July 31, 2005

Giving Into Temptation 

Saturday morning I woke with a strange urge. I tried to fight it, but to no avail. It was always there, screaming that I had to have it.

So in the afternoon I finally capitulated; I prepared myself and went to the city centre.
It took a little to find the proper estabilishment, but I walked in and after another moment of hesitation, I did it.

I bought a Manowar CD: Hell On Wheels.

You can only love or hate Manowar, and while I don't really buy into the Metal Religion stuff, I love them - with all the kitsch, bravado, fur panties etc. The only small disappointment is that the sound on the CD is a bit too thin- that's what happens when you listen to a lot of Sepultura and Obituary, which have unbelievably thick sound.

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July 29, 2005

A Different Point Of View 

This thread on LGF began commenting the assertion of a moonbat professor of English literature (at UCLA):

Few have noticed that suicide bombing is merely a tactic used by those who lack other means of delivering explosives.
The rest of his/her article is just an anti-western rant punctuated by a number of hystorical imprecisions and distortions, and utterly marred by ideological blindness.

But I think that this assertion alone is not so wrong as many think.

It takes quite a while to explain my position, however.

The first point to notice is that many readers on LGF take on this issue from a strictly moral standpoint. What they do is to consider terrorism evil in a moral sense. Also, for the most part they use faulty definitions of terrorism, ones that focus on the targetting of civilians.

One problem with this is that in the age of industrial, and also of information-age war, the distinction between civilians and military makes little sense.

Another is that if you consider the whole problem of war in strictly moral terms, you risk falling into traps of your own making: deliberately targeting civilians is wrong (and terrorist), right? So, how do you classify certain past actions of the US and UK ?

Yes, I'm talking about the strategic bombings of WW2. There is a lot to be said about the technological limitations of the age, and the fact that many bombing raids were aimed at military targets, sure. But this is not enough to explain everything: at least some bombig run explicitely targeted civilians (you can't honestly tell me that the firebombing of Tokyo was aimed only at military targets and the rest was regrettable collateral damage) and in general the Allied forces dropped millions of bombs without caring whether civilians would be harmed or not. And, to go deeper, what about those factories that produced dual-use goods, and were bombed to rubble often killing lots of workers who surely were not soldiers? What about the cargo ships (a lot of Italian ones, too) that were sunk in those years together with their civilian crews? Even the Nazis - who were utterly evil in many ways - with their Blitz and submarine warfare did nothing more than apply the doctrine of total war. Later, massive bombings regardless of civilian presence were employed in the Vietnam war - and the whole MAD doctrine was about exterminating the other side, not just destroying its armed forces (can you honestly argue that multimegaton nuclear warheads are meant to be used only against military targets?).

Nowadays, most Western armies do not fight with he doctrine of Total War, but that's mainly because today's enemies are not nation states (at least not as Germany, Japan and Italy were), and the weapons technology allows for much more accurate targeting. But if China and the USA would actually come to the point of violent war, you will probably see strategic bombing and thus carnage on a scale never witnessed before. To cite only one case.

Applying a definition of terrorism that focuses on the civilian casualties would require to define all of the above actions as terrorism, in the best case with attenuating circumstances.

If you take a strictly moral stance, the only way to legitimate the acts I described is to state that those civilians were evil, because they either supported the dictatorial regimes, or did not oppose them strongly enough (and the latter already is a pretty weird definition of evil).

So, on LGF often you end up with people who, literally, in one sentence state that "Only those murderous scum of terrorists deliberately target innocent civilians; we are the Good Guys and we never do that!" and in the next one say "Well, except when it is necessary or unavoidable, and please Nuke Mecca now!".
Hard to tell how nuking Mecca would not end up with massive civilian casualties, I say. And anyway the whole thing is rather contradictory. Someone tried to contend that Mecca is a military target: show me the soldiers, the weapons and hardware then (not a couple of crates of assault rifles). I suspect that their definition of "military target" is different from mine, and I learnt there is little to do in these cases.

Instead, I see war and conflicts in general from an utilitarian perspective: there are two or more sides each one with certain objectives, which are in conflict with the objectives of the other(s). If it is not possible to reach a peaceful agreement, shooting war will erupt. And in this kind of war your strategies and tactics will be tailored to the objectives to accomplish; one can clearly see that in this way the trappings I described above can be avoided. Yes, there is a risk of becoming completely amoral going too straight down this may. But amoral I am not; in the end it's an individual matter.
We surely are the "good guys" compared to the Islamists, however.

At LGF, there also seems to be some confusion about the distinction between tacticts and strategy on one side and motivations on the other: motivations are why you fight, while the rest is how you fight (the two fields are not completely indipendent, tho).

