Monday, March 31, 2008

French Extremists Dream of Jihad in Iraq

An interesting article from the AP:

PARIS (AP) — Boubakeur el Hakim traded his Paris neighborhood of boulangeries and halal butcher shops for the insurgent camps of Iraq. When he came home, he told his war stories to other young men on the forgotten edges of French society, allegedly persuading some to follow in his footsteps.

His younger brother did, and died fighting U.S. forces.

After years of investigation by French authorities, el Hakim, 24, went on trial this month in a case exposing how the Iraq war has sucked radical youths from Europe to a battlefield where they have learned skills that officials fear may one day be used in domestic terror attacks.

Along with four other young Frenchmen, a Moroccan and an Algerian, el Hakim is accused of funneling French Muslim fighters to Iraq. All the Frenchmen except suspected ringleader Farid Benyettou, 26, have acknowledged going to Iraq or planning to go. All deny inciting others to go.

All seven men are accused of criminal association with a terrorist enterprise, a vague charge that carries a maximum 10-year sentence, though the prosecutor only asked for between three and eight years.

The case is a delicate one in France, which strongly opposed the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq but has long struggled against homegrown terrorism. It also highlights a dilemma in many European nations with growing Muslim populations: Cracking down hard risks alienating or radicalizing moderate Muslims and betraying western ideals of tolerance.

The idea that French citizens of Islamic heritage could use the situation in Iraq as a training ground is a matter of concern, given recent events.

I wonder how much a sense of alienation among the banlieues is a factor in addition to Islamic Fundamentalism. One could easily fuel the other, and while such things as the French banning certain religious symbols can be seen as an attempt to prevent discrimination against religious subgroups it can also be seen as an attempt to prevent the expression of faith.

Interesting times, indeed.

To be clear, this isn't an exclusively French phenomenon. From the AP article again:

Other European countries have also fed fighters to Iraq.

Two men considered linked to Europe's deadliest Islamic terror attack, the 2004 bombings in Madrid, are believed to have later killed themselves in suicide attacks in Iraq. Spanish authorities have arrested dozens of people suspected of recruiting Islamic fighters for the Iraq insurgency.

Italian courts have convicted several North Africans of recruiting militants for Iraq in Italy in recent years.

Teller survives a zombie outbreak!

Plus, he speaks!

Tip o' the tentacle to the laughing squid for the original post.

Teller, of Penn & Teller is a magician and co-host of the showtime show Bullshit. He's famous for remaining silent through his work, on stage or on camera.

The video, of Teller surviving a zombie outbreak and shooting Penn ( thereby renaming the act &Teller ) is notable both for the content and for the narration which Penn apparently does himself. Nice selection of firearms as well.

& Teller

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Missing NY Rev. Found at Ohio Strip Club

Damn stories like this amuse me.

From the AP:

RIVERSIDE, Ohio (AP) - Police say a pastor who was reported missing from his home in western New York has been found at an Ohio strip club.

A police officer patrolling the K.C. Lounge parking lot Friday morning in the Dayton suburb of Riverside spotted out-of-state license plates on 46-year-old Craig Rhodenizer's car.

The FBI and New York authorities had been searching for Rhodenizer, who disappeared Wednesday after telling his wife he was getting his computer fixed at Best Buy. He is the pastor of a church in Lyndonville, N.Y.

Detective Matt Sturgeon said Rhodenizer was disoriented when confronted by police and said he felt "emotionally guilty."

Emotionally guilty? Why not just say he was there to support single mothers?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Friday, March 28, 2008

Dean Says Attacks Getting Too Personal

From the AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) - Democratic Party chief Howard Dean says Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and their supporters should beware of tearing each other down, demoralizing the base and damaging the party's chances of winning the White House in November.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Dean also said he hopes the Democratic nominee will be determined shortly after the voting ends in early June and that he will encourage the superdelegates who will play a role to make up their minds before the August convention in Denver.

Dean said the charges and countercharges between Clinton and Obama have gotten too personal at times. He declined to say how they have crossed the line, but he said he's made it clear privately when it has happened.

"You do not want to demoralize the base of the Democratic Party by having the Democrats attack each other," he said Thursday during the interview in his office at Democratic National Committee headquarters. "Let the media and the Republicans and the talking heads on cable television attack and carry on, fulminate at the mouth. The supporters should keep their mouths shut about this stuff on both sides because that is harmful to the potential victory of a Democrat."

Looks like someone's plan may be working.

Mexican troops heading to US / Mexico border

Apparently in response to the continued crime problem the Mexican government is sending troops to the US / Mexico border.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (CNN) -- The Mexican government has ordered 2,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to a wave of drug-related violence that is blamed for 200 deaths since January, officials announced Thursday.

he troops are expected to depart Friday. The majority will be near the northern border of Mexico, in Juarez.

