Keep Your Tinfoil Hat On

An interesting area of research:

Just by pointing his supermagnets at the right spots on your head, Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone can make you go momentarily mute or blind.

He can disrupt your working memory or your ability to recognize faces. He can even make it harder for you to say verbs while nouns remain as easy as ever.

Weird, yes. Fringe, no.

Pascual-Leone is one of the premier scientific pioneers exploring a new technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, which shuts down or revs up the electrical doings inside the brain by sending a potent magnetic field through the skull.

This is no try-it-at-home parlor trick and no “Relieve your Pain!” magnetic bracelet or insole. Invented in 1985, modern-day magnetic stimulators charge up to 3,000 volts and produce peak currents of up to 8,000 amps — powers similar to those of a small nuclear reactor.

That pulse of current flowing from a capacitor into a hand-held coil creates a magnetic field outside the patient’s head. The field painlessly induces a current inside the brain, affecting the electrical activity that is the basis for all it does.

The promise of TMS as a scientific tool seems similarly powerful. And it has generated a range of intriguing practical effects as well, from improving attention to combating depression, that have been published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals.

Via Brad DeLong.

Denial of Service Attack

It seems that some virus/worm is making its way through the net. Access to anything on the internet has been sporadic for the last few hours. My firewall log contains lots of blocked UDP accesses on port 1434. Looking at Matrix NetSystems graphs, it seems that packet loss increased a lot and reachability was reduced somewhere around midnight to 1:00am. I hear it might be an exploit of a MS SQL server vulnerability.

UPDATE: The news story in the media and the virus alert from Network Associates.

Special Registration Questionnaire

AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) has the list of standard questions being asked of all special registrants. Seems fairly innocuous.

Email me from Mt. Everest

A very interesting endeavor:

If the 25-below-zero temperature, howling wind and grim effects of altitude sickness do not make most of those trying to scale Mount Everest feel a world away from home, the near-complete lack of communications on and around Everest surely does.

This year, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s first ascent of Everest, climbers on the mountain will have the chance to connect with the world below by e-mail. That is because Tsering Gyaltsen, the grandson of the only surviving Sherpa to have accompanied Hillary on that famed climb, is planning to build the world’s highest Internet cafe at base camp.

[…]But in contrast to many climber services, this one does not stand to benefit foreign-run outfitters primarily. Although it is an obvious perk for the climbers, the residents of a nearby town may get Internet access because of it, and the mountain may get a bit cleaner.

The technical challenge is significant. Wireless radios will be positioned on moving glaciers, and gear must be insulated against temperatures far colder than they were designed to withstand.

[…]The network will consist of a small satellite dish, planted about 1,500 feet above base camp, that can provide two-way communications. Because the dish must operate from firm ground, it cannot be used directly at base camp, which is on a moving glacier. The $10,000 satellite dish, which Mr. Gyaltsen purchased with a bank loan and funds from Square Networks, will connect to the cybercafe at base camp over the Wi-Fi radios. The dish will beam data to a satellite in orbit and to an Internet service provider in Israel.

[…]Cisco and Mr. Gyaltsen are working out the seemingly endless bureaucratic requirements for importing the radios to Nepal. Once they have arrived, Mr. Gyaltsen will transport them by plane to Lukla, a town at roughly 9,800 feet, then up by yak train to Namche Bazar (more than 11,000 feet) and on to the base camp (nearly 18,000 feet) before the final leg of the trip.

Mr. Gyaltsen and the pollution committee, which will technically own the radios, are still deciding what to charge users. They are considering a flat fee of $2,000 to $5,000 per expedition, which can number 5 to 20 people. That price might sound steep, but Mr. Gyaltsen says it paled in comparison with the cost of the expedition itself, typically $65,000 a person.

Condemnation of Terrorism: The End

A few days ago, in a surly and defiant mood, I decided to post a condemnation of terrorism from Muslims daily. My readers thought I didn’t have any obligation to condemn terrorism. As it turned out, that was a decision I made in haste. I kept it up only for three posts (1, 2, 3) in four days despite encouragement from Aziz and Al-Muhajabah. The reason I stopped was that I got bored and it seemed pointless to repeat year-old statements.

