Thursday, February 22, 2007

Government sued for marijuana lies

Americans for Safe Access has just filed a lawsuit against the Dept of Health and Human Services over medical marijuana.

The Oakland-based organization seeks to stop the government from using taxpayer money to spread information about marijuana that contradicts current science.

“The FDA position on medical cannabis is incorrect, dishonest and a flagrant violation of laws requiring the government to base policy on sound science,” said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access.

The latest piece of a growing mountain of evidence about marijuana came just last week in a study conducted at UC San Francisco and published in the journal Neurology. The study found a dramatic reduction in pain for HIV patients who medicated with marijuana.

Prohibitionists attempt to punch holes in these studies by claiming everything from researcher bias to a flawed methodology. It is their cynicism that blinds them to the realities of cannabis as medicine. Before people started popping aspirin for pain around 1900, cannabis was America’s #1 painkiller. It was the active ingredient in over 60% of painkillers sold in the United States.

The idea that medical marijuana is just a Trojan horse for people wanting to get high obviously cannot be correct. Long before Americans were getting stoned, they were using cannabis as medicine every day.

The government is flatly lying about marijuana having no medical use. Many have been pointing this out privately for years. Today, Americans for Safe Access did something to try to fix the situation. They filed suit.

Having public policy that is grounded in fact and not merely for sale is in the best interest of everyone – marijuana user or not. Americans for Safe Access is working hard to force change on a failed and corrupt government policy and they deserve our help.

Scientifically challenged: "200 million Americans cannot read a simple story in the New York Times science section… or understand even the basics of D

Let’s start by focusing on the positive. In just 17 years, over 50 million people have been added to the rolls of Americans who can understand a newspaper story about science or technology, according to findings presented last weekend at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

Michigan State University political scientist Jon D. Miller, who conducted the study, attributed some of the increase in science literacy to colleges, many of which in recent years have required that students take at least one science course. Miller says people have also added to their understanding through informal learning: reading articles and watching science reports on television.

Okay, now let’s talk (dare I say rant?) about the 200 million Americans out there who cannot read a simple story in, say, Technology Review or the New York Times science section and understand even the basics of DNA or microchips or global warming.

This level of science illiteracy may explain why over 40 percent of Americans do not believe in evolution and about 20 percent, when asked if the earth orbits the sun or vice versa, say it’s the sun that does the orbiting--placing these people in the same camp as the Inquisition that punished Galileo almost 400 years ago. It also explains the extraordinary disconnect between scientists and much of the public over issues the scientists think were settled long ago--never mind newer discoveries and research on topics such as the use of chimeras to study cancer, or pills that may extend life span by 30 or 40 percent.

As Carl Sagan eloquently wrote in The Demon-Haunted World, ignorance reigns in our society at a moment when science is on the cusp of doing amazing and wonderful things, but also dangerous things. Ignorance, said Sagan, is not an option.

Indeed, given that we live in a culture based on science and technology, this situation is dangerous. It conjures the specter of a society in which a cadre of elites knows and understands the essentials of the science that underpins our civilization, while everyone else uses and depends on that science without having a clue. This scenario is troubling in a democracy that assumes a baseline of citizen knowledge. The outcome could be that the illiterates become so fearful of science and technology, so resentful of the exalted position of the elites, that they try to slow down the progress of science, or stop it altogether. Or the opposite could happen: the scientifically elite may grow frustrated with the illiterates and try to co-opt or even control them.

The forces of ignorance have squelched science across history, from the mob in ancient Alexandria, which chased the astronomer Aristarchus out of town for suggesting that the earth moved around the sun, to the present restrictions on federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research.

Elites’ exploiting their scientific knowledge for power is also not new. Mayan elites, for instance, used their extraordinary knowledge of mathematics, engineering, and astronomy to build great cities and temples--and sumptuous palaces for themselves--and to awe and control the masses through a religion that included ripping the hearts out of sacrificial victims. Europeans during the colonial era leveraged their advanced guns and ships into global empires at the expense of so-called “ignorant savages.”

One of Miller’s findings that may surprise many Americans is that Europeans and Japanese actually rate slightly lower in science literacy. To be sure, these same populations also have a much higher percentage of people who accept evolution and other basic scientific theories. America’s large population of conservative religious believers may be one reason for this discrepancy, although clearly there are hundreds of millions of people in the developed world who need education.

Perhaps we should launch a scientific literacy campaign like the mid-20th-century drive that nearly tripled the rate of basic literacy worldwide. The question is, does the public really want to know how gadgets run and how organisms work? And are scientists and those who control scientific knowledge willing to share--that is, to take the time, and perhaps give up some of their influence and access to knowledge?

In other words, is this seemingly global dilemma of science illiteracy fixable or not?

The Top Ten Most Misunderstood Movies Ever Made

We’re not talking about abstract, BS French art films or something. We’re talking Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, Scarface. The kind of movies that you assume you understand on a thematic level, but you really don’t. You need someone to clear things up for you: that’s why we’re here.

10. Pulp Fiction

What everyone thinks the message is: Tarantino values extreme violence and immoral, criminal characters

What it actually is: A selfish, violent life is one not worth living, and redemption is possible for anyone who wants it badly enough.

Most people who truly appreciate Pulp Fiction easily understand its message, but most of the twitchy, conservative, older generation who decried its violence and profanity completely missed the point. It’s easy to look at Pulp Fiction’s best scenes of violence and assume that Tarantino is glorifying the gangster lifestyle, until you consider that the only characters who end up living are the ones who (in some way or another) renounce their selfish ways and redeem themselves.
Plus, how can anyone watch Marcellus Wallace get anally raped and think that it glorifies the life of a criminal?

9. Jarhead

What everyone thinks the message is: War is really good! OR: War is really bad!

What it actually is: Respect your Marines.

Jarhead is a movie where you more or less get from it what you bring to it. If you are vehemently pro or anti-war, Jarhead will do nothing to change your mind in that respect. While the trailer made it seem like a modern Apocalypse Now – the gas mask football sequence seems a lot cooler when taken out of context – Jarhead strives only to tell the true story of what it it’s like to be a Marine. In this case, it involved a lot of waiting, masturbating, and getting cheated on by your girlfriend.

Kind of like high school.

8. Little Miss Sunshine

What everyone thinks the message is: Life sucks ass!

What it actually is: Life rules!

I didn’t say you had to agree with the true moral of every movie, especially considering how sappy and mainstream the otherwise-adequate Little Miss Sunshine is, but them’s the breaks.

Despite cramming as much forced familial dysfunction and philosophical cynicism as humanly possible into the first 90% of the movie, the writers make a complete 180 at the film’s climax and decide that, despite the fact that one of the characters is dead and the rest have had their lives ruined in literally every way conceivable, that life is actually pretty neat!

Even if your gay lover left you for someone who now has your job, and even if you can’t realize your dream of becoming a jet pilot due to biological defects beyond your control, and even if your self-help program didn’t sell (thus leaving you nearly bankrupt with two kids to support), everything can be okay if you dance!

If the movie had gone on for another week, most of the main characters would have committed suicide out of depression.

7. Raging Bull

What everyone thinks the message is: Determination and unwillingness to compromise can lead you to the top.

What it actually is: Don’t be an asshole.

In talking about Raging Bull, Scorsese frequently mentions La Strada, an old film of director Frederico Fellini. In it, an asshole strongman befriends a kind young girl, and then abandons her on the road where she later dies. Too late, the strongman realizes he’s made a horrendous mistake. THAT, in essence, is what Raging Bull is about.

If you have a friend who claims to be knowledgeable about movies, ask him what Raging Bull is about. If he says “it’s about the rise and fall of a boxer,” or if he talks about how the best part of the movie is the well-choreographed boxing scenes, then he’s an idiot and you should kick him in the penis.

If he says “it’s about a violent boxer whose intensity in the ring propels him to stardom, but whose same intensity in his private life drives away everyone he loves,” then you’re probably talking to me. In which case, you should probably give me money for my time.

6. Donnie Darko

What everyone thinks the message is: Donnie goes back in time and intentionally kills himself at the end, thus preventing all of the problems he causes later in life.

What it actually is: Donnie rips the engine off his mother’s plane and throws it through the time vortex making his death not an intentional desire to prevent his existence but rather a necessity in order for him to be sent to heaven and what the goddamn shit am I talking about?

Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding about Donnie Darko’s theme is the assumption that there is any theme at all. While emos have clutched onto this movie like their own cinematic Bible, and while it is an entertaining flick in its own right, a hard truth must be faced: if you watch the movie, and just the movie, and you think you’ve understood the plot, you are wrong. Very large, very important information pertaining to the movie is, for some reason, only available on the Donnie Darko website (which is structured more like an interactive game than a movie webpage).

Now, does that make the flick any less entertaining or weird or fun? No. But it does make whatever standalone message you thought you gleaned from the flick completely null and void.

5. The Searchers

What everyone thinks the message is: Nothing can break the bond between family, or the determination of one man’s love for his niece.

What it actually is: John Wayne hates himself some Injuns.

If you haven’t seen The Searchers in a really long time, you’ll probably remember it as a really great adventure story about some evil Indians and a heroic ex-soldier. And while it is a great adventure story, and a good movie in its own right, that’s not really what it’s about.

John Wayne, a racist ex-Confederate soldier, tracks down his kidnapped niece more out of hatred for Injuns than love for the girl. After finding out that she has become assimilated into their culture, Wayne seriously considers murdering her (against the wishes of his part-Indian nephew, who he pretty much treats like shit for the entire movie).

You may also remember a great tracking shot of Wayne riding through an Indian camp, pistols blazing in both hands. You may not remember the part right afterward where he grabs the incapacitated Indian Chief and then scalps him for his own enjoyment.

4. Casablanca

What everyone thinks the message is: Love conquers all, and saves the good guys from the harshness of war.

What it actually is: Love is a waste of time. Join the peace corps.

Rick makes Ilsa leave with Laszlo at the end of the movie. Period.

Everybody quotes the “you’ll regret it, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life” speech as if it was the most romantic thing in the world, but Bogie’s essentially telling Ingrid Bergman to get the fuck out while she still can. He figured she’d be better off as a freedom fighter in France than Humphrey’s bitch in Casablanca.

And yeah, his desire for her to have a better life is kinda sweet, but it’s hardly romantic. Romance would have been if he’d boarded the plane with her, instead of staying behind with the gay French cop and the dead German.

3. The Godfather

What everyone thinks the message is: The Mob values family above all else.

What it actually is: Violence is a vicious, inescapable cycle.

Hey, society, I’ve got an idea. Let’s ignore all the actual events of the Godfather and only quote certain things out of context! Like when Brando says that “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man”!

Ignoring, of course, the fact that Michael Corleone – who is initially the most levelheaded of the Corleone children – has no qualms whatsoever about killing his repentant brother-in-law Carlo or his misunderstanding, borderline-retarded brother Fredo. The whole point of all of the flashbacks in The Godfather Part II was to show that violence begets more violence: a crime lord kills Vito’s family, Vito joins the mob so he can go back and kill the crime lord, and his children have to inherit his legacy of violence (which is why Michael starts out as an upstanding marine and ends up claiming to renounce Satan at his nephew’s baptism while simultaneously killing the fuck out of the heads of the four other families).

Although, he DOES, technically, “spend time” with his family members. Right before he, you know. Kills them.

2. Gone With The Wind

What everyone thinks the message is: Nothing can stop love, or the will to survive.

What it actually is: Black people is dumb. The South shall rise again!

People heralded Hattie McDaniel’s Best Supporting Oscar win as a watershed moment in motion picture history: a moment that marked a more intelligent, more progressive Hollywood.

Too bad they gave her the award for playing a stupid, unrealistically kind slave woman.

Most of the troubles that Scarlett O’Hara faces in Gone With The Wind come from one of three sources: (1) The Civil War, (2) Postwar Carpetbaggers/Greedy Union Soldiers, and (3) Clark Gable’s dick. Two of these three problems go more or less unrecognized and unremembered in modern society.

While the film is pretty damn good, and does a fantastic job of developing the two leads (over the course of the movie, Scarlett goes from “prissy Southern bitch” to “prissy Southern bitch who doesn’t take shit from anyone”), nobody seems to remember the scene in which the Evil Union Soldier tries to rape Scarlett, forcing her to shoot him in self-defense. Or how grateful Mammy is to have such a kind, caring massuh in Miss Scawlett.

Appreciate the on-again-off-again-on-again relationship between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara all you like, just don’t forget that biggest problems these sympathetic, well-drawn characters have to deal with all come from evil men in blue uniforms who believed blacks should be free.

1. Scarface

What everyone thinks the message is: Tony Montana is awesome!

What it actually is: No, he isn’t!

If there is any cultural phenomenon more widespread or more infuriating than the wholesale misunderstanding of Scarface by the gangster rap community, I don’t know what it is. Either every copy of Scarface in the ghetto has the last half of the movie edited out, or America is dumber than anyone could have ever truly considered.

Wannabe gangstas(z) look at Tony Montana’s rise, and they think, “That’s me. He’s uncompromising, he’s ambitious, he’s intelligent, and he’s got morals. He is a product of his environment, but he’s made the most out of it and is a relative hero amongst villains.”

Then they look at Tony Montana’s fall, where he abandons his mother, loses Michelle Pfieffer, fucking murders his best friend, involuntarily gets his sister shot, and then gets blown in half by a shotgun, they think, “Let’s watch the first half again.”

Honestly, how ridiculous a world do we live in where an entire generational subgroup admires the aesthetics of a drug-fueled gangster flick, but not its overall message?

Not to mention, this general attitude led to the creation of the alternate-reality Scarface video game, where Tony survives the shootout.

But let’s not think about that right now.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years' War

The Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years' War (1651–1986) was a war between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly (located off the southwest coast of the United Kingdom). It is said to have been extended by the lack of a peace treaty for 335 years without a single shot being fired, which would make it one of the world's longest wars and the war with the fewest casualties. Despite the uncertain validity of the declaration of war, peace was finally declared in 1986.

The war


The origins of the war can be found in the Second English Civil War, fought between the Royalists and Parliamentarians from 1642 to 1652. Oliver Cromwell had fought the Royalists to the edges of the Kingdom of England. In the West of England this meant that Cornwall was the last Royalist stronghold. In 1648, Cromwell pushed on until mainland Cornwall was in the hands of the Parliamentarians.

The Royalists' major asset was the Navy, who had declared themselves for the Prince of Wales. The Royalist Navy was forced to retreat to the Isles of Scilly, which lie off the Cornish coast and were under the ownership of Royalist Sir John Grenville.

Dutch Navy alliance

The navy of the United Provinces of the Netherlands was allied with the Parliamentarians. The Netherlands had been assisted by the English under a number of rulers in the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648), starting with Queen Elizabeth I of England. The Treaty of Münster (January 30, 1648) had confirmed Dutch independence from Spain. The Netherlands sought to maintain their alliance with England and had chosen to ally with what seemed would be the victorious side in the Civil War.

The Dutch Navy was suffering heavy losses from the Royalist fleet based in Scilly. On 30 March 1651, Admiral Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp arrived in Scilly to demand reparation from the Royalist fleet for the Dutch ships and goods taken by them.

According to Whitelocke's Memorials (cited in Bowley, 2001), a letter of 17 April 1651 explains: "Tromp came to Pendennis and related that he had been to Scilly to demand reparation for the Dutch ships and goods taken by them; and receiving no satisfactory answer, he had, according to his Commission, declared war on them."

As most of England was now in Parliamentarian hands, war was declared specifically upon the Isles of Scilly.

Royalist surrender

In June 1651, soon after the declaration of war, the Parliamentarian forces under Admiral Robert Blake forced the Royalist fleet to surrender. The Netherlands fleet, no longer under threat, left without firing a shot. Due to the obscurity of one nation's declaration of war against a small part of another, the Dutch forgot to officially declare peace.

Peace treaty

In 1985, Roy Duncan, historian and Chairman of the Isles of Scilly Council, wrote to the Dutch Embassy in London to dispose of the "myth" that the islands were still at war. Embassy staff found the myth to be accurate and Duncan invited Ambassador Jonkheer (squire) Rein Huydecoper to visit the islands and sign a peace treaty. Peace was declared on April 17, 1986, 335 years after the war began.

Just a legend?

