Monday, June 30, 2008


Its mysterious power may be a clue to a new theory about brains and bodies.
by Atul Gawande
JUNE 30, 2008
Scientists once saw itching as a form of pain. They now believe it to be a different order of sensation.
It was still shocking to M. how much a few wrong turns could change your life. She had graduated from Boston College with a degree in psychology, married at twenty-five, and had two children, a son and a daughter. She and her family settled in a town on Massachusetts’ southern shore. She worked for thirteen years in health care, becoming the director of a residence program for men who’d suffered severe head injuries. But she and her husband began fighting. There were betrayals. By the time she was thirty-two, her marriage had disintegrated. In the divorce, she lost possession of their home, and, amid her financial and psychological struggles, she saw that she was losing her children, too. Within a few years, she was drinking. She began dating someone, and they drank together. After a while, he brought some drugs home, and she tried them. The drugs got harder. Eventually, they were doing heroin, which turned out to be readily available from a street dealer a block away from her apartment.
One day, she went to see a doctor because she wasn’t feeling well, and learned that she had contracted H.I.V. from a contaminated needle. She had to leave her job. She lost visiting rights with her children. And she developed complications from the H.I.V., including shingles, which caused painful, blistering sores across her scalp and forehead. With treatment, though, her H.I.V. was brought under control. At thirty-six, she entered rehab, dropped the boyfriend, and kicked the drugs. She had two good, quiet years in which she began rebuilding her life. Then she got the itch.
It was right after a shingles episode. The blisters and the pain responded, as they usually did, to acyclovir, an antiviral medication. But this time the area of the scalp that was involved became numb, and the pain was replaced by a constant, relentless itch. She felt it mainly on the right side of her head. It crawled along her scalp, and no matter how much she scratched it would not go away. “I felt like my inner self, like my brain itself, was itching,” she says. And it took over her life just as she was starting to get it back.
Her internist didn’t know what to make of the problem. Itching is an extraordinarily common symptom. All kinds of dermatological conditions can cause it: allergic reactions, bacterial or fungal infections, skin cancer, psoriasis, dandruff, scabies, lice, poison ivy, sun damage, or just dry skin. Creams and makeup can cause itch, too. But M. used ordinary shampoo and soap, no creams. And when the doctor examined M.’s scalp she discovered nothing abnormal—no rash, no redness, no scaling, no thickening, no fungus, no parasites. All she saw was scratch marks.
The internist prescribed a medicated cream, but it didn’t help. The urge to scratch was unceasing and irresistible. “I would try to control it during the day, when I was aware of the itch, but it was really hard,” M. said. “At night, it was the worst. I guess I would scratch when I was asleep, because in the morning there would be blood on my pillowcase.” She began to lose her hair over the itchy area. She returned to her internist again and again. “I just kept haunting her and calling her,” M. said. But nothing the internist tried worked, and she began to suspect that the itch had nothing to do with M.’s skin.
Plenty of non-skin conditions can cause itching. Dr. Jeffrey Bernhard, a dermatologist with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is among the few doctors to study itching systematically (he published the definitive textbook on the subject), and he told me of cases caused by hyperthyroidism, iron deficiency, liver disease, and cancers like Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Sometimes the syndrome is very specific. Persistent outer-arm itching that worsens in sunlight is known as brachioradial pruritus, and it’s caused by a crimped nerve in the neck. Aquagenic pruritus is recurrent, intense, diffuse itching upon getting out of a bath or shower, and although no one knows the mechanism, it’s a symptom of polycythemia vera, a rare condition in which the body produces too many red blood cells.
But M.’s itch was confined to the right side of her scalp. Her viral count showed that the H.I.V. was quiescent. Additional blood tests and X-rays were normal. So the internist concluded that M.’s problem was probably psychiatric. All sorts of psychiatric conditions can cause itching. Patients with psychosis can have cutaneous delusions—a belief that their skin is infested with, say, parasites, or crawling ants, or laced with tiny bits of fibreglass. Severe stress and other emotional experiences can also give rise to a physical symptom like itching—whether from the body’s release of endorphins (natural opioids, which, like morphine, can cause itching), increased skin temperature, nervous scratching, or increased sweating. In M.’s case, the internist suspected tricho-tillomania, an obsessive-compulsive disorder in which patients have an irresistible urge to pull out their hair.
"It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning. "
Henry Ford

(thank god for seymour hersh)

The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.
Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.
Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.
“The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.” The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said.
Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and “there was a significant amount of high-level discussion” about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.
The request for funding came in the same period in which the Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. The Administration downplayed the significance of the N.I.E., and, while saying that it was committed to diplomacy, continued to emphasize that urgent action was essential to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. President Bush questioned the N.I.E.’s conclusions, and senior national-security officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made similar statements. (So did Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.) Meanwhile, the Administration also revived charges that the Iranian leadership has been involved in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq: both directly, by dispatching commando units into Iraq, and indirectly, by supplying materials used for roadside bombs and other lethal goods. (There have been questions about the accuracy of the claims; the Times, among others, has reported that “significant uncertainties remain about the extent of that involvement.”)
Military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon share the White House’s concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but there is disagreement about whether a military strike is the right solution. Some Pentagon officials believe, as they have let Congress and the media know, that bombing Iran is not a viable response to the nuclear-proliferation issue, and that more diplomacy is necessary.
A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.” (A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address what he said, other than to dispute the senator’s characterization.)
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen, were “pushing back very hard” against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran, the person familiar with the Finding told me. Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved in the war on terror said that “at least ten senior flag and general officers, including combatant commanders”—the four-star officers who direct military operations around the world—“have weighed in on that issue.”
The most outspoken of those officers is Admiral William Fallon, who until recently was the head of U.S. Central Command, and thus in charge of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Fallon resigned under pressure, after giving a series of interviews stating his reservations about an armed attack on Iran. For example, late last year he told the Financial Times that the “real objective” of U.S. policy was to change the Iranians’ behavior, and that “attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice.”
Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. “Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. “Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.”
When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, “Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.”
The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.”

