Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Subconcious Brain - Who's Minding the Mind?

NY Times: "In a recent experiment, psychologists at Yale altered people’s judgments of a stranger by handing them a cup of coffee.
The study participants, college students, had no idea that their social instincts were being deliberately manipulated. On the way to the laboratory, they had bumped into a laboratory assistant, who was holding textbooks, a clipboard, papers and a cup of hot or iced coffee — and asked for a hand with the cup.
That was all it took: The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup of hot java.
Findings like this one, as improbable as they seem, have poured forth in psychological research over the last few years. New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” — all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it.
Psychologists say that “priming” people in this way is not some form of hypnotism, or even subliminal seduction; rather, it’s a demonstration of how everyday sights, smells and sounds can selectively activate goals or motives that people already have.
More fundamentally, the new studies reveal a subconscious brain that is far more active, purposeful and independent than previously known. Goals, whether to eat, mate or devour an iced latte, are like neural software programs that can only be run one at a time, and the unconscious is perfectly capable of running the program it chooses."

'I'm About to Lose You'

Cell users are griping, and Washington is listening.

Aug. 6, 2007 issue - Hate your cell-phone company? If you answered yes (and chances are you did), just be thankful you're not one of the 175,000 customers of bankrupt Amp'd Mobile who were informed last week, by text message, "Your svc may be disconnected" in 48 hours. Or one of the Verizon users recently dropped for going over the 5 gigabyte limit on the company's "unlimited" data plan. Or one of the 1,000 Sprint Nextel subscribers let go last month for calling customer service too frequently. (A Sprint spokesperson says the company felt that since the customers still weren't satisfied after repeated calls, that "indicated they'd likely be happier using another service.") No wonder the cell-phone industry ranks among the bottom five businesses in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

But customers may be getting some satisfaction out of Washington. The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held hearings this month to discuss whether wireless companies should be regulated at the federal level rather than by state public utility commissions, and to consider possible rules for the wireless broadband market. Holding up a new iPhone, Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts asked why it was fair to charge early termination fees for a device that costs $500 or more and can only be used on AT&T's network. "Instead of innovating, the wireless industry has become a cozy cartel of a few dominant providers," Chris Murray, senior counsel for Consumer Reports publisher Consumers Union, testified at a July 11 hearing.

Critics point to several industry practices they see as unfair: high termination fees for switching cell providers before a contract is up; handsets that only work with a single carrier; and limitations that providers place on customer access to certain Web sites, so that the companies can charge for the content. Carriers say these practices are simply part of the business model that allows them to stay profitable, and that the restrictions on handsets and Internet content are there to keep the networks secure. Detractors point out that European cell carriers operate without any such restrictions.

The specter of stricter oversight has carriers spooked. Steve Zipperstein, general counsel for Verizon Wireless, reminded Congress that, so far, "the marketplace, not government intervention, has addressed concerns about wireless carriers." And industry lobbying group CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association) filed a brief last week with the FCC refuting that European cell users enjoy better wireless service. That's a "romantic fallacy," said John Walls, vice president of CTIA. "You have all these high level proceedings going on making the claim that the industry is an oligopoly ... The claims are dead wrong."

Cell carriers do admit they have an image problem, however. "It is an industry that, for years, hasn't been viewed as caring about their customers," says Sue Nokes, senior vice president of sales and customer service at T-Mobile (she hastens to add that her firm is an exception). Until now, customers have only been able to express their dissatisfaction with their feet—leading to an attrition rate at some carriers of one third of their customers per year. Now that Washington is listening, though, customers may finally get an answer to their plea, "Can you hear me now?"


FYI: I've updated "It's Like This." EVERY article is new. For those who care, enjoy.

The Left Fringe Needs to Quit Being Scared of the Fox

by John Ridley
So I was going through my favorite news, information, pop culture websites this past weekend when I came across an interesting post. It was put up by your typical anonymous responder #54 (okay, truth be told he was the first responder on the thread, but I'm pretty sure Guido was not the cat's true name) who blasted Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis) for appearing on Fox News Sunday as being "this week's FOX Democrat. Shame on him."
Put a hex on Feingold for showing up on Fox news?
Okay, disclosure: I'm from Wisconsin, and cast my last presidential vote there. Except for McCarthy and Dahmer I like all things Badger State.
That said, I saw Feingold on FNS. He acquitted himself excellently.
Chris Wallace asked questions that could be considered only somewhat vast rightwing conspiracy slanted, if at all. But there was certainly nothing from so far left...well, right field that Feingold couldn't handle it. Why, then, "shame on him" for NOT being afraid to take it to the "other guy's" house and state his case? For me the shame oughta be on guys like Guido; the left leaners who want to flay Democrats for having the meat to stand in the Foxlight.
Obviously, Fox News makes its bank in extreme opinion. I've already registered my disgust with John Gibson who is NOT a racist. He's just an old white guy who thinks white people oughta maintain their white dominance by having lots of white babies. But does Fox opine any less than Keith Olbermann or Chris Matthews over at MSNBC (another disclosure, I co host Morning Joe on the network, though I hope by now that's not actually a disclosure for anyone anymore)?
The far left fringe feasting on their own is, of course, hardly a new phenomenon. There are nearly half a dozen pejoratives reserved for any liberal who would dare to be a guest of "the enemy." Quite ironic when you consider that House Speaker Nancy had no fear of slapping on a do-rag and having a siddown with actual "enemy" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (as have Republicans), and in light of the current Obama/Clinton dust up over Obama's remarks that he would go "toe to toe with the leaders of rogue nations."
And why not? if Nixon could stare down China, if Reagan could do the same to the Soviets, why should the Dems cower before aggressors?
They shouldn't.
And why should elements of the far left slam Dems who have no fear of li'l ole Fox News?
They should not.
And yet they do, and do so to the detriment of their own party. For the Dems to participate in the circus-like YouTube debate, only to run from the Fox News/Congressional Black Caucus debate is seriously weak. More so when you consider the exodus was largely driven by far left leaning websites.
If the far left wanna monitor and watch and hound the Fox, please by all means. Though I wish they would do the same for the New York Times, which has bumbled through substantially more scandalous reporting in the last ten years. But for Pete's sake, leave fearless Wisconsinites like Feingold alone. Dems like him are at least trying to dig up the mantle of tough guys (and gals) the party misplaced somewhere between the eras of Humphrey and Carter.
They should not allow the "cry on their Sunday dress" bunch to trip 'em up.

The Most Powerful People You've Never Heard Of

Radar Online: "hen Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim Helu overtook Bill Gates this month to become the richest man in the world, many Americans were taken by surprise. "Carlos who?" they asked skeptically, perplexed by the idea that Mexicans could even make money on the other side of the border.
With $68 billion in assets, Slim's power and influence are beyond compare in Mexico, where his wealth makes up a startling eight percent of the country's GDP. Unfortunately, now that his jowly mug has reached nationwide CNN saturation, he's officially out of contention for our list of the most powerful people you've never heard of. But there are plenty more where he came from. From the female Vice Premier of China, to the man who controls the largest private army in the world, Radar presents the unknown power brokers, and the puppet masters who prefer to remain in the shadows."

I just returned from Falafel Bill's house

by Mike Stark

Tue Jul 31, 2007 at 06:34:58 AM PDT

After O'Reilly provided an "accountability moment" to the JetBlue CEO at his home, I decided to provide O'Reilly with his own accountability moment at his home.

I've just returned to home base.

I've got video of O'Reilly in his sleepwear (red shorts and a white t-shirt). I delivered the Andrea Mackris Court filings to all of his neighors - every home in his development got a copy. And I put a bunch of signs up along his street - "Bill O'Reilly: Andrea Mackris has your cash" directly across from his house; "Bill O'Reilly: PERVERT" in front of his home; "Bill O'Reilly: CHEATER" on the road he must take to exit his development and "Bill O'Reilly: Can't be trusted with your daughters" at the landmark boulder marking the entrance to his development.

We had an interesting conversation - not too explosive, but I think a lot of people will be entertained.

Video soon (I'd like to debut it a YearlyKos - until then, I've got pictures to share).

Special thanks to Ken from DownWithTyranny, without whom this could not have been done.

Photos by Alan Zimmerman.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Today's in, a window to the world

Germany's McDonald's protested
A police officer in Germany looks into the construction site of the first McDonald's restaurant in Berlin's Kreuzberg district on Saturday. The message on the fence is German for "No McDump." The police had stopped an unplanned protest against the restaurant.

Heat wave grips China
People pack an indoor swimming pool Sunday in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu Province, China, where a heatwave has been hovering over the area.

Busy? Rent a pet

SAN FRANCISCO - From the state that popularized purse puppies, drive-through dog washes and gourmet dog food delivery comes the latest in canine convenience -- a company that contracts out dogs by the day to urbanites without the time or space to care for a pet full time.

