Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Everyman Who Exposed Tainted Toothpaste

New York Times: "PANAMA — Eduardo Arias hardly fits the profile of someone capable of humbling one of the world’s most formidable economic powers.
A 51-year-old Kuna Indian, Mr. Arias grew up on a reservation paddling dugout canoes near his home on one of the San Blas islands off Panama’s Caribbean coast. He now lives in a small apartment above a food stand in Panama, the nation’s capital, also known as Panama City.
But one Saturday morning in May, Eduardo Arias did something that would reverberate across six continents. He read the label on a 59-cent tube of toothpaste. On it were two words that had been overlooked by government inspectors and health authorities in dozens of countries: diethylene glycol, the same sweet-tasting, poisonous ingredient in antifreeze that had been mixed into cold syrup here, killing or disabling at least 138 Panamanians last year.
Mr. Arias reported his discovery, setting off a worldwide hunt for tainted toothpaste that turned out to be manufactured in China. Health alerts have now been issued in 34 countries, from Vietnam to Kenya, from Tonga in the Pacific to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean. Canada found 24 contaminated brands and New Zealand found 16. Japan had 20 million tubes. Officials in the United States unwittingly gave the toothpaste to prisoners, the mentally disabled and troubled youths. Hospitals gave it to the sick, while high-end hotels gave it to the wealthy."

Woman Gives Birth to Own Grandchildren

My Way News: "SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) - A 51-year-old surrogate mother for her daughter has given birth to her own twin grandchildren in northeastern Brazil, the delivery hospital said.
Rosinete Palmeira Serrao, a government health worker, gave birth to twin boys by Caesarean section on Thursday at the Santa Joana Hospital in the city of Recife, the hospital said in a statement on its Web site.
Hospital officials were not available for comment on Sunday, but press reports said the grandmother and twins were discharged on Saturday in excellent health. The Caesarean section was performed about two weeks ahead of time because Serrao was having trouble sleeping, the statement said.
Serrao decided to serve as a surrogate mother after four years of failed attempts at pregnancy by her 27-year-old daughter, Claudia Michelle de Brito."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Revealed: Saddam 'ready to walk away for $1bn' - Independent Online Edition > Middle East

A transcript of an eve-of-war conversation between President George Bush and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has revealed a previously undisclosed initiative to avert war in Iraq by spiriting Saddam Hussein out of the country.

"Yes, it's possible," Mr Bush told the Spanish leader. "The Egyptians are talking to Saddam Hussein ... He seems to have indicated he would be open to exile if they would let him take one billion dollars and all the information he wants on weapons of mass destruction."

But Mr Bush seems to shrug off the idea, saying "it's also possible he could be assassinated", and he makes made clear that the US would in any case give "no guarantee" for Hussein. "He's a thief, a terrorist and a war criminal. Compared to Saddam, Milosevic would be a Mother Teresa."

The conversation, recorded by Spain's ambassador to the US, Javier Ruperez, and published this week in El Pais, offers a unique insight into Mr Bush's brusque interaction with one of the few foreign leaders he trusted. Here was a leader already on the march towards war, expressing impatience and anger at those that disagreed with him.

Mr Bush does admit that averting war would be "the best solution for us" and "would also save us $50bn," greatly underestimating the cost to the US treasury of nearly five years of warfare. But he also talks of how he planned to exact revenge on countries, that did not back the US in its drive to war.

"We have to get rid of Saddam. There are two weeks left. In two weeks we'll be ready militarily," Mr Bush told Mr Aznar.

It was February 2003 at Mr Bush's Crawford Texas ranch, less than a month before the invasion. Almost 150,000 US troops and their British allies were sitting in the Kuwaiti desert. The troops were well within range of any weapons of mass destruction, military analysts have pointed out.

US administration officials had already prepared public opinion for war by raising fears of Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme and his ability to create "mushroom clouds." But the transcript reveals the two leaders were more concerned about getting a fig leaf of international approval for the war, than any imminent threat from Saddam.

The transcript revolves around Washington's frustrations at failing to get UN Security Council approval for war – the now-famous second resolution.

At the time, both Tony Blair and President Bush were officially open to a diplomatic resolution of the Iraq crisis – including a negotiated exile of Saddam - but the Spanish Ambassador's notes reveal peace was never really an option.

With public opposition to the war in Europe in full swing, Washington's two strongest allies, Mr Aznar and Tony Blair were under intense anti-war pressure.

President Bush needed to appear to be serious about diplomacy to "help us with our public opinion," pleaded Mr Aznar. The hope was that by being seen to looking for alternatives to war, the growing anger against US policy and Europe would be assuaged.

"I'm not asking for infinite patience," Mr Aznar said, but "simply that you do what's possible to get everyone to agree".

Pointing to the internal rows within the White House, where Vice President Dick Cheney was leading the drive to war, Mr Bush said he had gone to the United Nations "despite differences in my own administration" adding that it would be "great" if the proposed second resolution authorising war was successful.

"The only thing that worries me is your optimism," said Mr Aznar who is now a visiting scholar at Georgetown University. "I'm optimistic because I believe I'm right," the President replied. "I'm at peace with myself."

Mr Bush also chastised Europeans for being insensitive to "the suffering that Saddam Hussein has inflicted on the Iraqis" adding rather oddly: "Maybe it's because he's dark-skinned, far away and Muslim – a lot of Europeans think he's okay."

He then attacked Jacques Chirac, who had publicly challenged the US drive to war, saying the Frenchman "sees himself as Mr Arab."

It was at a time when the US right was trying to orchestrate a boycott of French wines and other goods. Restaurants across the US began using the name Freedom Fries instead of French Fries.

In one of the most chilling insights into the hardball politics Mr Bush was playing in order to get his way, he warned that countries which opposed him would pay a price, mentioning the Free Trade Agreement with Chile that is waiting for Senate confirmation and Angola's grants from the Millennium Account.

Friday, September 28, 2007

6 die from brain-eating amoeba after swimming

Rare organism that lives in lakes entered victims’ bodies through the nose
PHOENIX - It sounds like science fiction but it’s true: A killer amoeba living in lakes enters the body through the nose and attacks the brain where it feeds until you die.
Even though encounters with the microscopic bug are extraordinarily rare, it’s killed six boys and young men this year. The spike in cases has health officials concerned, and they are predicting more cases in the future.
“This is definitely something we need to track,” said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational waterborne illnesses for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better,” Beach said. “In future decades, as temperatures rise, we’d expect to see more cases.”
According to the CDC, the amoeba called Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEER-ee-uh FOWL’-erh-eye) killed 23 people in the United States, from 1995 to 2004. This year health officials noticed a spike with six cases — three in Florida, two in Texas and one in Arizona. The CDC knows of only several hundred cases worldwide since its discovery in Australia in the 1960s.
In Arizona, David Evans said nobody knew his son, Aaron, was infected with the amoeba until after the 14-year-old died on Sept. 17. At first, the teen seemed to be suffering from nothing more than a headache.
“We didn’t know,” Evans said. “And here I am: I come home and I’m burying him.”
After doing more tests, doctors said Aaron probably picked up the amoeba a week before while swimming in the balmy shallows of Lake Havasu, a popular man-made lake on the Colorado River between Arizona and California.
Deadly infection
Though infections tend to be found in southern states, Naegleria lives almost everywhere in lakes, hot springs, even dirty swimming pools, grazing off algae and bacteria in the sediment.
Beach said people become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom. If someone allows water to shoot up the nose — say, by doing a somersault in chest-deep water — the amoeba can latch onto the olfactory nerve.
The amoeba destroys tissue as it makes its way up into the brain, where it continues the damage, “basically feeding on the brain cells,” Beach said.
People who are infected tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers. In the later stages, they’ll show signs of brain damage such as hallucinations and behavioral changes, he said.
Once infected, most people have little chance of survival. Some drugs have stopped the amoeba in lab experiments, but people who have been attacked rarely survive, Beach said.

it's funny because it sucks.

Non-smoking vegan recycling pacifist seeks same

Barack Obama likes to say he represents hope for the future, a fresh approach.

But his campaign also apparently stands for something else: An awesome place to hook up.

As the New York Daily News recounts, Obama supporters planning on attending tonight's rally and fund-raiser at Washington Square Park in Manhattan will have more than public policy on their minds. They'll be checking each other out. ("Hey, you've got rectangular frames? Me too!")

After the rally will come the obligatory after-party, which is so not endorsed by the campaign. With good reason: that's where the real action will be, says one Lindsay Schaeffer, 25.

"Look, you never meet good guys in a bar," Schaeffer told the Daily News. "Something like this naturally weeds out the losers for you. You aren't going to get some pickup artist at a political after-party."

By losers, she presumably means Clinton or Edwards supporters.

Given Obama's recent public disavowal of the "Obama Girl" (where has she gone?), it's likely he would take a dim view of all this intimate canvassing.

Not everyone, though, seems to be doing this for the most idealistic of reasons. One cynical hipster says he's pretty confident he'll walk away from the evening with more than a button or a bumper sticker.

"Let's face it," he said. "Leftie girls are easy."