Full article at The New Yorker.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Brighton, N.Y.
THE alarm on my cellphone rang at 5:50 a.m., and I awoke to find myself in a twin bed in a spare room at my neighbor Lou’s house.
Lou was 81. His six children were grown and scattered around the country, and he lived alone, two doors down from me. His wife, Edie, had died five years earlier. “When people learn you’ve lost your wife,” he told me, “they all ask the same question. ‘How long were you married?’ And when you tell them 52 years, they say, ‘Isn’t that wonderful!’ But I tell them no, it isn’t. I was just getting to know her.”
Lou had said he gets up at six, but after 10 more minutes, I heard nothing from his room down the hall. Had he died? He had a heart ailment, but generally was in good health. With a full head of silver-gray hair, bright hazel-blue eyes and a broad chest, he walked with the confident bearing of a man who had enjoyed a long and satisfying career as a surgeon.
The previous evening, as I’d left home, the last words I heard before I shut the door had been, “Dad, you’re crazy!” from my teenage daughter. Sure, the sight of your 50-year-old father leaving with an overnight bag to sleep at a neighbor’s house would embarrass any teenager, but “crazy”? I didn’t think so.
There’s talk today about how as a society we’ve become fragmented by ethnicity, income, city versus suburb, red state versus blue. But we also divide ourselves with invisible dotted lines. I’m talking about the property lines that isolate us from the people we are physically closest to: our neighbors.
It was a calamity on my street, in a middle-class suburb of Rochester, several years ago that got me thinking about this. One night, a neighbor shot and killed his wife and then himself; their two middle-school-age children ran screaming into the night. Though the couple had lived on our street for seven years, my wife and I hardly knew them. We’d see them jogging together. Sometimes our children would carpool.
Some of the neighbors attended the funerals and called on relatives. Someone laid a single bunch of yellow flowers at the family’s front door, but nothing else was done to mark the loss. Within weeks, the children had moved with their grandparents to another part of town. The only indication that anything had changed was the “For Sale” sign on the lawn.
A family had vanished, yet the impact on our neighborhood was slight. How could that be? Did I live in a community or just in a house on a street surrounded by people whose lives were entirely separate? Few of my neighbors, I later learned, knew others on the street more than casually; many didn’t know even the names of those a few doors down.
According to social scientists, from 1974 to 1998, the frequency with which Americans spent a social evening with neighbors fell by about one-third. Robert Putnam, the author of “Bowling Alone,” a groundbreaking study of the disintegration of the American social fabric, suggests that the decline actually began 20 years earlier, so that neighborhood ties today are less than half as strong as they were in the 1950s.
Why is it that in an age of cheap long-distance rates, discount airlines and the Internet, when we can create community anywhere, we often don’t know the people who live next door?
Maybe my neighbors didn’t mind living this way, but I did. I wanted to get to know the people whose houses I passed each day — not just what they do for a living and how many children they have, but the depth of their experience and what kind of people they are.
What would it take, I wondered, to penetrate the barriers between us? I thought about childhood sleepovers and the insight I used to get from waking up inside a friend’s home. Would my neighbors let me sleep over and write about their lives from inside their own houses?
A little more than a year after the murder-suicide, I began to telephone my neighbors and send e-mail messages; in some cases, I just walked up to the door and rang the bell. The first one turned me down, but then I called Lou. “You can write about me, but it will be boring,” he warned. “I have nothing going on in my life — nothing. My life is zero. I don’t do anything.”
That turned out not to be true. When Lou finally awoke that morning at 6:18, he and I shared breakfast. Then he lay on a couch in his study and, skipping his morning nap, told me about his grandparents’ immigration, his Catholic upbringing, his admission to medical school despite anti-Italian quotas, and how he met and courted his wife, built a career and raised a family.
Later, we went to the Y.M.C.A. for his regular workout; he mostly just kibitzed with friends. We ate lunch. He took a nap. We watched the business news. That evening, he made us dinner and talked of friends he’d lost, his concerns for his children’s futures and his own mortality.
Before I left, Lou told me how to get into his house in case of an emergency, and I told him where I hide my spare key. That evening, as I carried my bag home, I felt that in my neighbor’s house lived a person I actually knew.
I was privileged to be his friend until he died, just this past spring.
Remarkably, of the 18 or so neighbors I eventually approached about sleeping over, more than half said yes. There was the recently married young couple, both working in business; the real estate agent and her two small children; the pathologist married to a pediatrician who specializes in autism.
Eventually, I met a woman living three doors away, the opposite direction from Lou, who was seriously ill with breast cancer and in need of help. My goal shifted: could we build a supportive community around her — in effect, patch together a real neighborhood? Lou and I and some of the other neighbors ended up taking turns driving her to doctors’ appointments and watching her children.
Our political leaders speak of crossing party lines to achieve greater unity. Maybe we should all cross the invisible lines between our homes and achieve greater unity in the places we live. Probably we don’t need to sleep over; all it might take is to make a phone call, send a note, or ring a bell. Why not try it today?
Peter Lovenheim, the author of “Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf,” is writing a book about neighborhoods.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dying Is Hard. Comedy Is Harder.

Published: June 24, 2008
THE honest truth is, for a comedian, even death is just a premise to make jokes about. I know this because I was on the phone with George Carlin nine days ago and we were making some death jokes. We were talking about Tim Russert and Bo Diddley and George said: “I feel safe for a while. There will probably be a break before they come after the next one. I always like to fly on an airline right after they’ve had a crash. It improves your odds.”

I called him to compliment him on his most recent special on HBO. Seventy years old and he cranks out another hour of great new stuff. He was in a hotel room in Las Vegas getting ready for his show. He was a monster.

You could certainly say that George downright invented modern American stand-up comedy in many ways. Every comedian does a little George. I couldn’t even count the number of times I’ve been standing around with some comedians and someone talks about some idea for a joke and another comedian would say, “Carlin does it.” I’ve heard it my whole career: “Carlin does it,” “Carlin already did it,” “Carlin did it eight years ago.”

And he didn’t just “do” it. He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light. He made you sorry you ever thought you wanted to be a comedian. He was like a train hobo with a chicken bone. When he was done there was nothing left for anybody.

But his brilliance fathered dozens of great comedians. I personally never cared about “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” or “FM & AM.” To me, everything he did just had this gleaming wonderful precision and originality.

I became obsessed with him in the ’60s. As a kid it seemed like the whole world was funny because of George Carlin. His performing voice, even laced with profanity, always sounded as if he were trying to amuse a child. It was like the naughtiest, most fun grown-up you ever met was reading you a bedtime story.

I know George didn’t believe in heaven or hell. Like death, they were just more comedy premises. And it just makes me even sadder to think that when I reach my own end, whatever tumbling cataclysmic vortex of existence I’m spinning through, in that moment I will still have to think, “Carlin already did it.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

About the Little Green People Show:

Twenty years ago, a couple of friends had what then seemed like a far-fetched idea: Why not start a radio or television show on sustainable living, a forum in which a pair of “Eco Chicks” might share with the public some hard-won lessons on trying to live green. But air time and studio equipment were expensive and so the idea went dormant. Time passed. And then, all at once, technology changed, it got a lot easier to create and distribute original media content, and the two (now older) friends came together at the Notebaert Nature Museum, still thinking about that old idea.

The result: The Little Green People Show, a weekly half-hour (or so) podcast on sustainable living in the big city.

Hosted by two of Chicago's most respected environmental voices--Laurene von Klan and Jill Riddell--each episode answers listener questions, offers expert advice, and delivers commentary on all the opportunities and challenges faced by the average urban dweller trying to go green.

About the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum:

For 150 years, the The Chicago Academy of Sciences has been inspiring people to learn about and care for nature and the environment, a tradition that, since 1999, has been shared by the Academy's Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Together, the Academy and the Museum improve the quality of life in Chicago and beyond by delivering superior environmental and science education to students and teachers, by offering exhibits and public programs that foster green living, and by restoring local ecosystems through collections and research.

Today the Museum’s programs and exhibits, including its world-class Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, annually serve some 2,000 teachers, 400 schools, and nearly 200,000 visitors.

Blue Carts come to Chicago

Finally! Chicago is offering a legitimate recycling option. We got our cart about 2 wks ago. It just mysteriously showed up on our front steps one morning.

But, being the giant lazy hypocrits that we are, we haven't done anything about it yet.

So, to all those Chicagoans who are unclear on what to do.


In other words:

"The program is very simple. Residents are asked to place all of their recyclables in the new blue cart in their alley or at their curb.

There is no need to separate the recyclables and below is a list of the types of materials that are considered recyclable:

Glass jars and bottles
Aluminum cans, foil and pie tins
Tin or Steel cans
Cereal boxes, paper towel rolls
Plastic bottles and containers
Junk mail
Magazines and catalogs
Telephone books
Paper bags
Office paper and file folders
Newspaper and insert

A separate city recycling truck will empty the blue cart every other week and the contents will be delivered to a recycling center."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Follow Your Follie -- Tour de Fat Chicago 2008

A Celebration of Bikes, Delicious Beer, all Followed by One Lucky Volunteer Trading a Car for a Bike.
(linda and i are leaving shortly! If she'd hurry up and get ready...)


When my wife, Allison, told me of seeing the post on about Tour de Fat, we were both excited for a bicycle ride with others. It was only when we read the rest of the information that we looked at each other with nervous excitement. We have been discussing what life would be like without a car for some time now. Our Jeep, a trusty and sturdy 2001 Cherokee Sport, was once our backbone. It got me to work, it got her to nursing school and in early 2006, it helped us find the perfect apartment in Chicago where we would be close enough to our jobs that we could ride our bikes or walk.

My job as a UPS truck driver has me behind the wheel of a semi truck five long nights per week, amassing more than TEN THOUSAND MILES per month. As I approach the morning rush hour into the city in a UPS truck, my view of the skyline is often obscured by a ring of choking smog. The morning drivers are ruthless, often driving over-aggressively, cutting, weaving, riding the shoulder, flipping each other off. The last thing I want to do after work is join this group of angry, smog monsters.

July sees us moving into a new apartment, within walking distance to bus stops and L stations. After the management explained the $200 a month parking fee there, our dinner conversations have revolved around, “what do we do with the Jeep” and “can we live vehicle free” for the next few years… or forever.

This challenge is now reality, as we both knew the Chicago Tour de Fat was the perfect opportunity to rid ourselves of the Jeep and accept the full-time freedom of living without a vehicle. I am as active in the beer community as I am in the Chicago cycling community, so seeing New Belgium Brewing’s involvement made me even more excited. I know about the brewery’s wind power and bicycle programs and consider myself truly lucky when I get my hands on a bottle of La Folie!!!

