Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I'm sorry, but this is too cute

(And bittersweet in a way)
In the wild they would be deadly enemies. In captivity they are the best of friends.
Two Sumatran tiger cubs and two baby orang-utans, each pair abandoned by their mother soon after birth, have become inseparable playmates in the nursery room of an animal hospital in Indonesia.
Nia and Irma happily snuggle up to the cubs in a way that five-month-old orang-utan sisters would never normally contemplate.

Early man 'couldn't stomach milk'

(Attn: The Adversary)
A drink of milk was off the menu for Europeans until only a few thousand years ago, say researchers from London.
Analysis of Neolithic remains, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests no European adults could digest the drink at that time.
University College London scientists say that the rapid spread of a gene which lets us reap the benefits of milk shows evolution in action.
But intolerance to milk remains common in modern times, say nutritionists.
In order to digest milk, adult humans need to have a gene which produces an enzyme called lactase to break down lactose, one of the main sugars it contains.
Without it, a drink of milk proves an uncomfortable experience, causing bloating, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.
Today, more than 90% of people of northern European origin have the gene.

File under: Cool!

Bloomframe (from the Dutch firm Hofman Dujardin Architecten) is a cross between a picture window and a balcony -- it slides out of the side of the building to convert to a balcony when the need strikes, then retracts when you're done

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Thirty Strange New Creatures Found in Antarctic Waters

The researchers catalogued about 1,000 species in an area of the Antarctic seabed where warming temperatures are believed to have caused the collapse of overlying ice shelves, affecting the marine life below.

Solved: The Mystery of the Miserable Models

New York Times Blog"In the models experiment conducted by Timothy Ketelaar, Jennifer Davis and Peter Jonason, pictures were randomly chosen from advertisements for products that were either “elite” (pricier than average, like Versace shirts and Coach eyeglasses) or “folk” (cheaper than average, like Paul Frederick shirts and Marchon glasses). The pictures were cropped so that only the faces, not the clothes or hairstyles, were visible. Then the pictures were shown to people who were asked to rate the facial expressions. Compared with the folk models, the elite models looked less happy and less embarrassed. They were more likely to have neutral expressions or to show anger or disgust.
In the football experiment, conducted by Professor Ketelaar, Bryan Koenig, and Lee Wells, people were asked to rate faces of players from the Western Athletic Conference whose photos were randomly chosen (and cropped) from teams’ Web pages. The larger players smiled less often than smaller players, and showed less happiness and embarrassment. The big guys were more likely to have neutral expressions or to look angry or disgusted.
Here’s Professor Ketelaar’s interpretation of the results:
“While we typically think of a smile as displaying our emotional state (happiness), it also appears that smiles convey information about the signaler’s status. Specifically, lower status individuals appear to smile more than higher status individuals. I suspect that this is due, in part, to the fact that there are several different types of smiles, including a true happiness smile and a true embarrassment smile. The latter smile, the embarrassment display, is often seen as an appeasement display in primates. Jimmy Carter smiled a lot, George Bush smiles much less. Jimmy Carter is generally perceived to be warm and friendly, but not very dominant and strong. George Bush is perceived be be somewhat less warm and friendly, but is seen as quite dominant and strong.”
This smiling strategy seems easy enough to understand for football players: smaller guys have to make nice to survive. It also jibes with research showing that women smile more than men (as did the female models in the quiz pictures). Professor Ketelaar says this gender difference has been attributed to the perceived lower social status of women, and he notes that this gender gap shrinks when you control for social status: high-status women apparently don’t feel the need to smile as much."

Jesus is in the Building

NEW YORK Feb 26, 2007 (AP)— Filmmakers and researchers on Monday unveiled two ancient stone boxes they said may have once contained the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but several scholars derided the claims made in a new documentary as unfounded and contradictory to basic Christian beliefs.

"The Lost Tomb of Jesus," produced by Oscar-winning director James Cameron and scheduled to air March 4 on the Discovery Channel, argues that 10 small caskets, called ossuaries, discovered in 1980 in a Jerusalem suburb may have held the bones of Jesus and his family.

One of the caskets even bears the title, "Judah, son of Jesus," hinting that Jesus may have had a son, according to the film. The claim that Jesus even had an ossuary contradicts the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven.

A panel of scholars that joined the filmmakers Monday at the New York Public Library addressed that criticism and others.

James Tabor, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said that while literal interpreters of the Bible say Jesus' physical body rose from the dead, "one might affirm resurrection in a more spiritual way in which the husk of the body is left behind."

But Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Christianity "has always understood the physical resurrection of Christ to be at the very center of the faith."

Cameron, who won an Academy Award for directing "Titanic," said he was excited to be associated with the Jesus film, which was directed by Toronto filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici.

"We don't have any physical record of Jesus' existence," he said. "So what this film … shows is for the first time tangible, physical, archaeological and in some cases forensic evidence."

He said that to a layman's eye "it seemed pretty darn compelling."

Jacobovici said that a name on one of the ossuaries "Mariamene" offers evidence that the tomb is that of Jesus and his family. In early Christian texts, "Mariamene" is the name of Mary Magdalene, he said.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Beating of Billy Ray Johnson

Texas Monthly February 2007:
On a Saturday night three years ago, a mentally disabled black man from Linden was taken to a party filled with white kids half his age. A few hours later, he was dumped by the side of the road, bleeding and unconscious. But of all the crimes that were committed, none was worse than how the small East Texas town responded—and who were considered the victims.
by Pamela Colloff

DAYBREAK WAS STILL MORE THAN AN HOUR away on the morning of September 28, 2003, when Cass County sheriff’s deputy John Elder turned down Old Dump Road. Above the tree line, the sky was moonless and dark. Cass County is pressed deep into the northeastern corner of Texas, hard against the Arkansas and Louisiana state lines, and it is crisscrossed by back roads that meander into the woods, under pine awnings and over low-water crossings and past unincorporated communities not found on maps. Elder followed the blacktop as it tacked back and forth, and after roughly a mile, he spotted a silver pickup idling at a T in the road. Two young men who had called the sheriff’s department were sitting inside. “He’s over here,” the driver called out, motioning for the deputy to follow him. Elder fell in behind the pickup as it headed to the left, down a county road that had few houses or mailboxes or signs of life.
They came to a stop after half a mile, and Elder could make out a figure on the ground, huddled in the fetal position. He was a short, slight black man, and he was wearing only a T-shirt and jeans despite the cool weather. Elder knelt down, and after fishing the man’s identification out of his pocket, the deputy saw that he was Billy Ray Johnson. Around Linden, the county seat, Billy Ray was often seen hanging around the courthouse square or walking by the side of the road, and he was what people in town politely called “slow.” Elder could see that he was alive but in bad shape. The bottom half of his face was bruised and swollen, and his breathing sounded labored. His upper lip was cut, and blood had pooled on the ground under him. His entire body had been badly stung by fire ants. The deputy tried to wake him, but Billy Ray was unconscious.
Elder called for an ambulance and then inspected the pavement, searching for evidence of a hit-and-run. But he found no skid marks or broken glass, and so he turned to the two white men who had led him out there to ask them what they knew. Elder recognized the bigger, heavyset one with the crew cut as 24-year-old Corey Hicks, who had served in the Navy and now worked at the sheriff’s department as a jailer. Elder wasn’t familiar with Corey’s friend, 19-year-old Wes Owens, who stood with his hands in his pockets and said little. “Now, how did y’all find him?” Elder asked.
Corey shrugged. “We were just riding around,” he said, explaining that they had been at a party until early that Sunday morning. “We drove up on him and saw him laying there.”"

