“Even conceding these points, such an appointee would not stay young and attractive for ever and later on could well become a problem.”

Via Letters of Note, Why Women Should Not Be Trade Commissioners. The following document was written in 1963 to the Director of Trade Commissioner Services as a protest against the possible appointment of a woman as an Australian trade commissioner.

Although the woman, Beryl Wilson, was later appointed, the Deputy Director of the Department of Trade and Industry (now DFAT) stressed that her appointment should not be treated ‘in any sense as a precedent.’

The Australian government has made the letter available here. Go to the cut below for a transcript of it.

I am absolutely fascinated that something like this could have happened as late as 1963; it feels like a relic from a time beyond current human memory, or from my grandparents’ era at the very earliest, but instead it was written while my parents were very much alive. In only 45 years, Australian (and American) culture has changed so much that the document not only reads like satire, but that if it were penned today, the writer would most likely be fired for it.

In particular, I love how the letter frankly states that the only woman who could possibly-maybe-conceivably-potentially be of any remote use is a “young and attractive one,” but because she will turn into a nasty old battleaxe eventually, that could be a problem.

Also interesting from the letter is point vi, “If we engaged single graduates as trainees, most of them would probably marry within five years”, is a reference to the Public Service Act 1901, which prohibited married women from working in Public Service. (See for instance Ruby Payne-Scott, one of the early developers of radio astronomy, who worked for the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization until her secret marriage was discovered and she was discharged.) The Australian Federal government did not repel the marriage bar until 1966.

My favorite line (that is, aside from the absolutely amazing “battleaxe” comment) is this one: “It is difficult to visualise them as Trade Commissioners, firstly because they could not mix nearly as freely with businessmen as men do. Most mens clubs, for instance, do not allow women members[.]” It forthrightly recognizes that such men’s-only spaces are a barrier to women in the work place — which is itself correct, though of course the letter writer draws the conclusion that this means women should go and that the discriminatory institutions should remain.

Click here to see a transcript of the letter

17th and Eye, Then and Now

Shorpy is one of my favorite sites on all of the intertubes, probably in part because a large number of the photos are from the Washington, D.C. area. And also because the commenters on Shorpy may possibly be the most polite and informative commenters of any website ever, so along with the cool pictures you get random smatterings of history, personalized by the photos. (Like the photo here, accompanied by an explanatory newspaper article: “‘Do parties in individual marriages believe in birth control?’ asked the interviewer as a final question. ‘I do,’ said Miss Taylor, frankly, as she bent over her desk to resume her work.”)

Anyway, I’ve walked by 17th and I probably hundreds of times since moving to D.C., because the Farragut metro is located there, so seeing this picture of it from 1922, beside a picture of how it currently looks, was pretty jarring.


seventeenth and I


seventeenth and I today

(The full size photo of the 1922 picture is worth looking at, it’s incredibly detailed.)

Maybe one day they’ll have a Google Street View Time Traveler. Same as the current street view, only wherever there’s a photo of the location from a given time period, it crops up alongside the modern street view. I would waste so much time on a site like that.

As a bonus cool thing for the day, while writing this post, I happened to come across a page on Shorpy, the mining boy, whom the website was named for: What we know about Shorpy Higginbotham, 99 years after his photo was taken.


Sometimes, Seeing Hidden Messages in a Political Text Does Not Make You a Crazy Person

It’s old news now, but still hilarious: Governor Schwarzenegger tells California Legislator “Fuck You” in Coded Message. Gov. Schwarzenegger proves that the key to getting away with doing socially inappropriate things is originality:


Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson called the message a “coincidence.” Both the awkwardness of the phrasing (“but the legislature just kicks the can down the alley”?) and and statistical unlikeliness of such a happenstance suggests, however, that Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson is a liar.

So, what are the odds of the first letters of each line of a message neatly forming the phrase “fuck you”? At the very best: 1 in 8,031,810,176.* However, add in first letter frequencies into the calculation, as well as the odds of the Governor’s message happening to contain just enough lines to tell off the California State Assembly?

Well, it’s 1 in a number much higher than the total California debt, which is currently somewhere north of 66 billion.


* The View From LL2 disclaims any representation or warranty concerning the accuracy or reliability of any mathematical calculations that may appear on this site.