Signing our Jeep over to charity and pledging to live vehicle free for a year (oh, believe me, one is just the beginning) will hopefully inspire others in Chicago and other cities to do the same. I look forward to being a “spokes man” and am excited to keep in touch and plan on immediately starting a blog to publicly document my adventures in “vehiclelessness”. It is a win, win, win situation, as we will be helping a worthy cause, stop adding to that smog cloud and reap the benefits both physically and mentally from bicycling!!!

I will be the proudest (and safest) bicyclist on the streets of Chicago on a handbuilt Black Sheep Commuter, showing Chicago (and beyond) that living vehicle free can be a reality.

Maybe someday, that smog cloud will disappear.

Joe M.

Friday, June 20, 2008

China Presses Injured Athletes in Quest for Gold

NY Times: "SHANGHAI — When China’s champion 10-meter platform diver suffered a detached retina while training, a year after winning a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics, family members and fans speculated about the imminent end of a great career.
The parents of the diver, Hu Jia, had surrendered him to trainers from the Chinese sports establishment at the age of 10, and had seen little of him since then. In an interview with a Chinese newspaper after the diver’s injury, his father suggested that this was sacrifice enough. Had he known his son risked blindness, the father said, “I would never have sent him off to dive.”
But less than two months before China hosts the Olympics for the first time, Mr. Hu is training and competing fiercely again, aiming to bolster a national diving squad that China hopes will dominate the sport this summer.
“The Beijing Olympics is an enormous glory to our generation,” Mr. Hu, whose other retina was also injured, was quoted in the Chinese media as saying last year. Speaking of another gold medal, he added, “I will do my utmost to grab one, unless my eyes are really blind.”
Pressured by the national athletic system and tempted by the commercial riches awaiting star performers in the 2008 Games, China’s athletes are pushing themselves to their limits and beyond, causing some to risk their health in pursuit of nationalist glory.
“An astonishing amount of manpower, money and goods have been poured in, so much so that it’s inappropriate to be revealed publicly,” said Lu Yuanzhen, a professor of sports sociology at the Academy of Sports Sciences at South China Normal University. If the country’s athletes do not perform up to expectations, he added, “the entire nation and its people will lose face.”
Since surpassing Russia to win the second most gold medals in the 2004 Olympics, its highest ranking ever, China has held an unofficial but undeniable ambition to cap the hosting of the Games by surpassing the United States and finishing atop the medal board.
The resulting pressure is felt by nearly all of China’s Olympic aspirants, from still largely unheralded performers in relatively unglamorous sports to the country’s brightest marquee names, like Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets center who sat out the final two months of the N.B.A. season with a stress fracture in his left foot but is still expected to play for China’s national team.
Athletes regarded as potential gold medalists have been urged out of retirement, and some female stars have been urged to resume training and competing soon after giving birth. Previous gold medal winners, meanwhile, have heard for four years that failure to pull off a repeat victory will let the whole nation down. Many have trained for the Games despite serious injuries. A female weight lifter, Tang Gonghong, persevered until early this year despite having such high blood pressure that her chief coach said it “threatens her life at any moment.”"

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ice on Mars! Now you see it, now you don’t

Scientists say they know white stuff was frozen water because it vanished
NASA / JPL-Caltech / UA / TAMU
This animated image shows dice-sized bits of ice in the lower left corner of a trench dug by the robotic scoop on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander. Scientists say they know the bits were ice because they disappeared from view in later imagery.
By Alan Boyle
Science editor
The scientists behind NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander mission now know that they had their first close-up look at Martian ice — because it has vanished from the picture.
Days ago, streaks and bits of whitish material were spotted at the bottom of a trench dug by the lander's robotic scoop, leading scientists to speculate that the stuff was either ice or salt. An initial chemical analysis was inconclusive, but scientists said they could tell by seeing if the material disappeared after exposure to the thin Martian atmosphere.
Under such conditions, water ice would turn directly into vapor rather than melting into liquid, in a process known as sublimation. When scientists compared Sunday's pictures with imagery captured early Thursday, dice-sized crumbs of the white material were clearly missing.
"It must be ice," the University of Arizona's Peter Smith, principal investigator for the Phoenix mission, said Thursday in a NASA status report. "These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it's ice. There had been some question whether the bright material was salt. Salt can't do that."
A larger vein of white material is still visible in the trench, which scientists have dubbed "Dodo-Goldilocks."
The Phoenix team reported that the lander's robotic scoop hit a hard surface while it was digging in a different trench early Thursday, and they speculated that the surface could represent a layer of ice. The new trench is nicknamed "Snow White 2," and lies right next to the Snow White 1 trench in an area that has been set aside for scientific study.
"We have dug a trench and uncovered a hard layer at the same depth as the ice layer in our other trench," Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, co-investigator for the robotic arm, was quoted as saying in the status report.
After three attempts to dig further into the surface, the arm went into a holding position. Such an action is expected when the robotic arm comes upon a hard surface, NASA said.
One of the primary aims of Phoenix's mission is to determine whether the layers of soil and ice in Mars' north polar region contain the chemical building blocks of life. The lander can cook soil samples in its ovens and analyze the composition of the gases given off. The probe is not designed to detect life itself, however.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


In the name of "defin[ing] clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt" the Associated Press is now selling "quotation licenses" that allow bloggers, journallers, and people who forward quotations from articles to co-workers to quote their articles. The licenses start at $12.50 for quotations of 5-25 words. The licensing system exhorts you to snitch on people who publish without paying the blood-money, offering up to $1 million in reward money (they also think that "fair use" -- the right to copy without permission -- means "Contact the owner of the work to be sure you are covered under fair use.").
It gets better! If you pay to quote the AP, but you offend the AP in so doing, the AP "reserves the right to terminate this Agreement at any time if Publisher or its agents finds Your use of the licensed Content to be offensive and/or damaging to Publisher's reputation."

Over on Making Light, Patrick Nielsen Hayden nails it:

The New York Times, an AP member organization, refers to this as an “attempt to define clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt.” I suggest it’s better described as yet another attempt by a big media company to replace the established legal and social order with with a system of private law (the very definition of the word “privilege”) in which a few private organizations get to dictate to the rest of society what the rules will be. See also Virgin Media claiming the right to dictate to private citizens in Britain how they’re allowed to configure their home routers, or the new copyright bill being introduced in Canada, under which the international entertainment industry, rather than democratically-accountable representatives of the Canadian people, will get to define what does and doesn’t amount to proscribed “circumvention.” Hey, why have laws? Let’s just ask established businesses what kinds of behaviors they find inconvenient, and then send the police around to shut those behaviors down. Imagine the effort we’ll save.

Welcome to a world in which you won’t be able to effectively criticize the press, because you’ll be required to pay to quote as few as five words from what they publish.

Welcome to a world in which you won’t own any of your technology or your music or your books, because ensuring that someone makes their profit margins will justify depriving you of the even the most basic, commonsensical rights in your personal, hand-level household goods.

The people pushing for this stuff are not well-meaning, and they are not interested in making life better for artists, writers, or any other kind of individual creators. They are would-be aristocrats who fully intend to return us to a society of orders and classes, and they’re using so-called “intellectual property” law as a tool with which to do it. Whether or not you have ever personally taped a TV show or written a blog post, if you think you’re going to wind up on top in the sort of world these people are working to build, you are out of your mind.

