Friday, January 14, 2005

Power of Nightmares re-awakened

The Power of Nightmares - a controversial BBC documentary series screened last autumn (and to be repeated next week) - questioned whether the threat of terrorism to the West is a politically driven fantasy and if al-Qaeda really is an organised network. The BBC was inundated with correspondence, some critical much of it very positive, and here I try to answer some of the points raised.

Yet another dead microbiologist

Why was Joeng Im of the University of Missouri, a 72 year old protein chemist, stabbed to death, stuffed in the trunk of his car, and burned? Was it a random act of violence? Was it a former student bent on revenge? Or is this biologist merely following in the footsteps of 40 other microbiologists and other scientists who have mysteriously died in the past 4 years? Scientists like David Kelly, Steven Mostow, Ian Langford, , Don C. Wiley, David Wynn-Williams, Michael Perich, Gene Mallove, and dozens of other scientists? Is it too presumptuous, too "tinfoil hat" to suppose that someone is killing off the microbiologists of the world, for some nefarious purpose?

National Intelligence Council: The 2020 Global Landscape

Possible Futures
In this era of great flux, we see several ways in which major global changes could take shape in the next 15 years, from seriously challenging the nation-state system to establishing a more robust and inclusive globalization. In the body of this paper we develop these concepts in four fictional scenarios which were extrapolated from the key trends we discuss in this report. These scenarios are not meant as actual forecasts, but they describe possible worlds upon whose threshold we may be entering, depending on how trends interweave and play out:

Davos World provides an illustration of how robust economic growth, led by China and India, over the next 15 years could reshape the globalization process—giving it a more non-Western face and transforming the political playing field as well.

Pax Americana takes a look at how US predominance may survive the radical changes to the global political landscape and serve to fashion a new and inclusive global order.
A New Caliphate provides an example of how a global movement fueled by radical religious identity politics could constitute a challenge to Western norms and values as the foundation of the global system.

Cycle of Fear provides an example of how concerns about proliferation might increase to the point that large-scale intrusive security measures are taken to prevent outbreaks of deadly attacks, possibly introducing an Orwellian world.

Of course, these scenarios illustrate just a few of the possible futures that may develop over the next 15 years, but the wide range of possibilities we can imagine suggests that this period will be characterized by increased flux, particularly in contrast to the relative stasis of the Cold War era. The scenarios are not mutually exclusive: we may see two or three of these scenarios unfold in some combination or a wide range of other scenarios.

Thelma White, 94; Actress Known for 'Reefer Madness'

Thelma White, whose portrayal of a hard-boiled addiction queen in the 1936 movie "Reefer Madness" was largely forgotten until the film resurfaced in the 1970s as a cult classic, died of pneumonia Tuesday at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills. She was 94.
Born in 1910, White was a carnival performer as a toddler, progressed to vaudeville, radio and movies, then worked as an agent and producer for many years. During her heyday as an actress, she appeared alongside such legendary performers as W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, Red Skelton and Jack Benny. What secured her place in Hollywood history, however, was a movie so awful that its memory still made her shudder 50 years later.
"Reefer Madness" was a low-budget propaganda film written by a religious group to broadcast the dangers of marijuana. It was relegated to the cinema waste heap for almost 40 years until 1972, when Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws discovered it in the Library of Congress archives and paid $297 for a print. He then screened it in New York as a benefit for the advocacy group, unwittingly launching it on the road to cult-film history.

Titan data from Huygens arrives

The spacecraft probe had still been transmitting data for over two hours after it had landed they confirmed.
"We are the first visitors to Titan," said an excited Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the European Space Agency (Esa).
It is also the furthest from Earth a spacecraft has ever been landed.
"In the morning we had an engineering success and this afternoon we can also say we have a scientific success," he added.
Scientists were now piecing together the data, images, measurements and sounds that was being beamed back to Earth.

Brain-Computer Interface

Brain-computer interface technology continues to advance, with one patient now able to control a robotic hand with his thoughts. New research shows such results may also be possible with a noninvasive, external interface.

A global gulag to hide the war on terror's dirty secrets

The promise of imminent release for four British detainees held at the notorious US prison at Guantánamo Bay is obviously welcome, but it is only a tiny exception in the surge of bad news from the Bush team on the human rights front. The first few days of the new year have produced two shocking exposures already.
One is the revelation that the administration sees the US not just as a self-appointed global policeman, but also as the world's prison warder. It is thinking of building jails in foreign countries, mainly ones with grim human rights records, to which it can secretly transfer detainees (unconvicted by any court) for the rest of their lives - a kind of global gulag beyond the scrutiny of the International Committee of the Red Cross, or any other independent observers or lawyers.

CIA: Iraq War Creating Terrorists

The war in Iraq is creating a training and recruitment ground for a new generation of "professionalized" Islamic terrorists, and the risk of a terrorist attack involving a germ weapon is steadily growing, an in-house CIA think tank said in a report released Thursday.
The "dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq" to other countries will create a new threat in the coming 15 years, especially as the Al Qaeda network mutates into a volatile brew of independent extremist groups, cells and individuals, according to the report by the National Intelligence Council.
David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, said those who survived the Iraq war would pose a threat when they went home, "even under the best of scenarios."

Federal Judge Orders Georgia School District to Remove Evolution Disclaimers

A federal judge today ruled that placing disclaimer stickers warning that evolution is "a theory, not a fact" in public school science textbooks is an unconstitutional government intrusion on religious liberty.
The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit against the Cobb County School District brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia on behalf of five local parents. The parents argued that the disclaimer stickers would send the message to their children that they should reject the scientific theory of evolution in favor of religious viewpoints on origin.