Mission Report: Agent Mittens Was Terminated by a Russian Sleeper Operative Disguised as a Taxi Driver

Operation Cornflakes may have seemed pretty silly, but it was nothing compared to Operation Acoustic Kitty. The plan involved wiring up a cat so that it could be used as a mobile recording device. Unfortunately, due to the fact that cats are cats, and they do not take orders from the CIA, they had to turn him into Frankenfeline to make the scheme even partially operational:

“They slit the cat open, put batteries in him, wired him up. The tail was used as an antenna. They made a monstrosity. They tested him and tested him. They found he would walk off the job when he got hungry, so they put another wire in to override that.”

They then took the $20 million dollar tabby, and put him out on Wisconsin Ave. to go spy on some Russians. The cat promptly got run over by a taxi, and Operation Acoustic Kitty came to a premature end.

From the CIA memorandum [PDF]:

“We have satisfied ourselves that it is indeed possible [REDACTED]. This is in itself a remarkable achievement. Knowing that cats can indeed be trained to move short distances [REDACTED] we see no reason to believe that a [REDACTED] cat can not be similarly trained to approach [REDACTED]. Again, however, the environmental and security factors in using this technique in a real foreign situation force us to conclude that for our [REDACTED] purposes, it would not be practical.”

So, it took twenty million dollars and a dead Frankenkitty to conclude that although a cat will do simple tricks if it suits the cat’s purposes, cats do not make ideal secret agents. That is some ground breaking research right there. I think the CIA would have been better off re-investing in Skinner’s Project Pigeon.


OMG!!1 Arrested!~!!


Ever since Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), a limited constitutional right for lawyers to advertise their services has been recognized. Even now, legal advertising remains subject to a million rules and requirements, in an attempt to “maintain the dignity of the legal profession” (because advertising is only something those baser, non-legal professions engage in).

I suspect the ad above is the sort of thing regulators feared would result if legal advertising were permitted. When I saw it, my first instinct was that it was a photoshop. Googling the attorney involved, however, brought up his blog and confirms the ad’s existence.

The ad does not violate any of the Model Rules 7.1-7.5, so it is not legally unethical, but I’m sure the ABA Commission on Advertising would feel it is in extreme violation of their Aspirational Goals for Lawyer Advertising. Among other things, these goals state that advertising should avoid “inappropriately dramatic music, unseemly slogans, hawkish salespersons, premium offers, slapstick routines or outlandish settings.” ‘Unseemly slogan’ and ‘slapstick routine’ might apply here. (However, the ad actually seems to comply perfectly with another ABA goal: “Lawyers who advertise should use marketing professionals to target audiences and present clear messages.” I’d say “OMG!! Arrested?” is both finely targeted at the intended clientele, and is, through brief, extreme clear in its message.) But violating an ABA goal is not the same as being in breach of professional conduct standards:

Among professionals, there is a difference between what one may do, without violating a rule, and what is seemly:

Simply because free speech allows us to make fools of ourselves is no reason we should avail ourselves of the opportunity. For then, sadly, it is the whole profession that suffers. In re Kotts, 364 N.W.2d 400, 407 (Minn. 1985).

While it’s not going to be winning the “ABA Award for Dignity in Lawyer Advertising,” I actually really like the ad; I imagine it is very effective marketing for the frat boy DUI scene, and it’s cute in an “aww, look, old people trying to be trendy!” kind of way.

One final note though: the ad’s first listed means of contact is texting. To me, that’s the only shocking part about this ad. You can obtain legal representation via text? Damn. What about through instant message? Do law firms have AIM screennames now?

And if you get arrested and the cops let you make one phone call, can you opt to send one text instead?


The Biochemical Economics Revolution, or How A Spot On Our X Chromosomes Caused Us To Buy a Nintendo Wii on Credit.

In addition to biophysical economics, from this paper it looks like there may also be biochemical economics: “The MAOA Gene Predicts Credit Card Debt”.

The study behind the article compared rates of credit card debt — i.e., having any credit card debt at all, not the amount of it — and found it to be associated with the presence of certain forms of MAOA. As far as the authors are aware, “this is the first article to show a specific gene variant is associated with real world economic behavior.”

