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Journal Journal: Surface to Air Missles on London Apartment Buildings?

The Olympics is all about World Peace, we are told, but Charles Stross isn't quite convinced.

The science fiction writer and blogger is a little concerned about the extent to which Britain will go to keep corporate sponsors happy.

The Olympics: It's a movement. And everybody needs a movement, every day.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Wyoming prepares for the End Times with proposed purchase of aircraft carrier 4

I had to double-check to make sure this wasn't an Onion article. It appears that a Wyoming state legislature has advance (yes, there was a vote) to prepare for the worst. They want to create a task force to prepare Wyoming for the total social and economic collapse of the United States (aka, the Zombie Apocalypse).

The best part of the story, and the part you just can't make up, is that the preparations include the formation of a Wyoming Navy . As reported in the Wyoming news source,

The task force would look at the feasibility of Wyoming issuing its own alternative currency, if needed. And House members approved an amendment Friday by state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, to have the task force also examine conditions under which Wyoming would need to implement its own military draft, raise a standing army, and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.

Of course, an aircraft carrier costs about $6billion, but first there's the little issue of Wyoming being landlocked. The purchase of a submarine was not mentioned.

Read more in-depth analysis here.

Is anyone surprised that the amendment creating this task force was written and sponsored by Republicans? It's worth noting that Wyoming, the least populous state in the US gets back $1.11 for every $1.00 it sends to Washington in federal taxes.

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Journal Journal: Happening faster than I thought it would... 5

After the bankruptcy "reform" of the last decade (which only applied to the lower income levels), we knew it was only a matter of time before the return of debtors' prison and forced work camps. There was never any question that this was where Reaganomics would take us.

I guess I just didn't expect that we'd see it so soon. When the new privatized prison system meets debtors prisons, something very very ugly is going to emerge. And it appears it's going to happen within the next couple of years.

If you are very very wealthy, and you find yourself unable to pay your debt, the government will force citizens to make you whole. If you are part of the working or lower classes and find yourself unable to pay your debt, you have become an enemy of the New Corporate State and will be treated accordingly.

User Journal

Journal Journal: JC, I hardly knew ye 3

Unless there's a system failure (which is a distinct possibility), Jeremiah Cornelius, an iconoclastic and highly prolific Slashdot journal writer has packed it in and closed his account. Links to his journals are dead and his account only shows the UID number, not his user name.

While sometimes his opinions were the kind that made me uncomfortable (which is something, being iconoclastic and a pain in the ass bordering on the trollish myself), I will miss his energy and his strongly held sincere beliefs.

If he's gone elsewhere, I'd like to know which online community a guy like him would join. We;ve lost some long-time Slashdot users recently. I hate to see a good one go.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Deep in the Heart of TeX-Ass 3

Years ago, when my wife was finishing her PhD in Math, I helped her with putting her dissertation into the required format, which was a TeX document. The main thing I remember about it was how much trouble it was just to lay out a document. It was hard enough for her to do all the very difficult Math work and get ready for her PhD defense, but to then require her to learn TeX just seemed like piling on.

The other day, my daughter, who's now a Math grad student, came to me and asked if I knew anything about TeX. It caused a sickening deja vu as I realized that after all this time, TeX is still the required format for technical documents.

Now, I understand the elegance of TeX, and I can appreciate the need for a standard way of typesetting such documents. I've seen the Chinese students taking class notes in TeX and I'm aware of the place TeX holds in the Math, physics and engineering communities.

But jesus christ on roller skates, can no one come up with something a little easier to learn and use? I'm a musician and composer and arranger. I score films. Creating formatting and typesetting a music manuscript is at least as exacting and formalized as setting up a document to show some equations, some graphs and a figure or two. I've got a handful of excellent professional software that makes writing (and printing) music as easy as writing a business letter. I don't have to write code just to put in a D.S. al coda for heaven's sake.

