Dara O’Briain on Video Games

September 18th, 2011 No comments



I’m currently involved in an orgy of Irish comedians. Here, Dara O’Briain talks video games. In particular, he hits an amazing riff on Metal Gear Solid that is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. Anyone who’s ever puzzled over a first-person shooter will have the pleasure of reliving what it’s like to jump-and-touch, jump-and-touch, jump-touch-crouch…

Creepy Blackwater Video Game

September 18th, 2011 1 comment

That’s right, Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater family of private military companies, has entered the video game market with a first-person shooter named after the company that made “war on the Pentagon” a highly profitable business.

Now, I’ve never been big on the console games, so when CNN informs me the game is “designed exclusively for Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360,” I have almost no idea what they’re talking about. But when I hear that it was developed by Zombie Studios in concert with Prince, “a former Navy SEAL,” I do not squee so much as roll my eyes.

Once again we are subjected to the mythology of “Erk Prince, former Navy SEAL.” Prince was in the Navy for three years total, from 1992 until he left service after his father’s death in 1995. Some sources say he was a SEAL until 1996, but I believe that’s only technically correct, since I believe he asked for compassionate discharge after his father’s untimely passing. During that time, he “deployed with SEAL Team 8 to Haiti, the Middle East, and the Balkans,” so yes, he’s been in combat zones. But he’s not Audie Murphy.

He is, however, a grizzled war-weary veteran highly-paid junkets wherein he forms private armies for the likes of the UAE.

My point? Once a SEAL, always a SEAL, sure. But I was a burger-flipper when I was 15 years old. If I wrote a hamburger cookbook, would CNN suck my dick about it?

One thing’s for sure: if you want an experienced military bad-ass, just look at Tom Clancy. He never seems to have wanted to write books to begin with, and as soon as he could manage it, he turned that shit over to a team of lawyers. Similarly, his involvement with the video game industry is downright hostile to the very idea of individual creativity.

Now that Prince has joined Clancy in the point-and-shoot world, will Erik Prince, like Clancy, license his name to create fourth-rate knockoffs of his principle product — in Clancy’s case, military thrillers, in Prince’s case, soul-sucking mercenary outfits? Only time will tell.

Please don’t read my open contempt for Prince as generalized anti-military sentiment, which I do not hold. On the contrary, I believe that groups like Prince’s sap both the dignity and the funds of the realsoldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines — who, if you’ll recall, are public employees, something Prince’s chief patron Donald Rumsfeld openly despises. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney’s philosophy of “hollow government” — a government that has no infrastructure of its own, but jobs everything out to private companies, including military actions — was the chief policy allowing Prince to obtain the valuable government contracts that grew Blackwater from a bunch of Bubbas into a well-equipped force of overpaid war dogs,. Prince, like his cronies in the Bush administration, sought to manipulate and warp public opinion in order to dismantle the federal government for the sole purpose of siphoning off taxpayer funds into private coffers and turning the United States from a democracy into a plutocracy. Hooray for America!

Is it just me, or does this look suspiciously like a rooftop in Fallujah?

But I digress! Bitching now about CNN getting on the “Erik Prince, Former Navy SealTM bandwagon, which they and everyone have been on since Blackwater first hit the headlines, is like complaining about Prince’s Wikipedia page having been obviously revised, re-revised and re-re-re-revised by his butt-tonguing acolytes until it reads like a fan bio of Ricky Martin. (“Prince enjoyed his time as a SEAL.” How nice for him.)

Anyway…Prince, like the U.S. military, has turned his propaganda engine to modern matters, providing up-to-the-minute zombie-slaying for the anti-Islamic counter-Jihad that the self-described “Libertarian” entrepreneur and his apocalypticist cronies seem so intent on pursuing:

The shooter is set in a fictional North African town overrun by warlords and opposing militia forces. Players enter the fray as team members of Blackwater, the mercenaries-for-hire company that Prince founded in 1997.

Featuring licensed real-world weapons, the game can be played with a traditional controller. But it has been crafted to take advantage of Kinect’s motion controls. Gamers will be able to aim, crouch, and interact with the on-screen action using only body gestures and moves to take out enemies through a series of action-packed missions.

The game has already courted controversy, since Blackwater employees were linked to the deaths of numerous noncombatants and civilians in the Middle East while employed by the U.S. government.

Critics have complained about the game because Blackwater employees take on missions for money, while U.S. soldiers, the focal point of games like “Modern Warfare 3″ and “Battlefield 3,” fight for their country.


Nonetheless, you’ve just gotta love whoever managed to slip this ringer in:

Although the game was created with the aid of former Blackwater employees, the gameplay does not put players in situations where civilians or noncombatants are targets.

Prince’s interview with CNN is filled with the sucking sounds of Erik (or, more likely, his private cadre of well-armed publicists) kissing his own ass and everyone else’s, like so:

My father was a brilliant inventor and businessman. He taught me to appreciate the opportunities that America offers to innovators. Working with the brilliant creators in this industry was a logical progression for me…

…The popularity of simulation military shooters today is really no different from the popularity of playing soldier or cops-and-robbers when we were kids. Take timeless themes of courage, good vs. evil and war, and add today’s technology and you get a very popular genre…

Training for any difficult job is essential. Combat being the most difficult, it’s the same reason the Navy started the Top Gun program during Vietnam, because they were losing way too many new pilots during air combat. Top Gun, by giving pilots realistic experiences simulating combat, drastically improved their performance and survivability. With video game simulations, DOD is providing many of the same sights/sounds and system overloading experiences to soldiers before they encounter a real firefight so they are prepared to make good decisions in the middle of all that stress.


Even more interesting to me is the fact that with increasing frequency, First World wars are fought by remote-controlled robots, not by humans getting up close and personal. The more of the wetwork that drones do, the more important videogames like Prince’s are going to be in training the next generation of American (and British, and French, and NATO, and Brazilian, and Israeli, and Russian) combatants. By all accounts, flying a combat drone is very much like playing a video game — albeit, one of the more-technical, less-exciting ones. But, of course, even the most exciting video game doesn’t carry Hellfire missiles.