Origin of energetic space particles pinpointed

A source of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays has been identified for the first time. The extremely energetic particles, racing at almost the speed of light, have been traced back to a pair of colliding galaxy clusters.Cosmic rays are fast-moving particles that constantly bombard the Earth. Some come from the Sun, whereas higher-energy rays are accelerated around the remnants of supernovae.But ultra-high-energy cosmic rays are at least a thousand times more energetic still, and extremely rare. Only one particle is expected to hit each square kilometre of Earth every century. Physicists already know that these particles are almost certainly protons whose energies are measured in exaelectronvolts (1018 eV) - the amount of energy that an electron acquires when it is accelerated by a billion billion volts. Each proton has a kinetic energy similar to that of a flying golfball, and travels at just one part in 1022 slower than the speed of light.

Some of the Facts About Wal-Mart

"For the first time in its 43 years, a Wal-Mart CEO is publicly responding to detractors." The giant retailer launched a national PR blitz, including interviews with its CEO, an open-letter ad in more than 100 newspapers, and a new website,, that promises the "unfiltered truth." CEO Lee Scott said that criticisms of Wal-Mart had grown to "urban legend" status, while critics' "lifestyle doesn't change when the price of fuel changes, or if they keep a Wal-Mart store out of their area." When asked why doesn't mention the ongoing class-action sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart, Scott replied, "There are so many things that we deal with and aspects of society that you couldn't possibly put them all in." O'Dwyer's reports that Hill & Knowlton is working on Wal-Mart campaign, helping Scott and handling local media.

Scientist says male fish in Potomac is growing eggs

Male fish that are growing eggs have been found in the Potomac River near Sharpsburg, Maryland.That's according to a scientist with the U-S Geological Survey.
The discovery indicates that a troubling pollution mystery is spreading downstream from the river's South Branch, in West Virginia, where the abnormality was first detected.
Scientists say nine male smallmouth bass taken from the river near Sharpsburg were found to have developed eggs inside their sex organs.
The problems are apparently linked to pollutants from sewage plants, feedlots and factories that can interfere with hormone systems. Scientists are investigating whether the same compounds are linked to certain cancers in humans.

Whistleblower Charges Justice Dept. with Misconduct in Chertoff's Prosecution of John Walker Lindh

At his 2003 confirmation hearing, Chertoff said he and his deputies did not have an active role in discussions about ethics warnings in the case from lawyers elsewhere in the department. But a Justice Department whistleblower tells a different story.
Jesselyn Radack was an attorney in the Justice Department's Professional Responsibility Advisory Office during the Lindh case. She raised legal and ethical objections over the questioning of Lindh without his lawyer and revealed misconduct by Department of Justice officials.
As a result, Radack was pushed out of her job at the Justice Department, fired from her next job, put under criminal investigation and put on the no-fly list. She joins us on the phone today from Washington DC.

Discovery of hidden laboratory sheds light on Leonardo's genius

Researchers have discovered the hidden laboratory used by Leonardo da Vinci for studies of flight and other pioneering scientific work in previously sealed rooms at a monastery next to the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata, in the heart of Florence.
The workshop rooms, located between the Institute for Military Geography and the Basilica, contain frescos painted by Leonardo that have "impressive resemblances" to other examples of his experimental work. The frescos include a triptych of birds circling above a subsequently erased representation of the Virgin Mary that "constitutes a clear citation of the studies by the maestro on the flight of birds", the three researchers, Alessandro del Meglio, Roberto Manneschalchi and Maria Carchio, said yesterday.

Creatice Commons: Fine Art of Sampling Contests

Win a chance to be featured on the Creative Commons release THE WIRED CD: Ripped. Sampled. Mashed. Shared. Sample The Beastie Boys, David Byrne, DJ Danger Mouse, and many others to win! Or, win a chance to be on the next Fine Arts Militia album featuring Chuck D.

'Christ-like' shell to go on sale

A bar manager in Switzerland has announced plans to sell an oyster shell resembling the face of Jesus Christ, according to local media.
Matteo Brandi, 38, may hope to repeat the success of a Florida woman who sold a piece of toast said to bear an image of the Virgin Mary for $28,000.
The Italian said he had found the shell, whose contents have since been eaten, in a batch two years ago.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Climate Change Desiccating the Planet, Researchers Conclude

The portion of our planet affected by serious drought has doubled in the last three decades, a new study suggests. Findings to be presented today at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in San Diego, Calif., indicate that the fraction of global land characterized as "very dry" has increased from 10 to 15 percent in the 1970s to nearly 30 percent in 2002.
Dry conditions in the U.S. are classified according to the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which compares the amount of moisture in the soil to that in the air closest to the surface. Using long-term temperature and precipitation records from 1870 to 2002, Aiguo Dai of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and colleagues calculated the Palmer index for locations around the world in which it is not routinely used. "Droughts and floods are extreme climate events that are likely to change more rapidly than the average climate," says Dai. "Because they are among the world's costliest natural disasters and affect a very large number of people each year, it is important to monitor them and perhaps predict their variability."

A Dreadfully Misleading Article on GE Foods from the NY Times

Nearly every food we eat has been genetically modified, through centuries of crosses, both within and between species, and for most of the last century through mutations induced by bombarding seeds with chemicals or radiation. In each of these techniques, dozens, hundreds, even thousands of genes of unknown function are transferred or modified to produce new food varieties.
Most so-called organic foods are no exception. The claims of no genetic modification really refer to foods that contain no ingredients that are produced through the highly refined technique of gene splicing, in which one or a few genes are transferred to an organism. But alarmist warnings about the possible hazards of gene splicing have made the public extremely wary of this selective form of genetic modification.
Such warnings have so far been groundless. "Americans have consumed more than a trillion servings of foods that contain gene-spliced ingredients," said Dr. Henry I. Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and author, with Gregory Conko, of "The Frankenfood Myth," a new book that questions the wisdom of current gene-splicing regulations.
"There hasn't been a single untoward event documented, not a single ecosystem disrupted or person made ill from these foods," he said in an interview. "That is not something that can be said about conventional foods, where imprecise methods of genetic modification actually have caused illnesses and deaths."
[Well, we are having epidemics of obesity, early puberty, asthma and diabetes. Who knows what the causes are. But since there is no tracking of GE food, there is little way of checking.]