We are so not going there.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Burma regime planning to infiltrate demonstrations to spark violence

Burma Campaign UK sources in Rangoon have reported that soldiers have been
ordered to shave their heads, in possible preparation for infiltrating
peaceful demonstrations. They would start rioting or attacking police,
providing the regime with a pretext for a brutal crackdown on protestors.

Sources indicate that soldiers from Light Battalion 77 in Rangoon have been
given the order. Sources also report that the regime has ordered 3,000
monks’ robes from a factory in Rangoon.

It is a tactic the regime has used in the past, including at the Depayin
massacre in 2003, during which Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested. Regime militia
dressed as monks were involved in the ambush which left up to 100 democracy
activists dead. State television today reported that action would be taken
against protestors.

“We know from experience that the regime is capable of opening fire on
civilians,” said Mark Farmaner, acting Director of Burma Campaign UK. “The
regime came to power on the back of a massacre in 1988 that left at least
3,000 civilians dead. They have also been accused by the UN of breaking the
Geneva Convention for their deliberate targeting of civilians in attacks on
ethnic minorities.”

Despite the widespread expectations that the regime will use violence to
suppress protest, the international community has been remarkably silent,
with the French government being the only one to make a strong statement
warning of consequences if the regime responds with violence. ASEAN has also
expressed concern.

“The regime has been held in check by the peoples’ respect for the monks and
the fact that the world is watching, but the scale of protests means they
will be looking for options that allow them to justify a crackdown,”said
Mark Farmaner. “The UN Secretary General and other world leaders must speak
out and make it clear that a violent response in unacceptable. At the moment
the international community seems to be willing to watch from the sidelines
as the regime moves closer to a massacre. If the regime does attack
protestors, this will have been one of the most widely predicted massacres
in recent history, and makes a mockery any government’s claim to be
committed to human rights.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Parallel universes exist - study

Parallel universes really do exist, according to a mathematical discovery by Oxford scientists described by one expert as "one of the most important developments in the history of science".

The parallel universe theory, first proposed in 1950 by the US physicist Hugh Everett, helps explain mysteries of quantum mechanics that have baffled scientists for decades, it is claimed.

In Everett's "many worlds" universe, every time a new physical possibility is explored, the universe splits. Given a number of possible alternative outcomes, each one is played out - in its own universe.

A motorist who has a near miss, for instance, might feel relieved at his lucky escape. But in a parallel universe, another version of the same driver will have been killed. Yet another universe will see the motorist recover after treatment in hospital. The number of alternative scenarios is endless.

It is a bizarre idea which has been dismissed as fanciful by many experts. But the new research from Oxford shows that it offers a mathematical answer to quantum conundrums that cannot be dismissed lightly - and suggests that Dr Everett, who was a Phd student at Princeton University when he came up with the theory, was on the right track.

Commenting in New Scientist magazine, Dr Andy Albrecht, a physicist at the University of California at Davis, said: "This work will go down as one of the most important developments in the history of science."

According to quantum mechanics, nothing at the subatomic scale can really be said to exist until it is observed. Until then, particles occupy nebulous "superposition" states, in which they can have simultaneous "up" and "down" spins, or appear to be in different places at the same time.

Observation appears to "nail down" a particular state of reality, in the same way as a spinning coin can only be said to be in a "heads" or "tails" state once it is caught.

According to quantum mechanics, unobserved particles are described by "wave functions" representing a set of multiple "probable" states. When an observer makes a measurement, the particle then settles down into one of these multiple options.

The Oxford team, led by Dr David Deutsch, showed mathematically that the bush-like branching structure created by the universe splitting into parallel versions of itself can explain the probabilistic nature of quantum outcomes.
© Copyright Press Association Ltd 2007, All Rights Reserved.

'Fruitbat' at Bat

Maureen Dowd - New York Times: "We just can’t stop being nice to Iran.
First, we break Iraq and hand it over to the Shiites, putting in a puppet who leans toward Iran and is aligned with the Shiite militias bankrolled by Iran. Then, as Peter Galbraith writes in The New York Review of Books, President Bush facilitates “the takeover of a large part of the country by an Iranian-backed militia,” with the ironic twist that “there is now substantially more personal freedom in Iran than in Southern Iraq.”
And on top of all that, we help build up the self-serving doofus Iranian president, a frontman with a Ph.D. in traffic management, into the sort of larger-than-life demon that the real powers in Iran — the mullahs — can love.
New York’s hot blast of nastiness, jingoism and xenophobia toward its guest, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, only served to pump him up for his domestic audience. Iranians felt that their president had tied everyone in knots, including the “Zionist Jews,” as Iranian state television said. The Times reports that Mohsen Rezai, a former head of the Revolutionary Guards, was on TV criticizing the rude treatment his president received: “It is shocking that a country that claims to be civilized treats him that way.”
(It also raised his profile on the evening news here. Katie Couric dryly has told people that she remembers how to pronounce his name with the mnemonic “I’m a dinner jacket.”)"

The Dark Side

The New Yorker: "In 1610, Galileo Galilei published a smal book describing astronomical observation that he had made of the skies above Padua. Hi homemade telescopes had less magnifying an resolving power than most beginners’ telescope sold today, yet with them he made astonishin discoveries: that the moon has mountains an other topographical features; that Jupiter is orbited by satellites, which he calle planets; and that the Milky Way is made up of individual stars. It may see strange that this last observation could have surprised anyone, but in Galileo’ time people assumed that the Milky Way must be some kind of continuou substance. It truly resembled a streak of spilled liquid—our word “galaxy” come from the Greek for milk—and it was so bright that it cast shadows on the groun (as did Jupiter and Venus). Today, by contrast, most Americans are unable to se the Milky Way in the sky above the place where they live, and those who can se it are sometimes baffled by its name
The stars have not become dimmer; rather, the Earth has become vastly brighter, so that celestial objects are harder to see. Air pollution has made the atmosphere less transparent and more reflective, and high levels of terrestrial illumination have washed out the stars overhead—a phenomenon called “sky glow.” Anyone who has flown across the country on a clear night has seen the landscape ablaze with artificial lights, especially in urban areas. Today, a person standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building on a cloudless night would be unable to discern much more than the moon, the brighter planets, and a handful of very bright stars—less than one per cent of what Galileo would have been able to see without a telescope. Amateur astronomers sometimes classify nighttime darkness on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, which is based on a number of criteria, among them “limiting magnitude,” or the brightness of the faintest celestial objects that are visible without magnification. The scale, composed of nine points, was devised in 2001 by John E. Bortle, a retired Westchester County fire chief and a monthly columnist for Sky & Telescope. “One of the problems I was addressing was that younger amateur astronomers, especially east of the Mississippi, had never seen a dark sky at all,” he told me recently. “People will sometimes come up from the city and call me and say, ‘John, I’ve found this fabulous dark site, it’s totally black, you can’t imagine how good it is.’ So I’ll go and have a look, but it’s always poor. They have no comparison to work against.”"

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bush's UN Speech Full of Fone-eh-tick Pronunciations for World Leaders

ABC News:"Never before has the White House released a draft version of the President's speech to the annual United Nations General Assembly. But this year, a glimpse of how the President sees his speeches was accidentally placed on the UN website along with the speechwriters' cell phone numbers.
Pronunciations for President Bush's friend French President Sarkozy "[sar-KOzee]" appeared in draft #20 on the UN website. Other pronunciations include the Mugabe '[moo-GAHbee] regime" and pronunciations for countries "Kyrgyzstan [KEYRgeez-stan]" and "Mauritania [moor-EH-tain-ee-a]""

Monday, September 24, 2007

Examiner Exclusive: Bush quietly advising Hillary Clinton, top Democrats

Washington, D.C. (Map, News) - President Bush is quietly providing back-channel advice to Hillary Rodham Clinton, urging her to modulate her rhetoric so she can effectively prosecute the war in Iraq if elected president.

In an interview for the new book “The Evangelical President,” White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said Bush has “been urging candidates: ‘Don’t get yourself too locked in where you stand right now. If you end up sitting where I sit, things could change dramatically.’ ”

Bolten said Bush wants enough continuity in his Iraq policy that “even a Democratic president would be in a position to sustain a legitimate presence there.”

“Especially if it’s a Democrat,” the chief of staff told The Examiner in his West Wing office. “He wants to create the conditions where a Democrat not only will have the leeway, but the obligation to see it out.”
To that end, the president has been sending advice, mostly through aides, aimed at preventing an abrupt withdrawal from Iraq in the event of a Democratic victory in November 2008.

“It’s different being a candidate and being the president,” Bush said in an Oval Office interview. “No matter who the president is, no matter what party, when they sit here in the Oval Office and seriously consider the effect of a vacuum being created in the Middle East, particularly one trying to be created by al Qaeda, they will then begin to understand the need to continue to support the young democracy.”

To that end, Bush is institutionalizing controversial anti-terror programs so they can be used by the next president.

“Look, I’d like to make as many hard decisions as I can make, and do a lot of the heavy lifting prior to whoever my successor is,” Bush said. “And then that person is going to have to come and look at the same data I’ve been looking at, and come to their own conclusion.”

As an example, Bush cited his detainee program, which allows him to keep enemy combatants imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay while they await adjudication. Bush is unmoved by endless criticism of the program because he says his successor will need it.

