Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Penny for My Thoughts?

I visited the future, and it was wearing a bow tie and calling itself “Thomas Edison.”
The newspaper business is not only crumpling up, James Macpherson informed me here, it is probably holding “a one-way ticket to Bangalore.”
Macpherson — bow-tied and white-haired but boyish-looking at 53 — should know. He pioneered “glocal” news — outsourcing Pasadena coverage to India at Pasadena Now, his daily online “newspaperless,” as he likes to call it. Indians are writing about everything from the Pasadena Christmas tree-lighting ceremony to kitchen remodeling to city debates about eliminating plastic shopping bags.
“Everyone has to get ready for what’s inevitable — like King Canute and the tide coming in — and that’s really my message to the industry,” the editor and publisher said. “Many newspapers are dead men walking. They’re going to be replaced by smaller, nimbler, multiple Internet-centric kinds of things such as what I’m pioneering.”
I wondered how long it would be before some guy in Bangalore was writing my column about President Obama.
“In brutal terms,” said Macpherson, whose father was a typesetter, printer and photographer, “it’s going to get to the point where saving the industry may require some people losing their jobs. The newspaper industry is coming to a General Motors moment — except there’s no one to bail them out.” He said it would be “irresponsible” for newspapers not to explore offshoring options.
He said he got the idea to outsource about a year ago, sitting in his Pasadena home, where he puts out Pasadena Now with his wife, Candice Merrill. Macpherson had worked in the ’90s for designers like Richard Tyler and Alan Flusser, and had outsourced some of his clothing manufacturing to Vietnam.
So, he thought, “Where can I get people who can write the word for less?” In a move that sounded so preposterous it became a Stephen Colbert skit, he put an ad on Craigslist for Indian reporters and got a flood of responses.
He fired his seven Pasadena staffers — including five reporters — who were making $600 to $800 a week, and now he and his wife direct six employees all over India on how to write news and features, using telephones, e-mail, press releases, Web harvesting and live video streaming from a cellphone at City Hall.
“I pay per piece, just the way it was in the garment business,” he says. “A thousand words pays $7.50.”
A penny for your thoughts? Now I knew my days were numbered.
I checked in with one of his workers in Mysore City in southern India, 40-year-old G. Sreejayanthi, who puts together Pasadena events listings. She said she had a full-time job in India and didn’t think of herself as a journalist. “I try to do my best, which need not necessarily be correct always,” she wrote back. “Regarding Rose Bowl, my first thought was it was related to some food event but then found that is related to Sports field.”
Macpherson admits you can lose something in the translation — the Pasadena City Council Webcast that the Indian reporters now watch once missed two African-American lawmakers walking out in protest — but says the question is, how significant is it?
At first the reaction to covering Pasadena from 8,000 miles away and 13.5 hours ahead was “absolutely brutal,” Macpherson recalled. Journalism professors keened and Larry Wilson, the public editor at The Pasadena Star-News, called it “nutty.”
But then in October, Dean Singleton, The Associated Press’s chairman and the head of the MediaNews Group — which counts The Pasadena Star-News, The Denver Post and The Detroit News in its stable of 54 daily newspapers — told the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association that his company was looking into outsourcing almost every aspect of publishing, including possibly having one news desk for all of his papers, “maybe even offshore.”
Noting that most preproduction work for MediaNews’s papers in California is already outsourced to India, cutting costs by 65 percent, Singleton advised, “If you need to offshore it, offshore it,” and said after the speech, “In today’s world, whether your desk is down the hall or around the world, from a computer standpoint, it doesn’t matter.”
Macpherson feels “vindicated,” but also “conflicted” about the idea of having an American newspaper industry fueled by Indian labor. “I mean, I am an American too,” he said. “I had two ancestors in the Revolutionary War. My mother was in the Daughters of the American Revolution.”
It’s not easy being a visionary, he said: “I have essentially been five years ahead of the world for a long time, and that’s a horrible address at which to live because people look at you, you know, like you’re nuts.”

Acorn Watchers Wonder What Happened to Crop

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008
The idea seemed too crazy to Rod Simmons, a measured, careful field botanist. Naturalists in Arlington County couldn't find any acorns. None. No hickory nuts, either. Then he went out to look for himself. He came up with nothing. Nothing crunched underfoot. Nothing hit him on the head.
Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill.
But Simmons really got spooked when he was teaching a class on identifying oak and hickory trees late last month. For 2 1/2 miles, Simmons and other naturalists hiked through Northern Virginia oak and hickory forests. They sifted through leaves on the ground, dug in the dirt and peered into the tree canopies. Nothing.
"I'm used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it's something I just didn't believe," he said. "But this is not just not a good year for oaks. It's a zero year. There's zero production. I've never seen anything like this before."
The absence of acorns could have something to do with the weather, Simmons thought. But he hoped it wasn't a climatic event. "Let's hope it's not something ghastly going on with the natural world."
To find out, Simmons and Arlington naturalists began calling around. A naturalist in Maryland found no acorns on an Audubon nature walk there. Ditto for Fairfax, Falls Church, Charles County, even as far away as Pennsylvania. There are no acorns falling from the majestic oaks in Arlington National Cemetery.
"Once I started paying attention, I couldn't find any acorns anywhere. Not from white oaks, red oaks or black oaks, and this was supposed to be their big year," said Greg Zell, a naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. "We're talking zero. Not a single acorn. It's really bizarre."
Zell began to do some research. He found Internet discussion groups, including one on Topix called "No acorns this year," reporting the same thing from as far away as the Midwest up through New England and Nova Scotia. "We live in Glenwood Landing, N.Y., and don't have any acorns this year. Really weird," wrote one. "None in Kansas either! Curiouser and curiouser."
Jennifer Klepper of Annapolis even blogged about it. "Last year our trees shot down so many acorns that you were taking your life into your own hands if you went outside without a crash helmet on," she wrote this month. "But this year? Forget it."
Louise Garris lives in an Arlington neighborhood called Oakcrest, which is home to towering oak trees. When she couldn't find any acorns, she began putting out peanuts for the squirrels. Last year, oaks in metropolitan Washington produced a bumper crop of acorns, and squirrels and other urban wildlife produced an abundance of young. This year, experts said, many animals will starve.
Garris started calling nurseries. "I was worried they'd think I was crazy. But they said I wasn't the only one calling who was concerned about it," she said. "This is the first time I can remember in my lifetime not seeing any acorns drop in the fall and I'm 53. You have to wonder, is it global warming? Is it environmental? It makes you wonder what's going on."
Simmons has a theory about the wet and dry cycles. But many skeptics say oaks in other regions are producing plenty of acorns, and the acorn bust here is nothing more than the extreme of a natural boom-and-bust cycle. But the bottom line is that no one really knows. "It's sort of a mystery," Zell said.