Juarez sits across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

Officials said the violence in Mexico has increased in large part to competing drug cartels.

"In this battle we will show that no criminal group is capable to resist the strength of the Mexican government," Interior Minister Juan Mourino said at a news conference Thursday.

Perhaps things are heating up down there.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Kids and guns

Saw this over on MP.Net

Looks like a military open house in the Czech Republic. Cool to see the little ones enjoying themselves.

Well damn, that was fast

The woman accused of getting a girl drunk and performing oral sex on her has been captured, as per

BEXLEY, Ohio — A woman accused of having sex with a 14-year-old girl was arrested on Thursday.

Becky Jo Tatum, 41, was taken into custody at the Kensington Commons apartment complex, located at Gender and Refugee roads, at 9 a.m., 10TV's Kurt Ludlow reported.

Police said a phone call from an anonymous source led them to the southeast Columbus complex.

The news came just one day after I posted the story here. Not that had anything to do with her capture; I'd bet the $2,000 reward was what did it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Woman Accused Of Sex With Teen Sought

As seen on

Becky Jo Tatum

BEXLEY, Ohio — Police on Monday said they were searching for a woman accused of having oral sex with a 14-year-old girl.

Becky Jo Tatum is charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, according to the arrest warrant.

The warrant reveals that the teenager was visiting Tatum’s home earlier this month when the alleged sexual conduct occurred.

According to police, the case began as an investigation into possible drug activity.

"This all started out as a drug investigation and as a result of the drug investigation we seized Becky's computers," said Bexley police Detective Bob Cuschleg. "Looking at the computers we found images that were a little disturbing."

Cuschleg did not elaborate on the images, but said they were of children '"role playing," 10TV's Tracy Townsend reported.

"There's actually no sexual act in the images on the computer," Cuschleg said. "What we've done is we have investigated the images we found on the computer (and) we found a victim that actually had a sexual contact with Becky Jo Tatum."

Tatum, 41, is described as white, 6 feet tall and weighs 145 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes.

Records obtained by 10TV News on Monday showed that Tatum was previously charged with prostitution, theft and drug trafficking, Townsend reported.

Police said that the investigation was ongoing and revealed the possibility of additional victims.

"We have to get her off the streets and behind bars and start to resolve these matters," Cuschleg said. "The quicker we can get this behind us, the better chance these victims or potential victims can get on with their lives."

Anyone with information is asked to call Bexley police at 614-559-4444.

The stereotypical child molester is, perhaps, an older white guy in dirty clothes with a few days beard. Stories like this serve to remind that stereotypes aren't always accurate.

Update: Captured

Nice engraving...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

French counter terrorism

The Brookings institute has an interesting paper on French counter terrorism:

In short, in 1980, French authorities could not even identify a foreign terrorist attack in the middle of Paris after it had happened. In 1999, they possessed a detailed understanding of a terrorist cell in another country plotting attacks against yet a third country. This striking contrast reflects a more general increase in the French capacity to prevent and fight terrorism, both at home and abroad.

As heard on NPR.

It seems the unique merging of the Judiciary and the Intelligence community in France is a significant factor in their success in preventing terrorism. Of course, the French have also had some historical problems with Islam that other countries are dealing with only recently.

Monday, March 24, 2008

More on the drug wars in Mexico

As a follow up to an earlier post is this story from the New York Times:

The beheadings, in fact, have become a signature form of intimidation aimed at both criminal rivals and federal and local authorities. In the tourist town of Acapulco, killers from one drug gang decapitated the commander of a special strike force, Mario Núñez Magaña, in April, along with one of his agents, Jesús Alberto Ibarra Velázquez.

They jammed the heads in a fence in front of the municipal police station. “So you will learn to respect,” said a red note next to them.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why gorgeous girls are happier with plain guys

From the UK Daily Mail:

psychologists reckon that happier marriages result from attractive women who wed uglier men.


The University of Tennessee study leaves 40-year-old Ifans set fair if, as expected, he marries 26-year-old Sienna this year, and it might also explain a few other couples such as Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas and Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

The Tennessee team tested 82 newly-wed couples for facial attractiveness and the quality of their marriage.

Their results, in the Journal of Family Psychology, suggested most men who married attractive women were happy to bask in the glory of their partner's beauty.

I've no idea what to really make of this study, but I had to double check this photo:

Thought for a second that Catherine Zeta Jones brought her father to an event...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pope to Baptize Prominent Muslim

Well, this is interesting.

So in the latest audiotape from Osama Bin Laden he claims that Pope Benedict XVI is leading a "new crusade" against Islam. The Pope dismissed the allegations.

However, The Pope will babtize a prominent Italian Muslim commentator:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Italy's most prominent Muslim commentator is converting to Catholicism by being baptized by the pope at an Easter vigil, the Vatican announced Saturday.

