network connection prevents remote tampering.
  2. When someone casts a vote, their result is recorded to a removable device (e.g., an external hard disk) that cannot be removed until voting is complete (by, e.g., physically locking it in place). Additionally, their vote is printed (with no identifying information) for verification.
  3. Once the voter has verified the recorded vote is correct, the paper is passed through a scanner into the ballot box, where a similar computer, connected only to the scanner, records their vote. The voter may verify this result.
  4. When all voting is complete, there are three verified votes to compare: the original electronic vote (with any potential tampering publicly known), the voter-verified paper ballot, and the doubly-verified central electronic vote.
I hope I explained that clearly, and anyway, as I said, it can be done other ways. But the important points are transparency, anonymity, and voter verification. Fellow BARBARians will be pleased to learn that California appears to be leading the way in creating such a system to follow the letter of the HAVA while disobeying the spirit (rigging elections):
CA Sec. of State Forming Panel to Investigate Open Source Software for Elections

OVC Related NewsCalifornia Secretary of State Bruce McPherson is forming a panel to investigate using open source software in elections. He has invited OVC president Alan Dechert to be on the panel, and has asked for Dechert's input on who should be on the panel.

Many people, including Charlene Woodcock, have written to Secretary McPherson asking him to meet with OVC. In a letter to Charlene dated SEP 21, 2005 [], McPherson wrote:

My staff has met with Alan Dechert of the Open Voting Consortium and continues to communicate with him on this subject. My office will be appointing a task force consisting of experts such as Mr. Dechert to conduct a study of Open Source Code and provide it to the Legislature. We have also asked him to recommend participants on our panel that will study open source code for voting systems.
Engineer extraordinaire, Amy Pearl and OVC co-founder, Board Secretary, Professor Arthur Keller also attended the July meeting (referred to in McPherson's letter). Amy and Arthur deserve much of the credit for bringing the Secretary of State's office around.

In to Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, McPherson referred to the "committee" he was forming. The exact nature of this "committee," "task force," or "panel," has not quite been determined. We expect this to involve public hearings.

Among the many illustrious individuals indicating they want to participate in the panel (and whose names Dechert submitted) are Bruce Perens and Brian Behlendorf. Behlendorf started Apache -- open source free software on which 70 percent of the web sites on the Internet are running.

This all started when OVC supporter Richard Dawson drafted a resolution and gave it to his representative in the State Assembly (Jackie Goldberg). Goldberg introduced Assembly Concurrent Resolution 242 (ACR 242). OVC supporters helped to get the resolution passed in the State Legislature over some industry opposition. Alan Dechert testified in favor of it before the Senate Elections Committee on AUG 11, 2004.

As a State Senator at the time, McPherson voted for it -- one of few Republicans that did so.

The report could form the philosophical basis for our Open Voting bill and could also provide the justification for getting HAVA funding for voting system Research and Development. OVC is asking that the CA State Government hire the University of California to do this work. McPherson has also made public statements indicating that he is in favor of this. A recent article in the Oakland Tribune says, "McPherson proposes pooling federal voting-reform money for several states and devoting it to research on the best way to verify electronic voting."

With any luck at all, California will show the way to get Open Voting instituted across the U.S.!

Bruce McPherson deserves credit here for being a pro-democracy Republican. I should also add that I'm pleased to see my CA Assembly representative, Gene Mullin, co-authored ACR 242. Found via /., where you'll witness the depressing spectacle of libertarians decrying this as "unamerican" since there's no room for corporate profiteering. Of course, this just illustrates why I'm often puzzled by the libertarian affinity for FOSS, since Free Software is fundamentally anarcho-syndicalist (left-wing anarchist) in nature. You'd think the term "copyleft" would make that obvious enough for even the slowest of them.

28 September 2005

A Momentary Lapse Of Reason?

As you may have heard, NASA Administrator Michael "no relation to Peter" Griffin said that the space shuttle "was not the right path." When I read this, I thought it was a sign of sanity at NASA. Was it?

