Friday, March 18, 2005

Books for Soldiers

We all like getting mail and soldiers stationed far from home or recovering from war injuries in a veterans' hospital really like getting mail. So go through your bookcases and closets and dig out those books you don't read. Got duplicate copies of books or DVDs? What about recent magazines? The Books For Soldiers program sends "care packages for the mind"—books, DVDs and magazines for servicemen and women overseas and in hospitals at home. Just sign into the site, browse soldiers' book requests and send your package. [from]

Editor & Publisher: Media Self-Censorship in Iraq

Many media outlets self-censored their reporting on the Iraq invasion because of concerns about public reaction to graphic images and content, according to a survey of more than 200 journalists by American University's School of Communications.
The study, released Friday, also determined that "vigorous discussions" about what and where to publish information and images were conducted at media outlets and, in many cases, journalists posted material online that did not make it to print.
One of the most significant findings was "the amount of editing that went into content after it was gathered but before it was published," the study stated. Of those who reported from Iraq, 15% said that on one or more occasions their organizations edited material for publication and they did not believe the final version accurately represented the story.
Of those involved in war coverage who were in newsrooms and not in Iraq, 20% said material was edited for reasons other than basic style and length.

Nevada Senators Ask AG to Investigate Yucca Nuclear Waste Deception

Nevada Senators Harry Reid, a Democrat, and John Ensign, a Republican, are jointly calling upon the U.S. Attorney General and the Director of the FBI to investigate falsely documented work at the Yucca Mountain Project (YMP).
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said, “During the document review process associated with the Licensing Support Network preparation for the Yucca Mountain project, DOE contractors discovered multiple emails written between May 1998 and March 2000, in which a USGS employee indicated that he had fabricated documentation of his work.
Announcements made Thursday by the Secretary of Energy and the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey "called into question the quality, validity and integrity of the scientific review and quality assurance processes associated with the YMP," the senators said.
Plans are to send some 77,000 tons of nuclear waste by road and rail to the facility, which is supposed to safely isolate this waste for at least 10,000 years.

3D printer to churn out copies of itself

A self-replicating 3D printer that spawns new, improved versions of itself is in development at the University of Bath in the UK.
The "self replicating rapid prototyper" or RepRap could vastly reduce the cost of 3D printers, paving the way for a future where broken objects and spare parts are simply "re-printed" at home. New and unique objects could also be created.

Update: No-Bid Contractor Has Deep Ties to Ridge

In a Center for Public Integrity report published yesterday (March 16th), Mercyhurst officials said there were no personal or political connections between Ridge and the college. The director of the intelligence analysis program at Mercyhurst, Robert Heibel, went as far as to tell the Center: "We've always done it the old fashioned way. We've earned it."
Mercyhurst officials also told the Center that the college had an official policy of not releasing the names of its board of trustees to the public.
But further investigation by the Center has revealed that Marlene Mosco, who was installed as chairperson of the Mercyhurst College Board of Trustees last year, is one of Ridge's oldest and best friends, as well as one of his top political supporters.

Al Jazeera: Journalists tell of US Falluja killing

All is quiet in Falluja, or at least that is how it seems, given that the mainstream media has largely forgotten about the Iraqi city. But independent journalists are risking life and limb to bring out a very different story.
The picture they are painting is of US soldiers killing whole families, including children, attacks on hospitals and doctors, the use of napalm-like weapons and sections of the city destroyed.
ournalist and writer Naomi Klein has also come under attack for insisting that US forces are eliminating those who dare to count casualties.
No less than the US ambassador to the UK David Johnson wrote a letter to British newspaper The Guardian that published Klein's work, demanding evidence, which she then provided.
The first piece of evidence Klein sent to Johnson was that the hospital in Falluja was raided to stop any reporting of casualties, a tactic that was later repeated in Mosul.
...Allied to this are various reports of the US using napalm and napalm-like weaponry in Falluja.
..."He explained that pieces of these bombs exploded into large fires that burned peoples' skin even when water was dumped on their bodies, which is the effect of phosphorous weapons, as well as napalm."
The reports of the use of napalm in civilian areas are widespread, as are many other frightening allegations.

Mercury Pollution, Autism Link Found - U.S. Study

A study to be published on Thursday in the journal "Health and Place" found that autism, a developmental disorder marked by communication and social interaction problems, increased in Texas counties as mercury emissions rose, said Claudia Miller, a family and community medicine professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
"The main finding is that for every thousand pounds of environmentally released mercury, we saw a 17 percent increase in autism rates," she said in an interview.

About 48 tons of mercury are released into the air annually in the United States from hundreds of coal-burning plants.

The study looked at Texas county-by-county levels of mercury emissions recorded by the government and compared them to the rates of autism and special education services in 1,200 Texas school districts, Miller said.

DefenseTech: City-Snoop Program Returns?

Back in the summer of 2003, I wrote a little story for the Village Voice on the Pentagon's plan to track everything that moves in a city. Since then, there hasn't been much word from the Defense Department about "Combat Zones that See," or CTS. A planned demonstration at Ft. Belvoir never came about – or was kept very quiet. Last year, Congress moved to yank funds from the program's budget.
But now, CTS may be on the way back, if Tony Tether -- the head of Defense Department far-out research arm Darpa -- has his way. The agency's proposed 2006 budget calls for $20 million over three years for CTS. It's part of an expanded, $340 million push by Darpa to develop technologies for urban battles (see Falluja, Najaf, etc.)

The Age of Missing Information

The government does a remarkable job of counting the number of national security secrets it generates each year. Since President George W. Bush entered office, the pace of classification activity has increased by 75 percent, said William Leonard in March 2 congressional testimony. His Information Security Oversight Office oversees the classification system and recorded a rise from 9 million classification actions in fiscal year 2001 to 16 million in fiscal year 2004.
Yet an even more aggressive form of government information control has gone unenumerated and often unrecognized in the Bush era, as government agencies have restricted access to unclassified information in libraries, archives, Web sites, and official databases. Once freely available, a growing number of these sources are now barred to the public as "sensitive but unclassified" or "for official use only." Less of a goal-directed policy than a bureaucratic reflex, the widespread clampdown on formerly public information reflects a largely inarticulate concern about "security." It also accords neatly with the Bush administration's preference for unchecked executive authority.

Mystery Date TV Commercial

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Americans Still Believe Bush's War Propaganda

This weekend is the second anniversary of the U.S. attack on Iraq. The latest ABC News and Washington Post poll of public opinion shows that most Americans still believe, incorrectly of course, that Saddam's Iraq supported the 9/11 terrorists and had weapons of mass destruction.

*BBC: Secret US plans for Iraq's oil

Two years ago today - when President George Bush announced US, British and Allied forces would begin to bomb Baghdad - protesters claimed the US had a secret plan for Iraq's oil once Saddam had been conquered.
In fact there were two conflicting plans, setting off a hidden policy war between neo-conservatives at the Pentagon, on one side, versus a combination of "Big Oil" executives and US State Department "pragmatists".

"Big Oil" appears to have won. The latest plan, obtained by Newsnight from the US State Department was, we learned, drafted with the help of American oil industry consultants.

