November 28, 2004

A Collection of Apathic Thoughts 

Another Sunday of miserable weather and general apathy... I clearly need a holiday.
I have various (hopefully) good ideas at different development stages in my head, but today I've got no inspiration to write anything. Thus, it's the right time for a little collection of sparse interesting stuff.

Let's begin with the often-invoked but poorly understood Geneva Convention(s), Number 1 (Wounded and sick in the field), 2 (Wounded and sick and shipwrecked at sea), 3 (Treatment of the prisoners of war) and 4 (Protection of civilians during war).

Parameters, the US Army War College Quarterly publication.

The Withe House Presidential News And Speeches.

The Adventures of Chester, the weblog of a former Marine officer veteran of the Iraqi campaign.

Did you think the United Nations was scarcely effective? Read The Diplomad, and probably you'll conclude that the UN is a scourge on this planet.

From the news front, we've got a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in Japan, with associated tsunami warning. And bad weather with snow and strong winds coming to Northern Italy: come on guys, it's late November, a bit of cold and snow is in the order of things.Good to alert the emergency services, but let's not panic, ok?

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November 25, 2004

News: Earthquake in Italy 

At 23:59 CET (22:59 Z) of 24 November 2004, an earthquake of magnitude 5.2 and duration 25-30 sec hit Northern Italy, with epicenter near the Garda Lake. The quake was felt in a wide area, as south as Tuscany.
Damage to buildings is reported from areas near to the epicenter, while in Milan many people panicked and rushed out of buildings. A total of nine injured is reported. Civil protection, fire departments and other rescue services quickly reacted to the event and have the situation under control.

Almost all of Italy is subjected to a significant seismic risk and strong quakes caused catastrophic damage and serious casualties during the years. For this reason, new buildings are usually anti-seismic and many older ones have been reinforced. Also, rescue services train specifically to face seismic events.

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November 24, 2004

Human Nature Part 1: A Brief History of Life 

One of the major points of disagreement between the "Conservatives" and "Liberals" seems to be about the very essence of the human nature. Are we "noble savages", perverted to evil by capitalism? Or are we complex beings, with an equal capacity of committing acts of unspeakable evil and shining good? Is it true that the Whites are genetically oppressors of women and every "coloured person"? Or is it that any race or ethnic group can become oppressor of another, in certain cirmcustances?

In order to use facts to shed some light on these issues, we must remember that humans did not come out of the blue, but have a rather long evolutive history behind them.
So, let's tell this story - briefly.

According to this timetable, the first living organisms, anaerobic bacteria, appeared on Earth roughly 3.5 billion of years ago. 3500 million of years ago, keep it in mind. Actually, those organisms were quite different from today's bacteria, and they have their own domain: Archaea.
For a couple of billion years, bacteria and Archaea expanded in population, but without significant evolution. 1.8 billion years ago, Eukaryotes appeared as fossils. Without going into too many details, we humans are eukaryotes, like all other anymals - this means that we share the same basic biochemistry and molecular biology.

Oxygen concentration in the atmosphere started to increase, due to the action of photosyntethic organisms, and while this oxygen made life impossible for many bacteria and archaea, it led to the explosion of eukaryotic lifeforms (remember, competition and survival of the fittest).

The first animals appeared something like 650 million years ago. Most of the major groups of animals living today first appeared in the fossils of Cambrian period, from 540 to 490 million years ago. During this period, the ancestors of all of the known animal groups appeared, plus strange animals, whose fossils can be found in the Burgess Shale and subsequently became extinct. Large predator arthropods died off, but the small, just-appeared vertebrates survived. Anyway, the following period was the Ordovician which ended 443 million years ago - with a mass extinction that wiped out the majority of marine invertebrates and a significant part of all animals.

Plants and animals moved on land only later, during the Silurian period, but we have to wait until the Devonian to see land-living vertebrates; these animals expanded during the Carboniferous, together with giant plants which remains originated the deposits of coal.
Later on, 248 million years ago, another catastrophe struck the Earth: most of the marine lifeforms, and many of the terrestrial one became extinct. The causes of this extinction are not completely clear, but it is known that 90-95% of the marine species become extinct.
This event also marks the end of the Paleozoic Era.

However, the Permian extinction opened the door for the explosion of vertebrates and the Age of Dinosaurs, which lasted until 65 million years ago. During this age, certain reptiles slowly evolved towards birds, while mammals occupied a secondary role. But when even the dinosaurs become extinct 65 million years ago (almost surely because one or more sizable meteors or comets impacted with Earth), new groups were ready to seize the chance and prosper. And thus ends the Mesozoic Era.

