Friday, February 25, 2005

Surreal Fashion Review of the Week

Rice challenges expectations and assumptions. There is undeniable authority in her long black jacket with its severe details and menacing silhouette. The darkness lends an air of mystery and foreboding. Black is the color of intellectualism, of abstinence, of penitence. If there is any symbolism to be gleaned from Rice's stark garments, it is that she is tough and focused enough for whatever task is at hand.
Countless essays and books have been written about the erotic nature of high heels. There is no need to reiterate in detail the reasons why so many women swear by uncomfortable three-inch heels and why so many men are happy that they do. Heels change the way a woman walks, forcing her hips to sway. They alter her posture in myriad enticing ways, all of which are politically incorrect to discuss.
But the sexual frisson in Rice's look also comes from the tension of a woman dressed in vaguely masculine attire -- that is, the long, military-inspired jacket. When the designer Yves Saint Laurent first encouraged women to wear trousers more than 30 years ago, his reasons were not simply because pants are comfortable or practical. He knew that the sight of a woman draped in the accouterments of a man is sexually provocative. A woman was embracing something forbidden.

Religious Intolerance Against Jews and Ahteists Alleged at Military Academy

Of the roughly 4,000 cadets at the Air Force Academy, about 93 percent are Christian. Minority students say they've been subjected to verbal abuse and made to feel like second-class citizens.
Curtis Weinstein said he experienced this on the softball field from a cadet whose name he didn't know. "He knew I was Jewish and referred to myself and my religion using the f-word, calling me, like, an f-ing Jew, and blaming me for killing Jesus," Weinstein said.

Out of Balance: Poynter Survey Reveals Journalists' Pressure Points

The 750 respondents tell a story of long hours, pressure to do more, missed vacations, staff cutbacks, and as a result, a significant number of journalists who are considering leaving the field. Those most at risk of leaving are young journalists, women, and minorities. But others are not far behind them in that consideration.
The risk of losing journalists due to work-life balance issues is especially troubling because they also report a high level of satisfaction with the work of journalism. It is the working conditions that are at issue.

Crushed optic nerve made to regrow

First they turned on a gene called BCL-2, which promotes growth and regeneration of the optic nerve in young mice. This gene is normally turned off shortly before birth. They then bred those animals with other mice carrying genetic mutations that reduce scar tissue in injured nerves.
The researchers crushed the optic nerves shortly after birth, and found that in young mice - less than 14 days old - between 40% and 70% of the injured optic nerve fibres regrew to reach their target destinations in the brain. No regrowth was seen in injured mice without the genetic modifications.

Galileo's Compass

Galileo's compass (with sound). Galileo Galilei's compass resembles a calculator. In Le Operazioni del Compasso Geometrico e Militare (Padua, 1606), Galileo describes over 40 operations that can be carried out with this instrument. Try using the compass yourself. [from]

Jon Stewart on Bloggers


10 Voters on Panel Backing Pain Pills Had Industry Ties

If the 10 advisers had not cast their votes, the committee would have voted 12 to 8 that Bextra should be withdrawn and 14 to 8 that Vioxx should not return to the market. The 10 advisers with company ties voted 9 to 1 to keep Bextra on the market and 9 to 1 for Vioxx's return.
Eight of the 10 members said in interviews that their past relationships with the drug companies had not influenced their votes. The two others did not respond to phone or e-mail messages.
Researchers with ties to industry commonly serve on Food and Drug Administration advisory panels, but their presence has long been a contentious issue.

Thompson had end all planned, wife says

Hunter S. Thompson not only planned his suicide, but he also provided instructions on how he wanted his legacy preserved, his wife, Anita, said Thursday in her first public interview since his death.
"At first I was very angry; he was my best friend, my lover, my partner and my teacher," Anita Thompson said. "But I know he is much more powerful and alive now than ever before. He is in all of our hearts. His death was a triumph of his own human spirit because this is what he wanted. He lived and died like a champion."
In recent months, he had repeatedly talked of killing himself, she said, and had been issuing directives, orally and in writing, on what he wanted done with his body, his unpublished work and his assets.

Moyers: Why is Bozell mum about Murdoch's "sleaze empire"?

Bill Moyers tells Nick Welsh: "It's so interesting that one of the chief critics of smut in television, Brent Bozell, who runs a right-wing media watch group [Media Research Center], is silent when it comes to the public standards of Rupert Murdoch's sleaze empire. They do have a double standard. They are silent about the fact that it's capitalism, and that it’s the media tycoons who are polluting the public sphere." (Moyers is wrong, says MRC's Tim Graham.) ADVICE FOR THE YOUNG: "If you want to do really good journalism and journalism that tells the truth as you see it, then broadcast journalism is not the place to go today. There are still good newspapers." [from]

The Onion: New Generation Of Dynamic, Can-Do Seniors Taking On Second Jobs

"Whoever said people should settle into just one job at 65 never witnessed the pride of an 80-year-old grocery bagger," said Skip Eldrud, CEO of the job-placement company Vital Signs Temporary Labor. "It's moving to see that the can-do American spirit lives on, well into the years when declining bodily functions make many tasks difficult or even painful to complete."
"Wake up, service and office-support industries!" Eldrud added. "America's seniors are knocking on your door, and they're politely requesting an employment application."

Patent Threats Hurt Scientific Research

In their friend-of-the-court brief, EFF, Public Knowledge, and the Consumer Project on Technology argued that patent law allows researchers the freedom to make and use patented products for the purpose of furthering academic study. They also argued that experimentation on patented items for the purpose of creating new inventions is also allowed -- as long the patented products aren't sold by the researchers.
"Patent law was created to help spread knowledge and spur innovation," said Jason Schultz, staff attorney at EFF. "Allowing patent owners to shut down important scientific research flies in the face of that purpose."