Monday, June 16, 2008

'Pro-Life' Drugstores Market Beliefs "When DMC Pharmacy opens this summer on Route 50 in Chantilly, the shelves will be stocked with allergy remedies, pain relievers, antiseptic ointments and almost everything else sold in any drugstore. But anyone who wants condoms, birth control pills or the Plan B emergency contraceptive will be turned away.
That's because the drugstore, located in a typical shopping plaza featuring a Ruby Tuesday, a Papa John's and a Kmart, will be a "pro-life pharmacy" -- meaning, among other things, that it will eschew all contraceptives.
The pharmacy is one of a small but growing number of drugstores around the country that have become the latest front in a conflict pitting patients' rights against those of health-care workers who assert a "right of conscience" to refuse to provide care or products that they find objectionable.
"The United States was founded on the idea that people act on their conscience -- that they have a sense of right and wrong and do what they think is right and moral," said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel at the Thomas More Society, a Chicago public-interest law firm that is defending a pharmacist who was fined and reprimanded for refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control pills. "Every pharmacist has the right to do the same thing," Brejcha said.
But critics say the stores could create dangerous obstacles for women seeking legal, safe and widely used birth control methods.
"I'm very, very troubled by this," said Marcia Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center, a Washington advocacy group. "Contraception is essential for women's health. A pharmacy like this is walling off an essential part of health care. That could endanger women's health."
The pharmacies are emerging at a time when a variety of health-care workers are refusing to perform medical procedures they find objectionable. Fertility doctors have refused to inseminate gay women. Ambulance drivers have refused to transport patients for abortions. Anesthesiologists have refused to assist in sterilizations.
The most common, widely publicized conflicts have involved pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills, morning-after pills and other forms of contraception. They say they believe that such methods can cause what amounts to an abortion and that the contraceptives promote promiscuity, divorce, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and other societal woes. The result has been confrontations that have left women traumatized and resulted in pharmacists being fired, fined or reprimanded."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Waitress loses job after shaving head for cancer charity

CBC: "A 36-year-old waitress at an Owen Sound, Ont., restaurant lost her job this week after she shaved her head to raise money for a cancer charity.
Stacey Fearnall said it was a 'pretty easy thing' to shave her head to raise money for cancer research, but was stunned when her boss fired her over it. (CBC)Stacey Fearnall raised more than $2,700 for the charity Cops for Cancer, a local fundraiser for cancer research.
Then the 36-year-old waitress at Nathaniels restaurant was laid off when she showed up for work earlier this week with her newly shorn look.
Up until a week ago, Fearnall had long red locks, but she said she made the decision to have her head shaved because she has a friend battling cancer and she lost her father to the disease.
"I felt like this was a pretty easy thing for me to do to raise money to help people," she told CBC News on Thursday.
She said she told her bosses what she was planning to do, but when she arrived at work at the restaurant practically bald, she said they sent her home and told her she wasn't welcome back.
"'We'll call it a layoff.' That's what he said," Fearnall said her boss told her. "'Spend the summer with your kids.' I call it losing my job."
Nathaniels owner and chef Dan Hilliard issued a statement late Thursday saying Fearnall did not advise him that she was planning to shave her head."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

"Hot New Song" -- Afrobama: The Unified Party Anthem


It's been too long. We've truly missed our man Cody ChestnuTT, but he's back with a serious heater of a song about Obama. Called "Afrobama: The Unified Party Anthem," Cody sets his message to an afrobeat rhythm with some ill electrified guitar and a chorus of supporting vocals to back him up. Even Fela would have given mad props on this one. Perhaps this is a sign of a new Cody album in the near future? We sure hope so.

Click here to download Cody ChestnuTT's "AfrObama

Friday, June 13, 2008

Citizens of Lesbos Finally Taking Action Against Name-Stealing Gay Women

A group of plaintiffs from the Greek island of Lesbos begins their quest in court today to stop gay women from calling themselves lesbians.
Presumably they will have to sue in every nation in the world (except Iran, of course). More:

"We are very upset that, worldwide, women who like women have appropriated the name of our island," said Dimitris Lambrou, a magazine publisher who is one of those bringing the complaint with other islanders. "Until 1924, according to the Oxford English dictionary, a Lesbian was a native of our isle," he said. "Now, because of its new connotations, our womenfolk are unable to call themselves such and that is wrong."
...Lambrou insists he has "nothing against lesbians" who flock to Eressos — a resort on the island that is famed as the birthplace of the 5th century BC poet Sappho — and whose contribution to the local economy has been considerable.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Supreme Court: Guantanamo Bay Detainees Do Have Habeus Rights

Supreme Court sides with the Constitution
by Todd Beeton, Thu Jun 12, 2008 at 11:18:28 AM EST
Today, in a 5-4 ruling, with Anthony Kennedy providing the swing vote, the Supreme Court has ruled that foreign terrorism suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay do have the right to challenge their detention in US courts.
Or, as Kennedy put it:
"We hold these petitioners do have the habeas corpus privilege," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court majority in the 70-page opinion.
He said that Congress had failed to create an adequate alternative for the prisoners held at the U.S. military base in Cuba to contest their detention.
SCOTUSblog elaborates on the decision.
In a stunning blow to the Bush Administration in its war-on-terrorism policies, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay have a right to pursue habeas challenges to their detention. The Court, dividing 5-4, ruled that Congress had not validly taken away habeas rights. If Congress wishes to suspend habeas, it must do so only as the Constitution allows -- when the country faces rebellion or invasion.
You can read the entire ruling HERE.
This is actually the third time the court has ruled against the administration on this issue, although no decision has yet led to hearings for detainees and it's not clear that this one will either.
I can't express how satisfying it is to see the dead-enders Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia in the minority. Check out this graf from Roberts's dissent. Who's writing this shit, Sean Hannity?
In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts criticized his colleagues for striking down what he called "the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants."

Beef import beef

South Korean students participate in a candlelight rally Wednesday against U.S. beef imports in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Wednesday his government intends to make a fresh start after his entire Cabinet offered to resign in response to weeks of rallies against the planned resumption of U.S. beef imports. The signs read, "Out, President Lee Myung-bak." (AP photo by Lee Jin-man / June 11, 2008)

Phoenix ready to cook up Mars soil

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's Surface Stereo Imager made this image of the two trenches dug by its robotic arm. Each of the trenches is about 3 inches wide. This view is presented in approximately true color by combining separate exposures taken through different filters of the Surface Stereo Imager.
Scientists first aim to vaporize any ice that might be in the sample
By Andrea Thompson
updated 4:49 p.m. CT, Wed., June. 11, 2008
Scientists were finally able to deliver a soil sample to an instrument aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander after several frustrating days of failed attempts, mission controllers announced.
The welcome news came on Wednesday morning, when Phoenix beamed back the results of its activities from the previous day to scientists on Earth.
For the last several days, scientists had tried to dislodge the clumpy soil sitting on top of a screen that basically feeds samples into the ovens. The soil was stuck outside the instrument's entrance. The solution was to run a vibrator on the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA), which is designed to heat up the soil samples to analyze their composition.
None of the dislodging attempts since the soil was first delivered on Saturday had been successful, but scientists ran the vibrator for a seventh (and likely final) time on Tuesday night "in the off chance we might get lucky," said TEGA co-investigator William Boynton of the University of Arizona.
"The dirt finally did start to flow and we actually got a full oven, so that problem is now behind us," Boynton added. "We're hopeful that some time in the next few days we'll close the oven and begin the analysis process."
When Boynton announced the unexpected result to the Phoenix team, "the group just went up into cheers," he said as he played the song "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty."
TEGA's tiny ovens will heat the samples up to progressively higher temperatures. The first aim is to vaporize any ice that might be in the soil, which can be detected by the instrument mass spectrometer. At higher temperatures, other minerals may decompose into vapors as well, particularly any that formed in a wet environment.
"We're looking for past interactions with water," Boynton explained.
Just why the soil took such coaxing to get into TEGA is a mystery. The soil is unlike anything scientists expected to encounter, said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith, as it tends to clump together in little clods.
Scientists aren't sure what in the soil is causing this clumpy behavior — it could be a particular mineral, or, some speculate, water ice (which is thought to form layers just underneath the surface). Part of the reason ice is proposed as causing the clumps is that the ice could have sublimed after spending several days out in the Martian sunshine, finally loosening the soil.

Justice of peace told to stop paddling in court

Judge rules parents can't be given choice of paddling kids or paying fines
McALLEN, Texas - A justice of the peace can no longer give parents the choice of paying a fine or paddling their children in open court for now, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Los Fresnos Justice of the Peace Gustavo Garza was sued by three families who say Garza left them with no real option when he told them they must pay a fine for their children's transgressions or paddle them in open court.
Until District Judge Abel Limas can resolve that case, he ordered Garza to halt the paddling. A trial date has not been set.
The lawsuit was initially brought by the parents of a 15-year-old Los Fresnos girl who appeared in Garza's court in April for skipping school.
Daniel Zurita paddled his stepdaughter with one of the two wooden paddles Garza displays in his courtroom after the justice said it was either that or pay a $500 fine.
Paddling defended
Last week, Garza said offering paddling as an option was lawful and that 98 percent of parents took that choice.
Garza was represented by Cameron County attorney Richard Burst at a hearing Wednesday. A woman in the county attorney's office who did not identify herself declined comment and hung up.
A message left for Garza at his office was not immediately returned.
Plaintiff attorney Mark Rossi said Burst rejected his offer to stop the case if Garza would halt the paddling in his courtroom and apologize.
Garza is "basically turning the courtroom into something more resembling the Jerry Springer Show than a court of law," Rossi said.

