December 28, 2004

The Catastrophe Is Being Televised 

The catstrophic tsunami that sweeped the coasts of India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and South East Asia is current news. As I've heard from various experts, the quake which originated the phenomenon released a staggering amount of energy, in the order of magnitude of Gigatons - when the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated was barely one thousandth of that. A section thousands of kilometers long of a geological plate shifted by 20 meters in a few seconds, sending powerful wawes into the surrounding sea.

There is a wealth of audio-video footage of the giant wawes crashing on peaceful beaches and turist resorts: in these days, when one out of two people own an audio/video recording device like a camcorder or a camera phone, having plenty of footage is not surprising. But the open issue is what will be done with all the data. For one thing, the public awareness of this tragedy will be unprecedented, and I suppose those populations will receive better aid than ever before.

There are also risks, and one is the cheapening of the catastrophe: when the same video, altough dramatic, is aired over and over again, it loses its impact and becomes something ordinary, maybe even annoying. It is said that humans can adapt to the most incredible situations, so it's likely that our hearts may be hardened by repeated, chapened exposition to other people's sufference and misery.
Another risk is that those images will become snuff, and end up exciting those sick people with a morbid fascination for death and destruction.

Those are only a few of the new challenges and risks of this information and electronic age. But I think that they're exciting, not scary challenges and risks worth taking.

Wretchard looks at this story from another angle: what lessons can be learnt from rare but destructive events, and from the even more puzzling case of a never-happened-before event? (The lesson is disquieting and does not offer the comfort of a pleasant lie).

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December 21, 2004

Service Alteration Notice (With Bonus) 

Michelle Yeoh & Russel Crowe Posted by Hello

Let's start with the good news: in a non-sexist and non-judgemental manner, both a babe and a hunk for you, my affectionate readers!

And now, the service alterations: for the next two weeks or so, I'll be busy with getting myself stuffed of good food and wine, staying out till late at night, riding my bike, keeping the capitalist engine running, oppressing Nice Coloured People and other activities of the same kind. Posting, consequentially, will be noticeably reduced.

Anyhow, a happy Christmas for all!

You may want to check out the Presepe, the Italian tradition to celebrate Christmas.

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December 20, 2004

The Reasons of a Disappearance 

I must admit, Steven DenBeste had quite a big influence also on my decision of starting a blog, and on my views of America and generally on the way to look at the world and consider problems. Yes, because SDB's reasoning was well-explained and almost unbreakable because based on ruthless logic and scientific method. Almost the only way to disagree with him is to have different axioms. And he also introduced me (and many others) to the military analysis of Clausewitz, to the world of Game Theory and a lot of other things that work surprisingly well in describing our reality.

But in July 2004, SDB decided to discontinue his blog USS Clueless. The reason he cited is the weariness brought by an enormous flow of nit-picking and pedantically critic e-mails from his readers, but I suspected there was something else. I may understand a temporary withdrawal for this reason, but not a permanent retirement.

Finally, on the blog Rishon Rishon we can read the real reason (together with the mailstorm, yes) for Steven's retirement. And it's sad and moving.

But he said he wants no pity neither platitudes, and I'll give none.
He did what he felt like doing, he wrote what he felt like writing. He was a good soldier of the word, and there's one word for the soldiers: Salute!

If you want to read something fitting - in my humble opinion - check out the book "Against the Odds" by Elizabeth Moon - it's about soldiers, and Absent Friends and accomplishment and failure.

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December 19, 2004

Not the Root Cause 

It is common wisdom that terrorism and violence are generated by poverty and economic exploitation, and thus if we only were less greed and imperialist, terrorism would just melt away.

Well, there are quite a few reasons to doubt of this vision of the problem. At the philosophical level, this infatuation for the "root cause" is a manifestation of teleology; as Steven Den Beste wrote:

[...]If the universe is orderly, and if it has some deep underlying purpose and unity, then if you understand that "final cause" well enough you should be able to predict its consequences directly. Thus you could create a complete description of the universe in what we now would consider "scientific" terms solely based on the fact that it would have to be a certain way. Anything else would be unclean and untidy and inelegant, and thus impossible – and therefore it would not be necessary to actually test any such conclusions. They were inevitable and had to be true.[...]

Karl Marx then provided a perfect specimen of final cause in regard to human behaviour: greed and wealth. But now we know that Marx, while he was quite right in his assessment of human nature, proposed a solution that has utterly failed, anytime and anywhere it was implemented. Now we know that human natural egoism has to be harnessed, not suppressed.

We also have to consider that reality is complex. As a scientist/engineer, I have to face complexity on a daily basis: problems that appear simple and linear at a first glance, are actually much more complex and intricated if examined thoroughly: you have conflicting priorities, inter-dependend phenomena, and basically a legion of devils hidden in the details. Thus, reconducting anything to a few root causes sounds preposterous to me.

Often the common explanation for terrorism* takes another complementary path, that is, the terrorism are motivated not only by poverty, but also by oppression and wrongs they had to endure in the past (at the hands of the White Western Men, of course). The tranzist current of thought, moreover, considers even the offence to the collective feelings of some group as an intolerable oppression. While oppression is somewhat quantifiable on an objective basis, offence to feelings is strictly related to individual/group perception, and thus unquantifiable on any objective scale.

In regard to our problem of ideologically-motivated terrorism, and specifically of Islamist terrorism, there are even more reason to doubt of the common explanations.