All the modern animals appeared during the subsequent Paleocene Epoch, and evolved steadily in time, having to face only the occasional ice age and no more catastrophic extinctions. We humans are technically Homo Sapiens (Sapiens), and besides minor differences like colour of skin, eyes and hair, and a few small physiological variations, all belong to the same species, and there is absolutely no scientific ground to consider any race superior to any other.

Homo Sapiens is a primate, and descends from the early primates which appeared around 60 millio years ago. Proto-simians, mammals which began to keep a more erect posture, date back to 55 million years ago. Evolution went on and on, and finally the line leading to Homo Sapiens and chimpanzees separated from the line of gorillas 9 million years ago. Another ramification occurred 3 million years later, and the line of the chimpanzees separated from the early hominids.

Homo Sapiens reached his final form during the Pleistocene (some set the moment at 40 000 years ago), and by 11 000 years ago, humans lived on most of the world.
Apparently, humans started to congregate in cities some 6000 - 7000 years ago, while the first social organizations similar to the modern ones are about 3000 years old.

So, let's get mathematic now:

First life forms: 3.5 billion years ago.

Age of Vertebrates: from 240 million years ago.
(240 000 000 / 3 500 000 000) * 100 = ~7% of the total time of life on Earth.

Age of Primates - from 60 million years ago: 1.7%

Age of Hominides - from 6 million years ago: 0.17%

Not much, eh? Actually, we are just the blink of an eye compared to the incredibily long history of our planet. This also mean that, from a genetical and evolutive point of view, homo sapiens is still very close to chimpanzees, which are by all means animals. Actually, we share something like 98% of the genome with chimpanzees. And a lot of similarities with even the most archaic animals, like crocodiles.
We are also very different from the animals, sure: we have an incredibly complicated and powerful brain, reason and feelings, and a structured speech, and the rare capability of representing concepts with abstract sounds and symbols (writing, drawing, diagrams). But this is just another layer, in my opinion.
All the underlying layers, the biochemistry, the cell organization, the organs, the structure of the brain, is not really different from those animals that live without morals and ethics, but only obeying to the amoral and rigidly utilitarian laws of nature.

The question then is: how does all this affect our behaviour? Are we something entirely different, or just another species of of animals?

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November 23, 2004

Tuesday Hunk: Chuck norris 

Chuck Norris Posted by Hello

Here he comes, the cowboy with the black belt (Tae Kwon Do 8th Dan, among others), protagonist of cult action movies such as Lone Wolf McQuade, Missing in Action, Invasion USA. Probably this is his most powerful scene:

Series characters always have one archetypal scene. With Eastwood, it was the time he killed three men with one bullet. Lone Wolf McQuade has a classic. He's shot. They think he's dead. They bury him in his supercharged, customized pickup truck. He comes to. Pours a beer over his head. Floors the accelerator, and drives that mother right out of the grave. You get the idea.

He definitely was one of my childhood's heroes, and Chuck is still an admirable man, for his martial arts accomplishments if nothing else.

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November 21, 2004

Hooray for the Neckies! 

Iowahawk has a piece about liberal parents, who become distraught and face midlife crises realizing that their sons and daughters are into Redneck culture:

[...] Across coastal America, increasing numbers of families are discovering that their children have been lured into "Cracker" culture -- a new, freewheeling underground youth movement that celebrates the hedonistic thrills of frog-gigging and outlaw modified sprint cars. No one knows their exact number, but sociologists say that the movement is exploding among young people in America's most fashionable zip codes.
"We first detected it a few years ago, with the emergence of the trucker hat phenomenon," says Gerard Levin, professor of abnormal sociology at the University of California. "At first we thought it was some sort of benign, ironic strain. By the time we realized the early wearers really were interested in seed corn hybrids and Peterbilts, it had already escaped containment."

In one recent three-week period, fourteen high school students in Portland, Oregon were suspended for distributing pork rinds; a Burlington, Vermont high school was briefly closed for decontamination after janitors found a bible hidden in a restroom; and forty-six undergraduate coeds at Swarthmore were expelled for staging clandestine Mary Kay cosmetics parties.
Not to be outdone, friend and fellow Neckie 'Duane' sounds 'Dixie' on the novelty horn of his jacked-up BMW M3. An early graduation gift from his parents, Duane has turned the expensive German coupe into an homage to the Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee, complete with orange Stars-and-Bars paint job and spit cup on the console.
"Grandma gave me some money fer a summer study trip over ta Paris, but I thought the paint job was cooler," laughs Duane. "Hell, she thinks I'm over in the Sorbonne right now, studying Foucault and all that shit."
"I'm a-fixin' to put in a nitrous system on the General Lee, so I'ma call Grandma up and aks her for some book money," he adds.

Go read it all if you want some laugh; better if you know something about American culture(s), but it's not strictly required.

