Saturday, April 18, 2009

Last Call

Obama has decided that the UN conference on racism "unfairly singles out Israel" and will boycott it.
The United States is boycotting a U.N. conference on racism next week over a document that "singles out" Israel in its criticism and conflicts with the nation's "commitment to unfettered free speech," the U.S. State Department said Saturday.

The Obama administration made the decision not to attend the Durban Review Conference in Geneva "with regret," a State Department statement said.

Two months ago, the administration had warned that it would boycott the conference if changes were not made to the document to be adopted by the conference. In recent weeks, discussions over the document have fueled several revisions, but the changes to the language didn't meet U.S. expectations, the statement said.

The current draft is "significantly improved," but "it now seems certain these remaining concerns will not be addressed in the document to be adopted by the conference next week."

State Department officials say the document contains language that reaffirms the Durban Declaration and Programme of Actions from the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, which the United States has said it won't support. The 2001 document "prejudges key issues that can only be resolved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians," the statement said.

An African-American president facing racism on an unprecedented scale is boycotting a UN racism conference because Israel's feelings may be hurt. But hey, it's not like Israel treats Palestinians as subhuman or anything. They learned that from us, after all. Dehumanize the enemy, and then you don't feel bad at all when you call for their death.

But then again, Israel runs our foreign policy anyway. We have to run everything past the Israeli Prime Minister anyhow, and if they don't approve, well then decisions are made for Mr. Obama.

It's sad, but it's the truth. They even deign to tell an African-American President what America's international stance on racism should be.

That's mind-blowing.

If The Other 182 Times Fail, Just Keep Moving Forward

So, turned out we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed One Hundred and Eighty-Three times in one month as Marcy Wheeler does a little research.
I've put this detail in a series of posts, but it really deserves a full post. According to the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.

On page 37 of the OLC memo, in a passage discussing the differences between SERE techniques and the torture used with detainees, the memo explains:

The CIA used the waterboard "at least 83 times during August 2002" in the interrogation of Zubaydah. IG Report at 90, and 183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of KSM, see id. at 91.

Note, the information comes from the CIA IG report which, in the case of Abu Zubaydah, is based on having viewed the torture tapes as well as other materials. So this is presumably a number that was once backed up by video evidence.

So yes. Monsters. Inhuman, sadistic, crazed, insane monsters. No wonder this guy went insane and told CIA interrogators inquisitors wild goose chase stories. We sadistically tortured this guy 183 times. I don't care about the CIA's feelings. Obama absolutely has to prosecute these people. Period.

We got a grand total of zero useful information out of him. So we waterboarded him again and again and again and again. We did this. Not China, not North Korea, not some Afghan warlord or Pakistani tribal leader or Iranian mullah. We did this. Americans. In the name of America.

If Obama does not prosecute the people who performed these war crimes, then justice in America does not exist any longer. I beg of you, Mr. President. Make this right. You have to for the sake of humanity. If you do not, then we as a country are lost.

My god, I'm physically ill right now. We are sick, terrible bastards if we allow these people to skate. Only when the American people stand up for justice will we be able to put an end to this.

I pray we find the courage to do so. Obama has no choice now. The world is watching, and the UN is suggesting that not prosecuting the people who did this in and of itself constitutes a war crime.

“Like all other contracting states to the UN convention against torture, the US has committed to conduct criminal investigations of torture and to bring all persons to court against whom there is sound evidence,” Manfred Nowak, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture, told Austrian weekly paper Der Standard.

“They are party to the convention and the convention is very, very clear,” Nowak told the paper. “The fact that you carried out an order doesn’t relieve you of your responsibility.”

“In a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press, Manfred Nowak [...] said the United States had committed itself under the U.N. Convention against Torture to make torture a crime and to prosecute those suspected of engaging in it,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Nowak, who said he would soon travel to Washington for meetings with officials, also called for a comprehensive independent investigation into the matter and added it was important to compensate the victims,” the paper continued.

“Nowak said he did not think the president would not go so far as to issue an amnesty law for CIA operatives. Therefore US courts could still try torture suspects,” reported Earth Times.

The evidence is now a matter of international public record. Prosecute these men, Mr. President.

Or it may destroy this country.

Carolina Kool-Aid

At a teabagger rally on Friday in Greenville, SC, Republican Congressman Gresham Barrett was heckled and booed by the crowd. These folks apparently aren't too happy with Barrett voting for the bailout a few months ago, and they're letting it be known that the Great Purge of the Unfaithful is on in the GOP.
Barrett, who voted in favor of the $700 billion bailout to stabilize the financial sector, despised by many of the demonstrators, knew what he was getting into. South Carolina grassroots conservatives have been blasting the congressman for months because of his vote on the Bush administration's bill last October. Previewing his Tea Party speech earlier this week, The Greenville News wrote that Barrett was headed “into the Lion’s Den.”

