February 28, 2011

"Waiting for Godot" Video Game

Finally, a game I can "win." (Thanks, Jon!)

February 26, 2011


Four years ago, Harvard scientists devised a way to make mouse neurons glow in a breathtaking array of colors, a technique dubbed “Brainbow.” This allowed scientists to trace neurons’ long arms, known as the dendrites and axons, through the brain with incredible ease, revealing a map of neuron connections.

Using a clever trick of genetic engineering, in which genes for three or more different fluorescent proteins were combined like paints to generate different hues, researchers created a system to make each neuron glow one of 100 different colors.

. . . . This is the first time that scientists have converted the technique to work in fruit flies, and because these organisms have a very sophisticated set of existing genetic tools, researchers can exert even greater control over when and where the fluorescent proteins are expressed . . . . Researchers have traditionally had to stain just one or two neurons in each sample, painstakingly compiling data from many brains to build a map.
More at technology review.

February 25, 2011

Colbert's True Colors

Last night, Colbert provided a hilarious recap of the HBGary v. Anonymous fiasco:

He went on to interview Glenn Greenwald, the journalist targeted by HBGary:

In case you missed it, here's a screen grab of the single frame (at 3:22 in the foregoing clip) in which Colbert is masked/unmasked (art as true lie) (@MikeRiggs, thanks for the screen grab!) Note, the frame appears shortly after he asks Glenn earnestly, "Are you Anonymous??" – which suggests the possibility that the insert was planned before the taping.

We are all Anonymous.

February 22, 2011

Re- Re-Reading a Really Interesting Essay by Seth Price,

Dispersion (and thanks to Alison Hearst at the Modern of Fort Worth for bringing it to my attention); recommended . . . one thought it inspired: that for each art work shown via GoogleArtProject, the page for that work should include a chat facility where you can "meet" others who happen to be in the same "room" and discuss the work with them, as you might if you were in a bricks-and-mortar museum. (Image: screen grab of Chow time on the Madrid front, artist unkown, from the Museo Reina Sofia via GoogleArtProject.)

February 21, 2011

Baptists Claim to Discover Internet’s Purpose, to the Amusement of Anonymous

From Rawstory:

Members of Pastor Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church claim to have discovered the underlying purpose of the Internet: using it "to tell this nation & this world that your [i.e., the Anons'] destruction draws nigh."

* * * * *
"GOD HATES FAGS & LOUSY 'HACKERS!'" they declared, apparently responding to a missive from protest group "Anonymous," which was well known for becoming a persistent antagonist to another group of religious fanatics: the Church of Scientology.
(Yes, it's the same church that threatened to burn Qur'ans.) Thanks for the lulz; but while the Anons could certainly take over the Baptists' computers, the more important question – as the Baptists suggest – is, can the Anons win the p.r. battle for Americans' "hearts and minds"? (Although having Westboro on the other side should help.)

More at Rawstory; and more re- the fictitious "threat" against the Baptists at PCWorld (fundies are just so ends-justify-the-means, but w/o taking responsibility for the consequences other than the one they're fixated on).


Politico reports:

MADISON, Wis. — Someone in Egypt has been paying attention to what’s happening in Madison and wanted to send a message of solidarity from across the globe — so they ordered pizza.

It might seem like a small gesture, but it’s overwhelming to the staff at Ian’s on State Street — a campus staple mere blocks from the Capitol — where in the last few days, they’ve fielded calls from concerned citizens of 12 countries, and 38 out of 50 states looking to donate money to provide free pizza to the Wisconsinites who have congregated here.
Happy V-Day!

February 18, 2011

Anonymous Hacks the Hackers

One little-mentioned aspect of the Wikileaks saga is that it appears that from the beginning, t.p.t.b. have led the hacking offensive against WL and Anonymous – i.e., the US government and its contractors started trying to hack WL and Anonymous before Anonymous began any DDoS or other efforts in support of WL.

Here's the latest volley, from the category of don't start what you can't finish, apparently written by a recently outed Anon:

On the Saturday before last, an article appeared in Financial Times in which a certain Aaron Barr, head of US federal contractor HBGary Federal, claimed to have identified by name what he termed Anonymous's "leadership." [Anonymous] responded with a press release conceding defeat. The next day, our hackers infiltrated Barr's personal data as well as that of HBGary Federal and its parent company HBGary, thereafter releasing tens of thousands of company emails, as well as the very document that Barr had planned to sell to the FBI – a document that turned out to be both hilariously inaccurate and not-so-hilariously destined to get some undetermined number of innocents raided by government agents, despite them not having any connection to Anonymous whatsoever. We then released all of these materials ourselves, and in doing so revealed documents that included plans to collect information on the family members of political opponents of the US Chamber of Commerce, as well as a proposal to attack WikiLeaks and key supporter Glenn Greenwald by means of a range of unethical and possibly illegal tactics now being reported by media outlets world wide.
Much more at The Guardian. (Image by Espen Moe.)