How you fight depends mainly from your resources and technological and industrial capabilities, when the objectives are set. If your objective is, say, the assassination of a hostile foreign leader, you won't use tanks or ballistic missiles; rather, a small team of Special Forces soldiers with light weapons.

It is a central tenet of all the historical theories of Marxist derivation that people will fight because they are impoverished, exploited and oppressed. While this can be occasionally true, these are not the motivations of the jihadis; they fight because their ideology is hateful and violent (and some of them are hungry for power), in short.

So, let's finally come to the core of the issue, the suicide bombings.

To the dismay of some, I have to say that is actually is a tactic. If we examine it from a strictly technical standpoint, we'll see that a suicide bomber is a tiny anti-personnel warhead with the ultimate guidance and fuzing systems, and this allows for the most efficient use of small amounts of explosive.

And who has only small amounts of explosive? Those entities that have little resources, no significant industrial capability and/or poor logistics. In other words, those that already use terrorism and guerrilla in order to reduce the gap between them and regular armies backed and mantained by nation-states.

So it is true that sucide bombing is a tactic used by those who have no better weapons.
It is also true that particularly brutal and cruel tactics generally are the result of evil intentions, but not always.

Let's be frank here: the Palestinians receive millions in aid (and it's way past time to close those taps) and have a few tons of explosives and maybe thousands of individual weapons. But compared to modern armies such as their direct antagonist the IDF, that is pretty ridiculous. One single 250 kg bomb contains enough explosive for dozens of explosive vests, and the IAF has probably several thousands of bombs in stock, and can easily acquire more. I'm not sure of the annual budget of the Israeli armed forces, but I would estimate it in the order of billions of dollars - that is, much bigger of what the Palestinians can muster.

What about the Kassam rockets and mortars, you may ask. Those systems are much less efficient, that is the point. Their accuracy is lousy, and their warheads have little power. I'm too lazy to look it up, but I'd estimate that rockets and mortars have caused only a fraction of the casualties produced by suicide bombers. Also, rockets and mortars require metal and other components, that must be manufactured and assembled, and used by trained personnel. It's a much less efficient use of resources.

I am not making the trite argument that the Palestinians have only rocks and sticks while the Israelis are fully armed, and thus the Palestinians obtain some kind of moral superiority: that stuff is for the cultists of victimhood. I am stating the facts.

Of course it does not all end with rational analysis of the military issues. The Palestinians use suicide bombers also because their culture is poisoned with hatred and the cult of martyrdom. "Martyrs" are respected, praised and idolized (much like sportsmen or pop stars in the West), and many of the Palestinians are convinced that dying for Allah will cleanse any previous sin and dishonour, and send you straight to heaven.

If the reality about suicide bombing is distasteful, that's not enough to mean that the reality must be different.

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July 27, 2005

More Electronic Woes 

I sent a mass spectrometer (which is a complex, rather delicate and expensive piece of equipment) back to the company for repairs. They sent it back, but forgot to include a necessary connection cable. I told them, and they sent it - it took almost one week.

This mass spec is computer-controlled, but it does unse a proprietary ISA (yes, a bit old device) interface card. So today I happily installed the card, connected all the pieces together and turned them on... only to realize that the computer would not work. But it did work before, when I first re-commissioned the mass spec and realized it had a fault.

It's not that it behaved funny or whatnot; it is just plainly dead: I press the power button and the power LED lights up, but nothing else happens. Not even the BIOS runs, for god's sake. I tried a lot of tricks, but to no avail.

So I thought that that poor old machine reached the Silicon Heaven due to old age, and tried to install the software and interface card on another computer that was just sitting on a bench.

This new machine worked at first, but then I had to restart it, and guess what? It went friggin' dead just like the other one. Fuck it. A whole afternoon spent with things going to hell.

Just the rant of the day, folks. But if someone has any idea to resolve this situation, I'd be glad to hear about it.

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July 24, 2005

Un Uomo Col Giubbotto 

Dopo gli attentati falliti a Londra del 21 Luglio, un uomo é stato ucciso dalla polizia nella stazione della metropolitana di Stockwell, perché ritenuto un attentatore suicida.

Secondo le ricostruzioni disponibili, il sospetto era uscito da una casa tenuta sotto controllo perché dimora di sospetti jihadisti, indossando un giubbotto giudicato troppo pesante per la stagione (quel giorno a Londra era tiepido, tendente al caldo). Quando il sospetto é stato finalmente affrontato dalla polizia (una squadra speciale armata), non si é fermato ma invece ha saltato uno dei cancelli girevoli (Correzione: quei cancelli non sono girevoli ma ad ante, ed é dannatamente difficile scavalcarli), é sceso di corsa per una scala mobile e quindi ha tentato di salire a bordo di un treno in partenza - ma a questo punto é stato raggiunto dagli agenti che lo hanno atterrato ed ucciso sparandogli alla testa.