Marlena Cervantes, founder of FlexPetz, bristles when people refer to her 5-month-old business as a rent-a-pet service. She prefers "shared pet ownership," explaining the concept is more akin to a vacation time share or a gym membership.

"Our members are responsible in that they realize full-time ownership is not an option for them and would be unfair to the dog," said Cervantes, 32, a behavioral therapist who got the idea while working with pets and autistic children. "It prevents dogs from being adopted and then returned to the shelter by people who realize it wasn't a good fit."

FlexPetz is currently available in Los Angeles and San Diego, where Cervantes lives. She plans to open new locations in San Francisco next month, New York in September and London by the end of the year.

The youngest member of the Supreme Court, but the one with the most authority, Suffers Seizure

WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John Roberts suffered a seizure at his summer home in Maine on Monday, causing a fall that resulted in minor scrapes, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.

He will remain in a hospital in Maine overnight.

"It's my understanding he's fully recovered, said Christopher Burke, a spokesman for Penobscot Bay Medical Center, where Roberts was taken.

Roberts, 52, was taken by ambulance to the medical center, where he underwent a "thorough neurological evaluation, which revealed no cause for concern," Arberg said in a statement.

Blogger fest a magnet for liberal politicos

Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2007
The second annual gathering of the Daily Kos political blog starts this week in Chicago, and here's all you need to know about how influential the YearlyKos convention has become: Five top presidential candidates are going -- including front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, even though the Kos bloggers don't like her that much.
[ Podcast: Durst riffs on the recent CNN-YouTube Democratic debate.]
Analysts say the community of liberal online activists -- the "netroots" -- has become not only a coveted constituency for the left but a legitimate threat to conservatives, who trail Democrats in online campaigning and fundraising.
Another sign of the growing power of the Daily Kos convention is that none of the attending Democratic hopefuls -- including Sens. Barack Obama and Chris Dodd, former Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson -- are scheduled to appear at the Democratic Leadership Council gathering this weekend in Tennessee. The DLC is the moderate organization that former President Bill Clinton led for two years before beginning his successful campaign for the White House in 1992.
"It's hilarious that (Hillary Clinton's) not even attending her own group," said Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, the Berkeley resident who founded Daily Kos in 2002, and whose nickname, "Kos," supplies the moniker for the blog where 500,000 regularly visit.
Most liberal bloggers detest Clinton for her 2002 vote authorizing President Bush to pursue military action in Iraq. In Daily Kos' monthly presidential straw polls, "No Freaking Clue" frequently has drawn more votes than Clinton.
Yet Clinton's relationship with liberal bloggers may be starting to thaw. This week, she sent her spokesman to defend the Kos bloggers against attacks made by Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly on JetBlue Airways, the convention's most prominent corporate sponsor. And in the latest Kos straw poll of more than 15,000 voters this week, Clinton edged "No Freaking Clue" -- by three percentage points.
While Democrats flock to Kos, conservatives have ramped up their attacks. Last week on "Fox News Sunday," Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative journal the Weekly Standard, described Moulitsas as "the left-wing blogger who was not respectable three or four years ago. Now the whole party is going to pay court to him and to left-wing blogs." Kristol predicted it would hurt the Democrats.
On Friday, the Republican National Committee sent reporters a set of YearlyKos talking points with a headline that read, "Democrat Candidates Plan Panderfest To 'Liberal Partisans' At YearlyKos Convention."
"These guys (the liberal political bloggers) have power now. They can change elections," said Michael Cornfield, adjunct professor in political management at George Washington University and author of "Politics Moves Online: Campaigning."

Can Think's electric car revolutionize the auto industry?

CNN Money: "Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Three pinstriped London investors stand outside an electric car factory in the green fields of the Norwegian countryside, waiting their turns to test-drive a stylish two-seater called the Think City.
But first, Think CEO Jan-Olaf Willums takes the wheel. While the moneymen fiddle with their BlackBerrys, Willums, looking slightly rumpled like the academic he once was, turns the ignition, and the stub-nosed coupe silently rolls toward an open stretch of pavement. Suddenly he punches the pedal, and the car takes off like a shot, the AC motor instantaneously transferring power to the wheels. The only sound is the squealing of tires as Willums throws the little car into a tight turn and barrels back toward his startled guests.
"That looks fun," Frode Aschim of Range Capital Partners says with a grin. Minutes later, he slides into the driver's seat and speeds away.
Did someone kill the electric car? You wouldn't know it on this bright May morning in Scandinavia, where the idea of a mass-produced battery-powered vehicle is being resurrected and actual cars are scheduled to begin rolling off the production line by year's end.
The London VCs are just the latest visitors to make the trek to Think to meet Willums, a onetime oilman turned venture capitalist, sustainability guru, and solar entrepreneur.
Tesla Motors CEO Martin Eberhard flew to Oslo to take a spin and sent back his people to hammer out a deal to supply Think with high-power lithium-ion batteries. An executive from PG&E (Charts, Fortune 500), the giant California utility, dropped by during his vacation to talk about giving Think a foothold in the Golden State. Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway scooter, paid a visit, became an investor, and is now working on what could be the next breakthrough in automotive technology (more on that later).
Shuttling between Oslo and California, Willums has raised $78 million from Silicon Valley and European investors captivated by the genial, soft-spoken Norwegian's vision of a carbon-neutral urban car. You might spot him at Buck's, the VC hangout in Woodside, or at a tech conference in Napa. Four months after Willums's investment group acquired Think last year, he was hammering out its strategy at a brainstorming session hosted by Google.
Willums's pitch is this: He's not just selling an electric car; he's upending a century-old automotive paradigm, aiming to change the way cars are made, sold, owned, and driven.
Taking a cue from Dell (Charts, Fortune 500), the company will sell cars online, built to order. It will forgo showrooms and seed the market through car-sharing services like Zipcar. Every car will be Internet-and Wi-Fi-enabled, becoming, according to Willums, a rolling computer that can communicate wirelessly with its driver, other Think owners, and the power grid.
In other words, it's Web 2.0 on wheels. "We want to sell mobility," Willums says. "We don't want to sell a thing called the Think.""

Brothers and Sisters

NY Times: "W.’s odyssey is one of the oddest in history, a black sheep who leapt above expectations and then crashed back down. It must be a crushing burden for President Bush to have wrought the opposite of what he intended in so many profound ways.
For me, one of the most amazing reversals brought about by W.’s reign of error is this: He may have turned my sister into a Democrat.
As a girl, Peggy shivered in the bitter cold through a coatless John Kennedy’s inaugural speech, and when she saw W. “debone” Ann Richards in a Texas debate in ’94, she thought: “This guy will be the greatest president since J.F.K. He’s so good looking, bright. He’s got everything going for him.”
She volunteered at the Republican convention in 2000, toting a “W Stands for Women” sign. I snuck her into the press pen at a breakfast with George and Laura and had to tackle her when, to the consternation of reporters, she began cheering as if at a Redskins game. She flew to West Virginia to work a phone bank for W. She sat up all night election night (in vain). She cut back on Christmas presents to give him money, and proudly displayed pictures of herself at fund-raisers, one with W., one with Dick Cheney. She canceled her Times subscription when I wrote about the rigged buildup to the Iraq war, and called “Bushworld” (my chronicle of W.’s warped reality) “that silly book.”
She once told a reporter that she couldn’t totally choose W. over me because she knew if she were dying “he won’t come and hold my hand, and I know Maureen will.” So imagine my surprise when she started talking about voting for Barack Obama or John Edwards, if they stop “pussyfooting” around Hillary.
“W.’s loyalty to Cheney has hurt his presidency,” she says sadly. “When Cheney picked himself as vice president, W. should have said, ‘Bug off.’ He could have made his own banquet instead of choosing leftovers. If only he had dialed his father or listened to Powell instead of Cheney and Rumsfeld on Iraq. Not only has W. brought himself down, he’s brought down John McCain, who I wanted to support but can’t because of the war.
“I grew up in the shadow of Walter Reed and was used to seeing servicemen without limbs. But recently after watching a special on soldiers coming home from Iraq with brain injuries, I picked up a picture of my four nephews and I know how I would feel if they had fought in Iraq and came home without limbs or in body bags.
“We are spending billions on this war, and yet veterans and their children are practically getting nothing. I’m no longer a Republican. I’m an American, and I will cast my vote for the person I believe will start the process to get out of Iraq — unless, of course, it’s Hillary.”"

Why Doesn't America Believe in Evolution?

