2007 - %3, August

CIA Edits Wikipedia Entries

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 2:09 PM EDT

A 24-year-old graduate student at the California Institute of Technology named Virgil Griffith (hacker name: "Romanpoet") has created a program called "Wikipedia Scanner," which matches IP addresses of Wiki editors to the names of the individuals or groups to which those addresses are registered. So, yes, you can still edit your own profile (as so many people do), but prepare yourself for the humiliation of being outed...

Among those undercover editors already dragged into the light of day is the CIA. According to the BBC:

On the profile of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the tool indicates that a worker on the CIA network reportedly added the exclamation "Wahhhhhh!" before a section on the leader's plans for his presidency.
A warning on the profile of the anonymous editor reads: "You have recently vandalised a Wikipedia article, and you are now being asked to stop this type of behaviour."
Other changes that have been made are more innocuous, and include tweaks to the profile of former CIA chief Porter Goss and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey.
When asked whether it could confirm whether the changes had been made by a person using a CIA computer, an agency spokesperson responded: "I cannot confirm that the traffic you cite came from agency computers.
"I'd like in any case to underscore a far larger and more significant point that no one should doubt or forget: The CIA has a vital mission in protecting the United States, and the focus of this agency is there, on that decisive work."

Wahhhhhh!

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Hurry Up and Wait for New Radiohead

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 12:12 PM EDT

mojo-photo-radiohead.jpg
Everybody's favorite happy-go-lucky UK boy band has delayed the release of their seventh album until 2008, reports NME. Radiohead have not released an album since 2003's Hail to the Thief. The band have been working on new material (including a recent stint in the studio in New York), but apparently forgot they left their label EMI after Thief and, gee, it's kind of hard to release an album without a label. Actually, no, they didn't forget, they just stopped caring:

Radiohead's management dismissed speculation over recent months that Warner Music was poised to secure the band's signature. "The band [is] not looking for a record company in any way, shape or form," the representative says. "They are out of a contract, but they're not actively looking for another one. They're getting on with doing what they do."

Which is, I guess, make music nobody can hear, except in tiny little clips on a confusing website that has a tendency to lock up your computer. (Seriously.) Please, guys, we know you're annoyed with the Industry. We're all annoyed with the Industry. But that's all the more reason to speed your cathartic tunes to us! Malaise! Besides, the world might end before 2008!! Isn't that what Kid A is about?!

New Giuliani Flip-Flop: Immigration

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 12:06 PM EDT

This one's a doozy, maybe bigger than his flip-flops on the flat tax and on abortion.

Here's what Giuliani said in a 1996 speech at Harvard:

We're never, ever going to be able to totally control immigration to a country that is as large as ours, that has borders that are as diverse as the borders of the United States, and as a society that wants to be a country that values freedom -- that values freedom of movement, freedom to do business.

See video at TPM's Election Central. This is part of Giuliani's formerly understanding view of immigration and immigrants: Giuliani's New York gave many of the same benefits to citizens and illegal immigrants; Giuliani took strong measures to educate the children of illegal immigrants; he fought to keep illegal immigrants from being turned in by employers. Of conservativism's hardline anti-immigrant forces, Giuliani has said, "the anti-immigration movement now sweeping the country is no different than earlier anti-immigration movements that have surfaced periodically in American history. We need only look back at the 'Chinese Exclusionary Act' or especially at the 'Know-nothing' movement that swept America in the mid-19th century."

Kind of a good dude, right? Unfortunately, all this contrasts with Giuliani's views today. In a recent speech in South Carolina, Giuliani contradicted the Harvard speech, saying, "We can end illegal immigration. I promise you we can end illegal immigration." The former mayor now advocates building a physical fence between the U.S. and Mexico.

Willing to forgive what appears to be a simple change of heart? I understand. I wouldn't slam the man if he said, "I've seen new evidence since '96, illegal immigration has gotten much worse, we need to do something." But Giuliani's rhetoric on immigration these days is so extreme and xenophobic that the man deserves no harbor. Giuliani's plan, according to his own press release, includes a "tamper-proof Secure Authorized Foreign Entry Card (SAFE Card) for all foreign workers and students, a single national database of non-citizens to track their status, and tracking those who leave the country. In addition, Giuliani will encourage Americanization by requiring immigrants to truly read, write and speak English."