Insiders told Newsnight that planning began "within weeks" of Bush's first taking office in 2001, long before the September 11th attack on the US.
An Iraqi-born oil industry consultant, Falah Aljibury, says he took part in the secret meetings in California, Washington and the Middle East. He described a State Department plan for a forced coup d'etat.
Mr Aljibury himself told Newsnight that he interviewed potential successors to Saddam Hussein on behalf of the Bush administration.

The industry-favoured plan was pushed aside by a secret plan, drafted just before the invasion in 2003, which called for the sell-off of all of Iraq's oil fields. The new plan was crafted by neo-conservatives intent on using Iraq's oil to destroy the Opec cartel through massive increases in production above Opec quotas.
The sell-off was given the green light in a secret meeting in London headed by Ahmed Chalabi shortly after the US entered Baghdad, according to Robert Ebel.
Mr Ebel, a former Energy and CIA oil analyst, now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Newsnight he flew to the London meeting at the request of the State Department.
More here.

"We can't stop this, so how do we live with it?" - How to prepare a planet for global warming

To Pielke and others, this means adaptation should be given a much higher priority that it's received to date. "There's a cultural bias in favor of prevention," he says. But any sound policy includes preparation as well, he adds. "We have the scientific and technological knowledge we need to improve adaptation" and apply that knowledge globally.

Even if the world stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the emissions already in the atmosphere would cause global temperatures to climb for the next hundred years and the sea level to keep rising for even longer, scientists have calculated.
Researchers have long known that the oceans delay the full effects of climate change because they heat up more slowly than the land. But until now they have had only a vague idea of how this lag will shape our long-term climate.
Two studies by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, use sophisticated computer models to show just how much climate change we have already signed up for.

Reid Introduces Bill to Protect Internet from Campaign Finance Rules

Harry Reid introduced a bill (PDF) today that would exempt Internet communications from campaign finance laws. The bill reads:
"Paragraph (22) of section 301 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431(22)) is amended by adding at the end of the following new sentence: "Such term shall not include communications over the Internet."
Reid also released this statement:
"The Internet has generated a surge in grassroots involvement in our government and has proven to be a democratizing medium in our political process. Regulation of the Internet at this time would blunt its tremendous potential, discourage broad political involvement in our nation and diminish our representative democracy. For all these reasons, we should avoid silencing this new and important form of political speech."

The invisible wounded

In January 2000, then Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Henry Shelton told an audience at Harvard that before committing troops, politicians should make sure a war can pass what he called the "Dover test," so named for the Air Force base in Delaware where fallen soldiers' coffins return. Shelton said politicians must weigh military actions against whether the public is "prepared for the sight of our most precious resource coming home in flag-draped caskets."
And so on the eve of the Iraq invasion in 2003, the Bush administration moved to defy the math and enforced a ban on photographs of the caskets arriving at Dover, or at any other military bases. But what about the wounded? Since 9/11, the Pentagon's Transportation Command has medevaced 24,772 patients from battlefields, mostly from Iraq. But two years after the invasion of Iraq, images of wounded troops arriving in the United States are almost as hard to find as pictures of caskets from Dover. That's because all the transport is done literally in the dark, and in most cases, photos are banned.

"Oh, did I make news?" - Condy Announces Another Delay for Afghan Election

Afghanistan postponed its parliamentary elections once again today, moving the date from May to September.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the announcement, apparently inadvertently, during a news conference with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.
"Oh, did I make news?" Ms. Rice asked with a smile after mentioning the September date in opening remarks. Moments later, President Karzai confirmed the changed date and blamed slower than expected election preparations. It was the third postponement of parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for last June.

The Fairbanks Ice Sculpture Collapses

Fairbanks' largest ice sculpture came tumbling down late Sunday night with a ground-shaking crash that was heard but not seen.
The Fox Icescraper, the 150-foot tall tower of ice built by John Reeves next to the Steese Highway eight miles north of Fairbanks, collapsed at around 10:45 p.m. after developing a significant lean over the weekend.
"It woke me up out of a dead sleep," said Ben Ballard, who lives in a house Reeves rents a couple hundred yards away from the homemade ice tower. "It felt like an earthquake."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Senate Kills All Medicaid Cuts From Budget

The Senate voted Thursday to strip all proposed Medicaid cuts from the $2.6 trillion budget for next year, jeopardizing the heart of the plan's deficit reduction in an embarrassing setback to President Bush and Republican leaders.
The change, whose chief sponsor was moderate Sen. Gordon Smith R-Ore., was approved 52-48 after days of heavy lobbying by both sides. It was widely seen as a test of the GOP-run Congress' taste for making even moderate reductions in popular benefit programs that consume two-thirds of the budget and are growing rapidly.
The Medicaid cuts could still be revived when the House and Senate try writing a compromise budget next month.

Fired Muslim Workers Hire Counsel To Fight Dell

A group of Somalis who claim they were fired for praying on the job at a Dell Computer plant in Nashville, Tenn. has hired an Islamic civil rights and advocacy group.
Of the 30 employees who left work at the plant, 21 have signed legal counsel retainer agreements with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The employees maintain they were dismissed, because they acted against efforts by Dell management to keep them from their sunset prayers.
Published reports stated that neither Dell nor the Spherion outsourcing and temp company that hired the Somalis would comment on the complaints. However, a Dell spokesman, commenting on the firm's general practices, said Dell has a policy of accommodating religious beliefs.

In those days, he could do no wrong.

In the Sixties, he was the man who published Catch-22, Portnoy's Complaint and Hemingway's A Moveable Feast; he put John Lennon's doodles into cold print, launched the careers of John Fowles and Gabriel García Márquez, looked after Thomas Pynchon and Kurt Vonnegut and later, in the early 1980s, was the godfatherly mentor of Amis fils, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie. He was equally adept at commissioning inspired non-fictions such as The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris's zoological inspection of human behaviour.
The Independent profiles Tom Maschler, publisher, founder of the Booker Prize.

In those days, he could do no wrong.

In the Sixties, he was the man who published Catch-22, Portnoy's Complaint and Hemingway's A Moveable Feast; he put John Lennon's doodles into cold print, launched the careers of John Fowles and Gabriel García Márquez, looked after Thomas Pynchon and Kurt Vonnegut and later, in the early 1980s, was the godfatherly mentor of Amis fils, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie. He was equally adept at commissioning inspired non-fictions such as The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris's zoological inspection of human behaviour.
The Independent profiles Tom Maschler, publisher, founder of the Booker Prize.

A Brave New Branding - The emergence of neuromarketing

Commercial Alert, a consumer watchdog group, has spent the past seven years policing advertising and marketing campaigns to "keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity, and democracy." Founded by Ralph Nader and Gary Ruskin in 1998, Commercial Alert has worked to keep advertising out of schools and off children's public television shows such as Sesame Street. In recent years, they have encountered a much more insidious and slipperier enemy: neuromarketing.
A combination of health science and marketing, neuromarketing uses functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to illustrate the brain's response to certain advertising techniques and campaigns, which helps gauge overall effectiveness. Until recently, according to Commercial Alert's website, fMRI technology was strictly used for health care and health research.

Lab fireball 'may be black hole'

It was generated at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York, US, which smashes beams of gold nuclei together at near light speeds.
Horatiu Nastase says his calculations show that the core of the fireball has a striking similarity to a black hole.
His work has been published on the pre-print website and is reported in New Scientist magazine.

