Saturday, March 26, 2005



I have a post about Belgian aristocracy?? Apparently.



Cooking tip

Water takes a long time to boil if you haven't put it in the pot. It doesn't cook any faster if you have also fogotten to put the pot on the stove.



Starve or vote

Sounds like they need a maize revolution.


PS: When I read this I have a strong desire to put my fist through something.

With an embarrassed smile Million Ndlovu admits that he has begun eating okra. Zimbabwean men say it is a "weak" vegetable, because of the slimy liquid it exudes when cooked, and think that by eating it they, too, will become weak.

But now men like Mr Ndlovu have no choice. He eats okra and picks weeds from the fields to boil into a sauce, and drinks tea to fill his stomach when there is nothing solid to eat.

The rains have not fallen and his village's maize crops have shrivelled in the fields. But that is not why he is hungry.

As Thursday's parliamentary election approaches, the government has taken sole control of food distribution in rural areas.

These elections, observers say, will bring less of the outright brutality that scarred previous polls. Instead, according to accounts given to the Guardian, the government party, Zanu-PF, is offering villagers a simple choice - vote for us or starve.

In Mr Ndlovu's village, east of Bulawayo, people pooled money to buy maize flour from the state-owned grain marketing board. Last Saturday the food arrived.

Mr Ndlovu, 62, said: "Sitting on top of the heap of maize [sacks] was the district chairman of Zanu-PF. He said that maize would be distributed to supporters of Zanu-PF only - not to supporters of the MDC [the opposition Movement for Democratic Change]."

Each villager who reached the head of the queue was given a 50kg (110lb) sack of maize, said Mr Ndlovu. But anyone believed to support the opposition was ordered to leave.

"It was announced that MDC supporters should go out of the queue so as not to be embarrassed," he said. "But I stayed in the queue because I was hungry."

Instead of a sack of maize Mr Ndlovu, an MDC voter, was given back the 37,000 Zimbabwean dollars [now equivalent to only £3.25] he had put down as an advance payment three months ago.

Now he survives on one proper meal a day. "In the mornings we take tea. In the afternoons, when the children come home from school, we take tea. In the evenings we have some sadza [maize porridge]. (Link)


Tsunami kills more women than men

This comment is cold, but the tsunami killed so many people that statistics on this study are probably quite good.


Up to four times as many women as men died in the Boxing Day Asian tsunami, according to a report published today by Oxfam International.

In four villages surveyed by the aid agency in the badly hit district of North Aceh in Indonesia, an average of 77% of the fatalities were women. In the worst affected village, Kuala Cangkoy, the proportion rose to 80%.

Data collected from Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu state in southern India produced a figure of 73% female fatalities. In Sri Lanka, information was hard to confirm but anecdotal evidence suggested about two thirds of those who died were women.

The reasons vary, but among the common factors is that many men were out fishing or away from home, so had more opportunity to flee the tsunami. In general, men could run faster to escape the water and those caught in the sea used their greater strength to survive by clinging on to debris.

In Aceh, the Indonesian province that bore the brunt of the disaster, many men have moved away from the province, which is beset by a separatist insurgency, to find work. Women, in contrast, were at home, and efforts to save their children slowed their flight.

In Indian coastal communities, women traditionally wait on the beaches to unload the fish from the boats.

In Sri Lanka, researchers found few women could swim or climb trees.

As communities today mark the three-month anniversary of the tsunami, Oxfam's report warns of significant social disruption and exploitation of the women who remain in the affected communities. (Link)


Climate change is crippling the ski industry

Add this to the economic impacts of climate change.


The Alpine ski industry is trying to counter the threat of global warming by building ever higher in the peaks and on the glaciers in order to secure snow guarantees and extend the skiing season. It is also resorting increasingly to the use of snow cannons and artificial snow on the pistes, and to link up existing ski resorts through more chairlifts in order to create mega-skiing regions.

Global warming is the spectre stalking the industry. A study by Zurich university geographers forecast that within a generation up to 70% of the Swiss glaciers will have disappeared. The impact will be even more severe elsewhere where the Alps are not so high. "Many mountain villages in central and eastern parts of Austria will lose their winter tourist industry because of climate change," the geographers predicted. "In Italy, half of the winter sport villages are below 1,300 metres. In future there will only be a few winters with snow in these resorts." This gloomy prognosis means, according to industry analysts, that the future of skiing in the Alps will belong to relatively few but huge and high resorts. (More)


Clocky, The new torture device

Mad scientists do exist and this is proof. What a satanic invention! pure evil, that is EVIL, and it is fuzzy too.


It looks annoying, like a furry swiss roll on wheels. Even its name is irritating: Clocky. But that's nothing compared with what it does. Clocky is surely the most infuriating wake-up call ever devised.

Dreamt up by a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it works like this: You hit the snooze button because you are desperate for a few more minutes' sleep. Clocky then rolls off the bedside table and wheels around the bedroom floor bumping into things, before settling on a place to hide.

"When the alarm clock sounds again, the sleeper must get out of bed and search for it," said Gauri Nanda, a research associate at MIT.

"This ensures that the person is fully awake before turning it off."

Ms Nanda hit upon the idea after struggling to rise in the mornings. "I've been known to hit the snooze bar for up to two hours or even accidentally turn it off. I've known people who put the alarm clock in the living room, but then forget to set it before going to sleep.

"Having the alarm clock hide from me was just the most obvious way I could think of to get out of bed."

Ms Nanda gave her clock a furry covering in the hope it would look endearing and stop people throwing it out of the window in anger.

A built-in microprocessor ensures that Clocky rolls off in a new direction and makes a series of different turns, so that its hiding place changes each morning. Because it uses simple technology, MIT says the clock, which has yet to go into production, would cost less than £15.

Ms Nanda has plans to make a second generation of more intelligent Clockies. If two people sharing a room needed to get up at different times, two Clockies could sound different alarms and even gang up on a serial oversleeper by sounding their alarms simultaneously.

Here is the link in case you ever need equipment to take over the world


Scare the lads with music

I have heard of classical music being used for the same purposes in subway stations and in shopping malls, but never in a mom and pop store.

Also, this is the only piece that I have seen that talks about its effectiveness.


A FAMILY has hit upon a bizarre, but effective, way to deal with rowdy teenagers - blast them with medieval music.

The Nedahl family had reported rowdy teenagers hanging around their shop so often they were on first-name terms with local bobbies.

Gangs of loud-mouthed youths swilled beer while they shouted abuse at the small general store's staff and customers.

But in a moment of inspiration, Rod Nedahl stumbled across a musical idea to shoo the gangs away and end more than a decade of torment. Since he started playing medieval religious music out of the shop, troublemakers have vanished from the pavement on Treorchy High Street, in the Rhondda Valley.

For the past six months Mr Nedahl, 62, has played a Gregorian chant on a continuous loop every evening. Teenagers who once plagued the shop find the music so annoying they have abandoned the area in search of another drinking spot. (Link)

And a little history of gregorian chant from the same article


GREGORIAN chant is also called plainsong and is a form of unaccompanied singing which takes its name from Pope St Gregory the Great.