Bowley (2001) argues that the letter in Whitelock's Memorials is the probable origin of the 'declaring war' legend: "Tromp had no 'Commission' from his government to declare war on the rebels in Scilly; but he did come to try - by a show of force, threats and even by violence perhaps, although this never happened - to seek reparation for Royalist piracies, but short of resorting to any action which might offend the Commonwealth. ...even if [a war] had occurred in 1651, all matters pertaining would have been resolved in 1654 as a part of the treaty between England and the United Provinces at the end of the 1st Dutch War."

Anglo-Zanzibar War

The Anglo-Zanzibar War was fought between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar on 27 August 1896. With a duration of only 45 minutes, it holds the record of being the shortest war in recorded history.

The war broke out after Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini, who had willingly co-operated with the British colonial administration, died on 25 August 1896, and his nephew, Khalid bin Bargash, seized power in what amounted to a coup d'état. The British favoured another candidate, Hamud bin Muhammed, who they believed would be easier to work with, and delivered an ultimatum ordering Bargash to abdicate. Bargash refused, and instead assembled an army that consisted of about 2,800 men and the Sultan's former armed yacht H.H.S. Glasgow anchored in the harbour. While Bargash's troops set to fortifying the palace, the Royal Navy assembled five warships in the harbour in front of the palace (three modern cruisers, the Edgar class armoured cruiser HMS St George, the Pearl class protected cruiser HMS Philomel, the Archer class cruiser HMS Racoon, and two gunboats HMS Thrush; HMS Sparrow). The British also landed parties of Royal Marines to support the "loyalist" regular army of Zanzibar, numbering 900 men in two battalions led by General Lloyd Mathews, formerly a Royal Navy lieutenant.

Despite the Sultan's last-minute efforts to negotiate for peace via the U.S. representative on the island, the Royal Navy ships opened fire on the palace at 9 am on 27 August 1896 as soon as the ultimatum ran out. The Glasgow was soon sunk, and, with the palace falling down around him and escalating casualties, Bargash beat a hasty retreat to the German consulate where he was granted asylum. The shelling stopped after 45 minutes.

The British demanded that the Germans surrender the erstwhile Sultan to them, but he escaped to sea on 2 October 1896. He lived in exile in Dar es Salaam until captured by the British in 1916. He was later allowed to live in Mombasa where he died in 1927.

As a final act, Britain demanded payment from the Zanzibar government to pay for the shells fired on the country.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Maybe your english is better..? [image]

Study sees harmful hunt for extra oil

All the world’s extra oil supply is likely to come from expensive and environmentally damaging unconventional sources within 15 years, according to a detailed study.

This will mean increasing reliance on hard-to-develop sources of energy such as the Canadian oil sands and Venezuela’s Orinoco tar belt.

A report from Wood Mackenzie, the Edinburgh-based consultancy, calculates that the world holds 3,600bn barrels of unconventional oil and gas that need a lot of energy to extract.

So far only 8 per cent of that has begun to be developed, because the world has relied on easier sources of oil and gas.

Only 15 per cent of the 3,600bn is heavy and extra-heavy oil, with the rest being even more challenging.

The study makes clear the shift could come sooner than many people in the industry had expected, even though some major conventional oil fields will still be increasing their production in 2020. Those increases will not be enough to offset the decline at other fields.

“It becomes unclear beyond 2020 that conventional oil will be able to meet any of the demand growth,” Wood Mackenzie said. The report added that natural gas products such as liquids and condensate would also become important sources of growth.

The increasing reliance on unconventional oil will require a substantial reshaping of the energy industry.

Royal Dutch Shell and Total of Europe and ExxonMobil and Chevron, the US-based energy groups, have already begun to invest heavily in Canada and Venezuela.

Others – including Chinese energy groups – are looking at the possibility of extracting heavy oil from Madagascar.

On the gas front, Devon Energy last year spent $2.2bn (€1.7bn, £1.1bn) expanding its already sizeable position in Texas’s Barnett shale by acquiring Chief Oil and Gas. The development of such shale deposits is expected to help the US get 40 per cent of its production from unconventional sources by 2020.

But the challenge is huge, said Matthew Simmons, an industry banker who sent shock waves through the oil world when he questioned whether Saudi Arabia, the most important oil source, would be able to continue to expand production.

“The ability to extract this heavy oil in significant volumes is still non-existent,” he said in a recent speech.

“Worse, it takes vast quantities of scarce and valuable potable water and natural gas to turn unusable oil into heavy low-quality oil.”

“In a sense, this exercise is like turning gold into lead,” Mr Simmons said.

Australia bans traditional light bulbs

Australia has announced plans to ban traditional light bulbs in a move Prime Minister John Howard called a practical step toward slowing climate change.

Claiming a world first for a national government, Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said incandescent lightbulbs would be phased out by 2010 in favour of the more fuel-efficent compact fluorescent bulbs.

He said replacing the traditional coiled filament bulbs invented by Thomas Edison in the 19th century would cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by four million tonnes a year by 2015.

"If the whole world switches to these bulbs today, we would reduce our consumption of electricity by an amount equal to five times Australia's annual consumption of electricity," Turnbull said.

"The climate change challenge is a global one. I encourage other countries to follow Australia's lead and make the switch to more energy efficient products like compact fluorescent light bulbs."

Turnbull said the traditional light bulb's lack of efficiency was reflected in the heat it wasted when switched on.

"A normal light bulb is too hot to hold. That heat is wasted and globally represents millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide that needn’t have been emitted into the atmosphere if we had used more efficient forms of lighting," he said.

"These more efficient lights, such as the compact fluorescent light bulb, use around 20 percent of the electricity to produce the same amount of light."

Conservative leader Howard, who has softened his sceptical stance on global warming as an election looms later this year and opinion polls show high voter concern on the issue, said he was a "climate change realist".

"I think some of the stuff that's around at the moment is too alarmist," he said. "But on the other hand I think the evidence is very strong that mankind has made a contribution to the warming of our globe."

Howard said households would benefit from the switch to the high-tech fluorescent bulbs.

"They'll be a bit dearer to start off with but over time they'll be less expensive and they'll last four to 10 times longer.

"We need to take practical measures in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Green groups and the opposition Labor Party welcomed the move but said the government needed to examine more meaningful ways to reduce global warming, including signing the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.

"The major producers of greenhouse gas emissions in this country are not individuals, they're governments and business," opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett said.

Australia is believed to be the first national government to look at banning tradtional lightbulbs, although lawmaker Lloyd Levine proposed similar legistion in the US state of California last month.

US energy policy think-tank the Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that replacing a 75-watt incandescent light bulb with a 20-watt compact fluorescent saves 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) of carbon dioxide over the life of the bulb.

The institute said the average life of a 75-watt incandescent bulb is roughly 750 hours, while the life of an energy-efficient bulb is 10,000 hours.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Celebrities Vs. Animals

Man gets 3 months jail for honor-killing his sister

A Jordanian who killed his divorced sister over rumors that she had a lover was cleared of premeditated murder because he acted in a "fit of rage," after his family dropped charges, the Jordan Times reported Thursday.

The verdict was handed down Wednesday, five months after the 19-year-old university student shot to death his 22-year-old sister, 10 minutes after he was told that she had a lover out of wedlock, it said, quoting court papers.

The student, whose name was not disclosed, received a three-month jail sentence and walked free for time already served.

"The 10-minute interval between hearing of his sister's immoral actions and meeting her face-to-face is proof that he did not plot the murder," a court statement said.

The young man had turned himself in to the police after the murder claiming that he acted to "cleanse the family's honor" and initially received a six-month prison sentence.

But the court slashed the verdict by half and changed the charge from premeditated murder to a misdemeanor "because the defendant killed his sister in a fit of rage," in line with Article 98 of the penal code, the daily said.

It also argued that the "victim brought disgrace to her family and the defendant and tarnished their honor [because] her actions were against religion and social norms" in the conservative Muslim country.

The court said that it also opted for a reduced sentence "because his family dropped the charges against him and because he is a student."

Medical sources quoted by the Jordan Times, however, said that an autopsy performed on the victim after the murder showed that the woman had not been sexually active before she was killed.

But the court countered: "It is possible the victim had changed her clothes ... before she was killed to hide evidence that would show she was engaged in an illegitimate affair."

In 2006, at least 12 women were killed in similar "honor crimes" in Jordan.

