Iceland photos

[thumb:6:l][thumb:3:l]I’m finally reviving the photo gallery (along with the rest of the site). These two shots were taken in Iceland last fall (2005). I found a nifty WordPress plug-in that does a nice job of integrating the Coppermine gallery into the posts, and an iPhoto export plug-in that makes it really easy to upload the shots.

Update (12/19/2007): The coppermine WordPress plug-in’s original link has been gone for ages. It’s been taken up by a new developer, mathse. The iPhoto export plug-in link is still good.

Darfur

I’ve been thinking about the conflict in Darfur lately. It’s been a blip on the news radar for a couple of years and yet I still didn’t really know anything about it until doing some research to write this post. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned.

Darfur is a region covering about the western fifth of Sudan, which is in north eastern Africa (south of Egypt). The region borders Libya, Chad and the Central African Republic (map of Africa). Sudan is Africa’s largest country and its main economic drivers are agriculture and oil. Potable water is in short supply and much of the north is desert.

The current conflict began in February, 2003, between nomadic, Arab gunmen, collectively called the Janjaweed, and non-Arab, mainly agriculturalist peoples. Rebels comprised of non-Arabs had accused the Sudanese government of oppression in favor of Arabs and attacked government installations. The government responded with aerial bombing and attacks using Arab militia, recruited from the Janjaweed (although the government denies any connection to the group). While there is an ethnic dimension to the strife, in that Arabs are pitted against non-Arabs, both groups are comprised of black Muslims. There is also great competition for land and water in the region.

Figures vary but reports are that between 300,000 and 400,000 people have died since 2003, from starvation, disease and violence. Both sides have been accused of human rights violations but the Janjaweed are more heavily armed (and I imagine have a tactical advantage in being mobile to begin with), and seem to have earned the bad guy rep. in the media.

There is controversy over whether to use the term “genocide” to describe this conflict. US officials have called it that, while UN investigators say there was no intent to commit genocide (so, is that “involuntary genocide”?). I wonder what the hesitation to officially use the term is, since clearly an ethnic group is being targeted. Would it trigger some kind of enforcement by peacekeeping troops?

This month, on May 5, the Sudanese government signed an accord with one of the rebel groups calling for the disarmament of the Janjaweed and the absorption of the rebel forces into the army. It was brokered in part by the US Deputy Secretary of State. I do hope this ends the tragedy, but I’m skeptical. The authoritarian government itself has been part of the problem, and continues to put up obstacles to foreign press coverage and arrest staff of relief organizations without charge. Not all the rebel groups were happy about this accord either, and things became more chaotic as they began fighting each other before the pact, in an attempt to gain territory before it was signed. Now these groups are accused of the same crimes against humanity that the Janjaweed have been (razing, killing, looting, raping, etc.). Makes choosing sides a bit harder, doesn’t it? Notice that no matter who the perpetrators are, women and children end up the victims.

So what can be done? It seems we’re stuck between not wanting another Somalia and not wanting another Rwanda. It seems to me that sanctions would just further victimize those we are trying to help. Numerous organizations show up in search results appealing for donations. But with the situation as muddled as it is I wonder what these organizations actually do (and whose agenda they serve).

I just keep thinking of the refrain at the end of Peter Gabriel’s song, Biko:

And the eyes of the world are watching now…

It was about apartheid but there was something powerful about the idea that the simple attention of the world can bring about change.

PERFORM Act

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), along with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) have introduced a bill dubbed the PERFORM (Platform Equality and Remedies for Rights Holders in Music Act of 2006) Act (the conjurer of acronyms really earned their pay on that one). It is designed to protect we the people from inadvertently wandering away from our consumer feeding tubes, thus depriving the Matrix of its power source.