Barack Obama Insults Dog, Jumps Shark

by Billy Kimball
For me, the honeymoon ended when Barack Obama insulted my dog on national television.
The "Kimball Corollary" to "O'Neill's Law," which states that "All politics are local," is that "All politics is personal." (I prefer to regard "politics" as singular rather than plural - let the debate begin.) Last week, during an interview with Barbara Walters (another deplorable move), President-Elect Obama made cruel fun of my dog, gratuitously and without any sort of provocation. That's when the sad fact I have somehow known all along really hit home: the Barack Obama who will sit in the Oval Office is not and cannot be the same man who ran for that office.
The exchange in question took place as Ms. Walters attempted to sell the First Couple on her own preferred breed, a Havanese.
Obama: "Cha Cha?"
Barbara: "It's short for Cha Cha Cha."
O: "What is a Havanese?"
B: "It's like a little terrier and they're non-allergenic and they're the sweetest dogs.."
O: [Face suddenly changes.] "It's like a little yappy dog?"
Michelle: "Don't criticize."
O: "It, like, sits in your lap and things?"
M: "It's a cute dog."
O: "It sounds kinda like a girly dog."
M: "We're girls. We have a houseful of girls."
O [with hand gestures]: "We're going to have a big rambunctious dog, of some sort."
Like Barbara Walters (which is something we are going to have to come to terms with at a later time), my wife and I have a Havanese. Manuel has all the classic dog virtues: he is loyal and affectionate, brave and (somewhat) obedient, and, if anyone tried to take him away from me, they'd have to pry him from my cold, dead hands.
The creation myths of the Havanese breed are various. As their name suggests, they are Cuban, but whether they came there first as the playthings of Spanish aristocrats or to bring joy to the laboring masses as circus dogs is debated. Some say they made landfall in the New World having crossed as shipboard sentinels watching for men overboard, a legacy that would make them unusually beloved among the non-swimming sailors of the day. Our dog still gives the alarm when anyone in our neighborhood dives into a pool or when, at the beach, anyone in his quarter-mile patrol zone is foolish enough to brave the waves.
By immemorial custom, the First Family must be dog owners just as they must be churchgoers and sportsfans. For Barack Obama to promise his daughters a new puppy if he were elected was a no-brainer, like promising them their own airplane or a new house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Once Wolf Blitzer called it on Election Night, the Obama family was getting a dog whether the kids wanted one or not.
The semiotics of dog ownership, for presidents and paupers alike, are equally well established. By saying that he wanted a "big, rambunctious dog," Obama was trying to don the mantle of the "guy's guy." Big rambunctious dogs, through their genetic link to working and hunting breeds, establish one's bona fides with the masses. Those toy breeds who don't have to work for living probably belong to people who don't either - or so the conventional wisdom would have it.
Of course, big, rambunctious dogs also imply that the owner is not gay which is important for Obama as he considers a politically radioactive repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rules which stuck like flypaper to Bill Clinton during his first year in office. For what it's worth, Barack Obama has risen very high in American life without, as far as I can tell, anyone suggesting he's gay. I really think ghettoizing an entire species of dog is unnecessary overcompensation in that regard.
(By the way, the days of swishy interior decorators with a Teacup Maltese under their arm seem to me to have gone with the wind. Check out the Big Dog Run in Washington Square Park if you don't believe me.)
To give Michelle Obama credit, she attempted to give her husband some cover by suggesting that a "girly dog" would be entirely appropriate for "a houseful of girls." It was a nice try, but clearly Mr. Obama meant "girly" in the pejorative sense, not as an adjective denoting "nice for girls," but rather to suggest a dog that lives in conflict with its own manly nature or the manly nature of dogs in general.
The focus group that sits inside Barack Obama's head has mostly served him well. It has enabled him to take terrifying political risks with that icy cool that we all love and fear. But in this case, his inner focus group has steered him wrong. Making distinctions about dogs based on breed is nothing less than a form of canine racism and exactly the sort of thing many of us had hoped we were leaving behind on Nov. 3. Is a Newfoundland who tongue kisses his male owner and hides under the bed during a thunderstorm any less girly than a Chihuahua who barks at trucks and has the guts to try to mate with a throw pillow more than twice his size?
And, after setting a fine example by declaring that he would adopt (or "rescue" in current parlance) a dog rather than buy one, Obama is acting irresponsibly by getting a dog much larger than is practical for people in his zip code who don't have a Rose Garden and South Lawn for it to run around on. Inevitably, one wonders who is going to clean up after the big, rambunctious dog leaves his big, rambunctious bowel movements scattered about the White House grounds? I suspect our new Commander-in-Chief will be commanding someone to do that job for him.
In the four years since he came into our lives, Manuel has watched over our baby, protected our family, comforted us in times of trouble, given us unconditional love, forgiven us our occasional negligence, entertained us, encouraged us to exercise, and provided us with a middle class tax cut.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Citigroup says gold could rise above $2,000 next year as world unravels

Gold is poised for a dramatic surge and could blast through $2,000 an ounce by the end of next year as central banks flood the world's monetary system with liquidity, according to an internal client note from the US bank Citigroup.

The bank said the damage caused by the financial excesses of the last quarter century was forcing the world's authorities to take steps that had never been tried before.
This gamble was likely to end in one of two extreme ways: with either a resurgence of inflation; or a downward spiral into depression, civil disorder, and possibly wars. Both outcomes will cause a rush for gold.
"They are throwing the kitchen sink at this," said Tom Fitzpatrick, the bank's chief technical strategist.
"The world is not going back to normal after the magnitude of what they have done. When the dust settles this will either work, and the money they have pushed into the system will feed though into an inflation shock.
"Or it will not work because too much damage has already been done, and we will see continued financial deterioration, causing further economic deterioration, with the risk of a feedback loop. We don't think this is the more likely outcome, but as each week and month passes, there is a growing danger of vicious circle as confidence erodes," he said.
"This will lead to political instability. We are already seeing countries on the periphery of Europe under severe stress. Some leaders are now at record levels of unpopularity. There is a risk of domestic unrest, starting with strikes because people are feeling disenfranchised."
"What happens if there is a meltdown in a country like Pakistan, which is a nuclear power. People react when they have their backs to the wall. We're already seeing doubts emerge about the sovereign debts of developed AAA-rated countries, which is not something you can ignore," he said.
Gold traders are playing close attention to reports from Beijing that the China is thinking of boosting its gold reserves from 600 tonnes to nearer 4,000 tonnes to diversify away from paper currencies. "If true, this is a very material change," he said.
Mr Fitzpatrick said Britain had made a mistake selling off half its gold at the bottom of the market between 1999 to 2002. "People have started to question the value of government debt," he said.
Citigroup said the blast-off was likely to occur within two years, and possibly as soon as 2009. Gold was trading yesterday at $812 an ounce. It is well off its all-time peak of $1,030 in February but has held up much better than other commodities over the last few months – reverting to is historical role as a safe-haven store of value and a de facto currency.
Gold has tripled in value over the last seven years, vastly outperforming Wall Street and European bourses.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Flipping madness! Police offer free flip-flops to binge drinkers who keep falling over in heels

Itsh not their fault, you shee. Itsh the shoesh.
Drunk women who stagger about in high heels are to be protected - at public expense - from twisting their ankles.
They will be handed flip-flops to wear by police outside nightclubs as they wend their way home.
The scheme is part of a £30,000 drive by police and councillors to prevent 'alcohol-related harm'.
Superintendent Chris Singer poses with two pairs of flip-flops. As part of a £30,000 health and safety scheme, flip-flops are to be given free to drunk women to prevent injuries on their walk home
It has been prompted by fears that women wearing stilettos or similar footwear could tumble over.
Officials also claim that female revellers are at risk of cutting the soles of their feet by walking barefoot.
The flip-flops will be given to anyone whose footwear is 'uncomfortable, inappropriate or soiled' and will be paid for with a Home Office grant.
The scheme is to begin next month in the centre of Torquay, Devon, a popular destination for hen and stag parties. It will be run by Safer Communities Torbay, a partnership between police, Torbay Council and the Local Education Authority.
Police officers will carry bags of coloured flip-flops on their rounds and will hand them to those who look unsteady on their feet.
Off balance: Drunk women will be handed flip-flops outside clubs
The rubber shoes, which carry printed messages about safe drinking, will also be available free from the council's 'Safe Bus' on the harbourside.

The force has already been handing out condoms and sexual health advice to revellers, and ordered drunken men who urinate in the street to clean up their own mess with a mop and bucket.
Inspector Adrian Leisk, from Safer Communities Torbay, said: 'Sometimes people get drunk and you see them carrying footwear which is inappropriate.
'The emphasis is on providing replacement footwear for people to get home in, should they find their footwear uncomfortable, inappropriate or soiled.
'We have consulted with people who work on our night-time economy areas and this is just one of a number of measures designed to keep people safe.'
The initiative has attracted criticism from campaigners, who said it was a waste of money and police time. Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'This is an idiotic waste of money.
'People don't pay their taxes for drunk women to get free flip flops. They want the police to fight crime.
'The police aren't there to be an emergency supply of flat shoes.'
But the potential recipients seemed quite pleased yesterday at the prospect of a free pair of flops.
Danielle Bolton, 19, who was out in Torquay, said: 'My heels hurt me at the end of the night so I tend to take them off.
'It's a hell of a lot easier to walk with flip-flops than high heels.'
Leanne Thomas, 21, added: 'I go out clubbing at the harbourside most weekends and I usually walk home barefooted because my heels hurt. I think it's a great idea.'
The £30,000 will cover the cost of free condoms, rape alarms and personal safety information which will also be available on the Safe Bus.
Superintendent Chris Singer, Torbay Police Commander, said: 'Linking in with our partners, this funding represents a significant opportunity to make a real difference in relation to alcohol related harm and disorder.
'We're hopeful that this new initiative will help protect dozens of women who are vulnerable to injury after a night out with friends.'

‘SNL’s’ Spiked Rahmbo Skit

Is it safe to mock Barack Obama’s chief of staff yet? Will it ever be? What could be the explanation as to why Andy Samberg’s impersonation of Rahm Emanuel didn’t make it onto last weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” lineup? So many questions.

Feds Used Military Intelligence to Spy On RNC Protesters

The American Civil Liberties Union recently came across a revealing RNC Homeland Security Document. This official document was uncovered by the website Wikileaks, which according to its website “We help you safely get the truth out”. This document outlines the planning leading up to the Republican National Convention and how security forces would be working together during the RNC. Many federal, state and local organizations were mentioned in this document, a number of which the ACLU did not know were involved. A number of these agencies are military based, which may directly conflict with Federal law that prohibits the military from engaging in domestic intelligence gathering.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), is one of the organizations that is mentioned in the report that is particular cause for concern. NGA provides mapping tools and imagery intelligence that are obtained from the United State’s military spy satellites which are controlled by the National Reconnaissance Office. In other words during the RNC, these top spying tools could have been utilized to gather intelligence on the homes of activists and media workers who were a part of the demonstrations. That information could have then been relayed to local officials.