While my plan lasted, I looked at quite a few statements from Muslims, leaders and individuals alike. They ran the gamut from excusing the terrorism because of US foreign policy to disbelief that it could be the work of Muslims to condemning the terrorist acts without mentioning the perpetrators to honest condemnations of terrorism and the terrorists. A number of statements from the leaders were not as unequivocal as I would have liked. Specifically, my complaint was that quite a few of the Muslim leaders did not condemn Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda even while condemning the September 11 terrorist acts. Actually, I did not expect any better. After all, these are undemocratic leaders with worse acts on their resume than not condemning Bin Laden by name.

The Pianist

We watched The Pianist on sunday. It’s a good movie about the holocaust. It tells the story of a Jewish pianist, Mr. Szpilman, in Warsaw during World War II. It shows the restrictions imposed by the Nazis on the Jewish population and their internment in the Warsaw ghetto. Szpilman’s family was sent to a concentration camp while he survived. The second half of the movie is basically Szpilman being helped by his friends in hiding and looking at events unfold. Szpilman looks like helpless to do anything except try to survive. The movie moved us a lot with its scenes of death and destruction.

After the movie, my wife and I got into a discussion on anti-semitism and how the restrictions on Jews increased over time until they reached genocidal proportions. It got us thinking about the anti-semitism in the Muslim world today. We have always found the conspiracy theories about Jewish (usually referred as Zionist in this context in Pakistan) power rather strange. These are, however, widespread feelings and are prevalent in the educated middle class as well. [Caveat: As with all generalizations, this one is also defective. Also, I have obviously not met even a small fraction of the 1 billion Muslims. This is just anecdotal evidence of my experience. Hence, it applies mainly to urban middle-class Pakistanis concerned about religion, politics and international affairs and even then not to all.] The more nationalist Pakistanis believe there is an axis of Indo-Zionist conspiracies against Muslims and especially Pakistan. The US is usually considered to be completely under Jewish influence and then there are the conspiracy theories floating about the role of Israel in the September 11 terrorist attacks. It is true that most of these wacko feelings started out with the founding of Israel (except may be in the region surrounding Israel.) But they have gone far beyond anti-Israel and even if there is peace in the Middle East tomorrow, the anti-semitism would remain.

One thing that I have observed in Pakistan is the lack of knowledge of history. History, except Muslim history in South Asia, is not taught in Pakistani schools; so it’s not a surprise. Hence, most people do not know much about World War II and the evil that was Nazi Germany. World War II is often seen as a war between European powers (probably countries that saw battles on the home front, like Indonesia, feel differently.) So there is a tendency for moral equivalence between the Allies and the Axis. When you add anti-semitism to the mix, there are people who either deny the holocaust, minimize it or horror of horrors think Hitler should have killed all Jews.

Back to the discussion with my wife: since we thought that the holocaust was a gradual process starting out probably in the hatred of Jews, we were worried whether Muslims and/or Arabs might try genocide one day. However, we came to the conclusion that it would not happen. The reason for that is not moral compunction on the part of Muslims/Arabs; rather the practical situation on the ground would deter anything like that. It’s a good thing that Israel today is a military power and has nuclear weapons. Also, I believe US support to Israel, especially for the survival of Israel itself, would deter or in the worst case thwart any attempt to destroy the country.

Comments and Visitors

Thanks to Ikram Saeed for the 100th comment on this blog. He has been the most prolific commenter here. According to my counters, I have had about 3257-3306 “unique visitors” since around Nov 21 last year. More than a third of these were in a two-day burst due to an InstaPundit link. Usually, I get around 40-50 visitors a day. Around 75% of my visits are referred from another website and another 10% from search engines (mostly Google, followed by Yahoo.)

I would like to get a little more traffic (my target is about 100 visitors a day.) So if you like this weblog, please tell others to take a look at it.

English: An International Language

The Head Heeb talks about the profusion of English language media all over the world. English definitely has become the international language. It definitely has something to do with the British empire. In Pakistan, English is an official language and English language newspapers have been around since the 1940s. Schools in Pakistan have either Urdu or English (probably also Sindhi in the province of Sindh) as the medium of instruction. Even the Urdu medium schools teach English as a language from the 6th grade onwards. Most university education, especially in the sciences, is in English. Here are some of the English language newspapers of Pakistan:

Dawn: The largest circulation and the most respected English daily
The News: The English counterpart of the largest Urdu newspaper Jang (War)
The Nation: A conservative newspaper
Millat: A nationalistic tabloid
Business Recorder: A business and financial newspaper
Frontier Post: A newspaper from Peshawar, NWFP

The rise of the United States as a superpower and global reach of Hollywood movies has also affected the status of English around the world. Even though British English (or rather its South Asian dialect) is taught in schools in Pakistan, American English is having more of an impact now.

