Saturday, October 01, 2005

Texas mayors say FEMA didn't deliver on promise to do better

Ortiz, whose home was destroyed by Rita, said Thursday that the most FEMA had done for the community was to deliver two truckloads of fuel, which he said was gone after six hours. He thanked Valero Energy Corp., a regional oil refiner, for helping with the city's fuel needs.
"I've had to call FEMA's director to help get my people food and housing vouchers," Ortiz said. " I mean, come on, I'm in the state of Texas and I can't feed my people."
"It's baffling," said Port Neches' Johnson, who also asked FEMA for generators that never showed up. "They want you to fax requests to them for the things that you need, and it's like faxing it to a black hole.
"I know they are out there doing things, and I don't want to play the blame game, pointing fingers. But obviously there's a breakdown in the system, and it needs to be fixed. I've given up on them."

Bush 'encouraged' despite report on Iraqi troops

President George W. Bush sought on Saturday to dispel concerns about the readiness of U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces, declaring himself "encouraged" even though his top generals say the number of battalions that can fight insurgents without help has dropped.
"I'm encouraged by the increasing size and capability of the Iraqi security forces. Today they have more than 100 battalions operating throughout the country, and our commanders report that the Iraqi forces are serving with increasing effectiveness," Bush said in his weekly radio address.
...During congressional testimony on Thursday, Gen. George Casey, top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Gen. John Abizaid, top U.S. commander in the Middle East, said the number of such battalions had dropped since July to one from three, out of the roughly 100 Iraqi battalions.

Retired general: Iraq invasion was 'strategic disaster'

The invasion of Iraq was the “greatest strategic disaster in United States history,” a retired Army general said yesterday, strengthening an effort in Congress to force an American withdrawal beginning next year., Retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom, a Vietnam veteran, said the invasion of Iraq alienated America's Middle East allies, making it harder to prosecute a war against terrorists.
The U.S. should withdraw from Iraq, he said, and reposition its military forces along the Afghan-Pakistani border to capture Osama bin Laden and crush al Qaeda cells.

FCC Mandate Forces 'Backdoors' in Broadband ISPs and VoIP

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a "First Report and Order" confirming its expansion of the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to the Internet. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is planning to challenge the rule in court.
The new rule forces Internet broadband providers and "interconnected" Voice-over-IP (VoIP) providers to build backdoors into their networks to make it easier for law enforcement to listen in on private communications. EFF has argued against this expansion of CALEA in several rounds of comments to the FCC.
"A tech mandate requiring backdoors in the Internet endangers the privacy of innocent people, stifles innovation, and risks the Internet as a forum for free and open expression," said Kurt Opsahl, EFF staff attorney.

Feds Unable to Search Own Anti-Terrorism Database

After receiving hundreds of requests from Americans asking to know what personal information the government has obtained about them, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) told passengers that it "does not have the capability to perform a simple computer-based search" to locate individual records.

The Vagaries of Religious Experience

Is God is nothing more than an attempt to explain order and good fortune by those who do not understand the mathematics of chance, the principles of self-organizing systems, or the psychology of the human mind? When the study I just described was accepted for publication, I recall asking one of my collaborators, who is a deeply religious man, how he felt about having demonstrated that people can misattribute the products of their own minds to powerful external agents. He said, "I feel fine. After all, God doesn't want us to confuse our miracles with his."
That's fair enough. Science rules out the most cartoonish versions of God by debunking specific claims about ancient civilizations in North America or the creatio ex nihilo of human life. But it cannot tell us whether there is a force or entity or idea beyond our ken that deserves to be known as God. What we can say is that the universe is a complex place, that events within it often seem to turn out for the best, and that neither of these facts requires an explanation beyond our own skins.

Magazine ad "unleashes hell" for Boeing and Bell

Boeing and its joint-venture partner Bell Helicopter apologized yesterday for a magazine ad published a month ago — and again this week by mistake — depicting U.S. Special Forces troops rappelling from an Osprey aircraft onto the roof of a mosque.

"It descends from the heavens. Ironically it unleashes hell," reads the ad, which ran this week in the National Journal and earlier in the Armed Forces Journal. The ad also stated: "Consider it a gift from above."

The ad appears at a time when the United States is trying to improve its image in the Muslim world and Boeing seeks to sell its airplanes to Islamic countries.

Boeing and Bell officials agreed that the ad — touting the capabilities of the vertical-lift Osprey aircraft — was ill-conceived and should never have been published.

Buying of News by Bush's Aides Is Ruled Illegal

Federal auditors said on Friday that the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of President Bush's education policies, by making payments to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party.
In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.
The contract with Mr. Williams and the general contours of the public relations campaign had been known for months. The report Friday provided the first definitive ruling on the legality of the activities. [thanks, Sharon]

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Disciplinator and The Call Centre

Atelier Van Lieshout proposes collectively organized forms of working and living that circumvent conventional categories. The most radical implementation of this principle was the proclamation of a "free state" in the Rotterdam harbor area in 2001, an experiment which the city council terminated six months later.
Designed to achieve maximum profits through rationalism, their The Disciplinator is a gigantic cage-like construction for 72 inmates.
The sleeping department with 24 beds can be used in three shifts; the food department has 24 places at a table with 24 plates, mugs and spoons; there are 36 places in the labour area where inhabitants perform intensive labour tasks and produce sawdust from four tree trunks using the 36 files; there are 4 toilets, 4 showers, 4 sinks and 8 toothbrushes. Everything is calculated and standardised, and because the AVL refrains from making any kind of moral statement, the Disciplinator communicates an unadulterated vision of the horrors of the principle of exploitation.
At the MAK Exhibition Hall, Vienna, till October 2, 2005.
AVL is currently working on a sinister utopian project that is highly efficient and profitable (2,8 billion euro net profit a year). Call Centre is an up-to-date concentration camp made out of the latest technology and with the newest management insights. The inhabitants (called participants) work 7 hours a day on tele-service and after that they work 7 hours on the fields or workshop in order to keep the Call Centre working. Their efficiency is monitored and appropriate measures are taken if it drops under a set level.

Receive 3 FREE iTunes music downloads when you sign up to be contacted by the Army National Guard!

All fields are required.

Joint Chiefs' chairman steps down

Gen. Richard B. Myers will be honored today on Fort Myer's Summerall Field as he retires from a 40-year career. The Air Force officer officially ends his last day as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A full joint honor guard and a whole host of distinguished guests will descend upon Summerall Field at 10 a.m. Myer became the 15th chairman of the joint chiefs on Oct. 1, 2001. The country was in the midst of recovering from the terrorist attacks and the new chairman had to oversee worldwide military operations.

$2,480 for Tarping a Roof on Gulf Coast

The government is paying contractors an average of $2,480 for less than two hours of work to cover each damaged roof — even though it's also giving them endless supplies of blue sheeting for free.
"This is absolute highway robbery and it really does show that the agency doesn't have a clue in getting real value of contracts," said Keith Ashdown, vice president for Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Pentagon Analyst "Guilty" in Plea Deal

Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin, charged with providing officials in the pro-Israel lobby (AIPAC) with classified defense information, has struck a plea bargain with the prosecution and is expected to testify against the former AIPAC employees in the case. Franklin will enter his guilty plea next Wednesday at the US District court in Alexandria, Virginia.
This latest development in the AIPAC case makes it clear that the main target of the federal investigation are now the two former lobby staffers – Steve Rosen, who was the policy director, and Keith Weissman, the senior Iran analyst. Both were fired from AIPAC last April and were indicted in August by a grand jury on charges of conspiring to receive and transfer classified information.
Reaching a plea bargain with Franklin will enable the federal prosecutors to strengthen their case against Rosen and Weissman by calling Franklin to the stand and having him testify that he had informed the AIPAC staffers that the information he was giving them is classified. This could weaken the AIPAC staffers defense, which is based on the claim they were not aware of the fact that the information they got was classified and that their contacts with Franklin should be seen as common practice for lobbyists in the US capital.

Find the Brownie

The objective of this blog is to find an important government job occupied by a person with no apparent qualifications other than strong personal, political, or business ties to a member of the administration.
Send your suggestions to
Note: You will not be credited unless you request it.

