September 30th, 2006

The data on passengers

Two years ago, the US forced down our thoats negotiated the requirement to send a lot of data ahead of an inbound airplane passengers. Mind you, we’re not just talking ID data, but things like if the fare was payed for by credit card and of course the cc number and other more important things like if a special meal was ordered. Am I glad I never requested Halal food. I guess that is called profiling.

The treaty ended this weekend. The European governments, who had silently let this whole thing happen back then, came under immense pressure. The treaty was deemed illegal by the European Court. So, they were reluctant to let things continue. On the other end, the US imposed the requirement to be allowed to not only use the data by the US security services, but also by other countries. Now the two fun parts.

When asked if the negotiations were cut off, Michael Chertoff stated a draft agreement was reached which had only to be ratified by the Europeans and added he did not expect any problem. Todd, spokesman for the EU delegation then added the Europeans were already over the ocean flying back home.

The other thing is, if an airline does send data, it will be in breach of European law, with the current treaty out. If they don’t, the US might not let them land.

Update: Read more here.

Chertoff adds: “As we await the final ratification of the draft agreement, we expect that aircraft will continue to fly uninterrupted and our national security will not be impeded.”

The Association of European Airlines (AEA) says: “We’ve received assurances from both sides that operations could continue as they did before the weekend [30 September-1 October] and that seems to be the case.”

Update: Today, oct 6th, an interim agreement, valid from the date of ratification by Justice ministers from the EU ( I cannot comment on the position of my countries minister. As I wrote earlier, he tripped on the prison fire) was reached. I still need to find out what data is sent and what not. Next to identifying data, the place of purchase and if it is a one or two way ticket is included. The interim agreement is valid until July 2007.

Update: According to a local newspaper religion and choice of food is not (US wanted too).
To be continued.

September 30th, 2006

One more reason to boycott Walmart (and perhaps Google)

According to “Imagethief” the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) has been banned in Singapore. Imagethief reports that while the government used bureaucratic legalisms to shut FEER down, what really put FEER out of business was this article. To be honest, I can’t help but think that folks in Washington wish they could do the same thing here. After all it’s OK to torture people, ignore the Geneva Convention and anything else our president and his cronies don’t like. What might be next? I think we should toss the bastards (and that includes the Democrats who sided with torture) out on their asses before they get carried aways with themselves :) Or have they already gone too far?
Have a nice day!

2006 October 04: On October 2 The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the banning of FEER.

September 28th, 2006

The God Delusion

A word of caution here. This is about “faith”. And I am hard core atheïst. If you don’t like that, do yourself a favor and simply don’t read on. Ok? Deal! We’re still friends!

On boingboing I ran into Richard Dawkins on the God Delusion. He makes a hard case against religion (any religion, just making sure). From the BBC book review:

When I interviewed for television the Reverend Michael Bray, a prominent American anti-abortion activist, I asked him why evangelical Christians were so obsessed with private sexual inclinations such as homosexuality, which didn’t interfere with anybody else’s life. His reply invoked something like self-defence. Innocent citizens are at risk of becoming collateral damage when God chooses to strike a town with a natural disaster because it houses sinners. In 2005, the fine city of New Orleans was catastrophically flooded in the aftermath of a hurricane, Katrina. The Reverend Pat Robertson, one of America’s best-known televangelists and a former presidential candidate, was reported as blaming the hurricane on a lesbian comedian who happened to live in New Orleans.* You’d think an omnipotent God would adopt a slightly more targeted approach to zapping sinners: a judicious heart attack, perhaps, rather than the wholesale destruction of an entire city just because it happened to be the domicile of one lesbian comedian.

It gets better and better:

Apparently [his] ethical philosophy places a higher value on [] embryos than on Iraqi or Lebanese men, women and children. Don’t misunderstand ‘embryos’, by the way. We are not talking miniature babies here. The ‘embryos’ used for stem cell research are no bigger than a pinhead, and completely lacking in sentience of any kind.

Mild introduction through an interview here on YouTube. My kind of guy. Maybe more intolerant, but he seems nice. And smart.

Update: A vastly interesting 20+ minutes lecture, which btw is not about God but about how our brains are (only) tuned to handle our, as he calls it, “middle sized world”.

Update april 28th 2007: Richard’s talk on TED.

September 28th, 2006

The General Debate

In my country, yesterday, today and tomorrow, parliament and the administration are in what is called “The General Debate” (in my language, the words for that are rather chique ;) ). Last week, the administration presented the budget for next year. As the PM tapped himself, oh oh, yes and you dear citizens of our lovely country, who suffered from our cutdown in social spending, sorry, the subject changed to the war in Iraq, which we supported; had our boys there for a while.

The opposition asked many times if the decision was right (“yes it was at that time”), and really gave him many oppotunities to state some lessons learned. He didn’t. Sounds like “stay the course” huh? So what IS the lesson of this war mr. PM? And then he made a mistake. “The lesson is that dictators know they have to respect UN resolutions”. Now THAT raised quite a few eyebrows.

September 25th, 2006

The telco’s that are trying to screw you

Over here, fixed line telephony is a bit cheaper monthly than on your end of the pond, but then, the big players won’t give you free local calls. Kinda trade off, all in all not too bad. The introduction of Voice over IP is changing the landscape fast. The former monopolist, still holding 80% of the market has set out a strategy to change to IP only, selling boxes doing that, in your home, totally ignoring one of the major upsides of VOIP called Softphones, software on your PC (or even a handset) that, when connected to the internet anywhere in the world, gives you your inbound number and calling your mates local rate. Anyway.