Plainsong's tonality is based on modes, rather than major and minor keys.

It does not have strict time signatures as became standard after the Renaissance.

This can make it unusual to modern ears.

Traditionally chant would be sung only by men. It was originally the music sung by an all-male clergy during Mass.

As harmony began to develop in the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance younger boys and castrati would sing the high parts.


Not a Schiavo story: More on the Calipari/Sgrena shooting

I am afraid Naomi, bless her sweet heart, can be a little gullible when people tell her what she wants to hear. The existance of an alternate secure road to the Baghdad International Airport strikes me as fictitious construct. If the americans had a secure road wouldn't they be telling the world (see the Haifa Street story). Here is a map of Baghdad, on it you can see a few roads that could be this mysterious safe road. All of the other stories on this topic suggest they were on the airport road, I assume that both the Italian and American governments know where the shooting took place. Her story is not impossible but it requires two unlikely events: that all other reports have the wrong location and that another secure route exists. Though it is possible that she was told by Calipari that this road is "safe" as in safe for what appears to be a civlian vehicle.

Also Sgrena's account of the attack does not match that of the driver. He distinctly mentioned that the Americans flashed a light in his window before the attack, but there was not time to react before the shooting started. All of which supports the "dumbass" American theory of what happened (That some young punk soldiers where dumbasses and opened fire because they a) where nervous b) had itch tigger fingers c) thought it would be fun).


NAOMI KLEIN ON DEMOCRACY NOW: One of the things that we keep hearing is that she was fired on on the road to the airport, which is a notoriously dangerous road. In fact, it's often described as the most dangerous road in the world. So this is treated as a fairly common and understandable incident that there would be a shooting like this on that road. And I was on that road myself, and it is a really treacherous place with explosions going off all the time and a lot of checkpoints.

What Giuliana told me that I had not realized before is that she wasn't on that road at all. She was on a completely different road that I actually didn't know existed. It's a secured road that you can only enter through the Green Zone and is reserved exclusively for ambassadors and top military officials. So, when Calipari, the Italian security intelligence officer, released her from captivity, they drove directly to the Green Zone, went through the elaborate checkpoint process which everyone must go through to enter the Green Zone, which involves checking in obviously with U.S. forces, and then they drove onto this secured road.

And the other thing that Giuliana told me that she's quite frustrated about is the description of the vehicle that fired on her as being part of a checkpoint. She says it wasn't a checkpoint at all. It was simply a tank that was parked on the side of the road that opened fire on them. There was no process of trying to stop the car, she said, or any signals. From her perspective, they were just -- it was just opening fire by a tank.

The other thing she told me that was surprising to me was that they were fired on from behind. Because I think part of what we're hearing is that the U.S. soldiers opened fire on their car, because they didn't know who they were, and they were afraid. It was self-defense, they were afraid. The fear, of course, is that their car might blow up or that they might come under attack themselves.

And what Giuliana Sgrena really stressed with me was that she -- the bullet that injured her so badly and that killed Calipari, came from behind, entered the back seat of the car. And the only person who was not severely injured in the car was the driver, and she said that this is because the shots weren't coming from the front or even from the side. They were coming from behind, i.e. they were driving away. So, the idea that this was an act of self-defense, I think becomes much more questionable. And that detail may explain why there's some reticence to give up the vehicle for inspection. Because if indeed the majority of the gunfire is coming from behind, then clearly, they were firing from -- they were firing at a car that was driving away from them. (Link)


Culture Clash: Bike Couriers

This snippet is an puts the hazards of being a bike courier in perspective. The link connects to a much larger article about bike couriering. If you are thinking about becoming a bike courier I suggest you read it.


I was a little surprised to discover that the courier grind takes all kinds. There certainly exist a fair share of hopped-up hipsters and granola-munching hippies (two demographics whose representation i anticipated) but there are also more than a few no-nonsense middle-aged manual labor types (some of whom are supporting children) and fitness-freak jock types. . .

As a courier, you will get hit by cars. It is an occupational hazard. Most of the skill involved in being a bike courier relates to making sure you never occupy the same space as a car at the same time. Even so, no matter how hard you pedal, you can't outrun the law of averages.

A certain brash courier from another company who liked to refer to himself as "The Fastest Messenger in Toronto" (and he may well have been, arrogance aside) once told me that he didn't wear a helmet because having a safety net makes you reckless and that if you are fast enough, you don't fall. The next week, he went through the back window of an SUV that stopped suddenly and spent two weeks in the hospital. I don't know a single courier who has worked the job for more than a year and not been hit at least once. . . (More)


Local heros: The Schiavo case

This story just doesn't end. I'd ignore it but there are too many intriguing stories coming out of it. Kudos to the local cops. They understand what rule of law means.


CAROL MARBIN MILLER, MIAMI HERALD - Hours after a judge ordered that Terri Schiavo was not to be removed from her hospice, a team of state agents were en route to seize her and have her feeding tube reinserted -- but they stopped short when local police told them they would enforce the judge's order, The Herald has learned.

Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told police in Pinellas Park, the small town where Schiavo lies at Hospice Woodside, on Thursday that they were on the way to take her to a hospital to resume her feeding. For a brief period, local police, who have officers at the hospice to keep protesters out, prepared for what sources called "a showdown."

In the end, the squad from the FDLE and the Department of Children & Families backed down, apparently concerned about confronting local police outside the hospice. "We told them that unless they had the judge with them when they came, they were not going to get in," said a source with the local police.

"The FDLE called to say they were en route to the scene," said an official with the city police who requested anonymity. "When the sheriff's department and our department told them they could not enforce their order, they backed off." (Link)


VW ad - depraved but fun

So one was rather depraved when they made this (fake) ad. Thanks Dave for giving me the link. It'll make your morning. You can find it here.



Friday, March 25, 2005


Excellent deal at ebay

Tee hee


Extra zeros on's listing for a ViewSonic Tablet PC drew a blizzard of bogus "buyer" reviews of a system so powerful that one claimed "the singularity used to power this device is unstable" and another wrote "I was able to create my own flux capacitor to travel back in time."

Although the listing's technical details have been corrected -- and the page claims that the ViewSonic TPCV1250S-1303 "is currently not available" -- for a while Wednesday and Thursday, Amazon had the Tablet PC's AMD processor as a "10.0 GHz" Athlon and its hard drive as a "30,000 GB" IDE model (3 terabytes).

All for the low, low price of $2,200.

Buyers noticed the extra digits -- the actual speed of the tablet's AMD chip is 1.0GHz, and the hard drive holds 30GB -- and immediately began using Amazon's Customer Review feature to post tongue-in-cheek reviews.

A small sampling of the more than 80 "reviews" posted so far:

"I hooked up my scanner to this beast and now there are two of me.... and my copy (no - really - the COPY) is getting me into all kinds of trouble."

