Thursday, July 03, 2008

Learning to Drive While Saving the Planet...

Writing in The Montreal Gazette's "Green Life" section, Michelle Lalonde explains "eco-driving"--developed by my fellow UC Berkeley Philosophy Club alumnus Pierro Hirsch of Virage Simulation. Basically, he has a computer simulator that makes learning to drive into a video game, thus saving gallons of expensive gasoline on each lesson. Voila! Green Driver's Ed...
This is good news for two reasons. First, these machines will allow new drivers to perfect their skills in challenging and dangerous situations without facing real risk on the mean streets. And second, these machines don't pollute.
The Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec has recently approved car simulators for driver education. Driving schools are now allowed to have their students use simulators for up to 50 per cent of their practical courses.

Since the official driving course in Quebec includes 12 hours behind the wheel, this means those learning to drive could spend up to six hours on a simulator instead of burning real fuel.

Just like cockpit simulators used for training pilots, Virage's car simulators look and feel like the inside of a compact car. They include an open cabin with a driver's seat and console with fully functional instruments, three large visual display terminals, and a vibration system that mimics the road surface. So if you hit a pothole, a gravel shoulder or even a curb on the simulator, you'll feel it...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Alice Marquis Dot Com

My friend Alice just left voicemail to let me know that she has her own website which links to all her books and writings--and here's my link to An excerpt from the Works in Progress section:
Why Not Pop?
The Question that Changed 20th Century art
Here are the first paragraphs of the Work in Progress, subject to change any day.

Chapter 1
Heralds of Change

For some years during the supposedly quiescent 1950s, a genie was incubating within American culture; by the time it began drifting out of its bottle and was recognized as more than a fad but a force for drastic change, no one knew how to stuff it back in. An energetic new generation was taking over. Battered in the Depression and disciplined in a brutal world war, this group was better educated and more affluent than any generation in American history; it could afford to take chances. Its creative members were unlike the 1930s radicals, who had banded together to embrace political ideologies – Communism, Socialism, Trotskyism, and even, for some, fascism. The artistic rebels of the 1950s barged into the prevailing culture alone, leaping to the podium at bookstores, in colleges, and into art galleries, preaching … exactly what?

2. Arts Take Center Stage, 1961-1965

The election of John Kennedy and the White House’s strong focus on intellectuals and arts, persuaded a new generation of Americans to become interested in art, perhaps even to buy a work or two for the living room. Bathed in the light of optimism that accompanied the young president’s ascent to power, the heavy, difficult philosophical message of Abstract Expressionist art seemed a bit passé. In a prosperous country, where television and mass magazines coached the newly affluent in upscale behavior and jet set posturing, the public was ready to embrace whatever – and whoever – offered a fresh take on the world, and the illustrations and talking points for discussing it.

3. But Is It Art? 1962-1967

“Pop Art Sells On and On – Why?” was the plaintive headline in May 1964, above John Canaday’s sardonic article in the New York Times Magazine. After five years as chief art critic of America’s newspaper of record, he had a reputation for witty prose as well as an urbane resistance to various art factions that attempted to browbeat his taste. Canaday was also the first Times art critic with a solid background as an art historian. A graduate of University of Texas, he held an M.A. from Yale, had studied at the École Louvre in Paris, taught at Tulane University, directed the Philadelphia Museum of Art Education Division for nine years, and prepared a popular book series, Metropolitan Seminars in Art, for the New York museum. When he joined The New York Times, he was fifty-two years old and steeped in the Modernist canon. Understandably, John Canaday reacted warily to the advent of Pop art. He wondered about the staying power of works he saw as “just something old (commercial art) dusted off and jazzed up.” Still, he noted that the 1964 Biennale was “loaded with Pop,” and the blatant new direction was also “bulldozing its way through the groves of academe.” Pop’s improbable success “transforms the natural shudder of horror,” he wrote, “into the artificially induced frisson of pleasure that … is the first test of a work of art.”

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cousin Lucy's Spoon: More Everything is Deeply Intertwingled

Small world:Cousin Lucy's Spoon: More Everything is Deeply Intertwingled

Do you like this blog?

Then join its Facebook Fan Page...(I have no idea if this will work, but saw Arianna Huffington invited me to joint hers for the Huffington Post, so I thought, if it is good enough for Arianna, it's good enough to try...).

The Daemon in the Machine

Wired Magazine's Josh McHugh details how Leinad Zeraus (Daniel Suarez) employed Google, blogs, and print-on-demand technology to generate demand for his self-published techno-thriller:
Suarez finished Daemon in late 2004, then submitted it to dozens of literary agents. "Three actually read it," he says. "One thought it was too long for the thriller genre, and the other two thought it was too complex."