'Torture' to uncover brain secret

Oxford University scientists will carry out experiments on hundreds of people in a bid to understand how the brain works during states of consciousness.
One aspect of the two-year study will involve followers of both religious and secular beliefs being burnt to see if they can handle more pain than others.
Some volunteers will be shown religious symbols such as crucifixes and images of the Virgin Mary during the torture.
Researchers believe the study may improve understanding of faith, how robust it is and how easily it can be dislodged.
The team from the newly-formed Centre for Science of the Mind also want to include people with survival techniques in the torture experiments, which may help the special forces easily identify people with high pain thresholds.
Volunteers will have a gel containing chilli powder or heat-pad applied to the back of their hand to simulate pain.
A team of neurologists, pharmacologists and anatomists will then analyse how people react by using brain scans.

Double-Tongued Word Wrester

A Growing Dictionary of Old and New Words From the Fringes of English
Recent Entries:
presidentiable tiger kidnapping chones Eye-wreck segotia boo-boo face hecka babymoon security theater burner visquene heater rat spill metric butt-load sonic branding

Soros Group Raises Stakes in Battle with US Neo-Cons

A group of billionaire philanthropists are to donate tens of millions more dollars to develop progressive political ideas in the US in an effort to counter the conservative ascendancy.
George Soros, who made his fortune in the hedge fund industry; Herb and Marion Sandler, the California couple who own a multi-billion-dollar savings and loan business; and Peter Lewis, the chairman of an Ohio insurance company, donated more than $63m (£34m) in the 2004 election cycle to organizations seeking to defeat George W. Bush.
At a meeting in San Francisco last month, the left-leaning billionaires agreed to commit an even larger sum over a longer period to building institutions to foster progressive ideas and people.
Far from being disillusioned by the defeat of John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, the billionaires have resolved to invest further in the intellectual future of the left, one person involved said.

Will Life Be Worth Living in 2,000 AD?

July 22, 1961, Weekend Magazine
What sort of life will you be living 39 years from now? Scientists have looked into the future and they can tell you.
It looks as if everything will be so easy that people will probably die from sheer boredom.
You will be whisked around in monorail vehicles at 200 miles an hour and you will think nothing of taking a fortnight's holiday in outer space.
Your house will probably have air walls, and a floating roof, adjustable to the angle of the sun.
Doors will open automatically, and clothing will be put away by remote control. The heating and cooling systems will be built into the furniture and rugs.
You'll have a home control room - an electronics centre, where messages will be recorded when you're away from home. This will play back when you return, and also give you up-to-the minute world news, and transcribe your latest mail.
You'll have wall-to-wall global TV, an indoor swimming pool, TV-telephones and room-to-room TV. Press a button and you can change the décor of a room.
The status symbol of the year 2000 will be the home computer help, which will help mother tend the children, cook the meals and issue reminders of appointments.

Echoes of Big Bang found in galaxies

Theorists calculated in the 1960s that galaxies must have been seeded in places where matter had slightly gathered together immediately after the Big Bang, which is thought to have created the Universe several billion years ago.
These fluctuations were seen as ripples in the cosmic background microwave radiation by NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer in 1992, and NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe in 2003. But this radiation, which is often described as the afterglow of the Big Bang, originated a mere 400,000 years after the event, long before galaxies formed.
Two sky surveys have now seen evidence of the fluctuations in the separations of galaxies that existed 10 billion years after the Big Bang. This establishes a firm link between primordial instabilities in the Universe and the graininess we see in the cosmos today.

Sham Recount Process on Diebold E-voting Machines

Instead of attempting to ensure that the votes were counted correctly, however, Alameda County election officials engaged in a "going through the motions" exercise where they merely ran the same electronic vote data through the same counting machines and, predictably, reached the same result. They did not consult the machines' audit logs, redundant memories, or any other relevant materials. Yesterday, the county announced that the recount had failed to change the result. They altered the final margin of defeat to 166 votes, attributing the change to absentee and provisional ballots -- the electronic voting machine count remained the same.

Nicholas D. Kristof: Look to Cuba for some tips

If the United States had an infant mortality rate as good as Cuba's, America would save an additional 2,212 babies a year.
Yes, Cuba's. Babies are less likely to survive in the United States, with a health care system that we Americans think is the best in the world, than in impoverished and autocratic Cuba. According to the latest CIA World Factbook, Cuba is one of 41 countries that have better infant mortality rates than the United States.


Radio broadcasts, of course, happen at a given time and receivers are either tuned in or not. Even satellite radio, which conquers the limitations of a radio signal, is fixed in time. But what if a radio program could be harvested and stored for internet distribution and played later at the convenience of the user? Then you would have what's called podcasting, a free technology that has come from nowhere over the past few months. This week, On The Media becomes the first NPR show to make itself available via podcast. Bob discusses the implications of podcasting with Tod Maffin, technology columnist for CBC Radio.