Huge List of Google Search Tips

Reports on Psychochemical Warfare

The chemical BZ is a "superhallucinogen" that violently detaches users from reality for days at a time. The Army studied and developed it for use as a weapon from the early 1960s through the mid 1970s. [read more]
You'll find a list of selected military reports about this chemical weapon here. Below, we'll be posting the full reports as they arrive.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The 14 People Bush Pardoned

_Gene Armand Bridger, Elkhart, Ind., conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, sentenced May 29, 1963, to five years probation.
_Cathryn Iline Clasen-Gage, Rockwall, Texas, misprision of a felony, sentenced Aug. 21, 1992, to 18 months in prison and a year of supervised release.
_Thomas Kimble Collinsworth, Buckner, Ark., receipt of a stolen motor vehicle that had been transported in interstate commerce, sentenced Aug. 22, 1989, to three years probation and a $5,000 fine.
_Morris F. Cranmer Jr., Little Rock, Ark., making materially false statements to a federally insured institution, sentenced March 30, 1988, to nine months in jail.
_Rusty Lawrence Elliott, Mount Pleasant, Tenn., making counterfeit money, sentenced April 26, 1991, to a year and a day in prison, two years supervised release and a $500 fine.
_Adam Wade Graham, Salt Lake City, Utah, conspiracy to deliver 10 or more grams of LSD, sentenced Nov. 23, 1992, to 30 months in prison and five years of supervised release, including 250 hours of community service.
_Rufus Edward Harris, Canon, Ga., possession of tax-unpaid whiskey, sentenced June 17, 1963, to two years in prison, possession and sale of tax-unpaid whiskey. He also was sentenced on May 28, 1970, to five years in prison, later reduced to two years probation.
_Larry Paul Lenius, Moorhead, Minn., conspiracy to distribute cocaine, sentenced Sept. 29, 1989, to 36 months probation and payment of $2,500 in restitution.
_Larry Lee Lopez, Bokeelia, Fla., conspiracy to import marijuana, sentenced July 19, 1985 to three years probation.
_Bobbie Archie Maxwell, Lansing, Mich., mailing a threatening letter, sentenced Sept. 6, 1962, to 12 months probation.
_Denise Bitters Mendelkow, Salt Lake City, Utah, embezzlement by a bank employee, sentenced May 21, 1981, to two years probation.
_Mark Lewis Weber, Sherwood, Ark., selling Quaalude tablets, selling, using and possessing marijuana, sentenced Aug. 20, 1981, following Air Force court-martial to 30 months confinement at hard labor, forfeiture of 30 months pay at $334 a month and a dishonorable discharge.

Scholar says Bush has used obscure doctrine to extend power 95 times

The Bush administration has been using an extreme version of an obscure doctrine called the Unitary Executive Theory to justify executive actions that far exceed past presidents' power...
The doctrine assumes, in its extreme form, nearly absolute deference to the Executive branch from Congress and the Judiciary.
According to Dr. Christopher Kelley, a professor in the Department of Political Sciences at Miami University, as of April 2005, President Bush had used the doctrine 95 times when signing legislation into law, issuing an executive order, or responding to a congressional resolution. is a growing collection of over 43,870 adherent statistics and religious geography citations: references to published membership/adherent statistics and congregation statistics for over 4,200 religions, churches, denominations, religious bodies, faith groups, tribes, cultures, movements, ultimate concerns, etc. The religions of the world are enumerated here.
Basically, researchers can use this site to answer such questions as "How many Lutherans live in Florida?", "What are the major religions of India?", or "What percentage of the world is Muslim?" We present data from both primary research sources such as government census reports, statistical sampling surveys and organizational reporting, as well as citations from secondary literature which mention adherent statistics.

Lilly to add suicide risk warning to Strattera label

Strattera could make you commit suicide. Earlier today it was announced that Paxil could cause cause birth defects (scroll down). Now Strattera (an ADHD drug) is on the list of "wonder drugs" that could have serious consequences. Is it really worth it to visit Dr. Feelgood just to find out later that it really did more damage than good? [from]

National Guard has Only 1/3 Necessary Equipment for Homeland Security

The National Guard's top commander says most of the Guard's best equipment is in Iraq and there's only about one-third of the helicopters, trucks, radios and other supplies it needs for homeland security.
General Steven Blum has told a House panel it will take as much as seven billion dollars to buy what the Army and Air National Guard need to respond to natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other crises.
He says domestic guard units are being left with second-hand supplies. He identifies one-and-a-third (b) billion dollars in immediate priorities, including trucks, tractors, radios and satellite phones.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the military has the resources to fight the war in Iraq and respond to domestic disasters.

Top U.S. general casts doubt on 2006 troop cut in Iraq

The top U.S. general in Iraq on Wednesday cast doubt on his previous forecasts of a substantial cut in American forces in 2006, saying Iraq was in a period of heightened uncertainty that made it "too soon to tell" if troops can be brought home.
In March and again in July, Army Gen. George Casey, who commands the 147,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, predicted a "fairly substantial" reduction in American forces next spring and summer if Iraq's political process goes positively and progress is made in developing Iraqi security forces. Pentagon officials said that meant a reduction of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 troops.
After briefing U.S. lawmakers behind closed doors on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Casey was more cautious when asked whether the troop reduction was still possible.
"I think right now we're in a period of a little greater uncertainty than when I was asked that question back in July and March," Casey told reporters, noting that Iraqis vote on a draft constitution in an October 15 referendum and, if they endorse it, then elect a new government on December 15.

Google: "Number Two" Killed

1,020,000 hits. You have to go through a lot of pages before you hit any "Austin Powers" sites.

FEMA Under Fire Again, Now for Rita Effort

Saying they were caught off-guard by the number of people in need, FEMA officials closed a relief center early on Wednesday after some of the hundreds of hurricane victims in line began fainting in triple-digit heat.
The midday closing of the Houston disaster relief center came as officials in areas hit hardest by Hurricane Rita criticized FEMA's response to the storm, with one calling for a commission to examine the emergency response.
Across southeastern Texas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency delivered ice, water and packaged meals to residents who rode out last week's hurricane, which blew ashore at Sabine Pass in East Texas early Saturday.
But the agency was not ready for the roughly 1,500 people displaced by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina who sought help at the Houston center when it reopened Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Record of DeLay's Prosecutor Puts Lie to "Partisan" Claim

Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano accused Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, of being "openly and notoriously political," repeating his suggestion that Earle's prosecution of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) on conspiracy charges is politically motivated. But in making the accusation, Napolitano once again ignored Earle's record, which includes the prosecution of significantly more Democratic officials than Republicans, as Media Matters for America has previously noted.

DeLay's Prosecution Record Puts Lie to "Partisan" Claim

Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano accused Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, of being "openly and notoriously political," repeating his suggestion that Earle's prosecution of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) on conspiracy charges is politically motivated. But in making the accusation, Napolitano once again ignored Earle's record, which includes the prosecution of significantly more Democratic officials than Republicans, as Media Matters for America has previously noted.

Theocracy Watch: Bush's War on the Environment

Core Values
American Legislative Exchange Council
War on Nature
Healthy Forest Initiative
Clear Skies
Undermining Environmental Law
Coal Mines - Putting the Fox in Charge of the Hen House
Undermining The Montreal Protocol to Protect the Ozone Layer
Wetlands Protection Fades By
Repealing the Clean Water Act
Defunding the Land and Water Conservation Fund
Allowing Raw Sewage
Anti-environment Judicicial Nomination
Christian Coalition Scorecards Compared to Environmental Scorecards
Leadership of the U.S. Congress
Senator James Inhofe: Chair of the Committee on the Environment and Public Works
States Rights and the Environment

Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies

New Accounts of Torture by U.S. Troops

U.S. Army troops subjected Iraqi detainees to severe beatings and other torture at a base in central Iraq from 2003 through 2004, often under orders or with the approval of superior officers, according to accounts from soldiers released by Human Rights Watch today. The new report, "Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division," provides soldiers' accounts of abuses against detainees committed by troops of the 82nd Airborne stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury), near Fallujah.
Three U.S. army personnel-two sergeants and a captain-describe routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment. In one incident, a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee's leg with a baseball bat. Detainees were also forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out. Soldiers also applied chemical substances to detainees' skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold. Detainees were also stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water. The soldiers also described abuses they witnessed or participated in at another base in Iraq and during earlier deployments in Afghanistan.

Report attacks 'myth' of foreign fighters

The US and the Iraqi government have overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, "feeding the myth" that they are the backbone of the insurgency, an American thinktank says in a new report.
Foreign militants - mainly from Algeria, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - account for less than 10% of the estimated 30,000 insurgents, according to the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
The report came as President Bush said a pullout of US forces would embolden America's enemies, allowing the Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden "to dominate the Middle East and launch more attacks on America and other free nations".

Biblically Correct Tours of Natural History

God made dinosaurs on the sixth day of Creation, the same day he made people, according to Rusty Carter's interpretation of the Bible.
"The word 'dinosaur' was not invented back then, but in Job 38, there's two large creatures, behemoth and leviathan," said Carter, director of the Littleton-based Biblically Correct Tours, as he prepared to give his first tour of the school year.
Either or both creatures were probably dinosaurs, he said.

