Saturday, December 31, 2005

The NSA and Cookies

Some people are getting seriously overly-paranoid about the recent revelation that the NSA was setting permanent (well, very long life) web cookies and that federal guidelines state they should only use "session-only" cookies (ones that go away if you shut down your browser or reboot your computer). There never was any danger.

If you've read any of my other posts, you'll know I despise the Bush administration and have nothing but contempt for the illegal wiretapping Bush has been doing for the past four years. But don't get your knickers in a twist over the NSA cookies because they are not a danger. I know this because I geek for a living.

The http protocol (the thing that requests and receives web pages) is "stateless." It doesn't have any memory of what you've done before. It cannot even be sure that the computer requesting one page from a web server is the same as the computer requesting a different page on the same server. They may have the same IP address, but if you're on dial-up you could have been kicked off after getting one page, somebody else connects and gets your old IP address and requests the other page. It's unlikely, but it's possible.

This statelessness makes it impossible to implement things like shopping carts. That's why Netscape came up with the idea of cookies. Now, like all of Netscape's design decisions made before it became open source software, the design decision was made without consultation with any of the Internet or WWW standards bodies, the concept was flawed and the implementation was even more flawed, but it kind of worked.

If you feel like being bored senseless by geeky things, here is Netscape's original cookie specification. Here is the Internet Engineering Task Force's attemp to fix Netscape's flawed proposal before it got cast in stone. Naturally, both Netscape and Microsoft[turdmark] decided not to do it the right way because they'd already shipped the broken way to a handful of beta testers. The IETF eventually came up with a way of doing it right while accommodating browsers that chose to do it the flawed Netscape way.

If you did read the geeky stuff, you'll have seen that there are mechanisms in place so that only the site that issued the cookie to your browser will get to see its contents. Even with cookies that expire far in the future the best the NSA can do is tell if you've been there before when you visit the NSA website (and, depending upon stored content, perhaps some of what you looked at last time). They can't use those cookies to find out that you've been visiting or or or

Of course, cookies can be abused by advertisers like DoubleClick (or "doublecunts" as they're known in the geek trade). Just about any website you go to has adverts from one of a handful of advertising placement companies. Each of those adverts is accompanied by a cookie from that company. So if you visit different websites with adverts from the same company, they can track where you have been. If you go to site A and see an advert from it leaves a cookie. If you then go to site B that has an advert from it can inspect the cookie it left from the previous advert and keep track of you. Eventually you buy something on-line from a company that has an agreement with to hand over your personal details, and then they have you. A flood of junk mail and junk e-mail.

But unless the NSA is secretly running an advertisement placement company (not impossible) they can't do that to you. And even if the NSA were doing that, it would be unrelated to, and unaffected by, cookies from

Of course, in the early days of cookies both Netscape and Microsoft made fundamental, "computer programming 001" type mistakes that meant that a specially-crafted cookie could do bad things to your computer. Those problems got fixed, eventually, and it's been years since a cookie could cause actual damage.

Some people have also been overly-paranoid about why the NSA were using cookies in the first place since the site apparently doesn't need them. So are they right?

<clickety-clickety> - the webserver claims it's running Microsoft Internet Information Server version 6.0. Webservers sometimes lie about what they are in order to try to prevent people attacking them, but nobody with any sense would make a webserver lie and claim to be IIS/6.0 since every script-kiddy in the land would try to attack it (because Microsoft products are a pile of shit as far as security goes). Microsoft webservers turn on cookies by default. In fact it's damned difficult to turn them completely off. So an upgrade or security patch to IIS could have re-enabled them. No sign of them on the main page or a few randomly-chosen pages.

Ah-ha! The job application form sent a cookie, which is entirely reasonable if it's a multi-stage form. A cookie labelled "WebLogicSession". <google google> WebLogic is from BEA and "delivers application infrastructure technology in a single, unified, easy-to-use platform for application development, deployment, and management." Translation: it's a tool that allows complete morons to create websites with interactive content (like job application forms). There are a lot of similar products, and almost all of them use cookies unnecessarily, not just on the pages where they're needed.

So it looks like the NSA claim that they upgraded some third-party software which decided to use cookies everywhere and set for long expiry times is at least plausible. And even if it's a complete fabrication there was never any danger in the first place.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why Only Impeachment Will Do

I wrote here about the need to impeach Bush over his wiretapping. I mentioned that legislation was unlikely to curb him. Let me expand upon that.

When Bush wanted to torture people, there were several laws that should have stopped him. The Constitutional amendment about "cruel and unusual punishment." Two international treaties against torture (the Geneva Conventions and a treaty specifically against torture), to which the US is signatory and are therefore constitutionally considered to be "the supreme law of the land." US legislation against torture. And the Army Interrogation Manual which put limits upon interrogation techniques.

Did Bush let any of that stop him? Of course not. He had John Yoo write an opinion that the Geneva Conventions were "quaint" and outdated. He had John Yoo write another opinion that it wasn't torture unless it caused pain as intense as organ failure. He labelled people as "enemy combatants," a classification not in the Geneva Conventions, so they could be tortured. He shipped people to a naval base on Cuba at Guantanamo Bay and claimed US law didn't apply there since it was outside the US (under international law it would be classified as US soil, just as US embassies are). And, of course, he lied and said the US doesn't torture, it abides by the law (well, John Yoo's LSD-trip interpretations of the law).

And then came McCain's amendment to close all the loopholes and specifically limit interrogation of "terrists" to those techniques in the Army Interrogation Manual. Bush and Cheney pleaded and begged to continue to be allowed to torture people (while at the same time saying the US doesn't torture people) but McCain stood firm. The amendment passed. And immediately after the amendment passed, the Pentagon announced that it was revising the Army Interrogation Manual and that the new edition would contain eight pages that would be classified secret. You don't have to see those secret pages to know what they will contain.

