Friday, January 21, 2005

January 24th - Most Depressing Day of the Year

Experts have pinpointed January 24 - next Monday - as the most depressing day of the year.
...Dr Cliff Arnall, of Cardiff University, came up with the date using a formula to illustrate the various emotional factors at play.
It reads: [W+(D-d)]xTQ MxNA and takes into account six factors likely to have an emotional impact at this time of year.
These include the weather (W), debt (D) (minus the amount of money to be paid on your next pay day) and the time since Christmas (T). Then there is the time since a failed attempt to quit a bad habit (Q) along with general motivational levels (M) and the need to take action to have something to look forward to (NA). [thanks to Sharon]

Judy Bachrach from Vanity Fair and Brigitte Quinn from Fox

Unauguration day candor.

Did Frist Rule Out Filibusters?

A few of Frist’s conservative allies are interpreting his Jan. 4 comments to mean that Rule 22, which establishes the ground rules for filibusters, is not in effect for the new session of Congress. The uncertainty leaves it unclear whether all filibusters, including filibusters of legislation, could be dispensed with by a mere majority vote or the agreement of all senators present in the chamber — unanimous consent — would be needed to move forward on even the most controversial business.
Other conservatives and those close to Frist have advanced narrower interpretations of Frist’s statements.
During a floor speech, addressing the Democratic filibusters of controversial judicial nominees, Frist said: “Right now, we cannot be certain judicial filibusters will cease, so I reserve the right to propose changes to Senate Rule 22 and do not acquiesce to carrying over all the rules from the last Congress.”

Leaked documents reveal Blair's global warming betrayal

Greenpeace accused Tony Blair of a 'betrayal' after leaked documents revealed the Prime Minister was boasting about global warming commitments in keynote speeches while his government was simultaneously trying to ditch them at European meetings.
The documents, which can be downloaded here, show that the British government attempted to remove a commitment for huge cuts in greenhouse gases by 2050 from an EU council document setting out European climate policy.
Mr Blair has made no secret of his desire to get the US to join a climate agreement while he holds the EU and G8 presidencies. But rather than trying to strengthen the American position, today's revelations reveal Mr Blair has instead been trying to weaken the progressive European position.

The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator

Become part of the largest ever experiment to see if this is true! Every time you display this page, you are automatically participating in the Monkey Shakespeare project. Your computer is put to work to simulate a number of monkeys typing randomly on typewriters, and each page typed is checked against every play Shakespeare ever wrote!
The longer you display this page, the longer the simulator runs, and the better the chance you have of beating the record!

After 3 days - simulating over 4,293,150,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (4.3 duodecillion or 4.3x10^39) years, my simulated monkeys' biggest contribution was:

Kent. I thought the Kin

23 consecutive letters corresponds to this passege from King Lear:

Kent. I thought the King had more affected the
Duke of Albany, then Cornwall

The current record for the simulator is record is 24 letters. - McLir

Norwegians confused by Bush salute

Many Norwegian television viewers were shocked to see U.S. President George W. Bush and family apparently saluting Satan during the U.S. inauguration.
But in reality, it was just a sign of respect for the University of Texas Longhorns, whose fans are known to shout out "Hook 'em, horns!" at athletic events.
The president and family were photographed lifting their right hands with their index and pinky fingers raised up, much like a horn.
But in much of the world those "horns" are a sign of the devil. In the Nordics, the hand gesture is popular among death metal and black metal groups and fans.

*The American Dream

"In all of Iraq, Jumana Hanna was the bravest witness to the horror of Saddam's regime, telling the Americans of torture, rape, and mass murder," writes Sara Solovitch. Paul Wolfowitz recounted her story to the Senate Foreign Relations Commitee. Her suffering was described in agonizing detail in a Washington Post story by Peter Finch. But when Solovitch signed on to write a book about Hanna, she discovered that her story was fiction. The woman lionized as a brave survivor of Saddam Hussein's prisons was apparently a homeless prostitute who successfully scammed U.S. officials into giving her a new life in the United States. "Far from being a story about the indomitability of the human spirit," Solovitch realized, "Hanna's tale now seemed to open a window on the coalition's naivete - the willingness of its leaders to believe almost anything that fit their agenda." (Faced with Solovitch's revelations, the Washington Post has retracted its original story.) [from]

Biggest mass extinction tied to global warming - New evidence shows the culprit was volcanic gases

Scientists call it the Great Dying, a 250-million-year-old catastrophe that wiped out 90 percent of ocean species and 70 percent of land species in the biggest mass extinction in Earth's geologic history.
The cause of this cataclysm is a matter of great dispute among paleontologists, but research released Thursday offers new evidence that global warming caused by massive and prolonged volcanic activity may have been the chief culprit.