Anti-Missle Passes Test at Sea

We give the missile defense program a pretty hard time around here, especially when they don't even manage to pass their own dumbed-down tests. So give the Star Wars crowd some credit: one of their interceptors successfully downed a mock warhead on Thursday. It's "the fifth success in six such tests of the fledgling U.S. anti-missile shield's sea-based leg," according to Reuters. The ground-based component of the missile shield has, obviously, not performed nearly as well.
The target rocket was fired from the U.S. Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, Kauai, and was hit a few minutes later from a Standard Missile-3 interceptor fired from the USS Lake Erie guided missile cruiser. The ship used the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Weapon System to track the target. By year's end, the U.S. Navy wants 18 ships equipped with the system, Defense Daily notes. [from]

Starless Galaxy Said Found

Astronomers announced yesterday that they have discovered what is believed to be the first dark galaxy ever detected, a starless mass of spinning matter located some 50 million light-years away in the Virgo cluster of galaxies.
The initial sighting of this invisible object came in 2000, from radio wave observations made using the Lovell telescope in Cheshire, England, which sketched a cloud of hydrogen atoms a million times the mass of the sun rotating in the Virgo cluster. Subsequent data from Puerto Rico's Arecibo radio telescope confirmed the existence of the object, dubbed VIRGOHI21. "From the speed it is spinning, we realized that VIRGOHI21 was a thousand times more massive than could be accounted for by the observed hydrogen atoms alone," comments co-discoverer Robert Minchin of Cardiff University. This suggests that abundant dark matter is lurking in the cloud. "If it were an ordinary galaxy, then it should be quite bright and would be visible with a good amateur telescope," he continues. Previous claims for dark galaxies have crumbled after observations using optical telescopes ultimately revealed resident stars. But scrutinizing the region using the optical Isaac Newton telescope in La Palma, Spain, the team did not spot any such signs of the ordinary.

PR from Government Agencies

Along with doubling spending on external PR contracts, the Bush administration has increased PR positions inside government agencies, called public affairs. Public affairs staffs grew by 9 percent since 2000, "even faster than the federal work force," for a cost increase of more than $50 million. The Pentagon "added the greatest number of PR officials." Other increases occurred at the State, Agriculture and Interior Departments and the Social Security Administration. The Forest Service's Communications Director said "a growing number of advisory panels required by Congress and a controversial program that opens some forests to logging" necessitated the PR boost. He said media tracking had intensified, adding that "after talking to Newsday for this story, he would have to call his boss to report the interview."

Pro-privatization Social Security experts on TV are paid for by the right

A Media Matters for America analysis of guests who have appeared on cable or network news since the November 2, 2004, election to discuss Social Security failed to find one independent expert with a graduate degree in economics who supported allowing workers to divert Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts.
Media Matters found eight guests who held graduate degrees in economics; three supported privatizing Social Security, and five opposed it. While all five opponents of privatization are supported by independent universities and organizations, all three privatization proponents are funded by right-wing organizations and foundations.

Judge: Newspaper Can Protect Sources

The New York Times has a First Amendment right to protect the confidentiality of its sources by denying the government phone records in certain instances, a judge ruled Thursday.
Saying that secrecy in government appears to be on the increase, Judge Robert W. Sweet refused to toss out a First Amendment lawsuit the newspaper filed last year to stop the Department of Justice from getting records of phone calls between two veteran journalists and sources.

A Scanner Darkly trailer

The trailer for the Richard Linklater-directed adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel is now online. Link (Quicktime), more on the Philip K. Dick website, and link to IMDB listing. (Thanks, suz) Previously: Sneak peek at images from A Scanner Darkly, Erik Davis consults on A Scanner Darkly. [from]

Both Houses of Congress Get Involved in 'Gannon' Case

Two leaders of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee want the federal prosecutor investigating the Valeria Plame case to subpoena a personal journal of controversial White House reporter James Guckert, following Editor & Publisher's disclosure yesterday that Guckert claims he kept the journal for the past two years.
"It is clear that a primary obstacle to the ... investigation is uncovering a precise chronology of when, and to whom, classified information was leaked," Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), one of those seeking the subpoena, told E&P. "The revelation by Editor & Publisher that Mr. Guckert kept contemporaneous records of his 'reporting' activities could well be a major step forward in developing such a chronology."
In addition, E&P has confirmed an report on The Raw Story that Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) is circulating a letter among his colleagues that asks President Bush to launch an investigation into how Guckert, who writes under the byline “Jeff Gannon,” gained access to White House press briefings over two years despite having no journalism background and using a false name.

Peace Movement Gears Up for Global Protests on War Anniversary

Last weekend, Plummer attended a conference in the southern state of Missouri that drew several hundred representatives of pacifist groups, former combatants, soldiers' families, and others from 35 U.S. states and Canada.

They gathered to discuss the direction of the anti-war movement for the first time since the start of President George W. Bush's second term.

The meeting was coordinated by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), an umbrella coalition of 1,000 national and local anti-war groups. Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of UFPJ, said the conference winnowed dozens of proposals down to a six-point action plan for the coming year.

''We plan to launch a nationwide grassroots educational campaign to reach out to people who are our allies and constituents that we believe are with us but haven't become part of the movement,'' she told IPS.

Very Funny Romance Novel Covers

This page of remixed romance-novel covers is snarfingly funny -- GIMME MY SHIRT BACK, LORD OF THE TUBE SOCKS and many more. Link (via Making Light) [from]

When Multimedia was Black and White

Relive your Hypercard memories.

Solar Tower

The kilometer-high Solar Tower to be built in Australian outback (previous post) has finally purchased a site, and construction may be finished in 2009. Other towers may be built in China and the US. [from]

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Ban on Swastika Rejected

The European Union abandoned a plan to ban Nazi symbols throughout it's member nations. The ban was strongly supported by German Ministers of Parliament after British Prince Harry wore Nazi insignia to a costume party. Among those opposed to the ban was the Hindu Forum of Britain (press release) who launched a campaign to reclaim the Swastika. The symbol its self was in Frequent popular use before WWII. Anti-Communists in former Soviet Block countries sought to expand the ban to communist emblems. Searching for different points of views on this came up with an earlier story of interfaith conflict over meaning, and a parallel to the European debate going on in New Zealand. [from]