“I specifically talked about it so that a candidate and/or president wouldn’t have to deal with the issue,” he said. “The next person has got the opportunity to analyze the utility of the program and make his or her decision about whether or not it is necessary to protect the homeland. I suspect they’ll find that it is necessary. But my only point to you is that it was important for me to lay it out there, so that the politics wouldn’t enter into whether or not the program ought to survive beyond my period.”

The Examiner asked Bush why Democratic candidates such as Clinton and Barack Obama, who routinely lambaste his handling of Iraq, should take his advice.

“First of all, I expect them to criticize me. That’s one way you get elected in the Democratic primary, is to criticize the president,” Bush replied. “I don’t expect them to necessarily take advice from me. I would expect their insiders to at least get a perspective about how we see things.”

What it might be like to catch a movie at the White House

By Ken Herman
Sunday, September 23, 2007
WASHINGTON — White House reporters sometimes are invited to what are couched as "social events" in the building. There are informal receptions, lavish state dinners with foreign dignitaries, and luncheons.
And there is movie night.
Last Sunday, I attended my first movie night, invited, as best I can tell, because of the subject matter of the film being screened. "The Kite Runner" is based on the successful and moving novel about two childhood friends in war-torn Afghanistan.
My connection to the tale is professional. I traveled with Laura Bush to cover her 2005 trip to Afghanistan. And I was aboard Air Force One when President Bush made a surprise visit to Kabul. So, that's probably why I was invited to watch the film.
Social events at the White House can be a problem for reporters: On the record or off the record?
Nobody said anything about off the record, except, of course, the president during pre-movie conversation with him.
The bottom line is a conundrum about what's fair to report about social events at the White House.
So, let's try it this way and see if anybody yanks my White House press pass: Here's what it might be like if you were invited to movie night.
Maybe you would enter through the east visitors gate and head into the inner sanctum of the East Wing.
Maybe you would wind your way through the halls leading to the White House theater.
And maybe you would start getting the feeling that "business casual" did include a sport coat.
The evening might begin with hallway chit-chat that would include extended banter with a former Austinite now living in his dad's former place on Pennsylvania Avenue. A little baseball, a little current events and a lot of artful dancing about whether the next morning would bring an announcement about the selection of a new attorney general.
Then it might be movie time, as President and Mrs. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and Mrs. Cheney take their seats in overstuffed red armchairs in the front row and put their feet up on the matching ottomans.
Everybody else might fill the comfortable rocking theater seats in the 10 or so rows behind the president and vice president. And, through luck of the draw, perhaps former presidential aide Karl Rove would be seated directly behind you. And maybe Rove would introduce you to the man seated next to you as "the most cynical" reporter in the White House press corps.
Maybe you wouldn't know whether to take that as a compliment or just good-natured joshing from a man whom former White House press secretary Tony Snow calls a fountain of "inexhaustible good cheer."
Perhaps there would be a few opening remarks from the president, touching on freedom and why and how we should appreciate it.
"And if it's a lousy movie, it's not the writer's fault," he might quip in noting the presence of Khaled Hosseini, author of the novel on which the movie is based.
And then maybe Rove would evidence his "inexhaustible good cheer" by kicking the back of your chair throughout the opening credits.
Perhaps you would spend a couple of hours or so in the dark watching a PG-13 movie ("for strong thematic material including the rape of a child, violence and brief strong language") with the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and assorted other notables.
Maybe there would be appropriate silence during the gut-wrenching movie, with occasional laughter at light moments.
At one point, there might be the unmistakable sound of the president's trademark chuckle during a part of the movie that did not seem intended to produce chuckles. Might have been a front-row, highly classified inside joke.
After the movie's upbeat ending, everyone might head down the hall to the buffet line for crab cakes, a chicken dish and beef.
It might be open seating at tables set up in the oval Diplomatic Reception Room. Perhaps you'd wind up at a table with Snow; his wife, Jill; and a couple of folks from a major federal agency bemoaning the death of analytical thought and writing.
Dessert might be a sumptuous pastry of empty calories topped by — these folks think of everything — a chocolate kite. Maybe you would leave the kite on your plate because you couldn't figure out whether to pick up the whole thing or attack it with a fork.
And then everyone in the room might stand up within seconds of when the president stood up to signal the evening's end.
Thanks, you might say to the president, joking that you are looking forward to coming back again next Sunday.
And maybe he would respond by joking that next week's movie is "Revenge of the Nerds."

New York Times Says It Violated Policies Over MoveOn Ad

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 24, 2007; Page A08
After two weeks of denials, the New York Times acknowledged that it should not have given a discount to for a full-page advertisement assailing Gen. David H. Petraeus.
The liberal advocacy group should have paid $142,000 for the ad calling the U.S. commander in Iraq "General Betray Us," not $65,000, the paper's public editor wrote yesterday.
Clark Hoyt said in his column that MoveOn was not entitled to the cheaper "standby" rate for advertising that can run any time over the following week because the Times did promise that the ad would run Sept. 10, the day Petraeus began his congressional testimony. "We made a mistake," Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis was quoted as saying.
MoveOn, saying it had no reason to believe it was paying "anything other than the normal and usual charge," said yesterday that it would send the Times $77,000 to make up the difference.
The Times also violated its own advertising policy, which bars "attacks of a personal nature," Hoyt reported. He wrote that the episode "gave fresh ammunition to a cottage industry that loves to bash The Times as a bastion of the 'liberal media.' "
Many Republicans have seemed to prefer talking about MoveOn's ad rather than the war itself.
On Thursday, President Bush called the ad "disgusting," saying that "most Democrats . . . are more afraid of irritating [MoveOn] than they are of irritating the United States military."
On Friday, the Senate voted 75 to 25 to denounce the ad. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), the Democratic presidential front-runner, was questioned repeatedly about the ad yesterday while taping interviews with all five Sunday talk shows.
Clinton said she did not approve of personal attacks from any quarter but avoided criticizing MoveOn by name.
The group told its 3 million members by e-mail that some might think "the language went too far. . . . But make no mistake: this is much bigger than one ad."

Putting Money on the Table

NY Times: "FOR Whitney Hess, a 25-year-old software designer in Manhattan, the tension that ultimately ended her recent relationships was all right there, in the digits on her pay stub.
The awkwardness started with nights out. She would want to try the latest downtown bistro, but her boyfriends, who worked in creative jobs that paid less than hers, preferred diners.
They would say, “Wow, you’re so sophisticated,” she recalled. A first look at her apartment, a smartly appointed studio in a full-service building in TriBeCa, would only reinforce the impression. “They wouldn’t want me to see their apartments,” she said, because they lived in cramped surroundings in distant quadrants of Brooklyn or the Bronx.
One of them, she said, finally just came out and said it. “Look,” Ms. Hess recalled him saying, “it makes me really uncomfortable that you make more money than me. I’m going to put that out on the table and try to get over it.”
But he never got over it, she said.
“The sad thing is that I really liked the guy,” she said. “If that hadn’t been an issue with him, we’d probably still be dating.”
Ms. Hess’s quandary is becoming more common for many young women. For the first time, women in their 20s who work full time in several American cities — New York, Chicago, Boston and Minneapolis — are earning higher wages than men in the same age range, according to a recent analysis of 2005 census data by Andrew Beveridge, a sociology professor at Queens College in New York.
For instance, the median income of women age 21 to 30 in New York who are employed full time was 17 percent higher than that of comparable men.
Professor Beveridge said the gap is largely driven by a gulf in education: 53 percent of women employed full time in their 20s were college graduates, compared with 38 percent of men. Women are also more likely to have graduate degrees. “They have more of everything,” Professor Beveridge said."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Thousands of hyphens perish as English marches on

Reuters: "LONDON (Reuters) - About 16,000 words have succumbed to pressures of the Internet age and lost their hyphens in a new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.
Bumble-bee is now bumblebee, ice-cream is ice cream and pot-belly is pot belly.
And if you've got a problem, don't be such a crybaby (formerly cry-baby).
The hyphen has been squeezed as informal ways of communicating, honed in text messages and emails, spread on Web sites and seep into newspapers and books.
"People are not confident about using hyphens anymore, they're not really sure what they are for," said Angus Stevenson, editor of the Shorter OED, the sixth edition of which was published this week.
Another factor in the hyphen's demise is designers' distaste for its ungainly horizontal bulk between words.
"Printed writing is very much design-led these days in adverts and Web sites, and people feel that hyphens mess up the look of a nice bit of typography," he said. "The hyphen is seen as messy looking and old-fashioned."
The team that compiled the Shorter OED, a two-volume tome despite its name, only committed the grammatical amputations after exhaustive research."

