Saturday, April 01, 2006

Google Romance

When you think about it, love is just another search problem. And we’ve thought about it. A lot. Google Romance™ is our solution.

Remember When...

Remember When...
Ronald Reagan Opened Fire on Passing Motorists

It was on this day 20 years ago when then President Ronald Reagan stood near a freeway and fired a handgun at passing cars, history buffs will recall.
It was a lovely spring morning in 1986. McDonald's was heating up the burger wars with the release of their McDLT's in special hot-side-hot cool-side-cool Styrofoam packages. Tony Danza was mugging and shrugging his way into America's hearts with the smash hit TV sitcom "Who's the Boss." And the Bangles were climbing the charts with their mega-hit "Manic Monday."
But it was a manic Wednesday when a vacant-eyed President Reagan abruptly left a meeting on tariffs and trade, walked to a nearby on-ramp, produced a low caliber hand gun and dazedly shot at passing cars.
"I don't think he was aiming at anything in particular. But on a freeway, you are going to have cars crossing the line of fire," said a chuckling Larry Speakes, then White House Press Secretary.
All three networks broke into their regular broadcasts to cover the presidential pot-shots. This prompted some D.C. viewers to jump into their cars and risk getting shot by the 40th President. Some actually had their cars damaged by the discombobulated Commander in Chief.
It all turned out OK though. One of those slugs recently sold on eBay for over $14,000! Also, thank goodness, no one was hurt.
When Ronald Reagan ran out of bullets he staggered back to his meeting to the applause of bystanders.
Linda Rooney from Chevy Chase was there. "I'd never seen the President before. When he was done shooting, clapping was all I could think to do."
When asked why he shot into traffic, Reagan was puzzled. He didn't remember any of it. After colleagues showed him the videotape, the President quipped, "Well, there I go again." And the room burst into laughter.

Atheist? Auslander!

Researchers concluded: "Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in 'sharing their vision of American society.' Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry."
Disturbingly, Atheists are "seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public," despite being only 3% of the U.S. population according to Dr. Edgell, associate sociology professor and the lead researcher in the project.
Edgell said that Atheists "play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past" in that we provide "a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society."
In addition, says the study, "The reaction to atheists has long been used as an index of political and social tolerance."

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Root of All Evil?

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has made a two-part documentary about religion for the BBC
which is an argument against religious faith from an explicitly atheistic point of view.
Segments of the first installment available to you via

Part 1-1:

Part 1-2:

Part 1-3:

Rhode Island Bans Federally Funded Abstinence Programs

Rhode Island education officials have banned from public schools a federally funded abstinence program that civil rights advocates said embraced sexist stereotypes and included a voluntary student health survey that violated privacy laws.
Lawyers at the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union first complained last year that a now-abandoned textbook used by Heritage of Rhode Island taught students that girls should wear clothing that doesn't invite "lustful thoughts" from boys. The book described men as "strong" and "courageous" while women were called "caring."
A speaker on an accompanying videotape said abstinence helped him "honor my relationship with Jesus," although Heritage officials said the tape wasn't used in public schools.
"The curriculum had these incredible sexist viewpoints about men and women and boys and girls that seemed to come out of the nineteenth century," said Steven Brown, executive director of the state's ACLU.
Authorities at the private health education firm said they stopped using the disputed materials a year ago.

Lying in International Politics

I argue that international lying takes four forms. Inter-state lying is where states lie to each other to gain strategic advantage. Fear-mongering is where foreign policy elites lie to their own public because they believe that the people do not recognize the seriousness of an external threat and they need to be motivated to deal with it. Nationalist myth-making is where elites tell lies about their state’s history to help foster a powerful sense of national identity among all segments of society. Anti-realist lying is where elites attempt to disguise brutal behavior carried out in pursuit of realist (or other) goals, because it conflicts with widely-accepted liberal norms.
Although there are compelling logics for pursuing each of these different kinds of lying, fear-mongering stands out as the one most likely to have serious negative consequences. Specifically, it is likely to encourage a culture of dishonesty on the home-front, and it has the most potential for backfiring and leading to a strategic debacle.

Iraq Propaganda by the Lincoln Group

This is the news from Iraq according to Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush administration.
A week after the US Defence Secretary criticised the media for " exaggerating" reports of violence in Iraq, The Independent has obtained examples of newspaper reports the Bush administration want Iraqis to read.
They were prepared by specially trained American "psy-ops" troops who paid thousands of dollars to Iraqi newspaper editors to run these unattributed reports in their publications. In order to hide its involvement, the Pentagon hired the Lincoln Group to act as a liaison between troops and journalists. The Lincoln Group was at the centre of controversy last year when it was revealed the company was being paid more than $100m (£58m) for various contracts, including the planting of such stories.