Uuniversity of Michigan Digital Library Image Source

DHS Ends Policy on Non-Disclosure Agreements

In an abrupt reversal, the Department of Homeland Security last week rescinded its controversial policy of requiring employees to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to gain access to unclassified information that is marked "for official use only" or "sensitive but unclassified."
The non-disclosure agreements, first reported by Secrecy News last November 8, drew opposition from employees' unions and others because, for example, they granted the government extraordinary permission to "conduct inspections at any time or place for the purpose of ensuring compliance.
"The revised DHS policy on sensitive but unclassified information eliminates the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) requirement. Such agreements are only rarely used by other agencies for unclassified information.
The change was reported yesterday by Eileen Sullivan in Federal Time ( "Those NDA's previously signed by DHS employees... will no longer be valid," according to a January 11 transmittal memo from DHS Under Secretary Janet Hale. "DHS will take reasonable steps to retrieve these documents and destroy them."
A copy of "Safeguarding Sensitive But Unclassified (For Official Use Only) Information," DHS Management Directive 11042.1, revised January6, 2005, is posted here:

DeLay Political Fundraising Investigation Cuts Deals For Testimony

Prosecutors investigating whether corporations illegally financed the Republican Party's rise to dominance in the Texas Capitol are negotiating agreements with several companies accused of making improper political donations, and analysts say the discussions could help elicit important leads in the probe.
According to documents filed in Travis County District Court, two companies accused of making illegal political contributions have "flipped" for prosecutors in the last month, signing deals requiring them to cooperate in exchange for dismissal of their cases.
The agreements were signed with Illinois-based Sears, Roebuck and Co. and DCS Inc., a debt-payment firm based in California, and say the contributions were given "on the basis of false and misleading information provided by the fundraiser that solicited the contribution."
Sources close to the investigation said this week that similar deals were being negotiated with some of the remaining six companies indicted late last year. The six companies are the Williams Companies Inc., Bacardi USA, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, Questerra Corp. and Westar Energy Inc.

37 questions Congress should ask the Secretary of Defense on administration torture policies

Based on a careful reading of the hundreds of pages of "torture memos" that poured out of the White House, the thousands of pages of military reports, investigations, and original documents that have emerged from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, as well as the flood of recent FBI e-mails and prisoner complaints that have emerged from Guantanamo prison in Cuba, we might - as a lawyer and an historian who have been working in this area for the last two years - suggest the following series of questions for Congress

Australian terror suspect alleges he was tortured while detained in Egypt

An Australian terror suspect being held at Guantanamo Bay has alleged he was tortured with dogs and electrodes while being interrogated in Egypt, it was reported Thursday.
Mamdouh Habib, a 48-year-old Egyptian-born father of four from Sydney, was arrested in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border three weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Australia believes he was later detained for a period in Egypt before being transferred to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Egypt has not confirmed his presence in that country.
Habib is one of 15 detainees deemed eligible to be tried before a U.S. military commission.

Perchlorate Toxicity

A National Academy of Sciences report says up to 20 parts per billion (ppb) of the rocket fuel chemical perchlorate in drinking water could be considered "safe." Perchlorate affects thyroid function, with children believed to be especially vulnerable. The Environmental Protection Agency previously set 1 ppb as the "safe" perchlorate level; the Defense Department suggested 200 ppb. The Natural Resources Defense Council says the NAS report was compromised by "a brazen campaign" by White House and Defense Department officials and defense contractors "to downplay the hazards" of perchlorate. Through the Freedom of Information Act, NRDC obtained documents suggesting politically-driven pressures on the scope of the NAS investigation, the composition of the NAS panel, and the report.

United States Officially Abandons Iraqi WMD Search

Duelfer was quoted as saying in October, "despite Saddam's expressed desire to retain the knowledge of his nuclear team, and his attempts to retain some key parts of the programme after 1991, during the course of the following 12 years Iraq's ability to produce a weapon decayed".
The Iraq Survey Group officially ended its assignment in late December. Their final report stated that there was nothing to report.

Dover PA's intelligent-design statement

Text of a statement on intelligent design that Dover Area High School administrators will read to students at the start of biology classes on Jan. 13:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.
Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, "Of Pandas and People," is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.
With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

History's other great relief effort

The huge American undertakings that fed millions of people during and after the World War I rescued not sections of populations but whole peoples.
Today they have been largely forgotten.
Yet 10 million people relied on food shipped in during the German occupation of Belgium and Northern France between 1914 and 1918. Tens of millions more were kept alive right across continental Europe after the war.
These operations saw nearly 11m metric tons of supplies delivered at a cost of nearly $3bn -- and that is the dollar amount from the time. The US government ended up paying for most of it, though Britain and others did contribute.
In 1921 there was another massive operation to help a further 10 million starving in the Soviet Union. Even so, an estimated one million people died in that famine. [thanks to Sharon]

Conservatives Push for Psychiatric Diagnosis of 'Political Paranoia'

When the 109th Congress convenes in Washington in January, Senator Bill Frist, the first practicing physician elected to the Senate since 1928, plans to file a bill that would define "political paranoia" as a mental disorder, paving the way for individuals who suffer from paranoid delusions regarding voter fraud, political persecution and FBI surveillance to receive Medicare reimbursement for any psychiatric treatment they receive.
Rick Smith, a spokesman for Senator Frist, says that the measure has a good chance of passing—something that can only help a portion of the population that is suffering significant distress.
"If you're still convinced that President Bush won the election because Republicans figured out a way to hack into electronic voting machines, you've obviously got a problem," says Smith. "If we can figure out a way to ease your suffering by getting you into therapy and onto medication, that's something that we hope the entire 109th Congress will support."

Draft officials ask church to "dust off" conscientious objector alternatives

Leaders of the Church of the Brethren say they will follow through on a request from the Selective Service to have "alternative service" programs in place for conscientious objectors if a draft is reinstated.
As one of the historic "peace churches" that shun military service, Brethren officials were "cautious" after an unannounced visit by a draft official to a church center in Maryland last October. Officials were worried that the visit signaled that a draft may be at hand.

