Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Daily Show Rips the Democratic Party Leadership a New One

[Iraq War vet] Paul Hackett did a segment lampooning his own political career and the Democratic party on The Daily Show. Video-WMP Video-QT
This is spot-on.

Newscasts Adopt Product Placement

"There are more local news stations that are incorporating brands into news in innovative, cutting-edge ways," said Aaron Gordon, president of entertainment marketing firm Set Resources Inc.
..."We're all trying to find ways of integrating commercial messages into content that satisfy the audience and advertisers without hurting our product," KRON president and general manager Mark Antonitis said.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Third US Mad Cow Found - Testing Scaled Back by Bush Administration

An agency official spoke on Monday of "the conclusion" of the program. Advocates of enhanced testing said the administration's proposed 2007 budget includes funds for only a fraction of the cattle tests that have been performed in recent years.
USDA said on Monday an Alabama beef cow was infected with mad cow disease, the third time the ailment has been found in the United States in the past 27 months.
"It seems to be unwise to say you're going to ratchet it...down right after you've had another positive," said Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America. "I don't know how you explain either to American consumers or to people in Japan that we want to sell beef to that you're going to stop looking for something because you found it."

Scientology According to "South Park" (youtube)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

ACLU Releases First Concrete Evidence of FBI Spying Based Solely on Groups’ Anti-War Views

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania today released new evidence that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting investigations into a political organizations based solely on its anti-war views.
Two documents released today reveal that the FBI investigated gatherings of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice just because the organization opposed the war in Iraq. Although previously disclosed documents show that the FBI is retaining files on anti-war groups, these documents are the first to show conclusively that the rationale for FBI targeting is the group's opposition to the war.
...More information about the ACLU’s Spy Files project including the documents released today as well as profiles of members of the Thomas Merton Center is available online at

More information about the Thomas Merton Center is available online at:

The Earth is Not Moving

From the foreword: "The second [goal] is to establish a real understanding of how the theory which says that the Earth turns on an axis and orbits the sun has triumphed in spite of having no evidence whatsoever to support it." The explanation of why tides can't possibly be due to the Moon's gravity is particularly enlightening. As Wikipedia's page on modern geocentrism points out, General Relativity says that all frames of reference are equally valid, so at least some of these people aren't completely wrong. Will the return of geocentrism be the next step after creationism? When do we get to burn witches again? [from]

Monday, March 13, 2006

Greater Restrictions on Government Information

The 2005 revision also allows those reviewing security clearances broader latitude in rejecting candidates without citing a specific violation of the guidelines.
Under the section “Personal Conduct,” Hadley added the following.
“Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include: credible adverse information that is not explicitly covered under any other guideline and may not be sufficient by itself for an adverse determination, but which, when combined with all available information supports a whole-person assessment of questionable judgment, untrustworthiness, unreliability, lack of candor, unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations, or other characteristics indicating that the person may not properly safeguard protected information.”
The section also adds “deliberately providing false or misleading information” to an employer “or other characteristics indicating that the person may not properly safeguard protected information” as grounds for denial.
Further changes to a second section of the document suggest that the decision to broaden the ability of the government to restrict access to classified information was deliberate. The section “Psychological Conditions” suggests individuals could be rejected for undefined adverse “behavior.”
“Behavior that casts doubt on an individual’s judgment… that is not covered under any other guideline” is now a condition that could render an individual unfit for approval.

Sunny Future for Nanocrystal Solar Cells

Imagine a future in which the rooftops of residential homes and commercial buildings can be laminated with inexpensive, ultra-thin films of nano-sized semiconductors that will efficiently convert sunlight into electrical power and provide virtually all of our electricity needs. This future is a step closer to being realized, thanks to a scientific milestone achieved at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).
Researchers with Berkeley Lab and the University of California, Berkeley, have developed the first ultra-thin solar cells comprised entirely of inorganic nanocrystals and spin-cast from solution. These dual nanocrystal solar cells are as cheap and easy to make as solar cells made from organic polymers and offer the added advantage of being stable in air because they contain no organic materials.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

US Army: Peak Oil and the Army's future

“The days of inexpensive, convenient, abundant energy sources are quickly drawing to a close,” according to a recently released US Army strategic report. The report posits that a peak in global oil production looks likely to be imminent, with wide reaching implications for the US Army and society in general.
The report was sent to Energy Bulletin by a reader, and does not appear to be available elsewhere on the internet. However it is marked as unclassified and approved for public release.
The report, Energy Trends and Their Implications for U.S. Army Installations (PDF – 1.2mb), was conducted by the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is dated September 2005.

Death squads operated from inside Iraqi government, officials say

Senior Iraqi officials Sunday confirmed for the first time that death squads composed of government employees had operated illegally from inside two government ministries.
"The deaths squads that we have captured are in the defense and interior ministries," Minister of Interior Bayan Jabr said during a joint news conference with the Minister of Defense. "There are people who have infiltrated the army and the interior."
Also, Sunday, a series of deadly attacks hit the Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, which had recently been relatively safe, initiating another round of sectarian killings and threatening to provoke more.