Interestingly, I am given to understand that drones aren’t just remote control; they have a certain amount of onboard AI determining their actions, because the transit time for signals is too long to trust a drone pilot’s reflexes to compensate for every eventuality. I’m not implying weapons use falls to AIs — but how long can it be?

Right now, it’s mostly close-in air missions that rely on remotely-operated vehicles like drones. But defusing bombs and mines are often turned over to robots. It can’t be all that long before the kind of “training opportunities” the likes of Erik Prince and Tom Clancy see in video games are pretty much all there is to combat, most of the time…if you’re on the “right” side. For the “insurgents,” aka “freedom fighters,” aka “rebels,” aka “terrorists,” aka “civilians” — what group any given person falls into depends on who’s talking, and who they’re talking to — it will still be, and will always remain, another story entirely.

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“Less Lethal” Weapons

August 10th, 2011 No comments

Public Domain image of US Navy pepper spray demo.

After viewing the likely-to-be-censored Al Jazeera documentary “Bahrain: Screaming in the Dark,” it’s particularly creepy to read this August 1 article from Alternet about less lethal weapons available to or anticipated by the military and police around the world. The technologies include blinding lasers, microwaves and sound weapons. Of course, I knew about them all from watching The History Channel. But then, I’m not some Alternet hippie, now, am I?

Here’s Alternet’s Rania Khalek with her take:

The demand for non-lethal weapons (NLW) is rooted in the rise of television. In the 1960s and ’70s the medium let everyday Americans witness the violent tactics used to suppress the civil rights and anti-war movements.

Today’s rapid advancements in media and telecommunications technologies allow people to record and publicize images and video of undue force more than ever before. Authorities are well aware of how images of violence play out publicly. In 1997, a joint report from the Pentagon and the Justice Department warned:

“A further consideration that affects how the military and law enforcement apply force is the greater presence of members of the media or other civilians who are observing, if not recording, the situation. Even the lawful application of force can be misrepresented to or misunderstood by the public. More than ever, the police and the military must be highly discreet when applying force.”

The global economic collapse coupled with the unpredictable and increasingly catastrophic consequences of climate change and resource scarcity, along with a new era of austerity defined by rising unemployment and glaring inequality have already led to massive protests in Spain, Greece, Egypt, and even Madison, Wisconsin. From the progressive era to the Great Depression to the civil rights movement, Americans have a rich history of taking to the streets to demand greater equality.



Al Jazeera Cancels Re-Airing of Bahrain Documentary

August 10th, 2011 No comments

Al Jazeera has cancelled plans to re-run its 50-minute documentary “Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark,” under pressure from Bahraini leaders — who are good friends with Al Jazeera’s patron, the Emir of Qatar. The documentary concerns the brutal suppression by the government of this year’s protests in Bahrain, “An Arab Spring abandoned by the Arabs.”

Bahrain is a Shiite-majority nation with a Sunni royal family widely seen as hugely corrupt and strongly anti-Shiite. The royal family’s connections are strong to Sunni Saudi Arabia (which contends with a Shiite majority on the rim of the Gulf) and Qatar. It was surely Al Jazeera’s connections to the leadership of Qatar that allowed its TV crew to be the only one remaining in the country during the brutal suppression.

Embedding is disabled for it on YouTube, and people I spoke to seemed to think it’s not unlikely the video will be pulled, so if you’re interested in what happened in Bahrain, “An Arab Spring abandoned by the Arabs,” watch it while you can. Even if AJ pulls it, it’s almost guaranteed that “Shouting in the Dark” will stay available on some level. Thanks to today’s ultra-spiffy high-tech technology, culture commandos and rebellious ragamuffins alike can download anything from YouTube with free software — not that the rule-of-law-loving readers of Techyum would ever do that with copyrighted material, let alone material that had pissed off that great Friend of Techyum the Emir of Qatar.

Like most documentaries attacking the entrenched power structures of Arab countries, this documentary has garnered many “dislikes” One of the commenters claiming to be a Shiite (presumably from the upper class, if it’s true) shows up as the first comment in English:

What is eye opening to me…is the amount of backwardness that I never knew existed in Bahrain. I have lived in Bahrain all my life, and I never thought there would be this amount of racism, sectarianism, hate, and stupidity in a sizable group of the society. The 616 people who disliked this video, and some of the disgusting comments written here make me wonder if these people have always hated me as a shii’i, but never showed it to my face until now. Very sad.


More info on the controversy can be found in yesterday’s New York Times story by Brian Stelter:

The decision this week to halt the repeats raised concerns among Al Jazeera’s staff members that the channel was succumbing to political or diplomatic pressure from Bahrain and its ally Saudi Arabia…The episode illustrates the thorny issue of independence for Al Jazeera, one of the world’s biggest satellite news organizations, which is financed by the emir of Qatar and is perceived by some people to be a diplomatic tool of the country. Al Jazeera insists that the Qatari government does not interfere in the network’s editorial operations.

Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English language channels both came under scrutiny in February and March for their coverage of Bahrain, an island kingdom just north of Qatar in the Persian Gulf. Viewers perceived that the Arabic channel, in particular, paid less attention to the Bahraini protests than it did to the earlier protests in Tunisia and Egypt. Qatar joined Saudi Arabia in sending troops into Bahrain to violently quell the protests in March.

Bahraini authorities helped to limit news coverage of the crackdown by blocking journalists from entering the country and expelling some who were already there.

Some video still surfaced, however; “Shouting in the Dark,” which was first televised last Thursday, featured footage that was secretly recorded during the protests, showing brutal violence and desperate scenes inside hospitals. The documentary contrasted that footage with the claims that were made at the time on state television.