Alan Dershowitz Advising Assange's UK Attorneys

. . . esp., re- First and Fourth Amendment issues; this is a good thing.

February 11, 2011

Mubarek Resigned.

I probably won't have time to invent this wheel myself, but I'd be v. interested in an informed comparison between the Egyptian revolution and the uprising in India led by Mahatma Ghandi.

February 7, 2011

Pictures of a Revolution

"Egyptian anti-government protesters sleep [between] the tires of a military tank stationed on Tahrir (Liberation) Square, which for the past two weeks has been the center of a sit-in protest by thousands of Egyptians demanding the government step down from power. Protesters created a human shield and barricades to fend off pro-Mubarak supporters from getting into the square and to prevent the military from an overnight attack to clear the square from the protesters." Photo by Laura El-Tantawy; more at burn.

Statement from the protesters in Tahrir here.

February 6, 2011

Egypt: Who's Getting to Talk; Etc.

Suddenly it's all about the Muslim Brotherhood – today, even AlJazeera was pre-occupied with news re- discussions between the Muslim Brotherhood and Mubarak's recently-appointed V.P., Omar Suleiman.

Mubarak wants it to be about the Muslim Brotherhood, and the US wants it to be about the Muslim Brotherhood; because they can each use the Muslim Brotherhood to scare their respective citizens into thinking the uprising is Islamic. And the Muslim Brotherhood isn't going to walk away from a place at the table when offered.

But the Muslim Brotherhood had little to do with this uprising. They didn't start it, and there have never been any Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Tahrir. The protesters as a whole don't consider that the Muslim Brotherhood represents them or has anything to do with what they want. The Muslim Brotherhood doesn't represent anyone except its own members, who constitute a minority both within and outside the square.

The protesters have elected their own representatives. And they and Nobel laureate Mohamed Elbaradei, who joined the protesters in the square early on, have refused to enter talks with Egyptian authorities unless Mubarak's immediate departure is agreed to (see here).

Meanwhile, the military has been trying to crowd the protesters into a smaller area surrounded by barbed wire. Today, entry to Tahrir was limited to one, single-file checkppoint, and the line of protesters seeking to join those already in the square extended half-way across Kasr El Nile Bridge. No cameras were being allowed in, and journalists continued to be obstructed, harassed, and detained.

And from Press TV, "[t]he US is sending warships, including one with 800 troops, and other military assets to Egypt as the revolution in the North African country gains momentum. Officials in Washington have stated that the move is to be prepared in case of an evacuation of Americans from Egypt." More likely, the US wants everyone to know it's positioned to intervene if necessary.

And The Guardian has a good article on the economic context:

Under sweeping privatisation policies, [Mubarak and his "clique"] appropriated profitable public enterprises and vast areas of state-owned lands. A small group of businessmen seized public assets and acquired monopoly positions in strategic commodity markets such as iron and steel, cement and wood. While crony capitalism flourished, local industries that were once the backbone of the economy were left to decline. At the same time, private sector industries making environmentally hazardous products like ceramics, marble and fertilisers have expanded without effective regulation at a great cost to the health of the population.

A tiny economic elite controlling consumption-geared production and imports has accumulated great wealth. This elite includes representatives of foreign companies with exclusive import rights in electronics, electric cables and automobiles. It also includes real estate developers who created a construction boom in gated communities and resorts for the super-rich. Much of this development is on public land acquired at very low prices, with no proper tendering or bidding.

It is estimated that around a thousand families maintain control of vast areas of the economy. This business class sought to consolidate itself and protect its wealth through political office. The National Democratic party was their primary vehicle for doing so. This alliance of money and politics became flagrant in recent years when a number of businessmen became government ministers with portfolios that clearly overlapped with their private interests.
More at the link. The high-rank military are part of this elite – in fact, the military owns much of the non-military economy.

And here's audio re- the roles played to-date by Facebook and Twitter, among other things.

February 5, 2011


Photo at right taken 3 hrs. ago by Mahmoud M. Khattab in Tahrir Square.

Egypt Remembers
is a website commemorating those killed in the protests.

Per a recent tweet, journalists trying to enter Egypt via the Cairo airport are being turned back. This regime does not understand the fundamentals of civilized society, let alone human rights, sufficiently even to fake it for the brief period needed until the world's attention turns elsewhere. It cannot possibly be entrusted with a transition to democracy.

