MonthNovember 2008

Damien Echols Speaks

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“It has been 15 years since Damien Echols was sentenced to die for the murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis. He claims he and the other two convicted of the heinous killings have what they need to prove they are innocent. Surrounded by guards in Arkansas’ only super-max prison, Damien Echols is shackled at the hands and feet. (Damien Echols, Death Row Inmate) “Every single morning for the past 15 years I’ve had to wake up in a prison cell knowing I should have never been there in the first place. They took from me the entire decade of my 20’s. I’m now in my 30’s. They are taking my 30’s. I’ve lost 15 Christmas’, 15 Thanksgivings… my son has had to grow up without his father.” Treated as one of the most dangerous criminals in the state, Echols is one of only about 40 inmates on Arkansas’ death row.

(Echols) “I can take exactly 4 steps from the back of the cell to the front of the cell. Everything is made out of concrete except for the door which is steel. .” Now 15 years after being locked up, as he spends day in and day out in solitary confinement, Echols believes he is the closest he has ever been to getting a new trial.

(Echols) “Ever since the minute I was arrested 15 years ago, I’ve tried to tell them that I did not do this and they just weren’t interested in listening. They said well that’s what everyone says. And that’s why for me the dna evidence is so important now because finally there is concrete forensic evidence that I can point to and say look I told you.”

(via KATV. Also: “Damien Echols Speaks”:Pt. 2)

National Intelligence Council’s latest report: Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World

A new study of the global future by U.S. intelligence agencies suggests that Al Qaeda may be on the decline, having alienated Muslim supporters with its indiscriminate killing and inattention to the practical problems of poverty, unemployment and education.

While not contradicting intelligence assessments suggesting that Al Qaeda remains a major threat with a strong presence in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the report says the group “may decay sooner” than many experts have assumed because of severe weaknesses: “unachievable strategic objectives, inability to attract broad-based support, and self-destructive actions.”

From an American point of view, the predicted decline of Al Qaeda is one of the few bright spots in the report, “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” which predicts a significant relative decline in the world dominance of the United States as China, India and other powers assert themselves.

Full Story: International Herald Tribune

Or Download the report from the National Intelligence Council

New Report: CIA Lied About Missionary Plane Shot Down Over Peru

In 2001, the Peruvian Air Force shot down a plane flying over the Amazon after receiving information from the CIA that the plane was trafficking in narcotics. It wasn’t. It was filled with Christian missionaries. The attack resulted in the death of 35-year-old Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter Charity. The CIA was working with the government of Peru as part of a program to intercept drug planes en route”‘another part of our disastrous drug interdiction efforts in Latin America.

Seven years later, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson has issued a blistering report finding that the CIA repeatedly lied and covered up details about the intercept program, about the downing of Bowers’ plane, and about other incidents that never made the news.

Full Story: the Agitator

Obama Haters: You’re Missing the Opportunity of a Lifetime

I haven’t been commenting on politics much lately, because there are plenty of others who either better express what I’d like to say, or have better insights and change my mind. Johnny Brainwash has the wisest take on the election of Barack Obama I have read:

To All The Obama Haters…

You’re wasting the opportunity of a lifetime.

No, I haven’t swallowed the hope pill. I have no illusions about the Obama administration, the Democratic party or electoral politics. But whatever pill *you’ve* swallowed must have been awfully bitter, because it’s sure left you with an ugly look on your face.

I’ll agree from the start, Obama won’t deliver the change we want. He’s an establishment candidate who’s risen up within the ranks of the machine. It’s not enough that he’s better than the alternative- the hope he’s sold millions will sooner or later be dashed.

But wait. Look at that last sentence. Maybe you’ve missed the crucial word: millions.

The essence of political change is mobilization, and Americans are mobilized now like they haven’t been for a generation. Right now, thanks to Obama, they’re fired up. They feel involved, like they have a personal stake in the process. They want change, and they’re willing to pitch in to make it happen.

Full Story: Dysnomia

The comment from Trevor Blake is important.

I agree with Nick Pell’s 10 reasons not to drink the hope kool-aid (here’s another one: his staffing choices, which began with the selection of arch-drug warrior, war monger, and Democratic Party insider Joe Biden as VP), and wound up registering a “protest vote” for Cynthia McKinney here in Oregon on election day. That said, I think there are plenty of reasons to be happy that Obama won, and if the polls were closer in my state I certainly would have voted for Obama.

In addition to the large scale mobilization of progressively-minded people (Trevor’s warnings duly noted), here are some reasons to be hopeful:

Democrats, historically, do a better job with the economy

Democrats, in recent history, have gotten fewer people killed in armed conflicts

Obama Haters: You’re Missing the Opportunity of a Lifetime

I haven’t been commenting on politics much lately, because there are plenty of others who either better express what I’d like to say, or have better insights and change my mind. Johnny Brainwash has the wisest take on the election of Barack Obama I have read:

To All The Obama Haters…

You’re wasting the opportunity of a lifetime.

