Thursday, May 22, 2008
By Michael Georgy
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's national symphony orchestra gave a rare public performance on Wednesday highlighting sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands of people, including some of its musicians.
Before directing the performance, conductor Karim Wasfi said his cellists and violinists could bring peace of mind to Iraqis, who face daily bombings and shootings.
"It's the best way to unite Iraqis," he said in the auditorium where Iraq's parliament meets in the heavily fortified government and diplomatic Green Zone compound.
"We want to help our politicians make peace."
It is hard enough for the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra (INSO) to meet for practice sessions, let alone help unite Iraqis who face suicide bombings, shootings and kidnappings.
Some members have been kidnapped or killed in sectarian bloodshed, others have received death threats, and 29 have joined the exodus of more than 2 million people who have fled Iraq.
The ensemble's music library and instrument store were looted after the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003, and one of its main concert venues was destroyed by U.S. missiles.
The orchestra could not have drawn a big audience no matter how hypnotizing the concerto.
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PARIS - Steven Spielberg is now an officer in the French Legion of Honor.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said the honor was prompted by the filmmaker's work on documenting the Holocaust and his efforts to help the war-wracked Darfur region of Sudan.
Spielberg, 61, met with Sarkozy in the French presidential palace on Wednesday.
He was at the Cannes Film Festival last weekend for the world premiere of his new film, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," starring Harrison Ford.
The French Legion of Honor is one of the country's highest awards.
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It may be the mother of all doom and gloom gas price predictions: $12 for a gallon of gas is "inevitable."
Robert Hirsch, Management Information Services Senior Energy Advisor, gave a dire warning about the potential future of gas prices on CNBC's May 20 "Squawk Box". He told host Becky Quick there was no single thing that would solve the problem, due to the enormity of the problem.
Hirsch told the Business & Media Institute the $12-$15 a gallon wasn't his prediction, but that he was citing Charles T. Maxwell, described as the "Dean of Oil Analysts" and the senior energy analyst at Weeden & Co. Still, Hirsch admitted the high price was inevitable in his view.
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By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Growing anxiety about their economic prospects and deep unhappiness with President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress plunged Americans into a dark mood this month, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.
The Reuters/Zogby Index, which measures the mood of the country, fell dramatically to 87.9, down from 95.5 in April, as nine of the 10 measures of public opinion used in the Index dropped.
Concerns about the direction of the country and personal finances rose sharply, and dissatisfaction with Bush, Congress and the administration's economic and foreign policy all climbed.
Bush's approval rating fell 4 percentage points to 23 percent, a record low for pollster John Zogby, and positive marks for the U.S. Congress fell 5 points to tie an all-time low at 11 percent.
The number of Americans who believe the country is on the right track fell from 23 percent to an abysmal 16 percent, another record for pessimism, as uncertainty about the economy and rising gas prices fuelled growing doubts about the future.
"Bad economic news is settling in and Americans are getting anxiety ridden," Zogby said.
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The Chinese are apparently taking a supervisory role in overseeing their investment.
U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay allegedly softened up detainees at the request of Chinese intelligence officials who had come to the island facility to interrogate the men -- or they allowed the Chinese to dole out the treatment themselves, according to claims in a new government report.
Buried in a Department of Justice report released Tuesday are new allegations about a 2002 arrangement between the United States and China, which allowed Chinese intelligence to visit Guantanamo and interrogate Chinese Uighurs held there.
According to the report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, an FBI agent reported a detainee belonging to China's ethnic Uighur minority and a Uighur translator told him Uighur detainees were kept awake for long periods, deprived of food and forced to endure cold for hours on end, just prior to questioning by Chinese interrogators.
Susan Manning, a lawyer who represents several Uighurs still held at Guantanamo, said Tuesday the allegations are all too familiar.
U.S. personnel "are engaging in abusive tactics on behalf of the Chinese," she said Tuesday. When Uighur detainees refused to talk to Chinese interrogators in 2002, U.S. military personnel put them in solitary confinement as punishment, she said.
"Why are we doing China's dirty work?" Manning said. "Surely we're better than that."