This is just one example of Bush bending, twisting and ignoring the law so he can do whatever he damned well pleases. There are many others, though most are too complicated for hard-of-thinking Bush supporters to grasp.

Further legislation to prevent Bush wiretapping US citizens just won't work. FISA already prevented that, and the result was that Bush simply ignored FISA and went his own way. If Congress is foolish enough to try to curb Bush with further legislation, that too will be ignored. The only way to stop him is by impeachment (which will have to include Cheney because he's even worse than Dubya).

If Bush is not impeached then he will use his wiretap powers to eavesdrop upon representatives and senators in Congress. There will be enough of them with secrets (extra-marital affairs, sexual foibles, graft, corruption) that he will be able to blackmail a majority into voting his way upon every issue, even if they totally disagree with him. And then instead of Bush having to break or ignore laws to get his way he will be able to get laws passed that support his every whim.

What's worse is that he may be able to blackmail a supermajority of Congress and a majority of at least three-fourths of state legislatures. That gives him the power to amend the Constitution any way he wants. Like getting rid of that pesky XXIInd Amendment that limits him to two terms.

If you want to prevent this nightmare scenario, write your Congress critters and inform them where wiretapping will lead. Explain to them that a man who has repeatedly bent, broken, twisted and ignored laws will not be constrained by further legislation and that only impeachment will do. Explain to them that if they do not impeach Bush now they will never be able to in the future because a majority of both houses will be under Bush's thumb and unable to rebel. It's now or never.

Everyone Hates Me

They all fucking hate me. The Democrats have always hated me. The US public hates me. My own fucking party has started to treat me like I'm radioactivist. And now this.

Barney just crapped in my elbow. Miss Beazley just crapped down the back of my left leg with a really runny crap that's soaked right through. And Laura thinks it's fucking funny.

That's enough! The fucking three of them are going to be on a CIA flight to fucking Gitmo tomorrow. They'll learn that you don't fucking crap on the President and get away with it.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Why Both Sides of the Aisle Hate the Wiretapping

Both sides of the aisle are seriously pissed off with Bush's wiretapping.

It's easy to understand why the Democrats are pissed off. Their every campaign tactic would be known to a President who could get his brain (Rove) to figure out exactly the best counter-tactic. Their every personal foible would be known: no longer would Rove have to invent credible smears, he'd know where to send photographers to capture evidence of illicit dalliances.

It's harder to figure out why the GOP is so upset. Rarely have I seen anybody try to explain that. And when I have it's the "you're not going to like it when the shoe is on the other foot." But, unless the California and Florida decertification of Diebold voting machines, and the imminent decertification of ES&S voting machines are taken up by most states, that shoe isn't ever going to be on the other foot. The coming mid-terms are the very last chance the US has to institute an honest electoral system, because if the GOP succeeds in rigging the voting again it's going to win by a landslide, mandate rigged voting machines in every state, and you're facing one-party rule forever.

So why are those on the right of the aisle so upset? Because almost all of them are corrupt, with some of them being very corrupt. I know the Democrats slid down the slippery slope to corruption after decades in power, but most in the GOP started out corrupt. For instance, google for DeLay honorarium and you'll find that one of the very first things he did after gaining a seat was try to exploit it for "honorariums" and set up his "K-Street Project."

And therein lies the problem. The GOP pretends to have a united front even though in actuality they are almost as diverse as the Democrats. The difference is that the GOP realizes the importance of "having all their shit in one sock." If necessary, they will chew on Bush's turds, but they won't actually swallow and they'll spit it out when they're out of public sight. They'll play along to stay in power, but you can only push them so far (see McCain's attempt to explicitly ban torture).

Bush's wiretaps means that he'll learn all the dirty little secrets of GOP representatives and senators. Stuff, since they're so corrupt, that can get them indicted and locked away for many years. They know that if Bush's wiretaps continue, they'll not only have to chew on his turds, they'll have to swallow, and tell everyone how yummy they are with a big grin on their face as they say it.

Given that Bush is crazier than a shithouse rat on PCP, that's something they don't want to happen. A few of them have already politely declined Bush "helping" with their election campaigns because they know how deeply unpopular he is with the majority of the country (and their states still have honest voting methods). One welcomed Bush's help and found he went from a large majority to a major loss. They want the freedom to be able to do what is best for them, not what is best for Bush (they should be trying to do what is best for the country, but they're corrupt Republicans so you can't expect that to happen). Once Bush wiretaps them, they become his puppets.

The GOP has to put an end to it now or they're screwed. They're not worried that ordinary citizens get wiretapped. They're orgasmically ecstatic if the Dems get wiretapped. But the GOP getting wiretapped is a disaster for the GOP as corrupt individuals who have a limited freedom to work in their own best interests.

They might try using legislation to explicitly force him to stop wiretapping. But they know, from John Yoo's and Alberto "Torquemada" Gonzalez' previous imaginative (as in "LSD trip") interpretations of other laws that they're unlikely to stop him that way. So when that fails they're going to go for impeachment. They have to.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Yet another DU story

Leuren Moret, as always, exposes the horrors of Depleted Uranium munitions here.

Read it. You can't afford not to if you want any hope of life on earth surviving.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Joe Wilson for President!

OK, I know Joseph Wilson III has not expressed any desire to stand as a candidate, and has even described himself as non-partisan. But...