Truthout: "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals: true or false? This simple question is splitting America apart, with a growing proportion thinking that we did not descend from an ancestral ape. A survey of 32 European countries, the US and Japan has revealed that only Turkey is less willing than the US to accept evolution as fact.
Religious fundamentalism, bitter partisan politics and poor science education have all contributed to this denial of evolution in the US, says Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who conducted the survey with his colleagues. "The US is the only country in which [the teaching of evolution] has been politicised," he says. "Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue."
Miller's report makes for grim reading for adherents of evolutionary theory. Even though the average American has more years of education than when Miller began his surveys 20 years ago, the percentage of people in the country who accept the idea of evolution has declined from 45 in 1985 to 40 in 2005 (Science, vol 313, p 765). That's despite a series of widely publicised advances in genetics, including genetic sequencing, which shows strong overlap of the human genome with those of chimpanzees and mice. "We don't seem to be going in the right direction," Miller says.
There is some cause for hope. Team member Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, finds solace in the finding that the percentage of adults overtly rejecting evolution has dropped from 48 to 39 in the same time. Meanwhile the fraction of Americans unsure about evolution has soared, from 7 per cent in 1985 to 21 per cent last?year. "That is a group of people that can be reached," says Scott.
The main opposition to evolution comes from fundamentalist Christians, who are much more abundant in the US than in Europe. While Catholics, European Protestants and so-called mainstream US Protestants consider the biblical account of creation as a metaphor, fundamentalists take the Bible literally, leading them to believe that the Earth and humans were created only 6000 years ago."

Sunday, July 29, 2007

What's Up With YouTube

I was just out with Rob and Mark (both obsessed with Beyonce). God only knows why. They told me she recently did a show in Orlando, in which she tripped and landed a face plant on stage during "Ring the Alarm". According to them, she got up and continued the song, moving her head back and forth as if it was part of a master plan. I was so excited to come home and watch that phony 'artist' fall flat on her face. How delicious it would be, slurp! To my dismay, I looked it up on YouTube, but "this video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Sony BMG" !!!!

YouTube, who dared to ask difficult, and frankly uncomfortable, questions to the democratic candidates, such as, will the Middle East take a woman President seriously, has now caved to BMG? So provocative was the debates, that of course, the Republicans are now declining the same format. You have caved to the puppet masters of Beyonce Knowles. Shame on you. Shame on you. Comments anyone ? What does this say about our fabricated, controlled, music/ 'art' in the 21st century? Is it all about selling an image and not a message? I"m rambling, I hope we don't find this inappropriate for the "Thief", but I was seriously disturbed by the weak will of YouTube.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

DIY Drug-trafficking submarine

The Colombian navy removes an underwater vehicle used by drug traffickers and intercepted by the Pacific Ocean Coast Guard on Wednesday at a pier in Bahia, Malaga. The homemade submarine, with the capacity to transport 4 tons of cocaine, was removed from the coastal waters near Spain, while its four crew members were arrested.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Coral Springs boy, 7, on no-fly list has been delayed at airport three times

OrlandoSentinel.com: "Michael Martin went through a hassle trying to fly out of Fort Lauderdale recently because his name was on a no-fly list. Rather than protest to authorities, he nervously turned to his mom for comfort.
"He thought he did something wrong," his mother, Krista Martin, 36, of Coral Springs, said.
Michael Martin is only 7 years old, a typical youngster who enjoys skateboarding and playing drums. Because he shares a name with a known or suspected terrorist, he has run into roadblocks three times before boarding an airliner, Krista Martin said.
Each time, she was unable to quickly obtain a boarding pass for him online or via an airport kiosk. She had to march to a check-in counter to sort things out, which she said was mostly an inconvenience but also "exasperating."
At the time she makes reservations, she said she lets the airline know her son's age. But she still ends up being denied ease of booking and boarding, she said.
"It's been happening since 9-11," she said. "I just think it's kind of ridiculous to put a 7-year-old boy on a no-fly list."
The no-fly list is compiled by the Transportation Security Administration and includes only people who are a "known threat to aviation," said agency spokesman Christopher White. That means known or suspected terrorists, not unruly passengers, he said.
The list includes detailed information about each person on it, including law enforcement records. The idea is to avoid confusing a real terrorist with an innocent passenger, officials said.
Still, Michael Martin — the child — most recently ran into problems on July 3, when his mother booked a flight on AirTran Airways to Baltimore for vacation. After a kiosk refused to spit out a boarding pass, she asked an airline agent if there was a problem.
"She made a funny face and said, 'Oh, he's on a no-fly list,'" Krista Martin said. "They looked at him and immediately realized he was only 7.""

Dubya: Fashion Fascist!

TMZ.com: "With 543 days left in office, George W. Bush has beefed up security at the White House so much, he's now enlisted the services of one of the most dreaded forces in the Western world -- the Fashion Police!
Despite approval ratings at record lows, the ongoing war in Iraq and a health care system in dire straits, Dubya has decided to take on the very serious issue of -- tour group attire! The terror alert has been raised to: Fanny Pack! Signs have reportedly been put up around White House entrances to remind visitors of the dress code: no jeans, sneakers, shorts, mini-skirts, t-shirts, tank tops, and most importantly, NO FLIP FLOPS! Paging the Northwestern women's lacrosse team!
With the new policy, the White House now has a more stringent dress code than the Vatican! Further proof that Bushie wants only conservatives in his White House. The Pontiff merely asks for covered shoulders, no shorts or skirts above the knee. Holy chic!"

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Underground lake brings hope to Darfur

Radar data recorded in space has found the remains of a giant lake under Darfur's arid sands, launching plans to sink 1,000 wells that could help stop the region's war.

A team led by a veteran of Nasa's Apollo lunar exploration programme used satellites' remote sensing equipment to build a picture of the 12,000 sq mile lake.

Although its waters drained away as the region turned to semi-desert, researchers are confident large amounts of moisture have been preserved as groundwater.

The conflict in the western Sudanese province of Darfur, which has killed 200,000 people and forced 250,000 from their homes, has its roots in clashes over scarce water resources.

Long-running skirmishes between Arab nomads and black African farmers, both fighting for dwindling supplies, erupted into government-sponsored civil war in 2003.

"Access to fresh water is essential for refugee survival, will help the peace process, and provides the necessary resources for economic development in Darfur," said Farouk El-Baz, director of the Boston University Centre for Remote Sensing.

"New water resources will provide hope to the people of north-western Sudan and will also allow for the migration of the labour force closer to the wells, where economic development is suitable and environmentally sustainable."

Diary of Mad White Man

Radar Online: "t all started innocently enough this spring, when Mark Malkoff asked a barista at 54th and Broadway how many Starbucks there were in Manhattan. She didn't know, nor did any of the employees he asked at other locations. When he e-mailed Starbucks headquarters with the same question, they never responded. Turns out, there are 176 stores in Manhattan, but a few of those, like the one in J.P. Morgan's headquarters, are off limits to the public. So Malkoff, a comedian who works as the audience coordinator at The Colbert Report, set out to hit all the stores he could—171 of them—in 24 hours, saving his $369.14 in receipts to prove it. He even contacted "Winter," another obsessed fan who has vowed to visit all 12,000-plus Starbucks in the entire country, for advice. Winter (he only has one name, like Bono) told Malkoff to go for it. And so, on a recent Friday morning at 4:00 a.m., he did, with a cameraman, an intern, and a brand new Schwinn from K-Mart. The following is an account of his day."

New Leaders Say Pensive French Think Too Much

NY Times: "PARIS, July 21 — France is the country that produced the Enlightenment, Descartes’s one-liner, “I think, therefore I am,” and the solemn pontifications of Jean-Paul Sartre and other celebrity philosophers.
Former President François Mitterrand loved literature and long walks.
But in the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, thinking has lost its cachet.
In proposing a tax-cut law last week, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde bluntly advised the French people to abandon their “old national habit.”
“France is a country that thinks,” she told the National Assembly. “There is hardly an ideology that we haven’t turned into a theory. We have in our libraries enough to talk about for centuries to come. This is why I would like to tell you: Enough thinking, already. Roll up your sleeves.”
Citing Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” she said the French should work harder, earn more and be rewarded with lower taxes if they get rich.
Ms. Lagarde knows well the Horatio Alger story of making money through hard work. She looked west to make her fortune, spending much of her career as a lawyer at the firm of Baker & McKenzie, based in the American city identified by its broad shoulders and work ethic: Chicago. She rose to become the first woman to head the firm’s executive committee and was named one of the world’s most powerful women by Forbes magazine.
So now, two years back in France, she is a natural to promote the program of Mr. Sarkozy, whose driving force is doing rather than musing, and whose mantra is “work more to earn more.”
Certainly, the new president himself has cultivated his image as a nonintellectual. “I am not a theoretician,” he told a television interviewer last month. “I am not an ideologue. Oh, I am not an intellectual! I am someone concrete!”
But the disdain for reflection may be going a bit too far. It certainly has set the French intellectual class on edge.
“How absurd to say we should think less!” said Alain Finkielkraut, the philosopher, writer, professor and radio show host. “If you have the chance to consecrate your life to thinking, you work all the time, even in your sleep. Thinking requires setbacks, suffering, a lot of sweat.”"