An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim, Magdi Allam has infuriated some fellow Muslims with his criticism of extremism and support for Israel.

The deputy editor of the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Allam often writes on Muslim and Arab affairs. He told the Il Giornale newspaper in a December interview that his criticism of Palestinian suicide bombing generated threats on his life in 2003, prompting the Italian government to provide him with a sizeable security detail.

Might want to increase that security detail, since under Islamic Sharia law the penalty for apostasy is death:

In most interpretations of Sharia, conversion by Muslims to other religions, is strictly forbidden and is termed apostasy. Muslim theology equates apostasy to treason, and in most interpretations of sharia, the penalty for apostasy is death.

Since Magdi Allam has already been condemned to death, it's not like he could be condemned to double secret death... but it does seem to make him think along less conventional lines ( compared to what one hears of Muslim opinion in the media ):

"Having been condemned to death, I have reflected a long time on the value of life. And I discovered that behind the origin of the ideology of hatred, violence and death is the discrimination against Israel. Everyone has the right to exist except for the Jewish state and its inhabitants," he said. "Today, Israel is the paradigm of the right to life."

Happy Caturday

Thursday, March 20, 2008

UK Maternity Wards turn away mothers to be

Yet more information on how the National Health Service works ( or doesn't ) in the UK:

From the BBC:

Out of 103 trusts - 70% of the total - providing maternity services that responded to the freedom of information request, 42% had to close their units or divert women to another site at least once in 2007 because of capacity problems.

One in 10 said they had shut their doors more than 10 times.

University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, one of the biggest maternity providers in England, reported closing 28 times.

Critics of the American health care system say ability to pay for treatment shouldn't be a deciding factor in who gets medical treatment, stories like this illustrate that even under a national health care system rationing health care still occurs.

Almost as if there's never enough resources for everyone to have everything they ever want.

At least in this case it's not doctors wanting to deny treatment because the doctors disapprove of the patients behavior.

Perhaps the UK doctors will recommend less people have children though; they do seem to like trying to control their patients behavior.

Of course, any such recommendations wouldn't apply to doctors in the UK. To them some are more equal than others.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Gun Control

Read her shirt.

Gun Control: The theory that a woman found dead in an alley, raped and strangled with her own pantyhose, is somehow morally superior to a woman explaining to police how her attacker got that fatal bullet wound.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Supreme Court hears 2nd Ammendment Case

Unless you've been living under a rock[1], you've heard of the Supreme Court case involving the 2nd ammendment, District of Columbia v. Heller.

The NRA's ILA has a collection of legal documents available, including a link to the transcript ( note: PDF ) published by the Supreme Court.

There's a great quote in the transcript I heard on NPR, but haven't heard anywhere else.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: What is -- what is reasonable about a total ban on possession?

MR. DELLINGER: What is reasonable about a total ban on possession is that it's a ban only an the possession of one kind of weapon, of handguns, that's been considered especially -- especially dangerous. The --

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So if you have a law that prohibits the possession of books, it's all right if you allow the possession of newspapers?

This is exactly what many supporters of the right to keep and bear arms have wanted; treat the 2nd Amendment in the same way the rest of the Bill of Rights is treated.

Note that this wouldn't mean unrestricted access to firearms in the US. Just as libel isn't protected speech, there would seem to be some restrictions that the Government can place on the right to keep and bear arms which would not violate individual rights.

While the Supreme Court, in oral arguments, did seem to support that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right, there seems some debate on what restrictions are "reasonable":

If it goes without saying that the nation is divided over gun laws, the Supreme Court certainly seemed to mirror that split during arguments today challenging the District of Columbia's handgun ban. Though many justices appeared to lean in favor of an individual right, they diverged over whether such a decision would still allow D.C.'s law to stay in place.

As a reminder, the restrictions in Washington DC boil down to:
  • No private ownership of handguns.
  • Private rifles and shotguns must be kept either disassembled or with trigger locks, rendering them useless for immediate self defense.

The effectiveness of those restrictions on crime in DC is, to put it mildly, a matter of no small debate.

A decision from the Supreme Court is due in June.

[1] Ok, ok... non-US readers can be forgiven for missing the intricacies of US politics ;)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sunday, March 16, 2008

'Dead parents' show up at press conference about their murders

From the Daily Mail

Searching for the bodies of the owners, police dug into the garden and tore up the verandah of a country house.

Then they called a press conference to announce their concerns that Dr Roy Ostell, 63, and his wife Heather, 58, had been murdered.

But just as TV crews were setting up their cameras and reporters were opening their notebooks at the couple's home north of Melbourne, a Volkswagen campervan rumbled up the driveway.

At the wheel was the "dead" doctor and his "murdered" wife.

"What on earth is going on?" asked Mrs Ostell.

"Never mind that," exclaimed her daughter, Angela, who had contacted police to report her fears that something terrible had happened to her parents. "Where have you been?"

