Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Cuddling Babies Works

DAILY EXPRESS - Babies who are cuddled and kissed by their mothers could have a better chance of growing into stress-free, well-adjusted adults a study shows. Researchers of the study, which was published in Nature Neuroscience, found that affectionate mothering alters a stress-regulator gene in the brain meaning that stress hormones are kept under better control; seemingly permanently. The study was conducted on rats; yet the gene involved exists in humans as well.

Why Opera Singers Are So Large

NEW SCIENTIST - New Scientist's picture of Montserrat Caballe set me thinking. Why are opera singers often large? What benefit does it convey? Surely it's no coincidence that they are all so well built. - John Lapthorne , Le Vigan, France

Answers: The depth and ability of a person's singing voice are qualities which take a lot of training and which must subsequently be practised repeatedly. Only then can a singer obtain the vocal control and power of a world-class opera performer. However, the ability to sing well at all is a largely predetermined characteristic that can be inherited. This boils down to the qualities of your larynx, better known as the voice box. It is generally believed that the more fatty tissue surrounds the larynx, the better its resonance and the more aesthetically pleasing the note it produces. The amount of this fatty tissue varies from person to person. Therefore, in operatics, the majority of people would seem to be of larger proportions because this extra tissue surrounding their larynx boosts the quality of their singing voice. Furthermore, a person's size also affects the power of their diaphragm and lungs and their corresponding ability to reach, hold and control notes. - Peter Galek , University of Durham

Opera singers need a powerful diaphragm to be able to project their voice above the sound of a big orchestra in a cavernous opera house, so a large chest cavity and good control of the lungs will provide a suitable mass to drive the diaphragm. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, opera was an expanding medium. Successive generations sought larger and more dramatic effects, and larger audiences drawn in required bigger theatres. This produced new technology for wind instruments and the reconstruction of older baroque string instruments. Of course, singers could not be re-engineered, so they developed vocal techniques to cope with this steady rise in volume, hence the advantage of a large chest. - Ian Gammie , Corda Music Publications St Albans, Hertfordshire

Imperfect Imperialism

General Joseph P. Hoar, USMC (Retired)

America is an imperfect imperialist. We want to be loved, respected and admired for our wholesome commitment to democratic ideals, ideals that we espouse not only for ourselves but for others as well. Yet these idealistic qualities are at odds with our more base desire to control the destinies of other nations.

The outward manifestations of imperialism are almost always cloaked in inspirational hopes for the subjugated people. General Stanley Maude, Commander of the British Forces that captured Baghdad in March, 1917, promised peace and liberty. In 1920, Winston Churchill declared that the British were paying large sums for the privilege of living on "an ungrateful volcano".

The Muslim world, 1.2 billion strong, Europe and most of Asia have seen what many Americans are unwilling to accept. Whatever the excuse, it was wrong to invade Iraq. The flagrant inconsistencies which exist in our foreign policy, combined with the abrogation of alliances and treaties painstakingly built over decades of dedication to internationalism and the rule of law, have left us with few friends. That the Irish people, from whom so many of us Americans have sprung, could protest the recent visit of President Bush is an example of how our national reputation has been diminished.

Nations that have been governed by foreign aggressors, colonialists, or home-grown demagogues have seen from the start that the Iraqi policy was a manifestation of an imperialistic effort to control the fate of another country. We have replaced the British on the throne that is perched on an "ungrateful volcano".

Our course of action is clear. Create an environment that will be secure enough for popular elections. Let the results be untainted by our desire to influence the outcome. And then be prepared to leave that star-crossed country to work out its own future, when, almost inevitably the new freely-elected Iraqi government will ask us to leave.

General Hoar is a former commander in chief of US Central Command.

Bush's War on Science


I write this week's column as a physician.

The Bush administration has declared war on science. In the Orwellian world of 21st century America, two plus two no longer equals four where public policy is concerned, and science is no exception. When a right-wing theory is contradicted by an inconvenient scientific fact, the science is not refuted; it is simply discarded or ignored.

Egregious examples abound. Over-the-counter morning-after contraceptive sales are banned, despite the recommendation for approval by an independent panel of the Food and Drug Administration review board. The health risks of mercury were discounted by a White House staffer who simply crossed out the word "confirmed" from a phrase describing mercury as a "confirmed public health risk." A National Cancer Institute fact sheet is doctored to suggest that abortion increases breast cancer risk, even though the American Cancer Society concluded that the best study discounts that. Reports on the status of minority health and the importance of breast feeding are similarly watered down to appease right-wing ideologies.

What about global warming? After withdrawing from the Kyoto Treaty, the Bush administration distanced themselves from a climate report the Environmental Protection Agency wrote, because it affirmed the potential worldwide harm of global warming, the existence of which Bush had denied. The global warming section of the 2003 EPA Report on the environment was extensively rewritten, then dropped entirely. Fighting HIV? Bush's initiative to help fund HIV efforts in Africa was trumpeted by the press, while the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control quietly removed information on the benefits of condoms and safe sex education from domestic HIV Web sites.

Presidential scientific commissions have long enjoyed relative immunity from politics. Presidents of both parties have depended on impartial, rational advice from such groups for decades. Yet under the Bush administration, there has been a concerted effort, led by Karl Rove and other political ideologues based in the White House, to stack these commissions with Republican loyalists, especially those who espouse fundamentalist views on scientific issues.

Recently, a scientist and a bioethics professor were dismissed from the blue-ribbon Council on Bioethics when they disagreed with the Bush administration's proposed ban on new stem-cell line development to cure a variety of diseases. In a similar vein and an unusual move, the nomination of public health experts to a CDC lead paint advisory panel were rejected by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, and replaced with researchers with financial ties to the lead industry. The Union of Concerned Scientists, with 20 Nobel laureates and several former scientific advisers to Republican presidents, has issued a scathing Report on Scientific Integrity condemning these practices.

Is it any wonder that these outrages have been perpetrated on an unsuspecting public and an enfeebled press? Not when you consider that this is an administration that has put forth deliberately misleading proposals like the Healthy Forests Initiative that removes barriers to clear-cutting, and the Clear Skies Initiative that weakens existing safeguards on mercury, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants dumped into the air by power plants. When the oil industry writes national energy policy and the HMOs and drug companies draft our Medicare legislation, who is looking out for truth, scientific integrity, and the public interest?

Will it be long before a prominent panel of fundamentalist theologians, conservative columnists, and a few token scientists take up the question of whether the theory of evolution should be banned from the nation's classrooms? Stay tuned. In George Bush's America, ignorance is strength.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Original Americans May Be Older than Thought

JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, NY TIMES - On a hillside by the Savannah River, under tall oaks bearded with Spanish moss, an archaeologist and a graduate student crouched in the humid depths of a trench. They had reason to think they were in the presence of a breathtaking discovery. Or at the least, they were on to something more than 20,000 years old that would throw American archaeology into further turmoil over its most contentious issue: when did people first reach America, and who were they?

The sandy soil of the trench walls was flecked with pieces of chert, the source of flint coveted by ancient toolmakers. Some of the stone flakes appeared to be unfinished discards. Others had the sharp-edged look of more fully realized blades, chisels and scrapers. Long ago, it seemed, Stone Age hunter-gatherers had frequently stopped here and, perhaps, these toolmakers were among the first Americans.

With deft strokes of his trowel, the archaeologist, Dr. Albert C. Goodyear of the University of South Carolina, excised a chunk of chert about the size of a cantaloupe. Its sides, he said, had all the marks of flintknappers' work. They had presumably smashed one cobble against another, leaving fracture lines through the rock, and then recovered thin slices for making sharp tools. "This is not a natural occurrence," Dr. Goodyear said, showing the beaten-about chert cobble afterward. "No river, fire or animals could do this. Too many blows have been struck."

If he is right, American prehistory is being extended deeper in time at this remote dig site near Barnwell. Dr. Robson Bonnichsen, an expert on early Americans who is not directly involved in the excavation, said it could even be "the single most significant Ice Age site in North America" as a place bearing tantalizing evidence for "understanding the earliest prehistory of the Americas." . . .

Judging by the depth of sediments, the site may have been a toolmaking center at least 7,000 years earlier than the arrival of big-game hunters known as the Clovis people. Once thought to be the earliest Americans, Clovis hunters, named for the town in New Mexico where their traces were uncovered 70 years ago, left their finely worked fluted projectile points across the United States over five centuries, beginning 13,000 years ago. All the dates here are based on radiocarbon calculations adjusted to calendar years.