The French Connections

NY Times:"There was a time when everyone thought that the Europeans and the Japanese were better at business than we were. In the early 1990s airport bookstores were full of volumes with samurai warriors on their covers, promising to teach you the secrets of Japanese business success. Lester Thurow’s 1992 book, “Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe and America,” which spent more than six months on the Times best-seller list, predicted that Europe would win.
Then it all changed, and American despondency turned into triumphalism. Partly this was because the Clinton boom contrasted so sharply with Europe’s slow growth and Japan’s decade-long slump. Above all, however, our new confidence reflected the rise of the Internet. Jacques Chirac complained that the Internet was an “Anglo-Saxon network,” and he had a point — France, like most of Europe except Scandinavia, lagged far behind the U.S. when it came to getting online.
What most Americans probably don’t know is that over the last few years the situation has totally reversed. As the Internet has evolved — in particular, as dial-up has given way to broadband connections using DSL, cable and other high-speed links — it’s the United States that has fallen behind.
The numbers are startling. As recently as 2001, the percentage of the population with high-speed access in Japan and Germany was only half that in the United States. In France it was less than a quarter. By the end of 2006, however, all three countries had more broadband subscribers per 100 people than we did.
Even more striking is the fact that our “high speed” connections are painfully slow by other countries’ standards. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, French broadband connections are, on average, more than three times as fast as ours. Japanese connections are a dozen times faster. Oh, and access is much cheaper in both countries than it is here.
As a result, we’re lagging in new applications of the Internet that depend on high speed. France leads the world in the number of subscribers to Internet TV; the United States isn’t even in the top 10.
What happened to America’s Internet lead? Bad policy. Specifically, the United States made the same mistake in Internet policy that California made in energy policy: it forgot — or was persuaded by special interests to ignore — the reality that sometimes you can’t have effective market competition without effective regulation."


Every day I read something which persuades me to be 'rational' and independent about the War in Iraq. Somedays I fall for it. Other days I feel sick for buying it. I am certain of one thing, and that is our media are failing us. The reality is not being protrayed and defended. This video is what I believe should be on the evening news. The contradictions in the rhetoric of our leaders is appaling.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Are young Americans more interested in selling out than changing the world? Brook's new book argues that 20-somethings are forced to

"Before I begin, I should confess to being one of those people prone to bemoaning the state of the world and wondering what's wrong with my generation. At more than one antiwar event, geriatric radicals have far outnumbered young ones, which left me feeling demoralized and forlorn. Dedicated young activists exist, but they're a minority; my cohort's general quiescence on Iraq and nonchalance about climate change -- not to mention a zillion other issues -- don't reassure me about the future. (And don't tell me the kids are all off organizing online. The median age of the average progressive blog reader -- the backbone of the netroots -- is my mother's age.)

We're accustomed to thinking of young people and students as the barometer of social change, so explaining this youthful inertia has become something of a national pastime, one that's made it all the way to the opinion pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the International Herald Tribune. Theories abound. Many point out that the war in Iraq is being fought by an all-volunteer army (which has even inspired some frustrated progressives to call for a reinstitution of the draft to invigorate campus activism). Others claim my peers' cynicism stems from a lack of contemporary examples of successful collective action. But more often than not, the problem is conceived as cultural. Members of the emerging generation -- post-Watergate, post-Monica Lewinsky, weaned on irony and satire -- expect the government to deceive them and are hardly surprised, let alone outraged, when their expectations are met. Insulated from the suffering of the offline world by the virtual universe of Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube, some speculate that kids today are just too narcissistic, materialistic or distracted to care.

Daniel Brook, author of "The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America," would bristle at these descriptions of his age group. Instead, he provides ample evidence to back up another popular theory. Young people aren't particularly self-absorbed or apathetic -- they're overworked and indebted. Today's 20- and 30-somethings are so busy struggling to make ends meet, they simply don't have time to take to the streets.

For anyone who read Tamara Draut's "Strapped" or Anya Kamenetz's "Generation Debt," two excellent descriptions of the perilous economic realities assailing young people today, Brook's primary point will be familiar: Compared with our parents at the same age, we're working longer hours for less money, reduced job security, slashed benefits and fewer social services. Over the last four decades, as the income gap has exploded, opportunities for social mobility have declined -- dramatically. But Brook, more than the other authors, is concerned with the social implications of this transformation. Given these unpalatable truths, what's a youthful idealist to do?

"The Trap" opens with an anecdote hinting at one possible solution: Sell out. Milling about a wedding party, Brook sheepishly confesses his book's thesis to a young man who works for Goldman Sachs. To Brook's surprise, it turns out the guy's a leftist who went to Wall Street only after years of trying, and failing, to make it as a muckraking journalist. "That's how hegemony works," the reluctant broker tells Brook. "The system can contain all of the dissenters." The other option, to use Brook's terminology, is to be a saint. Let your student loans fall into default, rent a cheap, dingy room, go without healthcare, plan on staying childless; that's the price you pay for following your passion or adhering to your ethics.

To his credit, Brook isn't out to pass judgment on his subjects or chastise them for the compromises they've made. Instead, his salient point is that the dichotomy foisted on us -- becoming a sellout or a saint -- is one that "has no place in a prosperous modern democracy."

Beginning with the Gramsci-quoting Goldman Sachs employee, Brook tells countless stories of young people wrestling with similar trade-offs. He speaks to Claire, a 27-year-old New Yorker lucky enough to escape the purgatory of wage slavedom. She's secured a 9-to-5 job at a nonprofit combating sex trafficking, but like so many altruistic industries -- from public-interest law to social work -- it doesn't pay enough to cover necessities like rent and food. So Claire spends 14 hours each weekend working as a waitress on the Upper West Side. There's also Karl, co-director of San Francisco's Living Wage Coalition, who lives in a humble boarding house and has to take paying gigs on the side to make ends meet; and Brendan, a former lawyer at the progressive Center for the Study of Responsive Law, who switched career tracks for the bigger paycheck needed to buy a house within commuting distance of D.C.

Public service and penury, Brook demonstrates, too often go hand in hand. As a result, "the activist community has become an assemblage of idealistic young people taking a few years off before professional school or a corporate job, a handful of liberal trustfunders, and a slew of eccentric nonconformists."

Brook's analysis is strongest -- and most shocking -- when he compares the current situation to the experiences of the previous generation. The 1960s and 1970s were a high-water mark of social mobility in the United States, with education serving as the great equalizer. In those days a Pell Grant covered nearly three-quarters of a student's college tuition; today, the portion has fallen to one-third. It's difficult to fathom that many high-quality public schools like CUNY and Berkeley were once free, and private ones reasonably priced. Brook points out that Ronald Reagan instituted tuition at Berkeley -- reversing a 100-year-old tradition -- only after the Free Speech Movement of the early 1960s, a ploy to punish radicals. "In the end," Brook writes, "tuition and other conservative economic policies did more to undermine student activism than any CIA-style investigation ever could.""

Singer-songwriters, or just singers?

Yahoo! News: "NEW YORK - Of all the names in music, Chantal Kreviazuk may be the least likely to appear in a headline. Though she recently released her own album, the songwriter usually stays behind the scenes to pen hits with artists such as Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani and Avril Lavigne.
But earlier this month, Kreviazuk rocked the pop music world by suggesting that Lavigne was a collaborator in name only. Although she quickly retracted her comments and others defended Lavigne, the flap illuminated a long-standing fraud that has become more prevalent than ever: "singer-songwriters" who do much less songwriting than their publicists would have you believe.
"It's crazy!" exclaimed Grammy-winning songwriter Diane Warren, who has written for artists such as Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Mary J. Blige. "How can someone look in the mirror and know they didn't do something and their name is on it? For money? For credit? It's a lie."
This being the music industry, money is of course a factor, since the writers of hit songs can earn more than the singer over the long term. But today's singers also press for writing credit because it gives them more of a cachet, presenting them as more of a "real artist" in comparison with a star who doesn't write a note.
"It's a practice that's been going on but now it's really prevalent in every situation," says songwriter Adonis Shropshire, who helped pen the hit "My Boo" for Alicia Keys and Usher, and has worked with Chris Brown, Ciara and others.
Shropshire says that many artists will only allow songwriters to work on an album in return for song credit, and "if they do write, they ask for more publishing than they honestly contributed ... it is the way it is."
The practice has been prevalent for decades. Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, maneuvered to give the King songwriting credits on early hits like "Love Me Tender" even though he never wrote a word. James Brown was sued by an associate over song credits. Lauryn Hill settled a lawsuit by a group that claimed she improperly took sole production and writing credit on her Grammy-winning album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." And Diddy seemed to acknowledge claims that he wasn't really writing his raps in the "Bad Boys for Life" song with the brushoff line: "Don't worry if I write rhymes, I write checks!""

