Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Keeper of secrets


N A VERY short time, Julian Assange has become one of the most intriguing people in the world. The mysterious Australian founder of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks is as elusive as the public servants, spooks and - he assures me - cabinet ministers who regularly drop their bombshells from the anonymity of his cyberspace bolt-hole.

Of no fixed address, or time zone, Assange has never publicly admitted he is the brains behind the website that has so radically rewritten the rules in the information era. (He acknowledges registering a website, Leaks.org, in 1999, but denies ever having done anything with it.) He has never even admitted his age - although this is not so hard to work out from the parts of his life that journalists have so far been able to piece together.

''Are you 38?'' I ask. He gives an unintelligible response. So that's a yes? ''Something like that.''

Far more tantalising, however, is what he says are some very, very big leaks to come - apparently within weeks. ''Right now we are sitting on history-making stuff,'' he says.

Wikileaks appeared on the internet three years ago. It acts as an electronic dead drop for highly sensitive, or secret information: the pure stuff, in other words, published straight from the secret files to the world. No filters, no rewriting, no spin. Created by an online network of dissidents, journalists, academics, technology experts and mathematicians from various countries, all with similar political views and values apparently, the website also uses technology that makes the original sources of the leaks untraceable.


(Full article linked in title. Very interesting - worth checking out)

Bechdel Test

“The Bechdel test” requires a movie to pass three questions:

1) Does it have two or more women in it (who have names) ?

2) Do they talk to one another?

3) Do they talk to one another about something other than a man?

Many movies apparently don’t pass the test…

Monday, May 24, 2010

After keeping us waiting for a century, Mark Twain will finally reveal all

The great American writer left instructions not to publish his autobiography until 100 years after his death, which is now

Exactly a century after rumours of his death turned out to be entirely accurate, one of Mark Twain's dying wishes is at last coming true: an extensive, outspoken and revelatory autobiography which he devoted the last decade of his life to writing is finally going to be published.

The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.

That milestone has now been reached, and in November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.

Scholars are divided as to why Twain wanted the first-hand account of his life kept under wraps for so long. Some believe it was because he wanted to talk freely about issues such as religion and politics. Others argue that the time lag prevented him from having to worry about offending friends.

One thing's for sure: by delaying publication, the author, who was fond of his celebrity status, has ensured that he'll be gossiped about during the 21st century. A section of the memoir will detail his little-known but scandalous relationship with Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, who became his secretary after the death of his wife Olivia in 1904. Twain was so close to Lyon that she once bought him an electric vibrating sex toy. But she was abruptly sacked in 1909, after the author claimed she had "hypnotised" him into giving her power of attorney over his estate.

Their ill-fated relationship will be recounted in full in a 400-page addendum, which Twain wrote during the last year of his life. It provides a remarkable account of how the dying novelist's final months were overshadowed by personal upheavals.

"Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian. Well, in this document he calls her a slut and says she tried to seduce him. It's completely at odds with the impression most people have of him," says the historian Laura Trombley, who this year published a book about Lyon called Mark Twain's Other Woman.

"There is a perception that Twain spent his final years basking in the adoration of fans. The autobiography will perhaps show that it wasn't such a happy time. He spent six months of the last year of his life writing a manuscript full of vitriol, saying things that he'd never said about anyone in print before. It really is 400 pages of bile."

Twain, who was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, had made several attempts to start work on autobiography, beginning in 1870, but only really hit his stride with the work in 1906, when he appointed a stenographer to transcribe his dictated reminiscences.

Another potential motivation for leaving the book to be posthumously published concerns Twain's legacy as a Great American. Michael Shelden, who this year published Man in White, an account of Twain's final years, says that some of his privately held views could have hurt his public image.

"He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He's also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there."

In other sections of the autobiography, Twain makes cruel observations about his supposed friends, acquaintances and one of his landladies.

Parts of the book have already seen the light of day in other publications. Small excerpts were run by US magazines before Twain's death (since he needed the money). His estate has allowed parts of it to be adapted for publication in three previous books described as "autobiographies".

