Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

An international literary parody contest, the competition honors the memory (if not the reputation) of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). The goal of the contest is childishly simple: entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Although best known for "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834), which has been made into a movie three times, originating the expression "the pen is mightier than the sword," and phrases like "the great unwashed" and "the almighty dollar," Bulwer-Lytton opened his novel Paul Clifford (1830) with the immortal words that the "Peanuts" Beagle Snoopy plagiarized for years, "It was a dark and stormy night."
The contest began in 1982 as a quiet campus affair, attracting only three submissions. This response being a thunderous success by academic standards, the contest went public the following year and ever since has attracted thousands of annual entries from all over the world.

California holds a "No Hearing Hearing" on Diebold certification

"In June, over 200 people traveled to Sacramento to voice their concerns at a public hearing before a panel of advisors to the Secretary of State on voting systems. Since then, every scheduled meeting of the Voting Systems Panel has been cancelled, and now the Secretary has simply disbanded the VSP without notice, without hearings, without any type of due process." This isn't the only jurisdiction in which Diebold is attempting to circumvent legal requirements - in North Carolina they filed for and received a broad exemption from new disclosure rules recently passed into law. The EFF are now suing to force Diebold to comply with the law. As if that wasn't enough, an official Certification Test (PDF) for Diebold's Optical Scan voting machines confirms an earlier threat analysis test (PDF) that the memory cards on these machines run uncertified and arbitrary executable code, a charge that Diebold has vigorously denied. [from]

Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2005

In a speech given on November 10th, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales introduced proposed legislation [pdf] that would go one step further in criminalizing copyright infringement. The RIAA thinks its a good idea. [from]

Rice Pressured NY Times on Iraq

The Darwin exhibition frightening off corporate sponsors

An exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Darwin has failed to find a corporate sponsor because American companies are anxious not to take sides in the heated debate between scientists and fundamentalist Christians over the theory of evolution.

Leaving Iraq

If we say that we'll get out of Iraq when they ask us, and then they ask us, and 63% of Americans want us out, and then we don't get out...wait, I'm confused. [from Rachel Maddow]

Big Oil 'Participation' at Issue

It all depends how you define the word "participate."
While that may seem as silly as bickering over the definition of the word "is," the implications for some oil company executives who testified at a Senate hearing could be significant. Based on how the word is parsed, some executives either told the truth or did not when they were asked about their "participation" in the 2001 energy task force headed by Vice President Cheney.

Study Measures Brain Activity During TV Ads

The study was conducted at a London hospital, using a neuroscanner and a group of people aged between 18 and 34. The experiment measured activity while TV ads were screened.
It found that advertising content that is relevant to the programme environment in which it appears is on average is 24% more likely to generate brain activity in the areas of the brain commonly associated with advertising effectiveness.
The study also found that contrary to claims that viewers switch off during ad breaks, advertising generates more brain activity than the programming in which it appears, if it is relevant.

British man who once lived in Houston has mad cow disease

A man from Great Britain who lived in Houston for four years has the human form of mad cow disease, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Monday.
The 30-year-old's case was considered the second U.S. diagnosis of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease because his symptoms began while he lived in Houston.
He returned to Great Britain this year, and he is receiving medical treatment for the fatal illness.

"Congress had access to the same intelligence"

Republicans keep telling us that Congress had the same prewar intelligence as the White House, but that's demonstrably false. In fact, the White House is still withholding prewar intelligence! [from Rachel Maddow]

PDB Showing No Link Between Iraq and 9/11 - Withheld from Congress

Ten days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Bush was advised that U.S. intelligence found no credible connection linking the attacks to the regime of Saddam Hussein, or evidence suggesting linkage between Saddam and the al-Qaida terrorist network, according to a published report.
The report, published Tuesday in The National Journal, cites government records, as well as present and former officials with knowledge of the issue. The information in the story, written by National Journal contributor Murray Waas, points to an abiding administration concern for secrecy that extended to keeping information from the Senate committee charged with investigating the matter.
In one of the Journal report's more compelling disclosures, Saddam is said to have viewed al-Qaida as a threat, rather than a potential ally.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Did Texas Just Ban Marriage?

HJR No. 6 passed in Texas yesterday, supposedly to ban gay marriage. But read the text closely.

Sec. 32
(a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.
Is it egg-heady coastal elitism to point out that Texas just defined marriage and then made it illegal for everybody, even heteros?

Congresswoman's "Coward" Remark

Three days after Rep. Jean Schmidt was booed off the House floor for saying that "cowards cut and run, Marines never do," the Ohioan she quoted disputed the comments.
Danny Bubp, a freshman state representative who is a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, told The Enquirer that he never mentioned Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., by name when talking with Schmidt, and he would never call a fellow Marine a coward.
"The unfortunate thing about all of that is that her choice of words on the floor of the House - I don't know, she's a freshman, she had one minute.

