Thursday, May 21, 2009


re·cid·i·vism (rĭ-sĭd'ə-vĭz'əm) noun

A slipping from a higher or better condition to a lower or poorer one: backslide, backsliding, lapse, recidivation, relapse. See better/worse, repetition.

President Obama is expected to give a speech today on national security issues and address the release of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Former Vice President Cheney is planning to follow with a speech of his own to argue against Obama's position. Meanwhile, the Pentagon released a report today that states 1 out of 7 released detainees returns to terrorist activity. The same article goes on to say that recidivism among prisoners in the United States is close to 68% within the first 3 years after being released.

I haven't read the actual report (I'm not sure if it's available to the public) and don't know the details, but the NY Times article implies that the Pentagon is exaggerating the detainee issue and is inflating the numbers of individuals that have returned to terrorist activities after being released. "Officials" said that "they believed that Defense Department employees, some of them holdovers from the Bush administration, were acting to protect their jobs." An exaggeration of a threat in order to achieve one's own personal agenda... now, why does that sound familiar?

The whole detainee issue is reminiscent of the post-9/11 rhetoric that came out of the Bush administration, suggesting that any choice other than Republican leadership would be a threat to our national security. The cries from the right about Gitmo have grown since Obama took office and have reached the point where Cheney is stating outright that the US is less safe now that Obama is president. Cheney making a controversial claim without providing any evidence to back it up is all too familiar as well. I would accuse him of recidivism, but that implies that he had a "better or higher condition" to fall from.

Despite my problems with the rhetoric coming from the right, I agree that the Guantanamo detainee issue is an important one. I don't think anyone wants to release a Gitmo prisoner that will only take up arms against us afterward. Some people have said that Guantanamo has been used by terrorist organizations as a propaganda tool and that shutting it down will diminish their recruiting abilities. This is a valid point, but I personally don't think it's the most important. I'm more concerned with the slippery slope we found ourselves on when we became involved in Guantanamo, Abu Gharib, SeeEyeAye black sites, and condoning extraordinary torture tactics. As trite as it may sound, shutting down Guantanamo is about protecting the values and ideals that make our country great.

Of course, we've trampled on those values and ideals in the past. In fact, the very existence of Guantanamo is a legacy of the Spanish-American War. A war which began under tenuous circumstances and is now largely thought to have been caused by fear mongering, xenophobia and yellow journalism. It's difficult to watch as the US relives these past mistakes.

I hope that Obama is able to make a strong case in his speech today and provides some sort of plan on what will be done with the detainees. There is a lot ambiguity surrounding the issue. Legal, moral, and otherwise. But maybe we can draw from our own experiences with recidivism before condemning the Guantanamo prisoners to do the same.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Belgian Wit

I continually forget to take good notes during the brewing process, which I'm told is crucial to making consistently good beer. Perhaps this time it was due to the fact that I had my first significant failure in a while.

The Recipe

Belgian Wit
4.50 lbs UK 2-row
4.50 lbs Flaked Wheat
1.0 oz Kent Goldings Hops Pellets (boil 60 mins)
.75 oz Coriander (crush and boil 5 mins)
.75 oz Bitter Orange Peel (boil 5 mins)
Belgian Wit Yeast - WLP 400

I made a yeast starter on Friday night, using 1/2 cup of DME and a couple of the Kent Goldings pellets. It's recommended to start the yeast several days before brewing, but I was unable to due to time constraints.

The first real step was to pre-heat the cooler to prevent temperature loss when adding the grain and that mash water. I boiled about one and a half gallons of water and used that to preheat. When I added the mash water and then the grain, that's when I ran into my problem. I did a good job of adding the grain slowly and stirring properly, but I still had a stuck sparge. I think I made a few serious mistakes.

First, I ran the flaked wheat through the grain mill. I've read in some places that this is recommended, but I think this added a lot of "dust" to the mash tun which helped it get stuck. Second, I didn't drain the mash tun of the first amount of water before I added the second. I think this disturbed the grain bed and again helped contribute to a stuck sparge. And finally, I turned the ball valve too far. I've since learned that doing so creates a "suction effect" which is another cause of a stuck sparge.