A second agency that was involved in the planning is the Pentagon’s Northern Command, NORTHCOM. Having NORTHCOMM at the table, assisting in the planning is troubling because it could mean that the military was involved in the crowd control strategies and dealing with potential civil unrest. According to a report in Army Times, it said that an active military unit has been deployed by NORTHCOM in the United States. This deployment marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment within U.S. Borders.

Furthermore it appears that the FBI may have been using a station faking technology that would allow them to locate an individual through their cell phone. The ACLU is concerned with how this technology is used and if there was proper judicial oversight. In the USA Patriot ACT, this process for obtaining a track was made easier, and could allow for little to no judicial oversight. This tracking via cell phones could have been used during the RNC without the knowledge of even the phone companies.

“These behaviors are a radical departure from separation of civilian law enforcement and military authority, and could, quite possibly, represent a violation of law,” said Teresa Nelson, ACLU of Minnesota. The ACLU-MN will continue to investigate and will use their findings in future lawsuits against law enforcement officials.

(picture = Agent Provocateur)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

To my friends, Please Watch This!

I hope this makes you as frustrated as I feel right now.

As another blogger put it:
"This video sequence offers a compendium of appearances (covering the 2006–2007 period) by Euro Pacific Capital President Peter Schiff, who is a frequent — and frequently disrespected — talking head on cable news shows. What astonishes is not just the accuracy of his dour predictions about the economy but the sheer arrogance of every other person appearing on these program."

Its such an great display of arrogance, stupidity, and blind optimism. Oh yeah, and the herded sheep mentality. oh,justwatchit.

The bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:

• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion

Monday, November 24, 2008

German Intelligence Agents Caught Staging False Flag Terror

German intelligence agents have been caught staging a false flag terror attack against an EU building in Kosovo, apparently in an attempt to create a pretext for EU police to be deployed in Kosovo after government leaders rejected the UN-mandated proposal.
“Germany declined to comment on on Saturday on reports that three Germans arrested on suspicion of throwing explosives at an EU office in Kosovo were intelligence officers,” reports Reuters.
“The explosive charge was thrown on Nov. 14 at the International Civilian Office (ICO), the office of EU Special Representative Pieter Feith, who oversees Kosovo’s governance.”
A police source in Kosovo told Reuters: “They are members of the BND”, but gave no further details.
German news outlet Der Spiegel named the men as BND intelligence officers.
Most reports claimed that the officers had thrown dynamite at the building, while others reported that a bomb was placed near the building.
The bombing attempt happened just days after Kosovan leaders rejected a plan by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s for the deployment of a 2000 strong EU police and justice mission, EULEX.
A Kosovan judge has ordered that the men be detained for a further 30 days as prosecution lawyers seek terrorism charges that carry a maximum 20-year sentence.
The three men were not in Kosovo under official auspices but were working on behalf of a contractor, named by German media as Logistic Assessments.
“The alleged presence of covert intelligence operatives has led to a deterioration in the cordial relations between Germany and the newly independent Kosovo. The German foreign ministry confirmed that three German citizens had been detained in Kosovo. The BND had no comment,” reports the European Voice.
The German secret service, the BND, is notorious for infiltrating extremist groups and using them for their own political ends.
In March 2003 amidst a highly publicized attempt to ban the activities of a German Neo-Nazi political party, the trial collapsed in court after it emerged that the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) was full of German intelligence officers occupying top ranking positions, including the publisher of the party’s newspaper, who were all secretly on the government’s payroll for decades.
“The case has been stalled for more than a year after it emerged that the government’s case rested, at least partly, on a network of informants in the National Democratic Party. This raised the question of whether any acted as provocateurs,” reported the Scotsman.
As many as 30 leading figures in the party were expo

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Science Sundays: What makes the universe tick?

LEE SMOLIN wants to save your time. He is not a lifestyle guru offering handy tips on managing a diary, though: he is a physicist who works at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, Canada. Many of his colleagues, he says, are planning to rid the universe of the common-sense notion that time passes. Smolin is having none of it.

Physicists have become increasingly argumentative about what exactly time is. because this is now being recognised as perhaps the most fundamental question of all. For decades they have been attempting to wed quantum mechanics, our theory of how very small things behave, to relativity, our theory of how space, time and matter interact. This would give us the long-sought-after theory of quantum gravity that describes the entire universe.

Constructing this theory has been an uphill struggle, though, because it is unclear how time fits within it. "There are very different notions of time in general relativity and quantum theory," Smolin says. "It's pretty clear that the nature of time is the key issue."

Last month, Smolin and other theorists, along with mathematicians and philosophers, got together at the Perimeter Institute to thrash out time's problems. So complex is the issue that everyone involved seems to have a different idea. It turns out that if you want to understand time, you might need to grab some measurements from the future, watch a big bang explode at the edge of the universe, or delve into the anomalies presented by the most unruly of the subatomic particles. For some, the only solution is to scrap the notion of time altogether.

Scientists have long worried about the nature of time. At the beginning of the 18th century, Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz argued over whether time was truly fundamental to the universe. Then Einstein came along and created more problems: his general theory of relativity is responsible for our most counter-intuitive notions of time.

General relativity knits together space, time and gravity. Confounding all common sense, how time passes in Einstein's universe depends on what you are doing and where you are. Clocks run faster when the pull of gravity is weaker, so if you live up a skyscraper you age ever so slightly faster than you would if you lived on the ground floor, where Earth's gravitational tug is stronger. "General relativity completely changed our understanding of time," says Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France.

At the other extreme there is the quantum world, where time seems to be almost irrelevant. "Quantum theory doesn't really allow for measurements of time," says Aephraim Steinberg of the University of Toronto in Canada. "Asking how long a particle is in a certain region of space turns out to be something that, in quantum theory, may have hundreds - or an infinite number - of different answers."

This contradiction in general relativity's and quantum theory's description of time is the fundamental sticking point for a single theory that describes the entire universe. How to reconcile the two descriptions of time continues to stump the world's best minds. There is no shortage of ideas, though, with some believing we could make better progress towards a quantum theory of gravity if we think the unthinkable and abolish time altogether. "The solution of the present difficulties about time is just to forget about it," says Rovelli.

Don't Get Depressed, It's Not 1929

Why all those Great Depression analogies are wrong.
By Daniel Gross
Posted Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008, at 7:35 AM ET
It's difficult to avoid the comparisons between the current sad state of financial affairs and the Great Depression. "This is not like 1987 or 1998 or 2001," Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain said at a conference on Nov. 11. "We will in fact look back to the 1929 period to see the kind of slowdown we are seeing now." Time depicted President-elect Barack Obama on its cover as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And in Washington, the buzz is all about what the new team will do in its first 100 days. What's next? Show trials in Moscow?
All this historically inaccurate nostalgia can occasionally make you want to clock somebody with one of the three volumes of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s history of the New Deal. The credit debacle of 2008 and the Great Depression may have similar origins: Both got going when financial crisis led to a reduction in consumer demand. But the two phenomena differ substantially. Instead of workers with 5 o'clock shadows asking, "Brother, can you spare a dime?" we have clean-shaven financial-services executives asking congressmen if they can spare $100 billion. More substantively, the economic trauma the nation suffered in the 1930s makes today's woes look like a flesh wound.
Juliet Lapidos explained the difference between a recession and a depression. David Greenberg recounted how FDR saved capitalism in eight days. He also asked whether our current crisis would be more like 1990 or 1929. Previously, Daniel Gross wrote about the annoying and alarming trend of faux optimism among the business media.
"By the afternoon of March 3, scarcely a bank in the country was open to do business," FDR said in his March 12, 1933, fireside chat (now available on a very cool podcast at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s Web site). In 1933, some 4,000 commercial banks failed, causing depositors to take huge losses. (There was no FDIC back then.) The recession that started in August 1929 lasted for a grinding 43 months, during which unemployment soared to 25 percent and national income was cut in half. By contrast, through mid-November 2008, only 19 banks had failed. The Federal Reserve last week said it expects unemployment to top out at 7.6 percent in 2009. Economists surveyed by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank believe the recession, which started in April 2008, will be over by next summer. (Of course, back in January the same guys forecast that the economy would grow nicely in 2008 and 2009.) But don't take it from me. Take it from this year's Nobel laureate in economics. "The world economy is not in depression," Paul Krugman writes in his just-reissued book The Return of Depression Economics. "It probably won't fall into depression, despite the magnitude of the current crisis (although I wish I was completely sure about that)."
So what's with all the speakeasy-era speak? Financial executives invoke distant history in part to make up for their own recent shortcomings. If a force as powerful as the Great Depression has been unleashed on the global economy, how can a mere mortal like Merrill's John Thain be held responsible? The specter of the 1930s has also been deployed by political leaders to create a sense of urgency. "We saw a lot of overblown analogies in the run-up to the passage of the bailout bill," notes Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. President Bush's Sept. 24 address to the nation warned that "the entire economy is in danger," and that "without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic, and a distressing scenario would unfold."
It's understandable that we make comparisons to the Great Depression. Analogies help us place things in context. But very few of us actually lived through the Depression. Studs Terkel, the great chronicler of the voices of the Depression, died in October at 96. The historical distance from today to 1929 is as vast as the chasm separating 1929 from 1850. Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University and author of Predictably Irrational, says, "The closer we are to something—an event, a person, an object—the more nuances we see." By contrast, the further away we are, the greater (and less accurate) the generalizations we make. And so when comparisons to the Great Depression are flashed on cable-news crawls, "it's all about the desire to fit everything into a snapshot," Ariely says.
Ironically, the differences between the two eras can be summed up in a few sound bites. The world of 1929-33 was one that lacked shock absorbers such as Social Security and deposit insurance to insulate people from economic disaster. In the 1930s, some of the world's largest economies—Germany, the Soviet Union, Japan, and Italy—were run by leaders hostile to the very notion of market capitalism. Today, U.S.-style market capitalism is under assault from self-inflicted wounds, and Germany, Italy, and Japan (Russia, not so much) are working with the United States to cope with a common problem. Back then, we were cursed with a feckless Federal Reserve, and a wealthy Treasury secretary, Paul Mellon, saw the downturn as a force for good. "Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate," he said. "People will work harder, live more moral lives." By contrast, today's Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, is a student of the Great Depression, and the wealthy Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, wants to provide liquidity to stocks, farmers, and real estate. A final difference: After the 1929 crash, the nation had to wait more than three years for a president who simply wasn't up to the job to leave the scene. This time, we've got to wait only two more months.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Indian Man Dies In Company's 'Americanization' Pie Eating Contest

