31 January, 2006

HAMAS and the democratic peace

Rudy Rummel has a very thoughtful post on his Democratic Peace website regarding the prospects for HAMAS and the predictions of democratic peace theory. One important point is that the Palestinian Authority shouldn't be classified as a democracy until they have completed the next regularly scheduled election and made a successful transfer of power. Read the whole thing. Here's an interesting short-term prediction:

RJR: By theory, as it needs to govern, and will face another election, Hamas should become increasingly moderate and willing to negotiate. 
Already, it is under tremendous pressure to moderate its stand on Israel. Europe and the United States will, they have said, stop all aid to the PA unless Hamas does so, and this aid is essential to the PA's economic survival. But, Iran and Saudi Arabia may produce the needed aid. We'll see.

A clip doesn't do it justice. Take a look at the whole post.

Pain rays, sonic blasters, and lasers

From DefenseTech. Be sure to follow their link for a better description of the technologies and the ethical/opertational issues involved.

For a while, now, I've been hearing about the Defense Department's plans to outfit a fighting vehicle with a pain ray, a sonic blaster, and a laser dazzler, too. I never figured they'd actually send the thing to Iraq, though. Project Sheriff, I assumed, would just be the military equivalent of a concept car -- a chance to see if some whiz-bang gear really worked together.

But the Pentagon may wind up deploying this straight-outta-sci-fi jalopy, after all. The Army just got the OK to spend $31.3 million on three deployable Project Sheriff vehicles, Inside Defense is reporting.

Right now, a "non-deployable Spiral 0 prototype" [Sheriff] is "undergoing environmental testing," according to the newsletter -- and waiting for one of the armed services to adopt the program as its own. That looks like it's happened, now. The "Spiral 1" Sheriff will equip either a Stryker fighting vehicle or a Cougar mine-fighter with the dazzler, the blaster, and the like. Oh, and it'll still have guns, too.

ADDENDUM from DM: I made a mistake in class and said there will be 13 test vehicles. There are only three, and they have not gone to Iraq.

Poor countries are growing faster than the rich

Almost twice the growth rate of the world as a whole. That's the assessment of the UN for the past few years, and its prediction for the year to come.

On the border

From ISN:

(Wednesday, 25 January: 15:40 CET) - Mexican migrants hoping to cross the US border illegally will be given government maps to show them the way.

The Mexican government said it was set to issue some 70,000 maps marking the location of main roads and water tanks in order to reduce the death toll among those seeking to enter America without a visa, news agencies reported on Wednesday.

An estimated 500 people died trying to cross the border last year.

Human rights groups lauded the government’s decision, while the US Department of Homeland Security said it would not help reduce the death toll.

It seems to me they might be working at cross purposes. (sarcasm alert)

29 January, 2006

Some things don't require comment.

From the January 24 New York Times:

Liberals and conservatives can become equally bug-eyed and irrational when talking politics, especially when they are on the defensive.

Using M.R.I. scanners, neuroscientists have now tracked what happens in the politically partisan brain when it tries to digest damning facts about favored candidates or criticisms of them. The process is almost entirely emotional and unconscious, the researchers report, and there are flares of activity in the brain's pleasure centers when unwelcome information is being rejected.

"Everything we know about cognition suggests that, when faced with a contradiction, we use the rational regions of our brain to think about it, but that was not the case here," said Dr. Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory and lead author of the study, to be presented Saturday at meetings of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Palm Springs, Calif.

The results are the latest from brain imaging studies that provide a neural explanation for internal states, like infatuation or ambivalence, and a graphic trace of the brain's activity.

In 2004, the researchers recruited 30 adult men who described themselves as committed Republicans or Democrats. The men, half of them supporters of President Bush and the other half backers of Senator John Kerry, earned $50 to sit in an M.R.I. machine and consider several statements in quick succession.

The first was a quote attributed to one of the two candidates: either a remark by Mr. Bush in support of Kenneth L. Lay, the former Enron chief, before he was indicted, or a statement by Mr. Kerry that Social Security should be overhauled. Moments later, the participants read a remark that showed the candidate reversing his position. The quotes were doctored for maximum effect but presented as factual.

The Republicans in the study judged Mr. Kerry as harshly as the Democrats judged Mr. Bush. But each group let its own candidate off the hook.

After the participants read the contradictory comment, the researchers measured increased activity in several areas of the brain. They included a region involved in regulating negative emotions and another called the cingulate, which activates when the brain makes judgments about forgiveness, among other things. Also, a spike appeared in several areas known to be active when people feel relieved or rewarded. The "cold reasoning" regions of the cortex were relatively quiet.

Researchers have long known that political decisions are strongly influenced by unconscious emotional reactions, a fact routinely exploited by campaign consultants and advertisers. But the new research suggests that for partisans, political thinking is often predominantly emotional.

It is possible to override these biases, Dr. Westen said, "but you have to engage in ruthless self reflection, to say, 'All right, I know what I want to believe, but I have to be honest.' "

He added, "It speaks to the character of the discourse that this quality is rarely talked about in politics."

The real reason for the US to want records from Google?

According to James Dunnigan's StrategyPage.com (here), in 2005 the US was developing a system to search large masses of information according to concept, not merely by word.

The new concept search engine (CSE) was developed for counter-terrorism work. The CSE looks for connections between two people that it would normally take a human investigator to figure out. Given the huge mass of data on the Internet (including billions of words of material captured from instant messaging, chat rooms and emails), there’s no way humans could comb through it all for anything other than key words and phrases. The CSE makes sense of material, stores those interpretations and constantly compares all that it has found for connections between two or more authors, or members of the same organization (or way of thinking). CSE is expected to be a powerful tool in searching for terrorist activity on the Internet.
A month's worth of Google's search records would be an ideal test for something like this.

27 January, 2006

North Korean counterfeiting of US dollars

This is from Jim Dunnigan's Strategypage.com.
January 25, 2006: North Korea refuses to resume nuclear weapons negotiations unless the United States stops interfering with North Korean counterfeiting (of American currency) and money laundering operations. These activities are a major source of foreign currency for the north, but the U.S. has imposed economic sanctions on North Korea because of it.
You gotta love it: "We'll talk to you about limiting our nukes if you don't object to our undermining your economy..."

HAMAS wins

I suspect this has as much to do with voting the corrupt FATAH bums out of power, but it also indicates at least a popular tolerance by the Palestinian voters for the use of terrorism. Perhaps the task of actually governing will moderate some positions and tactics, but it won't happen quickly, if at all.

Things are going to get a lot more interesting.

25 January, 2006

Rough seas

Ever wonder what it would be like to sail too close to an atomic detonation? Check out this video.

If that's a little too explosive, here's one that's much more fun.