The Unintended Audience: Balancing Openness and Secrecy

Certain public, private, and academic/scientific information exists outside the scope of security classification even though it poses threats to national security and public safety—for example, medical research on vaccines can unexpectedly yield new, deadly pathogens. It is in this ill-defined area that some forms of controls are most needed, yet most controversial. This paper first reviews the many and varied legislative and executive department and agency policies that have evolved to control this information. With the goal of defining a comprehensive policy to govern truly sensitive information—yet with a preference for maximizing openness—the authors argue for a system of Controlled Unclassified Security Information (CUSI), where a mixture of regulation, cooperation, and review, balanced with sector-specific values, optimally unite to manage highly-selective and well-defined sensitive areas. Beyond these specific, sector-level mechanisms, three overarching elements—namely, educational campaigns, an appeals process, and international control of sensitive information—help bring the CUSI system
to a cohesive whole. The paper concludes by proposing metrics for assessing the overall effectiveness of the policy.

Americans face drop in life expectancy

For the first time in recent history, researchers are predicting that the life expectancy of Americans may begin a sustained decline.
The forecast is based on the sharp rise in obesity in today's youth. By the middle of this century, the increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer that they will face could lessen the average life expectancy by two to five years, some say.
In general, longevity predictions are determined by studying historical trends in death rates. Various agencies, such as the US Social Security Administration (SSA), have used this method to predict that the life expectancy of Americans will continue to rise over the next century.
But Jay Olshansky, a biodemographer at the University of Illinois at Chicago, argues that they ignore the effect of obesity on future generations.

CIA Retroactively Classifies Abu Graib Case Documents

The Central Intelligence Agency has retroactively classified documents that were released to lawyers representing Navy SEALS accused of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, an unusual step the agency says is needed to protect national security.
The documents, marked "Unclassified//For Official Use Only,' were handed over last year to the Navy, which in turn gave them to civilian defense attorneys. According to two of the attorneys, some documents revealed the names of CIA operatives and intelligence methods.
Late last year, the CIA asked the Navy to retrieve the documents, which detail the spy agency's role in the death of Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi man who died while being interrogated by a CIA agent in November 2003.

Sen. Kerry to demand inquiry by FCC into ‘prepackaged news’

"I strongly believe that the federal government should not be permitted to manipulate public opinion by providing news organizations with so-called “news reports” that have been created by public relations experts, which are then broadcast without proper disclosure. Every American is entitled to know the source of prepackaged information that is broadcast on TV and characterized as “news.” Taxpayers have a right to know if their tax dollars have been used to produce the news they’re watching. This is especially disconcerting in light of recent disclosures that federal agencies have compensated professional journalists for presenting and supporting Bush Administration policies."

Ecstacy Researchers Raising Money on eBay

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, launched the eBay auction, which runs until March 21. The group aims to raise money for administrative expenses, which have increased thanks to the group's recent successes, said Rick Doblin, MAPS president and founder.
MAPS helped gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration for a clinical trial testing MDMA, or ecstasy, as a post-traumatic stress disorder therapy, and is awaiting final approval from the DEA to study the drug as a psychological aid for terminal cancer patients. The group hopes to set up similar trials in Israel, Spain, Switzerland and locations in the United States, a move that requires much wrangling with government agencies. MAPS has also sued the DEA for having a monopoly on growing marijuana that meets federal requirements for research.

Planned Parenthood Sues Over Records Request in Indiana

Planned Parenthood of Indiana has sued the state's attorney general, trying to prevent him from seizing the medical records of more than 80 patients from its clinics, echoing a fight over medical records in Kansas.
Staci Schneider, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, Stephen Carter, said that his office this month requested the records of some patients, younger than 14 years of age, as part of an investigation into accusations that some clinics had failed to report cases of sexually molesting children to the proper authorities. Under state law, anyone under 14 who is sexually active is considered a victim of sexual abuse.
..."This is all a strategy," said Karen Pearl, the interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "The strategy is to intimidate providers of reproductive health services and to make it more uncomfortable for women who are seeking services."
In Kansas, Attorney General Phill Kline, who staunchly opposes abortion, is fighting in court with two clinics, seeking the medical records of 90 women and girls who have had late-term abortions there. While 31 states have laws against such procedures, Kansas law permits them if the pregnant woman's health is endangered.

Bridging the Gap Between Journalists and Gun Owners

For years, gun ownership has been one of the most persistent and polarizing aspects of America's "culture war." But have the media done justice to both sides of the issue? Some journalists have admitted that mainstream media tend to stereotype hunters and gun collectors as raging lunatics. Which, in turn, has led many gun owners to believe in media conspiracies to repeal the Second Amendment. OTM's John Solomon sets out to find some common ground.
Click here to see a picture of OTM reporter John Solomon after shooting sporting clays at the Orvis Sandanona Grounds in Millbrook, New York.

GOP Ending the Town Hall Meetings on Social Security

Republican leaders are urging their party's lawmakers to take the spotlight off themselves by convening panels of experts from the Social Security Administration, conservative think tanks, local colleges and like-minded interest groups to answer questions about the federal retirement program.
The shift in venues and formats, Santorum says, is aimed at producing "more of an erudite discussion" about Social Security's problems and possible solutions.

Troops in Iraq, Afghanistan to get tourniquets two years after request

Under pressure from Congress, the Army has decided to quickly dispatch modern tourniquets to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That’s more than two years after military doctors recommended that every soldier carry one.

...In an article March 6, The (Baltimore) Sun described a lack of tourniquets among soldiers in the field and delays in supplying them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Mercury Connections

Mercury Connections: The extent and effects of mercury pollution in northeastern North America. a summary of the major findings reported in a series of 21 papers. Evers, David C. 2005. BioDiversity Research Institute. Gorham, Maine. 28 pages. Mercury Connections is a summary of the major findings reported in a series of 21 papers. These papers are published in: Biogeographical patterns of environmental mercury in northeastern North America. 2005. Ecotoxicology. Volume 14, numbers 1 and 2.

Senate Approves ANWR Drilling

The die is cast. The United States Senate votes for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil drilling. [from]

Tiny School Gets No-Bid Work From Homeland Security

A tiny college located in the hometown of ex-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is negotiating a no-bid contract to train intelligence analysts for the sprawling agency. In doing so, the agency is short-circuiting a selection process that would normally include a host of bigger and better known institutions already working in that field such as George Washington University and Georgetown University.

Cardinal Urges Catholics to Shun Da Vinci Code

The cardinal leading the Vatican's charge against The Da Vinci Code urged Catholics on Wednesday to shun it like rotten food and branded the bestseller "a sack full of lies" insulting the Christian faith.
In an interview with Reuters inside the Vatican, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone also said Catholic bookstores should take the thriller off their shelves and accused U.S. author Dan Brown of "deplorable" behavior.
The novel is an international murder mystery centered on attempts to uncover a secret about the life of Christ that a clandestine society has tried to protect for centuries.

Bush nominates Wolfowitz for World Bank job

Wolfowitz, 61, is considered a leader of the US 'neo-conservatives' who pushed for war in Iraq and have argued that building a democracy there would spread reform throughout the Middle East, drying up support for extremist violence.
Last week, the lobby group co-founded by U2 lead singer Bono knocked down media reports that he was a serious contender to head the global institution that provides billions of dollars annually to help the world's poorest countries.