Chihuahua saves baby from rattlesnake

WKYC: "FORT COLLINS, Colorado -- Zoey the dog is being called a hero, after protecting a baby from a rattlesnake.
Monty Long's one-year-old grandson was playing outside when the snake slithered up.
Long says the five pound chihuahua jumped in when the two got too close.
"She just knew, she knew the baby was in danger. he didn't know what the rattle sound was, he didn't realize the snake was there."
The rattlesnake bit Zoey, but Long says she's a survivor.
"There is a puncture above her eye. The one is the scar there, snake actually slit her head. her head was like a grapefruit," Long said.
Long eventually killed the snake which measured more than 3 feet long."

jetBlue caves to O'Reilly and Malkin. Company doesn't want to be associated with crazy people like you.

AMERICAblog: "jetBlue just screwed every one of us.


FOX News' Bill O'Reilly and right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin complained that jetBlue was a corporate sponsor of the YearlyKos blogger conference and had offered a few free tickets for conference attendees (not exactly a huge commitment, and something companies do for conferences of all political stripes). O'Reilly and Malkin claimed that this was akin to jetBlue supporting people who endorse murder and assassination - he quite literally compared the top blogs to the KKK and the nazis.
jetBlue, mind you, advertises on FOX (according to Markos), shows FOX News on its flights, and its CEO has given $2100 to far-right GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But please just ignore all of that. Because jetBlue has now, finally, shown some attention to the left as well, O'Reilly and Malkin decided that jetBlue must be destroyed.
So what did jetBlue do in response? Did they say "hey, what do you mean we're catering to the left, we've been showing FOX News on our flights forever?" Did they say "would you like our CEO to stop donating to right-wing politicians in order to show that he doesn't take sides in politics?" Did they say "if we pull our sponsorship of YearlyKos should we then pull our sponsorship of FOX News shows too?
No, jetBlue responded by pulling their logo from the YearlyKos Web site sponsor list, sending the clear to signal to every company in America that you, we, are pariahs that no company should dare touch. That we are, in fact, just as O'Reilly and Malkin have claimed, akin to murderers and assassins.
Oh, but jetBlue would like you to know, sotto voce, that they still REALLY like you, they just have to pretend in public that you're a diseased pariah while funding the presidential candidacy of a gay-bashing, far-right religious nutjob. As a gay man it reminds me of the way Republicans treat gays or Jews or Muslims or any other minority - bash us in public, but privately tell us they really like us, really they do. You see, some of jetBlue's best friends are black... I mean bloggers"

And feel free to tell them that in those words: corporatecommunications@jetblue.com

Beware the overshare in everyday conversations

No subject’s off-limits as we’re getting more accustomed to TMI
By Melissa Dahl
Health writer
Updated: 8:33 a.m. CT July 23, 2007

Melissa Dahl
Health writer
• E-mail
Like so many of us, Dan Estabrook never even saw it coming.
It was a normal day at work when his office manager called him into her office for a normal-sounding meeting — until she unloaded a not-so-normal nugget of information.
“I wanted to let you know,” she said, “I’ve taken a live-in lover.”
Cue the awkward silence: Estabrook found himself victim of an overshare.
Blurting out too much information, or TMI, is something we’re becoming more and more comfortable with, some psychologists say. We obsess over the mundane details of celebrities’ lives and are eager to tell our own stories on blogs and Flickr accounts. And often, all that online openness seeps into everyday conversations.
Blame it on narcissism
One psychologist blames the influx of the overshare on an increase in individualism — and with that comes a hike in narcissism. We’re oversharing more now because we’re pretty pleased with ourselves, says Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University.
“We just assume they’re going to be interested because it’s about me. Of course it’s interesting!” says Twenge, who is currently working on a book about narcissism among teens and twentysomethings.
But Leslie Reisner, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, is encouraged by all the sharing going on. Calling it narcissism is too negative, she says.
“There’s something healthy about sharing,” Reisner says. “It means they know it’s OK to show vulnerability.”
Spilling personal details can be a sign of self-confidence, Reisner believes, and 32-year-old Todd Enoch agrees.
“When I was younger, I was much more reserved,” says Enoch, who lives in Denton, Texas. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve broken out of my shell. Now I can share more with people.”
And sometimes, Enoch admits, he ventures into overshare territory. He remembers a scene at work when his co-workers were discussing how happy they were that the T-shirts for an upcoming promotional activity weren’t white.
“I don’t like wearing white things either,” Enoch chimed in, and then blurted out, “I just sweat at the drop of the hat!”

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice finds that her star is fading

I remember the heady days for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
About 2 1/2 years ago, when she was new in office, I accompanied her on her first trip around the world, with stops in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, South Korea, Japan and China. Crowds gathered to see her limousine drive past; people whistled, waved and cheered. Interviewers routinely asked her whether she was planning to run for president. One TV reporter in India told her she was "arguably the most powerful woman in the world." She chuckled but did not exactly agree -- or disagree.
How things change.
A few months ago, she decided to write an opinion piece about Lebanon. She enlisted John Chambers, chief executive officer of Cisco Systems as a co-author, and they wrote about public/private partnerships and how they might be of use in rebuilding Lebanon after last summer's war. No one would publish it.
Think about that. Every one of the major newspapers approached refused to publish an essay by the secretary of state. Price Floyd, who was the State Department's director of media affairs until recently, recalls that it was sent to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and perhaps other papers before the department finally tried a foreign publication, the Financial Times of London, which also turned it down.
As a last-ditch strategy, the State Department briefly considered translating the article into Arabic and trying a Lebanese paper. But finally they just gave up. "I kept hearing the same thing: 'There's no news in this.' " Floyd said. The piece, he said, was littered with glowing references to President Bush's wise leadership. "It read like a campaign document."

Another Definition of Success

Friday, July 20, 2007

The New Swimsuit Issue

Mecca Laa Laa wears a 'Burqini' on her first surf lifesaving patrol at North Cronulla Beach in Sydney, Australia on February 4, 2007.
Move over, Tankini. Since the full-coverage swimsuit dubbed the Burqini (as in burqa plus bikini) hit the international market in January, devout Muslim women have been snapping them up. The polyester suits were designed to accord with Islamic laws that require women to dress modestly and to eliminate the risk of drowning when the yards of fabric used in traditional burqas get soaked. Now, however, non-Muslim beachgoers are getting into the full-covered swim. Whether women are worried about health, weight or the tolls of age, the Burqini offers a comfortable alternative to a skimpy two-piece or clingy maillot.

The demure suits, pioneered by two Muslim women on opposite sides of the globe, are like lightweight, loose, hooded wet suits and hide everything but the face, hands and feet. Australian retailer Aheda Zanetti, 38, says she was inspired to design her Burqini after watching young Muslim girls struggle to play netball in bulky layers. Her competitor, California microbiologist Shereen Sabet, 36, came up with her full-coverage Splashgear suits after searching in vain for Islam-appropriate scuba gear. The UV-resistant, stretchy swimsuits start at $90 and have found upwards of 6,000 buyers--most of them online--in locations as varied as Malaysia, South Africa, Mexico, Ireland and the U.S. "I'm a very small business with a product the whole world wants," says Zanetti.
Conservative Christians, cancer patients, burn victims and senior citizens, among others, have shown surprising interest. Joanne Martinez, 37, of San Clemente, Calif., bought a Hawaiian-print ensemble to stave off chills during late-night dips. Her mother Norma Suarez, 69, got a suit because her medications make her skin sun-sensitive. "We're both hooked," says Martinez. Meanwhile, Kathleen Petroff, 59, of Helendale, Calif., bought her Splashgear suit for a snorkeling trip, after weight gain from multiple-sclerosis treatment made her old suit unappealing. If not for Sabet's design, she says, "I would have missed swimming with the dolphins."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Larvae Take Up Residence on Man's Head

CARBONDALE, Colo. — Doctors thought the strange, bleeding bumps on Aaron Dallas' head might be from gnat bites or shingles. Then the bumps started moving.
A doctor found five active bot fly larvae living beneath the skin atop Dallas' head.
"I'd put my hand back there and feel them moving. I thought it was blood coursing through my head," Dallas told the (Glenwood Springs) Post Independent.
"I could hear them. I actually thought I was going crazy."
Dallas said he likely received the larval infestation while on a trip to Belize this summer. Bot fly infections are not uncommon in parts of Central and South America.
Adult bot flies are hairy and look like bees, without bristles. The larvae, which are about one-third the size of a penny, were living in a pit 2- to 3- millimeters wide. They were removed Thursday.
"It was weird and traumatic," said Dallas, of Carbondale. "I would get this pain that would drop me to my knees."
After a specialist told him he might have shingles, Dallas tried different creams and salves. But the pain only got worse.
"When I saw him again, it was pretty obvious something else was going on," said Dr. Kimball Spence, who could see the spots moving on Dallas' head. "There's an open pit. You see a little activity, not necessarily the larvae, but a fluctuation of the fluid in the pit."
Dallas' wife, Midge Dallas, teased him about it.
"I told him, 'I will love you through your maggots,'" she told the newspaper.
But Dallas saw little to laugh about.
"It's much funnier to everyone else," he said. "It makes my stomach turn over. It was cruel."