Animal Photos

From the cute to the exotic.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Simple snoop-proof email launched

Ciphire, developed by Ciphire Labs in Munich, Germany, uses a technique called "public key cryptography" to sign and encrypt email messages. Once loaded on to a computer hard drive the software performs all of the complex tasks involved behind the scenes. Ciphire also works with almost any email software client - like Microsoft Outlook, for example - without requiring prior configuration.
"The real benefit is the ease of use," says Laird Brown, chief strategist at Ciphire. "Everything is automated, so it's much like a virus scanner. It just sits quietly in the background."
...Each time a message is sent Ciphire checks with its servers to see if the recipient already has their own public key. If they do, the program uses this to encrypt the message. At the other end of the exchange, the recipient's version of the program should automatically retrieve the sender's public key and perform the necessary decryption.
If the recipient does not have a key pair the program simply "signs" a message - this key allows the recipient to confirm an email's authenticity but does not protect it from eavesdroppers.

New Mad Cow Case in Canada

Canada confirmed its third case of mad cow disease, just two weeks after its last case and after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans to normalize cattle and beef trade with Canada. Now, the USDA "is looking to withdraw a plan to allow imports of young live cattle from Canada," reports Reuters. Last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved USDA Secretary nominee Mike Johanns. "Committee members spent little time discussing Johanns' qualifications ... and instead spent the majority of the hearing airing renewed concerns about the impact of mad cow disease on the U.S. beef industry," writes J.R. Pegg. But Burson-Marsteller and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association are finalists for PR Week's 2005 awards, for "Protecting Consumer Confidence in U.S. Beef: An issues management success." [from]

Similarities Engine and the Pareto Principle

"Way back in the dark ages, aka about ten years ago, Rod found this cool web toy called the Similarities Engine, which let you submit five album names and suggested music you might like, based on what other people had submitted to the SE. Seemed pretty cool, and someone else seemed to think so, too, because the SE eventually disappeared from the web, with a message indicating that the technology had been sold. I don't know who bought it, but sometime later started offering suggestions -- "People who bought this book also bought..." Which the initial intro I'll use to this story:
...because it starts off with a great anecdote about how suggestions brought an almost out-of-print book ("Touching the Void"-- which I've never read but perhaps will need to buy now) back from the brink of oblivion by (algorithmically) suggesting it to "Out of Thin Air" readers.
But the article is actually cooler than just that. It talks about the Pareto Principle, aka the 80-20 Rule, which is that (in many instances) 80% of the effect comes from 20% of a population..."
[thanks to Michael K for the email and link]

U.S. Tells D.C. to Pay Inaugural Expenses

D.C. officials said yesterday that the Bush administration is refusing to reimburse the District for most of the costs associated with next week's inauguration, breaking with precedent and forcing the city to divert $11.9 million from homeland security projects.
Federal officials have told the District that it should cover the expenses by using some of the $240 million in federal homeland security grants it has received in the past three years -- money awarded to the city because it is among the places at highest risk of a terrorist attack.

Book: The Record of The Paper - Fifty Years of the New York Times on US Foreign Policy

Publisher's Note: "In This Meticulously Researched Study--The First Part of a two-volume work--Howard Friel and Richard Falk demonstrate how the newspaper of record in the United States has consistently, over the last 50 years, misreported the facts related to the wars waged by the United States. From Vietnam in the 1960s to Nicaragua in the 1980s and Iraq today, the authors accuse the New York Times of serial distortions. They claim that such coverage now threatens not only world legal order but constitutional democracy in the United States. Falk and Friel show that, despite numerous US threats to invade Iraq, and despite the fact that an invasion of one country by another implicates fundamental aspects of the UN Charter and international law, the New York Times editorial page never mentioned the words "UN Charter" or "international law" in any of its 70 editorials on Iraq from September 11, 2001, to March 20, 2003. The authors also show that the editorial page supported the Bush administration's WMD claims against Iraq, and that its magazine, op-ed and news pages performed just as poorly. In conclusion the authors suggest an alternative editorial policy of "strict scrutiny" that incorporates the UN Charter and the US Constitution in the Times coverage of the use and threat of force by the United States and the protection of civil and human rights at home and abroad."
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Film Reveals Falluja Destruction

Fresh evidence has emerged of the extent of destruction and appalling conditions in Falluja, still deserted two months after a major US offensive against the insurgent stronghold.
Ali Fadhil, an Iraqi journalist working with the Guardian's film unit and one of the few reporters to travel independently to Falluja, describes in a Channel 4 News film tonight a "City of Ghosts" where dogs feed on uncollected corpses.
In interviews, insurgents challenge official US accounts of a decisive victory and claim many of the rebels left the city in a pre-planned withdrawal.
"It is completely devastated," Fadhil writes in the Guardian today. "Falluja used to be a modern city; now there is nothing. We spend that first day going through the rubble that had been the center of the city; I don't see a single building that is functioning."

Armstrong Williams: I Am Not Alone

And then Williams violated a PR rule: he got off-point. "This happens all the time," he told me. "There are others." Really? I said. Other conservative commentators accept money from the Bush administration? I asked Williams for names. "I'm not going to defend myself that way," he said. The issue right now, he explained, was his own mistake. Well, I said, what if I call you up in a few weeks, after this blows over, and then ask you? No, he said.
Does Williams really know something about other rightwing pundits? Or was he only trying to minimize his own screw-up with a momentary embrace of a trumped-up everybody-does-it defense? I could not tell. But if the IG at the Department of Education or any other official questions Williams, I suggest he or she ask what Williams meant by this comment.

