The Second Version


Il Minimo Comune Denominatore

Sembra essere quello a cui tende Berlusconi: invece che riproporsi come il rappresentante delle forze liberali e moderatamente nazionaliste, facendosi promotore di un messaggio preciso e destinato ad un pubblico ben definito, dà un colpo al cerchio ed uno alla botte cercando di racimolare voti da tutti i cantoni.

Ultima nella lunga serie di Berlusconate, da quanto riporta la Gazzetta di Parma del 30 Marzo, egli dichiara di volere concedere il voto agli immigrati.

Penso che dovrò votare Lega, e per un semplice motivo: il diritto di voto è meglio che rimanga esclusiva dei cittadini di un dato paese. Tutto lì.

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The Truth About Analyzers

The sad story of the woman forced to remove her nipple rings at an airpot in Texas by idiotic TSA personnel is all over the web; the comment at Atomic Nerds is probably one of the most interesting.

But no discussion of airport security (and madness thereof) is complete without mentioning analyzers for explosives, and I see there's a lot of misconceptions about these machines:
The sniffers use highly refined gas chromatography, which is the same ballpark as mas spectogrophy (sic)..
No, it is not the same ballpark. In fact, gas chromatography and mass spectrography are based on completely different principles: the former, on the gas-liquid distribution of solutes; the latter on the motion of ions in electrical and magnetic fields.

However, a mass spectrometer is often used as a detector downstream a gas chromatograph, because the two instruments just combine well (no need to go into details) and the MS provides abundant information about the compounds that have been separated passing through the GC.

Moreover, what is "highly refined" supposed to mean? Maybe optimized for instumental compactness, ease of operation and speed of anlaysis. But surely not optimized for high selectivity, linearity of response and all that - those are conflicting priorities. A field instrument of this kind does not even need certain features in fact.

From what I've read on the internet, the typical sensor for these applications is a device called Ion Mobility Spectrometer - a variation on the MS principle, which ionizes the analytes and separates ions by forcing them to move through an inert atmosphere under the influence of an electrical field.

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Tibetan Scenarios

How could Tibet regain if not indipendence at least real autonomy from China?

I don't think that international pressure is going to accomplish much; the Chinese regime has a way too thick skin for that. And they also wield considerable military power, and immense commercial power. No-one in the rest of the world can take China head on even in a commercial war at this point; even a strong gesture as boycotting the olympic games is pretty much going to remain just that - a gesture with little weight.

As a few millennia of human history teach, when non-violent methods fail, violent ones may work. However, for Tibet even that is not much of a solution, because China has both the capabilities and intentions to brutally crush any Tibetan rebellion - as it's happening now.

So what is left? The military doctrines developed to allow small and under-equipped forces to take on a much stronger enemy: guerrilla and terrorism. The Tibetan rebels don't have enough troops (if any) to reach the level of guerrilla, so terrorism is the only violent option they may have.

But terrorism as in attack on non-combatants works quite well against western democracies, where the life and well-being of citizens, and their opinions, are held in quite high regard and media remain free. In China, where massive social engineering, deportation, arbitrary imprisonment, mass executions (and mining disasters) and strict governmantal control on the media are the norm, civilian casualties will go almost unnoticed.

Back to Clausewitz then: what is most important issue for the Chinese regime? Not the well-being of its citizens, but rather the strength of the economy. An attack that forced the Shanghai stock exchange to close for one day would be first impossible to censor; and second, cause much more damage than the death of dozens of peasants. Targeting the central nodes of Chinese economy is the only way Tibetans may use to force China to compromise.

Problem is, someone would have to help the Tibetans with getting started, and any country doing so would be exposed to Chinese ire, which is something most countries want to avoid. Being no Communism or Islam involved from the Tibetan side, there are almost no chances of help (or meddling, if you like) from international, non-state actors.
Moreover, initially the Chinese reaction is bound to be exceedingly brutal and thorough; there is a definite chance that any Tibetan terrorist organization may be rendered ineffective. Only a prolonged campaign might succeed.

Another possibility is for the Dalai Lama to act like Gandhi in a non-violent uprising, and he himself become the target of the repression and brutality of the Chinese regime. However, I am highly skeptical: I think that Gandhi's success was due to an unique situation - first of all, a basically decent foe like the United Kingdom of 1930-40 - and is not going to be repeated anytime soon.

But while I can list scenarios, the decision of what course of action to take is definitely not in my hands. Oh, and strategic analysis is by its own nature cold and hearthless.