Mentre inizialmente sembrava che si trattasse di un vero jihadista, é emerso che invece la polizia ha ucciso Jean Charles de Menezes, brasiliano di professione elettricista (che forse indossava una cintura portattrezzi, o uno zaino contenente fili elettrici, il che ha contribuito a renderlo sospetto - questo punto non é molto chiaro). La polizia di Londra ha dichiarato che la vittima non ha alcun legame con gli ultimi attentati - tuttavia non ci sono ancora notizie esaurienti disponibili sul passato di de Menezes.

Comunque, é tragico che una persona sia stata uccisa in queste circostanze. Anche se non ubbidire quando la polizia intima di fermarsi é decisamente stupido, non é ragione per essere ucciso. La situazione a Londra é molto tesa - comprensibilmente - e la polizia non ritirerá i suoi ordini di sparare per uccidere avendo a che fare con sospetti attentatori.

Peró questo caso, che puó avere analogie con la vicenda Calipari, ripropone un vecchio problema, quello delle regole di ingaggio.

Quando si tracciano le regole di ingaggio per azioni di polizia o militari, ci sono essenzialmente due diverse prioritá in conflitto: massimizzare l'efficacia delle proprie azioni e la protezione per le forse amiche, oppure massimizzare la protezione per gli innocenti/civili. Non é possibile avere tutto allo stesso tempo, quindi é necessario raggiungere un compromesso. Generalmente, le regole di ingaggio per le operazioni di polizia sono decise in modo da massimizzare la protezione degli innocenti - e pure dei criminali stessi, quando non abbiano commesso reati gravi.

Ma gli attacchi suicidi richiedono regole diverse. L'unico modo per impedire che un kamikaze, carico di esplosivo e vicino al suo obbiettivo possa completare la sua missione é ucciderlo prima che possa azionare il detonatore. E questo richiede reazioni veloci; non lascia il tempo di cercare verifiche e conferme.

Il bilancio da fare é la vita di un possibile innocente, contro la vita delle dozzine di persone che possono finire morte e/o mutilate se il sospetto innocente non é.

Io credo che si tratti di un giusto prezzo, anche se tragico (e penso che gli agenti che hanno compiuto l'operazione spesso la riviveranno nei loro incubi*). La polizia di Londra ha fatto la stessa scelta, ed i cittadini dovranno adattarsi.

* Secondo il lavoro del Colonnello Grossman, soltanto il 2% dei soldati sono capaci di uccidere senza patirne alcuna conseguenza psicologica - e stiamo parlando di persone selezionate secondo criteri psico-fisici ed addestrate.

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Three Options 2 

It should be clear by now that a negotial solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict cannot be found. It has been tried many times in the last decades, and most often the Arabs totally screwed up and the agreements remained only vacuous words.

But, in my opinion Israel did not adopt a precise policy or strategy to counter the Arab cheat-and-retreat game; rather Israel fell back on conflict management as a temporary, emergency solution between one round of negotiations and the other.

I think that Ariel Sharon instead understood that a serious strategy of conflict management is the only feasible option now. So he (well, not alone, the whole administration) decided to build the security fence - in other words, estabilish and fortify a strategically sensible border. And to hell with the Palestinian (and world's) opinion about it. And he also took the most painful and contested decision of all: evacuate the settlements in Gaza, and even some in the West Bank, because it costs too much to defend them, and are vulnerable spots out of the fortified border.

What is the goal of this? To finally lift the pressure of Palestinian violence from Israel.
The most effective tactic available to the Palestinians is suicide bombing, but the security fence and the continuos Israeli vigilance, together with the targeted assassinations and reprisal operations, made almost impossible for the suicide bombers to reach their targets.

The line of thought at the basis of the disengagement plan is to Keep them Out; when the Palestinians cannot influence Israel anymore, they can slaughter each other in a civil war, go down the drain or even build something good. Or, when they will reach the bottom will maybe realize that they screwed up all along, and start to sincerely want a peaceful coexistence with Israel. But what exactly happens is irrelevant to Israel, as long as the Palestinians cannot demage her.

Of course this strategy is not perfect. There is the issue of the settlers being relocated, and they are not, understandably, happy about it. The Palestinians will try to lob any rocket or mortar round they can find across the border (but they're already doing it) and if they manage to procure heavier weapons, that can be a problem.

But the IDF and IAF are not going to just sit by and watch; they will hit back as they're already doing. Against mortar or rocket fire, I propose massive automatic counterbattery fire: in case of launch, within five minutes six 155mm HE shells (or a couple of Hellfires) will rain down on the firing location, wherever and whatever it is. Make this tactic very public; it's intended to be a deterrent after all.