10 most dangerous toys

The Splatmatic Pistol Splat Paintball Shooter, which fires paint balls at a high velocity, also made the list because of its potential for eye, face and other impact injuries, as did Hasbro's Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith Energy Beam Blaster, which comes with pressurized "energy-beam string canisters."
W.A.T.C.H. also said The Lord of the Rings - Return of the King Uruk-Hai Crossbow set, which catapults arrows at high velocity, is dangerous because of its potential to cause eye injuries.
Geospace International's 38" Air Kicks Kickaroos Anti-Gravity Boots, which fit over shoes and help children bounce around, also made the list. The manufacturer instructs users to "always remain in control of your motions," but that directive is unrealistic, W.A.T.C.H. said, citing the toy's potential for head or other impact injuries.

Iraqi Leaders Find Agreement on US Leaving

Iraqi politicians wrapped up an Arab League-sponsored reconciliation conference yesterday with a statement of principles calling for the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops, condemning terrorism and affirming a right of "resistance".
The statement was a rare, if vaguely worded note of consensus from the country's bitterly divided ethnic and sectarian blocs.
Although there remains room for disagreement regarding the details of the statement, it is virtually unprecedented for the range of representatives present at the Cairo meeting - from members of the Shia- and Kurdish-dominated government to supporters of the Sunni Arab insurgency - to meet publicly under the same roof, let alone issue a joint statement.

Leak: Bush wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera TV station in Qatar

A civil servant has been charged under Britain's Official Secrets Act for allegedly leaking a government memo that a newspaper said Tuesday suggested that Prime Minister Tony Blair persuaded President Bush not to bomb the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera.
The Daily Mirror reported that Bush spoke of targeting Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, Qatar, when he met Blair at the White House on April 16, 2004. The Bush administration has regularly accused Al-Jazeera of being nothing more than a mouthpiece for anti-American sentiments.

In 2001 America destroyed the Kabul offices of al-Jazeera with two smartbombs; officials said it was an accident. In 2003 America destroyed the Baghdad offices of al-Jazeera with missiles; officials said it was an accident. Now, two British civil servants are on trial for leaking a memo revealing that Bush intended to bomb al-Jazeera... at their headquarters in allied Qatar.

EFF Files Class Action Lawsuit Against Sony BMG

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), along with two leading national class action law firms, today filed a lawsuit against Sony BMG, demanding that the company repair the damage done by the First4Internet XCP and SunnComm MediaMax software it included on over 24 million music CDs.
EFF is pleased that Sony BMG has taken steps in acknowledging the security risks caused by the XCP CDs, including a recall of the infected discs. However, these measures still fall short of what the company needs to do to fix the problems caused to customers by XCP, and Sony BMG has failed entirely to respond to concerns about MediaMax, which affects over 20 million CDs -- ten times the number of CDs as the XCP software.

Was Innocent Man Executed in Texas?

"Ruben Cantu had nothing to do with the murder, attempted murder and robbery of the two men at 605 Briggs Street. I should know," Garza wrote in a sworn statement obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

Protest at the School of the Americas

[M]ore than 15,000 SOA Watch protesters gathered outside the main gate of Fort Benning. For the 16th consecutive year, the protesters demanded the closing of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.
More than 40 people were believed to be arrested by military police and federal marshals for crossing over onto Fort Benning. Columbus Police made at least one arrest. "We ain't going away," said Father Roy Bourgeois, the Catholic priest who founded the movement. "We have our hands on the plow; and our eyes on the prize. We'll all go away when they shut that school down."

Number with HIV 'at highest yet'

UNAids says there are an estimated 40.3m people currently living with the virus across the world, with almost 5m infected in 2005.
And it warns there are growing epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central and East Asia.

Showdown at the U.N.

What is at issue is how management reform proposals that would broaden the power of the secretary general's office are being pressed assertively by Mr. Bolton and aggravating tensions between the 191-member General Assembly, with its entrenched bureaucracy, and the office of the secretary general.
"It looks like it could be a real train wreck," said Edward Luck, a professor of international affairs at Columbia University and former president of the United Nations Association of the United States. "It's a basic clash over who's in charge: is it the General Assembly or is it the secretary general?"

Germany: CIA knew 'Curveball' was not trustworthy

Five top German intelligence officers say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly ignored warnings about the veracity of the information that an Iraqi informant named 'Curveball' was giving about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The Los Angeles Times, in a massive report published Sunday, reports that "the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq." They also say that 'Curveball,' whom the Germans described as "not a psychologically stable guy," never claimed that he had produced germ weapons, nor had he ever seen anyone do it.

Privatized Water Running Dry

More than 1 million residents in the rural Argentinian province of Santa Fe are facing an anxious wait to discover if their taps will still flow or their toilets flush over the next few weeks.
Since 1995, the province has had its water supply and sewage services provided by a consortium led by the French multinational Suez; now the giant utility wants out, and plans to leave within the month.
The decision, which follows the high-profile collapse of other water privatisation schemes in countries including Tanzania, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Bolivia, has again raised questions about the viability of privatising utilities in the developing world.