There has been speculation about who will enter the Democratic primaries for 08 (and who will win). Apparently, Hillary Clinton, with over 40% support, is way ahead of the pack. The problem is that the pack are all wimps, kow-towing to Emperor Bush over Iraq, when the majority (over 60%) of the country thinks Bush is wrong on Iraq. The potential Democratic candidates, including Hillary, are rushing towards the centre as fast as they can because their advisors (who never leave K-street to find out how bad things are in the rest of the US and how desperately people want liberal policies) say that's how they can win. The advisors have been saying that for years, and they've been wrong every damned time.

Joe Wilson is an ideal candidate. He has been an ambassador, so has a good grasp of diplomacy (whereas all Dubya knows is how to piss off other countries, and Hillary's only qualification is that she may have slept with a President).

Joe Wilson is brave (unlike Dubya, who used his father's connections to duck out of Vietnam by serving in the Texas Air National Guard until it became too much for him and he went AWOL, whereas Hillary didn't even face the draft that her husband avoided). Wilson was acting as ambassador to Iraq prior to Desert Storm (Bush-the-slightly-smarter's war). He received a diplomatic note from Saddam saying that anyone harboring foreigners would be subject to execution. Wilson had already allowed 70 Americans to take refuge in the US Embassy. So the next day he gave a press conference with a noose around his neck telling Saddam that he was harboring Americans and wasn't about to give them up.

Joe Wilson, like Dubya, speaks his mind (Hillary is moving further and further away from the liberal principles she once espoused in the hope it will make her more electable). But unlike Dubya, Wilson knows when to remain silent and instead use a slightly more subtle way of making his views known (it's that "diplomacy" thing again). When Wilson returned to the US after the Iraq noose incident, he explained in an interview that the noose was intended to send the message "If protecting american lives is a crime, I'll provide my own fucking noose."

Joe Wilson has recently called the Busheviks "brownshirts," "radicals," and "school yard bullies" whereas Hillary is sucking up to them and saying they were right to invade Iraq even if they went about it the wrong way.

So who do you want? Somebody like Hillary who will "triangulate" until she ends up as "Bush lite" keeping the troops in Iraq and not reversing all the other evil that Bush has done? Or somebody who is willing to speak out against the evil that is the Bush administration and has put his life on the line in order to protect 70 Americans?

Joe Wilson isn't a politician, which is why he'd probably refuse to stand. The fact that he isn't a politician is probably the strongest reason for wishing that he would. Democratic politicians like Hillary will "triangulate" if they think it will get them elected (it will cause her to lose), while Republican politicians know they have to stick to their guns (or at least pretend they are doing so whilst in fact moving so far to the right they end up in an alternate universe).

Faced with a choice of Republican or real Democrat, willing to stand up for Democratic principles, the polls show the country will vote for the Democrat. Faced with a choice of Republican or Republican-lite, people are going to vote for the real thing. Since the potential Democratic candidates are all rapidly becoming Republican-lite then our last hope is somebody like Wilson.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bush's Wiretapping Defence

Here is a prediction of one of the legal contortions Alberto "Torquemada" Gonzalez will use to justify Bush wiretapping US citizens. The idea came to me, ironically, from Senator Robert Byrd's No President is Above the Law speech:

The President claims that these powers are within his role as Commander in Chief. Make no mistake, the powers granted to the Commander in Chief are specifically those as head of the Armed Forces. These warrantless searches are conducted not against a foreign power, but against unsuspecting and unknowing American citizens. They are conducted against individuals living on American soil, not in Iraq or Afghanistan. There is nothing within the powers granted in the Commander in Chief clause that grants the President the ability to conduct clandestine surveillance of American civilians.

I doubt any Senator is as thoroughly versed in the Constitution as Byrd: he carries a copy of it around with him at all times and studies it frequently. But I believe he has not given consideration to just how evil and slimy these people are.

The problem with Byrd's analysis is where he says "foreign power." Condi Lies 'R' Us has already dropped a big hint about the administration's view on this when she said she did not believe the pResident was required to get Congressional approval to attack Iran or Syria (or whichever oil-rich country they want to go after next). Congress did not give approval for a war in Afghanistan or a war in Iraq but for a War on Terror. In the Bushevik view, that means anyone and anywhere.

Oh dear, al-Qaeda is operating in Syria? Because we have Congressional approval for a War on Terror, that means we can whack Syria without any further approval from Congress.

What's that you say? al-Qaeda is operating in Iran? The War on Terror means we can invade Iran and we don't have to ask Congress first.

The administration is no longer claiming to be fighting foreign powers as such (although, of course, they are since they want to invade those countries for oil) but going after individual terrorists wherever they may be and whatever their nationality.

And that is the exploitable loophole. Once you conceed (as Congress did in its resolution) that this is a War on Terror, rather than a war against a specific country, the pResident's commander-in-chief powers apply to anyone, anywhere. Including US citizens in the US (ask Jose Padilla if you don't believe me). In fact the Padilla case, unless SCOTUS upholds the recent 4th Circuit Court's we are not amused attitude, it will serve as a precedent that US citizens on US soil can be treated as legitimate military enemies.

And there you have it. If it's legal to treat a US citizen arrested on US soil as a military enemy and subject to commander-in-chief authority rather than presidential authority then Bush can wiretap US citizens. In the War on Terror, anyone, anywhere may be an enemy including US citizens on US soil.

Obviously, such a position forces various clauses of the Constitution into conflict. There are the clauses guaranteeing US citizens various rights (notably the 1st and 4th amendments) and the clauses about commander-in-chief authority. When a US citizen upon US soil can legitimately declared a military enemy, which clauses govern?