Ms. Manning are you forgetting who the President and Vice-President are? Sadly, it's par for the course.
This occurred during the period of time in which the Bush Administration was rife with people who took the belief that Muslim equaled possible terrorist. You know, like today.
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Immigration Myths and Cable News
There are many problems facing the United States today: a faltering economy, a health-care crisis, and the continuing war in Iraq, to name a few. But viewers of some of the most prominent cable news programs are presented a different reality, one in which one issue stands above all others: illegal immigration.
Media Matters Action Network undertook this study in order to document the rhetoric surrounding immigration that is heard on cable news. When it comes to this issue, cable news overflows not just with vitriol, but also with a series of myths that feed viewers' resentment and fears, seemingly geared toward creating anti-immigrant hysteria.
There are two types of myths we discuss in this report. The first type is the large and most common myths, about crime and undocumented immigrants, and the costs of illegal immigration in social services and taxes. These topics are complex, and there are sometimes legitimate points buried within the arguments immigration opponents make. The second type of myth is the urban legend: that there is a conspiracy to take back the Southwest United States for Mexico; that there is a secret plan to construct a "NAFTA Superhighway" running from Canada to Mexico; that the U.S. is well on its way to surrendering its sovereignty to a "North American Union" (NAU); that Mexican immigrants are infecting Americans with leprosy; and that undocumented immigrants are responsible for a wave of election fraud. These myths are discussed less often, but are notable for their sheer ludicrousness. The North American Union and NAFTA Superhighway are closely related, and indeed are often discussed in tandem (the building of the Superhighway being posited as a step on the road to the creation of the NAU), but since each is also often discussed alone, we examine these two myths separately.
We focus our analysis on a trio of cable commentators: Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, and Glenn Beck. While hosts on other cable programs regularly discuss illegal immigration (particularly on Fox News, where it is a frequent topic on Hannity & Colmes and Special Report with Brit Hume), these three are the most notable for a number of reasons. On their eponymous programs, Dobbs, O'Reilly, and Beck serve up a steady diet of fear, anger, and resentment on the topic of illegal immigration.
Dobbs is the one most obsessed with the topic; indeed, instead of Lou Dobbs Tonight, his program might be more properly called Lou Dobbs Crusades Against Illegal Immigration Tonight. Fully 70 percent of the 2007 episodes of Lou Dobbs Tonight contained discussion of illegal immigration. The O'Reilly Factor is not far behind; 56 percent of 2007 episodes discussed illegal immigration. And though Glenn Beck was less consumed with the issue (28 percent of his 2007 programs discussed it), his show is the one on which viewers often find the most inflammatory claims.
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by Tom Englehardt
Back in the mid-1990s, in my book, The End of Victory Culture, I wrote the following about the adventure films of my childhood (and those of earlier decades):
"For the nonwhite, annihilation was built not just into the on-screen Hollywood spectacle but into its casting structures. Available to the Other were only four roles: the invisible, the evil, the dependent, and the expendable…. When the inhabitants of these borderlands emerged from their oases, ravines, huts, or tepees, they found that there was but one role in which a nonwhite (usually played by a white actor) was likely to come out on top, and that was the villain with his fanatical speeches and propensity for odd tortures. Only as a repository for evil could the nonwhite momentarily triumph. Whether an Indian chief, a Mexican bandit leader, or an Oriental despot, his pre-World War II essence was the same. Set against his shiny pate or silken voice, his hard eyes or false laugh, no white could look anything but good."
Having spent a recent evening in my local multiplex watching the latest superhero blockbuster, Iron Man, all I can say is: such traditions obviously die hard (even in the age of Barack Obama). The Afghans and assorted terrorists of the film, when not falling into that "invisible" category -- as backdrops for the heroics or evil acts of the real actors -- are out of central casting from a playbook of the 1930s filled with images of Fu Manchu or Ming the Merciless: Right down to that shiny bald pate, the silken voice, the hard eyes, and that propensity for "odd tortures."