One is that, of all the populations and groups that suffered oppression at the hands of any other group, only a handful resorted to violent terrorist doctrine - and no other one of the same kind and magnitude of Islamists. The Japanese did not set off bombs in the USA in response to the firebombings and nuclear bombings; the Mexicans are not slaughtering American (gueros) tourists; Ethiopians never thought of hijacking Italian airplanes.

Another point to notice is that a lot of oppression and atrocities were committed by "coloureds" on other coloureds: the Rape of Nanking (I won't link to that; it's really sickening stuff) and the sexual enslavement of Korean women were perpetrated by the Japanese; Arab tribes happily massacred each other, and together they massacred Persians and Indians; the Mongols killed Arabs by the thousands; the Rwanda atrocity was a Blacks-on-Blacks matter; and if I remember correctly, even the pre-Colombian civilizations of South America often indulged in bloodshed. And many more cases.
And look, although the Chinese are not exactly friendly to the Japanese (but usually accept money from the Japanese tourists), I still have to see a Chinese suicide bomber in a Tokyo shopping mall.

Examining Bin Laden's speeches, one can notice that he rarely mentions poverty. It should not sound surprising, given that he thought Taliban's Afghanistan as the perfect Islamic state - and that was by no means a rich country.What Bin Laden and his ilk whine and seethe about is that the cultural influence of the West is leading good Muslims astray from the good Islamic life, and the presence of American soldiers in Arabia is a defilment of the sacred Islamic land, as it is the presence of a tiny Jewish state (in an area where the Arabs arrived late, and not pacifically). That is all the oppression the Islamists have to endure at the hands of the Whites, in their minds.

But if these explanations are not enough, there are even more accurate case and statistical studies on the phenomenon.

One, Understanding Terror Networks, studied the biographies of 400 terrorists who targeted the US, in order to perform a social-network analysis of the group. Most of them do not come from the poor and desperate masses:

Taking these perceived root causes in turn, three quarters of my sample came from the upper or middle class. The vast majority—90 percent—came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.
Al Qaeda’s members are not the Palestinian fourteen-year- olds we see on the news, but join the jihad at the average age of 26. Three-quarters were professionals or semi- professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion. The natural sciences predominate. Bin Laden himself is a civil engineer, Zawahiri is a physician, Mohammed Atta was, of course, an architect; and a few members are military, such as Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, who is supposedly the head of the military committee.

They were rich, well-off, and educated. And they chose violence anyway. My idea is that at least a significant fraction of them were inherently evil - yes, I believe that some people are evil and actually enjoy harming other people. Another reason is that they were experincing a loss of identity, a void that they tried to fill by joining a gang - the gang of the Warriors of Allah. However, this study tackles the problem from the point of view of forensic psychiatry, and that's by no means an exact science.

In another study, Harvard's professor Alberto Abadie, examined the correlation between terrorism (international and domestic) with poverty... and found none.
Instead, he found that the level of ideologically-motivated violence is highest where freedom is lower - except in very repressive regimes which can keep people under control through a police state. As it is reported:

"In the past, we heard people refer to the strong link between terrorism and poverty, but in fact when you look at the data, it's not there. This is true not only for events of international terrorism, as previous studies have shown, but perhaps more surprisingly also for the overall level of terrorism, both of domestic and of foreign origin," Abadie said.
Instead, Abadie detected a peculiar relationship between the levels of political freedom a nation affords and the severity of terrorism. Though terrorism declined among nations with high levels of political freedom, it was the intermediate nations that seemed most vulnerable.

Some readers on LGF criticized Abadie for not stating that Islam is a cause of terrorism, but I think they are missing the point: the scope of this study was to investigate the correlation (or lack thereof) between poverty and terrorism, not to say what exactly is the cause of violence. Another not surprising finding of this work is that also geography plays a role: areas of difficult access can constitute safe havens for terrorists, guerrillas and the like.

It should be clear now that if there is a root cause of violence, that's not poverty (I believe that it's the evil in the heart of men)**. Thus, funnelling even more money to purely assistential projects will not work, and neither "respecting Islamic sensibilities" will.

The combatants need to be defeated militarily - killed, to make it short. And we need to win the meme war as well, to spread the ideas of individual freedom and democracy, justice, personal responsibility and government accountability that made the West a much better place to live than many others - as fellow blogger Jinnderella never tires to say.

* In this case, I am using terrorism with the common (but improper) meaning of politically-motivated violence against non-combatants.

** I got carried away while writing: not even the evil in the heart of men is the root cause of violence. I think it is the main cause, but there are other factors. Among them, convenience and opportunity...(12/01/2005)

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December 16, 2004

More Random Stuff 

Quality world-wide weather situation and forecast at Weather.com; also a cool meteo website for northern Italy: ARPA-SIM (Italian).

For your WHOIS searches and all IP and DNS things, DNSStuff.

Globalspec, the engineering search engine, and a wide range of scientific journals available on-line at ScienceDirect (it works from my college's network; private users may not be able to enjoy the full functionality).

These are the tools I use for my entertainment/knowledge, and even work. I think someone of you might find them interesting as well.

Update 29/1/2005: The first part of this post really sucks. Feel free to ignore it if it sounds too stupid.