Incidentally, predominantly Shiite pro-democracy movements in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain surely stress out the power structure in the U.S. as much as anyone. That’s because “axis of evil” member Iran is the largest Shiite nation. It is through the Shiite community in Lebanon that Iran has gained a covert foothold with its proxy Hezbollah, which was able to defeat Israel in the 2006 war owing to Iranian training and support. Also, the Iranian influence in Shiite-majority Iraq is one of the many things that the Bush administration didn’t plan for. (The Bush team apparently believed, according to Peter Galbraith, that Arab-Persian communities were  more alienated from each other than  Sunni-Shiite communities — a fairly ludicrous concept to anyone familiar with the Gulf.)

Furthermore, the Saudi Arabian rim of the gulf, close to Bahrain, is majority Shiite and has a notable Persian cultural influence; Shiites in Saudia Arabia are hugely discriminated against. That fact undermines the security of the security of the Saudi Gulf oilfields almost as much as the missiles Iran has pointed at it from just across the Gulf. The Gulf oilfields close to Iran are some of the richest oil sources in Saudi Arabia’s vast reserves; a pro-democratic Shiite revolution there is often cited as one of the major threats to American global hegemony and, in particular, oil security.

Once again, unfortunately, the U.S. and its close allies turn out to be on the side of a brutal dictatorship in order to secure perceived economic gain. The result is that rather than nurturing democratic reforms through diplomacy, we’re left howling “Wha-happen!?!?” and wondering why everyone hates us. American prestige in the Islamic world, at an all-time high during the Clinton years, takes yet another hit.

The result? The oppressed Shiite communities of the Gulf will move not toward the institutions that should be their natural allies in attaining Democracy and self-determination — the United States and the United Nations — but toward their natural allies in sectarianism, anti-secularism and anti-Western sentiment…Iran.

As an American, that‘s what I find sad.

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The .45 Liberator Replica: A Pricey Piece of Budget History

August 7th, 2011 No comments

In the 1940s, the United States military developed an ultra-cheap, ultra-simple single-shot .45 handgun stamped out of sheet metal. It was designed to be airdropped by the OSS to insurgents in Nazi-controlled Europe in vast numbers. Called the FP-45 Liberator, the pistol became one of the most curious-looking entries in the history of firearms. It’s also one of the most collectible firearms around, with pristine copies without the box and instructions run somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 nowadays, according to the latest issue of Guns & Ammo. Want one with the box? Expect to pay more.

But don’t fret! The selfsame article in G&A notifies me that Vintage Ordinance now offers an replica of the Liberator. Priced at just $599, the weapon will set you back a few dollars more than the original U.S. Army unit cost of $2.40 per Liberator (which is about $32 in today’s currency). The replica, like the original, loads .45 ACP ammunition, but you want to know the great part? You’re not supposed to fire it. No, seriously…Vintage Ordinance has created a firing replica of which they say the following:

Though our reproduction is sold as a firearm and exceeds the mechanical strength of the original through the use of superior materials and vastly tighter chamber and headspace tolerances, WE STRONGLY ADVISE CUSTOMERS NOT TO FIRE THE PISTOL. During production in 1942, several examples were taken from the assembly line to test under repetitive fire. Reports indicated that after 50 rounds of service ball ammunition the testers felt the weapons were no longer safe to fire. They were simply never designed handle a steady diet of powerful .45 ACP. They were made to fire ten rounds. They are what they are.

The original FP-45 is a clever and efficiently designed weapon but it has never received any accolades for operational safety. Once it is loaded, the only safe way to handle it is with the zinc cocking piece turned fully 90 degrees to the right or left so that the rear corner of the pistol’s grip frame will prevent it from rotating into firing position. If the cocking piece is re-aligned and the guide pin inserted through the hole in the cover slide as illustrated in the original instructions, THE PISTOL IS COCKED AND READY TO FIRE. IF DROPPED IN THIS STATE, IT COULD EASILY DISCHARGE CAUSING INJURY OR DEATH.

Just what I need in my cedar chest…a highly dangerous collectible that I’m advised not to load and fire because it will kill me. But then…if they’d made it a non-firing replica, like any sane person woulda, they couldn’t charge six Franklins for it. I think the subtext here is that, wink wink, you are going to fire it, but, wink wink, that’s very naughty of you, wink wink, and so don’t blame us when it kills you. Awesome! Needless to say, if you’re buying it for collector’s value, you’re better off not firing it anyway.

Given its single-shot nature, the Liberator is a derringer, with two r’s and a small d, by some definitions — as opposed to a Deringer, which was a trade name from which the generic term originated. Still, it doesn’t look a damn thing like what you’d expect Three-Card Zeke to sneak out of his vest pocket when he’s caught cheating at poker. It’s a curious and ugly device made to be created as cheaply as possible, representing the ingenious desperation of a nation at war.

Sadly, desperation and ingenuity may go well together in terms of economic firearm design, but when it comes to continent-wide strategy, they’re not the best bedfellows.

The Liberator was intended to be a weapon of psychological warfare and even terror, creating the sense in the occupying force that they might be killed at any moment by a civilian stashing an easy-to-conceal firearm. But while that might sound like a nice goal for a major country supporting an insurgent force, other U.S. strategies proved to be a hell of a lot scarier. What’s more, the OSS always thought it was a jackassed idea, and very few of the Liberators manufactured were distributed, mostly in China and the Philippines. There’s no recorded instance of a Liberator being successfully used in the field. It was as half-baked an idea then as it is now.

But who gives a damn? It’s a piece of history, and a great example of the many ways in which complex engineering can be reduced to its bare basics. Six Franklins?

Both the original and the replica come complete with a wax box and instructions on how the recipient could use the gun to kill a German guard and commandeer his rifle or submachine gun…and presumably accomplish this before ol’ Hans-Jürgen’s buddies hear the gunshot and get all Night of the Long Knives on your ass (the single-shot gun did not include a silencer).