Solving the Enigma of Kryptos

It's been nearly 15 years since Sanborn installed the 12-foot-high, verdigrised copper, granite and wood sculpture inscribed with four encrypted messages at the CIA's Langley, Virginia, headquarters in 1990. And it's been seven years since anyone made progress at cracking its code.
But publication of the novel The Da Vinci Code has renewed interest in solving the puzzle because author Dan Brown made two veiled references to Kryptos on his book's dust jacket. Brown's publisher sponsored a contest around the references, and Brown has hinted that his next book, which takes place in Washington, D.C., may feature the sculpture in some way.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

New Orleans Jazz Funeral for Democracy

Traditional New Orleans jazz funeral entitled "A Wake for Peace": Jazz Funeral for Democracy timed to coincide with the inauguration of George W. Bush. Street theater encouraged. March, rally and inaugural ball featuring local New Orleans musicians.

Giant squid wash ashore in Southern California

Hundreds of giant squid are washing up on Orange County beaches, creating a scene more akin to "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" than "The O.C."
The bug-eyed sea creatures, believed to be Humboldt squid, normally reside in deep water and only come to the surface at night. Why approximately 500 of them began washing up on the sands of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach on Tuesday isn't clear.
Authorities said the squid — the biggest weighing 17 pounds — might have been pursuing bait fish and gotten too close to shore, or the tides might simply have carried them in.

Jib Jab's "Second Term"

There is No Crisis

YES, with 200+ bloggers united we are certainly making ourselves heard. NO, Bush did not offer any meat in today's Inauguration speech.
Why? Because the "crisis" is a lie.
The New York Times Sunday Magazine concludes, Social Security is "not in crisis" and "appears to be solvent or near solvent until the limit of what is humanly forecastable".
Time Magazine evaluate's Bush's crisis and concludes "it's not true".
The San Jose Mercury News notes: "Social Security is not in a crisis. Full checks will keep going out for decades, even without changes."
Rolling Stone headlines that this is "The Fake Crisis".
Even Newt Gingrich says, "This is not a crisis."
Thanks for joining us, together we have the power to spread the truth and protect the integrity of Social Security.

Excellent Radio Story About Data Management Companies and Privacy

Even as the Bush Administration went hunting for terrorists overseas after September 11th, the government was also looking for them here. One industry was more than ready to help. Data management companies had spent the decade before September 11th collecting billions of records about almost every American adult. In his new book, No Place to Hide, Robert O'Harrow looked into the data industry in this country and its new relationships with intelligence and law enforcement agencies. He worked with John Biewen from American RadioWorks on a companion documentary. In this report for Marketplace Beewin traces the transformation of a man named Hank Asher (pictured) from run-of-the-mill tech millionaire, to a player in the war on terror.

Judge: Lee Entitled to Some Marvel Profits

Stan Lee, co-creator of such characters as "Spider-Man" and "The Hulk," could be about to lay a mighty blow on Marvel Enterprises Inc.'s pocket book.
A judge in Manhattan federal court has ruled that Lee, chairman emeritus at the comic-book publisher, is entitled to 10 percent of the profits from movie and television productions involving Marvel characters, as well as movie-related toys manufactured and sold by the company itself.

Military Contract for Pulsed Energy Projectile (PEP) Pain Study

In this contract under the Naval Research Center (a part of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program), the University of Florida is studying the "Sensory Consequences of Electromagentic Pulses Emitted by Laser Induced Plasmas." In other words, how much pain can be induced by these directed energy weapons without causing physical damage?
The document has a fairly high level of redaction, including - unbelievably - almost half of its bibliography. Still, it reveals some interesting things, including a detailed look at inducing agony by directly activating the skin's receptors that encode pain without means of heat, chemicals, or physical contact.
Thanks go to Edward Hammond of the Sunshine Project for unearthing this document and letting The Memory Hole post it.

Booze boosts brainpower

Can a drink a day prevent mental decline? The finding that older women who consume moderate amounts of alcohol score better on cognitive tests suggests that it can.
An investigation has revealed for the first time that the brain can benefit from consumption of both beer and wine. In the early 1990s, researchers often referred to the 'French paradox' to support the idea that wine promotes good health1.

Amateurs beat space agencies to Titan pictures

Computer enthusiasts pounced on the images immediately, and improved them using a range of free or commercially available software before swapping their pictures in Internet chatrooms.
"When we started looking at the raw images, there were marvellous things there that we wanted to share," says Anthony Liekens, a chatroom enthusiast from Borsbeek, Belgium.

God and the Whitehouse

Creating Bush's God Talk by Michael Gerson, Bush's chief speechwriter. According to University of Washington professor David Domke, author of "God Willing? Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the War on Terror", here's how Bush's God-Talk Is Different ("When Bush speaks of God, he positions himself as a prophetic spokesperson rather than a petitioning supplicant".)
Bonus: "On What Did They Solemnly Swear? Which president opened his inaugural Bible at random in haste? Which didn't swear at all?". Test your knowledge of presidential inaugural Bible use with this quiz.
And: Prayers of the Presidents -- From George Washington to George W. Bush, a sampling of personal and public prayers of America's presidents.

THE CIA has predicted that the European Union will break-up within 15 years unless it radically reforms its ailing welfare systems

The report by the intelligence agency, which forecasts how the world will look in 2020, warns that Europe could be dragged into economic decline by its ageing population. It also predicts the end of Nato and post-1945 military alliances.
In a devastating indictment of EU economic prospects, the report warns: "The current EU welfare state is unsustainable and the lack of any economic revitalisation could lead to the splintering or, at worst, disintegration of the EU, undermining its ambitions to play a heavyweight international role."
It adds that the EU’s economic growth rate is dragged down by Germany and its restrictive labour laws. Reforms there - and in France and Italy to lesser extents - remain key to whether the EU as a whole can break out of its "slow-growth pattern".