John Dean Urges Censure Of Bush

In short, I implore the Senate to undertake not a partisan action, but a strong institutional action. I recall a morning – and it was just about this time in the morning and it was exactly this time of the year – March 21, 1973 – that I tried to warn a president of the consequences of staying his course. I failed to convince President Nixon that morning, and the rest, as they say, is history. I certainly do not claim to be prescient. Then or now. But actions have consequences, and to ignore them is merely denial. Today, it is very obvious that history is repeating itself. It is for that reason I have crossed the country to visit with you, and that I hope that the collective wisdom of this committee will prevail, and you will not place the president above the law by inaction. As I was gathering my thoughts yesterday to respond to the hasty invitation, it occurred to me that had the Senate or House, or both, censured or somehow warned Richard Nixon, the tragedy of Watergate might have been prevented. Hopefully the Senate will not sit by while even more serious abuses unfold before it.
I have attached a number of articles that I have published on this and related topics and I ask that they be included in the record. The full text of these articles can also be found at Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to answer your questions.

All of Missouri's Problems Will Soon be in the Past

A year after Republicans took control of state government, conservative lawmakers are promoting a wide range of social legislation designed to rein in sex and unshackle the Bible.
From new limits on sex education classes to penalties for living in sin, the proposed laws would remake Missouri’s public life in myriad ways. They would sanction prayer in public schools, subsidize religious schools and allow the Bible to be taught in school.
One bill purports to help women make “the transition from work to home.” Another wants the legislature to recognize “a Christian God” as the deity for most Missourians.
Rep. Cynthia Davis, an O’Fallon Republican and sponsor of several bills, said conservatives are tired of an overly permissive society in which high school students are taught how to use condoms.

Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer

Prayer as placebo. Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found. And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested. [from]

Man Convicted of Shooting Robot Moose

A Nova Scotia man has been banned from hunting for 20 years after shooting a robotic moose.
Robert Lee McLaren, 49, of Pugwash Junction pleaded guilty yesterday to attempting to kill an endangered species.
He is the first person in Nova Scotia to be found guilty of the crime after shooting Bullwinkle, a full-sized moose decoy used by the Natural Resources Department to help combat the poaching of mainland moose.

Antarctic air warming three times faster than rest of world

Temperatures in the troposphere — the lowest 8km (5 miles) of the atmosphere — have increased by between 0.5C and 0.7 C (0.9F and 1.3F) per decade over the past 30 years.
This signature of climate change is three times stronger than the average observed around the world, suggesting that global warming is having an uneven impact and that it could be greater for Antarctica.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Top 50 Countries With Highest Proportion of Atheists / Agnostics

Pre-War Intelligence Ignored Because of Upcoming 2004 Election

Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, cautioned other White House aides in the summer of 2003 that Bush's 2004 re-election prospects would be severely damaged if it was publicly disclosed that he had been personally warned that a key rationale for going to war had been challenged within the administration. Rove expressed his concerns shortly after an informal review of classified government records by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley determined that Bush had been specifically advised that claims he later made in his 2003 State of the Union address -- that Iraq was procuring high-strength aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon -- might not be true, according to government records and interviews.
Hadley was particularly concerned that the public might learn of a classified one-page summary of a National Intelligence Estimate, specifically written for Bush in October 2002. The summary said that although "most agencies judge" that the aluminum tubes were "related to a uranium enrichment effort," the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Energy Department's intelligence branch "believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapons."
Three months after receiving that assessment, the president stated without qualification in his January 28, 2003, State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."
..."Presidential knowledge was the ball game," says a former senior government official outside the White House who was personally familiar with the damage-control effort. "The mission was to insulate the president. It was about making it appear that he wasn't in the know. You could do that on Niger. You couldn't do that with the tubes." A Republican political appointee involved in the process, who thought the Bush administration had a constitutional obligation to be more open with Congress, said: "This was about getting past the election."

Only, I didn't say "fudge"

George Carlin had his "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television"
Frank Zappa discussed the concept on "Crossfire" in 1986 (and told his belligerent rival to kiss his ass).
Matt Groening started listing "Forbidden Words" in 1980 - which has kicked off a new form of cultural criticism and even a software app.

Linguists point out that swearing is a universal feature of language:
"Every language, dialect or patois ever studied, living or dead, spoken by millions or by a small tribe, turns out to have its share of forbidden speech."

