Friday, August 05, 2005

Tech news service CNet wanted to do a story on how Google searches made it possible to get a profile of someone fairly quickly. And they needed a guinea pig to make the point. So, they choose Google's own CEO, and led the story with a bunch of details gleaned from their own Google search --- most ultimately culled either from other articles in the public press, or from blurbs gathered by speech announcements and the like, and none very private. Google's response? A footnote to a subsequent piece reveals they're not talking to CNet for a year.

Google is famous for answering queries about the ethical implications of their technology by pointing to their own vague, feel-good policy of "don't be evil.". Well, no one there ever said "don't be petty."

via slashdot.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A lot of lefty blogs are ragging on Max Boot's recent column on the dangers presented by the Chinese government. For good reason. Boot, as usual, is easy to mock --- Boot's own

The bid by China's state-owned CNOOC Ltd. to acquire Unocal? Resource warfare. Attempts by China's spy apparatus to infiltrate U.S. high-tech firms and defense contractors? Technological warfare. China siding against the United States in the U.N. Security Council over the invasion of Iraq? International-law warfare. Gen. Zhu's threat to nuke the United States? Media warfare.

verges so close to self-parody that The Editors' riff

Speaking Chinese? Linguistic warfare. Walking upright? Bipedal warfare. Breathing oxygen? Gas warfare. Inhabiting China? Land war[fare] in Asia. Covering Bob Dylan songs in an English folk style? Warfareport Convention. Skipping school to go to a Cubbies game? Warferris Beuller's Day Off.

seems almost redundant.

Disturbing as it may be that this Bootsian hyperventilation is what passes for thought among the neocons, the irony is that he's making a bad argument to a good point. The Chinese ruling class clearly does see the United States as a long-term rival. They certainly don't see us as a friend (as was on plain display during the spy-plane crisis early in Dubya's term). And so, if they see a way to undermine our position while doing less damage to their own, it's perfectly reasonable to expect them to take it. Boot runs off the rails by calling it "warfare" --- it's not politics continued, in a Clausewitzian way, by other means, it's just plain politics. But it's real nonetheless. And you can't ignore it when you're trying to figure out the Chinese leaderships' behavior.

Let's take, for instance, their highly peculiar affection for buying dollar-denominated securities of all kinds. Their avowed purpose for doing this has been to peg the value of their currency to the dollar (or, more recently, to a basket of currencies including the dollar). Over the short term, despite Dubya's political protests, this is an arrangement which has benefits for both parties. But in the long run, as I've explained a few times already, both parties are going to get hurt --- perhaps more, perhaps less, depending on the timing with which it happens.

Now, the Chinese leaders know this is coming, as much as anyone else does. And they certainly could ask the math whizzes that trade every day for their central bank under its jewelled globe to see if they could arrange a crisis so that the U.S. gets hurt worse than they do --- perhaps, say, by timing it so that they have other export markets in place to replace the demand they're losing from us, while we're unable to replace the cheap manufacturing which they've been providing, suddenly no longer cheap due to the inevitable dollar drop. And if they could ask, why not?

One possible answer is that in a staged crisis, China would get still get hurt domestically. That is the answer that would apply in any democratic country. But China is not that. They are the proud heirs of a party that has a long history of ordering slaughters. Their plan for any domestic unrest, particularly the forseeable kind, would be very much the same one we saw in full effect lo these many years ago at Tiananmen Square.

The Chinese, in other words, can be reasonably expected on the basis of their own history, to have no problem hurting themselves, if in the process they hurt us worse. (High-level play in their ancient board game Wei-Chi, known in English as Go, puts a premium on the well executed sacrifice).

And yet many folks in the West openly mock the contention that the Chinese leaders will follow any course other than the one that maximizes the economic interest of their population. The Chinese Communist Party's greatest trick yet seems to be getting a whole lot of westerners to act as if it no longer exists...

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The new Federal transportation bill has a real novelty in it --- a $100 million pork project that the home-town district doesn't seem to want:

Hours after the House of Representatives approved a big transportation bill on Friday morning, Representative Jerrold L. Nadler informed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that it would get a $100 million federal grant to design and engineer a freight tunnel under New York Harbor.