The original also had a smoothbore barrel, which makes its claimed range of about 8 meters or 32 feet seem a little optimistic, especially since insurgents were likely to be doing their work at night. The replica has a rifled barrel, because federal firearms regulations in the U.S. make it illegal to sell smoothbore handguns.

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Brazil Building Nuclear Subs to Defend Oil Reserves

August 5th, 2011 No comments

Brazilian submarine formation. Copyright: Navy of Brazil.

Here’s a turn of South American politics that seems like reality straight-up shoplifting from a cyberpunk novel….or one of several earlier Techyum posts.

If you need proof that the wars of the 21st century are going to be fought not over principles, democracy or even national hegemony per se, look no further than this Al Jazeera story about Brazil building a nuclear submarine to defend its oil reserves:

Plans for a Brazilian nuclear submarine that had been postponed since the 1970s are beginning to materialize, as the nuclear-propelled sub is regarded as a strategic necessity to guard Brazil’s deep water oil reserves, and to project global power.

“Brazil is taking another step toward affirming its status as a developed country with sophisticated industry capable of absorbing, mastering and using advanced technologies,” said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. [The project] originated in a December 2008 agreement between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. …”Brazil is taking another step toward affirming its status as a developed country with sophisticated industry capable of absorbing, mastering and using advanced technologies,” [said Rousseff].

If it seems strange to you that the French are lending a hand to the Brazilians in developing a nuclear submarine program, it’s actually not. The French are big global arms suppliers, and have long have a critical link with the Brazilian navy. The only Brazilian aircraft carrier, the São Paolo, is the former French carrier Foch — interestingly, the same carrier that featured in the opening narration in the 1995 nuclear-war epic Crimson Tide. The Foch is a non-nuclear vessel (as far as I can tell, diesel-electric) as are all of Brazil’s ships.

Of the 100 currently commissioned ships of the Brazilian navy, very few are of French origin. Most of those not built in Brazil originated with the United States, United Kingdom, or Germany. All of the Brazilian ships under development are from France or Italy. That signals a clear shift of geopolitical alliances — one that’s pretty serious, given that Brazil is very much on the ascendency and the U.S. just had its credit downgraded.

And what of a nation developing a nuclear-propelled submarine force, with conventional arms, to protect its oil reserves? The truth is, that’s not very far away from what the United States, Britain, China, the Soviet Union and now Russia have been doing at least since the end of World War II. All this crap about furthering global democracy and/or Communism is, depending on how you wanna frame it, either a complete scam or is part and parcel of defending oil reserves and other natural resources.

Of course, the most important thing a country’s military defends, at least on the U.S. model, is the opportunity to make money.

Which is why the Brazilian nuclear subs will not be built in France; they’re Brazilian jobs, with French technology. It looks to me like Brazil is doing exactly what the U.S. does when Brazil’s Embraer tries to woo them — tries to bring the project into the local economy, though that often ends up being a bit of a scam. Politicians’ claims that local jobs will be provided could mean anything or nothing…just like in the U.S. They might be lies, damn lies, or more damn lies, but two things are for sure…these subs are nuclear; and they’re being built with French technology, not U.S.



German Teen Mag’s Victim-Blaming Date-Rape AIDS Panic Photostory Ist Nicht Ganz Toll

August 4th, 2011 No comments

Screencap from Bravo.de.

CAUTION: The following references to some seriously hateful victim-blaming in a fictional case of date rape may prove triggering to some of you. It certainly did the author. Reader discretion is advised.

The German magazine Bravo is a mainstay among German teens. In its hallowed pages can be found celebrity news on truly awful American celebrities, as well as German ones. German teens also look to the magazine for guidance in conducting their sexual affairs. Unfortunately.

You see, Bravo has long published a series of really weird PG-rated photostories about teens’ sexual exploits. When I say “photostories,” well, you may recall those weird little glossy-paged paperbacks you could pick up in the ’70s and ’80s that would retell stories from The A-Team, the pilot episode of Airwolf, or Planet of the Apes, or, say, Ordinary People in stills and speech bubbles. It’s like that.

Only in Bravo’s photostory “Der One-Night Stand,” which was originally published in 2006 and then recently reposted, we have not The Star Wars Holiday Special in photocomix, but a PG-rated cautionary tale about Sandy, 16-year-old girl who is annoyed by her boyfriend Basti’s obsession with football. She goes out and gets drunk, then gets date raped by Rob, who turns out to be HIV positive.

Guess whose fault this is, in the twisted logic of this hate tract? That’s right, Sandy’s to blame! In fact, the blame she places on herself is presented in the story as entirely appropriate. The situation is portrayed as “cheating” — and all Sandy’s fault — even though it’s clearly a blatant case of alcohol-facilitated date rape.

It gets worse. After Sandy’s best friend distances herself from Sandy, apparently creeped out by the idea that Sandy might be HIV positive; that doesn’t stop Sandy from taking her friend’s advice about getting an HIV test. Appaerntly, in the warped photocomic’s counter-Germany, she has to wait twelve weeks for the results. This is a grotesque piece of misinformation obviously intended as a scare tactic — HIV results haven’t taken twelve weeks, to my knowledge, ever. Maybe they do in Germany, but I doubt it. I suspect that’s nothing more than an attempt to make HIV seem more deadly and mysterious to scared teens than it already does.

Don’t worry, though — Basti responds to Sandy’s confession of “guilt” in “cheating” on him by — anyone? — That’s right, kicking her rapist’s ass! The only problem? Anyone? That’s right! Basti gets blood on his knuckles! As the story closes, we’re left wondering whether Basti himself may seroconvert, and, yes, it’s all Sandy’s fault.

If it seems like I’ve been engaging in a little Frölichkeit above, you should know that the fun stops here.