The BBC applies statistics on offensive words.
A blogger recently posted the stats here.

Excerpt: When I went to meet the editorial policy/legal people at the BBC, the first thing I wanted to know, as you can well imagine, was this: which swear words am I allowed to use?
I was shown a ranked list of rudeness. It was every bit as entertaining as I had hoped, but to my disappointment, there was no possibility of removing this fabulous document from the room. I don’t like to paint too much of a melodramatic picture, but the offending piece of paper was physically removed from my hand (I think they had the idea that I would scan it, post it on my blog, and write an article about it).
Anyway, I mentioned this to someone else from the BBC at a party recently: she sent me a copy this morning, and as you can see, I have indeed scanned it and posted it on my blog. Disappointingly the list turned out to be from a report which is freely available in the public domain here, but that doesn’t stop it being almost as funny as I remember.

Howard Dean Anticipated Immigration Issue Last Summer

July 14, 2005: We're not going to divide Americans to win elections. The Republican Party's "Southern Strategy" used in the 1960s and 1970s lives today. In 2000, they used the racially charged word "quota" to divide African Americans. In 2004, they used gay marriage. And just you wait; in 2006 its going to be immigrants. We need to stand together. We are all children of God, equal in the eyes of God. We need to stand up for social justice. The one thing the Democratic Party will never do - we will never divide Americans to win elections. We'll never do that.

My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts now available under Creative Commons license

This is the first time complete and total access to original tracks with remix and sampling possibilities have been officially offered on line. In keeping with the spirit of the original album, Brian [Eno] and David [Byrne] are offering for download all the multitracks on two of the songs. Through signing up to the user license, and in line with Creative Commons licenses, you are free to edit, remix, sample and mutilate these tracks however you like. Add them to your own song or create a new one. Visitors are welcome to post their mixes or songs that incorporate these audio files on the site for others to hear and rate.
"I grew up as a David Byrne fan. I admired his work with Talking Heads and those records then led me to 'My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts' where I discovered Brian Eno's work. The collaboration between Byrne and Eno inspired me to think outside the box and opened my head up to new musical and most importantly non-musical experiences."
Hank Shocklee — Producer (Public Enemy)

The Master and Spam

Recently, I received an email which carries a paragraph of prose in order to evade spam filters.
I took a moment to read the text and it rang a bell. "This is familiar," I thought.
I copy-pasted a phrase, Googled it, and the result was one of my favorite novels:
"The Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov.
It's a fantasy set in Moscow just after the Bolshevic Revolution. The Devil wants to throw a party in Moscow - Pontius Pilate makes a cameo, a woman turns into a witch and flies over the city nude on a broom stick, a bullying talking cat - all kinds of mischievous magic befall the Russians while the new state leaders refuse to notice what is happening.
Very funny stuff.
The book was banned in Russia for decades. It finally was published in a censored for in 1966.
I've received a couple more spans with additional excerpts from the book.
It reminds me of a scene in the book. Perhaps a theater full of patrons may withness thousands of unsoliticied emails raining down from the ceiling - spams which could be edited together into a Russian novel.
-- McLir

Here is the latest excerpt:
'Don't you understand Russian?' said the cat severely. ' What do you want to know? ' Poplavsky was speechless. 'Passport! ' barked the cat and stretched out a fat paw. Completely dumbfounded and blind to everything except the twin sparks in the cat's eyes, Poplavsky pulled his passport out of his pocket like a dagger. The cat picked up a pair of spectacles in thick black rims from the table under the mirror, put them on its snout, which made it look even more imposing, and took the passport from Poplavsky's shaking hand. 'I wonder--have I fainted or what? ' thought Poplavsky. From the distance came the sound of Koroviev's blubbering, the hall was filled with the smell of ether, valerian and some other nauseating abomination. 'Which department issued this passport?' asked the cat. There was no answer. 'Department four hundred and twenty,' said the cat to itself, drawing its paw across the passport which it was holding upside-down.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

You Say 'Influence,' I Say 'Propaganda'

Source: Washington Post, March 26, 2006
In an interview with the Washington Post, the Lincoln Group's Paige Craig and Andrew Garfield vaguely discussed the firm's "influence" - not propaganda - work for the U.S. government, with whom they have 12 contracts totaling more than $130 million. The Post's Lynne Dukes writes that Craig and Garfield "make much of their assertion that they traffic in the truth. It's as if they think truth and propaganda are mutually exclusive. But consider this: 'For a long time, propagandists have recognized that lying must be avoided,' wrote Jacques Ellul in his classic 1965 work, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes. For the masses to believe it, 'propaganda must be based on some truth that can be said in a few words and is able to linger in the collective consciousness.'" Lynne writes, however, that the truth can also be "inconvenient," pointing to the fact - hidden from the Iraq public - that the upbeat "news" stories translated and placed by the Lincoln Group in Iraqi media were written by U.S. soldiers.

