Why it’s a mistake to extradite your citizens to the Evil Empire
Nov 30th, 2007 by Ken Hagler

Judicial torture and the NatWest 3. The case of the “NatWest three” has stirred up huge concern among business people in the UK. This week, however, we learn that the three former NatWest bankers have pleaded guilty to wire fraud. So was this just much British ado about nothing? My answer is: “no”. The fact that these three men pleaded guilty does not prove they were. It demonstrates that the offers made by US prosecutors are of a kind sensible people cannot refuse. The pressures the former can exert make it rational, even for the innocent, to plead guilty. I do not know whether that happened here. But it would not be very surprising.


Plea-bargaining is effective because of four salient features of American justice: the exceptional severity of punishment; the justified terror of what might happen in prison; the uncertain outcome of fighting cases before juries; and the possibility of obtaining a far lighter sentence by agreeing to pleas of guilty.

In the case of the NatWest three, the accused faced the possibility of up to 35 years in prison for their alleged offences. It is a reflection of the gulf in culture that has grown up between the US and the UK that what are in effect life sentences might be imposed for their alleged involvement in helping Andrew Fastow, then Enron’s chief financial officer, defraud Enron.

Such a sentence would be far longer than all but the tiniest proportion of murderers could expect to serve in the UK. Yet, apparently, it is regarded as perfectly reasonable in the US. Nor is this all. A sentence in a US prison, particularly for middle-class men, is likely to be entry into a lifetime of torment. Indeed, a few cynical Americans responded to complaints about what happened to Iraqi inmates in Abu Ghraib by arguing that it could not truly be torture since it was no worse than what might happen to inmates of a US prison.


To my mind, this system is tantamount to extracting confessions of guilt under a form of psychological torture. That torture consists of the reasonable fear of being found guilty and fear of the length of time one might then serve in prison and of what might happen while one was there. All but exceptionally brave people will confess to almost anything to escape even the possibility of torture. In the same way, the majority of people would surely confess to almost anything to avoid the possibility of spending the rest of their lives in prison. Recognition of the meaninglessness of confessions extracted under threat of torture was the main reason civilised jurisdictions abandoned its use. The same objection applies to pleas of guilty made under the kind of plea bargaining employed in the case of the NatWest three.

Let me be clear: I am not asserting that the men are innocent. But the fact that they have made a plea of guilty does not prove their guilt. It could just as well show that the US judicial system has a potent machine for extracting pleas of guilty to lesser charges. In this way, it has also effectively eliminated a presumption of innocence. It is, for this reason, not a system with which the UK should retain its current extradition arrangements. At the least, the US must be asked to make a prima facie case. The conclusion is that simple. [Financial Times]

Religious fanatics miss the point
Nov 25th, 2007 by Ken Hagler

Creationists Violating Copyright. The_Rook writes “The Discovery Institute, more a lawyer mill than a scientific institution, copied Harvard University’s BioVisions video ‘The Inner Life of the Cell,’ stripped out Harvard’s copyright notice, credits, and narration, inserted their own creationist-friendly narration, and renamed the video ‘The Cell As an Automated City.’ The new title subtly suggests that a cell is designed rather than evolved.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


What makes this particularly amusing is that nearly all cities actually are evolved rather than designed. Perhaps these religious nutjobs are arguing that their god is a Communist dictator?

UN states the obvious
Nov 24th, 2007 by Ken Hagler

UN Says Tasers Are a Form of Torture. The use of Tasers “causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture,” the UN’s Committee Against Torture said. “In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events.” Three men — all in their early 20s — died from after tasering in the United States this week, days after a Polish man died at Vancouver airport after being tasered by Canadian police. There have been 17 deaths in Canada following the use of Tasers since they were approved for use, and 275 deaths in the US. “According to Amnesty International, coroners have listed the Taser jolt as a contributing factor in more than 30 of those deaths.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


No kidding. It’s blindingly obvious from the many news stories on the use of tasers that cops use tasers almost exclusively as instruments of torture.