Desperate to train employees in the way of their customers on the other end of the world, Indian tech outfits teach them American accents, the names of local football and baseball teams, and slang expressions. Nativists wring hands about this crushing local mores in favor of Western culture. But sometimes the importation of Western culture proves outright deadly. In Gurgaon, India, a suburb of New Delhi filled with offshore-tech outfits, police are investigating the death of a 22-year-old employee of Nokia-Siemens at the company's office.

Nokia-Siemens officials held a pie-eating contest for workers in the company cafeteria. Saurab Sabharwal started choking and ran to the bathroom. No one thought to follow him. A coworker found him dead an hour later. His father is now asking why medical personnel weren't on hand; doctors in India question whether such contests should be held at all. The point of such contests is to spur competition between employees, in a culture which fosters cooperation. That one proved deadly is perhaps the best lesson about American culture, if not the one the bosses intended.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

CIA Inspector: Agents Lied About 2001 Missionary Shoot-Down in Peru : WASHINGTON — CIA personnel lied to Congress in April 2001 about a missionary plane shot down in Peru that killed a woman and her 7-month-old daughter, the CIA inspector general revealed in a report being released by California Rep. Pete Hoekstra on Thursday.

At the time, CIA personnel said the Peruvian Air Force suspected the plane was full of drug traffickers. The damning report, however, shows that CIA employees misled and even lied to Congress about what happened and did not supply accurate information to the Department of Justice or the Bush administration.

The inspector general's report, written up about six weeks ago, said the CIA covered up the actions of those involved. The Peruvian Air Force had claimed that the incident was an unavoidable accident because the fighter pilot followed international guidelines to shoot after the missionary plane ignored repeated warnings to land.

According to an April 2001 report in Christianity Today, the Peruvian Air Force opened fire on the Cessna 185 floatplane that was carrying a missionary couple and their two children from the Colombian border toward the city of Iquitos, 600 miles northeast of Lima. Veronica Bowers and her baby, Charity, were killed. Bowers' husband, James Bowers, and the couple's 7-year-old son, Cory, survived as did the pilot, Kevin Donaldson

state police violated federal regulations and intruded on the First Amendment rights of residents by spying on groups. BALTIMORE — Surveillance of anti-death penalty protesters and other activists by the Maryland State Police was broader and went on longer than previously disclosed, according to files that were turned over by police to dozens of activists who were improperly labeled as terrorists.

The files revealed that those labeled as terrorists included environmentalists, peace activists, animal rights activists and some people who have never participated in protests in Maryland.

Police allowed 53 people whom the agency acknowledged it wrongly classified as terrorists to view its files on them. However, the files it turned over were heavily redacted, and the activists and their attorneys said Wednesday that state police still have not come clean.

"After engaging in this secret intrusion, which everybody knows is wrong _ including them, by admission _ they are now engaging in pervasive secrecy about what they did and what it connects up with," said Barry Kissin, a Frederick attorney who was one of the 53 so-called terrorists.

Police have said the agency spied on anti-war and anti-death penalty groups over a 14-month period in 2005 and 2006. However, some of the files were created as late as January 2007, and some detail surveillance of groups that protested other issues.

Jeremy Scahill: This is Change? 20 Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama's White House

U.S. policy is not about one individual, and no matter how much faith people place in President-elect Barack Obama, the policies he enacts will be fruit of a tree with many roots. Among them: his personal politics and views, the disastrous realities his administration will inherit, and, of course, unpredictable future crises. But the best immediate indicator of what an Obama administration might look like can be found in the people he surrounds himself with and who he appoints to his Cabinet. And, frankly, when it comes to foreign policy, it is not looking good.

Obama has a momentous opportunity to do what he repeatedly promised over the course of his campaign: bring actual change. But the more we learn about who Obama is considering for top positions in his administration, the more his inner circle resembles a staff reunion of President Bill Clinton's White House. Although Obama brought some progressives on board early in his campaign, his foreign policy team is now dominated by the hawkish, old-guard Democrats of the 1990s. This has been particularly true since Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the Democratic primary, freeing many of her top advisors to join Obama's team.

"What happened to all this talk about change?" a member of the Clinton foreign policy team recently asked the Washington Post. "This isn't lightly flavored with Clintons. This is all Clintons, all the time."

Amid the euphoria over Obama's election and the end of the Bush era, it is critical to recall what 1990s U.S. foreign policy actually looked like. Bill Clinton's boiled down to a one-two punch from the hidden hand of the free market, backed up by the iron fist of U.S. militarism. Clinton took office and almost immediately bombed Iraq (ostensibly in retaliation for an alleged plot by Saddam Hussein to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush). He presided over a ruthless regime of economic sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and under the guise of the so-called No-Fly Zones in northern and southern Iraq, authorized the longest sustained U.S. bombing campaign since Vietnam.

Under Clinton, Yugoslavia was bombed and dismantled as part of what Noam Chomsky described as the "New Military Humanism." Sudan and Afghanistan were attacked, Haiti was destabilized and "free trade" deals like the North America Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade radically escalated the spread of corporate-dominated globalization that hurt U.S. workers and devastated developing countries. Clinton accelerated the militarization of the so-called War on Drugs in Central and Latin America and supported privatization of U.S. military operations, giving lucrative contracts to Halliburton and other war contractors. Meanwhile, U.S. weapons sales to countries like Turkey and Indonesia aided genocidal campaigns against the Kurds and the East Timorese.

The prospect of Obama's foreign policy being, at least in part, an extension of the Clinton Doctrine is real. Even more disturbing, several of the individuals at the center of Obama's transition and emerging foreign policy teams were top players in creating and implementing foreign policies that would pave the way for projects eventually carried out under the Bush/Cheney administration. With their assistance, Obama has already charted out several hawkish stances. Among them:

-- His plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan;

-- An Iraq plan that could turn into a downsized and rebranded occupation that keeps U.S. forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future;

-- His labeling of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist organization;"

-- His pledge to use unilateral force inside of Pakistan to defend U.S. interests;

-- His position, presented before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), that Jerusalem "must remain undivided" -- a remark that infuriated Palestinian officials and which he later attempted to reframe;

-- His plan to continue the War on Drugs, a backdoor U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Central and Latin America;

-- His refusal to "rule out" using Blackwater and other armed private forces in U.S. war zones, despite previously introducing legislation to regulate these companies and bring them under U.S. law.

(click title for full article).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cheney, Gonzales Indicted In South Texas County

McALLEN, Texas — Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have been indicted on state charges involving federal prisons in a South Texas county that has been a source of bizarre legal and political battles under the outgoing prosecutor.

Cheney is charged with engaging in an organized criminal activity related to the vice president's investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds financial interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of interest and "at least misdemeanor assaults" on detainees because of his link to the prison companies.