Finally, he and his wife, Michelle Sites, also an IT consultant, decided to take a page from the Daemon playbook and infiltrate the Internet's power grid. In fall 2006, they approached bloggers whose writings on gaming, warfare, AI, and social media Suarez had mined for the book. The couple formed their own publishing firm, Verdugo Press, and began producing copies through the print-on-demand service Lightning Source.

A dozen or so bloggers wrote posts about the book, kindling sales of up to 50 copies a month. Then in April 2007, Rick Klau, head of publisher services at Feedburner, got a copy. Two things happened: Google acquired Feedburner, and Klau, electrified by Daemon's all-too-plausible IT scenario, began pushing the book on anyone who would listen.

"I just felt it would be a travesty if a lot of people didn't read it," Klau says. A new colleague at Google, algorithm wrangler Matt Cutts, gave Daemon a shout-out on his blog. Cyberwar pundit John Robb mentioned it on his site, and Ito wrote that it was "believable and realistic and still mind-blowing." Brand blurbed it on Amazon, saying Suarez was "better than early Tom Clancy." As of March, more than 1,200 copies had been shipped, and Zeraus nee Suarez is planning to release a sequel, Freedom™, later this year. "When I finished the book," Brand says, "my feeling was that the sequel is not only desirable, but necessary."

Hopkins Grad Student Killed In Iraq

A sad email from Johns Hopkins President William Brody arrived this morning:
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

We learned late today of the tragic death of one of our own in Iraq.

Nicole Suveges, a graduate student in political science who was working
in Iraq as a civilian, was among four Americans killed an explosion
Tuesday in the offices of the district council in the critical Sadr City
section of Baghdad.

Two U.S. soldiers, a State Department employee, an Italian translator
working for the Defense Department, and six Iraqis also were killed,
according to news reports.

Nicole was in Iraq as a political scientist working in the Army’s
Human Terrain System program, advising the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of
the 4th Infantry Division. A statement from BAE Systems, the company
that employed her, said she helped Army leaders working to reduce
violence in the community and rebuild local infrastructure. Her
intelligence and savvy, combined with her experience as an Army
reservist serving in Bosnia in the 1990s, reportedly made her especially
effective in her work to improve the lives of everyday Iraqis.

I am told that Nicole also was using this second tour in Iraq -- she
had previously served there as a civilian contractor several years ago
-- to complete field research for her planned dissertation. She was
exploring the process of transition from an authoritarian regime to
democracy. She was investigating especially what that process means for
and how it affects ordinary citizens.

Members of the Political Science Department describe Nicole as an
extraordinarily bright, engaging, kind person, intellectually curious
and outgoing. She also was known as an active citizen of the department,
regularly attending seminars and helping to organize graduate student
activities. As a former Reserve soldier herself and as a person in her
mid-30s, she brought a different and valuable perspective to the
intellectual life of the department.

Nicole was committed to using her learning and experience to make the
world a better place, especially for people who have suffered through
war and conflict. In that, she exemplifies all that we seek to do at
Johns Hopkins: to use knowledge for the good of humanity.

This is the third time in a little over a year that we have learned of
the death in Iraq of a young member of the Johns Hopkins community. Last
year, Lt. Colby Umbrell ’04 and Capt. Jonathan Grassbaugh ’03, both
of the U.S. Army, were killed in action there. Their deaths and
Nicole’s diminish us all. But their lives -- lives devoted to
service to others -- honor us and our university. We are better for
their having been among us.

Wendy and I join all of you in offering our deepest sympathy to
Nicole’s husband, to her family, to her colleagues and to her


Bill Brody

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reporters Without Borders Asks Cuba to Free Imprisoned Journalist

Just got this email from Benoît Hervieu of Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders appeals to Raúl Castro's government for a show of magnanimity towards the organisation's correspondent, Ricardo González Alfonso, and other imprisoned journalists in return for the European Union's decision on 23 June to lift the political sanctions it had imposed Cuba. The Cuban government had made this a condition for restoring normal relations with the EU.

"There have been a few advances in freedom of expression and information since Raúl Castro took over as Council of State president on 24 February, with Cubans being given the right to buy their own computer equipment or enter tourist hotels that have better Internet connections," Reporters Without Borders said. "The dialogue begun by the Spanish government undoubtedly contributed to this, just as it led to the release in February of independent journalist Alejandro González Raga and two other detainees from the 2003 'Black Spring'."