MAOA is a gene that does something scientificky to brain chemistry. Variants of MAOA that are less efficient in the way they metabolize serotonin and other compounds have been associated with increased impulsiveness, aggression, and addiction. MAOA is basically one of the only genes I can actually name, because it crops up in pop science news articles every other month or so. (The only other gene I can name is sonic hedgehog, but that’s for more different reasons). Among many other attributes, MAOA’s been linked to increases in likelihood of joining a gang, or if in a gang using a weapon, rates of alcoholism, and suspecpability to sugar pills.

And now, possibly, it’s also been linked to rates of credit card debt. From the study:

Because credit card debt is a relatively expensive form of debt, our prior intuition is that, all other things being equal, it would be used more by those individuals seeking immediate gratification, displaying less consideration of future consequences, and reduced information processing. Hence, we hypothesize that people with less transcriptionally efficient alleles of the MAOA gene are more likely to accrue credit card debt.

The study concludes that “the results presented here refute the blank slate theory of economic behavior.” By ‘blank slate,’ the authors are not referring to the traditional blank slate theory, which holds that humans have more or less no natural imprinting, but rather to economic approaches that treat all humans as having the same natural imprint — the idea that we are all phenotypically Homo economicus.

While the idea sounds very tidy in theory — a gene that controls the rate of future discounting! I bet we can link this to the financial crisis somehow. Quick, someone check the DNA of Wall Street traders! — I’m not quite converted yet. It strikes me as being way too likely to result in the flourishing of the same just-so stories that evolutionary psych always falls prey too. Confirming that “impulsive people have more credit card debt” just isn’t particularly revolutionary. While linking it to a specific gene gives it an added dimension of coolness, it doesn’t actually add anything to economics on its own anymore than linking impulsive behavior to unstable childhoods does. So it’s neat, but economists don’t need to be rushing out to get their PhD’s in molecular biology any time soon.


And Now For Something Completely Different: Non-Fake Space Law

If for some reason you’re interested in reading about real space law, as opposed to the fun space law that we like to feature here, Opinio Juris has had a couple posts up lately discussing issues of private enterprises investing in space exploration. Helium-3 mining, which has been been something of a science fiction trope over the years, is closer to becoming science reality, but as mentioned in previous posts, there’s quite a few unsettled questioned regarding private ownership and appropriation of natural resources in space. These unsettled legal issues will be a barrier to development in space:

[S]ignificant public or private investment in helium-3 mining would be predicated on a stable legal regime concerning the property and ownership issues of mined lunar resources. Thus … it is in the U.S.’s interest to take part in the construction of a lunar resource regime (be it treaty, international organization, or other policy option) sooner, rather than later.

Although it is something of a chicken and an egg question — while an improved space law regime will open the path towards greater investment in space exploration, the development of new space technologies will itself spur an evolution in the current legal framework:

When you have teen-aged hobbyists sending payloads as high as NASA research balloons, then you know the regulatory environment is about to undergo a basic change.


The Law of Aliens, Part III.2: Aliens in South Africa and Aliens in France

Editor’s Note: Yesterday, I said I’d write about the hypothetical example of aliens landing in Somalia. I was thinking I’d talk about the extremes — the differences in how international law would treat aliens in a failed state vs. aliens in the territory of a permanent member of the Security Council. But I’ve changed my mind; using Somalia makes the question too easy, as the lack of government there makes it exceedingly unlikely that other states would bother to respect Somalia’s territorial integrity in the event of an alien invasion. Instead, I’m going to borrow from District 9 and use South Africa as a hypothetical.

Situation #2: Aliens in South Africa

In a scenario similar to the premise of District 9, a lone alien spaceship lands in South Africa. The aliens’ behavior and appearance give no indication that they intend any harm to humanity, but the vast majority of States are unwilling to accept that at face value. South Africa, however, feels that it has the situation under control, and wants to treat with the aliens without foreign interference. The government of South Africa refuses to allow any other nations to visit the aliens or become involved in the situation, and only gives cursory answers to questions about the extraterrestrial visitors. Resolution through diplomacy does not appear likely, so if other states want to speak to, examine, or blow up the aliens, they can only do so by the use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of South Africa — something which is absolutely prohibited under international law.

Do other States, then, have any available options under international law besides engaging in illegal acts of war against South Africa?