Marine life grows where Antarctic ice collapsed

It had been covered over by ice for many millennia — a sprawling and remote part of the marine world that had remained a science mystery.
So when two massive ice shelves began collapsing in the Antarctic several years ago, an international team of scientists saw a chance to explore a part of the ocean that had never been seen and learn about life at the bottom of the Earth.
The ice shelves were alongside part of the Antarctic Peninsula, an area warming faster than anywhere else on the globe. Many experts feel those collapses are directly tied to human-produced carbon emissions.
"When we were there, we feel so far from the cities where we usually live and we are really in the middle of nowhere," biologist Gauthier Chapelle said of the Census of Antarctic Marine Life expedition, which ended last month. "And then you see that a huge chuck of ice has gone because of our way of life and it shows how everything is intertwined on this planet."
“These kind of collapses are expected to happen more,” he added. “What we’re observing here is probably going to happen elsewhere around Antarctica.”
Traveling aboard a German icebreaker and representing 14 countries, the 50 scientists were keen to see how the environment was being affected by the collapse of the two ice shelves known as Larsen A and Larsen B that had served as a roof over the sea bottom for at least 5,000 years.
Larsen A crumbled 12 years ago, while Larsen B fell apart about five years ago, both unable to remain intact as they floated above the coastal seas.
Melting ice shelves are not expected to directly contribute much to global sea level rise, but glaciologists believe these vast swaths of ice act like dams to slow down glaciers as they move over the Antarctic land mass toward the coast. Without the ice shelves, glaciers may move over the water more quickly, and this would substantially add to rising seas.
Since 1974, 5,213 square miles of ice shelves have disintegrated in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Where Were You That Summer of 2001?

by Frank Rich
“UNITED 93,” Hollywood’s highly praised but indifferently attended 9/11 docudrama, will be only a blip on tonight’s Oscar telecast. The ratings rise of “24” has stalled as audiences defect from the downer of terrorists to the supernatural uplift of “Heroes.” Cable surfers have tuned out Iraq for a war with laughs: the battle over Anna Nicole’s decomposing corpse. Set this cultural backdrop against last week’s terrifying but little-heeded front-page Times account of American “intelligence and counterterrorism officials” leaking urgent warnings about Al Qaeda’s comeback, and ask yourself: Haven’t we been here before?
If so, that would be the summer of 2001, when America pigged out on a 24/7 buffet of Gary Condit and shark attacks. The intelligence and counterterrorism officials back then were privately sounding urgent warnings like those in last week’s Times, culminating in the President’s Daily Brief titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The system “was blinking red,” as the C.I.A. chief George Tenet would later tell the 9/11 commission. But no one, from the White House on down, wanted to hear it.
The White House doesn’t want to hear it now, either. That’s why terrorism experts are trying to get its attention by going public, and not just through The Times. Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A. bin Laden unit, told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann last week that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, having regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, “are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States” (the real United States, that is, not the fictional stand-in where this same scenario can be found on “24”). Al Qaeda is “on the march” rather than on the run, the Georgetown University and West Point terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told Congress. Tony Blair is pulling troops out of Iraq not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces — it’s “not ready for transition,” according to the Pentagon’s last report — but to shift some British resources to the losing battle against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
This is why the entire debate about the Iraq “surge” is as much a sideshow as Britney’s scalp. More troops in Baghdad are irrelevant to what’s going down in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The surge supporters who accuse the Iraq war’s critics of emboldening the enemy are trying to deflect attention from their own complicity in losing a bigger battle: the one against the enemy that actually did attack us on 9/11. Who lost Iraq? is but a distraction from the more damning question, Who is losing the war on terrorism?
The record so far suggests that this White House has done so twice. The first defeat, of course, began in early December 2001, when we lost Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora. The public would not learn about that failure until April 2002 (when it was uncovered by The Washington Post), but it’s revealing that the administration started its bait-and-switch trick to relocate the enemy in Iraq just as bin Laden slipped away. It was on Dec. 9, 2001, that Dick Cheney first floated the idea on “Meet the Press” that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. It was “pretty well confirmed,” he said (though it was not), that bin Laden’s operative Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague months before Atta flew a hijacked plane into the World Trade Center.
In the Scooter Libby trial, Mr. Cheney’s former communications aide, Catherine Martin, said that delivering a message on “Meet the Press” was “a tactic we often used.” No kidding. That mention of the nonexistent Prague meeting was the first of five times that the vice president would imply an Iraq-Qaeda collaboration on that NBC show before the war began in March 2003. This bogus innuendo was an essential tool for selling the war precisely because we had lost bin Laden in Afghanistan. If we could fight Al Qaeda by going to war in Iraq instead, the administration could claim it didn’t matter where bin Laden was. (Mr. Bush pointedly stopped mentioning him altogether in public.)
The president now says his government never hyped any 9/11-Iraq links. “Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq,” he said last August after finally conceding that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact everyone in the administration insinuated it constantly, including him. Mr. Bush told of “high-level” Iraq-Qaeda contacts “that go back a decade” in the same notorious October 2002 speech that gave us Saddam’s imminent mushroom clouds. So effective was this propaganda that by 2003 some 44 percent of Americans believed (incorrectly) that the 9/11 hijackers had been Iraqis; only 3 percent had seen an Iraq link right after 9/11.
Though the nonexistent connection was even more specious than the nonexistent nuclear W.M.D., Mr. Bush still leans on it today even while denying that he does so. He has to. His litanies that we are “on the offense” by pursuing the war in Iraq and “fighting terrorists over there, so that we don’t have to fight them here” depend on the premise that we went into that country in the first place to vanquish Al Qaeda and that it is still the “central front” in the war on terror. In January’s State of the Union address hawking the so-called surge, Mr. Bush did it again, warning that to leave Iraq “would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy.”

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Would You Like That in Tens, Twenties or Normans?

New York Times:GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass.:
The scene could have been lifted from a caper movie:
An old Volvo station wagon zooms through the southern Berkshire Hills. Its nervous driver pulls up in front of a bank. But instead of pulling off some heist, her gang begins hustling boxes of freshly minted currency in, not out.
Once inside, they pause to admire the wads of tens, twenties and fifties. No $100 bills, though; no Benjamins. But there are some Hermans, and even a few Normans.
So began this area’s great socioeconomic experiment, one in which several dozen businesses agreed to include an alternative currency in their daily transactions and give a discount to those who used it.
Now people can pay for groceries, an oil change, even dental work with currency bearing the likenesses of local heroes like Herman Melville and Norman Rockwell.
Be forewarned, though: these bills do not travel well. Try paying a tab in Boston with a Norman and you could wind up in the Charles.
The central purpose behind BerkShares is to strengthen the local economy, perhaps even inoculate it against the whims of globalization, by encouraging people to support local businesses. Amazon does not accept BerkShares, for example, but the Bookloft on Route 7 does.
Five months into the experiment, some people embrace it, some endure it, some ignore it altogether. At the very least, BerkShares have reminded everyone just how complex this thing called community is.