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Panera Bread Combines Free Markets and Nonprofits in Missouri

In a test run to see if expenses can get covered at the end of the day, Panera Bread has opened a unique new location in Clayton, MO that combines the benefits of nonprofit status with the fundamental principle of the free market system: let the market determine what an item is worth. But it adds a unique qualifier to the traditional concept of the need determining price: human nature.


The menu is exactly the same as other Panera locations (sick foodies can check that out here if they aren’t familiar with Panera’s offerings) but instead of charging a fixed price for each item, this special little spot will ask only what customers can afford. “Take what you need, leave your fair share,” says the sign at their entrance, just in case one is confused by such a foreign transaction model. No prices? Do we even know how to value items independently any more?

Panera is hopeful that the “Cares Cafe” model will thrive and grow to a series of donation-based stores that rely more on empathy than capitalism. “Hopefully we’ll be able to open them across the country, but our original St. Louis location must succeed first!” tweeted the fine folks behind Panera’s official Twitter account.

Can someone confirm Missouri rules on sales taxes related to the sale of food? And is it a sale if the exchange is really a donation? I’m really confused.

Anyway, not everyone is thrilled about this concept. Though it is obviously well-intentioned, the donation model may not necessarily transfer outside of St Louis. Trends consultant Marian Salzman reality-checked USAToday saying “while young people are very much attuned to helping out and making a difference, if they find themselves sitting next to other customers with whom they don’t feel comfortable, they’re not coming back.” You know, as in the possibility of homeless and otherwise destitute individuals (of which our country has plenty nowadays) lounging around with the nerve to eat a cheap meal.

Hedging against operating losses, this particular location has one slight difference from other Panera stores: its bread (except for sandwich bread) is really day old product from other locations around the St Louis metro. Hey, nothing wrong with getting the most out of inventory with a horrible turnover rate.

In the end, it’s hard to say whether this nonprofit experiment will float but if it does, Panera wants to open two more within six months. Good luck with that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bank Of America Protest: Dozens Storm Bank Branch In DC

Dozens of noisy purple-shirted SEIU protesters stormed a Bank of America branch near the U.S. Capitol on Monday, forcing the bank to close down as confused customers looked on and tellers retreated to an interior room.

Other groups from SEIU and National People's Action were set to stage protests at BofA's and JPMorgan Chase's lobby shops downtown as part of a daylong anti-K Street extravaganza.

A security guard told HuffPost the branch would be closed only temporarily.

From there, the group blocked an intersection in D.C.'s tiny Chinatown, then stopped by a Citibank branch. "Corporate greed has got to go!"

At 11:00 a.m., hundreds of protesters from SEIU and National People's Action merged at the offices of Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta, who boasts Bank of America among his massive client list. "We're fired up to take down Wall Street," they chanted.

The group is now headed to K Street.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Journalists Sue St. Paul, Minnesota Over 2008 Republican Convention Arrests



The three were among an estimated 40 to 50 journalists who were arrested covering street protests at the convention in downtown St. Paul, along with about 800 demonstrators and bystanders.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Minnesota, alleges that authorities violated the First Amendment freedoms of Goodman, her producers and other journalists by interfering with their right to gather news.

Goodman's daily program airs on over 750 radio and TV stations in North America.

"During the RNC, law enforcement arrested journalists without probable cause, physically assaulted them, detained them for lengthy periods, and searched and seized their belongings, including their cameras, video, and other media equipment, even though many of these individuals displayed their press credentials prominently and repeatedly identified themselves as members of the media," the lawsuit alleges.

Goodman, and her producers Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, are asking the court to issue a permanent injunction against authorities to prevent interference with their journalistic rights in the future; to declare the actions that restricted their work unconstitutional; and to award unspecified compensatory and punitive monetary damages, including reimbursement for lost or damaged property and medical expenses.

Salazar and Kouddous were arrested Sept. 1, 2008, on the opening day of the convention as riot police massed near the convention hall. The complaint says they were visibly wearing their press passes and holding their equipment and identified themselves as journalists.