Climate Change: Did NASA scientist James Hansen, the global warming alarmist in chief, once believe we were headed for . . . an ice age? An old Washin

I found an interesting editorial here, and thought it needed to be shared for several reasons. First, I'd like to point out the authors ignorance of both global warming and global cooling, of which it is evident he/she has not studied in the past, nor has any intentions to do so in the future. Second, the author really irritates me by dumbing down, or as I like to call it, "retardedationing" the conversation. He/she indicates that there can't be both global cooling and global warming, and directs Nasa scientist Hansen to choose one or the other. When dealing with a dynamic system, such as global weather, there can and does exist many causes of temperature spikes and drops. Third, the author rails the scientist, claiming he has political motivations for his conversion. Most scientists I have encountered switch their ideas based on facts. This author is trying to frame a scientific question in a political picture frame. This is done to death by a certain political party, which will remain nameless, and their tools used to so are usually the same simple tools they've used for decades. So next time someone of the opposing political party tries to prove their point by invoking ignorance, retardedationing the conversation, and ignores evidence in favor of towing their party-line, let's call them out on it!
On July 9, 1971, the Post published a story headlined "U.S. Scientist Sees New Ice Age Coming." It told of a prediction by NASA and Columbia University scientist S.I. Rasool. The culprit: man's use of fossil fuels.
The Post reported that Rasool, writing in Science, argued that in "the next 50 years" fine dust that humans discharge into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel will screen out so much of the sun's rays that the Earth's average temperature could fall by six degrees.
Sustained emissions over five to 10 years, Rasool claimed, "could be sufficient to trigger an ice age."
Aiding Rasool's research, the Post reported, was a "computer program developed by Dr. James Hansen," who was, according to his resume, a Columbia University research associate at the time.
So what about those greenhouse gases that man pumps into the skies? Weren't they worried about them causing a greenhouse effect that would heat the planet, as Hansen, Al Gore and a host of others so fervently believe today?
"They found no need to worry about the carbon dioxide fuel-burning puts in the atmosphere," the Post said in the story, which was spotted last week by Washington resident John Lockwood, who was doing research at the Library of Congress and alerted the Washington Times to his finding.
Hansen has some explaining to do. The public deserves to know how he was converted from an apparent believer in a coming ice age who had no worries about greenhouse gas emissions to a global warming fear monger.
This is a man, as Lockwood noted in his message to the Times' John McCaslin, who has called those skeptical of his global warming theory "court jesters." We wonder: What choice words did he have for those who were skeptical of the ice age theory in 1971?
People can change their positions based on new information or by taking a closer or more open-minded look at what is already known. There's nothing wrong with a reversal or modification of views as long as it is arrived at honestly.
But what about political hypocrisy? It's clear that Hansen is as much a political animal as he is a scientist. Did he switch from one approaching cataclysm to another because he thought it would be easier to sell to the public? Was it a career advancement move or an honest change of heart on science, based on empirical evidence?
If Hansen wants to change positions again, the time is now. With NASA having recently revised historical temperature data that Hansen himself compiled, the door has been opened for him to embrace the ice age projections of the early 1970s.
Could be he's feeling a little chill in the air again.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Roamin' Legions

Fifty years after the publication of On the Road, the question remains: Where was Kerouac going?

A friend of mine once met Jack Kerouac. This was in 1968, in the Carolinas somewhere; my friend was a college student, and Kerouac, well, Kerouac was playing out the string. He was forty-six (the age I am now), broken-down and bloated, a barroom brawler discontent with his legacy. In September of that year, he would appear on William F. Buckley Jr.’s television show, Firing Line, along with the Fugs’ Ed Sanders, whose work and politics he’d disavowed. To look at footage of that appearance is instructive— Kerouac drunk in a checkered jacket, smoking a cigarillo and tossing off non sequiturs, face florid and body thick; Buckley supercilious in seersucker, subtly goading him. A telling moment comes at the end of the segment, when Kerouac turns to Sanders and declares, “Say, Ed, I was arrested two weeks ago. And the arresting policeman said, ‘I’m arresting you for decay.’” There’s a flash of cognitive dissonance: Did he really just say that? The crowd laughs, but it’s an edgy laughter, tempered by the shock of Kerouac’s self-awareness, by the sense that they’ve just caught a glimpse behind the curtain.

According to my friend, meeting Kerouac was a similarly dissociative experience; he went to a party, and there he was. For the entire evening, Kerouac sat alone in the living room, drinking, smoking dope, and resolutely ignoring all these kids who saw him as “the man who launched the hippie world, the daddy of the swinging psychedelic generation,” to steal a phrase from the cover of my old Signet paperback of On the Road. What my friend recalls most is that Kerouac smelled terrible: boozy, tinged with sweat and urine. This split, the dichotomy between Kerouac as he was and Kerouac as we want him to be, continues to obscure him, to make of him an oddly spectral avatar. It’s been more than sixty years since he met Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs at Columbia University and with them formed the nucleus of what we now know as the Beat Generation; that encounter reverberates, in ways we recognize and ways we may never, for every ensuing generation of disaffected youth. It’s impossible to imagine American culture in the second half of the twentieth century without the tropes Kerouac helped codify—the cars, the music, the endless, restless movement, the sense that authenticity cannot be found in the mainstream, that it has to do with living slightly outside the law. Even now, we are attracted by the myth of him, by his vigor and exuberance, by his status as the dark-eyed saint of the underground, awash in Buddhism and blues.

But Kerouac was also tortured, death obsessed, an alcoholic who withdrew, during his last decade, into a bitter, self-contained universe, living with his mother, Gabrielle, and his third wife, Stella, in a succession of suburban homes from Northport, Long Island, to Saint Petersburg, Florida, where he died in 1969. This is the Kerouac my friend met, the icon who sought his distance from the counterculture and lamented his influence on it in the last piece he ever published, a Chicago Tribune essay called “After Me, the Deluge.” Even as a young man, Kerouac represented this kind of double vision—on March 12, 1952, his thirtieth birthday, he wrote to novelist John Clellon Holmes, a longtime friend, that he was “blowing such mad poetry and literature that I’ll look back years later with amazement and chagrin that I can’t do it anymore.” Here, we catch a glimpse of his uneasy mix of exultation and apprehension, of enthusiasm and despair. “I was never a ‘rebel,’” he admitted in a 1949 letter to novelist Alan Harrington, “only a happy, sheepish imbecile, open-hearted & silly with joys.” Perhaps more apropos is Holmes’s assessment, from the 1986 documentary What Happened to Kerouac? “Jack Kerouac,” he explains, “was never taken seriously while he lived . . . [b]ecause [people] weren’t looking in the right place. They weren’t looking at the work, they were looking at their image of the man, an image which they derived from the few works that they read. They kept mixing Jack up with Dean Moriarty, they kept thinking he was like Dean Moriarty—in other words, Neal Cassady—and he wasn’t.”

The Future just got a little Cooler

(Har har har...)

Drinks giant Coca-Cola has invented a bottle that chills on the inside when the top is twisted off.

Insiders have hinted that the technology will feature in a new drink called Sprite Super Chilled, which could reach the UK by next year.

The bottles do away with the need to add ice, which dilutes the liquid - but they must be put in a special vending machine to regulate temperature.

Bosses at the US firm hope to cash in on the "super chilled" drinks trend.

Coke and Diet Coke could be packaged in the new bottles if they prove to be successful.

Fascist America, in 10 easy steps

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf (in her new book), George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all
Tuesday April 24, 2007
The Guardian
Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down: the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took certain activists into custody.
They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy - but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.
As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.
Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree - domestically - as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government - the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens' ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors - we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don't learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of "homeland" security - remember who else was keen on the word "homeland" - didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.
It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable - as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.
Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a "war footing"; we were in a "global war" against a "global caliphate" intending to "wipe out civilisation". There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned. But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes, is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and without national boundaries in space - the globe itself is the battlefield. "This time," Fein says, "there will be no defined end."
2. Create a gulag
Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal "outer space") - where torture takes place.
3. Develop a thug caste
When leaders who seek what I call a "fascist shift" want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.
The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America's security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad. In Iraq, some of these contract operatives have been accused of involvement in torturing prisoners, harassing journalists and firing on Iraqi civilians. Under Order 17, issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-time US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are immune from prosecution
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
In Mussolini's Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China - in every closed society - secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.
In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens' phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.
In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about "national security"; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.
5. Harass citizens' groups
The fifth thing you do is related to step four - you infiltrate and harass citizens' groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a "list" of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.
In 2004, America's Transportation Security Administration confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela's government - after Venezuela's president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens.
7. Target key individuals - 'nuff said
8. Control the press
The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists are at an all-time high: Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San Francisco, has been put in jail for a year for refusing to turn over video of an anti-war demonstration; Homeland Security brought a criminal complaint against reporter Greg Palast, claiming he threatened "critical infrastructure" when he and a TV producer were filming victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Palast had written a bestseller critical of the Bush administration.
9. Dissent equals treason
And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year - when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - the president has the power to call any US citizen an "enemy combatant". He has the power to define what "enemy combatant" means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define "enemy combatant" any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.
Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin's gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo's, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)
10. Suspend the rule of law
The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency - which the president now has enhanced powers to declare - he can send Michigan's militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state's governor and its citizens.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Abortion clinic to stay shut

MSNBC: "CHICAGO - A suburban Planned Parenthood clinic prohibited from opening after anti-abortion activists raised questions about how it received its building permits will stay closed for the near future.
U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle on Thursday rejected a motion that could have allowed the clinic in Aurora to open as soon as Friday and predicted a long legal fight for Planned Parenthood.
“By no means is this case over. By no means,” Norgle said.
The 22,000-square-foot, $7.5 million building — located about 35 miles west of Chicago in the state’s second-largest city — stands finished but empty. It was supposed to open Tuesday.
Aurora officials however would not provide occupancy permits while the city tries to determine if local laws were followed when Planned Parenthood applied for building permits under the name of a subsidiary.
Christopher Wilson, representing Planned Parenthood, told Norgle that the clinic is being targeted for extra scrutiny because abortions will be performed there, among other medical services.
The fact that Planned Parenthood would be occupying the clinic became public knowledge in late July, but city officials granted it a temporary occupancy permit in August, Wilson pointed out."