Gay Troops Sent to Iraq

Members of the Army Reserves and the National Guard who inform their commanders that they are gay are routinely converted into active duty status and sent to the Iraq war and other high priority military assignments, according to a spokesperson for an Army command charged with deploying troops.
The spokesperson, Kim Waldron, a civilian who works for the U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Ga., said the active duty deployment of Reservists and National Guard troops who say they are gay, or who are accused of being gay, takes place under a Forces Command or “FORSCOM” regulation issued in 1999.
Waldron said the regulation is aimed at preventing Reservists and National Guard members from using their sexual orientation — or from pretending to be gay — to escape combat.

Depleted Uranium Tests for US Troops Returning from Iraq

US troops returning from Iraq are for the first time to be offered state-of-the-art radiation testing to check for contamination from depleted uranium - a controversial substance linked by some to cancer and birth defects.
Campaigners say the Pentagon refuses to take seriously the issue of poisoning from depleted uranium (DU) and offers only the most basic checks, and only when it is specifically asked for. But state legislators across the US are pushing ahead with laws that will provide their National Guard troops access to the most sophisticated tests.
Connecticut and Louisiana have already passed such legislation and another 18 are said to be considering similar steps. Connecticut's new law - pioneered by state legislator Pat Dillon - comes into effect on Saturday.
"What this does is establish a standard," said Mrs Dillon, a Yale-trained epidemiologist. "It means that our Guardsmen will have access to highly sensitive testing that can differentiate between background levels of radiation." DU - a heavy metal waste-product of nuclear power plants - has been used by the US military since the 1991 Gulf War. It is used to tip tank shells and missiles because of its ability to penetrate armour. On impact DU burns at an extremely high temperature and is widely dispersed in micro particles.

"This is a Leadership Problem" Officer Criticizes Detainee Abuse Inquiry

An Army captain who reported new allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq said Tuesday that Army investigators seemed more concerned about tracking down young soldiers who reported misconduct than in following up the accusations and investigating whether higher-ranking officers knew of the abuses.
The officer, Capt. Ian Fishback, said investigators from the Criminal Investigation Command and the 18th Airborne Corps inspector general had pressed him to divulge the names of two sergeants from his former battalion who also gave accounts of abuse, which were made public in a report last Friday by the group Human Rights Watch.
Captain Fishback, speaking publicly on the matter for first time, said the investigators who have questioned him in the past 10 days seemed to be less interested in individuals he identified in his chain of command who allegedly committed the abuses.
"I'm convinced this is going in a direction that's not consistent with why we came forward," Captain Fishback said in a telephone interview from Fort Bragg, N.C., where he is going through Army Special Forces training. "We came forward because of the larger issue that prisoner abuse is systemic in the Army. I'm concerned this will take a new twist, and they'll try to scapegoat some of the younger soldiers. This is a leadership problem."

Atta known to Pentagon before 9/11

Four years after the nation's deadliest terror attack, evidence is accumulating that a super-secret Pentagon intelligence unit identified the organizer of the Sept. 11 hijackings, Mohamed Atta, as an Al Qaeda operative months before he entered the U.S.
The many investigations of Sept. 11, 2001, have turned up a half-dozen instances in which government agencies possessed information that might have led investigators to some part of the terrorist plot, although in most cases not in time to stop it.

NASA administrator says space shuttle was a mistake

The space shuttle and International Space Station — nearly the whole of the U.S. manned space program for the past three decades — were mistakes, NASA chief Michael Griffin said Tuesday.
In a meeting with USA TODAY's editorial board, Griffin said NASA lost its way in the 1970s, when the agency ended the Apollo moon missions in favor of developing the shuttle and space station, which can only orbit Earth.
"It is now commonly accepted that was not the right path," Griffin said. "We are now trying to change the path while doing as little damage as we can."
The shuttle has cost the lives of 14 astronauts since the first flight in 1982. Roger Pielke Jr., a space policy expert at the University of Colorado, estimates that NASA has spent about $150 billion on the program since its inception in 1971. The total cost of the space station by the time it's finished — in 2010 or later — may exceed $100 billion, though other nations will bear some of that.

SEC Will Formally Investigate Frist Stock Dump

The SEC authorized a formal order of investigation of Frist's sale in June of HCA Inc. shares, people with direct knowledge of the inquiry said yesterday. The order allows the agency's enforcement unit to subpoena documents and compel witnesses to testify, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the order hasn't been made public.
``This turns the flame up under the kettle and keeps the water boiling,'' said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the independent Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. ``It means he's going to continue to be peppered with questions about this stock sale, and no politician wants to be questioned about things like that.''

Army ends probe on porn site photos of Iraq corpses

The U.S. Army after a brief inquiry has failed to determine whether U.S. soldiers provided grisly photos of people killed in the Iraq war to a porn Web site in exchange for free access to it, officials said on Wednesday.
The numerous graphic pictures posted on the Web site showed men, with their faces visible and wearing what looked like U.S. military uniforms, standing over a charred corpse, mutilated dead bodies and severed body parts.
The porn Web site states the photos were provided by troops in Iraq as well as
Afghanistan in order to get free access to its sexual images. Many of the photos, still posted on the site, are accompanied by captions making light of the corpses; for example one photo of a charred body was dubbed "Cooked Iraqi."
The Army Criminal Investigation Command in Iraq conducted the preliminary inquiry within the past week but closed it after concluding no felony crime had been committed and failing to determine whether U.S. soldiers were responsible for the photos and whether they showed actual war dead, Army officials said.
Col. Joe Curtin, an Army spokesman at the
Pentagon, said there currently was no formal investigation into the matter.

Arctic Ice Cap Shrank Sharply This Summer

The floating cap of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean shrank this summer to what is probably its smallest size in a century, continuing a trend toward less summer ice that is hard to explain without attributing it in part to human-caused global warming, various experts on the region said today.
The findings are consistent with recent computer simulations showing that a buildup of smokestack and tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases could lead to a profoundly transformed Arctic later this century in which much of the once ice-locked ocean is routinely open water in summers.
It also appears that the change is becoming self sustaining, with the increased open water absorbing solar energy that would be reflected back into space by bright white ice, said Ted A. Scambos, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., which compiled the data along with NASA.

Bush's Pre-Katrina Emergency Declaration only Mentions Northern Louisiana Parishes

DeLay Indicted in Campaign Finance Probe

A Texas grand jury today indicted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) on a criminal count of conspiring with two political associates to violate state campaign finance law, and DeLay announced he would temporarily step down as House majority leader.
The indictment was disclosed in Travis County, Tex., on the last day of a grand jury investigating a campaign financing scheme involving allegedly illegal use of corporate funds.
DeLay, 58, attended a meeting in the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert shortly after receiving word of the indictment and said afterward he notified Hastert that he would "temporarily step aside" as majority leader. GOP House rules require that any member of Congress who is indicted must step down from a leadership position. However, there is no requirement that DeLay leave his congressional seat.
In the indictment, DeLay is accused of conspiring with two associates who have already been indicted: John Colyandro, the former executive director of a political action committee in Texas that was formed by DeLay, and Jim Ellis, the head of DeLay's national political committee.

A Bill to Televise Supreme Court Proceedings

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate this week would permit television coverage of open sessions of the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The purpose of this legislation is to open the Supreme Court doors so that more Americans can see the process by which the Court reaches critical decisions of law that affect this country and everyday Americans," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Justice Felix Frankfurter perhaps anticipated the day when Supreme Court arguments would be televised when he said that he longed for a day when the news media would cover the Supreme Court as thoroughly as it did the World Series," Sen. Specter said in his introductory statement.
"Allowing the public greater access to [Supreme Court] proceedings will allow Americans to evaluate for themselves the quality of justice in this country, and deepen their understanding of the work that goes on in the Court," added Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who cosponsored the bill along with Senators Cornyn, Allen, Grassley, Schumer and Feingold.
See the introduction of S.1768, a bill to permit televising of Supreme Court proceedings, September 26: [PDF]

Automatic Declassification of Gov. Documents Set for End of Year

Automatic declassification of historically valuable classified records as they become 25 years old was originally mandated (with certain specified exceptions) by President Clinton in his 1995 executive order 12958.
The principle of automatic declassification was also affirmed by President Bush in the 2003 executive order 13292 though he deferred the effective date until the end of next year to permit agencies more time to assess their classified collections and plan
for declassification.
Now the December 2006 deadline is looming and an estimated 155 million pages of textual records await agency review for declassification, authorized exemption, or referral to another agency.
"Any such records not acted upon will be automatically declassified subject to the limitations and conditions set forth in the Order," the ISOO report stated.
See PDF:

Reuters Says U.S. Troops Obstruct Reporting of Iraq

The conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq, including increasing detention and accidental shootings of journalists, is preventing full coverage of the war reaching the American public, Reuters said on Wednesday.
In a letter to Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Reuters said U.S. forces were limiting the ability of independent journalists to operate.
The letter from Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger called on Warner to raise widespread media concerns about the conduct of U.S. troops with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is due to testify to the committee on Thursday.