Study: Pot at its most potent level in 30 years

WASHINGTON - Marijuana potency increased last year to the highest level in more than 30 years, posing greater health risks to people who may view the drug as harmless, according to a report released Thursday by the White House.
The latest analysis from the University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project tracked the average amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in samples seized by law enforcement agencies from 1975 through 2007. It found that the average amount of THC reached 9.6 percent in 2007, compared with 8.75 percent the previous year.
The 9.6 percent level represents more than a doubling of marijuana potency since 1983, when it averaged just under 4 percent.
"Today's report makes it more important than ever that we get past outdated, anachronistic views of marijuana," said John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He cited baby boomer parents who might have misguided notions that the drug contains the weaker potency levels of the 1970s.
"Marijuana potency has grown steeply over the past decade, with serious implications in particular for young people," Walters said. He cited the risk of psychological, cognitive and respiratory problems, and the potential for users to become dependent on drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
While the drug's potency may be rising, marijuana users generally adjust to the level of potency and smoke it accordingly, said Dr. Mitch Earleywine, who teaches psychology at the State University of New York in Albany and serves as an adviser for marijuana advocacy groups. "Stronger cannabis leads to less inhaled smoke," he said.
The White House office attributed the increases in marijuana potency to sophisticated growing techniques that drug traffickers are using at sites in the United States and Canada.
A report from the office last month found that a teenager who has been depressed in the past year was more than twice as likely to have used marijuana than teenagers who have not reported being depressed — 25 percent compared with 12 percent. The study said marijuana use increased the risk of developing mental disorders by 40 percent.
"The increases in marijuana potency are of concern since they increase the likelihood of acute toxicity, including mental impairment," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the University of Mississippi study.
"Particularly worrisome is the possibility that the more potent THC might be more effective at triggering the changes in the brain that can lead to addiction," Volkow said.
But there's no data showing that a higher potency in marijuana leads to more addiction, Earleywine said, and marijuana's withdrawal symptoms are mild at best. "Mild irritability, craving for marijuana and decreased appetite — I mean those are laughable when you talk about withdrawal from a drug. Caffeine is worse."
The project analyzed data on 62,797 cannabis samples, 1,302 hashish samples, and 468 hash oil samples obtained primarily from seizures by law enforcement agencies in 48 states since 1975.

Guantanamo inmates may seek release in court, high court says

by Greg Stohr
Bloomberg News
9:10 AM CDT, June 12, 2008
Guantanamo Inmates May Seek Release in Court, High Court Says
June 12 (Bloomberg) - Guantanamo Bay inmates have constitutional rights and may seek release in federal court, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a rebuke to the Bush administration and Congress on their handling of accused terrorists.
The justices, voting 5-4, said a 2006 law unconstitutionally stripped Guantanamo prisoners of the right to file so-called habeas corpus petitions. The majority rejected arguments that a system of limited judicial review set up by Congress was adequate to protect inmate rights.
The ruling bolsters the legal rights of the 270 inmates at Guantanamo's Camp Delta, set up in 2002 to detain accused al- Qaeda fighters captured after the Sept. 11 attacks. More broadly, the decision may mean a more powerful wartime role for the judiciary.
The cases are Boumediene v. Bush, 06-1195, and Al Odah v. United States, 06-1196.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lake bursts bank and disappears: 'It was . . . full of life, now it's gone'

Jim Downs poses Tuesday with a catfish left stranded in the bed of what remains of Lake Delton after heavy rains caused the 267-acre lake to escape its banks near the Wisconsin Dells. (Tribune photo / E. Jason Wambsgans / June 10, 2008)
By E.A. Torriero | Tribune correspondent
June 10, 2008
LAKE DELTON, Wis. - One of the most scenic getaways for Chicagoans is devastated.
Weekend rains of biblical proportions dumped so much water into Lake Delton that it literally burst its banks.
Tens of thousands of gallons of lake water barreled through the woods, taking with it a roadway, several houses, boats, fish and lake bed. It emptied into the nearby Wisconsin River and was gone in hours.
On Tuesday morning, some 24 hours after the catastrophe, the massive lake is nearly drained. The lake is a muddy moonscape of cracked earth. Fish bake in the sun, flopping until their deaths. Mounds of dead fish are piled high. The shoreline is jagged and cracked. Boats hang in the air suspended by what is left of the docks. In parts, the little water that is left meanders like a silent brook. The roadway and earth that held the river back is now a grand canyon.
"Just this weekend it was full of fish, full of boaters, full of life and now it's gone," said Harland Tourdoy who has been fishing these waters for a half-century.
Standing on beachhead, where lake waters used to lap at his feet, Tourdoy watched as a lone canoeist attempted to navigated a narrow channel that was left of the lake center. "I wonder if it'll ever be the same," he said.
Lake Delton is nature's signature landscape for the Wisconsin Dells. While the region draws thousands to its indoor and outdoor water parks, Delton was the natural draw for water skiing, fishing and other recreation.
Condominiums, hotels, and mom and pop homes dot the jagged shoreline that offered serene vistas of the lakes. State officials vow to refill the lake as soon as possible. But locals are skeptical.
"When will I ever get my view back?" asked Sue Schultz, who lives on a bluff above the lake.
Up until Monday morning, residents were worried about flooding. Schultz's neighbors were furiously sandbagging, worrying that a nearby dam could bust, sending the lake to high levels. Instead, Schultz watched incredulously as the lake drained Monday morning.
"I was in a state of shock," she said. "I wondered where it was all going."
Within hours, Schultz's view was of a giant mud pit.
"Never in my wildest imagination could I dream of seeing this," she said.
With summer tourist season in full swing, residents worry about the impact.
At the gorge that only hours ago was a roadway, several locals scampered into the riverbed pulling out dead fish and walking along the sticky riverbed.
"At fist it will be a novelty that people will want to come and see," said Jim Downs, who fished a dead perch out of the mud.
"But soon it will begin to stink here pretty bad and it will drive people away," he said. "I don't see this lake coming back for years."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thank you for Representing the People

Dennis Kucinich introduces articles of impeachment for George W. Bush.

Kucinich Website Crippled Under Suspicious Circumstances Following Introduction of Impeachment Articles

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich's re-election website was shut down this morning by a series of suspicious and fast-moving events several hours after Kucinich introduced 35 Articles of Impeachment against President George W. Bush.

Andy Juniewicz with the Kucinich Campaign says that until the site is up and running again, the full list and text of the Articles are available at and

Juniewicz says Kucinich website managers and staff were beginning to post detailed information about the Articles and related news stories on the website early this morning when they noticed irregularities - possibly external tampering - with various private and protected codes used to format information and to create links to photos, videos, and external websites. Within less than two hours, the entire site was non-functional.

The problems struck at a time when the website was receiving an estimated 100,000-plus hits per hour from visitors seeking additional information about the Articles of Impeachment. That volume should have been manageable, campaign officials said.

The campaign issued a statement this morning saying, "The response to Congressman Kucinich's bold and meticulously documented presentation of the case against the President has been overwhelmingly positive and powerful. Emails, phone calls, and text messages have been pouring in all day from supporters."

Campaign officials are continuing to work on restoring the website and implementing additional security measures.

Bush impeachment to be shelved: Hoyer

The Democratic House leadership is preparing to stick the articles of impeachment raised by Rep. Dennis Kucinich Monday night against President Bush on the same shelf that they stuck a similar effort the Ohio Democrat filed last year against Vice President Dick Cheney.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today that the 35-count indictment of Bush, which took Kucinich more than four hours to read on the House floor, would be forwarded to the House Judiciary Committee. The Democratic leadership has opposed impeachment as an unhelpful distraction; the Judiciary Committee is unlikely to pursue further action.

