Archive for May, 2008

Can’t even run a show trial right

May 30, 2008

Talking Points Memo | Gitmo judge removed from Canadian’s case

The chief judge for the Guantanamo tribunals, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, dismissed Brownback and appointed a new judge for Khadr’s case without explanation, defense lawyer Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler said.

In November, Brownback said in court that Defense Department officials “didn’t like” a ruling that dismissed the charges over a lack of jurisdiction. That decision was overturned on appeal.

Khadr’s case has been on track to be one of the first to trial at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba. Khadr, the son of an alleged al-Qaida financier, was captured in Afghanistan at age 15 and accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces soldier.

Military prosecutors have been pressing Brownback to set a trial date, but he has repeatedly directed them first to satisfy defense requests for access to potential evidence. At a hearing earlier this month, he threatened to suspend the proceedings altogether unless the detention center provided records of Khadr’s confinement.

Debacles like this really show what incompetent managers inhabit this administration. If you’re going to have a kangaroo court, then appoint some effing kangaroos to run it, not anyone who might develop even the tiniest shred of conscience or respect for legal process. Having to swap out apparatchiks because you can’t get the rulings you want is a sign of planning right in line with “they’ll greet us with flowers.”

This maneuver is also of a piece with messes like the warrantless-wiretapping scandal. It’s not as if the people who have been calling foul are great civil libertarians, it’s just that the behavior of this administration goes beyond the pale for all but the most dedicated psychopaths.

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And this differs from the botnet folks how?

May 30, 2008

Revision3

First, they willingly admitted to abusing Revision3’s network, over a period of months, by injecting a broad array of torrents into our tracking server. They were able to do this because we configured the server to track hashes only – to improve performance and stability. That, in turn, opened up a back door which allowed their networking experts to exploit its capabilities for their own personal profit.

Second, and here’s where the chain of events come into focus, although not the motive. We’d noticed some unauthorized use of our tracking server, and took steps to de-authorize torrents pointing to non-Revision3 files. That, as it turns out, was exactly the wrong thing to do. MediaDefender’s servers, at that point, initiated a flood of SYN packets attempting to reconnect to the files stored on our server. And that torrential cascade of “Hi”s brought down our network.

This is one of the many reasons that vigilante justice is such a bad idea. If the FBI investigation doesn’t lead to an indictment or a plea, I might change my mind — there are plenty of hackers who have faced criminal charges for doing what they thought was the right thing, but which they weren’t authorized to do.

(And if giving false information to Myspace is a crime but deliberately bringing down someone’s network because you think you might not like them isn’t, well…)

The map is the territory

May 28, 2008

BBC NEWS | UK | Computer generated abuse ‘banned’

Ms Eagle said the plans were “not about criminalising art or pornographic cartoons more generally, but about targeting obscene, and often very realistic, images of child sexual abuse which have no place in our society”.

Shaun Kelly, safeguarding manager for children’s charity NCH, said the proposals were a step in the right direction.

He said: “This is a welcome announcement which makes a clear statement that drawings or computer-generated images of child abuse are as unacceptable as a photograph.

Unacceptable? When you’re talking about sending people to jail for some long number of years, that sounds a little mealy-mouthed.

It remains to be seen exactly what the wording on this looks like. It seems weird to think that the brits will be able to send people to jail for pencil sketches of underage sex while there’s still a zillion-dollar market in dressing real kids in sexual costumes (just as long as they stay just this side of some unwritten line), taking pictures of them, selling products with them, even parading them around in pageants.

Or perhaps it’s the very prevalence of that commercial sexualized treatment of children and adolescents that makes people freak out so badly when artists trespass on similar territory.

Police shut down photographer Bill Henson’s exhibition, seized images and are also considering charging him.

His work, featuring naked 13-year-olds, was condemned by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as “revolting”.

But in an open letter, Blanchett and 42 other leading arts figures said the action risked damaging Australia’s cultural reputation.

Cost-cutting

May 28, 2008

Beat the Press Archive | The American Prospect

NPR had a very good piece this morning detailing how investment banks accepted and passed on mortgage loans that they knew to be bad. According to its report, one investment bank had a contract with New Century, a leading issuer of subprime mortgages, that it would reject no more than 2.5 percent of its loans. Of course, such a contract would be an invitation to submit bad loans.

I’m trying to figure out why anyone would have such a contract term. On the one hand it simplifies due non-diligence by the investment bank — they just have to set their criteria so that no more than 2.5% of the loans being handed over for bundling get rejected. And for New Century i simplifies the financing stream, because they know that they will be on the hook for no more than 2.5% of the volume of paper they generated. So: profit. (The investment bank gets the flow of underlying paper to kite CDOs with and rake in all the various fees, commisions blah blah blah; New Century gets reliable financing.)

But having such a fixed number suggests something else to me, namely that there’s something in either the marketing pitch for the resulting securities or in the rating program for certifying the securities as AAA that depended on the percentage of rejected loans in the package. And that would be slam-dunk go-to-jail-and-stay-there conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

Is the terror pork drying up?

May 28, 2008

States Chafing at U.S. Focus on Terrorism – NYTimes.com

Local officials do not dismiss the terrorist threat, but many are trying to retool counterterrorism programs so that they focus more directly on combating gun violence, narcotics trafficking and gangs — while arguing that these programs, too, should qualify for federal financing, on the theory that terrorists may engage in criminal activity as a precursor to an attack.

Of course it’s stupid to get small towns in the middle of nowhere to guard themselves against IEDs (which tend in the US to be used only against federal office buildings and abortion clinics, after all). But It’s really not that unreasonable to expect that money given to states and towns for combating terrorism be used to, combat actual terrorism rather than just random crime and violence.