It's lucky, then, that, in the real world, the Bush administration has made the decision to expand our no-charges, no-recourse, no-courts, no-lawyers prison network in Afghanistan to hold such monsters. Give Eric Schmitt and Tim Golden of the New York Times credit for their recent front-page scoop: "The Pentagon is moving forward with plans to build a new, 40-acre detention complex on the main American military base in Afghanistan, officials said, in a stark acknowledgment that the United States is likely to continue to hold prisoners overseas for years to come… [the new prison will be] a more modern and humane detention center that would usually accommodate about 600 detainees -- or as many as 1,100 in a surge -- and cost more than $60 million." The real money quote in the piece, however, lay buried inside the fold. The reporters quote an anonymous Pentagon official speaking of the infamous older American prison at Bagram Air Base where some of those "odd tortures" have taken place: "It's just not suitable. At some point, you have to say, 'That's it. This place was not made to keep people there indefinitely.'"
So, the new prison, then, is apparently for holding people "indefinitely." Lurking in that word, of course, is the logical thought that we'll just have to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, too.
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by Barbara Barrett
Despite all the medals he won in the military, Marc Edgerly, 26, will deal with $50,000 in loans once he leaves college. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin / AP)
Washington - The GI Bill touted by recruiting posters and the Pentagon often falls short for more than a million troops returning from war, paying just over half the national average cost of a public college education.
The program, which provides college benefits for veterans, doesn't pay for books and housing, causing many students to work.
"They use it to live off of," said Henry Johnson, a financial aid officer who works with veterans at Durham Technical Community College, where nearly 200 veterans attend school. "They need the money for their food, for their rent, for their transportation."
The Senate is poised to vote as soon as today on a new GI Bill tucked inside a massive funding measure. It could affect 1.4 million men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
The Bush administration opposes the legislation. Department of Defense officials said this spring that the richer benefits could tempt soldiers to leave the military. And President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation if it includes anything beyond his funding request.
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by Carolyn Jung
Editor's Note: This story is part of an occasional series on issues surrounding our food supply.
These days, sit down at a sushi bar for a plate of unctuous, glistening toro, and along with it will come a heap of guilt and grief.
Toro, the Kobe beef of fish, is the extremely pricey, highly coveted, fattiest part of a bluefin tuna. The species is so prized for its lush belly meat that in the past century, it has been severely overfished. Of equal concern, it also contains among the highest mercury levels of any seafood.
But now a farm-raised bluefin called Kindai - the first ever raised in captivity from the egg - offers what some consider a promising new alternative. Produced by a Japanese university fisheries laboratory, Kindai is being touted as a more healthful and more eco-friendly option. However, marine scientists say whether it proves a true panacea remains to be seen.
You won't find Kindai in your local supermarket or Asian seafood store. Because supplies are severely limited, the only way to experience its silky, rich, clean taste is at one of a handful of Bay Area restaurants, including the French Laundry in Yountville, the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, Sebo in San Francisco, Hana in Rohnert Park and Manresa in Los Gatos.
Each week, one shipment of Kindai, generally three 130- to 200-pound fish, is flown from Japan to the United States. One fish goes to New York, and the other two to the Bay Area.
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A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans:Pirates, Skinflints, Patriots, and Other Colorful Characters Stuck in the Footnotes of History
by Michael Farquhar
Penguin, 272 pages, $15.00
Reviewed by Kim Simpson
If you're like me, it doesn't matter how much American history you read—you've got this diorama version of it all set up in your head. It's a little series of scenes, all safe and protected behind glass, telling the tales you've been taught or have chosen to believe. And whether you've gotten comfortable with a sanitized, State Capitol Visitor's Center version of American History, or one that might perhaps work better in Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors, it will likely take an awful lot to shake up that presentation.
You probably think you know what I'm leading up to, that Michael Farquhar's Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans will set all of your preconceived notions a-tremble. Not so—it will do no such thing. It will, however, play a bit of havoc, perhaps, with the way you size up the history that's unfolding around you.
