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17 September 2011

biggest convention of the Slide Rule Cult on Earth coming up in late September 2011!!! Don't miss it! See the magic ANALOG gizmos that computed the Industrial Revolution!!!

Click image to enlarge.

It is very possible that you may never have touched a slide rule. I bought my first hand-held digital scientific calculator around 1973 -- Hewlett-Packard was first, but Texas Instruments hit the market just a few months later -- and this was the death knell of the wonderful analog slide rule, which did its magic by making distance the visual analogue of quantity

The slide rule essentially was adding and subtracting -- you can see how that works by sliding two ordinary rulers back and forth -- but the scales were not linear, but were laid out in logarithms

When you add logarithms, you multiply quantities, and when you subtract one log from another, you are dividing. Slide rules also merrily extracted roots -- square roots, cube roots, 4th and 5th roots, etc. -- and manipulated trigonometric functions (sines, cosines, tangents).

Notice that the slide rule does not use batteries or electricity. It's the perfect computational machine for being stranded for years on a desert island, or after a thermonuclear war wipes out all electrical devices with Big Pulse.

Was the slide rule primitive? You can argue that it's primitive compared to digital calculators and computers. But the Age of the Slide Rule was the tool that computed the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the world's railroads and their steam locomotives and the great industrial steam engines, fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, and finally sent human beings into orbital space and to the Moon. (By the Moon landings, digital computers were available, but every NASA nerd was firmly clutching his/her slide rule.) Einstein computed Relativity on a beautiful German Nestler Mannheim slide rule (the same model Werner von Braun used, I regret to say).

Although a digital calculator/computer can spew out answers like


every numerical constant known in the physical universe only has practical meaning accurate to a maximum of 4 or 5 or 6 decimal places -- all the digits to the right of that are meaningless gibberish -- and a slide rule could give you that realistic and practical kind of accuracy. Sufficient to send a rocket to Venus or build the Brooklyn and Menai Straits Bridges, or the Titanic. (It didn't sink because of its designer's slide rule.)

The Edinburgh eccentric John Napier (Laird Merchiston) published the rules of logarithms in 1614. William Oughtred constructed the first slide rule in 1622.

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A meeting of the wonderful cult of slide rule worshippers and collectors will occur later this month in Boston -- well, really in Cambridge, just over the Charles River from Boston -- at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Last year's slide rule convention was at Cambridge University in UK.)

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The Oughtred Society was founded in 1991 by a group of slide rule collectors and is dedicated to the preservation and history of slide rules and other calculating instruments. In the past 20 years it has evolved to an international organization with members in 22 countries. It is noted for its highly acclaimed Journal of the Oughtred Society, published twice annually.

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Friday-Sunday 23-25 September 2011

The International Meeting of Collectors of Historical Calculating Instruments (IM 2011) will be hosted by the Oughtred Society at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts USA.

12 September 2011

The British Army in Basra, Iraq: "A man came into our custody and our care alive, and he left dead"

Click images to enlarge.

As long as the Western democracies still retain war in their repertoire, war will continue to confuse, challenge and distort our view of ourselves as civilized people.

The most important aspect of all that followed the brutal murder of the Iraqi civilian Baha Mousa is that the only soldier to be convicted of a crime and punished was a low-rank enlisted man, Corporal Donald Payne, who confessed to inhumane treatment of a prisoner. He served one year in prison and was discharged from the British Army.

An Army colonel, a major and a warrant officer were among the seven soldiers originally charged with crimes in Mousa's death. All but Cpl. Payne were cleared, or the charges against them dropped.

As things stand now, when Western militaries go to war in Asia, there exist no effective protection of civilians or of captured enemies, there exist no effective limits on how they may be interrogated, there exist no effective mechanisms to punish soldiers who mistreat or kill those in their custody. From commanding generals to privates, the only effective mechanism in our wars is whitewashing and covering up war crimes.


BBC / British Broadcasting Corporation
Thursday 8 September 2011

Baha Mousa inquiry: 
Death cast 'dark shadow' 
over Army

by Caroline Wyatt, Defence correspondent, BBC News

Sir William Gage's inquiry made uncomfortable reading for the Army, with its blow-by-blow account of the violent abuse suffered by Baha Mousa and the other Iraqi detainees in the custody of the 1st Battalion the Queen's Royal Lancashire Regiment in 2003.