“Autos manufactured today are virtually emission-free”

In an effort to undermine California's vehicle global warming law, the auto industry has been running an ad claiming today's vehicles are virtually emission free. The Union of Concerned Scientists says "poppycock on that!" and is seeking a FTC false-advertising investigation. Fortunately, no matter who's bullshooting, you can help wipe away the problem. [from]

U.S. EPA Limits Mercury Emissions From Power Plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set the first limits on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants to prevent nerve damage in children who eat fish contaminated with the poison.
The order will cut annual mercury pollution to 38 tons by 2010, or 21 percent less than 1999 emissions, under a ``cap-and- trade'' program similar to those for acid rain and smog, the agency said. The system lets utilities that don't meet pollution limits buy credits from those who do.
The action comes less than a week after the agency issued tighter rules on two pollutants that cause acid rain and smog. Those regulations for power plants in 28 eastern states will reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide by 70 percent and nitrogen oxide by 60 percent over the next decade, according to the EPA.
...The cap-and-trade system was set up under the federal Clean Air Act to reduce air pollution. The Bush administration argues that the market-oriented, industry-backed program of trading pollution allowances is more effective at curbing emissions.
Environmentalists say the trading system can lead to concentrations of pollutants in certain regions of the country and is given to uneven enforcement. They also say the mercury rule gives utilities too long to make meaningful cuts in emissions.

Anthrax Scare Turns Out to Be False Alarm

An apparent mix-up at a laboratory is being blamed for the anthrax scare that closed three area mail facilities that handle Pentagon-bound mail, and prompted nearly 900 workers to receive antibiotics.
The two-day scare that recalled the fatal bioterrorism attacks of 2001 turned out to be a false alarm after definitive tests at two facilities came back negative Tuesday for the deadly spores.

Poor Sourcing on Last Week's Fallujah Story

The posting I made last week for Napalm, Chemical Weapons Used at Fallujah – Iraqi Official was poorly sourced. I am trying to find out more about the story and post the results next week. I apologize for the sloppiness, especially when it involves such potentially important issues.
-- McLir

State of The Blogosphere, March 2005, Part 2: Posting Volume

To expand on my post yesterday on the overall growth of the number of weblogs, today I'm going to look at another important measure of the growth of the blogosphere, posting volume. A single post is a single entry to a weblog, whether it be a long essay or just a short entry, each is a post, and the posting volume is the aggregate number of posts per day. Just as it is important to note the increased growth in the number of weblogs out there, it is as or more important to see if blogging is a fad or if people are blogging at a sustained rate. The chart below shows that posting volume has been growing. (Compare with the chart from October 2004)


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.

Typo Creates International Incident

Take the case of Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-California, who at a hearing on Capitol Hill last week spoke about a 1962 nuclear test in the Nevada desert. The test was code named "Project Sedan."
Tauscher's remarks were little noticed, until they were transcribed -- incorrectly -- in an unofficial transcript of the hearing. One letter was changed. The "Sedan" nuclear test became the "Sudan" nuclear test.
And the government of Sudan took notice.
Less than a day after Tauscher uttered her words, and after they were incorrectly transcribed, Sudanese officials evidently were alerted to the transcript.
The Sudanese Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Khartoum and demanded an explanation about the supposedly secret nuclear tests in the east African country.

Video News Responses

In response to Sunday's New York Times expose, White House press secretary Scott McClellan called government-produced video news releases "an informational tool." Their source, he said, is "very clear to the TV stations." The head of Medialink, one of the largest VNR companies, said "the government's use of VNRs dates back to the Eisenhower presidency," adding that the Times "failed to report on the long history of such government education programs." In a letter to the Times, the president of West Glen Communications wrote, "Newspapers don't reveal that much of the news they print originates from press releases supplied by corporate communications departments, PR agencies, college sports information offices and staffs of mayors and legislators." O'Dwyer's summed up VNR producers' reactions as saying the Times piece was "old" and "politics-ridden."

Report Raises Questions About US Cattle Feed Ban

The GAO said the FDA, which regulates livestock feed, cannot pinpoint how many plants comply with the 1997 feed ban.
"We believe FDA is overstating industry's compliance with the animal feed ban and understating the potential risk of BSE for US cattle in its reports to Congress and the American people," the GAO report said.

Head of PR Firm Responds to "Prepackaged News"

"Though Sunday's article did not focus on the PR agency world, be sure that more negative coverage will be coming. Why am I so sure of this? In part, because we have allowed our profession to be increasing defined as complicit in a cover-up, as willing shills who let money overwhelm our judgment and moral compass. We are accused of foisting government propaganda on the American people, in direct violation of the law.
What can be done? Let's start by revealing the size of our US government contracts. We have heard in the media that PR agencies are receiving $250 million from the US Government each year to promote its programs. I'm skeptical of this number. At that level, Government contracts would constitute 10% of the fees of the top ten agencies in the world. At Edelman, our fees from the US Government (we have one account, from the US Department of Commerce to promote travel to the US from the UK) are $400,000, out of our global total of $240 million in fees. I understand from another top-ten firm that they only have 3% of its fees from Government contracts. So a useful first step toward transparency is to end the mystery of size of fees by having each firm reveal total spending by US Government-related accounts." [from]

Aznar 'purged all records in Madrid bombings cover-up'

Mr Zapatero told a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the tragedy that killed 192 that those responsible were international Islamic terrorists, and he rejected any possibility that Eta Basque separatists might have been involved. "Responsibility for preparing and carrying out the blasts rests exclusively with international terrorism of a radical Islamist type," Mr Zapatero told Spanish MPs. "There was never any line of investigation that pointed to Eta."
Government efforts to implicate Eta up to election day on 14 March were fraudulent, he said. From the moment on the afternoon of 11 March when police found a tape of Koranic verses in a van near the station where the trains started their deadly journey, "the only line of investigation pointed to Islamic terrorists", Mr Zapatero said.

US held youngsters at Abu Ghraib

Children as young as 11 years old were held at Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison at the centre of the US prisoner abuse scandal, official documents reveal.
Brig Gen Janis Karpinski, formerly in charge of the jail, gave details of young people and women held there.

Her assertion was among documents obtained via legal action by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

U.S. Troops Who Fired on Freed Italian Journalist Were Security for Negroponte

U.S. troops who mistakenly killed an Italian intelligence agent last week on the road to Baghdad's international airport were part of extra security provided by the U.S. Army to protect U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, a U.S. official said Thursday.
Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari was killed Friday when U.S. troops opened fire on a car carrying him and Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who had just been freed from insurgents.

Psychologists Study Beliefs about Iraq

Research on the way people processed media reports about the Iraq war tells us more about how we create our beliefs and memories.
Psychologist Professor Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Western Australia and team report their study of more than 800 people from Australia, the US and Germany, in the March issue of the journal Psychological Science.
...The researchers asked whether people believed statements based on two kinds of press reports: one type that had been retracted and one that continued to be reported as fact.
..."People do not discount corrected information unless they are suspicious about it or unless they are given some other hypothesis with which to interpret the information."
He says this has important implications in the judicial system where judges often instruct juries to disregard certain information.