On the news front, Italian Environment minister Matteoli says the obvious: after the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, ending by 2012, it will make no sense to go on without USA, India an China (the two latter countries are rapidly going to be the biggest producers of CO2). These countries are not willing to join a binding agreeement like Kyoto, but are willing to sign voluntary agreements and engage in commercial partnership.
The Kyoto Protocol will also be basically ineffective in producing any relevant cut of carbon dioxide emissions - while it will pose a considerable burden on industrialized countries. If Italy will keep out of this sort of scam, it will be better. Not because I like pollution - absolutely not - but because the Kyoto Protocol is not an effective way to tackle the problem, and it is also another manifestation of internationalism and attempt to force an "international law" that has only weak and confused popular support (how many people have a sufficient knowledge of the climate dynamics and of the real pros and cons of the Kyoto Protocol?) and only none to slim chances of being effectively enforced. Of course the environmentalists are already howling in dismay, and guess who they blame and consider the arch-enemy of everything ecologic?
Yes, George W. Bush. It wasn't a very difficult question, was it?

Finally, the interesting blog Silent Running launches SIMTERROR'05, a simulation via weblog in which (Islamic) terrorists will try to stage an attack in Australia at the beginning of 2005. It sounds like an interesting experiment: how will bloggers react? Will they add a constructive voice to the chorus? Will it mark the birth (and ephemeral existence) of a superhuman intelligence? Or will it degenerate in a farce? Probably not, but that's a risk.
Will the blogs be able to rise to the level of serious competitors of the more traditional information media? Someone needs to experiment, to know.

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December 15, 2004

Human Nature Part 2: What we are 

The relatively modern field of evolutionary psychology studies how the nervous system of humans, and thus human behaviour, evolved during our history.

The conclusions of these studies are that most of human behaviour can be explained on the basis of reproductive advantage - the almost unstoppable will of letting our genes survive. For example, scientific studies proved that what men found most attractive in a woman is proportions, particularly the waist/hip ratio - besides good looks altogether.
Why is that? Because a beautiful and well-proportioned woman is less likely to have deformities or to be affected by serious diseases, and thus more likely to successfully carry strong and healthy children who will have the genes of the father.
Likewise, women tend to prefer rich men because wealth will give the children more chances of survival. This mechanisms work at a very basic level, so it's not really necessary to have children with any partner to prove them - and other factors can alter this low-level behaviour.

There are other sources to read to gain insight in the human nature: history books, and even narrative books: the former will give the grand vision, while the latter will shed light on the beliefs, desires and aspirations of the commons. But both the macro-history and the micro-history proceed together, it is not possible to separate them.
So, reading, observing and elaborating, I reached the following conclusions about human nature.

Humans are egoist.

This means that:

- An individual wants to survive, even if others have to die.
- An individual wants to prosper, even if others will live in poverty.
- An individual wants to find a partner and reproduce, even if others will not.
- An individual wants to win and succeed, even if others will lose and fail.
- Any individual cares more for the close ones (the "tribe") than for strangers.

There's more or less everything in these basic concepts: the survival instincts, the competition, the sense of appartenance to a group. I also reached another important conclusion: given that this form of egoism is natural and deeply radicated (at a genetic level probably) in all of us, it is morally neutral. Not bad, neither good, but just a fact to deal with. I also think that for normal humans the "either me or you" mechanisms kick in only in rather dire circumstances, when there is no other solution. Usually, normal humans are quite willing to compromise, and the society rules force use to compromise quite a lot on many issues.

Of course these are somewhat generalizations: some humans show only some of those traits, and there are even a few total altruists, who prefer to get screwed than hurting or offending anyone else. There are also a few evil humans, who just enjoy causing sufference and tribolation to others.

But humans also tend live in groups, and thus morals and laws are needed to balance those primal instincts - where there is no law and no moral, things rapidly degenerate from "I'll kill you, if I really have to" to "I'll kill you, because it's the quickest way to reach my objective". It is not that humans live in groups because of a strong love for other humans. Instead, groups have more chances to survive during difficult times, and the coordinated efforts of several individuals can produce much more wealth and goods and comforts than the same number of people working each one alone. Ultimately, this is egoism too: I work together with others because it will be convenient for me, in the end. But for a group to function, there must be some form of rules and punishment for those who break the rules.

Free and capitalistic societies are hystorically much more successfull than any other because the rules of these societies rely on the inherent human self-interest; this self-interest is then harnessed to be useful for the whole society, but not stifled.
The difficult but highly rewarding task is to build such a society, where people can work for personal gain, while at the same time (almost as a side effect, actually) doing the benefit to the whole society. Thus in these societies hard work and skills are rewarded, and winners and brilliant people get the best places, the best money. Slackers and dimwits have to be happy with the leftovers - and even if this system seems unjust, consider that poor persons in the West would likely be well-off in Africa, India and China.

Communist societies, on the other hand, try to suppress the innate human egoism. Other currents of thought, like post-modernism and such, even tell us that the very existence of winners and losers, of better and worse people, the offence to someone's feelings, are terrible wrongs. The good is being all equal, all levelled to the lowest valley so that no one will ever feel offended. All people will always get the same wage, regardless wether they work hard and with real commitment, or do just the minimum indispensable.

But these systems are unstable: people will feel uncomfortable each time the old instincts and the insuppressable human will to explore, to improve, to do something for one's own satisfaction and gain will surface. The only way for the ruling elites to keep things together is thus oppression and indoctrination, to stop new ideas from taking place and to suppress those people who think differently.

As we all have seen, the Soviet Union could not stand the competition with the West and fell apart - and now its ex-citizens are struggling along the way to freedom.
Islamism gives only little thought to economic issues (the islamist economic system is pretty primitive), but in the field of suppression of individual freedom, oppression and indoctrination, is in the Hall of Shame together with the worst ideologies of history.
Oh, Islamism does not try to stifle some instincts, actually: violence, bloodlust, violent lust and other destructive instincts are in fact encouraged, especially towards anyone perceived as not a real Muslim.