The end result was the entire thing had to be thrown out. I couldn't salvage the stuck sparge, even by blowing on the tube. Luckily, the screw up came long before I added any of the other ingredients, which meant all I had to re-purchase was the grain. I was determined to get this right, so I did exactly that a few days later and added some rice hulls as well to prevent a second stuck sparge.

The second attempt went very smoothly. The temperature of the grain bed was perfect for the first part of the mash schedule. I messed up a bit on the second stage by adding water that wasn't as hot as it should've been. So, I didn't give the grain a proper enzyme rest, but I don't think that will affect the beer too badly.

The hour long boil went without incident. I added the coriander in orange peel in the same grain bag during the last 5 minutes, and added pre-hydrated irish moss within the last minute. But, this is a Belgian Wit which is going to end up cloudy anyways.

My yeast starter had been working for four days by this point, so it should have been good and ready. After cooling the wort (which I think I did a really good job of this time, using 35 lbs of ice) I pitched the yeast, and the air lock was bubbling along the next morning.

I failed to take a really accurate gravity reading, because there was so much foam at the top of the wort. But I believe it was about 1.36, which is 2 off from the target. I think this was because I added too much water afterwards.

I let the beer sit in the primary fermenter for five days, and then transfered it to the secondary. When I took the cover off of the primary, I thought there was a bit of a strange smell. Almost like sulfur. I have an awful sense of smell though, and I could be wrong. But there was a lot of yeast at the top of the beer. I don't think I've ever transfered to a secondary after just 5 days, which might be why I've never seen it like this. I racked from the bottom of the fermenter, avoided grabbing the yeast floating at the top and the trub from the bottom. The beer in the secondary is still pretty cloudy, but again... it's a Belgian Wit.

It should be ready to bottle in a few days, and I'm hoping it turns out well. I'm thinking of taking another day this weekend and brewing up another summer beer.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The NYTimes reported on two American journalists that were caught crossing the border from China into North Korea and are being detained.

"When Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee were arrested on the border between China and North Korea under the still-unclear circumstances, they became unwitting pawns in the delicate international politics surrounding the North’s planned rocket launch, said a senior South Korean official."

I think that line hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, I think Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee are in for a long and awful stay in North Korea. It will be interesting to see if the US government will be at all successful in negotiating their release. I feel very bad for them.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Computer Security

I would really like to learn more about network security and get a better understanding of computers in general. I feel that as we become increasingly dependent on a technology, it behooves us to acquire a more refined knowledge of it. But then again, I'm not exactly an expert on the internal combustion engine that I use every day. Hell, I'd probably have trouble changing my own oil...

Anyway, I found these two articles (one, two) to be interesting/alarming. For the first one, I'm comforted only by the fact that the "instructions" being sent to the worm are scheduled to take place on April 1st. I'll naively continue to hope that some young 14 year-old with cheeto stained sweatpants and too much time on his hands came up with an excessively elaborate April Fools joke.

And the second article is part of a growing theme that I've taken note of. The Chinese are thought to be investing a lot into cyber-warfare. Since computer security and China are both topics I'm interested in, maybe this could turn out to be a future employment opportunity. Keep up the good work China!

Nuclear Proliferation

I don't look to Bill Maher or the celebrity panelists on Real Time for any revolutionary ideas on politics, but I'm a fan of the show's format and the content. The latest episode brought up the topic of Iran and nuclear proliferation, which I thought would be worth spending some more time thinking about.

Iran has continually made the case that they are not seeking nuclear weapons, but are merely trying to acquire an alternative source of energy. The Bush administration has viewed these claims to be dubious at best, and probably purposefully misleading. I understand the concern here, despite the fact that there hasn't been any conclusive evidence suggesting that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. There is reason to fear a nuclear Iran, which has made thinly veiled and not so thinly veiled threats against the US and its allies.

The opposite side of this argument is that the US has no right to tell Iran that it can't have nuclear weapons. This is a valid point, but is essentially irrelevant. The United States will not sit by idly as Iran acquires nuclear weapons. At least, you'd hope they wouldn't. The question then becomes, what is to be done? The Obama administration seems to be taken a softer approach, which may or may not get results. The recent rebuff from Khamenei after Obama reached out to them is not exactly a good sign, but I think it's just political posturing on the part of Iran.