The Care Crisis

The Nation: "A baby is born. A child develops a high fever. A spouse breaks a leg. A parent suffers a stroke. These are the events that throw a working woman's delicate balance between work and family into chaos.
Although we read endless stories and reports about the problems faced by working women, we possess inadequate language for what most people view as a private rather than a political problem. "That's life," we tell each other, instead of trying to forge common solutions to these dilemmas.
That's exactly what housewives used to say when they felt unhappy and unfulfilled in the 1950s: "That's life." Although magazines often referred to housewives' unexplained depressions, it took Betty Friedan's 1963 bestseller to turn "the problem that has no name" into a household phrase, "the feminine mystique"--the belief that a woman should find identity and fulfillment exclusively through her family and home.
The great accomplishment of the modern women's movement was to name such private experiences--domestic violence, sexual harassment, economic discrimination, date rape--and turn them into public problems that could be debated, changed by new laws and policies or altered by social customs. That is how the personal became political.
Although we have shelves full of books that address work/family problems, we still have not named the burdens that affect most of America's working families.
Call it the care crisis.
For four decades, American women have entered the paid workforce--on men's terms, not their own--yet we have done precious little as a society to restructure the workplace or family life. The consequence of this "stalled revolution," a term coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, is a profound "care deficit." A broken healthcare system, which has left 47 million Americans without health coverage, means this care crisis is often a matter of life and death. Today the care crisis has replaced the feminine mystique as women's "problem that has no name." It is the elephant in the room--at home, at work and in national politics--gigantic but ignored."

Report: Family Ties Sharpton to Thurmond

NEW YORK — Geneaologists have found that civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton is a descendent of a slave owned by relatives of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Daily News said professional genealogists, working at the newspaper's behest, recently uncovered the ancestral ties between one of the nation's best known black leaders and a man who was once a prominent defender of segregation.

"I have always wondered what was the background of my family," the newspaper quoted Sharpton as saying. "But nothing _ nothing _ could prepare me for this."

"It's chilling. It's amazing."

Some of Thurmond's relatives said the connection also came as a surprise to them. A niece, Ellen Senter, said she would speak with Sharpton if he were interested.

"I doubt you can find many native South Carolinians today whose family, if you traced them back far enough, didn't own slaves," said Senter, 61, of Columbia, S.C. She added: "And it is wonderful that (Sharpton) was able to become what he is in spite of what his forefather was."

One of the late senator's sons, Paul Thurmond, and a nephew, Barry Bishop, declined comment, the Daily News said.

According to the newspaper, the genealogists found documents establishing that Sharpton's great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave owned by Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was Strom Thurmond's great-great-grandfather. Coleman Sharpton was later freed.

The newspaper said the lead researcher was Megan Smolenyak, the chief family historian for and an author of several published books on genealogy. Another researcher on the project was Tony Burroughs, who teaches genealogy at Chicago State University.

Strom Thurmond, of South Carolina, was once considered a symbol of segregation. During his 1948 bid for president, he promised to preserve racial segregation. In 1957, he filibustered for more than 24 hours against a civil rights bill.

But Thurmond was seen as softening his stance later in his long life. He died in 2003, at 100. The longest-serving senator in history, he was originally a Democrat but became a Republican in 1964.

His children have acknowledged that Thurmond fathered a biracial daughter. Essie Mae Washington-Williams' mother was a housekeeper in the home of Thurmond's parents.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Could Gore's road to the Oval Office begin in Hollywood?

CNN: "LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- We've seen plenty of political moments at the Oscars before. But on Sunday, we could see the most unusual political moment ever.
Consider this scenario: It's Academy Awards night. Best documentary feature is up. And the Oscar is favored to go to . . . "An Inconvenient Truth," starring former Vice President Al Gore.
Lawrence Bender, producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," and the film's other producers come up to accept the Oscar -- with Gore. (Watch Bender explain while it might be Gore's time )
The audience roars its approval -- this is liberal Hollywood -- and Gore speaks.
"There's even some speculation that he would use his Oscar as the occasion to announce that he's running," Martin Kaplan, director of the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center, told CNN. "Imagine that: a billion people worldwide! Take that Jay Leno, as an announcement venue!''
Could it happen? Gore's producer thinks a potential Gore speech would be a historic moment, but not the way Kaplan envisions.
"It's electrifying, not politically, because is Al Gore going to run or not going to run. There's nothing going to happen like that," Bender told CNN. "It's electrifying because the man who is responsible for solidifying the forces around global warming is going to'' be acknowldged.
But could an Oscar start the momentum for a draft-Gore movement? USC's Kaplan thinks it could.
"People think that he's paid his dues, he's had more of an impact on issues that people care about than many people who have been in office and there's a feeling that he's finally lost that student council condescension that was fingernails on a blackboard to a lot of supporters," Kaplan said."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What we have learned from the Libby Trial

Jane Hamsher blogs for Firedoglake about the overarching narratives that emerged from the case:

"1. The administration lied us into war and tried to abuse its power to punish the whistleblower who told the American public the truth.

"2. Scooter is the firewall to Shooter. ["Shooter" is Hamsher's nickname for Cheney.]

"3. Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and other members of the administration conspired to keep federal investigators from uncovering their crimes.

"4. The media was complicit in spreading administration propaganda rather than doing investigative journalism, and are now helping to set the table for a pardon.

"5. The journalistic standards that have been exposed in the case (witness Tim Russert, Judy Miller, Andrea Mitchell, Robert Novak and others) are reprehensible, and have undermined the public trust in the media.

"6. The degree to which this story about the lies that lead to war has been ignored by the media (relative to the feeding frenzy over a Clinton [sex act]) left a huge opening that the blogs have filled."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Friendly Reporters - White House Watch by Dan Froomkin

At the National Press Club last night, Snow sat down with a handful of White House correspondents -- and he got to ask the questions for once.

Crooks and Liars has video and a transcript. Patrick Gavin has a report on the FishbowlDC blog.

One topic that came up, not surprisingly, was bloggers. The liberal ThinkProgress blog has a video excerpt of that exchange.

"It's amazing, you get this wonderful imaginative hateful stuff that comes flying out," Snow said.

Newsweek reporter Richard Wolffe responded: "There seems to be this sort of - the witch hunt that's out there. A lot of the blogs are, are, are unduly devoted to media criticism which is itself kind of interesting given all the things you could comment on. . . .

"In my humble view, the press here does a fantastic job of adhering to journalistic standards and covering politics in general," Wolffe said.

The bloggers "want us to play a role that isn't really our role. Our role is to ask questions and get information . . . It's not a chance for the opposition to take on the government and grill them to a point where they throw their hands up and surrender. Now obviously there is a contentious spirit there.. but it's not a political exercise, it's a journalistic exercise. And I think often the blogs are looking for us to be political advocates more than journalistic ones."

To which Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald responds: "It is truly astonishing that the people who enabled the administration to spew one falsehood after the next -- and who aided and abetted the worst strategic disaster in our country's history by mindlessly passing those falsehoods along to their readers, completely failing to investigate any of it, but instead obediently validating it all with journalistic approval -- now want to sit around in the most self-satisfied way and pronounce that they are doing an absolutely 'fantastic job' and complain about the vulgar masses who disrupt their tranquility by criticizing them for being insufficiently vigilant.

"And to those American citizens who remain rather angry about the complete failure of the press to scrutinize the war-justifying claims made by their friends in the government -- and who wake up every day and devote themselves to trying to prod the press into performing its intended adversarial watchdog role so that our Government has at least some checks on what it can say and do -- people like Richard Wolffe have nothing to say other than to agree with Tony Snow that they are vulgar and hateful and to lecture them -- in his snidest and most condescending tone -- that they are just ignorant, confused, and unreasonably demanding.