I listen to quite a bit of internet radio, all of it using streaming mp3 technology. In fact this is my main source of new music — NPR is the only broadcast radio I can stand. This bill would make that technology essentially illegal, since it doesn’t have built in restrictions preventing “music theft.” Actually, this bit may be an out for independent streaming services:

The bill would require cable, Internet and satellite providers to use reasonably available technology to protect the music, IF they want to enjoy the benefit of a government license. If, however, a company wants to use new technologies beyond the scope of a government license then they must go to the record companies directly to negotiate a licensing agreement through the market.

I’m not clear whether stations like SomaFM would want to enjoy the benefit of a government license or not. I’m guessing that the benefit of doing so would be that they would otherwise have to negotiate agreements with every single label (and artist?) they play.

Independent music is already marginalized. The PERFORM Act seems to protect the economic interests of the mainstream at the expense of musical diversity. Time to write a letter to my representative.

Further reading:
Ars Technica article
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Edit:Fixed the link to Senator Feinstein’s site.

Cody's Books on Telegraph Shutting its Doors

The venerable Cody’s Bookstore on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley will be closing on June 10th, after 43 years in that location. They say they’ve lost a million dollars trying to keep it open. The 4th Street location (one of the few Berkeley neighborhoods that has seen a steady increase in business, rather than a decline) will remain open.

They cite the internet and “economic concentration in bookselling” as reasons for their declining sales. An article in the SF Chronicle also points to Telegraph Avenue itself as part of the problem, mentioning the homeless and a new generation of students who don’t identify with the lingering air of the 60’s. I suppose those things can be off-putting if you’re new in town but in the decade I’ve been here Telegraph hasn’t changed at all. Aside from gentrification, the other thing 4th Street has is fairly ample parking, which probably draws more of the non-student residents.

It is a sad indicator for independent businesses in the country. If the closest, largest bookstore to a large university campus can’t make it in Berkeley, of all places, it just doesn’t bode well. Makes me want to walk down to my neighborhood bookstore and buy some books. Or maybe I’ll go to the library. Books are expensive.

Dell Support

Type in Dell Support into your favorite search engine, and on the first page of results you’ll see some pretty angry users. This was my first clue that exchanging a faulty 19″ Dell LCD monitor wasn’t going to be easy. My first try was to email them. No go. You need a service tag number to use any of the online support options, which is only supplied with computer systems, not monitors. This ruled out live chat as well. “Fine,” I said, “I’ll go the old-fashioned way and call them.” For some reason I couldn’t find the appropriate phone number on the Dell site, which was when I discovered the expletive-laidened articles mentioned above.

Finally I gave up and found the packaging slip on the outside of the box. I dialed the number and after some bland music a tech support rep. answered and asked for the service tag. I told him I just had an order number. After some back and forth he asked if I was a business or home user. Apparently being a “home user” is about the same as being a leper in the eyes of Dell. I was immediately ejected and found myself being lulled into numbness by the hold music until a fellow with a thick accent answered. Same questions. I gave him my order number at which point he said something like “let me just check… *click*”. I was disconnected. Oy.

That was last week. I figured I’d give it another whirl today. First person who answered said I needed to contact customer service, since I just wanted an exchange, rather than actual technical help connecting the monitor. He gave me a number and then transferred me. After 10 minutes of more numbing hold music I was disconnected. The outsourced tech support folks working for Dell must have some fumbly fingers. I called the supplied number and the woman said that I needed to talk to LCD monitor support, not customer service, since replacing the monitor was a “last resort.” Oh boy, how wonderful. Again she gave me a number and again I was transferred (I felt like I was in a deleted scene from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil). This time I wasn’t cut off. I actually reached a human. Only, the way he answered, it sounded like I’d woken the guy up. After some confused conversation, it turned out that I’d been routed to an LCD refurbishing plant in Ohio, and that this actually happens with some regularity. He gave me two numbers to try. Before hanging up I asked if he could give me advice on the problem with the monitor, thinking at least the refurbisher would know something about it. No go. The guy who answered was a security guard.

I thanked him, hung up, and just started laughing… not quite hysterically, but more just to convince myself that this was actually part of some brilliant comedy of errors.

Continued