Kucinich, using arguments similar to those he employed last year against Cheney, says Bush misled Congress and the American people into war with tales of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

House leaders were caught off-guard last year when Republicans voted to take up the Cheney impeachment in order to force a debate that could have proved awkward for Democrats. They avoided that debate by sending it to the Judiciary Committee.

Hoyer said today that Kucinich had "an absolute right" to raise the issue. But he questioned whether it made sense to spend time on it during what he called "the waning months" of the Bush administration.

Hoyer said the administration has one of the worst records of any administration in his lifetime, or maybe ever. He said Congress has conducted wide-ranging oversight since Democrats took over last year.

The free-knowledge fundamentalist

Jimmy Wales changed the world with Wikipedia, the hugely popular online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. What will he do next?

“WHY is this working?”, Jimmy Wales recalls pondering during the mid 1990s. He had been doing online research for his PhD thesis in financial mathematics and came across a “free software” manifesto written by Richard Stallman, a bearded hacker and an evangelist for what is now known (to his own chagrin) as “open-source” software. Nobody was in charge of it. Strangers were collaborating without even asking for money. Instead of copyright, there was “copyleft”. It was all a puzzle. Mr Wales was intellectually hooked.

He never completed his PhD thesis. But his fascination with the idea of “free” information eventually led him, through twists and turns, to co-found Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anybody can edit and that has arguably become the single best example of “user-generated content”, “audience participation”, the “hive mind”, “collective intelligence” and other “Web 2.0” buzzwords.

Wikipedia belongs to a non-profit foundation and, being an exercise in collaboration among volunteers, it has no boss. But Mr Wales, with his scruffy beard, piercing blue eyes, black mock-turtleneck and velvet coat, has become the public face of Wikipedia by default. He is the closest thing it has to a spokesman, the occasional monarch who intervenes in editing disputes, and the ambassador—both inspiring and controversial—of the Wikipedian idea.

Even as a boy in Alabama, recalls Terry Foote, a close friend for decades, Mr Wales was a “voracious reader” with “intense intellectual curiosity” for absolutely anything except sports. They grew up in Huntsville, where Werner von Braun conceived his Apollo moon shot and where Messrs Foote and Wales hung out with the children of rocket engineers. They would drive down to New Orleans and “get drunk off our butts,” then get over the hangover with science and philosophy. “I always knew that he was going to be somebody famous, having to do with technology,” says Mr Foote.

The philosophy that appealed to Mr Wales was Objectivism, a strand of thinking associated with the author Ayn Rand. “It colours everything I do and think,” he says. In her cult novels “Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” and other works, Rand described rugged and unbending individualists who embodied a raw brand of capitalism and a metaphysical conviction that reality was fixed and objectively knowable. Through his interest in Objectivism, Mr Wales met, in the early 1990s, a philosopher named Larry Sanger.

Mr Wales was moderating an online discussion about Rand, and Mr Sanger joined in as a sceptic, freely displaying his “contempt for Objectivists because they pretend to be independent-minded and yet they follow in lockstep behind Ayn Rand,” as he puts it. Then Mr Sanger started moderating his own philosophy discussion, and Mr Wales joined in. Mr Wales called him up to contest every single point, and when the two met offline to carry on the jousting, they hit it off famously and became friends.

By the late 1990s, Mr Wales was investing in a website called Bomis, a sort of search engine or web directory where “99% of the searches had to do with naked babes,” as Mr Foote, who was Bomis’s advertising director, puts it. Bomis did barely well enough to support its four employees, he says, but it enabled Mr Wales to fund his bigger fascination: an online encyclopedia. He invited Mr Sanger to be its editor, and in 2000 they started Nupedia. Experts were invited to write articles on various subjects, and the idea was that Nupedia would sell advertising and make profits.

Edit this page
It soon became clear that this was not going to happen, so Messrs Wales and Sanger changed tack. They had often discussed the open-source model in software and how it might be applied elsewhere, and had both read “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”, a seminal open-source text. Who first had which part of the winning idea is now the subject of a bitter dispute, but Mr Wales seems to have proposed throwing the project open to contributions from the public, while Mr Sanger suggested using “wiki” software (which allows easy editing of web pages) to do it. The result was Wikipedia, launched in 2001 as a non-profit project. It soon became a global hit and is now one of the most visited sites on the internet. Its 10m-odd articles in 253 languages are often among the top results for Google searches.

This added several intellectual twists to Mr Wales’s fundamental Objectivism. On one hand, Wikipedia seems to fit well with Rand’s contention, elaborated more fully by libertarian thinkers such as Friedrich von Hayek, that decentralised markets work best because they are so much more efficient than centralised bureaucracies at digesting information. In this case the outcome was not a commodity price, say, but knowledge. On the other hand, Wikipedia continues to be free in the sense of both “free speech” and “free beer”, as an old open-source saying has it. Some people react by wondering, “gee, this is a guy who is very pro-capitalist and yet he started a non-profit foundation for sharing knowledge,” says Mr Wales.

This is my truth, tell me yours
The more subtle twist has to do with the philosophical concept of truth. Ayn Rand believed that truth exists independently of the minds and opinions of people. This ran directly counter to the postmodernist view that there are many truths, depending on the perspective of the observer. And Wikipedia’s process seems, on the face of it, to assume the postmodernist rather than the Objectivist stance. The truths described in its millions of articles evolve over time and through the dialectic of editing wars, leading to a new and fuzzy concept of reality dubbed “wikiality”. “Ayn Rand would be turning in her grave,” thinks Mr Sanger.

As Mr Wales struggles with Wikipedia’s intellectual controversies, he now does so as a minor celebrity.

Mr Wales takes a different view. “I think that reality exists and that it’s knowable,” he says, adding that Wikipedia aims not for truth with a capital T but for consensus. “You go meta,” he says, meaning “beyond” the disputes and to the underlying facts. For instance, when deciding how to describe abortion, “I may not agree that it’s a sin, but I can certainly agree that the pope thinks it’s a sin.” Despite their disagreements, people on both sides of a debate can in many cases reach a consensus on the nature of their dispute, at least. Through this process, says Mr Wales, Wikipedia articles eventually reach a fairly steady state called the “neutral point of view”, or NPOV.

“Wikipedia resolves the postmodern dilemma of truth by ultimately relying on process,” says Gene Koo of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Centre for Internet and Society. “Its process is both open and transparent. The levers of power are not destroyed—Foucault taught us that this is impossible—but simply visible.” To which Mr Wales responds, more simply, that NPOV is a way of saying: “Thanks, but, um, please let’s get back to work.”

That is easier said than done. Wikipedians are quite willing to get back to work, and on some truly bizarre subjects. This has led to a running controversy between “deletionists” who would prefer to cover only noteworthy subjects on Wikipedia, as a more traditional encyclopedia would, and “inclusionists”, who want to accept anything, no matter how banal. A deletionist wonders what message it sends when there is more “knowledge” available about Pokémon characters than about quantum mechanics; an inclusionist responds that the Pokémon articles do not preclude the addition of more articles about quantum physics.

Mr Wales describes himself as a moderate in this debate. “Wiki is not paper,” as the saying goes, so more can be included than in past encyclopedias. That said, he is “somewhat deletionist” when it comes to biographies. With Wikipedia’s sudden power comes a responsibility to “preserve human dignity”, since nothing is ever forgotten online. Does Corey Delaney, an Australian teenager who made headlines after throwing a wild party in Melbourne while his parents were away, really deserve a Wikipedia page? (As of this writing, he no longer has one.)

As Mr Wales struggles with such intellectual controversies, he now does so as a minor celebrity. Neither Bomis nor Wikipedia has made him rich--if he is comfortable, it is mainly the result of earning money from speaking engagements, say friends. But as the face of Wikipedia and of free knowledge he hobnobs with the likes of Al Gore and Tony Blair. He may live in a modest home in suburban Florida, but he has also been a guest on Necker Island, the private Caribbean hideaway of Richard Branson, a British tycoon. When Mr Wales had an affair with a Canadian television presenter, bloggers treated it with the same voyeuristic zeal usually reserved for the likes of Brad Pitt.

Not rich, but famous
All this has gone to his head, say former friends. Mr Wales “has created something of a mythology about himself,” says one. “The image he created is that he is this benevolent millionaire who donates his time for this charitable project; that is not true.” Instead, this acquaintance argues, Mr Wales is merely basking in the glow of Wikipedia’s success. He has alienated his former inner circle, and he “keeps his Objectivism under wraps” when hanging out with famous people.