"Truly, the spectacle of watching our country's leading White House journalists sitting there next to Tony Snow -- all of them oozing pomposity and self-satisfaction -- while Snow engineers the entire discussion and treats them like the friendly puppets that they are... is quite difficult to endure, but is nonetheless truly revealing."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Crime Turning New Orleans into the Big Uneasy

I can honestly say, I don't care about New Orleans. At least, I thought that for a good period of time. I passed up every story I came across. Okay okay, things are bad in New Orleans, I got the point! So I thought. This article summed up the current problems very well, and indirectly called me to action. I care.
What I found shocking was that less than half the city has returned... Which means they had enough money to leave in the first place, so who's left? Then I get to thinking about No Child Left Behind. What happened to that brilliant plan? What happened to the American legal system? What happened to the welfare system? What happened????? This city is charged with the grandeur of man, can it truly be destroyed this quickly and easily? Is the precipice we live on truly this fragile?

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans, the "Big Easy" city famous for its good times and relaxed attitude, has become the Big Uneasy in recent weeks as its murder count has soared and anger grown at local leaders unable to stop the violence.

Annual Mardi Gras celebrations unfolded without incident this weekend, but fear of the rampant blood-spilling and its threat to the city's recovery from Hurricane Katrina are constant topics of conversation.

The homicide total for a still-young 2007 climbed to 27 on Saturday with the dead of a man shot at a nightclub on Friday.

He was one of nine people shot in separate incidents in a seven-hour span on Thursday and Friday, and the third of them to die.

Local leaders, worried crime may scare away tourists who are the life-blood of the economy, stressed that the shootings did not take place at Mardi Gras events and assured visitors violent crime is largely restricted to "hot spots," or impoverished neighborhoods where visitors seldom go.

"The truth is that crime traditionally has gone down during Mardi Gras," Mardi Gras historian Arthur Hardy said.

New Orleans has had one of the United States' highest per-capita murder rates for years, but the current violence has added to insecurities in a city worried about its future.

Only about 200,000 of the pre-Katrina population of 480,000 is back and much of the city is still damaged and abandoned. Recent news stories have said a growing number of those who returned are leaving because they are fed up with the slow recovery and the crime.

"If they don't get crime under control, if they can't convince people it's safe to be here, it doesn't matter how much money they get from the federal government, nobody's going to stay," Tulane University criminal justice instructor Ronnie Jones said.


Before Katrina struck on August 29, 2005, there was little public pressure to do something about the number of murders, which peaked in 1994 with 425 killings.

But Katrina hit hard the poor neighborhoods where the murders usually occurred, and brought the criminals closer to wealthier, often mostly white, areas, Jones said.

Several thousand people marched on city hall last month to demand that Mayor Ray Nagin and other officials take action.

The basic complaint was that too many criminals are arrested and then returned to the streets due to poor police work and lax prosecutors and judges.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune found that 3,000 arrested suspects were released in 2006 because prosecutors failed to indict them within the required 60 days. In January 2007, 580 were released for the same reason, the newspaper said.

That compared to 187 in the eight months of 2005 before Katrina brought the criminal justice system almost to a halt, the paper said.

Police blame inept prosecutors for the revolving door; prosecutors say their hands are bound by poor police work. Both say a big problem is that Katrina destroyed New Orleans' police lab, forcing them to borrow facilities to process evidence.

Even before Katrina, a local study found that in 2003-2004 only 12 percent of those arrested for murder went to prison.

The situation is so bad that federal agencies including the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration are helping the local police. The U.S. Attorney's office has stepped into cases previously left to local courts and prosecuting them in the less lenient federal courts.

The larger problem is that New Orleans has too many social problems - drugs, poverty, broken families, poor education - all present before Katrina.

A recent murder encapsulated the difficulties. After a 17-year-old was beaten up, his mother gave him a gun and told him to get revenge, and he killed the boy he fought with.

When police went to his home to investigate, they found the mother with cocaine and a family photo on display of the son with a gun in one hand and a fistful of cash in the other.

"For us to correct this, we have to look at the root of the problem. The root of the problem is our education system," Police Superintendent Warren Riley said in an interview.

Monday, February 19, 2007

High-Water Marketing

WaPo: "Diesel, the fashion brand, now offers a fresh take on the specter of a globally warmed planet:
More beaches!
In print ads promoting its spring/summer collection, the Italian-based clothing company depicts landscapes that have been transformed by environmental disaster. The proud buildings of Manhattan and the presidential faces of Mount Rushmore are half-submerged in water from melted glaciers. Paris is a steamy jungle. Life looks pretty awesome, though. Diesel's models are dressed fashionably if barely (to accommodate the weather) and they lounge amid this hip dystopia in glamorous unconcern, fanning themselves or applying suntan lotion to one another's tawny backs.
The images are stamped: "Global Warming Ready."
These ads are tongue in cheek, but that may not be apparent to anyone but Diesel customers, who've come to expect this sort of thing. In the past, Diesel has run ads advocating the smoking of 145 cigarettes a day (for that "sexy cough") and the drinking of urine to stay young. The company has also attempted to "sponsor" happiness. The irony is of the dark, European sort, best consumed in the company of Gauloises and knowing laughter.
That global warming is being spoofed by a retailer in the pages of Vogue and Esquire suggests that the issue is sufficiently widespread and accepted to have reached the irony tipping-point. It also speaks to the saturation of cause marketing, now part of the advertising ploys of everything from rubber gloves to skis to Hummel figurines. It was perhaps only a matter of time before a company like Diesel upended this with a perspective that is either humorous or insulting, depending on how you take it"

It's A Dirty Job But You Have To Run, Mr. Gore | The Huffington Post

HuffPo"Probably I should not consciously and deliberately forsake my particular calling to do the good which society demands of me, to save the universe from annihilation; and I believe that a like but infinitely greater steadfastness elsewhere is all that now preserves it.
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden Or, Life In The Woods

In a recent interview, former Vice President Al Gore reiterated that he has no intention to run for president. In a way, I don't blame him. At this stage in history, running for the presidency as the successor to George W. Bush is not unlike willingly applying to be Rush Limbaugh's lone detox custodian. Big, big stinky messes to clean up. Nevertheless, Al Gore is absolutely the right man at the right time to "save the universe from annihilation."
Back in the early '90s, after Jay Leno had been hosting The Tonight Show for a year or two, NBC made an offer to David Letterman to take over the show after Leno's contract expired. It's all famously documented in Bill Carter's book The Late Shift.
NBC offered, but thankfully Peter Lassally, the former Tonight Show producer and Letterman's consigliere at that time, stepped in and recommended that Letterman pass. The reason? It wasn't Johnny's Tonight Show anymore. That golden age had passed and someone else had made the show his own. Letterman, it seems, wouldn't have inherited Johnny's Tonight Show, but, instead, Jay Leno's Tonight Show: a vanishing shadow of its former prestige.
Similarly, the presidency Al Gore would inherit isn't the one to which he would've ascended in 2001; the 2009 presidency will be wrought with chaos. I have to hand it to the present field of candidates for their Herculean level of fortitude and their near-suicidal degree of masochism in wanting to dedicate their lives to cleaning up President Bush's erupting dunghill of malfeasance. Whoever wins qualifies as a subject for that Dirty Jobs show on Discovery Channel, with a permanent spot between the rat puckers and septic sludge divers.
It's comforting to think about President Al Gore stepping in and taking bold steps to resolve the greatest issue of our time: the climate crisis. But with the Iraq occupation clearly not going anywhere in the next two years and an array of other top shelf issues reaching critical mass -- issues ranging from the national debt, to health care, to re-establishing our pre-Bush liberties, to curbing free trade, to the insanely daunting task of reuniting America with its formerly enthusiastic allies -- President Al Gore would be forced to spend much of his term (or terms) in office simply cleaning up the mess President Bush left behind.
As I like to point out whenever practical, the last seven years have been a disgusting kind of nightmare -- an alternate reality that should never have taken place thanks to the subversive manipulation of the president's Legion of Doom; manipulation being President Bush's only successful legacy."