Bush blames Iraq's instability on Hussein

Saddam knew Bush wanted to invade Iraq.
You'd think he would have tidied up the place for us.

TV's Right-Wing Jesus

Who speaks for Jesus? Why are liberal churches ignored by the American media? Why is the religious right given so much play? Media Matters gives credence to the claim that the religious right is overrepresented in the American media, and liberal religious leaders are excluded. I can't remember the last time I saw a liberal religious leader on American TV who wasn't Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. [from]

ACLU: Pentagon concedes Abu Ghraib photo, video case

Today's developments mean that an earlier district court decision concerning the photographs will stand. That decision, written by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, held that "Publication of the photographs is central to the purposes of FOIA because they initiate debate, not only about the improper and unlawful conduct of American soldiers, 'rogue' soldiers, as they have been characterized, but also about other important questions as well -- for example, the command structure whose failures in exercising supervision may make them culpable along with the soldiers who were court-martialed for perpetrating the wrongs."
At issue are 73 photographs and three videotapes depicting detainee abuse, provided by Sergeant Joseph Darby to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, many of which were recently released on the newsmagazine Web site In a stipulation filed with the Court of Appeals, the government agreed to authenticate and identify images on the Salon Web site that are among the images it has withheld. Any of the 73 photographs and three videotapes that have not been published on the Salon Web site will be released to the ACLU (with individually identifying details deleted) within a week of the court's formal dismissal of the appeal.
The government has not officially informed the ACLU as to how many images in its possession have not been published on, but they are believed to be few in number. The ACLU has not seen these images.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Justice Scalia on Guantanamo Bay

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gives his opinion on Guantanamo Bay prisoners on March 8th - only weeks before hearing arguments on the case on March 28th.
Newsweek's Michael Isikoff writes about it in "Should Scalia Recuse Himself from Gitmo Case?"
The article contains a link to the full speech and q&a: 238MB file size.

Scalia states: "If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy."
It should be noted that yes, Scalia's sone has been on the Iraq battlefield but the the Gitmo detainees in question have been imprisoned since before the Iraq invasion.

Also, according to Defense Dapartment Documents:
"Only 8 percent of the detainees were characterized as Al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40 percent have no definitive connection with Al Qaeda at all and 18 percent have no definitive affiliation with either Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
"Only 5 percent of the detainees were captured by United States forces. [A total of] 86 percent of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86 percent of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were turned over to the United States at a time at which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies."

Putting the Lie to "No President Wants to Go to War" [video]

Olbermann goes over the newest released memo from The U.K on this segment. Keith blasts the Bush line of "no president wants to go to war, " after it reveals the war plans were already drawn up five days before Colin Powell went to the UN.
Andrea Mitchell actually brings up the Downing Street memo (she doesn't call it that) and says war was inevitable from the start while she hits up on the "painting of a spy plane" to trick Saddam into firing at it so they could then justify invading Iraq.
Mitchell: It was very clear that George Bush was set on going to war...

Brain cells fused with computer chip

The scientists squeezed more than 16,000 electronic transistors and hundreds of capacitors onto a silicon chip just 1 millimeter square in size. They used proteins found in the brain to glue neurons onto the chip. The proteins acted as more than just a simple adhesive.
The proteins allowed the neuro-chip's electronic components and its living cells to communicate with each other. Electrical signals from neurons were recorded using the chip's transistors, while the chip's capacitors were used to stimulate the neurons.
It could still be decades before the technology is advanced enough to treat neurological disorders or create living computers, but in the nearer term, the chips could provide an advanced method of screening drugs for the pharmaceutical industry.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Bush's All-Purpose Speech on Iraq (YouTube)

From "The Daily Show."

Scott Ritter: Americans Share Blame for War

The American people share the blame for the war in Iraq.
That was one of the messages during the Iraqi Women Speak Out Tour, an anti-war event that drew hundreds of attendees to the Veterans Memorial Building.
"When you look at the lead-up to the war in Iraq, I blame President Bush, I blame Congress, I blame the media," said Scott Ritter, a former Marine, former United Nations chief weapons inspector for Iraq and contributor to the book "Neo-Conned Again!," a compilation of condemnations of the Iraq War. "But I'm not cutting any slack for the American people."
Americans, he said, have grown accustomed to a lifestyle they cannot sustain. Many Americans have failed to engage, he said, making the American government more of an oligarchy than a representative democracy.
"As a nation, we are mute, we are silent," Ritter thundered.