Farquhar, a former editor at the Washington Post, has done a wonderful thing with this and his other paperbacks—A Treasury of Royal Scandals, A Treasury of Great American Scandals, and A Treasury of Deception. He's presenting subjects in a lively and sometimes titillating way that, yes, makes reading history fun. In the case of this most recent volume, he's featuring the "pirates, skinflints, patriots, and other colorful characters stuck in the footnotes of history". Three early cases in point: William Dawes, the unfortunate "other Midnight Rider" whose own heroism certainly matched Paul Revere's, but whose last name simply lacked the same poetic sonority; John Billington, the foul-mouthed criminal whose own hateful countenance bobbed alongside those pilgrim hats on the fabled Mayflower; and Anne Bonny, daughter of a wealthy South Carolina plantation owner who became so rabid a pirate that she fought a British Navy vessel all by herself (and survived), while the all-male crew cowered in the ship's hold.
Most of Farquhar's other forgotten folks fall into two categories: The justifiably forgotten, and the surprisingly forgotten. Reigning supreme among the justifiably forgotten are Anna Jarvis, who devised Mother's Day at the turn of the century, it turns out, not so much to honor motherhood but to feed her Norman Bates-like obsession with her own mother. Another one of these, Edwin Forrest, was a wildly popular stage actor in his day, whose interpretations of Shakespeare exuded a rough-hewn masculinity that appealed to mid-19th Century nativist audiences (his characterizations, wrote one less-supportive critic, "puff and blow like sledge men"). His most notable legacy, alas, is the deadly Pro-Forrest riot that took place at a British rival's stateside performance. And outlaw Oliver Curtis Perry, who successfully robbed a New York train and captured the fancy of the American public for a spell by subsequently taunting newspapers and public officials, ended up botching attempt number two and went mad in prison.
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The biology of integrity
To paraphrase Shakespeare's Falstaff, "honor pricks us on." And although Sir John famously concludes "I'll none of it," the reality is that for most people, honor is more than a "mere scutcheon." Many colleges have honor codes, sometimes elaborated into complex systems: The list includes small colleges (e.g., Gustavus Adolphus, Haverford), large universities (e.g., the University of Virginia, Texas A&M), Ivies like Dartmouth and Princeton, sectarian institutions like Brigham Young, science-tech (Caltech) as well as liberal-arts (Reed) colleges, and, with particular solemnity, the three military academies. The code at West Point is especially terse and predictably directive: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do." The first "three commandments" — thou shalt not lie, cheat, or steal — speak for themselves. Of particular interest for our purposes, however, is that fourth admonition: "nor tolerate those who do." (Sure enough, Prince Hal shows himself true to this martial virtue when he eventually — and for many of us, hurtfully — turns away from Falstaff, showing that as king he disowns Fat Jack's dishonorable behavior.)
Doesn't it stand to reason that everyone would be intolerant of violators? After all, when someone lies, cheats, or steals, it hurts the rest of us while making a mockery of society itself (cue Immanuel Kant, and his categorical imperative). The "fourth commandment" should, therefore, be altogether logical and hardly need specifying. The problem for theorists — if not for the "naturally intolerant" — is that blowing the whistle on liars, cheaters, or thieves is likely to impose a cost on the whistle-blower, while everyone else benefits from her act of conscience. Why not mind your own business and let someone else do the dirty work? Isn't that why we have police: to, as the word suggests, police the behavior of others, at least in part so we don't have to do so ourselves?
A conceivable explanation is that if no one else perceives the transgression or, similarly, if no one else is willing to do anything about it, then perhaps the miscreant will get away with it, whereupon everyone — including you — will be worse off. In short, turning in a violator could be a simple act of self-aggrandizement, if the cost of doing so is less than the shared penalty of keeping silent. Another possibility, of course, is that people are indeed predisposed to ignore code violations, which is precisely why the "fourth commandment" exists — because otherwise malefactors would be tolerated. Yet another, and of particular interest to evolutionists, is that people are, at least on occasion, inclined to do things that are detrimental to their personal benefit so long as their actions are sufficiently beneficial to the larger social unit.