Typically the killers go unpunished or are handed reduced sentences, often with little or no jail time.

Jordan's parliament has twice rejected proposed changes to the penal code that would impose harsher sentences on "honor killers," despite campaigns by human rights activists.

So Beautiful, So Disturbing

I wake. For a moment, I stare at the ceiling trying to remember something. Something important. Something important happened last night, but the details escape me. Something fascinating yet sinister, like touring the CIA offices. Something exotic yet somehow familiar, like putting hot sauce on meatloaf. I wonder if I have a hangover. I wonder why I am thinking about the CIA and meatloaf. I roll onto my side.

There is a strange woman in bed with me.

A lot of things happen at once. First, I realize that this is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I am a lucky, lucky man. Second, I realize that this is not my wife, and I panic. Third, I realize that she's awake, has been watching me sleep. Fourth, before I can really react to thoughts 1 and 2, she smiles at me and speaks with a lovely accent I can't quite place: "So. You like new wife, yes? Yes. Up now, I make breakfast."

She gets out of bed and stretches, perfect curves sliding under silky lingerie and momentarily making me forget about breakfast, meatloaf, and whoever it was I was married to before last night. She seems to know this, and smiles at me again, but apparently she's serious about making breakfast. She turns and strides confidently from the room. As she does, I see for the first time the large Microsoft logo splayed across her back. My stomach lurches as I suddenly remember everything.

Windows Vista. I bought a new computer yesterday... and it came with Windows Vista.

I feel sick, but there's nothing for it but to get up. I step into the hallway and realize that she has remodeled the entire house. I really like the bathroom, it's very modern and artistic. As I shower I discover that the acoustics are absolutely perfect. I dry off with a giant fluffy towel and think to myself that this can't be all bad.

I return to the bedroom to dress. She has set out clothes for me. I am startled to discover that they're fresh from the dryer, warm and soft and smelling faintly of fabric softener. The jeans and shirt are a new style for me, but they feel fantastic as I pull them on, comfortable and loose in all the right places. As I look myself up and down in the full-length mirror, I realize that I look really good dressed like this. You hardly even notice the logo.

It takes me five full minutes to realize that my wallet and glasses are missing. They're not on the nightstand or the dresser. Well, maybe she put them someplace when she exchanged my clothes. I head downstairs to ask her.

The question dies on my lips as I reach the foyer. First off, my house now has a foyer. Sunlight streams in through thousands of cut facets. There is so much glass I almost wonder if there are walls. White tile stretches across the floor, forming a beautiful backdrop for stunning furniture and art. My house now has art in it. And there, by the front door, stands my beautiful new bride, smiling fondly at me as she silently throttles the paperboy.

The world goes dark and my vision becomes a tunnel. I see the paperboy, pinned to the wall. Her impossibly strong hands around his throat, squeezing. His feet are kicking--she has lifted him off the floor by his neck. He looks desperately at me, eyes wide in terror, mouth opening and closing but unable to make a sound. My lovely wife smiles again and says, "This paperboy needs your permission to continue."

Numbly, I nod my head. Instantly she releases the paperboy. He coughs once, then stands up and smiles as if nothing has happened. He hands me the paper and leaves. Still dumbfounded, I watch silently as she pads softly to the kitchen and begins cooking.

After several minutes I realize that I am just standing there, watching her. I am still shaking, but she is so beautiful... so beautiful it makes my chest ache. I continue staring until the shaking goes away. Eventually I drag myself from my reverie, but it is not easy. I decide to try conversation.

"Oh, when I was dressing, I noticed that my wallet and glasses are gone. Did you move them? Where are they?"

"Glasses?" she asks in reply. "...wallet?"

"Yeah, so I can do stuff."

"I can do stuff," she says. "With me, you can do more."

"Uh, yeah... but I really need my glasses."

She smiles at me thoughtfully. I smile back, but slowly I realize that she's not going to answer me. After several seconds of standing there looking beautiful, she turns back to the stove and resumes cooking.

"Okay," I announce. "I'll find them myself." Immediately she jumps in front of me.

"You would like help finding something? I have many new ways to search."

Ooookay. Kind of creepy, but... "Yeah. Where are my glasses?"


"Yes. Oh, okay. Look, what I want is to see the screen resolution."

She turns and goes straight to a cupboard. "Resolution is in cupboard seven. Appearance and Personalization, Adjust screen resolution. Also in cupboard nine, Ease of Access Center, Adjust screen resolution for reading."

"Oh, I see. It used to be I just right-clicked anywhere on the desktop and chose Properties. Cupboard seven, I guess. I just want to see what the current resolution is."

She listens dutifully but stares at me blankly.

"Well? Let's have a look. What is the resolution?"

She looks into cupboard seven. "You are using Gateway Widescreen LCD monitor and Norwood Micro LCD. I have set best resolutions for them. Would you like breakfast?"

"No, I want to know what the resolution is."

"It is the best for these monitors. They are side by side now. I can duplicate the same image on both of them if you want--"

"No! Just tell me what the resolution is! It's a brand-new monitor and I want to know what the native LCD resolution is! I don't want to change anything, I just want to know what you're doing with it!"

She continues to smile beautifully at me, but does nothing. It's as if she doesn't realize how frustrated I am. Or perhaps she cannot conceive the possibility of not satisfying me, of not being beautiful enough. I realize this is getting nowhere. I march past her and peer into the cupboard.

It is full of beautifully polished tools and devices, laid out in an aesthetically pleasing pattern. The pattern is strange to me but I can see that once I learn it it will be easier to find and use the tools I use most. It's annoying now, but I can already start to see how I could get used to this. At last I see my glasses on a back shelf, tucked out of the way. I reach in and pull them out.

Suddenly the world goes dark again. She has turned me around, her beautiful gaze locked with mine. I cannot breathe, and realize with horror that her perfect hands are closed about my throat. The world, so full of sound, goes eerily silent. I claw at her hands but they are unyielding. She smiles, as beautifully as always, and says, "Display Properties needs your permission to continue." Somehow I manage to nod or squeak out an affirmation, and she lets go. Color and sound return to the world as I fall to me knees, gasping for breath.

I stay down for several minutes, not daring to look up at her. She resumes cooking. I don't look up until I hear her setting the table. At last I climb to my feet and ask the only question I can think of.

"What's for breakfast?"

She smiles that perfect smile at me again and replies, "Meatloaf."

I look at the meatloaf. I look at her. I rub my neck and think of the CIA. I look at her again. She really is gorgeous.

"Oh, what the hell," I say as I sit down and grab the hot sauce. "I can get used to this."

How to greet an italian fascist (photo, 1938)

A giant M installed to greet Mussolini’s arrival in a small Piemonte village (Italy, 1938).

737 U.S. Military Bases = Global Empire

Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America's version of the colony is the military base; and by following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever more all-encompassing imperial "footprint" and the militarism that grows with it.

It is not easy, however, to assess the size or exact value of our empire of bases. Official records available to the public on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual inventories from 2002 to 2005 of real property it owns around the world, the Base Structure Report, there has been an immense churning in the numbers of installations.

The total of America's military bases in other people's countries in 2005, according to official sources, was 737. Reflecting massive deployments to Iraq and the pursuit of President Bush's strategy of preemptive war, the trend line for numbers of overseas bases continues to go up.

Interestingly enough, the thirty-eight large and medium-sized American facilities spread around the globe in 2005 -- mostly air and naval bases for our bombers and fleets -- almost exactly equals Britain's thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons at its imperial zenith in 1898. The Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD required thirty-seven major bases to police its realm from Britannia to Egypt, from Hispania to Armenia. Perhaps the optimum number of major citadels and fortresses for an imperialist aspiring to dominate the world is somewhere between thirty-five and forty.

Using data from fiscal year 2005, the Pentagon bureaucrats calculated that its overseas bases were worth at least $127 billion -- surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic products of most countries -- and an estimated $658.1 billion for all of them, foreign and domestic (a base's "worth" is based on a Department of Defense estimate of what it would cost to replace it). During fiscal 2005, the military high command deployed to our overseas bases some 196,975 uniformed personnel as well as an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employed an additional 81,425 locally hired foreigners.

