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70 posts from September 2007

September 30, 2007

Jenny, Jasper's Mom

Jenny, Jasper's Mom, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

One of my oldest friends. Scholar, artist, and now, mother to 5-month-old Jasper.

JT & J

JT & J, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.


Grandfather, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

My old friend Jenny is back in British Columbia for a visit with her 5-month-old son Jasper.

Today, I got to meet Jasper for the first time.

Here's a shot of Jenny's dad Ray holding his grandson.

September 29, 2007

The Year of Living Biblically

A New York City journalist attempts to observe every rule in the Bible in modern-day Manhattan for an entire year--hilarity probably ensues.

HT: Metafilter.

Barry L. Beyerstein (1947-2007): Celebrating a life well-lived

Memorial for Barry L. Beyerstein

    Wednesday, October 3, 2007
    4:00pm - 6:00pm

    Diamond Alumni Center at Simon Fraser University
    Burnaby, BC

    Contact: beyerstein [at]

Instead of a funeral, we opted for a public celebration of Barry's life. The SFU psychology department graciously offered to host the final send-off. I would like to invite those who knew and loved my father to join us in honoring his memory.

Simon Fraser University has set up a memorial fund in Dad's honor. The hope is to raise enough money to set up an endowed chair in his name. Alternatively, the fund will help support deserving SFU students in their quests for knowledge.

To make a contribution, please visit the official SFU donations page. Follow these instructions to ensure that your gift is processed correctly: In the "Gift Information" section, you will be asked for a designation, choose "Arts and Sciences" from the dropdown menu. In the box marked "optional" type in "Barry Beyerstein Memorial Fund".

If you would like to leave a remembrance on the memorial thread, please do so. We will print the comments and bind them as part of the guest book. Thanks to all those who have shared their condolences and memories with us.

Big Muddy

(This has been crossposted, with edits, from my blog, Better than salt money. and thanks to Linsdsay for letting me vent/increase the exposure)

I've been thinking about Blackwater for a long time.

There's a lot in the news about them now.  Me, I've known about them for years.  When  four guys were killed in Fallujah, a friend and I had a moment of black humor about there being four job openings in Baghdad.  Soldiers are a gallows-humor lot.

But the cowboy aspects of the things I'd herd gave me concern.  That they were singled out in that convoy told me a lot. 

That we used the deaths of a few contractors as cause for a month long battle in Fallujah bothered me.

That I keep hearing they are immune from any and all prosecution well, that bothers me more; because it's not true.

Actually, no one who is a US Citizen is immune to US  prosecution for war crimes.

USC Title 18 Part 1 Chapter 118

§ 2441. War crimes

(a) Offense.€” Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.

(b) Circumstances. The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).

(c) Definition.€” As used in this section the term war crime means any conduct [emphasis added].

(1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;

(2) prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;

(3) which constitutes a violation of common Article 3 of the international conventions signed at Geneva, 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party and which deals with non-international armed conflict; or

(4) of a person who, in relation to an armed conflict and contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians.

Which has pissed me off since Abu Ghraib broke.  They said the contractors there were immune from prosecution because they weren't in the Army, and it all happened in Iraq.

Which was, in a word, bullshit.  So why didn't they enforce this law?  The only answer I could come up with was  it would do more harm than not prosecuting them; which was damning because the only way I could see that being the case that it was all approved.

And I have to wonder about Blackwater, because the same logic applies.

I also have to wonder why "private contractors" are doing this work, because the Bureau of Diplomatic Security  (Federal Agents; like the Treasury Dept. agents who get detailed to the Secret Service. Marines guard the grounds,  BDS guards the people) ought to be doing the work, but they don't have the budget anymore..  It's not that the money isn't there; hundreds of millions are being ladled out to groups like Blackwater. It's a matter of where/how taxpayer dollars are spent.  I keep asking myself, cui bono, but I digress.

The reports out of New Orleans, that Blackwater had been deputised to provide security, were worrisom.

Then I see things like this piece by Naomi Wolff which is about the ways in which Blackwater is positioning istelf to get more work in the states.

What is Blackwater? According to reporter Jeremy Scahill, the firm has 2,300 private soldiers deployed in nine countries, and maintains a database of an additional 21,000 to call upon at any time. Blackwater has over '$500 million in government contracts — and that does not include its secret "black" budget...' One congressman pointed out that in terms of its manpower, Blackwater can overthrow 'many of the world's governments.' Recuiters for the company seek out former military from countries that have horrific human rights abuses and use secret police and paramilitary forces to terrify their own populations: Chileans, Peruvians, Nigerians, and Salvadorans.

Blackwater is coming home to Main Street, and one of our key constitutional protections is at stake. The future for growth is directed at increased deplyment in the US in cases of natural disaster — or in the event of a 'public emergency.' This is a very dangerous situation, of course, now that laws have been passed that let the President decide on his say-so alone what a 'public emergency' might be.

The Department of Homeland Security hired these same Blackwater contractors to patrol the streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — for a contract valued at about $73 million. Does Blackwater's reputation for careless violence against civilians in Iraq, protected by legal indemnification, matter to us? Scahill reports at least one private contractor's accounts of other contractors' abrupt shooting in the direction of American civilians in the wake of Katrina: 'After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped.'