Usually, news of such largesse would be cause for celebration. But the Port Authority did not ask for the $100 million, says it did not know about the grant, and is not very interested in the project.

Affected neighborhoods are up in arms, and the governors of both New York and New Jersey, to whom the Port Authority ultimately reports, say they're against it.

To deepen the mystery, this is pork that was doled out by a Congress under very firm Republican control --- to Nadler, a Democrat. Now, why would they do that sort of thing?

Well, to begin with, the project is obviously not very likely to actually happen. But look further. Republicans have been in control of the government of New York City and State for some time now. Long enough that it might have been awkward for them to rally the base with talk of wasteful Democratic pork. But if they want to use that line now, they have their talking point.

Would this Republican Congress pass a $100 million appropriation solely to give fellow Republicans a talking point? Well, what do you think?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

There was a calamity in Iraq a few weeks ago. A small one --- no fatalities even, and perhaps no permanent consequences. Amid all the suicide bombings, a mere false arrest might well be beneath notice. And yet. It has nothing to offer directly on the insurgency or its death toll. (The signal fact is that the people arrested were not involved). Nor on the economy. Nor on the infrastructure. (Saddam was corruptly siphoning off even the limited revenue that he was allowed under our quasi-embargo to build his own palaces! The electricity situation is improving! We'll have the power on as long as he did any day now!) But it does have a bit to say about the kind of society we're creating in Iraq, as Tom Friedman advocated before the war, as a showcase of what Western democracy has to offer to the rest of the region.

The calamity was the false arrest of Khalid Jarrar, apparently for reading web pages in English (comments on his brother's blog) which someone somehow misunderstood as jihaddi propaganda. He did, I hasten to note, get out --- perhaps due to the fuss stirred up by other Iraqi bloggers, starting with his brother Raed, and he now has a post up on the experience. It will be no surprise that he was beaten, of course, as part of his basic interrogation:

They started by asking me: "What's the connection between you and the London Bombs?" !!!

And I was like: "haaaaa???!!.". I said: "London Bombs???! Nothing!"


A heavy hand landed on my neck, my brain was too busy to feel the pain.

Though it could have been worse:

I was so lucky that I was taken to the Mokhabarat directly. Usually you have to go through a police station or a center of the national guards to get there, where the standard procedure of torturing is hanging people upside down and beating them with cables for hours, pinching their bodies with electrical drills, burning them with hot water, ripping out their finger nails, breaking bones, using acids on the wounds after whipping them, the dead bodies that are found in the dumpsters in Baghdad even had their eyes taken out of them, and a lot of these things happened with people that I know, or with people that were detained with the people that were with me in this jail, before they were brought here, and the list of torturing techniques is long, and you don't want to hear them or know about them if you want to sleep at night.

What's really striking, to me, though, isn't that, or Khalid's prison companions who were beaten into false confessions. It's what it takes to earn this sort of treatment:

Firas: a 26 years old light skinned guy, was walking in the street with grocery bags in his hands when a car attacked an American convoy, he ran away, in a normal reaction, so the police followed him and caught him, and beat him continuously for 7 hours with pipes while he was tied up to a chair, and when he didn't confess of attacking the US troops or Iraqi police, his investigators wrote a report that he must have been trained in foreign terrorists camps to tolerate torturing, and sent him to this place, supposedly a place for more expert interrogators.

Another guy has been cooped up for months because his friends call him "Abu Ayid", and that sounded to someone a bit like all the other terrorists that call themselves "Abu something-or-other". Because it's a common way for Arab men to refer to each other.

The public excuse for the invasion was the threat of Saddam's WMD. The Downing Street Memo says that Dubya's crew was perfectly well aware that other countries had a much greater WMD threat, and we now know Saddam presented none. There were his ties to "terror", too --- but our allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, are much more implicated in international jihaddi terrorism than Saddam ever was.

What's left as an excuse for the invasion is Saddam's cruelty to his own people, who were subject to bombing and mortar attacks if they happened to live near rebels (though not around Fallujah --- Saddam got along with that crowd), who could be grabbed and tortured for any reason or no reason at all. And we claim to be making things better. So read Khalid's account. These are the blessings of democracy.