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Una Conversione per Tutti

La recento conversione al cattolicesimo di Magdi Allam ha provocato (e qualcuno ne è sorpreso?) una serie di polemiche da parte mussulmana.

Hamas ritiene che questo sia incitamento all'odio ed al razzismo da parte del Vaticano, e che quindi sia impossibile sperare in buoni rapporti fra le due religioni. Ma per quanto questa dichiarazione possa essere preoccupante, non si tratta certo di una novità visti i noti metodi simil-mafiosi di Hamas.

Più interessanti sono le critiche fatte da "A Common World. Secondo quanto riportato dal Corriere, si tratta più che altro di una disputa teologica del tipo "Il mio dio è meglio del tuo". Mentre per me c'è ben poco da discutere sulla conversione di Allam, e le dispute teologiche mi fanno venire il latte alle ginocchia, riconosco che se i contrasti fra Cristianesimo ed Islam fossero tutti sul mero piano teologico, ci sarebbero poche ragioni per preoccuparsi.

Però penso che ci sia un fondo di verità nelle obiezioni del gruppo di saggi (si spera) islamici: è difficile pensare che il battesimo di una personalità pubblica fatto niente meno che dal Papa in persona non serva anche a mandare un messaggio a tutti quelli in ascolto.

Se poi sia legittimo o meno adombrarsi per il contenuto di tale messaggio, è altra questione.

Dai blogs, la lettera di Allam che spiega il suo percorso spirituale ed un'altra riflessione sulla vicenda.

HTML corretto il 28/03.

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L'inverno è finito, e la primavera sta arrivando. Non sentite l'aria dolce? E' ora di risvegliarsi e di uscire a fuori a celebrare intorno ai fuochi nei cerchi di pietre... che io stia diventando pagano??



A Small Slice of America - Misplaced

Today I went to gas station for a bit of gasoline - my offroader is methane-powered, but gas is required at engine startup and I like to have some as emergency fuel reserve anyway. But a few liters are enough.

While I was refulling, another guy parked his big, obviously American truck next to my Terios. Curious about the whole thing, I kept looking: the fella was driving a Ford Bronco - I don't know the year, but it could have been 10 years old, easily. He began refuelling his truck with gasoline, and his expression wasn't so happy.

And you can bet: with gasoline at the cost of 1.358 € per liter, a Ford Bronco must be as welcome as a Sumerian curse, methinks...

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Different From Birth

What makes Europe and America so different in culture and politics? It's ridiculous to think that genetic makeup may have something to do with it.

One reason, in my opinion, has to do with geography and other rather incidental facts.

The settlers in the USA wanted to build a society different from the ones they left (generally, they only wanted to be left alone and live as free, indipendent men), but the main point here is that they could.

The territory of the USA (and parts of Canada) was vast, rich of water, fertile land, natural resources and so on. And most important, it was rather empty: the population density of the American Indians was low and many of them were more or less nomads. They tried to resist colonization, but ultimately the technological gap was too wide and the native society too fractitious to mount a significant resistance. American Indians were ruthlessly wiped out and the settlers remained the sole dominators of a huge and rich stretch of land - where they could build the society they preferred free of costraints. It took a lot of hard work, but they succeeded.

In Europe instead things were very different: population density had always been relatively high since the Roman age at least, with power (and weapons) strictly in the hands of the ruling classes. Every attempt at revolution or reformation had to go against deeply entrenched customs and social equilibria; there was nowhere to go (except America, after a certain time) for the dissenters. While in America new ideas and social models could simply expand, in Europe they had to compete, and very hard, against existing ones.

Those are important factors to explain the differences we can see today.
Of course, some American don't even bother to think about these issues but insted keep chanting "America the best, Fuck the rest".

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Cervelli Sottovuoto

Nel corso delle mie peregrinazioni per lavoro, sono passato di fronte al centro sociale "Fuori Controllo" (o Kontrollo?) alla periferia di Reggio Emilia.

Ed ecco una selezione degli slogan in vista:

- Stop al genocidio - Gaza vivrà
- Quando il mondo è vendita... ribellarsi è naturale
- Con le vostre regole siamo tutti irregolari*

Se il sottovuoto prolunga la conservazione, questi cervelli si conserveranno intatti per secoli. Ho faticato per dominare la tentazione di applicare agli striscioni liquidi combustibili seguiti da sorgenti d'accensione.