Papers indicate firm knew possible Prozac suicide risk

An internal document purportedly from Eli Lilly and Co. made public Monday appears to show that the drug maker had data more than 15 years ago showing that patients on its antidepressant Prozac were far more likely to attempt suicide and show hostility than were patients on other antidepressants and that the company attempted to minimize public awareness of the side effects.

Ex-FBI Agent Admits Giving Data to Traders

A former FBI agent admitted that he gave online stock traders confidential details of federal investigations, including a probe of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
One of the recipients was San Diego penny stock picker Anthony Elgindy. Elgindy was investigated by a Justice Department task force examining whether anyone might have known of the terrorists' plans and profited by selling vulnerable stocks just before the attacks, Jeffrey Royer said.
Elgindy was not charged in connection with that probe, but an investigation into the ties between Elgindy and Royer led to racketeering, securities fraud and other charges against the two men. They are on trial together in federal court in Brooklyn.

IBM to give away 500 patents

Jim Stallings, IBM's vice president in charge of intellectual property, said in an interview that the move was meant to encourage other companies to unlock patent portfolios in order to spur technological innovation.
"This represents by far the largest pledge of patents in U.S. history," IBM said in a statement to be issued on Tuesday. "You can use them and grow and innovate (and) build something new," Stallings said in remarks aimed at developers.
As the leading provider of computer services, IBM also stands to benefit from helping other companies make use of new technology developed under the open licensing program.

Mississippi Libraries Put Stewart's 'America' Back on Shelves

A library board reversed a ban on comedian Jon Stewart's best-selling satirical book, which it had passed because of its image of Supreme Court justices' faces superimposed on naked bodies. The Jackson-George Regional Library System board of trustees was criticized by local residents and in e-mails from out of state after it banned "America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction" last month. The trustees had said they objected to the image.
But the board voted 5-2 Monday to lift the ban, and the book was returned to circulation in the system's eight libraries Tuesday.

Sims 2 hacks spread like viruses

Players of Electronic Arts' enormously popular simulated life game are complaining that their artfully-crafted homes and mansions are beginning to resemble the Twilight Zone, thanks to an artifact of the game's design that causes hacks to spread like viruses from user to unwitting user.
Entire neighborhoods of Sims are being mysteriously graced with eternal youth, while some characters are finding all their needs fulfilled by a single shot of magic espresso. Others no longer need to empty the toilet after potty training their toddler. Some Sims are being abducted by aliens when they glance through their telescope -- every time, instead of just occasionally, which is normal.

Helen v Scott

Q: I asked you if we're going to have a permanent prison for detainees, into eternity, without any charges, without any trial. And if they are picked up from the battlefield, why don't you call them prisoners of war?
A: For the reasons that we've previously stated, they're referred to as unlawful enemy combatants. We've been through this --
Q: Why are they unlawful?
A: -- on a number of occasions, Helen. And there have been --
Q: So you are going to have a prison, right?
A: -- in some instances. There is currently a detention facility. Like I said, if you want to talk about how the Department of Defense is working to address these issues, you can direct those questions to the Department of Defense.

ACLU asks police, DA to halt Cape Cod DNA testing

Civil rights advocates asked Cape Cod authorities on Monday to stop collecting DNA samples from men in Truro in their investigation into the 3-year-old murder of fashion writer Christa Worthington.
Calling the effort ''a serious intrusion on personal privacy'' that is unlikely to yield results, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts sent a letter to Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe and Truro Police Chief John Thomas, urging them to end the mass collection of DNA samples.
Police have staked out the dump, the post office and other locations to gather DNA from residents in a renewed effort to solve Worthington's murder. They collected 75 samples last week, on top of 100 gathered earlier in the investigation, and the effort continues.
Truro, on the outer Cape, has a year-round population of less than 2,000.

NASA Complete Topographical Database of Earth

The most comprehensive and detailed topographic map ever made of Earth has been completed. The elevation data just released cover areas that have never been mapped in three dimensions before, and should be useful in predicting the effects of climate change and sea-level rise.
The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission is a collaboration between NASA, the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the German and Italian space agencies. It uses a technique called radar interferometry, which combines images taken at slightly different locations to produce a single three-dimensional image.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Journalists Ordered to Observe Distaster Not Conflict

Australian journalists who witnessed a confrontation between Indonesian soldiers and alleged separatists in tsunami-ravaged Sumatra yesterday were ordered to leave the area and warned not to report on the incident.
The clash occurred just 40km from the provincial capital Banda Aceh, the centre of the relief operation spearheaded by US and Australian forces in Aceh, where some 100,000 people died from the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunamis.
After being the apparent target of rebel snipers, government soldiers fired into the air and roughed up Indonesians they suspected were Free Aceh Movement (GAM) sympathisers.
The incident prompted special forces (Kopassus) soldiers to confront The Australian's representatives in the area.
"Your duties here are to observe the disaster, not the conflict between TNI (the Indonesian army) and GAM," a Kopassus commander told The Australian's journalist and photographer before ordering them to leave.

Can Spies Sue the CIA?

On January 11, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case known as Tenetv. Doe, which revolves around the question of whether individuals whospied for the U.S. in the expectation of certain benefits can sue theCentral Intelligence Agency for breach of contract. An 1875 ruling, in a case known as Totten v. U.S., suggests they cannot.
But a federal appeals court ruled in 2003 that a lawsuitbrought by two defectors from a former East Bloc country couldproceed.
"We should not precipitously close the courthouse doors to colorableclaims of the denial of constitutional rights," according to that2003 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The CIA's petition to the Supreme Court in Tenet v. Doe and therespondent's opposition may be found here: [from Secrecy News]

Lawyer for Torture Suspect Advances the Cheerleaders-form-Pyramids Defense

Forcing naked Iraqi prisoners to pile themselves in human pyramids was not torture, because American cheerleaders do it every year, a court was told today.
A lawyer defending Specialist Charles Graner, who is accused of being a ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, argued that piling naked prisoners in pyramids was a valid form of prisoner control.
"Don’t cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year. Is that torture?" said Guy Womack, Sergeant Graner’s lawyer, in opening arguments to the ten-member military jury at the reservist’s court martial.