That process, known as "group selection," has a long and checkered history in biological theory. Since natural selection should consistently reward selfish acts, how to explain the existence of morality that induces people to behave, as Bertolt Brecht puts it in The Threepenny Opera, "more kindly than we are"? These days, evolutionary explanations lean heavily on kin selection (also known as inclusive fitness theory, whereby apparent altruism at the level of bodies can actually be selfishness playing itself out at the level of genes), and on reciprocity, essentially "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." But there is also the possibility that beneficent acts are biologically generated by a payoff enjoyed by the group, of which the altruist is a member. At one point in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin gave impetus to the group selectionists:
"Although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, … an increase in the number of well-endowed men and advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another."
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In the first success of his second term -- also known as the New Dark Ages -- President Bush has at long last actually achieved something: he's helped save the situation comedy and he's done it without even trying.
Now, when I say "situation comedy," I'm not talking here about the Bush administration's foreign policy -- which is perhaps more accurately described as "stand up tragedy." Rather, with their own epic comedy of errors, George and company have finally created a cultural need for laughter so widespread and so profound that the once written-off TV genre is now poised to stage the sort of major and sustained comeback that the Bush administration itself no longer has the time, inclination or ability to make itself.
Put simply, America sure could use some guffaws and giggles right about now, couldn't it, everybody?
To date, Hollywood's response to our troubled times has been to create a Bushel of well-intentioned feature films that have -- in a variety of deeply felt ways -- reacted against the devastation of the war in Iraq. Based on the box office record of this recent Hollywood surge, research indicates there are currently three or four people dozen left in America who remain seriously interested in politically charged entertainment about how we blew the war in Iraq, And half of them are too broke or and/or busy listening to NPR to get to the multiplex. Want to try and send a message? Use Western Union, or better yet, the Huffington Post.
On the other hand, as a good, God-fearing, TV-watching people, we Americans sure could use what the sitcom has traditionally offered us -- that appealing, life-affirming built in promise of a weekly laugh or too. Last week, I was there in Carnegie Hall working when CBS introduced a hilarious looking new situation comedy called Worst Week about a sweet guy with excellent intentions but the worst luck in the world. I watched and listened as a usually tough Upfront crowd erupted in overwhelming laughter and actual applause following the preview of this new fall series. Please be clear, I am in no way comparing the lead character of Worst Week with the man who's been leading the free world during these challenging times. To be clear, the guy in Worst Week is extremely loveable and endlessly appealing -- Dick Cheney, not so much.
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The odds that a potentially devastating space rock will hit Earth this century may be as high as one in 10. So why isn't NASA trying harder to prevent catastrophe?
Image credit: Stéphane Guisard, www.astrosurf.com/sguisard
Breakthrough ideas have a way of seeming obvious in retrospect, and about a decade ago, a Columbia University geophysicist named Dallas Abbott had a breakthrough idea. She had been pondering the craters left by comets and asteroids that smashed into Earth. Geologists had counted them and concluded that space strikes are rare events and had occurred mainly during the era of primordial mists. But, Abbott realized, this deduction was based on the number of craters found on land—and because 70 percent of Earth's surface is water, wouldn't most space objects hit the sea? So she began searching for underwater craters caused by impacts rather than by other forces, such as volcanoes. What she has found is spine-chilling: evidence that several enormous asteroids or comets have slammed into our planet quite recently, in geologic terms. If Abbott is right, then you may be here today, reading this magazine, only because by sheer chance those objects struck the ocean rather than land.
Abbott believes that a space object about 300 meters in diameter hit the Gulf of Carpentaria, north of Australia, in 536 A.D. An object that size, striking at up to 50,000 miles per hour, could release as much energy as 1,000 nuclear bombs. Debris, dust, and gases thrown into the atmosphere by the impact would have blocked sunlight, temporarily cooling the planet—and indeed, contemporaneous accounts describe dim skies, cold summers, and poor harvests in 536 and 537. "A most dread portent took place," the Byzantine historian Procopius wrote of 536; the sun "gave forth its light without brightness." Frost reportedly covered China in the summertime. Still, the harm was mitigated by the ocean impact. When a space object strikes land, it kicks up more dust and debris, increasing the global-cooling effect; at the same time, the combination of shock waves and extreme heating at the point of impact generates nitric and nitrous acids, producing rain as corrosive as battery acid. If the Gulf of Carpentaria object were to strike Miami today, most of the city would be leveled, and the atmospheric effects could trigger crop failures around the world.