Cyberkinetics Inc.

"The implant is designed to allow signals from the motor cortex to be collected, processed and analyzed, eventually producing an interface with a personal computer." It seems to work. Watch the video. [from]

Sponge Bob's Insideous Agenda to Turn Kids Gay

In a new video to be distributed to 61,000 schools across the nation, homosexual activists are using popular children's TV characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Barney the dinosaur to surreptitiously indoctrinate young children into their lifestyle, a pro-family activist group charges.

Shroud of Turin Carbon-Dating in Dispute

The American Shroud of Turin Association for Research (AMSTAR), a scientific organization dedicated to research on the enigmatic Shroud of Turin, thought by many to be the burial cloth of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, announced today that the 1988 Carbon-14 test was not done on the original burial cloth, but rather on a rewoven shroud patch creating an erroneous date for the actual age of the Shroud.
..."Now conclusive evidence, gathered over the past two years, proves that the sample used to date the Shroud was actually taken from an expertly-done rewoven patch," says AMSTAR President, Tom D'Muhala. "Chemical testing indicates that the linen Shroud is actually very old -- much older than the published 1988 radiocarbon date."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Roe asks Supreme Court to Overturn Roe v Wade

The woman once known as "Jane Roe" has asked the Supreme Court to overturn its landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion 32 years ago.
Norma McCorvey, whose protest of Texas' abortion ban led to the 1973 ruling, contends in a petition received at the court Tuesday that the case should be heard again in light of evidence that the procedure may harm women.
"Now we know so much more, and I plead with the court to listen for witnesses and re-evaluate Roe v. Wade," said McCorvey, who says she now regrets her role in the case.
The politically charged issue comes before the court as both sides gird for a possible bitter nomination fight over Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's replacement should the ailing justice retire this term. At least three justices, including Rehnquist, have said Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overturned.

U.S.-Led Forces Damaged Ancient Babylon-Report

The report said U.S. and Polish military vehicles had crushed 2,600-year-old pavements in the city, a cradle of civilization and home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Archaeological fragments were used to fill sand bags, it added.
"This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain," John Curtis, keeper of the museum's Ancient and Near East department, said in the report obtained by Reuters.

Spray-On Solar-Power Cells Are True Breakthrough

Scientists have invented a plastic solar cell that can turn the sun's power into electrical energy, even on a cloudy day.
The plastic material uses nanotechnology and contains the first solar cells able to harness the sun's invisible, infrared rays. The breakthrough has led theorists to predict that plastic solar cells could one day become five times more efficient than current solar cell technology.
Like paint, the composite can be sprayed onto other materials and used as portable electricity. A sweater coated in the material could power a cell phone or other wireless devices. A hydrogen-powered car painted with the film could potentially convert enough energy into electricity to continually recharge the car's battery.

Bush on Partial Privatization of Social Security

The Post: Will you talk to Senate Democrats about your privatization plan?
THE PRESIDENT: You mean, the personal savings accounts?
The Post: Yes, exactly. Scott has been --
THE PRESIDENT: We don't want to be editorializing, at least in the questions.
The Post: You used partial privatization yourself last year, sir.
The Post: Yes, three times in one sentence. We had to figure this out, because we're in an argument with the RNC [Republican National Committee] about how we should actually word this. [Post staff writer] Mike Allen, the industrious Mike Allen, found it.
THE PRESIDENT: Allen did what now?
The Post: You used partial privatization.
THE PRESIDENT: I did, personally?
The Post: Right.
The Post: To describe it.
THE PRESIDENT: When, when was it?
The Post: Mike said it was right around the election.
The Post: It was right around the election. We'll send it over.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm surprised. Maybe I did. It's amazing what happens when you're tired. Anyway, your question was?

U.S. Army Threatens Game Cheaters

"The Army is angry, and we're coming for you," America's Army executive producer Phil DeLuca warned cheaters in a notice on the computer game's official forums. Seemingly enraged at some players taking advantage of problems in the game, DeLuca said that those not playing by the rules were "misusing Army property" and akin to the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor.
The announcement came as a shock to many America's Army players, and further enraged those who feel the free game is used as a recruiting tool for the United States Army. The forums posting has since been removed from the game's Web site, but not before news of its contents began to spread.

"Honoring service is what our theme is about."