Streaming Video: Michael Moore Interview

Partial Transcript:

Hannah Storm: "So this is satire and not documentary? We shouldn’t see this as-"
Michael Moore: "It’s a satirical documentary."
Storm: "Some have said propaganda, do you buy that? Op-ed?"
Moore: "No, I consider the CBS Evening News propaganda. What I do is-"
Storm: "We’ll move beyond on that."
Moore: "Why? Let’s not move beyond that."
Storm: "You know what?"
Moore: "Seriously."
Storm: "No, let’s talk about your movie."
Moore: "But why don’t we talk about the Evening News on this network and the other networks that didn’t do the job they should have done at the beginning of this war?"
Storm: "You know what?"
Moore: "Demanded the evidence, ask the hard questions-"
Storm: "Okay."
Moore: "-we may not of even gone into this war had these networks done their job. I mean, it was a great disservice to the American people because we depend on people who work here and the other networks to go after those in power and say 'Hey, wait a minute. You want to send our kids off to war, we want to know where those weapons of mass destruction are. Let’s see the proof. Let’s see the proof that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11.’"
Storm: "But-"
Moore: "There was no proof and everybody just got embedded and everybody rolled over and everybody knows that now."
Storm: "Michael, the one thing that journalists try to do is to present both sides of the story. And it could be argued that you did not do that in this movie."
Moore: "I certainly didn’t. I presented my side-"
Storm: "You presented your side of the story."
Moore: "Because my side, that’s the side of millions of Americans, rarely gets told. And so, all I’m, look, this is just a humble plea on my behalf and not to you personally, Hannah. But I’m just saying to journalists in general that instead of working so hard to tell both sides of the story, why don’t you just tell that one side, which is...... the administration, why don’t you ask them the hard questions-"
Storm: "Which I think is something that we all try to do."
Moore: "Well, I think it was a lot of cheerleading going on at the beginning of this war-"
Storm: "Alright."
Moore: "A lot of cheerleading and it didn’t do the public any good to have journalists standing in front of the camera going 'whoop-dee-do, let’s all go to war’. And, and it’s not their kids going to war. It’s not the children of the news executives going to war-"
Storm: "Michael, why don’t you do you next movie about networks news, okay? Because this movie-"
Moore: "I know, I think I should do that movie."
Storm: "-because this movie is an attack on the president and his policies."
Moore: "Well, and it also points out how the networks failed us at the beginning of this war and didn’t do their job."

Thought Process

REUTERS - Four volunteers have managed to control a video game using thought alone, according to US researchers. With some electrodes placed on the surface of their brains, the volunteers simply had to think the word "move" to play the simple video game. Eric Leuthardt, a neurosurgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St Louis who worked on the study, said: "We are using pure imagination. These people are not moving their limbs." The findings add to work being done at several centres and are aimed at finding ways to help people control computers or machines using brain power alone. Potentially, people paralysed by disease or accidents could use such devices to work, read, write and even move around.

Dr Leuthardt says the study tested four patients with epilepsy. "These electrodes are placed on peoples' brains on a routine basis for seizure localization," Dr Leuthardt said. The patients have their skulls opened and the electrodes placed on the surface of the brain to find out where their seizures are originating, so the connections in that area can be cut in the hope of a cure. "We piggy-backed our study on that," Dr Leuthardt said.

Other researchers have worked with implanted electrodes in both monkeys and humans... Writing in Monday's issue of the Journal of Neural Engineering, Dr Leuthardt and Daniel Moran, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University in St Louis, said the patients learned in minutes how to control a computer cursor. "It took six minutes of training and they all achieved control in less than 24 minutes," Dr Leuthardt said. "After a brief training session, the patients could play the game by using signals that come off the surface of the brain," Professor Moran said. "They achieved between 74 and 100 per cent accuracy, with one patient hitting 33 out of 33 targets correctly in a row...."

Professor Moran and Dr Leuthardt hope to develop electrodes that can transmit signals without physical connections... Dr Leuthardt and Professor Moran centred about 32 electrodes over the sensory motor cortex of the brain and a region called Broca's area, which is associated with speech. The pair did their work on a small amount of money - about $20,000 for the whole study, they said. "We really built this from matchsticks and paperclips," Professor Moran said.

Story, as requested.

Indian Tycoon Stages $60 Million Wedding

REUTERS - An Indian steel tycoon reportedly paid $60 million for his daughter's wedding — a six-day bash for 1,500 guests in France's most sumptuous settings, including Versailles. Lakshmi Mittal rented the Tuileries garden in Paris one night and a gallery at Versailles another night to celebrate the marriage of his 23-year-old daughter, Vanisha, to 25-year-old Amit Bhatia, according to Thursday's edition of Paris Match magazine.

Uh oh, Keith.... good luck living up to this. ;-)

Monday, June 28, 2004

Research: Mobilie Phones Cut Sperm Up to 30 Percent

NEWS AUSTRALIA - Men who regularly carry a mobile phone could have their sperm count reduced by as much as 30 per cent. Those who place their phone near their groin, on a belt or in a pocket, are at greatest risk, new research has revealed. The findings, to be presented at an international conference this week, are the first to suggest male fertility could be affected by the radiation emitted by mobile phones, also long suspected of causing cancer... but Australian experts advised men not to panic yet.

Suit Charges Hospitals with Billing Uninsured Extra

MADELEINE BARAN, NEW STANDARD - Last week lawyers filed several civil lawsuits against more than a dozen nonprofit hospitals, arguing that the hospitals violated their charitable obligations by overcharging uninsured patients and then aggressively trying to collect money. According to the suits, uninsured patients are usually charged the most for their hospital visits. While insurance companies have negotiated huge discounts, the uninsured have to pay full price. A complaint filed against Provena Health, a Chicago-area hospital, alleges that uninsured patients are charged two to three times the rate collected from insurance companies. The suits also attack hospitals' aggressive collection practices. A suit filed against Advocate Health Care Network in Oakbrook, Illinois alleges that one uninsured patient "received numerous threatening and harassing phone calls" asking for over $48 thousand for her teenage son's emergency room visit, the New York Times reported. Her son was treated for multiple gunshot wounds in 1998. The suits came after months of controversy over hospitals' billing practices. A recent Wall Street Journal article described patients who were still in their hospital beds being approached by bill collectors asking them to pay a portion of their bill. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that some patients with past due medical bills were arrested or had to forfeit their homes.

"Let Freedom Reign"??

GMAN - CNN just showed the handwritten note from Condi to Bush saying the Iraq handover took place. Bush wrote, "Let Freedom Reign" which CNN called a "take on 'Let freedom ring'". I don't think so, I think that dumb, stupid ass meant to say "let freedom ring" but he can't quote it accurately. Kinda like someone that gets the lyrics to songs wrong. Jeez, that's annoying.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Bush Approval: Raw Poll Data

Media Ignored E-Vote Problems

KAREN CHARMAN, FAIR - If mainstream media outlets had devoted as much ink and airtime to electronic voting machines as they had to O.J. Simpson, Monicagate or even Janet Jackson's breast, the outcome of our next presidential election might not depend on machines that can be programmed to favor one candidate over another without anyone ever knowing. As it is, nearly one-third of the American electorate will cast their votes on one of the more than 150,000 electronic voting machines whose integrity is in doubt.

The manufacturers of touch-screen computerized voting machines--specifically, direct recording electronic voting machines--claim to be able to "do the impossible," says Stanford University computer science professor David Dill. "They are using conventional hardware and software, and given that's the case, they cannot make these machines sufficiently reliable or secure to be used in an election."

The biggest problem, according to Dill, is that there are so many ways to rig the machine by inserting hidden code. They can, say, lose one out of every 100 votes for a certain candidate, or switch votes from one candidate to another. The machines could easily be programmed to display one thing but record another, so the voter would be no wiser. By writing code to start and stop programming changes at specific times, "you could hide this so that nobody could see it in the program or catch it during testing," he told Extra!. Without a paper ballot that voters can verify, there is nothing to check against the accuracy of the machine tally. And recounts are no longer possible, because the machines can only restate their results.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Get Your War On

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

XX + XX =


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

For Our World

FOR OUR WORLD (Mattie Stepanek)

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment…
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.
We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment…
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.
We need to notice.
Just notice.
Notice for a moment…
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice…
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment…
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.

September 12, 2001
© Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek

You'll be missed...

The War Against T-Shirts

SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, MIDVALE, UT - A nervous David Perez scurried down the hallway and ducked into Marshall Brown's classroom. Perez's sanctuary was short-lived, however.

His pursuer, Assistant Principal David Breen, entered the room seconds later and ordered the Hillcrest High senior to take off his anti-war T-shirt. Fearing for the student's safety, Brown says, he tried to intervene. "Breen told me it was none of my business," recalls the marketing teacher.

Breen then escorted Perez to the office. Though Breen disputes Brown's version of their exchange two years ago, Hillcrest administrators have brought other students to the office for their choice of T-shirts.

This past year, the Midvale school made headlines when administrators barred students from wearing anti-smoking shirts displaying the phrase "Queers Kick Ash." But students and parents say the crackdown also extended to anti-war T-shirts with slogans such as "Drop Doughnuts, Not Bombs" and "No Blood for Oil." School officials concede that they discouraged students from wearing anti-war T-shirts -- especially immediately after U.S. troops invaded Iraq.

Breen and his boss, Principal Linda Sandstrom, told The Salt Lake Tribune they hoped to preempt confrontations between anti-war students and classmates with family members stationed in Iraq. The strategy, Breen explains, is to "stop things before they hit the fan."