If it is contested, this is something that will have to be decided by the Supremes, and there's no guaranteeing which way they'll decide (particularly if Scalito is serving). If the Supremes vote for tyranny then there is still one hope left: impeachment. But don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I Just Did a Big Shit on the Constitution

It was this big. Seriously. It was a monster. Turdzilla! And, man, did it reek! Laura threatened to call in the UN Chemical Weapons Inspection Team because she said it was giving off a poisonous gas. Laura also told me I'm not allowed to eat Burritos any more, but I'm the President and she can't stop me - if I eat them when she's not around.

I want to make it clear that it was perfectly legal to take a dump on the Constitution. Torquemada - that's my nickname for Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez - explained it to me: I am acting within my Constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief. Not only that, see, Congress approved "all necessary and appropriate force" in the War on Terra. And, boy, did I have to strain hard to force that sucker out - it brought tears to my eyes.

Anyway, like I said before, the terrists hate us because of our freedoms, so if I take away your freedoms the terrists will love us and the War on Terra will be over. That's why I'm going to take a massive shit on the Constitution tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after. And I'll keep on shitting on the Constitution until you have no freedoms left. And then the terrists will love the US and will no longer try to destroy the US by taking away your freedoms.

Now I know there are some people, people who are currently allowed to disagree with me without ending up in Gitmo, who say that I shouldn't crap on the constitution. I respect their right to their opinions, at least until the new, improved USA PATRIOT Act passes, but by having this discussion they are aiding my enemies. After all, the Constitution is just a goddamn piece of paper.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Downside of Impeaching Bush

Most left-wing blogs are quivering with ecstasy: Bush has admitted committing a criminal act (eavesdropping on US citizens without a warrant) and has insisted he will continue to do so. Congress is outraged. There are hopes of impeachment. But there is a downside to this.

Consider the following. Condi Lies 'R' Us has been on talk shows saying that what Bush did was perfectly legal but, when pressed for the statutes that permitted his actions came up blank. Torturer Geneneral Gonzalez has also been on talk shows saying that what Bush did was perfectly legal but, when pressed for the the statues permitting his actions came up with three different bogus legal constructions. What is interesting in all this is the dog that didn't bark in the night.

Unless I missed it, Darth Cheney has not spoken on this. Normally, when Condi has to tell lies on talk shows then Cheney does so on the same day. This time he hasn't. Maybe he doesn't think the issue is critical enough yet. Maybe he hasn't yet soaked up enough vital essence from lying in his undisclosed secret bath full of slaughtered virgins' blood to appear in daylight without turning into a pile of dust. Or maybe there is another reason.

Yes I do know that Cheney must have been at least peripherally involved in briefing Congressional intelligence committee leaders since Jay Rockefeller wrote Cheney a letter of protest. But Cheney can claim that he was only passing on orders. Cheney is, after all, the President of the Senate and is the natural go-between in this administration between the President and the Senate.

Bush is a pliable puppet - that's why he was chosen. People make much of the fact that Bush had plans to invade Iraq before he stole the 2000 election and said he wanted to be a war president because of the "political capital" it would give him. But did he think that up himself or was it fed to him? Take a look at this and you will see that Cheney and Wolfowitz had plans to invade Iraq to steal its oil since 1992 (read the whole document because it describes Cheney/Neocon plans since 1992 and has some very chilling information about a "new Pearl Harbor").

So it's pretty clear that much of Bush's thinking (such as it is) has been strongly influenced by Cheney and the Neocons constantly drumming ideas into his head. And that is the problem. Cheney is probably hoping to get away with "being out of the loop" over the eavesdropping. That would explain why he has not launched his usual snarling attacks on those who criticise it. Since it is almost certain that Bush (like Nixon) will be persuaded to resign rather than be impeached, there will be no evidence arising from an impeachment process to show that Cheney was up to his evil little neck in it.

So, threaten to impeach Bush, he resigns, and you get Cheney. The puppet replaced by the puppet master.

There have been many reports that Bush is out of control, is hitting the bottle again, and is subject to violent mood swings. There have been reports that Bush is paranoid because of all the recent leaks and now trusts only four close confidants. Were Bushs's ill-conceived speeches over the eavesdropping the result of Bush ignoring his confidants and going it alone? In which case Cheney would want to replace his out-of-control puppet. Or had Cheney become worried that the out-of-control puppet might do something really stupid (i.e., something that would drop Cheney in the shit) and managed to persuade somebody Bush still trusted to feed him the idea of giving speeches that would incriminate himself? It doesn't really matter: either way you get Cheney.

I'm not saying that Bush doesn't deserve to be impeached: the whole administration deserves to be impeached. But if you impeach Bush first you get Cheney, and that could be a far harder problem to deal with because Cheney isn't stupid (insane and evil, yes, but not stupid).

I should point out that Prison Planet has a different explanation for why Bush admitted eavesdropping just as the misnamed USA PATRIOT Act was up for renewal. According to Prison Planet, Cheney wants the renewal to fail and the eavesdropping to be stopped. A few months later there will be another "terrorist" attack on the US (as with 9-11, it will be an inside job) and it will be blamed upon the lack of the USA PATRIOT Act and freedom to eavesdrop upon US citizens. A new, improved, far more restrictive version of the Act will be rushed through Congress and it's hello dictatorship.

The Prison Planet idea is not incompatible with Cheney wanting to replace his puppet with himself. For a start, these people love plans which kill two birds with one stone: 9-11 allowed them to not only award the trans-Afghan pipeline contract back to Unocal but to have their long-wished-for war in Iraq. But if you're in the final stages of turning the US into a despotic tyranny you no longer need the puppet to be in line to become Supreme Dictator for Life because you no longer need a puppet to take the flak if things go wrong. In fact you don't want the puppet in that position because he might start to get ideas that he is actually in charge.