Background on Frank Luntz: The Man Behind the Leaked GOP Strategy Paper

  • During the height of the war in Iraq, he conducted televised sessions in Cairo, Paris, and elsewhere for MSNBC.
  • In April 2003 Luntz made headlines when a memo - "The Environment: a cleaner, safer, healthier America" ( - he prepared for GOP leaders on how to win "the environmental communications battle" was leaked to the press.
  • In May 2003 another memo attributed to The Luntz Research Companies and The Israel Project was leaked. It outlined how American Jewish leaders should incorporate the war in Iraq into their public comments about Israel: "Israeli Communications Priorities 2003" (
  • In March 2004, Grist magazine ( memo (PDF) ( sent out in February 2004 discussing Americans' intense feelings on the subject of water: "Young and old, Democrat AND Republican, the demand for clean water is universal. More importantly, the public is willing to pay for it . An overwhelming majority of Americans - 91 percent - agree that 'if, as a country, we are willing to invest BILLIONS of dollars annually in highways and airways, we certainly should be willing to make the necessary investments in our nation's waterways. '" [The italic and bold flourishes are Luntz Research's own.] reported on an emphatic
  • "Communicating the Principles of Prevention and Protection in the War on Terror" (, mentioned on the PBS TV show "Now with Bill Moyers", apparently prepared for the Bush Administration, full of guidance on specific words, phrases, and context to use when talking about the policy of pre-emption and the war in Iraq." This advice included: "No speech about homeland security or Iraq should begin without a reference to 9/11"
  • Media Matters for America wrote a letter ( to MSNBC urging that Luntz not be included in the station's presidential debate coverage, due to "Luntz's partisan Republican ties and history of questionable scientific methodology." MSNBC did decide to cancel Luntz's participation, two days before the first debate. "I think they [MSNBC] buckled to political pressure," Luntz said. "They caved. . . . Why is it that Democrats are allowed to do this, but Republicans aren't?"[5] (
  • Journalist and blogger Joshua Micah Marshall, fact-checking a Luntz claim that "he's done no GOP work since 2001,"[6] ( describes regular briefings Luntz gave to the House Republican Caucus, at least as recently as mid-2004, and concludes: "Sounds like Luntz provides regular strategy briefings for Republicans and does it, not suprisingly, in part to troll for work."[7] ( In a subsequent post, Marshall (expanding on others' reports ( wrote, "According to the California Secretary of State's website, the Bill Simon (R) for Governor campaign paid Luntz about $80,000 in 2002 and 2003. He also got paid over $25,000 in 2003 by Darrell Issa's recall committee 'RESCUE CALIFORNIA'."[8]

"Office Space" as performed by the Superfriends


"Ashcroft" Dubbed Over Expletive for In-Flight Showings of "Sideways"

You're an Ashcroft! No, you're the Ashcroft!
Imagine hearing that exchange in a movie -- you'd think that Hollywood had come up with a crazy new insult. Well, it turns out that some airline passengers watching the Oscar-nominated film "Sideways" on foreign flights are, in fact, hearing "Ashcroft" as a substitute for a certain seven-letter epithet commonly used to denote a human orifice.

U.S. says Canada relinquishing sovereignty with No to missile shield

Canada's announcement that it won't join the U.S. missile shield provoked an immediate warning that it has relinquished sovereignty over its airspace.
From now on, the U.S. government will control any decision to fire at incoming missiles over Canadian territory, declared the top U.S. envoy to Canada.
"We will deploy. We will defend North America," said Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada.
"We simply cannot understand why Canada would in effect give up its sovereignty - its seat at the table - to decide what to do about a missile that might be coming towards Canada."
The response came just moments after Prime Minister Paul Martin ended months of ambiguity Thursday by announcing that he would not sign on to the controversial missile-defence program.

Select GHW Bush and Clinton Records Now Available

The National Archives and Records Administration has announced the opening of selected documentary records from the papers of former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
"Approximately 9,700 pages of George H.W. Bush Presidential records that were previously withheld under the Presidential Records Act restrictions for appointments to federal office and/or confidential advice are now open for research," NARA said in a February 18 news release.

Meanwhile, "The William J. Clinton Presidential Library ... Is making over 100,000 pages of Clinton presidential records available for research. They represent the first public release of Clinton presidential records since the end of the Clinton Administration," according to another NARA news release.
Public access to records of former presidents remains a subject of some controversy due to a November 2001 executive order by President George W. Bush which made it easier to curtail such access. [from Secrecy News]

Pentagon Seeking Leeway Overseas

The Pentagon is promoting a global counterterrorism plan that would allow Special Operations forces to enter a foreign country to conduct military operations without explicit concurrence from the U.S. ambassador there, administration officials familiar with the plan said.
The plan would weaken the long-standing "chief of mission" authority under which the U.S. ambassador, as the president's top representative in a foreign country, decides whether to grant entry to U.S. government personnel based on political and diplomatic considerations.
The Special Operations missions envisioned in the plan would largely be secret, known to only a handful of officials from the foreign country, if any.

Report Slams "No Child Left Behind"

It said the law's accountability system, which punishes schools whose students fail to improve steadily on standardized tests, undermined school improvement efforts already under way in many states and relied on the wrong indicators. The report said that the law's rules for educating disabled students conflicted with another federal law, and that it presented bureaucratic requirements that failed to recognize the tapestry of educational challenges faced by teachers in the nation's 15,000 school districts.
"Under N.C.L.B., the federal government's role has become excessively intrusive in the day-to-day operations of public education," the National Conference of State Legislatures said in the report, which was written by a panel of 16 state legislators and 6 legislative staff members.
Several education experts said the panel had accurately captured the views of thousands of state lawmakers, and local educators. If that is so, the report suggests that the Bush administration could face continuing friction with states and school districts as the Department of Education seeks to carry out the law in coming months.

College Republican Deserve Credit for Candor

Outside the hall before the event, Philly DFA began chanting "Hey-hey, ho-ho, Riock Santorum has got to go!" Local college Republicans, who are just about the only Republicans in West Philly, responded with a chant that beautifully was captured live by CNN: "hey-hey, ho-ho, Social Security has got to go!" I love it when the other side does your campaigning for you!

For economic growth, tougher environmental laws?

In 20 years, the US has gone from leading the world in wind-energy manufacturing - with at least a dozen enterprising firms - to lagging badly. Companies in Germany, Denmark, Spain, and elsewhere have grabbed the technological lead and now hold roughly 80 percent of a $8 billion market that's growing 25 to 35 percent a year.
The reason? Some experts point to lax clean-air laws in the US. That's right. Weak environmental regulations may hurt, not help, industries by blunting their technological edge. Such contrarian logic, controversial among economists, is about to be put to the test.
By not signing the Kyoto Protocol, the US has set itself apart from most of the industrialized world. So will its companies flourish, thanks to lower environmental costs - or lose out to foreign firms that cut greenhouse gases?

Ethics Group Files Complaint Against Social Security Administration -- SSA Paid PR Firm $1.8 million

Noting that the U.S. Social Security Administration "has been promoting the idea that Social Security is facing a crisis," and SSA has paid Fleishman-Hillard "nearly $1.8 million since September 2003," the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is wondering "what role, if any" the PR firm "has played in manufacturing that crisis." CREW filed a Freedom of Information Act request with SSA asking for information on their PR contracts. When SSA failed to respond within 20 days, as required by law, CREW filed a lawsuit. "This Administration has a demonstrated pattern of misrepresenting important information to the public," said CREW's executive director. [from]

Wanted by DHS: Journalists who can keep quiet

The ad follows the disclosure that two other federal agencies had hired conservative commentators Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher to back administration proposals. Those contracts brought rebukes from media ethicists who said they blurred the line between journalism and propaganda.
But DHS spokesman Marc Short said the department’s job posting is “nothing like” the earlier controversies. Instead of acting as advocates, the reporters would be prohibited from relaying the results of the exercise outside of the “virtual news network” that is part of the training exercise.
“You must NOT be currently employed by a real news organization and will be required to sign a nondisclosure agreement barring you from writing about this in the future,” the job posting stated.