Under US Plan, Egyptian Protesters to Be Thrown Under the Bus?

UPDATE: The BBC is reporting, "US special envoy Frank Wisner has said that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should remain in power to oversee a transition to democracy." As I've mentioned, this would give Mubarak eight more months in which to track down and eliminate those who have opposed him, destroy evidence, further enrich himself and his friends, and otherwise improve his own position.

(At right, the banner lists the protesters' demands.)

Yesterday I caught part of a radio program on NPR, "To the Point," featuring Robert Springborg, Prof. of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, and Samer Shehata, Prof. of Arab Politics, Georgetown U., among others. Here's a rough transcript of remarks starting about 9 min. in:

Springborg: US negotiations are on track; its intent is to retain the Egyptian military in power, without Mubarak; but Frank Wisner's probably done what he was assigned to do, i.e. to come to terms with the military, because our intent is to retain the military in power. It would have been far better to open discussion with the opposition so as to legitimate them, but no doubt Pres. Obama instructed Wisner NOT to do that, and so as time goes by the opposition will become not only marginalized but they'll fear for their lives because they're being left in the lurch.

Q: But what about the idea of a civilian democracy?

Springborg: We didn't entertain that. To entertain that, Wisner would have had to publicly embraced the opposition, but he didn't do that. Ambassador Margaret Scoby held little sessions with them on the side but those were meaningless. The military will of course have some kind of civilian face, and so we saw Amr Moussa show up in Tahrir Square, who now when he's asked come elections can say he was there; and he's someone the military can live with. And he's Sec. General of the Arab League, and he's known to be someone who's had a bit of a tiff with Mubarak; so he's the most acceptable face that the military's going to allow.

Q: How can the Egyptian government get away with killing of the opposition?

Springborg: Just yesterday, security forces rounded up members of the Center for Legal Rights, from their office right on Tahrir Square, right out in the open, and they haven't been seen since. Two hours ago we were told, Mohamed Rashid has been arrested, passport taken, assets seized – a prominent, independent thinker with real integrity, opposed to some of the things the military's done. And if they can do this to these people, they can do it to anyone, and they will.

Q: Why would the US want the military to remain in power?

Springborg: Because they've done our bidding. We do not trust the pro-democracy protesters. What we see is fascist behavior by the military. Yet we are making it possible. We pledged continuation of foreign assistance to the military. Our Vice President has been speaking directly to the military, etc.; our lines of communication are entirely with them.
Next, Prof. Shehata agrees and adds his own thoughts, well worth listening to. (As of last night, you could hear the program online at the link above.) Springborg went into more detail in an article just brought to my attention, in Foreign Policy.

What Springborg and Shehata said rings only too true, given the otherwise unaccountable failure of the military to protect the protesters from Mubarak's hired thugs, among other things.

Re- the relationship between the US and the Egyptian military, see The Guardian.

So it seems El Baradei et al. never had a chance . . . and the US should probably offer asylum to the protesters, or at least to their leaders . . . but we won't, because that would be inconsistent with our denial of the truth, that we threw them – and their aspirations for democracy – under the bus. Does the US imagine that oppressed peoples of the world won't notice?

Meanwhile, the US cables published by Wikileaks say, "Egypt's military is in decline"; "sole criteria for promotion is loyalty"; "fire officers it perceives as being 'too competent.'"

Note that the US government is, from an Assange-ist p.o.v., conspiring with the Egyptian military insofar as both authorities are saying one thing to their people and doing something else.

One more thing: this does not mean I think it's hopeless to continue to support efforts toward democracy. One must of course know what one's up against; I believe many of the protesters do.

Nothing is inevitable, except defeat for those who give up without a fight. – "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (1961), script by Irwin Allen and Charles Bennett.

February 4, 2011

Protest in Egypt: Day 11

(The pic at right shows Christians forming a blockade to protect Muslims at prayer, as they have throughout the protest.)

A couple of thoughts/questions:

1. The Egyptian people's power lies in
a. preventing the economy from returning to normal WHILE

b. winning the p.r. war.
The people can't be sure of achieving their goal unless Mubarak is actually ousted a.s.a.p. And that won't happen unless they continue to do both of the above, because only the combination of both might motivate those with power within and outside Egypt to induce Mubarak to leave, who otherwise has everything to gain by simply waiting the protesters out.

2. Mubarak should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity – we've just watched while such crimes have been committed – but U.S. officials probably feel they must at least offer Mubarak a safe exit, partly because otherwise, the other dictators we've been propping up might decide we weren't a sufficiently reliable ally.
As one tweet put it, "Dear US government: We don't hate you because we hate your freedom; we hate you because you hate our freedom."