Daily Reality Check brought to you by Amy Goodman, and Democracy Now!

* Despite Reports Showing Nearly Half of Foreign Militants in Iraq Are
Saudi, White House and Lawmakers Keeping Sights on Iran *

The Los Angeles Times is reporting nearly half of all foreign militants
targeting U.S. troops in Iraq have come from Saudi Arabia one of
Washington's closest allies in the Middle East. U.S. officials have so far
refused to publicly criticize Saudi Arabia's role in Iraq, focusing instead
on Iran.

* Sami Al-Haj and Bilal Hussein: Their Names Mostly Unknown in U.S., Jailed
Journalists Have Spent Combined Six Years in U.S. Military Prisons Without
Charge *

We take an in-depth look at the case of two reporters whose imprisonment by
U.S. forces has gone largely ignored in the corporate media. Al Jazeera
cameraman Sami al-Haj has been jailed without charge at Guantanamo for the
past five-and-a-half years. Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has
spent more than a year in a U.S. military prison in Iraq, also without
charge. U.S. officials haven't made public any evidence of wrongdoing

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A nasal spray to shed your shyness

University of Zurich researchers have created a spray that can relieve people of shyness, and help them socialise with others.

The spray is very easy to use, and an individual can boost self-confidence just by squirting it up the nose.

The researchers say that the spray harnesses the powers of a feel-good hormone called oxytocin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is involved in social recognition and bonding.

The mammalian hormone is produced naturally by the body when a person is in love, and it also induces labour in pregnant women. The spray contains a synthetic version of it, created in the laboratory.

University researcher Dr Markus Heinrichs says that the spray was found to "dramatically" change the behaviour of 70 adults during a study. He says that all study participants had stopped feeling anxious, and started to engage better with others in the group.

Neocons on a Cruise: What Conservatives Say When They Think We Aren't Listening

I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, both chilling and burning, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. "Is he your only child?" I ask. "Yes," she says. "Do you have a child back in England?" she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."

I am getting used to these moments - when gentle holiday geniality bleeds into… what? I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, " Of course, we need to execute some of these people," I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."

I am travelling on a bright white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, a casino - and 500 readers of the National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been "an amazing success". Global warming is not happening. The solitary black person claims, "If the Ku Klux Klan supports equal rights, then God bless them." And I have nowhere to run.

From time to time, National Review - the bible of American conservatism - organises a cruise for its readers. I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. Mostly, I just tried to blend in - and find out what American conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren't listening.

REBUTTAL Why Bush Is A Loser

Who knew Bill Kristol had such a flair for satire?

How else to read his piece for Outlook on Sunday, in which he declared, "George W. Bush's presidency will probably be a successful one"? Surely Kristol, the No. 1 cheerleader for the Iraq war, was mocking himself (and his neoconservative pals) for having been so mistaken about so much. But just in case his article was meant to be a serious stab at commentary, let's review Kristol's record as a prognosticator.

On Sept. 18, 2002, he declared that a war in Iraq "could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East." A day later, he said Saddam Hussein was "past the finish line" in developing nuclear weapons. On Feb. 20, 2003, he said of Saddam: "He's got weapons of mass destruction.... Look, if we free the people of Iraq we will be respected in the Arab world." On March 1, 2003 -- 18 days before the invasion of Iraq -- Kristol dismissed the possibility of sectarian conflict afterward. He also said, "Very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president." He maintained that the war would cost $100 billion to $200 billion. (The running tab is now about half a trillion dollars.) On March 5, 2003, Kristol said, "We'll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction."

After a performance like this -- and the above is only a partial review; for more details, click here -- Kristol, a likeable fellow, ought to have his pundit's license yanked. But he's back again with a sequel: W. will be seen as a wonderful president. His latest efforts should be laughed off op-ed pages. But in the commentariat, he's still taken seriously. So assuming the joke is indeed unintended, I'll examine Kristol's most recent fantasy as if it's real.

Iraq: Kristol says "we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome." The war has been a mess from the start, and these days even leading Republican senators no longer buy the argument that Bush's so-called "surge" is succeeding or can succeed as promised. Kristol contends that with the recent escalation "we are increasingly able to protect more of the Iraqi population." Many in Iraq would find little comfort in his assurances. Despite the "surge," Iraqi civilian deaths are still running at 2,500 to 3,000 a month. And since the "surge" began, according to the Pentagon's own numbers, the number of attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces and Iraqi civilians has marginally increased.

Still, Kristol advises, stick with the "surge," train more Iraqi troops, and all will be well. The United States has already spent $19 billion training 346,500 or so Iraqi troops and police officers, and now merely six battalions -- down from 10, according to Gen. Peter Pace -- can function independently. That is, only 3,000 Iraqi troops are operating on their own after all this time and money.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is making little, if any, progress on key political matters that must be resolved, and the parliament is taking off August -- while American GIs continue to fight and die. What are they dying for? Kristol and Bush argue the war is a vital part of the battle against al Qaeda and international jihadism, and Kristol claims the U.S. military is "routing al Qaeda in Iraq." But, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported, of the 19,000 insurgents held by the U.S. military in Iraq, only 135 are foreigners. The United States is not fighting al Qaeda in Iraq; it's fighting Iraqis. Kristol is whistling past a graveyard -- filled with the bodies of thousands of American soldiers and probably hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians -- when he insists the United States is heading toward a "messy" victory.

And Kristol keeps arguing the past. The problems that have arisen in Iraq since the invasion, he maintains, have to be judged against what would have occurred had there been no invasion: a nuclear-armed Saddam conspiring with al Qaeda. To justify the war, Kristol is pushing the myth (debunked by U.S. intelligence) that Saddam was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden, and he's ignoring the fact that WMD inspectors were present in Iraq right before the invasion and (as we now know) doing a good job in determining Saddam had no unconventional weapons or nuclear bomb program. Such a policy could have been maintained.

Afghanistan: Steady as she goes, says Kristol. Well, not if you're one of those dozens of civilians who seem to be killed every few days in an errant attack from NATO and western forces. (Even Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is fed up.) And shouldn't this war have been over years ago? Reconstruction is at a crawl The Taliban is resurgent. Opium production is setting new records. And the Bush administration (last time I checked) had no high-level official solely responsible for Afghanistan policy. Afghanistan has been a job neglected and unfinished.
Terrorism: Yes -- thankfully -- there have been no attacks here since 9/11. But recent intelligence reports say that al Qaeda (the real al Qaeda, not al Qaeda in Iraq) is becoming stronger. The man responsible for the worst act of terrorism ever visited upon the United States remains free. And the Bush administration's excesses in combating terrorism -- Guantanamo, warrantless wiretapping of Americans, and more -- have undermined the cause at home and abroad.
Foreign policy: Kristol does not mention that, thanks to Bush's misadventure in Iraq and other missteps, the United States' image abroad is in the sub-basement. He does note that we now have decent relations with Brazil. But he forgets about the worsening conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (and the other Palestinians) -- a conflict arguably exacerbated by Bush administration blunders.

The economy: All is fine, Kristol claims, pointing to conventional indicators and hailing Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy. But most Americans tell pollsters the country is not on the right track. Are they stupid? No, they are coping with various forms of insecurity and stress that Kristol does not recognize. Since 2000, the median income of working-age household has fallen each year. The economy has been growing, corporate profits are up, and the stock market is on the rise, but this recovery has handed working Americans weak growth in wages and salaries. The share of national income going to salaries and wages is at the lowest level since such stats were first compiled in 1929.
Moreover, the high costs of health care and education also worry many Americans. Kristol praises Bush's Medicare drug plan -- which routinely is assailed by critics on the left and right -- but Bush has done nothing to make health care more affordable and more available for most Americans. Forty-five million or so Americans remain uninsured. And while Kristol cheers globalization -- which is causing employment instability for Americans -- we can celebrate by eating tainted shrimp from China.

The Supreme Court: In Kristol's world, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., Bush's contributions to the court, are titans of jurisprudence respected throughout the land. Yet the Roberts court's recent decisions have sparked (justifiably) much controversy and rancor. In two separate decisions, Roberts protected corporate speech but trampled on the free speech rights of students. Roberts was also slammed by Justice Antonin Scalia for not having the guts to admit he was overturning precedent when he was. Bush's Supreme Court has become another battlefront in the partisan wars--not a symbol of accomplishment.