Bush's Mainz Adventure

Every manhole lid along the route has been soldered down tight. No terrorist rats will be tolerated this time. All mail boxes along the route have been carted away. Cars must not only be removed from along the route but also from garages of people living along the route. Windows must be shut and no one is allowed to stand on the balcony to wave. There won’t be much waving anyway, it seems, and the police have issued severe warnings: Anti-Bush banners or slogans must not be visible anywhere along the route, and no "insulting" banners will be allowed anywhere. There’s a law to take care of that matter. All traffic, vehicles or pedestrians, will be restricted in the areas George Bush is planning to visit. And if anyone crosses this stretch he better not forget to have his full ID ready at hand, although even that may not help him. Mainz is to be kept free of terror and terrorists! It looks like a jolly time ahead.

Bush Drops Town Hall Meeting with Germans

[T]he main highlight of George W. Bush's trip was meant to be a "town hall"-style meeting with average Germans. But with the German government unwilling to permit a scripted event with questions approved in advance, the White House has quietly put the event on ice. Was Bush afraid the event might focus on prickly questions about Iraq and Iran rather than the rosy future he's been touting in Europe this week?

Rocket Fuel Fed to Newborns

A toxic, defense-industry chemical makes its way into breast milk. Infants could be exposed to twice the safe limit announced by the Environmental Protection Agency just four days ago.

No Encryption for E-Passports

Despite widespread criticism from security experts that a proposed high-tech upgrade to Americans' passports actually introduces new security risks, the government is declining to encrypt data on new high-tech e-passports, according to proposed new rules published last week.
In response to this outside criticism and some public questioning by one of its own contractors, the State Department delayed its rollout of the chip-equipped passports and hired additional companies to provide prototypes.

Top Fonts of 2004

Marijuana-like Ingredient Could Slow Alzheimer's

"This is the first time the effects of such damage have been found in Alzheimer's patients," said study co-author Maria de Ceballos, head of the neurodegeneration group at the Cajal Institute, Spain's largest neuroscience research center, in Madrid. "Previously, it has been known only in those with acute brain damage from trauma."

Google Movies

Search for movies using the new "movie:" method, see showtimes and get directions to theaters near you (with Google Maps, of course!), read a summation of critics' reviews (ala RottenTomatoes), and get more information on the cast (via links to IMDb). [from]

FOX News doctors AP reports to mimic White House terminology

Since April 2002, FOX News has consistently doctored Associated Press articles featured on the FOX News website concerning terrorist attacks in the Middle East to conform to Bush administration terminology. Without any editorial notation disclosing that words in the AP articles have been changed, FOX News replaces the terms "suicide bomber" and "suicide bombing" with "homicide bomber" and "homicide bombing" to describe attackers who kill themselves and others with explosives. In at least one case, FOX News actually altered an AP quote from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) to fit this naming convention, and then revised it to restore the quote without noting either the original alteration or its correction.

Canada Will Not Join U.S. Missile Defense System

The move represents an about face for Prime Minister Paul Martin, who in the run-up to a federal election last June said he thought Canada should be part of a system designed to protect the North American continent.
But Martin lost his parliamentary majority in that election and is now struggling to keep his minority government afloat with the support of a smaller left-leaning party which is strongly opposed to missile defense.
"The prime minister plans to announce this week that Canada will not be a part of the missile defense system," a senior official told Reuters late on Tuesday.

Psychedelic medicine

Clinical trials of psychedelic drugs are planned or under way at numerous centres around the world for conditions ranging from anxiety to alcoholism. It may not be long before doctors are legally prescribing hallucinogens for the first time in decades. "There are medicines here that have been overlooked, that are fundamentally valuable," says Halpern.
These developments are a remarkable turnaround. Scientists first became interested in psychedelic drugs - also called hallucinogens because of their profound effect on perception - after Albert Hofmann, a chemist working for the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Sandoz, accidentally swallowed LSD in 1943. Hofmann's description of his experience, which he found both enchanting and terrifying, spurred scientific interest in LSD as well as naturally occurring compounds with similar effects: mescaline, the active ingredient of the peyote cactus; psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms; and DMT, from the Amazonian shamans' brew ayahuasca.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

'Green' munitions linked to cancer

A tungsten alloy used in "environmentally friendly" munitions caused rapidly growing tumors in laboratory rats, according to a recently published study.
The results raise concerns about the danger from nontoxic alternatives to depleted uranium and lead, including the 5.56 mm tungsten-nylon bullet used at Camp Edwards.
The "green" bullet was introduced on the base in 1999, two years after the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of lead ammunition. The EPA had ordered a massive cleanup of underground pollutants on the base and believed chemicals from spent rounds could seep into the groundwater.

Some Ulster County Gulf War vets say they are victims of depleted uranium

Veterans Gerard Mathew, Herbert Reed and Ray Ramos, featured in the film, “Poison Dust”, an expose on the use of radioactive Depleted Uranium, were guests of honor at a special screening of the film in Manhattan. Matthew’s wife, Janice, recently gave birth to a baby girl, Victoria, who was born with a deformity.
Thousands of tons of this radioactive material are currently being used in munitions and as protective armor on tanks. When weapons are deployed and ignite, the DU is released as fine radioactive dust and remains on the battlefield. It is inhaled or ingested.

Hunter S.Thompson commenting on 9-11 media coverage

[MP3 from]

Quark soup may cause cosmic flashes

Intense flashes of gamma rays in far-off galaxies might be produced by a bizarre kind of star, consisting of phenomenally dense material in which the particles that make up atomic nuclei have fallen apart.
But within days of posting their paper on the arXiv preprint server1, the researchers were given good reason to believe that they are on to something. Davide Lazzati of the University of Colorado at Boulder contacted Paczyn acuteski to say that the quark-star hypothesis might explain some puzzling observations made by the Burst and Transient Source Experiment on NASA's Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, which was launched in 1991.

This is No Photoshop Tennis

An artificial court has been especially laid for champions Roger Federer and Andre Agassi on the heliport of the 7-star Burj Al Arab hotel for Dubai Duty Free Men's Open.


More pictures.
Via Archinect.

Pogo-stick design based on composite bow

Building an ice tower in Alaska

 Images Ice-Wall-04-05 IceheadeThe Alaska Alpine Club in Fairbanks decided to build a 132-tall ice tower. They used a rotating nozzle that sprayed water, making a kind of giant, upside down icicle. The pictures of the tower are neat, but I was even more impressed with the photos of the home made nozzles they used to make the tower. [from]



The anti-AARP campaign begins

This is how the Swifties and USA Next are attacking the AARP:

(Ad running on the American Spectator site.)