But you may ask, what about the third option, a decisive victory. It would be resolutive, but I'm afraid it is not feasible now, and neither in a near future.

To accomplish this victory, Israel would have to wage an aggression war, conquer territories and expel the resident Palestinians. Usually the proponents of this solution give little details of how it should be done, but I would assume they would like most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be cleared of Palestinians.

I'm not sure the USA would support such an aggressive policy, and without that support Israel would be in serious trouble; commercial sanctions would be approved (by the UN) in a matter of days putting another burden of a tiny country in a time of war. China would just love to sell weapons to the Arabs and field-test them against Western hardware and militaries. What about Iran, also? I think that much of the world is already quite hostile to Israel, but hings can go even worse than this.

On the strictly military plan, what if Israel does not manage to win? It is unlikely, but you cannot draft strategic plans considering only the best case scenario. And now Egypt, Syria and Jordan have better armed forces than the last time around - and they won't like a single bit to be flooded with refugees. If Israel does not win decisively (and quickly), it things will end with another stalemate: little gain for a high price. But if the Israeli forces are routed, the planned response is nuclear retaliation, going down in a blaze of glory. And even if Isreal wins, there are going to be not little casualties on her side.

Summing up, I think it would be very unwise for Israel to initiate such a war. It would be a bet on very long odds; while it is possible to play the much safer hand of conflict management - and a decisive victory can be obtained even in this second way, albeit in longer time.

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July 22, 2005

Weird, Indeed 

Ok, today I noticed a very strange referral: "How to calculate vacuum pressure for manufacture of pasta". If someone is really interested in these issues, I strongly suggest to get some engineering book and not to rely on the Net.

In the pasta factory where I worked, everything was at atmospheric pressure (except the extruder, of course) but other plants may use different solutions.

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July 21, 2005

Londra, Di Nuovo 

Questo pomeriggio intorno alle 13:20 ora locale, una nuova serie di esplosioni ha colpito la metropolitana di Londra ed un autobus. Le stazioni di Sheperds Bush, Warren Street ed Oval sono state evacuate e chiuse al traffico; nella zona di Hackney un'esplosione a bordo di un autobus ha causato la rottura dei finestrini.

Per ora, soltanto un singolo ferito é stato accertato: le esplosioni sono state tutte di piccola potenza, e questo induce a pensare che si sia trattato soltanto di detonatori e non cariche complete. Una squadra di agenti in tenuta NBC é entrata in una delle stazioni colpite, ma non ci sono notizie sull'uso di aggressivi chimici o biologici. Io ritengo che si tratti di una misura precauzionale.

Aggiornamento 23:44: Le quattro esplosioni sono state causate dai detonatori che hanno fatto il loro dovere senza però detonare le cariche principali (fortunatamente). Un tasso di fallimento del 100% non è accidentale, ma deve avere un motivo preciso. Potrebbe essere che i detonatori non sono stati installati correttamente, ma questo richiederebbe un artificiere di straordinaria incompetenza.
L'ipotesi più ragionevole è che gli jihadisti abbiano usato esplosivo di scarsa qualità, magari preparato in fretta e furia, oppure eccessivamente diluito con qualche materiale inerte per aumentarne la massa.

Causare la detonazione di una carica esplosiva a volte è più difficile di quello che si potrebbe pensare, specialmente se l'esplosivo ha proprietà ignote o incerte. Le aziende militari o gli arsenali hanno tutte le possibilità di studiare il comportamento di detonatori ed esplosivi con studi di laboratorio, simulazioni e prove sul campo, quindi possono ottimizzare i loro ordigni per la massima efficacia ed affidabilità. Terroristi e simili, invece, hanno molte meno di possibilità di fare ricerca e sviluppo (tranne che nei loro santuari, come l'Afghanistan dei Talebani), qundi è chiaro che i loro ordigni spesso non siano i più affidabili.

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July 19, 2005

Three Options 1 

The most effective way to end a conflict is with the decisive victory of one side. The other side(s) will be utterly defeated, to the point of losing not only the capabilities to fight, but also the very intentions, the will to fight and will agree to all conditions posed by the other side. Glaring examples of this are Germany and Japan after WW2.

In the extreme case, one side can be totally wiped out - this is extremely cruel, but after destroying Carthage and killing all of its citizens, Rome had no more problems with Carthage.

But sometimes, one party cannot achieve decisive victory. For a variety of reasons: lack of military might, industrial power and political will - or any combination of these. In recent years, interference of international organizations become an issue too - but that has to do with political will at large.