He wants a database of all foreigners in the United States! And he wants to somehow force-teach them all English! He is the Know-nothing he once derided!

This is a very different Rudy Giuliani than the one from ten years ago. Running for president will do that to a man.

Surging Toward Civil War, Part 2

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 10:45 AM EDT

I wrote yesterday about the truck bombings in northern Iraq. The death count has now risen to 500, making the attack the most deadly of the Iraq War.

Alleged White House-Petraeus Arm Wrestling Over September Report a Ruse?

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 10:34 AM EDT

Add me to the list of the puzzled. Many signs are from those advising Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus that he and his advisors think they have a strategy that they say is somewhat succeeding and don't want Congress to pull the plug. In other words, Petraeus and the White House are ostensibly pretty close in advocating a continued large scale US presence in Iraq for as long as possible.

So it's bizarre that the White House is apparently indicating that it wants to preempt his findings and hijack the Petraeus report from Petraeus, and confine Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker to testifying before Congress in closed session.

So puzzling that one is suspicious: is the White House ultimately going to "give in" to Congressional pressure and "let" Petraeus testify, only to have it revealed, that, what do you know, it turns out that the good general too thinks the surge has done wonders and, with time, might reduce violence to a degree that greater political reconciliation takes hold. He even forecasts that over the next year, he might be able to move troops out of the areas where violence has gone down, hinting at a lower US troop presence by next year, without offering too many specifics.

Of any reported White House effort to silence or sideline Petraeus, one of the general's close associates emails me, "I do not believe it."

I am not sure I do either. The only explanation that makes sense to me is that the White House is seeking to control the optics with Congressional Republican leaders anxious about how basically continuing a maximal US presence in Iraq will affect their '08 reelection prospects.

The Suppression of David Petraeus Continues

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 10:05 AM EDT

You know how Gen. David Petraeus was supposed to write that all-important September report, but won't? He's also the one who is supposed to present it to Congress and the public. But looks like he won't. Military officials are said to be "puzzled" that Condi Rice and Robert Gates will present the report, and that Gen. Petraeus won't be allowed to appear in public at all.

For a guy that the administration has endlessly hyped, he sure doesn't get much of a chance to show his talents to the world.

Update: The White House is now saying Petraeus will testify.

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Iraqi Government Shake-Up to Pass US-Demanded Legislation

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 9:33 AM EDT

Yesterday, a report in Dubai-based Gulfnews forecast a Baghdad govenrment "shake-up":

Under pressure from the Congress, Arab states and Sunni Iraqi leaders, the US administration on Tuesday set the stage for "major" political changes in Iraq.
The changes will be in "the structure, nature and direction of the Iraqi state," a senior American official in Baghdad was quoted by AP as saying.
He did not give out details, but the plan is expected to be high on the agenda of a 'crisis summit' which would be attended by key Iraqi leaders who seek to save the crumbling national unity government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.

A Different Casualty of War: Army Suicide Rate Skyrockets

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 2:06 AM EDT

The Associated Press got a hold of new Pentagon report out tomorrow detailing the latest stats on suicides within the already-beleaguered Army. Last year 99 soldiers committed suicide, up from 88 the year before, and the rate of 17.3 troops per 100,000 taking their own lives is the highest in 26 years (and nearly double the all-time low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001). The 99 suicides included 28 soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and 71 who were out-of-theater, the report says. And about twice as many women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide as did women not sent to war.

Not included in any of these Pentagon tallies, I am almost sure, are the suicides (and attempts) of troops home, out of the army, reservists, guardsmen and women, all dealing with PTSD, job losses and the like. Suicides, depression, rage, PTSD, the range of mental health issues is already exacting a heavy, if relatively silent, toll. Expect it to only get worse, a lot worse.