Today, the head of the British Army, General Sir Peter Wall, said Mr Mousa's death had "cast a dark shadow" over the Army's reputation and soldiers were now in no doubt about the need to treat detainees humanely and respectfully.

Had that been the case in Basra in 2003, Gen Wall said the Iraqi hotel worker would not have died in British custody.

The Army says steps to improve training, communications and Army doctrine have been taken and more are under way to ensure that such an incident can never happen again.

The inquiry has made 73 recommendations, many of which the Army says are already being implemented, ranging from the need to retain the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) current ban on the use of hoods on detainees to improvements to law training for soldiers and better training in prisoner handling.

After an investigation -- and the most expensive court martial in British history in which only one of the accused was found guilty -- senior officers looked for the reasons behind such a serious breakdown of accepted standards.

Both the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR) and the 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers had faced difficult and arduous tours.

Yet so had many other regiments, who had also lost men -- or whose soldiers saw their comrades terribly wounded by roadside bombs -- without resorting to the kind of violence inflicted by those who killed Baha Mousa, and then tried to cover up.

The head of the Army, General Sir Peter Wall: "There can be no excuse for the loss of discipline or lack of moral courage that occurred."

Senior military commanders could only conclude that something had gone terribly wrong.

In 2005, the head of the Army at the time, General Sir Mike Jackson, tasked Brigadier Robert Aitken, then director of Army personnel strategy, with conducting a review.

But while the Aitken Report, published in 2008, identified important lessons to be learned, it did not manage to fully explain the failings that had led to Baha Mousa's death.

It did, however, conclude that British troops were given "scant" information on how to treat civilian detainees, and needed "a better understanding between right and wrong".

It said there was no evidence of systemic abuse, but recommended changes to rectify serious flaws in the way soldiers were trained to deal with prisoners ahead of their deployment. A new training video was produced, as well as more explicit guidelines.


However, the Aitken Report was condemned as a whitewash by the lawyers acting for the Iraqi civilians, and in May 2008, the government decided the issue would not go away, and announced the Baha Mousa Inquiry.

The then head of the Army General Sir Richard (now Lord) Dannatt welcomed it, saying: "As soldiers, we know only too well that the conduct of military operations is both difficult and dangerous, but we also know it is our duty to behave in accordance with both the law and the Army's core values.

"Those core values include courage, integrity and discipline as well as loyalty, selfless commitment and, crucially in this case, respect for others. The Army's operational effectiveness and reputation depend on this."

He concluded that what happened to Mr Mousa was "...not a misjudgement in the heat of battle, or in the heat of the moment. There can be no excuse."

Evidence emerged at one of the inquiry's hearings that the MoD had been concerned a year before the Iraq invasion about the lack of trained interrogators.

An internal memo had warned: "The lack of prisoner handling and tactical questioning-trained personnel within deployed force elements risks the loss of potentially accurate, timely and life-saving information/intelligence during our fighting operations ... The less well-trained our troops are, the greater the chance that they may mishandle prisoners."

The inquiry was told that at the time of Baha Mousa's death, there were no QLR soldiers in Iraq qualified in tactical questioning -- the interrogation of detainees to extract information as quickly as possible.

One key issue the inquiry followed up was who in the chain of command had authorised the use of the techniques of hooding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, white noise and food and drink deprivation, which had been specifically banned under Edward Heath's government in 1972.

Few in the military by 2003 knew of or remembered the ban, and it was not included in MoD guidelines on the treatment of prisoners issued in 2001.

The revised guidelines, issued five years later, made clear these methods were prohibited. They "must never be used as an aid to tactical questioning or interrogation", the document said.

The Army itself says that while its policy has not changed significantly since 2003, greater emphasis has been placed on the inculcation of its core values and standards, training, education, and the oversight of detention policy and training.

Soldiers are encouraged to report any signs of abuse up through their chain of command, or -- if that is believed to be involved in any wrong-doing -- to go via the padre or directly up to a higher level.