So if decisive victory is impossible, only two options remain: a negotiated agreement, or conflict management. If both (or all) parts are rational, they will realize that they are wasting lives and resources for no gain, and thus will agree to negotiate a solution. But if only one of the parties is not interested in making peace - or is posing conditions that the other side cannot accept - the conflict will go on indefinitely, probably amid small tactical victories and defeats and a trickle of casualties - without any strategical or geo-polical change.

This in the case of a conflict between nation-states; if non-state actors are involved things can get even more complicated. In particular, ideologically-motivated organizations will not give up easily, and even if a some groups decide to reach an agreement with the enemy, more radical factions may decide to continue with the fight. Look at the IRA and ETA, for example - and even the Red Brigades.

There are different ways to manage a conflict, but usually it becomes a position struggle: you have to estabilish defensive lines (fences, walls, trenches, outposts, patrol roads, sensors, anti-aircraft and anti-missile batteries etc), man them and keep the enemy at bay. On the other hand, the enemy will use harassing attacks on the defensive lines, maybe missile or artillery fire across the border, and sometimes will try and infiltrate agents to commit bombings and sabotage - against both military and civilian targets (plus propaganda etc).

In case of domestic enemies - which most often use the terrorist doctrine - conflict management means occasional attacks, and arrest and conviction of terrorists. In Italy, while the bulk of the Red Brigades had been destroyed in the early '80s, in recent years reorganized cells assassinated some high-profile personalities (most notably, the labour policy consultant Massimo D'Antona); now these cells have been cracked again.

This is the general overview with a few poignant historical examples; now let's try to adapt it to a present-day thorny situation: the Israeli - Arab conflict.

I decided to publish this post in two parts, actually. The second part will be available soon.

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July 15, 2005

Heading North 

I'm off for a weekend break in Scotland, hiking in the Cairngorms - and god knows how much I need a break from the goddamn metropolis.

So, no posting for the next few days, but afterwards expect some nice pics.

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July 14, 2005

Science, And Not 

Looking at this thread at Cold Fury, I realized that there's quite a lot of people out there with a rather vague idea of what science actually is, and how the "scientific community" does work.

Let's begin clearing the ground, tho: I'm not talking about the ancient science/religion struggle. At the bottom line, scientific investigation cannot either prove or disprove the existence of God; either choice requires an act of faith.

Science, at least in its purest terms, is totally and completely based on facts, mathematics and logic. A scientist observes the world (or a specific phenomenon) and tries to build a model adapted to the facts - called hypothesis. If other scientists do the same experiments and obtain the same results, the hypothesis will start to be accepted, and eventually become a theory - that means, a model that has never failed up to now. The closest thing to a hard fact you can get. There is nothing dogmatic, no revealed truth or appeal to authority; if your facts and logic are good, you are right.

A good example is Quantum Mechanics: during the first decades of last century, certain phenomena were observed that could not be explained using the scientific theories of the time - mainly Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell's laws. So a number of brilliant scientists set out to solve the problem: Einstein extended the theory of relativity (that is, mechanics) while others developed the truly revolutionary Quantum Mechanics.

But these theories were not accepted in a closed box; other scientists began to do a number of experiments aimed at disproving them. But these experiments all failed, while those aimed at confirming Quantum Mechanics and Einstein's relativity theory were always successful (some of the most exotic quantum predictions, such as the Entanglement, have been finally accepted only in recent years). And now, Quantum Mechanics is accepted at the best model we have for reality at molecular and smaller scale.

What the scientific community does is peer reviewing: basically, articles are examined (in an anonymous fashion) before publication to ascertain that they do not contain utter crap (or bad data, glaring contradictions etc). Peer review is a somewhat controversial aspect: it has a valuable filtering role, but also it tends to retard the dissemination of innovative ideas. All in all, I think that peer review does more good than harm.

But scientists are still humans, after all, and thus we have that some people had to endure ridicule and personal attacks only for going against the common wisdom. It's sad, but it's the human nature.

A particularly pernicious case is when scientists are obnubilated by politics or ideology. In that case, if the fraction of politically motivated scientists is big enough, suppression of dissenting ideas can actually occur.

Now, whether the certain surface reactions follow one mechanism or the other has little impact on anything political (but once translated in reactor engineering, it can mean big money). But the exact role of carbon dioxide on the global climate has great political implications, and some scientists think that they should do something about it, Make a Better World!®.

Likewise, some others thought that a paper with rather shaky scientific foundations deserved rapid publication only because it allegedly demonstrated that an awful lot of civilians were killed during OIF (while actually the conclusions of this paper are so vague that it demonstrates almost nothing) - and the US presidential elections were close. The Editor of The Lancet truly dropped his mask writing about the policymaking implications of said paper. And this leaves us with the doubt, would this same editor be so honest to publish a paper contending that Iraqis are better off now?