How protected is Blackwater from prosecution for its crimes? The company's lawyers argue that Blackwater can't be held accountable by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, because they aren't part of the US military; but they can't be sued in civil court, either — because they are part of the US military.

Add to that a new contract for $15 billion for drug enforcement in a contract issued by The Pentagon (WTF... why is the Pentagon involved in this... DEA, Ok, but there are things which don't seem to be part of the DoD purview, and somethig which touches on US Law Enforcement seems to be one those) and I am less than happy.

Who will this private army be accountable to?  There are allegations of some seriously disturbing conduct in Iraq.

Three days later, Blackwater guards were back in al Khilani Square, Iraqi government officials said. This time, there was no shooting, witnesses said. Instead, the Blackwater guards hurled frozen bottles of water into store windows and windshields, breaking the glass.

Hunh?  What's that supposed to do?

Or this,

BAGHDAD €” The Blackwater incidents cited by Iraq's Interior Ministry as reason for the security firm to be barred from operating in Iraq include the deaths of four people with ties to Iraq's government-funded television network.

The first of those was the Feb. 2 shooting death of Suhad Shakir, a reporter with the Al Atyaf channel, as she was driving to work. She died outside the Foreign Ministry near the Green Zone, where top U.S. and Iraqi officials live and work.

Five days later, three Iraqi security guards were gunned down inside the fortified compound that houses the government-funded Iraqi Media Network, which is also known as Iraqiya.

Habib Sadr, the network's director general, said the three guards, members of Iraq's Facilities Protection Service, were at their post at the back of the complex. A towering blast wall was a short distance in front of them to protect the compound from Haifa Street, which is notorious for car bombings and drive-by shootings.

According to Sadr and Interior Ministry officials, the three were picked off one by one by Blackwater snipers stationed on the roof of the 10-story Justice Ministry about 220 yards away on the opposite side of the street.

Nibras Mohammed Dawood was shot first as he stood in a sand-bagged guard post. Azhar Abdullah Ali was shot when he ran to help. Sabah Salman Hassoun was shot when he, too, tried to aid his wounded colleagues. All were between the ages of 20 and 25, Sadr said.

I was amazed, actually, that the problem of Order 17 (Paul Bremer's diktat that contractors were immune from Iraqi prosecution) didn't come to a head sooner, when this happened.

In December, a Blackwater employee shot and killed one of the vice president's guards without provocation, Iraqi officials say. The employee left Iraq and no longer works for Blackwater.

Imagine that happening here (one of Dick Cheney's Secret Service detail being  shot dead by the private bodyguard of the Ambassador of anywhere), and the only thing happening is the guy, "is no longer in [the United States], but the company is still working here; in that same capacity."

Yeah, right.

I'm spending more time at the range than I used to, and if Blackwater comes to my part of town, well that's it, you'd better believe there's a civil disturbance, because at that point I'll be in revolt.

Before it comes to that, we might want to remind our congress critters, our senators, the newspapapers; and everyone we can think of, that USC Title 18 Part 1 Chapter 118 § 2441 is out there, and see about using it.

September 28, 2007

Security theater: Menstruation edition

Female students at Tri-Valley Central School are fed up with the prying security guard who quizzes them about their periods in the name of security.

Grahamsville — Several television news crews from New York City are camped outside the Tri-Valley Central School following the story in today's Times Herald-Record about what question a school security guard asked a 14-year-old female student.

The girl was called out of class by a security guard during a school sweep last week to make sure no kids had backpacks or other banned bags.

Samantha Martin had a small purse with her that day.

That's why the security guard, ex-Monticello cop Mike Bunce, asked her The Question.

She says he told her she couldn't have a purse unless she had her period. Then he asked, "Do you have your period?" []

This isn't just the alleged officious perversion of a lone ex-cop. These interrogations are part of an even larger and stupider policy.

You see, Tri-Valley doesn't allow students to carry bags!   

The school banned backpacks in the halls this year for two reasons, George said: Student health, because heavy bags could hurt the kids' backs or people could trip on them; and for security concerns, felt nationwide, about concealed weapons.

Jenny Watson, 17, a senior, said kids have been confused since school started about the bag rules. Last week, a rumor started that girls could only carry purses if they had their periods. And then, on Sept. 19, school staff did the bag sweep. []

The ban goes beyond the hallways. Kids allegedly being escorted out of class by school security for bringing purses.

Good for the young women at Tri-Valley for sticking up for themselves: Girls started gluing pads to their clothing to protest the invasion of their privacy.

NYC subway cars to sleep with the fishes

Decommissioned New York City subway cars are slated to become artificial reefs:

NEW YORK - After years of rolling beneath the city, 1,600 subway cars are destined for a new life lolling undersea.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board has agreed to convert the retired cars into artificial reefs. They'll be dispatched to the ocean floor off New Jersey, Delaware and other coastal states, starting this fall. [AP]

Good news for sea life and divers alike.

September 27, 2007

Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie at the Clinton Global Initiative, announcing a new program to help educate children in conflict zones.

Recommended reading

Blackwater personnel allegedly killed a female reporter and three others with ties to Iraq's state-run television network. {HT: Eric]

New Zealand cops are letting the public shape laws through a wiki. Wait 'til Stephen Colbert hears about this...

A beloved professor at Carnegie Mellon delivered the lecture of a lifetime. [HT: CPL]