I'm a bit of a (Italian) redneck myself - no, my world does not begin with a Husqvarna chainsaw and end with a SAME tractor, but I do own a chainsaw and I'm quite familiar with tractors. I logged my share of wood, and dug holes with my pickaxe, and drove my semi off-road car up a muddy road (and I almost tore apart the oil pan on a rock...)

I think rednecks are more or less the same in any rural area - the difference is that american ones have more guns, and share the wealth and vastness of the USA - thus they can afford bigger SUVs and faster cars.
My italian redneck mates, however, have small sport cars and some of them own hunting rifles - in Italy, one can own registered and legal guns without any licence, but a licence is required to carry guns, and it's hard and expensive to get.

At times I enjoy chatting with them (in dialect, obviously), of course about tractors, cars and tuned cars (and the crazy things they do with them), lorries, crops, wood logging, offroad driving... I had a few enduro and jeep rides with them too, and it was wild fun. I think the symbol of the italian redneck is that tool in the pic at the top of my sidebar. Its name in formal Italian is Roncola, but it's known also as Pennato, and in my area its name is Marassa. The roncola exists in several different regional versions, but it's diffused throughout all of Italy. The main use of this tool is to cut bushes, shrubs, the annoying thorny rampicants (rovi) typical of italian flora, small trees and to cut branches off the trunks after cutting trees. It's a symbol of agricolture, rural life, outdoors and the associated state of mind.
That's why I display it proudly on my sidebar!

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Checking my referrals, I noticed that some of my readers tried to translate a few of my italian articles in English with web-based translators. The result is truly pitiful, to say the least (total crap is more on the spot), and you won't really understand my posts.

So, given that I have some spare time, I invite my readers in need of a translation to contact me personally to arrange a translation or something like that.

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November 19, 2004

Vita morte e miracoli del Nitrato di Ammonio 

Il nitrato di ammonio, NH4NO3, é un solido cristallino bianco (come una gran parte di tutte le sostanze chimiche), igroscopico ed altamente solubile in acqua - ma con entalpia di dissoluzione positiva: per questo, quando il nitrato di ammonio viene disciolto in acqua, lo soluzione si raffredda. Da qui l'uso di questo sale per le confezioni di ghiaccio istantaneo. Se riscaldato all'aria aperta, il nitrato si decompone liberando acqua, ossigeno ed azoto. Se riscaldato in ambiente chiuso, la decomposizione puó procedere esplosivamente.

Il nitrato d'ammonio contiene una notevole percentuale in peso di azoto (~ 36%), ed é quindi un ottimo fertilizzante azotato - adatto alle culture che devono crescere molto e velocemente, come grano, mais, pomodori.
Non é molto difficile produrre il nitrato d'ammonio. Quello che serve sono ammoniaca, che viene prodotta direttamente da azoto ed idrogeno con il venerabile processo Haber-Bosch (e sue varianti), ed acido nitrico che si sintetizza da ossidi di azoto, prodotti a loro volta con la combustione di ammoniaca. I processi per la produzione su larga scala di questi due composti sono noti da circa un secolo, ed ora ammoniaca ed acido nitrico vengono prodotti in enormi quantitá a prezzi bassi. Il nitrato d'ammonio viene sintetizzato facendo reagire soluzioni di ammoniaca ed acido nitrico di media concentrazione, e quindi cristallizzando il nitrato (il nitrato da fertilizzante viene in genere cristallizzato tramite prilling, un processo che produce piccole sfere di composto). Il nitrato d'ammonio puro viene usato come reagente da laboratorio per varie sintesi ed analisi, mentre quello da fertilizzante é in genere miscelato con ossidi di calcio e magnesio (che sono insolubili in acqua). Il prezzo del nitrato da fertilizzante é meno di 1 Euro/kg.

Il nitrato d'ammonio é anche ricco in ossigeno (~ 58%), e viene usato estesamente come ossidante in miscele esplosive. Anche il nitrato puro puó detonare, ma solo se la carica é di dimensioni rilevanti ed iniziata da un potente detonatore - oppure un forte surriscaldamento locale. Per accrescere la sensibilitá e la potenza esplosiva, il nitrato d'ammonio viene mescolato con un 2-10% di combustibile, generalmente tipo gasolio. Se ricordo bene, ci sono anche processi che permettono di ricoprire i grani di nitrato in polvere con un sottile strato di paraffina, in modo da renderli impermeabili.
Questi esplosivi sono noti generalmente come ANFO (Ammonium Nitrate-Fuel Oil) e vengono usati estesamente in cave e miniere, poiché sono stabili, poco sensibili agli stimoli, economici, potenti ed esplodono producendo poca o nulla vampa, riducendo cosí il rischio di esplosioni di gas. Spesso nella composizione entra anche alluminio in polvere, che brucia rilasciando una grande quantitá di energia, e facilita l'instaurarsi della detonazione.
In certi casi, la miscela esplosiva é una una pasta (slurry) di nitrato d'ammonio, idrocarburi, alluminio in polvere ed acqua, estremamente poco sensibile e quindi molto sicura.