The complaint says Salazar was videotaping as officers corralled journalists and bystanders in a parking lot. It says the officers pushed her to the ground, knocking her video camera from her hands. Officers slammed Kouddous against a wall after he shouted to officers arresting Salazar that she was a member of the press. And it says Goodman was arrested and pushed to the ground after she went to the arrest site and asked officers to release her producers.

Salazar was left bloodied with cuts, scratches and bruises on her face, the complaint says. Kouddous suffered injuries that it says resulted in long-term numbness in his hands, chest pains for several weeks, and scars on his arms. Goodman experienced several weeks of pain and tingling from her left elbow to her thumb as a result of handcuffs that were too tight, it says.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Activist spied on? Man wins settlement


A 22-year-old antiwar activist from The Evergreen State College will get $169,000 as part of a settlement with the State Patrol and two other law-enforcement agencies over allegations that their officers engaged in political spying and harassment.

A 22-year-old anti-war activist from The Evergreen State College will get $169,000 as part of a settlement with the State Patrol and two other law-enforcement agencies over allegations that their officers engaged in political spying and harassment.

Philip Chinn was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving by state patrol troopers in May 2007, while traveling to an anti-war protest at the Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen.

According to court documents, Chinn was pulled over after police had broadcast an "attempt to locate" his car, which was described as containing "three known anarchists."

The criminal charge was dismissed after tests showed Chinn had no alcohol or drugs in his system. Chinn sued last year, alleging false arrest and violations of his right to free speech.

The State Patrol has agreed to pay Chinn $109,000, and the city of Aberdeen and Grays Harbor County each will pay $30,000 toward the settlement. The three agencies have also agreed to pay his lawyer's fees, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates at more than $375,000.

The ACLU took up Chinn's cause because it believes the case and other allegations suggest that spying on dissidents by local enforcement, at the behest of the military, "appears to be far more pervasive than we had thought," said ACLU spokesman Doug Honig.

A spokesman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord says the military did not provide any intelligence to law enforcement in the Chinn case.

In the spring of 2007, Chinn was a student at Evergreen and was involved in protesting the use of civilian ports for military purposes, according to one of his attorneys, Lawrence Hildes. Materiel intended for Iraq was being moved through the ports at Aberdeen, Olympia and elsewhere, and there had been a number of public protests.

Documents filed by Chinn's attorneys state that "state and local law-enforcement agencies, military entities and others" responded to the protests by developing "incident-action plans" aimed at disrupting them. The service branches involved allegedly include the Army, the Navy and the Coast Guard, according to court pleadings.

"Based on assumptions regarding individuals associated with anarchist philosophies, the Action Plan was designed to deter and prevent individuals believed to be 'anarchists' or associated with anarchists from participating in the anti-war demonstrations," according to the documents.

The lawsuit alleges that Chinn was under surveillance when he left his house in Olympia headed for a protest in Aberdeen on May 6, 2007.

Aberdeen Police Assistant Chief Dave Timmons acknowledged that his detectives had been watching Chinn and others as the city geared up to respond to the planned protest. Similar protests in Tacoma and Olympia earlier had turned violent, with arrests and vandalism, and Timmons said "we wanted to be aware of what their plans were."

Dow throws a party, mainly zombies attend

Bucolic Prospect park in Brooklyn, NY played host to a bizarre spectacle on Sunday, as a dramatically under-attended Dow-sponsored "Run for Water" was infiltrated and turned upside down by hundreds of furious activists, including a hundred dressed as Dow spokespeople.

New Yorkers who came to the park expecting a light run followed by a free concert found themselves unwitting extras in a macabre and chaotic scene as runners keeled over dead, Dow-branded grim reapers chased participants, and a hundred fake Dow representatives harangued other protesters and and handed out literature that explained Dow's greenwashing program in frank detail.

The actions called attention to Dow's toxic legacy in places like India (the Bhopal Catastrophe), Vietnam (Agent Orange) and Midland Michigan (Dioxin Contamination), and to the absurdity of a company with serious water issues all over the world sponsoring the Live Earth Run For Water.