Q: I hear one of the balls will be reserved for troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
A: Yes, the Commander-in-Chief Ball. That is new. It will be about 2,000 servicemen and their guests. And that should be a really fun event for them.
Q: As an alternative way of honoring them, did you or the president ever discuss canceling the nine balls and using the $40 million inaugural budget to purchase better equipment for the troops?
A: I think we felt like we would have a traditional set of events and we would focus on honoring the people who are serving our country right now -- not just the people in the armed forces, but also the community volunteers, the firemen, the policemen, the teachers, the people who serve at, you know, the -- well, it's called the StewPot in Dallas, people who work with the homeless.
Q: How do any of them benefit from the inaugural balls?
A: I'm not sure that they do benefit from them.
Q: Then how, exactly, are you honoring them?
A: Honoring service is what our theme is about. [thanks to Kathy]

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Neocons turn their attention to Iran

Having adopted legislation in the past aimed at Cuba and Iraq, similar groups of Republicans and Democrats in Congress are currently setting their sights on promoting “regime change” in Iran.
As a result, new exiled Iranian opposition groups backed by some of Washington's neoconservatives are springing up in the hope of seeing large doses of US funding.
One such group the Alliance for Democracy in Iran is taking shape, strategically located in the heart of the capital's think-tank quarter. Activists described it as an opposition umbrella group that would act as a “clearing house” for US taxpayers' money dedicated to advancing the cause of democracy.

Scorsese Hasn't Spoken to Dylan About Film

Martin Scorsese has been working on a film about Bob Dylan for two years and there's one important person he hasn't spoken to about it: Bob Dylan.
"I'd not like to deal with the man directly," Scorsese told television critics this weekend. "I'd like to create the story, to find the story, first of all, and then play it out the way I think it's right."
The film concentrates on Dylan's early performing years from 1961 to 1966 and will run this summer as part of the PBS "American Masters" series. Scorsese directed "The Last Waltz," chronicling the final performance of former Dylan backup The Band.
Scorsese has access to 10 hours of fresh Dylan interviews conducted by the singer's manager, and said he may eventually ask Dylan a few questions. Even then, he can never be quite sure if the always inscrutable Dylan is being upfront or not.
"I'm trying to make as honest a film as possible without unnecessary restrictions," he said. "But I think for me, of course, I'm on his side, so I might come out in terms of a pro-Dylan."

Boxer, Rice Exchange Pointed Words

SEN. BOXER: Well, you should read what we voted on when we voted to support the war, which I did not, but most of my colleagues did. It was WMD, period. That was the reason and the causation for that, you know, particular vote.But, again, I just feel you quote President Bush when it suits you but you contradicted him when he said, "Yes, Saddam could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year." You go on television nine months later and said, "Nobody ever said it was" --
MS. RICE: Senator, that was just a question of pointing out to people that there was an uncertainty. No one was saying that he would have to have a weapon within a year for it to be worth it to go to war.
SEN. BOXER: Well, if you can't admit to this mistake, I hope that you'll --
MS. RICE: Senator, we can have this discussion in any way that you would like. But I really hope that you will refrain from impugning my integrity. Thank you very much.
SEN. BOXER: I'm not. I'm just quoting what you said. You contradicted the president and you contradicted yourself.
MS. RICE: Senator, I'm happy to continue the discussion, but I really hope that you will not imply that I take the truth lightly.
SEN. LUGAR: Let me intervene at this point. Now we've had four hours of good hearing, and we thank all members for their constancy. We're going to recess, and I'm going to suggest we come back at 2:30. Is that convenient for you, Dr. Rice?
MS. RICE: Perfect.

Fox says it pixillated a cartoon rear end because of FCC worries

Fox says it covered up the naked rear end of a cartoon character recently because of nervousness over what the Federal Communications Commission will find objectionable.
The latest example of TV network self-censorship because of FCC concerns came a few weeks ago during a rerun of the "Family Guy" cartoon. Fox blurred out a character's naked butt, even though the image was seen five years ago when the episode originally aired.
"We have to be checking and second-guessing ourselves now, and that's really difficult," Fox entertainment president Gail Berman said Monday. "We have to protect our affiliates."

Asthma linked to gestation

Exposure to allergens in the womb might be a more significant factor than exposure after birth in deciding whether youngsters develop the conditions later in childhood, it is suggested.
Researchers measured the levels of antibodies to allergens found in the umbilical cord blood of 1 300 babies born on the Isle of Wight between 1989 and 1990.
They then checked up on their progress at the ages of one, two, four and ten.
They found that at four, one in five children had become sensitised to allergens and at 10 the figure was more than one in four (27%).

Artificial Spider Silk Could Be Used for Armor, More

Scientists hope to soon be able to spin spider silk without the aid of spiders—achieving an age-old human quest to harness one of nature's most remarkable materials.
Randy Lewis is a professor of molecular biology at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. His team of researchers has successfully sequenced genes related to spider-silk production—uncovering the formula that spiders use to make silk from proteins. In the process the team acquired a better understanding of how the silk's structure is related to its amazing strength and elastic properties.
Their next task will be using what they've learned to spin spider silk themselves.
"Hopefully in the next month we'll start spinning fibers," Lewis told National Geographic News.

Bad idea for hunting goes global

[G]ame hunters are logging on to a website that invites its users to shoot live animals with the click of a mouse.
The site, denounced as obscene by animal activists, will offer a real-time link to a US game hunting ranch where online shooters can kill their targets.
Video cameras will be connected to rifles with sensors that can be controlled by computer users anywhere in the world.
The rifle range overlooks a 145ha reserve in San Antonio, Texas, where deer, antelope and wild hogs roam.