But really, what's the incentive for Iran to stop its quest for nuclear weapons? The talk about "keeping all options on the table" by both Bush and Obama is meant to suggest that military involvement is a possibility, and I think having Bush at the helm for the past eight years has made Iran take this threat a lot more seriously. However, it seems like Iran's nuclear ambitions are being spurred on by America's flaunting of military might. Perhaps this softer approach isn't such a bad idea.

Unfortunately, there is precedence is working against the carrot approach. Iranians need only look to Libya as an example of what happens when you play by America's rules. The answer is, not a whole lot. Qaddafi isn't exactly happy with what his country has been given as a result to giving up nuclear weapons and admitting responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing. But maybe the problem is with Qaddafi himself and the US is merely waiting for the next leader to begin the thawing of relations in earnest. I think Libya is an often overlooked accomplishment of the Bush administration, and I'll be interested in reading about it in more detail in the future when the details are more readily available.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

怎么说 "Avast, ye matey?"

The US navy and several Chinese naval vessels had a "significant encounter" yesterday, 25 miles south of Hainan island. The event brought to mind a recent article by Robert Kaplan that discussed what a future confrontation between China and the US would entail, along with a subsequent article from the same author that described the increasing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean and his views on the changing role of the US navy.

The brief clash in the South China Sea between the two nations is probably not a good sign in the eys of Kaplan who states that "a U.S.-Chinese understanding at sea is crucial for the stabilization of world politics in the twenty-first century." However, I do not believe this encounter is a portent for US-Sino naval relations. As Kapaln suggests, China is a competitor of the United States and not an opponent. The relationship could probably be better served by closer communication between the two militaries, and indeed such a trend has been taking place.

I am certainly no expert on the subject and there are people that would disagree with me. When I was living in China last year I just such a conversation. A friend and I were on an overnight train and were sharing a compartment with a group of naval soldiers that were on leave. After they learned we could speak Mandarin, we quickly found ourselves in a political discussion. A common question that I faced while living in China was "do you think the US and China will go to war?" Inevitably, this came up. I expressed my opinion and when I turned it back to one of the navy guys, he told me that he "was certain that they would go to war." He didn't elaborate much further, but said that the US and China get worked up over seemingly insignificant problems all the time, which to him meant that a larger problem surely was on the horizon.

I questioned the validity of that statement then and continue to do so now. The accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1998, or the spy plane collision in 2001 are but two examples of "big problems" that the countries were able to work through without further loss of life. And I think that relations between the two countries are much better now than they were 10 years ago, and the prospect of conflict is that much less likely as a result.

A bit of a wandering post here, but I'm trying to get into the habit of writing more often.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

IPA and Irish Red

I made my second attempt at an all-grain beer recently. I borrowed a recipe from and made some slight variations to it. My recipe was as follows:

Irish Red Ale

9 lbs. American 2-Row Malt
2 lbs. Crystal/Caramel Malt 40L
2 oz. Roasted Barley

60 minute mash @ 154.

1 oz. Willamette @ 60 minutes
1 oz. Willamette @ 15 minutes

Irish Ale Yeast

I was a bit ambitious on this brew day. I was hoping to use my recently acquired turkey-fryer and brew outside, but the water has been shut off for the winter so the pipes won't burst. So I was stuck inside again. After the last all-grain batch, I knew to start early.

Before making my new batch, I bottled the IPA that I made just three weeks ago. Normally, I would move a beer from the primary fermenter to the secondary but because of time constraints and a "busy schedule" I decided not to. It's probably the quickest I've put a beer into bottles in a long time, and hopefully it won't suffer as a result. I tried a sample before bottling it and it was very bitter and hoppy, like an IPA should be.

I broke my hydrometer right before brewing, so my notes aren't very good. I feel like I did a better job hitting my target temperature right off the bat. The mash tun is also continuing to work just fine.

I still haven't purchased a wort-chiller, so I again left it to sit over night before pitching the yeast. I'm not sure how much this will affect the end result. We shall see.