You can read “Der One-Night Stand” in German here, though if you’re not a German-speaker you should be warned that Google Translate chokes on German colloquialisms — not to mention pronouns and cases. What’s worse, Bravo.de is so badly designed and loaded up with unending ad scripts as to make the photostory almost unreadable (which in some ways may be a blessing). So maybe that’s contributed to my righteous fury — clawing my way through more than sixty pages of this crap was a bit more than I signed on for.

The far more important caution is that “Der One-Night Stand” is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever read. I see it as a straight-up misogynist hate tract that is packaged as a cautionary tale. It’s not just triggering because of its portrayal of date rape; it’s the hateful victim-blaming and the blatant disregard for HIV-related facts that makes it impossible for me to read without wanting to break something.

Keep in mind that this is a mainstream media outlet for teens, not propaganda put out by some weird reactionary fringe group. And it was originally published five years ago, whereupon we heard not a peep.

When “Der One-Night Stand” was reposted recently, it came to the attention of Nadine Latsch at German feminist blog Maedchenmannschaft.net. She posted a commentary on the abominable thing. With a little help from Twitter and Facebook, she started a firestorm of German-language controversy that’s grown to the point where ABC News is covering it.

The hysteria fueled by victim-blaming lies and misinformation like this contributes directly to teens feeling of sexual disempowerment, which contributes to a failure to take appropriate safety measures. The chance of Basti contracting HIV, for instance, from a fistfight, is virtually nonexistent in practical terms. More importantly, it’s completely insignificant compared to the hysteria such a fear causes in teens who are not at risk…but might put themselves at risk if they feel disempowered by risky behaviors’ seeming (fraudulent) ubiquity.

Most important of all, what Sandy experiences is date rape, not “cheating.”

Those were some of the issues voiced by Lantzsch in her blog post about the piece. Here, her German-language post is paraphrased by ABC News:

In her blog entry, Lantzsch writes that, in the piece, Bravo has “portrayed non-consensual sex without exploring the problems relating to it.” Lantsch told SPIEGEL ONLINE by phone that she has since complained to both the editors at Bravo as well as its publishing house, Bauer. Lantzsch said she is concerned that the photo story does not sufficiently describe the encounter depicted in the story as sexual violence. And that’s not the only problem with it.

…”In addition to belittling rape and victim blaming, (Bravo) has also included prejudices about those ill with HIV — portraying them as pathological and socially isolated — people who ruthlessly ‘infect’ others just as soon as they have the opportunity,” Lantzsch writes in her blog entry.

Lantzsch says that she and her colleagues at the maedchenmannschaft.net blog often inform companies and media of such mistakes, but that they are often brushed off by the editors. “It isn’t seldom that we get answers like: ‘You didn’t understand the joke’,” she says.


That’s more or less what the publisher of Bravo.de has said in response to the criticism, and as far as I can tell the controversy has dropped off the map. A magazine responsible for giving lifestyle information to teens has created one of the most awful examples in history of misogynist rape-apologist propaganda, and it’s all blown over.

The photostory is still up, still pumping out its hateful victim-blaming nonsense and viral misinformation.


Radiation Soars at Fukushima — to 10 Sieverts Per Hour

August 2nd, 2011 No comments


Image from NHK.

NHK English, and Al Jazeera (but, weirdly, not yet The Japan Times) are reporting that the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant is showing levels of localized radiation potentially lethal to humans in just minutes –high enough to actually go off the scale of the plant operator’s Geiger counters. Now, the reports are of localized radiation of at least 10 sieverts per hour — according to the plant operator TEPCO, that’s enough to cause severe radiation sickness in humans after just a few seconds of direct exposure.

I say “at least” because that’s as high as the Geiger counters go, so there’s no way to tell. The speculation is that the radiation comes from material left over from emergency venting in the first few days of the crisis, rather than some new breakdown. But it’s worth pointing out that such an answer would mean the radiation had been there the whole time.

Interestingly, while NHK refers to the hotspot as an “exhaust pipe” — ulp — Al Jazeera prefers to call it a “ventilation stack” — slightly less scary, eh? The radiation has shown up, from what I can tell, in two spots in the same pipe/stack. Here’s what NHK says:

The operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear complex is searching for radioactive hotspots after finding record high radiation near an exhaust pipe at the plant.

Tokyo Electric Power said on Monday that over 10,000 millisieverts per hour had been detected at the bottom of the exhaust pipe in between reactor buildings No.1 and No.2. That’s the highest level detected since March when the quake and tsunami disabled the plant.

A photo released on Tuesday shows workers taking measurements with a detector attached to the tip of a 3-meter-long arm. The level of radiation where the workers stood reportedly reached 40 millisieverts per hour.

TEPCO says the exhaust pipe was used when radioactive air was vented from the No.1 reactor’s containment vessel one day after the March 11th disaster.

The company subsequently revealed that the reactor had suffered a nuclear fuel meltdown. The utility believes highly radioactive substances that leaked from the container flowed into the pipe and accumulated inside.



What appears to be a second hotspot is mentioned by Al Jazeera:

“Authorities are working on the theory though that it has come from those initial hydrogen explosions that we’ve saw at the plant in the days after the earthquake and tsunami,” [the correspondent said]. …”It is now looking more likely that this area has been this radioactive since the earthquake and tsunami but no one realised until now.”

On Tuesday, TEPCO said it found another spot on the ventilation stack itself where radiation exceeded 10 sieverts per hour, a level that could lead to incapacitation or death after just several seconds of exposure.

The company used equipment to measure radiation from a distance and was unable to ascertain the exact level because the device’s maximum reading is 10 sieverts.


A level of 10 Sieverts (Sv) per hour, incidentally, is kind of a lot of radiation. I was slightly dubious of the correspondent’s claim that it can cause radiation sickness after a few seconds, but TEPCO’s math is actually not that far off the mark, especially since the level could be far higher than that.