I strongly prefer the capitalist and liberal society of the West (minus the sickening political correctness) over any other social system in history. I am ready to fight for it, and while now I'm just a mind warrior, if forced to a violent confrontation I won't back down.

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December 14, 2004

What's a minority? 

My college has a student newspaper called Felix - as almost any colleges and universities have. A couple of weeks ago, it had an interesting story: Half of Imperial students to come from overseas.
It does not say exactly how many students are from overseas already, but my guess is that we're around 40%. And "overseas" in this case means anywhere but the EU, but mostly India and East Asia.

Some of this overseas students will be white, but the majority of them will be "coloured". Given that already a sizable fraction of Brits is coloured - mainly, Blacks, Indian/Pakistanis and Asians (some of my friends are of foreign or mixed origin, but culturally Brits), I would say that white Britons are the minority in this college. And besides these calculations, it's something I can see just strolling through the walkways and common rooms: the most common features I see are probably Asian ones (it's just a coincidence, I swear!).

So what's a minority? Not what the trumpeters of multiculturalism and "diversity" want us to believe, in this case.

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December 13, 2004

Libertá, non per tutti 

Ci risiamo: di nuovo, giovani di sinistra ed anarchici impediscono ad esponenti del governo - in particolare, di Alleanza Nazionale - di parlare durante un convegno all'Universitá di Roma 3.
Tre di questi minchioni sono rimasti leggermente feriti durante i conseguenti tafferugli: troppo poco, io dico, troppo poco.

Il copione é sempre lo stesso: questi personaggi decidono che qualcuno con differenti idee politiche é un fascista, e quindi si sentono autorizzati a fare di tutto, anche usare la violenza, per impedire a queste persone di parlare. Si, non di fare qualcosa, ma addirittura di esprimere la loro opinione. Poi peró gli stessi che impediscono a Fini od Alemanno di parlare, si ammantano a difensori della democrazia e libertá di espressione, che secondo loro é continuamente minacciata da quelli sull'altra sponda.

Anche on diplomatico israeliano, Shai Cohen é stato silenziato nello stesso ignobile modo il 16 Ottobre scorso a Pisa. Anzi, non contenti di impedire la sua lezione con grida ed insulti, i portatori di kefiyah hanno pure fatto poco velate minacce.

E' interessante notare che questi falsi liberali in genere sono pochi, poche decine su migliaia di studenti, animati soltanto dalla prepotenza e dalla presunzione di sapere cosa é meglio per tutti, e pronti ad usare la violenza per imporre la loro visione delle cose.
E c'e chi e pronto a fare loro eco anche fra le istituzioni:

Era successo con Gianfranco Fini alla Sapienza. Oggi è successo con Alemanno a Roma Tre. C'è un clima preoccupante e una repressione assurda" ha commentato Nando Simeone, vicepresidente del Consiglio provinciale ed esponente di Rifondazione comunista.

Un vicepresidente del Consiglio provinciale che dice queste cose? Che parla di "repressione assurda" quando sono stati gli studenti ad impedire la legittima espressione di un esponente del legittimo governo italiano? Ma stiamo scherzando?

Una vera dedizione alla libertá di espressione é virtú rara, e presuppone di accettare anche l'espressione di idee considerate profondamente offensive. Gli unici limiti sono posti dalle leggi della Repubblica Italiana, che non sono permissive quanto quelle degli Stati Uniti, ma comunque danno un ampio margine di libera espressione. E' chiaro che fra comunisti, anarchici, "disobbedienti" e tutta la marmaglia, solo pochi possiedono davvero questa virtú.

Un nuovo arrivo fra i miei collegamenti: Barsauro, un blog italiano. Le posizioni dell'autore sono spesso piuttosto lontane dalle mie (diciamo che mentre io ho deciso chiaramente da quale parte stare, lui ha molti tentennamenti ed incertezze - ed un caso di BDS), ma mi sembra un buon uomo. Benvenuto a bordo.

Aggiornamento 18:20. Quando ho scritto questo articolo nel primo pomeriggio, la homepage di Repubblica on-line mostrava l'articolo sulle vicende di Roma in prima pagina insieme ad un articolo sul rinvio a giudizio di una trentina di poliziotti sospettati di avere commesso violenze durante il G8 di Genova.
Con il passare delle ore, la storia di Alemanno silenziato con la forza é diventata prima un titolo marginale, ed ora é scomparsa del tutto dalla prima pagina. Mentre quella dei poliziotti rinviati a giudizio resta in bella vista.

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December 12, 2004


Wow, I'm about to reach the mark 1 000 visits!

I know, other blogs total 1000 visits every day (not to mention the big ones like LGF, that stay in the range of 10 000), but hey, you have to start from somewhere, no?

Many of the visits are just pings from search engines - and I've got some weird referrals, like someone looking for "free new pissing pictures" from Lahore, Pakistan. Pissing is haram mate, I tell you. Another one from Italy: "donne+mussulmane+porno (mulsim+women+porn)". But I have some regular readers, besides my friends I pointed to my blog, I can see that from my referrals too.

Most of the visits, a 40% come from Europe (my friends, again) but I have quite a readership in America (North and South, but mostly USA) and a 10% of visits from the Far East, plus a few ones from basically any region between the UK and Japan.

Not so much feedback from my readers yet, but no hate mails neither other nastyness.
You can be quite sure that authors of eventual hate mails will be promptly exposed in public, and eventually I'll take further actions.