No, I haven’t swallowed the hope pill. I have no illusions about the Obama administration, the Democratic party or electoral politics. But whatever pill *you’ve* swallowed must have been awfully bitter, because it’s sure left you with an ugly look on your face.

I’ll agree from the start, Obama won’t deliver the change we want. He’s an establishment candidate who’s risen up within the ranks of the machine. It’s not enough that he’s better than the alternative- the hope he’s sold millions will sooner or later be dashed.

But wait. Look at that last sentence. Maybe you’ve missed the crucial word: millions.

The essence of political change is mobilization, and Americans are mobilized now like they haven’t been for a generation. Right now, thanks to Obama, they’re fired up. They feel involved, like they have a personal stake in the process. They want change, and they’re willing to pitch in to make it happen.

Full Story: Dysnomia

The comment from Trevor Blake is important.

I agree with Nick Pell’s 10 reasons not to drink the hope kool-aid (here’s another one: his staffing choices, which began with the selection of arch-drug warrior, war monger, and Democratic Party insider Joe Biden as VP), and wound up registering a “protest vote” for Cynthia McKinney here in Oregon on election day. That said, I think there are plenty of reasons to be happy that Obama won, and if the polls were closer in my state I certainly would have voted for Obama.

In addition to the large scale mobilization of progressively-minded people (Trevor’s warnings duly noted), here are some reasons to be hopeful:

Democrats, historically, do a better job with the economy

Democrats, in recent history, have gotten fewer people killed in armed conflicts

TAZ History: Kowloon Walled City

“There were only two rules for construction: electricity had to be provided to avoid fire, and the buildings could be no more than fourteen stories high, because of the nearby airport.”

Old photograph of the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong.

When I was 17, I started constantly re-reading Hakim Bey’s TAZ, or as I like to call it, “His Only Good Book.” I had no problem with Jonathan Kozol, but Peter Lamborn Wilson builds a sentence like Turkish Muslims build a shrine. Before I discovered the playground of “Academic Critical Theory,” from Marshall McLuhan to Manuel de Landa, TAZ was the most dense language artifact I’d ever seen.

Even then, though, I wondered why Hakim Bey didn’t discuss the only real “TAZ” I could think of – the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong. “Kowloon” means “Nine Dragons,” and you can only visit the ruins today.  After an eviction process that took years and cost billions of Hong Kong dollars, the city was destroyed in 1993 and only a park remains.  While it lasted, though, it was the closest thing to Pure Anarchy the world has seen outside of a war zone.

At it’s most overgrown peak in early 1987, Kowloon Walled City was home to 50,000 inhabitants.  From 1899, these tenacious squatters had repelled the British, the Japanese and every would-be landlord and “property owner” in the history of Hong Kong.  So why not make them the centerpiece of the book?

I’ve since come to realize it’s because he was writing a personal historical fantasy, not a tactical or practical guide. Although Kowloon truly was a Temporary Autonomous Zone, and it’s a cool idea to read and think about, it truly sucked to live there. This is best summed up by Coilhouse‘s conclusion:

Yes, the anarchistic types out there are correct when they say that the Walled City is evidence that humans can co-exist, and even thrive, without laws constantly piled on them. But it’s not that simple. After all, without massive police raids (government incarnate), the place would have probably become a mob-run tyranny. Its residents had a degree of freedom that anyone who comes home to piles of bills or endless forms can’t help but envy. They also had darkness, a lower life expectancy, filthy living conditions and huge numbers of drug addicts.

But if the Walled City is a reminder that lawlessness isn’t quite as cleanly romantic as some might think, it also reminds us that a staggering number of societies are possible “‘ and that every one of them has a price.

It’s also worth meditating on how Kowloon came to achieve their “hands-off” status: by kicking up such a profound shit-storm of noise and problems, every single time someone tried to exert their authority, that everyone in power simply gave up. As David Robinson puts it in his great Tofu Magazine piece, “British policy came to regard Walled City as something of a hornets nest “‘ best not to be kicked unless absolutely necessary.”

Perhaps the lesson here is that there are no little things when it comes to defending your freedom. If either of those words are supposed to mean something, there are no acceptable tradeoffs or reasonable comprimises.

FURTHER READING: The best narrative summary is from Coilhouse, and the Wiki is surprisingly dense.  My Father Lived in Kowloon City, and the hilariously mis-translated but quite interesting story of a Japanese expedition into the city the week before it was demolished in 1993. If you’re interesting in more photos, more information, and more pages to scroll through, then say hello the Skyscraper Forum, who have collected pretty much all there is to know in one thread.