Rocker Donates to Jena 6 Defense Fund

The Associated Press: "NEW ORLEANS (AP) — David Bowie has donated $10,000 to a legal defense fund for six black teens charged in an alleged attack on a white classmate in the tiny central Louisiana town of Jena.
The British rocker's donation to the Jena Six Legal Defense Fund was announced by the NAACP as thousands of protesters were expected to march through Jena on Thursday in defense of Mychal Bell and five other teens. The group has become known as the Jena Six.
"There is clearly a separate and unequal judicial process going on in the town of Jena," Bowie said Tuesday in an e-mail statement. "A donation to the Jena Six Legal Defense Fund is my small gesture indicating my belief that a wrongful charge and sentence should be prevented."
Bell was found guilty on second-degree battery charges June 28 by a six-member, all-white jury. Before the case was overturned by the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, his sentencing had been set for Thursday.
The court said Bell, who was 16 at the time of the alleged December 2006 beating, shouldn't have been tried as an adult.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped organize the march, planned to do his syndicated radio show from Alexandria on Wednesday, then travel about 35 miles to Jena in an attempt to visit Bell, who remains in jail because he is unable to post $90,000 bond.
Sharpton says he expects more than 10,000 marchers."

Jena: The Ignored Story of Legal Lynching

by Linn Washington Jr.
For many African-Americans today, the main battle field against terrorism is not Iraq or Afghanistan but Jena, a small town in the state of Louisiana.
This rural town about 40-miles northeast of Alexandria, La is where a group of six black teens are enduring criminal prosecutions for a school yard fight that many see as a legal lynching.
The prosecutor in Jena is pressing serious felony charges for this fight that produced no serious injury on the specious claim that the Jena 6 used deadly weapons in that fight: their tennis shoes…used to allegedly kick the white victim.
This is the same prosecutor who refused to pursue comparable felony charges against white teens who smashed a black teen in the head with a beer bottle while ejecting him from a ‘whites-only’ party and a young white man who pointed a shotgun at black teens.
The reason why African-Americans react to the Jena injustice as domestic terrorism is rightly rooted in America’s history of racism…that scourge that still infects American society and is still widely ignored.
For most Americans, the face of terrorism is a foreign Islamofascist.
However, for African-Americans - long before 9/11 - the face of racism enforcing domestic terrorism was a fellow citizen wearing blue suits or black robes as well as white KKK sheets.
The series of incidents in Jena culminating in the charges against those six teens, for example, began last fall when lynch nooses were hung from the only tree in the yard at the town’s high school.
Nooses dangled after black students dared share the shade under traditionally reserved ‘whites-only’ gathering spot.
Top Jena school district officials overruled the principal’s recommendation to expel the white students responsible to hanging the nooses dismissing their inflammatory action as an adolescent prank.
For blacks, lynching is not a matter easily dismissed.
A 1919 NAACP report on lynching listed Louisiana as ranking fourth behind Georgia, Mississippi and Texas in the number of officially recorded incidents of this type of racist terrorism.
Thousands often attended lynching, once known as America’s ‘blood sport.’ Beyond mob-justice against alleged criminals, lynching was a device for social control, ethnic cleansing and economic theft.
In July 1934 a prosecutor in Bastrop, La - about 60-miles north of Jena - refused to investigative the lynching of a black man in that town’s public square. This prosecutor told a mob numbering 3,000 that he “sympathized with its attitude” moments before the hanging of this suspected criminal, according to an account in a New York newspaper.
The sympathy shown to whites by that prosecutor in Bastrop is eerily similar to sympathies displayed by the white prosecutor in Jena whose impermissible race based charging practices violate any legal discretion given prosecutors for lodging charges.
In June 2005, when the US Senate approved a resolution apologizing for that body’s failure to enact federal anti-lynching legislation, Senators refusing to support that apology included Senators from Georgia, Mississippi and Texas…the top three lynch states in that 1919 NAACP report.
Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu initiated that anti-lynching resolution. Landrieu recently called for a US Justice Department investigation into the Jena incidents which now garner national attention.

U.S. Airport Screeners Are Watching What You Read

International travelers concerned about being labeled a terrorist or drug runner by secret Homeland Security algorithms may want to be careful what books they read on the plane. Newly revealed records show the government is storing such information for years.

Privacy advocates obtained database records showing that the government routinely records the race of people pulled aside for extra screening as they enter the country, along with cursory answers given to U.S. border inspectors about their purpose in traveling. In one case, the records note Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Gilmore's choice of reading material, and worry over the number of small flashlights he'd packed for the trip.

The breadth of the information obtained by the Gilmore-funded Identity Project (using a Privacy Act request) shows the government's screening program at the border is actually a "surveillance dragnet," according to the group's spokesman Bill Scannell.

"There is so much sensitive information in the documents that it is clear that Homeland Security is not playing straight with the American people," Scannell said.

The documents show a tiny slice of the massive airline-record collection stored by the government, as well as the screening records mined for the controversial Department of Homeland Security passenger-rating system that assigns terrorist scores to travelers entering and leaving the country, including U.S. citizens.

Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes?

Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.

At first glance, natural selection and the survival of the fittest may seem to reward only the most selfish values. But for animals that live in groups, selfishness must be strictly curbed or there will be no advantage to social living. Could the behaviors evolved by social animals to make societies work be the foundation from which human morality evolved?

In a series of recent articles and a book, “The Happiness Hypothesis,” Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at the University of Virginia, has been constructing a broad evolutionary view of morality that traces its connections both to religion and to politics.

Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) began his research career by probing the emotion of disgust. Testing people’s reactions to situations like that of a hungry family that cooked and ate its pet dog after it had become roadkill, he explored the phenomenon of moral dumbfounding — when people feel strongly that something is wrong but cannot explain why.

Dumbfounding led him to view morality as driven by two separate mental systems, one ancient and one modern, though the mind is scarcely aware of the difference. The ancient system, which he calls moral intuition, is based on the emotion-laden moral behaviors that evolved before the development of language. The modern system — he calls it moral judgment — came after language, when people became able to articulate why something was right or wrong.

Alumna Gives $128 Million to High School

It probably would never have happened if Harvard University had not rejected Warren E. Buffett’s business school application in 1950. But a string of events originating with Mr. Buffett’s disappointment led yesterday to a Quaker high school’s receiving a gift that dwarfs some college endowments: $128 million.

Officials at George School, a prep school in Bucks County, Pa., were reeling from the contribution, believed to be one of the largest ever to a secondary school. “All I could say was things like, ‘Wow, this is overwhelming,’ ” said Anne Storch, the school’s chief fund-raiser.

It all began when Mr. Buffett, long before he became the celebrated investor, was rejected by Harvard and attended Columbia instead. A business professor there, David L. Dodd, was so impressed that after Mr. Buffett returned home to Nebraska and formed an investment partnership, Professor Dodd invested some of his own money for himself and his daughter.

Mr. Buffett soon acquired a then-obscure textile company named Berkshire Hathaway, and over the years made his professor and many other early investors rich.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Don't Get Caught Dead Without 'Go Bag': Taking Terror 'Go Bags' to the Next Level

Radar Online: "Disaster-fearing New Yorkers, have you packed your "Go bag?" The New York Times's City Room blog reports on a new poll in which most New Yorkers say they fear an evacuation-worthy national disaster within the next 10 years. The emergency management office encourages NYC residents to keep a "go bag" packed with a flashlight, emergency contact numbers, cash, bottled water and snack foods, a radio, a first-aid kit, and copies of important documents.
We're shocked at the lack of inclusion of such NYC essentials as hair product, an iPhone, moisturizer (at least SPF 30), Pinkberry frequent customer card, a Chihuahua, and cocaine.
Furthermore, no self-respecting New Yorker wants to be seen fleeing Armageddon while carrying a freebie embroidered duffel she picked up at the Nanny Diaries premiere. Might we suggest Louis Vuitton's Tribute Patchwork bag—'cause if you're going out in Manhattan, you better go out looking good."

It's A Man's World: Pitchfork Has Way More Reviews Written By Guys Named Mark Than By Ladies With Any Name

Gawker: "Pitchfork, the music site "often compared to Rolling Stone in its prime," can, they say, make or break an album. But rarely do we get to see the men behind the curtain. Men, you say? Oh yes, we say. Our Intern Sheila checked genders on 10 business days of Pitchfork's bylined reviews from each of the last two months, as well as from March, 2007 and from September, 2006. In each of those periods, reviews by men named Mark appeared at least twice as frequently than any reviews by women. The good news: Pitchfork appears to have doubled its contributions by women in the last year—their lady-numbers have jumped from 4% to 8% of all bylines! Wowza!