Compare: The Pentagon may put Special-Forces-led assassination or kidnapping teams in Iraq
or Google "Salvador option"

US issues biometric passports despite concerns

The US has begun issuing passports that contain biometric information stored on remotely readable microchips, in spite of lingering security and privacy concerns.
Supporters of the new passports say they enhance border security, reduce the possibility of identity fraud and impose minimal burdens on travellers -- all goals the US has been working towards since the September 11 attacks.
But civil liberties and privacy groups are uneasy about the formation of biometric information databases on US citizens and concerned that identity-theft rings, foreign government agents or even terrorist groups could "skim" information from the RFID chips or "eavesdrop" on the communication between official readers and the microchips.

OTM: Counting the Dead in Iraq

Death By Numbers
According to the Washington Post, Iraq's majority Shiite party has ordered the Health Ministry to stop counting execution-style shootings, and tally only deaths by bombing and other insurgent attacks. If true, it explains why the Post's recent numbers diverge so dramatically with those of Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari. Post reporter Ellen Knickmeyer tells Bob she was less surprised by the disparity in the death toll, than by the failure of other journalists to check it out.

The New Math
The research group, Iraq Body Count, issued findings recently that show the rate of civilian deaths rising each year since the declared end of combat operations. According to the group, in the first year violent deaths occurred at a rate of 20 per day; year two, 31; in 2006 to date, 36. Since IBC relies entirely on media reports for its figures, we wondered how the Washington Post's assertion that the death toll is suppressed would affect its work. IBC spokesman Scott Lipscomb joins Brooke.

Pollution Soaring to Crisis Levels in Arctic

Researchers have uncovered compelling evidence that indicates Earth's most vulnerable regions - the North and South Poles - are poised on the brink of a climatic disaster.
The scientists, at an atmospheric monitoring station in the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, have found that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere near the North Pole are now rising at an unprecedented pace.
In 1990 this key cause of global warming was rising at a rate of 1 part per million (ppm). Recently, that rate reached 2 ppm per year. Now, scientists at the Mount Zeppelin monitoring station have discovered it is rising at between 2.5 and 3 ppm.

Sunshine Week 2006: March 12-18

The President and the Scientists

THE NEW YORKER: In your article this week, you write about the Bush Administration’s hostility to science. Broadly speaking, what does that mean?
MICHAEL SPECTER: I’m not sure I would use the word “hostility.” The Administration simply doesn’t seem to rely on the advice of scientists on a wide range of issues: climate change, pollution, and biomedical research, for example. Previous Administrations have taken science as an area that is above the political fray—this one does not seem to operate that way.
NEW YORKER: The opposition to science seems to have a number of strains, many religious. You write about how the Administration is vehemently opposed to “any drug, vaccine, or initiative that could be interpreted as lessening the risks associated with premarital sex.” Do policymakers have some other rationale, or is this more of a straightforward agenda?
SPECTER: Well, the Bush Administration is squarely on the record in favor of abstinence as the main approach to issues such as H.I.V. and abortion. Few groups, by the way, oppose abstinence as an approach, and many see it as an excellent first line of defense. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t always work, and, when it does, it rarely works for long. Nonetheless, the Administration—and many of its allies among conservatives and the religious right—places far more emphasis on abstinence than on teaching children other methods of birth control and protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

Leonard Pitts Jr: Quoting Bible to attack gays is hypocritical

I've had it up to here with the moral hypocrisy and intellectual constipation of Bible literalists.
By which I mean people like you, who dress their homophobia up in Scripture, insisting with sanctimonious sincerity that it's not homophobia at all, but just a pious determination to live according to what the Bible says.
And never mind that the Bible also says it is ''disgraceful'' for a woman to speak out in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-36) and that if she has any questions, she should wait till she gets home and ask her husband. Never mind that the Bible says the penalty for going to work on Sunday (Exodus 35:1-3) is death. Never mind that the Bible says the man who rapes a virgin should buy her from her father (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and marry her.
I'm going to speculate that you don't observe or support those commands. Which says to me that yours is a literalism of convenience, a literalism that is literal only so long as it allows you to condemn what you'd be condemning anyway and takes no skin off your personal backside.

US asks court to drop ex-detainees' torture suit

Retired Supreme Court Justice warns of dictatorship

Nina Totenberg: In an unusually forceful and forthright speech, O’Connor said that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms. O’Connor began by conceding that courts do have the power to make presidents or the Congress or governors, as she put it “really, really angry.” But, she continued, if we don’t make them mad some of the time we probably aren’t doing our jobs as judges, and our effectiveness, she said, is premised on the notion that we won’t be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts. The nation’s founders wrote repeatedly, she said, that without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights from the other branches of government those rights and privileges would amount to nothing. But, said O’Connor, as the founding fathers knew statutes and constitutions don’t protect judicial independence, people do.
...I, said O’Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.