U.S. Strips Detainees of Key Protections

he U.S. government’s decision to withdraw from a protocol governing diplomatic disputes has immediate consequences for the rights of foreigners detained in the United States and could endanger U.S. citizens who are detained abroad, Human Rights Watch said today.
According to a decision by the Bush administration this week, the ICJ, or World Court, will henceforth have no power to hear cases brought by countries on behalf of detained non-citizens in the United States. Americans in the custody of foreign countries who have been denied access to their country’s embassies will also not have access to the ICJ.

Demand for Public Information Is Surging

At a time when critics accuse the federal government of excessive secrecy, the public's appetite for information is growing by leaps and bounds.
Hits on government Web sites are soaring. Document requests under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, have hit all-time highs. And online archives collecting everything from court decisions to spies' names are seeing vast growth in numbers of visitors.
All those developments, say advocates of greater governmental openness, show that their cause deserves more support.

Secret FBI Report Questions Al Qaeda Capabilities

"Al-Qa'ida leadership's intention to attack the United States is not in question," the report reads. (All spellings are as rendered in the original report.) "However, their capability to do so is unclear, particularly in regard to 'spectacular' operations. We believe al-Qa'ida's capability to launch attacks within the United States is dependent on its ability to infiltrate and maintain operatives in the United States."
And for all the worry about Osama bin Laden's sleeper cells or agents in the United States, a secret FBI assessment concludes it knows of none.
The 32-page assessment says flatly, "To date, we have not identified any true 'sleeper' agents in the US," seemingly contradicting the "sleeper cell" description prosecutors assigned to seven men in Lackawanna, N.Y., in 2002.

Media yawns as programmer reveals writing election-throwing software

Clint Curtis' story has quietly rocked top Republicans from Tallahassee to Capitol Hill. Newspaper accounts of Curtis' affidavit and testimony have been published in various local papers (Feeney's hometown letter received a legal threat from both Feeney and YEI when they ran their story), yet the national media has largely been silent on this story despite the reams of public records, court documents and other hard evidence which confirm Curtis' story... [from]

Himalayan glaciers 'melting fast'

In a report, the WWF says India, China and Nepal could experience floods followed by droughts in coming decades.
The Himalayas contain the largest store of water outside the polar ice caps, and feed seven great Asian rivers.
The group says immediate action against climate change could slow the rate of melting, which is increasing annually.

Unruly student co-op ordered to pay neighbors

A rowdy Cal student co-op known as Le Chateau must pay more than $63,000 to neighbors who complained about behavior such as flinging chunks of a cooked pig at passing cars and beheading a chicken with garden shears, a small claims court ordered in a ruling released Tuesday.
In stern language, Alameda County Small Claims Court Commissioner Jon Rantzman wrote that from 2001 to 2004 the University Students Cooperative Association "permitted the growth of a rogue mentality'' and allowed "the inmates to run the asylum'' at Le Chateau, which then housed 82 people in three separate buildings south of the UC Berkeley campus. [thanks to Michael K]

Looting at Weapons Plants Was Systematic, Iraqi Says

In the weeks after Baghdad fell in April 2003, looters systematically dismantled and removed tons of machinery from Saddam Hussein's most important weapons installations, including some with high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear arms, a senior Iraqi official said this week in the government's first extensive comments on the looting.
The Iraqi official, Sami al-Araji, the deputy minister of industry, said it appeared that a highly organized operation had pinpointed specific plants in search of valuable equipment, some of which could be used for both military and civilian applications, and carted the machinery away.
Dr. Araji said his account was based largely on observations by government employees and officials who either worked at the sites or lived near them.

Pulitzer-winner quits journalism with fiery letter of resignation

Honesty and tenacity (and for that matter, the working class) seem to have taken backseats to the sort of "snappy news", sensationalism, scandal-for-the-sake of scandal crap that sells. This is not a uniquely Tribune or even newspaper industry problem: this is true from the Atlanta mixing rooms of CNN to Sulzberger's offices in Times Square. Profits: that's what it's all about now. But you just can't realize annual profit returns of more than 30 percent by methodically laying out the truth in a dignified, accessible manner. And it's damned tough to find that truth every day with a mere skeleton crew of reporters and editors.
This is terrible for democracy. I have been in 47 states of the USA since 9/11, and I can attest to the horrible impact the deterioration of journalism has had on the national psyche. I have found America a place of great and confused fearfulness, in which cynically placed bits of misinformation (e.g. Cheney's, "If John Kerry had been President during the Cold War we would have had thermonuclear war.") fall on ears that absorb all, without filtration or fact-checking. Leading journalists have tried to defend their mission, pointing to the paucity of accurate, edited coverage found in blogs, internet sites, Fox-TV and talk radio. They argue that good old-fashioned newspaper editing is the key to providing America with credible information, forming the basis for wise voting and enlightened governance. But their claims have been undermined by Jayson Blair's blatant fabrications, Judy Miller's bogus weapons of mass destruction coverage, the media's inaccurate and inappropriate convictions of Wen Ho Lee, Richard Jewell and Steven Hatfill, CBS' failure to smell a con job regarding Bush's Texas Air Guard career and, sadly, so on.

'Theory of everything' tying researchers up in knots

The most celebrated theory in modern physics faces increasing attacks from skeptics who fear it has lured a generation of researchers down an intellectual dead end.
Already, the split over string theory has caused tensions at some of the nation's university physics departments. "The physics department at Stanford effectively fissioned over this issue," said Laughlin, now on sabbatical in South Korea. "I think string theory is textbook 'post-modernism' (and) fueled by irresponsible expenditures of money."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Inverview with former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter

Ritter ...clarified his much misquoted statements with regard to a U.S. planned attack on Iran scheduled for June; elaborated on his suspicions that the Iraqi election was “cooked;” and shared his feelings on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.
In part two of Raw Story’s interview, Ritter elaborates his views on the neoconservative role in governing bodies and domestic issues and a delivers a scathing assessment of the CIA as “terminally ill.” Ritter spent a good part of the 1990s working closely with the CIA on Iraq related issues and continues to have contact with some former and current CIA staff.

Lawmakers want state to track health effects of depleted uranium

State legislators in Connecticut want to keep track of ...veterans' health problems as they return from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
On Thursday, the Select Committee on Veterans Affairs unanimously passed a bill that would establish a commission to study the health effects of depleted uranium and other toxic substances. It would also create a new health registry for Connecticut's returning military personnel and veterans.
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, the committee co-chairman, said if the full General Assembly passes the bill, Connecticut would be the first state to embark on such a study and create a related health registry.
The committee also passed a related bill proposed by Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, that would ensure that any Connecticut member of the armed services or any reserve component who has been called up for active duty can be independently screened for possible exposure to depleted uranium when they return home.


Computer animation

Suspected terrorists still can buy guns

Dozens of terrorist suspects on federal watch lists were allowed to buy firearms legally in the United States last year, according to a congressional investigation that points up major vulnerabilities in federal gun laws.
People suspected of being members of terrorist groups are not automatically barred from legally buying a gun, and the new investigation, conducted by congressional officials at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), indicated that people with clear links to terrorist groups had taken advantage of this gap on a regular basis.