The indictment returned Monday has not yet been signed by the presiding judge, and no action can be taken until that happens.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Franken's Position Looks Surprisingly Good, New Political Study Shows

Despite trailing his opponent by slightly more than two hundred votes, Democratic challenger Al Franken stands a strong chance of passing Sen. Norm Coleman during the upcoming recount, according to at least one prominent political scientist.
Professor Michael C. Herron of Dartmouth College, has put together a new study of the voting patterns in Minnesota, in the process determining that the majority of voters who cast unrecorded ballots in the Senate race were likely Franken supporters.
"If someone put a gun to my head and said, 'You have to bet,' I would bet Franken," Herron said, when reached by phone. "It won't be a wipe-out. Two hundred votes is effectively tied. We just know that, in this case, Democrats tend to [screw up their ballots] more often [than Republicans]." In Minnesota, the "intent" of the voter is considered during recounts.
According to Herron's analysis, of the 2.9 million people who went to the polls in Minnesota, there were approximately 34,000 residual voters in the Senate race. In other words, there were 34,000 more ballots cast than total number of recorded votes for all the Senate candidates.
Why the difference? A good portion of voters, Herron concludes, voted in the presidential election but deliberately did not vote for a Senate candidate. These people won't matter when it comes to a recount.
There is, however, a portion of the 34,000 who intended to vote for one of the Senate candidates but messed up. Voters were supposed to fill in the circle next to the name of the candidate they supported. Some, however, marked X's. Others circled the name itself or crossed out the names of candidates they didn't like.
This group is key to determining the Minnesota Senate victor.
In his study, Herron looked at the figures from the 2006 congressional election and the 2008 presidential election to determine which areas of the state have the most residual voters. By isolating these areas, Herron could determine which group was most likely to have wanted to vote one way but failed to cast their ballots properly.
He found that the majority of residual voters came from two, not necessarily distinct places: African American communities and traditionally Democratic communities. With the former, he theorized, there was likely a "turnout surge" -- many people went to the polls to support Barack Obama and no one else (or at least not Franken). The latter, however, contained voters who "almost certainly intended to cast a vote in the Senate race [and likely for Franken] but for some reason did not do so."
How big that group is, is crucial. And a way to figure it out is to first look at how Barack Obama and John McCain fared in the state.
According to Herron there was an approximately 0.34 percent residual vote rate in presidential race voting among Minnesotans. This means that of the 2.9 million votes cast for a presidential candidate, nearly 10,000 individuals wanted to vote but screwed up. There may have been people who wanted to vote in local and congressional contests, but not the presidential race. But this group is likely quite small.
In other words, there are probably somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 Minnesota voters who had clear problems filling out a ballot when voting for all contests (Senate and presidential). Many of these individuals, moreover, hailed from Democratic communities.
"Ultimately, the anticipated recount may clarify the relative proportions of intentional versus unintentional residual voters," writes Herron. "At present, though, the data available suggest that the recount will uncover many of the former and that, of the latter, a majority will likely prove to be supportive of Franken."
All Franken needs is to win more than 207 votes from this group than Coleman, and he will take over the Senate seat.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Do newspapers have 6 more months?

By Steve Outing on Nov 15, 2008 in Business models
After 50 newspaper company CEOs met behind closed doors at the American Press Institute on Thursday for their “Crisis Summit,” I was tempted to comment, but wanted to wait to see what would come out of the meeting. Would some participants write what transpired that day? The API staff did publish this summary, but it’s pretty thin on detail. There was this at the end, under the heading “Next”:

“Participants agreed to reconvene in six months, and to explore additional collaboration. Some spoke of joint investment in research and development of both technologies and products, others of more formal means of sharing information.”

Well, I wasn’t the only person taken aback by that statement. On his News After Newspapers blog, Martin Langeveld, who recently retired after a long career in newspaper publishing, wrote what I too was thinking in “Busted Flat In Reston“:

“Six months? What are they thinking? They’ve laid off more than 10,000 people in the last six months — what will be left six months from now? They need to launch a Manhattan project to blow up their industry and start over. Now, not six months from now.”

Langeveld is right. The industry’s leaders keep putting off drastic change and hoping that incremental change will do the job. It won’t reset the trajectory to upward and it hasn’t so far.

The API staff reports that turnaround specialist James Shein, who addressed the 50 CEOs and who had researched the basic financials of the public companies represented at the summit, “concluded that as a whole the industry is at or approaching full-blown crisis stage, though individual companies are in various phases on the continuum. And he is pessimistic about their ability to halt their fall without outside help.”

I’m still eager to hear from some of the API summit’s participants (full list was published by E&P); perhaps there’s more to come out of Thursday’s meeting that’s not so discouraging. But from what we know so far, this still looks like an industry in denial about how much it must change, with many leaders whose heads are still high on Shein’s crisis curve (below) while their enterprises are much further down.

So, 50 newspaper CEOs, is there more to the story of what went on behind those closed doors? Because from outside, it’s not looking promising that you’re going to lead a reversal to the slide down that nasty-looking graph. If all that was accomplished at the Crisis Summit was to get everyone to accept that the problem really is big and agree to tackle the how in 6 months, that’s clearly not enough.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Some See Big Problem in Wisconsin Drinking "EDGERTON, Wis. — When a 15-year-old comes into Wile-e’s bar looking for a cold beer, the bartender, Mike Whaley, is happy to serve it up — as long as a parent is there to give permission.
“If they’re 15, 16, 17, it’s fine if they want to sit down and have a few beers,” said Mr. Whaley, who owns the tavern in this small town in southern Wisconsin.
While it might raise some eyebrows in most of America, it is perfectly legal in Wisconsin. Minors can drink alcohol in a bar or restaurant in Wisconsin if they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian who gives consent. While there is no state law setting a minimum age, bartenders can use their discretion in deciding whom to serve.
When it comes to drinking, it seems, no state keeps pace with Wisconsin. This state, long famous for its breweries, has led the nation in binge drinking in every year since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began its surveys on the problem more than a decade ago. Binge drinking is defined as five drinks in a sitting for a man, four for a woman.
People in Wisconsin are more likely than anywhere else to drive drunk, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The state has among the highest incidence of drunken driving deaths in the United States.
Now some Wisconsin health officials and civic leaders are calling for the state to sober up. A coalition called All-Wisconsin Alcohol Risk Education started a campaign last week to push for tougher drunken driving laws, an increase in screening for alcohol abuse at health clinics and a greater awareness of drinking problems generally.
The group, led by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, criticized the state as having lenient alcohol laws and assailed a mindset that accepts, even celebrates, getting drunk.
“Our goal is to dramatically change the laws, culture and behaviors in Wisconsin,” said Dr. Robert N. Golden, the dean of the medical school, calling the state “an island of excessive consumption.” He said state agencies would use a $12.6 million federal grant to step up screening, intervention and referral services at 20 locations around Wisconsin.
The campaign comes after a series in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel titled “Wasted in Wisconsin,” which chronicled the prodigious imbibing among residents of the state, as well as the state’s reluctance to crack down on alcohol abuse."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Donald Fagen Defends Steely Dan To Friends

The Onion - America's Finest News Source:
"NEW YORK—While having drinks with friends at a local bar Monday, Donald Fagen, 60, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and cofounder of the multiplatinum-selling American rock band Steely Dan, was once again forced to defend his appreciation for the multiplatinum-selling American rock band Steely Dan.
"Look, I understand. It's an acquired taste," Fagen said after putting his group's 1978 hit "Deacon Blues" on the bar's jukebox. "I wasn't that into it at first, either. But when you really listen to the unbelievable production values and the wry, perfectly crafted lyrics—it's just great art, okay? You should definitely give 'the Dan' a shot."
Fagen went on to cite additional evidence in defense of his admiration for the music, including the disparate jazz, R&B, and blues influences that pervade the band's music, and the ultraclean sound that became the group's hallmark.
"No one attained that level of perfection in the studio," Fagen said. "Do you know how many guitar players tried and failed to nail the solo on the song 'Peg'? Six. Six professional session guitar players. That's commitment to a vision, if you ask me.""