The press freedom organisation added: "A similar gesture is now needed with the 23 other journalists who are still imprisoned, 19 of whom have been held since the March 2003 crackdown. The EU sanctions imposed after the crackdown, which were suspended in 2005, have now been definitively lifted. The Cuba government got its way, so there is no longer any excuse for sidestepping the call for an improvement in human rights and free expression."

As well as being the Reporters Without Borders Cuba correspondent, González is the founder of the Manuel Márquez Sterling journalists' association and the independent magazine De Cuba. He was arrested on 18 March 2003 and was given a 20-year prison sentence on the absurd charge of being a "mercenary" in the pay of the United States. He has been held in Havana's Combinado del Este prison since the end of 2004.

Now aged 58, he suffers from high blood pressure and cervical arthritis, and has problems with his circulation and digestion. After a long spell in the prison hospital and a total of four operations in 2006 and 2007, he was returned to his cell on 27 January of this year, although he is still in very poor health.

His wife, Alida Viso Bello, told Reporters Without Borders on 23 June that for the past month he has not been getting the Captopril medicine that heart doctors prescribed for his high blood pressure, and that he is having a lot of arthritis attacks because he does not have an appropriate chair in his cell. Viso never got a reply to the request she submitted last February for him to be released on health grounds.

With a total of 23 journalists detained, Cuba continues to be the world's biggest prison for the media after China. It is the western hemisphere's only country that not does permit any form of media that is not under direct government control.

IRS Employee Arrested in DC Tax Scam Scandal

This link to footage from local NBC television station, WRC shows the "perp walk" of Robert and Patricia Stephen, allegedly part of a ring that stole more than $20 million in DC property taxes. Ten people allegedly in the ring have been arrested so far--but to date DC's Chief Financial Officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, has neither resigned in disgrace nor been fired by DC's new Mayor, Adrian M. Fenty...

Ironically, Gandhi was 2007 Governing Magazine award-winner for "Public Official of the Year." Alan Greenblatt's blurb was headlined: "Natwar M. Gandhi: Fiscal Guardian." Here's what Greenblatt said:
Natwar Gandhi knows how to make red ink turn to black. This spring, he was approached by Amtrak, which hoped to lure him to erase an enormous deficit as he had already done as chief financial officer for Washington, D.C. City officials did everything they could think of to keep Gandhi in his current position, including boosting his salary by nearly $100,000. And this money maestro, who arrived in America from India 40 years ago with $7 in his pocket, chose to stay put.

What makes Gandhi worth such big bucks is the fact that he has come to embody fiscal rectititude in Washington, a city that a dozen years ago faced a $518 million deficit and came close to bankruptcy. "He is really an indispensable person for the District," says Mark Plotkin, a local radio commentator. "He has maintained fiscal integrity, and that wasn't the case for the District before."

Washington Post: Human Rights Reports Lied

Alex De Waal's mea culpa in Sunday's Washington Post Book World about his work for Human Rights Watch makes for interesting reading. Some excerpts:
Some years ago in a rebel-held enclave of Sudan, I met a man whom I had reported as assassinated. He was chief Hussein Karbus, and I was introduced to him by the man I had said killed him, the liberation fighter Yousif Kuwa Mekki. Both of them thought my mistake -- made in a human rights report -- was hilarious...
...As if in anticipation of that premature obituary, my doctoral research in Sudan documented why almost a million people had not died in the Darfur famine of 1984. Like many other students in the social sciences, I was driven by the urge to help. At the time, the world's leading center of refugee studies was the University of Khartoum, so that's where I headed first. When I arrived in Darfur, I expected to find mass starvation apart from the few places aid had reached. But that wasn't the reality. The Darfurians were hardier and more resourceful than "disaster tourists" (mostly well-meaning volunteers) could imagine. The nutritional arithmetic -- the failed harvests, the late relief efforts -- said they should all be dead. They weren't...
...Writing a human rights report demands the prose of a prosecutor rather than an anthropologist. The classic report begins with the testimonies of victims. It moves on to describe the perpetrators' responsibility (although the accused are rarely asked to give their side of the story) and concludes with condemnation and exhortation. I wrote a lot of these over the years, each one ending with a list of pro forma recommendations to President Bashir -- to release prisoners, to stop torture and the like. I prodded the U.S. administration for more sanctions. If I made a mistake, as I did with Karbus, colleagues informally advised me not to call attention to it. Human rights groups' credibility on the big issues might suffer if we confessed even to small errors, or so some people thought. In 1992, I left Human Rights Watch but continued to work on war, famine and genocide in Africa....