The 1000th reader will receive a totally worthless virtual prize, ahahaha...

And the winner is (19:10 UTC)... A visitor with IP 82.49.138.#, from Catania, Sicilia, Italy (Zibibbo perhaps?) who came straight to my front page. Thanks, greetings, congratulations, the whole lot!

Update 13/12/04: With a bit of self-congratulation and shameless promotion on LGF, I got 50-odd visits in less than 24 hours! Advertisement is indeed the core of business.

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December 11, 2004

Alien vs. Predator 

A few weeks ago, I watched that film, and I was almost totally disappointed. Mostly because it's hollow, a lame story offered in a shiny packege. There is handful of mildly involving scenes, but no more.

Aliens... what could I say, except that it's an absolute classic? Relentless, gripping, compelling: I cant watch it over and over, and it will always give me the thrills. It has pace and atmosphere, and even if the special effects look vintage, it's easy to suspend disbelief. Ripley, Hicks, Bishop, Newt, Vasquez, Burke, Apone, Hudson are memorable characters. There are no cheesy scenes, no time screen time wasted. And that movie definitively sent Giger's Aliens into the the realm of collective popular culture. The point is, James Cameron has talent, and when someone has talent, he will always be a notch above the rest. I think Cameron did not fail a single movie in his careeer - even Titanic, long as it is, it's a good ride. Oh yeah, there are more Alien movies - from the first one, a genuine space thriller, to the last one, a bloody and gory hi-tech horror. But Aliens is the ultimate one.

Predator... It features an Arnie in perfect shape, and the best and fiercest shootout (Coooontaaact!) ever committed on screen (with the exception of history-based movies like Saving Private Ryan).
The atmosphere in Predator is a crescendo of violence and suspence, to the final fight between a man and and the alien, both reduced to their primal essence, to raw survival instincts. The action is well crafted, and the one-liners are absolutely memorable: "Stick around" is still one of the best Arnie's moments. The director is John McTiernan, another guy with some talent indeed. And Predator 2, while less incisive, is still an entertaining action movie - the massacre of narcos at the very beginning is a quite powerful scene. Also, it already features an Alien's skull among the collection on the Predator's spaceship.

Then let's come to Alien vs. Predator. It has, to put it bluntly, nothing of the good things of its predecessors. The special effects are top-level, but there is no real story worth telling. And the characters are expedable - the only things I remember is that the protagonist is a though chick (a female of colour, to be more precise); the lame Italian lessons given by Raoul Bova, and the rich idealist patron played by Lance Henriksen is gravely ill. What I'd like to see in such a movie are Aliens kicking Predators' butts, and vice versa, shooting, biting, slashing, corroding on a grand scale (well, not so grand as a Battle of the Pelennor Fields, ok) - not annoying humans messing around in tunnels that look not really scary, but just a poor attempt of reproducing the settings of the hystorical videogame Quake - and that was scary at some points, I tell you.
There is also an abundance of cheesy scenes: from the chick's mobile phone ringing while she's climbing cliff in the Himalaya - only to find a chopper waiting for her at the top, to the Italian lessons cited above, to end with the coda of the movie, so silly and predictable that it can easily make the Top 10 of the cheesy moments. The Predators look lost, like Predator-rookies (and by the way, the movie shows Predators thousands of years ago with exactly the same equipment as now: where the hell is the technological evolution?) without their shoulder cannon. Aliens are not creepy, they resemble overgrown pests. What "ultimate prey"; Arnie in Predator gives more hell to the hunter. Oh yes, there is the idiotic idea of an Alien Queen kept chained in order to depose eggs on command... One of the few nice ideas it the Pradots marking themselves with the corrosive blood of the slain Aliens, to testify that they killed one: that is something that squares well with a hunter/warrior ethos.

Besides all that, the movie is set in October 2004: is that possible that no-one of the crew never watched any Alien? If I were to see such eggs, and corpses with the ribcages broken towards the outside, I'd understand on the spot that big trouble is brewing...

My suggestion is not to waste money to see this empty product at the cinema. It may be the right movie to rent for a night of mindless entartainment with friends, but nothing more.

Thanks to James Berardinelli.

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December 09, 2004

Looking Eastwards 

I'm looking increasingly towards the Far East - namely, China, Korea, Japan in the last few months. There are various reasons for this interest: one is that I like anime, from several years now, and that interest has fuelled some interest for Japan as a whole.
I also like Chinese food, and while it's a pretty superficial thing, it contributes too.

But the main reason is that I had a relationship with a Chinese woman. Now that relationship is over; it was a difficult one which went through short spans of euphoria and longer periods of gloom and sadness, and even fits of open hostility. The emotional scars from that relationship will take time to heal.

However, I am left with an almost maniacal attraction for Asian women. I know, the look of Chinese, Japanese, Korean is subtly but decidedly different, but there are many common traits, like dark slanted eyes (meaning no offense), black straight hair, a generally slim and well-proportioned body, smooth honey skin... Well, you get the idea.*

Much of the problems between me and my ex were caused, I think, by a cultural divide. I am a hot-blooded Italian, while she had all the calm and detachment (and even coldness) of a Confucian Chinese. So I'm looking, sometimes trepidantly, into Asian culture, trying to understand what are the differences, and how big they are. Internet and weblogs make this much easier and enjoyable than going around reading thick books.
One thing I found recently, is the Chinese concept of lie, and it's a bit unsettling... Especially when I realized that my ex applied her concept of lie in dealing with me. Eventually the truth surfaced, and that was not pretty.