When I was working on my own dissertation decades ago in critical theory, I remember using the DOS version of Nota Bene, because that was what my adviser used and by gawd, that was what I was going to use. It was like an even more baroque version of Wordperfect with all sorts of code and macros and packages for diacritical marks. But the world has moved on since then and now there's open office to fill all my document needs.

I guess I'm just venting a bit, thinking about my daughter having to learn tex on top of everything else she's got going on, and I know I'm going to get hit with questions, which means I'm going to have to go back and brush up. I'm about to install LateX on my machine for the second time in over 20 years and if nothing else, can I get some encouragement? Maybe an explanation of why time has stood still in this one area?

Now let me go get some aspirin.

User Journal

Journal Journal: PopeRatzo's Recession Buster

Wait until Saturday evening, when the point spread hits 5, then take the Bears and the points.

Send my share of the winnings to the EFF or the ACLU.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Are Right-Wing Trolls Being Paid to Disrupt Slashdot? 8

An under-reported story from 2010 was the apparent proliferation of paid political trolls. Some of us have suspected this was going on, but some recent leaks coming out of Right-Wing political action committees confirms that this is happening on a bigger scale than thought.

This phenomena goes back at least as far as 2002, when it was discovered that an internet lobbying outfit called the "Bivings Group" was found to have created at least two false identities, "Mary Murphy" and "Andura Smetacek", that were used to post a prodigious number of posts attacking research showing widespread contamination of corn by genetically-modified bee pollen. Bivings was working for Monsanto at the time. It was widely reported that the McCain campaign did this during the 2008 campaign, but the new paid trolling is taking on new forms and attacking more than the regular political online communities.

A very interesting film, (Astro)Turf Wars, a documentary by Taki Oldham, has a scene that was secretly videotaped during a training session organized by a right-wing libertarian outfit called "American Majority". During this session, the trainer instructed Tea Party members as follows:

âoeHereâ(TM)s what I do. I get on Amazon; I type in âoeLiberal Booksâ. I go through and I say âoeone star, one star, one starâ. The flipside is you go to a conservative/ libertarian whatever, go to their products and give them five stars. ⦠This is where your kids get information: Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster. These are places where you can rate movies. So when you type in âoeMovies on Healthcareâ, I donâ(TM)t want Michael Mooreâ(TM)s to come up, so I always give it bad ratings. I spend about 30 minutes a day, just click, click, click, click. ⦠If thereâ(TM)s a place to comment, a place to rate, a place to share information, you have to do it. Thatâ(TM)s how you control the online dialogue and give our ideas a fighting chance.â

From some of the clips I've seen, this (Astro) Turf Wars film seems like it might be interesting to anyone who has been suspicious of the seemingly organized commenting/moderating activity here on Slashdot.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Going to a place that has already been disgraced 2

Pamela Geller is despicable.
  I mean really despicable. If this country is or was ever great, than 9/11 should be no more than a triviality compared to its greatness. Compared to what this country represents, the fact that 19 lunatics with boxcutters flew planes into some buildings and killed 3000 people should be nothing but a blip on our history.

Instead, we've got people like Geller trying to make it the American Reichstag. I've never been more ashamed of other Americans than I am of Geller and Gingrich and Reid and anybody who's tried to turn the building of a community center into something ugly. Even if the people behind this community center were everything they're being accused of, it still does not excuse the kind of behavior I've seen these past few weeks.

I've never felt so disgusted with other Americans. I wish I could pass myself off as Canadian, honest to god. I wish I could get a goddamn visa to live in Finland or Belgium or evem goddamned Serbia. Anything but a country where people like Geller and Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved get treated like patriots for (and despite!) denigrating such basic, founding principles as freedom of religion and property rights. They say things like "oh, it's not about freedom of religion and property rights, it's about good taste". Good taste! Now the standard for freedom of speech is supposed to be good taste. And they say "oh, the muslim group must compromise". If they "must" then it's not a goddamn compromise. I don't care if you hate the idea of a community center with a mosque built near ground zero or near your house. If you go on television and try to compare it to Nazis putting signs up at Auschwitz, that makes you the scum of the Earth. You share a hell with the religious fundamentalists that perpetrated the crime in the first place.