The safety limits for workers at Fukushima is 250 millisieverts (mSv) per year. Acute exposure to 1,000 mSv, or one Sievert (Sv) total is generally considered enough to reliably cause mild radiation sickness (often only half that, but it varies widely). Keep in mind that the measured localized radiation is ten times that — but only because that’s where the equipment stops measuring it.

Image by Randall Munroe at XKCD.com.

According to XKCD’s handy radiation exposure chart (reposted at right), acute human exposure to 8 Sv total is thought to result in death even with treatment; 4 Sv is usually fatal even with prompt treatment; 2 Sv causes severe and possibly fatal radiation sickness. A total exposure of 10 Sv would absolutely be fatal, even with treatment, so the fact that 10 Sv/hour is the limit of the equipment is pretty significant.

At 10 Sv/hour, my sketchy math skills give me something like two minutes and fifteen seconds to possible acute radiation sickness, so…”a few seconds” might be pushing it, but it’s sure as hell not a cakewalk. Radiation exposure over a short period of time also causes more acute effects.

Los Alamos physicist Harry Daghlian, by comparison, received an estimated dose of 5.1 Sv in the August, 1945 criticality experiment with the “demon core” that also killed self-described “bomb putter-togetherer” Louis Slotin the following year. Daghlian died of acute radiation syndrome 25 days after the first accident. Slotin (who, incidentally, consoled Daghlian as he died) probably received 21 Sv in the second accident, and died in 9 days. Both exposures were for just a few seconds.

The local Fukushima levels measured — that is to say, the limits of the equipment — therefore represent about twice Daghlian’s exposure, or half Slotin’s, per hour, compared to the few seconds that resulted in the exposures in the two Los Alamos accidents.

Harry Daghlian, Creative Commons from Wikipedia.

It’s slightly disingenuous to compare these events, because they have so little to do with each other. Daghlian and Slotin were not wearing protective gear. They both received direct bursts of radiation from weapons-grade plutonium, which is the same grade of plutonium used in Fukushima’s mixed-oxide or MOX fuel — but in MOX it’s not in pure form. Many things affect the level of ionizing radiation absorbed by human tissues, including the exact kind of radiation, and what tissue is absorbing it; its not just apples-to-apples, here. The number of case studies of acute human exposure to high levels of ionizing radiation from fissionable material is, thankfully, pretty damn limited. We don’t know all that much about what radiation this intense would do to a person, because luckily not that many people through history have been exposed.

And it’s also worth observing that Slotin’s and Daghlian’s exposures were only for a few seconds because the accidents only lasted a few seconds. The measured radiation at Fukishima has, the theory goes, endured since the inception of the crisis (or shortly thereafter).

There’s no evidence that this specific 10+ Sv/hour source of radiation has any access to the environment — the ocean, groundwater, etc. — now, or at any point in the last few months. But the radiation, by definition, must be coming from some material.

Is that material properly isolated from the environment? Clearly not by intention, since plant workers just found out about it. Probably not by design, since it’s somewhere it’s not expected, and the protective structures at Fukushima were unquestionably compromised. Assuming it’s been there for months, might it have been kept isolated from the local environment by pure chance and dumb luck?

Louis Slotin's Los Alamos badge photo. Public Domain, from Wikipedia.


That said, the currently available descriptions represent no specific threat whatsoever from this specific radiation to the immediate environment, let alone the global environment (overall at Fukushima? That’s another story entirely…). However, I mention the examples above to describe just how astronomical the difference is between the levels reported thus far at Fukushima and the levels being discussed now. No humans have been exposed to that level of radiation — and again, keep in mind that no one involved in the Fukushima accident has died from radiation, despite the widespread (though short-lived) belief in the West that the “Fukushima 50″ had “sacrificed themselves.”

But in immediately local terms (ie, at the bottom of the ventillator stack) these levels are orders of magnitude worse than what was seen during the original acute phase of the crisis after the earthquake and tsunami. We’re not talking about anything even remotely close to the levels that sent plant workers to the hospital after they stepped in dirty water. We’re talking about many times that.

If these reports are accurate, then they represent the worst radiation danger to plant workers (and, by extension, the local environment) that has ever been seen at Fukushima — including the initial crisis when things were exploding and cores were melting down. It makes the local radiation levels described in the heart of the crisis seem like child’s play. That’s partially true because, obviously, the cleanup requires plant workers to go (or send their equipment) into places that no sane person would have gone immediately following the explosions. Cleanup requires plant workers to dig deep…so they’re discovering just how serious the release of radiation was, and is.

Before North Americans reading this start packing up their Volvo station wagons with shotgun ammo and cat-carriers, you should know that the levels are more than just localized to the power plant site — they’re localized to the bottom of a single shaft (so far). But again, these levels are coming from somewhere, and it’s reasonable to think that the material putting out that kind of radiation must be going somewhere — like out to sea, for instance. Al Jazeera’s silent on that matter.



The Face of a Norwegian Killer

July 23rd, 2011 5 comments

Andres Behring Breivik, from Politicons.net.

The photo above was published, unconfirmed, on the conservative blog Politicons.net. The blogger claims it’s a photo of the 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik, who has been arrested in conjunction with both the huge terrorist bombing in downtown Oslo and the massacre at the Labor Party’s nearby youth camp.

The Norwegian press has categorized him as a right-wing extremist and a self-claimed Freemason, which was enough to start the tinfoil hat parade of people posting online that he’s a mind-controlled slave to the Illuminati. Wikipedia linked to a page of Breivik’s comments on the website Document.no, which is described as an anti-Muslim website (though as far as I can tell, it seems more like a garden-variety Norwegian conservative site).

That website’s publisher put a link to Breivik’s comments on its front page, with a notice that it was doing so because of attention aimed at Breivik. Strangely, several of Breivik’s comments seem to focus on his wanting to take over a leadership role at the site, but I read this as self-aggrandizing behavior on Breivik’s part, not necessarily culpability on the part of the site.