Another hot topic is evolution - the one dealt with in the CF thread. In this case, some parts of the evolutionary theory are so deeply and firmly accepted (because proved many times, and never disproved) that many scientists will react almost violently when someone pops up proposing Creationism or Intelligent Design. It is almost like trying to disprove Newtonian mechanics for macroscopic objects: it is so firmly proven that one needs truly exceptional proof to even dent it.

But the proponents of these other conjectures mistake the scientists' reaction as dogmatic, because they do not know what lies beneath, they do not know the rules of the game. Some think that a nice and elegant philosophical argument, plus a little of anedoctal evidence (eg. a couple of objects of uncertain origin and datation) are enough to have your conjecture accepted as a theory. Well, no. (In passing, I know that this modus operandi is by no means exclusive of creationists).

I firmly reject Creationism and Intelligent Design not out of any dogmatic position, but because up to now there is not even enough proof to begin considering them as valid alternatives to the Evolutionary theory.

And now excuse me, but I must go to collect experimental data...

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July 11, 2005

Concetti Alieni 

Mi sono reso conto che é parecchio tempo che non vado a caccia di assurditá sui giornali, quindi eccone una fresca fresca.

La Repubblica: Il meccanismo trovato a Portogruaro ha funzionato ma non è esploso perché ossidato.

Questa é una bella assurditá, ma per spiegarla compiutamente occorre partire un po' da lontano - dai concetti di base.

Lo scopo di ogni ordigno esplosivo é quello di esplodere quando sottoposto ad un determinato stimolo. Lo stimolo puó essere meccanico - impatto, pressione o spostamento.
Ci sono poi dispositivi costruiti per esplodere quando ricevono uno specifico segnale radio, oppure al trascorrere di un certo periodo di tempo. Altri ancora, piú sofisticati, esplodono ad una precisa distanza dal bersaglio, oppure quando raggiungono una certa altitudine/profonditá. E' anche possibile avere una combinazione di diversi sistemi: ad esempio, certe bombe sono costruite per esplodere dopo un certo tempo dall'impatto.

Gli ordigni di Unabomber* sono stati per la maggior parte costruiti (e con una abilitá non indifferente) per esplodere dopo un certo tempo dalla loro collocazione, ed anche se spostati o manipolati.

A quanto pare, questo ordigno non é esploso nonstante sia stato sottoposto allo stimolo inteso per causarne l'esplosione. Ergo, NON HA FUNZIONATO in quanto NON é esploso quando AVREBBE DOVUTO. Chiaro, o devo spiegarlo di nuovo con l'ausilio di illustrazione pedagogiche?

* Nome assolutamente improprio, ma che non ho il potere di cambiare.

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Tech For Comfort 

I really want to write a piece lighter and more technology-orinted, after the atrocity of last week. As I already said, while focusing on the enemy is important not to lose sight of what we are fighting for.

Synthetic fibers are far superior to natural ones in many regards. Polyester, nylon, polypropylene, UHMWPE1 fibers (not to mention high-performance aramids such as Kevlar) have much higher tensile strength and abrasion resistance than even the best natural fibers. I have a pair of combat trousers made of cotton/polyester fabric (nothing high-tech), and after a couple of years of use they show no noticeable wear. The high-performance fabric Cordura® is extremely resistant to abrasion. High tensile strength fibers are what allows the manufacture of effective but (relatively) light and comfortable body armor.

Fabric made from synthetic fibers are also virtually inattacable by bacteria and fungi, and have the benefit of drying faster. And, unless they are badly abused (for example washing at too high temperature), synthetic fibers will conserve their properties for all the lifetime of the garment. There is a downside, of course: generally natural fibers are more heat resistant.

Natural fibers have a fixed chemical composition, and come in the form of filaments of a certain size and length that cannot be altered. The composition of polymers instead can be fine-tuned with the addition of co-monomers, and it is quite easy to spin fibers in a variety of diameters to satisfy different applications. I have seen hollow-fiber polyester for enhanced thermal insulation, also.

A rather recent innovation is microfiber: polyester most often, spun in very thin filaments. These fibers can be woven in classical patterns, producing fabric with interesting properties: they are soft and elastic, warm and comfortable to wear. Microfiber cleaning cloths perform much better than cotton ones: a microfiber cloth used only with water cleans window panes as well as a cotton one with detergent. It will also absorb a considerable amount of water, but release most of it remaining just moist simply by wringing the cloth. A fast-drying fabric is a considerable improvement for home and industrial washing, but it can become of paramount importance for outdoor clothing. If you have ever had to wear damp clothes, you know what I mean.