So ten years after the fact, this bunch is going to turn into a bunch of drama queens over 9/11, turn the site of the Twin Towers into hallowed ground (or, as Ben Quale says, "hollowed ground"). Is the USA such a flimsy society? Are Americans such weak sisters that they're going to turn a tragedy into a pyre on which to burn each other (yes, the people who want to build the community center are Americans. Yes, there are bombs being thrown at mosques throughout the US in the last few days. Yes, there are "Americans" burning korans in Wal-Mart parking lots. Fucking mutts). I'm so tired of you, America. Never missing a chance to tell the world how great you are, how superior, how above the behavior of "terrorists" but the veneer of your Christian "reformation" turns out to be pretty goddamned thin, after all.

Things like this make me wish there actually was an afterlife where people were judged for their behavior on Earth. I'm willing to do the time for my crimes, as long as I can do it with the knowledge that people who've tried to spread this kind of ugliness were going to do the time for theirs. I'm so tired of you, America.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Theory of Relativity Exposed as a Liberal Plot. 6

Rewriting history textbooks isn't nearly enough for the Religious Right. It appears that the "conservative alternative to Wikipedia, "Conservapedia" has some serious issues with Einstein, too.

The first note in the references section of the Conservapedia entry on "Counter-examples to Relativity" will be of special interest to any physicists out there.

I guess that Colbert's throwaway joke about "reality having a liberal bias" was truer than he knew.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Galloping down the slippery slope?

The airplane hijackings and subsequent mass murders of 11 September 2001 did not rely on bringing bombs aboard. They were simply hijacked using pocket tools (box-cutter knives), then used in a novel way to wreak destruction. A large number of security restrictions were subsequently brought in to prevent hijacking, but many have noted that the circumstances of hijackers changed that day. Before, passengers meekly obeyed the hijackers, knowing that they would eventually be released when the hijackers' demands were met, or perhaps when the plane was stormed by special forces. There was no point trying to play the hero. After the twin towers were hit - and even in the fourth plane hijacked that day - passengers realized that they had to overpower the hijackers to save their own lives, and preferably do so before the hijackers had control of the flight deck. Since then, there have been attempts, not actually to hijack airliners, but apparently to destroy them in flight using explosive devices. The "shoe bomber" and the "underpants bomber" are the two that come to mind, but in each case, the perpetrator was overpowered by fellow passengers before he could get his device to work. Following each case, additional ham-fisted security procedures were implemented in airports and inconvenient restrictions imposed on passengers on the ground and in the air. More time wasted in terminals; shoes and belt off at security checkpoints; no liquids or metal combs on board; no washroom or laptop in the last hour of flight; and so forth. The list of restrictions and inconveniences is quite long.

The question I have is whether these post-9/11 attempts were actually intended to destroy an aircraft. If that were the case, the terrorist would have been instructed to prepare and use the device while in the washroom, and not while in his seat. I suspect that the real objective was to cause the very security escalations that we have seen. These "security" procedures further cripple air transport (and indirectly handicap many other forms of business), and divert resources from other potentially productive activities into large bureaucracies and security organizations which have negative economic value. More insidiously, they undermine the very basis of Western society, removing or reducing freedoms and grossly expanding powers of state organizations (police, DHS, border patrols, etc.) to resemble those of totalitarian states.

We've blundered several steps down this slippery slope already. We went from mild and fairly unintrusive security procedures (to prevent tragedies such as the bomb on an Air India 747) which largely accomplished their purpose, to heavy-handed and extremely intrusive "security" procedures, which have no chance of achieving theirs, and are, in fact, utterly unnecessary and ultimately self-defeating. Here are some further steps down this slope, as I see it, and the reasons they are futile:

1a. Well, terahertz scanners can see through clothes to the skin revealing every little detail (ooh, privacy violations, creepy pedo images, blah-blah outrage, etc.), somewhat like a "hands-off" strip search. But once they are installed at every airport and used on every passenger, it would be impossible for a passenger to hide explosives/flammables/nerve gas/etc. on their person. WRONG. Ever seen a fat person naked? There are often rolls of flesh, with nice deep folds which the terahertz scanner does not see into - it can't penetrate skin, remember. Ladies with pendulous breasts also have nice hiding places which are not seen by the terahertz scanners. Men might even manage to hide a small item with creative placement at the scrotum. Perhaps armpits could be used, if one is not required to perform gymnastics while in front of the scanner.
1b. Before long, some terrorist takes advantage of having rolls of fat, and smuggles nasty things onto an airliner in them. But that terrorist gets overpowered by fellow passengers as he/she prepares the nasty things at his/her seat, and before the nasty things can be used (assembled/detonated/activated/whatever). Note that I expect the preparation to be at the terrorist's seat on the plane, where other passengers can spot what's happening, since the real objective is to escalate the security procedures.

2a. Next, passengers are required to raise limbs and adopt lewd postures etc. while being scanned, so that their entire surface is visible to the scanner. Those whose flesh folds are incompletely observed are required to step to the side so a security officer can have a grope inside those folds. This is tantamount to a "hands-on" porno strip search for those who are not particularly lean. Now this is quite intrusive, and some people would simply stop traveling by air. It would also require a certain type of security person to do the job correctly at low wage - exploring dusty crevices of human blubber with his/her fingers (indeed, the best candidates for this job might be in jail). But it's for the security of you and your fellow passengers, so you can't complain! Surely nobody can smuggle anything nasty aboard with these procedures. WRONG. How does contraband get into prisons? That's right, some of it travels in smooth containers shoved into body cavities. Every human has one such cavity, and ladies are blessed with a second suitable cavity.
2b. Soon enough, some terrorist passes through the scanner, with or without the extra grope-search, with one or more plastic containers concealed in a body cavity. These containers are retrieved in a washroom trip during the flight, but the terrorist is overpowered by fellow passengers as he/she prepares the nasty things contained therein at his/her seat, and before the nasty things can be used (assembled/detonated/activated/whatever). Note that I expect the preparation to be at the terrorist's seat on the plane, not in the washroom, since the real objective is to escalate the security procedures.

3a. Obviously, we need to add body cavity searches to the security procedures to prevent this sort of attack. Either it's full rubber gloves & lube, or an equivalent manufactured probe (presumably sterilized between uses), or some kind of ultrasound scanner that you can sit on (is ultrasound able to distinguish between a tampon/IUD and some other object?). This kind of examination would be required for every passenger. Of course, this would be an outrageous violation of civil rights, but how else to keep you and your fellow passengers safe from attack? After all, with this procedure added to the others, it would be impossible to get anything nasty on board an airliner! WRONG. How do high value drugs get smuggled via airliners? Some travels inside swallowed condoms, which would not be detectable via cavity search or ultrasound of the area around body cavities. Drug mules commonly swallow multiple condoms containing pure drugs.
3b. As soon as these procedures are widespread, some terrorist swallows one or more condom bombs before getting on a flight. There are numerous ways this could be arranged to cause an explosion or equivalent in-air catastrophe, which I will not go into. Here's one: two latex condoms are partly filled with binary components which will spontaneously ignite/explode on contact; they are placed inside a silicone condom, which also contains a small amount of a material which will corrode or dissolve latex; the terrorist swallows one or more of such silicone condom bombs. Note that in this method, no external device is required, and there may not be any indication that there is an explosion coming (unless the airline makes the terrorist puke via food poisoning). In this case, the other passengers do not overpower the terrorist, and the device presumably explodes (messily), but it is not certain that the airliner would be destroyed in every attempt. In some attempts the airliner would survive, albeit with a very messy and somewhat devalued interior, and the modus operandi would become evident, provoking further posturing by security agencies.