'Cool Farms' Mask Global Warming

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 11:25 PM EDT

You've heard of urban heat islands that generate pockets of hot air. Now researchers confirm the existence of their opposite: cool farm patches that tend to cool things down, reports New Scientist. These have been felt in California for more than a century, in areas of intensive irrigation, like the Central Valley, where "cool farms" have counteracted global warming. Researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, extrapolating back to when irrigation began in 1887, calculate that intensively irrigated parts of the Central Valley are ~3.0 to 5.75°F cooler than they would otherwise have been. The cooling happens because much of the solar energy hitting irrigated ground during the day goes to evaporate the extra water in the soil and plants instead of heating the air. The cool farms could explain why minimum and maximum winter temperatures steadily rose in California between 1915 and 2000, while maximum summer temps did not. The warmer winters can only be explained by the greenhouse effect, and the authors speculate the cool-farms effect may have masked the impact of global warming on summer temps — since irrigation is mostly carried out during the summer.

But the cool times may not last. A rollback of the cooling effect of irrigation in the face of continued global warming could mean that California will be hit by substantial warming. This could also mean that irrigated regions around the world, which now provide about 40% of global food production, will feel more than their share of warming in the future, with the obvious impact on food security. . . So, plant your water gardens now. JULIA WHITTY

Indians Predated Newton 'Discovery' By 250 Years

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 10:51 PM EDT

Okay, geek that I am, I love this stuff. So I'm going to post long here. A school of scholars in southwest India discovered one of the founding principles of modern mathematics hundreds of years before Newton. According to new research by George Gheverghese Joseph from The University of Manchester, the 'Kerala School' identified the 'infinite series' — one of the basic components of calculus — in about 1350. The discovery is currently, and wrongly, attributed to Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz at the end of the seventeenth centuries. The team reveals the Kerala School also discovered what amounted to the Pi series and used it to calculate Pi correct to 9, 10 and later 17 decimal places. And there is strong circumstantial evidence that the Indians passed on their discoveries to mathematically knowledgeable Jesuit missionaries who visited India during the fifteenth century. That knowledge, they argue, may have eventually been passed on to Newton himself. Joseph made the revelations while trawling through obscure Indian papers for a yet to be published third edition of his best selling book The Crest of the Peacock: the Non-European Roots of Mathematics.

According to Joseph: "The beginnings of modern maths is usually seen as a European achievement but the discoveries in medieval India between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries have been ignored or forgotten. The brilliance of Newton's work at the end of the seventeenth century stands undiminished — especially when it came to the algorithms of calculus. But other names from the Kerala School, notably Madhava and Nilakantha, should stand shoulder to shoulder with him as they discovered the other great component of calculus — infinite series. There were many reasons why the contribution of the Kerala school has not been acknowledged — a prime reason is neglect of scientific ideas emanating from the Non-European world — a legacy of European colonialism and beyond. But there is also little knowledge of the medieval form of the local language of Kerala, Malayalam, in which some of most seminal texts, such as the Yuktibhasa, from much of the documentation of this remarkable mathematics is written. For some unfathomable reasons [actually, pretty easily fathomable…], the standard of evidence required to claim transmission of knowledge from East to West is greater than the standard of evidence required to knowledge from West to East. Certainly it's hard to imagine that the West would abandon a 500-year-old tradition of importing knowledge and books from India and the Islamic world. But we've found evidence which goes far beyond that: for example, there was plenty of opportunity to collect the information as European Jesuits were present in the area at that time. They were learned with a strong background in maths and were well versed in the local languages. And there was strong motivation: Pope Gregory XIII set up a committee to look into modernising the Julian calendar. On the committee was the German Jesuit astronomer/mathematician Clavius who repeatedly requested information on how people constructed calendars in other parts of the world. The Kerala School was undoubtedly a leading light in this area. Similarly there was a rising need for better navigational methods including keeping accurate time on voyages of exploration and large prizes were offered to mathematicians who specialised in astronomy. Again, there were many such requests for information across the world from leading Jesuit researchers in Europe. Kerala mathematicians were hugely skilled in this area.

Never too late to set history straight. Can't wait to read Joseph's new edition. JULIA WHITTY