SERE instructors (survival, evasion, resistance, extraction) are now separate from tactical questioners, while tactical questioners and tactical interrogators have also been separated as specific
skills, with a requirement for those qualified as tactical questioners to be re-licenced every two years.

The MoD is considering the use of interactive or gaming technology to communicate that training to a generation of younger soldiers reared on such technology.

And all those being sent on operations must know the five prohibited techniques which are never to be used on prisoners:

* Stress positions: Forcing captured or detained persons to remain in a physically uncomfortable position unnecessarily

    * Hooding: Putting a bag or sandbag over a captured or detained persons head

* Subjection to noise

* Deprivation of sleep
* Deprivation of food and drink

Above all, though, say senior officers, preventing any repeat of the Baha Mousa tragedy relies on leadership, from the very top of the British Army to the lowest-ranking soldier.

"A man came into our custody and our care alive, and he left dead," said one Army source. "We can never forget that."
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02 September 2011

assorted postage stamps from Planet Dirndl

Click image to enlarge.

Assorted postage stamps from Planet Dirndl.

01 September 2011

the secret air route map of North America, the North Atlantic and Caribbean, Europe, Asia and North Africa

Click image to enlarge.

Come Fly With Me
by Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen

Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away
If you can use some exotic booze
There's a bar in far Bombay
Come on fly with me, we'll float down in the blue

Fly with me, float down to Peru
In llama land there's a one-man band
And he'll toot his flute for you
Fly with me, we'll take off in the blue

Once I get you up there where the air is rarefied
We'll just glide, starry-eyed
Once I get you up there I'll be holding you so very near
You might even hear a gang of angels cheer just because we're together

Weather-wise it's such a cool, cool day
You just say those words we'll whip those birds down to Acapulco Bay
It is perfect for a flying honeymoon, they do say
Come on and fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away

Once I get you up there where the air is so rarefied
We're gonna glide absolutely starry-eyed
Once I get you up there I'll be holding you so very near
You might even hear a gang of angels cheer just because we're together

Weather-wise it's such a groovy day
You just say those words we'll whip those birds down to Acapulco Bay
It's perfect for a flying honeymoon, they do say
Come on fly with me, let's fly, let's fly
Pack up your bags and let's get out of here
Come on let's fly away


A team of masked men (and maybe masked women) kick in your apartment door, or grab you on the street, put a leather bag over your head, bound your hands and feet, stick a butt plug up your anus, put incontinence diapers on you, and drive you to an airfield, where you are put aboard a small private plane, a corporate jet, and flown halfway around the world to a secret prison, where you are held indefinitely and tortured often. No legal processes accompany this surprise adventure. After a year held incommunicado, if you are very lucky, another team flies you and dumps you somewhere near your home. They may have targetted you because some perfect stranger, while being tortured, mentioned your name, or a name very similar to yours. You will certainly never see a consul from your homeland, you will certainly never have access to a lawyer or legal advocate. Or your family.

This is roughly an accurate description of an initiative undertaken and supervised by the United States government hundreds of times since the terrorist attacks on USA targets on Tuesday 11 September 2001.

Somewhere in Los Angeles there's a billboard of the above rendition world flight map, you can stand across the street and look at it the way you'd look at a Calvin Klein jeans billboard.

And now here it is for your viewing convenience on Vleeptron.

Baku, Azherbaijan will be the site of the Eurovision Song Contest in April, because an Azherbaijani duet won the last Eurovision contest in Germany. Apparently there is Something Else going on not far from Baku Airport of world significance, an aspect of the USA's close relationship or alliance with Azherbaijan.

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You have absolutely no right, authority or power to ask this question, or to expect any answer, but are you comfortable living on Planet Earth in this era, where governments commonly order these bestial subhuman things to happen?

This is one very big fucking elephant in the bathtub. Sooner or later you'd think a lot of people would notice this enormous wild animal bathing with them, and if the people are lucky enough to have been permitted some degree of free speech by their government security apparatus, you'd think lots of people would make an enormous amount of angry noise about the way a lot of the world agrees to work these days.