District officials acknowledge that students have the right to wear anti-war shirts. But, they add, "it's difficult to control the reaction of students with strong opposing views." Said Sandstrom and Breen in a joint statement: "Provocative acts sometimes provoke other individuals."...

To test whether school officials employed a double standard, Robin Rothfeder, who graduated from Hillcrest last year and is now a sophomore at the University of California-Berkeley, says he conducted an experiment. Two years ago, he donned a T-shirt identical to the handmade anti-war versions Perez and their friends were wearing. However, Rothfeder's version supported President Bush and the war in Iraq. When a Hillcrest hall monitor read his shirt, she praised Rothfeder for "standing up for his country."

Florida Not the Sunshine State Claimed

KEN KAYE, SUN SENTINEL, FL - Florida may brag about being the Sunshine State, but five other states actually catch more rays. Arizona is No. 1, with Yuma seeing an average of 242 clear sunny days. Apalachicola, the sunniest spot in Florida, sees 128.

California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas also bask in more sun, according to the National Weather Service, which monitors about 265 weather stations nationwide...

Indeed, Florida has more days where between 20 to 70 percent of the sun is blocked by clouds than anywhere else in the continental U.S., weather officials say.

Bush Lies on Patients' Bill of Rights

DAILY KOS - More Bush lies courtesy of the Center for American Progress:


"I signed into law some of the toughest patient-protection laws in the nation [and] I support a patient bill of rights for all patients, similar to those already enacted in Texas."

- George W. Bush, USA Today op-ed entitled "I Will Build On My Record," 8/17/00 (FYI - Bush didn't sign the law - he let it pass without his signature after the legislature forced him to accept it)


"Before the Supreme Court, the Bush administration opposed the Texas law, instead joining two managed-care companies, Aetna Health Inc. and Cigna HealthCare of Texas Inc." Those two companies alone have given President Bush and the Republican Party more than $1.7 million since 2000.

- NY Times, 6/21/04; Center for Responsive Politics

There's no place where Bush has been more dishonest than with this issue. He opposes the Texas Patients' Bill of Rights, but it is passed by a veto-proof majority in the Texas legislature, so Bush lets it pass into law without a signature. Yet in a debate with Gore, Bush blatantly lies claiming he signed it. (The media was too busy calling Gore a liar to write about Bush's REAL lies.)

Then, after Bush gets into office, he orders his Justice Department to fight the Texas law. Yesterday, Bush won. The Supreme Court has invalidated all state Patients' Bill of Right laws saying federal law supercedes it.

Me, 31 Years From Now

BBC - A Vietnamese man who has not had a hair cut in 31 years hopes to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest hair in the world. Tran Van Hay, 67, has hair which is now 6.2 meters (20 feet) long, according to Vietnam's state-controlled press. A local official said Mr Tran stopped having haircuts after one made him ill...

According to the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper, Mr Tran last washed his hair six years ago, and now usually ties it up and covers it with a scarf. The paper said he had not yet approached the Guinness World Records to get his claim authenticated. According to the organisation's web site, the current record holder is Hoo Sateow, a man from northern Thailand. His hair was measured in 1997 at 5.15 m (16 ft 11 in).

Monday, June 21, 2004

Nader Picks Camejo as Running Mate

AP - Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader has selected longtime Green Party activist Peter Camejo to be his running mate. Camejo, an investment adviser from Folsom, Calif., had been one of two leading contenders for the Green Party's presidential nomination... Nader, who ran as the Green Party candidate in 2000, is not seeking the party's nomination but he has pursued an endorsement from the third party.

Drug Firms Rage War Against Seniors

DAVE ZWEIFEL, MADSION CAPITAL TIMES, WI - The Bush administration, doing the bidding of the big drug corporations, wants to make it next to impossible for U.S. citizens to buy their drugs in Canada.

The Food and Drug Administration insists that Americans can't be sure the drugs from Canada are safe, therefore it won't give its OK to state governments, co-ops and others who would like to save about a third of the cost of prescription drugs by going through Canadian pharmaceutical channels.

Canada, who some say has more safeguards over its prescription drug system than the United States has over its, also has cost controls on those drugs, which help account for the lower prices. Plus the efficiencies of its single-payer health care system, which the powers-that-be in the U.S. refuse to acknowledge, contribute to lower consumer costs.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and other governors insist that their states could save tens of millions for their taxpayers if they could buy en masse through Canada. The savings to the states would come in state-paid health insurance for their employees, Medicaid coverage and other programs that serve the poor and helpless.

The drug companies are pulling out all stops to prevent this from happening, going so far as to limit the supplies to Canadian distributors. Heavens! We don't want some senior U.S. citizen paying $20 for a prescription when she should be paying $30, now do we?

It's no wonder that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has issued drug companies a threat of his own. He says that if they do limit drugs to Canada, he'll see to it that their products are taken off the preferred list for Illinois state employees if there is a viable alternative available.

The irony of this saga is captured in the following little ditty that came via e-mail the other day:

"A car company can move its factories to Mexico and claim it's a free market.

"A toy company can outsource to a Chinese subcontractor and claims it's a free market.

"A major bank can incorporate in Bermuda to avoid taxes and claim it's a free market.

"But heaven help the elderly who dare to buy their prescription drugs from a Canadian pharmacy."

For many American conglomerates, these free markets, after all, only go so far.

Homophobia Hurting National Defense

BETH FOUHY, ASSOCIATED PRESS - Even with concerns growing about troop strength, 770 people were discharged for homosexuality last year under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, a new study shows. The figure, however, is significantly lower than the record 1,227 discharges in 2001 -- just before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Since "don't ask, don't tell" was adopted in 1994, nearly 10,000 military personnel have been discharged, including linguists, nuclear warfare experts and other key specialists...

Hundreds of those discharged held high-level job specialties that required years of training and expertise, including 90 nuclear power engineers, 150 rocket and missile specialists and 49 nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare specialists. Eighty-eight linguists were discharged, including at least seven Arab language specialists.

Brian Muller, an Army bomb squad team leader who had advanced training on weapons of mass destruction and served on a security detail for President Bush, said he was dismissed from duty after deciding to tell his commander he's gay...

Supreme Court Rips Away Another Right of Privacy

AP - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that people do not have a constitutional right to refuse to tell police their names. The 5-4 decision frees the government to arrest and punish people who won't cooperate by revealing their identity.

The decision was a defeat for privacy rights advocates who argued that the government could use this power to force people who have done nothing wrong, other than catch the attention of police, to divulge information that may be used for broad data base searches...

Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said America is different 36 years after the Terry decision. "In a modern era, when the police get your identification, they are getting an extraordinary look at your private life." Tim Lynch, an attorney with the libertarian-oriented think tank Cato Institute, said the court "ruled that the government can turn a person's silence into a criminal offense."

"Ordinary Americans will be hopelessly confused about when they can assert their right to 'remain silent' without being jailed like Mr. Hiibel," he said.

Recommended Reading

With all the Muslim-American "conflicts/bad blood" around the world (Saudi/Iraq/Afghanistan/Palestine/etc,etc), it would be interesting to here your take on the reasons for this (such as sources of anger, just so everyone is clear) and maybe more importantly, steps to change attitudes. Do we withdraw from Saudi Arabia, as is the feeling of many Muslims.... What can we do now with Iraq..... And any other comments you might have on this large topic would be interesting. -Keith

Each of these questions is deserving of a thorough response, but I'm too tired at the moment to attempt to do them justice here and now. Instead, I've posted some stuff I've written about similar subjects in the past. Hopefully, the facts and opinions found therein might shed some light on these issues for you. I've selected essays I originally wrote for my Politics of the Middle East class that specifically address Modernization in the Middle East, the Role of the Military in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and a recounting of the factors leading to the first Palestinian Intifada. I hope you find them enlightening, but if you want to learn more, I strongly recommend reading Arthur Goldschmidt Jr.'s A Concise History of the Middle East. It's 500 pages long, but it flows very well. You'll finish it in a few hours and know a lot more about "that place that's always in the news" than you did before you started it.

Modernization in the Middle East

Lucas Henry

Modernization can be defined as the transition from traditional to modern society. Before understanding how the Middle East has changed in the post-colonial era, it is necessary to understand the characteristics of what is considered traditional versus what is considered modern. To do this, one needs only to look at the elements of each respective society. For example, in a traditional society, the economy is based chiefly on agricultural production and subsistence, a class of landlords or notables hold a great deal of power, the population is rural-based, education is limited and illiteracy is high, and religious authority is dominant and is the basis for political rule. In a modern society, on the other hand, the economy relies more on industrial production, either the state or a group of capitalists control much of the power, the population is urban-based, there is mass literacy and universal education, and religion is marginalized as authority is legitimized through other means.