Except there isn’t any actual terrorism in most of the country (at least not the islamic kind). The Feds have gutted their usual law-enforcement aid to states and cities, and Bush-era tax cuts (which automatically propagate to the tax laws of most states) have gutted budgets even further. So if someone is handing out free money to do something really stupid, why not take it and do something you already need to do, and just tell the stupid people you’re using it to do stupid things?

Because, it turns out, eventually they audit you and start insisting you do the stupid things you promised to do in the first place.

This article is just more stupidity piled on top, because it buys into the idea that the enormous slush fund that is Homeland Security funding should just be diverted to whatever local people think they need, instead of, say, funding law enforcement and other local priorities properly. (Of course, you can’t do that because that would require tax revenue; Homeland Security and war funding, meanwhile, just go on the credit card.)

And that is also why we end up spending Homeland security money on making sure that rubes get to casinos safely.

The law of the excluded middle

May 28, 2008

Paedophile escapes jail for abusing girl, 11, after judge says ‘she welcomed sex’ | the Daily Mail

Judge Robert Atherton triggered outrage when he told Manchester Crown Court the child had invited Jon Dixon’s attack as she had a “sexual awareness” that would make someone twice her age blush.

Last night children’s charities condemned his words.

Michele Elliott, of the child protection charity Kidscape, accused the judge of “partially blaming” the victim and called for him to be removed from hearing cases involving child abuse.

The court heard that the pair met in an internet chatroom called Flirtomatic in February last year where the girl was posing as a 20-year-old.

Dixon and his victim exchanged 900 text graphic messages over a two-week period before the girl told Dixon she was actually aged 12 – although her real age was 11.

He continued to pursue her with more graphic sexual text messages, emails and a request for pornographic photos before they met.

On my planet, once an adult learns that the object of their sexual desires is 12 instead of 20, that should be the end of the story. But if you do think this pedophile isn’t to blame for grooming an 11-year-old girl to have sex with him, the proper conclusion is not that the girl herself somehow magically came up with the flirting savvy and sexual knowledge typical of someone much older. Somewhere in her family or circle of acquaintances I’m betting on another pedophile who wittingly or unwittingly set this up.

Questions that answer themselves

May 28, 2008

The Reality-Based Community

Commenter “oddball” on the WaPo politics blog makes a point I hadn’t thought of in this regard: if it’s a bad idea to tempt potential non-coms away from the service by paying their college tuition, why is it a good idea to let Blackwater and other mercenary companies tempt them away by offering them six-figure salaries, which will eventually be billed through to the taxpayers with overhead added?

Always watching

May 28, 2008
Yorkshire police head off pillow fight anarchy | The Register

The West Yorkshire city had been almost drowned just a few weeks ago when a flashmob staged a 350-person water fight which resulted in the trashing of an ornamental garden and thousands of pounds worth of damage.

The bedding-powered bundle was scheduled for the weekend at Woodhouse Moor in Leeds, prompting fears of further mayhem, not to mention mass allergy outbreaks.

But this time the authorities swung into action, and after desperate pleas from the police, the organisers removed the ad from Facebook.

There had been fears that pillow-touting scofflaws would turn up nevertheless. In the event, nothing happened at all in Leeds this weekend.

Spiderman would need really big palms

May 28, 2008

Electroadhesion Robots

As the name implies, electroadhesion is an electrically controllable adhesion technology. It involves inducing electrostatic charges on a wall substrate using a power supply connected to compliant pads situated on the moving robot. SRI has demonstrated robust clamping to common building materials including glass, wood, metal, concrete, etc. with clamping pressures in the range of 0.5 to 1.5 N per square cm of clamp (0.8 to 2.3 pounds per square inch). The technology works on conductive and non-conductive substrates, smooth or rough materials, and through dust and debris. Unlike conventional adhesives or dry adhesives, the electroadhesion can be modulated or turned off for mobility or cleaning. The technology uses a very small amount of power (on the order of 20 microwatts/Newton weight held) and shows the ability to repeatably clamp to wall substrates that are heavily covered in dust or other debris.

This is way cool (especially the part about being able to cling to nonsmooth surfaces) and the limitations make it even more fascinating. They’re claiming a force of about 1-2 psi, so with a simpleminded coefficient of friction that means supporting 200 pounds of geared-up infiltrator would require 100-200 square inches of electropad on the wall at all times. Add another 50% so that you can move an arm or a leg without sliding down to the ground, and you’re talking 150-300 square inches. The low end would be four pads each about the size of half a sheet of typing paper.

Maybe you could just make a coverall out of the stuff and shimmy your way up.

Very cool if true

May 25, 2008

TheRecord.com – CanadaWorld – WCI student isolates microbe that lunches on plastic bags

Next, Burd tried mixing his most effective strain with the others. He found strains one and two together produced a 32 per cent weight loss in his plastic strips. His theory is strain one helps strain two reproduce.

Tests to identify the strains found strain two was Sphingomonas bacteria and the helper was Pseudomonas.

A researcher in Ireland has found Pseudomonas is capable of degrading polystyrene, but as far as Burd and his teacher Mark Menhennet know — and they’ve looked — Burd’s research on polyethelene plastic bags is a first.

Next, Burd tested his strains’ effectiveness at different temperatures, concentrations and with the addition of sodium acetate as a ready source of carbon to help bacteria grow.

At 37 degrees and optimal bacterial concentration, with a bit of sodium acetate thrown in, Burd achieved 43 per cent degradation within six weeks.

The plastic he fished out then was visibly clearer and more brittle, and Burd guesses after six more weeks, it would be gone. He hasn’t tried that yet.

Should be easy enough to duplicate.

And the nice thing is that the reaction won’t move fast enough at dry room temperature to destroy civilization…