Well, let's get back to my original intentions: presenting three new entries; one Simon World - the weblog of an Aussie living in Hong Kong (if you were expecting Rio de Janeiro, it means you did not pay attention!), a good blog about Asia. The second new entry is DenBeste's new project Chizumatic, a collection of anime reviews and other thoughts in a blog-like format. Third entry, Marc Miyake's Amaravati, a linguistics blog dedicating a lot of effort to Asian languages - he's also deeply against Noam Chomsky.

Right, you don't need to have a psychology degree to understand that I am looking for another Asian woman as a substitute for my ex... who'll live, will see.

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December 06, 2004

Loonies in Europe 

What's wrong with Azeglio Ciampi, Italy's President?
After talking a lot about peace, multilateralism, negotiations and the whole package, during his visit in China he said that the EU should abolish the embargo on arms sales to China. Say what? China, that country with a dismal human rights record (censure of weblogs, just for a mild example), whose government is fuelling aggressive nationalism among the population (and even ideas of a Chinese racial supremacy), whose government militarily threatens Taiwan every other day. And Europe should sell weapons to China - while they even have a big defense industry?

That's a rather foolish position, to say the least (of course, France wants to lift the ban as well). What most amazes me is the double standard: USA are to be shunned* while China is OK? On what alien world? This is bordering with hypocrisy.
The Foreign Affairs minister Fini, at least, speaks honestly of "strategic partnership and cooperation". Fini is the less tranzist of the bunch, and for me it's all right when countries forge bonds with strategic allies, and I like Chinese culture much more than Islamic culture - at least, the Chinese are not hell-bent on converting us. But still, I can't support this decision now, while China is still an authoritarian regime with real expansionist policies. Where are the standards of democracy and justice?
Truth to be told, there are some anarchists who condemn greedy self-interest from any party, but then they go overboard on the other side.

At least the Reformation Minister Calderoli seems to be a saner head in this regard, and he's against lifting the embargo - which has been approved by the European Parliament in 2003, by the way.
But then even Calderoli whines about the fact that an opening to the oriental market could put our industries in the face of Chinese competition. True that many Chinese workers are in near-slavery conditions and receive starvation wages for exhausting jobs, but closing the markets and posing duties on Chinese products is not the right answer. Diplomacy is all a matter of bargaining chips: ask for improvement in work conditions as a requirement for joining the market. In the medium/long run, the Chinese people will benefit more from capitalism and free market than heavy trade regulations.

In the meanwhile, ETA is on a bombing rampage in Spain: seven small bombs exploded in six Spanish cities today. By the way, this is quite a textbook example of terrorism without casualties: the objective of sowing fear and disrupting day-to-day life is accomplished, but no one was killed, and only a few people slightly injured. I really cannot figure out what these irreducible terrorists want: the Basques already got a large autonomy, and the majority of Basque population is satisfied with that and does not want any more violence.
I've heard that they want a Marxist Basque state; probably that's the issue.
Finally, can this surge of activity be a consequence of Spain's rapid capitulation in front of Islamic terrorism, after the Madrid atrocity? You see, when ETA saw a terrorist act being so successful, they may had got the idea that terrorism after all pays off...

* Actually, Ciampi never shunned the USA, but about Iraq he often said that the UN must have a bigger role, and peace must be pursued at any cost... more or less, the usual tranzist stuff. How does it square with selling arms to China, is hard to comprehend for me. (All updates on 9/12/04)

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December 05, 2004

Geopolitica Medio-Orientale 

Dopo la morte di Arafat, i palestinesi si stanno avviando verso le nuove elezioni generali.
L'atmosfera di queste elezioni ha elementi di farsa, se non fosse che molte vite umane sono in gioco: Barghouti che si candida dal carcere dove sta scontando l'ergastolo per terrorismo; Abu Mazen che riceve l'appoggio dei terroristi di al-Fatah; Hamas & co. che prima dichiarano di essere disponibili ad una tregua, poi non la rispettano ed infine fanno sapere che non ci sará mai alcuna tregua finche Israele continua ad esistere (come se non lo sapessimo giá).

Comunque vadano le elezioni, non credo che la situazione cambierá di molto: se nessuno dei leaders palestinesi ha fatto pressoché nulla di serio per la pace negli ultimi 10 anni, quali probabilitá ci sono che lo faccia a partire dal prossimo anno? Quasi zero.
Non credo nemmeno che Israele si possa trovare in una posizione ancora peggiore, se vincono gli estremisti: il fattore limitante per gli attacchi palestinesi non e una mancanza di volontá di uccidere e distruggere, ma la logistica. I terroristi palestinesi hanno una logistica assolutamente orribile, e sono ridotti a combattere con pochi armi ed esplosivi introdotti con grande fatica e spesa attraverso tunnel ed altre vie coperte. In questo scenario, i terroristi suicidi sono un modo per usare le poche risorse nel modo piú efficace.