Deported Pakistanis: Illegal Immigrants

The New York Times has a story on some Pakistanis who were deported after September 11. All of them were illegal immigrants, so they do not get any sympathy from me for their plight. In my opinion, an illegal immigrant should face the consequences of his action including deportation. For this story, INS and the Department of Justice did not comment on the individual cases, so all the information is from the Pakistanis, which definitely makes me wonder how much to believe. Anyway, here are some bizarre excerpts from the article:

Government officials later told Mr. Mehmood’s lawyer that F.B.I. agents who searched his home had found a license to carry hazardous materials, box cutters, a flight simulator program and three Pakistani passports in his name. But neither he nor any of the other men were charged with terror-related offenses.

Mr. Mehmood said he had explanations. His trucking company required him to have the hazardous materials license, he said. He used the box cutters on the job, he said. The flight simulator program was used by his children, and two of the passports were expired, and one was valid, he said.

I don’t know about licenses for hazardous materials, so I’ll leave that alone. But what do they mean by boxcutters? Did he have two boxcutters? Or a hundred? Is it illegal to have a few boxcutters in your home? What exactly is a flight simulator program? Do they mean something like Microsoft Flight Simulator or Falcon IV (which I absolutely love despite sucking at it)? And if they found three different valid passports, why wasn’t he prosecuted for that? However, if his explanation for the passports is correct, then that’s nothing usual and shouldn’t have been mentioned. I am more confused as I think about this. Hearing the other side (INS) would definitely help.

This got my blood boiling:

All scoffed at the notion that their detention produced valuable intelligence. They described undergoing only cursory interviews by F.B.I. or I.N.S. agents: Do you like Osama bin Laden? Can you fly a plane? Do you pray five times a day? [emphasis mine]

Did the FBI really ask this? How dare they? If I had been asked this or similar questions when I was interviewed by the FBI, I would have told them to fuck off (who am I kidding? I would probably have said “none of your business.”) Here again, we have heard only from illegal immigrants who were deported and have a vested interest in trying to look good. However, I would still like an explanation from the FBI or the department of Justice stating what kind of questions were asked of these persons and all the others who have been interviewed. I would also like all the people who were asked about their religious beliefs and practice to come forward so that we can find out the truth.

UPDATE here.

Condemnation of Terrorism: Day 3

From the islamicity website:

(WASHINGTON, DC – 9/11/2001) – The American Muslim Political Coordination Council (AMPCC), today condemned the apparent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and offered condolences to the families of those who were killed or injured.

The AMPCC statement read in part:

“American Muslims utterly condemn what are apparently vicious and cowardly acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. We join with all Americans in calling for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators. No political cause could ever be assisted by such immoral acts.”

Leaders of the American Muslim Political Coordination Council (AMPCC) held a meeting in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, to issue the following points related to the terrorist attacks:

1) We assert unequivocal condemnation based on our religious values and our identity as American Muslims;

2) We do not need to defend every maniacal incident emanating from the Muslim world or the Muslim community, just as other religious groups need not defend their extremists;

3) We offer compassion to the victims and solidarity with all Americans in the face of danger;

4) Notwithstanding the disbelief that anyone following the faith of Islam could commit such a heinous crime, we condemn the act regardless of the identity of the perpetrators;

5) We deplore the irresponsible reporting that twists the realities and complexities of the Muslim world in order to project only anti-American sentiment during this disturbing period when we are all attempting to move beyond the state of mourning for the national tragedy;

6) We warn against opportunists who will exploit the misery and hysteria of the public in order to promote a political agenda aimed at tarnishing the name of Islam and Muslims;

7) We should not diminish our resolve to be active in protecting the civil liberties of all Americans and struggling for justice both locally and globally;

8) We need to organize activities to help the victims medically, psychologically and in every other way we can.

(Found via Al-Muhajabah.)