On hearing police fears that they had been murdered, the couple - who had merely been away for a short holiday - burst out laughing.

Their daughter had raised the alarm when she called at the home, near the small town of Narre Warren, to find the campervan missing, the front door wide open and no sign of her parents.

"That was my husband's fault, leaving the door open like that," said Mrs Ostell. "He's always doing it.

"It was very much a spur of the moment thing to go away to the coast last Friday.

"We told our other daughter, Melanie, about our plans but we couldn't contact Angela. It seems that nobody could get in touch with her, so she didn't know we'd taken the unusual step of of taking an instant short holiday."

The couple had arranged for their dog and ponies to be cared for by a neighbour, but Angela had not thought to check with neighbours about her parents' possible whereabouts.

"We're very sorry for all the trouble we've caused," Mrs Ostell told the police and the crowd of journalists who had turned up to hear details of what they expected to be a murder mystery.

The couple now plan to spend a few days filling in the holes in the garden and repairing the verandah.

The Thing, in legos

A version of John Carpenter's movie The Thing, in legos:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thursday, March 13, 2008

So that's worth $4,000 and your career?

So this is reportedly the woman Eliot Spitzer was paying to have sex the day before valentines day.

This 2007 image obtained Wednesday, March, 12, 2008 from a MySpace web page shows a woman identified as Ashley Alexandra Dupre. The New York Times reported that the real name of the woman identified as 'Kristen' in court papers alleging that Gov. Eliot Spitzer paid more than $4,000 for prostitutes' services is Ashley Alexandra Dupre.
(AP Photo)

Shoutout to MP.NET for the heads up.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Democrat Governor Spitzer resigns

The Democrat Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer as resigned following revelations that he 's linked to prostitutes.

From the New York Times

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, whose rise to political power as a fierce enforcer of ethics in public life was undone by revelations of his own involvement with prostitutes, resigned on Wednesday, becoming the first New York governor to leave office amid scandal in nearly a century.

No word yet on any deals with prosecuters, but that's it for the Sheriff of Wall Street's tenure as Governor.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

1 in 4 teens has an STD

As a follow up to an earlier post showing that abstinence education does not curb teen sex, the Associated press reports 1 in 4 teen girls has an STD.

At least one in four teenage American girls has a sexually transmitted disease, suggests a first-of-its-kind federal study that startled some adolescent-health experts.

Some doctors said the numbers might be a reflection of both abstinence-only sex education and teens' own sense of invulnerabilty. Because some sexually transmitted infections can cause infertility and cancer, U.S. health officials called for better screening, vaccination and prevention.

Only about half of the girls in the study acknowledged having sex. Some teens define sex as only intercourse, yet other types of intimate behavior including oral sex can spread some diseases.

Among those who admitted having sex, the rate was even more disturbing — 40 percent had an STD.

What's really interesting is the cultural angle:

Disease rates were significantly higher among black girls — nearly half had at least one STD, versus 20 percent among both whites and Mexican-Americans.

Does make me wonder what's behind that. I'd think it would be more than socioeconomic factors alone. Curious.

Follow the money: Find Democrat Governor with hooker

ABC News has a follow up on the Eliot Spitzer scandal:

The federal investigation of a New York prostitution ring was triggered by Gov. Eliot Spitzer's suspicious money transfers, initially leading agents to believe Spitzer was hiding bribes, according to federal officials.
It was only months later that the IRS and the FBI determined that Spitzer wasn't hiding bribes but payments to a company called QAT, what prosecutors say is a prostitution operation operating under the name of the Emperor's Club.

And later...

The suspicious financial activity was initially reported by a bank to the IRS which, under direction from the Justice Department, brought in the FBI's Public Corruption Squad.

"We had no interest at all in the prostitution ring until the thing with Spitzer led us to learn about it," said one Justice Department official.

Spitzer, who made his name by bringing high-profile cases against many of New York's financial giants, is likely to be prosecuted under a relatively obscure statute called "structuring," according to a Justice Department official.

So it wasn't that the Feds were investigating the prostitution ring and found Spitzer, but that they were investigating Spitzer and found the prostitution ring.
It appears that what started this was Spitzer's bank filing a Suspicious Activity Report ( SAR ) with FINCEN.

Filing a SAR is mandatory when suspicious activity is suspected. Incidentally, it's also illegal to tell the subject of the SAR that a SAR has been filed, and the banks are immune from civil sanction ( i.e. you can't sue them ) for filing the SAR.