Will it make any difference if I throw in "human rights" or "rule of law" of "human dignity"? Will my concerns for these things make one rat's ass of difference in reducing or slowing or eliminating these practices?

If you are offended by my vulgar tone about what I feel to be a very serious subject, remember that I'm complaining about men (and maybe women) who introduce themselves to perfect strangers by binding their hands and feet and sticking a butt plug up your anus.

In many of these renditions, the targets just never return to the light of day and the real world. They are gone. Deseparado.

There is a huge debate -- and in fact the debate has lodged like a gallstone or hemmorhoid or tumor just inches from the center of the USA presidency. Somehow he -- and not long from now it will be she -- communicates to his/her subordinates that they should commence kidnapping strangers -- of any degree of guilt from None to Fiend -- and detain and torture them to extract intelligence, to be used to safeguard Western allies from terrorist attacks.

The huge and very angry debate centers on the reliability of intelligence extracted in this manner.

In olden days, nobody really wanted intelligence. They just wanted you to shriek for hours in whimpering agony, as a public example to others, or to mouth some theological ritual apologizing for your many heresies and blasphemies.

Now they say they want intelligence.

Is it worth shit? I am trying to imagine what I would say to make the masked men and women stop  torturing me.


Agence France-Presse/AFP (newswire)
Thursday 1 September 2011

Billing dispute reveals 

details on CIA rendition flights

A billing dispute in New York has revealed details of secret CIA rendition flights that transported terror suspects around the world following the 9/11 attacks, court documents reviewed Thursday show.

Documents filed in a New York appeals court detail dozens of rendition flights -- to locations including Bucharest, Baku, Cairo, Djibouti, Islamabad and Tripoli -- organized by Sportsflight, a private, one-man aircraft business on Long Island [a drive east of Manhattan] that procured the charter flights for the US government.

According to the documents, copies of which were obtained by AFP from a London-based rights group, Sportsflight secured a plane from Richmor Aviation, which is now suing Sportsflight for breach of contract.

When Sportsflight began procuring the flights in 2002 shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the purposes "were undisclosed at the time."

But "it was ultimately learned that the flights would be going to and from Guantanamo Bay [a US military base on Cuba] and would be used for assorted rendition missions," according to the court filing.

Secret CIA flights were conducted in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks to transfer "war on terror" suspects to third countries for interrogation. Many of the suspects subjected to the rendition program said they were tortured.

The business dispute, in which the two companies are fighting over more than $1,100,000 sought by Richmor for unused but contracted flight hours, has helped lift the veil of secrecy on the rendition program.

The 1,775 pages of documents include the invoices and itineraries of numerous CIA flights, and they are extraordinary in that they have become part of the court record.

Richmor, which flew its final flight for the government in January 2005, billed at a rate of U$4,900 an hour for the use of the plane, which was chartered to transport "suspected terrorists," the documents said.

The Washington Post, citing the invoices and other court records, reported that Richmor earned at least U$6,000,000 over three years.

It accounted for a small percentage of the total flights, according to the Post, suggesting that the Central Intelligence Agency spent tens of millions of dollars to use private planes to transport suspects for interrogation.

The spy agency would not confirm any of the details.

"The CIA does not, as a rule, comment on pending litigation, especially that to which we are not a party," agency spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood told AFP.

The State Department also declined to comment.

The court documents said Sportsflight had agreed to make the Gulfstream IV executive jet available to fly at 12 hours' notice.

"The client says we're going to be very, very busy," Sportsflight told Richmor, according to the filing. "We're going to fly more than 50 hours a month."

The same documents quote Richmor President Mahlon Richards as saying "we were transporting government personnel and their invitees."

The court filing was brought to media attention by Reprieve, a group which advocates for prisoners' rights and focuses on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, in Cuba, where the United States has held high-profile terror suspects since 2001.

The Post described one such rendition flight that took place on August 12, 2003, when a Gulfstream IV aircraft carrying six passengers took off from Dulles International Airport near Washington and flew to Bangkok.

Before returning four days later, it touched down in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and Ireland, and appears to have coincided with the capture of Riduan Isamuddin, a suspected terrorist from Indonesia known as Hambali.

The entire journey cost U$339,228.05, the Post said.