Israele peró sta costruendo la barriera difensiva, e mantiene una costante ed attenta vigilanza, che riesce ad evitare attacchi quasi ogni giorno. Negli ultimi mesi, soltanto pochi attacchi suicidi sono andati a segno, mentre prima della costruzione della barriera, la situazione era molto peggiore. I palestinesi fanno fuoco al di lá della barriera con mortai e razzi Qassam, ma questi sono metodi molto poco efficaci di usare le loro risorse: le centinaia di bombe da mortaio e razzi sparati insieme hanno fatto forse tante vittime quanto un singolo attacco suicida, ma un razzo Qassam richiede piú tempo e materiale per essere prodotto. E la IDF é molto attiva nel localizzare e distruggere le fabbriche di queste armi. Ora, se i palestinesi potessero costruire e lanciare decine di Qassam - o anche peggio, procurarsi dei razzi pesanti tipo Katiusha - al giorno per settimane di fila, la situazione sarebbe ben diversa. Ma ai ritmi attuali, i razzi Qassam sono poco piú di un fastidio per Israele - al livello strategico e politico, putroppo non al livello di chi ha un familiare ucciso. E non vedo come sia possibile trasportare centinaia di chili di esplosivo ed altro materiale (per non parlare di lunghe e pesanti Katiushe complete) ogni settimana, attraverso stretti ed instabili tunnel continuamente chiusi dalla IDF.

Penso che l'unica soluzione del problema, a breve e medio termine, sia che Israele si ritiri all'interno di confini ben difendibili ed eventualmente fortificati. Purtroppo insediamenti e parti di territorio che sono costate lacrime e sangue dovranno essere abbandonati, ma per il bene dell'intero Israele. Ed una volta completata la separazione, i palestinesi devono restare a bollire nel loro brodo, che probabilmente sará guerra civile e totale rovina socio-economica. E' brutale, ma io penso che i palestinesi debbano camminare tutta la loro via crucis, realizzare la loro sconfitta, soffrire finché non saranno totalmente esausti e nauseati dalla lotta armata, ed abbandonare la loro perversa ideologia di antisemitismo ed esaltazione del terrorismo suicida. A quel punto, potranno finalmente accettare sinceramente Israele e raggiungere una vera pace.

Israele non ha alcun obbligo di aiutare od essere gentile verso i palestinesi: sono suoi nemici giurati, e nessuno é tenuto a prendersi cura dei propri nemici. Non é nemmeno seriamente praticabile la distinzione fra palestinesi bravi e cattivi moderati ed estremisti; sono tutti sulla stessa barca, che gli piaccia o meno.

Aggiornamento 06/12: Diamo credito a chi lo ha. Steven DenBeste ha giá trattato diffusamente l'argomento Israele-Palestinesi. Questo mio articolo é fortemente ispirato da quelli.

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Inter-Blog Debates 

I did not pay much attention to what other bloggers said about me, but today I found that Zibibbo had comments.

So, first things first: Chuck Norris is a hunk! Not the metrosexual type, of course. He's the rough, grizzled cowboy type of hunk...

The commets on LGF are not for the squeamish, because together with reasonable and well-based - atlhough harsh - opinions, there's a lot of crap about Europe, and of ignorant and hateful statements on Europeans. We can discuss of the many problems of this continent, but I'm not going to put up with stuff like "All of you fucking europeans are jew-haters. Now STFU".

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December 03, 2004

Friday Babe #5: Maggie Cheung 

Maggie Cheung Posted by Hello

Another lovely oriental gal this week: Maggie Cheung from Hong Kong. She starred together with Jackie Chan and in the recent Hero as well.

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December 01, 2004

Something Wrong with Geneva 

A few days ago I linked to the Internet version of the Geneva Conventions. Now, it's time to discuss a bit this document.

I think that setting rules and guidelines for the conduction of war - especially for the treatment of prisoners and non-combatants - is good, even a sign of civilization.
But the Geneva conventions have some faults; not really in what they state, but at a deeper level, at level of the founding principles of these documents.

The first problem I can see is that the Geneva Conventions (GC, for brevity) are obsolete. The most recent one was signed in 1949, just after the horrible events of WWII. The GC were born in the epoch of industrial age warfare: that was the epoch of huge clashes between million-men armies, between hundreds of tanks on both sides, thousands of artillery guns and so many planes to obscure the sky and level entire cities in a few hours with their bombs. That was symmetrical warfare, one regular army against the other, soldiers uniformed and disciplined, and a central authority that gave orders and could eventually negotiate a surrender - or give the oerder of surrender. The main element of industrial age warfare is logistics: to put it simply, if your millions of soldiers are starving, and their guns lack munitions, they won't win any fight. Civilians were targeted, too, but not for gratuitious cruelty: for one thing, technological limitations made impossible to strike - especially with aerial bombing - only the objectives, leaving the surrounfings untouched. On the other hand, we have that the best way to disrupt the enemy logistic train is to destroy his factories, his oil refineries and his power stations, his railways and highways (and canals and dams, everything). Too bad if civilians are in the way, but that is the nature of the beast.

But the world moved on (this is from The Dark Tower, yes) and nowadays most of the conflicts are different. What we frequently have are guerrillas, terrorists, irregulars of any sort who lack organization and discipline, with a loose (if any) chain of command, fighting for often unclear and conflicting objectives. Or tribal wars, seeing small groups pitted against each other and sometimes together against a common external enemy, amid ever-shifting alliances and loyalties. All these subjects rarely wear uniforms, mix with non-combatants (actually, often they are part-time fighters), and often cannot be linked to any particular national state or even territory: for example, both marxists and islamists see their struggle as global and not localize; Marx and/or Allah must triumph all over the world.
While logistics is fundamental for any fighting group, these subjects have very poor logistical requirements, when compared to modern regular armies. Their weapons and ammo are bought - sometimes, just dug up from leftover stockpiles, even, not produced by themsleves or their supportive population. Their food and water are also bought, or extorted from the non-combatants, or gathered/hunted from natural sources. Yes, not infrequently guerrillas and similar movements can count on popular support, too. Even irregulars need money, but with the same sum needed for a modest Humvee, a terrorist can buy a Kalshnikov and a lifetime stock of ammo and Semtex (just a few kilos in the case of a suicide bomber - malevolent laughter). While nation states finance their armies mostly through taxes (and taxes are compulsory), irregulars finance themselves with donations from supporters, but also with extortion, robbery, drug and arms traffic.