Say Goodbye to BlackBerry? If Obama Has to, Yes He Can "WASHINGTON — Sorry, Mr. President. Please surrender your BlackBerry.
Those are seven words President-elect Barack Obama is dreading but expecting to hear, friends and advisers say, when he takes office in 65 days.
For years, like legions of other professionals, Mr. Obama has been all but addicted to his BlackBerry. The device has rarely been far from his side — on most days, it was fastened to his belt — to provide a singular conduit to the outside world as the bubble around him grew tighter and tighter throughout his campaign.
“How about that?” Mr. Obama replied to a friend’s congratulatory e-mail message on the night of his victory.
But before he arrives at the White House, he will probably be forced to sign off. In addition to concerns about e-mail security, he faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. A decision has not been made on whether he could become the first e-mailing president, but aides said that seemed doubtful.
For all the perquisites and power afforded the president, the chief executive of the United States is essentially deprived by law and by culture of some of the very tools that other chief executives depend on to survive and to thrive. Mr. Obama, however, seems intent on pulling the office at least partly into the 21st century on that score; aides said he hopes to have a laptop computer on his desk in the Oval Office, making him the first American president to do so.
Mr. Obama has not sent a farewell dispatch from the personal e-mail account he uses — he has not changed his address in years — but friends say the frequency of correspondence has diminished. In recent days, though, he has been seen typing his thoughts on transition matters and other items on his BlackBerry, bypassing, at least temporarily, the bureaucracy that is quickly encircling him.
A year ago, when many Democratic contributors and other observers were worried about his prospects against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, they reached out to him directly. Mr. Obama had changed his cellphone number, so e-mail remained the most reliable way of communicating directly with him.
“His BlackBerry was constantly crackling with e-mails,” said David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief strategist. “People were generous with their advice — much of it conflicting.”
Mr. Obama is the second president to grapple with the idea of this self-imposed isolation. Three days before his first inauguration, George W. Bush sent a message to 42 friends and relatives that explained his predicament.
“Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace,” Mr. Bush wrote from his old address, “This saddens me. I have enjoyed conversing with each of you.”"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Edwards to face off against Rove in public debate

RALEIGH, N.C. — Two-time presidential candidate John Edwards is continuing his return to the public stage by debating Republican strategist Karl Rove.
The Commercial Finance Association said the two will hold a point-counterpoint discussion Thursday in San Francisco. They will discuss the election and the economy.
It will be Edwards' second public event since he acknowledged in August that he had an affair back in 2006. His appearance in Indiana on Tuesday did not address the matter.
Thursday's meeting puts an odd and perhaps contentious pair on the same stage. During his presidential campaign, Edwards repeatedly called for President Bush to fire Rove.
When Rove resigned from the White House in 2007, Edwards issued a simple statement, saying "Goodbye, good riddance."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tolerance fails T-shirt test

Catherine Vogt, 14, conducted an experiment in political tolerance at her Oak Park middle school and learned some valuable lessons. (Tribune photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo / November 12, 2008)
John Kass
November 13, 2008
As the media keeps gushing on about how America has finally adopted tolerance as the great virtue, and that we're all united now, let's consider the Brave Catherine Vogt Experiment.
Catherine Vogt, 14, is an Illinois 8th grader, the daughter of a liberal mom and a conservative dad. She wanted to conduct an experiment in political tolerance and diversity of opinion at her school in the liberal suburb of Oak Park.
She noticed that fellow students at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama for president. His campaign kept preaching "inclusion," and she decided to see how included she could be.
So just before the election, Catherine consulted with her history teacher, then bravely wore a unique T-shirt to school and recorded the comments of teachers and students in her journal. The T-shirt bore the simple yet quite subversive words drawn with a red marker:
"McCain Girl."
"I was just really curious how they'd react to something that different, because a lot of people at my school wore Obama shirts and they are big Obama supporters," Catherine told us. "I just really wanted to see what their reaction would be."
Immediately, Catherine learned she was stupid for wearing a shirt with Republican John McCain's name. Not merely stupid. Very stupid.
"People were upset. But they started saying things, calling me very stupid, telling me my shirt was stupid and I shouldn't be wearing it," Catherine said.
Then it got worse.
"One person told me to go die. It was a lot of dying. A lot of comments about how I should be killed," Catherine said, of the tolerance in Oak Park.
But students weren't the only ones surprised that she wore a shirt supporting McCain.
"In one class, I had one teacher say she will not judge me for my choice, but that she was surprised that I supported McCain," Catherine said.
If Catherine was shocked by such passive-aggressive threats from instructors, just wait until she goes to college.
"Later, that teacher found out about the experiment and said she was embarrassed because she knew I was writing down what she said," Catherine said.
One student suggested that she be put up on a cross for her political beliefs.
"He said, 'You should be crucifixed.' It was kind of funny because, I was like, don't you mean 'crucified?' " Catherine said.
Other entries in her notebook involved suggestions by classmates that she be "burned with her shirt on" for "being a filthy-rich Republican."
Some said that because she supported McCain, by extension she supported a plan by deranged skinheads to kill Obama before the election. And I thought such politicized logic was confined to American newsrooms. Yet Catherine refused to argue with her peers. She didn't want to jeopardize her experiment.
"I couldn't show people really what it was for. I really kind of wanted to laugh because they had no idea what I was doing," she said.
Only a few times did anyone say anything remotely positive about her McCain shirt. One girl pulled her aside in a corner, out of earshot of other students, and whispered, "I really like your shirt."
That's when you know America is truly supportive of diversity of opinion, when children must whisper for fear of being ostracized, heckled and crucifixed.
The next day, in part 2 of The Brave Catherine Vogt Experiment, she wore another T-shirt, this one with "Obama Girl" written in blue. And an amazing thing happened.
Catherine wasn't very stupid anymore. She grew brains.
"People liked my shirt. They said things like my brain had come back, and I had put the right shirt on today," Catherine said.
Some students accused her of playing both sides.
"A lot of people liked it. But some people told me I was a flip-flopper," she said. "They said, 'You can't make up your mind. You can't wear a McCain shirt one day and an Obama shirt the next day.' "
But she sure did, and she turned her journal into a report for her history teacher, earning Catherine extra credit. We asked the teacher, Norma Cassin-Pountney, whether it was ironic that Catherine would be subject to such intolerance from pro-Obama supporters in a community that prides itself on its liberal outlook.
"That's what we discussed," Cassin-Pountney said about the debate in the classroom when the experiment was revealed. "I said, here you are, promoting this person [Obama] that believes we are all equal and included, and look what you've done? The students were kind of like, 'Oh, yeah.' I think they got it."
Catherine never told us which candidate she would have voted for if she weren't an 8th grader. But she said she learned what it was like to be in the minority.
"Just being on the outside, how it felt, it was not fun at all," she said.
Don't ever feel as if you must conform, Catherine. Being on the outside isn't so bad. Trust me.

Fake New York Times Says All Problems Will Be Solved By July 2009

New York City woke up this morning to find that some committed satirists had delivered unto them a remarkably well-rendered facsimile of the New York Times, filled with earnest and hopeful headlines from the future -- specifically July 4, 2009 -- in which the Iraq War is over, Bush is indicted for treason, and columnist Thomas Friedman has confessed: "I have no business holding a pen, at least with intent to write." [UPDATE: According to Editor & Publisher, these fake copies of the NYT were distributed nationwide.]

Gawker has followed the trail of intelligence and concluded that the parody is the work of The Yes Men -- high-concept anti-consumerist pranksters whose work in the service of humanity is documented in their 2003 self-titled movie. Their basic stock in trade is to pose as corporate or government spokespersons, gain access to high-profile events, "make shocking denigrating comments about workers and consumers, and then point out what appears to be a lack of shock or anger in the response to their prank." Wikipedia documents many of their successful exploits.

Those of you who were unable to enjoy a print copy of the parody may head to their exacting and lovingly recreated parody of the Times' website, which contains the same content. I'm a little saddened by the fact that even in an ideal future, a much-needed system of congestion-pricing has not come to Manhattan, but I suppose one must remain somewhat realistic. Really, the only problem with the parody is that everyone knows that by July 4, 2009, the paper will probably owned by Rupert Murdoch, who will fill it with Drudge-baited dreck and advertisements for whores.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why We Believe

Belief in the paranormal reflects normal brain activity carried to an extreme.
By Sharon Begley | NEWSWEEK
It wasn't immediately obvious to Walter Semkiw that he was the reincarnation of John Adams. Adams was a lawyer and rabble-rouser who helped overthrow a government; Semkiw is a doctor who has never so much as challenged a parking ticket. The second president was balding and wore a powdered wig; Semkiw has a full head of hair. But in 1984, a psychic told the then medical resident and psychiatrist-in-training that he is the reincarnation of a major figure of the Revolution, possibly Adams. Once Semkiw got over his skepticism—as a student of the human mind, he was of course familiar with "how people get misled and believe something that might not be true," he recalls—he wasn't going to let superficial dissimilarities dissuade him so easily. As he researched Adams's life, Semkiw began finding many tantalizing details. For instance, Adams described his handwriting as "tight-fisted and concise"—"just like mine," Semkiw realized. He also saw an echo of himself in Adams's dedication to the cause of independence from England. "I can be very passionate," Semkiw says. The details accumulated and, after much deliberation, Semkiw went with his scientific side, dismissing the reincarnation idea.

But one day in 1995, when Semkiw was the medical director for Unocal 76, the oil company, he heard a voice in his head intoning, "Study the life of Adams!" Now he found details much more telling than those silly coincidences he had learned a dozen years earlier. He looked quite a bit like the second president, Semkiw realized. Adams's description of parishioners in church pews as resembling rows of cabbages was "something I would have said," Semkiw realized. "We are both very visual." And surely it was telling that Unocal's slogan was "the spirit of '76." It was all so persuasive, thought Semkiw, who is now a doctor at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group in California, that as a man of science and reason whose work requires him to critically evaluate empirical evidence, he had to accept that he was Adams reincarnated.