Ci sono anche usi militari del nitrato d'ammonio, anche se vanno declinando: miscele di nitrato e TNT (amatolo) venivano usate per caricare bombe e granate. L'amatolo é piú potente del tritolo, ma io penso che fosse anche un espediente per risparmiare sul tritolo, piú costoso e prezioso. La famosa bomba Daisy Cutter contiene una miscela al nitrato d'ammonio.

Gli esplosivi ANFO sono piuttosto popolari fra terroristi e simili soggetti, poiché sono facili da produrre (é sufficiente mescolare gli ingredienti in un pentolone) a partire da materiali largamente reperibili - gasolio o benzina e nitrato sono rapidamente disponibili in pressoché tutto il mondo. Naturalmente non é possibile tenere traccia di tutti i combustibili venduti, ma da quello che mi risulta le forze di polizia tengono un occhio sulle vendite di nitrato d'ammonio. Per detonare propriamente gli ANFO, serve un vero detonatore con esplosivo primario, se non una carica di rinforzo (anche nota come booster), ma per chi abbia le conoscenze e la determinazione non é poi molto difficile sintetizzare piccole quantitá di fulminato di mercurio e nitrocellulosa o altri alti esplosivi.

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Friday Babe #4: Zhang Zi Yi 

Posted by Hello Zhang Zi Yi

This Friday it's the day of Zhang Zi Yi, young and rising star of Chinese cinema - action movies in particular: his last performance was in Zhang Yimou's Hero.

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November 18, 2004


This seems to be a fruitful year for aerospace matters: Space Ship One succesfully completed the three sub-orbital flights required to win the Ansari X-prize (btw, the Ansari brothers are Iranian businessmen). Now, Nasa's experimental hypersonic plane X-43 topped itself flying at Mach 10 on November 16.

This is an impressive achievement not for the speed in itself (rockets and space vehicles at re-entry are even faster), but because the X-43 was propelled by an exotic engine, a scramjet. This particular engine has no moving parts, and incoming air is compressed only by being forced at high speed into the properly shaped engine inlet. Indeed, the plane hd to reach its operative speed and altitude with the help of a booster rocket.
This compressed air is mixed with hydrogen and the mixture ignited, releasing energy that pushes the combustion gases even faster out of the engine nozzle, thus producing thrust.
I talked to people in the field (not the X-43 project, tho) and they told me that fluid dynamics in hypersonic conditions is a real bitch - the fluids behave quite differently than in normal conditions. And keeping a smooth combustion is extremely difficult. But the engineers and scientists at NASA did it.

Hypersonic air-breathing planes are interesting for various reasons: they're very fast, and much more convenient than a rocket. Rockets, in fact, need to carry around both combustible and oxidizer (and believe me, some oxidizers for rocket applications are very very nasty, and the fuels not much nicer) and are basically single-use. A scramjet, instead, takes oxygen from air, and can be used and reused like any other jet engine.

US military is very interested in very fast bombers and cruise missile, for quite obvious reasons. But the possibility of flying from say, London to Hong Kong in half than the current time is attractive also for civil applications - it would be hypercool indeed.

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November 15, 2004

EUro Facts 

In recent times, I realized that, while many Europeans have their facts about America quite wrong, the same is true for many Americans.

I can understand the hostility of the Americans vs the French, after France took a policy of thinly-veiled hostility towards the USA and Israel, and Germany followed closely. But then, the same Americans made the mistake of considering all of the EU (maybe except the UK) as a bigger France/Germany, and that's plainly wrong.

But it's difficult to explain, to whom has no direct knowledge, the differencies in culture and society between one country and the other. For example, French and Italian have never been such close friends; French chauvinism and vacuous nationalist pride (note that all these are, necessarily, generalizations) are an object of contempt from as long as I can remember. During the 80s, French and Italian wine producers engaged in a struggle which reached fairly violent peaks.

Another problem is the structure of the EU itself: a centralistic bureocracy, that often seems basically an attempt at putting all of Europe under French/German/Belgian hegemony (yes, the dreaded word): the European electoral system, with only one branch of parliament, does not resolve the problem of representativness of small and big states.