Sadly, No! Though Griffin says a few things that needed to be acknowledged by someone at NASA, such as the wastefulness of the ISS and the uselessness of its low orbit, he clearly couches this apparent criticism in terms to promote Bush's poison pill Mars plan. How else does one read this?
"It is now commonly accepted that was not the right path," Griffin said. "We are now trying to change the path while doing as little damage as we can."
Only now is the nation's space program getting back on track, Griffin said. He announced last week that NASA aims to send astronauts back to the moon in 2018 in a spacecraft that would look like the Apollo capsule.
I will admit that it's better for the cuts to come from the $500-million-per-launch space shuttle and the tin can floating around only a couple hundred miles above us than from actual science and exploration, but this is a sales pitch, NASA's version of "NEW! IMPROVED!"

The Bugman Goeth

Tom Delay has been indicted! And there was much rejoicing... yay. Ponies for everyone! According to the WaPo, he could end up in the slammer for this, though admittedly not "federal POUND ME IN THE ASS prison." (Via Majikthise, who has links to great coverage by other bloggers, including Bob Brigham at the Swing State Project and Chris Bowers at MyDD. Sam Rosenfeld discusses just who the GOP might replace him with. Julia at Sisyphus Shrugged points out that gerrymandering effectively prevents this from hurting the GOP in Texas.)

27 September 2005

Up Is Down, Black Is White, Drunk Is Sober

Via The Poor Man, Sully the Pooh quotes the drink-soaked former-Trotskyist popinjay thusly (emphasis added):
"Was there a single placard saying, "No to Jihad"? Of course not. Or a single placard saying, "Yes to Kurdish self-determination" or "We support Afghan women’s struggle"? Don’t make me laugh."
Look, Hitch, I know it can be hard to keep track of things when you start drinking before you even wake up in the morning, but can you at least try to make a little sense? Here's what the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan has to say about their struggle:
RAWA joins with the rest of the civilized world in remembering the innocent lives lost on September 11th, as well as all those others lost to terrorism and oppression throughout the world. It is with great sadness that RAWA sees other people experiencing the pain that the women, children and men of Afghanistan have long suffered at the hands of fundamentalist terrorists.

For ten long years the people of Afghanistan -Afghan women in particular- have been crushed and brutalized, first under the chains and atrocities of the "Northern Alliance" fundamentalists, then under those of the Taliban. During all this period, the governments of the Western powers were bent on finding ways to "work with" these criminals. These Western governments did not lose much sleep over the daily grind of abject misery our people were enduring under the domination of these terrorist bands. To them it did not matter so very much that human rights and democratic principles were being trampled on a daily basis in an inconceivable manner. What was important was to "work with" the religio-fascists to have Central Asian oil pipelines extended to accessible ports of shipment.

Immediately after the September 11 tragedy the US military might moved into action to punish its erstwhile hirelings. A captive, bleeding, devastated, hungry, pauperized, drought-stricken and ill-starred Afghanistan was bombed into oblivion by the most advanced and sophisticated weaponry ever created in human history. Innocent lives, many more than those who lost their lives in the September 11 atrocity, were taken. Even joyous wedding gatherings were not spared. The Taliban regime and its al-Qaeda support were toppled without any significant dent in their human combat resources. What was not done away with was the sinister shadow of terrorist threat over the whole world and its alter ego, fundamentalist terrorism.

Neither opium cultivation nor warlordism have been eradicated in Afghanistan. There is neither peace nor stability in this tormented country, nor has there been any relief from the scourges of extreme pauperization, prostitution, and wanton plunder. Women feel much more insecure than in the past. The bitter fact that even the personal security of the President of the country cannot be maintained without recourse to foreign bodyguards and the recent terrorist acts in our country speak eloquent volumes about the chaotic and terrorist-ridden situation of the country. Why is it so? Why has the thunderous uproar in the aftermath of September 11 resulted in nothing? For the following reasons which RAWA has reiterated time and again:

  1. For the people of Afghanistan, it is "out of the frying pan, into the fire". Instead of the Taliban terrorists, Jihadi terrorists of the "Northern Alliance" have been installed in power. The Jihadi and the Taliban fundamentalists share a common ideology; their differences are the usual differences between brethren-in-creed.