Possibly. The United Nations Security Council does have the power to authorize use of force in certain situations. However, Article 2.7 of the UN Charter exempts matters within the domestic jurisdiction of a state from UN control, unless a threat to the peace is involved:

“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the members to submit such domestic maters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.”

Therefore, under Art. 2.7, if aliens land, and (1) by all appearances the aliens intend no threat to humanity, and (2) no one but the host state is aware of the alien presence, international law is not relevant. End of story. It would then be a matter essentially within South Africa’s domestic jurisdiction. (Plus, well, if no one knows about it, there’s no one who can raise the issue in the first place.)

If both these conditions are not present, then international law comes back into play.

Read the rest of this entry: When hosting aliens is a violation of international law »

The Law of Aliens, Part III.1: Extraterrestrials on the High Seas

Editor’s Note: Yeah, I know I said this was going to be a three part series, but then I got slowed up this week. So the series will still be three parts, it’s just that part III is going to be done in two installments.

What happens if extraterrestrials slip through our solar system undetected, and are only encountered for the first time when they arrive on Earth itself?

Space law would no longer be applicable; rather, the situation would be governed by more traditional and more firmly established notions of international law. Although international/space law has not yet reached an ironclad understanding on where precisely outer space begins, for purposes of domestic laws and aeronautics regulations, the limit is most often set as the lowest point from sea level where an object can orbit the earth, i.e., 62 miles/100 kilometers up. (Objects cannot orbit for long at this altitude, due to air resistance, but they can take a few spins around the block.) Australia, in fact, has been proactive at setting the 100km boundary, and it does seem likely that it is eventually going to become the standard delineation.

So if aliens visit earth and are doing anything other than orbiting the planet, it’s good old fashion international law that’s going to provide any legal framework for the alien visitation. This means that, in practice, law will be a lot more relevant than it would be in the case of an outer space encounter.

A state’s sovereignty over its territory is one of the most fundamental concepts of international law. A state may not take action within another state’s territory absent consent. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. But although many parts of international law are often discarded or ignored, respect for a sovereign state’s territory is taken very seriously indeed.

In contrast, it would be fair to say that, in the not exactly probable event of an alien encounter in space, international law would most likely be given minimum lip service and little more. Space law is an infant body of law, and for obvious reasons, it is overloaded on the opinio juris component as compared to the state practice component. That’s a good indication that, in the event of a dramatic change in circumstances, states will not be reluctant to act in ways inconsistent with space law as it is currently understood, and instead will seek to justify their actions after-the-fact on the basis of previously “undiscovered” interpretations of law.

So, in a nutshell: international law would not survive five minutes past the first alien encounter in space.

On Earth, however, territorial sovereignty has such a deeply established normative and positive force in shaping the relationships between states that even in the event of an extraterrestrial landing, international law would continue to play a predominant role in how the world community reacted.

The exact strictures of international law to be applied, however, will depend in practice upon the location where the aliens choose to land.

Situation #1: Aliens land in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and hover out over the high seas.

This is actually the worst possible scenario, for the aliens and probably also for earth. A “too many cooks in the kitchen” problem would quickly develop, as the high seas are open to all states. This includes a freedom of navigation, a freedom of overflight, and a freedom of scientific research. Essentially, every state would be free to go to, investigate, or attempt to talk to the alien spaceship — so that if North Korea wanted to start doing some “scientific research” on the ship, it would not be a straight forward matter for any State to justify prohibiting them from doing so.

If it turns out the aliens are friendly, Earth nations would be able to repel any attempts by non-state actors to attack the spaceship, as all States possess universal jurisdiction over pirates on the high seas. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to argue that unprovoked violence directed at a spaceship is an act of piracy, entitling other nations to use force to repel any attempts by private parties to act aggressively towards the spaceship.

But attacks on the spaceship by State actors will not be so easily regulated. Under Article 95 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, “Warships on the high seas have complete immunity from the jurisdiction of any State other than the flag State.” So if it’s North Korea acting aggressively against the aliens, we’ve got a problem.

True, Article 88 of the Law of the Sea Convention does declare that “The high seas shall be reserved for peaceful purposes.” But in the words of Captain Barbossa… this is really more of what you’d call a guideline than an actual rule. It doesn’t actually prohibit military actions, per se. It is international law of war, not the law of the sea, that would be the primary body of law to govern hostilities on the high seas. Although under international law, the threat or use of force is traditionally prohibited, it does not, technically speaking, prohibit the use of force against aliens.