A great deal of transformation occurred in the Middle East following the Second World War. The reasons for this are many but can be explained rather easily. The most immediate impact on the ability of Middle Eastern reforms to take place was the crippling of former colonial powers, such as Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. War had damaged the reach of these states, as their economies and armies had been depleted, leaving the Soviet Union and the United States in prime positions to influence how Middle East policy would develop. The USSR decided to promote anti-imperialist rhetoric in order to persuade the fledgling states in the region to ally with the Communist bloc. The U.S. also decided to pursue a policy of decolonization, attempting to thwart the Soviets’ attempts to win friends and also because it did not benefit directly from colonialism or formal empire. This left the window open for a period of modernization, and signs of this trend could be found throughout much of the Middle East.

It is important to note, however, that although World War II served as a catalyst for modernization in many Middle Eastern states, some transformation occurred in the region prior to this conflict. In Turkey and Iran, for example, the agent for change was a military leader who equated Westernization with modernization. Other countries in the region, having been “liberated” in a sense from the colonial powers following WWII, could now look back to the reforms these men instituted and would follow in the steps of these leaders. Arthur Goldscmidt, Jr. notes that the leaders of Iran and Turkey, for example, were “army officers (who) became the greatest force for modernization in the Middle East. As efficiency is essential in military operations, it is natural for commanders to apply the same standards and employ similar methods to modernize their countries” (237). It therefore follows that just as external influences are important in determining how a country adapts to the world, so too is the leadership of that state.

The leaders of those states attempting to modernize often seized power and held it with only a thin grasp. Control was often acquired through the overthrow of local governments (e.g., Iraq and Syria), kings (e.g., Egypt), or the remnants of colonial powers (e.g., Algeria) by those with command of either soldiers or rebels; other potential sources of power, such as political parties or social classes, had often been weakened by colonial policies, thus making new leadership all the more easy to acquire. In many such cases, those now in charge had had some exposure to either Western education or military service. Although the colonial powers were seen as hypocritical and as undesirable authorities, their notions of freedom, liberty, and self-determination were admired, as were their institutions and forms of government. These new commanders, seeking to justify their roles, sought the education systems, military technology and strategies, laws, and economic systems of the West for their own countries.

Seeking to validate their newly acquired power, revolutionary leaders often promised the people progress through modernization and embarked upon major social, political, and economic reforms. One goal of many of these leaders was the establishment of a strong civilian foundation, which meant pursuing policies designed to settle nomadic tribes and promote urbanization. This was accomplished, for example, in both Iran and Saudi Arabia as both Reza Shah and Ibn Sa’ud attempted to weaken nomadic tribes and prevent their movement. Ibn Sa’ud controlled tribes by welding them into what was called the Ikhwan (Brothers). This made such groups easier to control, and according to Goldschmidt, “the Saudis could not have united most of Arabia within a generation” without such measures (232). Many Middle Eastern governments also offered free public education and government employment in major urban centers, which, coupled with increased industrialization, helped to facilitate urbanization.

A second route of modernization pursued by many leaders was the promotion of a new “middle class,” composed of professionals (e.g., doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, etc.). This was done through policies of universal primary and secondary education and subsidies for higher education. This social reform was considered of major importance in both Turkey and Iran, as the leader of each country attempted to support a more knowledgeable citizenry. Kemal Ataturk, for example, instituted linguistic reforms, Romanizing the Turkish alphabet, greatly improving the ease with which people could become literate. Strong pressure from conservatives prevented this reform in Persia (Iran), but Reza Shah also understood the importance of education. He instituted night schools and tied military promotion to education of the troops; he also opened the University of Tehran in 1935.

Another modernizing feature adopted by leaders in the Middle East was the development of the economy through state-led industrialization and expansion of public employment. This allowed the state or the military to control these “levers of power.” It also allowed for the mass employment of the population. Even when it meant inefficiency resulted, people were happy to be employed. This reform was also undertaken because leaders sensed that private industry did not have a vested interest in improving the social conditions in their respective countries but rather sought merely to profit themselves from any endeavor taken in the region. The nationalization of resources often sparked bitterness on the part of Western governments, as was the case when Nasir nationalized the Suez Canal. By doing this, Egypt was bound to see increased revenue and a spirit of national pride develop, but the cost of this action to Western nations was more than they were willing to pay for Egypt’s economic or social improvement.

In modernizing the Middle East, often religious institutions, long the source of power in the region, were pushed to the margins of government. This was done as leaders imitated either the example of the Soviet Union (atheistic state) or that of the Western world (which stressed the separation of church and state). Leaders who sought to control religious institutions often felt that such organizations were a hindrance to progress, as women’s rights, economic policies, legal codes, etc. were behind the times. Another reason for seeking to limit the power of religious institutions was the very real threat that religious leaders were a source of opposition to government. Kemal Ataturk instituted many of these reforms while in power, and Turkey serves as a model of this example to this day. Religious endowments, known as Waqfs, were nationalized; the Shari’ah (which encompassed family law and had existed for centuries) was replaced with a variation of the Swiss Civil Code; women saw the abandonment of the veil in the 1920s and in 1934 were allowed to vote; and political opposition parties that used religion as a base were not allowed to gain power (e.g., Welfare or Justice). This policy of secularism helped ensure a responsible government dedicated to the forward economic, political and social progress of its citizens.

As states in the Middle East underwent this process of revision and adaptation in the twentieth century, a great deal of change occurred. Counterbalancing, to some degree or another, the push toward “modernization” (which is often equated with Westernization) is a call for a return to older ideals. Fundamentalism has grown in the Middle East as a response to the perceived “sweeping away” of many centuries’ worth of values in a single generation. In many respects, this clash of visions for the future can find its origins in recent history. As the twenty-first century begins, perhaps a new chapter in the Middle East will commence, as well.

Roles of the Military in Two Middle East States

Lucas Henry

The role of the military varies from country to country in the Middle East, but in every state in the region, the armed forces have had some impact on each respective nation’s history, political institutions, and form of government. For some leaders, the military has served as an important source of authority, providing the necessary ingredients to legitimize their bases of power, and has helped to stabilize the footing of the ruling class amid both internal and external sources of opposition. In other countries, the military has remained more autonomous and has sought to preserve its own interests when confronted by ideological threats from those in charge of the government. To better understand how the military has come to play such diverse roles in the Middle East, one may analyze the historical relationships between the military and society in two states in the region, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and draw conclusions from these examples about why this component of the social order plays such an important purpose in each state’s political history.

In all nations, the military serves the function of protectorate for those in power, in theory if not in actual practice. Oftentimes, the origins of these forces help to explain their later allegiances or lack thereof to the governmental authority. Another important element in explaining the behavior of military officers, those with the potential to undermine a government’s positions, is the relative strength of their situation; where there is strength, there is potential for flexion. An illustration of how the military has acted to support those in charge can be found in Saudi Arabia, where a number of factors have resulted in a loyal, albeit somewhat weak internationally, force committed to the interests of the royal family. In describing the rise to power of Ibn Sa’ud, Arthur Goldschmidt, Jr. explains the emergence of the Saudi Kingdom and notes that “over the span of some thirty years, most of the tribes and emirates of the Arabian Peninsula became united under Ibn Sa’ud” (232). This control of bedouin forces provided the initial framework for a Saudi military. The royal family came to rely on nomadic tribes’ faithfulness, acquired through the charm or threats of Sa’ud, to serve as the basis for an armed force; such an organization functioned well at the time, as the government could call up men as necessary. In order to be as effective as possible, however, Sa’ud sought to resettle many of the tribes in strategic locations throughout the country. With British forces nearby, such repositioning aimed to deter foreign military operations and helped to unite much of Arabia within a generation. As the country was still financially poor at this point and the ruling family feared a potential coup that might accompany the establishment of a professional officers’ corps, this arrangement seemed most preferable in the first decades after the creation of the Saudi Kingdom.

The discovery of oil greatly impacted the formation and makeup of the military in Saudi Arabia, but its ultimate allegiance to the ruling family was not changed by the introduction of more modern forces. With the first exports of oil from the Arab Peninsula came two reasons for upgrading the military: money was now available for this purpose, and valuable installations, needing protection, now existed. Roger Owen writes that this resulted in the establishment of a more permanent military, noting the “recruitment of a small royal guard and then of the nucleus of a professional army trained by the United States” (209). The role of Uncle Sam in the development of Saudi Arabia’s military is another interesting political element; it is best explained through the tenets of the Eastern Question, which will not be outlined here.

The 1960s brought international pressure to step up military expenditures, and large sums of money were spent on new weapons, barracks, military hospitals, etc. The government’s expenditures here helped create a reliable (but highly privileged) class of officers. Outside of the air force, little time was spent training, so although the military remained allied to the government, it had little effectiveness on foreign soil (as evidenced in the Gulf War).

Owens notes three features which help to explain the interaction between the military and political powers. First, higher levels of command were relegated to royal princes, which aided in a cohesive relationship between the two forces. Second, internal security was provided by a separate national guard composed of loyal tribal elements. Third, foreign officers provided technical advice and helped to prevent coups. These elements signify that the ruling family has always been wary of the power of the military, but realizing its importance to maintaining power, it has sought to implement a military structure that is as conducive as possible to the royals’ overall interests.