  2. For the past more or less twenty years, Osama bin Laden has had Afghan fundamentalists on his payroll and has been paying their leaders considerable stipends. He and Mullah Omar, together with a band of followers equipped with the necessary communication resources, can live for many years under the protection of different fundamentalist bands in Afghanistan and Pakistan and continue to plot against the people of Afghanistan and the rest of humankind.

  3. The Taliban and the al-Qaeda phenomena, as manifestations of an ideology and a political culture infesting an Islamic country, could only have been uprooted by a popular insurrection and the strengthening and coming to power of secular democratic forces. Such a purge cannot be effected solely with the physical elimination of the likes of Osama and Mullah Omar.

The "Northern Alliance" can never sincerely want the total elimination of the Taliban and the al-Qaeda, as such elimination would mean the end of the raison d'être of the backing and support extended to them by foreign forces presently dominant in the country. This was the rationale behind RAWA's slogan for the overthrow of the Taliban and al-Qaeda through popular insurrection. Unfortunately, before such popular insurrection could come about, the Taliban and al-Qaeda forfeited their positions to the "brethren of the 'Northern Alliance'" without suffering any crippling decimation.

With their second occupation of Kabul, the "Northern Alliance" thwarted any hopes for a radical, meaningful change. They are themselves now the source and root of insecurity, the disgraceful police atmosphere of the Loya Jirga, rampant terrorism, gagging of democracy, atrocious violations of human rights, mounting pauperization, prostitution and corruption, the flourishing of poppy cultivation, failure of beginning to reconstruct, and a host of further unlisted evils, too many to enumerate.
Of course, read the rest. And Hitch, go see a proctologist -- you need your head examined. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go throw up (again) in disgust at what my country has been doing for the past four years, and at the fact that Hitch dares call himself a humanist.

26 September 2005

Tell Me, Who's The Real Patriot?

This post should be entirely redundant, but I figure if even Buck Batard has been out of the loop on this, it can't be said enough: Smedley Butler was the Greatest. American. Patriot. EVER! Twice earned the Medal of Honor; vocal leftist opponent of fascism, war profiteering, and military adventurism; retired rather than play nice with Moussolini; almost single-handedly stopped the Whitehouse Putsch; wrote the book War Is A Racket. He was indeed one of the people with the guts to work for some real change. Of course, the Fighting Quaker must be spinning in his grave now, considering what the modern Republican Party is (he ran for Congress as a Republican) and the fact that the military base named after him is overseas. I swear, if General Butler were alive today, he'd be getting arrested right alongside Cindy Sheehan (also via Buck at Bad Attitudes).

[UPDATE (20:55): changed Whitehouse Putsch link to a more thorough synopsis. More on that here and here.]


mrgumby2u at ItLooksLikeThis passes along a great quiz: to which circle of Dante's Inferno will you be banished? Of course, I knew ahead of time I'd get the same result: Dis!
Sixth Level of Hell - The City of Dis

You approach Satan's wretched city where you behold a wide plain surrounded by iron walls. Before you are fields full of distress and torment terrible. Burning tombs are littered about the landscape. Inside these flaming sepulchers suffer the heretics, failing to believe in God and the afterlife, who make themselves audible by doleful sighs. You will join the wicked that lie here, and will be offered no respite. The three infernal Furies stained with blood, with limbs of women and hair of serpents, dwell in this circle of Hell.
God is dead
And no-one cares
If there is a Hell
I'll see you there

-- Nine Inch Nails, "Heresy"

(BTW, there must be something wrong with that test, since changing only one answer I was somewhat ambivalent about to begin with lands me square in Limbo.)