What's more, the Gulf of Carpentaria object was a skipping stone compared with an object that Abbott thinks whammed into the Indian Ocean near Madagascar some 4,800 years ago, or about 2,800 B.C. Researchers generally assume that a space object a kilometer or more across would cause significant global harm: widespread destruction, severe acid rain, and dust storms that would darken the world's skies for decades. The object that hit the Indian Ocean was three to five kilometers across, Abbott believes, and caused a tsunami in the Pacific 600 feet high—many times higher than the 2004 tsunami that struck Southeast Asia. Ancient texts such as Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh support her conjecture, describing an unspeakable planetary flood in roughly the same time period. If the Indian Ocean object were to hit the sea now, many of the world's coastal cities could be flattened. If it were to hit land, much of a continent would be leveled; years of winter and mass starvation would ensue.
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by Connie Schultz
It seems a growing number of Americans are hoping the yearlong vitriol aimed at strong women will evaporate right along with the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
"Whew," the collective sigh will sound. "Glad that's over."
Don't pop the corks just yet.
Last week, I was invited to celebrate the opening of the new Women's Center at Ohio University. About a hundred people, mostly female students, gathered for me to say a few words and then for them to share what's on their minds.
The young women didn't waste any time on happy-face pretenses, as one after another stood and asked questions.
"How can you be a strong woman and not have others call you a bitch?"
"How do you keep going when others ridicule you?"
"Can you really be a strong woman and still have men like you?"
One woman stood up and, in a halted voice, managed one sentence before the tears started to fall: "Someone gave me a Hillary nutcracker as a gift."
The room fell silent. A friend grabbed her hand, and several older women in the audience started wiping their eyes.
"I can see that felt personal and that it hurt you," I said slowly. She nodded, her eyes never leaving mine.
I looked out at that room full of young women and felt the stomach-clenching certainty that these were no ordinary storm clouds swirling overhead. We have only begun to feel the damage of the punch-and-pummel pundits who couldn't wrap their limited minds around the first woman to win a presidential primary, again and again.
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With the help of U.S. defense contractors, China is building the prototype for a high-tech police state. It is ready for export.
by Naomi Klein
Thirty years ago, the city of Shenzhen didn't exist. Back in those days, it was a string of small fishing villages and collectively run rice paddies, a place of rutted dirt roads and traditional temples. That was before the Communist Party chose it — thanks to its location close to Hong Kong's port — to be China's first "special economic zone," one of only four areas where capitalism would be permitted on a trial basis. The theory behind the experiment was that the "real" China would keep its socialist soul intact while profiting from the private-sector jobs and industrial development created in Shenzhen. The result was a city of pure commerce, undiluted by history or rooted culture — the crack cocaine of capitalism. It was a force so addictive to investors that the Shenzhen experiment quickly expanded, swallowing not just the surrounding Pearl River Delta, which now houses roughly 100,000 factories, but much of the rest of the country as well. Today, Shenzhen is a city of 12.4 million people, and there is a good chance that at least half of everything you own was made here: iPods, laptops, sneakers, flatscreen TVs, cellphones, jeans, maybe your desk chair, possibly your car and almost certainly your printer. Hundreds of luxury condominiums tower over the city; many are more than 40 stories high, topped with three-story penthouses. Newer neighborhoods like Keji Yuan are packed with ostentatiously modern corporate campuses and decadent shopping malls. Rem Koolhaas, Prada's favorite architect, is building a stock exchange in Shenzhen that looks like it floats — a design intended, he says, to "suggest and illustrate the process of the market." A still-under-construction superlight subway will soon connect it all at high speed; every car has multiple TV screens broadcasting over a Wi-Fi network. At night, the entire city lights up like a pimped-out Hummer, with each five-star hotel and office tower competing over who can put on the best light show.