*Congress passes `doomsday' plan

With no fanfare, the U.S. House has passed a controversial doomsday provision that would allow a handful of lawmakers to run Congress if a terrorist attack or major disaster killed or incapacitated large numbers of congressmen.
``I think (the new rule) is terrible in a whole host of ways - first, I think it's unconstitutional,'' said Norm Ornstein, a counselor to the independent Continuity of Government Commission, a bipartisan panel created to study the issue. ``It's a very foolish thing to do, I believe, and the way in which it was done was more foolish.''
But supporters say the rule provides a stopgap measure to allow the government to continue functioning at a time of national crisis.
GOP House leaders pushed the provision as part of a larger rules package that drew attention instead for its proposed ethics changes, most of which were dropped.
Usually, 218 lawmakers - a majority of the 435 members of Congress - are required to conduct House business, such as passing laws or declaring war.
But under the new rule, a majority of living congressmen no longer will be needed to do business under ``catastrophic circumstances.''
Instead, a majority of the congressmen able to show up at the House would be enough to conduct business, conceivably a dozen lawmakers or less.
The House speaker would announce the number after a report by the House Sergeant at Arms. Any lawmaker unable to make it to the chamber would effectively not be counted as a congressman.
The circumstances include ``natural disaster, attack, contagion or similar calamity rendering Representatives incapable of attending the proceedings of the House.''

Anti-Laser Contact Lenses

I think we all winced when we read, back in September, about the Delta pilot who was hit in the eye by a laser while flying a 737. Or about the 20 year-old Los Alamos intern who was zapped during a July experiment.
Air Force researchers must not have liked what they read, either. That's presumably why they're looking to develop a contact lens that can protect against laser blasts (scroll down to find it).

Chemical Laser Aircraft in Development

The ABL weapon system consists of a high-energy, chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) mounted on a modified 747-400F (freighter) aircraft to shoot down theater ballistic missiles in their boost phase. A crew of four, including pilot and copilot, would be required to operate the airborne laser, which would patrol in pairs at high altitude, about 40,000 feet, flying in orbits over friendly territory, scanning the horizon for the plumes of rising missiles. Capable of autonomous operation, the ABL would acquire and track missiles in the boost phase of flight, illuminating the missile with a tracking laser beam while computers measure the distance and calculate its course and direction. After acquiring and locking onto the target, a second laser - with weapons-class strength - would fire a three- to five-second burst from a turret located in the 747's nose, destroying the missiles over the launch area.

Speed cameras in Britain may all be overestimating vehicle speeds by as much as 25%

Gatso-based evidence could be responsible for convicting thousands of innocent motorists, according to research by David Edgar, a retired electronics engineer and former professional inventor.
The Gatso speed cameras he has investigated over-estimated motorists' speed by up to 25 per cent because the time between the two flash photography images, which constitutes legal evidence on which prosecution is based, was much longer than specified.

IE Flaw Exploited - Security firm identifies exploit technique for known browser hole

Internet Explorer has become an even bigger security risk--even under Windows XP SP2--with the publication of a new and extensive exploit.
Security researchers have warned that the exploit, which takes advantage of known loopholes in SP2, could allow an attacker to run script code on a user's system via a specially crafted Web page.
The holes involved have been known publicly for more than two months, but previous exploit techniques required the user to take actions such as dragging an image from one part of a Web page to another. The new exploit--a demonstration of which has been published by Danish security firm Secunia--is fully automated, requiring the user only to visit a Web page in Explorer. Other browsers and operating systems aren't affected.

Imagining the Internet Predictions Database

This site examines the potential future of the Internet while simultaneously providing a peek back into its history. We invite you to navigate through three useful resource areas that: illuminate the views of stakeholders - The Experts Survey; give an historic overview - The 1990 to 1995 Predictions; and allow your participation - Share Your Vision Today.
...Add your thoughts to this database. What do you think the future will bring?
Read contributions to this area of the Predictions site
Add your predictions to this collection

Sudan and Southern Rebels Sign Deal Ending Civil War

To cries of "God is great!" in Arabic and "Hallelujah!" the Islamic government of Sudan signed a peace agreement on Sunday with a Christian rebel group in the south that called for an end to one of Africa's fiercest and longest-running civil wars.
Several thousand onlookers - most of them Sudanese refugees who had known nothing but war in their homeland - danced with glee at a downtown sports arena here as Sudan's vice president, Ali Osman Taha, and the rebel leader, John Garang, initialed the agreement, which had been years in the making.

CIA Director Cuts Back Meetings On Terrorism

The daily 5 o'clock meeting at CIA headquarters that for the past three years has coordinated tactical counterterrorism operations involving senior CIA, FBI, Pentagon and Homeland Security Department officials has been cut back by new CIA Director Porter J. Goss to three a week, according to current and former administration and intelligence officials.

Washington Insiders Begin Talking About Iraq Pullout

Three weeks before the election in Iraq, conversation has started bubbling up in Congress, in the Pentagon and some days even in the White House about when and how American forces might begin to disengage in Iraq.
So far it is mostly talk, not planning. The only thing resembling a formal map to the exit door is a series of Pentagon contingency plans for events after the Jan. 30 elections. But a senior administration official warned over the weekend against reading too much into that, saying "the Pentagon has plans for everything," from the outbreak of war in Korea to relief missions in Africa.