It's remarkable what Kristol leaves out of his bizarro-world view of Bush the Great: Hurricane Katrina, the collapse of the Justice Department, global warming, and much else. An American city was practically destroyed on Bush's watch, but that merits no consideration in Kristol's case for Bush. The Justice Department -- run by Bush cronies accused of corruption, incompetence, or both -- is in tatters. (A former department official tells me the administration is having a hard time finding people willing to fill the vacancies at the top.) And though Bush begrudgingly conceded that global warming is underway and human-induced, he has taken no significant steps to redress this pressing problem. If one wants to peer into the future, it could well be that Bush will be judged a failure more for his inaction on global warming than for his action in Iraq. Vetoing stem cell research legislation, commuting Scooter Libby's prison sentence, rewriting clean air rules to benefit industry, pushing tax breaks for oil companies, suppressing the work of scientists, enhancing government secrecy -- Bush has repeatedly placed parochial interests over the public interest.

The Bush-Cheney years have been marked by ineptitude, miscalculation, and scandal. A successful presidency? Bush will be lucky if he gets a public elementary school in his adopted hometown of Crawford, Tex., named after him. He has placed this country in a hole. Yet Kristol, with shovel in hand, points to that hole and says, Trust me -- we're about to strike oil!
If it's true that history repeats first as tragedy and then as farce, Kristol has short-circuited the process and gone straight to parody. His Bush boosterism -- an act of self-justification -- would be amusing were it not for all the damage he has helped Bush to cause.

How Top Bloggers Earn Money

Cat pictures, gossip, tech talk, politics—there's lots of ways to rake in the dough online

Eric Nakagawa, a software developer in Hawaii, posted a single photo of a fat, smiling cat he found on the Internet, with the caption, "I can has cheezburger?" in January, 2007, at a Web site he created. It was supposed to be a joke. Soon after he posted a few more images in the same vein: cute cats with funny captions written in a silly, invented hybrid of Internet shorthand and baby-talk. Then he turned the site into a blog, so that visitors could comment on the postings. What happened after that would have been hard for anyone to predict.

"We just thought, O.K., they're funny,"Nakagawa says. "Suddenly we started getting hits. I was like, where are these coming from?"

An Accidental Entrepreneur
He saw traffic on the blog, I Can Has Cheezburger, which he runs with his partner, "Tofuburger" (she refuses to disclose her real name) double each month: 375,000 hits in March, 750,000 in April, 1.5 million in May. Cheezburger now gets 500,000 page views a day from between 100,000 and 200,000 unique visitors, according to Nakagawa. The cheapest ad costs $500 for a week. The most expensive goes for nearly $4,000. Nakagawa, an accidental entrepreneur who saw his successful business materialize out of the ether, quit his programming job at the end of May: "It made more sense to do this and see how big it could get."

Cheezburger's story is unusual in the upper reaches of the blogosphere in that the time between launching and reaching a critical mass of readers who sustain the site is so compressed. But many of the most popular bloggers have similar tales of starting out with a niche idea—an inside joke, a particular obsession—and watching it explode. Of course, most blogs linger in obscurity and are read by only a handful of people, and few ever reach the level Cheezburger has. What about a blog like Cheezburger lets it break away from the pack?
The initial appeal of the blog may have been a fluke, but its growth since then has been part of a tightly controlled experiment to help answer that question. Nakagawa and his partner constantly tweak the site to see what draws readers and what leaves them cold.

"We basically have a playground where people keep coming to play, so we're trying to create new games all the time,"Nakagawa says.

Building a Community
To drive traffic, they try to time their new posts with when people are most likely to be reading: in the mornings, on their lunch breaks, or in the evenings. Early on, when Nakagawa saw the site getting 1,000 page views a day, he added a widget that allows visitors to rate each post on a scale of one to five cheeseburgers. That helped boost traffic to 2,000.
Readers don't just rate or comment on the posts. They create them. Cheezburger depends on its fans to submit pictures, write funny captions, and send them in. Nakagawa has built a tool to let readers select a ready-made photo or upload their own, add and position captions, choose font styles, and submit a finished product. Any visitor can vote on the submissions, and the most popular ones make it to the main page. The function saves Nakagawa from having to find funny captions for photos, and it creates a lasting bond with readers.

That kind of interaction helps make I Can Has Cheezburger as much a community as a blog. A post by one user will inspire another to play off the theme, forming a narrative. "It's like you're creating a story supplied by people in the community, and then the people in the community supply the next part of the story,"Nakagawa says.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Happy Blogiversary

WSJ.com: "It's been 10 years since the blog was born. Love them or hate them, they've roiled presidential campaigns and given everyman a global soapbox. Twelve commentators -- including Tom Wolfe, Newt Gingrich, the SEC's Christopher Cox and actress-turned-blogger Mia Farrow -- on what blogs mean to them.
July 14, 2007; Page P1
Notwithstanding the words of Tom Wolfe, who puts an elegant boot, below, into the corpus of bloggers, there are many more people today who would read blogs than disparage them.
The consumption of blogs is often avid and occasionally obsessive. But more commonly, it is utterly natural, as if turning to them were no stranger than (dare one say this here?) picking one's way through the morning's newspapers. The daily reading of virtually everyone under 40 -- and a fair few folk over that age -- now includes a blog or two, and this reflects as much the quality of today's bloggers as it does a techno-psychological revolution among readers of news and opinion.
We are approaching a decade since the first blogger -- regarded by many to be Jorn Barger -- began his business of hunting and gathering links to items that tickled his fancy, to which he appended some of his own commentary. On Dec. 23, 1997, on his site, Robot Wisdom, Mr. Barger wrote: "I decided to start my own webpage logging the best stuff I find as I surf, on a daily basis," and the Oxford English Dictionary regards this as the primordial root of the word "weblog."
The dating of the 10th anniversary of blogs, and the ascription of primacy to the first blogger, are imperfect exercises. Others, such as David Winer, who blogged with Scripting News, and Cameron Barrett, who started CamWorld, were alongside the polemical Mr. Barger in the advance guard. And before them there were "proto-blogs," embryonic indications of the online profusion that was to follow. But by widespread consensus, 1997 is a reasonable point at which to mark the emergence of the blog as a distinct life-form."

British, Canadian press offer avalanche of Black coverage

Within an hour or so after the Conrad Black verdict came down Friday, the Los Angeles Times played the news high up on its Web site -- right below a Paris Hilton story. On the Washington Post's site, the Black decision didn't even rate an easy-to-find headline.

Meanwhile, Canada's leading media sites were brimming with Black. Maclean's, the nation's leading news magazine, sported a big "GUILTY" headline next to a dour photo of Black and offered a smorgasbord of content, including feeds from two bloggers live at the courthouse in Chicago.

Outside of Chicago, where Black is big local story, and perhaps New York, this country's media center, the Black verdict is just another headline, a story destined for the business section. But in Canada and the United Kingdom -- particularly the former -- the Black verdict is boffo, stop-the-presses stuff.

In Canada, Black built what would become the world's third-largest English-language newspaper empire, as well as a reputation for both erudition and bombast. When the Canadian government refused to let him accept a British lordship, he renounced his citizenship, a stinging rebuke to some of his countrymen.

Whether he's liked or loathed, "Black has been a larger-than-life personality in Canada for quite a while," said Christopher Waddell, a journalism professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.

It's been the same in the United Kingdom, where Black once owned the Daily Telegraph, one of the country's larger newspapers.

Black, a.k.a. Lord Black of Crossharbour, and his wife, Barbara Amiel Black, are members of the celebrity A-list in Britain, along with Becks and Posh, the royal family and the ghost of Princess Diana. Black's downfall, a tale of power, greed and private jets to Bora Bora, is what London's tabloids live for.

In this country, Black has been for the most part another foreign businessman.

And it was his business's ownership of the Sun-Times that helped ultimately lead to his trial here on fraud and racketeering charges. It's been a media circus since it started in March, but the bulk of the 300-plus journalists covering it are from outside this country.

Indeed in Canada, it's been dubbed "the trial of the century."

Young Adults Are Giving Newspapers Scant Notice

With the United States military fighting a protracted war in Iraq and a wide-open presidential campaign already making headlines daily, Americans of all ages are interested in current affairs and are consuming news like never before, right?

Not so, especially not teenagers and young adults, according to a report released last week by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

In fact, most teenagers and adults 30 and younger are not following the news closely at all, the report, titled “Young People and News,” concluded. It is based on a national sample of 1,800 Americans that included teenagers, young adults aged 18 to 30 and older adults.

Thomas Patterson, a professor of government and the press at Harvard who conducted the survey, said that young people today do not make an appointment with news every day the way older adults do.

“We found that most young adults don’t have an ingrained news habit,” he said. “Most children today, when watching television, are not watching the same TV set that their parents are watching. So even if their parents are watching the news every day, the children are likely to be in another room watching something else and aren’t acquiring the news habit.”

The survey went a step further to see what the respondents meant when they said that they did pay attention to the news. Those results, especially among the younger groups, were equally discouraging for the news industry, said Alex S. Jones, the director of the Shorenstein Center.