Perhaps you don't believe that Semkiw is the reincarnation of John Adams. Or that playwright August Wilson is the reincarnation of Shakespeare, or George W. Bush the reincarnation of Daniel Morgan, a colonel in the American Revolution who was known for his "awkward speech" and "coarse manners," as Semkiw chronicles on his Web site But if you don't believe in reincarnation, then the odds are that you have at least felt a ghostly presence behind you in an "empty" house. Or that you have heard loved ones speak to you after they passed away. Or that you have a lucky shirt. Or that you can tell when a certain person is about to text you, or when someone unseen is looking at you. For if you have never had a paranormal experience such as these, and believe in none of the things that science says do not exist except as tricks played on the gullible or—as neuroscientists are now beginning to see—by the normal workings of the mind carried to an extreme, well, then you are in a lonely minority. According to periodic surveys by Gallup and other pollsters, fully 90 percent of Americans say they have experienced such things or believe they exist.

If you take the word "normal" as characteristic of the norm or majority, then it is the superstitious and those who believe in ESP, ghosts and psychic phenomena who are normal. Most scientists and skeptics roll their eyes at such sleight of word, asserting that belief in anything for which there is no empirical evidence is a sign of mental pathology and not normalcy. But a growing number of researchers, in fields such as evolutionary psychology and neurobiology, are taking such beliefs seriously in one important sense: as a window into the workings of the human mind. The studies are an outgrowth of research on religious faith, a (nearly) human universal, and are turning out to be useful for explaining fringe beliefs, too. The emerging consensus is that belief in the supernatural seems to arise from the same mental processes that underlie everyday reasoning and perception. But while the belief in ghosts, past lives, the ability of the mind to move matter and the like originate in normal mental processes, those processes become hijacked and exaggerated, so that the result is, well, Walter Semkiw.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Oh Great...Here we go again w/ a Clinton Part 2... 'Impeach Obama' groups pop up on Facebook


Barack Obama has not even been sworn in yet as the 44th president of the United States but groups are springing up online calling for his impeachment.
On Facebook, an "Impeach Barack Obama" group has attracted more than 700 members and a lively debate about the Democrat's election victory on Tuesday over Republican John McCain.

Another Facebook group of the same name has 160 members and urges others to join because "we might as well get a head start on the impeachment of Obama."

"There are a lot of Americans out there that do not fully understand the concept of Socialism or Communism which is why they've elected Obama as president," it says.

Yet another Facebook group, "Impeach Barack Hussein Obama," has 160 members.

It decries that Obama "has voiced support for various unconstitutional programs such as the assault weapons ban, universal healthcare, and various schemes for wealth distribution."

"What are we going to do about it? IMPEACH HIM!" it says.

Fed Defies Transparency Aim in Refusal to Disclose

Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in September they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn't require approval by Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return.


Anonymous internet use? It's totally over

Opinion: Internet monitoring to become as accepted as CCTV
Fed up with the internet? The US Air Force certainly is. It turns out that all sorts of mean and horrid bad guys think it would be funny, profitable or politically expedient to hack, spam or DDoS the USAF. And the boys with wings on their uniforms are sick and tired of having to spend their time fending off these attacks when they could be bombing a developing nation somewhere.

In an admirable display of the can-do attitude for which their nation is famous, the USAF has decided that the best way to fix this is to "rewrite the laws of cyberspace". No really. That's their plan.

So what are these "laws"? I imagine that the one they have the biggest problem with is, "On the internet, no one knows who you are." Anonymity is what lets spammers spam, hackers hack and pornographers graph their porn. But it's also what lets protesters protest and dissidents diss, so there are some genuinely valid reasons for wanting to preserve internet privacy (as opposed to just being able to pretend to your WoW guild that you are a chick, say).

Regardless of how much the politicians huff and puff over this, the technorati don't normally worry about their anonymous house blowing down because it is seen as somehow intrinsic to the medium itself. But really, that's not the case at all. It's true that the TCP/IP protocol, as currently implemented, makes it very hard to verify the source of any given network packet, but that's purely because the network architects chose to make it that way.

It would be almost as easy to design a protocol that verifies the hardware address of every computer sending a packet and then appends this to an ever-growing audit trail when the packet is forwarded to another router. If any link in the chain refuses to add its own signature to this trail, then its packets would be rejected by all other routers running the protocol.

This could begin as a separate, high security network, that runs on top of the existing internet. Initially, just military sites would use it, but it would spread as institutions and businesses appreciated the advantage of a network where anonymous net-mischief was so much harder. We at home would then need access, because otherwise we couldn't bank online or renew our road tax. And gradually, the old TCP/IP flavour of the internet would be marginalised. For a while, it would remain as a place for flame wars and porn, but eventually it would fall into disuse. This is exactly what happened to Usenet in the 1990s and it could happen to the wider internet.

Anonymous internets will always exist - the terrorists, the paedophiles and the tin-foil-hat brigade will make sure of that. But in 10 years time, the idea of the mainstream internet - the one that all of us use every day - being anonymous, will seem as quaint as a street without CCTV cameras.

Half-life (more Or Less)

Science News: "Physicists are stirred by claims that the sun may change what’s unchangeable—the rate of radioactive decayTHE SOURCEENLARGE Physicists have responded with curiosity and skepticism to reports that the sun causes variations in the decay rates of some isotopes.SOHO (ESA & NASA)
It’s nuclear physics 101: Radioactivity proceeds at its own pace. Each type of radioactive isotope, be it plutonium-238 or carbon-14, changes into another isotope or element at a specific, universal, immutable rate. This much has been known for more than a century, since Ernest Rutherford defined the notion of half-life—the time it takes for half of the atoms in a radioactive sample to transmute into something else. So when researchers suggested in August that the sun causes variations in the decay rates of isotopes of silicon, chlorine, radium and manganese, the physics community reacted with curiosity, but mostly with skepticism.
In one experiment, a team at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., was monitoring a chunk of manganese-54 inside a radiation detector box to precisely measure the isotope’s half-life. At 9:37 p.m. on December 12, 2006, the instruments recorded a dip in radioactivity. At the same time, satellites on the day side of the Earth detected X-rays coming from the sun, signaling the beginning of a solar flare.
The sun’s atmosphere was spewing out matter, some of which would reach Earth the day after. Charged particles would contort the planet’s magnetic field, disrupt satellite communications and pose a threat to astronauts on the International Space Station.
But that dip in the manganese-54 radioactivity was not a coincidental experimental fluke, nor was it the solar flare discombobulating the measurements, the Purdue researchers claim in a paper posted online ( In West Lafayette the sun had set while X-rays were hitting the atmosphere on the other side of the globe, and the electrically charged matter that created electromagnetic disturbances worldwide was still in transit. After a solar flare has begun, “the charged particles arrive several hours later,” points out theorist Ephraim Fischbach, coauthor of the paper with his Purdue colleague Jere Jenkins."

Shuffling The Cards: Math Does The Trick

Science News: "Here’s the rule: To assure cards get sufficiently mixed up, shuffle a deck seven times. Mathematician, magician and card shark Persi Diaconis of Stanford University created shock waves in Las Vegas when he figured that out back in 1992. Most dealers had been shuffling much less.
But now Diaconis is issuing an update. When dealing many gambling games, like blackjack, four shuffles are enough. The reason for the lower number is that many games require randomness for only a few specific aspects of the cards, not all. In blackjack, for example, suits don’t matter. Diaconis and his collaborators extended the earlier analysis to account for these variations.
Gamblers and casinos aren’t the only ones who will benefit. One the most useful tools for applied mathematicians — the Monte Carlo simulation — was inspired by the games of chance that are main attractions in Monte Carlo, Monaco. The new card-shuffling results apply directly to this method, promising to save mathematicians computer time.
Shuffling starts by cutting the deck roughly in half. During the shuffling, a few cards fall from one side, then a few from the other. Diaconis, Sami Assaf of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and K. Soundararajan of Stanford University made the same assumption Diaconis and his collaborator Dave Bayer made back in 1992, that the cards are more likely to fall from the larger stack — an assumption borne out in real life.
Assaf started by using a very small deck, just four cards, and played with it a lot. Then she tried five, then six. From her experiments, she guessed a formula for how mixed the cards were, for whatever property she cared about. Then she worked out a proof.
The formulas she generated, though, were a mess. “We couldn’t actually calculate them,” she says. “We would have had to run the computer for 64 years or something like that.”
So she took each messy, complicated formula to Diaconis and Soundarajan, and for each they found a simple, easy-to-compute equation that approximated it. “We found a beautiful simple pattern,” Diaconis says. “There’s no reason this problem should have a nice answer. I’m not a religious person, but this is as close as I get.”"

Sunday, November 09, 2008

JCVD: Jean-Claude Van Damme Kicks His Own Ass!