In this way the USA PATRIOT Act gets temporarily dropped and the puppet is replaced
by Cheney. After the "terrorist" attack the new improved act destroys all civil liberties in the US and turns it into a dictatorship with Cheney as the dictator. But Cheney's life-expectancy is short, so after Bush is impeached expect him to install a VP who will succeed him as Supreme Dictator when he steps down for health reasons. Whoever that VP is, it will be somebody who faithfully takes orders from the same shadow cabal that Cheney does and that Bush 41 did.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Which Way Will the World End?

Roll up, roll up! Which way will the world end? Place your bets!

Of all the scenarios presented below, all but one of them is actually happening right now. All of the scenarios happening right now are very close to the critical point, or on the critical point, or (perhaps) have passed the critical point.

There are some degrees of mutual dependency amongst the various scenarios. For instance, exceeding the carry capacity of the planet and intensive agriculture are almost two faces of the same coin. Yet we could exceed the carry capacity of the planet without intensive agriculture and intensive agriculture could doom us even if we were nowhere close to the carry capacity of the planet. The fact that we are at the carry capacity of the planet and the fact that we use intensive agriculture both contribute strongly to global warming. In the cases of dependencies like these, which scenario we blame for the calamity will depend upon which one is perceived to have the dominant effect.

Bear in mind when you read this that the world population is increasing by 1.1% per year. This may not sound too bad, but it is compound increase: if you start with 1 billion people then 1 year later you have 1.011 billion people; two years later you have not 1.022 billion people but 1.022121 billion people (1.011 × 1.011); three years later you have not 1.033 billion people but 1.033364331 billion people. The discrepancy may seem small, but as the years go by it becomes increasingly larger. If the growth were not compound then it would take 91 years for the population to double; because the growth is compound it will take only 64 years for the population to double.

This means that if you could take any of the resource problems below and magically reduce our consumption by half (e.g., cut oil consumption by half) or double the effective resource (e.g., make agriculture produce twice as much food) in only 64 years we will be at the same point. There is no magic that will allow us to do these things anyway. Also note that Bush has put restrictions on medical and humanitarian aid to under-developed and developing countries so that they cannot use it in facilities which promote birth control or contraception, so the population increase is likely to rise back to the high point it had in the early 1960s of 2.2%. With a population increase of 2.2% the population doubles every 32 years.

Here are the scenarios.

Exceeding the carry capacity of the planet
There are many limits on the carry capacity (how many human beings it can sustain in perpetuity) of the planet and we have exceeded several of these in various geographic locations and are close to exceeding them globally.

Some areas are dependent upon artesian wells drawing up underground water to sustain their population. Underground water that comes from rain falling on mountains hundreds or thousands of miles away and travelling underground. It can take several thousands of years for rain that fell on the mountain to percolate to the well from which it is drawn. As long as you draw off no more than is replenished, all is sustainable. When you go beyond that point eventually you will hit problems.

In fact there is an impending water crisis all over the planet. Freshwater is being diverted to sustain populations and agriculture. But the populations where the water is being taken from are also increasing. There is only so much fresh water to go around and we're using all of it. The population is growing...

The populations of some countries have outstripped their capability to sustainably grow crops. In Nepal the attempts to force greater crop yields have caused topsoil to lose its structure and wash away into rivers. That loss of topsoil, of course, increases the pressure to grow crops on what remains, causing more destruction of topsoil. It takes many thousands of years for topsoil to form.

In parts of Africa the need for fuel (for cooking) has caused people to chop down trees. Trees which prevented high winds from blowing away topsoil.

The Amazon rainforest is being relentlessly destroyed so the ground can be used to feed cattle which end up in MuckDonalds' burgers. The loss of rainforest is contributing to global warming (see a later scenario).

Over-fishing has collapsed fish stocks in the North Sea and around Canada to the point from which they may never recover even if fishing were banned completely (politics means that fishing will continue at ever lower rates until there are no more fish).

And so it goes. Part of the starvation problem in Africa is due to dicatators forcing populations to grow cash crops for export (to countries like the US) instead of feeding themselves. A large part of the problem is our insistence on high meat diets. It takes roughly ten times the crops (and water resources) to feed people meat raised on those crops as to feed them the crops directly. Chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, consume a diet which is around 2% meat; their intestinal tract is almost identical to our own so it is likely that we evolved to eat that little meat and many health problems are related to excess consumption of meat. But even if we all switched to diets that are mainly vegetarian that will only delay the problem by a century (not all farmland is suitable for crops, such as the hills of Wales which are suited only for raising sheep).

Intensive agriculture
Intensive agriculture, using artificial fertilizers, artificial pesticides, and oil-powered agricultural machinery has greatly increased the amount of food we can raise per acre. Without it we could not feed the world's population today (unless they went vegetarian). But it comes at a horrendous cost.

Artificial fertilizers and pesticides require large amounts of oil to make. Agricultural machinery requires oil to power it. Transporting food long distance by roads requires oil. Intensive agriculture is a major contributor to global warming (see later) and Peak Oil (see later).

Prior to intensive agriculture most people lived and worked on the land. There were no sewerage facilities so people used cess pits to ferment their excrement which was later returned to the land as fertilizer. Some food was shipped to the cities, where the excrement was lost to the land through sewerage systems. Now we have relatively few farm workers (driving monster farm machinery to replace the manual labour of days gone by) and major connurbations. The nutrition locked up in the soil goes to the crops; the crops go to the city; the city shits the nutrition into the sewers; the sewerage is dumped out at sea where it feeds algal blooms that poison fish.