25 September 2005

Manufacturing Germ Bombs Again

And I rather doubt that anyone (beyond a few policy wonks and those on the political fringes) will even care:
THE US military wants to buy large quantities of anthrax, in a controversial move that is likely to raise questions over its commitment to treaties designed to limit the spread of biological weapons.
One "biological services" contract specifies: "The company must have the ability and be willing to grow Bacillus anthracis Sterne strain at 1500-litre quantities." Other contracts are for fermentation equipment for producing 3000-litre batches of an unspecified biological agent, and sheep carcasses to test the efficiency of an incinerator for the disposal of infected livestock.
Now, why would they need to dispose of infected sheep? Maybe to avoid getting caught again:
In March 1968, 6,400 sheep were found dead after grazing in south Skull Valley, an area just outside Dugway's boundaries. When examined, the sheep were found to have been poisoned by a deadly nerve agent called VX. The incident, coinciding with the birth of the environmental movement and anti-Vietnam protests, created an uproar in Utah and internationally.
Oh, and let's not forget, "Saddam gassed his own people":
Cities were unwittingly used as laboratories to test aerosolization and dispersal methods; Aspergillus fumigatus, B. subtilis var. globigii, and Serratia marcescens were used as simulants and released during experiments in New York City, San Francisco, and other sites. Concerns regarding potential public health hazards of simulant studies were raised after an outbreak of nosocomial S. marcescens (formerly Chromobacterium prodigiosum) urinary tract infections at Stanford University Hospital between September 1950 and February 1951, following covert experiments using S. marcescens as a simulant in San Francisco. A report from the Centers for Disease Control completed in 1977 found no association between reported morbidity and mortality from pneumonia and influenza and local simulant experiments.

A series of field tests took place under the auspices of the Biological Laboratories from 1943 to the mid-1960s:

* In one such test, travelers at Washington National Airport were subjected to a harmless bacterium. Traps were placed throughout the facility to capture the bacterium as it flowed in the air. Laboratory personnel, dressed as travelers carrying brief cases, walked the corridors and without detection sprayed the bacterium into the atmosphere.
* In the New York Subway, a light bulb filled with the same harmless bacterium was dropped on the tracks. The organism spread throughout the system within 20 minutes. Traps and monitoring devices showed the amount of organism--if it were one of the predictable, dangerous organisms, could have killed thousands of persons. No one was injured or became ill as a result of the test.
* In San Francisco, a U.S. Navy ship, equipped with spray devices operated by Fort Detrick personnel, sprayed serratia marcescens, a non-pathogenic microorganism that is easily detected, while the ship plied the San Francisco Bay. It spread more than 30 miles to monitoring stations.
* A jet aircraft equipped with spray devices, flew a course near Victoria, Texas, and the harmless particles were monitored in the Florida Keys.
Returning to the New Scientist article:
Although the Sterne strain is not thought to be harmful to humans and is used for vaccination, the contracts have caused major concern.

"It raises a serious question over how the US is going to demonstrate its compliance with obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention if it brings these tanks online," says Alan Pearson, programme director for biological and chemical weapons at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington DC. "If one can grow the Sterne strain in these units, one could also grow the Ames strain, which is quite lethal."

The US renounced biological weapons in 1969, but small quantities of lethal anthrax were still being produced at Dugway as recently as 1998.
Of course, though the Army doesn't even bother coming up with an excuse ("they refused to say what it will be used for"), New Scientist tries to be 'fair' by mentioning that it could be used for defensive research, e.g., decontamination, protection, etc. Only one problem - the Army already has a facility for that, USAMRIID. The difference is that research at USAMRIID isn't classified and involves civilian researchers, so there is only so much they can do without the public discovering it, even under the cover of 'sensitive-but-not-classified' research. And for what it's worth, it isn't only lefty peaceniks who are worried about this escalation of biowarfare R&D; both the former Deputy Director of USAMRIID and Nixon's ambassador to the Biological Weapons Convention talks co-authored a paper for the Federation of American Scientists, Biodefense Crossing the Line (warning: PDF, but it's only 4 pages). The problem, of course, is that almost nobody will hear about this, since WWWA has more important news to cover. The money quote:
The rapidity of elaboration of American biodefense programs, their ambition and administrative aggressiveness, and the degree to which they push against the prohibitions of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), are startling.
The production and stockpiling of biological-weapons agents are not the only criteria by which an offensive biological weapons (BW) program is defined. They are only such a program's most obvious terminal expressions. Taken together, many of the activities detailed above -- most particularly the "Store, Stabilize, Package, Disperse" sequence and the "Computational modeling of feasibility, methods, and scale of production" item --— may constitute development in the guise of threat assessment, and they certainly will be interpreted that way. Development is prohibited by the Biological Weapons Convention.
On April 28, 2004, at the conclusion of a year'’s review, the Bush administration disclosed details of the new National Biodefense Directive. Among them, reportedly, was that "the US intelligence community is under orders to carry out studies examining the types of genetically engineered 'bugs' terrorists could be working on to mount an attack." Surely, the "intelligence community" is the least appropriate place in the US government to "carry out" such work -- and the most likely to lack adequate oversight. And does a program of this design bear any relation to the realistic level of threat presented by non-state actor "bioterrorists"? Recently declassified documents demonstrate that the US intelligence community possesses evidence demonstrating that interested terrorist groups --— al Qaeda among them -- still have no capability to work with classical BW agents and certainly cannot engineer agents genetically.
So, is Colin Powell going to call for regime change? (New Scientist article via the apostropher)