The European Parliament, Council and Commission (roughly, the three branches of power) have each a single President or High Representative, and when they express any opinion, it is supposed to be the opinion of the whole Europe. But it's not, really. The member states have often greatly diverging opinions on the same matter: Italy and Poland, and initially Spain, joined the USA in Iraq (Italy not for offensive operations, but Italian soldiers are working hard and well in Nassiriya), while France and Germany maintain that they will never, ever, even with John Kerry as president, even if begged by the UN and Iraq itself, send troops over there. Months ago, Berlusconi met Sharon in Israel, but not Arafat, much to the horror of the filo-arabs (then Berlusconi, in his usual fashion, flip-flopped several times).

Despite the pretenses to the contrary, the EU is by no means monolithic - and indeed, if the strain increases, there could be serious surprises: the last European elections brought an increase in the importance of the so-called Euro-skeptical parties.

Yes, it's true that Tranzism is running rampant in Europe, and it is the most fashionable line of thought among the ruling elite. I think that's one of the most serious problems of Europe: elitism. I look at the political scene in Italy, and I see the same faces from almost decades, and it's quite the same in the other countries. The particular guy/gal who is elected is only a different card from the same deck. Some new parties emerged, but most of them have a more than discutible basis, like quasi-racism and empty populist rethoric.
And only few of the political parties don't have one form or another of socialism in their programs.

One common misconception is that European workers all work 35 hours per week and have something like 12 weeks of paid leave. Well, no. Maybe that's the situation in France.

Surely not in the UK - not many holidays here. Also in Italy, the working time is usually 42 hours per week, with about 4 weeks of paid leave - we have several public holidays, too. Still quite a lot, you may think, but much less than rumored. Some people work even more, not to mention sefl-employers and farmers. While Italy's economy is by no means bustling, in 2004 it went better than the economy of France and Germany. Not all of the workers have the same contract, as well: when I worked in a tomato processing factory as a seasonal worker, I did 6 six-hours shifts per week, no paid leave, no lunch break, but all converted in money, so I got a hefty salary. That's good for 3 or 4 weeks in the summer, but not for long-term employment.

Italy is also plagued by strikes (not as much as France, hower) and strongly unionized workers, tho, split in innumerable tiny unions, the smallest the most radical. Not that worker unionions are a bad thing by themselves, but they become obnoxious when unions still drag on the obsolete concept of class warfare, and use strikes as to obtain privileges.
This happened with train drivers in what once was the state railway company: given that when they strike trains cannot circulate (while workers of other branches, like maintenance cannot stop trains), the drivers - and to a lesser extent staionmasters - made their own unions and asked for more and more privileges. Now they earn loads of money, and if there's an accident, drivers always shift blame on someone else. Not on those of them who voluntarily work long hours overtime, and end up exhausted, for example.

Hmm, I'm digressing. However, I think I'll write more of European affairs in future.

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The Great Regulators (aka Nanny State) are descending on the poor Britons with a fury resembling only barely the Marines in Fallujah.

The Scottish Executive decided for a ban on smoking in "enclosed public places", and similar measures are being discussed for the rest of Britain too. Actually, a ban on smoking would make some sense because passive smoke is indeed nocive. But what I don't like are some postions like "smoking did great damage to Scottish society" or the general atmosphere of a few enlightened men who can and should decide for the mass of ignorant peasants, who are so stupid and mean to appreciate something as evil as a cigarette!.
In many pubs in London, through a combination of layout and efficient ventilation, smokers can enjoy a cigarette and non-smokers can enjoy fresh air. I think that's the solution.

But the most idiotic decision fron the Nannies is the ban on junk food adverts on TV.
Yes, it's true. Worried by the growing level of childhood obesity, our Saint Saviours in the Government decided that if you just don't advertise them, children will stop to crave for sweets and chips. Makes sense, no? And their parents will be relieved from the overwhelming effort of really taking care of their children by giving them some, say, education and proper food. Don't worry, your Beloved Government will instead ban anything that can be even remotely dangerous!

And there is also a proposal for the labelling of foods: red light for fatty, salty sugary stuff; green for fruit and vegs and amber for things in between. Are we kidding or what? If someone's so ignorant and dumb not to know that chips are loaded with fat, and often salt, we should let Darwinian selection do its course. And what could be given a red light, also Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) maybe? Don't you dare...

I'm getting tired of this stuff, of elites imposing their vision of Good Life to the "peasants".
Stop being our nannies, leave us alone. Let us take decisions, eventually make mistakes and pay for them.

Update 18/11: Both Tim Worstall and Stephen Bainbridge, at Tech Central Station, have no simpathy for the Nannies, either.

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November 12, 2004

Out of Office 

No posting for the next couple of days: I'm off for a weekend in Scotland -and not to fish salmon.