4. Citizens, rejoice! To protect you against terrorists who have swallowed bombs or other nefarious devices, new security procedures have been instituted. But what could they be? Any option I can think of (using existing technology) is appallingly intrusive and/or costly in time and money. Here are a few possibilities: expensive and time-consuming MRI scan of all passengers; compulsory stomach pumping; administer fast acting emetics and purgatives (and provide a sufficiency of toilets at security). The MRI scan would see most things, but not confidently distinguish among them: an apparent prosthetic implanted in the abdomen might need to be examined laparoscopically or even excised for proper identification. What of partly metallic implants to replace a damaged hip bone? Any sort of implant would completely pass by the stomach pump or emetic/purgative approach. And yes, there are ways to remotely detonate implanted explosives without using metals on the inside or outside. Short of MRI scans coupled with exploratory surgery as standard security procedures, a determined organization could still get a suicide bomber and bomb onto an airliner.

And where have we descended to on this slope? While airliners have been discussed in the steps above, other modes of mass transport and places of mass gatherings could also be targeted. Would trains and concert halls also be encumbered with such ludicrous pseudo-security antics?

I submit that there is actually no sure-fire defense against some forms of terrorist attack. In particular, it is impossible to prevent all possible ways to get a bomb or nerve gas on board an airliner. Note that this analysis even assumes that all of the security procedures are carried out competently, which is perhaps not the case. Protecting against a subset of those ways merely ensures that the unprotected methods will be employed. The steps outlined above can be viewed as a classical "arms race" between cannon and fortresses. The fortress never wins the race in the end, however many steps and twists the race contains.

I also submit that the best defense of an airliner is the self preservation instinct of its passengers (similarly for trains, concert halls, and so forth). By all means, employ the security procedures we had before 9/11, as they will catch the egregious large bombs and obvious suicide bombers. They were much less intrusive and much less expensive, and were a much lighter imposition on civil rights and freedoms. And that's what we should be preserving - our traditional liberties and civil rights, and the duties that accompany them. The slippery slope we are descending is rapidly eroding those rights and liberties, at great expense and without providing the security it pretends. It is also eroding what little is left of the notion of a citizen's duty to defend the society around him/her, replacing it with more encouragement to be a passive and powerless victim or bystander, while the "security" theater attempts to fulfill that duty on his/her behalf but inevitably fails.

This slippery slope of "security" theatrics leads nowhere that we should wish Western societies to go. It has us in lock-step with terrorists all the way, marching to the same destination; a destination of the terrorists' choosing. Every step down the slope is an act of surrender, including the steps already taken. How can that message be brought to those who are steering us downwards? And how can we reverse the process, and recover some of those lost liberties?

Journal Journal: Study Shows GMO Corn Linked to Organ Failure

According to a research article published in the current International Journal of Biological Sciences, genetically modified corn from Monsanto increases the levels of liver and kidney failure in rats, as well as other harmful effects to the "heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system.

Apparently, Monsanto has wasted no time claiming the study was based on "faulty data" saying that it's own 90-day study didn't show similar problems. Of course, that ignores the fact that the organ failure only starts to show up after "5-14 weeks" according to the abstract.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Achievement? 1

Apparently, having a journal entry counts as a /. "achievement". It's about the only reason I can conceive of for making this journal entry. It's a fairly weak reason, at that, since most /. "achievements" are by no means achievements.

User Journal

Journal Journal: The "new" and "de-improved" Slashdot 4

If you've known /. for a while, you've certainly noticed all the recent changes. The front page articles auto-load-extend (presumably through AJAX code), the link to get to your own page has moved twice, and now there are two (that both look alike - your username - but work differently), and checking if anyone has replied to your comments has been a two-click journey instead of the old one-click for a while now.

Then there's the annoying inline popup (so it's not caught by popup blockers) that tells you that "Firehose is paused due to inactivity". Whatever that means, it doesn't seem nearly important enough to interrupt my reading.

Quite frankly, from a user interface design standpoint, the "new" slashdot sucks. Badly. Maybe I'll try disabling all javascript for and check if that improves the experience.

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"Inquiry is fatal to certainty." -- Will Durant