September 2007
50 reviews sampled
4 by women - 8%
7 by dudes named Mark - 14%

August 2007
50 reviews sampled
3 by women - 6%
6 by dudes named Mark - 12%

March 2007
50 reviews sampled
2 by women - 4%
10 by dudes named Mark - 20%

September 2006
50 reviews total
2 by women - 4%
9 by dudes named Mark - 18%

I trust we've all learned something here?"

Daily Show: Is America ready for a woman president?

Samantha Bee investigates.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nurture strikes back

Economist: "ONCE upon a time, the only ideologically acceptable explanations of mental differences between men and women were cultural. Any biologist who dared to suggest in public that perhaps evolution might work differently on the sexes, and that this might perhaps result in some underlying neurological inequalities, was likely to get tarred and feathered.
Today, by contrast, biology tends to be an explanation of first resort in matters sexual. So it is salutary to come across an experiment which shows that a newly discovered difference which fits easily, at first sight, into the biological-determinism camp, actually does not belong there at all.
Writing in Psychological Science, a team led by Ian Spence of the University of Toronto describes a test performed on people's ability to spot unusual objects that appear in their field of vision. Success at spatial tasks like this often differs between the sexes (men are better at remembering and locating general landmarks; women are better at remembering and locating food), so the researchers were not surprised to discover a discrepancy between the two. The test asked people to identify an “odd man out” object in a briefly displayed field of two dozen otherwise identical objects. Men had a 68% success rate. Women had a 55% success rate.
Had they left it at that, Dr Spence and his colleagues might have concluded that they had uncovered yet another evolved difference between the sexes, come up with a “Just So” story to explain it in terms of division of labour on the African savannah, and moved on. However, they did not leave it at that. Instead, they asked some of their volunteers to spend ten hours playing an action-packed, shoot-'em-up video game, called “Medal of Honour: Pacific Assault”. As a control, other volunteers were asked to play a decidedly non-action-packed puzzle game, called “Ballance”, for a similar time. Both sets were then asked to do the odd-man-out test again.
Among the Ballancers, there was no change in the ability to pick out the unusual. Among those who had played “Medal of Honour”, both sexes improved their performances.
That is not surprising, given the different natures of the games. However, the improvement in the women was greater than the improvement in the men—so much so that there was no longer a significant difference between the two. Moreover, that absence of difference was long-lived. When the volunteers were tested again after five months, both the improvement and the lack of difference between the sexes remained. Though it is too early to be sure, it looks likely that the change in spatial acuity—and the abolition of any sex difference in that acuity—induced by playing “Medal of Honour” is permanent."

Man in China dies after three-day Internet session

Yahoo! News: "BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese man dropped dead after playing Internet games for three consecutive days, state media said on Monday as China seeks to wean Internet addicts offline.
The man from the southern boomtown of Guangzhou, aged about 30, died on Saturday after being rushed to the hospital from the Internet cafe, local authorities were quoted by the Beijing News as saying.
"Police have ruled out the possibility of suicide," the newspaper said, adding that exhaustion was the most likely cause of death. It did not say what game he was playing.
China, worried about the spread of pornography and politically incorrect content, has banned the opening of new cybercafes this year and issued orders limiting the time Internet users can spend playing online.
In April, President Hu Jintao launched a campaign to rid the Internet of "unhealthy" content and make it a platform for Communist Party doctrine."

Villagers fall ill after fireball hits Peru

A foul-smelling meteorite is causing a stink in Peru.'s Kevin Flynn reports.
Updated: 3:51 p.m. CT Sept 18, 2007
A fireball fell from the sky and slammed into southern Peru over the weekend, creating a huge crater that emitted a sickeningly smelly gas, local authorities said. More than 600 villagers fell ill, the Peruvian radio network RPP reported Tuesday.
Video reports from the scene, near the remote Andean village of Carancas along Peru's border with Bolivia, showed what appeared to be a 100-foot-wide (30-meter-wide), 20-foot-deep (6-meter-deep) impact crater with a bubbling pool of water at the bottom.
Authorities said that the crater was made Saturday by a falling meteorite. Agence France Presse quoted a local official, Marco Limache, as saying that "boiling water started coming out of the crater, and particles of rock and cinders were found nearby."
Limache told RPP that the gases emanating from the crater caused nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and stomach pain — so much so that authorities were considering calling a state of emergency. The newspaper La Republica reported that seven policemen became ill and were taken to a hospital.
Villagers decided not to drink the water in the area because they regarded it as contaminated in the wake of the impact, RPP reported. Experts from Peru's Geological, Mining and Metallurgical Institute, or Ingemmet, were reportedly on their way to the village in the country's Desaguadero region to evaluate the health risk.
If the impact was caused by a meteorite, sulfur or other elements in the space rock may have reacted with the ground water to produce noxious fumes.
RPP said 600 people were affected in one way or another. Jorge Lopez, health director in the Puno region, told Reuters that his team examined about 100 people who suffered vomiting and headaches. “People are scared,” he said.
“We ourselves went near the crater, and now we’ve got irritated throats and itching noses,” Lopez said.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ayn Rand's Literature of Capitalism

New York Times: "One of the most influential business books ever written is a 1,200-page novel published 50 years ago, on Oct. 12, 1957. It is still drawing readers; it ranks 388th on’s best-seller list. (“Winning,” by John F. Welch Jr., at a breezy 384 pages, is No. 1,431.)
The book is “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s glorification of the right of individuals to live entirely for their own interest.
For years, Rand’s message was attacked by intellectuals whom her circle labeled “do-gooders,” who argued that individuals should also work in the service of others. Her book was dismissed as an homage to greed. Gore Vidal described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.”
But the book attracted a coterie of fans, some of them top corporate executives, who dared not speak of its impact except in private. When they read the book, often as college students, they now say, it gave form and substance to their inchoate thoughts, showing there is no conflict between private ambition and public benefit.
“I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 C.E.O.’s that ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has had a significant effect on their business decisions, even if they don’t agree with all of Ayn Rand’s ideas,” said John A. Allison, the chief executive of BB&T, one of the largest banks in the United States.
“It offers something other books don’t: the principles that apply to business and to life in general. I would call it complete,” he said."

The Jane Fonda Effect

Jane Fonda - Nuclear Energy - The China Syndrome - Three Mile Island - Power and Energy - Global Warming - Fossil Fuels - New York Times"If you were asked to name the biggest global-warming villains of the past 30 years, here’s one name that probably wouldn’t spring to mind: Jane Fonda. But should it?
In the movie “The China Syndrome,” Fonda played a California TV reporter filming an upbeat series about the state’s energy future. While visiting a nuclear power plant, she sees the engineers suddenly panic over what is later called a “swift containment of a potentially costly event.” When the plant’s corporate owner tries to cover up the accident, Fonda’s character persuades one engineer to blow the whistle on the possibility of a meltdown that could “render an area the size of Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable.”
“The China Syndrome” opened on March 16, 1979. With the no-nukes protest movement in full swing, the movie was attacked by the nuclear industry as an irresponsible act of leftist fear-mongering. Twelve days later, an accident occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in south-central Pennsylvania.
Michael Douglas, a producer and co-star of the film — he played Fonda’s cameraman — watched the T.M.I. accident play out on the real TV news, which interspersed live shots from Pennsylvania with eerily similar scenes from “The China Syndrome.” While Fonda was firmly anti-nuke before making the film, Douglas wasn’t so dogmatic. Now he was converted on the spot. “It was a religious awakening,” he recalled in a recent phone interview. “I felt it was God’s hand.”"

Got Crocs? Be Careful on the Escalator

News From The Associated Press"WASHINGTON (AP) -- At rail stations and shopping malls around the world, reports are popping up of people, particularly young children, getting their toes caught in escalators. The one common theme seems to be the clunky soft-soled clogs known by the name of the most popular brand, Crocs.
One of the nation's largest subway systems - the Washington Metro - has even posted ads warning riders about wearing such shoes on its moving stairways. The ads feature a photo of a crocodile, though they don't mention Crocs by name.
Four-year-old Rory McDermott got a Croc-clad foot caught in an escalator last month at a mall in northern Virginia. His mother managed to yank him free, but the nail on his big toe was almost completely ripped off, causing heavy bleeding.
At first, Rory's mother had no idea what caused the boy's foot to get caught. It was only later, when someone at the hospital remarked on Rory's shoes, that she began to suspect the Crocs and did an Internet search.
"I came home and typed in 'Croc' and 'escalator,' and all these stories came up," said Jodi McDermott, of Vienna, Va. "If I had known, those would never have been worn."
According to reports appearing across the United States and as far away as Singapore and Japan, entrapments occur because of two of the biggest selling points of shoes like Crocs: their flexibility and grip. Some report the shoes get caught in the "teeth" at the bottom or top of the escalator, or in the crack between the steps and the side of the escalator."

Friday, September 14, 2007

It Came From Planet Bush

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, September 14, 2007; 1:12 PM

In the alternate universe that President Bush occupies, he gave a smashing speech last night.