"I wasn't home when they turned it on, which Mommy said was a good thing, after she stopped crying yesterday. I saw the flash of light from my school several blocks away. Our neighbor's house was burned pretty bad and I wondered where our house went -- there was just a big hole in the ground. Mommy said something about suing ViewSonic for not using a big enough heat sink. I just want my sister Suzie back."

"This item ships from the future. It requires an additional charge of 7,000 Earth Barter Notes. An EBN is roughly equal to $60. It is SO worth it, though."

"We have been using one of these at work for the basis of our SKYNET project. We are so impressed by this hardware that we plan on switching over the nation's defense grid to be under complete control of this machine sometime next week. I'll post a follow-up review after we do to tell you how it went..."


Major telecom hack in China

Bad cyberpunk movies often include this stunt as the climax of the film when "the truth must come out." But the Falun Gong actually pulled it off in China, hacking public broadcasting to put their images on millions of television screens. Wow. Because we don't hear of this often I assume this is a difficult endevour, and of you computer experts care to comment.


HONG KONG - Falungong, which Beijing outlawed as an "evil cult" in 1999, disrupted television broadcast signals in most parts of China last week for about five minutes by jamming signal transmission via the satellite of Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co Ltd (AsiaSat). One communications-technology expert, however, told Asia Times Online that such attacks could be thwarted by using appropriate security measures.

"The attack started at 9:34pm on March 14 and disrupted six C-band transponders of an AsiaSat 3S satellite with Falungong propaganda, causing a break in regular programming of many provincial TV channels in the mainland that hire the attacked transponders for transmission," AsiaSat chief executive officer Peter Jackson told a press conference on March 15.

China considers the well-organized Falungong, which can mobilize thousands of supporters, a threat to Communist Party rule.

This is the second assault after November 20, when an unidentified hacker intruded into the transmission of a transponder on the 3S satellite. But "the interruption proves much more vicious this time, affecting six transponders", said AsiaSat marketing manager Sabrina Cubbon. Under strong interference from offensive signals, the satellite transmission will dangerously outstrip the saturation point, so the affected transponders must be turned off, she added. So far, the company has not yet detected the source of the attack because of technical impediments.

As a result of the intrusion, regular programs were replaced by Falungong propaganda on several provincial-level TV channels that broadcast to all cable TV subscribers in the country via the AsiaSat 3C satellite. TV stations in northeastern China's Heilongjiang province, Jiangsu province in the east, Hunan province in central China and Sichuan province were among those disrupted, to name a few. "We were informed by the clients when the Falungong stuff had gone to air. But our service was back to normal a few minutes later," Liu said.

Dajiyuan or Epoch Times, an overseas Chinese-language news website, said the disruptions were not Falungong images but slogans urging people to leave the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); it included a harangue against the party's flaws and alleged indifference and injustice toward the Chinese people.

"The source of jamming signals must have been close enough to the AsiaSat ground transmitter station to disrupt the frequency," said Dr Li Chi-kwong of the Electronics and Information Engineering Department, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. "Besides, it takes time to target jamming signals at the satellite in outer space. Therefore, a tighter security of the ground transmitter will help prevent further interruption. Alternatively, encryption will make TV signals more difficult to tamper with."

The latest disruption came at a highly sensitive time, as the National People's Congress had just passed the Anti-Secession Law on March 14. But how much the sabotage had to do with the legislation is not known. The Ministry of Information Industry is working with the ministries of National Security and Public Security in an intensive inquiry, and their findings will be released after they are completed and evaluated.

The incident is anything but a hoax. "Whoever successfully jammed the satellite must command a good knowledge of satellite transmission and possess some essential equipment to emit interruptive signals of great strength. Hereby, we presume that the attack was done by wealthy foreigners," said Sabrina Cubbon. Professor Li Chi-kwong of Hong Kong Polytechnic University also agreed that the incident was designed and planned well in advance. (More)


"Inappropriate polling": Example for the Schiavo case

Polls can lie, deliberately or by accident. The predicted election win for Dewey against Truman in the 1948 presidential election was a good example of an accidental lie. Today, certain pro-life activists have accused ABC of errors in their poll wich showed a large majority of Americans support the termination of Terri Schiavo's life. A vocal minority does not want to believe that they are far out of step with mainstream political opinion and are attacking anything that disagrees with their viewpoint. The fact that Bush's approval rating fell 6% points since he interfered with the Schiavo case implies that the decision has out of step.

All of this is a preamble to an article on the detail of the ABC poll and polling in general. The purpose is to point out misconceptions about polling and explain why the ABC poll is a reasonable effort at measuring the opinions of Americans.


Mark, I think that your discussion here implicitly endorses a commonly held error about the best way to interpret polling data about matters of public interest. (And this error underlies the criticism of the ABC poll as well.)

The error is the incorrect belief that there is a "right" or "unbiased" way to ask a question about any given public issue. There is no such thing. Everyone who works within the polling field is well aware that small changes in wording can affect the ways in which respondents answer questions. This approach leads us into tortuous discussions of question wording on which reasonable people can differ. Further, as you have pointed out many times in the past, random variation in the construction of the sample or in response rates can skew the results of any single poll away from the true distribution of opinions in the population.

So how do we look at public opinion on an issue such as the Schiavo case? The answer is NOT to find a single poll with the "best" wording and point to its results as the final word on the subject. Instead, we should look at ALL of the polls conducted on the issue by various different polling organizations. Each scientifically fielded poll presents us with useful information. By comparing the different responses to multiple polls -- each with different wording -- we end up with a far more nuanced picture of where public opinion stands on a particular issue. If we can see through such comparisons that stressing different arguments or pieces of information produces shifts in responses, then we have perhaps learned something. Like our own personal opinions, public opinion is not some sort of simple yes/no set of answers; it is complex, and it can see both sides of complicated issues when presented with enough information.

If we were to lock pollsters of all partisan persuasions in a room and force them to pick the "best" question wording on the Schiavo issue, we might end up with everyone asking the same question, but overall we would end up with less information about public opinion, not more. We are better off having the wide variety of different polls, with questions stressing different points of view on the issues, and then comparing them all to one another. This is precisely what you do in your discussion of the ABC poll, but I think you are asking entirely the wrong question -- not "is the ABC wording defensible?" but rather "what does the ABC poll, when compared to other polls with different wording, add to our overall understanding of public opinion on this issue?"

Of course, this sort of contextualizing of polling results is exceedingly rare in the media. Much more common is the front page story saying "here is our poll, and here is what it found, and it is a true representation of public opinion" -- and by implication, no other poll matters. Intellectual honesty is trumped by competition. The best we usually get are vague generalizations of all of the polls lumped together ("polls have consistently shown disapproval of Congress' actions"), and even those generalizations almost never appear in the initial story trumpeting the "exclusive" poll fielded by the newspaper/network itself.

The end result is that even those who pay close attention to the news media and the chattering classes often have very little real understanding of how to interpret polls in a thoughtful way -- which is one of the reasons your blog is so valuable.