Environmental Rules May be Destroyed in Hurricanes' Wake

"Riding a wave of concern over high energy prices triggered by Katrina" - and following a plan drawn up by the House Republican Study Committee at the Heritage Foundation - "congressional Republicans are rushing to ease environmental rules on refineries and looking for ways to open new coastal waters to oil and gas development," as well as Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The lawmakers say "the measures were needed to address the vulnerabilities exposed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita to the nation's energy system." Environmentalists and city and state officials counter that the Republicans are "exploiting the tragedy that has hit the Gulf region to pursue a slew of pro-industry measures that Congress rejected earlier this year when it passed a broad energy bill." The measures would "dismantle environmental laws that are not barriers to rebuilding the affected Gulf states," said the head of the National League of Cities.

GOP Asks Novelist Chrichton to Talk Science Policy Before Senate

[T]he Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by anti-environment champion James Inhofe (R-OK), will hold a hearing to “discuss the role of science in environmental policy making.”
It’s an important topic, given the tendency in Washington to choose ideology over facts. Unfortunately, Inhofe’s witness list wasn’t available on the committee’s website, so we called today to find out who would be speaking.
We received the following list. As you’ll see, the featured witness isn’t a noted environmental scientist, or an expert in regulatory policy. It’s Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton.
And why would Inhofe invite a fiction author to testify on the role of science in environmental policy making? We think you’ll understand after reading a synopsis of Crichton’s latest book, State of Fear, about a scientist named Nicholas Drake:

Drake is frustrated by the public’s lack of fear about global warming and, hence, lack of enthusiasm for funding NERF [the environmental group Drake runs]. To remedy the situation, he plans a high-profile conference on “abrupt climate change,” a phenomenon that is essentially fabricated. To make sure folks are good and scared about the imaginary threat, he contracts with the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) — …a sophisticated, highly coordinated, techno-savvy worldwide terrorist network of dreadlocked hippies — to create a series of floods, hurricanes, and tsunamis that will devastate the world on the eve of the conference.

The bad news: the book’s science is apparently even worse than its plot.

Amnesty Recommends "Lord of War"

Amnesty International USA is proud to announce its support of Lord of War, a film starring Academy Award-Winner Nicolas Cage that illustrates the deadly impact of the uncontrolled global arms trade. The national release is September 16, 2005. The film follows the story of a New York-based arms broker (Cage) who traffics weapons to dictators and human rights abusers, and the efforts of the Interpol Agent (Ethan Hawke) trying to stop him. The movie is written and directed by Andrew Niccol and co-stars Jared Leto, Bridget Moynahan and Ian Holm.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children die because of the uncontrolled trade in conventional arms, especially small arms and light weapons. Ruthless arms brokers -- like the Lord of War character -- play a major role in weapons proliferation, including to abusive armed groups and countries under UN arms embargoes.

W.R. Grace to asbestos victims: You're not so sick

Most of the 870 people under a medical plan for Libby-area residents sickened by asbestos exposure have been sent letters saying they no longer have asbestos-related disease, or may not be as sick as they thought.
About 700 people received the letters this month from HNA/Triveras, administrator of a medical plan for W.R. Grace & Co., which operated a vermiculite mine here until 1990. Some health authorities blame the mine for killing 200 people and sickening one of every eight residents.
One letter informed the medical plan's participants that a review by medical experts indicated they had no asbestos-related condition. The other letter acknowledged the presence of a "condition or illness" related to asbestos exposure. Each letter summarized medical benefits available to the recipient.
"I've been cured by Grace. It's a miracle," said Bob Stickney, who had been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease. "I don't know how they can say at first you have asbestos disease, and now you don't." Stickney said he has health insurance, but is unsure it will cover care for asbestos exposure.

Scalia Defends Gov't Right to Censor Art

"The First Amendment has not repealed the ancient rule of life, that he who pays the piper calls the tune," Scalia said.
The justice, who limited his discussion to art issues, said he wasn't suggesting that government stop funding the arts, but that if it does fund artwork, it is entitled to have a say in the content, just like when it runs a school system.
The high court and Scalia have weighed in on the issue before.

Court may limit college newspapers’ rights

The United States Supreme Court received a petition Sept. 20 to hear a case that could potentially alter the interpretation of First Amendment rights for college and university newspapers.
The case, Hosty v. Carter, involves a group of students at Governors State University in Illinois who sued Dean of Student Affairs and Services Patricia Carter for censoring the student paper.
In June, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision that ruled against Carter. Because of the confusing precedent on the issue, some legal specialists have speculated that the case has at least a moderate chance of reaching the nation’s highest court.

Bush plea for cash to rebuild Iraq raises $600

An extraordinary appeal to Americans from the Bush administration for money to help pay for the reconstruction of Iraq has raised only $600 (£337), The Observer has learnt. Yet since the appeal was launched earlier this month, donations to rebuild New Orleans have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars.
The public's reluctance to contribute much more than the cost of two iPods to the administration's attempt to offer citizens 'a further stake in building a free and prosperous Iraq' has been seized on by critics as evidence of growing ambivalence over that country.
This coincides with concern over the increasing cost of the war. More than $30 billion has been appropriated for the reconstruction. Initially, America's overseas aid agency, USaid, expected it to cost taxpayers no more than $1.7bn, but it is now asking the public if they want to contribute even more.

CIA secretary claims that she was fired for reporting drug trafficking and espionage to her superiors

According to CIA whistle-blower Vivienne R., the liars and swearers have got it down pretty well. And they have some highly placed moles in the CIA—so highly placed that they are able to protect drug trafficking and espionage.
But who cares?
CIA drug trafficking is well documented and well known, especially by the DEA, and hardly rates a shrug.
Espionage is a different matter, as homage to patriotism must be paid.
Vivienne R. was a CIA secretary from 1987 to 1999. She served in the US, Venezuela (TDY), Germany, and Thailand. She received two certificates for performance and two cash awards, and was nominated for secretary of the year.
She claims that she was fired for reporting drug trafficking and espionage to her superiors.

Amnesty: Police abuse and misconduct against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the US

Addressing the issue of police abuse and misconduct requires an integrated approach that recognizes the relationship between different forms of discrimination, and how they create the social conditions in which identity-based human rights abuses thrive. AI’s findings clearly demonstrate that the issue of police brutality cannot be tackled without looking at the full range of human rights issues affecting the LGBT community including access to basic social, economic and cultural rights. This is particularly important in any attempt to adequately address the needs of those most marginalized groups within the LGBT population.
The findings of this report indicate that there is a need to take action to deal with widespread discrimination and abuse in the realm of policing, yet there is also the need for other actors in society, including national, state and local governmental entities, to take steps to address the pervasive discrimination that LGBT people in the U.S. continue to face.

Bill Would Permit DNA Collection From All Those Arrested

Suspects arrested or detained by federal authorities could be forced to provide samples of their DNA that would be recorded in a central database under a provision of a Senate bill to expand government collection of personal data.
The controversial measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and is supported by the White House, but has not gone to the floor for a vote. It goes beyond current law, which allows federal authorities to collect and record samples of DNA only from those convicted of crimes. The data are stored in an FBI-maintained national registry that law enforcement officials use to aid investigations, by comparing DNA from criminals with evidence found at crime scenes.

RFID Chips Implanted in Hurricane Corpses

A company is implanting Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags in corpses in Mississippi to help identify the dead in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Principals of Florida-based VeriChip said RFID tags had already been implanted into 100 corpses on behalf of the Mississippi State Department of Health. (1993-2005 Red Herring Inc.).
Those who lost their lives to Katrina not only suffered in life when rescuers didn't arrive, but suffer the loss of dignity as chipped corpses.
More than 700 souls were claimed on the Gulf Coast during the storm.
Already angling to RFID the rest of the corpses, the company, a subsidiary of publicly traded Applied Digital Solutions, is now negotiating with Louisiana health authorities.

Federal Judge Halts New Orleans Gun Seizure

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana this afternoon issued a temporary restraining order on behalf of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and National Rifle Association (NRA), bringing an end to firearm seizures from citizens living in and around New Orleans.
District Judge Jay Zainey issued the restraining order against all parties named in a lawsuit filed Thursday by SAF and NRA. Defendants in the lawsuit include New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Chief Edwin Compass III.