After race cancellations in London, Milan, Berlin, and Sweden, on-site Dow brand managers were in damage-control mode. But their job was made harder by the hundred fake "Dow" spokespeople who loudly but clumsily proclaimed Dow's position ("Our race! Our earth!" and "Run for water! Run for your life!"), spoke with many runners, screamed at the other protesters, passed out beautifully-produced literature, and all in all looked a whole lot better than the real Dow reps, who seemed eager to make themselves scarce.

"I don't know what's going on here," said Tracey Von Sloop, a Queens woman who attended the race. "All I know is these people are both crazy, and Dow is f*ing sick. I'm outta here."

The event was the latest blow to Dow's greenwashing efforts, the most visible element of which is the "Human Element" multi-media advertising campaign, one of the most expensive, and successful, marketing efforts in recent history. It even won an "Effie Award" for the most effective corporate advertising campaign in North America.

"Effective," perhaps -- but also completely misleading. To name just a few examples of Dow's water-related issues: Dow refuses to clean up the groundwater in Bhopal, India, site of the largest industrial disaster in human history, committed by Dow's fully-owned subsidiary, Union Carbide. As a result, children continue to be born there with debilitating birth defects. Dow has also dumped hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic chemical byproducts into wetlands of Louisiana, and has even poisoned its own backyard, leaving record levels of dioxins downriver from its global headquarters in Midland, Michigan.

"We thought it must be a joke when we first heard that Dow Chemical Company was sponsoring a run for clean water," said Yes Woman Whitney Black. "Sadly, it was not. One of the world's worst polluters trying to greenwash its image instead of taking responsibility for drinking water and ecosystems it has poisoned around the world? What an awfully unfunny way to start off Earth Week. We decided the event needed a little comic relief."

Irony was piled on irony throughout the race, which Dow absurdly claimed was going to be "the largest solutions-based initiative aimed at solving the global water crisis in history." At one point, organizers were caught on tape dramatically throwing out excess water left over because of an embarrassingly low turnout.

Groups organizing the action included the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, New York Whale and Dolphin Action League, the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign, the Wetlands Activism Collective, Global Justice for Animals and the Environment, Kids For A Better Future, The Yes Men, and hundreds of assorted volunteers, activists and mischief makers.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Milwaukee Considers Arizona Travel Ban

MILWAUKEE – When the Milwaukee Common Council meets Tuesday, Aldermen may consider a controversial proposal to boycott certain Arizona businesses because of that state’s new immigration law.

Supporters say the Arizona law helps law enforcement officers deal with illegal immigration. However, critics say the law encourages racial profiling. A draft of the Milwaukee resolution was introduced Monday. It calls for city employees to stop traveling to Arizona for conventions or other events. It also prevents the city from making “investments in financial institutions with companies based in or having a major presence in the State of Arizona.” Alderman Jim Witkowiak sponsored the measure, which also includes language to encourage the federal government to take action on immigration reform issues. Witkowiak said he was angry about the Arizona law. “Basically, what they’re proposing leaves the door open for possible racial profiling which is a thing of the past and I hope never gets resurrected,” he said. Witkowiak has the support of Voces de la Frontera, an advocacy group that sponsored a rally in Milwaukee on Saturday to denounce the Arizona law. “Sometimes, unfortunately, it does take hitting people in the pocket book to really get them to do the right thing,” said Voces de la Frontera executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. However, most alderman oppose the boycott portion of the resolution. “I think we need to take a better look at this before we decide to boycott it,” said Alderman Robert Puente. Mayor Tom Barrett also said he opposed the resolution. “We would be punishing people in Arizona who had no part of this. Instead, I’m going to put my resources and my energy into trying to urge the Federal government to address the immigration issue,” Barrett said. Late Monday, Witkowiak said he was considering revising the resolution to remove the sections about boycotting certain Arizona businesses. He indicated there was enough support on the common council to pass a resolution encouraging the federal government to take action but said there were not enough votes to pass economic sanctions against Arizona businesses.