phiffer.org

Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer is an Internet enthusiast based in Troy, NY

Grid Correctionsvimeo.com

Grid Corrections shows, as Curt Meine puts it, “places where theory and reality meet.”

Geoff Manaugh, writing for Travel + Leisure:

De Ruijter soon learned that these kinks and deviations were more than local design quirks. They are grid corrections, as he refers to them in a new photographic project: places where North American roads deviate from their otherwise logical grid lines in order to account for the curvature of the Earth. You could drive out there your whole life, de Ruijter realized, and not realize that certain stop signs and intersections exist not because of eccentric real estate deals, but because they are mathematical devices used to help planners wrap a rectilinear planning scheme onto the surface of a spherical planet. In order to avoid large-scale distortion, the Jeffersonian grid—shorthand for the founding father’s 18th-century geometric vision of six-square-mile township parcels, intended to guarantee equal and democratic land-distribution nationwide—is occasionally forced to go askew.

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Why we don’t have much good data on gunswww.nytimes.com

From Michael Luo’s 2011 series on guns and public safety, this gets at the heart of the political limitations on doing research into the health risks of guns in America.

C.D.C. financing for research on gun violence has not stopped completely, but it is now mostly limited to work in which firearms are only a component.

The centers also ask researchers it finances to give it a heads-up anytime they are publishing studies that have anything to do with firearms. The agency, in turn, relays this information to the N.R.A. as a courtesy, said Thomas Skinner, a spokesman for the centers.

Invariably, researchers said, whenever their work touches upon firearms, the C.D.C. becomes squeamish. In the end, they said, it is often simply easier to avoid the topic if they want to continue to be in the agency’s good graces.

Emphasis added. I’m curious if these circumstances have changed much in the past 4 years.

Link via southpaw

Adam Gopnik on the Virginia Tech shootingwww.vox.com

Max Fisher writes in Vox “this is the best paragraph I’ve ever read on gun control and mass shootings,” quoting from Adam Gopnik in the April 30, 2007 issue of the New Yorker.

The cell phones in the pockets of the dead students were still ringing when we were told that it was wrong to ask why. As the police cleared the bodies from the Virginia Tech engineering building, the cell phones rang, in the eccentric varieties of ring tones, as parents kept trying to see if their children were OK.

Gopnik’s Comment piece ends just as strong.

There is no reason that any private citizen in a democracy should own a handgun. At some point, that simple truth will register. Until it does, phones will ring for dead children, and parents will be told not to ask why.

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“This is something we should politicize”www.youtube.com

President Obama’s speech is worth watching in its entirety. Starts at 23:18.

Video

We are not the only country on earth that has people with mental illnesses, or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on earth that sees these mass shootings every few months.

Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response, here at this podium, ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it, we’ve become numb to this.

Have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp took up Obama’s challenge.

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The Problem We All Live Withwww.thisamericanlife.org

WNYC’s State of the Union bingowww.wnyc.org

WNYC has a bunch of online stuff for tonight’s State of the Union speech. Not sure how I’ll pay attention to the enhanced web stream, the live chat (with the New Yorker’s own Amy Davidson), my Twitter stream, and also keep track of a bingo card, but I’m gonna give it a shot.

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I ♥ police stategothamist.com

Takeshi Miyakawa’s street art is (understandably) pushing a sensitive terrorism button.

But this story isn’t about the public getting menaced, it’s more about posturing by the criminal justice system.

According to the person who made the complaint on Friday, the issue wasn’t that Miyakawa’s art appeared to be a bomb, but how they were going to get it off the tree. “I called 311 asking how to get that thing off my tree, if it was my responsibility or the city’s…the 311 woman put me through to 911 then the cops came. I left for work,” they wrote via email.

Miyakawa is charged with “two counts of placing a false bomb or a hazardous substance, reckless endangerment, placing a false bomb or a false substance in the 2nd degree, and criminal nuisance in the 2nd degree,” and is being held at a mental health facility for 30 days.

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171 men remain there

Lakhdar Boumediene was held without charge at Guantánamo Bay for seven years.

I do not like to think of Guantánamo. The memories are filled with pain. But I share my story because 171 men remain there. Among them is Belkacem Bensayah, who was seized in Bosnia and sent to Guantánamo with me.

About 90 prisoners have been cleared for transfer out of Guantánamo. Some of them are from countries like Syria or China — where they would face torture if sent home — or Yemen, which the United States considers unstable. And so they sit as captives, with no end in sight — not because they are dangerous, not because they attacked America, but because the stigma of Guantánamo means they have no place to go, and America will not give a home to even one of them.