A friend in the US is starting a small business, rented a really nice place etc etc. She doesn’t REALLY need a phone line there, but she’s considering a credit card machine for convenience to her clients. Oh and internet would be nice too. The place is wired to AT&T, so I checked there. Dumdiedum, Callvantage is really cool (yeah, I know, same softphone issue), only $20 a month, provided there is some DSL. Better than the $40 for a normal phone line. OK, let’s get some DSL from the nice guys too. Yippee, a throttled line for only $14. NOT BAD, or is it?

Ordering that stuff revealed that the premises address was listed as business, so residential service did not apply. Exactly the same DSL product was now 50-ish. Do they really think businesses use MORE internet? Don’t get me laughing, with all the p2p downloading. Consumers use WAY more bandwidth per line.
So what is the end of the story?

  1. Feeling so f***ed that the price didn’t matter anymore
  2. She will just use her cellphone
  3. She will refrain from internet access there
  4. She will not get a credit card machine now.
  5. She might get a cell network credit card machine later.

Furthermore, once her business takes off, I will try to talk her into sharing bandwith with the neighbors and using another VOIP provider.

Can somebody explain to me why telecom operators, all over the world (I will kindly save you my personal horror stories) have refined the art of making all of their customers, ya know, the people who give you money, feeling scr**** in their a$$$$ hard to uncompromised heights? Small scale, this is a lost customer. Broader scale, this behaviour is not stimulating economy.

ps: screw back. Use skype and share bandwidth.

September 22nd, 2006

How your Federal tax dollars are really being spent


piefy07.jpg. It seems that almost everybody in the U.S. is worried about how much they have to spend on taxes, but here in Alaska everybody seems to be worried about taxes. So this is a follow-on to yoh-there’s most recent post about military spending; a head’s up to let you know that almost 50% of what you pay in Federal Taxes goes to the military. The War Resistors League (WRL) has for many years offered an alternative “pie-chart” to the one that the Internal Revenue Service prints in that little tax booklet that we all get every year. For the past 15 or so years I’ve pasted a copy of the WRL pie chart on my office door for all to see. Even though I used to work for a so called “liberal” East Coast university the WRL pie chart was defaced or ripped off of my door many times. So the truth, or near truth must have punched more than a few buttons in the oh so liberal NYC. For what it’s worth the War Resistors League has always taken a fairly conservative approach in their analysis when compared to others, including those from economists far (almost wrote “fart” there instead of “far” – ooops) to the right of WRL. Have a look for yourself. An Adobe PDF version of the WRL Pie Chart is available in color here or in b&w here; so that you can post a copy on your own office door for all to see.

September 21st, 2006

The weapons of the world

I can’t find the source document quickly, so this is from a local reporting service.

Oxfam reports worldwide weapons sales are now exceeding the levels at the height of the cold war, topping $1060 billion. I guess peace has it’s price (sad pun intended).

That website has some pretty interesting stories btw, have a look.

ps: It might be noteworthy that in my country weapons possession in general is illegal and the use of force is what is called “a goverment monopoly”. I concur to the fact, esp to you Alaskan folks, that we don’t have bears running around.

September 21st, 2006

The toxic waste that killed 7 Africans (so far)

European Law: You cannot carry around toxical waste cross border without a ton of permits.

Exemption: “Normal” ship waste, ie what goes to the sludge tanks, is exempt.

Probo Koala

Scenario: Ship toxic waste to Amsterdam, mix it in the sludge tanks (400 tons???), state it’s exempt (the harbor inspecetion was obviously sleeping), so you don’t have to have it costly ($600.000) processed in the European Union, nor need a permit (unobtainable for this stuff anyway), and ship it to Africa. Dump it in the open air. Ensure you’re in international water before the alarm bell rings.
Result: 7 dead (so far), 100′s hospitalized.

NIMBY. Have a nice day.

Update: Added costs and picture. Original Waste owner, Trafigura based in a suburb of Amsterdam, is starting to pay for the medical costs of the survivors, so far $50.000.

Update: Estonia’s government, who grounded the Probo Koala, have released the ship today (oct 10th).

September 20th, 2006
September 16th, 2006

Air Force Secretary advocates “testing” new weapons on U.S. Citizens

Recently appointed U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne suggested this week that “active area denial” weapons be turned towards and used against U.S. Citizens. The military has, in the past, argued that using “active area denial” weapons for crowd control instead of bullets would reduce unwelcome fallout from too many dead and wounded and thus reduce or eliminate potentially damaging “PR” and, also perhaps, ill will from “local” populations. I found this story, reported this week by AP, to be disturbing and indicative of the all too frequent disregard some of our government officials have shown for the citizens they are supposed to be serving. AP reported:

WASHINGTON – Nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before they are used on the battlefield, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday.

Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over any possible safety concerns, said Secretary Michael Wynne.

“If we’re not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation,” said Wynne. “(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press.”

Nationwide, newspaper editors seem to have ignored this story. A LexisNexis search revealed that only one paper, out of the papers that LexisNexis Academic tracks, listed the story.

I can’t help but wonder if Secretary Wynne knows of, or perhaps has heard, some inner sanctum gossip about some impending social upheaval or turmoil that would give the Air Force a chance to try out our new weapons on us? Unless, of course, the Army or the Navy hit us first since both have also developed “active area denial” weapons of their own.

Have a nice day :)