P.S. Polls which attempt to predict election results are a rather different kettle of fish, for two important reasons: (1) Pollsters have been experimenting with questions wording for over 50 years and can keep wording the same regardless of the issues in a race; and (2) There is an actual real-world "check" on pollsters' work in the form of the actual election results. Neither of these characteristics apply to polling about issues of public interest. (Link)


The Schiavo case: Kill the law

I guess this guy just doesn't understand: it is this very adherence to the law that is the basis of all his freedoms. If he wants to live in a corrupt dictatorship where the executive can and will do whatever it wants then he should head of to North Korea. When the rule of law becomes a whim that can be ignored then there is no defense against madness.



Just to burnish my reputation as a bomb thrower, I think Jeb Bush should give serious thought to storming the Bastille.

By that I mean he should think about telling his cops to go over to Terri Schiavo's hospice, go inside, put her on a gurney and load her into an ambulance. They could take her to a hospital, revive her, and reattach her feeding tube. It wouldn't save Terri exactly; she'd still be in the same rotten shape she was in before they disconnected the feeding tube.

But the point is, the temple of the law is so sacrosanct that an occasional chief executive cannot flaunt it once in a while, sort of drop his drawers on the courthouse steps and moon the judges, as a way to protest the complete disregard courts and judges have shown here, in this case, for facts outside the law.

For instance, Michael Schiavo and Terri Schiavo are still married, under the law. Anybody else in the world notes with interest that Michael Schiavo has a new love interest and has been engaged in living long enough that he has two children by her.

Now let's see — any woman in America can see Michael Schiavo and Terri Schiavo are not really married anymore. But judge after judge after judge after judge still nods his or her head and mutters, married? Yup, they're married?

This is important because as husband, Michael Schiavo is her guardian and allowed to say what happens to her, how the money in her estate is spent, and so forth.

There are other issues that all the judges here have decided don't rise to the level of importance — that they would order Schiavo kept alive while more hot air is expended on this subject.

But for me the big one is the judicial tendency to say, as long as the law and the process has been followed correctly and justly, doesn't matter if she lives or dies.

Strikes me that that's adherence to law to a fault.

I know lawyers and judges don't think that way, but real people do.

Oh John, you're not saying judges aren't real people, are you?

Well, judging by what happened here, I'd say yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.

So Jeb, call out the troops, storm the Bastille and tell 'em I sent you.

That's My Word. (Link)


Kyrgyzstan: Third former soviet state to revolt in 17 months

Ha, I almost called it. Scratch one more former soviet dictatorship. Putin must be feeling the heat. All is corrupt dictator-friends are losing their jobs.


The newly appointed acting president of Kyrgyzstan today said the country would hold fresh elections in the summer after Askar Akayev's regime was toppled by mass opposition protests yesterday.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev promised June elections the day after thousands of his supporters, protesting against what they alleged were rigged elections, stormed the presidential building to bring an end to Mr Akayev's 15-year rule.

Mr Bakiyev told a crowd in the capital, Bishkek, that parliament had chosen him as the country's president and prime minister. He said he wanted to maintain good relations with Russia and hoped Moscow would help the central Asian republic to progress.

"We traditionally had good relations with Russia," the Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying. "No one is going to change these relations, and we are striving to develop them further.

"We are facing a difficult situation now and Russia could help us solve it. We need Russian investment ... we are ready to cooperate closely with Russia and hope for its prompt steps in that direction."

His comments came as the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, condemned the violence and what he called the "illegal" overthrow of Mr Akayev, an ally of Moscow. "It is unfortunate that yet again in the post-Soviet space, political problems in a country are resolved illegally and are accompanied by pogroms and human victims," he said on a visit to Armenia.

Mr Putin said he would raise no objections if the ousted leader - whose whereabouts remain unknown - were to seek refuge in Russia, and added: "This is quite possible."

Mr Putin said he would cooperate with the Kyrgz opposition. "We know these people pretty well, and they have done quite a lot to establish good relations between Russia and Kyrgyzstan," he said.

"Russia will do its best to keep up the current level of relations between the states and improve relations between the people."

Mr Putin said he hoped the country's interim leadership would act to bring a swift end to the looting and anarchy that have gripped the country. Thousands of opposition protesters took control of Bishkek yesterday.

"Freedom has finally come to us," Mr Bakiyev told a crowd in Bishkek's central square. He pledged to fight corruption - a major complaint against Mr Akayev's regime - and the clan mentality that roughly splits the country between north and south."I will not allow the division of the people into north and south," he said. "We are a united nation." (More)


Deserter loses immigration ruling

Damn, I guess we're not the open peace-loving country we were in the 60's. Well, Paul Martin is not Trudeau. Given that he was not allowed to argue that the war was illegal, it makes it hard for him to win.


A former US soldier who quit the army in protest against the Iraq war has been denied refugee status in Canada.

Jeremy Hinzman, 26, was the first to receive an answer from a number of US deserters seeking Canadian residency.

Mr Hinzman, who served in Afghanistan in a non-combat role, left the 82nd Airborne Regiment when he was deployed to Iraq.

Correspondents say the decision may affect eight other ex-servicemen, but improve Canadian-US relations.

In its judgement Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board said Mr Hinzman had not convinced its members that he would face persecution if he were sent back to the US.

Board member Brian Goodman wrote in the judgement: "The treatment does not amount to a violation of a fundamental human right, and the harm is not serious."

The ruling did not come as a surprise, the BBC's Lee Carter in Toronto says.

While Canada opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq, officials are aware that accusing Washington of persecuting its own citizens would cause an international diplomatic incident, our correspondent says. (More)


Peak Oil Production: J P Morgan hosts a debate

The author of this article is biased towards peak oil, but it sounds like the debate was too. That J P Morgan would hold this event is a sign by itself. The suggestion is that we are a peak production and that the peak will last several year. These years will be characterized by high price volatility. Gees, I saw a gas station raise its prices 8 cents over two and a half hours last night.


I sometimes think peak oil has already hit Manhattan as subways become increasingly unpredictable (although surveillance cameras are state-of-the-art) and escalator shut-downs present stair master survival challenges, a kind of perverse underground amusement. Unfortunately, surfacing on Fifth Avenue does not end the scenario, for where once there was excellence and exquisite fashion, now there are bargain stores catering to New Yorkers who are poor, and yes ­ even starving.

So I was particularly fascinated by the opportunity to listen-in to the telephone conference call that JP Morgan held for its clients on April 7 and 8, "Peak Oil: Fact or Fiction", which I was given exclusive permission to monitor . Maybe there would be answers as to whether or not Manhattan is a harbinger of what's to come for the rest of the nation, and whether it's fleeting opulence (not counting all the questionably-financed real estate extravaganzas rising up) is energy-related.

The main speakers faced-off on separate days. First Dr. Colin Campbell, Founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, succinctly gave his position saying that peak oil is "such a geological matter". Campbell says we're now at the halfway mark and that "by 2010 volatility comes to an end and then terminal decline" sets in.

The pronouncement is chilling. What's more, Campbell says that "over the next few years everybody will become aware of this, and in some ways the perception of this growing situation is as serious as the event itself". Campbell's a retired geologist with decades of experience in the oil industry in both exploration and executive positions. He compares peak oil to old age ­ saying that a man knows when it has set-in.

