Charlie's Diary

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Tue, 13 Jun 2006

Holding Pattern

I finally got irritated beyond all call with Blosxom and QuickTopic, so in my copious spare time I'm moving over to Movable Type. The new blogging software takes a while to configure. When it's done, it will show up here in place of the existing blosxom setup (which will be preserved for posterity as an archive of static HTML files somewhere or other). Meanwhile, if you want a quick peek at the work in progress, go here.

posted at: 16:43 | path: /admin | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 11 Jun 2006

Pointing the finger

(Warning: politics ahead. May be distasteful for some. You're getting it because I'm angry. Normal service can wait.)

"They have no regard for human life. Neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us."

This statement emanated from US Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris. And now it's quiz time! Was he talking about:

  • Al Qaida members attacking members of the US military
  • Detainees at Guantanamo Bay committing suicide
  • If you guessed (2), you win! Yes, committing suicide after being held in a concentration camp, subjected to torture, and refused legal redress for over four years is now "an act of asymmetric warfare against us". That's asymmetric warfare committed by camp inmates, some of whom were 12 years old when they were detained, some of whom were taxi drivers, and a whole bunch of whom were ordinary folks handed in by neighbours who bore a grudge against them and wanted a cut of that reward money, thanks.

    Are there guerillas among the inmates? Probably. Are there innocents? Definitely. And are they being mis-treated? Well ... Let's see. A good yardstick to look at when examining morale among human beings is the suicide rate. What does it tell us?

    There are roughly 460 inmates in the concentration camp. They've been there for four years. The camp administration admit to 41 suicide attempts, although defense lawyers say this is a gross underestimate -- certainly hunger strikes to the death that are broken only by forced feeding are usually classed as suicide attempts in other jurisdictions, and Camp X-Ray has had over 128 inmates on hunger strike. The best figures I've been able to root out suggest prison suicide rates are typically on the order of 50-200 per 100,000 inmates per year; let's go with 100 per 100,000, or an incidence of 0.1% per year. (The Lancet recently reported that in British prisons, men are five times likelier to attempt suicide than on the outside; this is in line with these figures for overall mortality.) If we assume a ball-park figure of ten attempts per successful suicide, then if Camp X-Ray was a normal prison, we would expect 4-5 attempts per year. Instead we have, by the Pentagon's own admission, at least 10 attempts per year, and by defense lawyer's claims, an average of 20-30. Moreover, a rate that seems to have spiked to over 100 per year recently (and can only be denied by asserting that a hunger strike that is broken by nasogastric feeding tube and restraint chair isn't a suicide attempt).

    I'd say that a prison with a suicide rate two to five times higher than normal -- let alone spiking to 20 times higher than normal -- has a problem. A big, festering, shitty problem. And sticking fingers in ears and chanting "they're all terrorists, they're in prison so they must be guilty," is a big part of the problem.

    As to how to fix the problem ...

    It'd be a good start if Rear Admiral Harris washed his mouth out with soap and started investigating why prisoners at Guantanamo Bay seem to think that hanging themselves is an improvement over their current situation. It'd be an even better start if his bosses in the Pentagon and the Department of Defense were arrested and sent to the Hague for trial for crimes against humanity -- to wit, torture, waging illegal war, acts of terror against civilian populations, collective punishment, and most of the rest of the bill of goods that applied at Nuremburg in 1946 -- but that'll have to wait.

    But meanwhile, kindly reflect: if you support the war on terror, then you're also supporting a policy that has brought concentration camps back to the western world.

    [Link] [Discuss Camp X-ray trials]

    posted at: 16:34 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry


    I'd like to quote briefly from the report The Guantanamo Detainees: The Government's Story, prepared by legal academics from Seton Hall Law School who acted as defense advocates for the detainees.

    From the executive sumary:

    1. Fifty-five percent of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies.

    2. Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.


    4. Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Allaiance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies. (Emphasis mine.)

    Read the rest here.

    posted at: 16:33 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry

    Tue, 06 Jun 2006

    Back to the future!

    CEV in Lunar orbit

    NASA have just announced that they're planning to start unmanned orbital test flights of the CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle) in 2012, with the first manned flights starting in 2014. The CEV (artist's impression above) is the Shuttle replacement that's designed allegedly to get NASA back into the manned space exploration business after an embarrassing forty year long diversion into putting lipstick (i.e. wings) on a flying pig. Meanwhile, the Shuttle's last flight is scheduled for 2010.

    Betcha the CEV is overdue, over budget, and doesn't perform to spec. While by then the Chinese space program should be working on their first space station, and who knows where the Russian Kliper program will be?

    I'm getting a really retro feeling off this next-generation space program. Smells like ... sailing ships!

    Meanwhile, the price of developing CEV's launch vehicle is rumoured to have tripled, there's reason to believe that it may be much more difficult than anticipated to produce defect-free nanotubes needed to build a space elevator, and the environmental health risks of space travel turn out to be so large that hithero insignificant factors like galactic cosmic ray bombardment may stop us getting past the inner solar system (at least, without cheap, easy and effective treatments for cancer).

    [Discuss space]

    posted at: 12:27 | path: /space | permanent link to this entry

    Sun, 04 Jun 2006

    Paging Batman

    one man special forces flying wing

    This appears to be heading for flight tests early next year. An unpowered version has been developed for the German army -- next year's model is due to feature two small gas turbine engines and a cruise range of up to 200 kilometres after the paratroop leaves the mother ship.

    Where did I leave my bat-beacon?

    (Thanks, jwz!)

    [Discuss toys]

    posted at: 12:49 | path: /toys | permanent link to this entry


    Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
    Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
    Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
    "Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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    Some webby stuff I'm reading:

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    Atrios ]
    The Sideshow (Avedon Carol) ]
    This Modern World (Tom Tomorrow) ]
    Jesus's General ]
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    Early days of a Better Nation (Ken MacLeod) ]
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    Kung Fu Monkey ]
    S1ngularity ]
    Pagan Prattle ]
    Gwyneth Jones ]
    Calpundit ]
    Lenin's Tomb ]
    Progressive Gold ]
    Kathryn Cramer ]
    Halfway down the Danube ]
    Fistful of Euros ]
    Orcinus ]
    Shrillblog ]
    Steve Gilliard ]
    Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
    The Panda's Thumb ]
    Martin Wisse ]
    Kuro5hin ]
    Advogato ]
    Talking Points Memo ]
    The Register ]
    Cryptome ]
    Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
    Global Guerillas (John Robb) ]
    Shadow of the Hegemon (Demosthenes) ]
    Simon Bisson's Journal ]
    Max Sawicky's weblog ]
    Guy Kewney's mobile campaign ]
    Hitherby Dragons ]
    Counterspin Central ]
    MetaFilter ]
    NTKnow ]
    Encyclopaedia Astronautica ]
    Fafblog ]
    BBC News (Scotland) ]
    Pravda ]
    Meerkat open wire service ]
    Warren Ellis ]
    Brad DeLong ]
    Hullabaloo (Digby) ]
    Jeff Vail ]
    The Whiskey Bar (Billmon) ]
    Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
    Unmedia (Aziz Poonawalla) ]
    Rebecca's Pocket (Rebecca Blood) ]

    Older stuff:

    June 2006
    May 2006
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    March 2006
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    January 2006
    December 2005
    November 2005
    October 2005
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    (I screwed the pooch in respect of the blosxom entry datestamps on March 28th, 2002, so everything before then shows up as being from the same time)

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