New information about Iranian proposal that Condi doesn't remember

WASHINGTON, Feb 16 (IPS) - Karl Rove, then White House senior political advisor for President George W. Bush, received a copy of the secret Iranian proposal for negotiations with the United States from former Republican Congressman Bob Ney in early May 2003, according to an Iranian-American scholar who was then on his Congressional staff.

Ney, who pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to prison in January for his role in the Jack Abramov lobbying scandal, was named by former aide Trita Parsi as an intermediary who took a copy of the Iranian proposal to the White House.

Parsi is now a specialist on Iranian national security policy and president of the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), a non-partisan organisation that supports a negotiated settlement of the conflict between Iran and the United States.

Parsi revealed that the document was delivered specifically to Rove, in an exclusive interview with IPS. Within two hours of the delivery of the document, according to Parsi, Ney received a phone call from Rove confirming his receipt of the document. Parsi said the proposal was delivered to Rove the same week that the State Department received it by fax, which was on or about May 4, 2003, according to the cover letter accompanying it.

Ney was chosen by Swiss Ambassador in Tehran Tim Guldimann to carry the Iranian proposal to the White House, according to Parsi, because he knew the Ohio Congressman to be the only Farsi-speaking member of Congress and particularly interested in Iran.

Guldimann helped the Iranians draft the proposal and passed it on the United States.

The White House press office had not responded to a request for a comment on the account naming Rove as the recipient of the Iranian proposal by midday Friday.

The Iranian proposal for negotiations, which suggested that Iran was willing to consider far-reaching compromises on its nuclear programme, relations with Hezbollah and Hamas and support for a Palestinian peace agreement with Israel as part of a larger peace agreement with the United States, has become a contentious issue between the Bush administration and its critics in and out of Congress.

The identification of Rove as a recipient of the secret Iranian proposal throws new light on the question of who in the Bush administration was aware of the Iranian proposal at the time. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied in Congressional testimony last week that she had seen the Iranian offer in 2003 and even chastised former State Department, National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency official Flynt Leverett for having failed to bring it to her attention at the time.

At a Capital Hill conference on U.S.-Iran relations Wednesday, sponsored by the New America Foundation and NIAC, Leverett responded to Rice's criticism by saying it was "unthinkable that it would not have been brought to her attention" and demanding an apology from her.

In May 2003, both Rove and Rice were considered to be part of Bush's inner circle on foreign policy matters, along with Vice President Dick Cheney. When Bush met with South Korea President Roh Moo-hyun on May 13, for example, the only advisers accompanying him were Rove and Rice.

The revelation that Rove received a copy of the Iranian negotiating proposal within days of the receipt of the State Department makes it appear very unlikely that Rice was not immediately made aware of the document.

The new account of the transmission of a second copy of the Iranian proposal to the White House coincided with the release Wednesday of both the actual text of the proposal as received in Washington and of the cover memo by Ambassador Guldimann which accompanied it. The two documents contradict the suggestion by Rice and by other State Department officials that Guldimann was acting on his own in forwarding the proposal, and that it did not reflect the intentions of the Iranian government.

The two documents were made available on the website of the Washington Post online edition in connection with a story by Post reporter Glenn Kessler. Kessler wrote that they had been provided by "a source who felt its contents were mischaracterised by State Department officials."

The memo from Guldimann, dated May 4, confirms previous reports that the Iranian proposal was drafted by the Iranian Ambassador in Paris Sadeq Kharrazi, in consultation with Guldimann but only after extensive discussions between Kharrazi and the three top figures in Iranian foreign policy: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, then President Mohammad Khatami and his Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.

As the memo notes, Ambassador Kharrazi, a former deputy foreign minister, was extremely well connected to the very top level of Iranian leadership. Khamenei's son is married to his sister, and the foreign minister is his uncle.

The memo recounts that a first draft of what was to be called a "roadmap" was done by Ambassador Kharazzi with Guldimann's help during a long discussion on Apr. 21, 2003. It was that document that Parsi later obtained from Iranian sources and has been reported in previous accounts of the proposal. After that initial meeting Kharrazi had two long meetings with Khamenei, President Khatami and the foreign minister which he reported as lasting a total of four hours.

According to Kharrazi's account, the three leaders agreed on "85%-90%" of the draft roadmap, with the president and foreign minister voicing no objection and Khamenei raising "some reservations as for some points". Guldimann reported in his memo that Kharrazi asked him at a meeting on May 2 to make "some minor changes in the previous draft," especially on the Middle East peace process.

In the final draft, which has now been made public, the bullet point on "U.S. aims" on the Middle East regarding the Palestinian-Israeli peace issue was changed from "acceptance of the Arab League Beirut declaration (Saudi initiative, two states-approach)" to simply "acceptance of the two-states-approach".

The intention behind that shift is made clearer by the only other substantive change in the newly released final draft. In the discussion of a possible "decision on the first mutual steps" the document suggests that the Iranians would issue a "statement that it supports a peaceful solution in the Middle East, that it accepts a solution which is accepted by the Palestinians and that it follows with interest the discussion on the Roadmap, presented by the Quartet." That formula would allow the Iranian side to maintain a position of support for "the Palestinians" in negotiations with Washington.

Guldimann's memo reports that Kharrazi told him all three leaders supported the initiative. But the Iranian diplomat asked him if he could pass the proposal "very confidentially to someone very high in the DoS [Department of State] in order to get to know the U.S. reaction on it." He also warned that, "if the initiative failed, and if anything about the new Iranian flexibility outline in it became known, they would -- also for internal reasons -- not be bound by it."

That was a clear indication that the Iranian leaders were afraid that their conservative critics would attack them if such a proposal did not bring desired results, charging that it showed weakness.

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. His latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in June 2005. (END/2007)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mummified man found in front of TV, still on

By Sandra Peddie and Susana Enriquez, Newsday
February 18, 2007

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Southampton police responding to burst water pipes in a Hampton Bays home found the mummified body of the owner — dead for more than a year — sitting in a chair in front of a television.

The television was still on.

Vincenzo Riccardi, 70, appeared to have died of natural causes in his home, said Dr. Stuart Dawson, Suffolk County deputy chief medical examiner.

The medical examiner's office considered Riccardi's body mummified because the lack of humidity in his home preserved his features, morgue assistant Jeff Bacchus said.

"You could see his face. He still had hair on his head," Bacchus said. "I've never seen anyone dead that long."

Police and county sources said Riccardi, whose body was found Thursday, had not been heard from since December 2005. The medical examiners said they were baffled as to why the electricity would be on in the home all that time.

"He was in his house, sitting in his chair, as if watching television, and the television was, in fact, still on," Dawson said.

Riccardi lived alone; his wife had died years ago, Dawson said. Mail had piled up, but then delivery stopped.

Neighbors said Riccardi had diabetes and had become blind in his 50s. His house was up a long driveway and could not be seen from the street.

What Did Rove Know And When Did He Know It?