Trying to define suspicious activity, I found this page from the National Counterterrorism Center. It looks like he may have tried to hide his wire transfers and thereby ran afoul of this:

Breaking transactions larger than $10,000 into smaller amounts by making multiple deposits or withdrawals or by buying cashiers checks, money orders, or other monetary instruments to evade reporting requirements

So, multiple wire transfers to the same account, likely on the same day or within a few days, totalling greater than $10,000. There were some reports that instead of wire transfers Spitzer was mailing cash around; even if that's the case, the first indicator of suspicous activity from the NCTC is:

Account transactions that are inconsistent with past deposits or withdrawals

If he normally used his credit / debit cards a lot, then one day walked in and withdrew a few thousand in cash ( or even better, a few thousand from different bank branches on the same day ) that would set off alarms.

I looked around for more on what qualifies as "structuring". this link (note: PDF ) from the FINCEN web site for Money Services Businesses has some good info:

As you note in your letter, 31 C.F.R. 103.18 requires, in part, banks and credit unions to file a Suspicious Activity Report if a transaction involves or aggregates at least $5,000 in funds or other assets, and the bank knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect that the transaction is designed to evade any requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act, i.e., structuring.

To comply with the suspicious activity reporting regulation, a bank or credit union must have in place systems to identify the kinds of transactions and accounts that may exhibit indicia of suspicious activity. Otherwise, a bank or credit union cannot assure that it is reporting suspicious transactions as required by the Bank Secrecy Act.

Structuring is the breaking up of transactions for the purpose of evading the Bank Secrecy Act reporting and recordkeeping requirements and, if appropriate thresholds are met, should be reported as a suspicious transaction under 31 C.F.R. 103.18.

Structuring can take two basic forms. First, a customer might deposit currency on multiple days in amounts under $10,000 (e.g., $9,900.00) for the intended purpose of circumventing a financial institutions obligation to report any cash deposit over $10,000 on a currency transaction report as described in 31 C.F.R. 103.22.

Although such deposits do not require aggregation for currency transaction reporting, since they occur on different business days, they nonetheless meet the definition of structuring under the Bank Secrecy Act, implementing regulations, and relevant case law.

In another variation on basic structuring, a customer or customers may engage in multiple transactions during one day or over a period of several days or more, in one or more branches of a bank or credit union, in a manner intended to circumvent either the currency transaction reporting requirement, or some other Bank Secrecy Act requirement, such as the recordkeeping requirements for funds transfers of $3,000 or more appearing in 31 C.F.R. 103.33(e).

Structuring may be indicative of underlying illegal activity; further, structuring itself is unlawful under the Bank Secrecy Act.

Interesting that reporting is only required if all the transactions occur on the same day even though multiple transactions on multiple days which add up to $5,000 ( or $10,000, or $3,000 depending on which Federal regulation you're quoting ) "meet the definition of structuring under the Bank Secrecy Act, implementing regulations, and relevant case law."

If Spitzer did mail money as some reports have claimed, it was likely money orders. The Post Office requires ID for buying more than $3,000 at a time so it would seem going that route is still "structuring".

Just goes to show what happens when someone follows the money.

However, all this may be academic. According to the New York Sun:

"Sources say a resignation could be linked to an agreement with federal prosecutors in which the governor would step down and avoid criminal charges."

Monday, March 10, 2008

NY Governor Linked to Prostitution Ring

From the AP:

NEW YORK (AP) - Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the crusading politician who built his career on rooting out corruption, apologized Monday after allegations surfaced that he paid thousands of dollars for a high-end call girl. He did not elaborate on the scandal, which drew calls for his resignation.

His stone-faced wife at his side, Spitzer told reporters at a hastily called news conference: "I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family."

"I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself," he said. "I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family."

The New York Democrat's involvement in the ring was caught on a federal wiretap as part of an investigation opened in recent months, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing inquiry.

Slate has a good write up as well:

Details are still emerging, and it's uncertain how this will all shake out, but one thing is immediately clear: Spitzer has been hoisted by his own petard, brought down by the same kind of investigation he pioneered as a prosecutor. The analogies between Wall Street and prostitution aren't perfect. (On Wall Street, for example, the transactions involving favors for money are generally conducted when both parties are fully clothed.) But he may have fallen victim to the same types of circumstances that led to his astonishing rise.

Given Eliot Spitzer's tenure as NY Attorney General which led to his reputation as a regulatory crusader, these allegations are even more interesting.

Since he reportedly induced a prostitute to cross state lines ( the night before Valentines Day, no less ) he could be facing Federal charges in addition to the loss of his political career. Everyone who he stepped on during his rise to the top must be giggling and sharpening their knives now.

Seeing moralistic crusaders fall warms my cynical heart. When you get politicians who drone on about hope and change they want you to look past your own experience and believe that idealism can overcome human nature.

Human nature has a different agenda.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Blizzard of 2008, part deux

Still digging out from the blizzard, but things are getting back to normal.

Some things that came up, in no particular order.

  • Have a snow shovel.
    Seriously, I didn't think anyone around here didn't have at least one, but two people I talked to didn't have so much as a garden trowel. Even if you live in an apartment complex with snow removal service there's still walkways and piles of snow left over from plowing. Without tools you don't have many options.