Parlando di cervelli a lunga conservazione, in questi giorni fioccano gli esempi: 15 mesi di detenzione per una "mano morta" - non so quanti se ne beccano in media per una rapina a mano armata; un padre sotto indagine per avere tenuto sotto controllo i cellulari dei figli minorenni - il messaggio è che lo Stato può tenere sotto controllo chiunque, ma guai ai genitori che si vogliono personalmente interessare della vita dei figli; Veltroni esorta a ratificare la convenzione internazionale sui diritti umani - perchè in questo modo gli abusi della polizia saranno più vietati di prima.

* Questo è l'unico motto con il quale posso simpatizzare un po', ma come sapete le mie ragioni sono completamente diverse.

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Sweet Dreams

I'm pretty tired tonight, more mentally than anything. But most of all I'm not much in the mood to consume my eyes and sacrifice my sleep in front of a computer monitor.

So I am going to get cozy under my duvet while the wind is blowing outside, read some pages out of a book and sleep (rather) early. I only need a fireplace and maybe a glass of fine Port to make it perfect...

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The "I should write something in this bloody blog" Post

As I said.

But the only episode worth narrating is how last Saturday at the range I put only 9 out of 30 shots of 9mm on target. Not a comfortable subject for conversation, you understand.

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Some Different Music

In a deviation from my usual "metal, as heavy as you can take it" fare, here's a few videos of a different kind. Still, not exactly easy-listening.

I know only one song by Front 242, but it's a catchy one: Headhunter (Warning, a couple of scenes aren't very safe for work).

I was unable to locate a decent video of the live version of this song, but on stage they have a real drummer for a more powerful and aggressive sound - play loud for best results.

Another song I like is a techno remix of the Das Boot theme; some sources attribute it to Kraftwerk but in reality it is by U96 - another German techno ensemble. Anyway, here it is...

Even this song seems to exist in more than one version, but they're similar enough. Better than a lot of the commercial crap that infests clubs these days.

When talking about electronic music, one cannot ignore Laibach. This Slovenian band also owns the dubious record of being the most provocative I've heard of. Am I exaggerating, you think? Judge by yourself - Tanz Mit Laibach:

And this one too - God Is God:

And if that wasn't enough - Slovania:

At the intersection of metal and electronic music, there is Rammstein. These German chaps know pretty well how to stir up some shit, for sure. Some also define them as "Laibach for adolescents", and it's quite fitting. Here's a song of theirs, a classic in its live glory - Du Hast.

Have a fine mosh session, and stay safe from fire!

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Martello & Coltello

TARANTO - Assassinate barbaramente, a martellate. Enrico Brandimarte, un primario ospedaliero di 48 anni ha fatto così strage della sua famiglia, prima di uccidersi recidendosi l'arteria femorale con un bisturi.
Ma almeno possiamo consolarci sapendo che l'assassino non aveva una pistola: in quel caso, le sue vittime sarebbero state molto più morte.

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Stasera molti locali in tutt'Italia verranno invasi da una famelica orda scomposta ed assatanata che si accalcherà intorno a spogliarellisti assunti per l'occasione.

Sto parlando di quelle donne che per festeggiare la giornata dedicata a loro si comportano come e peggio di giovani uomini infoiati.

Comunque io ho le mie tre o quattro birre con gli amici che mi aspettano nel paese di montagna, ed il resto poco mi tocca...

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Forget About Brakes

When driving on snowy roads, that is. Brake must be used very carefully and gently; it's better to slow down by shifting into a lower gear. And never ever brake in the middle of a corner (even ABS won't help much).

And a full-time 4x4 reacts different from a front wheel drive car like the ones I have driven for years; things may vary as a result of how torque is spread (some rally cars give more torque to the rear in order to facilitate powerslides) but at least my Daihatsu Terios doesn't tend to swerve when I push on the gas, even on slippery surfaces. But while braking, it's more difficult to control.

So, today I was driving to work on this back road (I didn't want to take it, but I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere) which winds bend after bend up and down the hills at the eastern limit of Parma province. It was snowing and the tarmac was covered by 1 cm or so of heavy, watery snow; my offroad mounts 4-season (if they exist) tyres. I took a bend to the right - not a sharp one and I was doing 40 km/h - and realized to my dismay that I was going straight towards the guard-rail; steering the wheel had no effect at all.