By RICHARD CORLISS Thursday, Nov. 06, 2008
To the uninitiated, a movie called JCVD sounds as if it's about Jesus getting the clap. But action fans will recognize the acronym of kick-boxing action star Jean-Claude Van Damme — the former European middleweight karate champ who became known as the Muscles from Brussels for headlining such middling fare as Universal Soldier and No Retreat, No Surrender. (See the 100 best albums, movies, TV shows and novels of all time.)
That was in the '80s and early '90s. In the past decade, as his films have gone direct-to-video, Van Damme's career trajectory has been direct-to-commode. So he must have figured he had nothing to lose when Brussels-based director Mabrouk El Mechri offered Van Damme the chance to play himself, more or less, as a hapless has-been who gets enmeshed in a bank robbery. He was right: JCVD — which opens this weekend in New York City, and Nov. 14 in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose and Washington, D.C. — is the best movie Van Damme ever made (granted, not the highest encomium), and a cogent, probing, funny critique on celebrity in its downalator phase.
Van Damme's athletic forte, kick-boxing, is like soccer in a boxing ring — except that instead of kicking a ball you kick someone in the balls. The opening scene of JCVD gives the star a showcase and a workout. Van Damme dodges bullets and bad guys; he gets singed by a blowtorch and whacked by an opening car door. In return he uses all the artillery and furniture around him — a machine gun, a revolver, a knife, a pole, a barrel, hand grenades and his fists and feet — to kill or disable a couple dozen ruffians. The cool gimmick: the whole three-minute scene is accomplished in one shot; no cuts, no stunt doubles. (This is apparently unusual for Van Damme. One director who had worked with him said to me that the star employed 12 guys to double him in the more draining action bits, "like walking across a room.")
It's all part of a movie Van Damme is shooting, but something goes wrong toward the end of the scene, and when he complains to the Asian director, he is contemptuously dismissed. (Van Damme was the first Western action star to work with the best Hong Kong directors: Corey Yuen for No Retreat, No surrender, John Woo for Hard Target, plus two films with Tsui Hark and three with Ringo Lam. Few of them enjoyed the experience; it was like a surcharge on their visas to Hollywood.) This time, however, he begs to do a retake, though it will exhaust his well-sculpted but battered 47-year-old body. The director will have none of this: "He still thinks he's making Citizen Kane?"
Our depleted hero has also been getting heat from a custody case back in L.A. At the hearing, his ex-wife's attorney accuses him of being a poster boy for mindless violence: "How does this actor play Death? Let me count the ways: mangled under the wheels of a truck, strangulation, fracturing the skull, taking out the tibula, laceration, crushed under the wheels of a car, death by strangulation, crushed ribs, fracturing the skull, gouging the eyes..." It's a catalog that would send mothers fleeing from him in horror, and Van Damme's dwindling army of fanboys rushing to video stores.
The JCVD script, by El Mechri and Frederic Benudis , brings Van Damme back to Brussels where cab drivers and video-store hounds still recognize him, but nothing else is going right. His agent's screwing him, the court case has gone against him, he's low on funds... and now, as he enters a bank to try to cash a check, he finds it's been commandeered in a heist. The cops on the street figure Van Damme must have cracked and gone to the dark side, while the robbers are only too happy both to exploit his fame and taunt him for being unable to overcome their guns with his kick-boxing. Even Van Damme's mom believes he's the perp, not the victim, of the hostage takeover.
In Run, Lola, Run fashion, the hostage scene is played three times with subtle, crucial variations, each replay revealing more of the mystery. The climax has a few different outcomes too. But El Mechri's interest is in playing with the "real" legend of a washed-up star. It seems pretty unsparing. With the star looking puffy and played out, and with so many references to his off-screen philandering and drug use, the movie bears comparison to Mickey Rourke's turn in The Wrestler, which like JCVD played the Toronto Film Festival, and which opens in the U.S. next month. (It happens that El Mechri's previous feature, Virgil, was also about a fighter on the skids.) But JCVD is sharper, crueler, way funnier than The Wrestler. The movie is a vision of the wages of fame that's part parody, part exposé, part justification.
The clincher is an unbroken 6-1/2 min. take of Van Damme in close-up, as the star makes a confession of his personal and career sins. "What about drugs?" he asks. "Because of a woman — well, because of love — I tried something and I got hooked. ... I was wasted mentally and physically, to the point that I got out of it." At the end he gives his apologia and renders a harsh sentence: "It's not my fault if I was cut out to be a star. I asked for it. I asked for it, really believed in it, When you're 13 you believe in your dream. Well, it came true for me. But I still ask myself today what have I done on this earth?" Through his tears he shouts, "Nothing! I've done nothing!"
So Monsieur Macho ends up crying. It is the finest, most scab-pulling performance I've seen this year, and I'm not kidding. Van Damme has been known as a martial-arts legend, movie star and pain in the ass. But never an actor — until now. By the end of his confession he could be like Robert Downey, Jr., playing Jean-Claude Van Damme. Except that there's less bravado, more real pain, because the Muscles from Brussels looks as he's giving one hell of an emotional battering to himself.
Except he's not, the director says in press notes. He's acting — in the greatest action-passion scene Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever pulled off.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Man at the Door

For more than three decades Eugene Allen worked in the White House, a black man unknown to the headlines. During some of those years, harsh segregation laws lay upon the land.

He trekked home every night, his wife, Helene, keeping him out of her kitchen.

At the White House, he worked closer to the dirty dishes than to the large desk in the Oval Office. Helene didn't care; she just beamed with pride.

President Truman called him Gene.

President Ford liked to talk golf with him.

He saw eight presidential administrations come and go, often working six days a week. "I never missed a day of work," Allen says.

His is a story from the back pages of history. A figure in the tiniest of print. The man in the kitchen.

He was there while America's racial history was being remade: Brown v. Board of Education, the Little Rock school crisis, the 1963 March on Washington, the cities burning, the civil rights bills, the assassinations.

When he started at the White House in 1952, he couldn't even use the public restrooms when he ventured back to his native Virginia. "We had never had anything," Allen, 89, recalls of black America at the time. "I was always hoping things would get better."

In its long history, the White House -- just note the name -- has had a complex and vexing relationship with black Americans.

(**Full article at the link above. Very, very good - read the whole thing! Good job Washington Post & Wil Haygood)

Saturday Morning Reading: George Carlin's Last Interview

On Friday, June 13th, 2008, I had the extraordinary privilege of talking to George Carlin. As far as I know it was the last in-depth interview he gave before he passed away yesterday at age 71. Originally it was slated to run as a 350-word Q&A on the back page of Psychology Today. But I was so excited to talk to him—and he was so generous with his time—that I just kept on going. By the end I had over 14,000 words.
How do you think about comedy and self-expression? Expressing what’s within vs. looking at the outside world and making observations?

Self-expression is a hallmark of an artist, of art, to get something off one’s chest, to sing one’s song. So that element is present in all art. And comedy, although it is not one of the fine arts—it’s a vulgar art, it’s one of the people’s arts, it’s the spoken word, the writing that goes into it is an art form—it’s certainly artistry. So self-expression is the key to even standing up and saying, "Hey, listen to me." Self-expression can be based on looking at the world and making observations about it or not. Comedy can also be based on describing one’s inner self—doing anecdotes, talking about your own fears. Woody Allen taps into a lot of self-analysis in his comedy. But I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive. I think self-expression is present at all times, and whether or not you’re talking about the outside world or your responses to it depends on the moment and the subject.

Do you go around observing and trying to collect funny things? Or do you just live your life and then say how you feel about what you happen to have seen?

I’m 71, and I’ve been doing this for a little over 50 years, doing it at a fairly visible level for 40. By this time it’s all second nature. It’s all a machine that works a certain way: the observations, the immediate evaluation of the observation, and then the mental filing of it, or writing it down on a piece of paper. I’ve often described the way a 20-year-old versus, say, a 60- or a 70-year-old, the way it works. A 20-year-old has a limited amount of data they’ve experienced, either seeing or listening to the world. At 70 it’s a much richer storage area, the matrix inside is more textured, and has more contours to it. So, observations made by a 20-year-old are compared against a data set that is incomplete. Observations made by a 60-year-old are compared against a much richer data set. And the observations have more resonance, they’re richer.

So if I write something down, some observation—I see something on television that reminds me of something I wanted to say already—the first time I write it, the first time I hear it, it makes an impression. The first time I write it down, it makes a second impression, a deeper path. Every time I look at that piece of paper, until I file it in my file, each time, the path gets a little richer and deeper so that these things are all in there.

Now at this age, I have a network of knowledge and data and observations and feelings and values and evaluations I have in me that do things automatically. And then when I sit down to consciously write, that's when I bring the craftsmanship. That's when I pull everything together and say, how I can best express that? And then as you write, you find more, 'cause the mind is looking for further connections. And these things just flow into your head and you write them. And the writing is the really wonderful part. A lot of this is discovery. A lot of things are lying around waiting to be discovered and that's our job is to just notice them and bring them to life.

(full interview at the link above)