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November 11, 2004

Possible Shitstorm Detected 

The news agency ADNKronos International reports (in Italian) that al-Quaida released two days ago a communication declaring that they have acquired nuclear capabilities, and their first target is the USA:

''Informiamo la nazione islamica che la produzione e l'arricchimento (di uranio, ndr.) per quanto concerne la fabricazione di bombe nucleari non sono piu' appannaggio solo dei crociati tiranni del mondo. I nostri tentativi di creare piccole bombe con grande potenza distruttiva sono riusciti''. L'inquietante annuncio e' contenuto in un comunicato apparso su Internet in un nuovo forum islamico firmato da Al-Qaeda. Il documento, che porta la data di due giorni fa, e' indirizzato in particolare al popolo americano.
''Sappiate che noi di Al-Qaeda risponderemo con un'azione dolorosa al vostro rifiuto nei confronti del consiglio che vi e' stato offerto dallo sceicco Osama Bin Laden attraverso il suo ultimo discorso - si legge nel documento - nel quale vi ha chiesto di non eleggere lo sciocco Bush alle ultime elezioni. Vi diciamo allora che questo rifiuto vi costera' la collera divina. Ed Allah vi rendera' il primo obiettivo che sara' colpito nel cuore dell'America''.

We inform the Islamic nation that uranium production and enrichment are no more an exclusive of the crusade tyrants of the world (sic). Our attempts at creating small but higly destructive bombs have finally succeeded. [...] We, al-Quaida, will respond with a painful action to your (American) refusal to pay heed to Osama Bin Laden electing that fool Bush (sic) as President (Translation mine).

The piece opens with a citation from the Koran (Al-Anfal verse 60), and goes on ranting about Allah's wrath - no blood running down the streets this time. The statement was released on a oscure jihadi online forum - something like "The Jihad's Lions' Pit". The release ends saying that the modalities chosen for the publication are "anomalous and totally exceptional".

Now, I find a bit hard to believe it: making nukes is a very difficult task, and it requires competent people, facilities and testing. It's almost impossible for a nuclear explosion, even underground, to remain unnoticed. Still, the jihadis may have obtained a working nuke from some other subject - although the message seems to imply that these alleged bombs are homemade.

We can only wait and see - while the intelligence guys will haul their butts off investigating. But it's going to be a tense wait. In any case, if a nuke will go off in the USA, we'll then see the biggest and most dreadful fireworks since thousands of years.

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Grieving for Evil 

Yasser Arafat has finally died. Not as martyr or as a fighter, but as sick old man in a hospital bed. Maybe of AIDS, contracted with the homosexual encounters he was rumored to be very fond of. Insulting people is not my specialty, but others are very good at it...

Just look at a non-PC biography of Arafat, and you will realize that he was a mean, hateful man. He added chapters of unknown brutality to the ugly book of terrorism:

Arafat's terrorists pioneered attacks on "soft" civilian targets, including multiple hijackings of airplanes; attacks on airports, such as Lod in Israel and Fiumincino in Rome, the murder of schoolchildren; and attacks on hotels and cruise ships. In 1972, Arafat's Black September murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. In 1973, Palestinian terrorists took over the Saudi Embassy in Sudan, killing US Ambassador Cleo Noel and others. James J. Welsh, a US National Security Agency analyst from 1969 to 1974, has charged Arafat with complicity in these murders.

In 1974, PLO terrorists took over a school in the Northern Israeli town of Ma'alot, where they threw school children out of windows. All told 26 people, including 21 pupils were murdered. This did not prevent Arafat from subsequently addressing the UN General Assembly while holstering a gun. That same year, the Palestinian National Council adopted the "phased plan" which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on any territory evacuated by Israel as a base of operations for the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state.

Recognition of Israel and peace were never, ever his objectives:

Addressing a Bethlehem rally the same year, Arafat announced, "We have one word -- jihad, jihad, jihad. Whoever does not like it, can drink Dead Sea water..." When referring to the Oslo accords, he often compared himself to the Prophet Mohammad and Salah a- Din, a great Muslim military leader who defeated the Crusaders. Arafat often invoked the ten-year peace treaty with the tribe of Koreish, which Mohammad broke after two years, massacring the Koreish tribe. Arafat also often referenced Salah a-Din breaking a truce with the crusaders and defeating them. He also made Khaibar -- a Jewish tribe in the Arabian Peninsula annihilated by Mohammad -- into his own battle-cry. The West and the Israeli left completely ignored his hate speech.

He was a master of double speak, lies and propaganda. He put up the face of the oppressed innocent with the naive West, but in Arabic he preached jihad, martyrdom of children and the destruction of Israel. The list of evil deeds committed by his minions is awfully long, but almost no-one in the western mainstream media bothered to uncover it. Instead, they're all grieving and pouring sweet, compassionate words: the BBC is in it, Reuters too - they even try to paint Israel and the USA as the bad guys, accusing them of "shunning" Arafat.