Many of the big American players have set up shop in Shenzhen, but they look singularly unimpressive next to their Chinese competitors. The research complex for China's telecom giant Huawei, for instance, is so large that it has its own highway exit, while its workers ride home on their own bus line. Pressed up against Shenzhen's disco shopping centers, Wal-Mart superstores — of which there are nine in the city — look like dreary corner stores. (China almost seems to be mocking us: "You call that a superstore?") McDonald's and KFC appear every few blocks, but they seem almost retro next to the Real Kung Fu fast-food chain, whose mascot is a stylized Bruce Lee.
American commentators like CNN's Jack Cafferty dismiss the Chinese as "the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the last 50 years." But nobody told the people of Shenzhen, who are busily putting on a 24-hour-a-day show called "America" — a pirated version of the original, only with flashier design, higher profits and less complaining. This has not happened by accident. China today, epitomized by Shenzhen's transition from mud to megacity in 30 years, represents a new way to organize society. Sometimes called "market Stalinism," it is a potent hybrid of the most powerful political tools of authoritarian communism — central planning, merciless repression, constant surveillance — harnessed to advance the goals of global capitalism.
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We leave data everywhere we go. It's not just our bank accounts and stock portfolios, or our itemized bills, listing every credit card purchase and telephone call we make. It's automatic road-toll collection systems, supermarket affinity cards, ATMs and so on.
It's also our lives. Our love letters and friendly chat. Our personal e-mails and SMS messages. Our business plans, strategies and offhand conversations. Our political leanings and positions. And this is just the data we interact with. We all have shadow selves living in the data banks of hundreds of corporations' information brokers -- information about us that is both surprisingly personal and uncannily complete -- except for the errors that you can neither see nor correct.
What happens to our data happens to ourselves.
This shadow self doesn't just sit there: It's constantly touched. It's examined and judged. When we apply for a bank loan, it's our data that determines whether or not we get it. When we try to board an airplane, it's our data that determines how thoroughly we get searched -- or whether we get to board at all. If the government wants to investigate us, they're more likely to go through our data than they are to search our homes; for a lot of that data, they don't even need a warrant.
Who controls our data controls our lives.
It's true. Whoever controls our data can decide whether we can get a bank loan, on an airplane or into a country. Or what sort of discount we get from a merchant, or even how we're treated by customer support. A potential employer can, illegally in the U.S., examine our medical data and decide whether or not to offer us a job. The police can mine our data and decide whether or not we're a terrorist risk. If a criminal can get hold of enough of our data, he can open credit cards in our names, siphon money out of our investment accounts, even sell our property. Identity theft is the ultimate proof that control of our data means control of our life.
We need to take back our data.
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Posted by Mark Frauenfelder, May 21, 2008 10:45 AM | permalink
Alien technology scavenged by U.S. and Russian scientists has started a race to colonize planets outside our solar system -- and the U.S. scientists are losing! In a desperate move the U.S. government decides to use a group of Apache volunteers in an experimental attempt to colonize a primitive planet, but before they can even begin their spaceship crashes on the planet Topaz...Link
Using simulation to treat a new generation of traumatized veterans.
by Sue Halpern
- In November, 2004, when he was nineteen years old, a marine I'll call Travis Boyd found himself about to rush the roof of the tallest building in the northern end of Falluja in the midst of a firefight. Boyd, whose first assignment in Iraq was to the security detail at Abu Ghraib prison, had been patrolling the city with his thirteen-man infantry squad, rooting out insurgents and sleeping on the floors of abandoned houses, where they'd often have to remove dead bodies in order to lay out their bedrolls.
With Boyd in the lead, the marines ran up the building's four flights of stairs. When they reached the top, "the enemy cut loose at us with everything they had," he recalled. "Bullets were exploding like firecrackers all around us." Boyd paused and his team leader, whom he thought of as an older brother, ran past him to the far side of the building. Moments after he got there, he was shot dead. Within minutes, everyone else on the roof was wounded. "We had to crawl out of there," said Boyd, who was hit with shrapnel and suffered a concussion, earning a Purple Heart. "That was my worst day."
