Friday, December 19, 2008

White Dyed Crimson

In all the talk of the crisis, the cost of the war in Iraq rarely garners much attention; rather, terms such as "recession" get bandied about. Obama and others have linked the state of the U.S. economy to the war, yet these days much greater costs have been attributed to the war. Last January the NY Times revealed that 121 veterans had been charged with homicide in the U.S., and more have been/will be charged. Furthermore, the number of homeless veterans has been steadily increasing. As if all this weren't enough, Veterans Affairs makes it very difficult to get compensated for PTSD and has even employed some underhanded means to deny. This is far from the worst of it.

In Iraq, estimates of civilian casualties range from 100,000 to upwards of a million. No matter what the actual number is, any estimate in this magnitude is horrific. Fortunately, people have begun to realize this, and even politicians condemn the high number. Blackwater may even be held accountable and lose its contract as a result of allegations of 17 civilian deaths committed by its contractors. A very sinister cost, however, remains hidden: Anna Badkhen has written an article on the vast toll of rape in Iraq. As if the act of rape itself wasn't bad enough, its stigmatization in this region creates dire consequences for a number of victims. Somehow I don't think $300m in whitewashing on Iraq stations will help.

These horrors, however, somehow get diminished, even justified, under the wide umbrella of terrorism, at least the fear of it. Events such as the killings in Mumbai seem to re-enforce the terror of terrorism. Nevertheless, there is so much more to be afraid of: the crisis, our food supply, and climate change; in fact, fear is uncontrollable and omnipresent. North Americans appear to have attempted to encapsulate all causes of fear with terrorism; in other words, we have tried to fight all our fears with the War on Terror. Recently, the economic crisis has ripped apart any success this strategy had, and could even pre-empt other crises, such as climate change. The illusion of security has been shaken in a way that no Listeria outbreak could. Will we wake up this time and not flock toward whatever means of security we hear on TV? Nevertheless, we need to do more than resurrect the line of No Fear T-shirts and watch re-runs of Mountain Dew commercials to combat our herd mentality.

Helena Smith, in her excellent reporting, has shown that the riots in Greece, like those in L.A., were an eruption of an underlying simmering sentiment. A similar sentiment buoyed by high unemployment exists in many of the countries which "foster" terrorism. Aid distribution is changing this; however, the solution seems to lie with much less effusive ways of letting off steam, e.g., shoe throwing. This harmless gesture spoke volumes, especially with the possibility that Bush may pardon himself from any future criminal charges; don't forget the spy bill he introduced and the 35 articles of impeachment that he recently sidestepped. Our path toward peace/reality lies with human ingenuity and our need for expression and self-improvement, the only driving forces that have really gotten us anywhere.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Interfaces

Although I have shuffled through web browsers over the years, from Nexus to Opera, I never really favoured Internet Explorer. At first I just found it inferior to Navigator, then I got annoyed when Microsoft bundled it with 98, and then I grew really annoyed when the anti-trust suit case became mired in its own complexity. (At least the EU's decision had some bite). Finally, the large number of security vulnerabilities alarmed me, the latest of which has necessitated drastic action. Although a patch was eventually released, users were actually encouraged to switch to Firefox and Opera; furthermore, this internal flaw spanned versions from 5 to 8, which is still in beta. (Perhaps, instead of updating 6 with features taken wholesale from Firefox, Microsoft should have fixed some of its legacy code.)

Fortunately, the Web constantly evolves and presents users with a plethora of options. Check out the Guardian's Top 100 Sites for the Year Ahead to discover some of them. My favorite from this list, apart from the regular standouts like Clusty, is Cooliris. This browser add-on is an image based search engine, in which you scroll through a "wall" of images to find your match, news item, or product. This approach is truly innovative and really worth trying. Other innovations, more of which should be coming, refine searches by minority or interest groups.

To escape all this check out the working model of the Antikythera Mechanism:

Monday, December 08, 2008

Anticipatory Jitters

Harper attracts the kind of attention normally accorded to the predators of the animal kingdom: onlookers remain fascinated by his efficiency even though they eschew his methods and hold sympathy for the victims. Harper, once again appears to be getting away with it. The Liberals had better employ some drastic evasive action.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that there is nothing underhanded or undemocratic about a coalition. They occur frequently around the world in minority governments; just not in our regular context of majority governments and the two party system across the border. Please ignore all discussion of "coups" (I still can't believe someone used this term) and "backroom dealings."

Speaking of across the border, I have been reading a stream articles concerned about Obama's emerging cabinet, specifically the Clinton/Bush Sr. blend of Gates, Albright, Holbrooke, et cetera. In addition to the Neocons/hawks, concern grows about "Zionists" such as Clinton and Emanuel. I am concerned about Obama's concessions regarding the economy, especially hisstimuli and auto industry bailout. Although I have already commented that Wall Street and the auto industry should face the consequences of squandered profits and poor decisions, the stimulus package of investing in highways really misses the mark. Yes, perform repairs; however, the real investment should be in LRT and other transit solutions, if he wants to meet his goals of independence from foreign oil.

I do understand that Obama cannot appear too liberal in this political climate saturated with fear. Nevertheless, many want assurances that radical change will still take place, especially in the midst of the Bush fallout (economic crisis and all). Obama has already indicated that his cabinet will serve him, but the Bush team has unnerved many. Obama responded by appointing Shinseki, Rumsfeld's nemesis, to Veterans Affairs. More positions need to be filled and he may even turn to the Republicans to get the right man for the job, e.g., Schwarzenegger for energy secretary.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Storm Front

Just when Canadians thought that federal politics were destined to become pedestrian again, Dion springs talk of a coalition. In fact, this co-operation has been growing in the house since Harper first came to power. This news blind-sided Harper who seemed to have gotten caught up in all the boasting of his party's strong financial position. Ironically too late, Canadians now complain about the Conservative party's negative ads and their idleness regarding the economy. Nevertheless, they seem more ready to accept Dion's move, though how much so remains unclear. Meanwhile Harper, who is backed in a corner, contemplates severe actions, such as dissolving Parliament. I think the coalition would be beneficial for Canada: first, climate change and the economy will be taken seriously and second, although the Conservatives appear united, once a coalition comes to power they will be much less inclined to tow the party-line (many have already expressed their discontent at the PMO for causing the crisis) so new legislation on the environment and economy will hopefully be passed quickly. Furthermore, Dion will gain redemption and respect, (some reckon he already has).

Monday, December 01, 2008

Rarely Learning

I am surprised by the number of failed initiatives by governments around the world in presenting digital information. Europeana, the latest to crash within minutes of launch, was perhaps the most ambitious: a comprehensive catalogue from over a 1,000 museums, libraries, and archives. Ironically, these sites fail due to the influx of traffic, except there's no denial-of-service attack. One of the first sites to fail (and never be resurrected) was evidenceincamera, which was slated to host an archive aerial reconnaissance photos from World War II. The promise of photos of D-Day landings and the Bismarck's sinking created a fever prior to launch. Although I applaud their design and conception, these projects need to be subcontracted to companies like YouTube that provide quick and reliable access to large volumes of information.


Reverb plug-in