Yup, they hate our troops and love gays. This is how they plan on attacking the AARP in their efforts to dismantle social security.
Self-parody at its finest.
Funny thing is, you click on the ad, and it just goes to the USA Next homepage. No effort to even argue the case that the AARP is anti-troop and pro-gay marriage. [from]

On The Media on Eason Jordon

Eason’s Fables
"Blog swarm" is the term applied to a critical mass of blogosphere chatter that forces a story into the mainstream media. Lately the phenomena hasn’t simply been claiming column space, it’s been claiming high profile media careers. It happened to Dan Rather, to Jeff "James Gucker" Gannon and most recently to CNN executive Eason Jordan - who misspoke last month at the World Economic Forum. After the resulting "blog swarm" Eason was forced to resign. Bret Stephens, reporter for the Wall Street Journal, joins Bob to suss out the damage done by the swarm.
Longtime Reader, First Time Inciter
Rony Abovitz also attended the World Economic Forum, invited as a “technological pioneer.” But when he arrived in Switzerland, he was asked to write his impressions as a first-time attendee in the forum’s web log. In his first-ever blog entry, Abovitz described his shock at Jordan’s charge against the U.S. military. If true, he wrote, “it would make Abu Ghraib look like a walk in the park.” Eleven days later Jordan had resigned and Abovitz was credited with igniting the storm that ended his long career at CNN. Bob speaks with Abovitz about inadvertently inciting the blogs.
Target Practice

So it seems that, without ample evidence, CNN’s Eason Jordan made damning insinuations about the U.S. military … and, without knowing precisely what he said, right-leaning bloggers made damning insinuations about Mr. Jordan. But what about the actual substance of Mr. Jordan’s claims? The Committee to Protect Journalists tracks documented cases of aggression against reporters in conflict zones. Bob speaks with Joel Campagna, CPJ’s program coordinator for the Middle East.

Leaked GOP Strategy Report

This zipped file contains two PDF files -- scans of a 160-page briefing book by Frank Luntz on the lessons learned from 2004 as the GOP seeks to extend its winning streak in 2006.
Haven't read and processed it all yet. I thought I'd give you guys an early look at it. It's a virtual smogasboard for fans of language framing, and a great "preview of coming attractions".
Warning, it's an 8MB file, so it may take a while to download. [from]

Top Music Videos

Number 1 "Hurt": The video for 'Hurt', Johnny Cash's valedictory single recorded just six months before his death, shows a frail and ailing Cash at home, dressed in his usual black outfit, playing guitar and piano, interwoven with past footage of the 'Man in Black' in his heyday.
It proved a poignant elegy for the country music icon, who fought illness for the last decade of his life. He died from complications linked to diabetes in 2003, aged 71.

hompson requested his ashes be shot out of a cannon

Author William Kennedy got a call from Hunter S. Thompson two weeks ago, complaining about unspecified pains, reports Dennis Duggan. Yesterday, Kennedy talked to Thompson's son, Juan. "He said that his father wanted a church funeral and he had asked that his ashes be shot out of a cannon," says Kennedy. Hunter Thompson was a great companion. He was very smart, and he had a wild and crazy way about him that was great fun. He was also very serious about literature, and he was a helluva writer." [from]

The Thompson Style: A Sense of Self, and Outrage

For a generation of American students, Mr. Thompson made journalism seem like a dangerous, fantastic occupation, in the process transforming an avocation that was mostly populated by doughy white men in short-sleeve white button-downs and bad ties into something fit for those who smoked Dunhills at the end of cigarette holders and wore sunglasses regardless of the time of day. It is to his credit or blame that many aspiring journalists showed up to cover their first, second, and sometimes third local city council meetings in bowling shirts and bad sunglasses (no names need be mentioned here), along with their notebooks.

Delaying tactic improves online security

Instead of sending a password straight away, the customer sends an encrypted message that the recipient can only decode if they already know the password. That recipient then sends a message back to prove that it knows the password. But neither message is of any use to a criminal who intercepts it, because they do not contain the password itself. "The bank doesn't get any information," says Jakobsson. "But you know it's really your bank."

US could see its advantage in technology slip away

[The] American Electronics Association... argues that the US standing in technology is slipping, and that the nation is in danger of losing its advantage in fields it has long dominated.
"We are still in the lead, but it is a precarious one," the association's researchers warn in the conclusion to their report. "Already other countries are challenging us in key technology arenas. If we don't act now to maintain our competitive edge, we should not be surprised if the next wave of breakthrough technologies is created abroad."

ID Theft Victims Could Lose Twice

Legal experts say that people who suffered losses as a result of the breach will find it difficult to get compensation from ChoicePoint for selling their personal data to con artists, even if the victims can prove that ChoicePoint was negligent in screening customers who purchased their data. That's because courts have been unwilling to penalize companies when victims of identity theft are not their direct customers.
Experts are hoping the ChoicePoint case may begin to swing court opinion, which could force companies like ChoicePoint to take better care of consumer privacy and data in the absence of federal legislation.

Justice Department Reverses on Reclassification of Sibel Edmonds Documents

“The fact that the Justice Department gave up on the eve of the hearing shows that this information was classified for an improper purpose,” said Danielle Brian, POGO’s executive director. “If this information could ever have harmed national security, the Justice Department would never have caved in.”

FontLeech: The Free Font Blog

Fear & Loathing in the Afterlife

The story goes that, while covering the Kentucky Derby on assignment for Scanlan's Magazine, mentally spent and under deadline, Thompson ripped pages from his notebook, numbered them and sent them off to the printer, certain that it would be his last article. The piece, however, proved to be a success, and Thompson realized "if I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying to write like The New York Times?" [from]

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

84-year-old receives recruiting letters inviting him to re-enlist

The last time Dr. Floyd Baker served in the U.S. Army, Harry S. Truman was president, Dinah Shore's "Buttons and Bows" topped the music charts, "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" won an Oscar and the bikini made its debut on American beaches.
So the 84-year-old semi-retired dentist from Philadelphia was a little surprised last August when he got a letter from a local Army recruiting station inviting him to re-enlist.
"I was honorably discharged in 1948," said Baker, who was drafted in 1946 and left the Army with captain's bars on his shoulders. "I thought the letter belonged to somebody else, knowing when I got in the Army and when I got out. I thought it was a mistake."