It is in the nature of soldiers to put emotions aside, and that is what Boyd did for three years. He "stayed on the line" with his squad and finished his tour of duty the following June, married his high-school girlfriend, and soon afterward began training for his second Iraq deployment, not thinking much about what he had seen or done during the first. Haditha, where he was sent in the fall of 2005, was calmer than Falluja. There were roadside bombs, but no direct attacks. Boyd was now a team leader, and he and his men patrolled the streets like police. When drivers did not respond to the soldiers' efforts to get them to stop, he said, "we'd have to light them up." He was there for seven months...
When Travis Boyd agreed to become a subject in the Virtual Iraq clinical trial, in the spring of 2007, he became one of about thirty-five active-duty and former members of the military to use the program to treat their psychological wounds. Currently, the Department of Defense is testing Virtual Iraq—one of three virtual-reality programs it has funded for P.T.S.D. treatment, and the only one aimed at "ground pounders" like Boyd—in six locations, including the Naval Medical Center San Diego, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., and Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York. According to a recent study by the RAND Corporation, nearly twenty per cent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are suffering from P.T.S.D. or major depression. Almost half won't seek treatment. If virtual-reality exposure therapy proves to be clinically validated—only preliminary results are available so far—it may be more than another tool in the therapists' kit; it may encourage those in need to seek help.
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In preparation for the Republican National Convention, the FBI is soliciting informants to keep tabs on local protest groups
By Matt Snyders
Paul Carroll was riding his bike when his cell phone vibrated.
Once he arrived home from the Hennepin County Courthouse, where he'd been served a gross misdemeanor for spray-painting the interior of a campus elevator, the lanky, wavy-haired University of Minnesota sophomore flipped open his phone and checked his messages. He was greeted by a voice he recognized immediately. It belonged to U of M Police Sgt. Erik Swanson, the officer to whom Carroll had turned himself in just three weeks earlier. When Carroll called back, Swanson asked him to meet at a coffee shop later that day, going on to assure a wary Carroll that he wasn't in trouble.
Carroll, who requested that his real name not be used, showed up early and waited anxiously for Swanson's arrival. Ten minutes later, he says, a casually dressed Swanson showed up, flanked by a woman whom he introduced as FBI Special Agent Maureen E. Mazzola. For the next 20 minutes, Mazzola would do most of the talking.
"She told me that I had the perfect 'look,'" recalls Carroll. "And that I had the perfect personality—they kept saying I was friendly and personable—for what they were looking for."
What they were looking for, Carroll says, was an informant—someone to show up at "vegan potlucks" throughout the Twin Cities and rub shoulders with RNC protestors, schmoozing his way into their inner circles, then reporting back to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership between multiple federal agencies and state and local law enforcement. The effort's primary mission, according to the Minneapolis division's website, is to "investigate terrorist acts carried out by groups or organizations which fall within the definition of terrorist groups as set forth in the current United States Attorney General Guidelines."
Carroll would be compensated for his efforts, but only if his involvement yielded an arrest. No exact dollar figure was offered.
"I'll pass," said Carroll.
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Experts Point To Seepage, Say Repaired 17th Street Canal Could Fail Again In Storm
Outside engineering experts who have studied the project told The Associated Press that the type of seepage spotted at the 17th Street Canal in the Lakeview neighborhood afflicts other New Orleans levees, too, and could cause some of them to collapse during a storm.
The Army Corps of Engineers has spent about $4 billion so far of the $14 billion set aside by Congress to repair and upgrade the metropolitan area's hundreds of miles of levees by 2011. Some outside experts said the leak could mean that billions more will be needed and that some of the work already completed may need to be redone.
"It is all based on a 30-year-old defunct model of thinking, and it means that when they wake up to this one - really - our cost is going to increase significantly," said Bob Bea, a civil engineer at the University of California at Berkeley.
In memory of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman...
In memory of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman...
In her memory, Rachel's parents have established the Rachel Morningstar Foundation, the goal of which is to pass a law requiring legal advice to be sought before a civilian can consent to undercover work. They will also work to decriminalize marijuana in Florida. Please make a generous donation to the foundation today, and include a personal note to Rachel's parents if you are moved to do so.