This horrific story follows the recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act that may legalize this type of detention for US citizens suspected of terrorism.

Al Franken has been a vocal critic of the bill, calling it inconsistent with American liberties and freedoms:

As we reflect on what this bill will do, I think it is important to pause and remember some of the mistakes this country has made when we have been fearful of enemy attack.

Most notably, we made a grave, indefensible mistake during World War II, when President Roosevelt ordered the incarceration of more than 110,000 people of Japanese origin, as well as approximately 11,000 German-Americans and 3,000 Italian-Americans.

Franken delivered a similar speech to the Senate, prior to the bill’s passing.

Debate about the controversial sections of the NDAA has focused on whether or not American citizens would be subject to indefinite detention. The bill is vague and self-contradictory, left open to the interpretation of President Obama and all future sitting presidents.

It’s not hard to see the inherent problem of indefinitely detaining citizens protected by the Bill of Rights. Being held without charge defies due process and habeas corpus. But those legal traditions are not American in origin, from a moral standpoint I don’t see why non-citizens ought to be treated any differently.

Holding 171 men at Guantánamo Bay without charge is just as inconsistent with those same American liberties and freedoms Al Franken speaks of. I was frustrated with how little the NDAA was discussed in the weeks before it became law. But perhaps it’s for the best. That debate should be framed more broadly; it’s about human rights, not just the rights of Americans.

US drones in Pakistan

This morning, after turning off the interminable NPR coverage of the Republican primaries, I saw that The Morning News recently linked to this ABC News story about the case of Tariq Khan, a 16 year old Pakistani killed in a US drone attack.

In late October, he accompanied a group of tribal elders when they traveled down to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad for the anti-drone conference. There, he sat with dozens of foreign lawyers and journalists and displayed no signs of hatred or animosity at them or the government, according to the people who spoke with him. According to family and associates, he said he wanted to refute Washington’s claim that the drone program had killed zero civilians in the last few years.

Tariq Khan was killed when a small missile fired overhead piercing the roof of his vehicle. (Neil Williams/Reprieve)

I was struck by the wide range of civilian deaths in various reports compared to the CIA’s claim of zero civilian deaths. From Wikipedia:

Daniel L. Byman from the Brookings Institution suggests that drone strikes may kill “10 or so civilians” for every militant killed. In contrast, the New America Foundation has estimated that 80 percent of those killed in the attacks were militants. The Pakistani military has stated that most of those killed were hardcore Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. The CIA believes that the strikes conducted since May 2010 have killed over 600 militants and have not caused any civilian fatalities, a claim that experts disputed and have called absurd. Based on extensive research, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that between 391 – 780 civilians were killed out of a total of between 1,658 and 2,597 and that 160 children are reported among the deaths.

Zero civilians is a pretty bold claim that I can only come up with two explanations of. Either each attack is backed up by thoroughly documented research or the CIA simply designates anyone they kill as a de facto terrorist. Perhaps it’s a mix of both, but without any public accountability we’ll probably never see evidence that it’s the former case.

If accurate, this description of drone tactics contradicts the “heavy research” explanation, and is eerily reminiscent of the follow-up bombing tactic used by Iraqi insurgents:

Asked for documentation of Tariq and Waheed’s deaths, [the attorney for Tariq’s family] did not provide pictures of the missile strike scene. Virtually none exist, since drones often target people who show up at the scene of an attack.

It’s maybe no surprise then that two thirds of Pakistani journalists regard US drones attacks as acts of terrorism.

At least for now these attacks have been suspended.

Drone strikes were halted in November 2011 after NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in the Salala incident.

Update: this NY Times article offers a more nuanced discussion of the “zero civilian deaths” claim. It sounds like John Brennan simply overstated drone effectiveness and offered a more evasive explanation that “the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths.”

Update #2: I’m coming back to this post after several months, and thinking I might have underplayed this a little. Just to spell it out more clearly: an anti-drone activist, who was trying to draw attention to Pakistani civilian deaths, was himself killed by a drone. This would be kind of funny and ironic, if it wasn’t so not funny.

Strangely, the coverage of this incident on Democracy Now has his name as Tariq Aziz.

Another take on invented peopleguerrillathoughts.wordpress.com

The claim made by Gingrich that there never was a Palestinian state is one often made by people hostile to the plight of the Palestinians. This claim is made in an attempt to deny an indigenous people the right to dwell on their own land. What this claim essentially does is, it takes what is after all a modern European concept — the idea of the nation state — and uses that as a prism through which to view a non-European people and judge them as not being worthy of the right to live on their own land. Remember also, that the word Palestine has existed in some etymological form for far longer than the names of most states in the world today.