Hambali, the alleged planner of the 2002 terror attacks in Bali, was captured in Thailand and would spend the next three years being flown between secret prisons until his transfer to Guantanamo, where he is currently held.

The Gulfstream IV was identified publicly in 2005 after it was used in the capture and rendition of a cleric in Milan who was flown to his native Egypt, where he says he was tortured.

Britain's Guardian newspaper, which also received the court documents, said the plane may have also been used in the rendition of senior Al-Qaeda militant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks who was later waterboarded 183 times in a single month.

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The New Yorker (magazine USA)
Thursday 1 September 2011


Flying Torture Victims 
(and the Red Sox)

Posted by Amy Davidson

If you’re going to get mixed up in a rendition program that extrajudicially flies people to secret prisons to be tortured—and I hope that you aren’t—it helps to pay your bills. The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration, has been shockingly quick to invoke the state-secrets privilege to get whole cases thrown out of court when they are brought by prisoners, including one who was kidnapped and beaten in what everyone agrees was a case of mistaken identity. (He was the subject of a Talk of the Town story in 2006.) But the government doesn’t seem to have thought through a legal fight in upstate New York between Richmor Aviation and SportsFlight Air about the invoices for a charter flight that carried people to be tortured. The lawyer for Richmor told the Washington Post,

    I kept waiting for [the government] to contact me. I kept thinking, “Isn’t someone going to come up here and talk to me?”

No, and the trial produced more than fifteen hundred pages of documents about the flights, all in open filings and transcripts, which Reprieve, a British human rights group, spotted. The A.P. [Associated Press] says that the judge did try to avoid going into depth about intelligence operations, saying in court, “Does this have anything to do with the contract? I mean, it’s all very interesting, and I would love to hear about it, but does it have anything to do with how much money is owed?”

What it does have to do with the money owed is interesting enough: a flight could cost over three hundred thousand dollars. The bills included charges for “assorted muffins and bagels” ($31.80) and also, according to the Post,     multiple calls to CIA headquarters; to the cell- and home phones of a senior CIA official involved in the rendition program; and to a government contractor, Falls Church-based DynCorp, that worked for the CIA.

The planes travelled with “letters of convenience,” meaning that they had the privileges of government flights, but the official who signed them does not seem to officially exist, at least under that name. Speaking of names, “SportsFlight” is not a casual one: according to the Guardian, “In between rendition flights the aircraft was used to fly the Boston Red Sox baseball team.” (Will that cause Rudolph Giuliani, who, as he like to remind us, is a Yankees fan, to reassess his support for war-on-terrorism detention policies? Or will he just wish that those particular flights had continued on to Guantánamo?)

It is an good day to talk about the protection of secrets, with the release of unredacted diplomatic cables from the WikiLeaks stash leading to charges and countercharges and confusion about who let them go and how. One answer to that is, of course, our government itself, which had the files poorly protected enough for hundreds of thousands of people to have access. Potentially harmful things were mixed up with dross, as well as with information that it would have been truly useful for the public to know.

What do we mean when we say that something is secret? The word tends to be used defensively, to protect the government from embarrassment that it deserves to feel, and aggressively, as with the absurd censoring of a book by Ali Soufan. (Lawrence Wright wrote about that case last week.) The rendition program was well known, in great detail; what the state-secrets privilege prevented was not disclosure but accountability. If someone in the government whose job it was to keep secrets had taken a sensible look at the billing case, rather than, as may have been, neglecting it, the result might have been the same—a laying open of the books. But we might have had a moral reckoning—one we badly need—and not just a tallying of bills.

This plane went on fifty-five flights—Baghdad, Bucharest, Bangkok, Guantanamo Bay—but there were a thousand involved in the program. One feels a bit sorry that their bills seem to have been paid, especially since it was our money, our government, our name attached to the planes and the torture and even the assorted muffins and bagels. (“We don’t ask questions,” the muffin vendor told the A.P. “We’re never told and we never ask. It could be a VIP, but to us it doesn’t matter. It’s just another customer.”) But maybe there are some stray unpaid invoices out there, and a sub-sub-sub-contractor who is angry, and a case that might let the public in.

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