Though the comments were made in Norwegian — and Document.no is a Norwegian site — it’s easy enough to generate a spotty Google Translate version that, despite the linguistic and contextual problems inherent to auto-translations, proves deeply disturbing the more you read of it.

Incidentally, as I write this, no indication of a conspiracy or wide-ranging plot has appeared, that I can find, either in the Norwegian or English-language press. He appears to have acted alone.

A story in Norwegian referenced Breivk’s claimed Facebook page, and noted that it had reportedly been deleted several times (I’m not clear on whether it was for objectionable content). The Politicons blog links to what claims to be his Twitter account, where there’s only one Tweet…but it’s creepy as hell:


It’s a quote from John Stuart Mill. Though Mill is an important figure in “liberal political philosophy,” it should be noted that this is actually a different use of the term “liberal” than is meant when it’s used today in the United States. That “liberal” tag is sometimes used by those that I see as economically right-wing to claim that they are “original liberals” or subscribe to “classical liberalism.” Ultra-Conservative wonks love to pull that liberal tag out to confuse issues about who’s the liberal, and to avoid calling themselves conservative. Though he was, for the times, socially liberal, advocating free speech and personal liberty, it’s John Stuart Mill’s dreams of personal liberty based on free-market economics that so influence the right today. Never mind that Mill once wrote, “I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.”

But Breivik was not afraid to call himself conservative, and does so (choosing the label “cultural conservative”) on Document.no. In short, Breivik appears to be, as the New York Times reported and the Norwegian press has categorized him, a right-wing extremist. From his comments on Document.no, he is anti-Muslim and anti-multicultural, also strongly anti-Marxist and anti-Nazi. His writings speak repeatedly of “the European struggle” against “Islamic immigration.” Though he appears to be  a fan of Norwegian anti-Nazi Resistance fighter Max Manus, his language on Document.no is disturbingly reminiscent both of the ’30s National Socialists (and their affiliated groups in other countries, particularly England) and of the vaguer, more coded anti-immigrant messages from today’s right-wing groups in the U.S., particularly California (long the heartland of neo-Nazi and White Nationalist groups). “The European Struggle” sounds like it could be the title of a Nazi propaganda film.

The truly disturbing thing is that I can already hear in my head the apologist sentiments from people in the U.S. who might be unfamiliar with Nazi, white nationalist and other crypto-extremist ideology that tries to sound reasonable. Conservatives, pro-Americans, self-appointed Libertarians and tell-it-like-it-is types often interpret comments like Breivik’s as being reasonable…a sort of “common sense” response to the riddle of global terrorism. That is…when they don’t come from a guy who just killed dozens of his own countrypeople.

In fact, Breivik’s comments, at least insofar as I (inexpertly) interpret the Norwegian, are a mix of conservative political ideology and heavily-coded allusions to race war, in language that seems transparent to any student of German, South African, or Russian history. These codes are mixed in with explicitly anti-Islamist statements that could easily have been among the “more reasonable” comments left on virtually any Fox News or CNN story about Islamic terrorism…and that’s the weird part. Breivik is clearly a racist, pinko-hating nut who gets hives when children sing Kumbaya, but I don’t see any premonitions of violence, at least not directly. I just see the same stuff that often comes from some of the more educated Americans who have a bone to pick with multiculturalism and what they’ve decided is “Marxism” — and do so with single-minded fanaticism, while still sounding like some of the more reasonable people posting on the net. His comments include the opinion that Marxism is a hate-based ideology like Islamism and Naziism, but that all hate-based ideologies that lead to slaughter should be considered the same. He seems, despite his prejudiced statements, to claim be anti-hate…and anti-slaughter.

I don’t know if, in that context, it would be more or less disturbing if the people Breivik slaughtered hadn’t been mostly blonde, blue-eyed Norwegians like himself. Breivik’s objection appears to have been to the whole direction he believed European society was headed — toward multiculturalism. To counteract that, he set off bombs in Oslo and murdered, en masse, young people.

His perceived campaign seems to have been against the “multiculturalist” elements — that is, the Norwegian political left — but it’s as hard to reconcile Breivik’s claimed politics with his actions as it is Timothy McVeigh’s. It’s hard to see anything but utter madness in his behavior. Even the term “mental illness” becomes insufficient to describe the kinds of maladies of the soul that drive someone to behave like this. It’s tempting to try to view Breivik’s right-wing politics as the source of his behavior. But it’s far more likely that, for Breivik alone, they were a symptom of extreme disturbance, not a cause of his rampage.

And maybe that’s the way it usually is. Clearly terrorist violence from any quarter defies reason on some level. That’s the very thing that makes the dream logic of slaughter both fascinating and unendingly torturous to consider. But if anybody ever needs reminding that race-based hatred and militancy lead to indiscriminate violence, I hope they’ll remember the case of Breivik’s anti-multicultural race war…against Norwegians.

Here are a few of his creepier comments, translation jerryrigged and semi-paraphrased from Google Translate and my own interpretation:

Japan and South Korea are clear examples of countries that consistently and very directly dismissed multiculturalism. They were steadfast in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and this continues to this day…The UN has for years been trying to push [Japan and South Korea] to receive hundreds of thousands of refugees…Multiculturalists will be very embarrassed if you mention Japan and South Korea as these nations proves quite obvious that mass immigration is only a result of specific Marxist doctrines, and is very rarely allowed. Japan / South Korea has a border and border guards. If one lacks the visa one is denied passage…(Europe had this scheme prior 1950-1960). The interesting question is, why aren’t the Japanese and South Koreans demonized as the Nazis and fascists? We know the answer…

The problem is that it often does not help that 80% of Muslims are “moderates”, ie they ignore the Quran. “It takes very few people to overthrow a plane.” …What percentage is the Taliban of Pakistan’s population? 1%, 3%, 5%? And how much chaos is there today? In every society where Islam exists there will be a certain percentage of the Muslims who actually follow the traditional interpretations of the Koran…And then we have the relationship between conservative Muslims and so-called “moderate Muslims”…There are moderate Nazis, too, that will not support fumigation of Jews. But they’re still Nazis and will only sit and watch as the conservatives Nazis strike (if it ever happens). If we accept the moderate Nazis as long as they distance themselves from the fumigation of rooms and Jews?