Asked by one of Libby's lawyers if he had talked about Plame with anybody else before outing her in his column, Novak said he'd discussed her with a lobbyist named Richard Hohlt. Who, the lawyer pressed, is Hohlt? "He's a very good source of mine" whom I talk to "every day," Novak replied. Indeed, Hohlt is such a good source that after Novak finished his column naming Plame, he testified, he did something most journalists rarely do: he gave the lobbyist an advance copy of his column. What Novak didn't tell the jury is what the lobbyist then did with it: Hohlt confirmed to NEWSWEEK that he faxed the forthcoming column to their mutual friend Karl Rove (one of Novak's sources for the Plame leak), thereby giving the White House a heads up on the bombshell to come.…

After Novak first told Hohlt that he was working on a hot story about ex-ambassador Joe Wilson, Hohlt says he e-mailed Rove to expect a phone call from Novak. Then Hohlt began pressing Novak to learn the juicy details. On July 11, 2003, three days before the column was published, Novak gave him a preview copy. (Unknown to Hohlt, Rove had already confirmed to Novak that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.) That same day, Hohlt e-mailed details about the column to Rove, and later faxed him the entire unpublished article. (Rove's lawyer confirms this account.) "I was just trying to be helpful," Hohlt says. His role as a go-between later earned him a visit from the FBI, but it stayed secret until now. And that was just fine with Hohlt, who says that his greatest accomplishment as a lobbyist has been "staying out of the press." Thanks to last week's testimony, his cover—like Valerie Plame's—is now blown.

Wonder if Karl was forthcoming with the Special Prosecutor, the FBI and the grand jury about this? If Luskin is confirming it to the press, one would hope so. I'll ask this question again: why does Karl Rove still have a high level security clearance?

Wolf as underdog by Amy Goodman

Josh Wolf, videographer and blogger, is now the journalist imprisoned longest in U.S. history for refusing to comply with a subpoena. He has been locked up in federal prison for close to six months. In July 2005, Wolf was covering a San Francisco protest against the G-8 summit in Scotland. (G-8 stands for the Group of Eight industrialized nations: Britain, France, Russia, Germany, the U.S., Japan, Italy and Canada.) He posted video to the Web and sold some video to a local broadcast-news outlet. The authorities wanted him to turn over the original tapes and to testify. He refused.

In a recent court filing, U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan says it’s only in Wolf’s “imagination that he is a journalist.”

The Society of Professional Journalists must be equally imaginative. Their Northern California chapter named Josh Wolf journalist of the year for 2006, and in March will give him the James Madison Freedom of Information Award. “Josh’s commitment to a free and unfettered press deserves profound respect,” SPJ National President Christine Tatum said.

The SPJ is also honoring San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, who faced prison for refusing to reveal who leaked grand-jury testimony about steroid use in baseball. Williams and Fainaru-Wada had remained free pending appeal [see news update]. The problem for Wolf? Independence. He lacks the backing of a large media organization that could agitate to protect his rights. As Wolf observes, there is “definitely a divergence between how the government’s handled my situation as an independent journalist and how they’ve dealt with the corporate media, which have also been found in civil contempt.”

The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom ... of the press.” By forcing journalists to hand over tapes, notes and other material, and to testify, the government is making just such a law. Whistle-blowers and others in dangerous situations will no longer come forward to provide information to reporters if they think their names will be divulged. Journalists must be free to protect their sources and to report the truth if our democracy is to function.

Wolf’s lawyer, Martin Garbus, one of the nation’s leading First Amendment attorneys, says the government has done an end run around California’s shield law, which would have guaranteed Wolf protection. The authorities called on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, or JTTF, which moved the case to federal court, where no shield law exists (as reporters in the Valerie Plame case discovered).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

For teen daters, a cellphone can be an abusive leash

A new study raises concerns about how communication technology can facilitate teen dating abuse.
"For teens, cellphones are an essential tool for everything from social networking to video games. For parents, knowing their child has a cellphone provides a sense of security. But for a substantial number of teens who are dating, communications on cellphones and computers are taking a turn toward obsession and abuse.
It's a side of kids' social lives that many parents aren't aware of, according to a study released last week by Liz Claiborne Inc. In partnership with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the company has also just launched, the first national website and 24-hour help line that specifically addresses teen dating abuse.
In the survey, conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, 20 to 30 percent of teens who had been in relationships said their partner had constantly checked in on them, had harassed or insulted them, or had made unwanted requests for sexual activity, all via cellphones or text messages. One out of 4 reported hourly contact with a dating partner between midnight and 5 a.m. – in some cases, 30 times per hour. And 1 out of 10 had received physical threats electronically. A much smaller percentage of parents reported that their teens had had such experiences.
"Dating violence has always had this core feature ... of trying to control the thoughts, feelings, and actions of another person," says Julie Kahn, program director of the Transition House Dating Violence Intervention Program in Cambridge, Mass. "When you add the technological piece, there are more ways to track someone, to keep someone on an 'electronic leash,' if you will.""

Monday, February 12, 2007

Catch The Carbon, Win A $25M Prize

We used to think scientists were driven by the sense of fulfillment that comes with spearheading human technological progress, the thrill of discovery, or the love of nature -- not just money. Yet Richard Branson, who is presumably motivated by money just as much as he is by obligation to the planet, seems to believe cold hard cash is just the right incentive to get the world's scientists to discover how to blunt climate change.

Standing together with the former U.S. vice president Al Gore on Friday, the Virgin Group founder announced a $25 million prize for the first scientist who figured out a way to extract greenhouse gases from the planet's atmosphere. He compared the offer the 17th quest for longitude, sparked when the British Parliament offered a £20,000 prize to anyone to could find a way to locate the point on the open sea.

Top Cheney Adviser: 2007 "Is The Year of Iran"

Top Cheney Adviser: 2007 "Is The Year of Iran"
The Washington Post reports that at a recent meeting, Vice President Cheney's national security adviser John Hannah said 2007 is "the year of Iran."

It’s No Laughing Matter, George

At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. 'I'm the grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers,' said Soroush, 'and I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime we all despise will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized.'
'I know,' President Bush answered.
'But does Vice President Cheney know?' asked Soroush.
President Bush chuckled and walked away."

Friday, February 09, 2007

old-style news more vital now

On a day when his "World News" would open with new findings on the prevalence of autism in this country rather than the death of model/litigant Anna Nicole Smith, ABC anchor Charles Gibson was thinking aloud.

Now that people get what they want the way they want on the Internet, where does that leave those mainstream media outlets that, in traditional fashion, pair the news people want with the news it is thought they need?

"I'm getting on a high horse here, and I haven't really worked this through, but in many respects the oft-now-derided MSM become more important rather than less important in the Web age," said Gibson, who will anchor "World News" from Chicago on Monday and Tuesday.

"You are choosing the particular kind of news that's interesting to you. We become more important because our mission is to expose you to things you wouldn't have clicked on."