Firefighters join Stasi
Nov 24th, 2007 by Ken Hagler

Socialist Firefighters To Spy for Feds. They don’t need a search warrant, and are being trained to look for signs of terrorist activity, such as people who are hostile or uncooperative, show discontent or hatred towards the federal government, or own guns and ammunition. No sign… [ Blog]

If you live in one of a few major cities, primarily New York, your firefighters have chosen to abandon their traditionally helpful role in favor of spying for Big Brother.

Skype security
Nov 23rd, 2007 by Ken Hagler

Skype Encryption Stumps German Police. TallGuyRacer writes “German police are unable to decipher the encryption used in the internet telephone software Skype to monitor calls by suspected criminals and terrorists, Germany’s top police officer, Joerg Ziercke, said. “The encryption with Skype telephone software … creates grave difficulties for us… We can’t decipher it. That’s why we’re talking about source telecommunication surveillance — that is, getting to the source before encryption or after it’s been decrypted.””

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


This is good news, although since Skype is closed-source I still wouldn’t recommend it for people concerned about eavesdropping.

Feds Have Access To Cellphone Tracking On Request
Nov 23rd, 2007 by Ken Hagler

Feds Have Access To Cellphone Tracking On Request. Mike writes “According to a Washington Post article, federal officials are routinely asking and getting courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data on subscribers. The data is used to pinpoint the whereabouts of ‘criminal suspects’, according to judges and industry lawyers. In some cases, judges have granted the requests without even requiring the government to demonstrate probable cause that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime ‘Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives. Such requests run counter to the Justice Department’s internal recommendation that federal prosecutors seek warrants based on probable cause to obtain precise location data in private areas. The requests and orders are sealed at the government’s request, so it is difficult to know how often the orders are issued or denied.'”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


This isn’t anything new, but it’s good to see additional light being shed on the government’s use of cell phones to track and spy on people.

Vote To Eliminate Leap Seconds
Nov 20th, 2007 by Ken Hagler

Vote To Eliminate Leap Seconds. Mortimer.CA writes “As discussed on Slashdot previously, there is a proposal to remove leap seconds from UTC (nee ‘Greenwich’ time). It will be put to a vote to ITU member states during 2008, and if 70% agree, the leap second will be eliminated by 2013. There is some debate as to whether this change is a good or bad idea. The proposal calls for a ‘leap-hour’ in about 600 years, which nobody seems to believe is a good idea. One philosophical point opponents make is that the ‘official’ time on Earth should match the time of the sun and heavens.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


It’s a little silly to argue about eliminating leap seconds in the name of making time “match the time of the sun and heavens” when we’ve still got daylight savings time.

Hyperpolyglotic Gmail
Nov 18th, 2007 by Ken Hagler

Hyperpolyglotic Gmail.

According to Wikipedia, the world’s most accomplished hyperpolyglot is Ziad Fazah. This guy can readily communicate in 58 (f-i-f-t-y e-i-g-h-t) languages. Wow.

Well Mr. Fazah, while we’re not quite up to your standard yet, you better watch out — because Gmail is now available in 41 languages, and don’t think we’re going to stop there.

If you’re multilingual, feeling adventurous, or if you just want to test how well you know the Gmail user interface, try changing your account language settings. Sound a little risky? Don’t worry – it’s easy. You can change the language through the Settings menu. Get a taste of what hyperpolyglotic Gmail has to offer:

How many of these language UIs do you recognize? [Official Gmail Blog]

This is much more interesting than those silly quizzes people like to put in their MySpace pages. Too bad there’s no answer key, though! Here are mine, in order:

  1. Chinese (I don’t know Simplified from Traditional on sight.)
  2. French
  3. Russian
  4. This one I don’t recognize, but it’s Eastern European or possibly Scandinavian. My guess is Czech.
  5. Greek
  6. Finish
  7. Korean (This was an easy one, given where I live.)
  8. German
IT Security
Nov 18th, 2007 by Ken Hagler

Anyone who’s ever had to deal with an IT department’s idea of “security” will appreciate Friday’s Dilbert.

Library Software
Nov 15th, 2007 by Ken Hagler

Here’s a neat idea: Delicious Library, an OS X app that can use a webcam to scan barcodes on books and automatically add them to your library catalog.

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