I had resigned myself to get back home with a dented car, when I realized my foot was still on the brake pedal. I released it and behold, front wheels instantly regained grip! They were steered way to the right, so my car immediately turned towards the other side of the road (a earthen cliff beyond the gutter), but I was ready to steer gently to the left, applying no brakes but a little gas, and I was happily back on the road. Not-so-luckily, because not many people drive along bendy country roads when it snows, there was no traffic, or things could have turned out worse. But it took a little while to shake off that adrenaline.

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Soluzioni all'Italiana

In Italia forse più che in altri paesi ci sono una serie di carenze sistematiche - prima di tutto, una burocrazia soffocante e l'enorme importanza delle conoscenze altolocate - per le quali le leggi vengono sempre fatte rispettare in modo carente ed incostante se non arbitrario.

Poi, essendo la classe politica più interessata a mantenere la poltrona che altro, i problemi vengono in genere affrontati solo quando un avvenimento motlo grave genera sufficiente oltraggio nell'opinione pubblica. Si lavora quindi sull'onda dell'emozione ed il parlamento rapidamente approva leggi scritte malamente, in fretta e furia, ma quasi sempre draconiane - che prevedono multe esorbitanti, anni di carcere eccetera.

Ma a queste variazioni legislative non corrisponde quasi mai alcuna riforma delle forze dell'ordine, della burocrazia statale e della magistratura, che quindi continuano ad agire nello stesso modo inefficiente. Le nuove leggi draconiane vengono fatte rispettare nello stesso modo delle vecchie, ed il risultato finale è che poche persone vengono punite duramente, mentre per le altre cambia poco o nulla.

Solo nel campo dell'evasione fiscale Prodi ha ottenuto qualcosa, ma a quale prezzo? Uno stato di polizia fiscale e l'economia peggiore da anni.

Ultimo caso della serie, la nuova legge per la sicurezza sul lavoro, che punta tutto sull'insprimento delle sanzioni (e che sta ha prodotto strepiti dall'estrema sinistra per non essere punitiva abbastanza). In realtà quello che manca non sono nè regole nè sanzioni - ed anche le dotazioni di sicurezza nelle aziende sono in genere sufficienti - ma la cultura della sicurezza.

Questa cultura però non si può instillare in poche ore di corsi aziendali, soprattuto in quelle persone che già sono carenti sia come cultura specifica della loro mansione, che come cultura generale. Anzi, chi già possiede una vasta cultura generale può da solo identificare situazioni di rischio senza molto bisogno di istruzione specifica. Invece, chi manca delle più elementari nozioni di chimica, fisica e logica difficilmente potrà capire ed interiorizzare il perchè di certi divieti.

Ma lo stato mentale più difficile da eradicare è il "non capiterà a me", che invece è un fattore importante. Servono sì azioni educative mirate (sto parlando in burocratese??) ma secondo me è pure necessario rendere i lavoratori responsabili delle proprie azioni, anche con punizioni per chi non rispetta le norme di sicurezza.

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The Thrown Dog Case

An idiotic cunt who also happens to be an US Marine apparently throws a dog puppy off a bridge in Iraq, and in a bout of further stupidity has the whole thing caught on camera.

I'm still not completely sure the story is real, but that seems to be the case. And in that case the asshole deserves a punishment (proportional to the offense, of course): gratuitious cruelty is not the appropriate behaviour for a member of the Marines Corps.

This said, the video was even on Italian TV and websites and the media treatment of the story makes me want to kick some sorry journalist ass. Expressions of shock and horror are the most common reactions, and the usual blathering about how all this will tarnish the image of the West and so on. Fair enough, but in proportion the gratuitious mistreatment of a dog earns more condemnation than, say, the numerous decapitations and other atrocities committed by Islamic extremists.

It's not that anchormen go out of the way interjecting their opinions, but it's the whole tone of the news; the authors and editors convey a strong sense of outrage about that barbarous act. But if outrage is strong about an abused dog, decapitations and massacres of children should redline the outrage-o-meter. Instead, the media most often work hard to be neutral and non-judgemental in those cases. Something stinks, in there.

Moreover, if we accept the view that the reputation of the West can be tarnished by a few mean jackasses, we should also accept that the image of Islam can be dragged through the mud by all the atrocities committed in the name of Allah. And many more similar instances. But no, we must always be forgiving and understanding, to the point of social suicide.

What stinks is the loss of moral compass in the West - something that I often bemoan. It's the Age of Trifles - when all basic needs and many superfluous ones are satisfied, people agitate for trifles. It's the nauseating relativism and moral equivalence of much of the intellectual class.