To replace that lost nutrition we instead use artificial fertilizers. Unlike sewerage, which releases its goodness very slowly, artificial fertilizers get washed away into rivers within days of application. This means they must be applied frequently so that the crops can snatch up a tiny part before it is washed away. The washed away artificial fertilizer poisons streams and rivers before it eventually ends up in the oceans to feed algal blooms that poison fish.

Intensive agriculture is also destroying topsoil which takes many thousands of years to replace.

Global warming
Global warming is happening. It's measurable. There are a handful of honest scientists who think otherwise. There are a larger number of shills paid for by the oil companies who say otherwise whether they believe it or not. The vast majority of scientists are absolutely certain that global warming is happening. The only questions are how fast, how extreme, when will we reach the point of no return and what the exact changes will be.

One effect will be a melting of the icecaps and an increase in sea level. Most major coastal cities arose as ports: land which is close to sea level or near the mouth of a navigable estuary. Most major coastal cities will be flooded. Much low-lying land across the globe will be flooded.

Some of the effects of global warming are paradoxical: the United Kingdom and much of Europe may get very much colder. The UK is at the same latitude as Siberia but is very much warmer. This is due to the Gulf Stream: a warm ocean current starts from the Gulf of Mexico, follows the eastern coastlines of the US and Newfoundland, travels across the Atlantic, splits into two, one part flowing past (and warming) the UK and Northern Europe. It continues towards the Arctic, getting colder and saltier as it goes. At the arctic it is colder and saltier than the Arctic waters so sinks, and then makes a return journey to the Gulf of Mexico at a much lower depth. This "conveyer belt" is slowing down because of the melting of the Arctic icecap.

The change in temperatures around the globe will mean that some currently arable lands will become deserts. Areas which are still capable of growing crops will find that traditional crops are unsuited to the new conditions.

The Alaskan and Siberian permafrost is thawing. Permafrost is soil or marsh laced with ice that never melts and is strong enough to build houses on. Houses in Alaska are now suffering subsidence, or tilting over, or collapsing. The Siberian permafrost is mainly frozen marshland, and as the permafrost melts that marshland starts to decompose and release the greenhouse gas methane, increasing global warming.

The retreat of glaciers across the globe, and the melting of the icecaps, means there is less ice to reflect sunlight and more ground which absorbs sunlight, increasing global warming.

The exposure of Siberian marshland and the melting ice means that even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions right now (we can't) then things are going to get worse before they get better. In fact, they may already have reached the "tipping point" where nothing we can do will stop runaway global warming.

Take a rectangular carton of orange juice. Place your finger in the middle of one of the longer top edges and push a millimeter: the carton tilts. Release your finger and the carton drops back (it may rock a little). Repeat, but push a little further: again the carton tilts and again drops back when you remove the push. Keep going, pushing a little further each time. Eventually you push so far that the carton topples over even though you remove the push as soon as it starts to topple. That is the "tipping point" and we may already have passed that with global warming.

Peak Oil
In 1956 Shell geologist M King Hubbert came to the conclusion that the production rate of an oil field (or a region of oil fields) followed a "bell curve" (a curve which resembles the profile of a bell). Eventually you hit peak production (at the top of the bell curve) and thereafter production declines. Hubbert predicted US oil production would peak in the 1970s and his colleagues laughed at him.

Hubbert was proven right. US production did peak in the early 70s and precipitated the oil crisis when the US stopped being a nett exporter of oil and became a nett importer. The same principle applies globally and even the most optimistic estimates say that global peak oil will hit around 2020. In fact, there is some tentative evidence which indicates it may already have hit (production fluctuations mean it's hard to spot the exact peak). As it happens, we are just managing to fill demand with current production, but demand is increasing exponentially as the population grows and as the developing world becomes more industrialized.

When Peak Oil hits demand will continue to increase but supply will fall, leading to vastly increased prices ($100/gallon may sound high, but that is only decades away and it will get far, far worse in the years after). Driving less and using energy-efficient lightbulbs isn't going to help. Peak Oil doesn't mean that there is no oil left (in fact, there will be about as much left as we have extracted to date) but that there is not enough to go around and prices go through the roof.

Intensive agriculture is very dependent upon cheap oil to produce fertilizers and pesticides; to run agricultural machinery; to transport food long distances. Without cheap oil there can be no intensive agriculture. Without intensive agriculture approximately 90% of the world's population will die of starvation.

We have long since used up all the minerals and resources that could be obtained using a pick and shovel and a mule or two. The days when a small band of people using pickaxes and shovels could dig enough coal, iron ore, and limestone to set up an iron smelter have long gone. Today mineral resources are only accessible through the use of machinery powered by cheap oil. Without that we lose the ability to manufacture the items relied upon by modern civilization (most of which require vast amounts of cheap oil in addition to mineral inputs). In short, after Peak Oil we are headed towards another Stone Age. One from which there can be no escape because there are no longer any resources which can be obtained without cheap oil.

We have many alternative energy sources but none can compete with oil in terms of Energy Return on Investment (EROI). The EROI of oil is currently around 33 (by burning one barrel of oil you can obtain another 33 barrels of oil). Some of the best alternatives have an EROI of 1.5 and many alternatives still have EROIs of less than 1 (it takes more energy to make them than they ever pay back). None of the alternatives has the energy density of oil that would allow them to be suitable for the long-distance transport essential to today's society or even to power farm machinery.