Article 2:4 of the UN Charter declares, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” An alien spaceship does not obviously possess territorial integrity or political independence as a state, or at least not so clearly that North Korea couldn’t make a facially legitimate claim that Article 2:4 doesn’t apply to them. So the aliens would be fair game.

This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re defenseless, under international law. The right of self-defense is preserved in the UN Charter, and self-defense does extend to defense of others (I’ll assume for now aliens could qualify as part of the “collective” in Article 51) but in the chaos of an international free-for-all on the high seas, this would be of little practical protection. Besides, it’s not exactly settled law, regarding what acts a State can take against an extraterrestrial in the high seas before third party rights of self-defense kick in.

End result? The Law of the Sea isn’t going to be sufficient to protect or regulate any alien encounters on the high seas. If we’re lucky, however, the UN Security Council will be able to reach some kind of agreement and enable collective action to be taken. Under Article 42 of the UN charter, a blockade is one of the actions the Security Council can authorize to restore peace and international order. Although “blockades” are traditionally understood to apply to coastal navigation, it is not a heavy abuse of the language to say Article 42 would permit the Security Council to establish a blockade in the high seas. In this manner, the Security Council could authorize the use of force to protect the alien ship and to impose order on the normally unregulated oceans.

Next up tomorrow: The Law of Aliens, Part III.2: Extraterrestrials in Somalia South Africa and Extraterrestrials in France.

Previously: The Law of Aliens, Part I: The Law of Post-Atmospheric Extraterrestrial Encounters By National or International Organizations, and Part II — The Law of Outer Space Encounters With Extraterrestrials by Sub-State Entities.


Operation Cornflakes and WWII-era Trolling

What do you get when you combine warfare + primitive trolling techniques?

Operation Cornflakes, a WWII psychological warfare operation conducted by the United States. The campaign’s namepropaganda2_3 “was the natural result of the aim of the campaign, to place American propaganda on the German breakfast table each morning.”

Operation Cornflakes seriously resembles something 4Chan would come up with if, god forbid, they were in charge of military strategy:

Operations Cornflakes was designed to drop German mail sacks containing subversive material in carefully addressed envelopes inside the Reich alongside shot-up enemy trains. After the fighter-bombers stopped the train with their bombing and strafing fire, they would drop mailbags filled with propaganda letters into the wreckage. The Germans would find the bags and presume that they came from the damaged train. They would then deliver them as normal mail. The growing disruption of the German transportation system caused much mail to be misdirected and scattered about the country. Further, it was thought that any average citizen or soldier upon discovering legitimate German mail sacks in a recently bombed rail terminus or along the railroad tracks would turn them over to the postal authorities for delivery to their proper destination.

German phonebooks were used to address the mail to actual German citizens. The theory was that German citizens would, upon receipt, assume it was a legitimate letter sent from a domestic anti-Nazi opposition movement. The German citizens would then be so demoralized by the junk mail they would end the war.

Some of the propaganda, such as the Hitler skull stamps, was intended simply to mock and ridicule the Germans, in an early form of trolling-by-photoshopped-images. Other pieces of propaganda, however, were intended to be taken seriously by the unwitting recipients, such as this letter from the ‘Christian Soldiers Union’:

“Comrades! Don’t let them take advantage of you with that old slogan ‘Hold out to the last man,’ and pointlessly be killed, or crippled for the rest of your life! The officers who give these orders are usually far from the shooting. All the grisly tales of mistreatment of prisoners leave us cold now. WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH! Give up: scouts, sentries, and many others know how easy it is. Our group will help everyone so that they can live for our future. The Allies know about our movement. Give them this pass when you cross the enemy’s lines! It is your pass to life! Christian Soldiers Union.”

Unsurprisingly, Operation Cornflakes’ crude attempts at psychological warfare were not particularly effective, and if they had any demoralizing effect at all it was probably simply from causing a delay or destruction of civilian mail.

These kinds of PSYOP tactics didn’t end with WWII. They have, however, gotten more sophisticated. The sort of psychological campaigns that are used today in a world where asymmetrical warfare is the norm take a different approach, such as the case of this undercover operation that was used in the early stages of the war in Iraq.