Hunter S. Thompson on the GOP

"They get control of the U.S. economy, their friends get rich. These are not philosopher-kings we're talking about. These are politicians. It's a very sleazy way of using the system. One of the problems today is that what's going on today is not as complex as it seems. The Pentagon just asked for another $14 billion more in the budget, and it's already $28 billion. [Defense spending rose $19.4 billion, to $364.6 billion in the 2003 budget]. That's one sector of the economy that's not down the tubes. So, some people are getting rich off of this. It's the oligarchy. I believe the Republicans have never thought that democracy was anything but a tribal myth. The GOP is the party of capital. It's pretty basic. And it may have something to do with the deterioration of educational system in this country. I don't think Bush has the slightest intention or concern about educating the public."

The Blogfather: Hunter S. Thompson Dies

In an interesting yet not surprising reaction to the passing of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, he is being referred to as the original blogger. Clearly this is not meant to be taken literally, as the blogging phenomenon is relatively recent and Thompson didn't keep a blog or even an official website. However, with more and more bloggers paying tribute to the man as one of their main inspirations and with the question "Are bloggers journalists?" being debated almost daily, this brings an intriguing debate front and center. In fact, the self-described "alternative news and underground culture destination" disinformation has a very interesting quote by Thompson in a piece dated March 4th, 2001:
"Gonzo journalism is a style of reporting based on William Faulkner's idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism - and the best journalists have always known this. Which is not to say that fiction is necessarily 'more true' than journalism - or vice versa - but that both 'fiction' and 'journalism' are artificial categories; and that both forms, at their best, are only two different means to the same end." - Hunter S. Thompson

Interpol Fugitives Guests at Prayer Breakfast

The day after the State of the Union Address, two Interpol fugitives attended the "National Prayer Breakfast" held in Washington DC. The day before that, these fugitives from the law were the guests of honor at an hour-long meeting of the International Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, invited by ranking Democrat Tom Lantos (Calif.)
You would think it would be hot news when wanted men being hunted by European police suddenly pop up in the US particularly on Capitol Hill and at events attended by the US president.

Yet, there was not a single AP story in the US on any of this. Not a single national network television or radio news program even mentioned these facts. In fact, Google and LexisNexis searches four days after these events took place turned up only three newspaper articles on them anywhere in the entire country.

Limiting Bankruptcy for the Poor

Consumer advocates say it would allow some rich debtors to continue to hide wealth through homeownership while bankruptcy relief would be denied to many people with low or moderate incomes who have fallen on hard times because of illness, job loss or divorce. They say credit card companies must share the blame for increased bankruptcies because they aggressively market products and inadequately disclose how interest rates and penalty fees mount up when consumers pay only minimum balances each month.

Scott Ritter: Iran Attack Planned for June, Iraq Election Rigged

The ex-Marine turned UNSCOM weapons inspector said that George W. Bush has "signed off" on plans to bomb Iran in June 2005, and claimed the U.S. manipulated the results of the recent Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.
...On Iran, Ritter said that President George W. Bush has received and signed off on orders for an aerial attack on Iran planned for June 2005. Its purported goal is the destruction of Iran’s alleged program to develop nuclear weapons, but Ritter said neoconservatives in the administration also expected that the attack would set in motion a chain of events leading to regime change in the oil-rich nation of 70 million -- a possibility Ritter regards with the greatest skepticism.
The former Marine also said that the Jan. 30 elections, which George W. Bush has called "a turning point in the history of Iraq, a milestone in the advance of freedom," were not so free after all. Ritter said that U.S. authorities in Iraq had manipulated the results in order to reduce the percentage of the vote received by the United Iraqi Alliance from 56% to 48%.

U.S. torture scandal in Afghanistan averted by destroying evidence

"It's increasingly clear that members of the military were aware of the allegations of torture and that efforts were taken to erase evidence, to shut down investigations and to humiliate the detainees in an effort to silence them," ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said.
The Army did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment. [from]

'America would back Israel attack on Iran'

Bush: "Clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I'd listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I'd be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well. And in that Israel is our ally, and in that we've made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened."
His comments appeared to be a departure from the administration's line that there are no plans to attack at present and that Washington backs European diplomatic efforts. The remarks may have reflected Mr Bush's personal thinking on an issue causing deep concern in Washington.

Clear Channel adopts liberal programming on growing number of stations

WXDX-AM -- now known as WDTW-AM -- is one of 22 stations owned by Clear Channel Communications Inc. that have switched to a liberal talk format in the last year. This month, KTLK-AM in Los Angeles became the latest Clear Channel station to adopt the format.
Those who track broadcasting trends say there's money to be made in liberal talk radio. Todd Webster, a consultant for Washington-based liberal talk show producer Democracy Radio, said Clear Channel is expected to introduce the left-leaning format on 20 more stations by the end of the year.
"There is a tremendous appetite out there for progressive talk," he said.

"Wild West" Fraud in Iraq Reconstruction

On Monday Feb. 14th a hearing exposing the rampant fraud, waste and corruption by the Paul Bremer led CPA in the months after the Iraq occupation was held by the Democratic Policy Committee. The fraud exposed in the hearing involved misuse of mainly IRAQI money (though there WAS also much misuse of US money).

Ohio Votes Don't Add Up

Are the stories of vote suppression and rigged machines to be believed? Here is "non-wacko" evidence that something went seriously awry in the Buckeye State on Election Day 2004

*US Diplomats and Intelligence Officials Talking with Iraq Insurgents

An account of the secret meeting between the senior insurgent negotiator and the U.S. military officials was provided to TIME by the insurgent negotiator. He says two such meetings have taken place. While U.S. officials would not confirm the details of any specific meetings, sources in Washington told TIME that for the first time the U.S. is in direct contact with members of the Sunni insurgency, including former members of Saddam's Baathist regime. Pentagon officials say the secret contacts with insurgent leaders are being conducted mainly by U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers. A Western observer close to the discussions says that "there is no authorized dialogue with the insurgents" but that the U.S. has joined "back-channel" communications with rebels. Says the observer: "There's a lot bubbling under the surface today."

The CIA's Secret Airline

NEWSWEEK has obtained previously unpublished flight plans indicating the agency has been operating a Boeing 737 as part of a top-secret global charter servicing clandestine interrogation facilities used in the war on terror. And the Boeing's flight information, detailed to the day, seems to confirm Masri's tale of abduction. Gnjidic, Masri's lawyer, called the information "very, very important" to his case, which is being investigated as a kidnapping by a Munich prosecutor. In what could prove embarrassing to President Bush, Gnjidic added that a German TV station was planning to feature Masri's tale ahead of Bush's much-touted trip to Germany this week. German Interior Minister Otto Schily recently visited CIA Director Porter Goss to discuss the case, and German sources tell NEWSWEEK that Schily was seeking an apology. CIA officials declined to comment on that meeting or any aspect of Masri's story.