Campbell was followed the next day by Michael Lynch, a computer oil and gas modeler for the past 25 years, President/Director of Global Petroleum, Strategic Energy and Economic Research. Lynch came out slugging, informing conference callers that Campbell refuses to appear with him since 1997, saying "you'll understand why very shortly". He seems to view Campbell as old school and too tired to be optimistic about the future. Perhaps a bit like Cheney and Rumsfeld having their last hurrahs before retiring into the bed & breakfast business on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Lynch believes the Hubbert model that Campbell's theory relies on ­ discoveries and production follow a bell curve ­ is not only "incorrectly modeled", but is "much closer to being junk science". He says further, that while Campbell and his colleague, Jean Laharrere, have now "stopped saying that" . . . they've "never admitted they were wrong".

Lynch takes the position that URR ­ Ultimately Recoverable Resources ­ is not a static amount and therefore cannot follow such creaming curves. "It grows over time," he says, "as a result of economic changes, development in an area, but also because of technology, and in some cases, better scientific knowledge."

Campbell says today's oil supply is finite and that it all came into being during two periods of global warming 90 million and 150 million years ago when "excessive" algal blooms formed on the seas and lakes, became heavier and heavier, and sank to the bottom of the rifts where they were "preserved" and pressure-cooked. The resulting oil and gas then began leaching its way back up to the surface through the sandstone (in the pore spaces between the grains of sand) and rock.

Campbell is adamant about the peak oil issue not being an economic or political one, but simply a case where we've now so depleted our "endowment" that peak oil will occur by 2010, and that soon after there will be a rapid fall-off in oil resources, which will profoundly affect world civilization.

So the conference began with a bit of posturing and name calling ­ with Campbell announcing "no common ground" with the "flat Earth economists" (Lynch et al.), who he says believe there's an infinite supply of oil. (No one believes this, including Saudi Aramco).

Lynch called Campbell, Laharrere (and investment banker Matt Simmons) Malthusian pessimists, and obliquely referred to Simmons's upcoming book on peak oil as "content free".

Fortunately, JP Morgan's clients pressed speakers for details, which made the conference truly worth listening to. Campbell advised that peak discovery of oil was in 1964 and that it's been falling for 30 years. He also said that by 1981 the world was using more than it produced ­ 1 barrel is now found for every 6 consumed ­ and that there's little spare capacity anywhere in the world.

As further proof of peak oil, Campbell adds that the major oil companies are getting out of the business ­ shedding staff, divesting marketing sectors, outsourcing jobs, cutting back on exploration and drilling fewer wells ­ the seven sisters are now four. He notes the majors are also buying back company shares (i.e., BP), and argues that "the value of their past is more important than their future". He quotes the late Robert Anderson of Arco: "This is a sunset industry and the sun is fairly low in the sky."

However, Campbell does spare the more "nimble" independent oil companies, who he says will press on producing what's left, subcontracting to state companies however they can, through initiative, enterprise and bribes. And that oil in the ground will become increasingly valuable. (More)


Share your tax (return)

File this one under becareful with your computer. Identity thieves would have a field day with this. It might explain why one in four people have been a victim of indentity theft. General incompetence at security be consumers and business might also be a problem.


WTOC - TV - Don Bodiker uses a popular file sharing program to swap music and other information over the internet. He also uses his computer to prepare his taxes. He never thought the two had anything to do with each other, until he got a call. "I had no idea who he was or what he was. I just thought he was a typical telemarketer," Bodiker said of the call. "And he wanted to inform me that my tax returns were being posted out on the internet. I was very skeptical but he then proceeded to tell me some very specific details about my tax return."

File sharing software allows you to download files stored in certain shared folders on other users' computers. The flipside is they can also download files from your shared folder. There's a folder on their computer the Bodikers use store the music files they wanted to share. What they didn't realize is that their tax return software saved their returns in the very same place. . .

And he's not alone. A simple search on the file sharing network for the word "tax" turned up hundreds of returns. "It's made me more aware of the possibilities of programs that you attach to your computer," said Bodiker.


Thursday, March 24, 2005


McCarthism is back, in an all new private sector form.

I bet there are lawyer salivating already. Not to mention this is an attack on the basic function of universities: to educate. Hard to do if your students sue you for telling them their wrong.


TALLAHASSEE — Republicans on the House Choice and Innovation Committee voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill that aims to stamp out “leftist totalitarianism” by “dictator professors” in the classrooms of Florida’s universities.

The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, passed 8-to-2 despite strenuous objections from the only two Democrats on the committee.

The bill has two more committees to pass before it can be considered by the full House.

While promoting the bill Tuesday, Baxley said a university education should be more than “one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom,” as part of “a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views.”

The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative “serious academic theories” that may disagree with their personal views.

According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities.

Students who believe their professor is singling them out for “public ridicule” – for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class – would also be given the right to sue.

“Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,’” Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, warned of lawsuits from students enrolled in Holocaust history courses who believe the Holocaust never happened.

Similar suits could be filed by students who don’t believe astronauts landed on the moon, who believe teaching birth control is a sin or even by Shands medical students who refuse to perform blood transfusions and believe prayer is the only way to heal the body, Gelber added.

“This is a horrible step,” he said. “Universities will have to hire lawyers so our curricula can be decided by judges in courtrooms. Professors might have to pay court costs — even if they win — from their own pockets. This is not an innocent piece of legislation.” (Link)


More on the Schiavo case.

Here is a link for those with the time and inclination.


I have now written that name enough times that I don't have to look up how to spell it.

Update: Here is another link.


Mugabe's Zimbabwe: Choose your oppression

This article makes me feel unclean. Positively, must have a shower right now unclean. Can anyone confirm the credibility of this article or is this just a piece of racist shit that leaked into the New York Times.


Binga, Zimbabwe — The hungry children and the families dying of AIDS here are gut-wrenching, but somehow what I find even more depressing is this: Many, many ordinary black Zimbabweans wish that they could get back the white racist government that oppressed them in the 1970's.

"If we had the chance to go back to white rule, we'd do it," said Solomon Dube, a peasant whose child was crying with hunger when I arrived in his village. "Life was easier then, and at least you could get food and a job."

Mr. Dube acknowledged that the white regime of Ian Smith was awful. But now he worries that his 3-year-old son will die of starvation, and he would rather put up with any indignity than witness that.

An elderly peasant in another village, Makupila Muzamba, said that hunger today is worse than ever before in his seven decades or so, and said: "I want the white man's government to come back. ... Even if whites were oppressing us, we could get jobs and things were cheap compared to today."

His wife, Mugombo Mudenda, remembered that as a younger woman she used to eat meat, drink tea, use sugar and buy soap. But now she cannot even afford corn gruel. "I miss the days of white rule," she said. (More)


Arab league summit in summary

A refreshing honesty.


DAMASCUS - Arab leaders have just finished a two-day Arab Summit in Algeria that coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Arab League. Unsurprisingly, as in the past, the outcome of the meeting was insignificant. (Link)


In perspective: China versus US

Just the facts ma'am.