Even if we already had an alternative energy source could provide an alterntive to oil for transportation, none of the alternative energy sources are deployed widely enough to replace more than a fraction of our energy usage. Most of them (solar and wind) cannot produce continuously and would require storage mechanisms we just don't have. The alternatives we have just don't cut it, even if they were far more widely deployed. And developing and deploying better alternatives would require a massive investment of time, money, and (most importantly) energy (in the form of cheap oil).

Had we started to develop alternative energy sources back when Hubbert made his predictions we might now have alternatives that could replace oil. Evn had we started back in the 1970s when US Peak Oil hit we might have the alternatives. The economic pressures that will direct real research towards alternatives will only happen when oil prices go through the roof and by that time it will be too late: any alternatives will require cheap oil to develop and deploy. By the time the economic pressures force politicians to admit that there is a problem we will no longer have the resource (cheap oil) needed to solve the problem.

See Life After the Oil Crash for details. However, I think his post-crash survival scenarios are somewhat implausible. When Peak Oil starts to bite, the starving with guns are going to seek out the prepared. If all those who had not prepared ahead were to just sit down and starve then his scenarios might just work for those who had prepared. The reality of the situation is that there is going to be a lot of fighting and very few survivors.

Global thermonuclear war
By now you might be wondering if Peak Oil is why Bush invaded Iraq (actually, that invasion, and the eventual take-over of all the oil resources in the Middle East, had been on Cheney's and Wolfowitz's hit-list since 1992), and you'd be right. Saddam probably speeded things up a little by trying to switch from selling oil in dollars to selling it in Euros because if the rest of Opec had followed the US economy would have collapsed. But the main reason is Peak Oil.

Had Bush done this to buy time to develop alternative energy sources, and promised to share the oil with Russia, China, India and Pakistan, and had he promised to then use those alternative energy sources to help bring the rest of the world out of the Stone Age, I might have supported him. I live in a country that would probably had gone into the Stone Age and I would not have survived, but I would like to see civilization survive even if I am not part of it (we all have to die some day). But it's quite clear this is not the case. You only have to look at the withdrawal of tax incentives on fuel-efficient hybrids and the tax breaks given to the purchase of gas-guzzling SUVs to know that. Bush just wants to steal the oil so that the US is the last country standing and the last country to collapse into a Stone Age (actually, his motives may not even be that high).

All of the world is dependent upon cheap oil, not just Russia, China, India and Pakistan. But those countries have nukes. Are they going to sit back and let the US steal the world's oil while their citizens starve and their countries descend into a Stone Age? I very much doubt it.

Despite what the Strangelove types in the Pentagon say, a global thermonuclear war is not survivable, even by countries that don't get hit. Atmospheric tests were cancelled when it was realized that the fallout was causing up to a 5% decline in SAT scores, a die-off of 50% of the fish in the mid-Atlantic, and a whole host of other problems. The fall-out from an all-out war would certainly kill all higher forms of life on the planet, if not all the lower forms too.

Depleted Uranium
Depleted Uranium munitions are likely to kill all life on the planet. They are, in effect, "dirty bombs" releasing toxic radioactive material.

They have greater penetrating power than any other type of munition. They have the "advantage" that the uranium burns, and so after penetrating a tank or a building also acts as an incendiary round (resulting in Iraqi tanks containing what the troops refer to as "crispy critters"). As the uranium burns it produces particles of uranium oxide ranging in size from visible particles in cigarette smoke down to far smaller nanoparticles. These particles spread far and wide from the impact point.

Depleted uranium is slightly radioactive, but that is not its main danger. It is a heavy metal and therefore interferes in all sorts of ways with cellular machinery. It is carcinogenic (causes cancer), mutagenic (causes mutations in sperm and egg producing cells) and teratogenic (causes birth deformities). Bush-the-slightly-smarter used only 350 tons of DU in Iraq and the rates of cancers and serious birth defects went up between 8 and 14 times (the number depends on the particular cancer or type of birth defect). Of a group of soldiers who served a few months in the first Iraq war, over one-third went on to father children with serious birth defects. We don't have any figures for how much DU has been used in this war other than a release from the Pentagon saying 2,220 tons had been used in March and April of 2003.

We've probably used up enough to kill all life in Iraq. But the uranium oxide is in the form of very fine particles and Iraq is subject to dust storms which carry it all over the planet. We may be using it in Iraq but it's going everywhere. We may soon use enough to kill all forms of life everywhere on the planet, down to the lowliest bacterium at the bottom of the ocean. We may already have done so.

So those are the scenarios. All of them apart from global thermonuclear war are in progress right now. Of the ones in progress, all are so close to the critical point that we don't know if the critical point is yet to happen or if it has already happened. It's pretty much a race as to which of them is going to have a big enough effect to wipe us out before the others get a chance to.

One day, in the future, your descendents may sit around the campfire flaking flints to make arrowheads while telling their children tales of which of those scenarios predominated in wiping out civilization and most of humanity. Most likely not, because it's unlikely anyone will survive.

More likely, archæologists from another planet will spend decades trying to figure out what happened and what form of collective insanity allowed it to happen. Those archæologists might even be fortunate enough to find enough to let them figure out that the collective insanity was funadmentalist religion which preached that when the shit hit the fan then God would come down from Heaven and save the righteous.

So roll up and place your bets. Note that this game is for fun and amusement only since payment cannot be made if civilization does not survive.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy Holidays

I hope to earn my place on Bill O'Falafel Vibrator's blacklist by saying "happy holidays" instead of "happy christmas." For Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists and others, the Christmas holidays do not (entirely) coincide with any of their own religion's holidays. Non-Christians may be forced to work when their own religion requires a holy day of rest and not be allowed to work during Christmas. Even worse is to expect them to think of their enforced holiday as christmas by wishing them happy christmas.