Over there, the people of Iraq need our help to save them from the al Qaeda terrorists who intend to overthrow their brave and united government on the way to attacking America. It's a battle of good versus evil. We have 36 countries fighting alongside us. And the fight is going very well indeed. Ordinary life is returning to Baghdad.

A few more things about Bush's universe: There, the president can make things true simply by solemnly pronouncing them from the Oval Office. He can reach out to his critics just by saying he is doing so. And people believe him.

But over here in the real world, things are different.

Iraq is mostly ruled by armed gangs, not a central government. American troops are dying in the crossfire as the country continues to violently disintegrate along ethnic and sectarian lines. We're in it pretty much alone. There's no end in sight. And the real al Qaeda is regrouping in Pakistan.

President Bush is trying and failing to rally support for a war that the majority of Americans have concluded is not worth fighting. He's not going to change anyone's mind because he's too stubborn to change his own. And in any case, his credibility is shot to hell.

Jaw Droppers
Here's the text of his speech last night, his eighth prime-time address on Iraq.

Bush opened with this astonishing vision: "In Iraq, an ally of the United States is fighting for its survival. Terrorists and extremists who are at war with us around the world are seeking to topple Iraq's government, dominate the region, and attack us here at home."

In reality, the nearly powerless central government is endangered and marginalized not by terrorists but by internal division. And al Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent group with nominal ties to the real al Qaeda, is in no position to take over the country, not to mention the region. There is also no evidence that they have any interest in attacking us at home.

Said Bush: "One year ago, much of Baghdad was under siege. . . . Today, . . . ordinary life is beginning to return."

To call anything in today's Baghdad even vaguely normal is flatly outrageous.

Said Bush: "The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks -- and in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must."

But he's been saying that for a long time. And he has even less leverage now, having made it so abundantly clear that his commitment to Iraq is open-ended.

"Our troops in Iraq are performing brilliantly. Along with Iraqi forces, they have captured or killed an average of more than 1,500 enemy fighters per month since January."

Body counts are a notoriously suspect way of measuring success in an armed conflict -- particularly one where it can be hard to tell enemies from civilians. And in the past, Bush has said he would avoid them.

"Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home."

Actually, he has no choice. Pentagon officials have long said Bush's troop buildup could not be sustained past next summer without huge damage to the military.

"The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together."

As if. It's basically the same "way forward" -- and what most Americans are looking for is a "way out."

"A free Iraq will marginalize extremists, unleash the talent of its people, and be an anchor of stability in the region."

That's what I think of when I think of Iraq: An anchor of stability.

"We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy."

A recent State Department report shows a total of 25 countries with armed forces in Iraq -- and that includes Slovakia's six soldiers and Moldava's 11. Non-American troops total under 12,000, with most in non-combat roles, compared to over 160,000 Americans.

And quoting the parents of a dead soldier, Bush said: "We believe this is a war of good and evil."

It's a bit more complicated than that.

On MSNBC last night, anchor Chris Matthews was incredulous: "The fact that we have 36 countries fighting on our side in Iraq must be news to the soldiers over there. I don't know who these people are or how many divisions they have. I mean, all we read about in the papers are American GIs getting killed by IEDs and terrible accidents and all kinds of enemy action over there, usually in the battle of the civil war over there. The idea we're one of 36 countries fighting the war I think is ludicrous and why the president would throw that out there, I think it only opens him up to ridicule."

Matthews later asked Democratic Sen. and presidential candidate Joseph Biden about "the strange world we had described to us tonight... We're given a picture in 20 minutes of a country over there, an ally, you know, like Chiang Kai-shek used to be against the Japanese or Hungary against the Soviets, an ally, a country we care about and it's fighting for its life against our enemy, which is al Qaeda. No real references except once to the fact there's a civil war going on in that country. The notion that we're one of 37 countries fighting over there against the bad guys. There's so much of this that's truly -- and I don't mean this in a cartoon sense -- fantastic. When you're with the president, does he live in this world or does he just sell it?"

Biden's reply: "I don't know, Chris."

On CNN, Anderson Cooper asked Iraq correspondent Michael Ware for his overall impressions of the speech.

Ware: "Well, Anderson, my first impression is, wow. I mean, it's one thing to return to the status quo, to the situation we had nine months ago, with 130,000 U.S. troops stuck here for the foreseeable future. It's another thing to perpetuate the myth. I mean, I won't go into detail, like the president's characterizations of the Iraqi government as an ally, or that the people of Anbar, who support the Sunni insurgency, asked America for help, or to address this picture of a Baghdad that exists only in the president's mind.

"Let me just refer to this, what the president said, that, if America were to be driven out of Iraq, extremists of all strains would be emboldened. They are now. Al Qaeda could gain new recruits and new sanctuaries. They have that now. Iran would benefit from the chaos and be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region. It is now.

"Iraq would face a humanitarian -- humanitarian crisis. It does now. And that we would leave our children a far more dangerous world. That's happening now."

Cooper then played Ware Bush's quote about how "ordinary life is beginning to return."

Cooper: "What he didn't mention is, there are four million Iraqis not in their homes. Neighborhoods here in Baghdad have been ethnically cleansed."

WARE: "Absolutely. And if by the -- if the president means by ordinary life, families essentially living locked up in their homes, in almost perpetual darkness, without refrigeration, or perhaps constantly struggling -- struggling for ever more expensive gas to run generators, if he means waiting in their homes, wondering if government death squads will drag them off and torture and execute them, if he means living in sectarian, cleansed neighborhoods where people who were your friends have had to flee, if he's talking about living in communities that are protected by militias, then, yes, life has returned to ordinary."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"I'm Not There"

Top row, l-r: Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw and Heath Ledger. Bottom, l-r: Christian Bale, Richard Gere and Cate Blanchett
Toronto Film Festival
The joyous, inventive "I'm Not There" explores the many faces of Bob Dylan -- played by Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and the captivating Cate Blanchett.

By Stephanie Zacharek
Sept. 12, 2007 | TORONTO -- The idea of Bob Dylan has become so outsize that the only way to deal with its big-as-the-sky analog sprawl is to break it into convenient digital modules. We do that, usually, by locating Dylan in a specific place and time, by speaking of "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" Dylan, or the "Blonde on Blonde" Dylan, or the "Nashville Skyline" Dylan, moving him around like a little pushpin on our map of the past.
Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There" does something different: In this ambitious and extraordinary dream-world meditation on the idea of Dylan, Haynes shows us Dylan's many faces by literally giving him many faces. We see him as an 11-year-old black kid who goes by the name Woody Guthrie, toting his battered guitar through the countryside; a sensitive, beloved troubadour with the power to motivate clean-cut young men and women in penny loafers and bobbed haircuts to change the world; an outlaw drifting through a semisurreal Western town; a blunt, boorish superstar who makes halfhearted attempts to be a family man; a skinny would-be savior in shades who has been anointed with holy oil and is repulsed by the way it feels on his skin.
This is a biopic of an idea, not of a man -- a title card at the beginning reads "Inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan" -- and I'm still not sure how Haynes pulled it off. I only know that I can't wait to see it again. In fact, I'm afraid I'm going to be one of those freaks who see it half a dozen times before it drifts out of the theaters, not necessarily to parse its many allusions and inside jokes (although that's fun) but simply to bask in its crazy, warm glow.
There are infinitesimal ways to come at the myth we know as Dylan: We analyze him, draw and quarter him, reverently polish him like a Virgin Mary statue -- we'll do anything to fool ourselves into believing we own him. But part of what Haynes is doing here is celebrating Dylan's elusiveness (the movie's title says it all), his refusal to fit neatly into our unimaginative little boxes. Instead of genuflecting at the altar of Dylan, Haynes fills his movie with joy and pleasure. He takes delight in the way Dylan has always loved to tweak us, to make wicked little jokes, to turn familiar phrases inside out and show us how poetry is really just the underside of common speech. The movie, shot in both black-and-white and color, has so many different visual moods that it's hard to pin down its look; working once again with the great cinematographer Edward Lachman (who gave "Far From Heaven" such jaw-dropping, faux-Technicolor beauty), Haynes uses the landscape of the screen in imaginative ways: One minute he's showing the Beatles and Dylan cavorting in a London park like hepped-up Teletubbies; the next, he's cheekily quoting Godard. Half the fun of watching "I'm Not There" is keeping up with it, following its seductive twists and turns.
Haynes' multiple Dylans are played by actors including Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere and a wonderful young actor named Marcus Carl Franklin. But Cate Blanchett, as the Royal Albert Hall-era Dylan (there we go again with the pushpins), is the most hypnotic, capturing the spirit of Dylan -- or, more accurately, one of his many spirits -- in her willowy frame. This could be the performance of the year, in one of the most inventive and joyous movies of the year.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Corn smut: Disease or delicacy?

By Lee Reich - The Associated Press
Smut doesn't sound like something that you'd want in your corn patch - anywhere, in fact. But you might, even though it's diseased corn.

You've probably seen smut popping out of your ears. Smut oozes from between the husks, looking like corn kernels pumped up with steroids and painted silvery gray. Soon, galls darken and burst open to release powdery, olive-brown spores.

Not a pretty sight to most corn growers.