Judge instructs local officials to use force to pry supplies from FEMA

County Judge Carl Griffith said today he has become so frustrated with the federal relief effort that he has instructed all local officials to use police force if they have to to take supplies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"If you have enough policemen to take it from them, take it," Griffith said.
His frustration comes as squabbling continues among federal, state and local over what some characterize as a woeful lack of communication.

Cruise Ships in Hurricane Relief Charging Double

The hasty appeal yielded one of the most controversial contracts of the Hurricane Katrina relief operation, a $236 million agreement with Carnival Cruise Lines for three ships that now bob more than half empty in the Mississippi River and Mobile Bay. The six-month contract -- staunchly defended by Carnival but castigated by politicians from both parties -- has come to exemplify the cost of haste that followed Katrina's strike and FEMA's lack of preparation.
To critics, the price is exorbitant. If the ships were at capacity, with 7,116 evacuees, for six months, the price per evacuee would total $1,275 a week, according to calculations by aides to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). A seven-day western Caribbean cruise out of Galveston can be had for $599 a person -- and that would include entertainment and the cost of actually making the ship move.

Grand Jury to Wrap Up DeLay Investigation

The Texas grand jury investigating House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's state political organization was completing its term Wednesday after demonstrating a recent interest in conspiracy charges that could bring more indictments.
Lawyers with knowledge of the case said the DeLay defense team was concerned that the Travis County grand jury might consider counts of conspiracy to violate the state election code.
Their concern was triggered when similar charges were handed down two weeks ago in an expanded indictment against two DeLay political associates. The associates were accused of conspiring to violate the state election code by using corporate donations for illegal purposes.

Petroleum Industry Christmas Wishlist

Conservative pundits are quick to point out that no "new refineries have been built since 1976", and even quicker to blame "environmentalists". But the facts just don't support that. Refiners have chosen the environment that they do business in, and in some cases have willingly contributed to it. (Plenty of data here.) Here's why:
  • The government has allowed the industry to merge, consolidate, and restrict refining capacity, thus impacting pricing, supply, and demand.
  • The quest for profits has caused the need to run extremely lean supplies (ie. no stockpiles of crude - it arrives when you need it, not before) and has resulted in susceptability to wild volatility in prices, but has allowed refiners to operate at very high efficiency but with no margin of excess capacity for temporary shortages, disasters, etc.
  • Oil refiners trimmed back capacity after the Oil Crash of the early 1980s and have been unwilling to reinvest in new technologies unless environmental restrictions and local fuel cleanliness mandates are reduced.
As one would expect, Bush's solutions nicely match up with the wishlists of OPEC and US refiners, who in the past few decades have largely undone the breakup of Standard Oil (via) via mergers and joint ventures. Representative Joe Barton, (R-TX), Chairperson of the Energy and Commerce Committee, incidentally up for reelection and well funded, by "the industry" through various Political Action Committees, has released a draft of the predictably named (to be found here when released) Gasoline for America's Security Act of 2005 (committee discusion and webcast are scheduled for 9/28 at 8 am.) Given that new refineries are years away, there is still no solution for current prices or the (90%?) increase in prices since January of 2001. [from]

National Geographic: First Ever Photos of Live Giant Squid in the Wild

This extraordinary image, captured by Japanese scientists, marks the first-ever record of a live giant squid in the wild. The mysterious deep-sea creature has inspired countless sea monster tales and a variety of scientific expeditions.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Fake Words in Dictionaries

Turn to page 1,850 of the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia and you’ll find an entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, a fountain designer turned photographer who was celebrated for a collection of photographs of rural American mailboxes titled “Flags Up!” Mountweazel, the encyclopedia indicates, was born in Bangs, Ohio, in 1942, only to die “at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.”
If Mountweazel is not a household name, even in fountain-designing or mailbox-photography circles, that is because she never existed. “It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright,” Richard Steins, who was one of the volume’s editors, said the other day. “If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us.”
So when word leaked out that the recently published second edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary contains a made-up word that starts with the letter “e,” an independent investigator set himself the task of sifting through NOAD’s thirty-one hundred and twenty-eight “e” entries in search of the phony. The investigator first removed from contention any word that was easily recognized or that appears in Webster’s Third New International; the remaining three hundred and sixty words were then vetted with a battery of references.
Six potential Mountweazels emerged.

Computer learns grammar by crunching sentences

The humbling power of computers - when correctly programmed - to surpass, in speed at least, human skills, has been demonstrated by a computer program that can learn language rules and compose sentences, without outside help.
Researchers from Cornell University, in the US, and Tel Aviv University have developed a computer program that can scan text in any of a number of languages, including English and Chinese, and without any previous knowledge infer the underlying rules of grammar. The rules can be used to generate new and meaningful sentences.
According to the researchers, the method also works for such data as sheet music or protein sequences.
The development has implication for speech recognition and for other applications in natural language engineering, as well as for genomics. It also offers insights into language acquisition and psycho-linguistics.

Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore

The title "Much Ado About Nothing," Dr. McWhorter said, is a word play on "Much Ado About an O Thing," the O thing being a reference to female genitalia.
Even the quintessential Good Book abounds in naughty passages like the men in II Kings 18:27 who, as the comparatively tame King James translation puts it, "eat their own dung, and drink their own piss."
In fact, said Guy Deutscher, a linguist at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands and the author of "The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention," the earliest writings, which date from 5,000 years ago, include their share of off-color descriptions of the human form and its ever-colorful functions. And the written record is merely a reflection of an oral tradition that Dr. Deutscher and many other psychologists and evolutionary linguists suspect dates from the rise of the human larynx, if not before.

Network news broadcasts give scant coverage to Frist stock scandal

Despite having found the time to cover Kate Moss's purported cocaine use and to put one of its correspondents in a wind tunnel to demonstrate the effects of hurricane-force wind, ABC's World News Tonight has yet to mention the brewing scandal over the sale of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) stock in HCA Inc., the hospital chain founded by Frist's father, just two weeks before a bad earnings report caused the stock price to drop sharply. The nightly news broadcasts of CBS and NBC didn't do much more, both giving the story brief mentions on September 23.
Since September 19, when Congressional Quarterly quoted a Frist aide acknowledging that Frist had ordered the trustee of his blind trust to sell all of his, his wife's, and his children's HCA stock, the Associated Press picked up the story September 20, followed by The New York Times (September 21), The Washington Post (September 22), and the Los Angeles Times (September 24).

FBI Research Reports on the Nation of Islam

In "Selected Titles of FBI Research Reports, 1953-60," we listed several-dozen research reports that the FBI had written for internal use in the mid-1900s. The Memory Hole requested some of them under the Freedom of Information Act. Upon review, the FBI has released the two reports on the Nation of Islam. We've scanned and posted them above. They're based on often obscure public-source documents, internal NOI literature, and confidential material, such as informants and FBI investigative files.
Both reports were originally classified "Confidential" and were declassified in 1977, although they don't seem to have been publicly released until now.
In the monographs, the FBI refers to the NOI as a "fanatical, all-Negro cult in the United States which is based on a distorted interpretation of the religious principles of Islam and is motivated by hatred of the white race."
The 1960 report, "The Nation of Islam (Antiwhite, All-Negro Cult In United States)," contains the sections: "Background and Origin," "Organization," "Conventions, Bazaars, and 'Feasts'," "Finances and Building Program," "Publicity and Recruitment of Members," "Security Measures and Discipline," "Incidents with Law Enforcement Officials," and "NOI Doctrines, Attitudes, and Dogma." The appendices reproduce three lessons that are taught to members.
The table of contents for the 1965 report, "The Nation of Islam: Cult of the Black Muslims," is similar, although the report of course contains newer information. Of particular interest: The excessively redacted section "Exploitation of Negro Athletes" (pages 70-72) looks at Muhammad Ali's (né Cassius Clay) relationship with the NOI. (After being crowned heavyweight champion of the world, Ali became a vocal member of the NOI, although he later converted to Sunni Islam and left the group.)

Gannett Gets 95% Of Detroit Newspapers, MediaNews Filing Reveals

Under the restructured joint operating agreement (JOA) in Detroit, Gannett Co. now controls a 95% stake in the partnership with MediaNews Groups, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
In its annual report filed Monday, MediaNews reveals for the first time that its share of the new limited partnership is just 5%, and that it will not be sharing in profits of the jointly produced Detroit Free Press and Detroit News until 2009 at the earliest. Instead, it will receive fixed monthly payments, MediaNews said.
The MediaNews share is far less than the 30% cut that most industry observers guessed the Denver-based company would receive.