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Yad Vashem Rejects Hillel Kook (Peter Bergson) Exhibit

Yesterday, my cousin Dorothy went to the Wyman Institute conference in Tel Aviv calling for the recognition of Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook) as a hero of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem. According to this Jerusalem Post article, they've officially rejected him:
The Bergson Group is credited with helping to persuade the president in 1944 to establish the War Refugee Board, which ultimately saved 200,000 Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

"Omitting the saving of 200,000 lives is a mistake," [Professor David] Wyman said.

At the end of their Yad Vashem meeting, Michman told the group that the decision would be reviewed in 10 years, Wyman said.

The presentation of the petition, written by former president of the supreme court Meir Shamgar, was marred after Yad Vashem officials barred members of the press from accompanying the small delegation of historians and Kook family members who were delivering it, since the Wyman Institute had not coordinated the event with Yad Vashem's spokesperson's office.

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev, who was out of the country when the group presented the petition to his office, had previously said that the context of the Bergson group's activities was outside the primary purview of the museum, which deals with the story of victims and perpetrators.

Cathy Buckle's Letters from Zimbabwe

You can read first-person accounts from Zimbabwe by Cathy Buckle on her website: Letters:
Saturday 22nd June 2008

Dear Family and Friends,
A blanket of fear has descended over Zimbabwe as we count down the last few days before the second Presidential election. Our streets and towns are seething with police, army and youth brigade members. Our shops are empty of all basic foodstuffs; filling stations still have no diesel or petrol; water and electricity supplies are scarce; queues at banks and cash machines are immense and prices increase at least once every day. The trauma of living like this has been compounded a hundred fold as now each day brings news of terror, torture, kidnapping, burning and murder. The reports are of barbaric behaviour and extreme cruelty and they are coming from all over the country. The perpetrators move in groups; sometimes they come in the day but more often it is at night.

Free Ian McEwan!

According to The Telegraph (UK), author Ian McEwan is under attack from the Muslim Council of Britain, for his outspoken defense of Martin Amis's right to criticize Islamism:
McEwan, 60, said it was "logically absurd and morally unacceptable" that writers who speak out against militant Islam are immediately branded racist.

"As soon as a writer expresses an opinion against Islamism, immediately someone on the left leaps to his feet and claims that because the majority of Muslims are dark-skinned, he who criticises it is racist," he said in an interview in Corriere della Sera.

"This is logically absurd and morally unacceptable. Martin is not a racist. And I myself despise Islamism, because it wants to create a society that I detest, based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality and so on - we know it well."

McEwan recognised that similar views were held by some Christian hardliners in America.

"I find them equally absurd," he said. "I don't like these medieval visions of the world according to which God is coming to save the faithful and to damn the others. But those American Christians don't want to kill anyone in my city, that's the difference."
McEwan's personal website can be found via this link.

Why Doesn't the NY Times Appreciate Google News?

From this bitchy article in today's paper, it seems to have something to do with issues of control and fear of advertising losses--rather than appreciation for the great indexing job Google does for the paper (now that the NY Times' own printed index has become three pages of unreadable blurbs and plugs). Memo to NY Times editors: You can't force readers to read only what interests you and your advertisers (items about cross dressing for example)--try running news that interests your readers, and watch your circulation and hit counts grow...

Monday, June 23, 2008


Speaking of blog history, I tried a search for The Idler in the WayBackMachine depicted in Professor Wesch's Web 2.0 video--and it worked, sort of. They have archived --but not indexed-- all the back issues of Some that can now be looked at were marked with asterisks, on the Internet Archives WayBackMachine website:*/

National Press Club Blog

As a member of the National Press Club, I tried to get them interested in the Blogosphere way back when it was something new (see my July, 2002 article in The Idler, "Inside the Blogosphere: The Weblog Phenomenon," about a press event held at the Press Club--not mentioned by a single traditional media outlet at the time). I am glad to see that they have caught up with the times (though by now texting and mobile computing and social networking have become the next big things) and set up a National Press Club Blog, where you can read first-hand about Only In Washington-type events like a speech by Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev...I'm adding it to my blog roll.

E. Fuller Torrey's The Insanity Offense

Dr. Hilkert was of the view that involuntary commitment provides important protections to patients and society, and spoke to me about how people were dying for lack of psychiatric care. So, when I saw this review of The Insanity Offense: How America's Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizensin the Wall Street Journal last week by Dr. Paul McHugh:, I thought of him, once more...
The new laws deprived psychiatrists of the authority to hold patients under surveillance. In the past, psychiatrists could keep patients in a hospital if they were "of such mental condition . . . [as being] in need of supervision, treatment, care, or restraint." Now patients could not be held unless "immediately" or "imminently" dangerous to themselves or others.