Even more daunting are similar estimates for energy production. If by 2031 the Chinese use oil at the same rate as the US does today, it would need 99 million barrels of oil a day, or 20 million barrels per day more than the entire world currently produces. Similarly, if China's coal burning were to reach current US levels of two tonnes per person per year, the country would use nearly 3 billion tonnes annually by 2031. Current annual global production stands at 2.5 billion tonnes. As fossil fuels, more use of oil and natural gas will also mean unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gases - blamed by scientists on climate change and global warming - released into the atmosphere. (Much more)


The Karenni Army's last stand

I bet you haven't hear of this.


One of Asia's longest-running conflicts and one of its least well known may be drawing to a close. On January 6 Myanmar's military junta, known as the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, launched an all-out attack on Nya Moe, theremote hill-top base that is the last remaining stronghold of the Karenni Army (KA). This is not the first time the base, which lies on the border between Myanmar's Karenni state and Thailand, has come under attack. After all, the Karenni leadership, backed by the KA, has been fighting the military-controlled government in Yangon for almost 50 years. However, this is the most sustained campaign Karenni leaders have seen.

The pounding of artillery fire that began in January has alarmed Karenni refugees, housed in camps just across the border. Says one camp resident, Naw Seh: "When we first heard the guns every day, I was very afraid. I could not sleep well at night." After nearly three months, she is getting used to it, but the fear and uncertainty remain. She, like others interviewed for this article, asked that their real names not be used, for fear of reprisal from military authorities.

According to a senior KA commander, General Aung Htay, the buildup of SPDC troops close to Nya Moe began in mid-December. Four SPDC battalions (totaling about 650 troops) were brought into position. Crucially, they were combined with some 700 troops from the Karenni National People's Liberation Front (KNPLF), an armed group that split many years ago from the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP). A recently constructed road through the remote hills of Karenni state has enabled the SPDC and its allies to bring in heavy artillery. With the new troops in place, the attack on Nya Moe was launched. According to Aung Htay, the fighting has been intense, with artillery attacks almost daily and a total of more than 60 clashes. Heavy shelling briefly disrupted humanitarian aid work in the area in January.

Many people are aware of the struggles to bring democracy to Myanmar led by the National League for Democracy and its charismatic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest. However, few outsiders are familiar with the ongoing struggles of Myanmar's ethnic groups, such as the Karenni.

Karenni state, the smallest of Myanmar's states, is home to a complex mix of ethnic groups dominated by the Kayah majority. Fiercely independent, the lands controlled by Karenni traditional leaders were never fully incorporated into the borders of colonial Myanmar. When Myanmar, known then as Burma, achieved independence from Britain in 1948, the degree of autonomy to be granted to ethnic groups was still a highly contentious issue. Ethnic political groups were included within the new country's borders in the constitution drawn up in 1947 but were given the right of secession within 10 years. Unhappy with what they regarded as domination by the central government in Yangon, a number of military groups were quickly formed around the country, many going underground. In Karenni state, in 1957, pro-independence groups already active in the area formed a new political organization, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), backed by its own army, the KA. Apart from a brief ceasefire in 1995, the KA has been fighting ever since against successive military regimes in Yangon. (More)


Sexual hypocrisy in Iran

I think I'll put this book on my wish list. It sounds like and interesting read.


In her gripping memoir of "growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran," Azadeh Moaveni illuminates one of the broadest political truths: Falseness in sexual life leads to falseness everywhere, the denial of truths of the individual body leads to corruption of the body politic.

This isn't to say that strictness in sexual matters is unilaterally hypocritical, or that sexually conservative cultures corrupt. The rules of traditional societies, including those of traditional Islam, generally work for those particular societies. In the course of my three trips to Afghanistan, and four weeks spent living in an Afghan Uzbek family compound in a provincial city, I met a lot of relatively happy, satisfied people living under rules I'd personally find intolerable: no social mixing of unrelated men and women; arranged marriages, typically between first cousins; and social life pretty much limited to extended family. To be sure, there are Afghans who somatize rather than complaining or acting out their discontent; they live in a pre-Freudian culture so, OK, they're entitled to some hysteria. But most people seem to find the rules wise, fair, and essential to the continuation of a deeply satisfying, meaningful way of life.

The problems begin once a culture reaches a point of modernization where judgments can be passed on its sexual rules, seen as arbitrary, and hypocrisy regarding sex has a corrosive effect on all institutions. This is one way of looking at the recent scandals regarding pedophile priests, or the nastiness of Saudi society. And it is key to the failure of Iran's Islamic Revolution.

Moaveni was born in 1976 in Palo Alto and raised in Northern California. Her parents sprang from the upper echelons of Iranian society, but from the liberal segment who initially greeted the 1979 revolution with hope for social justice. Her mother, whom she called "Maman," was a former campus radical at once fiercely proud of her Persian heritage and so enamored of Western culture that she dragged the young Azadeh to the opera, even when she could only afford standing room. Maman and her husband split when their daughter was just a few months old, and Moaveni developed a keen eye for the fault lines in people and societies. And there were many fault lines to see by the time Moaveni moved to Tehran in 2000 to work for Time magazine.

The hypocrisy of two decades of turning back to the eighth century had become too much to bear even for the mullahs. The 24-year-old Moaveni found that the typical one-hour interview with a cleric began with his averting his gaze in the manner prescribed by Islam to religious men in the presence of unrelated women, and ended with his flirting with her and asking for her mobile number. The measures intended by Islamic tradition to desexualize the relations of men and women only inflamed desire. "Iranians were preoccupied with sex in the manner of dieters constantly thinking about food." Moaveni might have added that dieters constantly think about certain forbidden foods because they used to eat them. If they didn't know what they tasted like, they wouldn't desire them.

Chaste dress can uphold chaste behavior only when it's all that people have ever known. It's hard to go back to the chador when, like Moaveni and her contemporaries, you remember your mother wearing miniskirts. Hijab is sometimes defended by Islamic feminists for allowing women to appear first and foremost as human beings rather than sexual objects, and in Afghanistan it might actually work that way. But in Tehran, Moaveni found that "the constant exposure to covered flesh ... brought to mind, well, flesh." Because young people were prohibited from the kind of casual coed socializing their parents had known studying together, skiing together, and hanging out in groups, when they did have the chance to meet, the result was "amplified decadence," with upper-class high school girls defiantly wearing skin-tight dresses and 5-inch heels at forbidden "mixed" parties. These teenagers lack both the innocence the mullahs thought to ensure, and which they might enjoy in a place like Afghanistan, as well as the opportunities to explore sexual desires they would have in many developed nations.

Moaveni paints a damning picture of daily life in Tehran with a hundred fascinating, subtle details. Iranian doctors pay no taxes and bribe taxi drivers to bring them incoming ER patients, the best-equipped women's gyms cater to the young mistresses of clerics and government figures, men wear post-surgical bandages in public because nose jobs are chic, wealthy Iranians visit the Indian ashram of the Hindu mystic Sai Baba rather than participate in the Shiite rituals the regime imposes on them.