  • Good boots.
    When I first started shoveling and trekking out to walk the dog I was using an older pair of boots with worn out tread; the same boots I use for yard work. I slipped and slid around quite a bit, so I broke out another pair.
    The second pair is a bit larger than normal to encourage blood flow and thereby discourage frostbite and has a decent rubber tread.

  • Wear layers.
    Last year I picked up some polar fleece thermals. Worn under shirt and pants they provide good insulation. With a hooded sweat shirt, jacket and gloves being overheated is more of a concern than freezing. Remember also that exposed skin + wind = frostbite. Cover as much of yourself as possible if you have to be outside. Ski masks aren't just for robbing convenience stores.

  • Know your vehicle's ground clearance.
    While out and about, I saw three people stuck in the snow and helped two of them ( the third was pushed free before I got to them ). In the two cases I helped in, the drivers were attempting to get through an intersection with about 6 to 10 inches ( 15.24 to 25.4 cm ) of snow and slush. The slowed down to make the turn, stopped and got stuck. Me and some other guys who showed up to help dug out the wheels as best we could, then "rocked" the cars out. The driver puts it in reverse with guys pushing from the front, gives it some gas, then the process is reversed until the car is freed. One of the two cars I helped had 4 wheel drive, yet was still stuck in the snow since the snow was higher than the wheels.

  • Have alternative Heat Sources.
    The power, water and gas all stayed on so we had it easy. That said, I have an indoor rated propane heater that the girlfriend enjoys bringing out to warm up after being outside. With a few cases of propane we could have kept warm even if the power went out; might not even have had to use the fireplace.

  • Keep food supplies on hand.
    I tend to keep dried legumes, rice, beans, quinoa, flour, cooking oil and canned goods on hand. By buying a bit more than I need and stocking the rest I've got a food supply for when I can't get to the store. I've also a propane stove ( which takes the same cylinders as the heater ) for times when I can't cook in the kitchen. I also keep extra coffee and tea on hand.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Blizzard of 2008

If you live near me, this isn't news.

For everyone else, there's a blizzard around here. Flights are delayed or canceled, local businesses have shut down and roads are all but impassible. Some reports have this as a record breaking snowfall, with 16 inches / 40.64 centimeters of snow in 24 hours.

After shoveling out, some photos were in order.

The view from the back yard:

Here's Max enjoying his first blizzard with us. Seems like he loves the snow; he flies through it like a dolphin through waves:

A view of the street. Normally, there's a road in that photo.

And the obligatory car photo. Either that, or it's a new arctic camouflage for passenger vehicles.

Of course, while some of us are concerned with the weather, others take the events of the weekend in stride.

Well, if not in stride, then with the usual disdain she has for us fur-less pink skins. Glad to see that some things never change... now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to fill a food bowl.

Happy Caturday

Friday, March 7, 2008

Science pannel shoots down wider ballistics database

Panel Shoots Down Wider Ballistics Database

In recent years, some lawmakers and gun control groups have pushed for a national database that would record the ballistics signature of every gun sold in the United States. But a new report from a prestigious scientific panel says it's probably not a good idea.

The idea isn't necessarily a bad one; at least it appears well intended.

By comparing bullets taken from the victims, investigators knew that the shootings were linked. But to what gun? Whose gun? Police couldn't tell. The federal government does have a database of markings on bullets that police can search, but it includes only guns that have been already used in a crime.

That led some lawmakers to wonder whether the unique markings left by all guns should be recorded whether the guns should be fired and their ballistic signatures noted before they were sold. That way, if the guns were ever used in crimes, investigators could trace them.

Kinda like fingerprinting everyone in the US; one could then compare fingerprints at a crime scene with a national database to see who was there. Barring privacy concerns of course, which are not insignificant, but it appears as a technical matter it just doesn't work.

"We sell between 1 and 2 million handguns in the United States each year. So if you were to enter every single gun, you'd be entering 1 to 2 million every year," he explains.

Rolph says today's technology for comparing images would have a hard time sorting through so many. It would spit out lots of possible matches.

"It never tells you ... like on CSI ... 'this is a match.' It tells you, 'here's some potential candidates,'" he says.

Getting too many candidates would be a big problem ... because to know if a match is real, a forensics expert would have to pull the evidence for closer examination.

"It's OK to have them look at maybe 10 or 20. Do you want them to look at several hundred? ... It would be really very difficult to use in a practical way," he says.

So, the characteristics of rifling on fired bullets are unique but not able to be automatically identified and sorted via computers. The more database entries there are, the more possible matches and therefore the less useful the database is.

Apparently, the identification of which bullet was actually fired by which firearm is still only done by humans. Since humans make mistakes, I have to wonder how many miss-identifications have been made over the years.