But microfiber can also be wowen in more elaborate patterns: a leading producer of sportswear has t-shirts made of fabric with a grid of tiny holes, which greatly facilitate the evaporation of sweat. Even more elaborate, there is a fabric that is smooth and tight on one side, but has lots of tiny bumps on the skin side: these bumps keep the fabric away from the skin, creating a layer of rather stationary air. This layer allows sweat to evaporate without soaking the fabric, but also constitutes a stable micro-climate that will keep one comfortable in a wide range of situations and even reduce winchill. It was a cool spring afternoon swept by a northerly wind, and I felt perfectly comfortable wearing only one of such T-shirts, while my mates all had tees and jackets.

Another family of high-performance fabrics is Gore-Tex®: these are not exactly woven fibers, but rather membranes of microporous PTFE2. These membranes give outstanding protection from water and windchill, but are also breathable, light, thin and flexible. I have a Gore-Tex lined jacket, and while it is not particularly warm (being very thin), no wind can get through it, absolutely. These membranes have been used in extreme conditions, like spacesuits and military gear - you can't drop off battle when the weather gets rough, so all-weather garments are important for soldiers. Especially waterproof boots, because wet feet can easily suffer hypothermia and a lot of other unpleasant consequences.

The point is, no natural fibers have these properties, no way. Leather stops wind too, but is not as breathable, and often is heavy and scarcely flexible. And all-natural types often do not like the idea of using leather. It is true that animals are often well adapted to extreme environments, but it's the whole of the animal to be adapted, not only its fur or feathers. For example, polar bears have a thick layer of fat underneath their skin, and that provides most of the thermal insulation they need, not the fur.

And watch out for when advance of material science and nanotechnology will provide active fabrics, capable of adapting their properties to different environments. Fabrics containing catalytic molecules will be able to break down toxic chemicals without requiring bulky, impractical suits. And maybe, optical camouflage will become reality...

1 Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene: very long polymeric chains with better mechanical properties than shorter ones.

2 Poly(TetraFluoroEthylene): a polymer (known also with the trade name of Teflon) with extreme chemical stability. Almost nothing can stick to PTFE.

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July 08, 2005

Compare, not Contrast 

London, UK, 7 July 2005:

Israel, Too many times:

Anyone thinking that there is a significative difference in morality between the Palestinian murderers and other jihadis is seriously deluded. Plain wrong in the best case. They are out to kill us; the Jews are just at the top of their list. But we come next.

I'm still angry for yesterday's atrocity, so dig this wartime song:

When They See Us They Will Run For Their Lives
To The End They Will Pay For Their Lies
So Long Did We Wait Now We Are Home

Here Once Again There’s A Battle To Fight
Gathered Together For The Sound And The Might
So Long Did We Wait Now We Are Home

Now We Will Fight For The Kingdom Fighting With Steel
Kill All Of Them Their Blood Is Our Seal
Fight Till The Last Of The Enemy Is Dead
Ride Through Their Blood That We Gladly Have Shed

I Now Issue The Call Are You Ready To Fight
Fight All Together As One For The Right To Be Free Once Again
Tonight We Will Win[...]

Manowar, Call To Arms

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July 07, 2005


British officials are still rather cautious, but I don't have to: this morning, coordinated explosions on London Underground trains and London Buses caused hundreds of casualties - 70 deaths among them according to a provisional toll.

Even the usually reluctant BBC is using quite freely the word "terrorism".

The whole Central London transport network is shut down, and also mobile phones have lost their signal. Police is recommending people to stay where they are and not to use phones.

This is big and ugly. At 90%, it's the Islamists again. No understanding, no dialogue with them. THE TIME TO FIGHT IS NOW!

Update: I think it is appropriate to add a link to Random Acts Of Reality, the blog of a London Ambulance Service emergency paramedic. He has a couple of posts up about the terrorist attacks, but all his work seems pretty interesting.

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Breaking News: London Underground Shuts 

This morning I found myself in the chaos of a London without Tube service. A sign at the door of a station said "No service due to two explosions in Central London". I started to fear the worst. Later on, I noticed an area cordoned off around the Israel embassy.

News are of a series of accidents in a few tube stations, with several wounded and possibly seriously. At the moment, the nature of these accidents is not clear, as is the number of casualties.


UPDATE: The situation is evolving, and not for the better. Most media websites - BBC, Reuters, SkyNews - are down right now (09:52 GMT). But this report from the Italian La Repubblica points definitely towards the terrorist attack, with explosives placed on Underground trains and buses.

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July 05, 2005


Just to reassure my readers that I'm fine - but busy with work, going to gigs (a band with the nice name of Kataklysm...), chasing tails and other activities.

Regarding the DSSA affair, of which I wrote a few days ago, the Italian Minister of Interior Giuseppe Pisanu says that the incident is not being underestimated, but up to now the DSSA was little more than a scam - useless services offered for easy money. Case closed then?

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July 02, 2005

Se Comandassi Io... 