Al-Qaeda plot to kidnap actor

In one of the more bizarre terror plots hatched by al-Qaeda, Australian actor Russell Crowe was the target of a kidnapping scheme as part of a "cultural destabilisation plan".
Crowe has revealed he was approached by the FBI in the months leading up to his Academy Award win for Gladiator in 2001 and warned, vaguely, of the threat: "That was the first [time] I'd ever heard the phrase al-Qaeda. It was about - and here's another little touch of irony - taking iconographic Americans out of the picture as a sort of cultural destabilisation plan."
...The FBI continued their protection through filming of A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander. He also hired his own private security detail.
He said in an interview for the March edition of GQ magazine: "I never fully understood what the f... was going on. Suddenly, it looks like I think I'm Elvis Presley, because everywhere I go there are all these FBI guys around."

DOD dismisses claims on Saddam capture

Pentagon officials dismissed as "ridiculous" and untrue a report that the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq was staged.
A Saudi Arabian newspaper reported Tuesday that a former U.S. Marine, now living in Lebanon, claimed the Iraqi dictator had been captured earlier by a small team of troops, and forced into the now famous "spider hole" to play a role in a film fabricated by the U.S. military to make Saddam look bad.
United Press International published a summary of the newspaper report without seeking Pentagon comment.

Happy St Patrick's Day


Worms flood instant messaging networks

A record number of new computer worms have swept through instant messaging networks in recent weeks, turning computers into remote-controlled zombies and sparking battles between rival virus-writing gangs.
In the past viruses have hijacked IM networks but most arrived in email worms such as Netsky and MyDoom. "What you are seeing now is an outright focus on IM," says John Sakoda of security firm IMlogic in Waltham, Massachusetts, US. The company has recorded 26 outbreaks so far in 2005. [thanks to John A]

Thousands join hunt for gravitational waves

On Monday 14 March, the 126th anniversary of Albert Einstein's birth, over 50,000 people around the world are helping in the hunt for the gravitational waves predicted by the great physicist nearly a century ago.
These people have already downloaded the distributed-computing program Einstein@Home, which was only launched on 19 February 2005, and more than 1000 people per day are still joining.

BBC broadcast 'fake' news reports

A Spinwatch investigation has revealed that journalists working for the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC) have been commissioned to provide news reports to the BBC. The BBC has been using these reports as if they were genuine news. In fact, the SSVC is entirely funded by the Ministry of Defence as a propaganda operation, which according to its own website makes a 'considerable contribution' to the 'morale' of the armed forces.
In the US, Washington has been rocked by the scandal of fake journalists. The Bush administration has been paying actors to produce news, paying journalists to write propaganda, and paying Republican party members to pose as journalists. In the UK this has been reported with our customary shake of the head at the bizarre nature of US politics and media. Implicitly we are relieved that, however bad things are here, at least we are not as bad as they are.

BBC broadcast 'fake' news reports

A Spinwatch investigation has revealed that journalists working for the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC) have been commissioned to provide news reports to the BBC. The BBC has been using these reports as if they were genuine news. In fact, the SSVC is entirely funded by the Ministry of Defence as a propaganda operation, which according to its own website makes a 'considerable contribution' to the 'morale' of the armed forces.
In the US, Washington has been rocked by the scandal of fake journalists. The Bush administration has been paying actors to produce news, paying journalists to write propaganda, and paying Republican party members to pose as journalists. In the UK this has been reported with our customary shake of the head at the bizarre nature of US politics and media. Implicitly we are relieved that, however bad things are here, at least we are not as bad as they are.

Administration Rejects Ruling On PR Videos

The legal counsel's office "does not agree with GAO that the covert propaganda prohibition applies simply because an agency's role in producing and disseminating information is undisclosed or 'covert,' regardless of whether the content of the message is 'propaganda,' " Bradbury wrote.

Pakistan Reviving Nuclear Black Market, Experts Say

Pakistan has developed new illicit channels to upgrade its nuclear weapons program, despite efforts by the U.N. atomic watchdog to shut down all illegal procurement avenues, diplomats and nuclear experts said.
Western diplomats familiar with an investigation of the nuclear black market by the U.N.'s Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said this news was disturbing.
While Pakistan appeared to be shopping for its own needs, the existence of some nuclear black market channels meant there were still ways for rogue states or terrorist groups to acquire technology that could be used in atomic weapons, they said.
"General procurement efforts (by Pakistan) are going on. It is a determined effort," a diplomat from a member of the 44-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"This was discussed at an NSG meeting in Vienna last week."

Carbon-Eating Cement

TecEco have developed cement technologies able to transform city streets and buildings into carbon "sinks", rather than sources.
By blending magnesium oxide and conventional cements, this environment-friendly cement uses a lower heating temperature during manufacturing, so less fossil fuels are used.
Once it's in porous concrete form, eco-cement needs carbon dioxide to harden and set. Therefore, it absorbs large quantities of the greenhouse gas that concrete is partially responsible for, contributing about 10% of global CO2 emissions.

Sensors detect anthrax in Pentagon mail

Sensors at two military mail facilities in the Washington area detected signs of anthrax on two pieces of mail Monday, but Pentagon officials said the mail had already been irradiated, rendering any anthrax inert.
Additional tests and other sensors at the two facilities, one of them at the Pentagon and the other nearby, found no presence of the bacteria, which can be used as a biological weapon. There were no initial reports of illness.

The Pentagon's mail delivery site, which is separate from the main Pentagon building, was evacuated and shut down Monday morning after sensors triggered an alarm, spokesman Glenn Flood said.

Hours later, sensors at the second Defense Department mailroom were triggered.

Medical personnel took cultures from anyone who may have had contact with those deliveries.

Anthrax can be spread through the air or by skin contact. Officials noted that anthrax sensors can give false-positive results.

Army Details Scale of Abuse of Prisoners in an Afghan Jail

Two Afghan prisoners who died in American custody in Afghanistan in December 2002 were chained to the ceiling, kicked and beaten by American soldiers in sustained assaults that caused their deaths, according to Army criminal investigative reports that have not yet been made public.
One soldier, Pfc. Willie V. Brand, was charged with manslaughter in a closed hearing last month in Texas in connection with one of the deaths, another Army document shows. Private Brand, who acknowledged striking a detainee named Dilawar 37 times, was accused of having maimed and killed him over a five-day period by "destroying his leg muscle tissue with repeated unlawful knee strikes."

The attacks on Mr. Dilawar were so severe that "even if he had survived, both legs would have had to be amputated," the Army report said, citing a medical examiner.

The reports, obtained by Human Rights Watch, provide the first official account of events that led to the deaths of the detainees, Mullah Habibullah and Mr. Dilawar, at the Bagram Control Point, about 40 miles north of Kabul. The deaths took place nearly a year before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Prosecutors: G8 Protesters Were Abused

About 150 protesters detained at the Group of Eight summit in northern Italy in 2001 were kicked, slapped, tripped, kneed in the groin and dragged by their hair, according to a report.
Prosecutors in Genoa released a 534-page report over the weekend detailing "inhuman" and "degrading" behavior by police officers, corrections officers and doctors at the Bolzaneto police garrison, Italian media reported Sunday. The extent of the brutality has prompted comparisons to the abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The report denounced what it said was a violation of human rights but stopped short of describing the abuse as torture.

Daily Show Clips Now Available for Free Download

Monday, March 14, 2005

Australian Actors Guild Forbids Creative Commons Work

The MEAA Board decided that it could grant none of the dispensations sought by MOD Films, on the grounds that these would be “inappropriate”. The production had asked for dispensations and support for its world-first plans to employ professional actors in a film with only “Some Rights Reserved” by the production company. The company intends to permit non-commercial use and re-voicing of the film by the audience. The MEAA also rejected the option of any further negotiations with MOD Films.