Whereas Saudi Arabia’s military has been largely manipulated by the ruling class, in Turkey the military has remained more independent from the official government. To understand this only requires a brief recounting of the military’s role in Turkish history. In 1923, Turkey was created from what was left of the Ottoman Empire. Kemal Ataturk was a westernizing reformer and a strong Turkish nationalist. Among the reforms instituted following the First World War, secular laws replaced traditional religious rules in 1928. Following Ataturk's death in 1938, a two-party system emerged in Turkey. A free election in 1950 saw the Demokrat party peacefully take power from the Republican People's party. The Demokrat party—relying on the support of entrepreneurs, peasants, and pious Muslims—alarmed the army as it grew in power; officers in the army overthrew the government in 1960, and in 1961, a constitution for what would be called the Second Turkish Republic was drawn up by civilians under the careful oversight of the military. The Demokrat party was outlawed and its leader was hanged. Another rival party, Justice, grew in power and managed to eventually gain complete control of the government before it, too, was checked by the army's intervention in 1971. By 1980, numerous parties had sprung into existence, and government became impossible to manage. After clashes between left- and right-wing extremists killed hundreds of Turks, the army once more took control of government. Following three years of military rule, a new constitution was put into place and general elections were held again in 1983. Turgut Ozal became prime minister, and under pressure from the West, Turkey hesitantly lifted its ban on political freedoms. Economic growth and greater political stability has ensued, although the resurgence of Islam still poses challenges to the secular factions of government (Goldschmidt 222-3).

Although Turkey’s military has been used in international conflicts (e.g., Cyprus) and its position is seen as unique by the United States as the only predominantly Muslim member of NATO, the military in Turkey has mainly functioned as a means of providing internal control (much as in Saudi Arabia). The difference between the militaries of each state can be found in the spring from whence their respective perceptions originate. Whereas Saudi Arabia’s military has tended to follow its rulers’ commands, the greater autonomy from politics in Turkey can be attributed to three factors. First, Turkey’s army has a much greater history than that of Saudi Arabia; the one-time prestige of the Ottoman Empire still influences how the army thinks of itself. Second, because the military in Turkey controls its means of recruitment, it can maintain its own views (separate from those of politicians) better than it otherwise might. Finally, Turkey’s military views itself as the guardian of the true day-to-day values of the state. Because it has been able to remain somewhat distanced from Turkey’s republican parliamentary democracy and the whims of the day’s politicians, a distinct culture has developed in the military, creating a quite interesting dynamic between those in government and those in the armed forces.

Ultimately, one may come to understand a great deal about a state through an analysis of how its parts work with or against one another. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are each unique examples of how the military has come to play an important role in the structure and function of political institutions, but a great deal more variability exists in the Middle East, and only time will show how these relationships between power bases will eventually play out. The waiting game is always fun.

The First Palestinian Intifada

Lucas Henry

A major turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came in December 1987 when, for the first time in their history, Palestinians en masse took to the streets in the struggle for their liberation. This insurgency, which originated in Gaza and spread through the occupied territories, came to be known as the intifada—a term which Charles Smith defines as literally meaning a “shaking off” of a condition. The circumstances which brought about this uprising are of significance, not only because they are useful in explaining the genesis of the modern day political atmosphere in the region, but also because they represented the culmination of more than twenty years of continuous occupation by the Israeli military and its effects on the Palestinian national conscience.

While Israel’s actions were not representative of the world’s most brutal occupiers, the arrests of Palestinian activists, numerous security checkpoints, imposed curfews, and collective punishments all contributed to a sense of humiliation among the Palestinian people. These feelings came to a head with the onset of the intifada, but for many years the Palestinian people had been willing to tolerate restrictions on their freedoms without openly revolting. Part of the reason for this was the improved standard of living that came about for many Palestinians, especially those living in the West Bank, during the 1970s. Immediately following the end of the 1967 war, there was considerable employment of Arab labor in Israel, which led to wages that were better than those offered under Jordanian rule. A robust economy also existed in the Gulf during this period, and many Palestinians working there repatriated their funds to supplement the incomes of their friends and relatives. These conditions helped to draw attention away from the Palestinians’ subservient working status and still relatively low salaries. Smith also notes the much smaller rate of growth for Jewish settlements and their relative isolation from Arab communities before Menachem Begin took office in 1978.

The mid-1980s saw a weakening of Israel’s economy, as recession and inflation caused decline across all economic sectors; this, in turn, triggered a downfall of the Palestinian economy, as it was closely tied to that of its neighbor, affecting individuals’ purchasing power across the board. Jobs in Gulf states were cut as economic growth in this region also fell—due to steadily declining oil prices and the ramifications of the Iraq-Iran war—which resulted in diminishing repatriations. As people met harder financial times in Palestine, the Israelis intensified their strategy of building settlements under the leadership of Likud. Smith notes that average annual rates of Israelis settling in the territories increased from 770 (1967-77) to 5,960 (1978-87). Settlements ceased to be separated from Arab communities, as they were now being deliberately planned to abut Palestinian neighborhoods, constituting a visible threat to the people who lived there. The Israeli Right saw the Occupied Territories as part of a Greater Israel, so in their eyes, increased and more aggressive settlement was seen as a means to making this land more difficult to relinquish and was “legitimately” justified by their belief that they possessed the rights to the area. The Palestinians, on the other hand, could see no end to Israel’s occupation and began fearing the consequences of further appeasement.

The shifting demographics among the Palestinian people resulted in a swing towards the younger generation. This age bracket had always lived under Israeli occupation, and where the preceding generation viewed daily humiliations with a sense of fortitude or endurance (what Smith calls “sumud”), many young people now viewed as an admission of defeat or surrender. These views were the result of a host of variables, most notably the process of modernization that had occurred from the 1960s onward, leading to the growth of a new professional class of Palestinians and greater educational opportunities, fostering new and greater expectations among youth.

Internationally, the world saw a decline of Arab Nationalism after the 1967 war, resulting in a shrinking interest among governments in the immediate fate of the Palestinians. Egypt’s recognition of Israel and its signing of the Camp David peace agreement in September 1978, the negligence paid to the Palestinian Cause at an Arab Summit, and the expulsion of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Lebanon in 1982 all indicated the region’s growing inaction towards helping the Palestinian people. This, coupled with the ineffectual organization of the PLO (now based in Tunis), created the conviction among the Palestinian people that it would be up to them to effect change. The rest of the Arab world could no longer be counted on as a savior in the pursuit of liberation.

As a return to Islamic fundamentals and methods of ruling was seen in Iran and elsewhere, the Islamic movement in Palestine was no less important in helping to influence the direction of the intifada. Initially, Islamic groups were encouraged by Israel to participate politically (through direct funding and imposing fewer restrictions on their movements) against the PLO in the hopes that support for these groups would undermine the nationalist ideas of the PLO, but agreement between Islamic groups and the PLO about the need to improve conditions for the Palestinian people prevented a serious division to emerge between these factions. All the same, the prestige of the PLO steadily declined during the mid-1980s—as people felt distanced from, ill served by, and out of touch with their leaders—ultimately enabling local militants to acquire more power and initiative. This led to a higher rate of locally inspired violence in the territories, most notably Gaza, from 1985 forward.

In 1987, the sequence of protest and repression had slowly intensified. When an Israeli was stabbed by a Gazan on December 7 of that year, the sparks of the intifada could be seen glowing. The next day, an Israeli tank-transport truck crashed into several Arab cars, and rumors quickly circulated that the driver was a relative of the deceased looking for vengeance. The funerals for those who were victims of the crash instigated massive demonstrations that also kindled protests in the West Bank. The intifada had officially begun.

The dynamics of the rebellion were of great importance as well. It found sustenance through a far-reaching network of local committees and through the organization of neighborhoods for mutual assistance. Certain decisions had a lasting impact on the effect of the intifada. One of the most important was the choice to restrict the protests to stone-throwing and vocal demonstrations. This action immobilized Israeli military might, as advanced technology was ineffective in combating it. The movement gained international support, as a reversal of the David vs. Goliath image took hold in many people’s minds. While at first the protests were a haphazard display of frustration, they soon became a sign of unity, leading to organized strikes, boycotts on Israeli products/working in Israel, and the development of self-sufficiency programs (such as gardens and Palestinian/Arab manufacturing efforts). These measures caused hardship for many Palestinians, but the effects were felt by Israelis, too.

Grassroots leadership also emerged; termed “organic,” when one leader was arrested by the Israelis, other individuals would appear to take command. The uprising was facilitated by women, which was also unique, as their roles included producing goods for self-reliance, educating children neglected by closed schools, and collecting and conveying information (being better relay messengers because of their position in society). Women also took leadership roles (Hanan Ashrawi), which made an impression on both America and the rest of the Arab world.