But let's look at those puffy masses in another light. They are the fruiting bodies of a fungus, a repulsive thought until you realize that mushrooms are also fruiting bodies of a fungus. Corn smut has long been a delicacy in Mexico. Cuitlacoche, as it is called, is eaten boiled or fried, and its popularity is beginning to spread northward.

So we can look upon smut either way: as a disease to fend off, or as a delicacy to cultivate. Smut typically infects 5 percent or less of the ears in most fields. Weather conditions that influence the disease are not clearly defined, but hot, dry weather early in the season seems most conducive to infection.

You can't do anything about the weather, but you can take some action against smut if you are growing sweet corn to eat. Discarding diseased ears and planting corn in a different location each year helps isolate spores. Avoiding excessive nitrogen fertilizer makes ears less susceptible, as does fending off corn borers.

Now let's do a flip-flop, and try to raise corn smut instead of sweet corn. Agricultural scientists are now studying ways to actually cultivate the disease but smut has been fickle, not readily amenable to deliberate infection. Infection varies with growth stage of the plant, perhaps the variety of corn, and other factors.

Again, we can't do anything about the weather, but we can feed our plants plenty of fertilizer and plant corn where it grew recently.

You might even try saving last year's galls, then dusting spores from those galls onto this year's plants. Timing is critical. For best results, dust the spores right onto the silks just as they are emerging from the tip of an ear. If all goes well, harvest the galls just as they erupt through the husk, which is about two weeks after silks appear.

Obviously, you can't maximize your harvest of both sweet corn and smut. Perhaps you'll content yourself with occasional smut-infected ears that appear every year.

When you eat the galls, you probably will enjoy them more if you think of them as Mexican truffles or maize mushrooms rather than smut.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Law According to Jack Bauer

Lt. General Walter Sharp, staff director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, moonlights as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law School. This spring semester Sharp will teach a course titled "The Law of 24" (see catalogue page below). The two-credit class is based, yes, on the Fox Television hit 24. Students who take Sharp's class will acquire "a detailed understanding of a very wide range of U.S. domestic and international legal issues ... in the context of the utilitarian and sometimes desperate responses to terrorism raised by the plot of 24."
"Introduction to International Law" is recommended as a prerequisite for the course. Law students may also wish to bone up by renting DVDs for the previous six seasons. Classes will meet Tuesday evenings, while law students are still fresh from watching Monday night episodes.

Ann Telnaes

Experts Doubt Drop In Violence in Iraq

Military Statistics Called Into Question
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007; Page A16
The U.S. military's claim that violence has decreased sharply in Iraq in recent months has come under scrutiny from many experts within and outside the government, who contend that some of the underlying statistics are questionable and selectively ignore negative trends.
Reductions in violence form the centerpiece of the Bush administration's claim that its war strategy is working. In congressional testimony Monday, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to cite a 75 percent decrease in sectarian attacks. According to senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad, overall attacks in Iraq were down to 960 a week in August, compared with 1,700 a week in June, and civilian casualties had fallen 17 percent between December 2006 and last month. Unofficial Iraqi figures show a similar decrease.
Others who have looked at the full range of U.S. government statistics on violence, however, accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers -- most of which are classified -- are often confusing and contradictory. "Let's just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree," Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Tuesday in releasing a new Government Accountability Office report on Iraq.
Senior U.S. officers in Baghdad disputed the accuracy and conclusions of the largely negative GAO report, which they said had adopted a flawed counting methodology used by the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Many of those conclusions were also reflected in last month's pessimistic National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.
The intelligence community has its own problems with military calculations. Intelligence analysts computing aggregate levels of violence against civilians for the NIE puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal, according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. "If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian," the official said. "If it went through the front, it's criminal."
"Depending on which numbers you pick," he said, "you get a different outcome." Analysts found "trend lines . . . going in different directions" compared with previous years, when numbers in different categories varied widely but trended in the same direction. "It began to look like spaghetti."
Among the most worrisome trends cited by the NIE was escalating warfare between rival Shiite militias in southern Iraq that has consumed the port city of Basra and resulted last month in the assassination of two southern provincial governors. According to a spokesman for the Baghdad headquarters of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), those attacks are not included in the military's statistics. "Given a lack of capability to accurately track Shiite-on-Shiite and Sunni-on-Sunni violence, except in certain instances," the spokesman said, "we do not track this data to any significant degree."
Attacks by U.S.-allied Sunni tribesmen -- recruited to battle Iraqis allied with al-Qaeda -- are also excluded from the U.S. military's calculation of violence levels.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ron Paul

SIU leader Poshard accused of plagiarism

SIU leader Poshard accused of plagiarism

SIU President Glenn Poshard thumbs through documents in his Carbondale, Ill. office where he talked about allegations that he plagiarized parts of his 1984 doctoral dissertation. He has denied any intent to take credit for anyone else’s work.

Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard was at the center of a plagiarism controversy Thursday after his school's student newspaper said it found striking similarities between several unattributed passages in his 1984 doctoral thesis and other scholarly works.

Plagiarism is a serious academic sin that can lead to discipline or expulsion for faculty and students. SIU campuses in Carbondale and Edwardsville have been rocked by several such scholarly scandals in recent years, including one involving a Carbondale chancellor who was demoted by Poshard last year.

The spate of allegations led Poshard to appoint a task force last year to devise a clear-cut definition of plagiarism and lay out what actions the university would not tolerate. That task force has yet to report.

Glenn Poshard Photo
On Thursday, Poshard insisted any copying in his thesis was accidental.

"There was absolutely no intention here whatsoever, whatsoever, to deceive anybody or take credit for anybody's work," he said. "In my entire career, I have made it a point to be honest with people."

Roger Tedrick, chairman of the SIU board, said trustees remained "fully supportive" of Poshard even though they had been aware for months that a plagiarism allegation against him might be forthcoming.

But Stephen Satris, executive director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, said the allegations against Poshard are especially serious given his position as the university's leader.

"We can cut this person less slack," Satris said. "As the president he should be the exemplar of what's proper or what's not."

Poshard on Friday plans to ask faculty and staff leadership to discuss how to address the allegations, said SIU spokesman David Gross. "He is going to be looking for their perspective and advice as to what, if any, impact this will have on his leadership role at the university," Gross said.

Poshard was not considering resigning, Gross said.

Poshard is a popular and powerful Democrat in southern Illinois who has served in the state legislature and Congress. He was the Democratic candidate for governor in 1998, narrowly losing to Republican George Ryan.

Poshard was an SIU administrator, then a member of the school's governing board before the trustees hired him last year to run the school, which has a student population of 35,000. He holds bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in education, all earned at SIU's Carbondale campus, and that academic background helped him land the school's presidency.

His 111-page doctoral dissertation was on educational opportunities for gifted children. He completed it in 1984 at the same time he was running for the state Senate.

Poshard has been embroiled in several controversies during his brief tenure as president, including complaints about a lavish ceremony for his swearing-in as president and his decision to have the school resist public disclosure of taxpayer-funded employee contracts. The Illinois Appellate Court ruled this month that the school's position on that issue violated the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

The plagiarism dust-ups at SIU started in 2004 with the firing of Edwardsville campus professor Chris Dussold, who was accused of cribbing from another professor's teaching philosophy statement as part of his tenure review.

Dussold claimed he was unfairly singled out for a common practice and is suing the university.

Dussold's supporters, including some teachers and SIU alumni, created an informal plagiarism patrol to hunt out copying in speeches and writings by other faculty and administrators. Leaders at both the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses, including former Carbondale Chancellor Walter Wendler, have subsequently been hit with plagiarism allegations.

Wendler was stripped of his administrative post last year in a move Poshard insisted had nothing to do with the plagiarism allegations. Wendler remains on the SIU faculty.

In its report Thursday on Poshard, the Daily Egyptian said it had obtained from a source close to Alumni and Faculty Against Corruption at SIU, the pro-Dussold group, Poshard's dissertation and the other scholarly works that bear a close resemblance.

Tyson Giger, a spokesman for the group, acknowledged it had instigated the newspaper's investigation. Giger said the group fed the dissertation through anti-plagiarism software, which flagged similarities with the writings of other scholars. "The work we turned over speaks for itself," Giger said.

Portions of Poshard's thesis may have been lifted from as many as 19 other works by 22 authors, the newspaper said. In some instances, Poshard borrowed heavily from another text but changed a few words here and there, the newspaper said. Some of the copying appeared verbatim, the newspaper said.

Gross said almost all of the copied sections were found in a portion of the dissertation titled "review of the literature," suggesting Poshard meant to illustrate that he was synthesizing the works of others and not expressing original thoughts. Gross also questioned the timing of the revelations, which came one week after the university and Dussold broke off negotiations over a settlement of his lawsuit.

"This happened years ago as a graduate student," Gross said. "It is not related at all with his job today."

At the time he created the plagiarism task force, Poshard issued his own thoughts on the topic, saying a clear intent to cheat needed to be demonstrated before any punishment was warranted.

"Plagiarism is the deliberate intent to take personal or professional credit for the original or creative thought, action or product of another person in order to gain benefit for oneself," Poshard said.

On Thursday, Gross said that while Poshard may have copied the works of others in error, "there was no intent here."