After Threats, Iraqi Electoral Board Resigns

In another significant blow to Iraq's upcoming elections, the entire 13-member electoral commission in the volatile province of Anbar, west of the capital, resigned after being threatened by insurgents, a regional newspaper reported Sunday.
Saad Abdul-Aziz Rawi, the head of the commission, told the Anbar newspaper that it was "impossible to hold elections" in the province, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims and where insurgent attacks already have prevented voter registration. The province includes the restive cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.

Thinktank preys on seniors in Social Security scare campaign

A conservative not-for-profit thinktank has targeted seniors in at least three misleading scare-tactic letter campaigns to raise money for their own organization, RAW STORY has learned.
The D.C.-based thinktank, The National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), warns seniors in its most current mailing about the crisis facing Social Security, which many leading economic leaders have debunked as myth.
The letters are sent on behalf of “The National Retirement Security Task force,” a project of the organization.
The president of NCPPR, Amy Moritz Ridenour, asks in one such letter obtained by RAW STORY, “Should we put most of our time and effort into fighting to prevent liberal big-spenders from draining an estimated $100 billion from the trust fund? Or should I go head to head against the left-wing’s reckless use of $70 billion tax surplus when they promised to put our Social Security first?”

Actors and Producers Break Off Talks

Unions for television and film actors and representatives for producers broke off contract negotiations Sunday, according to a joint statement.
The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have been immersed in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over a new three-year contract since Dec. 6.
The current contract expires June 30.
"The parties have concluded they cannot reach an agreement at this time. There are no scheduled dates for the resumption of talks," the statement said.
Both sides have maintained a news blackout since the negotiations began.

We're Creative Commonists, Bill

When Bill Gates referred to copyright reformers as modern-day communists in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show, it didn't take long for the web community to respond with a big "nyah-nyah-nyah."
Bloggers and designers were quick to dream up "creative communist" symbols, a play on one of the best-known groups working for copyright reform, Creative Commons.
The images were instantly passed around and added to websites, T-shirts and buttons.
The kerfuffle started when Gates was asked in a interview if intellectual property laws should be reformed. He replied:
"No, I'd say that of the world's economies, there's more that believe in intellectual property today than ever. There are fewer communists in the world today than there were. There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises. They don't think that those incentives should exist," he told

Wikipedia Faces Growing Pains

Since its birth in 2001, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia from the Wikimedia Foundation, has grown to include more than 1.1 million entries. The English-language version alone has nearly 444,000 entries, all written for no compensation by members of the Wikipedia community.
The project has grown to such an extent that it is sometimes mentioned as an alternative to other resources like the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But with that growth, questions about how credible Wikipedia is, whether it can be respected by the academic community and how it might change are more important than ever. And as Wikipedia continues to expand, at about 7 percent per month, many wonder if the project can stay true to its core principles of openness and co-creation.

Mysterious jet tied to torture flights

The first question is: Where is Leonard T. Bayard? The next question is: Who is Leonard T. Bayard? But the most important question may be: Does Leonard T. Bayard even exist?
The questions arise because the signature of a Leonard Thomas Bayard appears on the annual report of a Portland-based company, Bayard Foreign Marketing LLC, that was filed in August with the Oregon secretary of state.
According to federal records, Bayard Foreign Marketing is the newest owner of a U.S.-registered Gulfstream V executive jet reportedly used since Sept. 11, 2001, to transport suspected Al Qaeda operatives to countries such as Egypt and Syria, where some of them claim to have later been tortured.

Archive of Govt UFO Docs

The Project Blue Book Archive has the goal of "providing free public access to the over one-hundred thousand official documents related to the U.S. government's 22 year investigation of the UFO phenomenon in a timely fashion."
So far they've posted around 10% of the released files from the US Air Force's famous Project Blue Book, plus a little material from its predecessors, Project Sign and Project Grudge.
Project Blue Book Archive
Wikipedia entry on Project Blue Book

Blackwell letter violated Ohio law

[Ohio's] chief elections officer, already accused of mishandling the presidential vote in Ohio and criticized for backing President Bush, sent a fund-raising letter for his 2006 gubernatorial campaign in which he asks for illegal corporate contributions.
Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who co-chaired the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio, said the request for corporate checks was an oversight. His spokesman, Carlo LoParo, said Saturday that any corporate donations would be returned.
In the five-page letter to GOP donors and activists, Blackwell said, "And with your help, I intend to provide fresh, new leadership and bold reforms to Ohio as our next Republican Governor."
A pledge card that accompanied the letter said "corporate & personal checks are welcome." Corporate donations are illegal in Ohio.

Government agencies back plan to delete old e-mails

Government agencies generally support a proposal to let federal agencies delete mountains of saved e-mails that have been marked as having no long-term value, but some public advocacy groups and others have expressed concern.
In public comments submitted to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), seven agencies agreed with the basic premise of the rule, which would let agencies permanently delete e-mails that "have minimal or no documentary or evidential value."
"This rule change will be beneficial to the entire federal government by reducing the burden associated with managing short-term e-mail records," wrote Joda Holt of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Military robots to get swarm intelligence

A battalion of 120 military robots is to be fitted with swarm intelligence software to enable them to mimic the organised behaviour of insects.
The project, which received funding this week from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is aimed at developing ways to perform missions such as minesweeping and search and rescue with minimum intervention from human operators.
The project is run by US software company Icosystems, which specialises in creating programs that mimic behaviours found in nature. Their software will use simple rules to co-ordinate complex behaviour among the robots.
"We will be addressing some fundamental questions about control strategies for robotic swarms," says Paolo Gaudiano, vice president of technology for Icosystems.
For more on swarming see here.

‘The Salvador Option’: The Pentagon may put Special-Forces-led assassination or kidnapping teams in Iraq

[T]he Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras.)