Mechanical chip promises huge data storage

A super-dense memory chip that stores data in the form of nanoscale holes in a plastic film has made its public debut at the CeBIT electronics exhibition in Hanover, Germany.
Storing data in the form of holes is not new - CDs use pits in a polycarbonate disc, for instance, and 19th-century looms stored patterns on punched cards. But the "Millipede" technology from IBM's Zurich lab promises very high capacity thanks to its use of holes just 10 nanometres wide. This means that a square chip measuring 2.4 centimetres on a side should be able to store 125 gigabytes, says the company, equivalent to 25 DVDs.

Can Papers End the Free Ride Online?

Consumers are willing to spend millions of dollars on the Web when it comes to music services like iTunes and gaming sites like Xbox Live. But when it comes to online news, they are happy to read it but loath to pay for it.
Newspaper Web sites have been so popular that at some newspapers, including The New York Times, the number of people who read the paper online now surpasses the number who buy the print edition.
This migration of readers is beginning to transform the newspaper industry. Advertising revenue from online sites is booming and, while it accounts for only 2 percent or 3 percent of most newspapers' overall revenues, it is the fastest-growing source of revenue. And newspaper executives are watching anxiously as the number of online readers grows while the number of print readers declines.

Congress Aims to Create Broader Privacy Policies

Over the next few months, new bills will be drafted to establish parameters for the collection, storage and use of personal data, spanning Internet-based technologies from spyware and hacking to so-called evil-twin attacks. Issues once viewed as separate legislative matters, such as spyware and phishing, are being combined as lawmakers gradually formulate broader privacy policy.
Several senators, including Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., are working on data protection measures that address the responsibility of legitimate data collectors and the punishment of law breakers.

Velvet Elvi

Biodiesel Boosters Plan Co-Ops

If fans of biodiesel get their way, 2005 will be the first year in which thousands of drivers fill their tanks with the increasingly popular alternative to petroleum diesel at a network of public fueling stations.
Biodiesel co-op members will get a discount on the fuel, which is derived from natural fats and oils. But drivers of any diesel vehicles will be welcome, according to entrepreneurs hoping to establish biodiesel plants and filling stations in their communities.

Spain’s Muslims issue ‘fatwa’ against bin Laden

The ruling was issued by the Islamic Commission of Spain, the main body representing the country’s 1 million-member Muslim community. The commission represents 200 or so mostly Sunni mosques, or about 70 percent of all mosques in Spain.
The March 11, 2004, train bombings killed 191 people and were claimed in videotapes by militants who said they had acted on al-Qaida’s behalf in revenge for Spain’s troop deployment in Iraq.

Terrorist reality TV boosts ratings in Iraq

Terror in the Grip of Justice is the latest weapon in the Government’s propaganda war against the insurgents, exposing them as the enemies of Iraqis and cautioning those tempted to join them.
The authorities insist that the confessions are genuine, although many wonder whether the statements are made by ashamed killers or simply bad B-actors.
The show has become the most watched ever on al-Iraqiya, an unpopular channel set up and funded by the Americans. The Americans, who no longer supervise the station’s output, say they have no hand in the show which was conceived by the Interior Ministry to demonstrate the authorities’ fight against the insurgency.
Insurgents have begun a propaganda counter-offensive, denouncing the tapes as fakes and threatening to impose "God’s justice" on the station’s employees — a threat apparently made real with the killing of Raeda Wazan, an anchor- woman, last month. [from]

"Clear Skies" Stalled in Committee

Democrats said they would continue to press for changes to "Clear Skies," and Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., suggested that an eventual compromise might come about with less-restrictive controls on carbon. One possibility would involve setting voluntary caps on carbon emissions that would harden into a mandatory cap if industry failed to achieve the voluntary targets, he said.

Report: States getting stuck with $30 billion federal tab

Over the coming decade, states would have to pick up at least $300 billion in costs for federal programs, including $45 billion if Congress approves Bush's proposal to cut federal contributions to Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for 53 million poor and disabled Americans, according to the report.
Nearly two-thirds of the additional costs to states would be in the area of K-12 education, which accounted for the largest single share of states' spending until being eclipsed by Medicaid in 2004.
More than $18 billion would be from funding gaps in two federal education programs -- Bush's signature No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a special education law that Congress reauthorized last year. NCSL says Bush's proposed budget leaves each program about $9 billion short of authorized funding levels.
States' share of prescription drug costs for "dual eligibles" -- the 7 million elderly people who are on the rolls of both Medicare and Medicaid -- account for another chunk of the cost shift. NCSL estimates states will spend $6.6 billion to help cover Medicare drug costs in 2006 alone.

U.S. Judge Bars Transfer of 13 Guantanamo Detainees

A federal judge has barred the U.S. government from transferring 13 Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo Bay out of concern for their safety.
The temporary restraining order requires the United States to keep the men at its military prison camp in Cuba until the court considers a motion that would require U.S. authorities to give lawyers 30 days' notice before moving the detainees.
The hearing, scheduled for March 24, will also assess the possibility the Yemeni detainees might be tortured or detained indefinitely if moved to Yemen or to another country.
Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued the temporary injunction on Saturday after lawyers for the 13 Yemeni detainees filed an emergency petition to stop what they perceived as an imminent transfer of the men.

Blue Tooth Remote Detector

One of the security assumptions in Bluetooth is that attackers need to be quite close-by if they want to gain access to your phone or other device. Here's simple instructions for building a handsome, effective Bluetooth "sniper rifle" whose high-gain antenna will give you access to devices from miles away:
"After a few seconds, John pointed the gun at the Library Tower / US Bank Building, which is the tallest building in Los Angeles. The building was .75 miles (a little over 1 km) from our position. As more Bluetooth devices started appearing, John said, "This building is full of Bluetooth! Look we got some Blackberries!" He also explained that, with multiple guns, it would be possible to track a single Bluetooth device as the person walked around. In less than a few minutes, twenty devices were detected—all at distances over a half mile away! We decided to quickly conclude the scan, given police activity in the area earlier in the day from a bomb scare." [from]

Growth of Blogs


Technorati is now tracking over 7.8 million weblogs, and 937 million links. That's just about double the number of weblogs tracked in October 2004. In fact, the blogosphere is doubling in size about once every 5 months. It has already done so at this pace four times, which means that in the last 20 months, the blogosphere has increased in size by over 16 times.

Judge Rules Bloggers Must Reveal Sources

A judge on Friday ordered three independent online reporters to divulge confidential sources in a lawsuit brought by Apple Computer Inc., ruling that they were not protected by the First Amendment because they published trade secrets.
The ruling alarmed speech advocates, who saw the case as a test of whether people who write for Web publications enjoy the same legal protections as reporters for mainstream publications. Among those are protections afforded under California's "shield" law, which is meant to encourage the publication of information in the public's interest.
The reporters - who run sites followed closely by Apple enthusiasts - allegedly published product descriptions that Apple said employees had leaked in violation of nondisclosure agreements and possibly the U.S. Trade Secrets Act.