The worldwide total of U.S. military personnel in 2005, including those based domestically, was 1,840,062 supported by an additional 473,306 Defense Department civil service employees and 203,328 local hires. Its overseas bases, according to the Pentagon, contained 32,327 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and 16,527 more that it leased. The size of these holdings was recorded in the inventory as covering 687,347 acres overseas and 29,819,492 acres worldwide, making the Pentagon easily one of the world's largest landlords.

These numbers, although staggeringly big, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally. The 2005 Base Structure Report fails, for instance, to mention any garrisons in Kosovo (or Serbia, of which Kosovo is still officially a province) -- even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel built in 1999 and maintained ever since by the KBR corporation (formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root), a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation of Houston.

The report similarly omits bases in Afghanistan, Iraq (106 garrisons as of May 2005), Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, even though the U.S. military has established colossal base structures in the Persian Gulf and Central Asian areas since 9/11. By way of excuse, a note in the preface says that "facilities provided by other nations at foreign locations" are not included, although this is not strictly true. The report does include twenty sites in Turkey, all owned by the Turkish government and used jointly with the Americans. The Pentagon continues to omit from its accounts most of the $5 billion worth of military and espionage installations in Britain, which have long been conveniently disguised as Royal Air Force bases. If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas, but no one -- possibly not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure.

In some cases, foreign countries themselves have tried to keep their U.S. bases secret, fearing embarrassment if their collusion with American imperialism were revealed. In other instances, the Pentagon seems to want to play down the building of facilities aimed at dominating energy sources, or, in a related situation, retaining a network of bases that would keep Iraq under our hegemony regardless of the wishes of any future Iraqi government. The U.S. government tries not to divulge any information about the bases we use to eavesdrop on global communications, or our nuclear deployments, which, as William Arkin, an authority on the subject, writes, "[have] violated its treaty obligations. The U.S. was lying to many of its closest allies, even in NATO, about its nuclear designs. Tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, hundreds of bases, and dozens of ships and submarines existed in a special secret world of their own with no rational military or even 'deterrence' justification."

In Jordan, to take but one example, we have secretly deployed up to five thousand troops in bases on the Iraqi and Syrian borders. (Jordan has also cooperated with the CIA in torturing prisoners we deliver to them for "interrogation.") Nonetheless, Jordan continues to stress that it has no special arrangements with the United States, no bases, and no American military presence.

The country is formally sovereign but actually a satellite of the United States and has been so for at least the past ten years. Similarly, before our withdrawal from Saudi Arabia in 2003, we habitually denied that we maintained a fleet of enormous and easily observed B-52 bombers in Jeddah because that was what the Saudi government demanded. So long as military bureaucrats can continue to enforce a culture of secrecy to protect themselves, no one will know the true size of our baseworld, least of all the elected representatives of the American people.

In 2005, deployments at home and abroad were in a state of considerable flux. This was said to be caused both by a long overdue change in the strategy for maintaining our global dominance and by the closing of surplus bases at home. In reality, many of the changes seemed to be determined largely by the Bush administration's urge to punish nations and domestic states that had not supported its efforts in Iraq and to reward those that had. Thus, within the United States, bases were being relocated to the South, to states with cultures, as the Christian Science Monitor put it, "more tied to martial traditions" than the Northeast, the northern Middle West, or the Pacific Coast. According to a North Carolina businessman gloating over his new customers, "The military is going where it is wanted and valued most."

In part, the realignment revolved around the Pentagon's decision to bring home by 2007 or 2008 two army divisions from Germany -- the First Armored Division and the First Infantry Division -- and one brigade (3,500 men) of the Second Infantry Division from South Korea (which, in 2005, was officially rehoused at Fort Carson, Colorado). So long as the Iraq insurgency continues, the forces involved are mostly overseas and the facilities at home are not ready for them (nor is there enough money budgeted to get them ready).

Nonetheless, sooner or later, up to 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members will have to be accommodated within the United States. The attendant 2005 "base closings" in the United States are actually a base consolidation and enlargement program with tremendous infusions of money and customers going to a few selected hub areas. At the same time, what sounds like a retrenchment in the empire abroad is really proving to be an exponential growth in new types of bases -- without dependents and the amenities they would require -- in very remote areas where the U.S. military has never been before.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was obvious to anyone who thought about it that the huge concentrations of American military might in Germany, Italy, Japan, and South Korea were no longer needed to meet possible military threats. There were not going to be future wars with the Soviet Union or any country connected to any of those places.

In 1991, the first Bush administration should have begun decommissioning or redeploying redundant forces; and, in fact, the Clinton administration did close some bases in Germany, such as those protecting the Fulda Gap, once envisioned as the likeliest route for a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. But nothing was really done in those years to plan for the strategic repositioning of the American military outside the United States.

By the end of the 1990s, the neoconservatives were developing their grandiose theories to promote overt imperialism by the "lone superpower" -- including preventive and preemptive unilateral military action, spreading democracy abroad at the point of a gun, obstructing the rise of any "near-peer" country or bloc of countries that might challenge U.S. military supremacy, and a vision of a "democratic" Middle East that would supply us with all the oil we wanted. A component of their grand design was a redeployment and streamlining of the military. The initial rationale was for a program of transformation that would turn the armed forces into a lighter, more agile, more high-tech military, which, it was imagined, would free up funds that could be invested in imperial policing.

What came to be known as "defense transformation" first began to be publicly bandied about during the 2000 presidential election campaign. Then 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq intervened. In August 2002, when the whole neocon program began to be put into action, it centered above all on a quick, easy war to incorporate Iraq into the empire. By this time, civilian leaders in the Pentagon had become dangerously overconfident because of what they perceived as America's military brilliance and invincibility as demonstrated in its 2001 campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda -- a strategy that involved reigniting the Afghan civil war through huge payoffs to Afghanistan's Northern Alliance warlords and the massive use of American airpower to support their advance on Kabul.

In August 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld unveiled his "1-4-2-1 defense strategy" to replace the Clinton era's plan for having a military capable of fighting two wars -- in the Middle East and Northeast Asia -- simultaneously. Now, war planners were to prepare to defend the United States while building and assembling forces capable of "deterring aggression and coercion" in four "critical regions": Europe, Northeast Asia (South Korea and Japan), East Asia (the Taiwan Strait), and the Middle East, be able to defeat aggression in two of these regions simultaneously, and "win decisively" (in the sense of "regime change" and occupation) in one of those conflicts "at a time and place of our choosing."As the military analyst William M. Arkin commented, "[With] American military forces ... already stretched to the limit, the new strategy goes far beyond preparing for reactive contingencies and reads more like a plan for picking fights in new parts of the world."

A seemingly easy three-week victory over Saddam Hussein's forces in the spring of 2003 only reconfirmed these plans. The U.S. military was now thought to be so magnificent that it could accomplish any task assigned to it. The collapse of the Baathist regime in Baghdad also emboldened Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to use "transformation" to penalize nations that had been, at best, lukewarm about America's unilateralism -- Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Turkey -- and to reward those whose leaders had welcomed Operation Iraqi Freedom, including such old allies as Japan and Italy but also former communist countries such as Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. The result was the Department of Defense's Integrated Global Presence and Basing Strategy, known informally as the "Global Posture Review."

President Bush first mentioned it in a statement on November 21, 2003, in which he pledged to "realign the global posture" of the United States. He reiterated the phrase and elaborated on it on August 16, 2004, in a speech to the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Cincinnati. Because Bush's Cincinnati address was part of the 2004 presidential election campaign, his comments were not taken very seriously at the time. While he did say that the United States would reduce its troop strength in Europe and Asia by 60,000 to 70,000, he assured his listeners that this would take a decade to accomplish -- well beyond his term in office -- and made a series of promises that sounded more like a reenlistment pitch than a statement of strategy.

"Over the coming decade, we'll deploy a more agile and more flexible force, which means that more of our troops will be stationed and deployed from here at home. We'll move some of our troops and capabilities to new locations, so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats. ... It will reduce the stress on our troops and our military families. ... See, our service members will have more time on the home front, and more predictability and fewer moves over a career. Our military spouses will have fewer job changes, greater stability, more time for their kids and to spend with their families at home."