Meanwhile, The Nation has an excellent description of the pro-democracy organizers.

February 3, 2011

Current News Re- Egypt:

A few sources (in addition to others you may be following):

  1. A more stable Al Jazeera live stream.

  2. Al Jazeera live blog.

  3. A thread aggregating posts and tweets from inside Egypt (this will probably be replaced by others on succeeding days, but if you're checking on a date after the date of this post, you can find links to new threads by looking near the bottom of the thread or searching DU for posts by the author of the original post that began this thread).
  4. Another thread aggregating recent news (same caveat applies).

(Click on the images for larger versions.) Of great concern now is that, during the last day, there has been a concerted campaign of attacks on and arrests of journalists. The fear is that Egyptian authorities are planning something especially bloody that they don't want the world to see. Hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters are expected to take to the streets for tomorrow's "March for Departure."

Meanwhile, the Deputy Director of the state-controlled Egyptian tv, Shahira Amin, has resigned: "I quit my job because I don't want to be part of the state propaganda regime, I am with the people. I feel liberated and relieved. I have quit my job and joined the people in Tahrir Square."

UPDATE: At least ten protesters are confirmed dead, over a thousand wounded, and per Amnesty International, some 1500 are being detained by Egyptian authorities. FURTHER UPDATE: As of Feb. 6, per Al Jazeera, Egyptian authorities report 11 protesters have been killed; the United Nations reports over 300 and estimates thousands injured.

I'm in awe of the pro-democracy Egyptians – their determination to demonstrate peacefully, their level-headedness and ingenuity, as well as their great courage. To the families of those killed, and to the many injured, and to all who persevere, I can't help recalling the speech Shakespeare wrote for his Henry V (Act IV, scene ii, Moby ed.):
What’s he that wishes so? [wishing they had more men from their homeland to help in their next battle, in which they'd be terribly outnumbered]
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are marked to die, we are enough
To do our country loss [i.e., if we’re to die, better that no more than we be lost]; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear [“yearns”: here, grieves];
Such outward things dwell not in my desires;
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz [cousin], wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns [gold coins] for convoy [transportation] put into his purse.
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian [i.e., St. Crispian’s Day; Crispian was an early Christian martyr].
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil [here, eve] feast [give a feast for] his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian’;
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages [exaggeration]
What feats he did that day; then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

February 2, 2011

Getting creative re- Egypt.

After a week of peaceful demonstrations, undercover Egyptian police and pro-Mubarak forces (many if not most of whom are hired thugs) have begun throwing rocks and molotov cocktails.

The anti-Mubarak protesters vastly outnumber the pro-, but they were frisked before being allowed into the Square and are largely unarmed. Gunfire has also been heard. The military apparently allowed the openly armed, pro-Mubarak forces into the area and then watched and did nothing as the violence unfolded. Hundreds are injured and at least one person dead.

This should eliminate any doubt about Mubarak's priorities.

If Mubarak remains in power until the next round of elections in September, he'll have eight months in which to track down and eliminate those who have opposed him, further enrich himself and his friends, destroy evidence, and otherwise improve his own position. (UPDATE: Apparently the Egyptian government's surveillance capabilities have been enhanced by a monitoring tool sold by Narus, a US company. The tool, "deep packet inspection," can be used to read e-mails, tweets, etc., to discover which individuals are involved in activist efforts and to geo-locate them, among other capabilities. See also "Egyptian police use Facebook and Twitter to track down protesters' names before 'rounding them up.'")

Thinking about pressure that could be brought to bear . . . .

Mubarak's wife and sons are reportedly in London (see here and here).

Julian Assange is still under arrest in London, for the purpose of "questioning" re- previously dismissed allegations.

Are there no allegations of crimes by Mubarak's wife or sons? (UPDATE: of possible interest, "$60 Billion US Aid to Egypt=$60 Billion Current Net-Worth of Mubarak Family.")

Al Jazeera live stream here.

UPDATE: Anonymous, the same loosely organized collective that launched DDoS attacks against Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, and Bank of America in an online "sit-in" in support of Wikileaks, "gathered about 500 supporters in online forums and used software tools to bring down the sites of the Ministry of Information and President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, said Gregg Housh, a member of the group. The sites were unavailable Wednesday afternoon.

"The attacks, Mr. Housh said, are part of a wider campaign that Anonymous has mounted in support of the antigovernment protests that have roiled the Arab world. Last month, the group shut down the Web sites of the Tunisian government and stock exchange in support of the uprising that forced the country’s dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, to flee." More at The NYT.