Limbaugh dumped for liberal show in Vermont

A southern Vermont-based radio station will trade in the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk show hosts for the liberal commentary of Air America next week.
WKVT-AM 1490 in Brattleboro will replace four of its weekday syndicated conservative talk shows on Jan. 17 with programs from the fledgling liberal radio network Air America, which launched in March.
The station will be the second in Vermont to broadcast Air America programs, which include shows hosted by comedian Al Franken and actress Jeanne Garofalo.

FBI Keeping Records on Pre-9/11 Travelers

If you're among the millions of Americans who took airline flights in the months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI (news - web sites) probably knows about it — and possibly where you stayed, whom you traveled with, what credit card you used and even whether you ordered a kosher meal.
The bureau is keeping 257.5 million records on people who flew on commercial airlines from June through September 2001 in its permanent investigative database, according to information obtained by a privacy group and made available to The Associated Press.

Chertoff: Kerik without the sex

It was Chertoff, as assistant atttorney general overseeing the initial 9/11 probe, who OK'ed and then defended the detention of hundreds of "material witnesses" of Arab descent -- even though it would later be determined that none -- that's right, none -- of the detainees had anything to do with the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Chartoff's actions during this period would later be roundly criticized in a report from the Justice Department's own Inspector General. It found that immigrants were rounded up in an "indiscriminate and haphazard manner," held for months while denied access to attorneys and sometimes mistreated behind bars.
The report noted that Chertoff "urged immigration officials to 'hold these people until we find out what's going on,' despite the fact that many had been swept up and detained on minor immigration charges."
Chertoff also pushed prosecutors and the FBI into greatly expanded use of domestic surveillance. In November 2002, according to this report, he "defended the need for government agencies to aggregate large amounts of personal information in computer databases for both law enforcement and national security purposes."

Allawi group slips cash to reporters

After a meeting held by Mr Allawi's campaign alliance in west Baghdad, reporters, most of whom were from the Arabic-language press, were invited upstairs where each was offered a "gift" of a $100 bill contained in an envelope.
Many of the journalists accepted the cash -- about equivalent to half the starting monthly salary for a reporter at an Iraqi newspaper -- and one jokingly recalled how Saddam Hussein's regime had also lavished perks on favoured reporters.
Giving gifts to journalists is common in many of the Middle East's authoritarian regimes, although reporters at the conference said the practice was not yet widespread in postwar Iraq.

Court OK's cops' use of GPS tracking without warrants

When Robert Moran drove back to his law offices in Rome, N.Y., after a plane trip to Arizona in July 2003, he had no idea that a silent stowaway was aboard his vehicle: a secret GPS bug implanted without a court order by state police.
...A federal judge in New York ruled last week that police did not need court authorization when tracking Moran from afar. "Law enforcement personnel could have conducted a visual surveillance of the vehicle as it traveled on the public highways," U.S. District Judge David Hurd wrote. "Moran had no expectation of privacy in the whereabouts of his vehicle on a public roadway."

Powell gives bleak assessment of Iraq security problems

One counterinsurgency expert said Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, had a "brutally accurate" picture of the situation and the potential dangers.
But a member of an influential neoconservative policy group said that such warnings "stop well short of the president".
He said Mr Rumsfeld, criticised for the conduct of the war, had an interest in hiding the true picture from the president.
According to Chas Freeman, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and head of the independent Middle East Policy Council, Mr Bush recently asked Mr Powell for his view on the progress of the war. "We're losing," Mr Powell was quoted as saying. Mr Freeman said Mr Bush then asked the secretary of state to leave.
A senior White House official said he had no knowledge of such an exchange and added: "The president acknowledges there are significant challenges. "He does not characterise them as insurmountable. Others do."

Rathergate vs. Saddam's WMD - A Quantitative Comparison

Military Tests Lasers To Warn Off Aircraft

A day after the Department of Transportation urged pilots to report hazardous laser beams aimed at aircraft, the U.S. military said it is testing a system to beam red and green lasers at aircraft in the Washington area as a warning when they enter restricted airspace.
The plan has prompted confusion among some area pilots who said they were unsure whether they would be able to tell the difference between a commercial laser used by someone playing at home and one operated by the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta on Wednesday urged pilots to report laser sightings to the Federal Aviation Administration and local law enforcement. A commercially available laser beamed into a cockpit can distract a pilot and in rare cases cause permanent eye damage.

WorldNetDaily refuses to tell its readers the full story about arrested anti-gay protesters.

Among the pro-protester talking points mentioned in nearly every WND story:
The group was merely "preaching God's Word" at Outfest.
The charges faced by the five protesters “could put them in jail for 47 years.”
The protesters were involved in a confrontation with a group called the Pink Angels, always described as "a militant mob of homosexuals"; it's also noted that "none of the Pink Angels were cited or arrested."
A video proves that the protesters were simply "peacefully evangelizing."
WND editor Joseph Farah spent a Dec. 20 column defending the protesters and railing against the police and prosecutors, taking care to repeat all the spin points. Farah wrote that the case of the "Christians are facing 47 years in jail for expressing their free-speech rights" is "one of the most brazen, frontal attacks on religious freedom and free speech I have seen in my lifetime." Farah claims that the protesters were "peaceful and calm at all times, despite what appears to be extraordinary provocation, intimidation and harassment," yet were arrested for "a long list of felonies and hate crimes that would make the Founding Fathers spin in their graves." Farah added: "If these charges stand, Christians across America will soon be hunted down like dogs as they are in many parts of the world today as the most persecuted religious group on the planet."
Yet for all of this apoplexy, WND has never reported what prosecutors and police have had to say about this case.