Unfortunately, Marxists have already infiltrated-culture, media and educational organizations. These individuals will be tolerated and will even work as professors and lecturers at colleges / universities and are thus able to spread their propaganda.For me it is very hypocritical to treat Muslims, Nazis and Marxists differently. They are all supporters of hate-ideologies. Not all Muslims, Nazis and Marxists are conservative, most are moderate. But does it matter? A moderate Nazi might, after having experienced fraud, choose to be conservative. A moderate Muslim can, after being refused to enter a club, be conservative, etc…It is obvious that the moderate supporters of hate-ideologies, at a later date may choose conservatism.

Islam (ism) has historically led to 300 million deaths

Communism has historically led to 100 million deaths

Nazism has historically led to 6-20 million deaths

ALL hate ideologies should be treated equally….

According to two studies  13% of young British Muslims between 15 and 25 support Al Qaeda’s ideology. The UK is representative for Norway, so I would guess that at least 15-20% of Norwegian Muslims support murder of gays. There is certainly no fewer that supports the killing of gays than to support Al Qaeda.

Although the majority of humanists but also many liberals are anti-nationalists, and is therefore by definition cultural Marxists. Promote either multiculturalism (cultural Marxism) or monoculture (nationalist), there is nothing in between, even though most do not dare to admit this yet. Well, there’s the multi-culture without Islam is a middle ground…The old definitions often do not apply anymore. Eg. the British Tories who actually still dare to call themselves conservatives support cultural Marxism / multiculturalism and should be renamed. One cannot support cultural Marxism/ multiculturalism and simultaneously call themselves conservative…The majority on the right side has unfortunately not yet found out that one must defeat multiculturalism in order to defeat the Islamization as many still see themselves as multiculturalists…


…Sometime in the future, most will have to flag the point of view, you will have to make a choice: nationalism or internationalism.


There’s a lot more — about 16,000 words of it. More to come, I’m sure.

The Terrafugia Transition: the Future of the Flying Car

July 17th, 2011 1 comment

About a year ago, the UK’s The Engineeer reported that the newest hope for a Future Filled With Flying Cars, the Terrafugia Transition, was likely headed for airports in the United States. It had just cleared a major regulatory hurdle in the United States when the FAA had allowed manufacturers an extra exemption in their attempt to qualify in the “light sport” category of aircraft.

That’s important why? Because aircraft in the light sport category only require about 20 hours of training to fly. It means that craft need to be under a 1,320-pound limit, but the FAA unexpectedly gave Terrafugia an extra exemption of 110 pounds. That means the folding-wing craft will probably qualify. But according to an article today in the Daily Mail, shortly after that story things looked dicey, when the FAA requested changes amounting to something like $20 million.

Well, the U.S. military came to the rescue, inveigling the Boston-based Terrafugia into its $60 million plan to develop a flying Hummer. (I’ve been working on that for years, too, but the damn flight attendants…scratch that, no, no, I just can’t go there.) Once the FAA approves the Transition, it’ll be a small matter for the European authorities to clear it, too, since they tend to follow the FAA’s lead on small craft.

Anyway, the Transition is far more promising than this bizarre vehicle, which showed at the Bangalore airshow…and appears to be an economy car that someone staple-gunned a wing on the top of.

Importantly, though, the Transition isn’t the sort of fly-by-wire thing that was trumpeted at the end of last century by Davis, California-based company Moller, which planned its Skycar to be flown on an automatic system that guaranteed cars wouldn’t run into each other in the air. That proved out of reach, along with some of Moller’s other technology — and Moller declared bankruptcy a few years back. By all accounts, the Moller Skycar is dead, and it looks like the Terrafugia Transition assumes its Jetsons crown. In general, the flying car category is the resting place of many wacky designs, as well as fantastically bizarre claims from “experts” — like those from NASA who said, in the press for a 2007 design competition, that “45% of all miles traveled” in the future might be by “personal air vehicle,” or ultra-small plane (aka “flying car.”)

The short version? We won’t be zipping around city skies any time soon or flipping bitches between the Twin Peaks TV antennas. The Transition is flown just like a light sport plane; the wings fold up in 15 seconds at the touch of a button and you can stash it in your garage or drive it on the freeway. It needs about 1,500 feet to take off, but in the U.S. it would be unlawful to fly it randomly off the freeway.

The original article at the Engineer was saying the plane/car would likely go on sale for about $194,000, but the Daily Mail is now saying it’ll be closer to $250,000 in the U.S. That may sound like a chunk of change — it does to me — but it’s actually not completely out of step with what a new small plane costs nowadays, and most small planes don’t hit the highway unless it’s in a bad way. A new single-engine Cessna, for instance, starts in the low $100,000s, though you can get one used in good condition for a heck of a lot less than that. The Terrafugia Transition is said to get up to about 42 miles to the gallon on the ground. The Daily Mail says it drinks high-octane gas, but I’m not clear on exactly how high-octane. Usually I would assume that means AvGas, the typical fuel for small planes in the United States. But it looks, from the photo above, like it actually means straight-up road gasoline, srsly.

The advantages of a flying car over a light airplane are many, and will be obvious to anyone who’s ever flown in a small plane to an airport and then had to arrange ground transportation; getting a cab to come out to the kind of places they tend to stash recreation-friendly small-plane airports is sometimes pretty challenging. It’s one of the (many) reasons seaplanes are so popular places like Alaska, where one can tether a plane to your dock and not have to worry about finding an airport.

Plus, from below, it looks like a hammerhead shark:


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