The mullahs gutted many Persian cultural traditions when they interfered with the single-minded imposition of shari'a law: respect for the elderly, tolerance, solidarity across class and ethnic lines. But in insisting on a sexual puritanism incongruent both with ancient patterns and with the early-20th-century modernization under Reza Shah, the 1979 revolutionaries have arguably done grave damage to the integrity of Persian civilization. It's true that Iran wasn't colonized – a possibility at various points in the 20th century – but there are worse fates. At least colonized people know whom to hate. When you have made your own tyranny, like Hitler's Germany or Saddam's Iraq or Khomeini's Iran, you may have to tear yourself apart to purge it. (Link)


Run away from the vampire bats

File this one in the "neat" file.


It's known that the common vampire bats of Central and South America behave much more like four-legged terrestrial mammals, in that they like to walk around on the ground; other bat species fumble helplessly when left to walk. But researchers in Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine have discovered that these bats not only walk but run. The unprecedented gait of Desmodus rotundus is described in a brief communication in this week's issue of Nature magazine (March 17, 2005) from Daniel Riskin, Cornell graduate student in zoology, and his adviser John W. Hermanson, associate professor of biomedical sciences.

What seemed like a crazy idea -- challenging these bats on an increasingly speedy treadmill -- revealed a novel ability which the researchers believe evolved independently to facilitate feeding behavior. "What we observed was like a horse going from a walk to a gallop over a very short amount of time," Riskin explains. The researchers kept increasing the speed of the treadmill and, much to their surprise, their subjects broke into a run.

"They just seem to do everything a little differently from the general bat rule," Riskin says about what he refers to as the "cute, adorable, big-eyed and family-oriented" vampire bats.

Not only are vampire bats unusual because they run, but also in the way that they power their gait. "Unlike most animals which use their hind legs as a source of power, these exceptional creatures power their run with their forelimbs," Hermanson explains. Getting most of the push from their long forelimbs -- actually their wings and therefore very strong -- the bats run more like a small gorilla than a comparable four-legged creature like a mouse. They run up to about 2.5 miles per hour. Although many of the 1,100 species of bats are known to walk, the common

vampire is the only one so far to pass Riskin and Hermanson's treadmill test and break into a running gait.With the introduction of large herds of livestock into their native environments of Central and South America, these bats don't need to hurry to catch the cattle from which they extract perhaps a tablespoon of blood at a time for sustenance. They feed while their prey are sleeping, spending perhaps 10 minutes drinking from the small cuts they make. However, running may help them avoid being stepped on, Riskin suggests. More likely, the researchers say, the ability to run evolved long ago, when vampire bats had to prey on faster South American athletes such as the agouti, a rodent about the size of a hare, which might wake up and take a swipe at the nocturnal visitor. It remains unclear exactly what the native prey were before the introduction of cattle, he adds. (Link)


Schiavo as a shield for corrpution

From Tom DeLay, majority leader in the House of Representatives and really corrupt son of a bitch. This is distrubing speech.


"It is more than just Terri Schiavo. This is a critical issue for people in this position, and it is also a critical issue to fightthat fight for life, whether it be euthanasia or abortion. I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, one thing God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo to elevate the visibility of what's going on in America. That Americans would be so barbaric as to pull a feeding tube out of a person that is lucid and starve them to death for two weeks. I mean, in America that's going to happen if we don't win this fight.

"And so it's bigger than any one of us, and we have to do everything that is in our power to save Terri Schiavo and anybody else that may be in this kind of position, and let me just finish with this:

"This is exactly the kind of issue that's going on in America, that attacks against the conservative moment, against me and against many others. The point is, the other side has figured out how to win and to defeat the conservative movement, and that is to go after people personally, charge them with frivolous charges, link up with all these do-gooder organizations funded by George Soros, and then get the national media on their side. That whole syndicate that they have going on right now is for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to destroy the conservative movement. It is to destroy conservative leaders, and not just in elected office, but leading. I mean, Ed Feulner, of the Heritage Foundation today was under attack in the National Journal. This is a huge nationwide concerted effort to destroy everything we believe in. And you need to look at this, and what's going on and participate in fighting back." (Link)


Main government building falls in Kyrgyzstan

I would like to suggest that this is not the sign of a government that is going to last a long time.


Kyrgyz protesters stormed the main government compound in the capital, Bishkek, today and released the country's opposition leader from jail. In their first major rally in the capital, about 1,000 protesters, angry at what they claim were fraudulent elections earlier this month, drove riot police from their positions protecting the government headquarters. Some demonstrators were able to get inside the compound. Others smashed windows with stones, while hundreds of police stood by and watched.

Protesters marched the defence minister, Esen Topoyev, out of the building, holding him by the elbows. They tried to protect him, but he was hit by stones thrown by the crowd, and one protester kicked him. Interior ministry troops led other officials out by a side door. Three injured people with bandages covering their wounds left accompanied by a doctor.

Two demonstrators waved a flag from a top-floor window in the building and others hurled furniture out of the building as cheers erupted from demonstrators below.

Elsewhere in the city, opposition leader and former vice-president Felix Kulov was freed from jail, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

"We have freed Kulov. We are already in Bishkek. He will soon speak on television," Kulov aide Emil Aliyev told Reuters by telephone.

Mr Kulov was jailed for theft and abuse of power in 2001, in what his supporters said was a ploy by the country's president, Askar Akayev to neutralise the influence of his main rival. (Link)


Rock dust fertilizer

With the prospect of an earth made infertile from over-production and mass reliance on chemicals, coupled with an atmosphere polluted by greenhouse gases there seems little to celebrate. But belief is growing that an answer to some of the earth's problems are not only at hand, but under our feet. Specialists have just met in Perth to discuss the secrets of rock dust, a quarrying by-product that is at the heart of government-sponsored scientific trials and which, it is claimed, could revitalize barren soil and reverse climate change.

The recognition of the healing powers of rock dust comes after a 20-year campaign by two former schoolteachers, Cameron and Moira Thomson. They have been battling to prove that rock dust can replace the minerals that have been lost to the earth over the past 10,000 years and, as a result, rejuvenate the land and halt climate change.

To prove their point, the couple have converted six acres of open, infertile land in the Grampian foothills near Pitlochry into a modern Eden. Using little more than rock dust mixed with compost, they have created rich, deep soils capable of producing cabbages the size of footballs, onions bigger than coconuts and gooseberries as big as plums.

"This is a simple answer which doesn't involve drastic life changes by anyone," Ms Thomson said. This makes a lot of sense, the nutrients in soil come from the rocks from which the soil was formed. Adding a bit more rock as dust, so it can break down quicker, should add more nutrients to the soil. It is the same effect that Egypt used to get with the flooding of the Nile (before the Aswan High dam). Clever thinking and cheap a byproduct of what we do already.


"People don't have to stop driving cars to do this, just spread some rock dust on their gardens. We could cover the earth with rock dust and start to absorb carbon in a more natural fashion which, along with reducing emissions and using a combination of other initiatives, will have a better and faster response.". . .