Some contend that Arafat was clamped in a vice, between Israel on one side and the palestinian radicals on the other. That is only partly true for the last few years: for many years, Arafat and the PLO were the only real palestinian force, his authority and power were undisputed. But Arafat nurtured and fed the monster of Islamism and the cult of martyrdom, until the beast grew so big and strong that it become very difficult to keep it on a leash.

However, despite terror, death and the cultural poisoning of palestinian society, Arafat obtained nothing concrete for the Palestinians. 30 years into the fight, they still do not have a state, do not have an economy, they still live in a limbo of inept, weak palestinian authority and military israeli rule. It's an utter, stark failure by any sensible standard.

The contested territories may very well fall into instability and chaos, but the current situation was a dead-end anyway. Maybe from the chaos saner heads will emerge.

Arafat will be buried in Ramallah. The Palestinians quickly found the eart-moving machines and dump trucks to clear the ground from the rubble and wreckages that littered it. Now I wonder, why they did not clean up the mess before? It is vaguely possible that the israelis did not allow them, but is sounds like a weak explanation. I believe that rubble and wrecked cars had a good propaganda value, instead: they look a lot like war-zone, and the (staged) pictures of childred clinging to a doll amidst the rubble sell very good in the West.

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November 10, 2004

More on the Ufton Train Crash 

The British Health & Safety Executive (HSE) already published an interim report (PDF 80K) with the first results of the investigation on the train crash occurred at Ufton, Berkshire, on Saturday 7 November. The final toll is 7 deaths and 37 injured. From the document, it emerges that at least high-speed trains in the UK have sistem called OTMR (On Train Monitoring Recording) to record speed and other relevant data, like activation of brakes and other controls.

There is no evidence of errors by the railway staff, or faults with the train, level crossing or signalling system. The sole culprit is the man who parked his car on the level crossing.

Trains cannot brake to a stop in any useful distance: on italian railways, it is considered that a train needs at least 600 m to stop completely - not surprising if you consider the kinetic energy of a 500 t body at 120 km/h. In most cases, when the driver sights an obstruction on the track it's too late to do anything about it.
Collisions of trains with road vehicles at level crossing are a somewhat common occurrance - that's why newer railways have no level crossings. Usually, the event ends with destruction of the road vehicle (if it's a car), death of its passengers, and minor to serious damage to the train, with only slight injuries to the train's crew and passengers.
Sometimes the leading wheelset of the train derails at impact, but usually the train stays upright and it does not end in a catastrophic derailment with cars leaving the rails.

In this case, however, it happened: at about 91 m past the level crossing, there is a switch where another track called Down Goods Loop braches from the main one. When a train with a derailed bogie hits a switch (or pointwork... I don't have a deep knowledge of these specific terms in English), bad things will happen. Basically, some wheels/bogies will tend to go in one directions, others in the other. The first such coach will tend to stop abruptly, but the following ones still have a lot of momentum, and so they will leave the tracks, roll over, jump up and such. Here's a photogallery showing the level of damage in the derailment. Many years ago, a freight train with a single broken and derailed axle struck the switches of my village's station: half of the train derailed, and wagons were scattered around tracks and platforms causing huge damage. No casualties because the accident happened at something like 3 am.

This for the technical part. Journalists discovered other weird facts about the Ufton derailment. The Sun, always hungry for scandals and skimpy babes (although its news section and columns are not that bad), says that the suicide drive Brian Drysdale was a sleazy junkie, often doing drugs and into the gay bars scene.
The Mirror, maybe even more scandalistic, reports that the guy spent most of his money on drugs, drinks and picking up boys in gay bars. His personal hygiene is reported to be "appalling" and he left an apartment in such a pitiful state that it needed re-decoration and the bathroom replaced.

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November 08, 2004

What else 

I've been away for a weekend break in Devon, and while I was there, drinking real ales and eating traditional pub food, the world moves on - as always.

First, an idiot decided to kill himself parking his car on a level crossing, to be run over by a train... one of the London Paddington - Plymouth (in Devon) express trains. It ended with a derailed train, seven deaths and tens of injuries, massive rail traffic disruption and huge economic damage. If there is a divine judgement and afterlife, I hope his soul will be damned and cursed.

Second, what seems the final offensive on Fallujah just begun. This time, it seems that the Marines and Iraqi forces won't stop before winning decisively. As in the current american military doctrine, ground operations are supported by plenty of artillery and air raids. The Marines can also rely on a network of air and ground reconnaissance, targeting and fire control unmanned vehicles - all integrated by fast and realiable datalink with the units on the ground. In practice, almost every soldier can have a real-time complete vision of the battlefield: this is something that the jihadis can only dream of, and a definite tactical advantage. But in the end, it will again be, as it has always been, blood and sweat, and ferocious grunts on the ground that will win the battle, and take the casualties.