The PLO felt an organizational threat from the uprising, and its behavior became more pragmatic as a result, hoping to regain its prominence in the eyes of the people and the world community. This effect, however, is perhaps eclipsed by a result of the intifada that remains in the minds of many Palestinians to this day: the realization that there was not a need to wait for outside help… the Palestinians, in their passion towards their cause, had found empowerment.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Power of Media Myth

Percent of Americans who thought Ronald Reagan outstanding or above average, 1987: 37%

Percent of Americans who thought Ronald Reagan outstanding or above average, 2004: 58%


Latest Study Trick

Listening to the theme from "Unsolved Mysteries" over and over while reading notes in my head using the voice of Robert Stack.

On Edit:


Halfway Decent Impersonation of What Robert Stack Sounds Like (Funny) (midi file)

The Price of Happiness

JIM HOLT, NY TIMES MAGAZINE - Sad people are nice. Angry people are nasty. And, oddly enough, happy people tend to be nasty, too. Such (allowing for a little journalistic caricature) were the findings reported in last month's issue of Psychological Science. Researchers found that angry people are more likely to make negative evaluations when judging members of other social groups. That, perhaps, will not come as a great surprise. But the same seems to be true of happy people, the researchers noted. The happier your mood, the more liable you are to make bigoted judgments -- like deciding that someone is guilty of a crime simply because he's a member of a minority group. Why? Nobody's sure. One interesting hypothesis, though, is that happy people have an ''everything is fine'' attitude that reduces the motivation for analytical thought. So they fall back on stereotypes -- including malicious ones. . .

As to the consequences of being happy, they are widely presumed to be positive. Happiness is held to lengthen life, buffer stress and make people more productive on the job. Some of these notions appear to be justified. A Dutch study in the 1980's, for example, found that a happy 70-year-old man can expect to live 20 months longer than his less happy counterpart. But an earlier American study found that children who are cheerful and optimistic end up having shorter life spans (perhaps because they take more risky chances).

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Chicken Joke

Courtesy the B-Meister:

These 2 nuns were driving along an old country road doing about 55 or so in their car. When all of a sudden they see this chicken with three legs pass them like they were standing still. One of the nuns yells, "Holy Cow! What the heck was that?!" The other nun didn't have a clue so they both agreed to try to speed up and catch up with this three-legged chicken.

Unfortunately the chicken was just too fast and it soon vanished from their sight. Finally they came upon this farmer that was working on his fence that bordered along the road. The nuns got out and asked him if he had seen a three-legged chicken running through here. The farmer replied, "I sure have. That was my chicken you guys were chasing."

One of the nuns replied, "That was yours? Did you know it had three legs?" The farmer said, "Yeah I'm a chicken breeder." The other nun asked, "Why did it have three legs?" The farmer said, "Well me, my wife, and my son all love chicken legs, so I thought it would be a good idea to create a chicken that had three legs." One nun asked, "Oh, that's does it taste?" The famer replied, "I dunno, haven't caught it yet."

Friday, June 18, 2004

What She Doesn't Know Will Kill You

I found this on Billy's Website....

It is without a doubt:

The Best Article I've Read in a Long Time

Busy doing something else? Drop it and read this.


Convenient timing?
CNN (6/18/2004) - "After September 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian special services ... received information that officials from Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and outside it against the U.S. military and other interests," Interfax quoted Putin as saying.

"Despite that information about terrorist attacks being prepared by Saddam's regime, Russia's position on Iraq remains unchanged," Putin said.

He said President Bush personally thanked one of the leaders of Russia's intelligence agencies for the information.

Putin made his comments in response to a question from reporters seeking clarification on similar statements leaked by an unnamed intelligence officer in a dispatch by Interfax.
Hmmm... smells fishy to me. After all, why would the Bush Administration not have brought this intelligence forward prior to going to Baghdad, especially given the much weaker evidence they were cobbling together to make their WMD case? If it were true, they would have had a fairly presentable casus belli, but no mention of this by either the Russians or us before today... On the heels of the news that the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks found "no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States," this revelation seems awfully well-timed for the White House. I'm not buying this story, especially considering Vlad's own words:
AFP (12/19/2003) - "We do not want the United States to lose their war on terrorism. We are US partners in the fight against terrorism," Putin said.

"But as for Iraq, this is a separate matter. There were no international terrorists under Hussein. This is a separate problem," said Putin.
So why is Putin coming out with a contradictory claim right now? The former head of the KGB - working with the son of the former CIA Director. Curious times....

Thursday, June 17, 2004


Someone requested that I post my thoughts on things. Why anyone would want me to babble on about nonsense, I don't know, but I'm always open to ideas. So if there's some burning question you'd like to ask me, here's your chance. Leave a comment.

Latest Addicting Game...

Courtesy KRizzle (through some circuitous route):

Text Twist

And for the record, "labile" is a word... stupid thing cheated me.

Progress Still Possible: No-Wash Clothing Discovered

MARK PEPLOW, NATURE - In the classic 1951 film, The Man in the White Suit, Alec Guinness played a scientist who invents a fabric that never gets dirty or wears out. A chemist's pipe dream perhaps, but the prospect of self-cleaning clothes might be getting closer. Scientists have invented an efficient way to coat cotton cloth with tiny particles of titanium dioxide. These nanoparticles are catalysts that help to break down carbon-based molecules, and require only sunlight to trigger the reaction. The inventors believe that these fabrics could be made into self-cleaning clothes that tackle dirt, environmental pollutants and harmful microorganisms.

The titanium dioxide particles covering the cloth are just 20 nanometres across, about 2,500 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The researchers' key breakthrough was to ensure that these particles had exactly the right arrangement of atoms, called an 'anatase' crystal structure, which has previously been difficult to achieve in such tiny grains. This arrangement boosts the particles' catalytic power.

Community Colleges

HANAH METCHIS, HIT & RUN - Those of us who went to elite four-year colleges and universities are prone to forget that most people don't. In the Washington Post, a community college professor writes about the differences between the experience her community college students are having on the one hand, and the experience her daughter had at an elite college on the other:
You go to community college because you are an ambitious kid whose parents don't have professional jobs. Because you are a girl in a family whose culture for thousands of years has valued education only for boys. Because you come from a family that never really thought about college for anyone, never saved for it or steered you toward it. You go to community college because you had a significant trauma during your adolescence: Perhaps you had an alcoholic parent, lost a sibling, lived in a household of chronic anger, suffered from depression or anorexia, did too many drugs. So you failed some of your high school courses, and the "good" colleges won't take you. You go to community college because you were born in another country and came to America too late to pick up English very easily. Because you landed a good job or gave birth to a beautiful baby right out of high school, and didn't look back for 10 or 15 years, when, suddenly, you thought about college. You go to community college because you have a learning disability, undiagnosed or untreated, that pushed you to the sidelines in school. Because you started at a four-year school and discovered that you weren't ready to leave home. And you go to community college because you believe that America is a society where intelligence is rewarded, and since you're such a fine, intelligent person, it's unnecessary for you to actually do any homework in high school, and suddenly you have a C average and your SATs are pretty good but, frankly, so are a lot of other people's, and the best offer you got from four-year colleges was their wait list.
Very interesting, and worth reading the whole thing.

Capitol Building Evacuation Was a Mess

HILL NEWS - While Hill sources uniformly praised the Capitol Police for their successful efforts, they said different officers conveyed different levels of threat to exiting staff, that security warning systems failed to operate in all buildings and that office evacuation plans were sometimes useless once a threat was believed to be real...

The biggest complaint was that Capitol Police conveyed a different threat level to different offices. “Our chief of staff was told, ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing,’” said one Senate office manager, while nearby, officers “were screaming for people to take their shoes off, run for their lives.”

During the evacuation, some senators, such as Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), strolled out of the building. Others, such as George Allen (R-Va.), said they never received a Blackberry message, since the police did not have time to send them. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), operating on bad information, continued to linger by the Hart Building. In contrast, Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), was rushed out of the building by security and thrown into his SUV...

Aides said that staff members and at least one senator were penned in by construction on one side of the Hart Building. Had the evacuation not been called off as quickly as it was, panic might have ensued.

Freedom to Assemble

NYC Withholding Protest Permits for GOP Convention

REUTERS - New York officials are threatening the rights of demonstrators planning to show up at the Republican National Convention by failing to issue a single permit so far, a protest leader said on Tuesday. Leslie Cagan of protest group United for Peace and Justice said the group applied for a permit more than a year ago but has not yet been granted permission. The city "has yet to do anything in terms of issuing permits guaranteeing not only that we are able to protest but, more importantly, that we are able to exercise our constitutionally protected right to assemble, to march, to rally, to make our voices heard," Cagan said...

Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said protesters had failed to engage in serious talks about making arrangements with officials. Browne said police were concerned "that al Qaeda may want to use a large political event as a target as they did in Madrid ... as a way of infiltrating a political climate and the outcome of the election."

Things Aren't Much Better in Boston

- Just six weeks before the Democratic National Convention, civil rights groups are threatening to sue the city of Boston because a "free-speech zone" near the Fleet Center remains piled high with twisted steel and hunks of Big Dig concrete, no protest groups have received demonstration permits, and the city is enforcing its rule against afternoon marches.