The couple claim the technique may also play a significant role in the fight against climate change as calcium and magnesium in the dust converts carbon in the air into carbonates. Such is the interest in the theory that NASA in the US is examining it in preparation for growing plants on other planets.

The couple say that the rock dust means that crops don't need water to produce harvests of magnificent vegetables. "It would be perfect for Third World countries that are usually unable to grow crops because the land is so dry," Ms Thomson said. "This could hold the solution for them." (Link)

and another link for those with more time.


Water wars: privatization

Private water companies fail to provide service to all customers -- there's a surprise. The farther an industry moves from the assumptions of the free market the better the public sector will be in comparison. Clothes will always be provided by markets, as will electronics and luxuries. But health care and water consistantly show the public sector being more effective. Why because competition and rational choice fail. Water is natural monopoly, especially if you aim for universal service and for health care very few patients are rational, with my recent bout with mono (not the most serious disease on the planet but the case will serve as an illustration) I was will to try any number of things to make me feel better, and my bank acvount shows the effects. That is why medical quaks have had such a long history, but people are desperate and there is rarely a clear measure of success. Back to water....


ANIL NETTO, INTER PRESS SERVICE - Goaded by international financial institutions and corporate interests, regional governments are pressing ahead with plans for more private participation in water services. And yet all across Asia, water privatization schemes are failing to deliver clean and safe drinking water to communities, despite forcing consumers to pay for a basic human right.

"If you look for a water privatization arrangement that works . . . I cannot think of any," Manila-based Mary Ann Manahan, a researcher with Focus on the Global South, told IPS in a telephone interview. In contrast, the sterling performance of some major publicly managed water utilities in Asia has demolished the argument that private sector participation is the only way to improve efficiency.

Cities like Osaka, Phnom Penh and Penang, where water is publicly managed, have outperformed Jakarta and Manila, two cities with massive privatization arrangements in several key sectors. . .

And yet, privatization schemes are being pushed with vigor by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, coupled with lobby groups such as the Global Water Partnership and the World Water Council. . . In addition, the European Union has come up with initiatives in the World Trade Organization to pry open national water services to the big foreign players. Indeed, since the mid-1990s, developing countries have been coaxed to privatize water services through 'public-private partnership' or private sector participation. But many of these schemes in Asia have had disastrous results: soaring water tariffs, unmet targets, and crippling financial losses and debt. (Link)


Quote - proof of god

"Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

- Benjamin Franklin

This is my kind of religon



Why I am not a sailor

Heavy Seas

There is a lot more pictures like this here.Posted by Hello


If you can't rob a houses, rob a house

Stealling in broad daylight is easier then doing it at night. You just have to look like you belong. Which reminds me of the somebody else's problem field from the hitchhiker's guide series. It was cheaper than invisibility and worked better. It made every covered by it appear to be somebody else's problem.


LINDALE, Texas (AP) — When Smith County Constable Dennis Taylor got a call reporting a stolen house, his first question was, "Is it a trailer house, ma'am?"

"No, it's a brick house," the real estate company representative replied.

Board by board, shingle by shingle, for nearly three months, thieves dismantled a three-bedroom brick house in this East Texas town and carted it away until only a pile of rubble was left.

Authorities allege Brandon Ray Parmer, 29, and Darrell Patrick Maxfield, 44, both of Tyler, took the house apart and sold it for drugs, in plain view of everyone cruising by along Lindale's main street.

Taylor said the men worked slowly and haphazardly in daylight, with no one questioning their work, because everyone assumed it was the work of two large retail stores laying new foundations nearby.

"It's the strangest case I've ever worked in my life," Taylor said. "Everybody drove by and waved at them."

Authorities also arrested Jesse Gino Vega, 36, who is accused of giving cash and methamphetamine to the other two men in exchange for the materials from the home.

Officers got "about five trailer loads of property that came out of that house," Taylor said, then paused. "Well, it didn't come out of the house. It was the house." (Link)


Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Taste that chord, does it need more salt?

When one of the foremost researchers in this field was in her undergraduate she asked here professor what synaesthesia was. He answered it is when your seven's are green. Her response sealled her fate, "No, they're yellow." Synaesthesia is when your brain processes one sensitory experience by adding a trait from another sense. The effect can be quite varied but literacy to colour is the most common. The example above for instance. This article speaks of a more rare example.


When you listen to music, what does it taste like? That's not a silly question. Swiss researchers are studying a young musician who consistently identifies musical intervals by the flavors they induce on her tongue.

For example, a minor second is sour. A major second is bitter. A perfect fourth is mown grass. A minor sixth is cream. An octave has no taste at all. Neuroscientists call such mixed perception synaesthesia. It's a nagging reminder that what we perceive is not just a simple processing of stimuli from one or another of our senses.

The effect can be startling, as my wife and I learned one night while sleeping with the windows open. A loud crack of thunder brought us bolt upright. Had lightning hit the house? Not quite. We had "heard" a "loud" stench. A skunk had let go outside.

The most common type of synaesthesia is the concurrence of color with a sound, taste, or scent. The musician taking part in the research at the University of Zurich experiences this. She sees C as red and F-sharp as violet. But in reporting their study in Nature, Gian Beeli, Michaela Esslen, and Lutz Jäncke note that it is her rare ability to taste musical intervals that stands out. Calling her E.S. to protect her privacy, they say this is the first such case to be reported.

The researchers say that, after extensive systematic testing, "we found that E.S.'s tone-interval identification was perfect."

The case differs from a more holistic type of sound/taste synaesthesia in which the flavor of an entire meal may pair with a musical tone, they add. E.S.'s ability to accurately relate musical intervals with specific tastes gives her an edge in the difficult task of interval identification.

The Swiss team notes that this raises the intriguing possibility "that synaesthesias may be used to solve cognitive problems" such as figuring out these musical intervals. This amusing perceptional tic may have practical value that would encourage evolution to favor its development. Studying it helps neuroscientists in their larger task of trying to understand how our cognitive system works as a whole.

Probing our ability to make and appreciate music is on the cutting edge of that research. Art and culture "must have their origin in the function and structure of the human nervous system," explains Robert Zatorre, a neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute in Canada, in the current issue of Nature.He adds that "listening to and producing music involves a tantalizing mix of practically every human cognitive function."

Our musical proclivities have deep roots. New babies show appreciation of music and recognize tones and tunes. Singing, dancing, and tapping feet to snappy rhythms are common skills. Organizing words into meaningful sentences looks a lot like organizing notes into musically meaningful sequences. Are language ability and musical ability linked? Dr. Zatorre asks. "Maybe music ... manages to transcend mere perception precisely because it contacts our more primordial neurobiology," he adds.

Those who prefer a classical symphony to a rap concert on the street - and the rappers also - should realize this possibility. Whatever their musical taste, humans share a common neurobiological ability to enjoy rhythm and melody. Those who can perceive music with more than one of their five senses owe special gratitude to that heritage.


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