*Extra-Tight Security at Bush's Inaugural

Dozens of federal and local law enforcement agencies and military commands are planning what they describe as the heaviest possible security. Virtually everyone who gets within eyesight of the president either during the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol or the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue later in the day will first go through a metal detector or receive a body pat-down.
Thousands of police officers and military personnel are being brought to Washington from around the country for the four-day event. Sharpshooters will be deployed on roofs, while bomb-sniffing dogs will work the streets. Electronic sensors will be used to detect chemical or biological weapons.
Anti-abortion protesters have been warned to leave their crosses at home. Parade performers will have security escorts to the bathroom, and they've been ordered not to look directly at President Bush or make any sudden movements while passing the reviewing stand.
"It's going to be very different from past inaugurals," said Contricia Sellers-Ford, spokeswoman for the U.S. Capitol Police, which is responsible for the Capitol and grounds. "A lot of the security differences will not be detected by the public _ there will be a lot of behind the scenes implementation _ but the public will definitely see more of a police presence."
The Department of Homeland Security has designated the inaugural a National Special Security Event under a protocol introduced by President Bill Clinton that calls for especially heavy security during events of national significance at which large numbers of government officials and dignitaries are present.

Kerry Criticizes Election Outcome

The Massachusetts Democrat, Bush's challenger in November, spoke at Boston's annual Martin Luther King Day Breakfast. He reiterated that he decided not to challenge the election results, but "thousands of people were suppressed in the effort to vote."
"Voting machines were distributed in uneven ways. In Democratic districts, it took people four, five, eleven hours to vote, while Republicans (went) through in 10 minutes - same voting machines, same process, our America," he said.
In his comments, Kerry also compared the democracy-building efforts in Iraq with voting in the U.S., saying that Americans had their names purged from voting lists and were kept from casting ballots.
"In a nation which is willing to spend several hundred million dollars in Iraq to bring them democracy, we cannot tolerate that too many people here in America were denied that democracy," Kerry said.

Bush Plans Sharp Cuts in HUD Community Efforts

The White House will seek to drastically shrink the Department of Housing and Urban Development's $8 billion community branch, purging dozens of economic development projects, scrapping a rural housing program and folding high-profile anti-poverty efforts into the Labor and Commerce departments, administration officials said yesterday.
The proposal in the upcoming 2006 budget would make good on President Bush's vow to eliminate or consolidate what he sees as duplicative or ineffective programs. Officials said yesterday that economic development programs are scattered too widely in the government and have proved particularly ineffectual at HUD.
Advocates for the poor, however, contended that the White House is trying to gut federal programs for the poorest Americans to make way for tax cuts, a mission to Mars and other presidential priorities. Administration officials would not say how much the consolidation would save, but it could lead to steep funding cuts. That is because the HUD programs would have to compete for resources in Commerce and Labor budgets that are not likely to expand to accommodate the shuffle.

How copyright could be killing culture

"The owners of the libraries, which are now increasingly under corporate consolidation, see this as a ready source of income," Else says. "It has turned our history into a commodity. They might as well be selling underwear or gasoline."
And there's another catch: tighter legal restrictions.
Copyright legislation has grown stricter in recent years to protect media owners from digital piracy.
Broadcasters and film distributors, in turn, have become more stringent in making sure they are legally covered, too. As illustrated in a recent study by the American University in Washington, which interviewed dozens of documentary-makers on the myriad problems of getting copyright clearances, broadcasters and film distributors insist that a documentary have what is known as errors and omissions insurance, to protect against copyright infringement. Of course to get it, all copyrights in the documentary have to be cleared anyway.

How a Satire Becomes a Hoax

On Friday blogger Kurt Nimmo, in a post entitled "Opposing Bush: A Form of Mental Illness?," picked up an item from the satirical Swift Report and treated it as a genuine news story.
[And so did I. --McLir]

Ohio pulls plug on electronic voting

The battle is over and electronic voting machines, at least in Ohio, are dead.
After years of wrangling and protests, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell announced Wednesday that he will limit Ohio's uncompleted voting-machine conversion to a single device: the precinct-count optical-scan machine.
The decision effectively sidelines the embattled touch-screen voting machines that protesters portrayed as razor-toothed, vote-eating monsters prone to hacking.

Site to destroy brand myths among kids

The former head of a PR agency which peddled some of the world's biggest brands, today launches a site aimed at opening childrens' eyes to marketing myths. If successful, the online initiative could have the likes of Coke and McDonalds quaking in their corporate boots.
...The growing tide of concern about issues such as the contribution advertising makes to rising child obesity levels have featured heavily in the headlines over the last year, and broader concerns about the ethics of advertising to children are also behind the iknow initiative.
Ward says: “Brands are products that have been given personalities that aim to make the consumer feel better about themselves.
Children have very little awareness of this process. Therefore the pursuit of the most fashionable and expensive brands can cause debt in the home, the exclusion of friends from the social circle, playground bullying, depression, theft and even inhibit the development of a child’s personality.”