Bill Maher Interviews John Burns, Bureau Chief NYT (YouTube)

Straight talk about Iraq.

Deleted Website for Justice Dept's Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training

Sometime fairly recently - late February or early March 2006 - a portion of the Justice Department's website was quietly removed. Specifically, it was the website of the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT), part of Justice's Criminal Division. Its mission is summarized as:

OPDAT supports the law enforcement objectives of the United States and the [Justice] Department's international law enforcement priorities by preparing foreign counterparts to cooperate more fully with the United States in combating transnational crime and terrorism, by improving foreign judicial assistance to the United States, and by promoting the rule of law and respect for human rights.
[restored site here]

Delta Force Founder: “Bush May Well Have Started The Third World War”

Q: What's your assessment of the war in Iraq?
Eric Haney: Utter debacle. But it had to be from the very first. The reasons were wrong. The reasons of this administration for taking this nation to war were not what they stated. (Army Gen.) Tommy Franks was brow-beaten and ... pursued warfare that he knew strategically was wrong in the long term. That's why he retired immediately afterward. His own staff could tell him what was going to happen afterward.
We have fomented civil war in Iraq. We have probably fomented internecine war in the Muslim world between the Shias and the Sunnis, and I think Bush may well have started the third world war, all for their own personal policies.

Q: What is the cost to our country?
Eric Haney: For the first thing, our credibility is utterly zero. So we destroyed whatever credibility we had. ... And I say "we," because the American public went along with this. They voted for a second Bush administration out of fear, so fear is what they're going to have from now on.
Our military is completely consumed, so were there a real threat - thankfully, there is no real threat to the U.S. in the world, but were there one, we couldn't confront it. Right now, that may not be a bad thing, because that keeps Bush from trying something with Iran or with Venezuela.
The harm that has been done is irreparable. There are more than 2,000 American kids that have been killed. Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed - which no one in the U.S. really cares about those people, do they? I never hear anybody lament that fact. It has been a horror, and this administration has worked overtime to divert the American public's attention from it. Their lies are coming home to roost now, and it's gonna fall apart. But somebody's gonna have to clear up the aftermath and the harm that it's done just to what America stands for. It may be two or three generations in repairing.

FEC Won't Regulate Internet Politics

Regulators brought Internet political advertising under the nation's campaign finance law Monday but declared that all other political activity on the Internet would be untethered by federal rules.
The three Republicans and three Democrats on the Federal Election Commission unanimously adopted a rule requiring anyone placing a paid political ad on a Web site to abide by federal campaign spending and contribution limits.
But the rule also updates existing FEC regulations to make it clear that all other Internet political activity, such as blogging, e-mail communications and online publications, is not covered by the campaign law.
"Individual online political activity will be protected from FEC restriction regardless of whether the individual acts alone or as part of a group, and regardless of whether the individual acts in coordination with a candidate or acts independently," said Commission Chairman Michael E. Toner.

Stanislaw Lem: 1921-2006

Polish science-fiction giant Stanislaw Lem died this morning. He was 84. Though Lem was not as well known as Asimov or Heinlein or the other "Masters", he was just as important to the genre. Lem was not a fan of traditonal science-fiction, and in his work tried to approach futuristic themes from a more humanistic, almost psychological, perspective. (And his books are funny!) His best-known work, Solaris, was twice made into a film, most recently in 2002. [from]

Memo Shows Bush was Bent on War with Iraq

During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.
"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," David Manning, Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.
"The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March," Mr. Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. "This was when the bombing would begin."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Iraqis killed by US troops ‘on rampage’

According to Iraqi police, 11 bodies were pulled from the wreckage of the house, among them four women and five children aged between six months and five years. An official police report obtained by a US reporter for Knight Ridder newspapers said: “The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 people.”
The Abu Sifa deaths on March 15 were first reported last weekend on the day that Time magazine published the results of a 10-week investigation into an incident last November when US marines killed 15 civilians in their homes in the western Iraqi town of Haditha.
The two incidents are being investigated by US authorities, but persistent eyewitness accounts of rampaging attacks by American troops are fuelling human rights activists’ concerns that Pentagon commanders are failing to curb military excesses in Iraq.

Bruce Lee The FULL lost interview

Excerpts of this have been shown before. Here is the "lost" interview with the genius martial artist's in its entirety. [Warning: slow download]