Falwell's "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign"

Falwell has put the power of his 24,000-member congregation behind the "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign," an effort led by the conservative legal organization Liberty Counsel. The group promises to file suit against anyone who spreads what it sees as misinformation about how Christmas can be celebrated in schools and public spaces.
The 8,000 members of the Christian Educators Association International will be the campaign's "eyes and ears" in the nation's public schools. They'll be reporting to 750 Liberty Counsel lawyers who are ready to pounce if, for example, a teacher is muzzled from leading the third-graders in "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

Declassified Pentagon Document Described White Phosphorus As ‘Chemical Weapon’

Big oil has crude designs on Iraq wealth - report

Big oil firms may rob Iraq of billions and grab control of its oilfields unless ordinary Iraqis can have a greater say in how their country's riches are tapped, U.S. and British campaigners said on Tuesday.
Big oil is being lured by the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA), promoted by Washington and London, which gives them huge returns on investment, but deprives Iraq of up to $194 billion (113 billion pounds), according to "Crude Designs: The rip-off of Iraq's oil wealth".
"Under the influence of the U.S. and UK, powerful politicians and technocrats in the Iraqi oil ministry are pushing to hand all Iraq's undeveloped fields to multinational oil companies, to be developed under production sharing agreements," said Greg Muttitt, the report's author.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Last Known Survivor of 1914 "Christmas Truce" Dead at 109

Alfred Anderson, the last known survivor of the 1914 ``Christmas Truce'' that saw British and German soldiers exchanging gifts and handshakes in no man's land, died early Monday, his parish priest said. He was 109. His death leaves fewer than 10 veterans of World War I alive in Britain.
Anderson died in his sleep at a nursing home in Newtyle, Scotland, said Rev. Neil Gardner of Alyth Parish Church.
Born June 25, 1896, Anderson was an 18-year-old soldier in the Black Watch regiment when British and German troops cautiously emerged from their trenches on Dec. 25, 1914. The enemies swapped cigarettes and tunic buttons, sang carols and even played soccer amid the mud and shell-holes of no man's land.
The informal truce spread along much of the Western Front, in some cases lasting for days.

The Image Culture

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana in late August, images of the immense devastation were immediately available to anyone with a television set or an Internet connection. Although images of both natural and man-made disasters have long been displayed in newspapers and on television, the number and variety of images in the aftermath of Katrina reveals the sophistication, speed, and power of images in contemporary American culture. Satellite photographs from space offered us miniature before and after images of downtown New Orleans and the damaged coast of Biloxi; video footage from an array of news outlets tracked rescue operations and recorded the thoughts of survivors; wire photos captured the grief of victims; amateur pictures, taken with camera-enabled cell phones or digital cameras and posted to personal blogs, tracked the disaster’s toll on countless individuals. The world was offered, in a negligible space of time, both God’s-eye and man’s-eye views of a devastated region. Within days, as pictures of the squalor at the Louisiana Superdome and photographs of dead bodies abandoned in downtown streets emerged, we confronted our inability to cope with the immediate chaos, destruction, and desperation the storm had caused. These images brutally drove home the realization of just how unprepared the U.S. was to cope with such a disaster.
But how did this saturation of images influence our understanding of what happened in New Orleans and elsewhere? How did the speed with which the images were disseminated alter the humanitarian and political response to the disaster? And how, in time, will these images influence our cultural memory of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina?

How U.S. Fell Under the Spell of 'Curveball'

The German intelligence officials responsible for one of the most important informants on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Five senior officials from Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.
According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said.
Curveball's German handlers for the last six years said his information was often vague, mostly secondhand and impossible to confirm.
"This was not substantial evidence," said a senior German intelligence official. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said."

EPA to Allow Pesticide Testing on Orphans and Mentally Handicapped Children

Public Comment Period for this rule Closes
December 12, 2005

Public comments are now being accepted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its newly proposed federal regulation regarding the testing of chemicals and pesticides on human subjects. On August 2, 2005, Congress had mandated the EPA create a rule that permanently bans chemical testing on pregnant women and children. But the EPA's newly proposed rule, misleadingly titled "Protections for Subjects in Human Research," puts industry profits ahead of children's welfare. The rule allows for government and industry scientists to treat children as human guinea pigs in chemical experiments in the following situations:

  1. Children who "cannot be reasonably consulted," such as those that are mentally handicapped or orphaned newborns may be tested on. With permission from the institution or guardian in charge of the individual, the child may be exposed to chemicals for the sake of research.
  2. Parental consent forms are not necessary for testing on children who have been neglected or abused.
  3. Chemical studies on any children outside of the U.S. are acceptable.

Send a letter to EPA here!

Penn Gillette: "This I believe: I believe there is no God."

Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.
Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.
Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don't travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith." That's just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something.