Greener on the Other Side

Project Evergreen, a "trade association formed by pesticide makers, applicators, garden centers and mower manufacturers," will launch a "national public-relations campaign this spring touting the health and lifestyle benefits of thick, green lawns." The campaign is partly in response to pesticide restrictions passed by 70 cities and one province in Canada. One Project Evergreen ad reads, "Legislation and regulations have been throwing the green industry some rough punches. ... We're about to start fighting back." The president of Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, a pesticide-industry lobbying group, said, "Local communities generally do not have the expertise on issues about pesticides to make responsible decisions." The environmental group Beyond Pesticides plans a counter-campaign. [from]

The Cactus Project

The cactus project is a transgenic artwork involving the fusion of human genetic material into the cactus genome resulting in the cactus expressing human hair. The cactus project involved the use of the agrobacterium system introducing the keratin gene into the cells of the cactus. By taking advantage of the totipotency of plant cells, the transformed cells were used to regenerate genetically engineered transgenic cacti. The logistical challenge was having the keratin expressed in cactus cells morphologically similar to hair and for the cactus to produce it externally.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Biologist tries to steer a shark, frikkin' lasers inevitable

Funded by the US Department of Defense, Jelle Atema wants to understand a shark's brain well enough to take it over -- to get it to obey commands to smell and sense what's going on in the water around it.
''I want to sit here in my office, call up Charlie Shark out in Hawaii, and say, 'Go follow that wake,' " said Atema, who splits his time between Boston University and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. Ultimately, he said, a shark could help the military by surveying hard-to-reach areas for dangerous chemicals or other hazards.
The shark is ideally suited for this research, he said, in part because it has a strikingly large nose.
''I'm totally in awe," said Atema, walking away from the dissection bench. ''I can't believe how big it is. It's five times bigger than an eel's nose."

Fornication is Now Legal in Virginia

The state Supreme Court yesterday struck down as unconstitutional a 19th-century Virginia law making it a crime for unmarried couples to have sex.
"We find no principled way to conclude . . . that the Virginia statute criminalizing intercourse between unmarried persons does not improperly abridge a personal relationship that is within the liberty interest of persons to choose," said the decision, written by Justice Elizabeth B. Lacy.
The ruling strikes down a law criminalizing fornication as a Class 4 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $250. The law had been on the books since the early 1800s but has not been enforced against consenting adults since 1847, lawyers said. The court based yesterday's ruling on a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning an anti-sodomy law in Texas.

Social Security - Repetition and Fear to Come

"White House allies are launching a market-research project to figure out how to sell" privatizing Social Security, while "Republican marketing and public-relations gurus are building teams of consultants," reports the Washington Post. The effort, led by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, "will use Bush's campaign-honed techniques of mass repetition, never deviating from the script and using the politics of fear to build support." Groups including Progress for America, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Republican Jewish Coalition are also advocating for privatization. Progress for America's TV ads, which include images of Franklin D. Roosevelt, have been protested by FDR's family. His grandson wrote, "My grandfather would surely oppose the ideas now being promoted by this administration and your organization."

Swiss banks publish Holocaust era accounts

Swiss banks published on the Internet Thursday the names of 3,100 World War II-era account holders who might have been victims of Nazi persecution and are entitled to millions of dollars in deposits.
Holocaust survivors or their heirs have six months, until July 13, to submit formal claims before a resolution tribunal in Zurich, Switzerland.
The list completes a process begun four years ago when the Swiss Bank Association published the names of 21,000 account holders who might have been the victims of German death camps whose families were unable to access their savings.

FDA Set to Decide on Morning-After Pill

The government is considering whether to make morning-after birth control available without a prescription, and like most issues that involve sex and pregnancy, it has generated heated debate.
Fierce arguments have gone on inside and outside the Food and Drug Administration, which may decide as soon as this week whether drug stores can sell the emergency contraception known as Plan B without a prescription to women age 16 and older.

High Court Affirms That Government Cannot Indefinitely Detain Cubans

Decision is Latest to Reject Government’s Attempt to Deny Rights to Non-Citizens
The Supreme Court today ruled 7-2 that the government violated the law by indefinitely detaining "Mariel" Cubans who cannot be deported because Cuba will not allow their return.

Open-Source Biology Evolves

To push research forward, scientists need to draw from the best data and innovations in their field. Much of the work, however, is patented, leaving many academic and nonprofit researchers hamstrung. But an Australian organization advocating an open-source approach to biology hopes to free up biological data without violating intellectual property rights.
The battle lies between biotech companies like multinational Monsanto, who can grant or deny the legal use of biological information, and independent organizations like The Biological Innovation for Open Society, or BIOS, and Science Commons. The indies want to give scientists free access to the latest methods in biotechnology through the web.
BIOS will soon launch an open-source platform that promises to free up rights to patented DNA sequences and the methods needed to manipulate biological material. Users must only follow BIOS' "rules of engagement," which are similar to those used by the open-source software community.