“What we found is that what people mean when they say they are engaged in the news has much more of a glancing, superficial basis than anything we would have hoped,” he said. “Young people seemed to think that just listening to the radio in the background was listening to the news.”

The results were especially grim for newspapers. Only 16 percent of the young adults surveyed aged 18 to 30 said that they read a newspaper every day and 9 percent of teenagers said that they did. That compared with 35 percent of adults over 30. Furthermore, despite the popular belief that young people are flocking to the Internet, the survey found that teenagers and young adults were twice as likely to get daily news from television than from the Web.

Despite this, some in the industry say the situation is not hopeless.

Jane Hirt, the editor of RedEye, a free daily newspaper that is published by The Chicago Tribune specifically for young, urban professionals, said that her publication had succeeded and had even expanded its audience by adopting some of the lessons learned from television and the Internet and by experimenting with ways to tell stories.

“We may have a short face-off with two sides of an issue,” she said. “We believe it is a way of delivering content in a form like younger people are used to getting on the Internet.”

She said that she reminds her editors that their younger readers are used to customizing their lives. “They pick and choose what they want on their iPods, what to TiVo and watch whenever they want, and so forth,” she said. “Therefore, because we are targeting that niche audience, we make story selections to really connect with them, and we can do that because we are thinking about them all day.”

Still, her publication and newspapers in general may be facing an uphill battle.

“My sense is that newspapers in their traditional form are not going to be able to recapture this audience,” said Professor Patterson. “What’s happened over time is that we have become more of a viewing nation than a reading nation, and the Internet is a little of both. My sense is that, like it or not, the future of news is going to be in the electronic media, but we don’t really know what that form is going to look like.”

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Gunman crashes party, gets hugs - Criminal Peculiarity - MSNBC.com

MSNBC.com: "WASHINGTON - Police on Capitol Hill are baffled by an attempted robbery that began with a handgun put to the head of a teenager and ended in a group hug.
It started about midnight on June 16 when a group of friends was finishing a dinner of marinated steaks and jumbo shrimp on the back patio of a District of Columbia home. That's when a hooded man slid through an open gate and pointed a handgun at the head of a 14-year-old girl.
"Give me your money, or I'll start shooting," he said, according to D.C. police and witnesses.
Everyone froze, including the girl's parents. Then one guest spoke.
"We were just finishing dinner," Cristina "Cha Cha" Rowan, 43, told the man. "Why don't you have a glass of wine with us?"
The intruder had a sip of their Chateau Malescot St-Exupery and said, "Damn, that's good wine."
The girl's father, Michael Rabdau, 51, told the intruder to take the whole glass, and Rowan offered him the whole bottle.
The robber, with his hood down, took another sip and a bite of Camembert cheese. He put the gun in his sweatpants.
The story then turns even more bizarre.
"I think I may have come to the wrong house," he said before apologizing. "Can I get a hug?"
Rowan, who works at her children's school and lives in Falls Church, Va., stood up and wrapped her arms around the armed man. The four other guests followed.
"Can we have a group hug?" the man asked. The five adults complied.
The man walked away a few moments later with the crystal wine glass in hand. Nothing was stolen, and no one was hurt.
Once he was gone, the group walked into the house, locked the door and stared at each other _ speechless. Rabdau called 911, and police came to take a report and dust for fingerprints.
Police classified the case as strange but true. Investigators have not located a suspect. The witnesses thought he might have been high on drugs.
"We've had robbers that apologize and stuff but nothing where they sit down and drink wine. It definitely is strange," said Cmdr. Diane Groomes, adding that the hugs were especially unusual. "The only good thing is they would be able to identify him because they hugged him.""

Seeing Yellow

When you print on a color laser printer, it's likely that you are also printing a pattern of invisible yellow dots. These marks exist to allow the printer companies and governments to track and identify you -- presumably as a way to combat money counterfeiting. When one person asked his printer manufacturer about turning off the tracking dots, Secret Service agents showed up at his door several days later.

Upset? You should be!

Let's stand up to silent tracking and government bullying and send a strong message to printer manufacturers. Our privacy and our control over our own technology is far too important to give up over trumped up fears of photocopied money.

Here's what you can do:

Get informed about the issue!
Spread the word. Tell your friends and coworkers.
Follow our instructions and call up your printer maker. Ask them to stop using tracking codes and demand that they tell you how to turn it off. The Secret Service can't come and question all of us!
Support groups like the EFF working to expose and oppose printer tracking dots.

The $1,050 Speeding Ticket

SHORT of cash and long of arm, the State of Virginia recently unveiled the nation’s first $1,050 speeding ticket.
You have to go 20 miles an hour over the speed limit to get that one; but under a new set of rules there are now a whole host of violations considered “reckless driving” that subject errant Virginia drivers to fines of $1,050 to $3,000 — plus court costs, if you fight and lose. The money will be spent on maintaining roads and bridges, safety improvements and closing a $500 million gap that emerged in last year’s transportation budget.
All over the country, supporting safety improvements on the wages of reckless driving has become a tradition. But in the relations between government and its citizens, the four-digit traffic ticket also seems to signal a leap in the use of fines and fees — and just about any other form of enhanced governmental income production — to avoid the dreaded thing itself, a tax increase.
The rising cost of public benefits like pensions, health care and police services, combined with the conventional wisdom that raising taxes is political poison, have led public officials to cast a wide net for this kind of public revenue.
Leasing public bridges in Kentucky. Taxing tattoo parlors in Arkansas. Selling off large chunks of the state highway system in Indiana. Selling off bundles of state student loan portfolios in Missouri. Taxing funeral processions in New Orleans. Those are just some recent measures undertaken or proposed.
“Anything that puts money in the treasury, without raising taxes, is on the table,” said Sujit CanagaRetna, chief fiscal officer for the Council of State Governments, a Washington-based research group that works with state lawmakers. “It is a trend that we see growing tremendously."
This is not new. Remember Candlestick Park and Boston Garden? A decade ago, San Francisco and Boston saved their taxpayers some dollars by peddling the naming rights to those arenas (or their successors), now known as AT&T Park and the TD Banknorth Garden, respectively. Unlovely, perhaps, but far less onerous than the label they came up with in Orange County, Calif., in the 1990s. Officials there, trying to avoid new taxes by investing heavily in the stock market, stuck the whole of Orange County with this title: bankrupt.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Saturday Cartoons

Rock star back at university again after 33 gap years

Brian May, the multimillionaire guitarist who founded the rock group Queen, has finally completed the PhD in astrophysics that he abandoned more than 30 years ago.

The 59-year-old composer of hits such as Fat Bottomed Girls and We Will Rock You turned his back on the stars for international fame with Freddie Mercury and his band. His thesis on interplanetary dust clouds lay gathering dust of its own in the attic of his home in Surrey.

May’s interest in the subject was rekindled last year when he co-authored a children’s science book with the astronomer Sir Patrick Moore. He discovered that remarkably little research had been done in the intervening 33 years.

He dug out his old handwritten notes and spent nine months conducting further research at Imperial College, London, where he had studied before Queen hit the big time.

May revealed his achievement when he received an honorary doctorate at Exeter University this week. He told students: “For the last nine months I’ve done nothing except slave over my PhD, which is now written up, thank God. But there are times when you really want to give up. There are times when you go, ‘Why on earth did I take this on?’ ”

After the ceremony he said: “I worked on my thesis at Imperial from 1971 to 1974 when I had to give it up because Queen became a full-time thing. I kept all my notes and I was able to find them in my loft and start working on them again.”

Using a giant telescope in the Canary Islands, May was able to show for the first time that dust clouds in the solar system are moving in the same direction as the planets. He will receive his PhD next May, provided that his thesis is approved by assessors.

Abigail Smith, a spokeswoman for Imperial College, said: “People are aware he is here and there is a feeling it is pretty cool that he has come back to finish his PhD, even if he has not been hugely visible."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

ScienceDaily: Close driving reduces drag, saves fuel

KOLKATA, India, July 12 (UPI) -- Scientists at India's Jadavpur University say automated highway systems that allow cars to travel much closer to each other can cut drag and save fuel.
Maintaining a safe stopping distance from the car ahead of you reduces traffic accidents, but it increases tailgate turbulence that, in turn, decreases fuel efficiency, said researchers Debojyoti Mitra and Asis Mazundar.
They discovered cars moving in the same direction, separated by only about three feet would reduce drag and save fuel. Adding sensors and safety controls that allow vehicles to drive at such a small separation is possible.
"The leading car in the platoon experiences the highest drag as you would expect, but no more than if it were driving alone," said Mitra, "The second car has a much lower drag coefficient than the first car in a two-car platoon. The middle car experiences the lowest drag in a three-car platoon and the third car in the platoon, starting from the front, experiences the least drag in a four-car platoon."
Reduced drag not only means lower average fuel consumption, but also trims overall road noise, Mitra said.
The study appears in the International Journal of the Environment and Pollution.
Copyright 2007 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.