An alternative view is that Mr Wales is still as intellectually curious as ever and is looking for a next big thing. He is in his forties now, an age that Carl Jung believed to be the “noon of life”, when men, in particular, reappraise past achievements and look for new ways to make a contribution. Mr Wales wants his to be Wikia, a for-profit company that is separate from Wikipedia. He calls it the “uncyclopedia” because he hopes to use wiki technology to build “the rest of the library”—books, articles about health and hobbies—with no presumption of neutrality.

Mr Wales is especially passionate about Wikia’s web-search project. Its search bar looks like Google’s but has a twist. Whereas Google keeps its algorithms a secret, Wikia has made its own open-source. Mr Wales has no illusions about taking on the search juggernaut that is Google and says that “we would be overjoyed to get 5% of the search market,” which would still be worth a fortune in advertising revenues (Google, meanwhile, is moving onto Wikipedia’s turf with a new project called Knol.)

So far Wikia’s search results are embarrassingly poor, as reviewers have noted. And there are more fundamental doubts. Wikipedia succeeded because, in 2001, there was no free online encyclopedia. Today web search, by contrast, is a hyper-competitive industry. Consumers are not clamouring for a new search engine. And revealing the algorithms could make it easier for website designers to manipulate the results. Mr Wales does not see it that way. Search has become a window to knowledge, and Google and its rivals have become its arbiters. “For me it’s a political statement,” he says. “We don’t need secrecy.” Ayn Rand would surely approve.

Playing politics with the Fed

SMALL, weak and vulnerable: hardly an accurate description of America's central bank. But soon it could be. The Federal Reserve is the world's most important financial institution. Just this week Ben Bernanke, its chairman, demonstrated its influence when a rare comment on the dollar's weakness sent the currency soaring (see article). Yet the Fed's standing is in a potentially parlous state, thanks to political brinkmanship by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

For more than a year, two seats on the Fed's seven-member board of governors have been empty, because the Senate has been unwilling to confirm George Bush's nominees to the job. It has also refused a new term for the Bush-appointed Randall Kroszner, who is hanging on in limbo. On May 28th Rick Mishkin, another governor, said he would depart in August. If the Senate continues to delay, the Fed's board will have only four members—fewer than at any time since at least the 1930s.

No one doubts Mr Bush's candidates are qualified. The hold-up is ideological. Democrats want to wait until after November's election so that a new president can, as one senator put it, “remake the Fed” by appointing a clutch of new people at once. That is reckless on several counts.

In the short term, the central bank will be starved of talent and leadership at an extremely tricky time. Power in monetary policy will also shift. Like much of the American government, the central bank is an artful balance of federal and local. The Fed's key policy rate is set by the Federal Open Market Committee. Its voting members consist of the Fed's seven governors and five presidents from the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks. If the Fed's board has only four governors, the regional presidents will be in the majority—contrary to what the Fed's founders intended. Ironically, several of the regional presidents are decidedly hawkish, so the result might be a greater focus on inflation than growth—the opposite of what many Democratic senators are likely to fret about.

The real danger, however, lies further ahead. Mr Bernanke's term as Fed chairman expires in 2010. With lots of governors to appoint at once, and the prospect of a new chairman within two years, the next president will have unprecedented power to reshape the Fed. Governors are appointed for overlapping 14-year terms precisely to avoid this concentration of power.

Independence, schmindependence
That alone is dangerous. It is doubly worrying given the Democrats' seeming insouciance about politicising the Fed. So far the senators' focus has been on consumer protection. They want governors who would have done more to stop predatory subprime lending. But, in the aftermath of the Bear Stearns rescue, the overhaul of financial regulation is likely to be far broader. Wall Street's attempts to wriggle out of that regulation have already begun (see article). The Fed will be central to ensuring that institutions implicitly backed by the state are appropriately regulated: impartiality is crucial.

But the biggest risk lies with monetary policy. Though every American politician pays lip service to the central bank's independence in interest-rate decisions, that independence is more fragile than in other rich countries. The Fed has a dual mandate—to promote full employment and price stability—and no explicit inflation target. With its fuzzier goals, America's central bank is more vulnerable than some others. A set of doveish appointments could soon dissipate the Fed's inflation-fighting credibility. Economic growth is weak and prices are rising uncomfortably fast. Central bankers face difficult decisions. It is no time for politicians to make matters worse.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Legendary journalist Bill Moyers address the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, June 7, 2008. Presented by For more speakers, press coverage, and info, visit:

Now watch this video of Bill Moyers laying down the gauntlet for a RupertMurdochFOXBillO'Riley minion. Thank you Mr. Moyers, you've really put a hop in my step today.

Ancient City of Babylon Destroyed by US Base

The last outsiders to visit the ruins of the once-mighty city of Babylon in Iraq came in tanks and helicopters, leaving a blight on its historic and fragile landscape, archaeologists say.
The city, born on the banks of the Euphrates River 5,000 years ago and full of priceless archaeological treasures, was transformed into a U.S. military camp after the 2003 invasion with a heliport built among the ruins.

The base was later passed to Polish army control and despite the soldiers' departure in 2005, the damage left behind is evident. At a meeting in Berlin next month, Iraqi and other specialists will endeavor to assess the true level of damage.

Iraqi archaeologist Hadi Mussa Qataa, who guided an AFP reporter through the fragile ruins, said helicopter take-offs and landings, along with the tremors from the heavy rumble of armored vehicles had damaged the city's historic monuments.

Babylon, Iraq

Babylon, the legendary city, is indeed, the most famous ancient city in the whole World. It was the capital of ten Mesopotamian dynasties starting with the dynasty of King Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC); the 6th king of the 1st dynasty; reaching prominence as the capital city of the great kingdom of Babylonia. The last dynasty at which Babylon achieved its zenith, is well known particularly of its 2nd king, Nebuchadnezzar II (605-563 BC), to whom most of Babylon's existing buildings belongs.

see you tonight!!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

What's in a News-paper?

Hi Kids,
It's another edition of "compare and contrast." The Tribune is cutting its editorial content, and also giving the axe to "low producing" journalists. First, we have an article by a high-profile journalist, picture featured, name recognized and ultimately held accountable for (that is, after given years to learn the ropes and develop his craft).

Then, we have a generic article which is more or less a reworking of the press release to meet journalism 101 standards.

Who wins? The people who get their news elsewhere, at this point.

concerned citizen

P.S. I thought we were going to innovate? It sounds like we're going to be cutting the people working outside the mainstream who might be taking journalistic and creative risks - in lieu of not writing a snappy review of movies like Zohan on the regular. Of course I hope not, but I need something to base hope on at this point!

Tribune Co. faces big cuts, fast

Phil Rosenthal
June 6, 2008

Having concluded Tribune Co.'s newspapers are hardly too rich and unlikely too thin, Chairman Sam Zell and Chief Operating Officer Randy Michaels told lenders Thursday that the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and its other dailies are going on a crash diet.

With the financially strained newspaper industry watching, Tribune Co.'s papers will become radically more slender—critics will say diminished—with about 12.5 percent fewer pages companywide by the end of September, with some papers possibly seeing significantly deeper cuts. Tribune Co. would not disclose the projected cost savings.

And if Tribune Co. newsrooms are to shrink as well, Michaels said, journalists will be held accountable for their productivity.

The heavily leveraged media company's leaders said selling control of Newsday, its Long Island, N.Y., paper, and the auction for Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs ballclub, for which potential bidders will receive the long-awaited financial data within days and submit indications of interest next month, should take care of its big bills due this year and next.

But the cash-flow cushion for Tribune Co.'s interest payments is fast eroding with dramatically declining publishing revenues far steeper than forecast, leading the company to try to "right-size the papers and significantly reduce our costs," according to former radio executive Michaels, in ways he believes won't come at the expense of readers or advertisers.

"This is going to happen quickly," Michaels said.

Zell punctuated Michaels' conference call comments by adding: "I promise you he is underestimating the level of aggressiveness with which we are attacking this whole challenge."

Michaels cited statistics that he said showed the average journalist at the Los Angeles Times (where rumors of imminent cuts run particularly rampant) contributes about one-sixth of the content produced by counterparts at Tribune Co. papers in Baltimore and Hartford, Conn.