So for those who think of this time of year as Christmas, rather than an opportunity for shops to sell us garbage we give to others who don't have any use for it and who feel obligated to do the same to us...

This is the true origin of most of the symbolism that appears at Christmas, hijacked (as was Easter) by Christianity.

Enjoy your drink of hallucinogenic reindeer's piss, and may you climb the world tree...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Pray that Saddam is not executed

I know, you're thinking that's a damned strange thing to pray for.

However, we're pretty well fucked in Iraq. Whether we pull out now or later, the place is likely to descend even further into chaos and civil war, and that chaos is likely to spread beyond the borders of Iraq. The only thing we can be sure of affecting by the timing of the pull-out is how many of our own forces get killed and maimed.

No matter when we pull out it's likely we may no longer be able to depend upon Iraqi oil, perhaps oil from much of the Middle East. According to Wilkerson if we pull out at all then ten years down the line we'll have to go back into the region with a far larger force to keep the oil flowing.

We're fucked if we pull out now. We're fucked if we pull out later. We're fucked if we don't pull out at all.

However, the army is stretched to breaking point right now. The army is running short of essential materiel due to wear and damage. It will only get worse the longer we delay pulling out. If we pull out now that gives us ten years to take what's left of the army and build it into the far bigger force Wilkerson thinks we'll need. If we pull out in five years that only gives us five years to take what, by then, will be a further reduced and broken army to the size we need.

There are efforts going on inside Iraq between the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites to abandon their differences and unite to get the US out of there. That might work. The uneasy coalition might not fragment into civil war a few years down the line (but almost certainly will because the coalition is based on the principle of "the enemy of my greatest enemy is my friend, even though he would normally be my enemy"). But if the US pulls out, if the US hands back the oil infrastructure it (illegally, according to international conventions applying to occupying forces) forced Iraq to sell to US companies, if the US hands money to Iraq for reconstruction instead of paying 100 times as much to the likes of Halliburton to do a crappy job, then maybe, just maybe, things will stabilize. But don't bet on it.

Are there any other possibilities? Only one that I can think of, and it's almost as risky, if not more so. Re-install Saddam. Use US mercenaries (the "contractors" that are doing the seriously illegal stuff there already) to replace Saddam's elite personal guard and to run the torture rooms for Saddam rather than for Cheney. Saddam is the man who can re-estalish his secret police and bring the country back into control. He knows the people he can trust to establish an iron hand over Iraq whereas Chalabi and Allawi do not. Saddam is one of the few people who could achieve this, and possibly only Saddam knows for sure who else could do the job.

Sure, Saddam was a dictator and a tyrant, but until Bush-the-slightly-smarter decided he needed an excuse to plant US forces in Saudi Arabia to protect the corrupt House of Saud from revolution, Saddam was our dictator and tyrant. He happily went to war against Iran using the WMDs that the US sold him (using Donald Rumsfeld to arrange the deal).

Sure Saddam was a dictator and a tyrant, but he was a secular one. Iraq was the most enlightened nominally-Islamic nation in the region. There was no religious persecution (Saddam even had a Christian in his cabinet). Women were free to walk the streets without being raped. There was no civil disorder. Until Bush-the-slightly-smarter's war and the sanctions thereafter, the Iraqi people had the best standard of living in the region. They had food. They had running water. They had electricity. They had cheap gasoline. They were happy. The situation after the first war and sanctions was a lot worse than before, but still tolerable; the situtation now is far worse than ever.

Sure, Saddam was a dictator and a tyrant, who ran a secret police and torture rooms, but he didn't use them indiscriminately (as the US does). The only way you ended up in one of Saddam's torture rooms was for opposing Saddam. As long as you didn't oppose Saddam you were left unmolested, free to enjoy your high standard of living, your running water, your continuous supply of electricity, etc. Iraq was no worse in persecuting potential rebels than Saudi Arabia, but it was a lot more tolerant of religious freedom and the population had a much higher standard of living.

Sure Saddam was a dictator and a tyrant, and had no love of Israel, but he refused to have anything to do with al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization which wished to harm the US (after all, he was a willing CIA tool).

The only real question is not could Saddam fix what Bush has broken, but would he? His two sons, whom he hoped would take over when he died or retired, were killed. Worse than that, in defiance of Geneva Conventions and of Islamic sensibilities, photos of their mutilated corpses were shown around the world. It's hard to like people who do that to you. But, as the Bushies say, business is business (which is why Dumbya's father Prescott Bush happily helped Hitler even after the US entered WWII).

If a tenth of the reconstruction money currently being siphoned off by Halliburton were given directly to Saddam to use to pay local companies, he could achieve more by using just one-tenth of that for reconstruction and keeping the rest for himself. Halliburton overcharge many tens of times above true cost to do a fucked up job of reconstruction. Just one-percent of the money given to Halliburton would allow Iraqi companies to do the job properly. It would greatly reduce the vast unemployment figures (as I recall, somewhere around 60%), put money into the economy and greatly reduce unrest (which is largely about people having no jobs and no money).

Yeah, we'd be effectively bribing Saddam to co-operate with us, but so what? If Wilkerson is right and ten years down the line we'll have to send millions of troops into the region, that's going to cost a lot more (not to mention a death toll that will dwarf Viet Nam).

It's even possible Saddam would live long enough to father more sons and raise them, by example, to be tyrants just like him. Sons who could then continue his dynasty. If not, perhaps he might consider adopting children of some other cruel, despotic, corrupt dictator - Jenna and Barbara come to mind.