The threats of legal action followed a meeting yesterday between the city and the American Civil Liberties Union and National Lawyers Guild, where activists were told of a Boston ordinance that bans marches from 3:30-6:30 p.m. Those are hours when evening commuter traffic is heaviest. But the civil rights groups complain that the rule effectively bars them from parading in streets when delegates will be arriving at the Fleet Center for convention activities.


NEW SCIENTIST - Weapons that can incapacitate crowds of people by sweeping a lightning-like beam of electricity across them are being readied for sale to military and police forces in the US and Europe. At present, commercial stun guns target one person at a time, and work only at close quarters. The new breed of non-lethal weapons can be used on many people at once and operate over far greater distances...

The advent of wireless stun weapons has horrified human rights groups. Robin Coupland of the Red Cross says they risk becoming a new instrument of torture. And Brian Wood of Amnesty International says the long-range stun guns could "inflict pain and other suffering on innocent bystanders.”

CHUCK McCUTCHEON, NEWHOUSE NEWS SERVICE - With such weapons, police could incapacitate criminals with a ray gun that scalds the flesh but causes no permanent harm. Officers could shine flashlights with blinding green beams. Riots could be halted using stink bombs releasing overpoweringly nauseating smells or noise machines emitting piercing high-decibel shrieks...

[Sid] Heal, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department commander who acts as an adviser to many other police forces, said one military project with considerable police potential is the Active Denial System, a Humvee-mounted ray gun that Raytheon Co. is expected to publicly unveil this fall. Scientists at the Air Force Research Laboratory working with Raytheon developed the $51 million device, which shoots a narrow beam of electromagnetic energy at the speed of light, quickly and painfully heating a target's skin but leaving no burn marks or permanent injury.

"You can't concentrate on trying to get out of the beam, because it hurts so badly," said Rich Garcia, a laboratory spokesman in Albuquerque, N.M., who was among the test subjects. "My hair felt like it was on fire. I was in there for two seconds; nobody's been able to exceed three."

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

In Case You Missed It....

What the Unemployment Rate Misses

REUTERS - Buried inside the official U.S. employment report each month is a little-known figure that gives a much less rosy picture of the labor market than the headlines. The government agency that produces the data also publishes an alternative measure that tries to capture the hidden unemployed, those who are not included in the official unemployment rate for various statistical reasons. That broader measure is dramatically higher, at 9.7 percent in May, compared with the official level of 5.6 percent. That's an extra 5.96 million people, in addition to the 8.2 million "officially" unemployed, who are waiting on the sidelines and may at some point step back into the labor force. . . None of the unemployment measures include the 1.7 percent of the male wage-earning population who are in prison, or another 1.36 million men, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Indeed, the labor force participation rate is at its lowest level since 1988 -- lower even than in the last recession.

Bush Refuses to Meet With G-8 Union Leaders

UNION CITY - President Bush showed "total disrespect for the views of millions of working people" by refusing to meet last week with top union leaders of the world's major industrial nations, known as the G-8, said John Evans, general secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Bush is the first head of a host country to refuse to meet with labor leaders in 29 years of G-8 summits.

Learning Dog Psychology Helps Postal Carriers

ANANOVA - Giving postmen training in dog psychology has reduced attacks on them by 80 per cent, the German post office is claiming. Deutsche Post said yesterday that all 79,000 of its delivery workers have now been on the courses, introduced in 2001, says the Daily Mail. And it says the training has been much more successful than a previous attempt to issue all workers with CS gas. That failed because they claimed they were attacked before they could use the canisters. On the two-day courses workers learn how to read a dog’s body language, how to mask their fear, and how to move slowly and speak in a soothing voice.

Vole Love

REUTERS - A single gene inserted into the brain can change promiscuous male rodents into faithful, monogamous partners, scientists said Wednesday. It may not be as easy to rein in human philanderers but researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University and Atlanta's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience said their rodent results could help to explain the neurobiology of romantic love.

"Our study ... provides evidence in a comparatively simple animal model, that changes in the activity of a single gene profoundly can change a fundamental social behavior of animals within a species," said Larry Young a researcher at the university. He and his colleagues, who reported their research in the science journal Nature, used a harmless virus to transfer the gene for a key hormone involved in sexual behavior from monogamous prairie voles into the brains of their randy relatives, the meadow voles.

After the gene transfer, the previously promiscuous meadow voles had less of a roving eye and showed a distinct preference for their current partners. Earlier research had shown that prairie voles, which form life-long partnerships, had higher levels of receptors for the hormone vasopressin in an area of the brain called the ventral pallidum, than meadow voles. Introducing the gene increased the natural levels of the receptor and enhanced the meadow voles' ability to form pair bonds...

"It is intriguing," said Young, "to consider that individual differences in vasopressin receptors in humans might play a role in how differently people form relationships."

Open Source Officially Endorses Walker & Cromwell

Open Source Officially Endorses Walker & Cromwell
June 16th, 2004

Open Source is proud to back the candidacies of two area residents in their respective bids for the Missouri State House and Kansas State Senate.

Vicki Walker - 50th District (MO)
Thurston Cromwell - 7th District (KS)

Vicki Walker:
"It's time to give back. I believe in the idea of public service and the idea that one person can make a difference."

Her Record:
100% attendance at all committee and general session meetings.
100% pro-union voting record.
100% women's issues voting record.
100% environmental voting record.
100% pro-education voting record.

Thurston Cromwell:
"I am running for the open seat that is being vacated by Sen. David Adkins, a socially progressive Republican and great public servant. After the Kansas Legislature failed to properly fund our schools in the last session, I decided that I could no longer sit on the sidelines while the ultra-conservative faction in Topeka undermined the future prosperity of our state. I am an attorney and member of the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity. My wife, Tanya, and I live in Fairway with our son, Isaac."

Thurston Cromwell: 100% awesome.*

Best of luck to both Vicki & Thurston, and congratulations on receiving the inaugural endorsements of this site.

* As determined by Open Source's Awesomeness Meter, Patent Pending.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Lilli the Red Wins

He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword", says an ancient proverb - and it appears to have come true in modern Italy. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the man who controls over 90% of Italian television, has received one of the most humiliating beatings of his political career by a disgruntled TV anchorwoman.

Lilli Gruber, Italy's most famous newsreader who ran for the Olive Tree opposition coalition, got more than 236,000 votes - roughly twice as many as the premier in the capital, Rome. Ms Gruber, also known as "Lilli the Red" after her flame-red mane, heads a new breed of fierce opponents of the premier who have defected - or have been banished from - that very broadcasting world which is largely controlled by the media-magnate-turned-premier.

A hugely popular and well-respected journalist who acted as a correspondent from Baghdad during the war, she has infused fresh blood into the Olive Tree opposition coalition. The coalition, steered from afar by European Commission President Romano Prodi, has won 31% of the votes compared to the prime minister's Forza Italia, which reached a meagre 21% - less than the 25% minimum predicted by Mr Berlusconi.

The Olive Tree has long suffered from a lack of telegenic personalities able to challenge the prime minister's trademark 24-carat smile. But this trend has been reversed by the glamorous anchor, who, in popular surveys, has often topped the list of Italy's sexiest women.

Viewers were taken aback when Ms Gruber in May announced she was quitting her job as news presenter of Italy's main evening newscast after 20 years to run with the Olive Tree. In doing so, she accused the news programme she hosted of having been twisted to reflect Mr Berlusconi's views. She also voiced her unease after Freedom House, a New-York based think-tank, downgraded Italian media from "free" to "partly free", putting the country on a par with Turkey....

Over the past few months, an increasing number of journalists and show business people have been denouncing what they see as widespread forms of censorship within the national broadcaster, Rai. But by his actions, Mr Berlusconi has unintentionally breathed new life into a stagnating opposition coalition. Now that his popularity appears to be on the wane, he will have to thoroughly rethink his media strategy ahead of the 2006 general election.

Operation Slaps

Looking for Madam Tetrachromat

An interesting read, relating to stuff Dr. Morrow didn't mention in class:

Do mutant females walk among us?
December 4, 2000

"Oh, everyone knows my color vision is different," chuckles Mrs. M, a 57-year-old English social worker. "People will think things match, but I can see they don't." What you wouldn't give to see the world through her deep blue-gray eyes, if only for five minutes.

Preliminary evidence gathered at Cambridge University in 1993 suggests that this woman is a tetrachromat, perhaps the most remarkable human mutant ever identified. Most of us have color vision based on three channels; a tetrachromat has four.

The theoretical possibility of this secret sorority -- genetics dictates that tetrachromats would all be female -- has intrigued scientists since it was broached in 1948. Now two scientists, working separately, plan to search systematically for tetrachromats to determine once and for all whether they exist and whether they see more colors than the rest of us do. The scientists are building on a raft of recent findings about the biology of color vision.

Most people are trichromats, with retinas having three kinds of color sensors, called cone photopigments -- those for red, green, and blue. The 8 percent of men who are color-blind typically have the cone photopigment for blue but are either missing one of the other colors, or the men have them, in effect, for two very slightly different reds or greens. A tetrachromat would have a fourth cone photopigment, for a color between red and green.