Quante volte avete sentito questa frase al Bar Sport, eh? Il piú delle volte pronunciata da qualche bifolco in stato di intossicazione etilica, ed in genere seguita da insensate invettive contro i terroni, marocchini o albanesi - talvolta pure i drogati. Ma io non voglio parlare di questo, tutt'altro!

Io non voglio certo essere dittatore di uno Stato (troppo stress, figurati), ma se comandassi una rete televisiva italiana con un minimo di risorse - non una Rete69 che divide il suo tempo equamente fra televendite ed annunci di telefoni porno - farei del mio meglio per trasmettere un ciclo, lungo una stagione, di lungometraggi di animazione - anime, principalmente. Di materiale ce n'é a disposizione: Nausicaa della Valle del Vento, Principessa Mononoke, La Cittá Incantata (Spirited Away); poi i due lungometraggi di Neon Genesis Evangelion; Cowboy Bebop (il film); Ghost In The Shell ed anche GITS: Innocence (se il copyright lo consente, perché non raggruppare in un solo film tutti gli speciali sui Tachikoma in coda a GITS: Standalone Complex, anche?); Metropolis (anche se non mi é piaciuto); Una Tomba per le Lucciole (Grave of the Fireflies); Akira (si é violento, ma di violenza ce n'é giá tanta e con meno senso in TV); Patlabor 1&2; Il Mistero della Pietra Azzurra - Il Film (Nadia: The Secret of Fuzzy); Capitan Harlock il film (per rinverdire vecchie glorie); Perfect Blue ed altri ancora. Voglio dire, ho collezionato una quindicina di titoli (quasi tutti questi giá disponibili in Italiano) in una mezz'ora di meditazione e consultando AnimeNewsNetwork; con un minimo di impegno si potrebbe fare molto di piú.

E sono convinto che se una rete Rai o Fininvest decidesse di trsmettere un tale ciclo di anime, gli ascolti sarebbero ottimi. Ma invece sembra che solo quelli di MTV abbiano capito qualcosadi anime; le altre reti continuano a passare anime di dubbia qualitá nelle fasce orarie per bambini.

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July 01, 2005

Under The Surface 

It's today's news, Italian DIGOS of Genova (a branch of Police specialized in anti-terrorism investigations and operations) arrested a number of people (Italian link) accused of being member of a sort of underground police which had countering Islamic terrorism as its main mission.

The waters around all this story are murky, as often happens in Italy when Secret Services are involved. The structure inside which this underground force allegedly grew is the DSSA (Department of Strategic Studies and Anti-terrorism), composed of personnel from different law enforcement and security agencies. Apparently this structure is not recognized as an official agency, tho, but it's more like a private enterprise. Among the people arrested there are law enforcement officers and businnesmen.

But the big guys of the enterprise were Gaetano Saya and Riccardo Sindoca, two guys with a past in the Secret Services and various semi-secret organizations such as the Massonic sect P2 (of which Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi was a member) and probably Gladio, the organization set up for self-defense in case of Soviet attack (incidentally, my father who had been a non-commisioned sergeant in the Army told me that if someone proposed him, he'd have joined such a self-defense organization). These two men also founded a nationalist party called "Destra Nazionale (National Right)"

But let's examine the charges that motivated the arrests: no truly eversive activities have emerged up to date. Members of the DSSA used their position to retrieve information from law enforcement's databases and to conduct unauthorized investigations and surveillance operations. A few semi-legal items (firearms etc) have been seized too, but apparently the main charge against Saya (DSSA's chief) is accepting illegal funding and "usurping the public security functions".

In truth, these charges appear rather thin; it is common opinion that Genova's attorney wanted to prevent a further "degeneration" of the DSSA. Other journalists hint that this was just a big scam in order to convince some subject to finance the structure. But in my opinion, Saya is the kind of guy that when says "I fight for my country" he really means it.

I'm torn, really: I know that secret, indipendent organizations are inherently dangerous and prone to degenerate into repressive structures and to prepare obscure and nefarious plots. On the other hand, it is also clear that often the normal law enforcement procedures are scarcely effective against the jihadi network. And when the government cannot or does not want to do more, private citizens with the relevant skills may decide to self-organize.

Wretchard does not know this story (yet), but in the last days he wrote two posts dealing with the same matter - what to do against the jihadi network. And, earlier, he also postulated that some in the West (and East too) may decide to form clandestine groups to fight the jihadis with dirty tactics. Consider also the story of the Swedish man taken hostage in Iraq and then freed, who hired bounty hunters (via LGF) to catch his captors, and you can see that our times are indeed interesting.

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Got The Time 

If you click on the "Greenwich Mean Time" link in the sidebar (under "Useful Sites"), a new window will open showing the GMT. Synchronize your watches troop!

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