On September 23, 2004, however, Secretary Rumsfeld disclosed the first concrete details of the plan to the Senate Armed Services Committee. With characteristic grandiosity, he described it as "the biggest re-structuring of America's global forces since 1945." Quoting then undersecretary Douglas Feith, he added, "During the Cold War we had a strong sense that we knew where the major risks and fights were going to be, so we could deploy people right there. We're operating now [with] an entirely different concept. We need to be able to do [the] whole range of military operations, from combat to peacekeeping, anywhere in the world pretty quickly."

Though this may sound plausible enough, in basing terms it opens up a vast landscape of diplomatic and bureaucratic minefields that Rumsfeld's militarists surely underestimated. In order to expand into new areas, the Departments of State and Defense must negotiate with the host countries such things as Status of Forces Agreements, or SOFAs, which are discussed in detail in the next chapter. In addition, they must conclude many other required protocols, such as access rights for our aircraft and ships into foreign territory and airspace, and Article 98 Agreements. The latter refer to article 98 of the International Criminal Court's Rome Statute, which allows countries to exempt U.S. citizens on their territory from the ICC's jurisdiction.

Such immunity agreements were congressionally mandated by the American Service-Members' Protection Act of 2002, even though the European Union holds that they are illegal. Still other necessary accords are acquisitions and cross-servicing agreements or ACSAs, which concern the supply and storage of jet fuel, ammunition, and so forth; terms of leases on real property; levels of bilateral political and economic aid to the United States (so-called host-nation support); training and exercise arrangements (Are night landings allowed? Live firing drills?); and environmental pollution liabilities.

When the United States is not present in a country as its conqueror or military savior, as it was in Germany, Japan, and Italy after World War II and in South Korea after the 1953 Korean War armistice, it is much more difficult to secure the kinds of agreements that allow the Pentagon to do anything it wants and that cause a host nation to pick up a large part of the costs of doing so. When not based on conquest, the structure of the American empire of bases comes to look exceedingly fragile.

Congressman says evolution is a myth spread by Jews

Have you heard? Evolution was spread by Jews in order to bring Christians to the devil.

Well that’s what Rep. Ben Bridges (R-GA) believes anyways.

In a memo sent to lawmakers in California and Texas:

“Indisputable evidence - long hidden but now available to everyone - demonstrates conclusively that so-called ’secular evolution science’ is the Big Bang, 15-billion-year, alternate ‘creation scenario’ of the Pharisee Religion,” the memo said. “This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the mystic ‘holy book’ Kabbala dating back at least two millennia.”

Now I wasn’t aware that Darwin was able to time travel– I guess that’s another strike against him because that’d make him a witch or something.

And you tell me that Christians are the most discriminated group of people in the United States?

Give me a break. This is an elected official in Congress– he represents people– spreading hatred and ignorance. Am I the only one who sees why this may be a problem?

But it gets worse, the memo was circulated by another elected official in Texas.The memo directs people to the Fair Education Foundation, a group in Georgia, and gave its Web address, The site features items belittling the Holocaust and portraying Earth as stationary as depicted in the Bible, with Jewish thinkers like “Kabbalist physicist Albert Einstein” responsible for contrary scientific theories.

The Jewish watchdog group the Anti-Defamation League condemned the memo calling it “highly offensive.”

Yes, let’s blame the Jews for being intellectuals and for actually accepting the world around them for what it is.

Yes, let’s insult those who believe in evolution by calling them Jews.

I don’t get it, were the words meant as an insult?

Was it meant as a strike against Judaism and a way to preserve “traditional” Christian values?

I really do not understand where these lawmakers are coming from.

It just proves how desperate some people in religion can be in order to preserve a point that doesn’t hold up to common sense.

It’s sad really.

Do you like to use the bible as an excuse to do things?

Laura Schlessinger is a US radio personality who dispenses advice And usually
scoldings to people who call in to her radio show. Recently, she said that
to an Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus
18:22 and cannot be condoned in any circumstance.

The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a US resident and also
posted on the internet:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have
learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with
as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual
lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly
states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific
laws and how to follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing
odour for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbours. They
claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus
21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is
in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is,
how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and
female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations.
A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not
Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2
clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill
him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an
abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I
don't agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a
defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my
vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair
around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden
by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me
unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two
different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments
made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend).
He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that
we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone
them? (Lev.24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private
family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws?
(Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I
am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word
is eternal and unchanging. Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The irony of history: Black cop protecting KKK member [photo]

So you think your job sucks sometimes? Consider this Austin, Texas policeman charged with protecting this fine upstanding member of the community during a KKK rally as protestors were closing in on them in 1983. To protect and serve. You don't necessarily get to pick who you have to protect sometimes.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Idiot Shoots Self With Flare Gun

After watching this video of a guy accidentally shooting himself in the head with a flare gun I have two questions: How can he afford a $100,000 boat and how is it possible that someone this dumb is allowed to own a flare gun?

The best of soccer

Worst Commercial Ever

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Study: P2P effect on legal music sales "not statistically distinguishable from zer

A new study in the Journal of Political Economy by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf has found that illegal music downloads have had no noticeable effects on the sale of music, contrary to the claims of the recording industry.

Entitled "The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis," the study matched an extensive sample of music downloads to American music sales data in order to search for causality between illicit downloading and album sales. Analyzing data from the final four months of 2002, the researchers estimated that P2P affected no more than 0.7% of sales in that timeframe.

The study compared the logs of two OpenNAP P2P servers with sales data from Nielsen SoundScan, tracking the effects of 1.75 million songs downloads on 680 different albums sold during that same period. The study then took a surprising twist. Popular music will often have both high downloads and high sales figures, so what the researchers wanted was a way to test for effects on albums sales when file-sharing activity was increased on account of something other than US song popularity. Does the occasionally increased availability of music from Germany affect US sales?

The study looked at time periods when German students were on holiday after demonstrating that P2P use increases at these times. German users collectively are the #2 P2P suppliers, providing "about one out of every six U.S. downloads," according to the study. Yet the effects on American sales were not large enough to be statistically significant. Using this and several other methods, the study's authors could find no meaningful causality. The availability and even increased downloads of music on P2P networks did not correlate to a negative effect on music sales.

"Using detailed records of transfers of digital music files, we find that file sharing has had no statistically significant effect on purchases of the average album in our sample," the study reports. "Even our most negative point estimate implies that a one-standard-deviation increase in file sharing reduces an album's weekly sales by a mere 368 copies, an effect that is too small to be statistically distinguishable from zero."

The study reports that 803 million CDs were sold in 2002, which was a decrease of about 80 million from the previous year. The RIAA has blamed the majority of the decrease on piracy, and has maintained that argument in recent years as music sales have faltered. Yet according to the study, the impact from file sharing could not have been more than 6 million albums total in 2002, leaving 74 million unsold CDs without an excuse for sitting on shelves.

So what's the problem with music? The study echoes many of the observations you've read here at Ars. First, because the recording industry focuses on units shipped rather than sold, the decline can be attributed in part to reduced inventory. Gone are the days when Best Buy and others wanted a ton of unsold stock sitting around, so they order less CDs. The study also highlighted the growth in DVD sales during that same period as a possible explanation for why customers weren't opening their wallets: they were busy buying DVDs.

An experiment that hints we are wrong on climate change

When politicians and journalists declare that the science of global warming is settled, they show a regrettable ignorance about how science works. We were treated to another dose of it recently when the experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued the Summary for Policymakers that puts the political spin on an unfinished scientific dossier on climate change due for publication in a few months’ time. They declared that most of the rise in temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to man-made greenhouse gases.

The small print explains “very likely” as meaning that the experts who made the judgment felt 90% sure about it. Older readers may recall a press conference at Harwell in 1958 when Sir John Cockcroft, Britain’s top nuclear physicist, said he was 90% certain that his lads had achieved controlled nuclear fusion. It turned out that he was wrong. More positively, a 10% uncertainty in any theory is a wide open breach for any latterday Galileo or Einstein to storm through with a better idea. That is how science really works.

Twenty years ago, climate research became politicised in favour of one particular hypothesis, which redefined the subject as the study of the effect of greenhouse gases. As a result, the rebellious spirits essential for innovative and trustworthy science are greeted with impediments to their research careers. And while the media usually find mavericks at least entertaining, in this case they often imagine that anyone who doubts the hypothesis of man-made global warming must be in the pay of the oil companies. As a result, some key discoveries in climate research go almost unreported.