But that may have been an understatement, according to video of his remarks captured by the South Carolina political Web site “The Palmetto Scoop.” From the moment he was introduced to the Greenville crowd, his speech was drowned out by boos, turned backs and angry shouts “Go Home!”

“I know you’re mad,” Barrett said, prepared for the chilly reception. “I know you're frustrated, and I hear you, and the American people hear you, and that’s what this thing is about, it’s about people being heard.”

Barrett got one of the loudest jeers of the speech when he told the crowd: “You may boo, you may turn your back, but I have devoted my life to the conservative cause.”

The booing and shouting continued for the entire five minutes Barrett was on stage. When he pointed out that he recently introduced a bill called the TEA Act to stop wasteful government spending, one protested yelled repeatedly: “Too late!”

How interesting. I'd say that it was amusing to see the Wingers eat their own, but then again Democrats have their own problem with purging conservatives and moderates from their party. I can actually relate, I have my own list of Democrats I'd like to see lose in a primary challenge, starting with Evan Bayh.

The difference is of course that the center of America is siding firmly with Obama at this time. The GOP is countering by moving the party to as far to the right as possible, alienating more centrists and independents all the time.

Still, it's clear that both parties are becoming more polarized.

To Kill A Mocking-Bag

The Power Line guys are fuming because somebody told them that CNN's Anderson Cooper, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, Daily Show's Jon Stewart, and basically everybody at MSNBC was mocking the Tea Parties with the "teabagging" schtick. Hey, I did it myself.
There is something funny going on here, if not exactly where Cooper, Maddow and Sullivan find it. Cooper is widely reputed to be homosexual. Maddow and Sullivan are of course public homosexuals. It is funny in an ironic sort of way that these folks choose to disparage the tea party protestors from somewhere deep inside the homosexual subculture. Why not just call the protestors girly boys and let everyone in on the joke? Or would that spoil the fun?

There is not only something funny going on here, there is a story here. These supposed journalists and their networks (or publisher, in Sullivan's case) have rather seriously insulted the citizens who colorfully took to the streets to air respectable views in a most civil fashion. If they had any decency, Cooper et al. would apologize for their vile reference to homosexual practices in the context of ordinary citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.

Here's the difference, Power Whiners. Pay attention. Yes, the Left makes silly, juvenile double entendre references to teabags and mocks people. You brilliant scholars only managed to now figure out how laughably simple it was to viciously mock these fools because a reader told you that the teabaggers were being mocked by these double entendres (you apparently couldn't figure it out yourselves), and you only found out about it four days later.

And as for the reasons the teabaggers were so cruelly mocked in the national media?

But as you can see, the actual tea party attendees you are so eager to defend showed up with signs like this. So tell me, gentlemen...while you're so bloody angry at teabag puns (Olbermann actually said "But it doesn't make a vas deferens!" on Countdown this week and I almost fell out of my chair) which is really the bigger outrage? Puns? Or comparing the President to Hitler?

Honestly. Assholes.

And Speaking Of Piracy

Somali pirates are still out there, and have captured a Belgian ship today.
Somali pirates attacked two ships off the Horn of Africa on Saturday, seizing one Belgian vessel carrying 10 crew. NATO forces intervened in the other assault, chasing the pirates down and freeing 20 fisherman on a Yemeni dhow hijacked earlier.

In the first attack, pirates hijacked the Belgian-flagged Pompei in the Indian Ocean, a few hundred miles (kilometers) north of the Seychelles islands, said Portuguese Lt. Cmdr. Alexandre Santos Fernandes, who is traveling with the NATO fleet patrolling the region.

Belgium reported the ship issued two warnings early Saturday morning that it was under attack on its way to the Seychelles. It had 10 crew: two Belgians, one Dutch, three Filipinos and four Croatians.

Hours after the first attack, pirates further north in the Gulf of Aden attacked a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, which Fernandes said issued a distress call shortly after dawn when it came under attack with small arms and rockets.

NATO forces in the area responded to the Handytankers Magic's call and followed fleeing pirates to a Yemeni-flagged fishing dhow that had been sized Sunday, Fernandes said.

He said pirates were using the Yemeni vessel as a "mother ship," a boat that allows the pirates' tiny skiffs to operate far off the Somali coast.

Dutch commandos then freed 20 fishermen from the dhow. Their nationalities were not known. Dutch forces also briefly detained seven pirates and seized seven Kalashnikov rifles and one rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

It's getting pretty bad out there, and I honestly believe it will only get worse.

For You Are A Pirate!

The strange case of Stardock Games continues. The PC game maker's CEO, Brad Wardell, is paying the price for being terribly naive about copy protection, piracy, and gaming in this economy in general. The company's newest title, Demigod, has turned into a complete disaster only hours after its release earlier this week as the Ars Technica guys give us the post mortem.