Interview with John Stauber of

Sheldon Rampton and I wrote our expose of the Public Relations industry, Toxic Sludge Is Good For You, ten years ago. It's filled with propaganda horror stories. Forty percent or more of what passes for news and information these days is the result of organized PR campaigns. It's been wonderful to see these scandals exposed and others such as the "Karen Ryan reporting" news reports. Karen Ryan runs a PR firm, and her government funded video news releases (VNRs) are aired as news by hundreds of TV news directors.
In Toxic Sludge we reported that there were already thousands of corporate and government VNRs produced and aired each year, and that number continues to increase. The skillful manipulation of the media by professional propagandists, often with the consent and approval of editors and news directors, is rampant and worsening.

Feathers to Replace Plastic in Computers?

Richard Wool, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Delaware, wants to recycle discarded chicken feathers and use them to manufacture circuit boards, replacing petroleum-based components with keratin-based composites. Computer circuit boards are only one of the many applications researchers envision for this material.
..."The basic goal is to introduce new green materials that will have a positive effect on the environment, reduce waste materials, provide a better bang for the farmers' buck and improve the current properties of petroleum-based printed circuit boards, which are not sustainable," Wool said.

The Unauthorized U2 vs. Negativland iPod Special Edition, take 2

Back in December, Francis Hwang offered the Unauthorized iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition up for auction on eBay. The auction was taken down when Apple complained that this auction was a violation of its intellectual property. eBay did not require Apple to explain precisely how Hwang's parody was an infringement, and to this day his emails to Apple asking for an explanation have received no response.
Hwang has decided to offer the item up for auction on his own website, believing that the parody is a legitimate exercise of his free speech rights, and that any claims Apple might make as to infringement are entirely baseless.
The auction will be up until March 14, 12:p.m.
From Go give the song "U2" a listen.
Some things to read related to the U2 single:
Wired's January 1995 article
Mondo 2000's 1992 interview with The Edge

NAACP leaders say Bush's plan for Social Security would hurt blacks most

"This proposal is extremely dangerous to us," said Hilary O. Shelton, the NAACP's Washington bureau chief.
Among married couples, twice as many blacks as whites rely on Social Security for their entire retirement income, and blacks in their 50s are twice as likely to become disabled as whites, he said.
But Bush says blacks would stand to benefit from his privatization plan because, on average, they die earlier than whites and would not have to wait until retirement to receive benefits.
That argument has rankled many black leaders who denounced the president for trying to capitalize on the life-expectancy problem _ one they say is rooted in health disparities and urban violence _ rather than solve it.

Troop Shortage Worsens

A couple recent articles about the troop shortage:

No worries, though – those recruitment bonuses will make all the difference. Here's just one example:

"The last time Floyd Baker served in the U.S. Army, Dwight D. Eisenhower was still a general. So the 84-year-old, semi-retired Mount Airy dentist was a little surprised last August when he got a letter from a local Army recruiting station inviting him to reenlist."

GOP's Attack Squad Targets the AARP Over Social Security

PRWatch: The industry-funded lobbying group USANext "says it plans to spend as much as $10 million on commercials and other tactics assailing AARP, the powerhouse lobby opposing [Social Security] private investment accounts." To oversee the campaign, USANext hired Chris LaCivita, recently of the 527 group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. USANext is also looking to other Swift Vets advisers, having hired Creative Response Concepts and hoping to hire Rick Reed of the Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm firm. An unnamed USANext official said their pro-privatization campaign "would be so aggressive that the White House might not want to associate with it," especially because the group "is attacking the AARP."
MetaFilter: Right Wing Front Group Attacks AARP Amazingly the right wingers are going after the American Association of Retired People for being an anti-military, pro-gay liberal front group. Really. Web ads placed on American Spectator mag from USANext have a caption, "The Real AARP Agenda" and a big red checkmark on an American soldier and a green "X" on a picture of two men in tuxedos kissing. The implicit message is that the AARP hates the military and loves gays. Even better, USA Next has hired the media geniuses behind the Swift Boat Veterans to attack the AARP and work for the phase-out of Social Security bia private accounts.

Mars pictures reveal frozen sea

A huge, frozen sea lies just below the surface of Mars, a team of European scientists has announced.
Their assessment is based on pictures of the planet's near-equatorial Elysium region that show plated and rutted features across an area 800 by 900km.

The team think a catastrophic event flooded the landscape five million years ago and then froze out.

Don't Click the "Next Blog" Button

I often say that blogs are currently where the web was in 1998, with history repeating itself only this time with blogs. The latest sign: spyware and viruses are now being transmitted via blogs, specifically, random blogs on, found via the "Next Blog" button. Remember, just because a delightful purple gorilla wants to read blog entries to you doesn't mean you should click on him. [from]

Panelists Decry Bush Science Policies

Speakers at the national meeting of the American Association for Advancement of Science expressed concern Sunday that some scientists in key federal agencies are being ignored or even pressured to change study conclusions that don't support policy positions.
Rosina Bierbaum, dean of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, said the Bush administration has cut scientists out of some of the policy-making processes, particularly on environmental issues.
"In previous administrations, scientists were always at the table when regulations were being developed," she said. "Science never had the last voice, but it had a voice."

Issues on global warming, for instance, that achieved a firm scientific consensus in earlier years are now being questioned by Bush policy makers. Proven, widely accepted research is being ignored or disputed, she said.

Government policy papers issued prior to the Bush years moved beyond questioning the validity of global warming science and addressed ways of confronting or dealing with climate change.

Venezuela's Chavez Says U.S. Plotting to Kill Him

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday the United States was planning to assassinate him, but offered no evidence to support his accusation.
"I know I am condemned... I'm sure in Washington they are planning my death," Chavez said in a regular Sunday broadcast. "If anything happens to me, you can forget about Venezuela's oil Mr Bush."
Chavez was reacting to recent criticism of his left-wing government by U.S. officials. He often accuses Washington of backing opposition attempts to oust or even kill him, a charge Washington denies.

"If they manage to kill me there will only be one person in this world to blame: the president of the United States," Chavez said. "If you try, you will regret it Comrade Mr Bush."

IAEA Urges U.S. To Join Nuclear Talks With Iran

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Muhammad el-Baradei, is calling on the United States to join negotiations with Iran on its nuclear capability.
El-Baradei told Germany's "Der Spiegel" news magazine that European diplomatic efforts can only be successful if Washington joins the talks.
The United States has accused Iran of pursuing a nuclear-weapons program -- a charge Tehran vigorously denies.