Media Mea Culpa: Reports of N.O. Violence Exaggerated

The stories were told by residents trapped inside the Superdome and convention center and were repeated by public officials. Many news organizations, including The Associated Press, carried the witness accounts and official pronouncements, and in some cases later repeated the claims as fact, without attribution.
But now, a month after the chaos subsided, police are re-examining the reports and finding that many of them have little or no basis in fact.
They have no official reports of rape and no eyewitnesses to sexual assault. The state Department of Health and Hospitals counted 10 dead at the Superdome and four at the convention center. Only two of those are believed to have been murdered.
One of those victims -- found at the Superdome -- appears to have been killed elsewhere before being brought to the stadium, said Bob Johannessen, the agency spokesman.
"It was a chaotic time for the city. Now that we've had a chance to reflect back on that situation, we're able to say right now that things were not the way they appeared," said police Capt. Marlon Defillo.

CREW: Beyond DeLay - The 13 Most Corrupt Members of Congress

Over the past year, the issue of Congressional ethics has taken on new resonance. Where questionable conduct was once shrugged off as "business as usual," now both the public and the press are demanding greater accountability from Members of Congress. At a time when a recent Gallup Poll reports only that 36% of those polled express approval of Congress, people are taking a harder look at the actions of their representatives.
Beyond DeLay documents the unethical activities of thirteen Members of Congress: 10 House Members and three Senators. This is the first time all the infractions by these various members have been compiled in one place. Corruption demands accountability and action.
from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Mike Brown, Back on Payroll as FEMA Consultant, Blames Louisiana

"My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional," two days before the storm hit, Brown told a special congressional panel set up by House Republican leaders to investigate the catastrophe.
The storm slammed into the Gulf Coast on Monday, Aug. 29.
Brown's defense drew a scathing response from Rep. William Jefferson D-La.
"I find it absolutely stunning that this hearing would start out with you, Mr. Brown, laying the blame for FEMA's failings at the feet of the governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans."

Evolution Lawsuit Opens in Pennsylvania

"To my knowledge, every single scientific society that has taken a position on this issue has taken a position against intelligent design and in favor of evolution," said the biologist, Kenneth R. Miller, a professor at Brown University and the co-author of the widely used high school textbook "Biology."
Eleven parents in the small town of Dover, just south of here, are suing their school board for introducing intelligent design in the ninth-grade biology curriculum. The parents accuse the board of injecting religious creationism into science classes in the guise of intelligent design. Professor Miller, their main expert witness, was the only person to take the stand on Monday.

EPA Testers Privately Telling People New Orleans is Off the Charts

CBS News is running this blog from one of their guys down in New Orleans, which includes, in part:

The teams working in St. Bernard Parish, which is now an enormous toxic waste dump, are waking up with sore throats and other respiratory ailments. Privately, the EPA testers have told them that all the pollutants and environmental toxins are way off the scale. No one is looking to stay there long.

If this is true, there must be an immediate stop to any plans to repopulate and an immediate fullscale investigation into the EPA and what they are holding back.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting in this story that the sludge and everything else was stirred up by new flooding in New Orleans due to Rita, and they have no idea if there were any breaches at any hazardous sites. Just more reason to slow everything down.

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.
“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.
“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”
Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.
He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

E=mc^2 is 100 Years Old (depending on your relative speed)

It has been a hundred years since the date that Einstein's famous equation was first published, the last of his four annus mirabilis papers of 1905. In celebration, you can hear Einstein explain his formula (or listen to any of 10 other famous physicists do the same), or read an interesting site in celebration of his life and works, or, if physics isn't your thing, peruse his views on religion, or his exchange with Freud about war, or take a look at hundreds of his original manuscripts. [from]

FEMA plans to reimburse faith groups for aid

After weeks of prodding by Republican lawmakers and the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said yesterday that it will use taxpayer money to reimburse churches and other religious organizations that have opened their doors to provide shelter, food and supplies to survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
FEMA officials said it would mark the first time that the government has made large-scale payments to religious groups for helping to cope with a domestic natural disaster.
Civil liberties groups called the decision a violation of the traditional boundary between church and state, accusing FEMA of trying to restore its battered reputation by playing to religious conservatives.

East Texas Officials Say Federal Storm Aid Still Not Reaching Them

While the national media continues to contrast the strong federal response to Hurricane Rita to the fumbling post-Katrina, this is not the message put out by local East Texas officials in a Beaumont Enterprise online story late today. They said much the same yesterday (as E&P previously reported), apparently to little notice.
Frustrated Jefferson County leaders said they are not getting much-needed help from the feds, and "complained that resources were not making it into their communities to get much-needed services such as water and sewer operating again," the newspaper revealed.
Jefferson County Judge Carl Griffith called the bureaucracy "ridiculous" and said the federal government has failed the people of East Texas.

Diebold analysts question reasons behind shake-up

The Summit County maker of automated teller machines and electronic voting equipment said Wednesday that its third-quarter revenue from ATMs would be $50 million lower than earlier forecast.
Voting machine sales will be $10 million less in the third quarter because of delayed deliveries to the hurricane-swept Gulf Coast, Diebold said.

SEC chief recuses self from Frist stock probe

"The purpose of the recusal is to avoid any appearance of impropriety in the commission's consideration of this case," said the former Republican congressman from California who took the helm just last month at the investor protection agency.
Cox's campaign committee donated $1,000 to Frist's 2000 re-election campaign, according to
Federal Election Commission records made available by PoliticalMoneyLine, a non-partisan group that tracks money in politics.
Cox's statement did not mention the 2000 donation. Legal experts said a donation of that size to a multimillion-dollar campaign like Frist's probably would not require recusal.

Network News Gives Scant Coverage to Frist Stock Scandal

Despite having found the time to cover Kate Moss's purported cocaine use and to put one of its correspondents in a wind tunnel to demonstrate the effects of hurricane-force wind, ABC's World News Tonight has yet to mention the brewing scandal over the sale of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-Tenn.) stock in HCA Inc., the hospital chain founded by Frist's father, just two weeks before a bad earnings report caused the stock price to drop sharply. The nightly news broadcasts of CBS and NBC didn't do much more, both giving the story brief mentions on September 23.

Peace activists acquitted of conspiracy for spilling own blood at recruiting center; Still face jail

Mortician surprised by New Orleans dead

“The victims who were killed were mostly poor and homeless and institutionalized,” said Roper, vice president of Lincoln’s Roper & Sons.
“You really feel for these people. They just could not get out of the way.”
...Inside a portable morgue, the team fingerprinted the bodies, took DNA samples, checked for signs of foul play and moved the bodies into refrigerated trailers. Later, hearses would take the bodies to funeral homes designated by the victims’ families.

Study Proposes Opium Licensing For Afghanistan

Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of opium and its derivative, heroin, acknowledged Monday that it had considered licensing its vast illicit crop and using it to produce opium-based medicines, though it ruled out such a move in the immediate future.
The government said it welcomed the release on Monday of a feasibility study about the subject by the Senlis Council, a drug policy research organization based in Europe. But Afghanistan's counternarcotics minister, Habibullah Qaderi, ruled out adopting such a program until security conditions in the country improved.
The idea of licensing poppy cultivation completely goes against current Afghan counternarcotics policy, devised with Britain's help, which calls for eradicating poppy fields and persuading farmers to adopt alternative crops through assistance programs, much of them financed by the United States Agency for International Development.
Mr. Qaderi said the government could not consider a program for legalizing cultivation for the time being because Afghanistan had experienced such a rapid increase in poppy cultivation in the past few years.

Over 300 Arrested frin Anti-War Protest

Over 500 demonstrators had gathered on the sidewalk near the main entrance to the presidential mansion. Each carried a board bearing the name of an American soldier killed in Iraq.
About 300 moved away after after police warned that arrests would follow. Police later said they had arrested 370 of the protesters.