Stardock CEO Brad Wardell became a star in the world of PC gaming when he took a strong anti-DRM stance and decided the best course of action was simply to ignore the piracy. The pirates will do what they do, and the fans who were going to buy the games anyway will appreciate the lack of invasive programs. This easygoing, anti-DRM attitude also brings the added benefits of good press, good will, and all around good vibes. The problem, as he found out with the launch of Demigod, is that you can't always ignore the pirates; they can hurt you in very real ways.

"The system works pretty well if you have a few thousand people online at once. The system works… less well if there are tens of thousands of people online at once," Wardell wrote on his blog, describing the launch of the game. Stardock had 120,000 connections to deal with, a number well outside its projections for online play. The system melted down, causing many customers to have issues connecting to online games.

The number of those connections that were legitimate? It's estimated to be around 18,000.

As the comments have pointed out, getting an early copy of the game was not tricky, as GameStop simply broke the street date. "Our stress tests had counted on having maybe 50,000 people playing at once at peak and that wouldn’t be reached for a few weeks by which time we would have slowly seen things becoming problematic... So during the day today, people couldn’t even log on, and in some cases, the Demigod forums, which use one of the affected databases for some piddly thing were even down," he wrote. "Even getting the game running was a pain today because a simple HTTP call to see what the latest version would get hung leaving people looking at a black screen. Stuff of nightmares."

The team is working around the clock to fix the issues—Wardell points to having developers in Europe and the US as a good thing, and claimed he was just ending a 56-hour day—but the damage may have already been done.

The sad part is I'm one of the people who bought the game legitimately, and I can tell you multiplayer connections are a disaster right now. They are slow, connections are dropped, and the game's not very much fun online. I'm a big fan of Stardock games and have a couple of their strategy game products (which did not have major piracy issues) that play fine. I highly recommend both Galactic Civilizations II and Sins of a Solar Empire, as a matter of fact. But those are niche strategy games, not the kind of big name multiplayer action releases that Demigod was. Pirates didn't really care about a geeky space empire building game like GalCiv 2 or an equally geeky real-time strategy title like Sins.

But Stardock really, really should have gone to better copy protection a while ago. While games like Spore have notoriously nasty copy protection that is in fact crackable, doing so is difficult. Demigod's lack of real protection made it so easy that, well, five times the number of pirates have the game at release than legitimate buyers. Demigod bears a striking resemblance to a hugely popular Warcraft 3 mod called Defense of the Ancients, and that alone should have set off major alarm bells in Stardock HQ. It's so popular in fact that I honestly believe for one reason or another, DotA players pirated the game just to play it. In fact, Stardock should have seen this coming and should have made copy protection a priority with Demigod. I could have told you that in this economy, gamers will turn to piracy rather than spend any amount on a game, especially the ones playing a free mod on a 7 year old game that still has a majorly active multiplayer community. The result is that multiplayer Demigod turned into a complete disaster.

"Before [Demigod] shipped, I wrote a scary email to our team saying how disastrous things would be and predicted doom for us and [Gas-Powered Games] if there were problems with multiplayer," Wardell wrote. "At the time, my worry was about things like disconnects and CVP. It didn’t occur to me that we’d have near MMO user connections to throw in."

The problem was that reviewers were trying to play the game, and they weren't liking what they saw as a major problem with online play. "Connecting to other players takes an inordinately long time, if it happens at all... Furthermore, the game client may hang should you try to exit while the game attempts to connect players, leading to an unhandled exception error dialogue (and a game reboot). Connection issues are widespread, which is a disastrous blow in a game that requires online play to be of much value," GameSpot wrote in its review of the game, giving it a 6.5 for a variety of reasons.

That score is going to be mixed in with the others in metacritic, and it will hold a ton of power for the length of the game's life, long after the connection issues have been fixed... if they aren't already. It seems like Stardock had a realistic plan for rollout of the online play, only to be slammed by overwhelming piracy, a problem it didn't plan for or expect. Now the company will be punished in the gaming press and gaming fora when players have issues connecting.

Wardell reacted to the GameSpot review on the blog. "First, I totally understand that connectivity is central to a game like this. I totally agree. But I think that should be weighted with what the average user who gets Demigod will experience and in reality, as annoying as this issue is, it’s not something that’s going to be an ongoing issue, it’s something that is likely to be taken care of in the next day or two," he wrote. "So this time next week, players will be happily playing but GameSpot’s review will live on." He wonders about the IGN and 1UP reviews, worried that they will dock points for the same issue.

And those reviews were just as bad for the same reasons (the game sits at 70 on Metacritic right now), which now means a lot fewer people will buy the game, and the fact of the matter is much like a movie, bad reviews and word of mouth can kill it in the first week.

Demigod may not come back from the dead on this one. And it's unfortunate. It's a fun game, and once Stardock takes action to expand the servers and stabilize connections, it should be a blast.

That is, if there's anyone left who actually will play the game. In an economy this bad, Demigod serves as a major warning to game makers. Protect your stuff. Piracy will only get worse as the economy continues to sink worldwide.

Remember the lesson of Demigod, folks. Be prepared.

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition

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