Iran Readies Military, Fearing a U.S. Attack

Iran has begun publicly preparing for a possible U.S. attack, as tensions mount between the Bush administration and this country's hard-line leaders over Tehran's purported nuclear weapons program.
"Iran would respond within 15 minutes to any attack by the United States or any other country," an Iranian official close to the conservative clerics who run the country's security and military apparatus said on condition of anonymity.
The Tehran government has announced efforts to bolster and mobilize recruits in its citizens' militia and is making plans to engage in the type of "asymmetrical" warfare that has bogged down U.S. troops in neighboring Iraq, officials and analysts say.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Artificial Insemination in the Comfort of Your Own Home

Israeli company Fertiligent has devised a disposable pump to improve the effectiveness of a treatment for infertility for couples unwilling to resort to in-vitro fertilization.
The Fertiligent device mimics the way in which conception occurs naturally - introducing the sperm into the uterus over a period of several hours.
...And for added fun, James Davis and Louise Løcke Foverskov designed Oh! the insimination vibrator, an artificial insemination device that works like a vibrator into which a sperm sample is inserted during the home insemination procedure.
Don't rush to the chemist, it is only a prototype the pair designed last year while they were studying Interaction Design at RCA in London.

Photos from Chicago Auto Show Protest

The Annual Chicago Auto Show Protest was, as usual a friendly affair. Some might even consider it holy. Photos abound. Long live the duocycle! [from]

Contractor Killed After Alleging Kickbacks

He was working for a contracting company in iraq and had called for assistance after getting a flat tire. When help arrived, he was gone without a trace leaving behind a laptop, his satellite phone and a briefcase with $40,000 destined for Iraqi subcontractors in the back seat of his truck.
Rick Manelick, a colleague of his, had told army investigators investigating the appearance that large sums of money were being paid to an army officer in exchange for granting contracts to Ultra Services, the company they both worked for. Two months after the disappearance he was killed in a drive-by shooting a day after telling a SF Chronicle reporter "I'm in fear of my life, you know. It's not Iraqis I'm worried about, either, it's people from my own country." (Found via SojoMail, see also Topeka DIY and Time. [from]

UN Calls for Ban on Cloning Under US Pressure

The United Nations has called on countries to ban all forms of human cloning "incompatable with human dignity." The American religious right claims victory, but others say the declaration is the result of political maneuvering influenced by pressure from the United States.
The politicization of science policy in the United States has become a contentious issue in the past several years, with groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists criticizing the Bush administration for favoring political interests over scientific results. Now, that trend seems to be making international inroads.

EPA Raises Perchlorate Limits 25 Fold

Adults can tolerate nearly 25 times more of the potentially toxic chemical perchlorate in their drinking water than previously thought, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday.
The announcement marks the first time the EPA has issued an official guideline on how much perchlorate humans can safely ingest.
See also: Rocket Fuel in Milk, Lettuce

Suit Claims EPA Meeting Secretly with Industry

According to government records obtained by NRDC through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, EPA officials met secretly more than 40 times with representatives from atrazine's main manufacturer, Syngenta, while the agency was evaluating the weed-killer's toxicity. Ultimately the agency agreed to allow atrazine to stay on the market even though the chemical has contaminated drinking water sources across the country. (See EPA Won't Restrict Toxic Herbicide Atrazine, Despite Health Threat.) The EPA also has been involved in private negotiations with the chemical company Amvac over the status of the insecticide DDVP (dichlorvos), which it sells under a number of trade names, including "No-Pest Strips." These negotiations violate EPA's regulations and federal law, specifically the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the Freedom of Information Act, according to NRDC's lawsuit.

Agencies Warned Against Using Publicity Videos Disguised as News Stories

Congressional investigators warned federal agencies this week that the promotion of government policies through video news releases meant to look like TV news stories may violate federal rules against propaganda.
In a letter sent Thursday to heads of government departments and agencies, the Government Accountability Office noted that "prepackaged news stories have become common tools of the public relations industry."

Administrations Official Continues False WMD Claims About Iraq

"America's Operation Iraqi Freedom is still producing shock and awe, this time among the blame-America-first crowd," he crowed. Then he said, "We continue to discover biological and chemical weapons and facilities to make them inside Iraq." Apparently, most of the hundreds of people in attendance already knew about these remarkable, hitherto-unreported discoveries, because no one gasped at this startling revelation.

Unintelligent Design

From a scientific perspective, one of the most frustrating things about intelligent design is that (unlike Darwinism) it is virtually impossible to test. Old-fashioned biblical creationism at least risked making some hard factual claims -- that the earth was created before the sun, for example. Intelligent design, by contrast, leaves the purposes of the designer wholly mysterious. Presumably any pattern of data in the natural world is consistent with his/her/its existence.
But if we can't infer anything about the design from the designer, maybe we can go the other way. What can we tell about the designer from the design? While there is much that is marvelous in nature, there is also much that is flawed, sloppy and downright bizarre. Some nonfunctional oddities, like the peacock's tail or the human male's nipples, might be attributed to a sense of whimsy on the part of the designer. Others just seem grossly inefficient. In mammals, for instance, the recurrent laryngeal nerve does not go directly from the cranium to the larynx, the way any competent engineer would have arranged it. Instead, it extends down the neck to the chest, loops around a lung ligament and then runs back up the neck to the larynx. In a giraffe, that means a 20-foot length of nerve where 1 foot would have done. If this is evidence of design, it would seem to be of the unintelligent variety.

Action day called for jailed Iranian bloggers

The group has a list of actions which it says bloggers can take, including writing to local Iranian embassies.
The Committee has deemed Tuesday "Free Mojtaba and Arash Day" as part of its first campaign.

It is calling on the blogsphere - the name for the worldwide community of bloggers - to do what it can to help raise awareness of the plight of Mojtaba and Arash as well as other "cyber-dissidents".

"If you have a blog, the least you could do is put nothing on that blog except 'Free Mojtaba and Arash Day'," said Mr Hopkins.

Detainee Coerced Into Dropping Charges of Abuse Before Release

The American Civil Liberties Union today released files obtained from the Army revealing previously undisclosed allegations of abuse by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the documents are reports that a detainee who was beaten and seriously injured was forced to drop his claims in order to be released from custody.
"The torture of detainees is too widespread and systemic to be dismissed as the rogue actions of a few misguided individuals," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "The American public deserves to know which high-level government officials are ultimately responsible for the torture conducted in our name."


On March 5, 1979, astronomers saw a burst of gamma rays so strong it swamped their detectors. Another rare burst in 1998 helped confirm the existence of magnetars, intensely powerful magnetic stars, unusual enough that there might only be a dozen or so in the galaxy. Another one has just been found --when it let off a burst last December that, for a fraction of a second, was brighter than the full moon. [from]