"You find out that you can eliminate a fair amount, a fair number of people, without eliminating very much content," he said. Even allowing for investigative reporting and other circumstances "we believe we can save a lot of money and not lose a lot of productivity."

Personnel decisions will be made at the local level, Michaels said, noting those who "work hard [and] produce a lot of content for us" have little to worry about. There was still considerable concern at company papers and elsewhere as word of his remarks spread.

"Whenever somebody who has no background or fundamental understanding of the newspaper business takes over a newspaper company, I worry—and I worry about the Tribune Co.," industry analyst John Morton said.

"There's always a problem with trying to measure journalists' output by quantity when what matters most is quality," he said.

As for the Cubs deal, Zell said "there's never been a better time to market the team or the ballpark" with ticket sales for the first-place team this season already passing the 3 million mark.

Tribune Co., which looks to retain a small stake in the team primarily for tax reasons, will continue to explore a deal with the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority for Wrigley Field, Zell said. "But we do not do it at the expense of unnecessarily delaying any of our other options."

The sale of the Cubs has always been part of Zell's game plan, but making cuts at its newspapers was something he initially said he would resist.

As Tribune Co. phases in the more economical papers, the change will be accompanied by what Michaels described as "a new look and feel in each market, emphasizing what people are telling us they want in the research: charts, graphs, maps, lists."

Michaels said the reduction of pages is driven by a desire to get the ad-to-content ratio to 50-50 companywide. Excluding classified and preprinted ads, that ratio is now roughly 60-40 in favor of news, a Tribune Co. spokesman said.

Even with the reduction "we're still putting out pretty big papers," Michaels said. "The Chicago Tribune is typically an 80-page newspaper. The days that we're 80 pages, The Wall Street Journal is typically 48 pages. Nobody picks up The Wall Street Journal and says: 'Wow, what a lousy paper. I've been ripped off.'

"If we take, for instance, the Los Angeles Times to a 50-50 ratio … the smallest paper, Monday and Tuesday, [would be] 56 pages. That would be substantially larger than that day's Wall Street Journal. We don't think that's a bad value to the consumer. And we think that by doing that, and then by being able to produce less editorial content … we can save a lot of money by producing the right-size newspaper."

A Wall Street Journal spokesman said the Journal actually ranges from 50 pages to 60 pages, averaging about 56. But Michaels' point was clear, albeit not universally embraced.

" 'Less is more' only works in architecture," Morton said. "Whenever I hear 'We can do more and better with less,' my feeling is you ought to run for the hills."

Tribune Co. may cut newsprint, 'right-size' papers

By James P. Miller

Tribune staff reporter

Tribune Co. officials think the media concern "could take about 500 pages out of our newspapers every week," company-wide, by reducing the proportion of editorial content to advertising to a 50-50 level, Chief Operating Officer Randy Michaels told the Chicago company's creditors Thursday.

In discussing the company's efforts to alter its cost structure in the face of rapidly eroding industry conditions, Michaels said in a conference call that Tribune is "actively pursuing a plan to right-size" the newspaper operation.

The recently installed COO also disclosed that Tribune officials have been examining the productivity of individual reporters at the company's newspapers, and have observed a significant discrepancy between the output of individual reporters.

In addition, he said, the productivity of the reporting staffs at Tribune's smaller dailies is much higher -- in terms of sheer output -- than at larger papers such as the company's big Los Angeles Times paper.

The implication of that difference in output, as measured by story production is that "We can eliminate a fair amount of people, while eliminating not much copy," he observed. Michaels didn't offer any details.

Tribune has been headed by real estate magnate Sam Zell since December, when he engineered the $8.2 billion leveraged buyout that took the media company private and saddled it with a mammoth burden of debt.

The LBO was structured to put technical ownership of the Chicago company in the hands of an employee stock ownership plan, a format which provides the company with significant tax advantages.

Like most newspaper companies, Tribune has seen its once-robust profit margins hammered by a dropoff in advertising revenue. Historically, print ads have been the lifeblood of the industry, but that financial model is sputtering as advertisers shift ever-larger portions of their ad budgets to Internet platforms.

In recent weeks, CEO Zell has signaled that the company's newspaper segment faces more belt-tightening because industry conditions are still worsening.

Earlier this week, while talking to staffers of Tribune Co. television stations KCPQ and KMYQ in Seattle, Zell said "We underwrote the deal expecting a continued suppression of print revenue, but nobody, including us, expected the kind of dramatic change that occurred in the first quarter."

The financial cushion he and the investing group had expected to be in place under the financing format is coming under more pressure, Zell said in Seattle.

YouTube - Sexism Sells -- But We're Not Buying It

YouTube:"As the sexist tone in the media reaches a fever pitch, the Women's Media Center created this video to illustrate the problem and send a message to the media: Sexism might sell, but we're not buying it!"

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Beef against US

South Korean protesters march toward presidential house in Seoul after a candlelight vigil against U.S. beef imports Sunday. President Lee Myung-bak showed no signs of dropping a plan to allow U.S. beef imports after nearly 40,000 people took to the streets in a major anti-government protest marked by clashes between police and demonstrators. (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon / June 1, 2008)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Today in Fascism

all this from listening to public radio international's "the world." this is just a little bit of "connecting the dots."

click on the headlines below for links to the full article.

what can we do about all this?

Beijing lays down law for Olympic fun

BEIJING—Foreigners attending the Summer Olympics better behave, or else.

The Beijing Olympic organizing committee issued a stern nine-page document Monday that covers 57 topics. Written in Chinese only and posted on the official Web site, the guide covers everything from a ban on sleeping outdoors to the need for government permission to stage a protest.
•Any religious or political banner at an Olympic venue that "disturbs the public order" is forbidden.

Chavez creates new 'spying law'

Venezuelans may be forced to spy on their neighbours or risk prison under President Hugo Chavez's new intelligence decree, which has critics fearing a Cuba-style system that could be used to stifle dissent.
Chavez says the intelligence law that he quietly signed by decree last week will help Venezuela detect and neutralise security threats, including any assassination plots or attempted coups.
But many Venezuelans are alarmed they could be forced to act as informants for the authorities -- or face up to four years in prison.
"It's a system just like Cuba," said Raul Barbiera, an 80-year-old barber who was born in Spain and emigrated to Venezuela decades ago. He said the law reminds him of his experiences under the fascist dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, when "you couldn't speak against the government".
Barbiera said people will be more careful what they say because "anyone can start a file on you".
The law states that security forces don't need court orders for surveillance such as wiretapping, and authorities can withhold evidence from defence lawyers if that is deemed to be in the interest of national security.
Nancy Silva, a 45-year-old shopkeeper, said she fears the creation neighbourhood-level spying networks because the law says community-based organisations may be called upon to provide intelligence.
"The government wants citizens to spy on each other, that's scary," Silva said.
That feeds the suspicions that many Chavez critics have about government-backed "communal councils" that decide how to spend funds for local projects. They say such groups could become like Cuba's Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, which encourage neighbours to watch for "counter-revolutionary" activities.
Chavez denies the law infringes on freedoms, saying it falls into "a framework of great respect for human rights" and is needed to thwart US spying. He says it will help prevent military rebellions like the 2002 coup that briefly removed him from power.

It Isn’t Magic: Putin Opponents Vanish From TV

In a still frame from video, the incomplete digital erasure of a Putin critic named Mikhail G. Delyagin from an episode of the program "The People Want to Know" can be seen. Mr. Delyagin's leg and hand remain visible, to the right of the man holding the microphone.

MOSCOW — On a talk show last fall, a prominent political analyst named Mikhail G. Delyagin had some tart words about Vladimir V. Putin. When the program was later televised, Mr. Delyagin was not.

Not only were his remarks cut — he was also digitally erased from the show, like a disgraced comrade airbrushed from an old Soviet photo. (The technicians may have worked a bit hastily, leaving his disembodied legs in one shot.)

Mr. Delyagin, it turned out, has for some time resided on the so-called stop list, a roster of political opponents and other critics of the government who have been barred from TV news and political talk shows by the Kremlin.

The stop list is, as Mr. Delyagin put it, “an excellent way to stifle dissent.”

It is also a striking indication of how Mr. Putin has increasingly relied on the Kremlin-controlled TV networks to consolidate power, especially in recent elections.