Pentagon report confirms Iraq/al Qaeda intel was "dubious" -- a "devastating condemnation" of Bush Iraq policy

by Joe in DC
A report from the Pentagon's Inspector General used the word 'dubious' to describe the intelligence provided by Douglas Feith, an neocon who served as Undersecretary of Defense. Feith basically substituted the political agenda of George Bush for the work of the U.S. intelligence community as he tried to manufacture links between al Qaeda and Iraq. So much of what we all need to know about the Bush Administration is summed up in the response from Feith to The Washington Post:In a telephone interview yesterday, Feith emphasized the inspector general's conclusion that his actions, described in the report as 'inappropriate,' were not unlawful.Inappropriate, not unlawful. Tell that to the families of dead soldiers here or any of the Iraqis who've lost family members. The new standard for the Bush team is, hey, we didn't break the law, we just lied and manipulated evidence so we'd go to war with Iraq -- without a plan. Senator Carl Levin has a more apt description: 'The bottom line is that intelligence relating to the Iraq-al-Qaeda relationship was manipulated by high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the administration's decision to invade Iraq,' Levin said yesterday. 'The inspector general's report is a devastating condemnation of inappropriate activities in the DOD policy office that helped take this nation to war.'Now, that's an accurate assessment."

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Beam Me Up..... Lene

Physicists have for the first time stopped and extinguished a light pulse in one part of space and then revived it in a completely separate location. They accomplished this feat by completely converting the light pulse into matter that travels between the two locations and is subsequently changed back to light.

Matter, unlike light, can easily be manipulated, and the experiments provide a powerful means to control optical information. The findings, published this week by Harvard University researchers in the journal Nature, could present an entirely new way for scientists and engineers to manipulate the light pulses used in fiber-optic communications, the technology at the heart of our highly networked society.
"We demonstrate that we can stop a light pulse in a supercooled sodium cloud, store the data contained within it, and totally extinguish it, only to reincarnate the pulse in another cloud two-tenths of a millimeter away," says Lene Vestergaard Hau, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Hau and her co-authors, Naomi S. Ginsberg and Sean R. Garner, found that the light pulse can be revived, and its information transferred between the two clouds of sodium atoms, by converting the original optical pulse into a traveling matter wave which is an exact matter copy of the original pulse, traveling at a leisurely 200 meters per hour. The matter pulse is readily converted back into light when it enters the second of the supercooled clouds -- known as Bose-Einstein condensates -- and is illuminated with a control laser.
"The Bose-Einstein condensates are very important to this work because within these clouds atoms become phase-locked, losing their individuality and independence," Hau says. "The lock-step nature of atoms in a Bose-Einstein condensate makes it possible for the information in the initial light pulse to be replicated exactly within the second cloud of sodium atoms, where the atoms collaborate to revive the light pulse."................ Story Continues

*the future of physics is beyond anything we can imagine... don't ya think?

Media Quote of the Day | The Huffington Post

Michael Sonnenschein Posted Wednesday February 7, 2007 at 03:58 PM
'I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care, either.'
Arthur Sulzberger in Haaretz
In the interview, Sulzberger also confirms that after its official launch, Times Reader, the paper's internet edition for newspaper traditionalists, will be a pay service. Right now, it's in beta, and free.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Goodbye Mars, farewell Europa, adios ET. The ‘Dawn’ of my discontent approaches, or does she fade? Either way the ‘Dawn’ is gone. Dawn, an asteroid orbiter, granted with the mission of obtaining insight into the birth of our planet, is the first to be fueled by ion propulsion. Or is that was?

Dawn is but one of many programs the Bush Administration’s budget is forcing into a new day, of which we know not when that sun will rise. Congress is all but certain to pass this budget, which will also pass along my hope for any serious and meaningful scientific and astronomical discoveries in the coming decades.

Instead of setting our feet on a red desert we will continue to sacrifice those same limbs in the yellow sands of Iraq. Instead of confirming the existence of life circling foreign stars, we will continue to be drudged down in Dogma that our planet is the one and only creation of a god. Meanwhile, organisms lurking in our own solar system will continue to hide in the shadows of minds with the capacity to calculate life’s commonplace. And while we have inarguably been inept at keeping our feet planted in one region, from the exodus of Africa to the spread across the globe, from the exodus of Earth in a chunk of tin, to the landing on the moon, the next step will remain as far away tomorrow as it does today.

Of the most awe inspiring and uniquely human endeavors to be destroyed is the terrestrial planet finder (TPF). A series of telescopes, flying in formation, would search for signs of life around other stars. The power of this formation would dwarf that of Hubble, which has offered us the most astonishing sights ever viewed. To think yesterday we were 14 years away from having that ever-sought after answer to the question. You know the one. Are we alone? But today one man has the authority to delay the answer indefinitely.

A separate program, a nuclear propulsion system, offered us the ability to reach Mars in two years, making it entirely plausible to set foot upon another planet. Scratched.

This is all part of Bush’s “Vision For Space Exploration.” But the only space I can see is that between his arrogance and his vapidity.

Coincidentally, Bush nixed Hubble’s budget a few years back, and this week Hubble’s main camera went offline. The camera gave us the deep space view, as seen below. Our “Vision” of space as Bush views it has just gotten a hell of a lot less clear.

Winning Hearts and Minds

Keith Olbermann featured this video on his Friday broadcast and it has haunted me since.
Watch video.
There is so much about this that bothers me. First, the very reality that the reason the Humvee driver is driving this way is because they are afraid of an attack if they slow down. Listen at the end of the video to the disdain one troop member expresses towards a pedestrian: as if he hasn't got a care in the world.' Because these guys are aware that every day every assignment could be their last. Can you imagine what the constant state of stress like that has done to our troops, especially after two, three, four tours? And now with Bush's escalation, the likelihood that their tours will be extended again. PTSD doesn't begin to cover it. And yet, the Bush Adminstration has made it harder to get a diagnosis of PTSD and reduced vet benefits on top of that.
And then my thoughts go to the Iraqis. Can you imagine having your country occupied by another nation and be subjected to this kind of bullying behavior every day? Watch as the Humvee runs into car after car to force them to pull to the side and narrowly misses pedestrians. Is this the liberation we promised them? Are our actions in Iraq winning their hearts and minds to the benefits of a democracy?
As Adam said in the email with the link to this clip, 'Is there a clearer indication that our presence in Iraq is hurting us?'"

Friday, February 02, 2007

Stolen baby formula ring busted up

STUART - (AP) -- A ring of thieves that stole $48,000 worth of baby formula from grocery stores has been broken up with the arrest of seven people, law enforcement officials said.
The seven were arrested after an informant contacted the Florida Department of Enforcement that the group planned to steal formula at a Winn-Dixie in Hobe Sound and then a Publix in Stuart, officials said Thursday.
FDLE agents contacted the Publix's store manager while two men and two women were still inside the store Wednesday. The manager confronted them and they ran, getting into a car and driving off before they could be captured.
The informant helped investigators track the suspects to a motel. They were followed to a storage unit, where officials say they were seen unloading stolen baby formula. They were then arrested.
Baby formula in recent years has become a hot black market item, federal law enforcement authorities told The Palm Beach Post. Over the years, federal investigators have arrested people suspected of making millions selling stolen formula.
Officials so far this year have uncovered theft rings with links to Tennessee, Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas. In Florida, five women were arrested in Port St. Lucie in 2004 when surveillance footage caught them hiding cans of formula in their purses.
Most of the stolen baby food is repackaged and sold, which health experts say poses a potential danger to infants. Drug dealers also sometimes use the powdered formula to cut cocaine.
A 25.7-ounce can of powdered Similac formula costs about $25."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Stand up against the surge

Molly's last column dated 1-11-07

It's up to us to make it stop

The purpose of this old-fashioned newspaper crusade to stop the war is
not to make George W. Bush look like the dumbest president ever. People
have done dumber things. What were they thinking when they bought into
the Bay of Pigs fiasco? How dumb was the Egypt-Suez war? How massively
stupid was the entire war in Vietnam? Even at that, the challenge with
this misbegotten adventure is that WE simply cannot let it continue.
It is not a matter of whether we will lose or we are losing. We have
lost. Gen. John P. Abizaid, until recently the senior commander in the
Middle East, insists that the answer to our problems there is not
military. 'You have to internationalize the problem. You have to attack it
diplomatically, geo-strategically,' he said.
His assessment is supported by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior
American commander in Iraq, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who only
recommend releasing forces with a clear definition of the goals for the
additional troops.
Bush's call for a 'surge' or 'escalation' also goes against the Iraq
Study Group. Talk is that the White House has planned to do anything but
what the group suggested after months of investigation and proposals
based on much broader strategic implications.
About the only politician out there besides Bush actively calling for a surge is Sen. John McCain. In a recent opinion piece, he wrote: "The presence of additional coalition forces would allow the Iraqi government to do what it cannot accomplish today on its own -- impose its rule throughout the country. ... By surging troops and bringing security to Baghdad and other areas, we will give the Iraqis the best possible chance to succeed." But with all due respect to the senator from Arizona, that ship has long since sailed.