Three images from an adventure 1 week before the city was demolished

Technoccult SEO: Veteran WordPress advice from Klintron

I just did a guest post over at Justin Boland’s Pizza SEO:

I’ve been blogging since the dark ages of 1999. My oldest and most popular blog is Technoccult, which I’ve been doing since 2001. My most important tips are non-technical and platform independent, and I’m presenting them first. The second part of this article covers WordPress tweaks and plugins, which is what Justin actually asked me to write about.

If you don’t read any of the hints, just keep this in mind: Do everything you can to make reading your blog easy, and avoid annoying your readers. Write a good blog, retain your readership, and it will grow. Your readers will e-mail and IM your URL. They will link to you on their blogs. They will link to you on social media services. That’s how you build traffic. Search engines are always making changes in how they rank stuff, so question SEO wizardry and focus on reader experience.

Full Story: Pizza SEO

Update: I’ve started a Portland SEO consulting practice.

Rage Froobling

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What is Rage Froobling? It seems to be an aggressive and competitive version of Parkour. Since it’s a fairly new thing, there’s not much available on the net about it. Parkour is a mind/body discipline with the objective of moving from point A to point B as efficiently and quickly as possible. It is frequently used in military training and is used as a means to overcome obstacles in an emergency.

“Parkour is a physical activity that is difficult to categorize. It is often mis-categorized as a sport or an extreme sport; however, parkour has no set of rules, team work, formal hierarchy, or competitiveness. It is an art or discipline that resembles self-defense in the ancient martial arts. According to David Belle, “the physical aspect of parkour is getting over all the obstacles in your path as you would in an emergency. You want to move in such a way, with any movement, as to help you gain the most ground on someone or something, whether escaping from it or chasing toward it.” Thus, when faced with a hostile confrontation with a person, one will be able to speak, fight, or flee. As martial arts are a form of training for the fight, parkour is a form of training for the flight. Because of its unique nature, it is often said that parkour is in its own category.

A characteristic of parkour is efficiency. Practitioners move not only as fast as they can, but also in the most direct and efficient way possible; a characteristic that distinguishes it from the similar practice of freerunning, which places more emphasis on freedom of movement, such as acrobatics. Efficiency also involves avoiding injuries, short and long-term, part of why parkour’s unofficial motto is être et durer (to be and to last). Those who are skilled at this activity normally have an extremely keen spatial awareness (a.k.a. air sense). Traceurs say that parkour also influences one’s thought process by enhancing self-confidence and critical-thinking skills that allow one to overcome everyday physical and mental obstacles. A study by Neuropsychiatrie de l’Enfance et de l’Adolescence in France reflects that traceurs seek for more sensation and leadership than gymnastic practitioners.”

(Rage Froobling. h/t: Live For The Outdoors)

(Related: Documentary on Parkour: “Jump Britain”. Philosophy and Parkour via Parkour North America.)

Monty Python Goes To YouTube!

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“In a bold move, Monty Python announces their partnership with YouTube, creating the first official Monty Python Video Channel on the internet. To all the fans who’ve for some unknown reason have sat, progressively losing their eyesight, squinting at their computer screens, watching The Dead Parrot Sketch, or missing the climax of The Fish Slapping Dance all because you’re too damned cheap to buy the shiny new DVD Box Set, you who have gawped at grainy bootlegged Python snippets only to be left unfulfilled by the ripped-off rubbish posted on YouTube… Well loyal Python fan, strain no longer! Now you can save your eyesight and join the Monty Python YouTube Channel, where you can enjoy high quality Python lounging in your knickers. Yes, that’s right, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your laptop to join the Flying Circus.”

(Monty Python’s YouTube Channel via Pythonline)

Physicists Find Dark Matter, or Something Even More Strange

A new experiment may have found the first direct evidence of dark matter particles, a discovery that could begin to unravel one of the biggest mysteries in physics.

Theorists believe that dark matter, made up of of weakly-interacting massive particles, composes 23 percent of the universe, but no one has ever directly detected one of these WIMPs.

Now, physicists have announced they’ve spotted electrons with just about the amount of energy they would have expected to be made by a particular kind of WIMP entering the visible world.

John Wefel of Louisiana State University and colleagues report in Nature Wednesday that they could have detected “Kaluza-Klein” electron-positron pairs resulting from the annihilation of these WIMPS.

The KK particles are predicted by multiple-dimension theories of the universe and have long-been a leading candidate as the substance of dark matter. The new discovery then, if confirmed, would provide evidence that the fabric of space-time has many “compact” dimensions beyond the four that humans perceive.

Full Story: Wired

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