Democratic congressman: Bush conspiracy to attack and occupy Iraq

Why, why was this case given to the federal government? It should not have been.
Now we have four people who are being charged with conspiracy. They are being charged with a conspiracy to impede the actions of a federal officer. That officer was a military recruiter in Lansing.
The idea that they are being tried for conspiracy is replete with irony. Deeply, deeply ironic.
Because what they were protesting was the conspiracy of the Administration of George W. Bush to bring about an attack and then an occupation of the country of Iraq, and as a result making the world a much more dangerous and difficult place than it was prior to those actions.
But it is that conspiracy, that conspiracy which has now been documented by among other things official British documents called the Downing Street Memo which are communications between the highest ranking officials of the British government -- the head of the British Intelligence, the foreign officer, the prime minister himself.
We know that this Administration conspired to deceive the Congress of the United States and the American people to bring this country at war and to cost the lives of all those people that I mentioned just a few moments ago.
We as Americans cannot tolerate that and the four that are being tried today understood that. They understood it very early on and so they engaged in their protest.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Tour of Wars: Kevin Sites' Post

She pulls back the material covering her right arm to show me a brown, leathery roadmap of scar tissue that runs from above her wrist to below her shoulder. The arm is nearly worthless, Maria says, useful now only as another reminder of that day.
That day, Oct. 3, 1993, became known as the Battle of Mogadishu, when an American mission against Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid went terribly wrong.
The Somalis shot down not one but two Black Hawks that day -- one of them, call sign Super Six One, would change Maria Osman's life forever.
"I hate the Americans," she says, her eyes maintaining their empty sadness rather than shifting to anger. "I hate them for what happened to my daughter. If I saw one I would cut them up into so many pieces."
The crowd that has gathered around us laughs, but some begin to eye me suspiciously.
Most of those who live here are part of the Habr Gedir clan -- connected by blood to Aidid.
Maria and her husband have three more children, she says, but both parents are jobless so they can't always afford to feed them.
"I have no hope," she says, eyes downcast. "No hope for Somalia."

The Search for the Literal Jesus

We are going to inquire simply, rigorously after the voice of Jesus, after what he really said.
Robert Walter Funk, who died September 3, was the founder of the Jesus Seminar and one of the most influential New Testament scholars of his generation. The Jesus of Nazareth discovered by the Jesus Seminar was a wisdom teacher whose parables proclaimed the arrival of God's kingdom. He was not, in the judgment of the Seminar, the messiah of the end-times (.pdf file, go to page 5 and 6). [from]

On this day 22 years ago, Stanislav Petrov saved the world.

About forty minutes after midnight, when it was late afternoon in the States, sirens in the bunker howled, warning lights blazed. Cosmos-1382, an Oko satellite, detected a launch of a Minuteman nuclear missile from Malmstrom AirForce Base in Montana, the main American ICBM field. Americans have launched an attack on the Soviet Union. Everyone in the room felt the gravity of the situation. On a large US map on the wall a light turned on showing the location of the missile launch. A "Start" button flashed before Stanislav. He had less than 10 minutes to decide the fate of the world. Military instructions that he remembered all too well said he needs to press it and send a confirmation to the Defence Minister of the USSR. But something didn't look right. "Who would start a nuclear war with only one missile?" thought Stanislav Petrov. That must have been a reading error, a false positive, a bug somewhere in the notification system. As a software engineer he knew that no system is immune to errors.

On this day 22 years ago, Stanislav Petrov saved the world.

Ex-FEMA's Brown's Resumes His Expertise

It turns out that former FEMA director Michael Brown is being retained by the agency as a "consultant."
Brown was on the Hill today to speak with staff at a special House committee in preparation for his testimony at a Tuesday hearing on Katrina. In the session, Brown said that he was working as a consultant "to provide a review" of Katrina preparations and immediate aftermath, according to two congressional sources.

Kicking Off Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

Once again, it's "Banned Books Week" in which we celebrate those books which have been challenged to be removed from public and school libraries. Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that banning books from public access was unconstitutional, the effort remains. We can at least take comfort in knowing that, although opinions may vary, Americans don't actually burn books they hate.
Oops. [from]

Sheehan Arrested During Anti-War Protest

Cindy Sheehan, the California woman who has used her son's death in Iraq to spur the anti-war movement, was arrested Monday while protesting outside the White House.
Sheehan and several dozen other protesters sat down on the sidewalk after marching along the pedestrian walkway on Pennsylvania Avenue. Police warned them three times that they were breaking the law by failing to move along, then began making arrests.
Sheehan, 48, was the first taken into custody. She stood up and was led to a police vehicle while protesters chanted, "The whole world is watching."

White House Power Grab Puts Public at Risk

A bill, [PDF] quietly up for debate before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and backed by the Whitehouse, proposes to improve the performance of the Executive branch of the US Government by requiring that all Governmental agencies be given a 10 year shelf life at the end of which time they must be reinstated by a Presidentially appointed "Sunset Committee" or fade into the history books. [from]

Pentagon Pulls Draft That Discusses Pre-Emptive Use Of Nukes From Website informs us:

Pentagon Pulls Draft That Discusses Pre-Emptive Use Of Nukes From Website
An unclassified draft of a US nuclear doctrine review that spells out conditions under which US commanders might seek approval to use nuclear weapons has been removed from a Pentagon website, a spokesman said Monday.
Lawrence DiRita, the Pentagon spokesman, said the document was taken down "because even in an unclassified world this is not the kind of thing you want flying around the Internet." [read article]

Well, it's a little late for that. Even before the document, dated 15 March 2005, was pulled, it was being mirrored at several sites. You can find copies at the Nuclear Information Project,, SourceWatch, zFacts, and The Memory Hole.
Articles about the document: "Draft US Defense Paper Outlines Preventive Nuclear Strikes" [AFP] and "Pentagon Revises Nuclear Strike Plan" [Washington Post]

Court Denies Challenge to 50-Year-Old State Secrets Ruling

A federal appeals court has rejected an appeal by a team of lawyers from Drinker Biddle & Reath who argued that recently declassified documents proved that military officials "lied" to the courts to hide documents in a 1949 lawsuit brought by three widows of civilian engineers who died in the crash of a B-29 bomber.
The decision in Herring v. United States announces an extremely difficult test for proving a "fraud upon the court."
Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Senior 3rd Circuit Judge Ruggero J. Aldisert found that "the concept of fraud upon the court challenges the very principle upon which our judicial system is based: the finality of a judgment."

Bush Wants Pentagon to Handle Hurricane Recovery

On Sunday, President Bush called on Congress to consider a larger role for U.S. armed forces in responding to natural disasters, as he completed what White House aides called a weekend "fact-finding" mission to determine whether the Pentagon needs more control.
"Clearly, in the case of a terrorist attack, that would be the case, but is there a natural disaster -- of a certain size -- that would then enable the Defense Department to become the lead agency in coordinating and leading the response effort?" Bush said after a briefing from military leaders at Randolph Air Force Base here. "That's going to be a very important consideration for Congress to think about."

Over $1 Billion in No-Bid Katrina Recovery Contracts

The first detailed tally of commitments from federal agencies since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast four weeks ago shows that more than 15 contracts exceed $100 million, including 5 of $500 million or more. Most of those were for clearing away the trees, homes and cars strewn across the region; purchasing trailers and mobile homes; or providing trucks, ships, buses and planes.
More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse.

New angle makes trigonometry rational

The mathematical study of triangles has just got a whole lot simpler, according to a researcher who says his new theory of trigonometry is easier to use and more accurate.
Norman Wildberger from the University of New South Wales says his theory of "rational trigonometry" is more like algebra, as you can plug numbers into an equation and get an accurate result.
...Instead of distance, Wildberger's trigonometry uses a concept called "quandrance", the square of distance.
Instead of angle, he uses the concept of "spread", calculated by dividing one quadrance by another.
The spread between two lines is a number between zero (representing parallel lines) and one (representing lines at right angles).
Associate Professor Wildberger says it would be possible to make a new protractor that measures spread instead of angle.
You would then plug the values for the quadrance and spread into his set of equations.

An explanation is available at Wikipedia.

Britain to pull troops from Iraq as Blair says 'don't force me out'

British troops will start a major withdrawal from Iraq next May under detailed plans on military disengagement to be published next month, The Observer can reveal.
The document being drawn up by the British government and the US will be presented to the Iraqi parliament in October and will spark fresh controversy over how long British troops will stay in the country. Tony Blair hopes that, despite continuing and widespread violence in Iraq, the move will show that there is progress following the conflict of 2003.
Britain has already privately informed Japan - which also has troops in Iraq - of its plans to begin withdrawing from southern Iraq in May, a move that officials in Tokyo say would make it impossible for their own 550 soldiers to remain.
The increasingly rapid pace of planning for British military disengagement has been revealed on the eve of the Labour Party conference, which will see renewed demands for a deadline for withdrawal. It is hoped that a clearer strategy on Iraq will quieten critics who say that the government will not be able to 'move on' until Blair quits. Yesterday, about 10,000 people demonstrated against the army's continued presence in the country.