Besides the philosophical interest in learning something new about perception, the brain, and the evolution of our species, finding a tetrachromat would also offer a practical reward. It would prove that the human nervous system can adapt to new capabilities. Flexibility matters greatly in a number of scenarios envisaged for gene therapy. For example, if someone with four kinds of color photopigments cannot see more colors than others, it would imply that the human nervous system cannot easily take advantage of genetic interventions.

For years now, scientists have known that some fraction of women have four different cone photopigments in their retinas. The question still remains, however, whether any of these females have the neural circuitry that enables them to enjoy a different -- surely richer -- visual experience than the common run of humanity sees.

There have been very few attempts to find Madam Tetrachromat. The one that turned up Mrs. M in England, in 1993, was led by Gabriele Jordan, then at Cambridge University and now at the University of Newcastle. She tested the color perception of 14 women who each had at least one son with a specific type of color blindness. She looked at those women because genetics implies that the mothers of color-blind boys may have genetic peculiarities of their own. Among that somewhat peculiar group of women, one could expect to find the odd tetrachromat.

It's almost as if the supersense these women enjoy comes at the expense of the men in their families. "I'm just sorry I've robbed my son of one of his color waves," Mrs. M says.

Dr. Jordan reports that of the fourteen test subjects in her study, two showed "exactly" the behavior that would be expected of tetrachromats. "It was very strong evidence for tetrachromacy," she adds. The apparent tetrachromats were Mrs. M, who was identified in the study as cDA1, and another candidate, cDA7.

Dr. Jordan set up an experiment in which subjects tried to determine whether a pair of colored lights matched. They used joysticks to blend two different wavelengths as they pleased. The resulting hues lay outside the spectrum of the blue photoreceptor, rendering it nearly useless, so that normal trichromats would have the use of only their red and green photoreceptors. Having hit upon a color, the subjects would then try to reproduce it by mixing two other wavelengths. Because the trichromats had the use of only two receptors, they found a whole slew of mixes that produced a matching color.

However, any tetrachromat should have been able to use three receptors in this color space, and therefore make a single, precise match. In the experiment, cDA1 and cDA7 performed pretty much as a tetrachromat would be expected to.

Nevertheless, Dr. Jordan declines to say that she has finally found a tetrachromat, partly because her testing is still a work in progress. The vast majority of us have no idea what tetrachromacy would be like. Anyone who had the supersense wouldn't know she did, let alone be able to describe it. After all, it is an exercise in futility for trichromats to try to explain their visual experience to color-blind people.

Dr. Neitz and Dr. Jordan each plan a more definitive search for tetrachromats. Dr. Neitz plans to take advantage of the fuller understanding of the underlying genetics of color vision. His will be the first experiment that will use genetic techniques to identify women with four different color photopigments.

What will he be looking for? Let's start with the basics. The genes for the red and green photopigments are adjacent to each other on the X chromosome; strangely, blue is way off by itself on another chromosome. Women, of course, have two X chromosomes and therefore two sets of red and green photopigment genes. Men have only one X, so they have just one shot at getting the red and green photopigment genes right.

Unfortunately for men, it turns out that those genes are prone to a kind of mutation that occurs when eggs are formed in a female embryo. When the eggs are created, the X chromosomes from the maternal grandmother and grandfather mix with each other in random places to make the egg's brand-new X chromosome. Because the genes for the red and green photopigments are right next to each other, those genes sometimes mix. That's perfectly normal. But every once in a while, the mixing occurs in a lopsided way, and the result, 30 years later, could very well be a man who has to check with his wife every time he dresses.

A lopsided mix can have three outcomes: (1) the egg in the embryo has an X chromosome that's missing either a red or a green photopigment gene, (2) the X chromosome has two slightly different red photopigment genes, or (3) the X chromosome has two slightly different green photopigment genes. In any of these cases, if that egg gets fertilized and becomes a male, the man will get that X chromosome and be color-blind.

Here it gets interesting. Suppose a woman inherits one X chromosome with two slightly different green photopigment genes. And let's say her other X chromosome has the normal complement of red and green photopigment genes. Because of a well-known biological phenomenon called X inactivation -- which causes some cells to rely on one X chromosome and others to rely on the other -- that woman's retinas would have four different types of photopigments: blue, red, green, and the slightly shifted green. (It would also be possible, through a different genetic sequence, to produce blue, green, red, and a shifted red.) X inactivation is only possible in women, so there has never been, and probably never will be, a male tetrachromat.

True tetrachromacy would require a few other characteristics in addition to retinas with four different photopigment receptors. For instance, there would have to be four neural channels to convey to the brain the sensory inputs from the four receptors, and the brain's visual cortex would have to be able to handle this four-channel system. If a woman were born with four types of photopigments, would her brain wire itself to take advantage of them? No one knows for sure, but some experts strongly suspect it would. "Yes, definitely," says Jeremy Nathans, a pioneer in color-vision research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. One reason to think so is the brain's great plasticity in other respects. People with special skills -- musicians, bilinguals, deaf people who learn sign language -- often show characteristic brain patterns.

Dr. Nathans also believes, however, that for full-blown tetrachromacy, the fourth photopigment must not have a peak in sensitivity that is too close to the peaks of either the red or the green photopigments. That's the rub, as far as he's concerned -- he suspects that most female tetrachromats would have only mildly superior color vision, because the genetics indicates that the fourth photopigment would almost always be very close to either the red or the green. Every now and then, however, an oddball photopigment might appear, well separated from both red and green. "The genetics do not rule it out," Dr. Nathans explains. "It would be a rare event. But who's to say it hasn't happened? There are a lot of people out there."

That idea finds support in the recent discoveries about the genetics of color vision, many made by Dr. Neitz's group. Those findings have shown that the genetics underlying color vision are surprisingly variable, even within the narrow range regarded as normal. "The variety in photopigment genes in people with normal color vision is enormous," Dr. Neitz reports. "It's enormous."

Would there be any practical advantages to tetrachromacy? Dr. Jordan notes that a mother could more easily spot when her children were pale or flushed, and therefore ill. Mrs. M reports that she has always been able to match even subtle colors from memory -- buying a bag, for example, to match shoes she hasn't laid eyes on for months. And computers, color monitors, and the Internet raise a whole raft of possibilities. Just as someone with normal three-color vision surfs rings around a dichromat on the Internet, a tetrachromat, looking at a special computer screen based on four primary colors rather than the standard three, could theoretically dump data into her head faster than the rest of us.

If Dr. Neitz or Dr. Jordan finally finds Madam Tetrachromat, the discovery will confirm that the human nervous system can handle four-channel color vision. And that confirmation would raise the possibility that, within a couple of decades, gene therapy will make tetrachromacy just another option that wealthy parents could check off on the list when they are designing their daughters.

It won't be possible with male children -- not for quite some time, anyway. So as long as we're on this flight of fancy, let's take one more short hop: a few decades from now, men and women will still be seeing the world differently. But the expression might not be merely figurative any more.

Headline of the Day


Grocery Chains Continue to Dis Poorer Neighborhoods

RHASHEEMA A. SWEETING, CHICAGO TRIBUNE - While Chicago's population is almost precisely divided into north and south along Madison Street, the division is far from equal when it comes to the 86 stores of major grocery chains such as Jewel-Osco, Aldi, Cub Foods and Dominick's. The North Side has 50 percent more such stores than the South Side, according to the not-for-profit Metropolitan Chicago Information Center research group. The result: Chicagoans with the least amount of disposable income shop at smaller neighborhood stores and pay considerably higher grocery prices than more affluent North Siders or suburbanites do.

Guilt By Association the Law in Naperville

TOM RYBARCZYK, CHICAGO TRIBUNE - In the last six months, Julie Beata, 19, said she has received two citations from Naperville police for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both times, said the North Central College freshman, she was picking up underage friends who had had a few drinks at a party. Beata was in violation of Naperville's presence restriction ordinance, said to be the first such law in the nation. The law allows non-drinkers under 21 to be ticketed if they are knowingly in the company of underage people drinking alcohol. . .

Recently, the 7-year-old law has come under fire after police invoked it to cite 47 people, including Beata, at a party near North Central's Naperville campus. . . The incident has raised the ire of some Naperville parents and lawmakers who see the law as discouraging young people from acting responsibly and turning down alcohol when their friends engage in the illegal behavior. Some legal experts question the law's constitutionality. . .

So far this year, Naperville police have issued 68 tickets for presence restriction violations. No accurate record exists for past years, because the City Council changed how police recorded the offense. In past years, the violation was considered an illegal possession of alcohol. . .

At least one local attorney has challenged the law and failed. Wheaton-based attorney Donald Ramsell said he filed a motion a few years ago in front of a DuPage County judge questioning the law on the basis that it violated an underage person's right to association. "It flies in the face of most criminal constitutional law," said Ramsell, a vice chairman of the Illinois State Bar Association's Traffic Law and Court's Council, who is defending a handful of clients ticketed with violating the presence restriction.