State of the Media 2005: New Roles for News

The encyclopedic State of the News Media, 2005, second in an annual series, hits the electronic street today. It has the facts you expect to find in a solid reference work but some facts that are surprising as well.
If you think you know your media, check out these findings:

  • Without denying the growth and transforming power of the Internet, it's a myth that blogs and their cousins are locked in head-to-head combat with traditional media for audience. To the contrary, most Americans are all-day grazers among multiple formats.

    So if your diet includes a newspaper, magazines, the Internet, radio and television (local, network, and cable), you are not a news junkie, you are normal. Only 2 percent of Americans report in a Pew survey that online sites are their only regular news source. TV-only claims 8 percent, print-only, 5 percent; and the very traditional combination of print and TV, 24 percent.
  • Nor are young people news dropouts. Of 18-29 year-olds, a respectable 36 percent report going online regularly for news, up from 31 percent in 2002. (And of course there is some representation of the young among regular and occasional newspaper readers and TV news watchers).
  • The partisan divide in picking news sources to create a walled-in reinforcement of settled opinions has been exaggerated. Of course, conservatives like Fox News and cable TV and talk radio are often highly partisan. However, the vast majority of news consumers prefer middle-of-the-road, non-ideological news sources.
  • Credibility of the media is distressingly low and continues to slide. Partisans on both sides increasingly complain of bias in favor of the other guys, and they have now been joined by vocal bloggers who charge traditional media with being out of touch. Paradoxically, though, these credibility critics are slightly bigger media consumers than other adults.
  • Newspaper's business woes and the consequent staff cuts and budget tightening are all too apparent and painful from the inside. But Pew's content analysts still rate newspapers very high for depth and breadth – a typical story in their analysis had at least four identifiable sources.
  • Inward-looking newspaper folks may also be unaware of some modestly positive trends among their local television counterparts. Staffing at local TV stations was up a little in 2003 and salary increases averaged 10 percent. Newscasts typically account for 46 percent of station revenues, and revenues rose nearly 10 percent in 2004. A lingering problem is spreading smallish staffs over an ever-extending news day; nor is it clear that stations will reinvest in news as opposed to dropping the revenue to the bottom line. [from]
NYT: The annual Project for Excellence in Journalism report on the state of the media says that the use of anonymous sources in newspapers has dropped significantly over the last year. USAT: Non-traditional media gaining ground, consumers. LAT: Study warns of "junk news" diet. E&P: Survey finds newspapers slipping, facing cutbacks. WaPo: Study finds no shortage of opinion on Fox News. [from]

Vietnam Fury at Agent Orange Case

Vietnamese plaintiffs have condemned a US court's decision to dismiss their legal action against manufacturers of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
"It is a wrong decision, unfair and irresponsible," said Nguyen Trong Nhan, vice president of Vietnam's Association of Agent Orange (VAVA).

Justice Dept Tells Agencies to Ignore GAO Ruling on "Covert Propaganda"

The New York Times reported that at least 20 federal agencies, from the defence department to the census bureau, had adopted the technique of distributing prepackaged reports and scripted interviews with Bush administration officials to television stations.
Many of the segments were broadcast as news without any acknowledgement from the broadcaster that they were government releases, and put on air in some of America's largest cities.

...The practice has come under scrutiny from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Although the US is free to propagate pro-administration views abroad, such broadcasts are illegal on American soil.
The GAO issued a critical ruling of the Bush administration's public relations drive last month, calling such segments "covert propaganda". On Friday, however, the justice department circulated a memo instructing agencies to ignore the GAO findings.

Newly Released Government Documents on Torture

"He told me his brother was there with him, but he really wanted to see his mother, could he please call his mother. He was crying." --thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU has received documents detailing detention, abuse, and death, of many, including children, at Abu Ghraib. Mostly PDFs, but summaries available on most pages: ... Investigation closed because furtherance "would be of little or no value" ... --statements of that sort are common throughout. [from]

Counting the dead in Iraq

Counting the dead is intrinsic to civilised society. Understanding the causes of death is a core public health responsibility. The government's white paper on public health emphasises the vital role of assessing the impact on health of all public policy.1 This is well recognised, and yet neither the public nor public health professionals are able to obtain reliable and officially endorsed information about the extent of civilian deaths attributable to the allied invasion of Iraq. Estimates vary between tens and hundreds of thousands.

California Gov. Video News Releases

In California, more video news releases produced by the Schwarzenegger administration have been identified. The VNRs tout administration proposals to reduce nursing staff levels in hospitals, to make teachers' pay merit-based, to make tenure more stringent, to lower prescription drug prices, and to end mandatory employee rest breaks. Schwarzenegger's spokesperson called the VNRs "just a press release in video form." But the VNRs push controversial proposals, as opposed to those by the Gray Davis administration, which explained new driver's licenses or celebrated Labor Day. PR Week reports that California "has launched an effort to make VNR production easier for all government departments," by hiring a multimedia communications specialist.

*Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged TV New

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

The Case for Comics Journalism

In the Shadow of No Towers: Art Spiegelman, courtesty Pantheon Books

Somehow “graphic journalism” didn’t make the headlines. But since the renaissance of the mid-eighties, more and more writers and artists have been producing serious nonfiction comics about current events, from war crimes to hip-hop. In the mid-1990s, Joe Sacco’s two books on Palestine were hailed as groundbreaking works and made Sacco the best known of the new graphic journalists. Now comics, or graphic, journalism is turning up in daily newspapers, where its inherent subjectivity contrasts sharply with the newsroom’s dispassionate prose — another round in the debate over what journalism should be in the twenty-first century.

Armageddon in an age of entertainment

After living in the Bible Belt for more than thirty years, I've learned several things about our fundamentalist Christian brethren: First, theirs is an embattled faith, which requires an ever evolving list of enemies to keep its focus. It includes Satan worshipers one year, "secular humanists" the next. Panic over backward masking on phonograph records yields to fears that supermarket bar codes harbor the Mark of the Beast. Some years back, Procter & Gamble was forced to deny wide Gene Lyons's last review for Harper's Magazine, "The Media is the Message," appeared in the October 2003 issue. spread rumors that a moon-and-stars logo on boxes of soapsuds symbolized corporate diabolism. More recently, purging school libraries of Harry Potter's witchcraft has emerged as a cause. As if the real world weren't scary enough, chimerical threats must be found. It often appears that no form of occultism is too arcane or preposterous to provoke alarm.

Holy Grail on Broadway

We're Knights of the Round Table
We dance whene'er we're able.
We do routines and chorus scenes
With footwork impeccable.
We dine well here in Camelot.
We eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.
We're Knights of the Round Table.
Our shows are formidable,
But many times we're given rhymes
That are quite unsingable.
We're opera mad in Camelot.
We sing from the diaphragm a lot.
In war we're tough and able,
Quite indefatigable.
Between our quests we sequin vests and impersonate Clark Gable.
It's a busy life in Camelot.

Lego Batman Animation

Starring Adam West, Mark Hamill and Courtney Thorme-Smith, with Dick Van Dyke as Commissioner Gordon. [from]

How to File an FOIA Request

The first step in acquiring information from the government is to determine which department or agency holds the information you seek. There is no centralized office that processes or coordinates Freedom of Information requests, so the requester must go directly to the appropriate agency. However, the Department of Justice does act as a centralized source for information about FOIA and for locating all federal government departments and agencies.

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