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Abbondanza Orientale

In una storia reminescente di uno dei peggiori momenti itaglioti - il famigerato Merolone - apprendiamo che la modella giapponese Serena Kozakura è stata assolta dall'accusa di danneggiamento di proprietà privata dopo che il suo avvocato ha dimostrato che la fanciulla non poteva comprimere il suo seno da 110 cm di circonferenza nel pertugio dal quale il vandalo (o la vandala) si è introdotto.

Questa è anche la vendetta degli autori di manga ed anime con ragazze dalle improbabili tette sterminate, ed il trionfo dei feticisti giapponesi: nella sua galleria fotografica, Serena appare vestita di completo da ginnastica; costume da cameriera; vestita d'acqua mentre fa il bagno; costume da gattina e qualche tipo di corsetto nero. Ci manca solo la divisa da scolaretta...

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Chemicals Better Left Untouched

In the vast world of chemistry, there are many chamicals that can ruin your day - or your whole life.

But not all chemicals are nasty in the same way: some are toxic, others corrosive. There are chemicals that can detonate more or less on a whim, and others that ignite very easily.

So it's difficult to say what is the Nastiest Substance in the World; the competition should at least be broken into categories. I won't enter into the topic of how easy or difficult it is to achieve protection from the various chemicals, or how likely exposition is, because it would be too long a discussion.

Acute toxicity: Ricin, nerve agents and other toxins are at the top of the list. These cause an array of unpleasant effects that culminate in death, which is rather rapid but not painless. Another piece of work is dimethyl sulphate: it causes blisters on skin and necrosis of eyes and respiratory tract.

Chronic toxicity: Asbestos is pretty bad, in the vicinity of aromatic amines and azoic dyes. They cause various ilnesses, among them types of cancer which are hard to treat. Anything with an aromatic ring has at least the potential to bind to DNA and screw it up; there is a pretty long list of other reactive groups that can possibly cause cancer.

Flammability: Carbon disulphide, with its autoignition temperature of 90 - 100 °C. It presents other reactive hazards and it's toxic, too. Many low molecular weight ethers are extremely flammable as well. Vapors behave as gases, which means that they can travel quite a distance before they reach a remote source of ignition.

Explosion: Organic perchlorate esters are prone to explode if the chemists in the lab have the wrong haircut, but someone embarked on a project to test the limits of divine benevolence and prepared fluorine perchlorate. The stuff is so unstable that it detonates upon crystallization. Ethers, if stored in contact with oxygen, produce unstable peroxydes which have caused many accidents - especially when the young chmistry student applies excessive force to remove a ground glass stopper from a bottle buried for years in the depts of some laboratory cabinet. The infamous explosive TATP belongs to the same category. Though not explosive in themselves, strong oxydizers will easily produce explosions and fires if they come into contact with combustible substances. Liquid oxygen is well-known for that behaviour, and treated with due respect (and those who don't show respect don't live for long). But if liquid oxygen is bad, liquid fluorine is devilish: it is an even stronger oxydizer, and corrodes everything except some fluorinated polymers and some metals, because passivation protects them. It is hypergolic with hydrocarbon fuels and many other substances. But even fluorine can be topped by...

The Nastiest of Them All: Chlorine Trifluoride. Even less domesticated than fluorine, it is extremely reactive and corrosive. It causes everything except passivated metals to ignite and burn - yes, concrete does burn in contact with ClF3, as does flesh. It was investigated as a rocket fuel, but it proved to be too reactive even for that. Its only practical use nowadays is as cleaning agent in chemical vapor deposition chambers for semiconductor production - making it the most extreme cleaning process I'm aware of.
Ah, the stuff is also higly toxic. But it does not cause cancer, hooray!

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Winter Hits Back

That's what we're gonna get tomorrow starting from the afternoon. Freezing level at 600 meters means snow on the mountains and hills, and cold rain in the plains. And I still have to travel here and there for work: tomorrow my trip will remain in the plain, but I don't know what Wednesday will bring. Ah, it's time to put my offroader to some use, then.

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Flu Strikes on Saturdays

Of course, shit happens during the weekend. My flu developed during Saturday afternoon and reached it full force at night: I had only a little fever, but I felt weak and had widespread bone and muscle ache.

I tried to sleep all night, but my sleep was far from peaceful. I rested again on sunday afternoon and now I feel pretty much OK.

Ready for a new bunch of computers to install tomorrow...

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