From the Associated Press story on this same study, there's this interesting bit:

The report also questioned the underlying theory behind ballistic imaging. It said the idea that each firearm produces unique marks has not been scientifically proven.

Other variables make the program even more unreliable, the report found. For instance, guns leave different markings on different types of ammunition and the type of ammo used in a crime might not be the same type used during test-firing.

It seems it's quite possible that ballistic fingerprinting isn't even unique.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

40% of German soldiers too fat

A German soldier of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stands guard at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photograph: Syed Jan Sabawoon/EPA
From the Guardian

German soldiers are fat, unfit and too fond of cigarettes and stodgy food, according to a parliamentary report into the physical state of the army.

The report, an annual review of the state of the military, said Germany's soldiers were fatter than the average citizen - 40% are overweight, compared with 35% of civilians of the same age, while 8.5% are classed as "seriously overweight".

"It would be an enormous advantage on the battlefield if they shaped up," the defence ministry admitted yesterday.

The report, presented in Berlin by Reinhold Robbe, the parliamentary commissioner for the military, said soldiers, 70% of whom smoke, ate too much and did not move enough, either on or off duty. "This has much to do with poor equipment and lack of training," the report said. It added that bureaucracy got in the way of their physical fitness.

Soldiers, it said, spent too much time filling in forms, doing emissions tests on vehicles, and separating rubbish. Robbe also criticised financial cuts made in recent years which he said had reduced the quality of food supplied to the army.

A respondent to an army blog posting who identified himself as an officer blamed conscription, which meant many soldiers were not serious about the task.

The army was, he said, "full of fatties ... making us the laughing stock abroad where we're seen as overweight grumpy old men ... compared to the British, we're viewed as pathetic."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

So Hillary won Ohio and Texas...

Looks like she's back in the race.

I've spoken with a few Republicans here in Ohio. Guess how many voted for Hillary?

Since Ohio ( and I believe Texas is as well ) are Open Primary states, Republicans and like minded Independents can vote for either slate of candidates.

Seems more than a few around here looked at McCain as the obvious nominee and decided to help the Democrats continue their circular firing squad.

Obama will likely still be the nominee for the Democratic party, unless Hillary can get the Florida and Michigan delegates and likely not even then barring some back room deals to get the superdelegates to back her.

However, the longer this street fight continues between Obama and Hillary the better it is for McCain. He can reap the dirt Hillary digs up against Obama while keeping his hands clean. McCain can let the special interest groups within the Democratic party do his dirty work for him.

Rush Limbaugh is taking credit for Hillary's wins. He might be right.

Seems to show that cynicism can at least throw a monkey wrench into optimism; it remains to be seen if cynicism can trump optimism completely.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Drug wars in Tijuana

Things seem a little more interesting of late in Tijuana. Not so you'd notice of course; the violence in Mexico doesn't seem to serve any politician's interest here in the US, so unless you live in the area odds are you've never heard of it.

Bodies of 5, mostly minors, found executed outside Tijuana

Four of the five appear to be minors, a Tijuana municipal police source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. One of the victims was female.

The victims had been handcuffed and shot to death, according to Agencia Fronteriza de Noticias, a news agency in Tijuana. The agency said the bodies were found in an area known as Rancho Los Potrillos in an lightly populated eastern area.

The discovery comes amid a spike in violence in the region. The weakening the Arellano Felix drug cartel in recent years has allowed smaller criminal groups to gain strength, analysts say.

Minors rarely have been victimized, but earlier this year the 11-year-old daughter of a Tijuana police commander was shot to death along with her parents when armed gunmen attacked their home.

Report: 2 Dead In 5-Hour Tijuana Gun Battle

The five-hour gun battle, which began Sunday night and went on until early Monday morning, took place in a residential neighborhood near the U.S-Mexico border, the report said. One Mexican police officer and one of the alleged gang members were killed, according to Reuters.


The Mexican army has now been called in to replace local police in Mexico's war on drugs, and the U.S. government is trying to help. Officials north of the border said they are concerned that the violence could spill over.

Before you mention that there's drug related violence on our side of the border as well, there is but apparently not to the same extent.

If nothing else, gangs in Mexico appear to be better armed:

Among the weapons confiscated were 24 large-caliber guns -- including automatic military type machine guns -- and 19 long-range type weapons. About 200 handguns and more than 30,000 ammunition cartridges were also seized. In addition to the weapons, officers found several fully armored vehicles with bulletproof exteriors and hidden compartments.

The building is thought to be a training facility for the Arellano-Felix cartel, and officials said it featured an indoor shooting range.

Indoor shooting range? Machine guns? Training facility? Sounds like a police department here, not a street gang.

From some of the images in that last article, it seems the confiscated weapons include:

Which is a bit better gear than what street gangs here in the US can muster.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Ecoterror linked to Arson in Washington

Looks like the ELF is at it again.