Bush administration threatens veto against Geneva Convention

After hearing about the latest torture scandal in Iraq, Republican Armed Services Committee Senators John McCain, John W. Warner, and Lindsey Graham are seeking an amendment to a defense bill which would require the military to abide by the Geneva Convention... but the Bush administration is reportedly opposed to any such legislation, and have threatened to veto it. To make matters worse, many prominent Congressional Republicans are also opposed to abiding by the Geneva Convention, to the point that overturning such a veto is far from assured. [from]

Sunday, September 25, 2005

It's the Sedimentology, Stupid

Bush is an oil man and oil men usually know somethin' about sediments. Sediments -- you know -- stuff like sand, and silt and clay. Most folks call it "dirt" -- some of us study it intently and none more so than oil geologists. This 'cause all the oil is in the sediments. George failed in the oil business and he certainly missed his basic sedimentary lessons. Between the time he and I stood in Jax Square, the rate of subsidence, that is, sinking -- down, down, down -- for the coastal parishes of LA was ~10 mm/yr. That's a shin-bone's worth every 5 years. In the past 35 years that means that Jax Square has sunk what? -- 10 feet! Maybe, maybe not -- the geodesists and sedimentologists are still hashing this all out -- some places going down faster than others -- some almost "stable". But it's inarguable that the Delta is subsiding. This is what deltas do best -- they subside. Why don't they just disappear? Well, 'cause every year a huge amount of dirt comes down the river (Big Muddy) and is spread out -- via over-flooding of natural levees -- atop the sinking real estate. So, to counter the subsidence there is up-building -- called aggradation. There can even be extension of the deltaic shoreline -- called progradation. In a natural state, deltas take care of themselves just fine. But -- when they are engineered, drilled, dredged, channeled, leveed, and drained -- well, this is when things go bad. Unfortunately for the Resurrection of New Orleans -- Mr. Bush's latest imperative from the Lord -- it's not just the delta that has been worked over.

Houston and New Orleans Reveal Poor Evacuation Planning

From Los Angeles to Boston, from Seattle to Miami, plans to relocate, house and feed potentially hundreds of thousands of displaced people are embryonic at best and nonexistent at worst. As the exodus from Houston this week demonstrated, in many places highways would clog quickly, confusion would reign and police resources would soon be overtaxed. New Orleans offered a different and more deadly example of what could go wrong, as tens of thousands of people, many of them poor and lacking private transportation, could be left to fend for themselves in cities without basic services or law enforcement.
Most major American cities have made preparations for localized emergencies like fires, floods or large toxic spills that might involve the relocation of a few thousand or tens of thousands of people. Since Sept. 11, 2001, cities have received billions of dollars from the newly formed Department of Homeland Security to prepare for a major terrorist attack.
But few have prepared in detail for a doomsday possibility like Hurricane Katrina, the storm that engulfed New Orleans and left much of the city a wasteland. Nor have they prepared workable plans to evacuate millions of people with little or no notice, as the residents of the Gulf Coast of Texas learned to their dismay late this week. Officials in Texas are now struggling with how to manage the return of residents.

Canada to Increase Immigration 40%

Canada's current immigration levels would rise 40 per cent within five years under a plan that will soon be presented to the federal cabinet, The Canadian Press has learned.
Prime Minister Paul Martin described immigration in a speech this week as key to Canada's economic success in an era defined by low birth rates, an aging population and an ever-deepening shortage of skilled workers.
His immigration minister will address that challenge by announcing the target by Nov. 1 after consulting cabinet colleagues.

Guantánamo inmate says US told him to spy on al-Jazeera

The US military told an al-Jazeera cameraman being held at Guantánamo Bay that he would be released as long as he agreed to spy on journalists at the Arabic news channel, according to documents seen by the Guardian.
The journalist has been in the prison without charge for three-and-a-half years after being accused by the US of being a terrorist, allegations he denies. He claims that he has been interrogated more than 100 times but not asked about alleged terrorist offences. Instead, Sami Muhyideen al-Hajj says US military personnel have alleged during interrogation that al-Jazeera has been infiltrated by al-Qaida and that one of its presenters is linked to Islamists.
Some of the interviews have been carried out by British interrogators, who also wanted the cameraman to spy for them. Mr Hajj was arrested in December 2001 on the Afghan-Pakistani border while on assignment. His allegations are contained in notes of visits he received in Guantánamo in June this year from his lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith. The notes have been declassified by the US military.
The documents appear to show that the American military views the broadcaster, which is popular in the Arab world and is about to launch an English language channel, as an al-Qaida front.

100 Million Iraqi Dinars on Sale at eBay

Military Dolphins Loose in Gulf of Mexico - May Be Armed and Dangerous

It may be the oddest tale to emerge from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Armed dolphins, trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater, may be missing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Experts who have studied the US navy's cetacean training exercises claim the 36 mammals could be carrying 'toxic dart' guns. Divers and surfers risk attack, they claim, from a species considered to be among the planet's smartest. The US navy admits it has been training dolphins for military purposes, but has refused to confirm that any are missing.

Picture, thanks to the mighty Rachel Maddow.

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How a Category 5 monster is formed over the open sea

The difference between the formation of ordinary clouds and the generation of hurricanes is partly a matter of degree: Both owe their existence to rising bubbles of warm, moist air. For hurricanes, though, an additional factor is the formation of a huge, spinning low-air-pressure cell that continually refuels itself by sucking in more and more warm, moist air.
Being of lower density than cool air, warm air is buoyant and rises like a hot-air balloon. If it's a humid day, the rising warm air hoists large amounts of water vapor into the heavens. As a moist, warm air parcel ascends, the moisture condenses and cools into large water droplets and clouds -- e.g. the fluffy, sheep-like little cumulus clouds that meander innocently across the sky.
But on exceptionally warm, humid days, that process goes into overdrive, sometimes with scary results. On such days, the intense heat and humidity continually pump parcels of warm, moist air skyward.
As the air parcels rise, they continually release latent heat that propels the rising warm air even higher -- as if the warm air were pulling itself up by its own bootstraps, as the saying goes.
Exceptionally warm, moist air can rise so high that it forms extremely tall thunderstorms or hurricanes. The taller they are, the more violent they tend to be.

Campaign donors and former government officials help 4,600 companies lobby the White House

Because industry profits can be affected by agency budgets, executive orders and federal regulations, many lobbying firms are now employing veteran ex-White House officials like Blalock who can navigate the halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Indeed, a new Center analysis reveals that 273 former White House staffers registered as lobbyists since 1998. Collectively, this analysis shows, these lobbyists have represented more than 3,000 special interests. They have been personally involved in billings worth approximately $1 billion—or as much as 10 percent of all federal lobbying since 1998.
"It can be alleged that they can leverage their contact base and knowledge base to help out clients," Bertram J. Levine, co-author of a book about lobbyists, told the Center. Most lobbying can be beneficial, he added, even though it may involve inherent conflicts of interest. "If there is any problem in the way that this is done," Levine said, "the problem would reside with the policymakers and how they do their jobs."

Hurricane Rita Interactive Map for Oil Rig Industry

"This is a scary time to be a newspaper journalist"

In the wake of the media's generally outstanding performance covering the fault lines in the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, came a week of unrelentingly bad news for working journalists.
On Tuesday, the New York Times Company said it will cut 500 jobs from its payroll, including 45 in the New York Times newsroom, and another 35 in the newsroom of the Boston Globe.
On the same day, the Philadelphia Inquirer announced a buy-out intended to shrink its newsroom by 75 reporters and editors and the Philadelphia Daily News said it would cut its already-decimated newsroom staff by 25. Both are Knight Ridder newspapers. Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett told her staff she had "lost sleep" and "vomited" as she tried to deal with the news.
One former top editor at the Inquirer e-mailed another: "Pretty soon there will be nothing left."
Late Friday, the bloodbath continued, with the news that Knight Ridder, a company whose only apparent management tool is cutbacks, was eliminating another 60 jobs at the San Jose Mercury News -- 52 of them in the newsroom.
And all of that came against a backdrop of the San Francisco Chronicle's efforts to rid its payroll of 120 employees, and persistent rumors of more lay-offs and buy-outs at the Los Angeles Times, whose beleaguered editor John Carroll left in August after one too many budget battles with corporate accountants in Chicago, home to Tribune Co., the Times' parent. In addition, Newsday, also a Tribune Co. newspaper, announced 45 buyouts in its newsroom. That followed a buyout of 55 employees last December and another 25 the previous June.
Almost lost in the news was the discouraging fact that the Baltimore Sun, another Tribune Co. property, announced an over-the-top redesign that left it looking like a comic book and left legions of its readers outraged.
For his part, Friedman has a special concern:
"If the publishers use their financial woes as an excuse to cut back on the coverage of disenfranchised people in America, it's going to be a very bad time to be poor.