This makes guerrillas and terrorists more elusive and more difficult to crush, but there is a downside, as well: with poor logistics, they cannot afford long operations at a sustained pace (high operational tempo, in military speak); they are succesfull in hitting and running, but if forced to keep up the tempo, often such formations just melt away, thinned by casualties and material losses.
Recruitment for regular armies proceeds either through advertisement (for professional forces) or through conscription. Irregulars, instead, tend to prefer propaganda and political indoctrination as means of recruitment. Coercion is not unknown, as in the monstruous case of African child-soldiers.

So, it should be clear that regular armies and irregular formations have very different modes of operation, and different vision of warfare. The GC treats the issue of irregular formations very briefly, like they were just a little more than a nuisance: an army may encounter partisans and civlians in arms, but the bulk of the fight will be against another regular army. And so it was during WWII: the European resistance played only a secondary role - despite lefty propaganda.

Another, probably the biggest fault of the GC, is that they are much like a gentlemen's agreement, between parties willing to fight hard but fair - as fair as a war can be (not much); withouth descending into barbarism and gratuoitious cruelty, at least.
But this is going to work only when all the adherents to the GC share similar basic moral and ethical values, a similar consideration for human life and so on.
The GC was first devised in the West, and it is thus based on Western values, which in turn descend mostly for Judeo-Christian values, plus a more pragmatic strain.
If your enemy does not have similar basic values (eg, he consider good and right to use the beheading of prisoners and hostages as propaganda tools), the rules expressed in the GC won't do much good. A telling example comes, again, from WWII: about half of the Americans taken prisoners by the Germans survived, but only 10% of those taken by the Japanese survived.
So you see, despite Nazism, the Germans had basically the same culture as the Americans, and they considered that the prisoners were to be treated fairly well.
On the other hand, the culture of Japan was alien, evolved in almost total isolation from Europe with a very different set of values. So the Japanese committed horrible atrocities like the March of Bataan and the Tahiland-Burma railway, and generally treated the prisoners much worse.
Another circumstance to notice is that the Japanese used plenty of kamikaze, while the Nazis had a few suicide squads only at the very end of the war.

Nowadays, the same sort of alien butality and barbarism is a distinctive tract of the Islamists. It has its roots in the Arab tribal culture, even more ancient than Islam - but it seems that this latest layer made things even worse. It's not that they are not rational, but they play by totally different rules. Rules which say that it's OK to slaughter infidels in front of a camera, or to brutalize and then massacre schoolchildren.
The Geneva Convention will not work with them, because they do not recognize the founding principles of it, it's that simple. And asking for the western forces to strictly comply with the GC while the enemy does not, means putting them in a position of inferiority.
It is about time to revamp the Geneva Conventions and adapt them to the current state of the world, if we want them to mean something anymore.

Update 03/12: Another trait of the islamist forces is that they routinely use mosques, schools and hospitals as command and control centres and weapons and ammo dumps; their snipers fire from the minarets; Red Crescent ambulances have been spotted many times while carrying weapons and fighters.
New rules of war, in my opinion, must take these differecnies into consideration, and state clearly that if you fight dirty, you will lose protection under the rules of war.

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Wild Boar Attack 

Wild Boars are very common in Italy. Adult males can weigh up to 140 kg, and they have long, curved and sharp fangs. After near-extinction, wild boars' population began to rise again in the 80s, and is now at alarming levels. While digging the ground in search for commestible roots and small animals, boars can cause severe damage to crops and fruit trees, not to mention to the natural grasslands. Boars also cross roads, especially at night, and more than a few people ran over them with their cars: the result usually is a badly smashed front, and a lighthly injured boar. And even if the blow is hard enough, a wild boar can still walk a few kilometers before dying - finally, to add scorn to damage, it's not even legal to take the dead animal home and butcher it to cook a tasty casserole.

Boars are wild, tough and resistant: hunters have seen them swimming across swift rivers swollen with autumn rains, climbing steep slopes, bulleting through thick thorny bushes, and ripping dogs apart with their fangs when cornered. My father shot a boar right in its nose with a 12-gauge lead slug, and the animal run another kilometer or so before being shot and killed by another hunter, go figure.

I saw boars quite close-up while walking in the woods, and one day a female with a puppy crossed a dirt road in front of my motorbike. One day, three boars chased by hunting dogs run across my village. Ah, they have been declared haram (forbidden) by a local imam.

Sometimes, wild boars are the protagonosts almost unbeliavable stories, like this one: in a village near Viterbo (central Italy) an enraged and possibly injured boar first entered the courtyard of the local Civil Protection station, and the volunteers on site (most of the Civil Protection personnel are volunteers in Italy) tried without success to stop it.

Then, the animal ran towards a cardiologist's surgery, broke through the door by sheer force and thrashed the waiting room causing light injuries to two of the patients, most of them elderly. Finally, the boar escaped and was later sighted near the local soccer pitch. Carabinieri and volunteers begun a search for the boar, but without any success.
(The 9x19 FMJ bullets used by Italian police aren't going to be very effective against a wild boar: hunters prefer carbines firing .30-06 Springfield or .308 Winchester soft-nose bullets).

No wonders that It-necks (Italian rednecks... I claim the right to invent a new word!) are so fond of wild boars...

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