A surge is not acceptable to the people in this country -- we have voted overwhelmingly against this war in polls (about 80 percent of the public is against escalation, and a recent Military Times poll shows only 38 percent of active military want more troops sent) and at the polls. We know this is wrong. The people understand, the people have the right to make this decision, and the people have the obligation to make sure our will is implemented.

Congress must work for the people in the resolution of this fiasco. Ted Kennedy's proposal to control the money and tighten oversight is a welcome first step. And if Republicans want to continue to rubber-stamp this administration's idiotic "plans" and go against the will of the people, they should be thrown out as soon as possible, to join their recent colleagues.

Anyone who wants to talk knowledgably about our Iraq misadventure should pick up Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone." It’s like reading a horror novel. You just want to put your face down and moan: How could we have let this happen? How could we have been so stupid?

As The Washington Post's review notes, Chandrasekaran's book "methodically documents the baffling ineptitude that dominated U.S. attempts to influence Iraq's fiendish politics, rebuild the electrical grid, privatize the economy, run the oil industry, recruit expert staff or instill a modicum of normalcy to the lives of Iraqis."

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

A Tribute to Molly by Mark Russell - The Texas Observer

There are a few moments in my life that I will remember forever. A couple that come to mind took place in Austin on the same weekend. Molly Ivins was a part of both. One took place in Liz Carpenter’s bedroom. Ann Richards and I were conned into lying together on Liz’s bed to see the perfect view of the Texas Tower and the state Capitol dome framed by the steam erupting from Liz’s hot tub. If I remember it correctly, it was Molly who took the photo—at least she was in the bedroom adding to the general laughter and ribald comments that rang out as Liz hit buttons on her bed to make it vibrate.

Another was a Molly-led tour of the Texas Capitol. The Legislature was in session, and I was concerned that walking through the building with Molly would be like trespassing through the headquarters of the Marine Corps with Jane Fonda. I needn’t have been concerned. Far from it, there was glad-handing all around, “Hey Molly, how’re yew?” from liberals and troglodytes alike. All we met were very outgoing to their resident scold. She once described her reception by the erstwhile villains, thus:

“So in my early days at the Observer, when I would denounce some sorry sumbitch at the Lege as an egg-suckin’ child molester who ran on all fours and had the brains of an adolescent pissant, I would courageously prepare myself to be horsewhipped at least. All that ever happened was, I’d see the sumbitch in the Capitol the next day; he’d beam, spread his arms, and say, ‘Baby! Yew put a mah name in your paper!’”

Molly also arranged my legislative stand-up debut with Speaker of the House Pete Laney. It was decided that I’d address the Legislature and tell a few jokes in the interest of a mirth diversion from the day’s business. My debut was postponed when we realized the day’s business turned out to be a shouting match over a hate-crime bill. We adjourned to her house for lunch. One lasting and prophetic memory from her that day—nearly 10 years ago, when George W. Bush was still governor: Molly said, “Tuck this name in the back of your mind—Karl Rove. That’s Karl—mitt a ‘K’.”

Most people who speak for a living will tell you that every plaque or award represents a free speech. Some people put them up on their walls. Molly used them as trivets. Molly didn’t rest on her laurels, she ate off of them.

Molly always had one up on her muckracking antecendents like Ida Tarbell and Edna Ferber. They never took a moment to be playful as did Molly, to the extent that any given column was at once an on-target essay and an earthy laugh-out-loud article to be clipped and sent to friends who weren’t able to see her column on a regular basis. She once inscribed a book, “Can you believe God gave me all this material free?” But my absolute favorite Molly Ivins line is: “If God keeps hangin’ around with politicians, it’s gonna hurt his reputation.”

I bring up Ida Tarbell because her doggedness in exposing the strong-arm corporate tactics of Standard Oil over a century ago opened the door to the journalistic snooping in Molly Ivin’s native state of the Awl Bidness.

And what a fertile field. The “awl bidness” begat real estate, banks, elected officials, lobbyists, and yes, Molly’s prime targets of opportunity, our presidential father-and-son team. (It once took me several minutes to explain the meaning of the world “Dubya” to an elderly lady from New York.)

Molly upheld a tradition described by Kathleen Brady in Ida Tarbell, Portrait of a Muckraker.

These writers believed in the ideas of the country at the same time they exposed its hypocrisy. All were from pioneer stock, reared by hard-working parents on the principle of plain living, inspired by American history, and reverential toward Lincoln. They had the American penchant for facts over philosophy, and they not only searched for corruption, they also unmasked power in America and found that that power did not rest with the people. The writers pointed out what needed to be changed, and fully believed in the fundamental rightness of things as they had been when the individual entrepreneur and the farmer were America’s kings.

Sadly, we have one less lovable watchdog amid a shortage of good ones. The ranks, alas, are thinning—Art Buchwald and now Molly Ivins. The thought of slogging through the next two years without either of them is no laughing matter.

One final Molly story. A number of years ago I was hired to speak before the Wichita, Kansas, Chamber of Commerce. Upon my arrival, several people alluded to some vague sort of mishap that had occurred surrounding the appearance of Molly Ivins, their previous speaker, some months earlier. No specifics were given, only that something had happened.

Prior to my performance, I could overhear snippets of conversation along the lines of, “Molly Ivins this, and Molly Ivins that” interspersed with words like “shocking,” “unsuitable,” and “certainly inappropriate for Wichita.” What was it about Molly’s appearance that still had everyone buzzing about it six months later? An over-the-line political opinion, perhaps? A subversive rant? A polemic suggestion that Alf Landon and Robert Dole were the evil twins of the prairie? “What did Molly Ivins say?” I asked the woman seated next to me. “I cannot tell you,” the woman snapped and turned away.

Later, during a reception, the Molly talk continued without any helpful specifics. Finally, I grabbed a couple I had met earlier and begged for an explanation. At this point I was going nuts with curiosity as to what assault had been waged on the tender ears of the Sunflower State by the visitor from Texas. The gentleman suggested we step into the hall, at which point I lost all patience and hollered, “WHAT IN THE HELL DID MOLLY IVINS SAY?” The guy lowered his voice and, looking over his shoulder, said, “Well, when she spoke at the banquet, she said that the three most overrated things in America are Mack trucks, teenage pussy, and the FBI.”

As they say in Austin, that’s ole Molly. I just wish I had asked her if it was the Mack trucks part that offended the folks in Wichita.

The Mark Russell is a Washington political humorist.