*Sibel Edmonds Vindicated

"The report substantiated the most serious of Sibel's allegations and demonstrates that the FBI owes Sibel an apology and compensation for its unlawful firing of her rather than hiding behind its false cloak of national security," said Mark Zaid, her lawyer.
Fine did not specify whether Edmonds's charges of espionage were true. He said that was beyond the scope of his probe. But he criticized the FBI's review of the spying allegations, which he said were "supported by either documentary evidence or witnesses other than Edmonds."
The report did not name Edmonds's co-worker, although Edmonds has identified the employee in comments to journalists. The report said there could be innocent explanations for the co-worker's behavior, but "other explanations were not innocuous."
The report noted that Edmonds's co-worker passed a lie detector test, as Edmonds has done, but it described the polygraph examinations as "not ideal" and noted that follow-up tests were not conducted.
Senators Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said the FBI's review of Edmonds's allegations was unacceptable, especially after the espionage scandal involving Robert P. Hanssen, the FBI agent caught spying for Russia for more than a decade.
"The bureau has reflexively ignored and punished its whistle-blowers, to the detriment of the bureau's effectiveness and sometimes to the detriment of the public's safety," said Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Months of war that ruined centuries of history

Iraqi authorities will today take back responsibility for the site of Babylon in a formal handover from the coalition forces. But what they will inherit, say experts, is a catalogue of disasters. According to the report of the British Museum's John Curtis, the site has been severely contaminated and parts have been irreparably damaged.
The report details:
· damage to the dragons decorating the Ishtar Gate, one of the world's most famous monuments, from attempts to prise out the relief-moulded bricks
· broken bricks inscribed with the name of Nebuchadnezzar lying in spoil heaps
· the original brick surface of the great processional route through the gate crushed by military vehicles
· fuel seeping from tanks into archaeological layers
· acres of the site levelled, covered with imported gravel - which Dr Curtis said would be impossible to remove without causing further damage - and sprayed with chemicals which are also seeping into the unexcavated buried deposits
· thousands of tonnes of archaeological material used to fill sandbags and mesh crates, and equally damaging, when that practice stopped, thousands more tonnes of material imported from outside the site, contaminating the site for archaeologists forever.

Monsanto Suing Farmers Over Piracy Issues

Monsanto Co.'s "seed police" snared soy farmer Homan McFarling in 1999, and the company is demanding he pay it hundreds of thousands of dollars for alleged technology piracy. McFarling's sin? He saved seed from one harvest and replanted it the following season, a revered and ancient agricultural practice.
"My daddy saved seed. I saved seed," said McFarling, 62, who still grows soy on the 5,000 acre family farm in Shannon, Miss. and is fighting the agribusiness giant in court.
Saving Monsanto's seeds, genetically engineered to kill bugs and resist weed sprays, violates provisions of the company's contracts with farmers.
Since 1997, Monsanto has filed similar lawsuits 90 times in 25 states against 147 farmers and 39 agriculture companies, according to a report issued Thursday by The Center for Food Safety, a biotechnology foe.

White House ducks torture proposal queries

The White House objected to the provision last fall, arguing in an Oct. 18 letter to Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that the measure "provides legal protections to foreign prisoners to which they are not now entitled under applicable law and policy."
McClellan said the sudden emergence of the three-month-old issue was a case of "someone trying to create a story where there is not one." He added, "This is Hill politics and posturing."

First Chapter of Edward Tufte's New Book: Beautiful Evidence

Corrupt Techniques in Evidence Presentations: New Chapter from Beautiful Evidence
Here is the first of several chapters on consuming presentations, on what alert members of an audience or readers of a report should look for in assessing the credibility of the presenter. Most of Beautiful Evidence is about helpful techniques in evidence presentations; these 3 or 4 chapters, however, will describe sources of corruption.
This draft will be posted for a month or so; I'd appreciate helpful comments.


There are many different types of sundials, from the very large to the small and portable. Some of the more unusual specimens include the spectacular new Sundial Bridge in Redding, CA, topiary and garden sundials in Britain, and, perhaps most lovely, stained glass sundials, rare now, but more common from the 16th through the 19th centuries. [from]

FBI retires its Carnivore

FBI surveillance experts have put their once-controversial Carnivore Internet surveillance tool out to pasture, preferring instead to use commercial products to eavesdrop on network traffic.
Two reports to Congress obtained by the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center reveal that the FBI didn't use Carnivore, or its rebranded version "DCS-1000," at all during the 2002 and 2003 fiscal years. Instead, the bureau turned to unnamed commercially-available products to conduct Internet surveillance thirteen times in criminal investigations in that period.

'Living' robots powered by muscle

Tiny robots powered by living muscle have been created by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The devices were formed by "growing" rat cells on microscopic silicon chips, the researchers report in the journal Nature Materials.
Less than a millimetre long, the miniscule robots can move themselves without any external source of power.
The work is a dramatic example of the marriage of biotechnology with the tiny world of nanotechnology.

*The Coming Wars

“This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “Next, we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah—we’ve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.”