The moonbats in my college organized a rapid-response manifestation asking again for the withdrawal of the coalition troops. Their leaflets propagated the ill-founded (to say the least) rumor that up to now the Operation Iraqi Freedom caused 100 000 civilian casualties. In truth, that Lancet's paper is based on shoddy research, and it was published mostly for political reasons. Even the deeply anti-war Iraq Body Count group is very cautious about this paper.
But the most disgusting circumstance is when said "pacifists" pretend to be concerned abotu the casualties among Coalition soldiers. A few days ago, three soldiers of the british (Scottish) Black Watch Regiment were killed in a suicide attack - together with an Iraqi translator, and a few more were injured. Today, the leaflets for the anti-war (pro-Zarqawi?) march said "3 Black Watch soldiers dead. Get the troops out". This from the same lefties who, in the past, openly gloated about the US defeat in Vietnam - nevermind that a staggering number of vietnamese died in the process. Or are hoping with all of their heart that the rebels (no, insurgents in their vocabulary) in Iraq will defeat the US - nevermind that what the rebels have in their plans for Iraq is worse than Saddam's regime. And, in other occasions, they openly affirm that people joining the army can only be either too dumb or bloodthirsty to do anything else. Hypocrites.

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November 05, 2004

Friday Babe #3 

A rather quick post today: I'm busy with the things that constitute real life, too.

Gigi Leung Posted by Hello

Say hello to Gigi Leung from Hong Kong - I don't know much about her, except that she's nice.

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November 04, 2004


I was about to write something about the declining health of Yasser Arafat - I won't miss him when he'll pass away.
But my tooth just split open eating lunch... I think I'll have to visit the dentist instead.

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November 03, 2004

The Number of the Beast 

Bloody hell (in a broad cockney accent), today I reached the ominous number of 666 visits!

I wonder what can happen today. Malignant denials-of-service? Hellish trespassing of bandwidth (unlikely)? Heathen Blogger crashes?

In the meanwhile, crank this ol' good Iron Maiden's song!

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George Bush has a solid lead in both the electoral and popular vote of this election.

The Internet/Cable network C-SPAN has a detailed report of the results per state: at 11:06 GMT, 98% of precincts counted, this is the situation:

Bush 254 EV 51% 57,896,800 Votes

Kerry 252EV 48% 54,289,017

Others Negligible (~1%)

I think the situation is clear: Bush is going to win a second term, with an uncontestable majority. He's going to win because he demonstrated leadership and the willingness to wage war to the enemies of America, on their own turf. That's the main reason, not religious affiliations or social conservativism, and not even economy (that, however, is going well).
Yes, I am cheering. Not because I am a great fan of the man himself - although that "ride, shoot straight and speak the truth" Texan attitude has some charm. I think Bush is the man we need to continue the War on Radical Islam, it's that simple. He's one of the men Islamists most hate, and that must mean something...

And, it's priceless to see and hear the moonbats screeching and imploding.

Update 10/11 - I would have been equally glad for a Kerry victory, if Kerry showed the same determination in the War on Islamism. But Kerry got the endorsement of subjects like North Korea's dictator Kim Il Sung, Yasser Arafat, other assorted Islamists, almost Bin Laden himself. And also of France, that France that was warm and cozy with Saddam Hussein, and despite claims to the contrary, did not behave like an ally of the USA in the last few years. Kerry also has a record of voting against military expenses, and stated that eventual american military actions must be sort of approved by the rest of the world. Yes, he said that he will continue to hunt for Bin Laden, but even if he did it, Bin Laden is only a symptom of the Islamist disease. In short, I don't think that Kerry would have been a good wartime president.

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November 02, 2004

Chasing Its Own Tail 

Recently I saw the poster advertising a seminar held in Sicily with a tile like "Creation of new business and occupation". The sponsors were local councils, other Italian institutions and branches of the European Union. The scope of that seminar was to give help, hints and directions to people wanting to start a new business or commercial activity.

The non-said about these programs (there are many, with different names) is that much of the effort and money is devoted to help people to overcome the burden and tangled vines of economic over-regulation, suffocating bureocracy, corporativism and the likes.
Just a couple of examples of over-regulation: when a new bar (that, in Italy, is culturally closer to the concept of English pub) opened in my village, it could not get a licence for cooking and serving food - except sandwiches and panini - because there already was a restaurant in the village. And later on, the Chamber of Commerce forced this estabilishment to raise the prices of some items, because the other bar complained about perceived disloyal cuncurrency.

So I ask, instead of spending money and time to help entrepreneurs dealing with stupid, suffocating regulations, isn't it better to reform those regulations? Isn't it better to work towards a real free market and less bureocracy?

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