The harrowing effects were evident almost immediately, and Dr. Torrey recounts them in vivid detail in "The Insanity Offense." First he offers plenty of statistics to indicate the state of the problem as it exists today -- citing, for instance, the number of seriously mentally ill who are in prison (218,000) or homeless (175,000) at any given time. But just as "numbers are too abstract" to convey the magnitude of a large-scale tragedy such as an earthquake or flood, he says, the true horror that resulted from the "deinstitutionalization" of the seriously mentally ill is best conveyed by individual stories.

Dr. Torrey recounts murder after murder by mentally ill patients, each of whom was actively avoiding treatment. We learn about William Bruce, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalized but refused to take his medication. His mother "tried to get help everywhere," a friend related, but "at each phase she was turned away because he never hurt anyone." Bruce bludgeoned his mother to death in 2006 and slit her throat.

The most awful example was the murder last year of 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech by Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old student who had been court-identified as in need of treatment but allowed by the college to attend classes because the school would not treat mentally ill students -- even those suffering from schizophrenia -- unless the students requested it. Mr. Cho could not be involuntarily committed because he was not an "imminent danger" to himself or others and was not "substantially unable to care for himself." As Dr. Torrey writes: "This is one of the most stringent state commitment statutes in the United States and another example of how changes in mental illness laws in the 1970s and 1980s continue to have real consequences."

Given the difficulty of committing the seriously mentally ill for involuntary treatment, our jails and prisons have become de facto mental institutions. Dr. Torrey's data indicate that more than 30% of inmates are mentally ill. He also describes the abuse they suffer in these brutal environments and the increase in suicides by mentally ill prisoners. The hellish scenes described by Dorothea Dix in 1843 have returned -- with a vengeance, given the huge increase in the American population since the mid-19th century.

What is to be done? "The Insanity Offense" calls for a restoring of some central state responsibility for these patients in ways that would permit monitoring them regularly, keeping them on their medications and insisting on a protected-care setting if they relapse. It is not necessary to reopen all the old state hospitals: The programs that are needed could be carried out in clinic offices with backup, shorter-stay hospital beds.

Al-Hurra's Last Hurrah?

Today's Washington Post article by Craig Whitlock suggests that somebody in Washington may be tired of paying millions of dollars for Arabic-language broadcasting that practically nobody watches:
Al-Hurra -- "The Free One" in Arabic -- is the centerpiece of a U.S. government campaign to spread democracy in the Middle East. Taxpayers have spent $350 million on the project. But more than four years after it began broadcasting, the station is widely regarded as a flop in the Arab world, where it has struggled to attract viewers and overcome skepticism about its mission.

Propaganda has become a primary front in the war against terrorism, with the United States and al-Qaeda each investing heavily to win over hearts and minds. This article examines one aspect of the U.S. effort to influence people through the airwaves. Tomorrow, another will look at al-Qaeda's online propaganda campaign.

Since its inception, al-Hurra has been plagued by mediocre programming, congressional interference and a succession of executives who either had little experience in television or could not speak Arabic, according to interviews with former staffers, other Arab journalists and viewers in the Middle East.

It has also been embarrassed by journalistic blunders. One news anchor greeted the station's predominantly Muslim audience on Easter by declaring, "Jesus is risen today!" After al-Hurra covered a December 2006 Holocaust-denial conference in Iran and aired, unedited, an hour-long speech by the leader of Hezbollah, Congress convened hearings and threatened to cut the station's budget.

"Many people just didn't know how to do their job," said Yasser Thabet, a former senior editor at al-Hurra. "If some problem happened on the air, people would just joke with each other, saying, 'Well, nobody watches us anyway.' It was very self-defeating."
Here's a link to a critical report on Al-Hurra from the GAO.

Sarkozy Pledges French Support for Israel

From today's Jerusalem Post:
Insisting that he had not come to teach Israelis a lesson in morality, Sarkozy said that the only people who could make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians were the two parties themselves, saying, "No one can do it without you, and it's a mistake to think that anyone else can do it for you."

In stating the case for an independent Palestinian state, Sarkozy, who is of Jewish descent, made the point that if anyone could understand Palestinian yearning for statehood it was the Jews who suffered so much and so long to realize that dream for themselves.

Yet while advocating the establishment of a Palestinian state, Sarkozy took great pains to assure Peres that he personally was, is and will be Israel's friend and that France would stand by Israel politically, economically and even militarily if necessary.

"The Iranian crisis is the central crisis of the world," he said, implying that while Israel may be the first potential target, no other country would be safe, and in this respect he pledged that France would always be at Israel's side to defend her existence.

Sunday, June 22, 2008