Enthusiasm for the global-warming scare also ensures that heatwaves make headlines, while contrary symptoms, such as this winter’s billion-dollar loss of Californian crops to unusual frost, are relegated to the business pages. The early arrival of migrant birds in spring provides colourful evidence for a recent warming of the northern lands. But did anyone tell you that in east Antarctica the Adélie penguins and Cape petrels are turning up at their spring nesting sites around nine days later than they did 50 years ago? While sea-ice has diminished in the Arctic since 1978, it has grown by 8% in the Southern Ocean.

When politicians and journalists declare that the science of global warming is settled, they show a regrettable ignorance about how science works. We were treated to another dose of it recently when the experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued the Summary for Policymakers that puts the political spin on an unfinished scientific dossier on climate change due for publication in a few months’ time. They declared that most of the rise in temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to man-made greenhouse gases.

The small print explains “very likely” as meaning that the experts who made the judgment felt 90% sure about it. Older readers may recall a press conference at Harwell in 1958 when Sir John Cockcroft, Britain’s top nuclear physicist, said he was 90% certain that his lads had achieved controlled nuclear fusion. It turned out that he was wrong. More positively, a 10% uncertainty in any theory is a wide open breach for any latterday Galileo or Einstein to storm through with a better idea. That is how science really works.

Twenty years ago, climate research became politicised in favour of one particular hypothesis, which redefined the subject as the study of the effect of greenhouse gases. As a result, the rebellious spirits essential for innovative and trustworthy science are greeted with impediments to their research careers. And while the media usually find mavericks at least entertaining, in this case they often imagine that anyone who doubts the hypothesis of man-made global warming must be in the pay of the oil companies. As a result, some key discoveries in climate research go almost unreported.

Enthusiasm for the global-warming scare also ensures that heatwaves make headlines, while contrary symptoms, such as this winter’s billion-dollar loss of Californian crops to unusual frost, are relegated to the business pages. The early arrival of migrant birds in spring provides colourful evidence for a recent warming of the northern lands. But did anyone tell you that in east Antarctica the Adélie penguins and Cape petrels are turning up at their spring nesting sites around nine days later than they did 50 years ago? While sea-ice has diminished in the Arctic since 1978, it has grown by 8% in the Southern Ocean.

Christina Aguilera Records Private Sex Track

Christina Aguilera may have come a long way from her "Dirrty" days, but the singer admits she still likes to get down and dirty behind closed doors and sing about raunchy subject matters.

Christina recently said she has recorded a song about oral sex but has vowed never to release it.

The singer revealed she laid down the X-rated track called "F*** You, Suck You" during one drunken night in the recording studio. And despite record producer Linda Perry's pleas, Christina says the only people who will get to hear the racy lyrics are her close friends.

Speaking at the Grammy Awards, she said, "We recorded it one night over whiskey in the studio. It's completely breathy. Linda wanted to put it out under someone else's name. But I play it when I have my friends over when we've had one too many and start rolling around the floor with each other."

The 26-year-old also confessed her own music is a turn-off when she is having sex with husband Jordan Bratman. She prefers the melancholic tones of British band Radiohead.

Christina explained, "I'd be too busy analyzing my own voice. I get very nitpicky. I like listening to Thom Yorke from Radiohead. That's good sexy-time music."

The raunchy star has previously revealed she tries to make love every day and made no secret of her openness to experimenting in the bedroom.

She said, "I'm a red blooded woman who doesn't feel guilty about making love. If a lover wants to experiment with handcuffs, then that's fair enough for me! What's the point of holding back that side of your personality if it's horny and turns you both on?"

Certain Windows Vista features will make your computer Less Reliable, Less Secure, Less Stable, Slower...

Windows Vista includes an array of "features" that you don't want. These features will make your computer less reliable and less secure. They'll make your computer less stable and run slower. They will cause technical support problems. They may even require you to upgrade some of your peripheral hardware and existing software. And these features won't do anything useful. In fact, they're working against you. They're digital rights management (DRM) features built into Vista at the behest of the entertainment industry.

And you don't get to refuse them.

The details are pretty geeky, but basically Microsoft has reworked a lot of the core operating system to add copy protection technology for new media formats like HD-DVD and Blu-ray disks. Certain high-quality output paths--audio and video--are reserved for protected peripheral devices. Sometimes output quality is artificially degraded; sometimes output is prevented entirely. And Vista continuously spends CPU time monitoring itself, trying to figure out if you're doing something that it thinks you shouldn't. If it does, it limits functionality and in extreme cases restarts just the video subsystem. We still don't know the exact details of all this, and how far-reaching it is, but it doesn't look good.

Microsoft put all those functionality-crippling features into Vista because it wants to own the entertainment industry. This isn't how Microsoft spins it, of course. It maintains that it has no choice, that it's Hollywood that is demanding DRM in Windows in order to allow "premium content"--meaning, new movies that are still earning revenue--onto your computer. If Microsoft didn't play along, it'd be relegated to second-class status as Hollywood pulled its support for the platform.

It's all complete nonsense. Microsoft could have easily told the entertainment industry that it was not going to deliberately cripple its operating system, take it or leave it. With 95% of the operating system market, where else would Hollywood go? Sure, Big Media has been pushing DRM, but recently some--Sony after their 2005 debacle and now EMI Group--are having second thoughts.

What the entertainment companies are finally realizing is that DRM doesn't work, and just annoys their customers. Like every other DRM system ever invented, Microsoft's won't keep the professional pirates from making copies of whatever they want. The DRM security in Vista was broken the day it was released. Sure, Microsoft will patch it, but the patched system will get broken as well. It's an arms race, and the defenders can't possibly win.

I believe that Microsoft knows this and also knows that it doesn't matter. This isn't about stopping pirates and the small percentage of people who download free movies from the Internet. This isn't even about Microsoft satisfying its Hollywood customers at the expense of those of us paying for the privilege of using Vista. This is about the overwhelming majority of honest users and who owns the distribution channels to them. And while it may have started as a partnership, in the end Microsoft is going to end up locking the movie companies into selling content in its proprietary formats.

We saw this trick before; Apple pulled it on the recording industry. First iTunes worked in partnership with the major record labels to distribute content, but soon Warner Music's CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. found that he wasn't able to dictate a pricing model to Steve Jobs. The same thing will happen here; after Vista is firmly entrenched in the marketplace, Sony's Howard Stringer won't be able to dictate pricing or terms to Bill Gates. This is a war for 21st-century movie distribution and, when the dust settles, Hollywood won't know what hit them.

To be fair, just last week Steve Jobs publicly came out against DRM for music. It's a reasonable business position, now that Apple controls the online music distribution market. But Jobs never mentioned movies, and he is the largest single shareholder in Disney. Talk is cheap. The real question is would he actually allow iTunes Music Store purchases to play on Microsoft or Sony players, or is this just a clever way of deflecting blame to the--already hated--music labels.

Microsoft is reaching for a much bigger prize than Apple: not just Hollywood, but also peripheral hardware vendors. Vista's DRM will require driver developers to comply with all kinds of rules and be certified; otherwise, they won't work. And Microsoft talks about expanding this to independent software vendors as well. It's another war for control of the computer market.

Unfortunately, we users are caught in the crossfire. We are not only stuck with DRM systems that interfere with our legitimate fair-use rights for the content we buy, we're stuck with DRM systems that interfere with all of our computer use--even the uses that have nothing to do with copyright.

I don't see the market righting this wrong, because Microsoft's monopoly position gives it much more power than we consumers can hope to have. It might not be as obvious as Microsoft using its operating system monopoly to kill Netscape and own the browser market, but it's really no different. Microsoft's entertainment market grab might further entrench its monopoly position, but it will cause serious damage to both the computer and entertainment industries. DRM is bad, both for consumers and for the entertainment industry: something the entertainment industry is just starting to realize, but Microsoft is still fighting. Some researchers think that this is the final straw that will drive Windows users to the competition, but I think the courts are necessary.