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The invented people

Recently there’s been some discussion about Newt Gingrich’s views on Palestinians, that they are an invented people:

Remember, there was no Palestine as a state, it was part of the Ottoman Empire, and I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and were historically part of the Arab community.

An American talking about “invention” in the context of a people’s right to statehood is so mind-bendingly ironic. Anil Dash sums it up in 129 characters:

This position gets even weirder as Thomas Friedman (yeah, really!) points out where this line of reasoning takes us:

If the 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians are not a real people entitled to their own state, that must mean Israel is entitled to permanently occupy the West Bank and that must mean — as far as Newt is concerned — that Israel’s choices are: 1) to permanently deprive the West Bank Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and put Israel on the road to apartheid; 2) to evict the West Bank Palestinians through ethnic cleansing and put Israel on the road to the International Criminal Court in the Hague; or 3) to treat the Palestinians in the West Bank as citizens, just like Israeli Arabs, and lay the foundation for Israel to become a binational state. And this is called being “pro-Israel”?

It’s surprising that a right wing politician might be, in essence, arguing for a One State Solution. Aside from Friedman’s use of quotes around the word illegal — as in, “illegal” settlements — I think it’s a solid op-ed. But this notion of a group of people having their identity called into question is better explained by Laila El-Haddad:

After booking a flight online with British Airways out of Cairo (the nearest accessible airport for Palestinians here, eight hours and a border crossing away from Gaza), I attempted to enter my “passenger details”, including country of citizenship and residence.

Most people wouldn’t give this a second thought. But being the owner of a Palestinian Authority passport (which one can acquire only on the basis of an Israeli-issued ID card), I have become accustomed to dealing with Kafkaesque complications in routine matters.

And sure enough, in the drop-down menu of countries, I found the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Isle of Man and even Tuvalu – but no Palestine.

I collaborated with Laila on You Are Not Here and she told harrowing airport stories, of being detained and questioned on account of her “invented” status. I remember following one such adventure as she tweeted about being denied entry into Palestine by Egyptian authorities:

Imagine traveling from Copenhagen to New York, with a stopover in Montreal. Imagine being held by Canadian authorities because they don’t like your “American” passport. They send you back to Denmark because, you know, the United States doesn’t even have a legitimate monarchy! Who can trust these “invented” people?

The kicker is the lack of recourse, no Palestinian embassy can hold those Egyptian authorities to account. Gingrich’s position inadvertently calls attention to the estimated 12 million stateless people in the world. Their rights are not adequately protected in large part because they’re not considered legitimate people.

Stephen Fry on American Prisonswww.youtube.com

“There are more 17-year-old black people in jail than in college.”

Update: Commenter Ilverin makes a good point, “barely any 17-year olds of any group attend college, as the great majority still attend high school.” It goes without saying that the other prison statistics are troubling enough without that particular one.

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American police

Three links about American police. (One essay and two radio segments.)

  • Central Booking by Keith Gessen
    What it’s like to get arrested as a (white privileged) Occupy Wall Street protestor.

    Sitting there, with the stench from our filthy toilet filling the room, and with the filth in our filthy sink making me less eager than I ought to have been to drink from it, despite being thirsty, I became angry—really, honestly, for the first time. I thought for the first time, with genuine venom, of the hypocrite mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, who shut down the Occupy Wall Street encampment for reasons of “health and safety” but has not deemed it worthwhile to make sure that the toilets in facilities that he has control of meet even the most minimal standards of health and safety, such that, while I watched, about forty men, eating a total of a hundred meals, over the course of a day and a half, refused to perform a single bowel movement. This was its own form of civil disobedience, I suppose, and if I’d had my wits about me maybe I could have organized a meeting of all the inmates at Bloomberg’s residence, on East Seventy-ninth Street, so that we could all take a giant shit on his front stoop.

  • A police whistle blower story from This American Life, first aired in September 2010

    For 17 months, New York police officer Adrian Schoolcraft recorded himself and his fellow officers on the job, including their supervisors ordering them to do all sorts of things that police aren’t supposed to do.

  • An interview with David M. Kennedy, author of Don’t Shoot, earlier this month on Fresh Air

    Kennedy has devoted his career to reducing gang and drug-related inner-city violence. He started going to drug markets all over the United States, met with police officials and attorney generals, and developed a program — first piloted in Boston — that dramatically reduced youth homicide rates by as much as 66 percent. That program, nicknamed the “Boston Miracle,” has been implemented in more than 70 cities nationwide.