24 September 2005

Blast Off To Nowhere

Once again, Shrub sticks someone else with the bill to clean up his mess:
THIS week NASA described plans to return astronauts to the Moon in 2018 at a cost of $104 billion. That's nine years after President Bush leaves office. Starting from scratch in 1961, President Kennedy's commitment to put a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth was realized in just eight years. What is going on?
The boy king wants to play spaceman, the grand vizier wants more money, and nobody wants to be left holding the ball when the treasury is empty, of course. Bob Park continues:
George W. Bush seems driven to complete his father's unfinished business in space, as in Iraq. But much has changed. The cold war, which provided the initial motivation for our space program, is long gone. And technological progress has superseded human space exploration. Remotely controlled instruments have become natural extensions of frail human bodies.


The benefits we enjoy from the space program - weather satellites, communications satellites and global positioning - come from robotic spacecraft. Few scientists are calling for a human mission to the Moon or Mars. Human space exploration is essentially over. It is too expensive and provides too little return. But politicians know that the American public identifies progress in space with human astronauts.

The Bush administration's solution is to create an impossibly expensive and pointless program for some other administration to cancel, thus bearing the blame for ending human space exploration. The return to the moon is not a noble quest. It is a poison pill.
If anything, I think Park understates the extent to which this will hinder NASA's ability to do anything useful. Not only will a future administration have to kill human space exploration when it becomes clear we're pissing away billions of dollars for no good reason, but in the meantime they're going to have to pretend they aren't just charging it to the national debt, and that means delaying, scaling back, or abandoning useful parts of the space program. Already, the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble's replacement, has been delayed and scaled back to give more pork to Northrop-Grumman and TRW (that's the same TRW that falsified the results of tests on their missile defense targeting system). Ironically, though a mission to Mars would allegedly be for exploration, the first programs to get the axe would probably be those for actual exploration: the Origins program. We've already seen a likely refusal to extend support for the Voyager missions, right as Voyager I reaches the outer boundary of the solar system, gathering information we'll never otherwise get our hands on without another 25-year wait. Sure, human space exploration has the 'coolness' factor, but it seems abundantly clear all that will happen is NASA will pay for Haliburton's drilling R&D and we'll end up with a bunch of half-built rockets that go no further than the test pad. Besides, even if Park is wrong (a big if, I think) about this being a poison pill in effect, if not intent, is one trip to Mars really worth 30 times a telescope that can watch the first stars forming?

23 September 2005


Who was it last night at the bar who suggested, er, 'downsizing' as the appropriate sacrifice to fix the deficit? Looks like you were on the same page as the Bush Administration.

I'm baaaaaaack!

Unfortunately, my brain is lagging behind a bit. So until I get the gears turning again (physics this afternoon will probably give me a swift kickstart), I got nothin'. Well, not quite... I noticed that Generik recently put together a few playlists appropriate for BushCo, forcing me to buy more music on iTunes. (Love the Talking Heads version, BTW.) But there's just a tiny omission (from both the post and comments): Bad Religion. So, here goes (I'm leaving out The Empire Strikes First, since I'd think songs specifically about Bush are cheating)...

Bad Religion version:
1. Bad Religion
2. White Trash (2nd Generation)
3. Voice of God Is Government
4. Part III
5. Flat Earth Society
6. Operation Rescue
7. Heaven Is Falling
8. Atomic Garden
9. Fertile Crescent
10. The State of the End of the Millenium Address

See, this is why you need me around.