In the meantime, the only advice I can offer you is to not upgrade to Vista. It will be hard. Microsoft's bundling deals with computer manufacturers mean that it will be increasingly hard not to get the new operating system with new computers. And Microsoft has some pretty deep pockets and can wait us all out if it wants to. Yes, some people will shift to Macintosh and some fewer number to Linux, but most of us are stuck on Windows. Still, if enough customers say no to Vista, the company might actually listen.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Dog Hugs Baby

Why Christians are wrong to distrust atheists

Some time ago, Ronald Reagan pointed out that one couldn't trust the Soviet government because the Soviets didn't believe in God or in an afterlife and therefore had no reason to behave honorably, but would be willing to lie and cheat and do all sorts of wicked things to aid their cause. Naturally, I firmly believe that the president of the United States knows what he is talking about, so I've done my very best to puzzle out the meaning of that statement.

Let me begin by presenting this "Reagan Doctrine" (using the term with all possible respect): "No one who disbelieves in God and in an afterlife can possibly be trusted." If this is true (and it must be if the president says so), then people are just naturally dishonest and crooked and downright rotten. In order to keep them from lying and cheating every time they open their mouths, they must be bribed or scared out of doing so. They have to be told and made to believe that if they tell the truth and do the right thing and behave themselves, they will go to heaven and get to plunk a harp and wear the latest design in halos. They must also be told and made to believe that if they lie and steal and run around with the opposite sex, they are going to hell and will roast over a brimstone fire forever.

It's a little depressing, if you come to think of it. By the Reagan Doctrine, there is no such thing as a person who keeps his word just because he has a sense of honor. No one tells the truth just because he thinks that it is the decent thing to do. No one is kind because he feels sympathy for others, or treats others decently because he likes the kind of world in which decency exists.

Instead, according to the Reagan Doctrine, anytime we meet someone who pays his debts, or hands in a wallet he found in the street, or stops to help a blind man cross the road, or tells a casual truth -- he's just buying himself a ticket to heaven, or else canceling out a demerit that might send him to hell. It's all a matter of good, solid business practice; a matter of turning a spiritual profit and of responding prudently to spiritual blackmail.

Personally, I don't think that I -- or you -- or even president Reagan -- would knock down an old lady and snatch her purse the next time we're short a few bucks. If only we were sure of that heavenly choir, or if only we were certain we wouldn't get into that people-fry down in hell. But by the Reagan Doctrine, if we didn't believe in God and in an afterlife, there would be nothing to stop us, so l guess we all would.

But let's take the reverse of the Reagan Doctrine. If no one who disbelieves in God and in an afterlife can possibly be trusted, it seems to follow that those who do believe in God and in an afterlife can be trusted. Since the American government consists of god-fearing people who believe in an afterlife, it seems pretty significant that the Soviet Union nevertheless would not trust us any farther than they can throw an ICBM. Since the Soviets are slaves to godless communism, they would naturally think everyone else is as evil as they are. Consequently, the Soviet Union's distrust of us is in accordance with the Reagan Doctrine.

Yet there are puzzles. Consider Iran. The Iranians are a god-fearing people and believe in an afterlife, and this is certainly true of the mullahs and ayatollahs who comprise their government. And yet we are reluctant to trust them for some reason. President Reagan himself has referred to the Iranian leaders as "barbarians."

Oddly enough, the Iranians are reluctant to trust us, either. They referred to the ex-president (I forget his name for he is never mentioned in the media anymore) as the "Great Satan" and yet we all know that the ex- president was a born-again Christian.

There's something wrong here. god-fearing Americans and god-fearing Iranians don't trust each other and call each other terrible names. How does that square with the Reagan Doctrine?

To be sure, the God in whom the Iranians believe is not quite the God in whom we believe, and the afterlife they believe in is a little different from ours. There are no houris, alas, in our heaven. We call our system of belief Christianity and they call theirs Islam, and come to think of it, for something like twelve centuries, good Christians believed Islam was an invention of the devil and believers in Islam ("Moslems") courteously returned the compliment so that there was almost continuous war between them. Both sides considered it a holy war and felt that the surest way of going to heaven was to clobber an infidel. What's more, you didn't have to do it in a fair and honorable way, either. Tickets of admission just said, "Clobber!"

This bothers me a little. The Reagan Doctrine doesn't mention the variety of god or afterlife that is concerned. It doesn't indicate that it matters what you call God -- Allah, Vishnu, Buddha, Zeus, Ishtar. I don't think that president Reagan meant to imply a Moslem couldn't trust a Shintoist or that a Buddhist couldn't trust a Parsee. I think it was just the godless Soviets he was after.

Yet perhaps he was just being cautious in not mentioning the fact that the variety of deity counted. But even if that were so there are problems.

For instance, the Iranians are Moslems and the Iraqi are Moslems. Both are certain that there is no god but Allah and that Mohammed is his prophet and believe it with all their hearts. And yet, at the moment, Iraq doesn't trust Iran worth a damn, and Iran trusts Iraq even less than that. If fact, Iran is convinced that Iraq is in the pay of the Great Satan (that's god-fearing America, in case you've forgotten) and Iraq counters with the accusation that it is Iran who is in the pay of the great Satan. Neither side is accusing the godless Soviets of anything, which is a puzzle.

But then, you know, they are Moslems and perhaps we can't just go along with any old god. I can see why Reagan might not like to specify, since it might not be good presidential business to offend the billions of people who are sincerely religious but lack the good taste to be Christians. Still, just among ourselves, and in a whisper, perhaps the only people you can really trust are good Christians.

Yet even that raises difficulties. For instance, I doubt that anyone can seriously maintain that the Irish people are anything but god-fearing, and certainly they don't have the slightest doubts concerning the existence of an afterlife. Some are Catholics and some are Protestants, but both of these Christian varieties believe in the Bible and in God and in Jesus and in heaven and in hell. Therefore, by the Reagan Doctrine, the people of Ireland should trust each other.

Oddly enough, they don't. In Northern Ireland there has been a two-sided terrorism that has existed for years and shows no sign of ever abating. Catholics and Protestants blow each other up every chance they get and there seems to be no indication of either side trusting the other even a little bit.

But then, come to think of it, Catholics and Protestants have had a thing about each other for centuries. They have fought each other, massacred each other, and burned each other at the stake. And at no time was this conflict fought in a gentlemanly, let's-fight-fair manner. Any time you caught a heretic or an idolater (or whatever nasty name you wanted to use) looking the other way, you sneaked up behind him and bopped him and collected your ticket to heaven.

We can't even make the Reagan Doctrine show complete sense here in the United States. Consider the Ku Klux Klan. They don't like the Jews or the Catholics, but then, the Jews don't accept Jesus and the Catholics do accept the Pope, and these fine religious distinctions undoubtedly justify distrust by a narrow interpretation of the Reagan Doctrine. The protestant Ku Klux Klan can only cotton to Protestants.

Blacks, however, are predominantly protestant, and of southern varieties, too, for that is where their immediate ancestors learned their religion. Ku Kluxers and Blacks have very similar religions and therefore even by a narrow interpretation of the Reagan Doctrine should trust each other. It is difficult to see why they don't.

What about the Moral Majority? They're absolute professionals when it comes to putting a lot of stock in God and in an afterlife. They practice it all day, apparently. Naturally, they're a little picky. One of them said that God didn't listen to the prayers of a Jew. Another refused to share a platform with Phyllis Schlafly, the moral majority's very own sweetheart, because she was a Catholic. Some of them don't even require religious disagreements, just political ones. They have said that one can't be a liberal and a good Christian at one and the same time so that if you don't vote right, you are going straight to hell whatever your religious beliefs are. Fortunately, at every election they will tell you what the right vote is so that you don't go to hell by accident.

Perhaps we shouldn't get into the small details, though. The main thing is that the Soviet Union is Godless and, therefore, sneaky, tricky, crooked, untrustworthy, and willing to stop at nothing to advance their cause. The United States is god-fearing and therefore forthright, candid, honest, trustworthy, and willing to let their cause lose sooner than behave in anything but the most decent possible way.

It bothers the heck out of me therefore that there's probably not a country in the world that doesn't think the United States, through the agency of the CIA and its supposedly underhanded methods, has upset governments in Guatemala, Chile, and Iran (among others), has tried to overthrow the Cuban government by a variety of economic, political, and even military methods, and so on. In every country, you'll find large numbers who claim that the United States fought a cruel and unjust war in Vietnam and that it is the most violent and crime-ridden nation in the world.

They don't seem to be impressed by the fact that we're god-fearing.

Next they'll be saying that Ronald Reagan (our very own president) doesn't know what he's talking about.