From the AP

WOODINVILLE, Wash. (AP) - Fires gutted four multimillion-dollar model homes in a Seattle suburb on Monday, and authorities found a sign purportedly left by eco-terrorists that mocks claims that the homes were environmentally friendly.

"Built Green? Nope black!" said the spray-painted sign that bore the initials of the radical environmental group Earth Liberation Front.

Explosive devices were found in the homes, and crews were able to remove them, said Fire Chief Rick Eastman of Snohomish County District 7. The FBI was investigating the fires as a potential domestic terrorism act, said FBI spokesman Rich Kolko in Washington, D.C.

The fires started at the "Street of Dreams," a strip of unoccupied, furnished luxury model homes where developers show off the latest in high-end housing, interior design and landscaping. The homes are later sold.

No injuries were reported in the fires, which began before dawn in the wooded subdivision and were still smoldering by midmorning.

The homes are in a development near the headwaters of Bear Creek, which is home to endangered chinook salmon. Opponents of the development had questioned whether the luxury homes could pollute the creek and an aquifer that is a drinking water source, and whether enough was done to protect nearby wetlands.

The sign, a sheet with red scraggly letters, said "McMansions in RCDs r not green," a reference to rural cluster developments.

One of the people involved in the project said the homes used "green" techniques such as water-pervious sidewalks, super-insulated walls and windows and products made with recycled materials, such carpet pads. Advertising for last summer's Street of Dreams show focused on the environmentally friendly aspects of the homes, which were smaller than some of the huge houses featured in years past.

So even with eco-friendly construction techniques, there are those still who hate development enough to take direct action against it.

I suspect that those who committed this act think of themselves as environmentalists; in my mind they seem closer to Anarcho-primitivists. Less about saving the environment and more about enforcing their world view and lifestyle on others.

The ELF is an interesting group. Less a group really than an ideology; they were famous a few years back for publishing an arson manual noted for it's completeness. Unlike other drek available online, this manual reportedly included basic instruction on soldering, architecture, making a clean room to avoid leaving DNA evidence... rather complete. One could look at it as a means of catastrophic empowerment.

With no centralized command and control, the decentralized nature of the ELF makes it very hard to stamp out; traditional law enforcement means of infiltrating organized crime groups don't work because there is nothing organized to infiltrate.

In that sense, the ELF and this latest story remind me of the Global Guerrillas post from yesterday as well as open source warfare in general.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Global Guerrillas

Found an interesting site from a reference to it on a mailing list I'm on.

Global Guerrillas describes itself as "Networked tribes, infrastructure disruption, and the emerging bazaar of violence. An open notebook on the first epochal war of the 21st Century. By John Robb"

One of the ideas talked about on Global Guerrillas is catastrophic empowerment, sometimes also called superempowerment. In other words, an individual or small group can do things which formerly only governments could do.

Some of this empowerment comes from technological advancements. This review of Open Source Warfare brings the technological focus into view:

The dark side is certainly there. In the old days, you needed many people to commit significant mayhem—something like a Roman legion, or at least a century. Nowadays, one man with an AK-47 is probably a match for a hundred Roman legionaries, and modern explosives make matters even more asymmetrical. In the foreseeable future, Robb concludes, we may even see a situation where an individual can declare war on the world—and win.

It's not just about technological progress in weapons empowering the individual; communications, engineering, transportation... all can be as significant as kalashnikovs.

Take the example of Henry Okah from Global Guerrillas:

To fund his guerrilla forces, Henry connected the Delta to a global marketplace. To accomplish this, he set up a ecosystem of private entrepreneurs, many of whom were local politicians, to steal oil (aka "bunker") from the pipelines of the major oil companies operating in the Delta. Groups would siphon off barge loads of oil and ferry them out to Henry's leased freighters waiting offshore (which leveraged his experience with Nigeria's merchant marine). In return, the groups were given cash, top of the line western consumer products, and a huge number of weapons (which leveraged Henry's experience as an arms salesman) from the best global manufacturers. Billions of dollars in merchandise were exchanged through this simple system over the last few years. The Delta is now awash in high end weaponry.

Stories like this, among others, remind me of cyberpunk science fiction. Funny how it seems speculative fiction can sometimes predict future trends ( for good and for ill ).

Saturday, March 1, 2008


Time for a shout out to a local artist.

Check out Chris Pritchard's site Pritchslapped; points for the name alone of course.

Some of his work is rather Cthulhuoid, as you can see, which gets a big plus from me, as well as his medium. There's just something about the gray shades which I find appealing.

He keeps updates on his work in progress on his blog. Currently he's doing some work for Greymalkin Designs upcoming release this summer.

As he says he's Available for commissions large and small. Check out his work and give him a shout.

Happy Caturday